Friday, June 19, 2015

Back home in Indiana

My SO and I visited New York City recently and ran ourselves ragged. For one thing, the city radiates energy, so it's hard to act laid back. Also, people walk really fast on crowded sidewalks, so you either keep up or get out of the way. Then there were the steps in the subways.

In three days, we put 92 flights of stairs on our Fitbits. Not for the faint of heart. The walking and stairs also explain why NYers are so thin. Not sure why we saw very few tattoos.

Getting there:

Our flight out of FW was delayed, but Delta automatically booked us on a later flight out of Detroit. Our original flight from Detroit was also delayed, so we made it to NYC almost as expected. We were happy to leave the driving to the professional cabbie who got us to the Hampton Inn Manhattan/UN in one piece.

This was Midtown, not as swanky as other parts of the city, but plenty busy and lively. After a nap in our tiny but nicely appointed hotel room, we started walking south, toward the Strand. LOTS of places to eat (we ate at the Shake Shack), plus street vendors selling fruit. We didn't make it all the way to the Strand, which clued us into the fact our idea about walking across Manhattan to the Highline was just crazy talk.

Although we've never had a bad experience at any Hampton Inn, the service at this one was above average, presumably due to the diplomatic clientele. It also had the smallest footprint of any hotel I have been in, just eight (smallish) rooms per floor, 21 floors, no 13th.

Except for the construction next door, the neighborhood was relatively quiet, populated mostly by foreign missions. In previous visits to NYC, I've had to sleep with earplugs to deaden the nightlong sounds of honking cars and garbage trucks in reverse (BEEP! BEEP! BEEP!) This time they served to muffle my bedmate's snoring.

Day 1:

After sleeping in, we ate breakfast at the Comfort Diner. I had the red flannel hash breakfast, made with corned beef and sweet potatoes (vegetables ARE for breakfast). It was very good especially with fresh squeezed orange juice. There were lamps made with sports trophies, like a tennis trophy and a bowling trophy; I could make something like that with my bowling trophy. There were also these weird children's book covers on the wall, like Little Bobbby's Drunk Again and It's Not Going to Get Any Better when You Grow Up. (These are for real.)

We decided to do the Whitney before the Highline, which was a smart move. There was a lot to see there. I did not like that the descriptions of the sculptures were on the wall instead of near the works themselves. The Vietnam Era work brought me to tears; wasted young lives. My favorite piece was constructed of handmade stuff like crocheted afghans, macrame, yarn octopus dolls, etc. It reflected my life in crafting, and made me want to go home and make something with my old afghans. Photos here.

My SO was really good at knowing which artists did what. We also discussed how I could turn my pile of old computer equipment into a work of art: my career in IT. We were sitting under the stairway to the Highline at the time.

We walked part of the Highline, but SO's feet gave out because he bought new sandals for the trip too soon to break them in. I was disappointed that we didn't do the whole thing, but we went back the next day, primarily to see the the sculptures. I liked how they incorporated the old rails and the idea of rails into the design. There were lots of places to sit.

We were also stopped by a tiny (presumably) Buddhist nun who (for a donation) gave us malas. They smelled like sandalwood. The malas proved useful for waving off similarly dressed monks.

Once we were off the Highline, we stopped at the Empire Diner for some dessert. I had the Dulce de Leche, which was WONDERFUL. Then back to the hotel for a rest. Then out again, to see the UN building. We ended up walking north to 50th Street, then west to Fifth Ave. Lots of tourists.

Day 2:

Breakfast at Pershing Square, right across from Grand Central Station. The place was busy, but FAST. The food was not as good as Comfort, but perfectly adequate for breakfast. Then we (well, mostly SO) took photos in the train station.

We expected to spend the day in Brooklyn, but it was a bit of a bust. For one thing, neither of us slept well. For another, it was school field trip day at the Botanical Gardens. And it was HOT. We did take in their bonsai collection, plus wandered the Japanese garden a bit.

Since the Green-Wood Cemetery (another planned destination in Brooklyn) was too far to walk to, we came back to Manhattan and went to the NY Public Library to see a photo exhibit. We got there in time for the lecture, which was useful. Then we pooped out and grabbed some sandwiches from Fresh & Co to take back to the room. Time for a nap.

Up and at 'em to return to the Highline. This time we worked our way from north to south, seeing all the neat sculptures. Then back toward the hotel. We were getting tired of restaurant food, but we ate at Scotty's where we could order pleasantly bland pot roast and chicken pot pie. It wasn't all that great, but at least it was quiet.

Day 3:

We decided we were trying to do too much, so we skipped the Frida exhibition in the Bronx (too difficult to get to and too expensive) and went to the Guggenheim (which was between shows, so not much to see there), then hung out in Central Park.

We even visited Strawberry Fields, which was more meaningful than we expected. Everyday there are flowers and music.

To get to the Upper East Side, we gave the bus a try, thinking we would see more besides subway tunnel walls. Big FAIL. It took a long time for the right bus to arrive at our stop, then we had to stand up in the back and couldn't see out the windows very well. We were traveling up Madison Ave, so I watched designer names roll by. To get back, we took the subway.

Home sweet home smells like dirty cat litter:

We really liked the hotel. We were able to print the boarding passes in their business center. We used their car service to get to the airport (nice but a bit pricey). I left a note for the maid requesting coffee sleeves, with a drawing of a coffee cup in case they couldn't read English. They left lots of coffee and extra cups, but no sleeves. Must be my lousy artwork.

The trip home was uneventful, just the way we like it. If I hadn't been so tired, I might have tried to negotiate an earlier flight, as we were at the airport in time to catch the Detroit bound flight before ours, but I just could not summon the strength.


When in NYC, I carry what I call "bum money" (I know - not very PC). It's for when someone is sitting on the sidewalk with a cup or is playing music with an open instrument case or is explaining their plight to a captive audience in a subway car or is offering a mala in exchange for hopes for peace. The money is folded and stacked individually in my pocket so I can pull out a single bill without effort. I know some (all?) of those requesting funds are not homeless or even in need. I consider it performance art, for which I'm happy to drop a buck.

Never on any of our trips to NYC have we been mistreated by the so-called locals (there are so many languages and so many people speaking in accented English, the city feels almost exotic). Unlike here, where strangers make eye contact and smile and say hello on the street, NYers ignore each other with aplomb. Yet we saw random, anonymous, impersonal acts of kindness. NYC really is a wonderful city to visit.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

A cat with no name

I don't miss having a dog, but I do miss Betsy. Finn is a wonderful cat, but he stays out all night and sleeps all day, so sometimes it is like not having a cat at all. Hence, I was weak when I met the cat formerly known as Mr. B.

They call me MISTER Banks

A friend of a friend of my daughter's found Finn. A friend of a friend of my son's found Mr. B. No sense in my looking for cats when they seem to find me through my children.

Getting to know you, getting to know all about you...

The name he came with is an issue. I don't quite understand the evolution to "Mr. B" but the B stands for "Banks". I have tried calling him that, but half the time it comes out "Bates" (from Downton Abby). A few other names have been sampled, and right now I am leaning toward Puff (short for Pufferbelly - he hisses a lot).

He's so cute when he's asleep

Puff is ostensibly neutered although he does not look it, nor does he act it; I may have that double checked by my vet. He appears to be about eight months old, so I thought Finn would be tolerant of a kitten. Turns out Finn is not the problem. Puff is the confrontational one, and when Finn tries to walk away, Puff chases him down. Finn is about twice Puff's size, but it doesn't seem to matter. (Finn's reluctance to fight may also explain why he is remarkably unscarred for an outdoor cat.)

I predict a cat spat will follow this meal

Puff is more of a companion, albeit not a cuddly one (yet), than Finn. He loves to follow me around while I do household chores. The vacuum cleaner barely fazes him. He is full of energy and always ready to play. He is also litter trained, but needs to learn to keep off the counters/tables/dresser/plant stand/etc.

Why it is better to adopt an ADULT cat

My hope is that, with time and maturity, not only will Puff settle down but will entertain Finn during the winter when he drives me nuts with his incessant requests to go out/come in/go out/come in. Puff will be an indoor cat, though.

Two cats playing (sort of)

A few days after Puff arrived, I found a cat crawling across a busy street, obvious the victim of a hit-and-run. I stopped the car and scooped him up and took him to Animal Control. Three legs were still functional, so they took him in and posted his picture on the lost and found page, but I doubt anyone will claim him.

Invitation to a belly rub

I wanted to adopt him too, but my daughter talked me down from that crazy cat lady ledge. I felt bad but later realized I have all the cat I can handle right now.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Work-life balance when there is no work

Joining the Wild Walkers was a good idea, but lately Grandma duty has interfered. So far, this has been fine with me, as I have discovered I am a "fair weather" hiker. Once pre-school is over, I should be able to participate more frequently... assuming I can tolerate the mosquitoes and deer flies.

Meanwhile, other opportunities for human interaction have cropped up. The local parks department has a plethora of activities, many geared toward seniors. I attended a free estate planning session which was both informative and entertaining, as some of the other participants were real characters. Last week I started Yoga for Seniors, which is WAY more my style these days; instead of being pushed to perform like a skinny 20-something yogini, we are encouraged to make allowances for our various levels of decrepitude. Next week I start Golf Lessons for Women (I'm trying to get back in touch with my inner jock). And I'm volunteering at Salomon Farm, helping take care of the farm animals. Chickens and donkeys and pigs - OH MY!

When I was still employed, I balanced work with hobbies like gardening and fiber arts which I squeezed into evenings and weekends with more than a little desperation. They kept me sane. Now that work is no longer in the equation, the hobbies don't figure as large in my day-to-day life. I still knit, but not so obsessively. I still garden (or I would, if the weather would cooperate), but now it's more fun than frantic. I exercise more (a real necessity once one is past 60). I read more, and more widely (still pursuing the Stoic thing). My SO and I are even going to travel a bit.

A friend told me it took her about 18 months to rediscover her Self after she retired. The retired Me is not who I expected, and she keep evolving. How lucky I am to experience this stage of life!

Sunday, April 19, 2015

The tribe gathers

My dad died last December. We did little to mark his passing then other than inter the ashes, opting instead for a gathering this spring. As weird as some family events can be, this one was nothing but wonderful.

Over 40 of us (including some cousin/spouse pairs we had not seen for over 25 years) congregated at Graceland Cemetery, first by my dad's parents' graves before shifting over to where my mom and dad are buried. Dad was not a religious man, so no prayers were said, no minister presided. Instead, we stood around and shared stories and memories. This loose format worked well because enough time had elapsed since his death we were not mired in grief, although a few tears were shed just the same. Even my younger brother, who intended to remain silent, spoke up.

Then we repaired to my niece's home a few miles away, for the usual post-funereal repast and family reunion. The youngest cousins played, the oldest cousins swapped tales about growing up in Chicago, the family tree was examined (one line traces back to the Mayflower even though we are basically northern European mutts). It truly was a fitting send off for my Dad.

The only sad part occurred when I arrived home and had the urge to call Dad on the phone and tell him all about it. He would have loved it, would have loved being there. He definitely was present in spirit.

Monday, April 13, 2015


A week ago, Betsy Beagle made her final trip to the vet. She'd been going downhill for some time now: walking on her hocks, one by one giving up her favorite foods, sleeping 24/7. I administered Rimadyl for her arthritis, tried K-Laser treatments as well, which helped some for a while. Getting her to eat dog food became an issue. I tried this and that, and she would either refuse it outright, eat it once or twice before rejecting it, or eat it and vomit. Toward the end, I was cooking for her - chicken and rice, hamburger and potatoes, bacon and eggs - but when even people food went untouched, I knew it was time.

Betsy Beagle, 2002 - 2015

Betsy was a shelter dog with an unknown past. It seemed she had never been inside a house and had no vocabulary (not even "NO"). She was the first dog I've owned that I did not have to share with other family members, and we bonded quickly and deeply. Being a beagle, she loved people but was not a people pleaser. Being a beagle, she had quite the nose, and huffed rabbit scent (and ate rabbit poop) while ignoring the rabbits themselves. Being a beagle, she was a couch potato, which worked well while I was still employed. When I retired, she retired as well, sleeping in each morning.

Canine love is unconditional, uncomplicated, pure. No one loves us like our dogs. Who will love me like that now?

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Oops, I did it again

My dog is old (which is a topic for another post) and has become rather lacksadaisical about where she pees. In an effort to contain the damage, I laid a chair across the doorway between the kitchen and dining room, to keep her off the carpet. Then I forgot I had done so and tripped over the chair in the dark, landing nose first.

Compared to last time, this fall had a lot of positives to it: I landed on carpet, not concrete; I missed the dining room table; if I had fallen from the dining room into the kitchen, I could have hit the breakfast bar on the way down; my glasses remained unharmed. There was blood to contend with, and icing one's nose is awkward, but I felt *lucky* things were not worse.

I did go to the doctor to make sure nothing broke. Even though she is a "real" doctor, she didn't examine me as thoroughly as the PA did last time I fell. She suggested having my face x-rayed, but said if there were a fracture, they wouldn't do anything about it, so I asked what was the point? The visit turned into an exercise in due diligence on my part, followed by the purchase of an Ace bandage and two Cadbury eggs.

Almost everything I read about falls discusses balance and muscle mass, both of which are negatively affected by aging, but there is something else never addressed. Once upon a time, when I tripped, the fall occurred in slow motion, giving me time to react. Now the fall is instantaneous - one moment I am upright, the next I am kissing the floor. Is there a remedy for this?

I look worse today than yesterday, and hurt more. The modifications to make my house safer are useless in protecting me from myself. Any remedy for THAT?!?

Thursday, February 19, 2015

The ideal vs. the real

Having read a piece in the NY Times by Massimo Pigliucci titled "How to be a Stoic", I find myself drawn to ancient Greek and Roman philosophy. In college, I enrolled in a philosophy course, but dropped it after one week (much to the professor's dismay) because it seemed to be a pointless exercise. Now, in my dotage retirement, there is room in my brain for contemplating such stuff. Apparently, this is part of a trend, as evidenced by such exercises as Stoic Week.

Today I read a piece in the NYer about Seneca, ostensibly one of the Roman Stoics, who it turns out was quite the hypocrite, exhorting us to live one way while doing the opposite. He's not the only so-called paragon to ignore his own advice; Thoreau, Kahlil Gibran, and Chögyam Trungpa immediately come to mind. Which brings up the question of how to balance what one says with what one does.

I suppose it is not much different than parenting ("Do as I say, not as I do"), but I wonder what our cultural advisers thought of themselves. Did their lovely words provide some kind of psychic balance to their messy lives? Were they like me when my kids were toddlers, arising each day with the intention of being a loving, kind, patient mother and turning into a screaming harridan by the end of the day? Were they completely blind to the difference between their philosophy and their deeds? Or did they shrug off any criticism while accepting their foibles?

And what are we to take from their teachings? It certainly seems fair to cherry pick what is helpful and ignore what doesn't apply to our modern lives. It seem prudent to take what they say with a grain of salt. And it helps to consider our path through life a journey where we continue to strive to be better than we are without attachment to an outcome.