Monday, August 30, 2010

The Stuff of Dreams

When's the last time you saw Shakespeare's The Tempest? I think occasionally of Prospero's great line, "We are such stuff as dreams are made on . . ." Humphrey Bogart quoted it wrong when he said "such stuff as dreams are made of" at the end of The Maltese Falcon, by the way. (That's BTW for you uber-texters who can't remember how to decipher actual words anymore. Just kidding. Oh, I mean JK! I don't have time to keep translating 4 U. U R on UR own now. Being bi-lingual really does come in handy, doesn't it?) Anyway--there is good precedent for misquoting Shakespeare out of context.

Critics claim that Shakespeare perfectly
captured the fleeting nature of existence and all things temporal with his nifty little iamb. Yeah, well Shakespeare never cleaned out my closets. I have spent the past week going through stuff that dreams are made on--really bad dreams.

Forgive the strong language, but I loathe STUFF. The pack-rat gene passed me by. I'm a tosser. Haven't used it recently? Doesn't fit? Pitch it. Have an extra? Never really liked it in the first place? Bye bye. Clutter muddles me. I long since gave up having three sections in my closet. You know, the "I Vowed I Would Never Buy Jeans This Size But I Can't Go Out in My Pajamas" section, next to the "I Will Get Back Into These Clothes Someday When I Give Up Food," and then that little section in the corner, "I Haven't Been This Size Since College, But Dang I Looked Good in These." No. Uh uh. One section of clothes I like and wear. Period.

Here's the thing. Not every member of my household shares my gift for de-junking. Our four children have flown the nest, but their stuff remains lurking in closets and in plastic bins under beds. They have no plans to reclaim their oddments, or even any idea what their former drawers and closets actually hold. What does one do with sixty-something assorted athletic trophies? How about a large plastic bin filled with love notes and school pictures of people my daughter hasn't seen in this century? Fourteen prom dresses in every color of the rainbow? There are things that even St. Vincent de Paul doesn't want.

We leave the door open and a light on for our adult children to come home whenever they want to, of course. But what about their stuff? Can we practice "tough love" with the detritus of two decades and box it up or give it away? How about a bonfire?! Ooooh, I like that. If you see a red glow flickering in the sky above Livermore this week, don't be alarmed. That  silhouette you see dancing around the flame with joyous abandon would be me. Feel free to back your car up to the blaze and throw in your kids' stuff.  I'll bring the marshmallows. Now that's the stuff that dreams are made on.


Friday, August 27, 2010

Waking Up

They say you are only as old as you feel. That puts me at right about ninety-two years this week. I dozed off at the table on Monday night, even though we had seventeen people over for dinner. Yesterday I found myself waking up at my keyboard, in the middle of a sentence that petered out in a long string of “rrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr’s” from where my finger landed when drowsiness overtook me. Lately if I sit down for long, I’m out cold. Bob never knows whether to wake me up when he finds me conked out in an unconventional nap-spot or to just let me sleep. A friend jokingly compared me to Mr. Bean’s narcoleptic character in the movie Rat Race. It does seem comical, especially since I know that the sleepy stupor will end as soon as my body adjusts to its new dose of Mirapex. I had to bump up the dosage on my Parkinson’s medication this week. I’m trying not to look at it as a defeat. I'm trying to wake up.

There are good days and better days with Parkinson’s. Some days I almost forget that I have Parkinson’s at all. Life rolls on and I have learned how to compensate somewhat for my stiff, listless left side. Amazing how quickly I caught on to all the little tricks that make my symptoms less conspicuous: keep a tremoring hand firmly jammed in a pocket; encourage a dragging left foot with a mental “march” step; always pick up a breakable item with the right hand; don’t hurry; buy slip-on shoes and clothing with no buttons; don’t dwell on limitations; consistently override my body’s protests and take on physically challenging activities. Sometimes, on the better days, I can almost forget.

But other times I find myself face-to-face and toe-to-toe with my disease. We square off and stare one another down. She is silent, deliberate, confident of long-term triumph. I try not to blink first or avert my eyes. If I stand my ground and study her without fear I see that she is as beautiful as she is terrible. “This is not personal,” she tells me without words. “It must seem that I have come to rob you slowly of life.” She smiles. “And I will take what I will take, it’s true. But look what I bring in exchange.” The gifts she offers flash and burn in the air around us. Patience. Trust in God. Hope as hard as iron. Empathy. Wisdom. “You can have these in time. Wake up.Walk with me. Come.” There is nothing for me but to take her outstretched hand and move forward—wiping the drool off the corner of my mouth and dragging my left foot as I go.

People comment occasionally that I’m “fighting” Parkinson’s admirably. Here’s a secret—I’m not fighting Parkinson’s at all. It is what it is, and it’s not going away. What’s to fight? Besides, I refuse to take an adversarial stance with my own body or kick and fuss and dig in my heels all the way down the path that is mine. No, I prefer to walk, to dance, to hike, to skip, to crawl if it comes to that, as best I can on this remarkable journey. My body may feel lethargic, but I want my soul to stay fully awake. If I feel today like I’m ninety-two years old, I can deal with that. Forty-seven will feel so young and sprightly when the Mirapex haze wears off next week. In the meantime, if you find me snoozing in odd places feel free to snap me out of it. And if you ever hear me complain, remind me to open my eyes. Wake me up. Always wake me up.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Uncommon Courtesy

Hey, friends. Today is my day on The Peanut Gallery Speaks, the blog that I contribute to every third week or so. Click on the link and chime in on the discussion. Are good manners passe, a handicap even? The comment thread is always lively on PGS, so don't be shy. 

Monday, August 23, 2010

Words--They're What's For Dinner

Considering how many words I've eaten in my life, you would think I would learn to avoid sweeping assertions or any phrase that begins with "I will never . . . "  You'd think. At least words have no trans fats, bad cholesterol, or calories. They also have no nutritional value. Actually that's not true. The long-term benefit of eating my words is clear:  Being utterly wrong so often humbles me pretty much every day. I guess that makes words the new superfood. A few tidbits from my recent diet of the carelessly uttered:

"I will never spoil my grandchildren." Hah. That lasted about, mmmmm, negative six months. Pink items started jumping into my cart within days of my daughter's first ultra-sound. I fooled myself that the novelty would wear off with grandchild number 2 (a boy) and number 3 (boy also.) Nope. Reptile themed playwear and tiny checkered Vans have proven just as hard to resist.

"I will never dye my hair.When I start to turn gray, I'm just letting it go natural." Right. It seemed high-principled in my twenties and thirties. But somewhere in the homestretch of my forties one spot turned gray overnight (well, it seemed like it.) If the gray had popped up discreetly in the back or at my temples in a dignified manner I might have let it go. But no, it had to burst forth front and center over my forehead. Not OK--Cruella DeVille is not really what I'm aiming for. So I lay down good money on a regular basis to have Amber do "partial highlights," a term invented to humour sheepish word-eaters who stated unequivocally in younger days that they would never "dye" their hair.

"Twilight? Never. I don't read vampire books." This one pains me to admit because of the vehemence with which I scoffed. But in the spirit of full disclosure, I read all four. Ouch. I didn't love them, though. Does that redeem me at all? And I feel pretty confident saying this: I will never write a vampire novel. Ever.

That last paragraph puts it all in perspective, doesn't it? Sure, I eat my words pretty regularly, but at least I don't drink blood. It could be worse. So use tasty words, folks, you may have to eat them. On my breakfast menu today? A big bowlful of "I have zero interest in writing a blog . . ."

What words have come back to you on a plate with a fork? I love your comments.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010


I make lists. Long ones. It started years ago. We had four busy kids at home, a dog or two, nearby grandparents, and my chronic volunteerism all jockeying for position on the calendar or in the carpool. If it didn’t make the list, it didn’t happen. The Sacred Holy List (hereafter referred to as the SHL) quickly became an appendage, like a college-ruled third arm.

You probably envision the SHL like other mundane to-do lists you have seen. No. Think epic—like the Odyssey of checklists. Two parallel columns of neatly written tasks march down the page. Three parts chore chart, one part wish list. The urgent (pay bills) sit side by side with the unlikely (paint banister). Some things (organize garage) take up permanent residence on the SHL and simply get carried over to the next list when I run out of lines. The garage has topped the Sacred Holy List since 2001, at least.

Now that we have no children living at home my schedule has become remarkably flexible. Why can’t I retire the Sacred Holy List? I wake up every day and head straight for the SHL in much the same way that normal Americans head for Starbucks. The morning cobwebs in my head clear as my eyes run down the List. I catch a whiff of purposefulness—the elusive aroma of productivity.

If I were to be honest about the source of the SHL’s mysterious power it boils down to one thing—the crossing-off part. Each item with a line through it gives me the illusion that my life is under control. Confession: I have even stooped so low as to add a task to the Sacred Holy List after I completed it, just so I could feel the triumphant rush of making that thin, blue line. I know. Pathetic, right?

A few weeks ago, in the throes of packing for vacation, the SHL went missing--buried under the junk mail and wedding announcements that overrun my kitchen desk every summer. I was paralyzed, couldn’t move a muscle. How would I know what to do, much less what I had already done? The day’s accomplishments would be joyless, devoid of satisfaction unless I could cross them off!

Somehow I limped along to get the bags packed and the doors locked and the key passed along to the dog-sitter. By the time I boarded the airplane, my list withdrawal pains had started to subside. Calm and cool-headed, I vowed to wean myself from the list when I got home. My unlisted status lasted one day. Day two I got a little shaky and gave in, starting with one modest column of realistic ambitions. No clean the garage or write the great American novel or label the thirty-seven shoeboxes of family photos and put them in scrapbooks. I'm simplifying. But more on that later. I’ve got to go put a line through write blog post.

Tell me I'm not alone! How psychotic is this? Maybe I don't want to know. Anyone out there share this compulsion?

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Happy feet

Some of you have asked where we go to dance. The link to Vaughn and Stacey's class is below. Get your happy feet on and join us some Friday. (We always manage to find something incredible to eat in Berkeley along the way. Come on, let's go!)

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Dance like no one's watching--even though they might be

Conrad goes dancing five nights a week. Last night he danced with me. I use the word danced loosely. We shared three swing songs, Conrad and I. He gripped my hand and shuffled back and forth while I danced around him. For roughly nine minutes our lives intersected in a sort-of-swing on a Berkeley dance floor. But don't underestimate the impact of  five-hundred and forty seconds.

Can I give you a visual on Conrad? Picture side-parted gray hair and big glasses; standing maybe 5'5" in his all-black-all-purpose Reeboks. Seventy-something years of life have traced a quiet story on his face. His right arm hangs semi-rigid at his side and he walks toward me with a stiff gate that I recognize all too well. Parkinson's, I would guess. When I smile at him the half-smile that hesitates at the corners of his mouth gives way to a delighted grin. "Will you dance with me?" Of course I will.

He has always loved to dance, Conrad confides. But his wife never enjoyed it. She felt too self-conscious, he muses without resentment. So for decades he never hit the floor. Not once. His wife passed away a couple of years ago. Now Conrad dances. His rediscovered passion has drawn him out of the house and helped him shed thirty pounds. Stellar. Someone remind me, in thirty years when my Parkinson's has progressed and life's losses have mounted, of Conrad. Remind me to dance--even if only in the loosest sense of the word.

And then there's beautiful, generous Stacey--dancing with Conrad and making him look like a million bucks. Bob and I drive to Berkeley to take the Lindy Hop classes Stacey teaches with her husband, Vaughn. I never tire of watching Vaughn and Stacey dance together--effortless, graceful, liquid Lindy. Their superb, unspoken synthesis of motion makes it hard to tell where one partner ends and the other begins. Each has his/her own best partner built-in when they arrive together at a social dance venue. Yet they dance with the Conrads and the Jeries in the room, awakening our inner Fred or Ginger for a moment. Someone remind me, today and tomorrow, to enter a room with eyes open to see the person who may need nine minutes face to face with another human being. Remind me to extend my hand and invite the souls around me to dance, in whatever sense they can.

Lead. Follow. Lindy. Life. You can learn a lot in five-hundred and forty seconds.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Seek and ye shall find . . . on Amazon

Am I permitted an epilogue to yesterday's discussion of the "seek or shop" dichotomy? (Sorry A., for the gratuitous vocab slinging, just go get a dictionary) Oh wait, it's my blog. I can blab about whatever I want. Your witty and honest comments to yesterday's post and a handful of pithy Facebook messages convinced me that the "Can't find it? Buy ten more!" mentality is not, after all, a guy thing. It crosses gender lines and manifests in a host of harmless fetishes ranging from flashlights in every drawer to scissors in every room. (But do you have eighty-one of them? I didn't think so. Amateurs.) The saga continues, and raises another vital question "How many is too many?"

I came, I saw, I clicked.
I noticed some time ago that Bob had declared war on our Tupperware cupboard. The two of them engaged in almost daily battles of wit and stamina. Bob would dig into the darkest recesses of the cabinet in search of a lid for whatever plastic storage dish he had in hand. The evil cupboard/lid cartel had no intention of coming forward with the needed tops. The skirmishes grew more and more heated over time. And frankly, Bob seldom emerged victorious. Until today.

The doorbell rang and I opened the door to find three large boxes on my porch. They came from Amazon and were addressed to me. Christmas in August. I couldn't imagine what wondrous surprise awaited. Vaguely I recalled that my usually open and forthcoming husband had dropped a couple of smug, cryptic hints over the weekend. "I have good news . . . you can find anything on Amazon."

And find he did, no rummaging required--plastic refrigerator storage dishes made by Rubbermaid. One hundred and thirty-two pieces. The "Easy Find" line. It says it right on the box, along with this brilliant slogan: "Right lid. Right now." The lids and dishes snap together and nest to boot. No losing these lids, no sir. Those folks at Rubbermaid have my husband pegged.
"132 pieces?"

Now I have a hundred and thirty-two pieces of storage ware. Bob triumphs. The epic hunt for lids that fit is a thing of the past. Looks like it's my turn to seek--for a little more cupboard space.

What do you hoard? And how many IS too many?

Monday, August 9, 2010

Hide and Seek

My husband owns 81 screwdrivers. That is not a typo. Eighty-one. Actually, the count stood at 81 in 1998 when we moved. More have accumulated in the intervening twelve years, I'd wager. Best guess? Right around a hundred--every size and shape you can imagine. No, he doesn't have a particular passion for screwdrivers . . . he just hates to hunt for things. Forgive the not-PC-gender-stereotyping, but is this a guy thing?

Bob breaks into a cold sweat at the prospect of seeking for necessaries in the Black Hole we call a garage or in the laundry room or kitchen cupboards. He has honed a brilliant, if expensive, strategy for dealing with his rummage-phobia.

If you can't find your drill bits or the high pressure nozzle for the hose or your navy blue socks forget the scavenger hunt at home. Why would you spend seven minutes looking calmly through your house when you could put your shoes on, hop in the car, drive to Home Depot or Kohl's, park, shop around, fill a cart with "bargain" items you don't need, stand in line, check out, shove a buck in the metal lock box of the homeless vet sitting outside the store, load your purchases in the trunk, return the cart to the little cart-corral, drive home, unload your purchases, and search through the heap of not-eco-friendly shopping bags for the item you so urgently needed two hours ago? Trouble is, by now you've completely forgotten what you went to the store for in the first place. But at least you've got a half dozen new nozzles on hand, and four bonus packs of navy blue socks.


(So, would you rather hunt for the one you have, or just buy a couple more? Does this break down along gender lines? I know you're reading, I see the stats. Comment already!)

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Summer surfeit

The green button on the left side of the screen tempts me--"Tomato Club--click here to become a member." There's a tomato club? My cursor hovers briefly, my index finger twitches. "Over 600 varieties of heirloom tomato seeds" the large red print boasts. There's that word. Heirloom. Every addict has a trigger--mine is the "H" word. I can't help myself. I am a tomato junkie.

Must click on the "heirloom varieties" button. My lips move as I scroll through the list. The names alone are sheer summer poetry: Black Brandywine. Caspian Pink. Dixie Golden Giant. Dingwall Scotty. Giant Oxheart. My mouth has started to water and I'm only to the "G's". Halfmoon China. Mister Stripey. Polish Giant. Somebody stop me before I grab my credit card and do something stupid. Super Sioux. Tiny Tim. White Wonder. Zapotec Pleated. Have mercy.

Yesterday I harvested five deep red Early Girls and a lopsided lumpy Cherokee Purple that tasted as sweet as an August peach. Can you say "heaven"? I actually controlled myself this year and only put fifteen tomato plants in my small suburban backyard.

Go ahead and laugh. Within a week I'll be reveling in homemade salsa and bruschetta pomodoro and gazpacho. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner will find me with my elbows on the table and tomatoes on my plate. Sliced on sourdough toast with sea salt and melted gouda. Nestled between fresh mozzarella and slivers of garden basil. Scattered in pasta with olive oil and capers. Bright red and golden wedges tossed with cucumbers and vinaigrette. Aaaaah! So much to eat, so little time. Excuse me, I'd better get started.

So, what's your personal favorite way to eat vine-ripened tomatoes? Leave me a comment and I'll try your suggestion. A "major award" to the contributor of the most delectable idea.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Second cousin once removed

If Jozianne lived next door to me, we would be best friends. As it is, we see each other every two years. Our intermittent, bi-annual conversation picks up where we left off without awkward silences. I'm not sure when we got heart-close like this. Over the 47 year span of my life, we've spent maybe six weeks total, a mere handful of days, together. Second cousins--it sounds more distant than it feels.

2010. An even year. That means a Boyack Family reunion--my mom's side. Boyack was never my name. Before I became a Jacobs, I was a Sandholtz. But spending a few days with my extraordinary kin last week confirmed that Boyack runs deep in me. It's not just the blue eyes, exact mirrors of my own, that surround me at reunions. It's good humor and generosity, deep commitment to faith and family, the propensity to spin a yarn. Wherever we assemble, it feels like coming home.

Jozianne's daughter,Jane, played cards with us and we laughed into the wee hours of the morning. Second-cousin-once-removed hardly describes the way we fit. I met Darren and Chrissie, pretty much for the first time, and felt like I had always known them. Jeanie and Merrilyn, my first-cousins-who-feel-like-sisters, planned our three day convergence with sufficient care to create a sweet sliver of what heaven must hold in store.

At the end of every Boyack reunion we meet to discuss the future of these mad, glorious events. The logistics are daunting. Try finding a venue for a couple of hundred Scots who talk a lot and eat a lot and stay up all night because they don't want to sleep through a minute of their time together. "Can this possibly continue?" we ask. Honestly, it is sheer insanity.

Hurrah for my crazy cousins who decide, time and again, to go forward. Thank heaven for old-school lunacy that favors face-to-face conversation over Facebook; that drives or flies 1,500 miles to catch-up with family instead of just catching their Twitter; that doesn't settle for an extensive Contact list in lieu of actual contact. I have no fear that the sad irony of living in a hyper-connected world and yet feeling disconnected from real people will ever overtake the Boyacks. No. We'll do what it takes to find ourselves in a room together, wearing goofy Boyack t-shirts and laughing out loud, drawn by the singular delight of coming home.