Wednesday, December 28, 2011

One Hobby is Never Enough


My husband probably thinks I have too many hobbies, since all their accompanying accoutrements take up a lot of space in our house. My shelves are filled with books because I like to read. Stacks of fabric, a sewing machine, and notions take up one corner of “my” room, standing by for when I feel like sewing. I also have yarn and crochet hooks for when the mood strikes, and an easel, paints, and canvases for creating masterpieces. This does not include the piano and guitars in our living room, my files of travel articles, or stacks of cookbooks and cabinets of bake ware for their accompanying hobbies. Hobbies require a lot of stuff.

I thought about hobbies this weekend at the dog park when I watched a man fly a model plane over the nearby soccer field. I have seen him before, and he stands on an embankment with the controller in his hands, moving his plane in graceful loops and circles and dives while most people don’t even notice.

Everyone needs a hobby. And no, watching TV, playing video games, or surfing the web are not hobbies. Real hobbies make you think, but not too hard. Their aim is to get you away from your daily stresses, away from work or normal life. They automatically connect you to other people with similar interests - people with whom you might not associate in other ways.

A man next to me in the dog park mentioned that in northern Las Vegas, there is an aviary park where all the plane-flying-people can fly together. He said people show up there towing twelve-foot planes. They’re serious.

My hobbies are fairly normal, I think. But I admire people with unusual ones. My cousin has a beehive and raises geese. My uncle plays on an amateur hockey team and has a collection of rare guitars. My brother-in-law races model cars. A friend collects model trains and goes to train conventions. It would be so cool to say that I am a spelunker or a rower or that I pilot a hot air balloon or have a collection of petrified dinosaur poop.

One thing I know is that I don’t want to turn a hobby into a profession. That would add an underlying money-related stress to something I love. Why do that?

Monday, December 12, 2011

My Weird Brain


It takes a very long time to alter an image you’ve had in your head for over thirty years. We all have images of what our lives will be like in the future – a future picture of ourselves that we take for granted.

The first time I had to change my mental image of my future was when my Mom died nearly twelve years ago. It was literally a life-changing event, and suddenly I had to change the vision I had of my future. Mom wouldn’t retire and come to visit every Christmas. She wouldn’t have my kids over for cookie-making and finger painting. It took a very long time to come to terms with, and to change, that cozy image I had of her as part of my future life.

Recently I have again had to change that picture I have in my head, but this time it’s in a positive way.

For years I have thought about my future kids. My husband and I were well in our thirties when we started the family-making plan, so we had hundreds of conversations about our future kids. I pictured taking “my kids” to museums, teaching them to bake and cook, singing with them at our piano. The kids in my head were never the same. Sometimes I envisioned two boys, sometimes it was a girl, sometimes it was just a nebulous idea of children.

Now, I have a son. It’s still a weird thing to say, since we only got him less than four months ago. And even though we have him and he is here and laughing and cooing and eating and pooping, I have yet to alter that original picture. Just this afternoon I daydreamed as I drove in my car, about taking my kids to the UNLV campus where I was headed, and my imagination envisioned a blonde curly-headed girl balking at the idea of strolling the shady campus. Then I laughed out loud. We have a son! A real son, with big blue eyes and chubby legs and an easy laugh. I quickly made the switch, and imagined taking our actual son to the campus someday for a performance or ballgame, or just to ride his tricycle on the safe, wide sidewalks.

The brain is a weird thing. Or maybe it’s just me.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Goodnight, or Goodnap


I’ve had many early mornings lately, usually for a feeding and diaper change. But one day this week I got up before the sun for a trip to the airport. My visiting relatives needed a ride home, so I obliged with a sleepy, coffee-fueled ride.

Of course I hate getting up early, but visiting the airport is always fun for me – even just the Departures lanes. I love that excitement of everyone having an important place to go, all the taxis vying for position, all the hurried goodbyes and lugging of suitcases.

But the best part for me was the nap I took afterward. Three whole hours in my office at work before I had to actually be at work. I snuggled on the couch with my pillow and blanket and had the best sleep I’ve had in a long time.

Naps are always luxurious. Sleep at night is something we always must have, but naps are extra. They’re stolen moments of heaven, while the rest of the world is up and about. I hope to have many more of them.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

The Value of Errands


Now that the weather is cooler, George can go in the car with me more often. I often take him to the park and then run a few errands, and he sits and waits patiently in the car until I return from the grocery or post office or Target or wherever. He usually sits with his little white head sticking up, watching in the direction I disappeared, or he falls asleep if I take too long.

When I was a kid Mom often waited in the car and had me run into the post office for stamps or into the grocery for a carton of milk. And I wonder how old I was when she first let me do that. I’m sure it was very convenient for her to keep the car running and let me do the work for a change, but I’m sure I received the biggest benefit.

Imagine the confidence I learned from being trusted with money and such important jobs. I had to act like an adult and tell the guy behind the high post office counter exactly what I needed. I had to pick out the correct items on the grocery shelf and be responsible for handing over the money and receiving the right amount back. Independence like that is priceless.

And those errands also taught me that I could be trusted. I was important. Adult-like. I can’t help but think that errands like those enabled me to be an independent adult. There was nothing that I couldn’t handle on my own. I learned that early.

Now I’m going to add that lesson to my ever-growing list of things to teach my son. It’s a very long To-Do List!

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Failure


I thought about posting my blog this week and glossing over the fact that I did not post anything last week. It’s the first time in over 140 weeks that I have not posted. And I’m trying hard not to feel like a failure. Well, failure might be too strong a word, but it is disappointing that I put a halt to my great running streak.

Every day I thought about what I could write about, and practically all of my motivating themes were about babies. And I’ve said before that I don’t want this blog to turn into a baby blog. So, every day I tried so hard to think of other things, other thoughts that could turn into a little mini essay for my readers, but everything seemed lame, over-thought, trying too hard.

So I posted nothing. And I fought feelings of failure.

But I haven’t failed as long as I keep going, right? Like a dieter who gives into a box of donuts, as long as I get back on track I’m okay, right? One mistake doesn’t have to stop me forever. And I don’t want to ramble on about cheesy subjects just so that I post every week. I want my writing to mean something. I want to be proud of what I write, or if not proud, at least not embarrassed. So, I choose quality over quantity. That’s not failure, is it?

Failure is such a strong word. But failure is subjective. Pessimists probably feel they have lifetimes of failure, while optimists like me don’t see our shortcomings that way. I like being an optimist. Optimists never fail.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

So Much Music, So Little Time


The book The Mozart Effect is on our bookshelves in the front room, but I’ve never read it. But no matter what it says, I do believe that listening to music as a child has a huge impact on who we become. So yesterday, our baby attended his first piano concert.

By “concert” I mean that he laid on the floor on a blanket by the piano and I played a few goodies for him. First was John Lennon’s "Imagine," my favorite song and the one I felt must be his opening number. Second I played the theme from Terms of Endearment, another song I have memorized and can play easily. Next I opened the easy piano book I played in junior high and the first song I saw was "Don’t Cry Out Loud," a song whose title I found ironically amusing to play for a baby. By this time he was starting to get restless, so I finished with "Memory," thinking the rocking melody might entertain him.

I wonder what my musical choices will do to my son’s development. As I played, I wondered if my occasional mistakes would affect his ear as an adult. Or would they make him more attune to the nuances of music?

Other music he has been introduced to during his life thus far? They played Classical and show tunes in the hospital while he was there. In the car I play either the Classical station or my Marc Cohn CD. The other day I introduced him to my cousin’s band BR5-49, and he showed his appreciation by sleeping through the whole thing. As he grows, he will get to know Billy Joel and the Beatles, who we always listen to during any car trip of 30 minutes or more.

Will these songs bring back distant memories for him when he’s an adult, the way James Taylor or Dan Fogelberg does for me? Those albums played on the record player in our living room when I was a kid, and they always feel like home.

The list of music to share with him keeps growing…Gershwin, Big Band, Richard Rogers, Fred Astaire, Broadway, Chicago, the Eagles, maybe some Jon Bon Jovi and Journey…so much music, so little time!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Live Your Best Life


Can you say that you love your life? Or your job? Or the city you live in? This week I’ve been wondering what makes someone able to wholly, blatantly, unabashedly declare that they love these things. Is it because they truly have the ideal life or job or city? Or is it just their outlook that makes it possible? How many of you out there can say you love your life?

As a subscriber to Oprah magazine, I am regularly told that I should “Live my Best Life.” And I do try to do this. Oprah gives us advice on finding our dream job, lists of the happiest cities in the country, how to improve our lives by eating right and exercising and reading good books and meditating.

But sometimes this is annoying. It puts pressure on me if I cannot achieve pure bliss.

Instead of making a Vision Board of all the things I want, like Oprah suggests, with career goals and photos of hiking vacations and beach houses and all those things I aspire to do and to have, instead it makes me feel better to make an “Accomplishments Board.” This way, I can focus on what I’ve done and on what I have – the things I’m proud of.

This way, I can quit focusing on my To Do lists and sit back and enjoy life. Isn’t that Living my Best Life, truly?

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Sleepy


I’ve vowed not to turn this into a blog about babies, so that has limited my subjects for the week. George and I went to the dog park once, we went to a party at a friend’s house, but other than that my life has been full of formula, spit up, poop, and trying to nap. So, here is my topic for this week: sleep.

Unlike my husband who used to wake up in our new house when the refrigerator used to turn on downstairs, I have usually been a good sleeper. Bedtime is a comforting ritual, with snuggly covers, soft PJs, and far away memories of lulabyes and covers tucked in tight. To me, one of the best times of the day is that moment when you first wake up, when the house is still quiet and the light soft from the window.

Having my sleep interrupted every night, several times, is definitely unsettling. It interferes with that sacred time when my body rejuvenates and I de-stress from life. Going to bed and knowing I cannot fully escape into sleep gives the nightly ritual a negative tinge.

Isn’t sleep a strange thing? Where exactly do we go when we sleep? And I think dreams are fascinating – the idea that our brains continue on elaborate fantasies while we sleep hints at all the untapped power we have in our minds.

I have to admit, though, that in the middle of the night when I give him his bottle and he falls asleep with his mouth hanging open, I take comfort in his sleep even though I am exhausted. He is just so peaceful. Watching a baby sleep – or even watching George sleep – shows exactly the kind of sleep we all need. Pure comfort. Innocence. Peace.

And now I apologize, because that’s just about as deep as I can go this morning. I got up three times during the night last night, and as soon as I finish typing I am going to try to take a nap with George before the baby wakes again.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Dream-Come-True


Have you ever had a dream come true?

We’ve all dreamed, during our lives, about meeting Mr. or Mrs. Right, about becoming a movie star, or winning the lottery. Some of these may come true; some may never come true, but they’re fun to dream about.

I often fantasize about what I would do if I won the lottery. I don’t mean the normal list of what I would spend it on. Instead, I like to think what I would do if I found out right now that I won. If I’m dreaming about it on the way to work, I wonder, would I continue on to work or just call and quit right there? Who would I call first? It might be fun to surprise my husband with the news by driving up in a new car. Or by handing him a flight ticket to a trip around the world. These thoughts make the dream more real, more tangible.

A friend of mine recently achieved her dream of acting on Broadway. Every theatre kid has this dream, but after years of hard work and training, she actually achieved it. After seeing her perform, I asked her how it felt to have completed her number one goal. What do you do after your dream comes true?

I won’t tell you her answer, because that is between us. But I think it’s an interesting question. Is there a letdown after having your dream fulfilled? Do you just move on and get a new goal – a new dream? Or can you be satisfied now that you have it?

Before we got our baby – our son! – I felt that getting pregnant or getting a baby was as elusive as winning the lottery – that far away from reality. But it happened. The dream came true. And for me, what happened after my dream came true? Now my dreams are for him.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Getting Quirky


George pooped on our bedroom rug this week. Actually he might have done it before that - it was quite hard. I imagine I probably stepped on it at one point and thought it was his bone. He often leaves his bone hidden in the dark shaggy rug.

He is pissed at us because of the new addition to our family, and the baby isn’t even home yet! But we haven’t been at home as much; he hasn’t had as many walks; he can sense our new excitement and anxiety. Poor guy. I don’t fault him for acting out.

In a way, I think George is gaining a few eccentricities in his old age. He just turned eight years old, and he definitely has new personality traits. Mainly, he is more finicky than ever about going outside when it rains. In the past when it rained, he used to run out it in to pee, do his business, and then opt for peeing inside on his pee pad afterward. He would at least try going outside.

Now, he refuses to go out at all if it’s raining. And if the ground is still wet, he will not walk beyond the patio. In fact, I have trouble getting him to go outside at all if it has rained lately. He’s very persnickety.

He also pretends to want to go outside, and he pretends to want an ice cube from the refrigerator, when all he really wants is me to get up and give him attention. He will stand by the back door or the fridge until I get up, then when I do, he walks away nonchalantly and stares at me as if I am stupid. He has attitude.

But isn’t quirkiness a trait of old age in humans, too? I am about halfway through my life (hopefully), the same as George (hopefully), and I know I have changed with age. I am less worried about what other people think, less worried about being polite. I may not poop on people’s rugs, but it might cross my mind.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The New Me


How do you plan ahead when you know your life is about to change?

I am a planner, and I admit to having plans mapped out for myself for months to come. My next flight (to wherever) is always booked, my next day off planned, my next doctor’s appointment, small goals, and large ones.

But beginning one day soon, I will be a mother. I already am, technically, but I know I won’t really feel like it’s real until I bring him home. This was a sudden turn of events – one we wanted to happen, were waiting for – but one that we had no idea would happen suddenly! And it’s very hard to change my perception of myself in just one night!

I always pictured myself with a child, still active, still social, a person who didn’t give up who she was for her child. I wanted to be one of those parents who goes on hiking trips with the baby in their backpack, a parent who sips coffee at cafes while the baby coos contentedly from the nearby stylish carrier, the mother who takes her baby to art museums and on trips to interesting places.

But realistically, I know that is an ambitious goal. Knowing me, I will probably be a version of the picture in my head – I want to expose my child to the world, to the Arts, to the things that enrich us. So I’m sure I will be that person to an extent. After all, it’s who I am.

But right now, realistically, my goal is just to keep this blog going. I could so easily put it on hold so I can focus on shopping for bottles and onesies and decorating a nursery. Instead, I’m going to try not to make my writing all about babies. I’m sure it will be very difficult. In fact, I couldn’t think of one single thing to tell this week except for our news. There has been absolutely nothing in my head for the past ten days.

So if I am indeed able to NOT write about babies during the weeks to come, congratulate me. It will mean that I was able to keep a small version of the old me – the writer, sitting in my library at my mom’s old wooden desk. The only difference will be the baby on my lap. A baby! Wow.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

House Sitting


We have been house sitting for the past few weeks. While we haven’t been sleeping in my in-laws’ house, we have gone over there many times to water their plants, get the mail, and check to make sure everything is okay.

Somehow, being in someone else’s house when they’re not home is the ultimate way to get to know them. I wander around, looking at the photos in frames, the notes on the dry-erase calendar, the collection of golf trinkets and statues, and the quiet house allows me to feel what it might be like to live their life.

When people’s houses are empty, we can walk for a moment in their shoes. Things I usually ignore because I’m having a conversation or eating a family dinner are suddenly, quietly, more present. Alone in their house, I am in their world. It’s a deeper glimpse of who people are.

I took George for a walk one morning in our neighborhood and ended up talking to a man who was house sitting for his brother for the weekend. This man and his wife were taking care of his brother’s three kids, carting them off to piano and dance lessons, making them breakfast, sleeping in his brother’s bed, driving his car. I’m sure their experience in the brother’s house was very telling, even if their house was far from quiet.

We have also stayed in strangers' vacation rentals, and in the houses of friends of friends. Walking in a stranger's shoes is even more fascinating, as I play detective and try to figure out who the people are by the family photos and their choices of flatware and curtains. Which is their favorite chair? Do they walk to the corner store for coffee in the morning?

Our house basically has our personalities laid out for all to see. It's full of photos, artwork, our hobbies, all prominently out for use or displayed for discussion. You wouldn't have to play detective in our house.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Town Dentist


In my hometown in rural Indiana, the town dentist lived across the street from my grandparents. We often saw him walk down the hill to his office just a few doors down, or back up again at the end of the day. I went to Dr. Cromwell beginning when I was small, and I remember his smile, and his sing-songy voice that gently lectured about the latest developments in oral hygiene while he worked, and the tray of fancy plastic rings from which I got to choose when my appointment was over.

I had minor dental surgery recently, so it makes me think about Dr. Cromwell. I miss that comforting feeling that comes from knowing someone since you were a kid.

Every Halloween, we trick-or-treated at the Cromwells’, and he or his wife would put a brand new toothbrush in our treat bags. When I was the 4-H Fair Queen at age sixteen, Dr. Cromwell let me borrow his little white MG convertible to ride in the Indian Festival parade. And in college, I called him one weekend when I was in extreme tooth pain, and he gave me the solution over the phone. I’ll never forget how relieved I was, to have him take care of me from hundreds of miles away!

Now in Vegas, I have a dentist who I’ve seen for 15 years, nearly rivaling my length of time with Dr. Cromwell. Dr. Hendrickson is also smiley, but he gives me dental floss and toothpaste instead of fake diamond rings. But at least I have a history with him, too. I can say he knew me when I was in my twenties! I guess he knew me when I was young, too.

p.s. George really likes chicken-flavored toothpaste.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Kinship


At the dog park this week, I sat on the bench with my book while George ran around, and it was a fairly quiet, uncrowded morning on the small-dog side. After a few pages, the metal gate squeaked as a woman entered with her schnauzer. The dog ran inside and straight to George, and the woman waited impatiently at the entrance for her daughter who straggled behind, thirty feet down the sidewalk.

The girl was slow because she was reading. Her face was hidden in the pages of a thick hardback she held up directly in front of her, but somehow she was able to walk the whole distance without averting her eyes, almost as if there were eye holes cut in the middle of the book so she could see through.

My mom’s voice drifted in my memory, “Get your nose out of that book!” Mom used to say that often, not to discourage my reading but to get me to put it down long enough to eat a meal or say a few sentences. This girl at the dog park was just like me, way back then with my nose in a book.

While the girl moved across the park to stand in the shade of a tree, I remembered another girl I had met a few years ago, in Hawaii.

It was early morning and my husband was still asleep in our beach rental. I sat in my usual chair and stared at the waves with my sketchpad on my lap. I usually took my sketchpad on trips but never felt inclined to sketch. This time, I had relaxed enough to be inspired. And since this was my daily morning spot, I decided to claim it on paper. I began by outlining the huge knotty tree next to me, with its curved branch that reached toward the water and the cluster of rope that hung from its trunk.

Suddenly a girl about thirteen years old appeared by the tree and said, “Hello.” She was freckled and skinny and looked up into the big tree’s branches.

I returned her greeting and continued my sketch while she climbed up the tree and sat on an upper branch. “Well, I found my reading spot,” she said with satisfaction.

A girl after my own heart, I thought. And sure enough, I saw her up there in the tree with a book several times during our vacation.

Readers share a kinship. We may read different books and sit in different countries, in varied houses and apartments and farms, but reading takes us to the same place.

Right now I’m reading Jane Fonda’s Prime Time, The Scarlet Letter, and The Greatest Generation, depending on my mood. What are you reading?

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Tuppence a Bag


In the parking lot of the Walmart Garden Center this weekend, I noticed a large flock of pigeons sitting nearby. While pigeons aren’t necessarily uncommon in the city, the way they just stood there, or sat there, was odd. It seemed like they were waiting for something.

I went inside and looked around a bit at the end-of-season items, then I ended up following a man outside back to the parking lot. He called over his shoulder, “See ya!” to the cashier and carried a large bag under his arm. I didn’t think much of him until I noticed all the pigeons take flight when he came near.

The man walked to a car at the edge of the car, and all the birds – hundreds of them – followed him, circling around him and landing on his car. He opened his car trunk, almost oblivious to them.

But he was far from oblivious. I sat in my car and watched him through my windshield, and finally I saw why the birds were so interested.

He had just bought a huge bag of birdseed, which he opened and proceeded to throw huge handfuls onto the parking lot. The birds knew he was coming; he must do it every day – that’s why he was so friendly with the cashier. And that’s why they had been there, waiting.

He didn’t finish throwing handfuls until the ground was covered yellow and the birds were happy.

I like witnessing eccentric people. It makes the world more interesting.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

A Not-So-Helping Hand



This week gave me another opportunity to help an animal, or so I thought. I drove home from work one afternoon and sitting there in the driveway was a bird. I drove slowly, thinking it would fly away, but it just sat there. I parked my car and walked slowly toward it.

The bird was young. It had most of its feathers. Was it hurt? It looked up at me with its deer-in-the-headlights expression as I tried to remember what I had heard about taking care of a lost bird.

I vaguely remembered that sometimes you’re supposed to help and sometimes you’re not. Sometimes you put it back in the nest and sometimes you don’t. For now I could at least get it out of the driveway. So I slowly crouched down and reached toward the bird, planning to set it next to a nearby bush.

When my hand was just an inch from the bird, he sprang to life and started running, his legs long but his wings stubby and flapping. Obviously he was too young to fly, and I ran after him to keep him from running into the garage.

Safely on the other side of the driveway, he again sat and stared at me. Where did he come from? Our trees had no nests, and neither did the neighbor’s. While I stood there, a mockingbird landed on the wall above the bird and started talking. The baby chirped in return and flapped his short wings.

Upset by the worry of the mother and the sad sight of the lost baby, I went inside and got on the internet. And I found my answer.

Apparently, baby birds who leave the nest (called fledglings) are the most kidnapped of animals, due to well-meaning humans who find them and think they need help. But the truth is that birds leave the nest before they can fly, and they spend two days to two weeks on the ground foraging for food. The baby travels up to a two-block radius and the mother keeps track of him and feeds him. They cannot fly at this stage, so it’s no wonder that people find them and think they’re doing the right thing by taking one in and caring for it. By the way, if you find a pink, obviously too-young baby, you should put it back in the nest. Or better yet, google “found a baby bird” and read what to do before you act.

We heard the baby and mother talking that night and the next morning, as the baby made its way around both sides of the house and on toward other adventures. George even got a little excitement when the baby wandered into our back yard. Luckily I grabbed him in time.

So I guess the point is that we should help, but we need to be educated in what we do. We shouldn’t assume that we know what an animal needs. It’s a good thing I did a little research. This week, google saved a bird from being kidnapped!

Monday, August 1, 2011

Goodbye, Saturn


Does your car have a name? If not, do you at least think your car has a personality? Do you talk to it?

I ask these questions because I sold my car this week…my silver Saturn that I bought new way back in 1999. It had 180,000 miles on it - 180,000 miles that the Saturn and I shared together, It and me.

So doesn’t it make a little sense that I felt guilty – and sad – when I let it go? I felt sad as I drove to the dealer to pick up my new car. Then while sitting in the dealership filling out paperwork, the Saturn sat outside warily as I tried to avoid its gaze. What was going to happen to it? Would its new owners take care of it and appreciate it as I had?

So maybe it was just a bit of PMS - typical emotional female stuff - but doesn’t it make sense that I felt sad? Twelve years ago when I bought it I was practically a different person. I grew with that car. It drove me, safely, across mountains and deserts, grappled with intense heat and snowy roads, endured my tears and laughter, through a major portion of my life. It was a good car, even if I never did name it.

Even today I still feel a little sad for that car, sold because it was too old, given away because it had too many miles, wasn’t as reliable. But I’m not crazy. Ever since cars were invented people have named them, personified them. My Mom always patted our dashboard and told our car it was a good car. Treat it right and it’ll take care of you. Movies and films have featured talking cars – cars with personalities like Herbie, KITT, and the General Lee. Why do we think of our cars as human?

Somewhere out there is my silver 2000 Saturn SL2. If you see it, would you give it a pat on the hood and say “Hi” for me?

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Penny Power


The kids' magazine Penny Power inspired me quite a bit as a kid. It was full of all kinds of money-saving ideas: instructions for lemonade stands and yard sales, comparisons between the prices of fast food hamburgers, suggestions to make money by mowing yards or babysitting. Every month I got the magazine in the mail and eagerly read stories that made me want to fill my piggy bank.

In one issue, I was told how to have an official taste test at home. Mom and I had a longstanding debate about which brand of peanut butter was better – Superman brand, which we ate at home, or Jif, which I had at Grandma’s house. I followed the magazine’s instructions to the letter, including water to cleanse the palate between samples. In the end, I made my point: Mom could have sworn that the better one was her beloved Superman brand, but she actually preferred Jif. In this instance, Penny Power magazine led us to buy the more expensive brand. Oops.

I wish I could say that Penny Power caused me to learn about money at such a young age that I saved money every week, opened a savings account at age ten, and made my first investment by age twelve. But it did open my eyes to money earlier than most. And now, when I put a little extra money in savings or think about ways to cut back or alter our budget, I do get a little bit of the excitement I got when I read the magazine long ago. If nothing else, Penny Power made money friendly instead of a topic to avoid.

I wonder if Penny Power still exists. I’m tempted to order a subscription for the members of Congress. They need all the help they can get.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Salt Air and Seagulls


On beach vacations I am enamored by the beach cruisers everyone seems to own. People ride lazily by me with their towel/water/book in the front wicker basket, on bikes of every color. Many have flowers painted on the frames, or they have baskets lined with colorful fabric, or they have old-fashioned bike bells that chirp happily at me as they pass.

Mostly, I wonder about these people who own these bikes. To me, if you own a beach cruiser, it says a lot about your life. And I want that life! Let me explain.

A beach cruiser is not built for speed. It is clunky and has only one gear. It is meant for strolling – cruising - on the boardwalk while you watch the waves. Or it takes you on back streets toward the outdoor café where you park and sip a latte. Owning a beach cruiser means you have time to appreciate the small stuff.

Beach cruisers almost always have a basket on the front, which means when you ride one, you might be away from home for several hours. These baskets can hold your beach items or your picnic lunch or your dog, or can include your groceries when you have errands to run. A basket on your bike means you have things to do, but they’re enjoyable things. You won’t see a briefcase in a beach cruiser’s basket.

The owners of beach cruisers love their bikes and bedeck them to show their personalities. Local bike stores will carry every possibly color and style of basket, basket liner, helmet, bell, drink holder, and streamers – I have seen drink holders covered in plastic flowers, helmets painted with polka dots, and even small colorful flowers you can clip to your handlebars. Beach cruiser owners like embellishments, but they are simple ones, not flashy. Their focus is on fun.

This weekend we were in Coronado and I jealously watched these bike owners and almost bought a colorful bell to attach to my bike back in Vegas. But it wouldn’t be the same. A beach cruiser in the desert doesn’t make sense. It needs salt air and the sound of seagulls. And I guess, so do I.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

A NASA Insider


When I was a kid, I felt very important when I told other kids that my Dad worked for NASA. After all, I lived in rural Indiana where most men were farmers, so my Dad’s profession in the space industry was very exotic.

Every Summer I visited Dad in Huntsville, Alabama and got a special Security pass (with my name on it!) and was led through the off-limits areas of the Space & Rocket Center. The first time my cousin Jeff joined us, and Dad showed us the huge computer rooms (the computers themselves were huge back then) and the rooms with raised floors that were built so that all the computer cables could run underfoot. We also saw a shuttle engine, rockets, moon rovers, and we got to go to the gift shop and buy astronaut ice cream.

Being the inquisitive kids that we were, Jeff and I pretended we were reporters and carried little notebooks in which we jotted important information. In fact, I recently found my little notebook, and inside it were the names of everyone we met that day, in addition to random bits of information such as “Then we went in the skylab where they had all thier exspearimeants" and "I met a lady named Anita and I told her that was my mother's name and she said that's nice."

Being and “insider” and so connected to NASA, I got a little emotional Friday morning when I watched the last shuttle take off. I remember the day when a TV was wheeled into my elementary school classroom and we all watched the first shuttle take off years ago. That big white shuttle seemed so futuristic, so advanced, and yet also more attainable. Instead of being sent into space on a rocket and then returning by freefalling to the ocean in a little capsule, now astronauts were able to fly up in a giant white airplane and then land back home on a runway. Would we all get to fly up there someday?

Now there is an international space station where many nationalities meet and put us all as equals – just common people way up there, looking down at the small, quiet earth.

I am sad that the shuttle program has ended without anything to replace it. Now we will have to hitch rides with other nations’ astronauts and bide our time until we have another great urge to explore. I think the time will come, eventually. Aren’t we all programmed to gaze up at the stars and wonder? To think bigger than ourselves? I look forward to whatever is next.

Monday, July 4, 2011

My Hero, John Williams


When Star Wars came out back in the Seventies, I saw it in the theater seven times. I was quite young, so I’m not sure how I got to go so often. This was before VCRs or Netflix or On Demand, so seven times was quite an accomplishment. We bought the soundtrack, I bought fan magazines with Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill, or Harrison Ford on the cover, and I played with my action figures. I am still an ardent fan, and I cannot help pausing to watch if I catch one of the original three Star Wars movies on TV.

This Sunday was one of those days. Spike TV was having a Star Wars movie marathon, so I watched The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi, and then The Empire Strikes Back one more time. (It was always my favorite.)

As a little kid, I was impressed by the high-tech space age special effects, but I was most engrossed by the characters. I wanted to be Princess Leia and marry Mark Hamill. I wanted to ride on a ton-ton, have my own R2-D2, and have a Wookiee for a best friend. I watched these movies and learned about good vs. evil, and about the Force that connects us all.

But the thing that stayed with me the most is the music. Mom and I used to put our Empire Strikes Back album on the record player on weekend mornings. I’ll never forget the first time we listened, when we tried to identify what had happened in the movie during each section of the music. I remember sitting on the living room couch when Mom recognized a specific piece of music.

“Shannon!” she said, turning to me with wide eyes.

I watched Mom crank up the volume. She continued, “this is the music for the Imperial Walkers!” She knew those tall things that walked across the snow-covered field to attack the rebel forces had really creeped me out during the movie.

Mom pointed out the window, toward the trees and road that led toward town. “Can’t you picture them?” The music continued its ominous melody, and Mom pretended to see them. “They’re coming toward the house right now!”

The music continued its creepiness, and I could so easily picture those Walkers on their slow heavy trek right toward us. I got chills down my spine. It was the first time I truly understood the power of music.

So now that I have John Williams’ great score running through my head, I’m going to go turn on the TV. I think that movie marathon might still be playing.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

No Smudges


This morning George and I drove to the dog park and stopped at a red light next to two motorcycle cops. The car behind me also contained a dog on the way to the park – it was a small dog whose hair was dyed pink. So George, the pink dog, and I stared at these two cops while we waited for the light to change.

While the CHIPS theme song ran through my head, I noticed how impeccably clean their bikes were. The mirrors had no smudges. The chrome trim shined in the sun. Even the tires seemed clean. I started to daydream, wondering what their day was like. Do they spend the first thirty minutes of every day cleaning their motorcycles? Are they given a special motorcycle cleaning area at the station, like the drive-through car washes at Fabulous Freddy’s? Do they clean them at work or at home? On the clock or off?

But more than anything, I thought about the notion that their job requires their equipment to be immaculately clean. And that says so much. They are required to respect their motorcycles and their jobs. They care about the image they reflect to the public. And their bosses require it.

How I wish that all workplaces instilled in their employees a pride of profession and a pride of a job well done. If only everyone cared more. Wouldn’t we all be better off?

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

A Tourist In My Hometown


Back home in Indiana this past week, I visited with family and explored my hometown of Paoli, Indiana. I always appreciated living there, but now it’s fun to visit there as a tourist. I now see my hometown with different eyes - eyes that have been wiped clean of childish boredom that made the town seem humdrum-normal.

My hometown is, in fact, not the norm. Or, you could say it is normal in the sense that it is almost a stereotype of good ol’ rural Midwestern living. The whole area was a great place to grow up – full of the benefits of small town life plus the perks of the nearby cities like Louisville and Indianapolis where we would shop, see shows, or go to museums.

But Paoli has shopping, shows, and museums, too. Just this weekend I went into a shop on the town square and chose from several designs for a custom-printed sweatshirt. Down the street I could have gone into a music shop, gift shop, and antique store. The Orange County Museum is in the corner of the square. And just a few steps past the old library is the Lost River Market where I got some homemade soup and an internet connection. There is also a Chinese restaurant and a Mexican place. Those didn’t exist when I was a kid – they were too exotic!

Just north of town on a windy drive through the hilly countryside are two Amish farms where I like to shop. These aren’t touristy Amish stores – they’re stores meant mainly for the Amish families – where they can buy herbal remedies, solid color fabric, and pots and pans. I love to hear the echo of my footsteps on the bare wood floor while I decide what type of bread or homemade candy to buy. The only other sound is from the nearby horses, goats, chickens, or from the men working in the barn.

Paoli’s central square is a gently sloping lawn with a grand white courthouse in the middle, complete with huge white columns and wrought iron staircases. This is where festivals are held, and where old men sit on the benches to watch the world pass by.

The surrounding county adds to Paoli’s charm. In French Lick, 8 miles to the west, there is the French Lick Springs Hotel, and the West Baden Springs Hotel, which was at one time the largest freestanding dome in the world. Both are old charmers with sweeping verandas and rich histories. Also in French Lick is the historic train depot which offers train rides, the French Lick Winery, and Larry Bird Blvd which honors its most famous resident. Farther past French Lick is Patoka Lake with fishing, boating, and swimming.

To the north is Spring Mill State Park with its pioneer village, tree-surrounded Inn, and many hiking trails. On the trip up there, you can go to the Orleans Farmers Market for some fresh veggies and to listen to the musicians who gather there every Saturday, to the Gus Grissom Memorial to pay tribute to the historic astronaut, to Appleacres for a free sample of Apple Cider, and to the Mitchell Opera House for a bit of music.

I strongly suggest you plan a little weekend getaway to Orange County, Indiana. Stay at the West Baden Springs Hotel if you want to splurge, or the Artists Inn & Cottages in French Lick, or the Big Locust Farm B&B in Paoli. I guarantee your weekend will be jam-packed with activity.

And did I mention that Paoli has a ski resort?

Monday, June 13, 2011

My Friends Hugh and Tony


This weekend my family and I watched the Tony Awards, and I saw my old friend Hugh Jackman.

Okay, maybe he’s not really my friend, but I have to say that watching the Tonys makes me feel like I know all those actors. We all have shared the same background – the same experiences of long rehearsals, challenging roles and difficult directors.

And seeing Hugh Jackman reminds me of the time when he saw me perform. I was singing Italian opera in a show at the Venetian, and he walked by and stopped to watch our show. This was unusual; celebrities usually passed by quickly to their next gig or to avoid paparazzi. But Hugh saw us singing, stopped, and watched a whole song. He stood there smiling the whole time. It was obvious that he was one of us – he remembered working low-paying jobs, being a lowly actor – and he stood there and gave us the respect that one actor gives to another.

The Tony Awards remind me that dreams can come true. I can see the path that these people took to get where they are - training, auditions, casting, rehearsals, performances. I understand their world, was a part of it at one time. And here they are, accepting awards for their hard work. It makes me feel that anything is possible.

Everyone who has achieved greatness was once a younger person with dreams. No matter what those dreams are, no matter where that person is in life, those dreams are possible. I truly believe that.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Our Birds Are Back


Earlier this Spring, we had two bird families who built nests around our house. First, a tiny hummingbird built a nest in our courtyard, in a spot where I could watch her perfectly from our front window. We saw her feed the two babies that hatched, and over time we watched them grow – could tell they were bigger from the tiny beaks that stuck up from the nest and got longer over time.

In our backyard, on the top of one of our patio posts, a finch couple raised a family in a messy nest where we could barely see the top of the mom’s head where she sat protecting them.

The hummingbirds were the first to leave – one flew away, and the other was unfortunately buried in our yard after we realized it had been sitting in the nest for too long. I read on the internet that the nest might be used again by the same bird, or by another, so we left it there in the courtyard on its branch in the magnolia tree.

We never did know when the finches left. We knew when they were fed because they cried loudly in high-pitched chirps. And after a while the nest was empty. But then we saw the male on the fence nearby, feeding the two “babies” who were now bigger than him. I read on the internet that once the babies leave the nest, the dad feeds them while the mom starts a new brood. I kept an eye out for the mom, but I assumed she had picked a new location for her family, maybe one with a better view?

Then this weekend, searching for the finch mom, I stood on the patio and squinted to adjust my eyes to the darkness where the nest sat, and suddenly I realized I was looking at the mom’s eye, peering at me, cautiously.

And the hummingbird is back, too! The whirring motor of a hummingbird caught my attention in the courtyard again, and I was happy to see her sitting on the courtyard nest! Now I run to the window every chance I get, and I worry again because it’s windy and her branch gets whipped around in the wind.

These families aren’t the only ones who like our yard; finches and sparrows love our birdbath and feeders. And while I watered the grass with a hose a few days ago, a sparrow landed next to me on the trellis and looked at me and my water. Then he flew down next to where the water landed, walked into the spray, and began to drink the water from the blades of grass. I was careful not to spray him too much.

So, our birds are back – the families and the passersby. And from what I’ve read, they will probably increase the size of their families several times during this summer. So all summer long, I will be a very protective, watchful…Grandma?

Monday, May 30, 2011

My Long-Ago Trip to the 500


I went to the Indianapolis 500 once when I was about eight years old, when we met Mom’s siblings and my older cousin Jay in Indianapolis for the race:

The traffic was bumper to bumper as it slowly crawled into the parking lot in the center of the track. Mom and I were in Jim and Brenda’s car, with John, Bill, and Jay behind us. It was early morning and the sun had just barely warmed the dew off the grass when we parked in the long line of cars.

Brenda quickly jumped out of the car and opened the trunk, pulling out a box of kitchen supplies. She then took out a metal garbage can lid and put it on the ground behind the car. “Where there’s necessity there’s a way,” she laughed and filled the upside-down lid with charcoal, placing a small metal grate above it all. Mom helped Brenda take the rest of the supplies from the trunk as Jim lit the charcoal and we all waited for the coals to get ready.

The inside of the Speedway was chaotic. I jumped up and down, trying to get high enough to see across the sea of people, and finally Bill picked me up and held me high. Cars and people stretched as far as I could see, all the way to the buildings at the far end. Setting me back on the ground, Bill said, “This track is 2 ½ miles long, so how many times do the cars have to go around to get to 500 miles?” He looked at me, and I desperately tried to do the math in my head, wanting to impress him. But it was too much to ask under pressure.

“Ummm, a lot.”

He laughed. “That’s right.”

Jay adjusted the baseball cap on his head and threw a baseball in the air and caught it in the mitt he always carried. “Two hundred.” I sighed and turned to Mom, disappointed that Jay had been smarter. By this time, she and Brenda were frying bacon on the makeshift grill, and smoke wafted across where Jim, Bill, and John were standing and surveying the mobs of race fans.

After eating bacon and eggs and realizing that Brenda’s grill had burned a perfect circle into the grass, we took a cooler and headed to our seats in the stands. I had thought we’d be sitting in the bleachers, but we were much closer to the action. As we stepped into the stands, Jim gestured below us, near the track. “Those are ours,” he said, and I looked down to see that instead of meager bleacher seats, we had a sectioned-off area right next to the track. The only thing that separated us from the racetrack was a concrete barrier and a high mesh fence. Jay immediately ran down and claimed one of the folding metal chairs closest to the fence. Jealous, I followed him and sat next to him so I could see, too.

And the race was exciting, so close. After we heard the singing of the National Anthem and Back Home Again in Indiana, we heard “Gentlemen, start your engines,” and the race soon began. We first saw all the cars drive by slowly during the warmup lap. Each car was jerking from side to side as they drove, as if they were avoiding speedbumps.

“Why are they driving like that?” I asked.

“They’re warming up their tires,” Jay said, rolling his eyes. Obviously it was a stupid question.

Finally the warmup lap was over and we heard the cars approaching as they began their first lap at actual race speed. The roar was deafening. And exciting. I looked at Jay, who was sitting with his arms folded, slumped in his seat, his baseball cap low over his eyes. How did he always look so cool? I wondered. I really wanted him to like me. “What names did you get?” I asked him. Brenda had written each driver's name on slips of paper and we each had drawn three contenders to watch in the race. The person with the winning driver would get a prize she had brought.

“Jnnnnnyprrrsunss,” Jay mumbled.

“What?” I asked, leaning in so I could hear him over the roar of the cars.

“Jonnyyyyprrrssnnns,” he mumbled again.

Not wanting to appear more annoying, I simply said, “Oh,” and sat back in my seat. I looked down at my slips of paper: Larry Rice, Jerry Karl, Larry Dickson. I looked up at the cars that passed and wondered where my drivers were. After watching them pass, I finally decided that I would root for the car that was prettiest. A fluorescent pink car raced by and I silently chose it as my favorite.

Soon the sun got hot and Brenda opened the cooler and handed out cans of Coke. Mom opened hers and then tapped me on the shoulder. “Come on, Shannon, let’s go look around,” she said, and I followed her outside the bleachers where there were booths of Indy 500 merchandise for sale. We saw t-shirts with the 500 logo and bags and buttons with drivers’ faces on them. I picked up a black and white checkered flag and waved it around. “Let’s get that!” Mom said, and she paid the man who stuffed the bills into his pocket. We walked further, enjoying the shade of the stands and stretching our legs. We could hear the race continuing on nearby as a constant drone. “How much longer will it go on?” I asked Mom. I felt like it had started hours ago. “Probably another couple of hours.”

We headed back up to our seats just in time to see a crash ahead of us on the track. Yellow pieces of car and black rubber flew in every direction, some landing on the pavement in front of us. I dug in my bag for my little 110 camera and snapped photos as the emergency vehicle drove out to help the driver out of the car. Shakily the driver stood and when we all applauded, he waved briefly to the crowd before being led off the track. “Who was it?” I asked, digging into my pocket for my crumpled slips of paper. “Was it one of these?” I shoved the slips in front of Bill for his inspection. “No, I don’t think so.” Smiling, I took my seat in front next to Jay, who was sitting with his baseball cap so low that I didn’t know how he could see anything. I waved my checkered flag in front of him. “See what I got?” I asked. I got a grunt in return, which was better than nothing.

Finally Bill told me that the end of the race was near, so I strained my ears to hear the announcer, silently urging my drivers to hurry. Cheers erupted from the stands behind us, and I asked, “Who is it? Who won?” as I gripped the papers in my hand. Suddenly John threw his hands in the air. “Woo hoo!” John had the winning driver’s name. I sat back in my chair with a thud, disappointed. And my favorite pink car didn’t finish anywhere near the front, either. John opened the gift that Brenda handed him, revealing a small frosted cake that she had topped with a plastic race car. “All right!” he laughed, hugging Brenda with one arm.

We got our belongings together and I snapped one more photo of the people in the stands as we joined the mass of people walking to their cars. As we waited in the long line of traffic, I waved my checkered flag out the back window. I could see the outline of Jay’s baseball cap in the car in front of us.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Summer Isn't As Cool



As I went into Starbucks recently, I walked past the same guy I mentioned in an earlier post. I almost didn't recognize him. It was the guy who used to sit inside for hours in a dark hat, drawing on a sketchbook while chewing on a matchstick. He had that cool vibe.

But now it's hot, and it's hard to be "cool" in shorts and a t-shirt. He had the same attitude as he sat there - head cocked in an attitude-filled manner, the same matchstick in his mouth, but it wasn't the same, at all.

Think about the word "cool" (or whatever word your generation used). What picture forms in your head? I immediately think of James Dean-type rebels in the 1950's with their black leather jackets and brooding expressions. Jack Nicholson in his Navy uniform saying "You can't handle the truth!" Gene Hackman's clenched jaw in "Unforgiven."

Cool women? Katherine Hepburn daring to wear pants and buck tradition. Judi Dench with her ramrod-straight posture and ability to steal a movie in which she only appears for ten minutes. Queen Latifah, who is able to rap like a gangsta' (Here, I'm proving I'm not cool.) and then appear in a movie as a classy leading lady.

All these people define cool to me. Mainly, they do not try to be cool; anyone who tries automatically isn't. They are strong; they buck tradition; they are smart and are never silly. They keep their mouths shut unless what they have to say is important.

But picture them in shorts and a t-shirt instead of that uniform or dark suit. Flipflops aren't cool. Summer sweat isn't cool. We need to cover up and keep some mystery. Wear that hat with the large brim we can peek from mysteriously. Throw on a rakish scarf or dress all in black. Just don't show your sweat stains.

George isn't as cool in the summer, either. How can you look cool when your tongue is hanging out?

Monday, May 16, 2011

When I'm Smart


Do you ever have days (or weeks) when you feel completely stupid? I’m in the middle of a stupid phase right now. And it really bugs me.

First, I put my first 100 blog posts into a book on blurb.com, and their software allowed me to proofread the text in all 100 posts. Oops. While I know I often use incomplete sentences (purposely) and do make mistakes like anyone else, I had no idea I had so many spelling mistakes! And I’m a good speller! I blame it on laziness (too lazy to hit spellcheck) and lack of time (too busy to take time to proofread). Most of the time, I’d rather just get it posted and over with. It’s my blog, after all, so it doesn’t have to be perfect, right?

But I have to admit that many of those spelling mistakes were honest mistakes. How embarrassing, especially coming from a self-processed grammar snob and a person who is certified to teach high school English. Oops.

Sometimes I wish I looked really smart. I wish I were one of those super-intelligent people whose brain intimidates. But I’m from the Midwest, where we’re taught to be humble and not to brag. So I’m just nice, and people sometimes assume I’m stupid. I guess niceness and intelligence don’t go together?

And that is my biggest pet peeve. Just today, the worker at Star Nursery talked down to me when I asked about tagging some trees for pickup by the contractor who will do some work in our yard this week. The woman kept interrupting me, assuming I was stupid and didn’t know how to tie a marker around a tree branch. If she had just listened to me, she would have realized I was asking something more complicated.

And it happens all the time. Do I need to wear glasses so people will see that I’m smart? Should I put my hair in a bun? Should I be rude? Talk down to people? I sometimes desperately need to DO something. I’m just so tired of people assuming my questions are stupid. For example:

Me, at work: “Susan, do you know how to use the key on the door at the end of the hall?”

Susan: “Just put the key in and turn it.”

DUH! I know how to use a f-ing key. But the door at the end of the hall is the alarm door which needs a special key to prevent the alarm from sounding. But the nice Midwestern girl in me ignored the fact that she assumed I was stupid, and I just figured it out myself.

Someday I will be full of witty comebacks for all the people who talk down to me. Someday. When I’m smart.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Avoid-The-Roses Day


Mother’s Day is still a day I’d rather just pass over. Mom died over ten years ago, and we’re deep in the waiting period of the adoption process, so Mother’s Day only emphasizes what I don’t have.

What I usually dread the most is going to a restaurant where they’re giving away roses to the mothers. If I take one, I feel like a fraud, so I usually find a way to sneak around the giver-of-the-roses and avoid the thing altogether.

And it seems like Mother’s Day is becoming bigger every year. I noticed that someone wished my husband a happy Mother’s Day this Sunday. What? It’s not like this is a real holiday…it’s not like wishing someone a Happy Thanksgiving or Merry Christmas. So can’t we avoid all the hype?

A friend of mine told me that at her former church, they gave out roses at the door to all the moms, and if your mom was alive you got a red rose, and if your mom was dead you got a white one. Hmmm. What a weird thing to do. It makes me picture the people entering the church one by one and saying, “Alive.” “Dead.” “Dead.” “Alive.”

In my Grandma’s church, they gave a rose to the oldest mother (who was my Grandma) and one to the youngest mother. I wonder if the youngest was sixteen? Fifteen? Just kidding, but to me that’s a weird tradition, too.

This Sunday, we went to a church service where they honored all the women. At first I was afraid they were going to ask all the mothers to stand, but instead, they said that all women are nurturers – all women have been mothers to someone at one point – so they asked all the women to stand. And we all got roses. That was nice. It left no question. I didn’t have to wonder if I was worthy.

Good. Now that’s over and I don’t have another Avoid-The-Roses Day for another year.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Please Shut Up?


This week I had my eyes examined, and I signed in at the front desk and stood listening to the staff while I filled out my paperwork.

It was idle chitchat until one of the optometrists joined the women behind the desk and continued a conversation with her patient who checked out next to me.

“…oh, I heard everything you said,” the doctor reassured her patient while she flipped through some papers. “I can type and talk at the same time,” she explained. “You would be surprised how many things I can do at once.”

“You’re a good multi-tasker,” the patient responded.

“Yes, and I’m so glad that my mother let me watch TV while I did my homework. I wish that every kid was allowed to watch TV or listen to music while they study.” This comment caused me to look up and listen to this doctor’s reasoning. She continued, “Then they get used to constant stimulation and can learn to do many things at once. All kids should study while watching TV.”

The doctor’s sentences were said in a running stream with no pauses for breaths. She obviously could intake oxygen while constantly talking, writing a prescription, and reading the computer screen. She was really impressed with herself.

Being a staunch believer in the notion that people nowadays are over-stimulated and need to learn how to be quiet - to be alone with their thoughts – this woman made me want to laugh. When she finally walked back to her office, the room’s energy sighed in relief.

So imagine my disappointment when the door to my exam room opened later and that same doctor entered in a rush of run-on sentences.

While she entered numbers from my earlier exams into the computer: “Your eyes look great. It’s probably because you’re so thin. That means you’re healthy. There are way too many fat people in this country. And the fat ones are the ones with bad eyesight.”

While she had me look through the lenses and tell her “1” or “2”: “I have a patient who has great eyesight and he’s 70 years old. He eats spinach every day. That’s the trick. And it’s the married ones who eat better. If the woman eats well, her husband gets the benefit, too. You’ve got to eat spinach and leafy vegetables. I have another patient who…”

While she studied my retina on the computer screen: …Well, I can’t remember what she rambled about at that point, because I had tuned her out long ago. I was there for specific reasons – to ask about the eye pressure they had noticed last time, and to see if my macula looked okay, since macular degeneration runs in my family.

But she had not yet stopped talking and I had not been able to ask one question. Was she even looking at my results? How could she focus on anything? She sure liked to brag about her multi-tasking, but I knew that next time I would make sure I got a more focused doctor.

Funny how the doctor’s mile-a-minute exam was the perfect example of why her earlier logic was insane. It makes things so simple when people prove my points for me.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Real Royals


This week has brought out all the Royal-Watchers, and I have to admit that I’m one of them. My love affair with England began when I was twelve, when I first went to England for three weeks and began my love of travel. How could I not love it? It was rainy and old and literally foreign, with different food (stands selling hot chestnuts), different accents (blimey!), different transportation (trains & double-decker buses), different buildings (castles with turrets) and a different city vibe than I had felt anywhere before.

But I think the presence of the royals influenced the culture the most. While society gets farther and farther from ceremony, tradition, and respect for history, the presence of the British Monarchy gives us the true definition of class. We need more class.

Sure, some people may say that society is moving away from the royals – that they’re no longer needed, that they spend too much money. But we need examples of royal living. We need to see people bow and dress up and given titles of honor. In this world whose definition of “real” is watching people from New Jersey getting drunk in a hot tub, we need to see people living royal lives. We need to see that it’s possible. There really are princes and princesses living in castles, even nowadays. It’s a fairytale that is real.

Of course the Royals don’t have it easy; no one does. Their lives aren’t perfect; no one’s is. But that just makes them more real. So this Friday morning (at 3am!) I will sit in front of the TV like I did years ago, when Mom got me out of bed to sleepily watch the historic ceremony. I’ll see the military and the horses and the carriages and all the fanfare, live, right there, for real.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

George's Buffet


This morning I took George for a walk before work, and on the way I had to suddenly pull him away from an apple core that was lying in the gutter. In fact, he has learned that any little thing on the street – rocks, leaves, twigs – might be food, so he knows to check out every single thing quickly before I notice.

George has learned from experience. There is always food lying along the sidewalks of our neighborhood. I have seen burritos, pizza, hamburgers, chicken legs, and more, and I often have to stop George and play tug of war to get a chicken bone from his mouth.

Why do people randomly toss away things? I also wonder about the number of times I see a lonely shoe on the side of the road – I’ve also seen a solo sock. Do these fly off motorists who drive with one foot out the window? I just don’t get it. I don’t think I’ve ever lost one shoe.

We live in such an excessive society, where we have so much excess that we let food sit in the refrigerator until it spoils, and we literally cover our sidewalks with food. A starving person would be in heaven just to walk my neighborhood, due to the smorgasbord that awaits. But for now, George is the one who enjoys it.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

From Observer to Greeter


Oh, how I love to people watch. I’m sitting at Starbucks, and the guy outside is reading a book called All Things Shining. He’s sitting in the bright sunshine (the umbrella is still closed from our recent winds) and his feet are propped up on the chair across from him.

It’s Sunday morning, and Starbucks is bustling. All the tables are full. In fact, I had to quickly lose my place in line to grab the table where I sit today. Another man was also headed for it, and we decided to share the table, even though it was tiny. I told him, “We’ll just pretend we’re in Europe, where they share tables in restaurants.” I hoped he knew what I was talking about; it seemed like he did. So, right now he is sitting opposite me, reading the Wall Street Journal.

Against the wall is a young man who I have seen here two days in a row. He has no drink in front of him (maybe he’s been here so long that he already drank one?) and he is drawing. That’s exactly how he looked yesterday – sitting there in a low slung hat, drawing with an ink pen on a pad of paper before him. He’s chewing a toothpick – but on closer inspection I see that it’s a match that is hanging rakishly from his mouth. Much cooler. I wonder what his story is. Everyone has a story.

An excited group cry just came from the corner, where a family of three generations (at least) is hunched over a computer that is sitting on the coffee table. They are skyping with a family member somewhere far away. I should move closer and try to learn more, but I’m too lazy.

At a table in the window, a heavyset man sits alone with no drink. He is waiting for someone. Finally a woman enters, looks around the room, then walks over to him and introduces herself. It must be a blind date. I bet they met on the internet. They order drinks and their conversation mixes with that of the room.

Soon my role of Observer will change, due to the change in the season. It is now warm enough outside to resume bringing George with me, and we will sit outside next to the door and try to stay in the shade of the umbrella as the sun crosses overhead. There, we are the Greeters, and everyone says hello to George as they enter or exit. It gives him a big ego.

I love to be at home on a day like this, with the windows wide to let in the sunshine. But it’s also nice to be outside in the world, interacting even in a small way, being part of it all, observing.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Hat Lady


At the dog park today, a little black schipperke approached me cautiously while I sat on the bench with another dog owner. The dog barked at me a few times, then he walked up and let me pet him on the head.

The dog’s owner explained the dog’s behavior. “He’s friendly; he’s just never seen a hat before,” he said, referring to my sun hat and its wide brim. “I’ll have to start wearing a hat at home so he’ll get used to them,” the man added. Friday (the dog’s name) waited for a few more pets and then ran after George out onto the grass.

I think it’s a shame that people don’t wear hats anymore. (A baseball cap does not count.) I long for the times when people dressed up – the days of gloves and heels and hats, when women wouldn’t be caught dead in pants in public, when men wore hats and shined shoes and made sure their pants had a sharp crease.

What does it say about our society, now that people wear pajamas and slippers in public? The next time you’re waiting in line at the grocery, look around you and survey all the people within eyesight. Usually, there is no one dressed well. It’s a sea of dingy jeans, cutoffs, bra straps, and sweatpants. And of course I’m not saying we all need to dress up all the time, but I think it’s sad that sloppiness is the norm.

I wasn’t alive in the era I’m talking about, but I watched it on TV all the time. I loved those old black and white movies with the elegant men and women. And I loved looking at the photos of Mom and her sister in the 50’s in poodle skirts, cardigans, and bobby socks.

So, I am a hat wearer. When I wear a hat, it means I’m in a good mood. In hats, I feel creative, artsy, dressed up a little. When I see other people in hats, they seem jaunty, edgy. You have to have a certain self confidence nowadays to wear a hat. Hats make a statement. My sunhats make me feel like I’m on vacation. Berets feel European. Newsboy hats feel cocky, opinionated.

And hats hold memories. My Mom’s fellow teachers gave her a hat party when she had cancer and lost her hair. I hung a row of antique hats in the kitchen of my first apartment. I tend to buy hats when I travel to other countries. And Mom and I always wanted to buy me a real top hat – the kind that is flat and then pops out so you can wear it – just like Fred Astaire. I’ve always had a hat collection.

After writing this, it makes me think of my Grandpa, in his black shined shoes and houndstooth pants, stopping by the door to put on his fedora on the way out. I’ll have to find that hat the next time I’m at Grandma’s. It’s a connection to Grandpa, and to those past times that make me sentimental.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Ho-Hum or Exotic?


During the past few weeks, the Las Vegas winds have been brutal. I passed a vacant lot at the height of it and saw hundreds of tumbleweeds had collected in the downwind fence, creating a brown spiky sculpture.

It’s strange to see tumbleweeds in excess. When I grew up in southern Indiana, tumbleweeds were exotic – those lonely things that drifted across the road in old Westerns. When we took a trip out West one summer, Mom put one in her trunk so she could show her elementary art students. It hung on a string from the ceiling of her art room for years.

Another exotic item that is now commonplace for me is the palm tree. We have two in our front yard and even more in back, and I pass them on practically every road I drive in Las Vegas. But as a kid, I only saw them when we drove to Florida for vacation. In fact, it was a contest to see who would see the first palm tree. Usually it was me, and I would yell excitedly when I saw it.

What other things have now become commonplace in my life? Glitz, neon lights, celebrities, plastic surgery, slot machines, cacti, city-people, traffic…to name a few. All of these things were foreign to me in my little home town, but not necessarily as exciting as tumbleweeds or palm trees.

So, now I have changed. Now, the little things that were ho-hum in my little childhood life are now considered special…rain, thunderstorms, front porches, lightning bugs, football games on woods-surrounded fields, town festivals…towns in which the one stoplight was a novelty.

But the grass is always greener, right? I’m older and know not to take my palm trees, or my tumbleweeds, for granted. I live in an exotic place, and I can appreciate that.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Can You Find the Hummingbird?


On Sunday night we watched TV as normal, while George obliviously slept curled into a ball next to us. When we went to bed, I looked back at our evening and realized all we had seen was depressing destruction. On 60 Minutes, we watched a story about the devastation in Japan. Then we watched two episodes of Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations, one of which took place in Haiti and showed the poverty and hunger there, and the second which was in Cambodia and talked about the annihilation of much of the population there back in the 70’s.

And we spent the evening in the second floor of our cozy house, eating chocolate chip cookies and milk, petting our fluffy dog and stretching out on our oversized sofa.

Of course as we watched, I did the normal daydreaming about what I wish I could do to help these people. I imagined having a homeless Japanese family move into our guest room so they’d have a safe roof over their heads. I imagined adopting an orphan from Haiti and bringing him here for food and comfort. But those are just dreams; instead, I occasionally send a check to a charity to do my small part.

This weekend we had severe winds in Las Vegas, the kind that makes sucking-noises through our windows and blows everything outside into one corner of our yard. And all weekend, I was worried about the momma hummingbird who we recently discovered in a tiny golf ball-sized nest in our courtyard. Luckily she managed to stay in the nest even though the branch was whipping around. Worried, and wanting to do something for her, I put a hummingbird feeder in the courtyard and trimmed back a neighboring palm tree that was threatening to poke her when it moved in the wind. On Monday morning, she was still there, and I wished I could do something to warm up the courtyard for her. Turn on the Jacuzzi? Open the nearby window and turn on the heat? I daydreamed for ways to help her as I watched her before heading off to work.

Then as I neared my workplace this morning, I had to slow down early at an intersection because a tiny chipmunk had decided at the last minute to dart in front of my car. Luckily the light finally turned red, so I sat there and hoped he had run away.

While I waited, a woman got out of the truck behind me and approached my window. Great, I thought. She either thinks something is wrong with my car, or she’s coming to bitch at me for delaying traffic.

But I was wrong. “He’s under your car!” she said when I rolled down my window.

She was worried about the chipmunk just like I was! She bent down and said, “He’s just sitting there.”

I joined her outside and we both tried to scare him into the bushes. We never did see him run away, but I assume he did. We got back in our cars and drove away very slowly, just in case he was still around.

I may not be able to adopt a Haitian orphan or build a new house for a Japanese family, but I can acknowledge life when I can. We show our humanity by doing the little things that show we care.

Next Sunday night, I think we should watch Family Guy.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Happy 25th, Jean Valjean


I spent Sunday afternoon crying. George didn’t even seem to notice, as long as I kept rubbing his belly. What, you ask, put me over the edge? It was PBS’ broadcast of the 25th Anniversary concert performance of Les Miserables.

(For those of you who aren't "theater people," this production is based on Victor Hugo's novel, and is a hugely popular musical that opened in 1985.)

It is almost cliché for a theatre person to like Les Mis. The snootier ones snub it as being too commercial, too pop, too popular. But I loved it long before it was popular to love it, before every Drama Club member or Thespian owned a Les Mis t-shirt.

Actually, the first time I saw the show, I didn’t like it. And, I slept through most of it. It wasn’t my fault, though. My high school theatre group had been to the Improv in New York City until 6am and then went to a matinee of Les Mis the following afternoon. We were destined to sleep – our seats were so far back that the actors were little dots on the faraway stage, and after all, it is three-hour-long, emotional show, which does not mix well with lack of sleep.

Three years later I sat third row center for the London production and was mesmerized. It was the first time I cried in the audience of a theater. Afterward I read the original novel and even did a school paper comparing the two. I even played the songs on the piano and of course sang "On My Own". I loved every bit of the show, every character. I think the best story is one that gives you reason to like the bad guys as well as the good ones. (Javert is my favorite.)

It’s easy to be moved by good theater. I’ve even put a CD in my car and cried to uptempo Broadway songs, just because they’re so damn good.

So, this Sunday I put in a load of laundry and then cried when Jean ValJean sang "Bring Him Home." I made myself some lunch and cried when Eponine died. I emptied the dishwasher and then cried when Fantine’s ghost appeared to take Jean Valjean “home.” And you can just picture me when the original cast members joined in for an encore.

I think it’s great to be moved to tears just because something is so good.

(p.s. I can't write all this without noting the fact that in this 25th anniversary production, Nick Jonas played Marius. He did a fine job, although his voice wasn't as strong as the rest of the cast.)

Monday, February 28, 2011

Behind the Scenes


It may seem that the production of this blog only involves the quick writing of whatever I’m thinking about that week, plus a quick click of my camera. But there is more to it – it’s more complicated that it seems! So I’ve decided to give you a behind-the-scenes glimpse of what it takes to make this happen every week.

First, there’s the writing. Sometimes it’s so incredibly easy. Something obvious will happen and inspire me to write. Or a photo from the week will give me a topic. Sometimes I’ll write several in advance. But often Sunday night comes and I’m blank. No one said anything interesting, no one pissed me off, George didn’t do anything funny. Those are the times when I ask my husband for help. His third suggestion is usually a winner. That’s why he says he should get a byline on this blog.

The most fun thing for me is creating the photos. Sure, sometimes all I have to do is point and shoot, at the dog park or at Starbucks or wherever works for that week’s subject. But often I have to create the shot by posing George. And that’s where the Behind-the-Scenes action gets good.

George has learned that if I get out the camera, he is going to get a treat. So now he’s very good at posing patiently until I get the shot. But first we have to get him into the right pose.

The following photo from the post on February 23, 2010 is a great example of using a treat productively. I needed George to look like he was thinking about himself, so we moved our bedroom mirror into the hallway for better light and then placed him facing it. To get him to look at his reflection, we put his treat on the ledge of the mirror. You can see it if you look closely.


The shot of George cleaning (July 13, 2009) was easier than it may seem. We put the paper towel on the coffee table and then set his paws on it. Lance held a treat in the direction I wanted George’s focus to be, and eventually in his excitement he put his paw on the paper towel. Click.


The one on January 24, 2011 was difficult to take because I needed George to stand behind the stacks of books in our front room. He would walk behind them, but when I held up the treat to change his focus, he immediately ran around the books to get it. He was very confused, but eventually I got the shot.


On October 25, 2010, I needed George to sit in my cap and gown, and it was the easiest shot I ever got. Usually I need my husband to hold the treat or hat or whatever while I take the photo, but George was super patient. I safety-pinned my graduation gown so it would stay on his shoulders, slipped it on him, held the hat over his head with one hand and snapped the pic with the other. By the way, hats are often not really on his head. I try not to catch our fingers holding them!


On September 13, 2010, I needed a photo of George peeing on a fire hydrant – awfully specific. So I put him in the car in the morning before he had his first pee of the day, and I drove around trying to find a good hydrant. But it was hard. Many were in strange places or hard to get to or just not right, artistically. (I wanted a red one, but no luck.) By the time I finally found one, George was really anxious. I let him out of the car and he immediately wanted to pee on the nearest bush, then the nearest light pole, but I kept dragging him back to the fire hydrant, which obviously didn’t interest him. Finally he peed on it out of desperation. I’m sure we made a hilarious scene.


On September 7, 2010, Lance carried George around to the other side of our backyard’s wall and held him up so it looked like George was peeking over. (Another time when anyone nearby would think we were crazy.)


March 15’s post was the blog’s birthday, and George actually sat with that little hat on his head. He didn’t seem to mind at all. The crumbs on the plate aren’t cake – they’re crumbled-up pieces of his treat.


The tumbleweed in our yard on March 8, 2010 was not there naturally – I picked it up along the road and threw it in my trunk to take home for the photo. I think there are still stickers in my trunk to show for it.


Oh, what I do for my art.