Sunday, June 28, 2015

Time on my hands

My baby flew to DC on Wednesday. I picked her up early from the summer program she's been attending, and drove her to the airport (about two hours away). We were on a pretty tight schedule because I knew I was going to hit traffic. As soon as we got out of the building when I picked her up, she started to complain that she needed to pee, she was thirsty, blah blah blah. I turned to tell her that she should have thought about that before and then I fell down the steps. I am such a graceful lass.

We did hit traffic but we got to the airport on time and even had a little time to spare. So, we hung out at Chili's (in the Southwest terminal) for a bit. Eventually, it was time for me to put her on the plane. A super handsome flight attendant came out to escort her (all the cute ones are gay, right?). He seemed like he could manage to keep an eye on a ten-year-old while serving lukewarm Sprite to the masses. For unaccompanied minors, most airlines require that the person delivering the minor must remain in the gate area until the plane is in the air. So, I settled into a chair where I could watch the plane being prepared for departure. It wasn't until the plane was pushed out onto the runway that I found myself getting teary-eyed. The feeling intensified when the plane sped up and then became airborne. This parenting gig really does attach you to another human being in a very visceral way.

It was a long, quiet drive home. The kid actually landed in DC before I made it back home. My sister
sent a photo of the two of them together. My girl was clutching her lambie (stuffed animal). The next day, I did get a tearful phone call from my daughter. She was homesick. I told her that her dad and I have to work all day and that she may as well have fun. No sense in sitting around with us when she could be doing awesome stuff. I think she was just over-tired and I don't think the time change helped matters much. 

Today, the kid is at Busch Gardens Williamsburg with my sister and her family, so I don't think she's feeling too homesick now. I hope she's having the time of her life!

I've been using my extra time wisely.  I went to yoga on Thursday (a class that I can't usually attend because my husband works on Thursday evenings). I went straight from work to the gym on Friday since I didn't need to pick anyone up or prepare dinner. Yesterday, I drove to a vegan festival out of town. It was fun. It was probably the most polite festival crowd I've ever seen in my life. They had speakers, vendors, an ask-a-vegan table, and all kinds of other stuff. The organizers brought in a bunch of restaurants for a whole "vegan food court." It was sort of thrilling to be able to order anything I wanted.  I saw another attendee who had a slice of deep-dish pizza, so I got in line for that. Of course, by the time I got to the front of the line (which took a long time because the place was packed), they were out of pizza. So, I got a cheese steak sandwich. It was good, though. Mucho hearty.

Normally, I would have taken my sidekick along on an adventure like that, so it was a little bit lonely to go alone. It was fun, though. I stopped to visit a friend on the way home. I just didn't know what to do with all the quiet, though. I'm used to having someone in the backseat demanding to hear Top 40 songs with inappropriate lyrics and then suggesting that I am probably going the wrong way.

I will see her in a few days, though, and she can get me back on track.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Where do I go to trade in my eyeballs?

First, I have to tell you a story that I should be too embarrassed to share. A couple weeks ago, I went to see my optometrist. I was wearing my regular bi-focal contacts. However, I had been wearing them for two weeks longer than I was supposed to. They were getting a wee bit uncomfortable. I was out of lenses and figured I'd just suck it up until my appointment rolled around. After my exam, Dr. K gave me a new pair of lenses to try.  He confirmed what I had already expected, which is that my near vision had gone to hell in a handbasket. He said the lenses would take about ten minutes to settle. Ten minutes later, he did a quick check of my eyeballs and decided that I probably needed a slightly stronger power. So, he told me to do the following (when I got home):  take the lens out of my left eye and throw it away. Take the lens from my right eye and move it to my left eye. He then handed me a new lens for my right eye. I also had my old contact lenses in a lens case in my purse.

When I got home, I tossed the old contacts by dumping out the case from my purse. Then I took the lens from my left eye and pitched it. I put the new contacts in the case. All good.

No, not all good. I woke up the next morning and attempted to install the new contacts on my eyeballs. I opened the case. Right side: one contact lens. Left side: two contact lenses. Son of a! Then I noticed another contact lens stuck to the side of the bathroom cabinet. This one was all dried out, of course. Heck if I know what happened.  Obviously, I botched something - and how.

Dr. K wanted me to come back after a week to see how the new contact lenses were working. I had no choice but to confess that although I was pretty sure I had the correct lens on my right eye, I had no idea what was on my left eye. I figured he would go home and tell his wife: "It finally happened. The dumbest patient of all time came in today." He assured me that he had heard stories like this before and attempted to console me with the tale of a woman who had jammed two lenses into one eye. As luck would have it, he said everything looked fine.

About a week later, I went back to pick up two boxes of contacts and my new glasses. It was a banner day for the visually impaired, let me tell you. I was anxious to get home, take out my contacts, and try the new glasses. What I mainly felt, when I put them on, was pure nausea. I was having trouble adjusting to my old lady glasses, so I sought advice from an old lady. I called my friend Kathy. I can get away with calling her an old lady because she's been one of my dearest friends for the last 15 years. She told me that it would take a while and, in the meantime, I should not attempt to go down a flight of stairs. She made it sound like I would plummet to my death. Duly noted. 

So, right now I'm wearing them in short spurts until I can get used to the bi-focal - I mean, progressive - lenses. Right now, if you approach me while I am wearing them, I can only look at you if you are precisely my height (looking up or down is out of the question) and if you don't approach me at an angle.

My husband nearly blew an artery when he saw the insurance report for my new specs. They would have been something like $800 without insurance, but closer to $500 with it. I spent $9 on some "cheaters" to wear with my contacts, mostly for reading. "Just wait," I told him. "Your day is coming." I hope it comes soon. We can fall down flights of stairs together. It'll be super romantic.

Me in my old lady glasses. Don't look too closely. I just came from the gym.

Friday, June 19, 2015

On fat arms and bad eyes

Let me just get this out of the way. I am vain. I admit it freely. On rainy days, I've been known to tell people, "I am far too prissy to be outside on a day like this." I'm intensely self-conscious, which I attribute to growing up with Vitiligo.  I don't hate all the parts of my body, but I've always had a profound dislike of my upper arms. You'd think I'd be willing to lift weights every day or something in order to loathe them a bit less, but apparently the hatred alone isn't motivating enough. When I got married, I made sure my wedding gown had full sleeves. And I wasn't even fat, really. My wedding dress was a size 8, I think.

When I was younger, I remember seeing older women in sleeveless shirts in the summertime and
mostly thinking, "Now, that is someone who values comfort over anything else."  I wasn't trying to be judgmental. I just thought, "Well, you'll never see me with my arms flapping around when I'm that age." I have also, for many years now, found myself scratching my head over the younger set, too. One of these days, I need someone to sit me down and explain to me why someone would wear a racer-back tank with a standard bra. Am I supposed to pretend I don't see the straps?

Anyway, for as long as I've been dressing myself, I've always made sure that my upper arms were covered so that no one would have to observe the horror of it all. Some things, once seen, cannot be unseen. Recently, however, my thinking shifted a bit. Some days, it gets really warm at the yoga class I attend each week.  The gym is pretty stuffy, too, of course. On a whim, I bought a Fila tank top at Kohl's. I wore it for the 5K we did last month. Then I bought another one and wore it to the 10K last weekend. It's like an epidemic now.  So yeah, now I am one of those old ladies with floppy arms who doesn't give a shit.

Other news on the aging front: something awful happened earlier this week. I ordered bi-focal glasses.  This is the pair I ordered:

They're Vera Wang and if you look at them closely, they have a bit of bling to them. I love them - just not the fact that I had to order bi-focals. I went to the optometrist on Wednesday and had to confess my vision woes to my optometrist. I can't see for shit. My near vision has declined considerably. When I'm making a recipe, I sometimes have to call my daughter over. "Sweetie? Does this say 1/3 cup or 2/3 cup?"  When it comes to recipes, the measurements . . . um, matter.  I already had bi-focal contacts, but it's an inexact science with those things and it's gotten harder and harder to see up close.  So, I will still have contacts (I don't like wearing glasses at yoga and at the gym), but Dr. K suggested that I could also buy . . . cheaters. Sweet Jesus, is there no dignity with this business of aging?

Monday, June 15, 2015

10K, Homelessness, and Other Stuff

My daughter and I did a 10K on Saturday. It was a lot of fun. It was a huge event - nearly 17,000 people. When I signed up, I listed us as "walkers" vs. "runners" since it was necessary to choose one or the other. I figured it would be better to sign up as a walker and then to run than to sign up as a runner and then to walk. They split the participants into five "corrals," with walkers being in the last corral. This event was a lot larger than the 5K we did last month. It took 1/2 hour before we even made it to the start line. By then, the elite runners had already run the 10K and were crossing the finish line as we were crossing the start line. I live in the Midwest so a bunch of fleet-footed Kenyans is not a sight I see every day!

Anyway, we ended up running for only intermittent spurts. Being surrounded by thousands of walkers made it hard to get enough open space to run. Next year I may sign up as a runner and then claim a spot in the last runners' corral.  For the second mile, there were a lot of DJs and musicians, including a polka band. I started to dance, mostly just so I could see the look of horror on my tween's face. "Mom! We. Are. In. Public!" The next few years are going to be a lot of fun. I can just feel it!

By the halfway mark, the kid started to complain of fatigue. This may have had something to do with the fact that she did not go to bed at a reasonable hour on Friday, despite her mean old mother providing periodic "you really should go to bed now" reminders. She soldiered on, though. And by "soldiered on," I mean "complained incessantly."  We finished, though. We even held hands as we ran across the finish line together.

Back at home, we had lunch and then I took a long, hot bath. My hips weren't happy with me, so I thought a bath might help. After that, the kid and I packed the car and hit the road. We were volunteering at a pet expo on Sunday and wanted to make a weekend of it. I got a hotel on Priceline, but we didn't get lucky this time - no pool. In a way, it was a good thing because I didn't have to hear "when can we go swimming?" a thousand times.  We stopped to do some Father's Day shopping at an outlet mall that's about an hour away from our home. When I got out of the car, my hips said, "Don't even try walking normally. We're locked in place now!" I guess the hour in the car was too much for them. I hobbled across the parking lot like I was about 99 years old. My hips loosened up as the day went on but I had more fun ahead - the sole of my left foot started hurting later that day.

About an hour later, we reached our destination and went out to eat at a vegan/vegetarian restaurant. I was tempted to order one of everything. I'm used to having only one choice in most restaurants and even then, it usually has to be modified in some way (like "no mayo"). Vegan mayo is becoming more prevalent, though, so I have faith.

After dinner, we walked around for a little while, still on the hunt for Father's Day gifts. We were in a busy downtown area, near a major university. As we walked down the main drag where all the shops are, my daughter spotted a homeless person holding a sign. I realized that this was a first for her. A few minutes earlier, she had found two quarters and a nickel on a curb near a cab stand. After we walked by the homeless man, she turned and ran back, putting the change in his box. Then, a block later, we walked past a homeless woman with a sign asking for "anything you can spare." It wasn't long before we spotted a third. And then I needed to answer some questions that were building up. As we slowed so that I could speak to her, she turned and saw that the first man now had a sandwich that someone had just given him. "Mom, he's got some food now!" She seemed so relieved.

So, I did my best to explain homelessness.  I grew up in the suburbs of Washington DC, so I was aware of the issue from an early age. I remember going downtown and seeing people sleeping on grates just steps from the National Mall. In my early 20s, I worked in Old Town Alexandria and regularly saw homeless people there as well. I tried to explain to my daughter that, unfortunately, it's probably not practical to give money to every person you see.

I tried to explain some of the reasons for homelessness. For some, it's often a matter of bad luck. One month of missed rent turns into two and before you know it,  you're in deep trouble. For some, it might be a series of not-so-great decisions and/or drug use. I also explained to my daughter that homelessness is often tied to mental illness, too. A lot of mental health facilities have closed, leaving the former patients with nowhere to go. There may be some small minority of homeless Americans who actually choose homelessness.  So, it's a complex issue and I'm not sure I did the best job of explaining it. I tried, though. I was touched that my sweet girl was so worried about the men and woman she saw on Saturday evening.  I can't help but hope that she'll make the connection between the people she saw and her room full o'stuff.

Later that evening, we checked into our hotel room, only to find that we were stuck with a queen bed. First-world problems, right? I briefly fantasized about making the nocturnal kicker sleep in the bathtub.

The next morning, we headed to the pet expo and worked for a few hours before heading back home. I was proud of the kid because she was selling raffle tickets like nobody's business. Innocent passersby who had no interest in our raffle found themselves opening their wallets and buying tickets from the irresistible curly-haired girl who was hawking them. We have one particular volunteer who works in sales (at his day job). So, they made quite the team. He would get people in the booth and then turn them over to our "Marketing Manager," the ten-year-old who would happily sell them some tickets. It was a good day. 

Saturday, June 13, 2015

One year of being "one of those people"

Earlier this week, I stopped at Target on my lunch break. It's in a strip mall that includes a grocery store, a Chinese restaurant, and a few other shops. As I was walking towards Target, a woman walking towards me said, "Can you just smell that chicken? Mmmm!" I actually could smell it, but I just thought it smelled like, you know, murder. I just smiled and nodded. There were probably 50 people in various parts of that parking lot at that very moment, so it was just her bad luck that she chose me for her chicken celebration remarks. And for the record, I'm not sure where the smell was coming from. Maybe the Chinese restaurant.

As of today, I've been vegan for one year (following 25 years of being vegetarian). I sometimes hear people use the term "strict vegan." It's hard to be super strict - you'll drive yourself crazy. For example, there is a particular type of vegan granola bar that I like. However, the label says they were manufactured in a facility that also manufacturers products that may contain milk. I just can't lose any sleep over the idea that my granola bar may have caught sight of a granola bar containing milk chocolate. I've also learned to make my own granola bars.

My greatest failing is probably with make-up, chapstick, and that sort of thing. I mean, if you're going to be vegan for ethical reasons, it should be an across-the-board sort of thing. I'm not great about keeping up with which companies test on animals and which don't. It's horrifying that it happens at all in 2015, but I know that it does.

Eating out continues to be the biggest challenge. Occasionally, when my other half wants to go out to eat, I tell him to take the kid and leave me at home where I can make my own stuff. Sometimes I just prefer that and to be honest, I don't really feel like I've missed out on some great dining adventure. We grab lunch at Subway after church from time to time.  I just have them make me a fairly plain Veggie Delight.  Then I go home and add my own stuff, like mushrooms, tofurky, vegenaise, etc.

Speaking of chicken, I tease the regulars at my Weight Watchers meeting about their 8,000 chicken recipes. They are the chicken-eatingest bunch you've ever seen. So, last Saturday, I brought in a tofu scramble for everyone to taste. The week before that, the meeting topic was "trying new things." One member mentioned that she's always been a little bit scared of tofu. So, I thought, "What the heck - I'll bring some in."  Most of the people who tried it said was good. A few declined to try it (I know some people avoid soy for various reasons). A few asked me for the recipe. If nothing else . . . at least now they can say they've tried tofu and didn't die or anything. 

My sisters and I have a Facebook group just for the three of us. We share recipes and talk food quite a bit. I really have to thank both of them for making my vegan transition easier. I also need to thank my friend Jennifer for giving me a list of what to order at local restaurants. I feel like I should also thank Chipotle for the sofritas tacos. Me likey!

I've learned a lot over the last year. Ingredients that used to seem exotic to me are now sitting on a shelf in my pantry. I own a bag of chickpea flour, ya'll. I'm going to a vegan festival at the end of the month and am looking forward to learning some new stuff from the vendors and speakers there.

All in all, I feel really good about my decision to get cheese out of my diet.  That was really the only thing I had to eliminate (and, granted, it's a biggie). I was already drinking/using non-dairy milk and my egg intake was pretty low. So, no more cheese and no more eggs.  The selfish part of me was afraid to give those up because it seemed like the end of cake and lasagna and other good things. However, I've learned to make vegan cakes, cookies, and brownies. I've learned to make sauces that replace cheese in recipes. I have to give more thought and planning to my diet, but it's worth it.

On Facebook, at work, and in other places I frequent, I am not one to blather on about animal rights. However, those who know me well know that my concern for animal welfare was the reason I went vegetarian at 19 and vegan at 44. I don't like to make people feel uncomfortable (though I seem to care less and less about the psychological discomfort of others as I get older). I've been unfriended for some of the few animal rights-related comments I have made on Facebook. People don't like to think about where their food comes from. It's easier to put one's hands over one's ears and sing, "Lalalalala!" (This is why I had to give up dairy - consuming it was tantamount to hypocrisy.) However, just to be clear . . . in order to get cheap meat at the grocery store . . . the only way to make that happen is via factory farming, where animals are treated as products and not as sentient beings. You may have heard some of the buzz about gestation crates for pigs and painful de-beaking for chickens. It's all pretty horrifying. I, for one, am not worth the suffering. It's really that simple, at least for me. Up with tofu!

My breakfast this morning. As you can see, vegans find pleeeeeenty to eat.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Miss Bette

My church lost its matriarch today. It's hard to know how to say good-bye to a woman who was in her 90s. She was ready to go, I know that. But still, it hurts. She told me more than once, "I'm tired, Claudia." She was annoyed and frustrated by the whole thing, this business of aging - she had things to do, after all.

When you met Bette for the first time, if you dismissed her as a doddering old lady who spent her days baking cookies and comparing local coupons to get the best price on ground beef, you would have been profoundly mistaken. Bette was extremely intelligent, politically aware, and very forward-thinking for a woman of her generation. She was mostly deaf and wore a cochlear implant, but she didn't miss much. She kept up with current events and cared deeply about social justice issues. It was only a few years ago that I remember hearing her speak passionately and eloquently about the United Nations. She was on Facebook, believe it or not.

About two years ago, some of the "older" ladies in my UU fellowship completed a program focused on croning. It was all about embracing the wisdom that comes with each consecutive journey around the sun. When it was Bette's turn to speak, she said, "It may soon be time for me to fold up my wings." I started crying on the spot. I couldn't imaging going to church each week and not seeing Bette there. I didn't want to think about letting her go. Because she could no longer drive, various members took turns driving Bette to and from church. My daughter and I took her home one time. She couldn't hear our chatter, but she still had plenty to say. 

When my daughter was a toddler, Bette would say, "She has such a big spirit, Claudia." I remember feeling touched that Bette could see what I could see in my daughter - a bright shooting star across the night sky. As my daughter sprinted around the sanctuary and up and down the hallways, Bette would also say, "Doesn't she ever walk?" But she meant it in a nice way. She routinely mispronounced or misremembered my daughter's name but hey, I'm not going to correct a lady who's been on the planet twice as long as I have.

Bette's physical decline came swiftly in recent weeks. She made it pretty clear that she was ready to go. And so, she headed out earlier this evening. She left it all behind - the body that didn't work quite right anymore, the cochlear implant, and anything else she won't need on the other side, I suppose.

At church today, we were all a bit morose because we knew the end was near. It will be strange not to see Bette in her Green Bay Packer gear, seated directly underneath a speaker so that she could hear just a little bit better.

Honestly, I don't know how long I'll be on this planet myself, but if the old-lady version of me is half as wonderful as Bette was, I wouldn't ask for anything more than that.

Good-bye, Miss Bette. I will miss you terribly. Thank you for being my friend and . . . just for being you.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Up with summer!

I really have no point with this blog post other than to tell you how excited I am about the upcoming summer. May was straight-up insane. The kid's birthday, our anniversary, my first 5K, and lots of visitors. It was all good stuff, but it was a bit hectic.

The last day of school is on Wednesday.  My daughter will be a big, bad fifth grader in the fall. It's hard to believe my baby only has one more year of elementary school before she moves on to middle school. I guess she'll be at the top of the heap next year, though. I'm picturing her ruling the school with an iron fist and walking the hallways like she's some kind of royalty. I'm aging myself here, but remember how George Jefferson strutted on that show "The Jeffersons"?  That's what I'm picturing.

I feel like she's had a good school year. She seemed to connect well with her teacher. Her teacher is vegan so I bought her a vegan cookbook as a thank you for putting up with my kid all year. A gave her a card and wrote something like "thanks for helping me to be a pretty good student."  That stuck me as funny somehow. That's my girl - embracing academic mediocrity. :::sigh:::

There have been a lot of changes this school year. From the palate expander to the braces . . . I feel like she looks totally different now.  The palate expander actually changed the shape of her face a bit. Also, there is a whole new focus in her life now. Boys and periods. She attended one of those human growth and development classes - you know the one where they split up the boys and the girls into separate sessions?  That was a few weeks ago and now I have to answer questions like: What does a cramp feel like? How long does a period last? Ai-yi-yi.  She's also interested in when she might expect some growth above the equator. I've talked to her birthmom, who developed late.  So, I don't think my little peanut is going to have any excitement to worry about anytime soon. She made me buy her some "bralettes."  (shhhh, don't tell her you read that)  I gave in (after much begging) because I figured it was harmless. However, I told her that she should consider abandoning the idea for the summer so that she can wear whatever she wants. Once you have to wear a bra, there's really no going back. Plus, and I hate to tell her this, periods and bras are kind of a drag - amiright???  No sense in starting any earlier than nature requires.

Anyway, back to the topic at hand - summertime! On June 24th, my little traveler will board a plane bound for the nation's capitol, where she'll hang out with her aunt, uncle, and cousins. They have a trip planned to Busch Gardens and all kinds of fun stuff. I figure . .. her dad and I have to work, but she may as well spend her summer doing fun stuff. She is also enrolled in a day camp locally for the weeks when she isn't traveling.  On July 3rd, we'll join her in Virginia and spend the 4th of July with my sister and her family. Then, a few days later, the three of us will head to Ocean City, where we will take advantage of the hospitality offered by my dad and stepmom. I cannot wait to get my feet in the sand (and then to keep finding that sand in all of my belongings until Christmas, at the earliest).

Then, the mister and I will leave and head back home. We are leaving our daughter behind, where she will spend the next two weeks never hearing the word "no" from her grandparents. When we finally get her back on July 25th, I expect that she will be thoroughly insufferable. Much reprogramming will be needed.  While she is gone, I will clean out her room, of course. What she doesn't know won't hurt her.

We have lots of plans for August, too.  One of my nephews (from Virginia) will visit in mid-August. He will join his cousin at theater camp. We are taking both kids to the state fair, which should be a lot of fun. My nephew has a deadly nut allergy, though, so that's a little scary. I'll have to text my poor sister every fifteen seconds. ("Hey, just checking to make sure he can have an ice cube? Any nuts in that?"

Finally, later in August, we'll make our annual trip to the lake, where we will be joined by some good friends of ours. I'm hoping for a nice hot summer so that the lake will be warm enough for swimming this year. Last summer was a little bit lackluster in that department. It never really got hot enough for my tomatoes to grow.

So, there you have it. Our big summer plans. Woo hoo!