Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Self indulgence

I’ve had too much time on my hands.

Add to that a return of ugly weather, throw in the lack of work and before I knew what was happening, I fell prey to inertia. That sorry state where lethargy takes over. And apathy roams freely. Where responsibilities are ignored (home, garden, animals) and where the good stuff gets forgotten (friends, family, following your bliss).

It’s a pitiful mode and it’s gotta go.

So now that I have ‘fessed up to being indolent, I can move on. It’s time to return to a place of gratitude -- the powerful state of grace that can transform the ordinary into the glorious.

I’m going to be a little self indulgent here. I need to refocus and it always helps me to be more efficient in my life if I write stuff down. I am by nature a “glass half empty” gal, so I need to work hard to reprogram my outlook.

Instead of making a roll call of the blessings in my life, I’m going to use photos to illustrate. Images will help me reinforce the bounty. I’ll stick to the highlights and not bog this blog with the minutiae

If you want to turn your life around, try thankfulness. It will change your life mightily. ~Gerald Good

To me nothing says abundance like gorgeous food. A vibrant farmer’s market. A fully stocked pantry. A home made meal shared with friends.

I had a co-worker who on returning from lunch with a friend complained that it had been “such a waste of time.” Not being with her friend, but the eating part. She viewed food as a boring necessity. I couldn’t help but think that was so sad. Great, simple, satisfying food ranks high on my list as one of the greatest pleasures in life.

This photo for me represents a double blessing. The food because it’s so colorful, and the location because it’s Italy (from my visit there in the 80s).

Only a stomach that rarely feels hungry scorns common things. ~Horace

I have so many wonderful friends – with ages ranging from their 20s through their 80s. That range adds such richness to my life. I hope they know I am honored by their friendship.

Pictured is my friend, Diane, who was visiting from Chicago. I’ve always loved this photo because of the activity in the background and the umbrellas filling the frame. It’s taken at a pub in the The Hill section of St. Louis where you can enjoy the best meatball sandwich in town while you watch the crowds play bocce ball.

Let us be grateful to people who make us happy; they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom. ~ Marcel Proust

To know me is to know that animals are a big part of my life. I’ve been guardian to many and living with them has brought great joy. Since I’ve featured my dogs before, now it’s time to play homage to my feline companions, Vinny and Lola (formally known as Vicenzo and Lola Palooza).

When I turn in at night, they take that quiet time to romp around the house like they are still kittens. As I lay in the dark I can hear their little padded paws racing over the wood floors, first one, then the other, and I think it’s just one of the happiest sounds.

We can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures. ~Thornton Wilder

I’ve been a gardener for about 15 years, and I’d be hard pressed to name anything else that gives me more pleasure. I read a quote once that said gardeners were eternal optimists. As a typically grumpy dirt turner, I liked that association. Ever since then I’ve referred to myself as a hopeful gardener.

Here is a corner of my current garden. The urban yard isn’t so big, but I cram a lot into it. Last year I had a bumper crop of apples, and for the first time, there was enough for the squirrels, the birds, me and a few neighbors.

Gratitude is the fairest blossom which springs from the soul. ~Henry Ward Beecher

This photo always makes me smile. It’s an accidental double exposure – my mother and father playing pool at my birthday party, and my friend Renee, sunbathing in a kiddie swimming pool. Talk about serendipity.

To me it represents those spontaneous and odd moments that give our lives such texture. I appreciate the unfamiliar. The break from routine. I admire creativity and expression. I suppose that’s why I’ve become so addicted to reading other blogs. Thanks to all in the blogosphere who have expanded my horizons.

Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it. ~William Arthur Ward

Well, okay. That was fun. Refreshing, actually. I’m starting to feel human again. Maybe a photo essay on what makes us grateful can become a new meme. I’d certainly love to see what happiness is coloring your world.

“If you build it, they will come.” At least I know I will. If you don’t see my comment on your post, send me an email (pyzahn at hotmail) and I’ll be sure to stop by.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Wanted: Photo caption

I dunno but I think this picture needs a caption and I can't come up with one. Help me out here.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Stupid human tricks

I sincerely believe that dogs pass along behavior traits and quirks to each other. When I first got my younger dog (Nelson), I couldn’t keep him out of the basement. He would squeeze himself through the cat door to get down and explore the lower level.

Murphy (my old guy) on the other hand has always hated the basement. After a few weeks of living together -- voila -- Nelson would no longer go down. You’d think the devil was down there. Somehow the word had passed that the basement was just not cool.

Only recently did I discover that neither of my dogs will step on a grate. Now this is something new for the old guy because he’s been okay with it in the past.

I discovered this when one of Nelson’s toys landed on the cool air return in my dining room. He stood there barking and pacing like a madman because he couldn’t get to it. Nothing I did would entice him to put one foot on the grate.

So in my evil human way, I decided to put a dog treat on the backside. (See the little biscuit lying there in the first photo.) Again with the pacing and barking. Ah, I thought, I’ll have Murphy show him how to get it. So wrong.

Murphy’s approach, as you can see demonstrated in the second photo, was a bit different. He’d just stretch his body as far as he could. Then he’d walk from one end to the other, think about it, and stretch some more.

He was just one tongue length away from the prize.

This provided me with a great deal of amusement. Dogs: barking, pacing, thinking, stretching. Me: teasing, tormenting, laughing.

I finally caved in and gave them both a treat. Much deserved, for the entertainment factor alone.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Spring in the hood

"I think that I shall never see a blog as lovely as a tree."

This is my Magnolia “Jane”. Actually she is a shrub, not a tree. But lovely nonetheless. It’s the first spring she has bloomed so magnificently and I can’t help but marvel at how she has brightened up the landscape.

I wish this was “Smell-a-Vision” or scratch-n-sniff because those hyacinths have the most amazing fragrance. It’s worthy of sharing. Every morning when I go out to pickup the paper, I step into a perfumed heaven.

Alas, the birds are not so happy with me today. I have cut them off from their morning feeding. As an urban dweller, I feel a responsibility to feed them during the winter. But as spring settles in, I slowly withdraw the amount of seed I put out. When the last bag is empty, free food is no more.

I always feel very guilty when the feeding stops. I try to tell them (and myself) it’s time to stand on their own. Earth worms are a plenty in my yard. But this morning the male Cardinal threw a hissy fit, squawking and hopping around and laying on the pitiful routine. So much drama.

I’m off to stroll the garden. Every day there is a new sighting of something green sprouting through the soil. The hostas are boldly showing themselves. The peonies race to see who can grow the tallest on any given day. Soon I will have a picture of the apple tree in bloom to share.

Spring brings new beauty to the hood.

I have survived

Well, I did it. I survived for almost ten hours without a computer. It was hairy for a while. The anxiety was almost overwhelming. I had to put my head beneath my knees a few times and then breathe into a paper bag, but I made it through to the other side.

Several times I caught myself heading into my office to check email. The desk looked very barren, stark, so alone. My breath would catch. I filled my time with unnecessary chores to keep my mind off the withdrawal.

Obviously I’m up and running once more. I had a new PC buzz late into the night as I downloaded software and files. I never knew computers could move so quickly. I had gotten used to filing my nails and making calls while a page loaded.

For the moment, I love technology and I’m going to savor it, because heaven knows it may not last too long.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Woe is me

My computer problems continue and my time online may be limited. I’m getting error reports that say it’s a hard drive issue, which can’t be good. And my system keeps crashing, which is annoying.

It’s been an interesting technological evolution for me. By nature, I am a luddite. But ever since I’ve been blogging, I’ve become much friendlier with the whole techy Internet thing. I spend more time online than watching TV. And it’s starting to draw me away from activities I’ve always loved – reading, cooking, gardening.

So maybe my computer meltdown is a good thing. Time to re-evaluate.

Wherever this assessment takes me, the fact is I will still need a computer that’s reliable. And fast. And cheap. So I’m looking for feedback.

Please send your thoughts/experiences regarding suitable replacements. I’m leaning towards a laptop. I want something that’s easy to use (i.e., none of those mini contraptions). No sissy colors. Good workhorse with multitasking capabilities. And like I said. Cheap. Or at least affordable.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Literary Prize 2009

Well, I know you have all been holding your breath. Today the finalists were announced for the Diagram Prize for the oddest book title of the year. They are as follows:

“Baboon Metaphysics”

“The 2009-2014 World Outlook for 60-milligram Containers of Fromage Frais”

“Curbside Consultation of the Colon”

“The Large Sieve and its Applications”

“Techniques for Corrosion Monitoring”

“Strip and Knit with Style”

You can cast your vote until March 27th at bookseller.com or by clicking here. If you’d like to make your own suggestion for odd title, please click on the comment link below and suggest away.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Livin’ in the hood

I am an urban dweller. On the cusp of the city where it meets the county line. In St. Louis there is a colossal divide between city and county – mental, not geographical.

While it’s not the barrio, you will not find rolling green lawns with friendly golden retrievers as greeters. Though for this city, it’s about as suburban as you can get. I have an oversized yard that’s anchored by a specimen apple tree, a dwindling forsythia hedge and a fairly impressive perennial garden.

For the most part it’s quiet here, unless my northerly neighbor decides to crank up the rave music. You know -- that synthesized crap that makes you want to bang your head on the wall. And occasionally the bozo down the street will ride his pocket bike through the alley like it’s the Daytona 500.

But for my depraved amusement, I look to the drug dealer across the street.

Levi is his street name. For the first two years I lived here, a light was never turned on inside and he never went into his house through the door. He always crawled through the window. Who knows? Maybe he's also a rebirther.

Initially I was fairly alarmed about his presence. He was after all sullying up the neighborhood. The traffic was a nuisance. And his goth girlfriend gave me the jeebies. But once I realized he wasn’t connected to any Colombian drug cartel, I relaxed into it.

About five years ago he was in a car accident and lost his leg. Your tax money – and mine – bought him a nice prostheses and a state-of-the-art wheel chair. After a while, the new leg lay strewn across the lawn and the wheel chair was traded in for cash flow.

Then he was arrested. No. Not for drugs. But for stealing utilities. He had connected a hose to the faucet of the empty house next door and ran it into his window. Then he took an extension cord and pulled power into his house.

Within 24 hours he was released. I dunno. Maybe he has connections on the police force. Or maybe he’s too small time to worry about.

Besides the entertainment factor, Levi fuels my overly active imagination. I suppose I’ve watched too much Law & Order over the years, but I pride myself on being an aware good citizen with a keen eye for detail. Beware druggies cause I’m paying attention.

That way when Detective Ed Green shows up at my door (Jesse Martin was the coolest cop on L&O), I’ll have my ducks in a row, the coffee hotly brewed, and my most seductive eye witness motor running.

Though that’s a good fantasy, I kinda think I would miss Levi if he were gone. I’d miss seeing him roll out of his friend’s van and crawl up the walk to his porch. I’d miss the conversations he has with the light pole. I’d miss hearing the neighbor yell cause he’s shooting bottle rockets at her dog.

Welcome to my little slice of the hood.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Note to self

Sometimes we can all use a little reminder.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Queen for a day....x3

Meet my mom.

Born Kathleen Caroline Morgenthaler on November 5, 1922 in Pickneyville, IL. She was one of eleven children, the oldest surviving sibling. Her sister Christine died giving birth. Brother Junior died as a youngster from a sad case of what my mother refers to as “blocked bowels.”

Her mother, my grandmother, Nellie, was a tough old broad. Not in a good sense. She was married three times. So she said. Once to my grandfather, Clarence. Then a shotgun wedding to her second husband, Chester (who my mom always calls The Old Man). The third, Aaron, well…no one is absolutely sure there was an official wedding.

The men in the family seemed to either disappear or die by odd circumstances. My grandfather was “calling” at a square dance when he fell off a porch, broke his neck and didn’t survive. My great grandfather met his maker by a means at the extreme opposite of Junior – caused my mom says by eating watermelon rind. The other husbands just seemed to wander off.

Mom led a pretty hard life. Being one of the oldest, she was responsible for much of the care giving to the younger kids. My grandmother, pioneer woman that she was, gave birth to all of her children at home, except one. So my mom can truthfully say she knows somethin’ about birthin’ a baby.

The rotating dads weren’t around much and the family migrated from town to town in southern Illinois. My mom tells a pretty harrowing story about one point in their life when they all actually lived in a chicken coop. But as you can tell from the early photo, she was a pretty sharp looking kid.

Anyway, getting back to the current picture. If you look really closely you can see a teeny tiny tiara on her head. She was voted Sweetheart Queen at the Senior Community where she lives. Sweetheart Queen twice. And Harvest Queen once. The other two tiaras were bigger but I don’t have a photo of those.

So life has come ‘round for her. After taking care of so many sisters and brothers, then marrying young and raising two kids of her own, she now gets to live a royal life in a cute little apartment where someone cooks all her meals, cleans, and monitors her health.

She’s become quite the competitive poker player, crochets lap blankets for her friends and manages to put together a record number of jigsaw puzzles every month. But she hasn’t quite let go of taking care of folks. Being one of the sprier residents, she seems to always be helping out one of her fellow residents. That’s how she earned all those crowns.

All hail Katie! Long live the Queen.

Friday, March 13, 2009

A flashback to happy days

Sunday, Monday, Happy Days.
Tuesday, Wednesday, Happy Days....

It’s Friday. In many corners of the blogosphere that means it’s a day for flashbacks. And since it’s Friday the 13th, I’m posting a picture that might amuse you on a day typically associated with the darker side of life.

Here I am in the embrace of Anson Williams. Yup. Potsie, from Happy Days.

I used to work at Sea World in San Diego. My department was responsible for producing all the live shows and part of my duties was to coordinate film crews that came to the park.

Back in the day when variety shows were all the rage, we had a steady flow. You know, stuff like….”Perry Como’s Easter by the Sea.” Captain Kangaroo even came to hang out for a couple weeks. The Captain was a bit of a pistol, but Mr. Greenjeans was a fine gentleman.

Well, Potsie, …er….Mr. Williams…had a brief stint of popularity during the reign of Happy Days. So some network gave him his own variety special. He was pretty full of himself. Hid out in his trailer with his girlfriend and then came on to the set with a big ugly hickey on his neck. Sent the producer into a tizzy and the makeup lady had to work TV magic.

Happy days. Flashbacks can be such fun.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

A March madness of my own

“April is the cruellest month…”

I think T. S. Eliot had it wrong. March is by far the worst month. The worst of the worst. Dreary. Brittle. Dismal. It’s the month when Mother Nature shows her whimsical ways. In the flatlands yesterday is was 80 degrees. Today I don’t think it made it up to 40.

Typically in February we see a quick warm up. A few days, maybe a week, where the temps tease with warm breezes and the sky is bright, sunny. Then March muscles in with a misty overcast and a depressing gloom. At the core, it’s an identity issue. Winter? Or Spring?

Thinking of Eliot, I went in search of a poem that might aptly express the animosity I feel for this month. My quick exploration didn’t turn up anything I found prickly enough, but here are a couple of much kinder interpretations.

"March is a tomboy with tousled hair, a mischievous smile, mud on her shoes
and a laugh in her voice."

- Hal Borland

"Springtime is the land awakening. The March winds are the morning yawn."
- Lewis Grizzard

Those little doses of boyish admiration got me to ease up a bit on my loud displeasure over a lousy month. A transitional month. A better perspective would be to find relief in the knowing that in less then ten days it will officially be spring. And then I found this:

"I wonder if the sap is stirring yet,
If wintry birds are dreaming of a mate,
If frozen snowdrops feel as yet the sun
And crocus fires are kindling one by one:
Sing robin, sing:
I still am sore in doubt concerning Spring."

- Christina Rossetti

Actually I don’t doubt that spring is on the way. I see it coming by watching the buds on my magnolia grow plump. I’ve witnessed its power by the rapid growth of my allium with only two days of unusual heat. I measure the acceleration by the increasing number of sinus pills I need to take.

Even with the sniffling and snorting, I remain anxious for a quick transformation. I wait and watch and hanker for the steady warmth. But it’s not all a lyrical, poetic yearning. A lot of it is just being peeved that my “transitional” wardrobe is sadly lacking.

Shallowness aside, I throw open my pasty white arms to welcome a brighter day and wave off the passing of a dour companion.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Sweet surrender...revisited

Note: My muse is still on hiatus, so I thought I would revisit a post from the end of last summer. With spring just around the corner, it's a reminder of good things to come.

For a while now, I have been working on learning how to live in the moment. For an anal retentive, organization demon, this is a tough task. Move, move, move, put it away, get it done, do it now. My mantra.

As I try to release the urge to control my life, I am bombarded by hit’n’run reminders of what I need to accomplish. Magazine articles recommend: Let it be. Talk shows preach: Go with the flow. Spiritual teachers advise: Go within.

In trying to relax into the moment, I can completely stress myself out. But this summer, Mother Nature gave me a living example of sweet surrender.

For years I struggled in vain to grow tomatoes in my small city yard. I’ve taken out rose bushes to give them a prime sunny spot, but they were invaded by some kind of boring worm. I’ve planted in the hinderlands of the forgotten south side hoping more sun would please them, but the sandy soil was too poor to produce a real crop.

I put them in a huge pot near the house where I could keep an eye out for hungry squirrels, but still I lost the battle. I tied them to the side of the porch and ensconced them in mesh; the critters ate through it.

I gave up. I surrendered. No more tomato attempts for me.

This year as I was doing yard work, I noticed in the tiniest of cracks between the sidewalk and the garage something was growing. Never quick to weed, eventually the sprout revealed itself to be a tomato plant – obviously the gift of a neighborhood bird with incredible aim. I was amazed. I waited for it to die.

It didn’t.

That plant is now six foot tall and cresting the roof line of the garage. I’ve had to tie it up four times to keep it from toppling. As of last count, there were ten tomatoes of impressive size, with another ten or so pea-sized fruit.

But the really magical part – the tenacious plant is growing in deep shade on the north side of the building that is really more suitable for the production of moss. I am confounded. Even the squirrels have been surprised into submission.

When I gave up trying so hard, I was rewarded with the fruits of no labor.

Now as I look out the window and marvel at the bounty I am about to reap,I can’t help but smile at the thought, at the irony of it all. But for me the real sweetness is in the lesson learned.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Brain freeze

Remember the good ole days when you got brain freeze from eating something cold too quickly? Malt. Sno cone. Bomb pop. That pain expanding in the front of your head until you thought it was going to explode. My automatic response was to put my hand to my forehead, pound on it a bit and maybe rub it to see if I could shake it loose.

Well, these days I get the same sensation every time I’m near a media outlet. A knee jerk, Pavlovian response with my hand rubbing my forehead as I try to get my brain to work. It happens when I hear/read/see anything about the stimulus package.

But really, what normal person can wrap their mind around the gazillions of dollars we are stacking up in debt? I have to use a fake sissy word like gazillion because when I think of the actual trillion dollar amount I slide into cerebral defecto mode.

I think the only solution is to run up to Mr. Wizard and slurp down – really fast – a large chocolate malt. Maybe the real deal brain freeze will push aside that strange numbness inside my head.

Ah, the good ole days.