Saturday, March 28, 2009


There's an episode of the early '60s tv show The Twilight Zone that is permanently etched in my brain. I don't actually recall most of the details, but the story concerned a man who loved reading and for some reason never had time, or access to books, or something, to read. The story line set up his annoyance at whatever issues stood between him and his pleasure in reading.

At the end of the program, some awful thing, maybe a nuclear bomb, occurred, leaving him the sole human survivor. Miraculously, the books in the library had emerged unscathed as well. Nirvana!! Nobody to put demands on him, all the books and time to read them he could wish for!!

But then his glasses fell off his face and shattered... glasses he required to be able to see the words on the pages... and all the opticians blown away by the bomb.... What I clearly remember is the look on his face as he realized his fondest wish had come true yet remained beyond his grasp.

Obviously the point my youthful (at the time) brain took away from that story was to be careful what you wish for, and an appreciation for how dependent we become on the progress society makes. For every great step forward - like eyeglasses, or computers, or electricity delivered to our homes - there is a price to be paid in increasing dependence on someone else's skill and resources to give us access to those advances.

I'm thinking about that today because a last blast of winter is coming our way, with rain turning to sleet that's scheduled to become some number of inches of snow. In my 1920s neighborhood with lots of trees and overhead power lines to become coated with ice, rain turning to sleet generally means impending power outage, which past experience tells us means up to a week before crews can make repairs and get the houses on our street back online.

Earlier this week, we installed a new tankless water heater. This technological wonder heats water as it's consumed, so that you don't burn gas for the 23 or so hours a day it's not needed. It also allows a blissfully long shower, which of course negates the gas savings. But that's a function of discipline, not access, and is a story for another time.

So what does any of this have to do with the guy with broken glasses in the Twlight Zone episode?

We know from past experience how to make it through a week-long power outage in relatively good spirits. Life without tv and the computer is survivable, and we've got candles, matches, flashlights, batteries, a fireplace, books, battery-powered radio and alarm clocks.

Our saving grace in past power outages was, no matter how cold and dark it was in the house, we could always cheer ourselves up with a shower. Limited though it might have been by the function of our pathetic little hot water heater, at least it was warm.

Sadly, no more.

So if the power goes out this weekend, I'll be thinking about progress, technology, that guy in the middle of the library with broken glasses... and the luxury of a hot shower, so close, yet unattainable.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

"Enjoy these years, they go by so quickly..."

Every new mother has heard these words, meant to describe the blink of an eye that constitutes childhood. Every old mother has said them, too. I didn't respond positively when I was on the receiving end: sleep-deprived and unsure what to do with collicky new babies, time couldn't move fast enough for me. Hindsight brings a different perspective, of course, and I now utter the same words to others embarking on the adventure of motherhood. They're likely no more receptive than I was when I walked in their shoes.

I thought about that today as I shared a church pew with the lovely, lively adults my collicky babies have become, at a memorial service for the mother of a couple of their grade-school classmates. Beyond the obvious sorrow of the occasion, the realization of just how swiftly time really does pass, and how little of it we're really granted here, hit me like a slap in the face. And left me with a great jolt of inspiration to appreciate what moments I have left.

The woman whose life we celebrated was a vibrant and generous soul, beautiful by every definition of the word. I hadn't known her well, but years spent with other parents on gymnasium bleachers cheering grade-school basketball games or arranging cookies at parent association meetings bring a sense of community that lingers well beyond graduation. She couldn't have been much older than I -- which of course I regard as far too young -- and in her final months had faced debilitating illness with grace that was truly inspirational.

The church was packed, and among the masses were faces that brough back all sorts of fond personal memories. The kids' teachers. Their classmates, who just yesterday I toted in the back of the mini-van and hosted at sleep-overs, now handsome young adults. Their parents, the moms and dads who sat alongside us at all those school plays, track meets and pizza parties, now a bit grayer, slower of step, but hanging in there.

The people with whom I have traveled through what really were some of the best years of my life, now gathered to acknowledge the passing of one among us. The first among us, a sober reminder of what awaits the rest, and a gift to someone like me, who has focused on much on just getting through those years that I've failed to appreciate their blessings.

I'll stop advising young mothers to enjoy these years. It's a lesson that can only be learned first-hand and after the fact anyway.

I'm better served looking in the mirror when I deliver that lecture, and if I pay attention this time, perhaps I'll discover that my best days aren't past, but ahead.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Stalked by my computer

One of the down sides of living in the moment is that you start to notice things. And one thing I've noticed lately does not make me happy. I think I'm being stalked by my computer. Or more specifically, by Facebook.

I dipped my toe into the world of social media by establishing a presence on Facebook. I don't exactly know what I'm doing there yet, and I am definitely flummoxed by most of the rest of the tools like Twitter and Digg and whatever else. But I sure recognize good old-fashioned real-world target marketing when I see it, even in Web 2.0 (or are we on to 3.0 by now?)

On the right hand side of my Facebook page are ads for various products. Today's assortment of messages exhort me to drink red wine as an anti-aging elixir, offer me something to flatten my bulging belly and announce a great new way to erase 40 years of wrinkles.

On the day after my birthday, while I munch on a scone from the coffee shop that undoubtedly will not flatten my belly and check out the invitation to my 40th high school reunion, I'm not saying I'm not an appropriate target for these messages. But how do they know this?

I don't think I remember telling Facebook my birth year, although that might have been a requirement for participation. Maybe it's my name, which was the most popular for girls born in 1949-1954, then faded into oblivion forever branding me a boomer (as though the flabby abs and wrinkles aren't enough to give it away....) Maybe somebody at Facebook looks at the profile pictures and delivers the pages of the plump and/or shriveled to advertisers.

Maybe they're just good at what they do, in terms of targeting likely prospects.

Whatever the means by which they have identified me, I don't appreciate it. I wonder if I'm emitting some big scarlet O (for Old) through my fingers on the keyboard and into cyberspace. I don't like being stalked.

I guess I can just be glad they're not (yet) pitching me mortuary services.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Same old

Today is my birthday. I don't put that forth to fish for well-wishes, but because it causes me to think about traditions.

Thirty-three years ago (I remember the year clearly because I was pregnant at the time, and my daughter is now 32...) we discovered that my husband's friend's girlfriend (now wife) shared my birthday, and the four of us went out to dinner for a joint celebration. We've been going out to dinner to mark our coincidental birthdates every year since.

Every single year.

Sometimes it's just the four of us, sometimes other friends join us. Sometimes the restaurant is terrific, sometimes not so much -- like the year we went to a now-closed steakhouse and were surprised to find a cockroach emerge from under a plate and scurry across our table before being smashed by our friend wielding a water glass -- but it's usually memorable. And it's always reassuring to know that my birthday will be marked by friends, food and fun.

We have a similar tradition around New Year's Eve. Thirty years ago (soon to be pregnant that year) we'd intended to go out with another couple whose daughter was the same age as ours, but a bad snowstorm changed our plans. So we bundled up our two-year-old and made our way to our friends' home, where the girls toddled happily while we cooked dinner, drank champagne and watched Dick Clark call the plays on televised Times Square revelry.

After that, it just became What We Do For New Year's Eve. That tradition has survived our friends' move to another city, family emergencies, even their trip to Hawaii, from which they returned early just so we could spend New Year's Eve together.

The years when we whipped up Steak Diane or Cream of Brie soup upstairs, while the kids celebrated with grape juice and frozen pizza in the basement, might have been the most fun. But these later years have brought good times, too, as we prepare our meal at a leisurely pace, then struggle to stay awake until midnight.

For some, I'm sure doing the same old thing for 30+ years would be boring. Even I would find too many more such traditions to be stifling.

But tomorow night when we head to yet another restaurant for yet another birthday dinner -- our 34th together -- I'll be grateful for the fact that I'm still on the planet and in this unpredictable world have a few things I can count on.