Sunday, August 31, 2008

Can't Get In The Holiday Spirit

I just can't get into the spirit of a holiday today. That isn't saying a whole lot because I'm not generally a "holiday" kind of gal. But, this Labor Day is particularly somber for me. In 2004 we celebrated Labor Day weekend by welcoming (cough, cough) a visit from Hurricane Frances. She overstayed her welcome by hours and hours.

A year later, Katrina hit Florida and then moved on toward the Gulf Coast. Let us note here that the devastating flooding was not a direct result of the hurricane itself. It was a result of the failure of the dikes: that is to say, the flooding was totally preventable.

I got up early that Sunday morning and watched the storm come ashore. I cried at the very thought of how horrifying that experience must have been for the people crammed in the Super Dome. On the first anniversary of the storm, I wrote this.

This weekend once again, we are watching a storm bearing down on the Gulf Coast.

This time the NO and Louisiana officials implemented evacuation plans. It remains to be seen how many people will have taken advantage of those buses and trains. This time it appears that a lot of people took the threat seriously and evacuated on their own. This time, the National Guard has been deployed. I am sure there will be problems and complaints that the government did not do enough or that the first responders did not respond fast enough. Nevertheless, it appears the NO officials learned from the disaster that was Katrina.

That isn't going to make it any easier to watch the storm come ashore tomorrow.

I've done it both ways.

The first hurricane I ever experienced was Hurricane Carmen in 1974. I was spending the summer with my aunt in Ft. Walton Beach. Carmen was headed straight for us for a long time. We had the car packed ready to evacuate. My aunt had lived on the Gulf Coast for a long time and she did not want to leave. Instead of leaving town, during the day before the storm hit, we headed for the beach where we watched enormous waves breaking over the pier. Then we went home and waited. At the last minute, the hurricane made a sudden turn, and ended up hitting the coast near New Orleans, a couple hundred miles away. That was the worse weather I had ever experienced up till that time, and I pretty much made up my mind I would not "sit out" another hurricane if I ever found myself in that situation.

The next hurricane I experienced was Hurricane Floyd in 1997. Floyd loomed off the coast of Central Florida as a Cat 4 storm, for a while aiming directly at the Central Florida coast. That was the first year we lived in Florida. The locals insisted that hurricanes don't hit this part of the coast. I didn't care about local lore. I had a first grader for whom I was responsible. We headed for Tallahassee where we spent the night in a filthy flea-bag hotel and watched the storm's progress on TV. In a way, watching the storm from a safe haven was pretty bad, too. As it happens, Floyd moved on up the coast, weakened to a Cat 2 and then buried the Carolinas under torrential rains. We returned to find our home totally intact. But, we were all aware it could have been very different.

This weekend as I watch the residents of the Gulf Coast flea the storm, I am reminded that I know what it feels like to walk away from your home and belongings not knowing if they will be there when you return. I also know what it is like to sit in your home for hour upon hour upon hour, listening to the winds howl and the rain pound against every exterior surface of my home, wondering whether or not the roof and the windows will stand up to the fury of the storm.

Both of those experiences suck big time.

Because I have been there, I can't ... I just can't go about my business this weekend as though nothing is happening. I have to stop, to witness, to pray for and to be in solidarity with the people on the Gulf Coast in their time of crisis.

Even while my heart and my prayers go out to the people in the path of Gustav, I have one eye on T. S. Hanna which some reports say could be hurricane by mid-week positioned off the coast of Central Florida. What is more, there are four more potential storms in various stages of development in the pipeline from the African coast.

Shades of 2004? God help us, every one.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Last One For Today

Here's a good post from Slactivist on the subject of Obama's qualities that may make him an inspirational leader. I only saw a little bit of Obama's acceptance speech, but I read the whole thing this morning. The guy's a dynamite speaker. Frankly, I believe oratory may be a president's most important skill. He (or she) has to inspire and lead We The People to do hard things.

Think of President Roosevelt's fireside chats or President Kennedy's challenge to put a man on the moon. Even [I hate to do this] Reagan's ability to make people believe in his [twisted and historically inaccurate] vision of America and to act accordingly demonstrated superb leadership [even if it was in a totally wrong direction and based on a total lie].

A president needs to be able to connect with the People. As Slactivist points out, it helps a whole lot if the leader loves and believes in the People he (or she) is talking to.

I have no doubt that both McCain and Obama love America. I have the impression that McCain's love for America is a sort of patriotic passion that is about symbol and myth and focuses on Power and Strength.

Obama [like the Preacher he did not name in his speech or the Carpenter whose witness inspired and empowered both] appears to love We The People not for what we are but for what we could become.

I rather like that. I don't know that Obama will be a great president (I'd be willing to bet that the politics of division and gridlock will prevent him from accomplishing much), but he couldn't be any worse than what we have now.

He certainly has that oratory thing going for him.

Well, I Have Made My Decision

Senator McCain's choice of a woman did not surprise me. It makes sense that he would choose a woman to try to pick up a few Clinton supporters who might not like Obama. If McCain had reached in the other direction, to pick a middle-of-the road woman, it might have made a difference to me, because I am not happy about Obama's choice of Senator Biden.

At first glance, Gov. Palin's credentials look pretty good. Good administrative experience. Personally, I'd prefer to see our president come from the ranks of governors or CEO's of corporations as opposed to the steady stream of legislators trying to make the switch to administration. A non-lawyer would be an extra bonus. She's three for three in those areas.

However, she is in favor of drilling for oil in the ANWR (although she does get a little credit for charging the oil companies higher taxes for it); she scores very low on environmental issues; she is militantly anti-abortion.

All of that would weigh heavily against her in my eyes.

But, the number one reason why I absolutely, positively
will not vote Republican this year is that immediately after McCain announced his decision, James Dobson endorsed the McCain/Palin ticket. That is all I need to know.

Now, I absolutely must not read anything about Obama's campaign from now until I cast my ballot. I definitely won't vote for McCain, but Obama could (and Biden probably will) do or say something that will make me mad. I absolutely cannot allow myself to get mad enough to stay home. The stakes are too high and the election is likely to be too close.

Could It Be That "Somebody" Learned Something?

From this article it would appear that somebody learned something from the disaster that was Katrina. This is somewhat gratifying.

Still, I hope "somebody" remembers to gas up those damned school buses this time!

Thursday, August 28, 2008

A Not Exactly Beautiful Day

Today was a challenge, to say the least. My goal of looking for the beauty around me and feeling grateful for my manifold blessings sort of took a back seat to the necessity of maintaining some minimal grip on my emotions so as not to utterly and completely freak out.

The results were mixed.

7:00 a.m. - arrived at work. First car in parking lot. Computer issues followed by one crisis after another all morning.

late morning - "Houston we have a problem" moment. Meltdown! The rest of the day is spent in a series of meetings and behind-closed-doors conversations about what we can do to realign work-flow to prevent "thermonuclear disaster".

7:08 p.m - leave work. Return voice message from DD. She advised Dastardly Dogs require food immediately and suggests I stop at the store. While I'm there perhaps I might pick up some of that excellent spaghetti sauce "a la Vodka" for dinner since she will be dining at home in order to finish a paper.

7:30 p. m. - grocery store. Call DD to put on water for spaghetti.

8:00 p.m. - arrive at home. Spaghetti water is heating. Put out dog food; whole bowl inhaled by Old Dog before Little Bit knows it's even there. Broccoli in microwave. Sauce in pan. Glance at newspaper.

8:40 p.m. - Dinner is served. Put out more food for Little Bit, which she scarfs down. Old Dog is too full to beg from the table. A few pleasant moments with DD.
Things are looking up.

9:00 p.m. - DD's friend stops by. Mom does dishes. DD and friend commiserate about homework, wasting valuable time.

9:30 p.m. - DD goes into a tirade about how much she hates to write and how bad she is at it. Mom urges her to focus on the project at hand and bitch later.

9:45 p.m. - Mom decides to pour a glass of wine, using new stemless wineglass. There being nothing to hold onto, glass slips from hand and shatters in a gazillion pieces on the tile kitchen floor. Mom is barefoot. Mom manages to avoid cutting feet whilst picking up glass from all over the room.

9:46 p.m. - Mom gets out mop and bucket and commences to clean kitchen floor.

9:55 p.m. - Dear Husband returns from poker night, tracks through the wet floor and grouses about bucket and mop in the kitchen. Mom manages, with difficulty, to avoid braining him with the mop.

10:00 p.m. - (During Senator Obama's speech.) First draft of DD's first Freshman English paper is complete for Mom's review/editing. [Subject: why I am voting for Obama.] We discover that Mom can't open Word 2007 documents. DD sends text in an email. Mom edits text of document, misses Obama's speech.

11:00 p.m. - Final document is ready for printing. Since Mom still can't open Word dox, DD emails text to Mom. Mom sets up new document on her computer and formats for printing, using MLA formatting, which is a TOTAL PAIN IN THE ASS.

Midnight - Mom finally has document formatted for printing. Mom manages to have a few minutes of pleasant conversation with DD while printing takes place.

12:15 a.m. - Paper in hand, DD retreats to bedroom to talk to Wonderful Boyfriend on the phone. DH has been in bed asleep for a long time (I can't recall exactly when he -- wisely -- made his exit). Paper is printed. Floors are clean. Mom pours wine into a glass, with a stem to hold onto.

12:45 a.m. - Mom pours second glass of wine. House is quiet and peaceful, except for Old Dog who is pacing the floor, not happy that Mom is still up with lights on when he is ready to go to bed. (Mom to Old Dog: "Tough shit. Deal with it, Pup.")

12:50 a.m. - Old Dog went to sleep. DD and DH are both asleep. Second glass of wine is beginning to take effect.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Another Milestone

It seems to me that most of the mommy-bloggers have very small children. I guess that is because most of the mommy-bloggers are nearly a generation younger than me. Nevertheless, I have to mention it: My Daughter Dear starts college tomorrow.

She will continue to live at home for at least the next two years, but that does not change the fact that this is a watershed moment for her ... and for her parents.

I'm going to make like Scarlett O'Hara and "think about that tomorrow."

It's all just a little too much to deal with right now, but I wanted to at least mention it ... since I've spent the whole damned evening boo-hooing about it.

My Beautiful World - Day 6

I don't know if you can call them "beautiful" exactly, but manatees are amazing creatures, and it isn't every day one sees so many of them in the wild! The storm must have brought them into the intracoastal waterway. We think there were more than a dozen, although it was impossible to actually count them because they kept going under and coming up in a different place. Seeing such amazing creatures so close in the wild "made me marvel" (to quote Mr. Rogers, who is the perfect person to quote on such an occasion).


video


Saturday, August 23, 2008

Aftermath

Tropical Storm Fay has passed by for the most part. That doesn't mean we haven't had a few residual showers today. DH and I got chased off the beach again today by a shower (fortunately we didn't get totally soaked this time). I stuck to the treadmill rather than risk the street or the beach for my walk today because every time I started to venture out, there was either a storm cloud looming or the heat and humidity were so oppressive I couldn't breathe.

Fay is the sixth named storm of the season. I can barely remember the first five because they didn't come near here. One was a hurricane that hit Texas a couple of weeks ago..... Naturally, the TV and newspapers do not follow up on the aftermath of storms. I am sure some of the people in Texas are still digging out, but you will never see that in the news.

The news media seems to be dominated by people with serious attention deficit syndrome. They can't seem to sustain interest in anything in particular. They give you the "high spots" during a crisis, but don't tell you a thing about the aftermath. I'll bet most people in this country would tell you that the damage caused by Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans has been pretty much repaired. I have not visited NO since 2005, but there are buildings here in Daytona Beach that have not been repaired since the 2004 hurricane season, so I'm pretty sure parts of NO are still in pretty bad shape.

This most recent storm was "only" a tropical storm. That meant it was not sexy enough to attract the Weather Channel. Steve Cantore wasn't down here standing on Daytona Beach, because there wasn't enough wind or driving rain to make for good pictures. That does not mean it wasn't a bad storm from which it will take people in many parts of Florida months or even years to recover.

Those of us who did not suffered damage, should now all bow our heads and thank the Dear Lord for our blessings.

We'd best not be too complaisant, however. Have you looked at the map of the tropics? There's a veritable parade of systems gliding across the Atlantic Ocean from the west coast of Africa. Hurricane season ain't over until December 1. That's a long way away.

A hell of a long way.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

The Cardinal Family

I thought I had written about the cardinal family in my back yard, but I guess I never got around to it. In any case, a family of cardinals has taken up residence in my back yard. I think of cardinals as being "Midwestern" song birds. To me they look very out of place in my back yard jungle, but I love having them there. They peek in the windows and watch me. They don't fly away when they see me watching them. I think we sort of like having each other around.

This afternoon it is raining, steady and hard. It has been raining off and on for about three days. Since mid morning today it has rained without stopping. That is unusual. Most of the time it rains really hard for a short while and then passes. Today's relentless drenching hour after hour is unusual -- not to mention irritating (and worrisome, considering the soft soil and all the trees around my house).

I was killing time on the treadmill (rather hoping the power would go out so I could quit) when I saw the papa bird stick his head up from the top of our smallest grapefruit tree. The rain had slowed down for a minute and he took the opportunity to peep out. Just as his head cleared the top of the tree, a sheet of rain hit him and he shook furiously, then he looked around irritably. I could almost read the "WTF??" look on his face.

Then he buried himself back down inside the tree.

Mama Cardinal had a slightly better hiding place. She was hunkered down under the eaves beneath a large bird-of-paradise leaf.

As bad as a storm is for humans, I guess it's must worse for the critters.

The Fickle Finger of Fay

[That was really bad. Sorry. I couldn't resist. Blame it on cabin fever. I'm delirious.]

Well, every tropical system seems to have its own personality. This one is just plain annoying. Daytona Beach has been literally in the eye of this damned storm for two days. That's good and bad news. The good news is that, while everyone else around us has been getting pounded and flooded, we have had relatively little wind or rain. Yesterday, a couple of times, it almost looked as though the sun might come out.

The bad part of it was that the eye wall was hovering just off shore with hours and hours of rain behind it. There was that uncertainty as to when it might hit and how bad it might be. Now the eye wall has deteriorated a little. It does not look as though the winds will be too bad, which is, of course, a good thing. The bad part is that, as saturated as the ground is, even a little wind will be enough to topple trees which makes me reluctant to wander around too much.

The worst part of this whole thing is the boredom. I tried to work for a while, but the connection to my office email is just too slow and I gave up.

We may have still another day of this before it's all over.

Monday, August 18, 2008

My Beautiful World - Day 5

I live in the right place, given my attraction for storms. As Tropical Storm Fay moves closer to Florida, the skies are growing more interesting. This is my totally non-scientific description of the approach of a storm.

I don't know if we were technically within what they refer to as "feeder bands" of the storm today or not, but the skies were amazing. On and off all day, brief periods of blue skies gave way to tropical clouds. That is my term for them. They are definitely different from "normal" clouds.

The clouds in tropical systems look different from the typical afternoon summertime thunderstorms we have nearly every day. Regular thunderstorms come from extremely tall clouds that tend to be light at the top (sometimes at the very top they resemble the white fluffy clouds that accompany good weather) and the purplish-black color of a deep bruise at the bottom. Those clouds bring thunder and lightning, often incredibly gorgeous sky-to-ground lightning. They also sometimes spawn tornadoes or short bursts of damaging winds.

Tropical clouds are different. They are not as light at the top and not as dark at the bottom. They are more gray than purple. Before the main body of the storm hits, the clouds tend to be somewhat wispy and disorganized. They make amazing formations in the sky. As the main storm approaches, the clouds become darker, more compact and more opaque. As the main body of the storm approaches, it can sometimes seem like nightfall.

The rain from a tropical system is different from "regular" rain, too. Normal thunderstorms start with huge drops of water that give way to pounding, pelting rain which can often feel very cold compared with the surrounding air. The rain from tropical systems is warmer and it falls in sheets, which may fall straight down before the wind really kicks up and then comes down horizontal when the storm winds pick up.

Without for a minute taking lightly the terrible destruction and suffering tropical systems can cause, I have to stop to acknowledge today the terrible beauty of these awesome storms.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

My Beautiful World - Day 4

Today we had intermittent rain showers on and off all day. It seemed like some kind of "tropical" weather. I don' t know if it was attributable to T. S. Fay or not. Whatever caused it, the storm messed up my normal Saturday routine, but it had its compensations.

The sky was cloudy at our house this morning but it looked clear toward the east. We decided to hope for a decent sea breeze to hold off the rain and headed toward the beach for our regular Saturday morning rambling. The clouds followed us, growing darker and more ominous by the minute. The sky to the northwest looked very threatening by the time we got to the beach parking area. We decided to cancel the long walks, but we thought we had enough time before the storm broke to walk down to the water for a few minutes. There was always the chance it would veer off to the north or the seabreeze would hold it off.

Neither of those things happened, but I am still glad we ventured out onto the beach. I love to watch storms approach anywhere anytime, but it's especially cool at the beach with all the wide open spaces.

When we arrived, the storm was bearing down on us from the north-northwest. The sky over the ocean was still mostly blue and the shallow water near the jetty was clear and green like the beaches in Jamaica. There were a lot of surfers, swimmers and waders in the water. The lifeguards were lounging in the towers, and not clearing the beach, so at least I wasn't worried about lightning. (Much.)

I turned my back to the water for a minute and was caught up short by the beauty of the approaching storm. The purplish-black clouds boiled high like enormous moving mountains. The curtain of rain beneath made it appear almost as though the cloud extended all the way to the ground. The storm pushed a fresh breeze in front of it that felt good on my face. Soon the breeze brought the first huge rain drops, and almost immediately thereafter it was as though the portals of Heaven opened and the angels started tossing out buckets of water. It was soft, warm water... but huge quantities.

We headed for the car. DH took off running, but I walked. For one thing, I was pretty wet after the first deluge hit, so I thought I might as well enjoy the shower. Secondly, my flip-flops are totally bald on the bottom and, therefore, extremely slippery on wet surfaces. I was afraid to put them on to cross the boardwalk. I don't like to walk on the wooden walkways bare-foot but I decided I'd rather deal with a splinter in my foot than to fall and risk breaking something. I proceeded gingerly nonetheless.

By the time I got to the car, I was soaked totally to the skin. My poor choices in clothing was all too obvious. A white blouse with a nude bra and light khaki pants with pink undies are poor choices if you're going to get drenched. My glasses steamed up and I could not get them to clear because I was so wet and steaming.

I would not say this if there had been lightning in that storm (I'm very scared of lightning at the beach), but I think the experience was totally worth the minor inconvenience. I missed my walk and I got drenched, but I had the blessed opportunity to stand in the sunshine in front of a crystal sea and watch a storm approach in all its glory and grandure.

The fact that it broke right over my head was merely an inconvenience.

The whole experience was a beautiful thing!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

My Beautiful World - Day 3

It may seem ironic that the thing I found most beautiful today was the miracle/magic of the computer. It is ironic because I spent most of my day today spazzing over the fact that our system was not working properly and I was unable to use the applications I rely on the most. Despite the tempter tantrums I was throwing to try to get the IT people to do something about my problem, I found myself being profoundly grateful for the applications on my computer that did work.... which launched me into a brief reflection on the incredible wonders of the Internet.

I use the Internet perhaps six to eight hours a day and it would be easy to take it for granted. I try not to. I try to always be amazed and thrilled when I Google a word or a name and come up with exactly what I am looking for, out of the millions of websites on the Internet.

For me, perhaps particularly because I really don't understand how it works, I find the entire phenomenon of computerized applications that can keep track of massive amounts of data to be almost magical in their allure.

I didn't get outside at all today, and the computer program I use more than any other was not working, so I had plenty of time to contemplate the wonders of the cyber-world. (Wonders when it actually works. I have other words for it on days like today.)

The wonders of the Internet are an important part of my beautiful world.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Leadership

I had a conversation the other day with an acquaintance on the subject of the presidential campaign. It would be just as incorrect to call him a conservative as it would be to call me a liberal. He's sort of a Republican nut-job and I'm sort of an Independent wacko. Whatever you want to call the pole where he is, I'm on the opposite end.

We more or less agree on only one thing. That is: when we agree about something, we are absolutely right. One thing we agree on is that environmental conservation is of paramount importance to the future of our country (and our planet).

I have avoided talking to him about the presidential campaign because I just didn't want to listen to all that Republican BS. Unfortunately, he cornered me the other day, and started in on how terrified he is about the prospect of an Obama presidency. I tried to get away from the conversation but I could not make my escape fast enough.

He knows that in 2004, I intended to vote for Senator McCain if he had won the Republican nomination. In 2004, I wanted America to elect a Vietnam veteran to the presidency. I liked McCain's independence and cantankerousness while I am not enamored of traditional liberals like Kerry. McCain didn't make the cut, so I voted for Kerry. At the time, I just could not imagine that America would re-elect the Incumbent. I have to admit I still have trouble believing the results of that election.

In any case, my friend knows that I have not supported McCain this time, and he doesn't especially like it, because he goes positively mouth-foaming crazy over the prospect of an Obama presidency. He keeps harking on the "inexperience" issue.

I'm not buying that as the real reason he, and so many like him, are so worked up. My response to the question of Senator Obama's "inexperience" is to remind people of the old saw about "the Ark was built by amateurs and the Titanic was built by professionals." Abraham Lincoln didn't have a lot of political experience and certainly no administrative experience when he became president. George Bush had considerable direct administrative experience. DUH! Direct political experience is not the only qualification to consider. Inspiration and being the person with the Call when the Need arises have to figure into the equation.

I think the reason that so many Conservatives are so opposed to an Obama presidency is because his very presence in the White House (a person of color whose background is not just multi-ethnic, but pan-national and crosses religious lines as well) will signal that the days of the Rich-White-Guys-In-Charge are over. Whatever a President Obama may say or do will not matter so much as what a President Obama sitting in the Oval Office represents to both the American people and to America's relationships with its neighbors. That alone is enough to at least make me consider voting for him. It makes the "Conservatives" go positively apoplectic.

I am still only considering voting for Obama. I was on board for a while and more or less resigned to voting for him, and then he did a couple of things that gave me pause. First of all, his trip to Europe was totally inappropriate. Campaigning abroad like that was just wrong. If he gets elected, he'll have plenty of time to charm the rest of the world. But, now is not the time for that. Bush and his cronies may be a bunch of knuckleheads (with just enough truly evil smart guys in the mix to make it really scary) but America elected him and, for now, he should be the Face of America to the world (God have mercy on us all).

The other thing that would be a total non-starter for me is Obama's flirtation with supporting an expansion of oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico. I absolutely will not vote for a candidate who would even consider such a thing. Actually, I don't want to vote for a candidate who supports increased oil production or drilling, period. I want our next president to be 100% wholehearted in his passion for throwing all of America's resources into developing sustainable sources of energy. I want him to end the war, and use the money we save to lead America forward into a united movement to protect our environment.

What we need is a Leader who can inspire Americans to be better than we have been, to do more than we have been doing, to try harder than we have been trying, and to be willing to make sacrifices and join the rest of humanity in one final last ditch effort to bring our planet back from the edge of disaster. That will not be brought about by statutes or policies or government initiatives. The next president must inspire "We The People" to take individual initiative: to open our hearts, unlock our minds and to change our behavior. Our next president need not be a policy wonk, like Senator Clinton (we need those folk in the Senate and the House of Representatives).

Our next president needs to be an inspiring speaker and, if he is not a broad and deep thinker on his own, he needs to surround himself with such thinkers. He needs to have a Vision (Yes, Mr. President Bush the First, it's still about that "vision thing") and he needs to not only be able to communicate it clearly, but he needs to be able inspire people to act on it.

Senator Obama's got the rhetorical skills. He's got the Look. He's got that rock star charisma that can draw crowds and get them fired up.

What he needs a good strong, consistent Message, and the perseverance and backbone to bring that Message to "We The People" every single time he opens his mouth, in order to keep us on track and on task.

Boomers being singularly lacking in perseverance and politicians being generally lacking in backbone, I am not really optimistic that he will be able to pull it off. Senator Obama has been hanging around with too many politicians. I am afraid he will run off the rails if he continues down that road.

He needs to get inspired in order to inspire others. He needs a vision of America's role in the building of our future and he needs it quickly. Instead of all those handlers, pollsters and political advisers, he needs to start hanging around with philosophers and economists and environmentalists ... ("Um, hello, Tipper, is Al at home??")

Sunday, August 10, 2008

My Beautiful World - Day 2

Beautiful things I noticed today:

  • The sky reflected in the calm waters of Spruce Creek as it meandered beside U. S. 1. A couple of small boats that looked like motorized rowboats rocking gently while men fished (or snoozed, more likely).
  • Tiny yellow flowers blooming bravely in the stark and usually somewhat desolate interior of the park, surrounded by scrubby plants and cactus.
  • The panoramic view of the Atlantic Ocean at a few minutes before low tide, seen from a walkover near the New Smyrna Beach jetty. Near the beach, surfers lined up on their boards waiting for the tide to turn. Farther out, several sailboats tacked back and forth perhaps practicing for a race. Fishermen balanced on the slimy rocks of the jetty, for reasons I will never understand. Every time I come to the top of a walkover to the beach, I catch my breath at the glorious and fearsome beauty of the ocean. It is something that never ceases to surprise and thrill me.
  • Slicing an onion. I've always loved slicing onions by hand (except for the crying part). After first watching the Food Network several years ago, I practiced diligently until I learned to manage a chef's knife. I haven't mastered the lightning strokes of the professional chefs, but I have learned to do a pretty good job of making even slices. I especially like to slice onions longitudinally for stir fries. I appreciate the way the crescents line up on the cutting board. Until today, I never paid much attention to the delicate loveliness of gossamer film between layers of the onion. It is very pretty (if the onion-tears don't make it impossible to see clearly).

How Inappropriate is that??

The other night we watched the opening of the Olympic Games. If I had been alone, I would not have turned on the TV because I have such ambivalent feelings about holding the Games in China. My ambivalence gave way to out and out disgust the longer the ceremony went on. Granted, it was beautiful. The costumes, music and dance were gorgeous. That opening sequence with the LED screen and the dancers painting with their bodies was spine-tingling. And all that.

My problem with the whole thing was that China is a country that can't feed its people and yet it spent what must have been billions on constructing the Olympic Village and putting on that (too) spectacular opening ceremony. I understand that China viewed this as its "coming out" party and it wanted to show the world the best China has to offer. Okay. But, it seemed to be a bit excessive. Then again, looking at the pictures around Beijing during the bicycle race, it occurred to me that perhaps Chinese culture, or at least Chinese architecture, tends toward excess.

Anyway I have a bad taste in my mouth about China, dating back to the Cultural Revolution [I may be a liberal wacko, but I'm also not a fan of Communism], so perhaps I was predisposed to being a little averse to the athletes of the world making a pilgrimage to the Heart of Darkness. It seems to me that when the IOC has to get involved to persuade a country to unblock the Internet so the athletes can use it, something is wrong! And let's not even get into the business about China forbidding its people to drive cars during the Games to alleviate the air pollution (or the danger to the athletes from said pollution which still looks pretty bad just from the video).

That said, the Olympics are in Beijing and I'll just have to deal with it. I was all set to watch the drama over the next couple of weeks. I root for the USA, but I also root for the Underdogs. I like the countries who only have one or two athletes who overcame adversity to be there. I'm a sucker for that kind of story.

So there I am, sitting in my living room watching the opening ceremony and trying to build up some enthusiasm for this Event, when the cameras start panning around the arena. There's President and Mrs. Bush ... President Sarkosy (sans Mme. Sarkosy, I noticed) ... President Putin ...

WTF???? What the hell were a bunch of heads of state doing at the opening of the Olympic Games?? This is supposed to be a non-political, non-sectarian gathering of the world's greatest athletes [yeah, I know there's that Dream World thing again]. I can see the wife of a head of state or some junior official or cultural attache attending, but the presidents? That struck me inappropriate on many levels.

First of all, while we know the Olympics are highly political, I at least like it when everybody pretends that this is merely a sports event and an opportunity for the young people of the world to get to know each other, and, thereby, foster cultural understanding and yada yada. Having heads of state in attendance robbed it of event the pretence of it being merely a sporting event.

To make matters even worse, some of the countries whose presidents were in attendance (i. e. the United States of America and Russia to name two) are at war right now in various parts of the world. If I'm some poor grunt American or Russian soldier in Iraq, Afghanistan or Georgia and I happen to have a moment to glance at the news, I want to see my president sitting at his desk trying to figure out how to get me the fuck home. I do not want to see him half way around the world from his desk, watching a sporting event!

But that could just be me.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

My Beautiful World - Day 1

Beautiful things I saw today, in no particular order:

  • Half of the sky was clear and blue with no hint of clouds. Half of the sky was dark and threatening. In a minute the clouds were gone and the sky was totally blue again. A few minutes later, there were dark clouds all around me and clear sky in the middle.
  • At the beach, the sky to the south was blue. The sky to the north was, well, there was no sky to the north. A purplish black cloud bore down on us with a skirt of rain. I got so caught up in watching it, I neglected to run for the car, and got soaked.
  • Sunlight filtering through a canopy of water oaks, dappling the sidewalk with light and shadow that looked like a Renaissance painting.
  • A family of birds that looked like cardinals in my back yard. It is odd to see birds other than seagulls in the summertime. These poor birds must be lost. Their bright colors contrasted with all the shades of green in the back yard. At one point, one was sitting on the bird-of-paradise, one was on a branch in the lemon tree, and another one was pecking the ground in front of the back door. They all heard me walk out onto the back porch, I guess, and they turned to look at me. I stopped and looked back at them. They did not fly away. I don't think I ever made eye contact with birds before. I don't know if it was "beautiful" but it was very special.
Not bad for a day when I spent most of my time cleaning house and walking on the treadmill listening to Jimmy Buffet music. Maybe I should add that to my list of things. Not the treadmill part: that's a grind. Listening to Jimmy Buffett is a kind of beautiful thing that is in a class by itself.

On Not Going on Vacation

This year my husband and I are not going on a vacation. I cannot remember ever going a whole year without a trip somewhere. When I lived with my parents, we went on long camping vacations every year, criss -crossing the country from one end to the other. When I was single I didn't travel as much as I should have, but I went on some really cool trips nonetheless. Since I married DH, we have gone on at least one vacation every year; many years we went on several. This year, Daughter Dear had the opportunity to go on a bunch of absolutely magnificent trips with school and with friends, so we spent our vacation money on sending her to cool places and we stayed home.

It's August in Florida. That means that the only people here are tourists. Like the French, Floridians take to the roads in August. They tend to go to places that are cool (literally), like mountains (almost anywhere), Canada, northern Europe. The upshot of that for me is that I feel as though I am the only person in my world who isn't taking a vacation this year. Because I kind of am. That makes me sort of depressed.

In fact, I find myself feeling envious, which is not one of the Seven Deadly Sins for nothing. I rarely worry about sin too much (since I'm pretty agnostic about the hereafter), but envy is one of those sins that is really, really destructive in the here and now, so I try to avoid the occasion of that particular sin.

The irony about my feeling depressed about not going on vacation or envious of those who travel is that I don't really like to travel. I don't like the process of traveling: the packing and lugging suitcases (even though I travel lighter than anyone I know); the endless hours being cooped up in a car or a plane; the hassle of flying; sleeping in strange beds; using public bathrooms; eating in restaurants. I hate all of that stuff. There is a part of me that would love to never again go outside the triangle between my house, my job and the beach. Everything I need can be found within that triangle. Why do I need to go elsewhere?

I need to go elsewhere for two reasons. One is because, getting outside of my comfort zone and having adventures is good for me, whether I like it or not.

The other is that my need to experience beauty outweighs my irritation at the hassle of traveling. I am not the kind of traveler who immerses myself in the culture of the place I am visiting. I do not interact a lot with the "locals" (I'm not much for talking to strangers). What I do when I travel is look for beautiful things to see.

Some of my most vivid and amazing memories are:

  • Coming around a corner on some road in the Rocky Mountains and passing through a tiny high meadow filled with blooming wild-flowers of every imaginable color. Against the backdrop of the grey rock and under a crystal sky, it almost hurt my eyes. I was only a child when I saw that meadow, and I can still see it. It has been my psychic and spiritual refuge my entire life.
  • Getting my first glimpse of the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, peeking through the pine forest. Tiny glimpses here and there, for only a second, but hints of unbelievable grandeur of the canyon. Actually, the entire drive from Las Vegas to the Canyon is pretty spectacular.
  • Nearly all sunrises are magnificent, but the most incredible sunrise I ever experienced was on a train from Nice to Barcelona. There were not enough seats, so my friends and I had to stand in the corridor all night long, with our suitcases piled in front of us. To the extent we slept, it was merely dozing, leaning against our suitcases. It was a long, horrible night, but it ended in a sunrise over the Mediterranean that makes tears come to my eyes just thinking about it. The sun rose red, and the black sea turned to something that looked like liquid rubies. The rocks and the cliffs in the foreground were still night-black. I think I took a whole role of pictures, none of which did justice to the glory of the moment.
  • Bryce Canyon early in the morning when the light is still soft and the rock is pink and white. Looks like a little girl's birthday cake.
  • The Grand Tetons early in the morning with the sun shining directly on the face of the mountains.
  • Almost any beach in the Caribbean.
  • Going through the Strait of Messina between the toe of the Italian boot and Sicily. Actually, the entire day when we cruised around the Italian peninsula to Rome consisted of one unbelievably magnificent vista after another, on both sides of the ship. I am such a horrible cruiser, I didn't even take time out to eat! By the evening, my eyes and my soul almost hurt. It was almost too much beauty to experience in one day.
  • Sunset over the Gulf of Mexico, from almost any point between Sarasota and Key West. R
  • Riverboats on the Ohio River, in particular the aptly named American Queen. Once, I was standing on a dock at the marina where we kept our boat waiting for my husband (who was in the bathroom or something). I was looking downstream and sort of day-dreaming. Suddenly, the American Queen came into my field of peripheral vision, and literally took my breath away. I had, at that point, never seen an ocean cruise ship. She was the biggest, grandest and most magnificent floating thing I'd ever seen up until that point. She filled up the river. Slowly and magnificently she passed by so close I felt I could reach out and shake hands with the passengers on deck, with the paddle slapping the water in a rhythm. That made me think people aboard that ship must sleep very well at night, indeed.
  • The view from the top of the Dunlawton bridge in Port Orange. Heading east, that is the first place where you can see the Atlantic Ocean. Heading west, at the end of the day, almost any day you see either fabulous sunsets or storm clouds and Florida's magnificent lightning. (Florida likes to advertise its sunshine. The fact is, Florida's lighting is totally awesome, too.)
Fortunately that last one is close to home and I can go there anytime I want.

That caused me to think about other beautiful places and things close to home. And, so.... to counteract the onset of depression, envy and the inevitable self-pity that goes with those two evil twins, I will embark on a quest for the beauty that is around me in my daily life. I will look for the beautiful things I see every day, and don't usually even notice. I will consciously savor the experience of those beautiful things.

It's not exactly a vacation but it will be an adventure... which is the whole point.

I'm excited!

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Walking Update

It has been 11 weeks since I started wearing my pedometer. Well, actually, I have to confess: I don't wear it all the time.The original goal was to build up over a period of 12 weeks to walking 10,000 steps a day.

I started out walking that much right off the bat.

Since the goal was to increase our activity, I decided to shoot for an average of around 13,000 steps a day, which would be a small, but meaningful, increase over where I started. With one week to go on our twelve week plan, I have consistently met my goal. I have not had one week when I've dropped below 70,000 steps and most weeks I have been above 80,000. A few weeks even I exceeded 90,000. This past week, I passed the 1,000,000-step mark!!

I know I need to add weight-bearing exercise to my routine and do something about my "core" ... something like Pilates. YUCK! But, with only one week to go I have met and exceeded my goal in the cardio arena. That makes me very proud if for no other reason than I maintained an effort over a period of time. That's something.

In all honesty, I have to confess that the first thing I'm going to do when we finish the twelve weeks is take about three days totally off from walking. I am going to spend a couple of days doing nothing but lying on the couch reading and writing blogs, or drinking beer with DH and watching TV. Don't get me wrong, I love to walk. It makes me happy.

I need to take break, however, so I can return to walking as something I do out of love and for the sheer delight of it, and not for the purpose of accomplishing a goal. For me walking has hitherto been its own reward. My afternoon walk is my payoff for doing what I need to do to get through the day. I want to go back to that. I don't want my afternoon walk to be one more chore I have to accomplish during the day. I'll leave that to the weight training and the Pilates that I know I'll hate anyway.

In the future, I think I shall only wear a pedometer when I am walking someplace I have never been before and, then, only for the purpose of discovering how far the trail is. While it is true that walking with a goal in mind does act as an prod to get out there and shake a leg, it is also true that quantifying my walks has to a degree taken a bit of the joy out of the process....

... or maybe that was just the spate of 90-degree-plus weather interspersed with violent thunderstorms that kept popping up when I was miles from safety.