Monthly Archives: August 2012


You know how older people are always saying things like, “If I didn’t look in the mirror, I’d never know how old I am. I feel just the same as when I was in my 30’s.” Or that old quote from Satchel Paige: “How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you are?”

Good question. As I transition from my “mid-50’s” to my “late 50’s,” it’s getting to be almost a daily thing, this taking inventory of how you feel, and whether or not your physical self is going to be able to take on the day’s various challenges. Because sometimes you don’t know.

But sometimes your body speaks loud and clear, with tangible reminders as to just how old you are. You never used to get these sorts of reminders when you were younger, so at first they’re somewhat disconcerting. Like when you start to get age spots. Or growths.

I’ve had a few growths in the past couple years, and I’ll tell you, they’re not only unexpected, they’re also annoying. Like last year when I had this wart that showed up on my shin. Weird. So I went down to the CVS and bought some wart remover, which is basically a little adhesive patch, loaded with salicylic acid, which you stick right on to the wart and then leave it there. After 24 or 48 hours, whatever, you take the little sticker off and presumably the wart comes with it.

Since I just said, “presumably,” you may have guessed it didn’t work for me, and you would be right. That wart was right at home there on my shin, and not only decided to stay and hang out awhile, but also invited a friend to join it. That’s right: I now had two little warts side by side on my leg, on board for the duration.

So on my next visit to the dermatologist — and by the way, the dermatologist is someone else you’ll get rather well acquainted with in your golden(ish) years — I told him to kindly do away with my two warty friends; he was happy to oblige. With a process that involved a certain amount of local anesthesia and the smell of burning flesh. I smelled rather than saw it, because I didn’t exactly want to watch.

So now I have a nice smooth leg again (albeit with a teensy little scar), but as luck would have it, another growth. This one’s on my tongue. Which I have to say: yuck. So yesterday I met with the oral surgeon to discuss getting this latest intrusion out of my life, er, mouth. He wasn’t terribly concerned about it, more than likely just a benign fibroma, easily removed, blah blah blah, so he told me to set up an appointment to come back and give it the old permanent solution. Oh, and eventually I might want to do something about the little tiny one that’s starting to show up on the other side of my tongue.

Dude. Seriously? When does it all end? Do we just accept that senior citizenship is going to be one big carnival of growths in various places both mentionable and un? Because I kind of shudder to think where the next one(s) will show up. And how I’m going to have to deal with it/them.

This so isn’t what I thought they meant when they said, “You never stop growing.”

Sorry if this is too much information. I know it kind of is for me.


I am a city girl, therefore lacking much firsthand knowledge of things having to do with farming, ranching, livestock, agriculture and so forth. But I have done a little bit of studying on the subject, particularly when it comes to sheep.

That is to say, I’ve been going to church long enough to have heard a couple or ten sermons reminding me that we humans have more in common with our counterparts of the ovine persuasion than we’d care to admit. And recently I got to see how true that really is.

One of the highlights of my mainland vacation earlier this summer was our two-day road trip from Oregon to Colorado. Not long after we crossed over the state line from Utah into Colorado, we came upon this scene: a rather large flock of sheep on the highway. Or rather, on the highway itself as well as on either side of the highway. They were more or less all going in the same direction, albeit not very quickly, and grazing as they went. As best as we could make out, there was only one hapless shepherd on horseback for all those noisy mamas and babies. There was also another horse without a rider, but way behind the rest of the group, so not of much help. And maybe half a dozen to eight sheepdogs in the midst of everything.

By the way, did you know there are two kinds of sheep dogs? There are the herding dogs, whose job it is to keep the sheep all together and going where they’re supposed to go. Then there are the guarding dogs, whose job it is to defend the flock from predators. The herders won’t really do the guardians’ job, and vice versa, so I imagine a flock of any size might need both kinds, don’t you think?

Anyway, despite the fact that nobody in the group was moving with much alacrity — and thus our car crept along behind at slower than walking pace, so I hopped out to shoot some pictures — it was a little chaotic. The poor shepherd had to keep going from one side of the road to the other, trying to get the grazers on one shoulder to move along, then he’d have to ride over to the shoulder to shoo that bunch out of the sage.

Goodness, or maybe Mercy

Meanwhile the dogs must have been in the sheepdog union or something; they saw me get out of the car and decided they were on their break. I’d always heard that sheepdogs are intensely single-minded and driven to work; these guys looked like they’d take any excuse to loaf a bit. So three or four of the doggies and I made friends while the shepherd shot me dirty looks from up on his horse, for distracting his employees.

Through it all, the sheep kept more or less on their sheep-y way. In any sermon on Psalm 23, the pastor is likely to point out that sheep are not the most intelligent members of the animal kingdom, which is his roundabout way of saying that’s how we look to God. And I’m not disagreeing with that; left to our own devices, we bipeds will stumble our way through life, at best, and at worst make a total mess of things. If it weren’t for the Good Shepherd making us lie down in green pastures and leading us beside still waters, let’s face it, we’d be wandering around forever in the sage brush, bleating for help. Also, imagine what would become of us if our guardian (or herding) angels, Goodness and Mercy, didn’t follow us all the days of our lives.

Eventually we got out in front of the flock and were on our way at normal highway speed. As we passed the last of the flock, my heart went out to that poor shepherd, working so hard by himself out there in the middle of nowhere, trying to get all those bleating slowpokes to their destination, wherever that was.

Then, I offered up a little prayer of thanks: for the opportunity to see a Bible lesson played out in real life, but especially for God’s patience with me, a humble member of his flock. Baa.

Letter to my husband

Dear Coach,

4:50 am: for the first time in 3 months, the alarm goes off. Now your routine changes, from waking at sunrise to waking an hour before it. You will get up, shave, shower, eat breakfast, and drive to work in darkness. Most days, you won’t really mind. Some, you will.

5:30: I get your lunch bag out of the drawer where it has been stowed for 3 months, and make you a sandwich and a fruit salad, your lunch today, as it has been for many years, every week, Monday through Friday. While I do that, you are putting 10 or 12 greens and fruits into the blender for your breakfast. We work together in the kitchen without speaking, the motions of our tasks a choreographed routine we do from muscle memory.

6:00: we eat breakfast together in silence. You read the sports pages; that’s all you have time for. By 6:20, you are upstairs brushing your teeth and putting your backpack together, finishing getting ready for the day. By 6:35 you are out the door; I kiss you and wish you a good day, knowing it will be another 12 hours until I see you again. Maybe longer. And knowing all our weekday mornings for the next nine months will look like this.

I listen to the birds waking as I return to my coffee and the newspaper; I’ve got a lot to do today but I’m not quite ready to get started. And, I’m indulging in a little sadness, facing this tangible reality that summer is over and you must again put on the hat that says Teacher.

The parents of your volleyball players joke with me, every year it seems, that they are going to “borrow” you from me for a few months. “But don’t worry,” they laugh, “at the end of the season we’ll give him back!” Every August, when summer ends, I have to hand you over again, to your students and players (and their parents). I’m not ready. I never am, this time of year.

Still, I say a quick prayer of thanks, for the blessing of being married to a teacher. I love that we get to spend (most of) the summer together, and I even love living in the special rhythm of the school year with you. I love the stories you bring home of your students, and colleagues, and all the adventures of teaching and learning you’ve gotten to experience for the past 28 years.

Thank you for sharing your summer with me. It was a good one this year, wasn’t it? I’m already looking forward to next year, to having you back, all to myself, for 3 months. In the meantime, know that I’m so proud of you, and praying for a great nine months for you.

Happy New Year!

It’s not you; it’s me

For the past 13 years, I’ve been going every four or five weeks to get a manicure and pedicure. Sorry; I mean a mani-pedi. That sounds way cooler, doesn’t it?

My manicurist’s name is Jenny and for a manicurist, she is rather elegant. She wears her hair in a neat Hillary Clinton-like bob with a headband. The earrings and necklaces she wears are of traditional gemstones like rubies and aquamarines. Over her cashmere sweaters she always wears a long, black salon apron, about which she fastens a fashionable belt with a rhinestone buckle.

Every time —every time, for 13 years — when I come in and sit down at her little table, she looks down at my hands and says the exact same things. “Ohh, nails so dry-uh!” [translation: my goodness, your nails seem dry] “You nails have lidges [ridges]; you low brood fresher [blood pressure]?” You all the time sooo hard work; dishy-washy, creaning, creaning.” And I allow as to yes, all that is true of me, and then she gets to work.

Jenny is a very, very good manicurist. She’s extremely thorough (my appointment runs about an hour and forty-five minutes), uses only the best quality products, and has a commitment to cleanliness without equal. So while these things give me a great deal of trust and confidence in her, at the same time they make her quite a bit more expensive than others in her profession. My regular visits to her probably add up to somewhere north of $1,000 dollars a year, tips included.

So you can imagine why, in this economy, I might be tempted to want to go elsewhere — somewhere a little less pricey — for this particular service. Or maybe scale back a bit: just get the pedicure, perhaps, and skip the manicure (I do a lot with my hands, as she has noted, and the manicure rarely stays good for longer than 3 or 4 days, tops).

But my problem is, I don’t know how to break up with my manicurist. We’ve been together for 13 years, after all; we know each other pretty well and things are pretty comfortable. But one of us is not so happy anymore, and kind of wants, well, out.

But the other one is not making it easy. Each time as we are finishing up my appointment, she gets out her book and sweetly tells me when I’ll be coming back. “So, next month, you come Priday, Sepetembah seven. One o’clock?” And, assertive as I am, I answer, “No! It’s too expensive! I love the pedicure but the manicure’s just going to chip off in three days and it’s a waste of good money to even have one! I can’t afford this anymore!”

Not really. That only happens in my head. In real life, I don’t say anything at all except, “Okay,” then write out a check and enter the appointment date in my calendar. Then I drive home and imagine all sorts of scenarios in which I tell Jenny things like, “I think we should see other people manicurists. Well, I should.” Or, “Really, it’s not you; it’s me.” Or, harshest of all: “I’m just not that into you. Your manicures, that is. And how much it’s costing me.”

One of these days I’m going to have to come up with a way to really do this. A more likely scenario is I’ll just keep going back every month until she decides to retire. Because in any breakup, nobody ever wants to be the one who’s doing the dumping.


It’s August, and I’m 24. I’m in the last quarter of my graduate school program, earning the last couple credits I’ll need to get the degree. I only need one more class in my major, but that won’t add up to enough credits, so I decide to take an art elective. But I’m not particularly artistic, so I choose Calligraphy.

It’s an election year, so there are tons of political commercials on the TV, which I watch in the evenings in my little dorm room. It’s also an Olympic year, but the US is boycotting the games, so we are cheated out of seeing our athletes compete. This is big news at my university, which had anticipated sending a whole slew of its best athletes to the Olympics in Moscow. Now those kids will have to decide if their careers are over before they even started, or if they might be able to keep training for the next games in four years.

The class I’m taking is Broadcast Journalism. It’s taught by a TV news producer a couple evenings a week. A few times he takes us to the station in San Francisco and we put together a half-hour newscast, each time taking turns being the producer, the director, the crew or the talent. The time I was the talent, I was the sportscaster and wrote, produced and delivered a 7-minute segment. I still have the demo tape of it somewhere.

I was so alone that summer. My friends from my undergraduate days were all working, embarked on their shiny new careers in Southern California, 700 miles away. My grad school buddies were either already finished — I had taken the previous quarter off from school, they hadn’t — or taking other classes, and my living situation had been arranged somewhat hastily so I didn’t really know anyone in my dorm. I made friends at the mailboxes one day with an Asian-American girl because looked like she might be from Hawaii, like me, but it turned out she was from Little Rock, Arkansas. Disconcerting to hear a southern twang coming from a Chinese face.

I craved that tiny universe, though, because the big picture for me, that August, at age 24, was terrifying. When the Broadcast Journalism and Calligraphy classes came to an end in a few weeks, what was I going to do next? Where would I go? I had to find work, but what sort of job would I seek? I had no answers. So I kept my little black and white TV on, listening to the news reports from Afghanistan and the political speeches while I practiced my Italic and Roman lettering by calligraphing poems by Longfellow and Gerard Manly Hopkins.

My boy is 24, and he’s struggling. It’s an election year and an Olympic year, and his big picture is terrifying. Well, maybe he’s not terrified the way I was, but he’s stuck in a perplexing state of not knowing what to do and not being able to do it even if he did know. Because he’s broke, and lack of money amounts to a lack of freedom to extricate yourself from your situation. So he maintains a little routine of going to work, Skyping with his girlfriend halfway around the world in Germany, surfing, and escaping to Mom and Dad’s from his detestable apartment two or three evenings a week, to watch TV — Family Guy, not political or Olympic news — and get a free meal.

I want to tell him it will get better, but I don’t know. The best I can say is it gets … different. You’ll come out of this okay, I want to say, maybe happily and maybe unhappily, I don’t know. What happens next, maybe you’ll plan it or maybe it’ll just happen to you. Either way it’s just another step on your journey. And you won’t stay 24 forever.