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Bulls and Frogs

Bulls and Frogs 

With two recently replaced hips and a body the size of a retired defensive lineman, my brother-in-law lurched into our family room. His ample hips made unintended contact with a prized glass console table. A loud chalk-on-blackboard noise signaled disaster as the thick slab of glass screeched off its fastenings and dropped with a thwack. Hundreds of tiny fragments littered the tile floor.  Each one refracted his embarrassment as he apologized profusely for his bull-in-a-china-shop move.

Although we regretted the loss of a perfectly good table, we were able to laugh at the Keystone Cops scenario. Such indelicate moves are familiar territory with our charming but klutzy relative. A couple of brooms and a sweep with the central vacuum cleaned the mess quickly. My hubby retrieved an old piece of slightly weathered plywood to serve as a temporary table surface until the glass could be repaired. Unattractive but functional.

Six months have passed and that plywood still sits there. Now part of the background, the ratty looking wood no longer catches our attention. Utility has supplanted ugliness as the temporary substitution became the new normal. Purchasing a replacement hasn’t made it to the list of things needing attention.

At breakfast my husband commented on how unattractive it is and we both laughed. Each of us  guestimated how long it will take us until we finally fix it.  Neither of us launched into action.

Another question rose in my mind: to how many things in my life have I become blind? Where am I taking the easy approach and avoiding the hard work of change? An image springs to mind: the proverbial frog in a soup pot who never notices the temperature until he’s cooked alive.  

Time to wake up. Set the alarm . Get conscious and get moving.

Party Time

Most of my life I’ve considered myself apolitical. As a product of parochial school I admit I am inclined towards a sense of social justice.  I like to consider myself capable of critical thought so my voter registration officially lists me as an independent. When I cast my ballot it is from a framework of what candidate, proposal or amendment makes the most sense to me. My choices are not determined by what “my” political party is pushing.

            During the last 24 months, our country has been assailed by a confluence of crises: economic meltdown, investment scams, banking failures, massive unemployment, record-breaking weather disasters, international political upheaval and an enduring threat of terrorist activity.  Simply reading the list is daunting. Addressing and solving each of them requires time, money, leadership and individual participation.  Everyone must be part of the solution not just part of the noise.   

            America and Americans are struggling. Yet much of the political energy in this country is being expended on defeating the party in office and ensuring that Obama is a one-term president. The mission has become eliminating his prospects for re-election by undermining, blocking or simply not supporting the president’s ideas. It’s the “unfortunate” price of ousting Democrats. This misplaced emphasis is appalling to me. “Hello!” The cost of this approach is continued crises.  People remain unemployed. Homelessness increases. Do Republicans not realize that the bottom line of this tactic is the expectation that Americans will flounder for four more (now two more) years simply so they can say the Democrats failed and get their turn at bat.

            Our focus should be on committing to the success of proposed solutions so that the country—the people of America— can enjoy the basics of American citizenship: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.  We cannot afford this you-against-me approach. Working together for the health of the country is a far superior goal to simply ousting the other party out of office.

            Please, quit blaming and start cooperating. Stop being a Democrat or a Republican and be an American. Those statistics—each of them represents a person, a family, a neighbor. When you consider propositions, imagine your spouse, friend or neighbor’s face as you tell them why this is the best option. Look into their eyes. Do a gut check with your conscience and then choose how you will be part of the solution.

On the Virtual Road Again

     Lightning pummeled our area, accompanied by a deafening chorus of thunder. As I sat at my desk one bolt came close enough to create a spark on the metal window frame. The sound waves nearly levitated me from my chair. With that rowdy display Mother Nature severed my umbilical cord from the internet. I was no longer able to reach www.anything_or_anyone. untethered, free-floating, on my own. Out of touch.

     Five hours have passed and I’m feeling withdrawal. I’m startled to realize I’ve become hooked on a regular pulse of internet fixes. Whether it is to check on friends, to gather information for a project, to post on my blog or to log onto my corporate site I depend on the internet for my connection to the outside world.

     My work—family coaching and writing—is accomplished at home and for the most part in solitude. I am surprised to realize how I’ve come to depend on the web to replenish myself with an infusion of connectivity. The social networks I formerly judged as silly have become a channel for staying in touch with the geographically scattered tribes of which I am a member. In the absence of the proverbial water-cooler, the net has provided me with a virtual coffee-break where I banter, tease, collaborate, intrigue and console.

     As I reflect, this interruption in “virtuality” provides an opportunity to create both a new appreciation and some limitation on my trips on the internet. To traverse the threads of the Web without getting stuck on a hamster wheel of distractions, requires discipline. I’ve decided to add “Cruise Director” to the many hats I wear. Much to my hubby’s chagrin; it’s another unpaid position.

     I know somebody forwarded an e-mail that demonstrates how to cure an “allergy to a paycheck.”  I’ll print it out for St. George as soon as my internet service gets restored.

     After several phone calls, a trip to comcast and installing new equipment, I am reconnected–obviously–and once again speeding down my virtual highway. Checking in, checking up and moving on.

In the Genes

                 A pooled din of voices filled the room which was jammed with shoppers eagerly scanning the display tables. As a vendor, I was pleased to see the crowd. Unlike most of the attendees, I was present only because my husband needed help operating his table. Basically, I was a disinterested party. (My concerns were the bottom line and a happy spouse.)  Fragments of individual conversations danced on my ears. I strained to lock onto one at a time imitating Jane Goodall—except I was observing numismatists instead of chimpanzees.

            Collectors are an intriguing breed who delight in nuance and detail. The adventure of discovery is buttressed by their fascination with detail. This ensures that every potential incarnation of the item can be tracked—and more importantly, acquired. The slightest variation justifies the purchase of additional material. Much of their pleasure derives from the prospecting and great satisfaction accrues from the haggling process as well. A perfect transaction leaves both buyer and seller convinced that a bargain was struck

            True collectors thrill at the chance to display their treasure, preening like proud mothers cradling their newborns. Hyperbole abounds as owners extol the unique features of each specimen. The knowledgeable appreciation of an informed audience brings resonant joy to the lucky owner. All that stuff which collectors accumulate is bundled with facts that provide context. History comes to life, assembled from a mosaic of painstakingly acquired information. Connection to a significant event or important person is highlighted. (And often improves both appreciation and price.) The sense of community is an intangible benefit equally valuable as the collection itself. This tribe has its own language, culture, heroes and Holy Grail.

            Skeptical spouses sit on the side-lines unconvinced by the charm of the newest purchase and chagrined by the expense. Reassurances that “It’s a good investment,” soften the irritation—a hair.

            Ultimately, collectors are a separate sub-species. You either have the gene or you don’t. I decided that I don’t.

.

    I cast my creative net this afternoon looking for a prompt to corral into a provocative thought. Using my birthday digits, 2-13-50 as a pattern, I selected the second book from the stack of unread volumes that crowded my desk. Flipping to the thirteenth chapter, I noted the 50th word:  11:30 p.m. and considered how this number could inspire meaning for me.

     The analog clock allows the passage of time to become visible as its hands trace their circular course. Time traverses an elastic journey, sometimes racing in spinning blurs, other times dragging like a kid on the way to the dentist, every step an effort of will. 11:30 p.m. casts a variety of shadows varying with the angle from which I view it.

     Health—I’ve had brushes with serious illness and experienced the visceral wake-up call that time is too valuable to be wasted. For over 40 years it provided a benchmark by which I assayed “Big Stuff” or “Small Stuff,” and decided if things were worth sweating.  Yet only recently have I renewed my commitment to maintain my body with dedication, resolve and yes, sweat.

     Relationships—I’m struck by the sense of seasons in friendships. Bonds forged through common experience, life-saving compassion or spirit-fueling joy link friends through time. Some pulse with vitality for a lifetime; others quicken for an interval and become warm memories of grace and support no less meaningful for their brevity. Like a clay sculpture, I am shaped by every relationship.

     As a parent, 11:30 p.m. highlights that the training phase is completed. Whatever I could teach, they have learned—or consciously discarded.  My children are 26 and 24. I now serve as consultant, cheer-leader, willing resource and occasionally as devil’s advocate.

     Dreams—One year ago, I heard the ticking of the clock preparing to toll my 61st birthday. I admitted that the only obstacle which prevented my dreams of writing a book was my willingness to commit to it 100% and make it happen. With courage in my pocket and a heart racing at mach speed I marched onto the path of my life as writer. The universe rewarded my resolve and Palm City Word Weavers leapt off the pages of the Stuart News into my day-planner. I’ve added “writer” to the many hats I wear and vibrate with the vitality of pursuing a dream. This community of “Writers helping writers” nurtures and encourages my efforts. Friendship has been the serendipitous bonus gratefully received.

Tick, tick, tick, in what way does 11:30 p.m. deliver meaning into your lap?

Storm Shadows

            Amidst the scarifying tone of the current reporting on Hurricane Irene’s approach, my nether regions clutch uncomfortably and dredge unpleasant memories from the 2004 hurricane season. In one three week span hurricanes Frances and Jeanne walloped our area; both came ashore at Sewall’s Point, their official landing spots located only three miles apart. Hunkered inside our “safe space,” protected by storm shutters and a well-built house, the dissonant symphony of destruction magnified our fear. As if Velcro-ed to my hip, Heidi and Toto, our two normally vocal terriers, snuggled against me in terrified silence. They ate and drank nothing and appeared grateful for the diapers I provided as a precaution. At least they cooperated as I struggled to adjust the Pampers. (Think about it; it isn’t easy to accommodate a fluffy tail without defeating the purpose of the diaper in the first place.)

            What Frances left unscathed, Jeanne finished off. Our screen enclosure was peeled apart accompanied by eerie, screeching complaints as the wind disassembled it as easily as a tot knocks apart wooden blocks. Heavy cement tiles popped off our roof like corn in a hot air popper.Along with thousands of others, we became the proud owners of a blue plastic tarp and sported this architectural eyesore for many months. The first contractor we hired absconded with a large deposit; before we could hire a replacement, litigation had to be settled. Eventually, we did get our refund and a competent, reliable company installed an attractive Key West-style metal roof. Far more important than the esthetic impression, is the hurricane survivability that they guaranteed. If the storm does pass through, our roof will be put to the test and we’ll learn whether the storm-worthiness promise is worth the paper on which it is written.

            We’ve lived in Florida for 24 hurricane seasons and have coped pretty well. The 2004 season is the only one in which we had catastrophic damage. In other years we lost trees and sweated without electricity for a couple of weeks. Toilets could be flushed with water hauled from our pool and we used solar shower bags to create “hot” water for bathing. Gas grills are wonderful for cooking and we were able to become acquainted with stars that under normal circumstances are impossible to see due to ambient urban light.

            Some good did follow the storm. Neighbors checked on one another and shared supplies. Families spent lots of “quality” time together. Okay, so maybe not all of it was “quality” or fun, but it was endurable and we learned to pull together. In the aftermath of the storm, my 84 year-old mother commented drily that “She had never wanted to go camping and was less than thrilled with this “baptism by fire.” We discovered things about ourselves and our possessions. Valuable had an entirely new definition. While stuff is enjoyable and can ease day to day living, all of it is replaceable, family and friends are not. They are the treasures of our lives.

Measuring Success

 

            Since I persuaded my spouse that it would be wise for us to exercise at the gym each day— for two hours— nearly a month has passed. Well okay, twenty-three days if you want to nit-pick. Yesterday my husband crowed that he’d already dropped 14 pounds, then he had the audacity to ask what the scales reported as my progress. To humor him, I promptly stepped onto the Healthometer full of confidence. The scale gave a satisfying flicker of red electronic digits and finally came to rest.

            I stared at the read out. My smug smile disappeared; I was ticked off and shocked into silence. My spouse roared—well perhaps it wasn’t a roar but it certainly did give him altogether too much pleasure as we both studied the luminous digits. The evil red-eyed machine flashed a weight gain of 1 pound. Numbers don’t lie. There it was in liquid crystal reality: he’d lost fourteen pounds and I had gained one. “How the heck is that possible?” I protested with self-righteous indignation.

            My husband bravely offered an observation, “You have been hungrier than usual when we get back from the gym.”

            I wanted to be able to deny his comments; unfortunately they were true and I had the digital read out to prove it. Exercising had awakened a ravenous appetite. Previously my interest in food was casual; I ate to live and focused on small portions of a healthy well-balanced menu. However, after our forays to the gym our kitchen became the stage for satisfying a hunger that was a replay of our adolescent son’s as he erupted into a 6’6” young man. I plowed through a platter of carrot sticks and fresh fruit with the speed of army ants stripping a carcass to the bones.

            Our personal trainer reassures me that it’s a normal response as I build up muscle and increase bone density, both of which are desirable for a petite female over 60. But let’s face it; no woman likes to see the scale creep up, even by just a single pound. Toned muscles and stronger bones rank high on my list of pluses, so I am placing my trust in her expertise. I’ll use the tape measure instead of the scale to track my progress. I can tell from the way my clothes are fitting that metric will bring a smile to my face and reinforce my commitment to a healthy life-style.

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