Tuesday, May 31, 2016

A Nice Weekend

Did you have a nice weekend?  I had a very nice weekend, thank you for asking.  While friends and family took off for the summer and welcomed new babies and battled raindrops falling on their heads, I spent three days surrounded by good books and even better people.

Literature took me to Africa and London and Surrey, seeing war, now and then, up close and personal, through characters who are creeping around the back of my brain, even as I've moved on to artists and their modern day misery.  I updated the sidebar, if you want the titles and authors; these are all recommended reads.

I wish you could join me on the patio in the morning.  There's plenty of shade and plenty of sunshine and the pool is warm and crystal clear.  My flower pots are coming into their own, framing the scene with pink and white, gomphreda blowing in the breeze.  The birds are all the music I need, the words on the page the only company.

Did I mention it's been a very nice weekend?

The gladiolus are surprising me; the yellow ones supplanted the orange ones and I don't remember planting the purple one that smiled at me this morning as I set out the flag. I smiled back at them, and then I frowned.  

I couldn't fly my Stars and Stripes at half staff; the pole itself is crammed in between the pedestal and the arch of the courtyard column.  I thought about a black ribbon, because,  as my congresswoman, Martha McSally, reminded me in her email today, this holiday celebrates the dead. It was Decoration Day when I was young, a day to festoon the graveyards filled with soldiers lost in combat, a day of remembrance.  And I spent some time, remembering.

I thought deep thoughts, and smiled at a day which began with them and then I called JannyLou and Fast Eddie to come over for breakfast.  They're leaving tomorrow and they have no food and I love making breakfast and, once again, a delightful confluence of events made it a very nice weekend.

It just got better.  I had lunch with Scarlett and Mr. 10 at North, discussing politics and basketball, discovering that the waiter might be a distant cousin on Grandpaw's side of the family, passing on dessert because Amster and Mr 12 met us for ice cream across the way.  I ran into an old yoga acquaintance, and the kids greeted friends, and we talked about parenting and respect and it all had that summer-is-just-beginning feeling.

Now I can watch the basketball game and worry about Steph Curry's knee and talk to Big Cuter and bask in the Facetime kisses FlapJilly bestowed on her Grandparental Units this afternoon, Granparental Units who are having a very nice weekend.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Once again, my traditional Memorial Day post, first published in 2009, and updated just a little each year.

I used to march in the Memorial Day parade. I was dressed in my Brownie uniform, and then in my Girl Scout uniform - replete with those hated anklets. I wore them because the troop leader said we couldn't march without them and marching was too cool to pass up.

All the school bands marched too, and the moms on Benjamin Road provided the materials and the labor to make the capes the high school kids wore. There must have been a military presence there, but I didn't pay enough attention to notice. I was marching and I knew that, all over America, other kids were being Americans and marching, too.

I belonged.

In Marin, the Memorial Day parade was always good for a controversy or two. Or three. Should the anti-war protesters walk alphabetically in the main march, or have their own march, or walk 50 yards behind the official march? I especially liked this discussion: should weaponry be allowed?

That was fairly disingenuous even for Marin.

There were bands at this parade, too, and with Bobby Weir as the Grand Marshal you know the music was worth hearing, especially at the picnic in the park afterwards. Not exactly your typical VFW-sponsored event, but no one was complaining. It was Memorial Day; there had to be a parade.

I've got the flag G'ma bought us for a housewarming present, which replaced the one Dadooooo got us in Chicago. There are red and white roses in the big blue vase in the dining room. I'll wear the tie-dyed tank top the Cuters and I made early one July. Red/White/Blue -- it makes for great patterns. I've got the plastic flag on my bike handles - the same one I bought with the Cuters at the 5 and Dime Store in New Buffalo in 1985.

Life is good.

As you pass the potato salad and watch the flag wave in the breeze, take a moment and remember those who gave their lives so that it can be so.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Good Mail

My sister was cleaning out her basement; I received this in yesterday's mail.

I have a vague memory of sitting for this silhouette, but the location keeps shifting between Mrs. Fleming's first grade classroom and my parents' basement.

The long pony tail is most certainly mine, though, and I'll frame my underbite, give thanks to my parents for orthodontia, and add it to the wall of fame in our garage.
The USPS believed her when she wrote DO NOT BEND everywhere.  It was her handwriting on the oversized, flat, Priority Mail envelope leaning on my front door, in the same way as this was my face. She was saying hello before I saw the printed return address.

 It was a good day to get the mail.  And today it was even better.

Instead of retirement planning seminars and Medicare Supplement plans filling my mailbox, there was this

and this
and this.

A thank you note for a baby gift, a wish-you-were-here vacation postcard, and a bumper sticker sent with love from my favorite elected official - it was a bonanza.

Three different women who understand the value of a handwritten note - and they are all in my life.  I can share the connection further by sending the baby's grandfather a link to this post, and we'll kvell* over our wonderful children and wonder where the last 40 years have gone.

I love email for its immediacy, but snail mail is worth the wait.  I'm still smiling.

*kvell - feel happy and proud

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Being a Fan

On balance, I'm not sure if sports makes me happy...

That was Big Cuter's status update on Facebook yesterday.  He'd just finished suffering through the Golden State Warriors' humiliating pummeling by the Oklahoma City Thunder, and was left with his hometown boys down 3-1 in a series he and his father thought would be a Warriors' clean sweep.

No one understands what happened to Steph Curry and the boys; this is not the same team which delighted us throughout the regular season.  Did they peak too early?  Did they set a single season winning record and then lose focus?  Was the rest of the league getting better as the post-season frenzy took hold?  Were the referees biased?  

In the end, it doesn't really matter at all.  My boy is devastated, heart broken, torn up inside.  He didn't want to talk on the phone last night; why should he make his blues ours?  But the sorrow was unmistakable, and impossible not to share.  He's my boy, after all.  

He loved watching sports. He had a favorite team helmet. He cheered for the Broncos against the Browns just to annoy his Daddy.  He grew up in Chicago with Michael Jordan and the Bears - winners when he was young and malleable.  He lived 6 blocks from Wrigley Field the last time the Cubbies made a series run at the pennant; we could hear the cheering from the back yard.  

He and TBG have been drawing up football plays since the kid was 3 years old; the couch was covered with pages of X's and O's every Sunday night.  They can separate out the runners from the catchers from the throwers and the blockers and the tacklers, a task that is still elusive to me, even after 40 plus years of sitting on the couch with my sweetie.  They notice intricacies that escape me, as I nod off to their blather.  It's the cement that holds their weekends together.

He had Michael Jordan growing up in Chicago.  He had Steve Young as he grew up in Marin.  He went to Georgetown, looking forward to a wonderful 4 years of college basketball.... and found Coach Esherick instead of a John Thompson, II or III.  That, I think was the beginning of the end, though we didn't notice it at the time. 

Little Cuter went to Indiana when they, too, suffered through terrible basketball times.  The 49'ers and the Bears found themselves without the talent or the resolve to win many games, The Bulls were plagued with injury, Sammy Sosa corked his bats, and then came concussions.

When the GM of the Buffalo Bills says that humans shouldn't play football it is time to take the issue seriously.  Big Cuter has called football our national blood sport in the post he wrote for The Burrow in January, and his opinion hasn't changed.  He's tried to withdraw from that sport, and happily replaced it with basketball and his hometown Warriors.

But this melt down has taken its toll.  Watching sports isn't making him happy.  What will he do?

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Social Security and Me, Part 2

In Part 1, I described the reasoning and the process behind my attempt to secure spousal benefits without touching either of our primary Social Security accounts.  Apparently, the confusion I described last month exists in the Denver Claims Office right now.

I received a charming email from a Claims Specialist.  She told me that I couldn't do what I wanted to do.  She told me to do something I don't want to do.  She told me to withdraw my application immediately if I didn't want to do what she told me to do.

Did I mention that I'm not altogether sure what it was that she wanted me to do?  Her grammar left the intent open to interpretation.

I thought about it for three days.  On the fourth I wrote an email, quoting from the article which started the whole business, and adopting a cheery, non-confrontational tone.  I read it and read it and read it a third time before I hit send.

I never heard another word from her.  Instead, I received a letter from the Social Security Administration informing me that I will begin receiving my benefits starting in August. Not my spousal benefits from TBG's account.  Not in February, when I will be 65 and eligible, but in August, when I celebrate my half-birthday, and when I am still only 64 and therefore ineligible.  Just not right at all.

Calling is an exercise in frustration; being on hold is no longer an acceptable way to spend my day. But even more important than the waste of time is the genuine fear that the person to whom I'm speaking won't be any more well-informed than the Claims Specialist in Denver.

I just sent her an email, outlining the facts and asking her advice.  I'll keep you posted.  For now, let this be a public statement that it was never my intention to defraud the government.  It's not my fault; the system made me do it.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Goodbye, Biggest Loser

Brother forwarded the article from the New York Post, titling his email Your (formerly) favorite show.
I read about ephedrine and Adderall and diuretics and 800 calorie days and I squirmed in my chair.

I put the article aside for a day.... or tried to, at any rate.  Some of the statements wouldn't leave me alone.  They were heartbreaking in their naivete.
“It ruins lives. Mentally, emotionally, financially — you come back a different person. Half the people from my season have gotten divorced. The ripple effect isn’t just weeks or months. It’s years.”
What did she expect?

Morbid obesity must come with its own psychological baggage, and choices made must reflect that baggage. Maybe the people she chose don't like her new, quite sudden, incarnation. A wife who suddenly bares her emotions after decades of stoicism is bound to notice disturbances in the world around her.  The vigilance which comes with the dieting and exercise required to live a healthier lifestyle means the former contestants were probably the party pooper at every Let's go for pizza/ice cream/some beers and wings conversation for, as quoted above, not just weeks or months, but years.

I began to think deeper.  Fat Shaming was the touchstone of much of the article, but I never saw that on the show.  The emphasis, in words if not in deeds, was on how sick the contestants were, not on how ugly they looked.  Sure, they looked forward to Makeover Week... but who wouldn't?

The better trainers over the years have been full of positive reinforcement and great advice.  The show never gave us a glimpse of the trainers dishing out yellow jackets, as the article describes. Instead, we saw healthy recipes and moms and dads encouraging their kids to run with them, to get in shape with them, to feel good together, as a family.

I never had cause to doubt the integrity of the program.  I guess I am as naive as the contestants.

I've tried to verify the claims, but the interwebs are strangely silent on the subject.  There are responses to the NIH study, there are suggestions that such rapid weight loss might be the reason all the Season 8 contestants regained the weight, but nobody is commenting on the misbehaviors detailed in the Post.  So, I am left to wonder.....
isn't Danny better off at 295 than 430, given that 191 was never going to be sustainable?
The government researchers, with no ax to grind, came to some interesting conclusions about the 14 participants they studied.
These individuals were “quite successful at long-term weight loss compared to other interventions,” wrote Kevin Hall, Ph.D., and colleagues from the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Indeed, according to Hall, other high quality studies show that only 20–27 percent of participants manage a 10 percent weight loss after several years. Among the Biggest Losers he followed for six years, “57 percent maintained at least 10 percent weight loss.”
Okay, so the scientists think the show is doing a good job, all things considered.

And then, there's this, debunking the "it's not my fault" theory that a slowed metabolism (metabolic adaptation below) made it impossible for the contestants to keep the weight off.
The degree of metabolic adaptation did not correlate with weight regain, however. In fact, the opposite occurred. “Those who were most successful at maintaining weight loss after 6 years also experienced greater ongoing metabolic slowing," the paper reported. This makes it inconvenient to argue that the metabolic adaptation caused the weight regain. 
I'm not sure where I stand on the whole thing, but I think we're taking the show off our seasonal rotation when it comes around again.  I certainly never look for more television to watch, and a controversial reality show is a simple hour to jettison.  I wish the contestants well on their weight loss adventure; I hope they can do it without me.

Monday, May 23, 2016

A Perfect Day

Mid 80's on the thermometer, not even a wispy cloud in the sky, and a stack of library books awaiting me.  Sunday, a day off from the gym and the Pilates Studio and any guilt at all about maintaining my physical fitness.  It was a day filled with possibilities and no responsibilities - it was perfect.

I finished Elnathan John's Born on a Tuesday by 10:30 and sat, paralyzed, on Douglas-the-Couch.  The Sunni/Shia/Mujahadin divide among Nigerian Muslims was filling my living room with torture and death and powerlessness.  I tried checking Facebook, but the horror wouldn't let go.... and it didn't, until Amster texted and invited herself over for lunch and the pool and dinner.

Turning that frown upside down in a nano-second, we agreed to meet for salad and pizza first, then go our separate ways for errands, meeting up by my pool in the later afternoon.  She had yet to comb her hair.  I was wearing the t-shirt I'd slept in last night.  Tucson didn't seem to notice, and neither did we.  That casual acceptance of whatever is presented at the moment might be the defining characteristic of our relationship... to one another, and to Tucson itself.

Did I mention that it was perfect?

Costco, the library, the grocery store, a demand letter, feeding the dogs.... and then we were drinking Prosecco, slathered in sunscreen, gently exercising in the water as we lamented the state of the world.... or at least our little corner of it.

Stuffed peppers and another bottle of Prosecco and even the Warrior's 26 point loss couldn't make me unhappy.  Amster's on her way home to a night of smoked Gouda and Netflix, I have that stack of library books, and there are all those episodes of The Americans we have yet to watch.

The night is full of possibilities, and each one of them carries with it a big smile.

Friday, May 20, 2016

I'm Taking the Day Off

I've been going non-stop since 6:45 this morning.  Everything I did and thought deserves more consideration than my feeble brain can conjure up right now.

You deserve my very best, so I'm taking a vacation day.

Happy weekend and Happy Birthday to Little Cuter, my fearless daughter.  
Feisty then and feisty now.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Celebrating the Obvious

I attended an upscale school's 5th Grade Recognition ceremony this morning.

Mr 10 was handsome, as ever, with his bow-tie askew and his tuxedo vest buttoned smartly across his chest.  He wore his formal sneakers, as did nearly half the other boys.  All the girls wore party shoes. I'm sure there's a moral there, but I'm having trouble finding it.

I'm still stuck on the carefully applied red lipstick sported by one of his classmates.  I was teetering on the edge of outrage until her classmate's eyeliner pushed me clear over.

Prepare for a rant.

What in the world did these kids do to merit a celebration?  Their parents made sure that they got to school every day; let's put the Moms and Dads up on the stage for a certificate and a round of applause.  These students did what they were supposed to do - they went to school.  In August, they will still go to school, albeit in a new building. What's the big deal?

In Marin, we had a K-2, 3-5, 6-8 set up, spread over the 3 buildings in the district.  There was no pedagogical reason for the division; it was established at a time when the school age population seemed stable and the number of desks and the number of bodies worked out this way.  There were no celebrations when the kids moved from building to building; they were still following their mandated educational paths.

There was nothing noteworthy about any of their transitions until they left our K-8 district for the high schools of their choice.  Then, they got a convertible powered parade down the main street of our peninsula.  They waved to their adoring minions lining the curbs as the minions pelted them with candies.  It was the end of our town's financial investment in their educations.  They were moving on.  There was cause for celebration.

But today's celebration, all 59 minutes of it, was replete with tears and cheers and the reading of 100 some names. The scholars strode across the stage, received a certificate and hug, and then returned to their folding chairs.  They serenaded the crowd and then adjourned for photo opportunities and watery punch.  They were quite pleased with themselves.

I'm proud of the human Mr, 10 has become.  I didn't need a meaningless celebration to let him know.

This is like all those trophies I still have in the storage closet, trophies presented because Mom and Dad paid for the kid to play on the team.  The earned trophies are with my kids.  They remember the tournaments and the struggles and they love those silly plastic athletes on the sillier plastic plinth.

I hope today's 5th graders can view today's ceremony from that perspective.  I'm not sure that I want to know the privileged jack asses they'll become if they think that showing up deserves a reward.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Planting Season is Finished

I repotted.
I planted.
I moved things from one pot to another.
I added seedlings.
I revived those on the brink....
leaving behind holes-turned-homes-for-ground-dwelling-beasties.
Now, it's time to sit back and enjoy the fruits of my labors. 

Desert gardening is the most challenging growing endeavor I've attempted; I'm still not certain I have a coherent plan.  I have figured some things out, though. I stick with what works and try not to be too fancy. I am rarely judgmental of my failed efforts; blame rests solely on the dirt which passes for soil, and the oven which passes for sunshine, here in my little patch of heaven. While all the rest of you are buying flats of petunias and impatiens and calibrocha, we here in the desert Southwest are retreating to our air conditioned sanctuaries, grateful that we've planted containers to be admired through triple pane windows.



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