Monday, June 30, 2008

on funerals of old ladies

Tomorrow we bury Eliza - a military funeral for an ancient old woman who was an army nurse in the second world war. Eliza, as I know her, was a wizened up old lady with brown creased skin and a scratchy voice. Now that she is dead I find out she was a beauty, a cover girl for the army nurse magazines. She raised her five girls after the death of a husband and lived well to the end.

I have this idea that when a person dies the picture in the paper should be of them in their prime, not their dotage if they have had the privilege of getting there. At death we are neither our old self nor our young self, so why not celebrate and remember a person as they were before decay insulted them?

Eliza will have a full military funeral. She will have her simple casket draped in a flag. Her death is marked by respect and notice, something she may have not known in many of her last years as she moved through culture.

We cannot know if our own death is thundering toward us or creeping stealthily from miles away. What matters, it seems to me, is that our inner landscape is livable. Sometimes we are tired of days and unbeautiful, and other times exploding with laughter and love. Sometimes we and our hearts are tired and find the world inhospitable, others we see a huge vault of treasure in each day. Whatever, this is life at any age.
One of the blessings of aging is that the possibility of becoming kinder and more merciful becomes a reality. It is a privilege to become old. Perhaps a gift of genetics, happenstance, economic privilege, and relationships ... perhaps an ordained state. Either way, I am thinking that to tend the inner landscape while the outer has lurches of deconstruction is a good way to live.
Here's to you, Eliza.

Friday, June 27, 2008

complaints from nature

This is a lament. I have three bites since coming home from Niagara Falls. And none of them is a love bite - I know, 'eeee-ew!'

I have spider bite on my rib cage - and it is vexing me terribly.
I have a mosquito bite under my right arm. Honestly, it is driving me crazy.
And I have another rather large mosquito bite on my left buttock. No - I did NOT say a mosquito bite on my rather large left buttock! (Be thankful I attached a picture of a mosquito and NOT a buttock...)
I must be a tasty treat to have garnered such attention from the bug world.

The bottom line - I am cranky! And itchy. And vexed. And peeved. All I can do is continue to spray them with Windex - which works despite all your rolling eyeballs.

And you - stop smiling!

Thursday, June 26, 2008

so what's a ten year old got that I don't?

In the last week my ten year old granddaughter and I made a 2500 mile road trip to Niagara Falls. (And can I say, "this is not your father's Niagara Falls.") The falls are no longer a spacious verdant bound space of tranquility and awe. More, they are a carnival ground drawing visitors away from the spectacular falls and into dark halls of horror, drama and trivia. The ancient Canadian tribe, the Hucksters have their treasures on every corner. One coffee and an ice cream cone was nine dollars.

My granddaughter, being ten, as I said, made a most companionable escort. Let me speak of her charms:

  • complete dexterity enabling her to make herself comfortable in a car, including but not limited to feet out the window, seat back and milk shake balanced on the arm rest or curled up sound asleep with head on the middle arm rest, one foot out the window and one on the radio

  • a smile for everyone, especially anyone looking sad - including befriending a group of seven Hutterite (think Amish) girls who looked distinctly out of place and quite uncomfortable

  • a joyful comment on every situation - 'see Mimi! everything that happens turns out good, even the bad things like me having to go to the bathroom as soon as we got a long ways away from a bathroom!'

  • ability to suck the juices out of life - one afternoon we were sitting at a little table, surrounded by others and noise and food and life. We had laid out our water color paints and were painting the falls, and a musician was playing his guitar nearby. It was a peak moment. We emptied three boxes of Smarties (think M&M's only better chocolate) and lined them up according to color ... so we had rows of green and red and purple and brown etc. The girl could not contain her delight in the perfect moment. People stopped to see our rather amateurish art and she engaged every one with charm and joy

  • no need to compete, with me or anyone. She is absolutely able to live bodily in the moment. I sadly know that in a few short years she will begin to doubt herself. Let it not be so, but our girls seem to be assaulted from within around eleven or twelve

  • free of self consciousness. We bought a bright pink hat with hanging plush balls all around, which she proudly wore everywhere we went

  • flexibility - when the plan changed and we did not do or see something she was completely agreeable

So... what could be more delightful? We tried to see all the real things (aka Marineland, Butterfly Atrium, Maid of the Mist boat, a few wild carnival rides etc) and avoid the crass entertainment (aka Hall of Horrors, Ripley's Believe it or Not, etc.) We saw the falls from all angles: from the cliff walk alongside, from the air (the Skyline Wheel), from the water (Maid of the Mist boat in which we got soaked to the bone much to her delight), and from a high bridge (Peace Bridge from the US).

Also noted is I taught her to 'petooohee' which is to spit your gum out through the open window on the opposite side of the car as you speed down the highway. (This last feat was the most trying, as I had to suffer several packs of gum landing, piece by piece, on my person, having not quite made it out the window.) These are the things only a gramma can teach. Leave the small things like grooming, coping with friendships, doing homework etc. to parents.

So I am home and stored deep in my grandkid is a good piece of healthy love for her to draw on. In the future I am going to try to be more like her.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

going bananas

When my dad came to the end of a restaurant meal, it was not unheard of for him to ask for the menu so he could check that the prices he was charged were correct. We used to mutter under our breath, and remind each other that he had lived through 'the great depression' and thus, his penny pinching was understandable.

Today I saw three rotting bananas on the counter and felt compelled to make use of them before all those black spots finally came together and made one big stinking fly infested dead banana. It was waste I could not countenance.

Then there were the two bananas left, ones that were actually a little too green. But in my fit of banana-mamma kitchen prowess I made a banana cream pie - complete with whip cream and little chocolate chip hunks on top.

In a remarkable coincidence, I also learned today, that a mashed banana is the best lure to attract a skunk into a live trap. The banana will not attract and may repel the neighbors cat, and keep the target animal, well, the target. This I learned watching Corwin's World with my granddaughters.

So you see, it was a day of banana-ish enterprise. Quite a nice way to spend the second day of vacation. No one gets ulcers from bananas. A little personal growth in the matter of setting skunk traps - never know when that will be needed. And right now I think I will go and cut a large slice of that pie. No one ever got fat from a banana, right?

Friday, June 13, 2008

I am my age

"let me take advantage, then, of the warmth that is still in me and which may at any moment be chilled by the affirmities of age..." (Mariquise de La Tour du Pin, Memoirs, age 50).

About two weeks ago my very young staff workers laughingly plunked a fat hardcopy book on my desk. It had been gathered in by a book collection intended for schools in Africa. This book, "The Change" by feminist author Germaine Greer was deemed by them, not suitable for African youngsters, but apparently suitable for me. I laughed. Took it home. And started to read.

I did not read the feminist writers in their hay day of the fifties and sixties. I was a bit young for them. This book is published in the 90's. And I am eating it up. This book is about me. And it is about me when hardly anything is about me. In fact, recently I told my very young and nubile daughter that I wanted something to be 'about me'. About my feelings. About my accomplishments. About how life is for me. But I am in the invisible period of life. After all, what is interesting about a woman in her fifties?

Well. If you don't know, read Germaine Greer.

Just a taste, on 'the pressure to keep young and fit and beautiful if you want to be loved:

A woman has a duty to go on 'being attractive' no matter how fed up she is with the whole business. She is not allowed to say, 'Now I shall let myself go: letting herself go is a capital offence against the sexist system. (I did tell you she is a feminist.)

Yet if a woman never lets herself go, how will she ever know how far she might have got? If she never takes off her high heeled shoes, how will she ever know how far she could walk or how fast she could run?

Women should not have to masquerade as girls in order to remain in the land of the living.

Greer talks about the mid life change in women, from a productive to a reflective person, as a fascinating but hidden process. In part or whole it goes unseen, not because it is uninteresting or pitiful.

If there is a belief that nothing happens to middle aged women, it is only because middle aged women do not talk about what does happen to them. (At this point of reading my blog I know my daughter is cringing thinking, 'that's all we need - mom to be encouraged to talk more about what is happening to her!' :-)

If there is something to say, why not say it? I have lived fifty years. I have been a source of life, figuratively and in fact, and a manager of death, walking in where very few would go. My arms have held the body of a dead infant. I have walked as close to death as is possible with others. I have gathered the spiritual an psychic resources to not be afraid of either.

I heard Dr. Oz on Oprah - so that makes it authoritative, right? - say that people call the doctor not so much to get a solution and restore health, but to bring order to the situation. The doctor is not afraid of sickness and death, and thus, even when the situation really does not improve, we all feel much helped simply by his/her presence. I get it. And I can do in life what Dr. Oz is talking about.

I am fifty two. I do not look good in shorts. My years force idiosyncratic changes on me that I am not invited but forced to deal with. But my life is moving more and more away from anxiety and striving and into the deep waters of a gentle and peaceful potency. I am not afraid of life, finally, even as I serve tea to death more often.

Greer says the journey inwards towards wisdom and serenity is as long as the headlong rush of our social and sexual career, if not longer, but there are no signposts to show the way. She is right - if there are women beckoning the way, I don't know who they are.

So maybe I can be one of those. When I was in my twenties I looked around for older women (aka - late thirties, forties) who might be what I wanted to become. I could find few. So I decided that with God's help and my intention I would strive to become one of those for the women who come after me. It has been a lifelong goal.

Now in my fifties I see that my choice is to quit striving and begin to listen patiently to all of life, and in so doing, aim towards being someone who is, at least, not silent about this season. Sorry Rae.

I don't think what I will finally say will be the same as what Germaine would say. But I thank her for giving me a nudge to be me, right now, and enjoy this lively time of being a woman.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

on slow motion

She told me she watched it happen in slow motion. She sits nursing her newborn and watches a bee fly like a drunken sailor toward her two year old. Buzz lands on the tender neck. Little girl picks at it. Buzz stings. Little girl screams. All slow motion.

This morning at 6 a.m. I am on the front porch having coffee, front door open to let the breeze through. A big ugly bug (such as only Kentucky can dream up) flys up and around the porch. As I watch, in slow motion, the bug lazily flys into my house ... where it will no doubt land in my gaping mouth in the middle of the night.

Sigh - I 've heard that accidents happen in slow motion. I've seen it on TV- the ball spins slower and slower and hits the lady on the head and she drops dead.

So as long as life is fast I guess it's good.

This blog has no hidden meaning. It is a blog and only a blog, and if it read in slow motion to you, then you had better watch out. It's not going to be a good day.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

nerds, fashion and men friends

My man friend is a very cool guy. Deep inside. Very deep inside. On the outside he is a teensy weensy bit nerdy. But then, some of the best people I know are nerdy.

So, my friend broke his beloved glasses. They are kind of a signature statement, like his stand up hair. He sat talking to me with one arm missing and the glasses sitting askance ... pretty bad. Today he did one worse, and duct-taped them together. It made another kind of statement ...

Now I am thinking about an intervention. Save a man from himself. He tells me has chosen some new ones. We will reserve judgement. I can imagine this particular man friend not being too happy with the new and resorting back to the old friend.

Ahhhh. The challenges of being a fashion sensitive friend.

the healing touch of nature

This morning I held a little Zebra finch in my hands (see picture of my finch). It was warm and soft like the smoothest new born skin, gentle and still and all alive. Somehow the physical connection with that little creature has calmed my day.

I was cleaning the cage of our two little squacking Zebra finches who cuddle up together like an old married pair (I hear that they are fast and furious breeders so I am waiting to see if anything happens) and chat back and forth like a Gregorian chant. Last time I cleaned their cage I did so outside ... and alas, one of the pair escaped. I was a little chagrined but have to be honest and say that my real self was cheering it on - well done little fellow! Go fly the skies - no bird should be caged all its life. Even by me.

That small debacle resulted in a short chastisement from my other half and the purchase of a replacement finch. Ah if all of life could be resolved so easily.

Today I cleaned their mess in our enclosed back porch. Again one escaped. (Honestly, I don't even know how.) But you see my brilliance here, don't you? I let it have its wing for a while and then calmly caught it in both hands and surrendered it back into the small white square universe ... which I did fill with twigs and and leaves of butterfly bushes and strawberries from my dwindling patch - just to give them something interesting to do.

But in all that, I had the moment of touch - a gentle little creature that had to trust my big clumsy hands and simply by its aliveness I was made to smile and feel very good.

I think I might let them out for little flights every so often on a cool evening. In the back porch of course. When my other half is out. No bird should be kept in a cage all its life - even by me.

p.s. This is, sadly, how I killed several of my kid's hamsters. Taking them for walks because of course, no hamster should be kept in a cage all its life, even by my kid.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

today is Tuesday...

... you know what that means! We're going to have a special special guest, so get out the broom! Sweep the place clean! And dust off the matt so a welcome can be seen ... tra la la la ... do you hear music?

Roll out the carpet - strike up the band, and give a hip hooray! hooray!

now comes the big ending
So wiggle your ears ... like good mouskateers ... we're gonna have a special special day!

Cause Tuesday is guest star day!

All I can say is HOW THE HECK can I remember all the words to the Tuesday theme song on the Mickey Mouse Club and NOT remember the name of a person I work with?

Monday, June 9, 2008

just have to blog this

Some things are too good to just leave alone. A woman (admittedly younger than me) just came in my office - she was a widow and recently married. When the shadows of life were darker I spent some time with her ... and we re-connected today. Clearly she is happy. Radiant even. Beautiful, tanned, slim, fit, in love and above all, full of the joy of life.

So remarkable is her transformation I couldn't help but burst out, "You look fabulous!" She blushed, looked at me (obviously casting about for something to return) and said, "And you look like you!!!"

Okay - I am still laughing inside. That is how it is friends. No holiday yet - tired, Monday, a level 4 headache, and I look like me. Could be worse. But you KNOW it could be better!


All is calm on the home front - and I see from the kitchen window my friend Cheryl and her girl Sarah coming up the walk carrying McDonald's cokes. Smiling to myself I leave the sink and open the door, stepping onto the porch and into the still hot but cooling evening air.

We sit for a half hour, and enjoy stories and banter. They leave with waves.

I return to the kitchen to realize I LEFT THE TAP ON. So ... a micro disaster of my own making which drove me into:
  • throwing all the clean towels in the house onto wet soggy floors
  • pulling out the fridge and stove - finding a mess, cleaning old fuzz and new water
  • removing dishes from shelves and mopping up water
  • finding the right screwdriver to remove the round twirly shelf that had water under it
  • mopping, wiping, hauling, pushing, sopping, sweating, grunting, sopping, pushing
You get the picture.

My day was still better than Big Brown's. You gotta find the bright side of life.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

if I don't see you again

nancy is my age, exactly. she was my first married friend - her and Joe and Steve and I would go for a drink and a movie and no one made me feel like laughing like Nancy did. she is pretty and has a voice the flows like a river. her five kids are all in good relation to her, she is a matriarch of a kind, graceful and laughing, able to believe the best in every member of her family.

nancy has lived through her share of loss and disappointment. they came to her like they do to all of us, without a reserve plan and with the worst timing. she has made it through them all and kept a soaking rain of life falling on her family. sometimes that life came through hidden tears, sometimes through acres of laughter.

i just hung up the phone. her toxicology report is back. the spots on her pancreas are malignant. she can choose chemo to extend her life months, the doctor says. i didn't keep her long. she was exhausted. and brave. and beautiful.

Joe is beside her. he is her Steve. it hasn't been 33 years of endless romance, but it has been love that is the web around them.

nancy is a few thousand miles away. if i don't see you again, will you know that i love you?

Thursday, June 5, 2008

the real issue between Hillary and Obama

Okay friends. I have been alert - heard it all. Hillary is a victim of women's issues - yah, I think that is probably true. Obama had to overcome racial issues - hmmm yes, little doubt. But no one has touched on the real inequity - the damning foul division of men and women on the political trail.
Put a lovely strong woman into a blue pantsuit ... thankfully crafted in stretchy material ... and crush her under unbending stress. Over the months the material has more and more demanded of it ... as her body spreads to embrace and hold all that stress.
Similarly take a middle aged man and dress him in suit pants and a white shirt, sleeves rolled up ... placed under a steamroller of relentless stress - and what happens? He gets lean and lanky. Hollow even.
This my friends is the crux of the issue. Say no more. Life does not happen on a level playing field.

Monday, June 2, 2008

on adjusting my step to fit

The other day I walked to the corner store with a few co-workers. Walking beside a man-friend I found myself striding very fast - uncomfortably so, but this seemed to be his pace. It was him, finally, who said, "let's slow down!"

I have spent my life adjusting my step to fit someone else's pace. It started of course with my dad ... who, when I got to walk with him, did not adjust his pace, so I bustled along (probably talking a blue streak) just to be beside him.

Then it was my husband's dad - a sergeant in the military during WWII and a marcher. He liked me. He wondered how his son got so lucky as to win my heart (smile - it did me good that he thought that.) He would invite me to walk with him and we marched. He would ask if he was going too fast for me and I would say "no!" because I didn't want him to think I couldn't keep up with him. I loved those walks, er, marches, while he talked philosophy and big ideas with me. He made me feel like he picked me 'specially and I didn't feel all that special to anyone else in that season of my life.

My husband has a pace of life that has often been too fast for me. (Notice a thread here?) I have learned, over the years, to love the song he is singing and fit the length of his stride. But not entirely without tears. Keeping up has sometimes been hard. I have had to grow up.

This summer I am taking my 10 year old granddaughter for a 'Mimi trip.' We will travel anonymously - a middle aged woman and a young girl - invisible demographics. And again I will adjust my step to fit someone else, this time making it smaller and slower. Seems right for my season of life.

You might rebel against this way of living and say "Be true to yourself!" or "Don't let anyone determine your stride" ... a kind of beat your own drum thing. But my life is this, in a way: making some concessions to fit beside someone I love or want to love. It's what I do. (And honestly, I think my people have had plenty of adjusting to do to walk beside me.)

Because I adjust my step, often faster and sometimes smaller, I have a life that is full of nutty conversation, gusts of laughter, priceless spontaneous lines, sweet wonderful hugs, a great lump of a man to spend my best hours with and a hoard of people I love more than my own self. Seems worth it to me.