Magpie TV, Episode One: Wouldn’t It Be Nice If….

Today, in response to popular demand, we will play  an episode  from the archives of Magpie TV, a show I have actually just invented. This low tech  show allows us to  pretend we’re on HGTV doing cool home things, but without the annoying summaries they give before and after each commercial.  Why the rerun?   It seems  that quite a few readers have forgotten about my own little pied-à-terre nestled in the broad bosom of midtown Memphis. That’s not a criticism; I haven’t wanted to mention the condo much during renovation. I preferred to wait until I could show the whole process.

We’re in the final stages of completion now, so I don’t have to wait any longer. But first I wanted to refresh people’s memories. Inventing Magpie TV seemed the best way to remind folks of where we’ve been before I reveal where we are now. So, without further ado, Episode One of Magpie TV, The Shiny Show that Exists Only In My Mind! We’re glad to have you watching! I mean reading!

If you're trying to experiment with whether or not an old ice bucket will float, you definitely need a new project.

If you’re trying to experiment with whether or not an old ice bucket will float, you definitely need a new project.

Part One: Magpie used to talk to her husband quite a bit about a weekend getaway spot. She used to ponder this idea particularly when she realized that what they had spent on college tuition for their little brood could have been used to purchase a very nifty, if not palatial, second home. She saw herself in a wispy dress, on a  terrace on  the French Riviera, sipping drinks with long legged men in linen suits, drowsy from the sun and their seductive accents….Oh. but then  she realized she was already married and the Riviera money, for good or bad, was already spent.

This woman belongs  on the Riviera!

This woman belongs on the Riviera!

Well then, she thought. What about a weekend getaway  spot in the United Sates? The Magpie and her husband loved the mountains of North Carolina but decided the distance would be prohibitive, as they had recently paid two sets of wedding expenses instead of buying their own airplane in which they could have zipped anywhere at a moment’s notice.DSC_0346

The Magpie wasn’t daunted, however. She realized she did not need a large luxurious space in which to relax. What she needed was the equivalent of a tree house or clubhouse from her childhood, only with indoor plumbing. In fact, the thought of finding her own inexpensive getaway energized her. She imagined a tiny antique Airstream trailer in a silent wood, or miniature A frame at the top of a hill. Her husband listened but didn’t say too much. Most likely he thought it impossible to find what she pictured, but did not want to be the one to tell her so. She had a history of not liking such pronouncements.

Don't even TRY to tell this girl what she can't do!

Don’t even TRY to tell this girl what she can’t do!

One day while drinking her coffee and wasting  time on the internet, Magpie  saw a listing for a one bedroom condo in midtown, in walking distance to theaters, restaurants, and the soon to be revitalized Overton Square. When her husband came home from the gym she asked him, Honey, would you buy me a condo if it only cost XYZ?” “Certainly,” he replied.

The Mayfair Building.

The Mayfair Building.

Now picture the Magpie and her husband with a realtor,  viewing the condo she had found on the internet. The realtor showed them the 1960s era building and its amenities: the pool, the party room, the laundry, the covered parking. They felt at home in the small condo situated just beyond  the elevators. The owner had done some cosmetic work on the unit. Magpie and her husband could move right in and begin to enjoy city life on the weekends. Would they make an offer ?

Commercial Break. Look at this picture and hum to yourself.

Just a nice picture for the commercial break.

Just a nice picture for the commercial break.

Part Two: Yes! They decided to go ahead with an offer on the property. They were ready to close as soon as possible. But then, the realtor called with the unhappy news: the owner had removed his condo from the market.What?!!! Magpie and her husband were disappointed, and the realtor somewhat embarrassed. She offered to show them two other condos for sale in that same building.

One unit was larger than what they had originally looked at, but it  faced busy Union Avenue. It not only had its original 1960s bathroom fixtures, but sported celery green carpet and floor length peach draperies of the type Magpie’s mother in law used to think simply divine. After murmuring the usual HGTV remarks such as , “Nice space,” and “Good lighting,”, they went down a floor to the second unit. The second unit was identical to the uniit they had originally wanted.

The living room.

The living room.

The bathroom.

The bathroom.

The balcony

The balcony

This vacant unit boasted the most economical type of laminate flooring which buckled as they walked across the living room and bedroom. There were somehow two layers of molding and quarter round along the floor; one of the layers was crown molding applied upside down. Magpie thought it looked rather as if she had done the carpentry herself. Though the unit needed cosmetic work, the dated bathroom was in working order, as were the 1980s kitchen appliances. Which unit would they choose? The larger, the more grandmotherly unit facing the busy street, or the smaller, but more private unit at the back?

Commercial break. Look at this picture and stew in suspense, wondering what this unknown couple, whom you now feel so warmly toward, will decide.

Oops. This is NOT the couple. I guess Magpie TV still has a few kinks to work out.

Oops. This is NOT the couple. I guess Magpie TV still has a few kinks to work out.

Part  Three: AND They chose the second unit!!!! ( Imagine upbeat music.)  “We’ll only have to replace the floor and molding and repaint,” said Magpie’s husband. “Also we’ll have to strip the garish kitchen paper and repaint. it should be pretty straightforward.” Magpie remarked,” I like this unit better than the one I first saw, because it is a floor higher, and cost less. Now I’ll be able to make my own choices in whatever cosmetic changes we decide to make.”

Magpie and her husband can drink a toast to their new adventure from these vintage Memphis glasses!

Magpie and her husband can drink a toast to their new adventure from these vintage Memphis glasses!

The show ends with Magpie and her husband toasting each other on the balcony. Please stay tuned for our next show  to see how Magpie and her husband updated the condo! And many thanks to our sponsors, previous posts Funny Thing and Squatters Limbo, for sharing your memories!

Password to the Pavilion

I am writing on the day after Christmas, exhausted, but in a good way. Yes, I am tired because the last few days have been like riding on a rickety roller coaster while holding onto wrapped gifts for everyone in your family… oops? You forgot to wrap something? Then get OFF the ride until you wrap that thing, and wait in line to ride again. Go over your holiday schedule while waiting in line. Is that your phone alarm reminding you that right now you are due at Roller Coaster #4? Where your Uncle Barnabas has made reservations for your whole family? Best drop out of this line again. You’ll just have to come back at midnight, if you have time, for this ride. And you must ride it, because it is so much FUN. Just look at all those happy souls on the ride right now with their mouths frozen into grimaces as they whip around the curves, clutching those wrapped packages with a death grip. How can it only happen once a year?

Actually all of that was just in fun. I am exhausted  in a good way because I have spent the holidays doing just what I want to do and nothing else. In the Holiday Amusement Park of life I am seated in a secluded pavilion on a park bench, aware but undisturbed that so many others around me are overextending themselves. I am comfortable and at peace, surrounded by those who mean the most to me. Back here in the pavilion I can see the festive lights and hear the noises, but I am removed enough so that if a stressed out roller coaster rider lets go of a wrapped fruitcake while at the summit of the ride, it can’t hit me or mine in the head.

It's shiny out here, but out of the way f flying debri.

It’s shiny out here, but out of the way of flying debri.

I enjoy myself so much in my  holiday pavilion; I only wish I had known about it sooner. Come to think of it, many of those I have seen walking  among the pavilions are closer to my age. Perhaps the way out here cannot be seen  clearly until one reaches a certain age. We who have found our way to the pavilions are at peace because we decide how much hustle and bustle we want. Others do not dictate it for us. Sometimes we may decide to dash briefly into the melee and race one  other past the midway rides and back to our sanctuary. When we return, out of breath and laughing, we relish the fun we had.

Things don't  get over the top unless we say so.

Things don’t get over the top unless we say so.

When you are at the Holiday Amusement Park, have you noticed the signs that point to the outer pavilions, where folks may be less active, yet at the same time more present? If you have not seen them I do hope that you will look. You won’t look until you are ready, but just in case, I will pass on a little hint. There are many signs posted at the park. You’ve seen them: “Frenetic  Friends and Family Roller Coaster”, “Codependent Merry Go Round”, “Big Box Shopping Dodge’em Cars “, “Yes You Will Attend This Party  Scrambler”, the “Yes You Will Buy Me This Hurricane” , and the like.

If you want to see the sign for the Peaceful Pavilions, you must pause in front of each preceding sign, read it, and say out loud, in a firm voice, the word “No.” Just that one word. But you must say it each time. Do not despair if it takes you several years to say no to each sign; no one ever said they weren’t tricky little devils. But remember that no matter how hard it may seem to say no, that eventually saying yes is going to become even harder than you can imagine.

But only if you want to.

Don’t say yes unless you want to.

Quality time at the peaceful pavilion.

Quality time at the peaceful pavilion.

I hope you will join me at the pavilion one of these years. I’ve met so many nice people out here. At first we are incredulous that we found the place, and that  enjoying the holiday season can be just as easy as saying “No.” Then, very quickly, we get involved with what we have always wanted to be able to say “yes” to: relaxed days and nights, making memories with friends old and new, helping those less fortunate than ourselves, even thinking about the new year to come. Until we meet in the wooded area beyond the midway rides, happy holidays from me and mine in the peaceful pavilion. We’ll keep the lights on for you!DSC_0351

Help! I’ve been NaNoWriMoed And I Can’t Get Up!

I’m doing NaNoWriMo for the first time, and I can’t tell yet but it could be awesome. I’ve never written anything before, so I have nothing to which to compare my experience. I’m just one of those naive persons who believes that because they love to read that they would also love to write a book! Cue the maniacal laughter right about here.

This poor woman has been typing all night!

This poor woman has been typing all night!Source: ChristopherFountain@wordpress

I’ve wanted to do NaNoWriMo for some time, but never seemed to think about it ahead of time. I would then be jealous of those who were paying attention when it started and got to participate. This year, about October 25th, which is by the way my birthday, I experienced one of those electric moments of clarity that sometimes come my way, a moment in which the way forward was very clear. Perhaps the decision came more easily because I turned 57, but whatever the origin, the thought registered in my brain. I WILL do NaNoWriMo, I declared. And preparation be damned!

I am a whopping 9000 words in, and mired in deep philosophical and structural questions. First, what were the names I gave those characters a couple of pages back? Were they Craig and Cindy? Or did I change them to Louis and Fran? Second, do the names Louis and Fran even sound believable? Would someone named Fran, dressed in a tartan plaid skirt and knee socks,speed down Montezuma Highway with a stolen cocker spaniel named Guido in her car? Or does that sound stupid? Also, has anything I have written so far ever happened before in any other written work since the dawn of time? Because I want to be original here in this off the cuff work of genius I will create in only thirty days. Inbox me your answers!

The suspense rises for me as I struggle to write some some number of made up sentences each day. An addition to the creative milieu is that I absolutely cannot type. It is true. In the olden days when girls took typing in high school, I was too vain to cut my long nails as would have been required. I wasn’t going to be a secretary, so who cared? As a result of my foolish choices, I am hunched over a keyboard now, having to stare at the letters, which one is not supposed to do, and not the screen. I will feel a spark of inspiration, type like crazy while thinking, ” I’m typing more quickly than ever with two fingers. I’m finally getting the hang of it.” only to see that the cursor has gone cockeyed and set my words down two paragraphs up from where I wanted them. So I erase. So I redo. So I cry.

I was way ahead of the curve with nails like this in high school. Source:

I was way ahead of the curve with nails like this in high school.

Still, though, every time I go back to the computer and pull up my story, there it is waiting for me, like a loyal but not very bright Labrador Retriever: ungainly, wriggly, unkempt, but enthusiastic. And when I have written as much as I can manage at a sitting, I scroll back up, surveying the big mess I’ve made  with an inordinate sense of pride. To be sure, it is full of typos and errors much more egregious than that, but I’ll get to those in time. Writing itself can never be an error.

One helpful thought is that NaNoWriMo has its own set of “Life Alert” buttons: local groups, write ins, research and writing help forums, and pep talks. I haven’t taken much advantage of that because, um, I’m busy trying to invent a novel, but knowing the help is there is encouraging. Also there is L., a lovely lady at my gym is is NaNoing for the third time this year, and who appears sane, which speaks well for the experience of NaNoRiMo participation. Her advice is not to have unreasonably high expectations for myself. Since I have none at all, except to reach the 50,000 mark, I think I’m okay in that area.

I guess that’s all I have time to say about NaNoRiMo right now. If you don’t seem to hear as much from me this month, now you know why. Feel free to check on me if you want. I’ll be in the backseat of Fran’s car, hurtling down Montezuma Highway, holding on to a stolen cocker spaniel named Guido.

Can’t Stop The Fall

I just got in from the backyard, and I’ve shut the door firmly behind me. It is October 16, well into the time when summer should be “shutting down”, but judging by the some of the plant  activity, revolution is in the air.DSC_0273

This old timer carrot realizes the time has come for him to become a part of my salad. Digging in his heels will only bring him into danger of becoming flash frozen in the dirt. Who wants that?DSC_0337This elephant ear shows the color splotches he has earned during many blazing hot afternoons on a patio. We expect these signs of character by October. He has fought the good fight. The onions have turned from a foamy, lacy white to an earthy brown.DSC_0278The burning bush is showing its first red leaves.DSC_0279But while some backyard citizens are yielding gracefully to the change of season,  a younger, less mature set is just starting out in life.  They are budding, blossoming, perhaps frolicking in the headiness of youth,  as though unaware that cool temperatures and short, dark days are just around the corner.

Naive optimism? Or plain nihilism?

Some expect to produce offspring. Will they have a chance? I wouldn’t want to say.DSC_0330

This gourd has at last appeared. He is an only child. Does he think he can halt the march of nature long enough for him to reach his full growth?DSC_0276

The tomatoes are churning out more blossoms, defying the notion that they should have been turned into mulch by now.DSC_0314

And look at this poor tomatillo, newly raised from seed after my first two attempts failed. It seems he wants to take his chances.DSC_0325

Meanwhile, the four o’clocks are blooming like it is June the sixth.DSC_0278

What can they all be thinking? Have they not seen this old grandma in her nightgown, telling all it is time for a long winter’s nap?DSC_0289But the youth…. they spurn the voice of experience.

I’m hoping this dissension is not something organized. But when I see the reach of the hummingbird vine, I know that seditious ideas could easily be passed from one young bloom to another.DSC_0283DSC_0303They look innocent enough, but they would look that way, wouldn’t they?DSC_0274

Well, in case any of them are listening, I do not allow politics in my backyard. Swift action will be taken against any special interest groups which threaten the general ecosystem. I  empathize with those who find themselves unready for the march of time, who still have  big plans they will not be able to carry out when the weather changes. As an old lady who feels as spry as a cosmos bloom I too must accept that my time here is finite.
DSC_0318My message to any wannabe overthrowers in my backyard is this: No one can stop the fall.

Shall We Glide?

Now that I have thoroughly documented the universe’s unfairness toward me in the mammary department, it is time to move on to a story with a more satisfying end. It is a classic story, actually, and one that is ever evolving. From time immemorial, women have sought to drape their bodies with shimmering fabrics in which to glide by the populace as a  vision of grace and beauty. No doubt  the first garments were coarse and mean, but as our skills with weaving and sewing increased, so did the varieties of women’s clothing throughout the world.

And women noticed. At the well, at tribal gatherings, at the place of worship, I am sure every woman knew what every other woman was wearing and uttered words, such as “Hey. She’s wearing the same loosely draped toga type dress that I’m wearing!” As civilizations grew in complexity, so did norms  of what women were expected to wear. The invention of the printing press made possible the fashion magazine. With the Industrial Revolution came ready to wear clothing though many women sewed their own dresses. Styles came and went, causing the need for women to refresh their wardrobes more often. We continued to notice clothing and to see it as an extension of ourselves.  Women all over the world were united with this ubiquitous phrase: I have NOTHING to wear!

In today’s world, as a post fifty woman, I have found shopping  for clothing to  be almost as difficult as balancing a twenty pound basket of laundry on my head, walking to the river, and pounding said laundry with rocks in the  hot sun in order to have something to wear for the next day’s religious rites. I have found it as tiring as sitting in front of an industrial Singer sewing machine  in a locked factory for twelve hours a day sewing men’s shirt collars in order to buy three yards of muslin for an every day dress. It has surely been as taxing  as using the green velvet dining room curtains to make an alluring gown for Scarlett O’Hara.

I'll never be unfashionable again! Source:

I’ll never be unfashionable again!

Styles are different now. One can wear anything, except that one can’t find anything suitable. What goes with what?   Is that thing a shirt or a dress? Do people really wear shirts that show their bra straps? Are we expected to go back through the bell bottoms and maxi skirts we already wore in college?

Been there, done that.

Been there, done that.


Source: Old Pueblo Traders

Or, since I am over 40, am I relegated to the Sag Harbor department, to forever deck myself out in elastic waisted  twill pants with matching jacket? That, my friends is not what I call a vision of grace and beauty!

While I am grateful not to live in a world which requires me to appear in a blue wool suit with gloves, hat and hose, I long for some of the “go to ” stores we used to have back in my youth: Casual Corner, Franklin Simon, the Clothes Horse. Back then we had salesladies who helped us with our selections and brought us other sizes. We could buy an entire outfit, including accessories,  all at the same place. Those were the days.

But even if we still had those stores, I don’t wear junior sizes anymore. The stores we do have are largely chains, but with the rise of the Internet they don’t carry the inventory they did before. And I am not interested in wearing what everyone else wears anyway.

Clearly my style is not based on current trends!

Clearly my style is not based on current trends!

And though I long to express my magpie leanings through clothing, I am not going to pay $200, or $100, or even $75 for a shirt. I think a shirt should cost no more than  $19.99 if new. If the shirt could be found  gently used at the thrift store for $1.50, that would be preferable. I don’t need many dressy clothes. I wear casual clothes to work, but I want DIFFERENT casual clothes to wear out. Do I sound picky?

I also think I should say that although I want clothes, I don’t want to go shopping. It takes up too much of my time.  I don’t enjoy driving, especially from one store to another: too much getting in and out of the car. I further dislike trying on clothes. Too much work putting all your clothes back on to flip through the racks for the correct size.  I might do it twice in a shopping trip, but that is the limit. Then I have to go through a line, and get out my wallet and all that. Please, just boil me in oil!

For the last few years I have basically “made do” with Marshall’s, because it is close to my house. Often I have simply grabbed something and bought it without even trying it on, and either wearing it only once or twice, or not at all. Sigh. Black shirts and pants are “safe”, but how many of those does one magpie need? Internet shopping has been hit or miss, with items arriving that are either too young for me or not looking the same as in the picture.

Surely some clothing manufacturers understand that over fifty doesn't mean over the hill?

Surely some clothing manufacturers understand that over fifty doesn’t mean over the hill?

And now for the happier ending. Someone finally invented a way for me to get new clothes and ENJOY it !!!! I am passing this on not to promote the company, but because if any of us find an acceptable way to find clothes, I believe we are honor bound to share it. My new magpie find is called Stitch Fix.

My daughter told me about it. It seems you give them all your information, from your sizes, to your likes and dislikes, to your price range and they send you clothes. You keep what you like and send back what you don’t. I admit I was wary. Maybe they only catered to the young who can wear anything? But I filled out the info and I reminded them of a few things, such as that it is hot as Hades down here, so don’t send me a bunch of long sleeved shirts in the summer. Then I hit that send button to schedule my first shipment. What did I have to lose?

I’ve been a “member” for maybe five months, and girls, it has been MARVELOUS!!! Here’s how it works. First, a box arrives in the mail. Everybody knows how exciting that is. Here’s how it looks. Aren’t you excited?


Then I have this very nice card from my personal shopper. I think she really likes me.DSC_0275

Next we ( I feel as though you are all here with me, so it’s become “we”)  rip open that tissue paper and see what we  got!! Yippee!!DSC_0274

Each month there are five items. And each item has this handy card that shows us  ways that particular piece can be worn.DSC_0272

Now we  try on the clothes. We have three days to decide what we want to keep. Then we go in to Stitch Fix and tell’em what we want and what we don’t want. Whatever we don’t want we simply mail back to them in the postage paid envelope.

Here are some recent selections.

Pay no attention to the man behind the shirt.

Pay no attention to the man behind the shirt.

DSC_0279DSC_0729DSC_0735 Thanks to Stitch Fix, I’m feeling kind of sassy again. They have sent me things I might not have picked out for myself and that I haven’t seen other people wearing. The clothes are not too young for me, nor are they too old. And even if they were, I wouldn’t have to keep them. Really, Stitch Fix 2013 has replaced my long gone Casual Corner of 1976 and the other shops I used to hold so dear.

And if all that were not enough, this month’s box came with an bag for ThredUP, which buys gently worn clothing. I will get Stitch Fix credit for whatever Thredup accepts from me. What a great chance to get rid of some of the things I bought at Marshall’s just because they were on the clearance rack!DSC_0284

Well. enough gushing. Whatever you are doing in these complicated times to obtain clothing so that you can leave your home, I congratulate you. If you are finding the search to be frustrating, time wasting and morally degrading, I don’t blame you. But don’t give up. Something will work. Something will fit your style and personality. When something does work, pass it on. All of us girls want to glide by the populace, wrapped in shimmering garments! Shall we?

Fifteen Days In

One of the reasons I started this blog was to push myself out of my comfort zone. Committing to doing something regularly was part of the challenge. In my previous years I did manage to stick with a few things, like marriage, child rearing and graduate school, but the details of other activities were too overwhelming for me. I’m talking about not just writing a bill or letter, but actually buying a stamp for it and putting it in the mail. I’m talking about not just cutting out the fabric and sewing up an a-line shift , but actually hemming it instead of throwing it on the sewing table for “later”. My past is littered with pieces and parts of projects begun with enthusiasm and high hopes, but eventually abandoned under the crushing weight of too many steps, lack of skills, lack of remembering I had even started such a thing.

But now, with fewer responsibilities, I can cultivate the consistency I lacked in earlier years. For example, ( applause here) I’ve written this blog for over a year now. I’ve picked up a few other good habits as well, such as regular exercise. A couple of months ago I noticed my daughter’s post on Facebook, asking who wanted to do Thirty Days of Lists with her. Without knowing what it was, I agreed to do it. Then I sort of forgot about it until I saw her posted pictures of her newly decorated journal for the 30 Days.

Yikes! Turns out the 30 Days only takes place twice a year. I only had a day or so to sign up and to rush to Tuesday Morning for a blank journal. I didn’t even try to decorate mine. Just the opportunity to illustrate the blank pages with some of my best friends, words, would be enough for me.IMG_2272

The 30 Day format is simple: Every day there is a list topic. Period. Then people, lots of people, post their completed lists.IMG_2271

I am now 15 days into  a 30 day commitment. I would like to congratulate  the geniuses  who conceived this brilliant idea! The premise is simple, but the rewards are great. Who among us couldn’t use a few minutes more a day to ourselves? Or any minutes at all? The lists can be as short or as long as the author likes.  I love that there is absolutely no pressure to make your lists any way  other then what you choose. A commitment with no rules is just the right commitment for me.

I think I must have expected the list topics to be, well, easier than they have been. Simple the topics may be, but the thinking and feeling involved is quite complex. Some days i have not wanted to write the list, because I didn’t want to go where the answers would take me. IMG_2284Things My Family Taught Me was one  such topic. My family has clearly been very generous to me, but how generous have I been in return?That question caused some uncomfortable soul searching. Some days the list has taken me to  unexpected places. What’s New This Year made me see I have done a lot more than I thought. IMG_2269

And some entries are silly!

And some entries are silly!

And What Would The Young You Like About The Older You was an absolute confidence builder. IMG_2286Reading over what I had written, I had such an experience of the richness of my life, of having come full circle. Words have power. Taking the time to write them is the ultimate act of self respect.

I guess that’s all I have to say about The 30 Days right now. I’m going to rock right through until the end. Maybe I CAN do something 30 days in a row. Perhaps NaNoWriMo is in my future?

Trading Blue for Yellow

A couple of Sundays ago I woke up feeling a little blue.  My problems were the usual stuff of those who have no real problems. I had now been living with my belongings dispersed through the house as if by a maniac for many weeks. Since my bedroom floor was now rough concrete, I was stepping in little grains of cement every time I went in my bathroom. Between the workmen tramping in and out and having our extant bedroom furniture  placed willy nilly in other rooms, trying to clean or organize was out of the question. I felt cheated because I had slept late and now my husband thought it was too late to ride bikes. Also, I had determined that only about five people were reading my blog. That was the real rub.

I contemplated this last opinion while I sat outside with my coffee. There was no doubt that I was feeling sorry for myself, and it was up to me to change the situation. Had I written what I wanted? Yes. Had I been satisfied with it? Yes. If a blogger writes a post in the forest, and the animals can’t read, is it a real blog post? I didn’t know, but I did know this mood was not going to fly. What could I do, I mused, to take care of myself right now and avoid the steaming morass of self pity that was lurking just over my left shoulder?

I knew! I knew! I was going to take my own self on an adventure! Quickly, before my brain could give me instructions otherwise, I threw on some bicycling clothes and smeared  sunscreen on my face. “You’re going all by yourself to Shelby Farms?” inquired my husband as he checked my bicycle tires. “Yep,” I replied, sliding my cell phone into my sports bra. “Maybe it would be easier to leave the phone at home,” he suggested. “Nope,” I replied.

I knew why he’d  said that. A few years ago while we were riding together I had tried to fish my phone out of my bra while riding. I wasn’t having any trouble until he came up behind me offering suggestions while I tried to answer the phone and stop the bike at the same time. Thanks to his “help” I pulled on only one brake, causing me to be thrown over the handlebars and onto the pavement, watching my cell phone clatter down the street.

Today I wasn’t going to get caught up into his fears that I would again answer the phone while biking. His fears were going to have to be his own problem. This bike ride was going to  be all about me, Baby.

In five minutes I was pedaling down  my driveway, free as I had felt on a Saturday morning in second grade after I had dusted the piano and been allowed outside to play. As a child  I  regularly biked for hours around our neighborhood. It was the same now except I had a helmet and could go as far as I wanted. How could it be that I rode my bike so seldom? Well, for one thing it is often hotter than Hades where I live, I reminded myself,  making it necessary that bike riders, along with walkers, runners, and gardeners , start their activities at dawn or not at all. Today, however, the temperature was tolerable and the humidity low.

My general destination was Shelby Farms, a 4500 urban park close to our home. In recent years a conservancy has made major improvements in the park including  turning an  unused railroad track into a Greenline to help connect citizens to the pleasures within. The part that will extend to my neighborhood is not yet built, so, alone with my thoughts , I took backroads for about 6 miles until I crossed into the park.

The park is split by a major thoroughfare. I rode into the south side which contains, among other things, a farmer’s market and an RV park. I rode beside the RV park, wondering what it would be like to have one, and to pull up to a campsite in the middle of the city to spend the night. After reading a mystery series in which the heroine drove an RV, I mentioned it would be fun for me to tool around in  one. This idea was just too much for the man who is afraid for me to take my phone on a bike ride. He sputtered about how hard it would be for me to maneuver, how I lack depth perception ( which is true) and the costs of gas. Mostly I think he was afraid he would come home and find an RV in our driveway. What does he think I am, I asked myself as I cleared the RV area. Impulsive?

Beyond the Rv area I rode on some narrow and some wide trails past the solar farm area and an enormous mulch making facility before cutting up closer to the road. I was close to my specific destination: the sunflowers.DSC_0714

Every year  the park plants a large field of tall sunflowers  which can be seen from the major thoroughfare. Countless children are taken there by their parents to pose for pictures among the flowers.  Engagement photos are taken there as well. Maybe some people even cut some  flowers to take home. I had always wanted to visit the sunflowers during their brief season, but until today I never had.DSC_0724

I dismounted and took out my camera. Rows and rows of sunflowers stood before me, just like a corn maze. I found an opening  and tromped in, taking care not to get too close to some families nearby who were photographing their children. As I admired all the yellow and  gold loveliness, I overheard parents admonishing their children to stop crying and smile for the camera. A Labrador Retriever was being urged to stand beside a recalcitrant child.DSC_0727

DSC_0716Nevertheless, it was a peaceful place. I could hear but not really see the traffic. And within the rows was a a magical feast of golds, yellows and greens. The sky was somewhat overcast, but the colors shimmered for me. Deep within the rows, unseen by any human eye, I stood perfectly still. All around me the bees buzzed and lit on flowers, while butterflies chased  one another from bloom to bloom.DSC_0744 DSC_0734 DSC_0739Everywhere I looked a sea of sunflowers faced the sun. DSC_0730Even the backs of their necks were beautiful to me.

How long did I stay? I stayed until I decided to leave. Somehow the warmth and simplicity of the sunflowers restored my equilibrium.  As I eventually pedaled away, I heard myself say to me, “You may have just five readers, but they’re QUALITY readers!” That made me laugh out loud. Yes, I was out on an adventure that day, and I wasn’t going by the specifications of others. I would follow the sun in my own way.

The Opposing Path, or Kerfluffle and Flow

Over thirty years ago, I married my complete opposite. I was a young, foolish extrovert who made decisions based on feelings and intuitions. He was equally  young and foolish, but  was an introvert who made his decisions with facts and evidence. When he wanted to make decisions quickly I felt pressured. But I had been raised in the South to please my man, so at least early in the marriage, I tended to go along with his ideas for the sake of harmony. On his part he was often stunned that there could be any opposition to his ideas, because they were so logical. Of course, too much going along for the sake of harmony makes for a cranky spouse, so through the years we  have had to learn to respect and even celebrate our differences.

I understand now that my detail oriented husband may actually have a heart attack if he cannot read the EXACT amount a check has been written for. For me, “about $70.00” is close enough. So I write checks out of another account he never even sees. Problem solved! He doesn’t like clutter, so I try to cheerfully hang up my clothes at least twice a week. On his part, he tries not to pressure me to make decisions quickly, because I have to know I have looked at all possibilities first. He is kind to me about things I don’t notice, like whether or not a car needs gas. He knows that is  way too boring for me to be involved with.

We have worked through the power struggles and communication problems of the earlier years and have emerged into the bliss of the empty nesting world. But a recurring challenge is how to come to mutual decisions.  Things always come up. When we have conflicting  ideas on how to handle a situation, what do we do? Does one partner capitulate to please the other, and deal with the resentment later? Does one partner doubt his or her own judgement and wonder if they’re just too controlling? Or do the partners keep working and keep talking until an agreeable decision is made? Where is the line between our individual selves and our partnership?

As I look back over the  last three decades, I see that we have always done our best when we have been  honest with ourselves and each other and have stuck to the work of working it out. Because we are constantly in the push/pull of being individuals and partners simultaneously, it is draining. Because we are opposites in personality styles, it is messy. But in the end it has brought us to the  best emotional places in our marriage.

Recently a new “thing”( meaning an  incident we will laugh about later but not yet)  came up that reinforced the importance for me of listening to myself. Here it is: In the process of preparing our pied a terre, we moved our bed from our home to the condo. This meant we would be purchasing a new bed for our home. But first our bedroom needed to be painted. In the interim, we had  been sleeping in another bedroom in our home.  When we moved our bed, I  gave away an armoire that had held many of my clothes, so my clothes were all over the place in plastic bags and various boxes.

Finally we picked a bedroom paint color and new bed linen.  As soon as my husband painted the room we could get new bedroom furniture. But no, first my husband wanted to do something about our laminate floor. Some of the boards had been pulling away from each other, in approximately the same place where I had used a space heater for several winters. My husband didn’t like the look of it. I thought we had bigger fish to fry, as the hardly anyone could even see the place. See Exhibit A.

Would anyone really notice this?

Would anyone really notice this?

My husband proposed that he (which I thought would surely also mean me) would pull up the  existing laminate while the room was empty, and lay an engineered hardwood floor. Although I am always happy to improve my home,  I did not like this idea. First, we had been neck deep in renovations at the condo for almost a year, and were so close to getting it furnished. I thought our efforts should go there. Second, all projects take longer than people  think they will, especially if either of the two of us is involved. Third, I had been without a bedroom or place to put my belongings for six weeks now, and I wasn’t interested in extending the time. I was tired of all this left brain decision making. I even wrote a post about it! I told my husband that if he must have a floor, that I would rather someone else put it in. No, no, no, he replied. That would be too expensive. He could do it himself for much less money. ( And five times the effort, I said to myself. I’ve matured over the years, so I don’t have to say everything I think.)

The next couple of weeks were excruciating for me. Every time the subject of the floors came up, my husband gave me his very logical reasons why we should follow his idea. I gave him my very valid reasons why we should not. I went to a flooring company  just to get estimates, hoping there would be little price difference between having someone put in the floor or doing it ourselves. My husband saw the estimates  and said they were too expensive.

I stewed. I did not want to be a poor sport, but I did not want to pull up  a floor and lay another one  right now. Why couldn’t he just listen to me? We didn’t (and don’t)  even have a car big enough to bring laminate home in! And what would we do with the old laminate? How many weekends would this take? I wondered if this  could be  just  a rare instance on my part of being stubborn. Surely not. But my husband was so stuck on this idea. Could I just give in? And readers, I could not. I had to listen to myself. We were going to have to go through the messy process of working it out. It made my stomach ache to think about it.

To the Moon Alice!

To the Moon Alice!

I brought it up one last time on a Thursday night. Sparks flew. We both defended our positions. I had tried giving my husband lots of facts, since I thought he could hear those better.  But finally I told him that if he proceeded the way he proposed it was going to cause more trouble than a few boards gone awry. What was his actual problem with the floor, and could we solve it using less drastic means? Since my husband could not live with the  appearance of the floor, we tried to order more laminate on the internet to repair it. But of course it was discontinued. Then he reluctantly agreed to try to glue the drifting parts down. Crisis averted, I hoped. My anxiety went down by one thousand points. I had taken care of my individual self, and the relationship had survived.

That Saturday he glued down the boards. On Sunday he began to replace the quarter rounds he had taken down to repaint the bedroom. We were just about ready for our new bed! Oh, I was so glad I had not just given in to what he wanted. I celebrated by spending an hour or so in my swimming pool. After a refreshing dip, I went into my bathroom for a shower. But…. the threshold to the bathroom was pulled up, and the laminate seemed … damp. What had happened?

My husband walked in at that time and said that yes, water seemed to be coming from somewhere in our bedroom, but where? And why? For the next hour we ran the wet /dry vac and tried to locate the source of the  ice cold water, which we had found seeping out from under the wall. Reluctantly my husband began to pull up pieces of laminate to see where the water was coming from. Things kept getting curiouser, and in the end we turned off the water  and put in a call to a plumber.

Oh No!

Oh No!

I was planning to attend a Ramadan dinner  that night with a friend, so I had to leave before the plumber arrived. Dinner was later than I thought, for I had failed to take in account that food could not be served until after dusk. As I listened to a speaker expound on working for the common good of all, I  received a text from my husband. The plumber found that my husband had driven a nail through the wall into a  water pipe coming in from under the slab of the house. He would have to jackhammer into our bedroom floor in order to fix the pipe. Water had seeped under the laminate, so our floor was of course, ruined.

On the way to the condo, where we had to sleep because we had no water at our home, my husband was so upset with himself. How could he have done this, he asked. How much was it going to cost to fix it? And why was I not angry with him? Why should I be angry with you? I asked him. It was just a mistake. Anyone could have done it. It’s not the end of the world. I meant that. At that moment I felt fully available to be a partner. That didn’t make my stomach hurt at all.

The next day a plumber came and fixed the pipe, and we were able to wash the 23 or so wet towels we had from the leak.  My husband called the insurance man, and someone came to patch the hole in the wall from the repair. Sometime during that week my husband said in a quiet  voice that when we got a new floor he no longer thought he had to install it himself. Oh, O.K., I said in a nonchalant tone.

That same day that the plumber fixed the slab, I attended my usual yoga class. Before we began, our teacher wanted to discuss two Sanskrit words, paksa, (roughly , going with the flow, ) and prati paksa (roughly, going against the flow). She related the terms to our yoga practice, saying that sometimes in order to properly do a pose we go the way the body wants to go, but at other times the best way to achieve balance is  to take  an opposite path. We must always assess which is the better choice: going with the flow, or going against the flow. Indeed.

She Who Restores Me To Myself

Magpies, in their love of shininess, have an especial need to experience scintillating moments with glittery people. By glittery I do not mean shallow, brittle, self absorbed, or vain. I am talking about an honest  shine that comes from the inside all the way out, an  unconditional shine that radiates warmth over others, a brightly colored shine that pulsates with willingness to pursue novel endeavors. I am of course describing my sister Ellen.

I promised in my last post to write about our latest adventures. But first a little background. Last summer I wrote  a post about my sister in which I referred to her as L.G., or Little General. Ellen did not appreciate that appellation, so I have withdrawn that name from our lexicon. Last week, in a blaze of dervish like activity prior to boarding a plane, I referred to my sister as a hurricane, knowing that should she read the post I would be in big trouble, my kind intentions notwithstanding.

I am  now on record to say that Ellen gets things done, but she is NOT a general. She is a force of nature, but she is NOT a hurricane. What then, can I call her?  She is a person of great intellect, wit, and charm. Her droll humor and clever imagination cannot be matched. Her no nonsense work ethic and organizational skills are an inspiration to others.   Her zest for life is unparalleled, her enjoyment of it a sight to behold. Her authenticity is a beacon to my soul. AND she loves me!

I had not seen my sister since December 2012, when I spent one night with her en route to a friend’s cabin. Little did we know that six long months would pass before we could see one another again. Somehow, with our various travel and work schedules along with  family commitments, the weeks elapsed with no firm visiting plans.

We don’t talk on the phone much. We write letters by hand, on paper, to one another, and have for years. But this past semester many weeks separated our letters. I was beginning to feel like an American colonist awaiting word from the continent.  Had my letter been lost at sea, dashed on a rocky promontory after a shipwreck? Would I hear that she and her family had perished in a smallpox epidemic? Finally my impatience got the better of me. I left her the following cryptic voice mail,”The jig is up!”

That, ladies and gentlemen, got a response, and at last we were able to plan for her to come see me in my town. She flew in on a Friday night just as my husband was flying out on a business trip, making the timing just right for an All Girls’ Extravaganza. I picked up the  Hurric. picked her up at the airport and took her straight to my new midtown condo to spend the night.  She admired the condo, and we both exclaimed over the sweet note my husband had left for us.DSC_0744  Then she unpacked a few of her things.  As I watched her familiar movements and listened to her long accustomed  voice, I had this exact thought: I am restored to myself.

Our plan for the week was to have no plan. That way our plans couldn’t possibly go wrong. That evening, we wanted to eat dinner someplace where we could hear ourselves talk. I recommended a place where we chose a secluded table. No sooner had we sat down  than a large group of ladies, some under the influence of more than two martinis with more in the offing, began screaming raucously, in a way that truly rattles the eardrums.IMG_2071

What do you suppose Ellen did? She approached those ladies, put her arm around one, leaned in and had a little ole talk with them. And they lowered the volume! When we left the restaurant a waitress followed us out to thank her for helping with  the situation!!! How do you describe someone like this?

I told you she's a force of nature!

I told you she’s a force of nature!

The next day Ellen accompanied me to a Knit In Public Day at the zoo. She joined right in with these knitters, sharing knitting anecdotes from her own experiences.. And yes, she had brought her own knitting, self sufficient as always.  She patiently allowed me to show her off to these folks who may never see her again,with nary a complaint  about the heat or crowds. What would you call someone like that?DSC_0711

After knitting we stopped in a consignment store  to look for midcentury modern furniture pieces for my largely unfurnished condo. She said she did not know what midcentury modern was, but she found  me two tables, and rearranged my car so that they would both fit.IMG_2060 But that is not all! She went all the way back down to the condo with me and helped me schlep them up there in grocery carts! Impressive, right?

And wait! There's more! She moves furniture!

And wait! There’s more! She moves furniture!

On Sunday Ellen gamely accompanied me to the Book Club Brunch where she knew barely a soul.  I had actually not read the book to be discussed but by chance she had and was able to make salient comments while I nodded sagely. Though we were at a lovely function in a lovely home, Ellen murmured not  when I announced we must be moving on to the theater to see Death Trap. This allowed me to use my last two remaining season tickets and  also take advantage of the special that day for extending my subscription. All because of Ellen.

On Sunday night we dropped in to Tug’s at Mud Island to be waited upon by my son. While enjoying our meal there we proofread a paper my son was  writing for a summer school class. I am fairly sure we were the only two customers there discussing poetry. After dinner we took a leisurely stroll by the banks of the Mississippi River, remarking on the environs and how many pieces of driftwood resembled dinosaurs.DSC_0726 Thus ended another cultural evening.

After a discussion of poetry over dinner.

After a discussion of poetry over dinner.

DSC_0741Ellen did not flinch the next evening when it was time for Iyengar Yoga. Her graduate school schedule had  prevented her from going to her own class all winter, but she knew enough to know not to push herself. She has “subbed” in my class before, so many members were of course glad to see her. After yoga we spent some quality time outside on my pergola ( which her husband was instrumental in building)  before eating a lovely dinner of grilled vegetables and chicken. Prepared by Ellen.

Post yoga quality time.

Post yoga quality time.

Our chef having some well deserved relaxation.

Our chef having some well deserved relaxation.

Tuesday was my hair day but we made it Ellen’s hair day too. I told her I liked her hair better red than blonde highlighted, so she obligingly had it redone. I watched to see how the stylist blew it dry so I could show her later. We were too hungry to take pictures, so just believe me that we were two groovy red haired old ladies when we left that shop.

And Wednesday. By Wednesday I had to face a deadline – Mary Hannah’s portrait. For months I had been working on the portrait my niece  had asked me to paint. I had decided that I would have it finished as best I could by the time Ellen departed on Thursday so she could deliver it for me.  This meant that after helping me with some yardwork early in the day, Ellen would be stuck watching me paint.DSC_0751 Ellen had, however, bought some teeny tiny canvases, and tried her hand at them while I labored repeatedly  to get M. H.’s skin color to a reasonable tone. Or tint. Or something. Eventually, though her skin looked like combinations of calamine lotion and badly applied makeup, I could do no more. Ellen was suitably soothing and optimistic that the portrait would pass muster with her daughter.DSC_0758

One of Ellen's tiny canvases.

One of Ellen’s tiny canvases.

That night we again spent the night at the condo in order to be closer to the airport in the morning. We wanted to have a nice evening so I made us a reservation a place close by where I did not think there would be gaggles  of loud ladies. Ellen acquiesced when I suggested she change out of those crummy shorts, and together we walked in the blazing heat to the restaurant.  She changed into a skirt of mine that was too long, while  I was wearing a skirt I considered a little dowdy. As we walked I saw how easy it could be for the two of us to become peculiar old ladies together, going to the Early Bird Specials and matinees, careful to be home by dark.

It was a bittersweet evening. As I doodled on my side of the tablecloth, Ellen was compiling  a list of all we had done.

Now with red hair.

Now with red hair.

The list was long, but not nearly long enough. Oh, the things we would do if we had more time! Oh, how empty indeed would even the mundane events be without her! We decided once again that there was no help for it but to retire together in the same place, on the same property if possible. We’ll tell our husbands it’s the only way.IMG_2084

Ellen has gone home now. The portrait is delivered. I am trying to recalibrate myself after almost a week with this adorable creature who knows my thoughts, who finishes my sentences, who always finds something to celebrate. Now that you have read my post I must ask: what you would call my sister? How can she even be described? If you can think of anything – not L.G. or Hurricane of course- I’d be glad to know. For now, I’m just going to call her She Who Restores Me To Myself.DSC_0736

Remedial Girl

Reading is the one  skill I can say comes naturally and easily for me.  I can’t even begin to list what reading has meant to me in my life, but for today suffice it to say there was no “low” reading group for me. From the beginning of school I regularly enjoyed a lofty position in the “high” reading group, grimacing as the other poor souls in my class struggled to sound out sight words.   My early success in reading led me to believe, falsely, that all other things would come easily to me as well.DownloadedFile-1

I’ve been  thinking about that because I  recently was  given one of those questionnaires you get when you join an organization. What are your accomplishments? List your other skills. And what would people be surprised to know about you?

The answer to all three questions was “Nothing.” I can’t do anything but read. I have no skills. Nope. Can’t do anything well. And nothing about me would surprise anyone. Needless to say I didn’t turn in the questionnaire.

I’m fairly new  to the whole “knowing how to do things” game. I grew up too late to be one of those little Southern girls who could embroider a hankie, converse in French, sketch my friends’ likenesses, dance the quadrille, and thrill my the menfolk after dinner with  my singing and  delicate playing of the pianoforte. Had I lived in those times, I still don’t know if I would have been very accomplished. I was an impatient child. I expected to learn and master skills without effort and persistence.  If a particular activity frustrated me,  I would just quit. Why did I need to learn to make a beanbag when I had Little Women right in the next room?

Also I was something of a klutz with a nice dose of performance anxiety. If I had chances to practice gross motor activities  repeatedly, such as roller skating, I would eventually catch on.  But fine motor activities were harder. Apparently I held my pencil in “lazy valley.” For years  every one of my school papers was returned with a big red “MESSY” written across the top, until  the fourth grade when, in a clever act of deceit, I  traced my classmate Claire’s perfect penmanship and inadvertently grew some new neural pathways. I just knew my fingers were way too big to handle a tiny needle and thread, and besides, one had to continually rethread the needle. Overwhelming, AND boring!

It was lonely sometimes down in Lazy Valley.

It was lonely sometimes down in Lazy Valley.

When I was older, my mother, who sewed beautifully, told me that if I could read I could sew. That was SO not true!  Do you hear me, Mother? Assuming one could lay out the pattern and cut the fabric, one had to be able to operate the machine without  fearing sewing one’s finger to the table.  Between choosing a pattern and the finished product there were just too many critical mess up points for me. In middle school a friend helped me sew a jumper, but my mother pronounced it unwearable. Ouch. Mothers don’t know their own power.

As a result I grew to be an adult who knew how to do one thing well: read. Since reading IS the one absolutely vital skill for a productive life, I am not complaining. But arriving on the scene of adulthood with few other skills  caused problems of its own.

I married and had children. I had neither decorative nor practical skills. If buttons fell off of our clothes we simply never wore them again. My stomach still hurts when I think of having to sew those thick Boy Scout achievement badges on my boys’ uniforms, before the meeting in one hour, before my husband came home, while something burned on the stove.  What was so challenging  was that when I was frustrated I didn’t have the option to just set the task aside; I had to move out of my comfort zone or else send naked children to school. I am sure the pressure made me a very cranky Mommy at times, and is no doubt  underlying cause of all my childrens’ neuroses!

As I became older I finally had the time, and seemingly out of nowhere, a deep undiscovered well of  patience to learn to do some things. My desire to do, to make, to create, finally won out against my poor self discipline, lack of skills and  self confidence. I dreamed of sewing bright, contemporary quilts, dyeing fabric, painting, knitting, making mosaics – everything in the world, really. I now have a  whole list of activities I enjoy doing badly. Right now I am mostly knitting. But whatever I may be doing at any given time the skill level is the same: remedial!

About eight years ago when my sister taught me to knit I envisioned being one of those people who give handmade knitted items as gifts.  After so many years as a hopeless klutz, I thought that learning these skills would be a nice boost for  my self esteem. But along the way I’ve learned that the object is not knowing how to do something. The object is knowing myself better.

Here are a few curriculum highlights in the “low group” of knitting:

1) My senses require that I have my hands in the tangible magic that is yarn and to delight in the endless ways to invent with it.

A feast for the eyes.

A feast for the eyes.

2) My spirit requires that I savor the sweet deliberate motions of knitting and enjoy its meditative qualities.

3) Each knitted object has a story and a process of its own. Within the finished object are all the memories of what was happening in my life at the time.The mistakes are part of the story. The mistakes are a vital part of the story.

This was to be a lovely afghan for my daughter. I learned the hard way that working on it while my Mother was having chemo was a BAD idea.  I had to felt it and turn it into a shawl for my daughter instead. When I remarked that ot looked so odd she probable couldn't wear or she said, "Don't worry Mom. I go to Berkeley!"

This was to be a lovely afghan for my daughter. I learned the hard way that working on it while my Mother was having chemo was a BAD idea. I had to felt it and turn it into a shawl for my daughter instead. When I remarked that ot looked so odd she probable couldn’t wear or she said, “Don’t worry Mom. I go to Berkeley!”

4) I must follow my own knitting path. I listen to what others may say about the benefits of double pointed needles or knitting two socks at a time, but only I can know which is best for me.

5) I must learn in my own way. If I must read instructions 400 times, so it is. If I must start over half as many times, I accept that also.

6) I  must remember not to take myself too seriously. If my knitted washcloths  look like pieces of fuschia colored naan,  and my scarves like snakes that went through the garbage disposal, that’s just part of the fun. After all, they are definitely original creations!

7) I  give myself permission to be lost, to need help and to ask for it. This may be my proudest achievement of all. Not knowing is not a reflection on me; it’s just part of the glorious process of creativity.

So far, so good on my latest project.

So far, so good on my latest project.

You may have realized that I am in no hurry to graduate from the Remedial Knitting Group. I am as serene as a bag on unspun wool at my Tuesday night knitting group, where the skill level of the other knitters ranges from brilliant to super extra brilliant. Unlike the first grade, there is no penalty for taking as long as I need to complete an item or to lovingly start the whole thing over again.

Will I one day knit up a pair of flawless socks? Present a baby afghan I designed myself? Follow the yarn process from shearing through spinning and dyeing? I’m sure I would be pleased if I could, but if I don’t, that is fine too. This Remedial Girl is learning plenty anyway.