Archive for March, 2012

Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom

March 31, 2012

You’d think there would be stark differences between gym goers in Santa Barbara versus Washington. While it is true that the ratio of pasty to golden hued skin is noticeably different, the only other thing I notice is the significantly smaller group of women who sport the unnatural proportion of a 10 year old boy’s sized hips to chests which, by comparison, makes mine look modest. I’ve never figured out how these gals don’t tip over throughout the ordinary course of their day, nor why they (and their inevitable male companions) consider this artificial proportion so titillating.

Even more puzzling to me is the fact that, as my luck would have it, the rare instances that men choose to approach me are at the gym–when I am huffing and puffing, sweaty and unsmiling, getting by through sheer force of will to finish this one last set. Why this is the time that they choose to comment, “Looking good!” Or offer to show me a more efficient way to stress my triceps, explaining that they only bother to show others who are “hard at it” mystifies me. In fact, to make my point more clearly, I will cite the example of a few Saturday’s ago when I was making my way through my routine and a woman hurt her ankle during Zumba class. Sitting on the bench, I watched as paramedics wheeled their gurney down the hall coming towards me. The uniformed officer raised his eyebrows and said, “You?” I shook my head and pointed to the group around the corner. “Oh,” he explained, “you looked like you were in pain.” Ooof! Truthfully, the paramedic’s assessment makes more sense to me than the positive ones of other dedicated gym rats who feel compelled to comment on my efforts.

And then, of course, there are the couples who use the gym as a version of foreplay—usually the man is shorter than the woman and has to spend a good deal of his time grunting while she stands admiringly to the side. While not everyone is like this, those denizens who see their workouts as an extension of their personality never fail to garner the attention they crave—whether we wish to grant it to them or not. Outside of a college cafeteria or maybe a public bus, there aren’t that many places where one has the chance to display his or her feathers before a captive audience.

Which brings me to another irony about this whole mating dance bit. Self proclaimed dating experts and well intentioned friends advise that each time I set forth in the world, I must don a cute outfit, brush my hair, wear the “good” bra, smile, be open to strangers. None of that has worked—not once. Rather, the ticket seems to be to wear body hugging, sweaty spandex, no make up, greasy hair pulled back in a pony tail, and an occasional grunt as I lift the weight making sure to stick my butt out to keep proper form. Really? What does this say about relations between the sexes? Where’s Marlin Perkins to make sense of all this?


Calcification of the Mind

March 29, 2012

One of the greatest things about Washington is the proximity of so many incredible (and free) museums. The frequency and wide variety of exhibitions is dazzling—as well it should be for our nation’s capital—but as always, there’s another side to the coin. One person I know said that the Smithsonian serves as the “nation’s attic,” which I loved! And, as many resplendent and impressive artifacts as it may host, there are others which present themselves in the head scratcher category.


For instance, a stop in the mineralogy section of the Museum of Natural History made me feel like I was pulling into one of those sad little state “welcome centers” you pass on the highway—you know, the ones featuring a half empty snack vending machine and the toilet paper that comes out in little squares. Really? What’s the significance of that rock behind the glass? Placing it in a diorama with a stuffed grizzly doesn’t enhance the experience.


Of course, it’s always possible that what with the fantastic special effects we see in movies these days, our expectations for real life museums may be unrealistic. The same is true if you visit the Santa Barbara Mission or its Maritime Museum. Proportionate to its population, Santa Barbara is inundated by museums, and they’re all so sad (sorry, it’s true). Walking through an old warehouse redecorated in a nautical theme hardly transports me back to the days of sea faring exploration by Juan Cabrillo. Looking at a glassed in case with a couple of frayed examples of a padre’s wardrobe or walking stick fails to ignite the fire to learn more.  I ask myself if this reaction is due to having grown up in a city with so many spectacular museums, or if others, too, feel somewhat let down by these sweetly earnest efforts to celebrate local history? Things of merit are often quite unspectacular.


Driving across the country from Santa Barbara to DC, my dad and I spent a few days in Natchez, Mississippi. Now there’s a town with something to show! Those pre-Civil War era mansions are incredible, as is their Visitor Center (although I confess the fact that it was an air conditioned refuge in July was the most attractive offering). Located with a superb view of the great river, that town knows how to market itself and its fascinating past. My point is, they’ve got the same sort of miscellaneous “attic junk” that any museum has, but they know how to tell a good story.


So, how do our lives fit in with this rumination on museums? Do we tell a good story about ourselves? Have we kept too much junk in our physical or mental attics? The elements about ourselves that we have displayed, are they displayed to good effect, or have we chosen to emphasize the more showy, less interesting bits hoping they will impress? How might you answer these questions for a parent? For a spouse? For a dear friend? Calcification can take many forms.



The Hunger Games

March 26, 2012

One of my occasional, absurd, impulse actions, I decided to join the throngs of millions and go see The Hunger Games during its opening weekend. Having never read the book nor heard of any of the stars, I was attracted out of a perverse need to see what all the fuss was about, considering how gruesome the premise is. For those of you still ignorant of this juggernaut, the plot hinges on a televised game of children fighting other children to the death. From the large number of shots of the heroine running through the woods looking terrified, I’m unclear how this flick is different from the Blair Witch Project (which I didn’t bother to see) or any other types of pseudo-horror films.


Reflecting on the Hunger Games reminds me of my own fight-to-the-death battle with my yard. One of the most noticeable differences between life in Santa Barbara and DC is the pride people take in their lawns. Nearly everywhere you go in SB, the lawns are neat, green, and well cared for. Up until 2002, I had the worst yard in my neighborhood—a friend optimistically suggested that I cover the whole thing in gravel and call it drought resistant. When at last, I couldn’t stand it any longer and had the entire place re-landscaped the joy I felt was boundless! I could now hold my head up with pride, knowing that mine was the fairest of them all.


Alas, three thousand miles away, I have discovered that Washingtonians take a bizarre form of smug satisfaction in leaving their yards a complete mess. I believe that it is some sort of puritanical hubris which must explain their existence in homes inundated by onion weed, yellow scruff grass, and the pathetic, half-dead Dogwood. Drive along any street in Northwest DC and you see this same yard, block by block by block. “What is this?” I ask myself. “Do these people consider themselves too busy crafting national policy to bother with things like killing dandelions?” When I survey our own pathetic outdoor space, toying with the idea of making my mark, I stop in my tracks. In the years I’ve been away, my father has erected a fence of such height that it could easily pass as a prison boundary—the only thing that would make it worse were if it were chain link. Unless you’re a kangaroo, you ain’t climbing this baby.  Tackling a yard of this size (which is quite generous), oppresses me, so I sigh and do nothing.


Back in Santa Barbara, however, the yard keepers take their responsibilities seriously. So seriously, in fact, that one woman I know keeps a gun within easy range to pick off the innumerable gophers and rabbits assaulting her precious plants. Recently, when she was repaving her driveway, some bushes needed to be removed. Once dug up, they revealed the final resting place of hundreds of four-footed interlopers in various states of decay. She is my version of Katniss Everdeen, locked in an intergalactic struggle to the death—the lengths vigilant Santa Barbara gardeners will go to in order to protect their bulbs reminds me to never, ever to step in their plant beds.

Transcending the boundaries of the familiar

March 24, 2012

Recently, I’ve been reading a terrific book by Nathaniel Branden, The Art of Living Consciously. In this book, he refers to the efforts and need to transcend the “boundaries of the familiar.” Moving back to DC after 15+ years away has certainly forced me to confront such matters. Returning home to a city that has changed so much since I’ve been away (and I, too, have changed) has acquainted me with wonderful and not so wonderful alterations to the landscape. But those clear cut disparities are easy to see, what comes as more surprising are the ones that involve your family or childhood friends and ways of relating. As someone recently observed to me (I say this in the context of now being semi-young), we’re in the middle of our life, but we continually revert to reacting and thinking about things as if we were teenagers.

When I was a senior in high school, my aunt once said to me, “You’ll never know as much about the world as you do at seventeen.” I was perplexed by her nonsense and readily dismissed it because I knew so much. But my most recent experiment with transcending the boundaries of the familiar came just a few days ago. My dad was making blueberry waffles for breakfast. As I sat there reading the paper, I observed that he hadn’t bothered to use any Pam to minimize the amount of stuck on food for the waffle iron. Before I opened my mouth to “helpfully suggest” he attend to this, I put the brakes on, choosing to remain silent. The next day, there he was with an old toothbrush and the point of my best paring knife scraping the remains of the waffles off the grid. “No,” I thought to myself, “you can always get a new knife.” This, my friends, is an example of me transcending the boundaries of my familiar. I actually am quite proud of the fact that I approached this a different way–but it wasn’t easy or natural for me to keep my trap shut. So, my question for you to contemplate is what are some of the ways you have transcended the boundaries of your familiar? Think on that awhile.

Ok, alright, al…

March 22, 2012

Ok, alright, alright! So, I’m somewhat delayed in my blogging activity, but I’ve had a lot going on.

Um, where do I start? Well, for one, I am going to hold off posting any more of my initial novel. Rather, disappointed readers will have to adjust to a new journey which may or may not involve more of my fiction. Instead, those of you who enjoy a good Dignitary’s Retreat (and who amongst us doesn’t?) will get to learn what it is like to re-boot one’s life in one’s forties, not entirely sure that one had a life to re-boot! Maybe that’s unfair, maybe there was a kitten heel’s worth of stuff.


OK, so where to begin? A wise person once said that it’s best to “begin at the beginning.” Well, that person wasn’t me, so why break habit now? I think I’ll start with a grappling of one’s, er, age. But maybe I should back up a bit first (no, not all the way to the beginning) but a Cliff Note’s summary that will be dwelt upon more later. In sum, I find myself now living in the city of my Birth, home of my Father, and bedroom of my Childhood (complete with crappy twin sized bed and sheets that don’t fit). More on all this later…

In an effort to meet new people and get myself “out there,” I serve on my high school’s alumnae executive board–a very grand name for a modest group, but that’s so fitting for Washington and academia, isn’t it? So, I’m sitting there with several much younger alumnae, trying to adjust to being seen as the eminence grise of the group when a discussion ensued about the alumnae population in general. A mention was made of “first ladies” and when I asked what this meant, it was explained that this group consists of alumnae who have celebrated their 50th high school reunion. I joked that this certainly made me feel better about my relative youth when one of my fellow board members (fresh from the class of, oh say, 2009 or whatever) brightly observed that I counted as “semi-young!” Ah, yes, semi-young indeed. That’s a term one can chew on all night. I’ve decided to embrace it, rather like Yankee Doodle Dandy and own it in all it’s semi-young glory. The good news is that my (former) bank told me that once I turn 50, I’ll be so old that I’ll merit free checking.

So, that’s the latest from Washington. More to follow…

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