Friday, August 30, 2013

Watching It Play Out

I've had senseless tragedies on my mind today, as the Aurora shooter asserts an affirmative defense, thus requiring a trial. His sanity will be examined, the details will be hashed and rehashed and diced and sliced and it will last for a very long time.  Eighty-two theater-goers were shot that night.  Eighty-two stories are waiting to be heard. The judge said that the trial will center on the testimony of mental health experts weighing in on the shooter's mental state at the time of the rampage, and not on that of the victims.

Victims....oh, I don't like that word at all.  It's accurate and it's necessary and it has legal ramifications but I still don't like it.

The number of people who have a vested interest in the case comes close to 700, as the judge considers those in the adjoining theaters to have been at risk, too. All those people may not testify, but they'll have a chance to see every bit of the legal proceedings.  It's their right. It's going to be a very large courtroom.

Not everyone will want to go. Some won't want to give him another moment of their lives. Some will be too fearful. Some will not want to see him, to have his visage in their heads. Some will think that it is ghoulish, that it is unnecessary to relive the worst moments of their lives. Some will be afraid of their reactions; will they be able to stay on their side of the bar, resisting the urge to jump over the low railing and wreak their own havoc on the perpetrator. They won't have to worry about assaulting the wrong man; his defense acknowledges his actions while saying he is not culpable. Somehow, that makes pounding the life out of him a bit more palatable.

I know all of that is true, because I felt it, sometimes all of it in one day.

No matter how thoughtful the prosecutors, no matter how kind the judge, sitting in the courtroom with the person who was, not long ago, on the business end of the weapon that sent bullets through the theater, sitting there watching him, shackled or not, is unsettling. There's no way to find comfort, no place to ease the pain. Your own feet brought you to the courtroom. No one dragged you.  You came to watch, to listen, to soak it in. I was shaking and crying and making a spectacle of myself... the first time.

After a while, and our while was very short, it became less frightening. I knew what to expect, I recognized the players, I knew the routine. The setting was familiar. It didn't remove the knot in my stomach that grew pointier and pokier every time I looked at the defense table, but that knot became more of an old friend as time went on.  As with all old friends, I knew just what to do with it. I snuggled closer to TBG or Mavy or Dory or whoever was on my side.  I grabbed a hand, I sand into a shoulder. I drew strength and then I sat upright.

Knowing that I was going to walk out into the sunshine while the shooter was going back to his cell was a two edged sword. I would be safe, while he was incarcerated. I would be free. He would be living in a box, with the lights never turned off so that he couldn't hurt himself under cover of darkness.  A guard sat outside his cell, all day, every day, while no one cared whether I drove to the grocery store or lay on my bed all day.

I tried to stay away from acknowledging that a person younger than my own children had this as his fate. I didn't want to feel pity, or sorrow, but they were there anyway, peeking around the edges of my rage and my grief. This was a systems failure as much as anything else; watching the system work well was scant comfort.  Scant, but something.

We were lucky. The facts were not in dispute. The defendant did not want a fight. His attorney kept him off Death Row, which isn't where we wanted him anyway. Still, the courtroom pieces of this drama lasted for more than a year. That was without testimony or depositions or cross-examinations. The only evidence presented were mental health records and testimony by the treating psychologist. Even that one day bordered on more than I can handle.  

I don't know how they'll do it, those Coloradans who are choosing to sit in the courtroom as their story plays out. Even when court is not in session, the fact of it looms. It can't be set aside, because it's always there. When the prosecutor calls, you have to answer the phone. When they set a date for trial, you have to be there.  No matter if your daughter is getting married in six days, you have to spend the Monday before then in a room with a man writing a sentencing report, revisiting the events, the feelings, the tears, the loss, and knowing that your words are contributing to the imprisonment of a young man who never had a chance.

I feel lucky that we avoided so much. I feel empathy for those who are just beginning down the path. There's no way to make it okay. All I can do is send caring thoughts and prayers.

It's not enough, but it's something.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Where Are Your Sticks?

The kids are back in school, whether I think it's too early in the year or not, and yesterday the Official Adopted Grandmother of Prince Elementary School (that would be me) made her first lunchtime appearance. Dressed in my coat of many colors, I had stickers in my pocket and a smile on my face. After an hour, there were fewer stickers, but many more smiles.

"Do you remember me?" they asked, and "Of course!" I did even if I didn't. I have very few of their names in my permanent memory bank, though I recognize the usual suspects by sight. They are all a little taller... "nearly as tall as you are, Granny."

"Can we sing the Jingle Bells song?" a big boy wondered, and I shrugged and started crooning. This is the only audience on the planet which appreciates my vocalizations. We're working on learning the second verse, especially because it ends in kerplop! That is a very funny word, especially if you speak Urdu at home.  I don't know why, I just know that it is.  His face told me so.

The newly minted third grade girls and I sat in the shade, on the square bench closest to the boys playing soccer, and caught up on our summers.  "My other grandma..." and I lost the rest of her story because I was overcome. I'm in her life.  I'm her school grandma. She wondered why I hugged her, but she snuggled in and kept on talking.

We shared staple scars on our bellies - hers from an appendectomy and mine from bullets. The conversation wasn't about the discomfort or the fear, it was about the shape of our belly buttons after the surgeons were finished with us. We were peeved. Both of us.

Some moments are just perfect, and so, as the conversation turned to thinking about their next birthdays, when they would be turning nine, I decided not to remind them that Christina-Taylor was nine, too, when bullets stole her away from us. That's the wonder of PTSD; it rears its ugly head right in the middle of a sunny afternoon, daring me to turn away. But really, what purpose would it have served, right then and there, to tell them that they are vulnerable, that very bad things can happen when you least expect them, that hardly any place is safe.

I kept my mouth shut and focused on the moment.

"All those boys do is play soccer. See the one in the striped shirt?  He chased me." and yes, they knew exactly why he'd been chasing her. He liked her, she nodded with glee. It was a game. It was more tag than spin-the-bottle. It was nine.

I tied lots of shoe laces, pink shoelaces on sparkly pink shoes... even on the boys' feet. Hand-me-downs, even from your sister, are beautiful if they are all that you have. Most of the kids in this school understand that.

Of course, it is entirely possible that he just liked the ones with the pink and purple sparkles.  I didn't judge, I admired, tied, and moved on.

We talked about eating vegetables last year. "I remember that day," was accompanied by a wrinkled nose and a smile. Spinach that tasted like dirt. Carrots that were too crunchy. We reminisced and laughed until one of the soccer boys came over and interrupted.

"Where are your sticks?"

Oh. I'd left the car, walked through the parking lot, the lobby, around the playground, into the cafeteria, and I never once considered bringing an assistive device. I used to carry a hiking pole in my car. I can't remember when I stopped, but I haven't looked for one in a while. Trekking around the school's campus was exhausting; I planned my journeys to minimize distance. At least, I used to do that. It seems that now I have graduated to walking and taking a rest or two, but walking without help.

My poles, my walking sticks, but never my cane.... I knew, then I hoped, then I despaired that they would ever leave my side. Yesterday, I realized they were gone. Like PTSD, rehab and recovery seems to sneak up on me, too.Sometimes, it takes a Prince Mustang to point it out.

"Life just gets better and better, doesn't it?" I wondered. "I'm healing and you're helping."  After all, it takes a village......

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Don't Kill the Caterpillars

I'm watching the butterflies dine on the lantana.  Big black ones with yellow markings, bigger orange ones with black markings, the gigantic yellow ones that create their own jet stream as they fly past my ear.

They are in the crepe myrtle.  They crash into the clean glass of the picture window, making a noise much larger than their size warrants. Sometimes, they attach themselves to the window itself. I watch their antennae twitch.

I remember reading that butterflies taste with their feet and I wonder how glass communicates that it is not edible. I see a small one alight on the black metal gate and flee as quickly as it landed. Black metal must not be a tasty dish.

The leaves of my roses and bougainvilla and spring bulbs are bitten into interesting patterns. Some are nibbled around the edges.  Some have holes chewed out from the middle.  Some have the tips snipped off, as if with a razor blade.

Chemical sprays and home remedies exist, should I want to address the situation.  I don't.

I like the masticated leaves almost as much as I like the butterflies themselves. I like what they signify. The caterpillars themselves are creepy, with their soft, segmented bodies and their squirmy perambulations across the walkways.  I don't like it when they drop from the trees onto my back.  I don't like it when they are lazing in the sunshine in the spot I'd intended for my bare foot.  But I like the fact that they dine from my buffet.

I spent several years photographing the bugs I met along the way. I won't post those photos here, in deference to my daughter, who reads this and squeals when she sees them, and to FAMBB and Tennis Mom who read this with their morning coffee. I was obsessed with the delicacy of their limbs and the intensity of their coloration.  I never wanted to touch them, or get closer than the other side of the camera's lens, but I admired their beauty.

The caterpillar exists to become the butterfly, and for that I can tolerate its presence in my yard. Together, we are creating these floating fans.  They eat, I fertilize and water, then we wait for the unveiling.

It takes a lot longer than I'd like. I have to put up with irritation and annoyance. The caterpillar has to turn itself inside out to get to where it is going.  It's a tiring, necessary process, one that must proceed in an orderly fashion, step by step, with good form at each level in order to support the more complex tasks ahead.

And in the end, there is beauty.
I started this with a clear notion of the segue between that story and my own rehab. It had something to do with not throwing the baby out with the bathwater, with letting time work its magic, with patience, with overlooking the yucky parts and concentrating on the end result.

Unfortunately, it's gone.

I know that Aesop let the reader draw her own conclusions, but I feel the need to lay it out, if not for you, then for myself.  I need the reminders in writing, forever, allowing me to focus on the future without worrying that I will forget the past.

I avoid watching video of myself since I intersected with bullets. I don't like the way I move. I've noticed surprise in strangers' eyes as they see me limp; I'm awkward and ungainly and it looks like it hurts.  It doesn't.... except in my heart.  I'm the caterpillar, irritating the onlooker.

Today, though, I caught a glimpse of the butterfly lurking within.

For a few minutes this afternoon, I walked. Fluidly, confidently, evenly, arms swinging and hips turning, head held high, I walked and I kept walking and soon I wasn't even thinking about it because the sweat was mingling with my tears.  Just a few tears.... happy tears.... as my physical therapist complimented my swagger, my big turns, and then I was strolling... ambling along, one foot, the other foot, no rush, no hurry, no reason to get off my injured leg and back onto the one I knew would hold me up, wide, easy, long, and languid footsteps, each side supporting my weight evenly, without drama. My hips and my shoulders were parallel to the earth as I glided over her surface.

I'm rocking side to side as I type this.  I haven't felt this limber in three years.  I had to share my accomplishments, and remind myself to leave the caterpillars alone.  There is, after all, a butterfly lurking within.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Random Thoughts - The August Issue

"It's not summer. I'm in school."

Out of the mouths of babes, comes the wisdom I've been searching for.  Not only is it psychologically impossible for me to consider a ten month school year which begins before Labor Day, I now have empirical evidence that it interferes with learning.  Mr. 8 refused to believe that Fall would begin when the equinox said it would begin and not when his school district decided.

I'm not sure that's what they mean by parenting against the culture, but it's somewhere close.
It's not Tucson's summer, that's for sure. It seems as if the south shore of Long Island has been superimposed on my new home town.

The air is thick. The clouds are gray. Ninety degree days are nearly unbearable; I am not accustomed to the humidity and I am not a happy camper.
I used to enjoy August afternoons.  There was a laziness I never felt at any other time.  The air was super-heated; the tar sealing the cracks in the pavement was sticky, and sometimes bubbly. I'd walk, alone, with no destination, letting the languor seep into my bones.

Hot town... summer in the city.... New York, Chicago, Ithaca, Washington, D.C..... but never San Francisco.
There are more cars on the streets, now that school is back in session, but they are purposeful vehicles.  It's not the bizarre meanderings of snowbirds, uncertain of their destination and unable to see over their steering wheels.  It's the power-combo of mom+mini-van+carpools.

They know which lane they need.  They keep up with traffic.  They signal before they turn.  I can't say that I've missed their presence over these last few months, but at least they aren't getting in my way.
The car wash had a special last week. For the price of a detail, I'd also get a full service  cleansing, inside and out.  As an extra added bonus, if it rained before midnight, I'd have two days to take the car back and get it washed, again, for free.

Of course, it rained while The Schnozz was in the Pilates parking lot, two hours after we left the detailer and his greasy pony tail.  I was busy the next morning.  By the time I was able to go to the car wash for my free touch-up, it was raining once again. The same thing happened the next day.

I guess it's a good deal when you offer a promotion that cannot be redeemed.
The ocotillos are greening up, after days of rainy afternoons.  I'd take a picture, but.... it's raining.
The rain is wreaking havoc with my cooking.  I'm not a good cook.  I don't take much pleasure in creating dinners. I do it because we have to eat and TBG is even less interested in the process than I am. I can plop things on the bbq, though, and that's how I've kept us nourished ever since we moved to Tucson.

I have a few cooktop and oven and crock-pot staples, but my default is What shall we grill tonight?  Unfortunately, the bbq is metal and there is lightning brightening the sky as I type.  I guess those steaks will have to wait until tomorrow.
I've gone an entire summer without being at the ocean. This may be a first for me, and it's not something I'm looking forward to repeating.  The Pilates Diva and her husband have just returned from two weeks at the Jersey Shore; I could smell the salt water and hear the waves as she put me through my paces this morning.

If I can't have it for real, I'm not averse to stealing another's memories.

Monday, August 26, 2013

I Y'am What I Y'am

Ronni Bennett's blog is the template for living well and growing old at the same time. She's a no-nonsense former New Yorker who left Greenwich Village for first one, then the other, Portland. She made a new life for herself, all on her own. She's one of the women on whom I'm modeling my old age.

Every once in a while, she types a line or two that stops me in my tracks.  In An Old Age Better Than I Expected she writes about her surprise at being alive and vibrant and spirited and vital as she works her way through her eighth decade. Leaving behind the shoulds, the expectations, the to do's of her younger years, she's free to explore and create and do what she wants when she wants. 

And then, there was this:
I am done improving myself. Self-help be damned. I am what I am and so I shall remain.
I started to laugh, wrote a comment on the post, and came right here to share my own thoughts on the subject.

Taking my place at the keyboard, I watch a woman lumbering as she slowly jogs down the street, I wonder if she's out there of her own volition, or if someone told her she could do/be/look better? She's not smiling.  It looks like work.  Two minutes behind her is a gym shorts and tank top wearing octogenarian. She's listing from side to side, the same way that I do when the arthritis in my hip has wedged itself into an uncomfortable spot. She's taking five or six slow, deliberate, careful steps at a time.  She stops, swats the gnats, wipes the perspiration, and goes ten or fifteen feet more before halting, and wiping, and swatting once again.  She does not look as if she is having a good time.

I struggle with this, myself.  I like hiking and walking and strolling.  I don't like rehab. Yet, I have to improve that part of myself if I want to recapture the pieces of my life which brought me joy. I want to be able to carry an infant, to trot beside a bike with training wheels, to keep up with the kids as they race to the ice cream store. I want to have a fluid gait lasting more than the length of a hallway. The only way to achieve that is through work.

I thought I was done with work.

Intersecting with bullets opened up all kinds of new avenues for self-improvement. First and foremost was the physical aspect. All else follows from there.  I was used to mixing it up, doing yoga when weights bored me, bracketing my weeks with Pilates mat classes and hiking the mountains wherever I lived. My new situation demanded a new approach, but the basics were still there.  I liked to exercise. The gym felt like home to me. I thought it wouldn't be a problem to get right back into the swing of things.

I was soon disabused of that notion. I was exhausted by the time I drove, parked and walked to the gym door. It took several attempts before I could make myself go inside. What used to come easily was suddenly unimaginable. I left and didn't return for many months.  Instead, I reached out to those who had taught me before, and begged for help. It was the same, only different. I was doing Pilates, not for core strength alone, but to retrieve the self which was hiding inside a damaged body.

It is not self-improvement. It is getting back to basics... to my basics... to who I am. I am not trying to change anything. I am trying to find myself again. It's been an interesting journey.

Self help be damned! I've needed counseling and friendship and treatments and therapies.  I have had lessons and lectures and moments of reflection.  I have listened to healing tapes and read inspirational words. None of it has been in the service of improving myself. I've been looking for myself, instead.

The changes have been slow and sudden and unexpected and long awaited. The experiences have been new and commemorative and startling. I became more certain, more focused, more aware of my possibilities after I was shot. I became overtly grateful and thankful for my nice life, my family, my friends..... but overt was the only real change.  I'm still the girl who can't believe that anyone would like her just for who she is, the one who thinks that her ideas are good, but someone has a better one, the person I've been since I can remember myself. More people are paying attention to me, I have a broader reach, but I am still the same.

I don't want to improve myself.  I want to see where this self will go. This self and I have been through a lot over the last sixty-one years. I'm often too loud, too snarky, too impatient. I imagine that will only get worse, over time. The kids try to get me to calm down, to pay attention to the effect that my actions have on their psyche's, to do better. I find myself responding, more and more often, with a request to cease and desist with the Mom Improvement Campaign.

I've earned these wrinkles and these scars and this attitude.  I y'am what I y'am. Get used to it.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Shamelessly Begging

The campaign to send the Pilates Youth Program participants to Florida is well on its way.  
Can YOU help? 

This bonus post is brought to you by the boys and girls of PYP, Body Works Studios, and GRandparentsINresidence.... all of whom thank you for your support.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Elmore Leonard, RIP

I sat in a room with Elmore Leonard
telling Bill Buckmaster that Hemingway didn't have a sense of humor and talking about writing books because he liked the names of places (Djbouti, Tishimingo) and selling a 4500 word story called 3:10 to Yuma for $90.

I wrote that on March 15, 2010, in my post about the Tucson Festival of Books.  After hearing him speak, I went to the library and began a tour through his entire oeuvre.  I reserved the books.  I read ancient paperback editions and decrepit hardcovers and I paid for one or two at Bookmans.  

I was left hungry for more.  And now there won't be any more.

I'm inexpressibly sad.  That sentence was a lot longer but the PS from the cast of Justified shut me right up: 
 We wrote longer versions of this statement, but as Elmore always said: Leave out the parts people tend to skip.  
There was never a reason to skip any parts of an Elmore Leonard story. Every sentence advances the plot; every conversation reveals character, every comma requires a pause. It seems effortless, but it wasn't. 

The most important rule in his 10 Rules of Writing is this:  If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it. Whenever I am tempted to think of The Burrow as literature, I remember that rule. I write. I proofread. Sometimes I let it stew for an hour or two. Mostly, what you get is unadulterated brain-to-fingertips... and sometimes it is only fingertips to keyboard.

Elmore Leonard's presence gave respectability to the Tucson Festival of Books, as one of the founders told the Arizona Star.  It felt like he was one of us, sizzling in the desert, feeling the cowboy roots even if we'd just arrived from paved places. His voice was behind his characters, just a little bit smarter and craftier and wiser than they were willing to let on. I'm glad that I had the chance to sit in an auditorium and listen to him opine.  I'm sad that I won't have the opportunity again.


(All quotes taken from USA Today)

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Thunder and Lightning

This was going to be a picture post, but the lightning began early this afternoon. I'm watching the clouds bump into one another and suddenly the noise doesn't seem surprising.  The electrical storm is vertical today. There's no rain, but trees are flailing about, prickly acacias catching and releasing the neighboring oleander.

The dust from the under-development-patch-of-dirt to the east is moving in twenty foot gusts. I like that.... gusts of dust. This kind of weather leads to flights of fancy... or foolishness... like that, I'm afraid.  There's no going outside. JannyLou's pool guy just screeched out of her driveway, not wanting to be the tallest object in sight, holding the metal handle of a skimmer, standing next to a large body of water. It was a wise decision.

My desert mountain laurel is very happy that I left it staked up for another season.  Its roots still aren't deep enough or spread wide enough to withstand these blasts of air. The lantana is lifting her skirts for me... it's truly a Marilyn-Monroe-on-the-subway-grate moment
and I'd insert a photo of my own right there, but, really, it's not safe to go outside right now.  

The deadheaded hibiscus are blown to someone else's yard by now.  I had them piled, neatly, out of the way, on the base of the columns. The wind had other ideas. It did save me the chore of remembering to remove them, I suppose.

It's bright and sunny out the back windows; the Tucson Mountains are lower and further than are the Santa Catalina's out the front.  The clouds have come in from the southeast today, and they seem to be stuck on the Pusch Ridge.  The sun's making a valiant effort to illuminate the front yard, but the blackness is coming, inexorably, step by step, inch by inch..... if I said Niagara Falls would anyone know what I meant?

The wind will clean up the Texas Ranger blossoms that last a day and then fall to the walkways, waiting for the ants to pick them up and tote them home.  It's a pretty purple parade, which I'd hoped to photograph for you, but, alas, there's that pesky lightning.

Perhaps tomorrow afternoon will be more salubrious.  For now, I'm going to indulge in some James Patterson brain candy.  I need a sorbet between my day and Breaking Bad.  

Yes, Breaking Bad.  By Sunday night we'd caught up to the current episodes. Monday night, feeling bereft, we started watching again from the beginning.  It only gets better, more intense, more subtle, more brilliant.  But I really need to go into it in the jolliest frame of mind I can muster.

Hence, brain candy.  I'll read and watch and hope that tomorrow lets me show you what I tried to describe today.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Breaking Bad

I've never seen television like this before. I've tried to write two other posts for you since I sat down, but my mind is stuck with Walter and Jesse and Skylar and Hank.  If you haven't seen the series, I apologize in advance.  I can't think of anything else today. Not one single thing.

The kids have been encouraging us to watch it for years. We started on our family vacation at Little Cuter and SIR's house last month; a television marathon because it was hot and muggy and mosquito-y outside and air conditioned and comfy on Cozy Rosie, inside.  It didn't matter what we were doing; we just wanted to be together.

And, together we were, til the early morning hours, unable to tear ourselves away. It's a slow burn, as Little Cuter kept reminding us, as one episode flowed seamlessly into the next, picking up the story exactly where it had been left behind. Gale Ann Hurd, of Terminator and Walking Dead fame, told us at BlogHer'13 that "all the best creative story telling is happening on television right now."  Breaking Bad proves her point.

Every scene is photographed with a purpose. A treatise could be written about what goes on in the long shots set in New Mexico's grasslands.  In fact, there are hundreds of memes to be explored and written about. Loyalty, certainty, caution, fear, loathing, protection...... and that's without stopping to think.

And then there's the money.  Its a character in and of itself, as are other inanimate objects.  Jesse's speakers, Walt's Aztec... they are part and parcel of the story, as necessary as any of the human characters.

"Everything will be explained," Little Cuter assured us, and she's been right. The stuffed animal and the eyeball drove us batty.  They still do, only now we know why. Just typing that reminded me that the eyeball is another inanimate object with a tale of its own. There are a lot of scary guys in this series... some of whom are apt to be as bemused as I am. It's a netherworld of deception and danger and parties by the pool; bemused is exactly the right word.

The women of Breaking Bad act more as foils than as plot movers; if I were looking for nits to pick with Vince Gilligan, the creator, I'd start and stop with his female characters. There aren't a lot of them, and they are all shrill... except Jane... and...

No spoilers. Just perceptions.

There's nothing glamorous about the drug trade, and Windy's montage in the parking lot of the motel tells the story best.  The little boy in the blanket on the steps of his home haunts me every night as I close my eyes.  This is happening in my town, in my school, and I'm powerless.

Power is the over-arching theme, I think. The power of the drug, of money, of family ties.  The power of disease to run or ruin our lives. The power that a healthy mindset can bring to a life on crutches, and that a damaged one can bring to a gunshot victim.  There were some powerful reminders of the strength you need to carry on when it seems impossible that anything can ever be all right again.... life changes in an instant, and then it expects you to keep on keeping on.

It's the best television I've ever seen. Early West Wing was also fabulous, but it was not sustained over six seasons. Newsroom had us captivated until we blasted through all of Breaking Bad.  What once was pithy commentary, now seems like one-sided ranting. I don't think the writing has changed.  My standards have been elevated, that's all.
An Addendum 9/25/13
It takes a while, but Marie and Skylar come into their own as the series goes on.  I should have realized that Vince wouldn't treat me that way.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Friends for Life

They met in the fourth grade. Two very very very bright boys with very very very different temperaments, sitting in the back row, bored to tears.  One, Big Cuter, solved the problem of the uninvested teacher by hiding 700 page fantasy paperbacks on his knees, below his desk. ACE, less able to sit still than my son, found new and ever more challenging ways of annoying the teacher. By the time his mother and I decided to take matters into our own hands, and began in-class tutoring, the boys had forged an alliance.

They were smart, and they knew it. They played (and play) Magic: The Gathering and Axis and Allies and Risk and Battleship and Warhammer, from fourth grade all through high school and college ...different schools but still friends.

And they read. Not just the sports pages (this was in 1992, denizens, when newspapers not the interwebs brought information to your door), but the front page and the editorials. They read everything the teachers assigned, and they read more.  They read non-fiction and fantasy and the Codex for every video game known to man.

Of course, if The Twins were in the car, they were as likely to be blowing the paper off Mel's Diner's straws at people in the car-with-the-windows-down as we waited for the light to change on Lombard Street. They were little boys, even if their brains were racing ahead to adulthood far faster than those of their peers.

Their younger sisters were the same age. Their mothers hiked together. Their lives would have overlapped, but instead they became entwined. They were pilot and navigator at Aviation Challenge, summer after summer.  They won the Top Gun Award when the program ran at the re-purposed Merced AFB; their names were first on the plaque in the Hall of Fame.  They were proud, and rightly so.

They had mothers who knew where they were every minute of every day. Don't underestimate the importance of that fact.  The kids who roamed freely were a different crowd, entirely. My son's good friends didn't mind checking in with their parents, because they loved their parents and knew that their parents worried about them.  They were lucky to have that kind of care and concern and the freedom that came along with it, and they knew it. The earned responsibilities, and they embraced them. We did our fair share of hollering and demanding and insisting and nagging, but we were working with pretty good raw material.

(An aside: if that fantasy paragraph prompts personal revelations to destined to distort the rosey scenario I created, please keep them to yourselves.)

They weren't perfect, but it was pretty hard to complain about them.

Not that we didn't.

They went back East for college and gradually made their ways back to San Francisco, where they reconnected in the what're you doing tonight? friendship of long ago.  Ace met Meg, and Big Cuter was glad to introduce her to us when we came to town. She's every bit as wonderful as Ace deserves.

On Saturday, Big Cuter officiated at their wedding, overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge, and San Francisco Bay, and their pasts, and their futures. People told him that he did a great job, that he has a future in the marrying business. His reply says it all:
It's easy to be eloquent when you're talking about people you love.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Politics in the Desert

When we decided to move to Tucson, it was trending purple.  Honest.  I'm not lying. We had a Jewish, Democrat, woman in the House and John McCain, the maverick, in the Senate, and a woman in the governor's chair, not for the first time, either.

Then, President Obama stole Janet for Homeland Security and John McCain decided Sarah Palin was fit to be one 71 year old heartbeat away from the presidency and instead of Gabby in the Senate I have Jeff Flake.  Sometimes it's a little bit of an embarrassment to admit that I'm from Arizona.

On Sunday, Sgt. Lois and I were surrounded by a house full of like-minded, pro-choice, Democrats, at Arizona List's fete honoring Pam Simon, a fellow January 8th shootee, for her quiet determination and hard work on the issue of sensible gun legislation  It was muggy and close quarters and it filled my heart with joy.

The Assistant Leader of the Democratic Caucus of the Arizona Senate was there, telling us that three women now lead the Senate Democrats.  Being women, and willing to compromise, they have forged bonds across the aisle with female Republicans and have been able to nibble around the edges of some of the more egregious pieces of legislation proposed by the Conservative Republican majority.

There was a Tucson City Councilwoman and assorted movers and shakers in the liberal Democrat world.  There was Stephanie, Myla's friend, who spent an afternoon in my backyard just after I intersected with bullets. Jocelyn from Moms Demand Action was there, proud of her new role as Regional Director for the organization. Talk about getting in on the ground level; she co-founded the Tucson chapter less than six months ago and now she is running the show in five western states.

There was networking galore.  "Let me introduce you to...." was the order of the day. Sgt. Lois hadn't seen Dot since the 1970's; they recognized one another as if no decades had passed at all. There wasn't a necktie in the house; it was Tucson in August and we were warm.

The speechifying, mercifully, was brief and humorous, even if the laughs were unintentional.  "We are working with Suntrans to make it illegal to carry an assault weapon on a bus ... even though it's against state law to enforce such a ban."  Who says such a sentence?  Who lives in a place where that can be said? Unfortunately, I heard someone say it about my very own state, and here's the picture, captured from KVOA, to prove it:
Never fear, Moms Demand Action was on it 
and their Stroller Jam made the point several days later.
Ah, yes, politics in the desert.  

Moms Demand Action has collected over 1.5 million signatures on a petition demanding a plan, on the federal and state levels, to bring sensible gun legislation to a vote.  Gabby and Mark's PAC, Americans for Responsible Solutions, now has the resources to be an effective financial counterweight to the NRA's money, and they are putting that power to good use. The NRA has targeted legislators who voted for the state's revised, sensible-to-me, gun laws and ARS is providing a monetary bulwark. If legislation is held up because law makers are afraid, ARS is proving that we are here for the long haul, willing to put our money where our mouths are, if they, too, will stay the course. The speeches were hopeful, if not terribly optimistic.  

Pam Simon was Gabby's Community Outreach Director; now she's an effective voice lobbying for attention to how we sell and regulate firearms in this country.  She, like most of us, was a reluctant convert to the cause.  Little Cuter begged me to stay away, because "the people on the other side have weapons, Mom!" Pam's son asked the same of her, in a similar vein.  "If you're going to take on guns, Mom, could you do it in a way that no one notices you?"

It's scary. It's necessary.  We can't change minds, because the sides are so entrenched. It seems that we have to change the people, instead.  Pam, in her quiet yet certainly noticed way, is helping to make that happen.  She is, as Arizona List dubbed her on Sunday, a True Champion.

If she can do it, having faced bullets tearing through her body, then so can I.  

And so can you.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Obamacare and Me

I have health insurance. I probably wouldn't have health insurance were it not for the Affordable Care Act.

My room-and-board bill after eleven days in the hospital back in January, 2011, was $145,000. That's for the bed and the sheets and the cleaning staff and the food and the aides and the nurses.  It doesn't include any of the tests, procedures, materials, surgeries, anesthesia, physicians, therapists, or consultations. It cost that much for me to sleep there... though I didn't do much sleeping, if the truth be told.

I was lucky.  My costs were covered by several government programs which come into play when you are shot standing ten feet from your Congresswoman.  That's called "participation in a federally protected activity" and interfering with my participation in that activity is the reason the shooter is spending twenty of his 140-years-after-his-seven-life-sentences in a Federal penitentiary.  Getting shot is never a good idea.  If it's going to happen to you, though, I suggest standing near a Congressperson.  The benefits are awesome.

The Victim Witness Compensation Fund and others have covered most of my care.  I am lucky enough to be able to front the cash and be reimbursed.  We're into five figures for 2013... the third year of my recovery... and there's no end in sight.

My policy with Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Arizona doesn't cover much in the way of therapy. It's not interested in Pilates (the single most effective modality I've found) nor massage, even when the physiatrist states that I have tissue issues which are treated best with myofascial release. I can do it at home, with a foam roller, but LouAnn at Precision Touch Therapy, has magic fingers and amazing strength and I walk better after every session.  I'm covering the costs myself.

Still, my mammogram was covered and my so was my gynecologist appointment.  I can see a family physician and Blue Cross will cover all but the co-pay. I wouldn't have those benefits were it not for the ACA.  I'd maxed out my lifetime limits by February, 2011.  I would be among the uninsured... the uninsurable... the oh-I-hope-I-don't-get-sick populace.

G'ma received a check from her long-term care policy provider.  They had not spent enough on patient care and education in 2012; her refund is their acknowledgment that they must do better, or charge her less.  TBG and I received a similar - and much larger - check from BC/BS/AZ last year. One has not yet arrived in 2013; perhaps the company is spending more of my (exorbitant) premiums on care than advertising or CEO salaries and we won't be receiving one at all.  That would be fine with me.  I don't mind paying for something if it does some good.  I like knowing that someone is watching out for my dollars, even if it is some anonymous bureaucrat in Washington, D.C.  I'll take whatever help I can get.

There are still issues.  Hospital bills are inexplicable.  Could G'ma's Operating Room Services really cost exactly $14,300?  Did she spend exactly $2,210 on Supplies-Sterile? I can understand that the Occupational Therapy cost $467; the therapist (who I don't remember seeing and about whose charge I must call) might well earn an exact dollar amount, without any cents at all.  But supplies? Drugs-General are listed at $773.20 and $780.80 and the Drugs IV Solutions cost $25.85.  I refuse to believe that there what she used added up to a round number.

Not that there is anything I can do about it.  There is no way to determine which supplies she used, nor how much they cost. Did they charge her for the incontinence pads on her bed?  If so, I wish I had taken the ones which were in the open baggie at the foot of her bed.  They were hers, after all. She paid for them.  I have the bill to prove it.

This is not a rant about skyrocketing hospital costs, so I will move on.

Today's mail brought a questionnaire.  The Affordable Care Act wants us to evaluate the first home care agency. I can tell someone how they left us in the lurch, discharging G'ma with no follow up plan.  I can report the fact that they left us in the dark about required medical follow-up and that they were unresponsive to my inquiries. I wrote to the company itself, but this is going further up-stream.  As the letter accompanying the questions noted, these results will be compiled and promulgated so that consumers can rate an agency's performance before becoming a client. I can't imagine that we were the only people who were disappointed in this way.  It would have been nice to have access to that kind of report when I was setting up the plan.  In the future, I will.

The hospital sent a list of comparative pricing structures at similar facilities in our area.  The physician's office sent an evaluative piece, as well. We are making our voices heard and we are being given answers.  It's not enough.  There are wrinkles. It's not perfect.  But, I have health care and, for the moment, that satisfies me.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

A Blatant Request for Money

In the months I spent lying on Douglas-the-couch, adjusting my pillows so that I could avoid being blinded by the sun traipsing across the sky, willing my bones to grow and my nerves to regenerate, missing Christina-Taylor and my lost physical capabilities in alternating breaths, I reexamined my life.

Well before I heard Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook and author of Lean In, wonder What would you do if you weren't afraid? at BlogHer'13, I was asking myself the same question. What did I want to do with this new path? Why was I focusing on the problems instead of the actions? Why was I afraid?

True, bullets had penetrated my previously intact self.  My little friend was dead. My Congresswoman was damaged and a young man was being forcibly medicated so that he could stand trial for trying to kill us all.  Some of my fears were justified.  I knew that.  I faced them every day, and every day they became just a little less intense, a little more knowable, a little bit easier to consider.  They never went away.  I just found places in my head to stow them.

The obvious answers aside, I also went deeper.  Channeling Big Cuter, I adopted his Platonic view of existence: the unexamined life is not worth living.  The lint in my stapled-together-navel was reviewed and considered and evaluated. What was holding me back?

Surely, I was no smarter than I was before the bullets began to fly. I was somewhat wiser, since new information and experiences had entered my realm, and none of it could be ignored.  Being at Congress on Your Corner on January 8th had become a master status.  Like being pregnant, no one could see beyond it.  It was all that I was, and, for many people, it was quite attractive.

Amanda Myers became "my friend at the Associated Press."  Ted Robbins, of NPR fame, gained access to my backyard and my heart.  Ben Tracey, CBS's West Coast go-to-guy, and his production crew knew just how to light my particular face... and they took the time to do it. Brian Williams said he'd bring his wife back so that TBG and I could show them great Mexican food here in the Old Pueblo. He was sure we would have a great time.  I was dumbstruck, gob smacked, overwhelmed.  These were people who had talked to the people I'd heard on the radio, seen on tv, read about in the papers.  Suddenly, I was one of them.

Surely, that wouldn't have happened if I had nothing to say. They kept coming back, even after the initial onslaught, to see what I thought. My thoughts mattered and were being spread beyond my circle of family and friends.  I was an opinion shaper, a news maker, a semi-celebrity.  As unwarranted as I might think it was, I was unwilling to squander the currency.

So, I thought. I pondered. I considered. I wanted to do more than the individual volunteering which had always been a part of my life.  I wanted to organize a movement, to create excitement around a project, to get others involved.  I didn't know where to start.

The kids talk about things being in my wheelhouse, referring to that which feels comfortable and familiar.  For me, that centers around schools.  G'ma was PTA president at all sorts of local levels. I was a classroom volunteer and school board president and team mom and field trip chaperon and all the other roles an involved parent plays in her chidren's education. If I was going to step out of my comfort zone and into the wider world around me, I decided to start where I felt at ease.

I fell in love with an elementary school.  I was surrounded by volunteers who brought me food and fun and news of the world outside. I became a pen pals with a fifth grader in New Jersey. Over it all, Christina-Taylor sat in the niche in my living room, unseen by anyone but me, smiling on my ruminations and reminding me that I could do anything I set my mind to.

For a snarky, New York, heathen, her presence was unusual but not unsettling. I liked having my own angel in my corner. It wasn't the drugs... at least after the first month or so when I began tapering off the narcotics and moving to Advil and Aspirin... she was there and she knew I could do it.  I took all the help I could get.

I founded GRandparentsINresidence and brought volunteers into the classrooms and the fiestas and Trunk or Treat. We bring Back to School Love Fest treats when faculty and staff return from summer break. We try to lighten the load and bring joy to the volunteers along the way. It's kept me from sinking into the abyss when the sadness tries to overwhelm me.  It's impossible to be sad when 25 five year olds are hugging my legs.  I know. I self-medicate that way a lot.

I've also brought my treatment team into the fold.  Kyria Sabin, Master Disseminator and caretaker of the Fletcher Pilates legacy, told me she'd always wanted to get into the school system and, a short time later, she was.  We had a rocky start, trying to attract enough students after school or at lunch time, but, through a fortuitous series of resignations and new teachers and frustration on all sides, the Pilates Youth Program was born.

The first component is in the classroom.  Every Wednesday, the girls in the Sports Conditioning section of Amphitheater Middle School's physical education program participate in a Pilates class. Led by a certified teacher from Kyria's Body Works Studio, using equipment donated by Balanced Body, with research on their social and physical status supported by graduate students from the University of Arizona, wearing colorful socks courtesy of GRIN, the girls develop all kinds of inner strength.  They are mentally and physically centered, they are more aware of the connections between their inner and outer selves, they are taller and stronger and straighter... and it doesn't cost anyone anything at all.

I love volunteers.

Fletcher Pilates runs a conference, and PYP's second component was a part of it. Fourteen middle schoolers, from eight different Tucson area schools, met every Sunday to practice and perfect a Pilates mat routine.  No one paid them.  No one gave them school credit.  The assistant principal from Amphi Middle drove three girls from their homes to the studio and back every week.  She didn't ask for anything in return.  It needed to be done, so she did it.

Their performance in May at the Tucson Fletcher conference was met with stunned silence, burst of applause, and an audience on its feet so as not to miss one move. PYP proved to the hundreds of professionals in the room that pilates can and should be done by teens.  We were in the vanguard of a movement, and Elizabeth Anderson jumped right into our wagon.

As the president of the Pilates Method Alliance, the certification and professional organization for Pilates professionals from all teaching legacies, she invited PYP to present at the opening session of PMA's 2013 Annual Meeting, in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, on October 10th.  My job, as keynote speaker, would be to tell my tale and introduce the group.

PMA will provide the rooms.  Body Works will provide the outfits, the rehearsal space, the teachers.  Can you provide the air fare?

GRIN has linked up with  We've created a site where donations are cheerfully accepted. will send us almost all of every dollar we raise on the site, and they've been incredibly helpful in creating a clean, clear, inviting space for us to present our case. I, of course, ever helpful and ever mindful of people's reluctance to click away from The Burrow, am adding the donation link at the end of this post.

Either way, if you can find it in your hearts and wallets to contribute to sending the kids across the country to strut their stuff in front of more than 1000 Pilates professionals, to receive the accolades they deserve, to show themselves that they, too, are part of moving the conversation forward, please take a moment and send us a donation.

Every donor will receive a personal postcard from a PYP participant once we get to Ft. Lauderdale. Every donor will receive a letter certifying that GRIN is a 501c3 corporation for tax deduction purposes (check with your tax advisor). Most important, every donor will bring us that much closer to showing the PYP kids that they are not alone in the world.

Can you help?

Donate Now - Secure Online Fundraising

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

I Pee My Pants?

At least she understood the word incontinent.

That's about as happy as I can be about the scene in G'ma's apartment last Thursday. The physical therapist was discharging her from home care.  She's walking better than she has in years, lifting her quads and bending her ankles and using her entire leg in the process. The PT has instructed the staff and watched as they perform the two sets of exercises my two-months-past-her-broken-leg-90-year-old mother does every day.  She complains. She moans. She cajoles.  She complies. The therapy is working.  She's made enough progress to continue on her own.

Thus, the creation of a discharge summary and a plan. The PT, G'ma, and I sat in her apartment and reviewed her systems, inside and out.  Heart, lungs, activities of daily living... all were considered.  "Can she brush her own hair?" set my short hairs on edge... she was sitting right there and was as aggravated as I was.

"Of course I can brush my own hair... and my own teeth, while you're at it."

I love it when my feisty mom reappears.  The PT apologized for talking about her instead of to her and the rest of the questions went more smoothly.  She has stand by assistance for dressing and bathing. The alarms will remain on her chair and her bed. She's capable of getting into and out of her regular bed, and I must make arrangements to retrieve it from my garage and return it to her bedroom this week.  I'll be discussing an order for a safety rail with her gerontologist, but she's strong enough to sit up and get started on her walker now, so the immediate danger has passed.

She eats well, if little, and has no problems chewing or swallowing... if you don't consider traveling dentures an issue.  My mom does not. We moved on.

There are no household chores to be done, the major benefit of assisted living according to my maternal unit, so that section of the discharge plan could be skipped. She's actively involved in activities, if active means she goes along when prodded and has a good time once she gets there. Her lifelong reluctance to exercise has persisted; she is a willing if cranky participant in her exercise regime.

Her blood pressure medication is still being monitored, her other pills remain the same.  Yes, she is on a medicine to prevent leakage, and yes she is, on occasion, incontinent, and...

"I pee my pants?"

There was horror and shame and worry and confusion on my mother's face. She was humiliated and surprised and shamed.

We jumped into the fray.  "Not often." "It's a natural consequence of being very old." "You never smell."

As usual, changing the subject rendered the conversation moot. She had no memory of it as we moved on to how and who and when the exercise program would be continued. My heart wasn't in it any more, though. I pee my pants??? was running on a continuous loop through my head.

I've gone out of my way to keep her life a series of happy days. She knows I was shot, but adds in the ass with a smile every time.  Life isn't pretty, but she's not unhappy.  I've known for a while that this state of affairs depends on me being the buffer between reality and my mother. They will take care of the things she used to focus on. You don't need to worry about that; I've got it under control works for bills and presents. She knows I am in charge and she trusts that she raised a person who is capable of caring for her so she relaxes.

She goes with the flow.

Oh, I am so sorry I typed that.  I'm laughing and I'm crying at the same time. She is too slow to get up and to the toilet and so she has accidents.  She wears protective undergarments (notice my reluctance to use less awkward terminology) and she is never wet for long. She doesn't carry the odor of an unclean old woman - her major fear of aging, truth be told. But yes, she pees her pants.

I know that I am the only one of us who remembers that conversation.  I know that I am the only one of us who is concerned about that conversation. Still, I remember. I am concerned.

But, she is not and that's what's important.  I will do a better job of shielding her from the harsh realities of her life, and I will try to live in her moments, rather than mine. I don't know what else to do.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Replacing Blanky

He's eight.  Blanky has holes. Blanky is too small.  He can't curl up inside and hide from the world. Blanky's not big enough to comfort him completely. Life's thrown him a curve or two, none of his own making, all of which hurt his heart.  It's a sweet, loving, gentle heart. The Ben's Bells necklace he wears every day is but one indication of his kind soul. People this good often need more protection than the rest of us.  Hence, the need to improve Blanky.  Sometimes, an inanimate object is needed when hugs are the only thing that will assuage the pain...and the person whose hugs are required is not available. 

What to do?  He asked, and I answered. We'd make a new blanket. We might even learn to sew along the way. Amster bought Miss Texas a bright pink sewing machine for $5 at a garage sale. She made the purchase knowing that I would be the instructor; her many talents do not include stichery of any kind. Miss Texas's brothers wanted to learn to use it too. Since I've not plugged in G'ma's portable machine since I moved it to my closet five years ago, my skills might be a little rusty. The pink machine was new to me, and I was intimidated.  Replacing Blanky was a chore left undone.

Then, I spent a week on Cozy Rosie with Little Cuter and SIR. We each had our own corner of the world's most comfortable couch, and we each had our own favorite blanket. I chose the one Aunt Terri made for their wedding. SIR opted for the heavier, silkier blue one.  Little Cuter had dibs on her favorite, the best blanket ever, the one she made herself.... without wielding a needle or thread.

This was a project I could create with Mr. 8. This was the solution I'd been seeking.  I asked many more questions than were necessary, collected all the information I needed, and waited for the kid to return from his Dad's house. 

The first stop was the fabric store, filled with so many many options.  
We never made it past the football section.
It's hard to photograph an unwilling participant.
 We discussed bolts of cloth, and the silver guide rail for the scissors 
 and spent a considerable amount of time purchasing the right pair of sewing shears.
They will not be used for paper or wire or plastic or wood.
They are Fiskars.  They are Mr. 8's shears.

He put them to good use. 
 The craft table was too small for our purposes, so we used the floor.
 Unfortunately, Sasha was using the floor, too.
Mr. 8 wasn't peeved.  
He picked up my cell phone and found the camera before I could explain how to find it and as I laughed at the technical adeptness of his generation and the utter impenetrability of the subject to mine Mr. 8 took many pictures (like this one) and was pleased to know that I'd use them for this post.
His heart was gladdened by the fact that Sasha thought the fabric was soft and inviting. He is truly the kindest human on the planet. He was never annoyed that the beast was in our way.  He took it all in stride, as we snipped, fat then skinny then fat then skinny, all the way through the selvage (another new word) and down both of the long sides of the new blanket.
 The dog got out of his way as the scissors approached.

It wasn't all work.  We had time to test the softness of the "when I'm cold" side, remembering the yoga he learned at pre-school.
 There was more careful cutting,
 and then there was the tying.  
It was hard, and required some encouragement and agreement that the skinny ones were escaping from the knots.  One knot was insufficient.  I insisted on double knots, to maintain the structural integrity of the blanket.  Agreeing, we got to work.  It was tedious and annoying and left no time for picture-taking.  

And then, we were done!
 Mr. 8 wasted no time; he was on his way to put New Blanky on his bed before I could grab the camera and ask him to pose.
The kid has the right attitude.  No pictures.  Let's use the thing right now.

And so, to the oversized bottom bunk he shares with his big brother because neither of them likes the notion of being alone and neither want to sleep on the top. The first order of business was clearing off the detritus of life which accumulates when you only see your bed on alternate weeks. Without going into too much detail, I can guarantee that there will be more laundry than expected in the machine this week.  The clean clothes went into the drawers, the books went onto the shelves, and he got down to business.  
 Scooby-Doo mesmerized him as I shot photo after photo without any complaints.
If I had my way, that television would be gone.
He's lucky I am not his mom.
This is not an easy bed to make. Especially when Scooby Doo is on the screen.
 Unfortunately, he is not graced with expandable arms. Climbing was required.
It took some doing
to get everything just right, 
 since symmetry
was important 
 and the process had to be examined every time he moved,
 but it got done.
All by himself, he straightened and organized and created a masterpiece.

I hope he had sweet dreams, with the cool side down because it was warm last night.