Friday, June 29, 2007


Somehow my recent trip to West Virginia to visit J, who used to work for me, has spawned a reunion of those of us who worked together 25-30 years ago. J has built a website just for this purpose. I seem to have gotten suckered into hosting said reunion in my house.

So now the task at hand is finding all of those souls who have gone their separate ways, moving to other cities, even other countries; changing their names; growing older every year.

The ad hoc organizing committee assigned me the task of finding Linda, a girl with unlimited energy and a genuine concern for everyone she met. We worked together, traveled together, and played together for several years until she and her husband moved to NY. We were still in touch in 1983, when J’s doomed marriage got started. I remember driving to NY and leaving our husbands and children in LI, while we drove up to Connecticut for the wedding.

I saw her maybe once after that and then we simply lost touch. So today when I Googled her name I was most surprised to find her at the same address on LI. It also indicated that her 6'1" 175-pound son had played lacrosse for Harvard. He was a 4-year-old boy with Linda’s boundless energy and a lot of physical dexterity the last time I had seen him. Her older daughter was cited for some sort of medical research. Was she a doctor? How had so much time elapsed?

I dialed the number, expecting a message machine, but instead getting a bubbly female voice that sounded just like Linda used to sound. But instead of Linda, it turned out to be Elizabeth, her daughter who is now 17 whom I have never met. She dutifully said her mom couldn’t come to the phone (turns out she was at work) and filled me in on her sibs. She took down my contact info and agreed to pass it on to her mom.

So here I sit hoping for a call from Linda. We have a mere 20+ years to catch up on. I am positive she will be the same effusive person she was way back then. But I wonder – Does she color her hair? How is her marriage (to an ambitious guy who looked a lot like Dr. Zhivago)? Did 9/11 touch her family in any way? What path did her career follow?

A network of old faces and names is gradually starting to build with this reunion project. This year seems to be all about reunions for me. How very interesting!

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Leiomyo Worries

Just the mention of the word “leiomyo” brings chills to my spine. In 1990 my mother died of a leiomyosarcoma in her liver. My good friend and music partner had surgery today to remove a leiomyo tumor from her stomach and I can’t quit worrying about her.

In my mother’s case, a decade earlier she had had a 10-hour surgery to remove a large very entwined tumor from her intestines. I couldn’t even be there as I was on doctor-ordered bedrest because of a threatened miscarriage (my first child). She was relieved to get a negative pathology reading and returned to the business of living. When she became so sick with cancer years later, they re-examined the pathology from that original surgery to discover it had been mis-read. At that point it was too late to cast blame or file lawsuits and she died a miserable death.

My friend just had laproscopic surgery 3 months ago to remove a very enlarged and painful gallbladder. She had a rough recovery with a secondary infection and never has felt quite right since the surgery. A CAT-scan picked up this tumor in the wall of her stomach. When she described it as a “leiomyo” tumor, much like a fibroid tumor, I’m sure I looked shocked.

I thought about her all morning when the surgery was happening. I pictured the long incision from her breastbone down to her navel. I wondered if the doctor had a feeling about the mass he removed. I hoped the sutures to close the incision would be her last.

My friend is a doctor, who knows only too well what the odds are and what the protocol would be for each outcome. But she is used to being the one explaining all this to the patient and not the reverse. It has been interesting watching her deal with the emotions and fears that are inevitable.

As my friend begins to recover from her ordeal, I’m sending love and healing energy her way. I’m hoping for a legitimate benign pathology reading. And I’m wishing that the removal of this tumor will finally let her get back to full health.

Meanwhile I will surely miss hearing her rich double bass along with my piano part. It will be a while before she is strong enough to support an instrument that size.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

In Awe of the Human Body

One of the rewards for seeing good modern dance is the reminder that the human body is indeed beautiful. We saw the Paul Taylor Dance Company at Wolf Trap last night and I was never more impressed.

It’s an interesting group in that they didn’t all study dance from the time they could walk, but each arrived at the company at the appropriate time. This would include Paul Taylor himself who in the early 50's was attending Syracuse on a swimming scholarship. He took a dance class just for fun and found his lifework. Of the group of 16 dancers, their backgrounds are quite varied, one having an MBA and another graduating summa cum laude from the U of NH in history.

But they have one thing in common now. They dance as if they are one person with a split personality, sometimes combining, sometimes separating, but always with one spirit. I have never before seen such precision.

The opening piece, Arden Court, featured 6 male and 3 female dancers. When the men first came on the stage, I thought they were nude because their bodies were so well defined. It turned out they were shirtless and had on flesh-colored very tight tights. This piece was set to excerpts from the lovely symphonies of William Boyce, an added attraction.

The second piece had a war-time setting and featured men with Basque red berets. Taylor leaves it to the viewer to find happiness or sadness in this work that clearly depicts the interaction of young girls and soldiers who are going off to war. One of the charms of his work is his ability to allow room for thought and interpretation.

The final piece, Promethean Fire, included the entire company all dressed in black velvet striped unitards. The work was written to commemorate the horrific events of September 11, 2001. The dancers were like a sea that came together and parted to a background of Bach. Their symmetry as they united onstage and midair was perfect.

As I sometimes struggle with movement, I am more impressed than ever at the lithe bodies of these young dancers. They continue to remind me of the range of movement and emotion the human body can evoke.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

The Value of Vintage

I’m trying hard to understand the appeal of vintage clothing. Is the idea that the styles “back then” were better or is the point to make a statement that you are daring to buck the current fashion trends?

I had dinner with a friend last night and her daughter Carolyn, who had just taken a job at a vintage clothing store on Capitol Hill. She is totally enamored with the merchandise in the store. She has picked out things she just has to have and things she thinks would look good on her mother. Even with a 20% discount, she could easily spend every penny she makes at $10 an hour.

As we ate our Mexican food and drank Coronas, I wished my daughter was having dinner with me. I miss her so much some times. I remember when she searched the attic for even one article of vintage clothing, bemoaning the fact that I didn’t keep my hippy clothes from the days of my youth. Who ever knew that those bell bottom pants and flower child shirts would be prized possessions some day?

Maybe I’ll stop in and check out Carolyn’s shop in my effort to understand this fascination with clothes from a bygone era. Maybe one of those cute little vintage sundresses (with a price tag 5 times its original price) will remind me of something my mother wore or even I wore. Fashion has always tended to mystify me!

Monday, June 25, 2007

A New Take on Comparative Shopping

Who would have thought that just a week after my cell phone rant I would have found a seemingly legitimate use for my little MOTORAZR in public? Today I discovered the use of the cell phone for comparative shopping.

This morning we made a long list of everything we were out of before I took off for Costco and Whole Foods and my husband headed to Trader Joe’s. I agreed to keep my cell phone on so he could report on finding Empire kosher chicken with a long pull date.

As I made my way through the Costco meat department, I heard my phone go off. Did anyone else even notice? Of course not. They were all too busy corralling small children or talking on their own cell phones in a multitude of different languages. The conversation went something like:

D: I found the chicken dated July 1. They have 32-oz. containers of blueberries for $6.99.
B: I just got the blueberries. They are cheaper here and look very fresh. I can’t find any small dog biscuits here at Costco. Can you get them at TJ’s?
D: Sure.


The little phone came in so handy for saving us money and keeping us from both buying the same thing.

Of course I ended up spending $200 at Costco for some things we probably didn’t need at all, including a bunch of utilitarian clothes. I’ve often wondered if I spend more by trying to save money there than if I just went to regular stores.

There will undoubtedly be another trip to Costco in the near future to return the clothes I bought that don’t fit (since you can’t try anything on while shopping, which I find incredibly annoying).

So now I feel like a total hypocrite about the cell phone, having sucked it up and let it ring in public. But I must say I don’t think the disturbance factor was nearly as great in the middle of Costco as it would be at an upscale sidewalk café. You do see the difference, don’t you?

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Music to Work By

What do pulling weeds and painting a house have in common? Music from 1967 of course. Doesn’t that make perfect sense?

As I attacked the weeds and vines that were choking everything in my back yard this morning, my husband put on the CD I brought home from the reunion filled with the music of our graduation year. He blasted it out of the speakers on the deck, hoping to give me a rhythm to work by.

Those songs suddenly transported me back to 1967, the year I took on painting the interior of our house at $20 a room, hoping to make some quick money. I learned a lot that summer and ruined quite a few pieces of clothing with oil-based paint. The biggest thing I learned about painting is that it is not quick – not if you do it right, that is. My parents insisted that I clean the surfaces thoroughly, and then patch and prime before ever starting the fun part. Oh, and then I had to do all the edges with a brush before using the roller. It was definite a learning experience that convinced me to steer clear of a career in house painting.

The only way I got through this hot, sticky (no A/C in Florida – can you believe that?) job was to blast the radio the entire time. So I learned all the words to those songs that now sit on my new CD.

Quite a few of you reading this were not around in 1967, so you missed out on some good music. Here are some of the highlights:

My Girl – Temptations
House of the Rising Sun – Animals
When a Man Loves a Woman – Percy Sledge
I’ve Lost That Loving Feeling – Righteous Brothers
Good Lovin’ – Rascals

The yard looks incredibly better and I am already stiff and sore from using muscles I don’t normally call on. I’m just as hot and sweaty as I was in 1967, but I have the definite advantage of being to retreat to an air-conditioned house.

The question remains as to whether my yard workout will result in a fresh case of poison ivy. It grows in lots of places in our back yard and I’m positive I can get it just from being in close proximity. I’m ready to jump in the shower and hopefully rinse off the spores or oils or whatever it is that causes the awful itch. But meanwhile I’m still humming “Gimme that good, good lovin...”

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Even Spies Retire

“Did you ever know anyone who worked for the CIA?” I asked my husband on our way home tonight from a movie and dinner with some old friends and some new friends, the man of whom was a retired CIA agent. We both realized that our paths had never crossed with CIA employees, or so we thought.

After recently seeing “The Good Shepherd” and reading the Post article this week about the spilling of “the crown jewels”, I’ve wondered about the lives of those who were part of “the company.”

But this guy was just an ordinary guy, who while still telling us nothing of what he actually did for the CIA, said that he had been under cover for 17 years. That’s a long time. I wonder what he actually told people who asked where he worked during that time. Probably something non-revealing like “the State Department.” When I used to travel for AID, we always knew the Economic Officer in the US Embassy was more than likely CIA. But no one ever knew for sure.

We had an interesting discussion, including the revelation that when Valerie Plame’s cover was blown, so was the identity of those with whom she had worked. He said that the CIA often chooses not to bring on additional publicity when a leak occurs because the damage from the publicity is greater than that from the leak!

As for his thoughts about what US foreign policy should be in Iraq and Afghanistan, he quickly responded that we should get the hell out of both as quickly as we could, exactly my opinion.

There is still something so intriguing, so mysterious about people whose work is a secret. I could have said that of my own father, who dealt in mine warfare. I found myself wondering just what covert activities this guy had been involved in, whether he had been directly or indirectly involved in operations that resulted in the loss of life.

But today he has left his past life with its closets full of skeletons behind, instead selling real estate when the market is good and when he feels like it. I hope we see more of him and his wife in the future. They have become just ordinary people, who no longer have to pretend they are something other than what they really are. That must be a great relief.

Friday, June 22, 2007

An Aging Fleet

I’m somewhat embarrassed to admit that we currently have three cars for (usually) two people in my household. Before you label me as totally decadent, consider that their combined age is 40 years and their combined mileage is 360,000.

Our oldest car is a 1985 Volvo wagon we bought for $5,000 in 1996 when our oldest child got his license. The goal was a solid car that was too old to go very fast. It fit the bill perfectly. The old gray wagon bears the scars of many small scrapes with parking garages and the like, but it’s never been in a major accident, having now been driven by both my children and my friend Deborah’s daughter as well. Today it mostly sits waiting for a child to come home and usually needing a jump start to get it going again. But it is a rather simple car and it was obviously built to last. The thing that amazes me most is the fact that the automatic door locks and power windows still work and have never been repaired.

The “middle” car is a 1991 standard transmission Honda, purchased new for $14,000. It is ostensibly MY car. In all these years it has never left me stranded. It’s seen a couple of minor accidents, but nothing amounting to much damage. It’s on the second or third timing belt and maybe the second clutch, but it’s not guzzling oil and it’s still reasonably peppy. At 180,000 it has lived a very good life.

Our “new” car is a 2005 Prius, by far the most energy efficient of the three and with an initial sticker price much higher than the other two combined. It is deluxe by anyone’s standards, with things like a GPS and all sorts of graphical information about fuel consumption and you name it. (When I drive the Prius, I turn off the GPS and all the glitzy graphs because they drive me crazy.) It is HIS car. It’s also so much better for his back than the Honda or so he says, so rarely do I drive the newest addition.

I’ve been considering what to do when the two oldies bite the dust, which is inevitable. I can actually imagine getting by with just one car eventually. We’re both retired with fairly flexible schedules and we both have good bicycles.

So here’s my plan: take the money that would have gone into a new car for me (it would be MY turn) and buy a grand piano. It would never leave my living room of course and could easily cost as much as a new hybrid of any sort. It would bring me untold enjoyment. After all a car is just a means to an end. A piano, on the other hand, is a means to a beginning – a new level of music making. And by all reports, it would be far better for the environment than any automobile.

How do you vote? Should I be thinking Steinway when the old cars are no more?

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Shopping Without Surrender

I knew exactly the sort of gift I wanted to buy for my friend Deborah’s birthday on Sunday. Something like the little crystal salt shakers that are often in the shape of animals or flowers. Something unusual. I drove to Clarendon thinking I would find it at Bowhe & Peare, a gift store near All About Jane, one of my favorite clothing stores. But B & P was no longer, instead replaced by something like a Sprint store. Why hadn’t I noticed, as many times as I have been down that street to go to Whole Foods?

I figured I would just zip over to Pentagon City to As Kindred Spirits, a similar store where I have always been able to find interesting gifts. But it was equally GONE, replaced by a store called Lucy’s that sold clothing. Moved to Tysons, so the salesperson said. Or I could also go to National Airport, where I would pay a fortune for parking.

Today I opted for Tysons, not the old mall, but Tysons Galleria. I’m not all that familiar with this shopping center, so I consulted the mall directory upon entering. No listing for As Kindred Spirits. Could it be that I was striking out altogether? But no, after asking several people, I was able to find the recently opened store. I was so happy to see the colorful merchandise, including clothing, jewelry, hand-painted silk ties, ceramics, and lots of cards. I settled on a twisted copper and silver bracelet and a small angel charm as good luck for her upcoming surgery. I love the distinctive colorful raffia ties they use.

I’m glad I doggedly tracked As Kindred Spirits to its new location. I reminded the proprietor that they are not listed on the mall directory, hoping that perhaps that might help them stay in business. I’m fussy about the gifts I buy for the people I like in my life. It’s nice to have a favorite store and to be able to find it.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Take It Elsewhere

As my friend and I approached a popular restaurant on Barracks Row on Capitol Hill to have lunch today, we noticed among the dozen or so customers sitting outside that at least three of them were on their cell phones.

Maybe it’s because I’m not an ardent cell phone user, but I really am repulsed by the idea of dining with friends and at the same time carrying on a conversation on a cell phone. I mean, couldn’t it just wait for say 45 minutes? Do these people think it makes them seem more important, more in demand to take a call between the appetizer and the main course while their friends are literally put on hold?

If we can urge smokers to come together in “butt huts”, why not ask cell phone users to gather in similar public places? You may think this sounds extreme, but frankly I am tired of hearing the myriad of ring tones which seem to go off more and more often. I heard one in the middle of a bar mitzvah service last week. Sheesh! Not even God has such a need for immediacy.

Perhaps when I finally realize my phone must be with me and be turned on at all times, I will become just as obnoxious as those dining outside at Belga today. But for now, I say silence the cells and return those urgent calls at a more opportune moment when the whole world is not privy to your conversation!

Am I the only one with this pet peeve?

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Energy Conscious

Have you ever thought about what it is that feeds your energy? I am learning for myself that it is people. This surprises me because I always thought of myself as sitting on that fence between being an introvert and being an extrovert.

Yesterday I got up with great anticipation of playing music with my teacher Bill for the latter part of the morning. He is so patient as he deals with trying to fill in many of the musical voids that I still have after all these years of playing the piano. It is pure pleasure to hear his exquisite bass and his 9-foot grand piano, especially when I am hitting the right notes. The Schubert Arpeggione was considerably better than the last time we played it and I basked in his praise of my improvement.

But then I went home to an afternoon with no plans and a husband whose work and errands didn’t include me. Instead of picking one of the many things I could do on my own, I simply went to sleep, taking a 2-hour nap.

By that time I was already looking forward to my yoga class. I have become friends with several people in the class, having seen them at yoga for years now. We had a rousing discussion of tattoos and body piercings before we settled in to serious yoga. Our class focused on “finding the force”, a la Starwars, very appropriate as I explored my energy source. I took my friend Elizabeth home after class and she invited me to supper after next week’s class.

It’s these encounters with people, some planned and some just by chance, that feed my energy. The week ahead offers me several chances to reconnect with friends and to learn about their busy lives as we eat, drink, talk, play, or just sit together.

As an only child, I had to know how to amuse myself. But it was sometimes a lonely existence. Even today I much prefer having a warm body around to the isolation of being alone. Instead of sucking my energy out, those around me tend to stoke it, leaving me with a feeling of great satisfaction.

What is it that energizes you?

Monday, June 18, 2007

The Lives of Others

One of the side-benefits of my monthly piano group is seeing where other people live. From the exterior many of the houses on Capitol Hill look the same, but beyond the front door, it’s a different story.

Yesterday we met at Polly’s house. Polly’s name alone seems like a throw-back to another era. But her house goes back even further. It was built around the time of the Civil War as a grocery store. How do they know? There are oyster shells in the plaster instead of lime because lime was not available during the war. As a result the plaster sometimes falls off the walls in big clumps. But it was all nicely intact yesterday. The room housing the Boston grand piano has a ceiling at least 25 feet high with exposed wooden beams. The walls contain 17th century prints that are exquisite. A 20-foot ficus tree stands between the piano and the glass doors overlooking a beautiful oval raised swimming pool fed by flowing water which is open to the sky in the center of the house.

The library behind the swimming pool is so extensive that they must have one of those movable sets of stairs to reach the top shelves. The books are all about art of past centuries. Polly is also an art historian, specializing in the art of Paris and Rome in the 17th century.

Polly’s daughter May is perhaps the most beautiful 8-year-old little girl I have ever seen. She too looks and behaves like a child of a time long ago. She has long blond curls and was wearing a floor-length skirt. She resembled a porcelain doll.

The most remarkable of yesterday’s piano offerings was by May, who sat at the large piano with her feet resting on two wooden boxes and played a beautiful sonatina by memory. Her technique was flawless, as is the case with many children who study the Suzuki method. Her fingers moved effortlessly and had just the right curve to them.

It was fun to play three movements of a sonata by Antoniotti with Deborah on the big black piano. Despite the fact that the B below middle C was out of commission, we did just fine. The piece had a signature with B flat fortunately.

What a rare opportunity to glimpse this gem of a house tucked away behind an exterior that blended perfectly with those of the other row houses on the block. What a realization that the lives of others are sometimes so different from mine.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

A New Take on Bach

Last night’s concert wasn’t JS or JCE Bach, but instead it was PDQ Bach a la Peter Schickele. This was a live recording done at the Gordon Center in Owings Mills, Maryland. A work colleague had invited us to join him and his wife for the musical evening.

Peter Schickele is a bonafide musician and composer, having graduated from Julliard in the 50's, where he and a group of students invented PDQ Bach in an attempt to escape from the serious diet of classical music they all were being fed. I’ve listened to Schickele Mix on NPR over the years, but have never seen him perform in person.

Schickele was joined by 6 other performers for a lively evening of music and song. I loved some of the rounds, like “If Love Is Real” and “Cyndi”, written to help Schickele remember the girl’s name at the deli where he often ate. But I was surprised at my feelings of anger when the music sounded authentic and then became silly. Somehow I just can’t interject the absurd into music that should be beautiful and serious.

I thought at least the levity of the evening might break my husband’s penchant for falling asleep within 5 minutes of the first note. Nope. Just the sight of a violin closed his eyelids and caused him to nod off.

We were both awake for the rousing finish: Songs from Shakespeare, including Macbeth’s Soliloquy, Hamlet’s Soliloquy, The Three Witches from “Macbeth”, Juliet’s Soliloquy, and the Funeral Oration from “Julius Caesar”.

Was it worth the long drive to Owings Mills? Debatable. Would I see him again? Probably not. But we did enjoy spending the evening with my friend and his wife. Sometimes it’s not just about the entertainment.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Difficult Decisions

Our aging black lab continues to struggle to get up and walk, with his back legs sometimes appearing almost not to support him. Even when he is lying down, his back legs seem to be at an odd angle. For the past year he has panted a lot of the time, even in the depth of winter. We had felt fortunate thinking that he was not in pain since he never whined.

When my son Dan was home we took Dylan in to the vet’s to see if there was anything we could do for him. Dr. Cohen first told us that all that panting was his way of dealing with the pain. He also said that the problem is not necessarily in his hips, but more likely in his lower back. He prescribed a medication, but it’s not obvious that it has had a significant effect on Dylan.

This made me wonder if the weakness in his back legs is the same symptom we humans get when we have sciatica, which is usually accompanied by horrific pain.

I have always said that we will put Dylan out of his misery when he can no longer stand up and walk, thinking he had a degenerative condition that would eventually result in the inability to stand.

But then I found myself wondering if he has the equivalent of a slipped disc whether it could be repaired surgically, just as my husband’s herniated disc was removed. Finding out would of course require expensive tests, including perhaps an MRI. Could a 13-1/2-year-old dog even withstand the anesthesia for surgery? Would surgery correct the problem? How much would all of this cost? How much longer could we expect Dylan to live even if this problem were resolved?

Animals in the wild never face all of these possible interventions. They simply die when they can no longer function. But we often go to extremes for our pets, treating them as if they were family members.

Every time I see Dylan struggle to stand as he pants continuously, I want to do whatever I possibly can to make him more comfortable. But I just don’t know how far to go. Unfortunately Dylan can’t make his wishes known. He can only pant and look up at me with those big brown sad eyes.

What would you do?

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Under Age

What a mindshift to congratulate yourself because you are under the age limit! That’s right, seniors are 65 or older and I am not yet a senior. I could have passed with the rest of my Temple Micah group on this morning’s tour of the Kreeger Museum and paid the $5 entrance fee, but instead I gladly offered up my $8.

As of today, I have joined the “lunch bunch”, a group of retirees who get together once a month for some sort of outing followed by lunch. Today was an art day to see the work of Gene Davis and to be taken on a guided tour by one of our own who is a docent at the Kreeger.

I typically don’t appreciate modern art, but for some reason I found myself being quite attracted to the various canvasses of vertical stripes in the exhibit entitled “Interval”. I kept wanting to assign each color a musical note and to define the tempo based on the width of the stripe. His use of color was absolutely mesmerizing. He suggests that the viewer follow one color at a time. Just as you thought you had come up with a pattern for the color or the stripe combination, the artist would prove you wrong. One of Gene Davis’ works is the subject of the colorful street painting out in front of the Shakespeare Theatre.

The permanent collection at the Kreeger includes the works of many impressionist artists and their contemporaries, including Monet, Picasso, and Rodin. It is such a pleasure to get as close as you want to these masterpieces without a guard glaring at you. The building itself is spectacular because it was designed to showcase art and music.

As for music, we were treated to a pre-concert rehearsal by the Miles Hoffman ensemble, who will be performing a concert there this evening. It was almost a sensual overload to be viewing the magnificent art and listening to Bach.

I will definitely sign up for the next lunch bunch activity, but meanwhile I may just have to make another trip to the Kreeger to take a closer look at the 180 pieces of art that are on exhibit there.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Now What?

As my family sat around the table playing Scrabble after midnight last night and I said I really needed to go to bed, my husband replied, “You’re retired. What do you need to get up for in the morning?” That question so well captures my current dilemma.

I feel as though I have been on an extended vacation for the past 6 weeks. Don’t get me wrong. I have no desire to go back to work. And I have proven that I can sleep in. But there is an undercurrent of angst that I am trying to better understand.

When I was working, at the end of the day I could always cite accomplishments, problems solved, products delivered, meeting set up – things that happened because I was doing my job. Some days I have little to show for my waking hours – at best perhaps a cleaned closet or a trip to the grocery store. I’m having an adjustment to this seemingly diminished productivity.

When I woke each day, I had a definite sense of purpose. Although I seem to be busy now, I can’t articulate my current raison d’etre. I’m just unclear as to where I’m headed or if I have any direction at all.

Hardly a day goes by that some well-meaning soul doesn’t offer me an idea for something I could do in retirement. There is absolutely no shortage of ideas. But there’s this issue of sorting out the things I think I should do and the things I want to do. In some cases they overlap; in others, they do not. I would think a healthy balance might be a combination of the “should’s” and the “want to’s”. I haven’t yet identified regular activities aimed at helping other people – one of the things I always said I was going to do. This might include teaching adults to read or visiting the sick or elderly.

I think I am going to have to come up with some semblance of a schedule. This is not to say I can’t deviate from the schedule, but it might help shape my day. I could see waking up at 7:00 am, feeding and dealing with the dogs, exercising for 45 minutes, eating breakfast as a start to the day. This would then mean going to bed by 11:00 pm, which seems perfectly reasonable. As it is now, when I wake up at 9:00 am, I actually feel cheated from not being able to enjoy the peace of early morning.

I know I am motivated by having things to look forward to. I had so much fun anticipating my 40th high school reunion. I may have to make a concerted effort to plan things with family and friends that can serve as motivators. Otherwise I will go crazy in this sea of the ultimate freedom.

Sometimes I wonder if we’re ever really content with our lives. When we are working, we can’t stop asking when we can get off the treadmill. When we step off, we want to know how to occupy our time. Only in an affluent society do we have the privilege of asking these questions. That thought alone should make me grateful for my current situation. I’m not yet really old and I have a big chunk of my life still ahead of me. I’m sure with time all of this will get sorted out. But in my typical impatience, I’m ready for the next phase after the vacation is over. I’m ready to work on this business of semi-structured relaxation. I want to be retired with a purpose.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Does Mousse Matter?

Since my daughter, who knows everything about hair, told me several years ago that I just had to start using “hair products” to control all those flyaway strands, I have faithfully moussed. But I secretly wondered if it really made any difference.

I refuse to fly with things like mousse packed in my checked suitcase for fear they might explode at high altitudes. So when my husband went shopping after we arrived at the beach, mousse was on his list -- just a small, cheap one, any brand. When we departed I left my no-name mousse behind, thinking I would be home the next time I washed my hair.

That was before we sat on the runway in Tallahassee for 3 hours yesterday missing our connecting flight home. The Memphis Holiday Inn our voucher paid for was not the kind of place to provide mousse, so I went mouseless today.

As I just surveyed my hair in the NWA lavatory mirror, I confirmed that my daughter was indeed right. My hair is clean and soft, but it is also limp and out of control.

The good hair news is my discovery of a new shampoo I love. Axis sells Bumble & Bumble and Kerastase. I had tried B&B since the whole world seems to love it, but it didn’t work for my hair. However, the other day when I got my hair cut, I bought travel size containers of Kerastase shampoo and conditioner. It smells and feels divine and leaves my hair feeling healthy.

Hair continues to be a challenge, but I’m learning about all those products – the ones that work and the ones that don’t and the ones I just can’t do without.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Ch - Ch - Changes

Forty years has brought a lot of changes to that part of the Florida panhandle I used to call home. I had chance to think about how things used to be as I saw how they are today.

We drove by the house where I lived from the time I was 3 to the time I left for college never to return home to live. When we moved in the shrubbery was all tiny and the yard was still mostly sand. By the time my parents died, the shrubbery was overgrown and the plumbing was hopelessly clogged. The house had fallen into a sad state of disrepair.

After I sorted through a lifetime of possessions, I decided to sell the house at a greatly reduced price to a fireman and his family who pledged they would reclaim it. I was pleasantly surprised to see they had done just that. It was freshly painted with a bright red door and a white picket fence. I’m relatively sure it looks just as nice on the inside.

The beach at precisely the place where we stayed in our wonderful condo was formerly the secluded site where my girls and I went with our cooler of beer and the lemon juice for our hair. At that time 40 years ago there was no sign of a condo, no umbrellas for rent, no jetskis, no parasail rides. It was just wide open drifts of white sand graced by waving sea oats. Despite the ravaging of hurricanes Opel and Katrina, the beach is totally overbuilt with huge high rises and an overabundance of souvenir shops and restaurants. Only the state park preserves any stretches of pristine beach.

We drove to Tallahassee today to catch our flight home. With a little time to spare, we went into the city to visit some of my old haunts. Even the Chi Omega house has had a facelift since I was there in an effort to erase the image of the house where Ted Bundy committed his gruesome murders in the mid-70’s. The sidewalk out front has been brightly painted to give the name and symbol of my sorority.

Of course as I type this we are sitting on the runway for almost 2 hours with no hope of getting home tonight as planned. We are currently booked on a flight out of Memphis tomorrow AM that gets in at 11:30. If we can ever get to Memphis tonight, that should still allow me to meet up with 2 Blogger friends for lunch tomorrow afternoon. I’ve been so looking forward to this lunch date. I just hope something happens soon before I go crazy sitting in this hot airplane where the anger level is escalating by the minute.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Catching Up on the Last 40 Years

As I looked at the nametags of my classmates, I found myself constantly trying to fast backward to 1967. It was obvious that time had been much kinder to some than others. There were pounds gained, hair lost, and in some cases even more extremes like hips replaced and even a walker. Perhaps most shocking was the list of 36 names of departed souls.

I had kept touch with my small group of close friends, the ones pictured above in 1967, the ones with whom we were staying. Although each of them has had definite challenges in these 40 years, there were no real surprises. We are amazingly the same people we were back them. We’re spread out across the eastern part of the country and two of them are currently air hostesses flying all over the place, but when we get together, it’s as though we pick up where we left off.

The most striking change in the class as a whole was the total absence of clickishness. Those groups that used to be so sacrosanct had simply dissolved leaving a bunch of 58-year-olds that were looking back with a certain acceptance and fondness and forward with a desire to be just one happy family.

I looked around the room at guys I had once been interested in. There was Bill from 3rd grade who was very tanned in flip-flops and had a young trophy (second) wife. There was Ray, my football-player heartthrob since 8th grade, who never even knew all those years that I liked him. By the time he finally asked me out in college, my crush had passed. I caught up with the last 4 decades in his life as a Navy man. Turns out he and his family live just a few miles from me. There were numerous others, like Tommy and Graham and even a newly found friend Richard, who were always good for a conversation about just about anything. But then I looked at the one sitting right next to me and realized I had chosen the best of all.

One of the girls in our class, Jennifer, had been a wild child. Ray, the big strapping football player, admitted that he had been scared of her growing up. In fact his mother had warned him to stay away from girls like her. Jennifer had managed to marry a former NFL player as her second husband. He had been one of the duo who perfected the short 3rd down pass that FSU popularized in the last 60’s.

We sang along with and danced to the music of our high school years – some of the best songs ever. Songs like Double Shot, My Girl, Stop in the Name of Love, When a Man Loves a Woman. One of my classmates had gone to the trouble of making a CD of those songs for each of us.

I’m glad I came. I was surprised at how much I enjoyed talking to people I didn’t even know very well. I absolutely loved my reunion with “my girls”. We captured our feet in the sand this morning.

As for the location, you can’t get much better than Panama City Beach, “the world’s most beautiful beach.” Here are a couple of pics in and around our (free) condo.

I’ll be back for the 50th. But meanwhile I will be in close touch with the fearsome foursome, the best of friends.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Get Ready

I declared today – the day before I leave for Florida to go to my 40th high school reunion – SPA DAY. It was a day to pamper myself and I did just that.

For Mother’s Day, my husband had graciously given me a gift certificate to Serenity Day Spa. When I called to make an appointment, I learned that it was a little more than I needed for a standard massage, so I decided to extend it just a bit and get a manicure and pedicure as well. I hadn’t done my nails since my bad experience a year ago at a place that was obviously not so hygienic.

I’m not used to the spa routine where they give you a big fluffy robe and slippers and then send you on your circuit of “treatments”. But I’m very adaptable.

The massage was first. Erin got high marks for not hurting me, but unfortunately the litmus test she was being measured against classified the overall massage as somewhat mediocre. It was obviously timed for 50 minutes – and definitely not 51! Like with any form of exercise or even piano practicing, it would seem there should be a warm up at the beginning and a cool down at the end. But this massage was just the same rhythm, the same intensity for 50 minutes. I knew exactly what I was dealing with when she commented that she liked to schedule her clients as close together as possible so she could be done and go home.

But from a somewhat mediocre massage, I moved on to the best manicure and pedicure I could ever imagine. In contrast it lasted a full 90 minutes with a beautiful Japanese woman who really knew what she was doing. Reminiscent of the tea ritual, she introduced each step in the process from choosing the color of polish to the final topcoat. She was careful to be thorough but never to hurt me. She actually said I had good nails, a real first! I confided to her the fact that orthodonture had cured me of nailbiting.

The final stop on spa day was to have my hair cut by Richard at Axis. He laughed as I told him where I was going tomorrow, realizing he was just 5 years behind me. He did his usual magic on my hair, blow drying it as I can never do it. The great thing about Richard is that he has figured out how to color my hair so I only have to get it done about every 4 months.

Then spa day was over and I returned to the real world of taking Dylan to the vet’s and thinking about packing. The tension level at home is rising, so it is none too soon that I’m leaving on a jet plane.

Posting from PC may be somewhat problematic because there is no Internet access where we are staying. We have a choice of Joey’s Pizza or the Cajun Shack, neither of which sounds terribly appetizing. I will take pics, but the report may not be up until I am back on Monday. There will definitely be a lot to tell!

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Ramping Up for a Geriatric Dog

Our black lab Dylan is 13-1/2 – the equivalent of about 95 in human years. He doesn’t see or hear well. He has been having increasing difficulty going up and down the 7 stairs to our back yard. So today I decided to make him a ramp.

This is somewhat reminiscent of the heated dog house we designed as part of our renovation in 1999. That was when we were both still working and the dogs were outside during the day. What better way to avoid the cold and snow that to be snugly inside a heated enclosure with a swinging door. Try as we could, they would never go into the doghouse. The switch to turn the heat on and off has forever remained off.

So given that experience I didn’t want to invest a lot of money in materials for a ramp. My idea was to nail substantial plywood to two supporting pieces of wood and cover the whole thing with indoor/outdoor carpeting to provide friction.

I’m actually pretty good at constructing things, having learned a lot when I was 10 and a friend and I made a dollhouse that took up half my room. So I measured and hammered and stapled and finished it off with the essential duct tape. I installed the ramp over the 7 steps.

The moment of truth had arrived. Would he use it? Dan’s first attempt to coax him down was unsuccessful. Meanwhile Jake got his kong stuck underneath.

Dan put a leash on Dylan and he reluctantly went down.

At this point I’m not convinced he will use the ramp. I’m congratulating myself on spending only $5 on scrap wood at Home Depot. I’ve now turned over responsibility for any “redesign” to the men in my family who were only too happy to offer up their suggestions for improvement. I’ve exhausted my ideas on ramp-building, at least for today.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Take Me Out to the Ballgame

Although baseball would never be my first choice, Dan determined that we should go as a family to a Nats game tonight. He reminded me that my first date with my husband had been to an Orioles game, so just for old time’s sake, he said I should go with them. That would make my second Nats game and my second regular season game with my husband. At this rate I will probably see just one more game before I die – now there’s a reassuring thought.

I spent the first inning learning how to take pictures with my new phone. That seemed a productive thing to do. Of course I recognized that there would still be a problem of how to retrieve the pictures from my phone, but that would happen later.

I confirmed that baseball has to be the slowest game in the world. No wait, that might actually be golf. For some reason I like watching golf a lot better than baseball. Maybe it’s because I know how to play golf and I could never hit the ball worth crap when I was a kid. I could catch it even without a glove, but hitting was never my forte. I concluded later that it was probably because I was astigmatic even back then and so I could never see the ball correctly as it approached the plate. Whatever, I inevitably struck out and no one wanted to pick me for their team.

The game tonight ended at 7-6 with the Pirates winning. I concluded that the pitchers really made the biggest difference and we saw a whole lot of them tonight. It seemed like both teams were forever changing pitchers.

I’m always amazed at the enthusiasm of the crowd, even when the home team is losing by a bunch of runs. They cheer, they dance, they drink more beer, and they stomp their feet. It’s good to see the very young and the very old, black and white, all mixed up together watching our national sport. If I tried just a littler harder, I could probably learn to enjoy baseball. I probably could even become a loyal fan. But I must confess tonight I didn’t even really care who won as long as the game wasn’t tied at the end of the 9th inning.

Monday, June 04, 2007

A Surprise Visit

Jake was so happy to see Dan tonight that he ripped his shirt in his exuberance. We were equally happy but a little more restrained. Dan is our oldest child, who is currently living in San Francisco and who recently passed the California bar.

We got a call several days ago from Dan saying he was coming home for a few days between lodging changes. Four of those days we will be in Florida, but this means we no longer need a dog sitter.

I think we are going to have a great visit – especially if I refrain from asking about the job search or the status of his bank account. I will grant that at 26 he is entitled to make his way in the world without my interference. He volunteered that he is applying for a job with at least one NGO and we left the employment situation at that.

We just had a very interesting discussion about the California bar exam, reputed to be the most difficult in the country. He told us his strategy for dealing with the 100-question multiple choice section on 6 types of law for which they give you exactly 3 hours. That’s less than 2 minutes per question. He told us about the performance tests, practical applications of the law that require two afternoons of writing. Fortunately one of them was closely related to the work he did for a law firm in Tucson.

The first day we are always all on our best behavior. It’s only after a few days when differences in our approach to things like clothes and dishes start to cause friction. Right about that time we should be boarding a plane for Florida, meaning that this visit may be just about perfect.

So for the next week Jake will have his Kong thrown as often as he wants both day and night, Dan will probably stay up to all hours of the night, and we will likely eat a lot of Indian food.

He may well never live here again, but it is always a treat to have Dan home for a visit, even if it’s a short one.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Back to Health All of a Sudden

I know this sounds crazy, but there have been two times in my life when I actually felt a virus leave my body – this recent illness of mine and a really bad one a long time ago. When my husband asked me when I started feeling better and I told him that I was suddenly 100% better at 11:15 p.m. last Thursday, he looked at me like I was nuts.

I remember vividly the occasion on which this also happened in the fall of 1966. It was my senior year in high school. I was going from Panama City, FL, with a group of friends first to Gainesville to watch our high school football team compete in some regional playoff and then on to Tallahassee to watch an FSU football game. The day before we were to leave I became quite sick. My mother took me to the doctor who prescribed an Rx (which probably did no good against a virus) and I left with the group, as sick as I can ever remember being. I was constantly taking Excedrin to keep my fever down and sucking on throat lozenges and of course taking the antibiotics. After being so sick for 4 days, as we were walking down Jefferson Street in Tallahassee headed toward the stadium for the game, I suddenly was completely well. It was as though I breathed in and then breathed out the virus. I never took another pill and I enjoyed the game immensely, as I always enjoyed college football (even uninebriated).

The very same thing happened this week just as I was getting ready to go to bed last Thursday. I had still been sniffling and sneezing and coughing throughout the day and was anticipating another night with difficulty sleeping. But after the 11:15 magical moment, there was no need for another Kleenex and the sneezing and coughing simply stopped altogether.

I would ask my doctor friend Deborah about this, but she is far too practical to believe in such things. I will admit that most illnesses gradually subside, with the symptoms lessening each day until they are gone. But on these two occasions, it was as though the virus simply moved on.

Come to think of it, the next day is when my husband determined that he indeed had the same thing I did. Could that possibly be? Maybe this virus has more than artificial intelligence...

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Shoes, Glorious Shoes

I’m a sucker for shoes, always have been. But in recent years my requirement that they be comfortable has limited my choices. I have had the incredibly bad luck to find great shoes that are then discontinued both by Ecco and by Gabor.

I went through the entire last year without finding even one pair of comfortable new shoes to buy. I was getting a little panicky that I was going to have to go to my 40th HS reunion with dorky shoes that were falling apart.

Yesterday I decided to go to DSW, thinking that among those thousands of shoes they would have a pair or two that would work. The price was definitely right, but after an hour of trying on everything that looked like even a remote possibility, I walked out empty-handed thinking something must really be wrong with my feet if DSW was a bust.

But then I decided to go to Nordstroms, where I had had shoe luck in the distant past. Nordstroms is a place where the salespeople still work on commission. This means if they want to make a commission they know their stock, they listen to people, and they are courteous. I can’t say any of those qualities were met at DSW, where I was hard-pressed to find an employee who even spoke English. Granted the prices are about four times as high, but I was desperate.

Uzma was the young woman who waited on me at Nordstoms. She too was not from this country, but she was probably from India and spoke excellent English. She quickly sized me up and disappeared into the back, coming out with a stack of four boxes.

I warned her that I was difficult customer to please and that we might not be successful. But she just smiled and started opening the boxes. Not only did they all fit, but two of her choices were absolutely perfect. The color was right. They fit and were comfortable. I just love the black ones that will be dressy but casual at the same time.

As I was leaving I asked Uzma for her card, thinking that in the future I would go straight to her, skipping Comfort One and certainly skipping DSW.

They always say the shoes make an outfit. I hope this is true, because I have nothing new and exciting to wear. So maybe they will look at my hair (more on that later in the week) and my feet and say “Can that possibly be Barbie?” Yes, I’m sad to say that was my name until I went away to college.

Don’t you love my shiny black sandals?

Friday, June 01, 2007

The Reality of an Unstructured Life

A month into this new life of mine, I’m starting to understand some of the challenges of managing all this free time. Part of me longs for some sort of framework to govern my life which is flowing in every direction at the same time.

The one thing a full-time job does is to make decisions for you like when you will get up, when you will get a shower each day, when you will get dressed and what you will wear, when you will exercise, when you will eat your 3 meals a day. As it stands now, all of those are up for grabs. There are days when I don’t get a shower until 3:00 in the afternoon, when I never really get dressed in anything I would wear outside the house, and when I never put a drop of make-up on.

If I used my husband’s model (retired for almost 4 years), I would get up at 9:00, exercise, shower, dress, eat breakfast at 10:30, lunch at 2:30, dinner at 8:00, go to bed around 1:00 a.m. He throws in some web-site work throughout the day and maybe a bike ride and some TV late at night. But on a normal day, this is his schedule and it seems to work for him.

Back to the question of what to wear and make-up, I have to ask who my audience is here. Do I want to be impressed when I look in the mirror? (I’m mostly not right now.) Do I want to impress my fellow Costco shoppers? Do I want to be ready if someone invited me out to a nice lunch? Does my husband really care or would he even notice the difference? I seem to currently be begging the issue by addressing my physical appearance only if and when I have an “appointment”. This week that would mean that I have looked like a slob most of the time as I sat around blowing my nose.

The only real constant so far in this new chapter of my life is music. Most every day I sit down and play the piano for an hour or so. It feels good to know this happens on a regular basis.

I’m starting to get the sense that my life would be a little more predictable if I established some sort of routine – even getting up at the same time each day might help. As nice as unstructured time might sound, it’s sort of like floating through the water and never finding any place to cast your anchor.

Maybe my second month will be one of experimenting with just a little structure – nothing too constricting or absolute, just a frame of reference.