Staying Alive While Pedaling

bicylingQuite some time ago, I wrote a piece criticizing what I called the arrogant attitudes of serious bicyclists – how they ride in the lane, forcing cars to make dangerous forays into opposing lanes and how they were notoriously unfriendly to passing, not-so-serious riders. I received a very wise and well-written reply to that post, educating me to the true perils of road bike riding and the necessary intensity with which all riders must proceed.

Hmm – more than a year later … I am still a backyard variety bicyclist, yet in the past week, I have been almost clobbered twice. And it was close – cars careening to stops at the end of residential streets and somehow missing a full view of what was in front of them. In both cases I actually slammed my hand on the cars, while screaming about their stupidity, carelessness, don’t-you-know-you-almost-killed-someone, and so on.

Fortunately, in both cases, my trusted sixth-sense kicked in and I knew what they were going to do before they did it.

In today’s world of seriously distracted driving, bicycling is an ever more perilous sport. Serious or casual riders, we simply must follow the rules for safe riding and not complain about any bicyclists with whom we share the roads.

P.S. – Wear a helmet. I had mine on (always!)

Laying Claim to Seniorhood

I recentlyfootsteps%20in%20snow realized I had entered ‘seniorhood’ when:

  • The ‘man’ who came to fix the furnace looked like he was 16
  • Every Peanut Butter M&M I eat adds a pound to my middle
  • No matter what the exercise and/or diet, the middle has decided to take up permanent residency
  • What was it you said to me 10 minutes ago?
  • My legs have taken on the role of roadmap – they can get you anywhere – in the world!!
  • I go to bed at nine o’clock and wake up at 2 for a rendezvous with a Peanut Butter M&M (just one, of course)
  • What was it you said to me 5 minutes ago?
  • The dust on my desk is high enough to use as a wrist rest when I’m typing on my computer
  • I always have to call my son for instructions on loading/deleting apps on my smart phone.
  • I come to meetings with my trusty desktop DayTimer while everyone else has Ipads and notebook computers, nary a pen to be found (except mine, of course!)
  • I am a very vocal advocate for fine penmanship while many young kids don’t have a clue how to write in cursive.
  • What was it you just said to me?

Anyone want to add anything?

The Lifespan of a Mosquito

mosquitoI am obsessed with mosquitos as of late and it’s because they are everywhere – inside, outside, and all places in between. They follow you, stake you out, and feast on whatever unfortunate part of your body happens to be exposed.

Still, despite their considerable annoyance factor, I am a sucker for all living creatures and when my partner Dominic chased down a swarm of mosquitos with a fly swatter the other night, I found myself feeling sorry for them. That then got me to wondering about the life span of a mosquito. I figured it was something very short, like a day or two, but what I learned surprised me. Some other facts also surprised me.

  • The average life span of a mosquito is two months. (Less if you’re in my house being chased down by a madly swinging fly swatter)
  • Mosquitos hibernate! (I thought for sure that when warm weather was done, they simply soared off into mosquito la la land.)
  • A mosquito is a mosquito is a mosquito, right? Wrong! (There are whopping 3500 species of mosquitos)
  • Mosquitos must hatch in water and live there for 10 days. (Moral: be sure and dump any standing water around your yard.)
  • It’s true that mosquitos favor certain people! Why? It’s a matter of body odor – good, bad or indifferent, there are certain odors that these winged creatures prefer. (What do they like? If your cholesterol level is high, lower it both for your health and to avoid mosquitos. They also like people whose sweat contains folic acid, some bacteria, scented lotions and perfume.)
  • Forget beefing up your squadron of bats. (Counter to popular opinion, bats don’t eat mosquitos.)
  • And finally – these tiny creatures are quite robust. (They have been around since the Jurassic period, as in 210 million years ago.)

So the next time a mosquito buzzes in your ear, think of what you learned here today and that these seemingly simple insects are not so simple after all. So lather yourself with Off and enjoy those mosquito serenades. (Buzz, buzz, buzz)

Cataract Beer and Beefsteak Tomatos

cataractI can’t see. That’s a fine cup of tea for a writer/reader/teacher. (And I do, BTW, like tea). A few years ago I had cataract surgery. (Did you know there was once a beer named Cataract? My ophthalmologist has a vintage advertising tray in his office with the name of the beer intertwined with a waterfall. There’s a story there, but I’ll save that for another day). After my cataract surgeries it was like a whole new world for my distance vision, but a jumbled mass of words and objects for my close-up sight.

Anyway, as a result of these surgeries, I developed a complication which I can only describe as a sort of scar tissue. The effect was like looking through wax paper. And forget close-up vision. Every time I tried to grade papers, read a book or write anything I ended up with a searing headache. Enter laser surgery.

Eye number one was operated on in February, and eye two is scheduled for next week. I am so desperate to see that I don’t even care about having my head immobilized while this incredibly intense light (laser) burns away all that gnarly crap that was rude enough to steal away my vision. All of this is done while awake and in the doc’s office.

Thus is the plight of … maturing, or ripening – like a fine cheese or beefsteak tomato. Last week I had my Shingles shot. This was a cakewalk and my pharmacist did the baking. My right knee has decided to let me know it exists – on a daily and sometimes hourly basis. Bless you, ace bandages! Wrinkles? Get bloated and they’ll fill right out. And so on…

The morale of this story? Other than to embrace these maturing awakenings with humor, there really is none. Is there?

Little Lucky, Please be Lucky

When it comes to animals, I am a mush, advocate, passionate caretaker and devotee. This passion did not arise from anyone in my family, at least as far as I know. I must admit that my passion for animals outweighs that for humans. Animals are honest and simply live free uncomplicated lives, unless humans intervene. Don’t get me wrong, human intervention can be good, but usually only after prior intervention has been very bad.

I have adopted many animals in my lifetime and loved every single guinea pig, cat, horse and guppy just the same and grieved at the passing of them all. In fact, I never seem to quite get over the agony of those one last trips to the vet.

Last night I found out one of my precious Boston Terriers has mast cell cancer — high grade. It was a shock because other then the suddenly ulcerated small spot on his hip, he’s been fine. We go to the vet on Thursday to talk about the chemo options. It will NOT be the last trip we make there with Brinkley.

What has inspired me to write today is the plight of another precious baby who is in bad shape as we speak. He is in the loving hands of a dedicated foster mother who is one of the proverbial ‘good guys’ who takes in pup after pup and prepares them for their forever home, letting go of the ones she has fallen in love with to make way for another needy soul. Lucky is one of those souls and now we are all praying that he finds his way through.

Buzzy Burped!

Buzzhy TeethYep – it has been a while. Like months. I have emerged from the horrific winter that has just recently loosened its grip on everyone and everything. It’s hard to believe that a few short weeks ago snowflakes taunted our winter-tortured souls while today it is almost 90 degrees. Overnight it’s gone from winter to summer and the ugly gray mounds of melting snow piles have been replaced by robust bursts of blossoms and blooms! Then there is the grass: rich, juicy and sweet-smelling – a feast for horses who have also suffered through the long winter.

I have a horse who shivered in the winter cold despite his toasty stall and plentiful grain. Buzzy is my 23 year old rescued Standardbred, a former harness racehorse who did quite well during his racing career. I’ve had him since he was 8 and right off the track. Over the years we have myriad trials, tribulations and adventures, but those are for another chapter.
Actually, the story for today is rather simple. My boy is relegated to a paddock where he has great friends, but little grass. He is, however, constantly munching on some of the finest hay in these parts. Yesterday I drove out to the barn and decided to hand walk my buddy out to a gorgeously lush field that was oozing with grassy nutrients – nature’s gift after a difficult winter.

Buzzy could barely contain himself and when we got there he promptly buried his nose in what would later become the prized first cutting of hay of the season. Horses’ bellies are delicate mechanisms so I was wary of his munch time, but erred on the side of more time rather than less. When he brought his nose up without me pulling, I knew he was full, for the time being anyway.

We ambled on back to barn – a nice, lazy stroll – when suddenly – out came the loudest belch I have ever heard! The thing is – horses don’t burp! Most horses, that is. I’ve heard Buzzy burp once before, and it was after a similar round of spring grass.
So with his eyes glassy and his belly full, back home we went. No doubt the burp was his way of heralding in a much needed and deserved spring!

Lure of Whittier, Alaska

WhittierThere’s a little city on Prince William Sound in Alaska called Whittier. Its population is approximately 200, and of those, 75 percent live together in a 14-story high rise named Begich Towers. But not only do most of the town’s people live in the towers, so do most of its municipal services as well as a laundromat, small convenience store and even a school.

The tower stands sandwiched between the sound and a steep mountain range and the views are reportedly astounding no matter which way you look.  Only two routes allow passage to Whittier; one is through a 2-plus mile, single lane tunnel and the other is by boat. In winter, boat is not an option, so anyone needing to come and go must wait for the times when the tunnel is open in the direction they need to go. But it’s not just directional vehicle schedules, people must also work around the trains that bring supplies and transport other materials to and from Whittier.

Built shortly after World War II, Whittier was the U.S.’s western outpost during the Cold War, and it housed military personnel assigned to that duty. In fact, Begich Towers, and another, now eerily abandoned and desolate building, were built to house the military personnel who were stationed there.

Why do I write about this funky place strapped between ocean and mountain where 200 some people live under one roof? Because it absolutely fascinates me, wondering what it’s like, especially during the winter when snow is relentless and winds often blow at 60 mph. What is it like to be inside, side-by-side with the same people day in and day out? Do the people socialize? Do they get sick of each other? Do  they get depressed with the weather, their isolation and the long nights of the far north?

Nevertheless, I find myself wanting to see what it’s like to live in this precariously unique place, and more specifically, in its tower. I yearn for the safety of a winter spent cozily protected from driving on treacherous roads or schlepping through deep snow and slush. I envision looking out my picture window at a raging blizzard and knowing there’s no place I need to go except the first floor grocery or the gym in the small school where I can practice yoga or do laps around its perimeter. I dream of reading to my heart’s content, of finally finishing my novel and of drinking cup after cup of black tea infused with orange blossom honey. In short, I daydream that all my troubles lie outside the walls of Begich Towers and I remain safely encased in its cocoon.

Sigh: a lovely fantasy that diminishes my anxiety as I navigate the ice-covered roads and bone chilling winds of my icy world outside the four walls of a permanent winter prison.

White Knuckles in Winter

My children laugh at me, my fiancé torments me and I muster up my courage for each 20130210_131911non-jingle bell, non-laughter-filled drive through the country side on a snowy morning. The truth is that I really like winter. I don’t mind the cold, I like shoveling and there’s nothing like walking through an aromatic pine forest on crunchy snow. But what I don’t like, and have never been fond of, is driving in snow. I am quite honestly: terrified. Each winter I manage. In the past few years, the days of white-knuckle navigation have been relatively few on the three days I work each week. But this year horrendous driving conditions have been frequent and formidable. Take this morning – the worst winter driving conditions I have ever experienced. Last night the temperature plummeted into the single digits with a nasty wind for wind chills well below zero. Couple this with a healthy dose of Lake Effect snow and if it wasn’t snow on the roads, it was black ice. I made it the 20 miles to my workplace, crawling every inch of the way. We are having another one of those days today and it looks like at least one more during the upcoming week. I am un-friending the weather person.

All in a Day’s Work

It started out simply enough: the usual and seemingly indestructible routine of my Cheerios, blueberries and vanilla soy milk along with an entire pot of very strong decaf. Then to the cyber room to sort through emails and student papers. Some would say my routine is boring, but I actually love it and pray for many more to come.

On this day, my daughter asked me to pick up her medicines at a pharmacy in an old and re-invented hospital in a lousy part of town – in fact, probably the lousiest if you count the shootings, murders and myriad drug deals gone badly. I’ve been going down there to get her meds for several years and though I keep a keen eye out for everything around me, I have always feel safe in making this trip. Today there were two trips. The first was supposed to be the only, but it turned out that the doc had not called in two of her scripts.

“Please go back, Mom. I don’t have enough to get me through the weekend.”

Ugh – what choice did I have? A mother is a mother is a mother.

Back I went and as I stood in the lobby of this very run-down and dreary place, waiting for her partials to be filled, people began running to the entrance.

“He can’t breathe, he can’t breathe,” someone yelled.

A throng of guards and med techs surrounded the opened door of a car out front. Someone else shouted ‘code’ and then the throng moved into the lobby. Three people carried the body of a man – I couldn’t see how old – and it was clear that he was not responding to their efforts. Someone next to me said he OD’d, but I think he was guessing. Still, in that neighborhood, it seemed plausible. Aghast at what was unfolding before me, I slipped my way past it and made my way to my car.

I left feeling shaken and very, very sad. I thought about the man who woke up that morning, got dressed, maybe ate some Cheerios (stuck himself with a needle?). I thought that perhaps he would never see another day, never eat more Cheerios and never stick himself with another needle.

That afternoon, I picked up a few items in the grocery store and as I left the store, I passed an ATM machine and was struck by the number of people, all men, in line to use it. I looked into their relatively benign faces until I came to the last face. Actually, the smell hit me first – an intense, almost permeable odor of alcohol. Next – his demeanor – slouched, his face — eyes half-shut, and overall: very, very dazed-looking.  My first thought was fear: what if he got behind the wheel of a car? What if he was driving on the road with innocent men, women and children? What if he killed himself, someone else, me?

I passed the customer service desk and I agonized over whether I should go and tell someone. Then I thought about privacy laws that are doing more to hurt others than protecting us as individuals.  Perhaps I wimped out because I chose not to stop and tell someone about the dazed drunk man who if he got behind the wheel of a car, had a fair chance of doing serious damage.

It was an intense afternoon. Death – maybe; dying — perhaps. Drunk – definitely. All of it so fragile. You just never know when you get up in the morning – well, you just never know …

Things I Know My Kids Never Will

Sad TEddyOn winter afternoons my mind often wanders to the warmth of treasured memories, to places and things my kids never knew and for that I feel sad.

I feel sad they never had a Popeye doll. In my early years, I developed an intense crush on my spinach-eating hero.  I watched Popeye cartoons constantly, over and over and over again. I had a Popeye jack-in-the-box and I would coerce my dear friend Patty to being Olive Oil to my Popeye in pretend games. Sad but true, in their childhood, my children never had a cartoon hero that they actually wanted to marry when they grew up.

Hot summer days, sitting under the elm tree in our front yard, cutting out the latest fashions to dress my paper dolls in: I can almost smell the grass and hear the cicadas as I dreamily float through this memory.   Similar were Color-forms! I loved Color-forms. They entered my life as a sickbed diversion and exited my childhood as a dear diversion filled with imagined tales and stories.

Ah – Barbie! I adored my Barbie and her case-full of clothes. I was meticulous about hanging them using little plastic Barbie hangers and keeping track of all accompanying shoes and accessories. I had Barbie’s friends Ken, Midge and Skipper as well as the Barbie Dream House and pink Barbie sports car. I spent hours coming up with stories and dramas involving all the Barbie characters. It was a wonderful world to escape into. My daughter had a Barbie doll, but she never appreciated it like I did. In fact, she never really played with it and certainly never made up all the stories that I did when I lost myself in play. I feel sad for her.

Horses – my passion, my dream, my obsession even to this day. In my simple childhood world, everything was a horse: my bicycle, snowbanks where I so carefully crafted saddle with stirrups, and the best of all: gym horses with their leather coverings so like a saddle.  I drew horses all over my school notebook. But I was a lousy artist, so I mostly traced from one of my bookcase full of treasured horse books.  I never could understand why my parents wouldn’t give me a horse that we could keep in our little city backyard and garage. I now have a horse and I do not keep him in my little city backyard and garage.

There were so many magical things in my childhood filled with dreams and simple things. Perhaps my children feel they have also had childhoods filled with magical things, and I hope so, but I bet I have them beat .. and that makes me feel sad.