Friday, November 14, 2014

"Three Score," Coming Up

December 4th is coming up fast. Unless I can come up with a way to mark the day that will surpass, or at least rival, the way I celebrated my 50th, the event might fade way unnoticed. What a revolting thought! I'm still a little kid at heart on "my day;" it might as well be a legal holiday.

There seems to be something about the start of a new life decade that causes people to take stock of their lives, to reconsider, and re-route the process if the old way seems, well, old. At 40, I had finally finished my B.A., and at 50 I was considering if my relationship style was fostering my well-being.

Now, facing 60, and with no intention of voluntarily retiring or slowing down, I'm just wondering if all the pieces of the puzzle are fitting, and, if not, what to do about it. Maybe I'll just start a new puzzle -- now there's a thought.

Okay...that being said, I'll fill you in with what I've been up to in the meantime.

The home renovations continue on in fits and starts. Those of you who are not in my Facebook circle can also follow my progress in pictures on Houzz.com. The exterior color has been well received; the husband of a family across the street came over to shake hands and congratulate my progress so far. The neighbors on either side of me have given me positive feedback on how it's like a dramatic facelift for the "old girl," and even passersby slow to smile approvingly.

Tomorrow, November 15th, I'm taking an irrigation class at the Theodore Payne Foundation, to give my future cactus planting in the front a good start. It's been fun to look at others' native landscapes, as I drive around town, and I've already gotten some starting ideas. Under the dining room window, I'm going to put in three medium-sized agave plants. They will be striking in offsetting the newly-unveiled windows without concealing them. Then, in front of the agaves, I want some small, flowering ground cover. All around these, to keep the weeds at bay, I'll put down some white pebbles.

Inside, the bathroom is finally done, with the new shower door providing the finishing touch. Then, the kitchen will begin next week (or so), some more interior painting, and then I think I'll step back a bit, to catch my breath before the holidays and turning of the year. A dear friend just recently volunteered to help with ripping up the old carpet in the hallways and the living and dining rooms, which entails also temporary rearranging of the heavy furniture while we also remove carpet stapling and apply the Minwax.

And then, there's Mom. Physically, she's actually looking a little better, but I've lost her (something I've blogged upon in previous posts). She chats and smiles, and then she turns on a dime. The short-term memory loss shows itself, especially with the night-time "sundowning." Professional experience aside, I find no comfort in knowing that it's a "common" feature of advanced dementia. Previews of upcoming shows she used to watch--Bonanza, Jeopardy, Wheel of Fortune--are often too painful to see. I also avoid looking at various photo albums, including a small one dedicated to pictures from Mom's retirement party in 1990. They underscore the loss of the person Mom once was, seemingly not all that long ago. The profound sadness and loneliness I carry has recently hit me hard. It's at these times I realize that Mom probably felt this in the late 1980s, and up to Grandma's death in 1996. And then I feel sharp guilt for the amount of support I feel I maybe didn't give Mom during her own caregiving days. Oh, Mom, I didn't do enough...I'm so sorry. I'd used being "busy with my own life" as an excuse.

That's where dialogues with other baby boomers, and reading material in my AARP magazine and on their website is invaluable. Then there's socializing, avoiding too much isolation, and renewing the spiritual aspect of my life. I have begun attending St. Robert Bellarmine Church, as a way to return to my roots. For reasons lost in family folklore, I was originally baptized as an infant, and due to convoluted family politics, I never was allowed to explore Catholicism. The Church's dogma and ritual always intrigued me, beckoned to me, and I have recently begun RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults)classes. I have tried to explain this "calling" to myself, and only find that there is a mysterious resonance and peace I feel when I'm at church and in the company of other adults who are embarking on a similar path. That, and the charitable projects in which I'm becoming involved just makes me feel good.

More on all this later. I wish everyone peace.





Tuesday, September 16, 2014

History -- on the backs of old recipes

Last night was yet another exercise in insomnia. But -- it turned out to be a delightful fun time to indulge my inner history geek!

After finally coaxing my mother to sleep (another topic for another post or two), I was tightly wound-up and irritated, and wondering if I was going to be able to be alert for the work crews, who continue to valiantly press toward completion of the bathroom.

Oookay, rather than lying on the sofa (my regular sleeping place for the past eight months or so--another long story)and feeding my gotta-get-to-sleep urgency, I put the time to good use. The Vietnam Veterans of America were due in the morning for another pick-up. In preparation for the next planned chaos--the kitchen demo--I've been thoughtfully culling through the cupboards and drawers. There's lots of vintage kitchen utensils that I'll probably seldom use, if ever. When I pick up one of them, however, the memories of my grandmother or mother using them for everyday or holiday meals come flooding back, in the form of visual and even olfactory (a fancy word for smell)recall. These tools form a huge part of my own personal history, and so I can't bear to part with any...when the kitchen is redesigned, I just have to make room for these things...for another fifty years of family history...

So, back into the drawers went the old Christmas cookie cutters, the potato masher, the whisk, for decades-more of reprieve.

What did get ruthlessly packed into the VVA boxes included a set of china that I never liked; a plastic cup with "West Side Story" on the side, from a date at the Pantages Theater (because of the jerk-ex-boyfriend of which it reminded me); a wall dispenser for paper cups that has been hanging, unused, over my current kitchen sink; and some artificial flowers that will have no place in the new bathroom decor. Purged! What a relief!

With those boxes pushed out onto the porch with all my might, and my hands aching from the effort, I turned my fascination to the metal recipe box--approximately a foot-plus long, and stuffed with what I first thought were only index cards written in my paternal grandmother's curly turn-of-the-nineteenth-century cursive. Again, I'm not a culinary enthusiast, and my first impulse was to simply add this to the to-go pile.

Hey, it was nearly 1 AM, and it seemed I wasn't going to nod off any time soon. Where was the harm in taking a look at these recipe cards, most of which I'm sure contained recipes my grandmother wrote down, but never tried? Maybe that will provide the necessary boredom to induce sleep.

Tucked among the cards, to my fascination, I found a large number of clippings from the Buffalo Evening News (now simply the Buffalo News). I've tried my best to scan these -- and one I tried to enlarge a bit.

What riveted my attention were not the ingredients for rhubarb pie or Lobster Newburg, but the printing on the back of each one. Each one was like those holes that kids used to peer through fences -- tantalizing bits that made me imagine what had been cut off. There were only a few dates, but the names of famous people made me realize just how important the Buffalo Evening News and WBEN (930 AM) were to my parents and grandmother. Kenmore, the small village just outside Buffalo from where my family made its way to California in 1963, was very small, and these media were vital to keeping local folks current. These were bits of the mosaic of who my family was--and what went into making me who I am, even today.



This ad for the "new Brillo pads" looks like something that fed the 1950s housewife archetype -- cue the music from the "Ozzie and Harriet" episodes.

Again, because it was the recipes that were being cut out, much of the text on the back was eliminated. But you can see evidence of how WBEN-TV Channel 4 teamed up with the newspaper to inform folks of the meeting of then-Vice President Nixon and then-Senator Kennedy. Also, one some night or another, "Herbert Hoover" was "honored tonight." Because we have a recipe for "Beets in Orange Sauce" on the back, we won't ever know more than that. Lowell Thomas contributed to the airwaves. Lady Olive Baden-Powell, head of the Girl Guides, visited the Girl Scout Council of Buffalo. And, in recognition of more serious issues of the times, we could read that the lieutenant governor of South Carolina was taking a stand against integration of the public schools...


Below, more ads. Does anyone of my generation remember Ivory Snow? As far as Musterole goes, a Google search informed me that it was the predecessor of Vicks VapoRub. The guy reaching out of his 1960 Rambler almost looks like he's using a drive-up ATM. And below the L & M cigarette ad, there's a fine-print blurb for a "$20,000 Westinghouse Vacation Home, "with built-in Westinghouse kitchen, Spacemates laundry equipment and clean, comfortable baseboard electric heating for carefree vacation living." I could see Don Draper from Mad Men hanging his hat here.


Below is the thing I tried to enlarge a little, but I'll help you 1950s car enthusiasts out here. These ads were mostly from dealerships, but there were a few private-party transactions. Among the offerings; 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air convertibles, 1958 and 1959 Impalas, and a 1959 Mercury coupe convertible going for $1300.


In the late 1950s, TV was still in its infancy, so radio was still the way to pass an evening, or provide the backdrop to a party. We could count on Roy Rodgers, Bob Hope, and dramas like "The Whistler" to fill the void. WBEN provided all this to the Buffalo and Niagara Falls area:




As a nod to my Buffalo origins, and love for all things historic, I have also added WBEN, Reminisce Magazine, and Buffalo (Evening) News to my Twitter and "liked" Facebook pages. It was, in the end, a pretty good night.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

My First Notes from Home Remodel 101

I've been in this "class" for about two weeks now. Here's a peek at some of what I've learned so far:

1. Once you start this process, once the first nail is driven in or the wiring pulled through, your life is not the same. And your time is sure as hell not your own.

2. When the crew goes home for the day, you can check and double-check the carpet for stray screws, pieces of plastic, or whatever. Then you can vacuum. You will still step on something in the middle of the night. Flashback to the days when you stepped on some of your kid's Lego pieces. Not fun.

3. Pacific Standard Time (PST) is not the same as Worker Standard Time. And when someone says, "Let's talk. I'm on my way," it's good to try to nail down that statement in miles, minutes, or hours. It means the difference between twiddling one's thumbs and getting things done in the meantime.

4. The work being done to the house is on a bigger scale than anything before. My parents did a little redecorating in 1974--painting, installing wall-to-wall carpeting and drapes in the living and dining rooms--following my grandmother's death. That was all. The same makeover happened in 1994, following the Northridge earthquake. Structurally, though, the house has been untouched over the decades. Feeling like a bit of a pioneer, I cast a very wide net to gather information and resources. The first big mistake I made was starting out with a interior design department at a big-box store and an independent general contracting firm simultaneously. There were a lot of gaps in who-would-do-what communication. About a week ago, to cut down on the craziness, I committed to one contractor to do it all. A hard lesson learned.

4. Don't get tripped up by "niceness." If you don't understand Construction-ish, ask for a translation. If it's not clear, ask again. And don't worry about "being a pain," or feel upset if a worker gets defensive. They deal with lots of folks like you who are putting a lot on the line--their money and their homes, for starters--and these workers have to also answer to their bosses, time frames, budgets, etc. I try to use a healthy dose of empathy to keep the professional relationship healthy. Still, homeowners have a right to get things straight in our minds, if only to lessen the rising feelings of panic, especially those that show up in any bizarre dreams or insomnia.

5. If something doesn't look right, ask, by whatever means necessary. Late yesterday afternoon I happened to turn on a hall light, and was shocked to see moisture, dripping, and water-blistering from the ceiling and down along one wall. My thoughts and words were something along the lines of,"WTF? When did THIS happen, and why didn't anyone say anything to me?" Long story short, my mom's caregiver thought I was aware of this, and my contractor hastily explained that it was a water pan in the attic that overflowed...blah, blah, blah...

6. Breathe! I've simply got to practice what I've preached for years to my clients. By the time I got on the phone with my contractor (see above) I was so livid, that I'm ashamed to say that I didn't really listen to what his explanation was (Mom's caregiver said he had "screamed" at the workers in the attic). I'm sure we'll mend fences, but for now I just need to cool off.

7. More on #6 above, I think I could learn a lot from Tiggy. When gearing up for these efforts, I was concerned that Tiggy--used to her peace and quiet--would maybe bolt out one of the doors or hole up traumatically under some furniture. Well, my baby has surprised me! At the beginning of each day, Tiggy selects a vantage point, out of the way of foot traffic, and enjoys the show. Then, when the crew departs for the day, she has lots to smell, such as foot tracks and equipment stacked along the walls. Lessons here: acceptance, calm, differentiating between what can be controlled and what cannot at any given time. I've decided on a morning slow pace routine: coffee, reading of the day's Daily Word message, allowing some cuddle time with Tiggy, and making an inventory of feasible to-do's. How successful am I at taming my frustrations? Let's just say it's a process.

9. I have to remember that something as complex and multi-systemic as a home remodel is not going to get done in a matter of days, or even weeks. This is not dress-making; this is bringing a 91-year-old structure up to current building standards. I'm not a patient woman; I owned that fact a long time ago. So, I just have to keep my expectations for completion realistic.

10. I'd been waiting for "a good time" to regrade the house, but such a time really will never come. There are always issues with work, family, one's own hesitations. When I find myself questioning, "What have I gotten myself into?", I try to remind myself of how this difficult phase will make a positive difference in the other aspects of my life. So, I just press on...

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Home upgrading, sharing living space--making me a better person

I have posted much here about my home, and my deep connections to it.

When my family--paternal grandmother, parents, older brother, and me--moved here in January 1964, we established a suburban compound of sorts, almost hermetically sealed. Due to complex dynamics, we were actually quite an isolated family unit. I may have mentioned in other posts that this is why I actually fled the house for my freshman year in college, and that word "fled" is a deliberate choice.

Fast forward many years, I'm back to stay. It's my firm resolve to have this residence where my mother can live out her days in as much comfort as possible, and where I can pursue my own "second half."

What brought about my change of heart? It happened almost imperceptibly over time. Some of it occurred with the shifts in the emotional atmosphere as certain family members would pass away, and others would move out--and then come back, drawn to the house's potential, I think.

And then, there was the game-changer-- the introduction of a roommate in 2012. My son's old bedroom was valuable, but wasted, space. I had a female friend occupy this room for about a year, and there has been no going back since then. Aside from the relatively small monthly income, it been an eye-opener, an end of the innocence.

You see, from 1964 to 2012, there were no extra-familiar occupants. The family made up a kind of secret society, with our own implicit lexicon, routines, and rules about the physical environment and the people within the walls. The city-assigned address, as I said before, was the compound. The fact that we rarely entertained, and I was discouraged from having friends over--overnight, or even for the day--further fostered the isolation.

After my female colleague/friend moved out of town last year, I found another congenial roommate--a guy! It occurred to me just recently that with the woman, I always used the word "tenant," and with my current occupant, I have shifted to "roommate." This maybe be food for thought about the level of compatibility. When Mom first heard that we were to have a man in our midst, besides my gentleman friend, she was anxious and highly resistant. Since then, she has accepted the idea, and actually considers him part of the family and home.

My roommate (I shield his privacy by withholding even a first name) has added a warmth to our current composition. Asides from sweet gestures, like bringing small, gifts to my Mom--a bouquet at Easter, occasional chocolates or pints of her favorite ice cream--his presence has compelled me to be mindful of how I share living space. Before, with the previously-mentioned family, we just sort of stumbled over each other, and frankly, were pretty intrusive--often downright disrespectful of each other, now that I think about it.

Over time, my family of origin took our home, and each other, horribly for granted. I was smacked in the face with this fact for the first time when I went away for my freshman year in college. I was a terrible roommate! If I could find that woman on whom I inflicted my unconscious behavior, I would kneel before her and beg forgiveness.

My current roommate has not only lent his gentle spirit, but his fresh perspective. It has been useful, including for how I am managing this upheaval with the progressive home remodeling projects. He has been most forgiving of the inevitable noise, the dust, and the parade of workers. The first benefit is that we will actually be getting air conditioning to make the summer more bearable--for the first time since the house was erected in 1923.

So, I consider this not just a home upgrade, but a personal one as well. Long overdue!

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Estancia cabernet, Vivaldi en espanol, and this fork in the road

The past two weeks have been intense. Work-related life from a suitcase is a rather "different" (putting it politely) routine for me. So, what I'd like to say at this point is that I have at least taken away a few nuggets of pleasure.

While on this sojourn, I have had some fleeting moments to savor a wine that is new to me -- Estancia cabernet. I researched it, and places like Bev Mo are sold out of this variety and vintage -- no wonder, if any of you have had the good fortune to taste this.

Then, there's 104.9 FM, XLNC1, broadcasting to the San Diego/Baja California region. Those close to me know that music, especially quality classical radio broadcasting, is very important for me. It provides a calming backdrop for my day, whether I'm working at home on my computer, in the car, or...wherever.

When I lost the signal the other day in the "North County" from my beloved KUSC, I began station-surfing for an alternative, and came up with XLNC1. It's a wonderful station I encourage folks to check out; you also can listen online, as I'm doing now. Where else can you find bilingual announcers presenting classical renditions of works by great composers like Vivaldi, Brahms,...and the Beatles and Freddy Mercury? Yesterday, I heard a Lennon-McCartney song done artfully with full orchestra and chorus. A little while ago, I heard a strings-and-piano version of The Stars and Stripes Forever.

On a serious note, I'm (re)evaluating my most recent career move. I've gone on record as saying that pursuing full-on employment is my intention until I'm 100 (literally!), and I'm sticking to this position. It's important to me for reasons beyond the obvious (income), those including socialization and cognitive stimulation. I've seen too many folks I know retire, and then have their outer and inner worlds implode, and that scares me beyond words.

While I'm been very far away from home for my orientation, my mother is being well-cared-for, and the air conditioning is finally being installed, overseen by my "outlaw" Hal. Next is the electrical revamp of the 1923 wiring. After that, Hal and I will contemplate the kitchen and bath overhaul.

I've kept in touch with the home front during my breaks by phone and text, and have been astonished with the level of homesickness I've experienced. Even now, as I look ahead about six hours to my return to San Diego for the third week, I'm not exactly looking forward to it, which is uncharacteristic for someone who usually loves to travel. Perhaps I shouldn't have been so candid here, I don't know.

So, as I contemplate my next step, I always have my music. I'll keep in touch.


Sunday, June 15, 2014

The Mustard Seed as a Reset Button


My life has been rather frightening lately, and I have been seeking tokens or images that will help serve as anchors and inspirations. At about 4:15 this morning, I awoke and thought of the two above pieces of jewelry that have been stored in my dresser drawer, unworn for literally decades. Even at such an early hour, I got up and retrieved them, and even though I haven't worn anything but earrings for a long time, I'm resolved to make these my signature pieces from now on.

The small pewter cross was my maternal grandmother's. When I saw it again, I recalled the woman who, in the depths of the Great Depression, and with a sick husband and toddler daughter (my mother), decided to go to work rather than accept the welfare that was offered her. With only a high school diploma, she worked her way up in the New York State Welfare Department, first as a clerk, and many decades later, retiring as the head of that agency's accounting department. Grandma was feisty, smart, a woman of faith and self-confidence, and she wore this cross all the time. Her image is with me much of the day, and I'm trying to hear her courageous voice as I face the days ahead. Here she was in 1975:


Mom continues to hang in physically, with the tenacity she inherited from Grandma. The bracelet is one she had in her jewelry box, and I remember being fascinated as a child by the tiny globe charm with the mustard seed in the middle.

The Book of Mark gives this version of Jesus' parable, "He said, 'How will we liken the Kingdom of God? Or with what parable will we illustrate it? It’s like a grain of mustard seed, which, when it is sown in the earth, though it is less than all the seeds that are on the earth, yet when it is sown, grows up, and becomes greater than all the herbs, and puts out great branches, so that the birds of the sky can lodge under its shadow.' ”

Mom never really told me about this story; I had to find it out myself in my own meandering, lifelong spiritual quest. The small size of the seed, and how it comes to benefit nature, sort of calls to mind my diminutive mother. She, too, held together our often-fractious family, and forged her own nursing career in mid-life, against many odds. Mom became the the tree, one might say, whose branches provided nurturing and strength to the four generations that have passed through our family home. In the pictures below, Mom is the small, dark-haired nurse on the left.


So, as I have decided to wear these heirloom jewelry pieces, I want to recall the strength of my mother and grandmother, and be worthy of their legacies. Recently, especially as I work toward beginning the upgrades on our longtime home, I've begun to doubt myself. I wonder if I'm really up to the challenge of taking on the role of lady of this house. It's been my vision to have Mom live out her life here as comfortably as possible, and to make this place a residence to be proud of, and pass to my son and daughter-in-law. Also, when the caregivers aren't here, and I'm doing Mom's care myself, I wonder if I'm "doing it right," and if Grandma (who passed in 1996) is approving of how I'm taking care of Mom, her child.

Like many therapists, I have to chide myself to practice the interventions I give my clients. From now on, when the useless "What if I can't?" refrains begin playing in my head, I have to consider another text:

"He replied, 'Because you have so little faith. Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there,' and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.'" -- Matthew 17:20, New International Version.

Grandma and Mom each started at their crossroads with little or nothing, and ended up having beautifully successful lives. It's time to recall that, and step out in boldness.

Usually, when I doubt myself, I have to admit it's late at night, it's been a long day, and my fatigue and overwhelm are doing the talking. So, to wear my grandmother's and mother's jewelry, touch it, and honor them in my daily actions--that's the best I can do.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Changes to Plan


I'm struggling on to get my home improvement project off the ground, and it's costing lots of time and frustration. Tomorrow I'm going to be exploring PLAN B (what a way to spend a "day off!"), but in the meantime I've found ways to siphon off my irritation and the adrenaline by-product.

I've decided to just spend all my non-working time here at home, doing whatever I can MYSELF. Painting, ripping up the yucky carpet, sanding down the floors to make them look "distressed." Hey, there are all those shows I've watched, books I've acquired, not to mention all the wealth of info on YouTube. I can do this! (I almost feel like I channeled Rosie the Riveter with that last statement) Provided I know I'm in this effort for a long haul, what's the rush? And doesn't it figure that the larger the amount of sweat equity I invest, the more pride I will feel in my home once it's done.

Check out the tool above. Over this past Memorial Day weekend, my gentleman friend made the ultimate chivalrous gesture--he began the first round of lawn removal. Bless his macho heart, he was out there in the midday sun, trying to use my lightweight hoe to take up nasty, entrenched clumps of weeds, when my beloved longtime neighbor and friend came over and loaned us this serious implement. It was handmade for him by a friend, with the blade part measuring 5 " wide and 10" long. The solid handle is 36" long and 6" in diameter.


It served Chuck's purposes well, and the neighbor kindly said we could keep it at my house to continue our efforts to tame the Cascadden Jungle, front yard as well as back. I can't wait to use it myself!

In the meantime, I'll get out the long-unused roto-tiller, and fire that baby up.

I finally made the formal acquaintance of the gentleman at the end of the alley, and plan to pick his brain about how to duplicate his success with the beautiful cacti on the front of his property. People seem to be pleased when asked about their work, and it will be another way to cultivate a neighborhood friendship.