The Post-Op Adventures of Beth

So these past few days have certainly been an adventure for me. As many of you know,  I’ve been the lucky recipient of a new hip. As a nurse, I have both an advantage and disadvantage here. The advantage is that I knew what to expect in terms of the post-operative process, pain, fatigue, the need for pain medications and their side effects, and the disadvantage is that I knew what to expect….

Did I mention I also have no patience? I tell people that when babies are ready to be born, they get in the attributes lines to get the attributes they’ll have in life. I totally missed the line for patience. Saw a line, said “it’s too long, don’t wanna wait” and skipped it. So I came out of recovery and was ready to go directly to “I feel good and want to stand upright, have my leg straight and be pain free.” What I got instead was a dressing on my hip the size of Texas – because in your mid 50’s, doesn’t every woman want hips the size of Texas, FFS? – the ability to fall asleep in 2.3 nano-seconds thanks to Dr. Morphine, and a lovely wedge pillow to keep my legs in the correct but anatomically impossible position which will necessitate that this side sleeper sleeps flat on her back for several nights, a feat achieved ONLY with the assistance of the aforementioned Dr. Morphine and his lovely assistant Oxy. Cripes. (And don’t ask me to tell you anything more about FFS, other than it’s a little like “For Pete’s Sake” but a nearly safe for work variant on the ‘F-bomb’.)

Being a nurse, of course I know what’s best for me, and when I started feeling better I quit taking the drugs (‘cuz who needs em), and started using a cane instead of crutches the second the therapist told me I could…and promptly overdid it. Boy did I regret it about 24 hours later, as I laid in bed spasming at about 1:30 in the morning, poor hubby asking “what can I do?” I finally broke down and took the meds, and went back to crutches for a day to give my leg a rest. Time to take the nurse hat off and put the patient hat on, which is not an easy thing at all to do, especially when some of your closest friends are nurses too. They ask nursey questions, and holler at you in nursey tones, which are not unlike getting Catholic or Jewish mom guilt laid on you. You want to cringe, duck and cower in the corner. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying I didn’t deserve it, I’m did…I’m just saying I didn’t like it. But the payoff was worth it, and I do feel better today.

On a serious note, I’m as good as can be expected. No complications, I’m walking on my own with just a cane less than a week after outpatient surgery for a total hip replacement.  I should be ready to try driving in a couple of days, provided I am done with narcotics for the pain, and see the surgeon next week for a follow up visit. My Physical Therapist was pleased with where I’m at for a starting point today, which is all I can ask for. I no longer need the wedge at night as long as I keep an extra pillow handy for between my knees if I do try sleeping on my side. If this were 20 years ago, I would have been discharged about now from the hospital to a nursing home. Instead I’m comfortable in my own home. I feel blessed for just that, and even more so when I realize that there is one more thing from 20 years ago that I didn’t have to include as part of my post-op care:

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Parts is Parts

There comes a time in the lives of many adults when they find themselves entering a very special club. It isn’t one you can purchase a membership in, nor is it one that you can apply for. I’ve learned it doesn’t discriminate between age, gender, or income/ socioeconomic strata, although there are certain factors that do come into play that determine whether or not you can be admitted to the club. I’m talking about the New Parts Club. I think I’m among the first of my friends to join this club, and while I’m typically fine being the female ‘leader of the pack’, I could have been content in last place this time around, but noooo….. Tomorrow I will be getting a hip replaced, and of course it sounds really boring when I say it like that, so I had decided last week to try to have a little fun with it, and told someone “my new parts were on order”.  My brain being the warped and twisted little place it is, immediately came up with it’s own pictoral interpretation. So with all due respect to Jeff Anderson and all truly gifted cartoonists and illustrators, and to Diane Henders (imitation IS the sincerest form of flattery, and I promise you I won’t do it again soon, if ever!!) here is what it kind of looked like in my head:BYounkerHip 1

I figured I would have better luck drawing it than bribing a real Fedex guy to pose for a photo op with me, so I could put a thought bubble like that over his head – or is it UPS that has no sense of humor? I forget. Doesn’t matter anyway. I’m to damn young for this, no matter how you slice it. I mean, aren’t hip replacements for old people?

I can remember when I was in nursing school, which was so long ago that sometimes it seems like it was in the Pleistocene Era, people were in the hospital for 4 or 5 days, had to have PT in the hospital using a walker, and if they had REALLY difficult procedures might even be on Stryker circle beds. Don’t even get me started on those flipping bedpans (although don’t worry, we didn’t actually flip bedpans, that would have been just plain wrong). Now it’s same day surgery, home on crutches and oh yes, my surgeon said, you’ll be putting weight on that new hip right away in the recovery room. Say what?!!!

I also stumbled on this wonderful little tidbit as well, and couldn’t pass up sharing it. So, for all my “Never Say Spy” peeps, and with a wink and a nod to Crimson Rainbow Butterfly, Beloved Blazing Universe, Blessed Star Freedom, Cosmic Rainbow Song, and most especially Starry Shining Poem…

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See y’all under new warranty!

~Venus Rainbow Ocean 😉

Outside the Box

I remember a dear friend once said to me, about her ex (before he was) “You know, he never brings me flowers. Ever. I’d be happy if he’d even bring me so much as a dead daisy.” Bringing her a dead daisy wouldn’t have kept him from becoming her ex, that was a whole other can of worms. But guys, we are happier with live flowers.) This comment from her followed my reciept of flowers from hubby for something, I don’t recall what. Back when we first dated he worked at a car dealership, and they had a guy who would come around once a week or so with roses in a bucket, making it easy for the sales people to pick up a couple of them to bring home so he’d do that once in a while, just because. Now, not so much but it’s ok, he’s replaced flowers with other things. Which really is the point of this story.

How often do we get hung up on what’s supposed to be, instead of being happy about what is? I know I’ve been guilty of it, and sometimes have to have the ‘slap-myself-upside-the-head’ conversations with me about it. They usually go a little something like this:

“OK, what the heck is the matter with you? What are you whining about? Did you really think you needed a pity party for real? You have a great life, remember? Your husband is a really good guy. He doesn’t beat you, he doesn’t yell at you, he doesn’t swear, he doesn’t beat his chest, he doesn’t gamble. He washes dishes and does laundry, and takes out garbage. Okay, so he doesn’t put the seat down enough, and doesn’t cook much. But girl, if that’s all you’ve got to whine about, get over your sad-sorry-self.”

I really think that society, television, the internet and the Kardashians all contribute to the problem. (Yeah, I know I said I wasn’t gonna bash ’em again. I lied, get over it.) Information is just too readily available to us on how the other half lives, and we’re inundated with the glossiness and wonder of it all, and how good it all looks. Who wouldn’t want all that lovely money, or live in that lovely house by the beach? We see all that with blinders on, however and forget that the lens we view through is tinted. We’re see only what we’re allowed to see, and when the cameras and papparazzi aren’t around, most of the rich and famous have issues too. Maybe not the same ones, but I guarantee they have them. I mean, I don’t know about you, but I don’t have that many friends that I can afford to have my husband flapping his digital gums all over twitter, ranting about what ticked him off today, alienating them en masse.

I mean, is it really so bad owning only 2 purses instead of 4? Or is it a crisis if your iPhone is 2 generations old, or your tablet is not the shiniest? So what? Will the world end if you don’t upgrade? Or don’t have it at all?

Is it a crisis if your significant other doesn’t wash the dishes? Make you coffee in the mornings? Shop for groceries? Don’t get me wrong, relationships are definitely about give and take and if one does all the taking and the other all the giving, all the time, it’s a problem. But it’s equally important to find balance, which by the way doesn’t necessarily equate to a 50-50 split. Some days balance is 40-60, some days it’s 75-25.  If he doesn’t wash the dishes, or if she doesn’t make the bed, before you do anything that you can’t undo, or say something you can’t unsay, stop and think for a moment. What else do they DO? Does he pick up your laundry off the floor and put a load in the washing machine (sorting correctly by color) without being asked? Does she always make sure your favorite coffee creamer is stocked in the refridgerator and your socks are folded just the way you want? In moments of crisis when you’re crying your eyes out, will he offer to take your snot filled tissue without a word and get you a fresh one?

We forget about all the little things that make up everyday life, and allow ourselves to get hung up on what we think life should be, because we’re so busy comparing ourselves to the proverbial Joneses, instead of seeing what is right there. Maybe it’s time to think outside the box…the big one sitting in your living room with 188+ channels from your cable or satellite provider, the middle size one that you use to access your news and TMZ feeds, and the small one you use to talk to your kids. I’m not saying get rid of them (do I look insane?) but at least put them in their appropriate perspective. Turn the damn things off people. In the northern hemisphere it’s spring, or at least the calendar says so in Minnesota, although you’d never really know it by the temperature. Get off the couch, put on an extra layer and get outside.

I’m chomping at the bit to plant my spring flowers. My husband thinks I’m nuts, that it’s too early, and he may be right, but I can’t take the drab anymore. I picked up some petunias at the nursery the other day, they’re hardy and can take a lot, and will get those in pots probably later today so I can get my patio at least a little color. I adore my patio, speaking of outside the box. It  all but calls my name with a siren song, every day in the summer. When the temperature is just right, the breezes are lightly blowing and the flowers are in bloom, it’s the most beautiful place. It’s a riot of color that calls to my tropical soul right here in a northern climate. I can listen to music, read, talk to friends, write, or do nothing and be fully at peace in it.

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There might be prettier gardens, or professional outdoor designer Jamie Durie might look at this and say I’ve done it all wrong and completely reorganize it and make it look amazing, but guess what? None of that matters…because it’s mine, and I’m happy with what I have. I’m content in it. That’s the point.

 

As American As…

I was reading a news article on CNN.com this morning about our political allies in Europe, and whether or not our allies should contribute more to subsidizing the defense we provide to them. (Yes, I know, it’s a deep subject, try not to faint. And I’m not going into commentary on it anyway, so you can breathe again now.) Something in the article caught my attention, however, and it’s something that has bothered me for quite a while. It’s the casual use of the word “American”.

How many of you really think of what that means? I was really curious about this, because after all, isn’t the news supposed to be in the business of reporting accurately? So I did a little research. According to Wikipedia, America is the same as the United States of America. Hmm, that seemed too easy to me, as it’s not how I remember it from grade school geography, and anyway, everyone knows you never trust only one source, so I pressed on.

Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary definition is:

  • 1
    either continent (North America or S. America) of the western hemisphere
  • 2
    or the Amer·i·cas play
    \-kəz\
    the lands of the western hemisphere including North, Central, & S. America & the W. Indies
  • 3
    United States of America

Now definition #2 is a whole lot closer to what I learned in grade school, which as I recall also included Canada.  I  also consulted my nephew’s girlfriend who is also a journalism major, and asked her to provide me with the correct useage according the AP guidelines which she tells me is what reporters live by. According to her( my new favorite guru!) the correct breakdown is the Caribbean, Central America, Latin America, North America, South America, and West Indies, and when speaking of the United States, then that’s what should be used. CNN, are you (and all of the media outlets, really) paying attention? Or perhaps I should ‘speak’ in the current vernacular of @CNN, or include their hashtag, #CNN. In any case,  what gives us the right to such casual appropriation of the word “America”? I will admit, I’ve been guilty of it as well when I say “I’m an American”, although that is true, in the larger context. However when the fourth estate uses the word America interchangeably with United States, that IS incorrect, and I might argue even somewhat arrogant.

Isn’t it possible – even likely – that residents of South America, Jamaica, Puerto Rico or Canada would like to be able to say they are American? (Feel free to weigh in, my Canadian friend!) And by definition, they can, because after all, Brazil is part of South America, Canada a part of North America. And doesn’t the media have an obligation to not only use words correctly, but also to educate?  Incorrect use of the word is misleading and uninformed, as well as showing an egocentric cultural bias. Even a very popular television program running on FX has appropriated the label and uses it to refer to the people of the United States.web_largecoverart_series_the-americans_270x398 The Americans is about Phillip and Elizabeth Jennings, two Soviet intelligence agents posing as a married couple to spy on the American government during the cold war. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great show, I love tripping back to the 80’s, the chemistry between real life couple Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys is palpable, and the writing is fantastic, but again, using the phrase to describe people of the US is correct only by the default definition that’s become accepted over time. 

I realize that our language changes with the passage of years, and the generally accepted definition of a word can change as well. “Gay” is a great example. There was a time when it  meant happy, now the most common definition refers to sexual orientation. (Not passing judgment here, it was just the quickest example that came to mind.) However, altering the definition of a word to suit our cultural bias implies an elitism that is inappropriate.

There’s one final point to be made here. If you agree that there is some truth to this, that those who live not only in North America, but South America, the Carribbean, the West Indies, Latin America and Central America also have the right to call themselves Americans, then perhaps you’ll see the absurdity and irony in the recent rhetoric around “building a wall” and “making America great again”. Think about it for a moment, it’ll come to you.

 

The Deep End

As in, I’ve gone off of it…again. Yep, done something odd. Hubby would say, “woman, you done lost your mind”. I can’t help it, though. I’m a firm believer in “If you don’t ask, the answer is already ‘no’ so I might as well ask”. I feel like I’m Paul Harvey…and now, the rest of the story…

So  hubby and I were following our annual tradition of going to the Minneapolis auto show, and had gotten to downtown Minneapolis early. With time to kill we went walking and happened to go past a building where he used to work at the corner of 10th and Hennepin, in the old National Camera Exchange building. Now for those of you that aren’t familiar with the area, Hennepin Avenue is the main thoroughfare through downtown Minneapolis and the streets take a cut at an angle there. This building is an odd shape because of that, almost a trapezoid, and is rather small. Anyway it’s now abandoned, and we peeked into the lobby windows a bit.

KODAK Digital Still Camera

                    National Camera Exchange Building (Formerly M.L. Novak Diamonds)                                          930 Hennepin Ave, Minneapolis  

All I could see were some stairs, and a huge chandelier still hanging. As we walked, he told me he remembered that on the lower and upper floors there were quite a few very small rooms (think maybe 6 feet by 8 feet at the most) with only a light and incredibly tacky wallpaper. His description was “like you’d find in a cathouse”.) and he thought that perhaps they had been used once as a brothel.

Well! That got me curious, so I started to do a little digging into the history of the area. I’m embarrassed at what I didn’t know, although the digging produced a treasure of other information (see my previous post on Fancy Pillows) and if you’re curious about the history of Minneapolis, just Google things like “The Gateway District” or “Mill City Museum”. It’s incredible what’s out there. I was specifically trying to find something on the history of that particular building however, and had a lot of trouble. It’s really too far down to have been a part of the Gateway District, so I think it was more part of the entrance to the Theater District. So then I approached it from the perspective of, could it have been rooms for let as part of the theaters? Or perhaps a flophouse? Still nothing. Short of going down to the Minneapolis Public Library, or City Hall, I was coming up a bust.

Now we come to crazy. The deep end. At one point that building was for sale and the listing info helped me to figure out the year built was 1919, which also helped with thinking it was likely more a part of the theater district, although it has since been taken off the market. So using a little internet savvy I decided to try to contact Larry Millett, who is the author of a number of books including “Lost Twin Cities” and “Twin Cities Then and Now”, and his books are full of wonderful old photographs and history of the Twin Cities, buildings long gone, architecture and incredible facts. He’s responsible for my learning much of what I have about the Gateway District of Minneapolis, as a matter of fact. Well, while he didn’t have the answer himself, he was both kind enough to reply, and to suggest I post my question on the Facebook page titled Old Minneapolis. It’s a user page frequented liked by over 67,000 folks, one of which is Mike Evangelist who is also an author and is considered an expert on downtown Minneapolis. My hope was that he might see my post and have the answer, but I had no idea that I was going to tap into a gold mine.

One of the respondents to my question ended up being the son of the owner of the diamond business which was the first business there. He had the entire history of the building as his father had owned it since it was built, along with a number of others who had frequented it and knew the history as well. Between the diamond business and National Camera, the place actually had become a massage parlor, which of course “back in the day” was code for – you guessed it – massage parlor/brothel. That would explain the wallpaper, which someone was kind enough to post a sample of on Facebook. Yep, cheap and cheesy about covers it!

There is other fantastic information in the post about the building, including information about the vault, how the windows and glass doors were bullet proof because the area had been full of gangsters back in the day, how you had to be buzzed in through security doors, how they had installed state-of-the-art security cameras for the diamond business, and then those same security cameras were used to keep them alerted when it was a massage parlor that the police were coming!

I had a lot of fun trying to find out this information, and while I’m glad that I did, I’m kind of sad that it’s coming to an end. I’ve stumbled across some amazing old photographs of Minneapolis, and it’s reignited my interest in photography which has been waning a bit over the past few years. I’ve also learned about things like ghost signs on buildings. I don’t know if those were popular in other parts of the country but they certainly were in the twin cities. They were advertisements on the sides of buildings, almost like early billboards.

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 Back of Nat’l Cam bldg, ghost sign, Minneapolis

Here is an example of one, on the backside of the National Camera Exchange building. In their case, it was so you knew you were at their location when arriving from a different direction. On other buildings, you might have seen information about cigars, flour, seeds or a number of other things. Over time, of course weather and UV have degraded those that remain and are visible, so they are slowly disappearing from view and there are web pages popping up with photos of them, but you can also find photos in books of our city’s history like Larry Millett’s.

A side benefit of all this has been that it also has spurred my thinking about other old stories, which helped to feed the Fancy Pillows post I recently did, and has made me write down more memories of my parents and grandparents, asking questions of my relatives to clarify memories. It’s a journey I’m just starting down, and one that I hope will be fun as I uncover more and more tidbits that I’d thought were forgotten but instead were just tucked away. I hope that perhaps it will do the same for some of you, and start some conversations with your family and friends, maybe today, or at your next family gathering. Who knows what interesting story you’ll hear revealed?

 

Fancy Pillows

While I’m a child of the city, I was fortunate to have grandparents that lived out in the country. One set lived on a farm, and the other lived 3 miles away in a very small town, where they were related to almost everyone there and had a town motto of “if you’re not Dutch, you’re not much”. (Don’t worry, I’ll get mileage out of that someday!) My mom’s dad was a real corker, even taught me a curse word in Dutch when I was little (“tsk, tsk Grandpa Cornie, you should have been ashamed of yourself.”)

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Me and “the corker”, about 1963

My dad’s parents were a bit more on the stoic, German side. Kind of the no-nonsense, hard working farmers you expect to find in the midwest. Growing up we called them by their last names to differentiate which grandparents we were talking about, but as we became adults and the grandchildren started having children, somehow they picked up on Grandpa’s nickname as a child. His first name was Albert, but his nickname was Abby and somehow, he and my grandmother became Grandpa and Grandma Abby, probably because our last name was a long, difficult German name to pronounce.

I remember some of the stories from Grandma Abby, although not as many as I’d like and now that I’m older, probably not nearly as well as I’d like either. I’m a little hazy on the one about how and why she caught her bloomers on a fence, and I seem to recall something about a finding a rattlesnake in a bale of hay when she took lunch out to the men one day during hay baling season. I remember too, Grandpa Abby saying how proud he was that he paid cash — cash (can you just imagine?) — for everything, except for the time he bought a cream separator on credit, for which I think he paid a nickel a month, and it bothered him so much he never bought anything on credit ever again.

Beth w Grandpa and Grandma Abby

Me with Grandpa and Grandma Abby, about 1962

I do remember, very well, grandma telling me about the fancy pillows they used. She said that they had every day pillows on the bed, with regular pillow cases, but that when company would come to stay they would take the everyday pillows off the bed, and put them aside, take out the nice pillows and put on the really nice, embroidered pillow cases with the hand crocheted lace edges on them. They called them “fancy pillows“, and those were the ones that would be out for guests. I always kept that phrase in my head, and knew I’d write about it someday in a book or blog.

I thought about all this tonight when I was talking with my mom, after I had asked her what she remembered about some places in downtown Minneapolis that were tickling in the back of my memory. The area is called “The Theater District”, and I believe I’ve also seen it called “The Lower Loop”. My dad worked downtown near 13th Street and Hennepin Ave for a number of years, and the two places I remembered were the Gnostica Bookstore and the Pink Pussycat. I asked mom what she remembered, and she thought the Gnostica might have been an occult bookstore but she wasn’t sure, but she laughed when I brought up the Pink Pussycat. With a name like that you can take a wild guess what kind of business this place was, and you’d probably be right! Apparently his employer had purchased the land that the building sat on, and was going to use the building for something else. Some of the ahem – dancers – lived upstairs, and my  dad was given what he saw as the less than desirable job of telling these lovely young ladies they had to move out. Imagine in the late 1960’s, a 28-30 year old, ultra conservative young man going to tell strippers to move out of their apartments. He wasn’t terribly keen on this assignment and ended up taking a co-worker with him to get it done.

Speaking of downtown Minneapolis, my mother also told me a funny story about coming into downtown with her dad and mom, and younger sister. Her father owned a general store in that small town I mentioned, and came into Minneapolis from time to time to buy dry goods. Apparently they arrived late and when they got to the Hotel Andrews, it was full. Well Grandpa Cornie, the aforementioned corker, has them get ahold of his friend who was perhaps the manager, they find a room for them and get settled in with a second floor room facing Hennepin Avenue in about 1945. (If you ‘re unfamiliar with Minneapolis , Hennepin is the main drag through downtown, and has always been the central street for the bars, theaters, bums, pandhandlers, etc. It’s much better now, but always has been the focal point of downtown, and a great place to people watch.) After dark, on a rainy night. Across from the Gay 90s.

 

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1958 Photo courtesy Minnesota Historical Society

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

While today it’s most well known for being a gay bar, back in the 40’s  the location was first a restaurant called The Casablanca, then Shanghai House before becoming the Gay 90’s in 1948, and turning into a “striptease and jazz music” bar (info courtesy of Jeanne Andersen).  So my mom would have been 8, her sister 6, and she said she and her sister just sat and watched, and watched and watched for hours, all the drunks coming and going from the bar, their eyes so wide they about fell out of their heads!

 

 

I’m so glad I found the time to have that conversation with my mom, and to remember the stories from my grandparents. It’s sad when we don’t capture those moments and they’re gone.  I stumbled on some incredible resources tonight, with old photos of Minneapolis. Historyapolis is an amazing trove of old memories, as is Thomas Lowry’s Ghost on tumblr and this Minneapolis history site on Flickr. If you haven’t sat down and talked to your parents and grandparents about what life was like when they were kids, take the time to do it. It’s amazing what you’ll learn. Go through old website archives, take a stroll down memory lane. Start a journal or blog and write it down, before memories are gone, and along with them, the stories. Shortly after my dad died, I started a journal that was for memories of him. I wanted to capture those unique things that I knew I’d forget over time. I pulled that out today and added the story my mom just told me, and was looking back at some of what I’d put in there. What a gold mine! (And rich treasure for future blogs too.)  I am so glad I wrote those things down because I had forgotten some of them, and reading them made me smile and made me feel very, very lucky. It reminded me my life was full of moments of fancy pillows, even when I forget they’re there.

Miss Betty and Miss Manners

Romper, stomper, bomper boo.

Tell me, tell me, tell me, do.

Magic Mirror, tell me today,

Did all my friends have fun at play?

How many of you remember that  rhyme, and Miss Betty (in the Minneapolis area) holding up that magic mirror, so we could ‘see’ our
friends? It was a special time, when we learned manners, table prayers, the Pledge of Allegiance and general courtesies. She had her viewers do exercises too.

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Me doing calisthenics with Miss Betty on Romper Room, age 3

 

I miss that time. Not that there aren’t polite people in the world today, there certainly are, (holding up my own magic mirror, I see Rachel and Ryan and lots of their friends!) but it feels like manners and courtesy are exceptions rather than rules now, and that makes me sad. I wish it wasn’t so uncommon for people to hold doors open for a stranger, or to smile and say hello, just because you can. Did that go away when we got scared to say “Merry Christmas”?

How about etiquette? What’s the proper way to set a table? Does the knife blade face the plate or away from it? Fork on the left or right? I can still hear my Grandma Abby saying “This is the proper way to eat soup. ‘Whenever I go out to sea, I dip my spoon away from me'” so that you would remember you’re supposed to dip your spoon in your soup away from you at the far side of your soup bowl. Of course, no one does that any more. Are things like how to set a table  even taught anymore outside of the restaurant industry?

How about this one – “elbows off the table Mable” (with all due apologies to the Mables in the world). I said this to my hubby a few months ago, he just looked at me like I’d lost my mind. “What?” I asked him. “Where did that come from?” he wanted to know, as  he’d never heard that expression before, thought I’d made it up on the spot. Not a chance, that was another Grandma Abby-ism. So was “make sure you have on clean bloomers every day” but no one knows today what bloomers are. (They’d be your britches! And if you don’t know what those are, for heaven’s sake, look it up.)

People used to write to Miss Manners, asking how to behave in a given situation. “Dear Miss Manners, my boyfriend’s sister is a being a brat. When I go there for dinner, blah, blah, blah. What should I do?”  and Miss Manners always had great advice on these angst filled life dilemmas. Or you’d consult Emily Post, for the guidelines of good behavior in any given situation.  She once said “The attributes of a great lady may still be found in the rule of the four S’s: Sincerity, Simplicity, Sympathy and Serenity.” Serenity is a little hard to achieve now, as is simplicity, but sincerity and sympathy are attributes all of us should posses, and goodness knows they don’t cost a thing. What’s really amazing, I just googled Emily Post, and found out there is a website emilypost.com (of course!). Guess what’s on the landing page? References to the importance of a handwritten thank you note and a good handshake. (See my prior post, Word of Advice). I didn’t even plan that, I am just that darn good.

Emily Post also had some valuable advice for men. “A gentleman does not boast about his junk.” Of course, given the time in which she lived I’m fairly certain it didn’t mean then what it means now, however it’s apparent to me that it’s still relevant, particularly if you’re running for public office. 

And on that note…

The Music Box

Celebrating my 25th post,  a small milestone, and go with my first crack at fiction (that I’m willing to publish and share!) So with o’ tip of the hat to Diane, Brenda, Kristine and the Professor…

Her laughter was soft, lilting, like dappled sunlight through old lace, drawing his heart to her as she moved lightly about, her feet almost seeming to not even touch the floor. “Music of the Night” played in the background from the music box as she dipped and swirled in time to the tune, stopping only when he stopped to wind the mechanism. Moonlight streamed in the windows and the air was heavy and still, no breeze to move the curtains.

It was his favorite time of day, when everything was sleeping and the world was his alone. The occasional sound of an owl or other night creature hunting for food broke the otherwise still silence of the darkness.

As always she didn’t speak but reached down and took his hand, and as he stood they began to dance. Together they glided soundlessly and effortlessly, feet barely touching the scuffed floor. Without her, trying to dance with anyone else, he felt as clumsy as an ox but when she put her hand on his shoulder it was if magic went through him and he felt alive in a way he never did with anyone, graceful, leading her around and around the floor, dipping, swirling, waltzing around and around. A sensation similar to the feeling of bumping his elbow just right would go through his whole body at her touch, but so faintly he sometimes wondered if he imagined it, that little zsst of energy.

The music box had been his mother’s, given to her by his father when they realized she was first pregnant with him. After their death in “the accident” as it was referred to, it was all that was left of her that he wanted to keep. It happened when he was 9, and he didn’t remember much about the time right before it, bits and pieces really. His mother crying, both of them yelling, slamming doors, several voices, some loud sounds, then they were gone. After that he’d tried to live with his grandmother in her big old house for a little while before they brought him here. “It’s just for a little while”, they said, “it’s for the best”. But a little while had become years now, and he no longer knew who to believe, and sometimes even questioned how much of what he remembered was real. The only reason he thought it must be is that he was still here, otherwise he would be home with his parents, and this would all be a bad dream.

He no longer listened to the music box as much as he used to. For a while it was every night but then he became afraid he would wear out the mechanism, so he had to work to make himself listen to it less and less, until that summer he came to think of as ‘the summer of magic’, when she came into his life. That summer, he was listening to the music and sitting in the window seat, staring at the stars, wondering if his mother were watching him from somewhere up there, when he became aware of someone next to him. Her sudden appearance didn’t frighten him like he knew it should, but him feel more intrigued and excited. She put her index finger to her lips to indicate silence and motioned him toward the middle of the room, and there first danced for him to the music played from the music box.

They never spoke, and he never knew when she would appear but always, she was there when he needed her to be. For a long time she danced alone, as a ballerina, pirouettes and releves, her long hair falling over one shoulder then the other, as she went en pointe. She danced only to the music from the music box, or would sit quietly with him at his side and hold his hand. Eventually, she taught him to dance with her and he found a sense of completeness and peace that he’d never known in his young life.  Near daybreak, they would sit quietly in the window seat, until his eyes grew heavy, and noiselessly she would slip away.She was glad she could ease some of the hurt he felt with the loss of his mother, but it was difficult to not being able to say anything to him, not being able to tell him anything about her secret. If she did, it meant her time here had to end and she wasn’t ready to let go yet. There was a freedom here for her, to share her gift to help those that were mourning and in stasis move on.

Toward the end of summer, she knew that he was closer to not needing her any more. He’d made friends with people his own age, started being away in the evenings, coming back to his room later, sometimes looking a little flushed and happier and she knew he’d met someone special. He didn’t sit by the window as often anymore, didn’t have the look of melancholy on his face. She knew it wouldn’t last, it never did here, and that when it ended it wouldn’t end well and he wouldn’t want her comfort then so perhaps now was as good a time to make the break as any. So even before he knew he would feel his first heartbreak, she went to him for one final dance.

With the moonlight streaming through the window, they twirled around the room, lighter than air, the shafts of light sparkling as if lit with diamonds. Around and around, breathless with the joy of dancing, through the night. As night turned to day, however, he knew something was different when she didn’t leave like she normally did. Gray light filtered in, and slowly shadows began to appear, and with them she looked different, almost as if she were shimmering.  His arms slowly fell to his sides as she moved away from him and toward the music box and as she did so, she seemed to be growing smaller. He was certain he was imagining things, and blinked hard before rubbing his eyes and suddenly he wondered why, after all this time, he hadn’t noticed the dancer wasn’t in it when she was there dancing in the room with him. He closed his eyes, and when he opened them again she was no longer in the room, and when he looked at the music box, the ballerina dancer WAS there, looking exactly like his beautiful dancer who had been coming to him all these months, and taking him in her arms to dance during the night. He moved closer, wondering if his mind was playing tricks on him. As he did so, she pressed her fingers to her lips in a kiss goodbye, and resumed her position so quickly he was no longer sure if she’d been there with him in the room at all. He stared until other sounds began to penetrate his awareness – the rattling of keys, muted voices, a telephone, shoes on a tile floor, confused with the improbability of it all even as the orderly spoke his name, beginning another day.

The Next Level

A big thanks to Tom Merriman for this month’s theme of “The Next Level“, which is timely for me as I’ve just completed my annual performance review at work, and as some of you know it hasn’t been that long since I finished grad school and transitioned back to some facsimile of normal human again.

So that’s gotten me to thinking what’s next? Where do I go from here? I’ve laid out my work goals with my manager, and have picked up some of my old hobbies again, but I also know myself well enough to know that I need a challenge. I have no doubt work will provide that in one area, but that’s the only the obligatory challenge. I also need voluntary ones, the kinds of things you do just to see if you can. I learned to scuba dive in my 30’s thanks to acquaintances who brought their dive gear along to a party at a lake, and when I asked a few too many questions, finally said to me “oh for God’s sake, here, put it on and get under water!” After a few minutes of breathing under water I was hooked, and those acquaintances, Mary and Mark, have become some of my dearest

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SV Mandalay

friends and traveling companions. They are also guilty of introducing  me to the best vacations I’ve ever had, sailing on a Windjammer ship.

 

 

But I often wonder, how many of us busily go through every day without moving to the next level in anything? You keep on doing the same things over and over, in a rut because it’s easy, or you’re just too busy to take the time to try something new, or too tired, or stressed or spread too thin or whatever. When was the last time you pushed yourself past your limits? It could be for something good, or scary, to get a good outcome or past a painful one. If we never try, we never find out what we’re capable of. I’ve had so much fun when I’ve taken a deep breath and taken a leap into the deep end, and I feel like my life is only just starting to unfold in front of me. Don’t misunderstand me, ain’t no way I am EVER, EVER getting on roller coasters. It’s not happening any more than bungee jumping will. Pigs will fly first.  I mean, I have to draw the line somewhere, be reasonable for heaven’s sake. Scary good, terror stricken bad. Writing this blog was a little unnerving, scary came when I realized I actually had to tell people I was writing it in order for anyone to actually read it. Then I got a like, and another and another from a stranger, and from a couple of  published authors, one of whom seems to be even more sarcastic than me (how is this possible, you ask? One of the great mysteries of life, right up there with “where is Jimmy Hoffa?” and “did Lee Harvey Oswald act alone?”)  Suddenly, it was FUN! (Thanks everyone, you like me, you really…sorry, I watched the Academy Awards the other night, and just couldn’t help myself there for a moment.)

Last week my mother went to the funeral of one of her aunts who was 101. She sent me this summary about her Aunt Bernie: She went to college at the age of 55 and got her degree, then applied to the Peace Corp but was rejected because she was too old! After that she taught school at the Indian Mission in Zuni, New Mexico, and then got her Masters in Bi-Cultural Studies. All of that after the age I am now, and now I’m feeling the pressure. Oh no, must Level Up! Achieve More!

Thanks to a lifelong dream, encouragement from Brenda, Diane, and the Professor who gave me a big verbal kick in the keister a couple of weeks ago and the voices in my head (don’t anyone even go there) my Leveling Up means my next post will be fiction, and I’m going to start writing the book I always said I would (yes, Brenda, I still have my idea notes.) Of course, now I’ll have to create an Aunt Bernie in it. And Brenda, Diane and the Professor. (music-notes-clip-art-musical_note_3_clip_art_12287 with Gilligan, the Skipper too music-notes-clip-art-musical_note_3_clip_art_12287…just kidding. Gilligan and the Skipper won’t be really be in there. I’m just checking to see who’s paying attention. As for the rest of you, I make no promises. )

What’s your next level ?