Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Spring Cleaning

This shot shows the process of my annual cleaning of the road in front of my place. My house is just beyond the dividing line between urban and rural. It seems to be the point of liberation for folks who don’t want to throw their trash into someone’s yard; they just wait until they see a ditch or field, I guess.
I can understand the alcohol containers; when you drink and drive, you don’t want to be caught with the evidence. The rest of it is “pure, cussed laziness,” as my mom used to say of my sister and me. (We still mimic her. Sarge is SO good at it!)
The laziness particularly applies to the bottles of urine. WTF?!? There are no tractor-trailers on my road! Why can’t these people stop to pee?
Besides the pleasant visuals the urine creates, cleaning up road litter doesn’t really bother me, since I’m always picking up junk from my property, anyway. My husband came from a big family that was raised just after the Depression. Those were the days of self sufficiency, when people didn’t go to the dump. They threw their garbage out in the back 40 or they buried it. Most of my neighbors have the same issue.
That’s just what people did back then. I know that sounds terrible today, but if you really think about it, we’re no better now, despite all our laws, initiatives and education. We’re just paying someone to do somewhere else what we used to do in our own back yards. It all ends up clogging the planet with junk.
It amazes me the way the earth will “cough up” garbage decades later. If you’ve ever had a road burn or been tossed against a windshield at high speed, you know that your skin will discard shards of pavement and/or glass for ages afterwards. It’s really a fascinating ability that our bodies have to cleanse themselves. Well, my yard continues to do that with refuse that was intentionally dumped or accidentally dropped by one of the 10 kids playing on it. It’s really remarkable, if you consider it.
When I was young, people littered. I don’t mean that it was practiced or encouraged, by any means, but nobody was chastising anyone for it. People just weren’t aware. Except for my aunt, that is. She is the only person I remember who had sort of a “policy” of not littering. That was really quite ahead of the time, then. I remember her trying to teach me not to do it; it was pretty foreign to me. I think she might have stopped and made us pick something up once, if I remember. Thanks, Joyce!
I am on a mission to outlaw the plastic grocery bags. It will take legislation, just like was required everywhere the banning of them has been successful, but there’s no reason that we haven’t done it yet. They are everywhere – in trees, lakes, fields, buried in sand on beaches, etc. I really can’t believe that we haven’t done anything about them yet.
Please get a few pretty, reusable grocery bags. They’re great for gift bags, too!

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Tropical Treats

I’ve been on a tropical fruit kick lately. This is not a good sign . . . When I start tuning in to Hawaiian internet radio, I’ll know that I’m getting the itch for another South Pacific visit. I’ll have to control my wanderlust, though, as I already have plans for my vacation time this year.
Have you ever tasted papaya seeds? They’re billed as edible and taste kind of peppery, but the consistency is just horrible!! It’s like chewing a wooden marble! I’ll have to do some googling to find out how to prepare them for eating, because nobody would want it straight from the fruit.
My husband and I used to have a luau each year around June 11, which is King Kamehameha day (and my sister’s birthday). We included Hawaiian music and decorations. Just to be silly, Butch liked to wear a grass skirt and coconut bra (over the luau shirt!), too, but it was really about the food. Oh, the food is just fabulous! Because there were a number of different dishes, it was usually a lot of work. I’ve never enjoyed cooking, but I happily cook for a luau!
I serve kalua (not the liqueur) pork, shoyu (Japanese for soy) chicken, adobo chicken or pork, haupia (a coconut pudding-type dish), coconut-sweet potato soufflé, pork & sweet potato stew, and a fruit compote dressed with honey and lime. OMG, luau food is SO good!
I may start having luaus again. I really enjoyed cooking and serving all those great foods. My sister and I plan to try cooking the kalua pig in an imu, the traditional underground oven used by Hawaiians of old.
Hmm, almost two and a half months to prepare . . . Who wants to come?

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Disappearing Nomads

Remember hobos? I am just a little too young to have had much personal contact with these uniquely American characters, but I remember when they were still around. Although I was very young, I did meet two in my lifetime. Luckily, one of them was “Steam Train Maury” – Maurice Graham, King of the Hobos. It just so happened that when he settled, it was in my section of the country. Here’s his obituary:
Luckily, my mom found hobos fascinating and made sure that my sister and I took advantage of meeting them when we had the opportunity. The other gentleman was hanging out at a Kmart store when Mom took us over to meet him. He carried his lunch in a gas can because people were more likely to give him a ride while he was carrying it!
Hobos had rough lives; they weren’t treated well and were often victims of violence. This discrimination was unfortunate; their lifestyles developed through necessity of finding work in the middle of the Great Depression and hobo culture held its own code of ethics. You’d think there would have been more generosity towards them.
I remember Gypsies being around when I was very young, too. They traveled en masse, wore colorful clothes and had big wads of cash that they weren’t shy about flashing in full view. I don’t recall Mom encouraging conversation with them.
I haven’t seen or heard of hobos or gypsies in years. I wonder if they’re still wandering? I've heard that the Roma in Europe were treated much more harshly than Gypsies here.
Nowdays, the hobo and Gypsy just seem like romantic, carefree cultures. It seems that the vagabond lives we used to fear now intrigue us.
My girlfriend introduced me to freighter travel. That’s another nomadic pastime. You need a lot of time to do this, so it will have to wait until I’m retired.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010


Hometown Happiness
As I said, my sister has moved in with Mom. She is settling into living back in our hometown SO WELL!
She is really enjoying reconnecting with people she hasn't seen for 20 years, getting to know people she never knew well and being back in a small town. When she takes her dog for a walk, she has a few Tupperware boxes with her; she delivers goodies along the way. It's like that when you know half the people in town.
I really admire the way she can completely throw herself into her surroundings. I don't have that ability; I'm always eyeing up the next thing on "my list." My sister, though, lives completely in the moment.
She's hoping for approval to start a community garden. She's been involved with a number of them, but in bigger cities. This project would be so beneficial for this tiny community where there isn't much to engage the residents. Unless you hang out at the library or have children attending school, there's nothing to bring residents together.
I hope this works for her!

Bi-State Classes

My class went well last night. For some reason, there's less pressure when it's in two parts. If something goes wrong, I guess I think I could fix it next week!
I'm very relieved, since I have proposals all over the place and I hadn't organized the material for the second state.
This whole project has been such an experience. It should be out of my comfort zone, but I'm not uncomfortable!

Tucson in the Autumn!
The group trip to Arizona is set! There will be 4 or 5 of us going, so we're planning to rent a home instead of staying in a hotel.
I'm excited about hiking around the Santa Catalina mountains and being back in a desert landscape. That is completely different from my home, so it's very intriguing. Except for the rattlers . . .
If you've never looked at the vrbo or frbo web sites, be sure to poke around on them a bit. I booked a few stays in Puerto Rico last year. We unwittingly landed in a spectacular mountainside retreat with Caribbean views owned by famous New York City artist, Walter Gurbo.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Catch Up

Class Postoned!
I'm still recovering from being sick. I HAD TO POSTPONE MY FIRST CLASS IN THIS STATE because of it! I really didn't want to do that, but I didn't have much choice.
The division Director at the school assured me it wasn't a big deal and they were able to contact all the students, but GEEZ . . .
Well, I guess I should be happy that it's behind me so that I don't have to dread the first time it happens. (My mom dated a man who intentionally put a dent in his new cars for the same reason. She had the "honor" of kicking a dent into his new truck; I don't think I could have done that!)
I'm still prepping for Monday's class. It's in two parts this time, which means that I'll have to manage my timing twice, instead of once. Not easy. I'm nervous, again.

Bye, Little Guy

Mom's little dog, Buster, passed away last week. He had a heart problem and had been having "spells." I feel so badly for Mom. I think that having Sarge's little Pomeranian in the house (along with 6 cats!) will help, but it's still quite a loss for her.
Buster was a sweet little guy. I will really miss him.

Market Basket

I bought myself a new basket for the upcoming farmer's market season. I love shopping at farmers markets and I can't wait to spend my Saturday mornings like that again!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Luck of the Irish?

My trip to Ireland a few years ago included the obligatory visit to the Blarney Castle to kiss the famous stone. I was with a friend who had no intention of joining me in this ridiculous pursuit, but good-naturedly waited in line with me. This was a line that you would happily join, since it wound its way up the stone steps of the castle’s tower, offering increasingly beautiful views of the lawn below you.
As we approached, my girlfriend said, “Are you actually going to do that?!?” The Blarney Stone wasn’t what I had been expecting. I thought you just walked up to it and kissed it. SURPRISE!
You have to lie on your back, put your arms over your head and grasp iron bars that reinforce the tower walls, pull to slide the top half of your body across the gaping hole left where the stone floor has crumbled away from the wall (until nothing above your rear is on the floor), and kiss the stone that’s actually the wall of the tower which is on the other side of the iron bars. Uh, huh.
Castle staff was on site to assist. The guy looked like he was 95 and he was supposed to stop me from plunging head-first down the tower wall? I can’t imagine how he even got to the top of the tower!
“Wow,” I said to my girlfriend, who eyed me skeptically as she walked off to enjoy the view. I remained in line, as I was committed. Everyone would see me if I didn’t do it! I told myself that it was just a matter of putting my mind to it. Everyone else was doing it. My turn came and I dutifully lay down, grabbed the bars, looked overhead at the stone and said, “I can’t do this!”
The old Irishman was incredulous. “You’re not going to kiss it??” I thanked him politely and walked away to enjoy the view. And mentally crossed the Blarney Stone off my bucket list . . .

My Irish ancestry comes from my paternal grandmother, whom I never met. Her surname’s heritage leads to County Cork and she sounds like a cartoon stereotyping the Irish: a hot-tempered redhead named Maggie whose family (I’m told) included drinkers and thieves. She died young from breast cancer. That’s all I know. I wish I could learn more from her over a pint of Guiness.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Bruce's Visit

An old friend was in from Tucson last week, so a few of us ex-coworkers got together for brunch. What a great time we all had!
Nothing can match the company of old friends. It's so comfortable to be in the presence of people who know you very well. They understand your humor. You share glimpses of eye contact at poignant spaces in the conversation, yet there's no need to discuss it later. It's okay if something you say comes out wrong; nobody gets offended.
I haven't seen one of them in 9 years, but I keep in regular contact with most of them. Although I enjoy them individually and sometimes with a few of us together, I didn't realize that I missed them collectively. The dynamics of this group work very well. There's talk of us all going to see Bruce in Arizona; I'd really like to be sure that happens.
Here's a shot I took of Bruce near a guard tower of Castillo San Filipe del Morro, an old Spanish fort in San Juan. This and two other forts form the city walls, which have been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. A guard tower from El Morro (the fort's nickname) is also depicted on the "state" quarter of Puerto Rico.

Out Sick

Illnesses (mine and my pc's!) have prevented me from posting the last week. My apologies to those keeping in touch via this blog. I'll try to do better!
I've been sick for 5 days and I'm not getting better! My doc's office says that my symptoms indicate that I can manage it on my own. I felt really old calling them. I remember when I wouldn't have considered going to the doc for cold and/or flu symptoms. Of course, I didn't wear coats and went out in the cold with wet hair, back then, too. Now, I need a scarf around my neck, wear boots when there's no snow just to keep my ankles warm and have severe perfume allergies. God, I'm turning into one of those old women that I always thought were pains in the ass!
I really wanted to be out walking along the river this morning; I'd like to make that a Sunday tradition.
My mom and Sarge brought me some bread pudding yesterday. I always feel very loved when someone does something like that for me. I'll try to remember sick people more often, myself.
I've learned that I need a humidifier in my house. Since the vaporizer was already out for the cat, I've been using it for myself. It's easy to see that it's working; the old windows are steamed up in every room of the house. I really can't believe that an appliance that small can humidify that much area, but check out this plume of steam!
I feel so much better with the moisture in the air. Not better from the cold, but in general. I've been having problems from the dry, indoor air this winter (again: turning into a PITA!). I was convinced that I needed to move to Hawai'i to combat this problem . . .

Monday, March 8, 2010


The Works Progress (later Projects) Administration was created in 1935 in response to America’s Great Depression. It was designed to offer work to unemployed Americans at a time when, according to my grandmother, “You couldn’t BUY a job!”
The WPA employed Americans in public projects. They built bridges, university buildings, zoos, schools, roads, theaters, hospitals, reinforced mountainsides and riverbeds, you name it. The WPA was used extensively in the fledgling National Parks Service, as well as state and local recreation areas. The federal government made WPA funds available to states for their projects, too.

It is said that every community in the nation has at least one WPA-funded project. Although the western US was the benefactor of the bulk of WPA funds, you can see many projects all across the country.
Besides creating improvements, the WPA’s works supported millions of American families through one of the nation’s most challenging economic times.
The Civilian Conservation Corps had been created earlier. Its work had a conservation/resources focus and was available only to men. The WPA, however, employed many female heads of household.
This is what government officials are discussing when we now hear them talk about improving the economy through building America’s infrastructure.
I love WPA projects. They are often in rural settings and use local stone and timber, so there is a rustic beauty in them. The architecture is simple and designed to last.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Sunday Morning Walk

I've always been a lover of water. That, for me, used to translate to lakes. Since I started kayaking, though, I learned to appreciate the unique beauty of rivers.
This morning, I took a long walk along the closest river. This is a wide, beautiful river with lots of large islands. Because of its width, the current is usually gentle and you can kayak in both directions, which is unusual for a river. With river paddling, you usually need a ride back to your car, but you can paddle back in this one.
The area that's pictured is just where the water enters bedrock that's very close to the surface, causing these rapids. You can see how the tumultuous action in the foreground gives way to a glassy smoothness behind it.
Native Americans in this area considered this section of the river sacred. A gigantic and locally-famous limestone rock stands sentry over the transition from silent water to a raging symphony of sound and action. From this vantage high on the banks, it's easy to believe that our ancestors are guiding us.


Remember this plant? My grandma used to put some stems in vases when I was a kid, I think. She called it a money plant, but it's also called silver dollar plant and honesty plant. I think I'll plant some this spring.
I'm waiting to see if the clipping from my Grandma's forsythia bush survived the winter. If not, I'll ask the new owner of her house for another one. It just feels better that it's hers.
A lot of things have been reminding me of her lately. Such as this kitsch-y old clothespin bag. Isn't it great?

Sick Kitty

Mr. Toes is sick, so we've been crawling into a homemade steamroom (vaporizer in a tent) three times a day to loosen his congestion.
I've had Mr. Toes since he was born. I bottle-fed him, actually, so I'm a little over-protective.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Balancing Act

I’m handling Mom’s checkbook now, it seems. From the looks of it, I should have been doing it a long time ago . . . An inability to manage a checkbook must be another result of aging, because my grandma’s was atrocious.
I like math. It makes sense to me and I love the way there are a hundred different paths that can be taken to get to the same place. So, I’ve kind of turned out to be the income tax/bill handling/bank account person in the family.
Checking accounts are a funny thing. When I opened my first, I thought that I had officially graduated to being “an adult.” I didn’t view this as a good thing; it was a rite of passage, but into drudgery and monotony, I thought. I have no basis for that perception, but that’s what I thought. Maybe Mom shared that outlook, because she was over 60, I think, before she got one. Mom, though, is just rebellious by nature.
I never thought I was particular about my checkbook. I balance it, yes, and to the penny. But, the entries aren’t even, the handwriting is bad, I have to use White-Out on some things, the running balance is written in pencil in case I need to erase, etc. I don’t think that’s particular.
Mom doesn’t like math. I’ve noticed that’s a common trait with medical professionals. I used to work in a payroll office and would occasionally need to explain paychecks to our nursing staff - not fun. Some personality traits just contrast with others - highly mechanical people often have poor people skills, techies often buck authority and, I’ve noticed, medical professionals often don’t like figures. Mom’s so bad that just discussing her income tax return frustrates her. “I don’t want to talk about this anymore. It makes me nervous . . .” (She’s more than willing to milk that “nervous” thing, though. You just never know what to believe.)
Mom gets monthly retirement payments from three different places. Despite having been retired over ten years, she doesn’t know which deposits go into her checking account and which go to her savings. And she doesn’t know when they are deposited. When I asked, she hotly instructed me to, “just look a few months back!” As if I hadn’t already done that. Unsuccessfully.
Apparently, the State leaves its retirees guessing as to when their retirement benefits will arrive, because there is no rhyme or reason to her deposit dates.
So, I waited for her statement, which just came; I looked at it last night. Mom had missed 5 deposits, yet she and Sarge both think it’s crazy to bother balancing a checkbook . . .
I can’t imagine having any idea of whether or not I could cover my checks if I didn’t balance it. How do people do that?

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

No Guns In Chicago?

I want a bumper sticker that says “I’m a liberal and I have a handgun”. I’m sure nobody’s printing them, though. Who would go to all that trouble for seven sales nationwide? ;)
I enjoy listening to the NRA/Verteran/Conservative vs Liberal/Euro/Gun Control arguments, particularly the views of people from other nations. A lot of Americans don’t realize how uncommon our right to bear arms is.
I think a lot of people from outside the US see our gun rights as an extension of “American Aggression,” thinking that they come with our tendency to police the world, engage in unpopular invasions and issue international ultimatums.
I think that view is inaccurate; it really doesn’t have anything to do with our military persona. Guns are a part of the American psyche because our land was founded such a short time ago. Those who settled what would become American soil needed guns to do it; it would have been impossible without them. Unlike the European continent, America was born only a couple hundred years ago. So, we still have those rights and we appreciate them.
I used to think that was the end of the argument. Lately, though, my views have been changing. I’m steering away from the idea that circumstance maintains our appreciation of gun rights. I’m starting to think this right just makes sense (in today’s world, in Europe, etc). I used to think that dissenting Europeans and Canadians just weren’t in the same place we are. But, now, they sound a little overly-dramatic to me. Sheesh, we can’t outlaw everything that could kill someone . . .
I became a handgun owner by accident; my gun belonged to my husband. Yet, I made an intentional choice to keep and use it. I knew that I had to either learn to use it or get rid of it. So, I learned how and I try to shoot regularly, since keeping in practice is part of responsible gun ownership. I enjoy target shooting; it makes me feel accomplished. Sometimes I do it in the back yard, but I generally go to a range.
I sort of understand the argument for banning handguns while leaving long guns allowable. I don’t support it, but I understand it. It seems that a lot of states, municipalities and government agencies have determined that as long as we can own rifles, our right to bear arms is still intact. I’m not sure about that.
The Supreme Court is hearing arguments today about the City of Chicago’s handgun ban. I’m anxious to hear their decision and reasoning.

Monday, March 1, 2010


After getting my first class under my belt, I sent proposals to nearly 20 other schools. I’ve had a few nibbles and a couple places that definitely want it.
This is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. It’s not easy to send proposals out; it leaves you quite vulnerable. You have to be ready for any criticism when you do it. I’ve certainly been challenged, which is as it should be; if I can’t stand up to it, it’s because the course isn’t up to it. (Maybe this is what it’s like for my sister to sit with her work at an art fair?)
I put this course together because I believe in its value. I truly believe that it offers good information that I would gladly have paid for years ago. It’s geared to a specific audience, though, and I think you have to be part of that population to see the value in this education. Not everyone gets it.
On Friday, I got fabulous news. A school has a full program within their Adult Ed division; my class fits perfectly with it. The Director contacted me and asked me about compensation and possibly expanding the audience. He also went over the salary difference between hiring on as an employee (which is what I’ve done at the two schools where the class is currently offered) and being hired as a contractor. Wow, contractors are well compensated!
As we were chatting, he said that he had shared the proposal with a number of his associates and they were excited about it. He also said that he believed this education was necessary in the community and that he would like to see me on his school’s regular curriculum! Woo hoo! It’s great to have someone recognize it!
I don’t see how I could be on a regular curriculum at this school. I would love to take weekend road trips all over the state to teach on Saturdays. But my job is 3+ hours away from this particular school; I just don’t see how I can be a “regular”. Nonetheless, it’s great to have someone see that much value in my program.
I still have a big list of untapped schools. I live right on the border of two states. Because the class is state-specific, I’ve only sent out one version so far. The next class (in two weeks!) is in the opposite state than the first class, so that version will be finalized soon. This will open up at least another 20 schools. This is fun!

Turning the Page

We moved Mom back to her house yesterday. And, that quickly, it’s over . . . I miss her already.
She is rehabbing very well and has made progress quickly (not in her mind, of course). I think she considers my place an acceptable option, but her first choice is to be home. My sister recently moved to Mom’s, so I got dropped like a hot potato!
I know that she’s more settled and, therefore, active and productive, at home. But, I also know that we don’t have any idea what will happen and she may well be back. I don’t want to view this as though it’s over. In Mom’s recovery, it’s just a new phase. In my (and my sister’s) handling of Mom’s aging, it’s just a start. And, in life, it’s just a drop. But, her presence is gone from my home, so I can’t help but reflect on the turning of another page.
A lot of good has come from Mom being at my place. First, she has realized what she means to my sister and me. That has led to her understanding (finally!) that she has pretty good kids, despite her (and others’) complaints; I really can’t believe it’s taken her this long to get that! My sister and I have very different capabilities, so we compliment one another well; it’s always good when we collaborate on something and this has been no exception. My cousin has helped us out a lot, too, and that has brought her even closer to us. And, of course, I have learned how therapeutic blogging is! I’m really happy that I started doing this, although it’s not so aptly-named anymore.
I guess one of my most memorable moments of having her with me is when I called her from work one day. I had been setting her breakfast dishes out for her on the table every day, so she could just wheel around the kitchen. I did that beacause I thought she needed me to do it. We had only talked for a minute or two when she said, “I have to go. I’m scrambling an egg for my dog.”