Friday, November 30, 2012

A Shopping Secret

I have been stressed about this post for the past week.  I have absolutely no suggestions to give.  The whole topic is distasteful to me right now.

It started when I realized that stores would be open on Thanksgiving Day... and yes, it counts as the day even if the sun has set.  It got me thinking about shopping in general and about a small item on NPR last week.  It seems that Governor Chris Christie revoked New Jersey's Blue Laws, saying that the post-Sandy recovery required it.

And here we have a clear division among the denizens.  Those of you old enough to remember Blue Laws, or who live in New Jersey, know exactly what I mean.  Those of you who have always been able to shop on every day except Christmas (and, until this year, Thanksgiving) are scratching your heads.  Blue Laws, children, are regulations enacted to enforce a strict, religious standard. Can't buy alcohol on Sunday in your neighborhood?  That's a blue law.  New Jersey still enforces them.... but then, again, you can't pump your own gas in New Jersey, so who's to say where the craziness starts and stops?

Enough digression; back to shopping.

I was never much of a shopper, except in stationary and book stores.  Still, it irked me no end that someone was telling a shopkeeper that her doors must stay shuttered.  The notion that another could decide how I chose to spend my day was worrisome.... my initiation into the concept of the slippery slope... not that I wanted to shop but I wanted the option.  It was like the High Holy Days.  No money could be touched.... I might go days without using cash, but the prohibition made me nutty every year... even those years when Hebrew School really touched my soul.  I want to make my own decisions, thank you very much.

As I mellowed with age, or just aged, I began to appreciate the absence of options. Sharing the same experience with almost everyone else didn't happen that often; it was special.  The mall lots were empty.  The streets were silent.  There was a peacefulness to being restricted.  No one was telling us not to shop; we just didn't do it.  Shopkeepers were at home with their families, too.

Then the shopkeepers weren't running the shops any more.  Instead, there were stockholders and corporations (even before they were people, too) and they were interested in profit above all.... as well they should, since that is their purpose in life.  Just as government can't be run like a business, a business cannot be run like a family... or so the argument goes. A corporation exists for the benefit of its owners.  Owners care about maximizing their investments.  Therefore, profit becomes the most significant factor.

And so, the managers leave their families with the dirty dishes, the sales clerks and cashiers abandon home and hearth.  We give up leisure to boost the economy. The shareholders may be shopping, and so might the CEO's.  The working class is working.  They have no options.

BlogHer has a poll this week on the same subject.  What Is Your Status With Holiday Shopping? they ask.  Most people are shopping on-line and continuing until they are through.  That makes sense for the site's web-centric audience, but it makes sense to me, too.

Every year for the last decade or so, our family has ordered design-your-own sneakers from Nike. We create them on-line, and it's a collaborative process.  We'd gather 'round the laptop, changing laces and mid-soles and mesh and colors and patterns.  We were laughing and teasing and oohing and aahing.  We were doing it together.  There's something wonderful about getting exactly what you want, about anticipating its arrival, about remembering the fun you had creating it.  There's an extra shot of joy in the phone call announcing that those pink laces do look as good as you'd predicted; it's not only self-congratulatory, it's remembering the moment.

That's what has been bothering me about this post, about shopping, about living so far from those I love. What I want is what I felt at the wedding - family and warmth and perfection.  No one wanted anything else than to be right there, in the moment.  There were no cell phones recording the moment; there were only humans enjoying the moment. Everyone had everything which could possibly be wanted, and those who didn't had friendly shoulders right nearby to help carry the load of the loss.  There was no music (remember the noise ordinance and the sheriff's appearance?) except the quiet jazz on the radio. There weren't any gifts or fireworks (we put the kibosh on the floating lanterns; setting fire to the desert wasn't deemed a good idea).  There was just love.  Lots and lots of love, oozing from the pores of those we wanted to see.

That's what I'd suggest for this week's shopping secret: spend some time with  those you love. Maybe the gift involves tickets to an exhibit at the museum or the planetarium or the bird sanctuary or the arboretum.  Maybe it's my Wordscraper-buddy Steve's 150+ pieces and 55 pages of instructions ..... 4-inch by 6-inch beauty shop.  Maybe it's the game on the tube and the chips open on the coffee table.  

It's whatever puts you next to those you love.  It's sharing the experience, not the credit card. 

And now that I've written this, it seems obvious that our be-finished-with-your-holiday-gifting-before-December-first series ends here. If it's not in your house by tonight, don't get it. You're done shopping.  From this moment forward, your gifting is coming from your imagination, your knowledge of the recipient, your interests, your memories, your love. It's not coming from a store.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Sports Shorts

It started last night with a Hoosier victory over UNC's Tarheels.  Sorry, IntrepidCat, your alma mater was crushed by those guys with the funky striped warm-up pants.

That's my IU graduate... or her husband.... just before the game began.  My Hoosier Mama shirt was still in the laundry after last week's game against Georgetown; I wore the IU Mom GO HOOSIERS shirt, instead.  It's only weird if it doesn't work, as they say.

The good guys were up by 30 points for most of the second half, and even Dick Vitale wasn't quite as annoying when he was cheering for my team.  He only referenced Bob Knight once, which, given his screed last weekend when IU met Georgetown, was nothing short of remarkable.  I wonder how vociferously he was told to tune it down?

Tom Crean is a marvelous steward of the Indiana basketball tradition.  He was as engaged in the last two minutes of the game, coaching guys-who-were-never-going-to-see-nationally-televised-action-ever-again, benchwarmers who deserved as much attention as did the starters.

Up thirty or three, these kids play hard all the way to the final buzzer. It's good, solid, mid-western basketball, flavored with Cody Zeller.
Alex Smith, concussed-former-starting-QB-for-the-49'ers, graduated from the University of Utah one semester earily, with a 4.4 GPA.... or maybe he graduated in two years with a 3.74 GPA ... the interwebs are so unreliable and the facts are less important to the story than the gestalt: he's a smart kid.  He's married to a former Oakland Raiders cheerleader, and they have a baby boy. His base salary is $5,000,000.  He's got a nice life.

Still, it's hard to be demoted so publicly, even if the coach does go out of his way to say very nice things about you at his press conference.  "We can win with either of them.... They are both our guys...."just doesn't mean as much when you're sitting on the bench and your replacement player has become the starting quarterback.
The 49'ers were on the 103" screen at the sports bar on Sunday.  I was there for part of the first half, which was just enough football for me on a sunny afternoon.  The scene was fun; our section filled with 9'ers jerseys of all sizes and descriptions.

I know that the NFL is licensing football logo-ed clothing styled and shaped for women.  The tv commercials are oddly compelling, and the idea made sense to me up until Sunday when a fit young woman was wearing a San Francisco player's jersey which was a perfect replica of the ones on the screen right up to and not including the capped sleeves.

They are not very obvious in this ad from the NFL Shop, but they were particularly jarring to my eye on Sunday.  Some ideas aren't worth acting upon.

There was a father and son wearing San Francisco's red and gold sharing a table with the mom and another son wearing New Orleans's black and gold. We three had a good time wondering what other, deeper divisions in their family this might reveal.

Right next to us was a big guy and a little guy, each wearing a red Crabtree jersey.  When Michael ran 15 yards they were shuffling their feet in time with his.  It was almost as much fun to watch as their tablemate's 49'ers knee socks.  Not many men could carry that off; personally, I credit his Chucks for saving the day.
Tonight there's Duke vs Ohio State, a #2 vs #4 match-up that has piqued TBG's interest. With real claim to the #1 team in the nation (GO I U!!) and to the much-overlooked-but-up-and-coming Hoyas (who, though unranked, acquitted themselves with more aplomb than did the #14 Tarheels against IU), and to our #9 ranked hometown Wildcats, this looks to be a season I can really follow. I won't be reading in the library; I'll be on Douglas, cheering for a good game.

The last time I knew this much - or cared this much so early in the season - about college basketball was when DePaul and Ray Meyer made a run for it all..

I'm trying not to think about how that turned out.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Little By Little (with digressions)

That's my mantra for the season.  I'm applying it to the physical and the emotional pieces of my life.  I wrote about Kaizen after we came home from Canyon Ranch. I didn't think of it until I typed it, but it's obviously the same thing.

This is why I love you, denizens.  I think out loud, and you are there to listen.  Without you, I'm a raving lunatic.  With you, I'm a thoughtful blogger.  But, as usual, I digress.

I was feeling overwhelmed over the weekend.  I had some post-holiday blues to mix in with the Halloween decorations festooning the edges of the garage, haphazardly piled atop one another, earrings next to plastic pumpkins from Happy Meals gone by.  Thanksgiving was in a box on the kitchen table, awaiting strong, young legs to transport it.  There were boxes and boxes of Christmas and Chanukah stacked higher than my achy hip was willing to lower.

I pushed away the random nastiness which was threatening to creep in from the sidelines.  Sure, two years ago this was no problem.  It's really too bad. It's also a fact.  Dwelling on it won't make me any stronger.

My brain repeated it as my heart and soul tried to embrace it.  Brain was losing, rapidly.  I cried.

For once, TBG heeded my pleas and didn't try to solve the problem.  He just listened.  It was lovely. Then it was over and I asked for help in moving the boxes and all of a sudden I had Fall put away on the shelves and Winter on the gardening bench, ready to be unpacked.

Did I mention that there are lots and lots of boxes?  I once complained about not having any Chanukah decor; FAMBB took care of a lot of that and now I've moved most of it to Amster's, since she'll be hosting our-now-annual-Chanukah party forever and anon.  Even with that purging, I have boxes for the Jewish half and boxes for the Christian half and even some boxes for the heathens, too.

Heathens?  Well, how else can I explain the fact of a snow man in the desert?  To whom am I appealing? It made sense in Chicago, it never came out in California, yet here, in Tucson, it smiles at me from under a saguaro. Holiday iconography is an interesting subject; I wish that Nance were still writing Mature Landscape so that she could research it and tell me what I need to know.  But, again, I digress.

JannyLou and Fast Eddie, the world's most wonderful next-door-neighbors, put away my holiday after I was shot.  Yesterday I opened boxes left untouched since then, and I was covered with love.... in the shape of styrofoam popcorns attaching themselves to me and everything around me.  It was snowing in the desert, and I laughed.

Small steps, denizens.  I'm taking small steps.  I didn't bring the whole box into the house.  I unpacked what I could carry in one trip, and brought it in and set it out.  Little Cuter was the recipient of many of my ornaments and tchotchkes when she and SIR set up housekeeping.  What remains are the special things, the ones that make me smile.

I'm taking my own sweet time.  When I go out to the garage, I bring in another item or two.  I'm amazing myself; I polished the silver reindeer before I put them away.  What a lovely gift to have given myself.  How thoughtful of me. It's the little things, remember?

There was less and less of G'ma at Thanksgiving.  There were times when she knew a phrase was called for, but she didn't know which one it was.  She's losing track of the conversation more frequently.  And then, there are those damn, clacking dentures.  Little by little she's fading away.  Little by little I'm learning to let go.

We sat outside on Thursday night, under the stars, on the much-too-low-for-her lounges.  I was in shorts and a t-shirt; she was wrapped in the grey cashmere throw.  We watched the bugs then the bats then the birds.  The sun set and she asked to go home.

She never asks to go home.  She always wants to stay and enjoy the party.  Thursday night she was finished, and it wasn't even 7 o'clock.

I took her home and got her settled and walked away.  Little by little is easier than all at once, but, for me, it still takes some work.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012


I must confess - I love my new Smartphone. Every day it reveals another, more intimate, side of itself.  The more I trust it, the more I am rewarded.

It's a very thoughtful little machine, my Galaxy S3.  It lets me clean up my Contacts List; I press the chain link icon and I can join one contact to another.  Join... isn't that a lovely word?  Combine implies mashing and smashing while join is like that icon over there, neatly fitting one inside the other, each retaining its own particular charm.  

Somehow, it knows to include a picture, even if it appears only on one of the three entries I've found for the same friend. Three entries, you wonder?  Yes, the darling device has imported contacts from Google as well as those on the phone's SIM card, saved from the dearly departed stupid phone it replaced, and from Facebook, too.  For all I know, it's included the DEX or Yellow Pages from my area code.  Like my pictures, they just kind of appeared one day.

It feels intrusive.  Big Cuter reminds me that once I've downloaded the app (a shortcut to a specific site on the interwebs, configured to display properly on my 4.8" screen) I've given them permission to invade my personal space.... which leads him neatly into his rant about privacy being overrated and the fact that it is an old-fashioned construct and as long as you behave in a proper manner (yes, he says things like that) there's really no reason to worry.  

Be that as it may, I was startled into yelping aloud when my Picasa galleries appeared on my phone.  Yes, I'd told the phone my Gmail address.  No, I didn't realize that it would bring my on-line life into a handheld device... one that I might lose... one that contains phone numbers and emails of my friends.  I am certain that I appear in similar devices living in my friends' handbags and backpacks.

Is this progress?  Now I have something new to worry me. Big Cuter's pronouncement announcing the absence of privacy in the 21st century has suddenly taken on a much more personal relevance.

And yet, I love the damn thing.

It fits perfectly in my hand.  It's a comfortable cover for my ear and my mouth; there's no reason to raise my voice because the mouthpiece seems so very far away.  Once I figured out the motion, I've become addicted to swiping my finger across the screen, to answer a call, to respond to any one of a number of notifications... of tasks and events and notes I've left myself.  I've become my own worst enemy, and I love it. I annoy myself, and I'm rewarded by swiping.

I remember going to the 1964-5 World's Fair in Flushing, New York.  We were all of 12 and 13 but our parents let us take the train and tour the Fair without adult supervision.  Feeling very grown up, we wandered over to the AT&T pavilion where the latest gadget was on display: a push button phone. The rotary phone was no match for the speed of those perfectly shaped buttons. It was a whole new world, quicker and newer and unimaginable just a little while ago. 

I'm feeling that feeling all over again.

Monday, November 26, 2012

A Thanksgiving Olio

An olio, a miscellaneous collection, a good word to know if you do crossword puzzles, and, perhaps, the new name for the Random Thoughts series.  There are so many stories to tell....
It was a little bit of Love Actually at Tucson International Airport on Wednesday night.  Grandmas were hugging and being hugged. Girlfriends were standing aside, letting parents and sons embrace, patiently waiting for their own hugs and kisses.  Little ones were asleep on shoulders and in crooks of arms and in strollers.

By the time Thursday morning rolled around.... at about ten past midnight.... there was only Big Cuter's plane left to land and the crowd had thinned considerably.  We were hunkered down in front of the tv monitor, which broadcasts from the arrivals hallway, just after the security station. Travellers in the know smile and wave at the camera, much to the delight of their relatives in the lobby. We all wondered why the security guard chose that particular spot to rearrange his undergarments, wriggling his butt in the camera's lens.

We wondered.... and we laughed.
Big Cuter lives in sweats and t-shirts when he's here.  There's a stash of them in his closet.  His suitcase contains underwear and reading material.

"Dad, can I borrow a pair of socks?" has become a recurring theme this vacation.  Though he says he doesn't need any more socks at all, I think Santa will have to bring some that he can leave here.

Yes, it's all part of my fiendish, not very subtle, plot to entice my children to move to the desert.  It's not likely, but a girl can dream.
I started to transition from Fall to Winter this morning. Big Cuter lifted two boxes of decorations up to the top shelf in the cabinet in the garage.  He didn't need a ladder.  He didn't need to organize his hips and his legs to lift them.  He did it all in one fell swoop, not needing two forays to accomplish the task. He didn't grunt or groan or find the boxes particularly heavy.

I knew there was a reason I had children.
While I am extolling the virtues of having a strong young man around the house, let me also give him credit for figuring out how to turn Pandora off on my new, not-that-annoying-any-more Galaxy S3 smartphone.

Now, if he could only figure out why the desktop computer won't turn on, I'd be totally content.
I made two turkeys this year.  It was a mistake.  I meant to make one turkey and one breast, but I picked up the wrong bag in the grocery store and didn't notice my mistake until 10am on Thursday morning, ten minutes after I sat up in bed, panic stricken.  Who sleeps in on Thanksgiving morning?

Without Little Cuter to spearhead the effort, I was a wreck. She's taken charge since high school.  She's the much better cook, and I like to clean up, so we're the perfect pair.  This year, the mashed potatoes weren't creamy, the creamed spinach was from a microwaveable freezer pack, and I was dripping sweat by the time I sat down at the kitchen table.

How did G'ma and Daddooooo manage the holidays without their kids surrounding them? I barely made it through dinner.
The last person to wear the too-small white apron with the turkey embroidered on the breast was Christina-Taylor.  I put it over my head without making the connection.... and then I remembered..... and I cried.

I couldn't help it.  She's gone, there's less of my mom every day, my girl and her guy weren't here, and it was the anniversary of my dad's death.  I was trying as hard as I could to feel grateful - and there is so much for which to be grateful - and, eventually, I found my way out of my funk.

It was the first time I had an up-close-and-personal relationship with The Holiday Blues.  How lucky am I to have reached 60 before I knew what it meant, for real?
The boys went to the neighborhood sports bar in the mall where Big Cuter's 49'ers were playing on the 103" screen. They were hiding in a quiet nook, surrounded by San Francisco fans, drinking beer and iced tea and cheering Colin Kaepernick.  TBG gets credit for picking the 6'5" back-up quarterback as a winner back when the kid was playing college ball.  I have to mention that.  It's a fact.  He's proud of it.  Thanks for reading it.

I had half a hamburger and shared my fries with the table and then, when Big Cuter ordered spicy hot wings, I had to leave.  These were seriously hot hot wings.  The spices made my eyes tear.  I moved closer to TBG, but that didn't help.  Our faces were sweating.  Our son, meanwhile, was smiling, laughing, and devouring an entire plate of bright orange.

It's good to be young.
I'm trying as hard as I can to get into the holiday spirit.  I've begun mailing the brownie list. Thanksgiving is put away and so is Halloween.  The first nutcracker has made his appearance by the back door.  I went wreath shopping on Friday.

The problem is, the temps are still in the 80's during the day, and the pool is looking awfully inviting.

I have to remind myself that this was Jesus's weather.... and it's his birthday, after all, right?
I hope your holiday was filled with warmth and love and joy.  I know that mine was made infinitely better, just knowing that you were out there.  Please, do not underestimate how much I value, love, revel in your presence.  You help me think, and for that, I am eternally grateful.

Friday, November 23, 2012

One Shopping Secret

Shop local.

I'm out of fresh ideas on the interwebs. I haven't been in the garden in so long the catalogs are mere teases, tempting me with items I can't appreciate in full.  Since I am feeling the love this year, I'm avoiding things which make me grimace... like thinking about Elmo's muppeteer resigning... and I'm concentrating on the good.

So, back to my idea for this Friday's Shopping Secret : Shop Local.

The city of Fresno says that either $73 of every $100 or 45 cents of every $1 will stay in the local economy if you stay away from the big chains.  I have issues with mathematical analyses so I checked with my boys; they can't have it both ways.  Of course, Big Cuter suggests that it's really $118 out of every $100 but that's more a by-product of lying on Douglas with his Dad than any real math-ness...... but I digress.

There are little shops you've driven by a dozen times - go in.

There are bakeries and fruit stands and wine shops that have tempted you from afar - give in.

Ask the waitress where she found those fabulous earrings; I'll bet it was an artisan whose work you can find just down the street.

I, for one, am going to get an early start on the brownie list.  It doesn't get more local than my own kitchen, after all.

Have a wonderful holiday weekend, denizens.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Thanks for the memories.......

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Over time, as the kids grew and sports schedules interrupted our travels, we made our own memories. The Bride taught us about ketchup on turkey.  Big Cuter needs horse radish since he scorns the gravy.  Little Cuter's mashed potatoes are creamy and not at all lumpy and will be sorely missed this year as she makes her own way, over the river and through the woods, to her own mother-in-law's house for the holiday.  I'll try my best, but the boys are already moaning over their loss.

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The First Big Guy

My father-in-law would have turned 100 today.  He'd have been very proud of what he saw.

His youngest child, his namesake, the Junior, was teary-eyed, looking at the finally arrived aren't they here yet? absolutely gorgeous wedding pictures.

Sergio captured the moments perfectly. My house has never looked lovelier and my daughter has never looked happier and I wish that TFBG could have been here to enjoy the party. 

He'd have been very proud.

He was self-reliant and independent and managed his own affairs without interference or consultation.  His retirement planning ran through A to Z and ended, on graph paper, in pencil, each letter occupying its own space and nothing more, with PP.  He shared them with TBG, but only as a curiosity.  He would own the result as he owned the preparation.

Ownership was something he took seriously.  He had the same woolen bathrobe for his entire adult life.  His shoes were works of wonder; treed every night and polished by day, they lasted for decades.  Every tool had its proper place, and none were ever put away improperly, or unclean.

What I view as persnickety nit-picking annoying TBG's acute attention to detail, TFBG saw as the only way to be. All his pencils were always sharpened.  All his scrap paper was always neatly cornered.  His coins were stacked, separated into appropriate piles, atop his dresser each night before he went to bed. 

My closet, which, last week, looked like a bomb exploded underneath the hanging clothes, tossing things off shelves and out of jewelry boxes, would have been beyond his ken.  But he would never have said a thing.  If it worked for me, that would have been just fine. I was Suz-eye, the one his little boy had chosen.  I must be okay.

It was that acceptance of the world around him which made him so special to me.  He may have been different when his children were small, and he was travelling, and there were issues.  I will never know.  By the time we met, he was settled into a routine which worked for everyone.... and there he stayed.  It wasn't boring, it wasn't habitual or without thought.  It was a plan.  There really is a difference.

With his life organized, TFBG could concentrate on the things which were interesting.  Look up at the ceiling of the room you're in and then come right back here.  How many light fixtures were up there?  How many square drop-ceiling panels?  How many holes per panel?  TFBG wouldn't have looked down until he knew.  Then, while the rest of us were trying to remember, he'd be creating mathematical puzzles and pictures with the information newly stored in his brain.  He was never bored; there was always something to count.

He loved me because I loved his son and didn't annoy his wife and that was enough for him.  He took me as I came, family warts and all. Without judgment, without strings, without anything but affection and warmth, he was a rock on whom to lean.

He wasn't perfect, but he was close enough that we named our own son The Third. 

No, it wasn't ego on Dad's part.  It was homage to the grandfather who embodied that title.

He truly was a Grand Father.

Rest in Peace, Paw.  You are missed.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Change of Seasons

It's happening to me once again.  I have no idea what day it is.  I am certainly confused about the season. 

I spent our first winter in Marin wearing hiking boots, woolen socks, corduroy shorts and a polar fleece vest over a long sleeved t-shirt or sweater.  My winter coat was a yellow, unlined, floor-length cotton duster which was only snapped up tight when I wanted to protect what was underneath from the raindrops.  It was never cold enough to warrant a scarf or a hat or gloves; when I wore them, it was a fashion statement rather than a concession to frigid temperatures.

A friend suggested that I choose colors for each season, and rotate my closet accordingly.  The weather was pretty much the same year round, once you crossed the Golden Gate Bridge.  Woolen sweaters were relegated to the storage closets there, as they are here.  Pale yellow is reserved for April through August; dark brown for November til Valentine's Day.

Or so it has been until this year. Our temperatures remain in the eighties during the day.  I'd like to wear a sleeveless tank top but it's November, for crying out loud.  I feel ridiculous.  Thanksgiving is Thursday... and I'm still not wearing a cover-up into the gym.  My short sweatshirts are glaring at me from their hangars; they're lonely and I, apparently, am to blame.

I love Fall clothes.  I love snuggling into a sweater that's going to insulate me and hug me and keep me warm.  Right now, putting on a sweater would be suicidal; every convertible in town is out with the top down today. It feels like the middle of summer on Long Island, right after a rainfall, when the air is clear and crisp and the humidity is only a faint memory.

I still haven't bought my turkey.  I haven't brought out the Thanksgiving napkins and pot holders and dish towels.  My rose bush is blooming again, its magnificence mocking the calendar.  Don't roses bloom in the spring? The small, migrating finches are nibbling on the crepe myrtle's seed pods, but there don't seem to be that many of them. 

Are they additional harbingers of global warming?  Is their home up north still toasty enough to entice them to stay?  The quail are fattening up, and I haven't seen many bunnies or ground squirrels, so the native beasties are still paying attention to the month and the season, it seems.  The coyotes are plump and not as noisy; the babies are growing to maturity and have learned to control themselves.  The sunsets are the bright oranges of the nearing solstice, and I remember that the shortest day of the year is but six or so weeks away.

So, why am I wearing shorts?

Monday, November 19, 2012

A Neighborhood Atop a Cemetery

Tucson's built in the caldera of a volcano.  It's ringed by mountain ranges, growth beginning in the middle of the hole and spreading out as far as the mountains allowed.  The original presidio is in the center of downtown, the dead were buried further north, just east of Main Street. 

Then, civilization began to encroach.  Development was moving in the direction of all those bodies, and the survivors were told to dig 'em up.  Evergreen Cemetery was created further north and west, and plots would be available for the displaced remains.  Some were moved.  Some were not.  Homeowners in the Dunbar and Spring neighborhoods are still digging up caskets and clothes and bones.  Were the bodies buried with all their clothes victims of contagious disease?  Was burial the safest method of disposal for things they'd touched? 

The answers are unknown, but the history is commemorated by signage in the roundabouts.

I visited this slice of Tucson with the Streetwalkers, another piece of the Happy Ladies Club.  Boas optional, this group wants to move but prefers pavement to gravel and flat surfaces to hundreds of feet of elevation change.  At this point, they are more my speed than the Desert Hikers, who take on miles at a time.  It's not as adventurous, but it turned out to be just as much fun.
There's a lot to be learned on these excursions, as our fearless leader shared details about the houses we passed.  I'm trying not to think about what the residents thought of my photography.  People drive by our house and take pictues and it's kind of creepy; somehow, I didn't feel intrusive at all.  It's all in the eye of the beholder, isn't it?
 We admired the blue fence posts and railings,
 and marveled at what less than $200,000 can get you within biking distance of the University.
We learned that many of the original stores have been repurposed as houses, like this one which served the ethnic Chinese who lived out here, on the outskirts of town.
The door opens out to the corner; it's a feng shui thing. 
This property is gated, but there's a nice garden outside for the neighbors to enjoy, too.
Don't those chairs look like they're waiting for us to sit down, cocktail in hand, watching the world go by? 
 The fence is made of recycled wood and the planters are barrels and the irrigation is everywhere to feed the roses.
And there were roses everywhere.
Gotta love the desert southwest; our roses bloom a second time for Thanksgiving.
Without an HOA and its restrictions and covenants, relics of mini-golf parks past can be relocated in the front yard with impunity.
This is a community in the true sense of the word; it even has a bulletin board. 
There are murals, historic
 and ethnic
 and directional signs pointing you to the mountain ranges.
There are gates made of bike parts.
 And there's a blacksmith shop.
This is the blacksmith.
He showed us how to make a curl.
He selected the pieces to be heated. 
Then he put them to the coal fire; it gives a better result than a gas flame.
Yes, he has only one glove.
He was braver than I'd ever be.
Then, he took the heated pieces to the anvil and flattened them, then curled them using the pointed edge in front and the rounded edge in back.
He's been at it for 34 years; his son is the welder.
The neighborhood boasts a theater owner who puts on big musicals in a tiny Red Barn, 
and a barber school (where photos felt intrusive) offering low-cost instruction in a field where jobs are available.  Student haircuts are $5; the teachers check everyone before they walk out the door.
It's a community, after all.  They'll be seeing their handiwork on the streets.
Next time you're in town, give me a call.
I'll be glad to take you and show you around.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Shopping Secrets - Hand Made Goodies

I know a lot of talented women.  I am crafty at heart but lousy at execution; I've never knit anything that fit the person for whom it was intended. I have good handwriting, but calligraphy escapes me.  I am envious of those whose brains create items their hands can concoct.  I invite you to meet three women who fit in that category.

Mei-Mei was featured last year, but her stuff warrants another look.  She spent some time in the hospital a while back, and came home with a suitcase filled with those comfy socks with the sticky patches on the soles. Wanting to give back to the medical community which tried to fix her problems, she made upcycled toys for the hospitalized children, and then she went to Etsy and began to market her wares.

She made me a Lisbeth Salander doll, to celebrate my triumph over adversity. She'll make you a custom piece, too. Just tell her I told you she would.

Know somebody who's going in for a knee replacement?  How about this one, replete with boo-boo-bandages already in place?
Perhaps you want a personalized Who's Whose - these are baby safe and would be perfect for a new little one's first holiday season.
 Cardinal de Briccassart is part of the Baby Budgies collection, and is okay for infants to gnaw on.
Is the name reminding you of someone... something... but you just can't place it?
Think Thorn Birds..... Richard Chamberlain he's not, but that's okay.... a girl can dream.
Sold as a set, this Alien Family was created as homage to Mei-Mei's obnoxious next door neighbors.
 Need a gift for a bunch of kids? This might just fit the bill.
If you're like me, gift tags are the best part of the holiday.
I like choosing the ones that fit the recipient best.
I shop on December 26th mainly to buy the fancy ones at reduced prices.
This birdhouse/gift tag/ornament can be personalized with baby bracelet letters.
You must know someone who loves to see her name in lights. 
Mei-Mei is dealing with the aftermath of Sandy; shopping at her Etsy store will bring her joy and probably counts as a good deed you've done for a Super Storm Survivor, too.

I tried to promote MOTG's floral cards last year. This time, she's got an Etsy shop up and running.  She's uploading fifty different floral delights, each one taken in her own garden.  Little Cuter calls it Mary's Fairy Garden, and it's hard to disagree.
 Can you see the beastie in the center?
 She's a Master Gardener, and it shows.
There's not a speck of mold or rust or caterpillar teething on any of her petals.
 Not only does she find black and white butterflies in her garden, she gets them to sit still while she takes their picture.
Personally, though, I'm captivated by the sunlight reflecting off the center of the purple blossom.
The cards are a 4 x 6 photo mounted on 5 x 6.5" ivory cardstock.
Each card is made to order; you choose the blooms you love and she prints them just for you.
The label is signed by the artiste herself.
 They are $2.00 each. Paypal or money order only, please.
Finally, let me introduce you to Barbara Waldman Lester, a high school friend I rediscovered after intersecting with bullets. She sent a "hi, how are you, do you remember me" email from Nashua, New Hampshire and I've been reveling in the wonder of her creativity and talent ever since.
Some of her work is delicate, like this pendant with a tree. 
 Some of it feels alive, like this heron.
Some of it is just magnificent, like this Picasso-inspired piece.
And some of it is just gorgeous, like this bowl.
 If, like me, you are delighted to find anything at all that is Hanukah-related, this menorah should make you very very happy. 
It would make a perfect house-warming gift.
Her website has so much more - barrettes and candle holders and earrings and this suncatcher
  which makes me smile each time I look at it.
There are jewelry sets and more Judaica (stuff that relates to Judaism, for those who have just been confronted with a new word) and plates of all sizes and descriptions.  Barbara will do custom work, too. 
If you've been keeping up with the program, you should be ready to open your wallet and start to fill in the blanks on your lists.  Remember, the goal is to be finished with your shopping before December 1st.  

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Random Thoughts - The Lull Before the Storm

This is a good week.  Nothing extra dotting my calendar, no meetings I'm obliged to attend, no urgent errands to run or needs to be met.  Tana French wrote that "only teenagers or adults who think like teenagers find that boring is a bad thing.  The rest of us know that it is a gift from the gods."

I couldn't have said it better.
I participated in a webinar with  Alan Mathios, Dean of the College of Human Ecology at Cornell University this morning.  Webinar is a weird word, especially when it includes the use of a telephone for oral communication.  I've been playing with the words for an hour or so and can't come up with anything more mellifluous, though, so I'll stop judging and move on.

As an aside, it's very cool to have the Dean recognize my name and hope to see me in Arizona.  I felt a little bit special.
Thomas the Wonder Dog kept SIR and Little Cuter up all night at the Emergency Vet last weekend.  It's awful when the patient can't tell you where it hurts.  They say he's on the path to recovery, but my girl is leaving a part of her soul at home with him every time she leaves for work.

Love is a sharp edged sword, sometimes.
I've updated the sidebar once again, but I want to make a special mention of Tana French's The Likeness.  If you are going to read one police procedural/undercover operation novel in your life, this is it.  Watching the protagonist fall deeper and deeper into the rabbit hole has me dreaming of moving into the house she's infiltrated along with her.  Few novels have touched me this deeply.
I have a new regimen at the gym.  I'm using the elliptical-with-arms, which keeps my legs moving in the proper alignment while I swing my body, left and right, over my hips, turning my head fully in each direction.  It's an attempt to loosen up the stiffness I've accumulated over the last two years.

With calf raises engaging my glutes and adductors, and squats in front of the mirror re-educating my quadriceps, I'm rolling less and striding more.  It may well be that I can get rid of this limp, after all.
Becca interviewed Jeff Kinney, author of The Wimpy Kid series, yesterday.  Mr. 9, home sick from school, was beside himself with joy.  I rose several steps in his estimation just by knowing someone who knows Mr. Kinney.

I'll take it.
College basketball is back and I am, once again, watching too much sports on tv.  This week features tournaments with the best teams competing.  How lucky am I to have connections to so many of those schools - Kansas, Georgetown, Indiana - and how much luckier am I to have graduates who want to text and tweet about them. 

It's those little things, the random Rock Chalk Jayhawk or Hoya Saxa cheer across the interwebs, that make me feel closer to those I love. 

And then there's the fact that I U is rated #1.  It must be the warm-up pants, don't you agree?
I suppose I should begin to collect the items I'll need to create Thanksgiving here at home, but I'm kind of enjoying the peaceful feeling I have right now.  There are no lurking projects (well, there are, but I'm within the "okay to ignore them" time frame) and no guests on the horizon.  I may just wait until next week before I gear up for that particular shopping spree.
There's something delightfully decadent about taking the last 40 pages of my novel out to the lounge chair in the sun in the middle of a Wednesday afternoon.  I am guilt free, having gone to the gym this morning and going to Pilates in the afternoon.  The absence of pressure is surprising, tickling the corners of my brain, wondering why I am so calm.
I doubted that I'd ever get to this place again.  I'm going outside right now to enjoy it.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Smart Phone - A Misnomer?

What kind did I buy?  The kind Big Cuter told me to buy.

I am too old for this.  We had rotary phones in every room in the house; Daddooooo would have a bad day and come home and run phone lines to the closets, to the other side of the bedrooms, to the basement.  Since this was frowned upon illegal considered stealing by Ma Bell, it fed his need "to get back at the man."  The rest of the family waited for the police to come and cart him away.

Once the lines were installed, using the device was a no-brainer.... or so I thought.  The Cuters, when faced with their first look at this phone were flummoxed.

Their little fingers went into the appropriate holes, but turning the dial all the way to the curved metal stopper was not at all intuitive for them.

"This is hard!"

I repeated the same thing when I first saw the Galaxy S3.

At least on the old phones, it was pretty obvious how to answer and hang up.  No so much on my new one. Big Cuter called me.... I could see his name and number on the big bright screen.  I could see the green arrow in a circle.  I could see little dots emanating from the circle and moving gently to the right, towards the End Call red circle. I poked at that green arrow.  I pressed on that green arrow.  I shook the phone and screamed at that green arrow.  The phone stopped ringing.  My kid was gone.

I managed to call him back.  He knew, without prompting, what the problem had been.  "Swipe, Mom," was the simple suggestion.  Had I not seen those dots?  Did they not cue me to move my finger gently to the right, following their path? 

No, they did not.  I thought they were pretty; I didn't think they were functional, too.

I was much happier with my old, stupid, phone.  When it died last week, I was the only one who was surprised.  The salesman in the Verizon store commiserated with me; the device was more than twenty months old, after all.  It was no surprise to him that it had lost the ability to light up or ring.  It was more than twenty months old, after all. All I could think of to say was that G'ma's yellow rotary phone is somewhere in my garage and, if I plugged it in I was certain that it would be just fine.  I kept my mouth shut.

Shaking my head, high-fiving the couple my age sharing the counter and groaning about our inability to buy another stupid phone, saving money by updating my plan.... the shopping experience was overwhelming and depressing.  I never go into those stores without a twenty-something by my side.  I'm never sure I'm asking the right questions or understanding the answers I'm given.  There are many reasons to live closer to my children; this is one of the big ones.

According to Big Cuter, my generation is afraid to play with electronics.  That is the source of my anxiety, he claims.  There's probably some truth to that; Ms Levine's kindergarteners can reboot their computers and cruise their new iPads with nary a suggestion from the adults in the room. I was frozen, staring at the screen, afraid to push something because I didn't know if I could get back to the place from which I had started. 

I can't even understand the instructions.  On-line videos suggest that I pinch the homescreens.  There is so much wrong with those three words, I don't know where to start.  Pinch? How?  What does that mean?  After much fussing, I realized that I should be setting my fingers apart on the screen and drawing them together.  That's obviously how I would pinch a fold of skin; I just never thought about doing it on a flat surface and getting the same result.  Homescreens?  Plural?  I am not Mitt Romney; I have only one home.  Apparently, my Galaxy S3 is a Republican. Who knew? 

Twenty-somethings knew.

I found the Return to Start button and my anxiety dropped.... just a little.  It became obvious that organization will be the key to efficient use of this device.  I just need to remember how to get back to where I was in order to make sense of it all.  Perhaps that's the answer to Big Cuter - I am not afraid to play, I just can't remember what I've done.  I'm old.

The pre-loaded weather app made me happy for a while.  I could tap different pieces of the picture and ... voila!.... more information appeared.  When I stopped tapping, I found the original screen fairly easily.  At that point, feeling successful, I watched some football with TBG, who was kind of lonely at the other end of Douglas.

These devices are such a time suck.

Big Cuter talked me through finding the camera, and I managed to reverse the lenses (front and back facing cameras are a part of this phone I will surely love) and take three pictures of my face.  I only wanted one.  I can't find them again, anyway. Even more startling, Android or Google or Verizon or the Phone Goddess synched my Picasa pictures to my Galaxy S3 and now my history is in my hand, whenever I want a quick peek.  It was creepy.  I didn't do anything to make it happen... at least I don't think that I did.

There seems to be a shaking thing going on, with pictures getting larger and smaller and screens moving off the the left as new ones appear from the right. I have no idea how I made that happen, but it's pretty cool when it does.  Don't get the idea that I know how to make it so.  It remains a mystery to me.

After a week of playing with it, I've managed to upload my music library, although I can't figure out where it is hiding. You'd think there'd be an icon lurking at the top or the bottom of one of my home screens, but if it's there, I don't see it.  I have a few dozen other questions to pose to the helpful staff at the Verizon store; I'm on my way there right now.

I'm bringing a pad and pencil.  I'm going to take notes which I can access with my fingers, my eyes, and my brain..... no power cords or wireless connections or USB jacks required.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

So Long.....

That's the size of the hole in my heart right how.

Frank and Jackie, who live next door to G'ma's house on Long Island, went outside the night of Superstorm Sandy and watched the giant pin oak twirling around and around in the wind.  Like a windmill, like a whiligig, like a top, like a big scary living thing that was about to crash onto their kitchen, the tree my parents planted on my brother's first birthday in 1955 was behaving badly.

That tree was base in so many games of Hide and Seek and Red Rover and Mother, May I? that it exists on its own, as a character in my memory. Its trunk served as home plate for whiffle ball, and was the goal in the games of Association in which Daddooooo tried to interest us. 

Those dark lines outside the ripped away lawn are not gopher tunnels, nor garden soil, nor uneven patches of grass.  They are the roots of the tree, the foundation that held it up for nearly sixty years.  They are gnarly.  I always knew exactly what that word meant.  It lived in my backyard.  Those roots divided the rooms of my imaginary castle.  Those roots were perches from which to jump, escaping beasties. I was much to old to be playing those games, but the tree, somehow, demanded it. 

It wasn't very good for climbing when we were young, and swings didn't hang from it until the Cuters were born. Daddooooo rigged an elaborate rope harness which held a baby bucket, then a helicopter, then a wooden plank which could be put up or taken down at a grandchild's request.  Mostly, though, the branches were a backdrop for my parents' on-going war with the squirrels.  The damn things ate the food from the bird feeders.  They built nests just out of reach of the tallest ladder... as if they knew that they were taunting my poor, determined father.

When branches fell down, he made walking sticks. 
This is all that's left of that tree.
That tree shaded Big Cuter when he was 3 months old, asleep in his Aprica stroller as Daddooooo mowed the grass.  That tree was the backdrop to our annual Jewish New Year family photo, the fall colors a perfect background to our I-wanna-get-out-of-these-clothes scowls.  Grass rarely grew under the shade of that tree, and the picnic table was wobblier as the roots became bumpier, but we still carried it from the walkway under the window to its spot under the leaves, downwind of the barbeque.  It never mattered where we set it, it was always downwind of the barbeque.
Those family picnics were peaceful times; G'ma inside the kitchen cutting and slicing and pouring and directing, Daddooooo manning the grill and quasi-supervising the children running through the unfenced yards between the houses.  My little cousin Ilene was there, tethered to her mom, my Aunt Lilly.
Everyone called her Lilly, though she called herself Lillian. She kept plastic covers on her couches, which seemed eminently sensible to me as I drank soda in the middle of the deep pillows, relaxed and drippy.  Aunt Lilly had the first Instant Polaroid camera I'd ever seen.  She would let you look but not touch as she peeled the pieces apart, holding them just out of reach.  It wasn't Uncle Paul's camera.  It was hers. I didn't know what G'ma had that was hers and hers alone.
Her mother lived with them, which sounded pretty wonderful to me.  When they came to our house, for the holidays or for a picnic under the tree, she brought her green jello with sliced grapes floating inside like alien creatures.  Daddooooo always threatened to drop it on the trip from the refrigerator to the table, but I kind of liked the unpredictability of the whole thing, wondering, with my eyes closed, if I'd get a crunchy or a gooshy bite.
Aunt Lilly always lived with Ilene, first in the house she and Uncle Paul bought in the 1950's in a then-fine-but-now-rapidly-changing neighborhood, and then, when Ilene and her husband were ready to send their son to school, in the new house in a much better neighborhood.  She was child care.  She was a live-in grandma.  She wrote long letters in beautiful penmanship to G'ma, who knew exactly who she was. When I sent her the WWII photos of her husband, my uncle, G'ma's brother, her letter and our phone call brought them closer than they'd ever been before. 
When she was diagnosed with lung cancer - she who'd never smoked - my cousin began the treadmill of opinions and treatments and decisions, all of which ended on Sunday when Aunt Lilly died, with her family by her side.  She "had all her marbles til the very end," my sister says.  When the question of cookies for the grandchild was discussed, Aunt Lilly piped up, hours before she died, "He likes ME.  I'm his cookie!"
Hearing this, my aunt was in the room with me.  Though I hadn't thought of it for years, she called all the little ones in her realm cookie. "Come here, cookie....."  I heard it aloud.  She was with me and then she was gone and I sighed and over a squelched sob told my sister, "That's SO Aunt Lilly." 
"Don't go there," was her reply; my family's never been big on showing weakness or admitting to sadness. 
"After what I've been through, this is a place I can get to fairly easily," was my answer, and then I went on to reassure her that I could be sad without drowning in sorrow. 
It took me til later in the night to admit to my loss.  Like the tree in the backyard, Aunt Lilly has been a fixture of my life for my whole entire life.... until this weekend... when, poof, they're gone.  It's the way of the world, the cycle of life, they were old and they'd had wonderful lives and brought much joy to those who made their acquaintance, but they are now in the past and I'm sad.