Suzy's Blog - Reflecting on Grandkids and Grandparenting      

        Suzy's Blog



We have a new member of the family, an old soul who knows everything. Wherever we go now, he comes along. He’s the ideal companion, never entering the conversation unbidden, but when asked, his encyclopedic mind adds a new dimension to the art of conversation.

I’ll admit to some jealousy. When he and Ry match minds, get involved in something arcane, I am totally forgotten. It’s hard not to feel replaced.

Oh Steve Jobs, did you ever stop to consider the effects of your I Pad on a happy marriage?

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It rains.

The parched creek begins to fill.

More rain until…

The creek begins to flow,

hesitantly at first as though it had forgotten how,  

but soon, sounds of rushing water fill the air.

Music to dry ears.  

All that water going somewhere in a hurry now,

Along a winding way,

it’s path curved by resistant earth

refusing to give in.

My years rush by like water in the creek.

Another birthday looms.

Part of me begins to crumble, worn away by time.

But part of me remains the same,

Refusing to give in.

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Ms. Tow-hee's babies have hatched.  At first I can’t see them, the nest is high up  in the wisteria, but Mom is bringing food and Dad has come to help. He is very territorial, challenging all who encroach, including his own reflection in the glass on the door. He hangs on to the handle, viciously pecking at the bird looking back at him.

I lay human feelings on the scene, hear their song as an expression of joy or conversation “Oh aren’t our children exceptional?” or “No, don’t bring potato bugs, Jr. doesn’t like them.”  Soon little heads appear at the rim of the nest with open beaks and demanding tweets. They will grow fast, be ready in a matter of days to fledge and I will watch with wonder as their parents teach them how to live in the world outside the nest.  

It’s a miracle isn’t it, this gift of life, this ongoing act of creation, why would anyone want to destroy it.

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I am surrounded by Mothers at this time of year, Mothers who fly out of their nests protesting when I exit or enter my house, valiant Mothers who willingly confront a giant to protect their young. They scold. “How dare you threaten my children.” I am sympathetic. They fly, I walk, but we share this Mommy thing and the place we all call home.

Mother Junco nests in one of my window boxes near the front door, flying out like an uncontrolled missile when we come and go. Sitting in a nearby tree she tweets a warning,  “Back off.”

“ I have to water,” I tell her when the box begins to dry. “You won’t have any cover if the flowers die, but I’ll be careful.” She’s suspicious, doesn’t know I too am mothering her nest.

Mother towhee’s head peeks out over the edge of her nest in the wisteria outside the kitchen window. She seems so contented, almost smug. When we enter her space, she flies to the ground enticing us with sweet tweets “follow me, follow me away from my nest.”

I watch her as I make dinner. “We are kindred spirits you and I,” I tell her.

“We keep life going.

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“Get what you want,” says the man of the house, “these are the last sofas.”

Funny how those ominous words frequent our vocabulary these days. A bit of pressure “the last”. These final flings have got to be good.

The last time I replaced those family room sofas, I walked into Macy’s, breezed through the furniture department, saw those cheery blue and white striped sofas, mentally put together a Ralph Lauren type room and  said, “I’ll take two.” Done. So easy. These were not forever sofas, there was time for change.

As I shop, it becomes increasingly evident  -  I am not who I was the last time I bought sofas. My life has changed. The old dog has died, and our son has left the nest to make a nest of his own . We are a family of two, getting on in life. I want sophistication. My eye passes over stripes and vibrant colors, gravitates toward deeper tones, imagines a room that invites quiet contemplation, with deep, mellow sofas to snuggle into under a warming throw, a nice place to fall asleep in front of television.  

At last I I find them, those perfect “last” sofas. They’re in the family room now. I hate them.  Deep, and dark is not as inviting as I imagined. Deep and dark is overbearing and deadly - until …….. you add a red chicken, striped pillows, and a painting of a red barn.

I’m drifting off to sleep now, snuggled under my throw in the delightful depths of one of our “last” sofas. I look around happily. We fit in here now. The  room is mellow like us, but there’s still a dash of spirit and whimsy.

Maybe the last, but not the least.

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Serendipity happens! Yesterday I was thinking and writing about experiencing joy in later life. Today I am thumbing through Carolyn Heilbrun’s THE LAST GIFT OF TIME as a possible read for my book club and I encounter the following quote from Sylvia Townsend Warner. "In the evening," she records in her diary, " the Amadeus (Quartet) played Opus 132; and I danced to the last movement, I rose up & danced, among the cats and their saucers and only when I was too far carried away to stop I realized that I was behaving very oddly for my age – and that perhaps it was the last time I would dance for joy.’

Heilbrun concludes. “The greatest oddity of one’s sixties is that, if one dances for joy, one always supposes it is for the last time. Yet this supposition provides the rarest and most exquisite flavor to one’s later years. The piercing sense of 'last time' adds intensity, while the possibility of ‘again’ is never quite effaced.”

Good stuff.

When I was 12 , I got my first two piece bathing suit.
Too cold to go swimming, but I wore it day and night for days.
Oh my gosh, me in a two piece bathing suit ……. Ridiculous, but not to me,
I was jumping with joy.

The first A on a paper I’d written adorned the
refrigerator for the family to see
I pointed it out so gleefully.
Imagine, me an A.
I jumped for joy.

In my twenties, I fell in love.
Did he love me back? I wasn’t sure.
Until one day he called from far away,
because he missed me and I knew ….
Jumping with joy.

When have I been so ecstatic since?
Flying through the air in my exuberance?
So long ago I can’t remember.
Life it seems has grounded me.
I grow too old for leaps of ecstasy.

Webster tell me what we mean by Joy,
Is it only for the young?
Rapture, triumph, exaltation,
Overwhelming jubilation.
That seems a lot of bluster.
But pleasure, enjoyment and delight
are something I can muster.

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From my bed, not quite awake, I watch with sleepy eye
Old oak upon the hill, beckon to the sun,
It’s barren branches touch the restless clouds, waiting to be painted.
The day has just begun.

Tomorrow we’ll begin again, the ritual repeated
Until one day a hint of leaf announces spring is here
Oak’s branches fill with life, each day gently growing
Summer’s crown of green.

Too soon the leaves begin to fade – oh summer do not go –
And branches stand in stark relief against a winter sky. 
Again another year has passed between old oak and me.
I watch with anxious  eye.

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KINDNESS:: gentle and considerate towards others.

NICE – pleasant, satisfactory

I rarely, if ever, say “she’s so kind.” I’m more apt to say “She’s such a nice person.” Conversely, I rarely hear “kind” used by anyone else. I’m sorry about that. “Kind’ is a rich word, full of feeling. Nice” is bland, shallow, almost damning with faint praise. Are we losing something more than a word here? As “kind” changes to “nice” are deeply felt feelings of connection getting replaced by something more surface?

I’m listening to Adam Phillips being interviewed re his recent book KINDNESS. We are born with a propensity towards kindness he claims, but our capitalistic society, a society based on competition makes kindness a sign of weakness, an obstacle to the ever important goal of winning..

I’ve found this to be true on the tennis court, that microcosm of the competitive world we live in. Occasionally I’m motivated to hit the ball to the net person who has been standing idle - an act of kindness if you will, designed to bring her into the game. Yes, we lose the point to a resulting smash out of reach. So much for kindness.

And yet, if what Phillips says is true – kind people are happier, and more contented than others - then we’ve only lost a small point and won the big one.

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No trees, no sky, no sound, no other - nothing - just me, walking in a nonexistent world. I climb the hill, reach the top, look out to where the bay once lay, where all those houses dotted the landscape with people inside living their lives. Gone, enveloped in gray obscurity.

At the edge of the hill, a lone figure emerges, a dark silhouette in the mist. He moves in slow motion, bending, turning, arms gently extended to gather the ether, then folded into himself. Now on one leg then the other, in perfect balance.

 I recognize the movements of Qigong, a Chinese meditative practice, stop, watch, transfixed. I’m not familiar with the underlying meanings of the movements, but here on the top of the hill, coming out of the fog, they speak to me of beauty and harmony, man with himself and his universe.

It’s the stuff dreams are made of.

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It rained today. The earth smells rich, fertile. The air caresses my face, moist, fresh. The trees, their bark soaked black, their leaves beaded with wet, are a towering presence. Worms slither, a creek gurgles, bunnies hop, quail skitter. I walk.

Down the trail, a school bus, a yellow splash in the gray day, is discharging exuberant little children. Today they will learn about nature, and the workings of the farm that operates in this open space. They are full of life and the adventure of today. Me too.

So simple, the beginnings of this day, yet so overwhelming -   the rain, nature, the children, the magic in being alive. I want to share it with him over lunch, but I won’t. He’ll roll his eyes, tell me I live in a fantasy world, be impatient with his Mother for being so out of it.

I am. I admit it. Those days of career chasing and raising children are over for me. It's nice now to enjoy the simple things, those things I overlooked hurrying to get someplace else.

 I hope one day he too will enjoy the pleasures of being out of it. Right now he hasn't the luxury. What he does have is something I yearn for now and then - a bit of his youth yet to live.

A tradeoff isn't it?
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January 8th.- already it’s beginning, that pile of unattended stuff accumulating on my desk . I’m glad I didn’t resolve - yet again - to keep up with what lands there. Life is hard enough - why program yourself for failure.

Admittedly it’s fun to think about how you might improve yourself and in the improving make life easier. It’s also pleasurable to think you CAN improve, but then there’s reality, a reality aptly expressed in that old saying, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” I am, I accept it, an old dog. No, no resolutions this year about behavior. I’m going to work on my attitude. Maybe you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, but perhaps you can teach her to think about things a little differently. We’ll see.

Gathered and saved over the years, are scraps of paper on which I’ve written things others have said or written that I found worth thinking about. I consult them for my resolutions, post them on the bulletin board above my desk as a daily reminder, enter the new year with renewed hope for a better me.

"We must value people for what they are, not what we want them to be."

"The more patient you are, the more accepting you will be of what is rather than insisting life be exactly as you would like it to be.

"Focus on the good in your life."

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Among other things, we gave that dynamic duo, our grandchildren, iTunes gift cards for Christmas. Apple kindly put them in nice thick envelopes, which, since they were the last packages of a long day of wrapping, I decided only needed perky ribbons -  a red and white poke a dot ribbon for him and a green one for her. Perfect.

At the unveiling, recognizing the ribbon as historic, our son asks “How many Christmases have we been getting these ribbons?” The green ones are left over fabric from a patchwork quilt I made in the 60's. The red ones are the ribbons that adorned our Christmas trees for many years.  Those ribbons have history. 

Nimble, young fingers slip them quickly from their envelopes with nary a thought except what might be inside. I watch from the 1960's when youth belonged to me and the ribbons were new.

They toss them into the "save" pile on the floor, knowing I will want to take them home for next Christmas. I gather them,shed my nostalgia,as I realize I was "green" long before the world thought much about it. How current can you be?

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Anticipation is such a wonderful thing, especially at Christmas. Connie, my mother-in-law, understood this. I do too. We wrapped our packages for each other accordingly, the outside enticing, entertaining, beckoning. We passed fancy boxes from fancy stores that once held fancy presents back and forth until they crumbled. You never knew. Was it the real thing or dishtowels in last year’s box? Anticipation teetered, expectation was teased and fun was had by all.

We saved ribbons. The best got ironed, stored, appeared again on next year’s packages.. Out of the attic comes the basket she gave me last year. Now filled with fresh tissue paper, greenery and this year’s goodies, I give it back. And so it goes, this back and forth, the joy in the wrapping becoming, over time, a major part of the gift.

Her last year with us, Connie outdid herself in what now seems a final gesture to a grand tradition. There under the tree was a saucy red footlocker full of pink tissue paper, all my presents gathered therein. She wasn’t well, she’d lost her “Punkies”, yet here, for me, she’d mustered all this joy.

Appropriately, that red footlocker now holds the things we passed back and forth. Slowly I let them go, pass them on to the next generation, happily remembering as I do, what a delight our wrappings were - today’s treasures wrapped in yesterday’s memories.

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She called him “Punkies”. He had a host of names for her which were a testament to his Kentucky humor, but mostly she was his “Sweetheart”. To the rest of us they were Mom and Dad, Grandmother and Granddad and for us not born into the family, Connie and K.R.

Every year we gathered for Christmas at their house, taking turns unwrapping our packages in front of a crackling fire. We sat in our usual places for the unveiling, Grandmother and Grandfather side by side on the softly faded sofa from Sloans, their progeny gathered round.

When they were young, he shopped the environs of Fifth Avenue in New York, buying his Sweetheart elegant presents at Tiffany’s, Cartier and Steuben. In recent years, his love is more simply expressed in a box of her favorite chocolates. “Oh My Punkies,” she says as she unwraps the familiar package, a catch in her voice as she expresses this name of endearment, a name filled with memories of times gone by, and the hope of more to come.

“Sweetheart,” he replies taking her hand.

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I read the obituaries. Oh not all the time. It’s a come and go kind of thing, something that lasts a couple of weeks then fades. I think I get tired of reading about world events, yearn for stories of how single lives were lived in quiet ways. I’m comforted by valiant battles with nasty diseases and loving families in attendance in the final moments. So many of these lives have been like mine – “she loved her family, her friends, her garden, pursued a variety of interests……” I feel kinship in these human dramas, but distanced in age. I am, of course --- much younger.

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I hear his car in the early morning hours as he circles the neighborhood delivering our newspapers and happily snuggle deep into my downy nest knowing I have a few more hours before my day begins.

Later my husband’s footsteps crunch the gravel as he walks down the driveway to get the newspaper. I start to think about getting up, listen for my cue.

The front door opens, footsteps cross the floor, drawers open, dishes clatter, cereal cascades into a bowl. A chair slides across the floor followed by a rustle of paper spread across the table. Silence. My cue. It’s time to get up.

I bring my breakfast to the table as he begins the sports page, a page he saves for last, a page I don't read. My timing is perfect. The paper is now all mine.

“Good morning,” I say. “Good morning,” he answers. We read. I have learned breakfast is not conversational, it’s about the newspaper. It’s also the refuge of the non morning person. Those dreadful mornings when the newspaper doesn’t get delivered, we hardly know how to start the day.

My father spent a lot of time behind his newspaper. It was his shield against our domestic life which often baffled him. A suitor came to ask for my sister’s hand in marriage - an unsuitable suitor. He presented his case in front of my father’s newspaper. When he finished, my father lowered the paper and said “ The decision is hers.” and resumed his reading.

I have been spanked with a rolled up newspaper, whacked the dog with newsprint, made a paper hat, and protected the floor with yesterday’s news while making a mess.

How can we live without them?

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They won many blue ribbons in their day, he and the young girl who adored him. Together they entered the western horseshows where harmony between horse and rider was a part of the competition. He anticipated her every wish as though they were one entity. Yes, they were crowd pleasers. He a handsome young appaloosa descended from Nez Perce stock and she a shining young girl in love with horses, and the challenge of competition.

Does he think about those days as he stands blind, arthritic and alone in his pasture? Does he anticipate her visits, the touch of her hand gently stroking his nose? Does he wake up thinking about his breakfast or is he only conscious of the sun warming his back, the rain washing his coat, and the winter cold penetrating his bones?

Is it enough to be alive?

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We pass on the trail as dawn is breaking, kindred souls sharing a common purpose –that daily exercise. We also share the ground on which we tread, in joint ownership through our tax dollars – “This land is my land, this land is your land…”

We are a family of sorts, an open space district family, at times reaching out to one another to get the day off to a positive start by exchanging upbeat “Good Mornings”, good mornings that would never be said to passing strangers on the streets of our village, but here on the trail seem appropriate.

Oh, not everyone says Good Morning – not the serious runners who are only interested in speed, breathing too hard to speak, not those who are attached to their headsets off in another world, and not those who walk with head down, eyes firmly focused on the ground saying, without saying, “Leave me Alone.”

The “Good Mornings”, it seems, come from those who are so filled with the possibilities of a new day, their delight in this shared natural environment, and a zest for being alive, they want to share the feeling. Their “Good Mornings” are a kind of benediction.

I bring their greetings home, take them into my day. Two simple, little words “Good Morning. ”but, big things often come in small packages.

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They call our town a “village” which has always amused me. “Village” is one of those loaded words, a word that implies more than it’s strict definition. You say “village”, I immediately think green fields, tranquility, fellow feeling, a place where everyone knows your name. The dictionary defines village as “a small community or group of houses in a rural area, larger than a hamlet and usually smaller than a town.”

Our “village” is actually a town of about 30,000 people, surrounded by other towns for an accumulated population that climbs into the millions. We do have green, forested hills as a backdrop and here and there some vestiges of the orchards that dotted the area in it’s earlier days, but rural we are not, except in the eyes of the Chamber of Commerce and real estate interests.

An innocent word “village” isn’t it. Like lots of other simple words that reach into our longings and preconceptions, used by people with an agenda.

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It's a strenuous, uphill walk from his house into our local open space, but, happily, not a great distance. He moves slowly with measured steps, pausing frequently to catch his breath. One hundred feet inside the entrance gate he stops and looks across the expansive, grassy fields, rolling hills and big sky that are part of the view. Deer graze nearby. Wild turkeys peck the ground looking for seeds. A coyote comes close, curious about this man who comes each morning to stand, unmoving, in the landscape.

I'm curious too. After many days of exchanging good mornings as I pass by, I stop to talk. "Beautiful morning," I say. as an opener. He nods yes. "Do you live around here?" I continue. He gestures out the gate. Slowly I realize we are not going to talk, he can't gather his thoughts to articulate them. So, we stand quietly, together watch a kite fluttering in a standstill high overhead suddenly plunge to the ground to catch his breakfast. Words aren't necessary. Nature connects us.

As I turn to leave, he calls after me.

"I used to walk the trails."

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When I moved to California in the late 1950s, my eastern friends lamented, "There are no seasons." They talked about their glorious fall colors, the quiet, pristine moments of new snow, the overwhelming sense of rebirth when spring finally arrived after a hard winter. I was doomed, it seemed, to live in perpetual sunshine which, they implied, was going to be very dull.

Imagine my surprise, the fall I moved west, to find the hills covered with glorious red leaves, leaves I subsequently picked for an artful fall arrangement. I brought a friend along, someone who was also new to California. On our way home, we stopped to see our husbands who were working together. We gave them hugs and kisses when we left. Once home, we put together our glorious fall arrangements.

You know where this is going, but we didn't, not until we all got the rash and had to scratch.

Welcome to California and poison oak.

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It's late morning. Six of us sit around the dining room table drinking coffee, eating breakfast pastries from the local bakery. We're family in a loose sort of connection, all here to see the new house just purchased by one of our own. It's that first house, the one whose purchase will be happily remembered in later years, perhaps described to a younger generation around another dining room table like I'm about to do now as I begin to tell the story of how we bought our first house.

"We were walking the town after a dinner out, looking in the store windows," I begin, "and there it was, calling us from an enticing picture in a real estate office window - a house that looked just like us. We weren't in the market for a house, we had no money, but we went to see it the following morning anyway and yes, it was meant to be ours. Several days later a surprise arrived in the mail, something to do with stock Ry bought in his school days and had long forgotten. It seems we had $2,500 dollars!

"$3,500," Ry calls from across the table.

"Whatever,"I answer and continue. "Ry's parents threw in $5,000 bringing our total to $7,500, enough for a down payment."

$1,000," Ry calls from across the table."

I know it's $5,000 because I spent many years thinking about how to pay them back. I open my mouth to say so and realize this delightful story about how Ry bought that house as a birthday surprise for me is going to turn into something no one will want to hear. So I say instead "Let me finish, then you can correct me." a response I wish I'd come up with years ago.

Try it.

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 I am forever leaping out of the car to ask “Donde esta….?” or “Ou est….” of innocent bystanders when we travel. It’s comforting to know how to ask “Where is…?” Is it helpful? Not really, I rarely understand the answer.

I’ve been asking “dov'é  …… for the last three hours as we try to find where we’re staying tonight in the hills above Spoleto, Italy. I’ve been thinking, WHY WOULD ANYONE WANT TO PUT THEMSELVES THROUGH THIS when they could be home gardening or playing the piano in the hills of California. Oh what is this thing called travel? Why does it lure us into this discomfort?

When I was young, I yearned to travel to see things I had been studying, the Parthenon, Chartres ….. all those biggies. I believed it would be broadening, make me a more interesting person - all part of my “becoming.”

In the hectic years of child rearing and careers, travel was an escape, a get away from all the cares at home.

Now, in retirement, travel fills leisure time, is something to look forward to, plan for, postpone in some magical way the inevitable, or at least thinking about it. Everyone seems to be going somewhere, acquiring destinations as they once acquired things. “Where have you been lately?” the world asks. You need an answer, so... you pack your bags.

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I'm reading travel guides before our trip. Along with what you should see and how to get there, they offer precautionary advice. BEWARE - someone is going to steal your money one way or another. It could be as simple as a hand in your pocket or involve more elaborate ruses like gold rings thrown on the ground which catch your eye while your purse is snatched, or diversionary tactics on a crowded subway that leave your wallet gone.

Watching the pickpockets at a popular tourist attraction can be part of your sightseeing agenda suggests travel writer Rick Steves. You may lose your money he assures us, but it is unlikely YOU will be harmed.

What precautionary advice do travelers to the United States receive I wonder as I tuck my money into that pouch that hangs around my neck.

Could it be ......... Americans are armed.

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Pere Lachaise Cemetery is a leafy, peaceful place in the Northeastern part of Paris. Not your typical tourist attraction and yet, hundreds of thousands visit annually. We're adding to their numbers.

An astounding three hundred thousand people are buried here. Among them, most likely, someone who has affected your life deeply - Proust, Victor Hugo, Modigliani, Sarah Bernhardt, Oscar Wilde, Moliere, Gertrude Stein and Alice, Jim Morrison - to name a few.

We're here for Chopin who, over the years, has mended my heart many a time. You develop an intimate relationship with a composer whose music you're learning to play, spend a great deal of time in their perspective, share intimate moments of the soul and yes, if you're simpatico, fall in love. Not with the man exactly , it's the music, but can we separate the two?

Like the Sistine Chapel, it's crowded here, oh not with tourists, but with the dead, whose monuments push against one another clamoring for space. It's hard to have a private moment with Chopin in the crowd.

I wait in front of his grave, expecting an emotional connection. Perhaps the notes of the Waltzes, Nocturnes, Ballades, and Preludes I have played will fill my head. Nothing happens. I look at the fresh flowers that decorate his grave, see how well it is tended, am happy the world continues to honor him in this touching gesture and as I absorb it all, realize why I am here.

I simply needed to pay homage. The rest will come when I go home to play the piano.

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 In the café across from Notre Dame where we have breakfast every morning, the waiter greets us with his usual "Bon Jour!" We respond in kind, but our Bon Jour is flat in comparison. His not only wishes us well, but suggests in it's inflection, today is a new beginning, good things may very well happen. It's the music of the language.

We are lost in the French countryside. "Ou est Giverny?" I ask the elderly woman in black walking beside the road. She is puzzled, tries hard to understand me - can't. I ask again trying to be clear and properly accented. Suddenly her face fills with delight. She knows!
"GIVERNE " she cries with an upward swing of the Y, not only giving Giverny additional cachet, but pointing us in the right direction.

Ah the music of language. We English speaking Americans end our sentences with a drop in the voice - period, the end. The French end on a little rise leaving room for possibilities.

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"The last time I saw Paris, her heart was young and gay..." the lyrics of that old song play in my mind as we walk the streets of Paris. She still hasn't aged we discover as we try to get a senior discount at the tourist office. Nothing like that here, we're told, "Everyone is young in Paris."

There's some truth to that. The years drop away as we  do our favorite things - the museums, the cafes, those sinful Berthillon ice cream cones and more. As the sun goes down  we board a  bateau mouche pretending we're Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn falling in love in an old movie.

We cram a lot into a little time. It could be, we think, the last time we'll see Paris.

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"Dignity" as defined by my bedside mini Oxford dictionary is a calm and serious manner or style. "Lady" defined therein, is a well-mannered woman. Both qualities I aspired to after I passed through my tomboy years. This was, you understand, before we were liberated from a variety of social constraints and these words had some cache'. Well, it never happened and by now it's probably too late.

Blame it on being left handed, or having that diminutive Y tacked onto my name, or always having to have the last word. But wait - all is not lost. Here in Europe they are calling me "Madam", conferring on me the dignity I have always sought. I revel in my madam-ness, imagine myself projecting the calm, serious manner that has always eluded me.

But- and isn't there always a but - they don't know me.

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She - eye catching, golden haired, beautiful, expensive. He - graying, heavyset, unremarkable. They sip their wine, order their dinner. He talks, she listens intently as though his words are life giving. An evening's purchase, I think, until .... She flashes a mighty diamond on her left hand, perched above a wedding band. A mafia don with his bride or just an ordinary trophy wife - I'll never know.

He in suit and tie. She, simply but elegantly dressed, her arms full of flowers. They, a touch of class in a sea of rumpled travelers dining on the Piazza Navonne. Their dance of young love seems staged for our enjoyment. He reaches out to bring her under his arm. Teasing, she eludes his grasp, changes her mind, comes back to place a fleeting kiss on his lips, dances away. He catches her, pulls her close. In each others arms, they collapse on a nearby bench for an extended kiss. We remember ...

A world weary woman of indeterminate age sings and strums her guitar as we eat our dinner. Pleasant enough, though the now and then smattering of applause is half sympathy, half thank you. A hard life hers, depending on tips for a living, tips that, at the moment, don't seem forthcoming. Along comes he, a big puppy with a belly full of beer. He throws an arm around her, sings along. For her, he isn't there. Her beat goes on, unflinching.

He? She? It's hard to tell who is behind the gold paint and golden fabric that is a mime's version of King Tut. All day standing still, never a blink for the passer by. How do you do that? Why? King tut, long dead, doesn't reply.

And what about you and I? We too are part of the scene.

"All the world's a stage and all the men and women merely players."

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Oh why didn't I get that insurance, the one that will pay to fly me home should I encounter some physical disaster here in Rome. I am, I feel certain, going to be killed, or at the very least, severely maimed while crossing the street.

But, as the days pass, I find myself unscathed, actually approaching the crosswalks with an uncharacteristic bravado. "When in Rome, do as the Roman's do." I've been watching them. Crossing the street is about being the alpha dog. Affix the approaching driver with a steely stare, cross with determination. One signal of hesitation - you lose the advantage. It's a game really, a game with your life, played on the street, rather than in the coliseum.

I am reminded of those days in the sixties driving in Japan in and around the little town North of Tokyo where we lived. The roads weren't wide enough for two cars. To pass, someone had to drive into the benjo ditch to the side of the road, a ditch that carried raw sewage and, on occasion, was used by males needing to relieve themselves. Hitting the ditch was, therefore, not only a sign of weakness, it was demeaning. A game of chicken followed - two cars heading straight for one another until someone lost their nerve.

On rare occasions, I won, sending my opponent into the ditch, a victory, I felt, for country and womanhood.

Oh the games we decide to play, the little victories we accumulate, the losses we endure, all while playing the greatest game of all - life.

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Age has changed my perspective. Last in the forum over 40 years ago, I was all admiration and awe, overwhelmed by walking where Caesar walked, imagining ancient history relived. Oh those glorious Romans, I thought.

Today I’m not so sure “glorious” would be my final word of choice. I’m thinking “Grandiose” - There is something over the top here - a bit of Las Vegas or the MacMansions that dot the hillsides in my town - a my monument is better than your monument kind of thing. Not that this is bad, that kind of drive has advanced civilization in many good ways - the positive legacies of Rome a prime example.

Yes, “Grandiose” fits, but "Barbaric" also comes to mind – it’s that damning entertainment in the coliseum.

At home, my friends will ask, “What did you think of Rome?” I’ll want a simple answer, a both sides of the coin, mixed bag kind of word. What did I think of Rome?

 It’s so human.

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The Last Judgment
Not a pretty picture, quite terrifying actually, all those souls going to hell. I’m afraid I would be one of them, for who among us is perfect? Even Michelangelo has painted his own face therein. Shouldn’t his artful gifts to humanity overcome any transgressions and send him upward?

I don’t happen to believe in hell. After a heap of living, I still naively think most of us are struggling to do the best we can, be it ever so inadequate or misguided. Yet Michelangelo on this overpowering wall tells me something else, something I don’t want to acknowledge - There is evil in the world.

Home from Rome, I’m listening to Beethoven’s Eroica symphony. It’s the second movement, the one they play at funerals of pomp and circumstance. The music is gut wrenching in its pathos as is the The Last Judgment. Beethoven and Michelangelo tell us about life on a level beyond words. I look, I listen and arrive at some kind of acceptance of the duality of man’s nature, our capacity for greatness, our ability to do harm.

I just wish we could shift the balance.

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  SISTINE CHAPEL: Parenthood
I've always looked at the Sistine Ceiling as a work of art, something to be enjoyed visually, thought about in the terms one uses when thinking of great paintings - form, color, layout etc. But today as I look upward, those stories from Genesis hit me where I live - in my own role as a parent. After all, isn't God our father who art in heaven, and am I not a Mother here on earth? We have something in common.

As God stretches out his hand to give Adam life, I remember my own experience of giving birth, a moment as beautiful, tender and full of promise as Michelangelo has painted here.

As God sends Adam and Eve out of Eden, I think he's being a little harsh. Eating of the apple is not such a bad thing. My son committed greater transgressions that resulted in his being confined to home rather than expulsed. And yet, in time, we do send our children into the world to make it on their own as God sends Adam and Eve.

In that world way from home, our children become their own selves - perhaps not exactly what we had in mind. At times they anger and confound us, at times they delight us. God has the same experiences with man, but when angered he loses his temper big time. The following devastation is horrific.

If the story is a metaphor for parenthood, I think the lesson to be learned is - keep your cool.

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I wish I could call my Dad today, share the old stories of our special times together, laugh, get teary, say I love you.

He was the old fashioned kind of Dad - the background man, the one who paid the bills, and left family matters up to my Mother. But, he was a presence, a man with an intellect that filled the household. His three women - Mother, two daughters - gathered around his mind.

This is not to say he wasn't aware of what was going on in the family. A college professor, he spent an unusual amount of time at home, often appearing in midday for coffee between classes, a break we all liked to attend for it's lively conversation.

He was not demonstrative, no open displays of affection. Nonetheless, I felt loved, - just a feeling in the air, nothing tangible - until the year I applied to college.

Our neighbor wrote one of my letters of recommendation. My father, reading it, found it inadequate, rewrote it. Therein were things he'd never said. I was astounded. Sure my Dad loved me, but he also thought I was pretty outstanding.

It came time for the acceptances. The family gathered as I opened those letters. ACCEPTED, two out of three, but no scholarships. Paying my tuition would take a major part of my Dad's salary. 

"I can't go," I said, crestfallen.
"You got in didn't you?" replied my Dad.
"Yes," I admitted.
"Then you're going." he said.

Oh Dad, I' ve carried that memory through a lifetime, always choked with emotion. It's so about the sacrifices parents make for their children. Did I tell you how much that meant when I had the chance?


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It is hard to be at one with Michelangelo cheek by jowl with all those other tourists and a PA system regularly announcing in three languages, "Keep it down folks, this is a holy place." But, I look upward over that sea of humanity, feel a power that transcends mere mortal sightseers, power that grabs my soul.

Lying in bed at the end of the day, enjoying longed for quiet time with my thoughts of Michelangelo, quiet time to digest what I have seen, and experienced, a big lump fills my throat and the tears flow. Such overwhelming beauty, such power and glory, almost beyond human comprehension.

I recreate the image of God reaching out to give man life behind my closed lids. That painting has lived in my consciousness since my high school class in humanities. God is creating Michelangelo, I think, his outstretched hand offering man the possibilities of greatness.

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  Rome: The Coliseum
It's a bird's eye view here at the top. If we were part of an ancient Roman crowd, the events in the arena would be at the remove. Fine with me. Those who enjoyed front row seats and everlasting fame didn't die peacefully surrounded by loving family members. And yes, distance me from the action, I'm not a fan of brutality.

Together we listen to travel writer Rick Steves' podcast about the coliseum, joined ear to ear by a little white chord. As he speaks, it's possible to hear the roar of the crowd, envision the fights to the death, anxiously await the verdict thumbs up, thumbs down - and just maybe, carried away by the moment, experience a rush of bloodlust.

The spirits of those who died here surround us, penetrate our consciousness, temper the admiration we've been taught to feel for this ancient civilization with the cruel realities of man's darker nature.

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“Oh, oh,” he says as he starts to clean the pot I have scorched, seemingly beyond repair.

“Not a first time” I say.

Moments later after a good scrubbing.

He: “It’s cleaned up nicely.”

She: “It will happen again."

He: “They’ll be a hot time in the old town tonight.”

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I'm sitting in the dentist's chair while two young women bend over me, involved in procedures in my mouth that I'm not going to relive by describing. Before I was rendered mute by a mouthful of instruments, we'd been talking about their children. Both are new Mothers of rambunctious, little boys, intent on risky behavior. With a son in middle age, and a grandson now a teen-ager, I was the attendant guru. My observation: It's amazing we have any grown males. They are always tempting fate by doing foolish things when young - something about being immortal. But, how we love them.

Over the noise of the drill, I listen to their happy, young voices exchanging stories of the outlandish things their sons have done recently. Unexpectedly, the drilling stops. My dentist, drill in hand, looks at me in amazement, announces, "I would die for my son - I can't believe it, I would die for my son."

A long moment of silence follows as we Mothers think about this."I'd die for mine too" adds the dentist's assistant.

"Please open," says the dentist, resuming her drilling. I think, but can't speak -

That's why we celebrate Mother's Day.

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Reading Like a Writer by Francine Prose was my choice for April's book club read - a book I read twice in my enthusiasm. In a way it's a "how to" book - how to read more effectively by observing how it all goes together and how well.

It was a bad choice. Most in our group didn't like it, most didn't finish reading it. Why? In my book club all are avid readers, you would think they would be infinitely interested in reading more effectively.

Not true. I search for reasons. Maybe reading for craft is like analyzing a Beethoven symphony while we listen, or dissecting a great painting while we look. It takes away the magic.

Or does it? Here's Dickens in a passage that warms my heart as it warms the baby.

“Dombey sat in the corner of the darkened room in the great armchair by the bedside and Son lay tucked up warm in a little basket bedstead carefully disposed on a low settee immediately in front of the fire and close to it, as if his constitution were analogous to that of a muffin, and it was essential to toast him brown while he was very new."

Just ordinary words, the kind you and I use regularly, but oh the effect. Craft is magic too.

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We approach the wild turkeys cautiously as we overtake them on the trail. It's mating season. The Mr. is feeling unusually protective of his four female companions. While the ladies hurry to put some distance between us, he unfurls his feathers, struts in a one man military parade, rhythmically moving back and forth in front of us, asserting his power with every step, menacing, but not yet attacking. The feathers on his head turn a vivid blue. He hisses, a sound he produces by stiffening his wing feathers and dragging them on the ground.

It's shock and awe turkey style.

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A stroke left her without language. We go to visit, bringing words that can't be answered, but love that can be felt. After fifty years of friendship, so much history exists between us, is a verbal exchange necessary?

The days pass, she starts to speak - an effort at first - it's hard to find the words. Her train of thought derails, non-words appear in mid sentence, dropped it seems by some unknown force with a dark sense of humor. She shrugs her shoulders - what can I do she gestures with amazing acceptance, amazing grace.

Therapy begins, the relearning of old skills, those things we take for granted, do automatically as we live our days. It all seems just out of reach for her now, but the prognosis is good, in time much, if not all, will come back.

As I watch her recover, I'm unusually aware of how incredible our bodies are - a feat of engineering, a work of art, a beautiful symphony of harmonious parts.

I am, I realize, a miracle! And .....

So are you!

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While I garden, a coyote, about twenty feet away, stands examining the ground, tilting his head, listening, it seems, to something going on under the surface. We both pause now and then to watch each other - just curious. He is, I hope, about to uncover and devour a gopher - in his way, a partner in my garden.

While walking on the trail with my golden retriever, a coyote crosses our path. Dustin, foolish dog, chases him into the valley below. They circle a stand of bushes in the open field. The coyote a, short distance in the lead, castes a taunting eye over his shoulder, a wicked grin on his face. It's a game.

At night we hear the coyotes howling, an eerie sound that cuts through the complexities of modern life to something primal.

This is life in the country, life we share in close proximity with coyotes, deer, bobcats, and mountain lions, a life we have chosen. And yet, as the wild animals move into our territory as we have moved into theirs, the human side of the equation gets nervous. Should we be afraid? Should we do something? Town Hall holds a meeting on living with coyotes.

Hopefully this does not become another Palestinian/Israeli conflict right here in our back yards.

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We're having what they call a swarm of earthquakes, little jolts in the 2 point category. These are coming from a local fault that runs along our hills. According to those that know, the movement is a non threatening shift, nothing like the seriousness of movement along the San Andreas fault.

The first one felt like you just slammed on the breaks - instantaneous, heart stopping, over. Did it really happen? The dogs began to bark, confirming my suspicions. They'd felt it too.

The next one awakened me. A little longer in duration, it wasn't the usual roll, but sort of an earthly snorting. I went to the closet for shoes and my bathrobe, setting them beside the bed - just in case.

When you live in California, earthquakes are a fact of life, one of the prices you pay for - well - living in California. I have, in preparation for the big one, picked out my safe place, a place in the field where no big trees will fall on me. Only once have I been there - 1989. There was time then to run down the stairs, clinging to the banister as my world rolled and the dishes crashed to the floor, time to flee the dangers of falling bricks and mortar, time to be really afraid.

Fortunately, the majority of our earthquakes are over so fast, there is barely time to think - "Should I do something?" Shaken in the middle of the night, I might roll over, too sleepy to be bothered, but, bottom line, earthquakes are nasty reminders that life is unpredictable. Eat your broccoli, exercise, save for your retirement, the unforeseen still hangs around.

Could you back off Mother Nature? Look at what's going in our world. Haven't we been shaken enough?

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As I walked beside my neighbor’s spring stream last week, following it into the valley as it gained momentum until, finally, it became part of a larger entity, the creek below, I thought, “How like my Grandson.”

Like that initial babbling brook moving through the valley gathering additional water from the runoff along it’s path, he too is moving into a bigger world as he leaves childhood and becomes a young man. His voice like the sound of brook becoming creek, deepens, becomes more powerful. New input like the water running down the hills expands his life. Will he become a river, reach the ocean or be waylaid by something man made diverting his path?

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Welcome days of rain have, at last, arrived. A mere drop in the bucket says the paper, drought conditions remain.

A break in the clouds sends me out into a wet world for my morning walk. I head for the pond, hoping to see water in what has become a deep, cracked, thirsty hole in the ground.

The air is full of the sounds of water. I stop to listen. A tiny stream running through my neighbor's property babbles. It rushes down the valley gathering more water and speed until, at the park's entrance, it becomes a creek, speaking with the authority of it's increased size. Water, I'd forgotten, is a miracle.

Two women hikers are coming down the road from the pond. "Has it filled?," I ask. "Just a puddle," they reply, "with two hopeful ducks sitting in it." As they pass, one turns to say "We're pond watchers." "Me too," I answer.

Two days later, again at the pond, I'm standing on the causeway listening to the water cascade noisily from the pond into the creek below. Just two days and that pond is full to overflowing. Ducks are swimming. Beside me two strangers stand quietly, just looking. Pond watchers too.

For a brief moment, all seems right with the world

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Captain Sullenberger is talking about his successful landing on the Hudson River for Sixty Minutes. I am hanging on every word - not just caught up in the drama of the moment, but bringing the event into my own experience. It’s his cool, his calm under pressure that intrigues me.

I want to be like that, not in a life and death situation, but on the piano in performance. I know that sounds like jumping from the sublime to the ridiculous, but isn’t that what life is like for most of us, overcoming small challenges? Captain Sullenberger has, in a big way, shown us how.

“Did you pray, did you think about the safety of your passengers, have thoughts of your family?” asks Katie Couric.

“No.” he answers calmly. “I cleared my mind of everything but landing the plane, following the procedures outlined in my training.”

Everyday when I practice my music, I am in training, getting ready for that big moment when I play for an audience. I circle those passages that are going to be my downfall, go over and over them driving them toward perfection. Like Captain Sullenberger, when my time comes, I’ll be ready and able.

I hear his calm voice relating the details of those horrendous moments. He’s not saying hysterically, "My God, we're going to crash,” He’s methodically going through his check lists.

This is where we differ. My default is panic mode. Long before I have reached those measures that are my nemesis, I have begun to anticipate them with sweating hands, and shaky fingers, anticipating failure.

“It’s okay,” says Ry, ever my Valentine. “You have other wonderful qualities and you’re not flying an airplane.

Thank goodness.

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“I can’t help feeling sorry for her, I said. “Agreed, she brought it all on herself - such crazy life’s decisions, but everyday, trying to hold it all together is an incredible uphill struggle. She has my SYMPATHY.”

“She has my EMPATHY, not my SYMPATHY.” replied the other half of the conversation.

“Empathy/sympathy, I thought they were the same.” I said, my feelings for definition overcoming my sympathy for the travails of our mutual friend.

“Sympathy has connotations of being in agreement with - sanctioning the action that brought about the misfortune. Empathy recognizes and understands the suffering of others, but doesn’t condone the action that brought about the unfortunate consequences.” she explains.

What I hear her saying is empathy means I feel sorry for you but, you made bad decisions, what can you expect, you reap what you sow. Sympathy means I feel for you without reservation.

In confusion, I consult Wikipedia, and I find the following:

     "Sympathy not only include empathizing (not always) but also entails having a positive
      regard or a non-fleeting concern for the other person."

Are the defining words here "positive regard" intimating an acceptance of the actions that precipitated disaster.

Nitpicking, but to be on the safe side I think I'll delete empathy from my vocabulary just in case you hear me saying, "I feel for you, but I would never have gotten myself in your mess to begin with."

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 It’s that time again, time to get out Marian McPartland’s jazz version of My Funny Valentine and bring it up to speed on the piano. Those old Rogers and Hart songs are so wonderful, so witty, so tuneful, so romantic. Valentine is a particular favorite of mine, BUT….

Lorenz Hart, I have accused you of male chauvinism over the years for those lyrics ---“Your looks are laughable, unphotographable… your mouth a little weak, when you open it to speak, are you smart?” REALLY, isn’t that a man feeling superior? Still, I’ve bought in. After all, nobody’s perfect and to be loved anyway – “Don’t change a hair for me, not if you care for me…” is Ry, solving my computer problems saying with the utmost affection, “You’re so wonderfully incompetent.”

Does every woman think she is that funny valentine, that it is a HE singing to a SHE?

As it was conceived for the Broadway musical Babes in Arms, it is she, Billie Smith, singing to her man Valentine “Val” LeMar.

Forgive me Lorenz Hart, you were ahead of your time.

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I am admired by dentists. They are likely to become ecstatic when peering into my mouth, discovering that, at my ripe old age, I have only one cavity. If only the men I wished to attract in my youth had taken time to look at my teeth, they might not have passed me by. Such is life.

This oral good fortune had nothing to do with the regularity of my flossing and brushing, it was the natural fluoride in the water where I grew up. Unfortunately this did not protect me from a piece of gristle that broke one of those perfect teeth, necessitating a replacement.

I consulted my dentist, a recent graduate of UCLA. We discussed my options. At the end of our conversation she asked, "Are you happy with your smile?" I wasn't quite sure I understood the question. It's happiness that makes me smile, not the other way round.

She produced a mirror. I smiled at my reflection. Actually I like Julia Robert's smile better, but this is MY smile, part of who I am.

If I'm going to make improvements, I think I'll start with my character.

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I'm being introduced to a fellow guest at a large party. On hearing I am Suzy Smith, he laughs at the joke, asks for my real name. This is my opportunity to be someone else, but I rather like being me. "No, I REALLY am Suzy Smith," I assure him. "That must be difficult," he replies. We party chit chat briefly, but the feeling that I'm putting him on hangs over the conversation.

In the Doctor's office, the nurse calls for Susan Smith. Two of us Stand up. Who is the real Susan Smith, the one whose time has come? We eye one another, we Susan Smith's. Is she thinking, "Thank God I'm not THAT Susan Smith?" I'm thinking, "What if she is here for a lobotomy and they get us confused?"

For awhile after Susan Smith killed her children, signing my name on a Visa receipt instigated a discussion of that horrendous event as though, bearing the same name, I was somehow involved.

Google's white pages produce several Susan Smiths who reside in my town. One lives with my husband, has no address or phone number and is 23 years old. My first thought: I'm so glad I'm not 23. My second: Has he found a younger woman?.

Generic, that's what I am, the female John Doe - someone, no one and everyone. Not a bad place to be. It keeps things in perspective

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My winter garden is full of ornamental grasses past their prime. Brittle at the bottom, surrounded by fallen stems, they still stand resolutely against the winter winds, reluctantly giving up bits and pieces of themselves when storms blow in. Their tassels catch the morning light in a way that makes me stop and take notice.

They are beautiful, but not to George, my gardener. He surveys my garden slumbering in the winter cold and sees those grasses as out of place, inappropriate in a garden that is resting, a visual crime against the landscape.

He's right in his way. George has spent his life tending gardens, respects nature's rhythms, sees the garden as part of a wider landscape, insists the two be in harmony. For him those grasses are jarring.

"Look how they catch the light, how beautiful they are." I tell him. "They're like you and me, George, still standing, still beautiful as the winter of our lifetime approaches. They speak of us."

George rolls his eyes.

He is a man of the land and I, forever the English major, am a woman of the metaphor.


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The grand piano is garlanded with greens and twinkling lights, waiting to be played by the twelve of us who have gathered here. We call ourselves Fuzzy Fingers, a group of would be musicians who gather monthly to play the piano for one another. Since it is Christmas time, we abandon Chopin, Schumann and the other classical greats to play the music of the season. We sing, we laugh, we make mistakes, we begin again. The music flows as do the memories this music generates.

"This was My Mother's favorite carol," says Jan. She plays from the heart while we listeners turn our thoughts to our own Mothers and their favorite carols. Sophie tells us she will play two Polish carols her Mother loved to sing. She accompanies herself on the piano, singing along in Polish. Her voice cracks, strains for the high notes, but it touches our hearts.

Not one of us has a Mother who is alive to share in this special occasion, but they are here in spirit, enjoying a moment of "I told you so." Like so many other things our Mothers told us and we refused to believe, they were right about this one too - yes we ARE so glad Mother you made us practice.

Let's hear it for our Mothers ... in tune please.

Grand Piano

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At a time when the byword is crisis on all fronts and the future seems perilous, spending the afternoon in the opera house with little girls in party dresses and big bows in their hair watching the San Francisco Ballet perform the Nutcracker is the perfect tonic. Thank you Tchaikovsky for reminding us that mankind is capable of wonderful things.

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I’m listening to a panel of prestigious businessmen discussing today’s financial crisis, a discussion that moves on to the qualities needed for effective leadership. One panelist says a liberal arts education plays an important role in the development of good leaders. Because the conversation veers in another direction before he can elaborate, I’m left to my own conclusions as to why. They become my mental entertainment as I walk my walk the following morning.

It’s densely foggy, the familiar landmarks are wrapped in an impenetrable mist. The hills, the sky, the trees, the bay - gone. I am all alone, suspended in a silent nonreality. If I were a poet I would write:

      Heaven-invading hills are drowned
      In wide moving waves of mist,
      Phlox before my door are wound
      In dripping wreaths of amethyst.
      Ten feet away the solid earth
      Changes into melting cloud,
      There is a hush of pain and mirth,
      No bird has heart to speak aloud.
      Here in a world without a sky,
      Without the ground, without the sea,
      The one unchanging thing is I,
      Myself remains to comfort me.

                Sarah Teasdale

Or if I were a painter I would paint:
Camille Pissaro: Misty morning at Creil

Or as a photographer I might take this picture:

If a musician I would make ethereal chords like Debussy.

Perhaps the liberal arts teach us there are lots of ways of looking at things. A good leader considers them all.

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It’s over! That man who inspired us to think YES WE CAN solve all those problems we face, now has to deliver on his promise. I wish him well.

I tried hard not to be a blue state/red state sort of person during the campaign, but found myself becoming hyper judgmental. How could lifetime friends not see that MY candidate was the only choice. I didn’t argue with my dissenters, just quietly, in my own mind, questioned their intelligence and how we happened to be friends. Politics can do that.

Ry engaged in a lively flurry of Emails with a friend who sent words of hate re Obama “Muslim”, “Terrorist”, “Socialist” In a gentlemanly way they agreed to disagree, but in a sad way, they have lost respect for one another. Politics can do that.

“We’re not red states and blue states, but the United States,” I hear Obama saying. We’re also in this life at this particular time, sharing our humanity. We could be more humane. Can you do that? Can I do that? Can politics do that?


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My friend Susie is in the hospital.

We met freshman year at Smith, 54 years ago. She lived on the east coast, started freshman year with friends from childhood. I was the foreigner from the Midwest she adopted.

Those cold, grey November days when we were liberated for Thanksgiving, her Mother came down to Massachusetts and drove us to what became my second home in Connecticut. Susie’s relatives arrived for the feast, all of us gathering around an expansive, festive table to share our blessings. I was part of the family for those few days, momentarily at home in a part of the world where I didn’t feel at home.

When we graduated, Susie and I shared an apartment in San Francisco until our Prince Charmings arrived. We got married, bought houses, raised children, became empty nesters, grandparents, sharing it all along the way.

Now Susie’s in the hospital with some challenges ahead and I realize I fool myself by thinking everything lasts forever.

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        Turning and turning in the widening gyre, the falcon cannot hear the falconer;
        Things fall apart,  the center cannot hold; Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
        The ceremony of innocence is drowned; The best lack all conviction, while the worst
        are full of passionate intensity.

It's the first stanza of Yeats poem, The Second Coming, a memory from my English major days. Throughout my lifetime, I've run those words through my mind when feeling "life sucks". Yeats is so much more eloquent.

I find my volume of English poets, reread the second stanza I've all but forgotten - except those last two lines.

        And what rough beast, its hour come round at last
        Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

Oh do not go to Yeats for a brighter day, but...

The poem was written in 1919, 89 years ago. Life goes on.

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As I watch Sarah Palin’s performance on the national scene, I become more convinced McCain should have picked me. What this country needs is a Grandmother. Everybody loves their Grandmother. I could be folksy, a bit confused and the voters would find this endearing. Filled with happy memories of being safe and secure on Grammy’s lap, the electorate would find me an appealing alternative. I am a politician’s dream. Who would vote against their grandmother?

Yes, I’m aware I might, through unfortunate circumstances, become president, but don’t worry. Putin, Osama bin Laden, Ahmadinejad and the fat cats on Wall Street have been taught to respect their Grandmothers. They’ll do what I tell them.

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The forest floor is covered with vegetation turning glorious fall colors, the sky a breathtaking blue, inhaling the air a gourmet experience. We walk the mountain trail without destination, my sister and I, being here, together in this magic place, our only purpose.

So different from our youthful days when we were going somewhere - the top of the mountain or the hidden lake -the destination demanding a purposeful pace that precluded the kind of looking we're doing today.

Part of our family is here with us, a husband and parents, their ashes nourishing what grows here, their souls set free in all this beauty.

Looking at this last burst of color before winter sets in, I know, like never before, I am a part of this season, in the fall of my life. I want to hold it tight before it fades, it's so beautiful.

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Photos courtesy of George Bower.

“That damn net,” I mutter as the overhead smash I planned for my opponent’s back hand corner hits the tape and dies. A little tap would have won us the point, but I was feeling grandiose. Never be clever I remind myself.

A little later as I take my racquet back and step into the ball, I hear my former tennis coach saying “The answer to the riddle is down the middle” -- exactly where this ball is going. I eyeball the space between my opponents just long enough to lose sight of the ball as I hit it ---- into the net.

Playing the piano, struggling through a difficult passage I can’t envision mastering in the foreseeable future, I realize, like tennis, I’m going to hit a certain number of notes into the net ---

Among other things.

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I grew up in the era of on/off, a time I sorely miss as I try to download my Ipod. I'm not a computer illiterate, but each new skill I've acquired has been a threat to my self esteem. I just don't get it. I blame my education, that college English major. I can sling the bull, but I can't be exact, think in logical steps. Joyce, Yeats and Eliot failed to prepare me for the technological age.

I must have had some premonition of what was to come, I married an engineer. He thinks like a machine, is my in house technical support. "Read this tutorial," I say to him. "tell me what it says." He does and with a few clicks performs the function I couldn't quite fathom.

A silly look crosses his face while he considers his words, words he utters with the utmost affection. "You're so wonderfully incompetent."

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For years I gave the children of my community piano lessons. Getting them to practice required skills in coercion, skills that would be valuable in Washington.

I’ve had experience in foreign affairs, selling my greeting cards and calendars internationally.

I’ve been a soccer mom.

I can’t shoot a gun, but I can kill, squashing budworms eating my geraniums and stomping on snails.

I’ve been a community organizer, on the frontlines of a battle to save local open space, a battle won against incredible odds.

I’m a woman of the people. I clean my own house.

Why wasn’t I tapped to be Vice President?

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One of the upsides of growing older is the stories you accumulate along the way. One of the downsides is, no one wants to listen to them, particularly your children. The grandchildren are occasionally willing because they have been taught to be nice to their grandparents, but they are quick to remind you "We've heard that one before," or they roll their eyes to let you know you are so uncool.

One of the joys of traveling is, I suspect, not the sights that widen our horizons, but the people we meet who haven't heard our stories. At last, an audience! Somehow Ry manages to weave his diverse stories into the conversation - how he met Einstein, played tennis with Ginger Rogers, went to Cuba as a guest of the dictator's son, had a plane in college since cars weren't allowed etc., etc., etc. He wooed me with his stories. It all seemed so romantic, but when I said "I do," I had no idea I'd be hearing them for the next 50 years.

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The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art is having a blockbuster show of Frida Kahlo's paintings. I've been twice. The first time I was put off by the autobiographical nature of the work. I wanted to see the paintings as paintings, experience the use of color, the handling of paint, the division of space. Instead the emotional impact was so overwhelming, so gut wrenching, I didn‚t know how to absorb what I was seeing. Was it art or autobiography, visual story telling or a painting? Are the two separate?

Back for a second look a month later, I realized the first time around I couldn't absorb the paintings, they were too painful. I had closed my mind to what I couldn't bear. This time I let it all in, getting a big lump in my throat. Those paintings are incredibly powerful.

Powerful too was the realization it's wise to take a second look.... At everything.

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5:30 a.m. Sitting midway up the barren, sun scorched hill that is an extension of our backyard, a young coyote sits barking. It’s a distinctive sound, carrying a hint of melancholia mixed with a bit of wild that distinguishes it from a dog bark. He quiets, looks around, begins again, continues for half an hour.

The spot he’s chosen for this early morning oratory invites this kind of soulful outpouring. The open land under that big expanse of sky suggests the presence of a higher power, someone or something that might be in control. I too have stood there in my imagination, shaking a fist heavenward asking “Why have you done this?”

I get my binoculars, see him close up. He’s so young, innocent, adolescent perhaps, not yet the wily coyote he’ll become in time. His plaintive sounds pierce my heart, seem to say to anyone who will listen, “It’s so hard to grow up.” Should I join him for a duet, sing an enriching harmony, a deep, mellow part that says “It’s hard to grow old too.”

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I got up in a funk this morning. No reason. It's summer, the weather has been perfect, life is good. Why the funk? I don't know, but I do know funks are well treated by a walk in my nearby open space.

About the time I reach the top of the hill with it's sweeping view of open fields, distant rolling hills and big sky, I feel better. All those good chemicals that get activated by exercise are flowing. This is the halfway point of my usual walk, the point at which I regularly start to think about breakfast. Eaten alone in the quiet of my kitchen with sunlight streaming in, it's a daily ritual of oatmeal with a variety of fruit on top. Today I will pick peaches from the peach tree in our orchard, add some strawberries, a few slices of banana and oh my, isn't your appetite aroused? How can there be funks when there's OATMEAL?

It's the simple things.

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“Nobody thinks about what lies ahead at weddings.” Ry says. “It’s a moment of happiness, celebration. Any tears shed, are tears of joy.” We are talking about how I feel at weddings, my mix of joy and sorrow. “What does this say about you?” he asks. I gather what it says is not good.

Quite simply what it says is - I’m not a man. Have you ever seen a man who was not the father of the bride cry at weddings? Aren’t most women at least dabbing an eye? Do we women know something men don’t? I won’t say that. What I will say is, we women experience life differently.

It took years of married life to fully understand this, to realize every husband of every wife sings right along with Professor Henry Higgins, WHY CAN’T A WOMAN BE MORE LIKE A MAN?

We can’t. Louann Brizendine in a recent book, The Female Brain, gives scientific evidence why. We’re wired differently. It’s that simple - or complicated. Blame my concern for the future on the Mommy button that got pushed when Motherhood arrived. To quote Brizendine “ Motherhood … literally alters a woman’s brain, structurally, functionally and in many ways, irreversibly.” Is there a Mother who doesn’t look ahead and worry for the safety of her children and those she cares about?

But, it's so difficult to be safe in this perilous world. Not then out of order to cry at this romantic, starry eyed moment because it is, yes beautiful and deeply touching, but also fraught with peril.

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Not a tear was shed at the wedding we attended last week-end. I always cry at weddings, why not today?

The invitation came from the 8 Grandchildren of the marrying couple - HIS and HERS. They stood quietly as witnesses during the ceremony, young bridesmaids and groomsmen. When it came time to answer "Who gives this woman?" her grandchildren shouted in youthful enthusiasm, "WE DO!!!" As the final vows were spoken, the children blew bubbles into the air in celebration. There wasn't a damp eye in the garden, only smiles.

Most of the weddings we've attended over the years are a joining of those starting out in life. So beautiful, this beginning, so full of hope and possibilities, but life is a mix of joys and sorrows which, in time, these starry eyed young couples will experience. My tears at these weddings are life's tears, a mix of joy and sorrow too. They fall for this human endeavor we all share.

But, not today. This couple is seasoned, they've survived "slings and arrows", they make this commitment with a lifetime behind them. Today they vow to grow old together, charge into that proverbial sunset hand in hand. "HIS" grandchildren and "HER" grandchildren become "OUR" grandchildren, two separate families become one. It's so mellow, who could cry?

It's also about time. Fifteen years is a long time to be engaged.

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My Mother a 1920's flapper? No way. Flappers were outrageous, sexually liberated, over the top party animals. That wasn't my Mother. Was it?

We are reading Flapper: A Madcap Story of Sex, Celebrity and the Women who made America Modern by Joshua Zeitz for my book club. We'll bring pictures of our Mothers in flapper attire, tell their stories in our discussion. Did the Flapper really exist on a grand scale or was she mostly a figment of F. Scott Fitzgerald's imagination and the burgeoning advertising agencies of the time who used her image to sell product. We hope our Mothers will tell us.

I page through old photo albums, looking for a young version of my Mother. I find her smiling back at me in a wonderful, white, long-waisted dress. She's in her late teens, the time about 1924. Her long, boyish torso wears the dropped waistline of the time well. I study her face, looking for answers. Who were you Mother before I came along? You're so young here, so full of life's possibilities. Is there a touch of impishness behind your smile, that bit of outrageousness that surfaced now and again when I was growing up much to my embarrassment? Did you kick up your heels, dance the Charleston, get tipsy, pet in parked cars?

MOTHER .... you DIDN'T....did you?

It's a possibility. At eighteen she was off to Europe on a scholarship to study violin with the famous teacher of her day. Her Mother came along as chaperone, but in time she returned home. Mother was young, free and on her own. There were other students. Oh the possibilities!

We take turns showing our pictures, telling our Mother's stories. Most were immigrants. Their daughters, gathered here, years after their Mothers have died, think of them living lives burdened with care and responsibility. Life was too hard for the fun and frivolity history would have us believe was the Flapper's life. Our Mothers, it seems, prove, beyond doubt, the flapper only existed in exalted circles, in Fitzgerald novels, or as an advertising vehicle. Or ..... have we proved, beyond doubt, it's impossible to realize our Mothers were young once.

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Our grandchildren bring music when they come to visit. Not just the joyful noise that accompanies them when they walk in the door, but music on the printed page, music they will play for us on the piano sometime during our day together.

Four generations of music lessons are part of their performance. My Mother played those pieces, I played those pieces, their Dad played those pieces and now, the next generation, our grandchildren are playing them.

Andrew Mikkelson started this family legacy in 1911. As he lay dying, he told his wife and five year old daughter, he wanted this cherished child to play the violin. And so she did.
Initially her efforts were a tribute to her father, but they soon became a passion, one that brought her to the concert stage at an early age. When she became my Mother, she made music a central part of my life too. In turn, I made sure our son would never say in later life “I wish my Mother had MADE me continue my piano lessons.”

And now the grandchildren. The beat goes on, and with it the knowledge that within us there is a hidden presence of others that we carry forward. I like that, it comforts me as I live the final chapters of my life. Perhaps down the road, other generations of my family will be practicing an instrument and I will be their hidden companion.

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We're driving to the city talking about the novels we're reading. Ry's antihero has just left his wife for a younger woman.

"You know, I understand that now," I say from the wisdom of my years. "I thought it showed a lack of character when I was younger, but what man wants to look at an aging wife and face the reality he's not getting any younger either."

"Well, I've been looking," says Ry, "but I don't see very well."

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Hugging proved the perfect tonic for chasing away the blues on my birthday. Who and what would I hug? Why? Just thinking about it made me feel celebratory.

The "whats" were easy, they took place in my head. The "whos" were more complicated. Not everyone is comfortable being hugged, they emanate something that says don't get too close. That's George, our gardener, my second hug of the day. He's not distant, he's Japanese, being demonstrative is not in his genes. Approach him with a hug, he might turn and run.

It's hard to know why he's on my "to hug" list. George is not happy with my garden. He doesn't like what I plant or where I plant it. Deaths in the garden are my fault for improper care, there's too much gravel .... the list is exhaustive. At times I hide in the house when he comes to avoid his criticisms.

But George must be hugged. For thirty years of Monday mornings, we have walked and talked my garden, watched the seasons come and go therein, shared our love of nature, together cared for all that grows here. George is part of my garden and much as he would hate to admit it, my garden is part of him.

"This is going to embarrass you," I say as I approach him. "Today is my birthday which began with depressing thoughts about getting older. As a tonic, I'm going to hug everyone I hold dear. You are one."

I embrace him. He responds with a real hug back, a shared moment of special feelings. We're not getting younger, George and I. He's pushing eighty, I'm negotiating my early seventies. Perhaps it's time to say what's in the heart, time to seize a moment of affection, time, before George tells me I shouldn't have planted the parahebe, it's an inferior plant, to say, we care.

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I'm having a birthday today. Didn't I just have one? Slow down time, I'm not ready to grow old. Oh but it's all relative. Our children teeter on the edge of fifty, ask that we ignore that big one as it rolls around. FIFTY, to me so young, to them so old. That I add another year to my seventieth decade doesn't register with them. In their eyes, I've always been old.

The day has yet to begin. I think about how I will spend it, this anniversary of another year lived, decide I will hug everything I hold dear.

"Good Morning," "HAPPY BIRTHDAY!" says Ry

"Oh, I'm getting SO OLD I reply with mock anguish.

"An oldie, but a goodie." He replies.

He gets my first hug.

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Why can't we stick to the issues, I complain as the newspapers fill with the words of Reverend Wright. When Hillary and Obama debate, I am horrified at the questions asked, the lost opportunity to find out how they stand on the issues. It's all about entertainment, not substance. "What is this country coming to?" I often ask Ry as we read the newspaper over breakfast.

This morning I'm still sipping my tea, engrossed in the newspaper after he's gone to start his day. He passes back through the kitchen, asks, "What do you think about the latest from Iraq ? Did you read Krugman on the economy? " No thoughts and no," I say, abashed, as I face the answer to my lament for substance.

I've only read every word about Spitzer's fiasco.

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Would I have done great things if I hadn't been Suzy? Have all of us with a y or an ie tacked on to perfectly good names been condemned to a lifetime of being cute, fun and yes, light. Who can take a Suzy, Annie or Katie seriously, least of all themselves. We remain, forever, the little one, the child. Hard to carry that into one's seventies.

And yet --- the one time we get to choose our name, the one our grandchildren will call us, what do we choose? Nannie, Grammy, Mi Mi, Ami, all names we hope will be spoken with affection, become endearments as were the y‚s and ies tacked upon our perfectly good names.

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What happened to the reliability of the printed word? Words on a printed page used to have some authenticity. Words thrown into the air evaporate, but those in black and white have staying power, stick around to confront you at a later date, and are, hopefully, more carefully chosen. Aren't they?

I often begin a sentence with - "I read somewhere...." , in my mind giving validity to what I am about to say. I like to think this attitude was born while reading all that great English literature, books filled with words that influenced my forming mind, their words something to believe, digest, act upon. I tell myself this because believing what you read is just as naïve as believing all you hear. Surely I am too old and wise to be naïve.

But where do I find the truth?

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She was cleaning the closet. On the top shelf sat the box she'd avoided all the years since John's death. It was one of those boxes we all have, a box where we've put treasured moments of a lifetime, the things that touched our hearts. No matter that we rarely open them, it's just nice to know they're there, something to hold, more tangible than diaphanous memories.

Growing up in England during the second world war, she developed that famous stiff English upper lip, a no nonsense attitude about life that would, you'd think, preclude this sort of box, but there it was and today she got it down and opened it.

She knew the letter was there, the one John had sent after their first date in high school. Not a love letter exactly, but full of the wit and daring that attracted her long before he asked her out and, in time, married her. The memories come back in a flood along with years of unshed tears.

"I don't know why I'm telling you this," she says as we conclude our phone conversation. She's embarrassed to have revealed a part of herself, but what she's told me is not just her story, it's about what it means to be human.

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Oh Grandmothers, you are having such fun with your grandchildren. I love to hear your stories, see your faces light up as you tell them, hear your laughter.

Joanie, who waited so long to be a grandmother, tells me Oliver is walking now, those first wobbly steps. "He has changed my life," she says, beaming. "Ours is a special relationship, like none other. When I get in his playpen to play with him, I feel like a child myself."

I catch myself smiling, laughing inwardly for days as this image of Joanie and Oliver in the playpen runs through my mind.

We grandmothers will do whatever it takes.

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Sunday morning, sitting in my car, waiting for the light to change, I watch the countdown for a safe crossing. Several families hurry across the street in front of me, all on their way to the big church on the corner. I’m on my way to church too, but mine is held in the parking lot of the local train station. Mine is the Sunday morning farmer’s market.

Walking the colorful aisles of fruits and vegetables, I envision the other church, the one where they might now be singing a hymn to God’s bounty. I’m seeing it, touching it, gathering it, soon to be eating it, feeding my body and soul.

Other members of my congregation stand beside me in the bread line, strangers a moment ago, we are now discussing the merits of spiced versus plain ciabatta rolls, exchanging recipes, connected in this world of food.

With my basket overflowing, I make my last stop, buying the flowers that will spread joy in the house throughout the week. Home, at my kitchen sink, cutting their stems and arranging them, I think about my fellow man coming home from his church. He has been told about heaven. I have experienced it.

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Plantar fasciitis: a condition of the foot that produces a jabbing pain every time you put your heel down, a pain like someone hammering a nail into your heel as you walk. I have it. I’m not alone. As I hobble about, bow out of my athletic activities, I often hear, “Oh yes, I had that. Not much you can do to make it well, except buy expensive orthotics and stay sedentary.” Sedentary? Not my style. When will it go away? Whenever.

Ah, another life’s lesson in patience. I have long suspected this is one of the answers to the question “Why am I here?” To learn patience - among other virtues - you know those things that are so hard to achieve.

Each week I get on the phone to find someone to fill my space in my tennis games. Each week it becomes more and more apparent, my space can be filled by someone else. Oh dear, another life’s lesson.

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A moment of sweet sonority, the hall is hushed, the cellophane crackles. I let it pass. There are worse things -- Like the lady humming along behind me. I leap over the back of my chair and choke her - in thought.

As the lights go down at the opera, he falls asleep beside me, snores. At intermission, leaping out of his chair, he rushes to the lobby where, meeting his friends, he engages in a lively discussion of the merits of the production. "Don't believe a word," I want to say as I pass by, "He"s been dreaming."

They flip the pages of their programs searching for additional entertainment, the multi taskers of the audience, or perhaps those with ADD. The hall is a sea of distracting, rippling paper. I bring out my imaginary fly swatter, the one with the extendable handle. WHACK.

That flamboyantly dressed woman on the front row at the opera catches my eye, the one with the voluminous bag at her feet, the listening device on her head. At intermission in the café, she talks with a friend. He pets the little dog snuggled in her bag, and asks " What's the score?" Mozart's score? No, it's the Lakers ahead at the half in the NBA finals.

I wonder why they come.

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My books from the dismantled bookcases are bagged, sitting on the basement stairs - waiting . I’m not quite ready to say good-bye just yet.

Those that made the cut are piled high in a closet waiting too, waiting for space I will have to find in other bookcases. I stalk the remaining shelves. What goes, what stays. Why? There’s Tolstoy and Dostoevsky, the enormity and complexity of life so overwhelming to my young mind as I read them. Still forming my ideas of how to live a life, they spoke to me of challenges I had yet to experience and how they might be met. Worth a reread now from the perspective of a life mostly lived, but I don’t need them here. When the time comes, I’ll go to the library to find them.

And here’s Chaucer. Memories of the terrifying Mr. Patch who taught my college course flood my mind. You never knew when he might call on you to recite passages in old English, something I did badly. They are vanity books. I mean, how many people have several volumes of Chaucer on their bookshelves? Never matter that in fifty years no one has noticed or cared, it amuses me that once I studied Chaucer. He stays for the smiles he engenders as I pass by.

And Milton, Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained, taught by an unmarried Professor for whom Milton was lover, and thus to us her students. Oh let me read to you this passage from Milton, I said to Ry early in our marriage. It took a long time to find it in those many pages. When I did, I wasn’t sure what it was all about. But once Milton aroused a passion and passions once aroused are hard to let go.

They’re an interesting collection, my books. Not all of them are what an English Major would have on her shelves. There are art books, gardening books, books on all aspects of music, all of Robertson Davies. Don’t get me started. What astounds me as I stop to think carefully about each volume is, I am my books.

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I haven’t really thought much about kissing for a long time. I mean really thought about it like I did when I was young, unmarried and breathlessly wondering, IS HE GOING TO KISS ME? Kissing now? Hello, good-bye, goodnight - peck. End of story - mostly.

Arrive the episode of the face. A face full of sores does not invite contact. I became an unkissable. Not that I wanted to be kissed, that would have been too painful, but I missed them.

Oh the things we take for granted.

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My dermatologist held up a picture, a miserable face looking back at me with big, red welts, scales, scabs and swelling. You’re going to look like this, he said, writing the prescription for an ointment to attack all those pre- cancerous invasions on my fair skinned face. Ten days later, as predicted, I am that face.

I wear big, dark glasses when I go out in the world, but am still someone people want to avoid. Forgetting about the new me, now and then I speak to strangers, say something about the weather to that lady standing next to me in line, make her uncomfortable when she looks at me to reply.

After a week of this, I find myself always looking down, retreating into myself. Facing the world has new meaning, requires new skills. Happily for me this is temporary, but what will remain is an understanding of what it means to be outwardly different.

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Suzy. I read the Jan and Feb musings. I enjoy the style, content, and especially your turn of words and heartfelt emotions. Thank you for sharing this part of you with all who enjoy you through blogosphere ….Doug

Of course I am going to read EIGHTEENTH CENTURY PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT-- sometime. No matter that it has been on my shelves unopened for 25 years, you never know when a passion for Voltaire might strike. Good to be prepared. Yes, definitely, into the box marked SAVE.

Weighty literary decisions are in process. I am dismantling two bookcases, each eight feet tall which currently also function as headboards to the twin beds in the guest bedroom. Since we live in earthquake country, the prospect of death by tumbling volumes has probably occurred to many a guest. Not a bad way to go if you have literary leanings, but probably better to cease tempting fate.

There isn’t room for all these displaced volumes, some will have to go. Will it be those classics, holdovers from my college days as an English major? Or all those contemporary authors I discovered to my delight thereafter. I linger, I fondle, I remember, I grieve. They are like old friends. We have spent hours together, quietly sharing ideas and our deepest thoughts. It comforts me to know they are here if I need them.

Parting is such sweet sorrow...

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With dreaming on my mind, I catch myself during the day identifying dreamy thoughts as they happen. What do I dream about ? Simple things. I've been lucky. So many of the big ones came true. I pile them in a corner of my mind, take a tally and discover my dreams are no longer about the top of the mountain, it's what I'm going to discover on the way down.

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"Have we grown too old to dream?" Ry asks as we drive into the night.

We're on our way home from dinner in San Francisco with longtime friends who are looking for a condominium or town house here in the Bay Area. Currently they live on a farm in the San Juan Islands, a dream they left the Bay Area to pursue 17 years ago - a dream that involved buying land, building a house, a barn and raising sheep. That dream isn't the perfect fit it once was for a variety of reasons - new pursuits in the Bay Area beckon, the winter months of perpetual gray have begun to pall, health problems have surfaced and bottom line, they're not fifty anymore. They are coming off a dream, our friends. Are there more to come?.

We could give dinner dream status. The food was delicious, the wine mellow, the conversation animated. We felt young in the flickering candlelight as we were regaled with the real estate options our friends had spent the week exploring. Their excitement was palpable. Each day they had found something they considered buying, each morning after, they had second thoughts. But, in time, it's going to happen, this new house, this new life. They're dreaming about it. No we haven't grown too old to dream, they're just not the dreams of our youth.

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When he was well, Roy and I often passed one another walking in the neighborhood, stopping to chat about the concerts and operas we’d attended recently. With his beautiful tenor voice, he’d sing me snatches of arias we both loved. On rare occasions, we played piano duets together, pausing to marvel at how blessed we were to have music a central part of our lives. Everyone wanted Roy at their party, he played the piano all evening with a contagious joy.

Roy was lots of things besides a man of music - a Doc, a tinkerer with cars, a reasonable volley ball player in neighborhood games, a motorcycle rider, a husband and father. He embraced life with an almost childlike enthusiasm, greeting each new day as a special gift.

As his mind began to fade, he walked the neighborhood incessantly. I’d see him standing at the end of our driveway, looking at our house. He seemed so lonely.

“Come in for awhile,” I called to him one day. “Keep me company while I mop the kitchen floor before my guests arrive.”

He brings all that old childlike joy with him as he comes in the door, telling me with a flourish that he is composing an opera. He goes straight to the piano, sits down and begins to play, then to sing Nessus Dorma from Turandot, one of those arias that turns you inside out. He is playing and singing, I am mopping and sobbing.

So much is gone for him, but the music, the music is still there.

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Mimi Kugushev
The mind and music seem to be the last to part ways; friends, even lovers present, may sleep
in the deepest recesses, but music can awaken, or be awakened. A man rendered aphasic for many months after a stroke, suddenly starts singing Christmas carols when he heard them; a seemingly comatose woman on a gurney in a convalescent home, starts to move her big toe in time to the music.

Music is one of the great wonders of the universe. Those who do not hear its sounds, its messages of joy and sadness, of simplicity or complexity, are bereft, indeed.

We're having our annual lunch with old friends from Connecticut here to enjoy some of our lovely weather, which at the moment, is rainy and cold. Bruce and Ry grew up together so once the events of the year just passed have been discussed, their conversation invariably falls back into their old stories. Soon they are remembering those sisters they dated way back when. We've heard these stories before, Winkie and I, long ago agreeing our men were SO LUCKY those romances didn't become permanent.

Ry produces an old photograph of young Bruce, one he recently found while going through his pictures. At Bruce's side is that aforementioned young heartthrob of his past, only Ry has whited her out in deference to Winkie. Bruce is standing by a ghost.

Before we say good-bye, Bruce takes Ry aside, asks for a full rendition of the photograph. Like General MacArthur's soldiers, old flames it seems, never die, they just fade away.

Or do they?

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  A Wallow In The Past
“Why are you saving all that stuff?” Fran asks as we hike up the trail. “Do you look at it once every ten years? Do you have ten years left for another go ‘round?”

Fran is not, I discover as our conversation progresses, immune to the saving habit she now deems pathological. She is only feeling above such things as she has recently moved out of her big house into something smaller. Out went the memorabilia of three grown children beginning with the drawings of three year olds to college graduation programs. Out went the Waterford she inherited and never used. Out went at least half a lifetime of accumulations. She is feeling superior, virtuous and free.

I on the other hand am mired in memories as I try to get a head start on the possibility of downsizing. My nemesis is the written word, boxes of letters begging to be reread. There are the letters I wrote home in my young adulthood which my Mother saved, the letters my parents wrote me which I saved. All contain family history, all are fodder for passing the time on gray January days or, as I envisioned while I saved, all are for reliving a lifetime while in the nursing home.

Is a periodic wallow in the past a bad thing? Should those boxes go now? I don’t think so. It’s a little by little project, a process. It’s watching from a safe distance, the unfolding and growing of the self you’ve decided to save and conversely, as the wastebaskets fill, discovering what part of that self you’re willing to let go.

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  Those Old Photographs
All those old photographs. Shelves and shelves of them. Our son growing up, the big events of our lives, the trips we have taken. In boxes, in albums, all overflowing precious shelf space. Do we ever look at them? Hardly ever.

We decide to weed, purchase special equipment to transfer slides to the computer. Squinting through a magnifying glass at tiny images on negatives, we make decisions. What goes, what stays.

Ry starts with his college photos. For several weeks he breathes nostalgia, talks of his memories, remembers old girlfriends. I look at their pictures, all so young, so pretty, so fifties. I try to whip up some jealousy. Can’t. We’ve been together so long, it’s hard to imagine he ever had a life without me!

Do you want to relive it all, be young again, I ask him.


Would you do it differently given a second chance?

Not possible. It’s MY journey of self discovery. To have done it differently, I would have been someone else.

I like that answer, it gives some purpose to what I sometimes feel is just bumbling along.

Though the future has an ever closer finality, we agree, it’s today and our tomorrows we want to live.

BUT WAIT…..I’m having second thoughts. I’d relive the excitement of all the first times - the first time I really fell in love, the first time I heard Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde, my tears flowing it was so movingly beautiful, the first time I held that baby, the first time I saw Paris, the first time……..oh there are so many, all full of magic, viewed, of course, selectively.

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  Oh The Delights of January!
Oh the delights of January! Everyone is weeding. No, not the garden, it’s too wet and cold, but the house. Closets are being cleaned, drawers organized, bags filled for the Salvation Army. OUT! Even my sister, the minimalist, can find things that have to go.

I’ve found this to be an annual event. Is it a reaction to the excesses of Christmas? All those decorations invading the house becoming, on January first, overbearing? Oh for simplicity. Oh for the virtuous feelings that overcomes me as the garbage and recycling bins fill. I am, unburdened. A fresh start, along with the New Year.

But, like New Year’s resolutions, I’m fooling myself. By March or sooner, new stuff will have accumulated, drawers will be full, everything that was in its rightful place at the beginning of the year will no longer be there. Again, I’ll be looking for my glasses.

“‘Tis ever thus” * part of the human condition.

On the other hand, “Hope springs eternal”*.

* In 1877 William Leighton published the following poem in the United Presbyterian magazine

‘Tis ever thus: the spirit pants
For all things peaceful, fair and sweet;
For joys that leave no aching wants,
For bliss that is not incomplete.
But all these yearnings vague and fond
Must anchor in the great beyond.

Alexander Pope 1733 An Essay on Man, epistle 1.

Hope springs eternal in the human breast:
Man never is, but always to be blest.

 Perfection it seems is only achievable in heaven.

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New Year’s day arrived here in Northern California bright, sunny and a bone chilling 33 degrees. We Californians complain to anyone who will listen when it gets this cold. I try to extract sympathy from my sister who lives at 8,000 feet in the mountains of Colorado. She calls me a wuss.

Wuss or not, I was not going for my usual walk in the adjacent open space until things got warmer. At a still chilling 38 degrees, I finally ventured forth. As it was a holiday and later than usual, the people on the trails were not the early morning gang of familiar faces, those seriously exercising before going to work. Mostly everyone was out to celebrate the start of the New Year with a walk on a beautiful, albeit cold day.

We’re a variety of nationalities, those of us who walk or run in this park on a regular basis. Some mornings no English is spoken and no Caucasian faces appear. Yet we all share and cherish this precious bit of open space. Today as we pass one another, strangers all, we call out, “HAPPY NEW YEAR!” and comment on the cold. Each of us is enjoying this beautiful place, this beautiful day and so happy to see another human being with whom to share our delight.

Why can’t the world be like this?

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As I laid in bed Christmas eve waiting for both the sound of reindeer hooves on the roof and the sandman, I began to think about all those Christmases past. Not each and every one, but how they fell into groups, markers if you will of life’s passages.

Oh the excitement of the event as a child. The paper chains my father made of stick people joined hand in hand. We hung them in my room. Everyday I tore one off to keep count of how many days were left. And when they were all gone, and Christmas morning had at last arrived, coming down the stairs to see a tree surrounded by packages was pure magic. A CHILD’S CHRISTMAS. The best of all?

Certainly superior to ADOLESCENT CHRISTMASES when all those enticing packages never fulfilled the promises they seemed to offer.

And better too than that first Christmas home from college, so happily anticipated all around and such a disaster. We had to negotiate a new me, the one who had changed in those months away from home. We didn’t do it well. The Christmases that followed all come under the heading, YOU CAN’T GO HOME AGAIN. Something new needs to evolve. It does. You have children of your own.

Thus begin the SANTA CLAUS CHRISTMASES, the ones as parents who make the magic for those wide eyed little ones. Aptly called the hurricane years by my mother-in-law, our Santa Claus Christmases blew by without time for savoring, but, in retrospect orchestrating a child’s Christmas is right up there with being a child yourself.

Christmas ‘07 has come and gone now, in another hour it will be Dec. 26th. I’m again tucked into bed, fending off the sandman so I can relive the day just passed. There is granddaughter Malia opening her last package, sorrow covering her happy face. “Oh no,” she says, it’s all over.” Oh but it’s not, I think as my eyes close and the sand begins to gather. So many Christmases yet to be lived my little one, until one day, if you’re very, very lucky, a cherished little girl will be sitting on your lap unwrapping her last Christmas package while her treasured brother stands over her watching and you will be overwhelmed by the joy of a GRANDMOTHER'S CHRISTMAS.

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What fills my mind, usually fills the page, so it surprises me that December is almost over and I haven't written a word about Christmas. In Decembers past, there wasn't room in my brain for thoughts of anything else. Not so this year. December, a month generally fraught with frenzy, has been to date, comparatively sane. What's wrong with me?

This is not bah humbugging. The house is full of greenery, I'm making lists, checking them twice, the Christmas cards are in process, the plans are jelled. Obviously some thought has been given to the matter. What's missing is the "snit fix", a term my sister coined years ago to describe how I get the big things done.

Maybe I'm maturing, realizing life goes on quite nicely if I don't find the right presents or they're not artistically wrapped or the Christmas card arrives after the event. I don't have to - actually can't - and no one expects me to make it happen for them, whatever IT is. Ah such wisdom finally arriving at the eleventh hour of my lifetime. I suspect, however, it's more physical than mental. I can't seem to whip up a froth anymore. A good thing or a bad thing? I haven't decided.

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They had the most beautiful voices and sang the most heart rending music. Completely absorbed, I followed the text of the poetry they were singing in my program. Occasionally I looked up to watch them perform. When I did the music became secondary. I began to worry. Would the soprano's ample breasts fall out of her perilously low cut dress? And what was it the mezzo was wearing, that complicated pea green mass of material accentuating an already large frame. I lost her voice in the folds.

If , as Mark Twain said, "Clothes make the man" * or in this case woman, thank goodness they can sing.

*The full quote. Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence on society.

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My Mother-in-law had a mental poison ivy tree where she hung those who had crossed her. I don’t think her thoughts progressed to visions of her victims with oozing, itchy sores. She just hung them and moved on. The rest was up to nature.

A lovely, gentle violence, green in its way, isn’t it? So much safer for perpetrator and victim than suicide bombing. Were she alive today, back in her role as New York advertising executive, she’d write a jingle – the itchy bitchy song – a catchy tune about going green with our anger. The world would not only be a safer place, but the profits of the makers of calamine lotion would stimulate the economy.

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Her drama teacher thinks she has talent. Her artwork is exceptional. Her clarinet teacher thinks she is a prodigy. She excels in sports, is very pretty and knows how to charm the world. I know all this because my son told me. She's his nine year old daughter, my granddaughter.

She's not alone. While we walked the trails this morning, my friend Sally tells me about her grandchildren. Her newly teen-aged grandson is currently in a play in Denver, a major theatrical event with equity actors. His theatrical career is already in process. His eleven year old cousin writes exceptional, award winning poetry. Another cousin attends a school where only Spanish is spoken. She excels, grows up bi-lingual.

Amazing isn't it? Our grandchildren are so outstanding, so full of promise.

Weren't we all.

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This reaching for perfection is crazy. Oh yes, it's an entertaining (and frustrating) challenge, but it's never going to happen for anybody. I know that. Yet every day I sit down to practice the piano trying to make every note perfect. There are thousands of notes in the pieces I play, thousands of possibilities for errors. I make them, correct them, practice them again, make them again. Will I ever learn?

Happily I am not alone. Listening to one of my fellow players at our monthly performance group play something I knew well, I was astounded at the number of mistakes she made and how beautifully she played them. You had to know the music intimately, to know this was not a perfect performance. Perfection it seems is how well you cover your mistakes.

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I practice the piano almost daily. It’s a given, like having dinner. If I miss a day, I feel hungry. This isn’t a new pursuit, it’s been a lifetime passion. It would make sense if I had some driving talent or were performing, but mostly this is something I do just for myself.

I’ve never asked why. The answer seems obvious - it’s something I enjoy - but while reading Glenn Kurtz’s book, Practicing, a Musicians Return to Music, I began to realize there’s more here than meets the proverbial eye.

Music, writes Kurtz, puts us in touch with the profound. Perhaps it’s an exaggeration to call John Thompson’s Song From My Old Wigwam profound, but that’s where I got hooked. I pounded out those C chord drumbeats in my left hand with gusto, discovering that rhythmic, primordial part of my nature.

When I got older and the music more sophisticated, what I played spoke to me of questions I didn’t know how to ask, about feelings I had but didn’t understand. When adolescence descended, music became therapy; Bach restored order, Chopin repaired a broken heart.

As a young Mother, music was a refuge from the squabbles of young children. Do not disturb Mother when she’s practicing I taught them, only if you’re bleeding.

Practicing focuses my mind. Admittedly sometimes I find myself at the bottom of a page having planned what we’re having for dinner rather than paying any attention to what I’ve played, but for a mind that is perpetually on the run, music is calming.

 Finally, and not insignificantly, practicing is a time, finally, to sit down.

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Adding a couple of thoughts: I started playing the piano because I had to practice the violin standing up and I really wanted to sit down. And thinking over the decades of my relationship with the piano, I think it became so important to me because #1 I found it challenging at times, calming at other times, and nurturing all the time. #2 Playing the piano was rewarding to me by bringing me close friendships as well as a wonderful sense of sharing an important personal joy with my students, which I hope has enriched their lives. And yes, Suzy, I feel too that music can often put me in touch with something so profound it cannot be expressed any other way.
“Are you happy?” I ask him over lunch. He’s my 47 year old son and even though his happiness is no longer something I can do anything about, I have to ask. It’s a Mother thing.

He is startled by the question, not something he’s thought about in the rush of his days. He thinks for a long moment of silence then answers, “I wouldn’t use the word happy, but things are going well.”

I am reminded of his youthful answer to my question “How was it?” in regard to the events in his life. He generally replied, “Fine,” without embellishment. What is fine? A man cutting to the bottom line?

What I wanted to hear was a resounding “YES,” I am very happy, with some specific examples of joyful moments. That would have made ME happy, but as I drove home from our luncheon date, his answer made sense. You can’t paint happy with a broad brush. It’s in the little moments like today’s lunch, a grandchild on your lap, or taking a walk on a beautiful day.

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The fine print at the bottom of the invitation to celebrate a recent marriage suggests I call this number for help with gift suggestions. I do.

“They have registered for clothes,” a solicitous Nordstrom sales person tells me from the other end of the line. As I’m digesting this, she continues.

“What would you like to spend?”

I tell her. It seems a reasonable amount.

“I’m sorry, there isn’t anything at that price,” she replies cheerily, “but for ten dollars more you can get a shirt for him.”

“I’ll take it,” I reply.

“Would you like to get something for her?”

Already I am more financially committed to this couple than I originally intended and, oddly, missing the joy of participating in the creation of a household with my gift. Clothes? I hear my mother’s voice from the grave, “What is the world coming to?”

“No, nothing for her,” I say. “She can enjoy looking at him!”

I recite the numbers from my Visa. We include the addition of another $8.95 for delivery, say thank you, good-bye, hang up. I haven’t, however, hung up on my feelings. Tucking my card back into my wallet, I face a grim reality. The world is passing me by. I have become an anachronism. Not a good feeling, but maybe it happens to us all if we live long enough.

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I knew he’d love me because I’d read lots of books and could talk about them. I knew he’d love me because I could play the piano and make beautiful music for him. I knew he’d love me because I laugh a lot and he could laugh with me. What I didn’t know was he’d love me because I feed him.

Why didn’t I realize in my misguided youth, my most important role in life was to be that of food symbol. I might have learned to cook. Oh yes, those aforementioned attributes were attractive to my man, but when we married, he came home for dinner. Later a baby joined us, crying loudly, FEED ME. When that baby grew up and went to school, his parting words were always, “What’s for dinner Mom?” The dog followed me around salivating. I never lost them, they all came home when they got hungry.

Truth be told, I considered cooking an indignity, there were so many more important things to do. The time I spent in the kitchen was only about staying alive or …. was it?

On my walk through the farm this morning, the ranger was opening the doors of the barn to let the animals out. Breakfast was waiting in the troughs. The animals heard his footsteps, his thumb on the latch. They began to bleat, quack, squeal, and cackle and by the time he flung open the doors, the barnyard was full of joyful noise. In one glorious chorus the animals seemed to be saying, “Another beautiful day is beginning, you’ve come to feed us, we’re so glad you’re here, oh do let us begin.”

I watched them eat, envied the ranger this morning chore. He too is a food symbol, a "nourisher", a word Webster defines as promoting growth, supporting, maintaining, cherishing, and comforting.

Not a bad legacy, food symbol.

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Why ladies first? I explore the internet with futile results, conclude without substantiation, the concept originated with courtly love, you know, the kind of love knights practiced. When I think of ladies first, I envision a deep manly bow; one leg stretched forward, one hand over the heart the other doffing a plumed hat. The lady passes….first.

It seems an antiquated concept, abandoned with the arrival of women’s liberation, but is it totally dead? No. It is now a matter of confusion.

We arrive at the check out counter together, he one step ahead. With an abbreviated, courtly bow. he motions me ahead saying, “ Ladies first.”

“Oh no,” I protest, “you were ahead of me, ladies first is no longer relevant.”

“Who takes the garbage out at your house?” he asks.

“My husband,” I answer.

“Ladies first,” he insists.

I step ahead.

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Symphony season has begun. It's Thursday afternoon, the series that attracts an aging audience. I used to call it old dowager day when I was in my forties, but now that I am on the cusp of being an old dowager myself, I don't find that so amusing anymore. Instead I marvel at the difficulties the audience has overcome to get here. Many lean on canes. Others are pushing walkers that threaten to run away with them as they plunge down the steep aisle to find their seats. Still others cling to the arms of loving friends. It's some kind of miracle watching these music lovers fill the hall.

During intermission, standing in that interminable line for the ladies room, I watch an elderly woman carefully comb her hair, refresh her make-up. I want to say FORGET IT LADY, it's too late, but then I look around at the women in line with me and realize it's never too late if there is music in our souls.

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I am not a tree hugger. You won’t find me living in a tree to save it’s life, not my style. But today when the newspaper announced sudden oak death disease had struck and killed oaks in my town, I wanted to hug each one on my property and whisper into the bark, “stay strong, we love and cherish you.”

For we Californians the oaks that share our land are family members. We love, and nurture them as we do our children, honor them for their strength and survival as we do our parents. If they die, we mourn them.

I wandered my property checking the health of my oaks. As I did, I realized they not only enhance my property, they play a role in the living of our lives. An old beauty spreads its branches over the entry to the house like a mother hen protecting her flock. We nap in the leafy shade of the oak that shades the deck. We count springs progress by the leaves appearing on the oak in the field, and across the way, on top of a hill, the big daddy of them all speaks to us of strength and endurance.

Not just any old tree, our oaks. They are part of our inner as well as our outer landscape. Life wouldn’t be the same without them.

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Suzy, you can't get so poetic about your oak trees, they live and die like the rest of us!
In Rocky Mountain National Park, Co., we are losing our pine forests to the beetle. I know just how you feel, it's heartbreaking.
They’re coming toward me en masse, that group of power running ladies who speak German while pounding the trails. I note a tightening in my stomach muscles, and have thoughts I’m not going to divulge.

I was just a little girl during the second world war, only aware of rationing, black outs and sitting against the walls in the hall at school as we practiced bombing procedures. We collected newspapers. With our father too old to fight, the war was just a fact of life which didn’t get in the way of being a giddy little girl.

But I got older, read the books, saw the movies, currently watch Ken Burns as he explores WWII.

I’m sure those ladies are very nice individually. We might even be friends if we were to meet in different circumstances, but en masse, they make me nervous, remind me of horrific events, a country gone mad.

Not their fault. They are all too young to have been part of the atrocities, but in my mind I connect them.

Will future generations of Americans bear a similar stigma in relation to the war in Iraq?

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“How do you know the Whittiers?” he asks after we’ve seated and introduced ourselves. Whoa, I think, that’s MY opening gambit. By the time we’ve finished the salad, having found out I went to college with our hostess, he is asking what I did with my education. What is wrong with this man?

My male dinner partners generally assume that of the two of us, they are the most interesting. I shine the spotlight, they provide the entertainment. The evening passes, the social contract plays out pleasantly …… or not.

After a boring evening, I occasionally think black thoughts about male entitlement -- you know it’s all about THEM. But, tonight, I find I’m uncomfortable in the spotlight. What DID I do with my education I ask myself and how can the passion I felt while I was doing it be related over the music to a man I’ve just met? It can’t and I don’t want to try.

But they do, those men upon whom I focus the spotlight. With a questioning woman at their side, they fill the void. And thank goodness they do, it makes the social whirl go round.

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I asked those women with whom I was lunching - a doctor, lawyer, teacher, artist, orchestra conductor - if their male dinner partners ever asked about what they did. Rarely. Oh what they're missing!
You go typical of those dinner parties...loved your blog this
month...Also, "It is not your wedding." When do we men get it right..?
Glad to read about your dinner party conversations. I always thought it was just me.
He makes me laugh, so important.

I tell him he’s wonderful.

He smiles, says nonsense, he’s just another ear to feed.

We’re going to a wedding for which I have new clothes as well as bags under my eyes, stringy hair and a runny nose. What a waste I say, I’m going to look terrible. He looks me over carefully, announces, “It’s not your wedding.”

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My generation is moving. That beloved house where we raised our children, planted gardens, endured remodels, that special place we've called HOME for much of our lifetimes no longer fits. We call it downsizing, a word with underpinnings of mortality.

 Those on the move appear to do so without a backward glance. Restructuring their lives in a new place is rejuvenating, abandoning the responsibilities of the big house a relief. I look around, take stock and conclude, I can't move.

I need to awaken to that special light that fills my bedroom aerie every morning announcing carpe diem. The brilliant winter sunrises that splash across my big view of sky remind me life is beautiful. On the hill across the way, a venerable oak speaks to me of standing strong when life's winds blow.  

And When the day ends and the last light touches the tassels of swaying grasses with gold, I'm so thankful to have lived another day in this place. It feeds my soul. Without it, I might starve.

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Wonderful is another one of those words I need to re-examine. As I reread a thank you note I had just written for an absolutely wonderful party I attended last week, I realized, yes, it's a wonderful word, but by its fourth utterance in a short paragraph, you can appear empty headed, and overbearingly thankful.

I consulted the thesaurus to find some wonderful substitutes - miraculous, marvelous, stupendous, incredible and extraordinary. I began again. "Your party last week was miraculous." I paused to consider the sentence. Could it be saying, "it was a miracle, my gracious, but bumbling host, that you pulled off such a wonderful event?"

I began again. "Your party was stupendous." A bit over the top to be believed.

"Your party was just too marvelous." Tones of social insincerity.

"Your party was extraordinary." Did I mean, "who else but YOU would dare to put on something like THAT!"

I expected to find "awesome" and "cool" in the list of possibilities. They didn't make the cut. Not for me anyway, another generations words. Recipients of my thank yous would suspect my grandson wrote the note.

So, it's back to wonderful, a word without nuanced underpinnings, a word, used with discretion, that simply says it all.

Wonderful isn't it?

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There are a couple of words I use with regularity, one of which is stupid, as in “Suzy, how could you be so stupid?” I noticed this yesterday while I was pureeing freshly cut corn from the cob for a delectable soup. Pushing the liquefy button without the lid on the blender, I was rewarded with a shower of soup. As I moped up the mess, I kept repeating “Suzy, how could you be so stupid?”

“STUPID”also gets tossed around with the ball on the tennis court. I’m not alone in its usage.

 What does it mean exactly? The definition that comes immediately to my mind is, behaving like a clod. My Oxford dictionary gets more specific… not clever; slow at learning and understanding; in a state of stupor. I only admit to the latter. I’m often doing one thing and thinking another with results that appear, well, yes, stupid.

Though perhaps appropriate at times, this is not a nice word. I plan to delete it from my vocabulary, if not my actions. In the 1700s Alexander Pope* wrote, “To err is human….".I am taking his words to heart. “Oh Suzy, how could you be so human?” 

*Alexander Pope 1688-1744. Full quote: TO ERR IS HUMAN, TO FORGIVE DIVINE.

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The moon is out, the evening is warm. Candles flicker on a table set with silver, adorned with flowers. Romance is being served along with dinner and nowhere is it more evident than at the table next to ours where a young couple gaze lovingly into each others eyes.

An old song comes to mind, a song that would never make it in todays's world where we sing of broken hearts and sex. I still remember the lyrics

"Are the stars out tonight? I don‚t know if it's cloudy or bright For I only have eyes for you....."

 A lifetime lies ahead for those young lovers. Will they deliver on all this look of love seems to promise? I catch the eye of the man at my table, the one that's been in my life for almost 50 years. I reach for his hand. It can happen.

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A wedding invitation arrived in the mail yesterday, sheathed in thick, handsome red paper, sealed with a dab of wax. We were to RSVP to the couple's website. The joy of being newly in love leaped off the screen with each click. There were pictures of family, friends, and precious moments the about- to- be- weds have shared. In a section called US, he writes about what he loves about her and she writes about why she loves him. Oh to be young and in love, I thought with poignant longing. The thought passed quickly. No way, I'm too tired!

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I finish the morning reading of my newspaper and try not to obsess about man's inhumanity to man. I am a gentle soul, a nurturer at heart, tending my plants, trying to live in harmony with the world.

And yet, as the fruit ripens on my trees, I am openly hostile to the wild creatures who would take all those mouth watering morsels for themselves. It's a gentle skirmish really, our vying for this prize. I net the trees, they hone their cunning. Occasionally they win. Faced with a barren tree, and another year of waiting for this natural phenomena to happen again, I seriously think about getting a gun and using it.

Though the resident rabbit is admittedly adorable, especially at Easter, he eats everything leafy. I thwart him with temporary fencing around those things newly planted, his favorite gustatory experience. When he hops into view, I yell at him while chasing him into hiding. I put out the word to the coyotes and bobcats, TASTY RABBIT HERE. I wait and hope for his demise.

The caterpillars eating the buds of my geraniums haven't a chance. How could they destroy those nascent blossoms, it's unthinkable! Without a qualm, I spray them with environmentally acceptable death. Occasionally I hunt them with a magnifying glass, and when finding them, wrap them in a leaf and squish them between my fingers. Please don't tell my grandchildren. I am, they think, a gentle soul who would never hurt anything. I think so too, but obviously it's not true.

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