Saturday, August 30, 2008

Messing with My Moment of Zen

When Michael Phelps won all those medals at this summer’s Olympic Games, my heart sank.

This could only mean that suddenly Americans would rush to their local pools with their children in tow.

Americans are like that. When gymnast Olga Korbut competed in the 1972 and 1976 Olympics and Kurt Thomas in 1978 and Mary Lou Retton in 1984, gymnastics schools popped up all over the United States. Ice-skating’s popularity soared in 1968 with Peggy Fleming, in 1976 with Dorothy Hamill [who also contributed a haircut], and Scott Hamilton in 1984. More ice-rinks appeared and public ice-time became a rare commodity as private lessons increased.

This isn’t a new phenomenon. I happen to own a circa 1950s wooden tennis racket still in its press.

So why did Phelps’ recent achievements distress me? I happen to enjoy swimming at a local pool, as do a fair number of Hillsborough adults. Our moments of Zen occur during the calming hours spent swimming quiet laps with only other grownups in the pool. Those soothing moments may well diminish as more and more young swimmers decide they want to compete and swim teams become more popular.

Please, please don’t make swimming this year’s craze.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

It's Still Summer

Okay, retailers, listen up. It’s still summer.

I am determined not to give up summer until its last day - September 21st, but you have been trying to force fall on me since the first week of August when you started advertising school supplies in the local sales circulars.

It could be that you are trying to earn some income in this slow economy or that you have central Jersey mixed up with other states where school actually starts mid-August or that cash-strapped families are trying to spread out the cost of school supplies. Be that as it may, I was not in the school supply mode.

Your advertising marched on with school clothes, dorm supplies, “fall is for planting” nursery campaigns, turkey platters, fall linens, and dire warnings about the upcoming price of heating oil.

But the straw that broke this camel’s back this week was watching the Shop Rite stockers putting up shelves of Halloween candy. Initially I thought I must have misunderstood…it was some packaging that just happened to be orange and black. I actually walked over to the mounting displays to check and it was then that I saw that the wrappings were, in fact, decorated with pumpkins and witches.

Who the heck are these people buying their Halloween candy in August and once they have purchased it, how do they resist the temptation to eat it and then have to buy more to give out to the kids…uh-oh. I think I now understand the retailer’s strategy.

My fight to preserve summer has apparently been futile except in my little corner of the universe where I am still weeding the garden, bringing in little bouquets of zinnias and real vine-ripened tomatoes, watching momma birds feed their almost grown babies, enjoying this summer’s still-spotted fawns, and trying to buy a new bathing suit.

I will never again worry that if I purchase Halloween candy at the beginning of October, it will be stale by October 31st.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Mom's Air Conditioning

With the afternoon heat of the last few days and the higher and higher electric bills, I find myself using 1950’s techniques to cool my house.

Growing up we didn’t have air-conditioning except at the local movie theaters. Remember the banners they used to hang every summer to entice moviegoers in with the promise of coolness? They didn’t even mention what the show was – just that they were “air-conditioned”, written in ice-blue with edging suggesting a dripping ice block.

At home all the windows and doors were wide-open overnight. If you lived in a “troubled” area you kept the first floor windows shut at night and opened them about 5 a.m. As the sun rose, my mother would close the shades on the east side of the house and then the windows. By about 11 a.m. the house would be closed up, keeping in the cool night air. Sometimes the cellar door in the kitchen would be open, letting the mysteriously cool underground air float up.

We would occasionally have lunch in the shade of a big tree in the back yard and for a treat blow up the kiddie pool for an early afternoon splash. Moms would sometimes open aluminum chairs around the edge of the pool and dangle their feet in the cool water while they watched the kids and visited with each other.

Babies lay on a blanket in the shade with their damp hair stuck to their foreheads.

By 2 p.m. it was naptime with a fan in the hall to stir around the by-then warmish air. My mother would do quiet cool work – no baking or ironing. By four, with the temperature having maxed out, it was time to start stirring again.

Dinner would be cooking on top of the stove – no roasts this time of the year. As a treat we might cook hamburgers outside or actually be decadent and have cold-cuts with sliced tomatoes from the garden and homemade potato salad out of the fridge.

By nine p.m. it was time to start the cooling cycle again, opening the windows for the night. A large box fan sat on a desk in my room all night – the room at the far end of the second floor - exhausting the day’s heat out the window and pulling in the cooler night air from downstairs.

"It was luxuries like air conditioning that brought down the Roman Empire. With air conditioning their windows were shut, they couldn’t hear the barbarians coming."
- Garrison Keillor, Lake Wobegon Days


When an acquaintance lost their air-conditioning for almost two weeks this July, I went in on hot days to check on their pets. I pulled down the unused rolled-up shades on the sunny-side of the house to block the sun’s heat and turned off window fans pulling the early afternoon humidity into the house.

They seemed surprised.

I guess no one teaches simple home-based climate control anymore. It’s just easier to switch on the air conditioner, use up the environment, and be shocked when the electric bill arrives.

Friday, August 8, 2008


Men and women shop for their bathing suits in completely different ways.

When a woman needs a new bathing suit she corrals a trusted friend - who probably also needs a suit - and begins making the rounds to the local clothing stores. Each suit is vetted by color and size, each shopper picks out several they like in a few different sizes, and only then do they begin the serious work.

As the prospective purchaser tries on each candidate, she makes all the moves that she might make in a pool to make sure the suit doesn’t ride up, cut into her shoulders, cause rolls of fat to appear, or display any part or her body that she does not wish to display. It is the job of her confidant to point out any problems that she may have missed in the three-way mirror and to be honest about how flattering the suit is.

Finally one or two suits are chosen and purchased.

It doesn’t take long at the local pool to determine that a significant number of men buy their bathing suits by going into a sports equipment store – alone - and finding the pool supplies and bathing trunks section. There they locate a pile of Speedos and buy the size they wore in high school several decades earlier. They do not look in any mirror. The first time they put it on is when they go to the pool.

One can only assume the men wearing comfortable bathing trunks that flatter them are married and their wives go with them when they shop. Or the ladies just buy the trunks and present them to their husbands as a fait accompli . Or they have very understanding - or bossy - sisters.

Whatever. Thanks, ladies.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Good-bye, Little Guy

Our 12-year-old Yorkie is gone.

About two weeks ago Little Guy began throwing up in the middle of the night. After a few sleepless nights, when it became obvious that it was more than something he ate, we took him to the veterinarian.

The vet checked him over, he reminded us that Little Guy was getting older and had had other medical problems. Finally the vet suggested that they do some blood tests just to check for anything that wasn’t obvious and the vet’s office would call us by the next afternoon with the results.

At 7:25 the next morning as I was working at my desk with Little Guy resting on the floor nearby, the telephone rang. It was the vet with the test results. Anytime a doctor calls you with test results that quickly, it isn’t good news.

Little Guy’s results showed that he was suffering from advanced kidney failure. The doctor wouldn’t be specific about how much time he had left and suggested actions that would make him more comfortable – special food, vitamins, making sure he drank water and went out to pee. There was no talk of treatment.

Little Guy liked the food and a few days later, when I took him outside, he rolled on his back on the sun-warmed lawn and wiggled around – all four paws in the air – in pure joy. It was just enough to convince me that he was improving, just enough to make me hopeful. I had gone online and researched canine kidney failure, I knew the odds, but at that moment I was perfectly willing to believe that he would be the one-in-a-thousand that lasted for years, the one that beat the odds.

Within days his appetite faded and he resumed getting sick in the middle of the night. Old towels covered every spot where he liked to rest to make cleanups easier.

When I finally accepted that he wasn’t going to get better, I hoped that he would lie down for a nap and just quietly and comfortably die in his sleep. But not too soon. Later. When I was ready.

But, as anyone who has ever loved knows, love comes with responsibilities you would rather not have, times that aren’t fun, decisions that break your heart.

And so, finally, we had to make the ultimate decision, ready or not. We still miss him.

The Rainbow Bridge

Just this side of heaven is a place called Rainbow Bridge.

When an animal dies that has been especially close to someone here, that pet goes to Rainbow Bridge. There are meadows and hills for all of our special friends so they can run and play together. There is plenty of food, water and sunshine, and our friends are warm and comfortable. All the animals who had been ill and old are restored to health and vigor. Those who were hurt or maimed are made whole and strong again, just as we remember them in our dreams of days and times gone by. The animals are happy and content, except for one small thing; they each miss someone very special to them, who had to be left behind.

They all run and play together, but the day comes when one suddenly stops and looks into the distance. His bright eyes are intent. His eager body quivers. Suddenly he begins to run from the group, flying over the green grass, his legs carrying him faster and faster.

You have been spotted, and when you and your special friend finally meet, you cling together in joyous reunion, never to be parted again. The happy kisses rain upon your face; your hands again caress the beloved head, and you look once more into the trusting eyes of your pet, so long gone from your life but never absent from your heart.

Then you cross Rainbow Bridge together…

– Author Unknown