Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Fair Tidings

I am going back to California, and my beloved Bay Area.

I am leaving this coming Friday morning and arriving in San Francisco on Monday, February 1st. No, I am not circumnavigating the globe to get to SF, I am just making a stop in North Carolina on the way. A good friend of mine, someone I met in high school but have not seen in 18 years, lives in NC, as does my youngest sister.

So for the next 48 hours, I will be madly packing and trying to get my life in order. You wouldn't think that "packing" would take that long to do, since I arrived with only a suitcase (well, two suitcases) to begin with, but, you would be wrong. Sadly, I have left many things to the last minute, or at least, to the last 48 hours. Weeks ago my dad asked me to hem a pair of his slacks; these same slacks still sit, unhemmed, on a chair in my bedroom. I borrowed my brother-in-law's QuickBooks tutorial CD weeks ago, and it is sitting on the desk I have called my own for two months, so far unplayed. The family photographs I so painstakingly framed for my Dad for Xmas sit still un-hung on the floor in the hallway. My sister-in-law left me a coat to pass on to my brother, or brother-in-law; the coat sits in my car (although it did come in handy for me last night when temperatures plunged and I was not adequately dressed for weather after sunset). Yes, I still have loose ends to tie up here in Connecticut, not to mention making shuttle reservations to get to the airport in NYC, and a car rental reservation on the North Carolina end.

So, I am taking several day's hiatus from writing in my blog. If I have time while I am in NC, I will certainly return to share my day's musings with the world, or at least those who care to check my blogsite. In the meantime -- Fair Tidings, Faithful Readers. I shall return.

Monday, January 25, 2010

When Life Hands You Lemons

I did not come up with the catchy title of this post, I freely admit. I downright stole it from another blog. But that person is getting a free plug right here, to all twelve faithful followers of my blog. (Kudos to As they say, sometimes its better to beg forgiveness than to ask permission.

Yes, life does hand you lemons from time to time. Major lemons sometimes. No matter who we are, rich or poor, famous or not, we all get lemons, and some of us get much more than our share. The poor people of Haiti certainly have received a tremendous lemon of catastrophic proportions recently, with people losing their homes and more importantly, losing family members, in some cases, many family members. But the people of Haiti will be getting aid, and hopefully with the current world attention upon them, they can rebuild the city of Port-au-Prince and make it a better, safer place. We can't bring back their loved ones, but perhaps we can provide a better future for the young people who managed to survived.

I am not much of a TV watcher (although I will confess to getting hooked on NCIS while staying at my sister's house) but I was sick last Sunday and spent the whole day and evening in front of the boob-tube. I watched "Extreme Makeover"; well, I watched the very beginning of the show anyway. I watched the sob-story part of the show, where they show you how the lucky people who won a second chance at decent housing have survived despite horrific things that have happened to them. This show was no different. It featured a black woman from Jamaica who moved to Buffalo, NY, and bought a crummy house for $12,000. She and her family of four children tried to fix it up the best they could, but it was one of the saddest excuses for a house I have ever seen, so bad that the city had scheduled it for demolition unless she could bring it up to code.

Not only that, but Ty and crew also fixed up other houses along the family's street in the deteriorating neighborhood, giving the neighborhood new life and new hope for the future. What a great way to "pay it forward". I don't care if ABC is making tons of money from the advertisers for this show; I would be happy to see more shows of this type on TV.

I've had my own share of lemons. Watching this show is a good reminder to me to make lemonade out of what I've got and to be thankful that I didn't grow up poor in Haiti or Jamaica. If these people dare to have hope, then so can I.

My Dad

My forced sabbatical has allowed me to spend the last two months with my dad at his large ranch style house in southwestern Connecticut. I have enjoyed every minute of it. We don't cross paths during most of the day, but I have been able to have dinner with him almost every night, and its been a real treat.

My dad is not much of a conversationalist, and I never thought we had much in common, but our evening conversations have been great. Not having a good memory for details, I don't remember most of our specific conversations during my recent stay. But I do remember one night we talked at length about World War II, a war in which he was an active participant, a member of the Air Force at the time. Actually, my dad did most of the talking while I just asked questions and listened.

I have been watching football games with my dad during my stay here, but unfortunately will not be here on the East Coast to spend Super Bowl Sunday with him. I am not much of a football fan ordinarily, but over the years I have watched football with him anytime I am staying here just so that we have something to talk about. A few times over the past two months I have picked up a copy of the New York Times, and to my surprise, my dad enjoys reading it. He's a Republican and and I'm a Democrat so we pretty much have steered our conversations away from politics for the sake of keeping peace in the house. (Except for the Democrats losing the Senate seat of Ted Kennedy, which frustrated me, and thrilled my dad, but we kept that discussion very short.) We have talked a lot about people he knew, and distant family relatives, most of them long since dead.

Recently my dad came across a mother lode - a package of photos and papers his cousin had sent to him years ago, including an article about my grandfather, his father. My grandfather was a World War I hero, saving someone from a burning ship and getting a medal for risking his life. I don't recall ever seeing the medal, and I had never before seen the story of his heroism in print. I only recall vague conversations among the adults during my childhood about my grandfather rescuing people during the war. My grandfather was a quiet man; he never discussed it himself and he died when I was quite young.

After years of my feeling that we had nothing to say to each other, I wonder why suddenly my dad and I seem to have things to talk about. Have I changed? Has he? I'm not really sure. My dad seems to get less angry about things, especially about things that are unlikely to change. I think he is more at peace with the world, and with himself. Me, I am just enjoying being here, spending time in his presence, even if not a word is spoken. Maybe I am making up for 30 years of lost time, before its too late. Or maybe its just that we both realize how short life is, and how precious, and that none of us know how long we are going to be here, alive and alert, in the company of those we love.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Three Wisdoms

Quote from Jane Yolen's story "The Mermaid's Three Wisdoms" --

- Have patience, like the sea

- Move with the rhythm of life around you

- Know that all things touch all others, as all life touches the sea.

I read this story 30 years ago, and have tried to remember to live my life by its wisdom ever since.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Ragged Mountain

I met up with my old rock climbing partner from my college days yesterday, at our former college, now a university. Times have certainly changed. The campus looks nothing like I remember it. The old brick administration building built in the early 1900s still sits proudly facing Stanley Street, but the once brand new dining hall looks old and dingy, and the Student Center has been totally remodeled. In fact, the only thing I recognized at the Student Center from my former days on campus was the bigger-than-life-sized Blue Devil statue that greets people as they enter the cafeteria. Wide boulevards now ring the campus and the city street that once divided the campus in two has been replaced with grass and sidewalks.

After a quick lunch in the cafeteria, Greg and I headed over to our favorite off-campus location, Ragged Mountain. Neither of us had been back to the campus or the rock wall in 30 years. I had printed out a map from the internet showing how to get from campus to Ragged, but Greg opted to rely on his memory for directions, which it turns out is just about flawless, at least when it comes to anything related to rock climbing.

Ragged, fortunately, has not changed much. Its pretty hard to change a vertical stone cliff that is thousands if not millions of years old. The cliffs are part of a preserve, so they are theoretically protected from vandalism, although I did see evidence of grafitti in one spot. But basically the cliffs have not changed, much to my relief. It doesn't appear that they are used much for climbing these days, as evidenced by lack of gymnasts' chalk on their vertical walls, and by the many small trees and bushes growing at the foot of the cliffs.

Greg-of-the-incredible-memory remembered every climb in that uplifted and vertically cracked rust-colored stone block. And when he remembered the climbs and the cracks, I remembered them too. We spent many hours of our young adult lives together at this magical spot. As we walked around the base of the cliffs, I was stunned by their majesty and their beauty and their timelessness, as I had been the first time I laid eyes on them.

I had to touch the surface of the rock. It felt like rough, uneven, medium-weight sandpaper, and my fingers "stuck" to the surface as I ran my hands over its pimply bumps. My fingers still "remembered", even if my feet could no longer gracefully dance up the vertical rock face.

The sun was setting as we were leaving, after we had climbed down the hill to where my car was parked. The setting sun hit the face of the cliff wall, and the rust-colored rock seemed to glow from within, the rock face absorbing the sun's final warming rays. Goodbye Ragged Mountain, goodbye for now. Perhaps I will be back again, for I know the mountain will be here for many years to come.

Friday, January 22, 2010

It Has Failed Us

Our educational system has failed us. Or, rather, it has failed our young people, and since they are the future of our country, you might as well say it has failed all of us.

My brother lives in a town not unlike many across this county. It has a wide diversity in its population, in educational levels, income levels, and skills. It is not a town of the extremely wealthy, but of blue collar workers and business people, nurses and secretaries, intact families and single parents, although it sits right next door to three of the wealthiest communities in the entire country (north, south, and east).

I have been volunteering during my sabbatical at an after-school program for middle school students that draws from four middle schools in town. These young people, like their community, have diverse backgrounds and families. Basically, these are good kids, whose parents care enough about them to send them to an after-school program, rather than letting them be latch-key children, at home watching TV or playing video games. But I am stunned by their abilities, or lack thereof.

These are 6th, 7th and 8th grade students. Like the population the program draws from, their educational abilities vary. I am concerned about several students in the program. One does not know his multiplication tables at the age of twelve. Another has great difficulty reading his social studies text book. I suspect that he reads well below grade level. Some of the homework I have seen appears to be busywork, not what I would expect for middle school students. Many finish their homework in 30 minutes or less. How is this preparing them for the world of high school and beyond?

I must admit, due to confidentiality, I do not know if they have tutors at school or are enrolled in special education classes to help them with these challenges. But, regardless, I am floored that they have been allowed to progress from one grade level to another without the very basic skills of reading and basic math. I have worked with them, sat right next to them while they did their homework. These kids are not dumb; they can understand more complex math problems than multiplication tables when the concepts are explained to them. I don't know what to say about the reading issue; reading cannot be taught overnight.

A friend of mine works in this same school district. She teaches basic reading concepts to kindergarteners. In a classroom test of reading skills and pre-reading concepts at her students' grade level, most of the kindergarten grades in the district scored deplorable levels of 13% to 25%; my friend's kindergarten classroom scored a 78%. The kids in her class are no different from kids in any other schools in the district; she's just a better teacher.

Something in our educational system needs to change, but I'm not sure what. For starters, I'd get rid of tenure and pay our educators better. The rich should not be the only ones with an educational edge. We will never be a fully democratic country until such time that all of our children have equal access to education.

Unfortunately, I don't think a change of this magnitude is going to happen in my lifetime.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Where to Draw the Line, Take Two

I wrote this post yesterday and did not finish writing it and cannot figure out how to move it to if you would like to read it (and I would really like you to read it), scroll down a few posts to see the same subject line with yesterday's date (January 20th).


I have tried. I have tried to get my so-called "friends" to offer suggestions, serious suggestions or crazy suggestions, actually any suggestions, to make it safer to drive one's car out of my dad's driveway, but to no avail. I admit, I only have 25 "friends" on Facebook, including most of my siblings, but still, only one person responded (thank you Angela) with any ideas at all. This method is called brainstorming but perhaps it is a new concept to those who use Facebook. Since my sibs rarely check their emails, never mind their Facebook site, maybe I should not be surprised that no one in my family responded, but even my nieces didn't come through with a single comment and I KNOW they check FB.

To back up a bit - my dad has an extremely steep driveway, dangerous anytime, but especially treacherous if icy. The driveway angles downward so steeply that even the plow guy won't come down the driveway unless my dad has parked his car in the garage. In winter, my dad used to park his car at a narrow but leveled off spot at the top on the roadway, but the spot is at the top of a dangerous rise, in addition to the fact that his car gets plowed in whenever the town snowplow rolls by.

My dad has lived in this house and put up with this driveway for 40 years. When my family moved into the house 40 years ago, the road was actually more curvy and the top of the drive slightly steeper than it is now. But back then, few cars drove past. Then the town widened the road, re-paved it to make it a nice smooth raceway...errr....roadway and put in a shortcut to the center of town at one end of our street. At about the same time, the state added an extension to the major interstate highway that stops at the other end of our street. You might as well have put out a sign that said "Commuters, rev your engines." Moms race to the town center for their weekly grocery runs before junior gets home from elementary school. My dad's once quiet street became a raceway virtually overnight.

This all happened years ago. My dad adapted to the changes. So, why am I complaining about it now? Because, I've had a chance to live here for a few months. You have to open your car window, regardless of sub-zero temperatures, to listen for cars coming from either direction, because you cannot actually see them coming until its too late. On the left, they appear over a rise, and to the right, they come around a bend in the road. So, I open both front seat windows as my car idles at the crest of the driveway while I listen for the sound of approaching vehicles.

My concern is that over the past few years, my dad has grown increasingly deaf. I usually have to repeat myself twice, and sometimes three times, and if his back is turned to me, he does not hear me at all. I am concerned about his ability to hear those cars coming over the rise or around the corner. I am not aware that he has had any close calls with other vehicles as he noses the car out of the driveway, but I worry just the same. Its hard enough for me to get out of the driveway safely and I'm 30 years younger and have better hearing than my dad.

So I asked for ideas regarding the driveway situation on FB, and I got only one. I think about this dangerous situation almost every day because every day I feel like I take my life in my hands as I gun the car over the lip of the drive and onto the road. I have given this some serious thought and have come up with a couple of ideas, crazy or not. One idea is to have one of those convex mirrors nailed to a couple of nearby trees so he can see what is coming over the hill or around the corner. The downfall of this idea is that I fear someone will shoot them with BB guns or that they will crack with the freezing and thawing of the ever changing New England weather. The second idea is to have a "CAR COMING" sign that lights up right across the street from the top of the driveway, the kind they have in parking garages to warn pedestrians on the sidewalk. There is nothing but woods across the street from the top of the driveway, but my dad does not own that property. In addition, while I think this is my best idea yet, I doubt the town fathers would sanction any sign that lights up. My dad lives in a town where "stone walls have foundations", as a well known author recently remarked. Ixnay on that idea. Which brings me back to simpler ideas, like large black arrows on neon yellow signs that warn a driver that a dangerous curve is coming up, or a sign that simply says "Hidden Driveway". Or perhaps neon orange barrels lining the road near the driveway, "borrowed" temporarily from the state. These solutions warn the raceway drivers, but unfortunately they do not warn my dad of oncoming traffic should someone choose to ignore the warning signs.

So, I am putting my request out there for the world (or at least for all 13 official followers of my blog). Do any of my "friends" out there have any other ideas to improve my dad's dangerous driveway situation? I'll take any and all, brilliant or otherwise.

Pay It Forward

I just came back from getting my hair cut. I have very short curly hair and need to get it cut at least every six to eight weeks. If I don't, I end up with Albert Einstein hair. He was a genius, no doubt about that, but he had really bad hair, no doubt about that either.

When I was working in California, I had my hair cut at a stylish salon in Los Gatos, and I paid stylish prices. Actually, I have had the same person cut my hair for 28 years. Dee is a very down to earth person who ended up, after renting a chair in a series of hair salons, in what has become over time a very posh salon. It wasn't this posh when she first started working there, but the business has been bought and sold, and now, after remodeling and adding more chairs and bringing in more "chic" stylists, the salon has become very upscale, catering to the wealthy people who live in and around Los Gatos. Fortunately, Dee has retained her sweet personality and down to earth attitude. She still cuts my hair exactly the way I want it cut and doesn't try to talk me into changing it for the latest style. I have had virtually the same haircut for 30 years, and I'm not about to change it now, or anytime soon.

After I lost my job in this current recession, Dee cut my hair for free. Several years ago, when I was unemployed over several months, Dee reduced her fee for me because I wasn't working. I have known Dee for 28 years, and consider her a more than just my hairdresser (she and her husband and young son came to my 50th birthday party a few years ago), but this gesture was very generous of her.

For Xmas, my siblings and I gave my aunt a gift certificate to get her hair done at her favorite salon in the Connecticut town where she lives. Her favorite salon happens to be in the basement of a neighbor's house, who is a certified cosmetologist and a wonderful person. Tula is from Greece and is a warm hearted woman who loves what she does and the people she makes look beautiful. When my hair started looking really wild, I made an appointment with Tula. We started talking and I told her about my life, my current unemployed situation, etc. I wasn't looking for a handout, I truly wasn't, I was just answering her questions. But this woman would not take any money for cutting my hair. TWICE. She simply told me that I when I came back for my next haircut and had a job, I could pay her then. She didn't want to take any money from someone who didn't have a source of income. I don't really even know this woman, she simply has a kind heart. I am simply floored that this kind of generosity exists in this day and age.

One of my sisters has long since implored me to believe that "the universe will provide". I refused to believe her for a long time, until recently. There are people out there who have wonderful hearts and want to help others in need. I believe that the majority of humankind wants to help those who are in need, as evidenced by the generosity of people in the U.S. opening their wallets to help the earthquate victims in Haiti.

While I am very impressed that we all donate so generously when disaster strikes, what about giving before disaster strikes? What about building roads, and schools, and hospitals in these same poor countries? What about educating the people so that they can have a higher standard of living and live in houses that don't pancake in a 7.0 tremblor? (The same level of devastation probably would not have occurred had this same earthquake happened in the San Franciso Bay Area.) What about providing a level of medical care in our own country to those working poor who can barely afford to put food on the table, never mind paying for medical care? Why are we less generous when it comes to prevention? Maybe its time we all thought about paying it forward....on a global scale.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Hearing Aid

I don't get it.

In this country, there is insurance available for the general population, at least for those of us in good health or who are lucky enough to have insurance offered through their employers, for medical, dental and vision care, but no insurance covers hearing loss unless it is the result of an accident or illness. Granted, most young people do not suffer from hearing loss. It is a degenerative"disease" of the older adults among us. Actually, according to Medicare, gradual hearing loss not a disease at all, but part of the aging process. But so is arthritis; should we not treat people for osteoarthritis because it is "part of the aging process"? What about gum disease; maybe that shouldn't be covered either, because it is also part of the aging process. Or reading glasses for those under 65? What about podiatry visits for ingrown toenails, which largely affects the elderly? Ingrown toenails are not a disease either. Let's be fair; I say "out" with these ailments that are considered "part of the aging process"! Eliminate them from our insurance policies! Covered no longer! (Why the insurance companies don't hire me as their PR agent, I have no idea.)

Wait until the majority of the baby boomer generation, my generation, hits 70 or 75. Old enough to suffer significant hearing loss, still young enough to do something about it. I am 56. Lets see if any changes occur in our health insurance system in another 10-15 years. We should be clamoring for change now, as our parents shrivel before our eyes, many no longer mobile enough play golf, or even drive down the street to the grocery store. Every year for the past five years, when I return from the West coast to visit my family, my dad has shrunk a little bit more. He is still very active; he volunteers for several different organizations, is active in his church, and is the oldest active golfer in his club, still playing in tournaments at 84. He's one of the lucky ones. Many of his friends are seriously crippled or have a major illness, if they are not already dead. But, my dad's hearing is failing in a significant way. I have to repeat myself two, and sometimes three times, before he understands what I am saying. If his back is turned to me, he doesn't hear me at all.

My dad has no major illness, has never had any major illness, and he is now 84. Shouldn't he somehow rack up "points" for his good health and be allowed a subsidy for the very expensive hearing aid he needs? Can't we compromise on this issue? Anyone with a hearing loss greater than 50% (or 40% or 60%; this is negotiable) in one or both ears should be covered for a hearing aid once every three years up to a maximum of $XXXX . Hearing aids should be covered like glasses are covered for young people. Medicare should cover eyeglasses, and dental care, and hearing aids, none of which are currently covered. But wait, I forget, this is the government we are talking about. Getting Medicare to cover prescription drugs took YEARS.

Most of us do not need to use our insurance on a regular basis. Health insurance was originally designed to be used in case catastrophe strikes in the form of major illness or accident. Yet, when our elders need it most for eye care, dental care, and hearing care, they do not have it. We spend millions on premature babies, many of whom don't make it, and we ignore the needs our our older population, who have built our communities with their blood, sweat and tears.

I don't get it.

Where to Draw the Line

It has often been said that "Honesty Is the Best Policy". I could be talking about the fiscal policy of the United States government, the ethical code of conduct which all CPAs are bound to uphold, or any organization's general policies. But, I'm not. I am talking about the underlying policy of all policies, honesty. Honesty should form the backbone of any well thought out policy. The question that has come to my mind is this: when it comes to individuals' daily actions with each other on a personal basis, is honesty always the best policy?

I had lunch with my friend Debbie the other day. She told me that she learned as a young child not to trust adults when she found out that Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny were myths, fabrications, or, in her young mind, lies. Adults had lied to her, and because of this, she didn't believe anything adults told her for years.

My 15 year old niece is a vegetarian, a very picky eater, and lactose intolerant to boot. Needless to say, she is very thin, which concerns my sister. She won't "eat anything with eyes" as she puts it. To get her to consume more protein, several years ago my sister told her daughter that shrimp don't have eyes, which for quite a while, my niece believed. She loves shrimp, and ate it for several years, but was really mad at her mother when she recently found out that shrimp do in fact have eyes. When does the greater good trump a little white lie, especially when it benefits our children?

I am currently a volunteer at an after-school program for middle school students that runs from 3:30 to 5:30 pm. The kids are supposed to do homework for an hour, and then they have "enrichment" activities for an hour, not necessarily in that order. In one of the activities, they read an advice column in which a young woman wrote that when they were first dating, she had lied to the man who eventually became her husband. At the time the young woman wrote the letter, the husband and wife had been married for several years. The question to the advice columnist was: Should she confess to her husband that she lied to him before they were married, or just keep her mouth shut? Of course, the subject of the lie can be a very important factor in forming an opinion. Let's just say for the sake of brevity that the lie was about another person, however, no one was hurt by the lie she told.

The young people had many different responses to the question, and brought up interesting issues for discussion, including this one: If you were the husband, what would you do if you found out that your wife had lied to you and had not come clean before you were married? Would it matter what your wife had lied about, or would the simple fact that she lied to you and had not told you before you were married destroy your trust in her and ruin your marriage?

I am curious to know my readers' opinions....and to see if anyone in fact actually reads what I write in cyberspace.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010


I am getting together with one of my oldest and closest friends on Friday. We met in college (eons ago), at the Outing Club, and soon became rock climbing partners, not to mention very good friends. We climbed together, in central Connecticut where we went to school, and in New Hampshire, West Virginia, Colorado and California. We had great adventures to tell at the time, and are lucky to have survive unscathed considering the risks we sometimes took. We don't talk often, but when we do connect, its like we just spoke yesterday. There is an easiness in our friendship, and laughter riddles our conversations.

Greg's father was an art professor at the college, his mother an elementary school teacher. His parents lived near the college and I got to know them well, as Greg and I occasionally had dinner at his parents' house and, even though Greg no longer lived there, sometimes I even stayed there overnight on our way to or from climbing gigs.

I was a rock climbing female back when there were few females in the sport. Other climbers would stare at me as I walked by in my climbing regalia. (That would be an old shirt, old pants, and climbing boots and harness.) Today its a different scene; there are probably as many female climbers as male climbers. I am glad to have been in the forefront of that movement.

Rock climbing actually favors the female of our species in many ways. We might not be as tall as our male counterparts to grab that hold which is just out of reach, but we have better balance than men do and often greater flexibility, and climbing is all about balance and flexibility. Sometimes it requires muscle, but more often it requires agility and grace. It is a gymnastic sport. It requires that you think ahead about your next move, or next several moves, as you are completing the current one, so it is also an intellectual puzzle that requires your full concentration.

Greg and I are no longer as young and agile as we used to be. I stopped climbing many years ago. I could still probably grind my way to the top of a very easy beginner's climb today, with "buckets" for handholds, but I find lately that even my modest climbing ability is slipping away. My fingers are now swollen on a fairly regular basis and my once flexible body is often stiff. Greg has had his own physical health problems. Neither one of us are exactly ready for the wheelchair, but we're not running 10K marathons either.

This Friday, we are going to meet at our former college, now a university, and see if we can find our way back to the local cliffs we used to climb. I'm sure the ancient rocks have not been moved; I'm not sure if we can remember how to get to them or if they are still open to the public. It will be a trip back in time, nostalgic to be sure. I wonder if there will be young people there, climbing the rust colored vertical basalt rock, with their youthful grace, and the newest technology -- stronger, lighter synthetic ropes; stickier climbing boots; lighter, stronger protection gear to jam into the cracks. Will they look at us like we are relics of the past? Will they even bother to look at us "old-timers" at all? We shall see what adventures Greg and I have on Friday; at the very least it will probably give us something to laugh about for many years to come.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Don't Let Those Photos Out of My Sight

Photographs are unique. They capture our best moments in perpetuity, if we save them. We have gone from tin-type, to film, to digital. Our photographs fill cardboard boxes and photo albums, external hard drives and hosted websites. Photographs taken these days are usually digital, although a few diehard film enthusiasts still walk among us. Digital allows even the least naturally talented photographer (that would be me) to take a few decent photographs at little cost.

Photographs are memories captured. They are intensely personal. They mark the special events in our lives -- newborns, graduations, anniversaries and weddings. They are the first item people think of grabbing, after the family pet, when there is a house fire. They are irreplaceable if lost or destroyed. They are precious as gems and more treasured than gold.

We wear them in lockets close to our hearts, keep them in our wallets or on our desks at work, hang them in our bedroom hallways, display them in our high school yearbooks. Family photos adorn holiday greeting cards; professionally taken photos of our children earn treasured spots on the mantle. They are reminders of our historical past, capturing the Dust Bowl days, the Great Depression, the San Francisco Earthquake of 1906, the tragedy at Kent State, unbridled youthfulness at Woodstock, the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the Apollo landing on the moon, the Kennedy assisination, a naked young girl running away from a napalm attack in Vietnam. They capture both our triumphs and our tragedies, national and personal. While videos now record major events, it is specific photos I remember long after the event has passed.

What will I remember from today? The faces of despair of the unemployed, or the miraculous landing of an airplane on the Hudson River? The images of a jet plane plowing into the World Trade Center, or the birth of a newborn child? The destruction of the 2010 Haiti earthquake, or the promise of building schools in Afganistan and Pakistan from "Three Books of Tea"? I will probably remember it all, the still images seared into my memory banks.

When my realtor in California wanted to borrow my precious framed photos of my son for a special project, at first I said no, and hugged them to my chest and literally would not, could not, let them out of my sight. I had lost my job and my house, and could not bear to part with my few precious photos of my long dead child, even for a short trip to her office to copy them. She finally talked me into it (ie, pried them from my clawed fngers) and promised to return them, intact, the next day. She kept her promise. A few weeks later I received a most wonderful gift from her, a gorgeous quilt, with cloth photos of my son sewn into it. But I almost could not give up those precious photos for a few hours, they were so dear to my heart, the only vestiges of my son that I have left.

Why are we so irrational when it comes to photos? I don't know the answer. It is an emotional response, not a rational one, which we have to these tangible images of ourselves.

My aunt is the keeper of the family photos on my dad's side of the family, photos of my dad's relatives, most long since dead. All of these family photographs, some handed down from her own mother and father, others taken by my aunt herself, are in her possession. I'd like to be able to go through them and pick out a few to take to Kinkos' and make copies. But for some unknown reason, she is reluctant to let them out of her sight. I should understand this phenomonen by now, but I don't. I am thinking rationally about borrowing a few photos, driving a few blocks down the street to Kinkos, making some copies, and taking the the photos back to my aunt, in probably under an hour. She is reacting emotionally. I have been on the other side of this debate; I should understand her reaction. But right now, I don't.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Photo Album

Last Thursday was my brother's birthday. My dad and I went to his house for a lasagne dinner on Saturday night. On the wall in the dining room was a relic from his 50th birthday party a few years ago; five photos of my brother scotch taped to a large piece of poster board. These were photocopies of the originals. My sister-in-law asked if I could find the original photos, which reside at my dad's house, and make real photo-quality copies of these five photos. Since I am staying at my dad's house, and have already done a lot of photo organizing and copying, I agreed. So today, while watching a lopsided football playoff game (Cowboys vs. Vikings), I searched through six photo albums for the photos of my brother, who is three years younger than I am.

I am the oldest of six children, five from my dad's first marriage and one from his second. There are tons of baby pictures of me, but fewer of my siblings as you go down the list from oldest to youngest. Digital cameras did not exist back in the 50s and 60s; buying film and having it developed was expensive. By the time you get to the fourth and fifth children in the family, there are not many baby pictures of the younger siblings. There are no baby pictures at all of my youngest brother, the fifth child in the family, only group photos starting when he was approximately two years old. It might have been that my parents did not have a working camera for several years during his babyhood, as they tried to keep their large brood clothed and fed. (My step-mother tried to rectify this by labeling a baby photo of me as my youngest brother, but it didn't work; we all knew the truth. The background on the photo of me was of the wallpaper in the apartment my parents lived in when I was an infant, not the small Cape Cod house that my brother was born into.)

One of the albums starts with me, goes through all five kids, baby photos, holidays, birthdays, vacations. Towards the end of the album, there are photos of our family trip to Rhode Island, the last week in June when I was twelve - the cottage, the sandy beach, the waves of the Atlantic ocean, a ferry boat excursion. The next set of photos startled me, not by what is in them, but by what is not in them. It is a set of photos taken at the following Christmas, opening gifts in front of a twinkling Christmas tree. My mother is not in any of them. She had died the previous August.

I have seen this album many times before, but for some reason, it was never as stark a reality as when I flipped through the pages today, looking for photos of my brother. On one page are photos of the whole family having a good time at the beach in Rhode Island. On the next page, she is gone, just like that, removed from the pages of our lives.

When my mother was in the hospital that summer, we kids were farmed out to friends and family. My year-younger sister and I stayed with good friends who had kids our age and we had a blast staying with them. The thinking back in those days was to distract the kids from the reality of what was happening. A week or two into our stay with our friends, I remember my dad telling me that I needed to pray very hard for my mother because she was very sick and might die. And when she finally did die several weeks later, I felt very guilty for having too much fun with my friends and not praying hard enough for her.

Today I also perused my parents wedding album, because my sister-in-law wanted a photo or two of my parents' wedding, tangible evidence of my brother's heritage that he can pass down to his own two kids. My mom and dad look very young and very, very happy in their wedding photos, especially the ones that are not totally posed by the photographer. There is one photo in which my dad is carrying his new bride across the threshhold still dressed in her wedding gown, and my mother is just beaming, so happy at the start of a new chapter in her life with this man who had just become her husband. She died quite young, a few years shy of 40, but she had five beautiful children. I can only hope that her relatively short time with my dad and with her children was a happy one.

Mother Loss

Sometimes when I sit down at the laptop to write in my blog, I have an idea in mind that I thought of earlier in the day. That is, if I had the forebearance to write the idea down on a piece of paper at the time it popped into my head. Other times, I just sit at my laptop desk, and an idea will present itself as I stare at the screen before me. I usually have no idea how my writing will turn out; I just start typing. I can tell you that the idea for today's post was inspired by a recent post on another blogsite, but right this second, I have no idea what this post will look like once my fingers leave the keys after the final edit.

My mother died when I was barely 13, the oldest of five children, and my son died when he was a few months shy of his 18th birthday. When my son died, I was a single parent but on very good terms with my ex-husband. My ex was actually with me at my home the October evening when we got the news. I remember shortly after Sean died and my family was still in California with me for the memorial service, and someone made a comment about god having a reason for taking Sean at such a young age. And I remember storming angrily into my bedroom and saying to my sister, "What kind of god takes a mother from her 13 year old daughter and a 17 year old boy from his mother? What kind of god is that?" I could not comprehend any god that I learned about in catechism class doing such a thing. God is supposed to be all-knowing, all-loving, and all-fair. How do you reconcile this dicotomy? (If you want to know one response to this question, read Rabbi Harold Kushner's time honored book on the subject, "When Bad Things Happen to Good People".)

Its been over nine years since Sean was taken from me, from his dad, from his family and friends, from his future. He had no chance to leave a legacy in this world, to leave his stamp on history that a certain man-child named Sean lived and breathed on this planet Earth. This is not in any way fair.

The summer my mom was ill (she had breast cancer in the 1960s), they kept her in the hospital until the very end. Hospice services did not yet exist, at least not in this country. Her children were not allowed to visit her; they did not let children into the hospital to visit unless they were at least 16 years old. She went into the hospital the very end of June; I never saw her again; she died on August 8th.

The week before my mother went into the hospital, before what I think both my parents knew would be the last time she spent with her children, my parents took us on an overnight vacation, the first and last overnight vacation I ever spent with my parents. We went to Rhode Island, and stayed for a week in a beach house owned by my mother's cousin. I remember that we all had a great time at the beach. We kids were not told that my mom had cancer at that point. I very clearly remember acting out; I could not understand why my dad let my mother get drunk at night (she wasn't really drunk, but woozy from whatever pain relieveing medication my dad was allowed to give her, but I didn't know this at the time). So I was banished from the house one evening and had to stay in the front yard until I calmed down.

I am 56 now. My mother died when she was only 37 and I was barely 13. (I turned 13 while she was in the hospital that summer of 1967.) My mother died 43 years ago, more years than she walked this earth. My son died over nine years ago. Sometimes it feels like it was a long time ago; sometimes it feels like yesterday. These losses have given me some experience with grieving, experience I would gladly give up.

I have learned from reading books and from sharing with others who have gone through similar losses, that there are some commonalities among the grief-stricken. However, everyone grieves in different ways and on different timetables. What I can say is this: the loss of a very close loved one never fully goes away, but the pain does lessen over time. How much time I cannot say, as the timing is different for everyone. Anniversaries and holidays and special events or places bring the memories and the sadness all roaring back, but with less ferocity over time. And that is the best comfort I can give anyone suffering from such a loss.

How to end such a downer of a piece? My "best comfort" does not sound comforting at all when I re-read what I have just written.

There is a song on a CD that I have whose last verse I love to listen to. It says "Be happy, and if you can't do that, make sure good friends are near". That's the best advice I can give anyone. That, and spending time with young children; they will raise your spirits and lift your sinking heart and put a smile on your face. They are innocence and sunlight, they are the future and the hope of the world. So my friends, be happy....and if you can't do that, make sure good friends are near.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

I Don't Dust

When my son was in high school, technical theatre was his passion. He loved using power tools, getting covered in sawdust, designing sets, being the orchestrator in the lighting booth, just being part of the backstage crew. But there was one stagecraft task he didn't like, and that was painting sets, which is kind of a necessity in theatre. When Sean started in theatre, he was a freshman, and he had this black jacket he wore to school almost every day. This was the San Francisco Bay Area and it doesn't get too cold in the wintertime. Since the auditorium was usually chilly, he wore this thin jacket just about all the time backstage. As a lowly freshman, Sean didn't have much choice about whether or not to paint. His black jacket eventually sported swatches of many different colors, depending on the color of the set they were painting.

By the time Sean was a junior, or maybe even towards the end of his sophomore year, Sean had acquired a new jacket, and a new attitude. His new jacket was a shiny army green airforce jacket with a bright orange lining that he had purchased at the army surplus store. And his new attitude was simply: "I don't paint".

One day I asked him, "Sean, what are you going to do when you get a job in a grocery store (which he eventually did) and they hand you a broom? Are you going to tell them you don't sweep?" I got no comment back on that one, just a shrug of the shoulders. Teenagers think they are going to start at the top when they get out of college.

In any case, fast forward to my own situation in the present. I am staying at my dad's large, rambling four bedroom house in Connecticut. My dad is 84 years old, and my stay-at-home step-mom died eight years ago. My dad pays a guy to cut his lawn and rake his leaves, and another guy to plow his driveway when it snows. My dad buys his own groceries, cooks his own meals, washes his own dishes, and does his own laundry. Overall, he is pretty well set, except for cleaning the house. Apparantly, my dad "doesn't clean". What usually happens on the household cleaning front is this: when a major holiday rolls around, one of his daughters cleans the kitchen and the bathrooms. So, at least once a year, critical spaces do get cleaned. However, vacuuming and dusting are low items on the totem pole. This year, just before Thanksgiving, I solicited the help (or rather strong-armed) a few of the teenage grandchildren to dust grandpa's house, and I actually handed the vacuum to my dad to run over the living room carpet. I solicited help because I am allergic to "dust". Dust is not just tiny harmless inert particles that float around in sunbeams; housebound dust is made up of some pretty disgusting things (I'll let my readers check this out for themselves on Google), to which I am allergic.

When I was living with housemates in California, I always had a cleaning service, the cost of which I took out of the rent money. My main rationale for hiring someone to clean the house was simple; it eliminated a major source of household friction. I also had an ulterior motive; I am just not good at cleaning. I will admit that I learned from my step-mom how to do a spotless job of cleaning a house; I can clean very well, that is not the problem. The problem is that during the cleaning process, I inevitably get some irritating and sometimes dangerous cleaning product fluid in my eyes. I don't know how this happens, but it has happened so often that when I do use cleaning products, I wear glasses, a pair of big glasses from the 1980s, or sometimes the big plastic kind you can buy in Home Depot that guys use when working on some dangerous task where small objects are likely to become aimless projectiles. I can paint pretty well too; but at the end of the day, there is as much paint on me as on the walls. I am convinced that Sean must have gotten his propensity to attract paint on his jacket from his mother.

So now I am staying at my dad's house, which has been marginally vacuumed and dusted over a month ago. My throat and lungs are not happy campers, and I dare not vacuum or dust myself, because that only kicks up more dust into the household atmosphere. After several nights of two hour coughing fits, my dad hit upon a brilliant idea. If you have an allergy, how about taking some Benadryl? Brilliant idea. Why didn't my doctors ever think of this? (They only doused me with codeine laden cough syrup.) And, the Benadryl worked! I finally got a good night's sleep, and am a happy camper.

The remaining question is: what to do, or not to do, about the dust in the house? (I am sure some of my readers will suggest the obvious solution -- hiring a cleaning service to clean the house if my dad won't do it himself. My sisters have tried this before, several times, and I'm not really sure why it didn't work out, but it didn't. My sense is that my dad is OK with hired help working outside of the house, but not too keen on having hired help inside the house.)

I finally couldn't stand the dust on the hardwood floor behind the door in the bedroom where my laptop resides, so earlier today I grabbed a dustcloth, a can of Endust, and put a mask over my nose and mouth, and went to work on this one small patch of flooring. The bedroom where I sleep is a different story, as it is carpeted from wall to wall. Perhaps I should ask my dad to vacuum the hallway and bedroom carpeting when I am out of the house; he is fully capable of doing this. You know what? This is a good idea. I'll have to let you know if it works out.

Everyone Needs a Wife

After being on sabbatical for a while, everyone asks me what I do with all of my "free time". Well, I've become almost as busy during the day as I was when I was working. Give me a few more weeks, and I'll be busier than I was when I was working full-time. I don't think I will feel at all bored once I hit 70 (or maybe 75 or 80) and "retire" from an official job.

Here is a brief idea of how I spend my day: I have two volunteer jobs, one at the local YMCA two mornings a week from 9am to 1pm; the second, tutoring middle school students in an after-school program 3:30 to 5:30 pm, Monday through Thurdays. I took my niece to high school one day after she missed the bus and both of her parents had already left for work. Yesterday, I picked my sister-in-law up from work and took her over to her mechanic's shop to pick up her car. I grocery shop and cook dinner for my dad, and wash the dishes afterwards. I run errands to the post office, the bank, the pharmacy. I convinced my dad to get his kitchen sink drain fixed, and the basement stairs leveled. I make phone calls, pay bills and followup on my health insurance claims. I make homemade Xmas cards and cookies. I shovel the snow at dawn from the driveway before the town plow rolls by. I am currently taking up the hem on a pair of my dad's slacks and I plan to re-paint the the hallway to the bedrooms in my dad's house during the next two weeks. I am one very busy lady. And, I have time to write on this site for an hour or two per day, time permitting. (This is the one luxury I allow myself). The thing is, I LIKE it. I never thought I'd say this, but I honestly like being a "wife". (But have my limitations; I do not do windows, or other such tasks, and this just might hurt my chances of being a real "wife".)

I went down to the local library yesterday to ask if they will set up my donation box for the victims of Haiti and, on my way to speak to the library director, I passed a marvelous photo display hanging on the wall of the front hall of the library. The display was a pictoral and written account created by several high school seniors who went over to the local assisted living faciltiy and spoke with the residents about their lives. These elders had quite a few stories to tell, being living legends now in their 80s or 90s (one lady was 102), who immigrated from other countries, and lived through several wars, depressions, and horrific acts of terrorism. They clearly had amazing adventures in their lives. But, here's the thing -- I had time in the middle of a weekday to look at all of the photos and read most of the stories the students had written. This was nice; this was how life should be.

Yes, I like the perks being a wife affords me. I usually have the time to write one post in the morning after breakfast and one it the evening after dinner. On Monday, I plan to start swimming with the free YMCA membership my volunteer status affords me. I need to fit a walking routine into my schedule. (This task always gets put on the back burner for some reason). Its a nice life, if you can afford it. I myself cannot afford to be on this sabbatical indefinitely. I will have to go back to school full-time once I return to California so that eventually I can land a decent paying job. But my sister-in-law remarked, as she hopped out of the car, that she is sure going to miss me (and the little things I have been able to do for her) once I go back to California. I think every one should have a "wife", to do all of those little things that those who work full-time never have enough time to do. I certainly could have used a wife when I was working 14 hour hour days as a accountant for a publicly traded company the last 15 years of my life.

As I was leaving the library the other day, it struck me that we should all have "wives" and sabbaticals (and robots that vaccum the floors). That would make life more enjoyable for all of us, a better way towards "full employment". Do you think anyone would want to hire me as a "wife"? And therein lies the rub; no one is used to paying a decent salary for having one.

Friday, January 15, 2010

New Role

I have taken on a new role during my forced sabbatical; two mornings a week, I am a volunteeer at the local YMCA in the town where my dad lives. My role is very simple: to meet and greet the Y members, and make sure they "sign in".

I belonged to this same YMCA, 35 years ago. To look at it today, you wouldn't think it was the same place I knew back then. It has grown by leaps and bounds, from one pool to two, from one gym to several, and they have added programs by the dozens. In addition to the wonderful amenities and programs, it really has a community feel; they try very hard to make sure everyone feels welcome, if not personally known by the front desk staff.

However, its a different era we live in now from that of 35 years ago, a different era in which we raise today's children. Now, YMCA members "badge in", waving their plastic bar coded membership cards under the light of a scanner, as a software program brings up their photo, membership statistics, and other pertinent information. The YMCA uses this information for several purposes, in order of importance: 1) to keep the place safe for the numerous children who take part in lessons every day; 2) to get an idea of how many members are using the facilities at which times during the day; 3) to make sure that each user of the facility user has a current membership. It was obvious to me during my first day on the job that safety is their number one priority. This is so different from my days as a Y member at this same facility 35 years ago; I don't think we showed our membership card at the door or even signed in with pen and paper. Back then, everything was done on the honor system. Today, we trust no one without ID. (I couldn't volunteer without three references and two pieces of identification; the background check alone took two weeks.)

So, with all of our technological advances, are we better off in today's world, where we are carded and scanned at every opportunity, or in the world of the past, when people knew and trusted each other? I don't really have an answer for this question. Today's technology provides a level of security that we didn't dream existed 35 years ago; on the other hand, some people still manage to get through those additional layers of techno-security and to threaten or harm the rest of us. I guess you can never provide a totally "safe" environment, no matter how hard you try. And maybe that's not a totally bad thing. Maybe sometimes we need to be able to trust our fellow human beings, and not leave it all up to machines.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Human Being vs. Being Human

When my son was killed in an accident at age 17, I was in shock for many months. At the time of Sean's death, I had a housemate, and it took five months before I literally stopped "jumping" every time I heard her open the front door, thinking it might be Sean. The intellect might be aware of the awful truth, but it takes a while for the heart to catch up.

After Sean died, for many months, maybe even for a few years, I could not bear to read stories in the newspapers about children who had been hurt, or neglected, or maimed, or kidnapped, or were sick with a terminal disease, or who had died in an accident. It was just too painful. Sean used to say that I was a wuss because I cried at Hallmark commercials, and he was telling the truth. I have always been a sucker for a sad story, but reading about sad stories was much more difficult for me after my own painful loss. Even so, sometimes I my eye caught a story of woe in the newspaper anyway, and I could not turn my eyes away. I especially remember a newspaper story about an eleven year old boy in Oakland who had his face mauled and ears ripped off by a neighborhood pit bull. I tear up thinking about it even to this day; no child should have to go through that. No child should have to suffer through cancer, or have a parent die before the child grows up. Children should not suffer or die, period. However, life is often cruel, and definitely not always fair.

One day, several years after Sean died, I read an article in Parade magazine, that thin throwaway that comes with the Sunday papers. There was an article in that magazine that made me rethink my loss. It was about a couple who had two children, an older girl child and a younger boy child. The girl went away to college, suddenly contracted meningitis, and died before her parents could get to her to say goodbye. Needless to say, the parents were wary about sending the younger son away to college, but they finally let him go. The boy told his parents that he needed to grow up and he would be fine going away to college. Like many college students, he spent his junior year abroad, someplace in the British Isles. He was on his way home for his college break when, boom, the plane he was on exploded over Lockerbie, Scotland. Wow.

I lost a son, my only child. This couple lost two children, within a few years time. I asked myself, how is it possible to go through such devestating loss yet a second time? Even though I had lost a child myself, I found it almost impossible to put myself in their shoes. But their story does not end here.

Even though they had raised a family once, and were no longer young, that couple decided to adopt. And as they flipped through adoption photos, the adoption agency brought them a special photo to look at -- a family of four children, from another country, whose parents had died and left them orphans. They took one look at that photo and could not say no to those kids. That couple raised those four children as their own.

In addition to this, when the youngest of the adopted children was in high school, the mother decided to go back to school, for a law degree. She graduated from law school at the same time her youngest son graduated from high school. The four children flourished and grew into fine adults. The mother not only went on to practice law, but eventually became a judge.

I cut out this article from the magazine and kept it for years. I would look at it from time to time and re-read the story that I already knew by heart. I have since misplaced the physical paper story, but whenever I am feeling down, or feeling sorry for myself for some reason, I think of this story. It helps me to know that others have suffered far worse than I have, and have not only survived, but prospered in the things that truly matter in life.

Today, we have horrific images of death in the streets of Haiti and the devastating earthquake destruction of the city of Port-Au-Prince, which are almost immediately available, either on our nightly eleven o'clock television news programs, or instantaneously on our computer monitor screens. I cannot imagine what the people of Haiti are going through, but I can empathize with them. Even though I don't currently have a job, and no longer own my own house, I have the good fortune to have a roof over my head, and a family that cares about me. I can certainly send a few dollars to the desparately poor, injured and displaced citizens of Haiti. My heart goes out to them.

Today, in the after school program for which I currently volunteer four afternoons a week, the middle school students decorated cardboard collection boxes for the people of Haiti, to be put at the students' local churches, libraries, or neighborhood grocery stores. This after-school program is subsidized and many of these students don't have much themselves, but they instantly understood the plight of the people of Haiti, and they wanted to help. As was evidenced by the plaintive words they wrote on their individual collection boxes, it was clear to me that every one of these students wanted to be able help the people who were suffering in Haiti; the students clearly had empathy for the Haitians. Empathy is the one quality that sets in motion our desire to help others; empathy makes us humanoid beings truly "human". And while I wouldn't wish this disaster on my worst enemy, it is reassuring to find out firsthand that our younger generation is concerned about something other than watching movies and playing video games.

Life On Crutches, Part Three, continued

As I said at the end of my previous post on this series, we were staying with a friend (and her two brothers) in a large house in Atherton, owned by her parents, while her parents were away in Europe. We had been staying there perhaps a week when Labor Day rolled around, as it does every year, in the beginning of September.

Jim and I were avid folk dancers; this is in fact the way we met. Our friend, the same friend who was letting us build an illegal cabin on his property, had folk dance parties each Memorial Day and Labor Day on the large deck he had built (with a little help from his friends) by the creek that ran through the property. His folk dancing friends camped out on the property overnight, but in our case, we had a roof over our head up at our cabin-in-process, even if it was not quite finished. These parties were events we didn't like to miss, even on crutches. By this time, eight months after busting my leg, I was able to use only one crutch and bend my left knee to a reasonable degree, which made it possible for me to drive. So, Jim and I went up to our friend's annual Labor Day folk dance fest, in separate cars, so I could drive home at the end of the day and "plug in".

When I returned to the boxy pink Atherton house, I stopped the car in the gravel driveway, grabbed my baby backpack, got Sean out from his car seat and into the backpack, and put the backpack on my back. Then I grabbed my daypack from the car and walked up to the house, baby on back, one crutch under my arm, daypack in my other hand, to unlock the door and let myself into the house. When I went to the front door, I saw something a little odd. The front door was floor to ceiling glass, in the style of wood-paned French doors, and a few feet inside the door, in the middle of the hard wood floored entryway, a dining room chair was sitting, all by itself. Quite odd. I really didn't know what to make of it, but two teenage boys were staying in the house with us; I thought perhaps it was some kind of joke.

I opened the door, let myself in, put down my daypack, and went back to the car for a few more things. I grabbed another item from the car in my left hand, crutch clutched by my right, Sean still on my back and had just turned to go inside the house when I heard a loud voice booming from behind me, "Freeze!!!" I stopped dead in my tracks. When they finally allowed me to turn around, I saw three police officers, their arms raised in the air, legs firmly planted on the ground in that wide legged stance they must teach you in officer training school, each with a pistol aimed directly at me, the supposed burglar. It must have been comical sight to see, had anyone been watching. A young woman, on crutches, with a baby on her back, taking some very valuable camping clothes, leftover food and baby paraphanelia from my car INTO the house, with not one, but THREE police officers pointing their guns at me. Yes, it must have been a story the officers were planning to tell their grandchildren, about that dangerous Labor Day robbery in Atherton.

After a few questions, and a more rational look at the scene unfolding before them, the officers not only let me into the house, but helped me carry the rest of my belongings inside. I found out later, when Eleanor and her brothers came back from their own separate Labor Day adventures, that the chair in the entryway was the family's secret signal to each other that the alarm system had been turned on. The problem was, no one had clued me in.

I think that ends the story of my life on crutches, at least the more exciting parts of it. We continued our stay in Atherton without further event, my leg eventually healed, and Jim and I and Sean moved out of town, up into the hills, into our small but cozy cabin, with a view overlooking the valley and the creek running through it, a wonderful place to live and a magical place to raise a child.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Power Point

I started doing some volunteer work this past Monday, tutoring local middle school students who are in an after-school program at the local community college. These are average American kids, from a medium-sized city school system, who have various academic abilities and come from a range of ethnic backgrounds.. Its a great program, and I've been enjoying my first three days working with this very energetic bunch of kids. The agency that runs the two hour per day after school program of 36 kids, has it divided into two sections each day: one hour for homework and one hour of "enrichment activities". So far, I have sat in on two of the enrichment activities, and I am impressed.

I am impressed by several things: the quality of the program, the responses of the kids to ethical questions posed to them during one particular enrichment activity, and the students' ability to get around the internet and use computer software. They put me to shame. After we settled into seats in the computer center, the enrichment teacher had them look up "Haiti" on the internet, to see what they could find out about this country and the prior day's earthquake. Whiz, bang, done, faster than a speeding bullet, they found all kinds of websites, photos, and videos. Then the teacher asked for suggestions as to how they might help the victims. With its seaport and aiport in shambles, this island nation is virutally cut off from all but essential aid. According to the Red Cross and other aid relief agencies, donating money is the only thing Americans can really do for Haiti right now. So the students are going to create some "donation cans" and see how much money they can collect in a week's time. I will have to report back with the donation results next week.

The second thing these students blew me away with was their computer savvy. Several students needed to us the internet to finish their homework - reports are expected to be typed and printed, with research done for these reports on the internet, in middle school. After our Haiti search project had been completed, the students went back to working on their long term enrichment project, called "Where in the World". They each had chosen a country and had to research it online and then create a Power Point presentation pitching their country as if you would a product, a tourism product. Believe me, they could teach me a thing or two. Just who was the tutor in this class anyway? After class, I asked one female student, exactly when did kids learn Power Point these days? She replied that she had learned it a year ago, in sixth grade, in her computer class. A year ago, at the age of twelve. I didn't learn it until....well, perhaps we shouldn't even go there.

After an hour at the computers, it was back to the regular homework session. I worked with one student who asked for math help. After the computer session, I was wary; what would he be working on, advanced calculus? But no, he was working on simple fractions - at least that was something I could help with.

Life On Crutches, Part Three

My life on crutches lasted ten months, starting in December 1982, eight of those with a baby in tow. My body is not good at healing and never has been. One time, pre-baby, I stepped on some glass shards, a relatively common occurrence of everyday life. But I couldn't get the shards out of my foot by myself. Being clear glass, they were virtually invisible to the naked eye. The young and inexperienced doctor on-call made a "stabbing" attempt (literally) to remove the shards without the assistance of a magnifying device of any significance. Thinking he had removed all of them, I went on my merry way, only to have two small pieces work themselves out several months later as Jim and I were hiking in Hawaii. Although painful to be sure, and not the ideal place I would chose for do-it-youself surgery, the imbedded glass was clean and inert, until I put extra pressure on the balls of my foot by hiking every day. So when the two ends of my broken femur refused to weave themselves back into a more useful whole, it didn't surprise me all that much. What was hard to take was that we would have to move back into town instead of into our almost completed cabin, and for a three month stay at that. Three months in the "Cinderella Motel"on El Camino, with a eight month old baby, was not exactly the experience I had envisioned. So we let word be known, via good old fashioned face-to-face conversations with friends and colleagues, that we were again looking for a housesitting gig or two and hoped something decent would soon materialize. The stars must have been aligned in our favor, because a short time later, an opportunity dropped into our laps.

I had gone back to work, part-time, in June of that year, leaving baby Sean with a Korean babysitter (the wife of a graduate student) on Stanford campus. During the month I "camped out" with my husband and baby by the creek, it turns out (when memory cells re-awaken and fill in the holes in my swiss cheese brain with the unconflicted truth) I was also working, part-time, which makes sense because Jim had a part-time job during this period as well. So I was isolated out in the woods only half of the time. Less Pioneer Woman than I had long remembered. No matter. It was still a pretty challenging time in my life.

One of the women that I worked with, at a not-for-profit health center that no longer exists, was an altruistic young woman named Eleanor, whose father had worked for President Kennedy, if my sometimes faulty memory serves me correctly. Eleanor was in her early twenties and just out of college. Being young and idealistic, (why else would you work for a not-for-profit health center after just graduating from a rigorous program at a presigious university?) Eleanor decided that she wanted to help me and my family. And, it just so happened that Eleanor's parents were going to Europe for a month and leaving a lot of vacant space in their large Atherton home. They had six kids; they were taking the youngest three with them and leaving the older three at home. Eleanor convinced them to take on this temporarily crippled young woman, her chubby, crawling baby boy and her lanky, bearded, intellectual-type husband with a whacky sense of humor who worked part-time in the library at Stanford University. Amazingly, they agreed.

We spent the tail end of August and most of September in this large Atherton house with Eleanor and her two younger brothers. Atherton, for those not familiar with the San Francisco Bay Area, is one of the most expensive towns in the whole country in which to live. In my dad's part of the country, those towns have names such as Darien, Greenwich, and New Canaan. Atherton is the Bay Area's Greenwich, home to the very rich and the sometimes famous. After an interview with Eleanor's mother, which I recall took place in the kitchen while the hired help cooked dinner, Eleanor's parents let us stay in their master bedroom, which was bigger than our whole cabin, so that I could hook myself up to a reliable source of electricity for the required twelve hours a day. "Twelve hours a day" meant that I was connected to an electrical source for eight hours while I was sleeping and another four during the day. This wasn't too bad, as Sean was still taking a two hour nap, so only the last two hours on the machine each day needed to occur while Sean was awake. Given the large space we were occupying, it was pretty easy to play with Sean on the bedroom carpet during these final two hour sessions, especially if husband Jim was close by.

The house in Atherton was a large rectangular two story stucco block, painted the color of baby aspirin, with a built-in pool in the backyard and a semi-circular gravel driveway and a large stately California Live Oak tree in the front. Tall hedges blocked the view of the house from the street. The house had hardwood floors, tall ceilings, large rooms, lots of windows, and I don't know how many bathrooms. The front door, which opened into an entryway, was of the French door style, panes of glass from top to bottom.

We considered ourselves very fortunate to be able to stay with Eleanor at her parents' Atherton house for a month. Our jobs were close by, we had plenty of space, and most importantly, we had a consistent source of electricity with which to knit my bone ends back together. Considering all that had happened to us over the last year, life was going pretty well.

( be continued....)

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

We All Get By With A Little Help From Our Friends

I may have mentioned this in Blogland, or I may have forgotten to mention, that I joined Facebook quite recently and usually say that I joined "accidentally on purpose". I did join for a reason (to follow a certain author, who's website said "Follow me on Facebook") but that reason didn't really help me out much. (I later met with the author, but our meeting was not the result of my "following" him on Facebook; I don't really even know what "following" someone on Facebook means.) So, now I have a Facebook page, and twenty-five Facebook "Friends". I am surprised to have that many Facebook Friends. I didn't realize that so many of my friends were "on" Facebook. (I have to admit that my 25 FB Friends include some relatives and many work colleagues.) I look at my Facebook page daily, and am likely to comment on the wonderful east coast weather (although one word could easily and fully describe it: "changeable") or some other mundane topic unlikely to get me in hot water with friends or family. I have recently been on a Facebook quest asking my FB friends to submit their craziest ideas to stop people from speeding past my dad's house, to no avail. (Well, one friend did respond, and she's a few years older than me. The young just don't take me seriously.)

Yesterday, I looked at the FB page of a young friend of mine, a friend in her twenties. She has 539 FB friends. Unbelievable! I don't even know close to that many people. How could such a young person have so many friends? Well, after some thought by me, all of her friends USE Facebook, probably religiously, and they have friends who use Facebook, and they have friends on FB. What exactly is the mystery here? Duh? But, I asked her anyway. Turns out, she is "friends" on FB with everyone she went to high school with, and probably middle school and college as well. Me, I have ONE friend I stay in touch with from high school, and FOUR from college. Forget middle school (please, forget middle school) . A few of my friends don't even use email or have cell phones (seriously). My siblings use email....occasionally. Snail mail is faster. Don't you see the problem here with my generation? We are the baby boomers, and we are turning our backs on technology, because we don't understand it; either we don't understand how to use it, or we don't understand how it might be beneficial to our lives, or both. I have to say, I myself know nothing about Twitter, and if not for one particular author, and my two teenage nieces, I wouldn't have a clue about Facebook either.

So, just what is my rambling point? Well, another friend of mine asked me today "What exactly is a blog?" and "why would someone want to have a blog?" and "what do you write about?" and "how would I find your blog in cyperspace?" I could answer the first few questions, sort of, but had no idea about the last. Is there some cosmic index out there to find blogs witten about certain topics, blogs written by certain authors, blogs written by young parents about their harrowing or frustrating parenting experiences, blogs to brighten up an accountant's otherwise boring day (I can say this because I am one), blogs for the "grey-hairs" among us (that would be the over 50 generation, regardless of their current hair color), blogs for bluegrass music lovers, blogs for the frustrated and blogs for the eccentric and those on the edge of sanity? How does one find a blog of one's liking, of common interest, or of comical theatricality?

I have 25 Facebook Friends and twelve official "followers" of my own blog. That's a long, long way from 539.

Magic Stick

I used to have a great back scratcher, one with perfectly clipped fingernails, and on occasion a wonderfully scratchy chin. Unfortunately, we have since ended our relationship of several years. And while we try to maintain a somewhat rocky friendship, our relationship is not quite the same as it used to be. I just don't feel comfortable asking my former lover to scratch my back, if you know what I mean. Its just a little too personal. In addition, right now there is the small problem of a 3,000 mile physical difference between us, even if there were not an emotional one.

Since I am "stuck" here on the east coast for a while, and I am currently not working, I try to find interesting things to do to fill my day. I love the beach, especially walking along the wide, never-ending sandy California beaches, so when opportunity presented itself in the form of a relatively warm sunny winter day, I went to the local beach. There were a few cars there, but only a handful of people, my kind of "beach day". I know removing objects from the beach is environmentally incorrect, but I picked up a couple of shells as I walked along the beach, a pearly oyster shell, and one of those fragile translucent golden "boat" shells that were everywhere in my youth, and which now only make an occasional appearance on the sand. But, I limited myself to two shells to take to my temporary east coast home, to remind me of the one, magical, rhythmic, never-ending sea from which all life has evolved.

(Have you ever read any books by Jane Yolen? She writes fantasy stories for adults as well as books for children. In one of her stories are three life principles, "The Three Wisdoms". Unfortunately, I forget in which book these principles appear, and she has written over 300 books. But, the third principle states (and I paraphrase) " Know that all things touch all others, as all life touches the sea". She wrote this line about 30 years ago, before most people had ever even heard the word "environmentalism". If you have kids, google her website and check out her children's books. The following quote is directly from her website:

"Jane Yolen is an author of children’s books, fantasy, and science fiction, including Owl Moon, The Devil’s Arithmetic, and How Do Dinosaurs Say Goodnight? She is also a poet, a teacher of writing and literature, and a reviewer of children’s literature. She has been called the Hans Christian Andersen of America and the Aesop of the twentieth century. Jane Yolen’s books and stories have won the Caldecott Medal, two Nebula Awards, two Christopher Medals, the World Fantasy Award, three Mythopoeic Fantasy Awards, the Golden Kite Award, the Jewish Book Award, the World Fantasy Association’s Lifetime Achievement Award, and the Association of Jewish Libraries Award among many others. )

Back to Sherwood Island State Park in Westport, Connecticut, January, 2010, on a sunny, windless day with the temperature hovering around 25 degrees Farenheit. I was walking along the beach in all its shell mounded glory, wearing six layers of clothing that made me look like the Pillsbury Dough Boy, when the middle of my back started to itch uncontrollably, the part of my back I can no longer reach with my fingers, even if I was just wearing a tee shirt. Here I am, having walked all the way east to the Saugatuck River, where mounds of shells lined the confluence of river and ocean, far from my car, doing a little dance on the beach to try to make the itchies stop. Thank god there were no people close by to watch my crazy little beach dance. Then, I spied it, lying on the sand - a small driftwood stick about eight inches long, diameter a tad larger than a pencil, and a small knob at one end. Need I tell you what happened to that piece of driftwood, the third environmentally incorrect act I performed that day as I brazenly stole it from the beach? I think not.

A week later, and I am still using my piece of driftwood as a backscratcher. My dad's house in winter is very warm, actually almost uncomfortably hot (I could probably wear a tee shirt and be quite comfortable inside, although dear old dad wears sweaters over his long-sleeved winter shirts.) Between the heat of the house, and the minerals in the well water that turn my skin as dry as parchment paper, my back is likely to remain on the dry and itchy side throughout the winter months, even though I moisturize daily.

My brother came over a few days after my trek along the beach, to fix the stairs which lead to the basement at my dad's house. He picked up my "stick", which was sitting next to my laptop in the bedroom. "What the heck is this" he laughed. "A magic stick?" "Yes!" I shouted. "Leave my magic stick alone!" He cracked up, I laughed so hard I almost peed in my pants, and we both ended up holding our sides, muscles sore from laughter.

And so, the magic stick remains with me, by my laptop during the day, and next to my bed at night, just in case. I treasure my magic stick, a reminder of the sea, a relic of the living thing it had once been, and now a useful tool for one of the opposable thumb descendants of our common long ago ancestors.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Life on Crutches, Part Two

I went home from Stanford Hospital in mid December 1982, my left leg internally and externally splinted, my belly as big as a beachball. I had six weeks left until the much anticipated due date, with nothing much to do since I was not authorized by my orthopedist to go back to work. And being on crutches, I couldn't really go out, or at least I couldn't go very far. In addition, it was a rainy winter that year, which didn't help. I was pretty much housebound in our small cottage with no TV, no internet, and no DVD player. I do remember having to do stretching exercises in order to eventually be able to bend my knee. For some weird reason, my orthopedist did not believe in utilizing physical therapists for his patients; he was a very experienced, almost-retired physician and must have been from the old you-can-do-this-yourself school of medicine. I remember the day we returned from the hospital, trying to get up our TWO steps from our cement walkway into the house; it must have been pretty funny to watch, because no one had instructed me how to use the damn crutches to get up/down stairs and I was pretty clueless.

My due date came and went, and then two days later, on Groundhog Day, I went into active labor. I remember that Jim had to put the passenger seat of our Toyota Corolla as far back as it would go, to fit both me and my straight-legged splint into the car. Sean was born in a non-hospital setting, a little after 10 pm that night. We were back at home by dawn the next day. A relatively uneventful event after way too much excitment in December.

One of my sisters came and stayed with us for two weeks to help out (a god-send). But after she went back to New York, I had a newborn that I pushed from room to room in a stroller, one hand pushing the stroller, one hand firmly gripping a single crutch, even though I was supposed to be using two crutches at the time.

About a month after Sean was born, we got more wonderful news: we had to move. Our landlord, our wonderful absentee landlord, had decided to tear down our lovely little cottage and the mirror image cottage in back of ours that were both on the same plot of land, in order to build a montrous two story stucco house. C'est la vie. It would have been fine, except for the fact that we had no place to go. I wasn't working and didn't know when I would be able to return to work due to my broken leg; Jim was working part-time. We had been able to rent our cottage below market rate, WAY below market rate, for many years; we were stunned by the cost of renting a house in our neighborhood. We hadn't planned on having to move, at least not so soon. So, we punted. For a year, we house-sat for friends, filling the occasional gaps between housesitting gigs with a stay at the "Cinderalla Motel" on El Camino, renting the suite with a kitchen and dragging our ubiquitous rented stationary bicycle with us, which I had started to use for my do-it-yourself "physical therapy" sessions after Sean was born.

Then Jim and one of his close friends had an idea; we would build a cabin together, up on our friend's land. Two couples (and one baby), in one house. To some, this might sound like a clever housing solution on paper, but its a very bad idea in practice and I thank my lucky stars that, after much discussion, we decided not to go through with it. Instead, we did the next best thing; we built two separate cabins on our friend's land, without the blessing of the local planning and zoning department.

Late that first summer, as Jim was feverishly trying to complete our one-room cabin in time for the winter rainy season, I spent the month of August camping out with a six month old baby, using our large canvas tent for a playroom during the daytime if it wasn't too hot. Otherwise, Sean's playroom was his playpen, at best a cramped environment for a six month old for the entire day. Our campsite was a flat spot next to the creek. To get the the campsite, one had to descend about six steep dirt steps carved into the hillside. I was still on crutches, and had gotten pretty good at going up and down steps, even dirt steps, but could not yet manage this task with a heavy six month old baby tucked under one arm, so I was pretty much stuck at the campsite all day. It didn't really matter; Jim was a quarter mile up the steep, winding dirt road, hauling lumber and pounding nails anyway. I was totally by myself, all day long, in the woods, with a baby and no contact with the outside world. How I did this for an entire month, I'm not quite sure, but at the end of 30 days, I am sure that I had had enough of the life of Pioneer Woman. When I was a young'un, I fancied myself as Laura Wilder Ingalls of Little House on the Prairie fame; my one month canvas-tent-camping-experience-on-crutches-with-a-baby dashed that dream to teeny, tiny bits.

In actuality, the final factor that drove us back to town was not the crumbling of my stoicism, but a trip to the orthopedist - my femur wasn't healing, and I would need to be hooked up to electricity for twelve hours a day for three months to stimulate bone growth between the ends of the two broken bones, something that could not be easily attained out in the woods, off the grid. I remember being quite shocked at hearing the news from my doctor, and telling him I couldn't possibly do this, the place where we lived simply did not have electricity. And he quietly told me that if I did not move to a place that had electricity, my leg bone simply would not heal.

So, after a month of camping in the woods, we moved back to town, ultimately to spend the winter months with dear friends who didn't mind if I breastfed my baby sitting on the linoleum floor of their kitchen. We had a great time living with them; Sean loved "Old Alice", my friend's mother, who was a sweet, deaf old lady in her 90s who later gave us her special brownie recipe, from memory, that would forever be known by Sean as "Rubber Cake".

Could Life on Crutches get any more exciting? Well, there is one more chapter to the story. Stay tuned.


I am a reader of books. I read fiction and autobiographies and historical fiction mostly, with an occasional non-fiction book thrown in for good measure (My current non-fiction favorites are anything written by Michael Pollan or Thomas Friedman.) When my son was growing up, our house was no different; we read many, many books to our young child. We lived in the country, in a cabin the Santa Cruz Mountains, a cabin that had no electricity and no need for curtains. Our source of heat was a wood stove, our source of lighting was propane gas. We were warm and cozy in our small cabin, with each other, and books, for entertainment. My son grew up in this environment, and I think it was a great place for a kid to grow up. He grew up catching salamanders in the creek, building Lego cities in the dirt, making outdoor cooking fires with his dad, and using his wooden chain saw to fell imaginary trees. It was a good life.

Naturally, his very favorite books were books I couldn't stand: Clifford, the Big Red Dog; any book by Richard Scary (he especially liked the very silly Mr. Frumble stories); Curious George stories; the Mr. Small series (which we read over, and over, and over again); and probably a few others. We never owned "Good Night Moon" or "Where the Wild Things Are", so they never ended up as favorites, but I'm sure Sean was exposed to them in daycare.

Sean's first non-cardboard book was given to him at age two by one of his daycare teachers, Roberta. Roberta developed a special bond with Sean, and before she left on maternity leave, never to return to that particular day care center, she gave him "The Snowman", a book with no words, only hand-painted pictures, a touching story about a boy and his snowman. It was his first real book, and he loved it. Shortly thereafter, he got "Granfa Grig had a Pig", a marvelous collection of silly poems and even sillier drawings, a large paperback whose cover is in tatters after reading it so many times, but I have kept it still. I think Sean's absolute favorite author of all time was Bill Peet, who wrote long silly stories, usually in rhyme, with amazing drawings, stories that always had some kind of moral to them, which was cleverly woven into the story. Sean would read anything by Bill Peet, and at one time, I think we had every book Bill Peet ever wrote. I have kept one or two of those books to this day. Other favorites included rambling William Steig stories, "Are You My Mother?" by P.D. Eastman and the "Frog and Toad" series.

My favorites were not necesarily Sean's favorites. I loved "Miss Rhumphius", and any book by Brian Wildsmith, who is an amazing illustrator. My favorite Wildsmith book is "The Bear and the Wagon", which has fantastic illustrations and a wonderful moral to the story. (If its not obvious by now, I love stories with a moral.) I also loved "The Eleventh Hour" by Graeme Base, with its fantastical illustrations, and powerful rhyming story. Of course, since I did most of the reading when Sean could not yet read, or read very well, my favorite books were read just as often as his favorites were.

When Sean was older, he naturally became an avid reader, and fell in love with anything written by Roald Dahl, the "My Father's Dragon" stories and "The Indian in the Cupboard" series. I'm sure there were others, others I have long since forgotten.

I know there are many new books for kids that have hit the shelves in the 25 years since Sean was a toddler. Having a fondness for children's books, I peruse the children's section of the bookstore myself from time to time. I have seen good books out there, written more recently than the books I've mentioned above. But, its heartening to know that most of the books Sean read as a child are still on the bookstore shelves, timeless stories that will enchant children for generations to come.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Life on Crutches

After being hit by a car, by an older woman who was in insulin shock (the police found her sitting in her stopped car, staring straight ahead in a zombie-like state, several blocks away from where she hit me and my bicycle), and breaking my femur, I ended up in the hospital for several weeks. Seven months pregnant at the time, the hospital didn't know what to do with me. At first, they put this whale bellied woman on the orthopedic floor, a curiosity for sure, if one can judge by the number of interns and residents that flowed through my hospital room door, which as everyone knows, affords no privacy. After "putting" my leg in traction, an ancient form of torture of which I will spare my readers the most gory details (it was more intense than the worst childbirth pain, but fortunately it only lasted a minute or two; for the imaginative, lets just say it involved drilling into bone without benefit of anesthesia), someone, a nurse I'm sure, discovered that Surprise! I was in labor. I couldn't feel it because I also had suffered a tremendous back wrenching, which was taking all of my attention, not to mention the ancient traction torture ceremony. How many pain killers can you safely give a seven month pregnant woman with a fractured femur who is also in the early stages of labor? The orthopedists certainly didn't know, so I was whisked away to the Maternity floor.

I don't remember what labor-stopping miracle drugs they gave me at the time, but they did, and the contractions stopped. Three days later, after they had pulled the two ends of my femur far enough apart in traction, they operated on my leg. Two metal rods were inserted on either side of my femur, to stabilize it, as an internal splint. There were the usual hospital stay "scares" - I had a blood clot, so they had to do chest X-rays on a still pregnant woman, when my husband was not around and my obstetrician not available. After surgery, my blood pressure fell dramatically, so they gave me a blood transfusion. (This was in the very, very early days of the AIDS crisis, before screening was done for HIV). Finally, after two weeks, I went home, still very much pregnant, on crutches, with an external splint on my internally splinted leg, and scars on either side of my knee from the incisions.

No, I don't do ANYTHING the easy way, ever. More to come in later posts, as my "Life on Crutches" story continues.

It Doesn't Take Much

It doesn't take much to get me excited these days. After weeks of trying to land something, I FINALLY got "hired" as a volunteer, and I am estatic. Estatic! I will be tutoring middle school kids in an after school program, starting Monday, and I'm thrilled. Even though I tell myself that it doesn't matter that the three other volunteer jobs I applied for have not materialized, I find that, paid or not, rejection hurts. So I am thrilled to finally have "a job".

The first volunteer position I applied for, I have to admit, I turned down, because their only open volunteer time slot didn't work for me. (7:30 to 9:30 pm on Thursday nights, after which I would have a 45 minute drive through winding back roads, in the ever-changing east coast winter weather.) The second job, at a local teen center, seemed very appealing, but when I went over there, they really didn't seem to need any help and have not called me since. The third, I'm still waiting to hear back on; this one is a morning meet-and-greet at the local YMCA, which has the advantage of providing me with a free membership during my volunteer stay, a nice added bonus. But I applied weeks ago; by the time they get back to me, I'll be on my way back to CA.

I'm glad I still have my "side" job - writing for an audience, albeit a small one. No one can take this job away from me. It doesn't "end", even when I move back to CA. I can write and post from any place in the world. I don't have specific set hours. I can write about whatever subject I feel like, not about a something someone else wants me to. The pay in monetary terms is non-existent; I can't buy groceries with it. But, I love doing it and the feedback is very rewarding. The only thing that would be better would be if I got paid to do this; but then, I suppose, I might feel under pressure - deadline pressure, the pressure to write as well today as I did yesterday, the pressure to issue a certain volume of material in exchange for a predetermined amount of money in the bank. I don't know about doing that; writing for free, for a virtually limitless audience, has its own unique appeal.