Monday, February 15, 2021

Gratitude

I have lots to be grateful for--just having a roof over my head for starters. But I'm also glad for a poetry group I belong to. It was formed a few months ago by the YMCA. What? you ask. The Y has a poetry group? Yes, for the simple reason that its mission is to promote healthy living--body, mind, and spirit. Concerned for its members who are older and likely lonely during the pandemic, the YMCA of Greater Seattle formed a committee of staff and volunteers to develop activities for its older members to participate in from home. Yes, there were (and are) wonderful virtual exercise sessions for healthy bodies, but also things like cooking classes, Laughter Yoga, Forest Bathing, and a myriad of topics to tantalize and intrigue its older members so we don't become too lonely or desolate in the imposed social isolation.

Every Friday different opportunities and ideas were presented throughout 2020 from late spring. Enter the "Try Your Hand at Writing Poetry" offering on two consecutive Friday mornings in fall of 2020. The first session was an informal introduction and a challenge to write one poem on an assigned topic to share (optionally) the following week with the group. This opportunity appealed to a surprising number of people and it's been adding participants and meeting over Zoom for one-hour sessions twice a month ever since. We get an assignment each time--and read our poems to each other the following meetup. We aren't expecting to develop into T.S. Elliotts or e.e. cummingses or Mary Olivers. We are doing it for fun, but there has been some beautiful poetry shared by the writers. Terry Busch, a local poet, invents the assignments and gently mentors us. The Zoom sessions are hosted and overseen by the Y. Two weeks ago I rhymed the assignment: "Write about a walk in your neighborhood." I offer it here--for a fun change of pace. 

Gratitude While Walking the Sammamish River Trail

My home is on a quiet street. 
It's easy enough to walk 'the beat' 
but I don't always want to. 
So I go beyond the community fence 
to better relax, to get less tense 
and enjoy the splendid trail view. 

As I start down the well-worn path 
a racing biker shouts in wrath 
at a child who's weaving on her bike. 
Her protective mom is yelling out, 
demonstrating her parental clout. 
"It's her trail, too--go take a hike!" 

I smile at them both, then hurry by, 
and looking up, see brightening sky 
rebuffing supposed scattered showers. 
I thank my stars for these lovely walks 
and food and shelter and daily talks 
with friends and family, some for hours. 

My walks along this well-used trail 
provide release from Covid jail, 
inspiring me to let things go. 
Crows are cawing, trees are swaying 
unaware what the news is saying. 
Maskless Mother Nature needn't know. 

Fresh air is mine to breathe and use 
but with it comes my lifelong dues 
to care intentionally for all. 
My personal privilege shields me 
from much despairing intensity 
that lurks beneath the Covid pall.

Friday, January 29, 2021

Fluky or Fortuitous?


Occasionally something happens in our lives that can feel uncanny in its timing, even providential, when it precedes something unforeseen in the future. Although this is a tiny, unimportant event to anyone but me, I recently had such an experience and feel compelled to share.

Last October I noticed a little flag on my Messenger App indicating a message awaited. "Hello, we don't know each other, but . . ." it began and continued, ". . . my husband and I were the first owners of your house. The California-based writer went on to mention she'd been browsing on the Internet and had found a real estate listing in my community and had become curious if anyone was still living in the community whom she might remember. As with anyone's 'Covid-leisure,' where constraints on routine outside activities drive a person to spend a lot of time online, she located me--the current owner of, she went on to describe, her all-time favorite home.

We had several exchanges: she told me about milestone events that occurred in her family's life while living here; I told her what changes had been made by the two owners sandwiched between us. We exchanged a couple of photos of the interior and generally, over the course of a Saturday afternoon, had a delightful 'conversation.' The last thing she wrote, without any provocation, was that the flat cement parking slab in front of my home was deeded to my unit and ended by saying, "And don't let anyone ever tell you differently! It is NOT common property of the entire condominium association."

The area in question is an extra parking area level with my front door, making my townhouse fully accessible. Because my late husband and I imagined growing old here (indeed, one of us has done so), it was an appealing feature. I've always considered it part of my unit, so I thought little of her comment. Until, that is, three months later, when . . .

But wait  . . . first I need to mention that parking in our community is, and always has been, in short supply. Each townhome owner has a two car garage, and another two spaces in the garage-adjoining driveway. Our street is too narrow to allow parallel parking. With life the way it is now--twenty-five years after the community was built--two things have changed. First, cars are bigger, so two in a garage can be a tight fit, and second, accumulation of material objects seems to be on the rise. As a result, many people need their garage space to store excess belongings, especially those with children. In 2021 more people are permanently parking in their driveways and overflow parking has become almost non-existent.

Early this month a heated dispute arose among my neighbors. What if a garage is a storage unit with no room for cars, and you acquire a third car? Then what? One idea was put forth: the parking areas that is basically in my front yard should be first-come, first-served parking area for anyone. After all, it belonged to the community, didn't it?

I have always shared the spot, whether it's to accommodate guests at neighbors' parties or visiting family with a car too big to fit in a driveway, a repairman working on a problem across the street, etc. I share it with anyone who asks, and try always say yes unless I am planning to use it myself for loading/unloading, for guests, etc. It is also the scene of all our all-community outdoor events, whether the annual potluck, summer-time Board meetings, or Covid-conversations when several neighbors bring chairs to the space to sit socially distanced and chat. But even when these events for the entire community have been staged there, I've always been asked, as a courtesy, if it's OK.

At one point I was confronted by a resident who told me the parking slab was NOT mine . . . never had been mine . . . and who did I think I was, anyway, to think Icould control the ONLY extra parking space in the community. "People don't have to ask your permission--they can use it whenever." That was one neighbor's strong opinion, at any rate.

Do I sound selfish? Probably. As a friendly and generally cooperative neighbor, I don't want to be a negative player in my community, but the thought of looking out my bedroom window and always see a vehicle parked just feet from my window, day and night, isn't appealing. It was my word against theirs . . . but how could I prove what I'd always assumed was true? And that's when I recalled the original owner's parting words on Messenger last October. 

After a number of attempts prowling through online county property records, I found the original Statutory Warranty Deed to my townhouse condo, amended to include a description of the accessible parking area belonging exclusively my unit. Indeed (pun intended) that parking space belongs to me, and now I have proof. This is not to say I won't share it generously, but it does mean I'll have a say over having it available for my needs. Meanwhile, the community parking issues have been ameliorated, at least for now. Our neighborhood is settling back into a semblance of civility, which we all hope will continue. It's a great place to live and exceptionally peaceful, as a rule. 

And that is the happy ending, for me, anyway, of this saga. I have proof of ownership through the statutory warranty deed filed in 1996. But if it had not been for that random communication by the original owner, and her unrelated shared tidbit about the parking pad, the outcome might have been very different. It feels providential. 

Saturday, January 16, 2021

The Deadly Yellow Label

I am not unusual in my snail-mail experience; most of what I receive daily is what's known as junk. Grocery store ads, requests for donations, postcards and letters from companies hoping I'll need their services. Whenever I see an envelope that's been handwritten, I take notice immediately. Of course, many advertisers have discovered this trick, so it's not unusual to tear open an envelope eagerly, only to discover a form-letter asking me for something--money or patronage.

Today, however, I received a Christmas card I'd mailed to an acquaintance of twenty-plus years. To direct the card back to me a yellow label had been affixed to it. And while it was very sad news, the label also struck me as a little-bit funny. DECEASED . . . UNABLE TO FORWARD. Really? The USPS has to tell me it can't forward it?

But it got me to thinking. Wouldn't it be great if the post office could forward mail to our deceased loved ones? It would just be a matter of someone informing the USPS of which place the deceased has gone. 

Check one: ⬜Heaven  ⬜Hell  ⬜Limbo ⬜Unsure 

Most survivors could pick one of the above. USPS could provide forms and provide a drop box for the completed forms. Once received, it would just be a matter of the USPS recording the deceased's new address to be assured of delivery. I'd really like my idea because there are a lot of people not of this world that I'd like to communicate with. And, after all, in this day and age, I'd imagine a handwritten envelope would be welcome, no matter where the recipient is dwelling. Something to wish for, anyway. 

Sunday, December 20, 2020

Bears transform barren holiday

Maebeary wears Rudolph's nose, not a red ribbon
Because I will not be able to host friends and family during this holiday season, my motivation for decorating lessened considerably. I know--we're supposed to be looking out for ourselves this year--self care, in the jargon of mental health experts. But the fact of the matter is, I think it's more fun to decorate when other people can see the result.

Although I didn't feel like hauling the contents of several bankers' boxes to the living room this year to transform the house into a tiny wonderland, I had an inspiration. My stuffed bear collection!  And to give due credit, the inspiration came while conversing in a Zoom-based Community Café facilitated by my local YMCA for older members of the community during the pandemic. The conversation was about things we could do differently this year to help stave off loneliness. 

Yes, my stuffed bear collection, stored on shelves in the empty room that was my late husband's office, could come downstairs for the holidays! And so I tied a red ribbon on each of them and tossed them over the stair railing (that was the most fun of all), and gave them a place of honor on the couch. After all, no one else will be sitting there this year.

It's quite fun, I have to admit, to have the company. Only two bears stay downstairs regularly: a large plump brown bear
Jules talks with Santa (not a bear,
but a gift from a dear friend years ago)
, Jules, was a gift from one of my sons more than twenty-five years ago; and Maebeary, last year's Christmas gift from a granddaughter. Jules is quite staid--perhaps it's his middle age (in bear years). Maebeary, however, was born to be a clown--and, of course, she's young. I keep both on my bed and for whatever reason they delight me daily. She regularly falls off the bed and lands in silly poses. Sometimes she twines herself around Jules as if she's trying to get attention. Maebeary apparently heard about the couch congregation and demanded to join them. No red ribbon for her, however. Instead she opted for a Rudolph nose. 

Jules joins the group only in the daytime, preferring the luxury of a queen sized bed to a crowded couch (and besides, Jules is a very cozy companion on the pillow next to mine). But I couldn't be happier to have them in my living room this year. They are doing a surprisingly good job keeping my loneliness at bay.


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Saturday, November 28, 2020

Call from Anna Nimmus


Yes, I'm old fashioned; I still have a landline with several extensions. There was a time when the handsets were all connected to a phoneline, so if the electrical power went out, they still worked. Well, that technology disappeared and now my landline ceases working like everything else when the power fails. Still, they are reliable instruments that ring loudly in their respective rooms (the kitchen, the bedroom, the basement, etc.) and robotically announce who's calling. 

My most common caller nowadays is someone announced as Anna Nimmus. What a nuisance she is; she calls me at least four times a day. If I block her number, she uses another one. Wow--what a deep pocket she must have to afford all those phone lines. If I read her ID on the handset's screen, she spells her name Anonymous. But the robot announces her as Anna Nimmus. I ignore calls from Anna, despite how badly she wants to reach me, and hope she'll give up trying to get in touch. Wishful thinking, of course.

The way telephones work and are used is but a tiny example of the enormous amount of change I've lived through as an eighty-year-old. When I was young, my family had one clunky rotary-dial phone--and it was a big day when we got an extension on the second floor of our house. We were some of the lucky ones because we had our own line, not a two-party line we shared with another household. Some of my friends' families had those two-party lines. When making an outgoing call, you picked up the receiver and listened before dialing because the line might be in use by someone from the other household sharing it. Lots of jokes were made about secretly listening to another's call that way, and even books were written with this sneakily invasive method of finding out someone else's business (a murder, perhaps!) as a plot point. Families whose budgets were stretched to the max could opt for a four-party phone line, as well. With a four-party line, you'd hear another household's phone ring at your house, but the ring pattern would be different. You only answered it when it was your ring.  Clearly, in the 1940s and early '50s a private line was a luxury that not everyone could afford, and some families had no phone of their own, but used their neighbors' for emergencies. 

Fast forward through push button, cordless, etc., all the ensuing modernizations of the family phone. In cities, shared phone lines were phased out by the end of the '50s and several extensions could be found in a typical middle-class home. Now let's visit my grown-woman (wife and mother) household in the late '70s. A family of six that included four teenagers, one phone line and two extensions.  One handset was on a table in the upstairs hallway. One handset was a wall-mount in the kitchen. The phone upstairs had the longest cord allowed, a spiraled cord in the same matching green as the handset. The user could have a semblance of privacy by carrying the phone into his/her bedroom and shutting the door. If you shared a bedroom, however, it was hard to keep out the occupant, so the cord also reached into the bathroom, running under a door that could be locked.

It seemed as if there were always others waiting to use the phone, make their plans, gossip with their friends, check homework with their schoolmates, call their girlfriends. Even the parents might need to check in with their friends or neighbors or appointments. One of the most effective and definitely the most annoying ways of getting to use the busy family phone was to lift the receiver of the extension not in use and interrupt the current conversation. If a sibling did so, it could start a furious fight. If a parent did so, it contaminated cordial communication for a period (lasting from minutes to hours).

Recently my youngest son told his seventeen-year-old daughter about having to take turns to use the phone to call his friends in the evening, and how, if the friend's mother answered the phone, etiquette dictated a short, polite conversation with the mother before asking if his friend was home. My granddaughter was incredulous. It was akin to our parents telling us they walked three miles through the snow to school. "You WHAT? OMG, Dad! Really?"

I love my cell phone, how I can text someone, "Can you have a quick chat now?" before calling. What a great way to cut wasting time chatting with someone's mother first. Not that my friends have mothers anymore . . . but I still love my cell. I don't have to ask if I'm catching my friends at a good time. My cell phone counts my steps, serves as a timer and alarm, acts as my photo album and camera, records conversations, holds my library book, becomes my flashlight and magnifying glass, and serves as the best encyclopedia ever imagined. And speaking of encyclopedias, remember the door-to-door salesmen? Don't get me started.

Saturday, November 14, 2020

Meet the McDraggals

Although the quality of this photo is poor, it remains one of my favorite family pictures. For years I kept it on my desk in corporate America as a way of announcing that yes, I had a family, but details would stay compartmentalized. Of course, the photo always prompted sideways glances or outright questions. And I would answer: Yes, I am the tallest one in the photo, and, Yes, the other four are my offspring. See a family resemblance? Meet the McDraggals.

The McDraggals came about in 1977 to help a friend and volunteer mom who was in charge of the annual grade school talent show where three of my children were pupils. That year, The Gong Show was a huge TV hit, and that gave my friend an idea. She wanted to model the talent show that year on it. Her thought was that instead of the usual polite applause for the multiple degrees of talent and non-talent the audience usually endured, audience members would instead be encouraged to boo so the gong would ring! But, so as not to hurt children's feelings, she had a plan (one that needed and received approval of the principal of the school). She would privately arrange to have kids from each grade (with full disclosure to their parents) intentionally create awful acts that would be booed instantaneously, thus getting the gong within a half-minute. (She even planted several relatives in the audience to assure that happen). The judges presiding over the gong would be PTA moms, full of compassion and would manage outcomes so no one would be sad or insulted. She approached me and asked if a member of my family would like to invent an awful talent act. With kids in third, fifth, and sixth grades in the school, she was fairly certain one of them would rise to the challenge.

Like most families, we watched The Gong Show every week, and the idea was immediately appealing. It didn’t take long to think up the perfect act. The whole family would be needed, however, to make it work. We would play our fake bagpipes! Dad had a tech rehearsal the very same night as the talent show, however, so he couldn't (sadly . . . wink wink) participate.

And what are 'fake bagpipes'? you might be thinking. The six of us together loved to replicate the sound of bagpipes by pinching our noses and humming the classic tune, Scotland the Brave, with a deliberately nasal tone while concurrently striking the outside edge of the other hand across our Adams apples. This is not a healthy action in terms of the vocal cords and no one should do this for very long, but the sound eerily resembles bagpipes and is still hilarious to whomever hears it. 

And as the kids became more inspired about developing an instantly gong-able act, we came up with the idea of everyone wearing mixed tartans and plaids, the more clashing the better! There were plenty of hats on the closet shelf (some having belonged to two deceased grandfathers), and a quick trip to the local variety store would provide more Groucho Marx glasses with mustachioed noses like the one already in the dress up box. Voila! The McDraggals were born.

The third grader was eager to take part, but not sure he wanted to be a bagpiper. Instead, he happily conducted the group with a plumber's friend as his baton, adding another dimension of silliness. The eighth grader was tickled to return to her alma mater for this silly event, and my participation gave everyone the scapegoat they needed, in case people later made fun of them (Mom MADE us do it).

Of course, nothing ever turns out quite the way one imagines it. Instead being booed and gonged within seconds, as we expected to be, the audience began to giggle and laugh and roar and applaud and call out "more, more," as we struggled to make it through repeated choruses of the tune. No one gonged us! Eventually the Master of Ceremonies urged the audience to boo, and the gong finally sounded. 

In my memory, at least, The McDraggals was one of the most original and fun acts of the evening for the audience, but the immediate reactions by four of the five of the McDraggals, however, was mortification. If you've agreed to make a fool out of yourself for a few seconds, it's not fun to be kept onstage for what was probably two minutes (and, indeed, those two minutes felt like fifteen). It took a few years before we, as a family, could laugh about the experience. Now it’s always fun to remember. And we've been known to hum/play Scotland the Brave on our fake bagpipes as recently as a few years ago. 

Sunday, October 18, 2020

Blogger woes

Until recently, I could easily check out readership stats on my blog or go into an old one to correct a typo or add a missing word. Normally I don't spend any time re-reading old posts, but once in a while, when I notice that there's been a lot of interest on a particular post (especially if it's been a decade since I put it on my blog), I will re-read it. 

In the case of Cindy Part II, when I re-read it, I saw a small material error that I wanted to correct, and when I did so, the post jumped to the top, as if I had just now written it. In the case of Cindy Part II, it seemed ludicrous to have it appear as if I wrote it today, with Part I appearing exactly eleven years earlier. I might be slow at posting, but not THAT slow!  With a LOT of wrangling, I was able to move Cindy Part I to the top (there is absolutely no way to push something into the past where it belongs), which sequentially matches the parts. But--consider yourself warned--it's not new. It hearkens back to the first year of blogging in which I was determined to self-publish many of my personal essays that had not yet seen the light of day.