Up, Up and Away

airplanes 2So I am on a flight from Chicago to LAX to visit my youngest and I am biding my time tapping away in a relaxed fashion pretending I like to fly. Let me make it perfectly clear. I don’t dislike flying, I loathe it. The whole process is against every cell of my being. I’m not sure if it is a congenital defect. My father was more of a flying loather than I.  So much so that, well, he didn’t fly. Period.

I, on the other hand, do not have that option as I live in a different generation and world than he did. Trains and Greyhounds and the family car are not as popular a mode of travel as they once were and more to the point, the rest of my family flies so my options are fly or stay home alone. Unless our destination is within a ten-hour driving range and then, at all costs, I have fabulous excuses that I should drive and meet them. I’ll bring all the baby paraphernalia; I’ll bootleg the wine across state borders. I have to do my daughterly duty at the old folks home on the way and on and on. Some decent enough excuses but they are just that.

Mostly excuses.

I’ve given lots of thought to the basis of my fear of dangling at 34,000 feet in a tube of metal that I have absolutely no control over. It’s not really claustrophobia, as I do not adore elevators either, but more the whole gig.

First you are in an incubator of germs that is cycled and recycled throughout the flight. If you think there is a fresh air vent someplace, think again. And duly note that NEVER, I mean NEVER, flush the toilet with the lid up. That suction sound has a back wind you don’t want to know the contents of.

But germophobe aside, planes are cramped, too hot or too frigid, often feel like roller coasters off the track and then there are the seats. Can we talk about the seats? Woe the traveler who gets to sit in a seat after a newborn was changed there 10 times or a 400 pound man who should have bought three across has squished into it.

The real thing about me and flying is simply it encapsulates, literally, my raw fear of death. And not just death, but death by fireball accompanied by much rolling and plunging. Throw in some screaming, praying and crying (and that’s only the pilots) and that pretty much wraps up my thoughts on take off, leveling off and landing.

The weirdest, or maybe predictable, aspect of this flying phobia is I counteract my fears by learning everything I can about the sights, sounds, machinery, seating arrangements and people involved with flying. So much so that I am often mistaken for a flight attendant. Perhaps it’s because, unlike many passengers these days, I don’t wear pajama bottoms and a torn tank top and actually put a brush through my hair before boarding. Maybe it is because I travel in black and usually a scarf. Could be because I’m up and down the aisle often for nervous bathroom vists.

Once a man actually asked me for coffee as I passed his seat so I told the flight attendant 32C needed a beverage before I slipped into the “aft” bathroom. She laughed and said she, too, had wondered if I flew for the friendly skies.

On today’s flight though, we have hardly seen the flight attendants’ faces. United’s new trick, to cover the useless safety information they pretend can save you in an emergency, is a fantasy video rather than a uniformed person standing in the aisle draped in a yellow life vest while snapping seat belt buckles. What made it particularly amusing was the whole spiel was shown in peaceful serene settings. Airplane seats were lined up on a beach with girls in bikinis strapping on seatbelts and tucking trays of coconuts under the seat in front of them. My favorite part was someone relaxing in a hot tub hugging a seat cushion as a floatation device.

The day that I take off with warm sand between my toes and land in a hot tub for an emergency water landing, I’m all in.

In addition to being the only person on the plane actually watching the safety information, I do other things to increase my comfort level. I use www.seatguru.com, a great resource for the pros and cons of every single seat on every type of plane for every destination and every airline. It tells which ones don’t have windows, where to get the best legroom without added fees. I pretend seat numbers make a difference. Choosing right or left side can, of course, save your life. You will never catch me in row thirteen obviously.

I won’t even start on packing for weight and size limits. The trunk of my car has no such rules. I toss and go and have everything I might possibly forget, want or need when I arrive.

I just heard the thud of wheels down for our approach into my LA. I love that sound for many reasons, the least of which is the only belly landing I can possibly imagine is a botched dive into a swimming pool.

But I’m hell on wheels on a road trip. I have the false sense of security that I am in control and my own pilot. No highway hazard statistics can convince me otherwise.

And as my dad would say, “If God had intended us to fly he would have given us wings.”

 

 

meditation and fish tanks

fish tankI asked my yoga friend if I could try meditation. We chose to do it at my house. I have attempted it before but after my last post, you can just imagine getting this brain to slow down much less go blank. Even blank-ish is daunting.

Anyway, we got on our yoga mats, beside the fish tank in our basement which is a whole other story.  It was my son’s starting from ninth grade through college so its eco-system is coming up on eighteen years.  Sort of amazing to think about really. After he moved out, and back in and out again and back in and now out, I feel pretty sure totally out now that he is married, it has become mine.

At first I whined and complained about its upkeep but as the years passed, his fish tank has become sort of a fixture in our house.  All fifty-five gallons of it.  Mainly because it would be such a pain to dismantle but more, at this point, it would be sort of like putting the dog to sleep simply because he’s old.  We have had the tank so long it’s part of the fabric here, with or without it’s original master.  It has seen many fish come and go and for months at a time it has sat nearly empty of aquatic life at all,  just a water interest as decorators like to say. Nothing living in it but only the gentle whirr of the motor and the slow movements of the water plants swaying in the background of my life. No, with or without fish, I will never “put it down.”  It’s family now. And it has new admirers in my grandsons.

But I digress.

So maybe because of the hum of the tank or maybe because yogis love the peace of water, or maybe because I am a Pisces, she asked me to close my eyes and picture myself by water. Any water.  Anywhere.

At first I tried to control my thoughts, imagine that, and think of all the familiar and peaceful water places I love. A mountaintop lake in West Virginia. Lake Michigan. The Atlantic Ocean.  I could smell the salty sea breezes. Imagined sea oats silhouetted against a cloudless blue sky.

And then an odd thing happened. My mind drifted away from the big picture to the backyard of the house I grew up in.  She guided me to imagine where I was laying and feel the sun on my face.

Well, the fact is, growing up on a north-facing hillside in West Virginia, there was very little sun in my backyard. And we had as much moss as grass.  Lots of tree canopy stood over ground cover such as mayapple and fall leaves that never seemed to totally disappear.

And there was a creek.

Not a rushing water mountain creek but more a trickling of ground water creek my mom had surrounded with ivy and nurtured and loved and  convinced herself, and the family, that we had an actual creek flowing through our backyard.

So I “lay” there on the moss and leaves and I could hear the creek’s water and I could smell the damp earth beneath the moss. I remembered homemade ice cream cooling at the base of that creek, cranked and packed, often with fresh peaches.

Children’s voices floated in. Laughter and screams of delight from the community playground that was above our house in a clearing in the woods. I thought of waxed paper rides down the slicky slide and the rise and fall of the teeter totter. I felt the unchecked joy of trying to reach the sky with your toes in the slow arc of the long chain swings. I could feel the dirt under my bare feet in the dent from stopping under those swings.

I thought of my childhood bed.  The complete morning stillness of a deep snow.  No school and snowmen. Sledding and bonfires. Hot chocolate made with powdered cocoa and sugar.

I embraced the warmth and love of those memories.  Bittersweet.  Forgotten and welcomed back. And I thanked them. All of them.  My memories, my parents, my brother and sister.

It was sort of magical, my childhood. Simple and innocent. Isolated and safe. And I’m grateful I found that little girl again, by the creek, on the swings, standing on the front stoop.

Her spirit, like my old fish tank, is something I want to keep alive in my life.

 

 

Skimming theSkimm

theskimmI have an admission to make.  I’m not proud of it nor do I recommend it for my children. 

I hate hearing, reading and often even knowing about sad and unsettling world events or just plain bad news. Especially if I can do nothing to alter or change it. Or protect myself, and those I treasure, from being affected by it.

When I am in a group and someone alludes to something they just read about in the Wall Street Journal or saw on the front page of the New York Times, I smile and nod along with the most erudite smile I can muster.  But really, and I am openly admitting, I don’t want to know what they are discussing.

Now I’m not talking about grand sweeping events, life and world-altering events, such as the recent Paris shootings or our own 9/11. I’m talking about mothers that lock their babies in a cage in a closet or men that stalk and rape college girls in bars at 2 AM. Or that global warming is sending polar bears on ice cap chips to search for people food, as in people as food, in Alaska. Just yesterday, my sister told me she heard on the news that TSA has found plastic guns that are being broken down and passed through security and can be reassembled once in flight.

Really?!  Do I really want to know that?  As a white-knuckled flyer, I read the same paragraph on the contents page of People magazine for at least the first fifteen minutes of a flight, definitely through all of take off and until I hear that first “ding” from the pilot announcing 10,000 feet.  That dribble in People is my distraction mantra until the beverage cart arrives. This happens at 20,000 feet, by the way, when the flight attendants tie on their aprons and start skipping down the aisle. I tell myself, if the pilot is letting them free to bang around the plane untethered we are hopefully in some smooth air for a bit.

But I don’t want to picture some crazy man behind them in the bathroom (by the pilots no less) assembling six rounds before we have even reached cruising altitude or worse, before the flight attendants have handed me my miniature monogrammed napkin and a drink.

No, you see, I have an unnaturally vivid imagination. So when I hear something horrible, it doesn’t float in one ear and out the other and move on to the next thought.  Not me.  Thoughts of horrible things sit and fester in my head and are imagined and reimagined in ridiculous detail.  What was the baby wearing?  Did he/she plea? What were the college girl’s last thoughts?

I accidentally heard, only because my husband left CNN on after he left the room, that there was a terrible black ice pile up on the East Coast and it showed hundreds of cars not piled up back to back accordion-style but scrambled like eggs across six lanes of highway. They said one man was killed getting out of his car in the midst of all that.  I have thought and thought about that man.  He had survived the crash.  He was safe (enough) in his car but then he got out.  Was he going to help someone else? A hero?  Or was he angry at the man or woman who scrambled into him? Did he call his wife? Did he have kids?

Ok, so I have made my point and probably lost a few readers.  But I have also found my news aversion solution.

And it is theSkimm.

theSkimm is a daily email newsletter that is transmitted to subscribers weekday mornings at about 6 a.m., Eastern Time. Although its readers are 70% women, it was introduced to me by my son.  Go figure.  I guess he is in touch with his feminine side or just loves the writing and humor, like I do.

Anyway, this daily dash of the news, usually no more than three or four paragraphs or sections, delivers events and sports of the day along with a short explanation of the context and import in a “just us talkin'” voice that manages neither to patronize news junkies or alienate uninformed readers. Most of all, it is witty and hip and current and exactly on target.  Sort of like South Park, it lays it all out there–conservatives, liberals, all ethnicities together– and throws a potshot or two at anyone and everyone, with equal abandon, so no one can be offended.  Not even men. (i.e. son)

I love it for many reasons. I see it as an answer to my prayers for a news source that isn’t doused in bias.  It takes almost no time to read and quickly brings me up to speed on what I need to know about the world in order to be a minimally informed citizen of this democracy. And, best of all, it makes me chuckle at even the worst news story because of its clever verbiage and analogies.

And more importantly, it has one click links of explanation to any and all commonly used “newsisms” and acronyms such as what I.S.I.L. actually stands for (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) and who and what a pundit is. (A person who gives opinions in an authoritative manner usually through the mass media.)

But don’t get me wrong. theSkimm is not News 101.  It is graduate degree news presented in a succinct, relevant manner. Examples from today’s Skimm reflecting on Obama’s State of the Union:

Climate Change…as in Obama knows some scientists. And they’re telling him last year was the hottest year on record and that needs to change. He spent a lot of time on this.

Cuba…as in Obama didn’t think 50 years of an icy relationship was working for anyone. So, soon Cuba will be open to more Americans. And he reminded everyone that he did that. Insert his happy dance.

It was founded two years ago by Danielle Weisberg, now 27, and Carly Zakin, 28. When it recently celebrated its two-year anniversary, it had more than 500,000 subscribers and a daily open rate of more than 45%. The average media and publishing email campaign has an open rate of 23%, according to MailChimp, an email newsletter service. Women (plus my son) dominate theSkimm readership, most of whom fall into the ‘Millennial” demographic of people 18 to 33 years old.

So as an avid reader and being nearly twice that target age, it can mean a couple of things. I may just like a little humor mixed in with my news. Or perhaps although I have the time to read an entire newspaper cover to cover, I prefer my news in short quipped sentences. Millennial-like. Text-like. No gory details.

Just like my imagination can take it.

Check it out–it’s free, no strings attached.

http://www.theskimm.com/

 

Moving things around

firplace for blogRather than a New Year’s resolution, I’ve decided to have a New Year’s new perspective.  Or perhaps I should say a slight shift in perspective because I have long ago learned that dramatic shifts in anything–my weight, my make up, haircuts, weather, plans, change in a breakfast menu–are things I am nearly incapable of accepting with any pretense of ease. So on this rainy/snowy/sloshy day, barely edging off my familiar track in any direction seems to be a sufficient challenge.

My desire for a new viewpoint started as I began taking down the Christmas decorations.  I know we all experience a similar let down at how empty and bland the house feels without the warm glow of twinkling lights and the lush smell of evergreen, candle or real. And I have always tried to reason with myself that this bland, empty house is exactly the same house I was living in mid-November.  The furniture that now seems dated and dull is the same I thought was perfectly comfy and actually pretty in August.

My first impulse this time of year, is to go out and buy something fresh and new to perk up the tattered old rooms I have rambled around in for twenty some years now. There are all those tempting post-holiday sales just calling my name.

But as I sat on my couch looking at my bare mantle, I thought of something a dear friend and decorator told me once.  Don’t add, take away.  Let your house breathe for a bit. And after her words floated through my mind, I thought of my daughter’s college roommate, Nan, who writes a great blog about moving stuff around. A sort of recycling attitude toward generations of family chests of drawers, pillows, rugs and treasures. Full of all the creativity that is Nan.

http://www.movingstuffaround.blogspot.com

So I started my in-house renovation by closing my very old, very baby grand piano.  The dusty, sad thing has not had its ivories tinkled since sweet, hopeful piano teacher, Mr. Welty, finally gave up on my hopeless little Beethovens. They all, of course, now wish they could play.

One thump and the unused piano hood shut like an auto mechanic finishing his job. And suddenly the whole room looked different.  There was a smooth brown surface where exposed wires and a support pole had been. The room immediately looked twice as big. I moved the dusty hymnals and reading lamp and put two beautiful new photographs of my grandsons on its top.  I grabbed books from the family room bookshelves and stacked them on the mantle, moved a vase to the front door table and filled it with Costco roses, put a comfy throw by the fireplace that had been in the family room. Flipped a pillow from one chair to another.

Rather than bore you with every detail, this “moving things around” took on a life of its own and so did my house. Empty corners had new warmth with a moved chair and a basket of toys.  Family pictures I had walked past in one room looked just taken in another. All the daily mental snapshots I had kept of how my perfectly tidy house should look were erased and I had a whole new perspective on my familiar surroundings.

In my office, I moved the dictionary and thesaurus from one side of the computer to the other. (I know.  I use Google but I just have to have them to pretend I still open them.) I switched the computer’s direction to face another window.  Brave new world there. My head was spinning with so much change in two hours.

I did add one new Amazon purchase I made before Christmas that perfected the “warmth” of my humble abode. It’s an electric fireplace made by Dimplex and I am telling you it is so realistic the dying embers even glow when it is turned off. (By a remote, no less.) It’s about the size of an average end table and fits in any corner of a bedroom, dorm room, great-grandma’s old folks home or my sunroom where it is now nestled between two chairs. The above picture does not do it justice but I couldn’t get a better one before the sun went down. It’s an outstanding bang for your buck. And even with drafty 100-year-old windows surrounding it, it gives off great heat.

http://www.amazon.com/Dimplex-CS33116A-Compact-Electric-Stove/dp/B0047O2M56/ref=sr_1_13?ie=UTF8&qid=1420392693&sr=8-13&keywords=electric+heater+fireplace

Breakfast nook warm and cozy, family room stocked with books and toys ready to rumble with my grandbabies, I settled into my living room couch with a glass of wine and a throw tossed across my lap. I breathed a self-satisfied sigh at my day’s work of redecorating without spending a single dollar.

About then, my visiting LA daughter walked in the front door and I could hear the faint hiss of a leak in my bubble.

“Just looking at the living room,” I said.

“Yeah, without Christmas, it looks so bare, right?”

I wonder if HomeGoods is still open.

 

 

 

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Returns

key for blogYes, tis the season for that dreaded word that pops in our heads, uninvited, as we slip off the ribbon of a well-thought out gift.

Return.

Pops in there right before “smile and be gracious” and right after “regift.” Sometimes this season, with the hustle and bustle and list making and checking off frenzie, has us in such knots that we settle for our gift giving. Out of obligation or frustration, we buy or give something that is “good enough” when a loving, heart-felt note or a “sorry still looking” would have been more honest, meaningful–and perhaps better.

As a wise old sage, mother, grandmother, wife, friend, I have gained a new perspective on gift giving this year.

I’ve realized what we should be doing is not just exchanging gifts but sharing our hearts. Taking the time, to stop and say “I love you” with something tangible that late in deep, dark February or on the July 4th or a hot day in August, the receiver will remember our thoughts of them, and smile.

In Merriam-Webster style, a gift  is “a thing given willingly to someone without expected payment; a present.”

Christian tradition for this holiday has the custom of giving and receiving presents to remind us of the presents given to the Messiah by the Wise Men: frankincense, gold and myrrh. Similarly, in Jewish tradition, as Hanukkah often falls at the same time of year, there is also the tradition of giving gelt, or money, to children and young adults as Hanukkah gifts. Probably because of the Christian dominance of spending, wrapping, sale-peddling on every street corner, at every store in every mall and all over Amazon, the gelt tradition has evolved to Christmas-like gift giving on the eight days of candle lighting.

In both traditions, I have a strong suspicion that many of the religious implications for exchanging presents has gotten buried in piles of torn wrapping paper and under mounds of lists of what we want, ask for and think we deserve.

Long before Judeo-Christian religions took over the helm of gift-giving, Roman philosopher Seneca wrote, around 40 AD, “A gift consists not in what is done or given, but in the intention of the giver or doer.”

A gift is simply that. A present to another from its giver. Often it is nothing you expected, wanted or perhaps even considered.  Just something someone who loves and cares about you thought about and chose. It is not your money hard spent but theirs, and if it is not anything you dreamed of or would have picked in 100 years, there is no harm/no foul in actually keeping it.  Just to remind you that that someone took the time to buy you a present.

The irony of my thoughts here is I am the queen of returns.  I have said I would and could return anything but my children. (Sorry, Marshall.) I’ve returned new cars, worn shoes, stale cereal, whistling tea kettles that didn’t; had a B+ essay changed to an A, had new roofs torn off and redone and on and on.

But this year,  I received a gift that stopped me in my tracks.  It’s the lock, pictured above. My husband chose it and gave it to me. It is about the size of a flip phone, weighs close to five pounds and the longer I look at it, it may be my favorite gift this year. When I opened it, I will admit I was sort of  looking for the sweet note tucked in the corner in his nearly illegible handwritten scribbling professing “the key to my heart” or “forever yours” but after nearly 40 years of marriage, I knew better. And come to find out the real intention was better. When I peered at him quizzacally, in the midst of ribbons unraveling and excited cries from my grandbabies to “Look at this, Ya Ya,” he said, “I saw it and just thought it was cool.”

And it is. And I love it. It’s a gift.  No uterior motive.  No exchange policy. No months of requests or hints on my part. Simply a completely unexpected present with no special message or intent.  He just thought of me.

And gave me a gift.

And all those cynics out there that think it attaches to my ball and chain, y’all hush up.  I like how I feel about this lock and I am going to ride that feeling as long as I can.

 

 

A sense of longing…

dadI think many of us enter the holidays with a sense of where we are and where we have been.  How in the blink of an eye we are unpacking ornaments it seems like yesterday we wrapped carefully in tissue and lugged to the attic or tucked in the back corner of a closet.  For me, the holidays this year have brought back a rush of holidays past, or time passed or moments and people passed that I should have embraced and held closer when I had them.

But that is the irony of life.  When we are living some of the best, most poignant times in our lives, we are young and busy and distracted and unaware that these are the moments that living is all about.

The ordinary ones.

For me, Thornton Wilder’s Our Town best embodies these emotions. This fact.  When young Emily is in the “here-after” way too soon, she turns to the world she has left and exclaims:

“Let’s really look at one another!…It goes so fast. We don’t have time to look at one another. I didn’t realize. So all that was going on and we never noticed… Wait! One more look. Good-bye world…Mama and Papa. Good-bye to clocks ticking…And new ironed dresses and hot baths….and sleeping and waking up…Oh, earth, you are too wonderful for anybody to realize you. Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it–every,every minute?”

And when given the chance to relive one moment, her “dead soul” mother-in-law wisely advises, “Choose the least important day in your life. It will be important enough.”

In the same vein, I have been thinking a lot about my father lately. He died over ten years ago and for awhile I felt him everywhere. Then slowly in my day-to-day he faded, like an old Polaroid that seems to yellow and disappear as magically at it came into focus out of the camera. My thoughts drift back to him on and off. I will see a man who looks like him in a mall. Or I can swear I hear his voice in a grocery line behind me. But my most recent thoughts about my dad started with my search for a picture I have of him, I say have and I still believe I do but cannot find it, carving a Thanksgiving turkey. The photograph is a silhouette of his face. He is wearing one of his favorite crew neck sweaters, but the focus of the shot is simply his hands and the turkey. And every Thanksgiving I have brought it out and stuck it on the microwave or the cork board behind my wall telephone. ( I know–totally dinosaur, but I have one.)

I guess I tack it up to feel like he is here.  And to look at those hands and feel safe.

My father was our family’s hub and we were the spokes spinning off the solid center he provided. Dad’s world was black and white, safe and constant. A world where there were boundaries that made sense and lines were clearly drawn.  Even when mine became blurred.

As  a little girl when I wanted to be near my dad, I would most often find him in the basement, seated in his large green leather-like chair. It was the sort that had a stick shift on the side to extend the front panel into a foot rest.  A fifties version of a La-Z-Boy. There he would sit, watching the evening news, a thin veil of smoke around him, his pipe in hand.

I would climb onto his lap, his fine carpenter’s hands slowly opening to help me settle in. As I lay my head on his shoulder, I didn’t care what was on the TV screen.  I just wanted to be near him.

My father was always warm.  A sweater was more than enough for him in most weather. I remember that warmth and the smell of his pipe tobacco as we sat, he engrossed in the local weather and I content to sit on his quiet throne. There was a rhythm to his breathing and a soft tapping sound his lips made on the pipe stem as they slowly opened and closed, allowing bits of smoke to excape with each breath. If I nestled in a little closer, I could smell the faint traces of his Old Spice aftershave still present from his early morning shower.

Today when I smell pipe smoke or even a cigar, rare as those are these days, I am immediately transplanted back to my father’s lap and the security it represented.  His quiet strength spoke more to me than words ever could.

So as I enter this holiday rush-rush, must have and be there and do that,  I am going to try to just be here. This moment. With the people I can hold and hug and love and treasure.

And I will think of my father’s lap. And maybe, for a person or two, be a lap myself.

 

 

Poo-Poo Platter

flag.jpgAbout five o’clock at the lake house, we prepare for a “cocktail cruise” which entails a flurry of plastic cups and drink grabbing, a run down the hill to the pontoon boat, a blur of life jacket throwing on, hook up for favorite cruise playlists, the blessed sound of reverse, then out onto the water to ride around in slow circles or drop anchor and watch the sun set behind the black shadows of the mountains.

It’s a tough life at the lake but someone’s gotta do it.

But on the evenings that the hope for a beautiful sunset is especially inviting and the late afternoon sun is dancing like diamonds on the water, we plan ahead.  Some of us shower and gussy up, some wipe off the seats of the boat from the day’s outings but the most important contributors, prepare a poo-poo platter of hors d’oeuvres to take on the boat with our cocktails.

Now just to be clear, a poo-poo platter is actually a pu-pu patter, introduced to me by my very plan ahead and organized houseguest friend who arrived for a weekend stay with three bags of pu-pu platter fixings and five gallons of craft beer growlers for her and her husband’s three-day stay.  She had mentioned the pu-pu platters when we spoke about the weekend’s plans the week before and I was all for them, in spite of my interpretation of the name as poo-poo. Anything in a kitchen that involves work beyond scrambled eggs or sticking something in a vase in the middle of the table, I am a fan of others doing the preparation.

When she started the first evening’s poo-poo platter by cutting up carrots, celery and broccoli for dipping, I immediately understood the poo-poo part of the platter’s name.  Roughage.

I mentioned this to her and with her signature giggle, she explained it is pu-pu, an American Chinese or Hawaiian hors d’oeuvre tray of a little bit of this and a little bit of that.  Theirs are traditionally miniature egg rolls, chicken wings, cured meats, mini-meatballs, fish, etc. So on we forged for three days of her version of pu-pu platters, each with a different ethnic theme–Mexican, Middle Eastern, American. And on we went with our altered version of their name, digressing from pu-pu to poo-poo to simply poopy platters.  I know, very sophomoric but lake air does that to you.

Especially at 3,200 feet.

So the next weekend, my oldest friend in the world who is of Lebanese/Syrian descent arrived and announced that her “poopy” platter would include homemade hummus, olives and some delicious crispy bread things from the old country that are perfect for dipping in or spreading with the hummus.  Now if you are a Samba, Three Tribes or Oasis fan for hummus, once you taste the homemade recipe that follows, you will never buy store-bought again. Handed down through three generations of my friend’s family, this recipe is the real deal. Originally made by her grandmother who spoke heavily-accented English and made her pita bread fresh on the open flame of her kitchen gas stove, how could her hummus be anything but authentic–and delicious? Sitte, as she was affectionately called by her American grandchildren–a derivative of the Lebanese name for grandmother–served hers with open arms and a warm smile. You can serve it however you like, just don’t forget the olive oil.

hummus 3

Ingredients:

one can garbanzo beans/chickpeas–I use organic

one lemon

one (or more) cloves garlic

2 tbsp. tahini (I prefer Krinos brand–no oily mixing before use)

extra virgin olive oil and/or water

sea salt and pepper to taste

First of all, this is a very “to taste” recipe. Garlic lovers will like two cloves, I prefer one. I think a few big pinches of sea salt is perfect but my husband likes at least a half teaspoon, if not more…Ina Garten’s instructions for hummus in general, not this old family recipe, is to dump it all in and mix.  But I have found a few general tips for mixing helpful…

Drain chickpeas. Put one clove garlic (Sitti used lots more) in a small Cuisinart-style chopper. Chop for a few spins to mince. Add chickpeas, the juice of one lemon and 1 to 2 tsp. olive oil or water.  Chop and grind mixture until smoothish. Add tahini and keep the chop/grind going. Keep adding water or olive oil to get it to the texture you like. I prefer mine with some chunks because I think it tastes better but also I don’t have the patience to get it completely smooth. Salt and pepper should be added all along the way.  It takes more salt than you think and I use very little pepper. Sitte used to poke a fork in a fresh lemon half and squeeze it by twisting the lemon around the fork, picking out lemon seeds as she went.  If you can do that and rub your stomach and pat your head at the same time, go for it. I do mine in a manual juicer.

Serve at room temperature, or cooled, with warm toasted pita or veggies or any dipping think you like. Drizzle with olive oil and chopped parsley to garnish. Other popular garnishes include sprinkled ground cumin or sumac. Not the poison one, of course.

And if anyone poo-poos this recipe, they haven’t tried it.

“Things are always working out for me…”

thigs I have a gifted massage therapist friend who is an inspirational yoga instructor as well.  We had heard each other’s names for years before we actually met.  You know, “Do you know so-and-so? Really?  You should.” Or “I’m sure you know so-and-so. No? Oh, you have to meet her. You will really like her.”

I’ve often wondered in these situations do we talk alike, think alike, look alike, laugh alike or are the same amount of weird alike?  When we finally met, it was as though I was catching up with a long, lost friend. And as for when we finally met, as the title implies, it was when the stars, for whatever reason, were aligned for our meeting.

She had experienced a life-changing event that shifted her perspective on her purpose in this world and her career, and she did an about face that brought her to massage and yoga.  I, on the other hand, am constantly searching and waiting for that “ah-ha” moment that will explain everything that has happened in my life and give me the peace of “Oh, that’s why.  Now I get it.”

But on the day of our first encounter, I was just dog-tired and begging for relief and a massage seemed like the perfect answer. Little did I know that the answer would come in the form of the massage therapist herself. During my massage, our conversation (of course, I talk during a massage) quickly moved from perfunctory getting to know you chitchat to the meaning of life chitchat.

Although I come from a very traditional religious background and I maintain some of the tenets of that religion, I’m not much of a church person these days.  I like to tell myself my years of three times a week church (Sunday morning, Sunday night and Wednesday prayer meetings) stocked me up so that I am excused from class from here on out. But churchgoer or not, I consider myself a spiritual person.

Searching for perspective outside my traditional upbringing, I have encountered people, such as my masseuse friend, who look beyond the day-to-day to a broader vision of a spiritual connection we all share with each other and our world.  And I am drawn to these people in their conviction that there is meaning and purpose in our time here on this earth.  Something I have had doubts about. Especially when I have been thrown up against a life-altering brick wall. During these moments, I have shaken my fists at the heavens saying, “I get it. Stop teaching me.  I know I have no control.” But obviously I don’t believe it. Because the brick walls keep coming and when they do, I keep looking for some feeling of control to rein in the chaos I feel around me. Or at least an answer to “why?”

As a reasonably well-educated person, I know there is no perfect answer to the “whys,” so I have shifted my searching to some sort of positive spin to put on the things that stop me in my tracks and make me question everything.  In this search, I’ve acquired a team of spiritual supporters for accepting the good, the bad and the ugly.

And the team that has rallied is not the team I had expected.

A world renowned brain surgeon, a friend or two who have died of cancer, a Southern Baptist converted to Buddhism, several shrinks, my dear attorney friend–as broadly, positively, openly spiritual as she is practical. My yoga/masseuse pal. One of the country’s most prominent Presbyterian ministers. And a  few essential everyday and forever, “save me, I’m drowning” friends.

As diverse as they are, they all share a passion for the moment.  And living in it.  Because that is all we can be certain of. Not two minutes ago, not the future but right here, this minute, this “now.”  Despite prognosis, despite fear, despite rejection, grasping for hope, they keep me grounded and lift me up and help me hobble on.  Or on a skipping along day, they cheer me onward.

So to come full circle here, “things are always working out for me” was introduced to me in the form of an inside windshield bumper sticker sort of thing that reminds me daily that what we send out into the universe is reflected back at us.  Thinking being–angry, sad people who expect the worst often receive it. And vice versa–welcoming the good, sends it your way, too.

things sticker (1)It was handed to me by said masseuse friend (all this anonymity to protect the innocent is driving me crazy but I’m committed to it) to place on my dashboard as I set off on a ten-hour road trip.  To West Virginia, of course.

At first confused, I slid it on the dash and what to my wondering eyes did appear but “Things are always working out for me” reflected in my windshield. And darned it if didn’t work.  I shot out of Chicago, no traffic, faster than I have ever made it to the Skyway.  The wreck along the way was quickly cleared and I wasn’t in it. Several weeks of having it staring me in the face, literally each time I get in the driver’s seat, I have come to embrace it, believe it and even be so bold as to expect it.

Curious about this magic mantra, I asked her where it originated. She said it was from Abraham Hicks. One Google hit later and I found out, unfortunately, that there is no Abraham Hicks. Abraham-Hicks Publishing is the home of inspirational speakers, Esther and Jerry Hicks who authored bestseller, The Law of Attraction. According to the Hicks, Abraham is a group of spiritual entities that are “interpreted” by or channeled through Esther Hicks. Abraham tells Esther that whenever one feels moments of great love, exhilaration or pure joy, that is the energy of everyone’s “Source,” and that is who Abraham “is.” A little too voodoo for me.

More than slightly deflated by the “Source” of my newfound inspiration, I texted her and said, “Car stopped on the side of the road.  It is the black of night on a backwoods highway.  You thought Abraham was driving.  But Esther steps out.  You, my friend, have just crossed over into the Twilight Zone.”

A few LOL’s later, with her admitting “It’s a little weird,” I regained my composure and decided it didn’t matter if my new mantra had come from a former Amway sales person (Esther) and her former circus performer husband (Jerry). It is working for me. And I am sticking to it.

And anyway, the rectangle has already faded a spot on my black dashboard so if I take it out, Abraham’s inspiration will still be staring back at me.

Channeled, of course.

Talking smack, on and off the track…

derbyYesterday I received a comment that the reader enjoyed my post but disagreed with most of what I said. I wasn’t at all offended but thought, “that’s why they have horse races,” thinking that is a well-known expression meaning we can all choose our own horse; decide what we do or don’t like. I thought is was an old horse-related adage as familiar as “close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades.” The full version of this quote, by the way, was originally stated by Frank Robinson in 1973 when he said,  “Close don’t count in baseball. Close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades.”

But much to my surprise, after an extensive Google search, I could find no such “why we have horse races” expression quoted by a famous baseball player or anyone. Nowhere. Not even in Kentucky.

So I must have made it up, or my dad made it up or Grandpa Kyle made it up, but looks like it didn’t permeate common speech as far as I had thought. In my search, I was intrigued, though, by how many everyday expressions do allude to, and are derived from, horse racing terms. Many readers may already know these (yes you, Alan,) but I thought they were of interest and worth sharing. So for those of you as ignorant on this subject as I, here you go!

Horse Racing Terms Used In Common Speech 101:

across the board

Across the board originated around 1903 as a betting term in horse racing. Wagering across the board means betting that your horse will finish in either first, second, or third place–effectively betting all the way across a single line of the board.  In contemporary usage, this phrase indicates the inclusion of everyone or everything in a given scenario, such as across the board layoffs.

charley horse

What does a sharp muscle cramp have to do with a horse named Charley? The term charley horse began as baseball slang around the late 1800’s. Some think the phrase might be named for pitcher Charlie “Old Hoss” Radbourn, National Baseball Hall of Fame 1939, who suffered from sudden leg cramps. Again we have baseball and horse racing terms rubbing elbows–go figure. The Online Etymology Dictionary states that charley horse may be derived “from somebody’s long-forgotten lame racehorse.” But it’s suspected the cross-over to baseball was created by player Joe Quest, Chicago White Stockings (love the Stockings–now we in Chicago don’t even spell Socks right) from 1879-1882. Quest is quoted as saying, “the ball players troubled with the ailment hobbled exactly as did an old horse, a charley horse.”

dark horse

Dark, a term meaning lacking light, also means concealed, secret, or mysterious. By that token, a dark horse is a horse about whose racing powers little is known; a horse unfamiliar to the race organizers and the odds makers. Dark in this sense has nothing to do with color but more the unknown qualities of the horse. In daily speech, a dark horse often refers to any unexpected success. In politics, a dark horse candidate is one who seemingly appears out of nowhere and experiences a sudden gain in popularity.

front runner

Similarly, a front runner is the leading candidate in a contest, competition, or election and comes from the horse racing term referring to a horse that runs best while in the lead.

give and take

Give and take was originally referred to in horse racing.   The give and take plate was “a prize for a race in which the horses which exceed a standard height carry more, and those which fall short of it less than the standard weight,” according to the Oxford English Dictionary.  By 1769, give and take also referred to races in general in which bigger horses were given more weight to carry, lighter ones less. It was around 1778 that the phrase gained broader popular use meaning, “the art of compromise.”

hands down

To win something hands down means to win it easily. It comes from the practice of horse-racing jockeys loosening the reins and lowering their hands when it seemed certain that they will win. This type of confident finish in any scenerio has come to be known as winning hands down.

home stretch

When you’re in the home stretch, also known as the home straight, you’re almost done with whatever you’re trying to accomplish. That meaning began as a horse racing term in about 1841 and refers to the final length, or stretch, of the racetrack.

in (or out) of the running

In horse racing, those horses in the running are the lead competitors. This term came about in the mid-1800s, while the figurative meaning referring to viable, and not so viable, political candidates originated a couple of years later.

a run for one’s money

To give someone a run for their money means to give them a challenge. The term originated in horse racing around 1839, with the meaning “to have (or get, want, etc.) a successful race from a horse one has backed, especially when that horse appeared likely to be scratched, or  withdrawn,” again from the OED.

running mate

Running mate is yet another political term that we get from horse racing. It refers to a candidate or nominee for the lesser of two closely associated political office. In horse racing, a running mate is a horse used to set the pace in a race for another horse, and also, a horse that runs alongside a trotting or pacing horse in double harness, relieving that horse of some of the effort of pulling a load. (e.g. G. W. Bush/Dick Chaney?)

also ran

Commonly used to refer to the losing candidate in an election, an also ran is also an equestrian driven term for a non-winner. At the track, the results of each race would post the top finishers as well as the rest of the field. Any horse that doesn’t win is listed as an also ran.

down to the wire

Every procrastinator knows what it’s like to be working on a project till the last minute, but why to “a wire”? Today this expression refers to something being incomplete or unfinished until the last possible moment, but it originated in hotly contested horse races. A thin wire was strung above the finish line of the track to help the official—and later cameras—spot the horse that crossed the line first, and tight races went literally to the wire.

win by a nose 

This expression has spread to all different sports as a metaphor for a close contest even though a nose isn’t the first body part to cross the finish line in most human competitions. However, a horse’s nose is first over the line at the racetrack and is used as the reference for judging the victor. In racing, a “nose” also refers to the smallest margin of victory allowed for a horse to be officially declared the winner. Races won by a nose may also have been fought “neck and neck” as the horses ran side by side all the way to the end.

So there you have it, a former English teacher’s version of either boring you to death or a nice little distraction from whatever else you might be doing on this cool and rainy Thursday afternoon.

Tomorrow’s lesson will be on the unique verbage of petit point stitchers as well as a discussion of ocean allusions in space travel.

And if that appears, I will be hands down, across the board an also ran who before the home stretch of my short but hopeful blogging career was out of the running and dubbed, yet another equestrian term used in common speech, a horse’s ass.

 

 

 

 

 

“Montani semper liberi”–Mountaineers are always free

WVAs I have mentioned before, I spend any time I can at our lake house in my home state of West Virginia.  After we purchased this house eight years ago, I realized that novelist Thomas Wolfe was wrong, you can go home again.  I tell friends I exhaled for the first time in thirty years the day we signed the contract. These mountains are in my bones and this is the land of my people. I have always felt like a bit of a visitor living in the flatlands of the Midwest.

You see, West Virginians are fiercely loyal–to each other and their state. In fact, more West Virginians return to their home state to be buried than any other state in the union. The joke they tell here is the one where St. Peter is escorting a soul through heaven and is asked why there is a section that is walled-off. He replies: “Oh, that’s where we put the West Virginians. Otherwise they try to go back home on the weekend.” I don’t know a West Virginian on earth that doesn’t tear up, stand up or dance it up at the sound of the state’s now official state song, “Take Me Home, Country Roads.”

Because of our mountains and sparse population, West Virginia is somewhat of an enigma to the rest of the country. And beauty is, West Virginians don’t really care. They like their state overlooked and underappreciated.  Leaves more room for them to live as they please.

As a whole, Mountaineers are completely uninhibited and comfortable in their own skins. If you ask a West Virginian for the time, they will tell you their name, their kids’ names, what they had for breakfast, their mother’s maiden name and how long the neighbor’s dog barked last night. And maybe get around to finally looking at their watch.

Unlike some other states that think pretty highly of themselves–California, New York, Texas, California–West Virginia doesn’t take itself that seriously. There is an unexpected candor and lack of pretense among West Virginians not often found in adults.

I was standing by the dryer sheets in Kroger recently and this voice beside me launched into an explanation of the many uses of Bounce, least important putting it in a dryer.  She said she had wasps on her back porch and she nailed dryer sheets all over her screen door and not only did the wasps disappear, the bees did, too. I was afraid to ask her where she had hung her Tide.

I actually found out later this a valid use of dryer sheets and had one friend tell me her allergist told her to keep them in her purse and car close to her allergic son’s epipen. Good sound horse sense and an unaffected ability and desire to share it with others. That’s a West Virginian.

My housekeeper, Trina, and her husband, Dean, told me that they were in Walmart last week in the ladies’ intimate apparel department. A lady engaged Trina in conversation beside the underwear, or “drawers” as Trina calls them. The woman said she had the hardest time finding the right size in stores. In fact, she told Trina, “I’m wearin’ my daughter’s bikini underwear right now.” “Why would I want to know what her underwear looked like?” Trina asked me as Dean added, “If she ain’t been so ugly, I would’ve asked her to seen ’em.”

Trina smacked his self-tattooed wrist (with her initials, by the way) and giggled. She cleans houses and he mines coal, both for 36 years.  One of the best marriages I know.

Many West Virginians are connected in some way by their shared livelihood, coal.  Whether you own it, mine it or cart it away, coal mining touches most families in the state. The mean income per capita and per household in West Virginia both rank forty-ninth out of our fifty states, with averages hovering around $22,000 to $38,000 per year over the last ten years.  Only Mississippi ranks lower on both counts. With this sort of struggle in its residents to stay afloat, one might suspect an “every man for himself” mentality when, in fact, it is quite the opposite. There is a common bond to keep their coal industry, and their beloved mountains that hold it, alive.

I was checking out at Walgreens and when the check out girl asked me if I had any coupons. I said I did not, lowering my eyes and thinking about what a lazy, spoiled person I am. With that she pulled out a black, plastic-lidded box with index card dividers delineating products. Shuffling through, she pulled one out and said brightly, “Here’s one for your razor blades.  And here’s another one for those batteries.” “Where do you get those I asked?” as she continued gliding her blue polka dot fingernails across the tabs. “A lot of the time I cut them out of the Sunday paper to bring to work. Just to help people out,” she replied.  She was all of 25.  I exited saving $7.00 as she waved me off with a smile.

In it together.

I suspect some of this unity is derived from the fact that West Virginia was the first, last and only state ever granted the right to secede from another state.  Passionately divided by northern and southern viewpoints during the Civil War, President Lincoln allowed western Virginia to separate from Virginia to become a new state, West Virginia. Something he safeguarded in the young nation’s Constitution to never be allowed again.

e card (1)

And so we were free.  Free to be the wild, wonderful state that we are.  A beautiful mountainous state with bountiful natural resources–the least of which is its people.

And I’m damn proud to be one.