Friday, May 30, 2008

On Vacation

After a fun-filled afternoon with 5 little Tippetts on Wednesday and a marathon writing workday on Thursday, I'm heading out for 10 days of vacation. I may have an opportunity to post a little something during my travels but look forward to a full report when I return.

Also get ready for a report about a big change in the world of Cindy and Patricia.

Just want to make sure you come back after the upcoming lapse in posting :)

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Sweet Thirteen

I recently spent the entire day with my soon-to-be-13-year-old grandson. He planned the day for what has come to be called a birthday date with Dearma The itinerary in itself was fairly remarkable, but what was even more noteworthy was the simple pleasure of spending time with a kid who is loquacious, respectful, funny, and truly seemed to enjoy spending time with his 60- year-old grandmother.

We headed out in the late morning for Groveland, traveling up Priest Grade and talking all the way about his friends, soccer, cars and even the recent history field trips we had taken together. Our destination was the Iron Door Saloon which was the first establishment in California to be licensed to serve liquor. We didn't sit at the bar, but we had a great view of the old bar and all the mining paraphernalia hanging on the walls and from the ceiling. Cody noticed that our bar stools and tall table were set up against a boarded up fireplace—probably once the source of heat for the old stone building. The reason we went to the Iron Door was because Cody was curious about the hundreds of dollar bills that are stuck to the ceiling. It's traditional for customers to stick a thumbtack through a dollar bill and then wrap the bill around a quarter before throwing it up to the ceiling where it will hopefully stick. We watched several customers give it a try. One guy threw his dollar again and again but never made it stick. Another made it on the first shot and even made a second attempt. After we finished our meal, I handed Cody a dollar and quarter and our server gave him a thumbtack. His dollar stuck on his second try.

Next we went to Columbia State Park where Cody wanted to take me on a hike. We hiked on a trail packed firm by recent rains. Everything smelled fresh and clean. Cody explained why parts of the trail would not be good for riding a bicycle though I'm pretty sure he wished he could give it try. We paused at the highest point for a great view then headed back down. We were parked near the cemetery, and so we decided to take a walk there and look at the older graves, some of which date back to the late 1800s. When we had wandered all the way to the bottom of the cemetery, we noticed that our car was parked on the other side of the chain link fence. Cody suggested we hop the fence instead of walking all the way back around. "Right!" I thought. I'm not exactly fence hopping age, but Cody found a spot where the barbs were just below the top rail and there was a lone cross bar not present anywhere else on the fence and I DID IT! It sure was fun to do something I'd never attempt on my own.

We walked the streets of Columbia and Cody made a few purchases—a bandanna, a switch-blade comb, and cap firing shot-gun. I was happy to indulge his interest in such benign weapons though we had to go searching for caps which didn't come with the gun. Even that was fun as we tried various possibilities before Cody remembered seeing them at Pak 'n Save.

But that's not all we did. We also went shopping at Columbia Nursery to get seeds for Cody's mom and to Legends where Cody had a malt and I had a dish of ice cream. Finally we dropped by Uncle Culley's where Andrea had just finished baking bread. Anna Mae was babysitting during the bread baking and had painted Huck's and Nell's faces. The two painted creatures jumped ferociously on their cousin who bore the attack good-naturedly. Our final stop was the baseball field where Cody's family was watching his sister's game. We arrived just as she went in as pitcher.

It was music to my ears to hear Cody say, "Thanks Dearma, this was really a fun day!"

Thank you, Cody. I had a blast spending time with the sweetest 13 year old I know.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Consumer Math

Last week, I went shopping with Anna Mae and Taylor which really got me thinking about consumer math. Throughout the trip, I helped the girls calculate tax and sales-off percentages on items they were considering. Not only that, they were keeping track of how much money they had and how many more stores we planned to visit. It was certainly an exercise in practical math for the girls but it was also very revealing to me.

I'm not the best money manager. It's very difficult for me to save and I've gotten myself overextended on credit more than once. I tend to buy what I want when I want it regardless of the cost. That's the way I've operated for most of my life though in recent years I've gotten a lot more self-control in the money department. Ironically, it has helped to have Cindy manage our money. Each month she gives me the money we've budgeted for my "free" spending, and I'm pretty good at sticking to that amount. I don't always know how much I have spent or how much I have left (the lesson the girls were working on), but I know when I'm out of money. Or at least, I know when I don't seem to have any more money. Cindy is flabbergasted when I find 10s and 20s tucked into the pockets of clothing I haven't worn for a while or have thrown into the laundry. Once I found $100 bill that I'd won at the slots in Tahoe. I had tucked it into my DayTimer to use for something special and found it 9 months later. Though I misplace my cash at times, I don't realize it. I just think I'm out of money. Cindy, on the other hand, keeps track of every penny. I swear she knows if she's down a quarter.

On our shopping trip, Anna Mae was like me and Taylor was like Cindy. While Taylor was clear about exactly how much she had and what she was willing to spend, Anna Mae was more free-flowing. Her mom described our trip as "recreational spending" which was an eye-opening term for me. It describes my shopping style exactly. Though I don't really like shopping very much, when I do shop, it is often a recreational trip rather than a conscientiously planned venture.

All this is leading to the life lesson I'm working on which is to keep careful track of my spending and the money that I carry. Given the state of the economy and my reduced income since retirement, it's high time I learned this lesson. Thank goodness my granddaughters are working on it at the early age of 11.

Monday, May 26, 2008

In Communion

At Gianna's First Communion on Sunday, Father Fitzgerald spoke about the relationship between the words community and communion just as I was thinking about the commonalities between Catholicism (the religion of my childhood) and Buddhism (the religion I practice as an adult). I'm fascinated by the relationship between these two world religions which developed long ago thousands of miles from one another, and I'm convinced that they speak to a compelling human need for a spiritual life. Though the paths to transcendence offered by each religion appear to be considerably different, I am most drawn to the similarities between them.

For several years, I've been training in a Buddhist practice for compassionate living. The traditional text that guides this practice is entitled The Way of the Bodhisattva. The teaching was originally composed and delivered orally in the eighth century by an Indian scholar and monk named Shantideva and was later committed to writing in Sanskrit. The translation that my teachers chose to study was completed by Wulstan Fletcher, a Benedictine monk. This convergence of Catholic with Buddhist appeals to me. Sometimes, my fellow students are troubled by Fletcher's word choice because he selects words that are more common in Christianity than in Buddhism—words like sin and evil. However, I find not only his word choice but the entire text to serve as a bridge between the faiths.

I am much more interested in commonality than I am in difference. Father Fitzgerald's words about communion and community resonated with me because I had spent a good deal of time over the weekend with family and was immersed in the experiences I'd shared with others. It's not surprising that the words common, community, and communion each come from the Latin root communis which means shared by all.

This weekend I shared many experiences and emotions with others:

  • I enjoyed the company of women as we prepared food for a wedding;
  • I stood with a roomful of guests as a bride entered, escorted by her father;
  • I danced with young and old in celebration of a marriage union;
  • I sat among a circle of loved ones passing a newborn from arms to arms;
  • I gathered with others around three graves paying tribute to the ones we've lost;
  • I sat and prayed with the congregation at St. Joseph's;
  • I was one of many witnesses to Gianna's First Communion.

I am blessed by my rich and varied community.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Deer Damage

There is a lot going on in my life right now, but I'm learning the most from the deer. They got into my newly fenced garden and did major damage. The apple tree that they had decimated every year since I planted it was looking gorgeous this year. Not any more. In addition to the apple tree, they got 3 of the rose bushes that I had transplanted, a zebra tomato, a watermelon, the tops of most of my sugar peas, a squash plant that Raymond gave me, and all the blooms on the dahlias. Talk about a lesson in letting go.

But here is the really sad part. It's my own stupidity that set me up for this disappointment. After they ate half of what is listed above, Cindy and I went to work reinforcing the top of the fence, making it higher and hanging prayer flags. It seemed like it would keep them out. The next morning I was doing my spiritual reading about 5am and glanced out the window to see a deer in the garden. I flew out of the chair, ran through the house, and when I opened the back door I saw him/her scoot out through a 2 foot hole at the bottom of the fence. DUH!!

Needless to say, we reinforced the bottom of the fence all the way around that night. Now I'm trying to focus on enjoying the best geranium bloom I've ever had and the abundance in the butterfly garden I planted last year. But every morning, the first thing I do is check to see if all is safe in the fenced garden.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Family Affairs

May is over filled and flowing with family affairs: birthdays, Mother's Day, weddings, field trips, end-of-school-year events, and miscellaneous visits. Cindy and I have been furiously making cards and fixing food and snapping pictures ALL month.

On Friday, we went to the end-of-year talent show for Little Red Schoolhouse (LRSH)--the supplemental school program that the home-schooled Tippetts attend. At LRSH, the kids get instruction in art, writing, science and music. In my mind, there is nothing more heartwarming than children's voices raised in song. The sound sends shivers of pleasure through me. Anna Mae sang a solo that was particularly touching to Cindy and me for Ashley once sang the same song and we have it on tape: "Jesus Take the Wheel." Anna Mae's voice rang out clear and beautifully and the tears fell from our eyes.

At the end of the program, August was given a special acknowledgment because he will be moving on to high school next year (home school high school). Helene (the mom presenting the gift) mentioned August's talent as an artist. Later in the great hall we saw a sample of his skillful management of perception in a water color rendition of river with bridge. For my birthday, he gave me a water color of Table Mountain that is also remarkably detailed.

One of the parents put together a cool slide show of the school year in which Gianna stands out as one of the most photogenic members of the class. I swear she was in more pictures than any other child.

We got home late, so Huck and Nell, who had attended the show with us and spent the night, slept late. They rose happy, played with slinkys and later chomped blueberries while sitting in my wheelbarrow.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

The Bandhas

WARNING: Graphic anatomical discussion. (Translation: Might be more than you want to know.)

Yesterday, I felt my uterus! Such a statement is probably meaningless to a menstruating women (or to a guy), but to a post-menopausal woman like me, it's a pretty remarkable sensation. It happened at yoga when we were practicing Mula Bundha and Uddiyana Bundha, two interior body locks.

Let me give a little background: After three pregnancies and deliveries, my pelvic floor has seen better days. I'm one of those gals who crosses her legs when she sneezes or coughs. I can't run very far or play volleyball without leaking urine. I'm sure this breakdown of muscle tissue is hereditary as my mom had surgery to put things right again after six pregnancies. I sure don't want to resort to surgery, but after a recent bout with the flu, things got much worse. Three weeks of violent coughing completely thrashed my perineum so that I felt like the muscle was sagging like the belly of spayed female cat. It was so bad that I could not consciously contract the muscle at all. Most women know how to do a Kegel exercise-- where you contract and relax the pelvic floor. They are recommended during and after pregnancy to strengthen the very muscle I was having trouble with. Well, that exercise had become impossible for me to perform. I'd try, but I could not get engage muscle. It was like my brain sent a message that my body did not hear.

Fearing the surgery option and disliking the repercussions of not being able to contract this muscle, I consulted my yoga teacher. I was certain there had to be a way to reconnect the nerve impulse to my perineum. Cherie suggested several exercises but the one that worked was amusing and much harder than you can possibly imagine. Once a day, I practiced stopping the flow of urine midstream. At first, this was nearly impossible. My brain would send the signal but the muscle would not work. After several days of trying, I managed to stop the flow and within about 10 days, I was stopping and starting at will. (Warning: the "experts" suggest only doing this once a day.)

Meanwhile, at yoga class and at other times throughout the day (driving or standing at the sink), I began practicing Mula Bandha- isolating the perineum and drawing it up without holding my breath. At first, I had to simply concentrate on engaging this muscle, but once I had the nerve impulses making the connection again, I would engage and lock and then practice other movements like warrior pose or forearm plank or when I was out on my walk. This simple contraction is incredibly stabilizing, especially in combination with Uddiyana Bandha (drawing the belly button area back and up under the ribcage, again while continuing to breathe).

So yesterday during yoga class while practicing the two bandhas, I suddenly felt my uterus contract (it felt like a mild menstrual cramp). YEHAW! I never thought I'd welcome that sensation, but I knew it was a sign that my pelvic floor was getting as strong as the other muscles that are exercised during yoga. No surgery for me! Yoga class is the remedy.


Friday, May 16, 2008

For the Record

Athan, who will soon be 6, lost his first tooth this week. Well, actually it wasn't the first tooth that he lost because when he was a wee little guy, he lost two brand new upper incisors when he fell on a cement step. Athan has spent his entire life without those two top teeth which might explain why he didn't realize that his first bottom tooth had fallen out. It appears that he lost it while swimming in Brentwood Lake. Since he didn't have the tooth, he had to write a note to the Tooth Angel that it was missing. Unfortunately, the Tooth Angel was VERY tired that night and never came to his pillow to retrieve the note. In the morning, Athan reported that the Angel had not visited his pillow and then he said good naturedly that he thought he would just go back to sleep. Good thing, because the well-rested Tooth Angel then made a quick visit to his pillow where she tucked a little wooden "tooth" box painted with lines from the poem "The Owl and the Pussycat." After waking for the 2nd time that morning and showing everyone his treasure, Athan snuggled in Mama's lap holding the box to hear the entire poem read from a picture book.

Also this week during our field trip, Taylor made her first ever pay phone call. In the day of cell phones, this event definitely needs recording. Her mom and I were aghast at the cost: 50 cents!! When I was Taylor's age, it cost 10 cents to make a call. I remember that when I wanted to talk to my friends without all my siblings listening in, I would walk to the corner gas station a block from our house and call on one of two pay phones. Today it is hard to find a pay phone when you need it and you better have a pocket full of change because an electronic operator jumps in regularly asking for more money. For Taylor, however, the novel experience was just plain fun, especially since she was talking to her favorite guy: her dad!

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Awesome Birthday

Words are insufficient to describe my awesome 6oth birthday, so I've created a slide show to illustrate the wonderful celebration I shared with my family. It begins with the pre-birthday garden work party with Bonnie and Fred. Next is the headstand, followed by Cindy waking me at 12:35am--my birth time-- to start the celebration. At 9am on my birthday, family began arriving to work on projects in my yard. Boy did everyone work hard! The celebreation concluded the day after my birthday with the Dixon May Birthday celebration in Mariposa, including the traditional volleyball games.

Awesome family = Awesome Birthday

Friday, May 9, 2008

Upside Down Birthday

Today is my 60th birthday. When my good friend Christine turned 60, she sang a song for the guests at her party. She had always wanted to sing before an audience and actually took voice lessons in preparation for the event. She sang beautifully, and I decided then that I wanted to do something "hard" when I turned 60.

I wanted to stand on my head, something I had been afraid to do for 20 years though I was able to do it when I was younger.

I DID IT after yoga class yesterday, the day before my 60th birthday!

My teacher Cherie and yoga buddy Kath were there to cheer me on. With Cherie's gentle coaching, I got in position next to a wall for security and kicked up my legs. Viola! I was there and it was easy. I stayed upside down for a good 5 plus minutes, talking and laughing with Kath and Cherie while they took photos. Though I went up next to the wall, I stood free most of the time.

I was high all day, grateful for a strong healthy body and a smart teacher who knew before I that I was ready to do it. No doubt, it was all the blood feeding my brain that kept me up way past my bedtime last night. It was so much fun that I intend to stand on my head again and again ALL year!

The Visit

About 15 years ago, I discovered the value of having a site where one could acknowledge and visit one's ancestors. I was at a week-long Writing Conference in Iowa, and mid-week we were given the afternoon off to do as we please. A fellow participant who had a car asked if I wanted to go with him to check out the surrounding country. We drove on back roads for several hours, stopping to look at various sites and that's how we discovered a very old and overgrown cemetery. We stayed there for a couple of hours, wading through knee high wildflowers and studying headstones. We sat beneath a giant old tree with dripping Spanish moss and wrote in our journals for a long time. That's when the desire hatched to have a place where I could visit my parents who had both passed on.

At the time, my dad's ashes were sitting on the shelf in my closet. I wrote in my journal that I wanted to put those ashes in a cemetery like the one in which I was sitting. It took some planning and help from my siblings, but we purchased a plot at Carter's Cemetery in Tuolumne and had two headstones made: one for my mom and one for my dad.

On the appointed day, Andy and I went to the place on his property where we had buried our mom's ashes. We wanted to transport what remained of her ashes to the cemetery. We dug in the dirt beneath the rhododendren bushes and found the metal piece that was placed in her casket before it was put in the crematorium, so we knew we had what we wanted. Then we went to the cemetery and settled our parents in their new resting places.

Each year on my birthday, I visit the memorial markers for my parents at Carter's Cemetery. It's the sweetest cemetery, and I like telling my parents about all that has happened in my life since I last visited.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

The Many Faces of Nell

Nell turned three yesterday. She patiently awaited the arrival of her guests, dressed in party clothes with streamers hanging above her head. The table was gaily arranged with place settings designed and made by brother Huckle. Knowing her propensity for dress up, family and friends gifted Nell with various costume accouterments which she promptly donned in various combination and with suitable expression.

Happy birthday, Nell!

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Documents & National Bridges

In April, Jenny and I decided that a good way to deal with the end-of-the-school-year fidgets was to take learning on a field trip. She suggested that we visit the various monuments around the county and learn some local history. I made up a schedule of weekly trips, most of which included short hikes. Our first trip was the Table Mountain hike and then we got a lesson on the Tuolumne County Ditch system from Uncle Andy. Yesterday, we headed through Columbia to Natural Bridges.

In addition to learning about the local history, we also are learning a lot about natural history, science, and geography, all of which introduces new vocabulary. For instance, the concept of erosion has come up on each of our field trips, and we've learned about things like water sheds and various meanings of the word Gothic (more on that later). Sometimes the new vocabulary exceeds the readiness of kindergartener Candice and second grader Kyle. That's probably why Kyle turned Natural Bridges into National Bridges, but the vocabulary confusion did not prevent him from thoroughly exploring the waters of Coyote Creek that flowed from the huge limestone cave. His skin turned red from the icy waters, but he splashed in the water the longest of anyone.

We enjoyed the trek down the steep trail, that Cody calculated was .75 miles after reading the map I brought and learning that the round trip was one and half miles (practical math skills). But what goes down must come up, so the return trip which climbs 300 feet had Jenny and I behind the kids who raced onward. However, we all stopped to read the monument part way up the path which describes how Emmanuel Airola owned the land where he grazed cattle before his family gave the land to the New Melones Reservoir Project.

On our way back to Columbia, I read a short article written in 1862 which describes the caves as Gothic in appearance. We discussed the word Gothic which Taylor knew to mean someone who dressed in dark clothes and had died black hair. From there we stepped back in history to relate the word to the "dark" ages and a time of "dark" castles made of stone that looked a lot like the "dark" cave we had just visited.

We stopped at a monument by the Parrott's Ferry Bridge before driving out of the canyon. The crumbling monument was built in 1949 (a year after I was born--another calculation for the kids). Taylor read aloud the inscription about the ferry that was run by a man named Parrott to take people back and forth across the river before the first bridge was built. We looked at the high water marks on the canyon walls and the bridge and watched the swallows building mud nests under the bridge. Jenny pointed out the sag in the middle of the bridge. She said she read a story in the Union Democrat a number of years ago about the bridge sagging shortly after it was built.

When we got back to Columbia, we ate our lunch at a picnic table and then bought ice cream cones at the Fallon house. While we were sitting on a bench licking ice cream, Kyle shouted, "Look there's a document!" We all looked to where he was pointing across the street. "No," he said. "I mean a monument." Sure enough a stone monument like the ones we'd been visiting stood directly across from where we sat. Jenny and I grinned at each other: Vocabulary acquisition in progress. Field trips are great vehicles for learning.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

2 More Movies

Late last year, I found a list of movies that every writer should see in The Writer magazine. They were each about writers and their creative process and how their personal situations influenced their craft. Some were about real people and others were fictional. We rented most of those movies and I wrote about them here and here and here. I'm expanding that list with two movies we just saw: Starting out in the Evening and Nim's Island.

Starting Out in Evening is an Independent film about Leonard Schiller, an aging novelist (Frank Langella), who has been working on his 4th novel for 10 years. He's basically blocked, stuck in more ways than just as a writer. Enter Heather Wolfe (Lauren Ambrose) a graduate student who is writing her thesis about him. The meeting/collision of generations and genders rendered by these two actors is terrific. I want Heather Wolfe's insightfulness and forthrightness. I want Schiller's commitment and fortitude. A parallel story about Schiller's daughter Ariel played by one of my favorite actors Lili Taylor adds dimension to the story.

Nim's Island is mainstream with Jodie Foster and Abigail Breslin. Cindy loves Foster and I'm a fan of Breslin who is a great child actor (Little Miss Sunshine and the Ultimate Gift are examples of other films she's done). I saw the previews of this movie and was attracted by the fluff. I admit to enjoying light comedy with silly adventure and a sappy ending. But I didn't know the movie was about a writer. In a very playful way it explores a conundrum of fiction writing, i.e. the way characters and life braid until what's real and what is imagination get tangled in fantastic ways. I doubt if some of my more highbrow friends would care for this movie, but I love the fantasy and the way it took me out of myself into the giggles. (Aside: Cindy and I used a Christmas gift certificate to see this movie last night. We were the only ones in the theater, a unique experience we took full advantage of by talking out loud and putting our feet up on the chairs in front of us.)

Both movies contrast youthful exuberance with the stickiness, when growing older, to things that inhibit joy.