Monday, December 25, 2006

Gift Giving

This has been a particularly good Christmas though it had its mishaps. Allison found some of her presents that were hidden in my closet and I inadvertently found Ryan's gift to me. I was cleaning and discovered a vase of roses tucked under his bathroom sink. I puzzled over it for awhile before deciding they were a gift to him from his girl friend and he must have hidden them away for some reason. Maybe he had friends over and was afraid of getting teased? Well since they were so pretty I set them out on the vanity. Later in the afternoon he came to me complaining that I found his gift to me, what a snoop I was, and how he had planned to set them on my nightstand before Christmas morning. Whoops.

We had Christmas dinner at Sara's where the adults got a little silly on wine and everybody started the "I love you guys, you're so great" gushing. I'm almost always the one three glasses behind everyone else so the love-fest was pretty amusing to behold. Everybody was too busy hugging and chattering away to notice the fire in the dining room. As Beau tells it, he saw flames erupt on the buffet where candles had set the garland afire. He hollered to cousin Joe to get a fire extinguisher before he saw me begin to put out the fire with my bare hands like an idiot. No, I had dinner napkins I'd grabbed off the table and started snuffing out the fire burning my fingers rather than wait for the extinguisher because the flames might by then be out of control. And who really knows how to operate a fire extinguisher? Tiona's husband, Troy joined in with douses of water from glasses on the table. Joe came on next with the extinguisher which put a complete end to any flaming and covered the desserts in a fine white dust.

Beau thought it funny to make fun of my napkin fire-snuffing attempt up against the sure-fire results of the extinguisher which I took offense to with, Jeeze, what about my unconscious bravery, my quick-thinking reaction? I guess the vision of me using puny napkins to put out a fire followed by Joe's welding the fire-extinguisher was akin to the Crocodile Dundee, "Ya think that's a knife mate? Here's a knife!"

What's it take to be a hero to my kid? It takes quite a lot to impress Beau, I guess. I wanted to be mad at him, but this is the same kid who yesterday spent four hours at my request to help Sara unbox, move, and assemble his cousin, Lucy's, new bedroom furniture. He and Ryan along with Robert,
Allison, me, and Sara worked hard to give Lucy and extreme makeover bedroom. I was proud of them. And he is the same kid who presented me with an expensive gift card for a spa visit where I can get a much-needed massage. And the kid who frequently steals up behind me to give me a hug, and always ends his phone calls with, "I love you, Mom." I love all my men, but they really do enjoy giving me a hard time. They all claim it's just too easy to get a rise out of me.
Speaking of presenting gifts, Robert accomplished a great fake-out where my gift was concerned. It was obvious the biggest box under the tree was my Apple monitor, ("Let's be practical." Remember?) but I didn't count on another, much smaller box containing huge diamond stud earrings. I have been gifted very generously this year by my men. And I'm not talking about presents.

My Big Brother

I snapped these photos tonight at our family Christmas get-together at Sara's. The younger set is Beau and Allison, and of course that is Robert with his sister, Sara. I can't help thinking about how lucky a girl is to have a big brother.

Assembly required

21 years and counting of late-night pre-Christmas assembly. Robert is our hero.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

The Folly of the Perfect Gift

Countdown to Christmas. Allison's hamster is on hold at aunt Sandy's pet store. Everything else is either wrapped, shipped, stuffed in my closet or behind the laundry hamper (God forbid anyone look there!) or hidden behind twelve years of bankers boxes full of bank stubs in the basement. (Pardon the alliteration.) I may have hidden things other places, which I'll find at Easter time.

As usual Robert and I have waited till the last minute to shop for each other. We always play the "Oh, let's not buy anything big for each other" game where he always cheats and surprises me with something wonderful. Funny I never catch on. Nice for me that Robert suffered in his youth a humiliation so profound that it would forever cement his gift giving protocol with women. You see, when Robert was twelve he made the unforgivable mistake of presenting his mother with a mop as her Christmas gift. It was the Miracle Mop and he truly believed he was giving her something she'd appreciate. When she broke down crying, "This is what you think of me?" he was so mortified with shame that I get things like furs and jewelry every year when what I really want is appliances and tableware. Our early married years were frugal. Everything we had was second hand and I know this sounds unbelievable, but we didn't possess a microwave oven for a least four years. I actually heated milk and baby food on the stove like in ancient times, but I had two fur coats I didn't want, a small diamond necklace and plenty of perfume.

So a couple decades later I can't even think of anything else to cram into this house. We have it all. But Christmas demands you think of something to want. And besides world peace I'm really stretching. Okay, maybe a bigger Apple monitor. I'd like to buy Robert his very own personal computer, but I hesitate because he keeps warning me, "nothing expensive." Then this morning as he made breakfast it hit me what I would do.

Ever since Robert has returned from Steve's palatial Florida home he has been telling me about all Steve's neat stuff. Steve has done extremely well for himself and only outfits his home in the very best. On the third or fourth night there Robert phoned me and before hello he asked:
"What is the thread count on our sheets?"
"What?,"I said, stunned at hearing Robert utter a phrase I believed was unknown to him before his trip. "Um, three hundred, I think."
"Only three hundred? Are you sure it's not a thousand, because that's what Steve's are and I swore ours were too and he said he doubted that. Okay, thanks, bye."

It became a running joke with them to compare and contrast their stuff. We being the "low" design and Steve being "high." Mercedes trumps Chevy Tahoe. Sub-Zero trumps Kenmore. Armani trumps Old Navy. They are best friends from college so this was fun and amusing to them. Robert loves Steve like a brother and rejoices in his fortune. I know that's true because Robert is very unmaterialistic and satisfied. It's me and the kids that eat up our resources. Still, when Robert returned home he was full of wonder for Steve's neat stuff which he related to me in detail because it was fun to do so. But he was quick to tell me he's perfectly happy with our station in life and our cozy home. Up until that moment I was believing we were living pretty well, but that was before being reminded of those driven ones who raise the bell curve and make the rest of us feel like underachievers. Normally they're not in my orbit so I don't notice our lack and I live contentedly.

Anyway, back to this morning and the idea of the Christmas gift. As Robert pushed the toaster knob down he blurted, "Steve has this toaster, I think it's called Viking, and it makes toast perfect--every inch of the bread gets toasted perfectly." I stared at him for a minute, at his goofy excited expression. Wow, that's really nice, I said, but I was really thinking, Something by Viking I think I can afford. Alright buster, you're getting a toaster for Christmas.

So I headed to the Plaza to the kitchen specialty stores where I discovered none carried the magnificent 300 dollar Viking toaster. I actually heard myself saying, "Well then, give me your most expensive toaster." That's right, You heard me right. Nothing but the best for him. I'm thinking I'll put together a kitchen package. A few chef knives, a griddle, an apron and a big spoon and then I'm going to say, "Get in that kitchen, man, and cook me something!"

Thursday, December 21, 2006

An Chlann

Where do I start? So much happening. Robert returned from his trip down the the east coast by boat and then five days visiting his old friend in Naples, Florida. Although he had a great time he claims to be cured of the the desire to buy his own boat. I'm actually happy to hear that. I don't particularly like boats, open water, or the idea of a boat payment. I like mountains. Maybe we can divert that imaginary money to my dream cabin in the Rockies. Meanwhile, we have plenty of possessions and matters begging to be taken care of, like our leaky roof and Ryan's exorbitant dental expenses (8 cavities, 4 wisdom teeth.)

I finally finished the video project for my friend, Carol, that I have been working on for two months. It combined interviews, photos (old and new), animated text, music, and hundreds of transitions. I built it in Final Cut Pro. The process was similar to making a piece of art: assembling the materials and arranging them in a creative fashion. It gave me a lot of pleasure to create the movie and more to hand it over. Carol was genuinely moved by it. I hope it's a testament to my creativity in editing, but the subject matter had a great hand in her perception of the piece since it's all about her family's heritage. The story it told was of a family's roots and character. It condensed into 42 minutes the journey of several generations. We learn of two members fleeing the potato famine in Ireland to suffer the strenuous passage over the Atlantic, to start anew in America, to struggle to make lives, to raise children, to become Americans, to cut a path for future generations.

That subject matter ensures a movie with strong emotional impact. That is why I loved making it. To take hundreds of individual lives and compress that into essentially a "statement" elevates the emotional impact. It's what storytelling does, organize and make sense of the past and offer a theme. For this family the theme was courage, perseverance and love--three elements sure to bring out the tears. Carol and I both wept through its making. All I know is that I'm hooked and want to continue creating this very product for other families. I call it a product, but it's really like making a lovely family portrait.

The other things that are keeping me busy I'll save to explain for another day. I'll close with this Irish blessing:

Dear Lord,
Give me a few friends who will love me for what I am
Keep ever burning before my vagrant steps
the kindly light of hope
And though I come not within sight
of the castle of my dreams,
teach me to be thankful for life
and for time's olden memories
that are good and sweet
And may the evening's twilight
find me gentle still

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

I am not Old

Where have I been? Here, but preoccupied. I'm working diligently on wrapping up my friend, Carol's, video project. She cries every time she views it, so I guess it's going well. It takes a lot more time than anybody could imagine. To work on it is to enter an alternate universe, a deep void that I must jump into at the expense of my "real life." I spent so much time in the chair that I wrenched my lower back and that hurt for days. Actually, the wrench probably occurred when I decided to clean out the garage and basement thus throwing my sedentary body into shock.

I had to take a break from all that to catch things up at work (I've only made a dent since I only go in twice a week.) There were months worth of materials and tasks waiting for me. So more sitting. While my travels have come to an end Robert is still away on his boat trip. He and the crew made it down the east coast from Chesapeake Bay to Florida. He phones me daily with reports. When they landed in Titusville they unexpectedly saw the space shuttle launch. I can't imagine a better position to have viewed it. When they reached Palm Beach or (Miami?) he left for his friend's house in Naples where he'll visit for a few days before returning Friday. Besides fun, they are talking business. Hopefully, Steve's Midas touch will rub off on Robert and we'll become multi-millionares and have a yacht of our very own. Or not.

I've been sick the past two days with what I believe is food poisoning (I'm blaming McDonalds.) I feel crummy from the inside out. Nobody much knows because I'm not one of those people who wants to tell you all about my health problems. No sir. Because that would mean I've passed into that middle-aged stage where health issues begin to dominate conversation. I'm also not going to talk about beauty and cosmetic procedures because that would also signal I'm getting old and besides I believe in the power of mystery. Does she or doesn't she?

I've decided to be sick is to be old. And to be old is to be ugly and I'm having none of that. Used to be I barely minded being occasionally ill, but now when dull-headedness and achiness and weariness set in I start thinking, "what if this never went away? What if this is what old is?" Normally, I never give this subject much thought but things around me seem to beg the question. Robert's dad is in and out of the hospital fighting one ailment after another where the matter of going to the bathroom becomes fodder for public discussion ( Can he or can't he?) My own friends are beginning to do that thing we swore we'd never do: freely discuss health problems ( bad knees, arthritis, unexplained pain.)

Sara lent me a book by Nora Ephron she says is a good read, It's titled: I Feel Bad About My Neck" It's an old lady's lament of
growing old and ugly. Although it was essentially depressing observations veiled in humor, I read it as a book intended for "others," those post-menopausal women I certainly cannot imagine relating to. My wicked delight came in the thought that I have at least 20 good years before reaching their sad pinnacle. And then I ran to schedule my Botox appointment.

Yesterday I threw away what I thought was a mistakenly addressed piece of mail to Robert. It was from the AARP. I was unaware that at 50 he qualifies. I'm only four years away myself. Jeeze. It seems like the world is conspiring to make me feel old.

Monday, December 04, 2006

The Hawk's View

We had a big snowstorm that kept me from walking a couple of days. When it did get warmer again I trekked out on my usual path on the golf course though now it was covered in about eight inches of snow. I struggled along the path thinking how snow shoes might be interesting to try, or even my cross-country skis, but already the snow was getting sticky. That's the thing about our winters, the snow rarely stays long.

The next day I walked again. This time I carried my camera hoping to catch a shot of a large hawk I'd seen out the window. I headed out on my path, but there were lots of icy patches from the melt. I found myself concentrating so hard of my footing that I rarely looked up to find the bird. I also found my footprints from the previous day. It seemed smart to try to use them again so with every step I tried to place my feet into the pre-cast footpath thus avoiding snow up my pantlegs. This seemed to work fair enough for awhile until I realized the flaws in this plan. Apparently, the day before, I walked with a lot more gusto; my strides were greater, probably due to my delight at finally getting outside. And now, the concentration and effort to match every footprint was becoming tedious. Wait, was that the left foot or right?

So I'm forging ahead, eyes honing in on the next step, the next step, never developing my own rhythm because I'm following my own footsteps of yesterday. I try to perfect my stride, to aim for perfect touch-down into each footprint mold thinking I'll catch the rhythm. But the aim for accuracy reduces speed making each next step a harder reach, and I'm getting tired and even a little dizzy, but I keep on, now in a determined trans-fixed state. Step, next step, oops, missed that one, where's the next? I'm pinning my camera against my body with one arm, so there goes my balance.

Somewhere halfway around I finally become aware that this is all very unpleasant. Not just the effort, because I secretly welcome physical effort, but the sensation I'm now aware of: the sensation of the unnatural. I'm intensely focusing on footprints made by me, by the me who walked here yesterday. I'm struggling to follow the footsteps of my ghost. I've walked this path a dozen years and the sameness never bothered me. A person may drive the same path to work, walk the same hall year after year, but never so precisely the same as what I was attempting to do--walk my exact footsteps. There was something unnerving in that. It made me feel like I was an echo of yesterday's self, following my yesterday self down this path. Which one is more real?

It gave me plenty to think about the rest of the way back, after I abandoned my old steps and crunched in the new. In the end I reduced it to this: If you could go back in time you wouldn't like it because of the creepiness factor of looking ahead at your old self. Better that all your steps are fresh.

Here's the hawk.

Please don't phone me

We are having a phone problem--as in can't find one in the whole house that works. I'm finding myself running across the house to answer the only reliable one left--the old rotary pay phone. The previous owners left it as it was, installed on the family room wall. (It was a collector's piece; our house isn't that old.)

In the meantime our cell phones die, our answering machines go glitchy and the handheld phones get lost or thrown in anger. I get so tired of keeping up with the gadgets and the batteries. But, I may get more tired of the up and down of running to answer the one or two phones that work.

I searched the house for any working phones to bring into the
central area of the house, the kitchen. One bedroom has an attached wall phone. Another has a (what's the part called that you hold in your hand? I'm sure the term escapes me because it is on it's way to becoming extinct and everyone justs hands it to you and says, "here's the phone", so I forget what you call it-- the handset?) that lets you hear but not speak. The kitchen phone is DOA and things are loose and tumbling around in the (handset thing again), slammed down one time too many. I dug up an old novelty from the boy's room's upstairs--a little red sports car.
It works best of all of them.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Night and Day

Here's something I rarely see: A sunrise. I caught it this morning as I returned from dropping Robert off at the airport. We had to leave at 4:00am to get there for his 6:00am flight. Knowing I would be rising in the middle of the night I decided to stay up. Funny, I'm not tired--yet. I might as well keep awake; I can make Beau breakfast before he goes to work. That would be a first. I've never been known as the breakfast lady. Poor family. I never liked to eat in the morning--why should anyone else? Unless it's a donut, then I'm there. Now if you want a late-night snack, fresh-baked brownies at 11:00, I'm your girl. I taught Robert how to make biscuits and gravy. Over the years he mastered great gravy and with constant praise and positive reinforcement he was lured into wearing the breakfast hat forevermore. (By the way, I made the best french onion/steak soup last night.)

Robert is headed to the Chesapeake Bay for a little ride on his sister's boat. They are taking it to Miami. I'd say lucky him, but I imagine it will be a mighty cold ride. They estimate the trip to take 10 days. I imagine all but one, the last one where they reach southern Florida, will be awfully cold. He is so excited though; it will be great fun for him.