Thursday, October 31, 2013


I love it when all the pieces of my life come together in one place.  I was there this morning and I'm still smiling.

Mark Kelly, husband of Gabby Giffords and former NASA Shuttle Commander, is also an author. He's written the story of a space mouse named Meteor, who is tiny and unafraid and, in the end, saves the day.

It's the perfect story for my favorite five and six year olds, especially the two who are obsessed with space.  I bought it and I brought it in to leave in the classroom.

Of course, Ms. Levine let me read it to the class.

Reading aloud from a picture book is a study in contortions. I leaned forward, but that blocked the students on my left.  I slid the book from my right hip to my left hip, but I couldn't keep track of the words.  I struggled, but the listeners didn't seem to notice.  They were absorbed in the story of the taunted mouse who solved a problem. Their smiles were as big as his by the end of the book.

I admit that I, too, had a gigantic grin on my face.  Reading aloud will do that.

After being good listeners, Ms. Levine suggested that they show me what good writers and illustrators they were. She emphasized the use of detail, and of covering the whole page.  She reviewed writing first and last names and dates at the top of one side of their work, and encouraged them to turn the page over and continue their artistry on the other side when they finished the first.  Words could be incorporated as well; if spelling became an issue they were to use their sound charts to figure it out. They were not to ask the grown-ups how to spell a word; that was not the way to learn.
The tubs contain crayons and pencils, the first for drawing, the second for the words. There was no mistaking the one for the other.  They've been in school for three months. They know the routine.
My smart phone was put to good use as we searched for pictures of Pluto and Saturn.  Pluto was much more fun.  I tried to describe why the other planets were ostracizing poor little Pluto, but the science was too much for them.  Pluto is a planet and that's that.  I chose not to argue.
Disney's influence is far reaching and seems to have no expiration date.  I was surprised that these little ones recognized my favorite yellow pooch, but he didn't hold their interest for long. 
We were seeking images of real planets, not silly dogs, I was reminded.  So, we searched.  The phone had timed out and I reached to restart it, but I was not fast enough.  A six year old's chubby fingers managed to wake it up and scroll through the search results until he found exactly what he sought.
Pluto is gray.  Again, the science of color in outer space was more information than they were able to consume.  Gray is boring.  We wondered about Saturn, and we were not disappointed.
How many rings?  What do they look like?  What makes them different?  Why are they rings?
I was very grateful when it was time to share our stories; I was running out of scientific responses.

They sat around the rug, scootching back so that all the friends had room.  Papers were upside down in front of their crossed legs.
One by one, around the circle we went.  Did you want to share?  No is an acceptable answer, and several girls in a row chose to be silent.  I sighed to myself about peer pressure starting so early, but comforted myself with the notion that they were learning that they didn't always have to speak up. Perhaps they really had nothing to say.

Some were more enthusiastic, happily telling the stories they'd created, even if they had to be reminded to turn the page around so all the friends could see their work.
Pride in a job well done is beautiful to see.
After each writer presented her work, she chose, from an array of raised hands, one person to give her a compliment. After the Thank You and You're Welcome were exchanged, we repeated the cycle again.
I took all the pictures home, and I'm going to send them off to Commander Kelly.  Who knows? Perhaps he'll write back to the students in Ms. Levine's room.

Of all the things which have happened to me since January, 2011, finding the love at Prince Elementary School stands at the top of my List of Joys. I've said it before and I'll say it again, it's impossible to be sad when you are surrounded by little ones.  Right now, I'm a very happy girl.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Haircut Anxiety

Is it a sign of maturity or of nonchalance that I no longer fret before going to the hairdresser?  Inquiring bloggesses want to know.

I spent the hour before my haircut at Starbucks with Sgt. Lois.  We talked about her upcoming cruise and my mother's dentition and silly women in the Happy Ladies' Club as I drank my giant ice tea and she sipped her mocha caramel espresso something or other. I lost track of the time.  Idle chit-chat with a girlfriend is something that I don't do often enough. It seemed to happen more frequently when my days had carpool lines.  I'd forgotten how peaceful those hours can be.

I was forty minutes early but the chairs are comfy and the atmosphere is cozy so I snuggled into a padded seat at Style 7 Salon with Mark Helprin's newest opus. Faintly chemical smells wafted over the Grateful Dead on Sirius Radio as I fell deeper in love with the world in my novel.  Jesse surprised me, startled me, pulled me back to the reality as I let post-World-War-II New York fall back between the spines of the book.

I'd not been nervous at all.

I thought about that as he shampooed my head (not the hair... just the scalp... although how you accomplish that is still beyond me).  My earliest haircut memory is when G'ma decided that I should cut off my long pony tail.  I was in elementary school.  I didn't want to do it, no matter how many times she and the hair cutter told me how cute the new look would be.  I sat there, feeling powerless and exposed and at their mercy.  It was awful.

It really didn't get any better as I got older.  G'ma would trim my ends, and I'd scream as I saw something more than the requested amount of hair on the floor.  She would remind me not to look until she was finished, but I could feel the scissors too high on my forehead and why was it so difficult for her to leave my bangs exactly at the top of my eyebrows?  It's not like she was going anywhere; if they grew out and into my eyes she could cut them the next weekend just as she was right then.

It was an exercise in futility.  She wielded the weapon and I was the hapless victim.

There was a reason I let my hair grow to my butt during college.  I was demonstrating my release from a set of rules not of my own making.  My roommates and I would trim just the split ends from each other's long hair, but I don't remember anyone every going to a beauty parlor.  They were for our mothers, women who were willing to sit under a dryer for an hour, cooking their skulls then spraying the results into submission.

When I finally decided to cut it all off, I was faced with a real dilemma.  I'd had the first haircut in D.C., where TBG was in law school.  He graduated, we moved to Chicago, there was no reason to return to the East Coast every six weeks, and my head and I were on our own.  It was not a pretty picture.

I spent lots of money and a little bit of money at fancy and generic salons.  I took recommendations.  I went to a studio apartment in a funky neighborhood where I was waxed and washed and cut and made gorgeous.... but it was too weird to do without a friend along for safety.  My hair looked great; my fear made it an untenable situation.

In Marin, I met a house sitter who turned out to be a hairdresser and for seven long and wonderful years Charlotte cut my hair exactly the same way every month and a half.  Then she got pregnant.  She stopped working.  When she began again, she was over the bridge and too far for comfort.  TBG began to cut it again, because he was good at it and didn't charge very much at all.  Every hair on my head was the length of one of his fists, no matter how he picked it up, so I sat in a chair with a sheet over my shoulders and he snipped to his heart's content.

The problem was, he'd follow me around the house with the shears in his hand because he'd noticed a strand or two which had escaped his ministrations.  It was not relaxing.

Groupon solved the problem here in Tucson. It brought me to Jesse, who listens and does less rather than more, who doesn't ask me to color my hair or try something new he's been dying to experiment with on hair just like mine.  He hugs me and smiles at me and does just what I ask.  He never raises the price, so I add an appropriate increase to his tip every year.  He leaves me feeling elegant and clean and crisp and just the way I want to look.

And I'm not nervous at all.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

This is The New Reality

Forty-five minutes of conversation about caring for my mother took the place of visiting with said mother today.  The owner, the nursing supervisor, and I sat in the office in the pod-castle while the subject of our conversation, my aging-none-too-gracefully-maternal-unit, slept in her recliner.  I didn't ask her if she wanted to join us.  I didn't want her to be there.

This is my new reality. I have her teeth pulled without seeking her opinion. I make plans without consulting her. I decide and she lives with the consequences.  I know that she trusts me and that she loves me and that she knows that I love her too, but, until very recently, we were in this together. Now, I'm in charge and she's out of the loop.

It's not that she'd be an effective participant in the loop. She can't remember where the questions began, let alone formulate a coherent answer.  I try to break things up into manageable pieces, but the ability to hold onto the information is lost to her. I never offer more than two choices, and I try to have a visual aid at the ready when the question is asked.  "This blouse or this blouse?"  "Hamburgers or soup?" "The red or the orange crayon?"

Sometimes she remembers why she's holding the crayon she selected.

Most of the time, though, she sits in her chair, watching television and napping. Unless Olga, the recreation therapist who cannot be refused, is on duty, she has no interest in joining the others for mask making or puzzle constructing or sing-alongs.  I hold onto the words she said when she was living alone in New Jersey: "I don't need to go out and see people.  I enjoy my own company and can amuse myself."  This is something which has remained constant as she has declined; she's rarely hungry for social interactions.

I left her in her electric chair, feet dancing to music in her dreams, and walked down the hall to her six-month-care-plan-review. Her medications were discussed, mostly so that I could be sure that insurance was paying only for what she is using.  There was a little bit of education on the side. The generic Lasix will keep the swelling in her ankles under control, as the generic incontinence drug helps keep that liquid from escaping without advance warning. Her blood thinner reduces the risk of stroke. We've discontinued the mental acuity drug; there was no difference in her mentation when she cycled off it last winter so there was no reason to re-institute the regimen.  I did all these things without asking her.

She's said, time and again, that she raised me to be a good person, a person who loves her and cares for her, a person who makes thoughtful decisions.  She trusts me.  "If you say so," is her favorite response. And so, I say so.  Instead of talking around her while she's in the room, sitting like a potted plant, not participating even as she is the central topic of conversation, I've taken to excluding her from the conversations entirely.  I'm keeping her safe.  She doesn't need to know the details.

Except that this is not congruent with the picture I still hold in my head of the woman who raised me. She never let a detail go unexamined.  She wanted and needed to know what was happening and why. She could delegate during a meeting, but when it came to decisions regarding her own life she was front and center, considering, discarding and ultimately choosing a desired outcome.

Now, the outcome she desires is unobtainable.  The life she is living is exactly what she didn't want for her old age.  She'd not a burden to anyone in terms of taking more time or energy than is available, unless I don't consider the emotional energy expended.  Every thought of her is tinged with sadness. Every conversation about her starts or ends with "This is not what she wanted." And there is nothing that can be done.

She's healthy.  She's eating better, although she's moved on to the next step in her dementia - pocketing her food.  Like a squirrel, she masticates and then stores the goodies in her cheeks.  The staff says that it's not a problem with swallowing, it's a memory issue.  She forgets what to do with the chewed up foodstuffs so they sit in the corners of her mouth.  There's a simple fix; the staff asks her to smile widely before she leaves the table, and then reminds her to swallow what's still in her mouth.

I'm grossed out just typing it.

Are you wondering how she chews without any bottom teeth?  So did I.  Apparently, it's not an issue for her. I try to avoid thinking about how soft the foodstuffs must be in order to be swallowable. Instead, I'm concentrating on the fact that there are no floating dentures, cruising around in her mouth as she listens to me babble.  I'll consult with the dentist and make a decision about ordering new lower teeth for her.  The staff says that when residents haven't worn their dentures for a while the new plate feels like marbles in their mouths.... uncomfortable and removable marbles... and that a considerable amount of staff time is devoted to locating hidden dentures.

The notion of elderly miscreants stuffing their teeth between the mattress and the box spring made me smile.... until I realized that I had decided to have a toothless mother... and I hadn't consulted with G'ma before I made that decision.... and I know it's the right decision because my goal is No Unhappy Days and achy gums for the sake of cosmetics is serving my purposes and no one else's.

No one else cares.  The staff see her as vibrant and funny; pleasantly confused is her diagnosis and we all agreed that it's a delightful state of affairs in comparison to how awful it could be... and may well be... and there's no sense in fretting about it now.

I reminded myself that this was just a new iteration of the woman who used to be my Mommy.... and I fled from those thoughts as fast as my brain could take me because it's one of those problems that cannot be solved.  The only solution is unavailable to me. I cannot fix her brain.

So, I take care of her as best I can, putting her safety and happiness at the top of a very short list titled That Over Which I Have Control. I'll concentrate on how happy the family will be to have no clacking dentures at Thanksgiving dinner. I won't worrying about her appearance.  Those who will see her will be seeing with eyes colored by love and affection. Without a dental sound track, they'll be able to enjoy her presence, creating another memory for themselves, bringing a smile to the last remaining grandparent's face.

I think this is what silver linings and silk purses and lemonade out of lemons is all about.  It's not what you want.  It's the best that is out there.  You get what you need to get by, to make the best out of what's really not that bad a situation.

And you try not to cry.

Monday, October 28, 2013

The Bamboo Ranch

The Happy Ladies Club took a field trip on Thursday.
The weather is finally cool enough to plan an outdoor adventure.
There's no worry about rain at this time of year; we can count on blue skies every day.
We gathered in the driveway of Matt and Holly Finstrom's home.
Together, they've turned a hobby into a thriving enterprise, all on their little half acre of paradise right in the middle of a sub-division.  We carpooled and parked carefully, wanting to be good neighbors, wondering if we'd like to live across the street from a bustling business. 
It wasn't exactly bustling. 
We were the only visitors that day.
We sat in an eclectic assortment of outdoor seating as Matt explained the difference between clumpers  and runners.  The runners grow as rhizomes, sending out an underground root-and-bulb-structure that seeks water... wherever it may be hiding.  The clumpers send up many shoots in a relatively small area; they can be contained by limiting the water outside the area they are allotted.  

He was suggesting creating a pot in the ground.  Normally, that's not a good thing.  Plants have a tendency to become root-bound when they are placed in amended soil, the roots twisting around each other, strangling the plant as they search frantically for nutrients which are not available outside the comfort of the emendations.  .  
 Apparently, bamboo operates on another plane entirely.  When told us to build a berm with what we took out and fill the hole with real soil,not this Tucson stuff,  I was skeptical.  Then we went into the back yard, and stood beneath the proof of his method.

The bamboo were huge and healthy and required no more than a gallon or two of water twice a day in the summer and much less in every other month to cover his home with dappled unlight.

It was ten degrees cooler under the canopy than it was in the driveway out front.

Aside from shading the house, the canes can be used for furniture, and wind chimes, and flutes.
Bamboo flooring feels great on bare feet.
The canes can be split open and cooked or used as a cooking envelope.
The pile against his fence is a work in progress.... or many works in progress.

We had an interesting example of photo-tropism, as Matt told us the cane parallel to the ground was lookin' for the good stuff and not ailing. 

The canes themselves are beautiful.  Some become bulbous when starved for water, and some are variegated and some are yellow and some are black.
The shoot in this pot will double in size every day until its growth spurt is completed.
Bamboo is a grass; it grows all at once rather than gradually over the years.
The new growth is an entire cane.
Next year there will be more canes, in a clump or down the runners' path.

Matt and Holly sell bamboo plants selected especially for Tucson, and they have a boutique with bowls and plates and cutting boards and utensils and wind chimes and tee shirts.... none of which were available for us on Thursday.
Sigh.... we left with descriptive flyers and a one-sheet catalog and the feeling that we'd met a true believer.

Now, if he could only convince my Home Owners' Association that bamboo is not really an invasive plant.

As always, the Happy Ladies Club adventure included food.
Teresa's Mosaic cafe is aptly named.
No one seemed to mind as I walked around, taking photos of the tables.

It was somewhat vertiginous to eat on the glass set several inches above the tiles, but that didn't stop us.
Miss Marjorie took half her burrito home for dinner, but the rest of us were members of the clean plate club.  They even gave us separate checks.

I love it when an adventure turns out this well.

Friday, October 25, 2013

They Did It Again

I put the Prince Mustangs t-shirt in my car last week, while they were on Fall Break.  It sat on the passenger's seat, next to me, a reminder that love was just a few miles down the road. I found an excuse every day. I was hungry, I was achy, I missed TBG, I just didn't feel like it. Today, there were no excuses.  I told JannyLou that we had to drive separately to Pilates, and I headed down Oracle to Prince without doing any thinking at all.

I put on the t-shirt and my sneakers and my coat of many colors, its pockets filled with rolled up pages of stickers. Buzzed in through the security doors, I signed in, chatted up the administrative staff who keep the wheels greased so that learning can occur in peace, and headed outside.  I was on my way to the cafeteria; the third graders had a different agenda entirely. I was ambushed before I made any progress at all.


Why in the world did I put this off?

This is the cohort I met when I first visited the school, back when they were kindergarteners. Now they are nearly as tall as I am, eight and nine year olds, little ones who were once even littler. They know that they are special; I've been telling them so every since they can remember.  I'm part and parcel of their elementary school experience, a fount of stickers and Old MacDonald Had a Farm and stories about being shot in the butt.

Kids love to say butt.

No one noticed that I was walking without poles... no one but me, that is.  It was a long way around the playground, but I made it without stopping. I had to stop singing by the third quarter of the lap, but no one noticed.  I stopped at the bench under the tree and waved good-bye to that group as I welcomed the fourth graders, some of whom are definitely taller than I am. They are less likely to want to hold my hand, preferring to walk backwards in front of me, sharing stories and correcting my posture.  They take a proprietary interest in my well-being, and I can feel the love.

We stopped so that I could catch my breath and distribute more stickers and tell a story.... the kids are big on stories.... so I tell them about Christina-Taylor and going to see Gabby and about the young man who made bad decisions and how I got shot ... in the butt.

Someone always asks about C-T. I tell them the truth, and we share the moment, and then, because they are nine and it's noon and the sun is shining and we are here to enjoy it, I start to walk again, telling them that they can take care of me the way that Christina would have taken care of me, by walking with me and keeping me from wobbling, and by hugging me and loving me and holding my fingers... all ten of them.... and helping me heal.

By the time the first graders were ready to come out, my hip and I were ready to go home. There was a spring in my achy, wobbly, uneven step, powered by the explosions of love that were going off in my heart.  They did it again, those Prince Mustangs.  They helped me heal.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

It's That Time of the Year Again

I know the holidays are approaching when the Neiman Marcus Wish Book comes out.  They sell the thing for $15 on-line, but send it to me for some unknown reason.  It's designed for the people who TBG describes as having stupid money.  A friend opined that they might be looking for a bigger and bigger thrill and that involves spending more and more money in order to feel anything at all.

It's a problem, I'm sure.

I can't look at it as a reflection of the times, as the end of days, as anything other than a guilty pleasure while ignoring football.  Come and dream with me, denizens.  Don't worry what it might say about you. I know just how you feel, because I, too, gasped when I saw this
Yes, it's a television that rises, at the touch of a button, from an underground cache.
That's an outdoor, waterproof TV with a 201" screen.  
Tell me you don't want it right now.

The catalog shows expansive wicker furniture, blankets at the ready, canapes, roses, and wine artfully arranged on the end table. 
I wonder if the people who buy it will invite me over for dinner-and-a-movie?

There was something missing from the experience, it seemed.
There was no artwork.  
Never fear, Neimans is here.
We saw a Jeff Koons show at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago. There were so many of us that I bought a membership and used all the guest passes that afternoon.
The work made us smile.
The mirrored surface reflects your own face back at you.

Somehow, I'm not sure that's how I want to see myself.

I had no difficulty imagining myself carrying one of these, though.
It's called a knuckle duster clutch.
Who knew that there could be yet another iteration of a pocketbook... a purse... a bag?
Not I.  

Thinking about sweaty palms and ivory silk appliques let me to the gloves
and no, I don't know why she has that face on her face.
You know, that supercilious I am hipper than you are face.
The face of a woman who wears gloves which are banned in California.
No, you cannot purchase pythons to wear on your hands on the Left Coast. 
The more I look at them, the more sense that makes to me. 

The gloves were creeping me out, so I turned the page and found peace, serenity,
in candles, the largest of which is more expensive than any pair of shoes in my closet.
And I have some nice shoes.
And I don't burn my shoes up as I use them.

With thoughts of burning hundred dollar bills in my head, I will now refer to the elephant in the closet.  Where are the price tags, Ashleigh?

The answer is this sage advice from Daddooooo:

If you have to ask how much it costs, you can't afford it.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Might Velcro Be the Answer?

The phone rang at 6:15am.  I cursed as I swung my leg out of bed, knowing that it was the pod-castle before caller id confirmed it.  No one else calls that early. The cheery voice on the other end of the line wished me a good morning, wondered how I was doing, and apologized for calling at such an awkward time.

I didn't want to hear any of that.  I wanted to hear that my mother was safe and healthy and unbroken. That information came after the pleasantries.  I was not in the mood for pleasantries before sunrise; I bit my tongue and listened as the caregiver rattled on... and on... and on.

The story that was hidden amidst the verbiage wasn't pretty. Two bed alarms rang just after 2:15 this morning.  The lone caregiver in the pod castle attended to the chimes emanating from another patient's room. When the floating caregiver arrived (to provide coverage for her break), she was directed to G'ma's room, where she found my mother on the ground.

I don't know why the gentleman received care when my mother was ignored. I don't know why he wasn't stabilized and then left in a safe situation so that my mother could be seen.  I don't know where mom landed, or how long she was there, or if she rolled out of bed, or if she fell trying to hoist her nightgown and sit on the toilet seat. The floater was gone by the time I was called; the caregiver on duty didn't have the answers, either.  If information had been shared between the two of them, it never made it to my ears.

My only job is to keep my mother safe.  This is not keeping her safe.  I realize that no one can stand next to her 24 hours a day.  That's why we put the alarms on her bed. I recognize that adding an additional staff member at nights would solve the problem as long as three alarms don't go off at the same time.  It's a conundrum, but one that must be unraveled and re-wrapped in a more satisfactory fashion.  

The owner of the facility, a kind and thoughtful woman with an impossible job, listened, as she always does, with sympathy and compassion.  She never offers the easy answer.  She never defaults to responses which would make me cringe.  I never hear "There's nothing we can do" or "It's not our fault" or "Your expectations are too high."  She hears the manifest and the latent content of my calls, and responds to both.  

We'll be meeting next Monday afternoon to set G'ma's six month plan in place.  The med tech and the pod manager and the owner and I will put our heads together and try to come up with a plan.  That plan won't involve reminding G'ma to use the button on her Life-Alert necklace to call for help; she can't remember that it is there, let alone remember what it is supposed to do.  Not that pushing the button would have made any difference last night; no one can be in two places at once and the caregiver was elsewhere when my mom was in danger.

My mom was in danger..... that's not a sentence I ever want to type. We tried to avoid dangerous situations by placing her in the care of Assisted Living professionals, but what do we do when those caregivers are busy? She doesn't have the financial means to pay for a private duty nurse to live in her room at night; the bed alarm is supposed to be her "private duty".  I guess I should be glad that the alarm itself was operational.  Who knows how long she'd have been on the floor had it not been tunefully chiming?  

I never did get back to sleep. I spent all morning sharing my sorrows with friends and family, as I went to Pilates (twice) and had lunch and caught up on emails and facebook and life.  Everyone was sympathetic.  No one had a solution.... until Little Cuter found this:
We just put her in a velcro suit, attach the gripping side to her sheets, and she's not going anyplace.

I suppose it's a good thing that I can still laugh about it.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

It Shouldn't Be This Hard

The Schnozz needed a check-up.  The little plastic square in the top corner of the front windshield reminded me.  The digital exclamation point on the dashboard reminded me. The new dealership, ten miles closer to my house, had sent me a slew of coupons. So, I called to make an appointment.

Close to home might not be the only criterion for choosing a dealership.

The girl who answered the phone was lovely.  Incompetent, poorly trained, unable to help me, but lovely all the same.  I couldn't be angry with her inability to schedule an appointment for me, or to find out what service had been done the last time I was in, or to tell me what service was recommended. She had only begun working last for the dealership last week.  Poor baby, she'd been put on the phones without training or education.  It was hardly her fault that she couldn't help me.

I give her credit for recognizing the dilemma and seeking assistance.  Andrew, one of the Assistant Service Managers, came on the line and explained all the coupons and the options and told me what needed to be done.  According to him, the coupons weren't useful "unless you have an old truck, or something that needs just regular oil." The Schnozz, being a GTI, requires synthetic (read: expensive) oil.  The coupon wasn't going to help me there, he said.

Did I know what had been done last time I brought the car in for service, he wondered. I wondered right back why he didn't check the company's computers for that information. Surely, they kept records of the work done on my car.  While he was explaining their computer system, I was looking for the paper copy of the receipt from my last visit.   I found it before Andrew was finished explaining himself.

An oil change was all that was needed. I could bring it in anytime.  When did I want to come in.

The real answer was NEVER. Since ignoring the inner workings of a vehicle is never a good idea, I made an appointment for this afternoon.  I finished class, had lunch with TBG, and drove into the service bay right on time.

No one was there to greet me. The lovely young lady was on the phone, and she smiled at me and mouthed an apology when I entered the office.  We walked around the car, marking dots and blots on the paperwork to note the dings accumulated driving around town.  I wondered why she wasn't using a digital camera, which would be more accurate and faster.  She didn't know.

Checking the odometer and the VIN, entering them on her paperwork, she smiled and handed me the sheet to sign.  There was no treatment plan. She wanted me to sign a blank page.  Being Daddooooo's daughter, that wasn't going to happen.

"What are you planning to do?" I asked.

"The 50,000 mile check up," was her reply.

Steam began to bubble up and out of my ears.  I shook my head.  I said no. I felt my stomach knot up.

"I was told that I needed only the oil change."

She was flummoxed.  We went inside, and she found a service advisor, who wondered where my coupons were.  Was I using the oil change deal? I was there for the 50K tune up, right?

I reiterated Andrew's advice, with a frown on my face.  Did I need to do the major service today? If I didn't, would they change the oil (and charge me) when I brought The Schnozz back? Why would the coupons be helpful, when his colleague had assured me that they were not? Did anyone have a definitive answer for me?

The coupons would give me a discount.  He had no idea why I'd been given conflicting information. It might be more convenient for me to leave the car for the major service since I was here already. I could bring it back in 3,000 miles and they would neither change the oil again, nor charge me for doing so.  If I wanted them to wash the car this afternoon, I should add twenty minutes to the one hour for the oil change.  The delightful young lady sat there, absorbing it all.

I bought the oil change package. I gave them the keys and they drove the car to the service bay. I sit here, using the free wi-fi, watching Marky Mark and his dysfunctional family in The Fighter on the flat screen in the lobby with one eye, typing to you with the other, wondering why I didn't just drive away when things got confusing.

Sometimes, convenience is not the only issue.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Who She Was

G'ma reconnected with her oldest friend this year.  It's been a mixed blessing.

Reconnected is really more than can be said, at least from G'ma's piece of the equation. Her face lit up when I told her that Gladys had written her a letter, but there were no follow up questions.  No wondering about her children, one of whom had been my idol ever since I spied and envied her ruffled underpants as we hid beneath someone's dining room table when we were barely more than toddlers. She didn't wonder about Marty, Daddooooo's friend who introduced my parents to one another after he and Gladys had become a couple.  I spared her the knowledge that he'd died last year; no reason to add another sorrow to a dwindling brain, I decided.

The whole thing made me sad.

Gladys is, among many other things, a sculptor in stone and wood.
I saw this without sound... and didn't miss the noise.
She finds beauty and depth and love in each piece.
Her letter shared that with my mom.

"To my dear dear friend," she began, and I began to cry.  G'ma never had many friends. I never came home to women sitting around the kitchen table, laughing and sharing stories children were not privileged to hear.  She was solitary, enjoying her own company, keeping the chaos that was living with Daddooooo safely tucked away behind the doors of our house. As I became a parent myself, I wondered how she did it without the company of others; I know that I didn't raise the Cuters on my own.

How lonely she must have been.  Or, was she?  There's too little left of her to ask.

Gladys wasted no time with "what if's" Her note plunged into reminiscences of bike rides along the Belt Parkway, horse rides in California, skiing in Vermont and Quebec.  "You gave me the courage to try all those things," she wrote, and I marveled at a vision of my mother, the risk taker.

It was a new perspective. The stories she told me were not those of adventures, but rather the cautionary tale of she and Gladys losing their trunks on a cross-country train trip and looking for them in a baggage room filled with other lost items, most, like theirs, with red ribbons tied around them so that they would be recognizable among the crowd.  I'm not sure what lesson I was supposed to learn from that story.  I know what I did learn - the odder the better if you want to find something.  Perhaps that's why Little Cuter laughs when she sees me in full Mom-mode?

"I never heard a vengeful or hostile remark from you," rattles around in my brain like a broken wheel sprocket.  I see my mother as judgmental and thrifty, always hiding a satchel of rage behind a demure frontispiece.  To imagine her as interpersonally generous is a stretch. Her standards were high, and woe to those who did not measure up.... especially if you were in her immediate family.  

Where did Gladys's friend go? What happened to the brave risk taker who owned an English Austin before her friends learned to drive? Perhaps the answer is hidden in this piece from Gladys's Rosh HaShonah card:
I remember growing jp on East 93rd St, Brooklyn, with our families believing in "Der Menschkeit" - never attending synagogue.  But, when you married, your spiritual (religious) life changed.  
I don't think that it did.  I thought in my childhood and I remain convinced today that my mother's religious devotion went as deep as her devotion to my father.  It was something to which she was committed and she would not go back on her word, no matter how dysfunctional her situation might be. She was in it for the long haul.  She'd known that his family were observant Jews, known that was important, known that a Kosher home and attendance at religious services would be part of her married life.  It never seemed to be a deeply felt belief, though.  She was going through the motions.

Would she have been happier if, like Gladys, her relationship to religion had been less orthodox?
We remained "cultural Jews" (Gladys went on), celebrating all the food holidays with great relish and little conviction.
I think my mom would have enjoyed that more.  She attended synagogue, but never with enthusiasm. She made latkes and noodle soup and haroseth and maror and dairy for Yom Kippur's break fast meal with much more joy than I ever saw on her face in shul.  

Why did she give up who she was and become who she is? Does she remember those times with her oldest friend as she sits in her recliner, napping and watching tv? Does she have regrets?  Would she tell me to make other choices, to look at the world from another perspective?  I'll never know.  She can't follow the questions, let alone give me the answers.

Glady's ended her holiday note with this:
I wish I was closer to you so we could touch and speak.
I wish she were, too.  Perhaps her presence could unlock some answers.

Friday, October 18, 2013

I'll Opine About It Now

The government is open again and I feel fine.

Of course, I felt fine even when the government was closed.  My mail was delivered. My airline travel was controlled and inspected. I sent off our tax returns even though there was probably no one there to sign for them. G'ma's physicians still accepted her Medicare benefits as payment.

There were even some wonderful benefits to the shutdown. Intrepid Cat caught up on her math skills via Khan Academy while on her unpaid vacation. The Pilates Diva and her family finished her belated-50th Birthday Grand Canyon Hike up and out of the campground with nary a soul going down as they ascended. Thee Park Rangers closed the trail at 6am, but gave those at the bottom 48 hours to get out. They had the trail to themselves.
I was infuriated along with the rest of you when I saw this.... especially since Rep. Randy Neugebauer voted along with his obstructionist friends to put that poor Ranger in such an awkward position.   
His outburst didn't really change my mind about anything; I've written off the House Republicans as dangerous to themselves and others.  I wonder how one can represent people without access to health insurance and decry the ACA.  I laugh with the rest of you at the poll result showing that people love the Affordable Care Act but loathe Obamacare.  It's hard to remove racism from the equation sometimes.
Where's Lyndon Johnson when we need him?  Where is a leader with stature, someone who could command attention, someone with gravitas or power or both? Tip O'Neill... Bob Dole... you may not have agreed with their politics, but they got the job done. 

I'm delighted that Caroline Kennedy was confirmed as our Ambassador to Japan this morning, but what about everyone else on the lists? My retired-but-I-fill-in-when-they-call-me State Department friend served at several embassies without upper level managerial staff over the last year; they've not been confirmed. Doing nothing has become a badge of honor among a certain segment of our legislators; I wonder if their constituents knew that was the plan when they sent them to D.C.
Through it all, the financial markets were showing green arrows, apparently not believing that the world was coming to an end. All this posturing and proclaiming has resulted in a stifling of economic growth, in an increase in animosity and divisiveness, in a general throwing up of hands among those of us who consider ourselves to be sensible consumers of information.  

There is double-talk and willful ignorance and a blind disregard to the wishes of the majority of the voting public.  The gerrymandered districts held securely by Tea Party Republicans will continue to haunt John Boehner... unless the thoughtful arm of the Republican Party (there must be one, don't you think?) sends reasonable candidates to the voters for their consideration.

A girl can dream, can't she?

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Creating the Mess

It's so easy.  Forget to clear the inbox for a day or two and suddenly the pile doesn't seem all that much bigger if I just add one more item... or two... or ten.  Go on vacation and stop the mail and open it before you go to sleep. There's not enough energy left to pay the bills and sort the requests for donations and the invitations to benefits and enter them into the calendar.  Into the inbox they go.

And then the box is full.  Tackling it will take time and effort.  Decisions will have to e made. Filing will have to be done, and that requires moving and bending and I know I should get up from the desk and just do it but the next piece of paper in the pile is interesting and leads me to search for an address and pen a quick note to a friend and then I've lost focus and the desk is getting messier and messier.

I traveled twice in three weeks; I never cleaned up after the first trip.

And so there are piles within the pile.  Health insurance must be considered; companies are sending me all kinds of information which must be read and BlueCross/BlueShield upped our premium by a sqazillion percent so there's some urgency to the situation. I should make a folder and put it out on the coffee table to peruse during football, but I'm reading the newest Lisa Scottiline stand-alone novel and I have no desire to work on life right now.  Back in the inbox it will go.

Itineraries for children's return to the parental fold are copied and taking me down memory lane rather than sending me to the calendar so that I don't forget to pick them up.  At one point, my Google Calendar was synchronized across all my devices.  Then, the electronics gods noticed the seamlessness of the operation and threw a monkey wrench into the system and now I have two distinct calendar locations with no connectivity betwixt them.  That's even worse than having no calendar at all.  Back in the inbox go the hard copies.

I don't know why I continue to let things pile up.  The piles themselves do not make me happy.  They are reminders of what I need to do and am not doing.  Within them lurk to-do's and should've-remembered's and chores of all manner and description.  I know, and I told the Cuters, that doing something about it is better than worrying about it.  They were brave words.  They have no relationship to the reality of my life.

G'ma's prescription list needs to be matched to the bills and to the pod castle's records and if I file it away I won't remember to bring it to the appointment.  I could leave it in the car, the way I've taken to keeping the Bed Bath and Beyond coupons (which never expire) in the pocket of the driver's side door. That seems a cavalier way to treat my mother's medical situation, so back in the inbox it goes.

I could go on, but you get the picture.  I am looking at "to be paid" and "put in GRIN bag" and "send to friend deployed in Korea" piles, and I am going to do something about some of them right now.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Random Thoughts – The Pilates Method Alliance Edition

Economy Comfort is an airline oxymoron; four extra inches of leg room doesn't make up for the fact that the seat cushion reached only to the middle of TBG's thighs. I wondered why I was so comfortable, sitting in the middle seat, my feet barely reaching the ground. This leg length discrepancy has been an issue for us ever since we bought our first couch. Paying for the discomfort is an entirely different experience, though.
By the time we unwound ourselves in Houston, we were half way to pretzel-dom.

The Houston Airport is almost as busy as Atlanta. This trip we had the privilege of changing planes in both of them. We rode monorails between terminals and tried to find something neither fried nor candy coated to eat, having learned long ago that airplane food is less than fresh or tasty. I treated myself to a Popeye's chicken breast and was pleasantly surprised by the juicy texture and the crispy coating.

It's a good thing that there are no calories on vacation. The nutritional information on the side of my paper container was frightening.
Heat is one thing. I've learned to deal with high temperatures and blazing sunlight. Humidity is another can of worms, entirely. We exited the Ft. Lauderdale airport and could barely breathe. The bellman at the hotel told us that we'd just missed a rain shower. I couldn't tell the difference; the air was thick, the perspiration was dripping down my face and my back and my legs, it could still have been raining for all that I knew. I was wet.
PMA sent me flowers, thanking me for participating in their conference. It warmed up the rather sterile hotel room and made me feel loved. I had no idea how much more love was in store for me as the week went on.

We put them on the end table in front of the window. Our ocean view room was gorgeous during the day, but the night time view was darkness. We could hear the waves, but without a moon or stars there was just a black void beyond the balcony. Seven stories up, with nothing to be seen below. Vertigo made its presence known. I went back inside and drew the curtains.
Westin's Heavenly Beds are fabulous. The Marriott's beds are not. Too soft, ditches where the prior tenants had slept and left their mark, much too high to get into and out of without careful preparation and planning, even the pillows were disappointing. I missed my own bed from the first night.
Wednesday dawned bright and breezy. Heidi and Doc drove down from Jupiter to spend the day and distract me from any nervous tension which might be brewing. The boys lay on lounge chairs, catching up on fraternity brothers' doings all over the globe. Heidi and I bounced gently in the waves, talking kids and work and memories. We were out beyond the crashing of the waves, watching the cargo ships and the ocean liners and the mega-yachts cross the horizon.

I was more at peace than I've been in months. Old friends and warm water will do that.
There was a school of razor fish between us and the shore. Did we walk through their path and disturb them? Did we wait til they swam past? Would they bite us? Would we cut ourselves on their scales?

They were gone before we could decide.
TBG and I realized that we don't sun-bathe anymore. It's always bright and clear here in Tucson; we get our Vitamin D just by living our lives. Somehow, last week the beach and the hotel's pool beckoned us to lie like slabs of meat on a barbeque grill, toasting our flesh. I lasted about ten minutes, then headed for an umbrella.

When I was young, the thought of missing even a moment of sunshine was anathema. I greased up with baby oil and often held a reflector beneath my chin, sending the sun's rays onto my face, scorching my skin, telling myself I was tanning when in fact I was scorching. I guess I'm officially an old person now; baking in the sun has lost its allure.
We made ourselves comfortable by the family pool, and giggled as young parents tossed footballs and children into the water. We remembered the Cuters swimming between our legs, being tossed like rocket ships high into the sky - “A Pluto Shot, Daddy!! Send me to Pluto!” In Spanish and Danish and English, light and dark and somewhere in between, Mommies and Daddies and babies were frolicking and we were taken back in time to summers past.

Those memories are so strong, the images are so vivid, it was as if our kids were right there with us. I could feel Little Cuter in my arms, going round and round on the merry-go-round, slippery and smelling of lotion and snuggling into my arms. I could have stayed there forever.
The main thing you notice about Pilates professionals is their posture. Despite their individual sizes, they hold themselves erect, effortlessly, long necks supporting heads far above shoulders resting comfortably on strong shoulder girdles.

It forces you to stand up straighter yourself.
There were 700 people in the auditorium, and they stood and applauded as I climbed the steps to the podium. They clapped and they clapped and they smiled and I stood on the stage, drinking it all in. They were proud of me, they were inspired by my words, they will start Pilates Youth Programs in their own towns, they will become involved in GRIN.... but mostly I felt the love.

Hugs from strangers still feel great; there were a lot of them last week.
The Pilates Youth Program presentation was greeted with a standing ovation as they ascended the stage and sent off the same way.  The audience cheered and ooohed as the girls went up and down with strong arms and straight bodies in five narrow stance push ups.  Their smiles were contagious; I stopped sniffling and wiping tears of joy long enough to cheer with everyone else.

I know that my story inspires people; it's nice to hear it in person, though. Somehow, hearing from others that I've made a difference in their lives eases the burden of galumphing through life.

It's better to give than to receive, I know, but every once in a while it's nice to be on the getting end.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Pandora's Box

The Best Laid Plans....

I have photos. I have stories. I have insights and observations and I want to share them all with you. Unfortunately....

It started when we got home from Ft. Lauderdale last night. The clock on the mantle read nearly 9pm, but we were still operating on Eastern Daylight Time; midnight was encroaching and we were exhausted. Still, knowing that the best way to fight jet lag is to get on the new schedule as soon as possible, we unpacked, and watered flowers, and brought in the huge box sitting on the front doormat

Remember Pandora? I wish I had last night. I opened the damn thing and found Comcast's new box and cables and wires and easy instructions all of which are designed to speed up my internet access. I think. All I really know is that Comcast is exerting all kinds of pressure to get me to install the new system. There was a message on the answering machine, reminding me to order my equipment.

That should have been another clue. The delivery system is obviously not communicating with the enrollment department. Once again, I ignored the sign. I paid the price.

I was smart enough to wait until morning before tackling the project. Up at 6:46... or 9:46.... or something.... I did my morning yoga practice and brought back bagel sandwiches for breakfast and read The Sunday Paper and then I opened the box.

The instruction booklet is red and white and filled with smiling faces. Theirs were the only ones in the room. The next clue that this was not the simple process promised by the brochure came when I had to find the serial number. The print is miniscule, there were more than a dozen numbers and letters, and it took me two tries to get it right. Get what right, you wonder? The first step is to put the numbers in an easily accessible place. The only reason to need those numbers is if you are calling because there's a problem.... and Comcast wants me to keep them close at hand.

I really ought to pay more attention to the signs the universe is sending,.

I recorded the numbers, I unfurled the cable, I “finger tightened” it to the wall and to the new box. I attached the power cord to the box and the surge protector. I looked for one of the five choices of codes next to a blinking light on the front of the device. None of them were there. I checked. Twice. My box had none of the combinations in the instruction booklet. It did, after a while, have a blinking light.

This was good news. I was to wait until the light stopped blinking before moving to the next step. I waited. I waited. It blinked, pausing every once in a while, then beginning again, continuing to annoy me as I spent 24 minutes on hold with Comcast Customer Service before they cut me off and then 14 more minutes before a young woman in a foreign land asked me irrelevant questions.... blinking.

I wondered if it was supposed to turn off entirely or stay lit. Not knowing what to expect just added to my angst. I hate this kind of problem. I wondered why I had ignored TBG's plea to pay Comcast to come and install it. “That's why we have some money. This is not your area of expertise. These things make you crazy.” All true. All ignored.

The live chat person was in the middle of asking me the same irrelevant questions posed by the phone agent when that poor recipient of my vitriol... I really tried to keep it in check but I was rapidly losing patience with the whole situation... when she finally realized that she could get rid of me by scheduling an appointment. That was what I had been asking for. I didn't want her to help me install the kit. I wanted it done for me. Somehow, she needed time to hear what I was asking.

I don't know why it was so hard. I started both the online chat and the phone conversation the same way: “I have this new installation package and I need to make an appointment to have someone come at and connect it.”

They are coming tomorrow between 1 and 2... a nice, one hour window. They could have come at 8am, but I am going to class in the morning. That's pretty good response time, given that today is Sunday and tomorrow is a holiday, so I'm holding out some hope that this will all be resolved.

For now, I'm off to sponge on the library's wi-fi; cutting and pasting this text document into The Burrow and sending it off into the ether for you.
Comcast called me before I went to sleep to be sure I still wanted my appointment.  They called again this morning, reconfirming their reconfirmation.  Daniel the Technician, an Army Signal Corpsman and all around nice guy, agreed with me that the instructions did not resemble the actions which needed to be taken.  He fixed all manner of things, made sure that every device we own was connected to the new modem-cum-wireless-router which is what the new gizmo seems to be.  The old Linksys router is curled up on the carpet, ready to go out to the "maybe someday I'll use these electronic thingies" bag in the garage.

Everything is working and I feel fine.  I can't believe I'm saying this, but here it is: Thank you, Comcast.  Thank you very much.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Welcome, Newbies

I hope that there are 1000 new denizens this morning.  After my talk yesterday morning, how could they resist?  It occurs to me, writing earlier in the week, before I've left Tucson for the PMA Annual Meeting, that newcomers to this blog won't have any frame of reference, dropping into the middle of my life today.  Therefore, I am going to reprise an oldie but a goodie, a post which gives a brief but thorough look at my life as I see it.

First posted March 1, 2012, with a little bit of editing today, here's the last of five posts I've written before I left for vacation.

What Do I Look Like?

"I believe that I have known you for &&&&*** years " wrote Ami, who I knew as Amy when our parents moved into the same neighborhood 6 decades ago.  Her family came a little later than ours; her house was on the cul-de-sac that was a wooded area with a stream when my folks moved in.  Only a weeping willow remained of the vegetation after the builders were through; Amy and I used to hide under its branches.

I still remember you as '16'", wrote Mr. Horowitz, my high school chemistry teacher and after-school mentor.  Funny.... that's how I remember myself, too.

Do you have a picture of yourself in your brain?  You know, the one that pops up when you think back to that day at the beach or the walk in the rain?  When you switch to a more recent image, which version of yourself do you see?

I ask because I wrote a check on Monday, my birthday, and dated it as my birthday - February 27, 1952.

Have I really regressed that far?

I see photos of myself at my college graduation and they feel perfectly congruent to my self-image right now.

Sure, I know that now I'm grey.  

I know that the years have taken their toll.

But, when I close my eyes and run the tape of my life, I never seem to age.

I am stuck right here.  It feels great.

I have certain pictures which define me to myself.  There have been days which will stay with me forever.  I wonder if that's because they were captured on film and put in the photo slot of a jewelry box I see every morning in my closet, or if the sun and the sand and my dad and it being the day before I got married have more to do with it.

It doesn't really matter.  Every time I put on a bathing suit, my mental image is of me in this orange striped two piece, digging my toes in the sand at Point Lookout.
G'ma is surprised by the face that she sees in the mirror when she puts on her lipstick.  "When did I get so wrinkled?"

This is the way she's always looked to me, though I know that can't possibly be true.

She had dark hair and smooth skin at one point.  She must have, right?

Yet, I close my eyes and I see her current incarnation superimposed on my memories.  

I'm sure that there is a psychological reason for all of this, but I am not interested in investigating it right now.  I am amusing myself with the notion that I am reverse aging in my brain, and that I have inherited the tendency from my maternal unit. There are some times when I am glad that the acorn fell close to the tree.

We see ourselves as strong and healthy and full of life.  That's not a bad image, even if, as we age, we fall short of the taut, capable selves we once were.  We think of ourselves as competent and attractive, and as far as I am concerned, that's good enough.

Thursday, October 10, 2013


Today, I will deliver the Keynote Address at the Pilates Method Alliance Annual Meeting in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. One thousand or more pilates professionals will be in the room.  My assignment is to introduce myself, my Pilates journey, and the Youth Pilates Program here in Tucson. I'll be followed by a 20 minute mat class, presented by twelve middle school boys and girls, who've been practicing every Sunday since January.

My hunch is that no one will remember much of what I've said after they've seen the kids perform. That doesn't make it any easier to compose the speech.

The video portion of my presentation is completed, ten days before the event. Some of my slides were too grainy and small to be blown up to jumbo-tron size. Some of the pictures I wanted I just couldn't find.  I keep forgetting to go down to the hospital and get my xrays. I wonder if I just didn't want to expose that much of myself before strangers.

It's an interesting conundrum, giving this talk.  My story is full of hope and achievement.... at least I hope that it is. I know, though, that the audience will want to hear about holding the hand of a dying nine year old. I'm willing to tell them about it and I am willing myself not to cry while I'm doing so. It will be a challenge, to say the least.

I chose a photo of Christina-Taylor that I took the last time we went to the Reid Park Zoo.
She was too big to fit fully inside the dinosaur egg, but she was willing to give it a chance. She was beginning to let her bangs grow out, and you can see, if you look closely, that the hair is at that awkward length between being ready for a barrette and staying out of her eyes. When we went to see Gabby, just six weeks later, she had a bow holding them off her face. She was just on the cusp of so many things; a grown-up hairstyle was just one of them.

The challenge is to bring her to life without glorification, to describe the path I'm walking without pathos, to share the small accomplishments and larger struggles without seeking sympathy or, worse, pity.  We were in the right place at the wrong time. I'm living with the consequences. Is that me being, as Sarah Garrecht Gassen coined it, forthright with a sometimes unsettling starkness?  I don't want to shock, but I want to be real. I'm sad, but I'm not overwhelmed. I'm responsible but not guilty. These are the edges on which I teeter every day. How do I share them with strangers?

The little victories Pilates provides, the joy of sharing what I love with young people, the healing community (yes, there is such a thing) of professionals and fellow clients whose random "Look at how well you are walking" throw-away comment as I galumph by make my day - that's what I want to leave with them. Three take away's is what I learned before my BlogHer'11 panel presentation, and three take away's is what I'll provide. 

Which ones? The personal: Tomorrow is not promised.  The professional: The power of healing touch. The Systemic: We are in this together. 

The more I think, the clearer it becomes. I wonder if they knew that their invitation was a form of therapy. I've been forced to clarify, to quantify, to examine and to conclude and today, I'll get to share. 

For me, that's the best part.