Saturday, November 25, 2006

What goes 'round ...

My weekend in London was fantastic. I’ve been thinking how I could ever repay such an unexpected gesture of kindness. The answer came to me today, at least in part, as I finished unpacking. Several items in my suitcase caught my attention and I realized that they were just begging to share what they are about, especially for my readers in the UK and Australia.

The event I attended in London benefited a local UK charity called Hearing Dogs for Deaf People. Through Amanda Tapping’s fans’ generosity, enough money was raised to support the training of four new hearing dogs to assist the deaf. The charity brought its dogs to the event and demonstrated how a dog learns to respond and notify its deaf owner of everyday sounds we take for granted. In addition, a young man who lost his hearing by the time he was in his 30s spoke about how a hearing dog changed his life. He was suicidal and depressed and the dog brought back meaning to his life, gave him a reason to get out of bed in the morning. He had never spoken in front of a crowd before and showed a lot of courage in coming to our event. He spoke from the heart. I got to speak to some of the trainers and they actually rescue dogs from shelters and then train them to be lifelong companions to the deaf. It’s a win/win situation. Dogs that may have been put down become useful and needed.

I came across a flyer advertising extra virgin olive oil which is harvested by communities of peace in the Middle East. I’m hoping that these good people, Arabs and Jews alike, are still pursuing their dream of peace. Blessed are the peacemakers.

And then a yellow catalogue that I had picked up in a local bookshop caught my eye. I browsed through and was quite impressed with the scope of charities represented. Good Gifts is a truly unique way to give a gift which can change a person, a community, on a global basis. Rather than buying the usual holiday presents for friends and family, you can donate in their honour and realize that your generosity has had a worldwide impact. They even have a way to work with brides and grooms as a wedding registry. What a beautiful way to share your good fortune and pay it forward.

Finally, one of the most fun places I browsed last weekend was a bookshop and map maker called Stanfords, the premier mapmaker in the UK. The many gifts to be found here were quite interesting and unique. This is not a charity-driven organization by any means but it is a fun place to find something special for that hard-to-buy-for person on your shopping list.

I will have to research similar organizations here in the States or other worthwhile charities which are in need of holiday donations. For now, though, let me share these links with you.

I would never have had my weekend in London without the friendships that formed via the worldwide Web. The Internet can bring people together and release a lot of positive energy into the universe. If just one person who happens to read this comes across something of value, then I will be happy.

‘Tis the season to start counting our blessings and finding ways to be generous.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Fangirls and fairy godmothers

I think I lead a fairly normal existence. Sure, I’ve just made some major changes in my lifestyle - picking up and moving to the Berkshires, finding a new job, settling in to the new apartment. Overall, though, I’m following a safe path.

What would it be like to break out of my shell? Do something spontaneous like jetting off for a weekend in London? Getting acquainted with people I’ve only met online? Attending a cocktail party with a television actress? Having champagne and tea with same actress two days later? Riding the tube to Covent Garden to do some Christmas shopping and sharing lunch with two close friends who live in England and Scotland? What would it be like to not have to worry about the bills for such a weekend getaway?

You may have noticed my absence since going to the dentist. I have been away. I’ve done all the stuff listed above … the stuff of daydreams and wish lists.

Somehow, about two weeks ago, the planets aligned and a lot of good karma came floating my way. A bucket load. I spent this past weekend at a hotel in London, just one among a couple hundred sci-fi fans of a Canadian actress, Amanda Tapping, who plays Lt. Colonel Samantha Carter on a weekly series called Stargate.

I got into the sci-fi genre quite unexpectedly a few years ago while surfing my new cable channels to see what was offered. I came across an unlikely group of characters called SG1, a team of intergalactic soldiers and scientists who went through a wormhole each week and saved the universe from invading aliens with glowing eyes. The whole idea was based on a movie called Stargate which did not impress me as much. However, the female character on the television series did. She was intelligent, got to play with guns, had a Ph.D. in quantum mechanics and kept up with the boys. I thought she portrayed a strong woman in a man’s world quite well. She was real and didn’t come across as a sci-fi Barbie. I still cringe when I remember Jane Fonda in Barbarella. I never watched Star Trek or other sci-fi shows on a regular basis.

Stargate was also my initiation into the world of online fan forums and fanfic. Yes, fans do write original fiction about their favorite shows. I soon found myself gravitating to some of the larger and more respected fan forums and even created a sci-fi identity as I started posting on the different discussion threads. Of course, I kept this a secret from the kids, not knowing how they would deal with a mother who was online discussing weekly episodes of alien marauders and wormhole theory. Through the forums, friendships developed. I found that many of the biggest fans were actually part of my demographic: older women who worked as teachers, administrators and in other professional positions. By exchanging private emails, we soon became better acquainted and realized we had more in common than our interest in a sci-fi show. One of the women was a geology professor and a prolific fanfic writer. I read her work and was so impressed that I decided to flex my writing muscles and give it a try. The writing provided a great outlet and helped me hone my writing skills. I published under my sci-fi pseudonym and got favorable reviews. Heck, I had my own fan base! Who woulda thought? Buoyed up by favorable reviews, I shyly shared some of my work with Jenn and David. Surprisingly, they both thought it was really good and encouraged me to continue. Even now, I’m still writing fanfic.

Now that I’ve moved and settled into a half-time job, my cash flow has slowed to a trickle. I’m very mindful of the bills and trying to stay on a tight budget. So when the London event was announced, I didn’t even consider it. Out of the question. I admit that I was thinking about the two close friends who would be going and wanting to see them. But it just wouldn’t work. Until …

Another online sci-fi buddy, whom I never met, decided to make an incredible offer of kindness and generosity and send me in her place because she has a fear of flying. At first I thought she was joking but soon realized that she was sincere. Pinching myself, I accepted the offer and just returned from one of the most fun weekends of my life. Little moments of opportunity continued to open up all the time I was there. Amazing grace.

What goes ‘round, comes ‘round. If that’s true, then it’s my turn to gather all this good karma and pay it forward.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Wide open

I was happy to get all your warm get-well wishes but my adventures with the new dentist didn't end when he pulled my tooth. No, the next day brought even more excitement. I had a fairly good night and thought I was on the mend. Not. By noon, my slight bleeding-to-be-expected turned into something more. It was a repeat performance of the summer fiasco just using a larger arena ... my empty tooth socket refused to shut off its plumbing. I kept spitting blood into the sink and finally phoned the dentist's office. I won't go into the graphic details but the receptionist soon realized that I needed to see my dentist who was teaching residents at a hospital clinic 25 miles away. She phoned ahead; he would be waiting. All I had to do was find a way to get there.

I phoned Jenn who was 30 miles away at her office near the hospital. We decided it was a waste of time for her to drive home to do a round-trip pickup and delivery. David was even farther away. I called their friends who were busy with sick children. I called the local cab service and was rudely told that they didn't have a cab for that far a distance. I grabbed a box of tissues and my car keys and decided to drive myself. Sometimes a woman's gotta do what a woman's gotta do. Pouring rain, bloody mouth, but I was staying calm.

Luckily, I found the right parking lot and got myself into the right building - small miracle. I came in, was expected and taken right back. I felt a bit guilty and sorry for the poor young woman holding her jaw and a young mother with a frightened child who were waiting, as most do, in a clinic. My new dentist took one look and called his student intern over. I now had two doctors peering into my mouth. It seems that I'm a classic textbook case, a teachable moment. This condition of my bleeding and clotting in large amounts is not too common. In fact, my dentist mentioned that, in his 30-year practice, he had only come across these "jelly clots" a couple times. Just what I wanted to hear.

Jenn had arrived by then and was allowed to sit in. Oh joy! I thought she would faint. She, in turn, surprised the hell out of me. Not only did she want to stay, chat with the dentist, but she actually helped him by holding the retractor as he shot me full of anesthetic once again and went in to clean up the mess. And then she did the most lovely thing. She quietly reached over and held my hand. I, her mom not her little girl, was on the receiving end of concern and comfort. At first it felt a bit awkward and then I realized how wonderful it was to have someone in my life touching me like that. Yes, we do the hugs and kisses all the time. Having my hand held was a new experience. I cannot remember being touched like that in many, many years. I got through the ordeal and gained new respect for my daughter. She wanted to be in that room with me. She can handle the really big stuff that she writes about on her blog: the blood and poo and get-your-hands-dirty things which sometime make life messy and miserable.

Afterwards, she was still a lifeline. The night was stormy. I hate to drive in the rain. She pulled out first and I followed her red tail lights all the way home, thinking to myself "I raised a darn fine kid".

The bleeding has stopped. Still a lot of discomfort. I'll mend.

In that clinic, our roles were reversed. I felt like a little child needing her to reassure me, give me strength. I was almost embarrassed to feel that vulnerable. She knew instinctively what I needed before I did and that's why she didn't leave the room.

A grown daughter reaching out to hold her mother's hand. A simple gesture that dissolved the pain and made my heart bleed a little.

A bleeding heart is good, much better than a bloody mouth.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Toothless in the Berkshires

It starts out as a pretty normal day. I drive to work and prepare my notes for meeting with the boss. We cover a lot of ground and I’m off to a good start. Next, I catch up on email and set up a couple meetings of my own. And then … it happens.

My thoughts are interrupted by a niggling sensation which reminds me that I have to find a new dentist. I figured that I had recovered quite nicely from last summer’s bleedathon and my mouth was on good behavior. Not. Little pricks of pain jabbed at my weekend. I knew I had to do something. Let’s face it. Ignored pricks just seem to hang around and make life miserable.

So I ask the local office staff for some recommendations. My boss suggests I pop upstairs and check if the dentist who shares our space takes my insurance. He wasn’t listed as an online provider but what the heck. I walk up and present my card and the receptionist says “Okay, we take your plan. You can have a 1:15 appointment.” Did you ever walk into a dentist’s office and get seen almost immediately? It was looking good. At least I thought. Be careful of what you wish for.

I’m ushered into the back room and a couple x-rays are taken. I hear the new doc conferring with his bright-eyed assistant as my nerves start to kick into high gear. Mr. New Dentist returns and shows me my x-rays on a television set above my head. How clever I think until he points his laser at the dark spot on my back tooth. I’m so hoping it’s a fluke, a smudge of carbon on the film. Not. He proceeds to tell me that it’s either root canal and more crown work or an extraction. He gives me a couple minutes to think it over. Chinese water torture or a quick shot to the temple. I can’t believe that I’m sitting in a chair in a strange office with people who have never before seen my not-so-pearly-white but they’re-my-own and I’m-damned-proud-of-it molars and we’re already talking desperate measures. Where’s the lecture on flossing and general cleaning? I don’t want to choose what’s being offered. Isn’t there a third option? I really need some chicken soup and fluoride for my tormented soul. Doc returns. What will it be? I want to bolt. And yet I put on a good show as my super-ego squelches my id and calmly says: “Yank it out. Let’s get it over with.”

Zap, removal of a tooth which has seen almost five decades of faithful service. Hell, it lasted longer than my marriage. Sic transit gloria mundi. And all with local anesthetic.

I’m home now. The novocaine is gone. The pain is working itself up and tickling my eye socket. If my eye doesn’t start to twitch, I may be able to ride it out. I lost count of how many stitches he was merrily sewing into the top of my mouth. I can now feel some of them with the tip of my tongue. My brain warns “Don’t go there.”

I slurp down some soft food and baby myself a bit. Doc says not to go to work tomorrow. Does he know something I don’t know?

I think it’s gonna be a long night.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

I've been busy ...

Just had an amazing 24 hours.

Last night I went to a local college and heard Bob Simon, CBS veteran news correspondent, address the question “Is peace possible in the Middle East?” His answer was a resounding “no”. He lives near Tel Aviv and has covered the region’s hot spots for over twenty years. Since I do not usually discuss politics in my blog, I’ll leave it at that. I’m sure that many of us have already come up with the same answer.

After sleeping on Simon’s sober but honest assessment of international relations, I was off to a morning workshop where I got to network with local guidance counselors and learn a board game which will be a fantastic tool in preparing middle-and-high-school students for college. Encouraging youth seemed a better focus than dwelling on the insurmountable obstacles to world peace.

It was then time for family. Sophie had no school today and worked hard on a schedule for me, her mom and herself. We had lunch at a local Chinese restaurant where the staff adore Sophie and always play with her. One of the waiters showed her how to fold the linen napkins and make place settings. Last time, they taught her origami. Next time, she will be making fabric roses. The lovely Indonesian manager confessed that she would rather be making art or music than running her restaurant. Her eyes lit up when she found out that I play the piano. She wants me to give her lessons. We moved on to a local bookstore where I treated Sophie to a set of American Girl books. She was thrilled. We finished the afternoon with a quick trip to the Wal Mart where Sophie got to select some costume jewelry for her expanding collection. She, in turn, donated some of her “little girl” jewelry to her sister. It was a win/win situation.

David came home and agreed to put the girls to bed so Jenn and I could go to a local art gallery where a resident folksinger, Bernice Lewis, was giving a concert to kick off the release of her new album. I had never heard of her but Jenn had made her acquaintance and she’s a big fan of Jenn’s blog. The event was a sellout, standing room only, and we hadn’t called ahead for reservations. We thought we would have to leave but fate was kind. A seat in the front row opened up; I claimed it while Jenn got to sit even closer, along the wall. The woman rocked. She is so good and I found myself wanting to meet her, to tell her that I want to make music with her. I swear I had not been drinking. It was so energizing to hear this woman belt out her own songs and do it with such joy and passion. Something started to wake up in me. I have not played nor practiced in months, make that years. Yet, this is one of the reasons I wanted to move here – to be close to the arts, to artists. So we now have a date for coffee, the three of us: Jenn, myself and Bernice. Her eyes twinkled when I mentioned I play the accordion.

La vie en rose.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

All about me, me, meme

48 things about me that you probably aren't interested in at all but I'm going to tell you anyway ...

1. first name? Not telling. Babci works just fine online.
2. were you named after anyone? I was supposed to be a Richard; my parents weren’t planning for a girl. Bernadette seemed “too long a name for so small a baby” according to my mother so she and my dad then agreed on a name which was a derivative of my two aunts Helen. I’m glad I’m a girl – there are too many Dicks in the world.
3. when did you last cry? Last week, watching Babette’s Feast. I love that movie.
4. do you like your handwriting? Yes, I do. It has a certain artistic flair when I combine written and printed letters plus it’s fairly legible and large. Not quite as unique as my girlfriend Helene’s though.
5. what is your favorite lunch meat? Ah, forget Subway – I grew up on imported ham, sliced very thin. This is probably why I'm taking heart meds to lower my cholesterol.
6. if you were another person would you be friends with you? Only if I could tolerate my need to talk while I think (and while chewing my food). I have trouble keeping my mouth shut and am guilty of focus interruptus. Sometimes I jump in before the other person is finished speaking. It’s all part of my ENFP persona. At least I have something to blame it on.
7. do you have a journal? This blog. Isn’t it enough? I kept diaries when I was a teenager and journaled a bit in the past but I like the idea of this blog holding memories for my kids and grandkids. It’s a respectable substitute for the Grandmother Remembers books gathering dust on my shelf.
8. do you still have your tonsils? Yes, although I have lost other parts of my anatomy but no need to digress.
9. would you bungee jump? If George Bush can parachute out of a plane in his 80s, I refuse to rule out anything in my later years. However, my achin’ back may have a completely different view of this whole bungee thing.
10. what is your favorite cereal? Whatever’s on sale. Hmm, it changes by season. In the winter, something comforting and warm like oatmeal. In the summer, mini-frosted wheats or Kellogg’s K.
11. do you untie your shoes when you take them off? Yes, most of the time. That’s if I remember to tie them when I put them on.
12. do you think you are strong? I think I’ve become stronger in mind and spirit as I’ve had to deal with major life events; stronger in body especially during my hiking trip to the Canadian Rockies but I haven’t done much lately to keep the old bones in shape.
13. what is your favorite ice cream flavor? Double dip: chocolate chip mint and pistachio.
14. shoe size? 8, which I see is now considered less large because of my daughter’s generation of women who seem to have increased the norm to sizes 9 and 10.
15. red or pink? I can’t say “red” – it’s the color that got me into big trouble in the parking lot with the blind date. Pink is nice and will suffice.
16. what is the least favorite thing about yourself? My Piscean need to daydream too much and my tendency to disasterize. Wow, two for the price of one. There I go double dipping again.
17. whom do you miss the most? Someone I never met – my first cousin, Johnny, who was killed in WWII just after I had been born. I feel a psychic connection to him and think that we would have been close all our lives. I’ve lost so many family members that it would be hard to name just one. I miss my mom almost every day and so wish she could have seen the beautiful people her grandchildren turned out to be and then met the great grandchildren who carry her legacy.
18. do you want everyone to send this back to you? What, like a boomerang? It’s going up as a post. I took up the challenge from Kirsty in Australia and gladly release these questions to any other blogger who cares to share a bit of his or her history online. Actually, it’s kinda fun to do this. Try it; you’ll like it.
19. what color pants, shirt and shoes are you wearing? I’m in my pajamas. They’re aqua.
20. last thing you ate? Cripes, a piece of cherry pie. Weight watchers looms.
21. what are you listening to right now? The hum of my computer.
22. if you were a crayon, what color would you be? Aquamarine or some such sea-blue-greeny combination. Can you tell I’m Pisces? It’s showing, isn’t it?
23. favorite smell? A baby after a bath; the air after a spring shower; scented candles; Chanel No 5; a log-burning fire on a cold winter day; anything baking in an oven. Oh hell, smell is swell.
24. who was the last person you talked to on the phone? A distant relative who told me that another older cousin had died.
25. the first thing you notice about people you are attracted to? They have a wonderful sense of humor and laugh a lot.
26. do you like the person you stole this from? Yes, Kirsty is a super-talented crafts person and I admire her lovely work. More though, she makes me laugh and writes a mean blog! What’s not to love?
27. favorite drink? I hate to say this but my kids’ generation has converted me to a “single-shot sugar-free vanilla latte”, hot or cold.
28. favorite sport? Yeah, like I’m really into the whole jock thing. American football does have its moments and I used to love baseball. However, coming from Philly, I’ve learned to live with the chronic pain of loss.
29. eye color? Hazel.
30. hat size? Gotta be kidding. Smaller than a bread basket but bigger than a sauté pot. What? Do I know? Do I have a pencil?
31. do you wear contacts? I’m very squeamish of anything going into or near my eyes so I’ve been a lifelong wearer of glasses and don’t see that changing.
32. favorite food? Which end of the pyramid should we start from? Forget it – I’ll just choose pierogies, the universal feel-good food.
33. scary movies or happy endings? A no brainer for me – happy endings. They help to compensate for my need to disasterize in real life.
35. summer or winter? Neither – spring or fall. I’m about to make friends with winter though in my new location.
36. hugs or kisses? I’m an equal-opportunity employer, both.
37. favorite dessert? It was my mom’s apple pie. Now it is lightly churned chocolate chip mint ice cream. The "lightly churned" is a delusional marketing ploy to make me think the ice cream is not going to settle into cellulite.
38. who is most likely to respond? To this? My kids, telling me to “get a life”.
39. least likely to respond? Everybody else.
40. what books are you reading? Educational journals and handbooks on school counseling. It goes with the present territory.
41. what's on your mouse pad? No logos, just a soft cushion for my wrist.
42. what did you watch last night on tv? LOL, didn’t I blog about this yet? Since moving, I have not had my telly reconnected. Oh the peace of mind, the joy! Oh the monthly savings! No news is good news.
43. favorite sounds? Ocean waves hitting the beach; my grandchildren’s voices; my family and friends’ voices; bells or windchimes; beautiful music; silence.
44. the rolling stones or beatles? Neither … Elvis Presley. The King lives.
45. the farthest you've been from home? Hungary and Poland, the Olympic Peninsula, Scotland – don’t have a clue which is the farthest.
46. what's your special talent? The ability to make people feel at ease.
47. where were you born? Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
48. who sent this to you? I never saw a meme until I found this at Kirsty’s website. She nudged me and I thought it could be fun. It was, for me. I think that’s the hidden meaning of meme: all about me, me. Bless you for reading to the bottom. I promise to do the same. Now it’s your turn. Tag, you’re it!


It was a busy night. The munchkins roamed the neighborhood on Halloween and came back with their little pumpkin bags full of treats, serious treats - the sugar-laden kind that their parents forbid on the remaining 364 days of the year.

Sophie, oops Princess Jasmine, was almost jumping out of her princess socks to get on the street and collect her sweet gold mine of goodies. Hannah, who was supposed to be Dorothy of Oz, decided instead to up her fashion ante and appear in a gold lame wispy smock that matched, in color if not in theme, her brown Dorothy pigtails. Eclectic is in. We had to remind both to put on their shoes before sprinting out the door. Little Bo Peep, a close friend, decided to shepherd her flock with Jasmine and Dorothy and off they went on a wonderfully mild night. Moms and dads followed them out the door while I stood guard on the front stoop with a bowl full of candy for the incoming traffic.

Soon I could hear the excited babble of kids as little ones (and big ones) came traipsing up the steps. My heart felt generous looking into their painted faces and I found myself dropping more than one candy bar into each extended bag. It was nice to see that polite thank you’s were the order of the day. Parents waited patiently on the street as their goblins and ninja turtles made the rounds. One lone boy, about twelve, came up the steps and looked a bit uncomfortable … he shifted once and then asked if he could please use the bathroom. It takes a village. I let the kid in and pointed him to the door at the end of the hall. He was in there quite a while but seemed no worse for wear when he did re-appear, picked up his basket of loot and moved on. Yes, the kid could never have made it home to his own toilet.

It was that kind of night. Before the girls were ready to go out the door, our old dog decided to shower the kitchen floor with his own forget-me-nots. Jenn was busy with bleach and paper towels while I helped the girls squirm into their footwear. Not exactly a Hallmark moment.

We all survived. The girls returned, promptly emptied their bags onto the living-room floor (the kitchen floor was still off-limits) and proceeded to ooh and aah over the candy and pudding cups. One would think they lived in a third-world country. They were allowed to choose just one sweet to consume before bedtime. The pudding cups won out.

Seeing that they were rolling in candy for the next year or so, I secretly allocated the rest of our leftover giveaway to my coat pocket and quietly left the scene.

Grandmoms have a sweet tooth too.