Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Speed Humps

The town has been doing road improvements to our downtown area. Recently, they completed a majority of the work, including paving Main Street. Along with that, they installed what most folks call “speed bumps.” Caution signs went up in town. SPEED HUMPS, the signs read. Speed Humps? Hump was possibly selected because they are wider (or broader widthwise) than regular speed bumps. I found the signs disturbing for some reason. Am I the only one that feels embarrassed by humps on Main Street?

I’ve been scratching my head over these signs for a few weeks now. I had some great material for this blog regarding humps in town. (It needed cleaning up for public reading.) Before I could have my fun, and display my wit, new signs appeared this morning. “RAISED CROSSWALK” is the new definition for the speed bumps in town. Well, that’s better in my estimation. It seems I wasn’t the only one after all to think that HUMP wasn’t the best terminology to display on a sign.

I’ve read in the paper a few of the concerns citizens have about the new design and layout of our downtown. This is typical of course. I’m sure the open meetings to which citizens were invited to review the plans, were sparsely populated. This doesn’t prevent criticism, as I know from experience with the build of our current office space. (All water under the bridge.) Here are a few items that bother people.

We lost some parking spaces in front of the town hall. There is now a curbed off area with grassy looking plants. I’m not sure what type of plant they selected. They are wispy and look unkempt. The spaces and sidewalk were removed because the town hall roof has slate shingles. Slate shingles are known to come loose and slide off a roof. This has happened at the elementary school in town. The committee, wishing to keep citizens safe from a slate shingle to the noggin, took out the parking spaces and some of the sidewalk along the building. Never mind, folks say, that since 1886 when the building was erected, there hasn’t been one incident of a slate shingle falling into the street or taking someone out.

Most people, it seems, are happy to have the dummy back in place. Dummy? Yes, the town dummy is a traffic post that stands sentinel at the end of Main. It has been directing traffic since the 1920’s. Restored to its original state, it is, in my opinion, a relic worth keeping and adds to the unique character of the town. Too bad a big yellow sign was jabbed into the ground right in front of it to obscure the magnificent restoration. I’ll wait. If the hump signs change is any indication, I KNOW I am not the only one to see this flaw.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Holiday Interlude

It’s been more than a week since my last blog. With the Holiday season upon us, there will be fewer posts than you are accustomed to seeing from me. Holidays can be a rough time for many and I’m no exception. I stress about how to get all I need to do accomplished, keep the family happy and live up to their expectations. That last part is a tall order and emotionally draining. Over the past few years, I have attempted to reduce the expectations others have on my time. It isn’t without its turmoil. Slowly we are realizing that Mom cannot maintain Super Mom status without a price. I’ve been successful in reducing the number of items on my plate. That’s the good news.

The bad news is the family does not often take kindly to changes in their expectations. I have even heard words like “tradition” held up before me in an effort to return me to Super Mom status. Change is hard, that’s a given. In time I’m sure they will come around. It’s time for new traditions. I think we are on the right track if our Thanksgiving feast was any indication. Prepared by my youngest, with much thought and love, it was a delicious meal from the heart.

I admit that over time, I may have inadvertently created the “expectation monster” I now wish to rid from my holiday life. If you are like me, it’s important to look at what is good, and what is not so good, and be wary not to “toss the baby out with the bathwater.” It isn’t an easy task, but worth every ounce of energy if you want to have a more relaxing time ahead into the future.

Wishing you all the best this Holiday Season.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Out Your Front Door

Writers writing,
Grandpas rocking
Families struggling
Two friends smiling
Work stress piling
Freelance editing
Colleagues networking
Daughter sharing
Sisters bonding
Others grieving

There are names of real people attached to each of the descriptors above, which further personalizes the emotion, event, or circumstance, and calls us to be mindful of the world around us. All the above I witnessed in a twenty-four hour period. When we look beyond ourselves, we see the joys, struggles and emotional turmoil of those that touch our lives each day. We need only stop, listen, and be present. It’s what makes us human.

Let me give more structure to a few of those descriptors.

A writer’s memoir of their life’s journey, held so dear, and recorded before it is lost in time, connects with one who will edit for possible publication to share, that we may read and contemplate our similarities.

There’s a new grandfather, rocking his pre-term infant granddaughter. He is smiling, telling us she is getting stronger each day. They have bonded, these two, we can see it in the smile, and the sparkle of the eye.

A vicious cancer strikes a loved one, and one tells the family story of their struggle to come together and bridge great distances to be there for each other.

Two friends, smiling over coffee, glad for the quiet moment to reconnect.

A man, standing at my desk, grieving the lost of his father. We talk, and I tell him of my mother, and an e-mail to me from a stranger that said it all. “Mom is Mom, and gone is gone.” Can any words sum up the emotions of loosing a parent more than these?

When I hear, “where do you get ideas for writing?” you need look no further than out your door.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Virtual Wind Therapy

Tom carried in the newspapers and dropped them on the breakfast counter. We both stood looking at the headlines. Our heads bent, I spied a small photo in the top left corner. I squinted at the fine print to be sure I was seeing correctly. With confirmation that I was indeed reading correctly, I shrieked with excitement! Tom, thinking I was still reading the headlines, was completely confused. He mistook my excitement for shock at reading some bit of bad news. It wasn’t bad news at all. Here I was, in California for somber reasons, but the small inset photo was telling me I had arrived smack dab in the middle of Bike Week!

As many newspapers do, this one came complete with a set of inserts. One such insert, dedicated to the California Bike Week and Love Ride, (a charity ride sponsored by Harley Davidson) listed events and schedules. As our Saturday's free, we make plans to attend the event in Pomona at the Fairplex. Tom had given us the use of his truck for the week, but I turned to him and asked if they would like to join us. “Sure” they would join us, although they have never been to such an event, they seemed curious about our recent motorcycle talk.

Nothing starts the adrenaline moving in my veins then a sea of motorcycles parked at such an event. Add to that the roar of engines and the rumble of pipes and the flesh ripples with excitement. We make our way to the entrance and pay our admission. As is typical, the first booth upon entering is “manned” by some very lovely young women in skimpy clothing. I make Andy pose for a photo. Donna seems a bit shocked that I would encourage such a thing. If I want to continue to enjoy such events, I have to make sure everyone is having fun. That includes not being upset at someone taking in a little eye candy. What’s the harm?

We check the schedule and see that we are in time for the first exhibition called The Wall of Death. .Using vintage motorcycles, these guys race around a vertical wall traveling at speeds in excess of 50 mph. Yes, that’s correct, vertical! I have never seen this act before, although they have been at events in our area. Around and around they zip while doing stunts of every kind. They defy gravity using centrifugal force. The audience stands at the top on a platform, and the motorcycles get closer and closer to the top. All the while, I’m thinking one stalled engine would do them in. Or, if they misjudge, they could shoot over the rail and take us all out. They must really trust their bikes! I took some photos, which you can see below, but they are blurry. (Gee, I wonder why?) The best photos are at their website. The link is above.

After the Wall of Death, we continue on to visit the vendor booths. I’m inspecting an item at one, when I here “this bike has balls!” Turning, I expect to see some impressive motorcycle with lots of power. Instead, I see a buffalo-skin draped motorcycle, with what certainly appears to be a set of gonads hanging below the tail. Good grief!

We spend a good part of the day shopping and looking at motorcycles before the next event of stunt riding. Jason Pullen gives us a great show, complete with blowing the rear tire for a grand finale. . However, the best was yet to come. Back toward the far end of the venue, we spy the demo rides.

To Andy’s delight, and my dismay, there are trikes just waiting to be test ridden. It had taken me a year to convince Andy that he didn’t really want a trike. He eventually became the proud owner of a great motorcycle and I believed the trike wishing days were over. Before I know it, he’s marched himself over to sign up for a ride. He selects one and climbs aboard trying to convince me to join him as a passenger. Now I know there are many people who love trikes, but I’m not one of them. “I’m not going to leave Tom and Donna standing on the pavement waiting for us!” I proclaim as an excuse to stay off the trike. We go back and forth, and finally, I say to Tom “why don’t you go with him.” To my surprise, Tom says “OK!” without hesitation.

Helmets donned, they both mount up. I stand near them looking at the gauges and noticed that there is no clutch. “It’s automatic.” Andy tells me. “Automatic!” I exclaim with disbelief. “Geez! Get a convertible!” Andy waves me away, Tom chuckles, and off the two of them go. It all ends well, however, when upon their return, Andy has decided that a trike is not for him after all.

If you happen to be without your motorcycle during times of stress, the next best thing is to be around them. Motorcycling gives me pleasure, but the true benefit is the wind therapy it provides. California Bike Week was for me, wind therapy of the virtual kind, and well worth the price of admission.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Desert, Wines, and Hot Air Balloons

While in California, we stayed with my husband’s brother Tom and his wife Donna. Tom and Donna live on a hilltop overlooking Lake Skinner in Temecula. It is a beautiful area. Their property abuts conservation land so they have an unobstructed view of the lake and Batchelor Mountain across the way. If you visit this link you can see an aerial view of the lake. Tom and Donna’s place is to the right of this photo just out of view. From their back patio, we can look left to see the edge of the dam, and across to Batchelor Mountain which is to the right in the photo at the link above.

Once acclimated to the desert terrain, one can begin to appreciate the beauty of the area. There are no green lawns here, as well water is the main source of supply, and a precious resource. Instead, Tom landscapes with plants native to the natural habitat. We also had a taste of the local wildlife. I awoke late one night, to the sounds of yelping coyotes traveling through the back conservation land. The eerie high-pitched yapping of the pack caused goosebumps along my flesh. We also saw rabbits, birds and even a crane that possibly stopped by while migrating. Although I didn’t see any myself, Donna had photos of roadrunners she has had visit the property. I was pleased not to stumble across any snakes. Tom, however, killed a rattlesnake recently and was showing off the rattle end of the tail that he had saved. There were eleven segments, which rattled nicely when shaken.

Tom and Donna’s beautiful home sits up on a hill right smack in the middle of wine country. This is also home to the Temecula Valley Balloon and Wine Festival. .They have some great photographs of a recent festival, and told how several of the balloons came to land on their property. We had the pleasure one morning of watching two balloons overhead while sipping our morning coffee. They came to rest across the way on the next hill. Check out some of the photos in the slideshow below.

Speaking of wine country, one of our nieces has membership at two local wineries. She, along with another niece and nephew, took me off for a few hours of wine tasting and winery tour. We stopped first at Wilson Creek Winery and Vineyards. . My favorites here were the Almond Champagne and the Angelica Cream Sherry. My niece, Christina tells me you can purchase the Almond Champagne at Costco. If you can’t find it, you can of course purchase on-line.

Our second winery was the Ponte Family Estate Winery. You can only purchase their wines at the vineyard or on-line. I enjoyed the 2003 Zinfandel Port, which has a rich chocolate flavor. If you have $46.00 plus shipping to spare, order a bottle here .
There was a wedding being held the Sunday we visited. I took a few photos of the horse drawn carriage being driving by a stately looking gentleman in tails and top hat.

Each of the vineyards give you a crystal glass, etched with the name of the winery, for sipping the samples during your visit. You can purchase the glass as a souvenir, but my niece Monica had us casually walk outside while sipping and eventually “forget” to go back in and return them. I am now the guilty owner of three souvenir crystal glasses from Wilson and Ponte.

My only regret is that Jeremy "Twitch" Stenberg was not at home while we visited. Twitch is a gold medal winning motocross stunt rider. His home is just below Tom and Donna’s. His practice ramp is clearly visible from Tom and Donna’s front yard. At a distance from the end of the ramp is an enclosure filled with spongy looking foam cubes on which to land during practice. Donna seems to like this “nice young man” and tells us not to be fooled by the tats. Read more about Twitch and the X Games Best Trick competition here.,13190,1156543,00.html. Although Jeremy wasn’t at home, I got my fill of motorcycles at the annual California Bike Week held at the Fairplex in Pomona. . Yes, we had to “cage” it, but you can’t have everything you want in life. I’ll talk more about Bike Week tomorrow.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Blackout Over

Life resumes. Last week we packed our bags and headed out on the first available flight to California for some sad family business. It has been six years since we have visited this part of the country and many more years since we saw the whole clan. Although we were there to say goodbye to one, we reconnected with many. Present were faces that we have not seen in many years. Children we once new, are now grown adults with families of their own.

Seeing these children, now adults had me feeling as if I had stepped out of a time machine into the future. I do not feel any different from the day I kissed their chubby cheeks goodbye when last I saw them. However, there they stood before me, now taking charge of the world, holding the hands of their young children, who’s cheeks resemble their parents’ in days gone by.

The visit was not all somber. One niece, now a vineyard club member, along with another niece and nephew, carried me off for vineyard tours and wine tasting. Other family members, understanding our passion, ushered us to the middle of California Bike Week! Who else, but family, would know just how to cheer us up!

The blog blackout is now over. I’m back to the grindstone. In the coming days, I’ll give more words to the events of this past week and post some photos from the vineyards and Bike Week. You’ll want to come back if only to see the photo captioned “This Bike Has Balls”. Don’t miss it!

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Belly Laughs

One of our former colleagues had a small gathering at her home to celebrate the Red Sox victory. It was an excuse really, for a group of women, with their husbands or boyfriends in tow, to enjoy an evening out with friends.

The entire evening resounded with good-natured joking and personal stories told about ourselves that we had never shared before. It was laugh therapy at its finest. Until the end of that evening, I didn’t realize how much I needed it.

My two most favorite stories were of Woodstock and Our Lady of Guadalupe. As you might tell from both of those subject titles, there was a no holds bared theme to the story telling evening. The deliveries were better than any stand up comic could deliver. Considering the current writers strike, Jay Leno would do well to contact a few of these folk for their great story telling abilities.

During the course of the evening, we discovered, to our delight, that we had a Woodstock attendee in our midst. He became an instant celebrity. Nostalgic memories were evoked as he described the length of his hair, his mode of travel, and descriptions of the masses. Melodies of old favorites played in our minds, or sprang from the lips of some in recounting the bands there that weekend. An animated storyteller, with thinning hair and Red Sox tee shirt, he transformed before us into a youthful boy from 1969.

Where does Our Lady of Guadalupe fit into all this? Easy, mix two pious women, and electrified portrait and you have a vivid recounting of miracles in our daily lives.

J tells us a story about her Texan sister-in-law, with strong Mexican Catholic, roots sending her a portrait. “I saw this and it spoke to me,” says the sister-in-law. “I just had to get it for you.” To which J pulls from the package a large portrait of Our Lady of Guadalupe. The portrait has a cord hanging from the back. When plugged in, the portrait lights up and rays of light flash around the image of Our Lady.

Having spoken with AM who is now reaching discouragement with the job hunt, and remembering the help she received from AM in finding her own job, J tells AM she will pray for her success and plug in the portrait for good measure. Not only does AM land a job, but she does so on a feast day of the Virgin Mary. Its nothing short of miraculous they proclaim. Our Methodist friends remark that, of course, it has nothing to do with AM’s diligence. To help us understand, D tells of a new product on the market that keeps one from absorbing fat. You take the product and the fat passes out of the body undigested. The label warns that it can on occasion cause unexpected voiding. So as not to have this embarrassment happen to you, they suggest avoiding fat in the diet. So does the product work? Or does the attention to diet have more to do with it? AM and J suggest faith has more to do with AM’s success. In the end, I ask J to plug the portrait in for me. I will however, continue to be diligent, but I’m not underestimating the power of an electrified portrait.

Where is the sports theme that was the excuse for this gathering? Why, with Hood’s Red Sox Ice Cream, of course! I chose the Comeback Caramel. Yum!

Friday, November 2, 2007

The Collective Mind

This week has seen me on the social circuit and my writing in general has taken a back seat except for the wiki. Working on the wiki is enjoyable, and stress free. It releases the creative juices and gives me challenging problems to solve. I’m as content as a cat curled in the sun when creative projects occupy my time.

Although my writing took a back seat this week, I feel it equally important to stay connected with friends. My friends are so different from me in personality, in their approach to life’s problems, and in how they look at the word in general, that I find solace as well as fortitude in the words they have for me. I was not disappointed in looking to get my emotional batteries recharged when I turned to my social network.

One friend may have missed his calling in not becoming a motivational speak as his profession. His systematic and rational approach to problem solving amazes me. He does this while at the same time applying his particular brand of philosophy on any subject to himself as well. He does not just give lip service to what he suggests for his friends.

Our discussion led to talk about our work and my own personal job hunt. In exchanging information about where our friends have found employment, we discovered we each had valuable information about companies that we would not have discovered otherwise except for the inside information we now possess. This, for me, is important in avoiding jumping from the pot into the fire. Our network is keeping us informed. The parting words my friend had for me on this subject did more for me that all the pep talks I’ve had since June.

“Pat, the Collective Mind is watching out for you. Your place is not yet ready. When it is, you will know it.”