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 carfreebaltimore.com)

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Lessons on aging gracefully: From my mother

watercolor

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.

Udderly ridiculous

Udderly ridiculousI know, I know. Announce that I’m writing a new blog and then … don’t write.

Pretty lame. But sometimes blogging and living are at odds, and I highly recommend anyone live your life rather than blog when faced with the choice. One of the things I did over the weekend was work at my University’s state fair-like event, which included a “milk the cow” attraction — “now with lifelike teats!”  (No, it didn’t really say that, but I think they missed a great marketing opportunity there.)

I was happy to dust off the old camera and take a break from my station in Tech Town to visit the Ag Ave. Among other things there, I found this little girl fascinated with “milking” the cow, and an older woman also tentatively trying it out.  With so much of our lives “prepackaged” these days, I loved seeing these folks interested in experiencing the origins of something so ubiquitous as milk.

One of the things I hope to do more of in the coming months is photography. I used to be a half decent photographer, but I didn’t keep up with the technology. About a year ago I bought a used digital camera with all the bells and whistles, thanks to a generous friend who gave me a really good deal when she bought a new one. The camera’s been a little intimidating, I admit. I was master of the f-stop back in the day when I had my trsuty Minolta 35mm, and I could tell you all about film speed and aperature settings. One of the things I have learned about myself in recent years is that I really don’t like the feeling of once having been good at something and no  longer being able to do it very well. And in a very mature and reasonable reaction, when that happens I just stop doing whatever it was I used to be good at. Hence, the camera sitting on the table, the guitar sitting in its stand, and probably many more things that I won’t admit to myself. But I miss these past-times. I really do.

So here’s to photography. And who knows, maybe I’ll even pull out the guitar and start building up those blisters on my fingers again.

Foal

kids

At the very least, I hope I can maintain half the level of learning — and living —  as these youngsters were doing this weekend. Kids know how to live vigorously, no one needs to remind them.

UPDATED:  For you, Morgan. Now with more cow!

Bessie

Sometimes you have to reboot

I’ve been on a pretty lengthy hiatus from blogging. Sadly, I find myself neither reading them nor writing them. It’s not been a conscious decision to stop — my own inspiration for creating just sort of fizzled, and my time for reading what others are saying all but disappeared.

The past year (well, the couple of them, really) has been a roller coaster of emotions. There has been much good — time spent with distant family and good friends; finding a new job that I love; putting my toes in the ocean as well as walking on rocky mountain paths; laughing and loving with Unnamed Partner.  But as in everyone’s life, there has been sadness in the past 24 months as well: serious illnesses of parents and the passing of beloved family members and friends. Try as I might to pretend I am still the teenager I once was, the truth is that I’m now of an age where the reality of time cannot be ignored. Are there fewer days ahead than behind? Possibly. Or not. That’s kinda the point: who knows?

With that realization, I figure I can take one of two paths. Either I can moan about getting old and piss away my days thinking about what I shoulda/coulda/woulda done, or I can live each day to the fullest. Knowing, of course, that “to the fullest” means different things to different people. If, for example, you are at this moment looking forward to reading future posts about my new hang gliding obsession, prepare to be disappointed. Those who know me well know that my idea of living life to its fullest is much more likely to consist of an appreciation of the joys of a very long nap.

In short, what I aim to do is to reboot my blogging presence and write a series of essays for the next 12 months focused on life moving forward. As the tag line says, “Vigorous: growing well, as a plant.” Much better writers than me have taken on the task of appreciating the little things in life. But each life has its own little moments that deserve recognition. I hope to capture some of those here, no matter how modest they may be. Thanks for stopping in, and I hope you’ll join me on this journey in the coming months.