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Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Soaking It Up


A doctor’s visit lured me out today.  I used this excursion as a valid excuse to head to Starbuck’s while my prescription was being filled.  I was awash in a Sex-in-the-City-like experience when I opened my laptop in a public coffee house with a medley of earnest students, stay-at-home parents and their charges, professors and other equally creative, inquisitive and caffeine-deprived minds.  Foreheads were massaged between thumb and forefinger as intent readers try to absorb what is on the page before them.  Papers strewn out in disarray by patrons sipping on Ventis may have reflected genius or bedlam.  I wanted to interview each and every one of them.  I wanted to know why Starbuck’s?  What are you reading, have you read anything good lately? I was curious about the tables and spreadsheets that magically appear on their computer screens.  What are they measuring? Are they closer to an answer they can share with the rest of us?
In the background was music, generally pleasant and Indie-like, new to me.  Again, a reflection that I am not one of the cool ones.  I don’t own a seat, no cushions conform to my shape when I settle in.  The baristas called back and forth good-naturedly as they fill orders. 


Barista Job Description   Partnership MissionThis job contributes to Starbucks success by ensuring our service and store standards are met. We do this by providing customers with prompt service, quality beverages and products. Starbucks and partners will experience a friendly, upbeat and clean atmosphere.



Hushed cell-phone voices (for the most part) carried on conversations leaving me to wonder to whom are they speaking?  I grasped that, as far as I knew, that when someone stared in my direction with a blank, glazed expression, it was not a reflection of what they saw, rather it revealed that they were turned inward with their own thoughts. 
The loud grinding of the coffee beans was almost possible to ignore as my own thoughts became the imperative. It was then that I was convinced that Starbuck’s could not serve as my creative home away from home.  Give me my library cubicle from college or a quiet corner in a sun-filled room or a chaise-lounge with a view and I am golden. I could not get into the vibe of cafe central.  There was a subtle undertone that maybe only I sensed; many of the people I saw were  looking earnestly engage but seemed out to convince others of their important pursuits.  It was somewhat contrived for the pleasure of my muse.  It was intrusive and I felt as much an outsider as I did when I moved to a new school in seventh grade.  I didn't feel welcome.  And I don't like coffee.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Age is just a number...


It is official.  Not only have I had a doctor tell me that I appear an astonishingly ten years  younger than my chronological age, Google has inferred my age to be ten to fifteen years younger than my birth certificate claims.  Now that is a morale booster if ever there was one!  It was through simple due-diligence that I discovered that Google placed my age between 35 and 44.   I followed a thread deeper and deeper into Google’s administrative world to discover these revealing policies.  
Transparency in advertising was adopted by Google.  This means any user can find out what Google is telling advertisers about them as well as which advertisers they are telling. I am flattered, truly flattered, that the shopping, research and queries I make have led Google to believe I am a youthful, say.... 37 year old woman!  
However, before I dwell on the number of times I am still called “miss” or count the times I have been asked for identification before buying wine, I must dispel all myths about my actual appearance.  I look my age.  Crow’s-feet, gray hair and a new acquaintance with gravity prove my point.  I am not terribly distressed about this fact except when I discover there are a lot of clothes that I simply can not consider appropriate.  Gone are tube tops and belly shirts and miniskirts and slits in skirts that do anything more than allow ease of movement.  Bathing suits that fit into zip-lock sandwich bags are no longer tucked away in my drawer.  Nor do baby-doll dresses or avant-garde designs fit into my lifestyle.  I am most heartbroken about the shoes, ohhhhh the shoes I can no longer wear.  I lust after slim, high-heeled, open-toed pumps in a deep burgundy with black trim.  Alas, in my lifetime, it is unlikely my feet will ever see a heel over  a trim 1 1/2”.  I wear “sensible” shoes.  And, to make a bleak truth bleaker, I expect I will be wearing wides in the not too distant future.  Shoes aside, there is no tampering with time.  Our ability to measure it is limited to one dimension -- forward.  With that truth in hand, I will continue to wear the most beautiful, sensible shoes I can find, I will dress as attractively as my budget and imagination allow, and I will use a emollient-rich face cream every night.  I am certain Google will tell me which ones.  

Sunday, January 29, 2012

A Brush With the Past


Last night, I had dinner in a restaurant that I rarely frequent.  The fact is, I rarely frequent restaurants at all.  As much as I love the idea of being part of the society of restaurant diners, it is not a regular part of my life.  As exceptions go, last night was a pleasant one. I found myself seated in a Mediterranean-style restaurant in a coveted window seat reveling in the sound of a classical guitar and the fragrance of rosemary, basil and garlic. 
What happened was one of those small coincidences of life that mystify.  In a city with over 69 restaurants from which to choose, on my once-in-six-month evening out, I saw a group of customers standing at the hostess station waiting to be seated.  Initially, they were just faces to me, then one face took shape, gradually becoming familiar.  It was the face of a colleague with whom I shared an office over twenty-five years ago. For almost two years we sat across a partner’s desk in a shared office.  Perhaps another woman would have jumped up, crossed the restaurant, pumped his hand, his wife’s hand and that of his son’s (could it be?) as well as the hand of his son’s girlfriend. I am not that woman. I did not do anything of the kind.  I was not ready to do the “Wow, you haven’t changed a bit!  What have you been doing with yourself?” exchange.  First. because it wasn’t true that we haven’t changed.  His visage has been altered, as if it had been through an age-progression model. Time, not computer-simulation, has done the work.  I can imagine my face has changed as well.  Life has its way of leaving its mark on our features. I would be able to summon questions about his life and family with ease.  In response to what I have done with myself over the years, I would have stuttered without a neat, packaged answer.  I could speak in glowing terms about my family and with pride in their accomplishments. Yet, how would I describe the path my life took?  How a genetic imperative has dictated many of my choices and most of my actions in recent years?  I was not up to fielding that question.  Instead, I turned my body slightly away, knocking my cane to the floor.   I picked up the cane, leaned it against the window and returned to my dinner. 

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Infinitas Infinitio


I have made friends with a community of people who spend a great deal of time on the Internet.  I have had the good fortune to have had some of them step right off my computer screen into my life (or so it seems at times).  Others, people who have befriended, encouraged, and, at times, counseled me, I have never seen, I have never heard their voices and some live as far away as Australia.  The simple process of getting to know some of these people has proven to be surprisingly revealing.  I am answering questions about myself for them.  Questions that I stopped asking a long time ago.  Today, Grace asked me what are the things that make me smile.  My list is long, it consists of both global and detailed things.  In a truth that seems counter-intuitive, I have found that, as my health issues intrude on my life, I find more things to smile about. This is because I am retraining myself to find the delights in each day and every moment.  I am not always successful.  There are times that I am pulled away from that practice and find myself overcome by life’s hardships.  However, I am uncommonly blessed to have friends and family in my life who help me over those land mines.
My smiles are spontaneous and heartfelt, even when they come through a veil of tears. 
I started to generate a list, but, to my surprise, it became evident that the list could never be finished in my lifetime.  Everyday, even during some of the bleakest moments in my life, I find something to smile about.  It is because of this childlike wonder in which I view the world that I may seem too “sweet” to some people.   I have received that “feedback” but it rolled off like water off a duck.  If that is my most reviled quality, I am doing okay!  And I find myself smiling at that joke.
The sight and/or sound of my children
My husband’s smile
My friends in any form
A glimpse of sun on a grey day
The funny words that inadvertently pop up on my cell phone due to Predictive Text. 
Youtube videos, especially those screened by my son   (This one is a mystery of the wild.)
Flowers, just about anytime
A bakery
A kindness shown by others
You’ve Got Mail... who can resist a comedic love story?
My ineptitude when I am learning new skills
My niece and nephew, my friend’s young daughters and children, in general
The sound of birds early in the morning
The sight of a cardinal
.................
..........


Views from a morning walk







.......
..Infinitas Infinitio

Friday, January 27, 2012

AT&T and the Bible


                    AND


Living in the modern world exacts a certain price on all of us.  One of the ways this becomes evident is whenI am trying to reconcile and pay bills.  In the push and shove of daily toil, it is not always easy to review every bill, looking for errors and inexactitudes.  However, in a perfect world, I would prefer to rectify all the service fees for cell phones, landlines, cable, gas, electric and don’t get me started on medical bills.  What I can say is that I do my best.  Nary a month goes by that I do not find myself spending considerable time chasing down information, a person, or an answer before I am willing to authorize payment.  I do believe there is a universality to this challenging aspect of fiscal responsibility.  My skirmish today had to do with unsolicited and unwanted services appearing on my mobile phone carrier’s bill.  For “fun” I set my stop watch when I called.  The conversation terminated with only three holds and two transfers in a matter of "only" 42 minutes and one second.  And, yes, my question was resolved satisfactorily.  
During the long periods of silence, I researched a slew of biblical references germaine to managing anger.  I thought it would be a reasonable way to keep calm.  I have been known to become upset at wasting time on hold when so often I  have other things I would prefer to dot.  Out of the eight biblical references I read might be helpful, only three had relevance to me.
Thesel verses are drawn from the New International Version of the Bible.
An oldie but goodie that has relevance even outside of wedding ceremonies is 
1 Corinthians 12:4-7    4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
A phrase from one verse gave me cause to pause and reflect. 
 Luke 7:47-48....he who is forgiven little, loves little.
There can be no disputing the wisdom here.
Ephesians 4:31-32   Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other.
While I completed this task, I noticed I didn’t get frustrated as much as I might have typically.  Also, I found myself being calmer and more understanding of the various customer service representatives with whom I spoke; my voice did not have the sharp tone of indignation that sometimes creeps in when a simple call goes on longer than I consider reasonable.  
Two things are apparent to me.  First, distraction is an effective way to remain more patient when dealing with a representative of a large, unwieldy bureaucracy.  Second, the Bible has, hidden in it like gems in a mine, relevant pointers for living in today’s world.  If I could make just these two observations over the course of 42 minutes and one second AND resolve my phone bill, it was time well-spent.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Equanimity


For the most part, I try to practice e·qua·nim·i·ty.  (Wikipedia definition: Mental calmness, composure, and evenness of temper, esp. in a difficult situation.)  I will be the first to admit that I have a long way to go.  However, I can claim that I understand the principle of equanimity and what a value it is to both mind and body to remain calm and composed even under duress.  In my pursuit of understanding, my studies led me to Buddhism.  I have been reading more than I can take in, more than I can comprehend.  However, I have the hope that, like mud thrown against a wall, some of it may stick.  To garner a better understanding of my life and the circumstances with which I am faced, I find it valuable to retrace the steps of others who have met with adversity.  One of the most outstanding articles I read was entitled Equanimity, our Greatest Friend by Shaila Catherine.  http://imsb.org/teachings/equanimity.php
The author shares a famous Buddhist poem that says it all:
If your mind becomes firm like a rock
and no longer shakes
In a world where everything is shaking
Your mind will  be your greatest friend
and suffering will not come your way.
The first four days of this week have tried my equanimity.  In fact, my mind was more like jello than a rock.  I reached out to my closest friends who listened and encouraged me. I reflected in quiet solitude and I prayed.  
The message I bear is that, by remaining open to the hardships in our life, we have the opportunity to practice equanimity.  


Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Bed, Bath and Beyond





I felt every bit the rural pumpkin I must be when I visited a Bed, Bath and Beyond in New York City last week.  The store took up a three levels over an entire city block.  I had to keep my head back to look up and see the stacks and stacks of supplies because racks were hung floor to ceiling.  There were nail polishes, shampoos, emery boards.  There were many devices that appeared to need both a ladder and scientific explanation before ever bringing it into contact with  any body part. The numbert of grooming products left me dizzy and overwhelmed.  All I wanted was one pretty nail polish.
Years ago, my friend and her husband and my husband and I built a house together.       They lived in New York, we lived in Massachusetts; the house was on Martha’s Vineyard.  We fell into the habit of talking in sku numbers. We would make reference to the hall lights outside the master bedroom. by saying , “Oh, I meant to mention we need two more lights, sku #1122334, will you order, or shall I?”  The four of us convened  one dreary Sunday afternoon at a Home Depot in Connecticut.  In three hours, we blew through the store choosing toilets, tubs, flooring, fixtures, and every conceivable item other than wood that goes into building a home. The most remarkable thing about that trip was there was not a hint of discord.  In an uncanny way, we all agreed on tiles, colors, finishes and texture and size.  It was a training run for my friend and I.  We had a date; after three months went by, my friend and I left our husbands home. Together, we tackled a Bed, Bath and Beyond.  We sought out the manager and explained that we would be purchasing everything necessary to stock a home. We had cash in hand; cash that we set aside for just such a purpose.  
The Bed, Bath and Beyond was small and quite manageable.   However, we had to stock the house we were building in short order because it was rented to several families over the summer.  I would agonize, “Do we have to have to provide two cutting boards, won’t one do?”  “Six or eight place settings?”  We were done in a record ninety minutes.  It took the two of us completing some sophisticated geometry problems to fit everything in the car.
Here's what I can say.  Enter Bed, Bath and Beyond and you enter a parallel universe that can be consuming.  Be fearless  and keep your eye on the exit.  You may emerge in one piece, but you might find yourself with a lighter wallet and a plethora of previously unnecessary household goods. 

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Old Dogs, New Tricks


There is an adage that says you can’t teach an old dogs new tricks. Hogwash!   I have reflected on this because many of my dearest friends are turning sixty this year -- and over the next few years.  SIXTY is a big number, they tell me, because -- in a best case scenario -- you have already lived substantially more than half of your life.  Suddenly, this notion about living life to the fullest (“Carped diem, after all) begins to seem starkly relevant.  Turning sixty can serve as a benchmark for one’s achievements.  Sixty can precipitate feelings of gratitude, humility and joy.  For those whose eyes are cast downward, sixty brings with it an impending sense of doom.  I overheard one friend asking another, “I have worked so hard my entire life. is this it?  This....a mortgage, three weeks vacation and a comfortable car is the apex of a lifetime of hard labor?" 
 Here is my idea for discussion’s sake...picture the span of life that you have left to enjoy,.  Imagine it as trapped inside a block of ice.  You can’t control the ambient temperature.  It is set such that the ice melts reliably, slowly and persistently.   The inescapable truth is that there is no renegotiating terms and there is nothing we can do to change the inevitability that the ice will melt. The bell will toll for thee when the ice melts entirely.  However, we can enjoy the time we have, do the things we have always wanted to do. If we surrender to the truth that we are mortal, (that the ice will melt), we can then move on and refocus our attention on the things we want to do and work more diligently on becoming the person we want to be.  Our sense of mortality, need not be an impediment to enjoying life.  Rather, it should be exactly that which impels us to live our lives as fully as possible.
I wondered if I might be on the wrong track with my thinking.  Flipping through quotations from some history's great thinkers, I discovered that I was on to something.  Maybe, just maybe, with what life we have to left to work,  we can teach old dogs new tricks...And maybe, in the teaching, we will learn some, too.

Life is not lost by dying; life is lost minute by minute, day by dragging day, in all the thousand small uncaring ways.  ~Stephen Vincent Benét

For a long time it had seemed to me that life was about to begin - real life.  But there was always some obstacle in the way.  Something to be got through first, some unfinished business, time still to be served, a debt to be paid.  Then life would begin.  At last it dawned on me that these obstacles were my life.  ~Fr. Alfred D'Souza


[They are...} Waiting for the fish to bite or waiting for wind to fly a kite.  Or waiting around for Friday night or waiting perhaps for their Uncle Jake or a pot to boil or a better break or a string of pearls or a pair of pants or a wig with curls or another chance.  Everyone is just waiting.  ~Dr. Seuss
You will never find time for anything.  If you want time you must make it.  ~Charles Buxton
Let us endeavor to live so that when we come to die even the undertaker will be sorry.  ~Mark Twain

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Great Exit Lines


Great Exit Lines don’t come easily.  The memorable ones, the ones that everyone can retrieve without too much difficulty, resonate with our experience of life.  In all likelihood, a team of writers gathered around a table and batted around their ideas.  There was probably a lot of pencil sharpening, water-sipping and chair tipping before the best lines were written.  It is for this reason, it is unlikely that I will ever write an award-winning exit line myself.  And quite frankly, how many times in life are they called for?  Having said all this, I recognize how good it is to enjoy some of the best, some of the very great ones.  Here they are:

“Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”
Casablanca
“After all, tomorrow is another day.
Gone With the Wind
Stella! Hey, Stella!”  
A Streetcar Named Desire
For a moment there, I thought we were in trouble.”
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
There’s no place like home.”
The Wizard of Oz
Love means never having to say you’re sorry.”
Love Story
And that’s the way it is.”
Walter Cronkite
“I bid you a very heartfelt goodnight.”
Johnny Carson
"All right, hey, you’ve been great! See you in the cafeteria.”
Seinfeld
“I hope the Pacific is as blue as it has been in my dreams.  I hope.”
The Shawshank Redemptions
Until we meet again.”
Oprah Winfrey
Goodbye (spelled in stones).”
                           Mash
Tha-tha=tha=that’s all folks.”
Porky Pig

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Tracks in the Snow

There is a children’s book, buried in a box in my basement, that follows night animals through the woods, under a moonlit sky. The animals’ tracks pull the reader along through the story, page by page. The ox, the otter and the deer leave ghostlike images of their passage through the woods.
As dawn breaks, the snow turns from a foggy grey hue to a dusty blue. And still the tracks remain to tell their own stories. My eyes follow the animal's tracks. It strikes me how much I revel in the beauty of the snow and its ability to capture a moment in time and hold it -- until the temperature climbs above freezing. the snow revealed the paths of the night animals. Now, right outside my bedroom window, the first fingers of light are stealing the darkness.  In its place, the light reveals its gift.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      A new day, a new dawn. And I am ready.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Insanity

“Insanity is best defined as doing the same thing over and over while expecting a new result.”
By this definition, it is clear to me that I may just be insane. Daily, even hourly, I resist the small, quiet voice telling me that I need to slow dow, take it easy, not to push so hard. My inclination is to ignore the warning bells as they ding and dong their alerts. Like a high-spirited horse that resists being loaded onto a trailer, I balk at compromising my intentions because of mere physical limitations; I repeatedly reject that I have limitations on what I can do and how and when I can do them. Because these limitations spring primarily from physical constraints rather than psychological ones, I mistakenly believe that it’s Mind Over Matter and I should be able to accomplish anything. I hold on to the theory that I can do anything I want to if I set my mind to it. I set out to prove this theory almost everyday. And almost every day, I discover that there are real, physical barriers to achieving many of my goals. Despite my best efforts, I am disappointed to rediscover that I do not, thus far, have the psychological ability to bend what appears to be a physical law. Let me describe my particular brand of reality. Early yesterday morning, what I believed was an inch of snow, was, instead, closer to four. I intended to simply sweep the snow and leave the rest for my son to shovel, but the pleasure of being outside in the snow propelled me. I knew better than to lift the snow, instead, I engineered the shovel as if I were a human plow. And plow I did. I cleared the cement platform of the driveway and then, the 45-foot sidewalk. My next task was going to visit my father at the Holyoke Soldier’s Home. My friend drove, and I rode shotgun. We spent about 45 minutes with my father, then returned home for an appointment. It was my first piano lesson in 40 years! I had a new cushion to help alleviate the discomfort of sitting on the piano bench, but it was still uncomfortable. My instructor was very accommodating; she encouraged me to move around often, to do whatever it took to get through the lesson. After she left, I intended to lie down for just fifteen minutes. I was disoriented when I opened my eyes to find the light seeping from the sky. It was approaching 3:30p.m.. I had to get to the post office, a task I had already deferred three times this week. I do not drive too often, but I was ready to make this small run. The grocery store was my ultimate goal because we were so low on food. I was pleased with myself when I pulled out a cart and started to shop. Halfway through the aisles, I ran out of energy. I felt like the Energizer bunny. My big wind-up key wound down and I was done. I still needed to get to the far outer corner of the store for ham and fruits and vegetables. It hurt to push the cart, it hurt to move my legs. With supreme will, I finished the task. I angrily wiped away the errant tears that escaped my eyes as I stood in the check-out line. Once I made it outside, I transferred the bags to the car, climbed into the car and put back the seat. I cried for half an hour. I used my phone-a-friend option just like on the game show Millionaire. Regrettably, no one was available. I put my seat back, put on the sear warmer and shut my eyes. When I opened them, I had lost fifteen minutes. However, I could feet my right leg again, so I felt ready to drive home. At home, I made three trips to bring the groceries inside, emptied the bags then ran a bath. By seven o’clock, I was in my jammies, ready for bed. I slept for three hours, then woke up feeling like I had run a marathon. Today was spent recovering. I had the shelves stocked, the house tidied, and my housekeeping duties met. My to-do list for today would have be set aside. I have laid low, hoping to recover. I missed two parties, both invitations I very much appreciated. Ultimately, I was reminded that everything has a price. My deliberate effort to flout my body’s limitations served no purpose other than to reaffirm that I have limits. How many times will I have to make this mistake until I accept a reality I wish to reject? I do not know. I suspect that it will be a long time until I am ready to stake my claim to sanity.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

We Invite You

Those three words conjure possibility like few others I know. When I receive a letter that leads with WE INVITE YOU, I feel the pumps prime and possibilities loom large and boundless. My friend, Dara Kindler, sent me a party invitation in third grade that seemed to hint at understated elegance and subtle wealth. A lovely cursive scroll decorated the small, pale violet invitation. I knew, simply by those three words - you are invited - that I was someone special. I was included in a gathering of third grade girls; Dara promised me a memorable luncheon in her honor. I was nervous because I was one of the few girls that did not attend dance school, nor was I being trained in manners and etiquette by anyone other than my parents. Most of the other girls had memberships at the Country Club. In fact, it was my first visit to the rarefied world of the Club. Marketeers have managed to have tapped into the universality of this appealing verbiage. This explains why letters for credit cards, timeshares and insurance products often start with these magic and enticing words. There is a sense of belonging, being included, that comes about when I am invited
. So much of who we are as humans has to do with belonging and being accepted. It seems only natural that we would respond to such an invitation with gratitude and no small measure of enthusiasm. I can picture Steve Martin doing an entire comedic riff on this -- “You want me? Really? Well, I am honored. But let me ask you this. How much? Do you want me if I wear my dickey? Do you want me if I make rude noises? Am I still invited if I show poor timing when I am delivering my jokes? Is your invitation a conditional one?” In short order, I can imagine Steve Martin bringing a crowd to its knees with his comedic take on "We invite you." I have trained my mind to revel in on how delightful it feels to be included. I can attest to this based on a recent experience. My daughter received an email that, tucked in the body, included the three words, WE INVITE YOU.... She called me with her voice high-pitched and excited. The invitation was nothing more than a request that she visit a psychology department at Catholic University, but in the highly competitive world of doctoral programs, such an invitation is an honor in, and of, itself. Thus, this email invitation proved one of life's inalienable truths of life is unimpeachable . WE INVITE YOU bodes well for those lucky enough to find those words inside their envelope. Like the gold wrapper on Willy Wonka’s chocolate bar, the odds are very good that something extraordinary is likely to unfold.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Innovation

Small acts can bring with them feelings of both triumph and pride.
d.e.e
Today I devised a method to reuse the wax reservoir at the bottom of my candles. I burned several candles for about two hours. While it was still warm, I scooped out the wax pool at the bottom of the Kringle candle jars and shaped it into balls. Then, I wrapped each ball in cheesecloth, tied it with a ribbon and I savored the aromatic results. Not an earth-shattering innovation, but one that satisfied me with its economy and domestic conservation. The scented wax balls have found a place in my bureau. I made sure that just a bit of the ribbon peaks out from behind my folded clothes. That little piece of pink ribbon represents innovation; it serves to remind me that innovation can call on anyone -- even me -- a writer, a stay-at-home mom and a Martha Stewart wannabe.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

A Monday Do-Over

When my children were very young, one of the high points of preschool and kindergarten was “backwards day.” This, before most others, was one that they awaited with great enthusiasm. They went to school in their pajamas, toting their favorite stuffed animals and their special blankets. Their teachers went to great lengths to run the schedule backward, starting with the song,
“Nursery school is over, we will say so long, goodbye, goodbye, we hope to see you soon.”
Breakfast foods were served for lunch. I was relieved that their all-important after-lunch nap remained at a fixed timed. As a mother, no matter the fun, I did not want exhausted, off-schedule children arriving home at day’s end. The valuable reminder I learned from those days is that what we do with time is an arbitrary construct we assign to meet our needs. It was with this in mind that I took the liberty of using today as a Monday. I was disappointed in what I accomplished yesterday, Martin Luther King Day. This morning I had lined up a number of appointments for the day, but the weather made my driveway uninviting to all but the most intrepid. Canceled appointments left a windfall in time that made me decide to use today as a Monday. I grabbed it and didn’t look back. What did I do with my duplicate Monday? I got a leg up on organizing my tax information. I cleaned out my office of all extra papers and magazines and unnecessary items. I caught up on outstanding correspondence and a few phone calls. I tried a new recipe for dinner and I made chocolate chocolate chip cookies. I also managed to clear the walk of snow and walk my dog. All of this good do-bee activity has left me with a warm glow. I feel that my Do-Over Monday was a resounding success. I look forward to finding another one in the next few months!

Monday, January 16, 2012

Breaking Ice

Living on twelve acres of land at the top of a one quarter mile drive presents many opportunities and challenges. Most people would assume that the drive would allow the opportunity to enjoy a spectacular view of the Holyoke Mountain Range and the Connecticut River Valley. They would suppose the challenge lies in the maintenance and management of such a driveway in winter weather. Well into the seventh winter at this address, I have arrived at a new perspective. WIth a drive that has attached to it names such as Dead Man’s Curve and Death Hill, it is inevitable that owners of this property will always be contending with ice, snow, mud and water run-off. I feel ready to handle these factors when I am in one of our four-wheel drive vehicles. I feel fairly confident when contending with the winter’s onslaught of snow. My undoing, however, is ice. I do not like the out of control feeling when my automobile slides 100 feet sideways, sometimes backward as I try to go uphill. I am white-knuckled when the same thing occurs going downhill. Every winter morning that our hardpacked road is covered in other than dirt, I eye it like I would eye a malevolent opponent. I try to gauge who is going to win each go-round. It helps to have a husband who is well-versed, nearly godly with his tractor. The tractor is a powerful machine capable of things I would never have imagined. However, my secret weapon comes in the form of a man named Harlan Bean. He brings his truck with plow and spreader and, if I ask, he will lay double layers of sand for me to give me the traction I need to get where I am going. Generally, after eyeing the drive, considering the weather and making the trip down, I travel the short distance from backroads to main roads only to find thoroughfares that are simply wet -- with no accumulation of snow or ice. My perspective up here on Chestnut Mountain View is decidedly skewed. This brings me back to my original point. Most winter days, I have the opportunity to face fear. I face my particular fear of losing control on ice down a mountain road, head my car downhill in LO, say a prayer and ease my way to lower elevations. Conversely, when I come home, I confront my fear, not allowing the knot in my stomach to dictate my action. I show no hesitation and I aim uphill. She who hesitates is lost. These daily skirmishes with my driveway are daily skirmishes with fear. Every time I win, a track is laid down in my brain telling me that I can face my fears; I must not let them stop me from doing exactly it is that I want to do.

Life in a Minute Mystery

Minute mysteries are a fun form of puzzle that challenge the thinker to think laterally, or “out-of-the-box.” Most, but not all, involve murders of some sort. Sketchy, and sometimes misleading, information is provided. “Detectives” are allowed to ask questions that elicit yes, no, maybe or not relevant as answers. Strictly speaking, there is a one minute time limit, but I can never remember observing that rule. I worked for a small company about thirty years ago. About once a month, six of us would have dinner. We would bandy about new minute mysteries during the meal, while the person who challenged us would don a smile of arrogance and condescension. The thing is, that once the puzzle is solved, the answer is usually so patently ridiculous, you can’t help but wonder how you missed it. An example is .....
53 Bicycles in a Room There are 53 bicycles and four men in a room. One man gets shot. Why?
My own real-life version of a minute mystery cropped up the other night. I fell asleep briefly with the television on in my hotel room. I woke up, turned off the television with the remote and placed the remote on the bed by my side. Three hours later, I was awakened by the television. Thinking I had pressed the remote button inadvertently, I reached for the control. The remote was not there. I sat up and looked under the blue light shed by the television. Not locating it, I switched on the bedside lamp. I could not find the remote. I pulled off the covers, used a flashlight under the bed and then looked under the other bed. No remote control. For 45 minutes, I searched. Knowing that I am prone to sleepwalking, I checked that the door was double-locked. I had not left the hotel room in thirty hours. I looked in the garbage, closet and drawers. I emptied my luggage. I pulled the mattresses off the bed frames after stripping the beds. At 2:45am, I called the front desk and asked them for a new remote. It was never delivered. I unplugged the television and went to sleep.When I opened the window shades in the morning, I found the remote control. Why?
Answer: The rug was patterned in a tiger design, with long stripes of black. The remote control was under the bed next to mine, behind the leg, on a black stripe. When sunlight hit that spot, the remote was illuminated. For more fun with minute mysteries, go to the following sites:
http://www.coolquizes.com/archives/2006/10/29/one-minute-mysteries/ http://www.math.umass.edu/~diehl/mysteries.html http://www.5minutemystery.com/
iPhone App: Sleuth
The 53 Bicycle Solution: 
Remember that "Bicycle" is a name brand of playing cards. There are only 52 cards in a deck. The men were playing poker or some other card game. One man had an extra Ace up his sleeve (i.e. he was cheating), and so another man shot him.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

A Solitary Pursuit

My mother played Solitaire often. It was a reflection of her in ways I rarely stopped to consider. In the most obvious way, it was a game she could play alone. She was comfortable with alone. I can never remember her expressing that she was lonely; she was simply a solitary figure. I could see what else she liked about the game. It had simple rules that were easy to learn, easy to follow. The four neat piles of cards that were culled from the whole were orderly and followed a predictable pattern. All of these factors made the game of Solitaire a good choice for my mother. She taught me to play Solitaire early in elementary school. It was a time-filler; often, while she was at work, I was home sick. Those games of Solitaire helped pass the long day’s alone. What I liked was that, when my mother had time, she was willing to play Double Solitaire with me. On a few occasions, we would throw in a third deck of cards, recruit a friend, and play a rousing hand of Triple Solitaire. I had no compunctions about keeping the game to one deck, one player. Recently, I have noticed Solitaire is a game on the computer. I have seen my husband play it. I have seen a customer service representative, her back to me, playing it. I have seen Youtube videos on how to play it. However, for me, part of the pleasure of playing Solitaire is the cards themselves. I like the tactile pleasure of holding the deck. I like clearing a space in front of me. I like counting, one, two, three, flip and exposing my next card. I like moving the cards, not dragging and dropping, but MOVING the cards to a suitable column or a welcoming pile. While I am not nearly as solitary a figure as my mother was, Solitaire continues to be a past-time that I enjoy for many of the same reasons, with the exception of one. I have a bonus she never had. Sometimes, cards in hand, I feel like I am channeling my mother’s spirit when I pick up a hand and start to play. There is nothing solitary about that.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Blue Skies on a Winter Day

There are those rare days in life that go seamlessly. Where, when you reflect back upon the day, it is ripe with memories that will last a long time, perhaps a lifetime. I was fortunate to share such a day with my second child today. When I awakened, it was with my daughter, Kay, by my side. We were fortunate enough to share a hotel room on the Hudson River with splendid views from our 15th story window. We charted our destination -- Starbuck’s, a tour of a Bed, Bath and Beyond, then....the Frick Museum. At the Frick, Kay was my tour guide and docent as we passed through splendid rooms with breathtaking works by many of the world’s Masters. Rembrandt, Vermeer, Fragonard, Renoir, Degas, and others were all large, LARGE, LARGER than life. It was not just the paintings with Kay’s explanations about strokes, costumes, artistic eras (okay, so I do see the value of a Pratt education), I was enchanted with the design and architecture of the Frick Mansion. I went to the Museum Store because I hoped to find a good book about the history of Frick, Rockefeller and the Frick home. I was told that the best-selling book was out of stock; it is called, “Meet You in Hell.” I’ll have to be on the look out for that one! Kay and I had brunch at a diner on Madison Ave. Kind of an oxymoron in, and of, itself. We stopped in at Laduree, a french confectionery shop with exquisite stuffed macaroons. They didn’t even flinch when I asked if they were gluten-free! Kay knew I was looking for a dress to wear to her sister’s graduation from college in May. Within the walls of the third store she took me, we found the loveliest silk frock, on sale at one third its original price. It was from last season’s designs and I was happy. I took a cab home and discovered that the cabdriver was partial to people from Boston; he said he finds them friendlier than native NewYorkers. I retreated to the quiet of my hotel room while Kay went downtown to stop in at her job, make some returns and run some errands. She came back for a brief visit about three hours later. She surprised me with a cupcake from the famous cupcake bakery called “Crumbs.” It was hugs, then good-bye. So here’s the thing; this day had some built in limitations. I spent much more money on cabs than i would have wanted because I couldn’t “cover the distance.” I had to conserve my energy in the Frick, so Kay pushed me in wheelchair. I had a window of about three and a half hours that I was out and about before I ran out of steam. I was unable to go to my daughter’s job and visit Soho as much I would have loved to. It would be easy to remember the things that were not as I would hope. I could bemoan the limitations or denounce life because IT IS NOT FAIR. But the truth is, that I am grateful for what time I had, I am grateful to be in New York, even if it’s on two cylinders rather than all four. I am going to remember this day, a day that was full of possibility and pleasure,simply because today was a gift.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

A (Fairly Astonishing) Prank

It has been with a sense of wonderment that I have toured my daughter’s apartment. In particular, the kitchen. Just about EVERYTHING was wrapped in aluminum foil. A few items were not foil-wrapped because someone had unwrapped them to put them to use. As much as I have tried, I have had a hard time imagining what might have prompted anyone to wrap papers, plates, cans, mugs, forks, spatulas, pans....YOU NAME IT!!!...in foil. In a case as extreme as this, only pictures tell the story. Or, at least some of it.
Shelves
Drawer
Cabinet
Bulletin Board

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

All My Bags are Packed

Anticipating the needs of a group of people with disparate needs is an An art, not a Science. Since my children were little, I found there were patterns to packing for outings. Picnics, beach days, Vineyard trips....I knew which bags to use, how many, what kind, which ones, of everything a family of five might need for an hour, a day, or several weeks. As the children started to grow up, all of those evenings of packing school books, laying out clothes, all those overnights at friends’ houses and responsibility for packing their own activity bags for road trips gave them invaluable skills. I watch with wonder as my two college-aged daughters translocate from city apartments to country dwelling to international destinations. They do so with little more than brief conversations with me. My high-school son, whom I believed would need me to remind him to take his backpack to school until twelfth grade, has moved into independence suddenly, precipitously. Three years ago, I was still reminding him to bring his athletic-wear to school along with his books. Now he manages everything related to school plus all the paraphernalia of film-making. As time has gone by, I have seen how the packing of food, linens, beach toys, and summer clothes for Martha’s Vineyard and other venues has given way to packing my own rolling suitcase and my computer for a weekend or two weeks...anywhere. The scale has changed. Less to plan, less to carry. I am able to spend more time anticipating what my own needs might be when mine are the only needs to be met. While I am glad that I am able to pack my own bags, it is with a pang, a bittersweet pang of regret mingled with freedom. It is yet another of the simple gauges I have come to use to measure the passage of time.

Monday, January 9, 2012

The House Next Door

My friend is saying goodbye to her parents. She is doing so slowly, painfully, and yet --gracefully. I admire the strength and honest goodness she brings to her parents as she cares for them. Despite the strain of a troubled relationship with her mother, she is the one to whom her mother now clings. Perhaps her mother senses her time is near. My friend’s father is often lost in a world of his own invention. He is sweet and gentle but, at times, unavailable and unreliable because he is so ensconced in his own reality. He has a sense of the physical and emotional toll that caring for both his wife and him places on his daughter, and it brings him grief. Through all of this, I am awe-struck by my friend’s strength. From first light until late in the evening, she might be found at the house next door. For so many years, that proximity reflected the bond woven by three generations of family. Now my friend manages the washing laundry, changing linens, bathing, preparing meals, shopping, and transportation of her parents while holding down a job and caring for a family of her own. What touches me most is, that despite the challenges in her own life, she is always willing to stop by to help me with a task or run an errand. I learn from her every time I am with her. She is a study in patience, kindness and goodwill. She numbers among the people in my life who inspire me to be all that I can be and to reach for what I want. Simultaneously, she models self-sacrifice and genuine generosity. Each time she leaves her parents, she wonders if she will see them again. Rather than throw my hands up and say. “What can I do?” I will do my best to think of her every night when I get ready for bed; I will send her a prayer that her path is illuminated, that her load is lightened, and that she knows she is loved. The rest is out of my hands.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Paint Job or How to Change Your Life

There is a building that is owned by my town that, sadly, needs a coat (or two) of paint. Since I moved here six years ago, I have watched the general decline of its paint job with a feeling of frustration and despair. “What can I do to help?” I have wondered. I decided to assemble a list: I could talk to the town clerk and ask what plans are in the works to care for the building. I could request its condition be placed on the agenda at the next town meeting. I could raise donations to hire a company to paint the building. I could dig into my children’s college tuitions to make a financial contribution of my own. I could wield my pen and write a moving call-to-action essay to be published in the town’s news circular, I could initiate a phone tree calling all citizens to arm themselves with paintbrushes on a designated Saturday in May (a very good month for painting in my opinion). Or I can remain interested but dispassionate. I suddenly realized that, without intending it, I discovered a powerful, life-affirming exercise anyone can do. This was a gift that simply planted itself on this page!
How to Change Your Life Step 1. Make an observation about something obvious that bothers you in your life, or about your life. (The building needs paint.) Step 2. Identify the emotions you experience as a result of this matter. (feeling of frustration and despair) Step 3. Write a phrase challenging yourself to change the situation or condition. (What can I do to help?) Step 4. Write an exhaustive list of what you could do to change this situation, no matter how far-fetched or ridiculous. Do not censor yourself. When you get on a roll, something actually feels different inside.
Please give this a try! I suggest you start with something non-threatening before you start with a statement like “I have a job that leaves me unhappy and unfullfilled.” I would love to hear how this works for everyone else, but it sure works for me!

Saturday, January 7, 2012

What Dinner Serves Us

Dinner conversation tonight was dominated by the Geeks and Nerds debate. For instance, my daughter read that people interviewed believed that Geeks could marry other Geeks, but Nerds must marry other Nerds. What is the fine line of distinction that delineates Geek from Nerd we wondered. Was it that Geeks are technophiles? Was it that Nerds are bookish and socially awkward? The topic is rich with material for sociological, ethical, psychological and historical consideration. I wanted to assign homework and convene tomorrow night to share our findings (hence my leanings toward Nerd), However, because it is unlikely that the same members of our family will gather for the next meal (due to vacations ending, school commitments and work schedules resuming) we simply laughed and shared the moment. These are the kinds of moments of my life that provide a memory bank rich with laughter and comradery and heavy with gratitude.

Friday, January 6, 2012

The Twelfth Day of Christmas

Today is the Twelfth Day of Christmas. It has become my habit to gather all my Holiday Greeting Cards and, on this day, to open them all. It is a small ritual, but one I enjoy very much. I sit down with a mug of tea and a letter opener at the ready. Then, I start to reconnect with family and friends that were kind enough to think of me. I spend a great deal of time looking at the pictures, reflecting on life’s vicissitudes and sending love to the people who have brought joy and light to my world. My tree is down, the ornaments stored, the wreath has been replaced with one that carries a Winter theme rather than a Christmas theme. However, the last glimmer of holiday joy touches me as I open and read these greeting cards. The number has dwindled appreciably over the years. At one time, there were well over 150 cards. This year, there were about forty. Emails and texts have brought us all closer. A casualty of our improved methods of communicating are holiday greeting cards. However, I will continue to observe this small, but satisfying ritual that I observe at the beginning of each year until there is just one holiday card in my mailbox.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Word Games

Here is what happened. I was trying to learn how to better use Google to my advantage. In particular, I was reading up on how to assign qualitative values to emails as I read them. I stumbled when I came across the word “guillemet.” I knew the word in French, but I could not fathom the application in Gmail. In French, it means quotation mark. Well, according to Merriam-Webster (a subdivision of Encyclopedia Brittanica) , it means the same thing in computer lingo.* My appetite for words was whetted. First, I took a visual word test. I was shown test objects and had to find the suitable word to define them. I got 90%, tripping up on the stabilizer inside of a parachute. Who knew? Then I tried to define words rather than objects and I am proud with my 100% score, outstripping all others in my age group as well as all others in every age group.. Those word games I played while growing up have served me well for the past 45 years! I was delighted to receive a little positive reinforcement. Next time I am feeling downhearted, I know where to go to boost my self-esteem. I will fall back into the dictionary that I have always loved so much. While enjoying my visit to Merriam-Webster, I took time to listen to a video of an editor read some of the words that made it into the 2011 version of the dictionary. Take note; I did.
Crowd-sourcing
Tweet
Social Media
Parkour
Duathlon
Hypermiling
Helicopter parenting
Boomerang child
Cougar
Fist bump
I fought the impulse to editorialize or define these words for you. Simply because I harbor the hope that you will be motivated to look up the words yourself. After all, if President Obama drops in, he may ask to share a fist bump with you. If you look up the meaning of fist bump yourself, you are more likely to be prepared to honor him with one.
*"guillemet." Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2012. Web. 05 Jan. 2012. .