Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Travels with My Sister

My sister and I took a spin a couple of weekends ago. I drove to her home north of Detroit and spent the night with her family. Then we piled our junk into my little SUV and drove several hours northwest to Cadillac, MI. Along the way, we detoured to the Soaring Eagle Casino and made a contribution to the Indian reservation.

In Cadillac, we stopped at the Elks Lodge downtown. The occasion was the monthly meeting of the local Red Hats group, the Red Hat Rascals. Our mother was in charge of the day's event and had invited us to teach eight lovely ladies how to make garden stepping stones. My sister and I are too young to qualify as Red Hats, so we wore pink hats instead, as allowed in the rules.

The group was appreciative and willing to get their hands dirty. We enjoyed the challenge and in an hour, these ladies had each made a personalized concrete stone about 9" round. The stones were simple but touching. One simply said "God Bless" and featured a cross of colored stones with a pink faceted heart at the center. Another dedicated her stone to her graddaughter Libby, and others were decorated with simply flowers or dragonflies.

They also conducted their club business, read some poetry, and enjoyed a skit (put on by my mother, sister and me). Then they retired to the bar for wine, popcorn and chit-chat.

My sister and I spent the evening with Mom and Dad - dining, playing cards, looking through old report cards and photos, and laughing. The next day, we piled everything back in the SUV and headed south, pausing again at the casino, where I took back my donation from the day before.

It was a long and tiring drive, from Cadillac to Cleveland with a detour to drop my sister off at home, but it gave me plenty of time to think. The trip was probably the most time I had spent alone with my sister since before she got married 27 years ago. Without having to "perform" in the kitchen (usually we see each other over family holidays with hordes of people milling about and asking for things), we got to be kids again. We laughed a lot - but not at each other. We remembered shared events - and sometimes we remembered them differently. We compared notes on husbands and grown children, on education and work, on our parents and retirement, and on musical preferences (she's country, I'm undefinable).

So what did I learn? Well, we will always be two very different people. I'm dark-haired, she's lighter. She smokes, I never have. I have a master's degree, she stopped at high school. I live and work in the city, she's on a rural route. I live and breathe by the computer, she hardly uses one.

But we are also cut of the same cloth. We have a shared history that no one else can ever duplicate. Our senses of humor are set in tandem, so the same things set us off and we think of the same punchlines at the same time. I write for a living and she is a clever poet, although she doesn't see it that way. It's corny, but in a sense, we complete each other. My sister is as much a part of me as my memories are.

I remember thinking a while ago that I was not very close to my sister, but this little weekend jaunt (our Thelma and Louise trip, if you will) has taught me that we are much closer than I imagined. I hope she feels the same way, and I look forward to more sister-bonding trips in the future.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Look at the birdie and smile!

I am not a great photographer. My photos are just okay, but I can't seem to get a clear shot with my digital camera - it's always a little fuzzy. If the fuzziness isn't pronounced, I can adjust for it on my computer using Photoshop. I can also brighten a dim scene, improve the contrast, even turn a photo into a charcoal rendering.

I am self-taught, so there's a lot I don't know about Photoshop. Most of the application's bells and whistles are wa-a-a-a-y beyond me. But the things I can do in Photoshop made me think about what I would edit in my life, if such a thing was as simple as Photoshop makes it.

Of course, the first thought is to edit out a few pounds and a blemish or two and maybe add some thicker hair. Could I stretch myself a few inches taller using the free transform feature? I am human after all. But if I could, what else would I edit?

I might soften some deadlines and maybe sharpen my memory. I would definitely crop some of the clutter. Since I live in Cleveland, land of the perpetual grey sky, I would brighten my days and add more color to the landscape.

I probably wouldn't change anything too drastically, though. I am who I am, and no amount of blurring or dodging or sharpening will change that. The changes I would make are superficial. It might be simple to drop my image into a lush tropical landscape or onto a stage, but it's all make-believe after all.

And what's wrong with that? Nothing, as long as we recognize that fantasies are just that - make-believe - and not real life. We can edit real life, though, by the choices we make every day. Here are some things we can do - using life's "free transform" feature:
  • Choose kind words to a stranger over terseness or looking away
  • Elect to properly discard or recycle the newspaper or soda can rather than litter or dump into a landfill
  • Soften your words, your heart, and your face - smile and mean it.
  • Stretch yourself - not thin, but beyond your self-imposed limits.
  • Sharpen - your wit, your memory, your skills, your resolve...but not your tongue or your heart.

I think I'll take a Photoshop class to improve my graphic skills. But to edit everything else, I'll need to make careful choices every day. I think I'm better at that than at Photoshopping. So what would you change, if you could edit as if you were a photograph?

Saturday, January 13, 2007

New Life Found at Auto Show

There's something about an auto show that brings out the hope and wonder in a person. The men in my life are driving to Detroit this morning to visit the big one - Cleveland's auto show later on simply cannot be compared to Detroit's - and to dream.

Oh, the glamour, the excitement, the music, the pretty women...oh, yeah, and the vehicles! It's been decades since I visited the Detroit auto show. I remember seeing futuristic concept cars and wondering when we would get to drive them. Usually, never. A few cars made it from the show floor/drawing board to the streets (think DeLorean), but generally the concept cars were displayed as an attraction. Kind of like the old freakshows at the circus.

I'm not much of a car fashionista. When I find a car I like that "fits" me, I will drive it until it crumbles. My husband, on the other hand, gets fidgety after driving a car for a couple of years. He starts to grumble about what is wrong with the vehicle and then starts ogling other cars with lust. There should be a commandment against this!

Once, we got a new vehicle, a Dodge minivan, that I was supposed to drive. He was driving an older K car at the time, so you can imagine the whining! (No offense, dear, but it's true.) Finally I handed over the keys to the pretty new minivan, swapping cars to keep the peace. =sigh=

Me? I drive a new Ford Escape, but it's not "my" car. "My" car is a four-year-old PT Cruiser. The car fits me like a glove, with a seat that's high enough that I don't feel like I'm sitting on the floor and have to pull myself up and out, but not so high I have to climb up onto the seat. It has 75,000 miles on it, so when I took a job that requires a 100-mile daily commute, dear hubby insisted that I needed "more reliable" wheels. So we bought what can only be described as "his" car - a burnt orange Escape with a sunroof (definitely a "him" requirement). He gets to drive it for long trips and weekends, and I have to clamber up into the seat for my daily commute. I'd be very comfortable doing my daily drive in the Cruiser, but c'est la vie.

So he's off to the auto show with our son. I'm making him leave the checkbook home. Read my lips - no more new cars! At least not today.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

On My Way, Wrong or Write

Well, I've finally gone and done it. I started writing my book. Whoa. That sounds so strange. I write every day, but a book! Of course, I only have a few pages written, I already hate them, and I've already rewritten - twice - but nonetheless, I am writing A BOOK! phew!

The feeling of weight - of responsibility - is incredible. When I write a manual or letter or speech, it's short and to the point, maybe clever and witty, and almost always inconsequential in the long term. But a book is a legacy. If well-written and accepted for publishing, a book becomes a concrete means of documenting my existence, if not my talent. If not written well and/or not embraced by the publishing world, it is still a work of many hours, anxiety, and devotion.

Either way, I have begun the arduous process. It is hard to carve out the time needed to write. I tend to write on my lunch hour, a cup of yogurt or half a sandwich at my elbow as I type, then delete, sentences. And each time I save my work to my thumb drive, I feel a sense of satisfaction. It's not as if this is the best I have ever written - at least, not yet - but there is a feeling of accomplishment.

Talk to me in a year, though. I'll be I'm either tired of the effort and disappointed in what I have accomplished or I'll be pressing on to finish, eager for the next steps. The latter is usually how I approach my life, but who knows? Let's agree to check back in next year at this time and see what's done.

Friday, January 5, 2007

Live long and prosper!

I live in fear of Alzheimer's disease. My maternal grandmother suffered from the mind-robbing disease, and it was terrifying. Grandma was a poet. She wove wonderful rhyming tales about her world - her children, the world around her, her home - and shared them with family and friends. She loved to read and do crosswords. She crocheted, fast and fluffy, making a lifetime's worth of afghans and blankets. She worked outside the home for years for Gold Bell - remember the retailers who gave out little stamps that you collected in books and redeemed for merchandise?

Grandma's descent into senility was rapid and unrelenting. She left gas burners on, gave away photos and other belongings, and wandered off from her woodland home. She forgot the youngest grandchildren first - I guess because they were the newest and had not been in her memory for long.

When Gramps was diagnosed with cancer, he had to care for both of them, so he sold their belongings and moved with her into a tiny mobile home closer to town. It was sad to hear her offer pictures of the grandkids to anyone who would listen, "because we don't have room in the new place." Eventually, Gramps had to place Grandma in a skilled nursing facility and moved to an assisted living facility. He felt guilty, but it was all he could do to wage his own battle with cancer.

When Gramps died, my mother tried to tell Grandma about his passing. When Mom said, "Mom, Daddy died," Grandma thought her own father had passed. She was inconsolable. When my mother realized the misunderstanding, she tried to correct the error by using Gramps' given name, but it was too late to reason with Grandma.

At the skilled nursing facility, most of Grandma's handmade afghans disappeared, as well as a lot of her personal things. I visited with my little boy, but the visits scared him. Grandma would ask a question, then repeat it twice, each time at a higher decibel, until she was shrieking. She was frightened most of the time - frightened and lonely, because by then we were all strangers to her.

Her children signed a Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) order, but when Grandma's heart gave out, the DNR was ignored the first time. I am not ashamed to say that we felt relief for her when she finally passed away.

A few years after she died, her children had Grandma's poems printed and bound for the grandkids. It was a way for her to live on like she used to be - sharp as a tack, witty, clever, funny. If I can do so without choking, I will pull out that book and print one or two of the poems in this space later.

Now, whenever my brain is full and I forget a word or something simple, I worry that it is Alzheimer's disease, rearing its ugly head again. I know my mom gets the same way. The "experts" say you can keep Alzheimer's at bay by keeping your mind sharp - say, by reading, doing crosswords, writing poetry, and doing handicrafts...like Grandma did. So I read voraciously, do every Su Doku and crossword I can lay hands on, take classes, get degrees, and worry. Will the mental gymnastics be enough to keep control of my mind and memories? I wish I knew.

Monday, January 1, 2007

New Again

It's January first, the day we reset our annual clocks and vow that we start over with a clean slate. We promise to eat better and less, to exercise faithfully and more. We will stop smoking, start school, clean the closet, find a new job.

To me, the new year is not so much a time to review the past or set ground rules for the future as it is a time to assess, to take stock. Where am I on this road of life? Have I stayed the course (not likely) or have a wandered a bit askew (more likely)? Should I make a course correction? Maybe I like this new course better.

Life is a trail blazed with milestones - birth, love, death are but three. This past year, I passed a significant personal milestone when I completed coursework for an MBA (I will "walk" in May). That's a big milestone, one I've watched coming closer for four years, and I am glad to have passed it. But often we don't know an event qualifies as a milestone until it is past, and then it is too late to change how we react or carry ourselves. How sad to have our negative actions come to mind every time we recall something that became a milestone in our personal history.

I guess that means we - I mean "I" - should start treating every day, every person with whom I have contact, every minute as if it will someday mean something special. It means I should consider my words before speaking them. It means I should comport myself as if my mother is watching. And it makes me think that the Golden Rule we were taught as children is spot-on as a saying by which to live my life.

I'm not a resolution maker by nature, but I hereby resolve to live each day as if I know it is my last, to love my family and friends deeply and to let them know it, and to enjoy all of the milestones of my life as they happen, never looking back in regret.