Friday, June 28, 2019

Buying Airline Tickets, Vol. 2

I stopped yelling at the empty house and called Seret.  I never call Seret; when she didn't pick up I knew she was really really busy. Fearing that my rambling voice message was unclear, I sent her a rambling email.

Could we stay?  Was one day better than another?  Did she want to come to us?  Fares and schedules and commitments were battling for space in my brain and that conflict was evidenced by my fingers typing nonsense. 

It didn't matter.  I hit send.  I knew she'd understand.

Then I called Little Cuter.  She heard it in my voice before I finished the first sentence, but she let me ramble on until I was spent. 

Mom, do you want help?  This is part of my job.  I do this. Do you want me to do this for you?

Yes. Yes. Oh, yes yes yes yes yes.

By the time I got home from Pilates there was a screenshot of the answer on my cell phone.  I opened Lenore and the Allegiant website and typed in all the information in the land and then it was done.

Deep breath.  Un-clench fists.  Withdraw shoulders from ears.  Begin to try to smile.

And then I wrote thank you's -- to my friend for spilling my nonsense her way, and to my daughter for rescuing me. 

I don't want to imagine my life without the women I love. 

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Buytng Airline Tickets

Except for going into Best Buy without a Cuter by my side, purchasing airline tickets is myleast favorite consumer activity.

The prices change for no apparent reason.  Did something happen to the price of oil overnight to cause the fare to rise 10%?  Did flight attendants' wages suddenly spike, causing a massive overhaul of the cost to fly?  Suddenly, the flights that were about the cost of my first car are now approaching the cost of TBG's first Ferrari.

Did I mention that those discounted tickets include only middle seats?

The discount sites are all linked, which frightens me all over again.  I go through Orbitz, I make my selection.  Then, before I can exit the site, a warning flashes on my screen: Am I sure I don't want to check all the other sites, to see if I can save some big bucks?  Of course I do.  So I click through and now I have half a dozen more open tabs on my monitor.  They all reflect the same thing - there's only 1 seat left at the cheapest price.

One seat on each of the sites?  Really?  Does that mean there are 6 seats?  Can I buy one on one site and one on another?  If I do the first one will the second one disappear?  And what about the airline's site itself?  It lists that same price, with the same availability.

And then there is paying with miles.  Do I have enough? Can I pay for one ticket with miles and another with dollars?  Will we end up sitting together?  And what is my Passenger Number anyway?

What am I missing?  Does it need to be this complicated?  And why did I wait until the very last minute to book these tickets?

That is the real question.

And the real answer is that the planning and buying and angst were more than I chose to deal with.  Ah...... procrastination..... denial..... distraction......   I am paying the price this morning, in more ways than one.

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Deconstructing G'ma

When I was little, she was soft and cuddly. When she lost weight for Brother 's Bar Mitzvah there wasn't enough of her to hug. I told her so.

That's the sum of it. She spent her life trying to meet everyone's expectations. I never knew what her expectations for her own self might have been. I never thought to ask.

She was President of every PTA at every school every one of her children attended. She was District President. She was asked to run for New York State PTA President and she declined. I was so proud that she'd been asked, thrilled that she'd be in Albany and meet legislators and influence policy. She wondered who'd take care of the kids while she was gallivanting around New York State.

That was what she told us. I wonder if there was something else holding her back.

I never remember her sitting at the kitchen table, talking with a friend. I don't remember her going to the movies, or out to a regular lunch date, or playing Scrabble with girlfriends. I always blamed Daddooooo's behavior for her lack of friends, but now, thinking about it, I imagine that the responsibility lies more on her shoulders than his.

Was it harder in the 1950's and '60's for a woman to have a life separate and apart from her husband? I leave TBG home alone all day, and I don't feel a scintilla of guilt. Part of that is his outlook - Go! Have a great time! Just don't make me leave the house! - and part of it is self-preservation on my part. He's a home body and I need outside stimulation. We've made our differences work for us.

Did G'ma need others? Taking her life as a whole, I wonder. She had a best friend, Gladys, growing up. They lived next door to one another. They went to college together. They traveled to California together. Gladys introduced her to Daddooooo. Everyone married and the relationship faded away.

She never replaced Gladys. I'd be hard pressed to name someone with whom she was close.

She was a talented kindergarten teacher who refused continued offers of employment. When we were young it was "Why should I take care of other people's children all day when I have my own at home to care for?" When Daddooooo's business failed and her kids were nearly grown (only Sister was still at home) the reason changed. "I don't have enough energy to keep up with them all day," was the reason she turned down the more lucrative teaching gig for a spot in the District Office, managing transportation and scheduling needs.

But I wonder, now, if she was less confident about her abilities than I thought. I wonder why she would be unwilling to stretch herself, to make a new path forward.

She said she was "lazy," but I never believed it. She always had a project at hand - crocheting, knitting, crewel work, a novel waiting on the kitchen table to keep her company while she had lunch. The house was immaculate, the laundry folded and put away, dinner on the table at 6 every night. These are not the actions of a lazy woman.

As she aged, she didn't change. She was very happy to sit on her couch, the tv murmuring in the corner, reading the paper or a book, doing a word search puzzle, no other humans around to disturb her. She moved to Independent Living and made no friends (though the Alzheimers probably had a lot to do with that). In Assisted Living she enjoyed the totally deaf woman at her table, and the wandering resident who occasionally sat on her couch (uninvited but warmly greeted), but was closest to the Russian born Recreation Aide who sought her out, loving her stories about America in the 20th century..

That is the piece that makes the most sense to me. She responded warmly to Olga's approach. She never rebuffed an offer to go someplace or do something. She was not an initiator. She needed to be asked.

I know she wanted to join the WACs in WWII, but Bubba put the kibosh on that. "Isn't it enough that I have to worry about your brother in the Army?" was enough to quash her plans. Standing up for her own desires was not in the cards.

Her parents emigrated from Russia, crossing the ocean to a country where they didn't speak the language and knew almost no one, and made a life for themselves. She got straight A's, graduated from college, got married, had kids, bought a house in the suburbs.

The marriage was troubled, but she stayed. Finances were an issue, but she figured it out. Where was SHE in all of this? I'm not sure I ever knew.

Do we reveal ourselves, our real, true, honest selves, to our children? Do we keep them in the dark about our aches and sorrows? Do we present the face we want them to see, rather than the face hiding behind layers of Good Parenting? 

Do my kids really know me? Do we ever really know one another? Does it matter?

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Totally Random Thoughts

The mango is part of the cashew family.

Why does this feel like fake news?  I want to believe it.  After all, I heard it on NPR.
Apparently, naked couples bungee jumping is a Latvian tradition. 

There are things I'd rather not know.  This is among them.
Everyone told me to read Where the Crawdads Sing.

I have a tendency to resist these suggestions, fearing the worst, but it greeted me on the library shelf, so I took it home and read it.  In one day, because I couldn't stop.  So, I've joined the crowd: Read This Book!

And don't let anyone interrupt you in the last two chapters.
Yesterday,  I went to peek through the fence and check on the citrus tree. The normally locked gate to the street was wide open, trucks were parked on the grass, and there were worker bees on the 5th graders' roof, the one overlooking Grandma's Garden.

Today, I drove right onto the grass, backed up to the garden's bench, and deposited two very large and just-about-manageable bags of soil in the corner, ready to replenish the raised beds when school starts.

the bench and corner in which the bags were deposited.
I thanked the worker bee who offered to help - for the offer and for the open gate - and drove away with a big smile on my face.*****
Friends are moving because their house doesn't work for her anymore.  He didn't have to describe it, or send me a link; all I needed was the address.

The interwebs are a wonderful thing.  I toured it from Douglas, and invited myself to move in.
These are the uniforms worn by the Vanderbilt Commodores this week at the College World Series.
They look like Army cadets, not baseball players.
I mean, really.  
Just look at the front.
I'm not judging anything but the aesthetics.
No political statement is intended.
At least on my end. 

Monday, June 24, 2019

Playing Outside

Walking to Mr. 14's basketball tournament Friday afternoon, I saw a sign in a display case exhorting the reader to Play Outside An Hour A Day. With all the young athletes around me, I thought the message was a bit misplaced, but it did get me thinking about playing outdoors.

Big Cuter was just 9 when we moved from the city of Chicago to the rolling hills of Marin.

"Mom, I want to go outside," he said as I was unpacking boxes. I nodded and went back to the task at hand.
A few minutes passed.

"MOM! I want to go outside!"

"So, go. There's the door."

"But there's no grown up outside."
I stopped in my tracks. A City Kid, my son had never been outside without adult supervision. This wasn't helicopter parenting; a stranger was on the roof of our Buena garage, peering into the backyard one summer afternoon. Our kids were streetwise, but they were also very young.

So, when Little Cuter walked down our street later that week to visit a friend, I was only mildly panicked when no one called to tell me she'd arrived. The other mom laughed at me. "This is Marin, not Chicago. Relax."

Relaxing was hard. Without cell phones, it was a leap of faith to see my children stroll out the front door, or glide down the street on their bikes, knowing that I wasn't going to be there to protect them. 

Of course, in Tiburon, the whole community protected them. Everyone's soccer coach owned the ice cream parlor where tweens congregated. Neighbors phoned when Big Cuter drove the M3 too fast up our hill. People recognized Murphy the Wonder Dog on the bike path. 

Beaver Cleaver would have felt right at home.

There were video games available, but there were parks and paths and playgrounds, too. I don't remember hours spent in front of a computer or a gaming system until Big Cuter was well into high school, leading an on-line guild.

When I was a girl (an ever weakening memory, I'm afraid), there were 4 tv channels broadcasting soap operas and old movies in black and white during the day. Summers were spent on the block and at the high school, where we amused ourselves for hours, without grown ups organizing our play. On the field and the tennis courts and in and around the abandoned fort rotting away along the fence, we were basically unsupervised.

We came home for lunch and went right back outside for Cowboys and Indians (with cap guns and faux rifles and Dan'l Boone coon skin caps) or Red Light Green Light or Red Rover or Hide and Seek. 

We'd take bike rides (two left turns, two right turns, three left turns, three right turns.....) to random destinations. We flew kites and played stick ball against the garage door. We were outside until the street lights came on.

Then, we went inside.

We didn't need signs to remind us.  

Friday, June 21, 2019

Happy Day Before You Are An Old Person, Brother

He's been counting down the days.  He sends me postcards and packages, each one telling me how many days are left until his 65th natal anniversary.

He's my little brother.  How can he be a Senior Citizen?

He's the drollest human I've ever known.  Lazily daydreaming over lunch, he responded to Daddooooo's rather caustic suggestion that he show some spirit by going to G'ma's mounted pad of paper and coming back with the word SPIRIT pinned to his chest.  His response when I asked him why he had been in his room all afternoon, never replying to my lonely calls for company (yes, I did walk around my empty house wondering aloud if anyone was there) was classic:  I had nothing to say.

He's one of FlapJilly's favorite people.  How can she know an uncle who lives in Maryland?  He drops in on occasion to say Hi!  His youngest lives in Chicago.  He does not like to fly (silver tubes of metal should not be in the sky).  He does like to drive.  He calls from the highway to ask if he can drop in for an hour or so; they always say yes.  Little Cuter thinks it's the perfect visit - she doesn't have to prepare, cook, or clean.  He just shows up, stays for a few hours, then goes on his merry way.

Her children are his niece and nephew; it's important to him that they know him.  But he's a perfect guest, and never overstays his welcome.  He's there.  He's gone.  He's left small gifts and large smiles in his wake.

He stayed in our apartment while he looked for a job in Chicago.  Please don't let him accept another offer before he talks to me again was the delightful message I was able to give him one afternoon.  He came back from that interview with balloons and beer for an I am hired celebration.  Sharing the joy with him is one of my favorite memories.

He came to stay for a while after bullets changed my life.  He took a list of our home repair projects and, like his father before him, took my car keys and directions to the hardware store and got to work.  He told me that Bottles and Stems was not, as I'd imagined, a florist with vases, but the plumbing supply shop where he purchased the fix for our sink.  He knows things like that.

He wanted to own a gas station instead of going to college, but G'ma and Daddooooo and his guidance counselor nixed that plan.  He's been a number cruncher and an IT guy and a commercial and residential realtor.  He's worked with friends and been sued by their families (they sued their own son, too, as I recall).  He's worked for Fortune 500 firms and for himself.  He's never met a woodworking project he wouldn't tackle, or a parenting problem he didn't bring his entire self to face.

He forces me to get on the phone and call our sister every year on her birthday, even though she always hangs up on us for reminding her that she is aging.  I argue about not wanting to do it, he convinces me, places the conference call, we sing, she complains, his family laughs, I hang up.  Year after year, we go through the same routine.  Family is important to him.  He'll make me participate, no matter how much I bitch and moan.

He's raised two delightful daughters and is still married to the girl he met in college.  He's all about balance - work, health, religion, friends, the world at large.  He wore a pussy hat I crocheted to the Women's March in Washington, riding his collapsible bike when the subway couldn't accommodate him.  He 's gone out of his way to find a particular tool in a particular rural town kinda-sorta on the way to the kids' home in the Chicago suburbs.  It was heavy.  It was in good shape.  SIR could use it. Uncle Jeff bought it.

Uncle Jeff is my funniest uncle, according to FlapJilly.  He's also the kindest, most thoughtful, most genuine human I know.  Tomorrow he will turn 65.  Wish him a happy birthday with me, please.

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Feeling Vulnerable

I haven't felt this way in a very long time.

 Coming out of the hospital, everything was scary.  Skinny white boys in hoodies crossing in front of my car gave me shivers.  TBG dropping a pan in the kitchen made me screech.  An unexpected touch made my skin crawl.  Everything was threatening.

Over time, my fight or flight reaction calmed itself down.  Adrenaline's metallic taste didn't fill my mouth when seemingly ordinary events stopped me in my tracks.  Gradually, I reentered the world. 

Lately, though, I've been finding that scratchy feeling at the back of my neck, a hyper-vigilance response to driving past an awful car wreck, hearing an ambulance's siren, turning a corner in the grocery store and finding a stranger staring at me. 

It may have something to do with a fear of falling. 

The first question I'm asked when I go the doctor these days is When was the last time you fell? Not Have you fallen? or How many times have you fallen? but WHEN?  That is akin to how you ask about guns in the home before your kid goes to visit - Are the guns in your home secured?  You assume the fact you're concerned about and go from there.  It obviates the need to decide if you're going to admit to the fall or the gun; you just have to respond to a simple query.  The interlocutor is aware of the facts; she's just looking for the details.

I used to laugh and say, indignantly, I don't fall!  Recently, though, I've been catching myself before I land on my nose.  My toe caught on a bathroom mat.  My shoe became lodged under the endge of the oriental rug in the foyer.  I stepped on a shoelace and couldn't recover.  Only the last instance sent me to the floor (though my hands protected me from total collapse), but I've never tripped as much as I have in the last few months.

I think it is because I am getting better.  Counterintuitive, perhaps, but true.  As I learn to lift my right knee my left leg doesn't know what to do with itself.  Used to carrying most of the burden of walking, it has developed its own strategies to get me from here to there.  Now, with a strengthened partner on the other side, my ankle is learning that it has to move differently.  Bending at that joint, using my toes (which ache in new and surprising ways as they are called upon to act in new and surprising ways), putting equal weight on both sides of my body as I cruise around my house - I don't always pay attention.

That should not surprise anyone who know me,  I'm oblivious,  It's a defining characteristic.  I've always been that way.  Why are you bleeding? rarely has an answer longer than I'm bleeding?  Scratches appear on my body with alarming regularity.  I bump into things.  It's true.

But I've never fallen until now.  Hitting the floor, even if I did catch myself in time to push my body upright before more than my hands and one knee made contact, changed my sense of self.  I really am a person who falls.

Is it a consequence of getting shot?  Probably.  Bringing it up in public, though, makes me realize that there's another factor at play:  I'm getting older.  As my friend, Marilyn Heins, puts it, I am frailing.

It means I am not yet frail but I can see fragility on the horizon … with my good glasses of course.

Frail is a word I would not use to describe myself until recently. Chunky, maybe. Robust. Energetic. Hardworking. But I am slowing down.

I walk slower and very carefully.... Balance is something I have to think about — a far cry from that little girl on a bike or the woman on a tough hiking trail that I once was.

A far cry, indeed.  But I'm closing in on 70 years on this planet, and I've used this body hard and well over that time.  I can't fault it for the cracks I'm sensing.  I can honor it for trying to stay upright amidst a world trying to push me over.  I could pull up the rugs and move with deliberation and pay attention to my surroundings and I'd still be at risk of falling.  

So I signed up for a balance training program (details to follow in future posts, of course).  I'm considering my plans before choosing my footwear for the day.  I'm taking thoughtful steps.

And I still caught my middle toe on the mat in front of the toilet this morning.  


Wednesday, June 19, 2019


Google is celebrating felafel.  The Google Doodle made me laugh out loud - little round balls of fried chickpeas encouraging one another to join the fun in the pita pocket lined with veggies.  There is no looming mouth full of teeth ready to destroy their happiness, there's only joy.

That's exactly how I feel about felafel - only joy.

We first met in 1969, the summer I spent in Israel.  We landed in Haifa after sailing across the Mediterranean from Greece.  The food on the ship had been recognizable; the food in Greece was not.  Italy had been strange forms of pizza and under-cooked pasta.

Try to remember that this was 50 years ago.  Gyros were exotic.  Al dente was a concept yet to be embraced.  Fast food was a hot dog or a pretzel from a cart in New York City.  Otherwise, we sat down and ate at restaurants. 

Israel was filled with street vendors.  Nothing looked familiar and everything smelled delicious.  We were free to wander on our own, picking up lunch where we found it.  I found felafel, and fell in love.

Doused with garlicky vegetables, covered in yogurt sauce, dipped in hummus.... I ate it all.  As a mid-morning snack it was just enough to get me through to the later-than-I'd-like-it Teen Tour lunch.  While my friends spent their afternoons eating chocolate covered everything they could lay their hands on, I devoured those crunchy nuggets with reckless abandon.

Greeting me at Kennedy Airport (just 6 years after JFK's assassination, we were still getting used to not calling it Idlewild) G'ma was stunned. 

"Gad, you're fat!" was the first thing she said to me.

 After not hearing her voice for 10 weeks (remember, telecommunications were exorbitantly expensive back then) I was stunned right back.  I'd always been the skinny kid, the one who could eat anything and never gain a pound.

My shorts hadn't shrunk so that I couldn't zip them.  Those felafel had taken their toll. 

Being in love is hard, sometimes.

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

The Piano

Bubba bought me a piano when I was 6 months old, because "Every child should have a piano," (with the "Duh!" implied). I carted that piano around, from Oceanside to Staten Island to Chicago to Tiburon. I'd play it every once in a while, but it was mostly a remembrance of my grandmother's love.

I kept it tuned, and watched Little Cuter enjoy herself immensely, sitting with perfect posture and curved fingers, making music. Moving from teacher to teacher until the last one left to run a nursing home business somewhere in the Midwest and her interests turned to other things, without her the instrument became a piece of furniture.

HansO, our handyman-cum-twenty-something-role-model-and-friend, took it for his mother. It was hard to say goodbye, but I knew it would be loved.

Besides, no matter how many lessons G'ma paid for, no matter how much I really wanted to learn, no matter how much I tried to catch the beat, it didn't take long for me to recognize the sad truth - I can't carry a tune in a bucket, with the lid on.

I tried out for chorus in elementary school; two or three of us didn't make the cut. G'ma sent me to voice lessons with my piano teacher, an ill-fated if well-intentioned venture. I remember standing by her piano in her dark and overwhelming living room, trying to make the notes on the score come out of my mouth.

I failed. Over and over again, I failed. Strangely, I don't remember being embarrassed, just relieved when the hour was over.

Today, driving my usual path through town, I noticed myself singing a tune from the first song book. Out loud, with gusto, "Oh really, O'Riley, You are a fine policeman," came out of my mouth. I felt G'ma and Bubba (who thought I was really talented, lurking in the kitchen to listen because I could not play with them in the room) in the car by my side, nodding appreciatively.

I was 8 with an 8 year old's issues.

I wasn't there very long, but the memory is still hanging around. Maybe Bubba was craftier than I ever gave her credit for.

Monday, June 17, 2019

A Master Teacher - A Snippet

There are long minutes of intense, concentrated, focused work interspersed with grown up conversation.  It's the perfect combination for me.

She's wise about bodies in general and mine in particular, noticing things I feel but can't pin down.  It's never you are weak here; it's always engage this and use the breath.  I'm using what I can until the rest catches up, and catch up it will.  Pilates is all about symmetry; it feels awkward to be left behind.

Today, we reorganized a piece of equipment to accommodate my shorter than the usual client's leg length, and laughed about how proud of it all we were.  You Tube videos were mentioned.  Then she had me lay down and rest my legs against the re-positioned bar and I discovered that it's possible to rotate to turn out with ease when it's your lower calf and not your ankle bone resting on the steel cross-piece.

Did I mention that she pays attention to detail?

I'm usually sore when I leave, but it's the well-used-all-over feeling of a good work.  A hot shower or an epsom salts bath leaves me invigorated and refreshed and knowing that my body is capable of more than I know.  I'm lucky to have someone to unlock it for me.

Friday, June 14, 2019

On Flag Day - Today and Years Past

Parts of this have appeared in some form or other in The Burrow already.

I've always liked Flag Day.  No parades, no speeches, just my flag outside my front door.
This is the weekend, in 2017, when Little Cuter and I helped Gabby celebrate the Commissioning of
the USS Gabrielle Giffords.  

It was a girls' trip to Galveston, a time to feel good about America, sunny days and balmy nights filled with liquid refreshments and many desserts, Jon Bon Jovi and my first experience of Mark Kelly's ability to command a room.

They don't choose just anyone to command a  Space Shuttle, whispered the distinguished gentleman standing behind me in his be-ribboned Navy Whites.
Gabby was gorgeous and happily wind-blown that weekend, leaning against her handsome husband. I know the effort behind each one of the steps she took, from the bow to the stern.  She knew we were watching, and she didn't want to let us down. She marched on, smiling, unwavering, determined.

It's not only the doing which inspires me, it's the attitude : There is no yesterday. There is only tomorrow. Be bold. Be courageous. Be strong.

That she can still believe in America, that her husband is willing to step up to the plate and do something, that helps my heart on Flag Day.
Daddooooo was quite annoyed at the American flag patch on my jeans shorts, back in 1970 or '71. He felt that using the flag to cover my tush was the height of disrespect.

Of course he was right; the Flag Code prohibits such behavior. Then again, it also prohibits all the machinations the NFL puts it through in the name of patriotism. I wonder what he'd say about that.

Back in 2015, though, I wondered how he'd react to soccer fans, with their flag clothes and their flag faces
This year, watching the Stanley Cup and NBA championship series,, I've heard a lot of national anthems, which has gotten me thinking about the The Star Spangled Banner. 

I've never liked it, as music or narrative until Col. Bill's wife sent me a video from Smithsonian Magazine. It told me the story of the very real night when the continuing proof that our flag was still there meant the difference between survival or failure for the fledgling United States of America. 

Listening to retiring St. Louis Blues' Anthemist (yes, that's a job) Charles Glenn tell that story made the hairs on my arm stand at attention.

I'd still rather sing America the Beautiful or God Bless America, but I'm appreciating Francis Scott Key's work just a little bit more these days.
The Smithsonian Channel tried to convince me that Betsy Ross did not design and or sew the American Flag.  

I'm sorry, but NO.  

G'ma and Daddooooo took us to Fredrick, Maryland, where we looked up at her window and imagined the flag going proudly by. 

It certainly felt real to me. I was 9 or 10.

So, can you show me the label?  Do you have a receipt?  Until I can hold the proof in my hand I'm choosing to ignore your reality.

It's my privilege.  I have a flag to wave in case you disagree.

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Little Cuter wondered what books I liked as a child.  Answering her was a lovely trip down memory lane.

Arlene and I read Little Women over and over and over again in the 5th grade. I wanted to be Jo March, sitting in my attic, writing a book, twirling my long brown hair as I thought. I wanted to marry Max Baer, the older, smarter, wiser, exotic, teacher. I wanted Laurie as my best friend, next door, loving me in a way I couldn't return, aiming his ardor toward my younger sister, a more perfect match for his sensibilities.

I lived in her life for a very long time.

The Pink Motel was a book from the Weekly Reader Book Club. The cover was pink and the mystery inside piqued my interest in the genre that has lasted for 60 years. The old lady who lived in the motel the kids and their parents inherit has become my role model. She was silly and engaging, unusual and crafty, willing to listen to the kids as if they were her peers.

Plus, she believed in eating dessert first. That has always seemed practical to me. You'll always have room for all the sweets if you do it that way.

I read Les Miserables in the 5th grade, too. I plodded through the unabridged edition, amazing my peers and flummoxing my teacher. I couldn't understand the viciousness of the pursuit - he had a hungry child, for crying out loud. That injustice sat at the root of my Social Work practice.

I had a collection of Washington Irving stories, a beautiful hard bound copy of fairy tales from Shirley Temple, and Favorite Poems Old and New. Those were my long term go-to's, the books I could pick up when there was nothing else to read. I loved the long form poems, like The Highwayman, and Edgar Allen Poe's Annabelle Lee, and all the limericks, and e e cummings, who amused me before I realized just how subversive he was.

I remember Gr'ma and Bubba reading me Snip, Snap, and Snurr and Hans Brinker and The Silver Skates... and is it a real memory that those images seem to take place on cold winter afternoons?

I liked reading Dr. Seuss and A A. Milne's Pooh stories and poetry to Uncle Jeff and Aunt Jeannie when we were very young. James James Morrison Morrison Weatherbee George DuPree's lost mother story was one of the first poems I memorized. It ws only when I read it aloud to 5th graders last year that I recognized how sad a story it is.

I read all the blue hardbound biographies of famous people as children that lined my 2nd or 3rd grade classroom; I can still see the pen and ink illustration of Jane Addams imagining Hull House. I wanted to be her. I read about Albert Schweitzer and Tom Dooley (whose works never revealed his CIA connection) and Florence Nightingale - helpers all.

Were there books about adventurers or entrepreneurs? Perhaps they existed and I ignored them. Looking back over what I've written, though, perhaps I sought out those stories that felt safe, that applauded family, that comforted.

Or maybe those are the ones I remember.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

My First Big Trip

My grandparents wanted to send me to Israel.  My mom said my older cousin had to go first.  Of all the grandkids, we were the only two to benefit from their largesse; I don't know why the others were left out of their generosity.

My cousin and her parents found a Teen Tour; my parents sent me on the same one.  We probably should have investigated the situation more thoroughly.  The introductory meeting was held in a close room, on folding chairs.  No effort was made to have us meet our fellow travelers; we sat with our parents, listened to the lecture, then left.

The tour leaders had never been to Europe before.  They were a young married couple who were fighting out their early struggles in full view of 20 or so teenagers.  Not an easy situation for anyone, their behavior compounded by the fact that they weren't very smart people.

They let our Israeli tour guides take us on an all day hike without telling us where we were going.  I'd have worn sneakers instead of floppy sandals had I known that we'd be mountain climbing.

They let us roam freely through Amsterdam and Rome and Florence and Milan, free to be chased by young men through alleys, free to get lost and wander aimlessly through sketchy neighborhoods, free to go to discotheques with young men we'd met in a cafe.

It was freedom.  It was terrifying.  

We stayed together in Athens, seeing the sights with no guide to explain things.  The leaders were supposed to be explaining things, but they were arguing and didn't seem to have much time for us.  I soaked in the sights and the smells, but never got to taste the real food.  The leaders were not adventurous eaters; we spent most of our mealtimes in pre-arranged hotel dining rooms, eating bland copies of American dishes.

One thing we didn't do was drink the water.  Coca Cola was my liquid refreshment all summer long except in Israel where orange juice was the preferred beverage.  There were fruits everywhere in The Holy Land; my digestion worked overtime.  I became closely acquainted with a variety of rest rooms; few of them resembling anything I'd been used to at home.

We traveled through Israel on public buses, reminded to keep our hands and arms inside the windows at all times.  This was good advice since the oncoming traffic passed mere inches from us. There were soldiers on every street corner, our bags were checked when we entered most every establishment,  yet three of us on a Scavenger Hunt managed to talk our way in to Teddy Kollek's office.  There we chatted with Jerusalem's mayor, interrupting his pastrami on rye lunchtime.  He gave us lots of souvenirs, encouraged us to Make Aliyah (move to our homeland), and sent us on our way with a handful of nuts.  

I saw the art in Italy and the red light district in Amsterdam.  I communed with the Greeks and sailed on the Mediterranean.  I missed my boyfriend terribly.

It was a Big Trip, which got swallowed up in the rush to go to college two weeks after I returned.  Somewhere, there is a box of memorabilia, but I don't really need it to remember those days.  I took 30 something rolls of film, and there are two shots of me - one in the train station in Karlsruhe, Germany and one in an unidentified airport.

The evidence may not prove it, but I really was there.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Do I Believe People Can Change - Snippets

We had a friend, TBG and I, a dear, kind, thoughtful, funny, smart, devoted friend.  He cheated on his first wife with his second wife, who was surprised and angry when he cheated on her with his third wife.  Somewhere in there we lost the connection, right around the time that I realized that he would never change, that he wasn't someone I could trust to tell me the truth.

He'd always take the easy way out - avoiding the subject, or me; lying; denying culpability; trying to cute his way out of situations he created himself.  We told The Cuters that he was fine for Saturday night, but when Monday morning rolled around he was the last person from whom to take advice.

When Little Cuter began dating in high school, she knew to steer away from those who disappointed her.  She'd seen, up close and first hand, how some grown ups just repeat the same, self-destructive patterns.
I had a friend in high school who, when I rediscovered her a decade ago, proved to be the same happy, thoughtful, friendly person who loved everyone and was loved in return.  She lost a twin, her parents, her sister, and a few husbands and jobs along the way, but her attitude was upbeat and positive then and remains so to this day.

Her basic character is carved in stone.
Daddooooo wouldn't listen to Christmas carols - not in the car, not in the house.  Yet he watched me decorate a tree in my own living room, and, as I finished, he said I get it.

He wouldn't let G'ma keep the wooden hangars we'd bought (on sale!) because they were stamped Made in West Germany, yet he loved his diesel Volkswagon Rabbit more than any car he owned.

He was ornery as a child (I saw his report cards) and ornery as an adult, but he was always open to learning.  Did he change?  On the surface, perhaps.  But buying the Rabbit seemed, to me, at least, to speak to a deeper shift.
Does it have something to do with locus of control?  Do you feel that you can be responsible for the things that matter, or are those things largely out of your control?

Was our philandering friend so certain that life would continue to screw him over (and he did not have an easy time growing up) that he tossed caution and veracity to the winds?

Is my girlfriend so confident in her ability to influence the currents of her life that she doesn't waste time moaning and groaning, but just gets on with the work at hand?

As for my father, I cannot figure him out at all.

Monday, June 10, 2019

Happy Birthday, Gabby

It was a fundraiser for Mark Kelly's Senate race, on the Saturday of Wear Orange for Gun Safety weekend.  Or, as my favorite t-shirt at the event read: United In Favor Of Not Getting Shot.  
Cameras and rapt attention greeted former Congressman Ron Barber (now Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick's District Director) who waxed eloquent and was waxed eloquently upon before Gabby got up to greet us.
She's doing better every time I see her.
The applause never gets any quieter.

The candidate recited his stump speech, touching on all the areas I care about, getting a round of cheers when he mentioned science and facts.  
I'd heard it before, so I thought about the scene, instead.  
I thought about how lucky we were to be there at all, watching the woman I saw sliding to the ground so many sunny Saturday mornings ago.
I saw her watching her husband talk about their first date ,at a maximum security prison in Florence,
and feeling the love. 
Look at him looking at her. 
It was almost enough to take away the pain - of TBG watching the corners and the exits, of missing CTG by my side, of wishing we were gathering for a Presidential bid for Gabby, of hugging those in the club no one wants to join, of feeling our losses all over again.

But then there was cake
Yes, there are holes.
But there are also moments of contentment, of coming together, of doing what people do when someone they love has a birthday.
We sang as she blew out the candles.

Friday, June 7, 2019

A Tree Grows in Tucson

I figured out that my new(ish) phone has an Add Text feature in the photo editing app.
These are two volunteer trees, pooped out by some animal exactly where I'd have planted them myself. The photo seemed ripe for digital experimentation.
Thanks for indulging me.

But what I really wanted to show you is this.

Driving out in the morning, I stopped to admire the healthy green glow of plants I'd nurtured for a decade or more.  There was nothing particularly unusual about the scene.
This afternoon, pulling the trash can up the other side of the driveway, I saw this.
Where there was nothing, there was now a stalk.
My agave, a tiny fellow when we first met, has given birth. 
I'm resisting the urge to identify the bottom of the shoot with my new toy.
I'm trusting that you can see it nestled in the middle of very spiky protective aunts and uncles. 
Up close and higher up, the nutrients are gathering. 
Up there is the burgeoning flower.  It will be yellow and tiered and not really all that attractive, at least when viewed from a distance. 

 I'm not sure how I'll feel about it once it's mine.  At the moment, I'm an anxious doula with close ties to the family.

Thursday, June 6, 2019

Elizabeth Warren's Got a Plan

She's tugging at my heartstrings, talking about child care and job choices and being rescued by Aunt Bea; not everybody has an Aunt Bea.

They're laughing at her trademark I've got a plan for that, but it's obvious she has the smarts and the drive and the experiences to back them up.  TBG thinks some are economically unfeasible, and I'm not educated enough to argue the point.  I'm assuming they are as possible as almost everything in Congress these days; I look at them as Intentions in a Perfect World.

I mean, really.  It's hard to argue with asking for two cents on every dollar over fifty billion dollars earned.  Can she really fund universal child care and pre-k and pay those teachers and care-givers the wages they deserve?

I hope so.  It's a laudable goal.  I'm willing to let her try.

That's Gov. Inslee's plan, my well-sourced husband told me, in no uncertain terms.  And he's done it, too.  It's my plan, too - bringing the manufacturing jobs for solar and wind power has been a sticking point for me for a long time.  It's so obvious, and it doesn't happen.  If I were conspiracy minded......

But, I digress.

I'm not sure it's a bad thing that the candidates are learning from one another.  In a perverse way, Donald J Trump has been good for American Democracy.  We are paying attention, we are participating, we are examining our choices and making our own decisions, unfiltered, right from the candidates mouths.

As for Senator Warren, her passion  runs deep, and so do her thoughts.  Is she shrill?  Was Eleanor Roosevelt nasal?  Will America choose to vote for another blonde older woman?  Or a looks younger than she is woman of color?  Or a gay millenial?  Is she too Establishment?  Is he Progressive enough?  Can she appeal to.........

And it's only half way through her town hall and I'm exhausted.

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Living on the Edge of the Desert

It's a wildlife awakening around here.

This daddy and his family live under the mesquite and saguaros in the wash below our house.  He and mama shepherd their dozen or so little Callipepla gambelii around the inskirts of our property, venturing close to the pony walls on the ground while Dad keeps watch from above.

Mom was nowhere to be found this afternoon; I like to think she was leaving Dad in charge in a relatively safe space while she went off to munch on insects all by herself.   As much as I think that there is nothing cuter than scampering baby quail, parenting that many of them must be exhausting.

The ground squirrels are busily defoliating the barrel cacti, leaving their detritus behind, sual.

What was unusual was finding migrating ducks on the side of the pool today:
If you're looking for a Zen moment, turn off the sound (it's the Stanley Cup) and watch these two catch their breath before moving on.
Filled with calm and purpose, I came to the library to write this on the laptop, looked out the window to the short wall around the courtyard, and quietly screamed  TBG BRING ME MY CAMERA!

You can see why.
The rest of his family was further out in the yard.  He was keeping watch.  I stayed inside.

Little Cuter has robins, cardinals, black squirrels, and a mole in her yard.  I have quail, ground squirrels, ducks, and coyotes. What a wonderful world.

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

A Dry Heat - A Snippet

And this weekend the temperatures will be seasonably warm.

I laughed out loud.  Anyplace else, they'd be opening shelters for the un-air-conditioned elderly.  In Tucson, it's seasonably warm.

That means we look forward to temperatures in the upper 90's, sometimes accompanied by a slight breeze in the late afternoon.  With nary a cloud in the sky, being outside for more than a walk to the shady spot in which you left the car requires a hat and sunscreen and determination.  There's not much shade to be found; the leaves on the desert adapted trees have curled onto themselves, minimizing their exposure to the elements.

It's a wise idea.  At this time of year I remember Sister's friend describing her summer in Tucson:  I can feel my cuticles peeling back into my fingers.  I can feel the air sucking me dry.

I'm not complaining about guaranteed sunshine and weather I don't have to shovel or sweep or slip on.   I'm just explaining the situation.

Monday, June 3, 2019


JannyLou took me to the movies this morning; I must remember to reimburse her for the ticket.  Her usual movie partners are gone for the summer, so, on the theory that bad guys don't get up before noon, I agreed to go to a 10:35am show.

So did a lot of other people with grey hair.  We had reserved seats, leather-like plush recliners with plenty of leg room between each row.... even when lying nearly flat.  I know this because I had a grand time with the design during the 30 minutes of commercials and trailers and rambling nonsense from a young woman neither of us recognized.

JannyLou tells me that this is the usual state of affairs in movie theaters these days.  I may have to expand my horizons beyond The Loft.

I saw Elton John in a fairly intimate setting in San Francisco in the early 1990's.  It was a benefit for his AIDS foundation, and he spoke eloquently about the fact that he was still alive, while most of his compatriots were not.  Rocketman is the backstory to that .

That therapy led to 28 years of sobriety is well known.  That any therapist managed to get a handle on his morass of contributing factors is stunning.  As JannyLou and I, two social workers, commented on leaving - He had everything.

His father... his mother.... his sexuality.... the lost little boy (played by Kit Connor, a name to remember) is never far from the surface.  Taron Egerton's Elton John is connected, viscerally, to every character in the film.  We see them through his eyes, just as we see him looking at himself.  If he's exorcising demons by confronting them, the Executive Producer, Elton Hercules John himself, has done a masterful job.

Which would be fine if this were a drama about addiction.

But it's a rock and roll story, too, and a super glam one at that.  The costumes are fabulous, and there are a gazillion of them.  Playing mega arenas or a piano in the corner, the musicianship shines through.  So do the drugs and the sex and the reckless abandon.  The words tell the story, the music brings the emotion

And those words, those Bernie Taupin words. The relationship between the lyricist and the composer is the fulcrum around which the story revolves.  Even when he's not in the scene, his words are. If there's an Oscar for Best Scene I nominate Taron Egerton and Jamie Bell at the end of Mama Cass's party; the whole theater exhaled at the end.

This is a movie that really doesn't know what it is, and maybe that's the point.  Just as I settled into the music and the outfits and the lights, the losses and anguish and self-destruction brought me slamming back to earth.  That Elton John is alive to create this movie is as marvelous as his on-stage persona - highly improbable, more than over the top, and well worth exploring.