Monday, January 31, 2011

Little Oasis

I live in a city. Sure, it’s not the life you first think of when you think “city.” I don’t ride in taxis or take the train or walk with a briefcase to my office wearing a trench coat. But it’s city-life compared to my hometown, where I was surrounded by cornfields, neighbors with red barns and tractors, and if the wind blew from the west, you could smell the pigs across the valley.

That’s why I’m so happy when a little wildlife comes to visit me. This Sunday we spent catching up on our To-Do lists while I had a pot roast in the oven, laundry in the washer, and George slept in the rectangle of sunlight on the dining room floor.

As I passed the window, I heard what sounded like a flock of birds outside. I stopped and looked out, but there were no birds sitting on the power lines or on the rose trellis out front. But the chirping was intense. Then I realized that the birds were in the bush directly in front of me. They hadn’t flown away when I approached because they couldn’t see me due to our tinted windows. I was able to sit there and watch the birds just a foot away from me as they hopped from branch to branch, fluffed out their feathers, and fussed at each other. That close, I felt like I was part of their world for a moment, sitting on a branch with my cup of tea.

Later I walked out in the backyard and noticed that the bird bath was empty. The loud chirping could still be heard from back there, and I filled a pitcher and let the water pour into the concrete bowl. Only a second after I started pouring, a little bird with a twinge of red on his head flew in and perched on the bird bath the same way that George runs for his dinner before it’s all poured into his bowl. The bird looked up at me, realized he had been too hasty, and flew a safe distance away.

The bowl replenished, as soon as I was only six feet away, eight birds swept in and started drinking. It made me promise to keep it filled more regularly.

I like thinking of our yard as a little oasis where the bird community can rely on a cool drink and a nice shady place to sit. We all need a place like that.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Books are never considered clutter.

I find the TV show “Hoarders” strangely addictive. Maybe it’s because I’m a pack rat. No, I don’t have piles of trash and old margarine containers lying around. But I do have all the books from my childhood (two full bookshelves), at least six empty coffee cans (to do projects with sometime), and a closet-full of old costumes, including the dress my Mom wore in her big piano recital in high school, my tutus from early dance recitals, and the tux my husband wore at our wedding.

If you’re not familiar with any of the hoarding shows on television, let me explain. They show people who are compulsive hoarders, meaning that they have an addiction, much like alcoholics, whose problem affects every area of their lives. Their houses are so full of trash and things that there is literally nowhere to step. They can no longer cook in their kitchens because they can’t find the stove. Their family and friends no longer visit.

So, the valiant TV show comes in to rescue them, bringing a psychologist, a professional organizer, and a team of 15 people to clean out all the stuff.

To me, the fascinating thing is watching the people’s excuses for keeping everything. They truly think they will someday need that old broken vase. They want to keep every single thing that has sentimental value. Being surrounded by stuff makes them feel secure.

My husband loves it when I watch the show, because I usually end up cleaning out a drawer or donating some clothes to charity. But the big difference between me and the hoarders (besides a true psychological problem) is that I actually use my stuff. I am in the process of finishing a quilt made of all my old t-shirts and sweatshirts. And just a week ago, I created a wall hanging to pin all my necklaces to on the wall next to my bathroom vanity. I used some leftover fabric, an extra piece of foam core, and some map pins. I knew where it all was, and didn’t have to spend a dime.

And I know I’ll use those coffee cans someday, too. I have four ideas: 1. Cover them with contac paper, fill with cookies, and give as Christmas gifts. 2. Paint them, add some yarn rope and turn them into drums for kids to play with. 3. Paint them, punch holes in them, add a candle and use outside as luminarias. 4. Follow the instructions in my old kids’ book to turn one into a butter churn. (I did this as a kid and it worked!)

While my husband may protest, I have no problem with clutter, as long as it’s managed, and used. I have many, many hobbies that require stuff. I have many interests that require stuff. My stuff has stories. (That doll on the shelf flew on my uncle’s plane in WWII; That Hawaiian lei in the frame was made for me for our wedding.) To me, interesting people have stuff. So that means I must be super interesting.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Just Beyond the Gate

We live in the extreme Northwest area of Las Vegas, far from the casinos and traffic and the seedier city-elements like nightclubs, ladies of the evening, and homeless people. So I was surprised this week when George and I drove to the dog park, and we passed a homeless woman standing on the sidewalk a couple of blocks from our house.

I couldn’t see her face. She was dressed in layered crumpled clothing – baggy coat and stocking cap. Her left hand held the edge of her grocery cart that was filled to overflowing. She stood still, looking into a gated community of houses. The palm trees lining the entrance swayed around her, and through the gate she could see the rows of two-story houses and a little grassy play area and picnic table. She never moved as I drove by – just stood holding her shopping cart, looking.

Immediately the Starbucks-Venti-light-ice-Chai-tea-latte in my hand felt shameful. Gluttonous. Overindulgent.

As we drove on to the dog park with George hanging out the car window in the wind, I wondered what that woman thought as she looked at that little all-American community. Did she hate the people inside? Did she dream of living in a place like that one day? Did she feel cheated? Cheapened? Hopeful?

Of course having a moment like that makes me focus on priorities, and thankful for what I have, and all those other cliché feelings we’re supposed to have when faced with the overwhelming problems of others.

But it also made me angry. I work in an area of Las Vegas that is wealthy, and every day I’m around privileged people with an overwhelming sense of entitlement. And every day the majority of Americans watch “reality” shows on their big screen TVs and increasingly believe they have a God-given right to be loud and arrogant and spend all their money on things that just don’t matter. How many people nowadays truly know what Priorities are?

Just think what could be done to help the world, if everyone bought only what they needed, and everyone lived within their means. Just like that woman gazing through the gate at the pretty life just beyond her grasp, I can dream, too.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011


Backstage at The Nutcracker last week, a 12-year old dancer excitedly told me, “I signed my first autograph last night!” She had ridden in the elevator with someone who recognized her from the show, so she hastily wrote her name on their program before the elevator doors closed.

I remember giving my first autograph many years ago, when I was in high school and the little kids wanted one when I played Snow White. Later I signed autographs when I played lead roles as an adult, when excited theatre-goers came at me with Playbill and pen after the shows. It was always a little weird – after all, I’m not a celebrity or anything. But it’s a nice compliment.

Some people might treasure a celebrity photo more than an autograph, but for me, the idea of pen to paper is more important. There are thousands of photos out there, taken by reporters and paparazzi and fans and friends, but when someone takes the time to ask for an autograph, and the person stops and actually signs his or her name, it means more. They’ve given more effort. They’ve stopped and spoken to you and looked at you instead of looking at a camera. Signing a name is more personal.

When I worked at the Stratosphere we had to pose for pictures with the public after every show, and often people would buy the t-shirt with our photos on it and then ask us to sign by our picture. One day a rather condescending man shoved the shirt at us while making degrading comments about us being stupid dancers. We did sign his shirt, but we made sure to add evidence of our degrees next to our names, too. Sasha’s included B.F.A., Danielle wrote A.A., and I wrote B.A., M. Ed. with a flourish. Sometimes autographs are signed to prove a point.

I don’t have many celebrities’ autographs at home. I’ve found that celebrities usually don’t live up to my expectations. Mickey Rooney was incredibly rude; Rip Taylor was annoying. But I did get Debbie Reynolds’ and Mel Tillis’ when I worked with them; I was around them enough that it wasn’t a big deal.

I also have Fred Kelly’s (Gene’s brother), one of Ted Healy’s Stooges, and movie musical actress Ruta Lee’s. I met them when I worked for Debbie, and it was fun to talk to them about the business and to mix and mingle. These people didn’t give attitude; their number of requests for autographs have obviously declined over the years. I bet they appreciate the occasional autograph request at this point in their careers, much like a twelve-year-old at the start of her career. Maybe she’ll make it big one day, too.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Just a Little Time

I’m sitting in Starbucks and savoring my Chai and hot oatmeal, enjoying being out of the cold. I won’t be having Starbucks as much in 2011 because I plan to cut back and save money!

It’s cold and windy in Las Vegas right now, with snow on the tops of the surrounding mountains, and inside Starbucks it’s cozy and warm. In fact, all the chairs around me are full of people, and I realized that for some reason, it seems extra cozy in here. I tried to put my finger on the reason for this, and then I realized it was because of all the coats on the back of each chair around me. Instead of stark bare wooden chair legs and shiny wood, everything is draped in fabric, velour, and extra padding. People hold their steaming cups and lean into each other more than usual.

I’m happy to say that I almost completed my one resolution for this year, which was to complete my big To-Do list – the one I’ve held onto for years because I procrastinated about many of the items for so long. Even the ones I didn’t complete fully (like transferring my MiniDV’s to DVD) are ones I at least made steps of progress, so I think of that as a victory.

This year’s primary resolution is to exercise. I plan to exercise every day in January. This way I can move into February with the knowledge that I can exercise every day without excuses.

If I were to make another resolution – one aside from the boring ones of eating right or saving money – it would be to get to know people better – those people who I find intriguing and usually only know in passing. The reason I mention this is because a man I know, a 60-year-old who always takes adult ballet classes where I work, died this week of a heart attack.

He came in for class every day and always enthusiastically tried any new dance class we offered. He always smiled, was always polite. It wasn’t until I looked him up online after he died that I wished I had talked to him more. His facebook photos show him cycling at Red Rock, in full cycling regalia. (I could have talked to him about the Tour de France!) He was an avid reader and seemed like he had a full, interesting life. He seemed like the type of person I would have loved to get to know better. Too bad I was too focused on work to actually talk to him.

So I think it might be a good lesson for us all, if not a resolution for everyone. Let’s take a little time to connect. That barista behind the Starbucks counter, the guy who delivers your mail, your next door neighbor – they could all be fascinating potential friends with mutual interests and common personalities. Let’s take a little time to find out.