Thursday, May 27, 2010

Too Much Peace and Quiet?

I wake up when I want to, usually before 7:00 AM. If Joe is climbing the canyon I go for the newspapers. If he's not, he's already gotten them. I sit on the patio drinking my smoothie - 3 strawberries, 1/3 banana, skim milk and a handful of baby spinach ( thank you Colleen for that hint.) I watch the momma quail march her babies past our patio and listen to the coo-coo-ca-roo of las palomas in our trees.

I plan my day. I will go and walk on the treadmill this morning and then spend an hour at the small pool. I read a book. I exchange pleasantries with my neighbors who are passing by. I come home and check Facebook and my E-Mail. Not much there. I check my calendar to see what birthday cards need to be sent. I skim the newspapers and omit the political commentary. I avoid the TV until Jeopardy comes on at 4:30. I get a lot of the answers, but a few seconds too late. I spend an hour with my latest book.

At 6:00 we start cocktail hour. We started at 6:00 because that's when Seinfeld comes on at home. We don't have a clue when he's on here - but we stick to 6:00. We do it on the patio, not in front of the TV.

I love our view of the stars and the moon (full tonight). I love the silence and the freedom of the javelinas and coyotes and rabbits to roam our community without fear. I'm still pretty damn ticked off about the palm tree murders, but all in all we have a great piece of paradise.

I visited my Aunt Caro yesterday. This required me to drive down off our mountain into the city. Because school is out and the snowbirds have gone away the traffic was not bad and I didn't hyperventilate on the way down Sabino Canyon Road. We had a great lunch together and laughed our "you know whats" off as usual. I saw 3 bunnies, a roadrunner, a dust devil racing across Broadway and a gazillion lisards on my drive home. I chose to ignore the strip malls, big box stores and empty storefronts. Nothing provoked a rant on my blog.

Late this morning I saw a turkey vulture in our tree before I went to do my water weight lifting exercises and take my walk around the community. Its wing span was bigger than my car.

What's the point of this post? Too much peace and quiet must be bad for my writing. Until I return to Chicago and the sirens, idiots hitting the wall at the Oak Street curve, gangbangers at the North Avenue Beach and the @#$@*&^% politicians of Illinois, my posts will be pretty boring - so maybe you should tune out. I know there are plenty of politics going on here, but in our little foothills haven we can tune them out. Wherever you are, try to do the same thing and take a break from the insanity. Tomorrow I am going to Sabino Dam at dawn to watch biologists banding hummingbirds ( which by the way, love our patio).

I know when I get home and start walking around the city again and go to City Council meetings and the like, I'll find lots of things to love and hate. I could never leave Chicago for good. In the meantime, I'm waiting for something to really tick me off! Then maybe my blog will be worth reading.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

It's Official - I'm a Tree Hugger

I think it started in kindergarten when some nasty little boy spilled ink all over my beautiful coloring of the mimeographed tree outline that represented spring in our, anything but artistic , art period at St. Pats. God forbid we should ever go outside the lines. I cried when my masterpiece was rendered too messy to tape up on the board.

Later in grammar school our back door neighbor cut the limb off a giant oak. It was the limb that had protruded over the fence into our immense back yard. My dad had put up a tire swing on a rope for us and the whole neighborhood loved it. The house behind us changed hands and the new owner was child-noise averse - so he did the logical thing - he cut off the 20 foot limb. I cried when I came home from school to find it, and the tire swing, on the ground behind our playhouse. Daddy built us a new swing set from pipes and other construction site materials, but it was never the same.

Late in grammar school Lyn, Pat, Dee and I would write the names of our true loves on pieces of paper, secure them in a taped up Band Aid box and hide them in the trunk of a tree on the banks of the Passaic River. That's also where we rubbed ourselves with poison ivy leaves to prove we were immune from the actual poison. - That's a story for another time. Many years later, I went over to the river to look for the tree and the Band Aid box. I searched in vain - as the memory of exactly where the tree was, eluded me. I envision some child in 2052 stumbling upon a hundred year old secret of our true loves - while seeking refuge in the branches of an oak tree by the river.

While I was in high school, they started clearing the vacant land adjoining our house to make way for six new houses. Every tree they took down struck a blow to my heart. The neighbor kids - the Parkers, Bystraks and Downey' and the Siergiej girls spent a lot of time in trees and under trees for some reason. I'm sure Freud or Dr. Phil or Craig Ferguson would have some explanation for that. We eventually came to welcome the Rileys and later the Stracks, although we never quite forgave them for taking the place of our trees. The ones they planted in their yards are majestic today and all is well with the world.

I don't have any tragic tree tale from college, although trees played an important part in our lives. The University of Arizona is an oasis in the desert and boasts a wide range of trees. - from the palm trees where we posed as freshman cheerleaders, to the olive trees that lined the streets of the north campus and spewed their fruit all squishy and oily on the lawns, to the wonderful fragrance of the orange blossoms on the trees outside our windows at Yuma Hall . We took those trees for granted, but in retrospect they enriched our lives and our college experience with such subtlety that we never even noticed.

When Joe and I lived in Polo Village in the Quonset hut our only shade was the mulberry tree that towered over our little home. Every year it laid a carpet of messy, pinkish-purple fruit that stained our shoes and our sidewalk and made the birds drunk with their fermented juice. The folks in charge offered to cut the tree down, but we declined their offer. It was, after all, our only shade and a living thing.

Back in Chatham in the late 60s we planted a small willow tree in our back yard. It grew in beauty and gave our kids shade in the summer. We were warned that the roots would probably cause problems with the sewer systems and water pipes - and those warnings must have come to fruition, for, when I returned for a visit in the late 70s it was gone. Glad I wasn't there when it happened.

In River Forest, whose elm lined streets were canopied with green glory in the summer, we survived several tree incidents. Dutch Elm Disease struck with a fury and we lost three huge trees from our property and along the parkway. To add insult to injury our next door neighbor cut down a healthy apple tree because "the damn apples attract bees". He also cut down a beautiful Norwegian Pine because he didn't like the shape of it. The trees we planted to replace the elms are now thriving and enhancing that little corner of the village. I never forgave the neighbor.

When I arrived here in Tucson a few weeks ago, I knew our community was undergoing a tree trimming project to clear out the mistletoe and get rid of dead branches in the mesquite trees. What I didn't know, was that our board of directors had authorized the removal of two stately palms (shown at left) and another shade tree next to our small swimming pool -which is my refuge when I am here. When I first approached the pool that first day, I felt a surge in my chest, a stab in my stomach, and such a feeling of loss that I cried on and off for days. It is just now that I can talk about it without a rise in blood pressure and heart beat. I will deal with the board of directors in my own way, when I am calm enough to do it professionally. In the meantime I am still grieving. Even if they planted new ones today, I am unlikely to live long enough to enjoy their beauty, their shade and the sound of them swaying in the wind. It took mother nature 40 years to create those trees and a group of fools, less than an hour to destroy them.

If this makes me a tree-hugger, so be it. There it is - I'm out of the closet on this issue. Here is the after picture.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Things I learned in Girl Scout Camp

"Make new friends....
but kee-eep the-ee o- oold...
One is silver.....
And the other gold"

Anyone who went to Girl Scout Camp learned to sing this in a "round" - how many of you know what a round is? How true, how true. I love my new friends - circa past 1990ish when I was 50 - but the old ones are truly gold.

I stay in touch with Diane and Pat and Jane and Pete and a few others from the 40s. Not a grammar school or high school secret we didn't share. We critiqued each others boyfriends, clothes, shoes, and rejoiced in each other's good times. Commiserated about family woes - big and small. At our 50th high school reunion we laughed and cried and wet our pants - just like in the 40s and 50s.

In the 5os and 60s it was Sue Mac and Sue S.. We were roommates. I dated their boyfriends' fraternity brothers until another classmate introduced me to my (future) husband and then we all became friends. I stood up for Sue S. at her wedding to Bill - sure I was going to hell as a Catholic participating in a Protestant wedding. Their marriage has lasted as long as ours - and although we've adhered to our vows to each other - the churches have vacillated in their beliefs. Mac now has awesome kids and grandchildren whom I don't "know" but could give you their bragging points.

This weekend we shared our 3rd annual "roommates weekend" and picked up where we left off in college. Now we worry about each others' health - not our sorority's codes of conduct - or having each others' backs for curfew in our orange blossom scented, no men allowed inside, housemother watching the making out in front of the dorm life where we cooked soup on our irons, taught each other how to use tampons during a fire drill = and watched Kitty Kelley - yes, that one - try to learn the newest dances in the halls with big rollers in her hair.

In the 70s it was my Chicago beach and River Forest friends. Only a few if them left, but so cherished, especially Marcia and Diana and Joe, Carolyn and Gerri. I think they are considered new. Same with my work friends - great teammates and supporters. Thanks, CarolAnn, Jackie, Susan, Glenda, from the bank, and Joan, Juan and Gladys, Carmen and Angelo, Marty, Fran, and Virginia, and Mila, from our business community - and those others who know who they are. I still have good contact with my earlier work friends, Jill, Jeanne, Phyllis and Karen. All partners in crime at one point or another. Lately, I connect with Martha, Joan, Bonnie and Dan.

I have made a concerted effort to reach out to those who have meant the most to me. This week it is my University of Arizona friends who have entertained us, hugged us, and fed us. We have enjoyed each others' company and shared secrets (once again). One of them had a medical scare ( she is fine) AND it made us all assess our treasures - which surely include old friends.
Silver and Gold. CHERISH.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Mothers' Day - Hallmark Is Clueless.

Every day is Mothers' Day. That is the truth. There isn't a day that goes by that I don't think of my children. I worry about their health. I want them to be happy. I want them to be financially secure. I want them to be content in their own skins. I want them to think I did a good job as a mother. I hope they will.

Forget all the Mothers' Day cards with the smarmy greetings. The reality is more than Hallmark can handle. Today I watched a pair of mourning doves start to build a nest in the eaves of my Tucson home. They took such care to fashion the nest with just the right leaves, twigs and fallen oleander blossoms. They shied away , but leaned in protectively, when I aimed my camera at their chosen location for a home.

I lean back, watching them, and remember my first nest. A Quonset hut in veterans' housing on the campus of the University of Arizona. 33 Polo Village. ( It was built around an old polo field). $33.00 a month rent, including utilities. No credit cards, no TV, no checking account, no washing machine or telephone. Just lots of love and two dogs - one our own and one we - "adopted" from my father -in law when he re-married and Spooky couldn't adjust. We had no phone, so I had to call my parents from a pay phone in the middle of the complex to tell them that I was pregnant - about 9 months and one day from my wedding date. I hated being so far away from my New Jersey family, but loved my new married life as the wife of a student and veteran who worked his butt off for us.

We were all too young to be having babies, but the women of the '50s had motherhood as a goal and why would I buck that trend? In April of 1962 I had my first child, Colleen, after 24 hours of labor with a husband who sat in the room studying for college exams. and a doctor who told me he'd be there when he finished his cocktail at the El Corral Steak House. The doctor was someone who believed in "anaesthesia" - so I was deprived of the full experience, and was out of it for days. I do remember thinking Colleen was the most beautiful creature I had ever seen . I also thought the same thing the next 5 times I gave birth.

Nothing - not lack of money, lack of genetic proof of "defects", not lack of optimism in the future stopped us from building and populating our nest. I hope our pair of mourning doves follows our example. They will not be sorry.

Thank you Colleen, Kevin, Jody, Terry, Kelly and Jacky. I am so glad I built my nests.
Enjoy your own. You've populated them with beautiful people. The future is looking good to me.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

A Long Walk on the Beach

On Sunday I took a long, long walk. I started at Oak Street Beach where our "gang" has hung out, between the south wall and the first lifeguard chair, for well over 30 years. It looks as though politics has prevailed and perhaps our Oak Street Beachstro restaurant might not open this season. I'm hoping I'm wrong. And that's not the only thing that's changed.

Members of the group - our only connection is the beach - for years we didn't know each others last names or occupations - have come and gone as they moved away, switched beaches or stopped coming for fear of skin cancer or ruining a face-lift, but our core group of 6 endured until a few summers ago. That's when Millie, dolled up for the ambulance ride, called 911 and later succumbed to heart failure at the ripe old age of 93 - she never told us her age and wouldn't own up to even having Medicare for many years. She would bring her home made Mandel bread to our annual Labor Day picnics. I still have her recipe. I'm sure her ashes that were scattered on our beach spot have washed over to Michigan a long time ago.

I continued up the beach toward Division Street and was stopped by some Muenster H.S. seniors who had spent the night on the beach after their prom. They wanted a group photo. As I shot the photo I thought of my own kids who had spent a lot of time on this beach - sometimes with me, sometimes without my knowledge.

As I passed the last lifeguard stand, I thought of Tom, whose group moved to the north end of the beach several years ago. He had a stroke and was unable to come to the beach last year. Let's hope we see him this summer - we miss his jokes. I went down into the Division street underpass and crossed under Lake Shore Drive to the building where Tom lives and gave him a silent salute.

Heading up Elm Street, I passed the synagogue where Sol said his last prayers before being mowed down, walking home, and killed by an SUV last year during the high holidays. This brought to mind Nancy, who died in 2008 at 61. She and Sol always had the best tans in our group. They were both also the self appointed experts at many things - Nancy on fashion and celebrities and Sol on finance and medicine. We often tuned them both out.

After a stop at Ashkenaz, for some Jewish deli goodies, I headed back to Oak Street - the shopping street - not the beach. An elderly woman with a magically exotic past lives there and we hadn't seen her walking around, in her signature inverted white sailor hat, in months. I checked with her doorman - and gratefully - he let me know she was still alive and kicking. Gerry is a strikingly handsome woman who was a classy leader in her beach group when I was in my 30s and bringing my kids to the beach from the suburbs. Her group is all gone now, so she sits with us once in a while and regales us with her stories, including 8 engagements and dancing with Papa Doc. I kept walking.

Now for the hardest part. I walked past the John Hancock building where, until a few days before Easter, our friend Mary lived. Sunday was the day she died, in hospice, in St. Louis, after major battles with cancer that she fought and stubbornly stared in the face - even traveling to far away places in between bouts of chemo - until it finally won. She lived life to the fullest and we are saddened that we were did not have the chance for a proper good bye.

By now, she is at that beach in the sky, thumbing through Nancy's fashion and food magazines, tuning out Sol and trying to ignore Millie's nosy questions. Good luck with that!

Yesterday was the first real beach day - so Marcia and I sat in the sun and reminisced and silently mourned another empty beach chair.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

And They're Off......

No, not the horses in the Kentucky Derby, although that's today as well. I'm talking about tourist season in Chicago. It has actually been creeping up on us since the various spring breaks started, a month or so ago. Now with the city in full bloom (see my pictures on Face Book and Flickr) and the weather nice and warm it has ramped up the numbers of visitors to our fair city. Those of us who live in Streeterville are starting to use our alternate pedestrian routes to avoid Michigan Avenue. I walked to the bank and Trader Joe's today and literally had to wait 5 minutes to get around the corner of Ontario and Michigan while a horde of young - college age- European men figured out which way to cross the street. I gave directions three times between Ontario and Chicago Avenue.

I'm glad that in spite of our dirty politics and crazy elected officials these folks are still willing to give us a chance. We need the revenue they bring with them and it's fun to walk down the street and hear so many different languages being spoken. I thought I'd do a little list of hints for those thinking of coming to visit. Here goes.

  • If you've flown in - your first item of business is to buy a 3 day or 5 day CTA pass. Buy it right at the airport. It will save you tons of money. The passes can be used ad-infinitum on buses and trains. I get upset when I see people pouring dollars and quarters into the collection box, knowing they're going to have to do it over and over again. If you've driven in, good luck! Most of the hotels charge a king's ransom for parking and the on the street and parking garage options aren't much better.

  • After you've settled in, take a trip to the Chicago Cultural Center on Michigan Avenue between Randolph and Washington. There is a great visitors center there with docents and greeters to answer your questions. Don't forget to ask about the free days at the museums. Each museum has them. If you didn't buy your CTA pass at the airport you can buy it there also. While you're there take a tour and enjoy the glory of Preston Bradley Hall, the photo galleries and the art exhibits. On Sunday afternoons there are free concerts at 3:00 PM - but you'd better get there early- the seats fill up fast.

  • Don't miss a photo opportunity at the Cloud Gate sculpture (affectionately known as "The Bean") in Millennium Park - right across the street from the Cultural Center. Be forewarned - your children will want to splash around in the water spouting out of the twin fountains just south of "The Bean". Either don't let them see it, or bring extra clothes.

After that, you're on your own for choosing among our many fun and awe inspiring venues. You'll have plenty of help at the visitors center and your tastes and mine might not be the same. But here is some further practical advice.

  • Look all four ways before crossing any intersections. Drivers, bikers and pedestrians alike don't seem to take traffic signals seriously.

  • Enjoy and applaud our street performers. They are great. If someone tells you they are driving a church group, family, or baseball team and have just run out of gas and need money - tell them you are sorry, but you are not able to help.

  • Don't depend on the bus drivers or the police to give you directions accurately - it's not their job. Find someone on foot with a shopping bag from Trader Joe's or Dominick's - they live here and they'll know . If they are carrying an American Girl Doll, or Nike Store bag - don't bother - they're from Hinsdale or Highland Park.

  • Please - for the sake of me and my neighbors - don't walk 5 abreast down the sidewalks - we're not all sight- seeing.

  • If you have to make a group decision about where to go next, please don't do it at the foot of an elevator or in front of the revolving door.

  • There are plenty of good restaurants that won't eat your wallet alive. Ask the people who work in the stores - or use the shopping bag person strategy. The concierge will steer you to the pricey places - because that's the way it works.

Just remember - as the signs at the airports say :

"Welcome to Chicago, We're Glad You're Here"