Sunday, August 22, 2010

Why You Never Name Goldfish and Other Grownup Discoveries

Shubunkin  at the bottom of the pond
Goldfish below the pond's surface
Goldfish should not be named.  I am greatly amused and even comforted by observing fish and water creatures; I have been since I was a child and a dear family friend, a biologist and minister, would take me on visits to aquarium shops, lakes, rivers and ponds to explore and gather specimens. When I was a teenager I never named the fish because that seemed childish.  Later I would learn that it was a good idea because when you name them and get attached, they die.  “Spike”, “Fillet”, “George,” “Martha”, and “Champ” all went to the big toilet bowl in the sky after being named.  I won’t name another fish.  The unnamed ones in my pond have stayed alive far longer than those with names and it is thrilling to see their black, orange and white shimmering bodies, magnified by the ripples on the surface and activated when I toss in an occasional garden worm for them to snack on. 
Boys of all ages are fascinated by disgusting noises and all related discussion.  At ages 23 and 26, my sons found a recently acquired “Fart Machine” to be an amusing toy.  Purchased in a box of other fascinating items at an auction, the machine has a remote control.  “This is awesome and the coolest thing ever,” exclaimed the eldest.  “Grandmother needs one of these,” declared the other, explaining that she could attach it beneath someone’s chair in the dining room and make it go off randomly at her senior residence.  They spent hours playing with it and then left to run errands after setting it to go off in random intervals, hidden somewhere in the house.  I endured the noises for some time, unable to locate it.  I thought of this as a sort of territorial marking, much like dogs peeing on bushes.  This allowed the memory of them, and their antics, to endure in their absence.  I think I am well on my way to an honorary degree in anthropology.  Boys never cease to amaze me.
Rain lily
Late summer rose
Winter friend
Seasons happen for a reason.  Now in the heat of August, I remember fondly those early spring days when everything was new and there were surprises in the garden – the thrill of seeing the bulbs I planted in fall pushing through the rich, damp, chilly soil and the busy work of the robins collecting building materials for their new homes.  As summer progresses and each of the flowering plants provide a backdrop of color around the garden, I rejoice in the miracles and am occasionally surprised by a forgotten plant when it contributes a new color or a larger plumage than it did last year.  Now as the tomato plants have become spindly and their fruit disappears regularly (squirrels and chipmunks), and the leaves of the blackeyed-susans shrivel and their egg-yolk colored heads droop, I realize that I am looking forward to Fall.  We need to re-seed the grass; I am bored with weeding, and things are looking tired and dead in much of the garden.  Only the pond, a great source of joy and entertainment, seems unready to yield to the seasonal pressures. 
It’s like riding a bike.  Last week I worked as a consultant for a new organization that held its events in Washington.  I had a role in writing and preparing materials and helping with logistics.  Our fantastic team of Washington women, all unemployed and in our 50’s and 60’s, worked splendidly together and it was a successful event that will hopefully provide additional opportunities for all of us to continue to be involved. 

We all commented, in different ways, about how nice it was to feel energized by the tight deadlines, crazy work schedule, and immediacy of the tasks we had to accomplish.   We marveled that we were able to dust off the cobwebs in our multi-tasking-oriented brains and do it like we had hundreds of times before, using our years of acquired knowledge and natural organizational abilities.   It was much like the old days of political conventions, conferences, and issues campaigns when we worked round the clock and networked before anyone really called it networking, and used telephones more than blackberries.  Except for the technological improvements, it works the same, and in the end we knew that it was the close working relationships, the focus on the goals and the communication with one another that made it all come together. 
What was different was that at 8:00 in the evening at the end of the final event, we were tired.  Years ago, we would have gone out and celebrated our success with a drink or two and hours of socializing; instead we went home, put on our jammies, drank large glasses of water and put our feet up.
Dallas in his favorite position
Old dogs are a lot like (older) men.  Dallas sleeps a lot, passes gas constantly, thinks that the entire world revolves around him, obsessively marks his territory, startles easily, overreacts to intrusions (the annoying man in the short pants who stuffs papers into the box outside the door), obsesses over his privates, is a picky eater, makes a mess with his food, and is extremely particular about his daily constitutional.  

But I have never known a man who is as sweet-natured, loving and happy as Dallas the Dog.  Is it any wonder I am still single?  
Flea market offerings
Hunting and foraging come naturally.  My sons are opening a shop in a local antiques mall.  All summer, they have been going to auctions, flea markets and yard sales, collecting “cool stuff” that they will sell in their “mantiques” business.  I have been honored to be invited to accompany them on some of their foraging expeditions on Saturday mornings, ads for estate and yard sales in hand, looking for the unlimited bargains in the cast-offs of others that are simply waiting to be harvested.  In truth I think they invite me because I have the best vehicle with the most reliable air conditioning.  I drive, they give directions.  So manly. 

At each location, we leap out, after a drive-by to ensure that it is worth the effort.  I imagine Native Americans on the plains in search of buffalo.  We emerge from the car, ready to swoop in for the kill, carefully inspecting the merchandise with high hopes that we will discover something with high value that is priced at a dollar.  

There are always more hunters, and vultures, behind us, ready to claim their victory or be satisfied with the spoils.  Also much like the hunter, when we arrive home from a yard sale-ing trip, we spread the “kill” out on the dining room table, and congratulate one another on our hunting prowess, figuring out potential profits and feeling proud. 

It is exciting to watch my young hunters improve their skills and become increasingly agile in their scouring, learning more about how to anticipate results, getting better at reading maps and knowing what areas and what kinds of ads yield the best results.  While the hunters of old were after different game, the skills and outcome are not entirely different.  In the end, it’s the perceived value of what they bag, be in by bow and arrow or in a recycled plastic one from Safeway!

Friday, August 13, 2010

Frog Learnin'

Learning opportunities never cease and nature continues to be a good teacher.  My garden pond, now with several kinds of frogs adopted from the local international supermarket's meat department, has been a very good place to observe, ponder, and meditate.  The frogs provide endless entertainment and lessons.

Things I have learned from the frogs in my pond
When danger is present, dive to the bottom of the pond; get as far away as you can.
Burying your head does not make you safe.  You could still be nabbed by "the enemy".
When danger is too close to run from, sit perfectly still and blend in.
Wait patiently for dinner to arrive.  It may land unsuspectingly right next to you.
Smile.  It puts others in good spirits and it may boost your own.
Use your back legs and kick like heck when you need to get away.
Communicate with your loved ones.
Pay attention to where you are going or you might invade some else's space.
Good friends come in many colors and sizes.
Keep your head above water. 
Sing! It's good for the soul.
When something is on your mind, get out of the pond, sit on a rock and cogitate a while.
Be patient.  Whatever you are waiting for may take some time.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

A Good Day

Baltic sunset somewhere near Gdansk, Poland
Yesterday was not such a good day; I mixed up the times of two appointments.  My organizational skills are highly developed and it really throws me when such things happen.  Then, I was told by my current health care insurer that I had cancelled the policy and they planned to bill me for all my charges since March.  The benefits office of my former employer (the government) said they would FAX the insurance company a letter in a few days informing them that my coverage had never lapsed.

A few DAYS?  Who sends a FAX anymore?  Aren't our communications capabilities a little more evolved than that?   "Can't you send a PDF by email to a human NOW?" I asked.  The response was a definitive "we don't do that".  I got the feeling that the same request had been made and denied before.  This will be resolved, but it is unnerving and completely unnecessary.

Someone asked me yesterday what a good day was like for me, but being caught up in the crud of the day, I didn't have a very good answer.

I know that the Lord only gives us as much badness as we can handle.  My hands are definitely too big because they can apparently hold a lot and frankly I have been feeling that I would like to share some of what has been ending up in my paws.

Today was a good day.  What a difference.  Here is what it looked like:
My newest bonsai, a birthday gift from Debbie

One of my noisy gentleman bullfrogs

  • Watering my bonsais in the early morning under clear skies and cool temperatures in the low 70's with almost no humidity.
  • Hearing my bullfrogs croaking and sitting on the log bench observing their antics.
  • Fixing a yummy breakfast for my son and enjoying it with him.
  • Heading out the door at 7:30 for a flea market and yard sales with the same son and finding great bargains and mostly enjoying each other's company (and also deciding that we should not do it more than once a month because we get on one another's nerves after a whole morning of driving around together; I do too much mothering and he is stubborn as an old mule ).
  • Going to the gym and power walking on the treadmill for 5.5 miles and burning some 600 calories.
  • Having my son install new brake pads on my SUV, saving me a few hundred dollars in labor.
  • While driving to visit a friend, experiencing minimal traffic because everyone is on vacation this month, and blasting Beethoven's Ode to Joy and other favorites with the windows down and sunroof open.
  • Welcoming a friend, enormous home-grown cucumber in hand, laughing hysterically at the snapshot and enjoying a brief visit.
  • Having a brief conversation with an old friend who I will visit very soon, and realizing how much I am looking forward to the visit and seeing said friend and New England.
  • Enjoying several hours of trip-planning time with my friend who I will be traveling with and who also fixed a lovely low-cal dinner for us.
  • Rejoicing that I did not have to prepare dinner today (I have been doing a lot of cooking this summer).
  • Driving home with more Beethoven and enjoying the cooler, low-humidity early evening air; watching Canadian geese fly over the highway and seeing the last reds of the sun settling in the West as I crossed the Potomac River.
  • Drinking a glass of good port (ok maybe two) while listening to the night noises in the garden (including more lonely frogs croaking loudly).
  • Thanking God I am alive, healthy, and have such blessings in my life including much to look forward to in the days and months ahead.
Creekside, Greenville, Tennessee
It was more than a good day; it was a very good day.  What does a good day look like to you?