Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Warm Fuzzy

This little mermaid had a bit too much Christmas at the age of 6.
Carolyn is a lovely, grown woman now. Like Nan and Alex, my two other godchildren, she warms my heart.
Each one of them is unique and important to me. We are related by blood AND our souls seem to have a special connection as well.
Truthfully, I am blessed with the most outstanding nieces and nephews anyone could wish for!

Monday, December 28, 2009

I'm Finished!

The pity party is over -- fini -- kaput. It was getting me nowhere fast and I'm tired of being an invalid! What made this party go on too long was the fact that I was hit by a trio of health woes. First was Spouse's flu bug with a slight fever, aches and fatigue, but not enough to stop my normal routine. [I must remember that is not a good thing in my case.] Then it mutated into my annual bout of bronchitis for 18 days of nonstop wheezing and coughing. This bugger virus sneered at the most powerful OTC cough suppressant and expectorant syrup. Even prescribed codeine and guaifenesin hardly made a dent. I was beginning to think I would never sleep again! To add insult to injury, my back snapped a week ago and sent my sciatic nerve into a frenzy. My left leg declared war against the rest of my body probably because of all the wrenching coughing. Sitting upright, bent forward has been the only comfortable position I could find. I actually was able to snooze in that position, but a serious sleep deficit must now be addressed. Spouse tried everything he could think of to be helpful, but I basically snapped his head off most of the time. [Unremitting pain does that to me.] Amazingly, he just kept on trying. He also whipped himself into an emotional frenzy as he tends to do when something is wrong with me. Many extra hours at work, covering for those who were on vacation -- and -- losing sleep over my situation didn't help, either. Therefore, my manifesto: There will be no more snivelling by either one of us. There will be no more following me around afraid I might break in half. Daily showering will recommence immediately. Daily hugs and kisses will be mutually offered and accepted. [Snuggling will return when all the pain is gone -- I promise.] Gratitude for both of us returning to good health will replace frustration and depression . . . so help me God!

Friday, December 25, 2009

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Simple Gifts

The protocols and traditions surrounding Christmas and any holiday are what make them special. Anticipation is a huge part of Christmas. Following are some of the things that made Christmas special during my childhood. -- praying for fresh snow to cover the dirty snow; -- eating Norwegian rice pudding and marinated herring for supper on Christmas Eve; -- going to church late and leaving silently by candle light at midnight; -- having a cup of egg nog with Mom, Dad and any sibs still awake enough before heading to bed; -- crawling into a cocoon of cold sheets and heavy blankets; -- squirming around to make blue sparks of static electricity between my flannel pajamas and the sheets; -- falling asleep thinking about the loot I hoped to get in the morning; -- devouring Mom's special Christmas breakfast; -- receiving that one, special something that I simply HAD to have even though it was too expensive; -- watching Mom and Dad enjoying their gifts and them watching us enjoying ours; -- skipping lunch because breakfast had been huge and filling; -- taking a nap to recover from the day's excitement; -- eating too much Christmas dinner; -- going for a walk in the cold, gas-lit streets, looking at the lights on neighbors' Christmas trees through frosty windows; -- catching snowflakes on my tongue or craning my neck to see the stars, hoping to catch sight of THE star; -- crawling under the covers again, admiring favorite gifts before being told to turn out the light and go to sleep; -- falling asleep surrounded by my new stuff, carefully placed on top of my bedspread; -- feeling so very lucky to be alive. Merry Christmas

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Dope

There's a reason narcotics have that nickname. Anyone who uses them recreationally truly is stupid. They turn brain cells to mush and movement slow-motion. But . . . . . . I thank goodness for them, too. Here's why. Tuesday morning, as I toweled off following my shower I felt a stabbing pain in my left hip and numbness in my leg. I couldn't imagine what had hit me. My mind came up with some scary scenarios. One of my grandmothers had been walking down the driveway to get the newspaper when her hip broke and she fell. The doctors confirmed that it happened in that order -- weird. Being considerably younger than her when that happened, I decided that was not it. As the pain worsened and caught my breath, I thought of a hairline fracture. Calling 911 seemed too extreme, so I called my doctor's office. Choking back tears and sitting on hold after responding to way too many recorded questions, I got an appointment in two hours time -- amazing! Normally, I wouldn't be caught dead in public without make-up or styling my hair. I actually debated whether or not to risk streaking mascara or going without. The latter plan won. I was in too much pain to care about going out with damp, crooked hair and no war paint, bent over at the waist. Gasping and groaning, tears shamelessly running down my face, I drove myself to the doctor's office. Sitting straight up is the only position in which I find comfort, even taking Percocet and high dose Motrin. At this point I'm more pissed-off than pained. Christmas is in two days and I'm barely mobile -- perfect timing! I feel like such a dope . . .

Monday, December 21, 2009

THE Gift

I am not an enthusiastic shopper. Oh, the garden center or grocery store produce section get my juices going, but I couldn't care less about the latest gadget or style. Crowds are not my thing and too much light and noise turn me into a head-achy, grouchy mess. The same was not true when I was a kid. One memorable shopping experience was when I'd made enough money from babysitting to put a wool, plaid kilt I'd been lusting after on lay-away. At 35¢ an hour, it took awhile. I could have requested it for Christmas, but I just HAD to have it sooner than that. When I finally paid off the last bit, the saleslady, recognizing the significance of the moment, carefully folded the kilt so that the shiny-gold-pin-that-came-with-it showed, placed it between tissue paper, then into a gift box. She then put the box into a handle shopping bag. I strode home ever so proudly swinging that bag at my side. Another special shopping expedition happened when I was about 12. Because Mom was such a great cook, my sibs and I decided to give her the latest kitchen gadget for Christmas. We saved up allowances and walked uptown together to make the special purchase. On the long, cold walk back home, we giggled in anticipation of Mom's over-joyed reaction when she opened THE Gift on Christmas morning. We just KNEW she'd LOVE it. Waiting those two weeks was pure agony, but all of us managed to hold out until the big moment without spilling the beans. As was custom in our family, everyone had to brush teeth, get dressed and eat breakfast at a reasonable hour on Christmas morning. Mom and Dad were smart in that they -- er uh, they asked Santa to leave our filled stockings outside our bedroom doors after we'd gone to bed. Between creaking stairs and bells on the stockings, they knew when we were awake. While we all whispered ohs and ahs over the treasures in our stockings, the aroma of coffee and bacon would eventually rise up from the kitchen to grab our attention. Either Mom or Dad would call up the stairs when it was time for us to trundle on down for breakfast. The torture of waiting for everyone to finish eating and for Mom and Dad to pour themselves more coffee ended only after we'd lined up, by age, and were lead into the living room by our parents. The tree was always lit and Santa had added big candy canes. Piles more wrapped gifts also appeared since we had carefully placed our gifts under the tree the night before. Now, placement of gifts was very important. You always wanted your gifts to be opened first so that you could bask [modestly, of course] in the praise and thanks from their recipients. This did not stop us from furtively but earnestly searching for our own names on all of the packages. When it was finally time to get down to the business of actually opening said packages, Dad ceremoniously handed out one at a time to each of us. There was no point in rushing to open a gift because we'd have to wait until each of us had opened theirs and thanked the giver before another would be doled out. It was AGONIZING! If a kid stopped to actually play with a gift, the rest of us would give him or her the eye so they'd know to stop it. Actual use of or play with a gift had to wait until every package had been opened. Of course, that unwritten rule didn't apply to the parents. Christmas morning could be long and drawn out if one of them decided to get all worked up over a new necklace or pair of gloves or something useless like that. Not sure how, but Dad always knew which box was to be left til last. THIS would be the pee-ace-day-reezeeztons -- our gift for Mom. Everything stopped when Dad handed Mom THE Gift. Big grins and stifled giggles gave away our pleasure over our carefully chosen gift. Mom oohed and aahed over the wrapping paper, trying to guess what was inside then slowly -- painfully slowly -- deliberately slowly [like-a-stripper-although-I've-never-been-to-a-striptease-show] -- pulled up the tapes holding everything together. When at long last, the gift was revealed, she half-winked at Dad and exclaimed that it was just what she wanted -- a Veg-O-Matic!! As we kids drew in closer, she opened the box and pulled out the magnificent machine that could slice and dice potatoes or instantly cut them into french fries; slice tomatoes (yeah, sure) and do much more culinary magic. We could hardly contain our excitement and pride! Mom claims to have actually used that Veg-O-Matic throughout the years. It now resides in the kitchen of the youngest sib. She hadn't been born yet, so it seemed appropriate that she should have it -- a piece of family history to cherish and pass down to one of her sons.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Day After

As it does with sand, the wind is whipping the snow into unpredictable shapes and sending sparkle through the air. Altogether, it's been an entirely satisfying snow event here, in D.C.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Oh, What a Beautiful Morning . . .

. . . Oh What a Beautiful Day! Finally -- the one and only District of Columbia is getting a decent snow!! [left photo taken at 9:40 last night / right one was taken at 9:40 this morning] I'm an anomaly in this town [in the whole region probably] because I'm delighted to see the snow. I wouldn't even mind shoveling it -- IF I was healthy and IF I needed to -- one more advantage of apartment living. I will admit that big snow storms are not for everyone nor even necessarily always fun. Losing electricity, water or other side-effects of heavy snow soon take the joy out of it. [Growing up in northern Illinois, I can't tell you how many times I had to take a birdy-bath by candle light in a frigid room with frigid water!] Also, if snow accumulates more than four inches, our Civic's chassis gets hung-up on the unplowed streets. This is the only time when I wish I had one of those big, honkin' SUVs with four wheel drive. I'd be out there toolin' everywhere with a big, evil grin on my face. I LOVE driving in snow! Why, I'd even volunteer to pick-up doctors and nurses and drive them to and from hospitals! But . . . since we don't own a big, honkin' SUV with four wheel drive, footin' it is the best way to go and I'm so ready for it. In a previous post, I mentioned that I'd bought real, rubber galoshes several years ago and have NEVER been able to use them. NOW I can! Snow is a gift from God. Freshly fallen snow: -- makes everything look clean and sparkly. -- muffles sound giving us a respite from noise. -- forces us to slow down and to be mindful. It also makes us realize that those otherwise invisible public works guys are heroes. So get out there and thank those plow truck and salt truck drivers -- they're workin' their tails off! Then go back in your cozy home and appreciate that you have one.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Memories of Hot Dr. Pepper

The past two weeks, I've been fighting a nagging case of bronchitis. Hot drinks seem to help. Walking through the grocery today, I noticed big bottles of Dr. Pepper and impulsively picked up one. When I was a young woman, in the 1970s, I did a fair amount of travelling for business. I didn't mind it then because I was still single with a heavy case of wanderlust. For ten days every June, I travelled to work my nonprofit's annual convention. I was in program development for which we set up a booth of materials. Members were always interested in the latest issue or program we had to offer and the more years I went, the better it got seeing old friends among the members and other exhibitors. Sipping on my hot Dr. Pepper and lemon today reminds me of the convention week when I practically lived on hot Dr. P. and Claxton fruit cake samples. Both had exhibit booths near mine and gave away free samples all day. People may joke about fruit cake, but theirs was really good. I could never get away for lunch, so I was grateful for the free samples. All that sweetness eventually got to me, but it was better than going hungry. For roughly 10 hours a day, I manned that booth with a cheesy grin on my face. My day started around 6 a.m. with setting up workshop rooms. Then it was into the booth for 10 hours. After a quick supper, we worked on setting up for evening workshops. Frankly, I'm not sure how we survived. We were not compensated for overtime, either. A few years later, some liberated women came to work for this old women's organization and the shit hit the fan. They were ready to sue the organization for the lousy treatment of it's staff. Long and short of it is that we eventually were allowed comp. time for all the extra hours. Coming off that convention schedule, it took several days just to get our heads screwed on straight again and our bodies back in sync, so that was a good thing. With that little show of courage, one morning I made a comment about "Tricky Dick" to someone in the coffee room. Even though I was not talking loud, nor was I addressing her, the battle axe who ran the headquarters got red in the face with anger and told me to never use that term again when talking about "our president." Being young and dispensable, I clammed-up. To this day I regret not having the courage to confront her.
---------------------------
All those memories came flooding back just from drinking hot Dr. Pepper! I shudder to think about what would come back if I ate any fried catfish . . . don't want to go there!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

My latest read: "The Help"

When I decided to read Kathryn Stockett's novel I expected to be enlightened, disgusted, touched and shocked. I was not disappointed. What did surprise me was how conflicted many Southerners seem to be about race relations.
The story is set in the early 1960s Mississippi when Jim Crow was still in full force yet an under current of change was brewing. The help was a tactful way to refer to African-American domestics who were paid less than minimum wage and treated no differently than their slave ancestors had been.
It hurt my heart reading about Black women who loved and raised the white children of their employers. They nurtured those children into adulthood only to have them turn around to treat them as their parents had. As during antebellum times, a maid who raised a child might then be given to that grown-up child to serve her and her family. Southern decorum insisted that those women were like extended family and dearly loved.
The constant anxiety these women felt was another shock. If a maid displeased her employer for any reason, she could be accused of stealing or worse. No proof was necessary to accept the word of a white person. In the eyes of white residents and the law, her reputation was ruined and, even if she wasn't sent to prison, she was ostracized and unemployable from then on. There was no mercy, even if she had a family to support.
My naivete was challenged and disrupted by this novel. Growing up in a WASP suburb of Chicago, I realize now that I wore blinders. It was not intentional -- just the way it was for lack of exposure.
Racial color-blindness doesn't exist; differences are too obvious. However, if we concede differences and similarities and our own imperfections and faults we can relate to anyone. We are human first -- all the other categories we use to describe ourselves and others are secondary.
End of sermon.

Monday, December 14, 2009

It's a grayscale kinda day

While others are enjoying the beauty and sparkle of recent snow accumulations, we're having a grayscale kinda day.
Heavy fog descended upon us last night and continues to roll in and out today. The sun is not able to burn through it yet. Visibility goes from about a half mile to maybe 50 yards. I like the soft edges fog gives everything.
Not hearing any planes taking off from or landing at National, so it's not something travelers can appreciate.
I will admit, however, I'll be happy to see the sun again after several days of wet, cold, nasty weather.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Outrageous or What?!

Ever since law firms started advertising on TV, litigation has spiraled upwards to ridiculous levels. There have always been "ambulance chasing lawyers," but a personal experience still leaves me angry. Several years ago, Spouse and I were hit by a car full of young women. Turned out they were half of a bridal party headed to the wedding of one of them. No one was hurt and I was more concerned about the distraught bride and her friends than I was about our trunk full of thawing groceries. The police and fire departments arrived, collected required info. and checked out everyone involved. By then friends had arrived to drive the girls the rest of the way. A tow truck pulled their crippled car out of the intersection and I drove our dented car back home. Within less than two hours, two different law firms phoned to see if we wanted to sue. Yeah, right -- like we were going to sue a distressed, young, college student over an accident! Accidents are unintended incidents of bad luck -- not deliberate acts. Before I could fully explain this to each "vulture" they hung up on me. Tax cheats seem to be the new favorite for TV-advertising-law-firms. There is more than one out there promising to save thousands on what people owe to their states or the IRS. Actual clients candidly and gleefully testify to getting 90% knocked off of their tax bills. Who is being cheated here? THE REST OF US! The lawyers get their percentages and the cheats pay a fraction of what they owe. The rest of us honest, tax-paying schlubs are left to make up the difference. We're talkin' billions here and they get away with it because of loopholes in tax laws. Now the commercials urge the cheats to hurry before the laws change. This cash cow may not last long, so hurry-in to get your piece of the pie! Only in America. . . . *sigh* P.S. I've had way too much time on my hands because I did catch what Spouse had and it's taking longer to get out of my system. My self-pity parties always seem to churn-up stuff like the above. Forgive . . .?

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Another Good Memory

My mother's mother was born in 1893 in small town Pennsylvania. She was descended from early Quakers who were given a land grant by William Penn. I'm told that a Friends Meeting House for which Grammy's family donated land still stands. She was a beautiful, modest, auburn-haired, choir member when my Poppy first saw her in church. She had a charming upturned nose, absolutely gorgeous hands and legs [even in old age] and an enviable grace about her. Sadly, these genetic blessings seem to have skipped my generation. Poppy was a good-lookin' young gent himself and two years older. They never admitted it to me but I think they were smitten on first sight. Sunday church services became the highpoint of their week. They enjoyed a long, challenging and satisfying marriage. Four of their five children survived infancy and produced sixteen grandchildren of whom they seemed very proud. Poppy died at too early an age in my mind. He had heart problems which took his life one night in 1972. I'm grateful to have only fun, loving memories of my grandparents. During the long Thanksgiving weekend of 1983, Spouse and I took Grammy to the Old Post Office Pavilion to have a look around and to treat her to her favorite food -- iced cream. The whole drove down from Mom and Dad's in Potomac, I was picturing her digging into a luscious, cold confection in one of the handmade, sugar cone bowls. NOTHING could make her happier! It was a very cold and windy November day and we had to park far away. I was worried that Grammy wouldn't make it to the Pavilion, but she was game to give it a try. All three of us arrived wind-blown, red-cheeked and giggly. Thank God she was none the worse for our long trek! As I steered us toward the iced cream place, Grammy caught a whiff of the skin-on- french-fries. Granted, a cold, blustery day would not be my choice for an iced cream social, but Grammy LOVED the stuff! With a big serving of hot, freshly cooked, salty fries and Cokes, we climbed the stairs to the upper level and a table and chairs overlooking the cavernous space. Spouse nervously watched my frail-looking grandmother daintily chow-down on those fries. Between sips of Coke, she exclaimed how delicious they were. Spouse and I had been married mere months at the time. Being from Iran, he was used to worrying about and doting on his elders. My grandmother blew his mind that day. We enjoyed people-watching and each other's company. She had no problem with his foreigness or religious background. She just wanted to make sure I was happy. Watching us together, she could tell. When we delivered her back to Potomac, she gave both of us hugs and whispered that she was so happy for me. Yeah . . . I still miss her.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Horror at Hains Point

It is a dark and stormy night. [No wait -- it wasn't dark yet and it was just drizzling, but you get the drift.] Dramatic, dying sunbeams sweep downward into the racing, cold, gray waters of the Potomac.
The clueless, wound-up pack of teens arrives shortly before sunset. The river and clouds have drawn them to this particular spot on the Point and the chilly air refreshes them after a full day in the bus bringing them to D.C. from their small town in [oh, I don't care -- you pick a place]. As the fresh breezes off the water reach them, their sexual energy level blossoms by at least 47%!
Skittering and scampering around the park, chasing each other in mock assault, accidentally touching each other's privates, little do they know that they are stimulating more than just themselves. Reverberations through the ground alert the Creature of the Point to his next opportunity to snack.
Stealth is crucial if Creature's hunt is to succeed. Gray clouds help because his aluminum arm is nearly the same color.
Teens are a particular delicacy. The hormones surging inside them tingle his taste buds like spice and salt -- irresistible. Pinching off their greasy little heads is like squeezing a luscious, juicy grape off its vine. Popping one into his mouth is satisfying nearly to the point of ecstasy. Teen males are a little gamier-tasting than females, but Creature is not picky.
The jig is up after consuming only four teens -- drat! Somehow, in their hormone-saturated minds, the gang of teens figures out some of their classmates have gone missing. In frustration, a chaperon blows his whistle, figuring they are in the bushes somewhere doing what teens do when they're let loose.
The gigantic, smoke-spewing bus, now occupied by four fewer passengers, soon departs the Point. I stand frozen in my steps, waiting for the inevitable.
Soon enough a hand resurfaces, feels around for anything else to eat, then, in a fit of frustration, makes an ear splitting finger-snap and descends to await another bus-full of snacks.
Life at Hains Point is never dull.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Just cuz I feel like it. . .

Reality vs. Hollywood Reality

If folks don't start questioning how real TV reality shows are after last week's White House incident, I worry about our future and security. Publicity hungry people will find ways to put themselves in the public eye. The couple that broke into the White House (I will not add to their notoriety by naming them) have pulled similar stunts elsewhere. For example: the female half pretended to be a former Redskin's cheerleader at a reunion. The real ones quickly figured it out, but that didn't stop Hollywood from buying footage of it. If this couple was not conventionally attractive, dressed to the nines and transported in one of those ridiculous Hummer limousines, they would have been sent packing at the gate. Through impudence and lies they managed to talk their way in. In general, security people try to be courteous and helpful as well as diligent. Thanks to this crass couple, I'm afraid we may no longer enjoy as much civility when going through security measures -- anywhere. As for producers of those TV reality shows -- quit it and give us something worth watching! Entertain or educate us. Quit pandering to viewers who only want to witness embarrassing or salacious moments in others' lives. Thank goodness for PBS!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

This past Monday was a big day . . .

. . . for my cousin Hallie and her husband, Mike. The one and only Hillary R. Clinton, Secretary of State, swore-in Mike as the new U.S. ambassador to Estonia. He's a 30-year career diplomat and the two of them make a phenomenal team. They've served under every imaginable condition from being shot at in Panama to befriending Serbian royalty. Thankfully, they remain my lovely, loving cousin Hallie and charming, incredibly smart and jovial Mike. Family from Illinois, Pennsylvania and Tennessee came for it. Originally scheduled for the Monday before, the Senate was too busy with healthcare reform to take the final steps in confirming Mike and other appointees. Many of his family members from Tennessee planned to be there on the original date but could not come this time. Mom, Janet and Zach drove up from Southern Maryland and brought Patty, Tom and their son Mike who'd flown in from Chicago. We gathered here and slogged over together through the rain and wind. [Even though Spouse and I live catty-corner to State, there weren't enough umbrellas to go around, so some of us were not quite as polished as we would have liked to be walking into the grand atmosphere of the 8th floor.] Even though I've been there before, the stateliness [pun intended] and sparkle still impress me. [I can't imagine how the huge crystal chandeliers -- of which there are many -- are kept so clean!] Being that Madam Secretary was still meeting at the White House when our event was to begin, we wandered out onto the terrace to enjoy the view. There are several more rooms elegantly decorated with priceless paintings, china, silver, oriental rugs and antique furniture, so we were not bored. [Though standing around for so long took a toll on some of the older guests.] When Mike, Hallie and their children Lindsay and Nicholas arrived, followed by Mrs. Clinton, we all applauded. She made some very complimentary remarks about Mike and Hallie both. [Mike had been one of the people who helped her prepare for her confirmation hearings. It was nice that she mentioned that in addition to his career highlights.] During Mike's comments, she looked around the room, impressed by the turn-out. A long grip and grin followed and we family members waited around. [The Secretary departed shortly after Mike's remarks because a dignitary from New Zealand (?) was visiting. I didn't get a good look at the flags on the limos because I was fumbling with an umbrella and trying to get out of the way.] Anyway, we then headed to Red Hot and Blue on Wilson Blvd. for a gang lunch where we could finally let loose and enjoy each others' company. Mike and Hallie were our always gracious hosts even though they leave for Estonia on Sunday! We're all so proud of them but hate to see them go. . .
The photo is from one of their Christmas cards sent during their service in Serbia.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Everlasting Edgar

At the suggestion of my blog-buddy Megan, from Two Shorten the Road, I picked up a copy of The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski. She said it was about dogs, so I thought it would be a nice detour from what I'd been reading. Little did I know that this guy's very first novel would blow me away!
Wroblewski's style is utterly readable and the story was fascinating. It grabbed my attention and held onto it so firmly that I've felt guilty for neglecting Spouse. Putting it down in favor of conversation, to watch TV or sleep was unthinkable!
There is mystery in this story, but it develops almost surreptitiously. His lovely descriptions of life in rural Wisconsin lulled me into thinking this was just another novel with a happy ending. Nothing wrong with those -- I like happy endings.
The way Wroblewski builds his descriptions of action is tantalizing and compelling. One example is the escalating tension during a storm over Lake Superior. I found myself breathing faster and enjoying the fearsome spectacle from the safety of my chair.
Wroblewski's fellow author, none other than Stephen King, expressed my feelings well when he said: "I flat-out loved The Story of Edgar Sawtelle. Wonderful, mysterious, long, and satisfying: readers . . . are going to enter a richer world. I envy them the trip."
I look forward to Wroblewski's next novel which can't come soon enough!

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thanksgiving 2009

Twas the night before Thanksgiving When all through the flat Not a creature was stirring, Not even a mouse. The Jell-o mold for tomorrow Was chilling in the fridge In hopes that Thanksgiving Would soon let us eat it. The children were nestled All snug in their beds; With visions of turkey legs Dancing in their heads; And my honey in his chair And I in mine Had just settled down for A long Capital's game, When out in the sky there Arose such a clatter, I sprang from my chair To see what was the matter. Out to the balcony I flew like a flash, Spouse wondering "what the heck . . ." The moon in the southern sky lit up the deck and Gave the lustre of mid-day to objects above When what to my wondering eyes should appear But a squawking big V of Bright white swans Heading for Chesapeake Bay.
I so wish I'd thought to pick up my camera. Those swans shown bright white against the dark sky and sounded like a gaggle of old ladies in heat.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Preying in Foggy Bottom

Thanks to this big dude of a hawk? falcon?:
-- the gang of crows that usually swoops and poops through my neighborhood is gone;
-- the sparrows that like to gather and chat on our balcony railing have disappeared;
-- squirrels that usually scurry up trees and across the lawn are nowhere to be seen.
There is an uncommon peace with this guardian angel in the tree! Of course it's only temporary until he/she leaves for better hunting grounds.
[I dragged Spouse out of his death bed to witness this, too. Just teasing -- he's feeling much better thanks to my chicken soup!]

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Henry David Thoreau said it so well

Live each season as it passes;
breathe the air,
drink the drink,
taste the fruit,
and resign yourself
to the influences of each.
We humans are so fortunate to enjoy four, distinct seasons, each offering elements that enrich our existence.
Autumn offers a different fragrance -- one of drying leaves and moist earth. Apples, pears, pumpkins, brussels sprouts and other cold weather produce come into season adding diversity to our diet.
The sun eases around to the South, flooding our windows with warmth and light. Nights are longer -- encouraging us to appreciate the warmth and safety of our homes and to look forward to dawn each day.
Thanksgiving is so much more than crowded airports, train stations, highways and overcooked turkeys. It can be an opportunity to stop and to take inventory of our blessings so that we better appreciate our lives. Everyone has something to be thankful for.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The world as I've come to know it may soon end.

SPOUSE HAS THE FLU! When it comes to martyrdom, Joan of Arc ain't got nothin' on Spouse. His suffering is worse than anyone else's in all of written history. If he doesn't cut back on the whining and complaining, that belief of his might actually become fact. But then, ". . . in sickness and in health . . ." comes to mind. I made him as comfortable as I could [warming his side of the bed with my body so he wouldn't have to crawl between cold sheets]. Then I cut up every fresh veggie I could find and made a big, warm, fragrant pot of chicken soup to sustain him through this tribulation. I actually can't stand the smell of chicken soup, but I made the sacrifice. He's taking Tamiflu. As soon as he starts feeling a little better he will do something foolish like going out in the cold rain without a hat or an umbrella, get chilled to the bone and come home in worse shape than when all of this began!! Oh, how I love the man! This, uttered through clenched teeth, must be my mantra for the next week or so. To myself, I will hum this famous refrain from Helen Reddy: I am strong, I am invincible, I am WOOMAAAN!! Then, I'll probably get sick . . .

Monday, November 16, 2009

One hundred four weeks ago today . . .

. . . my Dad passed away. I can still picture the events of that day. Mom, my sibs and I all quietly scurried around, trying to ensure Dad's comfort and trying so hard to deny that it was his last day on Earth. [I think we singlehandedly increased the value of Kleenex stock that day!] Other family members and friends have died, but the death of my father really rocked my boat. He was often too strict, even with his adult children, and criticized with ease. I believe he felt that was expected of him as patriarch of the family. It was his duty to make sure his offspring turned out to be well-mannered, articulate and useful world citizens. As the sole survivor of his immediate family for many years, I sometimes wondered how that affected him. For one thing, he tried ever so sincerely and pretty disastrously to parent his nieces and nephews -- all living thousands of miles away. His brother and sister both died too young and, sadly, had bad luck in multiple marriages each. Their parents both died in their early 70s, so Dad felt lucky to reach the ripe old age of 83 and to have stayed married to the same woman for 62 years. Dad chose the right lady when he married Mom. Her background was very different from his. She loved him enough to help him reshape himself into a better person. Mom came from a close, openly loving family and worked very hard to create the same kind of family for herself and Dad. Despite Dad, she succeeded. I regret that we kids didn't get to know Dad's parents. We lived in northern Illinois and they lived in southern Texas. My grandmother lived with us for a few years after my grandfather died, so I knew her a little better. I sometimes had the impression that sentimentality was viewed as a weakness, but she and Dad could not deny their feelings. Grandma M. was a sweet-faced lady with an iron will. She braved years of caring for a husband who had multiple strokes before one finally took his life. She was so focused on his care, that she neglected herself -- not uncommon among women of her generation. The husband and children always took priority. Too late, doctors found advanced breast cancer in my Grandma M. She endured radical surgery, horrendous chemo and radiation. This was during the 1960s when treatment was more extreme, less effective and more noxious than it is now. Somehow, she always managed a warm smile when I visited her in the hospital and gently rubbed her head. I was afraid to touch her anywhere else because she was in pain and afflicted with wires and tubes. Dad liked to have his crew-cut head rubbed, too. Kids enjoyed doing it because it tickled their hands. He would croon with pleasure, especially when one of his beloved grandchildren was doing the stroking.
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Morphine had sent Dad into another realm, but that made no difference to those of us around him. Pete and I debated over what music to play for him even though it probably didn't matter at that point. We were desperate to make his "transition" as smooth and peaceful as possible. Dad had trouble swallowing during his last couple of days, so we kept his mouth moist by dipping stick sponges in water and holding them to his lips. I'm convinced he was letting me know that he was aware of us when he bit off the sponge and wouldn't let me get it out of his mouth. I was terrified that he would choke on it, but he seemed to enjoy moving it around just out of my reach. That was so Dad. The later it got, the more crowded it became on his side of the bed. I resorted to crawling onto the middle of the bed to be closer to him. Never, ever, in a million years would this have happened under any other circumstances. It would have been totally unseemly, but I wasn't satisfied to touch his blanketed foot -- I needed to run my hand across his crew-cut and hold his hand. So . . . Memories linger. At least now I can think about him without crying. I had hoped I might feel his presence as I did his sister's shortly after she died in a traffic accident years ago. I haven't. As staid as Dad was, I think he's still in shock at where his soul has landed. Maybe once he's acclimated, he'll make a call on Mom; she could really use one.

Friday, November 13, 2009

A Case of Selective Compassion

If all life is sacred, how can Catholic Charities and perhaps other religiously affiliated service organizations threaten to abandon those who need them most? This is what is being threatened here, in D.C. Next month, the D.C. Council will vote on whether or not to endorse same-sex marriage. If they vote in favor of legalizing such relationships, Catholic Charities has said it will no longer accept D.C. funding to help our city's neediest. I can only hope this means they have other funding sources to fulfill their humanitarian mission. Frankly, I don't understand this thinking inasmuch as mankind is supposedly created in the image of God and we are all His children. How does it become OK for a group of people, who claim to be Christians, to decide that some of His creations are unacceptable? I am appalled that any religious organization could shun or abandon anyone. Homosexuality is not a choice. Science has proven that genetics dictate gender identity. Besides, as I've argued before -- why would someone deliberately choose to be a social pariah? Humans are fallible, even those who like to believe they are superior. Men and women, whether or not they identify with their physical bodies, are still human. I cannot imagine God, sitting on His throne in Heaven [or however you picture Him] picking and choosing who is worthy of legally sanctified love and devotion from another human. I may be struck my lightning after I post this, but that's what I believe.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

11/10/09 -- 9:11 p.m.

This is when John Allen Muhammad breathed his last. He was one of the infamous D.C. Snipers although he and his young protégé killed innocent strangers across the country. Today's news stories include comments from witnesses to the lethal injection execution, some of whom were family members of victims. Few felt closure. I think I understand. October 2002 was a terrifying time in our region. We were still staggering in disbelief from the horrors of September 11 the year before and now someone was randomly shooting people. Everyone was on edge and scurried about like scared mice when we had to go out grocery shopping or for doctor appointments. I, for one, did not go out for any other reason. Watching someone die for taking the lives of others is not my idea of closure. I do not support the death penalty, yet I do not support the way American prisons pamper inmates. Separating evil people from society should not require that we educate them or provide them with entertainment. Just as prisoners of war are entitled to humane treatment, any one who is imprisoned for committing a crime should be treated humanely. Anything beyond that is not appropriate. Blanket statements like those don't address the varying degrees of criminal activity. There are inmates being held for far less heinous crimes who should be allowed to earn extras like books and perhaps time to listen to music or view television. The worst of the worst, as I feel Muhammad was, should be kept isolated so that they are forced to think about their crimes and to perhaps discover remorse. Any punishment is predicated on the fact that proof supports a guilty sentence. New forensic techniques like DNA matching are making this more realistic. Too many innocent persons have been imprisoned for crimes they did not commit. Some have even been executed and found innocent afterwards. This is disgraceful. To those whose loved ones were victims of this man, I want to express my sincerest condolences and hope that they can find peace in knowing that he can no longer cause harm.

Friday, November 6, 2009

My Latest Reads

Ever since I discovered that Goodwill is a good source for cheap books, I've been reading up a storm. These books are not on the current best-seller list, but they've been satisfying reads just the same. Having already read Isabel Allende's The House of the Spirits, I was pleased to find a copy of her 2002 best seller, Portrait in Sepia. It is a fascinating period piece that takes place in post-goldrush/anti-Chinese San Franscisco and Chile. Social climbing and sabotage were popular and practiced with enthusiasm. Prejudices were as appalling then as they are now although fewer were spared from its stigma. Margaret Sayers Peden did an excellent job of translating from Spanish to English. This book was so enthralling that I read it in record time -- didn't want to put it down! For a break from such sordid affairs, I picked up a book that I totally judged by its cover. Putting on the Ritz was written in 1991 by Joe Keenan. I laughed out loud so many times, Spouse thought I was losing my mind. It is almost disgracefully funny with witticisms that remind me of Cole Porter or Oscar Wilde. It's a contemporary story involving every NYC stereotype you can imagine in a bit of a slapstick situation. A quick read and very amusing! Last night I finished Drifting written by Stephanie Gertler in 2003. The novel reads almost like several stories in one book. The main character, Claire, grew up with her father after her mother walked out on them when Claire was a toddler. All her life, she held onto confused and angry feelings about that fact. She found the love of her life, had two children and got on with her life . . . until. Claire and her husband have just become empty-nesters and own a bed and breakfast in Drifting, CT. They're about to close it for the season when a bedraggled man and his blind daughter show up. Reminded of her own personal history she encourages them to stay. From there, interesting twists and turns lead to a surprise ending.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Nostalgia Strikes Again

I'm still sorting through old family photos. I'm determined to tame them and corral them into albums. Some of the old point-and-shoot photos are lousy quality, but I clearly remember circumstances around them, so they bring back good memories.
This one conjured fun memories of accompanying my nephew, Zach, his parents and my parents to the Smithsonian to visit the dinosaur exhibit about 10 years ago. He knew the names for most all of them. I like their reflection in the vitrine.
In this one on the left, someone had questioned Zach's identity of the croc, thus the sardonic smirk.
After visiting the dinosaurs and the Smithsonian Castle exhibit of old trains, he took a ride on the carousel. He spent two rides, watching the movement of the machinery overhead. He was far more fascinated by that than the actual ride.
It's so hard to accept that Zach is nearly finished with high school now. Hasn't someone come up with a "slow-growth"pill so that we can keep kids younger longer?

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Dogs are People, Too!

I needed a little cheering today, so I've been clicking on some of my favorite links. This one, in The Daily Dish By Andrew Sullivan, always warms my heart. It's footage of a guy returning home from Iraq and how his two dogs greet him. Watching the "Dog Whisperer" I can see how they are communicating with him as the pack leader. They offer their rear ends so that he can identify them by their smell -- how cute is that?! At about 21 seconds, the brown and white dog gazes into the guy's eyes as if to say, "Is it you; is it really you?" This world is a better place because of dogs.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Same Sex Marriage and Separation of Church and State

No, I haven't been living on another planet, but I do feel like we've lost sight of a fundamental, American axiom: separation of church and state. Same sex marriage is simply one example of why I am confused. Shouldn't it be left to the various religious denominations to determine whether or not to perform marriages for anyone? For example: would it be appropriate to ask a Greek Orthodox priest to marry a Jewish couple or a Presbyterian minister to marry a Muslim couple? Why should government, at any level, have anything to say about who can marry whom? This may sound like an trivial comparision, but when I was a Girl Scout and Girl Scout Sunday was to be observed at the local Roman Catholic church, we Protestant girls were not allowed to attend. It was not because our churches didn't want us to. It was because the Catholics did not. I don't recall any girls running to our mayor's or governor's office to complain about it. We accepted it as custom -- regrettable, but them's the breaks. Civil laws are separate from religious canons. This, of course would not stand up in a court of law if, say some denomination decided to start making human sacrifices during worship services. Murder is still a no-no in both realms. But then again there is a denomination whose members test their faith by handling venomous snakes . . . but I digress. If the representative, governing body of a denomination decides that it is permissable to marry persons of the same gender, should it be left to the discretion of each congregation within that denomination to decide whether or not to abide by that decision? Sadly this has separated members within the same congregation. I know tax laws and church property controls are also at issue in these cases. I still don't see a role for government in these disputes. Whether or not same sex couples should be allowed to marry in civil ceremonies should be handled the same way it is for agnostics. The legal, civil binding of two persons is simply a contract of exclusivity. With that come rights and responsibilities for the two parties. Why is that so hard to accept?

Friday, October 30, 2009

Prince Valiant and the Pumpkin

As I was sorting through piles and PILES of family photos, trying to separate them by subject, I came across these two from years ago. Of course, it's not actually Prince Valiant. It's my nephew Chris and his dad preparing his Halloween pumpkin for carving. At first, getting his hands into the slimey, slippery pumpkin guts was kinda fun. Then it started to dry on his skin and was no longer quite so fun. Chris is now a grown man, taller than his tall dad. Nevertheless, he was one cute little dude!

Halloween

Spouse has an excellent, new disguise this year. It reminds me a little of some sort of space alien gear. He started wearing it to bed recently and I'm still startled when I wake up and catch sight of him! He's not thrilled with his mask, but it might just save his life someday. For that reason, we'll both get used to it. Sleep apnea doesn't sound scary but people actually die from it! Spouse has had it for years and I finally talked him into going for a sleep-study to confirm my suspicions. Several times, every night, I would wake up to nudge him enough to start breathing again. [I wonder if all women have that 6th sense of being able to sense problems even when we're sound asleep.] Anyway, the delivery and set-up of his CPAP machine last week was quite a production. At the very end of a two-hour window of time (like the cable guy insists on) the company rep. arrived. She seemed to be high on speed, talking very rapidly and loudly. [Don't worry - I checked and her pupils were normal.] Her memorized schpiel was delivered as quickly as possible and without missing a beat. [Thank goodness for all the printed stuff she left with us!] Spouse looked positively in a fog as she rattled on and on. She then fitted the thing to his head, explained the buttons and humidifier feature then was off to lecture some other poor schlub. After she left, Spouse and I just looked at each other in bewilderment and he headed back to work. After all that I couldn't face the pile of booklets and papers that came with the machine and it's very own, stylish, zippered carrying case, so I parked myself on the balcony to decompress. We'll tackle the papers later.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Indecent Exposure vs. Nosy Neighbor

Thanks to the internet, Twitter, etc., the saga of Eric W. of Fairfax County has spread around the world. He is the guy accused of indecent exposure for being being spotted nude in his home. A 45 year-old woman, wife of a Fairfax County (VA) police officer, was walking her child to school. She claims she heard a noise then saw the naked Eric in his driveway. They reportedly kept walking and saw him again through a large window. I don't know any history of the young man and I, for one, have no reason to believe that what he did was intended to inflict harm. With that in mind, I think his arrest was uncalled for. To help you to understand my reasoning, allow me to share some personal history. All of it happened right here, in D.C. During the 70s I worked in an office in what had been an elegant old mansion on N Street, NW. Across the street, a house that had been home to Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt had been replaced by a modern apartment building. The windows in the apartments were almost floor to ceiling and wall to wall, exposing the kitchen and living room. Venetian blinds aren't terribly effective for maintaining privacy when they are pulled up to the top of the window, or slanted in a horizontal position. I can't tell you how many times I was distracted while gazing [in deep thought, of course] out my office window by a naked man or woman exercising or preparing food. At the same time, I was living in an apartment with windows mere feet across an alley facing another building. Spouse was the first to notice a naked young woman strutting about in front of a young man in an apartment across the alley. The blinds were pulled to the top of the window and every light was on. I laughed at her exhibitionism and closed our blinds tight. Another incident happened late one Spring night when we had our windows open for what little cool air we could get. A young man, wearing a sweater vest and yarmulke was groping a girl on the roof of that same apartment house, directly across from our bedroom window. He was trying to get it on while standing up. We could hear every word and whine. We thought it would have embarrassed them if we suddenly closed the windows, so we stifled laughter and tried to go back to sleep. In the same building another resident regularly stood naked at his corner window while people walked to work. Walking in the other direction, I hadn't notice him until someone pointed him out. He was nonchalantly drinking from a coffee cup looking down at us, stark naked. I don't know if children every saw these other people but, frankly, I didn't see anything lecherous about them. I think they simply enjoyed being discovered in their nudity. People like that are pathetic or intellectually challenged. Please understand, I am NOT the least bit interested in being seen naked. As a matter of fact, I'm pretty puritanical when it comes to my own body. However, when it comes to dictating how others live in their own homes, I think we should mind our own business unless anyone might be harmed. Children must be protected from predators whether or not they are nude. I also think that, in this particular case, drapes would have been more apropos than arrest. Swerving a bit away from the subject -- we live in a pet-free building because I draw the line at neighbors raising dangerous snakes or other critters that might get loose and hurt me. We'd love to have a dog or two, but sacrifices must be made to avoid living next door to something with fangs. There will always be people who love reptiles or prefer life without clothing and who either cannot imagine that they are scaring/offending others or simply don't care. To those who are offended by seeing a naked body: avert your eyes -- keep walking -- close your curtains -- get a life!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Ms Edda Kitt Speaks

My goodness! There are some very friendly people driving in the D.C. area! Night and day they honk greetings to each other. I wonder if those who honk continuously for blocks at a time are that enthusiastic about other things. Hmm? Now, the more reserved honkers are not quite as brash with their greetings. They seem to honk in Morse Code. I don't remember enough of the code to translate these folks' greetings to one another, but I'm sure they are refined and pleasant. When I personally observe these enthusiastic drivers "doing their thing", they seem particularly pleased when cars merge in front of them. Oh, the jollity of all those horns blowing . . . even from drivers several cars back! Congratulations may be in order, but perhaps they can be offered without being quite so energetic. I must have been sick the day my driver's ed teacher explained car horn etiquette. The only lesson I remember was to use it in case of imminent danger. Whenever I have done this, I frequently receive a return beep and a finger signal. Now I know what the lifted middle finger means in other circumstances, but I'm unclear on how it applies when one is driving. Surely preventing a collision does not call for rudeness. Oh -- and while I'm on the subject -- isn't it a tad rude when a driver sits in his car honking to get the attention of his date? My Dad never countenanced that! A gentleman was expected to exit the car, knock on our front door, then escort me to his car. Nowadays, how can a girl be sure the honking is for her and not a neighbor? I ask you . . . Etiquette is a marvelous thing, but in the case of the car horn I think some of us may have gotten a little carried away. Surely a cheery smile and hand-wave is adequate greeting. After all, no matter where one lives, it's more than a silly nuisance when a cranky baby, sleeping and sick folks are disturbed by our honking. Yes! I know it's hard to imagine, but it does happen. Therefore, let us all try to remember the Golden Rule: treat others as we would like to be treated. Okey Dokey?

Friday, October 23, 2009

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Wuzzhappnin?

It's October 21st and I'm sweatin' like I've been playing basketball. However, being that I do not play basketball, I cannot use that as an excuse. It's just too daggum hot today!
This time of year, we get the full, southern sun and the balcony is warmer than the rest of the apartment. Nevertheless, where I'm sitting in the living room it feels like about 90 degrees! Now, I know it's gonna cool off precipitately tomorrow and Friday, but still . . .
Summer in our neck of the woods has always had a twisted sense of humor. She sometimes arrives before Spring has a chance to show up and roasts us well into November! Autumn sometimes succeeds in pushing Summer out of the way for a few days, but soon enough Summer barges back in.
The one, redeeming grace for today is that THE LADY BUGS ARE BACK!! Since late this morning, they've been fluttering by in huge numbers. I put out a little plate of water for them, with a rock in the center so they won't drown trying to drink. [Lady bugs do drink water, don't they?] Anyway, it felt like the right thing to do.
As the sun angles down in the west, it's easier to see the little ladies swooping and sweeping through the air. I have no idea where they're headed, but they don't seem to be in much of a hurry. I hope they'll hang around for a little while. They're so cute!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Truth Can Be Scarier Than Fiction

Fear of dentistry is, of course, not unique to me. However, I'm thinking suffering from it for half a century might be. I'll explain . . . Thinking they were doing a good thing, our parents found a pediatric dentist for us kids. My first visit, with Mom sitting close by, the dentist cleaned my teeth and casually said he would take care of some cavities next time. I came away with a new toothbrush, a tiny tube of Crest toothpaste and teeth that felt like there were giant gaps between them. The next visit was nothing like the first. This guy meant business and I was it. Taking x-rays was not fun because the film had hard edges and hurt my gums and tongue. Still, it didn't prepare me for what was to come. Some people fear the white coats that doctors wear. Dr. R. wore a white jacket, but it had the same effect. When he approached me with a huge, hypodermic needle and told me to open my mouth as wide as I could all hell broke loose. He actually expected me to obediently do what he said. HA! My terrified screams probably were heard in the next town! At that point, a woman in a white dress and thick, stealthy, white shoes entered, grabbed me from the back and held me to the chair. The dentist then forced open my mouth and jabbed me with the needle, rotating it around inside my gum. By the time he withdrew it, tears were streaming down my red face, and I was breathing in heaving gasps. From then on, I was a lost soul, strenuously hoping that my life would soon end. You can figure out the rest of the story, so I won't continue the horror. Suffice it to say, this eight-year-old's trust in adults ended that day. Five years later it was time to start orthodontia. With that came the extraction of two teeth to make room for the rest. The only thing I remember about that is having my first I.V. [another BIG needle!] and bleeding through my pillow while I slept that night. Oddly enough, having braces was cool when I was a kid. Some of us even competed to see who could get all the gear on first. My orthodontist was a lovely, fatherly type of guy and understood. Though he nearly suffocated me making molds of my jaws, he was kind and patient, unlike the special, pediatric dentist. Dr. P. was the type to chuckle when, in a panic, I rode my bike to his house after being hit in the mouth with a badminton birdy. The lower torture wire that was tightened every week had sprung loose and was looping over my upper lip. Dr. P. just took me into his kitchen and snipped it off. Fast-forward to the 1970s and my D.C. dentist. I told him about my phobia and he was kind and understanding. I suffered many fillings without Novocain and I do believe it hurt him almost as much as it hurt me. Then the worst happened -- he retired and left me in the hands of his young associate. Even though I still broke out in a cold sweat in the dentist's chair and had to wipe away streams of wet mascara from my cheeks, I wasn't ready to give up on Dr. H. Dr. S. turned out to be far less patient and was easily frustrated with me. In the end, I saw him only for dire emergencies. His office was in an old, red brick building [now replaced by glass and steel] at the corner of 21st and Penn., NW. His windows overlooked the avenue. During a procedure, we heard multiple sirens coming toward us. Dr. S. and I both hung out the window to watch Nancy Reagan and her Secret Service detail go by on her way to GW Hospital to visit her recently shot husband. [There are benefits to living in D.C. -- any distraction during a dental appointment is a good thing!] After all that, I feel I must provide you with a happy ending to this story. A gentle, highly skilled and patient Dr. A. came into my life -- by shear luck! Several years ago, Spouse and I had to choose a dentist from a list provided by our insurer. We chose a practice within walking distance of home and were assigned Dr. A., a WOMAN dentist!! The heavens were merciful that day. Her empathetic grimaces when I told her my history reassured me that she would be good to me and she has been. Most of my fillings are decades old and falling apart. I've also had teeth break. Three root canals, three crowns and numerous fillings later, my dread of dentists has been assuaged. Faster drills, numbing gel before a Novocain shot all help. Now Dr. A. and I are working well together to maintain my expensive smile. [Four years of heavy orthodontics and four more in a retainer weren't cheap!] Just my luck, Dr. A. has now opened her own practice in Adams Morgan. It's not as convenient as Foggy Bottom, but I'll make the effort to go there. My sanity is worth it!

Friday, October 16, 2009

Montana -- You Surprise Me!

When I hear the name of that state, I think of wild and woolly, gun-totin' ranchers and their hardy women and children. Guns are a big factor in the state. Hopefully their use is limited to taking out foraging wolves, bison, hawks and I suppose other wildlife competing for the ranchers' stock and grazing land. Traditional protocol and etiquette didn't fit the picture I had of these folks. I was wrong! In today's "The Fed Page" in the Washington Post, staff write Walter Pincus revealed that the Montana Army National Guard is taking up the banner of etiquette in training recruits before they are sent to the Middle East. Guard members will also learn basic language skills to better communicate with the people they will encounter and depend on for assistance and information. I am totally impressed and completely approve of this initiative. I also wish it would be applied to every military unit. Protocol and etiquette are fancy words for plain, old, simple, good manners infused with cultural sensitivity. Body language is something we Americans treat very casually, but it's loaded with meaning. For example: in some countries, it is the height of disrespect to reveal the bottom of one's shoe. In another country, shaking one's head from side to side means yes rather than no. It's true! Many of us are aware that traffic lights in China indicate the opposite of what they do here. In China, red means go. Showing respect for the traditions and social customs while visiting (or in this case, trying to liberate) another country is appropriate and indeed necessary if one wants to be accepted. The NATO mission in Afghanistan might stand a chance of success if troops remember that. We Americans have too often mocked others' customs and traditions. In the process, we estrange ourselves as boors and idiots. Money and power are important currency when it comes to influencing people. Respect and good manners are equally important if we want to win friends.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Not the Life for Me

Spouse and I live across the street from a member of Pres. Obama's cabinet. He comes and goes with a security detail. Most often, I notice him coming home late in the evening nearly every day of the week. This kind of schedule is a sacrifice that I would be extremely reluctant to make. Even if I was solving the world's problems or bringing about world peace, I might wither into an incoherent lump under such pressure. My working life was rewarding and allowed me to feel that I was helping to improve the lives of others. Nonetheless I craved and truly required downtime to recharge my batteries and rebuild my enthusiasm for what I was doing. Serving those less fortunate than myself or who had been victims of dreadful events took a toll on my soul. Leisure provided temporary respite. Certainly, there are those working in the administration who love claiming their tiny piece of the action working for a world leader. They are the people who ease the president's burden by doing the grunt work for him. He lives in the most secure house in the country and travels with ease and comfort. Knowing that his security people would give their lives to save his must be comforting and troubling at the same time. I think back to when President Reagan was shot outside the Hilton. A secret service agent took a bullet that, had it hit it's intended target, could have killed Reagan. His press secretary, Jim Brady was grievously wounded, proving it can be dangerous just to be near a president. It takes an uncommon person to want to be the POTUS. Those who work with him must be of similar calibre to withstand the demands of the job. I salute them and am glad I'm not one of them. Back to the gentleman across the street: I hope you take time to read a novel, bake cookies, contemplate your navel, or whatever makes you happy. Life is too short to sacrifice every minute of it to work.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Moments ago

Gorgeous sunsets are coming back around my way now and I'm thrilled! I have to do without them for half the year, so colorful sunsets are yet another reason I look forward to Winter.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

My Week in Review

I experienced three firsts in my life this past week. One made me feel happy and frugal; another bruised my ego and the last was just embarrassing. In need of reading materials, I decided to check out the books at Goodwill. I've never bought used books before but thought that it was about time. Four, hardcover novels cost me just six bucks and change. Normally, they would have cost 10% more. I saved because the sweet, young, salesclerk considered me a senior citizen!! OUCH!! That was the first time that ever happened. I'd been thinking I looked OK for my age -- not so much now. Thursday I joined my cousin, her husband and their son at the Dirksen Senate Office Building. Mike and four others were there for confirmation hearings; three ambassadorships and two connected with the IMF and World Bank. It was the first committee hearing I've attended. Only two members of the Foreign Relations Committee were there at the beginning. One more arrived just in time to introduce a nominee he supported and then left. Lugar showed up later to say some nice things to Mike and the other career diplomat appointee. The third ambassadorial nominee embarrassed me as a woman. Hers is a political appointment. She choked-up twice during her statement and questioning. Is it any wonder some men still don't take women seriously?!

Monday, October 5, 2009

If it was possible . . .

. . . I would bottle today. Not that Monday is my favorite day -- not by a long shot. THIS Monday, however, is an exceptionally welcome day. The air is comfortably cool and dry. The sun is still warming, but assuming a lower position in the sky -- a dead give away that winter is not far off. Each season is important for it's anticipatory energy. Autumn brings with it a desire to speed up a bit following the sultry, hot days of summer. As the precursor of winter it provides the signs that people and wildlife alike need to prepare for the coming cold. Birds start migrating, mammals eat more preparing to hibernate. Other critters like snakes start scoping-out hollow logs to shelter them for winter. Lady Bugs show up in huge numbers and sun themselves on our balcony. Monarch butterflies seem to flutter aimlessly, but eventually head south. Winter around here isn't as clearly defined as it was where I grew up in Northern Illinois. There, it was extremely rare to regret putting up the storm windows after mid-October. When the cold and snow came, it stayed. Around here we're more likely to enjoy an Indian Summer. And, even during mid-winter, we can have some Spring-like weather. We seldom have a White Christmas because precipitation in D.C. is usually of the freezing rain type -- not at all useful for sledding. Spring comes early in these parts. A D.C. Spring can be truly breathtaking -- especially if one has allergies. Nevertheless, flowers and flowering trees translate into dollars as tourists flock to town to mosey around the Tidal Basin, monuments and memorials. Bus loads of school kids bring fresh excitement and awe to a city filled with stodginess and formality. It's as if the Nation's Capital breaks free from an arduous Winter with its social and business obligations and takes a big, deep breath of fresh air. Summer calls for a totally different mindset. D.C.'s usually hard-driving, highly-motivated and stressed denizens put away some of their black wardrobe and add a splash of color. Flip-flops and sandals replace knee-high stiletto-heeled boots and our ubiquitous walking shoes that New Yorkers snicker at. [I say "let 'em snicker -- who wants to develop hammer toes and bunions!"] Summer allows humans to linger and appreciate nature as well as the blessings of air conditioning. So . . . here we are on the fifth day of October 2009. The next few weeks will provide ample opportunity to open up the windows to air out our homes and our minds before we're swept into another winter with it's holiday jitters and joys. I, for one, plan to enjoy Autumn whole-heartedly and with all of my senses. I highly recommend, dear reader, that you do the same.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Throw the book at him!

Roman Polanski does not in any way, shape or form deserve the sympathetic pleas made on his behalf by fellow directors and even Whoopi Goldberg -- shame on you Whoopi!! The man drugged, raped and sodomized a 13 year old child. He then pled guilty to a lesser charge and ran away. France has sheltered this smug coward ever since and he has yet to pay for his crime. I'm glad he was cockey enough to travel to Switzerland to accept another award from his peers. I'm cheering the Swiss authorities for nabbing him. Polanski is guilty of a dreadful crime and must do the time. His victim has forgiven him. I believe that is because her own health and welfare required that she do so. [I am still trying to forgive my abuser/rapist and it's been forty years!] His age should not be a stumbling block to sentencing him for his crime, either. I hope he suffers many years behind bars. Even then, he will not understand the permanent damage he inflicted on an innocent girl. If, by some miracle, he avoids prison, I take comfort in knowing that God will dispense the ultimate punishment. Yes, I'm angry! I know far too many women whose lives have been shattered by abusive men. Some manage to tuck the memories into a far corner of their brains and get on with their lives. The big problem is that the pain of the memories never completely goes away.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Mt. Vernon Redux

It's been nearly thirty years since my last visit to George Washington's estate. Friday I drove my college roommate and her French visitors down to experience the place. I knew about the new memorial to mark the place were GW's slaves had been buried, but I had no clue about the three year old visitors' center and small museum.
Not sure who designed it, but I like it. It fits in well with the rest of the buildings, yet has a modern, light presence. A marvelous scale model of the main house is a feature we particularly appreciated. It's sides were open so that each authentically furnished miniature room was recognizable.
I suppose it's a good idea to orient people before they see the house and out buildings. We were herded into an auditorium to watch a film about GW. The opening was narrated by none other than Pat Sajak looking and sounding perfectly goofy in colonial garb. Following that was a melodramatic reenactment of parts of GW's life.
We were then ushered out into blinding sunlight to hike up a brick path to the main house. The line waiting to get into the house was too long, so we walked the counter-clockwise path toward the house and stopped in the gardens.
Along the way, we marvelled at the enormous trees, many of them labeled and wired to protect from lightning strikes. Some had been planted by GW himself. The gardens were still producing lettuces, rosemary, eggplants, peas and more. We then took a breather on the river side porch before heading out.
A flock of Canada geese adroitly flew out over the river then landed on the lawn, enthralling a class of adorable third-graders. Adults snapped dozens of pictures.
Walking through a phalanx of magnolia trees, I spotted one I'm sure had been spliced onto an elm trunk. It's not the best picture, but can you see what I mean? If you click on it, you can get a bigger view. What do you think?

Sunday, September 27, 2009

People Watching

Last Thursday I enjoyed some prime people watching. After I picked-up my college roommate and her visitors from France, we headed over to Arlington Cemetery, a place they specifically wanted to see. Being an emotional type, I no longer do Arlington nor the Viet Nam Memorial. Anyway, as the menage a trois took off to hike to the Kennedy graves, I hung out in the visitors' center. Previously, I'd only been in the administrative building, waiting to proceed with an interment of ashes in the columbarium. Everyone there was solemn and quiet. The visitors' center is a bright and airy gateway to enter and exit the cemetery. Moving photographs from events at Arlington line the walls of a central rotunda. I sat on a wooden bench across from a huge photograph taken at JFK's graveside the day he was buried. People were visibly moved by it and a tiny model of the funeral cortege in a case under the photo. I heard familiar languages and a few I couldn't identify. Every shape, size and ethnicity of human being came through. There were even a few gender-benders, too. I suppressed giggling at a young teenaged boy wearing hightops that looked several sizes too big. They were loosely strung with acid green and orange laces. He looked so intently at the photos while subconsciously fondling his very young looking girlfriend. To be expected, there were plenty of old-timers, too. Some were bent by age, while others strode purposefully through the building. Clearly, many of them were vets. I couldn't help but think about my Dad and how he waited until his last days of life to reveal any of his wartime experiences to his children. I wondered if these men and women were living the same, repressed lives. I hope not . . .

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Playin' on the Tracks

When I was a kid, the Northwestern commuter trains connected the northern suburbs with Chicago. Now they're part of the Metra system. Right after we moved from our first home near the lake to an historic [old] house several blocks west, trains came into my life in a big way. There were three houses and yards between our house and the railroad crossing. One of my first memories of living in that house is watching big, black locomotives chugging down the tracks, blasting black smoke that streamed nearly to the end of the train. It was a magnificent sight. If a kid happened to be standing near the crossing gates, the engineer would blow the whistle in response to the kid's hand-signal. Truckers will sometimes do that, too, but getting a train engineer to blow the whistle was like winning first prize. Not too many years later, those grand old engines were replaced by sleek, yellow diesel engines. The horns on those trains sounded like meep, meep in contrast to their predecessor's sturdy, basso tooooot, tooot. And, rather than clouds of black smoke belching from the tall smoke stack, a trickle of bluish-gray smoke leaked from a squat, yellow stack. Not impressive. The northbound and southbound tracks were separated by an earthen ridge. It seemed pretty high to us little kids, but it was probably all of 10 feet high. My older brother and I spent a lot of time on the top of that ridge. Someone before us had scraped out a hollow in the top; a perfect hiding place from the putt-putt-man. The putt-putt-man was one mean dude! He drove a little engine up and down the tracks, checking for anything that needed repair. If he saw kids anywhere near the tracks, he would shoo us off with dire warnings. We had to keep an eye peeled for the putt-putt-man so that we could hide before he saw us. I can remember the smell of dry, sooty grass from throwing ourselves onto the ground to avoid being caught. If the putt-putt-man stopped his putt-putt, we'd nervously hold still, hoping he wouldn't find us. Climbing to the top of the ridge was pretty straight forward. It was steep, so we climbed in a zigzag path. Coming down was something else. It involved running at full speed or sliding on your butt -- sometimes in combination. There were a few close calls when kids rushed home in response to a parent's angry hollering. We were free spirits until a parent called us back home. The next time I spent any serious time with trains was during my first two years in college. I rode trains to and from my campus. It was always a big, 4-hour party because there were several more colleges along the route I took. My college was about 35 miles from a railroad terminal in Burlington, Iowa. I will always remember my first visit there. Walking toward the yard filled with dozens of idling locomotives felt a little like walking near the edge of a volcano. The ground trembled and the noise was intimidating. The wheels on some of those engines were taller than me -- much larger than the trains of my youth. It was over-powering just standing near one of them. From then on, I didn't mind being stopped at a crossing waiting for a 100-car freight train to pass by. Now I watch how the wooden ties under the iron rails creak and sag under the weight of those big ole locomotives hauling millions of tons of cargo. [Speaking of wooden ties: once, during a nighttime thunderstorm, a railroad tie at our crossing was struck by lightning and caught fire. Ties were coated with creosote to preserve them, so they were flammable!] To this day, I prefer trains to any other form of transport. I enjoy driving, but you can't get up and walk around in a car! Jets take you above the clouds, but trains allow you to see where you're going and where you've been. Besides, people are more apt to socialize on a train because they're not belted into a seat and stuck there for however long the trip takes. The smell of creosote still conjures good memories of getting up close and personal with Monarch butterflies feeding on milkweed plants and searching for [and finding!] fossils along the railroad track bed. Our choice of playground may sound dangerous, but we weren't distracted by electronic gadgets. We lived in the moment and usually had the family dog with us -- no batteries required.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Whooosh

Thought we needed some color . . .

Friday, September 18, 2009

Since when . . .

. . . did cold, hard cash become unacceptable?! Spouse had his first appointment with a specialist today and was told they would not accept a cash payment for services. Since he doesn't carry credit cards or checks, he ended up phoning me to provide my credit card info. Now I might understand their refusal had he offered foreign currency, thousands of pennies or a McKinley. He had the exact amount. What then has happened to the validity of good ole Jacksons, Hamiltons and Lincolns? They still work in the grocery store . . . I don't get it!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Her Name Was Kenya

I am haunted by a little girl I first met almost twenty years ago. It was during the pilot phase of a collaborative program I developed between the then D.C. Chapter of the American Red Cross and the YMCA at 17th and Rhode Island Ave. in Northwest. The issue of homeless families was front and center then as it remains today. I was looking for ways to provide learning and play activities for children living in shelters. In a nutshell, I recruited several adults from ARC and the YMCA to mentor a group of middle-school aged kids who were living in a city shelter a few blocks from the Y. The first Saturday session, we invited parents to come with their children to see, firsthand, what they had signed them up for. We explained that each two hour session would include a discussion on personal safety, first aid, conflict resolution and other timely topics. The rest of the session would be supervised use of the Y's exercise equipment and interaction with the adult volunteers. Lack of enthusiasm on the part of the parents who came we chalked up to weariness and frustration with their situation. It didn't dampen our spirits. The kids were a little wary at first, but soon opened up when they got to use the exercise machines. They were bundles of energy ready to burst! A six or seven year old girl who came with her older brother and their mom pried her way into the group. She was not old enough and had not been registered, but there was something about her that forced me to let her stay. From then on, when we walked over to the shelter to escort the kids to the Y, she was ready and waiting with the older kids. I remember her dancing along beside me, her hand flitting in and out of mine. Unless I was doing the presentation, she would curl up in my lap as we all sat on the floor for that day's discussion. She seemed fascinated with my hair and liked to play with it. Her own hair was uncombed and matted. Her clothing was dirty and I'm not sure she was ever bathed. Now I admit to being sensitive to smells and would usually try to get away from an unpleasant odor. But this child grabbed my heart and held on for dear life. One morning she had pushed up her shirt sleeves. I noticed bruises on her arms and as soon as I did, she yanked down her sleeves. Then she put on a phony smile and started acting goofy. When I gathered her back into my lap she quieted down. Then, looking more closely, I saw scars on her hands and head. The following session, neither she nor her brother showed up. I heard nothing from their mother and my phone calls dead-ended. I couldn't get that child out of my thoughts and my imagination took over. Had her family found housing? Was she in the hospital? Was she living in a car somewhere? I never found out. The family just vanished. Child Protective Services could do nothing at that point, so I had to try to let it go. I don't know what triggered these memories last night, but I had to get out of bed to put them in writing so I could try to set them aside -- again. She still has a place in my heart.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Grandeur Gone With the Tides of Time

I've been reading reminiscences of Woodward and Lothrop -- Woodies to the locals -- in the Washington Post. I, too was heartsick when I heard that fine old department store was closing. I felt the same way when my beloved Marshall Fields was bought a few years ago. It had been an elegant, recognizable fixture in downtown Chicago. It was also the anchor store for our little suburban Market Square. Fields, as we familiarly called it, was where brides shopped for their wedding gowns in an elegant salon. The sales ladies all wore modest black dresses with stockings and heels and treated the brides like princesses. Like Washington's Woodies, Fields was also where wealthy matrons had their furs cleaned and stored during the off season. Fields would also clean and block one's kid gloves and offered a huge selection of the very finest. I recall that there was a code dictating which gloves to wear for which event. It had to do with their length, the number of buttons on them and, of course, color. One did not shop in Fields wearing jeans and flip-flops. During the era when ladies and young ladies (that's what well-mannered girls were called) all wore dresses, Fields was the place to shop for them. The selection was always tastefully conservative if not a bit boring. The bigger Marshall Fields stores had gracious tea rooms where ladies lunched and enjoyed their leisure. My favorite lunch was their cheesy chowder; an incredibly rich clam chowder. Frango Mints were world famous as were a few other gourmet treats sold exclusively by Marshall Fields. My family was not wealthy, but our Chicago suburb had long been home to some very wealthy families. For the most part, they had old money, so were down to earth and never snooty. Mom knew several of these families because she had sung at funerals, weddings and in our local opera company. She sometimes would be gifted with tickets to the Chicago Symphony or the Lyric Opera. [One time, when I went with her to the symphony, I sat next to Mrs. Pirie. Her family was connected to Carson, Pirie, Scott -- another chain of department stores. I struggled to suppress my fascination with an absolutely enormous, cornflower blue sapphire ring she wore. Her furs didn't impress me, but that stone sure did!] It's sad that the grand, old department stores with their polished brass and bronze fittings, plush carpeting, chandeliers and uniformed elevator operators and washroom attendants are now history. Those stores thrived because of their painstaking attention to customer service and their charming amenities that made shopping an event. They purveyed quality products and a comfortable formality and elegance that made everyone feel special. Marshall Fields and Woodward and Lothrop were places where good manners mattered. It would have been unthinkable to leave a wad of ABC gum on a dressing room door!