Sunday, April 28, 2013

Not Everything is Lost

Wandering Around an Albuquerque Airport Terminal.
This beautiful young woman could be any of my neighbours.
After learning my flight was detained 4 hours,
I heard the announcement:
If anyone in the vicinity of gate 4-A understands any Arabic,
Please come to the gate immediately.

Well—one pauses these days.
Gate 4-A was my own gate.
I went there.
An older woman in full traditional Palestinian dress,
Just like my grandma wore, was crumpled to the floor, wailing loudly.

Help, said the flight service person. Talk to her. What is her
Problem? we told her the flight was going to be four hours late and she
Did this.

I put my arm around her and spoke to her haltingly.
Shu dow-a, shu- biduck habibti, stani stani schway, min fadlick,
Sho bit se-wee?

The minute she heard any words she knew—however poorly used—
She stopped crying.
She thought our flight had been canceled entirely.
She needed to be in El Paso for some major medical treatment the
Following day. I said no, no, we’re fine, you’ll get there, just late,

Who is picking you up? Let’s call him and tell him.
We called her son and I spoke with him in English.
I told him I would stay with his mother till we got on the plane and
Would ride next to her—Southwest.

She talked to him. Then we called her other sons just for the fun of it.
Then we called my dad and he and she spoke for a while in Arabic and
Found out of course they had ten shared friends.
Then I thought just for the heck of it why not call some Palestinian
Poets I know and let them chat with her. This all took up about 2 hours.
She was laughing a lot by then. Telling about her life. Answering

She had pulled a sack of homemade mamool cookies—little powdered
Sugar crumbly mounds stuffed with dates and nuts—out of her bag—
And was offering them to all the women at the gate.

To my amazement, not a single woman declined one. It was like a
Sacrament. The traveler from Argentina, the traveler from California,
The lovely woman from Laredo—we were all covered with the same
Powdered sugar. And smiling. There are no better cookies.

And then the airline broke out the free beverages from huge coolers—
Non-alcoholic—and the two little girls for our flight, one African
American, one Mexican American—ran around serving us all apple juice
And lemonade and they were covered with powdered sugar too.

And I noticed my new best friend—by now we were holding hands—
Had a potted plant poking out of her bag, some medicinal thing,
With green furry leaves. Such an old country traveling tradition. Always
Carry a plant. Always stay rooted to somewhere.

And I looked around that gate of late and weary ones and thought,
This is the world I want to live in. The shared world.
Not a single person in this gate—once the crying of confusion stopped
—has seemed apprehensive about any other person.

They took the cookies. I wanted to hug all those other women too.
This can still happen anywhere.
Not everything is lost.
This poem is making the rounds on FB. I looked up the poet, and feel somewhat ambiguous about posting it, as I don't want to contravene her copyright. No copyright infringement intended, just a message we need to hear in these days. Humanity may be wandering, but it is not lost. 

Friday, April 26, 2013

The Necessities

Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. 
Without them humanity cannot survive. ~Dalai Lama

Saturday, April 20, 2013

And not a single man died

About 20 years ago Ian and I went to a presentation by a local man who had climbed Everest. He gave long involved descriptions of the hideous weather, the cold, the impossible terrain, the many hardships as the party fought their way toward the summit.

But what stuck with both of us, and in fact had us doubled up with laughter as we crept out of the auditorium three-quarters of the way through the presentation, was the speaker's total dead-pan and sing-song delivery of one inevitable phrase. Each time he worked his way up through an escalating litany of mountaineer's woes he ended with a melodramatic tag-line, "…and another man died."

The expedition seemed cursed from the beginning. Equipment failed, dumping climbers into thousand foot deep crevasses, climbers were swept off ledges by the wind, buried under avalanches, others died of altitude sickness and hypothermia. By the time they approached the summit the party was reduced by half.

No, it was not funny, but his delivery of the phrase, again and again, milking every last bit of drama from a long and dull story made him sound like a commentator at the Master's describing the loser's putt approaching the cup.  It's been a catch phrase with us ever since.

Anyway, I do not know what brought that to mind, but by noon today it was a nasty 0 C with snow and a north wind that gusted to 40-50 mph.  I wasn't eager to get out in that. As I was working up the courage to make the assault on McKinley/Kilimanjaro, the phone rang.  It was Ian, asking if he could drop by. Who says no when their eldest child wants to visit?

In half an hour or so he was in the living room. When he learned I was going shopping he asked if I wanted him to go along and help. (Is chocolate tasty?)

So, my darling, beautiful, strong son drove me to the Mount McKinley WalMart, did the lifting, loading, unloading and we had a great lunch together while talking politics and other subjects of no particular interest to anyone except ourselves.

Then we tackled Kilimanjaro, where he ran around and got items for me, and again loaded, unloaded and was a very faithful Sherpa indeed.

Once he'd unloaded the two cartloads worth and had me settled in he took off, to attend a social function of some kind. And I am glad to say that on this expedition, not a single man (or old lady) died. I think that may only be because the Sherpa was so skilled at loading groceries, but then I may be prejudiced.    

Friday, April 19, 2013

Looking up at McKinley from base camp

Mount McKinley is the highest mountain peak in the United States and in North America with a summit elevation of 20,320 feet above sea level. I plan to make that climb tomorrow. Of course my Mount McKinley has a big  WalMart sign over the door. But because we are also facing a fridge empty of fresh fruit and veggies I'm hoping to go to the grocery store as well, so it's a WalMart/Sobey's (i.e.) McKinley/Kilimanjaro day.   

This is a daunting, if not frightening prospect, and the ascent takes preparation. The pantry, fridge, freezer and supplement supply must be checked and a list prepared. The weather forecast must be taken into account and the closet checked to make sure that the appropriate clothing is clean and ready to wear. (This entails a load of laundry) Several pieces of mail must be put into envelopes, addressed and stamped. The granny cart is taken from its place in the closet and put in the hallway.

The floor needs sweeping but if I do that today I will not be able to make my assault on the twin peaks of McKinley/Kilimanjaro tomorrow, so I leave the floor with rolling tumbleweeds of cat hair and drifts of dust. Sort of like the country around Odessa Texas, where we lived for a couple of years when I was a kid, with fewer rattlesnakes.

I watch what I eat. Care must be taken not to eat more than the permitted grams of carbohydrates, but to make sure I get adequate calories. The shower will be taken tonight, rather than tomorrow morning. The clock must be watched. Last night I was distracted and forgot to take my pain medications at 9:00, so I could sleep by midnight, which meant that I didn't sleep until 4:00 am. What a nuisance.

I miss the days, long ago admittedly, when I could just grab my purse and go; when I could be spontaneous. These days I have to plan and lay my shopping trips out as carefully as any mountaineering expedition. And I will feel as if I have been beaten and kicked by a gang of angry bikers for two or three days afterwards. 

Why talk about any of this?  It's just the way my life is. I won't lie and say I like it or have some kind of saintly acceptance. I've learned my limits, which I guess is a kind of acceptance, but life is damn hard work and there's no little flashing light that indicates you are struggling just to put the one foot in front of the other. But I still have some gear to prepare for the climb tomorrow, and it's coming up on pain pill time, and I don't want to miss that tonight. Wish me luck.    

Thursday, April 18, 2013

In Praise of Boston

 Today, instead of a climbing or sitting in base camp post, I'm doing something I rarely do, reposting from someone else's blog. Dave Munger ran the Boston Marathon on Monday,  and if this doesn't bring you to tears you may not have a heart...

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

In praise of Boston

I wanted to tell you about my race yesterday at the Boston Marathon. That is what I wanted to do. I wanted to tell you everything about what happened to me during the race.

I wanted to tell you about leaving my Garmin in the hotel, and running the race with only a 1980s era digital wristwatch.

I wanted to tell you my splits for every mile of the race, how I started out strong, but then just gradually lost the energy to keep up the pace I had planned. I wanted to tell you all about it.

I wanted to tell you that I finished in 3:39, 17 minutes slower than my PR, and that I was disappointed with that.

But instead, I'm going to tell you about the people of Boston, and the way they come together, by the thousands, by the hundreds of thousands, for one day every year, to celebrate what we runners sometimes take for granted.

Before and after the race, I had dozens of ordinary people, not runners, stop me to tell me how proud they were of me. Not one of them asked what my finishing time was, or whether I was happy with my performance. They just wanted to share that they admired my accomplishment.  Read the rest... 

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Monday, April 15, 2013

Am I just not buying the right product?

Okay, to continue my report of my normal week. My day begins with the usual schizophrenic discussion between my brain and my body:

Body: "OMG! I feel like the Pittsburgh Penguins used me as a practice puck, all night long! %$#*& I HURT! Everything hurts! I am NOT moving.

Brain: "Listen you, get yer plush bum out of bed and get moving! It's just going to be worse the longer you lie here whining. Sheesh!"

Body: "Easy for you to say. It's not YOU that hurts! If I move I may die!"

Bladder: "If I may interrupt this scintillating conversation I really am at the tipping point. The two of you can argue about this on the way to the bathroom."

Groaning, I crawl out of bed and stumble toward the bathroom.  Within a half hour I have made coffee, fed the starving, squalling cats and collapsed into my rocker to watch the morning news.

And in the next half hour I have learned how to solve all my problems. If only I bought a certain brand of adult diaper I might not have to get out of bed at all, but I like the alternatives they show better. One commercial has ice-skaters wearing the diapers, and the next has a sparkly dancer wearing them. So, next time I shop I'll buy a package of them and instead of being the puck, I'll be a skater! 

As I climb my Seven Summits it would be handy to speak to my guides in their own languages, so I've been watching that commercial that promises their product will teach you how to speak a new language in 30 days. So far I can say, "Schwimmer", but I don't know what it means, or even what language it is.  I'll try it on my next Sherpa/grocery carry-out clerk and see what reaction I get. What could go wrong?

Right now, having swept yesterday (see previous post) my left shoulder is partly out of place and my arms, hands and fingers are stiff, aching and very sore.  I'm wrapping this up and heading for the pain pills. They aren't advertised, but they will help me get my body up out of the rocker and - oh wait, there's another ad - this product promises to take away wrinkles. Boy that's the last thing I worry about.

Off for those pills…

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Another day in base camp

Today is another day in base camp, but at least I am able to do more than just look at the scattered remnants of a day of climbing and begin to straighten out the mess. At any rate if any neighbours drop in I won't die of embarrassment.

While it took every ounce of discipline I could manage (and a full bladder) to crowbar me out of bed this morning, I'm not in much pain. (Hoorah!) So after breakfast I wiped off the counters, and helped Tony put away the dishes which he unloaded from the dishwasher.

Then I swept. Okay, roll your eyes and snicker if you must, but for me sweeping is hard work. After the first few strokes of the broom I had to put His Supreme Naughtiness, Salvadore Too, into the kennel where he squalled like he was being killed. But he's taken up Smokey's trick of grabbing the broom with all four feet and hanging on for dear life. He's not quite five months old and only weighs six or seven pounds but he does make sweeping impossible.

"This mah baby, yu make him cry I bite yu!"
And I cleaned the litter box. As usual, as soon as it has been cleaned both cats climbed in (together) and used it, squatting side by side. (These guys are a hoot) This desperation to get into a clean box suggests it has been several weeks since it was cleaned but it was actually cleaned about 10 pm last night. They are just super-duper fastidious and don't like using a "soiled" box. So I cleaned it again once they'd both climbed out and kicked a bunch of litter on my newly swept floor. (I give up)

So, after a half hour's break I am feeling lucky. I think I'll go dig through the freezer for the short ribs I know are there, and put them in the crockpot with a bit of bbq sauce. Throw a bunch of potatoes in the big pot and with some parsley and an avocado and cucumber salad it will look dangerously like I have made dinner by about 6:00 pm.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

The Seven Summits

Looking at me, you'd never guess. I'm a climber. I don't write about it because I'm doing it in secret.

I'm doing the Seven Summits. Yesterday was a good day and I did Mt. Kilimanjaro, otherwise known as Sobey's, the grocery store down the street. Actually I prefaced grocery shopping with a trip to the pharmacy, so I could have counted this as one of the higher summits but since I started calling this climb Kilimanjaro I'm not changing now.

But with me a "good day" is relative. I've reached a tipping point where I have little muscle left to work with, and the ones I have must work very very hard to compensate. By the time I'd unloaded the groceries into the granny cart for the final ascent I felt as if I was going to throw up from the exertion. But the wind was very cold and was clawing at my ears so I pushed on toward the top.

The local wildlife (i.e. the cats) had every intention of bowling me over and escaping as I struggled the cart through the door, but Tony grabbed the baby and I pushed Smokey back inside with the cart. There really wasn't much, I hadn't even filled the cart. Tony unloaded most of it so I didn't have to bend over. My recently subluxated ribs have yet to completely settle and bending still hurts. But his help was appreciated because he's rowing the Atlantic in a fishing dory all alone this month, and he's got his hands full without unloading groceries from the granny cart.

I grabbed my "treat", a bottle of fruit-flavored no-cal carbonated water, and flopped into my rocking chair. I hurt from stem to stern which is mixing watery-dory metaphors with stony-mountainy ones but right now I don't give a… well, I won't be rude.

I've been having trouble standing for more than a few minutes so we're trying out the ready-made meals from Sobey's. They have a kitchen right in the middle of the store where they prepare a whole range of take-away foods, with pre-packaged dinners (your choice of roast beef/chicken/ham/turkey/or meat loaf, mashed potatoes and gravy, and veggies) or you can put together your own combo. They have all kinds of food, from sushi to pasta to Chinese to Polish to southern fried chicken. One combo is enough for two meals for me, and surprisingly enough this is costing us less than buying the fresh food, because it often spoils before I can cook it. I also buy a lot of fruit, some cheese, eggs, and yogurt, and the freezer is full if I feel like cooking.

So that was yesterday for me. Kilimanjaro conquered, or vice versa, I'm never sure which, but today I was laid low in base camp and my sum accomplishments have been;
1. pull my shrieking muscles out of bed
2. make coffee
3. turn on a loaded dishwasher
4. sit in my chair and rock

That's it. I've answered a few e-mails and written this. Big day… Now it's nearly midnight and I hate to go to bed, because I always wake up feeling terrible. The pain meds I take to be able to sleep have worn off by morning and it's agony to move, and it's agony to lie there. So you grit your teeth and get up because you know that the first 10 minutes are the worst. After that it will probably get better. Probably. And quite possibly there's a mountain waiting.

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

We're All Bozos on the Bus!

The conversation is superficially about "Peak Oil" and the economic challenges we are facing. But there's a lot of wisdom here about how we deal with anxiety, sadness, and our neighbours. Well worth the time spent.

Kathy McMahon Psy.D. is a clinical psychologist who is internationally known for her writing about the psychological impacts of Peak Oil, climate change, and economic collapse.

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

Unexpected Pleasures

A week ago yesterday we had our condominium's annual general meeting. I sit on the board, as the landscaper and gardener. After the meeting one of my neighbours, a young man named Mark, approached with a gift, a pot of seven or eight tulips with buds only days from opening. Last summer he brought me an enormous hanging basket filled with beautiful flowers. Having a neighbour who works for a company which supplies all the floral displays for the city's large malls is a bonus. Receiving a pot of tulips was an unexpected pleasure.

I placed the tulips in the bedroom, on the table next to the window. I have other plants on that table and keep that door closed because certain cats in this household are plant shredders. A couple of days ago they opened and I took a few pictures. Lovely things. The blossoms are not large but they are so delicately fragrant and they are magnificent in form and in the colour variations, pinks and creams.

The last few days have been "warm", well, above freezing. Today it was practically hot as the temperature reached a blistering 19 C (66 F). This kind of warmth this early in the year means a cold snap is chasing the heat before it, and snow is in our forecast for tomorrow.

Despite several days of warm temperatures there are still dirty snowbanks piled in the flowerbeds on either side of the wide walkway leading to the front door. But when I looked out this morning a spot of colour caught my eye at this end of the flower bed.

I could hardly believe my eyes, but a single crocus had pushed through the dead leaves to lift its lavender face to the sun. I grabbed my camera and quickly ran down to take a picture. While there I scouted the rest of the beds for life. The smooth fleshy leaves of the "elephant ears" are uncoiling next to the sidewalk 15 feet farther down the bed. Otherwise everything is still sleeping. But I have that photo to look at until the rest of my flowers start to emerge and fill that bed with colour and texture.

Two quiet and unexpected pleasures -