uc_davis_logo.gifI don't feel like writing. Today was too long. You see, Davis started again.

8:00am

Bright and early I drove the 80 miles to campus, parked in the only available parking lot, hiked to the book store and picked up the books I'd reserved online. The crazy girl behind the desk handed me a giant box brimming with texts.

My jaw hit the floor. Hard.

"You're an English major, huh?" No words would come. I nodded, grimacing, and trying to collect myself. Class was going to begin and I now had to portage this hulking box the entire distance to Olson Hall. What a start!

12:10pm

First class, Intro to Poetry. No, I'm not cheating and taking it again. This is more of a Poetry Appreciation class, which is something I can get behind. My teacher is a reformed hippie named McLean. He speaks Spanish, plays flamenco guitar, believes in the value of "the duende", and recites Ezra Pound.

The apparition of these faces at the Metro.
Petals on a wet, black bough.

I'll like this class if I can get past his crazy rambling about the way his colleagues at the university are "all out to take these writings and pin them down like some friggin' butterfly... you know? Like... the structure of this play suggest that maybe Shakespeare didn't write all those other plays. So what? Like... they are great plays. They're art, man." Groovy. He's assigned everyone from Kerouac to Eliot to Yeats. This will be good.

So you'd think that with the day off to such a marvelous start, it would continue. Not so much.

1:40pm

On the heels of poetry comes one of the greatest poets of all time. Old Bill Shakespeare himself. Unfortunately our university has divided him into three parts. Early, middle and late works. We have to take two of the three for the major. I took Early because it fit with my schedule two years ago.

Let's just say this was a grotesque and violent period from Shakespeare. Between massive wars, rape, incest, infanticide and cannibalism, he covered all the bases that make me want to throw up. Now I'm taking the Late works. Guess what. None, and I do mean none, of the Shakespearian plays I like came during his Late Period either. Apparently all the later stuff is obsessed with death, illness, human failure, loss of purpose, insanity. Terrific! All of the lovely, witty romantic comedies fell in Middle.

To take or not to take, that is the question.

I gotta.

3:10pm

Moving on I found that my Renaissance Literature class is actually not as take-able as I'd hoped. It's another MUST for me, but was only added to the class schedule at the last second. Hey, better luck next time, right?

And remember my huge tub o' books? I was still balancing it on my hip like an insanely heavy, square shaped child, lugging it between classes and wedging it under my desk. I opened it upon leaving my third class to find that the "savvy, motivated personnel" at the UCD bookstore had made a slight error. Two full sets of books were for the incorrect classes. Three cheers for student employees! For just one second I contemplated arson. Then, remembering I was a civilized Super Senior at a prestigious university, I hefted the darn box one more time and stalked my way to the Return section.

4:40pm

Feeling a thousand pounds lighter, I eased into my last class of the day. The professor is one I've had before; in fact, I had him last quarter for a Brit Lit class. This time he's teaching 19th Century British Novel. To the outsider, these two classes might sound very similar. To me... I find them ridiculously the same and, therefore, I am outraged that both are requirements for my degree. Ugh! If I had a buck for every British literature, fiction, novel, poetry, critic and/or essay class I've taken... I'd have at least twenty dollars.

Anyway, Tracy is a good guy. Though, as we were going over the syllabus, I noted that two of the books coming up had been ones we studied last quarter (again with the similarity). It was then that he looked up and made eye contact with me and few others and said, "While it is not technically plagiarism, those of you who have written on any of these books for other classes may not turn those papers in a second time. All work must be original." Interesting. If I hadn't been in such a great mood, I might have decided to re-submit my A paper on Jane Eyre in six weeks. But I'm mature.

Did you know that the women in 19th century Britain could not vote, own property or obtain a college degree until 1870? And men could be granted a divorce on the basis of adultery, but women had to be able to prove their husbands' adultery and beastiality/incest/insanity before they could even file for one. That's fair.

6:00pm

I hiked from Wellman to my car, so far away, one of the last in the parking lot near the train tracks by the freeway. And, as I slumped into my seat (black leather really sucks in the heat, especially in Davis where it was 100+ degrees today at 6:30pm), I imagined how nice it would be to be that little annoying TV-watching kid in the original Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. You know, the one who teleports to the other side of the room in millions of teeny, tiny little particles. Yeah, that would have been totally worth it. I'd be tiny, wearing white spandex, but HOME!

8:30pm

So now I am home. Lying on my bed, freshly showered. Irritable. Still an undergraduate. With hair that will NOT grow out after the terrible hair cut I inflicted upon it a couple months ago. No clean jeans to wear tomorrow.

Could I complain more? Be careful what you ask. I'll stop now. There's a husband to eat dinner with (yes, dinner, at 9:45pm... this is my "life") and a comfy bed to sleep in. And tomorrow we're escaping to the mountains with some friends. In the mean time, there's always Tylenol PM and a good book.

Remember, I did just bring home an entire library.

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Ted.jpgHe was born almost 18 months to the day after I was. He came sporting the same freckles, the same pearl white skin. But his fluff of baby hair had a red tint to it, a slight curl. And, oh, his voice was deep! People used to stare at my brother, Ted, as he romped across the playground thinking he was so big. It was his manner, that wide-eyed, mischievous, mud-pie-making grin that he plastered all over his freckled face, that disarmed people. He looked like the subject of a Norman Rockwell painting: an entirely American boy ready to play, to get grass stains.

But sometimes he did cry. And when he cried, he howled! I used to kneel next to his baby rocker and tuck him under the chin with my finger, mimicking our mom, and say, 'What'sa mattah, Teeeeeeed?' in my high, big-sister voice. Not that this always worked, but it made the grown-ups laugh, and it's a good memory.

I loved my little brother. We stuck up for each other. On the playground a boy in my grade poked me until I cried. Ted, little Ted, ran up and wrapped his chubby arms around the bully, picking him up into the air and dropping him on the ground. When both of us were hauled into the Principal's office, we stood our ground. It's a sibling thing. Later on, much later, when bullies were actually mean, when Ted's ears stuck out and his feet were too big, clunking around at the end of his long, skinny legs, I was able to do the same for him. Nobody was going to mess with my brother.

I'll never know him as I did so long ago, when I sang him to sleep after a scary movie, or when I told him stories, or when I pretended to count and name each of his freckles, or when we'd play football one-on-one in the parking lot (Dad was permanent QB). Ted had these giant hands, always. And Dad coached him to catch the ball softly, cradling it and bringing it home to rest under his arm, safe from me. I think of these times and I smile because a brother's love is a strange, beautiful thing.

He called me ugly, stupid, mean, rotten. He hit me, hid from me, tattled on me, hated me. But I did all that to him, too, and sometimes more. I could talk faster. I could think of more things to say. It was later, after the fight had died down, and we became friends again, that love shone. We danced together. I made him dance with me. But secretly he liked to pick me up and twirl me like Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. We imagined. I made up a game and he would pretend to be anything I needed him to be. We raced. I ran faster. He ran further. Though you could not meet two people more opposite than we, deep down ran that same love that will be there, red like blood and strong like steel, until the day we die.

Everyone goes through an awkward phase. Ted's lasted a while, but he grew into his feet and his ears, ditched his glasses and embraced his freckles. My friends all had crushes on him at one time or another. He was my best friend's first kiss, something I was conflicted about. It happened in my parents' hot tub, too. Thank God I didn't actually have to see it. The Ya-Ya he didn't kiss, he did take to junior prom a couple of years later. We're a tight knit bunch. How do we not feel weird about all this? You've got me.

School didn't click with Ted the way it did with me. Academic achievement wasn't his goal, nor was it a byproduct of his choices during high school. And when graduation came and he scraped by, you'd never have guessed it. In his vibrant green cap and gown, holding his diploma, he was proud. Relieved, too, of course. But proud. We have one particular picture of Ted, after graduation, with his best friend, Don. They are cheering and laughing at the same time, bellowing like the Marines they were both destined to become. When Mom snapped that photo she caught a glimpse of Ted without trouble or confusion or the lack of options. In that second he was poised for absolute joy.

TedandMom.jpgThe rest of Ted's life so far is too entwined with the Marine corps for me to understand. Much of it has been kept from me. I'm sheltered. After a year on a tour in Japan and in the Philippines, where Ted rose to the challenges he faced and literally fed the hungry and sheltered the homeless, my brother learned about manhood. The control of the military grated on him, though. He longed for home. History was being made, however, and after a short leave he was shipped to Iraq. I knew vaguely that he drove any and every vehicle on his base. He transported troops and supplies, food and oil, across vast stretches of dangerous territory.

My brother has seen men die. I can't wrap my head around that. When I look in his eyes I know that he has seen more than I could ever have feared seeing, he knows more of suffering and pain and conquest. Yet he doesn't understand it. There is still a boyish innocence there, behind those big blue eyes of his. All he has seen has not quite been able to harden the hope I knew when we were children. There must, he believes, be a reason for it all.

We've come quite a ways from our games of hide-and-seek in Newark. Along the way we lost touch. Not just after he joined the Marines. It was before. When I chose my path, he took a completely different one. In my worst moments I have screamed at my brother, telling him that he chose wrong. Choose again! I implore him. You'll see I'm right. But really, when my loudness and self-righteousness took over, when I screamed, I was really just calling for my little brother. Follow me. Everything will work if you come this way. And if you don't, I can't protect you.

While Ted was in Japan, I met and fell in love with Jon. While Ted was in Iraq, I got engaged and then married. I sent him pictures and letters, of course. I thought of him, too, on that day. And while I was getting my hair done that lovely morning, Ted called me. I cried as we spoke. Because every conversation we had while he was over there had an element of desperation in it. This, I knew, we all knew, could be it. More than anything I just wanted my brother home, safe, to meet my husband and be my brother. Simple things.

Tomorrow, September 29, 2005, Corporal Theodore Edward Pancoast will be 21 years old. He is currently stationed at 29 Palms in Southern California. May God bless and keep my brother.

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birdbybird.jpgAnne Lamott is a wonderful author. Her book "Bird By Bird" has been a blessing and a relief to read more than once. And she inspires me. Which is her point in that book. She's out to make us who claim to be writers... write!

I made all sorts of excuses the last time. I couldn't be too inspired because I was in the midst of my broker's class (which, as any reader of mine can attest to, isn't great for getting the creative juices a-flowing). Now, however, my summer is ending. I'm coming away with many new experiences and qualifications as a person, an adult, a wife, a friend and a daughter. As a writer it's time to get my butt in gear.

One strategy Lamott suggests for those of us who are prone to "dry spells" is the idea of Inches. Sit down and write just an inch. Or three inches if you're feeling slightly less than completely empty. Surprisingly, an inch or two can become a page in no time. It's a jump start. I've tried it before, and it always works for me. Not that I'm penning novels here. But my time isn't wasted when the product of an hour is a memory made tangible and set down for posterity, or a plot begun, or a character born. Tonight's harvest wasn't anything out of the ordinary, but I thought I'd cheat a little and place it here.

These inches lack purpose, commitmet, resolution... every key element of good writing. But I focused on the language, and it felt great! Like a workout for the brain. Let's hope I remember this when I feel plum tuckered mid-quarter.

When I first sit down my memories come too fast to me, choking my brain with images and sounds: a loud girl's voice, a black bruise on my hand from punching a tetherball like a maniac at recess, the pool water sloshing up over the edge after a perfect cannonball, someone touching me when I wasn't ready for it, the horrible tug in my mouth when the dentist had to extract the countless, stubborn baby teeth that clogged my smile, the smell of pipe tobacco floating to me as I passed an old man taking his daily constitutional, the flapping and buzzing of a baseball card fastened to a bike frame with a clothespin...

Childhood? Mine? Perhaps. Or are they all braided in with the stories I've heard and the books I've read, the movies I've seen, my imaginings? I can't tell sometimes.

It's the possibility of fiction that allows me to consider this past. I don't fear it. Not like those unfortunate people who were starved of affection or lied to or beaten or humiliated or rendered impossibly ill. What shall I do with all my material?

Lullaby

On the edge of my bed sits my mother. She smiles at me and listens to my wild stories about school and my friends. Her long, warm fingers play absently with the laced edge of my violet comforter, worn with age and infinite washings. I watch her fingers move like a happy, nimble spider, catching the white threads and pulling, twisting, smoothing, stretching.

There is no scent or sound other than her breathing, always deeper and more calm than my own. When she rocked me to sleep I would try and match her breaths, the slow intake and pause. But I could never quite achieve that match. I'd give up.

And then she'd sing to me. I loved the songs she chose, favorites from her own childhood, sung by her own mother, a grandmother I'd never had the chance to meet. Deep maternal tones ran beneath the silly, meaningless words. My child heart was soothed into sleep.

Years later, when I was away at college and jerked from sleep by a nightmare, I sometimes wished I could call and hear my mother's lullaby again.

Drowning

Water snagged my clothes and sucked me down to the sandy bottom of the lake. I was caught in the undertow I'd been warned about by my uncle, just before I swam too deep. In the murky darkness I couldn't see the terrors I were sure were all around me; I could not breathe; I could not find up.

But if my life flashed before my eyes, I didn't see it. Seven years would probably just be a blip rather than a flash anyway. And as my lungs burned for air, wooziness overtook me and I released myself. It was after the struggle stopped that I floated to the surface, a mile down shore from my family having a picnic on the beach.

When I dragged myself onto the dry dune to catch my breath, I had to think. Did I almost drown? Was that what 'almost drowning' was like? Or would this be another exaggeration on my part? Discreetly I attempted to empty my magenta bathing suit of the sand that it had collected during my escapade. How embarrassing.

I decided that I was simply a lousy swimmer. No need to hear my parents explain again how outrageous my imagination could be sometimes.

A Sad Shell

There was a lovely, normal woman who lived across the street from my family when I was growing up. Her hair was especially curly and honey blonde, and her smile was a bit pearly. I thought she was beautiful.

And she was raising two beautiful children. Even if her son was a tad arrogant and her daughter a little spoiled. She doted on her husband, always smiling at him. It was always the same smile, it seemed. Practiced, measured so that she'd have the energy to do it all day long.

We watched her homeschool the kids, be the perfect 'team mom' at little league games, style her daughter's hair every morning like a little doll, cook oodles of goodies for the neighborhood bake sale, do aerobics at the community center... the list went on.

She was religious, too, a devout Mormon. But any and all discipline was deferred to her husband, the man of the house. After a while she seemed to me a shell of person, a sad shell of a person.

It still shocked everyone when the family woke up one day to find her gone completely. No word. Just gone. And there was nothing lovely or normal about it.

Rumors abounded, of course. If they were true she was living in Seattle with a photographer who went by only his first name; she was his model, his muse. Or she'd gone back to school and was studying dentistry. Or there'd been a secret intervention and she was currently in a very high security rehabilitation facility on the west coast, where her roommate had once starred on Beverly Hills 90210.

Whatever the case, her family didn't appear to miss her too much, though her son barely made it through high school and her daughter developed a call-for-a-good-time reputation.

I remember watching the woman's husband after she'd gone. He'd been distant before, more assured. In her absence he reached out to anyone and everyone. I was proud to see that he was answered.

Detached

My dream began on a hilltop and ended in a gritty alley behind a grocery store where my family shopped weekly for many years. It was never me in the dream, though, just a girl's body detached from my urgent thoughts.

She walked down the steep side of the hill, stomping to break the momentum, but her feet would begin to wheel too fast and she was swept downward out of control. I never noticed the view from the hilltop, just that she was above something and I was too busy trying to get my thoughts through to her and protect her.

Exhausted she would wander at the bottom of the hill through a phony looking town. Bright storefronts and empty windows, like a set for a play that someone had wheeled onstage just moments before the curtain shot up. No curtain, though, just a straight, narrow road to nothing.

She stopped abruptly and turned left into an alley I hadn't seen before. In the alley she died. I felt the death, but not the pain. There was no watching or seeing or hearing. It felt like a tightness was unbound in my chest, but I don't believe I was her soul, because I didn't float away. It was just the body and me, which was no different except that something was missing. Life probably.

I studied the way she lay crooked on the ground, like a broken bird fallen from her nest. Long, red scratches had appeared on her wrists, but I could never decide how they had been inflicted on this girl who was not me.

She could not have been me. Mostly I think this because I felt no sadness when she died. Until I tried to leave the body, I wasn't afraid either.

But then I was stuck. I only tried to leave once, I could see the brightness of the street at the end of the alley, but it was no use. In fact, the certainty with which I knew that leaving the body was impossible kept me from fighting. That's when the fear set it. The alley was darker, the street further away, and the body distorted into everything horrible.

My insubstantial being yearned to wake up.

Morning

His breathing is soft, like the skin at the nape of his neck, covered with a curl of dark, soft hair. I count his rhythm and think about eternity and what he might want for breakfast when he does wake up, which is always after I do. Never, in this early morning moment of study, do I move unless absolutely necessary. His waking is inevitable, but when he sleeps he is a little boy angel, fearless and undaunted by the world, hopeful, trusting, unblemished. For that second his history is suspended and I see nothing but the beauty of a good man who is mine. I love him. Then I notice that his eyes aren't entirely closed. I can see them, blue and sleepy beneath his lashes, but definitely seeing. I blush. I've been caught. But, in fact, he is studying me, too. Quickly he shuts them again, as if I might not have seen him peeking at me, and allows me to continue my contemplation uninterrupted. Why not? This game continues until it becomes absurd, the sincerity of my study is lost when I begin making funny faces at him when he peeks again. His eyes open and, unbelievably, I love him more.

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GrandmaKnitsB.jpgFor weeks I ate, drank and slept insurance. It comes with the territory. All day I'd sit in class and hear my sweet, old teacher drone on and on about coverage and deductibles, limits and hazards. After a while the jargon was running constantly through my head, bouncing around and causing me pin pricks of aching pain. How much can one person take? And, more importantly, could this kind of injury be insured?

When last weekend came I was relieved that the class was over, but the worry about the exam had already set in. After all, the test meant so much. Talk about pressure! Without a license, there is a limit to what an employee can do when it comes to insurance. She can't talk to clients; she can't quote insurance; she can't sign letters. The list goes on. What was I to do? Cindy said, "I learned how to knit. It relaxes me."

I said, "I'll try anything."

Knitting brings to mind gray-haired old ladies in long lavender dresses, a long strand of yarn trailing from a complicated gray sweater on her lap to a ball on the floor.

Now picture this.

Two girls in their early twenties, t-shirts and jeans, hair in ponytails, sitting cross-legged on the floor, awkwardly maneuvering their own long green knitting needles. That's us. Not an ordinary picture to be sure. And the products of our labor aren't terribly good either.

But we certainly were relaxed that day. And for the rest of this week, whenever I'd had as much studying and insurance as I could take, I'd plunk myself down on the couch and take up my knitting, a coffee colored scarf. Disney was intrigued by my new hobby of course. He couldn't understand something else, something fuzzy and odd, in his place on my lap. What was up?

Now he's going along with it. Just humor her, he thinks, she'll get bored and I'll be top lap-sitter again. I don't know, though. There is something soothing about the clicking of the aluminum needles and the easy tug and stretch of the yarn between my fingers. Maybe it's the motion, completely different from anything else I do during the day. We as a generation haven't been taught to be particulary dextrous or nimble with our fingers. Typing gives them a workout, sure, but real skill... winding and twisting, threading something simple into something useful, that's like nothing else I do.

And being relaxed helped me greatly on Thursday. Though I'd stressed and struggled through countless hours of study and memorization, I still didn't feel ready for my exam. On Wednesday I took BART into the city for the last required time to meet with my friends from class. The four of us met at my friend Laura's place to cram. Over pizza we drilled each other on vocabulary, posed potential test questions, guessed pitifully every time we didn't know an answer and threw our hands up at the end of the night.

The next morning Laura and I were up at 6:00am, took a long walk in the chilly city morning air to the nearest bus stop, took the bus to our test site and got off. We were super early! But that's way better than being late. Jamba Juice (including an Energy Boost... I took no chances) woke us up, and we continued to study.

Then we were in the building, waiting in the lobby with the other test-takers, wearing name tags and anxiously clutching our envelopes filled with important paperwork. I felt slightly ill. So much was riding in the test. And I knew it was going to be hard. Laura had begun to panic, claiming to have lost everything we'd ever learned about the subject.

A crazy Philippino woman wearing a tag that read "Proctor" led us into a room to check us in. I was third in line. Oh good, I thought, I'll be at computer #3. Three is my lucky number. Ordinarly I'm not supersticious, but ordinarily I also have more confidence. As I reached into my wallet for my ID, I spilled my collection of business cards and coins all over the floor. My face went red and my heart stopped.

Good start, Audrey.

Laura, ever the dutiful friend, stepped out of line to help me pick everything up. She told me not to worry, but the waver in her own voice left me feeling very much the same way she sounded. Scared. I was placed at computer #4. A very bad number. Oh well, I'm not supposed to be supersticious anyway.

In her very thick accent, the proctor ran us through the very complicated instructions on how to take the test, how to click through the questions, how to flag the ones we weren't sure about, how to unflag them, how to submit the test. She warned us that if we submitted the test with even one question still flagged, we would receive a score of zero. No pressure, though.

A man who had been nervously rattling on about the effects of big government, the establishment, "the man" and "big brother" in the elevator on the way up, raised his hand and asked how we'd know whether we'd passed.

"You submit zee test ond raze yore hand. I take you in zee room. Eef I osk you fore yore en-VAL-ope, you pass." She looked threateningly around the room, making eye contact with each of us. "But!" She hissed. "If I no osk fore yore en-VAL-ope, you no PASS!"

Laura gulped.

Crazy Proctor whirled on her heel and stomped to the entrance of her little glass room where she would be watching us suffer, checking always to see if anyone were to dare to be "cheeeeeting".

"You start now."

Minutes dragged by. We had three hours, and there were two little timers running side by side at the top of my screen. One told how much time I'd taken, the other how much time remained. But I was drowning in the questions themselves, not caring about the time. I flagged many, even when I was confident about my answer, just in case I remembered something important later on. I didn't.

"John holds a Personal Auto Policy with split limits of 30/60/25. His friend Paul holds a Personal Auto Policy with no collision coverage and split limits of 15/60/20. John drives Paul in Paul's car on an errand for Paul's employers, XYZ company. On the way, John is involved in an at-fault accident in the state of Nevada. The minimum Personal Auto Limits in Nevada are 45/90/10. In the accident, John and Paul have each suffered $10,000 in personal injuries and the car is a total loss. Which statement is true?

A. John will collect $2,000 of med pay and Paul will collect nothing.

B. XYZ Company is vicariously liable and will cover all losses.

C. Paul's auto will be covered for Actual Cash Value by John's policy only because Paul does not have collision insurance.

D. You want to run away screaming from this insanely quiet room, never to hear the word insurance again."

Oh, definitely D!

But I flagged it in case I wanted to come back later. I'm kidding. However, the questions were convoluted, even intimidating. Half the time I felt like an idiot with my head spinning in the wake of a drive-by insurancing.

When I click the last answer and saw the "Submit Test Now" button appear on my screen I checked the clock. Only an hour and fifteen minutes had gone by. I blinked. Impossible! This test was outrageously hard. How could I be done so quickly. On my left, Laura was practically hyperventilating. I could hear the Hail Marys essuing from her lips. Impossible!

I stared at the final button. To submit would mean certain failure. No one was that fast at this stuff. I'd obviously answered every singly question wrong. Crazy Proctor Lady would laugh like a hyena and call my mom to tell on me. Five more minutes crawled by. Sweating, I reached out and submitted my test.

Even as I raised my hand I felt the doom crawl over me. Laura shot me a crazed look. If you're done already, her eyes screamed, then I'm going to do worse than fail. I'm going to die! I tried to reassure her silently, but the proctor was next to me, hastening me into her chamber. I was fingerprinted, but I don't remember going through that. My head felt foggy. Perhaps I would faint. Then they'd pass me out of pity. How does one swoon? I surveyed my immediate ground space. I'd have to go to the right, avoid the table leg, stay out of the swing path of the door.

Crazy Proctor mumbled somthing.

"What was that?" I managed.

"Pleece geev me zee en-VAL-ope." She extended her hand and I wanted to scream. Is she toying with me? Why doesn't she say I passed? Why doesn't she congratulate me? Hug me? Pat me on the back? Do adults ever projectile vomit?

"Does that m-m-mean I passed?"

She looked at me like I was nuts. She probably gets this question a zillion times a week.

"Yesssss. Pleece geev me zee en-VAL-ope. You pass."

I floated from that room. Ironically, an hour and a half later, Laura was involved in a photo-finish with the clock. She was the last soul out of the chamber. And she passed, too. We're brokers, at the age of 22. Impossible! I owe much of this to knitting.

Unfortunately the consequences of my learning to knit aren't all good. It's very hard to tear myself away from my current project. I have to finish the row! Occasionally it gets in the way of my blogging. Not that anyone else thinks that's so bad.

I am now a broker who writes and knits in her spare time. And this Christmas I fear many of my loved ones will be receiving various scarves or hats. You know, for all the icy winter weather we experience here in Livermore. No return policy, guys. Sorry. It's my therapy. Be grateful I'm not taking up anvil-making instead.

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bart.jpgHooray! My broker's license class is over. *sigh* Now only a review session (Monday) and the 3-hour test (Thursday) stand in my way. Tomorrow it's back to work with Mom. And thank goodness. I learned to love San Francisco during this last week, the longest of my life. But I will NOT miss BART. Nope. BART may have zipped me to class each day, but there were so many weird people on that one train. And they all found a way to take my train, too. Let's list a few of my (least) favorites:

-Likes-To-Hear-Herself-Talk-Chick... the woman stood loudly joking to her friends about how she heard that, "George W. Bush can't even pro-NOUNCE Katrina! No, HA HA HA, SER-iously!" I wasn't the only one rolling my eyes and wishing that she'd lower her viewpoint by at least a decible.

-No-Sense-Of-Personal-Space-Guy... he found his way onto the train, cramming in just as the doors sucked shut and locked us all closely together. Very closely. At least you would have thought so. He was grabbing the ceiling rail right next to me, shoulder to my shoulder. I could feel his breath on me. And the best part was lurching to a stop and clunking knees with him. No, wait, the actual best part was looking around the car and noting all the space that was available for standing, but wasn't being used.

-Unnecessarily-Loud-Walkman-Dude... he pushed through the doors of the train, bringing with him the joyful beat of "Cellllabrate good times, Come on!" Technically the bass-less tune was pumping from the walkman he held in his hands. And why, you ask, could everyone else in the car hear the song, too? Well, the man had accidentally pulled the headphones from the walkman, letting the music play through the speakers alone. Wonderful! In fact, it made me want to celebrate.

-Woman-With-Excrutiatingly-Abnoxious-Children... I think her title speaks for itself. How sweet. Little Johnnie and Janie Junior were jumping back and forth over the seat in front of them, shrieking loudly all the way. Two! Four! Six! Eight! What don't we appreciate?! Children! Children! Ill-mannered Children!

-Self-Absorbed-Swearing-Guy-With-A-Phone... "Hello, Mike? Mike? This is Jeff. Yeah, I need you to fax those Z29 Forms over to the New York office right away. No, the guy in accounting over there is such a @(*)#! Listen, the Limited Real Estate Clause has to be revised. Do that. Give me a #)(*@&# break! I worked fourteen hours yesterday to keep the LA office off your @#)&. Yeah. Right." Click. Let's all hope those Z29s go through ASAP (Which he pronounced as if it were a word rather than an acronym. I hate that.).

-The-Ethnic-Food-Eater... Nothing against good food from any other country, but it smells. Whatever this woman was eating, at 6:45am, was barely contained in its little white styrofoam leftover box, and it was gross! Think seafood, curry, stinky cheese. Anything smelly. She ate it while we were all stuck together in that teensy, air-tight train car.

-Obscene-Lip-Licker-Guy... he got on the train at West Oakland station and, as we took off eastward, he looked directly at me and slowly, diliberately licked his lips. Ugh! I mean, I knew that kind of thing happened to people (unfortunately), but I really had hoped it wouldn't happen to me. At Lake Merritt station he detrained... one stop after he boarded... which made me wonder if he simply rode BART to lick his lips at poor, unsuspecting women. Gross.

-Wannabe-Thugs... two of them, sagging jeans, dirty tank tops, yelling obscenities at each other, shoving each other, laughing raucously at each other. Not a second thought about their inappropriate behavior. A whole trip home was disrupted as they swung on the ceiling bars like apes and disturbed little elderly ladies.

I'm sure there were more, but I'm blocking them from my memory. However, to be fair to the Bay Area Rapid Transit system and the convenience it brings to our lives, there were a few nice people on the train. For instance:

-Mr. Chivalrous... a young man with a backpack and an Ipod who made sure to give up his seat for an elderly lady who boarded the train. He also made sure to let myself and another girl exit the train before the throng of crazed homegoers could trample us to the ground. A nice guy.

-The-Door-Catcher... who heard a frazzled cry to "Wait!" and stopped the doors from closing long enough for a young woman in a suit to slip onto the train at the last second. "Oh, thanks! I have a big meeting at 8:00!"

-All-People-Who-Put-Their-Phones-On-Vibrate... nothing pierces the early morning air and shatters the just-waking eardrums like a whining, polyphonic rendition of "Hit Me Baby, One More Time". Thank goodness for the considerate people who silenced their cells.

It balances out, I suppose. And it was so convenient to rise from the underground station via escalator, into the crisp city breeze and the bustle of the city morning. The city remains to be something of an anomaly to me, of course. But eventually the constant movement of all people and things became less incessant and more inspiring. These folks were busy and off to work. Dead leaves whisked along in the gutters with the wind. There is always someplace to go, something to do, someone to talk to.

sf_fog.jpgAnd there are always people who are stopped, in the middle of the day, in the middle of the street, in the middle of their lives. These people, nameless, jobless, homeless, shameless people, hunker down at odd corners holding out their hands. It has always been hard for me to simply walk on by. But once, when my mom was driving through the city, a man walked up without warning and spit on her car window. Another time a friend of mine and his wife were mugged by such a man. I hate those stories.

Collectively these people scare us because they are the opposite of us and we don't understand such a drastic, even violent difference. I'm afraid, too. Still, while these people, usually men, lack so much, I have a hard time believing that they are all simply heartless, too. At some point they were all little boys who walked to school or threw paper airplanes or traded baseball cards. They have mothers and fathers, maybe siblings. Once they may even have had hope.

I walked up to one such man and dropped thirty-five cents, the change from my early morning diet Coke purchase, into his dirty, outstretched hands.

A friend of mine scoffed, "Audrey, don't to that. Some of these guys even have jobs, and just do this for the money." That could be true. I read somewhere about a CEO who was arrested for posing as a homeless man on his lunch breaks to bring in tax-free money. Something makes me think, though, that people like that are in the minority.

In New Orleans, people say, the majority of those who died or were stranded were poor, even homeless, and black. People accuse our president of using those statistics as a reason to delay recovery and relief. (I think this is terrible and absurd.)

Well, the man I gave change to for the last week is also poor, homeless and black. Maybe he's planning to pool the pitiful offerings of suckers like me and go out and buy liquor, and he'll wake up in that same stairwell every day, never shower, scare people with his degeneration. Or maybe he has a soul that is in need of just as much kindness as the people whom I look upon as my friends. Most likely both ideas are true.

I believe that we who are able to do for those less fortunate, "the least of these", are helping to continue an age-old tradition of charity and brotherly love. If the man sitting on the sidewalk claiming to be a "disabled veteran" and/or willing to "work for food" is already damned, nothing I can do will save him, and nothing I can do will hurt him any more than he is hurting already. This particular man smiled and blessed me. And I don't just push that aside. This is the very least I can do.

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ship.jpgIt was in my alone time as a child that my imagination took to the sky. Sitting cross legged beneath my parents' dining room table, I fancied myself in a mossy, green meadow sheltered by a willow tree. This tree spread her benevolent arms in many of my daydreams. At night I was lulled to sleep by the whispering of her leaves.

It was my mind that sent a thousand ships sailing across the seven seas. It was my mind that pulled up their golden sails and draped the wooden maiden at the bow with regal purple fabric. My mind invented the pirates, teeth bared and feathered hats tilted, that rallied to conquer those ships.

The pirates usually won (a fact I felt really guilty about), and I manipulated the scenario so that no one died and all the loot was divided equally among the pirates and their happy families.

Never was there a damsel in distress complicating the plot, disrupting the fight scenes and wandering nervously, even superfluously, around the edges. No, absolutely not. Any female character in my dreams knew how to handle herself. She could swashbuckle, scuba dive, parachute, use a gun (or a bow and arrow if necessary), dog sled, mountain climb, ride horses, speak several languages, fly a plane, kickbox, and drive a motorcycle.

And she was lovely, naturally and inexplicably gorgeous. To avoid being shallow I justified my heroine's beauty by attributing it to her inner qualities. Her kindness, intellect, sense of humor and generosity of spirit were what spurred on the sparkle in her big green eyes, her curly black hair.

sheriff.jpgI catapulted my female characters to the forefront. Pirate women sometimes sailed their own ships; a town in the wild West was often kept in line by a woman sheriff. Robin Hood had a little sister with comparable bravery, gall and attitude.

When I say I was alone as a child, I'm misleading you. Really I was surrounded all the time, by little boys. My younger brothers and their friends, my guy friends, my dad. They were everywhere. So often what I was actually inventing was the foreign, coveted idea of loneliness.

Snap! They would disappear. And I would be left in a silvery valley at twilight with wood nymphs, unicorns, sprites and orchids. In that lovely lonely land I never had to wear shoes or do math or watch my brothers. Rather I'd settle gracefully down in front of a library the size of a mountain, reading in the luxurious silence.

Even little girls, though, long for adventures in lieu of solitude sometimes. My own heart sent me spinning into one of my favorite past eras. I had my pick! The California Gold Rush, the Civil War, the Revolutionary War, the Great Depression, Plymouth Rock, World War II, the Roaring '20s. My choice was usually fairly arbitrary, often based on the most recent movie I'd watched.

So I'd pick the era, give my characters names, contrive a heroine, a villain, a goal and a hero. Maybe I should call him a co-hero, because with me at the helm there was never a guy 'who got the girl.' Instead there was usually a girl 'who got the guy.'

When configuring a man to be gotten, though, the mold from which he came was a complicated one: John Wayne, Jimmy Stewart's George Bailey, Harrison Ford's Indiana Jones, Bob Hope, Ronald Reagan, Robin Hood... the list goes on. After I'd imagined my Superman, I gave him a problem. It had to be a big one, exciting enough to revolve the story around, but it was nothing a good woman couldn't fix.

dreamcatcher.jpgPlaying my games alone made me powerful, though including the little boys in the neighborhood, inflicting my parameters on them gave me the same element of control. Sure we could play 'Cops and Robbers', but I was always the Chief of Police. Sure we could play 'Cowboys and Indians', but I was always the Chieftess of the Indian tribe. Sometimes I'd hear the peasants grumbling, but I never feared a real mutiny. In my imagination the boys loved to swim.

After all, I was the oldest and the most creative (not that I allowed anyone the chance to try and best me at the latter). At the drop of a hat magical names of far off locales danced off my tongue. I'd dub each boy with a new, more exciting name before the games began. Ryan became Gerard and Jim became Apollo. With the new name and the detailed history I endowed upon each of them, the boys grew into the man whose persona they had been gifted. By maintaining my position as Queen, in charge of gifting those names, I kept the ranks happy and always had a place to play.

nancydrew.gifUnfortunately my fun was never really maximized. I couldn't be Nancy Drew because I was the one who created the mystery. Hot clues were placed by me. I always knew the end. The same was true of any mystery. That's why I devoured books. Mysteries unraveled in front of me, and I sat very still so as not to disturb Nancy's process.

I crammed my mind with as many plots and characters as possible, and I felt the feelings of the protagonists in a deep, scarring, almost unnatural way. I was ashamed with Hester Prynne, and I was heartsick with Juliet. My heart broke with Travis' when we shot Old Yeller. When Jim hid in the apple barrel and overheard Long John Silver's treachery, I was huddled among the apples with him, just as horrified.

My dad often said I was hypersensitive. He chuckled when I cried over the little stuff, even in books. Reading the sequel to Gone With the Wind when I was fourteen was a bad idea. I sobbed my way through it, half because I longed for Rhett and Scarlet to work things out, and half because I had recently hit puberty.

That was the beginning of my southern belle phase. Though the ultimate tomboy at school and on the playground and on the basketball court, I changed once I got home. My metamorphosis was all in my mind, but I emerged a delicate, charismatic lady with a penchant for waltzes, parasols and fine china. I believed that buttermilk would rid me of my freckles. I hummed imagined slave songs, pensive and low, agonizingly simple, haunting. And I twirled in my pretend hoop skirts. I was Scarlet

scarlet.jpgAs usual I was drawn to the feisty, bull-headed main character, and was almost disdainful of her sweet, naive counterpart, Melanie. Not until many years later would I learn to appreciate Melly's kindness and humility. I never thought that Scarlet was justified in most of her choices, the ones that rocked the worlds of everyone around her. I wondered why, after everything, Rhett hung around as long as he did. Wicked was alluring. Not a new concept in fiction. But I wasn't wicked, not even a little bit.

I adopted orphans and cared for stray dogs (a giant Newfoundland named Saskatchewan was my favorite, recurring in my play). The wrongfully imprisoned patiently waited for me to set them free. Lofty dreams for a skinny, freckled girl in seventh or eighth grade. But that's what dreams are for. Slaves were given their independence and illiterate women in third world countries were taught to read. Those were my imaginings.

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yosemite_cathedral.jpgThe Saturday before Katrina hit New Orleans, Jon and I were on our way to Yosemite. It was a bright day and we got a very early start, cruising towards the Sierra Nevada and Jon's estimation of Heaven. We talked about a zillion things: why we shouldn't allow car traffic in Yosemite Valley, when Barry Bonds will retire, how sad it is that Jose Canseco chose to do The Surreal Life now that he's a 'has been' and a 'tattle tale', whether the voting age should be upped to 21, where we were when the 1989 earthquake hit, etc.

Because it had been a short night, I decided to get some sleep. Jon switched on the news. Every other second someone was broadcasting warnings about Katrina. 'She's a Category 4 and getting bigger by the second. People need to leave their homes in an organized fashion.'

Jon switched off the news.

'People will leave,' I said naively. 'They have plenty of warning.'
Jon didn't argue with me, but I knew he didn't agree. Sometimes I think he's cynical, but most of the time he's right. The stupidity of the masses comes as no surprise to Jon. I hoped the body count would be less than 100.

yosemite_lake.jpgOur time in Yosemite was wonderful. The hike to Cathedral Lakes was strenuous, of course, but only 7 miles round trip. I took a nap at our destination, lying on the warm rock at the edge of the lake. When I woke up Jon was sitting next to me. He'd taken a zillion photos of the water, the sky, a deer he'd chased around the lake, the trees, the mountains. My photographer. There were even a couple of pictures of me sleeping.

For dinner we drove out of the park on the east side and stopped in at a little diner in Lee Vining. The food was awful. On our way back into the park I turned on the radio again. We have XM Satellite Radio and it's awesome. The news stations wouldn't talk about anything but Katrina. 'Hundreds of people are evacuating.' 'Could be a Category 5.' 'Some folks think they'll be able to ride this one out.'

Jon reached over and turned it off again.

'Why do you do that?' I asked. Part of me wanted to listen to the news very badly, even if there wasn't anything especially new. If I listened I could tell how many people were getting out of harms way. I could will people out of the endangered city.

'They need to talk about something else.'

'But this is the biggest news,' I said.

'It's all sensationalism,' he countered. 'This isn't the actual news. Hurricanes hit the South every year, and every year they say, 'This is gonna be huge!', and then it isn't huge. And we all just nod along when they look at the results and say, 'It's a good thing it wasn't worse.''

Again, he was right. That is what the anchormen do when a tropical storm is upgraded to hurricane status. Immediately they try to guess how big it'll get. They slap a name on the storm and then try to predict how bad that storm is going to be when it grows up. Will it be a delinquent or a felon?

'Jon,' I said, 'The problem is that you're not the only person to think that way. And because people think that way, because they've seen the other storms slow down or weaken when they hit the shore, they'll choose to stay. It's not wrong to heed a warning.'

The next morning dawned beautifully. I'd had a hard night, hearing noises around the tent and absolutely believe there were bears surrounding us and mounting a surprise attack. It was a nightmare. I pressed my face into Jon's shoulder and his heartbeat lulled me back to sleep. When sunlight streamed in through the yellow walls of our tent, I couldn't wait to be awake. It was my day. I got to choose what we would do.

Packing up we now have down to a science. In a short while everything was done. We started brushing our teeth. Now, we were facing each other as we brushed, and we made faces at each other, stuck our tongues out and crossed our eyes. Real mature, married adult behavior. Then Jon swore.

It was loud, blunt, and it snapped me to attention because Jon doesn't swear in front of me. Ever.

'Audrey, get in the car.' I didn't hesitate. When I reached the car I swung the door open and turned to see whether Jon was behind me. What I saw instead made my heart stop.

yosemite_bear.jpgA bear. A big healthy bear was lumbering fast right through our campsite. I couldn't take my eyes off him, the way his big paws hit the earth, inspiring little puffs of dirt, and the way his giant head swung side to side and matched his gait. He never looked at me, just went right on through. Jon was on the other side of the car messing with the camera.

'Jonathan,' I hissed, 'Get in this car!'

He looked at me like I was crazy. That's when I realized that I wasn't actually in the car either. I'd frozen mid-sit, mid-heart attack, to watch the bear move through. In thirty seconds he was past us and up in the rocks. I could see a gleam in Jon's eyes that said he wanted to follow and get a better shot (the one we got was a tad blurry), but I nixed that idea fast. When my hearts started again we finished our packing and hit the road.

yosmite.jpgLunch was again outside the park, but this time we stopped at the Tioga Pass Resort and sat at the counter in the cafe. The little place was full of rustic charm, wood accents and a menu that gave the history of the lodge in detail. My sandwich was one of the best I'd ever had. We finished the meal off with some freshly baked apple pie.

We found a large meadow just inside the park. Deep blue ponds dotted the landscape and tiny yellow and purple flowers flecked the undulating green field. It was the perfect spot to put out a blanket and play a game of Go. The breeze kept the sound of traffic from reaching us. It was just cold enough to keep us in our fleece pullovers, just warm enough to keep us from shivering. The air was fresh and the mountains were clear, big enough to touch the sky. Jon pointed to the ones he has been to the top of, and I made sure to be verbally impressed.

The fact is that I am more than proud. I'm amazed. The man has topped mountains. He's determined and strong, steadfast. Nothing he does surprises me. If there is a field of rough, red gravel spanning three hundred yards between him and the top, he'll trudge on without hesitation. The goal must be met. No trail necessary.

He gazed at the top of a particularly intimidating mountain, one he had already conquered. I, in turn, gazed at him. The wind caught his hair and flipped it back, twisting it up and then letting it fall again. In the sun he looked blonde. He squinted up at the craggy outline of the summit.

'I'm very proud of you.' I've said it before, but it never hurts to say it again.

He looked at me and smiles. 'I know.'

'And I'm sorry I don't go with you more.' We don't talk about that a lot, the fact that I only go with him on his long, strenuous hikes about one out of every five times. But sometimes I feel guilty about it. Wouldn't a better wife suck it up and deal with the waking at dawn, hauling her weight in water, following her husband to the highest peak and back again?

'It's okay,' he said.

We played our game. At first it looked like I was going to lose, badly. Then the tables turned and I won. He looked sad. Neither of us is a terribly good loser. After a while he said, 'I like it when you come with me because then I get to show off.'

It took me a second to realize he's continuing our earlier conversation. He was so sweet I wanted to reach out and touch his face. So I did. Then it was time to go. We had a long drive ahead of us.

The name Katrina will never denote anything besides destruction. She came just as the weathermen said she would, on Monday, taking no prisoners. Levees broke, people drowned, gas lines leaked, fires started. The president flew low over the devastation in Air Force One, and he had tears in his eyes.

Many thousands are homeless. Thousands died. People are desperately trying to find someone to blame. Fingers point in every direction. It's as if they've decided that holding their hands out to receive help is not enough.

Around the dinner table with Jon's parents, the storm came up in conversation. I didn't know that the whole city, besides the French Quarter, was below sea level. I didn't know that millions of Louisiana's tax dollars were spent to build up the levees each year, just to hold back the Mississippi. I didn't know that there were so many impoverished people without the means to leave the city. Jon's dad described what he knew about the construction of the buildings, the wood frame houses that were complete ruined, and the gas tanks that couldn't be buried and were now floating, contaminating the water.

At the beginning of the summer, Jon and I mutually decided to give up our satellite subscription, thus stripping ourselves of the TV. It was the best choice we ever made. With our free time uncluttered by Friends or Gilmore Girls or the History Channel, we spent time talking, cleaning or playing Go. But now we have found another plus. I still haven't seen any footage of the flood, the damage, the dead, the dying, the sick, the helpless.

Am I in denial? Perhaps. But I have money and clothes to donate, and the guilt that plagues me because I can't give more is overwhelming when I even think about the magnitude of the storm and its wake. Better not to see what I've been hearing about. My imagination is enough for anyone.

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girl_meets_god.jpgToday I finished two books. One was a fluffy, entertaining novel called "Little White Lies". The other was Girl Meets God. It's a memoir by a young, very well educated woman who chooses to convert from Orthodox Judaism to Christianity. Her story winds its way through her past, her present and her future, describing and analyzing her relationship with God, its evolution and depth. But along the way she meets and is affected by strangers, family and friends.

I love the way Lauren F. Winner writes. She might as well be sitting across from me on my couch, legs tucked underneath her, holding a half-finished cup of some trendy iced coffee drink and talking animatedly about her days and years. Far too smart for me; I'd never have a prayer of keeping up. But she is as intriguing as she is intelligent.

Over the course of this read I've enjoyed many specific parts, memorized different sentences, laughed out loud at her sheer wit. And, of course, I've marveled at how much I seem to understand about her heart and her faith, her dealings with people she loves.

My favorite part goes like this:

"There are a few people out there with whom you fit just so, and, amazingly, you keep fitting just so even after you have growth spurts or lose weight or stop wearing heels. You keep fitting even after you have children or change religions or stop dyeing your hair or quit your job at Goldman Sachs and take up farming. Somehow God is gracious enough to give us a few of those people, people you can stretch into, people who don't go away, and whom you wouldn't want to go away, even if they offered to." -- Lauren F. Winner, Girl Meets God.

A while ago I got a phone call. Well, a message actually, because I so rarely actually answer my cell. Anyway, it went something like this:

"Aud, it's Cin, and I called because I just read a part in [Girl Meets God] that totally made my think of you! And it is going to make you think of me. So, when you read it, call me."

Scary, isn't it? That she didn't tell me a thing about the passage she was talking about, the one that had inspired her to call me, the one that made her think of two people and two people only. Yet when I read on in the book and happened upon the paragraph above, everything clicked into place in my brain. I too could only think of two people. My best friends. My Ya-Yas.

Lauren is right on the money. If you took her words and braided them with my life, it would read something like this:

"There are a few people out there with whom you fit just so, and, amazingly, you keep fitting just so even after you have growth spurts or gain weight or start wearing heels. You keep fitting even after you get married or move to San Diego or dye your hair blonde or quit your job at the coffee shop/Banana Republic/Macy's and take up a different coffee shop job/insurance brokering/work at a print shop. Somehow God is gracious enough to give us a few of those people, people you can stretch into, people who don't go away, and whom you wouldn't want to go away, even if they offered to."

I was in Yosemite with Jon when I did read that part and knew without a doubt that I was feeling what Cindy had felt. Of course, there's no cell phone reception in Yosemite. But once at home again we talked and laughed as hard as only sister-close friends can laugh at something so amazing.

Someday I'll write a book, too. Probably not a memoir. I doubt I'll go on to achieve an advanced degree in anything and, without insulting the career I'm embarking on at the moment, there is so little about insurance that begs to be written about in an entertaining fashion. But I'll write one nonetheless. Let's just hope I sound as smart and insightful and funny as Lauren Winner.

Whether I do or not, though, there is another great thing about having friends like the Ya-Yas: I'm guaranteed to sell at least two books.

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sjp_vogue.jpgNever in my life have I been called a "city girl". That's just not me, right? City girls move dextrously through bustling crowds, strutting long-leggedly in three-inch high Calvin Klein boots, perfectly balancing a fat-free mocha in one hand and a blackberry in the other, with her fabulous Gucci bag tucked neatly under one shoulder, slim-fitting trench coat flapping purposefully behind her. Inumerable simultaneous talents exercised simply on the way to work. Yes, that's a city girl.

She's stylish and goal-oriented. But who really understands style? I bet if you stopped one of those city chicks in there tracks (Careful! That coffee is hot!) and asked her to define style, hers or anyone else's, she'd have some trouble. It's transient, trendy, unstable. What is "in" now, even if we love it to death, will certainly be gone or tweaked tomorrow.

In magazines and television adds we girls are shocked and awed by torrents of fashion jargon. Kate Hudson is personifying "bohemian chic" while Katie Holmes attempts a "nouveau romantique" look and Catherine Zeta-Jones is the ultimate "Urban Sophisticate".

Besides, we non-City-Girls tell ourselves, style isn't only passe, it's downright shallow. A complete waste of time, trying to keep up with speed-spenders like Lindsay Lohan and Jessica Simpson. Not only can they afford it, but it's part of their job. And they weigh a thousand pounds less than we do. No matter what the style, it'll caress their curves... while the same outfit would widen our hips, flatten our busts, shorten our legs and put more plaque on our teeth.

Why try?

Here I will admit that I like the concept of changing fashions. As an adult (which sometimes makes me want to cry because everything seems to be in fast-forward) I've developed an appreciation for all things feminine and lovely. Thanks to my job at Banana Republic, I learned something about the tricks to picking the best outfits, etc. And I started picking up the names of designers, their products and trade marks. It can be fun!

Now I am wise enough to keep some of my Livermore-practicality in my purse when I go shopping. I cannot afford name designers. And I won't pretend that, in the shade of San Francisco skyscrapers or in the midst of a crowd, a Mervyn's jacket could pass for Juicy Couture. However, if you like something enough, you can find an affordable version somewhere! And when dealing with fly-by-night trends, it's best to deal with accessories exclusively. When you choose classic basics and pair them with the big, shiny wood beads that are in now, it'll feel like you're up to the minute. Then, when Sarah Jessica Parker decides the beads are "so last Saturday" and starts wearing eagle feathers in her hair... and every single person in southern California does the same, your whole outfit needn't change with the wind, too.

Where is this going? Nowhere. I started my Broker's License class in San Fran today. I took BART in at 7:20am and started class at 8. Done at 5. Back on BART bound for home at 5:20. Traffic from Dublin to Livermore. A hard-knock life. Not really. I got to read, a brainless airy novel about an enthusiastic British girl living in Notting Hill, working in a trendy boutique on Portabello Road, meeting people and coming into her own. Maybe that's what got me thinking about all this stuff. Or maybe I just wanted to write about something besides insurance.

At any rate I'm slowly coming into my own version of style. But I think I'd describe my goal as Suburban Chic. It's slower and more comfortable than its edgy urban counterpart. Snapshot of me: slim fitting, dark blue jeans (Banana Republic... some habits die hard), a white button-front shirt, short black Nike jacket, lip gloss, driving a khaki-colored Jeep Liberty, listening to Jackson Browne on her iPod mini (Suddenly wishing I hadn't even facetiously mentioned "hard knocks" since I'm coming off as a total preppie here... but for honesty's sake I'll let well enough alone. Lucky isn't description enough for my life.), going home to her hard-working husband at the end of the day, making a quick trip to the super market for grape juice and a magazine. That was me.

I walk fast enough to make it to class on time, not fast enough to pass the homeless man covered in newspapers without noticing and saying a quick prayer. But that's a suburban thing, right? Less callous, more compassionate. Not that all city dwellers are the opposite, they are simply used to the pull of the urban tide.

On Friday Jon and I are hoping to meet up with Cindy and Jason for dinner and fun in downtown SF. Just because we're not "city folk" (though I think Jason is, and Cin is borderline... all those years in Livermore set her back severely!) doesn't mean its volatile night life can't entertain us once in a while. And I'll be going to class for another six days. Let's hope I last. There's always the chance that, by the end of this, I'll be able to navigate the block from BART to my class on California Street in heels, while holding coffee (just for aesthetics... I wouldn't actually drink the stuff!) and talking about all sorts of slick stuff with Cin on my cell.

Goodness! Let's hope not! I'll take the slow amble down First Street from the Independent building to Donut Wheel, wearing flip flops and holding Jonathan's hand any day.

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bronwen_2.jpgCheck out my new baby! (Don't freak out, people. Look at the picture; be relieved; move on.) Isn't she pretty? I think so, too. Jon and I went on a Labor Day excursion to Gold Country. After "house hunting" (in quotes because we aren't really hunting... just having fun) we stopped at the Sutter's Mill Visitor Center, bought a small chunk of pyrite, a magnet, some ice cream. I tried to fish some gold out of the American River, unsuccessfully. *sigh* But I suppose the high point really was our stop at the Davis Jeep dealership. I'm so happy!

bronwen_1.jpgMy beautiful 2005 Jeep Liberty Renegade! Gorgeous! Dark khaki. (Red isn't available for Renegades... and that's the one we really wanted!) So this was my second choice. She's a saucy, sporty brunette. Like me. LOL! After a couple hours of paperwork and haggling, we got a great deal, and I got a terrific car. Er... truck. Well, she deserves more than that unassuming, vague title. Wouldn't you agree. There's only one thing to do. Name her.


I do that. Name inanimate objects. Before I tell you what I decided on... let's go through my process.

Now, I'll admit that I had a gut reaction. Inspired by a favorite old story... but let's move on.

First of all, "dark khaki" is a fancy way of saying "brown". But in all fairness to my darling automobile, she's a very rich and pretty brown. And I'm sure she'd prefer to be called brunette. Thus I ran a list in my head of all the famous brunette women, real and ficticious, I could think of:

Jackie O.
Audrey (as in Hepburn... but that would be seriously vain)
Holly (as in Golightly)
Bette (as in Davis)
Scarlett (O'Hara... but it denoted red)
Keira (Knightely. Love her!)
Mona (Lisa. Too drab.)
Belle (Enough with the Disney names already!)

There were more. But I really, really wanted a name that started with a B. Getting a little specific? Okay, I admit it. However, the heart wants what it wants. So I listed the B names I could think of off the top of my head:

Beverly (too close to Hills 90210)
Betty (Boop. Need I say more?)
Bambi (sounds like a girl's name, but... he was a boy deer!)
Brianna (I know someone named Brianna.)
Becca, Becky (same reason)
Britney (*cough* Spears. *cough* I'd never insult my car like that.)

Apparently I need some expert help. Just a heads-up for everyone, when searching for "name ideas" in the internet, you'll get two responses: baby names and pet names. Since my Jeep is not an animal, I made sure Jon was sufficiently warned before I clicked on babynames.com. No need to give my poor husband a heart attack, right? And I delved in.

Much cooler searching tools here.

A Scandanavian girl's name that begins with B?

Britta. (Like the water purifier?)

The Latin Goddess of War?

Bellona. (My bologna has a first name...)

Name favored by J.R.R. Tolkein?

Bilbo Baggins. (Can't do it.)

Striking out big time. Okay, let's think about this. My car should be an extension of me. Perhaps we can connect by ascribing a name that derives its meaning from one of my (favorable) characteristics or character traits.

Fair skinned?

Bianca (Obnoxious, brainless sister in The Taming of the Shrew.)

Freckled?

Braith (An aboslute veto from the Husband)

Happy?

Blythe (Not even for Gilbert)

Goodness, what an ordeal! So, you ask, where did we end up? Considering the weight that is about to ride (haha) on my pretty car's shoulders, all I know is that she needs a name befitting her many roles.


Adventure Vehicle - Next stop Yosemite! "Last one to summit is a minivan!"

Sweet Date Ride - *whistle*

Commuter Car - Just to Pleasanton. I'm a working woman, after all.

Transporter - Need help moving? We can actually contribute.

Ya-Ya-mobile - Naturally. YA-YA!

bronwen_3.jpgTonight I have definitely decided to dub my cute l'il jeepy-dear: Bronwen. Before you burst out laughing (or crying, Mom) remember that I am NOT naming a child. Bronwen is my truck, my pal through thick and thin. It's a Welsh name that means "dark and pure". Convinced? Not yet? Then check this out.

It also happens to be the name that jumped into my head first, yesterday, before the whole naming fiasco began. She was a main character in "How Green Was My Valley", a favorite old movie about a strong family in a turn of the century Irish mining town. Bronwen was an optimist, a cornerstone of the family, the beautiful, quiet, strong, intelligent woman who captured the hearts of an entire family.

Nothing could have been more perfect. Goodnight, Bronwen. Sleep tight!

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moline_hs_yearbook_1945_small.jpgToday I had a really great afternoon. In celebration of Labor Day, my boss (Mom) had my co-worker (and surrogate aunt, Denise) over for lunch. Beyond the yummy sandwiches, complete with feta cheese, the best part of the afternoon was a Show & Tell. Denise brought over her high school yearbooks and her late husband, Lefty's "annuals" (same thing). Mom pulled out her books to share and soon we were reminiscing like crazy.

Well, they reminisced and I sat there with my chin propped up in my hands, like a child at story time. Seeing Denise's flawlessly coiffed beehive hair-do (circa 1965, and not a hair was out of place!), her giant pom-poms and pleated skirt, was so fun! And it was sweet how she remembered each detail of her try out for the cheerleading squad.

Mom, of course, claimed to "hate" her senior portrait. Which is ridiculous because she was very pretty, big blue eyes and soft, curly brown hair. But all girls hate their senior pictures. Anyway, mom showed us her Contemporaires team picture (not sure of the spelling... it's a fancy way to say "better than the cheerleaders"). Meanwhile the pictures surrounding my mom's were full of people with very, very, very '70s hairstyles.

Between Lefty's, Denise's, Mom's and my Grandma Jean's yearbooks we spanned four decades of trends, styles, teen idols and world events. I think that my favorite ended up being grandma's book.

grandma_jean_young_small.jpggrandma_jean_young_caption.jpgMy Grandma Jean was beautiful and sweet. She reminds me of Ginger Rogers. The book cover shown above is hers: Moline High School, 1945. Amazing, isn't it? The caption next to her picture amuses me. I'm sure that Jean was intelligent and talented; I'm sure she did other stuff besides date and dance. But you'd never know it here, huh? Still, I love paging through this book and seeing the calf-length plaid skirts, feminine sweaters, fraternity pins... *sigh*. It was a simpler time. Oh! And saddle shoes!

grandma_dot_young_small.jpgQuickly I'd like to give equal face time to my dad's mom, my Grandma Dot. Here she is, my ravishing grandmother, Dorothy Bercher, in her senior portrait. Thankfully I have had twenty-two years with Grandma Dot, and she's been an amazing example of intelligence, wit and gentility.

More than anything I appreciate the value of history and it's impact on our life today, our culture. Between Jean and Dorothy, I was blessed with some great genes. And I felt very honored today when Denise counted me in her circle of closest and dearest friends because, she said, while I am very young, I am "an old soul". It's true.

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