Monday, March 29, 2010

Longwood Gardens

One of the greatest reasons that I enjoy the area where I live in the Brandywine Valley has to be Longwood Gardens, Kennett Square, PA. It is only a ten minute drive away and a member pass is the only way to go--unlimited visits all year. I love visiting it any season of the year. We are so lucky to live near such a treasure; I can't say enough good things about it.

One of the most popular seasons is the springtime, which brings crowds of people to enjoy the warm weather and new growth. The plant collection is unbelievable and the flowers are stunning.

It is a breathtakingly beautiful place--words can't do it justice. In the forty-four years that we have lived in this area, it is the place that we have visited most often and at least half of all my photos are taken there. Everywhere is a Kodak moment. As a flower afficionado, superlatives are over the top--you have to see it to believe it.   

The two photo collages above were produced with an elegant little program called Photoscape that can be downloaded free from the web. 

Friday, March 26, 2010


Not since Tommy Lee Jones played a U.S.Marshall, has there been a more entertaining actor than Timothy Olyphant playing the character of Raylan Givens, U.S.Marshall, in Justified, a new TV series on FX. Created by the master of crime drama, novelist Elmore Leonard, the depth of character and human tragedy that it unfolds ranks it as a top draw in crime dramas for 2010. It's funny, it's bold and Raylan Givens displays a cold, calm, self-confidence behind a gun that hasn't been seen since Gunsmoke. He exudes confidence and competence as a lawman with a clearly-defined sense of justice without needing to launch a power trip. 

The "ah shucks, a man's gotta do what a man's gotta do" draws in the viewer who wants to believe that the guys in white hats are gonna win in the end. The character development is so strong and the histories of the lives of the characters lead the viewer to understand why they have arrived where they occupy their present. It's easy to care about where they are going as human beings and how they will get there, guaranteeing the continuity of the series. Even when they are rascals, they are likeable rascals. Human conflict is at the core of the show and the opposing forces of good vs evil never fail in fiction or TV shows. It doesn't hurt that Timothy Olyphant is awfully easy on the eyes. 

TV dramas can be very good and Justified proves it is one of the best.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Guilt Trip

It was a beautiful sunny morning when I sat down at the computer to check the lottery ticket numbers. They marched across the screen in all their randomness and landed on my ticket--all in a straight row. After years of weekly gambling on the numbers, my ship finally came in. I had not only the bonus number, but all of the right numbers for millions on a winning lottery ticket. I had the bank account ready, the charities selected, the stocks chosen, the lucky relatives chosen (those still speaking to me), and the tax man was sitting on my doorstep before I checked the numbers. Since I'm already retired, I don't need to do that. I have a few bills, but who doesn't? I would travel a little, renovate a little, and fund the grandchildren's education. I have a reliable car that gets me from point A to point B, but I have no desire for jewels, furs, yachts, second homes (Who can be in two places at the same time?). 

Yes, it's easy to figure out that it is a weekly fantasy in which I indulge myself, but sorry to say, I haven't won the lottery YET. As the mathematical whiz who lives with me has been saying for years, my chances are a gazillion to nothing for winning, yet every week he is the enabler who buys me that slice of hope. Pennsylvania used to only have Powerball in which I could invest my money, now they also have Mega Millions so I can be disappointed twice as often. We buy the one that is highest that week in the cash payout, not the highest jackpot. It has come to my attention that Mega Millions has a much bigger payout in the cash option than Powerball provides and when I win, a couple of million more is important. All things being equal, I am more often inclined to choose Mega Millions where I cast my dreams of hitting the big one. However, I have been faithful to Powerball for decades and if the total cash payout is higher, I contribute.

The possibility of winner's guilt has entered my mind much as the phenomenon that occurs when one person survives a catastrophe and others don't. I often wonder if those lottery winners who blow through the jackpot have some form of guilt psychosis that they don't deserve it so they should in all modesty find a good way to lose it. David Baldacci wrote The Winner, which I highly recommend, about the lady who wins a lottery. She seems to do exactly what she shouldn't and lands herself in a peck of trouble. I had a friend in college who would say it is due to our Puritanical upbringings that we are taught to feel guilty about anything that we enjoy; otherwise, we are mean, wicked, evil, bad and nasty people. However, I've covered my bases because the first thing that I would do after winning the lottery is to fund a trust fund that would provide for a host of charities to melt my guilt trip. Philanthropy cures guilt trips.

I've given this a lot of thought and it's easy to see that my favorite visualization technique is becoming very refined. 

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Java Junkie

A lifetime addiction, minus the first ten years, has been a mainstay through more traumas than I care to recount or relive. My attachment to coffee began early with the intuition that this was a very important event or ceremony in each day when my Dad would sit at the breakfast table with his first cup of coffee of the day. His obvious relish of the steaming dark brew was noticeable to even a child who could barely talk. He would sit silently, before eating his food, sometimes with his eyes closed, while he sipped the very hot coffee to avoid burning his mouth. He didn't like lukewarm coffee and neither do I. Funny, the things we notice as very small children. Sometimes he would dunk a piece of bread or saltines and so do I, but never something sweet. He never put milk or sugar in his coffee and preferred the straight caffeine, and so do I. The flavor of the coffee was far too important to dilute it with distractions. I've never understood the designer coffee craze other than as a marketing gimmick. The coffee becomes a secondary flavor for drinks that I don't define as coffee.

As much as I wanted to share this early morning ritual, I wasn't allowed to drink coffee until I was ten, which naturally made it even more desirable. It gained much more importance perhaps than it was due. I think I enjoy it immensely because I observed how much he enjoyed it. I don't smoke today, because he never smoked and was adamantly against smoking. If I had observed him smoking, I have no doubt, I would have smoked also. He never drank alcoholic beverages but I have an occasional glass of wine. However, it isn't a meaningful ritual for me like a cup of coffee. He didn't like to take any medications and I have no doubt he would have not been tempted by the illegal drugs that have flooded our society. I am extremely cautious about taking medications and I can't fathom the "recreational" aspect of any drug use. My Dad preferred the health benefits of food supplements/vitamins. Every morning when I take my food supplements, I think I have become even more like my Dad.

Sometimes I wonder if my coffee habit needs attention and if I should avoid being an addictive personality that needs a crutch. It is always interesting to see the conclusions of the latest studies on coffee. Is it good or bad to drink coffee? Are the benefits worth the possible side effects? I was amused when I had minor surgery and woke up in recovery to the question, "What would you like to drink?" When I said, "Coffee, preferably an IV," they didn't seem surprised and immediately gave me a cup of coffee. Apparently, it isn't uncommon for patients to cling to coffee like a security blanket.

I think I have concluded that I could live without coffee, though I fear my quality of life would be considerably compromised. I think of Emily in the play, Our Town,  who laments,  "Good-by, good-by, world. Good-by, Grover's Corners . . . Mamma and Papa. Good-by to clocks ticking . . . and Mama's sunflowers. And food and coffee. And new-ironed dresses and hot baths . . . and sleeping and waking up. Oh, earth, you're too wonderful for anybody to realize you . . . Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it--every, every minute?"

Therefore, I shall continue to indulge myself in one of the greatest pleasures of my day, and when my son comes to visit, the inevitable pot of coffee is ready for all to share and bond the generations.  

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Crazy Ivan

To give credit where due, I am a big fan of Tom Clancy and love his books, but I must admit I saw this movie before I read his book. When the movie The Hunt for Red October was released in 1990, I learned a new label for a concept I have always practiced and of which I was aware, even before the movie or before The Urban Dictionary included the term. I did not have this sexy label of "Crazy Ivan" to apply to my practice of awareness and self-evaluation. Wikipedia tells us that Crazy Ivan was a term coined when Russian submarines during the Cold War suddenly, without obvious cause, would turn and circle around to check the blind spot in their sonar behind them so they could determine if they were being followed. Their blind spot was the area behind the submarine that did not have sonar coverage to alert them of a predator. When they completed this maneuver, they considered it "clearing the baffles" which is that cone-shaped flare of the wake of the submarine. The label has evolved to mean any sudden change of course and re-evaluation. 

I've always associated the concept with the notion of evaluation of current circumstances and goal setting for the future to determine if a change of direction is necessary. When I was in college, I agonized, as only a nineteen-year-old can, about my major and based on my "Crazy Ivan" evaluation, I decided to change my major. Many years later, I pulled a "Crazy Ivan" evaluation and changed my career. I tend to think my major life decisions have included a "Crazy Ivan" evaluation before making a move in a new direction. That includes the very personal life decisions that all of us make from time to time. The resulting sigh of relief that comes from the careful assessment of past circumstances and having settled on a course of action, I now think of as "clearing the baffles" or "look behind you before you leap." That, to me, means I have performed a successful "Crazy Ivan" and "clearing the baffles" eases my mind.

In more practical, everyday events, when I am in public places, I am like the spies in movies because that 360 radar is always on alert to my surroundings. If I am walking in a park, it is a good idea to do a "Crazy Ivan" often to know who is coming along the track behind me. If I am walking in the mall, it is good to do a "Crazy Ivan" often to know who is walking near me, or too close for my personal space and comfort. If I decide to make a turn into a store suddenly, "Crazy Ivan" must come first so that I don't walk into the path of another shopper who is walking behind me. If I am driving, the major underlying principle of defensive driving is to always know the location of all the cars around me. If something unexpected happens, I know all of my escape routes. It has served me well in three occasions because I knew where all of the cars around me were located. Attentive driving is very time consuming and it baffles (no pun intended) me that anyone would have time to text, talk on the phone, read directions, put on make-up, etc., etc. In today's highway systems, traffic behind us can be as important as traffic ahead of us.

I always look forward to new directions and changes in life. Aside from the daily "Crazy Ivan" maneuvers, life often provides the motivation to pull a "Crazy Ivan". There is rejuvenation in making a new life focus after "clearing the baffles". Deciding where to go requires looking at where we've been. I used to apply the practice in the past without giving it much detailed awareness; it comes naturally to most people. I used to think of it as "look before you leap." Now, I often think, time for a Crazy Ivan. I don't know if labeling the practice is a good thing but it amuses me. 

Thursday, March 4, 2010


My beautiful granddaughter who is four and a half, said to me, "Grandma, I like your earrings." To which I replied, "Thank you, you gave them to me for Christmas." She smiled and said, "I have more jewelry than you." Knowing this was a contest that I didn't want to enter, it was easy to give in, "You win." My reward was her giggles and her beautiful smile. This exchange comes from a girly girl who loves anything that sparkles so when she visits me, she also requires a visit to my jewelry case. After a long career and changing accessories every day, I accumulated too many pieces of costume jewelry which is what she finds when she plays in my jewelry case. She doesn't know that the good stuff is locked away and she will get it in my will. She is still at the stage that "more is better" so she insists on wearing five necklaces, three rings, and four bracelets. Now that I consider, I know some people who can top that. We take pictures of her modeling my jewelry, and she likes to pose like a grownup model. It makes me wonder how little girls pick up that yen for glamor. I didn't raise a girl, I raised a boy so I missed the madness for pink and the shopaholic genes. I firmly believe the love of shoes is imprinted on female DNA.

After the ceremony of playing with the jewelry, she is finished with it and takes it off. It gets in the way of other stuff she wants to do. She and I bond over jewelry, baking cookies, and a dozen other routines that she loves when she visits. We play the piano, climb the spiral stairs a few times, and Go Fish is very popular. I taught her how to play Tic Tac Toe, which I just can't bring myself to win.I have a favorite chair where I read and have a cup of tea so that is what we do in that chair. We read about Clifford and drink water from cups. Ceremonies are very important to little ones. They watch every action of adults and religiously imitate the ones they like. She liked my compact digital camera so I taught her how to use it. I am always amazed to see how children are like little sponges. When she takes pictures, I print them so she has copies and can see how she progresses to improve her technique. After practicing for several months, she takes really good pictures. This is my favorite--her own composition and idea. Holding the camera still is her greatest challenge which she solved by putting the camera on a table to take a picture of herself. I like to think of her as "twinkles" with the smile in those eyes.

When I was young, I did not have grandparents still living to visit and play with me. When becoming a grandparent, I had no prior models or "know how" in the relationship between grandparents and grandchildren. I remember one thing that I liked about a neighborhood lady when I was small. When I talked, she listened, and she always asked questions. We had conversations that made me feel important and grownup, so that was my model. When I became a parent, I read that a parent is successful if they read to a child and play ball with them. I figured it can't be that simple, but it is a good start. So as a grandparent, the relationship rule of the day is lots of attention, read, play kickball, and have conversations. A lot of baking is also in our future.