Monday, August 31, 2009

How Much Is Enough?

When it comes to recycling and other actions to protect and defend the planet, is there a point that is enough? Must we grab every single piece of recyclable trash and repurpose it—is our self-respect as 21st Century Land Lovers inversely related to the amount of stuff we throw into the recycle bin? (And I'm ignoring here the amount of things thrown into the regular trash. I'm assuming all Land Lovers are going to bring into their homes items that, almost exclusively, can be recycled rather than thrown away.)

DarlingGrandChildren spent Saturday afternoon and night with me. While they were there, a tissue box was emptied and a toilet paper roll was emptied. I threw them into the bathroom trash can. DarlingGrandDaughter picked them out of the trash can and placed them on my dresser, next to her stuffed animal. On Sunday morning, they were in her arms as she walked to the car. She planned to set them aside for use in some as-yet-undetermined craft.

I wanted to call my daughter-in-law and apologize for sending trash to her house. And yet she created this monster by so carefully and skillfully teaching her children to be Land Lovers. For me to have insisted that DGD just throw the trash away would have been to negate the excellent job her mother is doing.

I know that, when I was a child 50 years ago, we didn't give one thought to the cleanliness of the planet. I so clearly remember driving down the road and tossing gum wrappers and paper cups indiscriminately out the window. And I remember, 15 years or so later when we, as a country, started noticing the piles of trash along every roadway. So I'm not quarreling with recycling and repurposing and making sure there's a planet remaining for the use of our children and grandchildren and their progeny.

I'm merely posing the question—is there an amount that it's okay to throw away rather than save? Must every single toilet paper roll and tissue box and yogurt container be turned into a bed for a stuffed animal and a holder for rings and a bike helmet for one's doll? (With a tip of the hat to the CleverNesting ladies, who repurpose on a daily basis, for a very clever blog post.)

Isn't there some trash that can just be trash?

Tuesday, August 25, 2009


I bought a new plant at Giant Eagle the other day. I don't know what variety it is; it's just a spiky green thing that needs occasional water. I placed it in front of the litter box in the sunroom, hoping it would provide a small amount of disguise for the litter box. If figure if I can keep it alive, I can slowly acquire a few more until it's not obvious that a litter box is hiding behind this small garden.

I chose the spikiest of the plants on display, hoping it would be unattractive to Rudi. Rudi has a very bad habit of eating every live plant that comes into the house. My friend Sherry brought me a lovely flowering plant when I moved into my house. Well, it was lovely for about a day, until Rudi deposited chomp marks onto every leaf and petal. That plant is now long gone.

I also planted a few springs of a jade plant in a small pot and placed it on my kitchen window. Jade plants are especially hardy, right? Teeth marks on every leaf.

This morning Rudi woke me up at 5:45, first making that horrible crying sound he makes just before he's going to throw up, then starting with his hacking sound. I raced out of bed to try to move him onto the tile floor in the bathroom before all the Yuck came up. I failed. He deftly placed his furballs on the puke-green carpet in the second-floor foyer. Strategically sited on top of the furballs were shreds of the new spiky plant.

The only thing worse than him throwing up where I can find it and dispose of it? Hearing him throwing up, refusing to get up, and then not being able to find it. This occurred around 6:15 a.m. Great. I'm sure my bare feet will find his second pile of furballs around 1:18 tomorrow morning, when I rise from a sound sleep to visit the bathroom. (I am that age, you understand.)

I love cats. I really do. But I'm just not happy with the digestive habits of this one!

Hey, here's an idea—what if I start a cactus garden? Do you think that would be safe from his teeth? Would that be deemed Cruelty to Cats?

Monday, August 24, 2009

Today's Favorite Passage

Again, from "The Time Traveler's Wife", a passage that rings so true to me.

Clare, speaking to Richard (Henry's father) about his life before and after his wife's death:
But don't you think that it's better to be extremely happy for a short while, even if you lose it, than to be just okay for your whole life?

That's how I view my life with John. How lucky I was to have that twenty-one months of a great marriage—after three trying marriages—even if it only lasted twenty-one months. I had two years of happiness. Some people don't have that much happiness in their entire lives.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Brilliance, Coming Early

I'm sure I've mentioned that Rudi's most annoying trait is believing he has no food if he can see the tiniest part of the bottom of his bowl.

His and Ashley's bowls—each is a double bowl—are in the kitchen, next to their water fountain, positioned perpendicular to the wall. I placed them this way to conserve space. Okay, there's nothing else on that wall, so I'm not sure exactly why I was trying to conserve space.

This morning when Boston and Ridley and I were getting our breakfast together, Boston looked at the setup, reached down and rotated each double bowl to be parallel to the wall. He said, "I think they can't reach the back bowl, so even if it's full, they think they don't have any food."

I stared at him, stared at the bowls, stared at the cats, and walked away, shaking my head. That boy is newly eight years old, and his logical thinking skills are more finely honed than mine. I couldn't believe that, in a few minutes of problem solving, he figured out a solution that has eluded me for eight months now.

The child is brilliant!

Saturday, August 22, 2009

On Gravity and Mass and Life Importance

More phrases from "The Time Traveler's Wife" that caught my ear and set my mind to whirling:

Henry, in talking about the death of his mother, describes the incident as having great mass in his life. The greater mass an object has, the greater its gravitational pull, he explains. His mother's death—the automobile accident in which she died—is a place in time to which he returns over and over. He has looked at the accident from all angles, many times over. It is the most important event in his life.

That made me ponder what is important in my life—around what event or occurrence everything else rotates. It would absolutely be the abandonment of my birthmother that led to my adoption. The fallout of being adopted has shaped most everything about me. All my idiosyncrasies, all my fears, all my insecurities—they're all directly related to being adopted, both to the abandonment side of the adoption and to the hypercritical-adoptive-mother, "you can never be good enough" side.

I'm trying to remember if Henry travels to times and places outside his lifetime. I'm halfway through the book and the only places he's been are after his birth and previous in time to "today".

If I could travel in time within those constraints, I would go back and meet my birthmother. I'd be somehow introduced to her as a friend-of-a-friend, so she wouldn't feel threatened, and try to get to know her. I'm sure I'd also go back time and again to the wonderful three years after John and I got back together and got married. I'd try to do things better in my caregiving during his cancer battle. I'd whisper tips in my younger self's ear, tips to provide better care. And I'd find ways to touch his face and his hair and hold his hand and just stare at his gorgeous self, drinking it all in before it was gone.

Are there events in your life that are gravitational? If you could time travel in your life, where would you go?

Friday, August 21, 2009

Aging and Change and Methamphetamines

Recently, Oprah offered a free download of Jill Ciment's "Heroic Measures." (Don't you love what Oprah has done for reading in this country?!) I've been reading it in bits and pieces, snatching peeks in the middle of other tasks. I'm enjoying it very much.

I especially liked the scene with Debbie, who is briefly held hostage by the terrorist. She shares a little crystal meth with the terrorist, even though she's been clean for three months. Then she asks the terrorist if he minds her praying. She tells the reporter "God heard me even though I was high."

There was something about Debbie and the reporter and the dialogue between them that just tickled me.

The book, to me, is a sweet view into the lives of a childless couple in their late 70s who have been married to each other forever, at their familiarity and intimacy, at their approach to change as they prepare to sell their Manhattan apartment, and at their love for their "child", an equally aging dachshund.

Thanks, Oprah, for a free read.

What are you reading?

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Into My Ears

I'm doing some preparatory listening this week. Tyler and I plan to take in a local production of "Into the Woods" this weekend, so I'm listening (and listening and listening, over and over again) to the soundtrack.

And prompted by PianoLady's recent book list, I'm listening to "The Time Traveler's Wife" again, to prepare for seeing the movie soon.

I am smitten with clever writing. I am in awe of writers who—after pondering and thinking and moving words around—come up with an amazing twist of a phrase to delight the reader.

"Into the Woods" takes several fairy tales and mashes them together. You learn the back story of Little Red Riding Hood, Jack and the Beanstalk, Rapunzel, and Cinderella. The phrase that made my brain smile comes from the song "Maybe They're Magic". After the Baker sells Jack the beans, the Baker's Wife reassures him that "If the end is right, it justifies the beans." Isn't that supremely clever?

(Want to read more about the musical? Look here and here.)

And in the prologue of "The Time Traveler's Wife", there is a quote from Derek Walcott:
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.

I have the talent to be able to memorize a piece of music after playing it three times. Throughout my childhood piano lessons, I didn't really know how to practice, so I would just sightread a piece three times, and then it would be memorized, mistakes and all. I knew those pieces—and those mistakes— by heart.

So the thought of a person knowing me by heart struck me. I'm in my year(s) of starting over again. Having left all my friends behind in Tucson and Washington, I've been borrowing friends left and right until I can craft some of my own. Yesterday I had a long phone chat with one of my best friends in Tucson. She knows me so well, she knows instinctively how lonely I am for friends with whom to go out for drinks or dinner. We shared so much in our friendship, from our Pima Canyon homes to a love of glass and clay to nights firing pots with raku glazes. She knows what I think and feel without my telling her. She knows my heart; she knows me by heart.

May your life be blessed with friends who know you by heart!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Salons and Soirées

Soirée is defined as a party of people assembled in the evening (usually at a private house).

Salon is defined as a fashionable assemblage of notables (as literary figures, artists, or statesmen) held by custom at the home of a prominent person. Wikipedia carries the definition farther: "partly to amuse one another and partly to refine their taste and increase their knowledge through conversation and readings, often consciously following Horace's definition of the aims of poetry, "either to please or to educate" ("aut delectare aut prodesse est")."

Based on that definition, I believe what we attended last night was a soirée, crossed with a salon. None of us was particularly notable or prominent, except to each other. Regardless of the definition, it was a perfectly delightful evening.

Our neighbors Phil and Elsa, have a new-to-them house that is designed, it seems, for entertaining. They assembled an interesting, cultured, and talented group of friends for dinner and entertainment. Much of the food originated in local gardens. The guests ranged in age from 8 (our Boston, on his 8th birthday) to 80ish (Elsa's lovely mother). Guests read or recited poetry. A visitor from Philadelphia played Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata, beautifully. Tyler and Elsa sang a duet from Don Giovanni. I play Jerome Kern and Dorothy Fields' "The Way You Look Tonight", one of my favorites. Tyler added a musical theatre touch with "Some Enchanted Evening." And Boston played one of his Suzuki songs.

This is the sort of evening I have long wished to participate in. How lucky I am to live in an area with so much talent and education and culture.

And continuing with the musical theatre theme, Elsa, Tyler and I decided to put together a group to travel to Salem Saturday evening to take in a production of "Into the Woods." I saw this very clever musical in Washington at the Kennedy Center probably 20 or more years ago. It's the sort of show you never forget. Immaculate, complicated Sondheim scores, thought-provoking lyrics and book, and a tune or two that I want to sing over and over again.

This morning I'm listening to the soundtrack to prepare for Saturday night. The words to "A Very Nice Prince" struck me as much more realistic than simply wishing for what you want:

But how can you know what you want
Till you get what you want
And you see if you like it?

I moved here to help care for my grandchildren and support my son and his wife. I got an exquisite set of neighbors and friends. I like it.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Summer Sunday, Blossom Music Festival

Very fun Sci-Fi concert last night. We came back in from intermission and there were Stormtroopers in full regalia standing on either side of the podium.

I'm so thrilled to be singing with the Cleveland Orchestra Chorus this fall. The members whom I've met couldn't be nicer. What a lucky girl I am!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

School for Burglars

My friend and kids' neighbor, Sherry, had her house broken into a couple of months ago. Sherry and I share a love of all things beaded and, coincidentally, of jewelry. Sherry has lots of beautiful beaded pieces she's collected or made, and she has a lovely collection of silver and gold jewelry that's she's acquired on various trips, both domestic and abroad. I always love seeing how she accessorizes her wardrobe. She has exquisite taste.

As the burglars were brazen enough to disable the alarm system before entering, they had plenty of time to root through the belongings in the house. They found Sherry's jewelry storage location, and carefully chose what they wanted. Silver and gold? Out the door. Beads? Colored stones? Not so much. They didn't waste their time on all the beautiful pieces that Sherry had meticulously handcrafted. They didn't bother with the wonderful artisan pieces with fabulous beads that she had collected. They only wanted the silver and gold jewelry.

That made me start wondering how burglars know what's good—what to take and what to skip. Does an entry-level burglar have to burgle 100 houses and attempt to unload his takings at several venues before he knows what will sell? Is there an apprenticeship one must complete to gain this knowledge. Is there a school for burglars in a deep, dark basement somewhere?

And where on earth does he sell it? I would think you can't exactly walk into a pawn shop and say, "Yo, Bro, I got 15 pairs of silver earrings and one gold necklace here. What'll you give me for 'em."

And what about electronics and other household furnishings. When is the aggravation of trying to get something out the door greater than the promise of income for selling it? And how does one learn to make that comparison?

If a burglar broke into my house, he would be sorely disappointed. My televisions are 15 and 20 years old. I don't own a DVD player and my VCR player is built into the television. My jewelry? All beaded pieces. I sold all the good stuff to come up with the money to sell my Tucson houses last year. Actually, for someone of my age who has traveled the roads I've traveled in life, I have surprisingly little to show for it.

But y'know what? The less you have—the simpler your life—the easier it is to dismantle things when it's time to go.

(Yeah, okay, can you tell we're again going through Mother's stuff trying to narrow down her possessions? Molly is in the mountains with her, and sorted through 400 pieces of clothing on Tuesday. 400! You wonder where I got my clothes habit? Wonder no more!)

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

In Drag? All My Life?

I woke at 4:30 this morning, then was able to go back to sleep until 6:15. During that period, I dreamed about hiking in the mountains and hanging out with a couple of super-creative artists. Then the doctor told me I had "rapidly advancing testicular cancer."

A few men I've dated in my life who called me a "pushy broad" might respond, "Yeah. That explains everything!"

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The Making of a Word Nerd

I love words. I love reading books and writing blog posts and solving crossword puzzles. I'm teaching the grands to play the "three-letter word game". I correct grammar misspeaks when I hear them, as one is never too young to learn.

I've installed a "Hangman" app on my iPhone, which Boston loves to play. The app has two modes: one-player and two-player. In the one-player version, you can accept a random word or select a category from which words will be presented. In the two-player version, one player types in a word or phrase for the other player to solve.

(Ridley likes to select two-player, then close her eyes and randomly type letters. You can imagine I don't enjoy playing two-player with her.)

The other evening, Boston and I were playing two-player mode. He typed two words, and when I solved it, the words were "animal girraffe". I told him he had one extra "r" in giraffe, but that he had done a good job. He replied, "I wanted to put in the two little dots, one high and one low, to show that it was a definition, but I couldn't find them."

It took me a moment to realize he had been searching for the colon. He wanted to type "animal: giraffe". It took me only a nanosecond to be astonished that this almost-third-grader knew about definitions and colons, and to praise him for realizing the colon was the right punctuation to place after "animal".

I'm hoping he'll follow in my footsteps in the love of words.

(He's already started doing Sudoku puzzles, but that's a topic for another post.)

Sunday, August 09, 2009

The Ideal Camper

Garrison Keillor had a few comments about camps and campers on "Prairie Home Companion" this weekend, and it made me reminisce about camp.

Let's be clear. I hated camp. I went to Camp Kulaqua in High Springs, FL, from 1959 through 1964, I think. While it's true that I have never really felt like I fit in anyplace in my life, I really didn't fit in at camp. One year I even went for two weeks—one week for regular camp and one for music camp.

One year I got sick on Sunday night after arriving on Sunday morning, and I stayed in the infirmary until Friday afternoon. Another year Peggy Miller stole my undies and stuffed them in the rafters of the cabin. I'm tryin' to come up with good memories of camp experiences, but I'm drawing a blank.

But, being a good parent, I felt my kids deserved the same opportunities I had. There were some good experiences at day camps in Montgomery County, MD. There were theatre camps and horseback riding and tennis and other activities that I don't remember. There were awkward moments, too, like Tyler's game of hide-and-seek where he hid in a bed of poison ivy. T.J.'s week at computer camp near King's Dominion was less than positively memorable, as I recall.

There are, however, some really good camps, some life-changing camps. I put National Music Camp, now Interlochen Arts Camp, in that category. Can you pick Tyler out of the intermediate boys cabin pic above? (Oooh, maybe I should turn this into a contest.)

Tyler is still in touch, today, with musicians and visual artists and actors and writers with whom he went to camp. T.J. and I are not in touch with anybody we went to camp with. I think he probably doesn't even remember anybody he met at camp.

The moral of this story: not everything is for everyone. Will Boston and Ridley do well in camp? Will they go to Interlochen and find themselves, the way their daddy did? Time will tell.

But for me, this whole thought process was a good opportunity to recognize that the inability to fit in at summer camp doesn't say anything negative about me or anyone else who didn't fit it. Not everything is for everyone.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

RIP Persephone

My son, T.J., lost one of his kitties yesterday. I was privileged to get to know this sweet kitty on a couple of visits to T.J.'s Dallas apartment. She looked exactly like a cat I had adopted in 2006 but taken back because Rudi wouldn't have any part of it, and like Tyler and Jaci's Pepper.

Persephone was a real lover, and T.J. was very patient with her through a long illness.

May she now be running in fields of catnip.

Friday, August 07, 2009

Who Do You Know?

Have you ever thought about how perceptions and relationships work hand-in-hand? And how life experiences change people?

Take my relationship with my mother. I do not feel a heart-wrenching love for her. But I honor all she did for me—the nightly meals, the endless driving to this music lesson and that music performance, the teaching of sewing. There was much emotional abuse of me on her part, but—after many years of therapy—I am able to imagine that was the result of the poor parenting she received, particularly from a harsh father. She evidently learned to be harsh at the feet of a master. I don't know this; I merely surmise it. She is not a person who talks about such things. Or anything, really, except the Bible and the writings of Ellen G. White and the impending second coming of Christ.

But what was she like at 23 or 24 when she married, or at 25 when her first pregnancy ended at six months with a stillborn baby girl? What was she like when she and Daddy moved to Orlando, she at age 31 with a toddler, for him to begin his medical practice? What was it like for her to retire from full-time nursing and care for a house and two little boys while Daddy was more and more absent, attending to his practice, his hospital patients, and pregnant patients who would go into labor at 3:00 a.m.? What was it like for her to hope for a darling daughter and, by the luck of the draw, get a daughter who never met her expectations? A daughter whom her husband adored, and paid more attention to than to her?

The mother that my brothers knew in their formative years was very different from the mother I knew. And the 55yo mother my sister-in-law met was, again, a totally different person than all those other mothers.

When I say something about Mother to my sister-in-law, there is frequently shock or confusion on her face. She doesn't know what my life was like, but she respects me and believes my words. She just has her own perceptions. And her relationship with Mother, and my brothers' relationships, are based upon their perceptions of that woman they grew up knowing.

This whole train of thought grew out of a statement T.J. made to me about daughters loving their mothers. That's a presumption that cannot and should not be made. As the old song says, "No one knows what goes on behind closed doors." And the presumption that each child has the same relationship with each parent can also not be made. I try to be a good daughter to my mother, because I feel she deserves that. But that's as far as it goes.

People grow. People change. Isn't life funny?

Monday, August 03, 2009


Do you ever suspect you're crazy? I do. Sometimes I look back at something I've said or done, and think some of the circuits in my brain are just not seated properly. I wonder if my birthmother drank a little too much while she was waiting to get rid of me. Or maybe someone dropped me on my head when I was an infant and just forgot to tell anyone.

I remember an incident in law school. As I recall, it occurred in Property class. We were discussing fetuses as property and I had a point I wanted to make about adoption and wanting to be treated as a human, as a person, not as an article to be possessed. I had my hand raised and the professor was taking this point of discussion and that point of discussion and ran out of time before he recognized my hand. When he said the discussion had to stop and we had to move on, I burst into tears. Really! Tears! In the middle of Property class! What kind of insane, half-witted person does something like that? I look back on it now, at a distance of twenty years, and wonder what on earth my classmates thought. If I had seen someone in class behave like that, I would have wanted to stay as far away as possible from that person. I would have thought she was stark-raving mad!

Yesterday I made a comment to a friend, a comment that came out of the 50s and the South and another world that is light years away from the world in which we live. When I got home in the evening, I was struck with what I had said, and in a state of shock. I couldn't sleep last night in the midst of the horror of my words. It was an old, descriptive phrase that had a adjectival use in the 50s, but has no use today. And I'm a writer—you'd think I could have come up with a smarter phrase.

So I guess the lesson out of today's post is that sometimes, when you think you're finally growing up, your brain has a mouth of its own that refuses to be controlled.

Or, sometimes even the smartest person can do—or say—a really dumb thing!

Sunday, August 02, 2009

MIA and Whatcha Readin'

My g'babes like to watch "Fineas and Ferb", a strange little animated show where one character walks into a room and queries "WHA-cha DOOO-in?". There's an addictive inflection (the first syllable of each word is drawn out, the second syllable is pitched higher than the first) in her voice—after hearing it a few times, every time I hear someone ask "Whatcha . . .", I hear this character's voice and the inflection.

I've not written much lately. Work is incredibly hard, frustrating, exhausting right now. We have a software update coming out in a month, and a lot of people are throwing political spitballs at each other. When you couple that job stress with my commute stress (I swear someone snuck an extra ten miles into I-76 right around Kent), I'm totally enervated when I get home. I sit on the chair, flip through my TiVo list, and do a little beading before I drop into bed to do it all again the next day. I haven't walked into my sewing room (a sure stress-reliever) since the insulation guys came and moved everything away from the walls into a big clump in the middle of the room. My blog topic ideas are thought of and quickly forgotten.

So if you're still here and still reading, thank you.

Back to Whatcha Readin': I love Meg Ryan movies, especially the romantic comedies, and most especially "You've Got Mail." Her character is a bookie who owns a darling independent bookstore, and loves "Pride and Prejudice." After hearing her, and countless other people and characters, talk about "Pride and Prejudice", I decided to see what it's all about.

To everyone out there who adores this book, I'm sorry. I don't adore it. I don't love it. I'm tolerating it. Well, I'm trying to get through it. If I were reading a hardcopy that I'd borrowed from the bookstore, I'd probably just drop it into the return bin. But I bought the audio—with dollars, not credits—from, and every chapter listened to is another five or ten miles under my tires.

I don't love the style of writing—the wordiness, the overused words, like "felicity." Last year my friends named their new daughter "Felicity". Great name for a beautiful little girl; lousy word to repeat over and over in a book.

But that's just me and my quirkiness. (In freshman English a thousand years ago, I wrote an essay about how ugly the fall leaves were. I had grown up in Florida where everything was always green. My English professor thought I was neither clever nor funny. Whatever.) I have added the Pride & Prejudice movie to my Netflix queue, as I want to see, if fewer than eleven hours, what it's really all about. I may not like the movie, either, but at least I will have given it a fair try.

PianoLady is off to Florida today to visit her daughter in Tampa. She's reading "Happens Every Day" on the plane. I've added A Bookworm's World to my Google Reader, and love reading her reviews and getting ideas for my next reads. There are about five books on my Audible wishlist, and my membership is renewing in a couple of weeks so I can again use credits instead of money to get my daily driving/reading/listening.

So what are you reading? Oh, excuse me—whatcha readin'?

(By the way, Boston just woke up. He confirmed that "Isabella" is the Fineas and Ferb character who says, "Whatcha doin'?" He wanted to know why I wanted to know. When I told him the title of this post, he said, "Funny." Whattaguy!)