Monday, August 30, 2010

Dutch Elm Disease

Many summers ago, when I was young and much more energetic, I was trained by the Agriculture Department of the State of California to detect Dutch Elm Disease. Identifying Dutch Elm Disease was drilled into me, and I spent four months scouring bay area neighborhoods looking for trees with evidence of the disease. I can still identify all five types of elm trees, and am pretty good at ascertaining which elm trees might be ailing from Dutch Elm Disease.

I can spot an elm tree two blocks away. I can identify Dutch Elm Disease without a lab test. I was trained 30 years ago, and I am still as good as ever.

For the uninitiated, there is no such thing as a "Dutch Elm Tree". There are European Elms, American Elms, Chinese Elms, Japanese Elms and Silberian Elms, but no Dutch Elm Trees. Various types of elms trees have been planted in the Greater San Francisco Bay Area over the years, and there are a few in my Willow Glen neighborhood.

On my daily walk to downtown Willow Glen, on the corner of Lincoln and Pine, are two large stately European elm trees. One, leafless, is clearly dead; the other one is clearly ailing, the leaves at the crest of the tree brown and dry and curled, clear symptoms of the dreaded Dutch Elm Disease.

I ran into the neighbor who owns the two trees. He seemed sympathetic. The trees both need to be cut down before the disease spreads, via an elm beetle that flies from tree to tree.

Perhaps now, 30 years later, there are ways to treat Dutch Elm Disease. Unfortunately, a dead tree is still a dead tree. And dead elm wood is still dead elm wood. Unfortunately, guess where elm beetles like to breed?

So if you have an elm tree, keep it pruned to remove the dead wood. And if the leaves on your tree are turning brown prematurely, get an expert opinion as soon as possible. If you act quickly, you might not have to take the drastic step of cutting down your tree.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Life Stage

I feel like I am going through one of those "stages" of know, one of those gawky, low self-confidence stages, with glasses and braces. I am sure you what I am talking about....the bodily changes of middle-age, the bi-focals, and dentures....I mean, braces.

Yes, I am actually wearing braces. Invisalign to be precise. Not because, at age 57, I am concerned that my teeth are not perfectly, celebrity straight, but rather in the hopes of reducing uneven tooth pressure that may be contributing to my receding gum problems. (Now that sounds more like a 50-something type of problem.)

If this procedures does not help, I may be prematurely in the market for dentures at some point in the not too distant future. And instead of taking my Invisalign braces out in order to eat, I will be putting my dentures in.

A sobering thought. And a very good incentive to wear my Invisalign braces 24-7.

The Dentist, Revisited

I have been afraid of going to the dentist for as long as I can remember. Maybe it has to do with my first experience with a dentist, which occurred when I was around six years old. It was not a good experience, and left me with nightmares for years to come. I had to have a tooth pulled, a back molar which had decayed, and the dentist, perhaps using common psychology of the time, frightened me, on purpose. He convinced me that all my teeth would fall out if I didn't brush them better. I remember him showing me pictures of toothless children who (he said) didn't brush their teeth. I don't remember actually getting my tooth pulled out (they must have put me under general anesthesia), but I do remember the dentist as a scary old man waving giant pliers in front of my face, just waiting to pull out all my rotten teeth.

How things have changed.

I am not a novice dentist patient by any means. I have had subsequent cavities (before most water was flouridated) that have been filled with mercury, half a dozen crowns, and several root canals, the crowns and root canals done in my later years. The young people of today probably don't even have cavities, never mind the subsequent crowns and root canals. They just get their teeth straightened and whitened and off they go on their merry, smiling way. Not so for the older generation.

Five years ago, I needed a crown to replace one of my ancient mercury filled teeth. This summer, that crown broke, while I was in Europe (naturally) and despite my efforts to save it to be "glued" back on, it was taken by the pickpockets who emptied the contents of my purse in a crowded Paris subway station.

But, hey, no worries, this is 2010.

My dentist can re-create the missing part of my tooth, thanks to some high tech photos he took of the remaining tooth, with an instrument about the size of an ordinary toothbrush, and with the help of some holographic technology, courtesy of 21st century software. And, he can do all of this painlessly in one visit. Did I say PAINLESSLY? This is a serious change from the painful, terrifying memories of my youth.

Just hearing the dentist drill used to make me wince. And sitting in the dentist chair, I would get white knuckles from holding onto the arm rests for dear life as soon as the dentist entered the room. But guess what? No more. No more wincing. No more white knuckles.

As for the nightmares - I still have them, occasionally. That ancient fear is buried deep in my psyche. But, you know what? Two out of three isn't bad.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Dentist Visit

If nothing ever happens to you, you have nothing to write about. Well, I suppose I can comment on current events, but that's what Time magazine and Letters to the Editor are for. Blogging has seemed....well, more personal to me. (Not that I air my innermost secrets in cyberspace.)

So, I suppose I better start doing something, even if its only a trip to the dentist.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Generation Gap

There is a generation gap, and I tripped over it quite recently. Yes, I did notice "the gap" 10 years ago, when my son was a teenager. But I expected that - blaring music I did not care for, fashion I did not like (in my son's case, pants worn so low that his boxer shorts showed by several inches), tatooes and piercings by both sexes in places strange to my sensibilities (yes, I have pierced ears, but only one hole in each ear), extreme hair (such as in blue dyed, or spiked, or worse), and sometimes commonly used phrases and shorthand that I did not understand. But what I did understand was the need to express oneself differently from one's parents' generation. I had gone through all of this myself when I was a teenager, back in the Dark Ages (that would be B.C., as in "Before Computers").

In today's world, even the 50-somethings need to keep up with technology, including Facebook and Twitter, to be competitive in business. The twenty-somethings in the workplace are very competitive, and have energy that I admit I no longer have. All of this I expect, even if I do not welcome the changes.

I am talking about something else. I am talking about the twenty-something Mamas and Papas who are raising young children in today's world, a far different world than I inhabited as a young parent.

Some things have not changed. Yes, there will always be obnoxious characters in books, TV and movies that the children love (and want to watch repeatedly) and the parents loathe. The characters will change over time, but the situation will not. There will be discussions about breast feeding and co-sleeping and temper tantrums and other parenting issues that have existed for generations. The common wisdom of the day may shift, but the issues will still exist.

I think technology has changed something else -- not only the vast amount of time we spend "online", instead of being with family and friends, but also what is written. Blogging and Facebook and Twitter have allowed us, even pressured us, to reveal more of ourselves to the entire world. We spend hours with our new online "pen pals" (those of the twenty-something generation might have to look this up on Google), seeking advice, agreement and comment from people we might not ever meet.

I admit, I have a Facebook account, which has served a very useful purpose in connecting people when a good friend of mine passed away last April and in occasionally connecting with my teenage nieces. And I admit to having a blog (obviously). But I do not reveal my innermost thoughts and feelings or incidents on either, as some of the younger generation appear to do.

Wherein lies the gap, the gap in my understanding, of today's "blogs", and the desire to "reveal all". The internet has allowed an entire generation of parents to connect online, which is probably a good thing for sharing parenting information and strategies, and appeasing isolation of those caring for their young at home all day. But it has also encouraged them to reveal things they otherwise might not have, at least not to the whole world.

I wonder, what will their children turn out to be like? Having grown up in this reveal-all world, will they be as open or more open than their parents? Or will today's openness inspire a backlash of privacy when today's pre-schoolers become teenagers, as they wince while reading Mom's old blog a dozen years from now?

Only time will tell.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Long Line

I have been putting off going to the grocery store, for at least a week. Because of this, I ran out of ingredients for a decent breakfast. And so, for lack of any pancake mix or Cheerios in the house, I wandered down to the local Starbucks for a piece of banana bread. Trying to cut back on both expenses and calories, I was not planning to order my regular Chai Tea Latte (with extra foam), just a slice of banana bread.

It was mid-morning, after the commuter rush, yet there was a fairly long line at the Starbucks, which is in a shopping center just two blocks from my house. I was not in any rush, and the line moved fairly quickly. I was at the counter within five minutes. I have waited far longer in many a Starbucks line during the morning commuter rush hour. When I finally placed my order, for banana bread, but no drink, the clerk behind the counter remarked that I had waited in line "a long time just for a piece of banana bread". I said something like "well, the wait wasn't really all that long".

I paid for my order, and picked up my banana bread from the counter, then turned around to glance at the New York Times in the newspaper stand next to the counter. Pictured on the front page was a photo of another line, a much longer line. A line of people, hundreds of people, standing in a very long line that curved up and down the hillside, standing outdoors in the heat of the midday sun, empty tin pans held in their hands, waiting for a single serving of some mushy meal, the victims of flood ravaged Pakistan.

Indeed, my wait in line was not very long, not very long at all.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Cannot Decide

Although I occasionally use my blog to vent my frustrations, I usually try to find more interesting topics for discussion. But sometimes, I come up empty.

What should I write about? The Mark Hurd scandal at HP? Re-runs of NCIS on TV? Which new cell phone to buy? Facebook's new "I don't care" button? Gee, so much to choose from.....

Friday, August 13, 2010

Eat.Pray. Love.

I tried. I really did. I tried to read the book, but could not get into it. The writing style just didn't really grab me. And a book has to grab me in the first chapter or two or I just won't waste my time reading any further.

So, tonight I went to see the movie by the same name tonight at the cute little theatre in the shopping center a mere block away from my house. I thought perhaps this book might be one of those books that makes a better movie than it does a book, but I was wrong.

The movie didn't grab me either. The story seemed at best self-indulgent. The same kind of self-indulgence many of us went through in our twenties, ie, trying to figure yourself out. Self-indulgence is expected in the young. Finding yourself. Traveling to exotic places. Taking risks, like rock-climbing and sky-diving and bungy-jumping. Climbing mountains in the Himalayas. Very twenty-something activities, before you get serious about the "important" and serious things in life, like career, marriage and family.

So why does an over 40 year old female, without children, leave her husband and go off to other countries in order to "find herself"? To Italy to "eat" pasta and pizza, to India for mediation with a "guru" she knows absolutely nothing about, and then to Bali, to see a fortune teller who reads her palm. She could have done all of this without leaving the United States. We have excellent pasta and pizza in any Italian neighborhood in New York City; mediation centers exist even in suburbia; we have people who will read your palm on any street corner in any major city. Why could she not have "found herself" here in the good old USA?

I just don't get it.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010


A friend of mine writes about hilarious moments as a mother of a toddler and a six month old baby. And I've been thinking lately of the fact that I'm on the other end of the life-span spectrum. We all age eventually, but women go through a more dramatic change at mid-life than men do. Menopause.

If my twenty-something friend can write with brutal honesty about pelvic exams and childbirth, why can't I write just as honestly about the changes accompanying menopause?

First of all, I am not sure that I want to admit that, at 57, I am actually "menopausal". Menopause is seen as a loss of sexuality, a loss of fertility, a loss of "womanhood". Its a time of life when older women should be content with the role of grandmother, not sex siren. It can be a time of loss of sexual desire, and is often a time when men of the same age reach for younger lovers, often much younger lovers. Its a time of weight gain that turns your hour glass figure into the Pillsbury Dough boy and hot flashes that disrupt your sleep and social activities.

There are many serious "articles" on the internet regarding the physiology of Menopause. I am not sure there are very many humorous blog sites on the same subject. But then again, perhaps this "old lady" just does not know how to find them.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Ripped Out

My heart was ripped out ten years ago, when I received the news that my son was hit by a train. Ripped out and shredded to pieces, and then punched in the gut until I doubled over unable to breathe.

This October 11th will be the tenth anniversary of Sean's death. Sean is almost ten years gone; it does not seem possible. It seems like only yesterday that Sean was a ten year old boy with a twinkle in his blue eyes and mischief on his mind.

And now, as the tenth year anniversary of Sean's death approaches, I am doubly sad. Sad that I have no Tim Shannon to lean on, to help me get through this significant anniversary date. Sad that I won't be able to spend time in the Fremont HS auditorium, as I have done every year for ten years past. Sad that I won't be able to sit in Tim's office during "lunch" and listen to the teenage prattle all around me, like a fly on the wall, listening in to the discussions of everything and anything, and believe me, anything and everything was said.

I miss them both, my 17 year old son with the wry sense of humor, who has been gone such a long time from my life, and Sean's drama teacher, mentor and friend, Tim, who had become my very good friend and support over the past ten years, both of them gone in an instant in the prime of their lives.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Like Sylvia Brown. Only Catholic.

Nine years ago this month, my step-mother died, quite suddenly, of a massive, fatal heart attack at the age of 73, while doing some rather vigorous yardwork. That same day, my dad asked for a sign that my step-mom was in heaven. Now, you have to understand that my parents are Catholic, very Catholic, as in go-to-church and say-the-rosary every day Catholic. As in volunteer-every-day-for-some-worthwhile-cause Catholic.

At my mother's wake, hundreds of people lined up to give their condolences to our family. These people were individuals that we, the family, had never met before, people who my step-mother had helped in some way or another in one of her many volunteer roles. According to these strangers-to-us, my step-mother was already a saint-on-earth.

So, the night she died, my dad asked my step-mother to give him a sign, a specific sign, that she was in heaven. According to my dad, he asked her to send him a white rose.

The day after she died, before the wake, a nun from the convent a few miles up the road, where my mother sometimes volunteered, knocked on my dad's door. He opened the door. Standing in front of him was a nun from the convent. She simply said "This is for you" and then handed him....a white rose.

Had my parents pre-arranged this? My father claims that they did not, and that the nun says she simply received a "message" from my step-mother, requesting that she deliver a white rose to my father's doorstep.

I myself remain skeptical, but I know my father to be a truthful man. Coincidence? Who knows. I only know that I cannot judge the experiences of others as to whether or not contact is possible with those who have left this earthly world.

Friday, August 6, 2010


Today would have been Tim's 50th birthday. Would have been, if he had not dropped dead of heart failure exactly four months ago. His friends and family will gather to celebrate and remember him, honoring a man who meant so much to so many.

I want to say "Happy Birthday, Tim", but its not the same without his actually being here. If he were here, there would be a party with good friends in attendance at the local Mexican restaurant, margaritas all around, Tim's cheeks dimpled and eyes twinkling. Now I will be bringing a photo of Tim instead to place at a chair in the middle of the table. Its just not quite the same.

When Sean's 18th birthday rolled around, three months after he had died, I invited some of Sean's friends to a (Mexican) restaurant to celebrate and honor their friend's memory. I invited Tim to join us. I remember Tim trying to cheer up one of Sean's best friends by doing silly things with her long blonde hair. Janny came to the gathering to remember Sean, but she was downright sad that Sean was not there to celebrate with his friends.

I feel the same way about Tim. He should be here with us, on his 50th.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

The Need to Know

Tim would have been the first to tell me to "drop it". I am referring to my obsessive need to know "why". Like most men, when a relationship ended, Tim moved on, seemingly easily in my opinion. I, like most women, wanted to analyze my relationships - what went wrong, what could I have done differently, did my ex still care for me, etc. I think its in my DNA, always analyzing the details, ad infinitum.

But I have to admit, after Sean died, Tim sat patiently with me in the auditorium, several times, as we discussed why teenagers take risks, and could Sean have possibly commmitted suicide, and could I, as his parent, have prevented the accident that took my son's life. It took me a long time to accept the untimely death of my 17 year old son. I spoke with the coroner, with the Amtrak officer who was first on the scene of the accident, and reviewed the Caltrain engineer's report of what had happened, trying to piece together how my very smart teenage son could have been accidentally been hit by a train. I had to have explanations first, in order for acceptance to follow.

My approach is no different in the case of the untimely death of my friend Tim, at age 49. Yes, he was a little bit overweight, but so are many of us over the age of 40. Yes, he had a family history of heart disease, but none of his relatives had died before the age of 65. Yes, he had high cholesterol, but so do many people and yet they don't die before reaching the age of 50.

Friday, August 6th, would have been Tim's 50th birthday, had he not dropped dead exactly four months before. It still does not seem possible to me that Tim won't show up at Aqui, the local Mexican restaurant where some of his friends will gather on Friday evening to celebrate the 50th anniversary of his birth. And I still have a hard time imagining that Tim won't show up, late as usual, with a wide grin on his face, his blue eyes twinkling.

The other day I walked past Tim's tidy grey house, just a few blocks from my own. His aqua van was no longer parked in the driveway, a "For Rent" sign leaned against the side of the house, his familiar white wicker porch chairs were gone, the house empty of furniture, the familiar bark of his old dog absent. When September rolls around, when I inevitably stop by Fremont High School, the high school my son attended under Tim's gentle tutelage, there will be a different Drama teacher in Tim's office, and that person won't be Tim Shannon. I know that I will feel like I am in an episode of "The Twilight Zone".

So yesterday, over-analyzer that I am, I stopped by the coroner's office to pick up a copy of the autopsy report on Tim's body. I have no background in medical lingo, but I was able to generate a rough translation of the cause of death thanks to Google's internet search engine. Evidence of cause of death (in layman's lingo): Tim's heart stopped, as evidenced by dead tissue in his heart and lungs. Cause of death: moderate to marked coronary artery disease. "Moderate" as in 40% blockage of coronary arteries; "marked" as in 65% narrowing of small coronary arterial branches.

The report does not indicate any significant clot or blockage of a main artery which might have caused a "heart attack". What it does suggest instead is that, a slightly overweight middle-aged man with high cholesterol and "moderate to marked" coronary artery disease", can die suddenly of heart failure, with no prior warning signs.

Life, so unpredictable, and sometimes, so totally unfair.