Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Cherry Blossoms

Spent the last few days "off the grid" in Washington, DC at the Cherry Blossom Festival. The peak is supposed to be today through Friday, but it was pretty spectacular over the weekend, even with a snow shower on Sunday.

What I learned about cherry trees: Yes, they were a gift of friendship from Japan in 1912, but several Americans had been lobbying and working hard to make it happen over several decades. This included First Lady Helen Taft, activist Eliza Scidmore and USDA official David Fairchild. Athough there are many varieties of cherry trees throughout Washington, most of the trees around the Tidal Basin are the Yoshino variety. These ornamental trees do not produce the sweet edible cherries we all love, but a small bitter fruit that birds eat. The buds appear pink at first, turn white, like fleeting clouds (a popular image in Japanese art and culture) before dropping like snow to the ground.

Yo no naka wa
Mikka mnu ma ni
Sakura kana

(Life is short like the three day glory of the cherry blossom)

The pamphlet I had, suggested you try composing your own Japanese haiku (a three line poem with the first and last lines having five syllables, while the middle line has seven syllables). So, here goes:

White snowy blossoms
Float like clouds--too bad they bring
oh so many crowds

Don't pick the flowers
Please keep your kids from climbing
The Park Ranger's job :(((

Ephemeral blooms
reflecting water, bright sky
soon a memory

Writing haiku is definitely addictive. Try it, but here's a warning. My Readheads book group wrote haikus for someone's birthday, but then we couldn't stop. Even our emails were syllabically correct, until we came to our senses.

Enough this must end
Twitter in 5-7-5
Leave email alone!

A final note:  in one of life's lovely coincidental connections, last week I went to a concert of The Wailin' Jennys, a folk group and loved one of their songs called  Cherry Blossom Love.  (click to hear the you tube version)

FDR monument
springtime in DC!

Jefferson Memorial

Friday, March 25, 2011

I vacuumed the refrigerator today

I vacuumed the refrigerator today and I don't just mean the coils underneath. It started out that way because I dropped a pill that rolled under the fridge into a forbidden land of dust bunnies and kitchen crud.  Naturally I decided to vacuum it up and call that my spring cleaning, but the next thing you know I had opened the fridge door and was vacuuming the shelves and the fruit and veggie bins.  Crazy, I know, but it works--sort of. It's not going to suck up congealed stains or messy globs of fluids that have sunk to the bottom level and started a colony, but it does a credible job on crumbs and loose food remnants. I wonder if this innovation would qualify for Hints from Heloise? Old timers will remember that name--a columnist and author who hated housework and had ingenious solutions for getting things done. Wow, I just googled her and she's still around:

Well, people have asked me "What do you do all day?" and that's a hard question to answer. But, as you can see from above, when you're at home you have the creative license to meander into all kinds of interesting distractions. My set answer is that I maintain the MBCNetwork website, engage in various home projects and am trying to write the great American novel. 

The reality: I check my email which always leads to side forays into youtube or not to be missed websites like engrish.com or ifyouwatchitbackwards.com. I've been known to get a board member update list and google map the addresses to look at people's houses. (I know, a little creepy) I may have recently created a Facebook group page for people who have my same name  (Aren't you curious about people walking around with your name?)  I do sleep later in the morning and sometimes need an afternoon nap, reconnecting with my inner one year old self. I watch tv during lunch--one of my favorite recorded shows like The Good Wife or Glee or Thirty Rock, and sometimes that stretches out beyond the hour lunch break. I'm always enticed to call it a day and curl up and read, before making supper and doing a few yoga stretches. I try to keep my schedule open, so that there's not an activity a day.  Tuesdays, of course, are sacrosanct (Tuesday Movie Day).

I read somewhere that if you write a page a day, you'll have a novel by the end of the year. Seems simple enough, but here we are on day 84 of the new year and I have only 10 pages to show for my efforts.  The difference between real writers and people who say they are writers is this: writers write!  Hmm....maybe I should be writing a novel about the hilarious adventures of a person who thought they were a writer, but never got around to writing?

I empathize with the younger college generation on how hard it is to study, read and write with all the distractions.  Glad I went to college before personal computers, cell phones, facebook, the internet and email.  We had tv (I'm not that much of a dinosaur), but they were usually in the dorm lounge and a relatively small screen by today's standards.  Our main distractions were the usual suspects: food, drink, getting outside, hanging out with friends.

An important component of studying was always "unstudying"--how to take the proper break to re-energize, clear your mind and re-focus your attention. At Cornell, if you studied in the library, 9 pm was the designated ivy break and scores of students would descend from the stacks, the reading rooms, the study carrels in the undergrad and grad libraries for the cup of coffee and socialization at the student union. Some people never returned to the library after break, except to pick up their stuff, violating the first rule of study breaks--that they should not last too long. Since it was a "see and be seen" experience there were times when the break was not at all energizing or relaxing, but produced its own social anxiety.  Did you talk to so and so? Who was he with?  So much pressure! 

Happily, my breaks now involve no social pressure beyond the fact that I try to talk to another human being at least once a day. (My horrified book group insisted on it, when they heard my routine).  I try to remember that creativity requires a little wandering off the beaten path, but I've vowed to do no more vacuuming of weird places and a lot more writing. Back to the blank page....!

Friday, March 18, 2011

Top o' the Morning to you...

Never mind that the phrase is not Irish at all, but a Hollywood creation or that it's Friday at 11 am and I've just stumbled out of bed. No, not a heavy night of Irish imbibing, (Mayor Bloomberg, take note), but I did treat myself to a trip to the city yesterday. I had a late morning appointment in Murray Hill, so took the bus into Port Authority and then walked down Fifth Avenue. Beautiful day and the crowds were already surging up the street--young, green, carrying suspicious looking Gatorade bottles, but at this point energetic and exuberant. A nice feeling of happiness and well being on the city.Today's Bergen Record had a picture of a bare chested reveler with the Irish flag colors painted on his body and my first thought was "I saw that guy!"  (Do you think there was more than one?)

After my meeting, I continued south, subway to Chambers Street and searched for the Irish Famine Memorial, commemorating the Irish Potato Famine or the Great Hunger (an Gorta Mor in Irish) from 1847-1852. It's not labeled, but when you see the distinctive rock fences, the waving grasses and heather and an abandoned stone cottage, you think "Gee, that looks like the Irish countryside, plunked down right here by the river and the financial buildings."  It's pretty cool.  

You enter through a tunnel marked with quotes from literature and the newspapers of 1840's and there is a voiceover about world hunger.  You emerge on the hillside through the deteriorating stone house and take the short walk up to the viewpoint overlooking the river with the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island off to the south. Spectacular, quiet setting and evocative memorial but under the influence of my son the historic interpreter, I was mentally making notes on where they could add a kiosk, more signage, some interpretation of the event that, while caused by nature, was exploited by the Brits and launched a migration of up to two million Irish and the death of another million in Ireland, reducing the population by 25%.  Under the landlord-tenant farming economy, the rural poor were particularly dependent on the potato crop for survival, as more and more land was cultivated for cattle and the British beef market. Exports of food continued throughout the 1840's, despite the starvation in Ireland.

I read afterwards that the stones of the memorial were from all 32 counties of Ireland and the quotes were separated by rows of Kilkenny limestone. The cottage had been transported from County Mayo and the size of the memorial--one quarter acre--was significant.  An 1847 amendment to the Irish Poor Law prohibited relief to any Irishman living on more than a quarter acre of land.

One quote I liked described the memorial as taking : "five minutes to see; a lifetime to absorb." The Action for World Hunger Center is located next door to the memorial . An estimated 925 million people are "undernourished" in the world today, 13% of the world population.

Memorial, as it faces the Hudson--right near the NJ ferry exit.

The stones from each county

A peasant face, if I ever I saw one!
Feels like the West coast of Ireland

Looking toward the top viewpoint

Located near the World Trade Center site, which is humming along with construction.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Life with Keith

I was more a Beatles fan than Rolling Stones, but Keith Richards autobiography Life is well worth the read--just for the documenting of an era and for a lot of laughs, although after a while you question if you should really be chuckling. Spoiler Alert!

For example:
1. If you were on a trip to Morocco and suddenly your friend and fellow band member got sick and had to be hospitalized in southern France, what would you do?
A. Hang out in the south of France (hey it's pretty nice) and wait for the friend to recover.
B  Continue on to Morocco and sleep with your friend's girlfriend.

2. The friend is released from the hospital and you fly back to help him, but he's still a little shaky and weak for a plane flight. Do you:
A. Delay the flight. Let him rest a few days more days in the south of France (it's still pretty nice)
B. Give him a tab of acid to ease those jitters and boost his strength to get right on the plane.

3. Your girlfriend and mother of your children is spiralling downhill with drug addiction. You have a nasty habit yourself. What would you do with your seven year old son:
A. Send him to granny's
B. Take him on tour with you.

4. You open the urn that contains your father's ashes and some inadvertently spills out. Do you:
A. Brush the ashes into your cupped hand at the edge of the table and return them to the urn.
B.  Snort the ashes.

5. A policeman knocks on the door and you're still a bit high after a night of partying. You
A. Welcome him and his fellow officers in, wondering who these blue smurf-like characters are.
B. Slam the door, call your attorney and dispose of the illegal drugs.

7.  You're on a road trip from Memphis to Texas via Arkansas and you stop at a local cafe.
A. You leave the drugs in your car
B. You bring the drugs into the cafe with you because you need a quick hit in the bathroom.

8. You're meeting your new girlfriend's parents for the first time and you want to impress them.
A. You dress up nicely, show up on time and politely compliment the mother's cooking.
B. You show up drunk, bring a rude friend along for moral support and pick a fight with your girlfriend's brothers.

Well, no real surpises there. I expected the bad boy of rock to have many tales of selfish, drug infused behavior and part of the fun of the book is the voyeuristic view of the dark, glamorous life of drugs, sex and rock and roll. "Would you let your daughter date a Rolling Stone?" was their first brilliant marketing ploy, differentiating them from the relatively clean cut, more acceptable Beatles.

What was cool was the inside story: not just the partying, but how they started out, their vision as being the number one blues band of England, their evolution, how they began writing their own songs, the fights betwee Mick and Keith, the turnovers in the band, the story of how they could still be rocking after all these years.  You take Keith's side in the feud with Jagger who suffered from LSA-- lead singer addiction, a sometimes fatal flaw of egotism, possessiveness  and opportunism. Along the way, you begin to see the positive, softer side of Keith--his passion for the music, his sense of loyalty and his random acts of kindness. For example, in 1981, the now clean Keith backs Ronnie Woods for the tour, although Ron is struggling with alcoholism and Mick wants to drop him.

Amazingly his son Marlon (who survived the tours and a childhood of benign(?) neglect ) and daughter named Dandelion Angela (raised by Keith's mother) seem to have turned out ok, as far as celebrity children go. Keith has been happily married to former model Patti Hansen for 27 years, and maintains an amicable relationsip with long time girlflriend Anita Pallenberg. For years he was picked as the rock star most likely to die and yet he survived and has been heroin free for 30 years and cocaine free since 2006.

I  listened to all 20 cds of the book and loved the voices of readers Johnny Dep and Joe Hurley. Whoever did Keith's voice was larger than life, accenting each word with a rhythm and emphasis that stuck in your brain. Anita was A-NIH-ta. Marlon was MARRRR-lon.  I was actualy disappointed when Keith's own gravelly voice kicks in on the last few cds.  Gone was the actor's drama, which was a perfect match for the drama and excesses of the story.

I am going back to listen to the songs, now that I know more about the riffs, the origin of the lyrics, the open G string tuning (could someone explain that to me again?), the sound effects.  My favorite story about song writing---Satisfaction wrote itself! Keith had been talking to Mick about ideas for the song and woke up next morning, played back the tape that he always kept next to his bed and there was the genesis of the song. 

I've already got my dictating machine set up. Who knows?

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

I still buy green bananas

I still buy green bananas is a favorite saying in the cancer world -- a positive, hopeful vibe meaning you still enjoy everyday activities, like shopping, and look to the future with hope.  But wait a minute, it takes green bananas about a week to ripen, at most, so what kind of message is that? Unless you're on your deathbed, I think most people assume they're going to still be here next week.

So I've upped the ante and have my own new saying: I still buy new furniture....AND badger the salesman about the length of the warranty. Maybe not as colorful or catchy as the green bananas, but it's got potential.

We bought our current family room furniture when Beth was a senior in high school.  A dark forest green reclining couch, (recliners on either end), a matching sleeper sofa and a separate plaid recliner (which everyone except me thought was ugly). You be the judge:
Is it ugly or not?

"Perfect seating for the four of us," we said. One person can lie on the couch and the other three have their own recliners. "But what about me?" said Beth.  I believe we pointed to the middle cushion and said  "Well, you ARE going away to college."  Sounds kind of harsh in the retelling, but it seemed appropriate at the time.

For the record, the ugly green plaid rocking recliner is still going strong, but the couch recliners have both broken. The handle for the foot rest broke off on one of them and we actually had stuck a screw driver in, as a makeshift handle... That worked for about a day.

The other recliner lulled you into thinking it was fine, but then the foot rest would suddenly plunge downward. Gary had tried to master the delicate balance required--just so much pressure on the feet and a slight weight compensation by shifting yourself backwards would allow the chair to remain in full resting position for as long as a minute, before it collapsed, returning you to an abrupt, upright position. This was unacceptable.

I made the rounds of furniture stores, visiting some former favorites, who I found out were now out of business. Like a true NJ shopper, I was forced to cruise Rt 17, the shopping capital of the world. I found an acceptable reclining couch and love seat, debated the color for a while, but then refused to buy it from the pushy yet indifferent salesman. Luckily it was a chain furniture store, so I ventured to Rt 46 to the same store.

I liked my new salesman immediately. Tim was friendly and laid back and I learned all kinds of nice things about his four children, his own idyllic upbringing in, coincidentally, the same town I live in,(what a salesman!), the trauma when his parents divorced, his new stepparents, his mother's current trip to India, his daughter's breast biopsy, his tickets to see Billy Elliott and, yes, even his vasectomy.  

Whew! Tim and i were getting close very quickly. He learned equally interesting information from me. "How many people will be using the family room?" he asked. I was never good at lying, but I could hardly admit to Tim that all we really needed were two new La-Z- Boys, (preferably not in plaid) since we already had a nice flat screen tv and good lamp to read by.  If we ditched the couches the family room might look too minimalist with all that newly liberated space. What could i say?  I created some fictional sons, living at home, age unspecified.  I was going to invent some grandchildren, but really didn't want to offend the fertility gods and, besides, do i really look old enough to be a grandmother?  Tim might question that immediately. 

As we strolled through couch potato land,  Tim asked: "How big is everyone in the family?"  "Not as big as these massive overstuffed couches," I commented. All this furniture was so ugly and obese looking, I wanted to put it on a diet and get that chair and a half down to a respectable size.  Some sectionals even had cupholders! What would Michelle Obama say? Could I at least have a modicum of style: rounded arm, some contrasting piping, some interesting fabric?  The leather section was particularly unappealing--dark brown and forbidding. It scared me. Meanwhile I was starting to panic because I didn't see my dusty olive suite that I knew from the other store and wanted to buy.  Tim to the rescue. "I bet I have just the thing for you. It's around the corner here."  he exclaimed.

Ah yes, my furniture! I feigned surprise (my second lie). I was delighted with the curving arms, patterned gold accent pillows, the ribbed chenille fabric that gave it a warm corduroy look and,  gee, the color was great after all. I rejected the matching chair and a half, although maybe the arms would enfold you like Pee Wee Herman's Chairy? 

Tim had an inspiration. We rushed to the front of the store and thoughtfully considered two high leg floral prints in a complementary earth toned gold. Either one would put the current plaid rocker to shame. After sitting in each, and walking the chair pillows back and forth to see how they looked with the couches, I decided. Tim beamed and complimented me on my good taste.  He would have picked the same thing! We had totally bonded with each other. Bonus: the number of reclining seats for the family room: a magical 5. Just think if we'd had that  years ago, Beth may have returned home to live after college!

It had all been so pleasant, but I knew I shouldn't make it that easy for Tim.  So I assumed my tough consumer mask. Not so fast there, Mr. Tim. "What about the warranty on the reclining mechanisms?"  We poked around the back of the chairs. He showed me the double wood backing, the patented push button technology, the reinforced springs. "You'll be sick of this furniture long before anything breaks," Tim gushed AND I can have it delivered to you by Tuesday! "Tuesday,"  I hesitated. "Well, we have to move out the existing furniture, which is very heavy and then we have to shovel a path to the deck, since the furniture has to be brought in through the sliding glass doors."  I could see Tim wondering why this was a big deal, when two big strapping sons lived at home, but I cleverly back pedaled: "My sons are both away this weekend, and one has to work the following weekend, my husband has a bad back... " I was talking too fast and piling on too many reasons, a fatal mistake in lying. Slow down, breathe, keep it simple and decisive, I thought. "Three weeks out would be better," I said firmly.  Tim 's face registered a fleeting look of suspicion, but, being the good salesman that he was, he wanted to close the deal and you don't do that by embarrassing your customer and calling her a liar. He was clearly disappointed and remarked that there were only a few left and then I might have to wait even longer, but I was firm and stuck to my date.

I'm glad I did because we had another snow storm, the plow guy added to the four foot high wall of snow blocking the path to the deck and those old couches turned out to weigh a ton and a half. One couch was salvageable, but the other got deposited at the curb for pickup day.
Moving men relaxing in the afternoon sun

Three weeks flew by and the furniture was delivered with no problems. Here's the transformed room. Doesn't it look great?
new furniture, but still old crap on coffee table!

Oh, yeah--back to my theme. I still buy green bananas....I still buy new green furniture?