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Archive for February, 2014

Tis the season for whale watching, and so our family has gathered here in Mexico to bear witness. Humpbacks have returned from the north to mate and give birth in warm water. They are showing off their skills like proper Olympians; breaching the water to turn and flip over on their backs like circus aerialists in the Sea of Cortez. And even though we can see their fins and spouts from the terrace in our resort, yesterday we boarded two boats to get up close and personal.

I heard one before I saw it. The sound is like an elephant underwater when it surfaces to breathe and trumpet its arrival. We had a baby following our boat and the mama was underneath. It would surface and flip its fin at us as if to say, “Hey guys, want to play?” The marine biologist on the boat gave us a crash course in whale life. Babies weigh about 2,000 lbs and are 12 ft long and put on about a hundred pounds a day nursing! Adults can live 60 years and weigh up to 30 tons. Our baby, she told us, was born last month.

Just when I was about to say we had yet to see a breach – when the whale propels its entire body out of the water – it happened. A bull, most likely the daddy, erupted from the surface and took everyone’s breath away. The show continued with the mama flipping her tail at us.

It was thrilling! Time stood still. Such beautiful, ancient mariners, a paradox of evolution, underwater mammals who must breathe air every 30 minutes, who jump toward the sun in their mating rituals were swimming alongside us.

Ada had never seen whales in their natural habitat, and neither had I. Thank you Ada Flora, for bringing us all here.

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You know that saying, “It’s not about the destination it’s the journey.” Bob and I travel well together. We’ve learned to pack light. And this time, for some odd reason, I was off by a day; all packed and ready to go a day early. This is a good trick for future flights, just fool yourself into thinking you’re leaving tomorrow. Try not to let anyone disabuse you of the facts or your folly.

It was still dark, the sun was getting ready to rise. We were just waiting for our first flight when Bob said, “Look I think that’s Kath over there!” Now I am a ‘mind my own business type of traveler’ and Bob is more of a ‘let’s see who and what everybody else is doing’ type of traveler. So I looked over at the cute blonde he was referring to and said, “That can’t be Kath, she’s all alone – no baby Maze, no husband Matt.”

Then I went back to checking on all the important news in my Facebook feed. And there she was, Kath our famous Cville food blogger with a post of her yellow bag and how little she has to carry without baby in tow. I glanced over and sure enough, it was Kath sitting next to a yellow bag in real life and simultaneously seconds ago in digital life.

She is so sweet. And we chatted up our trips – hers to a dairy conference (first time sans baby), and ours to a 90th birthday celebration for Ada with the entire clan. Yes we are all 19 people arriving at the same place at the same time to watch some amazing wildlife and fete one incredible MIL. The same woman who told me 34 years ago she would always be on my side!

We’re on the second leg of our flight after meeting some good friends in Charlotte. The Love Bug and crew are in transit, after sending me some super airport pictures. Nashville airport is like Disneyland for kids. I’m going to leave our destination up to your imagination, but suffice it to say, this journey continues to surprise me!

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On a morning when most of the news involves the ecstasy of Russian Olympics and the agony of its bordering state, Ukraine (where the city of Kiev is about to implode), the ratio of 1:5 is what sticks in my craw. According to the White House, one in five women in college will be raped. I don’t know about you, but I found this to be rather alarming.

Equally infuriating is that one in three teenage relationships has experienced dating violence. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-26263171

Our little town has been singled out recently for two contradictory things: 1) Charlottesville has been voted the second most “Friendliest” small city in America http://www.movoto.com/blog/top-ten/friendliest-small-cities/; and 2) the One Love Foundation has developed a new App to help students and their friends assess their level of dating danger http://www.joinonelove.org.

Just weeks before her graduation from UVA in 2010, lacrosse player Yeardley Love was killed by her ex-boyfriend. Her mother and sister have started the One Love Foundation in order to address dating violence and educate students about the signs and symptoms of a relationship on the brink of chaos.

The “One” represents the number Yeardley wore on her jersey during her high school and college lacrosse career. The number has since been retired by the University of Virginia in her memory.

The Bride volunteered at a rape crisis center on her Duke campus. And I’ve just found out that my cousin Anita, in Richmond is being trained as a volunteer advocate for rape and abuse cases in her local hospital’s Emergency Department. I was surprised at my immediate reaction to this news; I was proud of her at once, while knowing deep down I could never do it.

It pains me to admit it, but I know I would want the women to immediately leave their abuser, to get a restraining order, to go into the witness protection program if need be and move to Arizona. I’d buy the plane ticket! This is most likely the same reason I could never see myself becoming a psychologist, like my MIL Ada or my brother Dr Jim, it’s just not in my DNA to suffer for days and weeks and years on end vicariously with patients.

It’s not that I don’t feel compassion for the abused, but I would have trouble feeling empathy. I cringed when I wrote this, so I had to look up the word – empathy “the intellectual identification with or vicarious experiencing of the feelings, thoughts, or attitudes of another.” And I guess it’s true, because I myself would be the first one out the door if a man ever tried to hit or rape me, I can’t really identify with women who stay. I learned to love from my foster father Jim Mahon, and it never included a raised hand or a harsh word.

And I get that the abuse comes on slowly, that the abuser is so remorseful and kind after the incident and soothes his victim into thinking it will never happen again; he just has to stop drinking so much or she just has to make his eggs a certain way. I know it’s a slow insidious dance of death – if not physical, an emotional disconnect from her family and friends that strangles any hope of salvation.

I wonder if an App can help a victim understand she is in danger, or can it help one of her friends in our friendly city to alert her parents or a counselor? If it can, then I applaud One Love, which means more than just a number on a jersey. If we never learn to cherish and love ourselves, we can never expect others to do the same.

yeardley

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Driveway before the rain

Driveway before the rain

Sometimes we get the juiciest bits of information as an aside. Most journalists know this, we get the agenda to the meeting, but it’s in the stuff we hear in the hallway where we will sometimes find the true story. Or at least, an alternate story. This is why I will always and forever love secretaries; (whoops, the Bride called here) insert – because they knew where the bodies were buried!

Take for instance the latest edition of “This American Life” with Ira Glass. The Bride and Groom happened to hear him speak at the Ryman over the weekend, and coincidentally I caught his latest show in the car. Normally  I’ll catch up with Ira on his older podcasts while driving to Nashville, rarely am I listening live stream. But there I was, left listening the other night in my driveway to “Except for That One Thing!” #518

I was hooked right away. A young couple buy their first home in New England – Check! Bob and I bought our first home in Windsor, MA. They were trying to furnish it by going to auctions, because of course there were no real furniture stores or malls – Check! She got carried away with raising her paddle and put them into debt. I used to go to estate sales and get so frustrated because dealers would outbid me and then try to sell to me afterwards, making a slight profit. What happens next, when she finds the perfect dining room table on eBay, will surprise and delight you. http://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/518/except-for-that-one-thing

And this is what Glass does so well with radio. We are better able to identify with someone we cannot see.  Judgement is suspended. Their story becomes our story. He manages to find that edge, where reality and humor can border on tragedy, that middle place where we find ourselves most days.

The place between arcane and insane.

Yesterday, I was visiting with my Richmond cousins and was almost trapped in the mud luge also known as my 1,000+ ft driveway when I returned home at twilight. Tires were spinning and my CRV was churning a mighty brown spray. Just a few short days ago Bob and I had sprinkled salt and sand down our steepest hill after the plow had scooped up most of the gravel and snow. I had just heard about my MIL’s weekend travails, cousins and friends sliding off her snow and ice-packed driveway sideways into the woods. A comedy of errors. And as I sit in my aviary listening to the slow and steady drip of snow melting off the roof, I thought of a new episode for This American Life –  “Life is a Driveway.” https://soundcloud.com/tadpoles-shouldnt-drive/rascal-flatts-life-is-a-highway

This is how Ms Bean feels about winter

This is how Ms Bean feels about winter

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What d’ya know! We actually did get a foot and a half of snow just in time for Valentine’s Day, and the next day it was sunny and melting. Unfortunately, I gave away my beloved cross country skis a long time ago, the pair I had kept in a sacred shrine in a NJ garage. In the Berkshires, I would just strap them on and take off into the trails behind our farmhouse at the edge of a bird sanctuary. Eventually, I gave up hope. We just never got enough snow at the Shore to matter, and I figured that moving to VA would be the end of my snow sporting days. Little did I know.

We do have a small ski resort here in Central VA. Really, I was surprised too. Wintergreen is where some people will go for the weekend with their kids and snowshoes and skates. It’s one county over, and a few miles higher in elevation, a short car ride although we’ve never been. I guess when you come from a landscape that was filled with snow and winter activities, the idea of actually paying for fun in the snow – snow that was mostly manufactured anyway – just wasn’t the same. And let’s face it, our knees are a bit rusty too. Still, watching athletes compete in Sochi…

I have to ask, what makes somebody want to hurtle themselves down an icy track at 60 miles per hour, face-down on a sled the size of an old iPad? The Skeleton, kinda crazy right? But it was one of those events, like car accidents, you can’t seem to stop watching. And the US beating Russia in Ice Hockey, brilliant! But Figure Skating left me switching over to House of Cards on Netflix. Now that was a rush, holey moley. Frank Underwood is the newest Soprano-like villain; a man you love to hate.  

I celebrated Valentine’s Day last night with my man, since he was working on Cupid’s night. He shoveled a path to the grill and we had an amazing dinner; some surf and turf, some cauliflower gobi with sourdough bread and of course Ben and Jerry played a supporting role at the end. We Virginians also celebrated a major victory in marriage equality. Our 2006 ban on same-sex marriage was struck down by a woman judge on Valentine’s eve: http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/newsdesk/2014/02/virginia-same-sex-marriage-ban-ruled-unconstitutional.html For a state that was supposed to be “For Lovers” and made its name in history by finally ruling that interracial marriage was in fact, constitutional, it was poetic justice.

Judge Allen began her opinion by quoting Mildred Loving, the plaintiff in the famous Supreme Court case Loving v. Virginia, which declared bans on interracial marriage unconstitutional, and went on to quote Abraham Lincoln, who said, “It can not have failed to strike you that these men ask for just … the same thing—fairness, and fairness only. This, so far as in my power, they, and all others, shall have.” She then applied his message to same-sex couples: “The men and women, and the children too, whose voices join in noble harmony with Plaintiffs today, also ask for fairness, and fairness only. This, so far as it is in this Court’s power, they and all others shall have.”  

Thank you Judge Arenda Allen! VA joins the progressive march to freedom for lovers everywhere. Proving it’s not who you sleep with, but the slow, sleepwalking pace of justice that will win in the end. So there you go Putin.  

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This post is early because chances are I’ll be buried in snow tomorrow, and our generator only powers the heat and the lights in the main part of the house. Which means my office will be down and wi-fi will be out.

Forecasters are predicting another “historic” snowstorm for VA. Like the kind we had the year after we moved into this mountain abode.

But this time Bob is home; he hasn’t camped out at the hospital and left me alone for days on end. When we lived in the Berkshires and the kids were little he did shift work, so he was home a lot. Which was good since we had to feed our woodstove all the time, especially when a Nor’easter hit and dumped 2 feet of snow in one fell swoop. I remember when the VA contractor asked us if we wanted wood burning or gas fireplaces in this little house, and we looked at each other and said “Gas” simultaneously. Bob is sure he wrecked his shoulders cutting and stacking many piles of wood on Windsor mountain back in the day.

I’ve heard there’s a shortage of snow boots in the North East. If I didn’t get the kids their boots and snow suits and mittens and hats in August, I was out of luck. We couldn’t order online in the 80’s, all we could do was go down to the main street in Pittsfield, MA and search by hand. We used to have ice skating Valentine’s parties on our pond, it was expected, this snow and ice. New Englanders are always prepared. Kids built snow forts while they waited for the school bus. We were a hardier crew. Or is it just my memory? Am I starting to sound like that old timer who walked 20 miles to school, through rain and snow and ice?

The snow has just started and I’ve got to finish some laundry and get dinner under way. Hope all of you stay warm and safe over the next few days.

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The Bride in the Berkshires

The Bride in the Berkshires

The Love Bug broke her arm over the weekend. She was jumping on the couch, apparently practicing her basketball skills after seeing her first live, basketball game. The doctors did what they always do, they discussed it among themselves and then I got to hear about it, in the best possible light. It’s only a little “buckle” fracture, she’ll probably only need a splint, what’s for dinner?

The Groom is a man after my own heart. Instead of letting his Bride take their tumbling toddler into the ER and splint her – why is it all emergencies happen on the weekend? – he insisted they take her to “another doctor who is not the parent” for treatment. When mine were little, I’d let Bob look into their ears on occasion, but they saw our pediatrician for most things. What is that saying; “Physician heal thyself, or don’t even try and heal your family members or whatever?”

The Bride broke her arm the night before the first day of First Grade. I remember coming home to my little family trying to get out the door with her arm wrapped in magazines, a temporary Boy Scout-like splint. It’s one thing for your children to catch cold, but it’s an entire other thing when we parents realize that we sometimes have absolutely no control over our child at all times. For me it was finding out that the Bride needed to wear glasses at the age of 2!

How could that happen? I didn’t wear glasses and neither did Bob, we had 20/20 vision. But I’d been noticing my little girl’s eyes were asymmetrical. I thought she had an ocular muscle problem and brought her to see an Ophthalmologist. It turns out she was squinting in one eye because she had a severe astigmatism, in other words the world looked like a Dali painting on one side of her brain and normal on the other. If we hadn’t caught it as such a young age, she would have been that pirate Kindergartener wearing a patch with glasses to encourage her eye to see normally.

As it was, she wore a tiny pair of glasses with a band around the back of her curly blonde head for a year, until her cornea grew to correct the astigmatism. And like it or not, I felt like I had failed as a mother, if only my uterus held her in the upright position, maybe I shouldn’t have played racquetball? It felt like some part of my gene pool had failed me. Now I realize we are none of us perfect. That thinking we have a tabula rosa on our hands with a brand spanking new baby is idiotic, because that baby has all the genetic material of her parents, and her parents’ parents, and back through the ages.

Temperament is ingrained. They will or will not develop allergies; they might confuse letters. They will or will not jump into the water, they will or will not climb that tree and fall out. Some children hesitate, and some take on the world like a mini Evil Knievel. Some, like the Rocker, will run straight into the ocean or take the ski lift to the top of a mountain, and leave his family in his wake. And I must admit, the Love Bug seems to have a bit of her Uncle’s daredevil streak; what others may call stubborn, I see as determination and persistence. When they are stopped in Nashville city traffic now, the Bug will yell, “GO! GO! GO!” from her tiny car seat! Remember we called her mother, “The Girl Who Stands With Hands on Hips.”

It’s all in the perspective.                           photo

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