Friday, June 27, 2008

I like lichen.

In honor of my dear high school geography teacher, a first-year fresh from APU, who got really excited when she noticed the screen shots from Pride and Prejudice adorning my binder and made a valiant effort for the rest of the semester to discuss period movies with me before class, I'd like to make an orthoepical aside. One day, dutifully reading from her prepared PowerPoint on the flora and fauna of some country or another, my teacher ended her spiel with a tentative, "and, um, 'litchen.'"

I sat in the darkened, map-lined classroom and felt sad. Being a sixteen-year-old senior in a class of freshmen, I wasn't exactly sure where I stood. Could I correct her without making her look stupid? Her hold was already so shaky; it was all she could do to keep the delinquent who sat in front of me from falling asleep on his desk every day. Besides, I had already caught my art history teacher writing "ascetic" instead of "aesthetic" on the board during vocabulary time, and my English teacher wavering over the spelling of "judgment," with the entire class insisting it was "judgement" against my steadfast adherence to the former, a disagreement that was only resolved when a couple of girls found a dictionary in the back of the room and vindicated me (For the record, the "e" is a British spelling, one never used in the United States, a fact I quickly apprised my teacher of, lest I appear less than knowledgeable on the point).

I decided to keep quiet. That any of the thirty-something ninth graders who were paying attention now thought that "litchen" was kosher gnawed at me, but I told myself I needed to consider my teacher's well-being. I can say it now, though, without any repercussion: it's pronounced "liken." Long "i" sound, hard "k." It comes from the Greek "leichen." Just remember: I like lichen.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Such great heights.

This week's campers didn't come in until Monday, so Sunday afternoon the most adventurous of us staffers hiked up to Suicide Rock. I'd been up a few times myself, but I'd always used Deer Springs Trail, a moderately inclining route. Isaac Shirley, however, knew of a shorter and less official way, so we scrambled up the makeshift climber's trail that rappellers and such have carved out over the years.

We got some striking views of Tahquitz as we rounded the rock face.

We reached the top much faster than I'd expected. Taking a rest, we spent some time admiring the elements of our usual world that we could identify. They took on an ethereal cast as we viewed them from the top, shimmering in the atmosphere: Mt. San Jacinto, Diamond Valley Lake, Idyllwild, and just visible to the north, Hemet.

We ambled down Deer Springs on the way back. The snowmelt was substantial enough this year to feed the creek with ample water.

We spotted a number of interesting specimens, besides the normal lizards and birds. Isaac caught hold of a baby woodpecker who had been scrambling along on the ground, and Rachel snapped a picture of the tiny rattlesnake that shimmied across our path.

Spirits were high the entire time. Chris toted his guitar up with him, and I thought he was crazy until he started playing on the way down. It was like we were in a movie with an expertly assembled soundtrack; his acoustic melodies floated along with us through the woods. Rachel and Shannon never flagged. I was proud of them; the first time I did that hike, I was seriously hating life until we reached the top. I don't know that I'd ever walked that much in my life. That was four years ago, though. This time, I was just settling into my rhythm when I realized we were already there.

Towards the end of the trail, Rachel, Shannon, and Isaac got into a manzanita apple fight. The sticky little berries looked really cute dangling in their hair.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

I hate numbers and money, but I love economics. Don't ask me how.

Yesterday, my econ prof offered extra credit if we posted on the class discussion board explaining the dip in oil prices caused by China's subsidy reduction last week. The WSJ blog post he wanted us to read was mildly interesting, but it was the reader comments below it that I really enjoyed. Between more prosaic responses like, "There might be technical buying of oil as it peaks in the short term," were lines like this: "The dollar is on a death spiral and I know that it’s just a matter ot time until everyone sees the ghost of the Weimar republic hanging over the old greenback, er purpleback like I do! The illuminati zombies running the fed and the treasury are Bilderberg spectre minions who have no real interest in defending the dollar because they want energy prices high to keep the Texas oil cartel happy and you buried in debt." This, of course, was followed by another's "Please. Stick to real economics."

It's a lot of work, but I'm really liking this class. I was worried that the math would be too much of a challenge, but for some reason, when paired with concrete data, problems actually make sense to me. I would have had such an easier time learning slope-intercept form if it had been put in terms of supply and demand curves.

Monday, June 23, 2008

His epilogue, an epigraph-worthy epigram.

Yesterday, I came across the obituary of a scholar of early Christianity, Henry Chadwick. The Times article featured a resonant quotation. If your life could only be summed up in one line, here's hoping it's as good as this:

“Nothing is sadder than someone who has lost his memory, and the church which has lost its memory is in the same state of senility.”

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Coming down the mountain.

First staff outing of the summer—an evening at a baseball game to see the Lake Elsinore Storm. We bid the campers good-bye, cleaned up after them, cleaned up ourselves, and then headed down the hill.

I'm not crazy about baseball, but I liked the change of scenery. And I like the people I work with! We had a good time pretending to marry the baseball players based on the head shots in the pamphlet they gave us and watching one of the staff guys struggle valiantly in one-on-one tug of war in between innings.

The game ended with a fireworks show, and we walked back to the parking lot afterward, glad that we'd be going to bed far above a world that at 10:30 at night had yet to begin cooling off.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

A room with a view. Also, our room with my view.

Here's camp as viewed from the top bunk in the left bedroom in the Maple Lodge. I didn't object when the twins sprang for the bottom beds; I'm totally learning how to pick my fights, I swear. Besides, I like lying at night cradled in my wooden crib, swaddled in my blanket cocoon. Our bunks here are way more secure than Point Loma's, which are basically two regular beds stacked on top of each other. You'd think that would be a safety hazard or something.

So we're definitely four girls crammed into one room, but we haven't had any major eruptions yet (maybe the pressure is just slowly building and the volcano will explode later this summer? I'll keep you posted . . .). We've been sharing the laundry load and trying to give each other space. We're also pretty tired, the twins with first-week fatigue, Angelica with homework looming over her, and me with that familiar creeping university-life sense of not quite enough sleep. But we had a really successful week, with things running smoothly in the kitchen and the staffers getting to know each other, and we have a longer weekend, since the next camp doesn't begin until Monday lunch. If I were only capable of sleeping in . . .

Monday, June 16, 2008

Home sweet camp.

You probably can't appreciate the extent from the picture, but we drove up to Idyllwild Sunday night positively immobilized underneath all of our stuff. There were six people beneath all that. That the trunk was completely full as well, sans spare tire, goes without saying, I'm sure.

We spent a sunny but bittersweet Father's Day at Oceanside. That in-between time is always the hardest, in between looking gleefully forward to an exciting adventure and gratefully back to the comfort and satisfaction of where you've been. Having all four of us away from home for two months, even if it's only a 25-minute drive up the hill, is going to be really different.

We're really excited, though. We finished our first day with little mishap (Rachel sliced her finger open, but it stopped bleeding eventually) and now Angelica and I are doing homework in the camp office. We're all sleeping in the same room, and everyone reports to work at different times in the morning, so we'll see how that goes tomorrow. . .

Friday, June 13, 2008

Kind of gross, but I couldn't resist...

...if only for the Office reference. In what I thought was one of the funniest moments this season, Andy declines to shake hands with a client on the golf course. He holds up his hands helplessly. Before explaining that he had spent untold hours practicing his swing, he exclaims, "Blisties!" I was tempted to do the same thing.

I was biking a couple of days ago and hit a curb on an unfortunate angle that sent me skidding across a sidewalk. Aside from a few scrapes and scratches that make me look like a five-year-old who bit off a little more than she could chew at the playground, I was fine. But what was more shocking than losing my balance, and a lot less painful, was the general solicitousness of strangers afterward. As I stood gingerly putting the chain back on my overturned bicycle, an older man pulled up beside me. "Are you all right?" he asked. "You took quite a spill there." I assured him I was.

I kept going, intending to wash up at the gym. All along the way, people asked me if I were okay—a mother herding her kids along the Esplanade walkway, a guy waiting beside his motorcycle, a girl texting on her cell phone, and a fellow cyclist as I left the fitness center. I felt like if I had actually hurt myself, the whole world would have taken care of me. It's curious, considering how that man in Connecticut was completely ignored by passerby last week.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

It's said to be a definition for genius, but I feel like it encompasses my town as well: 1% inspiration, 99% perspiration.

You know it's summer in Hemet when you go to grab some chocolate chips out of the cupboard (at 9 o'clock at night, no less!) and they leave a trail of slightly melted semi-sweet goodness on your hand behind them. Four days until camp.

We got a little taste of it last weekend, when we went up for Camp Maranatha's annual pre-summer work weekend. Lisa was chaperoning a jr. high trip to Six Flags, so I was in charge of feeding the volunteers. Mom and Angelica jumped in for some prep and clean-up, then went to power-wash windows while I finished things. The twins and Dad came up in the evening, after he spent the day at the Temecula Balloon and Wine Festival manning a Keller-Williams booth. We crashed in the Maple Lodge after dinner, playing Pass Word and laughing at things that shouldn't have been so funny (trying to make Angelica guess "blonde," I said "Shannon," but she didn't get it. Dad said "hair," and Shannon exclaimed, "Curly!" Because, of course, the first thing I'd think of when I saw the word "curly" would be Shannon . . .). After breakfast, the twins were feeling crummy because of their colds, and I really wanted to get my computer issues sorted out (see previous post), so I asked if I could drive us down the mountain.

My parents kindly allowed me to drive down the mountain unsupervised for the first time. Considering that I've been behind the wheel for almost four years now, I don't think it was an irrational decision on their part. When I was fifteen and only had my permit, my grandma and I drove all over the place. I was homeschooled and she was out visiting, so we painted the town whatever color we felt like.

Rachel took some cool pictures of our sweltering valley.

Home sweet Hemet.

Monday, June 9, 2008

I swear, it was like we were all in the same room. Except that we couldn't see each other and were actually thousands of miles apart.

With less than twenty-four hours to go before my online classes officially started, I knew I had to figure out why I couldn’t wirelessly connect to our home network with my new laptop. Plugging in the Ethernet cable had been sufficient up to this point, but between the classes and camp, I needed to be able to leave the kitchen table. So I sucked it up and called Dell.

Eventually a voice that wasn’t prerecorded greeted me, and when it did, it was distinctly French-Canadian. “Hello, this is Nino,” he said. “How can I help you?”

I explained my issue and we began troubleshooting. He accessed my computer remotely so that we could both view and manipulate my screen. While we waited for software to load, he made conversation. “Barr—that sounds familiar.” I suggested current Libertarian candidate Bob. “Oh really?” he replied. “No, I was thinking of a doctor. Dr. Brady Barr? Are you related?” And then I remembered watching the National Geographic channel in middle school and being delighted at sharing a surname with a herpetologist. But of course I had to tell him no, unfortunately, I was not related to either.

We continued to attempt diagnostics. As we both stared at my desktop, watching a green download bar incrementally inch its way across the screen, he asked me who had taken my background picture. “They’re an artist,” he said. I told him my sister had snapped it at the beach last week.

Nothing was working, and we hit an insurmountable username/password page. I steeled myself for rejection, sure that Nino would tell me sorry, there was nothing else he could do at that point, would you please call back with the primary account holder so that we may access your wireless account? But Nino was not about to give up on me. He contacted Verizon, and soon Brian joined us in a three-way conference call. Pleasant but matter-of-fact, Brian quickly grasped the situation. It was a “known issue” between Dell wireless cards and Verizon, he said. He told us how to gain access to the page, and we began yet another software download. I sat silent while Brian and Nino hashed out the situation. I vaguely followed their discussion, trying to make words like “unsecured network,” “modem,” “firmware,” and “router” form pictures in my head. I felt distinctly out of my element, but safe and sure in the hands of Nino and Brian.

The download was taking some time, though, about six minutes, which is eternity in customer-service time. Brian was getting antsy. “Are there any other questions you have at this time?” he asked us. “Well then, thank you for choosing Verizon, and if you—”

“Just-just hold on there,” Nino interjected. He wanted Brian to stay on the line in case the download didn’t work out. So did I; I didn’t want to have to go through the automated Verizon phone maze again if we didn’t have to. An awkward silence ensued.

“Sounds like you’ve got a busy day there, huh?” Nino offered to him.

“You could say that,” Brian returned. He muttered something about not having done enough of something so far today, and Nino concurred. “I have the same thing,” he said.

Eventually, the download completed. I asked Nino later why it took so long, and he explained that DSL gets split between the computers that are using it. I’m glad I didn’t mention that my sisters were streaming the season finale of Lost on another laptop. We successfully connected to the home network, and Brian gladly bid us goodbye.

Nino and I restarted my computer. To make sure we could access the internet, he googled Mr. Bean. “One of my favorites,” he said. “Do you have any favorites?” I told him Mr. Bean was fine with me.

Friday, June 6, 2008

What the Dickens?

While I think I will probably not be adding literary impressions to my collection anytime soon, A Tale of Two Cities, which I read this week, just begged for a resurrection of my naïve and simplistic analyses.

For one thing, Dickens has a terrible habit of sentence fragments:

“Rounding his mouth and both his eyes, as he stepped backward from the table, the waiter shifted his napkin from his right arm to his left, dropped into a comfortable attitude, and stood surveying the guest while he ate and drank, as from an observatory or watch-tower. According to the immemorial usage of waiters in all ages."

Even Microsoft Word would underline that with a squiggly green line. All he needed to do was end the first sentence after “attitude,” replace “and” with “he,” and attach the floating clause:

“Rounding his mouth and both his eyes, as he stepped backward from the table, the waiter shifted his napkin from his right arm to his left and dropped into a comfortable attitude. He stood surveying the guest while he ate and drank, as from an observatory or watch-tower, according to the immemorial usage of waiters in all ages.”

It’s clearer, less cumbersome to read, and grammatically correct. Everyone wins.

I appreciated the democratic Dickensian ideal of parenting. For instance, he denigrates the Parisian nobles for abandoning their children in favor of dinner parties. “Indeed, except for the mere act of bringing a troublesome child into this world—which does not go far towards the realisation of the name of mother—there was no such thing known to the fashion. Peasant women kept the unfashionable babies close, and brought them up, and charming grandmammas of sixty dressed and supped as at twenty.”

At other points, however, Dickens’ moralizing becomes unbearably overbearing. I might share many of the Victorians’ values, but I don’t like to have them pureed and spoon-fed to me. I can chew on solid ideas myself, thank you, and I’m not going to choke if I find a bone or two of contention. By the end, I was seriously resenting his coddling, paternalistic authorial voice.

The deprecating tone Dickens assumed, moreover, fostered little sympathy in me for the protagonists. His unconvincing characters make for merely memorable caricatures of real life. Dimensionless, they seem to require little more than one-word epithets to describe them. The angelic Lucie selflessly tends to her ailing father and steadfastly trusts in the good of humanity during the atrocities of the French Revolution. Her virtuous husband renounces his claim to nobility and risks his life to rescue a family servant. The villainous Madame Defarge shows no chink in her almost motiveless hatred, and meets a melodramatic end fit for her sins.

That scene, in fact, features a particularly trite climax. The faithful handmaiden Miss Pross defies Defarge in banal womanly hand-to-hand combat. “It was in vain for Madame Defarge to struggle and to strike; Miss Pross, with the vigorous tenacity of love, always so much stronger than hate, clasped her tight, and even lifted her from the floor in the struggle that they had.”

Dickens writes obliquely, constantly implying where he would have done better to outright state. His descriptions never seem to end, leaving the reader unsure of time, place, or point of view. Twentieth-century Baroness Orczy’s romp through the French Revolution, The Scarlet Pimpernel, swiftly and ably eliminated the need for a pretence of historicity. Dickens tries harder to accurately evoke this time, of which he also had no direct experience, but his sentimentality, more often than not, hamstrings his story, preventing it from rising above paltry sensationalism.

There is at least one moment, though, that manages to transcend the banal, and it comes at the best point it could: the end. The single character who undergoes significant internal development over the course of the story, the dissolute Sydney Carton, prepares to sacrifice himself for another at the foot of the guillotine. Looking back over his life, and forward to the life of the one he has saved, he realizes, “It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to, than I have ever known.”

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Taking it to the streets.

Now that it's not even funny to take pictures of gasoline prices, Angelica and I have taken to biking around Hemet. It's not quite as bike-friendly or picturesque as San Diego, but we're still able to get around fairly well. My dad found this tandem on Craigslist a few months ago for super-cheap. It's more like a bike-and-a-half than two bikes put together, so each person is really only riding three-quarters of a bike. It makes conversations easy, too.

Not wanting to be the punchline of a suburbia joke anymore ("Why do we drive to the gym and then park as close as possible to the entrance?"), we've been biking to the fitness center, too. It's only nine miles round-trip. By the time we get there, we're all warmed up for yoga or weights.

I was listening to a conversation about cycling on KPBS a few weeks before school let out. All we need to do, the director of the San Diego Bike Coalition insisted, is create a critical mass of cyclists. Drivers will eventually adjust, and officials will respond by creating more bike-friendly roads. I'm sure it's only a matter of time before bicycles become a legitmate form of transportation. After all, a human on a bike gets about 900 miles to the gallon.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

I guess I really miss writing reflective essays for school, because I wrote one last week.

I have a deep and abiding love for salsa. Our relationship dates back to elementary school, when a younger, pickier me sat in a kitchen in Cleveland delicately soaking my tortilla chips in my mom’s homemade salsa. The chunks of tomatoes disgusted me, but I found that dipping a chip for a minute or two left the perfect amount of fresh spiciness. My dad’s mom imparted her salsa-making abilities to my mom when they were all living in San Diego in the eighties. My parents moved back to their native Ohio right after my sister was born, bringing an acquired taste for true Mexican with them. Enchanted with the idea of the birthplace I was too young to remember, I periodically begged my parents to move back to California throughout the nine years we spent on the shores of Lake Erie.

In third grade, our independent study project topics were limited to subjects relating to the state of Ohio, which I found cruelly ironic, seeing how as I desperately wanted an excuse to research my milk-and-honey San Diego. Imagine my delight when my fourth grade teacher told us we could choose any topic at all for that year’s independent study projects. I bought Fodor’s Guide to San Diego with my saved birthday money (more often than not, I could make that fifty dollars or so last the entire year, until my next windfall. Coupled with the change I made selling my old toys to my sisters, my stash gave me a delicious feeling of financial security), checked out all the books I could find at the library, and commissioned my mom to make enough of her salsa to feed my whole class. We got extra points for bringing food in.

My teacher loved my presentation, and she loved the salsa. “You could package that and sell it,” she gushed to my mom. I remember thinking, with the self-satisfaction that comes from knowing more than someone else, that if my teacher had tasted real San Diego salsa, she wouldn’t have been so enthusiastic. I’d never tasted it myself, but I had it on my parents’ good authority that the real stuff was incomparable.

And so it is. We finally made it to California the next year. I touched the Pacific Ocean for the first time since I was two years old, quickly began a romance with fish tacos, and acquired a penchant for year-round sunshine. Good salsa became a way of life. The first time my mom and I walked into Cardenas, the local Mexican market, I’ll admit to a bit of trepidation. I don’t know if I’d ever been the minority, let alone the only, in a group of people. My reservations didn’t last long, though. The chips, crema fresca, guacamole, carne asada, and, of course, salsa were unbelievable.

I flew back East with my grandma one year for my seventeenth birthday. Wanting to recreate our favorite meals, she and I unsuccessfully scoped out the “Hispanic” section of the local grocery store for pico de gallo seasoning and drove all over the greater Cleveland area in search of carne asada. We found a worthy version in Willoughby, and shared a pleasant dinner. We got a good laugh out of a woman at the table next to us. Pucker-faced, she was entreating the waiter: “Do you have some sour cream or something? This salsa is way too hot.” The salsa, actually, was incredibly mild, at least to my grandma and me.

When I started college, I wanted to maintain my fruit and vegetable intake, but the cafeteria salad bar often left quite a few things to be desired. The salsa bar, however, was straight out of my fourth-grade fantasy. Most of the kitchen workers drive up from Mexico every day, since my school is so close to the border, and they bring their traditional methods with them. On any given day, they feature three or four different salsas, and I eat it with eggs, salad, chips, beans—whatever I can tastefully pair it with.

It’s funny; I am doing exactly what I wanted to do as a little kid in Cleveland: going to college, living in San Diego, and eating authentic salsa. You know what, though? My mom’s is actually just as good.