Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Forsooth, I Really Miss My Youth!

I didn’t make New Year’s Resolutions this year. The way I saw it, the universe kicked my ass last year. At least vicariously. My plan was to slip unobtrusively into 2008, no fanfare, no noise, just slink quietly along behind the boisterous throng and hope the gods, or whosoever is in charge of cosmic ass kickings, wouldn’t notice me. Surely they had toyed with me enough, tired of me even, and this year would be turning their attentions elsewhere?

Besides, this is the year I’ll turn sixty. Ye gods! How did I get here so quickly? Is my name Mrs. Van Winkle?

Early in the month the OC steered me to the optical shop for some new glasses. My prescription had only changed a little, but my glasses were quite scratched. Which, it turns out, was not altogether a bad thing. Through them things looked pleasantly soft-edged and blurry, and I liked their unobtrusive frames. With their co-operation I was able to maintain the fantasy that I didn’t look so bad for my years.

Choosing new frames for glasses is an exercise in futility. In order to do so you have to remove your old glasses, the only things standing between you and legal blindness. ……..So there I am, lens-less, peering in the mirror, seeing only vague, blurrier than usual shapes.

“I really like my present frames,” I told the assistant, hopefully

“Well,” she sniffed, in tones that implied i should move along and quit clinging to the past, “colour is really IN this year.” I refrained from telling her that I didn’t give a rat’s ass about what was “in.” If I was going to be paying a king’s ransom for the darn things, they’d have to appeal to ME.

Eventually a set of frames was selected, a small fortune was handed over, and we went on our way. A week later I went to pick up the new glasses.

“Wow!” Everything looked so sharp! So crystal clear! I hadn’t realized what a fog I’d been groping around in……

Then I made a fatal error. I looked in the mirror.

“Oh dear!” I sighed, as my fantasy breathed its last. Who WAS that elderly person wearing my clothes?

Every line and wrinkle was clearly delineated, even ones I hadn’t known I had……. It didn’t help that the mirror at the optical shop also magnified everything.

One night recently, eating a piece of cheese, I felt an ominous “crunch.” The outer shell of a filled tooth had broken off. No pain. Yet. Just an empty hole.
The dentist, hardly able to conceal his glee, said I would need a crown, and that would be another king’s ransom, thank you very much, and come in again next week so we can muck about in your mouth some more.

This afternoon I went to the grocery store, head in the clouds, and forgot to make a note of where I parked. When I came out, cart full of groceries, I had no idea where my car was. I wandered back and forth, trying to look nonchalant, trying to appear to know where I was going…….

I haven’t lost my mind. I really haven’t. But damned if I can remember where I put it.

Is this what turning sixty is going to be like? The eyesight goes, the teeth fall out, the memory goes missing. And it’s only January. What other indignities should I brace myself for before May? And me foolishly thinking I still had a few months of youth.

But, don’t mind me, gods, I’m not complaining. No sirs. Not me. Far better the universe mess with my body than my head…….

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Reading The Paper

I usually read the St Pete Times in the evening. A lot of the news is depressing, so I start with the fun stuff. After I’ve done sudoku and the crossword, I deal with the rest of it.

The sports section goes mostly unread, yawn, unless there is obvious tennis coverage on the front page.

The classifieds are dispatched after a quick look at the local photo of the day on the back page.

I scan the business section for anything of interest. The stock market reports are Double Dutch to me anyway…..

The main section is full of the posturings of the various candidates. Not too interested in reading BS, but in there one can also find news of the rest of the world, and sometimes interesting editorials.

Then there’s the local and state section, mildly interesting, but doesn’t usually stir up passionate reactions. Not until last night, that is, when I found myself looking at a mug shot of a surly heavyset man in his early forties.

His claim to fame?

He set his SUV on fire in his ex-girlfriend’s driveway.

With his two Labrador retrievers, Sweetie and Honey, locked inside.

Because he wanted to punish the woman, and he knew she loved his dogs, even if she no longer loved him.

There is so much horrific stuff going on these days that I’ve grown a thicker skin than I used to have. I don’t weep so easily any more. Man’s inhumanity to man is an old story. But to lash out at man’s best friend? Incomprehensible. And unforgiveable.

Police and Fire Rescue personnel dragged the man away from his blazing vehicle. Then one of them smashed a window and tried to rescue the dogs. By the time they got the fire under control Sweetie was dead and Honey barely alive.

The sadistic lunatic is in serious condition in the burn unit. I’m having a hard time feeling any pity for him. Sweetie’s suffering is over, but my heart goes out to Honey. As the vet said, labs are extremely good natured and forgiving dogs. I know. We had two. And by co-incidence, I had just seen an adorable black lab puppy walking with his owner earlier in the afternoon. How anyone could repay their unconditional love and devotion so cruelly, is beyond comprehension. Honey has a sixty percent chance of survival, according to the vet, but even if she lives she may have brain damage and might never see again.

Maybe tonight I’ll stick to the crossword and give the news a miss.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Born Without The Car-Buying Gene......

I’m all for fair play for women; equal pay for equal work; no doors closed due to gender; be all that you can be, and so on. If a woman wants to be a linebacker on a football team, and can hold her own with the gorillas, I’ll be the first to step out of her way. If she has a scientific bent and wants to find a cure for cancer, I’ll be her most enthusiastic supporter. If she wants to lead a group of like minded lunatics into the jungle to do research on the tse-tse fly, I’ll shake my head in awe, and wish her god-speed. As long as it is understood that I have no interest in being a football player; interest in, but no talent for, scientific research; and a marked dislike of sticky, jungley, creepy-crawly infested places.

Even though I sometimes felt trapped raising five children,I liked being at home with them, wiping their noses, soothing their fears, patching up their skinned knees, assuring them that everything would turn out right in the end. I admired women who did all this AND held down a job, but was glad not to have to join them.

You may have surmised, from recent morose comments on these pages, that our youngest, our six-foot-four-pride-and-joy, had an altercation with a slick road surface and a wet pond from which, by some miracle we are very grateful for, he emerged unscathed. Not so his car, which was traveling with him at the time. Totalled, I believe, is the word. Horrified, the feeling.

Since we live in the outer fringes of the Back of Beyond, where distances are long and public transportation non existent, a car is a necessity. So, since before Christmas, I’ve been sharing my car with the Boy, which gets problematical when you consider that we try not to share news of such altercations with the Ancient Ones. For a while there was no problem. The OC was home, and we had a rental.

But, “life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.” The OC returned to the frozen north. The Bean’s classes resumed. Suddenly I was car-less at the time I would normally be going for “the daily visit”. Subterfuge, skullduggery, incoherent mumbling---just some of the strategies shamelessly employed to keep them in the dark. They may be old, they may be hard of hearing, but stupid they are not. Before they smelled a rat, we needed to shop around for a car.

And by “we” I mean the Boy and I. A clear case of the blind leading the more blind.

A golfing friend,in the know about cars, was contacted. Last weekend we drove an hour north to meet him and see some vehicles he had selected as possible candidates.

The Bean circled them, rubbed his chin, looked dubious, while I stewed in a paroxysm of embarrassment because he wasn't looking happier after the golfing friend had gone to so much trouble. He test drove a few. Looked even less happy, and eventually we took our leave, empty handed. Just as well as it turned out.

The OC researched from afar and located two more likely vehicles. Contact was made, appointments set up and I couldn’t sleep a wink all night.

What did I know about buying a vehicle?

How would I know they weren’t selling us a tin can in fancy dress?

Where would I run to if they started talking about transmissions, or timing belts, rotors or worse?

And how would we accomplish the ”pre-purchase appraisal by a trusted mechanic” when both cars were located far from any mechanic we knew, trusted or otherwise?

How would we manage the money end of the operation? Would we carry wads of bills in a pillowcase tossed in the back seat of my car? Or a briefcase, gangster-style? Or get a cashier’s check from the bank? The logistics kept nagging at me, since both cars were at least an hour away in different directions…..

And where was the OC when his physical presence and expertise was desperately needed??

It didn’t help to pose these questions to the OC on the phone. Because, and herein lies one of the biggest differences 'tween he and me, he was born WITH the car-buying gene. Men born with the car-buying gene consider such questions trivial, nay, assinine, because this knowledge is supposed to be wired into one from birth. So their voices go up a notch and they have a tendency to yell. And when the yelling starts the Mollybrain, poor carbuyinggene-less organ that it is, shuts down and goes to vision only. Blurred vision at that. The mental channels get clogged, and clarity of thought, if it was ever there, goes right out the window.

Ask me about quilting. There’s a good chance I’ll know the answer off the top of my head, and if I don’t, I’ll know how to find out.
Ask me to organize a dinner party for twelve for tomorrow night…….
Ask me about baking bread……
Ask me about grammar…..in several languages....
Ask me about knitting…actually, ask Liz about knitting…….
Ask me about books…….
About geography…..
About politics in the outer Hebrides….
About my opinion of the Current Occupant…….
About the mating habits of Laplanders……

Just don’t ask me anything about cars….……

Turns out, to my relief, it didn’t matter, this genetic short-fall of mine, because the Bean, being his father’s son, may also have been born with the gene in question. It’s just never been put to the test before. He asked questions; he peered, with an air of knowing what he was about, under hoods and into innards; he test drove, and consulted with the OC by phone……

We met no sellers of fancy tin cans, but two decent fellows trying to sell their cars for a fair price. The Bean liked the first one a lot, but the second one better. Which worked out well, as the OC had surmised, from his research-from-afar, that the second was likely the better deal.

We even randomly picked a garage, and had them give it the once over. As the mechanic poked and prodded, I peered in at all those belts and batteries and pistons and spark plugs, and wished, for the thousandth time, the OC was with us.

“How much is he asking?” the mechanic whispered to me conspiratorially. The car’s owner was standing outside talking to the Bean, and I had wandered over.

“Buy it!” he said, when I told him.

And that is how it came to pass that

I got MY car back, and

The Bean once again has wheels of his own, [he keeps disappearing outside to pet them,] and a very empty savings account!

And all without me having the car-buying gene!

If you’d like my autograph, let me know. I’ll see what I can do.

You may also want the OC's autograph since he managed to convince me we could do this without him. No mean feat. And he really reined in his frustration with all the annoying questions. Maybe I've been more successful than I thought, and he's starting to think more like a woman....On second thoughts, as he would say himself "I wouldn't bet my hat, ass and overcoat on that!"

And now, if all you high achieving, mechanically accomplished women will excuse me, I have some cookies to bake.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Wherein I Dodge The Fashion Police and Stay Warm

It was cold this morning. OK, cold for here. I know better than to whine to folks up north about cold.

As he loaded the bikes on the back of the car the Boy glanced my way.

“You look like you’re going to the North Pole,” he said.

“Well, it is cold.”

I do not like to shiver and had armed myself against that possibility. On my feet, socks and sneakers; higher up some snuggly grey knee-length sweats; higher still a pink, long-sleeved t-shirt under a red fleece jacket; a beige, hand knitted woollen scarf wound around my neck, and the lovely pink caubeen my daughter made me for Christmas wrapped my head in a warm hug.

He was wearing thin grey sweats and a t-shirt. Yes, a T-shirt. Brrr. But he’s a big bird now, so I refrained from suggesting he might be glad of another layer.

Unloading the bikes at the trailhead, he remarked


“Yes,” said I pleasantly from inside my cocoon, “isn’t it though!”

I did have the grace to feel slightly ashamed that I had not spoken up about another layer, but we do have our manhood to defend, and we can’t have mothers treating us like children, now can we?

Biting breeze notwithstanding, the Boy soon disappeared down the trail, and I was left to piddle-peddle along at my own meditative speed.

It occurred to me that if Brad should spot me on the bike trail, Angelina’s days might be numbered. As it was, some professional looking bikers---you know, the ones in the spandex and the helmets, nearly fell off their machines when they saw me, so smitten were they. But I pedaled on regardless, heedless of their admiration.

It’s lovely out on that trail early in the morning. As I have said before. Nothing but trees and fields and crisp blue air. An environment conducive to working out the kinks in your head.

I watched a large majestic bird --- a hawk maybe, or an eagle, drifting on the air currents, dipping down towards the fields then lazily soaring upwards again. And I thought, if I have to come back again, I want to come back as such a bird.

And then I saw what he was circling for. A poor bunny or squirrel had met his waterloo across a field, and some buzzards were busy cleaning up. Nature’s sanitation crew, doing what has to be done, but creepy and ugly looking birds. I went back to contemplating my noble eagle’s lazy maneuvers. And soon my cell phone was ringing and it was time to turn homeward.

The Boy rode twenty miles out and back. And me? Maybe ten. And both of us were fine in our respective gear.

It was a great way to start the day despite the chill!


Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Would You Like To Swing On A Star?

Sunday. The feast of the Epiphany, and not a Wise Man in sight. Just one Wiseguy and an Ancient Crone.

They could have rolled up their sleeves, taken down the tree. After all, the Three Wise Men had doggedly followed that star and finally arrived in Bethlehem. Christmas is over. But....

“The sun is shining. It’s lovely outside. Weather blizzard-weary northerners would kill for!”

There was still time for a hike. They took the longer rather than the shorter trail.

The Wiseguy assured the aged one that he could navigate back by the stars…...

But first, this spectacular sunset…..

Then darkness.

The stars were out. She recognized Orion, though it still looks more like a Scottie dog than a hunter, just as it did, streeling home from school in four o’clock darkness, long ago.

“Watch out for potholes,” warned the Wiseguy.

“ Can’t see them, even if I look,” intoned the Crone, still gazing heavenwards.

Inky blackness all around, but higher up, lacey, long leaf pine silhouettes against the navy sky.

And higher still the stars.

So many.

So bright.

So mobile!

“UFOs,” he said.

But even she is not that gullible.

“Small planes....” she said. “But why so many?”

Do they all have dates to dance with the stars?

It’s good to get out and dance along a trail under stars in the darkness.

Especially on a velvety Florida evening.

It puts things in perspective.

And calms the soul.

**Excuse me for going bananas in this post with pictures. For some reason, in it's contrariness, the computer has decided to let me upload photos. It may change it's mind tomorrow....so I have to upload while the uploading is good. Bear with me....

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Home Is.......?

* ……Home: Middle English “hoom,” “hom,” from Old English “ham”---village, country, dwelling, home; akin to Old High German “heim” homeland, dwelling, house……………..

I’ve been thinking a lot about “home” and what a powerful influence a place, or memories of a place, can wield, even long after you no longer live there. I have such a place. My biggest regret is that my children don’t.

I took my sister-in-law to the airport one morning last week. She was going home to New York, where she has lived all but the first six years of her life. She lives in the house she moved into when she moved out of her parents’ house. Her twenty one year old daughter has never lived anywhere else. No question for them where “home” is.

In the afternoon I made another trip to the airport, this time with the OC, who was returning to the frozen north. Was he going “home,” or was he, once again, leaving “home?”

*…..the house and grounds with their appurtenances habitually occupied by a family……

The OC has a lifetime of experience of leaving home. Because of Stalin, and war, his parents left their Ukrainian homeland before he was born. When he and his sister were six months old their parents left Germany, their birthplace, for South America. Within a few days their father was at the American Embassy applying for papers to come to the States, because a few days were enough for him to realize he didn’t want to stay in Argentina. But it was going to be a long wait.

After six years they finally set sail for New York. Their new home. Where they didn’t speak the language. Where the woman who had been a respected schoolteacher in her own country had to scrub stairwells and shovel coal to make ends meet. Where her husband, who had attended law school for two years in Europe, worked as a waiter, and in construction, and at anything else that would keep food on the table. Proud and determined, they gradually scratched out a decent life, grateful for opportunities available in America to people who were willing to work hard. They love this country. They’re well off and want for nothing….except….. home. The older they get the more they hanker for the Ukraine of their youth. Which doesn’t exist anymore as they knew it, except in their memories. Their farmland and ancestral homes belong to the state now. Thanks Mr.Stalin.

The OC was a natural for AF life. Because, as sure as the sun rises in the east, the AF will send you to a new assignment every three years. Guaranteed. You become an expert at packing and moving. The children make forts with the boxes. But as they get older they start to realize that, as much fun as cardboard castles are, they don’t quite make up for what you lose in the moves. Friends, for instance. Teachers and classmates who know you and your brothers and sisters, and maybe even your parents. Familiar places. Favourite haunts. As soon as you find friends, familiar faces and favourite haunts in the new place, you’ll know it must be time to be moving on….

Before Liz went to college she filled out a newcomers’ questionnaire for the university’s freshman guide. We lived in Stuttgart at the time and she had just graduated from the American school there. So she wrote “Stuttgart” in the “hometown” slot. As anyone who’s been in a military family stationed overseas knows, APO, NY [Army Post Office, New York] is the bottom line for your address if you’re stationed in Europe. This is so that friends and family don’t have to pay overseas postage to stay in touch…….. The questionnaire was posted and promptly forgotten…..until the freshman guide arrived in the mail. Liz’s hometown was listed, by the geniuses who had put the guide together, as Apo, NY, a town nobody could find on the map!

Liz has hunkered down in a heartland town and issued fair warning that she is not moving until her boys are out of college. And probably not even then. For her, home is stabililty, continuity, familiarity. If I’d had a clue way back then, I’d have dug in my heels too.

*……………the family environment to which one is emotionally attached………..

But I didn’t have a clue. I’d lived in the same town and the same house until I was twenty two. I thought it was boring. I wanted to travel, to see the world, to have grand adventures. So? I traveled, I saw places I never expected to see when I was poring over my stamp album and dreaming of the places my stamps came from. Now I understand the saying “Be careful what you wish for!” I didn’t see ahead to all the times I’d be yanking my little saplings out of soil they were thriving in and transplanting them into strange dirt in faraway places. And then, just as they started to develop new roots, yanking them up again….. And again…... And again. Why is it that only hindsight is 20-20?

*………the refuge or usual haunt of an animal……………………….

We’ve called many places home in the past thirty plus years. Germany and Belgium were my favourites, maybe because they were most like home. There’s that word again. Home. For me, home is the place that holds your heart; the place that constantly pulls you back. The place I plotted to escape to whenever the marital bliss indicator was teetering at zero. Even though, if I had to spend a winter there, the rain and the cold would kick my butt and send me whimpering back to Florida!

After we’d been married a year I flew home for a visit, all the way from the arid Mojave. I hadn’t realized how much I’d missed “home” until we came in sight of the west coast of Ireland. How my breath caught and my heart lurched when the first little islands off the coast hove into view, all glistening green and indescribably beautiful in the early morning sun! Suddenly, unexpectedly, I was sobbing. Life had gone blythely on without me, but, in that moment, I knew I would never have such a feeling of belonging, of being home, as I did here.

I wish I could have given my children that connection to a special place, to home. Home for one son is where his children are. Another feels more at home in England. For our younger daughter home is where her horses and dogs are. And the Bean is still, for now, hanging "at home" with me.

Since the OC is unlikely to suggest moving to Ireland any time soon, my next best ideal “home” would be a village, anywhere, like the one we lived in in Belgium. The market square would be within walking distance of our house, with a butcher and baker and chocolate maker! Friends I’ve made and left through the years would live in, or near, our village. What fun it would be to introduce them to each other. Imagine the picnics we’d have in our flower filled garden! Jan would be there. And Pauline and Silvana. And MaryBeth and Julia, and Joy, and Heide, and Becky………I’d have two special guest houses. One, roomy enough to sleep the children and the grandchildren, those already here and those who may yet be born. And one for Rise, for when she and GB could be coaxed away from their Bolthole-by-the-Sea.

Maybe it’s not home I’m thinking of but heaven!

Home for now is here, in Florida, and a very comfy home it is. With no snow to shovel or blizzards to shiver in. I’m not writing this in the spirit of bitching or bellyaching. More of a waking daydream. Without husband, children or grandchildren to fuss over, my mind tends to wander, and wonder……Is it still home if nobody’s there?

*.……..focus of domestic affections [~ is where the heart is]………………

At the end of the day, no matter where I hang my hat or lay my head, home is a place I carry with me in my heart.

*....from Webster's Dictionary.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Happy Birthday Miss Sophie!

The Germans have many traditions which almost make me wish I was German. One of them is that around midnight on New Year's Eve they watch the movie "Dinner for One." Every year. The weird thing is, it's an English movie. It's only about ten minutes long. But it proves that laughter is an international language. And what better way to start the new year than with merriment. Check it out and see if you agree. And, even if you don't, I wish you a very happy new year!