About Alice

Grew up in Florida where I was born; only left because the man I married insisted he was a scientist, not a farmer. Over the years lived in Pittsburgh, Pa., Windsor (Hartford), Ct., Grove City (Columbus), Oh., Knoxville, Tn., Las Vegas, NV.; Now retired and currently living in Utah with husband. My biggest accomplishments were two daughters, who both earned Ph.D.s and became professors of academia (Psychology & English). I have two grandchildren, a boy and a girl, who are not only good looking but, like the people of Garrison Keillor's Lake Wabegon, are both way above average.

what I won’t worry about anymore

Happy New Year everyone! It looks like we made it to another year all in one piece, having survived one more road trip, this time to spend Christmas with the daughter’s family in their Oregon vacation home, a fine change of scene. For the first time since we left Tennessee in 1997, we enjoyed the earthy smell of woodlands and a real old-fashioned fir tree in the house.We thought we’d escape the extreme temperatures and heavy Utah snows, but instead found a different kind of cold (humid), and re-discovered what it’s like to drive on fog and ice-laced country roads. “Oh my heck!” as my Mormon friends might say, but it was beautiful and sunny every day. Christmas Eve we drove to a nearby village to see a Christmas play–sort of a Sherlock Holmes spinoff of Charles Dickens Christmas Carol. Except for the long distances you have to drive to get to everywhere else, there’s something very appealing about small town living.

In reflecting on 2013, the Hubby, who’s usually just fine with whatever happens in the world, who’s so well-versed in rolling with the punches, remarked that he was happy to be done with it because of so many health issues for various members of the family–and to him as well if you count the re-injury he’s still suffering with the shoulder. This despite the surgery he underwent in the spring to repair it. I predict another surgery soon. In retrospect, turns out 2013 was especially expensive even though we decided to forgo foreign travel this year so we could invest in routine maintenance we would have done ourselves 30 years ago, plus another unplanned purchase–a new furnace!

And on top of that he still got itchy feel by summertime, and booked a tour to France. I live and learn though. I learned how spoiled we are in the U.S. because of our strict anti-smoking bans in public places. I have always been at the very least hyper-sensitive, if not downright allergic, to tobacco smoke. About three days into the trip I succumbed to the cigarette smoke all around in the open air with an upper respiratory infection that persisted for weeks after our return. Despite that, France was beautiful. I hope if (or when) I ever go back, they will have established at least a partial ban on smoking in public. The best things I found there were the cemeteries–I photographed painter Marc Chagall‘s grave in a lovely church yard on the mountainside commune of St. Thomas-en-Royans in southeastern France. After living in Las Vegas eight years, Monaco was pretty boring. I’m leery of most things that cater more to the rich than to the common man!

That brings me to 2014, and thinking mostly positive thoughts about what the year may bring. I’m taking a portrait drawing class this semester. Two days a week, and I was warned it will mean a lot of homework. I hope I’m up to it. When I was growing up, my second goal in life, after I got over my initial ambition of becoming a waitress (I was VERY young!), was to go to art school. I’d decided on Ringling College of Art & Design on Florida’s Gulf Coast. I’m pretty sure I never breathed this to a living soul. So whatever made be think I could draw then may no longer be there, plus I’m a little anxious about how the arthritis in my fingers may pose limits. Friday I’ll be consulting the ENT section of the University Hospital about a possible surgical procedure to improve my hearing. Previous ear surgeries have left me with little hearing in one ear–no eardrum–but tests show I have nearly perfect bone conduction. The new device will allow sound to be conducted through the bone to balance things a bit. I wouldn’t even tell about it except that it was such a jaw-dropping experience when they fitted me with a trial model to see how it would work. It was like moving from the back of a noisy class-room to the front row right next to the teacher’s desk. While I dread the surgical insertion, I look forward to no longer straining to hear.

So what else did I learn last year? I learned to listen to my own instincts more. They’re probably as good as anybody’s else when it’s about me and my health, and there are no guarantees in life, anyway. I listen to and read the experts, and then go to the gym and do what I feel good about doing, not what someone else thinks I ought to be doing. Three years now after the cancer treatments of 2010, and I go for days without thinking about it anymore. I get along very well and have energy to do all the things I really want to do, and the ability to admit it if I don’t want to. I’ve learned that food is not really my enemy, that I can eat things I ate while I was growing up even if those foods aren’t “cool” anymore. Sometimes I do cut back on the sugar and butter, I’m no longer as active after all, but I still believe in “everything in moderation.” My nod to embracing the new includes learning to “massage” and eat more kale, because mustard and collards just don’t taste the same without bacon drippings. I still hate and avoid beets, I don’t care what anyone says. And, I no longer feel guilty about the rarity of my inviting anyone outside family to dinner anymore. Here’s a perfect example why:

Hope everyone of you have a happy 2014, and find the peace of being just who you are with no apologies to anyone.  😀

 

Whatever your spiritual connection, here’s Hubby and me back to wish all of you the very best the holidays can offer. I know I’ve been negligent in posting since summer but I had a bad bout with arthritis in my hands, and instead of sitting at the computer so much, I decided to focus on finger exercises. (I hated them almost as bad as “real” exercise, but the hot/cold baths and hand waxings were great!) Things have improved some, and hopefully I’ll be back with more regularity in 2014 so I can exercise my brain as well. Things do fall apart the older you get, don’t they?

 

 

Book of Mormon: hell of a play in a hell of a town

When you get sidetracked from journal keeping (or blogging, if you prefer) for more than a few days, I’ve found it gets really easy to lose track of what you were going to write next. If you’re anything like me, however, while your fingers are idle from the keyboard, your mind is still going 90 mph. When there’s not enough time sometimes to sit down and write, I have 3 or 4 ideas for new postings all at once. Where to start?! So today I’ll finish up “our week of living in New York as though we really lived there.” The highlight of the trip turned out to be not only having real face-time with our Pittsburgh friend who took the Amtrak to join us a few days, but going to our first play on Broadway. And what a play it was!

Being from Utah where about 60% of the current population are members of the Latter Day Saints (Mormon), of course we were curious about all the hoopla surrounding Book Of Mormon. broadway book of mormonFrom the reaction of the people in the audience near me, there’s no wonder why they sell out so often–even after running more than two years. Book of Mormon is all the things you’ve no doubt heard already:  subversive, offensive, and, well–okay–at times inappropriate. Yes, it’s all those things, but much much more. I can sum it up in one word: Hilarious! I was laughing so hard throughout the whole two hours and 30 minutes that the rest of the world and its problems fell away. That said, the coarser aspects–the jokes about female circumcision, and sex with babies as “nature’s remedy for healing HIV,” gave me pause, and make Ugandans look pretty stupid, and I wonder how an African visitor to this country might react. In spite of my own rather bawdy sense of humor, several times my better nature stood aside to ask my baser self, “Why are you laughing?!” I’m happy to say that by the end of the play, I felt the Ugandans came out okay after all. By then they had vindicated themselves by revealing their intelligence in the  staging of a musical production for the benefit of visiting Church Elders. Not only did they understand the metaphoric content they took from Missionary Cunningham’s version (he was cornered into making up stories his own since he’d never actually read the Book of Mormon himself) but that they were perfectly able to take the best from those, and other influences from the west seeking to influence them, and improve themselves. The message I took from that–indeed there’s a line in the play that says it–it doesn’t matter where the stories came from. What does matter is the good that can come from that message. Lastly, I confess to something many of you who know me well may already have guessed, and I do this at the risk of giving some of the plot away. I love it when one of the insecure, overweight (read unacceptable as one of the “cool” people), nerds of the world turn out to be the real heroes. I confess that I (almost) fell in love with Arnold.

Other highlights, as briefly as I can make them, but you know me and my wordiness!  Eating ethnic: Indian food for dinner in Jackson Heights at the Jackson Cafe. Delicious pakoras, tandoor chicken served with rice and curried bindi (okra). Sorry, no picture. We had an Ethiopian lunch one day, which we’ve sorely missed since leaving Las Vegas. Wasn’t sure about going to Hells Kitchen in Midtown Manhattan as I remembered it from the 1970s as a not-so-great part of town. Today the area is, according to Wikipedia “gentrifying.” That seems like an apt description to me. The streets were clean, people were busy with few or no loiterers about. I didn’t feel nervous at all as I might have forty years ago. I noticed this Citi Bike system outside the restaurant (Meskerem’s), and couldn’t figure out what all the fuss was about. Seemed like a great idea to us. And regardless of what that lady said on the news, it didn’t make the neighborhood look disgusting at all to me.

citibikes

Lunch was a shared summer salad of tomatoes, cucumbers, and green peppers with a light vinaigrette dressing on a serving of injera, which is a flatbread made with teff flour (which is gluten-free) mixed with water and allowed to ferment for several days, then baked into crepe-like bread on a flat clay grill. The fermenting gives it its spongy texture and slightly sour taste. We ordered the vegetarian assortment  shown here, also shared, making it a very inexpensive and tasty meals for New York City (less than $20 for the two of us). It’s eaten with the hand, so we felt right at home, since we eat like that when we go to India. I sent my compliments to the chef as I’ve never tasted a better injera in any city I’ve ever eaten it.

ethiopean lunch

Finally, besides the upscale (window) shopping at Bergdorf-Goodman‘s (we were looking for Barney’s) and Tiffany, our museumless, more or less seat-o-the-pants city tour with our friend, we also ogled the store artwork in the Lego Store at Rockefeller Center. If you have even one creative bone in your body, you’ll not wonder that Legos have been around such a long time–since the l940’s–I believe. I’m not sure whether this is a snake or a dragon, but whatever it is, it’s a marvel in design. It winds itself in and out of the whole store ceiling. I can’t imagine how many hours it took to make, or how many people it took to do it.

lego snake

The Book of Mormon off Broadway will no doubt make it to a theater near you. I hope you’ll be able to see it some day, and if you’re close enough to travel on Amtrak in hours, as our friend was, I’d say it’s worth a weekend excursion. Once you see it, and you decide you either like it or hate it, I hope you won’t hold my unorthodox sense of humor against me. Really, I wouldn’t hurt a fly!  And while I might enjoy poking fun at some the weirder aspects of religious practice, I’d never ridicule the religion itself.  🙂

what new york is . . . and isn’t . . . for me

We’ve been home for more than a week already, and finally I’m sitting down to reflect on our week in New York. We booked the trip originally to help our daughter with her obligation as home and cat owner while she was in Paris on a combination academic conference/vacation. Now don’t laugh. I turned down many potentially inspiring trips with Hubby the years that one of my three cats at the time required medication and attention I didn’t want to burden my friends and neighbors with. I had the luxury of staying home; our daughter doesn’t. What we got in return was a whole week in the city without expensive hotel bills, living like New Yorkers do, taking advantage of all the cultural offerings, the parks, the food . . . !

And yes, that included the subways. Usually when we’re visiting, I’m about five feet behind Hubby and daughter every time we go out, working hard just to keep up with them. I never know exactly where we are, or how we got there, until we’re there, much like being a child again. This trip, I was right there alongside him so I could see for myself how he knew which train to take–which platform we needed to be on–and the wisdom of waiting for the Express rather than taking the local. By the end of the week I was beginning–but not quite there yet–to feel a little like a native New Yorker. That means I stopped gawking at the artistic tile work on some of the walls, taking pictures, staring at people. I even managed to scan my Metro card with one swipe (most of the time). Walking outside on the street, I practiced the art of focusing on the sidewalk (instead of everywhere else), looking neither right nor left, with a slight scowl on my face and plowing straight ahead. I acted as if I knew exactly where I was going and in a big hurry to get there. Even though I wasn’t–except when we had to be someplace at a certain time–(like the play we went to)–more on that later. When you ride the subway, it’s good to close your eyes and let your head hang to one side, stirring only when the train stops. If you can understand the accent of the subway announcer you can keep your eyes closed all the way. It’s even more effective if you let your head touch other people and then open your eyes quickly as if you’re startled. Then close them again and let your head dangle on your chest some more.

But every now and then, I did look up and let a smile creep onto my face. In spite of myself I even made eye contact now and then, occasionally making a small remark to someone nearby. That taught me something too. That New Yorkers are very often from someplace else too! That makes them a lot like me, and with one exception we got along very well indeed (that story will come in a later story). We got on so well that by the time we left I was feeling as though, like Hubby has always felt since he grew up in a crowded big city while I grew up with cows and hogs, that it might be fun to live in a high rise (no yard work) in a big city. Especially one with great public transportation and every ethnic food you can think of plus some you’ve never heard of, and not all that expensive either. Our daughter lives in Forest Hills. You can shop for just about anything you’d want or need within a few blocks. It took me less than five minutes to walk to the ice cream shop for a gelato after lunch one day.

Thinking back on some of my favorite travel memories, I’m always reminded of that billboard I read more than 40 years ago riding the Staten Island Ferry during my first visit to New York (1968), “Remember that YOU may be one of our visitors best memories on New York.” These are a couple of people encounters I’ll always remember fondly: the greeter at Tiffany on Fifth Avenue who told us what to see (the Ziegfeld Collection and the stunning jewelry worn in the The Great Gatsby movie) and the female sales clerk who taught me a little about purchasing a diamond, knowing (I’m sure) I had no means of buying any at that store (!) and made my day by insisting I try on one of the terribly impressive emerald cut diamond (about 5 carats) that only cost $36,850. And whoever said that New Yorkers aren’t friendly? At the Empire State Building there was the information clerk who was so friendly we chatted comfortably for at least 15-20 minutes (always stepping aside when other visitors needed her attention of course). By the time I left I’d not only gotten a recommend for a new and far cheaper version of skin care product than the one I was currently using, but I knew her age and how many years she had to work before retirement. And even though my friend ML, who had joined us from Pittsburgh and I failed to find the high end store Barney’s we wanted directions for, we found Bergdorf-Goodman instead, and had a wonderful time checking out the (excessively) expensive shoes. Readers, I had no idea there are people in the world who don’t blink an eye at spending thousands of dollars on a single pair of shoes. And here I was feeling all guilty that I’ve had to spend more than $100 for my shoes since chemotherapy and RA have left quite an impact on my feet!

There were “action comic” shoes, “jeweled little bits of nothing strap-wrapped shoes,” even “I wanna tower so tall over men that the heels have to be bowed for balance” shoes.

action comic shoes bg double high shoes bgexotic shoe bg

Like women everywhere, we were soon attracted to the 50% off shoe display in the corner. (Not a single pair did I see for $100.)The ones I singled out varied in price between $650 and $1800 (remember  that’s at 50% off). We found some spiked heels we called secret service shoes because they had not just super high-heels, but literally had black plastic spikes (like track shoe cleats) all over the heel as well as the inset strap. If you worked at secret service and a bad guy (read: terrorist) grabs you from the back or the front you have lethal weapons on both feet for that crotch or buttock kick!  (Sort of like the one of the left below.) And I’ll bet Wonder Woman would have killed for shoes like the one on the right.

   shoes from bergdorf goodman 1ouch shoes bg

The first pair of sandals look like the perfect shoe for the woman who really prefers going barefoot, but doesn’t because “what if there’s dog poo?” The others are very much like those I bought to wear with my saree for my wedding in Pittsburgh (1969).

i kinda feel like bare feet but don't want to step in dog poolike my wedding shoesI paid less than $10 for them at a shoe store near my apartment in Shadyside. Last, but not least, this pair sums up my dilemma every time I purchase shoes of any kind, the “I can’t decide which color I like best shoe.” Remember when the choices were limited to black, white, and sometimes red or black patent?

colorful shoes bgI have many more experiences and people to talk about from our trip, but I’ll hold those until next time. Meanwhile, my new feelings for New York (and big cities in general) are best summed up in these words I stole from a letter written by Anaïs Nin to her lover Henry Miller.

It is the suitable scene for my ever heightened life. I love the proportions, the amplitude, the brilliance, the polish, the solidity. I look up at Radio City insolently and love it. It is all great, and Babylonian. Broadway at night. Cellophane. The newness. The vitality. True, it is only physical. But it’s inspiring. Just bring your own contents, and you create a sparkle of the highest power. I’m not moved, not speechless. I stand straight, tough, and I meet the impact. I feel the glow and the dancing in everything. The radio music in the taxis, scientific magic, which can all be used lyrically.

 

We’re in NYC cat/condo sitting for our daughter

We’re in NYC cat/condo sitting for our daughter who is vacationing in Paris. Today we spent the day settling in, food shopping, and planning our week. So far we’ve maneuvered the subway system successfully, thanks to Hubby who’s good at such things. Our friend from Pittsburgh will be joining us Wednesday so we took the subway to find the hotel she’ll be staying in, a couple stops away from us. Also got our bearings around Times Square at Broadway where we’ll be seeing Book of Mormon later in the week. It’ll be my first play on broadway. I’m trying to post this on our iPad and it stinks. I don’t like touch screens! More later, maybe.

on folklore and ouija boards

fox fire with text Growing up as I did, witnessing people talking in tongues in church as a child, it’s no wonder I’ve been equally fascinated by all kinds of folklore and other ghoulish things. I remember family story swapping sitting around Grandpa‘s living room on Sundays after church. Those days if children were seen but not heard, the clever child could find a way to hover on the sidelines and be privy to some interesting grownup talk.

There was an oft touted tale of the coffin of a young woman being opened, for whatever earthly reason I no longer remember. She had been buried with her long hair arranged in the chignon style of the day, but when the coffin lid was raised, a gripping view was exposed–hair hanging disheveled around the face, ensnared by the very hair comb that had secured the bun. Some swore her fingernails were also longer AND broken, and the silky material lining the lid was hanging in tatters. What a ghastly scene! Other times Grandma recounted her tale about seeing eerie green lights deep in woods surrounding the house when she was a young girl. As I grew older, I learned that the green lights were called “foxfire,” defined as a rare phenomenon of eerie green lights glowing in the woods on starless nights. In 1823 scientists finally explained how fungal growth on decayed wood emitted these phosphorescent episodes, not spirits of people gone on to meet their maker. In time I imagine she knew that the mystery had been solved, but I’m still a little disappointed, I think. It’s actually a little bit fun to have a bit of a fright, followed quickly, of course by a reasonable explanation.

The last time I remember having a serious case of the heebie jeebies was during a slumber party my daughters had in the 1980s in Ohio one weekend, with 5 or 6 girls attending.  They were playing with the Ouija board in the basement, one of my more idiotic shopping mistakes, in retrospect. I heard lots of giggling, and occasional squeals. It was getting late by this time, Hubby was out of town on business, and as I struggled to stay alert upstairs, I hoped they would soon tire themselves into slumber. Rather, all of a sudden they burst through the door at the top of the stairs screeching. It seems a spirit or demon had suddenly “taken over the Ouija board’s planchette (the pointer gadget). He was furiously spelling out threatening, frightfyk things that were going to happen. I tried to tell them that inanimate objects and games couldn’t hurt them but they weren’t having it!

The story that then emerged–as best I can remember–was that the demon was once a teenage boy who died in an accident when he was young. Now he was very angry at pretty much everybody alive, especially giggling and adolescents and teenage girls! At that point I was quite amused at the humor of it, but still needed to calm them down a bit. I suggested  we freeze the hell and damnation out of him by throwing the whole board in the freezer to cool him down.Youthful impatience led to frequent openings and closings of the freezer door, and the girls couldn’t resist another quick trip to the basement (presumable spirits prefer dim basements). Moments later, they were back upstairs. He was still there. I was still comfortable in my assumption that one of the girls was conscientiously (or not) maneuvering the pointer, having a great time at all the reactions. No one would admit to it, though, so I decided to witness a session myself. I went downstairs to watch the pointer sail lightly from letter to letter, again spelling out an apt-sounding ancient name. Whichever girl was key to the ruse was goooooood, I decided. I was very impressed!

Whether imagination or not, doubt crept in. What if it wasn’t a hoax? Each girl insisted she was innocent! It was close to, or past by that time, midnight. Clearly this demon was NOT going away. No amount of begging girls to go away was working. We’d tried the freezer, now we tried nuking him in the microwave. That didn’t work either.

All the warnings about Ouija boards being the passageway of all things occult came flooding back. “Messages revealed by a Ouija should only be on God’s hands,” “a tool of Satan best left alone!” “Paranormal or supernatural beings are responsible for Ouija’s action, therefore you are colluding with Satan if you use them!” 

At last we decided the only thing left to do with that evil board was to take it and break it across my knee and throw it into the garbage or the fireplace, I don’t remember which, but the idea was good riddance to bad rubbish. Then everyone went to bed–I hope. They must have had quite a time the next day telling their parents about the evil spirit they’d conjured up with the Ouija board. I don’t remember how many were allowed at our house after that.

Many eminent people have succumbed to the lure of the supernatural: Although he didn’t use it himself, Poet William Butler Yeats‘s later poetry was inspired by the Ouija board and other facets of the occult; G. K. Chesterton used a Ouija board in his teenage years. Around 1893 writer G. K. Chesterton  went through crises of skepticism and depression, grew fascinated with the occult and experimented with the Ouija board. Remember Alice Cooper? Early press releases stated that Vincent Furnier‘s stage and band name was agreed on after a session with a Ouija board (his real name was Vincent Furnier) during which it was revealed he was the reincarnation of a 17th-century witch with that name.

In case I haven’t convinced you that a Ouija board is pure evil, or let’s just say yours in an inquiring mind, here’s an online Ouija http://www.brainjar.com/dhtml/ouija/ for free, so now you don’t even have to pay homage to its original maker, those rich Parker Brothers. Have fun! And now that I’ve finished this silly little story about things that go bump in the night, Hubby and I are off to New York for more earthly adventures I hope to share with you from there.

new words in my vocabulary

I’ve only thought every day the past two weeks that this will be the day I get around to blogging; well, you can see where that got me if you check the calendar in the sidebar. (Oops! Can it really be I haven’t been here at all in June?) I have no idea where the time went. Oh yes, I do: yard work planning and the hard work it involved (Sergio and his helper really worked up a sweat for sure!); finally choosing a color for the painters to paint the three outside entry doors (I’m pretty sure my previous final choice, that hot pink color?, could result in a pink slip of a different sort from our community council (Hubby’s a member), so yes, Meridith, Regatta Blue #6517–final choice–). Believe me, I know that everyone should be lucky to have such troubles, but it’s important to keep your sense of humor in these trying times.

Another and probably more accurate reason for long absences from blogging–reading. Books are like movies–none excite me for long periods of time, then all of a suddenly there’s a new one catching my eye all at one time–and the library wants all of them back by a certain time. But it’s easy to excuse that excuse because I tell myself I’m always learning something new when I’m reading so it isn’t wasting time.

A journalist in a Tennessee writing group I belonged to encouraged our group to write a list of our favorite words and practice playing with them. Use them in our own writing. This reading session I’ve added lots of new words to my vocabulary. Until then, words were just words to me, but I did manage to add a few favorites to my list: flotsam, for instance, but it’s pretty hard to surpass that one, and even harder to work flotsam into an ordinary conversation or blog, so I’ve neglected the list for many years. But I’ve come across quite a few new ones in my latest readathon.

For instance, glossolalia. Has a ring to it, no? I attended a Pentecostal church when I was a child and so enjoyed going to the prayer room Wednesday and Sunday evenings to see people I knew well, often two or three at once, rolling around on the floor doing it. In case you never came across it either, glossolalia comes from the Greek word “glossa” (meaning “tongue” or “language”) and it’s simply speaking in tongues. Linguists explain that the otherwise unintelligible prattling sounds are made up of syllables formed from consonants and vowels taken from the speaker’s native language. I’d known these people all my life–admittedly only around 10 years at the time–and I knew not one of them would ever in a million years have dreamed of drinking or dancing in public or “showing off” in any form–yet they could glossolate with abandon, and some of them repeatedly. (Okay, I made that word up because I can’t think of a verb that suits it, can you?) It’s the reason I wanted to see watch this curious phenomenon over and over. The preacher explained it as “the holy spirit taking over,” but I wasn’t convinced. Not once did I ever see anything resembling a spirit in the room. So I think that word, glossolalia, will stick with me awhile–even though technically I haven’t “learned” it because it would be very difficult for me to ever use it in a conversation, even as a noun, but I’ve managed to write with it. That journalist must have been right!

I planned to add a couple of other strange new words, but if I do the post will be far too long, so I’ll plan to sit down another day and tell you what I’ve learned about witchery and black magic and the new words those conjure up. They definitely deserve a post of their own. ‘Til next time then . . .