Friday, April 27, 2012

Green Day

Yesterday was cool and foggy, with a fine mist clinging to the tree tops. It's been a very dry winter. All day the parched earth looked up at the lumpy, leaden sky and pled, "Rain, rain, please PLEASE RAIN!"

Finally, as the sun set, the clouds reached their holding capacity and the rain began, earnest and steady as your granddad's old plow horse. It moved up and down the streets and lawns and fields without the fanfare of thunder, it slid down gutters and flowed along curbs. Slowly it soaked down through the hard top layers of soil to bless dry and aching roots.

By 6:00 am this morning the rain had withdrawn into the clouds again but what a transformation it had wrought in the dark. The winter-bare branches of our apple and plum trees have leaves thrusting out like baby's hands, apple-tree green and plum-tree purple. The grass that was tan everywhere but beneath the downspouts is brilliantly green overnight.

The robins, yesterday pecking apart last year's withered plums, are gorging on worms brought to the surface by the rain. Green spears of tulips, crocuses and daffodils have emerged and unfolded. Crocuses that were invisible yesterday today bloom in bunches.

It is Green Day. The day after the first rain of spring. The cycle of rebirth begins again.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Off to Buy Vitamins

I'm on Facebook, it's how I keep up with my dozens of friends and family members. But the "targeted" ads I am served are absolutely a hoot and some days are as entertaining as the FB posts. My favourite is the one about a 50-year-old woman whose dermatologist hates her for her age-defying beauty secret which makes her look 25 (and which she is willing to sell me). I won't buy it because if I looked 25 people would expect me to act 25 and if there's one thing I love about looking old it's that you don't have to apologize for being slow anymore.

Another frequent ad is from a dating service which laments the fact that their "senior men" can't find "faithful senior women like you Deborah". If I answered that ad I'd not be the "faithful" woman they're looking for would I? Besides their supposedly "senior men" (models dressed as policemen and firemen and doctors in lab coats) - are all about 35! My sons are older!

Still hoping they have a merry and potentially wealthy widow on their hands (I gave them NO information other than name and age and a hometown I left at 11) they offer to move me into a high-end retirement home, then try to entice me to join a single-seniors-only cruise. I sense frustration as they try to find something, anything that I might buy. A decorator will come to my home and make sure it doesn't have that "granny vibe" we all fear. Sadly I do not want a $12,000 sofa that looks like three ironing boards grafted together and covered with fuschia-coloured patent leather.

The ad servers are flummoxed. Abandoning the hope that I am high-end, single-cruising-cougar widow, they test the theory that I am a crippled-up penny-pinching old party pooper and offer to sell me the secret of how to get $35,000 free dollars from the government because I am infirm. When I don't even want to know how to get $35,000 of free-for-the-taking-money desperation sets in.

They abandon all semblance of targeting and simply go with alternating stereotypes. It's well known if you are over 65 you are (obviously) either infirm or an elderly Olympian. So they alternate advertisements for medical aids with those for hair-raising adventures. Do I need a new wheelchair? No? Do I want to go a sky-diving? No? How about standing out in the geezer crowd with a hand carved cane from Borneo? No?? Surely I'd enjoy a life-changing (I read this as "life-ending") rafting trip down the north face of Everest? NO??? Perhaps I could do with a medical lift or a potty chair to sit beside my bed? NO? A day of mudding with my dune buggy?

When I don't throw the credit card at any of these wonderful choices, I visualize them hunched over their keyboards with knit brows, shuffling their ads like a deck of solitaire cards. One, gnawing his thumbnail, says tensely, "Pull back just a little, offer her (long pause) square-dancing lessons." They watch with nervous expectation as the ad comes and goes, all Madison Avenue Ad agency sweat under the armpits as FB stock ticks lower by the second. A vein in a temple pulses visibly. The old dame is holding out. She's still not BUYING ANYTHING!

In rapid succession they promise to hide my varicose veins, lift my sagging bosom, glue chalk white facades on my discoloured teeth, ease my aching joints. This gives me pause. I've never noticed any of these problems, perhaps Facebook has a "Future Afflictions" app I have inadvertently signed up for? I was actually beginning to worry about it and even stopped to look in the mirror the other day (an activity I usually avoid).

But the real topper was when I got a message from my cousin Mac this morning. Facebook has apparently developed an app which does what no other web application has ever done before; transcended that final curtain which we have never peered beyond.

My dearly-loved cousin Mac passed away last December. However, he's FB'd me today to recommend a well-known brand of senior's vitamins. They finally have me. I'm going to buy some. If that brand of vitamin pill can make Mac feel well enough to post to FB from where he's gone, they might finally make a square-dancer out of me.

Monday, April 23, 2012

The Zen Gardener in Action

Commonly repeated axiom, "Everything comes at a price."

So my glorious Saturday afternoon in the mountains became my early-morning attack on Sunday, followed by a day of wobbly legs and aching chest. Today's not a lot no better.

But like the unrepentant Toad in Wind in the Willows when he was chastised for his obsession with driving motor cars at break-neck speed down country lanes, "I'm not sorry, and it wasn't folly at all! It was simply glorious! and the first chance I get - OFF I'll go again!"

It wasn't just the trip, or the walking, that did me in. I'd pruned shrubs Thursday and Friday, and really did too much on Friday, to the point where I wasn't able to step up the six inches to get out of the flower bed on my own. Tony had to give me a pull to help me out.

Am I sorry? Heck no! I could sit in the rocker and do not much of anything, but it doesn't make me feel better physically and it certainly doesn't make me feel better mentally. While I know I should probably quit before I fall over and start gaping like a fish pulled from the water, I tend to want to reach a goal. I start with reasonable intentions, "I'll trim two shrubs", but then I see that next one in the row… and think yes, I'm sure that would be fine… By the time I've done this three or four fine times it's not fine, it's nuts!

Three days of this level of physical activity makes me as legless as a cowboy who has just downed a bottle of Kentucky whiskey. Legless in a different sense, as I still retain consciousness… mostly conscious of my exasperation when I realize that I've done it yet again, when the last time I swore never to repeat the same stupid mistake.

But back to, "Oh but it was so lovely." I enjoyed every branch I lopped off and every step on that rocky trail.

Now I look over my balcony at the gravel pad where my Zen garden will be born, but not today. Today the Zen gardener is in the rocking chair cultivating a crop she has had little success in growing thus far, patience.

Image is a close-up of the stone garden in the karesansui style, Ryōan-ji temple in Kyoto, Japan taken by Tedmoseby, on June 30, 2008.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Preparing to go Zen…

I've continued to prune the shrubs out front, pecking away like an old hen, a shrub or two at a time on days when it's been warm enough to be outside. There are perhaps 30 shrubs, several of them seven feet high and as wide. They are full of dead wood and crossed branches.

I'm taking them back to healthy wood and a decent shape, assuming they don't simply die of the shock of being cared for! I'm now down to the last third of the job, with about 10 shrubs left to do. Only three of these are large, the remainder are cinquefoils, which are not large but are very dense. Many many branches. Anyway, they are beginning to green up and I need to get them done in the next week.

But while cutting down the enormous shrubs I've noticed that there is an irregularly-shaped gravel bed to the left of the entryway, right up against the building. It was hidden behind the jungle before. It's perhaps 14 feet long along the wall, eight feet deep with an outer edge of eight or 10 feet. The end closest to the building is angled to run parallel to the sidewalk. It's bordered with railroad ties and filled with very coarse (inch or larger) gravel, some of which has evaporated over the past several years to reveal landscape cloth beneath.

I'm not quite certain why the builder put gravel there, rather than the lawn which is between all the other ground floor unit patios, but for whatever reason it leaves me with the perfect opportunity for… you guessed it… a dry Zen garden.

And after the site the first requirement of a Zen garden is rocks. Yesterday was a glorious day, the first we'd had in a very long time. It was sunny and warm enough that you didn't even need a jacket. I'd asked Ian if he'd take me on a rock-hunting trip, and he was kind enough to say yes. He even said he'd feed me lunch first!

He picked me up about 11:30 and away we went. He drives an enormous four-wheel drive monster of a Land Cruiser of an age which requires veneration in the automobile world. It goes about anywhere given time and assuming you have no loose fillings. We had a delicious brunch at a nice little place in Inglewood, which is sort of Calgary's "Old Town". A friend joined us which was really nice, and it was a very enjoyable start to the outing.

The hills surrounding Calgary are still dressed in camel-coloured grass. The trees are bare but beginning to appear to be enclosed in a light mist as leaf buds thicken on bare stems. As we rode along I saw two trumpeter swans in a slough alongside the road, a well-fed coyote trotted through a field, red-tailed hawks circled, keeping a sharp eye out for any gopher foolish enough to stray far from its burrow.

We pulled off the road where a recent slide had brought down tons and tons of rocks. I walked up the slide, selected my half dozen stones, and then we went on to the Trans-Canada Trail. It was lovely back in the woods. The rocks along the trail were covered with orange splats of lichen and wooly green patches of moss. Two crows argued in the distance. An aspen clearly showed the effects of a heavy snowfall on its branches at some early stage of its growth which left the branches permanently deformed.

Ian pointed out a nearby mountain and told me of a climb when he reached the top of the cliff to find a bald eagle hovering above him in the up draught of warm air rising off the cliff face. We live in a beautiful country.

It was a perfect day. That day will be a part of my Zen garden, along with the hours I spent with one of my favourite people in the world. Zen gardens are all about symbolism. I have plans.

Monday, April 09, 2012

God says yes to me...

by Kaylin Haught

I asked God if it was okay to be melodramatic

and she said yes

I asked her if it was okay to be short

and she said it sure is

I asked her if I could wear nail polish

or not wear nail polish

and she said honey

she calls me that sometimes

she said you can do just exactly

what you want to

Thanks God I said

And is it even okay if I don’t paragraph

my letters

Sweetcakes God said

who knows where she picked that up

what I’m telling you is

Yes Yes Yes

Monday, April 02, 2012

Old Friends

I remember clearly the first time I heard this song. I was a young wife and mother, 22 years old, living in Phoenix in a hundred-year-old adobe house with two foot thick walls and plank floors laid directly on the original packed mud floor. Our older son was not yet two, the cicadas sang outside. We had very little money but I was so very happy.

At the time I associated this song with Edie Hewitt, who'd been our landlady in Oak Park Illinois the first year of our marriage. She was 72, I was 19 and we became the best of friends. Tony worked evenings so she and I would have dinner together, her friends Bess and Viola would come by and we'd play canasta for hours.

Edie Hewitt was feisty and knew exactly how to get her own way at City Hall or the local grocer's. Her late husband had been the City treasurer for 17 years. He had died a year or two earlier but she still had contacts. She had "the dirt" on everyone in City Hall, and wasn't above using it. One thing you weren't supposed to have in our upscale neighbourhood was renters, but she didn't like going off and leaving her place empty while she visited her son "Young America". So we were renters/house-sitters.

One day a City Inspector came to the door with a complaint about her "illegal renters". She told me this afterwards with a little twinkle in her highly mischievous eye. She invited him in, looked over his paper and proceeded to let him know that she knew where his particular bodies were buried at City Hall. He thought a minute, put his hat on, straightened his tie and said he was happy her adult grandchildren were able to help her out, now that she was a widow.

One day I found her laughing so hard she was wheezing and crying. The nearby grocer delivered a box of groceries for her a couple of times a week, she'd broken her elbow and found it hard to carry things. She'd call her order in and Frank the grocer would bring the things by an hour or two later.

On this particular day she'd decided she wanted a salad, so she said she'd asked Frank the price of a head of lettuce. He said it was 19 cents. She was outraged! "Nineteen cents!" she told him, "Frank, at that price you know where you can stick that head of lettuce!"

"No, ma'm I'm sorry," the grocer replied. "I can't, I've got a head of cabbage and three pounds of pork chops up there already and it's only 10:00 am."

We kept in touch for years, she visited us when we moved to California, and we exchanged cards at holidays. She passed away in 1973 at the age of 80. I still have some of her letters. She was a lovely friend and it warms me, just to think of her.

Sunday, April 01, 2012

This week's Catch-All

I've been very busy the past three or four weeks working on a paper for a neurology journal with neurogeneticists Frank Lehman-Horn and Karen Jurkatt-Rott. These are two of the finest minds (as well as the nicest people) in the field of channelopathy genetics and I was gobsmacked when Frank invited me to co-author a paper with them. I'd have been thrilled to have shined their shoes or pressed their lab coats!

It's been a steep learning curve. Though I've written hundreds of articles and several books on neurological subjects, I've never written for this caliber of audience and I've learned a tremendous amount.

I thought when I sent off the "final-final" edit about ten days ago that I'd hammered down the last nail. Frank and Karen were going to add some slides and expand on the discussion. But somewhere along the road from final final to press someone did what I often do, and turned the paper on its head.

With an appeal, "Please don't hate me!" I got a request this morning to populate five pages of tables with patient-by-patient statistical comparisons - by Monday. This means going back to the original data and pulling out the information piece by piece. Eighteen hours later I have just finished one of five tables. I started with the "easy" one.

It's a groaner of a job, but as I'm doing it I can see why it's valuable. Patterns are emerging that were not apparent before. Funnily enough I did the original research as a sort of "test run" for a much larger project, just to get the feel of the software. I never actually thought I'd uncover new information.

Garden Meeting

My garden meeting went well. Ten people showed up, including an older Indian couple who live around the corner. They speak very little English. Their granddaughter came as translator with her Granddad. But I've been dying to meet them. We pass in the hallway - she is tiny and uses a walker, he walks with great difficulty but they are always smiling and cheerful. I hope we can transcend the language barrier and become friends. The other attendees were from young to older, some who had gardened before and some who never have. I'm not sure all will participate, but if we have five or six it's a start. It should be fun!

And something no one should have to find

Day before yesterday one of the ladies who had come to the garden meeting came to the door, quite upset and in tears. She couldn't explain what was wrong, but asked me to come with her. As we got off the elevator on the third floor the smell was overpowering. She led me to a door, and it was obvious the smell was coming from the apt inside. I couldn't reach our management company or any other board members so called the police and explained the situation.

The young man who lived there had been in the hospital for 10 days, and had been back about 10 days. Asking around, no one had seen him the previous week, but his mother had gone south for a holiday so the neighbours thought he'd gone to join her.

Alas, not so. The police came, broke down the door and found the poor fellow had been lying there dead for over a week. It was not foul play, or even suicide, the coroner had made the assumption while here that the young guy had taken his medication and then had several drinks, which is a no-no with so many prescription drugs.

So it has been a week filled with incident as Lady Bracknell would say. I have now decompressed from my hours of statistical concentration and am going to go off to my comfy bed. Tomorrow is a brand new day.