Saturday, December 29, 2007

Betty and the Budweiser Brouhaha

I received an urgent phone call from an old friend, X. He's the widower of a woman I used to work with. I was always fond of their family and often visited X at his assisted living facility, and at the hospital when his COPD gave way to pneumonia.

On the phone, X asked if I could pick up something for him from the store. Sure, I was always happy to help. What did he want?

"I want a 12-pack of beer."

"Uhhhh....Are you sure it's OK for you to have beer? What about that thickener you have to add to all your beverages?"

"Oh- didn't I tell you? The doctor said that carbonated beverages are fine for me now."

"Even beer?"


"Did the doctor say the word 'beer'?"

"Yes, it's FINE!!!"

This is where the conflict started to set in. X's family thinks he's an alcoholic. When he first became ill a year ago and had to be taken to the hospital, he nearly died. I was told by the family that it was the alcohol which had brought him to such a physical state.

I knew that the family would not want X to have alcohol. I guess I am obligated to honor the family's wishes, not X's wishes. When an older adult reaches a state of health which requires long-term care, it appears that the person loses control of his life. The younger family member who has been given Power of Attorney is the one who takes over control of the older person's life.

X, mind you, is mentally sharp as a tack, and at age 74, is not exactly ancient. He has his own room in the assisted living facility. Three meals a day are served in the dining room, which is a huge benefit for this widower who doesn't know his way around the kitchen. I'm not sure why, but he doesn't seem to be allowed to drive.

His family, along with the pastor of his church, seem utterly convinced that X should not be allowed to have alcohol. If obesity was X's problem, would they be limiting his food, I wonder? If lack of exercise was X's problem, would they have him on a strict daily exercise regimen? Is it really right for human beings to control other human beings when they reach a certain age or level of vulnerability?

Would I want a family member controlling me if I were in X's situation? Hell, no! If I'm dying of some chronic condition and some doctor says I can't have ice cream, I hope my son will bring me the ice cream anyway- I've already told him that. Even if my ice cream intake is viewed as suicidal, bring it on. Whose business is it besides my own?

If X's intake of beer is viewed as suicidal by his controllers, well, so what? Each decision we make day in and day out is either life-giving (like exercising) or life-threatening (like drinking Coke). X's life choices are none of my business (and none of his family's business).

So I decided to deliver the beer to X. In the grocery store, as luck would have it, I ran into a friend. I was embarrassed about the tarnishing of my goody-two-shoes image as I struggled with the large, unwieldy package of beer at the checkout. Still unsure of my decision, I felt obligated to explain myself.

"Well, Betty, the assisted living facility is responsible if anything happens to X. You really should ask them if the beer's OK. You don't want to end up in trouble if something happens..."

Oh, boy. X's simple request was rapidly turning into a complex dilemma. But I had purchased the beer and was on my way to the assisted living place.

Imagine my surprise when the gentleman exiting as I entered the facility happened to be X's pastor, whom I recognised from a prior encounter! I tripped over the threshold, causing the beer box to rip its way out of its paper bag. His eyes bulged as he offered help and then started to recognise me. He gasped audibly.

" YOU'RE the 'important meeting' that X had to get rid of me for......Are you taking BEER to him?????"

Feigning ignorance, I looked at him with confusion. "Is he not supposed to have it? He assured me it was allowed...."

The all-knowing pastor shook his head. "He's tried to get me to bring booze, he's tried his family, now you.....he's alcoholic, and he lies to get the stuff. Go ask the staff here about it."

Feeling like a criminal, I looked around in the building for some authority figure to consult with, just because I'd been exposed and now felt that I needed their permission (if I could miraculously obtain it).

Finally I ran into an elderly resident doing her laps around the hallways. I asked her if anybody worked here on Saturday. She took me into the kitchen. I felt hopeful at the sight of these rather laid-back kitchen workers, and in fact the first one who answered my question said that residents are allowed to have beer in their fridges.

Then another one said, "Well, we'd better call the family to make sure there's no issue we don't know about..."

Well, the phone call didn't go well. X's daughter-in-law laid down the law- no booze for X. He might die from it, after all. And in the society we live in, I suppose I could be held resonsible for his death if it happened to occur after he enjoyed a cold one.

Well, I have to play by other people's rules in this case, but let it be known that my motto is this:


Wednesday, December 19, 2007

2007 assessment

Letting the dog sleep in the basket full of warm laundry fresh out of the dryer is one of the most considerate things I've done all year, I thought to myself. Hmmmm....all year....what kind of year has it been, anyway?

A lot of the usual stress was alleviated by the fact that The Child's father has been out of the picture for 2007, with the exception of one supervised visit taking place in a facility set up for such purposes. That one session was cut short because the father openly defied the rules by bad-mouthing me to The Child and by discussing the court case with The Child. His behavior was so remarkably belligerent and offensive that the facility's manager refused to allow the father back for any subsequent sessions. Thus, except for my worrying about what might happen and when, it's been a year of unusual peace. Early in 2008, the case goes to trial. But that's a different year......

My belief is that every child benefits immeasurably from the influence of a reasonable father. I am my child's advocate.

Throughout this year, The Child and I have enjoyed perfect health (with a couple of insignificant glitches here and there) and my goal is to appreciate that. I wish everyone in my life had been so blessed; we lost The Child's first babysitter/nanny in March. Gloria, the smartest woman I've ever known, had had been my surrogate mother, and she had proudly referred to The Child as her grandson. What an honor. Now I feel as though I've lost two mothers....yet I was fortunate to have had two.

Another loss was that of my dear friend who used to stop by my house whenever he was on his way to the senior center next door. A retired chemist, he was one of the first people I'd met in this city. Like Gloria, he was one of the few people who really tried to make me and The Child feel like part of his family. I didn't usually think of him this way, but I guess it's obvious now that he was my surrogate father. I very much miss the fatherly advice he gave me- something I lacked from my biological father.

The amazing thing about both Harold and Gloria is that neither of them had any need for me. They each had several adult children of their own, and Harold was still very happily married. They were loving people who exemplified the belief in abundance.

I attended The Child's winter concert yesterday at his school. I was struck by one girl in the front row who smiled through the entire gig. How sad that she stood out as being "the ONE who smiled"! Many thoughts went through my mind as I focused on her. Was she a "people pleaser?" Was she mentally impaired? (Not my finest moment.) Was she born happy? I had been thinking a lot lately about the concept of innate tendencies and personalities and ways of being in the world.....(having a child brings up such questions)....did this girl realize what a gift she was offering to the people around her? My eyes filled with tears, and then focused on Jonah, the boy in my son's class whose father was killed last week in a horrific trucking accident. Jonah appeared to be one of the most joyous children on that stage. He literally danced his way from the chorus risers to his hand drum for the drumming group presentation. He told my son that day (yesterday) that it was the happiest day of his life. He was a demonstration of miraculous healing and resiliency, and of the power of music to soothe the soul.

2007 was the year that I took my house off the market in an apparent act of giving up on my dreams. I use the word "apparent" because I still have some degree of confusion over why I can't have what I want, which is a huge, beautiful restored Victorian house in the downtown neighborhood which I have obsessed over for years. In a twist of irony, The Child's school relocated this year to that very neighborhood. It's near torture for me to have to drive through my beloved neighborhood on a daily basis, yet it's also a pleasant treat, especially with the gorgeous Victorians all decked out for Christmas.

This past summer I had a reunion with my number one college professor. No wonder he was the perfect teacher, I thought. He has a certain way of being in this world- thoughtful, gentle, all-knowing, fatherly...he almost seems connected to a Higher Source. There were times when he looked as if he was channeling, seriously.

This past year I have tried to operate from appreciation mode. I have been more aware of the gifts some people offer, such as smiles, surrogate parenting, gentleness, joy. So it seems that my main theme for this past year has been to examine our various ways of being in this world. We're each born with certain tendencies, for sure, but we have options, too, especially once we hit adulthood. I wonder how I present myself to the world....maybe that will be the theme of 2008.

Monday, December 17, 2007

doggone park

Most people think that the idea of living on a park is rather appealing. I did, and that's why I kept driving up and down the row of houses on this park, waiting for one to go up for sale. I thought only of all the greenspace outside my front door, totally taken care of by city employees. Could there be a downside?

Well, yes: loose dogs. This city is one of the few left on the planet which lacks leash laws. There is one oft-neglected and little-known law which states that "off-leash dogs must be under the control of their owners at all times." Yeah, right.

It is only in the delusional minds of their owners that the dogs frequenting this park are under control. When I first moved here, I was shocked to discover that dog owners not only let their dogs race through the park unattended, they also thought nothing of allowing their dogs onto my property where they often terrorized my 4 year old son.

At the entrances to the park there are signs beseeching dog owners to clean up after their pets. Right! Once the animals are set loose, they take off like bats out of hell, so that even if their owners did intend to clean up after them, it would be impossible. The dogs are rarely within 50 yards of their owners. (I've seen dog owners just stand in the parking lot while their dogs take off on an adventure, unattended.)

During my first year living here, I yelled at several of these dog owners, many of whom were serial offenders. I told them that they were being inconsiderate of other people, including those who kept their dogs on leashes (who constantly had to fight off the loose dogs). I also mentioned that they were breaking the law by failing (miserably) to control their dogs.

It didn't take me long to see that I was wasting my breath. The dog owners simply blew me off, sometimes in very obnoxious ways. Fighting against them just raised my blood pressure. It didn't change the behavior of the dogs or their owners.

This is the entrance into the park from my property. That's my Chihuahua entering the park. I walk my dog on a leash out of respect for others. I'm able to pick up my dog's droppings because I'm right there at the other end of the leash. My house has no fenced yard, so I have to walk the dog several times a day. It would be nice if I didn't have to worry about the loose dogs- sometimes I get lucky, and other times I see the dogs coming, and I scurry back into the house, having learned not to fight. I choose flight over fight.

The other day, however, I was rushing the dog outdoors right before leaving for work when two of the most enormous dogs I've ever seen suddenly appeared out of nowhere. I heard the sounds of dogs growling and snarling, and I was so surprised by the whole thing that I don't even know if the noise was coming from my dog or the others. After being stunned silent for a few moments, I yelled out to the 2 dog owners 50 yards away, "COME ON!!!! YOU"RE NOT BEING FAIR TO OTHER PEOPLE!!!"

They looked at me as if I were from Mars and the man bellowed, "WHATS YER PROBLEM, LADY?"




"GO AHEAD! CALL THE POLICE!" they hollered as they walked away rapidly.

"YOU'RE COWARDS!" (OK, this was not my finest moment, but I resort to name-calling only in hopeless situations.)

Readers, I ask you: is it me, or are such dog owners out of line?

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

rendezvous with the neighbors

It was just the female neighbors, actually. We were to meet last night for a candle exchange Christmas party. I own one of 20 houses on the park. My house, on one end of the row of 20, is the smallest; the party was held on the other end, at the largest. Its living room had the square footage of my entire house, and easily seated 20 women.

I tried to act nonchalant, but the idea of socializing amongst neighbors is unnerving to me. The question is, do I fit in? A counselor I was seeing a few years ago suggested that I was seeking somewhere to belong, and heaven knows I have put a tremendous amount of time into assessing which neighborhood I really wanted to live (belong) in.

This neighborhood comprises retirees to a large extent. There's a simple reason for that: the houses were built in the late 1950's/early 1960's, and these people bought the houses to raise their families in. They've stayed, enjoying the park location, and now they're in their 70's, 80's and 90's. My particular house has experienced more turnover- I'm its 4th owner, I think.

This neighborhood differs from the upstate NY neighborhood I grew up in. This one is more affluent and conservative. Everybody here understands the rules and abides by them, thank you very much. It's a rather uptight-looking place, with well-manicured lawns and not a wayward leaf in sight (heaven forbid).

Where I grew up it was more relaxed, more diverse. There were varied ethnic backgrounds, and the cooking smells emanating from each house reflected that. People sat outside on their front porches, unafraid to be seen idle, blatantly watching their neighbors. My best friend and I would run to the seedy bar a few blocks away to beseech her Polish father to come home. There was a bachelor, pipe-smoking Floyd, who didn't drive or speak to anyone, and a widow, Mrs. Sweet, who, true to her name, passed out candy to neighborhood children. The older couple in the house across the street never came out of the house for any reason, and we never knew how they obtained food. The Wilsons stood out because they grew tulips- few in this working class neighborhood could afford to bother with flowers. The Jaworskis were unkempt, their house neglected, abandoned cars cluttering their yard. There were real characters living on my street.
No wonder I crave the diverse, high energy downtown neighborhood which I'm always talking about moving to. It reminds me of my roots. I'm homesick.

The neighborhood I now live in is milktoast, devoid of color or personality. The party was somewhat dull, as expected given the neighjborhood we live in. I did connect with 5 or 6 women, and enjoyed that. To that extent, I did fit in. I did not find it necessary to be uptight or judgemental during the party; therefore, I was not self-conscious. For me, this is progress.
Although I live near these women, we live in a suburban type area, much to my dismay, so we rarely, if ever, interact. We all go directly into our houses from our cars via attached garages. There are no sidewalks here- walking is discouraged and dangerous. Odd as it seems, I did not even recognize most of these neighbors at the party, and I've lived here 7 years! Although the question of fitting in is always in the back of my mind, if only subconsciuosly, I was not really sure that this was the group I wanted to fit with. I see myself as being more free spirited and colorful.
One older woman who'd had one glass too many of the red wine was treating me like a daughter, beckoning me over to sit next to her (she orchestrated a complete overhaul of the seating arrangement to pull this off) and then she rested her hand on my leg as she held court. She was the most lively of the bunch, I'd say, as I recall the way she kept bursting into gales of laughter for no known reason.

Before the candle exchange began, one woman suddenly popped out of her chair with shocking enthusiasm, waving a clipboard above her head, shouting, "LADIES!!! LADIES!!!!! May I have your attention PLEASE!!!!"

It turned out that she'd had a brainstorm and wanted to start a neighborhood euchre group. All my life I have hated cards, probably because my parents belonged to a card club and I dreaded their raucous parties at our house. Anyway, she passed around the clipboard for people to sign up. I passed. Hmmmm...maybe I don't belong.....

Finally we got down to the point of the evening: the candle exchange. We were supposed to be able to "steal" a candle someone else had chosen if we liked it, but we were all too wimpy to steal, being representatives of this righteous neighborhood. It turned out that I happened to choose the candle brought by the overly friendly wine drinker who had demanded that I sit with her. (She was thrilled that I was her candle's recipient.)As you can see, it is a cinnamon colored/sented candle inside a silver and gold box wrapped with a red bow. At first glance, I determined that it was not my cup of tea, and I'd re-gift it. (I am a product of the above-described upstate NY neighborhood.) After I got home, however, I thought maybe I'd keep it as a souvenir of my "fitting-in fest."

Did I fit in? Well, I didn't stand out. That's a start.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

return of the inevitable

Although snow blankets the rose garden outside of my house, it's not totally convincing, as you can see from the triumphant green of the rose bushes rising above the snow. (Roses are not evergreen!) This year, the roses have faded relunctantly, and they still haven't let go completely.

The dark spots on the land are not signs of unattended dogs- they're leaves which weren't ready to fall when the raking humans thought they should. Snowfall is not usually peppered with leaves, which I interpret as another sign of this garden's reluctance to let go.

The rose garden may not seem ready for dormancy, but the Chihuahua sure is looking a bit drowsy. All that shivering uses up a lot of energy, as does walking on 3 legs to protect the 4th from that nasty cold wet stuff.

The warmer temperature today creates the effect of a spring thaw- last night's snowman has already bit the dust. The garden appears to be getting its way.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

an unconventional thanksgiving

This indoor waterpark was the site of Thanksgiving 2007 for The Child and me. I have given up on trying to seek a traditional Thanksgiving. I am not traditional- no use pretending. I am a single parent, never married. I have no extended family to speak of, ever since my mother died many years ago. One year, when The Child was 10 months old, I held a quasi-traditional Thanksgiving meal at my house, complete with turkey, stuffing, potatoes and green beans. An assortment of friends attended. I was lucky that year; many friends were available and willing to share the date with us.
Too bad The Child was 10 months old- too young to have any conscious memories of that particular occasion. I'm not sure he believes me when I tell him about that very memorable Thanksgiving. Since then, those friends have married off, moved away, or become too busy.This year I thought I'd try something different. The Child has always been drawn to water, so I suspected he'd love one of those enormous waterparks which have recently been sprouting up all over the land. As for myself, I love bright lights and stimulation, so the above scene is rather appealing to me. Mind you, I am not proud of this preference of mine. I'd rather tell you that I'm a nature lover who wants to live in a cabin in the woods where my husband and I live off the land and homeschool our wholesome brood, but it isn't so. (Just to be sure I'm not confusing anyone, there is no husband, and technically, no brood since there's only one Child.)
And how many people get to test their athletic ability on a major holiday? Doesn't the above activity look more fun than sitting around a table full of fattening foods? (Seriously- I read that hospital emergency rooms are overflowing with people suffering heart attacks every Thanksgiving evening.)
Then, upon returning home, we were invited to a post-Thanksgiving dinner at Garnet's house, with his family from faraway and many of our friends. The Child and I managed to pull off a holiday featuring the best of both worlds.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

a passing temptation

November is now unmistakably evident in the rose garden on which my house is situated, even though the temperatures remain tepid. A few defiant roses bloom to this day. The chipmunks are hibernating despite the tolerable temperatures, and the squirrels scurry frantically in pursuit of fallen treasure.
The fall colors were more brilliant than usual this year. I will have to ask my friend the horticulturist why that is. I'm hoping that winter is as mild as fall. My neighbors, assuming the worst, have fled to Florida with their flock of snowbirds.

This is one of the other houses on the rose garden. (There are twenty altogether.) It's for sale by its original owner. People tend to hang on to these rose garden houses. The house is 50 years old. The average number of years that people keep houses in this city is 6 years; these houses on the park turn over very seldom.

This is the view from the backyard of the above house for sale. Those of you who read my blog are aware that I am house-restless, always wanting to sell my house and buy another. I think this view is pretty appealing. The house, also, has some selling points. It has two more rooms than my small house has, and it has a backyard. My current house actually was built in the backyard of another house on the park, thereby blocking the park view of the original house. My house has no yard, a fact I find tolerable only because of its location on the park.

This is my house. It's a few years newer than the other park houses. The dirt road you see in front of it is a service road for the park maintenance truck. It's definitely an unusual location. I am not seriously considering the house for sale. It's not enough of a positive change to justify the hassle of buying, selling and moving. But I will stop by for the open house tomorrow......

Sunday, November 04, 2007

The Charmed Life of Whirling Betty

This is an example of a scene that greets Whirling Betty whenever she gathers the gumption to actually get out of the house and walk a few steps. Betty's house is situated right on one of the world's largest rose gardens. Even now, in November, the roses bloom for Betty's enjoyment if she would just get out there and look.
Photographers descend upon this park daily, and for good reason. Yet Betty often chooses to remain oblivious to the rampant beauty right outside her door. She talks on the phone to co-workers, analyzing and criticising the workplace and its unreasonable demands. Never mind that she always wanted this type of job and was lucky enough to be offered one.

Look at all the fallen leaves. Although they're in Betty's "front yard", she doesn't have to rake them. The full time staff of park workers takes care of them Monday through Friday with heavy-duty machinery. When it snows, they even clear the paths. (A 13-acre rose garden is a lot of work, year-round.)

The rose garden is only the beginning- beyond the roses there is even more acreage of parkland, with sports fields, wildlife meadows, fishing ponds, a playground, woods, a creek, a ravine and miles of bike paths. There are chipmunks, foxes, squirrels, groundhogs, owls, and all kinds of birds. It's a charmed life, all right, but only if Betty chooses to see it.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

the character of my X

This is about one of my ex-boyfriends- not my child's father, but an ex-boyfriend who seems to have been a significant figure in my adult life. He still is. This post is my effort to get to the bottom of it.

My assignment is to write about my experience of his character, good and bad. When I met X, I noticed that he seemed larger than life. He had to stand out, being confidant and cocky. Yet I sensed something "shady" about him. My best friend at the time (WHY WHY WHY didn't I listen to her??!!!!) said, "Beware. X is BAD NEWS. He'll use you up, wad you into a ball, and throw you away."

But he was good-looking, undeniably good-looking. I am a sucker for cute guys. Character be damned. I want the cute guy.

X was a gifted speaker, natural-born story teller. He loved to "hold court." I was a good listener, thus, we were a perfect match. Every once in a while the notion would sneak into my mind that it was all about X, never about me.

Actually, it WAS about me some of the time. Periodically he would launch a brutal attack on my character, accusing me of being weak, needy, clingy, incompetent, unworthy, gamy, dishonest, you name it.

And meanwhile, we had certain money-related issues going on. He announced a few months into the relationship that he was moving in with me. (I had never invited him.) After he did indeed move in, he failed to offer to pay any expenses, preferring free room and board instead. I lacked the courage to speak up and ask him to pay his share of the expenses. Once he asked for a "loan" of $500- he'd pay me right back. This was several years ago and I still haven't been paid back. But that was nothing......

My mother, unfortunately, was dying of cancer. He told me I was wrong to want to travel halfway across the country to be with her, and she died asking for me, wondering where I was. When she died, he valiantly offered to fly to upstate NY with me to attend her funeral. What a thoughtful gesture. When we returned from the funeral, he presented me with a bill of several hundred dollars to cover his expenses incurred due to my mother's funeral. I paid it.

Shortly thereafter, he moved to Montana. We broke up then, but once he got there he called and asked me to visit. The short-notice airline ticket to Montana cost $1,200. My friend D drove me to the airport for my trip to Montana. While he drove, D yelled at me about how stupid I was being, about how X was using me and abusing me. I had never before seen D so mad. But I went anyway, and it got worse.

X decided during my visit that it was nice to have me and my money around, so he offered to let me stay with him for a year in Montana if I would give him $7,000. I immediately said yes, and took a year off work, without pay, using up my life's savings to support us in Montana (AFTER I had already handed over the 7,000).

To sum up his character as I experienced it, I'd say he was very controlling and self-centered. He used me and never admitted it or addressed it, even though he was quick to take my personal inventory. I was not only a money source to him- I was also like a slave in many ways, placed on earth to serve him. He came off like a guru, a leader, a ruler, a superior. On the positive side, he really is a gifted speaker and story-teller, almost to the point of being charismatic. He really seemed to value honesty and at times displayed brutal honesty. (However, his ability to see his own faults or how he hurt people was limited.) He is smarter than most people and strives very hard to live a spiritual life. His sense of adventure led him to the wilderness of Montana, where he now seems to live the life he wanted, although surprise, surprise, he finds himself running from one disastrous relationship to the next. It seems that there is some sort of mental impediment which prevents him from seeing his wrongs, because he really does appear to be trying sincerely to live a life of integrity, and he thinks he is. If I showed him this post, he would be dumbfounded. I know this from the few times I did feebly try to let him know about the things that bothered me. He seems utterly unable to see his own shortcomings, and bulldozes me if I dare stand up to him. He is a talented, intelligent, adventurous spiritual seeker who talks a lot and took advantage of me in many ways. Although insightful, he can't see his own issues. He enjoys power and control and tends to be self-centered.

But he was good-looking, undeniably good-looking.

Friday, October 26, 2007


Many years ago, my father used to tell me that: A) I had no personality; B) I would never have any friends and C) that nobody would ever like me. Over the years I did not consciously think of his words, but they insidiously infected my way of being in the world. I "knew" I was inferior. I only entered into relationships doomed to fail. And generally, in most aspects of my life I was afraid to speak up or to set boundaries.

Something unusual happened today. I gave a work-related presentation to a group of well-to-do people. It was very well received and as I left the building, an older gentleman offered to help carry my props to my car. As we approached my car he said, "You know, you have a wonderful personality. I don't know if you have any idea how entertaining and engaging you are. I am surprised - often, people in your field are quite introverted."

Well, as soon as he spoke those words, my father's erroneous message from so many years ago was erased. It's not that I now think I'm superior- it's just that the damage is fixed.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Capitol of Longevity

The new Capitol of Longevity is not some remote tropical island devoid of stress and toxins. It's New York City. Since 1990, New Yorkers' live expectancy has risen 6.2 years, compared to 2.5 years for the rest of the country.

Speculation abounds. Could it be the stimulation of the city which somehow stirs its population to want to live? Are the cultural offerings so enticing that New Yorkers are inspired to stay alive to indulge? Or is it the city-wide ban on trans fats?

I'm sure it'll be a few years before the studies are published, but the obvious conclusion of many people, including myself, is that NYC's longevity factor is directly related to the way its people transport themselves. Few New Yorkers own cars. Why would they? Mass transit is readily available, and the city is wonderfully walkable. And anyone who's been there knows how fast New Yorkers walk and talk. It's that "New York minute" phenomenon. It serves them well.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

a city for the people

Here's a city which was planned and built for PEOPLE. In the U.S., that's highly unusual. Cities in this country are generally designed to accomodate the almighty automobile. This particular city, though, is more European in design, with its narrow streets, tightly packed buildings, smaller city blocks, bike lanes and truly functional mass transit. Parking lots are absent.

This downtown is vibrant and alive every day and night. People really do live in this downtown; we know this because grocery stores can be found here. Stores abound- big ones like Nordstrom, and small independent boutiques, along with a staggering array of restaurants, coffee shops and cafes.

Who needs a car? There are so many alternatives: walking, biking, light rail, streetcars, busses, and even a monorail (like a ski lift). The air is cleaner, the streets are safer, the people are thinner.

The urban planner's dream-come-true, this city features tight-knit neighborhoods, each with its own set of shops, coffee houses and restaurants, and many of these hoods are in or within walking distance of downtown. Can you imagine knowing and even socializing with your neighbors?

Let's hope this city sets a national trend.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

vehicle worship

Have you heard of our society's latest trend in child endangering? This topic is one which seemed non-existent when I was growing up. Over the past few years, hundreds of children have died from overheating after being trapped inside vehicles. One of the most recent tragedies took place when a middle school administrator forgot about her 2 year old daughter left in the back seat. The county prosecutor decided not to file charges in that case, although historically, prosecution and resulting penalties have varied widely. Far be it from me to judge.

I have a theory. Above is a photo of my car, a tiny subcompact, nowadays considered ridiculously too small for anyone with kids. It would be virtually impossible for me to accidentally leave a human of any size in that car. First of all, even a baby would take up a sizable percentage of available space in the vehicle. A baby is more noticeable in a Mini Cooper than in a Hummer, just as a cork is more noticeable in a bathtub than in an ocean.

My car, of which I'm becoming increasingly more proud than ashamed, is old fashioned. (The Child remarked in all seriousness that I should have entered it in the local antique car show.) To open or close this car, one must actually stand beside it, facing its windows, and insert a key. The adult in charge of this car is not allowed to rush off, locking it from afar to the fanfare of bells and whistles. My child sits behind me in my car, and if I had ever tried to lock it with him inside, he would have been blatantly visible to me as I stood there fussing with my old fashioned lock and key.

As I read the story of the recent tragedy, I found myself wondering what type of vehicle the grieving mother had been driving. How massive must her machine have been to hide her child?! I don't blame her- she most likely drives what society drives, and I've heard that we're choosing behemoths again, now that gas prices have slipped a bit.

Recently another type of vehicular tragedy took place in my own neighborhood. A woman was backing her enormous SUV out of a parking space after her child's pre-school class. The vehicle sits so high off the road that she did not see the three year old boy behind her, even though she checked her rear-view mirror. Her vehicle hit and killed the little boy.

Again, my vehicle, being very low to the ground, does provide better visibility in such situations. Even a toddler could be visible behind my car. (I'm not cocky though- I always park in such a way that I can drive forward out of my parking space, not having to back out.)

I think that our gas-guzzling habits are hurting us in more ways than we are addressing. I can't change the world, but I can express my opinion and do my part to defy vehicle worship.

Saturday, August 25, 2007


Tuesday is my birthday. Years ago, that would have been good news. Nowadays it's a tear-jerker. It's universally accepted that most adults would prefer not to get older, but that's not what I'm talking about. Nowadays my birthday points out how alone I am, never mind how old I am.

The above photo was taken today in my living room. As you can see, my birthday is off to a good start, with today being only Saturday. I have already received 2 cards for Tuesday's birthday: one from my best friend in NY whom I met in 7th grade, and the other, the smaller of the two, is from what's left of my biological family. The zinnias are from myself; I bought them at a farmer's market downtown yesterday.

Today happens to be the birthday of a 4th grader named Ian. He is The Child's former best friend. This morning when I was out buying corn on the cob I ran into Ethan, one of The Child's classmates. Ethan wanted to know where The Child was, and I explained that 2 of our adult friends had taken The Child to a waterpark. Then Ethan wanted to know why the Child wasn't going to be attending Ian's overnight birthday party today, and I said that The Child had not been invited.

A healthy-minded, well-adjusted adult parent would not become undone by the fact that her Child had been snubbed for a birthday party to which many other kids from school had been invited. I know this. And I am completely undone.

Rejection just sucks; there's no way around it. It's bad enough that The Child has been mysteriously left out of a party for his close friend who has been our guest many times, but why do I have to take this personally? Is he somehow being excluded because of me? Have I raised a social reject? Or does this ring a bell, dredging up memories of my own painfully lonely childhood? Maybe someday I'll have such an incredibly strong sense of self worth that I will not be affected by the absence of party invitations for The Child, but I'm not there yet- I'm not even on that planet.

And in the case of my birthday, there's no party, so there's no lack of invitation to worry about, thankfully. But there's still the profound disappointment which I first felt the year that my mother died. On my birthday the year that she died, I was hit by the realization that nobody would ever care about me as much as she did. I did have a boyfriend that year, but I've always chosen men unwisely. He picked a horrible fight with me on that birthday, and I received no cards or gifts from anyone. My biological family had disintegrated after my mother's death- they felt nothing but resentment toward me even though I paid for the funeral (she had left her tiny "estate" of a couple thousand dollars to me). There were no birthday wishes coming from them.

To make matters worse, my mother used to spoil me. I was her youngest, and I was the one she became good buddies with. She showered me with thoughtful, appropriate gifts on my birthday, Christmas, Easter, and even Valentine's Day. The woman was a shopper- no, she was SHOPPER- which was good for me, because I was NOT. She even used to buy my clothing, and my current wardrobe reflects her absence.

I miss the presents, and the ones I receive now I hold dear. My friends Doug and Cathy gave me two wrapped gifts for Christmas last year, and I have yet to open them. It's important to me to know that I still have two unopened gifts available.

Thus, I now suffer immeasurably on such occasions as my birthday. Again, that missing Sense of Self Worth could save me, I assume. But who wants to feel alone? I am grateful for the friends who do remember my birthday, definitely, but something bothers me. I do feel as if I'm moderately important to several people, yes. And a Child depends upon me, yes. But I am not the main focus of anybody's life now.

The Wise Answer to my problem is this: Become the main focus of your own life, Betty.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

the "giving away" of the self (not a good thing)

OK, so I have this problem. I am hoping that somebody out there says, "Oh, I understand this. I do that too. You're not alone, Betty." Or better yet, "Oh, I understand this. I used to do it and here's how I stopped...."

Here's the problem, as demonstrated during tonight's dinner at my house. It all began when the phone rang while I was kneading gnocchi dough. Jennifer, who had been invited to dinner, was calling to say that her husband got off work early, and she wanted to know if it would be OK for them to arrive early.

OK, that's not enough to send me into a tailspin, right? I'm a mature, flexible adult....... it's only gnocchi, after all. So I instructed The Child, who had been ordered to answer the phone, to tell her that it would be fine. Then, to ease my feeling of guilt for not dropping everything, dough and all, to pick up the phone myself, I hissed at him to explain to Jennifer why I hadn't answered the everloving telephone myself ("because I was kneading gnocchi!")

Somewhere in my background I apparently learned that I owed the world an explanation, even for actions such as continuing to knead messy, sticky dough when my phone rang. It's as if I perceive myself as guilty until proven innocent. And I constantly try to prove myself innocent.

Additionally, I automatically, without the slightest thought, said yes to the question as to whether they could arrive early. Mind you, I had carefully planned and timed the meal preparation. Why did I so disregard myself that I immediately took on the burden of guests arriving while the meal preparation was in its infancy, with only a young child to entertain them while I scrambled madly about, trying to prepare pasta, meat (The Child and I are vegetarians), salad, garlic cheese bread and dessert with guests unattended?
The doorbell rang 3 minutes later. Shocked, I yelled at The Child to "See who the *&%# is at the door!" (Surely whoever it was would go away when they saw how busy we were.) With an audible gasp, my eyes popped out as I saw Jennifer and her out-of-work-early husband entering our house, which hadn't even been vacuumed yet! The Early Arrivals (hereafter known as the EA's) live in a suburb 40 minutes away, and this was Friday rush hour! She must have called from around the corner. Aghast, I half screamed , "Oh My GOD. I didn't know you meant you'd be here THIS early....."

My house is small, no, actually, it's SMALL. It's not one of those setups where the guests can contentedly sip wine in the vicinity of the food prep area, while the host(s) chat while calmly chopping cilantro. My kitchen could fit into most closets. And I had to use my tiny dining room table to roll out the gnocchi dough, so I couldn't invite the EA's into the cooking area. Instead, I directed The Child and the EA's into his (tiny) bedroom.

I have no idea what transpired in the bedroom. I was too busy frantically trying to throw things together in record time to accomodate the EA's. My carefully written list of what to do at what time went out the window. In my haste, I stopped forming the gnocchi pillows into their usual shapes, with the trademark fork tracks imprinted on each one. I just hacked them off the dough ropes with a fork, without regard to form or fork. I hurled them into the boiling pot, splashing doughy water all over the kitchen. Timing hopelessly off, I had to remove the bread from the oven prematurely to make room for the hastily boiled gnocchi which had been thrown into a casserole dish. The bread, the one thing I hadn't made from scratch, ended up being served with the middle still frozen solid, much to my embarrassment. Adding to the chaos, I accidentally dumped a huge pot of home made tomato sauce onto the stovetop, with some of it draining down into the bowels of the stove.

Eventually I called them in to eat. I had lost my appetite by this time, so all I could do was try to referee the eating of the EA's and The Child. The Child rejected the gnocchi casserole, so I left the table to cook "Plan B" (parents of finicky eaters always have "Plan B" food standing by) for him while the EA's ate. That was actually a merciful event, because it masked the fact that I wasn't eating, thereby eliminating the need for an explanation.

It gets worse. After the toffee dessert had been rejected by The Child, he shouted, "Let's go for a walk in the park!" (There's no "Plan B" for desserts.) So, with gnocchi-caked dishes still on the table, large amounts of perishable food scattered about, and spills and splashes everywhere, we took off into the park for an extensive outing in the deliciously cool evening, with the child riding his motorized cooler.
Halfway through the walk/motorized scooter ride, I realized how exhausted I was. In fact, everybody acted tired, yet when we got back to our house, we just kind of hung out and kept talking, and even after somebody said, "OK, we're leaving now," nobody left..... The Child kept asking first one EA, then the other, for help with a computer game, over and over.... there was something I wanted to watch on TV, and I had forgotten to program the VCR....I hate to say this, but I wanted the EA's to leave...... I tried to hide my impatience and fatigue...what can you say when you're eager for your guests to leave.....sometimes doesn't it seem as if your guests are afraid they'll insult you by leaving, when in fact you desire their departure?
Well, the EA's FINALLY left. The TV program I had hoped to see was finished. The house was in complete shambles, with hardened food bonded to every dish I own, food rotting from being left out of the refrigerator, the table heaped with dishes, dirty napkins, stray gnocchi, rejected toffee. The countertops appeared to be permanently stained with home made tomato sauce. The stove looked unrecognizable from burned stains. A mound of leftover gnocchi dough, hardened like neglected Play Dough, made a poignant statement.
I sat down in a chair in my bedroom, dazed from the experience. I panicked for a moment, and felt as though a robber had been in my house. Alarmed, I actually checked to make sure my wallet was still tucked away in my drawer. I felt violated, as if the very friends I had invited in for dinner tonight had robbed me of my self. Of course I know they didn't do anything offensive, in reality. They didn't show up early unannounced- they called and asked if it was OK, and I'm the one who gave them the go-ahead. They didn't force me to leave the kitchen in complete chaos while we went outside- I failed to be true to my self and my relatively newfound desire to have my house in order.
OK, now that I've told the story, please bear in mind that this sort of thing happens to me with alarming frequency. I tend to sell out, to disregard my self when in the presence of others. Once, in fact, I had dinner cooking on the stove when I stepped outside to take the garbage out and got caught in conversation with the wife next door. I knew full well that by the time I re-entered my house, I'd likely encounter a fire on the stove. Yet I stood there politely, in a stupor, while she rambled nonsense. I am the common demominator- it's not about the EA's, or my neighbors, or any other people. I seem to experience confusion regarding my boundaries, regarding appropriate social behavior and expectations, and regarding the value of my self.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

still bloggin'

I don't intend to give up blogging, although it may appear otherwise. I guess I'm in the process of sorting things out, and haven't felt much like writing. That's mostly due to confusion. I need a certain amount of clarity to write.
Here's what I think has been going on. It has been suggested to me that I have a problem with my sense of self. I lack a healthy sense of self worth, and I define myself by what others think (or apparently think!) of me. Blogging is useful for a person with such a problem, because nearly every comment I receive is positive and supportive. My self worth is (falsely) bolstered by the people who comment on my blog.
Of course, I know it would be preferable for me to possess an infallible and healthy sense of my self and my value. It would be preferable for me to know that I have value simply because I am breathing.
But I am caught up in the world of judgement. As a child I learned to be ultra concerned with other people's opinions of me. How I felt did not matter. How I appeared to others did matter. I grew up hearing constant judgements. I learned to judge and be judged.
My endless search for a new house, a new neighborhood, maybe even a new job to get me to a new city is all about attempting to escape the judgements. (In truth I would just be starting up a whole new set of judgements.) On a superficial level, moving would work, at first.
But the true problem would not be addressed by moving. That's why my extreme efforts to move over the past year have not worked out, perhaps. The powers that be would like to have me address the issue of self, and its indestructible worth which exists regardless of what others think.
My job is to cease judging. As a result, I will let go of my perceptions of other people's judgements towards me, which may not have even existed except in my mind.
It has been depressing to give up on my desire to move. It used to seem to me that was positive to have goals like that, rather than accepting stagnation. My "sorting out" hasn't gone too well in this category. I feel like a child whose candy has just been snatched away, even though I'm the one doing the snatching.
Yesterday I had a long session with a highly regarded Chinese chi master. At the end, he said I was totally in balance, with all chakras opened completely. Having been so down on myself lately, it was good to hear his assessment of my state of being. Maybe that's why I was finally able to write this.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

the 4th

Today was July 4, 2007, a day that will not be repeated. It was one of a kind. I spent it with The Child. We didn't party, we didn't barbecue, but we did see The Mayor in the park this morning at the community breakfast in the shelter house. (It's an election year, and this neighborhood's July 4th fest trumps the others scattered throughout the city.)

Our house is situated on the park where today's festivities took place; thus, many of our neighbors hosted parties. Maybe next year, after the child custody case is settled and life is simpler, The Child and I will host a party. Until then, we're better off just rolling with the punches, so to speak.

After the thunderous storm this afternoon, we walked to the soggy soccer fields where huge inflatable games were set up for children. The Child played happily, we hung around with friends from his school, we ate ice cream cones, pizza and funnel cakes, then he got a henna tattoo of the Japanese symbol for "sky."

The Child wanted stink bombs from a vendor in the park. So be it. They were less expensive than most of the things he asks for. He's still upset with me because I refused to take him to the super duper blowout fireworks display last night downtown along with millions of other revellers. Hopefully the stink bombs took the edge off his disappointment. He asked for a whip too (why were they selling whips at a family celebration?) but I drew the line.

The Child, who just completed third grade, informed me that my camera has a 'fireworks" setting. Sure enough, I checked, and it does, and I figured out how to activate it in the nick of time after several minutes of frantic fussing, fumbling with the owner's manual, a flashlight and a magnifying glass (in the dark, no less). We just finished watching these fireworks pictured here.

On July 4, 2007 I learned a new skill (firework photography), enjoyed an outing in our very own park, socialized, finished some paperwork for court during the storm, and got to hang out with one very cool kid who didn't tantrum when I said no to the whip.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Whence I Came

"Whence I Came" really is proper English, although it sounds wrong. "Whence" means "from where" so if I said, "From whence I came" (which is what we're accustomed to hearing) I'd be saying, in essence, "From from where I came." Anyway, this is the view driving into Johnson City, NY from the west. The older I get, the more I seem to be fascinated by my hometown and its character. (If I still lived there, the opposite would be true.) NY State laws being what they are, I'm surprised I was not arrested for driving while photographing.

Here we proceed through downtown Johnson City. Young Betty walked these streets many, many times. Take note of the bike lane on the right side of the road. Ever so cool. Betty never drove a car here until now, and it's because pedestrians and bicyclists are expected and respected, unlike in the much larger city where Betty lives now.

This is one of the landmarks of downtown Johnson City- the Red Robin Diner. People who live here think nothing of it, but it is a valuable piece of history to outsiders.

Binghamton is right next door, and according to this stone arch, it's "Home of the Square Deal." There's so much old fashioned flavor here.

This is an old shoe factory, located a block from Betty's childhood home. Legend has it that German immigrants looking for work at the E.J. shoe factory in Johnson City would say, upon landing at Ellis Island, "Vich Vay E. J.?"

There are a few signs of 21st century life in the area, such as a thriving shopping mall. Here we can see its parking lot, with the hills in the background, along with the polluting electric plant smoke stack which inspired Betty to write an award-winning essay in high school.

This is another mall parking lot view which features a more striking example of the threatening sky which Betty is so fond of. Seriously. Betty's Irish ancestry, combined with being raised in this notoriously overcast part of NY, has resulted in a definite predilection for somber skies.

This is Betty's favorite cemetery. It's a stone's throw from her house of origin. It is also by far the most appealing location in the area. Betty has many pleasant memories associated with this cemetery.

Here's Betty's favorite merry-go-round, at C.F. J. Park. Besides threatening skies, this area is famous for its free merry-go-rounds which have been punctuating the local parks for many decades, probably since the Great Depression.

Here The Child is seen indulging in a free merry-go-round ride. Are they called "merry-go-rounds" elsewhere? I really don't know. We also refer to pizza as "hot pie" in this part of NY state. And "spiedies", unknown to most of the country, are a local specialty, first presented by Italian immigrants and now featured in most local restaurants.

And here, at last, is the house Betty grew up in, complete with father on the front porch. This photo doesn't do justice to the chipping lead paint.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

I had a dream

This photo pretty much sums it up. I took this last month in the neighborhood where pedestrians and Victorian houses prevail, located adjacent to downtown on its northern edge. I've never liked driving. (I'm not too thrilled about other people driving either but I can't control that.) If we lived in this neighborhood, I could walk to work, and the child and I could walk to stores, restaurants, arena events, concerts, a gorgeous urban park, a huge farmer's market, an ice skating rink and even the child's school!

This is the house I had picked out for the child and myself. As of August 28, 2006, I was in contract to purchase this very house. The house we had been living in had just gone into contract, and I was planning to be moved into this Victorian house by Thanksgiving 2006. Then things went terribly wrong. The buyers of my original house changed their minds and backed out of the contract! I kept my house on the market for a few more months, then gave up after obsessively crunching numbers and deciding that I really couldn't afford the more expensive urban neighborhood.

Anyway, this is one of the landmarks we would have frequented had we moved. It's a historic farmer's market located just a few blocks from the above house.

Here's a peek at the interior of the farmer's market. Gourmet cooks love to shop here, where they can find everything ingestible, of the very highest and freshest quality.

Here's that urban park mentioned earlier. It's just around the corner from the house, and it's ever so cool.

Who says there are no kids in urban neighborhoods? The child looks mighty "at home" here, doesn't he? He's a natural born urban dweller.

The child enjoys some liquid refreshment at a hip coffee house just down the street from the park and the house.

This is my kind of place, for sure.