Wednesday, November 25, 2015

A good morning with Friends

Yearbook photo, next to
William Penn's hitching post.
Telling people you went to a Friends high school can be like playing Who's on First.

Me: "I went to a Friends school in New York."

The other person: "I wasn't asking about your friend's school. I was asking about yours."

When you say a Friends School is operated by Quakers (The Religious Society of Friends), people aren't sure what to make of that either. I only knew one or two Quakers at my high school, Friends Seminary. Actually, a good percent were Jewish.

So what about the Quaker part? The philosophy guided our school. Quakers believe in the inner light in everyone and in working for peace and social justice. It is hard to say it without sounding corny, so I'll send you to the Friends Seminary website.

When I was in 10th grade, the school organized a bus trip to Washington for a silent vigil around the White House to protest the Vietnam War. That is the kind of thing we did. Silence is another key component of a Friends education, specifically the one-hour silent meeting for worship that we had every Wednesday in the meeting house. There is no program; you sit in silence, and if you are moved to speak, you stand up and begin. This website has a good explanation of Quaker Meeting.

Meeting house, left, and Friends Seminary
My mother said that as soon as we went into the beautiful historic meetinghouse on 15th Street and Rutherford Place, she knew it was the school for me. The school is one of some 80 in the country; the Obama girls attend Sidwell Friends. When I reconnected with friends from Friends who live in the Valley, we hardly skipped a beat. My friends from Friends are like family.

Wherever I live, I usually find a Friends meeting. For example, when I lived in Brookline, I went to the Friends Meeting at Cambridge.

Some time ago I went to the Mount Toby Friends Meeting in Leverett, but I hadn't been for a while. Sunday mornings I usually either go to a spinning class at the Holyoke Y or a yoga class at the Hampshire Regional Y in Northampton.

I bring this up now because in the past two weeks I went first to the Friends Meeting in Northampton, and then this past Sunday to Mt. Toby. A friend from Friends and I had talked about wanting to go together, and I was curious about the meeting in Northampton (on Center Street) because I pass by it all the time.

Given the terrorist attacks of the previous week, it seemed like a good time to go sit with the peaceful people. So that is what we did. He wasn't available, so I went by myself to the Mount Toby meeting. It is easy to find – it's on Route 63 – but, if you know me, you know I can get lost in South Hadley. I misread the directions and took one wrong turn, which led to another, and another, with Siri being of no help and saying, infuriatingly, "I'm sorry, I seem to have lost my Internet connection."

I got there about 20 minutes late, but people were coming in and out anyway, so it didn't matter. Just coming into a place like that, I could feel my blood pressure drop. We sat in silence, with some people standing up to talk – mostly about the terrorist attacks – and then, after an hour, each person turned to his or her neighbor, shook hands, and said, "Good morning." Then people went around and introduced themselves, with newcomers like myself receiving a warm, "Welcome." Afterwards, I chatted with some members over coffee.

 Here is the description on the website: Mount Toby Friends Meeting is a welcoming faith community. We come from many different religious backgrounds, including birthright Quakers, Jews, Protestants, Catholics, Buddhists, Pagans, and those with no previous affiliation. Believing that every human being shares in the universal Light, we join together each Sunday to create an expectant silence where the spirit may enter. Our Meeting is “unprogrammed,” which means that there is no formal order of worship, but those who are moved by the spirit can speak. Thus we all are ministers as well as attenders.

Friends education gave me the gift of being able to return to meetings and feel connected and gain a sense of inner peace wherever the meetings are. The gym will be there the rest of the week. My friend from Friends and I are going to return.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Good news 'bad news'

Regarding the bad news in the headline, I put it in quotes because it is not really bad. Since I have reported actual bad news in the past, I thought I should begin with that caveat.

First, for the good news:

#1. I had a great day Thursday in my first substitute teacher role in an adult literacy program. As a volunteer at the Literacy Project in Northampton, I felt like I knew enough to transition into a paid role. Freelancing, especially coming into it so late in the game, is an on-again off-again source of income. I am on the sub list for the Literacy Project's locations in Western Massachusetts and for the Valley Opportunity Council in Chicopee, which is where I led my first class on Thursday.

I was a little nervous, but the students were fantastic, helping me out and showing me the routine. We changed declarative sentences into questions, read a book they already knew, focusing on expression and meaning, and did some word puzzles. It was a beginning level Adult Basic Education course like the one in which I have been volunteering, so I felt comfortable as soon as we got going. As is the case in Northampton, I found there is always something to learn from these students, who want to be there, as opposed to subbing in a public school...well, we all remember what it was like to be a kid in a class being led by a poor sub.

#2. Maddie had her weigh-in at doggie weight-watchers, a.k.a. The Valley Veterinary Clinic. She lost five pounds in a few weeks. That's about what I guessed because her breathing had returned to normal. The vet wants her to get back to 60 pounds, meaning she has seven to go. The tech who weighted her said to let up on her at the holidays.

#3. Tonight is the long-awaited performance of The Moth MainStage at the Academy of Music. I remembered my friend Emily talking about The Moth coming to Pittsburgh and saying how interesting it is to hear people tell their stories. You can also hear them on public radio on The Moth Radio Hour. When I got an email from New England Public Radio in August saying that tickets were on sale and would sell out quickly, I went to the site immediately and saw it was 80 percent sold out.

I got two tickets, forgot about it, then panicked when I couldn't locate my records, which is unusual because I usually print everything out and put it in a special place. Luckily, the Academy of Music box office person said I was all set and could get the tickets at Will Call.

#4. Last night I went to the tennis mixer in Enfield. It is a little late to go that far, but I like doing it once a month. The tennis is always fun, the people are nice, and the pizza is good.

#5. I made light and fluffy waffles this morning by searching for an easy waffle recipe and getting this one from All Recipes and bringing out my old waffle iron. (Every recipe I make has to begin with the word "easy." Hence, the easy banana bread I made earlier this week when I noticed I had four overripe bananas.)

OK, so, as for the 'bad' news: The mice are back...dancing through my kitchen drawers.

I heard one in my walls yesterday morning and came down to find it had left some presents in the silverware drawer. A post on Facebook drew some interesting suggestions, such as, learn to like cats, which is impractical since Joe and I are allergic. A couple of people suggested peppermint. I need to get some mouse traps.

Yesterday I put all the silverware through the dishwasher and cleaned out the drawer. Today when I went to look for my measuring cups I saw that that the mouse, or mice, went into the big drawer containing spatulas, large spoons, etc. It will have to be emptied out an cleaned.

On another topic, when I was telling Katie last night about my "dilemma" about whether to choose the Ludlow pizza mixer (closer but not enough tennis) and the Enfield mixer (a little too far but more tennis), I summarized with letters that stand for this kind of problem, and the problem with the mice: FWP.  First World Problems, all.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

(Not) just another day at the Kraft Family Blood Donor Center

Yesterday, there was nothing wrong with my driver, but a few things were wrong, or at least odd, with my day.

I called ahead to the Kraft Family Blood Donor Center like I am supposed to do to say I was on my way in for my 3 p.m. ECP. The front desk person who took the call said she would let the nurses know. But when I got there it turns out she hadn't, meaning I had to wait about 20 minutes for the machine to be primed.

Then, my nurse had a hard time getting the needle into a vein where it would draw. When she finally had it in and was waiting for the machine to start, she realized it was taking a long time. She called in another nurse who said one of the tubes was not connected properly and was drawing air. They had to take out a new kit and start again. In the meantime the needle in my vein started hurting a lot. She flushed it, and it hurt even more. Turns out it had infiltrated. She had to switch to my right arm. The machine beeped repeatedly, signaling that my blood was not being pulled out. After some injections of heparin to thin out what was probably clotty blood, it finally started working.

While we were waiting for the machine to start, we talked about the Paris attacks. (How can you not?) My nurse reminded me that back a month or so ago when we were talking about the refugee crisis, and she had said she didn't want any Syrians to come to this country because terrorists would be sneaking onto Massachusetts Avenue, I had said these were just poor people in need of a haven.

She said, "I told you this would happen," referring to the speculation that one of the attackers had slipped in with the wave of Syrian refugees. I said actually, most if not all of the attackers were from Belgium and France, and, judging from what I had heard on the news, the potential for this problem is greater in Europe due to the controversial Schengen agreement, allowing for the free movement of people across the European bloc. I told her I also heard that the vetting process in the U.S. is more thorough. And I asked, was she sticking me so many times because of our disagreement. She laughed and said of course not, which I knew to be the case. It was just one of those days.

I took a nice nap and then woke up and watched most of an episode of Bloodline. I had told my driver I thought I would be done early (because I have gone down to five rounds instead of six), but in actuality, I was done late, at 7 p.m. We closed down the place.

Getting home around 8:30 is a kind of strange time. Too late to eat a real dinner but too early to not have anything. In the car on the way back I had had a clementine, some popcorn and a piece of the banana bread I had made. At home, I had yogurt with chia seeds and raspberries and some of the Teddy Grahams that are an addition to the snack menu at the Kraft Center. The chia seeds made me feel healthy, and the graham crackers made me feel like a kid.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

On waking up in the middle of the night

Someone used to call me pokey because I slept so late. I did that for a long time while my body was adjusting to all the things I had gone through.

I'm still pokey in many ways, such as getting out of the house. But instead of sleeping too late, I have been waking up too early, usually between 4 and 4:30 a.m. It stared about four months ago. Of course I looked it up and saw that waking up in the middle of the night is not uncommon. I mentioned it to some friends who had the same issue. I fall asleep fine but then wake up when it's too early to get up. I try the things that you're supposed to do: progressive relaxation, three-part breathing, thinking of something calming. My yoga teacher, Justine, said to try putting on my eye pad, so I have done that too.

If I give up, I know that checking my iPhone ruins my chance of getting back to sleep. Who's on Facebook, who's Tweeting, who might be emailing in the middle of the night. I did that for a while, until someone pointed out to me that the screen is the worst, and these seven tips for falling back asleep confirmed it. Stress is said to be a factor, but I don't feel any more, or less, stressed than usual. Sometimes I think it comes from writing too far into the evening, causing my brain to go into overdrive that wakes me up at night. A person could get stressed out just wondering about it.

Today, I slept until 5:30 and thought that was great. Maddie woke up at about the same time; I got her to lie down for another 15 minutes or so. Still, I had to rush to get out of the house to get to the Literacy Project in Northampton on time for my 9:15 a.m. volunteer tutoring job. I had decided I had to use the over-ripe bananas to make banana bread. Then I got glued to the morning shows, watching the news about politics and about the Paris attacks. I can't say why that took three hours, but it did.

Observation of the day: If you take the four small Polish pottery bowls down from the cabinet and put them on the counter and balance them with your left hand while reaching up with your right hand for the larger one in which to put the spaghetti you are cooking, one of them is likely to fall onto your tile floor. And break into a million pieces. And if you close the door to the kitchen to eat your pasta in the dining, your mess will still be there when you go back in.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

New kid on the block

Yesterday, after I played tennis at 8:30 a.m. with a group of seniors at Bay Road Tennis, one of the men told me, "You're too young to play. You have to be at least 65." I think he was kidding.

Turns out they are in their 70s and even 80s. Some of them look their age; others do not. They have obviously played forever and are good at what they do, including crazy spin and perfect placement. The only difference is that I run after the loose balls while they take their time.

I looked over at one player who looked younger and asked, "What about him?"

"Oh, he is in his 70s and he has two stents and no prostate." I'm not sure what the prostate thing has to do with tennis, but we'll just leave that be. It's just $12 for non-members, so I'll do it regularly except for going to a mixer once a month.

Thursday, I met a nice Jiffy Lube guy who, after seeing my yoga mat in my car, said he does yoga, and although the other Jiffy Lubers laugh at him, it's what keeps him in shape. The others can't believe he is 45. I told him to say hi to his yoga teacher Susan Moore, who had been my physical therapist.

I liked him because he did not try to sell me extra stuff, except for the air filter which I needed because a critter had chewed around the edge. He said if you take the filter out and put a dryer sheet on top, you will deter the critters. I told him I was overdue because I keep trying to come on Tuesday to get the discount but find the lines too long. He found another code to give me the discount "just because I like you."

On Wednesday, a new driver took me to Boston. I called the driver from last week and asked him not to take me if he has to be on the computer and on the phone. He said he has to dispatch and would send me another. As loud as the Turkish boss was, this driver was so quiet I could barely hear him. That was fine with me.

When I got to the Kraft Blood Donor Center, I found out that all the beds were taken by patients who had ports, and I would need to sit in a chair. At first I was unhappy because I thought it was the same reclining chair that had given me a backache, but it turned out to be a new heated chair that even vibrates as though you're in a nail salon. I got so relaxed I dozed on and off sooner than I usually do.  From across the room, a patient was telling my nurse, Roberta, about his cleansing diet. He started talking about the protein drinks he takes, and then Roberta talked about her own concoction, and one thing led to another until she was pulling up photos of wheatgrass on the computer screen and saying how good for you it is. Esther brought over some Halloween candy and opened it for me. These distractions almost made me forget the big needle in my arm.

In this way, the time passed, and before I knew it, I was done.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Going back to Vassar College

Professor Gifford in 1982
Next month I am going to go to Vassar for a two-night stay at the Alumnae House to attend a memorial for one of my English professors, Bill Gifford, with the secondary goal of eating a Vassar DevilI was unsure about going, because I have mixed memories about my college days, but a former classmate nudged me, and also I would like to go and share memories with other writers and pay my respects to Professor Gifford's family. I'm sure they'll be happy to see how many professional writers he helped produce.

I stayed in touch with him for a while but then drifted away, and I was sorry after I saw all the students who remained close. But what are you going to do? Time passed. Stuff happened.

His Facebook page, In Memory of Professor Bill Gifford, Vassar College, is filled with tributes by professional writers who attribute their success to his encouragement. I wrote this on the page: Mr. Gifford was always very nice to me and supportive of my writing. I was not always that happy at Vassar but I usually felt better after his classes because he was so friendly and warm. After graduating in 1976, I went on to get a master's in journalism and to write for a daily newspaper, and that might not happened had I not had such an encouraging teacher. Although other students called him "The Gif," that was a little too informal for me!

This upcoming trip to Poughkeepsie precipitated a nightmare combining back-to-school anxiety with newspaper-reporter anxiety, like so:

The teacher in a college writing class told us to write a short story. I tried fictionalizing my memories of my high school boyfriend. It was awful. The teacher marked it up and told me so. I went back home to our New York apartment, where I tried to redo it on an old clunky manual typewriter. Frustrated, I decided to change my topic to an infamous tennis team trip to the Districts in Providence, R.I., where all sorts of crazy things happened. The teacher said I couldn't change topics because a photographer had already been assigned for the previous story.

I got so upset about being told to write fiction that I screamed, "I just cannot make things up!"

By the way, in case you're wondering what is in a Vassar Devil, it a mix of devil's food cake, fudge, ice cream and marshmallow sauce. Given my recent intestinal problems, maybe I should skip at least the marshmallow sauce, which might have seemed appealing to me in college but does not dies not sound so appetizing now. I could chase with Tums.

Friday, November 6, 2015

My two months of fame (at the YMCA)

When Julie from the Holyoke YMCA left a message last week for me to call her, I thought maybe I owed some money.

But when I called back, she said I had won the Golden Sneaker award.

I wasn't sure what that exactly meant. She said it meant I was a good role model. Some nice person had entered my name for the award that is chosen every two months. The staff read the entries over, without looking at the names, and they picked me!

I asked if I actually got a golden sneaker, and Julie said that I really did. I thought it was probably a little charm, but it really is a gold sneaker, as you can see from the photo.

Julie asked me to come in so she could interview me for a write-up that is posted in a display case in the lobby. I told her reporters hate to be interviewed, but I would do the best that I could.

It wasn't bad at all. Her questions included asking what motivates me, and I said, among other things, that although it isn't always easy to get out and exercise, I always feel better mentally and physically when I do. I also said I enjoyed discovering new activities, such as spinning, where at first it was hard for me to stand up and sit down, but now I can not only keep up but also get into the fast pace and loud blaring music and being one with the group. If you heard me telling my kids to TURN THE RADIO DOWN in the car,  you would never believe this other me. Call it Zen and the Art of Spinning. It has also counteracted the muscle-weakening effects of prednisone and helped get me stronger.

Then, she did a nice write-up. I thought it would be a little thing on the wall, but I was surprised at how big it was when I came up from spinning the other day and basically came face-to-face with myself.

I thought I was just showing up.

But I guess if you believe Woody Allen, "Eighty percent of success is showing up."