Sunday, October 31, 2010

golden aspen

Yesterday I called a "time out" from worrying, stress, thoughts of mortality and politics. We drove to Mt. Lemmon to see the golden aspen which fluttered in the sunlight on the road to the UA Observatory. On the way, in Bear Canyon, we savored "jambon et fromage" on a freshly baked (from Ghini's bakery)french roll. Butterflies danced around the scrub oak and pine and two small girls scrambled up the granite boulders. I watched them go.

At Bear Wallow, where the red maples were aflame and the yellow elm showered leaves on the path, we found a tree trunk that others had sculpted with branches, twigs and leaves. It formed an altar to autumn in the woods. I stretched out my calves on the path's incline a bit and learned how much the physical therapy of the past months has gradually prepared me (or not) for the real world texture of a mountain path, strewn with small rocks and swelling tree roots. Mostly, I navigated the territory with care and caution and the ooccasional leaning on my husband's "firm but flexible" right arm. It was a new way of walking.

At the top, we couldn't take the path to the meadows because of the steepness but I found two late-blooming daisies amidst the frost-burnt ferns. I gathered fallen aspen leaves, pine cones and branches to nestle among my store bought flowers when I later returned home. It was a very good trip to the mountain.

I would like to say that the experience lightened my load for today, but it wouldn't be true. Again, my morning was stirred by physical responses I cannot control and don't yet understand. I had trouble focusing on the newspaper and took a long shower to still my bouncing brain. I am not ready for the work week and, if I could, would lose myself for a few more days in a good book (I actually have two I am enjoying), music and planting fall flowers. I cannot completely escape from the work challenges--or natural life challenges, it seems--and I have not yet found my psychological balance.

So, just for now, I will rekindle the feelings of golden aspen: the sight of light pouring through the thin, soft texture of yellow, the sloughing sounds of the trees as they bent to the westward gusts of wind. They did not break but they did alter their upright stance in order to remain grounded. I think I need to follow their example this week, as best as I can.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

banana bread

My husband, who has been out of town on a consulting job, has expressed the need for me to show him I love him. So today, I took those black bananas, soft as jello, and mashed them in a cup, added crispy walnuts and dark raisins, eggs, butter, flour, sugar, salt, baking powder and soda, and made banana bread. It's cooling on the rack as I write and the wonderful smell of it fills the rooms and expands my lungs without the added weight of calories to my stomach. That, unfortunately, will come soon enough, when I flip over the bread, release it from the pan and cut into the browned crust for that tender taste of quick bread, made from scratch. It's my first baking experience since April/ankle accident and I guess it marks another milestone, just in time for the holiday baking season to commence.

I read a great story ( about the woman who championed the celebration of Thanksgiving as a holiday (1836) and wrote the poem, "Mary Had a Little Lamb." She, Sarah Josepha Hale, wrote about Thanksgiving as part of a novel that protested slavery, pre-Civil War by about 40 years. I had no prior knowledge of this story and I am trying to spread the word about it.

Sometimes my grandmother would also serve banana bread at the Thanksgiving table. We always had white butterfly dinner rolls and, of course, other carbohydrates filled the table as entrees and desserts. It pales, though, in comparison to the description Sarah Hale details in the excerpt on the web and reminds me that the harvest time was the end of the growing season and the preparation for hibernating for the winter. Not so for us desert dwellers: this is just the beginning of our favorite time of the year--seven to eight months (if we are lucky) of energizing coolness, sunshine and monsoon winters which spread the soil for spring's desert blooms.

I know I am getting older (as if creaking knees and right ankle, sore back, greying hair, mood and sleep swings don't provide enough proof)because the days, weeks and months are passing so quickly. I want this season to sloooooow down. Since tomorrow is/would have been my mom's birthday and, for me, is packed with "to do" tasks, Tuesday will mark my rememberance of her with a visit to the Tucson Botanical Garden. I will find a shady spot and read some poems or maybe bring along one of her many diaries and read an excerpt on one of her birthdays. Two years ago, her last with us, we had Lucky Wishbone chicken and she devoured fried onion rings, two at a time. I had baked cupcakes with caramel icing and Donna brought ice cream so we feasted on the patio in autumnal good humor.

Many things have changed since then and that is how life keeps us alert: nothing escapes the rule of impermanence. But I can always count on the smell of banana bread to bring me warm memories that fill my soul.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

finding my stride

This week I met a milestone with returning to walk the Rillito path for a mile in 20 minutes. I really enjoyed the cooler temperature and the sights (an eagle on a low mesquite branch, toddlers carrying stuffed animals and joggers with dogs in tow) and smells (fresh horse manure and heavily perfumed matrons in glittering t-shirts and sweat pants). I had my stride assessed this week and am trying to focus on posture and keeping my right foot pointing forward and not slightly to the left. This seems to be helping my calf muscles but something in my stride is tweaking my back because it's aching in mid back and pelvic area, both on the right side. I am probably still compensating for some muscle weakness in my legs and asking the back muscles to carry more of the load, so I will need to have Kevin look at me this week and suggest what I need to alter.

Another challenge is weaving my way through Imagine Greater Tucson work tasks, domestic chores, familial obligations and physical therapy appointments (still twice a week). What is getting pushed aside is my regular workouts with swimming, bicycling and weights at the Y and my creative writing. I also feel that I am shortchanging myself on time with my women friends--squeezing in a quick cafe chat and chatch-up before the end of the day or on the weekend. On the plus side, my metabolism changes seem to have stablized and sleep patterns are more back to normal.

Holidays are coming. I pulled out our plastic pumpkin for the front step and switched my fake spring flower assortments for the autumnal cattails, wheat and sunflowers. We bought a butternut squash to cook tomorrow and I enjoy the taste of that vegetable, dotted with brown sugar and butter. Thanksgiving will be at my father-in-law's because Mark's sister and family are coming in from Philly. Aron will be working on TDay and we might do our usual post-TDay home turkey for him and friends. I hope we can take a trip to California over the holidays because Mark has vacation time to use or lose and we didn't see my 97 year old Aunt on her birthday this year. I have a friend in Monterey that, with a car and the time, I would also like to visit, but the January Bat Mitsvah trip for Sasha is costing a small fortune so we'll just see how the dollars stretch. I would rather travel and see family and friends than buy anything although I told Mark today that when I get paid for my IGT work I might want to bring in a housecleaning team to do the nitty-gritty work that I have totally no interest or energy in doing right now.

We have a very sick eucalyptus tree out back that we have to have cut and hauled away and maybe need to transplant some new euclayptus bushes growing on the north side of the house to the back/East to continue to protect us from summer sun and townhouse neighbors. For the most part in the past ten years, our neighbors have been quiet and good cooks because I smell some mighty tasty scents from time to time in the early mornings. Once we had a neighbor who must have been a concert pianist or serious student of the instrument because s/he would play sonatas in the evening and, for a few moments, I felt Parisienne, recalling the 2002 trip I took with Patsy. Our hotel opened onto a courtyard, and, across it, I could see into the apartments at night. One apartment opened up to a large window with a baby grand piano at the edge of a room and, in the evenings, a resident would play Chopin. Such are the stuff of memories.

My physical therapist says that one of the tricks to recovery is "muscle memory", i.e. retraining the muscles to move in a way they have forgotten during the healing process. I think that works for the heart, also, because I am trying to retrain my heart to accept some familial relationships I would prefer not to be as they are.

My friend, Susan and I saw a strange and powerful movie yesterday: Never Let me Go. It's a film about life and death, illness and the costs, in human terms, of health. I have been thinking about it throughout the day. What will be my completion--a term that the movie uses instead of the word "death." Autumn is the time to contemplate things that pass away. I don't find it a morbid musing but rather, like the season, a musing with shadows and light. Shadows soften the angles and can offer a new way of seeing that sometimes bright light blinds the eye to capture. I think, as I continue to find my stride in the weeks ahead, I will appreciate the shadows and ponder "completion" as a signifier for living.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

six months ago

It is 10/10/10 and six months out from my ankle accident. Weird how some months, looking back, are now a blur except for the documentation of that reality on this blog. At this moment, I am feeling pretty good but not quite there to normal and accepting the reality that my new normal won't take me back to exactly to where I was on 4/9/10. My PT specialist says I can get back to about 90% which should give me the stability, balance and range of motion that I need to do most of my regular activities. Yesterday, I got on the treadmill at the Y and pushed myself to walk a bit on an incline. I felt it afterwards, not in my ankle but in one of the muscles on my calf. It twinged a bit last night, which hasn't happened in weeks, but I figure I just have to work through another layer of scar tissue.

Today, Mark and I worked the Imagine Greater Tucson ( booth at the Tucson Meet Yourself Festival. It was fun and invigorating to listen to the wide range of responses to the question we asked: What do you like most about the Tucson region? Little kids were fun to talk with: they like the parks, the zoo and "everything!" Only two out of about 90 people we talked with were grumpy about Tucson, so that was a pretty good outing (while not a valid survey sample). After doing our 90 mins. at the table, we walked (and ate) our way around the food booths, snacking on Danish meatballs, brown bread, cabbage and gingersnaps; a sample of a Danish coffee cake and savoring the saffron-dusted Thai chicken satay and rice, potatoes and chicken. I liked the latter more than I thought I would as long as I stayed away from the curry sauce (which doesn't like me, either).

When Aron was little, we used to go to the Meet Yourself events each year but somehow got out of the habit the last few years. We are definitely in the empty-nest generation now and watching young families with tots in tow brought up good memories. I noticed how couples seems to be partnering (who knows if they are married) across racial divides. I am hopeful that after we can work our way, as a community and nation through this deeply divisive time of public life, we will get to a place where the younger generation has more tolerance for differences of race and, hopefully, other tolerances as well. They certainly show a tolerance for body adornment (tatoos, colored hair, vintage and retro garments), that speaks to me of creativity and imagination. At least, I can hope that is what their chosen apparel represents!!

I have not been doing my creative work with diligence. I have been caught up in work again and grateful to be working. But, I need to rebalance as I described in last week's blog entry. I did start working with the 4th and 5th graders again (5th year for me) at Pueblo Gardens Elem. School and that "work" is really play for me. Two hours whiz by like twenty minutes. They hug and smile and take me into their bouncing moments. It's joyful for me to be with them.

This week, I did make a commitment, with another friend, to work on the "toolbox" suggested by the book, Postivity. The idea is to gather together pictures, mementos, etc. and create a collage or folder or, for me, an art journal, that captures one of the elements of positivity such as joy, curiousity, inspiration. I am not sure which element I will start with, but I will start!

Friday, I saw a movie with another friend, "Get Low" and I recommend it to you to see. Of course, I could watch the actor Robert Duvall brush his teeth and be amazed at how he does it---and he takes this role, of a self-imposed hermit during the Depression, and makes it Shakespearan. Another source of joy: fine acting in a good story.

So, all in all, autumn is starting smoothly for me so far. As long as I don't let myself get pulled into the dark shadows for too long (my son's moodiness, the nasty politics of the day, the ongoing scary stories in the magazines and newspapers and tv during October's breast cancer awareness media blitz). I may not yet be at the positivity (3:1) tipping point, but I am not drowning in muddy waters, either. Rather, I am doing a bit better than treading water, maybe even slowly gliding to the other side of healing.

Friday, October 1, 2010

in high country

This is the last of three days Mark and I are spending in Flagstaff and I am just beginning to unbundle some of the personal and professional issues that have been held tight inside since coming back from my ankle injury. I could use a full month, at least, to ruminate on what has been inside but we are hitting the road, winding our way back through Oak Creek Canyon, getting on the "other side" of Phoenix rush hour traffic, before returning to the desert. He takes off tomorrow morning for a week in Denver and, besides the mail and daily newspapers piling up on the counter, I will have solo duties to take on for the next week. Wisely, we opted for dog-walking help early in the mornings so I, at least, won't have to risk walking with Lia as she does her daily "I still feel like a puppy" journey through the desert (and then pants and rests throughout the day because, at almost 11, she is NOT a puppy).

The Grand Canyon on Wednesday was, as anyone who has been there knows, grand. Each time we go we experience something different; it is an ever-changing, still work in progress, magical experience. This time, Mark caught a photo, perfectly framed, of a condor flying over the Canyon, close to Kolb's studio. It's wingspan was wider than my arms outstretched. We were giddy with the joy of its soaring on the thermals and celebrated with our first dinner at El Tovar, seated at a table by the window. Although I couldn't do the kind of walking we have been used to in our last couple of visits, I was grateful I could walk and smell the pinon pines, see the red and white sandstone and listen to the languages of the visitors as they strolled on the edge of the vastness. We met a fellow from the UK who lives in Holland and was in Paris last week. I heard German, a lot of French, and a little Italian. Japanese visitors wore shaded hats and used lace-lined umbrellas to shade their faces from the sun. I learned in a previous reading that it's a sign of "peasant class" to have browned skin in Asia; i.e. white skin is the color of the preferred class. I guess Rep. John Boehner wouldn't score very high in their culture (or in mine, for that matter).

Yesterday, I walked by myself (a first outside of Tucson my-neighborhood walking) from the hotel to Beaver St. and a cute thrift shop where I bought a four dollar nice pair of capris. I lounged at a cafe for lunch, eating a delicious grilled cheese sandwich and watching controlled burn smoke clouds gather in the south. The air up here smells strongly of burnt wood. On the way back from the Canyon, we pulled over outside of Williams and saw the starry sky. The Milky Way stretched from Southwest to Northeast in the sky and constellations were burnishing the black with silvery brightness: so this is how close we are in the universe, I thought to myself--a reality lost in urban lighting and too busy lives.

I am open to an epiphany, I said to myself this morning over a solitary breakfast. While I am busy with local work, my heart isn't in it. I wept yesterday, after finishing (read it in two days), Elizabeth Berg's "Until the Real Thing Comes Along". It was another layer of daughter-grief coming to the surface, triggered by the story line of the main character's mother developing Alzheimer's. She (the mother-character)developed into a girlish senility as mom did and it was heartbreaking (again) to recall how, at the end of mom's life, she just wanted me to read "Heidi" to her. There was this canyon-size gulf between us and yet, the story itself, the reading of Heidi, Grandfather, Peter and the goats that spanned the distance between daughter and mother, awareness and dementia, life and death.

So, while in the high country, I have marveled at nature's majesty, savored solitude, and grieved. Maybe there is a subtle transformational power in the three days over thirty. I hope so for it's what I have for now: it needs to be enough.