Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Celebrity boyfriend: tall man with Tide pen

I have not written too much about my celebrity boyfriends here. Of course, I mainly want to maintain my squeaky clean image so that when the letter from Queen Elizabeth arrives with an offer of an arranged marriage to one of her grandsons I am ready. There is that. But there is also that I don't have strong feelings about my celebrity boyfriends. I often forget who they are, or if I am asked about them I have to think for a minute (is it Kevin Spacey? Is he my favorite? I know there was another one...). And once I do remember, my mind usually wanders quickly. I usually hear that the ones I like are short, anyway. Which is FINE, but I'm tall so the fantasy record usually comes to a screeching halt. Jeff Goldblum is tall, so he's on the list when I remember him. But I digress. (See? I can't even focus long enough to explain how I can't focus.)

There is also that my eye tends toward the folks in the background. The bass player (I married one of those). The accompanist. The roadie. You know. The wind beneath the wings types. Flyyyyyyyyyy, flyyyyyy, so hiiiiiiigh against the skyyyy, so high I almost reach the sky, thank you, thank God for you blah blah.

I am happy to see that Ashley Parker of the New York Times may be with me on this. Because look who she (he?) did a story on, prompting me to break my silence and claim a new celebrity boyfriend: Barack Obama's "body man," Reggie Love. Sorry, Your Majesty, but look!

Reggie does everything for Senator Obama. He "Takes. Care. Of. Stuff." He plays basketball with him, brings him cheeseburgers, anticipates needs. According to my new friend Ashley Parker (or should I say new rival for Reggie's affections):

"Young, eager campaign aides are stock characters in movies and on television, but few have quite the élan of Mr. Love, who, at 6-foot-5, is about three inches taller than the tall candidate, fitter than the fit candidate (he can bench press more than 350 pounds) and cooler than the cool candidate.

“There’s no doubt that Reggie is cooler than I am,” Mr. Obama said, laughing, in a phone interview. “I am living vicariously through Reggie.”

(élan, by the way, is "vigorous spirit or enthusiasm." I just looked it up.)

Ashley Parker continues:

When Mr. Obama dropped food on his tie while eating in the car between stops, Mr. Love was ready with a Tide pen. He always carries one, along with ballpoint pens, and has turned himself into a walking dispensary of Sharpies, stationery, protein bars, throat lozenges, water, tea, Advil, Tylenol, Purell and emergency Nicorette, not to mention his ever-present iPhone, BlackBerry and Canon Rebel XT digital camera. (Mr. Love keeps a photo journal of the campaign, and has more than 10,000 pictures so far.)

(Yes, Nicorette. My hopes for America's salvation lie with a smoker, yall. Don't worry--Michelle is on it.)

I didn't even notice him as a Duke athlete. Not that I am an avid fan of Duke athletics, but as a UNC alum I have some sort of passing interest. But now that he is the wind beneath the wings of you know who, he shines to folks like Ashley and me (and Bette Midler, I dare say, especially if Reggie was her wing man--it must have been cold there in my shadow, indeed.)


Monday, May 26, 2008

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Nice detective work

Sometimes I try to conceal that I am an anglophile for coolness purposes. Mostly I don't. Ever since Prince Charles and Diana married when I was a TEN YEAR OLD GIRL and about to move to England for awhile, I have been a goner. When Diana came along I dropped all previous girl crushes and was all, Laura Ingalls WHO? I thought I knew the culture, you know? I lecture my friends about how to prepare tea correctly and I read the BBC news and I am a proud alum of a primary school where I wore a school uniform (!). As a visiting college student I stopped wearing windbreakers so I could blend in and went for curries and learned about toasties and EVERYTHING. And seriously, history, rain, a monarchy, chocolate, and a national health care system? What else could one possibly want? I pretty much thought that I was really, basically, a British person trapped in an American body.

On my Netflix, I almost exclusively rent British television series. And when I say "almost exclusively" I mean "exclusively." I have gone a little nuts with it lately, especially since Bubba has woken up several nights in a row and listening to British television seems to soothe him back to sleep and make my own sleep deprivation a little more bearable (does this make me a bad mother?)

But I am here today to tell you that there is more to British culture than I ever knew. It slowly dawned on me after the umpteenth mystery show where someone visiting someone else in hospital ("in hospital" --see how culturally savvy I am?) brings grapes along. The first time I was all, oh, that detective brought grapes to his deputy who took a bullet for him, that was nice. The next time I was all, are they grapes in that bag the detective's secretary is bringing him? Then, THEN, when the lady who has been concealing her advanced lung cancer from everyone and collapses in the taxi and the detective goes to visit her and she says, where's my grapes, I started to wonder if there was a THEME going on here. If indeed I had stumbled upon a CUSTOM. Then when the mean and therefore dispensable detective who has been mauled by a crazed townsperson signals his return to life by asking his visiting co-detectives, why are you eating my grapes, I knew it was time for action.

So being of a sharp scientific mind (oh that? that's just Jeff howling with laughter in the next room) I figured I better take this one to the people. So I checked with both my friend Google and my British friend Rachel and have confirmed that yes, bringing grapes to someone in hospital is indeed a tradition. Aren't I clever? It only took seventeen or so cultural references, but I got it. I'm one step closer to peeling back the cultural layers of the onion of my spiritual home, to being really at the heart of things.

Just passing along the knowledge as I get it. I consider it my duty.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Just keep on going and have a good lunch

Back by popular demand, a guest post by my mom, about her dearest Aunt Ruth.

Water colors were her favorite. I grew up with her paintings of trees and hills on the walls of all the family houses. I have one in my house now, a picture of the lawn in front of Earlham Hall, where my mother and my aunts and I all lived while we went to college.

My Aunt Ruth was an artist. I used to hear people say, usually when she was not in the room, that she had shown great promise as an artist and her teacher had wanted her to go to New York after college and pursue her painting, but, of course, she had not.

Of course? Well, she never seemed to me to be a person who was inclined to wonder too long about what might have been. Of course, there was The War, that broke out when she was a freshman at Earlham College, and all but one of the young men in her class left school to go participate. Some, like her boyfriend, went as conscientious objectors, and some went to fight. She told me on one of our road trips that she was disillusioned with this boyfriend because of his choice. It seemed to her that, Quaker college or not, the patriotic thing to do was to join the military. He disagreed. Perhaps that was just as well, for she soon met the man who became Uncle Gene, who joined the army, served in danger, and came home to marry her.

And, of course, marriage at that time and in that place meant that she helped put him through dental school. There was no room in the plan for art school in New York. As near as I can tell, she had few regrets. Maybe none. Which is more than some of us can say.

But she was always an artist to me. She sewed overcoats and suit coats for Uncle Gene. She made ties, hats. She made a dress for me to wear to a college dance. She baked grated apple pies that would make Martha Stewart weep. She reupholstered furniture. She decorated her bathroom with apricot colors way back when most people counted themselves lucky to have one full bathroom of any color. Her shoes matched her dress. She always had a floral centerpiece when we went there for dinner—something she had hastily put together out of whatever she had on hand, but it looked elegant anyway. And when she had to move to a dreary apartment on the third floor of a run-down building, she painted the walls and used her good china.

When she was eighty, and handicapped with pretty bad macular degeneration, I asked if she would like to drive up to Prince Edward Island with me to visit my daughter and her family. For my grandson's third birthday. "Oh, yes," she said. "When do we leave?"

It was an 18-hour drive from Pennsylvania, so we had plenty of time to talk. "It's so nice of you to take me along," Aunt Ruth said.

"Well, it was nice of you to be a second mother to me all these years," I said. "As far back as I can remember, you were there."

"We all enjoyed you," she said.

My memory swirled. "Remember how Grandma used to take me downtown Indianapolis on the trolley and we would go to Ayers Tearoom for lunch and there would be linen table cloths and napkins and little finger bowls for us to wash in and you would come out in your white uniform and tell us that the chicken salad with pecans was good that day and to be sure to save room for something special for dessert? You were the dietician there, I think."

"Yes," Aunt Ruth said. "I loved that job. I tried to send you the meringues just out of the oven. Do you remember them?"

I did. In fact, as I told her, I have felt guilty about enjoying that time of my life so much. There I was, while a terrible war was raging in Europe, while my father and my uncles were in grave danger, while many families were being exterminated, there I was being doted on by my mother and my aunts and my grandparents in our little house on Audubon Road with the catalpa tree in front. Meringues, yes.

We drove north, the long way through New England and Maine and endless New Brunswick. We talked about our children and our grandchildren. About her parents and sisters. About how she taught me to make black raspberry jelly. About cranky husbands who are really worth the trouble. Until finally we reached the great arching bridge that carried us over the churning water to the lovely, pastoral island of PEI.

Except it was not looking so lovely, I thought, this time. We drove through snow and low clouds and I was disappointed to find that spring had not yet arrived. Knowing Aunt Ruth was an artist, I had wanted to show her spring crops growing green in the red soil, daffodils blooming by the farmhouse, buds on the trees, waves lashing the pink beaches. Instead, we found patches of snow, muddy driveways, and beaches buried in ice.

"I'm sorry," I said, "but usually it's very beautiful here." We stopped the car by a cliff, where I knew a few months later we could see the stretches of beach, the vast water, the red rocks. Instead, there was only a blanket of ice.

But there was a thrill of excitement in her voice. "Oh, no," she said. "It's so very beautiful right now. My eyes don't let me see everything, but I can see enough to know that it is breathtaking."

I wondered if we were looking at the same things. "What do you see?" I asked.

"So many, many shades of gray," she said. "I never realized before how rich and beautiful the grays can be. And the evergreens contrast so wonderfully. I just want to sit here a while and try to take it all in. The light, the shadows. It makes me want to go home and get my watercolors out. I never thought I could use them again, but maybe now I can."

And she did. With her limited vision, she painted again.

And, for sure, I never looked at bleak wintry landscapes the same way again. She had opened my eyes.

This is the way Aunt Ruth was to me. She showed me things. My mother would blurt out something she thought I should do and my Aunt Bea would spare no words for someone who had hurt me—both quite good styles also. But Aunt Ruth would look at something that bothered the rest of us and gently say that maybe, just maybe, there was also beauty here.

One day a couple years after our PEI trip, I was trying to sew a Santa suit. Now only an adored grandchild could get me to sew anything. I should have known I would get in over my head, but I plunged in anyway. I cut out the pattern pieces, growing cocky almost with how fast it was going. But then I tried to follow the sewing directions. Ohmygosh. In tearful frustration, I desperately dialed Aunt Ruth.

"Oh, yes," she said (this person who could sew an entire wardrobe for King Kong out of mere scraps at the end of a long day), "they don't write those directions clearly at all. But do you have a piece that looks like a sleeve?" And she talked me through it. "Just sew those two together and don't worry about the rest yet. Call me back when you are ready for the next part." And I did it, phone call after phone call, Aunt Ruth translating and offering bits of encouragement.

She was a good teacher. I learned a lot from being with her. I learned that looking for the beautiful is a good rule of thumb. And when it's hard to see the beautiful, I think she might say, just keep on going and have a good lunch.

Well, Aunt Ruth is gone now. Moved on last week after a third stroke that left her unable to talk or swallow or muster any strength at all. My son Kurt visited her just before she died and held up his cell phone to her ear for me to talk. I wanted to say eloquent paragraphs about how much I have always loved and admired her and how grateful I am for her and how much I will miss her always. But all I could do was cry.

Kurt said her eyes twinkled. Knowing Aunt Ruth, she probably thought it was beautiful having Kurt right there and me on the phone. I think it was.

Aunt Ruth was the last surviving of the three sisters. My grandma on the right.

My mama with her Aunt Ruth.

Aunt Ruth, 1923-2008

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Different paths

Picture it: two women, hugging and crying in a hotel ballroom at the end of a gala event. Most of the guests have gone, and around them the staff are gathering up discarded cloth napkins.

Both are dressed up all fancy.
Both are well-loved researchers and mentors.
One is mother of three grown children, one of four.
One has received a big award that evening and is about to start a new job heading a prestigious program at another university. One takes summers off and works when she wants to.
One is still married, the other not.

Both are my teachers.
Both have held torches that lit the path of my transition to motherhood. Both have shown me how working mothers make the workplace better, how parenting makes you wise and responsible and your research richer.

After watching their embrace, I learn that they also trained together and had their kids together during their training. Through her tears, one said to me, we just took different paths, Nora. We just took different paths.

Here's to Mother's Day, and to path-lighters everywhere.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Photo needs caption

It seems that National Geographic hires caption writers. All they do is write captions for the magazine, apparently. Cool job, if you can get it. (I checked, none available right now).

Who am I kidding? I would not be good at this job. Draw a total blank and feel strangely nervous at the very thought. The weekly New Yorker caption contest makes me want to be funnier than I am, but still nothing. But still, in the vague way that is my strength I think this photo may have a good one. Can you help?

Posted by Picasa

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Finally, an idea

Claire B of Claire and Me has tagged me, a wonderful gift since my brain is still jelly and writing inspiration is slow in coming.

Here are the rules:
1. The rules of the game get posted at the beginning.
2. Each player answers the questions about her or himself.
3. At the end of the post, tag 5-6 people and post their names, then go to their blogs and leave them a comment, letting them know they've been tagged and asking them to read your blog.
4. Let the person who tagged you know when you've posted your answer.

Question 1: What was I doing ten years ago?
Ten years ago I was finishing up my master's degree in North Carolina. I had just had a miscarriage that was both very sad and very lucky since the circumstances and relationship were wrong. I was infused with carpe diem--convinced that the little one had sacrificed herself so I could do some good in the world and that I had just used my ONE FREE PASS--and I determined to move to a big city, have a fulfilling and useful career, and make her proud. So I was also making plans to go off and do an internship for the Federal government in the Washington, DC, area. Visions of myself as a chick lit heroine, my own apartment, and happy hours with well-dressed articulate coworkers danced in my head, along with my doing-good mission.

Question 2: What are five things on my "to do" list today?
It's the end of a pretty spring Sunday and far too depressing time of night to have a to do list (I should be so organized), so here's five things I did today.

1-ordered an edger blade. Our across-the-street neighbors have agreed to let us use their edger and we offered to give them a new blade in exchange. Our front yard seriously needs some edging. Well, it totally doesn't, except our next-door neighbor (different neighbor) has a service do her lawn and they edge it all the time. It looks great but our lack of edginess stands out since our parking strips are connected. So we try to do it once a year or so. Except we missed last year.

2-Mowed the lawn. This insanity of a rain forest they call Seattle makes the grass grow entirely too fast in spring and fall.

3-Sent an email about the postdoc I am trying to line up. Much work-family balance stress around these plans.

4-Went to grocery store. Remembered my reusable bags for once. Bought cat food because it was on sale. Picked the manager's checkout line thinking it would be fast and cheerful. It was neither. I could go on, but seriously. I have to save something for other posts, you know?

5-Stared at my baby, whom I really, really love. (Is that the right use for "whom"?). Got very excited with him as he gleefully discovered his own belly button.

Question 3: Snacks I enjoy:
Cheese, apples, popcorn, toast. Japanese rice crackers. Leftovers. Grapes. Tea. This is a large category, this "snacks I enjoy." I think I need a moment.

Question 4: Things I would do if I were a billionaire:

Clean water! This is what I would do, clean water for all, all over the world.
Then, I would buy us a bigger house. It might even have four bedrooms (imagine!)
Then, I would never clean it again as long as I lived.
Then, I would stare at my baby.
Then, I would join forces with the Gates Foundation and try to solve our world health problems that were not taken care of (many would be) by everyone having clean water.
Then, I would support my sister to do her work for the animals. She's the real deal, people.
Then, I would have some tea and infiltrate me and my new-voh reesh cashola into the British aristocracy. Preferably royal circles. Wearing hats to Ascot and weekends at country estates dripping in history and what have you.

Prompt 5: Places I have lived:
Coffeetown, PA. Hopi Reservation, AZ. Canterbury, England. Chengdu, China. Bethlehem, PA. York, England. Chapel Hill, NC. Bethesda, MD. Chapel Hill, NC again. Alexandria, VA. Seattle, WA.

Prompt 6: Bad Habits:
Messy house. Inability to conceal grumpiness. Bad posture. Refusal to iron. Late afternoon snacking. Messy car. Messy desk. Tendency to think I know what is best for my husband. Preference for "dishing it out" rather than "taking it." Another large category, this "bad habits" one.

Prompt 6: Jobs I have had:
It didn't really work out for me as a babysitter or a roadside ice cream joint worker (I am still terrified of soft-serve ice cream machines). I was a hostess at Friendly's restaurant, where they had regular scoop ice cream that I learned to handle once I was promoted to waitress. Then I was a waitress again in college. Then I had a research job as a master's student. Then I was an intern with the National Institutes of Health and stayed on for awhile after that. Then I ran a patient education program at a cancer center. Then I was a medical editor and did some writing here and there. Then I came to Seattle to be a student.

Prompt 7: Peeps I want to know more about:
There are many. I'm still thinking on this.

Thanks, Claire!