I awake…

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I started this awhile back. It was meant to be a poem, but:

I awake to a quiet house, no refrigerator hum, no whirring fan, no buzzing alarm.  Only the gentle splash of rain through summer leaves, the distant rumble of thunder.  For the third time in less than a week, the power is out.  It feels cozy though, beneath this light comforter – one leg tangled in the sheets, the other searching for my husband.  I consider closing my eyes and attempting to recapture the wisp of the dream I’d been having, but the dog has seen me stretch and comes over to investigate.  Her day has begun; so should mine.

The dog heads straight for the back door and I follow to let her out, flipping a switch to brighten the dining room, then laugh at myself.  No power, no lights.  I do the same thing walking into the bathroom, shaking my head as I pee in semi-darkness, remembering not to flush, since the backyard pump requires electricity to move the water out of the well and into our toilet.

Thinking only about a cup of coffee, I ‘turn off’ the bathroom light and head toward the kitchen to put a pot on, then shake my head again.  This time, less good-humoredly.  I’ll have to drive to Dunkin Donuts, which means I must do something with my hair, though it probably needs a blow torch (and a working outlet).  A hat will do and thank God for drive-thrus.

On the quiet drive into town, I figure the power will probably be back on by the time I return.  No big deal.  The faucets will flow and I’ll take a long, hot shower. My husband will probably be awake, checking the news on his iPad. He’ll thank me for the glazed doughnut I’ll buy for him.

I think about the day ahead – shopping, a visit with my grandchildren, a lunch meeting. The rain is letting up.

Yes, the power is back when I return home. I switch on the TV for a local weather report.  There on the screen is a photo from Syria of a soldier cradling a small naked child.  They are surrounded by burning rubble and destruction. Tears streak the black on both their faces.   The child’s head bleeds and one sleeve of the soldier’s uniform is torn off.  Their eyes are unfocused, as if unaware of the camera, yet their gaze lingers like the long arms of black smoke that billow behind, ready to lift them from the screen and gently set them down in my living room, where after this morning rain ends, it’s going to be a beautiful day.

Cheers!

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It’s Sunday, early October, a chill and drizzly day perfect for curling up on the couch with hubby and dog to finish rereading ‘I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings’ or watch an old movie. Or … to meet some close friends at a nearby vineyard (Gouveia Vineyard) for a tasting and camaraderie (hmmm, why does camaraderie not end with a ‘y’).

I’ve known one of these women since 3rd grade, when I hit her brother with a dirt bomb and made him cry. We’ve been best friends ever since. Two others were met in 7th grade when we bonded on the horse trails behind the school, where kids would clump to share cigarettes stolen from their parents or the occasional Dixie cup of various liquors, again swiped from their parents and mixed into a toxic brew.

As the ‘Daughters of Diminished Capacity’, we get together as regularly as we are able – to vacation, to celebrate birthdays and holidays, to mourn the deaths of parents, a brother, one of us (this one is for you, Kris) and to simply be with friends who let you be comfortable with who you are. Someday, we’ll create an elder commune on a beach facing west. We’ll toast each glorious sunset with a glass of wine (or Ensure) and be thankful for each other.

This visit to the vineyard was in part to celebrate a post-wedding bachelorette party for Rachel. The vineyard only serves wine (but, of course) and you bring everything else. We managed to grab a table by the windows and spent the next ten or so minutes laying out food. As Daughters, we’ve gotten good at this kind of thing and were the only table with flowers and a checkered tablecloth.

Conversation ranged from honeymoons to grandchildren, from politics to how messed up our grandchildren’s lives will be if Trump is elected, to how good the cheese tasted with homemade fig and cherry brandy jam. And throughout, our laughter was the cushion we fell back on, again and again.

Outside, the 360-degree view was outstanding … an October appetizer. The changing leaves, the smoke from a fire pit, an early evening mist.

We asked a young woman to take our picture and I wondered what she was thinking looking at us through the camera. Did she think us old? Probably. Yet, later when I scrolled through the pics she took, I thought how blessed we all are to be friends, to enjoy these times together, to be as young as we’ll ever be again. Cheers!

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Itsy Bitsy Spider…NOT

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A spider lives within the window of my writing room. About a month ago, I noticed a sprawling, messy web from the bottom frame tracking to a piece of coral that sits on the inner sill. And there, inside the tracking a black spider’s head was poking out.

I’m careful not to kill spiders. It’s one of those things my mother warned me about, like how moths are the souls of our ancestors and should never be killed (just in case it was Papa paying a visit). Spiders bring good luck, she’d say when catching one in a coffee can to return to nature. I do the same. Or at least try to.

Spider webs are a different story. I’m not at all a fan and wiped it clean from the sill, then attempted to lure the spider out of its hiding place. She was smart though and stayed put. I hoped without her web, she’d go away.

The next morning, another messy web (I now know it’s called a ‘tangle web’) even larger than the first, was back in the window. I thought maybe I’d dreamed about wiping it away and wiped again, then went and looked up spider webs in my dream interpretation book. They symbolize creativity, which is a good thing in a writing room. They may also indicate feeling out of control. Well…not a bad thing in a writing room.

The next morning, again. This time though, I snuck up on the window with my own coffee can, hoping to catch the spider out of the tracking. And there she was, a bit larger and hairier than I’d imagined. She saw me coming with all of her eyes and took cover.

And we’ve been at it ever since. I wonder what she thinks when she comes out each morning and has to start all over again. I would think she’d be hungry by now, but when I went online to find out if we should be wearing armor for protection, I read that spiders sometimes eat their own webs. Handy, though it defeats the purpose and lacks protein!

On the first website I visited, I was greeted by a smiling arachnid bouncing on a silk thread with over-sized, creepy eyeballs that bounced along with him. Each of his eight legs pointed to a different link. I clicked on ‘Spider Poetry’ and wasn’t impressed.

There are ‘only’ about 46,000 species on Earth and new ones are found quite often. After looking through many disturbing photos that are likely to keep me armor’d and awake at night, I decided my spider wasn’t so bad after all. At least she stayed in the window. And spiders are actually quite fascinating.  I could write a short story just on the construction of their webs, which in addition to eating are used both for offense and defense.

And if nothing else, my spider is certainly industrious (messy, but industrious). I’ve decided to let her be, as long as she doesn’t invite any friends over for dinner.

Now, if only she could talk…

Oh so heavenly…

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Growing up in a somewhat Catholic home, it bothered me to think that Heaven was paved with gold. When I didn’t want to finish my supper, my father would boom, “There are children starving in Africa. Mangia!” And I’d think, why doesn’t God just break off a piece of his gold driveway and send it down so the hungry kids could buy food.

Back then, when I imagined Heaven, the streets might be gold, but the houses were made of gingerbread and peanut butter. And instead of cobblestone sidewalks, there were jelly bean sidewalks and the mailboxes were giant Pez dispensers. And in Heaven, you actually could lay down on a cloud (way down) to daydream.

In Heaven, no one told you what to do. Well, maybe God did, but nobody else…not even older stinky brothers. They had to go make their own Ritz crackers and cream cheese or bologna sandwiches. They also had to make their own beds.

And for several younger years, I even thought it would be nice to separate the boys from the girls. They could have their side of Heaven and we’d have ours. This idea eventually evolved (though now, it sounds pretty good again).

And in Heaven, when you wished on a star, your wish always came true.

Now, closing out my 6th decade, Heaven looks a whole lot different than it did as a child. My desires, quite tame.

I’d like the salty scent and sound of the ocean, a campfire on the beach with marshmallows and no mosquitoes, a fine glass of wine (come on, you know wine would be allowed), hearty conversation with friends and family…voices only loud enough to be heard over the surf, no punching, no politics. A comfortable chair to write in.

On regret

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Make it stop! Please! If I hear Trump almost apologize, one more time, I’ll start pulling out my own teeth. And to listen to the media gush about this ‘reboot of the candidate’, give me a break! MS Windows runs better than he does! Look closely and you’ll see his regret drip from the teleprompter like clotted sour milk.

What with Trump and Lochte almost being regretful, I thought about people in my own life I may have caused “personal pain” and I’d like to take this opportunity to apologize to Mr. Munjal, my high school science teacher.

Mr. Munjal was probably the only teacher I didn’t get along with. In 1973, he was also the first person I’d met (besides both sets of grandparents) who was not born in this country. He came here from India and his accent was thick and foreign. It was difficult to understand him and I made it more so by agitating him whenever possible.

I admit, I was not nice to him and did not show any respect. He was different and in my naïve mind, I decided he must be one of those ‘communists’ my father spoke about at the supper table, the ones who would take over the world if we didn’t do something to stop them (insert sound of chest thumping). I convinced myself it was patriotic to make him uncomfortable. I am not proud of this.

I was often late to his class without a pass, sauntering into the room like I’d just won an Olympic gold in swimming, a cloud of cigarette smoke wafting in behind me. I would use my period as an excuse for being late, knowing this embarrassed him. He would snap his eyes closed and kind of grind his teeth.

I rudely interrupted his lectures, asking stupid questions that I knew were stupid and seldom did my homework. This wasn’t normal behavior for me, since I enjoyed school, along with most of my teachers. My grades were good and I participated. I wasn’t condescending to underclassmen or the guy who drove our bus.

Both sets of grandparents immigrated from Italy. My maternal grandmother only spoke Italian, though she could yell, “You son of a bitch!” quite clearly when angry. She was different, but I still loved her.

And Mr. Munjal was different. I have no idea what his background was or what it took for him to be there in our classroom. I was completely oblivious and rude, pushing boundaries I’d never pressed with any other teacher (even substitutes and Mr. F, who smelled like BO and always kept the windows closed).

And now, as it becomes a trend to apologize (almost), I’d like to say –

Mr. Munjal, I am sorry I was an asshole in your science class. You did not deserve my discourtesy. I should have shut up and paid attention to what you were there to teach us. Then maybe I wouldn’t have to google ‘gall bladder’ to know where it is located and why we need one … though I wasn’t the only person in that recent conversation who had to look it up.

Believe me. I am sorry. Really!

When I die

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“When I die, I want it to be quick (insert finger snap) like a heart attack,” my 80-year-old Aunt always says. And there is a good chance she’ll live beyond 100 in decent health – body and mind. Yesterday, when I dropped her off at the airport for a trip to Florida to visit her 92-year-old sister, she thanked me for being part of ‘her support system’. Such an important concept, particularly in regard to today’s aging population.

I’m reading ‘Being Mortal’, by Atul Gawande. As a doctor and human being, he writes with humor and a personal commitment about caregiving and caretaking, aging and death – topics many of us would rather ignore. With so much else on our to-do lists, why bog down with dying.

Through the telling of stories and hands-on experience, Gawande talks about how we are living longer lives…not necessarily better lives, but longer…and what this additional time may look like in a society that does not place value on the wisdom that wrinkles may provide. He spends pages discussing the difference between living within a support group or not, as well as some of the innovative ways elder care is changing.

Gawande can be rather graphic at times about various maladies and decline. And me, a marginalia girl from way back – I’ve written “Fuck us all!” up many a margin and across more than one page!

Just in my small circle of friends, we’ve had two back surgeries, one who needs back surgery but can’t have it due to diabetes and a heart condition, two compressed discs, two knee replacements, a hip replacement, five vertigo (including myself, my husband and my forty-something daughter) and I have four friends caring for their mothers. And this is a relatively young bunch.

With all this breakdown happening among us, you’d think we’d better understand our bodies and physiology. I admit to not paying attention in high school when we were learning about the body and its parts and do not understand what my body does for me until it doesn’t. Then I’m all over it!

Recently sitting with a group of friends, not one of us could identify the whereabouts or function of a gall bladder. We had to google it. And three weeks ago, one of us had to have it removed.

You’d think as we age, our brains would be bursting their seams with knowledge and know-how. Sorry! That’s when we are young. As we get older, our brains shrink until we wind up with a lot of wiggle room up there. You should see the margins on that page! Along with a shopping list for yogurt, doggie poop-bags and wine, I drew a brain shouting for HELP!

Again, I want to age like my aunt. She is a cancer survivor who lives independently, enjoys cooking, reading, traveling and the UConn Huskies. She loves family get-togethers and church on Sunday. Her older sister, my mother, had her second brain aneurysm at 69 and when she died at 84, it was from complications due to smoking, colitis, anger and depression.

We cannot stop the aging process, but there are things we can do to slow it down. Obvious ideas like getting outside with nature more, turning off the TV, FB or the news, sleeping and eating well.

And there are less obvious things we can do like getting our teeth checked regularly, keeping appointments for colonoscopies and mammograms, playing more, laughing more, giving more, yoga. And like Gawande and my Aunt both recognize – it is critical to be part of a supportive group of friends and family. Always has been. Always will be. Cheers!

Dream jobs, if you can get ‘em

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Once or twice a week I volunteer at a gorgeous nearby beach, picking up trash and greeting sun-struck tourists. This consists of walking a mile-stretch of natural beauty while wielding my trusty garbage grabber. You’d be surprised how many toothbrushes wind up in the bag! And the tourists are from all over the globe. I point out man-o-wars and give directions to the showers. Not bad work if you can get it. Right?

I figured it had to be the best job ever, until last Saturday. While cleaning with a friend of mine, we noticed a crowd gathered up ahead. They were listening to a man and woman explain how to build a sand castle (www.beachsandsculptures.com).

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Using various sized plastic containers, lots of sea water and obviously sand, they erected a rather bland castle. Mix and tap. Mix and tap. Then, using a melon baller, basting brush, straw and hacksaw blade he carefully turned bland into spectacular! The crowd applauded, spread out and began building their own.

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Now, that’s a job! I spoke with the couple. They get to travel (always to beaches), play in the sand and meet lots of interesting people. And they get paid! What a sweet deal!

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At one point during their demo, I wondered if this was their dream job when they were younger. Did they aspire to build sand castles for a living? How do you come to this decision? I wanted to be a social worker when I was young. Quite a tame vision, though I recall once wanting to teach hippos how to dance.

At one point, my son wanted to build barns. He is now a tech geek. One of my daughters wanted to catch whales from a nearby creek with her fishing stick and peanut butter. She is now a teacher. At one point, we all talked about opening a store that only sold sweets (we’d have lots of friends with store full of treats).  I’m guessing, these days they’d all rather build sand castles for a living.

My youngest granddaughter wants to be an astronaut. She is completely smitten with outer space. Last night, I read about a woman who is a space archaeologist. Fascinating work! The possibilities are endless. My first thought – Hmmm, sand castles in space. Now there’s a job I can get behind!