Thursday, April 30, 2009

Further Adventures In Measuring

Conversation on the way home from working out today:

Me: I was going 178 steps a minute during the intervals! That’s a lot of steps per second!

She: Yeah, about 50, right?

Me: Heaven help us.

She: I oughta get a job at Home Depot. Everybody’s windows would be mismatched, decks would be either be 3x3 feet or taller than the house, contractors would quit in disgust, Home Depot would go out of business….then I’d write a book titled How To Be A Math Genius, by Sheila.

Me: This is going in my blog.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Missing LA

la skyline

We saw a wonderful movie, The Soloist, the other night. I demand that you see it, too. The performances by Jamie Foxx and Robert Downey Jr. are not to be missed. It’s a true story, based on newspaper columns about a homeless musician by LA Times columnist Steve Lopez. And like so many true stories, especially true stories set in Los Angeles, it is indeed stranger than fiction, and ugly and piercingly beautiful at the same time.

I didn’t grow up in Southern California, and probably only drove through there once with my parents on the way to Texas, back in the 50’s. I remembered the palm trees, the riot of color in flowers, plants, and stucco, and the Hollywood Hills where we stopped and visited cousins. I didn’t see it again until 1963, when I visited the 18 year old college boyfriend who would later become my husband. We went to Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, matching our hands with the sidewalks prints of the stars, and Disneyland. Bob’s parents lived in San Marino, home of the John Birch Society and rich people who weren’t movie stars. They had a Thunderbird. That was class.

When Bob and I married in the Summer of 1967, I moved to LA and began a close but uneasy relationship with the city that was to last the better part of 30 years. The marriage, also uneasy, did not last, so it was the City itself that remained a part of my life. I met She in the “Greater Los Angeles Area” as the multitude of cities that run together for hundreds of square miles are called. And we moved from there to Mexico in 1998.

Until I saw the opening scene of The Soloist, I wasn’t aware that I love LA. In fact, I would have laughingly denied such a thing, maybe even snorted in disgust, and millions of others would understand why I always considered it to be a place I lived because I had to, not because I chose to. But I looked at that iconic shot of the LA skyline, and I realized that the City was like a close but somewhat obnoxious and irritating relative that I never realized I loved or missed until it was too late.  I do love LA. I even miss it. It’s inextricable from the story of my life, and it’s inextricable from the story of this country.

Somehow I always felt that LA was a living being, breathing in and out (never mind the smog), the mountains and the hills, the Pacific Ocean and the freeways and the swimming pools and the Santa Ana winds and the millions of lights all a part of that living, breathing thing, and that all of our lives were acted out on millions of little stages. I have been as lonely there as the last person on earth, standing at the edge of the continent; and I have been as happy there as someone blessed and kissed by God and sent out to play in the sun.

Bob and I lived, for a week, in his bachelor apartment down the street from the Ambassador Hotel, where Bobby Kennedy was assassinated the following year. (Martin Luther King was assassinated that year, too. The principal at the school where I was teaching would not agree to lower the flag to half staff.) 

Like many other Angelenos who are not at all wealthy themselves, I have spent a lot of time in fabulous homes with fabulous views and incredible art work and electric gates, and have never been envious because the people who owned them were just like me except with money and maybe not as happy.

I was there for several major earthquakes, and each time I wanted to move that day and never come back.

My skin has tanned next to countless swimming pools all over the Southland, while I read a book to the background music of The Beach Boys.

I’ve sat under a full moon on a warm night and listened to some of the world’s greatest music at the Hollywood Bowl and the Greek Theatre.

I’ve known LA characters with strange lives and storytellers and musicians who would blow your socks off with crying and laughing and loving.

The night my daughter was born, I leaned against the car in the hospital’s parking lot and looked up at the moon and all the stars in the bright October sky.  Even today, we say “Love you past the moon, and the stars and all the planets.”

I’ve spent Sunday afternoons in the patio of a crumbling old Mexican restaurant with a group of gay women, drinking margaritas and listening to a “girl” band composed of women in their 70’s and 80’s.

I’ve worked in the middle of Hollywood, the beginning of Beverly Hills, and the beach, driving by just-shot-to-death bodies on my way to the bank at noon, fleeing from major riots, getting stalled on the freeway at rush hour because of bomb threats and police car chases and horrible car crashes and nothing at all.

I drove past the LA County Jail every single morning while OJ Simpson was incarcerated there, and gave him the bird each time.

I’ve awakened in the middle of the night and not known why until I realized it was because of the  deafening silence when the nearby freeway was shut down due to a major accident.

I’ve raised roses and wisteria and hibiscus and geraniums just by sticking them in the ground.

I’ve lived alone with my young daughter in the same neighborhood where the Night Stalker roamed, and slept with the windows open anyway because it was so hot. 

I’ve lived on the beach and just blocks from the beach in LA, and sometimes I wish I still did.  But only if I could have what I have in my life right now, and life would never change and it would always be precious, and the sun would always set blood red above dark blue waves and wet hard sand, and the land and the mountains and the sea and the stars and the freeways and all the millions of people would breathe in and out.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

23 Years

On this day 23 years ago, She and I decided that we wanted to be together for the rest of our lives.  (Secretly, She gave it 3 months.  I, on the other hand, was doing an extremely rare thing for me and living only in the moment.)  Despite each of us having said “I give up!” dozens of times (hundreds?) in the past 23 years, accompanied by stomping off in a huff or even the occasional door slam, neither of us ever has actually given up.  We’re still on the same road, and it always leads us home.

In celebration of this day, I tried mightily to embed a video from YouTube with a very charming song called First Day of My Life.  Couldn’t even copy and paste the URL.  I followed every direction, but no go.  You can see it yourself at

My favorite lines are:

Yours is the first face that I saw.  Thought I was blind until I met you. 


Monday, April 20, 2009

Foot, Schmutt

We survived our first week in the fitness program, and enjoyed it. I look forward to the exercise. Did I just say that? Yes, I look forward to it. We have even used stability balls to do squats, and they didn’t come flying out from behind our backs and let us fall and break body parts, like I thought they would. Both of us have lost five pounds and feel positively agile.

I haven’t been blogging, because we seem to be fixing something to eat (every three hours), writing down what we ate and how many calories and carbs it was, or cleaning up the kitchen (again). Nah, it really isn’t that bad, but it does keep us busy. We did cheat a little bit, carb-wise, when we went out for my birthday dinner, because we each ate three and a half miniscule round slices of French bread. And we may have eaten two chocolate truffles that the chef put in a gold box as a birthday gift. But She, who is notoriously clueless when it comes to measuring things, emailed a friend that we had eaten a “foot long” loaf of bread. To her, there’s no discernible difference between five or six inches and a “foot.” This is why I watch her like a hawk whenever she starts describing something to anyone. Once, she measured a kitchen window for a screen (this was many years ago, before I knew enough to stop her). When the custom-made screen was ready, it turned out to be one-fourth the size of the window. And I am not kidding. 

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Change Up

Sharon at 5

April, 1949 

I’m going to be 65 on Saturday. Already, I’m in the post-Paul McCartney’s When I’m 64 period of my life. How did this happen? That’s the universal question from those of us lucky enough to have reached 60 and over in this world. I’ll bet it’s asked in every single language.

Well, enough of that. The whole point is, I’m looking at the short end of the stick, and it’s become clear that “now or never” has never been truer. So I’m doing something about a couple of important things, like physical and spiritual health. She is my partner in the physical health arena. We’ve signed up for a 10 week “Make It Personal” session at the Zacharias-Ganey Health Institute here in town, and this is our first week. The program combines weight loss management with exercise, and they’ve had some outstanding successes, even with people in much deeper doodoo than She and I are. I can already tell you the secret of their success. The physician who runs it and the staff of personal trainers are with you, adaptations are made to fit your situation, you’re part of a group that signed up at the same time you did, you all exercise and weight manage together, and cheer each other on. It’s very structured, and yet friendly and personal, and not in some phony, false-cheery way. I love our group’s trainer: “If you hurt yourself, I’ll kill you.” “If you’re late, I’ll skin you.” “No jut butting!” (The latter refers to the wrong kind of posture while lifting weights.)

Having said that, I can tell you that for this first week we are on kind of a detox program from our high-carb way of life, and it’s not all fun and games. We are supposed to eat 5 small meals a day, of approximately 300 calories each and (here’s the kicker) no more than 25 carbs each. (Apparently we are going to be able to eat more carbs after this first week.) (We pray that this is so.) This week’s eating plan is supposed to get rid of our cravings. Not yet, folks. Not yet. And if we were doing this alone, both of us would have quit already. But we’re together, we’re doing it for the same reasons, and we ain’t quittin’.

For one thing, we’re investing a lot of money in the program. I wasn’t going to do it at all, due to the expense, and then I realized that we spent $400.00 just having a new toilet put in recently. And we had the kitchen painted, and the carpeting taken up. We pay a guy to take care of the grass and shrubs. We justify spending money on the house because the house is an investment. Hello??? Time to spend money on getting and keeping ourselves ambulatory for the final stretch. We have not been doing too well on our own.  I have severe osteoarthritis and a titanium hip.  Strangely enough,  60-70 extra pounds caused by eating like a pig and not exercising does not help alleviate pain or allow for much mobility.

As for spiritual health, one of the events I recall is my confirmation as an Episcopalian, 50 years ago. I chose that particular church on my own; my parents were not churchgoers and both disavowed the existence of God, although in retrospect I think both would have loved to have been talked into it. I have been on a serious spiritual journey my entire life, enhanced by reading and prayer, but a big chunk of it has not been spent going to the Episcopal Church, or any other. Oh, for awhile I thought I was a Unitarian, and I’ve explored Judaism, but most of the time I’ve stayed home on the Sabbath. Occasional forays back into organized religion have all fizzled out, mostly due to the “organized” part. However, those of you who read my blog know that I have been a rather steady attendee for the last year or so at the Celtic service at the Episcopal Church. And the other night on my way in to the service, I signed up for the Inquirer’s Class before I had a chance to talk myself out of it, much like the time I got my ears pierced when I was 30.

The class is for those who are already confirmed Episcopalians as well as those who are not. Our first class was last night. It was interesting and I felt comfortable there. That’s all I know right now. Well, actually, I know a lot more than that right now, but I’m not ready to articulate and share. For one thing, I don’t have enough calories and carbs on board right now to be articulate. I just know that I need to get my spirit healthy right along with my body. And for me, that might require some organization. 

Thursday, April 9, 2009

On The Walls

Herself has been nagging at me to document our art work with the camera, and I’ve been saying “Yep, yep, I will.” For posterity, so to speak, I plan to post at least some of it here from time to time.

This is a favorite of mine, and is hanging above the computer desk, where I spend a lot of time. It’s called Waiting At The Window For You, and the artist is Neil H. Cronk, an Austin, Texas painter who spends part of his time in Mexico. We purchased this is Ajijic, Mexico about 10 years ago, when we were living there. The red chair, either overstuffed like this one or straight-backed, occurs often in Cronk’s work, along with at least one black crow, and always the melding of reality and the imagination. In Waiting, you can see the extension of the lake, mountains, and trees outside the window. I love this because it’s kind of my ideal place: a soft chair to read in, water to gaze at, a breeze coming in the window, and even a plate of food! And there’s someone to wait for. That’s such a gift.

We have two other Cronks. These are colored pencil drawings, and again there’s the red chair, and the merger of the outdoors and the indoors. The crows appear in one of the drawings, and the other has a religious theme that appears often in Mr. Cronk's art. I’m sorry that these drawings don't show up well in the photograph, because of the glass in their frames. But you get the idea.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Rhymes With Orange

I laughed out loud over this today. It could be Billy and Miss T. It could even be She and me! I hope you have Rhymes With Orange in your newspaper. It makes me helpless.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Tuesday Top Ten

A much better Tuesday than last week’s:

I can see! My new glasses were ready, the first new pair since before October 2007 when the retina in my right eye detached. Seeing became less of a chore the second I put them on, and the new frames look better on my face.

Joey came by early to give us an estimate on power washing the house. There is mold on the brick in a number of places on three sides. Joey has clear blue eyes, is kind to old ladies, and doesn’t charge an arm and a leg. Also, it seems he “does everything,” so we may have found another gem.

Screwed up my courage and went to a podiatrist this morning to have the ingrown nail fixed on my big toe. The toe was tender and inflamed, but I kept putting off going until the pain won out. It’s fixed! The doctor really didn’t hurt me at all, and the relief was immediate. I think I had pictured total amputation without an anesthetic.

Mary Oliver has published a new collection of poetry called Evidence, I was informed via e-mail from Barnes & Noble. Two hours later, I had a copy in my hand. Just a little advance birthday present to myself. I will savor it. Mary, you are such a wonder.

Unbeknownst to us, the lawn guys left the gate open and Pancho wasn’t in the back yard when we went to let him in the house 5 minutes after his afternoon meal. Hearts in throats, we went racing to the front door to prepare to scour the neighborhood, and there he was on the porch, prancing around and praising himself for being such a good dog.

She has made her famous lemon cheesecake. I prefer it above all others, and hers is so simple. We will have it after leftover pulled pork cooked with Spanish rice and black beans tonight.

I am presently drinking a glass of Coastal Merlot from Trader Joe’s. Not bad at all.

Miss T had her usual nap next to me this afternoon (perfect time for a nap—cold, dark, and windy) on her purple pillow. For some reason, Miss T and I established several years ago that when it’s nap time together, and at no other time, I arrange a certain purple pillow next to my head, and that’s her place. She knows the words “nap” and “purple pillow” as well as her own name.

Marsha has invited us to a Passover Seder at her house on Saturday. They are Reform Jews, so she says the Seder is “short, sweet, and to the point.” We’ve never been to a Seder and we love Marsha and her husband Tony, so we are delighted. I also loved the fact that I asked what we could bring, and she told me: deviled eggs. It’s fun being included like that.

The bunnies are out!

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Palm Sunday

The first words I heard this morning, from a sound sleep, were “Boppy, I need you to help me. I’ve opened a vein.” Her voice was coming from the bathroom. Moving as fast as a fat person with arthritis can move (not very), I made it down the hall and opened the door to see She holding on to her ankle with a very bloody cloth, and large puddles of blood all around her, soaking the bathmat, stretching across the tile floor. I tried to follow her orders and listen to what had happened at the same time, all the while blind without my glasses, in a state of shock, and desperately needing to pee.

“I was drying off and heard a noise; I thought it was a bug.” “No, I’ll keep pressure on it. Hand me a bandage from that box on the top shelf.” “It made a sound like a whine.” “No, that’s the tape. Open that package.” “I looked around and down and saw the blood.” “OK, now the tape.” “I couldn’t figure out where it was coming from until I saw it spurting like a broken hose from my foot.”

About this time, the heat, steam, blood and shock in the room started to hit me and I said, “I need some air. It’s so hot.” Black dots ran in front of my eyes and I knew my hair was soaked with sweat. “Dammit, you have to talk about the heat right now?” We have an ongoing battle about heat versus air. She was not grasping that soon I would lying in an unconscious heap in a pool of her blood. It vaguely crossed my mind that the police would have a time trying to figure this one out. I flung up the window and stuck my head out, handing her the scissors and some more pressure bandages. Blood had soaked through the first one. Then I managed to help her wind an Ace bandage around her ankle to keep everything together.

I wanted to call 911, but She wouldn’t let me. The blood did not appear to be soaking through the Ace. We need to think what to do, we agreed. By now, we realized that a varicose vein on her foot had formed near the surface of the skin and then burst. Because she is on blood thinners for her heart, the vein was pouring out blood in a brisk and unstoppable fashion.

Ultimately, we got to the ER up the street before it started getting crowded. People were either still asleep or getting ready to go to church on Palm Sunday. My own church was going to have a live donkey in the procession.

When the doctor removed our homemade bandage, the vein started arcing blood again. His calm and collected demeanor was reassuring, and he and She got to telling doctor/nurse stories while he ligated the vein and sutured her. We were all amused in a kind of relieved way and joked with him when he tripped over the “Wet Floor” sign at the door of the treatment room on his way out. Picture the yellow cones, with “Piso Mojado” in Spanish underneath “Wet Floor” in English.

When he came back in the room after the results on She’s pitifully thin blood were available, he said “You know, I tripped on that sign because it’s in Spanish and I don’t know Spanish.” “You need to learn some!” I encouraged, taking the bait. “I am NOT going to learn Spanish,” he replied. “I am an American. I live in America. The language here is English. If they want to come here, they need to speak English.”

“America is changing,” I said with what I thought was an amazing amount of empathy, patience and fairness. I was obviously still in shock over the morning’s incident, or I might have started a verbal bloodbath on the spot. “Unless you are planning to retire by say next year, you really should try to learn a little Spanish.”

“Well,” he said with what I thought was a comfortable arrogance, “I have no intention of it. They can’t change the language of America. They want to change the language. They want to change the Constitution.” “Who’s ‘they’?” challenged She from the gurney.

I wasn’t sure what the man was talking about. All I could think about was how Virginia had recently changed its Constitution, to exclude people like Dr. Powell’s current customers from civil marriage. Historically, the Federal Constitution has been amended for inclusion, rather than exclusion purposes, and I know there are people who would like to change that. But I digress. We were all still trying to smile and maintain a modicum of courtesy. We didn’t want a confrontation. We wanted to go home and make sure we were still alive. She was dressed and ready to go. “Hasta luego,” I nodded to Dr. Powell. “Oh, I know that one,” he said, as he turned to go to the next patient.