Friday, January 30, 2009

Self-Improvement 101

In the library this week I noticed that the cover story of one of our national magazines is 50 Things You Can Do to Make Your Life Better in 2009. Or something like that. Expecting an in-depth article to go with the headline that took up most of the magazine's cover, I was surprised to find a numbered list that fit on one page. Of course, some of the items on the list brought comments to mind. And a few questions.

#1 Bike to work. I have a 45-minute commute at 45 to 65 mph. I don't think so.

#3 Move to Vermont. I wonder what Indigo Bunting has to say about this.

#6 Get paid for good health. What does that mean?

#10 Add some obstacles to your jog. My what?

#14 Be a microblogger. What's a microblogger? Is that what I'm doing? I kind of like a variation: micrologger. Small person who harvests twigs.

#19 Learn to speak Russian. I'd have to make #20 Find someone to speak it with.

#20 Keep a simple diary. As opposed to a complicated diary? Or as opposed to, throw out a simple diary?

#23 Watch TV free online. And this makes our lives better how?

#24 Unscrew a bottle of wine. And then? And then??

#25 Build your own brand. Of what? Wine?

#28 Stow your money in a safer account. Oh, thanks. In order to move your money out of the stock market, for instance, you'd have to sell the current stock, thereby taking a loss. And if enough people follow this advice and sell, it'll pull the market down even further. Who wrote this list, anyway? And how much did they get paid for it?

#29 Try out your new home for a night. WTF???

#32 Eat your own spinach. As opposed to raiding your neighbor's garden?

#33 Line dry your laundry. Oh, cripes—I've been doing that since 2007, and it hasn't improved my life one iota.

#35 Don't drive distracted. What a concept!

#36 Help others and yourself. That's a tad broad, don't you think?

#37 Swap paper for screens. Why is it that the meaning of so many of these is lost on me?

#40 Try to hypermiledrive. See #37.

#42 Geotag your trip pics. See #37 and #40. But if it's gonna improve my life, I hope someone will explain it to me.

#45 Listen to Kind of Blue. Yes. I can do that. I can do that really well.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Salmonella - Such a Pretty Name

The current salmonella outbreak started me thinking about my experience with the bacteria 15 years ago. I got it from eating undercooked beef liver—my own fault.

I had gotten up at 4:00 a.m. to drive my son to meet a group that was taking a weekend hike on a mountain. When I got home I asked my daughter Jill if she was cold. She said, "If you're cold, maybe you have a fever. It's not cold in here." Boy, did I have a fever! Within a half hour I was shaking so much, teeth chattering, that I, who usually avoid doctors and hospitals, asked my DH to drive me to the ER.

I couldn't walk from the car to the entrance. In a bed in the ER, I was delirious, thinking my cat Nocci was on the bed with me. I couldn't open my eyes or communicate very well, but I could hear people around me. I know at one point my BP was 80/28. I don't know if it got any lower.

They did a culture and diagnosed me with salmonella. They started antibiotics. I was in the ER all day. They wanted to admit me to the hospital, but I insisted on going home late that night.

Without getting too graphic, I'll just say that salmonella is one very messy illness. The Dept. of Health called me the next day and said it's highly contagious, so I would have to clean up after myself. I could barely raise my head from the pillow. They told me the antibiotics the hospital had prescribed would do no good, but I kept taking them anyway. I think that was probably a good thing, as a raging infection like that could have spread into something unmanageable. It attacked my colon to the point where there was lots of blood.

I was in bed for more than two weeks, during which time I couldn't even imagine myself being well. Jill told me later that she feared I would never get better. I've had wicked cases of the flu ("Martian Death Flu"), but I have never been as sick as I was with salmonella.

Months later, I went back to the ER to thank the doctor for his good care, and he told me I had such a severe case that if I hadn't been so healthy going into it, I might not have survived.

I never ate liver again.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Answers to Inaugural Day Questions

1. I loved Michelle's yellow outfit. Yes, it was yellow—lemongrass, according to the designer.

2. No, it wasn't too dressy. What grander occasion could there be than your husband's inauguration? Well, yes, giving birth could be considered grander. But that occasion does not require new clothes.

3. Whoa, wait a minute. The swearing-in stumbles were Chief Justice Roberts' fault. Maybe between now and four years from now he'll work on his delivery. Or bring the book.

5. Of course I cried.

6. I'm one of those people who remember where they were when Martin Luther King died. So yes, I worry.

7. Waddya mean his speech was "bleak"? It was a great speech.

8. No, the stock market didn't fall 350 points because of his speech. It had something to do with banks. Again.

9. I do see similarities between the public's response to the Obamas and the popularity of Jack and Jackie Kennedy in the White House. Except the country was in vastly better shape then, and we didn't need hope as much as we needed a good looking First Couple with young children. I give equal marks to Jackie and Michelle for beauty, but Barack trumps Jack. And Malia trumps everybody.

10. I loved the ball gown.

Monday, January 19, 2009

The Economy Dichotomy

I don't pretend to know much about economics, which explains why I rarely post on related issues. But the following has been nagging at me:

America has long been described as a nation of over-consumers. This has been talked about in the media for years. We (and don't take the "we" personally, please, because I don't necessarily include you and I certainly don't include me) shop for fun, for relaxation, for entertainment. We carry huge loads of consumer debt. Our roads are lined with overblown malls and shopping centers. We have a zillion varieties of toothpaste, electronics, and everything in between. A drive through some suburban areas would lead one to believe that all Americans do is shop and eat.

Surely this must be a factor in the current economic situation, yes? But now that stores are closing, corporations are being bailed out, and jobs are at a premium, Americans have stopped spending so much. They've pared down their driving habits, stopped eating out three times a week, stopped spending $5,000 on Christmas, plan to drive their perfectly good cars for a few more years, etc.

This is what the financial experts have been advising for years: Quit piling on credit card debt. Tighten your belts! But are the economists (and those individuals with certain opinions on the economy) happy about this? No. They say the economy must be stimulated. And that means we should be out there spending. Patronize those restaurants! Buy yourselves new cars! Bring your wallets to your local retailers!

Maybe I need to read Economics for Dummies, but I find this confusing. Does the answer to our economic problems lie somewhere between the two extremes?

I know one thing: Never in my life have I been more grateful to be frugal.

PS: The Bluejay (photo taken yesterday) is not completely unrelated to this post. Have you checked the price of bird seed lately?? But I've been feeding the birds here for 33 years (how many generations of birds is that?) and I'm not stopping.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009


I met Tasha ten years ago, when she and her husband and brother-in-law bought an old country inn and I was assigned to write a feature story about the business. The business was interesting, but the family was fascinating—she a dancer and musician, her husband an actor and writer, both smart and funny, both beautiful to look at, as were their four children. All so warm and welcoming that I felt an instant connection.

She told me she was named for Tasha Tudor, and showed me her garden filled with hollyhocks, so appropriate to the name. I took a picture of the whole family, complete with very large dog. When I heard yesterday that Tasha died of breast cancer on Sunday, I realized that although we saw each other many times in the years since then, I will always remember her best as she was in that picture, baby on her hip.

She was smiling, but then Tasha always smiled. Her obituary uses the word luminescence. It fits. I used the word luminous in my daughter Jill's obituary, and it fit there, too. Some people start out life radiant and stay that way. It's just my guess, but I suspect most of them don't live long lives. They don't need to. They are so evolved, accomplish so much, and touch so many lives in such a short time, that they naturally rise quickly to the next level. And when they do, they leave a profound impression on all they leave behind. Jill was like that, and Tasha was, too. She taught me about the vision board I wrote about below. She and her husband homeschooled their children, entertained their friends, and greatly improved the quality of the arts in our rural area. They did everything with such grace.

When Tasha was hospitalized last month, I wrote the following to her husband:

I want to tell you about a dream I had last week.

You and Tasha were riding bicycles—not current models, but older ones, maybe 1950s vintage. You were riding down a long country path, and as I watched you go, both of you held up letters. They spelled LOVE. You held the L, O, and E, which wasn’t easy to do since there were so many of them, and you were pedaling besides. Tasha held the V. It was very large and straight, and made of flowers. She held it high with both hands, and rode her bike triumphantly.

It was a good dream.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Getting Ready For Snow

I grew up in New York City, where an impending snowstorm meant that we had to . . . do very little. I suppose my dad got out his galoshes, those floppy black things he wore over his dress shoes to make the one-block trek to the subway station. And I know if the snow was deep enough he'd take pictures—quickly, before the soot fell on it. But in the city we didn't have weather-related chores. In fact, I didn't have chores at all, unless you count bed-making (and that only rarely).

But like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, I'm not in New York City anymore. Tomorrow we're expecting 10" of snow, and that means today I will:

Set up the birds with lots of seed and suet.
Bring in firewood.
Feed Mickey, the barn cat, and change his litter. (Mickey is an indoor barn cat.)
Bring in more firewood.
Turn my car around, so it's facing the road, and cover the windshield.
Bring in the big bags of dog and cat food from the car.
Pile some firewood on the porch for good measure.
Secure the tarp covering the remaining firewood.

Although I'd like to bring Christmas boxes from the barn to the house so I can dismantle the tree, etc., one trip to the barn is enough. Rain fell on our last snowfall, saturating it. The result is 3" of pure ice covering the entire property. Even the cleats strapped on my boots are no match for this stuff. Extra wary of falling after my knee injury two years ago, I make my way around outside cautiously, and do as little of it as possible.

Around here, the newscasters joke that everyone must love French toast, because whenever a storm approaches the supermarkets fill with people buying eggs, milk, and bread. I do feel secure with a fridge full of soymilk, and a reasonable number of eggs. And it helps to be well stocked with paper products, from toilet paper to printer paper. Plus I make sure I have plenty of pet food and bird seed.

It's silly, really, because just about all of us will be out and about within a day or two of the storm. In fact, I'm supposed to return to work on Monday. But those white flakes turn us all into hunter-gatherers, if only for a day.

About halfway into my pre-storm to-do list I might think fondly on my days in a city apartment, where a blizzard might inspire my mom to do some baking—and give me the bowl of chocolate frosting to lick. But if I'm smart I'll remember that we parked our car on the street, where the city snowplows turned parked cars into igloos. Life, as I've often told my children, is a series of trade-offs.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Funny . . . and Sweet

Among my dad's photographs are some comic ones. He would set these up with his friends, sometimes in costume, usually forming a dramatic tableau. They can be pretty amusing, and occasionally puzzling.

This is my mother, hands down his favorite model. What does she represent here? A pregnant French hooker? Or am I way off base? What's your interpretation?

Funny or not, I know one thing: I love seeing my mom pregnant. With me.

Friday, January 02, 2009

Some Things Never Change

This is a picture of me (on the left) with my cousin Barbara. Barbara is a month older, but I've always had her on height. She's always had me on fashion sense.

I talked to Barbara this morning, as I often do. I had sent her a photo of the two of us in a stroller, and she said we were cute kids. I said, "Yeah, and now we're cute old hags."

Barbara and I don't stand on beds anymore. But we still have common interests, even if those interests no longer include zweiback. We still feel that good, strong family connection. We still like to cut and paste. And we still make each other laugh.