Monday, November 30, 2009

A Weekend's Worth of Musings

I sleep better when the Cuters are in the house. TBG and I are usually up and dressed by 7 and in the gym or on the road by 8. This weekend, though, I needed the alarm to get me up to put the turkey in the oven and to take the Little Cuter to the airport for her morning flight and I seriously considered rolling over and letting Amster work out by herself Sunday morning. Some part of it might have been that we were staying up late with the kids, but I really think it's that I can see, with my own eyes, that right now right here everybody is fine.
Last year, G'ma had bilateral broken ankles and was stoned on Oxycontin. She fell asleep in her plate (thankfully, before the food was on it). This year, she was giggling with the Little Cuter over photos and whatever else beloved grand-daughters and G'ma's share. I have to remember that things sometimes do get better.
Hines Ward should be ashamed of himself. Not only for the outfit he was wearing while talking to Bob Costas on Sunday night, but for saying that he played with concussions and that it was a personal thing whether or not Ben Roethlisberger should be on the field against the Ravens. NOT..... the NFL is finally recognizing that brain damage and football and concussions are related and here's the Steelers' best receiver dissing the quarterback for protecting his noggin. It's hard enough to parent without having sports stars encouraging young athletes to ignore medical advice in order to prove their manhood.
During the Colts game today, CBS Sports was advertising a 20% discount on all NFL gear. At least TBG and the Big Cuter and I thought it was all NFL gear, but the lovely Shamika at the help desk insisted that jerseys were excluded. If there were exclusions on the screen at the sports bar we certainly didn't see them. I wasn't taking no for an answer, but she and her supervisor convinced me to accept free expedited upgraded shipping in exchange for disappointing me in the price point department. I'm not convinced that our memories are wrong, but I really wasn't getting anywhere by digging my heels in and the Big Cuter wanted the jersey and Shamika was truly lovely so I bought it. My New York shopper's cred just took a big hit.
There's an upside to having a local airport with no direct flights to anyplace anyone would want to go - there's never any traffic in the departures drop-off area.
Rambo is on tv as I type. The boys are having a better time remembering lines from Hot Shots:Part Deux than they are watching an extremely hot young Sly Stallone kill a helicopter with a bow and arrow.
Finally, thank you Schmutzie for including A Love Story and a Rant in 5 Star Friday last week. It's nice to know that somebody thinks the Burrow is worth sharing.

Friday, November 27, 2009

And this is what it looked like after 8 hours of cooking and eating and cleaning up and eating some more.

We were thankful and joyful and now are tryptophan-coma-ing on the couch.

Have a wonderful weekend - I'll be back on Monday with more musings. For now, I'm going to bask in the wonderfulness that is my whole family under one roof.


Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thanksgiving Day

For my happy, healthy family

for my friends, near and far, old and new and old-and-found-again

for the abundance of goodness I see every day

for the richness of the world I inhabit

for the joy I find in simple things,

I am truly grateful.

Happy Thanksgiving to you all !!
There's a bonus post below.... it's a Wednesday 2-fer!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Thanksgiving (Wednesday)

This is the weirdest day of the holiday weekend. If it's not a day of arrivals, and it's not a day of grocery shopping, it's merely a day of waiting. And it's not like a Jewish holiday, which starts the night before thus giving the day a special designation (erev Thanksgiving just doesn't sound hebraic, does it?). Instead it just sits here, waiting for something to happen.

The Cuters slept in, TBG spent the morning in the gym, and I took a totally unexpected nap on the couch from 8 til 10am. Satisfied the Big Cuter's craving for a chicken fajita burrito at Chipotle while drinking a Coke and smiling at the adult version of my little boy. Went for a fancier lunch with the Little Cuter and TBG, and watched the two of them hold their head at the same angle as they perused their exact same sandwiches. Met with the roofer and the exterior lighting guys and read Anne Perry in the sunshine. All four of us drove back to the gym this afternoon, and now we're trying to decide what to have for dinner.

If the kids lived nearby, there would be nothing unusual about this day. But because they've traveled and packed and are now visitors instead of inhabitants I feel like there should be more made of the fact that they are here. But they're happy to just be and my predilection to assume the role of social director is stymied. I've got Mommy-guilt to the max; I feel like we ought to be doing something.

And we're not. And everyone is content.

I suppose that I should just let it go and relax....... but I'm a MOM........ I've not mastered that particular skill just yet.

Thanksgiving (Tuesday Evening)

I've been thinking about family and friends, as The Cuters make their way to the desert southwest for a family-only Thanksgiving. They're at their respective airports hours early, as befits a TBG-spawned human, and if the weather holds out they'll arrive in Tucson within an hour of each other. The Little Cuter will be arriving first and promises to be hungry; I'm bringing pot roast and fresh baked bread so she can feast while we await her brother. TBG thinks I'm silly; I flash to Daddooooo meeting me at LaGuardia with a bag of bagels and oranges and Coca-Cola and some chocolate candies for himself. I'm smiling as I pack the snack sack.

C&B were planning to join us, as they have every year since we've been sharing a state. Alas and alack, medical issues have altered their plans; when did we get old enough to have our bodies get in the way of life? Of course, there was the Thanksgiving when TBG and my brother and I drove 350 miles over the river and through the woods from Chicago to Nannie and Grandpaw's house, stopping at every rest area so TBG could throw up. Stomach flu seems to haunt him in late November, which is a shame because Thanksgiving is his favorite holiday. But we still went on the trip; he was young enough and healthy enough to manage the inconvenience. C&B are dealing with more serious issues and we'll have to be thankful for having them in our lives from afar this year. Don't the sickness gods recognize that we have certain traditions that ought to be respected? Perhaps they didn't get the memo.

Last year our Minneapolis snow birds invited themselves to our celebration; it was nice to know that they felt comfortable enough to announce that they were invite-less and wanted to join us. He even volunteered to cook the turkey, since he'd done it at his own home forever and ever. We accepted her offer of brownies and let him make the gravy in exchange for putting two more chairs at the table.

Amster's kids are still too young to do a grown-up Thanksgiving. Though she laughingly asks them if they were raised by wolves, being the only children at a grown-up table would put stress on even the most well-behaved 4 and 6 year olds. She's taking them to a house with other kids and a heated pool and spa. That seems to be an exceptionally wise parenting maneuver.

The Bride's mom called this afternoon to wish us a happy holiday, and the answering machine bears R-Squared's hope that we enjoy our turkey. The mailbox delivered cards from Maryland and New Jersey and my email inbox is full of Thanksgiving cheer. We may be just the 5 of us, but we're certainly surrounded by a cloud of holiday love.

I'm basking in the glow of it all.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Finding Friends at Wally-World

Walking in Walmart is my new way to make friends, it seems.

About a month or so ago, one of the Acquasizers accosted me outside the cereal aisle, up against the Lays Originals on sale at only $2/bag. For 15 minutes, she tried to convince me that I really truly absolutely had to abandon my current work-out plan and follow hers, including Aquatica, of course. I nodded politely at first, since I had no idea who she was when she hugged (with some force, I might add) her hello. Random love in Wally-World...... I'd have been nervous except she greeted me by name so she obviously knew who I was. Had TBG been there, he'd have realized immediately that I didn't remember her name, and he'd have rescued me by sticking out his hand and introducing himself, in the hope that she'd tell him her name in return. But, there I was, all alone by the generic corn flakes, listening to her re-arrange my life. When she'd finished her harangue she moved on while expressing her fervent desire that we share another work-out real soon.

I don't think so..... but it was nice of her to offer.

Had a long talk with the middle school track stars selling candy outside Wally's main doors last spring. They were raising money to send themselves to a meet somewhere far.... they knew the name of the school which was hosting the event, but there was some confusion as to its exact location.... New Mexico.... Texas..... someplace 9 hours on a please buy our candy bars so we can rent it bus. The parents were guarding the cash box and smiling proudly and letting the girls do the talking, and then one of the mom's walked into the store with me to help me find my hiking poles. I'm not sure how the conversation veered from 12 year old sprinters to 50-something hikers, but it did and she knew just where my poles were lurking and was delighted to escape the heat and take me right to them.

I wish I'd gotten her name and number.

So today, when I came upon the same 3 people near the dry goods (does anyone but me know that this means items which are not hardware or groceries?) as we examined the towels and then again as they were blocking the light bulbs and then again in front of the cold cases filled with milk I wasn't really surprised that we began a conversation. We'd started with "Excuse Me"'s and moved through "You, again??"'s and ended up sharing where did you live and why are you here and which did you like the most and where do you shop for.... and after sharing Chicago and New York and Pennsylvania and Florida stories I handed the bridge-playing 80-going-on-60 mother the Burrow's business card and we went our separate ways.

Riding into town to shop used to be an adventure. Think of the Bennett women shopping for ribbons and seeing Mr. Darcy and the Bingley's arrival through the haberdasher's window. Think of Michael Landon and his girls tying up the buckboard in front of the general store on that windswept street in town. Remember the Wells Fargo wagon a-coming to River City, with the whole town lining the way? There are greetings and information is exchanged and the socializing is as important as the buying.

Shopping at this time of year is not always easy and the stores are filled with amateurs but, for me, the socializing is part of the fun. We're all in it together, and, perhaps because of the season, there's a little more willingness to let the lady with the cane and only one item cut ahead of you in line. And then there are the random encounters with strangers who, I hope, will become readers.

Because I went out into the world today and I made some new friends.

Monday, November 23, 2009

REAL Books

My readers do love their books.

Friday's post garnered more comments than anything the Burrow has seen in its lifetime. And what lovely comments they are. It seems that I am not the only library scofflaw here in the blogosphere, and that paying up is not a problem for either of us. I knew I liked you!

Loving real books has kept me from being an early Kindle adopter. The thought of having any book I want immediately available is nearly orgasmic..... but I won't really have the book then, will I? The real, palpable sensation of the paper between my fingers makes a difference to me. Dick Francis writes on bright white paper with a sharp edged easy to read font. Faye Kellerman has put Blindman's Bluff on a thick ecru with feathery edges that make me feel like I'm holding personalized stationary.

My Ulysses is printed on an almost slick off white surface that is absolutely perfect for writing notes -

and Ulysses, if it is nothing else, is a text which requires notes.

The Aubrey/Maturin series looks like the early 1800's it represents -the font is old fashioned and the pages are small and have an organic/not over-processed thickness.

G'ma and Daddooooo's oversized Merriam-Webster dictionary was my first exposure to onionskin pages. Without being told, I knew that I should be gentle and my hands should be dry and I should turn each page separately and carefully. I remember the shiny white background of the flags page, too, and I'm still flummoxed - how many books have different paper stocks within their bindings?

I suppose the World Book's human body overlays fit into that category.
I thought they were strange when I first saw them. Still do, actually.

My copy of Edith Hamilton's Plato looks like a prayer book both inside and out.

Which fits, if you think of Plato as the quintessential rabbi .... given that rabbi translates to teacher.

Our cousin (I claim her even though she's actually TBG's side of the family because she's one of the good cousins and I want my share!) The Diva understood my pain and reassured me that her Kindle is totally wonderful and encouraged me to buy one right away but even though I love her and she's a perfect parent (we agree on everything) and a great cousin for the Cuters I am just not convinced.

On general principles, I'm opposed to buying something that I cannot touch before purchasing. I want to go to a store and pick one up and sit in a variety of chairs and walk outside and see how it works in all the ways that I read a book and that just can't be done. I'm sorry. I am not cool enough to have a friend who is an early adopter. I have no one to show me hers and let me play for a while. I need a retail outlet. And though I love Amazon in so many ways and have for so many years I am peeved beyond belief that this technology is not more accessible to me.

I read reviews that talk about glare and font size and ease of use and I can't go any further. One of my favorite things about books is that they work without being plugged in. They don't make noise, they don't run out of power, they don't require another entity to connect with .... they're waiting there at any time of the day or night and as long as there is some illumniation you're good to go.

I know that books feel right in my hands and glare can be eliminated by turning my body around so the sun isn't in my eyes when I'm reading rather than by building a shelter for my electronic reader. Ease of use??? C'mon, people, you open the binding and there you are - reading. There's no waiting for the book to boot up onto the screen. The pleasure is there whenever you can take it.

Linda Fairstein's Lethal Legacy is set in the New York Public Library, and the collection is a major character. It was a wonderful counterpoint to be reading about Alex and Mercer and Mike in one of my favorite buildings, interrogating witnesses with lines like "Your library is your portrait..." while I was composing this love note to real books.

This is a topic to which much more attention will be given.

Friday, November 20, 2009

A Love Story and A Rant

I am living an embarassment of riches.

After several months of waiting not all that patiently, I reached the top of the reserve list for Sara Paretsky's latest oeuvre . It now shares a shelf with Linda Fairstein and James Patterson and Anne Perry and Faye Kellerman, occupying the space just vacated by Patricia Cornwell. I am surrounded by library treasures and they didn't cost me a dime. I just had to show up with some identification and a utility bill proving that I actually live where I said I live and that was that. They gave me a pretty library card

(actually, it was mailed to the address I gave them..... just in case I had forged my gas bill, I guess...) and welcomed me to the community.

I've thanked Ben Franklin for the idea before, so I won't go there right now. Instead, I'm just going to gush. I've loved libraries in ....

Chicago under the Fullerton El tracks, from whose stacks I read all of Agatha Christie, armed with a xerox-ed list of titles which I crossed off as I found them on the shelves.

Ithaca under McGraw Tower, where the Andrew Dickson White Library

Courtesy of the

was the scene of some epic naps curled in the sofa looking down Libe Slope, but also where I rediscovered reading for pleasure after graduating in December but hanging around campus til May.

New York City's iconic Main Reading Room, waiting patiently for a minion to find my title within the vast expanses of the shelves to which they, and only they, had access, then sitting on my wooden chair at my section of the wooden table with the wooden barrier between my work and my neighbors' and feeling smart.

Tiburon, basking in the glow of a peninsula coming together to raise a proper library and, in the process, creating a community center touching 5th graders working on a project in the glass enclosed group room and AARP members learning to send emails to their grandkids at the media center in the middle of the room and gardeners sharing their bounty -- you have to love a place that has a waiting list for those who want to donate one of the weekly arrangements.

Oceanside, where Miss Carroll remembered my name and always had a really really good suggestion for me and where no one laughed when I said that I was going to be like Francie in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and read all the books in the library in alphabetical order.
(I got somewhere into the B's before I gave up....)

So today, when I realized that a Jeffery Deaver novel had taken up permanent residence in my trunk, I stopped in to return it and pick up Hardball. The self-check-out terminal gently directed me to the Information Desk where I was informed, regretfully and sorrowfully, that I owed $5.50 in fines. I handed over a crisp Lincoln and, before I could get into my change purse the librarian said, "Oh, y'know what, this will be just fine." And she closed the cash drawer.

I was stunned. This was a debt I had incurred knowingly - I had seen The Broken Window in my trunk for 2 weeks, and I'd received an email reminding me to return it, and I'd driven past the library or forgotten it when I'd gone in and I owed them the whole amount and I was going to pay it. I had 2 quarters and a nickel and I made her take the extra 5cents because I was making a point:

Libraries are to be cherished and supported and nurtured and skipping out on fines just is not right.

But I waxed even more eloquent, there at the Information Desk, in front of this poor librarian who was only trying to do me a favor and make me smile. I went on to taking responsibility for one's actions and from there segued nicely into there have to be consequences and was just about to launch into specific examples when I realized that there was a line of people behind me and that, perhaps, just maybe, it might be possible that my voice was a tad louder than the inside voices good parents insist be used in libraries.

I took my book and left.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

(More) Adventures in BCBSAZ-Land

TBG got a thoughtful and lovely letter last week from our friendly health insurer. No, I am not delusional. This clearly written in a fairly large font one page missive was an easily understood reminder of the fact that his benefit package included help with managing disease.

Managing disease is not a phrase you want to see in a personal letter from your insurance carrier.

We were confused. Just this summer our doctor declared TBG a marvel of health and vitality. I wondered about it from a paperwork angle - who input erroneous information which would be used to jack up our rates once again? - and from a medical angle - what did they know that we didn't?

I was perplexed but not worried until this morning when the answering machine revealed Kathy's message. Kathy's a nurse with BCBSAZ and she, too, was offering to help manage TBG's mysterious disease. Don't get me wrong - I'm not complaining about this part at all. Her voice was calm and inviting and welcoming and totally relaxed and some part of me wished that we really did have a disease she could help us manage. Nope, we wouldn't mind having her in our lives on a regular basis, reminding us to get a flu shot and watch the trans-fats and complimenting us on going to the gym and getting a good night's sleep and eating a nutritious breakfast and all those things you have to watch out for by yourself once your Mom stops doing it for you. She could call me every morning with a reminder and......

OK, I digress. But really, when have you been drawn to a voice on an answering machine????

Nice as she sounded, at this point I knew I had to take action. TBG listened to Kathy and promised that he had not been hiding any ailments from my wifely instrusiveness and we agreed to try to call her and see what she thought was wrong with him. And so I began dialing.

As a recovering-social-worker I have paid my dues on the-line-is-busy-please-hold queue and my technique is flawless : speaker phone+redial+checking email+listening to 92.9 streaming live=less stress. Note that the equation does not result in speaking with someone; that is a matter of chance. My chance came at about 2pm - the phone was actually ringing.

Kathy is as good on the phone as she is on the answering machine. She was moved by the fact that her line had been busy all day, and she accepted my reassurance that I totally understand being busy with a gentle laugh. There was a real person at the other end of my line who was actually listening to what I was saying and who was believing me. Smart and kind.... how often does that show up in your life?

She let me tell my story and ask my question and she didn't need to hear any identifying information other than TBG's name. She remembered calling him. I was beginning to get weirded out big time - he wasn't an anonymous robo-call recipient, he was TBG and Kathy was worried about him..... or so her phone call led us to believe..... and the us included Kathy because (finally, a chink in her perfect armor!!!) though she had to look him up to see exactly what was wrong, she knew that there must have been a reason she was calling.

Blood tests...... diabetes work up ..... lab results....... oh, I see......

Apparently, the act of ordering laboratory tests to check for the presence of diabetes sets off a chain of letters and phone calls offering support, regardless of the results of those tests. Since TBG's letter didn't refer to a specific disease, and since Kathy had to search to find the specifics of his case, I'm assuming that BCBSAZ sends these communications out to everyone who's been tested for a chronic disease.

It's a really nice service, and probably a very useful resource, and I'm glad to see my insurer reaching out to help before things go from bad to worse, but what if I hadn't had the time to spend re-dialing Kathy's line all day? What if I'd ignored the letters because I was afraid to find out what they were writing about? I have a history of not opening mail that I think will be bad news (NB: I do not recommend this as a course of action for anyone at any time in any place!). I'd just be worrying and wondering and not acting and BCBSAZ would be sending dead trees through the USPS wondering why I wasn't interested in caring for myself with their already paid for so why not use it help.

And then there are the wasted resources - snail mail and stamps and gas for the mail carrier and my time and Kathy's time. And I'm still going to worry that the simple fact of having ordered the tests will have some impact on our premiums come next November's of-course-they-are-going-up annual rate adjustment. And all that could be one reason that health care costs have run amok.

But Kathy rightly pointed out that broadcasting this program widely catches many who would otherwise never see it, and she promised to take TBG off her list right away.

I have the answer to my question. I spent an lovely 12 minutes talking to Kathy. We won't be getting any more confusing communiques. I should shut up and stop right now.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Tuesdays With G'ma

G'ma and I went bowling with the Happy Ladies Club yesterday.

When I stopped by the pod-castle just after 9am, she was curled up snug as a bug in a rug in her comforter. Without her glasses on, she could only see my outline until I bent down to kiss her hello. I guess the caregivers don't include that service in their daily rounds, because she knew it was I, even with her eyes closed. I do love having a mother around.

I'd come to remind her that I'd be back at 11:30 to collect her for lunch. As she sank deeper into her blankets to resume the sleep I'd so rudely interrupted, I left with little confidence that she'd remember to get up and get ready. I backtracked and left her a written reminder on the seat of her walker. I do wish my mother could remember her itinerary on her own.

But later, when I knocked and then opened her door, her fully clothed, ready and waiting self greeted me with a smile and a laughing remonstrance: "It's 11:31. I've been waiting." So much for worrying. As always, when something involving her children had to be done and done right, G'ma never missed a beat. I do love having a mother around.

We shared a caesar salad and a chicken-pesto-shaved romano thin but really tasty crust pizza and had leftovers for the newspaper seller in the intersection. The wait staff flirted with her and she did her cute little old lady thing and everyone told her how adorable she was. In the past, this would have set her teeth on edge; adorable was never something to which she aspired. Intelligent or competent perhaps, if she were to allow any complimenting at all. When asked about her reluctance to accept the nice words thrown her way, she reflected on her parents' Socialism and their constant reminders that, despite her A+ report cards and perfect Shirley Temple ringlets, she was no better than anyone else. Every once in a while whole relevant memories like these spring to the part of her brain that's remembering at the moment and she tells me stories I've never heard before, with emotions she's never shown before. I miss the old G'ma, but I do love having this version of my mother around.

We had some extra time ("To go with the extra food," according to G'ma) so we went shopping for the essentials : chocolate and Fixodent. Such is the 9th decade of life. On the theory that you can never over-pay your caregivers but knowing that they cannot accept gratuities other than food stuffs, this just had to be purchased for them as a Thanksgiving Thank You:

Of course, G'ma kept forgetting that the sampler wasn't for her. "This is an awfully big box, don't you think?" I smiled to myself everytime I reminded her that it was for the helpers at the pod-castle. I do so love having my mother around.

(The apple is there to demonstrate just how big this box really is.... we stopped traffic in the aisles of Walgreens as we carted it to the cashier.)

She kibbitzed while we bowled, and supervised the opening and en-bowling of the Hershey's Kisses and plain M&M's once we got back to her suite and I watched in astonishment as the stream of visitors began. The word had gone out that G'ma had new chocolate and before I could unwrap the mini-Hershey bars (milk chocolate and she doesn't care if dark is better for you because she likes milk chocolate and you don't want to get between G'ma and her chocolate if you know what's good for you) three different people had dropped by for a sample. G'ma was the gracious hostess, circa Jewish-mother-1955: "Please, take another. Don't be so stingy with yourself." If it takes chocolate to bring the party to her room, she'll never be without. I love that they love having my mother around.

A truth (after all, the Burrow's masthead promises them....) that surprises me is the equanimity with which I am now able to accept the-woman-who-is-inhabiting-my-mother's-body as Mommy. I have given up trying to re-make her into her old self. Age and a hospitalization gone awry have robbed her of the capacity to retrieve newly received information. To say that she can't remember, though, seems to imply that she has the capacity to create and store the information. I try to pry this mystery apart with her every once in a while, but she really can't give shape to the situation. And so I let it be, and go with the flow, and chill out and somehow I've gotten to a place of not worrying. She's happy and living with people who like her and she returns the favor and what more could I ask?

I do so love having my mother around.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009


I'm beginning to feel that holiday spirit. It's cool when I go out to get the newspapers and last night I could-have-but-didn't-and-it-didn't-matter-anyway covered my newly planted specimens to protect them from the "temps near freezing" predicted on the news updates during the Colts/Patriots game. I am motivated to collect the old sheets and thin blankets, though, so that when it really does get down in the 30's I am prepared. Because being prepared is what it's all about right now.

The pantry has to be stocked with all the unsweetened chocolate, almond and vanilla extracts, sugar, King Arthur Unbleached Flour (it really does make a difference), light Italian dressing, Pepperidge Farm Herbed Stuffing (not the cubes, the shredded kind), noodles, chicken stock, jello, crackers, taco seasoning packets, and ketchup and mustards (yes, plural) and barbeque sauce --- so that when ever anyone asks for anything I only need the fresh stuff. This is not the time of year to be surprised by the absence of staples in the larder. I need to be prepared for random requests for favorite foods, because that's a big part of what coming home for the holidays entails.

For example: The Little Cuter could hardly wait to get home from the airport so she could leave the house to see her friends when she came in for Thanksgiving from the Big 10 her freshman year. Sure, she was glad to see us, but we were the white bread to her social life, and her friends were the multi-grain.... they were much more interesting, though we'd do in a pinch. She changed her tune when she walked through the door, though. Suddenly she was on the phone, "I'll be a little later than I'd planned. Mom made pot roast."

Planning ahead leads to seduction by smell. I never want to disappoint a Cuter who wants a special treat, and I'm obviously not above abusing the point to get what I want.

Preparation is important for wrapping, packing and shipping, too. I have located all the rolls of wide tape and their dispensers
and I've counted and assessed the pre-printed USPS shipping materials and have evaluated the amount and condition of the bubble-wrap and styrofoam peanuts and brown paper I've accumulated in the corner of the garage. I've ordered more little boxes, and I've found the list I made last January detailing what I needed for 2009 (Hanukah tags, white tissue paper, green and red and blue corded ribbon). My plan is to be fully stocked by December 1st, ready for the first round of gift sending.

The address book is updated, and I've begun to establish who will be where for which holiday. Keeping track of nieces and nephews and the children of friends is becoming more of a logistical nightmare than it was when they were all living under their parents' roofs. I'm not complaining .... well, OK, I am complaining but it's the kind of complaining elves get to do when they are gearing up for the main event and I do believe I have a special dispensation to moan and groan just a little before I get started.

Because once I get started, it's non-stop good smells, pretty paper, "remember this?" moments from now until 2010.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Random Thoughts

MTF and I walked a lot in Manhattan. Our hotel was centrally isolated - we could walk anywhere in any direction and something wonderful would turn up. The same can't really be said for Tucson. Walking here is an exercise in hope and optimism - hope that there will be sidewalks and optimism that the cars won't ram into me if there aren't.

Why do some rolls of chicken wire cut easily, while others visciously resist the tin snips? Arguing with sharp pointy edged metal graph paper while trying not to step on a newly planted Callandria is not my idea of a good time.

Went to ARBICO on Thursday for a gardening field trip. Non-chemical pest control involves buckets of maggots which they were happy to pull out in the Insectarium and that was where Rick lost me, although the fly-covered Insect A-Peel in the veggie garden was a close second in terms of things I don't care to ever see again in what I hope will be a long and event-filled life.

On the other hand, listening to him talk about how the first Earth Day showed him the path his life was meant to take was as validating an experience as I've had in a long time. It's nice to know that our good intentions were actually rewarded. And it's also nice to see someone who told his high school classmates that he was going to grow up and become an environmentalist -- and who is doing just that while making a profit.

And his stuff is great - wonder why there are no flies surrounding those gorgeous hats in the paddocks at Churchill Downs on Derby Day? Ask the ARBICO workers who were wearing Fly Eliminator t-shirts.

I left without asking how to buy one.

The problem with not going to Board Meetings is that those who do attend tend to talk about you. And to solve problems they have with you without consulting you. And to define the problems in their terms. And the challenge is to laugh it off. I'm trying. Believe me, I'm trying.

I went to the mall on Saturday afternoon to start my holiday shopping. Managing coupons and discounts and on-line product codes was enough of a challenge without the screaming children running riot in the aisles of Express. The beleaugered saleswoman's apology, "They've been here for an hour like that" only made it worse.

Being me, I chastised the loudest 5 year old, reminding him that there were grown-ups in the store who didn't appreciate his behavior. He looked through me, then started running and yelling again. I felt like I was witnessing Chapter One of Education of an Axe-Murderer.

I shopped at The Limited and was handed a book of coupons as I checked out. They're offering a 30% discount on Friday. I don't need the clothes I bought until December 25th. The salesclerk looked at me as if I were speaking ancient Aramaic when I asked him to adjust the charges to reflect the 30% discount so that I didn't have to come back on Friday, return these clothes and then buy them again with the coupon.

It was a toss-up which one of us was the most aggravated by the time the encounter ended.


And so it goes......

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Friday, November 13, 2009

Parents as Emotional Loofahs

We don't have these long phone calls very often. G-chat served us well until her employer blocked her access, but emails and texts and the occasional quick question that requires an actual voice-to-ear phone call still keeps us all relatively well-informed of one another's ups and downs.

But every once in a while the land line (yes, we still have a land line) rings at dinner time and it's the Little Cuter, calling to say "Hi!" She's on the speaker phone so TBG and I can listen and smile at each other at the same time in the same place and easily shift off answering instead of talking over each other's voice on an extension. Her physical and financial health is our first priority - do I need to send a bottle of Excedrine Migraine to her at the office or will she remember to bring in one of the 27 little bottles she has at home? Should she have yet another restorative cup of green tea, the wonder cure for the eye-closing-brain-numbing headache followed by the dull-ache-throbbing sensation? These are things a mommy must ask, and they are answered dutifully because she knows that I have to ask them.

That's the balance you strike when you are parenting grown-ups. Years ago, the Little Cuter and I were having one of those arguments mothers and daughters have in the car when I interrupted and asked if her friends' relationships with their mothers were are difficult as ours seemed to be. She nearly plowed the car into Andre Agassi's oleander (yes, they really were his oleander) as she turned to me (the car follows your eyes, Little Cuter !!!) and said "OMG, none of my friends have as good a relationship as we do, Mom."

I felt like I'd just made Dean's List in Teen Parent University.

Never one to let well enough alone, I began to expostulate on what made us so special. She was going off to the Big 10 in 4 months; her whereabouts known only to her from then on. How could I hope to give her anything more than advice at this point? She didn't really need parenting any more. If TBG and I hadn't instilled it in her already, there wasn't much we could do about it in April of her senior year in high school. (G'ma deserves credit for that line - when asked how she could possibly allow me, her soon to be a freshman daughter, to live in one of the first co-ed dorms in the country, she said basically the same thing - "If she doesn't know it now, she'll never know it.")

This did not mean that I was through with her, though. Everyone needs a mother, and she had me. I do not mince my words. I am honest, though I try to be kind. I have no compunctions about telling you that you are wrong even when it's really none of my business. I comment on everything and anything and, because I am your mother, you have to listen. That's all. You just have to listen, with love in your heart and a smile, even a rueful OMG I can't believe she's on this again smile, on your face. Because I am your mother.

Were I to consider this parenting, there would be an expectation of obedience in my ranting and raving, along the lines of the 5th Commandment. But I consider this being a mother, so you can feel free to do what you want because I trust you. I just worry..... and have opinions... and think I know better..... because I am your Mom.

A mother's love has no boundaries, and she is interested in every nook and cranny of your life and has an opinion on the lint she finds in those spaces and you have to listen to it.... up to the point where you tell me that enough is enough. And then I will stop. Because you don't need a parent - you're functioning as a grown up all on your own and doing quite nicely, thank you - but you do need a mother. Everybody needs a mother.

So she calls and she and TBG discuss the business world and what she's learning and how she's growing and then we're on to how happy she is right now not wearing gloves in Chicago's balmy November temps and the snooze-fest that is Biggest Loser this season and the newly posted wedding pictures from our Labor Day adventure in Chicago and all of a sudden we're hearing a deep sigh and out pours her fear and worry and sorrow and anguish for the child of dear friends and for the friends and for her helplessness and her anger and for a while we wallowed in the depth of her reaction.

Between us, TBG and I apparently said all the things that she had been thinking as we tried to help, because after trading the phone back and forth we all realized that we'd been saying the same things for the last 30 minutes. We must be right - we all agree. And we all feel better saying it out loud and being acknowledged by others whose judgment we trust, as if we'd exfoliated the feelings.

Or, as TBG said : Parents as emotional loofahs.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

The Right Stuff

I hiked without my camera on Monday. It was about 4 miles of relatively easy terrain covered comfortably with old friends. No need for a big pack with room for 2 water bottles, lunch, binoculars, GPS, whistle, map, compass, a field guide or two, the thermal blanket pack, a LaraBar, extra batteries, lip gloss, Sudafed, Excedrine Migraine, eye drops and whatever articles of clothing I might need to remove as I went along.

Just the ergonomically angled bottle-key-ID holder and my poles.

Daddooooo made hiking sticks out of fallen limbs from the pin oak in his backyard, and they're sentimental and pretty and functional and every once in a while I take one along just to feel that Daddooooo's by my side. But there are no two of them which are exactly the same height, and they're impossible to attach to any pack I want to carry. Like Daddooooo himself, their hearts are in the right place, but the execution is somewhat lacking.

Wally-World is a great place to shop for hiking gear if you know exactly what you want. You're not going to be presented with a wide array of competing brands or models or options. There won't be any salespeople offering to help you choose. But if you know that you're looking for SwissGear collapsible poles because you don't really want to invest in carbon fiber and titanium spring-loaded-shock-absorber-equipped-almost-weightless-and-wildly-expensive sticks, head right over to Wal-Mart and pay less than $20 for either the red ones or the blue ones. They shrink right up to nothing-ness and fit neatly in the straps on all my packs. I can adjust them and re-adjust them and collapse them and as long as I am careful not to over-tighten them there's nothing that can go wrong. I don't even mind taking the time to think about being careful; I try to tread carefully when I'm out communing with Mother Nature and the poles seem to fit right in. Yes, I love my poles.

I'm having issues with water bottles. My favorite ones were made with ingredients that turned up on some kind of destroy-it-before-it-kills-you list and once they were gone (I had to throw them out.... I couldn't donate something that toxic, could I???..... and they weren't really pretty enough to become flower vases) they were gone. Of course, the dangerous ones were the ones I liked the best. They didn't leak. They were light. They kept the ice cold for a long time. They were distinctive in shape/color/texture/design so that I could easily recognize mine on the picnic table as we stopped for lunch. And, most important of all, I could drink from them.

Do not laugh. Haven't you had your lip pinched or your teeth abused or your shirt-front drenched or worse, stared impotently at the container you've just filled, unable to extricate the water from its depths? I know that I have. And I know that one of the hikers on Monday has, too, because she was taking the blue top off the mouthpiece of her Camelback waterbottle in order to get at the water inside. Nope, she didn't know that you had to bite the blue thing gently between your teeth while holding the bottle perpendicular to the ground. That's right, you don't tip this one up the way you drink everything else "from the bottle". This puppy has a real live straw! No squeezing the sides or tilting.... just nip and suck.

Watching her amazement when I suggested that she try it my way was very reassuring. I'd spent 15 minutes that morning trying to figure the damn thing out myself, until I noticed that the tag which was annoying my nose contained the operating instructions. At least I wasn't the only one.

(We never bought Capri Sun packets for just this very reason -- none of us, Cuters or parents or sitter, could get the straw in the hole without bending and breaking the sipper or spraying ourselves. Some things should be easy to use or not used at all.)

Now that I don't feel like the only fool in town, I think I'll get a somewhat larger Camelback. I took it when I walked to the gym today, and it made the transition nicely. I think I may like them as much as I like my poles and my packs.


Wednesday, November 11, 2009

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

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

Remember :
Say "THANK YOU !!" to someone who served.
And, perhaps, a moment of silence at 11am.....when the shooting stopped forever..........
the first time.

(today's regular post is below)

Things I Used to Know

Prompt Tuesday wants me to wax eloquent on "I never knew" but I'm not in a very negative mood.

I do have a similar prompt in my journal, though. I've titled a page "Things I Used to Know" and I bet a lot of you used to know them, too. So, let's play:

Question #1: Can you name this dinosaur? (Scoring is arbitrary and explained below.)

Arbitrary Scoring: Award yourself 3 extra points if you referenced the Flintstones' quarry, and 4 extra points for remembering the Sinclair Dinosaur.

But lose two points if you called it a brontosaurus.

Apparently, sometime between my childhood and the birth of the Big Cuter, the correct answer became apatasaurus. Not that the mis-nomer was a recent discovery. Nope, according to Mike Taylor, the change was made in 1903. But the popular press had been pretty impressed with the thunder lizard and turned up its collective printing presses at the thought of calling the long necked vegetarian a deceptive lizard instead. Brontosaurus he was, and brontosaurus he remained.... certainly through the 1950's and '60's when I might have noticed him on one of my many trips to the American Museum of Natural History.

So, given that he has been Apatasaurus for a very long time, what was it about the early 1980's that had children's books changing his name? My memories are hazy with the smog of diapers and pre-schools and babysitters. I know disco was dead, but Raffi is about all the popular music I can conjure from that time. There were elections and disasters and of those I have a vague recollection, but somewhere around the time that I was setting fire to the stove by letting the water evaporate from the pan containing the boiling/sterilizing baby bottle nipples which left them in a pile of goo which became increasingly hotter and melted and then burst into flames just as I was paying the pizza delivery guy and the fire extinguisher was on the other side of the fire under the sink....... anyway, sometime between my childhood and the Big Cuter's emerging interest in the Mesozoic Era, the publishing world seemed to have gotten a conscience. Or else a copy of the International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature's latest Bulletin, because suddenly I couldn't find a book that validated Bronty.

No one told me about it. It just happened. Of course, the Big Cuter had fallen victim to my ignorance, and now he, too, shares my disdain for what turns out to be our favorite sauropod's proper name.

This was a fact in the Science category to which I knew the answer. What happened to certainty, I ask you?

OK, end of Rant 1.... how many points did you give yourself?
Ready to play again????

Question #2 Name the parts of the atom.

Arbitrary Scoring: If you graduated from high school before 1973 and have named more than 3 parts, give yourself a pat on the back and as many points as you feel you deserve. If you are My Very Own Private Hell High School Class of 1977 or any class since then, call your school board and ask for a refund. Those of you a little bit in the middle can read the explanation and decide for yourselves what you deserve.

Apparently, once again, what I thought I knew as fact had changed without telling me. I always liked the electrons and the protons revolving around the neutrons. I understood how they were related to the Periodic Table, and I liked feeling smart about that.

All of a sudden, years after I felt the need to read scientific monographs for fun or credit, the word quark began to appear in the New York Times crossword puzzle. What the blazes was a quark???? Or a muon? The The Atomic Energy Commission uses what I knew to be true as its logo.... if they aren't up-to-date on it why in the world should I be?

I think that's a valid question.

There are more questions to come.........

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

I'm in Heaven

I'm giving you fair warning: this may not be a very long post.

I walked home from G'ma's pod-castle today, listening to this week's Car Talk podcast on my iPod and feeling very proud of myself for no reason at all. The temperatures are perfect and most of the snow birds are still clinging to their real homes up north so the traffic around town hasn't reached its full winter proportions. Still, there was enough road noise that Tom and Ray were virtually shouting in my ears in order to be heard. By the time I got home, I was a rather unpleasant combination of exertion and exhaust fumes.

The cupboards are bare, as I go through my annual what am I not going to eat that would be good for the food pantry cleansing. I'm through the first shelf already; the goal is to have it all reviewed and renewed before the Little Cuter shows up to do her Rachael Ray impersonation in my kitchen. Sharing Thanksgiving with a daughter who loves to cook is one of life's great joys. I shop and chop and wash and find and turn on and turn off and she does all the thinking.

That bit of reverie managed to eat up an hour or so of holiday loveliness as I arranged and rearranged the Thanksgiving decorations (Halloween's remains are in a box in the dining room, awaiting last minute forgotten additions). Suddenly it was 4:30 and I still had to go to the post office to mail a birthday card, to the library to return Laura Lippman's story of dysfunctional high school girls, and to the grorcery store to be tempted into cooking dinner.

Showered and changed I was in the car in 11 minutes, sunglasses and a visor substituting for a brush and a blow dryer. Though I admit that I was impressed by the attention New Yorkers paid to their attire, living in the land of the flip-flop has distinct advantages.

Post Office drive throughs are a challenge for me, being a small person in a low(ish) to the ground car, but the card was mailed and the groceries were purchased and I just had to drop off the book in the library's return slot and go home. But there was a perfect parking space in the lot - the spot under the tree in the 3rd row - and I'm reading a James Patterson book so that takes an afternoon and I'm halfway through and what will I read while TBG is communing with the Broncos so I parked and went in and oh, yes, that was a good decision.

Right there, on the first display rack just inside the door, was The Scarpetta Factor. I've finally moved up to number 156 out of 500+ reserves for this book, which means I'd probably see it sometime in April, if I'm lucky. And there it was, smiling up at me from the third shelf - the one just at my eye level.

Yes, it was a sign. Because on those display racks were Faye Kellerman and Anne Perry and Linda Fairstein and I grabbed each one of them and then, because I was in such a good mood I took a chance on Julie Kramer (the new Janet Evanovich, if the book jacket blurb is to be believed) and I went to the self-check-out counter and didn't even get aggravated when it didn't work. I just walked over to the librarian with a big fat grin plastered on my face and nodded when she said "You look happy!"

Because I am happy. Very very happy. I get to spend hours with characters I know written by authors I admire who tell stories that leave me lusting for more. And it's all for free.

I admire Ben Franklin for many things, but I love him for creating the free lending library.

I have to go now. I have reading to do.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Musings on Watching Sports

Caution: Sports esoterica is ahead. You can try to go with the flow, or come back tomorrow for something less arcane.

It became apparent to me, early on in our relationship, that in order to spend any time at all with TBG I was going to have to learn to watch sports on tv. That's a very different set of skills than learning to love sports or playing sports or attending live sporting events. I had to become adept at sitting and staring at men (always men until the Title 9 girls grew up) moving in patterns which were obvious to TBG and a total mystery to me.

My earliest memories of Zaydeh, G'ma's father, involve watching baseball on tv. Bouncing on his shoulders in front of the black and white Zenith in the living room while he hummed Zionist pioneer songs as his Brooklyn Dodgers went about their business. I'd probably have grown up loving baseball as much as Doris Kearns Goodwin except that I was only 5 when the Dodgers made Zaydeh cry. After they left, he lost his passion for baseball. He wasn't cheering for laundry - he was cheering for his home team.

That was the last time I spent with anyone who might have called himself a sports fan. We'd watch the World Series - it was usually the Yankees, after all - and Joe Namath certainly captured our attention, but I never watched games just because they were on until I went to college.

Over the years, I've come to love college basketball (though less so now in the era of one-and-done), and sometimes I can even see the plays unfold on the court. Mostly, no matter what the sport, I watch the athleticism without much understanding the nuances of the games. Basketball's easier to follow - it's only 5 on 5 - than football (I may never live down my "Wait a minute - there are catchers and there are runners????" comment) but it really doesn't matter. While I can always appreciate a stellar performance by and individual, that's not what I see. The boys are watching the strategy, I'm taking in the gestalt.

Most of the time, I ignore the blather from the commentators. I like Cris Collinsworth (which is a good thing since he is everywhere) on tv and I continue to believe that some of the best written journalism in America today lives within the covers of Sports Illustrated. I liked replays with the telestrator in Madden's hands - I might not have understood the subtleties of his point, but I always got the general idea. And I like watching the coaches.

When Mike Nolan wore a suit and tie and Reebok had a hissy fit, I had an opinion. When The BigTuna was with the Jets, Daddooooo scouted their practises at Hofstra and reported on his repartee with Parcells, who always talked to the fans as he left the field. I watched Phil Jackson give Eastern philosphical treatises to multi-hued Dennis Rodman and admired the chutzpah. John Wooden and Mike Ditka and Dusty Baker and Mike Singletary .... I pay attention to the coaches.

I never liked Bill Belichick. His cut-off sweatshirts seem disrespectful to the experience. If you're going to work, and you're going to be in charge, you should take the time to look the part. The cheating scandal was appalling and confirmed my opinion. He's not someone I'd want in my life.

And then there are his assistants. Romeo Crennell went to TBG's beloved Browns and the thud was enormous. Eric Mangini struck out with the Jets and isn't doing much better with those poor Browns, either. Notre Dame is stuck with Charlie Weis and doesn't seem to know what to do about it. At the time it seemed that all three were hired because they'd learned from the master. But the master had a videotaped advantage, so maybe they didn't learn anything at all. Maybe they were just caught up in the soul-less search for an edge that tarnished careers around but never seemed to really touch Belichick.

But then there's Denver this year. What am I to make of Josh McDaniels? Still reeling from the Shanahan departure debacle, the Broncos could have been forgiven for having an off-year. Instead, with a 33 year old at the helm they are 6-1 heading into MNF tonight.

Professionally, McDaniels was with Nick Saban at Michigan State for just one year before joining the Evil Empire in 2001. Basically, he served his entire pro-football apprenticeship under Belichick. I begin to feel creepy.... credit might have to be given......... but wait..... there's hope for those of us who don't want to see any good in the Patriot's leader........ McDaniels has a great football family. He'd been following his father, the high school football coach in Ohio, to practises since he was 5 years old. Thom's won state championships and had the #1 team in the nation and I've got to think that some of that rubbed off on Josh. Maybe when he sat on the sidelines, and maybe when he played quarterback for his Dad, and maybe around the dinner table or in the backyard or in the car on the way to the grocery store, someone imbued this young man with the ability to come in and start to win.

I really want to think it's a family thing.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Reunion - The Final Chapter

Chapter 5 - Well, Not Really Reunion Related
I'm still feeling the glow, but it's fading from the front of my brain to a spot someplace on the 3rd or 4th step. There..... but not setting my mood each morning.

What I'm thinking about now is the wonderfulness that was The City.

Yes, THE CITY. People in Marin or on the North Shore or The Main Line might talk about going into The City, but I'm sorry...... neither San Francisco nor Chicago nor Philly hold a candle to the Big Apple.

Don't get me wrong - I think Chicago is the best city in America today. For livability, culture, outdoor recreation, free events, civic pride..... it's hard to argue the point. San Francisco has a vibe unlike anyplace else and its residents love it and cannot imagine living elsewhere (as the Big Cuter says, "It's insane.... but it's mine") But they're still not New York. No place but Manhattan has that melting pot vibrancy, that bond forged by the shared adversity of living in the concrete jungle.


and San Francisco

mediate the harshness of their hardscapes* by embracing their waterfronts.

I really tried to take a picture of the water from South Street Seaport, but there wasn't an attractive angle. We'd walked there as a destination to remind ourselves that we were on an island, and we'd failed. (I might have had better luck at Battery Park, but it was drizzling and we had dinner plans the day we were headed there so we turned around in the West Village after I ate an expensive and decidedly average cupcake because it was trendy. And because I was in New York and it was a New York thing and that meant something to me.) Anyway......

New York City is comfortable ignoring the waterways that made it what it is today because it doesn't need them to be special. It's not that kind of place. The concrete. The skyscrapers blocking the sun. Traveling underground. This city embraces its solid foundation and keeps the embellishments to a minimum. Sure, Madison Square is an oasis in the urban center, but there's not a lot of greenery there. The trees that line the sidewalks are triumphs of hope and resilience and seem to mock the cigarette butts and iron grates that protect their roots from utter destruction. You have to be tough to live there.

Yet Rhona's face when she said "Yes!" to "You live here, though?" was nearly beatific. I'm serious. The woman is in love with Manhattan. She's not a braggy kinda gal but you could tell that this was something of which she was proud. We talked about reading the canon of Western literature (yes, dead white men for the most part) and not about living in the city, but she was clearly out to dinner with friends while the rest of us were still seriously on vacation. And we were all at the same party.

I have lots more to say about New York, but this is a nice way to end the Reunion stories. The whole thing was so much more than the sum of its parts --- I never understood what that phrase meant quite as fully as I did that weekend. MTF and I, the Park South Breakfast Club, the crowd in Apartment 15F, warm longstanding relationships and friendships sprung from acquaintanceships, not-so-scary Scary Girls and the boy you knew had always hated you giving you a big hug and denying the whole thing. And you let him. Because there was re-uning going on. And it felt great.


*hardscape is a real term - think the opposite of landscape..... anything inanimate in your yard is the hardscape. Does this nomenclature enable you to gaze upon your retaining walls and driveways with new regard? One can only hope.......

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Root...Root...Root for the Home Team

A relative has begun signing her emails "Go Yankees". Conversation at the Happy Ladies Club luncheon today dwelled on Oregon's resurgent football team. Gardeners were meeting for an early dinner and a UofA volleyball game last week.

I am bereft. I have no team for which to cheer. I need a home team.

I love Peyton Manning, and the Little Cuter has outfitted me with a commemorative shirt

but I've never lived in Indianapolis so the Colts can't possibly be my home team.

The Cowboys may have been America's Team, but now, I think, the New Orleans Saints have earned that moniker. They are marvelously undefeated and totally fun to watch and it feels good to be able to share successful vibes with The Big Easy, but, again, they're not my home team.

Orb Kcrob never wears anything but Michigan t-shirts. It's where he went and he's damn proud of it. I find myself in collegiate gear from TBG and the Cuters and myself but I can't seem to make myself wear any of the University of Arizona paraphernalia I have acquired in pre-game shopping excursions. Somehow, the weather was never right for the outfit I'd purchased and a plain red shirt or sweater was just fine, thank you. UofA, though I live here, isn't my home team yet.

You have to live and die with a home team. You have to remember when and have the stories to prove it. Where you were when........ How it felt to watch........ How cold/hot/wet/windy it was that time ....... The stories and their connection to who you were at the time are inextricably intertwined with your sense of self.

I remember when the New York Metropolitans were created. The principal was substituting for our suddenly ailing teacher, and "Will you cheer for the new Mets team?" was the topic he chose to discuss with us. What was the right answer? Would the Mets be trendy and would we feel left behind if we didn't jump on the bandwagon early? Should we turn our allegiance from Babe Ruth and Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris and pinstripes to a stadium in Queens with a team dressed in orange and blue? Weren't the Yankees our home team??

The dichotomy between fans in a two team town became crystal clear to me when we lived in Chicago. Though I spent 9 long months in Hyde Park, on the South Side, my baseball allegiance was formed early on -- on the North Side, in the bleachers of Wrigley Field. We took the train to the games. We stood on Waveland Avenue to buy $2.50 bleacher seats and drank beer and ate peanuts and sang along with whoever was in the announcers box during the 7th inning stretch. The White Sox played in a scary neighborhood; we bought our first house within walking distance of the Cubbies. Planting flowers in the backyard, I could hear the cheers and run inside to see the instant replay. It was the perfect way to watch baseball. Now the Little Cuter and Son-In-Rent have taken up the cause; there's a Cubs room in their apartment where some, but not all, of their memorabilia adorn the walls and bookshelves and windowsills and the rest has spilled over into the otherwise-very-adult living room. They live there and play on an eponymous co-ed softball team. The Cubs are their home team,now.

This summer, our painter, in assessing the house before starting the job, was surprised to hear that I'd never lived with stucco before. "Where did you live?" "New York and Chicago and San Francisco and now Arizona."

His response fits neatly right here: "Boy, what team do you cheer for?"

I want someone to give me credit for avoiding Seinfeld's "cheering for laundry" dismissal of team loyalty. Believe me, it was hard to avoid a rant on the subject. Perhaps... sometime soon...?

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

How to Put the Annoying Into Vacations

I'm talking to Julie from our time share.

Right now, if I were reading this, I would click away to another blog. My heart would be beating rapidly and my palms would be sweaty. My stomach would be churning gurgling bubbling and stabbing me and I would just want the thought to go away NOW.

And yet, I am, in my real life, at this very moment, actually talking to her on speaker phone about the time share.

And I'm only mildly upset. This is a very unusual set of circumstances.

Do you own a time share? Do you understand it? Do you use it? Have you been drawn into the larger time sharing world, joining Interval International? Please please please tell me that you don't vote in the election of officers every year.

My answers to those questions are Yes, No, No, Yes and OMG why don't you leave me alone.

We were sucked into this folly on our house-hunting trip to Phoenix. We decided to take advantage of one of the "2 nights 3 days in a luxury resort" postcards that used to fill our mailbox, back in the 1980's when life was an ever expanding universe of possibilities. Marriott's Desert Ridge Resort (be careful - this link has automatic music that I couldn't turn off) was brand new and gorgeous, and the condos across the road, while a little less upscale in ambience, were absolutely perfect for us. C&B came over and we rode the lazy river and had cocktails under the stars and dined al fresco and, though we didn't like Phoenix as a new home-town, we were growing quite fond of this particular corner of it.

Naturally, that was the point when we met the salesman. This guy was good. Very very VERY good. TBG is no slouch in that department, and over the years he'd hired the very best of the best to sell to the smartest and the richest and yet there we were, agreeing with the salesman. Gone was our solemn vow to each other that we would not, under any circumstances, no matter what he said, no matter how alluring the prospects seemed, no way would we buy anything. Not a chance. We were firm in our resolve. And then we met the salesman.

He was charming. He was delightful. He was a retired military pilot with great stories to tell and suddenly we were holding notebooks and beach towels and visors and sweatshirts and canvas bags emblazoned with the logo of our OMG how did this happen to us brand new time share.

I have a vague memory of extracting a promise from TBG that he would take care of figuring it out. TBG, of course, shares no such recollection. We both remember feeling somewhat over-whelmed but happy with the prospect of vacationing in a lovely spot in the desert southwest across town from our friends-from-forever C&B. There were 2 en-suite bedrooms; we could play cards til the wee small hours of the night and they could crash in their own space without having to do more than pad across the carpet. It was a plan. A mighty fine plan.

That is, until a few months later when we decided to live in Tucson.

It seemed awfully foolish to vacation, every year, 100 miles north of our home. The weather is basically the same - and we think it's better up here. The scenery isn't that different - and, again, we like our middle desert flora much more than Phoenix's low desert plants. There is better shopping and C&B live there and a change is always nice but honestly, if I'm going to go to the trouble of packing a suitcase, the destination better be more exciting than the next big town up the highway. I've got a pretty nice pool right here at home, after all. No need to disrupt my life to loll on a float and bask in the Vitamin D.

The whole experience went downhill after that. The rules were arcane and I really didn't care. Our travels were between children and parents all over the 50 states and anyway we were living in a brand new vacation destination ourselves. We weren't drawn to leave home to find the sunshine; the sun shines 350 days a year here. It was never too cold or too gloomy or too lonely. Friends and family were lining up for space in what was quickly dubbed "Mom's Bed and Breakfast." Spending a week in Phoenix every year just wasn't on the agenda.

On alternate years, owners have the option to turn in their yearly vacation stay for Marriott Rewards points. I have always liked that name - it is what it says it is. There are no complications, no confusion, no inconsistencies or petty bureaucracies. You collect points for rewards. Simple. Every other year, this time share makes me happy because I can deposit my week for points. I understand what that means. I can redeem them with confidence (adhering to TBG's new mantra - "I will not die with unused points!"). They are useful anywhere and anytime there is a Marriott, and anyone who's travelled in the USofA recently knows that their brand is ubiquitous. This is a good thing.

Trying to plan a vacation with the time share is another story entirely. I have tried. I have failed. I have made the effort and taken the time to plow through the documentation and regulations and restrictions and availabilities and ratings and locations (forget big cities anywhere in the USA) and have somehow never, not once, ever over the years that we've owned it .... nope, I cannot plan a vacation with this thing.

Julie has tried. Lord knows, she's tried. She is the most good-natured soul with whom I've ever shared a phone connection. She has no extraneous blather. She genuinely wants to help me. She figures out ways to solve my problem. Marriott didn't have a time share in New Mexico (go figure????) but Interval International's program ought to be able to help. At least, that was Julie's hope, and all I had to do wass wait.... be on hold.... as a recovering social worker I have had years of experience being on hold..... I do it well.... and I was able to type most of this post while she found someone who.....

To be charitable, let's say that she was polite. She read her script in an appropriately authoritative no-nonsense voice..... appropriate if I were a miscreant 2nd grader. She had her pre-approved litany of questions and responses and she was going through them. In order. It didn't matter that I didn't want to discuss my email address with her; she seemed a little peeved. All I wanted to do was plan a spring-time girl's trip to Santa Fe.

Unfortunately, the only time share they had was on the opposite edge of the state, in Ruidoso. Ruidoso is many things, but Santa Fe is not one of them. I cut her off before she could go through her "thank you for calling and how else can I help you and do you know about our..." speech and then Julie and I were back where we'd started.

I own a time share. I cannot go anywhere I want to go with it. I am not surprised.

She sighed, I sighed, then she inhaled sharply (I've always wanted to write that phrase!!!!) and said "Wait a minute.... this doesn't expire until May, 2010."

And now, delightfully, the burden of planning a pre-paid vacation falls squarely on the shoulders of the Cuters. Together. With friends. Over-lapping mid-week. Alone. Skiing or beaching. I don't care.

Julie is expecting their call.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

40th HS Reunion - Chapter 4

Chapter 4 - Closure

The after party, the dinner with 20 of our closest friends, walking through torrential rain while hugging under an almost-but-not-quite-big-enough-to-share umbrella (why was I the only one who didn't bring a bumbershoot???) capped off by an allergy attack (Himalayan cats have a special big furriness that's gorgeous and deadly) that sent me scrambling home (yes, by now it felt like home) for a shower and a change of clothes..... the night flew by in a haze of your brother did what in the Bush administration? can you believe how much she's changed? she always was the nicest of those girls, wasn't she? and can somebody do the math for the check?

There were three of us in the room that night - a husband's heart attack (can we really be married to people who have heart attacks the night before Reunion?) had changed her roommate's plans and our friend was going to have to camp out in Penn Station unless we took her in. It was the perfect end to a perfect day. Our new roomie's claim to fame (in my world, at least) is that my 9th grade boyfriend took her instead of me to the Spring Dance that year. HE said it was because "her friends made me"; I always knew it was because she was just too cute for words. I was never able to extend the anger I felt toward him toward her - she was just too nice. And here she was, curled up on the bed sharing reminiscences.

The strength of good women never ceases to amaze and inspire me. Her unlined face and comfortable mien belie the sorrows that have plagued her life. There was no self-pity; there were only facts. Facts which could easily have caused her to crumble, but which seem to have done nothing more than inform the person she is today. And that person is pretty wonderful. She's funny and intellectually curious and thoughtful and creative. And now, she's my friend. Not only on Facebook, but, I think, in life as well. This Reunion has done some pretty swell things for me, and she's one of them.

On Sunday, she saved us 20% at Purdy Girl on LaGuardia Place by re-purposing a necklace as a belt; the staff was so impressed that they discounted all our purchases! Outside the store, she posed under the autumn leaves as a beard so that I could take this picture

We giggled about the Yellow Woman all the way to the tony apartment where, yet again, we were meeting friends. M.Robin has fantastic art and interestingly welcoming furnishings and a knack for bringing together diverse segments of our class. The mimosas flowed freely and the conversation was raucous and there was much photography and hugging. She was staying home to watch the Yankees; the rest of us headed to Tribeca for dinner and then bed.

MTF and I were in The City for another day, but that will have to wait for a post on NYC's wonderfulness. The Reunion was over and classmates were departing and there were many plans for future re-groupings. A 60th birthday party when most of us hit that milestone in 2011? Yearly gatherings in different cities? We have SoCal and Florida and the Carolinas and Arizona covered for starters. Oh, yes.... does anyone doubt we're retiring?

These kinds of conversations happen at the end of every event like this, I know. But, somehow, I think that these were less pie-in-the-sky than most. There was a genuine sense that this had been an unusual weekend. Friendships had been rekindled. Neighbors had been revisited. Wounds had been healed and memories had been stoked. Parents and siblings were remembered. The Scary Girls weren't that scary (ok, maybe one of them was.....) and the cliques were less exclusive.

Our Fortune 500 CEO with the beautiful wife and children set a standard for the men that was really hard to touch. His success, I think, freed them to talk about life and love and their hobbies and passions without having to compete for the top of the totem pole.

There wasn't a clear winner amongst the women. Many of us have accomplished great things as physicians and financiers and scientists and educators and authors and and and.... but who's to say that she who waved her baby grandson's picture under every willing (and not so willing) nose with total unabashed delightful glee doesn't consider herself to have the best life possible? That she whose house was too small for kids but now is just right for her to spend the rest of her days there with her much-loved husband hasn't landed in a place that most people would kill for? There are many things inscribed on your permanent record; I think that, by now, the parameters have changed just a little.

And what did I learn? What once was dreadfully important is now less than relevant. People can and often do change for the better. Memories are important but the here and now is much more special. And the old Girl Scout song was right :

Make new friends,

But keep the old.

One is silver

But the other's gold.