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Thursday, September 30, 2010

I Can See Clearly Now

I can see clearly now.

I said that a lot after I got my new glasses. Suddenly, I could play the alphabet game again while whipping down the highway; find streets in unknown neighborhoods before I passed them; read maps without switching from my sunglasses to the readers.

Sight is perhaps my favored sense. I love the nuance of color. The subtle shades of the trees changing from deep green to chartreuse to yellow to gold to brown.

The colors of my food on the plate or flowers and veggies at the farm market.

Paints -- awaiting my creative interpretation.

The colors of life -- the things that surround us, our friends. Beach towels, the Fiesta dishes, a colorful quilt.

I like to see all the things I drop on the floor in my art room so I can find them before my bare feet do. And while I may close my eyes to the never-ending piles of clutter, it's nice to see what to throw and what to put away -- and where!

I've thought about sight a lot lately as a good friend is dealing with some health issues that could ultimately make an impact on her sight. She must weigh her decisions carefully, for much is at stake.

And yet, in recent months I've encountered two people whom I admire tremendously, and from them I've learned that it isn't what you see with your eyes, but what you see with your senses and your heart that really help us survive -- and thrive.

Nino is a friend of Rick's and he's a bike rider. The first time I heard that, I was stunned. How do you ride a bike when you can't see? Even on a tandem -- how do you ride and not feel terrified of the wind hitting you in the face, unable to see where you are going?

But then I met Nino.

Nino's ability on the bike is so finely tuned that when he's on the back of the tandem, he knows when to shift the gears before the captain in the front does.

I get pretty darned terrified on a bike in general -- and certainly going at the speeds these guys do!

Add to it not being able to see (well, maybe that's a good thing) and putting your faith in your captain to be able to guide the bike around curves, darting animals or crashes up ahead -- well, I'm not sure I'd have it.

We've been at some of the same home stays -- and yes, we make sure he has a clean path to wherever he needs to go. And yet, I suspect that if he wasn't given that path, he'd be just fine.

He and Rick do the crossword puzzles in the paper while they're on their rides. Rick fills it in -- Nino has the answers.

I don't know how Nino lost his sight. I'm sure he'd tell me if I asked. But frankly, I sort of forget. Unless I see him with his cane, I don't think of him as not being able to see anything I can't.

And the fact is, that without it, I'm convinced he "sees" as much if not more than many of us sighted folk do.

Then there's Mexicali Rose's "mom."

Being a bad blogger, I didn't have my camera with me as I went to the clinical center to pick up a prescription. So I couldn't photograph the beautiful Middle Eastern woman with her seeing eye horse. (The photos here come from this very good article, which is about a year or two old.)

(Photo by Carlos Osorio / AP)

But check out this video. It's fascinating and it says it all.

I was at the Clinical Center picking up a prescription when I saw this young woman -- maybe 30, but I can never tell -- waiting with her seeing eye horse, Cali.

It's not a common sight, and it begged a conversation and further research.

She said that Cali, a three-year-old miniature horse, was chosen as an assistance animal because in her Muslim faith, animals are considered unclean. The article I read and linked above quoted the director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations' Michigan chapter as saying most Muslims believe dogs can violate ritual purity, horses are seen as "regal animals."

Her parents wanted them to be her "eyes," but she wanted her independence.

Cali is the size of a very large dog. And sweet as can be. And yes, you might wonder, does the horse go to the bathroom? Yes -- in a little bag under his tail.

Does he get on the bus? Of course.

Cali's mom was born blind and prematurely. As an observant Sunni Muslim, she respected her parents' aversion to having a dog, and at the time, she lived with them in a Detroit suburb.

Cali was a good compromise. At two-and-a-half feel tall, she was a former show horse, used to people, and easy to train. She will also live a very long time -- possibly 30 years or more.

(Photo by Carlos Osorio / AP)

I was profoundly impressed for a lot of reasons. First, she was working on her Ph. D in child psychology, here in mid-Michigan, about 90 miles from her parents. In a sense she defied her parents' wishes to rely on them for her independence by getting Cali, then moving away. And I got the impression that nothing would stop her from achieving her goals.

Was I inspired?

You bet.

So many times, we see the label "disabled" put on people. My friend Judy, who has a good deal of experience in this area as the author of a book on parenting for children with special needs, focuses on the ability. And really, that's so true.

Some of those who have most inspired me over time have been those who live an extraordinary life with some extraordinary challenges. It may not be so easy to get around or or do something so many of us take for granted.

When I see someone like this woman with her horse or Rick's pal Nino, I know there is so much we all can do. If we choose. And that should empower us all.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Fall -- It's Here

Technically, it's fall. But it feels too early.

But this past weekend, we went to the lake, and there was no doubt whatsoever.

Autumn has so many moods -- stormy, dreary, awe inspired, melancholy, splendid, invigorating, lonely, energetic.

I think I experienced all of them this weekend, most on the not-so-cheery side!

The rainy, dreary days (and we certainly had those -- the wind whipped around like a cyclone!) are a good time to huddle up, read a book, go to town or simply be cozy.

The sunnier times are crisp and clean. It's time for a walk in the woods...

...or a long bike ride.

On a gloomy day, when you're snuggled on the bed, some of us don't like being disturbed.

The woods seem to take on different colors in the cloudy times. The darks are darker, the contrast greater.

Even the reds and greens seem brighter when contrasted against the dried and faded fallen leaves and sticks.

Then the sun comes out and you get this sense of energy.

I love the colors of fall -- the gold and red, the bright contrast against the sky.

It seems almost like a precious gift we are given before our world is covered with a blanket of white, the roads get filled with ruts and we bundle up in sweaters and sweatshirts and eat lots of soup.

Although, that soup wouldn't be all bad today!

I'll take my rainy days, I guess... they don't sound so bad now!

Monday, September 27, 2010

Booprep

You do it, I do it.

We do it in the kitchen.

We do it at the art table.

And I've been doing a lot of it lately.

"What's booprep?" you might ask.

Booprep is all the slow, boring, or tedious work that must be done to get something ready so we can do the fun part.

It's priming the kitchen walls before painting, preparing your ingredients before cooking so you have them at hand, putting the base coat of paper on tags, making a background page to cut up for collage, or covering wooded birdhouses with gesso.

Not all booprep has to be dull. I find cutting out collage bits a rather enjoyable form of booprep. Rolling yarn into a ball, however, is not -- especially when it's tangly or your executive assistant has started the work for you in advance and done it incorrectly.

You will not find this word in any dictionary, though I am considering lobbying the Scrabble folks to see if they might include it.

I discovered this word one day while commenting on Kristine Campbell's blog. It was my verification word.

I love verification words -- they're kind of a pain to type but sometmes they feel so serendipitous! I just love it when it's a real word that fits what the blogger wrote about. Or, even an "unreal" word that with a little juggling seems to come through.

Booprep. It's what we do.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Cherry on Top

Everyone loves to be recognized, but when you are recognized by another blogger whose site you enjoy, it's a real treat. Like the cherry on top!

So thanks to Tamara at Thyme for Tea for presenting me with the Cherry on Top Award! As you can see, it's for beautiful blogs with that "little bit extra!"

The rules that come with this award require me to:

1. Answer this question: If you had the chance to go back and change one thing in your life, would you, and what would it be?

Oh, dear! What wouldn't I change! And yet, things worked out the way they were supposed to. I can "regret" that I didn't leave Lansing after college or even mid-point in my career, but there were key reasons why I stayed, and if I hadn't been so close, I'd be like so many of my peers who are dealing with family relationships, and particularly with aging parents, from a great distance. I wouldn't have liked that.

I guess I can only think of one thing. Retirement planning.

When I started working at the TV station 29 years ago, I figured I'd only be here short term. Maybe five years. And I had student loans. So, I never joined our TIAA-Cref plan at the basic five percent, which the university would match. After five years, I kicked in at the minimum, not aware the U would pay up to 13 percent match. I can't remember when I changed it to max it out, but I know I would be retiring a lot sooner and in a lot better shape if I'd paid better attention.

When we're young, we don't always think of things like that. SO, if you are a younger blog reader and have the opportunity to do an IRA or 401K or whatever -- all I can say is "Do it. Do it now." Fact is, all of us are living longer (or hope to) and what we thought would be a lot of money back then -- well, will it take us to 90? I'm not so sure!

2. Task number two! Pick six people for this award and let them know.

This isn't as easy as it seems -- some bloggers I adore have "award-free zones" and so I can't really present to them. Others received awards from me in the past for their terrific blogging, and while I'm far from opposed to pile on the accolades, some others newer to my list should have a chance.

So, here are six blogs I've discovered somewhat recently and really do enjoy!

Christine of "Christine's Blog."

Suzanne of "Privet and Holly."

Sandy of "It's a Jungle Out There"

Bellarum of "The Culdesac Chronicles"

Dogwood of "Pink Dogwood Blossom"

Maegan of "Plus-Size Barbie"

3. The third and final thing is: thank the person who gave me the award.

Well, duh! Thanks, Tamara! It's lovely to discover bloggers who are new to me -- which I have with you. And even lovelier when they "like" you back! It really made my day.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Harry the Heron

OK, by the time I post this, it will probably be sunny, beautiful, crisp and simply delightful outside.

But as the rains hit, I wasn't feeling so cheery. Now this guy -- he'd like water -- probably the more the merrier.

But coming home to a basement partially full of water isn't exactly what I like after a day at work watching a storm from my office window. We're talking "Frankenstein on the mountain" lightning, which looked perilously close to hitting the tall antennas on our rooftop. (OK, a basement-full is a little bit of an overstatement. A little.)

After swabbing down the basement floor -- at least somewhat, I went out and bought a dehumidifier. I have to say, after 24-36 hours, it really has made the basement a far more palatable place, and I wish I'd done it sooner!

The bad news is that they need to redo the trough that leads to the sump, which means moving EVERYTHING in the basement to safety and covering up what's down there, as they'll jackhammer it to bits.

But the good news is that it shouldn't take long and it's under warranty, so unless I decide to upgrade anything (my choice) there's no cost.

Several days ago it was so lovely it was almost unbearable. I walked down to the "ditch" (thank you, Rick) by my house. The ducks were in full force, of course, but what makes that walk worthwhile is a visit by Harry the Heron.

It's interesting, looking for Harry. Everyone waits for him. One fellow said "I can hear him before I see him." Another couple said, "I just saw him come in." He's rather a celebrity in our parts.

I'm really pleased with my zoom. He was pretty far away in all these. It's almost as though he knows he's a star and chooses to see the hardest part of the pond in which to shoot a photo!

OK, I'm not Art Wolfe, but just seeing Harry makes me feel very happy indeed!

Bye! See you next time!

(Now on Chopsticks and String: It seems like everyone has read "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo." Now I have, too -- and here's what I think!)

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Art Update!

A number of you have been kind enough to ask me how I was doing on knitting my first pair of socks -- and would I please post a photo! Well, I'm halfway through the task! Here is my first completed sock!

I have barely started sock-two and its safe to say that folks on my Christmas list can plan not to get socks this year! (And if you are lucky enough to be given socks by someone, you thank them PROFUSELY because they love you a lot!)

That said, I am enjoying it, although my eyes aren't what they used to be and those size-two needles are a killer!

I do better with bigger needles so felting is my thing! Here are two recently completed purses. The other two are "in production" -- knit, but not yet felted or needing iCord or some sort of handle.

This one is my variation of the easier-than-anything Booga Bag pattern. Actually, I make enough changes, it probably really isn't the Booga Bag anymore, but since I never write anything down, it makes it pretty hard to duplicate! In fact, it's not even close!

I took the pattern, made it wider at the bottom, decreased more at the top and changed the ties so rather than looking like a tote, it has a gathered drawstring tie.


And I'll never be able to sell this one -- the button itself was five dollars! People don't really appreciate that sort of thing. But its very small, sort of dressy. Big enough for a wallet or camera or phone or maybe a combo of the two, but not a lot more!

(Truth be told, I really don't sell much knitting. Too many people do it and if you break down the hourly, you make zip. Some patterns have restrictions on that and others just not worth it. I tend to knit with good yarn, and people don't always "get" that, either. So for the most part, I give it away.)

I have to say, fall is a wonderful time to knit. Winter, too. The garden is wrapped up; it feels like a time to cozy in! So, there's more on the needles! After all, Christmas is coming!

Look for more, coming soon!

(Now on Chopsticks and String: My take on "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.")

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Friends Across the Sea

Was it really eleven-and-a-half years ago that Rick and I went to Japan?

Japan was both a big deal and no big deal to Rick. Big in that he loved it. Not so big in that he had been there many times before, traveling for business. He found it beautiful, with much to admire in the work ethic, the technology and the wonderful people he had met.

Me? I'd never been there -- but I had made some wonderful friends in America through Rick's work (and would later meet many more). We had talked about it -- wanting to see Naoki and Kanako who had left several years before. And of course I knew a bit of its history and had always been fond of Japanese art and line.

One day in the fall, after getting back my mammogram results, there was a blip in the radar -- enough so that I was sent to a surgeon and a biopsy was scheduled.

That morning, Rick took me to the hospital, we did all the prep, and I went in to have the final mams that would tell them precisely where this anomaly was.

Can you spell "terrified"? This was the disease that took my mother and aunt. I didn't see the potential for a positive (in a good way, not a medical way) result, but only flashbacks.

They did the mam. Couldn't find it. Did it again. And again. And again. Ten times, two views, as I recall it (or maybe ten altogether; moot point.) Then they sent me home and said to come back in six weeks.

It was shortly after that I decided to go to Japan. We'd talked about it. I had at least a reprieve (as it turns out, so far, so good!). I was tremendously grateful for that and I wasn't about to waste that time, just in case it came back.

All I can say about that period is that is was simply amazing. We visited temples, were in awe and sadness at the Hiroshima museum, and reveled in the steamy Japanese onsens or natural hot springs.

Most of the time we stayed in the homes of friends; on the few times we weren't, we stayed in Japanese ryokans -- the equivalent of an inn, B&B or small hotel, sleeping on the floor on downy-soft futons.

Despite the fact that it was February, most of the days were snow-free (apart from a short stint in the mountains) and we even saw some pansies in bloom.

We covered some ground during that trip, from Tokyo to Yamagata in the mountains, then off to Hiroshima and then to Otsu, where we stayed with Naoki's family. It was a wonderful time, filled with sightseeing, good conversations, delicious food and connecting with friends.

I became a fan of most every flavor I experienced -- and now when Rick makes sushi and other Japanese dishes, it reminds me of our moments in Japan.

Naoki and Kanako and Naoiki's parents were wonderful hosts. Being with them reminded us of how much we missed our Japanese friends -- although we were continuing to meet new people as they came to Michigan.

We saw Naoki once after that, when he came to Michigan, working for the Japanese government. A few days ago, he called to say he'd be here again! Could we meet? Well, yeah!

So, after finishing a birthday dinner with friends the other night, we crossed the street to the Marriott and saw not only Naoki in the lobby, but also Toshi, who had come to Michigan several years after Naoki, doing the same job as "delegate."

What a reunion! We talked, shared photos, took photos, and walked about East Lansing.

We took them to see Greg's current chalkboard painting at a local bar, and just reveled in one another's company.

Do you remember in my post about connecting with my childhood friend how I said that it felt as though time hadn't passed? It was indeed the same. We were all a little older, and they only carded Toshi at the bar. (At 40, we thought he was quite lucky to be carded!)

Their visit is short, but who knows? Perhaps one day, we'll see them both again, and longer.

(A postscript -- Naoki had to move on with the governor of his Japanese prefecture to Detroit, but Toshi stayed in town and last night he came over to Rick's for a late supper.

He said he was missing Japanese food and Rick was making domburi, which is a chicken dish with a sauce of mirin, sake, maybe a spot of sugar and some other things I can't recall! It's served over rice.

Toshi, being a skilled donburi maker, showed us his way of preparing it -- similar, but with subtle differences. (I have to say that although this photo is so out of focus, I love it -- there was such joy and fun in that kitchen.)

And it was indeed delicious.

After, we looked at each others family pictures on the computer, savoring one more visit. It was indeed lovely.

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