Sunday, May 28, 2017

Have belly, will dance

A few weeks ago, I took on a new challenge. Ignoring the fact that I don’t dance, sashay, or for that matter balance well, I signed up for a weekly belly dancing class through our local adult education program. Spouse didn’t even snicker when I suggested it. I think he was grateful I had stopped suggesting we take ballroom dancing lessons together. He escaped that one because those dances require high heels, and I’m afraid of heights. You don’t need shoes for belly dancing. I’m in.

Any type of dance can be intense exercise, so for this reason I chose not to tell my body where I was going ahead of time. Let’s head toward the ice cream stand, I told my quivering thighs. We’re just going to satisfy our imaginary craving at the nearest drive-thru, I convinced my wobbly arms. I took a right into the school parking lot and never looked back, except to wonder if the ice cream stand would still be open after class.

Shortly after I entered the classroom a handful of women joined me, most of us somewhere in the middle of middle age. The instructor, however, was anything but middle aged - more like an age between First and Second Born. With her perfect posture and tiny but strong dancer’s body, she could rock the bells off her hip scarf. I had to wonder whether this young whipper snapper could work with us old-ish fogies, but she was wonderfully patient and sweet, and she immediately began teaching us just how to whip and snap our somewhat mushy bodies into belly dancing shape.

Luckily, we are relegated to the school cafeteria for our lessons, which means there are no mirrors typically found in dance studios. I would only be able to stand so much hysterical laughter (which would be coming from me) if I had to watch myself attempt to be graceful. Our instructor stands in front of us and we try to mimic her moves. Of course, when she delicately swirls a leg in the air, I thrust my leg out and instantly grab a chair back so I don’t fall over. As her hips make a figure-eight, mine are going more for a triangle in an attempt to not knock a hip out of joint.

Our instructor has been staying after class, video-taping herself reenacting the lessons each week, and e-mailing them to us so we have the option of practicing before the next class. During the first week, I stood in front of my laptop in our living room before Spouse woke up Saturday morning. I studied the video and attempted to follow her steps. It only took 25 minutes of practice to successfully complete a 50-second routine.

As uncoordinated as I am, there is something freeing about belly dancing. The moves can be close to fluid with a little practice, or with a lot of practice in my case. Hip scarves are provided by our instructor to use during the class, giving us the chance to jingle and jangle when we jiggle. I’ve learned to let my fingers and arms slip smoothly through the air in a gentle lilt. I can protrude my pelvis and shimmy my shoulders right along with the other eager students who are challenging themselves to experiment with this very different kind of movement.

There are two more weeks of lessons to go and I can guarantee you won’t be confusing me with a professional belly dancer any time soon, but I’ll keep practicing. Any dance where you can shake it while shoeless is my kind of dance.

Monday, May 1, 2017

First, we learned how to pronounce quinoa

There is a bag of quinoa on my kitchen counter, you know, the kind you pour from a giant bin into a flimsy plastic bag four times before you hit a pound on the mystery scale. In case you were wondering, I don’t search out quinoa very often. If I had my druthers I’d be buying chocolate chips from those bins. But we’re trying to find some better alternatives to our occasionally questionable food choices.

It took a while to track down the aisle where quinoa and all those other bins of grains and stuff are now hidden since our local supermarket went and renovated. I refuse to refer to those green maps planted around the store. I believe the order should make sense and not be a lesson in futility over finding rice or seltzer water.

The problem is those bags that you pour food into don’t come with directions, and we are less than proficient at preparing unknown substances such as this, though we’ve come a long way since we couldn’t even pronounce quinoa. Come on, you know it looks like quin-OH-uh. The more popular this oddly powerful ingredient became the more we heard it pronounced Keen-wah. I don’t think that pronunciation even makes sense but who am I to argue with health-conscious proponents of this grain-like substance? That’s the other thing – I’ve seen it described as a grain-like substance, the seed from part of a plant, and a seed grain. How many different ways are there to say that it’s not really a grain?

Spouse keeps saying he wants to figure out what to do with the quinoa for breakfast. Anyone who’s been married for more than 30 years knows what he’s really saying is that he wants yours truly to figure out what to do with the quinoa for breakfast. I tried a new recipe last week that included bananas, cinnamon, butter and maple syrup. This led to the discovery that quinoa needs a lot of help to sweeten up. I added brown sugar and extra syrup, and even with that I could see by his dubious expression that it sort of passed as a breakfast food.

The quinoa seed has competition from the chia seed as far as offering health benefits, and it’s certainly easier to pronounce, especially to those of us who grew up with those ch-ch-ch-chia commercials. You’re singing it now, aren’t you. Because I work with people who are vegetarian, vegan or gluten free, I hear a lot about beans, soy, and edamame. Why is health food so hard to pronounce anyway? Does that word look like eddamommay?

The older we get the more conscious we need to be of how to stick around a little longer, especially since they keep making our retirement age higher. But even when we were younger we were exposed to healthier eating, or at least what sounded healthier at the time. I’ll bet Baby Boomers remember the cereal commercials with outdoorsman Euell Gibbons claiming that the taste reminded him of wild hickory nuts. Seriously, I don’t want to eat anything that tastes like a tree. I just want to be alive to enjoy my not-yet-conceived grandchildren.

On my kitchen counter are bags of green lentils and garbanzo beans, which I knew growing up only as chick peas, and already puffed up in a can. I had carefully included these items on my grocery list about a month ago in preparation for an interesting vegetarian dish I had seen on a website or an email or maybe Facebook. That’s the problem. Darned if I can find the recipe I wanted to use this stuff for.

So, if you have a great recipe that I can throw lentils and garbanzo beans into (and don’t have to add chicken to make it flavorful), by all means pass it on. I’m going to just put these bags of beans right back in the kitchen cabinet where they… oooh, look – I just found the last of the Girl Scout cookies.

Now what??

Sunday, April 23, 2017

The Final Four

We just passed the four-week mark. It is less than a month until Second Born graduates from college. College? Did I really say that? That's impossible. She was 12 years old last time I looked.

This child has been preparing us for watching her take flight since she came kicking and screaming out of the womb. When she was three years old, "I do it!" was a frequently heard phrase.

Second Born was my rock collector as we walked the beach for as many hours as her little four-year-old feet would carry her. She held her ground during the rough middle school years when friends went through their catty phase. She grew up too fast in many ways when medical reasons kept me from being there as her sounding board in seventh grade, but her spirit, even when bruised, remained strong. She excelled in high school and graduated with honors... and dragged us through 15 campuses during her college search.

I can easily recall a couple of memories that would make her instantly laugh or possibly cringe. When she was six years old and in a summer program, she told visiting firefighters in no uncertain terms that she would NOT be entering their demonstration smoke house. It was around that time that our usually brave, little brown-eyed girl informed us that she was afraid of deep water (i.e., anything over six inches), dark, closed in places and - as previously established - fire. Did I mention this epiphany came during a trip to Disney World? That left the teacups and the Dumbo ride. We also got Mickey and Minnie's autograph at least six times that week.

That spring our little daredevil resurfaced when, during an attempt to jump off the arm of a chair to catch a wayward balloon, she broke her wrist in two places. That shocked the nurse who had asked her if she could move her wrist (she did). She probably should have asked if my child could move her wrist without feeling like it was on fire.

Second Born had her challenges as the kid at home when her sister left for college. She got dish duty and plant watering, and other responsibilities she definitely did not sign up for. I would say the most distasteful of these had to be the weeks she spent coming home to a daily doggy disaster when her sister brought home an abandoned pup from school. Sometimes growing up is far less appealing than you think.

Every parent thinks they’ll have plenty of time to do stuff with their family, that the summer or the holidays will come and life will slow down and we’ll catch up. It doesn’t and we don’t. I swear this child went from asking non-stop questions in the car at four years old to boarding a plane for Budapest where she would turn 21 as a college junior. The expression “Don’t blink” doesn’t even begin to cover it.

This is the child who talked so incessantly at home that we thought her middle school teachers were joking about how quiet she was in class. The one who didn’t touch anything except grilled cheese, macaroni and cheese, pizza and chocolate for the majority of her years. The one who loves tradition and harmonizing to the radio and her cat Sophie.

In less than four weeks, our baby girl will don a cap and gown, hold her diploma and feel all grown up and excited, and maybe a little uncertain about where life will take her. But she will navigate these waters with her usual determination.

Having gone through this with First Born seven years ago, I know graduation day will come and go in a blur, and I know I’m going to cry – that’s inevitable. But under that cap and gown, I will still see a little munchkin with mascara smeared all over her face after raiding my makeup bag. I’ll picture her in a shimmery dance skirt over her t-shirt, her pixie haircut, sitting on our front stoop painting seashells. And I’ll always feel her sweet “I need something” hugs.

Oh yes, some moments you know by heart.


Friday, April 21, 2017

The cold and flu season competition

When our children were young and in school they brought home every cold, flu, stomach bug and occasional extra special event like chicken pox, home to roost. As Mom, i.e., supplier of medicine, backrubs, tea and toast, extra blankets, and endless viewings of their favorite videos, I did not have the luxury of being sick along with them. If I think about it, I have zero memories of my own mom being sick before, during or after she catered to my illnesses.

Once the kids are grown and flown, being sick can become almost a competition between partners. These days Spouse and I may not have any young’uns to pass their parasites on to us, but we do manage to bring home an infirmity here and there. We all know the jokes about how a “man cold” is so much worse than a woman being sick. The theories vary. I’ve read that men, while living their “live fast, die young” lifestyles, have failed to build up their immune systems like females. There was a study of mice (not men) that indicated physiology was a factor. All I know is that Spouse is cranky when he’s sick, which can make me borderline sick – of him.

For the most part we avoid the office colds that pass through, but if one of us does catch something, we tend to exchange ailments due to our close quarters (and we kiss during cold season). While we were visiting family last month in Kansas, Spouse came down with the cold from h-e-double toothpicks. I’m convinced he contracted this nastiness from one of several people who were coughing, sneezing and sniffling on our flights. Put a bunch of germs into a giant metal missile and this is what happens. His cold lasted all weekend and he succumbed to half a day of sleep at one point.

For close to a week, I avoided the mini-plague with constant hand washing, changing towels and using wipes everywhere. But all healthy moments must come to an end. It started with an annoying sinus headache until by the weekend I was ready to pull my own head off from the pain and pressure. Between sickness and last week’s storm, I barely left the house for five days, save for visiting the walk-in clinic and picking up my prescription for what turned out to be a sinus infection.

In general, my mate is typically pretty helpful when I’m down for the count, but he will occasionally break the two conditions I have when he leaves for work in the morning: feed the cats and leave extra coffee for me. If those two rules aren’t adhered to, I might be a little less than pleasant when he calls - from a safe distance at work - to ask how I’m feeling. On my second day of staying home sick, I made sure extra coffee was set up for the next morning’s brew.

I must give kudos to the doctors who face those of us who walk in with heaven-knows-what and demand a quick cure, whether male or female. The clinic was more efficient than my regular doctor’s office would have been, even with a full house.

If Spouse and I were sick at the same time I can picture him half-sitting, half-laying down in the waiting room chair, hood up on his sweatshirt, emitting an occasional grunt of misery, while I’m reading a book, possibly checking my email, and trying to quietly blow my nose. 

Are our places in medical maladies destined to be different? Were we simply taught that Mom has to hold it together better than Dad when it comes to being sick? The jury is still out on that. For now, I need to take my meds… and feed the cats.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Wait... what did I come in here for?

After more than three decades together, nobody should be surprised at how in sync Spouse and I are. We understand each other’s half sentences and might even spout out the same phrase simultaneously. Our senses of humor are just about melded together to create one silly, semi-sarcastic comeback, which we practice on each other on a regular basis.

It’s even more interesting when humor carries over to our increasing lack of retaining names of people, places and things.

Take last week after our visit to Sam’s Club. As is our habit, we made a meal out of various delectable samples, hovering around microwaves and sauté pans with tasty giveaways while wandering through the store. One of our snack stops happened to be for a large, sweet type of orange neither of us was familiar with. After wolfing down our sample cups, we decided to grab a bag and so we could have them with breakfast and as pack them as snacks for work.
The next morning we split an orange with our breakfast. As we slurped on the delicious citrus, we both struggled to remember the type of orange we were eating. Spouse swore it started with the letter N, while I pictured it as having an R at the beginning. Wiping the juice off my fingers and fueling myself with a sip of coffee, I got up and opened the refrigerator where the bag of oranges was stashed.

"Cara Cara," I read out loud from the bag. "I told you it started with a C," was my mate's immediate reply. Oh, did you, now?

Spouse and I have gotten quite adept at forgetting the same things. I filled out a survey recently. The main reason I took the time to complete the survey is because I wanted to get it off the kitchen table, and it came with a prepaid stamped envelope. Talk about incentive, right?

The sealed envelope made it all the way to my car, where it sat for two days before we remembered to drop it in one of the many mailboxes we passed. Yes, I know it’s easier to just put it in my own mailbox and let the postal carrier pick it up. But what’s the challenge in that?

Sometimes believing you’re in sync causes the consideration boat to rock. If you’ve been a couple for a long time (a really long time) you may have experienced that "helpfulness" which occasionally backfires. Like when one of us feeds the cats and the other feeds them again, because cats will act like they’re starving at all times - until they get sick under a piece of furniture. We try to stay in the habit of cluing each other in that the felines have been taken care of, no matter what they insinuate.

There is also occasional coffeemaker confusion. We’ve both come close to filling the carafe with water, and every once in a while, one of us thinks the other made the coffee ahead of time, and it didn’t happen. That’s as close to a morning crisis as we’ve gotten, and that’s close enough.

It’s a pretty solid bet that Spouse and I will continue to grow old together and stay in sync. It’s also likely that the older we get, the more we will forget - and the more we’ll pretend we didn’t.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Here comes (more of) the sun - can we Mainers handle it?

A week or so ago I was on my way home from work when it hit me. The sun, that is. It was shining brightly in the sky – a little too brightly – and almost blinded me through the car windshield. I struggled to sit up straighter (i.e., higher), pretending the sun visor was effective. It wasn’t. Somehow I managed to maneuver my way around the sunshine and reach my destination without taking out the toll booth.

Don’t take any of this as complaining. I’m ecstatic that the days are getting just a little longer with each bit of sunshine that stretches across the sky. It hasn’t exactly been a brutal winter (yes, I know saying that immediately places a curse on the next month), but I doubt that I’m the only one who’s ready for a strong dose of vitamin D. Ironically, now that the days are getting longer my work days inside seem to be dragging. I long to be skipping out of the office and catching some fresh air, even on very brisk days.  Isn’t it a few months too early for spring fever?

Thanks to 30-something temps, I recently had been starting to slowly shed my winter wear. First it was leaving the gloves at home, then my warm and wooly winter cap remained in the car when I walked from garage to office. I was this close to leaving my scarf behind when the temps plummeted again. I am currently reluctantly back to being bundled up.

The problem with this time of year is that it’s also cold season. With our most recent cold snap opening the windows and filling the place with fresh air hasn’t been an option, and right now the cold germs are living it up like they’re at a Club Med for parasites. I’m willing to bet that each of us is six degrees or less from someone with a temp that’s a few degrees above normal. There are sniffles at work, at school and at every store you enter. I cringe when I get a sniffling cashier and I’ve been taking full advantage of the wipes many stores now offer to clean shopping cart handles. E-mail messages announcing someone’s absence at work have become the norm lately, and it seems like tissues are added to every recent office supply order. Both daughters have battled colds from two very different climates – Atlanta, Georgia and Central-Somewhere, Pennsylvania. So far Spouse and I have remained healthy, but with each cough or sneeze I’m stand poised to grab some extra vitamin C.

Along with more sunshine, I am also looking forward to not turning into an icicle while sitting in my car waiting for the defrost to kick in at the end of the work day. Spouse is hardly supportive of the fact that I need to hold my hands in front of the heater vents while driving. I don’t understand the issue – my thumbs are still on the steering wheel.

2 years ago - Snowmageddon!
Today the Superbowl is taking place in Houston, Texas, in case you didn’t get the memo. Will our New England Patriots be at a disadvantage surrounded by that much sun? Will the retractable roof play a part in keeping bad weather out? Wait - is there bad weather in Houston? I’m pretty sure the competition is good with not standing by an open flame to warm up between plays. And let’s admit it, the Patriots are used to performing in inclement weather. I’d prefer to see an occasional snow squall or, at the very least, a reason for Tom Brady to bundle up in that huge jacket, which seems to bring good luck.

In a few weeks Spouse and I will be visiting family in Kansas. I’ll venture a guess that they see more sun than we do in Maine, considering current Kansas temps are 25 degrees higher than ours. But we won’t be relocating to a warmer climate any time soon. We’re too used to getting vitamin D in very small doses.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Appreciating art... even my own

A couple of weeks ago I joined a group of warm and witty females for a night of creating art. Ironically, only days before I had unearthed my last attempt at artwork – an illustration of Jiminy Cricket from a drawing class my family took during a Disney World visit. My cricket was too big and semi-lopsided. That drawing alone should have been enough to deter me from ever trying it again. But this time there would be wine.
Second Born and I were invited to join Best Friend and her mom (affectionately known as Co-Mom), and there was even a special appearance by Big Sister of Best Friend. We were quite the crew with aprons donned, wine glasses in hand, ready to attack our empty canvases soon to be splayed with color. Here’s a hint: Do not wear anything you care about getting splayed, splattered or otherwise painted on when attending a wine and paint party. I swear it had nothing to do with the wine - I came close to coloring myself before the first sip.
Various paintings were displayed throughout the bright, cheery room. My first impression of the place was that it felt inviting and not at all intimidating. I can handle this, I decided confidently. I can turn this blank canvas into an acceptable rendition of the magnificent sunset painting we would soon be duplicating. Stop laughing.
Each station was supplied with four brushes in a container of water, six circles of various colors on a paper plate, and a thousand paper towels. Believe me, it’s barely enough when you have to soak a brush filled with black paint and wipe the color out of it so you can use yellow or white.
Under the guidance of our lead artist, broad strokes of yellow represented a bright ball of sun, followed by a pinkish hue dipping into purple shadows. With the soft thickness of the widest brush we created mountains across the canvas, until our sunset’s brilliance was reflected on a calm lake. A thinner brush swept wispy clouds into the bluish-black skies. A flutter of stars illumined the background. Tree branches dipped toward the water, rocks shimmered with the last light of the day.
I was doing art!
Near the end I stood back to admire my work. Wait a minute… how did my purple sunset disappear under my rock formations? Why do the bluish mountain shadows look more like sloths?
In the meantime the clock was ticking and we were supposed to be winding down. I knew mine wasn’t terrible but I have to admit my interest piqued when the artist mentioned S.O.S. sessions where you could complete or “rescue” a painting. I decided to skip the rescue, since I’m mildly leery of just how wrong a restoration could go.
Looks more like a stage than a sunset!
As Second Born and I were wrapping up I glanced over at Best Friend, Co-Mom and Big Sister. They were bent over their paintings, frantically adding the finishing touches before someone grabbed the brushes out of their hands. Their stars twinkled where mine dribbled and their wispy clouds didn’t look like my splotches. But the best part of those last few minutes was seeing mom and daughters working and playing together.
I wasn’t going for perfection – my goal was to laugh, enjoy the camaraderie, handle important issues like why the leaves on my tree looked like paws, and not get kicked out of class for smearing paint on everything within reach. Mission accomplished.

For a week or so, Second Born’s painting and mine were temporarily displayed on the end of the kitchen table, not necessarily to be admired first thing in the morning. Eventually they had to be relocated - at the moment they're both in her room (she doesn't know that yet). She chose to leave her piece behind when she headed back to college last weekend, but I have plans for my own attempt at art. It will eventually be displayed on a wall in the spare room...
which is a vast improvement over Jiminy Cricket’s place in the closet.