Sunday, April 24, 2011

Trend Setter

I admit, I am not up on most current fads. I have had the same haircut since I was 30. I wear comfortable "old lady shoes" (clogs) rain or shine, casual or dressy. I wear the same style of Jockey underwear I have worn since I was 25.

I have had a vegetable garden in any place that had dirt and a little bit of sun ever since I can remember, even if it was a single tomato plant in a pot on my north-facing patio. In fact, I had a vegetable garden when I was still living at my parent's home in Connecticut. Some habits die hard.

This year, after many hours spent improving the dirt last year and getting minimal results, I have thrown in the towel and said "enough". Enough back breaking shoveling. Enough spending lots of money buying plants, only to end up with a single tomato, cucumbers that had no flavor and a basil plant eaten up by slugs. This year, after many years of growing vegetables, I have planted only flowers - brightly colored and hardy - yellow rununculas, violet and magenta petunias, and red Gerbera daisies.

So I was somewhat surprised to hear that some young people I know have recently gotten "into" vegetable gardening. My thirty year old trainer has plants in the community vegetable garden behind the gym. My housemate's twenty-something son has brought home vegetables in pots and plans to plant them in the same spot he was planning to build a firepit only a year ago. My college student next door neighbor has vegetable plants in his backyard. Why the sudden interest in vegetable gardening by the young people?

Well, it that I am no longer growing vegetables, doing so has become popular. I am once again not following the trend.

I guess that makes me a Trend Setter.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Poppies !

The poppies are blooming, everywhere. Bright, orange poppies. They grow along the side of freeway entrance ramps, and in the strip between the sidewalk and the street. The plants pop up, seemingly out of nowhere, frilly floppy stems a muted green color, in the springtime during the rainy season, where seeds have been dropped from flowers the previous year.

I planted poppy seeds last year, in a planter box that I stuck on top of strip of dirt along the driveway where it gets a lot of sun at mid day. This year, they popped up, not in the planter box, (which I might add is now filled with weeds) but in the hardpacked dirt alongside the planter box, between the planter box and the house. That is where they seem to thrive best. Not in the planter dirt which I spent hours nurturing with compost and other soil nutrients last year. Nope. They like the plain old undisturbed dirt.

Someone once defined weeds as "plants that grow where you don't want them to grow". Poppies are weeds, in the truest sense of the word. And yet, we love them so, these bright harbingers of warmer weather and longer days to come.

Friday, April 15, 2011


George on "Seinfeld" calls it "Breakup by Association". That sounds like what has happened to me several times. I have lost friends just because I was associated with someone, or was once associated with someone.

You can only be friends with ONE of the divorced couple, but not both. You can't be "friends" with a former boyfriend, at least if he has a new girlfriend. These former friends take other friends and family members with them in the breakup. The daughter of a friend of mine, who is now a mature 17, was bereft and confused when someone she considered an "uncle" all of a sudden ended contact with her when she was only 4 years old, because his new wife was jealous of their relationship - the new wife was jealous of this guy's relationship with a child.

As for me, one of my break-ups was with a guy I was only friends with. And I don't mean a friends-with-benefits kind of friend. He was my housemate. Period.

On the Seinfeld episode, after the friends-with-benefits experience, Elaine decides that she and Jerry can't go back to being friends. But they can't go back to being lovers either.

And, since Seinfeld mirrors real life, I believe it to be true. Friends and lovers beware --you cannot go back.

My Ex

He has whitened his teeth. In the photo, he is wearing a blue undershirt instead of his ubiquitous sleeve-less white undershirt that I hated. He has lost weight. She even got him to dance, and in public.

He is solicitous of his new love like he never was with me. He has made changes for her that he never would have made for me.

I can see it in the photos, the way they look at each other. He is in love with her, and that hurts.


It was bound to happen sooner or later I suppose. Collateral damage from a break. I should have expected it, because its happened before. The thing is that the collateral damage hurts more than the original break.

Two years ago I had a falling out with a friend. Our disagreement remains unresolved, mainly because he refuses to get together to talk about it. But the sad part is that he took his family with him. By "family" I mean his young children, who lived with me for four years ,who I no longer see. A year later, his 20 year old niece was all of a sudden no longer talking to me after seeing him at a family wedding. I had been very close to this particular niece since she was born. The rejection stung.

What the heck did I do that was so terrible you might be wondering? Nothing in my opinion. Lets just say his (new) wife was very jealous of me (for no reason I might add). "He" was my housemate, nothing more.

And now, its happened again. I tried to say in touch with his daughter-in-law after she moved to Israel, but she is a busy mother of two very young children. She used to read my blog posts. She used to send me emails occasionally to see how I was doing. "She" is the daughter-in-law of my ex-boyfriend. Now she is "liking" photos of my ex-boyfriend on Facebook - photos of him with his new girlfriend.

I have been replaced. And that hurts.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

You've Got Mail

We need a new "mailbox" at my house. You know, one of those metal boxes that sit outside your house where the postman puts advertisements and bills. For those under the age of 25, this may be a new concept, but trust me, some of us older folks still use the postal service. Although, since the "mail" is mostly bills and advertisements, sometimes I wonder why. Heck, you can even do all of your business with the IRS online.

I suppose official documents still arrive via the old-fashioned mailbox. You know, like court orders and subpoenas. Not that I would know anything about things like that. And some of us still pay our bills through the mail, even though I cannot figure out why anyone would choose this method of payment over the ease of online bill paying.

So why do I even need a mailbox? They throw the morning newspaper (which admittedly I can view online) in my driveway. If I paid my bills online, maybe I wouldn't even need a physical mailbox. Bank statements and investment statements might pile up on my front porch, but these can also be viewed online.

As I walked around the neighborhood the other day, specifically looking for what other people used for mailboxes, I was struck by the fact that every house actually HAS a mailbox. Whether or not it gets much use is a separate question.


There are still two wicker chairs on the front porch. The bushes are neatly trimmed and the yellow rose bush in the corner is just starting to bloom. There are lemons on the tree by the side door. Yes, it is still Tim's neat grey house with the white trim. Except that its not.

Its not where Tim lives anymore. The front door has been painted a maroon color and the wicker chairs are a dark brown instead of white. The orange tree by the garage has been cut back into an odd shape. And the dog just inside the picket fence across the driveway is not Tim's old faithful beast Truff, but a playful cocker spaniel instead.

It is as if aliens came down in the night and replaced Tim's house with something similar but not quite the real thing, populated by Pod People and Pod Pets.

Yes, its been a year. Things change. I just don't have to like it.

The Big Burn

There is a book I am fond of my the same name, by Timothy Egan. He is a columnist for the New York Times and a Pulitzer Prize winning reporter. He is an amazing author and has written several books, one about the Dust Bowl era, one about the burning West in the early 1900s.

But, title source acknowledged, this is not what my post is about today. Its about something more mundane...the dangers of the gym.

Most people are probably used to using the equipment at the gym. Me, not so much. Of course, I have long realized the dangers of, say, dropping a heavy weight on your toe. (I have had the toenails from both of my big toes removed, at different times. Don't ask. Lets just say gracefulness isn't one of my finer qualities.)

My trainer (yes, I have one, theoretically so that I don't injure myself in the process) has "graduated" me from the small gym (no equipment in the small gym, just floor mats) to the big boys room. You know, the room with all the barbells, and strange looking machines. "You're ready" she says. (Ha, little does she know.)

She has tried to get me on one of those exercise treadmills for the past two weeks. The first day, I just watched as she showed me how it was done. Last week I actually got on one, holding on to the handles for dear life. You see, I have visions of the treadmill speeding up (on its own of course) and me not being able to keep up, and getting sucked into the end of the tread, in cartoonish fashion. I think this image comes from watching "I Love Lucy" re-runs over and over and over again in my youth. (If you are of my generation, you will know what I am talking about. Its the episode where Lucy works in a candy factory.)

So, yesterday I came in early for my training, so I could "warm up". Thought I'd try the treadmill. Started off nice and slow, then "upped" the speed gradually until I was walking at a nice pace. Even took my hands off the handles.

I was shooting for ten minutes of walking on the treadmill. I was so proud of myself. After I had done about nine minutes, my trainer came over to the treadmill. She was standing right next to me. I was ready to get off the treadmill. And so, I stepped off. With my left foot, treadmill still running. Big mistake.

My trainer caught me as I went down and kept me from getting sucked into the machine. (OK, I am being a little dramatic here.) But she did save me from possibly further injury to say, my face or hands.

There is a BIG RED STOP button on the machine, that I now know you are supposed to push BEFORE you get off the machine. Lesson learned, the hard way. I escaped with minor injuries to my knee and leg, in the form of burns from the fast moving rubber tread, the one on my leg the size of my palm.

My trainer was concerned, and treated my injuries with Neosporin and bandaids. "I'm fine" I insisted. Being a clutz, I am used to minor injuries. As she put a bandaid on my knee, she thought I had a second burn. "No, that's not from the treadmill" I explained.

That's the scar from last year's fall, on my dad's slate patio.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Man Day

My friend Rick posted a note on Facebook that he was "attending" National Man Day. I had never heard of this, so naturally I looked it up online.

National Man Day is something that was started on Facebook by, naturally, a bunch of guys. Basically, its an excuse for men to retreat to their Man Caves, watch sports all day on TV, drink beer, and scratch in places I won't mention. Like most of them don't do this already? Well, I suppose that making it an official "Day" allows them to do whatever they want without their wives or girlfriends nagging them about the lawn that needs mowing or the leak that needs fixing.

I'll give you this: when I went to visit my friend Rick the next day, he was up to his knees in a dirt trench he was digging to replace the sprinkler system in his front yard, not an easy task. My friend Rick is no slouch; he works hard to provide for his family. He fixes things around the house. He is a ham radio buff and loves tinkering with his Camaro. (His man toys.) He deserves some relaxation time as much as anyone does.

Rick told me he thought National Man Day was created because there was a National Women's Day first. So I looked it up online. And he's right. Sort of.

There is an International Women's Day. The 100th anniversary of International Women's Day was celebrated on March 8th. Guess what happens on International Women's Day? A day for women to indulge themselves, buy new shoes, get a facial, a manicure and pedicure? Uh, no.

International Women's Day is celebrated to embrace women's victories in civil rights, gender equality, and leadership around the world. Somehow it doesn't quite sound like the same thing as the male version to me.

Maybe when women actually have equal rights all around the world, we will have the time to indulge in a "Day" for ourselves.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011


Joe Howard calls it "TIM-ness". Its an acronym he came up with for our teacher friend, Tim Shannon, who died a year ago.

The acronym stands for qualities Tim embodied - Teach, Inspire, Mentor.

When I went by Fremont High School today on my way to work, there was a memorial in Tim's honor on the one year anniversary of his death. In front of the auditorium, a table had been set up with some photos of Tim and a long sheet of paper for students (or anyone else) to write on. Next to the table was Tim's old oak chair that he'd had for 25 years, a "ghost light", and an old pair of Tim's very paint splattered sneakers. I suspect Tim's office-mate and long time friend Joe Howard of setting the scene.

When I passed by the table shortly before lunch and I headed over the to Music Building to see Joe, the paper was blank. When I returned thirty minutes later, many students had scribbled messages to Tim, telling him that they missed him and that he would never be forgotten. But what caught my eye was the fact that many of messages spoke of "TIM"ness -- that Tim had taught them about life, that he had inspired them to follow their dreams, that he had been a mentor to them in addition to being their drama teacher.

I added my own scribbled message to the sheet. ("Tim, you promised you would not retire before you turned 55. So not fair!")

On my way back home from work tonight, I decided to swing by the high school one last time. The students had all gone home. The only sounds were of a basketball game in the gym and the splash of adults doing laps in the pool. Some lights were on in the administration building. I walked around campus in the twilight and tried a back door. It opened, so I walked in. The table was still set up in the hallway.

A janitor walked by and pointed to the table, to the photos. "Tim" he said as he pointed to the photos. I asked him "Did you know him?" "Oh, yes" replied the janitor. "Everyone knew Tim".

And then I remembered. I used to come down to the high school at lunch time, often to sit in Tim's office to breathe in the teenage banter that went on around me unabated, as if I was just another high school student. But occasionally, Tim had errands to do and dragged me around campus with him. One time, we actually had lunch in the staff lounge. We ate lunch at a table, not with other teachers, but with the school janitors, all of whom Tim knew. This was a lesson for me, a lesson in humility. Tim didn't think he was a better person than the janitors just because he was a teacher. They considered him a friend.

If I am not mistaken, there is an "H" in Timothy.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

The Show Must Go On

Its an old saying we've all heard. People paid their money to see a show, and regardless of cast illness or other calamity, they expect a performance. Its the reason there are understudies in theatre to take someone's place if an actor breaks a leg or loses his voice. Theatres have burned down, especially in Shakespeare's day of wooden buildings and candles. Or have been damaged in earthquakes, a more likely scenario in current day California.

It took over ten years and millions of dollars in fundraising to restore our local Campbell Heritage Theatre to its former glory. The thing about a building is just that - its just a building, and can be restored, or rebuilt - and in the meantime, a replacement space can usually be found. This is exactly what the Fremont Union High School District did during a several year period when three of the five high schools in the district had their auditoriums closed for 18 months in order to make them earthquake-proof. They used the gym to stage some of the productions. They collaborated on the annual musical. But some things are not so easily replaced.

My friend Tim was the Drama teacher at Fremont High School. He had built up the drama program during twenty years of teaching at the same high school. Tim died suddenly just about a year ago. A new drama teacher was hired to take his place, someone with years of experience teaching drama. From all I've heard, he is doing a great job.

Tim always told me that eventually he would retire and a new drama teacher would take his place, someone with a different perspective on teaching and a new vision of high school drama - and that would be OK, in fact it would be good for the students. I just didn't expect Tim to retire so suddenly, and so permanently. Over the past year, a new drama teacher has been handed the baton at Fremont High School. The Drama Program at Fremont High School will continue (well, state and local funding willing) and incoming freshmen will learn the art of acting and building sets.

But Tim Shannon will never be replaced....because in real life, there is no understudy.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Miss Manners

There are ways of doing things, and there are ways of doing things.

One of my closest friends is from Mexico. One year I helped her set up for her daughter's birthday party. My friend had told the people she invited that the party was to start at 2pm. (No "end" time of the party was given.) At promptly 2 pm, some of the "gringos" she had invited started showing up - but my friend and her husband were still out at the grocery store, not expecting anyone to arrive until close to 3 pm. A little later, her daughter's Latino friends showed up - with their siblings and their parents and with other friends. They came at 3, at 4, at 5, and at 6pm, and didn't leave until late, late, late. And they all came with food. This was a party, Mexican style. You don't arrive until an hour after the official invitation time, you stay late, and you always bring some food to share.

The French think Americans are rude, probably for more than one reason, but to start with, all French conversations start with "Bonjour madame" or "Bonjour monsieur" no matter who you are speaking with, and even if the building is on fire. Americans start conversations with "hey you". No wonder the French think we're rude.

Once I was at Davies Symphony Hall in San Francisco, the orchestra was in the middle of playing a piece and smoke started drifting through the hall. No one, not one single person, interrupted the piece until it was finished. Seriously. The hall could have burned to the ground, but not a single concert goer was going to interrupt the orchestra with so much as a cough. (A few people slipped out quietly to inform management and management came on stage as soon as the piece was finished. The smoke was from a nearby fire and had come in through the ventilation system.)

So what's my point? Well, I guess my point is....when in Rome, do as the Romans do. But the problem is that this is the US, and we live among Mexicans and Irish, Israelis and Muslims. We interact with people from different cultural backgrounds and different religions, not to mention different socio-economic backgrounds, and different generations. ("Dude".) Even different families have different expectations of how things "should" be done. Heck, even people who grew up in the same family end up with different expectations of how things should be done, my own sisters being a case in point.

I think we should all start by lowering our expectations. Yes, I will still report the guy I see beating his wife or his kid, which might be acceptable behavior in some Middle Eastern countries (this is the "when in Rome part"). But I will "chill out" and relax when my twenty-something year old friend lets her pre-schooler eat ice cream for dinner or when my sister doesn't use a coaster under her glass. (Actually, I do not own any coasters, but one of my sisters does.)

I would like others to lower their expectations as well. I would like others not to label me "rude" if I don't meet their behavioral expectations. No, I didn't grow up in a barn, and yes, I know how to use a napkin. But perhaps others were not as fortunate.

I am writing all this, putting it out for public consumption, knowing that I will be put to the test when I go "back East" to visit my family. I can always tell when I enter New York City, without even opening my eyes. We will see if I can be less judgmental next time I visit.