Unchristian.

 

This video popped up in a Facebook news feed today. The woman who reposted it is a kind and intelligent woman. I have no truck with her, but I think the people who concocted this little swirl of fiction are immoral, disingenuous, ugly.

To save you from wasting the six and a half precious minutes that I did watching this piece of soppy cinematic saccharine, I will give you a short synopsis. After all, you can never get those minutes back.

The premise is that this boy, about 11 or 12, is huddled in freezing temperatures in a ripped shirt and ripped jeans and no shoes on a midtown Manhattan sidewalk with a bit of cardboard and a garbage bag. About ten feet away from him, a neatly dressed man is sitting on the sidewalk.

We are supposed to believe that this kid sat on this sidewalk, crying and shivering for two hours while New Yorkers streamed past him.

Right.

Finally, the neatly dressed man approaches him, hunches down on the sidewalk with him, and gives him his coat. The man tells the boy that he is homeless too.

Uh-huh.

Then two dudes come up, tell the neatly dressed man that the boy’s not homeless, he’s their little brother, but they’re really touched by what he did so here’s five hundred bucks.

Sorry, no, this does not pass the sniff test.

The two guys are from “Ock TV”, a Youtube channel better known for taping “pranks.” The people involved in this segment were all actors. (You can see the same woman pass through several times in different coats.) The “homeless man” is not homeless. The kid is certainly not homeless. And this little scene did not play out on the streets of New York for two hours.

Two hours would not pass without a cop passing by, or without someone calling the police. That’s a Lane Bryant store they’re sitting outside. Think that every woman coming and going in and out of that store for two hours is going to overlook a kid moaning and writhing on the sidewalk?

Would you?

Of course not. Would everyone stop? No, probably not, but many if not most, would.

It’s very tired, this trope of the “noble homeless” and the disgustingly unaware masses. Some homeless people are altruistic, some are not. They are not, as a group by their circumstances, more noble than the rest of us.

Nor are the people of Manhattan an insensitive teeming mass. People do stop to help.  One afternoon in Tribeca, I took a bad step on a piece of uneven pavement, twisted my ankle and fell on the street. Several people stepped forward to offer assistance. It is simply not believable that a child would be huddled on the sidewalk for more than a minute or two before someone offered him aid.

The daughter of old friends panhandles her way around the country– part of a youth movement called “traveling kids” or “train hoppers.” . She happened to be at home this summer when we were visiting her folks. On  that Sunday afternoon she and her boyfriend made seventy-five dollars panhandling for two hours on the streets of Seabrook, New Hampshire.  People panhandle because it they get a return for their effort.

People help other people because that is human nature. The best part of being human, the most Christ-like of Christian behavior is to love one another.

Despite its appearance on the pious website “Faith Tap”, this video is not Christian. It’s makers fail at Christianity 101. (They’re not too great at filmmaking either.)

This video has been shared via Facebook 99,000 times. More than three million people have “liked” it. I wonder how many of those sent money to these guys?

 

The people who passed by this child on the sidewalk were directed to do so. They are actors. They’re not deserving of your contempt, they probably didn’t even make scale for this.

Reserve your disgust for the young men who produced this tired old homily. They are playing you, they are manipulating your sense of sympathy and outrage to line their own pockets. Remember, we are better than that. We are kinder, we are gentler and on the whole, we look after each other.

 

 

Addled.

Living Inside the Migraine. 

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It starts with a missing letter in the instruction manual.

The ends of words start to evaporate.

The harder I look at them the more they disappear.

There’s no pain, though, so I’m hoping that perhaps this is something else. Even as I hope I know that I am kidding myself.

 

I am at a friend’s house, installing his new printer. It’s a simple task, but he is older, a self-professed technophobe. What’s remarkable is that he even has a computer.

Something isn’t working right though. Everything’s plugged in but it won’t print, it only wants to send a fax.  The manual, in three languages, has some trouble shooting tips.

Make sure the printer is plugged in.

Make sure the cables are secure.

The harder I try to read the manual, the more the words slip away.

 

The very first migraine I ever experienced was an ocular migraine– an ophthalmic deficit. There was no pain, but it scared the living daylights out of me. That’s not what this is, though. Oh, that’s part of it. But I know that more is coming.

Online, a number for tech support is found– of course, it’s not in the manual. The questions are automated. I answer them. Finally, I have a conversation with someone in the Philipines. A man, a woman, I can’t tell. They are very kind though I am sure they must think I am an idiot. They ask for the serial number.

I try to read the serial number, folding myself over the printer. Is that a D or a zero? It must be close enough. “Thank you so much,” the voice says.

A few minutes later I can’t remember the word “serial.”

The words are slipping away faster and faster.

The technician takes control of the computer by remote. A few settings are adjusted and the printer is working. At least I think it is working. It’s not a Mac, I’m not familiar with the platform, I can’t think of the words I need to use to explain this.

A man arrives, a friend of the friend. I know him, I can’t think of his name. I know his name. It’s not a matter of not remembering, it’s just the name won’t come back to me.

“Hello! How are you!” I offer heartily.  Because we are polite, we make the best of it. They are talking about the Westminster Dog Show. This is a topic I know very well, but I can’t follow their conversation. The sentences seem fragmented and nonsensical.

“Are you coming with us to dinner?” the friend asks.

Only the truth is left.

“I’m in a migraine, I’m so regretful. No, I’m sorry.” My face is pink with embarrassment.

“Oh no,” my friend says “I caused it.”

“No, no” I say, smiling, shaking my head. Frightened.

 

The triggers are cumulative.  Eating. Not eating. Not enough sleep. Nitrates. Stress. Pollen. Hormones. Barometric pressure. Light. The smell of diesel fuel. How they piled up this time isn’t obvious, but even it was obvious, I can’t put anything together in any kind of order. It doesn’t matter why.

They are in another room, I think. I put on my coat and gloves, find my keys, call out my goodbyes. At least I think I did. I hope I did.

The curb is awash in slush. It’s dark out. It’s a bit like being drunk, but there’s no buzz. Just clumsy.  From a stop light, I call my husband.

It’s a struggle to speak.

“It’s a migraine. Coming—  ”

The word “home” escapes me.

“House,” I say.

“Where are you?”

I think hard. I know where I am. I can’t find the name —

“Wa—something.”

“Wayne?”

“Yes.”

I am afraid I won’t be able to navigate the car into the garage, but I don’t know how to convey that. I can’t remember what a garage is called. My brain keeps tripping on “garden” and “gadget”. Those aren’t right. I try.

“I’ll bring car to the . . . porch. Will you park?”

“Of course. I’ll look for you.”

I drive methodically, but it is instinct that leads me home. There is some pain now, someone inside my head with a small hammer.

I wonder if I should go to the hospital instead.  I know that I am out of migraine meds, I’ve been out of migraine meds for months. It’s taken me 5 months to get an appointment with the neurologist, March 4.

But I will go to the hospital if I.

If I.

If I what?

If I think this is a stroke.

If I think this is a stroke I will go to the hospital.

I curl my tongue, roll it to form a tube. Inventory left and right feet, hands, shoulders. It feels like the left side of my mouth is drooping, but when I check my reflection at a stoplight, it looks fine.

Frown lines, I hadn’t noticed those.

The streets are full of rutted snow. The usual U-turn in front of the house won’t be possible. I drive around the block. Where are the flashers?

He meets me on the sidewalk, a kiss.  Our son is waiting for me, he says.

Half-an-hour ago I was fine.

The door opens and there’s my kid, smiling. “Are you okay?”

I shrug, nod.

The word is there, let me find it.

“Headache.”

In the kitchen, I break some Irish soda bread, and butter it generously. I am suddenly starving.

Did I eat today? Yogurt, blueberries, granola.

My son is explaining something. The words cascade over me like water.

“Wait. I can’t. I’m sorry. I can’t do more than three or four words.”

My husband comes in the kitchen door, stomping the snow from his feet.

“Do you want some eggs?”, he asks taking off his coat.  “You could use some protein.”

I nod. When he asks how many I don’t answer. I’m not ignoring him. I’m just so addled.

On the sofa, I sit with the buttered Irish bread. On the television, they are honoring Bob Simon on 60 Minutes. When Morley Safer talks about him, I wipe the tears from my face.

The eggs come, I eat them, measuring each bite. Focus on that one thing. The color, the texture, the warmth. A mean imitation of being drunk– everything swims around you, except a single thing you can concentrate on. In the old days, it might be the ice in the bottom of the glass. The cocktail napkin folded into abstract origami. Your lover’s mouth.

Now it is scrambled eggs.

On the sofa I doze sitting up. In half-sleep I hear Bob Simon’s voice and it confuses me. He’s dead. Oh, right. They’re covering his stories.  Srebrenica. The Lost Boys. He’s delighted to return Rafael Nadal’s serve. Naked children swimming, the Moken.

I can’t keep my eyes open. They’re playing cellos made from recycled garbage. “Mongolian horsehead fiddles”, I think, knowing as I think it that I’m wrong. Wrong continent.

When I awake, half an hour later, it’s all over. My head feels tender, like it’s been bruised on the inside somehow. But my words come back to me, lined up in order, ready to serve.  This struggle is finished, this one is done. I go into the kitchen to make a cup of tea.

Buckley Hill

Looking Up Peel Street

Looking Up Peel Street

Returning to Boston is very uncomfortable. So much has changed there over the last twenty years that it is hard to find a single thing that still looks the same. With the inexorable beat of the developers’ drum, it has been reinvented several times over, with plenty of money changing hands each time.  Even the historic parts, which somehow ought to stay the same, seem swept up in a kaleidoscope of memory and change.

But this is not about Boston. It’s only mentioned because it is in such stark contrast to the village in England where I landed at age 10-and-a-half after my life took a dramatic fork in the road. That place, Marsden, nr. Huddersfield, W. Yorkshire, England is a place that seems never to have changed.

Through the eye of Google earth, I can visit it again from my desk chair. I can virtually walk up Peel Street, past Pogson’s bakery where we used to buy “ham butties,” past the hardware store where I tried to buy elbow grease. I can turn left up Brougham Road towards my old school. There was a shop along there where we went regularly for fish and chips, wrapped in newsprint.

Those places are probably gone now, or changed hands or perhaps they’re sweet shops or hairdressers or a 99p shop. But the street itself is much the same, the bridge over the River Colne, the slumbering gray-green Pennines hemming in the horizon all around.

We lived at the bottom of Peel Street, where it meets Station Road, next door to The Swan, which used to be a pub, but is now a youth hostel apparently. The house, number 3, was called “Buckley Hill” — and that’s a how a letter would reach me– at “Buckley Hill, 3, Station Road, Marsden, nr. Huddersfield, W. Yorkshire, England.”

There were plenty of letters sent by my father, and other relatives left behind in the States, writing with news of dogs and the American Top 40 and the Connor kids up the street.

(Letters went the other way too, from the post-box in the wall in front of the house: the pony (Minty), my teacher, Mrs. Docker,  was tired of me always writing about horses. She has silver-gray hair to her waist. Cadbury Flake is The Best!!!, but could you please send some Tootsie rolls?)

 

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Buckley Hill

But this is not about any of that either. This instead is about Buckley Hill. In the spring of 1973, at age 11 and a half, I walked out the front door, got in the backseat of our grey Morris Minor, went to the Manchester airport,  and left forever on a BOAC jet bound for JFK.

Yet, I remember the house with it’s tiny walled garden and its 300-year-old kitchen more clearly, more vividly than so many other things that have come and gone.

In Connecticut I’d had my own room, pink, in a rambling four-square on a corner. In Connecticut I’d been an only child.

Among the many changes that came with life in Marsden were the addition of a step-sister and step-brother, and the three of us shared a room.  It was over the kitchen and the pipes that ran up from the AGA cooker warmed it. Casement windows looked out over a long narrow courtyard between us and the Congregational Church. It was there I set up a series of little hurdles to play “show jumping” in the long days between riding lessons.

Each night I slept in a little white metal bed. There was a nightstand, and a desk. It wasn’t unusual to stay up late reading with a flashlight under the covers: Swallows and Amazons, Enid Blyton, The Chronicles of Narnia. On the desk, there a portable record player in a tan-buckram case where I played my cherished collection of Beatles records until someone appeared at the door and said “Get to bed. Now.”

We always parked in front of the house, and came in through the gate. The  drawing room had a line of chairs and a square grand piano. Up the right hand wall rose the staircase. My stepfather was the village physician and this room and the one directly above it were dedicated to that. Not much ever seem to happen in the room with the square piano, but you’d occasionally find strangers sitting there– women working on their knitting, men from the mill.

At the top of the stairs then was the domain of the staff– Peggy and Eileen and Dulcie. There were others. Typewriters and telephones and shelf after shelf of manila folders with the medical histories of every one in the village. Those rooms belonged to some other purpose and we were to steer clear of them.

There was one  bathroom in the house,  up the stairs and at the end of the hall, for staff and family alike. One long bathtub, big enough for two ten year old girls to bathe in at once. The toilet tank was up near the ceiling, and you pulled a long chain to make it flush. There were antiques in the bathroom. I’d never seen that before.

Downstairs,  a door on a swinging hinge opened into the family sitting room. Most of the room was taken up by yet another grand piano, and leather arm chairs nestled around a coal grate. Those chairs, inexplicably, have managed to stay with us for more than 40 years, and sit in my mother’s living room in South Carolina.  When you curled up in the chairs, it seemed that the piano was looking over your shoulder.

William, age six, used to sit on the piano bench and pick out delicate melodies along the keys. He’d been brain-damaged through an accident at birth: cerebral palsy, significantly reduced hearing and sight, cognitive deficits. If he wanted something he sang. “Would you like some tea?” meant that he was hungry.

The kitchen was the original room of the house, with stone walls and stone floors worn smooth. Milk was delivered each morning in pint bottles at the door, and was consumed immediately, which was just as well as the refrigerator was tiny, about 18″ square. My mother used to grouse that the room was so cold that the refrigerator was redundant anyway. There was a yellow box of Weetabix, William’s favorite.

William and Hannah and I ate tea in the afternoon, sometimes my mother made it, other times in was Jean Woods, the housekeeper. There was eggs and toast, Robertson’s jam with golliwog on the label. In the corner was  near the AGA stove was a small black and white television on which we watched Coronation Street, Top of the Pops, Show Jumping.

For years I wore a triangular scar on the back of my wrist, where I’d been pushed against the AGA in the midst of an argument with Hannah. The AGA was always on, summer or winter. The scar has faded so much that nowt  can’t find it anymore in the roadmap of my hands.

I don’t remember what the squabble was about. What to watch on the telly. The horrible smell of the fried bread she liked to make. That some boy liked her better than me. Who ate the last McVitie’s biscuit.

One afternoon in the kitchen– Hannah came back from the orthodontist in Manchester with new black and maroon platform shoes. I was livid and not at all gracious, as just a few weeks earlier I’d been made to get plain brown sensible oxfords. That was the difference between going shopping with Humphrey who would indulge such whimsies if it suited him, and my mother who thought that children shouldn’t dress like trollops.

They’d brought me a riding crop as a consolation prize, which only added to how much trouble I was in for being beastly about Hannah’s new shoes.

On Christmas day the town band crowded into the kitchen filling up the room. They played for the doctor a selection of carols of the season, and the the very last song was “My Old Kentucky Home,” especially for my mother and me, the Americans. How thrilled I was that they played a special song, an American song. It made me homesick, but in a nice way.

 

Of Soup and Love

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“Of soup and love, the first is better.” — Spanish Proverb

 

It’s been cold for days. It’s the end of the month, which means both groceries and money are short. But there’s a chicken in the freezer and soup seems like a good idea.  My mother made a chicken soup and rice when I was growing up; it was an excellent soup for tea and sympathy.

Years ago, in the unending quest to make chicken soup interesting, I concocted a recipe which has become one of the standards here: whole chicken, well-salted, simmered until tender. Remove the carcass, add chili powder, cumin, sriracha, blend to incorporate schmaltz and broth.  Pick chicken. Set aside the cartilage, skin, and nasty little parts for the dogs. Return the meat to the broth, add corn, diced red pepper, vidalia onion, garlic, beans, cilantro and rice. Serve with diced avocado, shredded manchengo cheese, more chopped fresh cilantro.

It’s a good night for it, and it makes a huge pot of food and sustains our little family for several days.

Given that I was wrestling pigs in mud (well, really, I was handling people being obtuse, but it might as well have been pigs in mud) I asked my beloved if he would mind putting the chicken in the pot to start. He swears he added salt, but I think he must have been distracted. He kept rushing the pot outdoors to the nearly-zero temperature so it would cool quickly. My God, we’ve developed hang-ups about food safety regarding chicken.

The carcass is cooked to the point of disintegration. No big deal, it will be more like a chicken stew. I chop and slice, open cans and bags of vegetables, add the rice and go to read. Occasionally, wandering through the kitchen, I give it a stir, add a bit of something. An unsalted chicken is a tall hurdle to cross.

Along the way I am distracted. When I come back to check, the rice has cooked nearly to porridge, a kind of Chinese jook. Not my preference, but it will be okay. But when I begin to stir, I realize that the rice has scorched to the bottom.

Now the members of my husband’s tribe make a scorched rice soup– it’s called something like “fahn-del” — that may not be right– it always makes me think of a baby’s “fontanelle” when he mentions it. He used to claim to be making scorched rice soup every time he burned the rice in one of my saucepans.  Eventually we bought a rice cooker.

So now there is a slight scorched taste to the soup, but adding more sriracha and cilantro masks it well enough. Elmer doesn’t mind. Later, when I lift the lid to show our son that there was a pot of soup, I see that it is full of something that looked like blackened cornflakes floating on the surface.

“Did you scrape up the scorched rice from the bottom of the pot?” I ask him. He nods vigorously, smiling. “It’s good that way.”

For you, maybe.

He may well be Chinese-American, but he was born and brought up in Los Angeles, and grew up eating hot dogs and fried chicken along with the traditional dishes his mother made. Why on earth would he think that we would want to eat soup with scorched black rice bits floating in it? For a moment I wonder if it was some kind of passive-aggressive nonsense, but another carryover from growing up Chinese is the inability to waste food. (“I’ll just scrape the mold off, it will be fine.”) So he wouldn’t set out to ruin a pot of soup for the rest of us just to be bloody minded.

Julian heats up some frozen taquitos.

There’s a maple yogurt in the fridge, I can add some granola to it.

 

 

Banjo Song

Myrtle B. Wilkinson playing tenor banjo, Turlock, California, 1939. Photographer unknown.

Myrtle B. Wilkinson playing tenor banjo, Turlock, California, 1939. Photographer unknown.

Last year, on Ash Wednesday, I started a new writing project “Writing for Lent,” in which I intended to write every day for 40 days. I made it for a week.

This year, I thought, I’ll try it again. I don’t have to write 1000 words a day after all, I can write 100 words. Or five.

And because fate has a wicked sense of humor, the morning started out with an email about a fundraising letter I’d written.  The email included an edited version of the letter with every bit of music stomped right out of it. Obliterated as surely as if the editor had used a hammer on a piece of Limoges.

Not that I’d asked for the letter to be edited, mind you.

So, in the spirit of plaint, I posted rhetorically to Facebook, pondering the mystery of why no one takes professional writers seriously. Because they don’t. Everyone truly believes they can write a book. They can write an article. They can write a sonnet.

And I suppose they can. We are all taught to make one word follow another after all. Surely years of discipline and experience and millions of words arranged on a page count for nothing, right? Because we all can write.

The general consensus of that thread was that I was mean and nasty and horrible to think that professional writers should write unmolested by those who think they have the mandate to fix what the writer wrote.

So I took it down. I almost wrote that I took it down because I love my friends and there is a tiny little granite marble of truth in that statement. But mostly I took it down because it made me feel worse.

No matter how I tried to explain, I couldn’t make myself understood. It didn’t make me feel like much of a writer, I tell you.

And tonight, I wanted to write about how much my life, this series, writing in general and the very business of getting up and lying down again makes me think of banjo music; an endless frenetic loop of Foggy Mountain Breakdown.

And it’s not that I hate banjo music. I like banjos. I’m one of those people– banjos, bagpipes, the Mongolian horse fiddle– I like them. They make me feel cheerful. (Ruth, I know you’re gritting your teeth.)

And anyway, it was just a metaphor, but I couldn’t find the structure to make it fit, and it’s late, and there’s still so much to do and pluckpluckpluck twang forward roll. Sometimes that’s just the way it is, on and on and on.

But tomorrow, another piece, perhaps one that will settle into place, orderly and melodic, a way to get in touch, a message more deftly conveyed,  a better song.

And if I’m lucky, one the day after that.

 

 

 

Scenic Route 53


53

“A great alternative way to reach Grants from Gallup is via Scenic Route 53, which runs parallel to, and south of, I-40. It takes a full day to really experience this out-of-this-world landscape of lava tubes and red arches, volcanic craters and ice caves, as well as unique historical attractions and traditional New Mexican towns.”  

-Lonely Planet

On Friday, I turned 53. I’m not particularly bothered by it. I happened to be online around 1 a.m. and commented that I’d been 53 for 53 minutes, to which my mother (the next day) said “Not exactly.” Which is true, I wasn’t born until 6:40 in the evening. My father had gone home to make a sandwich.

And it was one time zone over, so I guess I wasn’t truly 53 years old until twenty minutes of eight on Friday. But that’s not what this is about. I could be turning 39 or 57 or 10.

This is about expectations.

Like everybody, I’ve had good birthdays and crappy ones. I’ve had full-blown week-long celebrations and birthdays that passed with little notice. Oh wait, that last part’s not true.  I’ve never had a birthday that passed without notice.

But lately I’ve started to realize that the enjoyment I found in a celebration had direct correlation to what I expected from it– but not having any expectations is not only not realistic, it’s not the answer.  The answer is this: make your own fun.

One of the very best things about my birthday is that the weather, which has been a socked-in-solid deep freeze for the last several weeks began to thaw. I know it isn’t spring, this is still January. But it was forty something, and the air felt soft. I went out into the world wearing a velvet coat.

It starts with a swim at the Y, a brand new luxury for me. The day before my husband went with me to sign up for a membership and bought a parking pass for good measure. Then we went out to buy shoes.

“Shoes?” you query. “Who needs shoes to swim in a pool?” Well, that’s true. I don’t need shoes to swim in a pool. But I might need them to sneak a little walking or racquetball or some other exercise disguised as fun. This is a very delicate arrangement, I don’t want to frighten my good intentions.  These are the shoes, they’re far more gaudy than any pair of shoes I’ve ever bought in my life, my footwear exists in the spectrum from Doc Martens to sensible Mary Janes.

shoes

After swimming, it was off to the kind of meeting that makes you wish you were having a root canal instead. For two hours. Lord help me. Save us from people who refuse to be reassured and offer nothing in the way of solution or support.

And I didn’t even get paid for those two hours lost forever from my life, on my birthday no less– it was all part of a volunteer gig. On the other hand I was the youngest person in the room. That gives me faith that 53 is not all that old, and that there are still plenty of years ahead for me to make trouble.

After the meeting, a late lunch with a friend. The white tablecloth restaurant where we hoped to go had closed for lunch, so we ended up at Panera, but that was alright, I had a favorite salad and it was delicious. My friend gave me this wonderful birthday card, one of the best I’ve ever seen. Inside it says “You’re just a few clicks past thirty.”

 

bostonbdayI would have lingered longer but I had to go pick up my son.

At home, there were birthday cards– one, from my father’s widow, had a generous check enclosed. There was an odd shaped package from my mother, which turned out to be a tall object resembling an umbrella stand.  We don’t think it truly is an umbrella stand, but it has found a place in the hallway and I like it.

Earlier, on our way to the closed restaurant, I passed by the windows of a shop I had only seen from the car. I’d always thought it was a high end gift shop– you know, home of the $40 paperweight. But walking by the window I saw on a shelf a figure of a dog, but I hadn’t had time to check it out before going home. So, it’s my birthday, right, I’ll indulge myself a little.

Back to the shop, and it is chock full of interesting stuff, shiny baubles and costume jewelry and beautiful French wrapping paper. The dog figure is only ten dollars, but it looks like the head of a mastiff on the body of a hound, so I pass on that, but pause over a number of bracelets, inspect some marked down Christmas ornaments and buy some French wrapping paper. It’s a place I’ll go back to, I’m only sorry it took me so long to go in the first time.

From there to the weird hum of the Goodwill outlet, where I found a blue plaid wool blanket, a poster from a Grand Funk Railroad tour, a first edition of LeRoy Neiman’s Art and Lifestyle, an interesting Melmac tray and a Magnajector. This is a Magnajector.

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From Goodwill to the grocery store, and flush with the unexpected birthday check, I splurge on steaks for us. And a ganache-covered torte to serve as birthday cake.

Birthday dinner, then was sublime. More relaxed than any restaurant and you could go back for seconds. No candles on the torte and no singing (that may have been a misstep) but the cake was awesome.

It was nearly midnight before I sat down to check the computer. There were emails. A couple of texts. Some Facebook messages . . . and more than 150 posts wishing me a happy birthday. Some of them so perfect as to be gifts all in themselves.

Like this one.

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And this one from my friend, Terri, quoting Byron.

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And this one from my pal Mark, noting my return to the water.

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What gift could be better than messages like those from friends like that?

And then I found out all kinds of interesting things about the number 53.

  • It’s the number of an incredible scenic highway in New Mexico.
  • 53 is a prime number.
  • It’s the code for direct-dial calls to Cuba, a place I desperately want to visit.
  • 53 is the racing number for Herbie the Love Bug.
  • The Daily Mail says that 53 is when middle age begins.
  • At 53, Ludwig van Beethoven completed his Ninth Symphony
  • Sidney Sheldon began writing his first novel at 53.
  • Robert E. Peary reached the North Pole at age 53, and that’s how old Walter Hunt was when he invented the safety pin.
  • 53-year-old playwright Vaclav Havel became president of Czechoslovakia.
  • Sue Monk Kidd published her first novel, The Secret Life of Bees, at– yep, 53.
  • The atomic number of Iodine is 53. In it’s gaseous state, it’s violet, like the cardigan I’m wearing in the photo above, taken on my 53rd birthday. It is present in ocean water, as I too, would so like to be. But the Egyptian-inspired pool at the Y will have to be a close second.
  • The character of the Grinch (who stole Christmas) is 53.

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As is Dewey Largo, who in the episode of The Simpsons that I just happened to watch on the night of my 53rd birthday, sings “My country ’tis of thee, my job is misery. Life disappointed me, I’m 53 . . . .”

(I think I aged better than Mr. Largo.)

 

Here’s what I know: you are responsible for your own happiness. I had a wonderful happy birthday, because I decided that I would have a wonderful happy birthday. Many, many people, friends and family alike, helped make it even happier. But from the time I got up in the morning I decided to celebrate the day like the present it was.

Today I am still eating birthday cake. Lucky girl.

A Second Cup of Tea

800px-Cup_of_tea,_Scotland

 

Last year, I decided that I wanted something different for the new year– not resolutions which seemed doomed to failure and designed to inspire self-loathing– but something else, a kind of “to do” list. Not a bucket list, with its solemn life-changing scope, something smaller. What I came up with was a “tea-cup list“.

On the original list, there were 15 items. I achieved 7 of them:  I did renew my passport and I did leave the country. I bought a kitchen torch, I took Ransom to the beach, I spent more time with friends. I threw away my old tired undies, I explored more, I kissed more.

But the living room ceiling is still without gilt, I didn’t get to Kitty Hawk, I haven’t been riding, though I did take a carriage in Central Park.  I didn’t take the train to the Library of Congress, and I didn’t find a place to swim.  The fireplace still needs tile, and I haven’t learned to make a pie crust– though I found a restaurant in West Milton, Ohio that makes the most wonderful pie, so maybe I can cross that off instead. I am not writing five days a week and that does vex me.

I still want to get to all of those things, but they won’t make this year’s list.  Oh, perhaps you will catch a glimpse of one or two here or there.  But it is a new year and I have new things, and new-old things I want to try. And as with last year’s, I post these not because I think you have any particular interest in how I plan to make my year, but in hope that it may inspire you to make plans for some fun of your own.

 

Tea for 2015

1.  Two finished chapters by March 1.

I’ve been spinning my wheels on this long enough. The research is always fun, but the weight of what I need to do has begun to tax me. It’s time to get those chapters written, the outline polished, the pitch made perfect. In March I want to begin to sell the book.  (And while this sounds a bit like a resolution and I am resolved to make it happen, it is finally, a gift to myself to move forward.) 

 

2.  French doors to the study.

There are two sets of vintage French doors in the garage. And a five-foot wide opening into my study through which sail dogs, husband, children and the like. I love my family, truly, but if I can’t close the door, they interrupt, and if they interrupt I don’t get any work done. See item 1. 

 

3.  Detroit Institute of Arts

The Detroit Institute of Arts is safe, thank God. I had planned to go and visit when it was in danger of being raffled off to cure the city’s bankruptcy.  The imminent threat has been abated, but I still want to get to the Motor City to explore restaurants and make photographs of another great American city and poke around the art museum and see my friends Ed and Jerry over there in Windsor. 

 

4.  A few nights at the Elizabeth City Bed & Breakfast

When the Wrights went to the Outer Banks to try their Flyer, the train took them to Elizabeth City, North Carolina. They stayed in the Southern Hotel there while waiting for the weekly freight boat to Kitty Hawk. The Southern is long gone, but the quaint and charming Elizabeth City B & B is in an old inn that was the Southern’s contemporary. I think there’s a pillow there with a mint on it for me. 

 

5.  Chincoteague

I want to go and see the ponies. It’s not so far. 

 

6.  Finish early

This one is even more like a resolution, but my relationship with deadlines is a toxic one. It makes me anxious and cranky, and I could just be a lot kinder to myself by not letting it go so long. I will try. 

 

7.  Swim nearly every day.

What a luxury, and one within the realm of possibility. I would not have modified it to “nearly”, and could have planned to swim every day but I know my own life well enough that my best hope is four or five days a week. 

 

8.  Hang every picture in the house. On freshly painted walls.

I have many wonderful paintings and photographs and the like that are stacked in closets and up against walls and packed in boxes. It’s time to hang them so I can enjoy them. Some of the walls need a new coat of paint first. I’ve got the paint, I just need to set aside the time to make it happen.

 

9.  Rookwood Pottery. A single tile. 

Rookwood Pottery is functioning again. I told my husband I’d like a bear for my birthday. Perhaps I’ll get my wish. But really I’d like to go and look at tiles and see them made and perhaps buy just one, and use that one splendid tile for the focus of the surround that the living room fireplace has needed since we moved in. Eight years ago. 

 

10.  Go to the zoo and visit the lions.

I love the lions at the Cincinnati Zoo. There are new cubs. It’s not so far, nor so expensive. I just like to sit quietly and watch, it’s good for the soul.  I’ve never been sorry to spend an afternoon there. 

 

11.  Have a lobster roll.

My most favorite food. I don’t know where I’ll get this lobster roll. It doesn’t seem all that likely I’ll get to the Maritimes two summers running. But maybe. Revere Beach is closer. And if it comes down to brass tacks, I’ll make one for myself. 

 

12.  Resurrect the Suburban.

Poor Suburban, our work truck, gasping for fuel, the front passenger seat torn asunder where the dog lost his mind one afternoon. There’s a spot on the roof with a bit of rust. It’s sat in the driveway so long now that the remote won’t work. But it wouldn’t take so much to put it all to right, and once again have a rig that will carry sheet rock, plywood, garden soil, straw bales, dog crates, storage tubs and furniture. I miss it, I miss sitting a bit higher than the rest of the traffic. I miss its limousine qualities. It’s a worthwhile endeavor to bring it back. 

 

13.  Winnow

Like everybody, I’ve got too much stuff. Some of this stuff I don’t even really like. It’s time to pitch it. Ditto the spices I’ve been carrying around since I was a sophomore in college. The shoes I will never ever wear again. Some of the ways I squander my time. Friends who aren’t friends. Clothes that make me feel self-conscious. Books that I haven’t read and won’t read or those I’ve read once and won’t ever read again. Music I don’t like. VHS tapes.

 

14.   Go to the movies.

I like the movies. There’s a first run cinema here where you can see them for five dollars a pop on Wednesdays. I just need to make a point to go. I don’t remember the last time I saw a movie in a theater. It might have been a decade ago.

 

15.  Keep being grateful.

This autumn I made a point to count my blessings– three a day for a hundred days. I’ve finished that exercise and it was a good one. I’m so very glad I did it, even though I’m –um– grateful that I no longer have to do it such a formal fashion. But it did change me in a profound way. I learned to look for the silver lining, to note the things that made me feel happy or joyous or content instead of just letting those slide.  The glass is more beautiful when it is half full.