Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Welcome to old age

Woke up Thursday with a pain in my shoulder — you know, the kind as if you've slept on it wrong. It only hurt when I turned my head, no biggie. On Friday, the day I turned 40, we giggled that it was all downhill from there.

On Monday when I woke up, I could barely move. Couldn't lift my arm higher than my shoulder; every move I made was excruciating. Couldn't lift a spoon, had to drink from a straw. Spent the day on the couch in agony, barely able to move.

Today, after a miserable night, woke up feeling just the same. Until I remembered that we might have held onto Maddie's post-surgery painkillers. They did the trick — took one this morning and was totally functional all day. The shoulder still hurts, but at least I can get by. Drove the car, did laundry, cooked dinner. The joy of the mundane.

But I am concerned about what this forebodes ... am I doomed to an enternity of aches and pains? Unexplained injuries? Minor ailments?

Four days into my 40s and already I'm an invalid. Where does it go from here?

The birthday concludes

Such a lovely birthday. Such a lovely weekend.

John and Barbara (my older brother and his girlfriend) are two of the most fun people I know. They were here from Thursday through Sunday, providing endless entertainment.

The girls love them. Adults who have no children and are perpetual adolescents themselves make for good playmates. Sylvia crawls up in their laps and snuggles as if she's a cat; the girls love them, and the affection seems to be mutual.

Alison was inspired by Barb's visit to pull out the Riverside Shakespeare and read; not a bad deal. Maddie delights them with her laugh.

We went to the pool, went to the Houston Museum of Fine Art (MFAH, not MIII ...) which has an impressive collection — a respectable survey of most major periods, covering everything from ancient Greece and Egypt (though why those pieces are in Houston I'm not quite sure ...) most of the Impressionists — Monet, Van Gogh, Mary Cassatt, Degas, Cezanne, Pisarro, etc. — Toulouse Lautrec, PIcasso, Klee, Mondrian, Chagall, Georgia O'Keeffe, Remington, Jackson Pollock, Roy Lichtenstein. A list that is by no means comprehensive. We merely skimmed the surface. The museum is free on Thursdays — lucky for us,

We went to the beach in Galveston. Downtown, the historic district, is charming, all turn of the century architecture. The water was warm and shallow, perfect for playing in the waves, which were strong enough to be fun, but not too dangerous for our crowd (though I did want to keep an eye on the girls, and I certainly wouldn't want them out there alone. We brought home much of the beach with us so as not to forget (and realized that our snow brush can be reincarnated with a new purpose: beach brush!)

Ate out (a lot), went to old town Spring (kitschy!), played my new Yahtzee game. Fun.

Fun, fun. Just a good weekend. The perfect start to a new decade.

Life begins at 40. I know it's true.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Happy Birthday to me!

It ain't so bad being 40.

I had a wonderful day as I transitioned to the over-40 demographic. The girls were wonderful, showering me with gifts ... and reminders that I am no longer in my 30s. My brother John and Barbara are here, so we went to the pool, to dinner, and to play trivia. I got a brand-new fancy Yahtzee game (which we broke in, and I lost. Dreadfully.) I got a new wallet, a DVD, a firepit for the back yard. I got some Godiva chocolate. My friend H sent a very sweet package, and my friend T from high school called.

And I woke up with a dreadful crick in my neck Thursday that hurt more than ever yesterday. A preview of coming attractions, perhaps? It's all downhill from here?

It's the age you feel and all that, right? Being old happens to others; just because your age goes up a number means nothing. I still feel good, still look OK.

I think I'll just ascribe to the belief that life begins at 40. I think I'm in a good place.

Happy Birthday!

Monday, May 22, 2006

The week begins

The week of my 40th birthday. It's a week-long celebration. Today's festivities include staying home with a sick daughter, buying sandals for another child, attending fifth-grade graduation and tidying the upstairs. By the end of the week, I should be all partied out.

We are having company — my older brother and his significant other. We're looking forward to seeing them. One of Barb's friends from grad school lives in Houston, so I am to collaborate with her in planning fun outings for the out-of-towners.

Over the weekend we kept busy — trying to get the girls to clean their rooms, choosing tile for the pool (mission accomplished), playing trivia at BW3, going to the Astros game. The girls had never been to an MLB game before, and the Astros won, complete with a home run, so the girls got to see the train run. It was fun. Make no mistake, one of the high spots of being an American is baseball. We all wore our new Astros hats, and as we were in the first 10,000 fans, Gary and I got T-shirts. Alison already commandeered her dad's ... I guess he thought I'd let him have mine. I guess he thought wrong.

Let's see what tomorrow has in store ...

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Familiar friends

My week of single parenting is nearly over. Gary will be home from his business trip tomorrow night — his plane lands at 4.30, so not even late tomorrow.

And we have a brand-new shell of a swimming pool in our backyard. All we have to do is hose it down two times a day. I'll be happy to cede that job to him over the weekend.

Even better, I am no longer friend-free. I've been spending time with the mother of Sylvia's friend, who is very nice. We walked this morning, over two miles. It was fun, and she is easy to talk to.

Plus I've been in touch this week with one of my friends from college, Pete. We were the best of friends all through college, tried to stay in touch for a while, but I haven't talked to him since before we went to Germany.

We've picked up just where we left off; it's like we just talked yesterday. We've sent photos back and forth (he looks just the same) and he sounds just the same — he's the same old Peter.

He has changed, of course. He's a hospital VP. And he works out, runs marathons. Let's face it: We're both nearing 40, so life has changed in many ways. We're not the naive, careless 18-year-olds we were when we met, and life has caught up with both of us. I know that in many ways we are different people, all grown up. But in other ways we are just the same.

I remember from a class reunion that there was one guy who seemed to have ditched the annoying parts of his personality yet stayed the same — he was like Christopher always us just without any of the juvenile crap.

I feel that way about Pete — he has managed to hold onto what I remember as funny and charming, yet he has grown up at the same time. He is comfortable with who he is, secure, and successful.

I am so glad he is back in my life. Friends, after all, are what it's all about.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

How I know I'm loved

There's nothing like a 7-year-old. She is so sweet, so sincere. All her emotions, all her thoughts, they are right there, laid out on the table for all to see. She wears her heart on her sleeve.

I, for one, love it.

Every drawer I open in my bedroom, every cabinet, had a note for me on Mothers Day. Some were little cards, some short letters, some were the letters M-O-M cut out and decorated. Even the kitchen cabinet where I keep my tea had one. The gist of the notes — all hand-written by my youngest daughter — is that I am the greatest mother in the world. Maybe the greatest mommy ever.

If that doesn't make one feel good, I can't imagine what would.

And as I often remind my children, being a great mommy is easy when you have the greatest kids in the world.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Dad in charge

I landed in Houston at 8.15 a.m. Sunday. If you do the math, you’ll realize this meant I had to get up at 4 a.m. in order to leave Lafayette by 4.45 a.m. in order to be at the airport by 6 to catch my 6.45 flight. And if you know anything about me, you know I’m not an early morning person — I managed just fine, even though I had stayed up until midnight — but it wasn’t easy.

Gary and the girls met me at the airport; he had a noon flight to Germany, so it was the easiest way to hand off the kids anyway. They gave me flowers and lots of Mothers Day cheeer. And we had plenty of time, so we went to breakfast — breakfast buffet on Mothers Day, perfect. And they gave me my gift: a pedometer. Now I can count my daily steps. What I learned is 10,000 steps a day is pretty easy when you’re chasing three kids and a dog (!) (Donald Rumsfeld on the Daily Show last week admitted one day he had only 1500 — egads! — I get 1,500 by 9 a.m.

The girls and I were home before noon … and I was greeted by a house where my husband was alone with the girls for three days. And boy, it looked like it. I’m sure they had fun over the weekend, but the house might have suffered a bit.

Sunday we just hung out; I took a nap, we watched A Little Princess, ate popcorn, Maddie made me strawberry shortcake for dinner. Nice day.

Then Monday I had to deal with what Gary left for me. I vacuumed, did laundry, folded all of last week’s laundry that had piled up in the laundry room. Tidied up, got Saturday’s mail.

He’s a good guy, spends lots of time with the girls. He’s a good husband and a great dad. He also can’t keep house. But it’s OK. They need me, and it’s clear they missed me.

Which I will try to remember the next time I clean the floors.

Visiting home

The weather was rainy and cold, but it was a lovely weekend in Lafayette.

It wasn’t that the roads were less crowded; it wasn’t that the town is smaller or even the locations familiar.

It was about friends.

I met friends for lunch on Friday. I went to a birthday party with lots of familiar faces Friday evening. I met H. for lunch on Saturday. Visited my former next-door neighbor and went to a neighborhood party Saturday night. Then J. and I went to the Jeff Show on Saturday night, where I saw even more friends.

Even when I popped into Interior Objects to run a quick errand for J., Michael, the owner, recognized me at once and we chatted briefly.

The weekend was all about remembering and spending time with people who meant something in my life. Lafayette was home for ten years — a decade — and many, many deep connections remain. At one point on Friday I was feeling strange and disconnected, as if I didn’t belong. But the more time I spent with friends — wonderful, strong women who have meant so much to me — the more I was reminded of just what life was like there.

Fortunately, with airplanes, telephones and e-mail, the world is much smaller than it used to be. For those of you who are reading this — you know who you are — I want you to know how much I value and cherish your friendship, and how much your support has meant over the last few months.

But I also know that I need to work harder at making life here in this new place all that it can be. I need to cultivate new friendships, find all that is positive here.

Which doesn’t mean I’ll ever give up on or forget the people who have meant so much to me in Indiana. You don’t get off that easy; you’re part of my life forever. And I won’t let you forget it.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Starting Tuesday

I've got to get my day started. Here it is, after 10 a.m., and I've done so little. In my former life I would have been up for hours, already well underway at work. And here? Zip. Didn't even exercise — I guess two days in a row would be too much for me. The landscape guys have come and gone; now I'm just waiting for the tree removal. I've read the Lafayette paper online, read some e-mail. Not much to show for mid-morning.

I have a ton of errands to take care of today. Sylvia has gymnastics, Maddie has the band visit at the middle school. Gilmore Girls season finale later. I need to return some stuff to the mall, buy stamps, mail some bills.

I am off to Lafayette for the weekend — my friend J. has a big birthday (which number, in the interest of privacy, I will not reveal — though it's not a big secret). It will be nice to get away for a bit, visit friends, see the Jeff High School spring show, take care of some left over business. Then I'll come home early on Mothers Day ... and an hour later Gary will leave for a week in Germany. Such is the life of a Cat executive. However, he is taking some time off for my birthday, when my brother and his significant other visit. Should be fun.

I am going to hire a gardener today. Check that off the list, anyway.

Time to dive into Tuesday. Later!

Monday, May 08, 2006

Remembering the Holocaust

Alison is reading The Diary of Anne Frank in English class. So, for extra credit, we visited the Houston Holocaust Musuem Sunday afternoon.

The design of the museum is inspired by the shape of the crematoriums; it is surrounded by faux barbed wire. The room of the permanent exhibit is wedge-shaped; when you enter and see the story of Jews in Europe in the early 20th century, the ceiling is tall. It lowers as you begin to read about Hitler coming to power and is at its lowest when you get to the photos of the final solution and the camps being liberated.

The exhibit told the story well, mostly through photographs with just a few donated artifacts — Nazi armbands and memorobilia (a baby spoon with a swastika, a children's book with propaganda). The most gruesome photos are in flat display cases — bodies discovered when the camps were liberated, victims of Mengle's experiments. Truly shocking.

There is a large community of Holocaust survivors who settled in Houston after the war. Their stories are told now in one of the rotating exhbits. Many of them gave the money to set up the museum, and their stories are told in a film made up of interviews, which give horrendous anecdotes.

The most recent addition is the donated rail car used to transport prisoners to the camps. It is outside, and as it was a hot day, we immediately felt what it must have been like to travel for hours or days, packed in with up to 100 other people.

It was a sobering visit, one that brought back all the horrors we have only read about, never experienced.

It's good to be reminded from time to time. Just how cruel people can be.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

A lovely night

Not a bad week here in Houston. Hot and muggy — the norm for this time of year — but sunny and pleasant all the same.

And I was busy — or what for me counts as busy. I was a parent reader for the first grade. Attended the Night of Stars grade school open house ("And we're the stars!" said Sylvia, with great excitement). Received excellent mid-term reports for two of the girls. Went to my first small-group ministry at the UU church. Attended a band concert. Met with the landscaper.

Went to the Friday neighborhood happy hour. And I'm glad I did. It was at a house with a new pool, so the girls swam while the other moms and I shared our frustrations about the pool process — and I am not the only one to feel put out by the homeowners association. Solidarity at last. They are like the neighborhood Gestapo, and many others share these same sentiments.

I also chatted later with another neighbor who helped me understand some of the neighborhood dynamic. She had been hesitant to tell me all of this when I was brand-new (wanted me to form my own opinions) but I think I have a much better feel for what is going on. So I feel better, less excluded.

And to top it off, Gary and I went out to dinner in the city. We went to the Heights to a restaurant called Shade, a sleek modern restaurant whose "globally inflected comfort foods radiate freshness and joy." It was very nice, the perfect Friday night. I even whipped out one of my favorite black dresses to make the evening special — and to feel good about all my efforts at working out.

It rained last night — poured — so we probably won't go to the newly opened neighborhood pool. Instead, we'll spend today tidying up around the house — time to take care of those final details. The last of the pictures will go on the wall, and the office bookcases will be bolted into place.

We'll feel all moved in, at last.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

The lure of shopping

I love to shop. Love it. Call it vanity, call it therapy. It's what I love.

Yet I say that with a few caveats. I do not shop recklessly. And I do not feel a need to be wasteful or repetitive. I don't need 15 pair of black sandals — not when 14 will do (!) And I don't make major purchases without running them by Gary first. I do like to consult with him ... even if it is merely a courtesy. I am the decider, after all.

Shopping has changed over the last few years. Some of the changes are for the better; now that we use the VISA for everything, transactions are a lot quicker. I am stunned when I see someone writing a check at the supermarket — I catch myself wondering what is wrong with their credit. Ditto someone paying with lots of cash.

But what is up with swiping my own credit card? Can't the clerk do that for me? Makes them look lazy. Ditto the self-checkout at the grocery. Why should I be ringing up my own purchase when there are clerks paid to do that? The novelty wore off that real quick, let me tell you.

And let's just return to paper shopping bags. Those plastic things are a nuisance. It takes nearly 25 of them to get all my groceries home. Maybe it would help if the baggers wouldn't put one bottle of dishwashing liquid or one box of Eggos in a bag. They could be more efficient. And there is no need to individually wrap the bags of holiday candy. Give me a paper bag anyday; what am I to do with all those plastic ones? Yes, the occasional plastic bag to wrap a wet swimsuit in or use when walking the dog comes in handy. But I get enough from Target — where strangely enough, I don't mind them. Back to paper!

But that's grocery shopping. And I'm really more into clothes shopping. Or accessories. Or household items. Or books.

Houston has great stores. I love the Container Store. The Galleria is great — fantastic shopping, the best. The area around the Galleria is full of very elite shops. Even Willowbrook Mall is much more high-end than any local mall I've ever had — Williams Sonoma is just blocks, not hours, away. FM 1960, the main drag near here, has Costco, Ann Taylor, DSW. We've got it all.

But it isn't all about me anymore. My last big shopping trip was with my eldest. She's a true teen. I used to see things that I thought the girls might like so I'd pick them up. Well, not anymore. They are too picky, too unpredictable. When I pointed out capris I thought were cute at Macy's or Famous Barr, Daughter #1 said she didn't really care for them ... but they might be OK if they came from Hollister or Abercrombie.

She chose all her clothes at American Eagle. (I saw those prices at Abercrombie and was stunned: $59 for a tiny denim miniskirt? $49 for capri pants? I think not.) She was happy enough — found some capris that were acceptable, found a similar tiny skirt. But her choice of tops was limited to T-shirts. Sure, they're cute, but T-shirts only? Couldn't she find anything else? Her favorite was the Coke T-shirt and the one I bought for myself — a vintage looking Beatles shirt.

She can't wait to wear it. But I told her she has to wait until I wear it first.

Mostly, I am feeling my age. She and I have very different visions of style. It's OK — I don't mind letter her dress her way, giving into what's trendy. I guess what troubles me is that I actually envision myself as a little trendy. And she has put me squarely in my place.

But I know just how to make myself feel better. All I need is the VISA to buy myself some happy!

Monday, May 01, 2006

The affliction that is celebrity

I'm not breaking any new ground here, but since when is George Clooney an expert on Darfur?

Let me be upfront: I think Clooney and I are actually on the same page politically, in some respects. But I'm not sure when I missed his transition to political pundit. Last I checked he was an actor making movies. Does he have any qualifications for spouting off his opinions on world affairs?

I'm not even sure he went to college (pause ... and a quick check on imdb.com shows that he studied "for a few years" at Northern Kentucky University); one of his first acting jobs was on "The Facts of Life" — and as a supporting character! Yet he is sharing his vast knowledge of how the U.S.A. should handle foreign relations?

He is no more qualified than Tom Cruise is to discuss psychiatry and post-partum depression and childbirth; just because your girlfriend has a baby does not an expert make.

I read somewhere that Reese Witherspoon was listed as a person of influence. For what?!?

We need to get over our obsession with all people famous. I've said before that Katie Couric acts like an airhead, but at least she did study somewhere reputable and she has worked on the news. The goofy "I'm cute and famous" act came later.

Just because an actor/actress makes a lot of money doesn't make them experts on any issue. Terri Hatcher, Patricia Heaton, Susan Sarandon, Tim Robbins, Richard Gere. I actually agree with some of these people, but I'm not sure I trust them to help me navigate the complicated world.

I read an interview with Gillian Anderson where she described the making of Bleak House and how difficult and demanding it was for her to get into character. And I'd like her to step back and remember that SHE IS ACTING. Her whole career is about playing dress-up. Pretend. It's not saving the world. You, actors, are not that important. Not in the way that my daughters' teachers or librarians are. Or people who volunteer at the Crisis Center. Or teach preschool. These are jobs that really do change the world.

Get over yourselves already.