Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Weird Wonderings…

The Life, Times, and Work of Ladybugs

I wonder: Do ladybugs ever tire of eating aphids?

I wonder if they sometimes say aloud: “We wish these aphids would just go away!”

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Take Time to Stop and... Take a Picture!

Sunset’s brilliant colors distracted me early yesterday evening while driving past a field on Rt. 510. Stunning reds, pinks, yellows, blues, and purples caught my attention, particularly because the sunsets at my home are somewhat marred by the presence of houses and power lines crossing the horizon. Only a few cows heading homeward at day’s end blocked the rays, and I drove in a rather distracted fashion as I enjoyed the view.
Out of milk, water, dog food, and other essentials, I was anxious to get to the store, and I squelched my impulse to pull over and take a photo. I noted the camera sitting on the seat next to me and asked myself, “Why do I carry my camera everywhere I go if I’m not going to stop and take pictures?” I drove into the first available parking lot, turned around, and pulled over onto the west side of Rt. 510 so I would have the best-possible angle. The best-best-possible angle would have involved getting out of the car, but tall grass possibly hiding snakes and fire ants from my flip-flop-shod feet meant I took photos from the car window.
I’m happy I stopped and took the pictures, if only because I paused to do something I enjoy. Sometimes, I avoid taking photos because I want to stay in the moment, to simply be where I am. Other times, I want to capture a moment. Later, as I reflect and remember as I view photos, I am grateful I saved a piece of life, that I have tangible form of a memory.
I drove past this rock on Longley Road in Groton, Massachusetts, hundreds of times. When I knew it would be at least a year before I saw it again, I stopped and took the picture.

Pictures can show us places we love that we are leaving...

And pictures can show us places we love to which we are returning...

Pictures can capture a bit of humor when we find nature's creatures in odd places and man-made creatures in odd places...

Life in the twenty-first century means cameras are ubiquitous, in phones, in cars, in computers, on traffic lights, in places we are unaware of their presence, and that’s not always a good thing. However, saving a piece of life, to share, to reflect, to laugh, to ponder, to remember... is life-affirming and life-enriching. Most of us have a camera. Why not stop and take that picture?

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Al Pacino and I Dance the Tango to Ravel’s "Bolero"

Dancing into Beauty

Beauty was on my mind this morning. Not my physical beauty, which I often think is faded and fading at this phase of my life. I was mulling over the discussion my daughter Tarah and I had last night about writing an eBook on beauty. She’s an expert on hair, skin, nails, make-up, and fashion. I, however, am not so much the expert. For me, physical beauty doesn’t rank up there as a goal for which to strive. However, I am focusing on inner beauty. (Don’t we all when that outer stuff starts to diminish?) Aging comments aside, what shows up on the outside does reflect what’s on the inside (regardless of how young or old you are), and this morning I continued to think about beauty—emotional, psychological, spiritual, and intellectual beauty.
I know that when I don’t nourish my psyche, I don’t reflect much inner beauty. When I work too much and play too little, I feel the furrow in my brow deepen, I see the circles under my eyes darken, I feel the tense clench of my jaw. I felt my positive psyche ebbing this morning, so I turned on the classical music station to get some lovely melodies floating through the house. It was too early for music, and NPR’s Morning Edition was news—politics and talk—and that wasn’t cheery at all, so I knew I had to do more. I often nourish my psyche by gardening. It’s a dirty job, and I love it. I have neglected it lately because of my perpetual busy-ness, but I felt a deep desire to get my hands dirty and clean up my consciousness.

An hour later when I came inside, the voice of the man emanating from the living room startled me until I remembered NRP was on. I was ready to head to the shower, when the talk ended and the music began—Ravel’s Bolero. I dare you to sit still while listening to Bolero. I dare you to walk out of the room and ignore the lure of Bolero. It cannot be done.
I stood in the living room kind of floating to the music for a few minutes. It was then that I remembered beauty—inner beauty. I’m not much of a dancer. That is the epitome of an understatement. It’s so pitiful that I won’t even try when my sisters or my kids are nearby. I can’t take the laughter. Inner beauty looked around the room this morning and no one was there. I began to sway to the music. And then I began to move. I started dancing. In my mind, I was dancing the tango with Al Pacino, kind of like in the movie Scent of a Woman, except he wasn’t blind, so he kept looking at me and smiling. Of course, the music in Scent of a Woman is much more suited to a tango, but hey, I was in imagination land (
As I danced, I forgot my furrowed brow, I forgot the wrinkles around my eyes, I felt my jaw unclench. I twirled and whirled and swayed and felt the light pressure of Pacino’s hand on the small of my back. I know that in reality I looked like this:

Beyond reality, in my imagination, I was light, airy, wispy, like clouds, or butterflies, or flowers. The saying “Dance like no one is watching” came to mind. I felt that inner beauty and I danced like no one was watching. During that dance, I captured the essence of beauty. Bolero and Mr. Pacino took only a few minutes out of my day, but I began it strong, light-footed, and beautiful.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Life’s Not-So-Little Contradictions

Spectracide or the Broom?
Simple Green or Toxic Cleaner?

Laser-like, my cat Ella’s eyes focused on the dining room ceiling, where, Egad! a spider the size of Lake Okeechobee sat, probably waiting to creep into my bedroom. So what did I—Miss Organic Flower and Vegetable Gardener—do? Did I reach for the broom and swat that arachnid to Kingdom Come and then sweep it outside? Of course not! I reached for the… drumroll, please: Spectracide.

I don’t mess around with black widows, fire ants, palmetto bugs, fleas, ticks, and other creeping, biting, multiplying insects. Even though this guy was not a black widow, I went for the quick kill.
Well, maybe the kill was not as quick as I would have liked. When faced with a spider, I want instant death, with a weapon similar to those my son uses in video games. Spectracide—and other pesticides, of course—does not induce instant death. I know this. But I’m impatient when spiders lurk. Therefore, I sprayed enough Spectracide on that eight-legged creature to kill about one hundred spiders. And even then, I still had to wait until he had gone on to his next life.

The unfortunate result of my excess kill power was a puddle of Spectracide on the floor in the corner of the dining room. “Got to clean up that mess,” I said to myself. I walked to the kitchen, opened the cabinet, and what did I reach for? Drumroll, please: Simple Green.

 “This makes no sense at all,” I said to myself. “First I douse the floor with poison and then I use Simple Green to clean it up?”
I cleaned up the puddle and tossed the cleaning cloth into the washer for a quick rinse. Ella left the dining room, so I was assured nothing remained for my killing powers. What did remain was my puzzle about the contradictions in my life. Spectracide versus Simple Green is only one of the contradictions I face daily. I won’t punish myself for not reaching for the broom, but maybe next time, I will think about alternatives and choose one of them instead. Maybe I can think about making a choice that goes more with my conscious level of wanting to be Miss Organic Flower and Vegetable Gardener versus my unconscious level of behaving like Miss Let’s Destroy the Earth with Poison.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

The Presence of Stephen King

Stephen King’s come to our house to stay. He showed up in my basement about four years ago. I listened to his book On Writing while I walked on my treadmill. I knew about Stephen, but I have not read any of his books. (I don’t equate listening with reading.) I love On Writing and laughed so hard I increased my cardio workout and I was inspired to begin writing two creepy, albeit unfinished, novels.
I haven’t read Stephen’s books because I think his work is too scary. I believe it hovers on the dark side. I associate Carrie, The Shining, and Kuzo with things that keep me wide-eyed throughout the night, covers pulled to my cheekbones, just in case there is something out there. I am delighted that Stephen’s books and movies have made him rich and happy, because that success entitled him to write about writing.
I have watched Stephen’s movies. I was stunned when I read his name as author when the credits rolled for The Shawshank Redemption, which runs a close second to my favorite book and movie, The Color Purple. I again was surprised to see Stephen’s name as the author of The Green Mile, one of the few movies I have watched a second time, along with Shawshank and Purple.
I admit I was quite the snob concerning Stephen—“Oh, I don’t read those kinds of books,” I would say, as I chose a Steinbeck or Austen from the library shelf. However, on reflection, Grapes of Wrath is indeed frightful, more so because it’s based on fact.
Ah, but I digress, a writing error that would make Stephen frown.
Stephen was only a visitor during my treadmill listening and movie viewing. He now is a permanent fixture, and has been since my daughter Chelsea took a composition class during her sophomore year in high school. On Writing was the course textbook and because of it, the way I speak to my children and even write notes to them has forever changed.
I’m not allowed to use adverbs when I communicate with Chelsea. I learned to loathe adverbs when I listened to On Writing. I work on expunging them from my personal writing, and now I must edit them from my speech and any notes I write to my kids. I cringe every time I read or hear “importantly” or “additionally.” It must be important for folks to stress the importance of what they say or write—and in addition to add to whatever they say or write. It’s important that such linguistic additions are no longer tolerated in my home.
I also said goodbye to the passive voice. I’m not perfect at it, but I am aware of my passive communications. When I slip, Chelsea (16) and Paul (13) remind and reprimand me. I no longer may say, “Chelsea the living room needs to be vacuumed.” Instead, I must say, “Chelsea, please vacuum the living room.” On Thursday evenings, rather than, “Tomorrow the garbage men come, so the garbage cans have to be taken to the street,” I say, “Chelsea and Paul, take the garbage cans and recycling to the street.”
My son pegged my passive-parent voice years ago. I would say something like, “Paul, you left your dirty socks on the sofa.” He called such statements “hint, hint.” It made both of us crazy because I wanted him to pick up his socks; him, because he would think to himself, “Yeah, my socks are on the sofa,” and continue doing whatever he was doing. Later, I might say, “Paul, your dirty socks need to be put in the hamper.” He would think to himself, “Yeah, they need to go in the hamper” and continue doing whatever he was doing. He didn’t understand my rage when I returned an hour later and screamed at him for not putting his dirty socks in the hamper “like I already told” him to do. It was “hint, hint.” I never came right out and said, “Put your dirty socks in the hamper.” I do now.
It’s sometimes tough to be clear. I often think I must explain myself, justify my words, prepare for a debate, and talk, talk, talk, yet not communicate much of anything. I am still guilty of “hint, hint,” but I fight it. I try to get to the point: “Paul do your homework.” “Paul, please take out the garbage.”
Even the family messages we write on a whiteboard are not spared passive voice correction. A few months ago, Chelsea was quite ill with a high fever and an undetermined skin infection. She named the red, oozing mass spreading across her neck “The Matrix.” She was afraid that the infection, like the matrix of movie renown, was taking over her body, starting with her neck. During those Matrix days, I wrote the following message on the whiteboard: “The evil Matrix must be destroyed.” In spite of Chelsea’s fever and pain, she scrawled “passive voice” across my whiteboard note.
At that time, we also used soap crayons to write notes on the shower walls. I made certain my next Matrix note was not passive. My blue-crayoned note read: “Vanquish the Matrix!” Chelsea’s reply: “Beware! The Matrix lives… on Chelsea’s washcloth!”
Chelsea and Paul have read and continue to read Stephen King’s books, and their speech is more concise because of that reading. Their writing is, too.
Paul is writing a book. The content is grim: The dark side is taking over the world. Demons have thus far killed every character I like. I know a huge battle between good and evil looms and it scares me. Paul begs me to read his book, and like Stephen King’s novels, I avoid it. However, Paul is my son, so sometimes I have no choice, although I will not read his book after dark. Paul assures me good will triumph, but it’s tough reading until that happens. I read a chapter last week. The story continues to be bleak, but the prose is sparse, clean, clear. The writing is tight. The voice is active. There are no adverbs. Stephen would be proud.

Written August 7, 2006, 7:41 p.m.

Note: While cleaning my closet at 5:30 this morning, I happened upon this essay. It’s been five years since I wrote it, but the presence of Stephen King always makes for an interesting life.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Steps in the Abstract, Steps in Reality

First steps, take the steps, three steps, do the two-step, the ubiquitous twelve steps—all get us where we need—or want—to be.
No steps—counting, working, taking, dancing—mean anything in the abstract because a step is not abstract; a step is tangible. To do, accomplish, or be anything, it’s putting a foot onto that first step and taking action—concrete action—that moves us forward and into and along any journey upon which we embark.

Basement steps take us into (and out of) what often are dark, damp places. Few windows in these underground areas bring light, but even if present, they rarely dispel the reality that when in the basement, you are underground. Steps take you back to the surface.
To persuade someone to rent my Massachusetts house, the basement had to be addressed. “Basement: You have dark blue walls, you smell bad, and although your tile floor is relatively new, twenty-three-year-old carpet is stapled to your stairs. You are getting a makeover.”
It took two weeks to paint said walls Beach White (Behr paints, Home Desperate) to bring light into the room. My son tackled the vile chore of removing the carpet and padding from the stairs. Twenty-plus years of footsteps pounded the carpet staples into the wood stairs, so it took the two of us several hours to pry them out.

I spent half of forever prepping the stairs to paint them: vacuum stairs, wash stairs, wait for stairs to dry, pry out staples we missed, fill the 10,000+ staple holes in stairs, wait for spackling to dry, sand spackling, vacuum again.
Aside from the stairs, life went on: Ten days after saying yes to renting the house, the prospective tenant bailed. Meanwhile, Hurricane Irene blasted past Florida, easing my mind about my home in Vero Beach, until said hurricane set her sights on New England.
I had no renter, I was running out of money (actually, I ran out of money three years earlier when I thought I could support two households), running out of time, and running out of energy, and really wanting to run from the approaching storm, but I still had to paint the steps. Facing those unpainted stairs—and everything else—was daunting. I couldn’t conjure a renter, I couldn’t increase my bank balance, I couldn’t add more time to the twenty-four-hour daily allotment, and I couldn’t run from the storm.
I couldn’t change a thing about my life, but the steps were prepped and ready to paint. All I had to do was open the can of paint, pick up the brush, and paint.

Overused, misused metaphors aside, I could paint only one step at a time and only then could I move to the next step. I could paint the steps. I did paint the steps.
No tenant materialized the day I painted the steps. No money magically entered my bank account. The day still had only twenty-four hours, which I used well. Irene came and went, and we weren’t harmed.

I painted the steps—each one, one at a time. Sometimes that is all any of us can do when faced with overwhelming thoughts, fears, money and time problems, never-ending to-do lists, and impending storms.
Paint the Steps.

The house is rented and I have returned to Florida.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Ten Years Ago...

Writing - September 11, 2001

Late in the evening on September 11, I felt compelled to write something, anything. I was flat and emotionless because I was so drained by that day's events. My hand felt as heavy as lead as I forced the following words through my pen:

Tuesday, September 11, 2001 11:11 p.m.

The World Trade Towers were destroyed today.
And part of The Pentagon.
And a plane lies wrecked on a field in Pennsylvania.
And Building 7 next to what was the Trade Towers collapsed.
I’m numb, in shock, scared.
Bill Schmiedel watched the first tower burn, then saw the second one explode.
He was a mile and a half away in Jersey City.
And today, I brought Tarah, Chelsea, and Paul home because I was afraid of what would come next.
Chelsea smashed her forehead into the dresser while she and Tarah wrestled upstairs. She got three stitches right in the space of her widow’s peak.
And today I made dinner – white rice from a boil-in-bag, broccoli and velveet, a salad, and some thawed, reheated frozen chicken.
Paul made a Lego model of a tower and a plane and was going to do a re-enactment for Ken and I. We yelled at him; then I apologized – he was only showing us what he’d seen – processing it in his child’s way.
I rubbed the cat’s (Serabi’s) belly today when I went outside. Later, I watched Earl and Toby catch, then toss, a rodent of some sort.
It’s clear tonight – and I can see so very many stars in the sky – but no planes.
Fall is coming. I feel the cool night air on the back of my neck from the window behind me.
Tonight as I watched the stars, I heard the cat rustling the leaves as he climbed the crabapple tree.
I will be 49 tomorrow and I don’t think anything will ever be the same again.
Paul is sleeping in the living room on the floor and he begged me to sleep on the sofa next to him. I will, because although I don’t feel safe nor do I know if I ever will again, but this small thing – sleeping nearby – will make him feel safe.

Photo note: The sky in the photo reminds me of the blue sky that day. The butterfly represents hope.