Thursday, May 31, 2012

Looking Up

..... this morning, from the pool, I saw two military fighter planes (where is Big Cuter when I need him, he who could identify all sorts of these things pre-pre-school?) flying in close formation. 

.... this afternoon, typing to you at my desk, I am watching a helicopter make its second revolution between my house and the Pusch Ridge.

.... this morning, raising my eyes from the keyboard, I saw a hummingbird drink lustily from the yuccas along the pathway. 

.... at noontime, in the car with TBG on our way to lunch with A+ companions, there wasn't a cloud in the sky.

.... yesterday, on the way home, nearing our neighborhood , enduring a new-and-unneeded road expansion project, we were greeted by a crane towering twenty thirty forty-stories really high overhead.

That's just twenty-four hours of upward observations.  I don't remember doing much of that when I was young; there just wasn't that much up to look at.  Houses were closer together and so were the trees.  The sky peeked out between rooftops and cloud cover and rarely held anything more riveting than a Europe-bound aircraft taking off low and to the east from Idlewild Airport on a Sunday afternoon. 

We knew those things the way kids in Marin knew which were the harrier hawks and which were the red-tailed variety.  They flew overhead with some regularity; after a while, the information was just a part of you.  I liked to watch the clouds go by, lying on my back on the front lawn, alone or with a friend, finding circus tents and whales and watching them dissipate into nothingness. 

As a rule, though, looking up was far less interesting than looking straight ahead or down into my lap.  There was always a storefront or a human or a book to be encountered.  Wide open spaces never entered into the equation.

Our vacations were long road trips, kids in the back squabbling over who got to sit in the middle atop the suitcase.  We headed to destinations - Monticello, Lake George, Southampton, Boston - and considered the journey only insofar as it meant turning another page in the AAA TripTik.  I liked to open the maps and see the details, reading about the gently curving terrain.  I don't remember actually looking out the window at the gently curving terrain.

Daddooooo drove looking up more than looking at the road ahead.  It was not unusual to see his head sticking out the window while his hands were on the wheel.  If something interesting happened to be up there, he was going to see it.  I know that a higher power kept us alive; Daddooooo's driving had absolutely nothing to do with it.

But Daddooooo was interested in anything and everything and if nothing interesting presented itself he pretended that it had.  Following his eyes meant engaging in his personal space... a space filled with knowledge and facts and data and information ad infinitum.  There was no escape.  Looking down was safer.

Moving to Chicago, living on the 11th floor with an unobstructed view to the west of the city and its suburbs, I began to realize what I had been missing. 

I began to look up.....

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Emily and the Indy 500

It was a race car kind of weekend here in the desert Southwest.  The temps were in the low 90's and the breeze was wafting through the open windows and I was in and out, to the gym and in the garden and to the grocery store and then another grocery store and all the while TBG was watching shiny cars go round and round and round and round.  I had to take out my hearing aids when I stopped by his perch in front of the tv; the droning of the tires on the track was more than my poor brain could handle.

With cameras inside the cockpits and mounted on the outside of the cars as well, it's possible to hypnotize oneself ... at least it was for me.  I sat there mesmerized, watching the driver's hands on the steering wheel and feeling the vibrations of the tires on the track through his gloves and into my head.  This is not resting-my-hands-in-the-bottom-loop-of-my-wheel driving.  This is serious, hands at 10 and 2, thick fire retardant gloves driving.  The wheel shakes visibly; it's possible to feel the strength it takes to hold the vehicle on the road.

And what vehicles they are.  Inches from the ground, carbon fiber and other results from the materials sciences labs pieced and painted and stickered and surrounding a human, they are admired as much as the horses at Belmont.  The sound of them powering down the straight-away is overwhelming
Dan Wheldon won the race last year after JR Hildebrand, a Marin-ite and Redwood High School graduate just a few years younger than my Cuters, crashed and burned in the last lap. 

Dan was a great guy, with a beautiful young family. everyone loved him, it seemed.

He died in Las Vegas at the Indy Car Series finale in October.  It was a scary reminder of just how dangerous this sport can be.  Even with their helmets fixed to the car itself - a change made after Dale Earnhardt snapped his neck in what might have been an otherwise survivable wreck - the tiniest error can lead to disaster.  At 213 mph there is no room for mistakes.

The last lap of this year's Indy 500 had Wheldon's three best friends in the lead, just as the four of them had been in the lead in 2011.  After Takumo Sato caught his wheel and then his car on the white edge of the track and spun out, it was left to Dario Franchitti and Scott Dixon and Tony Kanaan - Wheldon's closest friends - to battle it out for the win. 

Men all over the world are wondering how Dario Franchitti can be so lucky - he won Indy and he's married to Ashley Judd.  Ashley Judd, who looks every bit as gorgeous with hat hair as she does on the red carpet.  Ashley Judd, who got more tv time than her husband, the winner.

 Ashley Judd is a true fan; her joy was overwhelming.  She's also a good friend.  Amidst the hugs and the congratulations and the celebrating, Ashely Judd reached out to Dan Wheldon's wife, Susie, and, despite her protestations to the contrary, convinced Mrs. Wheldon to join them on the victory lap.

And there they were, the winner, his wife, and his best friend's widow, tooling around The Brickyard, smiling and waving.  If there was a dry eye in the crowd, we didn't see it.  There certainly were enough tears here on Douglas.

The next night, watching The Bachelorette, I was struck by the similarities.  Emily's fiance, the scion of a noted racing family - the Hendricks - died in a plane crash on the way to a race.  She is young and blonde and gorgeous, and so is her daughter.... just like the family Dan Wheldon left behind.  She, like Ashley Judd, looks just as good in hang-out clothes as she does in a long gown.  She is attached to her girlfriends, who look out for her as much as she looks out for them.  Watching Susie Wheldon on the back of the convertible leaning into her friend, Ashley Judd, for comfort and support, I saw why Emily had been attracted to the racing scene.

My favorite bachelor this season is Arie.... two time Indy winner Arie Leeuwenhoek, to be precise.  He took some time on his one-on-one date with Emily to quiz her about her life and goals and aspirations and then, tentatively, he wondered whether she was put off by his racing career.  He travels a lot. He's busy.  It's a demanding career.  Would Emily be willing to put up with it?

Her big smile and reassurance that she likes her alone time and wouldn't mind more of it in her future gave me space to breathe a big sigh of relief.  Arie did, too.  These two have connected over the smell of burning rubber.  The other bachelors were peeved as Emily was kissing Arie at the cocktail party, but TBG and I were cheering them on.

After spending Sunday at the track, it was nice to wrap it up in such a happy package on Monday night.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Life Well Lived wants to know about my favorite relaxation techniques for this week's expert's panel discussion.  I had to laugh when the invitation arrived in my inbox. 

Relaxation and I have an interesting - some would say antagonistic - relationship.  No one who knew me before I got shot could have imagined that I would be capable of lying still on a couch for 12 weeks.  No one.  You didn't even have to know me.  You could have watched me from afar and made the same deduction: this is not person who sits still.

My mother-in-law, the world's most wonderful mother-in-law whose example I aim to follow scrupulously, Nannie, called it sucrrying.  "Just listen to her scurrying around up there," she'd smile at TBG as she listened to my feet racing down the hall from the bathroom to Auntie Em's bedroom in which I sought refuge, thanking G'ma for insisting that I bring a bathrobe along on my first visit to his parents' house.  I carried her grocery bags with alacrity.  I fidgeted on her white leather couch as they chatted and watched television and enjoyed one another's company.

In my house, prolonged periods of intra-familial contact inevitably ended up with someone crying, someone astonished, someone perplexed.  We mitigated those outcomes with activities - folding laundry sufficed, in a pinch - designed to distract us from the fact that we were sharing space with one another.  Just sitting around with the tv for background noise, speaking of everything and nothing, relaxing..... this was something new for me.

Over the years, I've never had time to relax; there was always something to do.  I never thought I deserved to relax; there was always something to do. It took an epiphany in yoga one morning to make me realize that the something to do might be to relax. 

I gave it a try.  I made that 8:30am Friday morning class a priority.  It was written on my calendar, along with the dentist appointments and Happy Ladies' Club Luncheons.  It was a committment.  For one hour, with five or ten minutes of grace on each end, I was focused on being present in the moment.  There was nothing else to do. 

It was wonderful, inhaling and exhaling and, when I noticed my mind wandering from the breath, bringing myself back to my intention.  For that first focused year, my intention was radiant health.  That's all.  I said it to myself as I settled into my resting position and again as I arose from savasana.

It's called corpse pose for a reason - the idea is to surrender to the earth, to let go, to relax.   I resisted that notion for many, many years.  I'd rest, but I would still be alert to the world around me, wondering what I'd do next.  Yoga was energetic for me and I had a very hard time letting go of that mindset. 

But I was focused on a new mindset that year, so I tried ... well, that was my first mistake.  You can't really try to relax.  It's like sleep.... a place to which you can't really go.  No matter how hard you try, if sleep is not meant to be, sleep will not come.  You can't meet it half way... without narcotics, anyway.... and you can't coerce it to come to you.  Once I figured out that relaxation was as elusive as my REM cycles, I stopped worrying about it.  I brought an eye pillow to class and I made sure I had my cover-up over my chest and shoulders before I settled into the pose.

I never slept.  I was exceptionally present.  In an emergency, I'd have been the first one to the front door.  But the part of me that was more than limbic system, the part that was vigilant and inquisitive, that part was focused inward.... and all that was in there was my breath... moving in and out as my lungs expanded and contracted.

I was relaxed. 

It carried over into my real life, too.  I began to be able to sit quietly. Years ago, in a fit of pique while waiting in line at a Marin market, I resolved to explore the concept of patience.  Becoming patient was too difficult to imagine let alone embrace; understanding how one arrived at that result was something I could consider.  It's been nearly a decade since then; with relaxation I began to notice the rumblings in my belly as my anxiety grew as the fools in front of me couldn't manage to get their check book out of her purse with his help.... breathe..... in .... and.... out.... with that lovely pause in between when you're just .... relaxed.

It's a little bit touchy feely for MTF, I know.  I feel her cringing, wondering what kind of belated birthday present this mention of her in The Burrow might me, but it's true.

Oh, Life Well Lived wants to know what kind of benefits I reaped from using a focused yoga practise to learn to relax in a year of radiant health.

I was never sick.  Not a sniffle, not a cough, not a migraine nor even a headache, not a rash or gastrointestinal distress.  Not one.
*****
If you are so moved, there's a contest over at Life Well Lived.  Yeah, yeah, I know... you hate contests they'll sell your email it's a waste of time but I have to tell you, BlogHer will respect your privacy, make it easy to enter and I actually won a Kindle Fire last December when I wrote a comment to enter. 

Perhaps The Burrow is on a roll?  You'll never know unless you try.  Click here for your chance to win!

Monday, May 28, 2012

Memorial Day

My traditional Memorial Day post, tweaked just a bit from previous years.
Thanks, as always, to those who serve.
*****
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 they said you couldn't march without them and marching was too cool to pass up, but the shame............

All the school bands marched too, and 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. It was great.

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 wore 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 5andDimeStore in New Buffalo in 1985. The neighbors have invited us over for a family bar-b-que and the sun is shining.

And I am, as always, grateful to Kevin and Kyle and Amy and Cat and Sara, and to Courtney and her sister and the 41st Expeditionary Electronic Combat Squadron, and to Terry and Moose and Stroker and Uncles Chuck and Paul and Abby and to Aaron, safe at home for good, I hope.  I am grateful that the military gave me Dr. Rhee, who honed his craft on the battlefield and returned to create a system which saved my life.

Life is good. Thanks to all those who've served so that it can be so.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Random Thoughts, Sighing

Last year's blooms were anemic; a dry monsoon season and a frigid winter conspired against a vivid display.  This year, with two seasons' blossoms stored up inside, the trees were thicker than ever, the saguaro's had more buds, and the detritus is covering my front yard in piles of rapidly decaying but stubbornly resistant yellowness. 

When most of America is lubricating lawn mowers, I am looking for an outdoor vacuum cleaner with a low setting. 
*****
The waitress at lunch today spent more time curling her hair than boning up on the menu.  Her blonde curls were perfection, long, loose ringlets that draped elegantly down her back and over one carefully tilted shoulder.  She ended her description of one dish with thusly: "...and some other stuff."

My companion and I shrugged our shoulders and continued making one another smile.
*****
A cousin-in-law had a near brush with disaster and I wasted no time in chiming in.  Was I too intrusive?  Was I offering advice where none had been requested?  Was I invading their personal space?  Absolutely.

As TBG reassured me when I wondered if I'd overstepped my bounds, "You come at this from a different perspective these days."
*****
The last of the debates for Congressional District 8 was held last night.  Neither my lunch companion nor I could bear to listen or attend. There was little substance and lots of acrimony.  According to today's paper, as they've done the entire campaign, the two went at each other about their positions on Social Security, Medicare and health-care reform.

I had high hopes that this campaign would focus on the stark differences between the two candidates and their views on issues specific to Southern Arizona.  I'm still waiting for someone to stand up above the fray.  I am certain that both men were schooled that negativity is the surest way to secure the election; I just wish one of them had ignored the advice.
*****
For scheduling reasons, neither my physical therapist nor my pilates instructor had seen me for nearly three weeks.  Each one commented on my improving ambulation.  I still have a long way to go, but I'm getting there.  The plateaus are flatter and wider but the changes are more dramatic.  Numbness recedes and muscle tone improves and I'm finding that my list of things to be peeved about because I got shot no longer includes the fact that my injured leg may be half-an-inch shorter than my other one. 

It's funny what you can get used to. 
*****
Amster and FireFighter want to go away for six days and not spend two of them traveling.  One of his sugggestions was wild pig hunting in Texas.  The accomodations are double wide trailers and bunk beds.

There are many reasons that she loves him.  I'm not sure vacation planning is one of them.
*****
Re-reading this post before publishing it, I realized that every section could end with Sigh. 

I went up and changed the title.

Have a wonderful Memorial Day weekend, denizens.  Hug someone who served and say "Thanks, a bunch!"

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Straightening It All Out

I have a lot of books. 

Actually, I used to have a lot of books and now I have the best of that lot. 

The whole thing makes me antsy.  We had a library and a living room lined with bookshelves in Chicago.  We moved to northern California and found houses with big windows and high ceilings and expansive vistas..... but no wall space and certainly no bookshelves.  Californians live outdoors; there wasn't a lot of emphasis on the life of the mind, it seemed.

I installed shelving in every home; my books took pride of place.

Downsizing and moving, once again, I vowed that I would not pay movers to transport volumes I never would read again.  That plan failed as I, once again, underestimated the time and energy required to pack up two lives (and the detritus of two other lives whose owners were living elsewhere but whose possessions seemed destined to stay, forever and forever, with their parental units).  By the time the movers came to pack up the kitchen, the boxes of books which had been stored in the garage were loaded, unemptied and unexamined, onto the truck to Arizona.

I love our home here in the desert.  It has windows everywhere, opening the inside to the outside and affording me views that stretch for miles and miles.  I couldn't ask for anything more...... except, perhaps, a wall or two onto which I could attach bookshelves.

The house has curves and pillars and arches and those aforementioned windows.  There aren't a lot of options for shelves. 

Climbing up ladders - even step stools - is still a challenge for my recovering body.  It's not the stability (though that is lacking, too) as much as the mental challenge that impedes me.  It used to be a simple matter to clamber up the steps and replace or retrieve a book.  Now, damaged and afraid, I look at them up there on the top shelf and I sigh.  So, I won't rearrange the first editions today.

That mentality, that willingness to give in to the challenge, was one of the only places where I let my injuries interfere with my life.  There were certainly other places where I was unable to proceed as I had planned, where my lack of mobility and endurance precluded an adventure, but I usually managed to power my way through the problems and end up with a smile on my face.

Not so with the library's shelving.

I'd go to the bookstore or the public library and return with my treasures.  When I was taking care of the problem, there was a space on the first shelf in from the door where un-read books resided.  As time went on, that space began to be filled with mail to be read, articles to be passed on, magazines with stories about me.... the random papers that accumulate without notice were gradually taking over my life.

Patty came to clean last week and I watched as she moved the stacks of books and papers and newsprint and a washcloth - what was that doing there? - gently from side to side, dusting between the piles.  It was ridiculous.  She was primping the mess.  I had to do something.

It took an entire week, until she returned again yesterday to clean once more, before I could tackle it.  My mood and my available time were finally in synch.  I got to work. 

My Sophie's choice - which to keep and which to resell - was no easier this time than it has ever been before.  I was ruthless, removing I'll never read this again's from the shelves and placing them in the the sturdy Macy's shopping bag for the trip to Bookmans.  I don't need three copies of The Aeneid; I kept the two which had notes along the side. Self-help books made their way to my couch during my recovery; they went into the bag as well.  It was a painful task, I didn't want to hurt their feelings... or their authors' feelings... or my own, for that matter. 

I need more bookshelves rang out through the house.  Patty and TBG just laughed.

I'd begun using the ledge between the wall shelving and the lower cabinetry as a catch-all.  Yesterday, I found a necklace I'd been missing, a phone number I'd misplaced, and other small, assorted treasures.  I tossed the empty roll of packing tape as I wondered what had made me put it on the shelf instead of in the recycling bin on the other side of the room.  It's a good thing I can still laugh at my own foibles; there were lots of them to discover as I straightened.

I put the Greeks together and the Romans together and had a lengthy conversation with myself before I put James Joyce next to Abelard and Heloise.  The atlases are cozied up with one another and so are the yearbooks.  The books by women are reordered and gently improved upon and the I'm sure you'll like anything here space has also been revamped.  My-friend-the-published-author has her own section; I took some time to admire her output before I moved on to the gardening section.

Taking out the California texts and putting the Southern Arizona tomes in their proper place took some time.  I have hiking guides which taunt me but I could not force myself to put them in storage.  I will be able to do more than the handicapped accessible trails.... I know I will.... I know I will.  I'm keeping the books there as inspiration.  The field guides to birds and beasts and flora and roadsides are now in order, resting comfortably beside their colleagues.  Somehow, I managed to stay focused and I didn't open a single one.  I've learned my lesson - many a time I've begun this project in that section and never made it further.  There is so much to learn and to see and to ponder and to do... the books are attractive nuisances when it comes to cleaning up.

And when I was finished, I laughed out loud.  Leaving the room, I found myself consciously turning my head to the right, away from the shelves and the mess..... wait a minute, there is no more mess!  I realized I'd even been avoiding looking in that direction, the disorder was so unpleasing to my eye.  No longer.  I smiled and took a step back into the room to admire my work.

Aaaahhhhhhhhh......

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

A Confession

For years, I've teased TBG for his obsession with The Bachelor.  It started when Little Cuter was in college; her addiction to the show drew him in instantly.  Like watching a train wreck in slow motion,  they would dissect and inspect and judge the contestants.  This one was creepy, that one was odd, those needed personalities and the one who went home had serious issues.  He found it to be a window into her soul.

We listened, fascinated, as she learned lessons from the idiocy on the screen.  Despite the nails-on-a-blackboard quality of the show, I enjoyed their conversations the morning after.  Why did she.... how could he.... what if they.... she was working out her own issues while watching reality tv.

For the most part, the show left them feeling quite smug.  Neither of them would fall for that line.  Nobody would expect them to believe that.  If someone said those words to her, she'd turn and head for the hills.  Obviously, my favorite fans were quite superior to the participants in their Monday evening trash-fest.  Perhaps that was part of the allure.

I fell into and out of watching the shows.  Some seasons were more interesting than others.  We loved Allie (who really seemed to care about Roberto, breaking our hearts when she dumped him) and laughed at Deanna (the original media whore) and cringed while Vienna made trouble and Tanner caressed Jillian's feet.  Most of the time, I sat on the floor in front of TBG as he rubbed my shoulders and I manned the fast forward button.  I could share the moment, but pretend to be uninvolved.

I picked JP for Ashley before she did.  I thought Ben was a dork before the girls noticed, too.  From my perch behind Nellie the Laptop, listening with half an ear, I could pretend that I didn't care.  And then, this season, Emily returned.

Emily was the bane of Ashley's existence last season.  Ashley spent most of her time feeling that she wasn't as pretty, as popular, as wanted as Brad's ex might have been.  The fact that many of the men expressed exactly that sentiment made her seem less paranoid and more reality based than most prospective brides on the show.  Still, her whining got real old real fast.

Mostly, TBG and I were fascinated by the way that Emily held herself aloof from it all.  Her moonlit kiss on the beach in Season 15 was about as romantic as reality television gets, and I was sucked in... all the way in... and spit out on the other side, believing that she'd found true love.

Guess again, Ashleigh.  Their less than amicable break-up, the ill-will and distrust and sadness was more than I could bear.  I let TBG watch alone for a while, but then Emily came back and I gave it one more try.

I was prepared to dislike her as I got to know her.  I was prepared to be disgusted with her over-the-top Southern Belle-nitude.  I was looking for evidence of shallowness.  I was certain that I would not be disappointed.

Guess again, Ashleigh.  It turns out that Emily is actually someone I think I'd like as a friend.  Her first date on Monday night was spent unloading the groceries from her car, baking cookies and taking them to her daughter's soccer practice.  It was a typical Mom afternoon, familiar to anyone who was ever a team parent or on the Snack List for a classroom.  She was sending a message, loudly and clearly, that parenting is her number one priority.  It didn't seem contrived; I bought it hook line and sinker.

Though her totally pink with too many mirrors bathroom is somewhat over the top for my taste, Emily's a girly girl and that's her prerogative.  I've always had a blonde friend whose likes and tastes were different from my own.  I can appreciate it as long as it's not imposed on me.  I worried that Emily might be too much of a fashion plate for me, too tall and gorgeous to be real.  For a while, I wavered.

She invited her daughter in to share as she put on her make-up.  Her blush brush barely skimmed over Rickie's cheeks as Mom reminded her that she was pretty enough without needing any help.  There was no glittery eye shadow or bright red lipstick applied to that 7 year old face, there was just a shared moment and then poof the kid was gone, off to another adventure.  I remember doing the same thing with my kids, too.  I knew, as Emily knows, that it was less about how they looked than how much they wanted to do what I was doing.  It wasn't a lifestyle choice, it was a small moment in time.  I began to admire her parenting.

Then, the show took us to a picnic bench in a park where we met the most important women in (her) life - her best friends, the women with whom she's raising her daughter.  They were an eclectic bunch, all colors and ages and sizes.  I watched their faces as she joined them, as they made plans, as she thanked them for help with carpool.  Whatever you need.....Just ask us.... Take care of yourself....those phrases got me through the worst of child-rearing nightmares when my Cuters were young.  Hearing her friends reassure her with the same words made me realize that youth and beauty aside, Emily and I were living similar lives.

She's involved in her community.  She's in love with her daughter.  She's looking for fun, but knows she must stay grounded because a little one depends upon her.  She's chosen her friends not for looks or jewelery but for the sageness of their counsel, their willingness to support her choices, the comfort their presence provides.  It was just the kind of catch up and plan afternoon most moms can remember.... moms who realize that they can't do it all alone, that is.

I agree with her first date - she looks as good in Mom clothes as she does in those fabulous long gowns she wears at night.  The show has Kermit and Miss Piggy and enough G-rated scenes that little Rickie might even be able to watch some of her mom on tv.  And some is just enough. 

There will be too much kissing and too many squeamish moments, I'm sure.  There will be times I cover my eyes and times I scream at the screen.  But Emily seems like a grown-up looking for love.  The fact that she's searching on television in front of millions of viewers is, I am trying to convince myself, merely a fact of the 21st century and not the breakdown of the moral fiber of our lives.

In any event, I'm commited... for the long haul. 

I'll keep you posted, if you promise not to laugh at me .... too hard, anyhow.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

My Little Girl

There's a lot to love about my little girl.  Just ask her fiance; he'll be glad to share.  So will her mother-in-law-to-be..... and her brother.... and her co-workers....and I.

I'll share the morning I complimented her matching attire. Before I could get the orange juice on the table she had been up and down the stairs, switching her socks and her skirt and there she was, hair going every which way, her eyes frantic as she begged me to reassure her that this was better, that nothing went together anymore. 

She was choosing her own clothes and dressing herself; I honestly didn't care what the pre-school teachers thought. 

The other parents might look askance, but their children flocked to her side.  In first grade she came home flummoxed and out of sorts.  The girls in her class had made up a list to take the guess work out of who would get to sit next to Little Cuter at lunch.  Another child might have been flattered; my girl was annoyed.  Didn't she have a say in the matter?  What made them think that she was that important?  She hadn't done anything to merit such attention... or so she thought.

I smiled, remembering TBG's oft repeated advice on how to be cool - just act as if you don't care. Her trick was that she really didn't care.  She didn't keep score.  She was friends with everyone.

Nothing had changed by middle school.  "Mom, why do the kids fight with one another?  If you're not mad at anyone you can sit anywhere you like at lunch.  Why don't they get it?"  It was a good question then and it's a good question now. She still gets along with everyone; it's just easier that way.

Her job vanished as the office closed its doors.  She started the next one just as her severance pay ran out.  Efficient human that she is, there was even time for a week off between job search and job start.  She was unemployed but not uninvolved.  Every day included some kind of work on her future.  She wasn't bogged down, she was just delayed by a brief hiccup. 

Turns out that this new job has real chance for growth.  She's on her first business trip right now, and feeling pretty good about herself.  Today is her birthday and she's celebrating in style: a road trip, not with her mom but with colleagues.  She's officially a big girl, even if she'll always be my baby.

Twenty-seven years ago you arrived on the scene, somewhat reluctantly if the truth be told.  Today, there's not a reluctant bone in your body.  You embrace the world and its challenges with open arms and a willingness to learn and to help and to do it well. 

The world is a better place because you are in it, Little Cuter. 
Happy Happy Birthday!

Monday, May 21, 2012

The Heat is On

I'm really really glad that Little Cuter and SIR are not being married this afternoon.  Though there's a breeze, the temperatures are likely to hit triple digits.  The sun, recovered from its eclipse, has that summertime thing going on.  In short, it's hot.

Not muggy humid sticky hot, like you feel on a July afternoon in Chicago.  Not foot scorching toe burning sandy hot, like Jones Beach in August.  Not the why won't the fan move the air enough hot of my grandmother's stuffy apartment.  No, not any hot like those at all.

This is the hot that bakes you from the inside out.   This kind of hot makes your bones feel warm and toasty, as if you're walking around with your own personal heating pad, one molded perfectly to the contours of your self.  Nothing is swollen or sticky.  It's just hot.

This is the hot that your hair feels.  It's down to the roots and out to the tips hot, wet at the sweaty parts but otherwise just radiating warmth.  I submerge myself in the deep part of the pool, I pop up, I catch my breath.... and the front and sides of my 'do are dry.  It's like living in one of those beauty salon plastic domed dryers.  It happens without my noticing.

There are flowers that understand the hot. Getting ready to bloom, during the day, with the sun shining, the tricocerus looks like this

 Once the sun sets, the petals open up to this.
Yes, magenta and orange and lavender and yellow and green and I promise, it was real.
It only lasted for a few hours, though.
By the morning, from a distance, it was still fabulous.
 But up close, at 6:30am, as the sun rose over the Pusch Ridge, the petals began to lose their lustre.
By the time I'd had breakfast and returned from the gym, there was nothing worth photographing. 

It was that kind of hot.

Friday, May 18, 2012

My Sweaty Soundtrack

I was always fast.  I was never an athlete.  Jewish girls from New York had no sports role models, at least as far as I can recall.  My parents thought that Sports Night, my high school's girls vs girls color war, was vaguely reminiscent of Nazi training games.   I never understood that analogy, though I heard it often enough.  It certainly took a lot of the fun out of my participation, though.  Of that I am sure.

In sixth grade, I won a trophy at the L'ag B'omer track meet sponsored by a consortium of synagogues and held at a local high school.  The only music we heard was the Israeli national anthem.  Someone ought to explain to me the playing of national anthems before sporting events.  Maybe my parents were right; perhaps they are nationalistic displays disguised as athletic competitions.  At the time, I was just amazed that I crossed the finish line first.  I looked for my parents in the stands.... and then I remembered... I'd taken a bus with the rest of my team.... I had no fans.  Then, again, neither did anyone else.  We cheered for one another, I carted my trophy home, and G'ma wondered who was gong to dust the damn thing.  We really weren't an athletic bunch.

IN 1978, the year before my 27th birthday, I made a new friend.  She wore lots of make-up, had the trendiest clothes, and she took me under her wing.  TBG tells me that I've always had a blonde friend who taught me something new.  Debby was the one who introduced me to running.  She explained that the year in which one's age agreed with one's birthday was The Golden Year, a time of wonder and delight during which dreams came true.  It was a time to stretch and to grow and to tackle new challenges.  In 1979 I'd turn 27 on the 27th... it was my time.

She was a dazzling human being; I bought the notion hook, line and sinker. 

She wanted to run in the Bonnie Bell 10K the following April, and she invited me to train with her.  I had spent some time in the gym with TBG, but more as an on-looker than as a participant. But in 1978 we were both working and could afford a gym membership.  I had no excuses. 

Debby would pick me up at 4:30 every weekday morning.  We'd drive, silently, in the dark, through Chicago's empty streets, to the under-ground parking lot at the gym.  We'd lock up our belongings and head out toward Michigan Avenue.  It was deserted, ghostly, ghastly, cold and windy, but we braved the elements and ran our 2, then 3, then 4 then 5 miles before showering and dressing and being at our desks at RIC by 7:15.  It was a good thing we were both morning people. 

We started out running together, keeping pace with one another, encouraging ourselves to go faster and longer.  Soon, though, she out-stripped me, leaving me in the dust as she flew over the pavement.  I was alone in the dark, before the sun rose, with no one to talk to and nothing to distract me from the discomfort. 

pocketcaluculatorshow.com
I bought a Walkman.  Well, probably not a Walkman.  It might have been a DiscMan.  It might have been a knock-off brand.  In any event, it sent music to my ears, music of my own choosing, music I'd taped on mini-cassettes.

I had my Motown tape, which will be linked forever with icy paths and frigid temperatures on the path between the Lincoln Park Zoo and the South Pond.  I had my Summer Fun tape which was Beach Boys and Four Seasons and Shelley Fabares.

But mostly, I had my Donna Summer tape.  Love to Love You, Baby got me from the apartment to the Conservatory of Flowers if I went behind the Rookery on my weekend runs.  Weekdays, Last Dance was my triumphant sprint up Michigan Avenue to the door of the gym.  On the Radio contained just enough angst to get me over the hump in the middle.  No matter how loudly Donna was singing in my ear, I was matching her, decibel for decibel, from my own mouth.  Why I thought no one was listening is beyond me; I just sang out loud.

I always felt as if Donna Summer was doing the same.  She had that big voice and that big hair and that smile that really did stretch from ear to ear.  She moved me - literally and figuratively.  She was the soundtrack to my struggles as I toiled to reach my goal.  She'd been there, done that, and come out on top.  She was strong, she was powerful, and she inspired.

I finished my race, and today, so did Donna Summer finish hers.  She leaves a husband and two daughters and, I suspect, a rash of female fans who spent 16 minutes and 48 seconds in aerobics classes in the 1970's, sweating in our leg warmers as she sang to us.


Rest In Peace.  I'm adding a Pandora channel in your honor tonight.


Thursday, May 17, 2012

Beautifying G'ma

Her hair is longer than I've ever seen it on her head.  As a girl, her mom turned her auburn curls into Shirley Temple ringlets that fell down her back, impressing her friends and causing a minor uproar at home.  Her dad was a committed Socialist and wondered why his little girl was trying to be more special than all the other little girls in the neighborhood.  She remembers the argument.  She also remembers loving her curls.

As a young woman, posing for photos with her going-off-to-war brother, the shop owner asked if he could take one just of her.  He wanted it for the display in his window.  She remembers being surprised by herself every time she walked past the store.  Putting herself out there was not her style. Enjoying the celebrity was not how she spent her days. Still, she sits up a little straighter and smiles just a little brighter when she looks at this photo, some seventy years after it was taken

She was a stunner.  There's no doubt about it.

Now, nearing 90, she sits in the comfy leather chair to my right, waiting patiently for her turn at Jesse's station.  He's the perfect stylist; the compliments pour out of his mouth the moment he sees her.  "Hello, gorgeous!  Just look at you! You look fabulous!  And your hair... just look at your hair... it's so long.... don't you like coming to see me any more?"  She's caught up in his enthusiasm before she remembers why she's here.

Jesse's tall and handsome and charming.  G'ma is small and wrinkly and snarky.  They are a delightful pair.  I sit across the salon, watching him create order out of chaos.  He doesn't mind asking the same questions a dozen times.  He doesn't make her feel inadequate.  The first time he cut her hair,  she reminded him that she was older and wiser and knew just what she wanted. He told her that was fine. They were tentative around each other, using me as an intermediary.

Now she scoots her butt back in the shampoo chair, the two of them laughing at her inability to move gracefully and his reluctance to call her ass her ass. She used the word, teasing his propriety and accepting his arm gracefully.  She doesn't dwell on what she's lost; she accepts it as reality and deals with it.

I am so going to school on being an old person right now.
Everyone agrees that her hair is gorgeous.  It's thick and wavy and a shade of gold and grey that no bottle could ever produce.  She used to use a bluing rinse - a term that confused me terribly when I was a child - but now she manages to squeeze out a dollop of Matrix shampoo once a week and feels satisfied.  Vanity was never her style; clean and neat was always enough.

Hair in her eyes is annoying; hair on her shoulders is noticeable.  "Do you like it?"  "I don't dislike it.... what do you think?  You decide."  And so, I do.  A bit of layering, lots of trimming in front and over her ears so she's not annoyed by stray strands, and enough length so that she'll have something to style for the wedding. Even if she can't remember that it's my daughter who will be a bride in four months, her eyes light up at the thought of a party.  "You'll be gorgeous," we tell her. "You're such liars... but you can keep talking,"  is her reply.

And the truth is, she'll be gorgeous in my eyes and frighteningly old in hers.  The staff at the pod-castle all agree that she has the most beautiful skin; all she sees are the wrinkles.  Her blue eyes sparkle as she catches  a grammatical mistake; they still work is her response to the compliment on their beauty.

This is not now nor ever has been a woman who spent a lot of time on how she looked or on how she was put together.Changing fashions meant nothing to her.  Maureen, who cut her hair for 35 years before retiring and leaving her bereft, created the same style over and over again, year after year, every six weeks.  It was just how she looked.

Muscle memory allowed her to recreate it when we could find a stylist who could give her the basics, but then even that began to disappear.  For a while, her hair was a mess. I couldn't find anyone who would follow the contours of her head and the desires of her hair.  They tried to make her something she was not.  Both she and her tresses resisted mightily. It was a long haul until we found "the one."

It's not only technique that counts, as anyone who has ever frequented a salon will attest.  It's the interpersonal chemistry that seals the deal.  She may be a transplanted Brooklynite and he a Mexican-American hunk-and-a-half, but they light up the sky as they delight one another  "How're you feeling?" Jesse asks and I begin to laugh even before she replies, as I knew she would, "With my fingers!" 

Best of all, he's no where near retirement.


She's clacking her dentures and napping as he cuts, waking when he talks then dropping off when he's concentrating on the cut.  She knows what to do while she's in his chair and I smile as I relax into mine.  For this moment in time, she's a competent adult, taking care of business.  She knows that she wants the curls out of her face.  She doesn't want to take a lot of time to deal with her hair.  She wants it neat and not in her way.  Jesse's happy to oblige.
Washed and blown dry and hair sprayed, with just the right amount of product (none) to seal the deal, she smiles at her reflection in the mirror. Knowing that Jesse will be there in September to recreate the perfect pageboy takes all the tension out of the little voice in the back of my head, the one that's wondering if I will be able to do it for her on the big day.

It takes a village to raise a child; it takes a talented stylist to groom my mom. I'm so glad I found him.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Young Adult Lit

I'm sorry, Katniss.  I really am.  I underestimated you and your author.  You've gotten under my skin.

I didn't realize that your author was writing for teens,  I saw New York Times Bestseller on the back cover and I just assumed it was the real list.  Then I went to the interweb and saw that there were a jillion NYT Bestseller lists so I gave up and read the back cover more closely and saw what I'd missed the first time.

I still don't know why teen lit has to write down to its audience.  I don't know why good grammar and an extensive vocabulary are absent.  I don't understand .... and maybe I'm not supposed to understand.  I'm not a teen in the 21st century.  When I was a teen, the genre didn't exist.

I participated in an Adolescent Literature Book Club (it was much too serious to be referred to as a Teen Lit Book Club) for a while when we were in Marin and my kids were of that age.  Big Cuter was reading above grade level.... Jack Miles' biography of God in the eighth grade.... Guns, Germs and Steel on his own before it was assigned as pre-freshman year reading for Georgetown....  and finding the tomes on his own.  Little Cuter was always open to suggestions, though, so I joined the ladies who lunched after they read for a year or so.

I stopped attending when the happiest girl in the world asked me why I kept recommending such depressing books.

Suicide, cutting, rape, torment.... there were only a handful of novels which made me smile.  Our leader justified her choices by reminding us that books are a way out of a difficult time for many kids, that this is the reality for many kids, that many kids want to feel that others are worse off than they are, that many kids..... at that point, I'd stopped listening.

I was a pretty miserable teenager. I reveled in happy stories.  Had so much changed? I didn't think so.

The popularity of the Hunger Games trilogy makes me think that maybe I wasn't such an outlier, after all.  The characters triumph over evil - or die trying - and the message is one of trust and competence and power.  Sure, it could be deeper.  Sure, it could be more finely crafted.  But I'm desperate to finish the last hundred pages.  Not because I'm worried, but because I care about the people.

Those are fine themes for teens, don't you think?

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Page Turners

Traveling makes for some odd experiences.  It takes its toll on digestion and sleep patterns and reading habits.

Reading habits, you ask?  Books are books.... they travel well.... they fit in a purse and they exist in the ether on my Kindle Fire.  Why should my physical location have anything to do with that?  My problem is that I never remember to take them along when I leave the hotel in the morning.

Big Cuter's apartment is a 20 minute walk downhill from the Marriott we're funding with our Reward Points.  Before I was shot, I hiked it happily and easily.  Now, with the hills presenting a challenge I've not faced in the flatlands of Tucson, taxicabs or Zipcars move my achy body from Union Square to the Tenderloin.  It really is a dry heat in the desert; the humidity in Baghdad by the Bay is making its presence felt with every step I take here.

Leaving at 10am and returning at 10pm requires more planning than I've been able to manage this trip.  I don't know why I'm so inept, but I am.  Yesterday I carried three outfits in a plastic bag, but left the information I needed to complete a grant application safely in the safe in our room.  Today, heading to a second opinion for my finger before meeting up with Big Cuter, I toted the information, Nellie the laptop, a sweater and my sunglasses.  I left my book on the desk.

It was cloudy, we were exhausted, our bones were creaking.  Cabbing to his apartment, walking across Civic Center Plaza to Morty's Deli, stopping at Walgreens for basic supplies - we were toast by 2pm.  TBG took the bed, I took the love seat, Big Cuter took the recliner and we were in for the afternoon.  Naps, Facebook, ESPN.....the boys were happy but I was bored.  I wanted my novel.  It wasn't here.

I hate starting a new book when I'm in the middle of another.  I have trouble keeping the characters straight. I have to pull myself out of the bayou or the city or the mountains where the author has drawn me and rearrange my brain to accept a new terrain.  I don't like it at all.  Today I had no choice.  Eight hours of playing Wordscraper is too much even for me.  I needed a book.

Elizibeth read Hunger Games and lusts for Mockingjay and Catching Fire. I'd promised to send them to her since I remembered Big Cuter telling me he'd read the trilogy and, knowing that he's never visited the library around the corner from his building, I was certain that they were on his shelf.  I was right.  Katniss Everdeen is everywhere these days; when Big Cuter offered me the first in the series I couldn't refuse.

It's certainly a page turner.  It reads more like a movie script than a novel.  The emotions are as deep as a long shot in filtered focus.... do I love him.... will I kill him..... can I escape .... will she reveal me.... nothing requires more than a thumbs up or thumbs down.  There are chaste kisses and quick, if violent, deaths which seem readily adaptable to the silver screen.  No one is injured for long, no one suffers in full view, the novel is a PG-13 rating incarnate.

I didn't mind reading it.  I feel full, the way I do after eating too much popcorn at the multiplex.  I am ambivalent about picking up the second and the third installments; I can feel the teen angst oozing from the binding mocking me from the shelf across the room.  My brain was amused.  It was not engaged.

On the desk in the hotel is James Lee Burke's Feast Day of Fools.  It's a page turner, too, with bad guys so awful they are almost comical, with unrequited love dripping from every page, with an ease to the language that draws you in almost without noticing.  No one is in pain for very long, there's no dwelling on the torture and the violence that comes in the wake of Mexican drug cartels and Texas law enforcement.  It's an easy read if that's what you're seeking.

But there is more, so very much more.  Hackberry Holland, the sheriff and central character, hears things that others do not.  The first time he mentions the sound of horns in the distance, Burke references Ronceveaux.  If the reference is oblique, it's easily skipped.  Having spent a semester considering epic heroes, I went straight to The Song of Roland and the call for help that was never sent.  Hack turned, at that moment, from a law man to a deep thinker.  Though I have 100 pages left until I finish, I can safely report that battling an enemy alone or with the help of others is a dominant theme of the novel.

I'm hard pressed to tell you the theme of Hunger Games, even though I've finished it.

Hunger Games is brain candy, a beach read, a not-very-challenging way of whiling away an afternoon.  The story was fun, the characters memorable, the situation mildly provocative.  Ultimately, there was no there there.  It's not poorly written, it's simple.  What bothers me is how much more Suzanne Collins could have done with it.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Thoughts on the Graduate

He's always been a student.

Since his first minutes on the planet, Big Cuter's eyes have been open and searching.  Born "sunny side up," he was looking around the delivery room, wondering what he'd missed while passing through the birth canal.  The doctor and nurse were amazed. He looked curious.

A reluctant reader until necessity (Dad wasn't around to read Princess of Mars and he wanted to know how it ended) forced his hand, his apartment now contains a bed, a couch, a chair and books.  Lots and lots and lots of books.  Robert Jordan and Steven Erikson and Michael Lewis and J.K. Rowling and George R. R. Martin share the bookshelves with Patrick O'Brian and Tom Clancy and his law texts.  This is a kid who loves to read.  He just came to it later than made me comfortable.

Letting go of expectations - he never crawled, he stood up and ran - has been the hardest part of parenting for me.  I like to know the rules, see the path, have a plan.  Getting over the fact that my plan is not his plan, that my way is not his way, that my outlook is not his has been a challenge.  He doesn't disappoint; he goes about life his own way and ends up where he's supposed to be in the end.  It's just not the way I'd have gotten there.

Letting go was never easy.  I sobbed - loudly and for a long time - when he went off to summer camp for the first time.  What if.... suppose.... he doesn't .... he can't... I went to the negative before Seret called and cheered me up.  She was always better at the release than I was.

Told that he'd be going to kindergarten all by himself he stopped and thought and then wondered what would happen if he didn't know an answer.  "The other kids might ..." was interrupted by a wail.  "What other kids? You told me I was going all by myself!!!" he cried.  The kid did pay attention.  We had to give him that.

Mrs. Wilson, Mrs. Puckett, Miss Murphy... they taught him to spell and add and use perfect penmanship.  Would that they could see him now.  He sees the pictures behind the equations and corrects the announcers' grammar on ESPN.  What they did worked.

Always able to make the inaccessible understandable, in the third grade he gave a speech on the Greek gods and goddesses.  He focused on The Muses, because he had a classmate named Thalia.  I don't know if that beautiful little blonde knew that she bore a magical name before the morning he spoke to the class, but she certainly did once he finished. He'd shown what he'd learned and he'd invited the rest of his friends into the adventure.  I still bask in the glow of the moment.

He wore a black cape and then a ball cap and then switched his palette to grey and navy.  He wasn't big on plaid.  Sweat pants trumped blue jeans.  Georgetown logo gear got him through college.  He finds something he likes and he sticks to it.  He is consistent.

With an uncanny ability to remember every fact he's ever encountered, he's our go-to when something is lost to our memory banks.  He rarely fails us.

He's a low key kind of guy; his half smile comes out while his sister guffaws. He's an observer more than an participant.   Unless he's certain that he'll get it right, he's happy to watch and learn.  There are worse ways to be.  This is not a person who is going to drive off a cliff.... although he did forget sunscreen last weekend and I'm on his couch right now watching him peel the skin off his upper arm.  Even the most perfect people make mistakes.

And now he is graduating from law school.  He's found a niche and he needs a job, but that's not important right now.  Right now, sitting on his couch, watching him stare at the Clippers and the Grizzlies battle it out in game seven of the series, his face a mirror image of his father's on my other side, I'm overwhelmed with admiration and pride.

He lived alone, made his own way, studied and negotiated and competed and succeeded and he learned.  I listen to him explain a complicated issue and I'm brought back to Thalia in the third grade.  He's never lost the ability to draw me in, to make me understand, to untangle the knots and present the facts within a frame of reference that makes sense to me.

Sure, he's messier than I'd like him to be.  Sure, he's not going about his life the way I would arrange it. But that's the issue I've been dealing with for the past 29 years, and I guess I'll be dealing with it for the forseeable future.  "What are you going to wear today, sweetie?"  Jeans under his cap and gown?  Not the choice I would make, but it's not my graduation.  I gave birth to him but I still haven't cut the cord, it seems.  I didn't groan out loud, I didn't suggest slacks, my belly did a flip flop but I kept my mouth shut.

He's a  big boy now.  He's a law school graduate.  It's time to let it go.......

Friday, May 11, 2012

Random Thoughts for the Weekend

A black man sits in the Oval Office and tells a reporter that he is comfortable with men marrying men. 

America is a wonderful country, isn't it?
*****
I threw a yellow towel in with my light colored laundry.  It was sitting on the kitchen counter and I thought, why not. I'll tell you why not -  the seams of the white shirts are now permanently dyed yellow, my khaki shorts now have yellow pockets and my sports bras are puke-colored instead of pure white.

Remind me never to do that again, please.
*****
It looked like you could walk atop the pool this morning.  The yellow blossoms (see yesterday's post) had covered the water completely.  When the filter turned on at 7am, I could almost hear it groaning.
*****
We must have a road runner nest nearby.  For the first time since we've moved here I've seen a Geococcyx furiously pecking at the mini-meals hidden within my rocky ground cover.  They are funny looking things, for whom flying doesn't seem to come naturally.

Of course, that saves them from crashing into my windows after being duped by the reflection of the trees behind them.  There are many dazed birds cruising my street; I have their outlines on my windows to prove it.
*****
Light rail between Tucson and Phoenix is in the news again this week.  It was in the news six years ago when we moved here and I imagine that it will reappear six years from now, too.  Growing up with the Long Island Rail Road, I was comfortable using public transit when I moved to Chicago.  The Cuters and I took the train to visit friends in the suburbs, to pick up cars at dealerships far removed from our home, to get to the airport.  Moving to San Francisco was a shock - if my kids wanted to go to the city they needed a ride.  The ferry stopped running before concerts ended and there were no other alternatives.

Am I the only one who sees it as a boost for productivity, a tourism enhancement, a corridor booster?  Why they didn't lay rail lines when they built the interstates is a mystery to me.
*****
The road construction in our neighborhood has shifted into a higher gear.  Working on the hill just west of us, back hoe front loaders and mini-dump trucks and half-sized tractors were strewn across the roadway this morning.  I sat, trying not to ride the clutch, as I rolled backward before zooming forward and upward.  Getting to the post office was a chore.... and then the APC was out of order. 

Some errands were just not meant to be.
*****
Mad Men is just getting better and better.  This week's episode, focusing on the music, was as gentle a segue into a new world as I've ever watched.  The definition of cool is no longer in the hands of the guys in the suits with the drunken lunches.

I think I love this show because it's a window into the world of the grown ups while I was just a lass. 
*****
School is ending here in Tucson in two weeks..... before Memorial Day.... before June.... before the temperatures hit triple digits and stay there. 

It's just too soon for the year to be done.  There.  I've said it.
*****
Megan mentioned allergies in her comment yesterday.  Yes, people did move here for the dry, hypo-allergenic air.  They came from the East and the Midwest.  They missed their familiar plants.  They planted their familiar plants - and brought the pollen with them.

For those of us who did not grow up here, spring allergies come as an unpleasant surprise.  Just ask TBG, who managed to live nearly 60 years without a single springtime sneeze..... until he moved to Tucson and found that congestion is the name of the game from April through June.  Poor baby.....
*****
Big Cuter is receiving his Juris Doctor degree on Sunday.  Close your eyes and imagine the world's biggest, proudest smile... then place it on the image you have of my face. 

Yup..... that's how I plan to look all weekend long!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

It's Yellow in the Desert

I'd been to Tucson in the 1980's, staying for a weekend at Canyon Ranch with TBG.  We exercised and spa'ed and ate ourselves silly.  We bicycled on paved road to Loew's Ventana Canyon resort, where we drank fruity slushies - which now we'd call smoothies - before we trekked back on the pavement to our other manicured home away from home.  If we were in the desert, we certainly didn't know it.

When we flew to Phoenix 6 years ago this week, we were definitely in the desert.  The ride to our hotel took us past perfectly landscaped highways, meticulously maintained and sparsely planted with the weirdest looking cacti I'd ever seen.  Who knew that cacti bloomed?  Not I. Who knew that those flowers were red and yellow and white and coral and peach and burgundy?  Definitely not I.

Today, I live in the desert and have grown to appreciate the yellow season.  Only in Tucson would folks roll down their car windows when the temperatures were in the mid-90's.  Those of us afflicted with allergies arrive at our destinations bleary eyed and congested, filled with pollen and beauty.

These are night-blooming cereus, a yellow variety of trichocereus.  They open at night and surprise me on my way to yoga at 8 in the morning.

They close up and die as the sun rises. 
There are more buds all around it; I have many more mornings of delight to come.

The golden barrel cactus, echinocactus, is also getting ready to bloom.
This one came from Acacia Nursery, where Roby puts his Masters in Landscape Architecture to good use.  He's created a museum in the desert, where the exhibits are all for sale.  Elizibeth and I strolled the grounds and pointed; Roby pulled them out of the ground and onto the garden cart.
I have no doubt that my cacti are locally sourced.

The flowers are kind of inconsequential,
but they make a nice counterpoint to the dusting of palo verde and acacia and mesquite blossoms
covering the rocky ground cover. 
I thought someone had left a yellow towel on the driveway.  It was pollen.
The pieces which have not been inhaled have landed in my yard, in my garden, on the paths.
It's much prettier on the tree itself.
That's the front yard at midday. 
It is extremely yellow.
Although my favorite part is the shadow.
With 350 days of sunshine each year, a little bit of shade is always welcome.

There aren't any tulips or daffodils announcing Spring.
Somehow, that matters less to me as time goes by.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

A Maurice Sendak Charmer

A piece I stole from Michelle's Facebook page.... be sure to read today's main post, too.

Maurice and Me

wereaditlikethis.blogspot.com
I heard about Maurice Sendak's death on the radio, driving to one of my therapies.  I try to find a positive frame of mind on these trips; sometimes that's easier than others.  NPR was chirping on and on about his life and work;  I heard none of it.  I was on the floor with The Cuters, everyone smelling newly bathed and feeling snuggle-worthy, watching anatomically correct Mickey fall through the dark and out of his clothes and into The Night Kitchen.

The naked little boy was surprising to the kids the first time they saw him.  After that, he was just Mickey.

tvtropes.org
And then there was Max, mighty, brave, beast-defying Max, who turned lemons into lemonade Where The Wild Things were.

Mom could send him to bed without supper but he didn't mind.  He took himself someplace wonderful and wasn't bothered when the beasties roared their terrible roars

Neither were we, leaning against Big Cuter's bunk beds, our own personal threesome, safe and secure and surrounded by picture books.

Big Cuter tells me that I remember those books more vividly than he does, but Little Cuter's voice caught in her throat when I called her this afternoon.  "Oh, are you writing about Maurice Sendak?"  His death had touched her heart.

How could her brother not remember those books?  "Didn't he have The Wild Things on his nightstand forever?"  Yes, of course she remembered them.  She remembered being scared, at first, "but wasn't that kind of the point?"  There was a budding English major sharing those evenings.

We roared our terrible roars and gnashed our terrible teeth and there was much tickling and grimacing and proud marching as little details - the long toenails and the striped shirt - wormed their way into our unconscious.  I can close my eyes and bring those toenails right up from my memory bank... and I can feel the kids snuggle in just a little bit closer as I turned the page. "They were more challenging than Eric Carle," the Little Cuter reminds me.

G'ma and Little Cuter and I trekked to Berkeley one Sunday afternoon when she was small and G'ma was still traveling.  Berkeley Repertory presented Brundibar, an opera performed by child inmates at Terezin, a Nazi concentration camp. Tony Kushner wrote the libretto and Maurice Sendak is credited with "production design."  The opera was dark and frightening and ultimately uplifting; a little more challenging than Eric Carle, indeed.   But Sendak's design brought a warmth and childish fancifulness to the piece that took off just enough of the edge.

Maurice Sendak got it - kids like to be scared, but they need to feel safe.  He told Terri Gross, on NPR's Fresh Air, that he hated to autograph his books.  The kids were terrified of him, a short, old, Jewish guy," and even if they weren't, he was going to write in the book and wasn't that a no-no?  There were rules to be followed and consequences if one disobeyed.  There was love all round, but there was also proper form.  He understood stability - he lived with the same man for 50-some years - and loyalty and laughter and love.  A child of World War II, he lost half his family in Europe.  His books are informed by those losses as well as by the love of his family and friends.

In his later years, still mentally alert but physically frail,  he was cared for by the daughter of dear friends.  "She puts up with me,"  he told Terri Gross, with a hitch in his voice. 

I'll admit it.  I was a little bit teary, too. 

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Hip Replacements and Who We Are

Ellen, pilates instructor extraordinaire, is bone-on-bone.  Her orthopedist says she needs her hip replaced.  She has an appointment with the orthopedic surgeon next week.  She has made plans for a substitute teacher during her recuperation.  She has total confidence in her physicians. 

She's sad.  She's mad.  She's infuriated.  She's confused.  She's determined.  She's annoyed.

She's all of those things at the same time.  She's crying in Italian restaurants.  She's sharing her angst with me because I get it.  It's like listening to myself.

We are active, speedy, fit women.  We define ourselves as such.  When the body - through normal wear and tear or extraordinary interactions with bullets -  decides to throw a monkey wrench in our plans, we find ourselves moaning that (she) won't be able to hike the Grand Canyon or (me) carry grandchildren.  It just doesn't seem. right fair appropriate congruent like our life. 

Ellen's heard the same things that I have heard: You can't compare yourself to what was.  You have to accept that aging is a process.  You have to set expectations that are realistic.  It doesn't help to moan about it.  You'll be fine.

Those well meaning phrases mean the same to her that they do to me - nothing.

If I can't compare myself to what was then what shall I use as a measuring stick?  Don't think I need a measuring stick?  Have you ever exercised?  We measure progress by how far we've come, what we can do now that we couldn't do a month ago, what we need to accomplish to move on to the next plateau.  We take notes and record our progress and, in fact, are always comparing ourselves to what came before.  Telling us to stop is like telling the tide to stop rolling in.  It's who we are.

Aging may be a process, but that doesn't mean that we have to accept the consequences with equanimity.  Getting old isn't for sissies and it's not for us, either.  Old doesn't mean what it did when G'ma turned 60; at 89 she still bristles at the appellation.  Old implies inability, restrictions, creaks and aches and deterioration.  We may be older but we are not old.  Not yet, anyway.... and not for a long long time, if G'ma is to be believed.

Realistic expectations vary according to who is doing the expecting.  Dr. Boaz, my surgeon, expects that he will be replacing my hip this summer.  I expect to be participating in a rigorous program of retraining instead.  Those are two realistic expectations shared by two intelligent people who are at odds with one another.  I go to visit him today; I'm bringing TBG along for protection.  I think it is realistic to expect that, with hard work and diligence, I will be walking pain free and smoothly.  I have no timetable any more.  I am letting the work create the experience and the progress will come.  Of this I am sure.  My therapists tell me so - all 7 of them here plus the 3 in Chicago - so it must be realistic.  If only Dr. Boaz could agree.

Telling me not to moan about it is self-serving on the speaker's part.  Moaning is part of the whole.  We are facing challenges which were unexpected, unintended, undesired.  We had a plan for our future and then our bodies interfered.  We knew we'd be agile and spry into our dotages; how dare our corporeal selves interfere with our expectations?  They weren't absurd, we weren't planning on the Olympics or even the Senior Olympics, we were simply certain that our efforts in the past would be rewarded in the future.

And then our bodies got another idea.  They decided to antagonize us.  They are working against us.  They are interfering.  Yes, we have much to be grateful for,  much to be thankful for, much to enjoy and profit from..... but we still hurt.  Standing up includes a stab in the butt.  Sitting for more than fifteen minutes brings a new and quite unenjoyable stiffness to the joints.  Cracks and crunches emanate from our selves, often loud enough for others to notice.... and stare.... and worry.... and sympathize... and empathize.... and with all that going on what's a little bit of moaning among friends?  We're not wallowing.  We're just taking an honest look at the situation and reacting in kind. 

And then there's my favorite one - you'll be fine.  FINE....such a special word.  Not excellent or over it or back to normal... just fine.  Fine has never been enough for either one of us.  We are perfectionists - in childrearing, in exercising, in life.  We're not persnickety, we just have high standards.  We're not outrageous, we just expect that, with determination and good form and following the rules excellence will come our way.  Having bodies that preclude excellence, that will be fine but not perfect or even totally functional,  this is new to us.

If we feel like moaning, cut us some slack.  Please?

Monday, May 7, 2012

It's All Happening at the Zoo

The Reid Park Zoo in Tucson, that is.  Once again Alex, alumna and zoo volunteer, was able to host the Cornell Club of Southern Arizona at a behind the scenes tour of our nationally accredited animal park.

That national accreditation associates the zoo with other exemplary facilities with whom they share best practises and experts and expertise and elephants.

Apparently, accredited zoos do not purchase animals.  Instead, the zoos trade among themselves, as Reid Park did with the San Diego Zoo regarding some elephants.  There was quite the kerfuffle here in Tucson regarding the breaking up of an established herd; the papers were full of how dare they's and it's just so awfully sad's but the people with the credentials seemed to think it was an appropriate move and I chose to believe them.  Certainly the elephants
that we saw
looked as if they were having
 a fine time
in their new home.

Our group was the first to get a behind the scenes tour of the elephant habitat.
Jennifer told us how they train the elephants to put their body parts through the doors - ears in the top skinny ones, trunks and feet in the lower ones.  There was a lengthy discussion of animal dentistry and silver caps on broken rhino horns.
The sun is glinting off the silver cap on his smashed horn... think a dental crown on the outside
The kids and the grownups were petting his very dirty
but surprisingly pliable self before we were distracted by a white peacock
The Crayola Kid amazed Mr. 8 with tales of his granmother's peacocks that looked more like these.
Our tour included the kitchen where we watched Sarah cutting up fruits and veggies for the beasties.
She cut away the bruised pieces more carefully than I do at home
(which may say more about me than about the zoo)
but that was less astonishing than the fact that the produce trucks stop at the zoo before they stop at the major markets in town. 
These animals know how to live well, it seems.
For the carnivores and the omnivores, there are edible toys like this Rat Ball
After being humanely sacrificed, the rats are placed into holes drilled through a frozen coconut and the toys are then given to the animals for amusement.
Not weird enough for you?
How about the giraffe popsicle?
 I'm sparing you the photo of the blood popsicle; you can thank FAMBB for that since the image of her reading The Burrow with her morning coffee and stumbling upon .... well... I'll leave it to your imaginations as we move on to something more palatable.
We fed the giraffes some carrot sticks
and made a mandatory stop in the gift shop before we hit Five Guys for fries and lunch.

It was certainly not a Reid Park Zoo approved food choice, but we enjoyed each and every bite.

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