Wednesday, December 29, 2010


I’m fascinated with a company that calls itself LG, which I believe stands for Life is Good. For me, Life IS Good, not because of technology--of course I do like tech stuff--but because God is Good, and I'm truly enjoying my life here on earth, with my dear husband, my wonderful children, and lately the leisure and wherewithal to travel, even to local destinations.
We're taking quite a few weekend trips (at least monthly, sometimes more) to some new areas, and returning to some of our very favorite new places:
Mystic: We love Mystic. Not just for its pizza, which is, by the way, very good. We originally found our way to “the pizza that made the movie famous” on my birthday two summers ago, when Jay surprised me with a dinner date there. Ever since, the eatery has been a regular on trips there, along with great bakeries like Bartleby's, and The Blue Squid and Village Beanery we found in the Olde Mystick Village, plus, of course, great seafood clam and crab shacks, like Ten Clams in Olde Mystick and The Cove. If you haven't yet had whole belly fried clams, that has to go on your bucket list.
But Mystic offers so much more, and more than two people could possibly undertake in one weekend trip. So on our several trips there, we have explored the Maritime Studies center at the Williams-Mystic college, where even a walk around is quite enjoyable with its sprawling campus and visible oceanic scenery--breathtaking.
We love combing through the antique shops and the favorite is a thrift store for nautical items, close to downtown, where Jay picked up a ship’s barometer that he loves so much, and where we watched shoppers discuss ocean conditions and weather with the shopkeepers, who seem more likely to engage with locals than shoppers.
We joined Mystic Seaport this year, and have been there twice to board the last wooden whaling ship, the Charles W. Morgan, which Jay again absolutely loves. Though my hubby is a motorcycle man, and you couldn’t get him to “be” a whaler man, he does so enjoy seeing all about it and reading nautical books. Our friend Hewitt Schlereth has penned many books on celestial navigation, and our sailing friends, Larry and Pam in Huntington Beach, CA have all contributed to our fascination with the sea and all things nautical.
Our B&B experience at Pequot Hotel Bed & Breakfast in Mystic with Innkeepers, Jim and Nancy Mitchell, was a treat also, where their historic home was beautiful and they welcomed us like old friends--which I think we may become if we stay there a couple more times. Nancy was a flight attendant and Jim is an engineer, so travel and engineering are grand topics of conversation. They have a barkless dog, and we enjoyed a “pet” someone else cares for. 
We take some trips to Foxwoods, for a few slots, but also concerts and gelato, the Mac Store, and other shops, and also to Mohegan Sun, where the Irish pub, The Dubliner, there has become a destination even with no slots. They sent us a $15 coupon which we will surely enjoy. I tried to convince the managers that Irish beer is the “domestic” one and should be the cheaper, and the American beers are the foreigners, and though they agreed and got my humor, they still charged it up the other way. Even Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana famous for his clam pizza has found its way to Mohegan, so really, even for just dining, it is a great place to visit. 
On Thanksgiving we sauntered up to the Lamb Buttery in Brooklyn, CT, where we had a hayride with a song leader, a lovely lamb dinner with all the trimmings. Turkey was an option, but lamb will always win out with me. This dinner-theatre is the former home of the Booth family, founders of the Salvation Army. They also do madrigal dinners, and other musicals. As my daughter pointed out, it’s the New Yorker destination to the country where culture is still offered, but in a rustic environs. Pricey but fun. Maybe a just a tad too pricey once we do wine, cider, tax and tips, which almost doubled the already steep ticket.

Speaking of cider, one other great visit in Mystic, we toured B.F. Clyde's, the oldest steam powered cider mill in the United States, since1881, we not only could watch the cider being made from thousands of apples of many varieties, we also, not to sound like boozers, with Irish beer, Sam Adams, and now cider wine, had to buy some of the exciting apple and cranberry wines in the gift shop, which also make great hostess gifts.
Christmas week, we will do the aquarium and we look forward to the seasonal exhibits, especially the jellyfish and the Beluga whales. We tend to join things so we cause ourselves to return more often. So far in Mystic, it is the Seaport and the Aquarium, the cider mill, and seafood, but we've not finished with Mystic yet.

Christmas week this year also took us to Stockbridge, MA to see the Norman Rockwell museum, which was a lot of fun. They were expecting 20 inches of snow, so we left early, not worrying about missing the whole basement of Saturday Evening Post covers, because as members, we will, God willing, return. Plus membership here gets us invites to a lot of events and parties. What’s not to love? We also stopped in at Prime Outlets in Lee, MA for a shopping spree, spending only a third of what a trip to New York City would have cost us.
Several fall trips now, we toured the Berkshires, but the first year, we made it to Jiminy Peak in the Appalachians just too late for fall foliage, but still a blast. We realized when we made it to Lake George that these things are very close to each other. Now we just need to find out what is in Albany, where West Point is, and when the race track at Sarasota opens. Ha ha. Not kidding. We think that too would be a lot of fun.
On my birthday last year, we did the Berkshire theatre scene, and enjoyed Bernstein’s Candide, in good form at this highbrow summer stock location. Then we gorged on meat at the local steakhouse and really contemplated how understandable it is for New Yorkers to have their outpost residences in places like this.

Yankee Candle shop and factory in Deerfield, MA has a great Christmas shop that is, year round. But at Christmas the candles are on sale, and we scurried around stuffing our cart with many goodies for friends, family, and US. We visited there with our dear friends Bill and Mary early in December, and they knew just what we should see, including waiting for "fake" snowfall at one room's decorations.

On our way back, we visited Northampton (known to the locals as "Hamp" for music, Southampton for pizza and used books, and realized these Hamps could use up more than a day all by themselves.
Our trip to Newport, Rhode Island to see our friend Andi run her full marathon, was also a lot of fun. We hadn’t crossed that BIG bridge (you all know how I LOVE bridges--see Finding My Way), but I was almost calm with Jay’s competent driving and his actual LOVE of bridges. Since Newport was so much fun, we returned to Coventry, close by, but not across the bridge. Actually, we are still using Marriott points for some trips, but this Fairfield is so reasonably priced for seniors, we will pay, get more points, and still be only a half hour from Mystic, Foxwoods, Mohegan Sun and Newport, each. 
This is why we love New England. Nothing is more than 2 hours away, and most things are reasonably priced and really provide a lot of entertainment for the money.
I give all these details to you all, because most people come here and think they need to get to Boston or New York for finding anything worth doing. Okay, I do admit that I am among those who love New York with its endless cultural opportunities, and its easy access to more than one mere mortal could do in any weekend. But, my new home area, though not as vast as New York, is indeed a worthy destination. We have found so much here, we can’t really do it all, so we still haven’t made it to New York City.
We have made it to Boston, one weekend for the Freedom Trail, where we learned more about Jay's ancestor, Billy Dawes, who rode another way from Paul Revere, and as family legend has it, got though to warn of British soldiers because he pretended to be drunk so they let him pass through. Another weekend we did a brewery run at Anheuser-Busch in Merrimack, New Hampshire, and then on to the Sam Adams brewery in Boston, where when you call for directions, they, half jokingly say, “Congratulations on thinking you can find us by car.” They weren’t kidding. We got so lost, but laughed ourselves silly at the warning, even before imbibing beer samples. We really must check out Boston again, to see if Brew Moon is still there in the theatre district near Boston Common. And, yes, someday, hopefully soon, after we save up the $1000 it will take to stay overnight, eat well, and attend a couple of great events, we will make it to New York.
Until then, we will continue to explore our own area, and we have only just begun. New England is LG for sure. And, we thank God for every day of our loft life and our wonderland surroundings. 

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

LOFT LIFE: Addicted to friendship

When I was 12 years old, a new girl moved into the house catty-corner to mine. I took the first opportunity to greet her, say welcome, and went a bit farther in stating that since she was new, and probably didn’t know anyone, I would be happy to be her friend.
Her response: “That’s weird.”
Okay, so she didn’t appreciate my bold beginning. I guess that’s when I learned that people need you to walk them into things gradually, like in The Little Prince, where he learns that even though he wants to befriend the fox, he has to tame him first. Seems like a lot of energy for what you know is a done deal, but then, socialization has always been my weak area.
So I haven’t repeated that social faux pas in 50 years, dutifully taking the time to behave as though we have to do the taming thing. Until this fall. That’s when I met Sue T. at a trade show booth in Hartford, CT. My instantaneous intuitive assurance that this was going to be a good friend took over.
Strangely, we had booked a weekend in the Lake George area, and the only room available in the Lake George area in order to attend a Christian conference my husband found out about. The problem was, I read the reviews for this motel, and the reviewers said it was dirty, smokey, and “don’t stay there.” Ick. So I was reluctant until discovering the Lake George booth at the expo. The Lake George booth was the ONLY tourism booth at this trade show. Now tell me THAT is a coincidence!
So for some unknown reason--ok, it is a known reason for anyone who truly knows me and my wild intuitions--I said to this perfectly normal looking woman--”Hey, haven’t you always wanted to have a B&B?”
She looked a bit shocked, and then admitted that she really had thought about it. I wasn't shocked at all. As I said, I am intuitive. In the Myers-Briggs thingy, I am one BIG "N" (intuitive). The other areas pale in comparison to my somewhat mystical (Christian) awareness of the spiritual.
“Well,” said I, “this is your chance to try it out. Why don’t we pay you instead of this horrible motel, and we could stay at your house.”
“I don’t think so,” she replied, a bit taken back.
“But, really, it would only be sleeping there. We will be at this conference all  day and most of the evening--and it’s only for three days.”
She was silent.''

I suppose caution is necessary. I mean, there are axe murderers and such out there. So I in no way begrudge the hesitation, even though I knew she knew this was an intriguing, and positive, offer. I thought I would help.
“Do you pray?” I asked
“Um, my husband does,” she answered. And there was more discussion about the merits of Promise Keepers for our men, because it was that org that got her husband and mine praying regularly.
“Well, here is my card. Why don’t you ask him to pray about it, and get back to me. Oh, and would there be breakfast too?” I pushed, chuckling to myself that even I really could see how strange this sounded.
About a week later, after what I suspect was much churning, and maybe some praying, I got a lovely email telling me that she had a gut feeling this could be OK and that we could, indeed, stay with her family, in the spare room.
Wow. I was a tad uncomfortable that my nudging had really resulted in affirmation, but I, like her, had a gut feeling. This was a person I could relate to, and she was someone I really saw as becoming a long-term friend. And, she reads my blog. And, she LOVES making breakfast.
So we stayed, and upon arrival, I think there was an appraisal by Sue's husband and son that perhaps we weren't axe murderers, even though this request was a bit scary in this strange world of ours. It was a lovely two nights with amazing breakfasts--better than at most B&B's, made with such TLC that I know this will not be the end of Sue's breakfast culinary career.

We had a lovely weekend at the conference, but truthfully, I was more excited about finding Sue and her family than the messages, albeit inspiring, at the conference.

Sue and I have become correspondent friends. I don’t know if I will ever actually see her again, but I hope so. She is a fabulous cook, and I suspect that a little encouragement will find her doing what she loves--cooking for people and sharing her talent for seeing the exceptional in the ordinary, which she applies with flair in the kitchen and on the domestic front.
“You could be the next Rachael Ray,” I encouraged.
“I was thinking more, Martha,” she said.
I guess that says it all. Deep down inside she knows she is destined to share her homemaking talents with many. I hope I have been a catalyst to get her moving sooner in that direction. That’s what friends do. What a trip!

Monday, November 29, 2010

LOFT LIFE: I am loved, or Count your many blessings

It’s the little things that count when I add up life’s bounty. Maybe it’s because I discovered, after reading Gary Chapman’s book The 5 Love Languages, that my love language is gifts. 
That’s the one where it’s not the size or dollar value of the gift that matters, but the fact that someone thought enough of me during their travels, or their day shopping, or their work day, or their drive home, or whatever, to remember some little memento of their love for me.
I think God knows this is my love language, because He is constantly remembering the tiniest things I need, or care about, even my whims--like the boxing trainer I’ve already told you about here on Spinning.
There are a lifetime of things to recount, but I’ll tell you a score of them, because maybe it will encourage you to see that you, too, are loved.
For starters, I was big time stressed out over seeing a periodontal specialist. But, there was no need for worry. Not only was my specialist really smart, and trained by the very best at NYU, he’s also from my hometown, Philadelphia, and he believes in miracles. ‘Nuf said.
Then there was my arrival too early at The Clocktower inRockford, where I decided to use the wireless in the lobby. I did, but also got to see an old friend, and she sweetly made me a cup of coffee--the good kind the employees get--which I was just wishing for. Amazing. This is the same lobby where I was forced to walk to a farther away ladies room, only to find a computer and printer on my way back to catch the bus to the airport, and where I printed out my boarding pass which saved me the ten minutes I ended up needing not to miss my plane. Great lobby.
I’m thankful for friends in so many places--as far away as Spain, old friends in California, Philadelphia, Florida, Illinois, Wisconsin, New York, New Jersey, Minnesota, and now so many wonderful new friends in Connecticut and Massachusetts. (and if you are my friend in a state I didn’t mention--you too!!)
I feel pampered, loved and richly blessed by God and all of you!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

LOFT LIFE: Light green

I have to admit, buying my new recycled stainless steel kitchen utensils, responsibly manufactured from countries around the world, and providing a safe and healthy (it’s really healthful folks) environment, fair labor practices, and environmental protection for those who want to live sustainably (no kidding, this was all on the label) all tied up in those cute little pieces of hemp twine looped through the utensil hanger holes, felt good. I like the little twine especially.
Truthfully, I don’t think much about being green, living sustainably and making sure everything I buy is tied to fair labor practices. I mean, it’s not that I’m into destroying the planet or littering, or not supporting farmers or anything. I just use common sense. And, as we’ve already established, I’m a conservative, in most senses of the word, and especially re-using things, and not wanting to overspend, and getting as much out of a purchase as possible.
But, I guess I am kind of light green when it comes to being militant about this green, saving the planet stuff. I do not think there is anything we can do about any sort of planet warming, and I believe the so-called “research” has been research by press release, mostly for the gain of certain politicians who have hugely profited over the scare.

It is Biblically prophesied that our planet will someday burn up. So, sorry guys, but there you have it. I seriously doubt you can stop that merely by discarding your plastic in the right bin. And, again, I'm not against doing that. I do it. But, it won't SAVE the planet. Only God can do that, and He has actually given us the blueprint for that, which I don't believe included recycling. I don't think He's against recycling either. He just doesn't save us like that.
On the other hand, why not get into “natural” fibers, instead of manufactured synthetics? It just feels better. Who wouldn’t rather untie a very attractive hemp cord from new utensils than some plastic wirey tie thingy!!
So, I’m not lobbying for anything here. Just use your own common sense, enjoy the earth, while it lasts, and if it makes you feel better to swing your dollars toward helping farmers in Central America or something, or, hey, even farmers in North America--do it! We all live here, and we can all benefit from anything that makes life prettier, cleaner, and longer lasting.

Friday, October 8, 2010

LOFT LIFE: Is it just me?

I am unnerved. Maybe it’s October, the month of witches and devils. I always try to find something in October to distract my consciousness from those spirits that invade my calm. They are there you know. Whether you believe in them or not, they are still real.
Anyway, I am always a little edgier in October. I feel like something is going to happen; something feels weird.
I try to put even more into my mind that is edifying than on other months. Lately I’ve been reading about holiness, about how our hearts can be made of stone or flesh, depending on where we are with God. That can be a comfort or a concern. 
Anyway, whenever I get serious about focusing on God and His kingdom, good things start to happen. 
Like this is the month I have gotten to know my new friend Melvin. He is 26, smart, handsome, and ready to invest his life in  building a fortune. He believes our meeting was Providential, and so do I. We are talking about doing businesses together--land, properties, and other entrepreneurial enterprises. 
That is exciting.
Melvin is teaching me about currency trading. This isn’t easy for me to wrap my brain around, but it is exciting to keep learning.
This is also the month my husband and I have begun learning Italian at Adult Ed in our town’s high school evening class. What fun!
So, now I am thinking: if this is working so well in October, why don’t I do this all the time? Melvin has somehow kick started my self-discipline. I play cards less often, Bejeweled less often (and we all know how hard that is to give up), and I am reading more, praying more, thinking more.
Maybe it’s just me, but if this is what happens when I reach October’s occult  pull and seek to make something good of it, then let’s make every month like October!

Thursday, September 30, 2010

LOFT LIFE: God's Autumn Grandeur

Our trip to the Lake George area put us smack into a Currier & Ives fall landscape--except this was the real thing, painted by God Himself. Mid-September isn’t the full foliage of autumn color, but seeing the gradual changing of the leaves as we drove north from Connecticut had impact.
I am motivated for more. I have downloaded the maps of Massachusetts driving spots where the leaves will be best. I have collected lists of apple orchards so our drives will have purpose, destination--even though the beauty of this countryside is really purpose enough.
Is there anything more beautiful than autumn in New England? I am sure there are a host of other grand pictures, but this has to be in the top 10. Forget the pyramids, Stonehenge, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, even the Coliseum. Give me the rich reds, oranges, purples, yellows and rusts of autumn in the breathtaking hills of New England and upstate New York, even upstate Pennsylvania, and I am close to heaven.
There is something about being in the midst of intense color, thick copses of trees, and the hills and valleys of this area that just wraps itself around the soul. I defy any so-called atheist and agnostic to cruise this masterpiece and not at least wonder that it has to have had a Creator. Those who wish to worship in nature must slide into worship of creation’s Artist as the stunning landscape surrounds the spirit of a mere man (or woman) caught up in this earthly splendor. It just cannot be an accident. 
We were meant for beauty! We were meant to appreciate beauty. We were meant for seasons and the special qualities each bring.
Soon it will be winter. I always say I like February because it’s not Christmas yet--not that I dislike Christmas, but it comes around too quickly.
I also hear people lamenting that soon it will be cold, letting go of this transitional fall season, almost missing it with worry of winter’s temperatures. Fall is my favorite season; I want to embrace it with no care for the next season, which comes all too quickly. I do not want to miss one moment of autumn. I celebrate it with all my heart.

Monday, August 23, 2010

LOFT LIFE: You can find almost anything in this library

I told you I like to go to the library in our apartment building--both for its “hot spot” wireless offering, and because it’s where you meet people in our residential community.
The truth is, I really want free Internet. The meeting people part, though I do enjoy the memory of, is somewhat annoying, especially on weekends, when I want to hear the crashing, smashing and complimentary sounds of Bejeweled while I listen to my Internet radio and maybe play another (card) game. I am a great multitasker. No matter that it has been proven that multitasking is a bad thing--inefficient, to say the least. I like it! And, on the day of rest, who cares about efficiency!
So, on this particular Sunday, I was ecstatic to see the other two people, a young father and his young daughter, were on the non-outlet side of the library, so I could plug in, play to my heart’s content, with no danger of battery-drain
One should never make assumptions.
I couldn’t help but hear this dear little girl and her questions to Papa.
“Do you want me to read?” she asked.
“Uh-huh,” came his distracted reply. He was busy doing something on his laptop, and had evidently allowed her to choose a book from the vast number on the floor to ceiling shelves--all donated by residents, many of them grad students.
“I can’t read this,” she added. 
“OK,” again distracted.
“Do you want me to read because you are working? Is this my work?” she asked, searching for logic as she tried again to make out the words.
“Um-hmm,” he said.
“You mean I should be working if you are working?” she asked.
“Um. Sometimes,” he reasoned.
“OK. But, I hate to read.”

Children are so in the moment.
When can I work with you?”
“You mean you want to go to work with me? he asked, momentarily stunned.
“Well, you first have to learn a lot of things--and read,” he triumphed, still unaware of her library selection.
At that comment, I just had to help. I presented myself to the table, asked if it would be OK for her to visit me on the other side of the room (about 15 feet away), separated by a partial wall.
“Sure,” Dad smiled, a bit hesitant at the unexpected stroke of luck.
“What is your name?” I queried.
“Janella,” she said. (Names have been changed to protect the innocent as JW would say.)
“OK, Janella, that is a very pretty name. All the kids call me Auntie M,”I told her. Her father smiled. How harmful could Auntie M be, he must have thought.
“Why don’t we go over to my table for a minute,” I said, and we walked hand in hand, her pigtails bouncing and her smile widening.
“I think maybe you like to read if you find the right book,” I told her, hoping to turn around this dangerous curve in her learning road. “Let me see what you have been reading,” I asked for the book.
Metamorphosis, by Franz Kafka. Good grief.
I’m pretty sure this Czech-Austrian author’s works haven’t made it to the second grade reading list--even these short stories.
“Oh my. I wonder if your dad even realizes what you are reading,” I laughed. So let’s find something more to your liking--and maybe more on your reading level. You did say second grade, right?”
“First there was first, and then second. Going into second.”
“OK then. Do you like stories about animals? People?”
“Not animals. People,” she affirmed.
“I think I have just the thing in my room,” I said.
Her father preferred for her to stay with him. I scurried down the hall, found a third grade primer I had hanging around on the shelf in my living room, and hurried back.
“I think this is a good one,” I said, handing Three Friends to her. My son read this one in elementary school.
“Is it a long book?” she asked, I imagine with new fears of long books all looking like Kafka.
“It has chapters,” I said, “but it isn’t that long.”
She plowed right into the story of the kids visiting a farm. No hesitation at all. 
“You can read aloud if you like,” I told her, thinking I should be sure she was having no trouble reading it.
“Wow,” I said. “You are quite the reader.”
“I told you I was in second grade,” she beamed.
Realizing that now I was stuck, listening to a third grade book read by a second grader, and no longer free to play cards, Bejeweled, or even listen to my radio, I had to chuckle at myself. 
Once a woman in my church asked me if I would like to be Mrs. Santa for the Christmas event.
“I hate children,” I told her.
Being the literal type, not prone to hyperbole, she said, “Oh, but you’re so good with you daughter.”
“Oh, I don’t hate my children,” I assured.
When I related this to my oldest daughter, she laughed. She knows me.
“Well, as I recall, it was Santa who spent the time with the children,” she assured. “Mrs. Santa, I believe, ran the toy shop, which you could do.”
This is simply to tell you that being confined with six three-year-olds during a nursery duty at church, is my idea of torture. I spend the whole time looking at my watch, hoping it will soon be over.
I know. How awful a person am I! You don’t have to lay on any further guilt. I mean what kind of woman doesn’t dote on three-year-olds?
Anyway, seven-year-olds are a bit better. At least they can carry on a reasonably interesting conversation. But that really has its limits.
So here I was, listening to her, wondering when her father would call her back over, torn between my need to make sure she grows up loving books, and my need for Bejeweled clicking, crashing and complimenting. Quite a struggle really.
Then she began to show me her missing and loose teeth. This wasn’t going to be a short visit. She was truly charming. It is I who am the curmudgeon. (Never actually heard that word describe a woman before.)
“Do you do the tooth fairy at your house?” I asked.
“Uh-huh, but look. I am showing you my teeth.” An earnest little lass.
“I see. OK. Do you like the book?” 
“Yes. Look, I finished the first chapter.” She showed the Chapter Two heading.
“Have they gotten to the farm?” I asked.
“No, they are still in the car,” she laughed at me.
Not too much later, her father got on the phone, arranging dinner. I think he requested it in the library. I groaned. But, the answer appears to have been negative. A few minutes later, he told Janella they had to go to dinner.
“Are you hungry?” he asked her.
She hesitated.
“You may take the book,” I encouraged.
Big smile, “OK. Look Daddy, I have a book!”
“I am not sure you or I could read Kafka either,” I chided him. “Probably a good idea to check out what she is reading.”
That was probably unnecessary, unless you realize that she had skipped from first grade to the summer of 2010 to Kafka’s short stories with the erroneous generalization that she hated reading, and that it was work (Kafka) comparable to her daddy’s daily toil. I mean who wouldn't have drawn that conclusion? Second grader or no. 
I like to think I rescued her before it was too late. I like to think one little hour of skipping Bejeweled has its rewards. 

Friday, July 30, 2010

LOFT LIFE: Getting fit for decades to come--I hope

In my never flagging zeal to stem the advance of the aches, pains, diseases and decay of old age, I have entered into a new fitness program: boxing.
I know, kickboxing is nothing new. But, I mean actual boxing. For my birthday I requested an Everlast 70 lb. punching bag. The one the professionals use. Now, not being your actual athletic type, I didn’t realize what this meant. All I can say is it’s a good thing we have 20 foot ceilings in our loft apartment, because this 70 lb. baby requires a stand that is 7 feet high! Wow. I am so glad we live in a loft apartment. This wouldn’t have worked in the two-story colonial.
I don’t know why, I just felt like putting on gloves (included in the Wal-Mart deal), was sure it would be something I'd do every day. Well, I mean putting on the gloves and punching the bag. Maybe even kicking it when I get braver. It’s a kind of workout that seems more fun than just treadmilling to a TV show.
My concern is that I might break a thumb or a wrist doing this. So I called my daughter, who does kick boxing, and who has quite a bit of fitness training, for advice. I like it that she’s surprised by my attitude, that I am not winding down, I’m revving up, even in my old age.
She did want a picture of me at the punching bag to verify I wasn’t fibbing. Then she  proceeded to answer my questions: “Well, you probably won’t overdo it, because you won’t be able to hit it very hard at first. In fact, why don’t you just first get used to it, push the bag, get a feel for it.”
I did that, it helped.
She called again a week later, suggesting I might want to get a personal trainer to show me the moves.
“Where does one find a boxing coach these days?” I asked, picturing Carol Channing in Thoroughly Modern Millie, taking boxing lessons, and liking that image of me too. (You may have noticed by now, from reading my stuff, that a lot of really good life suggestions can be had from the movies.) 
“Just put it out there,” she suggested, because in my family there is kind of a mystique about me that when I say I want something, it usually appears at my door, or close by soon after I state my need or wish. “I think it’s God,” she said. “Kind of like when a child tells a parent they want something, but the parent doesn’t do it right away. The parent waits to see if this is a real desire or just a whim.”
So OK. I put it out there for Him to hear.
Do you know, the NEXT DAY the front page of the paper I only get on Sundays and Thursdays had a picture on the front page of the Local section of a female with boxing gloves on!  Under the picture was a caption that said she was training for a match at a martial arts studio--only 3 miles from my apartment. Wow. God is a parent who responds fast. 
Maybe He thinks I need this sooner than later. After all, almost daily I count up how many Christmases I probably have left, and how many vacations. Maybe I will have more if I get a boxing coach and do the punching right.
In any case, I am sparring away, feeling better every day about it. I feel stronger. I was grating cheese the other day and 10 minutes of grating a hard Turkish cheese didn’t tire me at all--which it usually does.

I will go to the martial arts studio as soon as we return from our trip.
Oh, and I also got a Water Pik TM. They promise healthier gums in 14 days. 
So with my healthy gums and stronger upper body, I expect to add a couple of decades to my life. Hmm. Maybe I’d better put that out there for Him to hear too. :)

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

LOFT LIFE: A pause for the comma

I believe I suffer from comma phobia. You heard me right. I have a sincere wish to avoid the little rascals altogether. They frighten me. I think it started when I proofread school papers for my daughter, and she would get downgraded from my removal of her commas. This was then exacerbated when my best friend, Gail, a former college professor, raised her eyebrows at my journalistic use of commas, far sparser than her academic comma usage.
Let me also tell you, it is a point of honor for me that I scored 99th percentile in punctuation and grammar on my high school achievement tests. Every year. It is the only academic area where I can say that--except for my ability to recognize and name every instrument in the orchestra. But, that’s irrelevant here. I could diagram sentences with the best of them; I rarely got below A+ on any English grammar, spelling or punctuation test. 
So it rattles me that I am insecure in my use of the innocent comma. 
I think some of the confusion stems from the transition from high school and college writing to journalism, where different expectations for comma usage exist, as I have already said. But, something inside tells me it is more than that.
Lately I find myself insecurely adding commas where commas have never gone before. It’s a mixture of respect for Gail and her ilk, and fear of seeing them furrow their brows at my dearth of commas. I can almost hear the clicking tongues of the schoolteachers as they read my well-thought out commas. 
I am no longer sure whether or not my meaning is clear without them; I end up giving the comma the benefit of the doubt, then I subject myself to more pain and suffering by re-reading my text and wrestling over whether to remove many of them.
I realize I cannot have this conversation with just any Tom, Jane or Sally, but  I know you care. I implore you to consider how much anguish we writers endure for the sake of clarity versus creativity, and accuracy versus enjoyable reading. Therein is the real problem: for some, enjoyment has nothing to do with accuracy; for others it is the very rock on which they stumble when their rules are not followed, and they cannot, for the sake of incorrect grammar, allow themselves to enjoy even an artistic sentence or phrase. It’s the old chalkboard squeak or the symphonic dissonance that they just cannot bear.
Much of the dilemma has become clearer to me in the reading of Lynne Truss’s delightful book, Eats, Shoots, and Leaves, where she devotes an entire chapter to the worthy, small, but mighty, comma. (Truthfully, she is mostly an apostrophe kind of gal, but she does wax humorous in the comma chapter). Since the title of her book belies her disdain for misuse of the comma, I guess those little dears are important to her too. I mean, in case you haven’t figured it out, her title refers to Pandas who eat shoots and leaves. But, if the comma is erroneously inserted where it doesn’t belong, you will think the Panda has visited an eatery, had some dinner, shot the patrons, and exited. All because of a comma. Imagine!
Truss carefully explains that where the college student (or professor) might write: red, white, and blue, the journalist, me, would likely (definitely) spare you the "third degree" and write: red, white and blue. Actually, I get as frowny over Gail’s excessive use as she does my lack of. It seems to me that Gail and her colleagues simply insert commas, willy-nilly; I pride myself on deciding whether inserting that comma will better clarify the meaning of the sentence or not. If not, I restrain myself. I consider that a virtue.
The most illuminating part of Truss’s explanation is the origin of the little mark, and how it was used as much to allow the reader the proper tone, like in music, where pauses become part of the joy of reading aloud, as it was for clarity. She points out that the whole problem began when we started reading silently.
So, now, I really get it. This is the pith of the matter: I write for audio--always have. My stuff is meant for radio, bedtime sharing, reading aloud to one’s self. I think audio. Maybe that is why I need to be alone to write. I can’t have other noises around, or I don’t know what my words will sound like.
There you have it. I am giving myself permission to place commas only where they will “sound right." I will know. Hopefully, you will agree. Not sure I will persuade Gail though.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Loft Life: Sharing

It’s kind of a long story why we don’t fork out the $150 a month for cable TV and broadband Internet to have in our own personal space--our loft apartment. It started when I read the pamphlet on Cox Cable and was reminded of my dealings with Charter. We had cable back in 1995 for a year.  I found that most of what we were paying for, we didn’t want, and the few things we enjoyed weren’t worth the $150. There were many outages, and dealing with the company was less than pleasant, so we cancelled. Later we got Dish Network, which we really enjoyed. 
But, when we got tired of the slow speed of dial up--which took us much longer to tire of than it did for most, I went online and investigated Charter’s broadband-only choice, keeping Dish, even though they didn’t offer a fast Internet option. I ordered Charter’s hardware for wireless online and set up an appointment online. It seemed like a good choice until the day of the appointment when no one showed up. After several emails and phone calls, I  heard the Charter rep say, “Oh, now I see the problem. You owe a balance of $2.33 from 1996.” This was 2006.
“A," I said, "I do not have a balance due that I know of, because no bill to that effect was sent to me, or I would have paid it. And, B, are you really telling me you are going to forfeit the $2000 per year we are willing to pay for Charter because of a balance of $2.33 which we do not owe?”
He replied, “Well, I see your point, but it is too late. It has already gone to collection.”
That slippery slope of frustration, escalating to uglier emotions began to creep in, and I was reminded of why I hadn’t had cable for ten years
“You are going to ruin my credit over $2.33 which I do not owe?” I panicked.
“I cannot help you, but I will give you the phone number of collections,” he offered.
I sighed, took down the number, and called collection.
“Oh we sent it back,” they informed, they too realizing the idiocy of it all.
A different rep at Charter confirmed it had been sent back and then cancelled. By then I knew I just couldn’t do cable, even if it were the fastest and best Internet available to us in our rural town.
So seeing the Cox brochure brought all that back, and I just don’t want to deal with a cable company. I do hear people in the library discussing their own frustrations with Cox billing mixups, confirming my choice.
And, one of the attractions of the loft life we were shown when we were considering this particular loft complex was the offer of a library “hot spot” which had free wireless. Since it is in our building, and we only have a short walk down the hallway to the library, this felt like a really good option.
I had visions of meeting clients in the library to interview them for resumes, and then having access to the Internet to email their final copies to them, right there in their presence. I thought Jay and I could make a date of it at times, and take a walk down the hall to tune into our Netflix Instant Play feature and watch a movie or a TV show there. I saw the library as a way to get me out of my three rooms, nice as they are, and feel a bit like I am “going to work.” 
I've been using the library wireless arrangement now for six months. I have yet to post a flyer for resumes. I've done a couple just because I met people who needed them. It didn’t happen in the library. Jay and I did watch Season Four of Dexter there, but often someone came in, right in the middle of the show, and we had to turn it down so low (due to our superior sense of good manners and sharing, it being a library and all) that we could hardly hear it, which did affect the tension of the show, and that, of course, made it less entertaining. So we rarely do that any more either.
I do walk down to the library daily from my loft, because it does seem like a good idea to designate it a work space.  More often than not, there are people there, making work less productive. Conversation is optional, but one does have to appreciate that community is part of the charm of loft life, and really something I now look forward to.
What I did not count on were the negatives of the public space. They aren’t too serious.
One, as I have said, is that quiet is a given. People do answer cell phones, and most step outside to be polite. There is conversation--students discussing  study questions, business people working out their plans, and parents with children. It is a small space, and there are only two tables with four chairs each, set on opposite sides of the library room, with ceiling-to-floor bookshelves on both sides. 
The lights in the library are very bright, to the point that I have considered wearing my visor to shade my eyes from the harshness. Turning the lights off is possible if I am alone, but inevitably someone comes in who wants to read or look for a book, and the lights must be on for that.
In the winter, there is heat, and it is almost unbearably dry and hot. Hydration is necessary to make it more than a half hour or so which I imagine is just the time period the management is expecting. And, if you do stay, and continually hydrate, that requires unplugging, packing up and leaving to visit the apartment, and then re-packing and going back, in the hopes that the outlet will still be available.
Which brings us to the final problem of the outlet, because there is only one and the distance from the table at the other side of the room is too far to use this outlet. This forces people to either share a table, even if the other one is vacant, or to let their laptop batteries dwindle.
I’m discovering some cultural differences in the concept of sharing and what we Americans call “personal space.”
There’s an Asian couple (I mention their ethnicity because I believe their culture has different rules for personal space), who sit at the other table, and when their batteries run out, they come over to where I am sitting, next to the outlet, and instead of taking a seat at the table and plugging in, they drop to the floor beside me, really right under me, and sit on the floor to plug in there.
“You can’t sit under my body,” I say, feeling very uncomfortable with anyone even hanging over my shoulder, let alone sitting at my feet.
“Just testing,” the Asian man says. “Battery out, just testing,” he repeats.
I tell him he cannot sit there. I motion to the seat beside me at the table. He doesn’t want to do that. I know he isn’t “testing” because I know he has been at the other table long enough for his battery to be low. It is his way of getting a few more minutes.
Another time, his wife did the same thing, which is why I am convinced that they do not have a problem with sharing spaces in close quarters, and that it is a cultural thing.
I remember Asian friends telling me that in their countries they live with several families in one house.  Another observation was in the ‘80s when many Vietnamese families shared houses while they got established in jobs, careers, and could move out and have their own houses.
I suggested this economic method to my children and was met with astonished stares and wrinkled brows. Americans are big on space. They do not share well in small spaces. 
I am sure my annoyance with this man and woman sitting on the floor seemed as unreasonable to them as their floor-sitting seemed to me.
It would help a lot if the management would install an outlet on the other side of the room. At least then, four people would have access instead of two.
But, even with these deficits, I am still reluctant to fork over the big bucks for loft connection. I could do AT&T, but am told that to get speed, it is expensive. 
I am considering an IPad, because I would not need wireless from Cox if I purchased the 3G model. Then, I would only need the library for laptop work, and could do email, listen to music and Internet radio, view movies, and play games in the comfort of my own loft. I would also have a lighter portable so I might be able to lift my luggage better when traveling. (see I’m sorry I’m a woman story, April 2010). Something tells me to wait for 4G, or at least Christmas for the second generation of the IPad.
Until then, I will continue to share, work and converse in the library, and hope there will be no more floor sitting. I feel some concern that as the lofts become fully occupied, the eight seats may become less available and my system will have to change. 

I see tours for prospective renters, always stopping to tout the benefits of free wireless in the library. It doesn't escape me, either, that I look like a permanent fixture on this library portion of the tour. The upside is, maybe with more tenants, they will be able to afford another outlet. :)