A Twist on NIMBY

I don’t always stay right on top of catch-phrases. Somehow I missed NIMBY until not long ago, though it was first used in 1980 (!). It encapsulates the concept of opposing development, even development of worthwhile projects, unless it is happening somewhere else, thus Not In My Back Yard. Examples abound. Everything from nursing homes to bike paths to power plants to sports stadiums to cell phone masts – all of which are indispensable and/or desirable in today’s world – are certainly best located in somebody else’s back yard.

The property I can see from my own happens to be surrounded by land that is under conservation easement. When I look in any direction, all I see is woods and mountains. I didn’t have anything to do with this but am the grateful beneficiary of someone else’s efforts to protect the natural area within my view. This morning as I stand on my back deck, this is what I see. It wouldn’t be everyone’s idea of a peaceful and lovely February morning, but it fits mine.

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What is it about us humans, though, that can be on the one hand so very content with what we have and on the other intensely desire what we don’t? I’m talking about what could be called YIMBY (YES! In My Back Yard). Here’s the thing: As much as I (on the one hand) love, love, love where I live, and as exceedingly grateful as I (on the other hand) am to have the time and resources to travel and visit my beloved Rise, Eppie, Ellie, Nelson, Piper and Zoe in their homes now and then, I wish they were, yes, in my back yard, more often. I wish they didn’t live SDFA (So Damn Far Away). I wish getting to them and my own grown children didn’t involve SLAROP (Security Lines And Rides On Planes) or ELTIC (Exceedingly Long Trips In Cars). I wish they were CETHOFAT (Close Enough To Have Over For Afternoon Tea).

I wish for a lot, I know. We do what we can and I try (really I do!) to see the upsides of being APRA (A Plane Ride Away).  Last week in Boise we made a snowman…

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… and enjoyed outstanding croissants from JanJou Patisserie (those on the left have chocolate chips in them!)…

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…and in Seattle watched colorful fish at the aquarium…

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…and saw a painted lady in the street.

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All of this, and many more special and wonderful moments happened last week: Nelson (16 months) danced in front of the TV as Dick van Dyke danced with the penguins in Mary Poppins and tried to add Cheerios to the meatloaf mixture. Piper (2 1/2 years) killed us all during a round of her new Memory game and sat angelically through her first stage play. Ellie (3 1/2 years) made chocolate chip cookies with me, enjoyed her first reading of One Morning In Maine (thank you, Robert McCloskey) and made us all play dead! Zoe (5 months) studied and taste-tested her first crust of bread before throwing it to Zadie, happily waiting below (how do dogs know that when there are little children in the picture, food will fall from the table?).  All of this builds the gigantic and fabulous memory bank that is unique to me. I like being In Their Back Yard, I do. I just also like Mine. Theirs and Mine are just so far apart, and the occasions so infrequent. I’m not sure I’ve ever felt so conflicted about something, and day to day I’m working out how to manage it all – the feelings, the logistics, the upsides, the downsides. This seems to be the best we can do in most any situation – try to figure it out day to day, try to make each day the best it can be.

Tomorrow will be a lovely day! Rise and Eppie are here for a visit (first time in six months, super exciting for me) and we are going to enjoy the sun in my back yard, visit the silly chickens, play with Coco, read about Edward Tulane and see what’s coming up in the garden. Maybe we’ll bake cupcakes, or do puzzles, or play games, or make something pretty, or… it really doesn’t matter, does it? Spending precious days together is what matters. Life is short. We are so blessed. Never forget that.

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One Bag Only

I did it. I gave in. I packed a medium flat rate box and will ship it to my home from Sugar Land, Texas, tomorrow.

On this sixteen-day trip I flew from Charlottesville to San Francisco, from San Francisco to Boise, from Boise to Seattle, from Seattle to Houston, and tomorrow from Houston back home. I chose to fly the cheapest way possible, using the new option to take only what can fit under the seat in front of you. One bag, one bag only. Everything I need for sixteen days in various climates has to fit on my person or in my bag and under that seat. (It was 47 degrees when I left Seattle. At 10:06pm it’s still 82 here in Sugar Land.)  I like books. I brought two along. I won’t lie. My shoulder is not happy. It might be somewhat bruised from the weight I carried each time.

Everything was fine – all the airlines let me through with my one bag plus my purse — until the most recent leg to Texas on United. I get that the airlines have to generate revenue however they can, and capping the carry-on max so that they can charge for overages is one way to do it. I get that I should not have bought slippers in Berkeley or a book at the de Young Museum in San Francisco or allowed my daughter to give me two other books in Boise (though I left one of mine with her, the net result being four books instead of two). I get that my laptop is huge.

I put everything in my striped canvas bag that zippers across the top. It zippered without my having to pull it closed this last time, meaning there was room for more, right? I love this bag, but one of these days the zipper will fail or rip out. I have asked a lot of this bag over the years.

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I put the new slippers, my lunch and the book I planned to read in the plane in a small blue canvas bag (which worked better than my purse for these items) and walked up to the kiosk at the Seattle airport to get my boarding pass. They do not even let you check in via your mobile device when you have these cheapo tickets because they have to make sure you meet the luggage requirements.

The lady at the kiosk was skeptical. You have two bags, she said. This one just has my lunch and a few small things that will fit in the big bag, I said. She asked me to show her that my bag fit in the slot designated for poor travelers like me. It did! I smooshed down the top a little to show her there was room for the other stuff. They won’t let you through if everything is not in that bag, she said. You’ll have to pay $50. You might want to put your lunch in your pockets.

I did not like the stress. Never again, I said to myself. I’ll use a real carry-on like other people next time and pay for the privilege. But for now I was stuck, and you can bet your bottom dollar I wasn’t paying $50! But, yeah, getting that stuff in and getting the bag closed again without busting the zipper would be a trick. I might be able to do it, but it would be a squeeze to then get the bag under the seat, and anyway I had a better idea.

Already, to make this work, I was wearing two shirts, two sweaters, my scarf, my hat and my raincoat, so I figured Why not just wear more? There was no ladies room near my gate so I couldn’t do this as privately as I would have liked, but I stuck the slippers, side by side, into the waistband of my pants in the back – under the shirts, sweaters and raincoat – and the book into my waistband in front, under the shirts and the non-cardigan sweater and the scarf.

I just became a larger person temporarily. Lots of people are larger than I am. They get on planes.

I put my cell phone, my apple, my bread and my cheese in the pockets of my raincoat, got on the line (last boarding group, of course) and sailed through the checkpoint with my green striped bag over my shoulder and nothing else but the boarding pass in my hands. When I got to my seat near the back of the plane, I rearranged my weight. The slippers went back in the small canvas bag along with my lunch, and I sat and enjoyed my book.

(Outstanding book, by the way. Educated by Tara Westover. I will come back to this one of these days and tell you more about it.)

I left the plane with my green striped bag in one hand and my little blue canvas bag in the other. No one cared.

I have not bought anything in Texas to add to the problem, though I was sorely tempted today in Galveston to buy one on the 1900 hurricane, sorely tempted! Nonetheless, we stopped at the post office to get one of those flat rate boxes because I am not going through that stress again. I put all the books but Educated in the box, along with anything else that fit. I stuffed it full. It will cost me $13.85 to send home. I will be so relaxed tomorrow with one bag only!

New To Me and Unexpected

No matter how old we are, there is something new around every corner. This is especially true if you are traveling to places that are not so familiar. Delightful discoveries keep things so interesting. They make you see the world differently. They keep you young, reminding you that you have not arrived yet, that there is yet something to learn, to puzzle over, to marvel at, to be astonished about and even in some cases to cringe about (see below!). Let us never lose our sense of Are you kidding me?

In San Francisco, a bird looked dead on the street. I felt a moment of sadness. But as in Berkeley, where I questioned why the cooler-on-wheels was moving along the sidewalk on its own and Drew said nonchalantly Oh, that’s a robot delivering smoothies, I was equally taken aback by this bird on the street as we walked to the Embarcadero Ferry Building.bird from afar sleeping int he road.jpg

It sure looked dead to me. But no, Drew said, it’s just sleeping.

Sleeping? Whoever heard of a bird sleeping in a road? What kind of bird sleeps in a road? This kind apparently. Get a little closer. Is this bird sleeping?

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Doesn’t it know that a road is a bad place to sleep? Didn’t its mother teach it the basics? If you want a long life, stay in high places away from humans and large, fast-moving vehicles. Get close only when you see lots of grass and the humans are tossing food about. Well, I don’t see grass here and no humans are offering food, but something must have clued it in, maybe even the person who then walked close to it, because in the time it took for us to get past, that bird turned around, faced the sidewalk and got out of harm’s way.

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Smart bird? Or dumb bird got lucky?

Approaching the Embarcadero, we encountered a massive polar bear, part of the Salesforce descent upon the city this week. It isn’t every day you see a massive polar bear. There is something both majestic and adorable about polar bears, even when they are fake. You must agree, this is massive.

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It also leans toward adorable rather than majestic, as does the one in a fairly new book called There’s a Bear on My Chair by Ross Collins that I discovered at Marie’s house. It has joined my all-time-favorite-kids’-books list. I will show you the pages at the end.

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I am a huge fan of children’s books. The good ones are as good for adults as they are for kids. This one has it all: rhyme, cadence, delightful illustrations, originality, silliness, cleverness (the kind kids show you at the most unexpected times), hilarity and subtle yet powerful parallels to the “real” world, though you have to think about it a little to arrive at these.

It is impossible to be around children, as I am here now in Boise, without discovering something new in something old. Another book on my list, one that has been there for decades, is Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel. Unsurprisingly, someone thought to make it an audio book. That’s all well and good. What would never have occurred to me is using the London Philharmonic Orchestra in the background with bagpipes, and a narrator with an Irish accent! I never thought of that! Mike Mulligan. Irish. Go figure! Ellie loves listening to Mike Mulligan on the way to school. The music meshes with the story perfectly.

If you have a child in your life – your own or a neighbor having a birthday or a niece or nephew – get both of these books and the philharmonic audiobook to go along with Mike Mulligan. You cannot go wrong.

While on the adorable track, I must mention the three-year-olds at soccer practice, another reality of the world that somehow escaped me before now. I am sure I didn’t do any organized sport myself until I was at least nine or so, but these days they have soccer at three. They do in Boise anyway. Ellie loves it. All those cones are for foot control, by the way. You put your foot in the open end and lift it off the ground and hold it up. Who knew?

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This is the same child who loves to wear a paper skirt, by the way.

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Anyway, in case you didn’t know it, soccer for three-year-olds in Boise sometimes involves “making a pizza” on a parachute (after you walk around in circles for a bit to make you hungry enough to eat the pizza),

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the last part of which is kicking the “meatballs” on top of the pizza. What’s your guess? Will these children grow up to love soccer or some other active organized sport? I think so!

Not everything that is new is adorable. Not everything is even pleasant. Whether just contemplating it or actually taking a drink from it (I couldn’t!), this exhibit at the Exploratorium in San Francisco challenges your grossness meter. According to the sign, the standard drinking fountain on the right and the one attached to this toilet (which has never been used as a toilet) are identical. Both clean, both usable, both dispensing fresh water. But who can bring themselves to drink out of the fountain attached to the toilet? “A Sip of Conflict,” they call it. I’ll say!

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I can hardly look at it without cringing, let alone take a drink! So enough of grossness, let’s head back to Boise for something else I did not expect.

Here is a very old tortoise. How do I know he’s old? I have no idea actually. Tortoises are always old, right? This one was at the downtown zoo, active as a sloth, dry as the sand he stands on. Ellie was fascinated with him.

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Why did I not expect a tortoise at the zoo? You expect giraffes, llamas, zebras. But a tortoise? Possibly I am overwhelmed with newness and adorableness all around me (save for above toilet, we can all agree) and I didn’t even have time to have expectations. I just know that this amazing animal took me by surprise.

Lastly (you knew there had to be food somewhere in here), we made a stop this morning at a French bakery in Boise called Janjou Pâtisserie. I know: French bakery in Boise, something else you would not expect. But what was even more unexpected, what was totally new to me, was a spiral croissant with olives and manchego cheese. Oh yum! I have never seen or had olives and cheese in a croissant before, let alone in a croissant of award-winning quality. Who thinks of this? Why didn’t I think of this?!

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I cannot describe this adequately. You will just have to imagine the soft/crisp, buttery/flavorful, done-to-absolute-perfection nature of this pastry. Drool if you have to. I won’t tell.

I would like credit for having restrained myself in this post with regard to the many awesome trees and other plants one finds while traveling. I know I covered the eucalyptus trees in Berkeley and the Boise rose garden recently, but Boise has more awesome flora, and it is with serious effort that I hold back the low-lying spikey things, the weird wisteria, the blob tree – I spare you this time!

But I have to show you the pages of the adorable polar bear and mouse book. Thank you, Ross Collins, for your marvelous book!

Take your time now. Read slowly, deliberately and out loud if you can. Get a good rhythm going. Look at how the illustrations coordinate with the text. Pretend you have a child on your lap… Better yet, pretend you are the child.

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Having Eyes, and Seeing Beauty

In downtown Boise (Idaho) is a lovely rose garden. I explored a small part of it today with my daughter and her two little darlings, and I learned something about myself: I’ve changed. There was a time when I would have said Those are pretty flowers, and left it at that. I did not “have time” for such things. I had other things to do. I had seen pretty flowers before.

No more. I could have spent all afternoon admiring the blooms. There were so many! They were every color imaginable. They were so perfect.

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Clearly someone (or probably a team) spends a lot of time tending them and does it very well. As we approached on this picture-perfect day, I realized this was no ordinary rose garden. There are over 2000 rose bushes in this special place named after Julia Davis, Boise’s “city mother.”

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You can’t rush through a rose garden because roses are such extraordinary flowers up close. In my case, however, you also can’t take too much time when you have a three-year-old with you and another who’s almost one because the zoo is right next to the rose garden, and that is the actual destination – and guess where they would rather go! Roses do not compete with giraffes when you are three, especially since they have a baby giraffe!

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But Marie graciously gave me some time to use my eyes and see the beauty of the roses. It’s impossible to decide which is the prettiest color. I have always loved the yellow ones.

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This one decided to be both pink and yellow.

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Coincidentally, one of the books I brought along to read on this trip is the engaging story of a little girl growing up in pre-WWII Japan (Totto-chan, The Little Girl at the Window by Tetsuko Kuroyanagi, a longstanding bestseller describing the early school days of a woman who went on to become one of Japan’s most popular television personalities).

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Beginning when she is about five – having been expelled from her previous school because her intense curiosity was disruptive to other students – Totto-chan attends an extraordinary school led by a schoolmaster who becomes a hero to her. This man listens carefully, allows for individual differences, advocates for the unsung, celebrates a fresh look on almost anything and creates an environment intent on giving every child the best way to grow, to learn, to shine. How ironic that I come to an extraordinary rose garden the very day after reading these words:

“Having eyes, but not seeing beauty; having ears but not hearing music; having minds, but not perceiving truth; having hearts that are never moved and therefore never set on fire. These are the things to fear, said the headmaster.”

I did have eyes and I did see beauty, and for the beauty I saw I am very grateful. But I did not see only beautiful roses in the rose garden. In the middle of the path leading to the gazebo sits this fountain. I don’t like the blue water because it looks artificial to me, but I soon saw past that. Look carefully around the edge and you will see imbedded plaques.

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The etched words were mostly in memory of loved ones, such as this one.

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But this is the one that moved me nearly to tears:

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At first I thought maybe Linda’s Uncle Fred was one of the gardeners, and maybe he was. But it could also be that they strolled this garden together and it was all the better for having done it together. In the end, for these two people, together was best. And I thought: Would the zoo today have been as wonderful if I had not been able to listen to Ellie’s gasp when she saw the lion?

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Would I have enjoyed watching the anteater look for his own lunch in the dirt if we had not been together on benches next to him eating ours?

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Being together today, I stood next to my daughter holding her daughter who’s feeding the llama – most definitely a sight more beautiful than any rose – and the roses are very beautiful! I am so blessed to have eyes to see it all, to enjoy their sweet company, to spend this week together.

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“Having eyes, but not seeing beauty; having ears but not hearing music; having minds, but not perceiving truth; having hearts that are never moved and therefore never set on fire. These are the things to fear, said the headmaster.”