Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Cabinet Zucchini

For at least another month or so, I have a number of projects around the house to keep me occupied. I have unpacked all but a couple of the boxes from storage, and finally found two of my favorite cookbooks: The New York Cookbook and Bert Greene's Greene on Greens.

Altogether, I am amazed at the sheer amount of stuff that we have accumulated. The other day I carted out and donated four boxes of books from our respective college days--mostly works of great literature since both of us were English majors. I have a lot of books coming from India, too, and need to get our collection here down to fit the number of shelves we have. We live only two blocks away from a good library, and I have resolved not to buy another book that I can borrow. (Right now, I'm reading two---Ha Jin's A Free Life and Susan Choi's An American Woman. It seems like an embarrassment of riches to have free time to read novels.)

But to the title of this post: Cabinet Zucchini. And what is that, you may ask? Well, it's all the china and stemware we seem to have accumulated from our parents and grandparents and keep schlepping around from place to place (and more is coming from India). Altogether, I have counted eight full sets of china and five sets of stemware and barware. If you have ever had a garden, you know that zucchini (courgette for my British readers), once planted, takes over--like Forrest Gump's friend Bubba and his shrimp, you will be forced to catalog the myriad ways that zucchini can be sliced, diced, sauteed, fried, baked and preserved--and yes, given away-- as you struggle to figure out what to do with it. So it is with the china. The picture shows a beautiful tea set of my grandmother's---displayed prominently but never used that I recall because she was afraid to break it. I've resolved not to move this stuff again. Most of the china can't be made kosher (at least not to Orthodox standards), and the stemware is outdated--wine glasses that flare out instead of in, and can't be washed in the dishwasher since the glass is so thin and delicate. Except for the monogramed stuff from Marty's parents and a set of dishes we use for Rosh Hashanah, we're cataloging it and will sell it or give it away either to one of the replacement houses that engages in this business, or to a charity that helps poor newlyweds.

Friday, January 25, 2008


I was supposed to go to Ontario this week for Vipassana. But I canceled at the last minute, because my dad had another serious TIA (transient ischemic attack) on Monday. When they went to wake him for breakfast, he was unresponsive and having trouble breathing. The doctor was there and put him on oxygen. By that evening, he was awake but weak, and did not want anything to eat, though he took some fluids. By the next night he was much better but still in bed, and the next day they were able to get him up. I did not feel comfortable to go off and be out of communication for ten days, even though it's only about 5 or 6 hours away. Then, I got a 24 hour flu --so it looks like Vipassana is meant for another time.

Dad has lost a lot of weight in the last six weeks, and is down to under 130 lbs. He does not feed himself--though on a good day he can still pick up his coffee cup-- and is on pureed food. When he came back to more or less normal consciousness, it almost seemed that he had had some out of body or near death experience--he was quite agitated and kept saying that couldn't "get in" and "I had to come back." He was also very sad, and kept looking at Marty and me and wanting to say something that he couldn't quite articulate. Years ago, a few months before my grandfather passed away, he talked in a similar way--that he could "not turn the corner" and needed help. I don't know how long my dad has to live, but on some level I think he is making his peace with it.

It is often said that hearing is the last sense to go, and that it is important to keep talking even to those who are in a coma or otherwise unable to respond. Although my dad's mental faculty is probably down to 5 or 10%, he still reacts to things from long ago-- typical of the pattern of dementia where people lose near term but retain long term memory. Two things that still get through the immense fog in his brain are music and the poetry of Emily Dickinson. The music I play for him on my iPod includes selections from albums he used on a radio program the family store sponsored for several years for a local radio station---such as 101 Strings "The Soul of Spain." His hearing seems pretty unimpaired, as I don't have to turn it up even close to full volume for him to tap his feet to the castanets. The other night while he was still in bed I read him several of Emily's poems, and although he was unable to speak much, his facial expression and movements told me that the words were getting through--he even laughed at "I'm Nobody--Who are You?"

So transitions for me turn out to be more than leaving India, and leaving my job...these days are bittersweet, for although I long to keep my dad in this world, I also can't help but wish him free of all the limitations imposed by his dementia and age. He is in no apparent pain (not that he would tell us if he were--he has always been overly stoic that way) and that is a I the best I can hope is that the tide will continue to go out gently.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Not Working

This is my first half week of not working. I am not counting the week I came back or the week between Christmas and New Year's, nor am I counting the week we were in Florida because that was vacation. Now, we are back in Detroit, Marty is back doing office things, and I am still not working.

It feels weird, but one thing I have to say is that the time does seem to pass quickly. I have no trouble finding things to do---I shoveled the walk and the driveway this morning after a snowfall, and am really enjoying getting back to my yoga class. We voted in the Michigan primary, and the only people there at the hour we went were senior citizens. When people call me to do things, I can pretty much say "anytime" instead of having to make it on evenings or weekends. I spent two hours at Sara's apartment today with a helper from the agency that works with her, and I started to get a bit antsy after a while, but then I had to stop and think, "why?" There was really nothing so urgent that I had to do. I am unpacking a lot of boxes from the storage we had. I still haven't found my favorite roasting pan. This keeps me working at the storage.

I still don't have any interest in watching T.V., but Marty does and occasionally I catch part of a program here and there. American Idol is on right now and I have to say--it is incredibly bad; I don't know how Marty stands it. I am grossly offended and upset by the number of drug ads on T.V. and in print publications here--it is no wonder that prescriptions are so ridiculously expensive in the U.S. I guess this was true three years ago before I left but I notice it a lot more now. I have been checking out buying our prescriptions in Canada. I am really, really enjoying reading The New York Times every morning. I am enjoying NOT having a 3 hour commute every day.

We went shopping over the weekend and I have become as big a fan of Costco as Marty. It is incredibly a lot cheaper to buy things there, even if the volume is sometimes more than you think you need. We bought some cereal, for example. A large box of two 28 oz bags of our favorite brand cost a little more than $8. We had a 16 oz box at home that we had paid $4.79 for. I also like Costco's policies. They are a lot more socially responsible than Wal-Mart. They seem to have a good reputation with both employees and suppliers.

I am tired of traveling. Though I will be heading up to Canada for Vipassana next week, that's a short journey and not too onerous. After a while, I had had too much of Disney and the vacation experience, and I think it was just the build up from all the travel I did while in India. It is nice to settle in and just be. I am sure I will get wanderlust after a while, but right now I am just glad to be here and in our place in Keene. We are having friends over for dinners and I enjoy the time to prepare and just have conversation.

I see my dad pretty much every day. Today I took him some favorite songs on my iPod. He enjoyed that. It is tough to see him though. I find that I can spend 10 or 15 minutes and then I want to leave. He is not able to have a conversation. The last few TIAs (mini-strokes) have affected his speech and he cannot articulate even if he wants to say something. But still, I am glad that I am only 5 minutes away from him instead of halfway around the world.

I have discovered "LinkedIn" a business networking site. I figure it will be useful when I start getting back into the job market. I will think about that next month.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

The Magic of Disney

Disney World is an amazing place on many levels. First, it brings out the child in anyone old or young--magical exhibits, rides, and chances for photo ops with storybook characters, parades and trips back to the past. Marty and I did the famous "It's a small world", which has been updated to include more countries, twice, charmed by it thoroughly. Hopping from the Magic Kingdom to Epcot to Animal Kingdom and Hollywood (used to be MGM) studios, we took in new attractions since our last visit with Sara about twelve years ago. We remembered some things between us, but enough was new that we felt that we had a whole new experience.

You can just enjoy Disney on the entertainment level--there is more than enough variety and activity to satiate the senses. But, on another level, it is also a marvel in crowd control. We have been here at a relatively less crowded time of year--typically, the first couple of weeks of January after the holidays are slower. Still, there were lots of people--at some of the newer attractions, the wait was up to an hour. Since our last visit, Disney has added a feature called Fast Pass--you pick up a ticket for an hour "window" later in the day and there is a special line with little or no wait. You can only do one Fast Pass ticket at a time. At fast food places, the menu is limited and the orders are taken ala McDonald's style and prepared while you check out---but faster than any drive in place, so the wait even with a line of ten or more people is less than 5 minutes. Guides laugh and joke with the audience to move everyone closer together so more people can be accommodated at some of the larger attractions, like the Indiana Jones Stunt show, and people are herded very efficiently in and out. At every attraction, the approximate waiting time is posted on an electronic sign and updated continously. Marty, who is not a roller coaster fan, waited for me outside of Space Mountain, the traditional roller coaster at Epcot. When I went in, the wait was 5 minutes--which is nothing. He watched the sign go from 5 to 10 minutes, then jump to 30 minutes. The crowd eased off, and the sign went back to 20 minutes---all in the time it took me to take the ride and exit. I have to believe there is an incredible amount of technology and mathematics behind this crowd and line control. It's really pretty amazing.

Another impressive thing about Disney are the incredible lengths the parks and resorts go to make them friendly to people with disabilities. From captioning and sign language for the hearing impaired, to ready availability of scooters and wheelchairs, ramps and helpers for disabled folks to get on and off buses and experience the attractions--it clearly goes well beyond what is legally required. Consequently, you probably see more children as well as adults with disabilities than you might otherwise. But, I have to say, the other thing I noticed were an incredible number of fat people. A fair number of them were in scooters and chairs as well--not because they can't walk, but because they're out of shape. The parks are large, and you probably get in a few miles in a day walking around them. Although the crowd was pretty mixed, there were lots of foreigners--many from Latin and South America, and a fair number of Europeans and Asians as well. With the cheap dollar, it makes sense.

We stayed "on property" this time, at the Port Orleans resort. This is one of the mid-range resorts, and it is a bit older and getting tired---the shower head bushing needed to be replaced and some of the doors were scuffy. The advantage is ready transport to the parks, extended hours, and general convenience. But everything at Disney is expensive, and they charge for things they shouldn't---like internet service at $9.95 a day and $7 for a hot dog you could get at Costco for $1.50--beverage included. The prices are so inflated that it is publicly joked about in some of the entertainment. Yet people keep coming, and may grouse about the prices, but are willing to pay them. It does mean that for the most part, Disney is limited to a certain strata of the population, and is not accessible to everyone.
After four days, though, we had pretty well been parked out. We are in Tennessee now, on our way back to Detroit. Vacation is over and it's time to do some serious thinking about what's next.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Kitty Hawk

On the way to Florida, Marty and I stopped in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina at the Wright Brothers Memorial and the site of the first flight in 1903. It was an amazing place. The scene at left is where Wilbur and Orville actually flew the first plane after three unsuccessful attempts, making the long trek from Dayton, Ohio where they ran a bicycle shop. It was cold in Kitty Hawk when we were there--I took the walk up to the top of the hill where the memorial is and just about froze--and we were told that this is typical weather for this time of year. In fact, there was a 27 mile an hour wind on the December day that the brothers made aviation history.

We stayed just south of Kitty Hawk on the Cape Hatteras highway in a lovely old place that had been moved from the shoreline, where it was about to fall into the sea. The coast here is lined with vacation homes making ocean access difficult, but we found a hotel that had closed for the season and were able to park in their lot and take some shots of the Atlantic Ocean at sunset. This one below is from Marty's camera:

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

New Beginnings

Happy New Year!

This is the scene outside our bedroom window in New Hampshire. It snowed heavily on December 31 and again yesterday, but within a few hours the roads were dry and our driveway plowed. We didn't even realize it was snowing until we started hearing a strange noise overhead in the middle of the night--it was the snow falling off the steeply slanted roof to the ground below.

I haven't seen snow drifts like this since I was a kid, and I got a chance to shovel the walk for the first time in a number of years--only to find out that the city does it, because we are on a street near a school. Oh well, I needed the exercise, anyway.

Now it is January 2 and soon we will be on our way to Florida, stopping in North Carolina on the way. It's fun to reconnect with the U.S., a country I haven't really spent much time in for nearly three years.