Wednesday, October 21, 2009

When Everything Changed. The Amazing Journey of American Women

With my" swapees" enjoying perfect weather and the Tucson house, dogs and I de-camped town and are up at the cabin. Whenever I arrive here a slowing down mechanism takes over. I snuggle back in bed with morning tea and lap top and scan the NYT; once up I throw on old jeans and discarded sweatshirt and the manana rule comes into play.

It's cold! and the glass fireplace doors that have been in the repair shop all Summer are still not ready which means no blazing log fire. Without the doors the chimney doesn't draw and after one "what the heck" futile attempt at living with smoke I learned that lesson. I have the gas heat on - cringing all the while knowing how much that propane races through the pipes to keep me snug. That's where the dogs could prove their worth. Hamish always creeps onto the bed here - never at home. The two big ones, with more body heat to offer, are reluctant to warm my toes - they give me accusing looks as though I'm abusing them. And yet the moment I get out of bed or leave the cabin they are up on the bed. Fickle creatures. It's definitely a Three Dog Night.

In my slow motion state today I made bread and the Pumpkin Bisque from the recipe that Roxanne Garcia shared this month. I have friends arriving tomorrow for the weekend. The smell of pumpkin and spices mingling in the soup pot was all I needed to curl up with a book . A really good book - When Everything Changed. The Amazing Journey of American Women From 1960 To The Present , by Gail Collins. It is riveting and as "can't put down" as the travel sagas I tend to favor when in hibernation.

This book has hit home home hard. I came first to the US in 1964 on a graduate fellowship. I set sail from my native shores armed with a steamer trunk full of books, a romantic view of America and all the self-confidence in the world. Apart from being dissuaded from studying archaeology at university on the grounds that "nice gals don't leave their family for months on end," nobody, certainly not my parents, suggested to me that there was anything I couldn't do. It never occurred to me that I part of a vanguard - that I was a pioneer of sorts.

It's true that I got my come-uppance on occasions as the wife of a very junior naval officer being told that I really should wear a hat to luncheons and adhere to other "women should be pretty help-mates" rituals. And I did struggle into Playtex rubber girdle to smooth out a concave stomach! But not working was never in my mind and much to the chagrin of my husband, I pretty much did my own thing. People excused me because I was "different", not American and besides, I had such a "cute" accent I could charm moss off a rock. Once my first child was born ( I was referred to as an "older mother" at 27!) I took her to work with me. I didn't ask; I didn't think I was doing anything unusual. The biggest shock to my self-worth came in the 1970's when I was employed by a Jesuit University. I was informed that I could not use the faculty dining room as the "men like to relax". I was also pregnant with my third child, and a fellow faculty member suggested that I use an outside, metal fire escape stairway to reach my fourth floor office rather than interior stairs that had landings opening onto freshman dorm rooms. "I don't think we want the boys to see you in that condition," he said.

Reading the stories researched by Gail Collins, told with grace, and not in the least preachy, I realise now that other women were on the picket line , taking the blows (literally) paving the way for me to be blissfully unaware of the realities. It's also fascinating in this book to see documented the attempt during the civil rights movement that ran parallel with the growth of the womens' movement, to bolster the role of men and keep women in a subservient role. Highly recommended reading.

The Orion Meteor Showers are in full swing. The night skies up here are inky black, the stars brilliant. I got up at 3 a.m., pulled on a woolly robe and stood out on the front porch looking to Orion. Not one meteor! Frozen, I headed back to bed which the dogs had kindly kept warm. Got wise though with an Eureka moment today and made up the bed in the loft where I'll sleep tonight and scan the skies from under a down-filled duvet.

I'd throw another log on the fire , could I light it! Instead I'll have a bowl of soup, pour a glass of wine, turn James Taylor to mellow, and get back to my book. And before I go to bed, I'll raise my glass to the remarkable women who made it all possible for you and me.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Life's Enduring Mysteries

I refer, of course, to the one sock syndrome. I have spent the afternoon cleaning out drawers and closets in my bedroom. I even emptied the ironing basket– a place where all sorts of things that I really don’t need, languish until I give them away. Net total of socks without partners - seventeen! And, yes – I did look behind the dryer. Beats me. I will protest though in my defense that this is a two-year haul.

25 plus years ago, in the midst of a not nice by any standards divorce – I received a demand note via attorney from my then husband’s attorney. Said husband by the way was busy setting up house with a “lost love” – a high school sweetie miraculously discovered at the 25th. Reunion. Not sure what her husband and three children were doing. Anyway – I got the demand by FedEx, signature required delivery. At the time, my primary concern was hanging on to my children at all costs. Via his new love and “god”, husband had received a “message” that he would be a better parent. I was relieved that the demand was for personal items that the doctor had left in the marital home and that apparently I was holding hostage. And for the record - this is proof that "god" is male. No female deity would send that kind of message.

Yep, you got it. I bundled up all those odd socks accumulated during 19 years of marriage and sent them, at his expense, overnight delivery! Oh, and I popped into the box all the shabby, Endust impregnated Y fronts used as dusters. I should ask our regular columnist, Anne Perry if these items come under history or baggage!

My most recent housekeeping frenzy is motivated by a Monday deadline house swap. I know, having already benefited from time at my “swappees” house, that my incoming guests are meticulous housekeepers. Not that I’m a slob but the thought of someone falling into the “socks without partners box” is a little humiliating.

Since it was a blazing hot day in Tucson – 96F AC back on, I rather enjoyed the holing up and heaving out session of closet cleaning. Two massive bags stand ready for delivery to the local International Refugee Office here in town – and I’m trying to figure out what to do with a Pauline Trigere, circa 1981 winter coat. I think it weighs in at 30 pounds - I know it's built to withstand Midwest artic, winter blasts. My Mary Quant mini dress from 1966 stays with me – a forlorn reminder of an itsy bitsy body, youth and my very first pair of panty hose (no, I don’t still have them). It was my mother who bought me that dress and the panty hose- she worried that I was becoming "too academic" and fusty, all that graduate fellowship book stuff - she didn't know about the Officer Candidate School in Newport , RI! I have kept my wedding dress – true, it’s in a plastic hefty bag on the closet shelf – I didn’t do that dress embalming thing - ever so chic and Jackie ‘ish - even had a little pillbox hat in lieu of a veil.

But back to the mystery. There must be a vortex somewhere – I’ve heard Sedona mentioned - for all those lonely socks. If you know where it is, let me know – I’ll send mine regular delivery to live out their life in peace, one by one. Who knows – they may well find a sole-mate.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Bank of America, Con Artists and Sleazy People

This is one of those days that started out going downhill and I'm on a roll! First domino to fall was in the master bath shower. It's slate and within 6 months of buying this house I noticed that the slate was improperly sealed and becoming unsightly. Lots of attempts to strip and reseal failed. I figured the problem was in the design - insufficient slope in the bed of the walk-in shower failed to allow for adequate drainage.
Enter Louie the tile guru today to tear out original slate, re-figure the base and re-tile. easy! The dominoes start tumbling big time. No base in the shower, no sealant, no pan, black mold, - in short the entire job non-code and I suppose my only luck here is that we caught this before the entire shower ended up dropping into the garage.
So am I a fool? What responsibility did I have when I bought the house just two years ago and 10 days over statute of limitations for filing a claim. My agent was thorough - we did all the required inspections. In fact a couple of things stirred my antennae so we had had two inspections. The seller, a female attorney by the way, was very clever. She had the right advice on cosmetic cover-ups! My agent asked if the remodel to date had been done with a permit - response "don't need one because it was a remodel not new build". In the two years I've been here , daily living has uncovered so many code violations that I pretty much have shares in the plumbing, A/C/Heating and electrical companies who have been out to remedy, tear out etc. . ALL the botched jobs were carefully concealed. No doubt in my mind that I was dealing with a major sleaze artist.

My house is in great shape now but I have a bad taste in my mouth. And I keep wondering what I missed, was there an inner voice, at what point should I have walked. Hindsight is great.

Now for the Bank of America. Read the fine print , ladies. I have a significant line of credit. I rarely carry more than a very small balance. When I travel I put expenses on the card and pay it off immediately . Goofed this time. In Rwanda a Visa charge ended up coming through as a "cash advance" - the bank I was dealing with claimed their machines down and that it was much simpler to put this through as a cash. I received $1,122.00. When I checked my statement on return I saw that the charge was for $1,707.54. I disputed this with BofA and was told essentially "tough nookies lady, exchange rates fluctuate, this is what we paid the bank". I paid my account in full but for around a $2,500 charge that I am to be reimbursed for - so I figured I'd wait to get paid back and then pay it off. Opened my statement this a.m. to find that the $1707.54 is broken out as a "cash advance" and charged a daily periodic interest rate that comes out to 24.99 annual percentage. My normal interest rate on this card is 10.99 percent.

I called to question why this charge had been broken out and was informed that "the fine print" made clear that anything the bank could charge higher interest on was the last to be paid! How's that for shafting loyal customers? I was also told that changes would come into effect next year but until then the bank had every right to make the most money they could. Wonderful. I'm closing out that card today. I don't like being taken for a fool. I asked the specific question, "If I send you a check today and state that it is to pay off this so called "cash advance" will you apply it to that charge?". NO! Get this, the response was "No, we pay off the lowest interest rate charges first, you can't do anything about that." As I have said before - read your statements and magnify the small print so you can read that too.

Going to check my packrat traps - maybe I can salvage the day. It's either that or eat ice cream!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Happy Families

I had lunch recently with a friend who confessed he was envious of my "big, happy family". But , I thought, we are so few. I have three adult children - two are married and of those two, my son and his wife are in Ethiopia along with the divine two-year old Ms. M.. Married daughter, husband and grandsons, eight and twelve, live a five-minute drive away and my single son (twenty-nine - good looking - anyone got an eligible daughter?) lives mid-town. I have no other family in this country. I've always considered my family very small.

I got to thinking after friend expanded on his statement - he commented on the obvious love I have for my children and the the ease with which we banter, tease, express our love openly; the solid front we present when faced with any kind of adversity. I do have a big family. A family big in connection - big in love - big in generosity to one another - big in appreciation of liking one another.

My boys have an older sister who will go to bat for them any day - who doesn't hesitate to supercede my role and give them her unsolicited opinion. In return they admire her as a strong woman, a funny woman, a woman, as one told me, 'who set the bar' for women in his life. The two intrepid souls who have married into this family are a match for the energy and exuberance. My daughter-in-law is one of the finest young women I know - her blog from Addis is on the front page this month of Connections.

We've co-opted other members into this family- friends who are automatically copied on e-mails, included in the large holiday gatherings. One such couple are my daughter-in-laws parents. They live in Tucson now - to the grandsons they are "Grandma Chris and Grandpa Jim" - family. They look after my dog; they never fail to turn up bearing baskets of goodies; we share pride in the two-year old's progress and antics. Another couple are older. I've known them since 1981 when I came first to Tucson. I love them for their outlook on life, their humor, their passion for each day. The fact that they both cook like angels is not the only reason they share holidays with us!

I come from a long-line of story tellers - my father would hold the room spellbound with his tales of growing up in Ireland when the IRA still had free hand; when the one pair of "best" shoes was handed down from brother to brother. One story I craved was of the bishop stopping by their farmhouse for tea - an extraordinary honor (and burden I might add) for this humble family. There were five brothers and only one "decent" shirt. My father described the parade of brothers into the parlor to kiss his eminences' ring. "Boy by boy" he told the tale. "Mam outside the parlor door whipping the good shirt off Con and squeezing Mick into it when it was his turn to go in. "

I think what turns family dinners for my lot into a "big happy family" is the energy. My kids are great story tellers, they try to outdo one another. They've taken over telling the stories I used to tell of them. Tales of derring-do from their childhood take on epic proportions, the lizards they tracked grow to mythical size dragons to be slayed, the roles they played interchange. They leave me exhausted and not occasionally confused! but I don't forget which boy told his first -grade teacher there was little point calling me to complain of his antics because, "my mom, she's an alien, she doesn't speak English", or which boy went over a cliff on his horse and stayed with her all night, refusing to be rescued without her. I don't forget my my mother, on learning that Lisa was to start out her law career as a public defender, wondering at the dinner table "why can't she defend a better class of criminal". They still call 'dibs' on the last bite of dessert; they all pitch in to clean up. I'm referred to as "The Mother" - much like "The Boss". I think that stems from raising them for so many years as a single parent. What I lacked in height I made up for with a voice of authority. I was the boss as they grew up.

Now we're in the annual "thinking about Thanksgiving" mode. All usual suspects have been invited; the menu is being debated. They've decided on my house this year. I like my big in spirit, often raucus, always loving, happy family. We'll be missing the Ethiopian crew this year- we'll Skype- the stories will twirl though cyber space.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Searching for Mr. Right after Sixty

If sixty is the new forty I've been double-jinxed. Remember way back then when the pundits had it that a woman over forty had more chance of being blown up by terrorists (or was it hit by a truck?) after forty than she had of re-marrying. Hah! I beat the odds that time and surely being twenty and then some years older has the benefit of all that more accrued hindsight, cunning and wisdom.

I'm not actively searching - in fact I don’t want to remarry, life’s pretty darn good for dog and me. I like my independence (we all say that, I hear you groan), really, I do. And then the “but….” creeps in. It would be nice to have grown-up companionship, to be in an intimate and giving relationship, to ditch singles’ supplements on trips, to waltz in the kitchen while the leek- sun-dried tomato (home-grown of course) balsamic drizzled pizza rises to life in the oven. Come on, who cooks something like that for one! It’s a dish made for two and that’s what I miss so much about this now five-year mantle of being a widow that I wear. The dishes made for two, the shopping, prepping and cooking together that is foreplay not only to a delicious meal but to the joy of knowing you are connected to another. Cooking for two is a euphemism for being connected, for being loved and in love.

“Put yourself out there,” friends urge and I have an immediate vision of being stuck in the middle of a six-lane highway, no shoes and in that really tatty pink bathrobe I keep for chick flick night alone. “You’re intimidating to men” others tell me – what? Moi? O.K. so I bait my own Have-a -Heart Traps, tan the hides of the pack rats I catch and make them into cute skirts for my Barbie doll collection, change my own light bulbs, and I’m not afraid to ask for directions- everything else I call a handyman.

“You’re to picky”, says my cousin with a sniff - because at her instigation I put a foot in the mass E-Harmony pond three years ago and rejected poor spellers, cat haters, those who disparaged fennel, football fanatics and men who posted 20 year old photos claiming, “I don’t act my age” – give me a break. I’m a grown up. I raised sons. I’ve had enough of adolescents. I want a grown-up.

True, I also rejected men with sob stories (more of that “she cleaned me out good” line); men who thought crossing a state line was travel; men who boasted never to have read a book; men who thought communicating meant handing you the sports page when they were done with it. Oh, and I am a leftist leaning bleeding heart liberal so I was not interested in the right-wing militia men, ready to take to the hills and secede from the union for whom apparently I was a perfect match. What else – yep, got it - anyone wrote “I want to put my lady on a pedestal” and I was off at a gallop and not because I have a fear of heights - for the record however, I don't have a horse.

I have met a few good men – really good men. And in two instances friendships have endured long after we both agreed that long-term/long distance was not going to work out. I want a man culturally sophisticated, playful, funny, at peace with his history oh, and must like fennel. I know, I know - there I go again pushing the darn envelope. Why can't I just settle for "smart, handsome, solvent, likes cats and long walks on the beach" - I might be wavering. But what are the odds, ladies? Come on, share your stories - I've got to go and bait my traps.