Monday, May 28, 2007

Home and Family

My sister has just left, after a one-day visit to my place for the
long weekend. It was 24 hours of sisterly good times, including
dinner out with the little man---complete with mini-cheeseburgers
for him, and supposedly 80-proof pomegranate lemonade for us
which tasted absolutely virgin to our well trained palates---, a
living room viewing of The Phantom of the Opera (wish I could
have figured out that pesky surround sound thing), and a long
luxurious midnight dip in the hot tub.

Because it was 99 degrees, we had an impatient 9-year old along,
and my sis's arthritic knee was acting up, we took a very short walk
indeed along Greenbelt Lake. Just far enough to show her from the
outside what the view would have been like from the house we tried
but failed to buy on Monday. The entire adventure seems so ill-advised
in hindsight. It's scary, and quite sobering, to realize just how short
the distance is between walking through an open house, and having
the loan officer on the phone and the real estate agent sitting next to
you on the couch with the paperwork, while you're simultaneously
reciting your employment history and lack of bankrupcy filings in
the last seven years, and figuring out how fast you can liquify every
asset you've ammassed to make a full price non-contingent offer on
a house that is far too expensive for you in your real life, let alone
that you never even knew existed it 24 hours prior. In this
market!? With our life?! Were we completely, completely

I'm thanking the housing gods that someone was even more
aggressive than us in their desire for a 180+ lakefront view.

Our real estate agent, a lovely, warm, funny, spunky woman
we have known since the moment we set foot on Greenbelt soil
14 years ago, referred to the property as a "Prize Home". This set
off alarm bells in my head that I ignored for the several hours
following, in which said Prize Home could conceiveably be mine.
I can now hear anew the reverberations of these alarm bells. I'm just
not a Prize Home kinda gal. Hell, I'm gleeful about the trunk full of
1990's t-shirts I discovered in my basement a month or so ago, cuz
now it means I don't have to really shop for clothes for another, I
dunno, year? So it is safe to say that I don't own even one Prize
Outfit. How could one go to closing on a Prize Home without the
Prize Outfit?! My car? A 1998, bought in 2000. First car I ever
bought. Used. From Carmax. And I plan to drive it into the ground.
Which I expect to be around 2011. So, no Prize Car for the Prize
Home driveway any time soon. The list can be considered to go
on, and on, and on.

And yet, it was the only house I have ever felt that way about.
The only house I could picture every member of my family---past,
present and future---enjoying a Thanksgiving dinner within. The
only house that called to me so clearly, "Come sit on my porch, and
watch the lake undulate below you, and marvel at the dappled sunlight
through these old trees, and daydream and read and plan, and I dare
you to ever try and leave here!"

To my sister, it was just another house. No big deal. Perhaps she
was saying so just for my benefit, but it was the first time I really
heard it. And today, one week post-bid, I am thankful that I didn't
respond quite strongly enough to the call of the Prize Home. Cuz
who knows how long it would have taken before the call of the
Prize Outfit reached my ear, or the call of the Prize Car?

I'm happy to leave the Prize Items for the self-appointed winners
in the world. Because today I can still entertain the possibility that
in six months I can go down to part time in my real job, and pick up
some studio work in my off hours. This will likely, of course,
never happen, but at least today it is still a real possibility.

A topic for another day is "What good is it having options if you
never exercise these options?" For today, I'm going to be happy that
I still have options. Lots and lots of options.

I sit in one of my two houses. Both little and broken. No boxes to
pack. Plenty of time to think warm, fond, nostalgic thoughts of the
men and women in my life who have sacrificed much in too many
wars of recent memory. Thanks, folks. Your simple spirits
embue my humble home(s). And what a prize that is.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

All Planted In (...almost...)

In the big house garden, we've now got the full monty of veggies:

hot peppers
all kinds of lettuce and lettuce-like leaves
spaghetti squash
tomatoes for sauce, canning, and burgers
lemon thyme

Now what have I eaten in the last 24 hours? A cheeseburger
and hot dog at yesterday's baseball game, spanikopitas and a
baklava sundae at the Greek Festival yesterday, and a strong
moccha today.

Conclusion: Even if you grow a bunch of healthy food you do
not necessarily eat healthier! :-(

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Three Cheers for the Boss!

On Monday, my Boss accepted a NASA Honor Award on behalf of the
Swift Ground System Team, of which I am a member. Since his wife was
not available to attend the lunchtime ceremony, I had the honor of being
his guest. The event was held at the ultra-swank banquet hall Martin's
Crosswinds. Also in attendance were several others from our lab, but
we were scattered about. The seating chart was designed to optimize
the flow of awardees from seat to on-deck-circle, to hand-shake-award-
hand-off to return-to-table. I sat next to an older man who was attending
with his mother. Even though I have been a woman in science from the
moment I left high school, I immediately and completely assumed that
his mom was there to see him accept his award. Not! In fact, this eighty-
something woman was there to accept her Distinguished Service award.
It seems she has, apparently, written The Book on high voltage power
supplies in space. Though she retired 22 years ago from NASA, engineers
still visit her at home in Bethesda to consult on their power systems
designs. I asked where she went to school, and her son described her
academic track, including her thesis work which she conducted "with a
very well known physicist by the name of Hans Bethe." The Boss and
I had a good laugh about that phrasing, since Bethe is indisputably one
of the giants of 20th century astrophysics, having figured out that the
stars, including the Sun, are powered by nuclear fusion, a major leap
forward in our understanding of pretty much the entire universe!

I wish I'd talked a bit to this guy's mom, but she was sufficiently far from
me that I only got to say hello, and congratulations. But her son was
also an interesting fellow, having served in the foreign service for the
past several decades. He's been to all the garden spots of the planet,
including Afghanistan and Iraq, where he is returning soon. He and the
Boss exchanged stories about fun places to visit while in Kenya (which is
where our ground station is located). And he joked that his mom stayed
in the satellite business all this time just so she could keep tabs on him
while he was off on his dangerous missions.

I often worry that my son is somehow silently suffering having me,
a full-time career person, as his mom. Meeting this mother-son duo
gave me hope that he'll actually turn out just fine. Who knows?
In another 40 years, maybe he'll be accompanying me to Martin's
Crosswinds, where I'll accept my NASA Honor Award for having
written the most a cappella songs about astrophysics! It's more likely
than a Grammy, anyway.

The Boss did a fine job accepting the award, even going so far as to
donn a suit jacket and tie! The food was tasty and abundant,
including a dessert of chocolate cake layers surrounding a cheesecake
center, which put an end to the beginning of my spring diet plans.
The ceremony itself was well done by the powers that be, and the
tablemates were an interesting collection. I am very grateful to have
been invited along for the ride. Thanks, Boss!!

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Happy Mulchers Day!

It's Mother's Day here in the land of the free. And since the only person to whom I am the Mama was at an impromptu sleepover last night, and the spouse was getting deeper and deeper into the details of his brand new studio board, I decided to take advantage of that extra house I have, and spend Mother's Day Eve in relaxing and complete solitude and calm and quiet. At least, from midnight on. The quiet was helped along by the power failure in the middle of the night, after a thunderstorm that ended, thankfully, early enough so that today is an officially top ten loveliest days in Greenbelt day.

And the power failure meant no functioning alarm clocks, hence sleeping til ten. And coffee at 11. Followed by the good news from my neighbor a bit afterward, that the humongous pile of mulch right over there is free for the taking. So today the boys will spend the afternoon mulching my tree, and washing my car, while I go to the plant store with my friend. Hey, it's not your typical champagne brunch served in bed by the adoring clan, but it works for me!

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Studio Update: Jewish is More than a Bagel

We love our studio engineer, and we are delighted that he returns the love. For just over ten years now (ten years!!) my a cappella vocal band has been tweeking our evening schedules so we can spend a night or two a month in the recording studio. At first, it was an awesome and terrifying experience. We'd all had dreams, all our lives, of singing in a recording studio, and now, here we were. And we were working on our first album! Nevermind that it was self-produced. Nevermind that we'd be lucky to sell even 1000 copies, counting family and friends. We were Recording Artists now!

And here we are ten years and a few months later. Band members have come and gone. We're finishing up our sixth CD. We write our own original music now, and it's damn good. Finally, but finally, we are now Old Hat at the studio. Our jitters have been replaced by casual comfy feelings. And since we are all older and arguably wiser, we no longer refer to ourselves as Recording Artists. At least, not out loud.

Our old-hattedness is apparent in our most recent project. Wait for it. People are now paying us to come into the recording studio and record their stuff. Well, at least one person is. The project of the moment is a song book of tunes that were written for and sung by the campers and staff of Camp Achva, a day camp program put on by the Jewish Community Center of Northern Virginia. I'm a little hazy on the details, but I think the idea is that the camp is having a big reunion this summer, and the song book and CD are part of that. Our much-loved studio engineer is the one responsible for steering us and this project toward one another. We all collided in musical cacaphony three nights last week, and have two more sessions scheduled for next week.

The woman who wrote the songs is in her eighties. She was in the studio with us the other night. She's still got it goin' on in a major musical way. She had all kinds of helpful comments for us, from vocal stylings to the proper pronunciation of "oz-na-yim". She kept referring to our bass as "Old Man River". My favorite song of the collection (of fourteen which, unrealistically, we are trying to finish up in five studio sessions!) is titled "Jewish is More than a Bagel". It goes on to describe what Jewish in fact is: "a people, a nation, a law and a land and a civilization. And that beats a bagel every time."

We have enjoyed brushing up on our Hewbrew, and getting to sing in various theatrical styles that we normally shy away from. Most importantly, we're enjoying the chance of all being in the same room of the studio at the same time, singing the same songs. Normally we do each part as an individual track, which can get a bit tedious and lonely. And it feels so free to be singing someone else's songs.

I encourage anyone who loves music to find a good studio engineer and book yourself some studio time right quick. Life is short, and this is an experience you shouldn't miss out on!
And!...Long live camp Achva!