Friday, February 28, 2014

Birthdays

Facebook has changed the birthday experience.  Far flung friends can type Happy Birthday! and I'm immediately transported to School #1 and the playground, or Ithaca and the Arts Quad, or Chicago's wintry streets.  Seeing the names of friends, old and new, who are sending me love fills my heart with joy.

It's also melancholy.

This is the first year that I can't call G'ma and thank her for carrying me beneath her heart for nine months.  This is the first time that I can't share the love with someone who was there at the time I came into the world.  I'm looking over the abyss without a safety net.

I'm too old for a party on any but a big number, and 62 is not a big number.  It's best celebrated at lovely lunch with friends, as I did before we left for Chicago and the kids. My mailbox was filled with cards, some funny, some sentimental, all carrying love and warm wishes.  They are arrayed on the kitchen island, on the end table in the living room, on the hearth in the bedroom.

I want to share strawberry shortcake with my parents. I can't always get what I want.

My birthday brings me memories of a white dress with red stripes and a wide wide wide skirt that twirled around my thighs as I spun in circles.  I was four or five and Daddooooo captured the moment on 8mm film.  I don't need the movie to recapture the feeling, though.  It was a fancy dress and it made a lovely, rustling noise.  It was the perfect birthday dress.

G'ma bought it.  Daddooooo memorialized it.  I'd like to share that memory with them right now.

My birthday takes me to twenty girls in my basement, paper flowers adorning the walls, sixteen candles on my cake. There were friends from high school and friends from Hebrew school and a neighbor or two thrown in, as well.  It was an odd mixture, but, somehow, it worked. G'ma judged the dance contest, Daddooooo was there with his movie camera and the gigantic light bar, and I wish they were here right now so we could laugh about it all.

Life goes on, and I'm glad to be here.  Birthdays, marking off the passage of time, are tangible reminders of the medical miracle that is my life right now.  I wish I could share the wonder with my parents..... especially as I sit on Cozy Rosie, Little Cuter's couch, watching her nap at the other end.  She's growing the next generation in her womb; I long to share that with those who watched me grow.

I can't always get what I want.  I know that.  Somehow, though, it doesn't stop me from dreaming.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Watching the Kids

Grown up children... is that an oxymoron?

I'm looking across the family room to the kitchen.  SIR is unpacking the treats he bought for his in-laws on his way home from work.  Chocolate Lovers Chocolate Cake put a huge smile on TBG's face, especially since he hadn't asked for anything.  It speaks to the relationship the boys have that SIR knew exactly what would put a smile on his father-in-law's face.

Little Cuter has the cold from hell.  She can't take anything stronger than the occasional Tylenol since Flapjack is growing inside her baby bump.  Congestion, sneezing, and a dry cough left her with a very sore throat.  Channeling Daddooooo, I recommended a salt and warm water gargle.  As she has since childhood, the girl grimaced and refused.  Then, because she is now a grown up and because her throat was on fire and because there were no alternatives, she filled a glass, whisked in the salt, tipped her head back and gargled.  After one rinse, she turned to my comfortably-on-the-couch-ensconsced-self, smiled and said "Oooooo, Mommy, I feel better!"

My smile nearly broke my face. 

She made herself the second part of Daddooooo's home remedy once the gargle was done.  Her Keurig machine brewed Tazo Tea, she added a dollop of honey to the bottom of the cup, and I'm watching her sip the very last drop as I type to you.  She's smiling.  So am I. 

Parenting adults is a challenge.  I want to respect their decisions, but I've been there, done that and it's hard not to share.  Having had wonderful in-laws myself, I know what I need to do.... intellectually, at least.  My natural tendency to fix problems interferes with my better judgment sometimes, and I find myself biting my tongue to keep quiet.  

Youngest children must have had their fill of big people telling them what to do by the time they graduate from high school. Since Little Cuter and SIR are both the youngest in their families, their radar is finely tuned to that particular frequency.  I, the eldest child, am used to giving directions. It could be a messy situation.

But, I am on my guard, cautious about criticism and questions. And I must be doing something right. I've been asked to come and stay for a while after the baby is born.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Hertz Hurts

We made these plans three months ago.  I bought the airline tickets on Southwest, taking advantage of the lowest fares I'd seen since we've been traveling from Arizona to Illinois.  I've promised that visiting our grandchild will be effortless, carefree, easy-peasy. Checking two bags, having no carry-ons, not worrying about overhead space, B12 and B13 on our boarding passes... I did everything I could to remove the stressors from my reluctant traveler's path.

I want him to travel with me.  I don't want him to worry. I want him to know that visiting the kids can be stress free.  So, I planned ahead.

We discussed the advantages of a car service versus renting our own vehicle. Living in the suburbs, the kids depend on Bessie, their Hyundai.  We couldn't be stranded. Relying on a taxi would quickly tax the budget.  I watched the online offers, crawled through websites of car rental agencies, clicked on the banners scrolling across the screen, responded to the emails offering all kinds of deals, and settled on renting a full size vehicle from Hertz via the AAA website.

What a mistake.  What a colossal mistake.

The roads were clear in Tucson; we got to the airport in no time.  The park-and-drive lot was nearly empty and the bus to the terminal was driving up as we locked the car.  The driver took the luggage from our hands and returned it to us on the sidewalk at the airport.  There was no one in line before us at the baggage check in area, we were not over the maximum weight limit, and five minutes after we arrived we were in the security line.

I received a TSA Pre-Check pass, and was able to wear my shoes through the metal detector.  Though the coffee shop had no muffins, sufficient provisions were available to get us through the three hour journey to Chicago.  We had seats next to one another, the third passenger in the row was neither large nor smelly, and we landed twenty minutes early.

The trip went downhill from there.  It's all the fault of Hertz.

The car rental facility is not in the terminal, as the reservation stated. We shlepped our suitcases outside and across the road and mounted a bus and stepped over rude patrons who wouldn't reel in their feet and collapsed onto the bench.  Disgorged with other disgruntled travelers, we wrangled our own suitcases off the bus and into the curiously deserted car rental center.

When I made the reservation, the AAA website informed me that the reservation included a membership in Hertz's Gold Club.  This would ensure that I had to do nothing but arrive at the airport and walk to my car.  Would that that had been the case.

The two young women behind the Hertz counter seemed to be allergic to eye contact.  Without a Hello or a How may I help you,  I was greeted with a blank stare ... and nothing else.  I presented my printed email confirmation.  I spelled my name, twice.  She told me to go to the .... I have no idea.... being heard by the customer was obviously not part of her training.  I asked again and she pointed to a door around the corner.

We dragged ourselves out to the garage, finally attracted the attention of one of the women behind the counter, presented our paperwork, and tried to smile.  She fumbled and mumbled and typed and waited, giving me no information.  Finally, she looked at me, smiled, and told me that my Gold membership had expired.  I needed to go back out to the lobby and sign up.  Then I could return.

"How can that be?  AAA told me that the reservation included Gold Membership."

"All I know is that it is expired.  You have to go back to the counter."

"You do have a car for me, though, right?"

"Yes, ma'am, I have a car for you."  I wish I could type in her attitude.  It was snarky, snide, just this side of nasty. It was definitely not helpful.  But, she had a car for us, and all I needed to do was paperwork. Annoying, but not that big a deal.

Or so I thought.

Back we went to the first counter.  I approached the representative who had sent us out to the garage, told her that we'd been rejected, and asked for advice.  She pointed to the (by now 5 person long) line..... and, as I walked away, as an after thought, mentioned that there would be a wait of an hour or an hour and a half since they had no cars.

"But, they told me outside that they have a car for me."

"There are no cars.  It WILL be a wait."

"But, I have a prepaid reservation.  It says the time I will arrive.  How can you have no cars? You have my money."

"You have to wait on the line."

We left.  Got back on the shuttle to take a cab downtown.  There are no cabs at the car rental center.  We called Little Cuter to tell her that we'd be delayed.  We called the friends we were to meet for lunch and reorganized our plans.  We stewed.  We tried not to yell at one another.  We tried not to pout.  It was hard.

I called AAA.  I explained my problem.  I paid.  Hertz did not deliver as promised. AAA was the travel agency involved.  HELP!

She was lovely.  She apologized.  She said she would call.  Would I hold.  I did.  I put the Muzak on speaker phone as the husband spoke to the daughter. She, who does things like this for a living, managed to find us a rental through National.  I was still on hold.  AAA came back, told me she was still on hold,waiting to speak with a supervisor, and would I continue to hang on so that she could go back and not lose her spot in the queue.  I held on.

We got ourselves and our luggage down the long corridor and out to the curb.  I hung up on AAA; twenty minutes with nothing but bad music was enough.  We rode the bus - again - and got our now beyond bedraggled selves back into the rental car center, and ten minutes later we were in a brand new Nissan Maxima, courtesy of our daughter and National.

Let me also mention that the workers in the National area of the garage greeted us with a joy filled Welcome, offered to help us with our luggage, escorted us to the very first car in the row, and wished us well.

I've put a hold on the charge on my credit card. In the morning, I'll call AAA and Hertz and see what they can offer.  The National rental is much more expensive than that which I'd booked in January, paying in advance to secure the lower rate, through Hertz. I'm seeking an apology, a refund, and compensation for the extra expenses we incur. I'd also like an explanation; they had my email address and could have informed me of the problem before I left home, or landed, or rode that damn shuttle bus.

I'll keep you posted.  Right now, I'm going to schedule this post for tomorrow morning, turn off the computer, and hug my little girl.

Hertz tried, but they cannot wreck my vacation.

I refuse to allow them to win.




Tuesday, February 25, 2014

How Am I Doing?

Friends have been asking. Family members have phoned.  Apparently, I have been remiss in keeping you all up to date on the progress of my physical self.  Allow me to rectify the situation.

I'm doing just fine.

Three years ago this week I had one sip of wine to celebrate my birthday.  I'd been teetotalling since the bullets flew; that one sip went straight to my head.  I sported an idiotic grin for the rest of the night, a living and breathing advertisement for the inadvisability of mixing alcohol with narcotics. I was unable to drive myself, nor locomote without a walker or a wheelchair. My exercise regimen consisted of flexing and pointing my toes.

On the upside, I didn't cook or clean or do laundry.  My mailbox was full of cards and letters and my inbox held greetings from long lost friends and relatives.  I needed lots and lots of stationary and was forced to shop for that which makes me happiest - pens and paper.  In many ways, life was good.

And now, 38 months after being perforated, I feel as if I am truly starting to feel healed.  Despite my orthopedic surgeon' dire predictions, I have not felt that the arthritis in my hip warrants the installation of a replacement joint. My decision to follow the physiatrist's advice has been rewarded.

He was right - this is a tissue issue not a structural issue.  My inner self was bound together with scar tissue and myofascial adhesions.  That's what was impeding my progress, not bone on bone pain in my hip socket.

Don't worry, I didn't know what myofascial adhesions were either until I found that they were the source of my problems. Scar tissue is replacement fabric which is of inferior quality to the original manufacturer's equipment.  It's rougher and less flexible and has the awkward ability to attach itself to muscle and the tissue surrounding that muscle, aka the fascia.  Once those bonds are created, movement is restricted and pain ensues.

The exit wound scar on the front of my thigh is five inches long.  The entry wound is on the back of my thigh, a small, nearly undetectable circle of purple. All that area is covered with scar tissue and myofascial adhesions.  My hip doesn't bend because my quadriceps can't fully engage because the scar tissue has created lumps and bumps and dead ends for the nerves and the muscles to circumvent and it's really hard to bend your knee without using those muscle.

Please, believe me.  I've been trying to do it for 35 months.

Did you notice a discrepancy between the date of onset and the date just above? It's not a typo, it's a fact. As has been the pattern throughout my recovery, when I was ready for something new, the perfect solution appeared. In this case it involves scraping.

Shannon, she of the magic massaging fingers, didn't feel that I was making enough progress under her tender ministrations.  Not that her ministrations were all that tender; she was happiest when her thumbs were exploding knots buried deep within my flesh.  But I still limped out after every session.  She knew what I needed, and she hired a practitioner who could provide it.  His name is Cristoff, and he comes equipped with a four inch scraper.

Yes, a scraper. It has a beveled edge and fits comfortably in his hand. He tightens the skin over the offending area, and runs the tool up and down and then across and back again over and over and over the scar tissue. He has a great time.  I just try to continue to breathe.

I'm only able to tolerate the pressure and the sensation because the numbness has finally begun to wear off.  It's only in the last three months that I have been able to tolerate any touch at all.  With all this attention, there is actually blood flow to the scar itself.  It's lost its sallow appearance and is now quite warm to the touch.  What might otherwise frighten me is now a source of comfort.  It's not an infection raging beneath the surface, it's the normal flow of blood and oxygen, repairing the tissue and removing the crud surrounding it.

It's nice to have my body cooperating with my psyche.

My PT has taught me to do Nordic Pole Walking, dragging the poles behind me and using them for forward momentum as I take large, wide, slow, steady steps forward.  She's all about big, explosive movements and I'm seeing the results.  In two weeks we're planning a two mile outdoor hike.

Like I said, I'm doing just fine.  Thanks for asking.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Random Thoughts - The Sochi Olympic Version

We've been watching, on and off, for the last two weeks.  TBG catches glimpses during the afternoon, and is able to guide our prime time viewing accordingly.  There are only so many hours I can devote to watching people go downhill, on skis, snowboards, or bobsleds the size of refrigerators.  That was the description the commentator gave as we watched the competitors hulking over their equipment in the waiting shed. It gave me a moment's pause.
*****
In the beginning, all I could talk about was Bob Costas's eye infection. When he returned, he apologized for becoming part of the story he was there to report.

It was a touching bit of humility from the guy we've all come to associate with the NBC's Olympic Coverage. It was also remarkable - an on-air personality apologizing for hogging the spotlight.

There are many reasons to love Bob Costas; this is just one of them.
*****
There were some great names. The announcers had a fine time with Yulia and Julia.  I like Gracie Gold; those strong G's sound just as she looked on the ice.  But the one that made me laugh the most was TBG's reaction to Zettel -- a Yiddish pastry?
*****
Yulia, the just-turned-15 year old Russian figure skater, was memorable not only for her delicious performances, but for the camera shots of her coach massaging her ears before each performance. Standing behind her, both staring at the ice before them, hands gently rubbing the top of her ears as she prepared to go on.

I was calmed just watching it.
*****
We didn't watch much curling this winter; though we heard about the Canadian team's efforts in the gym.  They are trying to change the eating habits of their fellow competitors from beer and chips to salads, hoping that bulging biceps and tight abs revealed through form fitting outfits will force others to see them as real athletes.

It's worth a try, I suppose.
*****
There were lots of words we didn't understand, and no one thought it was necessary to explain them to us.  The commentators were obviously experts in their sports.  It would have been nice if someone at NBC had explained to them that the rest of us are not.
*****
Some of the words were just fun to say.  Twizzling, the synchronized spins in ice dancing, is just a great time for the tongue and lips.
*****
Lugers have tiny metal spikes on the tips of their fingers.  Those spikes used to be on the knuckles.  Strength training has obviously entered the digital age.

Ouch.  I couldn't resist.
*****
The clothes are always of great interest to me. I love the jackets the volunteers are wearing; those bright colors make me smile.

The USA's Opening Ceremony outfits came in for a fair amount of criticism, and I found it hard to disagree.  Bold and large, the letters U-S-A were everywhere, as was Ralph Lauren's logo.

There weren't any other countries which felt the need to identify themselves so obviously, so loudly, so in your face.

The Ukrainian team asked permission of the IOC to wear black armbands as a sign of solidarity with their countrymen. They were refused.  Undaunted, the athletes took a moment at their post-medal press conference to ask the journalists to stand and observe a moment of silence.  Some statements will be made regardless of the pressure to staunch them.
*****
There were lots of proud parents and wives and sisters and brothers and NBC left none of them un-miked or alone.  There aren't that many variations on joy or disappointment; I was surprised.
*****
Mary Carillo is wonderful.  It was obvious that her travels were circumscribed by the Russians; there were no man in the street interviews in anything but native tongues on on anything but vodka, matryoshka nesting dolls, and Siberia.

The highlight of her reporting was watching her get Bob Costas just a little tipsy.  You're not supposed to drink while you're taking anti-biotics, Bob.
*****
The interwebs told us that the luge and bobsled competitions happen on the same slide.  That was wise planning on the part of the Russians since even that one venue was incomplete at the start of the games. The unpainted wood slats, the murals that appeared and disappeared at random, the pipes visible on the sidewalks ... I suppose we should be grateful that there was ice on the track.
*****
These games seemed to have no spectators.  The outside shots of the Iceberg Skating Arena showed empty plazas. The cameras never panned the crowd higher than the fourth or fifth row.  Reporters mentioned visa issues and the cost of travel but I wonder if it wasn't just a bit more than that.

Vladimir Putin was everywhere, and he just got creepier and creepier as time went by.  The thought of him snuggling up to the gay Olympian gives me the chills.  His emotionless clapping betrayed nothing resembling warmth or joy.

He was cold.  The weather was not.
*****
I never watch the closing ceremonies, so I'll finish this on Sunday afternoon, leaving you with two unresolved questions:
How do the girl skaters position their skate blades so that they don't amputate the thigh of the boy who's holding them up, sharp metal inches from his groin?
Are Meryl and Charlie a couple?
This should get you through the watercooler.  Happy Monday!

Friday, February 21, 2014

The Rodeo Parade

I rode in the Rodeo Parade today.
Want to see why I love Tucson so much? 
This is what I saw at 7:30am
from my perch inside the wagonette rented by The Happy Ladies' Club 
and piloted by the lovely Jane
owner and operator of this small business.

We were part of four tranches of wagons


and horses with marshals in red vests, 
 keeping order
and vaqueros on horseback, 

and all kinds of decorations on those wagons
 celebrating the organization
 which paid the fee to ride.
This is not an inexpensive proposition to mount.

These four groups merged onto the large, square, parade route, 
and we traveled right down the middle of the road.

We were not alone.
There were fans galore

and we waved to every single one of them.

Do not underestimate the amount of energy it takes to move your arm back and forth, rhythmically, while smiling and showing enthusiasm. By the end of the 2.5 mile route, we were all ready for right arm massages.

There's a Mexican flavor to the proceedings, which was obvious to us from the start, when this float of Nacho Libre-esque fighters cruised past
More traditional attire was also in evidence.



There was more, much much more, but I don't want to bore you with all five hours of our adventure.
Let me leave you with a smile.

The Happy Ladies Club was the very last entrant in the parade.
We were, as the kids used to say, toilet paper, wiping up the rear.

This was made evident to us with the arrival of these
pulling up right behind our Happy Ladies' wagonette.
They are large 
and well equipped
 (yes, that's a saddle on the hood)
for the task at hand.

And what might that be, you ask?

Well, remember all those horses?
I shall say no more.

***

Warning - don't click on the links in the comments below.
There's a bug in my system and until help arrives all I can do is say BEWARE!!!
They are not my links.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Four Hours to New Driving Skills

I was punished for driving too quickly.  After paying the fee and scanning and submitting my driver's license and the citation, I was given the code to unlock four hours of driving instruction.

Four hours. It's better than the eight hours required by the physical class. I could pause at any time; it was nice to know that I wouldn't be penalized for bathroom breaks.  I had not less than four and no more than four and a half hours to complete the reading and viewing and then to take the test.  My computers decided to balk at the task, and, after installing a new mouse and then fleeing to the laptop at the kitchen table, I plunged ahead. I took notes as I went along, not only to remind me of the Arizona facts on which I would be tested, but to share with you what I learned.

Actually, it was often quite interesting.  I now know how to test my shock absorbers (push down hard on the front of the car; if it bounces more than twice, the shocks are shot) and my tire tread (push a Lincoln penny into the tread, head first; if the tread reaches Abe's head, the tires are okay). I know that TBG ought to get the crack in his windshield repaired, because the smallest imperfection can shatter, even in a minor collision. I learned to coast and use the brakes lightly if I have a catastrophic tire failure, and to start my manual transmission in second gear if I'm stuck in the snow or mud.

There were lessons in basic cornering, covering the apex of the turn and appropriate pedal strategies. At times, it was as comprehensive as a pre-racetrack session. At others, they addressed the issues more commonly experienced - emotional disturbance, road rage, positioning the driver's seat, seat belt usage and air bag safety.  I have to bring a ruler out to The Schnozz; 10" is the recommended distance between the center of the steering wheel and my breastbone and I have no idea if I'm too close or too far or just right. I learned how to position the seat belt low over my pelvis, using my strong skeletal structure to keep me in place.  There were instructions for pregnant women, which I passed on immediately to Little Cuter who responded that the same instructions were presented to her by the nurse at her first office visit.  Times have changed; no one ever mentioned positioning the belt to the side of the abdomen when I was carrying her or her brother. 

I learned that, in an emergency, you should position your hands so that neither palm crosses the midline of the steering wheel, grasp firmly, and guide yourself to safety.  I learned the mechanics of soft tires losing traction on wet roads, and spent an inordinate amount of time watching the skidding and hydroplaning videos.  I was reminded to stomp my ABS and steer into the skid (although they said "aim the front of the car in the direction in which you want it to go, also called 'steering into the skid'"). I learned how dangerous it is to travel over the speed limit, or under the speed limit by more than five miles per hour.  

Much attention was paid to emotional disturbances, which, according to the National Institutes of Mental Health, are more serious a distraction than using a cell phone.  Many paragraphs were presented with facts and figures and suggestions like do not get behind the wheel if you are upset. The data was especially chilling for teen drivers, but I flashed to the slowpokes in the left lanes as I approach the hospital down the road.  I always give them room and respect, because I know that their hearts and their brains are on a surgical ward or in a recovery room and not on the road before them.

I paused to try to download a tract they recommended, but the link was not found. I was interested in the title, if nothing else - Anger: A Long Walk or The San Diego Freeway. Since I find myself taking out my frustrations on inanimate objects, I thought that NIMH brochure might be helpful.  Alas, it is no where to be found.

There were some Oh, dear God moments, too.  

I'm to carry basic tools, including a fire extinguisher in my car.  Really?  I don't think so.  If there's a fire, I'm getting out of there, not putting it out.  That's why there are firefighters in the world.  My basic tools, unlike their list which included a wrench and a hammer and tire chains, consist of pen, paper, water, tweezers and Amster's tool for cutting my seat belt and breaking a window.  If I need anything else, I'll call AAA.

Every week, I am to ensure that my windshield wiper motor is working and that there are no leaks in my fuel system.  In case I needed it, Figure 1 displayed a line drawing of an oil can with several drops falling from the spout.  They told me not to pass a school bus with flashing lights, and told me what to do if I were to decide to forego my shoulder strap.  I was stunned; if you're not wearing a seatbelt why bother with all the rest of the safety tips.  You're road kill in a collision.

They warned me that hitting a large immovable object such as a bridge abutment, a wall or a tree would stop my forward motion and transfer all that energy into my car.  They told me to aim for the sandbags at the base of the bridge.  They didn't give me any suggestions about the tree or the wall. I was beginning to lose patience with that page, and when I came to an older person of 50 years I clicked through to another section.  If 50 is old, what am I, just shy of 62?

There were grammatical errors galore, including references to emergency brake downs and Inspect Your Brakes Regularly and Maintained as Appropriate which is so bollixed up in capitalizations and parallel structure that I moved right along to this piece of brilliance
If the lane you are driving in has a thicker broken white line than the lane you are in.....
and this one
Send your vehicle in for tuning when....
I usually have to drive my vehicle to the shop.  I am quite interested in the vehicle they are referencing. I'd love to tell The Schnozz to get to the repair shop for a tune up. Perhaps they are positing a chauffeur. Whatever their intentions, the grammatical confusion helped to pass the time. The clock at the top of the screen counted off the minutes passed and displayed those to come.  Sixty seconds never felt so long.

There were pieces that were contrary to what Mr. Sodemann taught me in Driver's Ed back in high school, like moving away from a vehicle if it is disabled. We were taught to stay inside because you are safer when protected by all that metal. There were abbreviations which were not immediately recognizable - OBDS, BTW, LOS, POT - and obvious statements that beggared the imagination; It is not a surprise that manual transmission cars do not use automatic transmission fluid. It would have been nice to be able to print out some of the charts they provided; I'd have laminated the Preventive Car Maintenance List and posted it on the garage wall if Control+C were available.  Alas, to prevent cheating on the test, there is no copying allowed.

And, there were pieces that made me laugh out loud. Warning! Your Sexual Productivity Can Be Affected by Alcohol kept me going for fifteen or twenty minutes.  In my defense, this was in hour three and I was beginning to feel the strain.  Space management skills are critical to safe driving led me to take this picture of my desk
and wonder if they meant in general or just on the road.  I'm hoping it's the latter, because this place is a mess. I complimented myself on knowing that I should establish a comfort zone around the vehicle, which I have called The Cone of Silence, for reasons lost in the past.  The recommendation to practice Commentary Driving (saying aloud what you're seeing, verbally planning ahead) sent me straight to Daddooooo and our Sunday drives to the grandparents.  Little Cuter encouraged me to avoid that particular tip, and I think she's right.  On the other hand, I do repeat Mr. Sodemann's mantra every time I parallel park (line it up, mirror to mirror, back straight, turn at the bumper, and YOU'RE IN!).

The ultimate expression of the utility of the exercise was made evident to me as I drove to the boonies to stroll with Brenda Starr.  How to position your vehicle in a pack of moving vehicles told me to move to the back of the pack, get in the right lane, keep a four second distance between myself and the next car, and slow down two to three miles per hour.  They promised that the pack would move away, that I could speed up to the limit again, and there would be no cars around me.  It was true, as they promised, that the next pack caught up to me, but they passed me by and there I was, alone on the road.  

When I suggested this strategy to TBG he laughed, shook his head, and said Left and and leave 'em in my dust.

That's the kind of attitude that got me sentenced to traffic school in the first place. If the last few days are any indication, my behavior has been altered just a touch.... just enough to keep me out of the hands of the law.... I hope.





Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Happy Birthday, G'ma


She'd have been 91 today.  

I'd have brought her a chocolate cake, and chocolate ice cream, and chocolate syrup.  I'd have brought the hats and the blowers we used at the party last year and decorated with balloons and streamers.

It's a party I'm so glad that I hosted.

Looking at this picture, I am reminded of how fast and how far she failed over the last ten months of her life.  In the moment, at the party, she commented, over and over, that she didn't feel like 90... that 90 was old... that she was old... but that she was here and even if she didn't know where she was or why she was there, it looked like she was having a good time.
My friends, the only people who could be invited to the event, still laugh about her confused look followed by What am I doing here?

It must be a party.

There's cake.

And what the hell is on my head?

It was moments like that that kept me sane.  That was my mother, wondering why a paper tiara was annoying her ears but making connections from the clues around her.

If you're here, it must be okay.

Knowing that my presence made a difference made it possible to visit.  Leaving was never easy, but she left the guilt behind when she moved from New Jersey.  My I'll see you tomorrow was answered by I hope so, at the end.  She knew she was leaving us, taking her own sweet time to do so.

Her spirit flew over Little Cuter's house and saw the bun in the oven. She felt free to shed this mortal coil, knowing the next generation was on its way. I know it's true. I feel it in that place where truths reside.

I've found a place to put the sorrow.  The loss still nags, especially as I drive past the pod castle.  I'm still tempted to stop in and say hello to her... only she's not there.... and I sigh. I don't wish that she were still here; her last months were described in the death certificate as failure to thrive and there's no reason to revisit that scene.

But, there are those moments, like today, when I'd like to be in Hallmark, buying a gigantic birthday card filled with love and hearts and flowers, collecting chocolate, reminding the grandkids to send an email, getting ready for her big day.

I hope somebody brought her a prune danish for breakfast.  It's heaven, after all.  There must be prune danish in heaven.


Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Inconsistent With a Civilized Workplace

It's bad form to give the conclusion at the start of an essay, but I can't help myself. Hold that title in your brain as you come with me through the warped world of the Miami Dolphin's offensive line's locker room.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the background, Jonathan Martin and Richie Incognito were players on the Miami o-line. Their relationship is a public mixture of crude texts and racial and sexual slurs made aloud and in front of others. Neither player is still with the team; Martin walked out and Incognito was suspended. The team requested an investigation by the NFL; everyone involved is said to have cooperated fully.  No pressure was exerted on the outcome.  All parties knew that the intent was to release the report and its conclusions to the general public.

I choose to believe that Ted Wells, an African-American, Harvard educated, lawyer, who has represented both Eliot Spitzer and Scooter Libby, is not an easy man to deceive.  I choose to believe that his report is even-handed and not racially biased.  You may choose to disagree.  I only ask that, before you develop your opinion, you read all 144 pages of the report.  I did.  I knew that I would have an opinion, and I wanted it to be on that was informed by the facts, not by the precis being offered by tv's talking heads. It's disturbing and distasteful and ultimately very, very sad.

Parents should be licensed. I nominate Jonathan Martin's parents to teach the classes.  Throughout the awfulness, their emails were voices of reason, love, and concern amidst the chaos.  I'm not sure how they felt about their son hanging out in strip clubs because they never address the issu. Aside from that, their support and suggestions and the manner in which they presented them to their son are models of great parenting. Their pain comes through, but the focus is on helping their son through a tough time.

They, as I, saw two separate issues. One is the workplace environment.  The other relates to mental health.

Jonathan Martin has a well-substantiated history of depressive episodes.  He's a quiet, thoughtful, Stanford graduate who has loving, involved parents.  Richie Incognito grew up in a tough part of New Jersey and has brought his attitude with him to the NFL. He was kicked out of Oregon and Nebraska for bad behavior, and hasn't mentioned his parents at all. Two more disparate humans couldn't have intersected in a more toxic environment than these two in the Dolphin's locker room. Martin's inability to easily connect with others, Incognito's cave man persona, and a lack of real leadership in the locker room combined to create this firestorm.

The environment in that locker room is the main character in the Wells Report.  Inappropriate touching, foul language, and crude promises of obscene behavior directed at Martin's mother and sister were all part and parcel of everyday life for the Dolphin's offensive linemen.  After ten or fifteen pages of exhibits, after reading the players' reports of what they observed, I was left shaking my hand and wondering: Where were the grown-ups? 

Somehow, I cannot imagine Steve Young or Ray Lewis or Peyton or Eli Manning allowing such behavior on their watch.  Who put Richie Incognito into a leadership role?  I understand that the players elected the members of the Leadership Council; it's a sad indictment of the roster that Richie Incognito was deemed to be among the best of those men.

His behavior has never been described as anything other than what was exhibited in the Wells Report.  If this is the kind of individual to whom the Dolphins are looking for guidance, then I must agree with Bill Pollian, long-time NFL executive and eminence grise, who said, on ESPN's Sports Center, that this is not an indictment, it's a verdict.

Should the issue have been dealt with internally, sparing the rest of us the Dolphins' dirty laundry?  Probably, but impossibly so.  This is the piece that sticks with me - the fact that the culture was constructed in such a way as to make it impossible for Jonathan Martin to seek help upstream.

Let me take you to The Judas Rule (page 133), Offensive Line Coach Jim Turner's own special slice of heaven.  Though he denied making any statements which might have led the players to assume that snitching was frowned upon, would be fined,and punished, the Report does not find his denials credible. There were too many other players and trainers who reported that the Judas Rule was his invention.  Complaining about another player's actions was not only frowned upon, it was actively discouraged.  The social pressures of the locker room made reporting bad behavior an impossibility, especially for someone like Martin, whose natural tendency is to avoid confrontation.

And therein lies the nub of the problem.  I found myself wanting Jonathan Martin to get up in Richie Incognito's face, to tell him to knock it off, to insist on a change. I wondered if the abuse would have continued, unabated, if Incognito had been called out in public, in front of the whole team, not just the O-Line.  Would other players have supported Martin?  We'll never know, because that's not the kind of man Jonathan Martin is.

That said, it should not be his issue.  No one should be afraid to go to work. Tedi Bruschi, ESPN commentator and former player, encouraged Martin to get into the weight room and get stronger, but couldn't "fault him for not training harder with the Dolphins, feeling as he did."  And how did he feel?  He emailed his mother that he woke up every morning telling himself "Just get through the day." (page 72)  I don't know how you bring intensity to a workout when there's a bully lifting next to you.

Much has been made of Martin's texts to Incognito.  They are filled with similarly crude language, at times, and can be construed as filthy, friendly, manly banter.... if you are Richie Incognito.  He seems to be a man with absolutely no insight, no self-reflection, no limits on his id. Jonathan Martin had major issues when Incognito had an audience. Showing off, pounding his chest, fists flying and insults abounding, Incognito was a caricature of a Man's Man, preening for an audience of manly men. He was exorcising his own demons, becoming the bully who'd tormented him in his own youth.

That no one in the locker room took steps to intervene, to quash the hostility, to make the point that this behavior was unpleasant and unprofessional, speaks volumes.  As Chris Mortensen noted, also on ESPN, "Any team associated with this forever forfeits any claim to 'character.'"

Richie Incognito thinks he did nothing wrong.  He found Martin "not as witty" (page 72) as he was, but considered him a friend.  He feels blameless, and, reading through the texts, it's possible to see how he gets there.  Without insight into his own behavior, without any curbs on that behavior in the workplace (remember, these slurs were not hidden - they were everyday occurrences in the locker room, a very public setting), with Martin's continuing responses as he tried to get closer so that the bullying would stop (a typical reaction, as the psychologist in the Report explains), Incognito can be allowed his assumption that Martin was okay with the situation.

How would he know otherwise? There were no adults in the room.  There was no one saying that this behavior is inappropriate and unacceptable and will not be tolerated. It's obvious that Incognito had no frame of reference beyond the barnyard; unfortunately, a more tolerant environment was not to be found on the Dolphins' campus

Once Joe Philbin, the head coach, and Steve Ross, the owner, were made aware of the situation, they handled themselves with integrity, requesting transparency and diligence in determining the truth.  Incognito will not return to the team, nor will Martin. Coach Turner is gone, and plans are being made to rectify the situation.

We shall see.

For now, we are left with Ted Wells's assessment.  Yes, going to work in a  professional football locker room is not the same as going to work in a public school or a lawyer's office.  Yet, even factoring that in to the equation, Mr. Wells left no doubt that the actions in the Dolphins' locker room were inconsistent with a civilized workplace.

Civilized.  There's a word that ought to be the touchstone for going forward.

Monday, February 17, 2014

A Technological Triumph

I bought myself a new phone today.  I did it all by myself.  I did the research, I considered the options, I made the decisions, and nowhere was there a Cuter offering advice. To call this unusual is to understate the obvious.

I start to hyperventilate when I have to consider entering an electronics emporium.  Best Buy makes my palms sweat.  Thinking about talking to the worker bees at the Verizon Store sent my tummy into panic mode.  I have never, ever, ever, entered one of these places without the guiding presence of a child by my side.  Physically holding me upright, or tethered to the other end of my phone, all questions and decisions on laptops and tablets and cell phones and desktops have been considered by the Cuter at my side.

Not so today. Today, emboldened by my three previous, lengthy, thought provoking visits to that same Verizon Store, I took the plunge. I brought Anna Quindlen's Still Life With Bread Crumbs, in hardback, and I settled in on the settee to wait.  I was next.  It took twenty minutes before it was my turn, and I sat, positively sanguine, as the minutes clicked by.  I was a woman on a mission, and nothing was going to spoil my triumph. Besides, I liked having a paper and binding library book on my lap in the inner sanctum of electronic connectivity.  It reminded me of who I am.

My saleswoman approached and greeted me by name, shared hers, and began at the point at which the registration guy left off.  I, prepared and ready, explained in fractured geekish what I wanted.  Her colleague had written it down on the worksheet; 30/30/40/$24.99.  Between us, Chris and I figured out which deal corresponded to which number and suddenly I was shopping for accessories for my new Samsung Galaxy S4.

I'd gone from hanging on by my fingertips to plunging head first into the pool and I'd come up wrapped in a luxurious combination of lilac silicone and purple rubber, perfectly combined to protect my new, graphite grey, protective glass coated phone.  My contacts were transferred along with my apps, moving through Verizon Cloud with seamless elegance. My photos were in the cloud as well; individual pictures were mine to download as I wished.  I was in heaven.

The guts of the phone are similar enough to my old S3 that the learning curve shouldn't be too steep.  I am laughing at myself as I type that; Mr. 8 took hold of the device and quickly figured out where his games had hidden themselves.

I knew enough not to intervene; kids do so much better than I do with all of this stuff.  To them, it's second nature.  To me, it's a chore to be learned. And yet, the 4 has consolidated the steps to set photos as contact pictures, and has added pages, and everything is just a little bit bigger on the screen, and have I said how much I'm loving this?

There's something to be said for climbing the mountain on my own.
*****
To those of you who were wondering where I was on Friday, this post ran on the other Blogger site I set up in the very beginning of the blog's existence.  For some reason, I clicked on the wrong account when I posted.  Four of you found it...... well done! Hope you all had a wonderful Valentine's Day.  Come back tomorrow for my take on the Wells Report and a civilized work place.  For now, I go to finish the last 35 minutes of on-line traffic school.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Worrying for a Friend

She likes control of the world around her.  I think that's one of the reasons she works from home, editing the writings of others.  She's organized and competent and she pays attention to everything in her sphere.  She researches facts and uses them to comfort herself and others.  She's cognizant of the needs of those around her, and puts herself out to accommodate them, often to her own distress.

A person like this shouldn't be facing medical catastrophe.

There's no place to hide.  The disease has taken root and must be vanquished. That includes radiation implanted over the offending tumor, shots on a regular basis after the radiation is finished dissolving the mass, genetic testing to determine the likelihood of metastases, on-going, quarterly doctor visits hundreds of miles from home, x-rays and MRI's and pills.

Did I mention that the disease has taken root in her eye?

Did I mention that the shots go in the eye?

Now that you're back with us, after taking a moment or six to get over the awfulness, let me reassure you that the blast email she sent to friends and family was upbeat, positive, and filled with words like This will completely eradicate the whole damn thing! 

I admire those who think to take care of the world around them when their own personal space is collapsing in a heap. I don't know where she finds the strength to consider those of us on the outside, worrying but distanced from the immediacy. There were more words of thanks and comfort than there were descriptions of procedures. She was there for us, thanking us for being there for her.

And so, I wait.  I sit thousands of miles away, worrying. I can't do anything else.  I send cards - the smarmiest ones I can find, because I know they will make her groan - and I send healing vibes, and I even talk to the gods and goddesses and spirits, asking for their love and support. 

I'm trying to fix it all myself, just as she came here to fix me when I was broken.  I know it's a useless exercise, but it calms my heart.  She has a loving husband and devoted children.  I really shouldn't worry.  

But, I do.  Worrying keeps the evil at bay; I've believed that since I was a child and I don't see any reason to stop believing it today.  If I am anxious, if I examine all the edges of the problem, if I keep it close to the front of my brain as I go through the day, then, somehow, I don't know why. exactly, everything will turn out okay.

So that's my job until the plaque implantation tomorrow - to worry.  Non-stop. Fearlessly facing any awful truth I can conjure. Sending you'll be fine thoughts along to her as I keep the OMG's to myself.  

If I keep myself awake with anxiety, perhaps I can absorb some of what is occupying MTF right now. My friend shouldn't suffer alone.  Offering my services as Official Worry Wart is all that I can do for now.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Watching Westminster

I actually have a dog in this fight. Bob the Reluctant Show Dog, presented by Jean Jennings of Automobile Magazine and JeanKnowsCars and her husband, Tim, is in the holding area as I type, getting ready to enter Ring 8 for judging at the Westminster Kennel Club's 2014 Dog Show.  I've been following their trip from Michigan, as Jean reports it online, and I have to admit that, having once shared a late night breakfast with Bob, my heart is quite invested in the outcome.

Live streaming of the dog show.... I never would have imagined that would be the backdrop to my sunny morning. Yet, here I am, reading my email, filling out alumni contact forms for my alma mater, checking my Facebook feed, and listening to the hoots and hollers as the setters, Irish Red and White, leave the ring and the Wirehair Pointing Griffons take their places.

Bob's group, the Chesapeake Bay Retrievers, is due up next.  My anxiety is mounting.

There's no commentary, just the occasional bark interspersed with human clapping and cheering. Whooooo seems to be the shout of choice this year. The live stream is just that. The camera moves from beast to beast, held low, dog level, focusing on the grooming and the leg placements and the running for the judges.

I want Bob.

It's akin to the feelings reflected on the faces of the moms in Sochi.  The ice dancing moms, who've traveled together since the kids were 8 and 10; the brothers' mom, of one gold medalist and the other cheering wildly with his cerebral palsied limbs; the Proctor and Gamble moms in the commercials, up early for before dawn practice, wiping tears of joy and pain and love.... I have a little bit of that going on right now in my own heart.

The weimeraner looked quite elegant as she posed before her Best in Breed plaque, and now the screen says that the Chessies are on their way... up next... and my stomach is all a-flutter.

They entered the ring without much fanfare.  There are skinny handlers and male handlers and orthopedically shod handlers and I'm having a hard time distinguishing Kelly Leonard, Bob's companion, from the rest of the crowd. I don't have a chance of distinguishing Bob from the other beautiful specimens in the ring.  And then, there they are, center stage for thirty wonderful seconds, being poked and prodded and then proudly strutting their stuff.

They looked great.

The judges patted and pressed and lifted and observed first one round and then another round and the camera included Jean, standing on the sidelines in an orange hat and broken-ankle-boot, suddenly abandoned by her companions, taking a huge, deep, shoulder lifting breath.  I can feel the angst two thousand miles away.

It's not easy sitting on the sidelines, unable to help, just watching and hoping.  I can see her keeping her distance, not distracting the athletes as they prepare for their turn. The camera focuses on Bob and Kelly and, for a moment or two, I'm in Madison Square Garden with them, inhaling and exhaling as they do, watching with eager anticipation as the judge makes his rounds, examining, reordering, asking for one more promenade, one more feel of the haunches, before he chooses one... not Bob... two.... nope... three... and it's over.

Bob didn't make the cut.

I'm unable to offer an intelligent perspective on the situation; I know nothing of the specifics which make one Chesapeake Bay retriever stand out from another.  I do know that Bob is a marvelous companion and that I've had a more intimate experience with this Westminster than I've had with any other.  It was akin to watching the Olympics when Jonny Moseley competed in the moguls. He's an alum of the Cuter's high school in California, he babysat for one of Little Cuter's closest friends, he was the grand marshal of every parade in our little town.  I didn't know him, but it felt as if I did.

He was one of ours, just as Bob is.  Winning or losing, I've enjoyed the ride. Thanks for sharing the journey.
****
Want Jean's take on the whole thing?  Click here to go to her report on Jean Knows Cars/ Road to Westminster.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

I do believe that Power Point has ruined the teaching experience.  I speak from experience, vast experience, sitting in a classroom, watching the teacher read from the board.... leaving me bored in my chair.

I don't understand it.  Long, newsy, two and three sentence points, strung together in a wall of text alleviated only by the italicized titles, adorned the screen in the Rubel Auditorium this morning, just as they had the two weeks before.  I read them, digested them, then settled back in my chair so that the instructor could read them aloud.

It would be too much to assume, I imagine, that the room full of adult learners were actually capable of reading them to themselves.  The teacher felt the need to read them to us.  His voice is loud and clear and full of energy.  He reads well.... I have lots and lots of examples to back up my claim.

He's read paragraphs from the novel we're studying, long, dense, already read by the audience, chapters we had devoured on our own but which were being brought back to life on Monday morning.  He didn't stop to point out the more interesting sentences.  His voice rose and dropped as we were drawn into the story... at least, that was his intent, I suppose.  All I could do was seethe.

It's insulting to the students in the room.  We are not there because our parents are paying our tuition. We are adults in an adults-only program.  We have chosen to be in the room.  We have other options, and we selected this one.  Other teachers in the program have marveled at the wonderfulness of standing in front of a group of students who have not only read the material, but are able to sit quietly without texting or answering email or surfing the interwebs. We are, in general, an attentive bunch.

But when the information is presented in type before our eyes, it is hard to remain interested in the repetitious recitation of the words.  How I wish he would take off from the starting points he's written and let his mind wander to further edges of analysis.  How I wish he would expand upon the facts he's presenting.  Those facts are clear as bells, right there in bold type in front of my eyes.  They need amplification, explanation, context and discussion.  They do not require reading aloud.

There are other areas of classroom management in which he is failing, as well.  It's a big room and some of the students have small voices; a portable microphone is provided to remedy the inevitable what did she say querying.  Unfortunately, the class has its fair share of those who know that what they have to say is of such importance that it cannot wait to be shared - with or without the mic. Not only does he seem incapable of staunching the bloviations, he adds insult to injury by not sharing the voice amplification system.  I suppose I should be grateful that my ears were spared the nonsense being spouted - 21st century personal stories have no place in an analysis of Victorian ghost stories.  Still, it's frustrating to watch a conversation in which you cannot participate.

I've spoken to the program leader, who is powerless.  He's an important professor; she can't presume to give him pedagogical tips.

Why do I continue to attend?  I'm enjoying the works we are reading (Christmas CarolThe Woman in White) and I enjoy the company of my fellow students. Today, while he was reading his words aloud to the captive audience, I pretended to follow along as I read on further in the text.  I don't want to be rude.  I just don't want to waste my time.

Sigh.  Not a big problem, but one I needed to get off my chest.  Thanks for listening, denizens.

Monday, February 10, 2014

A Day at the Duck Pond

Brenda Starr and I went to Reid Park today.
I'm sorry if you are stuck in your homes, fed up to your eyeballs with Snow Days.
We stripped off our sweatshirts half-way through our stroll. 

A prophylactic pee, as Brother instructed my nieces, is a necessary and wise step to take before embarking on any kind of physical activity.
This sign on the bathroom door led to much snarkiness,
although the event itself was unremarkable.

Then, it was off to meander around the duck pond, 
marveling at all we did not know about our amphibious friends.

This fellow has a lovely brown head and longer than average feet.
 Ruler of the roost, this fellow 
 was followed by three beautiful ladies in white
We never did figure out why this one wing was stuck up in the air,
 or why this one has such odd feet.
Brenda Starr carried stale hot dog buns which we provided, gratis, to the beasts.
It was only after we had tossed the empty bag that we noticed the Do Not Feed the Ducks sign.
The fact that it was posted 15' above our heads on a lamp post is our excuse.
We're not going to mention how much fun it was to watch as first a few
were noticed by their peers,
who came quickly across the pond.
 Not content to nibble what was tossed into the water, they began to venture onto the land,
 more and more of them
until it started to get just a little bit creepy.

Brenda Starr, animal person that she is, didn't seem to mind.
I took a deep breath or six and suggested that we continue on our way.

There were turtle climbing on the rocks,
 probably released by families who no longer wanted them as pets.
It's not a good idea, as the slime on the shell of this fellow will attest.

There was more sorrow on the other side of the pond. 
This poor creature was sitting in the sun, nursing what looked to be lethal wounds.
Upon closer examination, they appeared to be superficial, although we weren't sure about the neck area.
Brenda Starr's call to Wildlife Rescue was returned within minutes.
If we could get the bird into a car, we knew where to take it for care.

Halfway around the pond, on our way back to retrieve the patient,
we saw this: 


Yes, there it was, in a shallow pool, protected from incursions by others,
but willing to munch on the remains of the hot dog buns.

Reassured that all was right in the world, we took a seat on a bench and watched these (cormorants?)
watching the world go by.

It was a lovely Sunday morning.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Beauty and Truth and The Khmer Rouge

I didn't mean to cry.  I was only asking a question.  There must have been something in the tone of my voice or the laughter in the audience, because the author turned and spoke from her heart to mine. It was magical.

Vaddey Ratner, a mere slip of a thing, is tremendous.  Her intellect, her passion, her insight, her willingness to share... to share and to hope that she's making a difference.... denizens, her presentation at the Literary Society luncheon was something to behold.

She analyzed her work as if we were sitting in Comp Lit 325,  not the Arizona Inn. We gauged the importance of her luscious depiction of the life she led, in the family compound,  In the Shadow of the Banyan, before Pol Pot.  Had we noticed changes in the sentence structure, the cadence, the word choices she made as her character drew further and further into herself? Reading aloud, drawing us deeper and deeper into the almost unimaginably bizarre world in which she found herself,  the room was totally still.  No background chatter, no silverware clatter, just rapt attention.

How could we not.  She inhabits every inch of the novel, having lived it herself.  Forced labor, planting in the rice paddies, building dikes to hold back the tide, losing color in her clothing, in her foodstuffs, in her life - we sat there, mesmerized, watching her quick smile and dancing eyes, listening to her words.  That she is here at all is a miracle.  That we were able to hear her was a joy.

The book scared me, at first.  Why would I want to plunge into the depths of human malignity? I carry enough sorrow just beneath my own surface.  I didn't want to add any more.  I needn't have worried; she understood and figured it out long before I began my own journey.  Just listen to some of what she had to say:
Why did I survive?  I never asked.  I was afraid to ask because I worried that no one would have an answer.
I had to relive the story to tell the tale.  Before I was a writer, I was a survivor.   
I went into Art to save myself.
It was like listening to myself.  Why am I here, and others are not?  The only answer lies within myself, and I, like Vaddey Ratner, use writing to save myself.  Listening to her say that small visions of beauty kept me going, I remembered being back on Douglas-the-couch, growing a new hip, mourning the loss of an innocent child, and smiling at the sun moving across the blue sky, chasing clouds with its rays. If there was beauty in the world, perhaps there was also a cushion on which to recline while examining the tale. The world cannot be altogether awful if there is such a spectacle before my eyes every afternoon.

Does that sound too lyrical?  Ratner wrote a meditation on life, love, language... the factual and the metaphysical. She has that effect on me, too, it seems.

In the Shadow of the Banyan pays homage to the spirits of those who did not survive the Khmer Rouge. That includes most of the author's large, extended, royal family. The details are wrenching. For Ratner, beauty and truth are inseparable. Incorporating that into trauma (which) was incomprehensible is the genius of her first novel. While searching for insight into the incomprehensible she presents the most awful facts through the eyes of a much loved child. In retelling the tale, she's reopening her own wounds for the greater good.  This is an act of mourning and communing with the ghosts of those who loved her, and whose love she returns with her work.

Like most survivors, she's resilient.  The word appears on her bio page, and it was the word I used when my tablemate asked me how she and I did it.  I think the ability to rebound from disaster is, in some ways, a statement about immutable character traits.

As I take responsibility (though not guilt nor blame) for Christina-Taylor's death, so she began an answer However I failed as a child to protect those I loved....  Murmured no's were rumbling through the audience, but I knew just what she meant. She was five when Pol Pot moved the entire population of Cambodia's cities into the countryside, creating the Killing Fields along the way.  A 9mm with an extended magazine showed up in the hands of a mentally ill man while I was holding hands in front of the grocery store.   Neither of us had the means to prevent the inevitable.  Neither of us will ever really believe it. Our situations defined powerlessness.  That doesn't change the facts.

But she didn't leave us there.  She went on to say that, though she may have failed in her childhood, she was honoring the spirits, her first and foremost audience for the book. The story opens with a scene of love, and that is what I took from the novel, in the end. Despite it all, she's alive.  That truth and beauty are truly inseparable.

But, it gets better. I asked her how she managed to be the least angry woman in the room. That was when she turned and gave me paragraphs and paragraphs of how she has no time or energy to be angry, although it would be easy enough to give in to it, at any time, anywhere.  She does not allow the anger access to her heart.  What lives there is  the despair... and that is where she expends her energy, rising above the despair.

And how does she do this, I wondered?
Borrow the beauty and strength from those around you.
Thanks for being here, denizens. I couldn't do it without you.


Thursday, February 6, 2014

Random Thoughts - The February Gardening Edition

My fingers are covered in glochids. Tiny little pieces of cactus are burrowed beneath my tender flesh. They are invisible to the eye, poking me and stabbing me and then hiding as I search with my tweezers. I've tried scotch tape and duct tape and Gorilla tape and they are still there.  It may be time to get the epsom salts out for a good long hand soak.
*****
TBG suggested that my gloves were not up to the task of protecting my digits.... after he chastised me for not wearing gloves at all.  How could anything penetrate a protective covering, he wondered.  I thought back to the cactus nursery workers, with their masking tape covered gloves, trying to safeguard their flesh.

They didn't have any better luck than I did.
*****
I pruned the fan palms in the backyard this morning.  One is growing tall, the other is becoming wide. Both are very very happy in the amended soil bed, up against the pony wall.  With their roots sheltered from the direct rays of the sun, they never scorch.  With pavers on one side and the wall on the other, the roots are stymied and the branches flourish.  It's a bonus for the viewer and a problem for the pruner.  They can't be transplanted nor can the nodes be removed and used as starter plants; I've tried for five years and I am finished with the experiments.

The right plant in the right place .... that works until they get so happy that the right place becomes the too small place.  I fear that I am headed in that direction.
*****
I've never lived in a house for as many years as I've lived in this one.  I've never seen a garden grow to maturity under my own tender ministrations.  I'm at the point of replacing rather than enhancing, of repairing rather than installing, of trimming instead of hoping for growth.

I think I like it.  I'm not sure.
*****
I spent the morning admiring my trees and my agaves and removing the dead and dying paddle cacti. Was it too hot or too cold or too dry or just their time?  I don't know.  Neither did Ernie.  We chatted as we removed the mistletoe from the palo verdes, whole branches coming down because the infestation was too deep to prune away more gently.  There's something very satisfying about sawing off a branch and seeing healthy growth left behind.

How do I get the birds to stop pooping their mistletoe in my trees?  It's a mystery.
*****
The bluebells are sprouting bigger and bigger foliage, preparing to send their flower shoots up to the sky.  I know they will blossom when we're in Chicago visiting the kids. Perhaps JannyLou will take a picture or two for me and send it along.
*****
It used to be an effort to get down on the ground.  I couldn't squat for a quick second to grab an errant leaf or prune a recalcitrant branch.  Today, I found myself behind the fan palms, one hand braced on the wall, the other chopping off fronds, one foot planted on the patio pavers and one in the dirt.  I was rock steady, not wavering, not quivering, the only difficulty coming from the sharp leaves trying to blind me.

I had to stop and smile.  Progress is measured in different ways, at different times.  The best of these is when it smacks me in the head, reminding me out of the blue that I am getting better.

Now, if I could only keep the mistletoe out of the trees.........

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