What Do You Want an Afghan for?

When I was in high school, a bunch of friends and I were sitting around and one quietly asked, a little embarrassed, “Does anyone have a napkin?” and we’re not talking about something to wipe food from your mouth. Mishearing the request, another friend answered loudly, “What do you want an afghan for?”

As is the rule with all quality longitudinal friendships, we still joke about that moment. It’s a girl thing, getting surprised by your period, which has unceremoniously snuck up on you. Some of us can studiously count the days all we want and mark our calendars, and our periods laugh at us, sitting at the bar, eyeing us on the overhead TV. And the minute it would be most inconvenient, say, while you’re at a fancy restaurant with white fabric chairs, or giving a presentation at work to mostly men, or in the car on a long trip and miles away from the next exit and any supplies, she laughs evilly while sliding off her stool to come for you. She never comes at home when you are within easy reach of your supplies, or at your friend’s house who would also have supplies, and maybe wine. Oh, no. What fun would that be?

Bitch.

So at some point in your life, as a menstruating woman, you will find yourself asking a friend, coworker, or mere acquaintance if you’re desperate enough, “Do you have a napkin/tampon/pad?”

I can’t remember if I read this on a blog or as part of a novel, but I love this story. The woman is in her late 30s, maybe early 40s and has kids. She carries around tampons in her purse, and at one point they spill out in front of a younger, female coworker, whose eyes get big at the sight of the “super” tampons. You know, because kids, later in life flow. The little girly “light days” ain’t gonna cut it. It’s been so long, that the woman has forgotten there are other types of tampons, and only realizes it though the younger woman’s big eyes.

I can relate. At 53, yes, I still need tampons. Don’t get me started, and yes, I know when — if — this damn thing ever stops, I have other troubles ahead. Maybe whatever those troubles are they don’t cost a small fortune and require a shelf of space. I suppose I can be considered “lucky.” My period no longer plays hide and seek with me; however, she prefers to slide off her bar stool every 24 days like clockwork, which she never seemed to have the time for before.

Bitch.

I’m 53, this is supposed to be getting slower, maybe even skip a month here and there. Ha, ha, ha, she says. What is inconsistent is what happens at day 24, however. Any or all of these things can happen, and it rotates randomly. Leg cramps, backache, migraines; fast, heavy, slow flows, sometimes in the same day; it’s all part of the fun. As a result, both at work and home I have a drawer full/shelf full of 3 kinds of tampons and 2 kinds of pads, and more ibuprofen than a CVS. This has been my life for years now, and like the poor hapless lady in the story, I’ve completely forgotten that periods can present in any other way. That once upon a time, before electricity, I had light, irregular flows, and even skipped a period now and then. I maybe went through a box of one size tampons every 3-4 months.

Until my younger coworker asked apologetically if I had a tampon. Like she might take my last one. “Sure!” I answered enthusiastically as I opened my bottom desk drawer, which as you can see from the picture is chock full. “Oh wow!” she said, eyes big.

tampondrawer

And I saw it through her eyes — like that women in the story. Crap. I already know it’s ridiculous to have my period at my age, but you don’t have to put a fine point on it or remind me nobody has a drawer full of tampons at their desk.

Then she got overwhelmed by the different sizes, “I don’t even know what these all are,” she said, slightly panicked. I thought how could you not know? In the tampon isle there are boxes with all sizes, marketed to us by color and names like “regular,” “super,” “super plus,” and that one grand day they were test marketing “ultra.” I was so happy and excited I bought a box and I never found them again after that. I have a bone to pick with the ever-changing, yet declining helpfulness of the color packaging, but that truly is another blog.

Maybe if your period has a little more civility, you get to have just your one box of one size, tucked away discretely among your note pads and pens and sticky notes.

She grabbed one, I believe is was a super, and ran off. And I was left staring at my drawer. Resupplying it can sometimes feel like musical chairs. Every time I restock, I think maybe it will stop, and then what will I do with all this? (Answer: donate to a woman’s shelter). But she’s sitting on the bar stool laughing at me. She’s not going to pull that trick on me for a long time — Miss every 24 days.

Oh, no, not me. I got my full drawer at work and my full shelf at home. My coworker did come again a few month later, asking for a tampon. She seemed less shocked this time, so that was good.

If my period ever does stop I was thinking I could fill the space with yarn. I make a mean afghan.

Dedicated to my dear friend Ruthy. You know why.

 

 

 

It’s a Classic

I’d walked by the small sign on a tiny side street in Boston’s Beacon Hill many times on my way home, and always wondered what was behind the door at 37A. Most of Beacon Hill is made up of tiny side streets that barely accommodate cars, so I often feel like I’m travelling back in time and can hear a faint clip clop of horse shoes on cobblestone. The name fed into the time travel: Harvard Musical Association. I rarely saw anyone going in or out, and I wondered if Harvard, which was way across the river, had misplaced a piece of itself.

But that’s what I love about Boston. You could walk on side streets all over town and stumble on these tucked away associations and societies — some still active because of a blue blood trust, some long gone with only a plaque to mark the spot, but all of them tracing their roots back to clip clop on cobblestone.

By chance I got invited to a fundraiser of a friend’s music organization for kids called musiConnects to be held at — you guessed it, the Harvard Music Association. Two-fer! This liberal snowflake would get to support music for kids and find out what’s behind mystery door #57A. My friend asked to pass the invitation to anyone who liked classical music. I was short on time, so didn’t have a chance to drum up anyone to bring. I also wasn’t sure who of my friends liked classical music. I like it myself, once I got over my father’s efforts to push it on us as kids, and I even took some adult ed classes to learn more. It always seemed me to be a type of music that to truly appreciate it requires some knowledge of the interplay of the notes, the vocabulary, the context in which the composers worked. Unlike, say, a kickass Jimi Hendrix guitar riff. It didn’t help that I learned the hard way, you don’t just buy Schubert’s Symphony #4 for an afficionado. They want a recording by this specific symphony, with that guest conductor who was there in 2005, on the occasion of the composer’s 350th birthday.

Jimi playing pretty much anywhere is good stuff.

At least listening to kids playing classical music, I had a better chance of accessing it. I know, I know, symphonies want a broader audience, and I get it, but some of us are still intimidated by the ornate hall and the impeccably dressed musicians. And memories from that one summer concert at the Hatch Shell when a storm blew up suddenly. It delayed the performance for a short time, but also rained, hailed briefly, and then created a spectacular rainbow, which I and my small son enjoyed thoroughly. First we laughed at the crazy weather, then ooed and ahed at the rainbow, all the while getting the stink eye from the older patrons, who seemed to take issue with our glee at mother nature’s interruption.

I had no idea what to expect, but from the moment I entered at 57A, it was pure magic. The door led to a typical winding 1800’s staircase that led to a gorgeous main room. I love how so much space is hidden in these old brownstones. The streets outdoors are actually more cramped than the indoor spaces.

The walls were lined with paintings, of course, and bookcases of musical scores. The association has a storied history, cuz, you know, Boston, complete with a library, free practice rooms for musicians, and having a hand in creating the Boston Symphony Orchestra. As one does. You can read it all on their website. But that was just the appetizer.

The real treat began when muciConnects resident musicians played 5 chamber pieces, all composed by women, in  sets of string quartets, one which included the kids, and another featured a drummer of the tabla, a drum used in North Indian classical music. These professional musicians teach hundreds of Boston kids to read and play chamber music (which is typically played in small groups of 3-6 people). In the process the kids gain confidence and learn collaborative thinking.

I’m not sure what I expected, but the intimate setting and the personal chat the musicians gave about the piece and their experience with it totally flipped everything for me. This wan’t an academic talk, or giving information you could find on Wikipedia. They were speaking of it as a live thing that mattered to them. One musician introduced a piece by Fanny Mendelssohn, sister of the more famous Felix Mendelssohn (but only because he was dude). She said it was a difficult piece and during practice the group struggled with the sound, so they decided to sing the notes instead and that helped them hear it in a different way. If she hadn’t mentioned the difficultly, I might not have appreciated the last movement, which indeed sounded amazing and looked … difficult. The four bows were flying back and forth, up and down, making the notes fell over each other and into each other into a beautiful finale. When they finished the last note they all looked at each other briefly and their eyes and smiles said, “Yes! Nailed it!” And how can you not get excited when the musician says, “This a really fun, energetic piece, I hope you enjoy it as much as we do.” The joy on their faces when they played was as uplifting as the music.

Then the 3 students came up and played with their teacher/musician. The music was simple, but they did so well. They were working hard to watch their teacher and each other, smiling the whole time. The relief (no mistakes!) when it was over was just as sweet.

So what’s behind door #57A? An evening I won’t soon forget. Thanks to the musiConnect kids and their teachers for showing me that classical music actually is accessible, even to a Jimi Henrix fan like me.

 

 

 

 

 

The Great Art Heist

Last month my dad got sick and then ended up in the hospital for a low blood count. As his discharge neared, my family went into red alert mode and started sorting out which sibling needed to be where for coverage when he came home, and oh, he was coming home with a catheter. I volunteered to come on the weekend, and although I can be squeamish, I am also a mother, so honestly, my squeamishness is probably more of a state of mind than a real thing. But he’s my dad, so, I volunteered and got assigned … art show pick-up duty.

Wait, wha? Luckily my friend had texted me a week earlier saying her mom really liked my dad’s art show. And I was like, what art show? The art show itself wasn’t unusual, he paints a lot and does 1 or 2 shows year. It’s just that he usually tells us about it. I couldn’t decide if the sickness had made him forget, or he’s 90 years old, or, most likely, is the worse artistic self-promoter on the planet.

In any event, my coworkers were giving me weird looks and repeating slowly, “So your dad’s coming home from the hospital and you have to leave work early and drive to another state to … pick up his artwork?” You could almost see the thought bubble above their head, “Don’t have a medical emergency with that one — sibs only trust her with inanimate objects.”

But, the show must come down, so my sister also volunteered, and soon were emailing with the woman who coordinates the space. It’s in a common room in an assisted living, and she said there were 16 or 17 pieces.

Um, OK. I have a Toyota Corolla, but my dad packed and brought the paintings himself in his car which is not really any bigger than mine, so we decide to drive his car. Yeah, we got this!

Of course the artist was feeling better and giving very pointed directions on how properly stack and transport the paintings to anyone in earshot, whether they were picking them up or not. It involves card board separators and stacking them back to back, then frame to frame. Saturday arrives and of course, it’s raining — a hard, steady, gonna-get-your-pretty-paintings-wet rain. Nature can be a real jerk sometimes.

The sit-com shenanigans began the minute we arrived at the assisted living lobby.

“Hi, we’re here to meet Jane,” I said brightly to the receptionist.

“So am I,” she responded in a slightly exasperated tone. “She’s late!”

I was a little confused, but I thought, well, maybe Jane works there and coordinates the art. A few moments later, Jane, a tall blonde woman in her early 30s swoops in with the rain, shaking drops from her rain coat.

“Jane!” the receptionist and I exclaim together. She quickly apologizes to the receptionist, and then turns slowly to me, with a blank look on her face.

“It’s me, Sandy and my sister.” Nothing. “We’re here for the art.” Nada. “Are you Jane White?”

No, of course she isn’t. And just like that, they pay no more attention to us. OK, then.

Not long after an older, white-haired lady shows up and it’s our Jane. Great. I’m just happy to have someone who knows the ropes, because the people here don’t seem to know anything about Jane or the art. My sister is looking at her wondering how this little old lady is going to help us at all. Jane goes off to find the luggage rack she usually uses to stack the art, and my sister and I head upstairs to start taking down the pieces. We end up making a good team, I take the art down and put it in a large trash bag to keep the rain off it. I was too impatient to do more than just fold the end of the bag over, but my sister happily, and I might add, painstakingly taped each bag closed. That rain was really not going to get in.

After a while Jane came back. She usually takes the shows down during the week — we were taking it down a few days early because that’s when we were available. It seems because it’s the weekend, the large rack she usually uses is nowhere to be found, and no one seems to know where it is. She did find a smaller one that seems kind of rickety, but it’s all we have, so we’ll make do. We chat while we’re working and we learn she is 86, and yet she keeps saying what an inspiration my dad is because he’s 90. I think they are both pretty inspiring. My dad, however, can be a mass of contradictions and is stubborn, and even in the face of other artists telling him they like his work, he continues to deny it’s any good and he’s terrible with people. Yes, that’s why they ask you to have a show, because you suck and they hate you. We explain this side of him, which of course is news to her. It always is.

She seems like a nice, positive person who has a sense of humor, so I decide to throw my dad under the bus.

“He didn’t tell us he was having an art show.” She of course then lists all the things she did to promote the show, including sending a PDF flyer to him to send to friends and family. I assured her at least her newspaper and other promotions worked because my friend’s mom learned about it and came to see the show.

We have stacked most of the 17 art pieces upright like books on a shelf onto the rickety cart. Jane and I start to push it carefully to the elevator to get it to the first floor. There are a few people sitting in easy chairs on our way, but no one challenges us. I joke with Jane that we’re like two art thieves making the big heist, pretending to be the gallery coordinator and the artist’s daughters. We both start laughing about that. I decide I want to be like Jane when I grow up.

We manage to get the cart outside. The good news is the walkway to my car is mostly covered, protecting us and the art from the rain; the bad news is the walk is really long, especially when you are pushing a too small cart, loaded down with your father’s treasured art. We’re laughing and struggling, and just before we get to the end, the cart falls apart, and half the paintings slide off. I manage to hold them upright with my body and start laughing even harder. Also, hooray for the plastic bags. Jane joins me because, at this point there really is nothing you can do except laugh. Well you can call your sister upstairs and say with a barely straight face, “Um, can you come down here? We have a situation.” I was so grateful Jane was so good-humored and not anxious or upset. As I waited for my sister to come down and stared out into the rain, I thought, this would really suck if Jane weren’t so cool.

My sister comes down and it takes her a minute to realize I am holding up the entire contraption and art with my body. We switch places, and I back up my car just to the end of the walk.

Of course, it’s still raining hard.

But the art is securely taped up and soon we have it loaded into his care and in her car, and I’m wrangling the cart back together.

We decide that we can do better to take the remaining pieces ourselves and leave the little cart where we found it, so it can collapse under some coats or luggage. The “little old lady” has a number paintings with frames under her arms and is marching down the stairs with them.

We wave goodbye and head back to my dad’s house. He is impressed with the secure tape, and believe me he’s not easy to impress. He seems happy the art is back. He had the cheek to comment how no one from the family went to see the exhibit. See why I threw him under the bus? Just so I could defend our honor. “Jane said she sent you a flyer to send to family and friends; I can’t go to an exhibit I don’t know about,” which sent him into a sputtering admission that maybe he hadn’t sent it out. I told him my friend’s mother did read it in the paper and saw it, and he was genuinely surprised. You gotta love this guy.

In the meantime, another friend of his came by to pick up art she wanted for a show she was putting together. This guy doesn’t need a home health aide, he needs an art coordinator. He claimed he didn’t have any more art shows in the making, but I don’t believe a word of it. I set my Google alerts for any mention of John Deden exhibitions, so I’ll be ready for the next art heist.

 

 

 

 

 

Waiting Room Sendoff

My sister and brother-in-law had warned me that my dad’s follow-up eye appointment would take a while, perhaps even several hours. But I wasn’t worried. I had cleared the day to give them a break from the parent care-giving duties that had kicked up a notch in the past several months. Plus, I thought the previous appointments had been long because they involved a procedure. This was a follow-up appointment. Even if we waited for an hour, we still had time to swing by and pick up my mom and go to dinner. How bad could it be?

My optimism is a really a fascinating thing.

At first it was typical waiting. They shuffled us from one waiting room to another for a couple of eye tests the doctor would need. Fair enough, and I kept thinking of it as passing the time we would already be waiting, and it would bring us closer to the actual appointment. We waited maybe 20 minutes for each test, and each test took about 5-10 minutes. So far, not so bad. And we got there early, so I was thinking we were actually ahead of the game.

I work in a large academic medical center. You’d think I’d know better.

After about an hour or so we landed in what we came to think of as the Final Waiting Room. The inner sanctum, the final boss fight. It was smaller than the others, and there was only one seat available when we got there. Soon after a woman got up and left, so we sat together. Time passed. My dad and I chatted pleasantly, had spells of companionable silence. We tried to get some of his favorite news websites to come up on my phone, but nothing would load at first. When they finally did, it was the mobile version, which was unfamiliar to him, and he couldn’t find the articles he wanted.

Outside the late fall afternoon light started to fade. I checked my watch. 4 pm. Still time to see the doctor and pick up my mother.

Suddenly a newcomer swept in and started chatting, asking questions. The spell of quiet of the Final Waiting Room was broken. The woman was new to this doctor, and she was quickly told by the old-timers that the wait could be 3 or more hours. They were mostly sanguine about it, and were soon telling stories of past waits like we were huddled around a campfire, which considering how dark it was getting outside, would have felt kinda nice. My dad and I are introverted in those kind of situations, so we just listened. But then people began sharing their appointment times. I perked up, expecting our 2:30 time to be the earliest.

I sometimes wonder if unbridled optimism is something that needs to be treated medically.

People started chiming in: 1:45 pm, 1:15 pm, 2 pm, 1 pm. Turns out there were two of us with a 2:30. I marveled that the energy in the room had not changed. People were actually kind of laughing, as if we had cracked a code. We had no idea when we’d get called, but at least we knew the order. The assistant came into the room and called out a name — it was Mr. 1 pm; we all cheered for him. The assistant looked surprised and a little uncomfortable. That’s right, lady, I thought, we’re all in this together now, so you just keep calling those names, and we’ll be just fine. The talk turned to recipes and food, so I tuned out (read about my glorious food fails). Outside, the predicted storm had begun with a steady rain.

The assistant came in and called Ms. 1:15, and now we were really getting into it.

“Goodbye!” “Good luck!” “Have a great weekend!”

The woman next to me leaned over and said, “I feel like we should have handkerchiefs.”

“Yes!” I answered.

So when Ms. 1:45 got called, we waved our hands like handkerchiefs, and sent her off properly like the Queen Elizabeth leaving Southampton.

At 5 pm I asked my sister to tell my mom we were running late. At 5:30, it was finally our turn. There were only a few of us left at that point, but the pretend handkerchiefs waved just as energetically. We got sent off, the doctor was happy with my dad’s progress, and we did, eventually, get to have dinner with my mom.

I just looked up at the Eckhart Tolle calendar I have, and this month it says, “Waiting is a state of mind. Basically, it means that you want the future; you don’t want the present. With every kind of waiting, you unconsciously create inner conflict between your now and your projected future. This greatly reduces the quality of your life by making you lose the present.”

Wise words — I would only add that waving handkerchiefs in the now works too.

 

 

More Overtime!

My wonderful friend posted this and I keep meaning to tell her that I walk by similar trees every day and noticed them just before she posted them. I saw her yesterday and still forgot to tell her! So I’m telling her now and you too. I believe these are crabapple trees, and the ones I see are an interesting trio: one is all red, the next all yellow, and the third is like this — red and yellow. Really beautiful. Even more so now that there seems to an early nor’easter barreling towards us this week. Ah New England, you are a mysterious minx of a mistress, and I love you for better or worse. Enjoy and please check out The Creative (Almost) Full-Timer’s blog!

The Creative (Almost) Full-Timer

Berry fall

New England is full-time Creative in autumn, putting in the Overtime!

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Do It for the Elders

Unless you live under a rock/bubble bigger than mine, which is highly unlikely as it’s one of my minor superpowers, you have heard the request to vote from every crack and crevice of our system. And you’ve most likely heard the very good reasons: make your voice heard, participate in our democracy, save our country from ruin (even though people differ on the definition or ruin, we seem to be able to agree we’re all working toward that goal).

And that is all fine, but in case those reasons don’t do it for you, here’s another: Do it for the elders who single-handedly run our polling systems. At least here in Massachusetts.

I have lived in and voted in 3 different areas in and around Boston: in a city with a mix of college kids, townies, and those from elsewhere who liked it enough to stay; a working class city; and now a bastion of blue snowflakes. What do they have in common? Every poll place is run by people over the age of 70, maybe even 75.

While we’re bellyaching about having to run in there before, after, or during work, or between jobs, or picking up/dropping off kids, or between care giving errands, these badass guardians of our democracy are there from 7 am to 8 pm on election day, and with early voting, on many other days, as well.

So if  you are at least trying to pretend you’re human, you should go out of respect of these elders, many of them grandmas and grandpas. Are you going to diss grandma? Are you that lame?

And if you don’t care about that, are you going to be shown up by a little old man or lady? They can get up early and sit there asking people the same questions for hours, and you can’t manage to take 10 minutes to pop in and vote?

C’mon, don’t be an asshat, just vote! You can always be an asshat later.

And of course all you lovelies who have voted or will, thank you. You’re utterly fantastic, and the badasses approve.

Photo credit: OMF

 

Here’s What We’re Going to Do

My grandmother, who we called Memere (we’re 1/2 French Canadian), would say, after listening to whatever childish request we’d cooked up or if it were a rainy day and we were moping around, “Here’s what we’re going to do.” And some amazing activity would ensue: cooking up cripes (that was our version of crepes), or making a dress for an off-brand Barbie, or figuring out what fun thing to do with a piece of a float that had washed up on the shore of her tiny lake cottage.

She has moved on, but her words came back to me as I have been thinking about the three ballot questions we have in Massachusetts. If you live here, I’m sure you’ve read up, or have been reading the flyers that are inundating your mailbox, or you’re getting phone calls from engaged young enthusiastic people. But you’re still not sure?

Here’s what you’re going to do. And because my Memere’s involved, at least in memory, you know you can trust this:

  1. Ballot Question 1, NO: Do you approve of a law that would limit how many patients could be assigned to each registered nurse in Massachusetts hospitals and certain other health care facilities. The maximum number of patients per registered nurse would vary by type of unit and level of care. No on 1.

I work at a hospital that is consistently ranked in the top 3 in the nation–OK once we went down to #4, but they changed the criteria that year–and we say no. The nurses at my hospital have complete control over how many nurses they need to take care of patients who are always changing and have changing needs. One size does not fit all. Here’s is the chief nurse speaking plainly about it to one of our docs. It’s not a slick advertisement, just an iPhone video of reality.  Our chief nurse says no on 1

2. Ballot Question 2, YES: Do you approve of this proposed law that would create a citizens commission to consider and recommend potential amendments to the United States Constitution to establish that corporations do not have the same Constitutional rights as human beings and that campaign contributions and expenditures may be regulated. Yes on 2.

We’re Massachusetts, and we have lots of smart eggheads who can help clarify this. I know being smart is totally out of fashion right now.  But we can’t help ourselves. Let’s show the rest of the county how it’s done, shall we? They hate us anyway, so what do we have to lose?

3. Ballot Question 3. YES: This one is do you essentially re-approve of a law that has been in existence since 2016? This law already adds gender identity to the list of prohibited grounds for discrimination in places of public accommodation, resort, or amusement. Such grounds also include race, color, religious creed, national origin, sex, disability, and ancestry. A “place of public accommodation, resort or amusement” is defined in existing law as any place that is open to and accepts or solicits the patronage of the general public, such as hotels, stores, restaurants, theaters, sports facilities, and hospitals. “Gender identity” is defined as a person’s sincerely held gender-related identity, appearance, or behavior, whether or not it is different from that traditionally associated with the person’s physiology or assigned sex at birth. Yes on 3. 

WTF? Look, whatever feelings you have about people who may be different from you. THIS LAW ALREADY EXISTS. No children, pets, or people’s silly pride had been harmed by this law.

WHY ARE WE STILL TALKING ABOUT THIS? You live in Massachusetts–we’re a bunch of blue snowflakes, deal with it. If you have a problem, there are lots of other states you can be happy in. Buh-bye.

Happy voting people, and please don’t disappoint my Memere!

Image credit: National Monitor