Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Dylan 12/30/1993 - 07/31/2007

With a mixture of relief and anguish we took Dylan in to have him put to sleep. We watched him struggle through the last few months with arthritis and back pain and a general weakness of his back legs with no hope of getting back to full health. He was pushing 100 in human years. My husband, my daughter, and I all realized that it was time to bring an end to his misery.

Although he never wanted to relieve himself in the house, it was such an effort for him to go outside and occasionally he didn’t make it. When he refused to eat dog food last week, I cooked up a huge batch of chicken and rice. After about 3 days when that no longer had his interest, I switched to scrambled eggs and bananas. He never declined the last sips of milk in my cereal bowl, a ritual as old as he was.

I started looking through old photo albums last night and found pictures of young Dylan, the most docile puppy ever. When we first got him, he would ride in my lap when I went to drive the children’s swimming carpool.

Here is a picture with him and our daughter, the real motivator for getting another dog. Our previous dog Schnizzie had died three years before and there had been a series of every rodent imaginable after that. It was such a relief to have a dog again after those rats and guinea pigs and hamsters.

One Halloween my daughter and her friend dressed themselves and the dogs up as clowns and went trick-or-treating in Old Town.

My daughter and I actually succeeded in bathing both dogs last weekend. So he went out today with a shiny soft black coat which had been carefully brushed.

Dylan’s primary motivation was always food. He never cared about chasing things, including balls and squirrels. But food made his ears perk up. So today for his last meal, I cut up a piece of beef tenderloin and sauteed it with scrambled eggs. He ate it as though he knew he would never have it again.

May he rest in peace. There will never be a better dog on the face of this earth. Dylan, I will forever miss your quiet presence.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Prelude to a Root Canal

Getting a root canal is right up there on the list of the things I hate most. But today was the day for my third, suggested by my wonderful dentist Larry Bowers as an effort to save a dying tooth.

My previous root canals were done by Dr. Zweibel, a little man with contacts that made his eyes an unreal shade of bright blue. I always thought he looked rather like an exotic bug. He was good at what he did, but every part about it was sheer torture from the painful shots of Novocain to the roto-rooting of my canals to the dead feeling in my mouth for at least 12 hours.

My morning had a rather odd stacking of appointments prior to the root canal. It started off with two half-hour silent sits with a walking meditation in between. I commented somewhat jokingly to Gordon on the way out that maybe my root canal would just seem like a third sit.

Then I had an appointment with my osteopath Dr. Craddock to address the problems I’ve been having for a while now with my neck and shoulders. His work always seems like some sort of magic to me as he slowly lets his fingers explore the troubled area, putting a little pressure here and there. His exam seemed somewhat meditative to me, especially as the constricted area started to release. He determined that my right ribs and my collarbone were the source of the problem. I sort of floated out of his office and headed downtown.

My tooth problem was caused by a fall I took in Norway 4 years ago. The Norwegian dentist I saw (exam + X-ray for the equivalent of $50) had pronounced the broken tooth no longer vee-tal (meaning alive). I came home, had gum surgery, had the tooth bonded, and waited for it to turn black.

It never really took on that dead look, but Dr. Bowers saw a change on my latest X-ray that would indicate that the tooth is being absorbed by my body. Not a good thing, because that means it will eventually just crack off completely. The solution? A root canal for $1225.

He recommended endodontist Kim Menhinick, a 30-something woman with a blond pony tail and very natural eyes. I liked her immediately. I especially liked the fact that I never felt the shots of Novocain at all. She said she had learned a trick from an oral surgeon about how to give them painlessly. Instead of gripping the chair with white knuckles and practically hyperventilating, I found myself quite calm today as I sat through part one of the root canal process.

Could it have been all those other morning activities that made this root canal bearable? I would still not opt for such a procedure if given a choice, but I do believe getting my body prepared for this assault made a difference.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Talk to Me / Her

Finding a movie that meets all my criteria is always a challenge for my husband – no violence, a happy ending, what a wimp I am! Last night’s movie was “Talk to Me”, the story of Petey Green, the ex-con turned DJ.

It was a good way to glimpse the mood of DC during the late 60's when the city exploded over racial issues. Petey became the sounding board for blacks with generations of pent-up anger as he spun the tunes on WOL.

I couldn’t help but see the similarity between Petey and my friend Tondrea, the woman who was the victim of a hit-and-run accident in Suitland just two years ago. She could always tell it like it is. She never hesitated to give advice to the children of her drug-riddled neighborhood who often had no one else to care about them. She was willing to testify against those who committed wanton crimes against humanity. That’s probably what got her killed.

Twenty minutes before the end of the movie, my husband’s phone went off on vibrate. “It’s R___ (our daughter)” he said as he quickly walked out to take the call. I wondered if she had been in an accident, if she was stranded somewhere, what was so urgent that she would call in the middle of the movie. As it turns out, she was saying “Talk to me” after being thoroughly harassed by DC’s finest for having expired tags. It wouldn’t do that she had just driven in from Boston late the previous night. They could have simply written her the $100 citation, but instead they kept making idle threats and made her wait forever while they made sure the car wasn’t stolen.

So as Petey’s voice was silenced by cancer at age 53, my husband was talking to her and missing the end of the movie. Fortunately for him the best parts of the movie were toward the beginning and the end was actually somewhat schmaltzy.

As it turned out, our daughter hadn’t even reached Hawk & Dove when she was pulled over. So she drove the car with the expired plates back home and then sweet-talked her Dad into driving her back to Capitol Hill, where she was relieved of the need to be a sober driver.

I was surprised to find her asleep in her bed this AM with no evidence of a hangover. How did she get there? A $29 cab ride. It was an expensive evening.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Modern-day Virgin Birth

Why is it that we all have such a hard time with imagining that our parents had a sex life? We can focus on the pastels of our baby blankets, but it is hard to imagine the act that marked our real beginning.

I had a single conversation about sex with my mother in which she never used the word “pleasure” and instead depicted intercourse as an obligation to satisfy my father’s occasional urge. Not exactly a heady endorsement of procreation for a young pre-adolescent girl, but I just assumed that’s the way it was. It was not until quite a few years later that I learned anything to the contrary.

As our children were growing up, we were careful to lock the door when we had sex and there was never an embarrassing moment. We didn’t walk around the house nude. But there was also not a lot of open discussion about sex. There was never a staged time to sit down and read one of those books together. I always had the sense they had the necessary information.

But as our children became adults and I am sure they have discovered sex, I somehow thought things might be different. However, the following discussion with my daughter who is home before moving out west would indicate that I was totally wrong:

R: The guy I’ve been seeing in Boston really likes a clean house.
D: I was like that when Mom first met me.
Me: Yeah, I would go over to his apartment and always find the sheets in the dryer. It was never like we could just hop in bed.
R: ENOUGH! I don’t want to hear about your sex life. It’s off limits. Dad, don’t you agree?
D: I suppose it would be just too much information.

What I want to know is whether this will ever change? Since my mother’s death and since I read many of the letters she had written to my father and to other admirers, I realize there are so many questions that I would have liked to ask her. I even suspect her description of sex to her 10-year-old daughter was deliberately tainted so as not to make it attractive. What a shame that we never had a chance to explore the truth.

So for now at least, sex will definitely be off the table as a discussion topic with my children. Perhaps one day we will sit over coffee and talk about the birds and the bees in a way that is free and open.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Competing Demands

Getting permanent housing and a job in a big city can be a chicken-and-egg problem. Landlords want you to have a job and employers want you to have an address. My lawyer son in San Francisco is caught in this dilemma.

It’s difficult to know where you want to live until you know where you will be working. In large cities like SF, you could have a commute to work well over an hour depending where you were living.

But even getting short–term housing, the first questions they want to know are “Where do you work?” and “How much do you make?” “I’m looking for a job” is an instant disqualifier for most potential landlords.

When you send out a resume, you really need a mailing address – not so much because they want to check out where you live, but because they might need to mail something to you. So this gets very complicated if you have been constantly moving as has my son.

We suggested getting a PO box, but he claims you must have an address to apply for one. Does this mean homeless people can’t rent PO boxes? And if not, why not?

In the place my son is currently subleasing, the mailbox is locked which means he can’t receive mail. So when he asked us to send his passport, which was needed by a legal headhunter, we were in a quandary. I ended up mailing it to an old friend who does have a permanent address, where he can pick it up next week.

For his sake and ours, I certainly hope he gets a permanent place to live and a job, but I sympathize with the demand for a job and an address that makes it difficult to get either.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

A Happy Family Myth Shattered

I find my eyes filling up with tears tonight as I process all that I learned today about what I had thought was the perfect family. It’s likely that the perfect family only existed in the sitcoms of the 1950's and never in real life.

This was a family of four children who came from parents who were married for decades and to all appearances were deeply in love.

But what I have come to know is that the husband-father had at least one serious affair, beat his children with a belt, beat up his wife, and verbally abused everyone in the family. The mother was more of a pal than a parent, refusing to stand up for her children in distress.

This was a family that had great intellectual talks at dinner, especially about all aspects of current and past history. But the father also questioned the use of a particular metaphor in a 10-year-old’s poem. And he humiliated his wife by labeling her remarks as “stupid” in front of dinner guests.

It was a troubled family where two members tried unsuccessfully to commit suicide. And there was a problem with alcoholism.

The father went into psychotherapy at a very late age in life. He and his adult daughter compared notes on their progress in therapy from time to time. At one point he asked her if he had really made life so difficult for the rest of the family to which she replied “Yes,” and then commenced to cry.

Although I’m a relative newcomer to this family, after today I feel I know them so much better and in an entirely different light. I can’t heal the scars that any of those four children bear, but I can feel so sorry for them. They did know they were loved, but it was love with a high emotional price tag.

Sometimes the truth is so incredibly painful.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Necessary Purging

Our pantry is that place where everything that doesn’t have a legitimate home elsewhere ends up. There are the old fondue sets, the angel food cake pan, the Thermos bottles, and as it turns out lots and lots of trash.

It seems that every trip to the grocery store results in a few more paper bags or many plastic bags. Their addition to what is already there is hardly perceptible.

Every visit to Costco means the need to store large quantities of whatever I buy – paper towels, napkins, bottles of water.

It’s so easy to pass by the pantry when you walk down the hall and not realize just what lies beyond that closed door. Even Jake seemed to be astounded at the mess when I opened the door this morning.

I’m not proud of the cleaning I just did. It was one of those Band-aid types that skims the surface. In fact, I need to take everything out of the pantry, sort and organize, and throw away a lot more than I did this morning.

But at least the dog hair on the floor has been swept and a large trash can has been filled with all those bags that we really don’t need. It shames me to think we don’t go to the grocery store with recycled bags every time. Maybe after seeing what I just threw out that will be my resolve.

In any event, the pantry looks better than it did earlier today and there is space to hold more cast-offs, at least for now.

Do you have a similar place where things just seem to end up?

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Thinking about the End

I seem to be bombarded with reminders of what happens to people and animals as they get old enough to contemplate their end. The death of my friend Florence, my mother-in-law who spends her days going in and out of the nursing home and the hospital, and my ancient black lab Dylan are constant reminders that old age is definitely not for sissies.

Florence’s daughter Lydia made it possible for her mother to die with dignity in her own home on her own timetable, without the sterility of the medical profession. They really got the hospice thing right. When I went to visit Florence, the conversation never focused on her decline, but rather on the continuing activities that kept her mind active until the end.

My mother-in-law’s case is not nearly so clear-cut. She keeps getting punched down little by little with mini-strokes and deteriorating bones. There is no long-term prognosis for her, although her decline has definitely accelerated this past year. She can no longer be by herself for any period of time, needing help to get to the bathroom and not remembering enough to be safe in her own home. Hopefully her mind will go before her body deserts her altogether.

My dog Dylan is hanging on, although there are days when I doubt his back legs are going to support him. He currently thinks he has died and gone to heaven because he is now eating homemade chicken and rice for each meal. Our other dog Jake looks on with envy and drools as he eats his kibble and wishes he were the old one.

After seeing the movie about Alsheimer’s this past week and being involved with all the above aged beings, I have started to think about my own final end game. I hope my children will be as sensitive to my dignity as Lydia was to her mother’s. I hope I don’t have a protracted period of decline like my mother-in-law’s. I hope someone will make me comfort food like Dylan’s chicken and rice. I hope I will accept my fate with optimism and a resolve to make the most of my last days.

Monday, July 23, 2007

The Paths of Grief

I was fully prepared that my 92-year-old friend Florence was going to die from her malignant brain tumor. I just wasn’t prepared for her to die while I was away. She passed away the day we left for Chautauqua and her funeral followed a few days later. While I was away I just could not process her passing, concentrating more on the death of the stranger who lived across the street from us instead.

I spent much of yesterday with Lydia, Florence’s daughter who is just few years younger than I am. We had a leisurely lunch out on our deck and soaked up the bright sunshine as she talked about the end of her mother’s life. We got to experience the funeral as we listened to a recording of the well-chosen words of Toby, Lydia, her brothers, and others. It was the next best thing to being there. Lydia read us entries from her journal which described the incredible bonding that had taken place between her and her mother in these last 4 months. I learned many things about Florence I had never known.

But Lydia was in physical pain as she struggled to find a comfortable position. Her lower body seems to have seized up over all the tension that has arisen after her mother’s death. I experienced just a taste of what she is going through as I came to pick her up and had to wait while her sister-in-law combed the house to determine what she wanted for herself and her family. The tension is a result of a new focus on money and material things that is inevitable in any family with more than one child. In this case, there are many beautiful things from all over the world to be divided up and everyone but Lydia seems to be making a list.

As lonely as I felt upon the death of my parents, I realize how lucky I was to be spared the sibling sparring over the estate. I freely gave away much of the contents of the house in which they had lived for 50 years and kept what was left. I filed the estate taxes myself, refusing to involve professionals. It was drawn out but greatly simplified by the fact that nothing was contested.

My heart goes out to Lydia, who describes her family as extremely dysfunctional. She gave up her life in another big city to come here to be with her mother. She stayed with her night and day for all those months and instead of incredible gratitude, she is asked when she is leaving and questioned about expenses for food and shampoo. No wonder her hip is seized up.

There’s not much I can do to ease the way for this family who are struggling with their mother’s death and struggling with their individual preparations for the future. I’m taking Lydia for a massage this week. That’s about all I can do.

I already miss petite red-haired Florence incredibly. She is the one who wanted to read poetry and dance by the light of the moon. She is the one who came back from a Hirschhorn docent trip to Argentina one day and showed up with a noodle kugel at my house for dinner the next day. She is the one who had an endless store of poetry to share with all of us who were ready to listen. She fought a valiant fight, being bed-ridden for just a couple of weeks before the end.

I will forever remember visiting Florence 10 days before she died. One son was reading to her. Lydia was making sure she was comfortable and hydrated. Florence had on white lacy pajamas and looked content with her children around her. I’m sure she knew what would happen after she was no longer there to keep the peace. I’m sure she wishes it were still possible.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Making Memories

This year’s Chautauqua experiences have now become memories. It’s hard to believe the week is over and we are headed back home.

I have a great new soft green sweatshirt to remind me that it was unseasonably cold this year. Nothing I brought got as much wear as that sweatshirt.

Here are some of the things that got filed away in the memory stash:

-- Cabin #61 where I spent many hours practicing. Its light never worked and the two windows were propped open with sticks when it wasn’t too cold. The mirror was cracked. But the Kawai piano was fully functional and always in tune.
-- Eating every meal outside on the front porch of our house as we watched the local residents pass by on Miller. Some were on foot, some on bikes, some on motorized carts. There were even two little westies who rode in a push cart. I will not forget my dread every time I saw the ambulance after they carried away our neighbor across the street who died of a stroke.

-- Getting coached by Arie Lipsky, an animated cellist from Israel, who headed up the adult chamber music program. The hour or so he spent with my two groups made it worth the trip.
-- Riding my bike everywhere and knowing it wasn’t even necessary to lock it. I always carried a plastic bag to cover my seat in case of a downpour. Yesterday I had to figure out how to ride my bike in the skirt that I wore for our recital – that was interesting.
-- Performing the two adagio pieces while thinking about Mrs. Lynch, our neighbor that died. They weren’t perfect, but they were performed with love for this woman I never had the privilege of meeting.
-- Enjoying some of the best free music I have ever heard: including 12 celli doing Villa Lobos’ Cantilena and 22 violas (with other instruments) performing the Brandenburg Concerto #6.
-- Packing up and saying goodbye for another year, thinking about all the things I intended to do and never got around to doing.

There will be other years to play music and to explore the wonders of Chautauqua. But now it’s back to reality. What will I do differently back home? I’m determined to either walk or ride my bike every day. My back and neck pains are gone after this week of activity and diversion. It’s always nice to have a change of scenery if just for a week.

This bumper sticker caught my eye on the way home on the Pa Turnpike. It says "Well-behaved women rarely make history."

Friday, July 20, 2007

So Much for the Commune

A week with 5 other people is reminding me that it’s a good thing I don’t live in a commune. There is no better way to learn the idiosyncracies of people than to cook and keep house with them. We are all rather opinionated, or so it seems.

The first controversy was how to thaw the 8 frozen hamburgers we inherited in the freezer. Two people, including a doctor, were in favor of leaving them out on the kitchen counter all day. I advocated a few hours out and then back in the refrigerator to continue thawing. I had read multiple things about the dangers of meat left at room temperature. When they weren’t looking I put them back in the fridge at lunch and they never knew the difference since I was making the spaghetti sauce.

Then there’s the issue of how to deal with people with dietary likes and restrictions. For example, David and Mary are lactose intolerant. Neal doesn’t like lettuce or salad dressing. A couple of people are of the mindset that you just cook and they can choose to eat it or not. I heard Bill, last night’s cook, remarking in the kitchen, “They can just take the damn pills,” obviously talking about his choice to cook with cheese.

This collective living reminds me how much my husband I have moulded our lives together, so there are really very few issues like these. We of course have our own likes and dislikes, but by now they are mostly known and accepted.

Tomorrow we head home, where we can thaw our meat as we wish and choose to serve the cheese on the side. It’s been great in many ways, but sometimes 6 opinions is just 4 too many.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

No Right Angles

When I get up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom here in our house in Chautauqua, I am reminded not only of how old I am but also that the house predates me by a century. There is not an even floor to be found.

The wacky angles and tilts everywhere remind me of a crazy house at the carnival. But what else would you expect from buildings constructed “circa 1879” as they all say on similar plaques. The door on our bedroom has to be locked with a hook so as not to constantly swing open.

When I am half asleep it is definitely a challenge to wend my way across the hall to the bathroom and keep my balance. This is where my PT balance exercises and all those tree poses in yoga come in handy. I’m much better than I used to be. But it is interesting how much more obvious the unevenness is when it is dark.

Today the rain looks like it is here to stay. My biggest decision is whether I put on my poncho and ride my bike over to cabin #61 or if I just walk with an umbrella. I always prefer biking when it’s an option.

Here are some shots from our front and side porches. The lovely yellow house is the house across the street where the stranger lived.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

The Death of a Stranger

I find myself dedicating my music this week to a stranger who died yesterday. The two pieces by Gabriel Faure seem an appropriate elegy to this neighbor who was released from life after succumbing to a stroke.

On Monday as I sat down on the porch to eat my breakfast cereal, an ambulance and paramedics showed up directly across the street. They brought out a woman on a stretcher and took her away with a few friends and relatives standing around but not showing a great deal of surprise.

It’s a small place with a lot of houses in close proximity. Everyone’s ear was out to find out what had happened. The word on the street later was that the woman had suffered an asthma attack. I breathed a sigh of relief as I hoped she was doing as well.

But the very next morning just as I sat down to eat my breakfast, the ambulance was back. This time the woman appeared to be totally motionless as she was loaded into the ambulance. The EMT turned on the external oxygen tank and they sped away.

Later in the day we heard that she had been removed from life support and had died, having suffered a stroke. The house looks the same as it always does. Nothing has changed here at Chautauqua, except that one of the guests is no longer able to enjoy this place.

Who exactly was this woman who died? And what was the real cause of her death? Why did she come home on Monday if she was so sick? Was she perhaps terminally ill? These questions about this stranger whom I never met keep going through my head.

It occurred to me as I practiced this morning that the two pieces I am playing are ethereal and beautiful and seem a fitting way to recognize the stranger’s death. I will play them with her in mind, this stranger whose name I don’t even know, this stranger who is no longer living just across the street.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

The Word of the Week

The word for this year’s music is adagio. Both pieces I am playing are slow and incredibly beautiful without the challenges of vivace or even allegro. Adagio fits so well with my current mindset.

This year instead of playing in a quartet as I have the past two years, I am playing two duets – one with Deborah and the other with Ros, a flautist from Philadelphia who has been here the past two years.

There was some doubt as to whether Deborah would even come, since she had serious abdominal surgery at the end of June. But she is here and her kind husband is hauling her bass around for her. She announced that hitting high notes on the bass requires stomach muscles, so as we looked for a piece to play we kept to the lower registers. As we searched our “repertoire”, The Faure Sicilienne seemed just about perfect. Our fingers and minds began to remember it this morning as we practiced.

On my Sunday bike ride I ran into Ros, who said she had brought some music for flute and piano that we could look at. Ironically a piece called “Piece” by Faure caught my eye because it seemed relatively easy. I haven’t yet heard the flute part, but if it is anywhere as beautiful as the piano part, it will be lovely.

With all the music out there, it would seems unlikely that I would be playing two pieces by the same composer. But there is something about Faure that endears me to anything written by him. I think it is his brilliant use of chord progressions and the surprise of going from major to minor and back again.

It’s so nice to have two slow beautiful pieces that will be relaxing to practice with two of my favorite musicians this week. At some point we will get coaching from people who know more than we do, but for now we can just luxuriate in the notes that Faure has given us.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Music Camp, Massage, and a Leafy View

“Do you have a group?” Ari, the director of the summer adult music program, asked when I showed up to register. I told him I was in 3 groups, paid my $100 registration fee, reserved a practice cabin, and waited around for the others to show up. What a difference 2 years makes.

As the new “campers” showed up, they confessed that they didn’t already have preformed groups and started asking the rest of us how good we were. I know that feeling of intimidation and fear, thinking about being placed with other musicians and asked to perform just 4 days later. If it hadn’t been for Deborah I would probably have walked out the first year. But as it is, we are the “senior” campers and as such we were asked to do an interview with someone from the Chautauqua Daily News.

Despite the rumor that the practice cabins had been air-conditioned, the ones we have access to are cooled only by what comes through the windows, which can be propped open with sticks. I signed up for 3 hours a day in cabin #61. As you can see, it has a nice piano, but little else in the way of amenities.

I was clearly in violation of the rule about drinks, with my water perched on the top of the piano.

After practicing for a while, I enjoyed a 90-minute massage at the St. Elmo Spa with Lauren, who did wonders for my neck and shoulder that have been hurting for a while now. It was actually one of the best massages I have ever had, and the good news is she might be moving to DC to go to grad school in English.

This afternoon I showed up to a 4:00 concert at 4:00 to find out that I couldn’t go in until the first piece was over. But the music was piped outside and I was able to look up at this beautiful canopy of leaves blowing in the breeze while I listened to the Chautauqua Woodwind Quintet. This group is made up of the principal flute, oboe, clarinet, horn, and bassoon players from the Symphony. I was able to sit just 15 feet away from them when I finally got to go in. This was music at its finest.

I visited the bookstore this morning and bought a Chautauqua sweatshirt so I won’t have to be cold any longer. With my luck it will probably warm up, but I am now prepared just in case cold mornings persist.

Bill is grilling salmon and making mashed potatoes, broccoli, and a baked banana dessert for dinner. I love to be waited on!

Sunday, July 15, 2007

$2 Books, Camelot, and Wire Sculpture

I can’t imagine why I was complaining about being cold earlier on this the most beautiful day imaginable. It’s Sunday, a day of leisure with no classes but always plenty to do.

We read the Chautauqua Daily News over coffee and Cheerios, with its no bad news, to learn more about the prodigy pianist who wowed us at last night’s concert.

Then we headed off on a 10-mile bike trip to explore the area around the lake. The end of the road for us today was a book store that offered a plethora of books at just $2 and even had a table of free books, among them the New Testament in Chinese. I passed that one up even though the cost was right.

Back “on the grounds” as they call the Chautauqua proper, I rode down by the lake, breathing in the fresh air and the scenery. All of a sudden I heard church bells – it was Sunday after all. But mixed in with the Christian hymns was the theme from Camelot. This place is more than a little like Camelot.

This afternoon we checked out the craft fair that is taking blace on Bestor Place. There are some really pricy works of art, ranging from sculpture to painting to jewelry to clothing. I bought a little purse for $14 to carry around the bare essentials, as I seem to avoid carrying a heavy purse these days.

But the coolest thing at the craft fair was the wire sculpture by Ron Stattner, who currently lives on Maui. David and I looked at his work and both said “Larry Bowers”, our dentist who loves jazz and art. There was also a yogi that would look great in Capitol Hill Yoga.

Tomorrow chamber music class starts, but today I am simply sampling the smorgasbord of Chautauqua in 72 degree sunny weather with blue sky and a constant breeze.

Where's the Heat?

I am frozen to the core. Why didn’t anyone remind me to bring a sweatshirt? And I was ready to sizzle?

The weather at Chautauqua is never what I am expecting. The first year I came up here, I thought NORTH means colder. So I brought long sleeves and sweaters and I sweltered in a 95-degree heat wave with no air conditioning. Last year was similar, with the sweat streaming down my face in my un-air-conditioned practice cabin.

But this year it is unseasonably cool – about 62 degrees as I sit out here on the front porch writing. Literally everyone walking by has a sweatshirt or jacket on and long pants or a long skirt. I have exactly one pair of jeans and my long green Costco skirt. They will get a lot of use.

I may head over to the book store later and splurge on a Chautauqua sweatshirt. I’m sure my housemates will get tired of seeing me in it but it will keep me warm.

I was even cold last night as I slept in our king-size bed. Maybe we should have taken the room with the double bed. Body heat is a nice way to stay warm.

Despite the cold weather, I have already been reminded several times why I love this place. The absence of cars is refreshing. Seeing children running around free without the worry of their parents is reassuring. And hearing a 23-year-old pianist from the Ukraine play Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto with the symphony last night was something I will remember forever.

Today we’ll go on a bike ride, wander over to the practice cabins, and do a group-cooking dinner that is reminiscent of the days of living with roommates.

I love this beautiful piece of America and the magic it works on me every year!

Friday, July 13, 2007

Saved by the Burgundy

This morning’s Washington Post Metro section offered the most unbelievable story about a burglar who traded crime for a glass of wine. For those of you who don’t read the Post, here’s a synopsis:

Around midnight on a recent evening, a would-be robber showed up on a patio behind a home on Capitol Hill. He put a gun to the head of 14-year-old girl and demanded everyone’s money. A very cool-headed woman named Cha-Cha said, “We’re just finishing up dinner. Would you like to join us for a glass of wine?” The masked man agreed and after tasting the wine said, “This is really good wine!” Within a few minutes, he had removed his hood, put away the gun, sampled the cheese and announced, “I think I got the wrong house. Could we just have a group hug?” They gave him a hug, refilled his glass, and he was off, leaving everyone on the patio just shaking their heads in utter amazement.

After he left and the guests collected their shattered thoughts, they locked the doors and called 911. One man expressed his surprise that the whole thing had happened in about 10 minutes and that no one had been killed or even hurt. The police came and could not turn up a single fingerprint. They did find the crystal wine glass intact in the alleyway behind the home.

There was no mention of the race or age of the burglar turned wine connoisseur. I wonder what in the world was going on in his head? Will he return to a life of crime?

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Ready to Sizzle

As I was contemplating our yearly trip to adult summer camp at Chautauqua next week, I just said to my husband, “Maybe our time together will be sparky.” “Huh?” he replied. “Electric, you know?” I added.

Familiarity with your partner of many years means you can read the other person’s mind most of the time, you can finish each other’s sentences, and real surprises are rare. Although this is certainly preferable to a relationship where you are always on guard because you don’t know what’s coming next, it can become well ho-hum sometimes.

Lately I’ve felt uninspired, unimaginative as we both went about our own business in a house that is big enough for 6 or 8 to exist quite well. He spends a lot of time each day on web-site work, while I read, play the piano, and think about all those life decisions I keep putting off. The lightning and thunder of recent storms makes me yearn for a little lightning in the rest of my life.

Summer camp always provides a charged atmosphere that stirs your creative juices, makes you feel a little sexier than usual, and gives you opportunities to explore new things. Maybe next week I’ll rediscover a mad passion for life and our faces will flush as we feel that something that once drew us together and has kept us committed all these years.

Let the sparks ignite – I’m ready!

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Found: Customer Service

One more customer service story before I leave this topic and look for something else to write about. This time the focus is on fabric, not shoes. And this one has a positive outcome.

When we renovated our house in 2000 and I made the 4 cushions for the window seat in our family room, they looked straight out of Tuscany: sunflowers in yellow and blue. But with time and sun, the colors have faded. It doesn’t help that this is Jake’s favorite look-out post so he spends a lot of his time lying on those cushions.

Last year I had them dry-cleaned thinking maybe it was just dirt that had dulled those wonderful colors. But cleaning only confirmed that the fabric was indeed very faded.

One of the projects high on my list for post-retirement was to re-cover those cushions. I wanted similar fabric, with a look of Tuscany or Provence. So I contacted Boutique Vincenette, where I had purchased the fabric for the blue and yellow placemats and napkins. They wrote back to say their sunflower design is no longer being made.

Then I returned to G Street Fabrics, where I had bought the original fabric. There are endless numbers of things to look at there. But that is part of the problem. When I asked the sales clerks about fabrics with a sunflower design or a look of Tuscany or Provence, they simply pointed me to hundreds of books, never offering to show me any possibilities. I wasn’t about to sit there going through all those books. It was so obvious to me that they didn’t know anything about the fabrics they carried or care to help me in the least.

I called a few places from the Yellow Pages. One person suggested Calico Corners, which has a store in Old Town. I called last week and the woman I spoke to said they might have a sunflower design. When I went in yesterday, a clerk named Denise, who remembered my call, flipped through books until she found the single sunflower design in a 2003 book. Important information like the price had been ripped out of the book. The real question was whether or not the fabric was still available. They took my name and number and agreed to make some calls.

When I called back today, the older clerk Laura said her first call indicated that the fabric was no longer available, but she persisted and called customer service which was able to located 23 yards of it. She placed a hold on all of it until she talked to me. She agreed to help me figure out how much fabric I would need if I brought in one of the four cushions.

I went in today with my cushion in hand. I learned that the sunflower fabric was going to cost $30 per yard. The 8 yards I needed would mean some very expensive cushions. But on the way in, I had spied another print, floral but not sunflowers, that was on sale for 50% off, making it only $10 a yard. The fact that I liked it a lot and the price differential made up my mind.

Denise helped me make sure that 8 yards would be enough fabric. Then she carefully cut it and put it on a big roll.

I could tell that every person working in Calico Corners loves her job and wants to be of service to the customers. I seriously doubt they are paid on commission. Instead they are reminiscent of all the little old ladies I ever knew in the “dry goods” stores in the small town where I grew up. They obviously passed Customer Service 101 with flying colors.

This is a big project I am taking on, but I can’t wait to see how much bright, clean cushions will improve the appearance of the family room.