Anne Notations

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Golden boys

Who met David Beckham last night? We did!

Outside the locker rooms at Gillette Stadium: Cousin Jared's girlfriend Molly, cousin Eric, sister-in-law Shelley (who complimented Becks on his cologne and asked if it was the new one he's just released; it was), Beckham, Andrés, and Kevin looking a little overwhelmed – he was.

Thanks to Michael's brother, who does business with the New England Revolution's manager, we had free tickets in a fancy section of the stadium for a Major League Soccer contest between the Revs and the Los Angeles Galaxy last night in Foxboro. The game was fun to watch, if not terribly exciting (2-2 tie); there were several pretty goals that brought the crowd to its feet, as did "The Wave," which circled the stadium three times.

Kevin, Andrés, Molly, and Jared inside the stadium

Eric and Kevin give Andrés a lift in the VIP concourse.

The cousins enjoyed seeing each other and horsing around. From Syracuse, Melinda pouted via text messages.

The best part, of course, was waiting for the players to emerge from their locker rooms. The kids nabbed autographs on their shirts and ticket stubs (yay for Mom, who remembered to bring black Sharpie markers) and had their photos taken.

The boys with LA's Greg Vanney, formerly of DC United (Kevin's favorite; he's wearing their fan jersey).

The Rev's Shalrie Joseph, above, a dreadlocked Grenadian with the night's best smile – perhaps because he'd just scored his first goal of the season – was talkative and gracious in the parking lot afterward. He easily looks 10 years younger than his age, 30.

"It's fun being a VIP," Kevin said on the way home. No kidding! Lucky, we were.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Misty for me

The little lakeside motel on Route 28 south of Cooperstown where we stayed after leaving (sob!) Melinda at Syracuse last week was much nicer on the outside (pretty scenery) than the inside (1950s-60s paneling, sagging sofabed, and tired carpeting).

Both mornings my aching heart propelled me outside to a plastic chair overlooking some docks on Goodyear Lake, a long, narrow serpent of sparkling water. (If you click on the link, our location was at the very end of Knotts Motel Road.)

The first morning, sun danced on the lake and I watched several men launch a boat from a trailer ramp to my left.

The second morning, low fog groped the evergreen slope across the lake, and vapors waved atop the water surface as the sun tried to break through.

I soothed my heart with meditation and prayer. Still waters restored my soul.

Thank you, God, for most these amazing days.

You may click on the photos to enlarge them.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Great and powerful

I was impressed with Barack Obama's acceptance speech in Denver last night. He looked both authoritative and at ease. He said important things that begged to be said about the direction our country needs to go – toward tolerance, integrity, and a shared ethos; and away from fear-fueled bias, dissembling, and special interests. As oratory, it was above-average, not brilliant; nor did I come away with that one unforgettable "Ask not what your country..." nugget. But the message was on-point and well delivered. (As I write this, it occurs to me that the McCain ads painting Obama as a celebrity missed the mark. He does not have an especially high charisma quotient as politicians go. His appeal is more that of an earnest, honest, whip-smart workhorse. The rock-star image, in my opinion, derives more from Obama's relative youth, his racial novelty, and his compelling personal saga.)

The cut-away shots of Obama's gorgeous wife and sweet young daughters, and of teary-eyed citizens crowding the enormous stadium, were a perfect counterpoint to his composed, forceful eloquence.

I was less comfortable with the temple-like set behind Obama (above) and the giant flanking screens. The screens enlarged him to Wizard-of-Oz proportions, recalling a movie scene that scared the pee out of me as a young child:

"Silence, whippersnapper!" Yikes.

As Republican pundit Peggy Noonan pointed out this morning on the Today Show, the columned façade was a visual nod to Martin Luther King Jr.'s "Dream" speech at the Lincoln Memorial precisely 45 years earlier.

I have no issue with Obama's team referencing King's legendary speech; the nomination, after all, is a historic milestone in its own right and a victory for the civil rights King championed at the cost of his life.

Rather, the whole set-up struck me as borderline tacky and semiotically a bit ominous. Flags waving, a grandiose edifice as backdrop, a lone charismatic figure on high, the unison chants of a dazzled crowd... Well, I'm sorry, but the scenes that involuntarily came to my mind were these:

Calm down! I am not in any way equating the honorable and admirable Sen. Obama, who has had my vote for the presidency almost from the start, with the evil, twisted Hitler.

But choreographed political spectacles give me the heebie-jeebies. They make me want to take a step back, to say, "OK, this is the man we want as our leader, but can we cool it with the imperial imagery?".

There is no sanction in these United States for all-powerful wizards or dictators. Please let us always have the wisdom and the will to keep it that way.

And, one more thing: Vote Obama for change!

Friday, August 22, 2008

Three came back

Melinda on the bed in her new room, with Michael setting up her clock radio.

Kevin makes sure Melinda's network connection is working: Yep.

Michael, Kevin, and I moved Melinda into her Syracuse dorm all day Wednesday, had supper with her in the cafeteria, and left for Cooperstown that night. I had been in a state of dread beforehand and numbness during the move-in. As soon as we hugged one last time and walked away from her dorm, I melted into a blubbering blob of mournful goo.

We drove on route 20 southeast of Syracuse, up and down lovely rolling hills quilted with farms, splendid with weathered red barns and waving corn fields. The sun set in glory behind us, turning the world gold and ruby. Everything looked like a scenic calendar page for the month of August. And in our rented minivan, I sobbed and sobbed, tears streaming down my face and puddling around my neck. Leaving Melinda felt like losing a limb; I was incomplete, stunned.

The next morning, I awoke at our no-frills motel on a lovely small lake near Oneonta and photographed this scene, which brought to mind a snippet of a children's song by Raffi, which got me crying all over again.

Four little ducks went out one day,
Over the hills and far away.
Mother duck said, "Quack, quack, quack, quack!"
But only three little ducks came back.

Yesterday was pretty bad on the mourning front, but I had some good distractions, mailed Melinda a postcard, texted her on the phone a few times, and hung out with my two guys in a gorgeous part of New York State (see map at left). In the morning I sat by the little lake and prayed the Rosary and asked for strength and composure, for acceptance of this new phase of our lives, for safety and courage for Melinda, and for the continued love our family shares. The prayers honestly seemed to help; this morning I woke up refreshed, even cheerful.

Life does go on. Now, let's see: how many days until Syracuse's Family Weekend? That would be 70 days, in fact. Let the countdown begin!

Monday, August 18, 2008


I always wondered what it would be like to have a twin. Now, I need wonder no longer.

That's me at left, top. Sweaty and bedraggled after a day of packing the van for the trip to Syracuse, setting in some new perennials, and watering the garden beds so they'll survive until Friday. This photo is the best I can do using the Photobooth software on my iMac right now.

Who is the woman on the right? I have no idea, but when I saw the photograph in a celebrity story online – it was taken at a tennis match at UCLA earlier this month – an eensy-weensy spider of eerie recognition crept up my spine. The resemblance is uncanny. She even appears to be in my general age range. And she's a sports fan!

Kevin says she looks older, tireder (debatable), and less happy than I. Bless his little heart.

O twin, who art thou?

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Bye-bye, baby

Bogotá, Colombia; January 1991

In these last days it has come down to lists.

Things to buy:
Twin XL sheets
Underbed storage for winter clothing
Desk lamp

Almost every parent with a child leaving for college asks the same question: How did we get here already? Wasn't I just fastening size small Huggies around this girl's tiny waist?
Wasn't she just learning to swim in the deep end? ... bringing home hand-lettered Mother's Day cards from elementary school?
Weren't we just shopping for her first formal gown?

At Seekonk Swim and Tennis Club, summer 1994

Our soccer stars: Kevin, Andrés, Melinda; fall 1997.

Things to do
Practice using credit and debit cards
Order mini-fridge rental for dorm room
Finalize course registrations online
Weed out clothes no longer needed
Pack clothes for college
Try on winter boots

In just over one day from the time I write this, we will pack a rented minivan with Melinda's belongings and begin the five-hour drive to Syracuse University, where on Wednesday morning we will move our daughter into the high-rise dorm that will be her freshman-year home. Syracuse was her first-choice college, and she is excited, a bit apprehensive, and thrilled about this great new adventure. I wish I were as ready as she is.

8th grade graduation from Bay View, with Julie C.

At Friendly's with Torey and Victoria after Winter Ball, sophomore year.

It is hard to describe, without sounding pathetic, just how close I am to our daughter, to what extent she is the happy heart of our home. From the time I fell in love with that black-haired baby we met at an orphanage in Colombia, she has been as much a part of me as breathing. We have mother-daughter ESP, which is fun and sometimes unsettling: "How did you know I was just going to ask you that?"

With Bishop Boland at St. Sebastian's after confirmation, May 2006.

To me, she is "Honeybee," "Peanut," and "Baby." To her, I am "Madre," "Mother," and "Squeak Muffin" (don't ask). We sit on the couch watching the Olympics this month, Melinda's head nestled in the crook of my arm, her side pressed comfortably to my side, connected by our comfortable intimacy. I make a mental note to store up this moment and its feelings for the daughter-less months ahead.

Graduation from LaSalle Academy with best friends Julie B. and Torey, June 2008.

I am trying to be proud, happy, and secure that we have done our best in parenting this beauty. So why am I braced for the worst? Why have I cried in the shower? Because I know this chapter, our 17.5 years with this remarkable girl at home, is about to end. My life will be different from now on. Worse? Better? I'm sticking with different, for all the comfort it brings me now. (Not much, but I'm working on my attitude.)

College and a brilliant future are everything I want for our daughter. Letting her actually go is everything I dread.

To feel
Love, love, and love … without end.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Not so far away

The familiar, slightly eerie music begins and you immediately know where you are: In George Lucas's fantastical Star Wars universe. Then the voices of Mace Windu (Samuel L. Jackson) and Yoda speak, and you're there, you're home, you're back in the magic. And by "you," I mean me.

It's countdown week! My Star Wars fangirl heart is a-flutter. This Friday, August 15, George Lucas is going to shake some more money out of our pockets with an extremely cool-looking theatrical movie release, The Clone Wars, a fully digital precursor to an eponymous television series.

You will watch the trailer right now! ~Obi-Wan Force wave~

Just hearing the familiar sounds as this preview begins gets my pulse racing. I know it's ridiculous, but remember, anticipation is a good thing, and so is being a fan.

The characters will be three-dimensional animations. I'm not bothered by that. The action in much of the three Star Wars prequels was computer-generated, so it's not a huge leap to simply replace live actors with digital doppelgangers.

I'll be in a theater this Friday with son Kevin, waiting eagerly for the green LucasFilm logo to appear on the screen. MTFBWY!

Friday, August 08, 2008

The sting

To the extent that Americans tolerate royalty, they crown not politicians (McCain's attack ad notwithstanding) but actors and musicians. "Stars," in other words.

These days any whack job can be a celebrity, it seems, but true Hollywood stars are a rarer breed. One of the best and most enduring is the actor Paul Newman, renowned for memorable roles in classic American movies from Hud to The Sting to this old-school favorite of hockey fanatics everywhere:

Slap Shot (1977)

I cop to a modest Web-based celebrity-watching hobby, and I want you to know right now that, like red wine and oat bran, it's actually good for me, so don't judge. (Source: "The study found that those who followed the lives of famous people for entertainment and social reasons, did not have significant mental health problems. In fact, they appeared to be more outgoing, optimistic and happy.")

But I never really saw Paul Newman as a celebrity. He was a deft and thoughtful actor, a dedicated family man (married nearly 50 years to Joanne Woodward), a philanthropist of note, and a seriously beautiful guy.

That's what I'm talkin' about.

Today I read that Newman, who is 83 and has been battling cancer, has left the hospital and chosen to die at home in Connecticut, with his family around him. He has, at most, weeks to live.

I'm not sure why this stung my heart as it did. Part of me hates to think of Newman as anything but the dazzling blue-eyed cowboy in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. His imminent death is also a stark milestone in my generation's march to old age. If Paul Newman is no longer with us – putting in a pitch-perfect star turn in 2002's Road to Perdition, taking one last turn around the race track in a streamlined car – then we've lost a symbolic icon of our youth and must look around for the remaining genuine stars of the generation that preceded ours. And there aren't that many of the old lions and lionesses left. (Sean Connery, I'm looking at you.)

Daughter Nell Newman will take over sole leadership of the Newman food industry whose profits have sent thousands of cancer-afflicted kids to summer camps, among other good deeds. That's a legacy, right there, to put on the bragging-rights shelf alongside Paul's nine Oscar nominations and one best actor Oscar.

Can I be shallow and mention Newman's amazing physicality and heart-melting gaze one more time? I guess I just did. His profile was of classical proportions, his sensuous mouth in its prime right up there with Brando's. The good Lord doesn't make many men like Paul Newman – gorgeous, talented, and principled. I'm sorry he has suffered recently, and I'll be genuinely sad to see him go.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Back in business

Back in the garden business, that is.
If you enjoy flowers, you will want to click on the photos to see them larger.

After we moved here last summer, it was so hard for me not to have gardens. It was late in the season to plant, and we had to finish our front porch renovation before we could dig out borders and add new soil.

That was all done on Father's Day, as I documented here. Now, unless it's raining, the first thing I want to do after I get dressed is go outside to make the rounds.

Hi, butterfly bush(es). Nice to see you so big and bloomin'. The butterflies have been coming around, too.

Hi, pale yellow roses I bought in cramped pots at Stop & Shop. Your buds open deep gold, then turn to a rich cream. Kudos on all your shiny new foliage!

Hello, hydrangea left by previous residents. You were kind of bedraggled at first, but look at you now: big and leafy, with true-blue lacy blossoms.

Oh, I do love you, coral-and-yellow rose, also from the supermarket. I'm so proud to see your first new blossom after you established your roots in the back yard.

The vegetable garden, she grows. And grows.

And puts forth the tastiest cucumbers we've ever eaten, little fat ones called "Boston"; and the sweetest tiny orange tomatoes; and firm miniature plum tomatoes.

More Early Girls should be here soon. And peppers! Not quite ready for picking, but working on it.

We've been eating chopped basil in our salads, dill in omelets and potato salad, and thyme on chicken. I keep forgetting to use the rosemary, but just the smell of one needle rubbed between my fingers can send me into raptures.

We chose, it seems, a fortuitous spot for growing plants in gardens and in pots, as seen around our patio in the back.

And feeding goldfinches. This guy has brought back many of his friends and relatives since I bought the Droll Yankee thistle-seed feeder.

That's it! I officially love it here.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Après vous

The Times Magazine has a terrific article this week about two different sorts of drivers: those who, when faced with the eventual need to merge when a lane ends, pull into the lane that will remain open and stay in line; and those in the same situation who zoom up the disappearing lane and force themselves into the line at a more advanced point. Cynthia Gorney, the article's author, ferrets out some actual scientific research on this phenomenon, disclosing at the outset that she is a driver who patiently stays in line and is loath to allow the speeders to "cut" out of turn.

This Times diagram lays out the challenge. You can click on it to see it larger.

Gorney reports that the recommendation of those who study traffic flow is the following process:

People in the narrowing … lanes refrain from shooting ahead, while people in the … through lanes — this is hard to swallow, for those of us inclined toward vigilantism, but crucial — leave big spaces in front of their cars for the merging that is about to commence. … At clearly marked or somehow mutually agreed upon places, everybody starts conducting beautiful “zipper merges.”

Apparently this approach maximizes traffic flow through bottlenecks and results in the speediest resolution of the merge. Scientifically, it makes sense. But it doesn't always jibe with the emotional landscape of the daily commuter. Or, as Gorney says, "No, you are not cutting in front of me unless you look as if you might have a gun in your car, in which case, OK, but you’re still a rodent."

A year ago I began commuting some 15 miles each way to work, after previously having enjoyed a three-minute commute. To my surprise, I actually enjoy the drive. That 25 minutes on the road gives me time to transition between two worlds: work and home; colleagues and family; editor and Mom.

Driving longer distances at peak commuting hours also brought out the competitor in me. I have always been competitive about almost everything, not in the noble, Olympic "thrill of victory" sense but in a childish, craven way: I want the attention, I want to do better, I want to be cleverer and more adept. I want to smack you down, sucka!

On the road I soon found myself slithering from one lane to another, winding through traffic like a serpent, leaving the car beside me stranded at a traffic light that just turned red. I mentally exulted in my sharp eyes and quick reflexes, and secretly pitied the fools who wasted time sticking to the speed limit and staying doggedly in one lane. This was fine at first, but a half-year into my new career as an aggressive driver I began to notice that my hands and arms hurt. Why? Because I was gripping the steering wheel so fiercely, it actually made my tendons ache.

I was also getting crabby, especially on my drive home in the evenings. Partly this was because I persisted in listening to a local radio talk show whose host and regular callers pushed all my outrage buttons with their bitter, reactionary political rants. By the time I got home, I was exhausted with the effort of beating other drivers and bristling at the radio bozos. I snapped at the kids. I couldn't face making dinner, but fell into my recliner and begged Michael to call for pizza.

Then I found the Zen Habits web site and this blog entry on reasons to drive more slowly, and how. The first paragraph resonated for me immediately:

While I used to be a bit of a driving maniac, passing everybody and stepping hard on my accelerator, I would also get increasingly frustrated when people would drive slow and keep me from driving fast, or cut me off. Driving was a stressful experience.

I was struck particularly by the author's instruction to ignore other drivers' progress and to drive the speed limit. "Make your ride a pleasant experience," he concluded.

So, I'm trying. After I catch the traffic report, I switch the car stereo to NPR or a CD. I pick a lane, usually the right lane, and – barring an elderly driver puttering far below the speed limit – I stay there. Instead of driving nearly bumper-to-bumper in order to thwart the speeder-uppers who attempt to cut into my lane, I motion the nearest one to slide in front of my car. While my festering self-righteousness occasionally leads me to backslide into blockade mode, I'm doing better. And feeling better, too.

Two nights ago the local talk radio had a substitute jockey instead of the usual provocateur. This new man eschewed Obama-bashing and instead invited callers to reminisce about places that no longer exist in the state but that hold a special place in their hearts. Caller after caller took listeners, me included, on a nostalgic jaunt into the recent and distant past. People were happy to talk about the old Burger Chef chain, the Warwick Musical Tent, the streetcar ride from Pawtucket to downtown Providence, Shepard's Department Store, and the vanished Rhode Island Auditorium hockey rink.

Several miles from home, I realized I had been (effortlessly) driving the speed limit the whole way home; had stayed in the right lane; had ignored who was passing me, who was getting ahead at my expense. My hands were relaxed on the steering wheel, and I was smiling. I was having a Pleasant Experience!

Does my temperate approach to commuting mean I'm turning into an old fogey, or simply getting smarter? Maybe some of both.