Monday, March 31, 2008

The naked tooth

Three years, four months, 13 days ago, I got braces on my teeth for the first time in my life.

They came off today. It's gonna take a while to get used to naked teeth.

I'm delighted with the results, too. No, I didn't really need my teeth straightened -- had a little gap in the top front teeth, but not much, and that was just like my dad's gap. But I'd lost a lower tooth in the center front because of a perforated root canal that got infected over time, and I didn't like the options of implants (not insured and only "fair" chances of succeeding), a bridge (would have to put crowns on the two side teeth, plus potential problems with decay), or a prosthetic tooth (made me talk funny). When a dentist suggested orthodontia, I jumped at it, went for an opinion to Dr. Shoff, our local orthodontist, and he put 'em on.

My teeth are stubborn, apparently, and took their own sweet time about moving into place. My bite changed every couple of weeks; my gag reflex was very low -- I had to be careful about what and how much I tried to put into my mouth. Sometimes it was a little uncomfortable, but over all, no big deal. It was just all this metal grinning at me morning and night. And I always worried about big wads of food getting stuck in my wires.

No more. The bottom gap is closed (you'd hardly know), actually the top gap is closed too, and the teeth look great. I'll get retainers for night wear tomorrow, but no more metal mouth.

I'm ready for the popcorn. The caramels. The corn on the cob. And I'm grateful for dental insurance and positive thinking by both me and Doc Shoff. And for patience. It took twice as long as we'd thought it would.

Smile! I sure am. (but I never stopped, either)

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Being kind to ourselves

I've been thinking about this post for a long time, ever since Dianne Sylvan wrote about 10 things she loves about her body, and the interesting comments that followed.

Most of us can find a gazillion things we don't like -- every morning when we look in the mirror at our faces, or check the rear view in the mirror, or look at our hands. There are gray hairs (a big distress for some folks), turkey necks, fine lines around lips or eyes, cellulite on the legs or hips, sagging breasts, rounded tummies....well, you get the point.

But we don't talk about the things we DO like, the features that please us, this machine that allows us to function in today's world. So think about what you appreciate, what you like about your body, your miraculous, amazing framework of bones and muscles and tissue and skin, and give thanks for them.

Here's my list:
1. I love my eyes. They're big, expressive, reflective. The color is green-turning-hazel-turning green, and the green intensifies when I wear certain colors like bright blue or purple or turquoise. I'm grateful that through them I see this beautiful earth, the color of the bluebirds that populate our land at this time of year, the limey green of the new spring leaves and the dark blue-green when they're in the last gasp of fall. I see the faces of those I love, I get to read words in books and magazines and newspapers. They are my windows, my mirrors.

2. I love my legs. My mother had shapely legs all her life too. They're long, curvy, with well-defined calves and ankles. I've flaunted them in fishnets and short skirts, and they look good in slacks or jeans too. I'm grateful for the many places they've carried me.

3. I love my feet. They're long and well-proportioned, with long toes and nails that look good when I've polished and buffed them, which I do (mostly) regularly. I love how they look with a french manicure and my toe rings!They've had a few problems this last year, but I'm taking care of them with good shoes (always did) and professional care. They've given me a solid foundation over the years, and I want to make sure that continues.

4. I love my hair. Specifically, I love the color it is -- Mother Nature is highlighting it with gray and white and silver. I have a haircut now that suits its fine texture and stick-straightness, and emphasizes the color. I didn't always love it -- I've longed for curls and long hair so much of my life, and had perm after perm (that always damaged it, no matter how careful the stylists were), and enjoyed playing with highlights and lowlights to make it redder or blonder. I'm loving what it is like now and watching nature paint the highlights and lowlights.

5. I love my hands. Even though arthritis has done a number on my thumbs (started when I was barely 35), I still have good mobility and grip, and I like how my rings look on them: I wear my wedding ring on the left ring finger, and a Princess Di sapphire-diamond ring on the right ring finger, and my mother's engagement ring and my grandmother's wedding band on the right middle finger. They aren't big hands -- fairly narrow, with a long palm, and my middle finger is about as long as the palm. As a former nail-biter, I love how nice my nails look now when they're polished and filed. I treated myself to a professional manicure last week and really loved feeling so pampered. Ought to do that more often. I work with my hands -- I write -- and I've touched lovers and soothed babies and petted kitties with them. I dig in the dirt each spring when I plant my garden, and get dirt under the nails and lining the cuticles. I knead bread or shape pie crusts or cut out cookies with them; turn pages of books and newspapers, sew buttons or mend seams. They are working hands, not all soft and smooth, but they are gentle and loving hands. It's been a long time since they were raised in anger.

6. I love my height. Oh, I didn't when I was in junior high and high school and all the boys came up to my elbow. I felt too tall and gawky and uneasy in my long body. But my mother kept pushing me to stand up straight, to think queenly thoughts when I came into a room, to keep my head high, and eventually I enjoyed being tall. I can see things that short people can't. I can wear things that short people can't, and look dramatic doing it -- like capes and big hats. I can see over people's heads -- which helps in movies or plays, or when you're watching parades.

7. I like my figure, its proportion. I used to have a well-defined waist, but that's mostly straightened out. Nonetheless, I have broad shoulders, bust and hips are proportionate, and my waist is long. Yeah, things could be tighter, could be leaner, but overall I'm okay with it.

8. I love my ears. They're smallish, set close to my head, with nice, thin-but-rounded lobes. I got my ears pierced one weekend long ago when my college roommate and I decided to do drastic things to our appearances. She pierced my ears with a sterilized needle and ice to numb it (yeah, right), and I cut her hair into a pixie and frosted it with a do-it-yourself kit. We were both well pleased with our changes. I've always loved earrings and have big ones, dramatic ones, dainty pearls, small-but-sparkly diamonds, and the ubiquitous (and most often worn) plain gold hoops about the size of a quarter. I like howearrings look in my ears, and have thought about getting a second hole in each ear -- but haven't, and probably won't.

9. I love my curious mind. In less polite terms, I'm nosy. I like to know the details -- all of them, not just the facts, ma'm. It used to -- actually, it still does -- drive my daughter crazy because I'd keep asking questions and more questions about whatever she planned to do or is doing. I didn't mean it to irritate her; I just wanted to know the whos, whats, wheres, whys, and hows, and the names of everyone else involved. I'm a good Internet researcher and can tell you where a long-ago friend with whom I haven't been in touch for some 26 years is living and where she's employed, and even who she's living with. (Yes, you can run, but if you're on the Internet at all, you cannot hide!) As a writer, that curiosity serves me well and helps me tell a good story. It's not that I'm going to DO anything bad with all that information, understand, it's just that I like to know the whole story, and how it ends -- or at least where it is now.

10. I love my voice. I like that my speech is pitched a little lower than many women's voices, and I love the range of emotion and expression that it is capable of conveying. I like the precision -- the enunciation -- with which I mostly speak -- the result of many years of choral singing and college speech classes, where you learn to speak the 't's and the 'd's, the 'p's and the 'b's, but de-emphasize the 's's and 'r's, yet still pronouncing them clearly. I have a good vocal range -- or used to -- and can sing second alto or tenor in my chest voice but gust up to second soprano with my head voice. I like that I can speak to a full room and be heard without a microphone, but that's something I had to learn to control, since when I was young, I often spoke too loudly, and sometimes still do when I'm especially excited about something.

So there you have it. My choices surprised me a little. We need to be kinder to ourselves, to our appearance, and celebrate what we are rather than wishing we were something else. I'm glad I'm alive -- I'm grateful stuff still works! How about you?

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Family ties

We spent this weekend in Ashland, Oregon, at a mini family reunion of my mother's side. Of the six siblings born to my Minnesota grandparents, only three remain: my mother -- the third child-- died first in 2005; then her brother Tom, the youngest, in 2006; and in 2007, the oldest, Bob.

Saturday was the older sister's 90th birthday -- Betty -- and Nancy and Dorothy came from southern California and Seattle to be with her. We also had cousins -- both of Betty's sons, one of whom I had not seen probably since I was about 16, and I'd never met either of their wives. Do came with my cousin Becky, also from Seattle, and the one with whom I'm most in touch. Nan's daughters came from southern California also -- one with four of her five children; the other with husband and three of four teen-aged boys, including identical twins. Another cousin came from Colorado to be with us.

Both nights we commandeered the breakfast room of the hotel where we were and brought out food, photo albums, gifts, and beverages, and talked, shared stories, and laughed -- and yes, puddled a bit -- as we learned a little more about who we each have become.

Most of us don't talk much by either phone or e-mail, other than the sibling groups, but we all share common memories of our grandparents and their big house in Duluth, Minn., and it was interesting to hear the different perspectives. One cousin, who lived with the grandparents for a year, talked about a demanding, rather rough grandfather, and of being afraid. Another -- about 10 years younger -- remembers a grandfather who fed birds out of his hand and loved to work with wood -- a trait which she has inherited. I don't remember either grandparent as particularly loving, and as a child felt always a little lost in the crowd of cousins -- there were 17 of us.

But by coming to help our aunt celebrate 90 years -- and she is remarkably agile and alert -- we honored our common roots, that Swedish blood that flows in our veins from the grandfather who arrived here as a teenager, and the connection we share through family. We are very different -- we have widely differing political and spiritual views, we mostly don't look alike although you can see traces of our parents and grandparents in a nose here, eye color there, or the shape of the face. I see in my cousins their parents' features -- perhaps they see my parents in my face as well.

Of course I felt my parents close at hand -- there were pictures and stories, memories of them at weddings and trips, and I kept hearing Daddy sing and Mother laugh. I see her face in my aunt Do especially, and each aunt suffers now from osteoporosis too, although differently than did my mother. I was there because she would have wanted me to be there. And I was there for me too.

One cousin asked me "Are you happy with your life?"

A good question. And I could say without reservation, "Yes, I am."

That doesn't mean I wouldn't do things a little differently had I the chance. But to be happy with your life -- now that is a blessing.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Steeped in history

After a really lovely weekend including dinner with friends last night and a fun excursion to the Chico Home Show today, we watched the first two episodes of HBO's John Adams tonight.

Strains of "Sit down, John! Sit down, John! For God's sake, John, sit down!" are ringing in my ears -- that was the opening number to the musical 1776 which depicted the events leading up to the Declaration of Independence which I saw first in Boston in 1973 or so.

John Adams takes it much farther, and is just extraordinary. Much has been written in newspapers and magazines about this production, which is based on the book by notable historian David McCullough.

If you are at all interested in history -- if you are a fan of Paul Giamatti or Laura Linney -- you should try to see the episodes sometime this week as they are re-run. There are, I believe, five more episodes with the last one on May 18.

I've got multiple deadlines this week and I probably shouldn't have taken the time that I did -- but I'm glad I did, even if I end up working late the next three nights. (And of course I multi-tasked -- folded clothes while I watched...)

I was dishing out a little bit of ice cream for us while we were watching (fat-free, no added sugar -- makes it slightly less sinful), and suddenly thought about my dad, who loved ice cream and often had it as an evening snack (even though he probably should not have -- he was diabetic for about the last 25+ years of his life, but had a big sweet tooth). He would have enjoyed this production tremendously, as would have my mother. I was hit by a wave of nostalgia and -- grief is too strong a word anymore -- but I missed him. I miss him. I miss her. Tonight it was very present.

I'm very aware anymore of time, how precious it is, how much we take it for granted when we are young, and how the awareness of its swift passage grows each year. It is too easy to get caught up in the busy-ness of do-ing do-ing do-ing, and let slide the importance of be-ing. We all have deadlines, we have activities, ever-present chores. But there is nothing more important than being aware of where we are, of who we are, of what we are choosing to spend our time on, and of being grateful.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

It's heeeeerrrrreeee.....

Spring, that is. Despite my assertions that there will indeed be a touch more winter, the earth came leaping into life last week.

Daffodils are sporting yellow nodding heads all around the house and even by the entrance to the driveway. The harbinger tree -- the one that pops its bright limey-green leaflets before any of the others are even budding -- did its thing more than a week ago. And I think it was Friday when most of the others began leafing. Flowering trees have been blooming for a few weeks now --red bud, flowering quince, flowering pear, pink almond orchards. (Allergy season is kicking in too, as a result.)

The weather is gorgeous -- near 70 or a tad higher during the day, and lately rather gentle even at night -- we've turned on the ceiling fan and opened windows a bit more, although the flannel sheets are still on. Lots of sunshine, blue skies with puffy white clouds, a little wind now and then.

We were on the Sacramento River on Sunday afternoon with friends and neighbors who I was interviewing for a magazine story. They took us out on their boat -- I wrote and Tony snapped photos; they fished and talked. We were river virgins -- first time we'd been out on it, and it was was fun to see houses we knew from that perspective.

From the Red Bluff Diversion Dam -- whose gates come down in May to form Lake Red Bluff -- we wound north to just below China Rapids -- near the Bend area -- and saw an amazing hot spring that bubbled water near 80 degrees. It's from a lava tube coming out of Lassen, and the rocks are all lava rocks there.

The depth varies from only a few feet to more than 30, and our friends said the river is actually quite low right now -- the powers that guard the river dams are keeping water back for the summer, apparently. There's controversy over what will happen to the salmon fishing season this year too -- a huge blow to our river guide friends -- although not unexpected, as the last two seasons have been poor.

We snagged a salmon, too -- unhooked it and threw it back, of course -- but what a magnificent fish. Over the afternoon, we got two more fish -- one called a squaw fish, which is not a desirable one and which they're told to kill before throwing it back, and the other a beautiful steelhead trout, which lives to be caught another day by someone else. What amazing colors streak each of them! Nature has an incredible paintbox.

My dad took me fishing when I was a girl, and I remember drifting in the boat, lines trailing, reading my book and wondering what, exactly, was so great about fishing -- it seemed pretty boring to me. We fished from a dock too, and he taught me to clean fish. I don't remember going often, but I remember feeling special that I got to go with him.

As an adult, I see the pleasure in letting the boat drift along with the current, rod in hand, watching the river, the trees, the landscape, seeing fish jump, listening to the birds. It's a respite from the traffic drone, the machine noises, the concrete sidewalks and streets, and from people talking talking talking. Catching a fish is secondary.

It was a blessing to be out there, and rejuvenating especially for Tony, I think. I have the freedom to be outside whenever I wish, and our land is wonderful, truly, except that I tend to see all the things that I ought to be doing -- planting things, mowing things, trimming, raking, picking up -- rather than just listening to the land.

Spring doesn't whisper here, it shouts.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

The critic in my head is alive and kicking


So I'm freelancing, right, in control of my time, my work. Yes, I need to please the clients, but so far everyone has been very happy with my work. *I* am happy -- mostly -- with my work, although sometimes I have to cut a story more than I'd like to meet word requirements, or omit details that I'd like to work in because of said requirements. Or sometimes the story takes a completely different turn than the one I'd envisioned.

I'm feeling good about myself. Today brought a satisfying meeting this morning at which I got good feedback and made good contacts; did a good interview with a resource for an upcoming column.

So why does the inner critic immediately assume something is wrong when a client wants to meet with me?

My reaction:
what's wrong?

Answer: absolutely nothing.

I'd like to drown that little devil in my head. No, I'd like to stuff him into a dumpster that is about to be emptied into an enormous landfill far, far away from me. How about the Terminator?

I know why he's there, and I know why he reacts as he does, at least in part. Most of my jobs have been fairly rewarding -- my work has made a difference, it's been well received, and my managers have been happy.

But there was one job -- which shall go unidentified -- that just about did me in physically as well as emotionally. And I think the critic got really, really fat and happy from that one.

One manager there took me to lunch to hand me a plate full of criticism from my peers (two of them, both of them with serious control issues which had been documented in HR). Much of it was unfounded or terribly one-sided, and to top it off, it came only a few months after my father had died unexpectedly, and I was still reeling with grief, although I was showing up and doing my job.

But it hit me out of the blue, it did. I'm not good at hiding emotion, either, so I ended up in tears at the restaurant, thoroughly embarrassing myself. Actually, the manager thought he was softening the approach by taking me to lunch. I don't do well when I'm blindsided, I told him, and to his credit, he never did that again.

But it made me gunshy. It made me paranoid: I saw criticism everywhere from then on -- and even though my peers and I mended fences and worked successfully together on various projects, I never really trusted any of them after that -- nor liked them much, for the most part. But then that trust thing is a whole 'nuther issue, I suppose.

And later, a not-very-well thought-out reorganization gutted my whole department and separated the few remaining creative types into different departments reporting to different managers. Our instructions were to take marketing "to the next level," except that nobody -- including the managers -- seemed to know what that meant. It was awful. It was chaos. There was no way I -- or most of the rest of them -- could please anybody. There was little or no communication about anything: we were just "supposed to know" what to do, I guess. Reviews were a joke: my manager relied on third-party hearsay to let me know what I was doing wrong, and I wrote my own action plan which he approved, but never asked about.

Eventually -- predictably -- there was another reorg and we were all let go (I was THRILLED). Several of the managers caught it in the reorg after that. I don't know what the company is doing nowadays -- probably outsourcing to India.

I am 60 years old. I do not have to please anyone but myself about my work, and I'm my harshest critic anyway -- always have been. I refuse to allow this angry little demon to cause me one more moment of angst about who and what I am, and the quality of work that I do.

I swear it. No more.

Monday, March 03, 2008

What we're watching these days

We've been watching the HBO series "In Treatment" since it began six weeks ago. It's like a soap: five nights at week, half an hour each. Except that each episode is about a different patient, and now they're starting to interrelate.

It's fascinating.

It's a bit like being a fly on the wall inside a therapist's office, and it's mostly all talking heads. Surprisingly, it works -- at least in my humble opinion. Critics do, too, mostly.

Paul (Gabriel Byrne), the therapist, treats patients from his home office and talks to different clients four days a week, and then goes to see his own therapist-mentor on Friday (Dianne Wiest).

The acting is simply superb -- each actor uses his/her facial and body expressions to convey what the character is thinking. It requires so much more than something fast action, and certainly the psychological studies are fascinating. Maybe I'm just a voyeur, hm?

Another one we've enjoyed for its short season is Sarah Connor Chronicles from Fox. If you saw any of the Terminator movies, you're familiar with protective mom Sarah Connor. It's about blowing things up, evading the clutches of the Terminator, and trying to stay off the radar scope generally. Fun entertainment, although not for Mary Poppins' types. The season finale is tonight.
We also love Boston Legal from ABC: William Shatner is so wonderfully eccentric; Candice Bergen adds her bits of general elegance; and James Spader is not only a brilliant attorney, but also a decent human being, and his closing remarks in the various court cases are eloquent -- quite unlike real life, alas. There's nearly always a few hilarious moments, usually a moral point or two, and a fun story line involving quite the cast of idiosyncratic individuals.

We'll usually watch Medium on NBC, although I'm getting so familiar with the plot twists and outcomes that I can usually predict what's going to happen midway through, if not earlier. It's okay -- not terrible, not fabulous. Reasonably entertaining.

One thing that's made our TV viewing ever so much more interesting is that we finally popped for satellite tv late last year, and that opens up lots of options -- although obviously we still enjoy the network shows that we got on our little rabbit ear antenna for the last five years.

What we LOVE, though, is that we're not tied to network schedules with the digital video recorder option. We record the show, whatever it is, and then watch when we want to, speeding through the commercials. I can get an Oprah in nowadays in around 35-40 minutes. And we can set the recorder to pick up only new episodes -- no reruns unless we opt for them! Sweet.

So in the evenings we can watch In Treatment and then speed through another show if we don't have time to watch a movie.

We sound like couch potatoes, don't we. We really aren't --