Friday, November 29, 2013

RandomThoughts - The Thanksgivukkah Edition

Celebrating the Saturday before left us in a quandary.  Everyone else was getting ready, buying groceries, setting the table, preparing for family and friends. We were finished, celebrated, overfed, and feeling the love.  There was no anticipation as the week wore on; we'd been there, done that.

It was fun while Little Cuter and SIR were here, celebrating our faux-holiday.  Once they left, it ws merely awkward.
*****
The buffet at the Country Club at the Omni Resort around the corner was a true extravaganza.  JannyLou and Fast Eddie invited us to join them for a meal none of us would have to cook ourselves.  Big Cuter, nursing a head cold, stayed at home.  Fast Eddie's sister declined to join us.  The four of us, old friends getting older, had omelets and crepes and roasted potatoes, skipping the oatmeal on the breakfast bar for the much more interesting shrimp and cucumber salad.

Lunch was on the other wall - salmon and turkey and ham and potatoes and stuffing and cranberries and gravy and green beans simmering in chafing dishes. There were so many choices, but we were in no rush.  We ate.  We talked. We ate. We talked. There were only four or five other tables of diners; the wait staff was bored and delighted to stop and chat. It was a good shift, with bonus pay and patrons in good humor and they'd be cleaned up and home by 3pm. 

It wasn't family time, but it was pretty close.
*****
There is football aplenty on the television, so I took the opportunity to read John Grisham's latest tome. I was outside on the lounge chairs, enjoying the sunshine, smiling to myself as I realized that December is just a few days away.

The holidays  are different in the desert, without sweaters or snowflakes or rosy cheeks. It still takes some getting used to.
*****
Is it really impossible for Americans to spend an entire day without shopping? Stores should not be open on Thanksgiving.   End of discussion.
*****
Amster and I are putting on our annual Hanukah party on Monday night.  The confluence of the two holidays made scheduling a nightmare.  No one wants to go out on a school night.  Everyone wants to come to the party. We'll do it for three, short, early hours and send the school kids home to bed.

I'll smell of cooking oil and be covered in grease from head to toe.  I'll tell the story and we'll light the candles in the menorahs we've crafted from the clay on the craft table. It will be the sixth night, there will be fifteen or twenty menorahs, and any way you look at it that's a lot of fire. 

I'm so glad she's engaged to the Fire Chief.
*****

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Thanksgiving (A Reprise)

..... of sunny freezing Thursdays, waking to the smell of Nannie's turkey in the oven, rolling over on the old bed on the third floor, surrounded by my babies.....

..... of full bellies lying on the couch, begging for relief, as Hough's creamed spinach wound its way through an overloaded digestive tract.....

..... of my first niece, a veg even as a toddler, eating cucumbers for dinner and feeling just fine.....

..... of walks around the neighborhood, wrapped in scarves and hats culled from the front hall closet, surrounded by all ages and temperaments, mellowed by tryptophan and love.

Thanksgiving was in Cleveland Heights.  My family was too far and too expensive to visit, plus, there were all those arguments which never seemed to end.  TBG's folks put out the welcome mat for us, and we wiped our feet and joined the fun year after year after year.  The drive from Chicago wasn't too onerous, especially as we crooned Over the River and Through the Woods... we really were on our way to Grandmother's house.  Somehow, that song felt as if it had been written especially for us.

I fought with my brother-in-law for the remains of that spinach; I wasn't into pie, so I had plenty of room.  We'd sit in the dining room (using it, for once, as more than an inconvenient space between the kitchen and the tv room), sideboards groaning, waiting for Nannie's yearly screech; Thanksgiving wouldn't be Thanksgiving without my mother-in-law jumping up from the table just as the first fork was lifted and yelping, "Oh, shit... I burned the rolls!"

Some things get better with the passage of time.  That was wonderful in each and every original moment.

Over time, as the kids grew and sports schedules interrupted our travels, we made our own memories. The Bride taught us about ketchup on turkey.  Big Cuter needs horse radish since he scorns the gravy.  Little Cuter's mashed potatoes are creamy and cheesy and we're so very glad that she and SIR are here this year. We celebrated on Saturday, to accommodate work schedules, and we're just finishing the remains of the left overs right now.

That's the way it is, though, isn't it?  Time passes and nothing changes and everything changes and we all look for what's missing and there's a moment when all you can do is sigh.  Christina-Taylor helped G'ma choose the serving pieces at her last Thanksgiving, here, in 2010; I'll never put them out again without feeling her right beside me.  I'll make my own creamed spinach, and feel my brother-in-law's eyes on the last bite in the bowl.  I'll try not to burn the rolls, and I'll laugh at myself and Nannie at the same time.

There will be no shopping on this Thanksgiving Day.  There will be fewer people at the table, but just as much love.  We are here.  We are fed.  We are happy.

Thanks for being part of the wonder that is my life.  Each and every one of you makes it that much sweeter.  Who needs pie?  I have all of you.


(First posted in 2011; updated for this year.)

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

They've Done It Again

I'm doing my best to keep a smile on my face.  There have been easier times.

After my early morning Pilates, I drove over to the pod castle to check on G'ma.  She was up in her chair, wearing a warm-up jacket and watching Law'n. It was my mom in that chair, although the body she is occupying bears little resemblance to the woman she once was. If I close my eyes when I hug her close, I recognize the soft skin and gentle pats on the back that have always felt like Mommy to me.  It's only when I open my eyes and see the skin and bones human in the chair that I am reminded of how far she has come, and how far she has to go.

I spent some time calling social service agencies, looking for one which wanted to pick up her full-size bed.  The mattress is comfy, the bed frame is sturdy, the box spring has no holes or dents, and still, no one wanted it.  It was the wrong size, it was not appropriate for the facility, there was no answer at the agency.... after fifteen minutes of frustration I hung up the phone and rejoined G'ma in front of SVU. She's still able to follow the format, though the details of the stories elude her.  No matter.  We were together and sharing the moment.  It was enough for us.

On the way to my second Pilates class, I put the second round of brownies in the parcel bin at the post office.  The parking lot was filled with women carrying precarious loads of packages; holding doors open was a challenge I watched from afar as I gathered my own paper shopping bags filled with flat rate priority mail envelopes.  I was in luck; someone was leaving as I was entering. The doors were not a problem. Sending love with each deposit, I loaded the bin and drove to class, filling my heart with memories of the recipients of the boxes of love I'd mailed.  Receiving brownies may bring smiles to the faces of the recipients, but mailing them makes me grin even harder.

It is truly better to give than to receive.

After class and a quick chicken burrito to staunch my protein craving, I drove to Prince Elementary School to drop off the last of my Thanksgivukkah brownies.  Some went to the miscreants sitting at "the homework table" in the front lobby; Grandma's are always available to offer succor to those in need, even those who've misbehaved.  I shared stickers and commiserated with their plight until the principal opened his door.  We decided to share the treats with the man in charge, discussing the relative merits of nuts or no nuts, wondering who would hand the brownie over.  Such a serious discussion; it almost distracted me from G'ma's plight.

The rest of the brownies, in their brightly decorated container, went to the teachers' lounge. Sitting on the central table, with a Thanksgivukkah turkey and menorah on the card, they brought smiles to every adult who entered the room.  I was smart. I showed up just before lunchtime.  The teachers were coming to check their mailboxes and I was the lucky recipient of Thank You's and hugs.  Again, I was almost distracted.

Almost, but not quite. I wanted to share the morning with my mom. I wanted to remember similar offices in which we'd shared time, offices with mimeograph machines she taught me to operate, with typewriters and carbon paper and large sheets of oak tag for poster making. Whether she was volunteering or working for pay, schools were where G'ma spent most of her days. She doesn't remember any of that. It's no fun to tell a story and have it fall on blank ears.

I took my misery outside to the playground.  I would walk and I would sweat and I would work out my issues through exercise.  It used to work quite well; I could exert myself and let my endorphins flow and somehow my sorrows turned to mush.  But it's hard for me to create aerobic exercise with my damaged body these days and I miss the release.

Those were my thoughts as the door closed behind me.  I took two steps out onto the pavement when I heard it first, high pitched, gleeful, and very very very loud. GRANDMA!!!! - the third grade was at recess and so was I. These are the children who were kindergarteners the year I was shot; they are the ones who were introduced to me when I was using a walker, when every step was an effort, when the memory of Christina-Taylor was still raw and omnipresent.  Then and now, their love eases the pain.

GRANDMA! GRANDMA! YOU'RE HERE! YOU'RE HERE! YAY!

Suddenly, feeling sad was irrelevant.  I concentrated on maintaining my balance as the hugs became more intense, arriving as they did from all points of the compass.  We were a mass of hugging humanity, a gaggle of giggles, a lot of laughs.  More and more eight and nine year olds came and joined us, grabbing onto the outside edges of their friends, grasping for a piece of my many colored cloak, everyone's eyes locked onto someone else, all of us trying our best to stay upright.

It was bliss.

We decided not to walk, but to sit and talk. Thanksgiving and siblings and sneakers and sunshine were considered as stickers were shared and hugs continued to be given. When the whistle blew, they didn't want to leave to join the line. They were happy.  I was happy. I didn't want to let them go. The whistle blew again, and, slowly, they peeled away... all but two or three who refused to let go.

Was there a similar sorrow in the heart of the little girl who never released my waist? Her grip was powerful, her breathing was deep, her head was buried under my armpit.  We stood like that for a moment, just we two, and drew strength from the connection.  I leaned back and smiled as I told her she had to go or I would get into trouble for being a distraction.  She hugged me one last time - a big, breath stealing, squeeze - and skipped to the end of the line.

I walked one lap all by myself, with good posture and wide strides and arms swinging, as I tried to put both pieces of my day together as one.  I'm watching the end of life and the beginning, and I'm inexorably tied to each of them. They feed my soul in different ways, but feed it they do.

Once again, I proved that it's impossible to be sad when being hugged by little ones.  Yes, they did it again.  They soothed and smoothed my rougher edges.  I know they think I am there for them, but the reality is clearly the opposite - they have been put on this earth to help me heal.

They are doing a great job.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Deciding on Hospice

There's so little left of what used to be my mother.  She's toothless and listless.  She's not eating because she's not hungry.  Even chocolate can't entice her to put sustenance into her body; the same large bag of Hershey's Kisses has been in the bowl at the side of her chair for two months now.  When G'ma's not eating chocolate, you know there is something amiss.

She's still sparkly when I walk in the door, but there's no gleam of recognition beyond responding in kind to the smile in my eyes.  She knows she's supposed to be glad that I am there; she just doesn't remember why.  I remember when that kind of forgetfulness made me very sad. Now, it's just part of the gestalt.

She weighs less than I do, which is wrong on so very many levels.  Losing twenty pounds since May has left her without any padding. Her pants fall down unless her underwear is bunched up, preventing gravity from undressing her in public.  She's always cold, without fat to keep her warm. Add together her lack of energy, her thin skin, and the lack of adipose tissue and you are looking at a recipe for pressure sores.

She has no oomph at all.  Standing up from her recliner is a major effort.  Once she's up, she's too pooped to pop, too tired to move her legs to walk, too achy to exert the effort needed to get to the dining room. The staff has been wheeling her to her seat for the past week or two; there's just not enough time to spend assisting her with the walker.

Once she's at the table, she stares at the pureed food before her and falls asleep.  The ladies who sit with her are understanding and supportive.  There is no judgment, just an acceptance of the fact that she is fading away.

Pain medication is available to her upon request.  The problem is that she forgets to ask for it. G'ma's never been a complainer. When she winces as she's being dressed and aide will request Tramadol or Vicodin; aspirin and Advil have long since lost their effectiveness.  The heavier drugs leave her even more lethargic and non-responsive, though.  It's a difficult ledge on which to balance.

The med tech at the pod castle called a hospice care provider and signed my mother up for services. The fact that she was not entitled to make that decision or that phone call did not impede her.  I received a call from a nurse who was just about to go in and see your mom. She saw G'ma, I canceled the agency with a phone call.

Instead, I called Casa de la Luz, a hospice provider whose first order of business was to assess my emotional situation, then set up an appointment.  The intake nurse met us at the pod castle on Saturday morning.  She brought paperwork and information and a packet of papers and booklets to be read at my leisure.  That was quite different from the med tech's preferred agency, which left only the permission to treat sheet in G'ma's room. Does the med tech get a kick back from the agency?  One wonders.

If you are taking notes, this is the first lesson I learned: shop around and choose a place that warms your heart. Convenience for the care givers is secondary to your own well being.  I felt bullied into following the med tech's orders.  It took TBG quite some time to talk me down off the ledge and aim me in the right direction. Clear thinking is among the first things to disappear as the end nears.

The treating nurse met us this morning at the pod castle. She had no paperwork for me, just a warm smile and a gentle manner with my mom. She saw the lumps which are disturbing but will remain untreated. She measured the circumference of G'ma's upper arm and pronounced her skin and bones. It still makes G'ma laugh to imagine that she weighs less than I do so that is where we took the conversation. There is little left to waste away. She is a structure over an emptying shell.

There will be a hospice provided high-low-raise-the-head-special-mattress-equipped bed arriving this afternoon and, once again, I'll be asking the Fire Chief to move the regular bed out of her room and into.... where?  No charity wants a used mattress; I've called and been refused so many times that I'm giving up. Perhaps one of the caregivers would like it; they are not allowed to ask for items but may accept them if they are offered.  These are the details that distract me from the fact that my mother is transitioning.

That's the current terminology - transitioning.  It's a lovely word, reminiscent of the nesting I did before Big Cuter was born. I was moving from one part of life to another. It was happening without much effort on my part, just as it is for my mom. I washed and folded and straightened and decorated and waited.  She sits and yawns and sleeps and smiles and waits.

What goes around comes around and I am not enjoying this carousel ride at all. I'm well supported and not surprised and I know there is nothing I can do except keep her happy and pain-free and unafraid. Hospice offered a chaplaincy visit, but G'ma's response was classic.  For one brief moment, my mother was back.  With a raised eyebrow and a tilt of her head, she responded to "Do you want a Rabbi to come and visit with you?" simply and totally G'ma: "No. What the hell for?"

If she can smile, so can I.  I am so going to school on being a very old person by watching my mom dwindle.  As always, she's showing me the way.

Monday, November 25, 2013

A Most Productive Day

Saturday was faux-Thanksgivukkah, and if that isn't clear to you, perhaps this visual will help:
http://tinyurl.com/m8ufdza
Modern Tribe Thanksgivukka Card
So, the first night of Hanukkah coincides with Thanksgiving evening.  The next time this will happen is in 70,000 years.  I'm thinking that's a good thing. Somehow, I'm behind and it's not even December. 

Sigh.

All the kids were here this weekend, so we celebrated Thanksgivukkah on Saturday.  Little Cuter and I cooked up a storm and the five of us gathered around the dining room table, holding hands and feeling lucky, as the sun was setting.  By the time the dishes were done, the first star would have been visible if the cloud cover cooperated, so we lit candles and said the blessings and sang songs and exchanged gifts and collapsed on the couch.  

I went next door to return the pies we hadn't finished to JannyLou's family and friends; we'd been invited but decided that the one full day we were all together should be spent all together.  I hugged CTG's parents and big brother, congratulated the son-in-law on completing the wettest Tour de Tucson in memory, squeezed grand-children, and ran right back to my living room where the family was waiting.  

Games were played, cocktails were consumed, allergies were vilified and treated with fresh air and love, movies were watched, and conversation was had.  Sleep was barely in the picture.

SIR and Little Cuter left this morning at dawn; they were home before we had eaten lunch.  It's not that I was sitting around.  No siree, denizens.  Today was a most productive day.  I kissed the kids goodbye and went back to bed; there was no sense starting the day wanting a nap.  I was showered and in the orange chair reading Billy Collins's latest collection before TBG rolled over on the couch, his driving-to-the-airport-garb-including-sneakers not impeding his nap. Assembling the equipment and materials is noisy; it would have been churlish to disturb him. 

As soon as his eyes were open, I got to work.
I set the chocolate and butter to melting,
grimacing over the new packaging.
Less weight, more cardboard, thinner squares.... 
it wasn't broken; why did they fix it?
After mixing and chopping and baking, I had these 
which, as the afternoon wore on into evening,
became these
Thanksgivukkah is on its way.

I need a nap.





Friday, November 22, 2013

A Stroll Through Tohono Chul

The kids wanted to do something.  I needed to be within thirty minutes of the house because the thermostat decided to give up the ghost last night and the repair man would be calling when he was on his way.  TBG wanted to come, too.  Finding a location was not much of a challenge; we drove two miles and entered the nicest private botanical garden in Tucson.

It didn't look like much. This isn't a time when the desert blooms.

Cacti are hunkering down, readying themselves to absorb the winter rains.  SIR thought these looked like they'd overdosed on valium.  It was a much funnier explanation than the truth, which is that this is how they grow.
  The succulents are thick and strong but flowerless. 
The ethnobotanic garden may have had seeds germinating beneath the dirt, but all we saw were the fences and the ground.  The children's garden was similarly bloom-free.

Still, we walked amidst orange and yellow tecoma blooms, swatting little gnats which descended around TBG's head, ignoring the rest of us.  He's a sweetie, my guy, that's for sure.  All species seem to recognize that.  We sought shelter from the swarm in one of the courtyards displaying small gems, like these echinocerus crouching among the rocks.
 These were the only cactus flowers we saw.
They looked like someone had placed a necklace on the torch.
 This looked soft and inviting until the boys got up close and not too personal with the spikes hiding beneath the greenery.
 A living fence ... a garden in a concrete bunker... an outdoor display case.... we couldn't decide.
The foliage was uninteresting for the most part, but the fauna was out and about.


 Some of it was alive, lest you think you'd wandered into another post.
 Most of it was metal, and creepy.
 Created from found objects, these vultures left us all a little uncomfortable.
 Still, we couldn't seem to turn away from them.
The signage was interesting, too.  
What are DRUSY VUGS, we wondered?
 Isn't this repetitious?  
Recognizing that we were losing the positive attitudes with which we'd entered the gardens, we strolled back to the car and headed to Wildflower for lunch.  
There's nothing that a chicken salad sandwich on the world's best bread won't cure.
*****

DRUZY is a coating of fine crystals on a rock fracture surface, vein or within a vug or geode.  

Thursday, November 21, 2013

It's Creeping Around the Edges

The happiness is starting.

I've opened two Chanukah shipments, though not the gifts themselves, since the holiday is still a few days away. The FedEx and USPS detritus is recycled and reused and the gaily wrapped presents are on a corner table, waiting.

Little Cuter and SIR are finishing up their last day of work before heading to O'Hare and then TIA (yes, it's an international airport) and more parental loving than can be imagined. I've finished the grocery shopping; all that remains is to pick up the turkey on Friday afternoon.  Their visit can be filled with hugs and smiles and there won't be an errand to interfere with the joy.

I'll get to stop into IKEA on Friday since it's one exit from the small airport where Big Cuter will be deplaning. I love bundling errands, especially when the bundle includes tchotchkes from Sweden and love from the young man who is too old for some things but never for hugging his mother.

My chores as sous chef will assure that the dishes will be washed and the veggies chopped just so. The overall planning and creating of the deliciousness rests solely in Little Cuter's hands. It's a task which overwhelms me and makes her happy. I don't know how I created a daughter who loves to cook, but I did and she's good at it and I am happy to sweep and take out the trash and assist as requested and eat the world's best mashed potatoes.

I should have a smile on my face and love in my heart and I do except I also have January 8th creeping around the edges.  I suppose it will be like this for a long time, the heightened awareness as the date nears.  I'm good at keeping it closeted until it's needed; without prompting, it rarely raises its head.  But this afternoon I'm going to a private walking meeting of those who were involved or impacted by the January 8, 2011 tragedy.

It's a walking meeting because we'll be touring sites which have been proposed for the memorial.... and I get stuck right there.  A memorial to what?  To not bleeding to death on the sidewalk?  To lost and damaged lives?  Or to those who staunched wounds and tackled gunmen and brought food and flowers and caring? I went to one meeting and realized that I was not the kind of person who should be involved in the planning of such a thing.  It would only feed my anxiety, keeping the past alive. I don't do well in meetings which have no emotional charge; I can't imagine how inappropriate I'd have been had I become a member of the Memorial Foundation's Board of Directors.

I prefer to look forward, doing good and involving others along the way.  It feeds my soul in a way that a memorial never can.  I think of the artifacts from the living memorials created spontaneously in front of the Safeway and the hospital and Gabby's office and I hope that my grandchildren will have the opportunity to see how much our community loved us. The manner in which they will do is is of little or no importance.

I just don't want it to be offensive.  Beyond that, I'm uninterested.  But the project manager is a good friend, and she invited me to this event. I have a sense that I ought to be part of it, thought I don't know why. I've been sad and borderline-PTSDing for the last two days; TBG and I were furious over nothing... nothing until we thought about it and realized that this walking meeting has been hovering over us like a dark cloud.

I'm going to put on my sneakers and drive down there now.  I'll stay for the update and the walking tour and then, I think, I might skip out before the feedback session. I'll have done my due diligence and I hope that will be enough.

I'm coming home and wrapping presents and putting the past where it belongs - behind me.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Walking and Talking

"Hi, Grandma!" came floating over the playground this afternoon, high pitched and filled with glee. The words were followed by a flying wedge of third graders.  I moved toward a bench to reduce the chances that their greeting would end with me on the ground.  Hugs are wonderful, but sometimes they are overpowering.

We walked, three of us, two Spanish-is my-first-language girls and a boy who weighed as much as they did, all by himself.  His tee shirt was tight across his bulging breasts; it was no wonder that the other boys wanted nothing to do with him.  He was delighted to stroll around the playground with us, feeling part of a group.  Recess is hard for those who don't look like everyone else, even when the everyone else means the Nepali and Somali and Pakistani and Central American colors of the rainbow playing soccer and jumping rope during their fifteen minutes of free play time.  He's just too big; his shirt was drenched with sweat after two revolutions on the walking track.

I don't try to collect a group before I set out.  I just start walking and they adhere to me like grains of sand on the beach.  I turn, and there are five of them reaching for the tail end of my multi-colored cloak. I pause to catch my breath, and there are brown arms encircling my waist.  They are gone before I can swivel my head to see the human to whom they are attached.

Sometimes, it only takes a hug to make the day worthwhile.

The kids were talkative today, which let me save my breath for fueling my strides.  I don't bring hiking poles along anymore; I'm an independent ambulator these days.  I was tilted and tired as we went round and round the playground this afternoon, but I was not using any assistive devices.  That is progress.

Students come and go in this neighborhood school; job changes and lost leases and deaths and a general instability mark the lives of most of the children.  The heavy set stroller announced that he was only going to be at Prince this year; his brother's school is too far from their current apartment so they'll be moving closer so that he can get there on time.  That's not the kind of explanation I remember from my childhood when a friend moved away; it didn't seem odd to my companions, though.  I am constantly reminded of the obstacles these kids face every morning, trying to arrive promptly with all their gear in tow.

Disorganization leads to learning problems; the kindergarteners are instructed to look in their seat bags for word lists, to replace the pencils and crayons in the appropriate containers, to sit in their assigned seats and to line up according to plan.  For many of them, it's the only time that anyone notices if they are following instructions. The idea that putting something away in its assigned spot will help you find it on the morrow is news to them.

So, today, when we began to walk, a returning member of my crew wondered if she should wait until we'd completed an entire circumnavigation of the playground before she began to hand out stickers. That was what was expected last year; she wanted to know if the rules had changed.  There was no grabbing, there was no pushing, there was not yelling.  These were third and fourth graders, and they'd learned their lessons well.  It was much less exhausting than putting that plan into effect with the littler ones.

We didn't sing. They talked, and I listened.  This one's brother was comforting a girl who was being bullied by that one in the pink shirt over there.  Her brother told her all about it.  The bully was mean, but the crying girl was meaner.  They were both in the wrong, we decided.  Talking things out might help them, and we were very glad that her brother was there trying to sort things out.  "He's good at that," I was assured.  By the time we got around to their corner again, the drama had ended, or moved inside.

I get snippets of their lives, and then they go on to classrooms and more learning.  I hear stories and can't remember who told me which one, though I try to disguise my forgetfulness with smiles and hugs. They open a window into a world unlike mine in so many ways, until I notice the kid in the corner, alone, uncertain, wary.  That was me.  Inviting that lonely being into our circle is just one part of the healing that goes on when I walk with the kids at Prince.  I'm not mending only my physical self, I'm repairing the damage that was done fifty-some years ago on a playground in New York.

I'm trying to right the universe, one little kid at a time.


Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Random Thoughts - The How Can It Be the Holidays Already Edition

It's sunny and warm and I'm in shorts and Chanukah begins next week. I have had ample time to prepare.  I just haven't used it wisely, it seems.  Little Cuter's bedroom is awash in unwrapped, mostly un-sorted, presents. I have pretty paper for all relevant holidays, I have gift tags and scotch tape and bows that won't get crushed in the shipping.  What I don't have is the desire to do anything with or about or for them.

It just seems too early to start.
*****
I found a wonderful read aloud book for boys and girls of all ages.

Jean Jennings sent me the link, and I was happy to participate in the process.  Dwight Knowlton used Kickstarter to raise funds for the project, and the goodies I received for my contribution are awesome.

I've got stickers, I've got a personalized dedication (recognizing my status as "Official Side Seat Driver"), I've got a thank you note, and I've got the book.  I read it aloud to TBG, who got a kick out of my engine noise imitations and whose eyes were as teary as mine when the boy found Sir Stirling Moss's paraphernalia in the glove box.

If you know someone who likes cars, no matter how old he or she may be, this is the perfect gift.  I'm buying a few more, myself.
*****

The only place to buy Chanukah decor in Tucson seems to be Bed Bath and Beyond.  Is that odd?  I think so.  Hallmark has cards, but no tchtochkes.  Wal-Mart doesn't believe that there are Jews in town, it seems.  The upscale supermarket has its usual array of too-expensive-to-buy-for-myself items, and not too many of those, either.

So, today, I was using my they-never-expire-20% off-coupons for candles and menorahs and dreidles displayed on a single rack between the Man Cave signs and the chair pillows. No one else will  know their provenance; it will only be weird for me.
*****
I've ranted about the dearth of Chanukah decorations before, and FAMBB read and acted.  For the past few years she's sent me a care package of Chanukah goodies, carefully wrapped in relevant paper and snuggled next to a chatty note, catching me up on her life.

That box was on the front hall table when I came home from school today.  I opened it and read the note.  The packing materials will be reused in the box I'm sending to my deployed-in-South Korea-Air Force-dentist-friend and the presents will sit on the shelf until the holiday begins on Thanksgiving night.  She'll have my hand written thank you note before I've opened them.

I can experience that much delay of gratification, but no more.
*****
SIR couldn't get time off from work to come for the actual holiday, so we're starting our Celebration Tour a little earlier this year.  We'll be feasting on Saturday, and lighting Chanukah candles that night, pretending that it's really Thursday and that everyone else in the USofA is dining on turkey and stuffing (lots and lots of stuffing) too.

The kids will leave, Big Cuter will stay til Friday, and on Thursday we'll join JannyLou and Fast Eddie at their country club around the corner for a brunch I won't have to cook.  I'll make a turkey breast for left overs so dinner is covered, too, and there will be pie and ice cream to tide us over between food comas.

I'll visit with G'ma but won't bother dragging her in and out of the car for a meal she won't remember and couldn't chew anyway.  If I don't tell her she won't know what she's missing.

I will, though.
*****
There are mini-pine trees and poinsettias and mistletoe kissing balls everywhere I look but I am resisting.  The holidays are separated by enough time this year that I can finish with Chanukah before I start with Christmas.  It may be busy right now, but the curve will flatten out as December unfolds.

I love this time of year.

Monday, November 18, 2013

From Whence Cometh Your Food?

Brenda Starr and I went for a walk on Saturday.  
We didn't know that we'd end up amidst farm animals and a squash arbor.
Sometimes the best days are serendipitous, don't you think?

Neither of us is ready to cover long distances, but we were game to try. The Rillito River Path has convenient parking and a fairly flat terrain.  Plus, it's paved, which makes tripping and slipping less likely. We are both grateful for those kinds of surfaces.  True Tucsonans, we knew that there would be nothing but scrub brush in the river bed; it's wet only when the snow melt sends water racing down the mountains.  In November, after a fairly dry monsoon, there were doggies and horses and runners cruising through the sand.

Brenda Starr and I walked safely above them, admiring their splendor as we chatted.  And splendid they were, the young blond girl riding her pure white stallion bareback, the brindle boxer snuffling through the underbrush, the parents cradling their infant.  Sunny Saturday mornings are often times of quiet despair for me; being out and about with a new friend helped me put the past into perspective.

We had an interesting perspective on the Master Gardener's piece of the UofA's Cooperative Extension grounds.  The path winds behind the gardens, and it was easy to see, through the fence, that there was a great deal of activity going on in a usually peaceful place. 

Inquiring strollers needed to investigate.
We found a Farm in our Village.

We walked under the squash arbor
pausing for photographs
and wondering why we'd never thought of this idea ourselves.
Mr. 8 is interested in growing his own curcubits; perhaps I'll ask the Fire Chief to build us an arbor instead of a raised bed.  I wonder if watermelons (Mr. 8's plant of choice) will work as well as the squash.

The Village Farm shows children that food is grown, not created in plastic in a factory..
They gave technical tips on improving taste
 and stunned us with surprising facts.
 True to the 4H mission
the Village Farm encourages the home use of the laboratory's research.
They made it easy to get started,
with pint sized tools
 and Village Farm starters.
It was possible to pose for pictures, too.
There was music
and there were helpers for the pretzel making, 
ready to be baked in the horno, an adobe oven. 
Unfortunately, the line was long and there were none ready to taste.
We had to make our own.
That was the point of the festivities, after all.
Cooperative Extension brings the laboratory to the home; they are a participatory group.

Heifer International was there, 
showcasing cow poop
and insect cookies 
and,  NO THANK YOU,
we would not like to try one.

The worm pit, on the other hand, was quite simply wonderful.
To those of you who live with soil beneath your plants, this may not look like much.
For those of us who try to garden in dirt, it was a moment of pure heaven.

We walked back to the parking lot and our two, little, white cars, 
which had not managed to mate and create a baby Audi TT while we were gone, 
and made plans for our next adventure. 

I went off to Pilates with this pinned to my chest.
It was a wonderful sunny Saturday morning.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

I'm Frighteningly Like Him

I get Dad because I am frighteningly like him.

Thus spake Little Cuter.  

It was via email, part of an ongoing conversation about a lifestyle change that makes me antsy but fills my loving husband with joy. I've been trying to lay out my concerns, my objections, my considerations, my rules, and my expectations.  I just seem to drive him further into a corner.  I look like the bad guy, when all I want is to set the parameters before we take the next step.

I don't want to be in charge.  I will help, but I don't want to be the First Responder.  I'll do errands if they fit, but I don't want to be the one who thinks of them. I don't want to be the responsible party. I don't want to add one more thing to my To Do List.

There will be daily chores and long term planning and clean ups and appointments and I start to sweat just typing them to you right now.  I've done it before and I'm not interested in doing it again. Why my sweet husband can't understand that is a mystery to me.  It's perfectly clear in my brain. Why isn't it clear to him?

This disconnect has happened before.  We spent two weeks arguing - silently, loudly, tearfully - over whether I should testify before the Senate on sensible gun control legislation.  I saw only the upside. He saw only the crazies on the other end of the spectrum, the ones with weapons and a proven willingness to use them, as my limping self demonstrated to him every time he looked my way. I thought he was standing in the way of an exciting opportunity, a chance to really make my voice heard, a place for me to promote an agenda. He thought I was being foolish, ignoring the realities, putting myself at risk for no real reason. I thought he was over-bearing and paternalistic.

It was a stalemate, until Little Cuter entered the fray. Her tearful "Mom, I don't know what I'd do if you got shot again!" was enough to seal my decision. Somehow, keeping my little girl free from worry trumped all my other issues. It was a no brainer from then on. I deferred to Pat Maisch, who did a wonderful job, who got lots of publicity, and who has not been the victim of recriminations or gunfire since she spoke to a less-than attentive Senate panel.  

The Big Guy shared her concerns.  He didn't phrase it in a way that I could hear it. He didn't put himself at the front and center of the issue the way that she did, although, in his heart, he was right out there leading the charge to keep me far from death's door, even if I didn't see the danger staring me in the face.  He was flummoxed that I heard and acted on Little Cuter's plea when I'd ignored his. He had been saying the same things for a week.  Or so he thought.

Somehow, our little girl took his words and put them into my language. I understood. I complied. I felt fine, or as fine as you can feel when you do the right thing, even if you wanted very very much to do the other thing. It didn't feel like giving in; it was agreeing to be kind to my child.  I'd have been as kind to my spouse, had I been able to hear his request.  The disconnect remains a mystery to all sides.

We're lucky to have the kid to translate.

Big Cuter tells me the same thing.  "Mom, your message is perfect. Your delivery, though....." I am Daddooooo when I get going on a topic, refusing to let go, a terrier with a chew toy in her mouth, endlessly swinging it side to side, repeating over and over the point I'm trying to get across. I know that if I say it with enough variation, enough nuance, enough passion, my point will be taken.

Not so much, it seems.

Sometimes it takes someone who's attached by love and time and genetics to break through the barriers and present the case in a way that can be heard by both sides.  Sometimes it takes a little girl with a connection to her daddy that is deep and personal and resonates in a way that I cannot imagine to tell him that 
Mom is so busy she doesn't need anything else to do.  
But you, Dad, you NEED a dog. 

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

How Am I Doing?

From time to time, friends on-line ask that question.  I'm never sure just what part of "I" ought to be answering.  Do they want to check in on my limp or my heart or my head?  It always feels like a real inquiry, more than the "Hi, how are ya?" passed between acquaintances on the line at the bagel store.  I don't know if the difference is at my end or theirs, but I feel it, nonetheless.

So, if you're wondering too, here's the answer: today I'm cranky, yesterday I was laughing, tomorrow will bring another interesting space to occupy.  It's a roller coaster, dependent on how the weather breaks, on who sends an email, on whether my body is cooperating or not.  It's never boring. It's never the same.

Myofascial release is a painful but wonderful form of massage.  It involves dry rubbing and deep pressure and bizarre positions on the table to enable the therapist to get right at the part she's targeting. I can feel unwindings and unravelings inside my leg as her hands palpate and drag and press.  I wonder if I'm going to be black and blue when I stand up. I wonder if I'll be able to stand up at all.  It's not the relaxing calmness of a swedish massage, not by a long shot.  It's work, for the masseuse and for me.

The results are a longer feeling leg and less tightness in the muscles and tendons and ligaments that are bunched up just below my hip bone.  They are very comfortable there, all atop one another, sticking and bulging and keeping me from the deep fold Pilates requires.  After the fascia are released, it's another story entirely.  There's an openess, an availability of movement, an absence of pressure that is remarkable.  It lasts for a few days, or perhaps I just get used to the feeling and decide that it's my new normal.  Whatever the reason, I am a new woman when I get off the table.

I'm seeing my Physical Therapist once every three or four weeks at this point.  I like those visits.  She has all these fancy degrees, and they comfort me as she nods, sagely, as I walk across the gym, carefully.  Her delight in my new-found ability to push off my damaged leg when it's behind me sends shivers of joy up my spine.  She smiles and I walk straighter and wider and taller.  My gait is still lumpy, but not as rocking and rolling as it was last summer.  

I don't need to hitch my hip to move forward. If I concentrate, I can glide it smoothly from directly beneath my sternum, using my abdominals for power and control.  I know, I know, you think that I ought to be walking with my legs and my glutes.  They are certainly a part of it, but the breathing keeps me on a metronomic pace, left-right-left-right, rather than left-ri..-left-ri...  Did you get my feeble attempt to describe in words the rapidity with which I remove my body weight from my damaged side?  

My ability to support myself with my right leg is improving, but not as rapidly as I would like.  I am allowed to complain about that, because it's within my control.  I am strong enough to go to the gym and use the leg machines and free weights and cables to strengthen and grow those butt muscles.  I just don't make myself go.  I'm not sure why; no one judges my light weights.  I hear encouragement and surprise at the progress my fellow gym rats notice. But for me, inside my own little self, there's that nagging voice telling me that I'm weak, I'm going to hurt myself, I can't do another rep...... and,for now, I don't have much success in silencing her.

I'm limping less.  That sentence can be read as encouraging or depressing.  I'm still limping and it's been nearly three years.  There's less of a limp than there was a year ago, when I thought I had plateaued forever.  I balance those two interpretations in my head every morning.  TBG asks "How's the leg?" and I know that he'll offer a hug and compassion if I need it.... but I don't want to need it.

I'm still hung up on what I want and what I have.  I can't have what I want the most, because Christina-Taylor isn't coming back. I can be in charge of those pieces of my recovery which require repetition and concentration and the simple act of doing it.  I don't give myself many breaks. I'm in the gym or the studio or on the playground path just about every day.  

When my blood testing showed elevated levels of this or that, the pre-printed instructions included "exercise more" and "lose weight."  It made me angry. I'm doing something every day. 15 minutes of yoga practice every morning, whether I want to or not, may not be sweaty exercise, but it's something. Usually, I'll spend an hour or two on my body, alone or with a therapist.  I weigh less than I did ten years ago, less than the weight on my driver's license from 2006, less than at any time I can remember since before Little Cuter was born.  Somehow, though, those words on a single sheet of paper ran through me like a knife.

Do this.  Do that. Stick with it. Smile. Work harder. Stay focused. Good advice, but I really don't need it. I know what I must do.  I know it will take time.  I know that I'm improving.  I just wish it weren't omnipresent. There are times when I look in the mirror at myself and say
Oh, just leave me alone!

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Everybody's Got an Opinon

Why we pay attention to those opinions is a matter for speculation.  All I know is that I am surrounded by people who are letting others influence how they feel about situations that are no one's business but their own. 

A second wedding is being planned, and everyone is weighing in. I have zero tolerance for buttinski's around this issue, as those of you who've been reading for a while, and remember the posts surrounding Little Cuter and SIR's nuptials can attest. There is enough stress attached to the whole change of status piece of the event; there is no reason to make the celebration another place for angst.  Still, it's happening.

Her boss has opinions on the validity and sanctity of a marriage performed by an internet-ordained minister.  Not taking it seriously was my favorite comment.... as if asking a best friend to consecrate what he's watched develop over time is somehow lacking in sincerity and depth.  True, there aren't many qualifications for the on-line ordination, but I'm not sure how that is relevant. Priests go through years of training, and not all of them have lived exemplary lives. Rabbi's go to seminary and study ancient texts, but that doesn't always translate to their ability to advise in the real world.  Somehow, asking a person who's shared your struggles and watched you come out on the other end seems more personal, more relevant, more right than employing a stranger.

Without any attachment to formal religious practice, the couple looked to their hearts and chose his best friend. They could have chosen a judge, but overlapping workplaces would make certain situations awkward at least, and untenable at the extreme.  Having watched Big Cuter unite his sibling and brother-in-law in matrimony by the power vested in me by my sister going on the internet, the bride knows that such ceremonies can be special.... personal... perfect... and can result in a marriage that will last forever.

Don't believe me?  Just ask the kids.

The reluctant officiant seems to think that with the sudden addition of the bride's family to the very small list of invitees he is no longer capable of conducting the ceremony.  Somehow, her family's arrival dictates a more traditional service.  I'm not sure why.  I've never met anyone from Iowa who stood on ceremony, and I've met a lot of people who are from Iowa since I've been acquainted with SIR.  They are the most down-to-earth, let's-get-this-done crew I've ever known.  Why they are intimidating him I do not know.

I've offered to go to the courthouse with them tomorrow and get it done.  I've offered Big Cuter's services, in case they want someone with experience. I've even offered to become ordained myself and do the deed my way. 

Times are changing, and weddings are being dragged along with them.  There's no reason that I can see to have anything but the ceremony she wants, with the minister she chooses, in the venue that makes her smile.  There shouldn't be any pressure, there shouldn't be any expectations, there shouldn't be anything but the celebration of a love that has weathered its storms and come out on the other end stronger and more committed than ever before.

It's a love story.  It's not an event.  People ought to recognize that and get out of her way.

Monday, November 11, 2013

11/11/11


Say THANK YOU!! to someone who served.

And, perhaps, a moment of silence at 11am.....

when the shooting stopped forever.....

the first time.













Thank You, Veterans





".... our Star Spangled Banner yet waves....."


"......purple mountains' majesty....."









Say THANK YOU !! to someone who served.

And, perhaps, a moment of silence at 11am.....
when the shooting stopped forever..........
the first time.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Hobnobbing with My Favorite Living Novelist

To be in New York on a beautiful day is to feel razor-close to being in love.  Trees flower into brilliant clouds that drape across the parks, plumes of smoke and steam rise into the blue or curl away on the wind, and disparate actions each the object of intense concentration run together in a fume of color, motion and sound, with the charm of a first dance or a first kiss.  
Isn't that wonderful?  Don't you smell it and taste it feel it in your bones?  I do.

Mark Helprin paints pictures infused with love and an up;-close and personal attachment to the fiber of the city.  He's in love with Manhattan, from the Staten Island Ferry all the way to Central Park.  He knows what it looks like as you approach from Long Island,  driving past the
early commuter trains with sleeping passengers leaning against the windows rumbl(ing) west to a city sleeping in gray.
I've been that sleeping passenger, nestled next to my father. I'd felt the same frisson of energy and excitement  as the cliff tops of Manhattan came into view, and the absolute certainty that this was The City.  There were no others.

Mark Helprin spoke at the Literary Society of the Southwest's season-opening luncheon on Thursday.  The Tucson Country Club was open and airy and the windows showcased more greenery than I've seen in months.  I was one table over from the main attraction, talking about Christina-Taylor and fame and doing good and, of course, our children and where they are and what they're doing and how 20-somethings today don't see gender or color or race in the same way that we did .

The speakers are sometimes less than wonderful at these events; the conversation never disappoints.

As dessert was served, the author was introduced.  Harvard and Harvard and Princeton and Columbia and that's just where he received his education, not the places he's shared it.  His biography was as impressive as his full head of hair.  He described himself as short  but, to me, he was a giant.

Speechifying is not his long suit.  Neither is reading from his book.  I loved his explanation: he wanted me to have my own experience as I interacted with the printed page.  If he read it aloud, there was one  and only one interpretation - his.  I feel the same way about music videos; I like to make up my own stories to the songs.

I wasn't surprised that we agreed.  I told you, he's my favorite living novelist.

He told corny jokes, and I'm not sure why.  More interesting were his stories of run-ins with book reviewers ("MMM KKK hates me, always has, always will") and the stories about his parents.. His father's Mark Cross briefcase which was given to him as he set off for college, his grandparents gifting his mother to a theater troupe and a life of indentured servitude and abuse, these were told with an ease and comfort that revealed the human behind the seller-of-his-book.

The story of In Sunlight and In Shadow is one of love.... but that would be my answer.  When asked, I've told people that it's a love story set in and about New York City after WWII, and that's fine as far as it goes. When he was asked the same question this afternoon, Mr. Helprin gave a laundry list of topics which I began to jot down in my moleskine until I realized that I was listening to a modern day recounting of the ships on their way to Ilium, with Homer naming and explaining them, on and on and each one obvious and yet revelatory, and I was swept up in the cadence and the careful retelling of the story as he listed artistry and the Mafia and bankers and .....  I was having a moment, I must admit.

At the end of the question and answer session, I raced to his side.  Okay, I strode more quickly than I usually stride.... I'm still  far away from racing anywhere. I told him that he was "my favorite living novelist" and he neither blushed nor stammered.  He looked right back at me and said "Thank You."  I talked about the snow sled from Winter's Tale and Daddooooo being the same age and in basically the same business as Harry, the main character in Sunlight .  I told him how I'd taken that ride into Manhattan, and seen the sunrise, and known that I was in love.  I complimented him on taking me back to the rolling garment racks on 7th Avenue  and how I couldn't remember the last time I'd cried at the end of a novel.  He took my book and inscribed it with my name and his and I floated out to my car.

It was a very good day, and I was here to see it.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Really, G'ma?

I've been preparing myself for the end for a week or two.  She was pale, she wasn't eating, she was rarely awake. Her back hurt, though the x-ray showed no damage.  Never exceptionally energetic, her condition made listless look perky. As the gerontologist said, she was beginning to fade away.

I sat and watched her sleep. I rubbed her feet. I snuggled up close to her in her bed, gently resting my hand on her shoulder.  She doesn't like back-rubs, so I resisted the urge to touch more of her. I wanted her to feel the connection, though, to know that I was there even as she rested with her eyes closed.

I was getting ready to let her go. I wasn't surprised that she was ready to leave.  Everyone is dead, or lost in the fog of senility. Food - even chocolate - held no allure.  She didn't want the television turned on.  She just wanted to lie in bed.  She was checking out of this life, moving on to another, better, place.... at least that was what I saw.

The blood work results came back on Monday; there was an infection and an antibiotic would be prescribed.  Her end of life plan includes medications but no procedures (beyond podiatry... we don't skip those Medicare provided pedicures...even if nail polish is not included). I approved the prescription, because I'm not ready to take active steps to end her life. She doesn't mind swallowing pills, as long as the caregiver announces their purpose. There was no reason not to medicate her.

The vicodin was masking the pain, but turning her in bed or helping her up from her chair still led to complaints.  When she hurts, she doesn't want to move. Since she never really wanted to move in the first place, even without pain, there wasn't much difference in her behavior. It was in her eyes and in her affect that I saw the change.  There was very little spark left.

It was sad. I moped a lot. I found myself staring off at the clouds, thinking back to childhood memories and caching them for the future. I was preparing myself for funerals and family. I was making a mental list of what to cancel, who to call, when to pack.  I was not going to be caught unawares.  G'ma was giving me plenty of time to get organized.  I thanked her for her consideration.

I had moved beyond sad and into containment mode. I was ready to deal with being an orphan. And then I went to see her yesterday morning.

She was sitting up in her chair, eyes open,watching TNT. She smiled and her eyes twinkled and she reached her hand up to grab mine.  "Look who's here! Hello, sweetheart! What brings you here this morning?"

All I could do was laugh.

"What's so funny?  Did I make a joke?"

"Mom, you were at death's door for a week.  Now you are acting as if nothing happened.  I'm just surprised, is all."

The look on her face was priceless.  Quizzical and delighted all at the same time.  She'd flummoxed her oldest child, and that always made her feel smart. She'd escaped from the jaws of the unknown, and that was a good thing.  She had no memory of languishing. In the here and now, she was fine and I was laughing. Life, as she knew it, was good.

What was my problem? Why was I so peeved?  I really couldn't say.

All that preparation for nothing.  All that worry and sorrow wasted.  I couldn't know then, but I do know now, that I wasn't ready to let go at all.  I want her to know that Princess Myrtle is leaving Asia for California. I want her to meet the dog we may be adopting. I'd like to have her at the Stroll and Roll and Thanksgiving Dinner and there's no reason she can't be.

The woman refuses to die.  I couldn't be happier.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

All Souls Procession

Amster and I took five kids downtown on Sunday night.
We didn't misplace any of them.
That was no mean feat.  There were 40,000 people celebrating the Day of the Dead at Tucson's annual All Souls Procession.  Filled with skulls and skeletons and marigolds and face paint, we were gathered to remember and rejoice as we honored those who have died.

That's Pima County Attorney Barbara LaWall with Gabe Zimmerman, who lost his life at our Congress on Your Corner.  We copped a squat next to the Homicide Survivors' staging area, and I was surrounded by love.  Christina-Taylor had her own little memory circle, too.  The kids and I talked about her, and getting shot, and playing baseball, and being a good friend.

This is a holiday I can understand and appreciate. 
It's about bringing the sadness out into the light. 
There were lots of lights.

Monks carried them
and dancers swirled them. 

People were walking on all sorts of interesting footgear.
This guy was bouncing and dancing to the drummers in the band following him.
There were many stilt walkers, but photographing them was a challenge.

People created altars, too.

 
Some rode their altars.

Marigolds are iconic Dia de los Muertos symbols,

as are brides

and other forms of fancy dress.

This flying wasp was one of many airborne (an unphotographed) delights.
Individuals were named and celebrated,
and traditions were honored.

And then, at the end, there was Liberace.
Next year we're going to dress up and walk in the procession and dance the night away at the bonfire.
We'll make wishes and throw them in the urn to be burned up and fly away on the wind.

For our first time out, we did just fine.

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