Friday, July 30, 2010

Good News

There's just too much pissiness in the world these days.  Every time I turn to the news - radio or television or newspaper - it's consumed with people being nasty.  I, for one, am tired of it.  Since I am the sole proprietor of The Burrow, I am declaring that today will be a good news day.  Prepare to smile.

We're focusing on baseball, which, for some reason unknown to me, TBG or G'ma (the sources I consulted in creating this post), has had two of the best feel-good stories of the summer.  I know, I know... baseball???  The sport with the corked bats and juiced players and $9 beers and $12 hot dogs?  Yes, denizens, I speak of baseball, where making a mistake is only the beginning of the story.

Stephen Strasburg is a hot young pitcher for the Washington Nationals.  He's a marquee player; fans buy tickets specifically to see him on the mound.  His shoulder hurt on Tuesday, so the coach benched him and substituted Miguel Batista.  And 40,000 fans booed.  The guy was just doing his job, and they booed.  It's not like a theater ticket; it cannot be exchanged if the under-study performs instead of the star.  The 39 year-old Batista could have been bitter about the treatment he received.  No one would have been surprised if he put on a petulant display of arrogance (he threw a great game) in the locker room interviews.  Instead, he was gracious and self-effacing:
Imagine if you go to see Miss Universe, then you end up having Miss Iowa.
You might get those kind of boos.
He understood their pain.  He'd probably have done the same had he been in the stands.  He wasn't peeved.  A gentle smile and a disarming quote and that should have been the end of it.

But, no.  It gets better.  Katherine Connors, one of the two reigning Miss Iowas (and who knows, there may be more....) took (playful) offense and retorted thusly:
"I know I can throw a pitch or two!
The question is, can Miguel Batista walk the runway in a swimsuit?
He sent her flowers but she gets the last laugh - she's throwing out the first pitch at Friday night's game.  And I begin to wonder..... has he been practicing a willowy, swaying walk perched atop 4" spike heels?

The second story is that of a missed call, an apology, accolades and an acknowledgment of what is really and truly important in life.  Detroit's Armando Galarraga threw the 21st perfect game (no hits, no runs, no errors) in the history of baseball, but it won't be in the record books because veteran umpire Jim Joyce blew the call at first.  He admitted that he'd made an error immediately after the game.  He was devastated, embarrassed, mad at himself, and sad for the 27 year old pitcher.  He apologized to Galarraga, who accepted graciously.  The two men were co-presenters at the ESPY's and everyone was impressed with the civility they displayed.  I, however, am taken with Galarraga's statement that nobody's perfect.   He knows he's done it.  He doesn't want an asterisk or a special mention in the record books.  Nobody's perfect.... except maybe the parents who raised such a gentleman.  This is a kid who has a strong enough sense of self that something this horrifying just bounces off his shoulders.  Kinda.  Watch it here for yourself (sorry about the commercial preceding the interview)

Are you smiling yet?

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Happy Birthday

You invited me to share your big day with Artess and Elton John at Lake Tahoe, but I was committed to Hollywood and G'ma and the wedding instead.  In the planning and execution of traveling I became consumed with my own issues and forgot about you.  Entirely.  Never crossed my mind.  Vanished into the mushy ether that passes for my brain at times.  Then I woke up to the real world and there you were, not remonstrating, not feeling hurt, not wondering where I was.  Nope, as usual, you were just smiling, watching me go about my business, knowing that I'd come back to you in time.

So here I am.  In public, because you are just that special and the world ought to know about you.  I thought about interviewing you, because some of my favorite bloggers do just that with the people they want to share with others.  But I decided to spread the word myself.  Not that you hide your light under a basket.  Hardly.  But I thought that you might like to see how swell I think you are.  Consider it my birthday present.

When you first crossed my consciousness we were new to Marin.  Reading your newsy letters home to the parents in your PTA, I was stunned.  Stopped dead in my tracks in my new kitchen, wondering how the school had found a real author to pen these usually dreary tracts.  You were smart and funny and respectful and informative and I found myself actually looking forward to the newsletters.  

Being who I am, it never crossed my mind that we could be friends.  You traveled in rarefied circles.  You wore fascinating jewelry and your own style of fashionable, artistic, unusual clothing with which I could never compete.  You were confident and poised and talented and I was new.

Was it through mutual acquaintances or school committees or NCL that our nodding-as-we-passed-on-the-street relationship changed to a close-as-girlfriends-can-get friendship?  Perhaps it was the baby shower for my new next door neighbor to which you invited me so that I could meet the people on my new street.  The best street in town, on which you had the best house, with the perfect view and which, you know, I wanted to buy if you ever sold it.  The collapse of the housing market and the stock market put the kibosh on that plan, but I honestly think that we bonded over that building, which you created over time and with love and which reflected the very best pieces of your family.  Open, expansive, warm and inviting, the table set for the next meal, reminding everyone that you spent time together, that you were involved in each others lives, that the giant calendar on the even bigger refrigerator, color coded for kids and parents was more than a who goes where when reference...  it was your way of knowing where your hearts were.  Your kitchen made me smile for many reasons beyond the absolutely amazing shallow drawer under your cook top, the one with slots for your knives.  

You were a Daddy's Girl and now you're a Mom's Caretaker and though our stories are different in the details we share the emotional tugs.  We're trying to live our own adult lives while watching and managing and supervising and worrying and crying and sighing over the women who used to do the same for us.  Whatever our relationships with them were in the past, right now we are their first line of defense.  It helps to have someone who knows both sides of your equation.

We haven't always agreed on the best strategy to approach a problem.  When I've worked myself up into a frenzy, when I am planning my revenge, when I am ready to smash the world to make it conform to what I know is the right way, you listen and then suggest that, perhaps, there might be another plan.  I vent.  You listen.  You show me the better way.  And I never feel small.  You acknowledge my angst, you accept my outrage, but you manage to solve the problem with grace instead of a bull-dozer.  I don't feel abashed; I feel grateful for a better solution.  It's a rare gift, that ability to correct without demeaning, to improve without dismissing.  It's why I bring you my thorniest issues.

We've shared politics and schooling and we've raised children and libraries and communities.  "Need something done?  Ask a busy woman" was your mantra, and so we depended upon each other.  Between book clubs and furniture restoration and charity and children we relied upon the other always being ready to say Yes, I'll help.  And it was help in more than actions.  We were there for each other when the tears flowed, too.   

We were both connected to a young man we tried and failed to save, you by choice, I by circumstance.  The drama went on and on and on and through it all, each of us suffering our own private hell as he moved through our lives, we had each other.  There weren't a lot of other grown-ups who saw the positive pieces of this damaged soul.  Of course, there weren't a lot of other grown-ups who had him in their personal space, either.  We wanted him fixed, better, as wonderful as the potential we just knew he had within.... and when he crashed and burned and disappeared we shared the sighs of relief and of sorrow.  We weren't used to having our projects fail.  But we were glad he was gone.  One less worry... and he wasn't even ours.... but he was, because he'd touched us and hurt us and those we loved.... but he wasn't fixable and we knew it and reminded each other of the fact and you are the only one who shares that sense that if only I'd done something his life would have turned out better.  We know it's a fantasy, but we have high expectations.

And that, I think, is the basis of my love for you:  High Standards.  You expect excellence and effort of yourself and of those around you.  I want to be a person you'll admire and accept as a friend, so I push myself to listen as you shape my responses to the world around me.  Your perspective is a valuable counter-point to mine.  There's not a lot of nonsense, though there is a lot of laughter.  Lots and lots of laughter, and song, and joy to balance out the parts of our lives which bang up against us, making us cry and bleed.

I'm so glad you're in my life.  Happy Birthday, my friend.
Did you notice that I wrote that entire post without naming her?  I've been trying to find the perfect pseudonym and it just won't come.  Don't you just hate it when that happens?

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Ranting and Raving

Is it too much to ask that those who are hired to speak actually be capable of doing so with competence?  TBG studied the cyclists on the Tour de France and I watcged the scenery and our ears were bombarded by announcers with grammatical deficiencies.  "There's a great distance between he and the peleton."   

TBG says that his talent was riding quickly uphill, not being a sportscaster.  But still......
Reggie Bush thought that he was above it all, that he was so cool, so talented, so much the man that he didn't have to pay back the money the ex-con had lent to him and his step-father and so the felon went public to get his money back. 

Now, kids who thought they'd be playing for the Trojans in The Rose Bowl game are transferring to other programs as USC pays the price for overlooking what was obvious to everyone else.  The NCAA may be trying to herd cats in its attempts to oversee a theoretically amateur athletic organization, but you had to be obtuse to overlook some of this stuff.  Reggie and his car were on the front page of a muscle car magazine, for crying out loud.  Pete Carroll may have thought "It was just a Chevy," as he told ESPN, but I find it impossible to believe that no one in the organization knew that it was pimped out to the max.  And what about his parents showing up at all the away games?  Hadn't a recruiting coach been to their home when Reggie was in high school?  Didn't that person see how they were living?  These are people who were evicted from their home yet had the funds to travel around the country watching her son/his step-son do amazing things on the football field.  It seems to me that this ought to have raised a red flag for someone.

Sure, USC has hired more compliance officers, and these kinds of mistakes won't happen again.... but I have the feeling that the mistakes they are talking about preventing are not the corruption inherent in the system, but the appearance of overlooking the graft.

Meanwhile, once again, the NCAA is punishing current players and coaches for the actions of their predecessors.  If you ever needed an example of the fact that college sports (especially the big time basketball and football programs) are nothing more than cash cows for their universities, I invite you to examine this situation at USC.  Those post season bowl games that the current players won't get to enjoy..... the titles and trophies they won't be bringing home..... the stunted opportunities for national exposure..... it all pales behind the massive financial hit the University is taking. 

That's where the power lies, in the money.  The kids are secondary.  So no one stands up for their lost opportunities.... except we, here in The Burrow, who know that they did no wrong.
More sports aggravations:  It seems that Michael Vick turned 30 and threw himself a party.  He spent the weekend apologizing - to the NFL, to his team, to the media - for the behavior of his guests.  Could he really be held responsible for the fact that one of his invitees shot his cousin after the birthday boy had left the scene?  

Stop and think about that for a minute or two.  When was the last time someone was shot after you left a birthday party?  

The Eagles had sworn to uphold a zero tolerance policy towards Vick, after taking a chance by signing him after his incarceration for dog fighting related offenses.  But Andy Reid thinks that as long as you are not breaking the law, everything is copacetic.  

I guess zero tolerance is a mutable concept in the Eagles organization.
Enough cantankerous writing.  Here's a smile:  

Be kind to your behind is my new favorite commercial.  I love that they aren't skirting the issue.  We all know how the product is used; it's nice to see them acknowledge it.  Watch and enjoy:

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Livin' Large in L.A.

G'ma and I arrived at our hotel at noon on Saturday.  This was the view from our window:

Yes, that is Graumann's Chinese Theatre.  Right across Hollywood Boulevard.
The stars' stars are there, too, stretching for miles and miles in both directions, Jack Palance and Groucho Marx, actors old and news, some of whom G'ma actually remembered.  We enjoyed watching the tourists (being in town for a wedding rendered us visitors not tourists, I decided) pose for pictures with their favorites.  Since the stars are embedded in the sidewalk, this made for some interesting photographic challenges.  More than once we were forced to skirt a seated-on-the-sidewalk-star-struck fan who was embracing a golden star.  

Further up the hills we saw this: 

Yes, we were definitely not in Tucson anymore.

Inside the hotel, there were even more signs that this was where the serious partying was going to occur:

The mini-bar had Jack in two sizes, and enough vodka to float the Russian Navy and the top drawer had some snacks and these:

That was a first for me.
I was glad G'ma was taking a nap when I found them. 
I don't even want to imagine that conversation.

The wedding took place at The Kress (Be careful if you are reading this at work - the link has sound)
It was too far to walk in heels or with a walker-assisted old lady, so we cabbed 4 blocks and then around the block and into the parking lot and past the valets and up the steps (oy, there were so many steps in so many different places) and into the elevator and then we were on the rooftop.

It was quite the space.  The gentle breeze kept us cool, and the paper parasols the bride had so thoughtfully provided kept the sun from scorching our delicate skin.  The green couches were comfy, and the cabanas on the sides had leather sofas and offered more shelter from the sun.  
The bride was beautiful, the groom was handsome, the rabbi was brief and so were the bridesmaids' dresses:

Tattoos were the order of the day, and so was eclectic footwear:

I smiled at Brother's feet (above) as we left the hotel.  The man wears sneakers every day and every place he goes.  Apparently, LA weddings are no exception.  I wondered if he would be under-dressed, but many of the other guests were on his same program:

 The bridesmaids wore these ankle breakers:

  G'ma commented that their heels were longer than their skirts.  
I laughed.

The were several bars and sushi and passed hors d'oeuvres and lots and lots of wine and spirits.  G'ma wanted a sweet wine, and the Reisling must have met her requirements because she was drinking it as if it were her beloved Sprite Zero.  Brother and the waitress had each brought her a glass full to the brim, and she made short work of them both.  This from a woman who might have one sweet vermouth a year.  In a good year.  I tried to cut her off but the look she sent my way as I picked up the water instead of the wine cut me to the core.  Wine it was, it seemed.
The food was scrumptious, the dj was terrific, but the cake.  Oh, dear denizens, the cake:

The wedding planner was nervous as it listed more and more as the evening progressed.  After the "Money Dance" and the "First Dance" and the toasts it was time to cut and serve the sweets.  Chocolate and vanilla layers made everyone happy -  except the structural engineers in the crowd, who were looking for an explanation for the Leaning Tower of Pisa effect.  

As G'ma and I discussed, if an a-tilt wedding cake is the only thing that goes wrong, it's a pretty successful event.

Mazel Tov, Jared and Julie.  May you live long and happy lives together. 

Monday, July 26, 2010

Travels with G'ma

Getting old has its ups and downs.  Flying with an obviously old person does, too.  This trip, though, was mostly ups.

She was able to walk through the Tucson airport with her walker; no need for the wheelchair I'd reserved from Southwest.  I'd packed us into one carry-on and a large purse; G'ma had her own purse for tissues, wallet and lipstick.  It was nice to see her open her wallet and provide her license to the ticket agent.  She's not been asked for id in a long, long time and her smile was contagious.  She struggled to get it out of the plastic compartment, but refused all offers of help.  No on rushed her - "Take your time.  It's fine.  There's no hurry."  I watched her visibly relax as the words of assurance flooded over her personal space.  There was more hustle and bustle than she's comfortable with these days, but the calmness of the TSA agent assuaged her anxiety.  I was grateful.  The agent was non-plussed.  "No worries.  I'm not doing anything special."  Ah, but she was.  Perhaps her matter-of-fact attitude can be bottled?

G'ma chose the window seat in the second row, and fought with the seat belt mechanism as the other passengers filed in after us.  Did you ever wonder who needed the instructions provided by the flight attendants on the operation of the flip-lid-seat-belt-locking-mechanism?  It's G'ma.  I sat on my hands (literally) and tried to avoid offering her assistance.  She was laughing at herself, arguing with herself, encouraging herself and congratulating herself when she finally got it clasped.  I opened my book.  We were going to be fine.

LAX is not as elderly-friendly as is TIA, Tucson's sleepy airport.  It's huge and the confusion caused by the foot traffic and undecipherable audio announcements was evident in G'ma's attitude, which suddenly changed from happy traveler to bewildered old lady.  We did have a wheelchair at that end, and once we got into the cab things were back to normal.  She was critiquing the driver's road manners and marveling at the number of ultra-orthodox Jews leaving the multitude of synagogues in Baldwin Park.  She asked then answered the where are we and why are we here and who is he, again questions she'd been focused upon on the flight.  Perhaps the anxiety of travel has sparked her mental functions.  I've thought for a long time that living with Daddooooo's exuberant personality had kept her fresher than she was able to maintain once he died.  Maybe I'm right.

The Hollywood Roosevelt has hosted Marilyn Monroe and Cary Grant and tomorrow's post will show you what our fun looked like. Our ADA, handicapped accessible room was large and luxurious and everything two weary, nap needing travelers desired.  Brother arrived an hour after we did, and we all closed our eyes for a while before we dressed and taxied to the wedding.

There were steps.  Lots and lots of steps.  Even discarding the heels she couldn't walk in ("What is wrong with me?  Why am I slipping?  This is not good") didn't help.  Between the valet, the security guard, Brother and me she climbed more than she has in the last 2 years.  And she survived.

Perhaps this is the lesson to be learned from taking this trip.  I think that I can push her to expand her horizons, to go out in public and allow her innate sense of self to overcome her laziness and desire to be catered to.  My offers of help were rebuffed if there were people watching.  Bellmen held doors, and she smiled and thanked them for helping "an old lady enjoy herself."  She bristled when waiters asked if she needed help reading the menu - "I can still read" - and moved from taxi to dinner to reception to hotel with a smile and more energy than I've seen in months.  The groom's father hadn't seen G'ma in two years, after having lived 10 miles from her for the last decade.  He noticed no changes at all.  "You  look great!" was all it took to make her smile from head to toe.

We are going to be doing a lot more traveling, I think.  This was fun.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Mad Men Weekend

Are you as excited as I am?  Have you caught up on the episodes you missed by watching them On Demand or Netflix or Hulu?  Do you need more? 

Well, we here at The Burrow aim to please.  So, for a bonus post, click here for Betty Draper's Guide to Parenting and then look below the clip for the link to Roger's One Liners.  You'll need the laughs after spending 3 minutes watching Betty treat her children like interlopers in her personal space.

And think of me, sitting on Douglas, watching and laughing and being as happy as a girl can be with the tv on Sunday night.

(Thanks to the Big Cuter for finding these links.  I knew there were reasons I had children!)

Friday, July 23, 2010

Dropping By..... from Maryland

My brother is coming to town.

He's driving from Maryland to Los Angeles for our cousin's son's wedding this weekend.  We'd talked about this trip, about a convention in Las Vegas which would make the whole thing feel kinda sorta maybe work-related, about how boring it is to drive across Texas, about how long it would take to drive from Tucson to LA and whether he should come here on the way out or the way back, but earlier this week, sitting with G'ma's feet on my lap on her couch in the pod castle, we called him, wondering if he was coming after all. I mean, really, people. The event is Saturday.  And it's a long drive.

He didn't pick up the phone this morning, and G'ma and I agreed that it was typical Brother Behavior.  I remembered the afternoon I'd come home early from school.  The house was empty.  My hello's went unanswered.  Little Sister came home when it was dark, and G'ma arrived after work, and only when dinner was on the table did Brother appear, having been in his bedroom all afternoon.

"Why didn't you tell me you were here?  I was calling for company.  I was lonely"  

His answer?  "I had nothing to say."

He's always marched to the beat of his own drummer.  He's into balance in his life.  Work, kids, wife, synagogue, sex, family, parents, travel - he tries to make it all work.  He's been many things - a bicyclist, a magician, a computer back-office geek, a grad student, an accountant, a corporate drone, a partner in a business venture, an owner of commercial real estate, a father, a husband and a very very good friend.  He's one of those men who is comfortable with the whole family - grandparents, aunts and uncles, little kids and grown-ups alike.  Everybody is always glad to see him. 

When we celebrated the Little Cuter's graduation, he and his girls drove to Indiana for the event.  The grown-ups all went to the Art Museum while the kids went to the lake to jet ski and party boat and generally carouse.  Brother went with them.  He and SIR were maniacs on the jet skis, racing and competing and generally being male.  At dinner that night he walked around the table, collecting pieces of advice from each guest, recording them on his camera.  Ten days later we all received CD's containing the advice, with credits and musical accompaniment.  It was the best gift ever.

He used to drive up to visit G'ma every month or so when she was living back east.  Moving her to Arizona had only one drawback - Brother doesn't fly.  Typically, he didn't make a scene, didn't create any turmoil, didn't accuse anyone of planning a purposeful estrangement.  He's never said that he misses her, but I have to think that it was more than the wedding invitation that provided the impetus for him to plunk down behind the wheel of his truck and cross the country.  Alone. 

And I'm reminded, again, that caring for aging parents was a lot different 100 years ago.  In a less mobile society, where divorce was rare and people died close to the homes in which they were born, two years wouldn't have passed between his visits.  I'd have someone to share the cares and decisions and G'ma would have more people on her entertainment committee.  With grandchildren living on opposite coasts how can the wisdom be shared?  As G'ma ages before my eyes, my siblings, living 2000 miles away, are missing the grace with which she is moving through this stage of her life.  All the lessons I'm learning - acceptance, release, the value of a smile when the situation is sad but true - are mine and mine alone.  The love that G'ma showered on her grandchildren is now living here in the desert, while they are in Egypt and Rhode Island and South Carolina and Chicago and San Francisco and Washington, DC.

I'm feeling kind of selfish.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Aged Parm

Aged Parmesan is complex and surprising, grabbing hold and drawing you in.  I went with the flow and things just got better and better,  revealing newer and more diverse tastes.  I was really liking Aged Parm.
The Cheeses have been keeping us up-to-date on his mother's move to Tucson.  Over three years she considered and rejected and thought about and cared and didn't care and then she decided to do it.  And it was done.  There was a house to sell and logistics to be arranged and now she's here so we met for lunch.  

Convenient location, easy parking, great service and even better food made Lupita's Cafe the obvious choice.  We got there early, made a 4-top a round 5-top after TBG figured out the slides underneath the square, and there they were, the Cheeses, Big and Little, and his mom, Aged Parm.

The woman is delightful.  She's beautifully attired and active and engaged in the world around her.  She's got an upbeat attitude and a realistic sense of the problems and possibilities involved in her new life-style.  We left them to their errands after lunch.  They were headed to the up-scale consignment store, the library and the DMV.  

She's older than G'ma.

And so, I'm aching.  I'm not surprised, and it's not debilitating, but I'm allowing myself just a little bit of self-indulgent mourning, wishing for what wasn't and can't be but what doesn't stop inserting itself into my trying-to-be-oblivious self.  This is what I wish I could have had.

Understand me clearly:  I knew exactly what I was getting when G'ma moved out here 2 years ago.  She's no worse now than she was then.  She's also no better.  She is who she's always been, only in a more industrial strength version.  Old age is like throwing Miracle-Gro on your character defects.  Everything is magnified*.  G'ma's waited 87 years for the chance to lie around and do nothing.  She's always been stubborn, in a quiet, passive-aggressive kind of way.  "You know I've always been lazy," has turned into a life involving me, food, Law'nWord Finds and solitaire (played with real cards and not on a computer screen).

She sits.  I shrug.  I've given up feeling guilty about her lack of interest in intersecting with the world around her.  She does what she wants when she wants and she's got the necessary support system to be certain that she is safe and fed and amused, should she choose to leave the comfort of her couch.  I'd love to introduce her to Aged Parm, to create a late in life friendship that would offer another friendly face in a new place for each of them, but I'm not sure that they're playing on the same field.  

And, of course, G'ma would have to want a friend.  Which she says she definitely does not.  "Would I remember that I knew her?  I like me.  I'm good company for myself."  There you have it.  A dispositive statement of her intention, as TBG is wont to say when he's in a lawyerly mood.
I am not wondering if her dementia (there, I've typed it..... it must be real..... more on this issue to follow) has caused her to reject the idea of making a new friend.  I am not worrying that she is lonely.  I am not annoyed with her lack of enthusiasm.  I am content because she is content.  

I'm making progress.

*HBO has a wonderful documentary on mega-millionaire lottery winners.  Click here and watch the clip to see how I've plagiarized this thought. (Does this seem like a Doris Kearns Goodwin apology?  Belated recognition of intellectual property theft?  I don't think so.... I'm quoting them here.  This whole notion of unmediated publication is quite confusing.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Summer Flora

It rained last night, but it didn't really help.  Not only are the humans melting into lifeless puddles, but the flora are whimpering, too.  Take a look at what remains of a once vibrant container garden:

Honest, I only skipped one day of watering.  But the desert sun is unforgiving, and I've never lived anyplace where the right plant in the right place was a more important piece of advice.  

I'm not sure what died in there; Dr. deA gave me a bulb and that may be it.  There's a serious root structure underneath the parched soil; my plan involves cutting back the dead wood, fertilizing the palo verde volunteer which has taken root along the edge, and proceeding with the plan I should have followed in the first place - vincas in all my pots for the summer.

Vincas are periwinkle in English, especially when they are of the violet hue.  The ones I find here are variations on pink.  Target had this 1 gallon container on the sale rack.  For $2.99.  It was one of 6 or 7 very bedraggled specimens sitting on the shelf.  The rest of the garden center was filled with cacti, succulents and bags of soil.  No one gardens in Tucson in July.  No one but me, that is.  

I know that the vinca will forgive me if I forget about watering.  My hanging basket wilts and sags and sighs

but perks right up when I pour a bucket of water down its gullet.

The sun shifted and the lighting changed but I promise, it's the same plant an hour later.  TBG thought that I'd replanted the basket with white flowers.  But, no, it's just that the petals fold in on themselves when they are stressed, shielding the deep pink color and revealing their white undersides.  Why?  I do not know.  

Now my containers are filled with vinca, an invasive plant often considered a weed.  I rely on my mantra: a weed is a plant that is growing in the wrong place.  I try not to feel that I've taken the easy way out, that I am dodging the difficult aspects of gardening in the desert southwest.  Have I cheated?  Am I afraid to fail?  I don't think so.  I enter the season with high hopes and fresh plants and, year after year, I am left with dessicated stumps.  I think it's that I've learned my lesson.  Unless I can find more plants with color which actually thrive in the summer's heat, like this adenium

I'm sticking with the vinca.  

Weed or not.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Summer School

(For those of you who saw this yesterday, I'm sorry.  Blogger decided that my scheduling of the publication of this masterpiece for July 20th just didn't count. Skim it anyway if you want, there are some changes, as there always are .  It may not be mediated, but it is edited.)

Mr. 7 is taking a reading class this summer.  I found the flyer at the UofA Poetry Center and Amster, perfect parent that she is, signed him right up.  Of course,  since I discovered the activity it seemed only fair that I provide the transportation.  What kind of friend alerts a parent to an enrichment program and then leaves her to fend for herself?

So, this morning, bright and early and right on time, the whole family knocked on our front door.  Mr. 5 was going to the first day of camp without his brother.  For the first time, ever, in his whole life, he would be the one to scope out the scene.  His big brother will join him at lunchtime, after school.  But, for the morning, he's on his own and he's a little nervous about it.  Mr. 7 is trying to be blase about his new experience, but the Big Cuter's Leggo box isn't holding his attention.  He needs me.  We watered the inside and the outside plants, he drowning the lantana with the hose and reminding me that it is very very hot outside.  He's never more than 3 feet from my side.  I've forgotten how terrifying a new experience can be to a little person. 

We found the building and the classroom and Mr. 7 discovered an old friend.  I had to smile when the two boys discussed the fact that they'd been friends a long long time ago, in kindergarten.  When 2 years is 1/3 of your life, I guess that qualifies as a long long time.  We were all happy that the boys had found each other.  It made going through the front door much easier.

The teacher, a boy named Sue, is from Georgia... his short a doesn't sound like a New Yorker would say it. He asks the class to clap hands on the long a, as it says its own name. As they warm to the activity, they begin to look at each other before they move. And I begin to wonder if are they learning or if peer pressure is making them press their hands together. I hope that Mr. Sue can tell the difference.

I like the fact that there was an activity before the rules were discussed.  This might actually be fun.  Mr. Sue queried the students.  What does participation mean?  No one answered.  Can the negative define the activity?  He didn't go there.... though I think it might have been interesting to see where the conversation took them.  On the other hand, this is a reading class, not the first day of second grade, and we must stay focused on the agenda.  What kinds of stories do the students like?  His three classmates liked funny, animal and action stories.  Mr. 7 likes made-up stories.   Squirmy, the animal story kid, the kid who liked true stories, he likes stories with facts.  The little girl liked stories with happy endings.  Squirmy likes naps, because then you're not too tired to do more fun things.  I wish I had had that answer when the Cuters were small.  Once we finished with participation  and polite, reviewing the rules for raising your hand, I began to see the challenges Mr. Sue would face.  Turn the page seems pretty simple.  But when you're 7 and there's a book with pictures on your left and a new friend on your right, paying attention to the command requires more concentration than happened to be present this morning.  And there are only 4 kids in this class.  I start to wonder about Tucson's 30+ kid classrooms..... how much learning can really happen when there are 29 other distractions in the room?

The teacher read a story as the kids followed along, each with his own book.  Some used their fingers to underline the words as he read them.  Some turned the pages without prompting, others were clueless.  I never knew that so much discussion that could come from Three By the Sea, but was I ever wrong.  Will Cat and Rat be friends?  "The cat's face looks angry, I don't think so."  "The rat bought the cat from the man and so the cat has to be his friend."  As the two animals search for lunch, and the children giggle at the thought of what Cat might want to eat, I watch as the animated young man at the front of the room shares their anticipatory carnivorous glee.  He's as into the story as they are.  But he's also watching.  Who is answering?  Who is clueless?  I hope he's noticing that Squirmy is making connections outside the box, that Mr. 7 is politely raising his hand and that our friend's shoulders are drooping. 

Squirmy called out Mr. 7's pal for announcing that he was finished reading the assigned page.  Squirmy's 1st grade teacher had told them not to shout, but to sit quietly and wait.  With the smile that has not left his face since the class began, Mr. Sue reassured him that order could be maintained with only 4 students in the room.  Asking the kids to read  to themselves what he had just read aloud to them, he wandered the room, surreptitiously monitoring the turning of pages.  Sometimes he'd smile, once he nodded knowingly, but he was always in tune with the kids at the tables.  Were their packets too difficult to open on their own? Did they need a pencil?  The lone girl, shyer and quieter and sitting apart from the rest of the students saw no sign of impatience as she struggled to tell him what Rat might do. There was just enough time but not more than enough time spent on the assignment.  The students weren't chatting or distracted.  It's obviously scripted, but it's scripted well and Mr. Sue delivers the program with enthusiasm and more encouraging words than are usually heard here on the range.  He's not over-praising.  He's not smarmy.  He's just complimenting them on their participation.  And it works.

And so it went, for 2 hours.  Word finds and reading aloud and reading to themselves and plan to plane and back again.  The rest of the parents filed in toward the end, and I felt like they were interlopers.  We had our own little space here, we were reading, and we were feeling pretty good about ourselves.

I think this is going to be a good thing.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Sunday Mornings

The gym was too hot.  The sun is relentless.  It shouldn't hurt to bring in the morning paper.  But it does.  The ground is burning a granular pattern into the bottom of my slippers.  I have to remember to wear flip flops outside in the summertime.  Shoes with slipper-like soles can't take the temperatures and my feet are paying the price.  I'm sitting inside in an air conditioned, hermetically sealed environment, and it's only 10:10 on Sunday morning.
I'm taking us back to Long Island, Burrow-ites.  It's humid and the sky is blue.  There's a 20-then-30-then-40-foot pin oak tree smack in the middle of the back yard.  It's the biggest backyard in the neighborhood, and at various times it has had a sandbox (square, wood framed, with triangular seats in each corner), a swing set (2 simple swings with thick wood seats, a 2-person push-me-pull-you and a straight slide on the end) and a Marion-the-Librarian-front-porch swing.

Every other yard in the neighborhood is its own little fiefdom, set apart by a fence or a thicket of bushes.  Ours is open space to Uncle Ob's, and it always feels tremendous.  There are places to hide and sneak cigarettes when you're 11, and there's a blueberry bush (optimistically covered in bird netting, in the hope that one or two edible treats might emerge) planted when I was 6 or 7.  It's always been a disappointment as a food source, but it's a nice reminder that G'ma and Daddooooo took the time and effort to buy something just for me.  It makes me smile

This morning, it feels cozy.  The tree is shading the sunshine, which hasn't come over the top of the house yet.  The bees are where it's sunnier, and the gnats haven't awoken or hatched or otherwise come to annoy us.  The leaves are forest green, just like in my Crayola box. There's a squirrel's nest up higher than Daddooooo's improvised limb trimmer can reach, even from the top of our tallest ladder.  And we have quite a few ladders. 

The running battle between the sciuridae and my parents over the bird feeders hanging from the lower branches of the tree is an amusing saga, but not that much more amusing than the one you're imagining right now.  If it weren't the squirrels they'd find something else about which to complain.... the crows scaring away the smaller birds, perhaps.  It doesn't matter.  Right now it's just us, sitting on the swing that Daddoooo made all by himself.

We have the NYTimes Magazine section open to the crossword puzzle, and we have a good pen sitting comfortably in our hand.  No pencils for us; we are certain when we enter a word or else we write it very lightly.  The graphite just doesn't feel right on the paper;  the roller ball's ink soaks right in.  And we're constructing our perfect Sunday morning, so there ya go. (How did Sarah Palin get in here?)

Puzzle in hand, outside pillow under the small of our back, we wish we'd remembered a snack and poof here it is.  Poppy seed bagel with cream cheese, onions and lox, thin sliced Nova Scotia smoked salmon which came home from the appetizing store with us this morning.  I've never been sure how the appellation took hold, but there it is.  It sold salads and smoked and pickled and creamed fish, chopped liver and blintzes and I can smell it as I type.  Maybe these were considered appetizers and somehow the word became conflated with the deliciousness enclosed within and appetizing was born?  Inquiring and drooling, I want to know.  We treated ourselves to fresh squeezed orange juice, and it's all balanced on the arm rest.

The window shades are still down in G'ma and Daddooooo's bedroom, so there's no danger of being interrupted.  The air is thick and lilac scented.  There's a butterfly looking for sustenance, and an ant or two examining the edge of our plate and we are happy.

Not too hot.  Not too cold.  Just right.

Thanks for joining me.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Random Thoughts

Valerie Bertinelli is on the cover of AARP's July/August 2010 edition. She was always Daddooooo's favorite girl on tv, and TBG and I most heartily agreed with him.  The article is typical AARP put a smile on your face fluff, but I can't get past the fact that she's 50.  I know that I am aging, but the iconic characters of my youth should just stay there..... in my basement on the console tv.  I don't remember giving her permission to age.
Making reservations for a mini-vacation in August just about fried my brain yesterday afternoon.  I'd been gathering information for a few days - which weekend, how long in a hotel and how long at Roomie's house, which airport worked better - and yesterday it was time to make the plans.  At one point I had 5 different Kayak tabs with 5 different searches open on my screen.  Yes, it's a 17" screen, but it was still crowded.  Planning to meet MTF at the airport required coordinating sites and times and dates.  Was it less expensive to leave on Monday, and if so could we stay with Roomie for one more night?  How early did I want to wake up and did I want to drive to Phoenix instead of leaving from Tucson?  If we wandered Manhattan on Monday, what would we do with our suitcases?  There used to be lockers in Penn Station, but I think they were removed after 9/11.  Can I pack for 5 days in a bag I can carry around?  I know I'm going to have a great time, but the planning gave me a headache.

On the upside, it's only $40 more to go to Chicago first and visit the Little Cuter.  And this way I only have to change planes on the way home.  I love it when a plan comes together.
The beekeeper/killers were here today.  I thought I'd be able to take photos and make a whole post of it, but there really wasn't very much to see.  They used a camera on the end of a wire to verify that the bees were where they thought they were, and then it was just a matter of pulling the comb out and cleaning the inside of my walls.   I now have more pink insulation stuck in that corner of the garage; the bees had built themselves a home in the space the contractor had left between the insulation he installed and the wall itself.

There's a pheromone trap to entice the remaining bees back into their former abode.  It smells like their queen, but they'll be glued to the cardboard if they follow their instincts and return to the hive.  I didn't like having bees nesting in my house, and I didn't like the honey dripping down the garage door, but I don't like the notion of a silent killer snaring unsuspecting worker bees, either.

And then there's the matter of disposing of the trap.  There's a string hanging from the downspout; I'm to pull it tomorrow and toss it in the trash.  Just the thought of doing it makes me squeamish.  I think it may be time to ask my next door neighbor if her teenage boys want to earn some easy money.
TBG and I have spent the last 10 days watching seasons 2 and 3 of Mad Men on On Demand.  We reveled in the freebie and the fact of good, scripted television in our living room once again.  The Big Cuter turned us on to it, just as he reminded me to watch Justified.  There are many reasons that having children was a good decision; this is just one of them.

There aren't many characters in the show who are happy, fulfilled, content or admirable.  Yet we sat, mesmerized, for hours on end watching their lives unfold.  The Little Cuter's watching it too, and the scenes where Betty goes to the hospital to deliver her third child prompted a frantic phone call: "Is that what G'ma went through?  Did you?  Will I?"  Yes, no and no calmed her down, but it was another reminder that the 60's were a different time, entirely.  All the women are wearing bras that make their bosoms look like bulwarks.  The men wear hats; there's not a baseball cap to be found.  Elevators have uniformed men guiding the passengers to their assigned floors.  And don't get me started on gender roles and limited opportunities for talented women.  The only person of color in the show is a housekeeper.

As I've ranted and raved and fumed and stewed over the state of the USofA over the past few weeks, it's been helpful to have Mad Men to remind me that we have made progress over time. 

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Robert B Parker, RIP

Yesterday, in a throw-away line, I wrote that I was reading the last Robert B Parker book I'd ever read.  Well, I just finished it, and I'm sad.  I took a long long time to read the last 30 pages or so, which, if you've ever read any of his books you will know takes some doing. He's not big on description; he'll let you know where he is, but that's about it.  In the car (it used to be a Mustang, and it took center stage in some of the stories, but the 'stang was trashed and now his car is just his car) or in his office with Pearl's couch or at police headquarters or Spenser or Susan's apartment, or drinking in the bar at the Ritz or meeting a nefarious character on the Common, but aside from the windows and what can be seen through them, we really have no idea what the spaces look like.  He's just there, and he's Spenser, and I love him.

Yes, I do.  If he showed up at the front door I'd send TBG out the back door.  The Little Cuter calls this her Freebie List.  G'ma only has Errol Flynn on hers.  I used to have Mel Gibson and Tom Cruise but their personal lives are so bizarre that I no longer consider them viable candidates.  But Spenser?  Absolutely.

First of all,he loves Susan Silverman, a Jewish girl who's a therapist.  Just like me.  Well, kinda sorta.... social worker from UofC or PhD from Harvard....well,Susan would think that she's won the contest, but I'll settle for being her friend.  Granted, she doesn't eat enough, but I  could pick up a fashion tip or two from her.  I have a history of doing that - finding well-dressed friends and going to school on their style, but Susan is more than that.  She's thoughtful about Spenser being a killer (because that is what he is) and she left him for a while because it was just too awful for her.  But they're back together, forever, because Robert B. Parker is dead and  he left them, and Hawk, in love, in Boston.  Forever.  

Of course, I suffer from narrative lust and so I'm peeved.  I want more.  I want to see them age and come to terms with the loss of physical prowess.  Parker may not be here to tell me, but the characters are front and center in my mind these days.  Similarly, Patrick O'Brian may have left this mortal coil for an afterlife with his wife, but Aubrey and Maturin and Diana are still on my nightstand, keeping me company as I try to fall asleep. 

I love that about books.  There are a few authors - O'Brian and Parker, obviously, but also Dorothy Leigh Sayres and Louisa May Alcott, for starters - who seem to sit on the sofa as I curl in the twirling chair and read what they've written.  I love the stories.  I love the language.  I love the characters - I named the Little Cuter after Jo March - and I live their lives right beside them.  I am taking Susan's small bites and hiding in the attic with Jo and feeling out of sorts on land with Aubrey, at home with his wife and his brood and his men, who I'd love to come to my house and keep it shipshape.  I am Diana riding recklessly and falling in love with an absurd physical specimen when I could have any man in Europe.

I have a stack of books on the end table here in the living room because they never made it to the library.  TBG was asking about Shylock and I went to the shelves but they were bare -- this house has no wall space and hence, hardly any bookshelves.  I sold my Shakespeares, it seems, to Bookmans.  And there I was, all prepared to read TBG the pound of flesh scenes.  Did you know that Shylock really did want an actual pound of flesh in payment?  It's true.  If I hadn't sold the book I'd quote it for you.  But this is a post about literature and not the interweb, so I'm not searching for it.  Just as I don't have a Kindle, I'm not putting electronic quotes in a post celebrating  books.

Because I love books  I know that I would have loved Robert Parker as a human being because all of his books are printed on bright white heavy stock.  When you turn a page, you know you've turned a page.  It feels solid in your hand.  Since he writes dialog to tell his story, sometimes you just need to catch your breath.  Turning serious pages seems to do that.  I like a man who knows that.

He lived downstairs and his wife, Joan, lived upstairs.  I think that might be a great plan.  They loved each other, but they couldn't live together.  Until death do us part made sense when women died in childbirth with alarming regularity and the average life expectancy was 40.  But 60 or 70 years of sharing a space may be more than the species can handle.  Given the relationship he describes between Spenser and Susan, I think separate quarters worked for Parker and Joan, too. Susan is smart and always late and perfectly attired.  She doesn't cook (he does), loves their dog (shared custody), is a wildly successful psychotherapist (it helps when you are the author and can create your patients' disorders) and is completely aware of the issues in her relationship with Spenser.  I want her for my friend.  I want to ask her advice.  Advice about shopping and relationships and my sister.  I just want to be around her.  It's interesting that Parker never writes about Susan having female friends.  She has had other sexual relationships, but beyond Hawk, Spenser seems to be her social life.

For as much as he gets most things right, this is a problem for me.  No one as wonderful as Susan Silverman could be without female friends.

Hawk is the distillation of the black tough guy.  He's so much a caricature, so stereotypical, but somehow he comes out the other side and enters the consciousness as a believable character.  He's gorgeous, blacker than night, tougher than nails, quicker faster stronger than anyone else, and he's always got your back.  I want him in my life.  Not that I'm feeling particularly threatened.  Not at all.  But his kind of confidence, knowing that everyone knows that he is The Man, well, it's very attractive to me.

I don't like to watch boxing on tv.  I don't even like to think about it very much.  But Henry Cimino took Spenser and tried to make him a champ, and his gym seems like a place that I could learn to work the speed bag.  I belonged to an up-the-stairs-brick-walled-second-floor-real-weight-lifter's-gym in Chicago when I followed my trainer. He'd been fired from the upscale fitness center for touching a client (and if you can tell me how you can explain weight lifting without touching your client I invite you to comment below) and he was training for the Mr. Natural Competition. This was his gym on the north side.  They played only one station - with a beat.  There were no pictures on the walls.  The mirrors were there for checking your form, not for admiring your outfit.  One morning,  as my triceps and pecs decided that the barbell I'd overloaded was just too much, as I imagined the policeman telling the Cuters that their mother had been crushed on the bench press bench, a fellow gym rat came and rescued me before death came a'calling.  "I should've been watching," he said. 

Truly, it was a Spenser moment.

I can't believe that I've read them all. There will be no more.   Just as with Jack Aubrey and Sam Spade and Lord Peter, I'll have to get used to forgetting the plots and starting all over again.

Thank you, Mr. Parker.  You always made me happy.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Apian Houseguests

Our next door neighbors came home early from their vacation.  I knew this because their giant motor home drove past my window, her Honda CRV in tow.  I can't decide how I feel about those things.  Babs and I talked for years about renting one and piling the kids in for a trip to the Black Hills or some other place, remote and without 5-star accommodations to tempt us.  We never got past the talking.  I love the notion of traveling with your house, but doesn't that defeat the purpose of seeing someplace new?  And whatever you'd save in hotel bills, 5-star or not, would go toward feeding the beast.  These were among the issues I was prepared to raise when we met in our driveways the next morning - along with "Why are you in Tucson in July?" - but we were side-tracked by the sight of dozens of bees flying into and out of the downspout over the garage door. 

There are several reasons that this bee-less photo was chosen:
  • It demonstrates that, from most of my driveway the fact that there were bees making a home in my home was not evident.  Do you see anything flying around up there?  Neither did I.  They seem to come and go from the other side.  
  • There are no flying beasties in this picture.  Many of my readers.... okay, one reader in particular  (about whom I care deeply, profoundly and with a mother's love and devotion) ... well, perhaps some of you are eating breakfast as you read this and you don't want to have bees sharing your table.
  • It is a pretty shot of that same early returning neighbor's eucalyptus trees.  I have a love/hate relationship with those trees.  They are the tallest flora in the area, and they are fabulous as they sway in the wind.  However, they also shed their bark in long, thin pieces.  It comes floating into my yard and my pool every time a breeze blows, and it resists brooms and skimmers with equal disregard for their powers.  As I said, it's a love/hate kinda thing.
We stood there in horror, in the early morning sun, watching them fly in and out.  All of a sudden I understood, with stunning clarity, that the goo on the floor of the garage was not an unnoticed spill, or Terminix's glue trap 

gone wild, adhesive oozing from each side, gumming up the works.  No, the viscous substance which was giving us a lesson in adhesion every time we tried to raise that garage door was not a toxic spill, it was overflow honey from a beehive. 

That downspout is right over the garage door.

At first I thought that the honey was running down the stucco and onto the door, but that is not the case.  Nope, these things have made themselves cozy somewhere in the lining of my home.  This house is made of rastra block, a cement concoction that resists termites.  I guess the bees are hardier stock.   

We stood and watched for a while more, and then I went inside to tell TBG the news.  We weren't worried; we have had an annual contract with Terminix ever since the progression of smaller animals being consumed by ever larger animals as they went up the food chain ended in the foyer with TBG and his broom sweeping a snake out the front door.  I called the man with the can the next morning, and we've been relatively pest free indoors since then.  I don't mind them outside, but stay off my Persian Rugs.

The lady at Terminix assured me that bees were not covered under my contract and then she wanted to know what kind of bees they were.  I hung up.  If I knew that much about bees I'd probably know how to terminate them myself.  Besides, I really didn't want to kill them.  On the off chance that they are honey bees, I'd probably go to jail for hurting them.  It is actually illegal to destroy the hives; contractors lose their licenses if they are discovered.  So, to the interweb I went, searching for live bee removal tucson.

The first business didn't answer the phone.  The second call rang and rang and rang until a very nice lady in Sierra Vista answered and said that her husband got into it as a hobby and he's a beekeeper himself and everyone is calling him and I shouldn't even bother to leave my name and number because he's booked for the next month.  The national firm didn't have a phone number; they wanted me to submit my data and they'd reply quickly.  I'm not interested in sharing my phone number with random strangers, so I passed.  Finally, I found someone who said he'd be out after lunch.  At two, I called and, once again, he had 30 minutes or so of work and I certainly had time to go to the grocery store.  And now, dear readers, it's 5pm.  Cocktail hour.  Time to think about dinner and finishing the last Robert B. Parker novel I'll ever read and catching up on the last episodes of Mad Men .... not for wondering why I can't get anyone to deal with this.