Monday, December 22, 2008

Anticipation-I think there's a song about that

You can't buy it, but sometimes you pay for it.
Anticipation is an integral component of Christmas spirit, and mine has been in short supply for a number of years. In part to protect myself, I think, from that possible payment if disapointment set in.
Anticipation has ingredients of hope and faith in the future. I haven't always been good at that. Maybe that's why I've always had a short Christmas season--two weeks or so. I couldn't sustain anticipation for much more than that.
This year, I wake up with anticipation for almost every day. It makes a difference.
A friend commented to me once that of course not all Christmases are equal. Not every Christmas can be great, or you wouldn't have any baseline to compare to the great ones. I'm already anticipating this one. I will be with my family. We'll have a good time. And I have my novel stashed to begin reading on Christmas night when everything calms down. Been doing THAT for 40 years or so.
I bought a tree. It's a little one about 31/2 feet, very full "real" fir. It looks like it belongs out in a magic glade with lit candles on it and all the animals slipping in to look in wonder. Call me just a wide-eyed woodland creature. I've put tiny gold lights on it, and my grandmother's clear glass ornaments that this year are 105 years old. I haven't bothered with much else. It just doesn't need it. WRR is playing classical and Christmas music. I am baking, and the smell of warming evergreen and melting chocolate fills the air. (I really think smell is my most enjoyable sense for both Thanksgiving and Christmas.) I've talked to many friends, seen a bunch more, and actually attended parties this year which I couldn't do in my last career because of work pressure. The first year or two I retired, I maintained my basic love/hate don't go out at Christmas stance. I've mentioned a tree and family, but you know, anticipation doesn't rely on that. We manufacture our own ingredients for anticipation.
And I anticipate my Christmas spirit will continue to change. Yep, I anticipate. I can't buy it. It isn't one of the five senses. I can't touch it.
And it makes a huge difference in the quality of life.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

It's all in the telling

I attended an open house this weekend, getting there the last half hour. No one was left but the host and hostess and a man introduced to me as their good friend.

We all sat down to chat and nibble a bit, and the host asked the other man about his wife. He had noticed she was wearing a leg brace. The man gave us a great deal of personal detail about his wife, who has suffered a disability since childhood. He said she has taken a doctor's statement many years ago to mean she should not exercise at all. The man said he had talked to her current doctor and asked him to prescribe physical therapy, which the doctor did, and his wife has carried through. (His smile said, ha!the poor dear doesn't realize she has been actually exercising.) So she exercised dutifully as the therapist instructed and had been getting around much better when she fell and cracked her kneecap. The recovery has been difficult and the joint has had to be immobilized. Healing has been slow. And, of course, there's her weight, he smiled conspiratorily at his host.

"She hasn't figured out yet that there's any connection between her weight and what she puts in her mouth--nachos, desserts, quesadillas..." he trailed off and the two men laughed companionably. I noticed the hostess didn't laugh, and neither did I.

I could not think of anything tactful to say, so I simply asked, "And so and so is your wife?" and stared at him unsmiling. He answered yes and looked at me in puzzlement, finally letting his eyes wander around the room. My host looked down. There was a silent pause and then conversation resumed on a different topic.

I know there are a lot of men and women who tell their spouses' personal business to all and sundry, often spinning it so the speaker comes out the better by comparison. Magnaminous, even. It is not very loving. I would not blame this man's wife for taking comfort in food to fill an empty place she has in her life. I have never seen her, so I don't know if she is huge, or just heavy enough to interfere with her ability to get around better. I don't know her strengths, but I know a lot of her weaknesses,if he spoke at all truthfully. What this man told a complete stranger is that his wife is a fat twit, and he has to guide and direct her. He does seem fond of her, in his way. Also scornful. And I haven't given a tenth of the personal details he told about her. It wasn't his to tell.

And he doesn't get it.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

The Stockings of Christmas

Listen up, children and grandchildren. This includes, I think, anyone under, say 60.

Once upon a time, in the lifetime of some people still roaming the earth, there were Christmas stockings. But they weren't decorations. You put them up on Christmas Eve, just before bedtime. And no one saw them but the persons who put them up or their caretakers.

We children were told if we weren't good, we would get only hard lumps of black coal in our stockings. I, for one, knew what that was because we burned it in our fireplace. The fire was nice. It burned, though, to keep us warm. We didn't have furnaces, most of us. We had fireplaces and maybe a gas heater or two in the most frequented rooms. I knew what coal was, and I didn't want any, and in the childhood grapevine, we all had heard of some child who misbehaved so badly, especially in the weeks before Christmas, that they received only a lump of coal. Or maybe two. And the kids I knew, we all believed in Santa Claus. In my family, I was told that while Santa put presents under the tree for me, even my parents got goodies from Santa in their stockings. Not the good--er, big--stuff, but something from Santa.

So when I went to bed Christmas Eve, I hung up, not my stocking, but my sock, preferably the oldest, most stretched out one I could find in the drawer. And my father hung HIS black sock, fitting a size 12 foot, and also old and stretched. And Mother hung one of her nylon stockings, one with a run in it--do you know what a run is in hosiery, people much younger than I? Most practically, it's one that was also stretched out and tattered and ruined and due to be thrown out, but great for Christmas Eve.After all, the neighbors weren't going to see these. Only the people who hung them.

I remember sighing with envy when I saw Dad's much bigger sock, and sighing even more heavily when I saw Mother's stocking, which hung so low it had to be hung on the side of the mantle away from the fireplace so it wouldn't catch fire.

Christmas morning, no matter how tempting the array under the tree, first we had to take down our socks and open them. Mine always had a candy cane, I remember, and Christmas ribbon candy, some of which I liked and some of which I didn't, and a few things, maybe a tangerine as well. I loved tangerines. Maybe a package of No. 2 pencils with my name printed on them, and/or a yo-yo or some such. Jacks. Pickup Sticks. (yawn) Pleasant. I always checked, and my mom's looong stocking was never more than half full, with stupid stuff like an apple and an orange in it. Ha! Dad's usually had monogrammed handkerchiefs in it, which he always seemed pleased with. Well, Kleenex hadn't been invented yet, either.

Sometime during the 50's, Christmas stockings became ornaments for decorating, with our names on them. Someone made a killing churning these out for the new refurbishment of Christmas decorations, but no cigar or patent, I think, for the first designer/originator. With uniform sizes, it did away with some significant whining ("his foot's bigger. It's not fair!") And so Christmases became, more festive, more merry, more festooned, and for some merchants, more profitable.

In families with multiple children and a paucity of beds, stockings always were hung in twos or threes on the foot of the bed. And with the cheap felt, uniform red stockings with white fluffy tops, again, decorative and uniform for all children in the house, Christmas decorations invaded the bedrooms, not just the room with the tree.

American women across the country still sew or knit and design their own. I was one of those grateful for the storebought ones. I say American women. How chary of me. Some men across America are doing the same thing.

In my own sons' youth, stockings always had some kind of chocolate, and usually windup toys that included robots, and didn't necessarily come first. In fact, they often came in the interim after Beneath the Tree and before Christmas breakfast was served. My own stocking once had an opal ring in the toe, which made me cry emotionally with happy tears.

Christmas stockings have come a long way, baby.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

The Start of a Gratitude Journal

I talked to an old friend today, someone I hadn't seen in a couple of years.

She said in the last few months she has started a gratitude journal. Each day she writes down one blessing of her day. She commented on the bad things always around us, the news, hassles, frustrations, and that you have to be aware, pay attention to see that the good things are happening right along.

This fits into so much of my last year that I was amazed. I don't usually write it down, and I think she has a good idea. In the last 10 months, though, I have gotten used to waking up, saying thank you, and then paying attention to the blessings in my day. Some are big, some are little. A couple of days ago, it was raining, the sky grey behind a radiant red oak, and I stopped just to look. To remember. To sniff the air full of wet leaves and wet ground, and cold--at least cool--air that has its own smell. To listen to the rain. To feel the cold seeping through my sweater. To feel alive, so alive, all my senses in that moment. And I won't forget. What else happened that day? I don't remember, but it was good day.

And I am grateful for it.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

The Best of Holidays

How do I say this?

Life is GOOD.

LIFE is good.

For me, this year has been full of blessings So many, I can't count them. But you know what? We get them all the time, and so often, we don't count them or notice them. When we do--well.

I't's overwhelming.

I would say the same without the past two weeks. There's a Russian saying, "Pray to God, but keep rowing." You don't have to believe in God, though it is easier, but you do have to believe in the future, and you do have to keep rowing. I don't know which is the harder part.

I do know that optimism and hope has allowed me to do things in my life I thought logically were impossible, but with hope and faith, I did them. And I thought, "wow!" A little startled, a lot happy.
And on to the next challenge.

I have had a very ordinary life. Nothing spectacular. But, of course, very special to me, because it is mine.

About two weeks ago, I went in for my first mammogram in 25 years. My doctor explained that as I age, I am more vulnerable. So I went. And they found two spots in my right breast. I came in for a followup diagnostic. Without a database, they still couldn't tell, so I went in for a biopsy.

Results due in two to three working days. So at the end of two, I had no report. 80 percent chance benign. But by noon the next day, I was basically non-functional. Parrt of me looked at me, and thought that if it was malignant, I was still blessed. It had been caught early and would probably not be life-threatening. Exactly the purpose of mammograms. Still a blessing. Later I got the report. Benign, come in next year for the annual. NOW they have a database.

So, get your mammogram. But that's not really the purpose of this, although it is a part.

Keep rowing. I didn't on the mammograms, so a little extra.

I am having my family of five over for Thanksgiving dinner. Something I haven't done in a dozen years. So little. And so huge.

I've been exercising regularly. I've been eating right. I am not back to where I have been, butI am so thankful. My cup is so full. Even if the food stinks. But hey, there's optimsm here. So it probably won't.

Thanksgiving isn't about perfection. It is about gratefulness, for life, for those around us. Reach out as far as you can, the phone, or neighbor. Thankfulness is one of the best parts of being human,and of being an American. Being thankful is the best part of being alive.

Hey! better than sex! and I say that with true belief. To greet the day, being thankful for it--there really is nothing better.


Tuesday, November 11, 2008


I cried. It surprised me. I actually cried when Barak Obama was declared president. It was momentous. In was history that I never expected to see in my lifetime, and no, his color wasn't why I voted for him.

I didn't cry out of sadness. Not at all. It was more than joy or happiness. It was overwhelm-ness, if that is a word. And never mind that it isn't.

He isn't a wise gamble, perhaps. But.

I believe in what he says. At least more than McCain. And he is young enough to have the strength, stamina and energy to do some of it. I gamble that he can't do it all. I voted betting that.

I held off deciding until 10 days before the election. I tried so hard to be objective. But I didn't agree with Bush, though I prayed for him. McCain really did seem a lot more of the same. And I did agree with quite a bit of Obama. I hated to vote just because I believed. But eventually, I succumbed. I voted my heart. And when he won, I cried. I've never done that in an election before.

Thank God I know a few folks who voted Blue. The rest of the population here walks around grimly like their favorite dog just died. So I try to bank my cheerfulness. Don't want to rub it in. I know all too well how they feel. Been in their shoes in so many, many other elections.

This country must be united, as usual, with the loyal opposition, which I have been for many years. (sigh) As a resident of Texas, so far as my community is concerned, I still am.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Today we are all part of history

Today is an historic day. And we are all a part of it.

As always on the day for national elections, I woke with that sort of Christmas morning feeling. What will the day bring? How many of us will vote? Today is We, the People. One nation. Indivisible. Speaking our voices freely. It is no little thing.

I was 21 the first time I voted in Dallas, Texas. I was able to vote there because Texas passed a law the spring before that college students from out of state could vote in Texas if they had residence of more than six months. This is my 11th time to vote in a presidential election, always somewhere in Texas. The first time, I was in line and talked with a white-haired woman in her 80s who was as excited as I was. I don't remember how many times she told me she had voted but I was impressed--and it didn't even occur to me at the time that she was of an age to remember when women could not vote. Her vote was precious to her. As mine is to me.

She personally remembered the struggles, and yes, the violence involved in the fight for women's right to vote. I do not. But in my lifetime I have witnessed the violence, and even the deaths in the fight to give black Americans the reality of the freedom to vote, not just the written law.

I am not convinced that the nation will change direction so much, no matter who is elected. I do believe that no matter who we elect, for President, senators, representatives, state officials, county officials et al, that we will survive as a nation. Last week an old man told me if Obama is elected, "this country is going right down the drain." A young man of 23 told me yesterday that he believed "this is the most important election in 100 years."

My own feelings are not so passionate except--today my voice is heard. It counts. and that is intensely satisfying.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Music in the Tiers

I have spent the past two hours A) reading a number of excellent blogs by such talented writers; B)falling off the Internet and having to make three tries to get reconnected, only to have Blogger tell me, the old dinosaur, to clear my cache, chuck my cookies, and some other stuff I actually did, and finally signed back on, read some more and now.....I'm going to try to write something? Talk about performance anxiety.

Fortunately, the topic is about music, and I like to sing harmony. To do so, to join the chorus, one has to listen first to one's own voice, not influenced by the other harmonies/melodies surrounding the singer. When we all stick to our own part of the music, we sound pretty good together.

The Dulcimer Ladies came to play this week. Four women who bought mountain dulcimers, taught themselves to play, gradually finding other players to connect with, play with and learn from. A mountain dulcimer sounds a bit like a muted harpsichord, if you have never heard one. Hammer dulcimers have an entirely different sound and are not as plentiful. Dulcimers are easy to transport, easy to play, and were in a large number of American parlors in the 1800s, back when people sang for their own entertainment, and before the phonograph came into popularity. A church might not be able to afford a piano or organ, but somebody, probably several somebodies, played the dulcimer and could accompany the congregation to keep them more or less on key.

So the ladies played several old nineteenth century hymns and invited us to sing along. We all laughed, because we could usually remember the first verse and chorus, and after that it was "da-da-dum-dum-dum." They played some old, some of them very old, bluegrass tunes. And they played a song called "The Rivers of Texas" and promised to bring the words back. A retired teacher in her 80s remembered it--teachers used to teach Texas schoolchildren the song as an aid to learning the names of the many rivers in this very large state.

Rhyming and songs have been used through history to teach. I'm not quite sure when, and certainly not why, this has mostly stopped in the United States. About all that is left, it seems to me, is the "ABCs" (Which isn't a perfect learning tool--I earnestly told my first grade teacher that I could recognize all my letters except Lmnop. I thought it was like ampersand (&), you know, a lot of syllables signifying a single symbol. Do they still call it ampersand? Probably not.)

When I was 3 or 4, my parents and I would sit outside under the magnificent New Mexico stars and between enjoying the usual display of the Milky Way and the rudimentary astronomy lessons, my dad taught me a song that slyly taught me the days of the week:

Oh, Mrs. Shaady,
She is a laady,
She has a dauugh-ter,
Whom I adore.
I go to coouurt her,
I mean the dauugh-ter,
Every Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturdaaay--
At half-past four.

Humans are wired to music, to making music, and to sing. It feels good. When we sing in a group, we feel connected, which is probably why so many religions use hymns, chants, and/or a singing liturgy as part of their services. It is also why nations have anthems.

Singing is good for us. It is an aerobic activity. And, an Air Force officer once told me, a defense against barfing in acrobatically flying planes.

Words, sentences, have their own rhythm and music. To me, writing is another way of making a kind of music. In a way, we are all, always, singing to each other.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Interview with a Skunk Spray Survivor

The young man came up the walk and threw the newspaper on my neighbor's porch, pausing a moment to see if the paper landed where he wanted it.

"Are you the one who got sprayed by the skunk?" I asked.

"JESUS!" he yelped. I clearly saw the air between his feet and the sidewalk as he jumped. He turned his face to me, sitting in the dark on my porch. "I didn't see you."

And I guess he hasn't seen me before, on the rare occasions I am outside at 5 a.m. on my darkened porch. I've never said anything before, and he comes off a lighted walkway and throws towards a lighted porch. I had never made my presence known, and I guess he had never seen me. I am not out there often at that time of day, but this day I was.

"Are you the one who got sprayed by the skunk?" I persisted.

"Yes, that's why I'm so jumpy," he answered.

I asked where he was when he got sprayed, and he gave me an address a block or two away. I asked what happened and how far away the skunk was.

He hadn't seen the skunk, he said, and it was about 10 feet away. Hit his upper right hip. Well, skunks don't see well. Good to know it was off-center. I asked what he did then.

"Well, I finished my route," he said, which I thought was heroic, knowing the stink.

Then he went by a pharmacy, he said, and got peroxide and baking soda and went to a friend's home (must have been a very good friend) and showered and scrubbed and scrubbed till the smell was off his skin. He said he had tried washing the clothes and cleaning the smell off them with less success. Couldn't get all the smell out.

I wanted to ask what he'd tried, and ask for even more details, but I had delayed him long enough and he had a route to finish.

"Thanks for the information," I told him, and he loped off, back to his car to finish his route.

I suspect he'll search for me for awhile on the dark porch in the future, but, as I said, I am seldom there at that hour. And I cause no harm, so his guard will finally relax.

Peroxide and baking soda. Huh. Good to know. Never talked to someone who had gotten sprayed before. I have read that even skunks don't like the smell. I remember a time as a kid when my dad shot a skunk right outside my bedroom window in the middle of the night, and the shotgun blast didn't wake me up, but the smell did. Awful.

I understand skunks live all over the world, and in Great Britain they are called polecats, which I always thought was a colloquism here.

I've known a lot of dogs that got sprayed, but the news carrier was my first human.
Good information. And his bosses should know, great work ethic.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Back to the Mountains and Green Chiles

It is strange when I think about it-- I lived my first 18 years in Alamogordo, New Mexico, and yet for 47 years, I have never lived there. Oh, I guess you could count the three months after my first year at college, but never again after that except to visit for a week or two from time to time.

My younger son says I can't be so attached to a place, that it must be my childhood and memories of my parents that affects me so strongly. And those are factors, all right, but no. It really is the place, the mountains, the smell of it after a rain.

So I drove west from the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, as I have so many times before, on Interstate 10, turning north at Big Spring to La Mesa, then Seminole, then Hobbs, north again to Lovington, then west through Artesia, and then through the still sparsely populated land to the mountains, where I caught a short downpour as I entered the mountains, then around through Mayhill and finally Cloudcroft. The windows were down, the better to enjoy the chill air and smell the pines.

By 6 p.m., even on a weekday in September, the motels in Cloudcroft were pretty much chock-full. I found one place with two cabins left to rent--the owner/manager had left a phone number to call and a list of three cabins, with the numbers of each and instructions to erase the one you took and call, and they would be over to take care of the paperwork and payment. My eyebrows went up at that, but it apparently works well enough. One cabin number had been erased, so it was taken. I didn't need a two-bedroom cabin or two double beds, so I called ahead to Alamogordo to see if Motel 6, where I had a reservation for Friday and Saturday, could also accomodate me on Thursday. They could, and would hold the room. So I began the steep, steep grade down the mountain and through the tunnel in third gear. Almost slow enough to be spotted as a Texan after my lack of practice for a number of years. The road falls away into a gorge on the left for several miles, then the right, and then the left again. Two lane. It seemed so modern when it was finished in my childhood--it had been a winding dirt road. I remember when they blasted the rock to make the tunnel, they blasted into a hollow full of 200 or more rattlesnakes, which slowed down excavation for a day or two while they were cleared out....and so down the 16 miles to the valley below.

And I remember when I hurt my hand while staying with my best friend at their Cloudcroft summer home, and how her father, in his Lincoln, whipped down the mountain at 70 miles an hour to land me at the emergency room in something like 16 or 17 minutes--he wasn't speeding because my hand was hurt; that was the way he always drove.

So I picked my way down at a more sedate pace and realized that the town has grown out even beyond the highway. The highway through town has been gentrified, with blooming desert willows every 30 yards or so in the median, fresh clean shops on both sides. Nice improvement. Huh. There's an Appleby's and Chili's there now. Except for Tularosa on the north end of the Tularosa Basin, most cities are 70 miles or more away.

The next day, I drove around to look at "my mountains" from every angle possible. I would stop on the sides of the roads to drink my fill, and inevitably, someone would come along and start to stop and get out, in case I had car trouble. (Sigh) They were so NICE. I couldn't walk around far to explore because my knee was really grumbling after more than 600 miles in the car the day before. But I broke off some greasewood and sniffed, and I stopped at the pistachio farm for pistachios dipped in red chile, green chile, lemon lime and garlic. GRUNT. and they are starting to spell the sauce "chili" rather than "chile." (dadgum newcomers)

But when I went to breakfast and asked for huevos rancheros, the waitress asked, "green or red?" And when I went out for enchiladas that evening, they were New Mexico style, a stack dipped in chili sauce (I chose red) with onions and cheese between the corn tortillas and a fried egg on top. And mildly hot (sadly calmed down from the old fire-breathing heat of yore, but still, a bit of a bite.) And at another breakfast, fluffy eggs scrambled with green chiles and the most wonderful homemade salsa, again with a bite. No meat unless asked for, and no piles of shredded cheese, just salsa. I was a truly happy camper.

Summer is the rainy season there. Alamogordo and the whole region had been in varying degrees of drought for about a decade. No rain fell in Alamogordo between Thanksgiving and the end of June.Nada. Zilch. Not even one inch. Then Dolly came up from El Paso. Tropical depression Dolly I should say, hundreds of miles from landfall. Heavy flooding in Alamogordo, to be expected, but--heavy flooding in Ruidosa? (which means noisy water in Apache, I believe. Alamogordo means fat cottonwood in Spanish, and indeed there were stands of them when the railroad established the town in 1898.) Ruidosa is high in the mountains, but the creek flooded to the extent large boulders tumbled in the water, bridges were washed out, fences were destroyed and homes flooded. The quarterhorse race track there had part of the track washed out. Mind boggling. But after, the familiar daily afternoon rains, continuing the greening process throughout the summer.

Much erosion in the valley from flash floods trying to find somewhere to go. But oh, beautiful, everything green, even the desert foothills covered with what appeared from a distance to be green fuzz. People busy, going about their business, oblivious to the awesome mountains there each time they raised their eyes. Awesome mountains ALWAYS there, every day. And I was just there for a few days to soak it up. Alamogordo remains the only town I personally know of that has changed all its street lights to a low, golden glow that doesn't interfere with the observatory at Sac Peak 29 miles away as the crow flies--you can see it from town.

I dawdled through the mountains on the way back. The aspens were pale green, just beginning the yellow gold of later in the fall. Wildflowers were blooming. Even a campfire in one of the campgrounds, strictly forbidden during the preceding drought. I found my daughter-in-law's requested cherry cider, and an early apple stand where I loaded up on Jonathans,still a little green-tasting and so juicy each bite dripped juice down my chin. Also Winesaps and Golden Delicious, the latter smelling and tasting like ripe pears when tree-ripened.

Highway 82 goes straight through downtown Artesia, which has a series of larger than life statues of a frontier woman with two laughing children, a pot-bellied possible wildcatter (oilman) and lanky cowboy standing at a tall table cussing or discussing, a cowboy on horseback chasing a wily steer. And others. Hobbs is way slickered up with block after block of high end motels and hotels going in. Reason--a casino has been established there. Elsewhere,farm after farm of fluorishing pecan groves.

To be fair, Artesia, Lovington and Hobbs, clear to Seminole, Texas, are in oil and gas country. It stinks until you get kind of used to it. From the mountains to Artesia, enough people have moved in that I only passed 30 minutes at a time without sight of a car front or back. I'd forgotten the old-fashioned custom of flashing your lights as a friendly "hello" to an oncoming car. The grass was still straw-colored, but so thick I sometimes saw several cattle in an acre instead of just one.

And so I pressed east, back the way I had come. Subway has come to the truckstops, allowing a nice change from the ubiquitous fried food that was all I remember from only a few years back.

And back home again. What can I say? I find beauty in West Texas, too. And I love the concerts, the museums--some would cite the superior and plentiful shopping--of Dallas-Fort Worth and their surrounding cities. But to get away by car to realize again just how big this country actually is was a trip of its own. I covered 1500 miles in four days, and that was less than halfway across Texas and a third or less across New Mexico and back. I didn't take books or music--traffic was light enough to fiddle with the radio. How else would I have learned cotton futures had dropped three times in one day, or that futures for milo and corn are holding?

New Mexico has ALWAYS written signs in Spanish. In fact, until sometime in the 1970's, Spanish was the official state language. To my astonishment, I found myself understanding a great deal of the Spanish I heard. They speak more slowly, and yeah, some of it is Span-glish. It was refreshing to assume every Hispanic I met was an American citizen. But that's a topic for another day.

The chorus of the state song goes, "Oh, fair New Mexico, we love, we love you so--no matter where we go, New Mexico!" Says it for me.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Farewell to a Well-Loved Friend

Eugenia Faye Foote weighed two pounds when she was born July 7, 1912. Miraculously, she survived to go home from the hospital with her mother, but she wasn't expected to survive. Her mother made a bed for her baby in a shoebox she kept in her bed to keep her warm. She fed her with a medicine dropper. And Faye survived.

They were a hard-working, poor Texas family, and the big vegetable garden provided a lot of their food. Faye's mother was ill most of Faye's childhood and taught her young daughter how to can and cook from the bed. Faye would get up at 4:30 a.m. to iron and do chores before going to school. She was a good student. She loved to learn something new all her life.

Although they didn't have much, they had more than some of their neighbors, and Faye's mother sometimes gave away the supper Faye had already cooked to needful neighbors who had nothing. And Faye would go back to the kitchen to see what else they had she could fix for supper. And, she said, there was always something.

A new-fangled operation in the late 1920s or early 1930s gave new health to her mother. Back on her feet, she asked her teen-age daughter what she would like to do. Faye said she would like to be a nurse but there was no money for school. Her mother said not to worry. They'd find it. And they did.

So she became an nurse. She said proudly that the doctors used to assign her some of their highest risk patients because she had a reputation for fighting for them so fiercely. She prayed for them, too. That former two-pound baby knew all about fighting for life.

The vivacious, tiny (5'1") nurse caught the eye of a young Texan named LeRoy Foote who was at least a foot taller than she, and he gently courted her. They fell in love and she agreed to marry him. He was very kind to his mother, she said. That was a good indicator he would continue to be so sweet to her. And he was.

I've heard two stories about the wedding, but the one I like best is that the young couple had no money to waste on embellishments beyond her wedding dress --I believe her mother, a talented seamstress, made it-- and Leroy's good suit. There was no money for flowers. But when they came into the church, they found the front of the church covered with vases and jars the neighbors and townspeople had gathered from their gardens to provide flowers for the wedding. She said it was very pretty.

So they married, and World War II came along. He enlisted, and they wrote, and then his letters stopped and she and his mother learned he had been injured. They hung to their hope and prayers. After months, a letter came. Censors were so strict, he couldn't tell her the extent of his injuries. But he wrote that he walked to the window--he could walk, his legs were all right--and leaned on his arms on the windowsill--he still had both arms--as his eyes viewed the sunny day--he could see. He was home before they learned how close he had come to dying, and he carried shrapnel in his body the rest of his life.

She stayed home with their two sons until both were in school, then returned to nursing, this time as a school nurse. Long before there were government programs to help the impoverished, she had persuaded (read, bullied) the local stores into providing school clothes and shoes for needy children and collected gently worn jackets and coats from every member of the church. She knew who needed medicine and knew how to get it if the family couldn't pay. People knew she would ask politely and sweetly for her kids, but if you said no, she'd be back, and then she'd be back again. It was easier to give in and do the right thing the first time. (I think she also used this technique in raising their sons.)

She and Leroy bought an RV they enjoyed for a number of years in their travels around the country. After their retirement, they decided to see more of the world and led tours to China, New Zealand, Australia, Europe--was Egypt in there? I think so. Their older son was living with his wife and son in South America and they made several trips to visit there.

They were active in their church and community, of course. LeRoy was active in Boy Scouts, and also a mean cook. (She hated to admit it, but his pancakes were even lighter than hers.) She loved to "gussy up" and go dancing with LeRoy, and despite their disparate heights, they danced very well together. And she loved to gamble once in awhile (with the money carefully budgeted).

When LeRoy finally died sometime after their fiftieth wedding anniversary, she told me later she was glad she lived alone because the first couple of weeks after the funeral, she sometimes would roam the house, howling like a banshee. Of course, she soldiered on and got on with life, and one day, she looked around and realized there were a lot of grieving survivors, so she started a grief group in her 80's. It is still going, too.

Faye and LeRoy were friends of my parents, and their oldest son and I were really good high school friends (we did our geometry homework every night together on the phone.) When my dad died when I was 19, it was LeRoy's arms I ran to when I got home from college. And when I put Mother in a nursing home when I was 23 for Alzheimer's, Faye and LeRoy quietly stepped up as extended family. When I could get out to Alamogordo, N. M., with my sons, Faye and LeRoy provided the only grandparenting available after their dad's and my parents had died.

I remember one glorious summer day when they took us up to a friend's cherry orchards in LaLuz Canyon, in the lower foothills. Mint grew between the rows of trees, our feet crushing the fragrant plants as we walked under trees sweetly smelling of sun-warmed ripe cherries, the breeze down the canyon bringing the additonal scents of pine and cedar....we laughed and talked and picked and ate that day. There was a snake on the road on our way back, and LeRoy and Matt leaped out of the car to see what kind it was. On another occasion, we joined Faye, her son Bill, and daughter-in-law Cheryl at the High Rolls cherry festival. There was the scent of Indian fry bread with honey, and New Mexico -grown pistachios soaked in green chile sauce (mmm). Two perfect days to remember.

When my uncle needed help and I came out for a week to help him close up his house and move into a nursing home, Faye insisted I stay with her. Each evening, we would sit on the porch, not facing the sunset, but the eastern Sacramento Mountains, listening to the tinkle of the windchimes she had collected from all over the world and watching the colors and light change on our beloved mountains as the sun set. And we talked. Many of the tales I've recorded here--and so many more--I heard then, but most she also had told me over the years.

When my uncle died six years later and I came for his funeral, Faye told me then she had been diagnosed with what the doctors thought was Alzheimer's (it was dementia, which has different symptoms). It was a double hit.

Bill and Cheryl moved her to a fine place in Albuquerque that caters specifically to memory care, and near their home. After a few months of fuming over the move from Alamogordo, she adjusted beautifully . As usual, she became a darling of the staff. As long as possible, she attended church on Sundays with her son and his wife, but she became unable to go. In October, a year ago, she became unable to visit any more with me on the phone. She was already in hospice care. She sank and rallied, sank and rallied. The hospice nurses said they had never seen such a fighter. Three weeks ago, while she was on a morphine drip and lying in bed with her eyes closed, her nurse told her it was okay to let go and go with God. She said Faye opened her eyes, raised her hand and shook her finger under the nose of the nurse.

Yes, that was Faye. And her suffering those last months has been so hard on her family, but she just couldn't give up. My fantasy is that LeRoy finally came to get her, held out his hand, and they walzed off into eternity. She died in her sleep early Sunday morning, Aug. 31, 2008.

She is not related to me by blood or marriage. But she is the last of my chosen extended family. I had prayed for this day, the end of her suffering and her family's, but it hurts a surprising amount--selfish grief, I know. And reality. She's been lost to me for awhile, but she is really, really gone.

She was 97. Not a bad record for a puny, two-pound baby girl. She left a legion of friends, a plethora of family, and an incredible number of known and unknown kindnesses throughout her life.
She wasn't particularly sweet, but she was joyful, and she loved life hugely.She was bossy, but she didn't ALWAYS insist on having her own way. And she loved with her whole heart, and I was fortunate to be one of the people she loved.

This is my memorium to a woman who will always make me smile when I remember her. As will many others.

Friday, August 8, 2008

The Magnificent Cake

I've always loved the song, "MacArthur's Park", especially the first version. Haven't heard it in awhile, but when I do, I like to be in the car, where I can amp it up to awesome volume. And I've always gotten a little lump at the almost silly lyrics:

"Someone left the cake out in the rain,
I don't know if I can take it,
'Cause it took so long to bake it,
And I'll never have that recipe again--
Ohhh nooo, ohhh nooooo."

Well, I didn't make it, and it wasn't rain, but here's the story.

For about two years now, I spend one day a week playing Yahzee with three friends. To make it weekly, we have to be firm about any other possible activities. We adjust the day to fit things like doctor's visits, or babysitting grandchildren, etc. But we play each week, and the game gives us ample opportunity to laugh and joke and discuss topics ranging from important life events and problems to the mundane-- like tv shows worth watching, or actors through the decades who were either handsome or sexy and usually not both. We are, I think, good friends.

Carmen is a friend of more than 40 years now, and Nana I had visited off and on through the years. Sharon was someone I had met but did not really know before. All three are strong, good women, with a well-developed ability to empathize with others. I cherish them. Each week we meet at a different home, and it turned out mine was the place we met the day before Sharon's birthday. The hostess fixes a morning snack and the noon meal. I planned to make a layer birthday cake.

I was talking to Matt G. about my plans, and he checked with my daughter-in-law, who has been taking a series of cake decorating classes. They offered to have her make the cake and decorate it. I accepted the offer with pleasure. She is a talented artist and simply has extended her art to cake decorating. She also is a magnificent cook. Wow.

So this week, she came home from work, baked the cake one night and iced it the next evening. Again, after work. I took some supper over and was amazed to see a four-layer cake, iced with a mauve pink frosting. Awesome. I watched for more than two hours while she hand made frosting roses about two inches in circumferance in shades varying from mauve to light pink, which she then wreathed around the top of the cake. She decorated the sides, which were almost five inches high. She mixed some slightly darker icing to pipe on "Happy Birthday Sharon" in cursive. It was the most beautiful birthday cake I have ever personally witnessed. I had wanted to celebrate my friend, and did this ever. My DIL didn't even take a photo for her file. She has made much more creative cakes.

She and Matt G. snapped the cake into the cake carrier and Matt seatbelted it into the back seat. I tried so hard to accelerate and decelerate gently, but I don't know.

When I carried it into my apartment I thought, "Something's wrong. No, it can't be wrong. It's just my imagination." But when I lifted the lid, it was tragic. Half the cake was in chunks, the crumbled side of the cake wedged against the wall of the carrier, roses smashed. I got a knife and attempted to resassemble. Useless.
By now it was after 10 p.m. There was enough intact to show Sharon and to slice for lunch, and I knew it would taste delicious--sour cream with almond flavoring and cherry cake filling. MMM. But still.

Some of you with kids, grandkids, have watched the cartoon, "Arthur." There is an episode where he buys his mom a ceramic bird for Christmas, and despite all his efforts, it is smashed on Christmas Eve. And he is crushed, too. Yes, HE wanted to give his mother something special, but more than that, he wanted to see her smile, to recognize that he was saying, "I love you." This was like that. And both of us being grownups, I knew Sharon would get the message, and it would really be okay. But just for then, the cake and I were both crumbled.

So I did the adult, mature thing. I called Matt G. and mournfully told him what had happened. "All her work," I mourned. (Or more accurately, probably moaned.)

"Believe me, Mom, she had fun doing it. Don't worry."

So I got a tissue, and my cigarettes, and went outside to smoke. And finally, to cry a little bit.

I had just finished soaking my tissue when a skunk popped up from around the corner, about 10 feet away. I started punching in security on my cell phone and told the officer on duty, "skunk alert." As I talked to him, the skunk wandered across the yard and then disappeared around the other building. A couple of minutes later, I saw a smaller skunk scamper across the lawn I started to snicker. My so-called tragic evening was turning into a farce. I giggled.

And I went into the apartment to call Matt G. again and tell him the funny aftermath to my evening. He asked when my ladies arrived and when we ate lunch. And then I realized I heard the whir of a mixer in the background.

"No! No!" I said.

"Too late, Mom, I've already cracked the eggs," Matt chuckled and hung up.

Well, he minimized what they had done, but he stayed up baking another cake--two-layer this time, and my DIL got up an hour early to ice the new one. Pale green, with white piping and three magnificent live-looking daffodil blooms she had made earlier. And again, "Happy Birthday Sharon" on top. And he and my oldest granddaughter delivered it a little after 9 a.m. He suggested it be the presentation cake, but that we eat the original, which DIL had made from a new recipe.

We ate the original like pigs. We saved the green one and Sharon took it home to freeze for her turn in two weeks, when we will celebrate Nana's and my birthdays. We suggested she either eat "Sharon" off the top or take some chocolate syrup and draw a neat line through her name.

And when I called later in the day to thank them again, Matt was taking a nap. So much for his saying, "I got plenty of sleep." My DIL sure didn't.

It was only a cake. It was perishable and was going to be eaten anyway. It was only a cake. And so much more.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Lions, (No Tigers) and Bears--Oh My

Matt G commented on my last post that I grew up with bears.

Well, not really. Just occasionally.

When I was seven, we went on vacation to Yellowstone National Park. My parents had lectured me exhaustively about not approaching the apparently friendly bears. These were Wild Animals, they said, and unpredictable. They Could Hurt Me. When we saw our first bear on the side of the road, they smiled with pleasure and turned around to ask, "Did you see the bear?" But I had disappeared. I was under the blankets and coats in the back seat, out of sight of any bears, and, perforce, my parents. They laughed about that for YEARS, sigh.

Later on the trip, we stopped with other tourists at one of the geysers or hot springs on the side of the road, and as we headed afterward for our cars, here came two cute bear cubs tumbling across the road. This put us between the cubs and their mama, a grizzly, coming out of the woods on the other side. As my dad hustled us quickly to the car, he laughed as a man called out, "Come on, Myra! Let's get out of here!"

My mother was a very popular seventh grade teacher, and a few years later, we had a surprise visit one night when one of her 12-year-old students and his uncle proudly drove out to the house to show us the black bear the 12-year-old had just shot. At least 300 pounds, it filled the pickup truck bed. I was awed. My parents oohed and aahed enthusiastically as the boy stood there proudly, his uncle's proud hand on his shoulder. Later, they insisted on gifting us with a bear roast, which Mother soaked in vinegar and whatever overnight, then roasted in the oven. I thought it was pretty good.

Skip forward to my teen years, when one of the favorite places to park in the county was the Cloudcroft dump, 29 miles away up the Sacramento Mountains. (We weren't supposed to go up the mountain on the two-lane highway with a very steep grade, but of course, we did.) Nothing was more conducive to having the girl scoot across the bench seat right next to the boy behind the wheel than a 300- or 400-pound bear walking right beside the car on his or her way to the dump. Oh, yeah.

I was a dud, though--I always wanted to watch the bears. (Yes, Matt, really.)

Last possible hearing, if not sighting, was a vacation in October not long after I married. We were at a campsite outside Santa Fe, N.M., the only ones there. We slept in down sleeping bags in a two-man tent, and in the middle of the night, I heard loud crashes and bangs from the metal trash barrel.

"Raccoons," I told myself, and sank deeper in the goose feathers. It probably was.
I never checked.

Black bears are making a comeback in Texas, though, and cougers, too. There's the occasional 8 to 10-foot gator in the rivers and lakes.

Hey, you throw in fire ants, chiggers, and killer bees (not to mention wood asps and mosquitoes) and Texas is challenging Montana for perilous places to camp.

And believe me, I'm not waiting for no black bear to get within four feet before I dash inside.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Face to Face Encounter

I went outside to smoke about 10:30 at night. The breeze was in my face. As I sat, I noticed a large animal lumbering in the dark under the trees. It definitely was NOT a bunny.

It lumbered through the dark into the light of my neighbor's front porch. (He leaves the porch light on all night). Yup, it was a large raccoon, at least 40 pounds.

Reflecting on the raccoon's sharp teeth and claws, I thought about the birds, squirrels and rabbits who always seem to be at least on orange alert--always aware of their surroundings. This animal's dum-de-dum-de-doh behavior seemed to indicate no anxiety. The raccoon wasn't noticin' nuthin' as it searched for any edible trash left lying around. Finding none on my neighbor's porch, it moved back to the sidewalk and ambled towards me.

Surely it would walk on by, but nope, less than four feet from me, it started to turn in to my porch. With a surge of adrenalin, I stamped my foot and hissed: "Heeccch!"

The raccoon lifted a startled face to mine, turned, and ran amazingly fast across the ground and around the next building.

Dumpster-diving raccoons, by the way, really stink.

Much of the wildlife is doing quite well co-existing with humans in the Metroplex. Back in the late '70s, Six Flags Over Texas had a pair of beaver move into the Lazy River ride. They gnawed down some small trees and basically shut the ride down. Six Flags tried trapping with no success. They couldn't kill the cute beaver in front of the families and kids thronging the park. Finally, they drained the whole ride and caught the animals, which were transported to other climes. Beaver do quite well in the rivers and streams here. They are not hunted, since the temperate Texas winters leave them with an undesirably thin pelt. Coyotes have actually increased, leading to the occasional disappearance of family cats and small dogs. Possoms are also plentiful, as are skunks. Skunks are the most susceptible to rabies (if you see a skunk out in the middle of the day, stay far, far away and immediately call animal control). They are quite entertaining standing on their hind legs to snap at moths around outside lights, but fortunately, I've seen none here.

I have heard owls, and hope some night to catch a glimpse of the bobcat that has mothered several litters in the neighborhood over the past few years. All in all, rats and mice in this area lead a perilous existence.

That's just fine with me.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

The Most Gallant Lie

This past week, I got together with some old journalism buddies, and of course, we told stories. Well, I still write a better story than I tell. So I'm going to relate one of mine.

Back when I was a reporter, I had a "beat" which is what we call an area of reporting that involves expertise, sources, etc., in a specific area. I worked closely with the CEO of a large cooperation, and he had pretty much an open door policy with me. I liked and respected him tremendously. He did his job extremely well.

Well, we got a letter at the paper from a soldier overseas. It rambled, and it didn't always make good sense, but the bottom line was, he accused this CEO of having an affair with his wife. He admitted she had filed for a divorce, but he said she was still married to him, and she worked for the CEO. Which she did, as head of one of the departments.

So, while we were skeptical--the longtime single CEO had a reputation for NOT fooling around, and the letter was a bit wacky--I was sent to confront him. Chee, I was uncomfortable. But it was my job, and I did it. And he responded. He always had. He was quiet for a moment.

Then, with a little smile, he asked, "Have you seen her?"

Oh, yes, I had. Petite, with a kind of church lady plainness and prettiness, and glasses. Rather earnest. He was in his late 50's, and she wasn't much younger. They were of an age, anyway. If you gave me a list of 100 women who might be having affairs--this was back in the 70's when just separating didn't necessarily mean you were free--she wouldn't even have made the 51st possibility.

I nodded. He sighed. He said the accusations were preposterous, and if he were having an affair with a staff member, weren't there a number of women more likely? Much more attractive?

Thinking over some of his professional women staff members in my mind, I could think of two or three who were extremely attractive, outgoing, and really smart cookies. I agreed. He shook his head dismissively. He said the idea of him and the department head just didn't made good sense. Well, gee, that was pretty much what I had thought.

I went back to my bosses, told them what he'd said, and we simply went on to other things. We wrote nothing. We didn't think much about it.

And within the year, the CEO and the department head quietly were maried. When I saw them together, it was obvious that he adored her.

But talking to me, he'd thrown her under the bus. To my younger self, it didn't seem very nice. Now, I think it was the most gallant fight for a lady I've ever known personally. If I had pursued the story, he would have been caught out. And he knew me well enough to know I would have quoted him quite accurately. He took a chance. And it worked.

And he did it, mostly, I still believe, for love.

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Texting and kareoke have a lot in common

I know I stashed my cell phone instruction book somewhere I could retrieve it easily. Unfortunately, it's not in any of the spots I thought I might have put it. And since every blinking phone has different blinking features arranged in different blinking ways, a check with more knowledgeable human sources hasn't helped.

I know a lot of you text. I do not and have no intention of hunting and pecking on a cell phone. I do receive those messages, however...and that is the problem.

This afternoon, taking a nice little nap, I was jarred awake when my phone began thundering out this whole tonal phrase. Woke me thoroughly. When I checked, it was some stupid message saying how they bet I didn't know who this is and the texter goes by niceangel 82. If a log of texts is retained on the phone, I can't find it, but I am told there is some way to get the number of the sender from the text, although a number was not displayed on the screen before or after the message. At the time, I simply turned my phone off for awhile after the second message from niceangel82.

I suspect this is the new technology way of making stupid phone calls as Bart Simpson still does when he calls the bar. And no, I don't feel particularly tolerant. I certainly don't feel amused. I do get texts from a few persons who really have to watch their pennies, and that's okay. I can forsee the day when my granddaughters may want to text me.


For now, I simply want to block my phone to text messages. I think I should be able to do that, at least from time to time.

A store clerk was a recent hero in the Metroplex when he surreptitiously texted his boss in the back, "call 911" while under the gun of an armed robber. The boss did so, the police came, and the robber was caught because the guy could text.
That's great. But I have no desire to do it.

A friend of mine is getting text advertisements on her cell phone, which costs her. It certainly doesn't make her an EAGER CUSTOMER.

(Sigh) At least I have stopped getting all those e-mails for Viagra. (And you know, if the drug could perk up a certain part of the aging female's anatomy as it is supposed to do for another part of the male's, they might have a sale.)

Technology. It aint always perfect.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Memorial Day Memories

Back in the 50's,Memorial Day was the day the whole community went to the cemetery to clean up the family plots, pull weeds, and put out fresh flowers from our gardens. Families who didn't see each other very often would visit and catch up on the year in between raking and weed pulling and putting out the flowers.

Perpetual care you pay for hadn't been thought of yet.

Everyone's roses were blooming and we had a Spanish Broom bush which had bright yellow flowers that smelled wonderful. My dad said my older brother, who died when he was three and a half, had loved them, and those went on his grave. It made him more real, somehow. I had been so young, I didn't remember him.

There were some mulberry trees, and the berries would be ripe. We kids would climb the trees and eat the berries. No one told us to stop climbing or eating the berries, but I remember I always felt just a bit wicked and adventurous climbing the cemetery trees. We were there to remember our dead, and there I was, having a good time with the other kids.

I was quite a lot older before I understood that Memorial Day was created to remember and honor our war dead. I think the remembrance of those who sacrificed their lives to protect our freedom is a wonderful thing. I also think the yearly community cleanup to remember all our dead was a good thing. Every family had suffered loss. Back then, there wasn't much medical science could do to save lives. Death was more a part of life. Accepted and respected. Not hidden so much, not such a surprise. The dead were actively remembered.

It's been a long time since I've been to that cemetery. It was my uncle's burial six years ago, and at that time, I noticed the headstone on my brother's grave had been broken at the base and was missing. The plot, in the New Mexico sunshine, was unkempt and untended. I did nothing; I simply settled my uncle's affairs and made the 700-mile trip back home.

Like so many others today, I am opting for cremation, and I am not leaving instructions for the ashes. It is a different time, with changing customs. But we still honor our dead who stepped forward and said, "I don't want to die, but I will put my life on the line for my country."

Honor and sacrifice still has value. And that is good to know.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Aging Brings Some Treasured Gifts

Happiness. Peace. Joy.

These days, each of these emotions appear sometime in most every day. And it is interesting. These emotions are excellent painkillers, or at least make pain less important. I don't know how I got here mentally, exactly. But I am thankful.

I have both rheumatoid and osteo arthritis. The rheumatoid was diagnosed about 12 years ago. I had always been physically active and knew--I knew--that continued exercise was required. But I pouted, sat on my rear, and let muscle tone go as I shook my fist at a God that would allow me to have the one disease I dreaded (well, two--my mother had Alzheimer's.) The rheumatologist prescribed methotrexate. I dubiously took it, found it left me vaguely nauseous all the time, and I quit taking it. Decided I would rather limp. And limp I have. I've had no treatment since.
And as toxic as methotrexate is, even now I don't want to take it.

Correction, I did have some very effective acupuncture, and I am just now flaring up some five or six years after the treatment.

I retired early, and my COBRA ran out more than a year ago. Medicare starts Aug. 1. At that time, I will see a rheumatologist again, and see what options I now have. I have so many doctors to see this fall, I could be accused of Munchausen's syndrome. Humph.

But Feb. 29, I made a move. When I tell people about it, the reactions are interesting. Some are uncomfortable. Others are enthusiastic.

I've moved into a retirement community that includes independent living, assisted living, and a small skilled nursing unit. There are many such facilities in the area, and more to come. The one I've moved into has a high rise apartment building for both independent and assisted living residents, a street of large, luxurious "2-plexes", and a whole bunch of "cottages" which are really one-story apartments built as three to four units per building. It is such a large campus that a number of residents have bought golf carts to get around.

I have a one bedroom apartment with a living room, kitchen, bath and really large bedroom. The ceiling is slanted up to allow three high windows on the north side to let in light, in addition to regular windows and the sliding glass doors. Yes, folks can buy in and then pay a small monthly maintenance fee, but I've chosen to rent. My monthly fee covers all utilities and cable. It's a set fee per month, so if I really want to turn the thermostat down in summer, I can do so without going broke. Ahhh. One of my favorite perqs here is housekeeping coming in every two weeks to sweep the porches, vacuum, mop kitchen and bathroom floors, clean the tub, commode and sink, clean the bathroom and kitchen counters and dust all surfaces. I LOVE this. At last I have a wife. They even came early one day at my request when I was having company.

If I like, I can buy lunch at the ad building dining room, and I have done so at least weekly both because it's a good meal for the price and a great way to meet other residents. People come from all over, usually because they have family in the area, and I've met transplants from Florida, Ohio, Hawaii, and Alaska, to name a few. Most are retired professionals, but by no means all. We have about 40 who are 90 or older. I am the youngest one here. It's kind of mind-blowing to be 64 and frequently run into people who are 20-30 years older.

We have wilderness on two sides, plus an adjacent park with a small lake that draws area fishermen often. Lots of bunnies, squirrels and songbirds. NO grackles. The security head tells me he has seen a red fox and a bobcat on campus at night, and residents of one section of cottages tell me they are often visited by raccoons and possums. The grounds are kept impeccably, but we are free to plant what we want. I have a small back porch, but many have sizable patios.

In short, I am really satisfied. We have speakers--I'm going to talk about one topic that came up when the storyteller came this week--and I've taken the bus once to a concert. Not bad. Ride to the front door, go to the concert, meet the bus at the front door afterwards and ride home. Very nice. Yes, they have bingo sometimes, and I'm not about to play poker with these guys--I suspect card sharps.

Settling in and unpacking has taken much time, not to mention adjusting to the life change and new folks....and I discovered I now have arthritis in my back. The discovery was pretty sudden and painful, and affected my arthritic knee as well; a new knee is somewhere in the next year or two.

But back to happiness, peace, joy. I have indeed had some pretty strong painkillers to deal with the onset of the back problem, but this time I kept right on exercising. And if I can't get nearly as much done physically, I'm not shaking my fist any more. I give thanks for my blessings each day and ask for more blessings tomorrow. And happiness, peace and joy not only muffle pain, but they are great biofeedback tools. I focus on those emotions, not the pain, and it lessens. Plus I have more fun.

So I've moved in with the old folks. I have complete independence and privacy.
And right now, my life has peace, joy and happiness permeating it. Oh, yeah, love is a part of it, too. I am so blessed.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

The Good Life

I sit on the porch. It's about 9:30 at night, the air cool, with a breeze rustling the brandnew leaves, making a sound like rain falling. In the distance, I can hear dogs barking and a train pushing through. The yellow illumination of street and walk lights is just strong enough to make the scene more than black and white...Crickets are chirping, such a perpetual heartbeat sound as to be almost inaudible at the conscious level.

In front of my porch are two wide, gnarled crabapple trees that have just finished blooming. To their left are two huge fig trees, each about 12 feet tall, just leafed out, and I am waiting for them to flower, if they do so this year. I understand they delivered a bountiful crop of green figs last year, but figs in this part of the world are somewhat unpredictable. They make no promises.

The crabapple trees are each surrounded by a wide band of iris someone planted. The western edge of the iris around the tree on the right did produce some huge, beautiful white iris, because the afternoon sun reached those plants long enough. The rest are rather like...oh, mondo grass on steroids. They make ground cover, and they are pretty, but they have too much shade to ever bloom.

All is silent. Just the crickets when I tune in, which mostly, I don't. So peaceful.

I've been pouring wild birdseed on the ground beyond the trees, which in early spring, the birds enjoyed. Lately, it's the rabbits and squirrels who come. Me, putting out food for rodentia. Who would have thought?

Here they come, my two rabbits that visit every night. One is smaller--I guess a male and a female, particularly since there is some tomfoolery of leaping in the air and jumping over each other, some jockeying for position. They come, not lippety, lippety, but striding first on their forepaws, one-two, then lippety as the back legs come forward, then one-two lippety again. Small steps, leisurely. They are alert but no more afraid than is habitual in rabbits--pretty content, actually. So they come silently, literally silently to my ears, crushing no leaf, breaking no twigs, till they arrive at the grain and begin to eat. Ah, now I hear, a very faint crunching as they eat. And I wonder--do they stick out their little rabbit tongues to get the last pieces of grain in the dirt? No, they do not, leaving some of the round, white seeds in the dirt for some of the sparrows and juncos to eat the next day. They stop every few bites, freeze and listen, noticing me on the porch but not afraid since I make little movement and am at least 15 feet away. Then they lower their heads to eat again.

Suddenly, I see a cat, one of the feral cats I've heard about out here, skirting swiftly around them on the far side near the red leaf photinias. She, too, makes no sound. Chatting with the security man the next day, I learn he was passing when the cat reached the street and he noted it was orange. I am assuming "she", beause a few days later, as I exited my car on the street, I heard the eager mews of kittens in the blackberry thicket. Just what we need--more feral cats. Ah, well.

But the night is peaceful, and almost silent, and I am content and fortunate to be on my porch, sitting in the faint light, enjoying just a little bit of the natural world for awhile. After awhile, I go in, relaxed and mellow.

And life is very good.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

The Joy of Turning Six

on April 3, my youngest granddaughter turned 6. She said it was her "best day" because it was her birthday, she was losing a tooth (hanging by a thread), and she had her party coming up in two days.

Because it was her birthday, she was given a choice that night of going to eat anywhere she wanted. Her parents were betting she would choose McDonald's because she really enjoys the playground. Nope. She chose Joe T. Garcia's, the famous Tex-Mex restaurant in Fort Worth where visitors from around the world come for a "must-see". She's been there a bunch of times with her family. It is not expensive, but it is not cheap, either. I was invited along, and we bundled off on a rainy night to the restaurant.

Even on a week night, there was a long line, in part because people couldn't sit on the patio with the pool and flowers and kerosene heaters to keep off the chill. Something about April 3--seemed like half the folks were carrying gaily wrapped birthday presents for their own celebrations. Laughter and chatter throughout. A mariachi band roamed table to table to sing to the celebrants, You have two choices in the evenings--enchiladas with beans, rice and guacamole served family style, and a plate of tacos. Or fajitas. The adults ordered the enchiladas, her older sister ordered fajitas. The kids love guacamole, did I say? So we ate and stuffed ourselves, bringing a fair amount of the fajitas home. We mentioned to the waitress that it was her birthday and she had requested Joe T.'s.

At the end of the meal, the waitress surprised us with a huge, thick sugar cookie with pink icing and six lit candles. The six-year-old beamed ear to ear, and smiled even wider when we sang happy birthday. The mariachis sang to the two adjacent tables, adding to the celebratory mood. I hope she remembers the cookie--it was big enough to slice, and we we all had a piece. It was good.

Celebration. That's it. We could have gone to any restaurant, but she picked the one with celebration literally in the air.

She picked well.

But it is two days later and time for her party at Chuck E. Cheese. Somehow, the tooth is still hanging in there.Gotta go.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

A real steel magnolia

I met a woman named Maureen yesterday. Tall, thin, with a deep voice and brown hair. She had a walker but stood ramrod straight as we talked. She's 95. After a couple of minutes, she told me she had to leave. "To be frank," she said bluntly, "I have to pee."

"Then you better hurry," I replied.

She slapped the walker. "That's just the trouble. I can't."

"Then you need to plan ahead very carefully," I responded.

She moved off, guffawing.

I will look forward to talking to her again. I don't know what she used to do, but there is an air of command about her. She's a little bit scary. I think that is a great trait when you are 95.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

A New Wrinkle in Society

A couple of days ago, I was trying to read the instructions on the back of my voter registration card on how to get a new one with my address change. The print was in six-point. (Newsprint, FYI, is 9-point.)So I pulled out my handy-dandy magnifying glass and proceeded as instructed. I predict that the sale of magnifying glasses will increase steadily over the next few years as the baby bomers age. Because of the price of paper and cardboard, I am less sure that the print will enlarge.

A friend of mine-quadraplegic-was instrmental in the national movement many years ago for wheelchair accessible walks and corbs. The ramped access is also a blessing for persons who have trouble walking up steps or over curbs. That too is going to increase in the population.

Contrast colors on the edges of steps is another change I hope will happen more. As we age, the eyes of many of us fail to discriminate a difference in ground levels in dim light. We see just fine, and we can see the steps in broad daylight. We just can't tell where the next step begins in dim light without some line of demarcation. The ledge stripe makes all the difference. And, of course, hand rails. Many houses built in the past decade or more are perched on a pile of dirt requiring many steps to the front door. I have been known to stagger like a drunken sailor in my climb to the front door. Often, these homes have alley access to the FLAT garage and my
subsequent visits are through the garage.

Hearing is a complicated neurological mechanism (reference, a best seller some years ago entitled "The Man Who Thought His Wife Was A Hat". Again, my hearing seems to be as keen as ever BUT the tuning mechanism, which allows me to focus on a single sound or voice in the midst of much noise, is not as keen.

Walking for any distance, and especially standing for long times, has become really painful. If I have to go to one of the better stores, I get what I came for and leave. And I really have to want it. Contrast this with pain-free shopping at Target or Walmart on an elecctric cart, which often leads to additional purchases. I heard last week the Penney's in my town is preparing to add electric carts, and I'm thrilled. Now if only Foley's and Dillards will follow suit. I don't know what percentage of the population uses this amenity, but with nn aging population, the number will only grow. I don't need my own personal scooter most of the time, which is why I don't have one. But it is great to have the option when it is handy. I know the state fair in my state has rented eclectric carts to fair-goers for years.

I know many other changes and need for them are coming. I have the advantage of being left-handed, which means all my life I have had to figure out how to function in a righthanded world. So I'm sure I am missing some glaring inconveniences for the less athletically inclined of us aging folk, but I apparently have adapted. As we have more older members of the population, though, more conveniences will come along. For instance I already know dozens of persons with knee replacements, and the artifical knees are getting better and better. So we'll see what comes. After all, there's money to be made in this. Sounds good to me.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Move Evokes Nostalgia

My wrist is healed and I have moved. Lots of changes. I moved across town. I think of good friends who moved last year from Texas to Oregon, and I am awed. They are my age--mid-sixties--and say they are glad they moved when they did. They aren't sure they could have made it if they had made the move in another few years.

I think at my age a lot of people upsize to their dream house, or they start downsizing as I have done. Of course, there are the folks who simply stay put and will for the next 20 years or more, or move laterally, to another location with about the same space/cost.

More about that later.

One of the items I moved is a cheap, scruffy pottery plate which currently is sitting under my ficus plant in the window. But I smile when I look at it, because it came into my possession on New Year's Eve, 78/79, with the remains of the evening's baked Alaska on it. That was quite an evening. Beef tournedoes. Pouilly fuisse wine. dancing. and one whale of an ice storm. Memorable. and when I see or handle that plate, I remember it. Actually, the plant resting on it is from a farewell brunch at my old office. The brunch was a surprise, and I understand the food was great, but I missed it because my car caught fire on the way home and I was busy shopping for a replacement. 1)I learned that antifreeze thrown on an engine fire will put the fire out. 2)I learned car dealers will send a car to pick you up when you tell them you have to buy TODAY. A bedraggled ficus on a scruffy plate. See what rich memories they evoke! I could do complete and lengthy blogs on both stories, and probably I will later.

I've divested myself of a large number of personal belongings, sometimes painfully. I don't have much at this point, but there are memories associated with every single thing I have. My sons and daughter-in-law did the packing and moving (I was still exhausted when we were finished)and we all enjoyed looking at some of the photographs. I have some that go back three generations. Maybe more. We showed my son's 5-year-old daughter a picture of her daddy at about her age and told her it was him. She examined the picture thoroughly, then said decisively, "No, it's not."

This place is smaller than my last, and I am determined to keep every thing I brought somehow. I still have unpacked boxes and it has been more than a week. (sigh) But I can't unpack right now--I have to go exercise, and then a neighbor is coming over and then I have to fix supper, and I have to read sometime, don't I?

more later. FYI, the best keepsake from this move is the love my family has shown me, and I don't have to store that anywhere. I just keep giving it back, getting it back, and giving it again.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Enforced Vacation

My monitor went on the fritz and now I have. I fell and broke my wrist. Doctor recommends minimal typing for several weeks, so any further entries for awhile will be intermittant and short. But I will continue to read and enjoy the rest of you. Probably won"t comment much, tho.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Trust Begins At Home

It was the last day of Christmas vacation, so my granddaughters and I decided to go to a nearby fast food restaurant for a a treat. It was midafternoon, not too many folk about. I needed to use the bathroom, and given their current ages, didn't think I needed to take them. When I exited, I heard a small girl crying loudly, the "I hurt" cry, not the "my feelings are hurt" cry. I saw an older woman comforting her. The girl appeared about 3 or 4.

My oldest granddaughter told me, "something bad happened while you were gone." I asked her to tell me and she said she would tell me in the car. I told her if it was bad, and I needed to do something to fix it, I needed to know before we left. Her eyes slid to an older, heavyset man waiting for his order about 10-12 feet away. He wore a pleasant expression and a navy blue shirt. I turned around to look at him, so he probably was aware we were discussing him.

She said the little girl, whose sobs were subsiding, had just been sitting in a chair. "She was just sitting there!" my granddaughter said. "She was sort of singing to herself but she wasn't really making any noise. She wasn't doing anything!"

And the man came up and walloped her, she said. He hit her so hard her head snapped foreward and hit the edge of the table. And then he walked off when she began to cry.

The man continued to wait with a pleasant expression for his order. His wife came up and offered him a sip of her soft drink, which he refused at first but then accepted. The little girl calmed down, but it seemed to me the woman was rather stern with her. Hmm.

My nine-year-old granddaughter looked at me wide-eyed. "He must be the worst daddy in the world!" she told me. "She wasn't doing anything, and he hit her!"

Just then, the man's order was delivered and they all left. The little girl was with the woman. The two were on their way out the door when the man called to the girl. Oh, yeah. She heard him. and whisked out the door ahead of the woman. She was sucking her thumb.

No, it wasn't something I would interfere with. It was borderline. My granddaughters and I finished our snacks and left a short while later. But I thought about what the older girl had said. It reasonates. At nine, she is beginning to find out some people aren't so nice. But at home, she is safe and can trust the people she loves.

"He must be the worst daddy in the world."

Yes, it reasonates.