Friday, August 29, 2014

Returning to Real Life

My summer was planned right through the last weekend in July.  I had appointments with Pilates or Yoga or the gym or walking with Brenda Starr filling the bulk of my calendar.  I was in waiting mode, not signed up for classes or planning short jaunts to cooler climes.  A grand-daughter was coming, and I was in hurry-up-and-wait mode.

Three weeks later, I came home for five days, then left again for a long weekend.  We came home on Monday afternoon; TBG had cataract surgery on Wednesday morning.

I must have unpacked and repacked and unpacked again, because there are no suitcases in the halls.  I have no memory of any of it. There's not a lot of laundry, because we haven't been around and in the gym and swimming and going out to eat.  Instead, I have several white plastic bags emblazoned with hotel logos sitting mournfully on the floor of the laundry room.  I don't need them right now; I can live out of my closet instead of my suitcase.

I'm home. 

The mail and the newspaper are once again on regular delivery.  The bills, which were paid up through August before I left in July, are once again coming due for September.  Conferences and cocktail receptions and concerts are flooding my inbox as Tucson wakes up after its long, summer nap.  Mavis Staples, the YMCA, Youth On Their Own .. everything sounds wonderful to me. 

I spent three weeks waiting on others, watching a new life beginning.  I spent a weekend celebrating love.  I spent a day being amazed at the wonders of modern medicine. I was on the outside, enjoying the show without being the star. I was where I was needed, when I was needed, and the choices were not mine to make.  There was something delightfully relaxed about living at the beck and call of others.

But now, I'm home. There are bills to pay and appointments to schedule, mammograms to get and decisions to make.  Do I want to study Ancient Women or World War I?  How hard should I train for the 5K in November?  When should we have G'ma's unveiling? 

Can I go back to taking care of other people? Please?

Thursday, August 28, 2014

A Sunny Summer Weekend in Monterey

It's oxymoronic on its face - there are always clouds and fog and cool ocean breezes in Monterey in the summer.  My backless yellow filmy dress for the reception was aggressively summery... until it was absolutely perfect.

We left Arizona under lowering clouds.  We returned to thunderstorms.  In between, we had nothing but sunshine.  It may have been a little overcast on Saturday morning, but we slept late and had a lovely breakfast and by the time we were ready to venture toward the beach there were clear skies overhead.  After spending Friday afternoon poolside with our books and sunglasses, a second day of brightness was an unexpected pleasure.

The bride and groom certainly deserved it. 

They took care of the entire event.  Calling themselves geographic mutts, their guest list involved travel from Washington, DC, Pittsburgh, Illinois, Boston, California, and points across the Atlantic.  Everyone would have to travel, so the kids chose a place that made them smile, offending everyone and no one at the same time.

It was brilliant.

Big Cuter was in the wedding party; we found one another after his rehearsal dinner, on the terrace at The Lodge at Pebble Beach, for cocktails and dessert.  There's nothing more wonderful than coming upon your child when he is surrounded by people who know him, and love him, and seeing him reflect their feelings, returning them ounce for ounce.  The bride and groom surrounded themselves with important people from their pasts and their presents. For years, stories had been told about people who had never met but felt they'd known one another all along. 

It was certainly that way for the bride and me. I don't know what she's heard about me, but I know a lot about her. She and the groom sat with Big Cuter in January, 2011.  Last year, she and Big Cuter spent a much-storied afternoon wine tasting in Napa, while others were more significantly, albeit no doubt less self-indulgently, engaged.  She's able to keep up her end of any sports conversation.  She writes a terrific Get Well note; one of her Thank You notes is in my permanent collection.  I know where she works and went to school and her address is on the Brownie List. 

Last Friday was the first time we saw one another, live, in the flesh.  I can now add she gives great hugs to the list above.

She and her new husband also invite great guests.  TBG and I spent the afternoon and evening with friends of the groom's parents.  Families needing to sit with families moved the four of us next to one another for the ceremony. TBG and I snagged comfy chairs under a lovely umbrella for cocktails and passed hors d'oeuvres; they took the two seats remaining with smiles all around when we realized we were seated at the same table for dinner. 

Big Cuter kept us all supplied with refreshments and back stories and an interesting treatise on Big Law. It was not the first time, nor would it be the last time, that topic came up. They are 20- and 30-somethings, right on the cusp, figuring it out, making five year plans.

But that was only one backdrop to the joining of two lives.  There was the setting, on the green of the fifth hole, and it seems that with only five weddings a year the membership doesn't mind the fact that the fifth hole was closed for a few hours last Saturday, in the late afternoon. 

No members looked askance at the golf carts filled with neckties and heels inappropriate to the terrain.  Spikes work better when they are evenly dispersed along the sole of the shoe.  This is especially true when ambulating on grass. Wedges fared somewhat better, but those of us in flats were feeling fairly smug, I must admit.
I was glad that my mouse shoes, born purchased to assuage the hole in my heart when gunshots separated me from my high heels, had rubber soles, and a strap behind my ankle.  They were as close to sneakers as dress shoes can be, and I've already worn sneakers with that dress.
The food and wine were chosen with care.  There was something for everyone, from bacon to figs. Stoli and Ketel One and Grey Goose, beers of all hops and malts, Diet Coke and cold sparkling water for those who had to drive. Big Cuter was raving about the vegetables well into the evening; I was focused on the roasted toasted peach nestled next to the greens and the melted cheese. I had peach melba at Sans Souci in 1973; until last Saturday night that had been my standard for cooked fruit. I wish I could package the taste for you, denizens....
The bride's gown was everything a bride's gown should be - flattering, with just as much sparkle as she desires, able to withstand vigorous dancing with nary a tug, allowing for the flinging of arms around the necks of parents of friends who are saying goodbye.  The groom held her hand, and we shared a married people moment, and then she was whisked away by the dancing and the love and the music and the love.....
Oh, denizens, there was so much love.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Road Trip

It's not the prettiest part of the desert, nor the pretties part of the Golden State.
Still, it had its moments.
The road is straight and flat, even as it goes up and down for miles 
The crags of Arizona give way to softer hills in California.
The scale of the roads expand, too. 
The trucks are lost in the immenseness and closeness of the hills.
The road steepens,
and the Runaway Truck Ramp signs begin to appear. 

They are on both sides of the road, with blockades where there isn't enough room to slow down.

I'm not sure how effective those metal barrels would be.
There wasn't anything on the other side of that ramp, either.
The San Joaquin Valley feeds America.
The greenery is an overwhelming contrast once you come down into the valley.
and more vines 
 and more trees line the roadside.
So does James Dean.
There are also oil rigs,
dipping and raising and dipping and raising,
 right there along the side of the road.
Also mesmerizing, not nearly as pretty.
Is it boron which turns these mountains white?
We've driven through the 20 Mule Team Borax fields and they have this same color.
Unfortunately, there was nothing on Points of Interest on Uncle Beemer's GPS to explain it.
There are times when I miss the verbiage in AAA Trip Tiks.
After another night, we were in Monterrey, on the beach, smelling the salt air.
Needing to appease the tourist gods (aka G'ma and Daddooooo), we drove through Old Monterrey. 
Parts of it are glitzy 
and parts are very old 
and parts have been refurbished
but none of it drew us out of the car.
We were not alone. 
Though it was noon on a sunny Saturday, the streets were sparsely populated and there was parking available in front of every store and attraction.
We'd taken the kids when they were small.
We saw no need to take ourselves now that they are large.
After the wedding, we turned around and drove home. 
It looked exactly the same as it did on the way out. 
We even stayed in the same side-of-the-road motel, and ate at the same pizzeria.
The meatball and cheese sub was sublime.
The pizza crust was perfect.
And the music..... how did they know that was what I was doing? 
Celebrating our anniversary with eponymous music.
Life is good.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Random Thoughts - The "It's All I Can Muster" Edition

Five days passed in 1600+ miles driven, two parties attended, old friendships renewed and new friendships made, outstanding food at almost every stop, and a thunderstorm to greet us as we pulled into the garage here at home.

I really need to sit outside and breathe some fresh air.  The lightning ionizes the atmosphere and the creosote is pungent and Cousin Brucie is no longer on Sirius radio, tripping over his thoughts in between giving He Who Will Always Be The Driver tunes to hum. 
The driver owns the radio .... and I never drive.  I tried reading on the Kindle, but the power kept running out.

I could rant about paper books not requiring anything but ambient illumination, but the need to recharge the thing gave me time to chat over Chad and Jeremy... who were an improvement over the bubblegum theme... who were a disappointment after Dusty Springfield, my favorite she-should-be-more-famous artist of that era.
Many of the wedding guests had traveled coast to coast for the ceremony on a golf course in Monterrey, California.  For some, it was the first time they'd experienced the vastness of our views here in the west.

TBG and I listened, eavesdropped, agreed with anyone who mentioned it, and always replied the same way: We vacationed here. We lived here. It never gets old.

 Even the air smells better.
I got to put my bare toes in the Pacific Ocean, and to walk along the sandy shore, watching the kayakers learn to paddle synchronously.  Big Cuter remembers kayaking next to the swimming otters and going to the Aquarium when he was but a boy; I wonder if the man remembers how terrified his mother was as those happy furry swimming things tried to avoid my feeble attempts at navigating, showing their teeth and looking much more menacing than they probably were than and certainly are now, in hindsight, as I type the words to you.

I am an honest woman.  I am willing to represent myself fairly, foibles and all. Can you feel me resisting the delete key?
We were hungry when we pulled in and now we are too tired to eat.  There aren't a lot of interesting choices in the refrigerator or the pantry, and the idea of getting back in the car and driving anywhere right now is probably not the kind of thing I ought to suggest to TBG ... remember him... the one who won't share the driving?

I've put the delicates in the sink to soak, unpacked and put away my suitcase, and written to you. 

My work here is done.  There is only one thing to do. 


Monday, August 25, 2014

On Vacation

Sorry, denizens. Spotty internet reception, a laptop which even Big Cuter couldn't get to turn on, a wedding anniversary to be celebrated..... suffice it to say that today's post was a victim of circumstances.
I'll be back tomorrow. Today, I'm enjoying a road trip with my sweetie, on the first day of the 40th year of our marriage.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Driving to Cali

Driving for hours, and I wasn’t bored for a moment.  I brought the NYTimes Crossword Puzzle pages and a bright green pen, along with a paperback and my Kindle. I never felt the need for more than the occasional clue.  It’s not the prettiest part of America, but it held my attention for seven hours.

It rained for a while.  TBG and I agreed that new windshield wipers are nearly as wonderful as new tires, and the only thing more wonderful than new tires is that new car smell.  We had it all and we were happy.

We became connoisseurs of road surfaces.  I pretended I was in an off-road vehicle as their tracks across the open space provided the road map for my fantasy.  We had a Coleman cooler filled with ice tea on the floor behind the driver’s seat and my sneakers stowed neatly beneath my own seat.

Mr. I Am Too Nervous To Be Anything But The Driver” mentioned the possibility of my getting behind the wheel, but thus far it’s only been another fantasy.  That’s fine with me. I have no responsibilities except navigation, and with my phone and the car’s user friendly nav system, I can pretty much relax in my chair.  After all, the directions begin by telling us to get on I-10 and continue to California.

We had lunch at Gramma’s Kitchen, right off the highway and the only locally created restaurant along the route.  Aptly named for most of the thoughts occupying my mind, every single bite tasted exactly the way I expected.  The perfect club sandwich, with a crisp pickle and exquisite steak fries in front of me, TBG’s burger had absolutely scrumptious onion rings… and eat local had a whole new meaning as we entered the highway behind a dual-bed-trailer-truck filled to its netted brim and back with fresh, yellow, onions.

California had pockets of congestion, but for some reason they were all headed east as we sped west.  There were no tolls, the speed limit was a mere suggestion, and now we’re relaxing in a corner room on the third floor overlooking a lovely drooping palm’s fronds whose rustling we can hear through the window which opens. California air smells good.

This is a really nice anniversary weekend trip.  Tomorrow we get to see our boy, and friends he’s had for almost half his life.  There will be a wedding and a drive home and then life will pick up a more regular pace.  For now, though, we’re enjoying this end of the summer sojourn.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

On The Road Again

Big Cuter's friends are getting married. TBG and I are the only parents of friends who were invited.  It's an honor we couldn't refuse and so, today, Mr. I Hate Hotels and I are packing and planning for a road trip.

He's got a brand new BMW 435i, dubbed FlapJilly's Uncle Beemer by Little Cuter, which is clean and shiny and ready to roll.  His knee is acting up, he's anxious about travel, and I'm trying to ignore the angst and concentrate on the adventure .... and on the love at the end.

It's been much too long since I've seen my son; I'm looking forward to lots of big hugs and long talks and leisurely walks.  He has no compunctions about straightening my gait and complimenting me when I self-correct; it's physical therapy with lots of love and it makes me very happy.

It's a two day drive to Carmel, the destination wedding's destination.  We cross Arizona, eschewing the no-tell-motels in Quartzite.  On our first drive to Tucson we spent seven miserable hours in the best place we could find, wearing protective clothing on every body part which might touch a surface in the room.  We checked out as the sun rose.  Now, more seasoned travelers on that route, we know to climb The Grapevine and sleep in Valencia.

You can see Valencia from a long way away, because the roller coasters at Six Flags tower over the landscape.  But first, you have to go over The Grapevine. 

Did I mention that TBG and I spent several hours at a rest stop on The Grapevine, watching his overheated brand new Mercedes gasp for air, waiting for the tow truck, going back down into the valley from whence we'd driven only hours before, leaving that car and piling into my little Honda v-tech hatchback ... and sleeping in Valencia?

The California Department of Transportation describes it as 40 miles of concrete, a twisty, curvy eight lane highway that has a dramatic 6% downhill grade terminating at the community of Grapevine.  Google Maps tells us that the village consists mainly of roadside services.  For us, it's a place to pull off and stretch our legs after negotiating the descent from Fort Tejon,  4,183 feet above us. 

Without the 19,000 big rigs Caltrans estimates travels this road daily, it might be lots of fun. The scenery is magnificent, the air is cool and crisp (if it's not raining), and the road surface makes a pleasant hum.  If I ignore the trucks pull out here if brakes fail lanes (they go uphill on the mountain side of the highway and end in giant sand walls), if I close my eyes when we are passed on the left and the right by giant metal boxes, if I can take deep breaths and count on TBG to be the safe and careful driver I know he is, I'm fine.

There are times when the flatness of the Midwest is very appealing.

But I won't be behind the wheel.  Of that we can be certain.  When we drove from Tucson to Chicago I was the pilot for exactly 60 miles .... between one rest stop and the next .... as my most reluctant passenger refused to close his eyes and sleep .... because he couldn't relax with someone else driving.  He drove thousands of miles, without complaint.  I read. I looked out the window.  It worked for us then and it works for us now.

Valencia is a creation of its location.  The frontage road of I-5 is chock-a-block with hotels of every affinity group imaginable.  There are four Marriott brands alone. I'm torn between the free breakfast and WiFi at the Fairfield Inn and the newly renovated rooms at the Courtyard.  Since we'll be traveling through town again on the way home, I suppose I could use both of them. 

Such are the decisions facing me.  They are nice problems to have.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The Lincoln Park Zoo

The most fabulous picture I ever took of Big Cuter and The Bride happened there.
They were smiling and looking wide eyed because a pigeon had just pooped into Seret's long, luscious, curly, tangle of hair and I was taking pictures instead of helping her clean it out.
Thirty years later, all on my own, I could find the restrooms
still behind the sundial, inside, and down the stairs,
and I could watch the pretty pink birds for as long as I wanted
without having to explain why they have orange feathers
or why I insist that they are pink.
I can watch the camels recline 
and admire their grace as they lower themselves, slowly and carefully placing first one hump and then the other on the ground, in the shade
or in a pool of water, clear enough to reflect the sunlight 
and there was no reason to move on until I wanted to see something else.
Like the apes' indoor/outdoor habitat.
The indoor part is the white building on the right.
I like the swings and the netting and the greenery outside.
They are magnificent creatures, 
alarmingly like ourselves.
I moved on, unwilling to think deep thoughts.
I found a bench next to Hans Christian Andersen
opened a novel, and watched families and lovers and animals on leashes.
It was a beautiful afternoon.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Lincoln Park, Revisited

It's my favorite place in my favorite city. 

It was when I moved there in 1973 and it was when I was cruising downtown two weekends ago.  I always find a perfect parking spot.
Charo the Car-O in the first free space across from the old Academy of Sciences.
I'm never disappointed.  I'm usually surprised.  I'm happy with whatever is in front of me ... and there's a lot in front of me.

After lunch with my cousin once removed (thank you, Dr's N for the relationship information), I tried to link up with old friends.  They were, unfortunately for me, on their way to a wedding.  The Realtor wasn't ready to receive me until 5pm.  I had a block of time and no place to go.  The Zoo called my name.

I had my phone/camera, a water bottle, and comfortable shoes.  There's no charge to enter the animal paradise, nor for walking on the
Yes, the murky pond on which The Cuters and I would take paddle boats on lazy summer afternoons is now a nature preserve.

We would rest under the overpass, cooling our sunbaked selves.
Now, there is this:
I took a photo of two little naturalists observing the pond scum, but their parental units were appalled.  I deleted the offending photo, apologized profusely for including their children's backs in my picture, and continued my walk.  Really, there were no identifying markers... only the backs of t-shirts and shorts .... they were a colorful blot in the bottom corner of the photograph.... but I was not out to make anyone uncomfortable.... even myself.
I can always count on Chicago to fill my need for thick greenery.  Urbs in Horto is the city's motto, and it certainly is a garden in a city up there on the north side of town.

There were settings for wedding photos, and the sweaty bridal party proved my point.
They were leaving this planted just for them area as I arrived.
Perspiration is not a good look
This metal arch is further into the park, but a prettier venue, I think. 
After following the half mile Nature Trail, I entered the Zoo.
Come back tomorrow for that part of my adventure.

The Abdication of Responsibility

I admit that I never heard the hoopla.  I'm catching up well after the fact.  Perhaps that's a good thing; initial reports so often are fast and inaccurate.  Still, it was a bit disconcerting to find out how much I had missed.

No, Brother informed me, Ferguson was not a person.

Rather, it was a town in turmoil.  I'd been in total baby mode; the news which interested me was related to a seven pound human.  If it wasn't FJ-centric, I didn't notice it.  The kids, used to catching up on current events on their phones, never had the news on the television. Newspapers are an anachronism in their suburban neighborhood.  I listened to country music on their XM radio in the car.  I was cut off.  I didn't care.

Then, the kids went out on a post-baby-first-date.  Brother and I were providing child care; once FJ fell asleep and the left-over pizza was boxed up in the refrigerator, I put Daddooooo's favorite talking head, Gwen Ifill, on the screen.

Forty minutes later, I stopped listening and began fuming.

I listened to talking heads debate the merits of reallocating Iraq war machines to local police departments. Free toys for big boys.... what else will we do with them... they are frightening in a ring city outside St. Louis ... I still didn't know what all the fuss was about.  They'd moved on to analysis.  I was in search of facts.

So, I surfed the interwebs.  I found video of a big guy pushing a little guy.  I read his name has not been released on the scroll beneath the video of young people walking with their arms upraised, in surrender. Their faces did not reflect the passivity of their poses.  I went to The Times of London's coverage, hoping that distance would bring perspective.

I went searching for information, for something upon which to base an opinion.  I could feel the outrage.  I could imagine the fear.  I agreed with Brenda Starr that The Media and The Police and The Protesters were figments of the public imagination, that each broad category was made up of distinct individuals, that painting a picture with a broad brush was unfortunate, insulting, and lazy behavior.  I'm making her stance more stridently than she did.  By the time I got to her post on Facebook, my brains were exploding.

No one could tell me what happened.  The crime scene was destroyed.  Public officials were opaque in their statements.  The shining light in all of this, Missouri State Highway Patrol Captain Ronald Johnson, left me, for a moment or two, with a smile.  He took responsibility.  He apologized.  He worked the crowd.  He was one of them. Those were facts I could hold onto.

And then I found another fact.  The Ferguson Public Schools are now unaccredited.  It just happened and it was coming for a while and it's been happening in a number of districts around St. Louis and those are all facts but what really got me was what it said to the kids and what it said about the grown ups.

I can't imagine that happening when parents are involved.  I cannot imagine a situation where the education offered by a public school district and accepted by the families who attend does not meet the basic standards set by the state... and where, unlike Arizona's policy that, as Brenda Starr opined over omelettes this morning, allows you to open a charter school in an abandoned Dunkin Donut shop, those options are not as easily attainable ... and where surrounding districts have the option to refuse students whose parents are invested enough to try an inter-district transfer.

If we treat kids like trash, how dare we expect them to shine as adults.

If we don't provide the basics, the things we watch Sally Struthers cry about with third world babies crawling at her feet, if we are so inured to the inevitability of poverty and rage without looking at the most basic underpinnings, if we can't send them into the future with the tools they need to survive, then I don't see how we can complain when they act out.

I hate that this is the fact I found.

Friday, August 15, 2014

My Girls

They are asleep on the couch.  Brother and SIR are watching the Cubs lose to the Brewers, I'm typing to you, Thomas the Wonder Dog is sleeping in the sunshine, and the stars of the show are out for the count.

It's an exhausting time.  Little Cuter likes her rest and she's not getting very much of it these days.  She's typically in bed by 9:30 at night.  That seems to be when FlapJilly decides it's time to boogie.  She's not a cranky baby, she's just awake and alert and ready to enjoy human interactions.

Unfortunately, her paternal adult human has to leave for work by 7:30 in the morning, and her maternal adult human does not do well when operating on fumes.  Enter Grandma.

It took them a while to recognize the value of an adult who was in the house and willing to hold a squirming infant at 4 a.m.  In the beginning, I was responsible for keeping Thomas calm and peaceful and far away from the she-finally-fell-asleep child.  That was complicated by the thunder and lightning which punctuated most of FlapJilly's first week of life.  He's a scared beast, cowering and barking and shivering in terror.  These behaviors are not conducive to continued slumber.

"Never wake a sleeping baby" is one piece of advice I felt comfortable giving.  Now that she is eating so well and gaining weight so rapidly, there is no reason to rouse her and feed her.  She's making her own schedule.  Unfortunately, that schedule does not align with that of her grown-ups.  

My plan was always to be the backstop.  I'd hold the baby while her mom showered, or napped, or pruned the hydrangea.  They didn't have to worry about me; I was storing up memories for the days and weeks between my visits.  I promised that I would nap when I could, that I would ask for time off if I needed it, that I would not overdo.

I've held up my end of the bargain.  They had a hard time relinquishing their squishy love bug.  She's so delicious.  They didn't want to wake me.  But, after a night or two of intermittent cat naps followed by an early morning wake up call, SIR was beginning to look green in the gills.  And so, a few days ago, there was a tentative knock on my door.  

My girl was holding her girl, several bottles of breast milk, diapers, wipes and a swaddling blanket. Would I take her?  


She was alert, awake, and ready to listen to me.  I sang her her very own songs, thanking Frank Loesser for loving her name as much as we do.  I recited Mother Goose.  I told her a revisionist version of Rapunzel, where the crafty prisoner climbs down her own hair and saves herself.  I put her between the safety of my bowed legs and lay back, closing my eyes while she dozed.  She wasn't rolling anywhere that I couldn't feel first.  

It was heavenly.

She awoke and I fed her and we burped together.  A new diaper made her much less fussy and then we were back to singing and talking and planning all the trouble we'll get into once she's more of a participant and less of a curiosity.  The hours passed.  We nodded off, then awoke to find one another.

Did I mention that it was wonderful?

By the time my girl was ready to greet the day, it was 10 am.  She'd showered and dressed and was standing in my doorway, wondering if the rest of us were ready to play.

There's not very much I can do to smooth the wrinkles of early parenthood.  It's nice that one of those things brings me so much joy.  Now, it's time to finish dusting and folding the laundry and vacuum the house before I get on a plane home.  

I hope they can manage without me.... and that I can manage without them.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Random Thoughts - The Grandmother Edition

I hold her for hours.  She's peaceful on my chest, or on her father's chest, or on my daughter's chest. Sometimes, if I'm lucky, I can align her heart right over my own.  Hers is strong and fast and deep. Mine is nearly bursting.
Little Cuter and her fancy camera take much better pictures than the in-hospital photographer.  I think the difference is that her lens is using the love filter.

We place FlapJilly on different blankets and quilts thrown not-quite-carelessly over the Boppy pillow and her mother coos at her and her furry brother nuzzles her and I can't get enough of it.

It's okay.  My own personal Annie Liebovitz takes two or three hundred shots at a time.  We have lots to choose from.
When Big Cuter was a newborn, the 1-hour-photo-shop offered a free 5X7 print every month. To its regular customers, new parents all, this was a godsend.  We had validation for our photographic mania, proof that the money we'd spent on those expensive Nikon SLR's with the telephoto lenses were worth every penny.

Our only choice in the matter was glossy or matte finish.

I've spent the last two weeks watching my daughter work her Mac Magic on FlapJilly's portraits.  It's free ... it's easy ... it's fun ... and the results are beautiful.
Everyone's grandchild is perfect.  I accept this.  As TBG opines, the bigger the amplitude of the situation, the more intensely individual the response is.  There is no room for judgment; there is only acceptance.

Still, I can't help bragging, just a little.  I can't resist sharing her photos on my phone with cashiers and fellow patrons.  I come home and tell her about my adventures.  She doesn't seem to mind being the center of all this attention.

That's a good thing.  I have no intention of stopping.
The kids came home from the first appointment with their chosen pediatrician, and they were beaming.  "Look how good she looks!  Look at her color!" Those were the first words the new parents heard.  It only got better from there.

At the end, she told them that whatever they were doing seemed to be working; her only advice was to keep on doing it.

It's like getting straight A's ... and knowing you'd been rewarded for putting in the hard work.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Rest In Peace

Robin Williams.... Lauren Bacall ... Little Cuter is wondering who will be next.  "These things always seem to come in threes," she told SIR ... as I nodded agreement from the other end of the couch.

I could write about depression and addiction and the empty feeling in the pit of your stomach when there doesn't seem to be any escape.

I could write about a long life well lived and a peaceful death, leaving caring family behind.

I could, but I won't.  The interwebs are filled with mournful posts.  Cartoonists are drawing blue genies hugging princes.  There's not a lot left to say.

I'm feeling the losses and remembering my own.  G'ma, like Bacall, a sad but not tragic event.  CTG, like Robin Williams, gone too soon.  It's like ripping a bandaid off a not-quite-healed wound; the pain is close to the surface.

I mourn the fact that FlapJilly will never know any of them.  She'll never pass Robin Williams on the bike path in Tiburon.  She'll never encounter Lauren Bacall on 5th Avenue.  She and G'ma will never sit in the bleachers and watch Christina-Taylor pitch a perfect game. That's a lot of never in one day.

It's the finality that gets to me.

I still want to turn into the pod-castle and watch tv with my mom.  I liked the fantasy of hearing Betty Bacall's throaty voice on the other side of a booth in a Manhattan cafe.  As teens, The Twins played tennis with Robin Williams's mother; she and I stood next to one another as they drove by in the 8th grade graduation parade, waving with pride.  That's as close as I came to her son, but she was not stingy with stories that night.

I can't begin to list the times I miss Christina.

The January 8th Foundation is creating an oral history of those who were there that day.  My interview is scheduled and my anxiety is growing.  Talking about it makes it very real all over again.  It takes days and days and many tears before I can find, once again,  a comfortable place for the memories.

I'd rather let them all rest in peace.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

A Soft Opening

The Realtor and I went clubbing on Saturday night.

She'd found the manger and his wife the perfect condo in The West Loop, and they invited her and a guest as a thank you.  Since I was spending the night in her townhouse, I was the obvious choice as a date.

She dressed me in Chicago appropriate attire, replacing my Anthropologie polka dotted purse for a white Bally bag for which she'd paid too much money. Mine was too big for the slinky cotton dress she'd decided was the best of the outfits I'd brought into the City.  She was gracious enough to avoid snarky comments about my luggage, at least.  The Big Brown Bag which contained the baby clothes we'd purchased at Bloomingdales together the week before had been repurposed as a weekend suitcase.
In what used to be called Greek Town, west of the Dan Ryan, south of what used to be the Cabrini-Green housing projects, a trendy new neighborhood has arisen.  SRO's are now luxury condos.  There are hipsters on the sidewalks, strolling between bars and restaurants.  In this melange, SoHo House opened.

Proving how far from the in-crowd I am, the name was unknown to me.  According to their website, Soho House was founded in London, in 1995, as a private members' club for those in film, media and creative industries. It's a membership community, with an application process, annual dues, and a lovely variety of amenities available to those who are accepted into the fold.

We were not in the demographic they seemed to be seeking.

Living in Tucson, I'm used to being surrounded by people of a certain age.  They were no where to be seen on Saturday night.  Instead, we were in the company of twenty and thirty somethings, patrons and employees alike.  Everyone was very glad to see us, but when the first floor hostess/manager recognized The Realtor and confirmed it by asking if my friend was Berco's mom, our place in the universe was established.

I didn't mind looking like everyone's grandmother; I had the baby pictures to verify my status. I found that young people are as interested in my granddaughter as are my peers.  Flapjilly's photos were quite popular for a brief moment in time.

We ordered cocktails and watched the crowd, then climbed the stairs to Pizzaeast.  We were one of two tables at 7pm; by 8 the room was full.  At a soft opening, not every item on the menu is available.  On the other hand, everything was half price.  I'd eaten a small lunch many hours before our reservation and, for once, my eyes were not bigger than my stomach.  We finished everything we ordered... and we ordered a lot.

Broccolini with crema, fried chicken livers over mashed potatoes, wood-fired pizza with lamb meatballs and prosciutto ... those were the starters.  We forgave the server for bringing our salmon entree while all the rest of the food was still on the table, but we did send it back.  We weren't ready for it.  There was no room on the table.

Halfway through the starters, the happy resident of the condo The Realtor had found showed up at our table.  Although she was busy managing the chicken restaurant on the other side of the second floor, she took the time to find us, to thank The Realtor profusely, and to pour us the first of many glasses of a bottle of Prosecco she was gifting to us.

I am much too old to finish half a bottle of sparkling wine, especially after finishing a vodka cocktail. We did our best, sharing with the twenty-somethings at the table to our right.  They were delighted, and I attribute my lack of a hangover the next morning to our generosity.  I did sleep for twelve hours, though.

There was a private party upstairs in the Club, but try as she might The Realtor could not wrangle us a place on the guest list.  That was fine with me; the room was slightly spinning as the valet brought the car around.

Those with whom I've shared the story are very impressed; Soho House is apparently a very big deal here.  For me, the joy was in the newness, the crispness, the working out the kinks of a brand new and bound to be successful venture.  And the best part was celebrating The Realtor's birthday with a true blow-out.

Life is good.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Over and Over and Over Again

We started at 7 am.  I was showered and dressed and ready for the day, and so were my girls.  Little Cuter was asleep on the long piece of Cozy Rosie, the couch, and FlapJilly was in her infant Boppy pillow, zoned out as well.  Law and Order: Special Victims Unit was on the tv.

It stayed there all day.

The girls roused themselves and at and bathed and slept some more.  There were some explosive diaper adventures from the littlest one, and an ongoing battle with the stain it created on the muslin baby blanket for me, the Laundry Wench.  I worked a crossword puzzle or two, I stared lovingly at my favorite females, and Olivia and Casey and Elliott were the background.

TBG and I stopped watching Law'n several years ago, when Elliott's manhandling of suspects became too much for my darling husband to bear.  He hates seeing men acting badly; when they are wearing a badge it's even worse.  After I intersected with bullets, gunfire on tv was more than I could stand... and Law'n has a lot of gunfire.

I really didn't miss it.  We replaced it with NCIS ("the most initials on television," as our favorite commercial named it).  When I needed a fix, I'd visit G'ma.  Law'n is the perfect show for a gently demented person; it follows a predictable pattern and the same faces keep popping up.  We'd watch an episode or two together, feeling content, talking through the details because it really didn't matter.

Since she's been gone, I haven't seen a single show.  I more than made up for it last week.  It made me laugh.

I never understood how the kids could watch the same movie over and over and over again.  Dumbo, while Little Cuter recuperated from chicken pox.  The Lorax when Big Cuter was two - so often that he memorized it and left me with the biggest regret of his childhood... I didn't videotape it.  Parent Trap got us through Little Cuter's twelfth year of life.

And then, there's my husband, who is addicted to National Treasure.  Nicholas Cage makes my skin crawl, but the man with whom I live loves the film, so I suffer beside him.  Lately, I've been concentrating on the music, asking what instrument makes what sound.  I'm loving the french horns the most.

I read and re-read and re-re-read Little Women in the sixth grade.  It's the only book which affected me that way.  I can watch The Big Sleep and Casablanca and His Girl Friday whenever they show up on the tube, but I'd never start it all over again once THE END appeared on the screen.  Once is enough in one night.

Is there some significance to this?  I doubt it.  I just thought I'd share the thoughts.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Avoiding the Process

Sarah Garrecht Gassen called them out on Thursday.  Writing her weekly, bylined, column in the Arizona Daily Star, she laid the responsibility - dare I say blame? - for the sorry state of Arizona politics at the feet of mainstream Republican voters.

They don't turn out to cast their ballots.

Instead, they allow gubernatorial candidates like Christine Jones and Scott Smith and Doug Ducey to pledge No New Taxes and promise to Permanently Seal the Border and Send Obama the Bill. Candidates like Ken Bennett, with real records to stand upon and real plans for the future, are ignored in the more media-friendly outpouring of vitriol.

Who wants to listen to detail when there's screaming all around?

For the details on Arizona, click through to the link.  My interest in the article was less geographic-specific and more global.  Why would anyone opt out of the process?

Perhaps it is generational.  I was 19 when the 26th Amendment was ratified; my college friends were being drafted and sent to Southeast Asia to fight an unpopular war. There was no question but that we would weigh in on our futures.

Even when the choices were unattractive, I took myself to the polls.  I voted for John Anderson and Ralph Nader - twice - not because they were wonderful or had a chance of winning but because my voice needed to be heard.  Little Cuter was in the booth with me when we filled in the circle next to Ralph Nader's name; I cried.

Why? My vote was not wasted; it was cast and counted.  It made no difference in the final outcome, despite Al Gore's insistence that Nader had stolen votes which were rightly his.  I had given up on the outcome months before, didn't want either leading candidate to win, and yet I took myself to the voting booth and submitted my ballot.

It counted.  I participated.  I earned my right to complain.

As Sarah Gassen notes, Arizona's moderate Republicans cannot say the same.  The rest of us are at the mercy of their choice to stay at home, to avoid the process, to let noise triumph discourse.

I don't understand it at all.

I have wonderful memories of entering the curtained booth with the mechanical levers, G'ma at my elbow, her list of approved candidates in her hand.  There were judges and clerks and council members whose records had been scoured.  Decisions had been made, often after rancorous dinner table discussions. With Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton on my other side, I watched her vote.

It made an impact, denizens.  I took my own children into the polling place and allowed them to fill in the optically scanned circles.  I tried to bring a sense of majesty and purpose and responsibility to the process.  I emphasized the responsibility piece ... no voting, no complaining.

Perhaps we could distribute trendy adornments to those who actually make it to the polls.  Tiaras? Blinking neckties? Neck lanyards emblazoned I Did My Civic Duty?  Currently, non-participation carries no penalty; perhaps we should shame the avoiders.

Hester Prynne's Scarlet A comes to mind. At the very least, it would identify those whose opinions I could ignore.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

An Arranged Marriage

Seret and The Bride brought LJ over for a visit today.  It was Flapjilly's first playdate.  She slept through the whole thing.

Our god-daughter delivered LJ three months ago.  She and Little Cuter shared stories of contractions and good nurses and handsome anesthesiologists while their mothers sat by and glowed.  Seret and I did the same thing three decades ago.  This circle of life stuff is quite amazing.

The young mothers shared tips on feeding and pillows and blankets and diapers.  Product development in baby goods must have been a major growth industry since I was last in the market.  There are pillows structured to support the newborn when she's sleeping, and a larger size for a bigger baby.  These pillows have removable covers, but the whole thing can also go into the washer and dryer and come out unsmooshed and ready for use.

We put the Cuters on a Baby Bjorn.  It was a portable baby tent - a hard surface covered by corduroy with a handle on top.  We put the kid inside, zipped him up, and were able to carry that sleeping baby from the laundry room to the kitchen to the den without disturbing him at all.  When he got fussy, TBG would swing him left and right, back and forth, around and around, until the motion returned him to blissful slumber.

Of course, this was when you could put your baby to sleep on his stomach.  On her back in that gadget, Flapjilly's lack of head control would have been a serious issue.  The girls were not that interested in the past.  They were busy discussing the future.

We had lunch in shifts; nursing mothers have a hard time with a pre-planned schedule.  No one cared.  We chatted, we ate, and we planned a wedding.

The Bride and Big Cuter were promised to one another by their mothers sometime during their first year of life.  The parents were friends, the kids played well together, and it all seemed perfectly logical to everyone concerned.

Of course, the prospective bride and groom were not capable of weighing in on the subject.

Wondering if we needed to hedge our bets, Seret and I decided that our infants would be a default date for the prom if all other options failed.  They never took us up on the offer, but I have to believe it made high school just that much easier, having one worry removed in infancy.

It was thinking along those lines that brought us to the obvious conclusion: LJ and Flapjilly will make a perfect married couple.

We're not interested in their opinions on the subject.  As The Bride remarked this afternoon, we've checked out the family trees and found them unblemished.  Big Cuter is all for it, too.  As he posted on Facebook, the infants' grandparents have been trying to join the families for a long, long, time.  It seems churlish to throw obstacles in our path.

Now all we have to do is convince SIR.  He says he has to meet the boy, examine his morals, determine if he'll be a worthy partner for his own little girl.

I love the attitude.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Shopping on the Cheap

Bubba and Zayda lived at Linden Blvd and E. 93rd Street in Brooklyn.  Zayda and Mr. Thompson built the adjoining three flats themselves, each family taking one apartment in one three flat and renting out the others.  I spent every Sunday of my childhood on their front porch, watching the city go by.  

It was a different world fifty years ago.  Children could walk safely around the corner to the deli, buying knishes and french fries and Specials, giant hot dogs in fluffy buns.  Brother and I would store the money deep down in our pockets and cross the street in the middle, right in front of G'ma's watchful eyes.  Turning left onto Linden Blvd we'd pass two or three stores, go into the deli, and hope that the counterman would notice our small selves in front of the case.

Three doors down from the deli was the bakery, where Bubba would buy me a charlotte russe. Sponge cake and strawberries and whipped cream with a cherry on top set in a giant, pleated paper, cupcake wrapper.  It was heaven in my hand. 

But the most wonderful part of visiting my grandparents was across the street and down a way. There, in the middle of the block, was the source of all things wonderful and inexpensive - John's Bargain Store.

A little bit of internet research told me that the chain was started in 1927 by David Cohen.  His idea was to locate his stores where there were few automobiles and lots of baby strollers.  That was my Bubba.  Mr. Cohen took overstock items and marked them down and for less than one dollar we could fill one of Bubba's grocery sacks.  

There were long, flat tables with large white signs and even larger red lettering.  The tables were laden with fabulousness - colorful plastic toys and dolls and clothes and kitchen gadgets.  When I was five, Zayda went with us, because you were only allowed to buy one hula hoop per person, and we needed three.  The possibilities were endless, the price was right.

I'd receive a one dollar bill before we opened the door.  It was mine to spend as I liked, and Bubba had nothing but time and patience.  We could while away an afternoon, cruising the wood plank floors, peering into the merchandise, choosing, rejecting, selecting.  

It was perfect.

And now, decades later, armed with stacks of coupons which reduce the price of the sale items to a mere pittance, I wander through Buy Buy Baby, delighted by the colors and the textures and the memories of holding my Bubba's hand, a dollar burning a hole in my pocket.  

Some memories are made to last. 

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Something Other Than the Baby

I promise - The Burrow will not turn into a grandma blog.  It's just that I am obsessed right now, surrounded as I am by baby paraphernalia and a nursing mother and a little ball of love.  But there are other things going on in the world, things upon which I must comment.

First, let us take a moment an mourn the loss of James Brady.  Younger readers may not remember that he was President Ronald Reagan's press secretary early in Reagan's first term.  I enjoyed his repartee; quick wit is often frowned upon in political circles but he was a master of the art form.  His genial demeanor made up for the fact that he was working for a man whose idea of trickle down economics made my blood boil.

And then, in 1981, he was shot in the head by a mentally ill young man, as he was standing 10' from his boss.  Brain damage, partial paralysis, constant pain ... none of them stopped him from becoming an advocate for stronger, sensible, background check legislation.  The Brady Bill mandated a waiting period before purchasing a gun, a position Brady had not embraced before his shooting.  As he said, in 1993 as President Clinton signed his eponymous legislation,
"Every once in a while you need to wake up and smell the propane. I needed to be hit in the head before I started hitting the bricks."
His wife, Sarah, is one of my heroes.  She took a licking and kept on ticking, turning her ire into tireless efforts with The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.

In a similar vein, Moms Demand Action held a training session for 200 volunteers in Las Vegas last weekend.  Phone banking and skill development and networking created super-volunteers, ready to return to their local communities and fight the good fight.  The more I look at the words above, the more attracted I am to the names of these two organizations. How can you be for gun violence? Preventing it should be a natural inclination.  If it's not, then let's demand some action to make it be so.

Turning to other news, it's odd to be in a state without a contested national election.  In my district in Arizona, Rep. Ron Barber (D, AZ) has been targeted by the Republican National Committee.  Outside PAC monies have poured into television ads, the Republicans vying in the primary to oppose him in November have bought tv time, and the Democrats and the Congressman have retaliated in kind.  The border fence will be enhanced, and we'll send Obama the bill.  Obamacare is frightening and horrifying and must be repealed.  Good works and pictures of seniors and children and open space underly the Congressman's face.  It's loud and annoying and changing no one's mind.

Here, in Illinois, there's a governor's race which has much of the same intensity, but less national import.  Instead, I'm hearing personal attacks, references to financial shenanigans, and warring statistics on job growth.  The ads are wordy and boring. It seems that I prefer the fireworks at home.

I think that there would be fewer fireworks if President Obama were doing a better job of selling his accomplishments.  Republicans are skewering one another for being willing to work with the other side.  That would make sense if, as they allege, everything the President has done has been an utter failure.  But, sitting with a new mother, I must beg to disagree.  Prenatal vitamins are now free, with Obamacare insurance.  A dual, electric, breast pump was also part of the package, at no extra charge. Grandma on the couch has insurance even though she used up her maximum lifetime allowance in 2011, through no fault of my own.

These are all good things, as are the good economic numbers which TBG sees on the financial channels.  But, when he turns on the evening news, these achievements are no where to be found.  I love our President dearly, but he is a lousy communicator and an even worse self-promoter.  He's gotten it done, but he's not bragging about it.  I'm not sure what he's waiting for, but I am tired of looking for that which is not there.

And speaking of that which is not there, I find that I really miss my morning newspaper.  There's a new app for the local paper, and it's followed me to Illinois on my phone.  I can scroll through articles the site managers have deemed interesting, but the mug shots of newly arrested criminals, the Road Runner column which tells me why repaving is taking an eon, and the comics are either not there or not obviously accessible.  I can eat my yogurt and Kashi Crunch cereal while peering at my phone, but it's not the same as turning newsprint.

I need that sound to start my day off right.  If I can't have it, I guess I'll just have to listen to the baby coo.

Damn.  That resolution in the first paragraph didn't last very long at all.