I love fall.

Love red and gold leaves sprinkled like “jimmies” over the lush green grass.

Love the crisp cool mornings that demand an extra cup of coffee after we come in from walking.

Love the long, dark evenings when I can stay home curled under a blanket watching new episodes of my favorite TV shows.

Love pulling on cozy warm sweaters and wrapping soft scarves around my neck.

Never mind the cold rain slicing through the sky this minute.

Never mind that fall means an end to flowers and leaves and picnics.

Never mind that winter will follow on the heels of this, my favorite season.

In just about eight weeks, smack dab in the middle of fall, our family will be gifted with new life.

And the season will never be the same.

I love fall.

Time Passages

It’s after 6:30 in the evening and our beautiful fall morning has morphed into an evil dark and rainy night.  I’m sitting here at my computer, surfing the internet, and waiting for my husband to come home from work.

If I had a dollar for all the hours I’ve spent waiting for this man during the past 38 years, I know I could retire to Newport Beach and live the high life.

I’m one of those pathologically prompt people  – I arrive places way too early, just to make sure I’m not late. My dear husband, on the other hand, is not of that ilk.  He waits as long as possible before getting ready to embark on any journey.  Back in the early 1970’s when we started dating, his scheduled arrival times were always “between” two numbers, usually within a 30 minute window.

“I’ll pick you up between 7:00 and 7:30,” he’d say when he called to arrange a date to dinner. “I’ll be there between 8:00 and 8:15,” he’d promise, when I asked him to drive me to school in the morning. So there I’d sit, all clean and shiny and ready to go.

And I’d wait.

And wait.

Finally, I’d hear the distinctive purr of his 1971 Mach One Mustang turning the corner.  I’d dash to the mirror for a quick check of my hair, rush out the door, and run to the curb so I could jump in the car before he had a chance to turn into the driveway and waste more precious time.

After we were married and he started working, I waited even more.  Seventy hour work weeks were not unusual for young automotive engineers, and he was one to make sure every “i” was dotted, and every “t” was crossed before he left the job site.  I spent a lot of time peering out the window for a glimpse of his car turning down our street.  Sometimes he could call and give me an estimated time of arrival, but mostly I was left to wait and wonder.

Fast forward 35 years, and I’m still waiting. Now at least, I get text messages with updated stats on ETA and drive time progress. I pass the waiting time with Facebook conversations and blog hopping. I get dinner into various stages of preparation, so that I can assemble it quickly when he finally arrives.

And when I hear the automatic garage door start to roll open, I run to the mirror and quickly check my hair.

It’s a good thing he’s still worth waiting for.

Much Ado

There was a huge kerfuffle about the “new Facebook” last week while I was away, and I purposely refrained from joining in because (1) I was traveling and using Facebook only on my iPad which didn’t appear to be affected; and (2) I thought the whole uproar was simply much ado about nothing.

Today I logged on for the first time since the big makeover and must admit the complaints are valid. But in the overall scheme of “life in general,” changes to the Facebook format are hardly worthy of the hue and cry they warranted last week, so I will restrain myself from further hyperbole on the subject.

Things seem to become blown out of proportion so often in the world today.  It’s human nature to complain, and because of things like Facebook we’re all able to vent our frustrations more readily. After all, when the Pony Express riders changed their route, or the corner newstand raised prices on the Daily Gazette, any complaints about the matter were likely to remain between families on the homestead or folks meeting up in the general store.  Nowadays, when our social network gets reorganized we have the perfect vehicle with which to voice our displeasure to the entire world  –  that very same social network itself.

However, it’s part of the risk we take in placing our personal lives within the framework of a huge conglomerate like Facebook. They have the prerogative to change things up however they please. If you’ve spent any time on the internet at all in the past 10 years, you must realize it’s anything but static.

Change is the lifeblood of the digital age, and regular transfusions are mandatory.

At the risk of sounding like a curmudgeon, perhaps we should marshal our indignation for things that really matter, rather than making a fuss about new Facebook formats.

There is much going on in this world that’s worthy of ado. Maybe we should all be about making it.

Another Lost Art

The only “C” grade I ever received in elementary school was in handwriting. It was in third grade, and we were just beginning to learn cursive handwriting. I didn’t think my performance was SO bad – perhaps my words were a little fat and wobbly and reluctant to stay neatly perched on the lines. Handwriting was a separate subject line on our report cards in those days, and I remember being completely appalled at that letter “C,” sticking out like a scarlet letter amongst the “A’s” and “B’s.”

I redeemed myself by the end of fourth grade, and had developed a beautiful penmanship almost exactly like my mother’s. It was elegant and feminine, and flowed neatly in a perfect slant toward the right margins of the paper. I was vain about my handwriting for many years, although sometimes I tried to mimic my friend Jill’s writing which was completely vertical so that each word stood up smartly as it marched across the page. Her handwriting was very different from the way we were taught to write, and I envied the way it expressed her slightly rebellious personality.

Handwriting doesn’t merit it’s own subject line on report cards anymore, and isn’t really worthy of much time or consideration in today’s curriculum. Children are taught to print clearly, and given some rudimentary training in the basics of forming cursive letters. They focus on keyboarding skills, which will probably be their primary method of written communication. Keyboarding is more functional, but writing by hand is much more mysterious. It’s always amazed me that each person has a unique way of creating letters on a page, even though we’re all taught to form the letters in a certain prescribed way. Handwriting was once a way of expressing individuality, and now it seems all our digital advances just serve to homogenize us, lumping us into categories and numbers.

I feel a bit sad about that, just as I feel sad about not getting handwritten letters in the mail anymore. As a child, I loved seeing my grandmother’s familiar handwriting on the envelope bearing a birthday or Valentine’s Day card. My uncle, who was an engineer, always signed his cards in a distinctive slanted print of entirely capital letters. My father’s handwriting fascinated me, for it slanted to the left instead of the right, even though he wrote with his right hand. Their handwriting was as distinctly personal as their voice or their fingerprint. And I was saddened to see their handwriting deteriorate with age, becoming weak and wobbly like my early attempts back in elementary school.

Most of my handwriting these days is confined to the pages of a journal or the
To Do list on my kitchen table. My handwriting isn’t so beautiful anymore, but if I set my mind to it I could probably recreate those lovely fluid lines I was once so proud of. Perhaps I should make a habit of writing by hand more often, before the art of handwriting is lost forever.

How about you? Does your handwriting express anything about your personality or individuality, or is it entirely functional?

Talking to Strangers

There’s a  little patio bar atop the Bayside restaurant at Venetian Village in Naples that’s become our local – the place we stop mid-afternoon for a glass of wine or a beer. Over the years, we’ve gotten to know Scott, the bartender, pretty well.  Scott’s one of those guys who knows everybody pretty well. There’s definitely a local clientele at The Bay, but Scott never sees a stranger, and no matter where you’re from or how long you’re in town, if you’re sitting at the bar when Scott’s tending, you’re a regular.

On a nice day, when it’s not so humid that your wine glass drowns in its own sweat, or so windy that the plastic sheeting surrounding the bar gets battened down, we might sit there for an hour or two, staring out at the McMansions that line the bay with regal finesse, or the McYachts moored in stately splendor. And every time we go to The Bay, we get involved in fascinating conversations with strangers.

I typically don’t talk much to strangers. For one thing, I’m pretty shy and it’s hard  for me to strike up a conversation with someone I’ve never met. For another thing, the old axiom about “never talk to strangers” has been a hard one to let go of. In the 1960’s when I grew up, it was drummed into our with mind numbing regularity. But at The Bay, it’s expected. Maybe it’s like that at all neighborhood bars, I don’t know, because we don’t have a local here at home. It seems like people around here like to keep a healthy distance, even when they’re drinking. Maybe they’re afraid you’ll steal their secrets, or gather some information you can use against them. I don’t know. Whatever the reason, the few times I’ve sat at the bar anywhere around here, people don’t generally talk much amongst themselves.

But people at The Bay are very gregarious. Everybody seems to know Scott, so we all have that in common, and we tease him about his golf game or ask him about his dogs. There are always some tourists, so we all chime in with our favorite places they simply must see-eat-shop-golf. There are usually a few older men having a cocktail after a round of golf, and occasionally (if I’m the resident cute young thing, which I often am – this is Naples, you know) they’ll flirt with me a little.

Yes, I even flirt back.  It is The Bay, after all.

We once met a wonderful horsey couple from southwest England who spend every November in Naples. We exchanged email addresses and I’m under strict order to contact her the next time we’re across the Pond. We met a couple who had just purchased a vacation home to be close to their daughter and her husband who were living in the area. (Sound familiar?) We’ve surreptitiously eavesdropped on conversations with brokers, realtors, business partners, and probably lovers.

It’s just about our favorite place in Naples, and I think that’s because it’s an opportuity to connect with interesting people, even if only for a few minutes.

Our friend L., a world traveler whom we’ve been lucky enough to travel with on occasion, is famous for his habit of carrying on conversations with strangers in every corner of the world. He’ll saunter up to just about anybody in the street and start talking. “I like that hat!” he’ll exclaim. Or “What a great car!” If the person happens to be walking a dog, we know we might as well duck into a coffee shop because they’re liable to be there all morning. I love to watch him engage people in conversation, and rarely do people fail to be engaged. They might appear non-plussed for a moment, especially in foreign countries, as if such an affable American is an real anomaly. But within a second or two they’ll be smiling and gesturing, and the two will part with smiles and a handshake.

It might be nice if we talked to strangers more often. These days we often bury ourselves in our electronics rather than make eye contact with anyone. I’m guilty of that – if I’m having a cup of coffee at Panera, or waiting for my mom to finish grocery shopping, I’ll whip out my phone and check e-mail, or Facebook, or the latest blog post. Instead, I could look around the room, make eye contact with a stranger, and initiate a conversation.

It makes the experience more memorable for everyone.

How about you? Do you talk to strangers much?

Retail Therapy

Once upon a time, before recessions and job losses, I shopped a lot – or at least it seems like a lot when I look back on it. In comparison to some women, I suppose it was trifling. But in my younger days, I enjoyed a good bit of retail therapy.  It was fun to get new things.  A shiny pair of earrings for instance, or a cute little purse. Some fun throw pillows for the bed, or new placemats for the kitchen table.

And books. Lots of books.

I’ve about outgrown my love of shopping, at least in terms of feeling the need to shop to lift my spirits. I don’t want any more “stuff” for my house (at least, not this house), and clothes don’t excite me the way they once did. I’d usually rather spend my time walking around a nice park than a shopping mall, and I’m just as happy with getting most of my books from the library.

It’s probably a good thing that age has eliminated some of my need to buy, because unless I take up online sports betting and develop a pretty good winning streak, I can’t see throwing money away on needless stuff. I’d rather save it up for trips to Dallas to visit my grandson, or to the brand new Disney resort in Hawaii. Besides, someday people around here (namely my husband) are going to want to retire, and with the investment markets as insecure as they are, no matter how much money we save I have a feeling it won’t be enough. Unless  our mutual fund managers also start to place bets on the Detroit Tigers while they’re still winning.

So I look for “therapy” in places other than stores – in a walk around the block, a cuddle with my puppies, a nice glass of wine and a good movie on the DVR.  All relatively cheap, and very therapeutic.

Recovery Mode

Yesterday was an “old school” kind of day that involved a long rehearsal in the morning followed by grocery shopping, early dinner preparation, and then helping out at evening auditions for a new community theater group. I’m moving a little slower than normal this morning, but after doing a three mile walk with my buddy Leslie and downing a 10 ounce bottle of water, I’m well on my way to a solid recovery.

For many years, when days like yesterday were the norm, I’d slog an extra cup of coffee into my empty stomach and head out the door. At 55, I’m finally learning to listen to my body and honor what it’s telling me about its needs.  I have to credit my daughter-in-law with inspiring me toward a better diet, and toward developing a new attitude about the body’s powers of healing and rejuvenation.  The Asian culture has ancient wisdom about the body and how it works, and how to use nature to help it work better. Having been raised in the latter part of the 20th century with all its advances in medical technology, I was steeped in the outside interventionist mode of treatment.  When something is wrong, you take a pill for it. If it doesn’t get better, you go to doctors who can blast it with chemicals.  If all else fails, they’ll happily cut it right out for you.

Now I’m more inclined to give my body a chance to heal itself, and to do what I can to help that natural progression along.  I’ve made exercise a part of my daily life, I drink a lot of water (from a BPH free plastic bottle, or even an actual glass!), and I eat smaller portions of healthier foods, I try to get at least seven hours of sleep.  I’m not perfect at any of this, but I’m getting better.  For the past 18 months I’ve not been sick once – not even one of the chronic sinus infections that have plagued me for years.

Like so many things in life,  self-education and responsibility are key. Dr. Andrew Weil, a long time advocate of natural health care practices and integrative medicine, wrote something that makes a lot of sense to me. “We are too occupied with managing cases of established diseases, most of which are lifestyle related and preventable. The essence of prevention is not colonoscopies and mammograms; it is understanding how our life choices reduce or increase the risk of disease.” Obviously there are times when modern medical treatment is necessary and valuable.  But I’d like to do everything I can to avoid that situation in my life.


At the Table

On Friday noon I sat at the table with three very good friends whom I hadn’t seen in far too long. In the course of our friendship, we’ve spent a lot of time “at the table”…more specifically, the six-foot tables from which we played handbells. The three of them were my teachers in the art of handbell ringing, the ones who taught me everything I know about that very beautiful yet very challenging instrument.

Our gathering that day was purely social, a chance to catch up on each other’s life in general. And catch up we did, sitting down at noon and not getting up until almost four o’clock, letting the lunch crowd ebb and flow around us until the restaurant was deserted and the servers were starting to set up for dinner.

The next day I sat at the table with some other friends whom I hadn’t seen in a while, and we chatted about life in general. But we also talked at length about one life in particular, that of a friend whom we had come to memorialize, a friend who had died much too suddenly, much too soon.

It was a planned surgery she was having, one which in the world of surgery is not minor but not normally considered life-threatening. The surgery was a success, we heard – her son sending the message on Facebook. Her family, assured that all was well, went home to sleep.

Yet somehow, sometime in the night, death came creeping into the room and stole her away.

Away from a husband who had counted on her presence beside him as they continued their retirement together. Away from the three young men she had raised with great love and devotion, away from little granddaughter who loved to watch Disney movies and sing-along with her Nana, away from the new baby not yet born who would never know this grandmother’s love. Away from a dear friend fighting cancer who had relied on her strength in this great battle.

So much happens around the table, the place where we eat and drink, but also the place where we find communion with our family and our friends. Something I regret about my younger life is that we did not, as a family, spend much time around the table. My husband worked long and erratic hours in those days, and it simply wasn’t practical to wait meals for him. Now I would like to have memories of those missed times at the table, would like to know that the three of us had spent hours in communion with one another sharing sustenance for our bodies but also our spirits. It isn’t a coincidence that one of the most important sacraments in the Christian religion, one of the most momentous occasions in the life of Jesus Christ, involved sitting at the table with his disciples. In this commonplace activity, there is an element of the sacred, a sharing of life’s elemental need which creates a bond between those who partake of it.

I want to think that lunches like the one on Friday will happen more often, that we four friends will make the effort to step out of our busy lives and sit down together at the table. Realistically, I know it probably won’t happen and once again too much time will pass before we meet in that setting.

In the long days of grieving ahead of them, I hope that my friend’s family will often sit at the table together, to share memories of her, to gather strength from one another, and to find their way into life without her.

You Can’t Do it Wrong

Leslie Sansone is my favorite exercise guru. I love her Walk At Home dvd’s, and over the past couple of years I’ve built up a hefty collection.  The routines are all familiar by now, and so is Leslie’s patter.  She has a number of stock phrases she uses to get us through our powered up paces.  “This isn’t just a stroll around the block!”; “It doesn’t matter which leg you choose – any leg is the right one!” and “We’re cookin’! We’re cookin’ with gas!”

My favorite encouraging phrase shows up in every video – “You can’t do it wrong, people!”  Leslie’s workouts are perfect for the fitness-challenged folks who aren’t quite sure they have what it takes to be physically fit.  She’s designed the movements and the pep talks to make it easy to succeed. “As long as you keep moving at this pace and stay on the beat,” she assures us, “you don’t have to follow a bunch of fancy steps. You can’t do it wrong!”

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if more things in life were foolproof? If, at the end of the wedding ceremony, the minister pronounced that we were man and wife, and added, “Don’t worry, you can’t do it wrong.” If, when our kids were born, the doctor handed over this tiny bundle of fresh new life and said, “Don’t worry, mom and dad, you can’t do it wrong!”  If, in starting a new job, our boss patted us on the shoulder with a hearty, “Don’t worry! You can’t do it wrong!”

As someone particularly prone to being fearful, I’d love to have that kind of assurance before I embark on a new venture.  When Leslie shouts out those words during my morning power walk,  I’m miraculously invigorated, start lifting my feet higher, pumping my arms harder, tucking my tummy in tighter.  What the heck  – I might as well go for it, because I can’t do it wrong!

The fear of making mistakes, of doing it wrong, stops us all in our tracks. But some people seem immune to that fear and are willing to take those risks, large and small, believing that it’s far worse to remain sedentary in life than to move forward, even at the risk of putting a foot wrong and stumbling along the way.  As my morning workout progresses, I hear more of Leslie’s familiar motivational phrases.   “Get off the couch! Move the furniture! Make some noise!” Fear of failure can be paralyzing, and without movement we turn to stone, physically, mentally, and emotionally.

I need to remember Leslie’s words after my power walk is over and take them into my daily walk through life.  Even though I know they aren’t entirely true, at least when applied to the complexities of life in general, there is more truth in them than I allow myself to believe.  When I sit down at the piano or the computer and suddenly feel paralyzed with ineptitude,  when I wonder whether I should look for another job, when I think about selling the houses and buying a new place, I need someone to whisper those words in my ear. I need the surge of positive energy that phrase can give me.

Don’t worry. You can’t do it wrong.

How about you? Does fear often stop you in your tracks? Or do you get off the couch, move the furniture, and make some noise?

Focal Point

My daughter-in-law and son attended their first childbirth class this weekend, which naturally started me thinking about my own childbirth classes (way back in the olden days). While learning the various breathing techniques designed to help you manage labor, we were encouraged to have a “focal point” – something on which to focus our vision and our attention during contractions.  This focal point could be anything – a picture, a figurine, a piece of jewelry, a stuffed toy – something on which to direct concentration and ostensibly divert our attention from our suffering.

You probably won’t be surprised when I tell you my focal point was a book. My copy of Little Women had a cover that I had always found particularly soothing – the four girls gathered on the floor around Marmee, their long skirts in various shades of pastel draped in graceful folds about them. I decided that was the perfect focal point – and if I got bored, I could always read it.

In actuality, my son was born so quickly and easily, I didn’t even need the darn focal point (and I hope my grandson follows his dad’s example!)  It’s probably a good thing too, because I have a feeling that relying on my ability to focus on a book cover would not have been very effective.

Truth is, I’m not very good at maintaining a focus on anything, a problem that seems to be intensifying with every passing year. My mind seems to dart all over the place, and my body just goes along for the ride. For instance, I might start out to clean up the breakfast dishes, but, after putting the coffee cups into the dishwasher, I remember that I haven’t taken my calcium supplement, so I do that, and then remember that I need to start cooking the chicken for the dogs, so I do that, and then remember I need to look up the recipe I’m cooking for dinner so I can make a market list, so I do that…

You get the picture.

This behavior is not just domestic – I’m afraid it extends to my working life as well.  Within the space of an hour, I can find myself with half a dozen “windows” open on my computer screen, each one with a project at various stages of incompletion. The only place I can focus my attention for any length of time is at the piano.  I can spend an hour working on one page of one movement of one sonata, and be surprised that it’s been 60 minutes instead of six.

I blame my latent attention deficit disorder on two things – age and the internet.

Age, because my sense of impending doom due to my advanced years compels me to complete as many tasks as possible in the amount of time left to me; and the internet because the constant call of information overload leads me down one garden path after another, causing my mind to break into fragments that can only handle small increments of activity.

So, how to combat this situation? I’ve been making lists, which I categorize and prioritize by project, ticking off each item when it’s completed. I’ve also been making a concerted effort to complete ONE thing before moving on to something else.  It definitely takes some focus to make THAT happen.  By the time I get through a complete project without veering off in sixteen other directions, I’m as tired as if I’ve given birth. (Well, almost.) And I’ve been limiting my time on the internet to specified intervals at certain times of the day.

Of course, if none of this works, I can try hauling out my copy of Little Women and see if that helps me stay on task.  Never underestimate the power of a focal point.

How about you? Do you have difficulty maintaining your focus these days?