Tuesday, April 27, 2010

On the Road Again!

So I love you all, but I want to let you know that I'm on the road, en route to seeing my son get his Master's degree! (Shout out to Rob! Ya-hoo!) Can't give you much of a post, but I can tell you this:

1. We stopped at a rest stop on I-70 today (heading from St. Louis to Pittsburgh) and saw that the 'v' was missing from the Vending Machines sign.

My hub, the Center of the Universe pointed it out, and wondered if they were the machines set up by President Obama's fictitious death panels. You know, like you put in an old person and get a big old wad of soylent green? You know, the sign said "Ending Machines".

2. I forgot what the second thing was.

More soon-- really!

Monday, April 26, 2010

Mean Streets

What does one say when finding this notice on the front door of her humble abode?

The correct answer is: Now???

Now that we’re supposed to get four solid days of rain, after a completely dry 2 ½ weeks?

Now that I’m supposed to be hosting my book club here tomorrow afternoon, meaning eight women will be parking their cars (where ours are) up on the cross street, and hoofing it down the hill to our house?

Now that this means you’ll barely have the street open for us to bring the car we’re not taking to Pittsburgh back to the garage while we’re gone? (Yeah, that’s going in my archives as the worst sentence I’ve ever written…. I think I’ll keep it.) I’m sure our neighbors up on the cross street would not appreciate having our car there an extra week!

Yes. Now.

Btw, another of the 'bookees' agreed to host (thanks, Linda!) and we averted that crisis! (I insisted on taking the dessert, since I was already psyched to make it-- will tell you about that-- and provide the recipe soon!)

So bright and early the next morning, in came the big equipment, shaking the street and rattling the windows. Soon the cutting began. The concrete saw did its thing, and loudly sliced the old slabs into sections. Then a mechanical ram (possibly hydraulic?) street-buster turned the sections into chunks o’ concrete. It was all kind of like a slice-and-dice operation, but on the street instead of an onion.

Meanwhile, the house was shaking like crazy, and I had to wonder what this will do in terms of settling, foundation cracks, door frames, and my weight loss. (I always have to wonder about that, even when it’s totally unrelated. You know, “Does this concrete mixer make my butt look big?” --stuff like that.)

When the shake, rattle and roll stopped, the pre-mix truck came down to pour all new slabs. And a crew of non-hottie guys did the smooth and finish stuff.

So because he’s as big a nerd as I am (though often about totally different things,) the Center of the Universe (CoTU) went outside and shot some videos of the festivities. And now, because he’s a bigger attention whore hound than I am, he wants me to post them here.

And to make the whining and whimpering stop, I’m doing it. Besides, I’m pretty sure that our 3-year old grandson will get to see the video this way! (No, he’s not a subscriber [yet] but his mom’s a frequent reader.) And he’s all about the streets and the signs. So this one’s for you, Zachary: check it out!

Friday, April 23, 2010

Shame on Me!

Shame on me…

I judged a book by its cover, and I’m not talking about what my book club read this month (American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld—don’t bother, we all hated it.) No, that one I judged by its content, which was sub-par, in contrast to Sittenfeld’s excellent “Prep” of a few years ago. But anyhoo…

I was watching the news while making dinner, and some video was shown of a public demonstration. To be honest, I was barely paying attention, so I couldn’t tell you what the issue was, or what the crowd was trying to achieve.

I looked up at the screen in time to see an enormous, middle-aged woman in a tight tee-shirt and shorts sitting on an aluminum lawn chair, holding up a hand-written sign that read,

“Do you think I am stupid?”

My immediate reaction was, Um, yeah.

Like, lady, don’t ask any question you don’t want to hear the answer to.

Now, this woman might be a Ph.D. in biochemical engineering who’s also earned a law degree and holds a black belt in karate and won the Pillsbury Bake-off. But I doubt it.

There’s something about the sign, and the look, and the groaning of the webbing on the chair that made me think otherwise.

I’ve tried honestly to figure out why this is. It’s truly not her weight—I have told you that I am definitely not at MY ideal weight, and some of my best friends struggle with their weight. That doesn’t establish any hierarchy of worthiness or smarts.

It’s not the tee-shirt. I wear tee-shirts sometimes. So, ditto on the hierarchy of value.

Is it the sign? The willingness to ask such a question and put it on what became, essentially a billboard? I believe so. Because if she was serious, and wanted to accomplish something by attending this rally, why wouldn’t her sign say, “Save the Whales”, or “Don’t Save the Whales”? Isn’t that the best way to make your point? If she had done that, I’d know what the story was about. Now all I have is my disdain for her, and my soggy trench coat as I walk the Boulevard of Broken Dreams. You know.

But I’m still ashamed.

And you still won’t like American Wife.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Gum Chewers and Knuckle Draggers

There are some things in life that are truly defining: a Quasimodo-type hump, an eardrum-piercing laugh, an eye patch combined with a parrot on your shoulder and a peg leg. But most physical characteristics are not so black and white. There’s a massive gray area, where these things are nuanced.

This brings me to my point.

Chewing gum.

From the time I was a kid, I was taught that if you chew gum, you chew a small piece, you conceal it discreetly in the side of your cheek, and you never let your mastication show. And that was the norm—you didn’t see a lot of people (beyond the schoolyard age) chomping away on a wad of gum.

Recently, plagued as I am by seasonal allergies, I’ve been experiencing a dry mouth as the result of my antihistamine use. It has pushed me to chew the occasional piece of gum. Discreetly. I was at a meeting, and I tilted my pack o’ Trident to the woman next to me, and said, “Gum?”

She looked at me with disdain and said, “I’m not a gum chewer.” ZING!!!! A gum chewer… it sounds a lot like an axe murderer, or a knuckle dragger, doesn’t it? Cuts me like a knife! The irony here being that this woman could clearly benefit from a course in personal hygiene—one that teaches people how to shower, wash their hair and launder their clothes. Seriously, when you have this woman looking down her nose at you, you have to take a real serious look at yourself.

So I did. Take a look at myself, that is. My gum is quietly resting between my cheek and my back molars, just slightly keeping my mouth moist. No popping, cracking, or blowing of bubbles. You wouldn’t even know I’ve got it in my mouth. But now that I’ve been deemed unfit for social contact by virtue of this faux pas, I’ll have to put my axe away and bandage my knuckles.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Battlestar Grammatica

Isn’t it interesting that some people who go out of their way to puff out their chests and pretend to be smarter/richer/younger than they are (or than YOU are) often shoot themselves in the foot (or the groin) without even realizing it?

A few days ago, a nationally recognized author was here in town, and was interviewed on a local news program. He got the full hour, and took every bit of it to toot his own horn, pat himself on the back, and rattle off his accomplishments and achievements. His grammar wasn’t perfect, but sometimes I think you have to chalk that up to the speaker being a little nervous, or just being human. (But yes, I do tend to think more highly of folks who use proper grammar. Sue me. Mrs. Burns made a serious impression on me in high school English.)

So he was getting on my nerves somewhat, mostly because he was so darn full of himself, but I was driving a rather long distance, and I just hung in there. And then it happened: He spoke of all the “allocades” he’s received over the years. Um, sir? The word is “accolades”. Don’t use it if you don’t know what it is! My respect for you? Sorry—major nose dive. Try again next year.

Obviously this stuck in my craw, or I wouldn’t be bothering you with it today.

Besides, today that scab was picked off by another seemingly innocuous occurrence. A very nice young woman was helping me choose a give-me-back-my-youth new foundation at the Clinique counter in a major department store. She was upbeat and friendly, without being cloying or chipper. Nice balance, and she seemed to know her stuff.

I was all ready to exchange BFF necklaces with her, when she pointed out that this shimmery stuff that was part of my free gift package could be used on my cheekbones or my degligee. Yes, you heard right—a new name for what she indicated (on her own body, I should add) as the d├ęcolletage. Somehow, she combined that with negligee, for reasons we can only guess at, and came up with a new word. I don’t expect to see it in the list of new words for 2010, but you never know.

Meanwhile, I’m glad she doesn’t sell men’s cosmetics. She might offer my husband something for his chockstrap.

(Sorry-- can't bring myself to post a photo here!)

Friday, April 16, 2010

The Early Bird

What’s nicer than watching the birds frolicking outside your kitchen window when you’re washing dishes? Okay, that was too easy: it’s watching birds frolicking outside your kitchen window when you’re not washing dishes.

Or watching the birds playing tag in the trees any time is actually a good stress-reliever.

What’s NOT a bird-related stress-buster? Listening to them chirp, sing, trill and warble their little hearts out at five-freaking-thirty in the morning. When I’m in bed, trying to sleep. What’s up with that?

They are super loud for about a half-hour, then it gets relatively quiet again. Of course, usually I can’t fall back to sleep after the thirty-minute cacophony serenade.

A couple of weeks ago my daughter was visiting from Sacramento. We both happened to get up at a little after 5, and met, groggy and droopy-eyed in the middle of the hall, simultaneously planning to check on her 3-year old son. We peeked in and saw him sleeping like an angel, shut the door, and agreed we’d be going back to bed, too.

As we hugged, she asked, “What’s that noise?” I listened, and didn’t hear anything out of the ordinary. She persevered. “Listen—there—what’s that?”

“Um, gee, Honey, I know you haven’t lived in the Midwest for a while, but those are birds.”


“Really. Get some sleep. The birds in California don’t sing? They haven’t even built up a quorum here yet—in half an hour it’ll really be something. For now, catch a few more winks.”

We went back to our respective beds, but I never did fall back to sleep. I was reminded of a little poem a coworker of mine gave me at my first job out of college. His name was Buddy Bunch (for real) and he was almost old enough to be my father. That didn’t stop him from being the ‘class clown’ of the office. Here’s Buddy’s poem in its entirety (please forgive the profanity—it’s copied from his original):

The Early Bird

He sang upon my window sill

So sweetly did he lull.

I brought the goddamn window down

And crushed his tiny skull.

I didn’t say it was good, I just said it came to mind.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The Cat's Away...

Gosh, what’s that very old saying about the cat and the mice? Hmmmm… Oh yes, “When the cat’s away, the mice will play.” Well, I have a slightly different take on it: “When the cat’s away, the mouse gets a lot more done.” Doesn’t have the same ring, does it?

Yeah, but right now the Center of the Universe (CoTU) is out of town for a few days, and I’m knocking stuff off my ‘to-do’ list right and left. –and it feels like play…

Research the Grand Canyon trip: check.

Iron CoTU’s nineteen shirts and four pairs of pants previously held over from last summer: check.

Take the in-laws to their volunteer gig: check.

Rearrange the garbage can area of the garage: check.

Make copies of in-laws’ tax returns, affix postage, and mail: check, check and the check is in the mail.

Am I tired? Yes, but energized, too, because I’m getting somewhere. I’ve also gone to the gym both days he’s been gone, and will continue to go and work out, because I need it.

So what’s the difference here? It can’t just be that I’m only making meals (and doing dishes) for one instead of for two. That just wouldn’t make sense. It can’t be that we spend so much quality time interacting when he’s here. In fact, if it weren’t for the sexual harassment, some days there’d be no interaction at all. The truth is, when he’s at home and I’m away, he feels bereft because there’s no one here to ignore.

I’m thinking it’s just a difference in the energy flow. I’ve got the ball in my court, and I’m shooting lay-ups, free throws, and whatever I feel like. It feels free and open. I’m playing ‘horse’ against myself, and I’m winning. It’s different. Do I miss him? Yep, I do. But I’m enjoying the feeling of open space this seems to have created, and hoping I will carry it over to the time when he’s back.

Meanwhile, I can do the daily Sudoku while I eat my lunch, and the New York Times crossword puzzle while I eat my dinner. It’s not as much fun as the verbal ping-pong match of a long-hitched couple like us, but it’ll have to do for a few more days.

(Post to my blog: check!)

Monday, April 12, 2010

Bum Rap for Grandma

So my last post was about the twelve Opinion Shapers named for the coming year meeting at our community newspaper’s offices. One of the contributors, a lovely woman I recognize from years past, sat down next to me. We hadn’t really spoken previously—these meetings somehow haven’t exactly lent themselves to that. This year, our new editor established an entirely different tone, and most of us were more chatty.

Anyway, in our round-robin of “who-I-am-and-what-I-do”, I learned that this woman is a retired physician—a pediatric cardiologist, in fact. Now she tutors in Latin and French, and writes these columns… Did I mention that she managed to raise seven children? I want to be her when I grow up. Oh wait—I forgot to become a doctor. Or to have more children. Well, I shall just have to bask in her glow, and settle for who I am.

Back to my point, and I DO have a point.

Dr. Wonderful (her newly-minted alias) mentioned that she can always tell which children are being raised by their grandmothers. Without hesitation, I said, “Because they have good manners?” She turned to me, smiling, bemused, and said, “Precisely. Because they have good manners.”

So score some points for the grandmothers, and their willingness to model and teach good manners. Of course, most moms and dads do this, too, but I’m claiming a bit of credit for the grandmothers to offset the bum rap we (as a class) got in the news this week.

In case you missed it, an article by Jeannine Stein of the Los Angeles Times a few days ago was headlined

“Do grandparents make kids fat?”

Stein cites a study in the International Journal of Obesity (I swear, I am not making this up) that found that kids cared for by grandparents full-time had a 34% increase in “risk of being overweight.” The part-timers showed a 15% increase. (So were they actually overweight, because I don’t really get what the ‘risk of’ means, otherwise.)

So maybe grandparents are handing out too many cookies and snacks, or maybe they are reading more with the kids, and doing puzzles and homework and other sedentary activities with them. Speaking for myself, I love to take the little ones to the park, but I’m not out there playing tag, throwing the ball, and generally chasing them around the yard like their moms and dads do. Which side of the equation is causing this, assuming it’s true?

I’m a believer in healthy eating, but all things in moderation. So, Jeannine Stein of the L.A. Times, if the kids raised by their grandmothers turn out to be at high risk for obesity (whatever that means) at least they will say, “Will you please pass the cupcakes?” rather than, “Yo, send them cupcakes over here!”

Friday, April 9, 2010

Take Your Time Forming That Opinion...

Know what an Opinion Shaper is? It’s a person who gets to write a column for our local community weekly newspaper 3-4 times a year. It’s a lot of fun—it’s like blogging, in a way, because, to quote my daughter one more time, you get your stuff out there.

So I’m one of the Opinion Shapers for our West County Journal, and the newly minted team for the coming twelve-month period met Tuesday night. We got our new publication schedule for the year, and had our mug shots taken.

We met our new editors (yes, there’ve been shake-ups at this paper, too, since last year.) Ten out of the twelve Opinion Shapers were veterans; some of us have done this for five or six years, one guy’s been at it for fifteen!

We went around the table introducing ourselves. One of the newbies remarked that she was really impressed to be a part of this group of writers. I felt compelled to relate an anecdote I read many years ago, when I had recently moved away from San Francisco.

A quirky, intellectual professor of English at San Francisco State, Hayakawa was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1976. After about a year in Washington, he was quoted as saying, “When I first came here I was in awe of the 99 peers I sat among in this august body. Now I’m embarrassed to be one of them.”

Okay, I couldn’t find the exact quote, but that was definitely the message. So I told Miss Newbie not to be overly impressed by us, and that a year from now she may feel very differently about her cohorts.

The editors looked at each other nervously. Maybe they were wondering whether there will be a next year…

Senator Hayakawa

Monday, April 5, 2010

Opening Day!

So the 2010 baseball season opens today! A sure sign that spring is here, summer is coming and the world is still turning on its axis. Hallelujah! (Okay, it opened in Boston last night for the Red Sox and Yankees, but for everyone else, today’s the day.)

Much is being made of President Obama’s plan to throw out the first ceremonial pitch of the season at the Washington Nationals’ game. It’s been posited that the President’s absence from the first game of last season (he was in Europe at the G-20 meeting) was the cause of their appalling 59-103 record last year. No one can say for certain if there was a causal effect, but fans will be watching this year’s performance closely.

Going to any baseball game, if you’re lucky enough to live in a city with a major league, or even a minor league team, is one of the best ways to spend an afternoon or evening. Go with friends and it’s even better. Get the big hot dog with grilled onions and you’ve reached nirvana.

Here in St. Louis, baseball is a religion. It’s no wonder that the season opens just behind Easter, and on the last day of Passover. We take our baseball seriously. That is, some of us do.

I raised my kids on Whitey Ball. To the uninitiated, that’s as in Whitey Herzog, legendary manager of the St. Louis Cardinals from 1980-1990, he led the team to six division wins, three pennant wins, and a World Series title in 1982! We loved his style of coaching and managing, and never had anything but the utmost respect for the man.

I took my kids to the games, taught them how to keep a scorecard, and glowed with pride when they began to overtake my knowledge of the players and the game. Win or lose, it was always a good day at the stadium.

But back to my ‘baseball as religion’ analogy. This religion doesn’t apply to everyone. Take my husband (please) for example. The Center of the Universe (CoTU) is not a believer. He wouldn’t even claim to be agnostic on this particular subject. He’s a total baseball atheist.

He goes to a game only under the most extreme pressure, say, when his employer offered him the company tickets. Or when I had spent the previous umpteen days in the company of some unctuous visitor, serving, scraping and bowing like a servant from the Victorian era. Or when HIS friends invited us! Oh yes, then he’ll go, but if I suggest it? Not on your life. Not that I’m bitter.

Anyway, even then the CoTU is not reluctant to display his utter boredom throughout the proceedings. “What inning is it?” becomes his mantra. He knows where to find this information on the scoreboards, but likes asking me anyway at intervals of approximately three minutes. An average game runs about three hours. Here—let me do the math for you: that would be 60 times. If the game goes into extra innings, we’re talking serious risk of injury here. (His.)

Like any child of six, he is going to eat his way through the game. This is especially annoying because he is not overweight. Those of us who gain weight from looking at food find this highly irritating. He may start with peanuts and a beer. Soon it’s a hot dog (can’t really blame him) and a beer. Then he’s bored with the beer, but nachos look good. Candy—how about some candy? He goes off looking for the best selection of candy in the stadium. By now, of course, it’s the bottom of the second. We still have a long way to go…

He takes lots of walks during the game to keep from having to watch the play. Rarely does he return without something new to eat. “Popcorn?” he offers. I shake my head ‘no’. “What inning is it?”

When a Cardinal hits a home run, fireworks go off in the stadium, and all the fans are on their feet, stomping, whooping, cheering and hollering. CoTU looks at me, deadpan, and asks, “Was that one of ours?”

The closest he comes to demonstrating enjoyment during a game is during the seventh-inning stretch. He seems to like singing “Take Me Out to the Ball Game”. Maybe because it mentions peanuts and Cracker Jack. Which he ate in the top of the third.

So, back to President Obama and that ceremonial first pitch. Every president except Jimmy Carter has done it, dating back to William Howard Taft in 1910. In recent days when health care reform was passed into law, pundits have been saying that Obama went from being Jimmy Carter to FDR overnight. As in, his success with that project gave him some new confidence. Today he will again distance himself from President Carter. Let’s see what it does for the team.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Making Toast

Wow… I just finished reading “Making Toast” by Roger Rosenblatt. It’s a powerful book.

Did I love it? Not exactly.

At times, and this was only a book of 160 pages, I felt that it was self-indulgent and pointless. I couldn’t imagine why this respected author thought this was a worthy endeavor.

I persevered, though, and am glad I did.

This is the story of Roger and his wife moving into the role of resident (grand)parents to their three young grandchildren when their 38-year old daughter (an accomplished pediatrician) drops dead of an asymptomatic heart defect. [Yes, their father is there, but he can’t do it all alone, and he is a full-time surgeon.]

I normally steer clear of such books, as the inevitable sadness of the layers of loss overwhelms me. But I heard Rosenblatt interviewed on the Diane Rehm Show on NPR, and the story compelled me to read it.

I was mostly interested in the author’s anger with God, and his unwillingness to let that go. I could relate to that, even though my anger with God has abated, and despite the fact that my circumstances were regarding the early death of my father, not, God forbid, a child. The topic fascinates me, because of my own conflicts with God and with religion.

The book is called “Making Toast” because Rosenblatt at first feels helpless to do much for the three bereft children beyond making the breakfast toast. It’s a starting point for him in terms of tasks, but the true foundation of love and trust was already well-established.

I will grant that the lost Amy sounds like a truly extraordinary woman. Not just in the ways that all of us think that our loved ones are amazing. This Amy sounds like someone we all wish we knew, or wish we were. But beyond that, beyond all the small and large observations that her father shares with us, there is this lesson, given by the children’s grief counselor.

“Grief is a life-long process, and not only for the children.” This is a reminder given when the one-year anniversary of Amy’s death has passed, and the author is surprised not to have reached some new plateau of healing. A year is nothing, she tells them. It’s harder now because the permanence is more obvious.

And this, my friends, is a lesson worth learning. This simple lesson made it worth experiencing the pain of the parents, the pain of children, the husband, the siblings, the friends and the colleagues.

These losses are repeated all across America and the rest of the world on a daily basis. Not everyone is an Amy. But you don’t have to be a brilliant doctor to leave a massive hole in the hearts and lives of those you leave behind. Clerks, waitresses, mechanics, engineers, teachers and cops mean every bit as much to their loved ones as Amy did.

So love each other well, and treasure your time together. You may not be rich and famous, but you are the whole world to someone, or more likely, to a lot of someones. Enjoy it, nurture it, and delight in it.