Sunday Brunch: Leonardo Was Right

Leonardo DaVinci once wrote, “In time, and with water, everything changes.”

Over the last year I’ve lived very closely with that tenet, as we’ve had to replace pretty much every household appliance that uses water. The washer, the dishwasher, and the water heater were the big-ticket items, but we also replaced our electric kettle and my water-pik.

And then February happened.

The atypical side effects of “Winter Storm Uri” as experienced by those of us in Texas and other parts of the south made national news. Our state’s greed meant that our electricity infrastructure had not been winterized, even though a similar storm ten years ago made the need quite obvious.

We were warned that we’d have rolling power outages. We were told they’d be 15 to 45 minutes long, every few hours. Instead, in sub-freezing weather, the rolling outages in my neighborhood gave us one hour of power every seven, but that level of surging caused a lot of the grid to fail entirely.

In my house, our heat and hot water are gas, but everything else is electric. If there’s no electricity, there’s no way to distribute the heat (it’s a forced-air system.) We have twenty-foot ceilings in our living room and the registers are at the top of the room. Even if we wanted to, we couldn’t have closed off that room to make the rest of the house warmer. We have a fireplace, but it’s mainly decorative and doesn’t really put out heat. During a typical winter, we might use it on a rainy night to cut the dampness a little bit.

This winter was not typical.

On the morning of Tuesday, February 16th, it was 40 degrees in my bedroom. My 12-year-old pointer-mix, Max, was shivering in his bed. His hips are arthritic, and he can’t control his bowels so curling up in our bed is no longer an option. My chihuahua, Perry, had been shivering since the initial power outage on Sunday night.

A gracious friend told me to pack up all four of my dogs and come to her house. It’s a tiny house. 2 bedrooms with a connecting bathroom. Her college-aged son was in his room doing virtual school (he’s in the theatre arts program at DePaul, and he’s going to be a huge talent someday). She gave us her bedroom, and we squeezed the dog crates and dog beds into it. (She had a trundle bed in her office, sewing room).  Initially, I’d resisted her offer. Surely, I thought, we would have normal rolling outages.

I’m glad I changed my mind.

As I was packing with numb fingers (our closet is beyond the master bathroom and shares a wall with the garage, so it was even colder in there), there was a loud KA-CHONK sound from somewhere inside the bathroom walls. We’d been dripping the taps – all of them – but apparently it wasn’t enough. When Fuzzy went upstairs to check that bathroom, he found that the tub and one sink were no longer dripping, and the toilet wouldn’t flush.

We packed the car for the first trip across town on icy, unplowed (because Dallas doesn’t own plows) streets. I stayed at my friend’s house and drank hot tea until I felt warm, while Fuzzy made more trips.

When he got back to the house the first time, he found water pouring into our master bathroom (on the first floor) from the tub pipes in the bathroom upstairs. The fire department came and shut off the water at the main, and I called in a claim to our insurance company.

It was Thursday evening before a plumber could come and fix the pipes and at that point the power had just come back on. We were lucky – there are people in my city STILL waiting for plumbers a week and a half later.

We got even luckier: the plumber’s wife is a general contractor. Normally, we’d be getting bids and vetting people. We don’t have that ability right now.

With water, heat, and power restored we could return home. But we are still in limbo. Our insurer wants water mitigation to come and dry things out (it’s been almost two weeks since the initial flood at this point, and it reached 80 degrees outside a few days ago) before the contractor can be allowed to start. There’s other damage to the house, related to the storm, but not necessarily related to the pipes that may or may not be a separate claim (and thus a second deductible), and as it is our deductible is based on our property value and is over three thousand dollars.

The contractor has identified a lot more work than I anticipated, including replacing the sheet rock on the bottom two feet of most of the back of the house, and basically gutting the upstairs bathroom. (The entire subfloor did get drenched. It’s been raining this weekend, and my house smells like a pirate ship… and not in a good way.) Because there are thousands of people in similar  – or worse – situations materials are scarce and places where we can relocate during the work that must be done – with four dogs, one of whom has mobility issues – as I do – are even more challenging to find.

Water used to be my best friend. It has always been where I felt safest, where I felt calmest. But right now, my tub is full of debris, and the intense lightning storm the other night had me awake every hour because I’m now paranoid about losing power.

My husband is a calm, stoic Midwesterner. He has faith in the process and believes we will be okay. I cannot share his optimism. I’m frazzled and anxious and exhausted. I look around my house and feel nothing but anger at being cheated out of enjoying a rare snowstorm, and at the fact that the Texas government would prefer that people freeze rather than lose a penny.  I feel like I’ve betrayed my dogs by allowing them to suffer, to be confused by being moved away and then home, and by not behaving in ways they expect. My house is no longer a haven, but a prison I can’t escape. If I had a place to go, if I could AFFORD to buy something new, I’d sell this place to a flipper and bail in a heartbeat. In half a heart-beat.

And yet, there is some good that has come from this. My friendship with the woman who gave us sanctuary grew stronger. We’ve connected with some of our neighbors we only really knew by sight before. My husband and I have both experienced moments of clarity about what we want for the future. And my friends, my awesome friends, many of whom are included in the list of my podcast patrons, started a fundraiser to help us offset our deductible and the inevitable expenses that insurance won’t cover, and FEMA may not be able to help with. (I’ll link to it in the show notes.)

“In time, and with water, everything changes.”

Leonardo was right, but what changes I will ultimately see are as yet unknown.

FUNDRAISER: Dog Days of Podcasting  – Help Melissa

The Fungus-Fearers

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There were three of them, sitting at the end of our table at Benihana, the Fungus-Fearers.

Oh, that isn’t what they called themselves, of course.  It’s what I called them in my head.

In reality, they simply looked at their bowls of mushroom soup and elected their pumps-and-pearls wearing spokeswoman to speak for them, her prissy voice pushed from her pursed lips as if she resented having to speak of such things.

“We neglected to inform you earlier,” she said, her tone haughty, disdainful, “but we  – none of us – do not care – for mushrooms.”

The chef, an affable local man who had engaged the other five of us – my husband and our friend, and a fun couple at the opposite end from the Fungus Fearers – quite easily, immediately became contrite. “I’m so sorry,” he said, as if the fault was his. “Are you allergic? Your meal doesn’t come with any more mushrooms, and neither does hers – ” He gestured to the cardigan-clad younger woman between the one in pearls and her bald, male, companion, obviously their daughter “- but yours does.” He continued, addressing the man, whose body was angled toward his family, and hand was cradled protectively around his glass of chilled Chablis, as if he might not be allowed another.

“No, not allergic. We just… dislike them.”

“Alright then,” the chef replied. “Because if you were allergic, I’d make sure your food was cooked before they touched the grill.”

Dinner proceeded.

The girl, who had insisted she’d ordered tuna, not chicken, then refused to eat the tuna because it was rolled in sesame seeds. (Apparently Fungus Fearers are incapable of reading menus.)

While the rest of us laughed with the chef, and with each other, becoming temporary friends, though we’d never met before and would never meet again, the three at the end remained stiff and aloof.

Why, I wondered throughout our meal, and after, would you come to a place like Benihana where you know you’ll be seated with strangers (they were clearly familiar with the setup) if you don’t like sharing space with strangers?

And how could anyone possibly be so agitated over mushrooms?

True Love Cafe

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The Brief

How frustrating is it when you have to deliver something to a deadline, only to realise afterwards what you could have done better.
So this is your opportunity to re-do a challenge. Pick any of the previous 26 challenges we've done, and write a NEW play following that brief.
I bet you've thought of a few better ideas since sending in your first version.
But don't just re-do the play you did - it has to be a completely different concept!

Notes

I chose the “TLC” Brief. You can read the details and my original submission here.

 

The Excerpt

SPRITE

Yes! Yes, exactly. Like, for me, my tree, it might be a willow… or maybe an aspen. But for you, it might be a salt pine or maybe even a beech tree.

DEREK

Can it be a copper beech, like in that Sherlock Holmes story?

SPRITE

Copper? I don’t know. Maybe. The thing is… you have to find your tree. And I have to find mine. And until you do, a relationship between us can’t work.

DEREK

Wait… you’re breaking up with me because you have to go find your tree?

SPRITE

Yeah… I have to find my tree. And you have to find yours.

 

To Read the Entire Play

Click here: 1902.26 – True Love Cafe

Stormy Weather: A Relationship in Three Short (Rhyming) Acts

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The Brief

Coz every year we do poetic briefs –

To do with either rhythm or with rhyme…

But this is now the fifth month of our game

So this year we’ll do both, I think it’s time.

We’ll take some inspiration from the Bard

But mix it up so that we do it new.

We’ll write a play that’s all Iambic Pents,

but also make it rhyme, we must that do!

“what sort of rhyming pattern should we use?”

I hear you ask with panic in your voice

Well, you can choose whatever fits you best

That’s right, you have the power – make your choice!

Right, that’s the easy part, and now the trick,

the language must remain ‘au natural’

Do place the play in modern times and themes

Maybe even make it factual.

I don’t want any mention of old Will

or texts that could be taken from his plays

No themes that maybe he has written ’bout

instead deal with our lives these modern days.

So write about things Shakes-boy couldn’t write

Like Mars bars, Gogglebox or World War II.

I hope you like this challenge, my dear friends

I think it’s fine. I do. I do. Do you?

 

The Excerpt

The sound you’re hearing is just a branch on the roof

I’ll show you in the morning if you require proof.

I love that your dreams are never boring,

And that you think of ships at sea when you hear me snoring.

But right now, I’m so tired I almost feel like I am dead,

So maybe drive the Master and Commander novels from your pretty head

Cuz all too soon our dogs will bark and growl and whine and peep

And we’ll have lost all chance of ever getting any sleep.

 

To read the entire play…

Click here: 1902.02 – Stormy Weather – A Relationship in Three Short Rhyming Acts

The Eighth Day After – Coffee Cake

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The eighth day after Christmas, before they could suspect
I bundled up the…
Eight maids a-milking
Nine ladies dancing
Ten lords a-leaping
Eleven pipers piping
Twelve drummers drumming
(Well, actually, I kept one of the drummers)
And sent them back collect

I wrote my true love we are through love
And I said in so many words
Furthermore your Christmas gifts were for the birds

– The Twelve Days After Christmas, by Frederick Silver

My earliest memories revolve around my grandmother’s dining table. Laughing aunts and uncles and cousins would sit around the table talking as loudly with their hands as they did with their voices. Some nights the Canasta cards were brought out, other nights the game was Pinochle or for us non-cardplayers, Scrabble was the game of choice. Inevitably though, whether there were two people at that table or twelve, my grandmother would announce that she wanted a ‘little something.’

Invariably that ‘little something’ would be dessert.

And more often than not, the dessert would be an Entenmann’s coffeecake. The kind with a crumb topping and pastry cheese filling. That taste, slightly metallic from the foil tray, but always just enough sweetness to temper the strongest of coffees (or the brattiest of little girls) was the taste of my childhood. I remember it as strongly as I do my grandfather’s raisin bread or my grandmother’s meatballs or her recipe for pasta e fagiolli, which, by the way, is nothing like the swill they serve at the Olive Garden.

For Christmas this year, my friend Fran in Massachusetts sent me not one, not two, but three Entenmann’s Cheese-filled Crumb Coffee Cakes. Two immediately went into the freezer, to be saved until I just can’t stand it anymore. The third, we cut into almost immediately. Even my mother, who doesn’t eat carbs (she says), couldn’t resist the siren call of this coffee cake.

You see, they don’t sell it in my part of Texas. Believe me, I’ve looked. And even in California, it was a rare thing to find.

They say you can’t go home again, but sometimes, home can come to you, and when it does, it’s packaged in a white and blue box.

 

 

 

 

A Capella Podcast Blues

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There’s a song that’s been haunting me since just after Thanksgiving. It’s a lullaby that some people think is a Christmas song. It’s not; it’s really just a lullaby. But when songs get stuck in my head, what that usually means they’re sparking a story.

I know that doesn’t seem like a problem, but it became when I realized two things:

1) The story I’m working on will have to be part of my podcast this month.

2) Since I can’t find a podsafe version of the song, I have to record it myself.

Well, okay. I can sing. I’ve been singing since before I could walk – literally. I can also play the cello, koto, dulcimer, autoharp, and musical saw, but I sold my cello a year ago when I realized my carpal tunnel had gotten too bad to play it, and I don’t own any of the others. (Well, we own a saw, but not in my key.)

What I cannot do – could never do – is play the piano.

It’s not for lack of interest.

It’s for lack of ownership. To play the piano without a piano, is kind of a trick.

So, I’m trying to learn this song well enough to do a decent job of singing bits of it as punctuation to this story I’m writing, but there’s this weird key-change in the middle and I can’t find a version to sing with (for practice) that’s in a key where I’m comfortable. (The perils of being a lyric mezzo / belter, and not a true alto or true soprano.)

My frustration led to the following exchange with my husband about an hour ago:

Me: Fuzzy, if you hear singing, ignore it. I need to be comfy with this song so I can use it on pod.

Him: I don’t hear a thing.

Me: Keep it that way. (beat) I really need this about a third lower.

Him: You can’t find it in a key you like?

Me: No. I want a holographic accompanist for Christmas.

Him: I’ll get right on that.

And this doesn’t even take into account that I don’t really have my full voice back after two weeks of sinusitis, pneumonia, and pleurisy (but at least I’m done with the medications).
And on that note (pun absolutely intended) I’m going to make a hot toddy and take myself to bed, so I can sing another day.

 

 

The Second Noel

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Christmas, long ago.  

We all know the story: a young husband and his heavily pregnant wife seek a safe place where she can birth their child. With no room at the inn, they find shelter in a stable and lay their new babe in a manger. There are shepherds and wise men and a star to follow. There are gifts of silver and gold, frankincense and myrrh. There is a promised savior, a symbol of hope and love and all that is holy.

It’s the first noel. The first Christmas. But it’s far from the last.

Christmas, now.  

Over time, that old story, the one with the babe in the straw and the star in the sky, has been turned into a song or several. We sing their tale and celebrate its anniversary with symbols incorporated from other traditions. We try our best to remember that message of peace and love and hope and add in a sprinkling of patience, a dash of wisdom, and the occasional burst of innocent delight.

But at the same time, we’ve commercialized that chronicle. Merchandised it. This second noel  – really the two-thousand-and-somethingth noel – finds us juxtaposing stuffed stockings and decorations on sale since Halloween (a different old story, that) with the pressure to buy the perfect gift, make the perfect dinner, be the picture perfect family.

And yet, as humans we are imperfect. Our families are created, cracked, recombined. We have half-these and step-those, inlaws by marriage and relatives-by-choice,  and some of them mix well and others repel each other like the matching poles of the strongest magnets.

But the star still shines in all our hearts, even though we may interpret it differently.

Christmas, far in the future.

The third noel is the once-and-future noel. It sees the star – that star – leading us to new worlds. We plant new communities, feed and water them, and hope that they bloom. We sing the old songs of a far-away place and time and realize that we have used our technology to repeat the journey. We are now that husband, that wife, looking for shelter in unwelcoming places, and making the best we can of what we find.

The children born in the age of the third noel, may not be the saviors of the expanded universe, but they still hold promise and potential.

For the star continues to lead us.

And each night a child is born is a holy night.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Morning Light

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The sand was cold and slightly damp beneath her bare feet, but despite the chill, Annie couldn’t stand the thought of wearing shoes. Not to the beach. Not even on Christmas morning.

Otherwise prepared for the cold weather in a fisherman’s sweater she’d acquired from an old boyfriend and a pair of jeans that had reached the maximum level of softness from repeated washings, she carried her steaming mug of coffee up the slight rise to the best vantage point on the shore.

Behind her, in the house with the bleached pine floors and wraparound porch, she knew her present partner was still sleeping, flanked by their two adolescent Labradors. The three of them would be harmonizing their snores for at least another hour, which gave her this moment of solitude and ritual.

Drinking coffee on the beach at sunrise was something she’d done since she was a teenager, and her mother had dragged her from her bed one winter morning.

That day, they’d worn galoshes because the beach had been covered in snow. Her mother had also brought along a tarp and a wool blanket. “Cold is one thing,” she’d said. “Hypothermia is quite another.”

The older woman had given her a piece of wisdom or a snatch of her own story every year from that Christmas until the one when she’d left the world of the living, and after that there had been no more family holidays. Annie’s father had never been part of the picture and she and her bother had drifted apart, their relationship relegated to one of holiday cards and birthday texts.

Sometimes, Annie wished she’d had a daughter with whom to continue the tradition, but it was a minor regret, one note in the rich song that was her life.

Annie wrapped her hands around the warm mug, letting her fingers meet through the handle. Her new ritual was to send a silent prayer to the universe: for peace, for patience, for wisdom.

She sat there in communion with sea, sand, and sky until the sun had risen completely. Then she drained her mug and rose – more stiffly than she would have liked – to her feet and moved closer to the water’s edge, where the sand was smooth and damp.

Using a fragment of a clam shell, Annie wrote her mother’s name in the sand, and her grandmother’s – the two women who had most influenced her – and traced a heart around them. Below, she wrote “Merry Christmas,” followed by the year.

Then she cast the shell back into the sea, and walked back across the sand, up the stairs, and around to the kitchen door. She left her mug in the sink, and started a fresh pot of coffee, setting the machine to begin brewing in ninety minutes.

Creeping back into the bedroom, she stripped down to a tank top and underwear – she hadn’t bothered with a bra; it wasn’t like anyone else would be on the beach on Christmas morning – nudged one of the dogs out of her way and slipped back into bed.

Later, her partner would wake up and she would feel his whiskers against her chin when he kissed the salt from her lips.

But right then, it was early on Christmas morning, and Annie was exactly where she wanted to be.

Better Angels

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The humans called them “angels.”

They were meant to be calming figures, feathery beings who provided whispered advice at crucial moments. Their guidance typically came in the form of gut feelings or sudden inklings – those subconscious reactions that cause a right turn rather than a left or staying home rather than going out.

Hovering over the shoulders of humanity, they nudged gently and gave subtle pushes. Nothing overt. Just keeping things on track. That sort of thing.

But little by little, the human world changed. People divided themselves in arbitrary ways that had little to do with geography or culture and everything to do with anger, bitterness, and fear.

The angels’ voices were no longer heeded; their ethereal suggestions went unfelt.

The choir sang to deaf ears, and their enfolding wings were brushed aside by harsh hands, if they were noticed at all.

Humanity was no longer a noble race, full of wonderous creations – art, music, science, technology – and potential.

Instead, it was in danger of destroying itself, and the world it inhabited.

The choir convened.

Discussions were had, and heated debates, and finally a decision was made. They would have to solve the human crisis in a way the bitter, frightened people would comprehend.

They began to appear in selective places. They let their halos show, but they also displayed their weapons: shining, silver-outlined, mostly transparent versions of the projectile weapons the flesh-and-bloods seemed to treasure.

When merely showing up had no effect, they fired booming warning shots that ricocheted across the skies like thunder – only louder, stronger, and more ominous.

And when the warnings failed, they had no choice.

They eradicated humanity for the greater good.

Afterward, their white and silver forms stained red (time would let it fade, they knew), they reconvened at their undetectable headquarters and sang songs of mourning and remembrance, until they could sing no more.

Finally, so much time had passed that the angels were ready to try another experiment. “There is another world with a crop of humanity,” one said. “Let us try again, with them. Perhaps this time, they’ll thrive. The natives call it ‘Earth.'”

And so, they moved their headquarters across the universe to a blue-and-green world with diverse lifeforms and humans who were still receptive to their influence. But they also made a unilateral decision: they would act sooner, more swiftly, and with more surety.

This time, they would not fail.

This time, they would be better angels.