Flying Too Close To The Sun

I had a farm in Africa…

No, not really but lately I have been receiving some cosmic mojo from Isak Dinesen’s book Out of Africa.

You know, the one that was made into a fab movie starring Meryl Streep and Robert Redford. She played Karen Blixen, a gutsy Scandinavian who married a Barron to get away from her family. He was a very likeable sort, and they really were good friends. That being said- he had numerous affairs and gave her syphilis. She survived by having terrible treatments (this was before penicillin, bummer) leaving her unable to have children. Denys Finch Hatton, played by Robert Redford, was the gorgeous ex-soldier turned game hunter who loved freedom more than anything or anyone else. He was an addicting combination of extremely capable (no lion is going to eat you on his watch) and well-read and a bit romantic. In the movie he washes her hair by the river while reciting poetry to her. That will do it. Sign me up.

But wait, hold on! There is more to the story and I just found out about it this week.

If you recall in the movie there is a character of a young tomboy named Felicity. She and Karen were fond of each other and became friends. She is sent to school and comes back gorgeous and well mannered. Karen later does not like it that Denys is taking Felicity flying with him. Remember that? Oh yes, my kitties. There is more to the story than that.

Here it is.

That character was based on a real person. That person was Beryl Markham. Beryl grew up kind of wild. Her father was a horse breeder and trainer. His wife took his son and returned to Europe leaving him alone to raise Beryl. From all accounts she was tall, gorgeous, extremely talented with horses and most certainly a woman before her time. She was married three times, had a few open affairs….one with a Prince but that was shut down by the royal family.

She was friends with Karen Blixen. She also had an affair with Denys Finch Hatton and may or may not have been impregnated by him and had an abortion. Wow!

It is reported that on the day Denys Finch Hatton was killed in a plane crash… he had first asked Karen to join him and she said “No.” He then asked Beryl to join him and she was asked not to go by a flying friend who had a bad feeling about flying that day. She said, “No.” She felt there would be other days to fly.

Denys’s plane went down that day.

Karen went back to Europe and became a writer. She had been writing stories all along and published her first story at age 22. Her marriage and the coffee farm in Africa were but one part of her life. It was that life that she recorded in Out of Africa which was first published in 1937. She also wrote Babette’s Feast which was also made into an Academy award winning film. It won the 1987 Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film. The name is familiar to me but I have not seen the film. I hope to do so this weekend. It is reported to also be a favorite of Pope Francis.

This is also interesting to me because I am getting some religious vibes. More on that later.

As for Karen, after she left Africa she continued to have some ups and downs. It seems to me that her success as a writer did allow her some fun. She became a bit of a character herself and was regarded as being eccentric and a bit of an outsider. I could find no more mentions of lovers or relationships after Denys. She was plagued by health problems and it is widely believed that she was anorexic. It is thought she died in 1962 of malnutrition.

Beryl Markham broke the rules. She grew up wild, got married and divorced a bunch of times, and had a few affairs with men who seem to have been very interesting. Go Girl!

She was the first woman to become a licensed racehorse trainer in Kenya. She later was the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic from east to west. She wrote a memoir, West with the Night, that I am dying to read. Her book did not receive very much attention when it was first published.

Later, in 1982 in a collection of Ernest Hemingway’s letters it was found that Hemingway himself praised the book saying, “But this girl, who is to my knowledge very unpleasant and we might even say a high-grade bitch, can write rings around all of us who consider ourselves as writers….it really is a bloody wonderful book.”

That spurred some interest in the book and it was republished in 1983. The proceeds allowed a now broke Beryl to live the rest of her life in modest comfort.

If you want to read more about these people/characters in a fictionalized setting check out Paula McLain’s book Circling the Sun. I just read it and that is why this story is being written. Oh Paula, what road have you gotten me going down?

As for me…

Many of you know that I am single and have never been married. No kids. There have been a few romances along the way… good ones…bad ones…. They were all worth it. Am I like Karen and Beryl? Am I destined to be alone at the end of my days with nothing but a few good stories to tell? Would that be okay? Maybe, I think to myself. Maybe.

Something has shifted. I think maybe it is stemming from the yoga I have been doing this past year. Last night I went to a sound immersion- a combination of restorative yoga and then resting while a sound therapist plays gongs and chimes. I did not think anything was happening to me. Suddenly, I was fully awake, right before the crescendo. I was energized and knew that I could handle it. I was AWAKE. I wanted to jump up and run out of that room and get GOING.

Where are you going and what are you going to do, you ask?

Well, for starters I am going to STOP WORRYING.

I signed a contract to purchase a historic building. I plan to gut it and design a new optometry office. I had to give my notice this week to my current land lord- so I am officially past the point of no return. I was stressing out about the building stuff- rules, rules, rules! Who knew that renovating a building could be such a hassle. But I have found the right architect and he is going to steer me through the mine fields of historic building renovation and City codes… I have faith. He is good at what he does and I am going to let him do his thing.

I am going to RELINQUISH CONTROL.

I think this is the underlying basis for pretty much everything that is happening in my life.

I overthink everything.

Thinking can be good. There is nothing wrong with attention to detail and striving for excellence. Perfection on the other hand… is a nasty word that needs to be destroyed. What is perfection? Can perfection endure the test of time and forces of nature? I have tried to be perfect. The perfect daughter, sister, friend, and lover… I can state with certainty that perfection is at a minimum fleeting and most likely nonexistent.

What is it then? What am I craving? What am I needing?

I think what I need is to be able TO BE MYSELF.

I want to try. I don’t always care if I succeed. I want to try to write a novel. Who cares if it is bad? I want to travel to places I haven’t been. Who cares if I don’t like it? I want to cook and bake and eat and drink. Who cares if I am not as skinny as I was in 1987, or 1996, or 2005? I want to be me and I want to eat some bread, dammit! My face and my boobs are certainly showing the effects of gravity. Who cares? I might not look as good- but I do have some good stories to tell. I want to have lots more of those stories to tell before I end up too old to remember or dead. I want to do those things with people who like being with me and don’t expect me to be perfect. I want to be able to disagree at times and have messy hair without fear of abandonment. I want to be able to wear my flannel pj’s with holes in them and still feel desired. Is that possible? I may have gone too far.

As for being alone, I have seen with my own eyes that most of us do end up alone. It is probably a good thing to be comfortable with that from the get go.

What are the rules? I do not know….rules, rules, rules! I am not a big fan. What is good for me, might not be good for you. Who is to say?

Yesterday I was speaking with a lady who is helping me find new health insurance. My current plan is being axed from Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield. I buy my own health insurance and have for many years. The whole thing is a mess. Anyway, she told me I have a few options. One is to buy traditional insurance. The other way is to join a group of individuals who are Christians who “help” one another with medical expenses in a Christian way. She asked me if I was a Christian? I said, “Yes” because I grew up going to St. Mary Magdalene every Sunday and CCD every Wednesday of my young life until I turned 19 and started tending bar. That was the end of that. However, I still pray to St. Rita and I have faith. I am not sure if that qualifies as a resounding yes, but I think that got me over the first hurdle. Ok, now on to the second question. Am I interested in helping others? That one was easy. Sure! I am a definite “Yes” for helping others. The last question…Am I living my life in a way that upholds Christian beliefs? Uh oh. What does that mean exactly? Well, for this model of medical sharing (they don’t call it insurance) it means that if you engage in behavior that is not considered acceptable… you will not be covered if you hurt yourself or get diseases. No smoking, no drinking and driving and getting into accidents. No sexual relationships outside of marriage. Birth control isn’t covered. You get the drift.

For the most part- I do live a Christian life. I am not 100%. You had probably figured that out by now. I thought a lot about that. I am a sinner. I sent a text to a good friend and told him I could save $2300 bucks a year. He replied it might be worth $2300 bucks a year to have fun. Lol.

So, I am going to pay extra and get traditional health insurance. I just don’t want to have to LIE about anything or pretend I am someone I am not to save money.  I will stick with St. Rita (patron saint of lost cases) and try to live a good life.

Maybe I am like Karen and Beryl. In some ways I think that would be great. Maybe if all goes well I will have a better ending. I will work on that. Before you can have an ending though there must be a beginning.

I bought a historic building in Oshkosh…

101 High.JPG

 

 

 

Closer To Fine

How the hell did my life get to this?  I asked myself while lying in bed (alone) last night.

It’s been over three months since I have written any kind of story and I have been working like a dog. This has led me to that nasty place where I start to play the movie of my life in my head over and over and over again and try to figure out where I went wrong.

Could I try to rewind the film and find THE MOMENT where I “chose” the life I am living????

Let’s see……

I am having my 20th class year Optometry reunion this year. I don’t have any regrets about living four years in the beautiful state of Oregon and meeting the people who are still my best friends. We had a blast and the physical landscape of that state remains a part of me. So, that is not the moment. The being an optometrist part has had its ups and downs but I figure that must be the way it is for all occupations. (Please say, “Yes, GGJ that is the way it is for all occupations.”)

After graduation I had to figure out where to live next. That was a real bitch to figure out.   In hindsight, I didn’t really want to leave my friends and the greater Portland area- but almost all of us were leaving- and I was like a little bird who was getting kicked out of the nest.

Optometry at that time was a little backwards and you graduated and then took your last board exams and then you waited all summer to get a license to practice. You then had to go to the individual state you wanted to practice in and take their own test and wait for their results to get a license. What??? This basically means that you have no way to make a living and your student loan payments start coming in… and there were a lot of stressed out optometry graduates.  Medical doctors have long ago figured it out and they basically have one test and if you pass you are in…. you pay the fees and get your license the next day. But, no. Optometrists do it the hard way.

My Mom was a super Mom and helped me drive a U-Haul truck that was leaking oil from Portland to Wisconsin.  Then we went on a road trip to Austin, TX and I took and passed that test. But, I wasn’t sure about TX. I liked Austin a lot. But, it’s really hot there and I am a fair skinned, blue-eyed part Irish gal that would burn to a crisp.  Can you say melanoma?

One of my best friends was living in Winston-Salem, NC and I went out there and took that test. That test was well known for being impossible to pass. They don’t let in a lot of doctors to the great state of NC.  Luckily, I had to bring a “patient” to the test and my girlfriend agreed to be the guinea pig. She just happens to be gorgeous and was wearing a lovely little sundress. The exam building was freezing and she was clearly uncomfortable. The head examination guy took off his crisp, blue blazer and hung it around her shoulders. She wrapped herself up in that jacket and we went from station to station and I examined her eyes….

I was convinced I had failed because the test atmosphere was not exactly warm and fuzzy. I cried a lot and we went to the beach for a few days.  I was a complete train wreck and not an easy person to be with- I owe my friend a vacation (and possibly my NC license- thanks for wearing that dress)!

I drove back to Wisconsin in complete despair, certain that I had failed. I hadn’t failed any tests up to that point so I was freaking out. I waited another six weeks and the letter came….. I opened the letter…. and….. I freakin passed! Yay!  In the coming weeks I got a whole bunch of letters from doctors looking for associate doctors. It was manna from heaven.

I ended up accepting a position in Charlotte, NC.  Is this the moment you ask? No, not this one. But, this one was a test.  You see, I was stupid.  I picked the wrong city in what possibly could have been the right state. I went for the money. I should have either picked the city where I actually had a friend, or the city where I would have like to have lived. Had I chosen Asheville, NC – my life may have been completely different.

North Carolina is a tough state to move to when you have just spent four years in the Pacific Northwest.  North Carolina, and specifically Charlotte, was a banking empire- conservative in all areas of thought/politics/living and was definitely an alien place for this Yankee.

It has its perks though.  Any state that has both mountains and coast is one to be considered as a desirable place to live. I still love Asheville.  I keep my NC license active (just in case) and go to a conference there every once in a while. It’s at the Grove Park Inn which is a place that deserves a drop by if you are ever in the area. The Biltmore is also a fun place to see. It’s like Downton Abbey only in America.

North Carolina was a close call- but not the moment that could have changed my life forever.

I have to go back further.

While an undergraduate at the University of Wisconsin I was a pretty good student.  I could have been a lot better of a student if I actually went to class or studied.  I think we are getting warmer…..

I was such a putz though. No one tells you that when you are 18 years old and have just left your friends and family for the first time that you are on THE PATH for the rest of your life. I really wish someone had told me that and that I would have actually listened.

I lucked out a little bit. Freshmen year I was hanging out with some hippie types. There was a lot of listening to the Grateful Dead -American Beauty CD.  I just happened to be stumbling through a calculus problem not understanding one bit of it when one of my hippie friends sat down and explained the whole thing to me. I learned that one problem.  Lucky for me- that was the problem to solve on the test… and I got a really high score! Yay for me.  Everyone was stunned, including myself.

I was in a jam trying to figure out what my major should be. I always thought I would be a writer. But, then I took a whole bunch of science classes and got good grades. My Mom and Dad really, really, really wanted me to become “something.”  I finally settled on being a History of Science major.  My Dad said, “What do you do with a History of Science major?” and I laughed and said, “Oh Daddy, nothing!”

Not to poo-poo history or science. They are both interesting subjects to learn and to possibly learn from… you know that whole thing about history repeating itself?? We are certainly in an interesting historical/scientific period right this very moment.

Living in Oshkosh is working out in that department. We have a couple of really nice museums here in town. For artsy fartsy stuff the Paine is excellent and the Oshkosh Public Museum has a lot of good traveling exhibits. My favorite is probably the EAA museum. It doesn’t get much cooler than to see the how the invention of flight has changed the world. History of Science, baby.

Many years ago I went to a D-Day talk at the EAA museum. It was a dress up kind of thing where we were supposed to wear period attire.  Looking back at it now, I was border line inappropriate. I went with my now ex-boyfriend/still friend and his Mom. They put together some outfits from his Dad’s gear from WWII and I rented a little blue air force jacket from the crazy lady down the road who does Halloween costumes. I wore the jacket with a blue mini-skirt….definitely NOT up to code. But, my legs were good so it didn’t matter too much. I don’t think I wore anything under the jacket…. Oh my!

As we were leaving a bunch of young active duty soldiers asked me if I would dance “half a dance” with their superior officer (who had a really good outfit).  I said, “Ok.”  We danced half a dance and then he sent me on my way. The ex-boyfriend/still friend and his Mom took it in stride and danced half a dance too.  When a soldier asks you to dance, you dance.

I had a chance to be brilliant while being a student at Madison.  I had applied for a position to help a professor with research to cure (I can’t remember what we were trying to cure) something. I accepted the position. When I returned to our rental house on Pinckney Street I was super excited and told the news to my housemates.  They asked me what it was all about and I told them. Then I got to the part where I would have to inject dogs with stuff and then take blood samples.  Silence. Then came, “There is no way you will ever be able to inject dogs with anything.  You have to call that professor and quit.” I came to my senses and called the professor. Sorry, gang. Maybe we could have cured something like diabetes- but I just don’t have it in me. I would have let all of the animals loose and gone to jail.  Dodged a bullet on that one.

The moment that changed my life forever was Thursday April 23, 1988.  That was the first day I was a bartender at Clearwater Harbor in Waupaca, WI.  I was barely 19 years old and did not have a clue.

Opening day is always crazy and that first day (or actually night) was a lesson for the record books. I got my ass handed to me- both figuratively and literally. At that time it was still a beer bar (the liquor license would come sometime in July of that year) and we were a bunch of newbies playing full contact bartending – shoving and pushing to get our cold beer into our thirsty patrons sweaty hands.  I happened to be standing in front of one of the bottle openers that are screwed on the front of the beer coolers. An old timer stuck his hand between my legs and opened a bottle of beer to serve to his customer.  Should I have been horrified? Or, was it okay that I liked it?  There goes the nice, sweet GGJ and here comes the fun….

I learned a lot of important life lessons tending bar. I had to toughen up or get run over like a freight train. I learned some common sense.  I learned a lot about relationships – both good and bad. I learned a lot about friendships- all of it good. I learned how to handle cash, drunks and myself.

My first day, I sucked. Year after year, I got better. I learned a skill.  I figured out when you should talk and when you should stay silent.  (Talk when someone is low and needs a laugh. Shut the hell up when a big shot walks in the door with a girl who is not his wife…)

The best lesson I learned is to look up.  Yes, look up.  A lot of new bartenders have their heads down- because that is where the booze is, where the glasses are, where you store stuff…. But you have to look up in order to see who needs you.  You have to look up to see if someone is low on their drink and needs a refill. Don’t make them ask. Go to them and ask if they are ready for another one. Look around, see who has been waiting first.  Go to that person, not the big loud mouth who just muscled his way in and thinks just because he knows you from that one weekend last summer that you are going to wait on him first. Take care of your patrons, and they will take care of you.

Life is like that too. Look up. I have seen a bunch of bald eagles and other neat birds.  Some people say that they have never seen one.  Well, if you live around here you should have.  But, you won’t find them if you don’t look up.

I used to bartend Sunday mornings with Bender.  He was and still is a great food and beverage person.  We would be getting the bar stocked and cleaned and would listen to this Indigo Girls song….

I’m tryin’ to tell you somethin’ ’bout my life. Maybe give me insight between black and white. And the best thing you’ve ever done for me Is to help me take my life less seriously. It’s only life after all.

Well darkness has a hunger that’s insatiable, And lightness has a call that’s hard to hear. I wrap my fear around me like a blanket. I sailed my ship of safety till I sank it. I’m crawling on your shores.

I went to the doctor, I went to the mountains I looked to the children, I drank from the fountain. There’s more than one answer to these questions Pointing me in a crooked line. And the less I seek my source for some definitive, The closer I am to fine. The closer I am to fine.

 I went to see the Doctor of Philosophy With a poster of Rasputin and a beard down to his knee. He never did marry or see a B-Grade movie. He graded my performance, he said he could see through me. I spent four years prostrate to the higher mind, Got my paper and I was free.

 I went to the doctor, I went to the mountains I looked to the children, I drank from the fountain. There’s more than one answer to these questions Pointing me in a crooked line. And the less I seek my source for some definitive, The closer I am to fine. The closer I am to fine.

 I stopped by the bar at three A.M. To seek solace in a bottle, or possibly a friend. I woke up with a headache like my head against a board, Twice as cloudy as I’d been the night before. And I went in seeking clarity.

I go to the doctor, we go to the mountains. We look to the children, we drink from the fountain. We go to the Bible, we go through the work out. We read up on revival, we stand up for the lookout. There’s more than one answer to these questions Pointing me in a crooked line. And the less I seek my source, the closer I am to fine.

 Songwriters: AMY ELIZABETH RAY, EMILY ANN SALIERS

They say (who is they anyway?) everything happens for a reason. You cannot see it at the time… but things have a way of working out for the best.

Is it just a coincidence that I woke up with this story in my head and today also just happens to be the opening day for Clearwater Harbor in Waupaca, WI?  I think not. Everything happens for a reason.

I won’t be there today. I might be there this weekend.  If you get a chance, stop by for a cold one. The sunsets are spectacular. Look around to see which bartenders are looking down. Tip them a little extra. It’s their first day. Who knows? They might end up being your eye doctor someday.

I learned how to laugh at myself and not take everything too seriously. I listened to some great bands. I made some life-long friends. We worked hard and we played hard.

My life hasn’t always gone according to plan or worked out the way I thought it would. That’s okay- I’ll just head over to the Harbor and see what happens next.  Change a thing… not a chance.

GGJ

Harbor 1990-1991 (2)

 

 

 

 

Bumble Bee Boots and The End of Days

I just returned from a long weekend in Asheville, NC. I went to an optometric conference and spent most of the time in a windowless room.

Traveling is so weird. Especially when you are alone. It really brings out the best and/or worst in a person. Myself included.

Here’s how it went.

My flight to Asheville had a stop in Atlanta. No prob. Except the pilot must have been a rookie because he stopped too short and while everyone got up and started to line up to depart- we got an announcement that we all had to sit down again so we could move forward about 5 feet. I was still sitting so I didn’t care. I had a lady next to me who was seriously frantic about getting out of the plane. We were waiting and waiting and she was flipping out. Finally, I said to her, “Do you want me to let you out ahead of me? It’s not like there is anywhere to go.” She settled down after that. We all got out of the plane and I high tailed it to the airport train and got to my next flight. It was tight but I got there. I figure the brisk walk and effort to hump it to the gate counted as exercise so I felt pretty good.

On the second flight I sat next to a very nice lady who was traveling from Anchorage, AK to see her friend in Asheville. It was her 4th flight of the day. Yikes. Shortly after we sat down, a really tall older guy wearing bright yellow hiking boots with a bumble bee on one boot and a hive on the other (I cannot make this stuff up) who was wearing a bright blue fedora and had his neck pillow already around his neck plopped down in the seat ahead of my nice Alaskan lady and put his seat all the way back. We just looked at each other. The flight hadn’t left yet. Everybody knows that is against the rules.

We both were annoyed. I was mostly annoyed on my new friend’s behalf. I whispered to her, “I think we can take him!” and then I made a fist and punched my other hand. She just looked at me. It was her 4th flight after all. After a few moments she said, “Thanks, I think.” We laughed and things were better. A flight attendant went by and we both silently pointed and made a lot of gestures and she made bumble bee boots man move his ass.

He was problematic on the exit of the plane as well, as of course he stored his massive carry on many rows in back of his seat, so it created a mess. Alaska lady and I capitalized on the confusion and slipped by him during the chaos. We walked down the jet-way and wished each other a fun weekend. She met her friend and they were jumping up and down and laughing and hugging. Nice. I got the last cab in the line and we were starting to head out of the line when…… NO!  Bumble bee boots man tried to flag down the cab. I was freaking out! Luckily, the cab driver rolled down the window and told him another cab would be coming soon. Sigh of relief.

GPI 6I stayed at the Grove Park Inn which should be on everybody’s To Do list. It is a massive, historic inn that has housed many interesting people over the years. I stayed in the old part of the hotel. The first night I woke up – feeling like I wasn’t alone- and I felt like there was a man in the room. Finally, I turned on the light. No man. Hmmm…..I’m not sure about that one.  He didn’t come back again during my stay so I cannot say for sure if I had a visit from a spirit/ghost or not. It wasn’t super scary, more like there is a guy standing in the corner thing.  He for sure was not wearing yellow boots.GPI room fixture

The conference was like all conferences. Everyone kind of picks where they like to sit and that’s where you hang out for three days. I am a back row or second to back row kind of person.GPI elevator

I kind of feel sorry for the speakers of today, because it must be dis-heartening to see everyone looking down at their crotches while you are talking.

One of the speakers was really, really good and called us out on the phone stuff. We all started to participate in the discussion and I learned a lot. It was about neuro-optometry. Like how to tell if it is an eye problem – or if your patient has a brain tumor kind of talk. Good stuff.

When you are alone and traveling you have to figure out how you are going to feed yourself.  The GPI has a bunch of different dining options… and I tried them all. I had breakfast included as part of my stay and it was a gigantic buffet. I had the same server (Juan) every day. We got to know each other. He is originally from Spain and is married to another lady who is a teacher and works at the GPI as well. She was nice too. She is originally from Minnesota so we were all cheering for the Green Bay Packers when they played the Panthers on Sunday. We lost. On Monday he whispered to me, “Sorry, for your loss!” and we laughed.

So, while I was alone the whole time. I wasn’t lonely the whole time. There is a big difference.

The last day of the conference was a half day of class. After that I was at loose ends. I spent part of the time hanging out in the bar watching football and then I high tailed it to the spa. It was very nice. Possibly the best massage of my life and the facilities are amazing.GPI spa

I was just out of the sauna and cooling off when a nice lady asked me if I was there with my husband.  “I don’t have a husband”, I said. She looked at me. I didn’t explain like I sometimes do. Sometimes I say, “I am too mean to be married.” That is always a winner. Anyway, the nice lady was in town for a religious conference by Billy Graham’s daughter.  The nice lady proceeded to tell me that she thinks it really is “the end of days” and that (I cannot recall the proper religious term) God is going to destroy the world to punish us, and that she isn’t sure that there will be a Rapture, but that she really, really hopes so……

Ok, I am such the wrong person for this conversation. Plus, I was still all goo goo gaga from my massage so I wasn’t able to process anything much less the demise of……everything. I just smiled and said, “Well, let’s try to turn this thing around one person at a time!”  She left soon thereafter.

I wasn’t upset about the encounter. I just don’t get it. I ran into a few more religious ladies on the flight home and I must say that they were all impeccably well-groomed and wore gigantic diamond wedding rings.  Like I said, I don’t get it. I spied on a lady in front of me on the plane home and she was reading a pamphlet about Hades and something about a Gold Throne. I might Google it. I love the Games of Thrones, but it is clearly not that kind of Throne. Don’t hate me, I just don’t remember any of this stuff from the 16 years of CCD I had every Wednesday growing up.

We had a rough landing into Atlanta and when we finally screeched to a stop, I did a little quiet clapping, laughed and said, “Landing is always good.” My seatmate said, “A-men!”

Monday was kind of a rough travel day. I don’t know if it is because everyone is hung over, depressed about football, or just mad in general. It had been raining for three days so that did not help.

The lady at the TSA desk where you prove who you are was a real piece of work. Picture an older woman with long, stringy gray hair. There was an older gentleman in front of me who clearly does not travel often. She yelled at him about everything. He finally got cleared and she turned her attention to me. I had used the airport kiosk to print out my boarding passes and baggage claim ticket and had tucked everything in my passport and handed it to her. She proceeded to hand me back the pieces paper one by one and tell me why she didn’t need it….sigh…and more sighs.  I had my baggage claim ticket in there and I made a little joke, “I hope I don’t need this one!” Haha! Nope. She then proceeded to yell at me that of course I needed it and that it was my responsibility to prove that luggage was mine. And so it went. Finally, I just said, “Are we done here?” She was a misery. I ran into the older gentleman and told him that she had yelled at me too. He said, “She needs to go back to bed and start all over!” We laughed.

This is when you are probably thinking, “Oh GGJ, give her a break, you don’t know what she has going on her life and who are you to judge?” True dat. All I know is that the waiting area for the flight to Atlanta slowly filled up with a lot of angry, grumpy people.

She made me think of a potential plot for an episode of Criminal Minds. She would play the Mom of a serial killer/sexual predator and knows what is going on but makes him cookies anyway. Then they get rid of the bodies in the hog pen.

Remember when I said traveling brings out the worst in people…. me too! Mean, mean, mean!

May I make a suggestion? Let’s get rid of the cheap tickets. Can someone please just charge me a fair rate, treat all passengers equally and figure out how to handle carry-on baggage?

The miracle of flight still amazes me. I was able to get to my destination in 5 hours when it would have taken me 18 hours to drive. That is amazing!

When did we start to expect to fly somewhere (anywhere) for a cost less than what it would take to purchase gas and drive? I fully expect to pay for convenience and time. For the love of God, please start charging more! Throw in one bag. Charge me, I don’t care. Charge more for good seats, I don’t care. Have the overhead compartments labeled according to the seats…. Don’t let the business travelers hog all of the space.  Try loading the plane from the back to the front so that we don’t have to jostle the fancy folks while we go to the back.

Let’s bring back the adventure of air travel.

Like I said earlier, traveling brings out the best and the worst in people.

That is the beauty. We find ourselves, we learn about others and we learn to appreciate everything we take for granted in our daily lives. When I haven’t traveled for a while I get antsy and wonder what I am missing. Then I go somewhere and after some time passes…. I can’t wait to go home. That is a beautiful thing.

A few years ago I went on vacation with one of the Sisters. At the end of our vacation she was ready to go home.  I wanted to just keep going. That was not good. I figured out a few things and made some changes…

I still love to leave, but I now I love to come home too.  Forward progress.

Is it the end of days? I don’t know. I hope not. Just in case, it doesn’t hurt to make sure  to say the things we need to say, do the things we need to do, and live like there may not be too many tomorrows…. But only if we use our powers for good. I still think we can turn this thing around- one person at a time.GPI 7 rocking chairs

GGJ

A Recipe for…

One of the Sisters had a birthday this last week. We all got together to celebrate and it was fun. I wanted to post a picture of the two of us on Facebook…. so I looked for a good one.

I found a picture of us on horseback riding the beach at Big Sur, CA taken quite a few years back.

Fantastic news….it is possible to get better with age.

I think we both look better now than we did then. It helps that fashion has evolved from faded Mom jeans and huge Badger sweatshirts to a more fitted look. That and hair straighteners….flat irons or my preferred method, keratin treatments, have made a world of difference.

It got me to thinking… almost all of the good stuff gets better with age.

Take bananas for instance. They are picked when they are green and have zero imperfections on the surface. They also taste like shit. Compare that to a fully ripe banana- cosmetically unappealing but full of flavor.

Why is that? I am pretty sure if comes from oxidation. (Flashback to science class…LEO says GER….loss of electrons = oxidation, gain of electron = reduction.) It’s complicated, but I think it has something to do with its reaction to oxygen (O2). Oxygen is important. Essential for survival. Okay, it makes us weather and age but adds flavor… I am cool with it.

Sometimes when I am mad (usually on someone else’s behalf) and I am being dramatic I like to say, “He’s not fit to breathe the same oxygen as you!”

It’s as close as you can come to cursing someone without worrying about bad karma.

The Sisters both come with curses.

My oldest sister has somehow invoked the wrath of the traveling gods and is destined to have late departures and arrivals, weird weather patterns (like inversions when it snows in the valley and fogs at the top of the mountain), demolished luggage and “lost” vehicles at the park and ride place. When you travel with her you better have a change of undies and a couple of mini-Bailey’s in your purse just in case.

The other Sister was the one with the birthday. Her curse is that she never gets what she orders in restaurants.

This came up on the ride to the restaurant to celebrate her birthday.

She said, “They can serve me a big flaming turd and I am going to eat it.”

The previous week they had gone out of town to a supper club that is renowned for its steak and salad bar. (How 80’s…) It’s also not cheap. Sister ordered a fancy steak with gorgonzola sauce. When all of the dinners arrived, her steak wasn’t what she ordered. She asked the server about it…and the server said, “This is a blackened steak” and she whisked it away before Sister had a chance to respond. She then waited 25 minutes for her dinner to arrive. Meanwhile, the other two people ate their dinners at the pace of a tortoise in an attempt to wait to eat with Sister. Sister ended up eating alone. It was sad. She said that she would have eaten the blackened steak but it all happened so fast that she didn’t get a chance.

This time she was determined to eat her birthday dinner with the group.

I said, “If they serve you shit on a shingle, will you eat it?” and she said, “Yep. With a smile on my face. I have to turn this curse around. I am determined to eat whatever is put in front of me.”

At this point Mom said we had to change the subject because if we kept going she might lose her appetite. We all laughed. The mood was set and we were all on the same page. We were going to have fun- no matter what.

It’s so bizarre…but I think the curse may have lifted. We got to the restaurant and it’s a crazy place. Basically, you usually have to elbow your way to the bar and stand three deep and hang out for a while. When we walked in I started to scout a place in the bar and found an open table in the corner. No way! We were just settling in when we got summoned to our table. Again, no way! Sister even got what she ordered. It was insane. We all got ice cream after dinner drinks. We thought the bartender might kill us for getting 3 different kinds… Grasshoppers X 3, a White Dove and a Brandy Alexander…but we didn’t get killed. They were so huge we couldn’t finish them all. It was awesome.

The following night Sister went out to a different fancy steak place and got…. exactly what she ordered and it was perfect. Very interesting!

This is kind of deep…. so hang with me. I think it might be a step in the step process…it’s the Serenity prayer and goes something like this (don’t quote me because I am not going to look it up but just wing it instead.)

Lord, give me the strength to change the things that I can change, accept the things I cannot change, and the wisdom to know the difference. Amen.

Remember that the next time you go to a fancy super club.

All this talk about food has gotten me hungry.

I will tell you a secret. I didn’t come up with it…

A long time ago, a person who shall remain nameless, was at a Christmas work party and got snookered. He was sitting next to a person who was also bombed and they were both having surf and turf for dinner. You know, when you get the little candle holder with the butter dish suspended above it? That’s the one. So the other bombed guy said, “You’ve got to try this.” And he proceeded to dip his tenderloin steak into the leftover lobster butter sauce. They proceeded to devour the remaining turf. I thought they were seriously deranged… until I tried it. OMG.

I give my foodie friends permission to steal this concept.

I would recommend serving the little candles with suspended butter dishes as an extra and charge the heck out of it. I could see having a lobster butter sauce and also maybe some kind of Cajun butter sauce….

You can thank me with gift certificates.

Let’s get back to bananas, shall we? My Mom grew up on a big dairy farm. Her Mom used to bake all of the breads and sweets and make huge quantities of food. My Mom was her helper. I think all of that cooking early on kind of ruined my Mom for cooking later in life. She would conjure up dinner but I think she would have rather been golfing.

Anyway, she is good at making certain things. She likes to say that everything she can make can “serve a thrashing crew.” Which means that she is good at turkeys and pot roasts and mashed potatoes.

I asked her for her banana bread recipe as I have a couple that have seen a better day. She dug out her Mom’s old cookbooks and gave me this recipe. I hope you like it.

Grandma B’s Banana Bread recipe.

1 ¾ cups sifted flour

2 tsp baking powder

¼ tsp baking soda

½ tsp salt

1/3 cup butter

2/3 cup sugar

2 eggs well beaten

1 cup ripe bananas (2-3)

Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Beat butter until creamy. Add sugar gradually and continue beating until lite and fluffy. (Grandma’s exact wording.) Add eggs and beat well. Add flour mixture alternating with bananas a little at a time until smooth.

Turn into a well-greased 9x5x3 inch loaf pan and back in moderate (350 degree) oven about 1 hour and 10 minutes until done. Makes one loaf.

I hope yours turns out.

My Mom's old cookbook
My Mom’s old cookbook

old cookbook 2

Baby dolls, it’s not what you are having for dinner….it’s who you are having dinner with that matters. Butter goes with everything. When in doubt, use a recipe that has stood the test of time. Don’t forget the salt. Ever. Curses can be lifted. Going with the flow is easier than fighting the current…. most of the time. (Unless you are heading for a massive waterfall and are going to die… then swim at an angle for shore.) Keep breathing.bananas

GGJ

My Latitude Made Me Do It

I just watched a TV show (Mind of a Chef, Season 3) where Edward Lee mentioned that he has found that he is comfortable and “home” at a certain latitude. His places happen to be Louisville, KY and Korea. His latitude is 38.25 N.

My latitude is 44N. I have spent the majority of my life living plus or minus 2 degrees of this latitude. I was born here, so it’s not like I picked it. Central Wisconsin, baby! Interestingly, when I went to Optometry School I chose to attend Pacific University College of Optometry in Oregon. Right outside of Portland. Yep, you guessed it…..45 N. I loved it. The physical beauty of the landscape, the people who became my friends…. Everything.

Very interesting…I think Edward Lee is on to something. I wonder if we are somehow programmed to become comfortable with the amount of daylight or darkness dictated by the changing of the seasons.

Is there some kind of magic associated with living at a certain latitude? Alaskans seem like happy people, as do those gorgeous smiling Scandinavians. How can that be? Hmmm…Anchorage is 61 North and both Oslo, Norway and Stockholm, Sweden are at 59 North.

Compared to let’s say…..who seems grumpy? The first person who popped into my mind was the leader of North Korea who freaked out about the movie The Interview…what’s his name again? Kim Jong-un. His latitude of birth is 39N. So that got me to thinking about more bad guys and I just had to look up Charles Manson. Hold on, you are not going to believe this….born in Cincinatti, OH which just happens to be latitude 39 N.

Perhaps match.com should implement a new question regarding latitude into its database.

It’s not like we don’t have our fair share of lunatics here at 44 N.

We are just a stone’s throw away from Plainfield, WI. Birthplace and home of Ed Gein. He liked to make people into lampshades and other stuff. A friend of mine just got a wooden ship model with “canvas” sails for his birthday- supposedly made by Ed Gein. I have to wonder about those sails…. What are they really made of???? Creepy, but very interesting. There are more serial killers and whatnot but I have to stop or this story will never end.

I really don’t know if this has any scientific merit. There is one way to find out. I must research my lovely latitude of 44 North some more. Lucky for me, Bordeaux France just happens to be on the list. I think that might be an excellent place to start. I am not opposed to checking out those northern latitudes as well. I really think there must be some kind of cosmic woo-hoo going on up there. I will keep you posted.

Peace, GGJ

Montana, Sweet Montana and the Power of Pie

This week has been a long one. I am filling-in for a friend who is at a conference which means that I basically go to work, come home, put my jammies on and go back to work again. Yesterday was Wednesday and it was cool and rainy…a perfect day for jeans and a sweatshirt, naps, reading and firing up the oven for some baking. But I was at work, so I couldn’t do any of those things. Instead I asked my Facebook friends for suggestions on what kind of pie to bake and what movie to watch when I can actually do so. The responses were really good and got me to thinking…

Montana, sweet Montana…. How I love you so.

Also, it would appear that fruit pies are very popular in Central Wisconsin followed by banana and coconut cream and lemon meringue. Throw in some rhubarb and it’s all covered. Plus, I have a new source for a killer pecan pie recipe. As you know, I am an optometrist not a real baker or cook so I cheat a lot. I have a killer ho-made recipe from Rhee Drummond aka The Pioneer Woman that works every time. (I have a bad joke where I say this pie crust is Ho-made and I am the Ho that made it! It gets a laugh every time.) I buy my pie filling from Wienke’s Market in Door County, Wisconsin. I think they ship to pretty much everywhere. I like the Door County Cherry Pie Filling and usually have a jar in the cupboard and have “sources” who get it for me. That is the pie I am going to make tomorrow. I would like to try to make lemon meringue but it is raining and I think that I read/heard/watched somewhere that your meringue will “fall” if it is raining. Is that true? I have no idea, but that is my story and I am sticking to it.

On to the movies… I got a bunch of really good suggestions. I got to thinking about Legends of the Fall and Out of Africa. I love both of those movies. Both are also books. This is where I get to Montana. If you get a chance, check out Anthony Bourdain’s ‘Montana’ episode of No Reservations. You will get to meet an interesting group of people including Jim Harrison, author of Legends of the Fall and artist Russell Chatham who is a great artist, fisherman and person.

After I saw that episode I contacted Russell Chatham to purchase a print of a fly fisherman for my Mom. We played phone tag and left messages on each other’s message machine. I ended up purchasing two of the prints, one for me and one for my Mom. Russell signed both of them and sent me another print, “just for the hell of it.” I love them both and have one in my house and one in my office which I look at every day. We did the whole deal over the phone machine, he sent me the prints without me paying anything, it was all packed and shipped super carefully- like a piece of art, with a paper invoice. I sent back a check and a note saying if I had the nerve I would sell everything and start driving West. It was a fun experience. I love that guy… I don’t know him, but I love him.

Years ago I was driving by myself from Wisconsin to Oregon where I was going to school. Just outside of Missoula, Montana I was driving through the 4th of July Pass. It was there that I saw both ends of the rainbow at the same time, and actually drove through the rainbow…. It was a magical experience. I haven’t seen both ends of the rainbow at the same time since. That area is a dramatic mix of rugged terrain and I think a person either loves it or hates it. It is where the desert meets the mountain and only the strong survive. It is a place where a person can get lost or get found depending on your point of view.

Ok, darlings I have to go to work now…. Shoot! I didn’t get to Out of Africa! Next time! Have a great day and I hope you get to eat some pie and watch a good flick this weekend. Or chuck it all and start driving! Man, I wish I was with you! Peace.GGJ

I Never Thought I’d Raise a Heathen

My handbag with Pope Francis blessed rosary.
My handbag with Pope Francis blessed rosary.

I had a near miss this week.

It was my late night at work and I was headed home. I drive this route endlessly and can do it in my sleep. I saw the road work ahead signs as I entered the on ramp. Little did I know and apparently nobody else did either that what is usually three lanes of traffic very quickly became one. There were all sorts of cars swerving, breaking, weaving as fast cars and slower cars all got merged…it could have been the Big One. Here’s the interesting part. We all miraculously merged and kept going on our way.

I am pretty sure it was divine intervention. I was saying to myself, “thank you, thank you, thank you Lord.” Was it because I had my rosary blessed by Pope Francis in my purse?

How did a rosary blessed by Pope Francis end up in my purse?

It’s a long story…

The first eighteen years of my life I attended Catholic Church every Sunday, sitting in the first or second pew with my Mom and sisters. Every Wednesday I would attend CCD with all of the other Catholic kids and we would learn about God stuff. It was tricky because there are some really good God stories, but then there are all the rules and regulations. It was hard to go “all in” because it just seemed so 16th century. But we were a tight bunch and there were some perks. In gym class when the teachers forced us to choose teams (barbaric) I would certainly have been chosen last because I suck at anything to do with catching or throwing or hitting a ball, but because of my CCD connection I would usually get chosen third from the end instead.

One time I had to miss church with the family so my Mom dropped me off to go to Mass by myself at a different time. I waited for her to leave and then walked over to my friend Elaine’s family drug store and had a soda at the soda fountain and hung out. My Mom walked into the drugstore. Busted! She just said, “Let’s go.” Everyone knew I was in big trouble. The whole day my Mom said nothing to me. And I mean nothing. Silent treatment. Brutal. I am more of a hot blooded angry person and I just let it out and everyone knows why I am mad and how it could be fixed. Not my Mom. Silence. Later that night, I went into the kitchen to find her. She was washing dishes and crying. She said to me, “I never thought I’d raise a heathen.” Ouch! I felt awful, apologized, cried and still feel bad 35 years later.

There was some kind of funny stuff associated with growing up Catholic. My sisters and I would play “Communion.” My Mom makes these really good sliced cucumbers in vinegar and we would say, “Body of Christ” and “Amen” and then place the cucumber on the persons tongue. We were weird.

I had non-Catholic friends who wanted to taste the Communion wafer. Sometimes they would go to Church with me and I would save my communion wafer and we would split it. There is nothing like the cardboard wafer being stuck to the roof of your mouth and you can’t pick at it so you wait for it to melt.

I liked other religions too. I would sometimes go with a friend to the synagogue. I remember the Rabbi and his brother Howard. Rabbi Mel did a great talk and used modern day events from Newsweek to make his point. I was impressed. Plus, we always went to Burger King afterward and since there wasn’t one in our little town… it was awesome! I still like those chicken sandwiches even though they are terrible nutrition wise.

My first year home from college I tended bar and worked Fri and Saturday nights, and Sunday days. (The dreaded 2-10 shift. Seriously people, it’s time to go home around 6pm.) Anyway, Church was kind of out and my Mom let it go.

So over the next 25 years it’s kind of been a hit or miss thing with going to Church.

I have been to a few that were kind of interesting and left a lasting impression.

I went to an Episcopalian Church in Omaha, Nebraska with some good friends. It was very similar to the Catholic Church with a modern vibe. I knew all of the songs. Plus, they still had the kneelers which I really liked. The whole kneeling thing is a great short term suffering experiment. It is both a physical fitness contest and a test of wills. My butt did not hit the pew.

When I lived in Oshkosh, Wisconsin I went to the First Congressional Church with Pastors Carol and Ralph DiBasio-Sayder. They were really good speakers. I remember a sermon where Pastor Ralph was discussing the film Lars and the Real Girl. If you get a chance, it’s on Netflix, check it out. It is a quirky little film about community, acceptance, friendship and the power of love. Plus, Ryan Gosling is in it.

Years later I would attend a funeral for a young person who had died very suddenly and tragically. Pastor Ralph spoke at the service and was very compassionate and caring. I wept like a baby. I think he is a person who really gets it.

Somewhere along the line I found a few Saints who have really helped me along the way. For those of you who are reading my blog you know I have bought and sold a few houses along the way. Saint Joseph has helped me each time. He is on loan right now, but usually he is on the shelf with Saint Rita. Saint Rita is the Patron Saint of Impossible Causes. So, of course I identified with her immediately. She has really helped me out over the years.

The icon on the shelf was given to me by my beloved Aunt Ginny in 1998, the year I bought my first home. It hung for 15 years in her home in Winthrop, WA and has a faded edge from where the sun hit it. It is the ‘Black Madonna’: Our Lady of Czechoslovakia (the original dating back to the year 1382.) It is dark in color from the years of candles burning in front of it. The slashes on her face were made by a soldier during a war. It is said that the soldier dropped dead after his sword hit the image.

Serious mojo.

Back to the rosary. I visited the Vatican in the late nineties. I wanted to get a blessed rosary but at the time I was broke and thought that it was probably a whim anyway. This past winter a retired optometrist who fills in sometimes went on an Italy trip. He came back with rosaries for the entire staff. One of the opticians is not religious in any way and thought that I would like it better so she tried to give it to me. I was very resistant because it wasn’t meant for me. She insisted. So, I accepted it and Pope Francis has been with me since. The doctor heard about the gift and insisted I keep it and also insisted the optician accept one too! We both did.

So far this year Pope Francis and I have been to a Pink concert, Mexico, a major road trip to Charlotte, NC and Atlanta, GA as well as the every- day driving I do…. I really like having him with me.

He is a cool cat. He must be driving his handlers crazy. I love that too.

My near miss occurred on Wednesday. Yesterday two dear friends of mine very narrowly missed being severely injured. Tonight is the night I say a few of my Saint Rita’s and am thankful for being alive and well.

And that is the story of Gypsy Girl Jilly and the Pope Francis rosary.

 

Quit Yer Bitching

I knew I liked him right away. Let’s call him Mr. X as he doesn’t know I am writing this story.

I was listening from my office as he was being screened for his eye exam. We have a number of tests that are performed before I see the patient, and some of them require the patient to lean forward and put their chin and forehead in a machine. I heard him say, “ I’ll try, but I am all stooped over from the shrapnel in my back from Vietnam.” He tried, and he was able to do the test.

When I saw him he had his VFW cap in his hand, and he walked into my office. We shook hands and started our exam. Luckily for me, I had a little extra time that day and I was able to have a chance to talk to him a bit.

He was retired after many years working in road construction. He had been married to the same woman his whole adult life. I asked him, “ What is the secret to a successful marriage?” He said, “Communication! You can’t go to bed pissed off at each other”. I laughed and said that sounded like a good idea. He told me, “not everybody likes me, but everybody knows exactly where I stand. Because, I tell it like it is.”

He told me that Vietnam was terrible. He showed me where his hand had been injured and told me about his back. He had to kill people, or get killed. That was how it was. He was shot in his back, and he told his best friend to leave him. His friend did not leave him. He survived, and was sent home. When he got back to the US he was spit on by a protester.

I told him I was sorry that happened to him. He looked at me, and I looked at him.

Years later, his friend who saved him came to visit him. His friend wasn’t sure about coming because he was a black man. He came to visit, and they were going to meet at the local bar. The friend got there first and walked in the place. They all looked at him. The bartender said….”your money isn’t good here.” Silence. Then the bartender said, “We know what you did for Mr. X and your money isn’t good here because you are a Heroe.”

I loved that part of the story.

Mr. X told me they still get together when they can, but there aren’t that many left. Many of his friends have killed themselves, or been killed in other sad ways. He said that back then, there weren’t any psychiatrists or help for people like him. He said he was a scary guy back then, and it was a miracle his wife stayed with him.

We talked about life, love, good stuff and bad stuff. He says when he hears people complaining, he just says “Quit Yer Bitching!”

I really liked that part too. So, I have decided to toughen up, suck it up, and try not to complain. Because compared to that story, I have nothing, nada, zip, zero to complain about.

Mr. X.

He is sticking with me. I told my Mom and my Sister the story. We have already used the “Quit Yer Bitching” motto several times. I have been doing my job for almost 18 years now. It is the people that I meet that keep me interested in what I do. What a treat to meet Mr. X. Back to work tomorrow, I wonder who I will meet?