Milk Man

I went to a conference this week on the other side of town. To get there, my choice was to go all the way around town on the beltway or cut straight through the city. I’m so glad I chose to cut through.

The street on which I traveled for most of the east to west portion of the trip was North Avenue, which was once a thriving commercial district. It still has many small businesses and although the streetcars that once ferried citizens back and forth from Druid Hill Park to downtown Baltimore are long gone, the bus lines that run along this route are heavily used.  All this means that when I was traveling in the morning rush hour and then again in the beginning of the afternoon rush, it was a teeming with life.

North AvenueWould I want to be there late at night? No. Was it safe in the middle of the day? Totally. And the sights and sounds I would have missed if I’d taken the beltway. The colors. The faces.

One face in particular made my day.

The conference was great — I learned about some new instructional technology, and I made some new contacts of other folks in the field. On top of that I was able to visit with a good friend whom I had not seen in way too long. But it was tiring, as these things are. I am some weird mix of introvert/extrovert. I seek out opportunities to be with people but then am exhausted and drained by being “on” all the time at these things.

So although it was a great day, it was all catching up to me when I was driving home.  I waited at a red light, window open to enjoy the warmth and sunglasses on to dim the brightness of the early afternoon sun. I had my elbow propped on the open window and my head resting against my hand. I yawned. I yawned big time. And at just that moment of yawning, an older man was in the crosswalk just passing my car. In the strong afternoon sun, his bright blue shirt was striking against his dark skin. But what really caught my attention was when he smiled a broad smile at me and said “Come on now, you know you can’t be that tired!” and continued on his way, carrying two gallon jugs of milk in his right hand.

And then he was gone.

The light turned green. I smiled and drove on, headed east with the sun at my back. And you know what? I was not that tired, after all.

(photo courtesy of


You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows

Or to know if it’s going to rain all day, apparently.

Go ahead. You try to plan a camping and kayaking trip for May. I was this close to  pulling it off, and then the potential campers began to dwindle for various family and work commitments. And then the weather forecast. Ugh.

It was down to me and one other hearty soul whom I shall call “la viajera,” ’cause she’s been to Machu Picchu and all that. For days we agonized over whether to go or not. (All right, it wasn’t days it was 24 hours, but it was agonizing.) Finally this morning we made the call. A 3-hour car ride to an unknown campsite to kayak to the actual island park, with 40% chance of thunderstorms and a gray an ominous morning sky made it seem the responsible thing to do stay home.

Sometimes I really hate doing the responsible thing.

But you know who this worked out really well for? My dog Fritz. In fact, at this very moment, he is lying at my feet snoring to high heaven. Because you see, when you can’t kayak but you have the day off work, a hike is a really nice backup plan. It was his idea, really:

Fritz's Day offThat is the face of a sentient being who sniffed and peed and ate grass. Who met a Beagle with an extremely apologetic owner (Beagle wasn’t bad, really), a German Shepherd Dog named Bruce (who would do that?), and finally, got lots of parking lot loving from a little girl who said he was “interesting” (perhaps she’s seen too many dos Equis commercials).

I have plans to do more kayaking this summer, and I probably just jinxed today when I purchased both a new paddle and new sunglasses on the same day. (I know, really, what was I thinking?)

I also have plans to go camping, although at this rate it may just be me and Fritz.  He really needs very little prep time, and, I find that he has almost no commitments to keep him from going on any trip, anywhere. (“A ride? Are you kidding me?” “A walk to around the block? I am so there!”, etc, etc., etc.)

I’ll keep planning, and hopefully it will work out with other folks to join me. It worked out today with “la viajera” (boy, I hope I’m saying that right), and we had a great time even though we were so close to home on trails we’ve both been on many times.

40% chance of thunderstorms this morning, and at now at 6:30 pm the sun is shining and there’s nothing but blue skies smiling at me (with apologies to Irving Berlin).

Stay tuned. I have the day off tomorrow, as well …

The one about the coffeemaker

Since I started writing this blog, living vigorously has mostly meant doing the needful: work, family, pets, house. I try to do the tasks associated with bountiful vigor, but that works out better sometimes than others. I mean, I really vigorously vacuumed my parents living room rug last weekend, but it was hardly inspiring to write about. And then there’s everything around my own home. I often wonder if everyone runs into as many stumbling blocks as I seem to whenever I attempt what seem at first glance to be the simplest tasks. For example, the coffeemaker died a couple of weeks ago. It happens. It was so reliable,  like an old gray mare, starting up faithfully each morning at 5:00 am so that when I ascended the stairs ten minutes later with dog and cat at my sides the smell of fresh coffee and the sound of “beep beep beep” was how I started each day.

Then one morning I knew as soon as I reached the top of the stairs that something was terribly wrong. There was no aroma drifting upwards. There was no beep.  Upon reaching the kitchen I found that while the coffeemaker had attempted to brew and it only produced about one cup’s worth before collapsing like aforesaid mare. I wonder how long I stood and stared at it in disbelief. Probably not as long as I would have if I hadn’t had a dog and cat — obviously starved from going 12 hours without eating — clamoring at my side.

(An aside, but an important one, is that I then planned to grab a cup of coffee somewhere on the way to work but traffic was bad and I got in late as it was. So I had resigned myself to a sleepy, headachy morning when one of my colleagues appeared in my doorway and asked “Do you like iced coffee?” Angel of mercy. Starbucks had gotten her order wrong and gave her an extra — large! — iced latte, which she brought in to the office thinking “Maybe somebody here will want it.” You really do have to have faith that things will work out in the end.)

Well, thus proceeded that first-world endeavor known as “the search for the perfect coffeemaker.”  Hours spent perusing  Amazon reviews: This one drips coffee all over the place. That one isn’t hot enough. This one breaks down for everyone who bought it. That one costs $300.

Finally we found one that was in our price range (i.e., cheap), seemed reliable, and was programmable — which is key for that 5:00 am wake up call. Ordered, it took an excruciating week to get here, during which time we used a tiny little 6 cup maker that I’d had at the office but never used because it dripped all over the place when poured. Then one day it arrived. Beautiful, stainless steel and black. One cup served at a time, designed to keep the coffee piping hot. I set it on the counter and then I tried to get a plate from the cupboard:


This has been the coffeemaker’s place for so long, I was at a loss as to what to do. The cabinets run all along the countertops, so this is a bit of a problem. However, I hatched a plan to set it on the microwave cart that does not have a microwave on it. It’s next to the refrigerator. There’s an outlet which the coffeemaker will just reach. Except that the refrigerator is already plugged in there, with an adapter because we never updated the receptacle. D’oh!

So this morning, the coffeemaker still sits as above, blocking the cabinet enough that getting  out a dinner plate involves acrobatics and dexterity to ensure the coffeemaker doesn’t land on the floor and plates don’t land on your head. So what’s on the agenda for this lovely Saturday morning? New receptacle!  Yay!

But first, another cup of coffee …

Lessons on aging gracefully: From my mother


My mother turns 92 later this year. She is many things: a poet, a painter, a preacher’s kid, a Foreign Service wife, grandmother, and probably one of the all around kindest people you will ever meet. She is also one of the toughest people you will meet. In the past ten years or so she has had several health issues which I guess is to be expected at her age. The body just starts to wear down. Osteoporosis has meant some fractures, atrial fibrillation means medications, but the most difficult issue has been the diagnosis of dementia about 8 years ago.

She is incredibly fortunate to have access to a team of dedicated and diligent medical professionals, and so it’s been wonderful that the disease has seemed to have plateaued. However, the plateau is still far from where she was. Although she can tell you stories from her childhood in China, she can’t remember if she had lunch an hour earlier. She has trouble getting her thoughts onto paper, but she can dictate an email to me with ease. She can’t paint the still lifes she did with watercolors for most of her life, but she can create the work above.

Some days are better than others. Some days she starts to put her shoes on before she puts on pants. Other days she jokes while getting dressed “I think it would be a good idea if I put on some pants.”  She loves a cup of coffee but would get confused at using the coffeemaker. She gets confused in new places and just needs calm guidance. She walks with a walker, but when the stairs became too much we installed a stair glide so she could get upstairs to her bedroom. She adjusted to riding it up and down the stairs like a champ.

I don’t know what it’s like to have once been able to paint still lifes with watercolor, and now to be somehow confined to doing these abstract renditions. There is still an artist inside of her, and I’m so happy she can express it at all. Her world has gradually gotten smaller as she has gotten confused by new things. She doesn’t read much because I think she loses her place. But she listens to the radio, she watches her British comedies, and most of all she always asks about how others are doing. She appreciates. She is thankful always. Always.