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Thursday, April 28, 2011

Well Screened

I had a couple of good ideas for topics for today’s Blog. bitI didn’t write them down, so now they’re lost to posterity forever. I was sitting on our screened-in porch, and I just didn’t want to get up and grab a pen and a piece of paper. The porch does that: it sucks all the motivation right out of you. You sit on the chairs with the new, fat cushions, stare at the trees or the sky and, yup, that seems like activity enough.

Screening is a godsend in Virginia. In Las Vegas, we had a glorious open porch. You didn’t need to worry about flying bugs there. The airways were clear. Granted, you needed to watch where you stepped: sidewinders, rattlers and scorpions might be underfoot. Also granted, Black Widows and Brown Recluses might dangle from a roof eave, but generally you could grab a chair – or indeed, a sleeping bag – and be pretty secure in thinking if you were still, you were safe. Not so in Virginia.

The air here is fraught with danger. We’ve got wasps. We’ve got these stink bugs that won’t bite you, but they’ll certainly annoy you to death. We’ve got wasps, we’ve got bees, and we’ve certainly got mosquitoes. A few years ago we somehow imported a new kind of mosquito that has a vicious bite. It’ll leave you scratching for DAYS. None of these beaties gets onto the porch, though, or at least not many do. And so from now until it hits the high 90s, we can enjoy our outdoor living room.

The porch is on the rear side of the house. Because of the slope of the land, it looks waaay down onto the neighbor’s driveway but is hidden from the street. In the morning we go out with coffee and the paper while waving our neighbors off to school and work. Come four thirty, we head back out, this time with a glass of wine and some snacks. Sometimes we can get our neighbors to join us. It’s difficult. When we see them drive home from work, we have to shout, “Hey, Cynthia,” or “Hey, Richard. Come on up.” And they do. It’s such hot work getting them over that we have to open another bottle of wine.
In fact, it’s close to 4:00 right now. I don’t want to be sitting here trying to come up with something to write about. To heck with this writing business, I’m going to check the door of the refrigerator for what Steve has chilling and goout there to finish the crossword puzzle and think about nothing.

Monday, April 25, 2011

The Perils of Mother's Day

Mother’s Day is coming. I know this because newspaper ads are beginning to show up like Spring daffodils. My children have, in the past, given me cards with sweet and extremely gratifying messages written on them about how they appreciate and love me. I was impressed; I was touched; I was brought as close to tears as I get.  I didn't think a Mother's Day could be better.  Yester, however, I learned that there is another way to celebrate.  It may be less origional and a whole lot shallower, but there must be a market for it out there somewhere.

Yesterday’s New York Times ran a jeweler’s ad on page two of Section A. This is what it says:

Better than Flowers

[picture of a beautiful ring here]
For Mother’s Day
4.32 ct. emerald cut diamond
Set in a handmade platinum mounting with 1.06 trapezoid side diamonds.

Yes, you read that correctly: $56,000.

Now, let’s begin with the first line. Better than Flowers. I mean, is it? $56,000 divided by 365 equals a $153 (plus change) bouquet for EVERY DAY OF THE YEAR. You would enjoy each bouquet for MORE than a day because, even at their worst, cut flowers last four days. So after the first week or so, you’d have two or three or maybe even four $153 (plus change) bouquets around your house. You want to round down to $140 per bouquet to account for tax and delivery? That’s still some power-house flowers. Would you wear the ring every day? I daresay not. Not if you live an ordinary, busy person’s life. The ring would not be suitable for, say, gardening or playing Play-Doh with small children or doing the laundry. Flowers, though, well it won’t hurt their beauty if you put the 4th day bouquet in the laundry room.

Now what if you’re not an ordinary person? What if you’re a really, really, REALLY rich person? What II mean to say is, what if your children were really, really, REALLY rich people – ‘cause they’re the ones wasting the money on this bauble. I would far rather get a $3.00 card and, okay, kids, splurge on a rose and then see them donate $51,000 to one of the charities I support rather than see so much money spent on one, frivolous piece of jewelry. Perhaps you’ve heard (well, how could you miss it) that charities are no longer getting government support and, um, well the economy isn’t what it used to be so they’re receiving fewer private donations as well. A donation of $55,995 (I’ve deducted for the card and the rose) would be a welcomed boost to one of them. It would be a a welcomed boost if it were divided between two or three of them.

Rather than a rediculous ring, I would prefer see Pazooza and The Boy invest $51,000 for the Perfect Grandchildren’s education. I would rather see them spend it on a magnificent family trip that we’d all enjoy, say a trip around the world, which our entire family could happily do on $51,000. I would rather see them spend it on furniture for their homes or paying down their mortgages.

I guess there are people out there so wealthy that $56,000 seems like a reasonable amount to spend on a Mother’s Day present. But if my kids did it (and I’m not worried about this), I would stand speechless with my jaw dropped to my knees. And not in a good way.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Every Cloud

Our house is 30 years old with a 30-year-old kitchen. I refinished the cabinets about 10 years ago, and we had new, laminate countertops installed, a new sink and new cabinet pulls: the usual self-renovation on-the-cheap.  Now, however, you can see the earlier gouges in the cabinets, the closet-pantry door won't close, and the neon lighting is, well, literally from the last century.  The time has come.  Tuesday the workers are coming to dermolish the kitchen.
Yes, I’m excited about pretty new cabinets and recessed lighting, about the new sink with the fancy faucet.   (We’re keeping the same footprint and our appliances). Mostly, though, I think about four to six weeks of dust, noise and trying to make meals with a toaster oven and an electric skillet. Then yesterday I had an epiphany.
Wednesdays are cleaning the kitchen and bathrooms day. I scrubbed out the sink and polished the stovetop and thought, That’s it! Why do more?  Why bother with the Easter egg dye on the countertop – it’s going to be toast! So what if there’s dust on the windowsill? There’s only going to be more! Why bother sweeping the floor? Tuesday the workers will cover it with plastic and tromp all over it..
Oh, the liberty! Ah, the freedom! It’s amazing how the idea of not cleaning the kitchen for a month has perked me right up! Talk about the silver lining. And there’ll STILL be pretty new cabinets in the end.  

Sunday, April 17, 2011

The Spirits Are With Us

Yes, it's Sample Sunday!  This is my one of my friend's favorite scenes from Jaguar Sees:  The Lacquer Box.  In it, spirit animals become corporeal for the very first time.

Claire gave a jaunty wave to two women she knew from knitting, and joined them at a dark red Mercedes. Many of the AWO women had cars and drivers supplied by their husbands’ companies. Those without, like Claire, rode with the others. The driver put her detergent in the trunk where it joined other boxes and a bag of books. He opened the doors for the three women, made sure everyone was buckled in, and pulled out, the middle car in a three car caravan.
After an hour’s drive south, talking all the way, they pulled up to the hospital’s gatehouse, where a guard checked them through. They drove to the pediatric oncology building, and chaos followed as the women and drivers unloaded boxes of detergent on one waiting gurney and books on another. The hospital staff wheeled the first toward the first floor laundry room and the second into a freight elevator.

The women walked up three flights of stairs to a large, empty room where both the books and the bilingual hospital liaison, Irena, awaited them, looking crisp in a white blouse, navy blue suit and matching heels, hair tucked back in a neat twist. She took the women to her office off the staff’s break room where they locked up their coats, hats and purses.

The break room was sparse, furnished with only a refrigerator and a large, gouged table with mismatched wooden chairs, such vivid contrast to the gold jewelry and cashmere sweater sets worn by many of the visitors. They listened as Irena described the ward lay-out to new volunteers and expressed her appreciation as only a woman could whose child had been successfully treated at the facility. She rose, and the group followed, two women pushing the laden gurney down the hall and around the corner onto the ward.

They stopped in front of a large observation window and peered into the first patient’s room. Claire looked in, gasped and leaned against the wall.

“Hiccups?” one of her friends asked, patting her on the back.

“Yes.” But it wasn’t hiccups at all. It was what she saw through the glass. The spirit animal wasn’t indistinct this time; it had the faded but clearly defined realism of a sepia-toned photograph but was rounded out in the bulk of three dimensions. It was impossible to dismiss it as a byproduct of stress; she wasn’t stressed. There was no deluding herself that she was imagining it. A little girl, five or six years old, was rocking on her bed in the arms of a large, spirit bear.

The room was a single because the child was too ill to risk exposure to the germs or disturbances that existed in a wardroom with other children. The child’s mother, unaware of the wild animal in close proximity to her precious little girl, beamed at the visitors from a sink in the corner where she washed out some small items. The little girl lay quietly on her bed, cuddled against the bear. Irena, translating her conversation with the mother, explained that the child was in the middle of a long course of radiation treatment, her small body weakened by it. The girl gave the women a fragile, cherubic smile, a small, fatigued wave.

The other women saw a child rocking herself on the white sheets of her cot. They whispered how good she was, how sweet despite her pain, isolation and fear.

Claire caught herself trying to rationalize what she saw. Then she let go and allowed herself to accept it. She breathed slowly, appreciating the wonder of the scene before her.

She rubbed the fingers of her left hand which had fallen asleep; it felt like little shocks ran up her fingers and the warmth of an electric light radiated under her palm. Then her wrist tilted as if of its own accord. She looked down.

Shining golden eyes looked up. Her breath stalled in her lungs. Jaguar’s broad nose pushed warm against her hand, and, although she didn’t feel the shove, again her hand lifted. She tried to scratch between the perked ears, but it was like trying to scratch cotton candy. Jaguar felt was real but not solid. She wondered if anyone noticed her fingers move against what they would perceive to be empty air, but no one said anything.

“Which book should we give this little angel?” Irena asked.

Claire smiled, knowing exactly the right answer. “Masha and the Bear.” She lifted the Russian fairy tale from the gurney and passed it to another volunteer. The mother took the book from the woman’s outstretched hand and sat down next to the bear to read to her smiling daughter.

The next room was a ward with four beds. Claire suggested a Russian translation of The Jungle Book for a ten-year-old who had a monkey clinging to his shoulder. Harry Potter (by some unknown fluke of translation, he became Gary Potter in Russian) was handed to a fourteen-year-old with an owl perched on his iron bedstead. A book cover that reminded Claire of The Call of the Wild was the obvious choice for the thirteen-year-old with a wolf curled at his feet.

She felt incalculable sadness at the sight of an eight-year-old holding a soft, furry rabbit in the crook of his arm. The rabbit’s fur was dull, its ears drooping, its nose still. She knew the boy wasn’t going to live much longer. Claire handed him a book with a sweet picture of seven bunnies on the cover.

“Vee Veedet,” he whispered reaching a limp hand toward Jaguar.

“Da,” she answered softly, “I see, little one.”

The volunteers proceeded from room to room. The others thought she had an uncanny knack for matching book to child and readily accepted her suggestions. Claire knew herself to be the world’s happiest fraud.

The other adults would never dream that the children were being tended and comforted by spirit animals, yet the youngsters took them completely for granted, fondling and playing with their phantom friends. If a child ever mentioned one, a caretaker would certainly chalk it up to imagination or heavy medication. Most of the American volunteers couldn’t understand Russian anyway.

The last room was a double for two ten-year-old girls. One was happily singing a song to a spirit turtle that was crawling among her covers. The other purposefully slid off her bed, a half-grown jaguar thumping down beside her. Claire knelt. Jaguar sat quietly at her side. The younger cat nosed Jaguar with curiosity, and the girl circled her arms about Claire’s neck, hugging her. They smiled at each other, kindred spirits.

Claire suggested the volunteers give this one a large picture book about African animals. As the visitors prepared to go, the girl spoke, and the liaison translated, “When are they coming back?”

The other women laughed at the child’s ingenuousness, so enjoying presents that she wanted to know when more would be forthcoming. Claire knew she wasn’t talking about the book. She stroked the child’s cheek and returned to the hall with the others.

The women joined Irena in the break room for a polite cup of tea while they discussed the hospital’s needs for the coming month. Jaguar sat contentedly, a weightless yet somehow warm lump on Claire’s feet. As they rose and headed toward the stairway, Claire smelled a faint sizzle of ozone and realized Jaguar was gone.

Jaguar Sees: The Lacquer Box by Ann Simon Is a fast-paced thriller with an overlay of the spiritual. Shamanic spirit animals aid the heroine with her deadly challenges. It is available at the Amazon Kindle store for Kindles, i-pads and other i-products, computers, android Windows 7 phones. The Kindle app is currently free. http://amzn.to/hUuFdS

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Like A Cat

Did you ever know a picky eater?  Elaine is such a cat. Despite the fact that she will eat dead birds and mice, there are flavors of cat food she won't touch.  Anyway, on top of that, lately she’s been having tummy troubles, and like the good pet owner that I am, I’ve tried to narrow down the causes. (I’ve gotten nowhere on trying to do so; this post doesn’t go in that direction.)

Then I wondered if the problem might be her medication, if that was upsetting her stomach. Last night, in a definitive test, I put her medicine in a bowl and set it in front of her. She looked at me rather mournfully and did not approach the bowl. I set down a second bowl, also Salmon Feast but without the medicine. She chowed down.
Ah, I thought, this is it. Unfortunately, if she can’t take her medicine, she will die. I sat down to my cup of decaf to ruminate over that. When I took my cup back into the kitchen, Elaine had abandoned the non-medicated bowl and was scarfing up the medicated bowl. Okay, so not the medicine.

Then I thought about how much I am like a cat. I mean, I want to try all the dishes on the menu before I choose one. Restaurants aren’t so much run like this. Fortunately for me, I have a husband who likes everything and is always willing to trade dishes with me if my order turns out to be less than anticipated. I want all the pretty clothes and be able to decide each day who I want to be. I want the practical station wagon as well as the little smart car.

I want it all. Just like a cat.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Go to Sleepy, Little Baby

Yesterday I tried to think what I should write: something engaging, something Charming, something, brilliant. Okay, maybe that’s going a little too far;I’ve never written anything brilliant in my life, but, you know, there’s always hope.
Not yesterday, though, there was no hope there. All I could think of was whiny stuff for a whiny baby blog. And why? Nothing horrible, heck, nothing remotely bad happened to me. I had no obligations the whole day. In fact, I had a very nice day with coffee and the New York Times in the morning, and gardening and a nice, hot bath in the afternoon (yesterday the weather was freakishly cold; today it is freakishly warm). Still, only whiny baby thoughts.

Then it came to me. I was cranky because I’d woken up at 5:00 AM. Of course I had – it was the first morning in a week that the cat hadn’t made me get up before 7:00. In fact, at 7:00, the cat was nowhere to be found. So, there I was, 5:00 AM, awake and slept out after six hours.  Why did I wake up, why?  I don't know.  Why couldn't I drift off back to sleep?  Same answer.  There was a time, when I had babies in the house, that six hours would have seemed more than adequate. Not any more, though. Now I want my seven to eight hours. I mean, I WANT them!

In the late afternoon, I sat on the porch and read my Kindle and ate chocolate. Ah, chocolate, the world’s panacea. Apparently I’m a simple creature. All it takes to keep me contented is a good book and a lot of chocolate.

I got eight hours of sleep last night, and today everything is hunky dory!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Back at Ballet

We saw the Washington Ballet’s production of Le Corsaire last night. The music (recorded by the Evergreen Symphony Orchestra) was gorgeous. I was tapping my foot (yes, in the air) the whole time. The sets were sumptuous. The pirate cove was draped in enormous stalactites; the pirate ship sailed on billowy waves; the town was bright with color. The female dancers wore brilliant tutus, and the men wore tight tights. Petipa’s old-fashioned choreography reminded you of classical ballet’s beginning. In fact, I had to keep reminding myself that the entire ballet was a work from 1856.

If you remember that it was created in the mid-1800s, you can suspend disbelief so that it doesn’t bother you that slave girls are auctioned off for nefarious purposes. Indeed, the slave girls, dressed in short, stiff tutus, were distressed about being sold. However, the inherent racism (Conrad and his cohorts deceive the unusually foolish Pasha while he’s at his prayer rug) remains revolting. The idea of Ali as Conrad’s devoted and loyal slave is disgusting. Disgusting or not, though, Brooklyn Mack as Ali stole the show with magnificent, strong leaps and his supple, supple back.

I, on the other hand, was back at ballet class after a 2 ½ week hiatus. I was neither strong nor supple. I was glad that my mind was still following direction, but my muscles were weak, weak, weak. Gaa! How do they DO it?  (You see, I should now have a picture of me at the barre.  Yeah, that will NEVER happen.)