Hiding Behind a Tree

As if my heart could not get any fuller, my first-born grandchild started his very first day of pre-school this morning.  Wasn’t it but yesterday when I had to leave my first child in daycare?  There was no choice…I had to go off to work……. I left her there on the playground, hid behind a tree watching her, aching with separation and worry.  I hid behind that tree and cried.

Today it was her turn in the wheel – in the ever turning wheel.  It really goes so fast, too fast.

Here are my grandsons, two brothers waiting with excitement on the first day.

first day of preschool~*~

Posted in Aging, kids, Perspective, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

A Two Boy Wedding

It is a few days past the wedding, and I am still awash in an almost dream-state; every once in a while welling up with emotion which brings me onto the edge of tears.

It is an honor to be a guest at any wedding, and I tend to get a bit weepy when I see two people making a major commitment. The tenderness and love that I felt at the wedding of my own beautiful first-born child, knowing she had left my nest forever to make a new one with her husband, is a feeling etched forever on my heart.

But something quite different and rather magical occurred at this particular wedding of friends over the weekend; the wedding of two wonderful, wonderful guys – yes, a two boy wedding.  The visual input of the venues alone was almost too much for the senses to process.  The emotional vibrations surrounding this event left a wrench in your chest, your heart feeling as if it was continually opening over and over again, like so many flowers within flowers within flowers.  The day was awash in rainbows and bubbles and joyful tears and so much care.  It left me gasping for words, walking around with a lump in my throat, speechless.  So many people working together so incredibly hard for so many days to pull off this event – such an outrageously beautiful, joyous, three-day party of families, extended families, friends, extended extended extended.  Lights dancing in the trees, lightening zipping through the sky, feathers and sparkles and kaleidoscopes of color and music vibrating, peals of laughter and hearts thumping wildly…… all dusted with some major magic.

Again and again I kept overhearing people saying that “This is the First Gay Wedding I have ever been to”, followed by saying it was also “The. Best. Wedding. Ever”.   The one thought that kept going through my mind was that I hope someday soon it becomes such a regular event for anyone to marry,  so much so that gay wedding” will just be referred to as a “wedding“,  so commonplace that there will be no need for a preface.  But still, beyond that, there was nothing common about this wedding on any level.

All said, this Two Boy Wedding was still the most spectacular wedding event I have ever attended, and I have been to a few Big Events in my time.  Those who hosted it truly know how to throw a party, and everybody present knew they were part of something Special.  Honestly, I have no words to adequately describe it without sounding trite, and still am unable to clearly define the jumble of emotions enough to give a solid description.  I just wanted to go around hugging everybody I saw. Seeing photos now as people start to post them is evoking feelings that have set me weeping and smiling all over again.  And those photos still just barely touch on the glowing aura of it all.

I wish this couple the very best relationship filled with love and care as they go forward. Perhaps too plain to say it so simply, but what a happy, happy day.

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We have had ants this summer, the large black variety.   Not too many, but occasionally one will be spotted making its was across the kitchen floor or even the counter.  There have been so few compared to other years, that there really has been no need to do anything about them besides keep the counters and floors clean, the food covered and put away.

A few weeks ago while mopping the floor of the small downstairs half bathroom, I found a dead ant dangling just above the tile floor, in the corner between the bottom ofbathroom floor the sink vanity and the wall. I almost missed it due to the optical illusion of the black and white tile.  It was caught up in what looked like a small cobweb/dust bunny.  I bent down to inspect the smallest of haphazard, gossamer webbing, which was not arranged in any particular pattern, but was more like a jumble of disorganized strings.  As I leaned in, my movement startled and revealed the resident of this messy little web – a miniscule spider.

I have to say that I was impressed that the little being had set up camp so quickly and caught an ant easily two or three times its size.  Because I am kind of a geek when it comes to this sort of thing, I decided to not clear out the web right away, but to mop around it and let it be.  OK, maybe that’s a little weird, but the spider was so tiny that it was almost a speck. It was a ghost of a spider, and it really wasn’t hurting anything.  And it caught a great big ant!  It was Useful.

Not all insects who enter the home get this kind of invitation, but I have granted some clemency in the past.  When hundreds of ladybugs used to arrive inside the window frames every autumn (in an old country residence of the past), I would let them live there and only vacuumed up the dead ones that fell on the sills. They didn’t seem to be hurting anything.  As their numbers decreased I would wait to see if any of them would make it through the winter.  By January there were usually only a few stragglers left.  I admired their tenacity.

And then there was the The Daily Spider.  The Daily Spider sat waiting for me in the bathtub just about every morning.  It wasn’t a scary-looking spider at all,  but I would rinse it down the drain each time anyway……. and the very next day it would be back again.  Sometimes it would appear in the sink, but usually the tub.  I wondered if it was the same spider or yet another one that looked just like it.  It was remarkable that pretty much each day the spider would be sitting there before I took my shower.  Here is an actual picture of The Daily Spider.  You can see how small it is, which eliminated the fear-factor for me.

The Daily Spider

Here is a close-up of TDS.  Some of you might say “Ewww”, but I think it’s rather interesting to look at.

A closer look at The Daily Spider

Anyway, back to the story,  I left this particular “Spidey” on the bathroom floor there in hopes that he would continue to trap ants and earn his keep, and so I could watch him.  No doubt anybody who sat down on the toilet in that bathroom and happened to let their gaze fall towards that corner of the floor would notice the messy web and probably the dangling ant.  The spider itself was so small it was easy to miss.  Visitors to the bathroom probably thought I was just a lousy homemaker….but the rest of the bathroom was clean!  Really!   I alerted the S.O. to Spidey’s presence – he was only mildly impressed (“Why don’t you vacuum that thing up?”).

Spidey was there for about two weeks when I decided to try to snap a photo of him with my iPhone to show you.  Unfortunately, you are going to have to use your imagination.  I turned on the lights, got down on the floor and moved in close – and totally freaked the spider out, because it immediately scurried away and I have not seen it since.  I continued to try and clean around the web for a few more days in the event he decided to return, but I must have caught the edge of it with the mop, because the ant is now gone too and there is nothing left but a messy little hint of fuzz.  So that is that.

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Left Out

There are always challenges in the reshuffling of families, friendships and loyalties when it comes to a divorce.  Over the many years since mine occurred, there have been waves of   problems laced with intense hostility interspersed with moments of peacefulness and pleasant coexistence, and sometimes even laughter.  One of the complicated issues is that my Ex and I live within very close proximity to each other, with an overlap of friends, in a county where everyone seems to either know each other, be related to each other, was married to each other, or has slept with each other.  There are a lot of tangled webs around here.

tangled webs

I have divorced friends and acquaintances who have totally cut their ex-spouse out of their lives, to the point where the ex was not even allowed to come to the door or even step foot on the property to pick up their children for the weekend, sending the kids down the driveway or by the side of the road to wait.   Or some who have just taken the kids and moved far away to get away from the ex.  I know one who expected the ex drive two hours each way in heavy weekend traffic to pick up their kid without doing any accommodating to make this any easier for anybody, including their own child, and another who would not be home to greet their children at the appointed time and would leave the ex-spouse and her children waiting in the driveway for a good amount of time.  I know someone who would send the kids off for the weekend without adequate clothing to wear (especially if the ex was taking them to a dress-up event), and sometimes didn’t send them with their medication! Many I know have arranged to have the Support Collection Unit be the intermediary regarding their child support payments, and a few have had to go after their exes to the point of threatening jail or actually jailing them for non-payment or lapses in support.  They essentially have no contact with their exes.  And when they do, it is always Weird or Unpleasant.  In hindsight perhaps a few of these were prudent things to do, especially regarding the support part.  Time and again people have told me that I need to protect myself from my Ex, both financially and emotionally.

People divorce for a reason, and I will take ownership for my part in it. But at the time I was going through divorce, all these maneuvers seemed so geared to not being a “nice person” and certainly not towards creating any sort of peace.  These tactics seemed to go against my grain and appeared counter-productive to how I believed maintaining a decent post-marriage ought to be.   I had seen how my own mother had been just severed from not only my father, but all their friends and his family after their divorce. A lifetime of relationships just erased. It was so terrible, and it caused her tremendous pain.  Couldn’t there be a better way?  I always felt it was about all of us, just not about me.  And so I have been perhaps a bit Too Relaxed concerning the “Rules of Divorce”.

Throughout the past twenty-some odd years,  but mostly when my children were younger,  I had always felt it would be best to accommodate The Ex in most things concerning the kids.  I invited him to their birthday parties so he would not miss out on those moments.  I actually felt guilty that he was missing those moments, because I knew how I would feel, I knew how painful it felt to be left out, so I tried to include him where I could.  I thought the kids would want him there too.  I kept him informed of their music and play recitals, what was going on in school, teacher meetings, who their friends were,  medical updates and any problems or emotional issues – even when it seemed he was not interested – because I felt as a parent he should know.  I didn’t want to keep him so distanced from what was going on in their lives, now that he was no longer regularly part of those lives. Although he did not reciprocate the courtesy, I thought I was being Fair, and perhaps would just have to be the bigger person about it.  I met him half way to drop off the kids on his weekends or even delivered them to him when I knew his car was not running well, or running at all.  I even allowed temporary postponement and lapses of the child support when he had lost his job and was looking for other work, or when his car engine blew up and his money had to go into fixing it (to pick up the kids, to get to a job).   I didn’t see the point in pummeling him.  I figured I would get it back at the end and that it would all come out in the wash. I didn’t see the point of making everything Horrible, or making the spectre of divorce more horrible than it already was.  Because it was painful, and it was horrible.  But I believe in Good Faith.

divorce Okay, call me a fool, I know, I feel the smirks and eye-rolls.  In that crystal clear hindsight, perhaps I should have just taken the kids and moved back across the country to be near my own family, had the Support Unit garnish his wages and go after him for lapses, and just never talked to him or his people, or any of our friends again.  But you know, I come from the Old School of Hippies.  My heart is an open book.  I knew people whose divorces were so incredibly hostile, so filled with acrimony and acid, that their children were puddles of emotional, weeping mush.  I didn’t want that for my kids, even though I had become the puddle of emotional, weeping mush.  I wanted everything to be mellow and relaxed, even when I desperately knew it wasn’t quite going in that direction.  I had a vision of what I had hoped it could be.  And I loved my in-laws, who were all good people, and just couldn’t see throwing out the bath water with the husband, so to speak.

As it goes in divorces, the friends pretty much sorted themselves into their respective camps.  There was some overlap, but essentially the loyalties were pretty clearly divided.  Sad, but it seems it’s always that way.  Despite the loss of some old and dear friends, some wonderful ones stuck by me.  Beyond that, over the years I have maintained very good and loving relationships with my Former In-Laws; the Ex-In-Laws….the Out-Laws….whatever you might call them.  We have come together for births, weddings, funerals and reunions – those special events. My family has still been happy to see my Ex when these things arise too.  In that respect, it’s been rather remarkable.

While we no longer share holidays together, for a number of summers in a row I have been graciously invited to my Former In-laws for the family reunion.  I don’t stay for the whole weekend-long event, but I usually come for an afternoon to visit with everyone, catch up, give hugs, eat some good food, and then I leave.  It’s been this way for some years now and it has been a nice thing.  Not only does it leave warm fuzzies to see them all and the expanding generations,  but they have even made my Significant Other welcome in their home. In addition, it has been an opportunity to see my own children and grandchildren interacting with their cousins and extended cousins that I have known since birth.  Things have seemed to go along pretty well.

This year I was not invited.

I got wind of this because my children were talking about going and the logistics of getting there, and I hadn’t heard anything about it yet.  My Former Sister-in-Law, who I consider a friend and who I am in contact with via email and Facebook probably a couple of times a week, had said nothing to me about it.  I was flummoxed.  And I felt incredibly hurt.  When I vented to my friend on the phone about this mixture of sad and painful feelings, she said “It really hurts to be left out”.  That pretty much says it all.  It doesn’t matter if you are eight or eighty, in kindergarten, high school or the nursing home –  it really does hurt to be excluded.

I didn’t know if I should just say nothing and sit here feeling badly, or mention it and end up coming off as rude, because of course they have no obligation to invite me to anything, and I feel they have been gracious all these years.  But also, a precedent had been set, and these are people I have been related to and have been in contact with for decades. The worst part was that I actually found myself feeling way more depressed about it than I expected to be or wanted to be, or maybe should be – but I could not shake it.  Both my kids felt I should ask my Former Sister-in-Law why this year was different.  I hesitated, but then I did, and she told me.

It seems my Ex is bringing a date.

The Ex and dates are nothing new at all.  There has been a very, very long line of “dates”.  I think if he was introducing someone new to the family, this sort of would make sense. Who wants to be introduced to a family when the ex-wife is present? If they were worried about weirdness, I think it would have been the decent thing for my SIL to cue me in to the reason for the sudden non-invite.   But the interesting part about this date is that it is someone who is not new on the scene.  She has been there before.  It is someone I actually know, and happen to like very much….and we are even Facebook friends!  Not only that, we have run into each other and had lengthy chit-chat at the supermarket, at restaurants and at other social venues before, including sitting at the same table with her, The Ex and my S.O. at a wedding.  All has been easy and fine with us.  She seems as much at ease with me as I am with her.  She’s actually someone I would have no qualms about inviting over to our place for a holiday event.  Given that, in a way I feel even more hurt and disappointed at how ridiculous and unnecessary the exclusion was.  I think it would have been fine.

But it is not my party. And honestly, I am suspecting that it is my Ex who really didn’t want me there, and that his sister acquiesced to him.  Blood truly is thicker. Given that, I am still just so disappointed in the evasive way this went down.  Which makes me feel that all my misguided hippie-dippy efforts to try and make everyone be “friends” and “get along” –  all my accommodations and unappreciated good will towards trying to make this work all these years has been stupid and fruitless and delusional. It has been all for nothing.

It is times like these where I wish I had taken the children across the country and back to my family, or had locked the doors and made him stand at the far edge of the property like an outcast while he waited for them to come out.  It sort of makes me wish I had contacted Support Collection from Day One and let them kick his ass instead of having to call him each and every time a payment was due, because he has never voluntarily sent it unless I asked for it.  Each and every time. For years.  It makes me wish I had never shared any information about our children, had never met him half way, never extended myself, never cared how he might be feeling at all, just let him remain a stranger. It makes me wish I had started a new life, far, far away.  Perhaps it would have been so much better for my own mental health and self-esteem.  Perhaps I should have just let things get way uglier than they ever had been.

I hate wishing I was that person because I hate that person.  I just really hate feeling like this.

Posted in Coping, Divorce, Friends, Perspective, Regrets, Uncategorized, Vent | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Elusive, Delicate Rainbows

A small thing for the Bucket List, but one never-the-less.  I have always wanted to visit a butterfly sanctuary, and it finally happened.

Walking into that sheltered world of warm breezes, tropical flowers and rainbow-hued butterflies elicited pure joy.  They are truly elusive, delicate, spectacular beings, and like rainbows they are fragile and short-lived.

As they flutter about you there is almost a giddy feeling of lightness.  Examined up close, each is a work of art, a topographical map, a photo of a distant planet.

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Our Lady of the Perpetual Kitchen

My grandmother was Catholic, my mother was raised Catholic, and so she tried to raise us as Catholics too.  I consider myself a “Collapsed Catholic” and will usually check “none” on any form asking my religion.  I never was able to assimilate, and have my issues with organized religion in general and the Catholic church specifically.

Along with certain beliefs and expectations came a bit of related paraphernalia, mostly by way of my grandmother.  It was not unusual to find a holy medal pinned to your mattress or attached to the window visor in your car to keep you safe, or to be gifted a set of rosary beads in a small box. At one point in our growing up, my mother had procured some very beautiful olive wood relics originating in Italy, which included two detailed crucifixes.  She hung these crosses over the beds of my sister and I.

Instead of feeling protected, I felt extremely uncomfortable sleeping beneath the image of a suffering, bleeding and crucified Jesus, even though it was beautifully rendered in olive wood and stain.  I did not want my crucifix, and I expressed my distaste for it, even at a young age.  Eventually my mother took it out of my room.  I am not sure what became of Charlotte’s, but one ended up in my Mom’s bedroom, and one of them eventually found its way into my aunt’s home, where it remains today.

Most likely from the same source, she presented my sister and I with olive wood statues of the Virgin Mary.  They were finely carved and lightly stained with color.  My sister Charlotte’s statue was of a slender Mary in blue and white robes who stood upon the world with her hand benevolently stretched outwards and a benign smile.   The Virgin Mary given to me held flowers in one hand, but the other hand was touching her heart, which was outside of her chest and glowing (or burning, or bleeding) and surrounded by roses.  Just like the Jesus suffering over my bed, this Mary seemed also to be in some pain, perhaps more internal.  Maybe I identified with that on some visceral level.

Our Lady of The Perpetual Kitchen

My mother’s purpose in giving us these statues was not entirely clear to me, but I acknowledge that it was out of love and perhaps meant also for protection, or focus.  It meant something to her.  So the Mary sat on a shelf in my room amidst the row of Breyer model horses I used to collect.

When I grew up and moved away, Mary always ended up packed in a box, following me.  Maybe it was just because my mother gave her to me that I allowed her presence, but for years she would reside tucked beside a book on a book shelf, or standing among the bottles of perfume, hair clips, candles and picture frames on my dresser.  When I let go of some of the items from my past – my beloved model horses, the Peruvian statue given to me by my fifth grade teacher, my original 1969 poster of the Woodstock festival on White Lake, my high school diploma, ribbons won at horse shows – when I eliminated these things from my life in a moment of change,  the Virgin Mary always survived the cut and remained……even though I was not religious.  I didn’t think about it much, but she was just always there.

All grown up with a family, the Mary statue eventually found its way onto a shelf of knickknacks in my kitchen, right above the sink.   There were five of us living in the house at the time.  We did not have a dish washer, and it seems I was always doing the dishes, making a meal, cleaning up in that kitchen.  I lived in that room. We lived in that room.  That is where the dog slept, where the fish tank was, where we kept the lizards;  that was the room that had the bird feeder outside of it and a view of the garden.  That was where we would cram in extra chairs and extend the table and have Thanksgiving For Strays and birthday parties and cups of tea.  The kids and I closed the doors and huddled around that stove while I kept on baking to keep warm when we had no heat.  Mary stood on that shelf just above eye-level, looking down at me, watching over us, and one day it just came to me that she was Our Lady of the Perpetual Kitchen.  I felt that was a fitting name and that she presided over the home in the most obvious place, a place of honor at the helm of the action.

And so she was that for many years, until one day my mother came to visit and noticed the location of the statue.  She felt that Mary deserved a more fitting place than hovering over the dishes in the sink, and when I told her that she was Our Lady of the Perpetual Kitchen, she indicated that it was a bit disrespectful and asked if she could take the Mary home with her.  It seemed to mean more to her than to me, so I gave her back to my Mom.

Our Lady spent the next number of years on my mother’s polished maple dresser in her clean, quiet bedroom, next to her jewelry box and with her back to a large mirror.  The original Jesus on the cross was also in her room – I am not sure if it was mine or Charlotte’s.  These items seemed to give my mother comfort.  And that is where they remained until the day she died.

When we were cleaning out my mother’s home, I took Our Lady back home with me.  I left the Jesus crucifix, which was taken by Aunt M, who hung it up in her house and has no knowledge of its true history.  Last time I saw her she announced to us that she wonders who she will leave her beautiful crucifix from Italy to when she dies.  I hope it is not me.

Back in my home, Mary spent the next few years tucked into a corner of the pine hutch in the dining room with the “good” dishes and “special” things.   But now she resides in the guest room.

I call it “The Deity Room” because there is a lovely painted cloth on the wall of Krishna dancing with the Gopis.  On top of a Mexican chest are a number of statues of Sarasvati and Ganesha.   There is a carved wooden statue of The Virgin of Guadalupe in that room, which I had bought for my mother when she got sick.  I felt Our Lady of the Perpetual Kitchen would fit right in there, and she does.

Today when I was dusting the chest and all the Deities,  I picked up Our Lady and took a good look at her again; her downward cast eyes, her Roman nose, her glowing heart coming out of her chest.  I decided to look up The Immaculate Heart.  This is what it said:

“The Immaculate Heart of Mary is a devotional name used to refer to the interior life of the Blessed Virgin Mary, her joys and sorrows, her virtues and hidden perfections, and, above all, her virginal love for God the Father, her maternal love for her son Jesus, and her compassionate love for all persons”.

It took me fifty years to get it.  I wish I could talk to my mother right now.


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Salmiak is Salmiak

Licorice is one of those things that people usually like a lot or totally abhor. You are pretty much into it or you’re not, there is not much waffling on the fence concerning licorice. I am in the licorice camp.

So there I am on a summer’s day; a kid wandering through Woolworth’s after finishing up a banana split ice cream sundae that I scored for twenty-three cents – you picked a balloon and they popped it and you paid whatever price the little piece of paper in the balloon said. After finishing off that, I became distracted by the pet section with the white mice, the hamsters, and the parakeets. When I left the store and got out to the sidewalk, I was lured by a spicy aroma into the small specialty store next door. We called it “The German Deli”, although that was not the name of the store and I am not sure what other countries the store actually represented…..it was probably more like a gourmet import store. I was maybe eleven years old at the time, if that.

In this “German Deli” there were sausage-y, rich, spiced scents that seemed to seep from the walls. The inside was dark and close. The wooden shelves were stocked with bottles and cans of exotic, Weird and Unfamiliar Things; the things you normally did notgyms see in the supermarket in those days. Chestnuts floating in syrup, pearly white onions in brine, jams made from exotic fruits, unidentifiable items with pretty labels and unpronounceable, magical names. These Unfamiliar Things lured me. I was curious to try something, but almost everything I saw was outrageously expensive to me. However, on one of the lower shelves, a shelf I could easily reach and inspect, round metal tins of Pastilles were arranged in rows. A white tin with little black diamond shapes printed on it said GYMS in black and gold lettering. I did not know what “GYMS” meant, but I assumed the diamonds referred to something like licorice. The writing on the tin was not in English. The tin was affordable to me (especially since I had made such a killing on the banana split) so I bought one.

When I pried the top off the tin, it was filled with little black diamonds that gave off a tangy, acrid, licorice but not licorice scent. Testing one of the diamonds on my tongue, I discovered this licorice certainly was nothing like the licorice that I knew. It was salty, and something else besides. And from that moment, I was hooked. I could eat them one after another. Whenever I happened to be down that way, I would always make a detour to “The German Deli” for more GYMS.

It turned out none of my friends or siblings had the same attraction to the GYMS – as a matter of fact, most of them were disgusted by it – so I was pretty much on my own concerning this discovery. I ate GYMS for years, until “The German Deli” closed…and then we moved away and I forgot about them.

My next encounter with salt licorice happened in Yiftah in the Golan Heights of Israel, where I met a Dutch woman who had brought some from home. She told me they were called “Drop”. These were not little diamond shapes but round and oval black shapes. Again, my immediate reaction to them was so powerful that I was instantly craving them, wanting more and more. dubbel zout

For some reason, Dutch friends keep appearing in my life – none of who know each other – and each one has turned me on to the salt licorice. The second Dutch woman, who I befriended when I parked myself next to the food table at a party (stuffing my face), brought back a bag of black coins when she was visiting her family in Holland. She told me the drop were “zout” and “dubbel-zout”, and indeed the ones with the “DZ” on them were killer salty. Every time her family came to visit or she would visit them, she would bring me a little bag of “zout drop”.

I went to The Netherlands with her, where they have candy stores filled with all sorts of loose drop that you can mix up and buy in bags. It was drop heaven. Some of it was surrounded by a sugar-coating, some of it was softer, or in different shapes. There were sugared, square cubes of chewy stuff called Griotten which also had that taste. It was in one of these drop stores where I discovered the softer, light brown salmiak coins, which are like the salt licorice, but there is something else about them also. They are milder but incredibly addictive.  The light brown salmiak became my thing.  I will say while I type this, right at this very minute, I am actually salivating for salmiak.

What is this stuff? I had to know what this salmiak was! So I asked our host, my Dutch friend’s cousin, who looked at me like I was insane and said “What do you mean? Salmiak is salmiak!” I took that at face value. There must be something called salmiak that they make the salmiak out of. One and the same in name?

The third Dutch friend entered my life through an internet group of cancer survivors. Not only did she have salmiak, she had it in a kind of chalky round, grayish-tan candy form that came in a roll. I liked this even better. But it seems you could not find this in “regular stores”. salmiak coins

By the time I met my fourth Dutch friend at a holistic center, I figured all these Dutch women and their salmiak was a sign. I am not sure where that sign was pointing, but I went on a quest to find out where I could get salmiak here in the states instead of the intermittent care packages from Holland.

Well, you can Google anything, and I finally did. Salmiak, which is familiar to the Netherlands, Nordic countries, the Baltics and parts of Northern Germany, is salty licorice that is flavored with ammonium chloride, or “sal ammoniac”. It is the ammonium chloride which gives it that kick I so crave.

With a name like ammonium chloride, I have to wonder if it is Bad For You. A quick Wiki check reveals that it is used in metalwork; in zinc carbon batteries; as a food additive in baking; a flavoring for licorice; is known as noshader in India and Pakistan, where it is used in food for crispness; is sometimes used as an expectorant; and also as a soldering flux, to name a few things – not all very appetizing and maybe a bit questionable. Dutch health organizations advise salmiak skullsnot eating more than 50 grams of licorice a day, as the body would have to metabolize the glycyrrhizine, which is the compound which provides the sweet taste. Too much of that stuff can cause edema and hypertension. However, it is also supposedly inhibits liver cell injury. All of this is more information than I think I need. I have never gotten to the point where I have keeled over from salmiak, and none of my Dutch friends have ever had a salmiak-related problem either.

So far I have not found a really good source for salmiak.  I think I might look for a store and order it. Tonight.

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Slowly I Turned……

“Slowly I turned, step by step, inch by inch….”

I realize I am dating myself here, because about half the people I have said this to know what I am talking about and the other half don’t. The line is from a skit in “I Love Lucy” and also appeared in “Abbott and Costello” and “The Three Stooges”; old, classic shows from childhood. Those of us who watched them recognize it, and perhaps anyone else who is into cult television. The key word is “Niagra Falls”.  Hearing the words “Niagra Falls” would evoke a memory in one of the characters that would put them into a rage.

Slowly I turnedSo, now that you have that background, one of the things on my Bucket List was to see Niagra Falls. I don’t know why I never managed to get there. So many of my friends had gone, my sister had been, even one of my kids went there.  When I mention visiting The Falls to people, time and time again they say “Oh, how romantic!”.  Well….no romance happening on this trip!  The S.O. had absolutely no interest in driving to Canada to see big, loud water. So I turned to my friend K., who is often up for an adventure, and had never been there either. Road Trip! Thelma and Louise!

The adventure actually started with a little bit of a hiccup as soon as we were backing out of my driveway. The tires had not even hit the street yet when K. realized that she didn’t have her passport. You need a passport in order to get into Canada, and you need one to get back into the United States. We had planned this trip many weeks ago, but after we planned it she had sent her passport off to a clearing house in order to get a visa for another trip, and she forgot about it. So she didn’t have it because they hadn’t sent it back yet. And she just thought of it now. GAH!

So she called the B&B where we were staying, who called the Customs office, who said it was OK as long as she brought lots of identification. This meant driving back to K.’s house to get all that stuff. This set our trip back only about an hour, but put a tiny bit of uncertainty into it, as we didn’t know what they would say when we got to the border. However, we figured they would let us through. They would see us and just welcome us right in! What’s not to like about us?

The all day drive went fairly quickly, probably because women like to talk…and stop for Starbucks.  Then we got to The Rainbow Bridge, and sat in traffic there for a while, waiting our turn. If you looked over to your left you could see The Falls in the distance. We were so excited!  Niagra Falls!!!

Niagra Falls 1We crept slowly up towards the border checkpoint, until there was just one car ahead of us. This is where I made my faux pas. When the guy in the car in front of me pulled up to the booth, I followed him and drove up right behind him. It’s an automatic reaction when you are in a line of cars. A person pulls up, you pull up behind them, right?  But suddenly, the customs guy came bursting out of his booth and began angrily pointing, waving his arms and yelling “GET BACK! BACK UP! BACK UP!” and I realized that I had rolled through the stop sign – that there was supposed to be distance between us and the car in front of us and I should have stopped. He sure was mad! Really Mad. This did not bode too well for what was to come next. I backed up. And then it was our turn.

border niagra fallsSo now we have one majorly pissed off inspector, asking us for our passports. And K. doesn’t have one. Actually, she does have her old, expired one with her, and a driver’s license, and an email letter saying that her current passport is in transit. But this is not good enough for our Now Very Angry Border Person. I think it didn’t help that it was the end of the day, which probably made him even more cranky.

“Why would you plan to leave the country knowing you didn’t have a passport?” he asked.  This caused K. to become flustered. The perfectly good reason was because at the time the trip was planned she had the passport, but she sent it off and now she didn’t. However, she wasn’t following his line of questioning exactly and so wasn’t giving him the answer he was demanding.  And they were both starting to get a little bit of an Attitude.  I tried to chime in and explain that our B&B host person called Customs for us and was told it was OK to come as long as there was other ID.  I kept reiterating that.  But of course, we didn’t have the name of the Customs person that she spoke to on the phone.

“How do I know you spoke to anyone if you don’t have a name?” he said. Throughout this exchange, the Border Guy would seem to soften and almost relent, only to get revved up all over again every time K. said something.   K. was starting to get defensive with him. He was doing his job but also digging his heels in a bit. And here I was, deaf as I am, trying to navigate this conversation, since I was sitting in the driver’s seat closest to where he was leaning out of the booth. Throughout all of this, like an earworm, I kept thinking, “Slowly I turned…step by step…inch by inch…Niagra Falls!”

In the end, what probably decided things in our favor was the fact that we were a couple of older (at least older than he was) white women in a compact car and we were U.S. citizens. He probably thought we were Harmless Ditzy Old Women. There certainly must have been some privilege in that, because I think had we been young, or men, or of another color, of another country, or maybe driving a van, he might have given us an even harder time than he did. Perhaps he would have made us pull over and inspected the trunk of our car, or he might have even turned us back. With a look of total disgust, he handed us back our papers and waved us through.

Big FallsThe Falls were massive, grand and mesmerizing. Early that evening we did our first immediate tourist thing and took a ride on The Maid of the Mist. We got up close to the thundering water and laughed and got wet, despite wearing the blue rain ponchos they give you to put on. Gulls swooped down past the cascading water. There were rainbows arcing all over the place. Slowly I turned. And the sky was as blue as blue could be.

niagra falls rainbow


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I just could not resist the creativity of it.  OK, I know I have been running on about berries the last few posts. This is the very last thing I am going to post about pies, or blueberries, or probably even baking this year at the very least.

This photo has been going around the internet and I don’t know who to credit it to.  But I will say that it is delightful, and I think next year for blueberry season I am going to be making this for my grandkids.  Or my kids.  Or actually, for myself.  Is this cool or what?

octopus pie

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The tradition continued into the next generation when I took my three-year-old grandson blueberry picking for the first time.  With his little pail and my big one, we ventured off into the field and down the row of bushes together.  I picked high and he picked low.  Of course, more made their way into his mouth (and mine) than into our buckets.  But he managed to collect the nice blue ones, not the old ones past prime, not the unripe. And when it was time to leave, he didn’t want to quit.  We both found ourselves wandering back to the car while still picking berries along the way.

I think he has my foraging genetics.

After nap time, we made a blueberry pie together.  Of course, we all had it for dessert that night.

blueberry picking

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I made a blueberry pie from all those blueberries I picked.

Then I ate it for breakfast two days in a row.

Just because.


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The Other Car

Once we had children, I became the driver of the newer and larger car, the “safer” car, as I was the one shuttling the precious cargo around. So by default, my Then Husband, who I will call “Howie” for the sake of this story, took over our older, other car, which he commuted to and from work in.

The Other Car was a Toyota Tercel with over 100,000 miles on it (rather impressively, it actually made it to 250,000 and was then sold to someone else – still running). The car was a stripped down little roller skate of a vehicle; 5-speed standard transmission, no air conditioning, roll-up windows, no frills. We did have a decent sound system in it, with home-made speakers housed in large boxes (Howie insisted on that). Because of its age, the car naturally had some issues. tercel It rattled very badly. It was rusting through in a number of places.  We lived in the woods and the mice had found their way inside some of those holes, making nests within the car. You would find mouse turds on the floor. Sometimes when you got into the car, a shadow of a mouse would dart away beneath your feet. One time while he was driving to work, a mouse actually jumped up on Howie’s shoulder – unbelievable that he did not drive off the road, for I probably would have.

The headlights on this car kept burning out quickly for some odd reason, which was a major nuisance, because it was difficult to get your hands into that small space where the bracket was to replace them.  It was the kind of car that you had to keep some tools in for quick repairs whenever you drove it anywhere.  It was a bit unnerving to drive The Other Car, and I started to avoid it as much as possible. To his credit, Howie seemed to just deal with all of it…..not like we really had any choice.

It was a very warm spring evening when he drove off  to attend a course at a community college, in pursuit of educational and economic betterment.  The college was situated in a small river city not far from where we lived. I made dinner for the kids, cleaned up, tucked them into bed and waited for Howie to come home.  When he arrived back a few hours later, he was a bit shaken up and had this story.

After class was finished that night, Howie was headed home his usual way.  He had all the car windows open and was enjoying the unseasonably warm night air, when he came upon existing road work and a detour. This detour took hRodney_King_Riot__1992im into an unfamiliar area of the inner city. The year was 1992 and a decision in the very emotional Rodney King case had just been handed down. Los Angeles was in the middle of six days of rioting. Unrest was happening in smaller cities across the country too. Lost in the dark and with only one headlight working (he had not gotten around to fixing it – the replacement part was sitting in a box on the floor of the car until he had time to install it) Howie detoured into a neighborhood where people were outside and angry in the streets. Suddenly, they started throwing garbage pails at the car as he drove through. It was a scary situation but he managed to find his way out, unnerved and unscathed, except for maybe a couple of more dents to the old car.

Emerging from the detour onto the familiar state road once again, he continued heading towards home.  Stopping at a traffic light, he sighed with tremendous relief, popped a tape of the Grateful Dead into his very good car stereo, and prepared to unwind for the rest of the drive back. But as he waited for the light to change, the car began to shake, and then a thundering roar suddenly drowned out the music as a number of bikers on their Harleys pulled up at the light and surrounded him. One big, brawny guy pounded on the roof of the car and leaned his head into the open window.  Howie started to wonder if he was really going to make it home that night.

But the biker grinned and yelled “Grateful Dead! Turn it up!”  Amazed (and again relieved), Howie complied by cranking up the Grateful Dead on those home-made speakers so they could hear it over the roar of their engines. The light grateful deadchanged and they all started off down the road together. There were bikers in front of him, behind him, and on the side of the car. The windows were all open, the Dead was blasting, and Howie had an escort as they all picked up speed together. The warm spring wind was blowing through the open windows and all was OK with the world once again.

That is, until the bikers suddenly veered off in different directions. Howie looked into his rear view mirror to discover that they were gone.

In their place were the flashing lights of a police car. He could not believe how the night was unfolding. He pulled over.

policelights“Good evening sir. License and registration please. Do you know you have one headlight out?” Again. Of course.

Well sir, yes, I know the headlight burned out, and I actually have the replacement right here in the car”, said Howie, and he reached down to pick up the box on the floor of the passenger side that held the spare headlight.

“DON’T MOVE! Keep your hands on the steering wheel!” the officer sharply ordered. “Do you have any weapons in your possession”?

Howie quickly complied, hands on the steering wheel and in full view. “No sir, no weapons“, he said.

The officer came around to the passenger side of the car, opened the door and began shining his flashlight around the vehicle.  And then he reached his hand under the passenger side seat to check for contraband.

Suddenly there was a loud snap, the police officer yelled and quickly pulled his hand away from under the seat – with a mousetrap attached to his fingers.

I believe Howie figured it was all over for him then.

Much to this officer’s credit, and despite the obvious pain he was in (and luckily for Howie) he sort of kept his cool.  Through his teeth he said, “Why do you have a mousetrap under your seat?

“I have mice!” said Howie, as if that was obvious.

With all that they see and hear, I do believe this might have been a first for this officer. Miraculously, he let Howie go with just a warning about the headlight.  Actually, it was rather incredible, given the circumstances.

When Howie got home, he related his tale of his adventure to me.  As you can imagine, he was animated and sweaty and looked way whiter than his usual whitish self.

The thing about it is, as wild a ride as it was that evening, in so many ways this kind of event was sort of our “normal”.  And you know, it seemed to make perfect sense to me that we had a mouse trap under the seat of the The Other Car.  With peanut butter as bait.  I mean really, isn’t that how you catch mice?

mouse trap

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Meditation in Blue

There is a place I consider somewhat sacred – a place that I have been going to for decades.  It is an orchard farm not far from my home.

my sacred placeIt has been the place I would go to pick berries, apples and asparagus before my children were born.  When the babies came, I would take them out into the fields strapped to my chest.  As they grew up, they carried their own buckets and ran through the rows each season, collecting and laughing, filling their faces with the sweet delight.

blueberrybliss2It is a place that I have shared with family, friends and lovers.  It is a place I have gone to alone, to process, heal and free myself from grief.

When I come to this place to pick berries, I can feel my heartbeat quicken in anticipation.  Once out in the fields, away from the stresses of life, the magic begins.  Birds trill in the distance.  The light in the sky shifts as clouds build and the sunlight moves, leaving blue shadows across the fields.  Soft breezes caress the leaves, and my skin.

out in the fieldsThe best time to come for berries is in the morning, just as the dew begins to dry, before the sun gets too intense, before too many people get there, and usually not on a Saturday or a Sunday when the weekenders arrive with their animated chattering, stripping the bushes before you of their ripened fruit.  The best days to come are days that are not too hot or humid – days when there is a slight breeze. Today was one of those mornings, with a sun that was bright but not burning, and a gentle wind blowing.

Blueberries tend to be easy, relaxing picking.  With your bucket tied to your waist, they are mostly right there for the asking, a dusty gray-blue or a shiny bruised purple, beckoning.  Gathering them this morning against the backdrop of cerulean mountains, the meditation set in.  The plumpest, most enticing berries are the ones you have to reach deeper for, the ones underneath or at the center of the bush, hidden in those darker places that have not yet been discovered, or down at the bottom where others do not want to stoop to reach.  It seems perhaps a metaphor for those things in life that require perseverance and effort in order to bring about the rewards – in this case the sweet-tart bliss which can be savored while you work your way down the rows.

blueberry loveThere is distraction!  The berries over on the other side or further down the row look so much bluer, the same way the neighbor’s lawn seems to always appear greener, the most enticing pasture calling from the other side of the fence.  But are they really? When you change direction and go after them, it turns out they are usually just as good as the ones where you were standing all along.

If this wasn’t enough, then there are the raspberries, which take a bit more mindfulness I think, to deftly lift each branch and allow the ripened berries to fall into you palm without tearing the frond off the bush, to avoid the stickers, and to work among the honey bees.  But the rewards seem all that much greater.  The bees alight and bounce among the white raspberry blossoms.  We coexist in that space in those moments. To date, I have never been stung by a honey bee while collecting raspberries, nor have my children.  They tend to go about their business as you go about yours, and they will avoid you if they can.  They usually do not land on the fruit, but seem only interested in the nectar of the flowers.  The first time I encountered so many among the raspberries on a hot summer’s day, I was taken aback, yet found there is even peace working along side them, a cooperative consciousness.  A day with a steady cool breeze is still best for picking raspberries, as the wind tends to blow the bees away.

Today’s raspberry picking was sparse and not as rewarding.  Sometimes that happens.  But today’s blueberry picking was bliss.  I will put some up so the taste of these blue days of summer will be remembered long after this season has passed.

the taste of summer in blue


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Crossing a Line

No stranger to comfortable shoes, one peek in my closet will reveal a significant selection of Birkenstocks, Danskos, Naots, Merrills and Clarks.  I have spent good money on good shoes because I can’t stand it if my feet hurt.  I might be a shoe-a-holic, but I am not a slave to shoe fashion in lieu of comfort.  My old shoes are rarely thrown out unless they are decimated, and so the collection is rather remarkable in size, but mostly outdated.  When I am not wearing the most comfortable of shoes, I am barefoot.

Air-Jesus shoes

Air-Jesus shoes

Comments from my family about my assortment of un-hip shoes range from “I wouldn’t be caught dead in those” (my sister – referring to a pair of Bjorn sandals) to  “Ugh, you wear those ‘Air Jesus’ shoes!” (accompanied by laughter from my brother, about my well-worn, eighteen year old pair of original style Birks), and a variety of smirks and eye-rolls from sisters and in-laws.  Anything with much of a heel has not been worn in years -even with my penchant/addiction to cowgirl boots,  the field has been narrowed down to the requirement that they need to be extremely comfortable and very supportive on the arches.

A few days ago my sisters, niece and I took a long road trip out-of-state to visit our ninety-year-old Aunt M. in the assisted living facility where she resides.  She is bent and frail, feisty and intelligent, and not the nicest or happiest person you would want to know…the minute one of us would leave the room to attend to something, she would say something catty about the absent person.  But, well, she’s ninety after all (although she’s always been that way, I guess ninety cuts you a lot of slack) and the last living relative of that generation, and so we sighed and accommodated.  She wanted shoes and some new clothing – and mostly to escape from the very clean, well-kept and quite lovely facility she lives in (“Get me out of this prison for a few hours”).  So we took her out to breakfast and then to the local outlet center.

Maneuvering her in and out of the car was a trip in itself.  Although she can get going and work up some significant speed with her walker once you get her standing, first you need to get her out of the chair and on her walkerfeet.  She’s very bent over, so she’s sort of looking down instead of forward.  Then she crashes into walls and other objects while trying to steer, before becoming exhausted, at which point she stops cold and demands to be helped back into a chair.

After getting her out of the facility, into my car, in and out of the restaurant and finally to the outlet center, we located one of those borrowed wheelchairs from the center office for her.  That made things a lot easier.  The first place she wanted to go was the Easy Spirit shoe store.  She was wearing a pair of Easy Spirit sneaker slip-ons, and she liked them so much that she wanted another pair.

I have never owned a pair of Easy Spirit shoes. I have a friend who has been wearing their very nice looking athletic sneakers for many, many years, even before we became “middle-aged” (or, OK,  past middle-aged) and swears by their comfort, but for some reason I never considered them.  I guess I figured they were for “old people”.  Being in that store with Aunt M. was a reinforcement of that opinion.

Aunt M’s new shoes

There was a buy-one-get-the-second-pair-for-half-price sale going on, so we got her two pairs of shoes. She was very particular about what colors we got her, no pushing your opinions and tastes on Aunt M., that was for sure!  She didn’t like coral but she thought the lavender slip-ons were nice.  We got her both lavender and blue pairs.

While one sister catered to her, the rest of us killed some time wandering around the store looking at what Easy Spirit had to offer.

Most of what I saw did not appeal to me….some of it screamed “Comfortable Old People Shoes”…..but suddenly I noticed some cute open-sided gray suede sneaker-shoes….on sale.  And then my sister found the cutest pair of blue and white sneakers!  And they had purple ones too!  Suddenly, there we were, trying on these shoes –  comfortable, foot massaging, supportive shoes.  My teenaged fashionista niece was adding her opinions on what looked good and what didn’t.  The next thing you know, we were standing up at the register getting our buy-one-get-the-second-pair-for-half-price  old people, comfortable shoes.

My new blue suede shoes – cute or what?

My sister turned to me.  “I think we have crossed some sort of line here” she said.  We both glanced over in the direction of Aunt M.

I sighed.  I guess maybe we have.


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Saturday Market


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Flamingos Spotted in the Northeast!


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As a child, my father and I would occasionally enjoy a delicious glass of carrot juice together.  Many years later, he introduced me to the idea of doing some serious juicing myself when he gifted me his old Omega juice machine.  The interest waxes and wanes regarding juicing, but right now I am in one of my juicing phases. This week when I went shopping for fruits and vegetables, I found myself suddenly getting a bit gaga over all the green in the produce section.

green produce1 Everything was so textured and vibrant.  I couldn’t help but stop to gaze at the greens and take a few pictures.

green produce2But when I got home, instead of using the juicer machine, I decided to squeeze some fresh orange juice by hand. I remembered that somewhere, stashed away, I had a little glass citrus squeezer which predated the electric juicer.  I found it safely stowed on the bottom shelf of the dining room hutch, a hutch which had been in our home when I was a child.  I remember my parents dragging the old pine piece home and my Dad refinishing it.

On a very green morning years ago, when the cicadas where whining and the heat was  just starting to build up to a humid afternoon,  my Dad and I attended a large flea market together.  Both being collectors of a variety of treasures, we stopped to marvel and comment at each booth, but we did not buy – until we came across a little glass citrus juicer.  We thought the green glass was so beautiful.

the green juicer from my dadHe bought it for me. It is one of my treasures, a small gift with a special and loving memory connected to it.  This luminous, timeless green connects me to my Dad on this Father’s Day.  I pushed each orange half against the glass, and reflected.


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Cicada Love

They have arrived in some areas here, the emergence/invasion of the cicadas….pockets of ringing, singing, screaming cicadas.  Then you turn the corner to meet a vacuum of silence where there are none.

I stood among them watched them climbing the trees, singing in the leaves, climbing up, up… climbing me….and just listened and laughed…..there is something odd, and wondrous, and magical about the entire process.  Their big, buggy red eyes, their irridescent wings…..Here now, then gone for another seventeen years.

cicada love

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When I first moved to this latest house in a long line of homes, one of the more lovely aspects of the place was a gorgeous, well-established white peony that someone had planted by the front of the fence. The peony flowers, along with a couple of very large poppy plants, were the only bright spots in yard that was otherwise a sea of weeds and garbage.

A lot of energy was generated trying to create new garden beds and clean up what little had been there before. But after pruning some twisted, overgrown vines off a strangled apple tree, I got a pretty bad case of poison ivy. Further investigation yielded the discovery that The Beautiful Peony also had poison ivy growing all around it.  This put a major dent in my gardening mania.  Bummer.

poison_ivyI was rather surprised when  the S.O., rather out of the blue, decided to get involved and remove the poison ivy.  He bombarded it with what must have been some evil, nasty, very toxic stuff.  It decimated the PI but also appeared to kill the peony plant in the process.  Because the plant had been so large and beautiful – and also one of the few nice things in the yard at that time – I became a bit upset about losing it. I can get like that about some of my plants (and not others).  The World War Three type wasteland the weed-killer created became a well avoided biohazard area.  Any new perennials were planted elsewhere, with hope that the peony might – by some miracle – return the next spring.

Sure enough, the following year I was elated to see that the peony appeared to be coming back.

Well, something was coming up where the peony had been.  But it was something no longer the same.  A gnarled monkey’s paw of a hand came reaching out of the earth.  When this “hand” opened to sprout into leaves, they were all misshapen and claw-like; a chemically altered, distorted, mutant plant. I think I actually said “Oh My God” out loud upon seeing it.  There was something rather horrifying about it, horrifying enough that you have to wonder, if these poisons can do this to a living plant, what are they doing to us?

The leaves were actually a lot weirder than this

The leaves were actually way weirder than this. This photo was taken in year three.

The mutant peony continued to shoot up stalks and more thin, bent, rolled-up leaves. With each new leaf I hoped it would return to normal, but they never quite unfurled.  They were oddly shaped,  each one revealing itself as a skeletal finger.  It never developed any flowers either.  I have posted a photo here, a few years after the fact.  I cannot find the photos I took of that first “Return of the Peony” but it was rather scary stuff.

The year after that, the peony did the same thing yet again.  I was hoping that the poison would run out of its system, but apparently it did not.  It seemed forever damaged on some deep, cellular level.  Finally, realizing it was not going to produce anything but these horrible leaves, I cut it way back to the ground so I would not have to look at it.

The third spring when the monster hands began to reach up out of the earth again, I was so creeped out that I decided to dig it out and get rid of it.  It had a significant, old root in the ground and really required some hacking to remove it.

At year four something new started growing in that spot.  Emerging out of the poisoned, dug up spot.  I awaited with trepidation – how was it possible for anything to grow there again?  But lo and behold (this is actually what I said out loud when I saw it – “lo and behold!“) it was a normal peony!  With normal leaves!  Not only did it flower, but the ants were crawling all over it, which I think was a very healthy sign.

poppy budDid it reboot itself?  I have to wonder at the resilience of it all, of the ability to regenerate and heal.  This spring the peony has returned yet again.

lo and behold!

lo and behold!

photoI am so amazed at its revival that I have repeatedly gone outside to keep inhaling the heavenly scent and to take photos of it, even after the last hard rain, which has flopped them over and mashed the peony flowers into the ground, leaving them looking like so many boiled cabbages.


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The Art of Napping

Why can’t I nap? Taking a nap is probably a very healthy thing to do.  There is actually a study out there stating that people who nap may have a lower incidence of coronary disease.  Sounds like a lovely way to avoid a health problem, but it’s not something that happens for me very often.

We know babies and children need to nap to renew themselves during the day, otherwise they are pretty cranky.  The S.O. takes naps during his down time to recharge his body after hard physical work.  My former almost-inlaws used to take daily naps together (followed by “high tea”) and seemed to be living a very long and healthy life. I often wondered if there was something to it, the siesta or riposo, where everything is shut down and a rest is taken during the hottest hours of the day.

Excepting those naps taken during times of illness, I have napped so rarely that I actually can remember specific ones and have my own “hall of fame” of naps.  I often wonder if this inability to take any downtime on weekends to rest is in part due to memories of my father on Sunday afternoons, where he would be listening to classical music and falling asleep on the living room couch.  We were then expected to keep quiet and tiptoe around him during the weekend, lest we disrupt the nap and end up with a very moody father, which nobody particularly was interested in having happen.  (OK, seems we can blame just about anything on our childhood if we want)…

The handful of Blissful Nap Memories that stand out for me: Drowsing on a summer afternoon to the distant drone of a lawnmower and the scent of newly cut grass. Drifting off to the whine of cicadas and a warm breeze. Falling asleep on the sand to the lull of the waves. Curled up on the bed with a baby who just finished nursing, the buzz of their breath like a bee, the sweet clean smell, the slight dampness of their skin as we both dropped into slumber. Napping on the couch on a bright winter afternoon – this particular couch situated beneath a large picture window facing southwest, the room heated by the afternoon sun.  I dubbed that couch “The Sun Couch”.   The Sun Couch must be twenty years old by now and has been moved to a multitude of homes since.

curtain breeze

Another Blissful Nap Memory occurred on Nantucket Island on a hot summer afternoon, in the upstairs bedroom of a house we were lucky enough to stay in for a number of years when the kids were younger.  Everybody had gone to the beach and I opted to stay behind by myself and read.  There was a large fan in one of the windows, which produced a low hum and blew a hot, steady, gentle wind across me as I lay minimally dressed on a very large bed.  Occasionally an alternate breeze would puff through one of the adjacent open windows, carrying the scent of the ocean.  I read until I was drowsy, falling into a delicious nap that I still recall with pleasure years later.

And then there were the daily naps that I took during radiation treatment, when I would come home from work and pass out on the Sun Couch every afternoon, sleeping a dreamless, bone-tired sleep.  Sometimes I would be awakened by a kiss…..

Over the last number of years at work, I have found myself starting to crash post lunch, especially around 2pm.  Part of this could be attributed to the tremendous concentration devoted to trying to hear when I couldn’t hear – constantly trying to decipher and translate that now foreign language called “speech” –  watching faces and movement for cues to apply to whatever sounds I thought I heard – something that is mentally and emotionally exhausting for hard-of-hearing people.  By the afternoon I would find myself craving rest, sometimes barely able to keep my eyes open,  forcing myself to push through and focus as if pushing through water, or mud. No doubt part of this was compounded by age, but not all of it.

However, when the weekend would roll around, I would feel guilty about lying down to take a nap, as if doing so was wasting valuable daylight time that could be put to much better use.  Now that I have had the opportunity to do so, I haven’t been able to.  Until today.

Today it was too hot and humid to work in the garden.  I did not feel productive, contrary to my personal vow to Do Something Productive Every Day.  I went into my very small front room, which is sort of a female version of the Man Cave (a “Women Nest”, if 3-IMG_6658you will).   This Nest contains the original Sun Couch from years ago. On this couch are pillows from Istanbul, Nepal and India and a rich, colorful quilt made for me by a relative, specifically meant for cozying under.  The floor is parquet, over which lies a small, very worn oriental rug that belonged to my father. One wall contains a floor to ceiling bookshelf built by the S.O., which is filled with favorite books and framed photographs of loved ones; ceramic bowls made by my children in summer camp, containing beach glass and shells we collected together on a California shore;  gifts  and little treasures picked up on world travels.  The other walls are covered with paintings and handwork done by good friends and family, and a Talevera tiled mirror I found in Santa Fe during another lifetime.

4-IMG_6654My mother’s rocking chair is in that room, the one she rocked children and grandchildren in. There is a small hexagonal Moroccan table at one end and a small marble table from India, inlaid with semi-precious stones at the other.  In front of three west-facing windows is another end table a friend and I dragged back from Vermont in the bed of a pickup truck on our way home from another friend’s wedding decades ago. On top of that table is my sister’s stained glass lamp, a sculpture done by my mother, and an orchid plant from my daughter. On the floor is my drum and a basket containing some toys belonging to my grandkids.   The room is vibrant, warm and cozy, filled with meaning and memories of those I love.

The early afternoon sun was casting a glow within the room as I lay down on the Sun Couch with the latest issue of a literary magazine.  Not two pages into it, I glanced up towards the bookshelf at a framed photograph of my beautiful sister Charlotte, and 5-IMG_5234was almost immediately overtaken by the urge to nap.  Two hours later I awoke from beneath the quilt with a small dog lying on top of me and the aura of a rather weird dream dissolving.

So I had taken a nap, my first official nap since being unemployed.  Or, let me correct that…since being “on Sabbatical”.

And now, well…now it is late and I am awake.  I suppose there is some knack to this, learning the Art of Napping.

Posted in Aging, Deafness, Hearing Impaired, Uncategorized, Weather | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

A Change of Status

I am unemployed.  Or “retired”, as some people have congratulated me on, although that word doesn’t seem to quite fit.  I feel like I am actually a “retirement imposter” in a sense, because this “retirement” was mostly unplanned, not affordable, and certainly not the way I had always imagined retirement was supposed to be.  Not finding myself out there smiling on some sunny golf course (well, OK, I don’t golf), or painting wildly on large canvasses; not walking across Spain or a beach at sunset, nor traveling around the world sampling foreign cuisine; not busy buying and decorating a new condominium or cottage.  Not relaxing on the front porch of the little farmhouse I always dreamed of.  Not living off a hefty and well thought-out IRA.  Not being especially creative either….not yet.  Not doing anything depicted as “retirement” in those commercials.  I don’t see myself as that smiling woman with a short gray bob hairdo donning gloves and garden shears, clipping roses while her athletically built geriatric husband waters the lawn in the background. That’s just not happening.  Not finding myself “old enough” to be retired – Gak!  Not Old!!!  It’s just not how I imagined it in my mind at all.

This seems to be causing a bit of an identity crisis at the moment, a Who Am I? question regarding this Change Of Status that has occurred much earlier than I expected it to, and a big “Uh oh, what happens now?” question surrounding the future.


The reality is that for the last couple of years I have been struggling with a number of health-related issues that finally culminated in a point of malfunction, where I realized I would have to abandon a long career of  dedicated and hard-earned gainful employment.  Once I accepted I couldn’t keep going (and coming to an acceptance was a very difficult part of this; dealing with, living with, making peace with a disability), things unraveled pretty quickly from there and I made a quick exit.  I left without the long goodbyes, the “she’s a jolly good fellow” party, the proverbial pocket watch.  Like the vapory wisp of a ghost slipping out the chimney, a mere echo after the door is shut, a hint of breeze as the window is closed, I was gone.  I actually prefer it that way.  The satisfaction, purely personal, is knowing that (even though they may not know it) I have made a positive impact in the lives of a number of people during my career.

But that is the past now.  I worked for a private, non-profit agency and, um… non-profit is the operative word here, as I do not have a pension that will take me past a year. No longer generating an income and with bleak financial straits on the horizon, it is ironic that where I once had the money to participate in some adventures, there often was not enough time or energy left to carry those desires out.  Now that I have the time, I have not the money to accomplish the big-ticket items sitting on my bucket list.

And there is an extra monkey-wrench thrown in, because those very issues that have caused me to leave my job are also the same issues that are keeping me from participating in some of the cost-free endeavors I would like to be taking advantage of now.  I am sort of “grounded” at the moment. So, being grounded, I have decided to try and create a new reality as best as I can, to reinvent my life, deal with this Change of Status, and make the necessary modifications to accommodate this.

For the first week or so I found myself sleeping late.  A strange, lazy sort of a buried-in-the-blanket bliss, wrapped up in a tremendous relief that I would not have to stress about my job and continue pretending to do the things I could no longer do there. It was also a bit naughty and delicious, like an unanticipated snow day from school, or the first few days of summer vacation.  Yet, it was disconcerting at the same time. Truly being The Early Bird, much as my mother was,  I love the dawn, the sunrise streaming in the windows, the birds waking up, and I hate to waste those beautiful morning hours. But down-time is necessary to recharge your body and soul.

After that first week or two where I was drifting around the house getting my bearings, it was clear to see there has been so much left neglected or unfinished that I have not found time to address.  Seems like the time to deal with it has arrived. One thing I have learned from over two decades of working with people who have disabilities is that productivity is very important for the worker-bee in all of us, no matter what level your capabilities are.

Applying this productivity theory, I made a pact to myself when this happened that I would try to accomplish at least One Productive Thing every day. I revisited the abandoned Pack Rat Project  from last year, trying to clean up and sort through each room, each drawer, each cabinet and closet, day by day by day…. until it is finished.

Which it is not.  Because I am slowed down a bit, each project gets broken down into baby steps, intentionally or not.  There is a lot of stopping, sitting down and then starting again; whether it is during gardening or cleaning or even reading.  There is frequent tiredness.  I get distracted.  Many cups of tea are consumed. There is no rush, just taking things a little at a time. There is some grace in that.

teaIn addition, I have begun making Lists Of Things I would like to accomplish. The Lists are necessary because I get side-tracked (if you read this blog, you might know about “The little distracted bee that flits from flower to flower“).  There is great satisfaction in crossing things off The List, and maybe some excitement in adding new things to The List too.  There is The Grocery List, The Chore List and then there is the more fun Bucket List…..step one will be to just get some of the unfinished things out of the way and discover some new horizons as I ease into this other reality.

listsOne of the most wonderful parts of it all is that I have finally been able to make more time to be with the people I love.  I have seen my family more and connected with friends, old and new.  In the long run I am finding this is what really counts.

Someone suggested that I should call this a Sabbatical.  I really like the sound of that.

Change of Status: Sabbatical.  OK!

Posted in Aging, Hearing Impaired, Perspective, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Heads Up

The light fixture that hangs in the front porch over the door is old and has one of the glass panels missing.  There are three sockets, one of which is empty and the other two which hold energy-saving bulbs.  The porch light is supposed to come on automatically at dusk, but the thing that makes that happen stopped working a long time ago, so it is on just about all the time now.

A few weeks ago when I walked out the door, something swooped out of the light and past my head.  I thought it was a bat, but discovered that birds were building a nest there.  With the one open socket, the location, and the light always on, I figured this was probably not the healthiest place to start nesting, so I reached in and dismantled it before they could really get anything started, hoping they would choose to move under a soffit or into one of the hanging plants.

But those birds were persistent, and no sooner had I removed those bits and branches before they were at it again.  It was hard to tell what they were because they would startle and dart away before I could get a good look at them. I thought they might be phoebes, since we have had phoebes nesting in the linden tree outside the front door for years.  Usually the phoebe will dart away onto a neighboring branch and wait there, bobbing its tail.  But the phoebe is not here this year.

birdz-in-lightA few days later and independent of my efforts, the S.O. also noticed them and decided it was not the best of locations either.  He reached in to remove the nest and ended up breaking an egg.  Awww, gee.  So there it was, too late to take the nest apart. With no going back now, we decided to leave it and whoever might be left inside to see how they fare.

There is still a bird (or birds) startling out of there at warp speed, but from what I could see from peeking through the sidelight window, it appears they are sparrows. I wasn’t sure if any of the other eggs had made it, until this past week when the porch directly in front of the door started to pile up with bird turd.

birdzdooJPGNot only are the bird turds all over the porch, but they appear to be copiously filling and spilling out of the porch light (if you go back and look at the porch light picture above, you will notice the turds, if you hadn’t before).  At this point there is really not much to be done about it, so I go out there every day and clean it up so the mailman (or anyone else) doesn’t step in it.  It’s pretty stubborn stuff.

Today I dragged a chair out there and climbed up to look inside.  This is what I found:

birdzThere appears to be three of them and it seems like they are starting to mature.  I suppose it won’t be long until they leave.  In the meantime, it’s heads up!  Watch where you step!  And don’t stand under the light. : )


Posted in Animal Stories, Birds, Spring, Uncategorized | Tagged , | 3 Comments

Accepting What You Do Not Want (or “When is a Brulee not a Brulee?”)

Yesterday I was accused by my daughter of becoming more cranky and less tolerant about certain things as I have gotten older.  This statement was made following the specific incident below, in which I actually was a bit cranky and less tolerant….

This is my birthday week, which I have been celebrating in a variety of ways, mostly food-related.  Essentially, I have been eating my way through the week via a delightful combination of delectable fare at some lovely venues, accompanied by beloved friends and family. It has been decadent.  It has been good.

Birthday Lunch yesterday found Daughter#2 and I at a restaurant known for its distinctive Northern Italian cuisine – one of those places with a wood-fired oven and a very good local reputation.  Slightly after the lunch rush, the place was mostly empty. I think there were maybe two other tables occupied at the time, and those diners were clearly at the end of their meals.

wood fired oven

The waitress led us to what was probably the least intimate and uncomfortable looking table in the place.  I looked around at all the other available, cozier, more acoustically friendly spots and requested a different table. She looked at me as if this was some outrageous request that nobody had ever made before.  She then accommodated us.

We ordered our meal.  It was delicious, as the food at this restaurant always is.   We sampled and shared off each other’s plates. I gazed lovingly at my beautiful girl across the table.  I felt content and happy, and so very lucky.

When it came time for dessert, we decided we would split a Key Lime Brulee.  But our waitress was busy chatting a man up front by the bar.  She did not turn around to notice we were ready to move on.  We waited.  And waited.  The wait was sort of breaking our momentum.  I kept looking towards her direction, sending her psychic “turn around” messages through her back, hoping she would pick up the signal, catch my eye, notice us. I did not call out or say anything, I just looked in her direction, willing the waitress to return to our table.

“Mom!” hissed Daughter#2, much the very same way she used to at age eleven, when every word I said, every action I ever took was surely designed only to embarrass and mortify her.  Except she’s in her twenties now.  Do they ever outgrow their impatience and frustration with their mothers, or are we destined to forever be a potential embarrassment?

Eventually the waitress returned.  We ordered the Key Lime Brulee to split between us.  Our waitress then went back to chatting with the guy up at the front of the restaurant.  We waited.  And waited. And waited. We wondered how long it could possibly take to torch the top of a Brulee.

I saw the plate come out of the kitchen and go out on the serving counter.  The waitress still kept conversing up front and did not turn around.  I bored few more holes into her back with my laser beam eyes.  “Mom! It’s OK!  What’s the rush?” said my daughter again……as if my impatience was inappropriate; as if I was ridiculous to think it is not OK to sit there waiting while your dessert sits on the counter and the waitress is having a social moment.

Finally our waitress must have felt the smoking holes boring into the back of her skull and took our dessert to the table.  We looked at it. Then Daughter#2 and I looked at each other.  It was not a Key Lime Brulee.  “This isn’t the Key Lime Brulee”, I said to the waitress.  “Yes it is, this is the Brulee!” the waitress insisted, and started to walk away.

I checked again with some skepticism.  I had never seen a brulee that looked like this in my life.  It was a cake-like pile of stuff with a little scoop of ice cream on the side. Daughter#2 and  I discussed the dessert with puzzlement.  We figured then it must be some new kind of creation this nouveau restaurant decided to call “Brulee”, perhaps some signature Northern Italian Brulee we had never heard of, a custard-less, cake-like Brulee?  I suppose anything was possible. The waitress hadn’t brought us any utensils to eat it with either,  so we had to ask her for spoons before she vanished again.  I was starting to feel more than a little annoyed at the turn of events, but I figured I would just go with it.

We dug into the “Brulee”, and damn if it didn’t taste like bread pudding to me.


Does this look like a Key Lime Brulee?

I don’t care for bread pudding, I really don’t.  “This is bread pudding,” I said to Daughter#2.  “MOM”, she hissed again. “The waitress said it’s Brulee, so it’s Brulee! Stop it!”  

That’s my kid, not wanting to make any waves, even if it means calling a Blueberry Bread Pudding a Key Lime Brulee.  She might accept that.  However, I can be a wave-maker when the occasion calls for it and I sort of felt this did.  I had been looking forward to a nice, light brulee, not a heavy bread pudding.  It was my birthday, after all.

“I don’t taste a hint of Key Lime in this Brulee thing” I continued, just not letting it go. “Well, I taste the lime!” Daughter#2 said.  But that was wishful thinking on her part. There was no lime in this imposter dessert.  There was no way I was going to get psyched by anybody into believing this was a Key Lime Brulee.

The waitress came by again and I reiterated, ” Excuse me – but this is not Key Lime Brulee”.

“Yes, it IS!” she said again, with the emphatic insistence. “It’s just more like a bread pudding”, she said, and walked away again.

Because it was my birthday and we had apparently ordered this Not Brulee that we didn’t like much, I finished it, although I did not enjoy it.

Then there was more waiting for the check.  By the way, we were the only ones in the restaurant at this point, and there she is talking with some guy up front at the bar again.  I grabbed a menu to check and see what it was she had actually given us.
“Mom!  What are you doing?  Why do you have to look at the menu?  Just leave it alone!  Mom! MOM!”

Well, sure enough, bread pudding was on the dessert menu, along with the Key Lime Brulee, and that is what she had brought us – bread pudding.  You know, it’s one thing to make a mistake and bring the wrong dessert, really, no big deal there.  But don’t be telling me I don’t know what I am eating. When she returned with our check I told her I had looked at the menu again, and that indeed she had given us the wrong dessert.  What she should have done then was offered to take it off the bill.  Instead, she just shrugged her shoulders.

At the point of the shoulder shrugging, which really pushed a few of my buttons, I should have put the ball back in her court and insisted she take it off the bill.   But my daughter had become so impatient with me over the whole thing and my potential for wave-making, that I said nothing more……at least not then.

Daughter#2, who graciously insisted on paying the birthday bill (despite being under- employed at the moment, which made her gift at lunch even more generous), left a twenty percent tip, too.  I said nothing. We left. Once back in the car,  because I was a little more than annoyed, I emphatically pronounced, “That waitress was an idiot”.

“MOM! What’s the big deal? So we got the wrong dessert!  We had a nice time! It’s your birthday!  You know, you are getting cranky and intolerant about stuff as you get older!”

Intolerant.  Well.  In the scheme of life, the wrong dessert is a non-issue. As a matter of fact, as I write this I admit I have actually stopped between sentences to laugh aloud at how ridiculous the whole scenario was.

Question: When is a brulee not a brulee?  Answer: When it’s a bread pudding!

I am sure we will laugh about this story again some time down the road.  What I didn’t like was being told what I knew to be right as wrong, and treated like some fool that didn’t know what she was eating…and paying for it too.  It was not about the bread pudding, or the cost of the bread pudding.  It was about respecting the customer. It was about not accepting what you don’t want when you don’t have to.  What bothered me most of all was that my daughter could not understand why I was making my point.  It bothered me that she wasn’t demanding that same quality – not for me, but for herself as well.

So this is something I have learned “As I Get Older”, and if it comes off as cranky or impatient or less tolerant…well, too bad.  If I pay for something, I expect it to be what I pay for, whether it is a product, a meal, an experience, or decent service. I’ve worked hard for my money. If it is not up to that standard, then I might let it ride, but I just might have a say about it too, depending on how I feel, which is OK.  And I certainly don’t need anybody, especially some stranger, telling me something is not what it clearly is.

The finale to this story is that after sleeping on it, this morning I decided to send off an email to the restaurant, letting them know what happened and how I felt about it, because it wasn’t OK with me.  I didn’t really want to get the girl in trouble, but it wasn’t acceptable to me.

I immediately received an apology from the General Manager for the actions of the waitress, who was fairly new and green.  This is exactly what a venue with any class and reputation should do.  In addition, he offered to send a gift card as a token of appreciation for our business and for the dessert that we did not receive.  I thanked him for his generous offer ….and gave him my daughter’s address.  I want her to know that although sometimes it’s OK to let things go, there is also nothing wrong with standing up for yourself either.  There is no reason to sit in an uncomfortable seat in the restaurant, nothing wrong with asking to be moved away from a blowing air vent, or the bathroom.  There is nothing wrong with asking for the dessert you ordered.

Yes, when you get older you learn what things to let go and what’s important. You learn to accept the things you cannot change, but also to change the things you can…….if you want to.  Even if it is only a dish of Key Lime Brulee.

Posted in Aging, Are you kidding me?, Humor, Perspective, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments


Found in the bottom drawer – my mother’s pillow cases.  She loved those cotton slip cases that came lightly pre-stenciled with designs, which she would embroider over in bright colors.   Unlike her own mother, my Nona, embroidery was not mom’s specialty.  She always made a point of telling me that, how her own mother’s old-world stitches were so perfect.  And OK, it was true (although, so what?), on the reverse side of her work I discovered the very same knots, criss-crosses and imperfections that will be found on the back side of my own needlework.  This has endeared me to her even more.

moms pillowcasesButterflies, hearts, flowers, and some with a grandchild’s name embroidered across them. The beauty in these things lies not in their skillful execution, but in their love.  I know that every stitch she made was intended for those that she cared so much for.  The bright colors she chose reflect that happiness and the caring thoughts that accompanied these knots and stitches.

moms pillowcases3My mother also ironed her sheets and pillow cases. This is something that you will never see me do, not in a lifetime!   But I will say that coming home to her,  sleeping in a bed made up of her clean, ironed, fresh-smelling sheets – resting your head on one of her sweetly embroidered pillow cases – was always a little bit of heaven.

I miss her so much.

So….. to the present…… these pillow cases have been sitting in the bottom drawer of a small dresser, and once again I have been cleaning and organizing in my circuitous way.   I took them out,  stared at them, held them to my face to see if I could detect even the faintest trace of her….felt the lump forming in my throat.

I have been afraid to use the pillow cases again, lest they wear out or become worn and stained, as they are a piece of her I cannot let go.  I know this is silly.

mom's pillow cases2There is one set that are still ironed (from her) I had not used.  The crisp creases from  the iron are still in them.  The rest are not ironed, nor will they be (she would disapprove).  I took them all out, washed them, stared at them, laid them out on the bed.  I will put them on the “less-used” pillows so that they can be appreciated.

I think she would like that.


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Nettle Peace

A few years ago I was drumming  with a number of women on the side of a mountain not far from where I live, at the home of a local herbalist.  Outside her front door she had a patch of nettles growing, which she used in her tinctures.  Familiar with nettles only as a dried medicinal tea for arthritis, or a rinse to make your hair shiny, I reached over to gently inspect them further, touching them ever so lightly.

ImageSuddenly most of my hand was on fire – I looked around for the offending bee or wasp but it was not an insect – it was the plant that had stung me, and stung me good.  Those hairy little needles beneath the leaves of the Stinging Nettle packed a punch filled with all sorts of irritating chemicals, including histamine and formic acid – the same stuff you find in ant and bee venom!  I don’t know if my reaction was the typical reaction or not…..perhaps this happens to everyone.  But it was nasty.

Despite washing my hand thoroughly, the burning agonizingly persisted.  All day.  And then into the night too, finally subsiding after about a full twenty-four hours. Nothing I applied to soothe the burning seemed to help. I decided my relationship with Nettles was not something I planned on continuing into the future.

Stinging Nettle close-up (from Wikipedia)

Nettles grow all over, especially enjoying places where it is wet and damp; places like the northeast and the Pacific northwestern United States. They send rhizomes underground, spreading easily.  I cannot imagine planting them in my yard. The thought of having to try and remove invasive nettles is an unsettling image to me.  As I said, I disassociated myself from the nettle and that was that.

Flash forward a few years to just yesterday. I happened to stumble upon an event that was happening nearby, an “Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Nettles” situation.  Despite the nasty experience, for some reason this sort of piqued my interest.  Perhaps it was time to Make Peace With The Nettle?  Or to Overcome the Nettle. Or maybe even get Revenge On the Nettle for past insult?  Or more productively, to see if the nettle could give me some relief from this very uncomfortable arthritis I have been experiencing.  I don’t know what got into me, but without thinking much about it I made a split second decision to check out this nettle fest.

It was a little cold and damp, with occasional spritzes of rain happening when I arrived at a location that, ironically, was almost across the street from the home of The Ex-Husband (who would never attend a nettle situation, but still, I checked just in case).  Donning gloves, I tromped up a hill following a number of potential nettle aficionados – surprisingly, some of which ended up being my neighbors – to inspect the nettle patch.  For the next hour or more we stood there learning everything you ever had wondered, wanted to know or didn’t want to know about Urtica dioica, the Stinging Nettle.   It seems if you are bold and bossy and just take firm hold of the nettle, it is less likely to sting you, but if you brush gently against it there is a good chance those hairs are going to sting.  A rather passive-aggressive plant….

After this lengthy discourse, we harvested some nettles in order to bring them back into the kitchen to cook.  Despite my gloved hands and my attempt at directness and boldness in addressing the nettle, those damn things stung me right through the gloves anyway, and I spent the rest of the day and night with my thumb on fire.  Again.

gathering nettlesThen began the preparation of the nettles, using a variety of recipes in order to prove just how versatile the nettle can be.  It started out with nettle tea, followed by an addictive nettle/onion/mushroom soup.  Moving on from that, indulgence in a nettle and garlic saute, some nettle and pignoli quiche, a bright shocky green nettle pesto with pasta, and nettle lasagna roll-ups.

nettle quichenettle pestonettle roll-upsThe Big Question of course: Yes, once you blanch them – once they are immersed in hot water or cooked – the sting is gone and they are nothing but green, green, green nutrients and goodness.  Blanched nettles are filled with Vitamin A, B vitamins and Vitamin K, high in calcium, iron, magnesium and manganese.

The Second Big Question:  Is there an antidote for the sting of the nettle?  Through discussion and net research, the suggestions – after thoroughly cleaning the affected area – include Aloe vera gel, a paste of baking soda, slathering on mud, or pressing leaves of the Yellow Dock plant or Jewel Weed onto the affected area.  I put some chickweed salve on mine, which did not do much.  However, when I woke up this morning, the sting had abated.

Following the clean-up of this whirlwind of  gastronomical creating, there was a final discussion about making nettle tinctures. By this time I was very tired and ready to call it a day.

nettles for tinctureSome people went out into the rain to take home a few intact nettle plants with their roots in order to start them at home.  Definitely not interested in introducing the nettles into my own yard, at that point I came home with a bag of nettle tops I had gathered – and quickly got to work brewing up some tea.  And making some yummy nettle pesto, which I will have with ravioli tonight.  Because you see, I am craving nettles.  I am sitting here typing this and craving nettles at the moment.

I supposed you could say I have made peace with the Stinging Nettle.

Posted in Daeja's Garden, Gardening, Spring, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 5 Comments


When it came to a choice of animal companions, my family always fell into the “dog people” category. But there hasn’t been a dog in my life for a very long time.  There are a number of reasons for that, including this reason.  So over the years since then, I have lived a relatively pet-free existence.

The obvious perks to not having the responsibility of a dog in the home:  Cleaning up after them – the extra vacuuming, dealing with the hair.  Housebreaking. The freedom of coming and going as you please –  not having to adjust your schedule to get home in order to walk and feed them. Being able to go away for long weekends or trips without worrying about who will watch the dog.  The expense of their health care, food, grooming, parasite control, and boarding if necessary.  And the emotional investment.  There is that part, getting attached to something with a somewhat predictable, relatively short life-span.  For me, that has probably been one of the biggest hurdles to having one again. Loss and abandonment issues? Maybe a little….

Last winter a friend asked if I could watch their dog for a long weekend while they were away.  The dog is a small little rescue dog, about a year-and-a-half old.  I had actually gone along on the excursion to pick up this little adoptee, who rode curled up in my lap for the ride home.  With the sketchy history that many of these rescues possess, he’s an odd little guy with a few quirky habits.  A little fox of a dog,  he’s possibly a cross between a Papillon, a Pomeranian, maybe some Chihuahua mixed in.  Relatively quiet, he appears sort of timid regarding the world around him, at least initially.   With one ear up and one ear down, he’s incredibly cute. Since I was there for his arrival, making me sort of a “godmother”, I figured it would be no big deal to watch such a little imp for a weekend, do friends a favor and perhaps provide a little bit of a re-initiation regarding having an animal back in my life.

My friend dropped off the dog, his crate, his food, his treats, his leash, gave me some last minute instructions, assured me the dog had just been walked, and gratefully said goodbye.  Within literally five minutes of his departure, the dog crapped on the floor.

Over the next three days, I discovered that our little friend was what I would dub a “stealth-crapper”.  Luckily, he would not pee in the house, but he preferred to leave surprises on carpets – not the wood or tile floors but the carpets – in secret.  I would take him out for lengthy walks (in the snow and cold, at all hours), and he just would not go outside.  Then we would get back in the house and he would immediately slink off and leave a surprise.  Luckily, being a small dog, his surprises were small ones; but surprises never the less, and sometimes messy ones.

The second thing that snapped me back into the reality of pet ownership was having to get up earlier in the morning, or going out later at night (in what was then bitter cold) to take him out.   Back when I had dogs, I always lived in rural settings.  We used to just let the dogs out the back door, they would do their business and obediently return.   Now here I was living in a fairly urban environment without even a fenced backyard, an environment where you have to walk your dog on a leash and pick up their poops in little bags.   This scared little fox was slinking down the sidewalk, cringing at the sound of every car that went by, skittering away from snowbanks that were larger than he was, tail between his legs.   Although he was cuddly and sweet, he was a bit high maintenance.

Experiencing the oddly dead stillness of my neighborhood  in ten degree weather at 4 a.m because he was crying to go out was something new.  This did not go over well with the S.O. either.  Apparently the schedule this dog had gotten accustomed to with my friends (vibrant, late night people) was different from ours (old, farty, early to bed people).  I rearranged my weekend plans in order to accommodate his needs and issues. Because of his lack of housebreaking, he also spent a little more time in his crate than I would have liked.  Despite his sweetness, I was relieved by the time the dog-visit was over and he was picked up to go home,  reinforced that a dog was not in my near future.

Flash forward – here it is spring and my friends are leaving on a two-week road trip.   I asked them “Who’s going to watch the little pooper while you are gone?” because I knew it wasn’t going to be me.  They had a list of possibilities, including boarding as a last resort. However, when it came down to the very last day, the list of possibilities had petered out and the final option fell through. The price to board was prohibitively expensive.  They asked me if I would consider taking him again……except this time it was not for a few days, but a couple of weeks. And so, against my prior convictions I said I would, if it was OK with the S.O.  He said it was fine as long as I did all the care and cleaned up any messes.

So “the pooper” arrived with the food, the treats, the crate, the leash, his brush and a towel (“because he pukes when he rides in the car”). Our first evening was uneventful and I was feeling pretty confident about having him.   On day two “the stealth-crapper” bombed both the oriental rug in my living room and the sisal rug in the dining room.  I also stepped in one of his poops with my bare feet.

After that, I came up with a system for confining him to non-rug areas until after he had done his business outside, that followed by lots of praise.  The first two days I took him out for walks he was a skittish mess.  When a truck drove by and its air brakes hissed, the dog literally levitated off the ground.  When someone walked up behind us on the sidewalk and spoke, the dog flung itself to the end of the leash and did a back flip in mid-air. When a large leaf got stuck to the back of his furry pantaloons and dragged on the sidewalk behind him, making a skritching noise, he totally freaked out but would not hold still for me to pull it off. He was a nervous wreck of a dog.   I wondered what he had been through in his prior life, and how my friends had been dealing with his quirks. I wondered what I had gotten myself into yet again.

And then on day three and four, an interesting thing happened.

We got into a routine.  The little guy came to expect when he was going to go out and what time I would feed him.  I got to know when he tended to poop (first thing in the morning and again an hour after eating), after which time he was allowed the run of the house.  There was no more stealth-crapping.  He got used to the sounds of the neighborhood and began setting up his territory, marking every tree as his own.  He began strutting up and down the street with a bit of bravado, kicking up the dirt after he left his calling cards, trotting up ahead of me on the leash with his tail waving high.

For me, taking care of him meant getting up and getting out of the house instead of lounging on the computer.  It meant getting a little exercise.  I began taking him for excursions beyond our block, on both sides of the street, into areas I usually would not walk.  Suddenly I was greeting neighbors I normally would not see, noticing houses and gardens, changes and nuances of the neighborhood.  As it is springtime, each time we would go out for a walk there was another difference in the flowers, the buds on the trees, an awareness of how quickly everything was changing and growing right before my eyes – the magic.  Even the S.O started taking him out unbidden.

At night after the last walk, “the little pooper” would settle himself in his open crate.  A few hours later he would then visit us by jumping up into our bed to spend the rest of the night, sleeping curled up against us.   In the morning he became animated and playful, with harmless little puppy-like bites, a lot of head-shaking, posturing and running in circles.  As timid as he can be, his attacks on both the broom and the vacuum were filled with tremendous ferocity as he defended the household (and dust bunnies) from mechanical intrusion. He made me laugh out loud and I would find myself talking to him throughout the day.  He became a cozy, cuddly, very loving little companion. We developed a nice bond.  I found that I actually was rather attached to this little dog, whose care has given me a new view of my own environment, and who has soothed an old wound.  It is remarkable how settling, how calming, how grounding it is to have a warm, loving pet by your side.

This little visitor has stolen my heart.

He went back home to his people today.  They have been missing him, and I can see why. I am going to miss him too, miss his companionship and sweetness.  As I sit here writing this, it is already apparent that he is absent and it feels a little empty.  Just a little bit.  Some of my reasons still stand for not wanting to commit to another dog (yet), but a door has been opened to future possibilities.  However, like grandchildren, it is sort of nice to be able to enjoy and love them up for a while, then send them back home to the responsibility of their parents.  I think he will be welcome to stay here for another visit again.

Posted in Animal Stories, Dogs, Friends, Perspective, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Major Artistic Deficit Disorder

Having grown up the child of artists, it naturally followed that those we interacted with and bonded with would lean towards the creative.  And so, throughout this life, I have found myself  surrounded by an abundance of talented friends. I gravitate to them like a bee to sweet and brightly colored flowers, and they seem to gravitate to me. It is as natural, as important, as breathing air.

A richly textured swirl of graphic designers, crafters, painters, illustrators, bakers, chefs, jewelers, beaders, seamstresses, quilters, knitters, every kind of fiber artist.  A kaleidoscope of talented gardeners, musicians, designers, writers, singers, actors, woodworkers, builders, dancers and dreamers. It is a wonderful thing to be touched by so much creativity, both inspiring and awe-inspiring, evoking admiration.  Also intimidating, because sometimes I have to wonder what it is that I can do well…….where is it exactly that I fit in?

Looking back at what has been accomplished and perfected over time, I have discovered that I am not really that good at any one thing at all; the quintessential Jill of All Trades who truly has not mastered a specific skill.

There are so many artistic endeavors I have sampled over the years, never able to settle down to focus on Just One Thing, suffering from a form of ADD that I would describe as Major Artistic Deficit Disorder.  Not denying my share of inherent talent, to a degree…….the “deficit” does not lie in the lack of potential but in the inability to settle into one task.  One of my Extremely Creative Friends tells me that is part of my problem – that I should not be so scattered and spread so thin, that I have to choose something and just concentrate on that, just immerse into that One Thing to bring it to a higher level of skill.  Of course, this makes absolute sense.  But it is something that has been almost impossible to accomplish.

“Back in the Old Days”, those golden days before accepting Total Responsibility, those days when time stretched out endlessly before us, where every day was a new adventure, when we were young and immortal and anything was possible….back then it seemed every day dawned with the potential of another creative adventure.  There was always a drawing in progress, a project to be dyed or painted, a new song to learn, something to sew or re-design or embellish. The parameters of originality were challenged, all the way down to the way we dressed.  There is something so satisfying about immersion into the artistic project – almost to a compulsive degree.  For some people, it is a necessity.  It had always been for me. But it seems somewhere along the way I have veered off the path and am desperately struggling for more of that fresh air.


When did it stop? What happened?  It is not as if there wasn’t potential and interest there. My children’s clothing, when they were younger, was hand-made, embellished and unique.  I quilted.  I put rush seats in chairs and stenciled them, refinished furniture, wrote and illustrated an (unpublished) children’s book, took up photography, developed and printed my own black and white photos.  I painted designs on tee-shirts to sell at craft fairs, painted logos and hippie art on cars and clothing, embroidered pictures on fabric and on denim jeans and jackets, dabbled in batik, painted in water-color and ink wash.  I sold some illustrations to be used as props in made-for-television-movies and designed a logo for a friend’s business, made and sold ethnically inspired beaded jewelry. I sang in a couple of bands.  I tried to learn piano, guitar, mandolin and clarinet, although never really stuck with any of them enough to master.   Over the more recent years I have taken up middle eastern drumming and re-learned to crochet (a little).  Beyond this, I actually have a degree in Visual Arts.

But there has been no centering, no perfecting of a craft, absolutely nothing that is done so well that you would stop and say “She is an illustrator (or a quilter, or a singer, or……….).  I want to know it all.  I know not enough of any of it.

The unfinished applique quilt has been sitting in the box for almost thirty years. I would take it out periodically, look at it, and then could not bear to deal with it. The child it was meant for now has children of her own. The cookbook I compiled just needed to be proofed before being passed on to a friend who had graciously offered to set it up for publication….for over ten years now. The children’s book I wrote, illustrated and did a mock-up dummy for has been sitting in a trunk for twenty years.

More often than not, for some reason strangers will approach me and ask, “Are you An Artist?”  At my very core I want to say “Yes”.  But then the following question, the inevitable “What do you do?” does not correlate, leaving an awkward, uncomfortable pause.   Often I think taking on a full-time job that veered away from artistic inspiration has been the dagger to the heart of my own creative expression.  I tried to bring as much ingenuity into my job as possible, but I know it was not enough.

There are people who have made their art their professions and have always walked that truth.  It seems while I am an “idea person”, I tend to be a catalyst for others and not very much for myself.  The imagination runs wild but the action is static.

There are some of us that have gone down different paths and yearn to return to those roots, that center.  I have wandered off that path, but lately, somehow, I feel I might be heading home.


Posted in Aging, Friends, Perspective, Regrets, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | 14 Comments

The Season of White Jordan Almonds

There is something about the blossoms of spring and those white Jordan Almonds. They are connected for me.


Weddings and blue sky and white, white sweetness.  That little bundle in the mesh bag, a small handful like tiny birds eggs; my mother would save them to bring home for us after a wedding reception.

The trees are blooming and so my craving, as the season for white Jordan Almonds has arrived.  And so I have indulged.


Posted in Spring, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 5 Comments

The Up Seat

Not having posted anything in a while, I really hate to pick up the blog after a hiatus by opening with a pet peeve, but I suppose this annoyance is the impetus that has provided enough kick-start to sit down at the computer again.

We all have our habits and areas where we are lacking.  Realizing this, I have come to expect that certain things which bug me about sharing a home with a partner are not going to change and that I have to make some adjustments if I expect my own idiosyncrasies (of which there are plenty) to be accepted.

For instance, after all these years, I know that if I am not the last one out of the bed in the morning, the S.O. is not going to make the bed when he gets up. While I like need the orderliness of having the bed made daily, and enjoy need to get into a neatly made bed each night, the S.O. doesn’t seem to care if he climbs into a disorderly, twisted jumble of blankets and sheets at the end of the day. If I go away for a few days and come back, I know he will not be making the bed for himself while I am gone and will think nothing of it.  If I make a unmade bed2point of asking that he please, please, please make the bed before I come home, he might (just maybe) throw the bedspread over the lumpy mess of un-straightened, balled-up blankets underneath.

Some people are just like that. I have friends like that. It doesn’t seem to bother them.  Personally, if the bed is made, it is like having at least one island of order despite other household chaos. I wish he would appreciate this enough to participate.  I wish on weekends he would help out by changing the sheets together with me.  I think that is a chore couples should share together. But he doesn’t.  So OK,  I do this for myself.

It is a fact that I am living with a real live version of Pig Pen.  It is a remarkable phenomenon. There is an invisible (and sometimes not so invisible) whirlwind of dust and mess which surrounds, follows, and is generated by the S.O.  He is a contractor who very physically gets into his work. He keeps himself clean, but everything around him is not.  He tends to destroy his clothing.  All his clothing.  This includes shoes.  Anything new will inevitably end up with paint, or grease, or a tear on it within a week or two. Sometimes even within a day.  Even during his down time when he is not working, this is what he does. Then, when he needs to wear something nice to an event, there is nothing available because he has already ruined the item.  At that point panic and frustration will ensue, but he never seems to learn the lesson.  He probably has Pig-Pentwenty stained or ripped shirts and pairs of jeans he could wear on a construction job, but he will consistently reach for the brand new pair of pants or shirt he received for Christmas or a birthday, only to come home with a great big oily stain or drips of white paint on the front of it.  I try to hide a few good things for these occasions, but somehow they always seem to end up back in the drawer and are wrecked.

When he cooks something, the stove will be left covered with spices and egg drippings, the counter spattered with cereal, batter or coffee grounds.  Bottles of oil, jars and containers left open without lids, plates and pans will be left out. Nothing will be wiped up. He does not clean up after himself much.  When he does, it takes him a very long time to get to it.  If he opens a package or the mail, he will rip into it like a child and drop the paper or box right on the floor, where it might remain.  If I don’t clean up after him, he could live like that for days, or even weeks.  I cannot stand it. I cannot wait weeks, or even days.  Honestly, I don’t like to even wait hours for something like this.  Clearly our perception of time and mess-threshold tend to differ.

His vehicle is a rolling trash can.  Riding in it means sweeping the junk off the seat and sitting with your feet in a pile of garbage. His office is such a mess that I cannot imagine how any work can be accomplished there.  The “man-cave” where he likes to relax and watch TV is an uncomfortable eye-sore filled with cans of WD-40, assorted nail clippers, cans of screws, unidentified metal things, piles of stuff.   It is sort of like living with a perpetual adolescent in the house.

Now, given the above examples, one might wonder how a person who is bothered by such things could put up with this, and more specifically, why I have.  The reasons are many, some of it clearly tied up in the relationship dance that we do, which defies a simple explanation – at least one I would delve into here.  But there are things that he does do that are good things – very good things –  and some of those things that he does are things that I don’t do myself.  I certainly have my own clutter issues, mostly confined to my own spaces, which he (usually) does not complain about.  We have (sort of) fallen into certain unspoken roles and responsibilities over the years.  So I have, for the most part, just come to accept that this is how it has been and how it is going to continue to be.  Sometimes I complain.  Sometimes he almost makes an effort.  But it always reverts back.  Despite my frustration with it at times, there has been one oasis throughout the years which has made it bearable…..

Oddly, the one thing that has kept me from totally losing it regarding the messiness is the fact that the S.O. has mostly kept the toilet clean and the seat down.  I have found this to be of great relief and much appreciated.  I have found it to be respectful.  I haven’t Toilet_seat_upquestioned why he has chosen to maintain this specific task, but have been very glad for it.  And it has been a constant over the last eleven years….that is, until the last two weeks.  All of a sudden, the S.O. has started leaving the seat up on the toilet.

The reason I noticed is because I sat down on it and fell in.  It took me so much by surprise that I didn’t even realize what was happening.  I actually laughed.  I thought at first that a visitor must have been there while I was at work and had left the seat up, because the S.O. has never done that, ever.  I have heard about this being the bane of male/female households, a major thorn of contention between the sexes about leaving the seat up or down.  Normally I would have thought it was not such a big deal……but this one last bastion of civility is one thing I really need to hold on to here.

So I mentioned it and asked if he could please leave the seat down.  However, the seat has been up again for the last week. I know this  because I sat down without looking and fell in yet again.   “What gives with the toilet seat?”  I asked.  The thing is, as much as I find it respectful to leave the seat down, unless one is living in a frat house I think The Up Seat is terribly disrespectful to women. And I think it looks bad too.  The Up Seat is like the unmade bed of the bathroom.   He says the question isn’t “Why is he leaving the seat up?” but “Why am I not noticing and still sitting down first?”

Am I crazy here?  Does anyone else feel the same way?  Any solutions?  Is this more adolescent defiance behavior or has he become a total burn-out?  Is this part of the war of the sexes?

Posted in Humor, Rant, Uncategorized, Vent | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

A Golden Squirrel

My sister Charlotte always had squirrel-like attributes.  As a child, she tended to hoard her things. As an adult, even in the leanest of times, she managed to save, to “squirrel away a little something” for the future. Looking at old family photographs of us as children, there is almost a chipmunk cuteness to her face, something bright and inquisitive, in awe of the big world.  There is a bit of mischievousness in her large eyes, a compactness to her small frame.  Charlotte was agile, vulnerable, good and yet naughty.  She was practically like a Squirrel Nutkin illustration from Beatrix Potter.


Because of this connection, our mother gave Charlotte a small charm – a tiny little golden squirrel to wear on a chain around her neck. It was so perfectly her, and she wore that necklace into her adulthood.  She would sometimes reflect upon her habits and justify them by saying “You know me – I’m a squirrel!“.

To elaborate further, Charlotte was also a little crazy, in the way squirrels sometimes can seem a bit nutty (no pun intended). She often dashed into life situations without looking, as a squirrel will change directions and dash into the road. Because of this, I gave her a pair of bronze “sister” squirrels that she displayed in her bookcase.

squirrels sister brass

Seeing squirrels usually sets me thinking of her.  When the unavoidable misfortune of running over them occurs, I pretty much always cry, probably more than the average person might.  Not only because the squirrel has lost its life,  but because of the association to Charlotte.

My sister Charlotte did lose her life – she died in her forties; untimely, tragic, as these things usually are.  My participation  in cleaning her home of her belongings was approached in a rather stone-like manner. With anger, confusion and disbelief, I could not come to grips with the circumstances of her death, could not process it, and could not cry.  I found many things she had squirreled away.  I discovered the set of bronze squirrels.  And then I came across the little golden squirrel charm from our mother.  Finding this tender reminder that had been given with tremendous love from a mother to “her little squirrel” triggered grief that allowed the tears to flow.

squirrel gold C

Two weekends ago I was driving to do some holiday shopping, singing along to the radio and having a generally good day, when a fat little squirrel darted into the road with what appeared to be a massive apple, or perhaps a black walnut, in its mouth.  It was as large as a tennis ball, almost too much to handle,  and I thought a rather ambitious endeavor.  I swerved to avoid it.  I felt the thunk.  The day was suddenly ruined.  And I burst out crying for Charlotte.

At the store I passed a display of glass Christmas tree ornaments, mostly picked over so close to the holiday.  Glancing among the remaining rows of red Santas, green pickles and silver snowmen,  something caught my eye.

Just one golden squirrel alone in a little box.

Unpacking the ornaments this year, I reflect again upon the french horn that signifies my father, the angel that is my mother, the flower fairies that are my little sisters, the mallard for my brother, and the God’s-eyes and precious trinkets made by my children when they were young.  I smile with the anticipation of seeing my young grandchildren soon – their excitement, their own tree awaiting the ornaments they will add to it someday.  On my own little tree this year I have added a golden squirrel, dedicated to the memory of my beautiful sister, Charlotte.

golden squirrel3

Posted in Holidays, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Certain Unalienable Rights

Second section in Declaration of Independence, 1776 – “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”
Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness. Hold on to that premise for a minute, OK?

The Second Amendment, adopted years later in 1791 – “a well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”  Well-regulated militia.  Militia.  A militia with muskets, with the intention of keeping our country free.  Not politically motivated lobbyists with an agenda. Not mentally ill individuals and untrained citizens running loose with declaration of independencehigh-powered assault weapons, with the possibility or intent to slaughter innocent populations at whim. It seems the meaning of our Second Amendment has become grossly distorted.

Want to talk about rights here? When you can no longer ride public transportation, shop in a mall or supermarket, go to work, enjoy a movie in a theater with friends, attend a place of worship with family or even attend school without fear of being killed or maimed by madmen “legally” or illegally armed with assault weapons, I would say that your Certain Unalienable Right to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness has been severely infringed upon – has pretty much been taken away.

It is ironic that with all the armed personnel on base at Ford Hood in 2009, it did not prevent the mass killing at that military installation.  And that all those self-armed citizens who happened to be packing weapons on their person that very day in a Tuscon supermarket in 2011 were unable to use them due to the chaos that ensued, the fear of killing more people by accident, their lack of training.  Arming teachers? Arming students?  Assault weapons?  A mad rush to Walmart to buy your gun “just in case” they are banned? Child-size bullet-proof book bags being sold this week following the tragedy?  As a country have we really reached this level of insanity?

Today –  December 21, 2012 – according to some misinterpretations of the Mayan calendar, was to be “The End of the World”.  For those children and families of Newtown, their apocalypse occurred a week early.  Their certain unalienable rights were violated in the most horrific of ways.

It seems the end of the world as we know it in this country has already arrived.

Posted in Are you kidding me?, Perspective, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Angels Must Be Weeping

Even the angels must be weeping – Sandy Hook Elementary School 12.14.12


Posted in Coping | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments

No Thanks, I’ll Pack Myself

I assume the pay scale for checkers and baggers at big chain supermarkets is probably rather pathetic. Perhaps because of this, some positions are filled with less than stellar employees. But really, does anyone even train these people on how to pack groceries? OK, it’s a little bit of a pet peeve here. I realize I am sounding a bit Andy Rooney.  So what?! I suspect I am not the only one who goes through the following scenario.

In the spirit of conservation, I am one of those people who usually remembers to bring their own reusable grocery bags.  In addition, I like to bag my groceries myself.  I see no crownpoint in standing there like a queen while the poor checker is running through a large order and then has to stop so she can turn around to pack bags, resulting in holding up the entire line. When I see one of those entitled “princess” customers standing there doing nothing and making everyone wait while expecting the checker to stop and pack, it really annoys me.  Unless you are aged or infirm or injured, there really is no reason for that.  Bagging is something I will gladly participate in.  I want to do this. I actually like doing this.  It insures that the cold items are packed together, that the powdered sink cleanser is not put next to something like an open bag of damp produce, that the bags are not so over-packed that I cannot lift them, that the meat is put into a plastic bag so it does not drip all over the cereal box, and that all items make it into the bag and nothing is left behind on the counter.

But after the above mini-rant, this is not about that issue. It about the check-out lines that already have somebody stationed there to pack for you.  It is their job, so it leaves not much room for butting in and packing yourself, although I am always inclined to help out. I don’t want them to get in trouble for not being at their station packing, but I really would rather be doing it myself.

Now, I am not talking about some of those very sweet developmentally disabled people who have jobs in supermarkets gathering carts or bagging groceries, because generally – and perhaps ironically –  they are the ones who are  trying very hard. They are fastidious about their job and usually get it right. And if they don’t, well, we cut them some slack, of course.  It’s about the other bored checkers or the space-cadets standing at the bottom of thbagging groceriese conveyor belt who grab your stuff and just shove it into bags at random.  They really don’t care. Where is the QA in these supermarkets?

Yesterday at the check out there was a guy standing there doing the packing. I had no choice, there he was.  So I handed the bags  to both the bagger and the woman at the register, which included a couple of insulated ones for cold items.   I indicated the insulated bags by saying “These bags are for the cold things”, because for some reason they are usually unable to discern this.  So he started packing, and at the very end the checker packed the last bag herself.

What I ended up with – one of the bags were so overly filled that I was barely able to lift it out of the cart and into the car – and when I got home I could not easily get that one bag up the stairs. All the half-gallon liquids were packed in there, making it weighted and unwieldy and subject to dropping and breaking.  I was sure the handles of the bag were going to tear off. It was worse than an overfilled suitcase! The “cold” insulated bag that the checker loaded was filled to the top and wide open. It had a few cold items but mostly was stuffed with a bunch more that weren’t.  I don’t think she got the fact that an insulated bag only works when you can seal it closed, by shutting it with the Velcro strip at the top.  If you are not going home right away and have cold items, it’s helpful to use these bags.  Lastly, I removed the S.O.’s dripping steak out of the bag and put it into a plastic bag first.  The checker made a face. Don’t they see this stuff every day? Does anybody teach them? Maybe a refresher in-service?

Upon getting home, realized the lettuce was missing.  It costs more in gasoline to drive back for the lettuce than the lettuce cost.

Really, these stores need to train their people right, or maybe do some spot checking.  Thank you but no thanks, I’ll pack myself.

Posted in Humor, Rant, Shopping, Uncategorized, Vent | Tagged , , , , | 8 Comments

The Holiday Visitors

The Holidays are upon us and the visiting has begun.  This year, along with their significant others and the grandbabes, both of my children insisted upon bringing their dogs home for Thanksgiving . It was sort of chaotic, but they are “family” and part of the package.

These two presented as quite the odd couple.  Both rescue dogs, they interacted minimally but became constant kitchen companions while I prepared meals.  They paid rapt attention to my every.  single.  move.  Such fickle adoration, they sat sharply focused. One could almost feel flattered, if you wanted to make believe leftovers had not been involved.  Anything dropped barely had time to hit the floor.


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The Memory Box

One of the drawers in my bedroom is filled with socks.  In the back of that drawer, buried behind those socks is a green and orange lacquered box which was carved and painted by my father many years ago.  It is chipping and old and the clasp that keeps it closed is on the verge of breaking.  On the top of the box my father drew a unicorn.  On the front is an angel. On one side there is the face of the family dog from that time, an Airedale. On the other side are two sheep (I cannot remember why, if there even was a reason, probably because I was an animal lover), and on the back of the box it says “Love Story”, with the faces of a boy and a girl who are supposed to be me and my then high school boyfriend.  The boy’s face looks like he did, the girl does not look like me at all.  Hopefully – wishfully – I just checked the bottom of the box (again) to see if he had signed or inscribed it, as if I could magically make that happen.  I knew he hadn’t.  I am sorry that he never did, as now he is gone.

When my father gave mememorybox this gift, I collected up all the mementos I had saved at the time and put them in that box.  Over the years I have added to it periodically, although it is now so full that it barely will close.  It is an assortment of varied and poignant articles, mostly from childhood but not totally.    Tonight I was putting some things away and found something I wanted to add to the box, so I dug it out, and of course, got lost in those memories  once again.

At the bottom of the box, covered by a piece of maroon velvet, are some notes and letters. One, a valentine from my high school boyfriend, reads “Although the road was long, although the going was tough, you’re still my valentine after 2 1/2 years of your stuff.”  Actually, he had spelled valentine wrong and there was no punctuation.  There is a little drawing of Jerry Garcia’s face at the bottom of it (he was a serious Dead Head).  I laughed seeing it again, just as I have every time I have come across it.  We had dated for a few years.  He put up with my “stuff”. That boyfriend tragically died later on, when he was in his thirties.

There is the newspaper clipping want ad from a job I was hired for thirty-some-odd years ago, as a veterinary technician.  Airmail letters from another relationship, luring me across the ocean.  Love letters from the man who later became my husband and many years later not my husband anymore – letters that I found so incredibly moving still, after all these years, that my throat tightened and had to wonder sadly “what happened?”.

There is a telegram that was sent to me when I lived abroad with a message that is made of the stuff you see in movies.

The birth announcements for each of my children.

And a card with such sweet, promising words that had accompanied the gift of a beautiful string of pearls, from a fiance who eventually became corrupt, leaving me to wonder if any of his words had ever really been true.

A Polaroid photograph of the S.O. and myself taken by one of the kids, which used to grace our refrigerator door –  the first photo of us together (and one of the few where he is actually cooperating and smiling).

On top of the paper items sit a variety of small objects.  A sample of whamemoryboxairmailt is contained within:

A tiny valentine made by my youngest sister, then a child, and a paper ring made as a gift by another little sibling long ago.

The ID tags from the collars of beloved dogs.

A little red plastic fish change purse that my mother had given me when she returned home after a long hospital stay, the blue fins having broken off long ago.   Inside that change purse is the key to my first car and the key to my first apartment. The key to the first apartment was red because in my youth I thought having a red key was such a hot thing to do.

Polished rocks my little brother made in his rock tumbler when he was a boy (I can still remember my mother complaining about the ongoing noise as that thing ran 24-hours a day).

A scrap of fabric from the living room curtains of a little magic cottage in the woods I once lived in.

Shells collected on various beaches.  Keys to diaries long gone.  A small license plate with my name on it from the 1963 World’s Fair. A postcard sent to me from Japan, wishing I was there too.  A cast bronze peanut from an art foundry I once worked at.  A tiny plastic daisy decal I wore glued on to my face around 1969.

A small sample vial of perfume that my mother used to keep in a box in her drawer.  She didn’t wear that scent and never used it – and neither have I.

A rock shaped like a heart.  A pistachio shaped like a heart. Beach glass, some shaped like hearts.

One of my favorite things is a small, smooth, turquoise colored stone that my father used to keep in what must have been his own memory box on top of his dresser.  I had always wondered what it had meant to him, the story,  but I never found out.

A peach pit that I had smoothed flat by rubbing it over and over on the pavement when I was a kid, with plans to cut out the center and make a ring (I never did).

A bullet that a boy sitting in front of me in high school physics class gave me.  I had thought it was so cool at the time.  He never really talked to me but he gave me this bullet, like a prize. I wonder if he had liked me – or maybe not liked me.  I was so shy back then….

Newspaper clippings listing the winners of a few horse shows, of which I came in second place, third place and sixth.  Seeing these brought memories of how I had thrown out the winning ribbons, coinciding with my heightened aversion to competition.  At the same time I also threw out my high school diploma coinciding with my aversion to high school. One earring worn to my senior prom, which I really didn’t want to attend but did because I felt I had to prove something. There had been a lot of aversions and subsequent purging during those years.

A silver necklace of wings and a tan-colored center stone bought in Provinmemorybox-contentscetown, back in the days when P-Town was a hippie haven. The vendor swore, subject to suspicion, that it was “mastodon ivory.”  We camped out on the beach, got bitten by sand fleas, had the most delicious fish soup with friends.

Puppy teeth from two of my dogs.  One wisdom tooth that was mine, removed in Oregon.  A tooth with a gold filling which is not mine.

My wedding ring, which was a silver and turquoise Hopi band, with a nick in it from the time I fell off a step stool and the ring caught on a metal kitchen cabinet, in the farm carriage house we lived in long ago.

Subway tokens of various sizes (now obsolete).  Foreign coins and foreign phone tokens, also obsolete. My roller skate key from the Chicago Skate Company, a relic.  My grandmother’s pink-gold ring from Switzerland that she wore as a girl, sans stone. She had told me it once had a green Peridot stone in it. I always meant to get one to restore it but hadn’t.  And the ring is too big for me.

A necklace made of cloves.   An IUD.

A ducky diaper pin from the diapers of my first baby.

The gift note from the favor bag on the table at my daughter’s wedding.

A small plastic black cat from off a bottle of wine or liquor that my father had tossed at me while we sat at a table after having fondue, saying “here, Strega”.

A ticket stub from a Jackson Browne concert.  A holy card with a guardian angel on it.  A tiny clay bear made by a sibling. A wine cork.

Hair.  Mine when I cut it off, my children’s golden locks, my mother’s when she died, somebody’s hair entwined with red thread – whose? –  used in a long ago magic spell?

A tiny turtle, a plastic bunny, a little duck.   A holy medal that my grandmother had secretly pinned to my mattress, to protect me from harm.   A poem about nature from my daughter to my mother.

These are only some of the items in that box, which is not very large and yet holds a lifetime of emotions and events. Looking at each object took me to places both good and not so good. It was a re-examination of a deeply personal journey.  What was important right then, what was happening at the time these objects were put into the box, who they were attached to, what their story was.  Some of these things made me smile and some brought about a wrench in the chest, an ache of the heart, some tears.  There are items in the box connected to events that required emotional processing, and those things took time.  Over the years I have removed and discarded a few of those hot items from the box attached to issues that have since been resolved and purged.   Surely there are people who would say “Why do you hold on to that crap?”, but in some ways I think The Memory Box has been therapeutic.

It has occurred to me that my children will not know or possibly care what is in my Memory Box, why these things have been kept all these decades, what they meant to me; much the same way I never knew why my father kept the blue stone or my mother had that little sample of unused perfume saved. I wish I had known the myriad events that made my parent’s stories.  I wish they were here to sit with me and tell me the tales of the things they saved in their top drawer, in a dish on their dresser, in a little container. The Memory Box is really just a physical manifestation of what we lock away internally.  Each of these small moments that shape our lives is another fiber to our weave, another pearl lost in time.


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My credit card bill came in the mail today.  Usually this particular card is only used for online purchases that use secure sites, and there were only a few purchases made this month, so the anomalies jumped out at me immediately.  There were about eight or nine unauthorized charges to Facebook, of all things, totally over $150.  At least that is what it says, but I think they might be bogus charges under that name with the charges going out to someplace else, possibly not even in this country.

I am not connected to any apps, I don’t play games online, I never have ordered anything through there.  On top of all that, I am one of those people who fanatically, ritualistically and religiously shreds their discarded papers and mail.  Everything. For anybody to get my info out of the garbage they would have to be insanely compulsive trying to put that puzzle back together. I am sure there are much easier pickings around.  I also change my passwords and use ones that come out as “strong” or “very strong”.  Needless to say then, this was more than disappointing.  It seems nothing is safe and secure.

But what was even stranger is that on the same day these eight charges were made, each one was also reversed and the credit returned to me.  Did the bank get hip to this and make amends as it was happening or what?

I called the bank, made my complaint to a very friendly woman who was blessedly articulate and clear…..but then got transferred and had to explain the complaint yet again to woman number two, who was the person who would be closing out my account and sending me instructions on how to proceed.  I say “woman” but she had the voice of a girl….actually one of those exaggerated “Valley Girl” type voices that sound affected and silly and trill.  She sounded as if she had gum stuffed in her mouth.  Like something right out of a teen genre film.  Actually, I almost thought she was joking at first.

Add to that the fact that I am more than sort of hard of hearing and the phone connection maybe was not the best.  I don’t understand how person number one could connect and come in loud and clear and person number two was a mumbling mess of fuzzy words, but that is how it was and how it often is – the unpredictability of the next call.  Sort of an anxiety producing scenario for most deafies I think.  I should have been on my Caption Call phone for this conversation, which would have used some voice recognition to repeat her words, albeit with the slightest time lag.  But when I saw the bill I was so taken aback about it that my knee-jerk reaction was to pick up my cell and just dial the company immediately.  By the time I realized the problem, we were too deep into the situation and I would have had to hang up and call back from another number, probably starting all over again with a new customer service representative.  So I blundered forward.

There was a lot of WHAT? and HUH? and EXCUSE ME? going on.  I know she must have been very, very frustrated dealing with me;  probably more than I was with her, but she kept her cool and did her job patiently despite the repetitions.  I think the person who “may be monitoring this call” that they always warn you about at the beginning of these types of business phone calls would have been proud of her diplomacy, and I hope she got some good brownie points on her customer service corporate score card for that.…despite that voice of hers.

After they checked my credentials and I proved my identification, they sent me an affidavit in an email to sign and I sent that off.  Then I was instructed to cut up my card.  I have had this account for twenty-six years.  Just having to do this really pissed me off.  Now I will have to figure out which online accounts I had it connected to, make those changes and start all over again. Following that, I did an internet search to see if there was anybody else getting these bogus Facebook charges.  Indeed, these identical types of charges were showing up on the statements of other people too.

Oddly enough, the business card that my supervisor at work uses was just hacked last week, the statement filled with movie rentals and charges to porn sites. This epidemic rash of identity thefts and illicit purchases totally creeps me out.  And to think my friends and I came from a time when nobody even locked their cars or houses.  When “Identity Theft” meant a spy in a trench coat walking around with your name and your life story while conducting espionage…. where at the end of the movie he/she would suddenly stop and slowly peel off the remarkably life-like rubber face they had been wearing to reveal the true identity of the person within.

OK, so these cards are incredibly convenient and, in this world, now almost a necessity if you need to complete certain business transactions.  But not having them or rarely using them? Very tempting food for thought right now…….

Posted in Are you kidding me?, Deafness, Hearing Impaired, Uncategorized, Vent | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments

That Snooty Woman With All the Fancy Instruments

One of the things I like to do for leisure and sometimes passion is to play percussive instruments.  I like to drum, especially on drums played with the hands – a djembe, a doumbek, a frame drum or riqq.  I took up drumming when the deterioration of my hearing reached a point where the mid-range of many instruments just wasn’t getting past my cochlea.  With the percussive beat, I can still continue to be a musician of sorts…. at least for now.

I would not say I am much of a drummer, but I have learned a bit over the last number of years and I enjoy it.  This drumming interest has been the catalyst for a number of experiences and has taken me to places of introspection, release, and joy. When I can, I attend various gatherings or workshops where this is happening so I can get to play with others – for fun and for instruction – and for interaction and connection with some very fine people met along this journey.  Sometimes I have even been able to convince a friend to accompany me on a drumming adventure.

It was at one of these venues, a summer camp, where I invited my friend K.  to accompany me for the weekend.  We were assembling ourselves in a large circle with other people in a room getting ready to learn a few new pointers on the frame drum, when a woman juggling a number of drum bags squeezed in, maneuvering a chair tightly next to us, and began to unload her things without saying anything.  We shuffled to make room as best as we could.  She then proceeded to lay out her drums, bags and accoutrements in an array around her, tensely zipping and unzipping cases to reveal very expensive and beautiful cherry wood and inlaid instruments that were further wrapped up within colorful printed cloth, these securely packed within their cases.  She barely looked at us, and actually had a rather annoyed and somewhat paranoid air about her – almost as if she thought we were going to suddenly leap on top of her instruments and break them, or take them and run away, laughing maniacally as we did so.   K. and I just looked at each other with mutual  recognition of the situation.

Her demeanor left no opening for where to jump in with conversation.  I wanted to start with the line “nice drums”, but she would not make eye contact with me.  Being hearing impaired myself, it is imperative that eye contact be made so I know the other person is synched into me, that I have their attention and can subsequently navigate my way through conversation by watching their face, reading their lips, catching a few phrases, while using their expression as a cue.  Because of this readjusting and compensating of the senses, I have become rather adept at reading body language.  Vibrations come off other people and appear to me in Big Print.  But she wouldn’t give me that opening, and so we remained painfully removed from each other. Although we were practically elbow to elbow and about to embark on a group endeavor together, her aura was filled with static and spikes.  Furthermore, once instruction began, she continued to Not Engage with us. It was very weird, and rather uncomfortable.

When the class was over, instead of smiles and satisfied acknowledgement, with eyes darting suspiciously around her, she carefully and slowly wrapped her fancy instruments back up into their pretty cloths, tucked them in their cases, zip zip zip,  and walked away without saying a word.  “What is going on with that woman?” asked K.  “I got the feeling she didn’t like us very much, didn’t you?”.  I had to agree.  We wondered what it was about us, as we noticed she did speak with a few other people.  After that, every time we caught glimpses of her that weekend, we would note her unsmiling “I Don’t Want To Know You” face.  We started referring to her as “That-Snooty-Woman-With-All-The-Fancy-Instruments”.  We laughed about it because there was not much else to be done about it, and it just became one more vignette in our drumming adventure that weekend.

Some time early the following winter, K. and I attended a very spiritual day-long African Rhythm workshop in the mountains with a group of women.  We were sitting down with our djembes against our knees when suddenly That-Snooty-Woman-With-All-The-Fancy-Instruments walked in! Not only that, but she proceeded to sit down to the right of K., and without any sort of acknowledging glance began unpacking her drum.  I say “unpacking” because it was a spectacle to behold.  It reminded me of one of those Russian Matryoshka dolls. First she unzipped a protective black drum case to reveal yet another drum case of printed African cloth within. Lifting that drum carefully out, she proceeded to untie this fabric case.  Removing her djembe from that revealed that it had a protective quilted cloth hat on top of the drum head. Removing that, there was a colorful second cloth beneath, which lay across the top surface of the drum.  The grand finale to this drum strip-tease revealed a very beautiful carved djembe.  She did not look to her left where we were sitting, but did engage with the woman on her right, who we figured must have been a friend.

We began to play.  The group made wonderful rhythms together.  We sang together.  We ate lunch together.  We reached some wonderful places while drumming and we even wept together.  But at the end of the day, That-Snooty-Woman-With-All-The-Fancy-Instruments still would not look at us and we left without any real contact, without even finding out her name.  I wondered if it was something specifically about me, or us, that caused her aversion.

During a hot summer the following year, I reunited with some Middle Eastern drumming friends at a retreat.  I almost fell over when That-Snooty-Woman-With-All-The-Fancy-Instruments drove up.  She brought a number of very expensive, fancy frame drums with her.  She also purchased two very beautiful and expensive new inlaid doumbeks while she was there.   She laid out all her things around her carefully, setting up her “zone” with pillows and little knit bags and covers and rubber grips so her drums would not slip off her lap.  It was the same Matroyshka-like situation again, as she unpacked her drums.  Carefully zipped within their cases, they were further encased with more cloth, and then with a hankie draped across the heads, preserved like an Egyptian pharoah in a tomb.  And she was extremely protective and hovering about them, although she actually, very surprisingly, suddenly offered to let me try out one of her new drums.

Because this was a small group of people, we ended up sharing some meals at the same table and practicing some difficult pieces together. It was the sort of situation where people could get closer.  I finally learned her name.  Although I still found her a bit aloof and only had a few conversations with her, we managed to chat a bit and actually had some laughs.  It turns out she was nice.  By the time the weekend was over, I was thinking that although she was maybe A Bit Odd, she was actually an OK person.

Finally, when it was time to say our goodbyes, she called me “Sister” and gave me a hug.  And that was that. The walls were down, the connection had been made.  I couldn’t wait to tell K. that “That-Snooty-Woman-With-All-The-Fancy-Instruments” actually wasn’t snooty this time, that the ice had metaphorically been broken, and it had really become more like “Margaret, That-Serious-Woman-With-All-The-Fancy-Instruments.” When I got home, we even became Facebook friends,  although we never used that venue for any correspondence and she hasn’t posted much, and definitely no real personal information.  A rather private person,  I still really didn’t know much about her, although I got the feeling of a somewhat spiritual and basically good person. It had all come full circle and that circle was now complete.  I haven’t run into her drumming lately though.  I haven’t even seen her post since June.

Via the posts of some fellow drummers, the news has gone out that Margaret passed away the other day after a very brief but fierce illness.  Surprisingly (to me), this disturbing news has hit on many unexpected levels. She is younger than me and her death, needless to say, is untimely.  Furthermore, I  discovered this week that Margaret had been battling cancer – not once, but three times.  Over these years, there is a good chance she had been going through illness or treatment those very moments we had seen her, in all her withdrawn, introspective and “snooty” aloofness.  As a person who has experienced cancer treatment, I can understand about needing to shut down a bit and go within emotionally.   But aside from the fact that she was a fellow musician, the truth is that I did not know very much else about her at all.  Even without knowing her very well, I felt my chest tighten upon news of Margaret’s death.  And then I cried.

This has been an unbidden invitation to look inward from many angles.  Do we ever know what is going on inside another person? Physically, emotionally, spiritually, in their minds and hearts at any given time?  Had I put myself out there more, had worked past my own deafness to be the one to approach her, would it have made a difference or would she have reacted the same way anyway?  Was she there for the very same reasons as I was, to try and transcend the crap-that-life-throws-you and come to that place of introspection, release, and joy?  Perhaps, it is even ironically possible, that she may have thought that WE were Those-Two-Snooty-Women-With-All-Their-Fancy-Instruments?!  I will never know.  This week she has been in my thoughts.  I find myself going over the few conversations we had, looking at the few photos I took of her or that we were in together, remembering her face, and the way she carefully unpacked her drums and laid out her possessions – the way she played her rhythms.  I do know that I am glad we had finally made that connection.

What I was reminded of from That-Serious-Woman-With-All-The-Fancy-Instruments is that much in the way she packed her drums, we are all a bit like those Matroyshka dolls – many layers within layers covering more layers within. I will try to turn up my Awareness Radar another notch.  I thank Margaret for leaving me with the grace of that lesson and wish her journey takes her to a place of light, and of peace.

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Adventure and Distraction in the Autumn Garden On a Saturday Morning

I decided to spend just a few hours this morning cleaning up.  Just a few, since we had plans in the afternoon.. a couple of hours, before that gardening backache sets in. Just enough to tidy up, because I have essentially let my garden, and the entire yard actually, go to hell.

It started with pulling out some weeds and overgrown stuff, which morphed into cutting back the dead and finished flowers and stalks.  Because the S.O. had taken the loaded dump truck to the dump, a full view of the space at the back of the driveway that I have not seen all summer suddenly became visible, allowing access to what has been hidden for months – an incredible mass of overgrown, smelly, I-don’t-know-what.  So I started ripping that out.  Once there was an open area in the beds along the fence,  I began transplanting the baby Rose-of-Sharon plants that have cropped up beneath the mother plants growing around the house – the original mother plants courtesy of my lovely garden friend L.

As you can see, I get side-tracked easily.

My  mother once said that I was “like a Little Bee, flitting from flower to flower, being distracted by the next interesting thing“.  Actually, she also said this about my sister-in-law after an exhausting day of accompanying her on some intense clothes shopping at T.J. Maxx.  Said sister-in-law happens to thrive in the shopping arena.  I do not possess that skill, do not have the patience to dig through racks of clothing like that, actually hate it.  I melt down in a place like T.J. Maxx.

But already, I digress again. My mother had a point I guess.  Back to this point…. I started pulling up some of the defunct tomato plants…. but since some of them still seemed to have a number of Last Gasp Tomatoes desperately  hanging on, I left them in hopes of getting a few more salads out of them.  So the clean-out was not totally complete.  However, I did make some interesting discoveries beneath the whole mess, which included yet another mutant Zucchaloupe, and a small pepper plant with one green pepper dangling from it, which I did not plant – probably another surprise volunteer from the compost pile.

Once again getting distracted, I ran inside to grab my camera and take some photos of the ever-mesmerizing outer space Passion Flower vine with purple blooms growing up the fence.  Since the camera was in hand, I started taking photos around the garden…until I noticed that the wormwood  has taken over my front yard…. so I began  ripping that out.  In retrospect, I should have planted it somewhere in the back where nothing else was happening….probably behind where the dump truck is parked. Since wormwood is a key ingredient in absinthe, I thought that might be a rather cool plant to have – not that I was even remotely planning on making any absinthe, but I find the idea of the connection somewhat appealing.  But the stuff has gone rampant, and since there is not any distilling of the Green Fairy going on here, really, what is the point in having it?

I digress again…

With clippers in hand, The Little Bee then flits over to the brown, dead, bent over hollyhocks against the side of the house.  One of them had the most lovely of creamy peachy-pinky-yellow colored flowers this year, and it is from this plant that I suddenly decide to gather seeds for next year.  Cutting them back, I held the stalks upside down and started shaking and pulling them loose when suddenly, a crazy mass of earwigs came pouring out amongst them and began crawling frantically around in the container.

OK, I find garden pests interesting, but there is sort of an Ewww factor to seeing a bunch of crazy earwigs scattering.   Finally got rid of them, only to realize that the chaff from the hollyhocks is making me itch – very much. That’s a first.  Next thing I know, my arms above my gardening gloves, my neck and my collar area are covered with an itchy rash.  I don’t even remember touching my neck!

Trying to ignore this but definitely winding down now, The Little Bee then flits over to gather some of the Last Gasp Tomatoes, picked some kale and brought it into the house, and then tried to wash some of the chaff off to stop the itching.  Washed the kale to prepare  my usual kale recipe, only to discover a nice, fat green worm that came rolling out of the leaves……prompting an even more careful inspection. More Ewww factor too.

Finally, into the shower to try and stop the hollyhock itch.  I am leaving for a wedding in two hours, and am now covered with a dotty rash.

Adventure, adventure… adventure and distraction in this Autumn Garden on a Saturday afternoon…….

Posted in Daeja's Garden, Gardening, Humor, Uncategorized, Wildlife | Tagged , , | 6 Comments


Speaking of compost, some strange things manifested in my garden this year.  I did not plant them, but a couple of random squash vines grew unbidden amongst the tomato plants.   All I can think is that they must have been seeds in the compost that did not break down. From the yellow blossoms sprang three acorn squash of varying sizes…..and tangled within them, one very odd mutant alien space pod of a vegetable.

The alien is round, with an underlying smooth, greenish skin the color and feel of a zucchini, but with an overlay of raised, rough, tan striations, somewhat like a cantaloupe.

After leaving it on the kitchen counter and looking at it for a number of days, it began to get just the slightest bit soft.  Curious as to what was inside, I finally cut it open.

The inside was orange and somewhat wet like a cantaloupe, but it did not smell quite like a cantaloupe. The SO and I both tasted it.  The texture was not quite as smooth as a cantaloupe but not as crunchy as a squash.  It was not overly sweet but it was not quite a squash either. Some of my friends thought I was rather brave to actually ingest something that looked so weird, much less that probably sprouted out of the compost.  My theory is that since it had neither a face nor teeth, it was probably alright.

In past gardens the pumpkins and zucchini have crossbred to produce odd shapes and colors that I used to call Zumpkins and Pucchinis that were less than the sum of both.  The honeydew and watermelons have also crossed to produce oddities. But I have never had a zucchini squash and a cantaloupe melon do anything like this.  I call it a Zucchaloupe. I don’t think it will catch on.

Posted in Are you kidding me?, Gardening, Humor, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Whole Earth

There was a time when The Whole Earth Catalog, published by Stewart Brand, was my bible.  It was the portal to resources on how I wanted to live, how I wished I could live, how I intended to live – a hippie wish book.  There were just so many incredibly cool ideas and concepts in that massive book.  It was a Renaissance of a book, really, with that awesome view of our earth from space on its cover.

It is during this time that I became interested in composting, among other things.   Interested, yes, but not actively engaged.  I wasn’t composting, just reading about it and thinking how much sense that made, and what a good thing it would be to do on a grand scale.  I don’t know if it was weird to daydream about composting (and OK, chickens, and goats and small-scale farming too – I’m not that strange), but reading The Whole Earth Catalog was conducive to those kinds of ideas…..and that is the kind of person I was, and I guess still am to some extent.

From that launching point, I moved on to The Rodale Guide to Composting, a rather large volume which told you everything you could ever imagine about compost, from the chemical and microbial composition down to building different types of containers and the breaking down of nutrients into viable soil.  In my mind I was going to have some incredible composting going and an even more incredible garden as a result.  My goats, my chickens, my compost, was going to be just Freakin’ Amazing.

Fast forward, let’s say about thirty-five years.  After lugging around that heavy, yellowed, mildewed-smelling copy of The Whole Earth Catalog from one home to another, I finally unpacked it for the umpteenth time, realized it was an outdated relic and let it go.  I had given away or loaned out (and forgotten to who) my copies of Raising Milk Goats and Backyard Chickens without ever having either, because although I am interested,  I have not been home regularly enough or lived in the right places to take care of milk goats or chickens.  And that thick volume of everything you could ever know about composting found its way to the library fair without a really good plan ever coming to fruition.  When we rented on a farm I had a compost area, but then I moved again and let it go. That is, until last year, when I finally put it together to get my composting trip together.  Sort of.

So here I am, living in this somewhat Urban Environment, in a small city which is immediately surrounded by a rural area.  I compost our leaves, but for years I kept mentioning to the SO about how we should really be composting our kitchen scraps too.  This seemed to fall on deaf ears, until one day quite out of the blue (which is the way he tends to operate), he unexpectedly came home with a recycled black plastic composter.  This contraption opens at the top and contains a number of levels with a door on the bottom. You put your vegetarian waste in at the top and it filters down to the bottom eventually, leaving you with rich brown/black earth after a period of time, supposedly in about eight weeks.  I was thrilled. 

The immediate payoff is that the trash we put out weekly has been reduced to almost nothing. You can keep putting food into that compost and within a few days the level has shrunk down it until it is dirt.  That is pretty impressive. However, it’s not all as clean and easy as it was in my imagination.

I have made a few discoveries, mostly that I am a lazy-assed composter.  We collect our daily food waste from the kitchen in a little plastic container. When it is full or when somebody thinks of it (that somebody is always me) then it gets carried out to the compost bin. In the meantime, it sits on the counter and is rather disgusting if you don’t keep after it. I sort of wish we had an enclosed back porch where this interim collection container could be, but we don’t, so you have to keep after that.

Every few days I walk it out to the side of the house and dump it into the bin.  Upon opening it up, clouds of these teeny little tiny flying things come rising up out of it.  Periodically I will add grass clippings from the lawn, or leaves; windfall apples from our tree or weeds from the garden. But I have no desire to go out there and be turning over that smelly stuff  in order for it to properly ferment and break down.  I am very disappointed in myself in that regard, but really, I was hoping for something where you load it in on top and it filters down to powdered black gold at the bottom, right?  In a way, I think having chickens eat those scraps and laying some eggs instead might be nicer. That said, I am still impressed that you can put so much stuff in there and that it breaks down to so little.

We have had the bin for over a year.  This past spring was the first time I actually used the results.  I opened the bottom door and I had to sort of hack out the earth from within with a garden spade.  It was pretty impressive though – it had really turned into rich, black, if somewhat clingy earth.  There were a few things I noticed which did not break down though.  Egg shells, avocado skins and avocado pits remained essentially intact.  I expected the shells to break down, so that was a surprise.  Every once in a while there was a stick or small branch, I guess left over from raking up the yard last year.   As always, even with all this rich earth, weather conditions played a big part on how things grew or didn’t grow in the garden. But it works. It makes sense. There is a satisfaction to watching it happen, of waste turn into something of value, contributing to the process, the science of it.  OK, this is no Rodale situation I have going here, but it’s been incredibly satisfying to work with a little bit of Whole Earth of my own making.

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Taking the Birthday Week

It was the first birthday after a potentially life threatening and definitely life-altering illness, where the concept and approach to birthdays changed. I was never one for making a big deal about my birthday.  I think I was maybe eight years old at the last birthday party my mom threw for me, if that.  I did not have a “sweet sixteen” or a “twenty-one” party, or any significant party to mark each milestone decade.  It’s just not me.  I actually get embarrassed by that kind of recognition.

My birthday usually meant going to work, going home, maybe out to dinner if the birthday happened to fall on a weekend. It meant still doing the dishes and cleaning the bathroom.  Some of my past relationships might have diligently come up with a gift, others would not. A core of good girlfriends and sisters usually could be counted on to acknowledge it in some way.  There would be precious hand-made cards from the kids.  But essentially it was just another day.  The justification for this was that birthdays are for children, and it seems maybe sometimes for other people. I struggled with almost feeling it was too much of an ego thing to make much over a birthday.  Sometimes in the past I might have even felt just the tiniest bit blue about this.

But then I got sick.  During that time of diagnosis, treatment and recovery, I thought a lot about my own mortality.  And the next time my birthday came around, something had changed.  I was so incredibly grateful to be seeing another birthday, to mark another year.  Everything was crystal sharp and beautiful. That milestone became a magical wonder unto itself, a joyous inner celebration.  I realized that it doesn’t even have to just happen on that exact day. While it is lovely if others want to recognize it,  it is really about how I decided to savor it. I learned that I need to really learn to love myself and not depend on anyone else to do that for me – to not depend on external events to set my mood.  And I’ve been around long enough now to feel it warrants making that little celebration last for about a week.

I started sharing this concept with my fellow patients and friends and in certain web groups over ten years ago, and it has pretty much taken off  like wildfire among us since.  As a matter of fact, it seems to have gone somewhat viral in its own right. I don’t know if it was just one of those collective idea phenomenons, a sort of flash mob of people who all of a sudden decided to take the birthday week, or if I actually was a small catalyst in it… it’s possible! I now see many people mentioning taking a birthday week.  Either way, it’s a good thing to do.

As a matter of fact, this has sort of morphed into having its own set of rules…..or at least My Rules.  I mean, you are free to celebrate anything you want however you want.  There are people who will tell you to Celebrate Life every single day and yes, that’s true.  But on some level I think one should earn entitlement to the birthday week by some set of criteria, something that marks the fact that You Have Arrived. 

If you don’t have a life-threatening or life-altering illness as reason enough to indulge, I think turning age fifty warrants being around long enough and having gone through enough hell fire to deserve taking The Birthday Week.  You have just graduated into the next half of the century and it’s time to really acknowledge this, and acknowledge this every single year after hitting the Big Five-Oh.  Just my opinion.  And you can start The Birthday Week any time where your birthday falls in it.  You can start it on the very day of your birthday, or start it the week before and work up to it ending it on your birthday, or let it begin and end anywhere in between. I have done it in all different variations.

Now….the way you take the week is to do something especially gratifying each day for a whole week, no matter how small. ( Not that you can’t or shouldn’t do something gratifying every day of your life anyway, but during The Birthday Week you really focus on that).  Focusing, savoring and appreciating is the key.  In a way it is almost an exercise in getting centered. I will tell you how I spent some of mine this year.

I decided to start my birthday week four days before the actual birthday.  I chose this because we were in for a stretch of incredibly lovely weather and I wanted to start on a beautiful day.

Day One was a crystal clear morning promising to be “one of the ten best”.  I got up for work, got in my car, sat in the driveway with the engine running…..and realized I just had to take the day off.  So I called out. Very accommodating boss.  I changed into my jeans, mowed the lawn, transplanted some plants in my garden, and then went out and bought myself a new garden spade.  Then I gardened with a friend in the afternoon.  That evening I hula hooped.  And after that to a movie.  I was exhausted but had a lovely, full day, just doing what I like.

On Day Two meant going back to work.  At lunch time I strolled the walkway bridge across the river.  The river was like glass and the clear blue sky so sharp that the sky became the major gift of the day.  Lunch was a portobello mushroom panini with pesto mayonnaise.  It was so delicious that it was another gift.  I stopped on the way home and picked up a couple of soft shell crabs for dinner.  I love soft shell crabs. And my favorite mango bean salsa.  And….the real indulgence…..a sheep’s milk cheese shot through with truffles. When I got home, there were two gift books on gardening from my sister-in-law waiting in the mail for me.  How good is that? This was a very overindulgent day.

Then it was the weekend. Days three through seven were filled with little and bigger indulgences throughout.  One day it was just savoring a small container of sweet raspberries.  Putting everything aside to just lie in bed and curl up with a good novel.  Visiting a new friend. A walk and a little celebrating with an old friend.  Seeing my children.  Talking to my siblings.  Browsing the garden center and dreaming about the upcoming plants and seeds. A tasty meal in a local restaurant with the SO on the actual birth date. The big indulgence of the week (actually, the season) was the gift of a pair of coveted red cowgirl boots from my sister (I am addicted to cowgirl boots, my total inner child comes out when I wear them).   And there was chocolate, of course.

The Birthday Week finally came to its end with a lovely massage, which is something that has been built into the routine now, a totally holistic approach.  I felt incredibly spoiled and special, recharged and empowered.  Actually,  this year a number of lovely gifts came my way from people I care about, which just enhanced upon the simplicity of the birthday week.  In the past there have been birthday weeks that comprised no cost or effort at all – lovely, free pleasures to recharge the soul and celebrate oneself.  If it rains during the birthday week, you snuggle up in bed with a book and cup of cocoa – or dance in it.

Taking responsibility to commemorate living in this wondrous, beautiful world has been a step to some positive inner work…..it is a miracle we are here.  Celebrate!

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The Light Has Changed

The light has changed.  There is a perceptible glow that heralds the arrival of Autumn.  It is moody and wistful, filled with wishes, yearnings and memories.  The sky becomes an achingly beautiful blue, or a moody, layered steel, or glows.  Wind.  Golds and reds. A hint of smoke and apples, rolls of hay in mown fields. The nights are cool and have been great for sleeping, for dreams.

During the last few waves of summer humidity this past month, before the heat of the day began, I spent one sweet morning harvesting cherry tomatoes, the whine of cicadas charging the air.   As I reached for the ripest ones, my face pressed into the jungle of foliage – creating a sanctuary of sorts – it allowed the mind to fly a thousand miles away, yet remain remarkably present at the same time.  The meditation of gardening.

The mornings are crisp now, with warm afternoon sun.  Harvest is upon us, the year is spinning out and winding down.  Which brings me to My Kale.  I only grew a few kale plants this year, but they have yielded a tender, tasty, ongoing crop. I pluck a few leaves off daily and prepare it to last during the week. I have gotten into eating kale raw, with little embellishment.  A few people have offered me their kale recipes to try and it has been fun and all good, but I find I keep referring back to this basic. It is so addicting (at least it is to me) that I am gravitating back and forth to open the container and have yet another piece. Here it is, without measurements, as it changes a little each time:

Basic Raw Kale Recipe

-Take a few leaves of kale, chop it into bite-size pieces and put it in a bowl.

– Use a good-tasting olive oil and massage it into the leaves. You need to use your hands for this.  You are literally going to squish the leaves full of oil.  It’s messy, but the kale needs to absorb the oil in this way, so just get into it. You will notice the volume of kale in the bowl will be much reduced after you do this.

– Add a very small amount of vinegar to the kale. I like to use cider vinegar.

– Mix in some lemon juice to taste over the oiled & vinegared kale.

– Sprinkle with sea salt.

That’s it.  I like to throw some of those aforementioned very ripe garden fresh cherry tomatoes on top of it and add a few Greek or Moroccan olives.  Put that in a container and snack on it throughout the day.  Knowing it’s healthy for you  makes you feel like you are doing something good for your body (calcium, iron, vitamin A, C & K, antioxidents, potassium!).

It tastes of the last days of Summer, the beginning of Fall, a connection to earth’s bounty.

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A Brief Tour of This Saturday’s Market

This Saturday I met a friend for iced chai and a cheddar/chive muffin, and then took a stroll down the street to our local Farmer’s Market.  As always, the beauty of the harvest made my pulse quicken.  For those who get excited by this sort of thing, I want to share…

The zucchini and summer squash are glowing autumn colors….

I wonder, do children even know what a real carrot looks like anymore, pulled out of the ground and so sweet?

Rich eggplant…..

And dark, tart/sweet purple berries in turquoise cartons…..

The flower lady displays her bounty like a Renoir…..

I stopped by the Bee Man to look at his bees.  The waxy, dripping honey comb reminds me of being small and what a treat this was (and still is)….

Tri-color fingerling potatoes warm from the earth….

Shiny peppers bursting with flavor…

Mother Earth gives up it’s bounty to the farmer…….the beauty of root crops…

Golden sunflowers to warm the soul…..

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Hudah Moths

There was a time we had a long-term house guest named Hudah (pronounced Hoo-da) – a nickname, but the only name I have ever called him by.  He was fastidious about his health, exercising regularly, consumed natural grains and vitamins.  When he moved in, even though it was temporary, he brought his NordicTrack exercise machine, which he parked in the middle of the living room, and an abundance of his favorite healthy foods and grains in bulk from the local health food store.

Eventually he moved out and on to other adventures.  About a month after his departure, we started to notice these little brown and gray moths flitting about the house.  At first it was just one or two, and nobody really paid them any mind because we lived in the country, where some thing or another was always climbing, crawling or flying about at any given time.  But soon they were fluttering all over the kitchen.  Whenever you opened a cabinet, a few would come out and land on the counter.  This prompted some thorough investigation.

Finally,  the culprit was discovered – apparently Hudah had left us a gift.  It was a bag of grain from the health food store that he had left behind, shoved way in the back in the dark of the cabinet.  The food in the bag was clumped together, covered with silk stringy stuff and filled with little worms and larvae.  Yuck. Tiny holes had been chewed right through the plastic by tiny little moth and worm mouths.  He had brought pests into the house.  And from there they had gotten into anything that was not in a jar.  In his honor and for lack of a name at the time, they were dubbed Hudah Moths.  A campaign to eradicate them was begun in earnest.

The Hudah Moth is actually more commonly known as a pantry moth, flour moth or grain moth because it tends to infest cereals, flour, nuts, dried fruits and grains.  It will also infest dog food, coffee, and your stash of chocolate. Chocolate (!!!) Right there, you can see how serious a situation this could become.  My good friend E. enlightened me to the fact that, officially, the Hudah Moth is called an Indian Meal Moth (Plodia interpunctella).  Depending on the temperature, their life cycle can last anywhere from a month to a year.  The good thing is that they do not harbor any diseases, so if you had accidently ingested some Hudah Moth, there really were no dire consequences attached to it (besides the Yuck Factor). Apparently they are not an uncommon problem.  The more people I mention them to, the more I hear “Oh yeah, we had those“.

Locating the source is the best way to eradicate them.  If you go through every single box and bag and throw out anything that indicates they are taking up residence there, there is a good chance you will be able to get rid of them.  It means cleaning out the cabinets thoroughly, vacuuming, wiping, and then keeping vigilant.  They do make hormone traps to catch the males, in addition to pest sprays, but I really didn’t want to have to go that route.

The Hudah Moth problem was swiftly dealt with. Over the years I have only encountered them one other time when they hitched a ride from our local health food store in a bag of organic brown rice and I was able to get rid of them before they became prolific.

Until this week. They are back.  I am kicking myself for not putting some of my favorite things, like the wonderful apple tea I brought from Istanbul, into glass jars.  The remainder of my tea has been ruined.  This time I believe they hitched in on a bag of sunflower seeds.  They managed to infest a number of items in the cabinets.  If these Hudah Moths think they are going to winter over in my kitchen, they are in for a surprise. I waged war on them this week.  So far, looking good……..

Posted in Uncategorized, Wildlife | Tagged , , , , | 5 Comments

I Was Just Singing…..

I was driving north, singing with the car radio and wearing my new funky red & white printed giraffe pattern sunglasses. It had been a pretty good weekend, resulting in the Monday morning commute being a lot less somber than it could have been.  The cooler, crisper air at night has made for comfortable sleeping, with a hint of Autumn in the air.  The sun was shining and I felt ready to face the week.  I got into the groove of the flow of traffic and headed towards the bridge. Life was good.

Suddenly I see a large black Chevy SUV in the southbound lane, seemingly out of control. It went barreling into the grass depression in the center median, made a big dip, a wobbly U-turn and swerved onto the pavement of the northbound lane, almost hitting another car in the process.  By now I could see it in my rear view mirror and I was determined to stay as far away from this maniac as possible.  Really, where is a cop when you need one?

Behind me, so it seems.  He turned his flashing red and blue lights on.  I moved over to let him pass.  But it is me that he is after.  Me? I pull over.  Bummer.

He’s a tall, thin, somber guy with a prominent Adam’s apple and a wispy moustache.  As I handed him my information, I said “Sorry.  I was just singing.”  You know how it is, sometimes when you are singing in the car, your foot goes down a little more and you go a little faster with the music? But even with that, I know I was not going that fast.  I wondered if he had pulled the wrong person over….but I wasn’t going to say anything else.

Well, he did not smile at all. Very bad sign. As he walked back to his car to run my information through his computer, I realized I was still wearing my giraffe sunglasses.  I had thought they were rather cool when I put them on, but glancing in the rear view mirror to watch him, I caught my reflection….in this situation I suddenly morphed into looking more like a wacko. Funny how that can happen. I quickly pulled them off, alas, a bit too late.

He handed me my ticket. It was for a lot faster than I thought I was going – a lot faster than I ever go on that particular road, every single day.  In my car there are only a few lines between each ten-mile increment. It’s almost impossible to accurately gauge your speed on that dial, but I know what my usual speed is, and I know it is never this….. except that I had been singing….

He recommended I show up for traffic court….. guess I’m going.  It certainly changed the feel of the morning. Not the best way to start the week, not at all…..

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OK, maybe the Feeling of Displacement has something to do with it and maybe it’s not that either.  I think most of us have done a couple of space-out things like getting dressed in the low light of morning and putting on two different socks without realizing it…. or arrived at a public venue only to discover our shirt was inside out.  Right? Right?  Not the worst thing in the world, really…..

Today I had a couple of meetings and was interviewing someone for a position at work.  While standing in the hallway speaking to a few of the Directors about the fire that had recently occurred in our office, I casually glanced down and suddenly noticed that I was wearing two different colored sandals, one brown and one black.  They happen to be the same style because usually when I find something I like, I stick with it.  The brown ones are a few years old and the black ones were bought the following summer.  They were lying on the floor in a pile this morning when I got dressed. And I’ve been sort of scattered as of late.  Upon discovering this faux pas, I started laughing.  Out loud, to nobody.  Maybe a little bit crazily.

So I decided to get the edge on it and point it out to a few people first before they noticed themselves, providing them with “the first chuckle of the day”, lest it be assumed I was trying to make some kind of a fashion statement.  I mean, personally I don’t see anything wrong with wearing two different colored shoes, but I acknowledge this is not normal office attire.

The fact is, none of the men had noticed. Even when I pointed the difference out, they still couldn’t see it.  Brown. Black.  Black. Brown.  Nothing. Is that a guy thing? And a female coworker even exclaimed, “Oh! Purple nail polish!” (Ironically, the nail polish is something I had also applied haphazardly early one morning in low light – I had thought it was red until I got outside.  And I missed the nails and painted my toes in a few places.  Is this how the descent to craziness begins, those wacky old ladies with their eyebrows painted onto the top of their foreheads?).  So even though nobody noticed or cared,  I now knew.  Although it really didn’t matter, I walked around in my mismatched shoes all day feeling somewhat discombobulated.  Occasionally I would look down and laugh some more.

However, two different people reminded me that I had another pair just like it at home……

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Our office building caught fire.  While we were in it.

It seems events leading up to the moment of ignition had been occurring for a few hours, as there had been an electric-like odor in the copy room that morning.  Staff thought it was a dirty air-conditioner filter and changed it.  It wasn’t the air-conditioner though.  Apparently a small vent fan in the ceiling shorted out and dropped some sparks onto the paper supplies in a closet.  After the building finally ignited, it all began moving pretty fast.

Our secretary had walked into the copy room and noticed a glow emanating from under the closet door where the office supplies were kept.  No alarms had been triggered by the smoke detectors, so she pulled the fire alarm box on the wall and yelled out “This one is for real”.  Kudos to her quick thinking.  Amidst blaring alarm horns, a very strong electrical odor suddenly filled the building. There was a loud pop and the power went off.

Feeling a tiny bit smug because I remembered to grab my purse and cell phone, I headed out the front door and made a direct call to 911 to follow up on the alarm.  Once outside, staff frantically began moving their cars away from the building. One woman was standing there lamenting that she had left her purse and phone inside.  I was so glad I had mine – until I reached into my purse for my car keys – only to realize I had left them on my desk in front of my computer screen.  My car, still fairly new, was parked right by the front door, right where the firemen had to be entering. With visions of them dragging hoses and axes across and through my vehicle, I turned to go back in and retrieve my keys, only to realize this would be foolish and impossible. Within a minute the building had filled with thick smoke.  There was no going back inside.

They say you should drop to the ground to evacuate a building filled with smoke, as smoke rises.  Of note, the fire chief mentioned that the heavy smoke in this building lay clear down to the floor.  It was rather impressive.  By now our paper supplies and the ceiling into the attic were in flames.   I did a mental head count of which staff were there.  Everyone had evacuated safely. Then I stood off to the side and anxiously watched the firemen in respirators go in and out of the building, throwing chunks of burning copy paper and sheet rock out into the parking lot and hosing it down….right next to my car.  To their credit, my car remained unscathed and eventually someone went in and retrieved my keys for me.

In the scheme of things, this was a no-big-deal fire.  Had it been a Sunday with no one around and not a Monday afternoon workday, the building probably would have burned down.  As it was, the flames damaged only a small portion of the building.  Most of the damage was from smoke, with the offices in the front of the building getting it the worst.  Since my office is directly across from the copy room, it served as a direct breezeway for the smoke to filter through towards the window.  Subsequently, everything in there was totally permeated.  Afterwards, when I went back in to retrieve a few items, just being there for a few minutes was enough to give you a head ache and left you smelling like last night’s campfire.

We have fire safety in-services at my place of employment and I have seen the videos of how quickly a piece of furniture can ignite, how a room can burst into flames, how a stove fire can engulf an entire kitchen in mere moments, about flashback.  Seeing how quickly our building was enveloped once the actual ignition occurred, I am humbled and awed. I have a new respect for fire, and feel deeply for those who have been touched and lost property (much less lives) in situations much worse.

So we are displaced.  Staff has been dispersed to different outposts and I am in a makeshift office in a building next door while we wait for insurance adjusters to assess, fire/smoke restoration teams to begin to clean up the building, and reconstruction from the damages to begin.  It is a slow process.  We don’t have access to our hard files at the moment.  Many staff are working out of their cars.  For the first few days we could only communicate by our own cell phones. After a few days, our IT department hooked us up with computers and an office phone again, but we are still walking around in a daze.

The workplace is home for a significant part of your waking life.  I have been at this job for a very long time, so I have a “work nest” in addition to a “home nest”.  Now that we are disrupted and displaced and the nest is gone, everything feels a bit off-kilter.  Achieving simple daily activities has become more challenging.  Staff are expressing that they are disoriented and stressed. We have had to become more resourceful and let some things go.  Lingering with the smoke, there is tinge of depression in the air.

In the meantime, it is expected that business will continue as usual.

Posted in Coping, Perspective, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

New Love

There is a static rush of energy when a new being comes into the world.  The air is charged, the room glows, molecules seem to rearrange themselves to make a place for the arrival. Everyone laughs. Everyone cries. Everyone’s heart feels as if it could easily shatter from an overabundance of elation and joy.  There is a bit of magic present – an angel has appeared.  When you hold them sleeping against your heart you can feel their aura, like a baby-drug that seeps right inside you to touch and calm your soul.

Twice now I have been blessed with the incredible gift of being present for the birth of a grandchild; each event as different as the births of my own two children were different – each as miraculous in their own way.  Each as precious and marvelous and fragile as new love.

Welcome, little boy.

my new grandson

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The Teal Gown

My oldest daughter, the Conventional Daughter, planned a Conventional Wedding.  It was not an outrageously extravagant wedding by some wedding standards, but it did included a wedding gown from a bridal salon, bridesmaids in matching sateen dresses, a caterer, candles everywhere, a photographer, a venue by the ocean.  Even though it was foreign to me and took me out of my own comfort zone, it was something she had dreamed about since she was a little girl.  I acknowledged that it was important to her.  And yes, I realize that many people who get married actually do these things.  But I am not a conventional type of mother and I did not have that type of experience myself; the whole process seemed overwhelming and provoked some anxiety for me.

My own “wedding” long ago had consisted of the highway department showing up just in time to plow us out of The Major Blizzard of the Decade, in order to make it to the Justice of the Peace in town, who performed the nuptials in his office in casual attire, wearing a plaid flannel shirt with needle-nose pliers sticking out of the pocket.  The bride matched the groom pretty much – corduroy pants and work boots in the snow. There was no family present. We had two witnesses there and that was all – one of which had his suitcase with all his clothes in it stolen while at the train station, where he was greatly delayed due to said storm.  I guess you could say we eloped. There were no photographs taken.   Although I look back on the moment with great fondness, I do wish I had worn a dress that day – just something a little more special, despite the weather; and I wish there was a picture of the actual event that I could have passed on to my children, besides one blurry picture our neighbor took of the newlyweds the following day, standing by a pile of firewood and a saw buck next to a snow drift.  I was glad my daughter was going to have her special day just the way she wanted it.

Fast forward –  there we are in the bridal salon with Daughter #1 (the Excited Bride), Daughter #2 (the Excited Maid of Honor), one of my sisters (the Excited Aunt), and me (the Reluctant Mother of the Bride).  After much zipping in and out of these “costumes” and some lively debate, they finally picked out their gowns for the Great Event.  As we were finally leaving the store, someone suddenly piped up, “What about a dress for YOU?”  Well, I had almost made it out of there undetected, but suddenly became the deer in the headlights.

Oh, no.  Noooo…no thank you.  These gowns are really not my thing.  I really am not interested in wearing a conventional Mother of the Bride dress.  It’s just not my style.  They are too expensive.  They are so Not Me.  But amidst cajoling and pleading from the family, the imploring look on Daughter #1’s face, and one rather pushy sales woman, they managed to squeeze me into a Conventional Mother of the Bride gown.  Everyone then gushed over How Beautiful it made me look, assuring that after it was altered to fit me perfectly, I would look much like the woman in the bride catalog (attractive, svelt, contemporary, young).  And so, in a moment of guilt and coercion, I agreed to it.  The sample dress I had tried on was a cocoa brown, but I chose a teal color swatch from their book, thinking that would go better with my own coloring. The gown was ordered.

A few weeks later we were back at the store to try on our dresses.  Daughter #1 in her understated, simple ivory dress with clean lines, which she would wear with red satin heels (so very her) looked cool and classy.  Daughter #2 was divine in dark red.  I put on my teal gown…..which was way shinier than I had anticipated…..and looked like….. a dolphin.

A big, shiny, teal dolphin.   It was stiff and uncomfortable, and terribly disheartening.  I felt like a dolphin out of water.  All I needed was a set of flippers to complete the ensemble.  I should have followed my instincts.  I tried fluffing my hair out to create a look.  I tried putting it up, where it sat in a frizzy twist like seaweed piled on top of the dolphin.   I took it home and bought a large silk scarf with rust and teal patterns on it to try and jazz it up – which made me look frumpy and aged.  I became distraught.  I began to obsess.  I did not want to wear this dress.

Two days before the event I decided I was not going to wear that dress to my daughter’s wedding. I ran out and bought something a bit less intense.   They would not accept a return on the gown. I was stuck with it.  Unfortunately, I made the same mistake again when it was time to do something with my untameable hair.  I allowed myself to be convinced into letting a conventional hair dresser put my hair in a conventional up-do, despite my reservations.  I ended up looking matronly and extremely uncomfortable at my daughter’s wedding.  When I see photos of myself from that day, I almost want to weep.  Thankfully, the day really was not about me, which is the only way to put it in perspective.  But I still get a sinking feeling when I see myself in her photo album.  It was a good lesson about being true to oneself.

The teal gown, unworn and in its clear plastic bag with the tags still on it, has been hanging in my closet for a few years now.  It had cost what I consider a ridiculous amount of money, even back then.  I once tried selling it at a consignment shop during prom season, with no takers.  I put it on Craigslist and got nothing but creepy solicitations.  Every time I open my closet, there it is, a stark reminder of my mistake, and of waste.

Last weekend I did something that had been penciled in on the bottom of my bucket list, something I had not experienced before.  I attended the 30th annual Mermaid Parade on Coney Island. I had never been to Coney Island, although I remember my mother speaking of the Coney Island of her childhood often, with great fondness and nostalgia.  I think now it is not much like the Coney Island she knew then, but I am glad I went, and I thought of her throughout the day.

The catalyst for going to the Mermaid Parade began with an invitation from a couple of very artistic and energetic friends – gypsy Mermaid Parade veterans –  all significantly younger than me and incredibly creative people.  Instead of watching the parade, they go to be in it.  It was a perfect opportunity to let my freak flag really fly.  Which I did.

I needed a costume.  I opened my closet….and there was the teal gown.  Its time had come.

Over the teal bodice I draped cheesecloth “seaweed” covered with crabs and star fish.  Bright red fingerless opera gloves dotted with multiple rows of finger cots for suckers (that looked like miniature condoms) adorned my arms (quite the hit!).  A headpiece of waving red sea snakes sat upon my Bozo hair.  Teal painted fingers and toes.  Sparkly blue lips, magenta eyelashes and a star burst painted on my forehead.  I looked like a drag queen.  It was just too perfect.

Riding the subway to Coney Island in our costumes, we danced to music blasting from someone’s boombox while drinking rum and coke.  More fun than a limousine party on the way to a reception.  I danced and waved my way down the boardwalk in my teal dress – like a seaside wedding aisle – amongst a sea of costumed jelly fish, octopus and mermaids.  Professional photographers and a multitude of tourists alike approached time and time again to ask if I would pose with them or with their children.  I don’t think I have ever had my picture taken more in my entire life.  What a trip!  I could not stop laughing at the irony of it all, how much fun I was having in that dress.

At the end, exhausted, dehydrated, exhilarated, this old lady’s energy ran down and it was time to call it a day.  The teal gown finally had its moment.  And so had I.

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Imposed Stillness

This morning I drove a little over an hour to get to the closest Major Medical Center in order to have an MRI done.  I arrived about a half hour before my scheduled appointment as instructed in order to fill out the paperwork.  I was given a ticket, as if in a delicatessen waiting for a sandwich.  It wasn’t even 9 am and already I was Number 21.  And then I waited to be called in.  And waited.  And waited.  I waited until every single person in the room had been called away, all the way up to Number 36. I read a little of the book I brought.  I sent frustrated text messages from my phone.  I did some people watching…..a patient who was brought in by two large corrections officers generated some attention.  He was in arm and leg shackles, in a neck brace, and was actually wearing a striped prison uniform like you see in cartoons.  Not an orange jumpsuit, but actual stripes.  They whisked him away into the back, away from everyone else.  I guess they felt it wasn’t good PR to have him sitting out in the waiting room.

I waited for two hours.  I got up a few times to inquire if they had called me and if I just hadn’t heard my name (since I can’t hear very well, that’s a reality).  But no, they hadn’t called me. After about an hour and a half I had a nice headache brewing and started to have fantasies of getting up and leaving. Suddenly standing up, I would stride over to the desk,  hand them my papers and say “Sorry, I was here on time for my appointment but it’s been hours now and I really can’t spend the entire day sitting here waiting.  I think I will get this done closer to home”.  But I didn’t do that.  Honestly, I don’t see why I couldn’t have had this MRI a lot closer to home.  Here I had to take a day off from work, drive over two hours total, and then sit and wait.  However, my doctor insisted that I get the imaging done at this medical center because they supposedly give her exactly what she ordered, and so here I was, stewing in my own mind.

Finally they called me in.  I know their tricks though.  You get called in from the Big Main Waiting room and then they stick you in Smaller Waiting Room Part Two, where you wait some more.  And that’s exactly what happened.  I read my book, ate some chocolate, fired off a few more aggravated phone texts and then got up to use the bathroom.  When I came back into the little waiting area, the prisoner and his escorts were sitting there.   We all sat together for a minute or so.  I really wanted to ask him what happened to his neck, but of course I just ducked behind my book and he didn’t look at me either.  Then the officers suddenly got up and took him out of there, presumably to another private area.  Again, probably a public relations issue.

A nurse finally came out for me and said I would need an IV for the contrast dye.  I was pleased that when I told her which arm to use and which vein to hit, she actually listened to me, making this a non-event.  Then I was told to go back to the little waiting room and wait some more.  A couple of more phone texts and then finally I was moved on to the room with the MRI machine.

I am no stranger to magnetic resonance imaging.  I  have had my brain, my neck, my spine and my shoulder all imaged for different reasons, ranging from hearing loss to accident.  My trick for tolerating the ongoing loud hammering is to transcribe it into drumming, and make up songs to go along with the drumming.  This has been a very effective strategy, which I highly recommend to anybody who has to have and MRI and can’t stand the repetitive noise.  Turn it into a song, pretend to drum along to it.

In this way the claustrophobic feeling can be averted.  Even though the tube is open-ended, you are still in there as in a coffin, and it is a close fit.  I am not an especially big person, but my left shoulder was right up against the side of the machine.  I don’t know how really large people deal with that.  I asked the tech about it.  He told me they have squeezed some really big people into that tube, so that the machine is touching them on all sides rather tightly.  Not sure how I would feel about that.

What was different this time was that the air conditioning blowing through was extremely cold and windy.  It is always very cold in those imaging rooms, but in this place there was a pretty steady wind blowing.  Also, my left upper arm kept heating up and cooling off. I wondered if my cells were cooking in there.  It was definitely weird. Oddly enough, and thankfully, the headache had gone away.

So, there I was, and I got into The Zone.  With the blankets pulled up to my neck and the drumming in my head,  I closed my eyes and tried to forget that I was strapped into this big, scary machine.  It went on for over an hour.  I spaced out and came back and spaced out again.

When it was over, I checked the time and discovered this whole ordeal had taken four hours from arrival to departure, not counting the travel time, which would make that six. Navigated my way through the maze of hospital corridors to the parking garage, where it was 100 degrees outside….. then set my new birthday present GPS towards home to Get Out of Dodge.   It sent me through kind of a strange maze of streets, but finally I was out on the highway, where a strange calm began to settle in. With great surprise, I discovered that I felt thoroughly and amazingly rested, as if I had taken a long nap.  And I realized why that was.

That last hour and a half was enforced down time.  I was not able to read, watch television, talk on the phone, be on the computer, listen to music, write, draw, socialize, clean, cook, look out the window.  There was nothing to do but close my eyes and focus on the within (albeit with hammering/drumming), and be still.  An enforced meditation of sorts.  Imposed stillness.  It made me realize that not all leisure time is necessarily relaxing time……and that in a way, this lemon had become lemonade……something to consider……..

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