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Friday, December 30, 2011

Walking Tall-ish

I am tall and appear relatively fit. Scrupulously staying out of the sun and watching my diet also helps me to appear younger than my (gasp) 60+ years.  But I’ve had numerous surgeries for orthopedic issues--cervical spine, two carpal tunnel releases, a tendon release for tennis elbow, and am planning additional surgery to remove bone spurs in both shoulders dangerously close to my rotator cuffs.  For these reasons, my doctor has advised I limit my exercise to swimming, water aerobics and walking.  Unfortunately I recently acquired a staph infection. Not only has the infection caused me to delay the shoulder surgery but also has kept me from my favorite and safest exercises in water.

So I tried a land-based class, Tuesdays and Thursdays, high noon, at Milestone.  The class is called "Walking Tall" and is designed for people with severe arthritis, recoverers of serious illness, and those who need to ease back into regular exercise.  I thought the latter fit me: the only regular exercise, other than walking the dog, I have been getting is extricating myself from my recliner.

I showed up early for class, expecting some ailing athletes and “young seniors” like myself.  A single very elderly woman had beaten me to the class room.  She showed me the ropes: where to find the mats, the large exercise balls and bands and small hand weights.  She also showed me how to wipe down all my equipment with a disinfecting wipe.  Since I have been exiled from the pool because of the staph infection, likely incurred at the gym according to my doctor, I figured I better pay attention to this disinfection step.

Soon the other class mates were showing up.  We, that is, I and the octo- and older generians, took our places on our mats, following the instructor's directions to stretch, push, lunge and otherwise move our limbs in time to Yanni.  I was happy none of my close friends could see how I was not keeping up with the old-timers.  They stretched their arms and legs, balanced on their large balls, kicked their legs and didn't seem to miss a beat as we switched from one move to the next.  At least I could reach the high shelves to put the mats and balls away.  Many of my classmates were about half my height.

An hour after I got home from my little jaunt to exercise with the elderly I started feeling shooting pain in my right arm.  Apparently I had reactivated the nerve damage thought to be cured by a spinal surgery a few years ago.  

Damn those senior citizens and their flexibility.  And my need to show off that I was able to keep up with them.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Thanks to All

Today is my birthday. We've enjoyed a week's visit with our younger son and his girlfriend. They had to leave today but not before wishing me a happy birthday. On facebook I saw friends had sent me "happy birthday" wishes. and I had a couple of text birthday messages this morning.   The many technological ways to send happy greetings to a friend or family member.

Now I am sitting by the fire trying to decide which of the Christmas or birthday present books to read first.  It doesn't get much better than this, except to have the family and friends here with me. Of course, then I'd have to do something with my hair and put on make up. and wear something other than sweats.

So thank you all who are here with me in spirit and didn't make me get dressed up for a party. Love you all.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Saturday Revelry and Sunday Prayers

In my earliest memory I am standing in church looking up at the stained glass windows.  I tug my Mother’s sleeve, pointing at the windows, “Is God up there? I asked.  I didn’t get an answer.  Talking is not permitted in Catholic churches.

This last weekend I spent Sunday afternoon in church, the sun again glinting through stained glass windows.  Happy crowds were chattering before and after angelic music.  No, the Church rules about talking have not suspended, at least as far as I know.  And I was not rekindling the long-dead embers of my Catholic faith. But I do think something akin to religious was going on.

We had traveled last weekend to Cincinnati for Over the Rhine’s (“OTR”) Christmas concert at the Taft on Saturday night.  And stayed for the “Sunday Soiree” at St. Elizabeth’s, an old Catholic Church

The Taft is a lovely venue with wonderful acoustics.  But the resonance of OTR’s music in the old St. Elizabeth’s church provides an almost celestial sound.  Karin Bergquist’s voice also is compelling.  She is the female signer, songwriter and musician of the husband-wife team that is the core of OTR.  If Tom Waits’ voice is a glass of whiskey with a chaser of gravel, Karin’s is a full pour of fine Pinot Noir, rich and red with sweet cherry undertones and a smoky after-flavor from barrel aging.  OTR’s music leaves a warm glow.

Both concerts were standouts, if not the classic “Merry Christmas” affairs.  OTR has a melancholy take on Christmas in many of their songs.  Such as “All I Ever Get for Christmas is Blue” and “All My Favorite People" (are broken), which were performed at both concerts.  “Snow Angel,” “Sacred Ground” (a new song), and “The Very First Snowfall of a Very Long Year," all part of the Taft performance, continued the sweet melancholic feeling some of us experience at this season.

Karin was in full-throated voice both Saturday and Sunday, accompanied on piano and guitar by Linford Detweiler, the other half of the songwriting and married partnership that is the core of OTR.  On Sunday, Jason Goforth, on harmonica, lap steel guitar and various instruments, and Nick Radina on percussion also gave stellar performances.  Saturday’s concert was enhanced by Tim Luntzel on bass and Tommy Perkinson on drums.

Lucy Wainwright Roche, daughter of Loudon Wainwright III (“he of “Dead Skunk"-- in the middle of the road--fame) and sister to Rufus, opened for OTR’s concert at the Taft.  To Karin’s full red, Lucy’s voice is a Pinot Grigio, crisp and clear and cool, taking away your breath at moments when she hits impossibly-high notes with apparent ease.  Her lovely singing is interspersed with charming chatter that seems as easy as her high notes. 

Karin and Lucy beautifully harmonized on two songs, Springsteen’s “Hungry Heart” and to add a touch of classic Christmas, “Silent Night.”  The two OTR concerts left me convinced that for the rest of this holiday season I am  better off staying home with a glass of red listening to music than going to a shopping mall.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Christmas Disaster Part 3: The Movie

You may have read my recent tales of disaster--with an attempted “natural” Christmas and also with the artificial kind.  As the holiday approaches and I need a break from the craziness of the shopping and decorating season, I turn to that all-time best Christmas disaster movie.  No, not the Chevy Chase one, or the one where Jimmy Stewart tries to kill himself.  Though I do love “It’s a Wonderful Life.” 

The all-time best Christmas disaster movie, “Die Hard” is just the ticket to get you in the holiday disaster spirit.  What’s not to like?  Bruce Willis with sort-of-bulging muscles in a dirty “beater” shirt, Bonnie Bedalia with big ‘80’s hair and shoulder pads, and a towering–inferno-in-the-waiting.  Identifiable bad guys with German accents but only greed, not real political or terrorist motivations.  And a good-hearted, hefty, Twinkie-eating cop who is smarter than all his bosses and the FBI combined.

Sorry for the spoiler but if you haven’t seen the movie by now you’ve been living on the moon or in a coma the last twenty years: the good guy wins, the obnoxious media guy gets a well-deserved punch from Bonnie, and Bruce and Bonnie decide they both should compromise and appreciate each other a little more.  And that doesn’t even mention the cute, African American limo driver kid, Argyle, who helps save the day.

Some ‘80’s media and “art” have not aged well.  But pull out your copy of “Die Hard”, or download or stream it or whatever you do.  Pour a little rum in your eggnog and have yourself a merry little Christmas disaster, complete with happy ending.  If you are surviving the holiday season you deserve it.  And most likely you did not have as tough a time making it home for the holidays as Bruce and Bonnie did.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

The Competition

Christmas Disaster Part 2 and ½: The Saga Continues

Its 15 days before Christmas.  The Christmas cards and annual letter are not written, the shopping is not done, and we do not yet have a Christmas tree up. How could we already be into another disaster?

Today we put up the garland over the large wooden entertainment center in the family room.  Most years I have done this with the help of our cleaning person.  This year, my husband is retired.  So he suggests he and I will do the decorating together.  That’s what the joy of the holiday season is all about: spending time with loved ones.

In past years, my cleaning person and I would push back the artificial mums and philodendron (the Non-Christmas Decorations—NCD) that usually sit on top of the entertainment center.  Then we would string the artificial greenery in front to hide the NCD.  With a stepladder, it would take the two of us five to ten minutes.  And little muss or fuss.

This year, my spouse said, “Let’s do the decorating the right way.”  That is, Step 1, take down the mums and other Non-Christmas Decorations.  Of course, this results in Step 2, find a place to put all the NCD.  There is a lot more NCD than Christmas greenery.  So, my gracious husband climbs into the attic and hauls out some empty plastic tubs.  Next comes Step 3, take down the NCD.  Also a big project.  Not only is the NCD voluminous but it’s a hodgepodge.  Mums and greenery in pots, strands, and all sorts of other configurations that had been interwoven for a look of a solid, wall-long floral front. How we will ever get this all back up I'm not sure.  

But taking down all of this decoration once in awhile no doubt is a good idea. Because that takes us to Step 4, dusting.  The only problem is I am terribly allergic to dust mites.  One of the reasons we have a cleaning person.  Thus, soon I look like the proverbial TV allergy sufferer: sneezing, sniffling, and red, itchy eyes.  And that’s after taking a boatload of allergy medicine.

Having completed Steps 1 through 4, we are proud of our accomplishments.  And finally we are ready for Step 5, put up the Christmas garland/greenery or “CG” for short.  The CG comes in large strands with colored lights, activated by a battery pack in each strand.  Oops, Step 5 is check the strands and batteries.  

All finally is a “Go” for Step 6, put up the CG. In previous (misguided) years this had been the only Step.

My husband climbs on the stepladder while I hold the rest of the strands.  This seems to be my place in Christmas decorating.  But the decorations don’t want to stay in place.  There no longer is anything to prop them up with. Nevertheless, my spouse manages to get them situated.  The greenery appears settled, so he puts away the stepladder. 

Not surprisingly, the previously clean carpet now is dusted with artificial needles.  Did I mention our cleaning person had come the day before? I guess Step 7 is clean up the mess.

In addition to allergies, I have bone spurs in my shoulders, an old injury to my cervical spine, and tendonitis in both elbows. Thus, my arms are pretty useless for doing any real work.  That is the other reason we have a cleaning person. Not to worry, my husband says, he will handle Step 7 with our trusty, old vacuum.   

As he vacuums, though, rather than artificial needles disappearing, we see big globs of dust appearing.  The vacuum has been set on “hose” rather than “floor.”  Once corrected, (Step 7 and 1/2?) the dust and needles come up, but not without more sneezing, sniffling, and itching.  Maybe I should make sneezing a separate step? 

A dusty scent lingers in the air.  After all, it is an old vacuum cleaner.

After vacuuming, we find more than dust has been disturbed.  The artificial greenery has all come tumbling down, this time leaving a much wider swath of needles in its wake.

I won’t bore you with the Step by Step's.  Suffice it to say we repeat all the previous Steps with one addition.  This time, my intrepid spouse improvises a base for the greenery with metal book ends.  He really is very good at “Jerry-rigging,” even if by now we must be at Step 8. If we get to 12 Steps I am going to be ready for some alcohol.

I firmly believe we are done with all the Steps in Christmas decorating.  We can gather around our gas fireplace or even the two-foot-tall red-ribboned-bedecked rosemary “tree” in the kitchen.  After all, who really needs a Christmas tree? 

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Christmas Disaster Part 2: Christmas Lights

If you read my previous post you will know “natural” Christmas decorations don’t always work out to expectations.  So, perhaps a return to the old-faithful of Christmas decorations is in order. 

Christmas lights.  What is prettier than to see a beautiful tree all lit with colored lights.  We have a blue spruce in our front yard and have been stringing lights on it for most of the twenty plus years we have lived in this house.  The tree, about 12 feet when we first moved in, of course, has grown over that time.  Each year, for the last ten years, at least, my husband swears that THIS year, is absolutely the last year he will put lights on the tree.  

The spruce is now at least 30 feet tall.  We have a six-foot, half-broken, step-ladder and a re-purposed expandable golf ball retriever.  With these implements so clearly insufficient to reach the top of the spruce, I took my husband at his word and investigated what it would cost to call in the professionals.  $1,500!  To install and take down lights on a large tree.  And that was when I mistakenly told them the tree was about fifteen feet tall.  Did I mention I'm not so good with spatial dimensions?  Assuming they could work us into their schedule before Christmas?!?  How can there be a recession going on if the professional light-hangers are so busy at those prices?  I laughed out loud.  And figured we would finally have a dark tree this year.  A little sad but not the end of the world. 

So on a recent day I was surprised to see my husband dragging out the old broken step ladder and golf ball retriever.  I knew my place.  Holding the ladder, trying to juggle the wrapped strands, and praying my spouse did not fall down on his head or mine.

The lights went up and we applauded ourselves when we tested them before proceeding to get out the small artificial pre-lit trees for the front porch.  That night when we arrived home in the dark, the top three-fourths of the spruce was totally dark, as was the top of one of the little artificial trees on the porch.  Maybe lighted bottoms and dark tops are “in” this year?

Surely in this age of sleek iPhone’s and iPad’s, amazing electronic devices, and remotes for everything under the sun, there must be a better way to put up Christmas lights than to test your lights, string up the strands, plug them together and then hope for the best.  Only to find half or more don’t work because a bulb is loose, a fuse in a strand has blown (one of the strands on the spruce), or somehow a Grinch has just cast a spell on your Christmas lights (the small artificial tree—those lights somehow just came back on).

The pre-lit trees and decorations are no better; they are as temperamental as the old-fashioned strands.  But you can’t just take them off and put another strand on. 

The spruce finally is prettily lit with colored lights.  At least for the moment. The little artificial trees are firmly planted in the flower pots on the front porch.  And no one has had to be rushed to the emergency room for head injuries…yet.

But where is the clever ingenuity for Christmas decorations with lights that just somehow neatly work without all this struggling?  Wouldn’t we all be more in the Christmas spirit if we didn’t have to run back to Walgreens and get another strand or two of lights every week?

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Christmas Disaster Part 1: Where Have All the Holly Berries Gone?

It must be the time of year for the Christmas letter: the birds have been busy devouring the holly berries.  Usually they wait until the temperature drops to sub zero and the ground is covered with snow.  Today it is above freezing and the ground is so wet some birds keep getting distracted from their premature plunder of the holly berries by worms wiggling in plain sight.  Go figure.  Maybe the birds know something about climate I don’t.

To get into the Christmas spirit I read a few articles about current decorating ideas.  Martha Stewarts’s weekend newspaper column suggested decorating with nature this year.  Bring the natural beauty indoors.  Banish the artificial and phony.  Save time and money. What a great idea!   

So when the birds began their attack of the holly trees on Saturday, with work gloves protecting my freshly-manicured hands, I ventured outside with my pruner.  Our Shetland Sheepdog Schatzie stood guard at the front door and barked, scaring off any birds who might be contemplating taking issue with my bringing nature indoors.  

I cut a generous armload of the holly branches, some still with berries.  Makes me think if Tippi Hedren had owned a sheltie dog, Hitchcock’s “The Birds” would never have been made. 

As Martha Stewart directed, I tried to place the branches in a large bucket.  She suggests soaking them for 24 hours so they are completely hydrated.  The branches were too big for any of our buckets.  By now the sharp holly leaves had scratched my hands, ruined my manicure, and the gloves also were wet and useless.  I removed the gloves and tried pushing the branches into a cooler.  At least they now mostly fit.

Ferrying buckets of water to the cooler situated on the back porch, I tripped, spilling water everywhere. My shoes, clothes, and the floor were soaked.  At least I had the foresight to use warm water.  So it was not as bad as it sounds, more like a bath while fully dressed.

I closed the back door, cleaned up the mess and changed clothes.  And promptly forgot about the holly branches in the cooler until today.  At least they should be well hydrated.  So I re-cut the branches and filled several vases.  More scratches.  But, what the hell: you can’t make an omelet without breaking some eggs. 

By now the birds have completely stripped the bright berries from all of the holly trees.  That’s just as well.  I’m totally done with this “natural” Christmas decorating. 

Monday, December 5, 2011

Can't Buy Me Love

Dour.  That’s what my husband said I looked like today.  It was after we started talking about “Rain”, the Beatles-impersonator show traveling the country and also on public TV.  I told him I have no desire to see a group of Beatles-impersonators, especially when they don’t look much like the Beatles.  And there are plenty of performers who do at least as good a job at covering their songs.

Maybe it has to do with my age.  When you talk about seeing the Beatles I’m instantly back in junior high—grade school we called it then.  In 1964 the Beatles exploded on the American music scene.  Their live performances cost something like $40 a ticket. A whole lot of money back in the ‘60’s.  The Beatles were going to perform in Kansas City. A friend of mine was going with her dad.  I was incredibly jealous, as only a young teenage girl can be.  My parents would not have considered taking their almost-fourteen-year-old daughter to a rock concert. And certainly not in another city.  I didn’t even ask.  They also didn’t approve of these young radicals with the long hair.
As a thirteen year old in a working class, Germanic household, I had no rights.  I was not allowed to play the radio without permission.  When my parents were at home they chose the station to which the TV or radio was tuned.  My father made the initial decision.  If he was not home my mother made the choice.  If they both went out my older brother and I were allowed to play music with the proviso it was not so loud as to disturb the neighbors. I counted my self exceedingly lucky to be able to persuade my parents to tune into the Ed Sullivan show the night the Beatles appeared.  Somehow I saved the money to buy the 45 of “I Want to Hold Your Hand.”  For my 14th birthday, my brother gave me my first 33, “A Hard Day’s Night.”

The Beatles back then were viewed as a curiosity by my parents’ generation. My uncle at a family gathering had his four young sons imitate the Beatles.  Apologies to my cousins, who nonetheless have grown up to be fine, no-longer-young men.  But I was horrified.  Their impersonation was blasphemy.

My husband asked me today whether I had gone to the Beatles St. Louis concert in 1966.  After all, this was just a couple of years later and the Beatles had come to my home town.  By then I had started to work a summer job (no pay, but tips as a carhop at Ted Drewes) so I had a little money.  For some reason I cannot remember the Beatles even coming to St. Louis in 1966.  But I’m sure if my husband remembers such a concert it happened.

No, I never did see the Beatles in concert.  By 1966 I was listening to Simon and Garfunkel, the Kinks and other such rock and roll and folk music, whenever I could get command of the radio.  A best friend from high school reminded me recently that in 1966 I had ran up to her at her locker and said “There’s a song you HAVE to hear: ‘The Sounds of Silence.’”  I don’t remember that incident either.  What’s the old saying? “If you remember the ‘60’s you weren’t there.”  I guess this means I was there.

I’m still listening to Simon and Garfunkel, either together or alone. And recently we went to Bloomington, Indiana to see Paul Simon.  I’m still crazy after all these years about him and his music. The Beatles-impersonators, on the other hand, are never going to transport me back to the 13 year old who wanted desperately to see them live.   Rather, they remind me of my cousins, with their longish hair styles and air guitars, mocking the Beatles.

Today I hear Beatles music on the radio, my iPod, and in elevators.  The experience of seeing them at a live concert is gone forever.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Folk Music and Musicians Aging Well: Judy Collins and Arlo Guthrie

We’ve seen a lot of aging rock and folk musicians still touring.  What is it about our generation that won’t quit and just sit in a rocking chair instead of still rocking out, or whatever it is folk musicians do, on stage?

This weekend, we saw Arlo Guthrie and Judy Collins at Centre College’s Norton Center in Danville, Kentucky.

These concerts bring back memories.  Back in the late ‘60’s when I started St. Louis University (SLU) I considered joining the college newspaper.  I had been co-editor of my high school newspaper and I liked to write.  I also enjoyed interviewing people.  But I hated to try to fit copy on a printed page, one of the jobs of the editors at my high school.  Using that type of spatial visualization was torture for me.  Of course, if I had been good at it I would now be lamenting that computers have made it a lost art. 

Anyway, I told the SLU newspaper editor, Mike Forester, (where do these names come back from, let alone the stories) I would join the newspaper staff only if he promised I would never have to do layout.  He said there was only one rule for joining the newspaper: you had to like Judy Collins. 

I guess this shows how little I knew about contemporary music.  It may also show some other traits.  I didn’t know who she was.  But I’d heard facts should never stand in the way of truth or a good story.  I told Mike, “Of course I liked Judy, who didn’t?”  Hardly an auspicious beginning for a reporter.  On the other hand, a great start for a fiction writer.  

And once I heard Judy I did like her, though not as much as some other singers of the time.  At the Centre concert, Judy demonstrated her magnificent voice, singing A cappella or with an accompanying pianist, Russ Walden.  She started with two Christmas carols, “Joy to the World” and “Silver Bells.”  Her voice cracked at times, particularly on “Joy” and also some of the other songs, showing signs of her 70 plus years of age.  But she carried on like a trooper and included a lovely rendition of “Both Sides Now.”

Arlo was in great voice, his sweet, mellow tones having aged like fine wine, as he accompanied himself on guitar, piano and also harmonica.  He has always been the consummate, easy-going storyteller.  At this concert, interweaving his own songs with those of his father, Woody Guthrie’s, as well as others by classic songwriters such as Leadbelly and Steve Goodman. 

Arlo mentioned his father would have been 100 years old next year.  And yet some of Woody's songs are as in the moment as when they were first written.  As Arlo discussed the plight of the working man and woman in Woody’s music, the dustbowl of the 30’s and union busting by the big companies it was hard not to see the parallels to today.

The auditorium was filled.  Lots of gray and white-haired folks, besides the two on the stage, probably all of us reliving memories.  Neither Arlo nor Judy, despite their long white locks, showed their age at the finale as they shared the stage for a two-song encore, "City of New Orleans" and “Amazing Grace.”  Their harmonies still took my breath away.