Saturday, December 11, 2010

How To Live Forever

A stack of books just crashed to the floor from my bedside table.  It was a sign.  Every year about this time, I anxiously await inspiration to strike so that I can write our  annual Christmas letter.  It hasn’t struck yet, and I’ve decided to keep procrastinating loosen up by describing the books on my bedside table, as I did almost a year and a half ago here.  Uh oh, I have changed bedside tables since that post—I now use the top of an old wooden trunk—and I have a lot more space.  Yeah.  That’s why one of the stacks just gave up and fell to the floor.  The books here can be divided into several categories:  re-reads, dip-in-tos, poetry (always a re-read), and new books waiting to be munched on.  You’d nod off long before I listed all of them, so here is just a sample.

My favorite re-read is almost always at my bedside:  Yearnings:  Embracing the Sacred Messiness of Life by Rabbi Irwin Kula.  Here’s what Mitch Albom had to say about it.  “This wonderful book…embrace[s] the magic of day-to-day living, the spirituality that can be found in our questions, our mistakes, and our doubts.  Life is indeed messy, but as Irwin Kula shows us, sorting through it is what transforms us to higher ground.”  Of course I would love someone who encourages me in my favorite activity:  sorting through things in my head.

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance is a re-read from almost 40 years ago.  But for me, it’s a whole different book now.  Do you ever feel like even though you’re decades old, you just woke up last week?  I feel that way all the time.  What was I thinking 40 years ago?  I don’t think I had a glimmer of insight into this book.  When I read it then, I became fascinated by the idea of buying a motorcycle and traveling across the country.  And that’s about it.  I was a clueless dork, and I’m just a tiny bit less dorky now that I’ve been awake, alert, and alive for a week or so.

Right now, I’m reading these books for the first time:  No Death, No Fear, by Thich Nhat Hanh; Farm City:  The Education of an Urban Farmer, by Novella Carpenter; and The Nine:  Inside the Secret World of the Supreme Court, by Jeffrey Toobin. 

A dip-int0-start-reading-anywhere book is Jack Smith’s LA, a collection of essays on the city of angels by the long-time and much-beloved columnist of the LA Times.  Jack Smith made me laugh out loud for years and still does.

Poetry books roam the trunk, because I usually grab one and read a poem before I go to sleep.  Right now there is one by Billy Collins:  Picnic, Lightning; a poetry anthology edited by Billy Collins:  180 More:  Extraordinary Poems for Everyday; and a collection of poems by Mary Oliver:  Thirst.  I love them all, as well as their brothers and sisters on the nearby shelf.

Having a big stack of books yet to be read is a hedge against dying, at least for me.  I admit it.  As long as all those unread pages are within arm’s reach, I get to keep living.  It’s like sleeping with the light on if you’re afraid of the dark.  Here are the latest still-to-be-reads:

Tortilla Curtain, by T.C. Boyle; Mattaponi Queen:  Stories, by Belle Boggs; No Death, No Fear, by Thich Nhat Hanh; The Anthologist, by Nicholson Baker; The Corrections, by Jonathan Franzen, and not because Oprah likes him; and Look at the Birdie:  unpublished short fiction, by Kurt Vonnegut.

I’ll live a long time yet.


Thursday, December 9, 2010

Christmas Poem

I was looking for a poem about

Christmas to send to a few people,

whether they liked it or not.

I wanted one with cold and clear stars,

A voice singing something about


And animals waiting to speak at


And love, which I believe really is

All we need.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Bilingual Turkey

When we lived in Mexico, we both made a concentrated effort to speak Spanish to the Mexicans.  (They tried equally hard to speak English to us.)  Our efforts had mixed results. 

In general, my Spanish vocabulary and grammar exceeded Sheila’s.  She is half Mexican, but she is from Michigan and was raised as a non-Spanish speaking Midwesterner, whereas I spent a good part of my childhood on the Tex-Mex border. 

Prior to our arrival in Mexico, She only knew such important words as taco, enchilada, margarita, cerveza, gracias, corazon (heart) and alma (soul).  Just a few words, but they took her places and won her friends. 

We arrived in October, and by the time Thanksgiving was almost upon us, Sheila had learned the Spanish word for “turkey,” which is pavo.  She had also somehow caught on to the word polvo, which means “dust.”  You can sense where this is going, can’t you?

Sondra, a young neighbor whom we employed as a three-times-a-week maid, spoke less English than Sheila spoke Spanish, but by and large they managed to communicate with smiles, gestures, and eye rolls, the latter sometimes launched in my direction.  They bonded.

A day or two before Thanksgiving, Sondra arrived in the morning and started sweeping the tile floor.  With the usual smiles and gestures, Sheila proudly trotted out her new Spanish word, pavo, and sweetly informed Sondra that there were many turkeys on the floor over by the windows.

Now Sondra had respect for her elders and her employers, and she was also patient and gracious with mistakes in Spanish.  But at the startling news of the many turkeys on the floor, her normally kind and serene expression turned to total mystification mixed with concern.   Her new boss was perhaps a little loco.

Sondra turned to me for help, and saw the big grin on my face as I choked out “No es ‘pavo’!  Polvo!”  before bursting into giggles.  I explained that Sheila was thinking about the gringo custom of Thanksgiving, Dia de Accion de Gracias, where one serves pavo, when she meant to say the word for “dust.”  Sondra’s face cleared with relief.   “Ay, Senorita Cheela!”  she laughed and clucked, shaking her head with affection.

We have never forgotten the Spanish words for turkey and dust, and I had to share the memory with you.  May your pavo be delicious, and if there’s a little polvo on the floor, who cares?  It’s the corazon that’s important.   

Monday, October 25, 2010

I Saw It On Fox News

We’ve all kind of wondered, right?  Did Lee Harvey Oswald really act alone?  What about the detailed symbology in Dan Brown’s popular suspense thrillers?  For me, those are fun reads.  I think it’s perfectly normal to be intrigued (briefly) with potential conspiracies from time to time and there’s nothing like a good old edge of the seat conspiracy thriller at the movies.

Then there’s the wacko obsessive paranoid crazy person, combined with a dash of pathological liar.  We met her on Saturday.  A neighbor of ours asked us out to lunch with another friend of hers, who will be pet/housesitting our friend’s dog next week.  We were unprepared, as it turned out, for the meeting. 

For two plus hours, “Tamara” held forth.  If we had been able to break free from horrified paralysis and interject a comment or two, it would have been difficult to interrupt her stream of consciousness monologue on the following topics:  microwaved water (poisonous), scalar weaponry (You don’t know what that is?  I will tell you, and let you know the five countries that employ it),  Jesus’ face on the ocean floor, the successful manipulation of weather by They and Them,  the meaningful “fact” that cell mitochondria (she called them  “mitrochondria”) are supported by cross-shaped structures, the purposeful connection between Jewish holidays and the conception and gestation of a human fetus, and the cause of her brain aneurysm and subsequent miraculous survival.  Oh, and this woman drinks decaf expresso.  Because, she asked rhetorically, can you imagine someone like her on caffeine? 

I will make just a few comments now that lunch is mercifully over.  Microwaved water is not poisonous, and no, it does not stunt the growth of plants.  Really.  Scalar weaponry, which apparently involves electromagnetism and invisible domes similar to the ones used on Crest toothpaste commercials decades ago, does not exist even though in 1986 “they” did a practice run over Atlanta, Georgia.  You would have known about the scalar dome over Atlanta, but you didn’t, because it was only a practice run, see.

If you look it up on the Internet, a tracing of the alleged face of Jesus allegedly seen on the Ocean floor shows a humanoid with a low forehead and a receding chin, more like Neanderthal Man than the commonly accepted artists’ renditions of Christ.  I told She that if you could see this face on the Ocean floor and you thought it was really an image of Jesus, it would change your whole relationship with Him.  And not for the better, in my humble opinion.

If you don’t believe Tamara about the successful and ill-intentioned manipulation of weather, it seems that somewhere  there is a weatherman who used to be with an NBC affiliate in Pocatello, Idaho, and he knows that there isn’t a single flood, hurricane, drought, or even earthquake that wasn’t planned and executed by Them.  And if you are still skeptical, consider this:  Tamara saw it on Fox News!  Yes!  It was on Fox News!  How could you ever doubt?

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Rock Star

I’ve been a religious rebel (the word “maverick” has been ruined for me by politicians) since I was young.  Perhaps this fact was foreshadowed when I played an angel in the first grade Christmas play.  You can easily see in the large photo of that occasion that my mother has pinned my wings on upside down.  The rebel made herself known during a slumber party I had at my house when I was 15.  I announced, prompted by what I do not recall, that most probably the first man and the first woman were not really named “Adam” and “Eve.”  A near riot ensued, and at least one girl threatened to call her mother to come pick her up in the middle of the night.

All my life, I’ve had trouble finding my footing on a spiritual path; stumbling over traditional church liturgy, much of the Bible, and even the prayer that all who call themselves Christian know by heart.  I’ve always felt alone.  My belief in the Source of Love has never seemed to be a good enough reason to feel that I really belong in any faith community.  And yet I persist.  I have longed for validation.

So it was that a few weeks ago, I signed up for a 10-week small group at church called “The Seeker’s Path:  Moving Beyond Belief.”  One of the major goals of the group is that “each participant will have been able to move beyond any traditional beliefs or practices that have hindered his or her spiritual growth and will have gained a new understanding of, and deeper relationship with, God.”

There are about ten of us.  Ninety minutes goes by in a flash.  We are safe to expose our hearts and minds to each other.  Safe!  We are encouraged, but not required, to do journaling and reading and homework assignments.  This week one of the homework assignments, #1 on the list of possibilities, was to “write a short poem, haiku, a very brief narrative or simply list key words that summarize your current relationship with God.” 

I thought I’d skip that one.  Not in the mood.  Too hard to pin down.  I’d feel a little bit shy.  OK, a lot shy.  Didn’t wanna.  Not going to do it.  But walking into the kitchen this morning to get my first cup of coffee, the image of God as a rock star hopped unbidden into my mind.  I have no idea where that came from.  Heh.  I sat down with the coffee and wrote this:

Note To My Rock Star

Love, we’re good together when we’re alone, or with my friends.

We can talk about anything, and we laugh and cry together.

You understand me better than anyone ever has in my whole life.

But when your groupies and go-fers are around, and you’re wearing costumes and makeup and the crowd is screaming your Name, I wonder if I really know you. 

I wonder if that song you’re singing was really written for me.

Oh, honey, I’m just bitchin’.

I know your gift is for the world.

Friday, September 17, 2010


“Sleep tight; don’t let the bedbugs bite!” exhorted my beloved grandfather Mac every night before I got in bed as a child.  I knew there weren’t really any bedbugs.  It was our joke.  I passed the saying along to Tara when she was little, but apparently I wasn’t as trustworthy as Mac; she didn’t take kindly to the idea of bedbugs, joke or not.  Stories about Tara and bugs, existent and non-existent, are legend, and involve baseball bats and whole rolls of toilet paper.

Bedbugs are not a joke these days.  According to all the news media, if you don’t already have them, it’s just a matter of time.  Exterminators are paying $10,000 for specially trained bedbug-locating dogs, I saw on TV.  We are barraged with warnings and what-to-do on a daily basis. 

Yesterday CNN urged against picking up any “free” furniture from curb or alley discards.  The same caveat applies to yard sales and the eponymous flea market, I assume. 

Good thing we didn’t worry about bedbugs back in the sixties.  In my graduate year of college, four of us lived in an old house near campus, which we furnished with parental discards and the perennial brick and board bookcases.   The focal point of decor in our living room was the red and white-checked front seat of an automobile.  An old automobile.   Two of us were at a flea market when we spotted the seat.  Five dollars later, the prize was ours, and it never caused us a moment of worry.  We dragged home anything that wasn’t obviously breathing, moving, or sprouting at every opportunity.

It can cost “tens of thousands” of dollars to remove bedbug infestations, trumpet the newscasters.  For  homeowners, that’s just one more grim fact to add to the endless nightmare of ownership.  Your landlord won’t let you have pets or paint the living room red?  Move.   Homeowners have to worry about thousands of dollars for  leaking roofs, dead front lawns, falling trees, worn-out heating and cooling systems, rotted beams, termites, backed up sewer lines, faulty fireplaces, squirrels in the attic, and a plethora of other potential hazards.  I gotta say, though, that a bedbug infestation might be worse.

Sleep tight.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010


We were on our way to the library.  Sheila asked, “Have you thought any more about what to take Sue tomorrow?”  We have been invited to lunch at Sue’s house. 

“Yes,” I said.  “I thought we’d take a nice chilled bottle of that ChocoVine.”  She grimaced sourly.  “What?” I exclaimed.  “You don’t like it now?  You sure acted like you did!” 

“It’s ten dollars,” she said glumly.  “I know,I replied, thinking “What isn’t?” 

“Ten,” she grumped.  “It’s the new one.”

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Making Plans

I’m lucky I didn’t break something.  I was alone in the house, dustbusting the rug in the living room, when I did a side-step on my flip-flop and sloooowwwly fell to the floor, hard.  On my $50,000 hip replacement.  I always wonder, is it better to fall on your titanium hip replacement, or on your regular 66-year-old hip?  I’m sure the official answer is “it depends.” 

Anyway, I lay there for a few minutes with the dustbuster humming away on its green back and out of reach, thought about the above, and mentally checked over my body parts.  She’s cousin Shannon, who is a number of years my junior, fell recently and sustained a terrible shoulder injury.  I thought about her, too.  I thought about how shocked She would be if she came home an hour later and found me lying there all broken with the dustbuster, now quiet and battery-dead.  You never know the time or the place, as She is fond of saying.

But I’m okay this time.  Just sore and not laughing quite as heartily as I was about She’s recent visit to the funeral home.  She went with her friend Mary, who is 87.  Mary had a stroke last month, so she was nervous about not having her “Plans” finalized.  They went to get some information.

“So whajuh find out?” I queried later that day.  She sat on the couch with her pocket folder from the funeral home.  She had a look of determination on her face that made me worry.  “I want to get this paid for,” she said.  It’s $50.00 down and $101.00 a month for 36 months if you get this insurance policy, and if you die before it’s paid up, that’s all it costs.”  “Such a deal,” I snorted.  “Where are you going all of a sudden?  It would sure pay to die early!”   She drew herself up defensively.  “This covers quite a lot,” she said, starting to read some of the included “services.”  “Three hundred ninety-eight dollars for a bath, comb-out and makeup.”  “What!!” I yelled.  “I thought you were being cremated!”   “Well, it’s for visitation,” she said patiently.  “Medical examiner, $50.00.”  “Why do you need their medical examiner?” I screeched.  “It’s required,” she replied somewhat venomously.  “You mean after your own doctor has provided a death certificate, this other guy says ‘Yep, she’s dead’ as you roll past on the conveyor belt to the furnace?  Boy, I could do that job,” I snarled.  “I am not going to talk to you about this anymore,” she snapped, slapping down the folder.

The next day, she talked things over with the other volunteers at the hospital.  When she came home, she’d decided that the funeral home thing was a big rip-off.  Of course I had to point out that I was the one who recognized the scam-like schtick right out of the folder, and I made some snarky comments about the snake-oil funeral dude.   But we agreed that having our Plans in place was a good idea, and vowed to work on it. 

I thought about that when I was lying on the floor.  Life comes at you fast, and you never know the time or the place.  (That’s another reason for not pre-paying, I said earlier today.  How do you know you’ll die in Virginia?  Maybe you’ll go to Wyoming and be eaten by a bear.  You wouldn’t even need a bath or a comb-out.) 

Friday, July 2, 2010

Rabbits At Dusk

A typical “conversation” in our house this morning:

She (shouting from the bathroom where she has just gotten out of the shower and is looking out the bathroom window to the back yard):  “There’s a cat in our yard but I don’t know if it’s one of ours or not.  I don’t have my glasses on.”

Me (shouting back from the office where I was sitting down, now looking out the back door to the yard):  “It’s Miss T lying in the grass.  She’s probably watching for rabbits.”  (Miss T has never caught anything in the 7 years she’s lived with us, but she still has lust in her heart.)

She (still yelling from the bathroom):  “No, I think they are usually out around dusk.”  (Pause.)  “I’m a rabbit expert.”  (Slightly longer pause.)  “I should have a TV show.  Rabbits At Dusk.”

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Hotter Than Hades


Sheila went back to jail today.  What’s that all about, people have asked, and we’ve enjoyed playing coy with some.  But it’s serious.  She has joined a prison ministry through her church.  From what I understand, nobody is trying to get converts or thump on the Bible or lecture anyone on their sinful ways.  They’re mainly visiting the prison to listen and to provide a measure of quiet comfort. 

Today there were about 15 women and 6 men making up the two prisoner groups; Sheila and one other person providing the ministry.  What do the prisoners talk about?  Well, a lot of them talk about how much they miss their children.  They talk about what’s good in their lives and what’s not.  They talk about the better choices they hope to make when they get out.

Sheila worries each time (but a little less each time) about how well she will rise to the occasion.  I’ve been the beneficiary of her listening ear and her quiet comfort countless times, and I tell her not to worry.  She’s the right person for this job.  Last time, a prisoner seated next to her sobbed and sobbed.  Sheila handed her a Kleenex.  Then another.  And said, “You’re going to have to stop crying.  I don’t have any more Kleenex.”  If you knew her, you’d smile to yourself and you’d know that it’s all part of her ministry, and her gift.

Since I last posted here, a few non-routine things have happened.  I lost part of a tooth.  The result is that I will have to have the tooth “crowned,” and I absolutely understand why it’s called a “crown.”  It costs a fortune. 

Our darling new greyhound, Carmen, got out of the yard during a distant thunderstorm and wasn’t found until the next morning.  We were sure we would never see her again, or that if we did, it would be her dead body at the side of a road somewhere.  I thought during the search, “Our lives will never be the same, and they will never be good again.”

A couple of dozen people helped us look until late at night.  Some were complete strangers; others were good friends and close neighbors.   Our friends were back at it early the next morning, but as it turned out, we were all looking in the wrong places.  Carmen had run a long way, and when found by Animal Control near the Country Club (we’ve heard some jokes about that) she was almost unconscious, with mangled paws.  Now it’s been a little over two weeks, and she is fine.  She is fine!  Two dear people fixed the low spot in our fence, and we don’t take our eyes off Carmen when she is in the yard, but she has not shown any interest in jumping again. 

Oh, and two nights at the Emergency Veterinary Hospital cost about the same as four crowns. 

In the middle of the Carmen incident, I got a call from my high school reunion committee.  I thought it was someone calling about the lost dog flyers.  Our 50th—gah!—reunion is in 2012, in California.  I have not attended any of the  reunions so far, and only keep in touch with one person.  What do you think?  Have you been to your high school reunion(s)?  Good idea or bad idea?  (I weigh about 70 pounds more than I did in high school, have chins and would have to use a cane.  Is this important or unimportant?  It suddenly seems like it is.)  Experiences, please!

That’s the news from here.  Stay well and keep in touch.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Uh Oh


When Sheila got home from the jail this afternoon (ah, but that’s another story) I buzzed over to the grocery store where we spend a good part of our lives and our money.  I had just a few things to pick up, mostly for the sweet onion pie I am making for dinner tonight, and the chicken piccata I am making for dinner tomorrow night.

I had scrawled a list of the few items I needed on a green post-it note.  As always, I started in the produce section on the right, and then moved farther and farther to the left around the store.  About halfway around, I consulted my list to see how I was doing.  I read:

Ritz crackers (check)

Ched cheese (last aisle)

Vidalia (sweet onions—check)

Bread crumbs (crossed out—do not need)

Lemon (check)

Walnut pieces (check)

Ice cream (last aisle)

Asp (?????)

Asp?  What the hell??  The image of a dying Cleopatra surfaced in my mind.  What?  What in the world had I meant by “Asp”?  I didn’t need aspirin.  Must be an old post-it note from when I did need aspirin, I thought.  I couldn’t imagine.

I breezed over to the self-service checkout.  Not everyone is smart or clever enough or brave enough to use it, but I am definitely above average, tech-wise.  I confidently scanned my items, bagging them quickly.  When you have produce, the screen asks you to type in the item, and then it shows you some pictures and you select the right item.  Usually it only needs the first two or three letters of the item.   I typed in oni and selected Vidalia sweet, lem and selected lemons, and asp and selected asparagus, which I had thought would go nicely with the chicken piccata.


Sunday, May 23, 2010

On The Road

For a number of years, I was a divorced working mother living from paycheck to paycheck, and not doing the financial thing very well at all.  When Willie Nelson’s “On The Road Again” became a hit in 1980, I started singing it every time I deposited a paycheck in the ATM that would temporarily save us, and I continued singing it through somewhat better times at the end of the workday every Friday until I retired.

I loved the Willie Nelson song, and I also loved books about life on the road, starting with Steinbeck’s Travels With Charley, and including Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Blue Highway, Walk Across America, and the several Bill Bryson books.  But although it was published in 1957 and I was an English major in college in the 60’s, I never read Jack Kerouac’s iconic novel On The Road.  As of today, I still haven’t read it.

This week I was at the library and spotted in the featured/new book section On The Road:  The Original Scroll.  Turns out it is the “legendary first draft—rougher, wilder, and racier than the 1957 edition.”  Why not, I thought, and picked it up.  If I don’t like a book, I never feel obligated to finish it, so no skin off my nose to take something home from the library.  I scanned the scholarly essays that introduce the book.  Scholarly essays seldom convince me that I need to read something.  I flipped to the end and read this last paragraph:

So in America when the sun goes down  and I sit on the old brokendown river pier watching the long, long skies over New Jersey and sense all the raw land that rolls in one unbelievable huge bulge over to the West Coast, all that road going, all the people dreaming in the immensity of it, and in Iowa I know by now the evening-star must be drooping and shedding her sparkler dims on the prairie, which is just before the coming of complete night that blesses the earth, darkens all rivers, cups the peaks in the west and folds the last and final shore in, and nobody, just nobody knows what’s going to happen to anybody beyond the forlorn rags of growing old, I think of Neal Cassady, I even think of Old Neal Cassady the father we never found, I think of  Neal Cassady, I think of Neal Cassady.”

I cried when I read this, because the writing is so elegant and true, because I was so grateful to be reading Jack Kerouac before my reading time in this life is over, and because it is always such a relief and a blessing when somebody expresses so perfectly what you have thought about passionately and tried your best to say in your own words. 

Yes, I went back to the beginning of On The Road:  The Original Scroll (not including the scholarly essays) and am loving every word in it.  Maybe someday I’ll read the novel it became.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Three or Four


My blog friend Isabelle posed a question on her blog not long ago:  “What were you like when you were nine?”  I loved reading about Isabelle’s nine-year-old self, and I’d like to write about that, too.  But not today. 

Today my blog friend Laurie listed three good things she was thinking about, and that sounds like an excellent practice. 

My three good things for today are:

1) Iced coffee with half and half in the afternoons.  Summer must be almost here.  Just make it yourself with leftover morning coffee.  No trip to Starbucks necessary.

2) Sunflowers.  Tara sent us a bunch for Mother’s Day, and they are still fine and fresh, the happy things.

3) The book I’m reading right now:  BirdologyThe author is Sy Montgomery, who wrote another book I own and love called The Good Good Pig.  Now mind you, I would never even briefly consider owning a pig, but I laughed and cried over Sy’s pig.  Birdology begins with “The Ladies,” Sy’s hens, and although not particularly desirous of owning birds either, I have been known to fall in love with parrots, owls, eagles and falcons from a safe distance.  I love Sy’s ladies, and am hanging on every word of her search for a cassowary in the wilds of Australia, leeches and all.

4) Gotta make this four things because we just came back from dinner with a friend at a little gem of a new Greek restaurant in the neighborhood.  If you have never had pizza with Greek sausage, pepperoni, salami and freshly made feta, you haven’t been anywhere or done anything.  And if you have eaten such a slice of Heaven and then stopped in at Boyer’s for coconut ice cream, and then you sat down in an old leather booth and savored your scoop(s) with full-on lust, you are one lucky devil indeed.  And you know it.

Happy Friday, everyone.  Shabbat Shalom, too.

Saturday, April 17, 2010


Sharon 5th birthday

My favorite time of day, when the birds are getting into their pajamas and the sun is setting.  And the word “eventide”:  I love it. 

Today is birthday eve for me.  Tomorrow I will be, impossibly be, 66.  The other day I was laughing cynically to myself and thinking that the only two good things about being 66 are that “6” is supposed to be my lucky number, and that I’m on the right side of the flower bed. 

But I think now, on the eventide before my 66th birthday, that things are a little bit better than I’m making them out to be.  After all these years, I seem to be amassing a drop or two of wisdom, and sometimes those two drops will stay with me for several hours at a time. 

A tattered black and white photo of me taken around the time of my 5th birthday shows me holding an Easter lily.  I can still feel the hot sun as I stood on the dirt driveway, see that clear blue Texas sky, breathe in the delicious smell and feel the soft petals of the lily I held in my hand.  I saw dozens of lilies yesterday at our local botanical garden, and I was 5 again in a flash.

I am not happy about all of my chins, but I am at home with them.  I am grateful to have pretty hair.  I am just as grateful to have a new Rollator, which is pushed like a stroller without the baby and allows my arthritic spine and joints to go places and enjoy things that I’ve been missing out on.  I have grieved the loss of mobility.   Now I’m rolling with it!  I have people and animals who love me and whom I love back with a knowing fierceness.  Every day brings gifts. 

Happy Birthday to me!

Friday, March 26, 2010



How did it get to be called “Spring”?  Is it because it happens so quickly, this annual resurrection from cold and dark?  One day there are the same old bare branches standing in the bleak landscape, and the next day blossoms are everywhere you look. 

When Tara was little, we used to play a game every Spring called “Whee!  Blossoms!”  This was played driving in the car, and the first one to spot another flowering tree, bush, or clump of tulips had to call out “Whee!  Blossoms!” before the other person did.  After awhile, the game degenerated into continuous “Whee-ing,” shouts of “No fair!” and loud laughter.  If we were in the car together right now, at 66 and 36, I guarantee you the game would be played again, by unspoken agreement.  Who can ever grow too old for Spring?

The Lenten class I’ve been taking at church, called “Broken & Blessed,” has ended.  I am always surprised when I come face to face with cosmologies that are unlike mine.  In answer to the question, “Why is there suffering?” people said things like “Because God wants us to appreciate the good things we have.”  “Because God wants us to learn something.”  “Because we made the wrong choices.”  I’m all for appreciating and learning and trying to make the “right” choices,  but I am startled for the zillionth time hear that there are people who really think God designs not only general suffering, but specific suffering, and that He even selects certain people to suffer because of some plan He has that we want Him to explain when it happens to us.  “Why me?” 

I don’t know for sure why we suffer.  I don’t even think to ask the question.  We do suffer.  Move on.  There are lots of things we don’t know.  The God I believe in doesn’t make us suffer, but She or He is with us when we do, whether we are aware of it or not.

We don’t really have to know the why of everything, do we?  We just need to know that Spring has come again this year, and that the blossoms will be back again next year.  That’s an amazing promise.   One of the women in the class read a prayer by Dag Hammarskjold at the end of the last session:  “For all that is past, thanks; and for all that is to come, Yes.” 

Thursday, March 18, 2010


Carmen with slippers

Carmen has found her forever home.  She’s a sweet, quiet, calm girl who is slowly discovering love and even a little foolishness.  We’ve had her for eight days now.  Her tail wags more, her eyes meet ours more often, and she responds to her name most of the time.  When she doesn’t, it’s probably because she has better things to do than because she doesn’t remember her name. 

All of our major worries were for naught.  She will not be eating the cats, nor are the cats broken-hearted due to the arrival of a dog.   She will not be pooping and peeing all over the house.  She will not jump on us and knock us down. 

Miss T, the resident supervisor and crab ass, has a new lease on life and seems to think that her world is right again with a dog in it.  Billy is not as sure about that, but he is confident enough to take shortcuts by walking underneath Carmen’s body. 

So far, she has only destroyed an AARP bulletin and a plastic cat ball that the cats never played with anyway.  She does collect items to take to her bed, however, and these consistently include Sheila’s bedroom slippers.  I was flattered the day she added my red ones to the pile.  She has also rounded up Sheila’s book, a wet washcloth, and all the dog toys in the toy basket to carry to one of her two beds.   Nothing chewed on so far except the aforementioned AARP bulletin and cat toy. 


Carmen’s new name (her racing name was “Where’s Rawbone”--yech) does not come from Bizet’s opera but was the name of Sheila’s late and beloved older sister.  It fits the sleek, exotic looking girl that she is.  However, I have made up a little song for her (all of The Pets always have a little song just for them), sung to the tune of  “March of the Toreadors” in Carmen:

I am a hound, a sweet greyhound/My name is Carmen and I’ll be around/I’m long and lean/just like a queen/My name is Carmen and I’ll be around!

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Of Journaling, Greyhound Adoption, and Time Travel

Last week we had the pleasure of hearing Phyllis Theroux speak at the Library of Virginia, to kick off the publication of her new book The Journal KeeperI had read the book and was re-reading it by that time.  I have been an extremely sporadic journal keeper since college days, but I still have those pages and I treasure them, even the silly, whiny, self-absorbed ones.  One entry lets me know that at age 36 I exclaimed dramatically “I feel so terribly alone, sad, and old.”  Thirty years out, I want to put my arms around the lonely, sad young woman and sympathize, except for the “old” part about which she knew nothing.

Thankfully, by the time I had finished recording that entry, I had concluded that in comparison to some other people in my office I at least had a spark of  joie de vivre, and wrote on at some length in self-congratulation.  The great thing about a journal is that you’re allowed to be self-absorbed, and you might even be able to cheer yourself up by the end of the page.

I love reading other people’s journals and memoirs, and I can never resist at least looking at a new one in the bookstore.  If you are like that too, or think you might be, I highly recommend this book;  and if you know you will never journal but wouldn’t mind meeting someone who knows how to express many of the same inner thoughts and struggles you have, I recommend this book. 

Roger Mudd (remember him from CBS News?) introduced Ms. Theroux.  In case you thought, as I friend of mine did, that he had died, I assure you that is not the case.  He was a hoot, and entertained us with his own very first journal entry, written as a bored Private in the Korean War.  

About rescue greyhound adoption:  we are in the process.  How did it happen that two old ladies looking for an old, small dog seem to be about to adopt a young, tall greyhound fresh from the racetrack?  The story is somewhat convoluted, but it involves being at a Pet Expo a couple of weekends ago looking for the old, small dog and meeting two rescue greyhounds who cast a spell of enchantment with their angel faces and sweet ways.

As we’ve learned more about retired racing greyhounds, we continue to be enchanted as well as quite nervous about rescuing a dog of this particular breed.  We’ve always gotten dogs that we more or less put in the car and took home without a lot of forethought other than “I want a dog and this one seems to need me.”  This time is different and we are reading too many books, in my opinion.  I comfort myself with the memory of reading all the major how-to baby books before my child was born, and then pretty much never referring to them again once she made her appearance. 

And finally, about time travel.  Sheila doesn’t like science fiction or fantasy, and neither do I, although I enjoyed science fiction when I was a young teacher.  That was back in the days of Ray Bradbury and not very many other well known science fiction writers.  There was no such thing, as far as I know, as a vampire genre. 

Anyway, recently I had read a novel which I enjoyed and passed along to She, who also liked it very much.  I had gone on to read another novel by the same author, and was telling She how I didn’t care for that one and she wouldn’t either, because a major plot device was time travel.  “Oh, I wouldn’t like it,” she called out from the other room.  “I have enough trouble traveling through time myself.  I don’t need to read about it.”

Friday, February 12, 2010

Hear The Silence


This guy was resting in the snow around the corner from our house today.  It was a bright blue, sunny day and much of the snow had melted, especially from the roads and walkways.  Compared to our neighbors Up North (that’s what we Richmonders call Washington DC), we have been very lucky.

Being snowbound gives you a chance to get caught up on a lot of things that you all of a sudden don’t want to get caught up on, now that you have a chance.  Around here, we’ve kept up with things that require electrical power, just in case, but otherwise we’ve spent a lot of time reading and napping.  Very much the way things are when it isn’t snowing, now that I think about it. 

The Barnes & Noble parking lot was jammed.  I didn’t go there, but I got a good look at the cars and people as I swung by to get to Target.  All the cars were filthy-looking with road salt and all the people had desperate “My God, I’ve read everything in the house already; let me in the store!” looks on their faces.  We’re okay here for at least two more snowstorms.  We keep a huge stash of emergency books on hand and feel nervous and twitchy if the reserve stack gets too low.  Sheila even read, I swear it, The Three Musketeers this week.  She had bought a used copy of it last summer in Cincinnati at Half-Price Books.  It only has half the cover, but what’s inside has been pronounced a good read for well over 150 years. 

As for me, I’ve been re-reading all week:  Billy Collins’ poetry, Philip Gulley’s Porch Talk,  Barbara Brown Taylor’s An Altar in the World, and Rabbi Irwin Kula’s Yearnings:  Embracing the Sacred Messiness of Life.   The poems and all of the books share at least one theme:   taking the time to listen to each other and to God.  Taking time to be silent.  Snow makes the world a lot quieter.  It’s like reverence falling from the sky. 


Sunday, January 31, 2010

World View


I liked what Conan O’Brien said recently on his last late night show (for awhile).  He directed his remarks particularly “to the younger people,” and he said “Don’t be cynical.  Cynicism is one of my least favorite qualities, and it goes nowhere.  If you work really hard and are kind, wonderful things will happen.”  That may not really be an exact quote, but it’s pretty close.  

It’s so hard not to be cynical these days.  Sometimes I swear I will never read the newspaper again and will only watch movies or read books that have guaranteed happy endings.  I feel helpless, more than a little mystified, saddened, and frightened by what I see and hear on every side of the political spectrum.  And yes, I have become cynical about the people LBJ used to call “mah fellow Ahmuricuns.” 

We were having lunch with She’s cousins last week.  I told them about what Conan said, we all agreed about how great that was, and not five minutes later I was the first person to make a cynical statement about this nation.  We all winced.  What can we do, the four of us wondered out loud, when our world seems so out of control?  Immediately, we focused on the other thing Conan had said, about being kind.  We’re not younger people, and we’ve already worked really hard, but we could be much kinder, we all agreed.  And we’re not so far gone that we don’t believe in the power of individual kindness.  We can make a positive difference, however small, in our world.  It’s a little something we can hang our hats on. 

Today, on my beloved CBS Sunday Morning, Mo Rocca accompanied four teenagers from the Bronx to see a production of Our Town, a play (in which I once had a walk-on part) that has been in steady production for 70 years.  What would these kids from the cynical, fast-paced, often foul-mouthed I-pod/I-phone/Facebook/Twitter generation make of the message in this play, about realizing life while we live it?

The kids said something about taking the time to stop and notice the blue sky.  But is that enough, asked Mo, just to see the blue sky?  One of the young men responded, “The question isn’t whether it’s enough.  The question is, did you look up?” 

Friday, January 22, 2010

The Creepy-Crawlies

It started after I checked Facebook this morning.  She was emptying the dishwasher and I joined her in putting things away.  Cheerily, I thought, I began reporting on various recent status updates on Facebook:

Me:  Margo posted a lovely photo from the waterside on Key West.  Phoebe keeps having nightmares about spiders.

She:  Phoebe’s having nightmares about spies?  [This is such a typical hard-of-hearing interchange between two seniors, you wouldn’t believe it.]

Me:  Not spies, SPI-DERS.  That’s one thing I love about Virginia.  We don’t have many bu--

She:  Don’t even say the bug word!  Stop!  Right now!

Me:  Well, we do have nasty-looking crickets.  I always thought crickets were cute little guys named Jiminy who hung out on the hearth.

She:  Stop talking about it!  (Hurries from room.)  (Calls to me over shoulder:)  I mean it!  Next thing you know, we’ll have some giant hideous critter stalking us in the hall!

Peace was restored later in the day:

Post nap

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

No Resolutions


Once upon a time, it was wrong to pronounce the t in often.  Once upon a time, people didn’t say oftentimes.  They just said “often,” like offen.  But that was then.  Oft-ten-times is popular now, as are books on how to be generous, how to be grateful, and how to be happy.  (Hint:  they all go together.  Often.)

Books on how to be organized have always been popular, especially around the New Year, when people often make Resolutions.  Even people like me, who do not make Resolutions, get caught up in the enthusiasm for closet cleaning, dresser drawer purging, and paperwork filing that reasserts itself at the beginning of each new year.

I cleaned out my top dresser drawer the other day.  I probably had 35 or 40 pairs of socks.  When I was a working woman, I prided myself on new, colorful, and somewhat unique socks to wear with my old lady low-heeled shoes.  Now I am retired, and on the rare occasions when I wear any socks at all, they are oftentimes my pair of lucky socks.  I don’t know why they are lucky, but they have lots of  strong colors and people seem to like them.  So I put most of the socks in a bag for the Salvation Army and only kept about 5 pair.  The next day, I had occasion to wear socks and I wore the lucky ones again.

There was also jewelry, some still in gift boxes, that I had forgotten I owned.  I usually stick with the same three or four pairs of earrings, my watch, and one bracelet.  (It’s a lucky bracelet.)  I found a backscratcher.  That might come in handy even though I haven’t used it in 5 or 6 years.  At least two dozen single buttons in their original tiny plastic bags went in the trash.  Ditto washing instructions.  I have no idea to which article of clothing the buttons or instructions belonged.  A pair of glasses without a case went in the donation bag.  I couldn’t see a thing with them on.

My dad’s wallet, flat and worn, was in the drawer.  I took it for safekeeping when he went in for surgery, and then he just never came home again.   He spent three months in and out of the hospital and a nursing home, and then he died.  In the nursing home, he asked me where his wallet was.  “I’m keeping it for you,” I said.  “It’s safe in my top drawer.”  He looked anxious.  “What?” I asked.  “How will they know,” he worried, “who I am?” 

I looked through the wallet one last time, cut up the credit and Medicare cards, and the records of his flu shots and blood pressure checks.  I kept his pilot’s license and a much-creased and tattered color photo of a P-38, the plane he flew in World War II.   I put those in a file with his name on it.  Then I put the wallet in the trash.   I don’t need it to remember who he was.

After all that, it was time for a nap.  Some day soon, I’ll get to the other 3 drawers.  Meanwhile, I’ve saved a lot of money by not getting a gym membership this year.  I think being a little more generous and a lot more grateful will make me happier.