Monthly Archives: July 2016

The Short and the Long of It

Back in April, during my annual physical with my primary care physician, I found out that I was no longer five feet tall.  The medical assistant told me that she was going to weigh me and measure my height.  I weigh myself quite often, so that was not going to be a surprise (plus or minus the weight of cheese and crackers eaten earlier that day , but I was a bit anxious to find out my height.  I got up on the scale while she adjusted the height measure and I stood up very tall and she declared that I was now 59.5 inches tall.  I asked her to do it again, assuring her that I was at the very least 60.5 inches tall, maybe more, as I am ever the optimist regarding things that I believe to be absolutes.  She sighed (although she didn’t know I saw that, but my peripheral vision is excellent) and told me to step off the scale and get back on again.  I know in her heart of hearts, she told herself she probably should have taken the day off to do something fun.  In any case,  the results of my height were unchanged.  Somehow, it all offended me and I asked her if she could possibly or would possibly consider just making it an even 60 inches.  She gave me a pained smile and I felt as though I asked her to commit mail fraud, and we both laughed uncomfortably as she stated the doctor would be with me shortly (at least that is what I think I heard).  I stood there trying to remeasure myself (wondering if the device needed calibration) and then it sunk in….I was really shrinking.  It was a bit jarring.  Now, in reality,  I was never even close to being tall.  I jockeyed for the shortest or next to the shortest position in grades K-6 with another Barbara.  We were neck in neck, sort of.  By freshman year of high school I was about 4 foot 6 inches tall and then I had a growth spurt and by graduation I was now 5 ft 1 inches tall but I told every one I was 5 ft 1 1/2 inches.  Neither one of my parents were tall, nor grandparents, not my sister or anyone else that I shared any DNA with.  So, you would think I wouldn’t be surprised.  As I left the doctor’s office, I came to the realization that the next time I went to renew my driver’s license, I would have to update that information, because I no longer measured what it said.

Recently,  I have been unearthing photos and documents that I have found from many generations before me.  I am the unofficial genealogist of both my maternal and paternal family trees.  My father spent much of his post retirement time unearthing new relatives both dead and alive.  He and my mother travelled back to his hometown in Germany to look at records and keep the tree and all its branches alive with information.  He made an effort to make contact with those he found, stateside,  who shared the family history and often visited them as part of their travels.  My recent review of pictures of family members, some known and many unknown, make me aware of the realization that there are not too many stories left for me to know, now that my parents and their generation are gone.  There’s no one to tell me who is who and what the connections were. I always asked a lot of questions and was interested in the physical resemblances, and the manner of dress and often the lack of smiles as it seemed as though prior generations didn’t seem happy to pose.  I can completely relate to that!  I was told that as a child and teenager, most of my pictures were filled with my scowls.  I would look at pictures from more than a century ago to see if I shared the same scowl and dour looks.  My father was able to find our family links back to the 1600s.  The number of names that were repeated (and iterations there of)  through many generations was quite astounding.

I recognize that our personal histories are richer for knowing those who shared our DNA from generation to generation.  To see the patterns of interests and occupations, and to imagine how our predecessors lived day to day and their world view fascinates me. We now can acknowledge that  our descendants may also wonder about our generation and how we managed our connections and how we will be remembered.  It is at this moment that I know that I have no control about how tall I am,  as that is  far beyond my control. However, when I think of how I can keep what stories I know alive, and share them with the rest of the members of my family, that the height and breadth of the  family tree is really what will matter.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Dryer Lint or Small Annoyances

Along the continuum of aggravations that we confront in our day to day experiences ,are those moments where someone or something really gets to us.  We feel the tension in our bodies and we convey it in our body language, unless we are  professional poker players and no one ever sees us lose our cool and concentration.  The majority of us don’t fit into that category.  These moments include being cut off in traffic,  those people who have 14 things in the 10 or less line and we are two people behind them and we are already running late, and often it is as minute as some else getting that parking space that you have been waiting for and they just turn in, right where you can see them, and kind of smile at you, sheepishly from behind their sunglasses. Don’t you just hate those people at that moment?   Welcome to my dryer lint theory.  This theory is absolutely not proprietary so it’s there for everyone to consider.  I found it by accident when I was  repeatedly trying to explain life’s annoyances to adolescents who were on the brink of feeling as though they were going to blow up and actually fight with another kid, as high school students (and other humans) consider (maybe not consciously) doing at moments. This is when their rage, pride, and feelings of being discounted and ignored rise to the surface and there seems like only one way to go.

For those of you who may not remember the steps of doing laundry, this is a quick refresher guide.  I operate on the belief that your mission is to get it done and have clean, dried clothing  and sometimes the path to this is obstructed with decisions about separating the colors (this is not a metaphor unless you wish it to be), delicate versus heavy duty and does it really matter how much hot water you want to put your clothes in or can you use cold water to keep things from not turning into baby sized clothes.  Yes, I can agree, that there are some decisions involved.  But once you do the wash, remembering the end goal of clean and dried, and that everything fits and things have not turned pink or gray, you want to expedite the process to its conclusion.  At this moment you may be considering that perhaps I over think this process and there are moments where laundry becomes my  Sisyphusian challenge.  But back to dryer lint theory, which is a reminder that in order to make our clothes dry quicker, we have to remove, and eliminate the dryer lint.  It’s annoying, and pretty nondescript (of a meh kind of color).  It is so not important in the scheme of things. And yet, the dryer manufacturer offers a strong warning that if you don’t take care of it, and remove it every time you dry your clothes, it could result not only in the extended time of completing the drying cycle, but it could…..CAUSE A FIRE!!! Sounds scary to me and I try to be mindful of that…when I am feeling hateful toward people who are merely dryer lint in my days.

There’s a power that I extend to the high school students I spend a lot of time with, that explains that their nemesis can be broken down to being the dryer lint annoyances in their days.  That when you take a step back and look at the level of their reaction to the content of the misdeed, it may really just come down to a case of dryer lint.  I encourage them (and often myself) to just take a breath, really evaluate the injustice, and imagine the other person as a giant wad of dryer lint.  I just throw that gray/blue mass in the trash and go on with my laundry and my day.  I think to myself “you, annoying person/situation are just another example of dryer lint”.  When a kid gets the dryer lint theory, their faces light up and it is as though they now get it and can learn the balance of what they are going to allow to annoy them.  It becomes a thing.  When something becomes a thing, it feels better.

So go about your business, as I shall do, too.  Do your laundry, park your car, get your stuff and while you have a moment between things, contemplate how much dryer lint you have gotten rid of, and calculate the number of small annoyances that could have been dryer fires that you have averted because of my public service communication.  You’re most welcome.

P.S. Found my missing gold hoop earring.  Story for another day.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And this is why we can’t have nice things.

When I head out in the early morning, I appear not unlike the “Wreck of the Hesperus” (look it up….Longfellow reference).  I don’t attempt to overthink my mission which is to not go back to bed, and just get up and go for a walk.  My only concession to myself is that I always feel as though I should wear earrings.  Something unkempt about naked earlobes.  I don’t pretend to have much fashion sense at that hour, or any other hour, if I am truthful. However,  taking the song “you’re  never fully dressed without a smile”to a different level, I wear earrings. Imagine my horror when I came home, looked in the mirror, and discovered that I only had one earring. I left with two. Of that I am quite sure.    I had a horrible moment of  thinking, that people who were especially friendly this morning, noticed my bare left ear, and thought perhaps  I was a pirate. It was a small gold hoop, you know the kind pirates wear.  I often wear a striped pirate-like shirt, so it might be possible.  I was annoyed as the earrings were part of a pair I was attached to, but clearly not so attached to me. Now one was gone.  It was a moment that required a deep sigh and then I put the lone earring away.

Ordinarily,I am not someone who loses things.  I’m fairly conscious of where I put things. I  have misplaced my share of items over the course of time.  I was the daughter of a woman who would call me at different hours of the day and night,  who lived about 200 miles away from me, and would ask me if I knew where her keys were.  I found that I was quite patient and we would go through the usual places (top of the piano, in her bathrobe, under the mail) until somehow they reappeared. I thought it was a way for us to communicate about nothing but have a moment to talk while she was playing Mr. Watson to my Sherlock Holmes, long distance.  The reality was in fact that there was a hook  for the keys, which my father installed(perhaps a grandiose term considering it was a family event when we watched him change a light bulb). It was placed close to the front door.  She rarely used it.

When I figure out that something is missing I usually attempt to retrace my steps once I have discovered it is gone.  Of course the wayward earring could have been anywhere along the two mile route I took in the morning and  I was not going to do  that part again.  I had a moment of thinking perhaps I am wrong….I only wore one earring!  But that thought leaves quickly as I remember looking in the mirror one last time before I left the loft.  I wasn’t looking to make myself more presentable, but rather make sure I didn’t look too disheveled, even by my own standards. Two earrings looked back at me.

Getting caught in the minutiae once in a while allows me to rethink the bigger issues.  I remember going to junior high school and showing up accidentally, with two penny loafers, one black and one brown.  Of course, you might have thought that I had two spotlights on my feet that day, because the number of people (13 year olds are so tough) who noticed and felt that they needed to point out that I was wearing “two different colored shoes” grew exponentially as the day wore on.  I decided that there was no trap door that I could enter into and disappear into oblivion, which was always my hope when people paid attention to my mess ups.  And then,  I realized that when I point something out first, the weight of the moment is now lighter, and I am back in control.  As an observer of human behavior, mostly mine, I work to figure out what I can do to extricate myself from that feeling of possible, and probable humiliation, that only a 13 year old can feel as deeply, way back when.  And my retort to those fashion police adolescents was merely that “I have a matching pair at home”.  The next thing that happened is that someone, in fact a few people, laughed with me.  I won that round.   These are the moments when I realize that I’m not a pirate and if the people around me think based on wearing one earring or two mismatched shoes that they  think they know me to be different, then I have achieved my goal.  A friend from the past, upon initially meeting me and warning me that he had multiple scars from time in the military, seemed worried that I would think less of him.  I just responded, both in kindness and in camaraderie, that some of us have scars on the outside and many of us have scars on the inside and we all just move along.  Our  self beliefs based on earrings on the outside or scars on the inside should matter  only to us.

Anniversaries-our past remembered

This morning’s walk was especially quiet and I had the park to myself for the most part. I observed a gentle quiet rain casting a gray mist over the trees and grasses.  I walked without an umbrella (but you all know that already) and spied a woodpecker, several small bunnies, and just a few ducks and seagulls. I always find it humorous that the water creatures are not to be found in the rain.  Maybe they only like getting their feet wet.  I had actually brought them some bread, a holdover from my childhood days of feeding the ducks in Central Park.  I left it for them to find, once the sun came out.

It is a reflective, albeit celebratory Monday, as this is my (and my FHB’s) wedding anniversary.  The actual day was bright and sunny and dry and very, very ,very happy.   We were surrounded by lots of love ,with  family and friends as they shared the public acknowledgement of our promise to keep one another safe and secure, in the best of times and worst of times.  This promise still endures, gratefully.

Anniversaries are somewhat bifurcated in their existence.  There are the ones where we remember  the wonderful events in our lives that evoke smiles and stories and a sense of reliving the moments that we hold close to our hearts.   We hold them up as the highlights of our perennial calendars, as special joyful times.  And then, there are the anniversaries that challenge us.  They are equally in our memories as the reliving of often our darkest moments.  These anniversaries often become pervasive, as the weeks and days prior to their arrival, are often fraught with feelings that we are unsettled, and irritable, angry, and  sad, but our awareness is not as apparent, until suddenly we recognize why we are unhappy and  more.  They may be personal or collective, and we each process them in our own fashion, in our own timeframe.

As we age, we have more of both types to reconcile in our life’s ledger.  It is when we get off balance that it becomes very hard to stay in the present. Sometimes the past moments out-shadow the present, and we must decide whether we are, in that moment, going to be pragmatic or optimistic.  In my moments of “What to do? What to do?”, I tend to bake.  I have found that baking is decisive, analytical, scientific and gets me positive results about 99.9944% +/- most of the time.  I am not a precise person by nature, and not always good about waiting, but baking tends to bring me an outcome that I know will be restorative and pleasing.  It is also something that is based in genetic memories of those women in my past who baked as a symbol of nurturance and tradition.  Baking requires one to be present or the results may not be the outcome you are looking for.  As I bake brownies, it is my mother who guides me. Kneading dough is something my grandmother did and almond crescents were something a loving neighbor made with precision and love.  I can evoke those memories as well as the aroma of anticipation.  My baking creations are then given away to others, to provide some sustenance (and usually not of the low calorie kind) and fills me with contentment and then I go on with my days.  It rights me.  It’s the connection to the present that sustains me.

When I think back to my wedding day, I know that many of the people who were with us that day are not around anymore.  I remember the feeling of joy not only within myself, but that  it was quite palpable in others. I remember the cake, which I did not bake, but was so beautiful.  I am smiling as I type this. And now, what to do…..bake something to give to my FHB that says I am thinking of you, always and that will taste good now, because that’s really all we have for the moment.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Umbrellas and Relationships

Over the course of a long time, I have owned a lot of umbrellas.  I mean A LOT…..  When I was younger, it was a not so unusual a gift to receive, along with galoshes and plastic rain bonnets.  I didn’t live in a particularly rainy climate in New York City,  nor do I remember ever asking or coveting someone else’s umbrella.  For a while, they accumulated in closets, in car trunks and assorted other places.  It seemed as though they were far more important to the people who gave them to me than they were to me.   As a teenager, in summer rains, I would go outside with  my best friend and  we would deliberately walk in the rain, barefoot, and carry our  sandals in our  hands….  It was freeing and nothing happened. I got wet, I never got pneumonia, and the looks and comments  we got from adults did not permeate our laughter.

As I grew up into adulthood, I often took one with me “just in case” and felt that this worry was part of growing up and being prepared.  I also found that that sense of preparedness was stifling at times.  I began to still carry the umbrellas, but I would leave them places, initially by accident. Although I would remember them shortly after leaving them I  consciously did not go back to retrieve them.  I just didn’t care.  I never wondered about what happened to them or whether, the next time I went back to the same location, whether they would be there, waiting to be picked up, perhaps remembered.  It was callous and despite getting “caught in the rain” on several occasions, my behavior continued.  I was now in a position where I had to replace them myself as no one gave umbrellas as gifts.  I would usually find something not very memorable (although there were a few with polka dots that did appeal to me).  I found that if I did need an umbrella, I did have certain expectations of how it was to perform. It was to open easily, and not turn inside out and would remain intact, available.  I demanded that, in some sense, with no allegiance to its service. It was a poor excuse for a relationship, clearly one sided. It was the antithesis of how I did the rest of my life, as a caring, concerned human, who often put others before myself. After some time, with no real genesis of where the insight came from, I began to recognize that we all often are careless about something, with little regard to the end result.

I write this today with no great understanding of what the next step is for any of us, and  for all of us.  What I have become aware of is that looking back on earlier times in my life, things just seemed less complicated, although not easy, it made somewhat more sense.  I worried about the possibility of rain, and had a plan, because I had an umbrella.  Now, having an umbrella for rainy days seems irrelevant as we have greater challenges and less rain, unless you count our tears.