Monday, December 6, 2010

December 6, 2010

Today I went shopping for groceries at Trader Joe's. When I came out of the store and was exiting the parking lot, I saw a white commercial airplane climbing at an angle against the blue sky with the bright wisps of cloud. Then I turned the other way. As I drove out of the parking lot towards the street, I passed the panhandling man who now works this part of the lot. He is physically disabled in some way, and stands leaning on his cane, holding a sign in the other hand. He was sitting for awhile, but stood up when he saw cars coming. He was wearing a bright red jacket that looked like it would keep him warm. I've had this dollar in my pocket that keeps falling out, so I leaned over and passed it out the window towards him. I wondered, not for the first time, what happened to the older bald man in a wheelchair who used to frequent this space. Did he get put into a assisted care facility? Did some of his children take him home to live with them. Did he die? I'll never know.

From this direction, I could see the mountains in the southwestern sky of Reno, the same mountains I've been seeing for years. The landscape of Reno is more familiar to me now than almost any landscape, save Azeroth perhaps, but that's not real. I feel like I've been seeing these mountains forever, these buildings, these tree trunks, all of it, for a very long time. I am 43 right now, what will I think of this in 20 years. How will I remember this point in my life. Will I yearn to return to it, the way I now wish I could go back about 10 years and live those years over. What would I do if I could? Nothing different, I'm sure, but maybe I could savor them more.

I can remember southern California, actually, some of the spaces I loved there. Virginia seems so hazy to me, the most familiar things being those I've seen in photos, but a recollection of what things looked like out of the back of my first house. There were no developments behind us at the time, and we looked out onto empty land, a gully of sorts, there was a large water pipe in the distance and the red clay of the undeveloped soil. And there were a few houses we could see far off. I always wondered where exactly those homes were, what streets was I seeing. Now, I'm sure, it's all built up.

I drove past the convention center, past the Atlantis casino hotel. The sky was blue with some white wispy clouds. The sun was golden at this time of afternoon in winter, which has the effect of making the tree trunks look even darker. The temperature was cool at 55 but not cold. Up ahead on my drive I could see the pointy crowns of very tall pines, the sequoia pines that don't naturally grow here or even thrive here according to the tree experts. But someone must have thought they belonged her at some point when southwestern Reno was being developed, because a number were planted. Looking up at them on a ridge, standing in a row, they look like giants. The can obscure the mountains right in front. But they aren't any taller than some of the oaks we have. I guess they need time to get really big.

The street is like the streets where I first grew up, patched blacktop, rolling hills in places. There is one part of Reno that reminds me every fall and winter of the street where I grew up, for reasons that have less to do with actual physical resemblance and more to do with the feeling it evokes in me...every time I see it at a certain point in the year, with the sun shining on the street and against some of the buildings, I'm reminded of Fairmont Avenue, of that kind of sunny but cold leafless time of year, with Green Bay Packers football on tv. The sun on the brick and siding of the small homes, some of which looked like little boxes with roofs and no eaves. The wires of roof antennas and the dark look of the telephone poles with their wires--it all stood out in the cold, golden sun of late fall. I think there is a photograph that looks down my street, and the light is similar to the light I often see on Arlington as I pass the golf course. But, of course, the cars are newer. And there is a Starbucks.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Friday November 26, 2010

It's the end of the second day of a four day weekend, the best holiday of the year. The holiday that really isn't about much more than cooking a big meal, eating it with friends or family, and relaxing; maybe watching football if you're into that sort of thing, or watching holiday movies, playing games, reading. That is, if you're lucky enough to have the time off, of course, which many are not.

It's a really cold weekend here in Reno. It snowed on Tuesday and then got cold, temperatures going into the single digits over night, so things were frozen for the commute to school the next day. Still, when the sun came out and the temperature warmed up to 25˚ or so, the ice melted. I went out to buy snow boots for the kids, then shoveled the snow to give the sun a fighting chance. It was very light and powdery, and frozen on the sidewalks from when it had been warmer and slushy. Thankfully there wasn't much of it.

Today I went to Absolute Music and rented a violin. I have this secret fantasy that somehow I'll manage to be a better at playing the violin than I am at playing the viola. I love to have fantasies where I accomplish things like this; hope springing eternal making life worth living, I guess. Yesterday we had a friend over for Thanksgiving dinner. I drank a glass of wine, then became extremely sleepy, so I went to take a catnap while waiting on the oven buzzer. I lay down on the bed with an arm overhead, but instead of falling asleep, I fell into sleepy reminiscing. At first about Thanksgiving Days of Long Past, then onto China, as the more times passes, the less I remember of our trip. I was thinking of how memories are so intangible and what you have of them sort of becomes hardened into your brain circuits like plaque, but it's just a residue of something that was real. In fact, most of my early life feels that way. I guess like the majority of people, I feel more connected to the childhood memories that I've known as memories for so much longer. It seems like my 20s happened to another person almost.

When I was in China this past summer, I was so excited and yet disappointed at things; it was a heartwarming feeling when things were familiar, yet a letdown that things had changed so greatly. The overwhelming feeling I had was to realize how fortunate I was to get to experience 8 weeks of China in the 80's. I'm not sure I was convinced at the time, when I was so homesick and just plain hot, but I don't think I could have those experiences now--just get on a bus and go where I wanted? It was impossible on this trip. One of the things I knew about China was that I loved, loved, loved Hangzhou. But when I tried to compare it to my new experiences in Hangzhou, I couldn't actually recall more than a few images, some of which were me seeing myself as I appeared in my photo album.

Hangzhou seemed refreshing after the heat of Shanghai. It was green and cooler, as I recall. It didn't rain while we were there, but it was humid, of course. I remember walking out of our hotel in the afternoon with some women from my unit. We walked down a street that had an air of familiarity around it. Lots of trees growing near the street, which looked like a fairly recent development. The road looked fairly recently cut into the earth, the way some of the housing developments my father built homes in looked to me, but there were sidewalks, shops and lamposts along the way we walked, and we could look into the bakery window and see the goods displayed. It seemed quaint and almost European, except set out the woods. And we rode a boat on the lake, it was lovely. Yet, this was all I remember. I don't remember what food we ate, I can't remember the hotel at all, or even eating a single meal there.

I didn't realize I remembered so little about Hangzhou until I returned, and was trying to compare experiences. I didn't realize I remembered so few of my Thanksgivings as a child. Inevitably, I return to the Thanksgiving when I was 7, almost 8, and lived out in Catlett, Virginia. Or I think of one of the Thanksgiving dinners in the condo in Summertree, although those all blend together into one representative days. I can't discern the differences. I suppose this is why we are always exhorted to exist in the moment, to enjoy the present, to live for today since we don't know what the future will bring. Of course our experiences always affect who we are in the moment, but really, it feels like we are different people when we consider our pasts.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Friday November 5, 2010

I've been thinking about my neighbors as I make my way around the block with my dog everyday. Specifically their political stance they choose to represent with various signs and bumper stickers. This past election there seemed to be a lot fewer signs, but I remember them from years past. On one side of me is an older couple who drives old model Cadillacs--I mean pretty darn old, I'm thinking at least two of the sedans come from the 80's or earlier. They are the kind of cars my father liked and would choose to drive. They have bumper stickers on them which say Stop Socialism, Vote Conservative. At some point the Stop Socialism half got covered up with a God Bless the USA type of flag sticker.

They are nice people, generous with the Halloween candy, bought a poinsettia from my daughter when she was selling them for her choir, gave us plastic bags when we went collecting for a recycling fundraiser. The people on the other side of us have changed through the years, I don't really know much about their politics. I assume the original owners were Republicans and the woman who lived there for awhile afterwards was a Democrat. The only sign in their yard now, different owners again, is for a local justice of the peace race. This was the first year in 8 Halloweens that someone in that house handed out candy, as far as I know.

Next to them is another older couple--well, an older woman and a younger woman, her daughter. I don't know if there is a man there now. The grandchildren used to live there, but they have moved. They driver older model German cars, at least one fairly old Mercede- Benz, could be from the 80's, and a BMW. Nice looking cars, I like those older models. They have had political signage in the past in support of Kerry, H. Clinton, Obama. Veterans for Kerry signs. They are also generous with the Halloween candy, giving out full sized bars and one they gave out glow bracelets as well. They also bought a poinsettia.

To the side of them is an older couple with no visible political affiliations, but they do love Scottie dogs and have a beautiful, well decorated yard. Next to them what I think of as somewhat problematic neighbors, mostly because of some hostilities that arose with the HOA. There was some negativity around all of that, but I personally didn't have a problem with them when I was the secretary of the HOA. I did have the guy come to my house and call me when my daughter, unbeknowns to me, ran after me as I rode my bike out of the driveway. They refused to pay their HOA fees, but also refused to sign a document that would legally disband the HOA. They pulled out their lawn over a year ago and it's still dirt. Their teen/young adult kids have bike and skateboarding ramps in the driveway, and ride out into the street. They have a chainlink fence segment covered with a brightly colored plastic tarp to help keep their dogs in the backyard, and their dogs bark all the time. They also are very anti-Obama. I noticed a giant McCain sign in their house. They were dark for Halloween this year.

Next to them, a beautifully landscaped home by another very anti-Obama family. They have stickers on their car about how Obama is scary, the window sticker of the little kid peeing on the name of Obama. The only contact I have with them is when the man called to complain about his neighbors lack of landscaping in the back yard. He's a professional landscaper. I'd bet the dirt yard in the front is causing some hard feelings, but maybe they've bonded over their Obama & Reid hating commonality. They were also dark for Halloween. My dog pooped in their yard that night. I went back and cleaned it up early the next morning.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

November 3, 2010

Yesterday was election day, and today not that much has been shaken up in Nevada's political structure. We still have Harry Reid as one of our US Senators, and a bunch of Republicans to fill all those other offices, including the other senatorial spot.

The calls and paper mailings were incessant. The door-to-door canvassing not as much, although we got two different groups coming for Reid, and a couple for the local candidates. I did some voter registration Harry Reid campaigning out in front of the DMV back in March, and I did a shift at the Democratic HQ, but that was the extent of it.

Yesterday was kind of a charged day, however. The kids were out of school, the husband was home from work, and the weather was mild and beautiful. I went to vote at the school, then stayed to canvass on behalf of the school. In fact, I spent a lot of time passing out fliers, trying to encourage people to create a bing account, or to log on to bing through facebook, to vote for our school's video. But it is a losing battle at this point, unless many many more people log onto vote.

Friday, June 25, 2010

I wanted to start this blog

Shortly after we moved here, my mom asked me what Reno was like. I told her it was like Charlottesville with casinos. It's not really, but it has some things in common. The university is a big part of Reno, like it is in Charlottesville. Reno is kind of like a central city for a lot of smaller outlying areas. There are mountains in both areas. However, in Charlottesville, maybe because I wasn't a native, I always knew I could jump in a car and be anywhere else fairly quickly. The next big place from Reno is Sacramento, and that just feels so far away, somehow. I mean farther than it felt to go to DC., not in distance, so much as attitude as well as altitude. Maybe because I already knew DC before I would travel there, but I only go to Sacramento as a way to get away from Reno. Reno is like an island, especially in the winter--you need to go over the mountains to get somewhere, and then the weather is usually different.

I got the idea to start this blog when I was sitting in Trinity Episcopal Church, listening to the Reno Baroque Ensemble concert. I have many blogs, and pretty much all of my blogs are the same thing. I write about my feelings, like I'm journaling. My blogs are nothing anyone would want to read. I can't get out of this kind of habit, and it's already creeping in here, I realize. What I want mainly to do on this blog, however, is write about my life in Reno. Just my life. Because every time I go somewhere or do something here, I feel like there is supposed to be some underlying assumptions or understand I should have. There is a Reno scene, there are Reno celebrities in different niches. But I'm a transplant, and a lot of my social life takes place online, with people in other parts of the country; I grew up on the East coast and my family is nowhere near. Yet, I feel like there is something I'm supposed to know about Reno when living in Reno, I just don't know what it is.

Unlike in Virginia, where I never really felt like there was any kind of cohesive thing that defined my hometown. People moved in, people moved out, you were who you were. And I think that is partly true of Reno now, with all the people who have moved here from out of state. So I think what I want to do is explain how things feel from where I'm sitting.

Friday June 25th, 2010

I've been leading a charmed life, especially this last month. This is just as I want it, although real life out in the world pokes it's head in to remind me it is there. I woke up early yesterday, right before John texted me from the Apple store, and was having a lot of anxiety about my upcoming trip to China. Usually in the light of day, I can take it all in stride, but I had woken up at 5:30 and couldn't get back to sleep. Even though the sun was up, the hour was still early enough that all my worries were in the forefront. This would not do, I felt, since I have at least one good week left before I have to start really switching gears.

What I do almost every day is practice my music and practice my Chinese. I always have something to do, even if it's something that is not quite as compelling as it once was. I watch the kids while they swim, swim with the kids, walk the dog, make meals and do dishes, fold laundry, pack. The suitcases have been opened up on Molly's bed for two weeks now. I've been to stores to get various and sundry items we might need, like travel sized toiletries, anti-diarrhea medicine, bandage strips and antibacterial ointment. We might not need any of it, but I am never prepared so I figure I might as well be this time.

Other people travel all the time, but this is a big deal for me. I always have anxiety every time I get on a plane, but now, with my children split up and going to a foreign country, it's worse. If Molly hadn't wanted so much to go, I wouldn't have gone. But the leading up, the fundraising, all the preparation, it's been fun. It's given me a goal to work towards, it's been on the horizon for so long. Now it's almost here. I said I would be glad when it was over and we are home safe, and that is true, yet I will miss having this big thing that we are working for. Yet with the choirs, there will be more. There is the American International Choir Festival in Reno next year, the ACDA conference in Reno and then the World Choir Games in Cincinnati.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Summer Solstice

I'm writing this after the fact, but I'll back date the post. Just thought you should know.

On Monday, I had a summer solstice pool party. We almost sort of have a tradition of this, but we ended up not doing it last year. It started first just having a picnic out on the front lawn with the kids...or maybe just the kid. I think I was merely pregnant the first year I had one, which would have been 2003. I got the idea from a magazine, actually, possibly Cooking Light or the now defunct Walking.

The third or so year we had the picnic, we invited the kids from across the street over, and also invited them swimming. The picnic has always been on the front lawn so that we can watch the setting sun. And usually it is windy--I've had to chase many a plastic plate across the yard. We heat the pool and end up turning the light on, and swim until about 9. The sky always looks purplish from the turquoise of the pool, and I end up floating on my back in peace and quiet once all the kids are gone.

Last year we didn't have the pool party, not even sure if we had the picnic. It may have just been me and the kids again. This year I invited old friends and their children. Hope drove up in her white van with 4 of her 6 children, a bunch of hula hoops and drums. She also brought her iPod and it's cube speaker which glows in different colors as it plays; I'm green with envy, my own iPod speakers are put to shame. In a break from tradition, we ate out on the back patio near the pool before we swam. The pool was 92 degrees, which makes it so that once wet, you have to keep submerged or that part of you is freezing. It also makes you reluctant to get out of the pool, and it's a mad dash to get to the towel.

Hope couldn't come in because of her burn, but entertained us with hula hooping while playing the tambourine. I found it completely fitting for a solstice celebration, and utterly amusing given the setting of my backyard. Big house, small yard surrounded on all sides by other homes and their fences, and Hope with her tie-dyed pants and floral knit top with her dreads and witch music and psychedelic iPod, limber and talented enough to play the tambourine while keeping the hula hoop in orbit for a long time. I can't hula hoop at all.

It was the best summer solstice party ever. A bonfire would make the whole thing complete for me, but that never happens. However, the pool light flickers which gives that kind of effect, so I'm always content with that. But maybe I'll look into an outdoor fire thingy for next year.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Saturday June 5, 2010

It's a soft warm weekend in Reno. It feels soft because there is more cloud cover, but it's finally warming up. So the air is warm and it feels balmy. The sun is mitigated by the humidity--we don't quite feel the penetrating rays of the sun, burning our epidermis to a crisp, as it normally does. Then the breeze comes, and it feels more like it normally does. Yesterday it was even cooler and generally breezier.

Yesterday, Saturday, I had to work at a memorial service at church. This is one of the things that deacons do, and we have had a lot of memorial services this past year. It's been about a year since the last time I served at one, which was also the first time. On that day, I had also been asked to sing during the service. I think most of the usual singers were unavailable, so they asked me, which was nice and slightly frightening. Since I had to be there anyway, I volunteered to help with the reception. That was a busy service of people who didn't actually go to the church, but the man who had died had a connection, and he was very well liked. It was a very nice service. It was kind of funny to sing, and then later to stand and ladle up cups of punch while receiving compliments for my singing. Funnier still that I ended up getting a check for it when it was the easiest thing I had to do.

Yesterday, however, the service was very small, for a man who was not a member, but brother of a long time member. It was pretty much all regular church members, no more than 30 people. We set up at noon, with ecru tablecloth rounds and a bud vase with two white roses. The long tables had white cloths with lace ones over top. The fare that is served is very simple: cookies, mixed nuts, mints and, on this day, strawberries. I put the doily on the platters, then arranged the cookies on top. First I tried a round pattern, but decided to go for radial on the next platter. Another deacon did the flowers in the vases, then yet another used some of the stripped leaves to decorate the strawberry platter. We were done setting up pretty quickly, so I went into the open library and checked out a book.

We were sitting around at the table in the kitchen, chatting, waiting for the service to start. The pastor came by and said, "Hello servants." Someone responded with " I come not to be served, but to serve." When you become a deacon or an elder at St. John's, you receive an apron on the day you are ordained/installed. It has the church logo and name, and your position, then the words underneath, Not To Be Served, But To Serve. I realized, as we were sitting there, that I was the only one without my apron, which was in the back of my car. I think it's been there all year, I have quite the collection of things I might need at some point. We chatted for awhile, about books and other services, then I ran out to the car to get my apron from the trunk. I tied it on over my funeral dress, a long somewhat shapeless lightweight dress in navy blue sprigged with dark gold flowers. I wore a similar dress, though not the same one, to my father's funeral. This one serves whenever I need something suitable for a church situation where I'm not trying to be bold in my style.

There wasn't really much to do once the people came out and were eating, so we talked with them about other things. We talked about children's choir and the China trip and the music we were going to sing tomorrow. It had the feeling almost of being an after church social. After awhile, we decided to change out the deacon tablecloth rounds and replace them with colorful ones from the closet. The deacons keep their table decorations separate, so that they look nice for the memorial service receptions. We put on colorful table cloths, but left the bud vases on each table. At one point I amused someone with my attempt to fold up a round tablecloth, so I decided I needed more practice. We finished cleaning everything up, and then I went home. Three hours on a finally warm spring day in June, helping to support those whose loved one have passed out of this life.