Tuesday, March 30, 2010

close your eyes

There is this thing that I do when I am stressed out. I close my eyes and take myself back to Bora Bora in French Polynesia. My best friend and I traveled there in April 2008 to celebrate our birthdays and that trip remains the most amazing vacation I have ever taken.

But it is a sunset catamaran ride around the Bora Bora lagoon that floats through my mind's eye when I sit with my eyes closed. I am lying face down on the sail, looking down into the water, trailing my hand through the water, enjoying a breeze across my body and in my hair. I am feeling as far away from home as I have ever felt. I hear the Polynesian band playing behind me. I hear people talking around me. The sun is slowly setting and the colors are amazing. I am smiling, smiling, smiling.

I also like to jump forward to my next trip to experience that calm. So right now, I close my eyes and imagine sitting on my reserved padded lounge chair in the Sanctuary on the Emerald Princess, which is now less than two months away. I don't even care where that ship goes. All I want is to sit on the lounge chair and vegetate.

Close your eyes. Where are you and what are you doing?

Sunday, March 28, 2010

final four

This NCAA tournament has been a doozy! My brackets were almost detroyed before we even made it to the Elite Eight. Almost everyone I spoke with has said the same. Today, the Final Four was decided with a Duke victory over Baylor. I am usually a Tarheels fan, but since they were not in the tournament, I reverted to my second favorite, Duke, which I picked to win the whole thing. That seemed unlikely at the beginning of the tournament, but is slightly more likely now!!!

No matter what, this is shaping up to be an interesting NCAA final!!!

Monday, March 22, 2010

london, ontario ... and a little detroit

My sister Lenore, a new widow, is now responsible for the care of her mother-in-law, Ursula. She wanted to travel to Ontario, Canada, to ensure that all of the legal and medical issues were addressed right away so that the quality care for her mother-in-law would continue uninterrupted. She asked me to travel with her for moral support, which I was delighted to do.

Lenore lives in Hoboken, New Jersey. I live in Memphis, Tennessee. We looked at lots of cities near London, Ontario and finally settled on Detroit, Michigan.

We flew into Detroit early on Thursday morning, timing our arrivals from separate cities in hopes that we would arrive at approximately the same time. Happily, I stepped off the plane and found my sister waiting for me. We grabbed a rental car and set out for Canada. Well, we tried!!!!! We drove this way and that, this way and that, this way and that. Detroit apparently enjoys playing jokes on visitors who are trying to find the bridge to Canada!! We drove and drove and drove, laughing hysterically at our inability to find our way. It really was ridiculous!

We FINALLY found the correct exit off the highway. Then we drove through the most ungodly mess of construction to approach the actual bridge. The Ambassador Bridge is privately owned by a Canadian citizen who charges a toll to cross it. Currently there is a big controversy regarding the bridge. Detroit is planning to build a new bridge downriver from the Ambassador. The owner of the Ambassador is finally trying to sell. It might be too late! At the Canadian border, the agent asked a few standard questions. Where are you traveling to? Of which country are you a citizen? How long will you be in Canada? Then we were free to go! We drove about three hours to London, Ontario and arrived at the apartment that my sister and her husband have rented, which is across the street from the facility where Ursula lives. That first night, our dinner consisted of instant oatmeal that I had brought with me. I'm not sure why I brought it, but it was good! Then, Lenore settled in to the bedroom and I settled on the sofa from hell. Now to be fair to my sister, she did invite me to share the bed. But I am such a light sleeper that I knew I would not be able to sleep. I did sleep - some - on that short sofa.

The next morning, we set out to run errands. The first stop was the attorney's office. Throughout the city of London, there are houses made of a pale yellow brick. The lawyer's office was in one of these old homes. He told me that the house had a double layer of brick rather than just a brick facade. My photo really doesn't do it justice. It just looks like a house that is painted yellow. But that really is yellow brick, which I found out is the same type of clay used to make red brick. This clay simply has very little iron, so doesn't have that red color. With the business concluded, we set out for our next stop.

But before we left the attorney's yard, we enjoyed the sight of these flowers poking through the dirt. Spring was in the air!

And on his front porch, the attorney had some necessary tools for those long winters. Ugh. I do not ever want to shovel snow again!

There were several more stops that day. In the evening, we set out to find a Japanese restaurant. We didn't find it, but we found a different Japanese restaurant than the one we were looking for - on the same street! We had tempura and sushi and green tea. We spent the first half decade of our lives in Japan, so we are both comforted by Japanese food.

Saturday morning, we had one errand left to run. On the way there and back, we found some sights seen only in Canada and some seen only in London, Ontario:

The black squirrel is just a melanistic variety of the Grey Squirrel. But since I have not seen many of them, I was enchanted by the sight of one.

In downtown London, Ontario, there are a number of colorful metal trees. I think they are beautiful!

There are lots of different colors!

Let's talk about LaBatt's beer. On second thought, let's have some Labatt's beer!

Tim Hortons in Canada is like Dunkin Donuts in New Jersey. They make great donuts! Lenore and I bought some to have for breakfast on Sunday morning. They are also rumored to have good coffee, but I didn't have any of that, so I can not testify.

I'm sure my Canadian friends will think it's silly that I took a picture of this mail truck. But it was new to me, so I decided to capture it for posterity!

I liked the Canadian flag on this Greyhound bus.

This is the facility that Lenore's mother-in-law lives in. Notice the yellow brick! We saw that yellow brick everywhere! The folks who work at the facility are just wonderful. They were so sweet and loving to my sister, knowing that she had just lost her husband.

Dutch Elm disease arrived in Ontario in 1967 and wiped out about 80% of the trees existing at that time. Throughout Eastern Canada, you will find the trunks of Elm trees that have been left standing and have been carved into gorgeous pieces of art. You can see the carving in front of the facility in the picture above. This picture is a close-up of a portion of the carving. It looks like a little nuthatch to me. But I could be wrong.

Back at the apartment, Lenore brought out the snacks. Everything in this part of Canada has product labels in English and French. Perhaps it is like that throughout Canada. I don't know! But here are some noix d'acajou or cashew nuts.

I looked in the kitchen cabinet and found some Chaudree de Palourdes du Maine, also known as New England Clam Chowder.

But we saved the best for last. On our last night in London, we drove over to the same area we had been to the night before to look for a Thai restaurant. We found it, but decided we didn't like the looks of it. Then Lenore spotted the sign for the Japanese restaurant we had been looking for the night before. We decided to go there. I rarely find myself NOT interested in Japanese food. I had the tempura again:

Lenore had the oyako donburi:

Then we shared some ginger ice cream:

Sunday morning, we took Ursula to her church, where she was warmly greeted by members who had known her for years and years. During the service, there was a short memorial prayer for John. Then the rector invited Lenore and Ursula up to the front of the congregation. Church members draped their shoulders with prayer shawls and together they lit a remembrance candle for John. It was lovely. Afterwards we were joined by Shirley, a friend of Ursula's, for lunch at a nearby restaurant. It was a joyous gathering!

Some postscripts:

My sister did all of the driving on this trip. It was not easy for her, because she has not done a lot of driving in her lifetime. It was not easy for me, because I both LOVE to drive AND I had to give up control. But it was really good for her to have the time behind the wheel. And she did a great job!!!

My sister and I always end up having at least one disagreement when we are together. But in the end, I know she is in my corner and will never leave me. And she knows the same about me. That is the richest gift. I'm so glad that she let me go with her on this trip. I love you, Lenore!!!

When we crossed the border back into Canada, the border guard (is that the right term?) was about 50 times better at cross-examining us than the Canadian border guard had been. It was pretty impressive! He really peppered us with the questions!!!

Sunday, March 14, 2010

daylight savings time

We sprang forward last night. All the timepieces in my house (Blackberry, cable box, alarm clock) auto-set themselves, so I didn't have to remember. But I found myself recalling a Sunday of long ago when Mother forgot to set the clocks before we went to bed one Saturday night and we ended up missing church. It was a rare Sunday holiday and we stayed in our pajamas and ate lunch at 11 a.m. It was baked chicken. Yum.

What do you remember, if anything, about Daylight Savings and your childhood?

Saturday, March 13, 2010


In 1973, my mother relocated our little family from Gainesville, Georgia to Misenheimer, North Carolina when she accepted the position of Associate Dean of Students at Pfeiffer College (now Pfeiffer University). This was the summer prior to my 10th grade year and my sister's 11th grade year.

I was born in Durham, North Carolina at Duke University Hospital, but we moved to Japan before my first birthday and had not lived in NC since that time. But North Carolina had me by the heartstrings because we spent a part of every summer with grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins galore in Montreat, North Carolina.

A few minutes ago, I became a Fan of Cheerwine on Facebook and a whole lot of North Carolina memories flooded through my brain.

Cheerwine: I love this sweet elixer. You can't usually find it outside of the state of NC, but you will hear someone say "I found it at the store in ______," and everyone will react with shock. I loved Cheerwine. It was my favorite bottled drink in high school. I've even heard that there is an ice cream or sherbet made in this flavor. I would love to have some of that!

Wink's: This was a little diner type joint on Highway 52 in Albemarle. Back then, you backed your car into a parking space around the U-shaped lot and honked your horn to summon a waitress, who sometimes arrived on roller skates. (This was in the 1970's!) I always ordered the same thing - a cheeseburger, fries and a Cherry-Lemon-Sundrop. Yummy!

Moon Pond: I can't tell you why.

Albemarle High School talent show: AHS was the arch rival of the high school that I attended, North Stanly High School. But the year my rock band competed in the talent show that was staged at AHS, we won. Most of us either still attended or had graduated from NSHS. It was funny. They got revenge by putting a picture of us in their yearbook that was a two-page spread. I was right in the center and looked like I weighed 200 pounds because of the way the photo was split. (I would love to have that photo today!!!)

John's Tavern: Sausage pizza, cheeseburger basket, disco light ball; picnic tables on each side of the dance floor, a bartender named Munchkin, gravel parking lot, laughter, dancing, driving the back roads home (or back to the dorm in later years), fending off intoxicated young men, Cardinal Puff for the very first time this evening, flirting with other young men, 25 cent beer (was it Red, White & Blue beer?) and pitchers of draft.

Tomato Greenhouses owned by Gene Pickler: For quite some time, I planted, grew and picked tomatoes for my pocket money. That was hard labor! It made attending college easy because I found that I did not want to do hard labor. I shared this part-time job with two full-time faculty members from Pfeiffer, who did the work for extra pocket money. They were both nutcases, but a LOT of fun!

McDonald's in Albemarle: The closest McDonald's to Misenheimer was 20 minutes away. One never made the drive alone, because that would be a waste of gas and labor. It was, at best, a full carload of people. For one dollar, I got a cheeseburger, small fries and a small Coke.

Computer Room: The first computer at Pfeiffer took up an entire room! You had to sign up to use it and all it did was crunch numbers. Word processing hadn't been invented yet! Neither had email or the Internet. I thought I was very fortunate to have an electric typrewriter with BUILT IN correction tape - very fancy!!!

Cockfeathers: I helped to produce the secret, "underground" newspaper on the Pfeiffer campus. It wasn't much of a secret because lots of people knew. All parties involved in that newspaper are now contributing members of society. It was so much fun sneaking around in the dead of night delivering that paper. Tee hee!

First Stop: Pfeiffer sat in a dry county, so you had to drive to the county line to buy alcohol. The closest little country store was aptly named.

Morrow Mountain: I loved this state park. I remember driving over there several times with different friends. For some reason, I associate this place with "My Faith is Blind", a song recorded by Phoebe Snow. I can remember driving up the mountain with that song playing on my cassette tape deck.

These were just random memories that flew through my mind. I could keep going for days and days.

"In my mind, I'm goin' to Carolina
Can't you see the sunshine
Can't you just feel the moonshine
Ain't it just like a friend of mine
It hit me from behind
Yes I'm gone to Carolina in my mind"
(James Taylor)

Shall we go to Carolina, you and I?

Sunday, March 7, 2010

bye, john

My brother-in-law, John Peterson, passed away last Sunday. I traveled north to attend his funeral and to be with my sister. I first flew to Allentown, Pennsylvania to my father and stepmother's home. Then the three of us drove over to Newark to pick up Ursula, John's cousin who came all the way from Scotland to attend the service. We arrived at Lenore's apartment in Hoboken, New Jersey about three hours before the beginning of the visitation at the church. There we found the usual gathering of brilliant, unusual people that make up Lenore's family circle of friends.

After Lenore graduated from Michigan State University in the 80's, she relocated to Hoboken, New Jersey along with most of her friends from MSU. John attended Yale, but came to know the group, collectively known as The Hobbits, by way of a friend with whom he worked. For almost 30 years this group has gathered and gnoshed and debated the issues of the day. They have sung and played games and shared interesting trivia and argued over obscure ideas and events. They have loved each other and fought with each other and supported each other. And in this, my sister's saddest hours, they have gathered round and embraced her and loved her and worried over her. They are a blessing to her and to us, her birth family.

John grew up in London, Ontario in Canada. He was a brilliant man and knew something about everything, it seemed to me. No matter where we were or what we were doing, John would comment on something that was relevant to where we were or the topic we were discussing. He just knew.

My relationship with my brother-in-law wasn't all rosy. He was used to being in charge and so was I, so we bumped heads when we were together. I experienced resentment when he got his way and he clearly did not like it when I had my way. I spent most of my life in the South where men cater to women, carrying their bags and opening doors. John was a very nice man, but he was not interested in catering to me!!! Intellectually, I recognized this as being perfectly fine. Emotionally, I experienced it as being abandoned and uncared for, which made no sense, but was still part of the dynamic.

John and I still managed to have some fun moments. One early morning in Montreat, North Carolina, we both woke up early and took off in the rental car for a drive on the Blue Ridge Parkway while Lenore slept. The views from that road were just gorgeous that morning. John stopped in a rest area because he knew of a little hiking trail. I don't hike, but got out of the car and followed him up the trail. I didn't make it far before I was heaving for oxygen! John patiently waited each time I had to stop, finally going on alone to the summit, with my blessing! This was followed by a descent, in the rental car, down a twisty, gravel service road, which scared the daylights out of me. Part way down, we came to a waterfall. We got out and I took a picture of it with my brand new digital camera. I accidentally discovered that I could take a short video of the waterfall and did. I watched it just last night, enjoying the beautiful images and listening to John's voice in the background. It made me remember that day so clearly.

Just after John got sick, I called to talk with Lenore. A conversation with her was never just the two of us, unless she was home alone. Because of her hearing impairment, my side of the conversation was loud enough that John could always hear everything that I said. So he would participate in the conversation. I could never hear what he said, so Lenore would have to repeat it. I remember asking him if he had started his Bucket List. He laughed and thanked me for not saying something sympathetic or pitying. After that, I called more frequently and our conversations included the latest news, as well as laughter over something silly that I would ask or say. I called once when Lenore was bathing John. I said I would call back but John said no, he wanted me to stay on the phone to cheer him. So I sang him the Rubber Ducky Song, which I happen to have memorized. ("Rubber Ducky, joy of joys, when I squeeze you, you make noise ...") This became somewhat of a tradition. When they traveled to Montreal, they called me to ask me to sing it in French. Undaunted, I translated the entire song using an online translator, and sang the song in French. ("Canard plastique, joie de joies ...") I also gave them many rubber duckies, some of which joined John in the tub each time he bathed.

My own brother is almost ten years older than me. He is a bit of a recluse, so I rarely interact with him. My other brother-in-law and I are not close. John was a brother to me, with equal parts affection and annoyance, as any brother/sister relationship should be! He was a perfect match for my sister. I can't imagine how devastated she must feel. But she is moving through each day, one step at a time. I am so proud of how she has stepped up to meet the demands of this situation. She has proven that she is a strong, brave woman. I think she has even surprised herself.

I will miss my brother, John. I will miss his interesting trivia, his voice in the background of my conversations with my sister and I will miss his long, wild ponytail, the symbol of his individuality. I will miss his singing and his identification of birds on the wing. I will miss his leaving the room when he has had enough of a group. I will miss his brotherly words, so gently and cautiously spoken. I will miss him standing by my sister's side.

"I wish life was not so short," he thought, "Languages take such a time, and so do all the things one wants to know about."
--- J.R.R.Tolkien, The Lost Road