Tuesday, May 10, 2011

We May Never Pass This Way Again

The trip to Australia was amazing for so many reasons, and it's nice to know that some truths about myself are still self-evident and some no longer apply.

First off, my ability to sleep on a plane has not improved with an exponential increase in the amount of time spent airborne.  Having purchased a product called No Jet Lag, I was looking forward to arriving in Sydney ready to go. I diligently followed the directions, popping what tasted like a sugar pill every two to four hours in hope of staving off my typical zombie-like reaction to crossing time zones. Having stayed awake the entire first leg, I looked forward to conking out on the second part of the flight from LA to Sydney. Wishful thinking. The flight was unusually rough (the pilot's words, not mine) so between the pitch and yaw of the plane, the numerous meals and snacks served (god forbid I should sleep through those!) and the worry about skipping a jet lag pill, I was wide eyed and bushy-tailed the entire flight. All 14 hours of it. As an aside and under the category of FYI, and having four Qantas flights now under my belt, I feel I am somewhat qualified to  point out that Qantas pilots rarely put on the seat belt sign, even when the plane is rocking and rolling. And the flight attendants, the majority of whom are older men who resemble British butlers until they open their mouths to speak, keep serving no matter what. If you're flying to Australia, you have to fly Qantas. It's an experience all by itself. At any rate, we arrived in the morning, and I was fully functional until riding a bus through Sydney at 7:30pm, when I promptly fell asleep in my seat. I'll take it.

The rest of the trip was just fantastic. I spent some quality time with my daughter, seeing where she lives and goes to school.  We saw all the sites we could squeeze in, ate a lot of really bad things, spent a lot of really pretty money, and all in all, had a great time. The highlight, of course, was the Bridge Climb. I knew it would be and I wasn't disappointed. All the working out paid off in the first ten minutes when I was able to scamper up four long ladders to reach the beginning of the arch of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. There were one or two tense moments when I looked down at the roadway and nearly lost my nerve (and my lunch), but I persevered by reminding myself that I could do it. And I was able to literally talk myself through the few intense anxious moments I had. My therapist, if I still had one, would have been proud. And while the view was so worth the effort, the bonding experience with my daughter and sister was even better. It's an experience I will never, ever forget, even if I didn't have the official pictures to remind me.

The week ended with a trip to the Blue Mountains, where we met up with some native wildlife and saw some amazing scenery. The last day was spent on a walk from Coogee Beach to Bondi, where I pushed myself to finish even though my mind was willing but my legs were not. After all, when would I ever have the opportunity to see this part of the world, this view of the Pacific, again? 

Getting back on the plane after saying goodbye to my daughter was hard, but I was looking forward to heading home and letting her get back to doing her thing.  I started popping those pills on take-off and once again, spent the long hours wide-awake until our final descent into Los Angeles, when I fell into such a deep sleep I didn't realize that the thump that woke me up was the plane touching down on the runway. There's a metaphor for life in that somewhere, I'm sure. Perhaps it's just my bizarre way of acknowledging that it's not just the destination that's important, but the experience of the journey along the way. After all, as someone wise once said to me, "I'll sleep when I'm dead."  More and more, as I get older, that seems like pretty sound advice.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Buttermilk Falls Revenge

Our departure for Sydney now looms in 19 Days, 9 Hours, 12 Minutes and 23 (oops, 22) seconds. Excited is probably an understatement for how my sister and I are feeling at this moment, and to add to the anticipation, the list making and day planning are well under way. I imagine things will build to a crescendo as they normally do when I plan a trip, and by the first of May, I will know exactly what we will be doing and when we will be doing it. That's just my way of making sure we miss nothing, mostly because once we are wheels up from Sydney on the return trip, that's it. We won't be coming back. At least not in this lifetime. It's a bit of a bizarre way of looking at vacations (and I'm sure someone somewhere would have a field day analyzing the psychological aspects of this) but that's the way I'm wired.

At any rate, there is one particular activity in Sydney that really stretches the upper limits of my neuroses. I have a particular fear of heights, which is funny coming from someone who grew up in an apartment twenty-one stories above sea level. While in an enclosed building, on an observation deck or an airplane, that particular fear never rears its ugly head. It's when I'm on an open platform or climbing on something that requires a bit of concentration, well, that's when I lose it.  When I was nineteen, young, stupid and definitely more nimble than I am now, a group of us went on a day trip to Buttermilk Falls in Ithaca. A picturesque tourist spot, there used to be an area where you were able to scale the cliff face to the top of the falls and then slide down into the pool of water below it. Easy enough, right? Following the lead of my friends ahead of me, I started out, got halfway up, and promptly got stuck. Not physically, you understand. Hand and toe-holds abounded, so if my wits were about me, I could easily have continued to the top. No, instead I looked down, panicked and froze in place. There I was, clinging to the rock face in my bathing suit, plastered against the cliff and absolutely refusing to move, despite the chants of the twenty-five people below me encouraging upward mobility. The short and long of it? I had to be embarrassingly rescued by a good friend who clambered up to my level, told me in no uncertain terms to open my eyes, and then proceeded to talk me (in his lovely British accent, I might add) through the rest of the ascent.

So, in light of that long ago experience, this is the activity we will be doing on Thursday:

Dylan Explains the Sydney Bridge Climb

In preparation for this event, I've been spending my afternoons on the treadmill and the elliptical trainer, both of which have not felt my weight in over a year. While the possibility exists that I may freeze up and panic, I'll be damned if I'm bent over wheezing for air while I'm doing it. And if I do panic, I only have to remember that it's time to get over myself and keep going. I think that's a fine metaphor for the second half century of my life. Nothing to be afraid of here. Except maybe how I'll look in those coveralls.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Friends, Friends, Friends, We Will Always Be....

November, 2008 was a good time to join Facebook. I was just finishing a prolonged recovery from what should have been minor surgery and at the same time, my daughter departed for college, leaving me with time on my hands to figure out what social networking was all about. Now anyone under the age of 25 may not be able to comprehend the magnitude of the effect computers and the internet have had on society. After all, you can't miss what you've never had to do without. But I definitely remember the days of coming home from a summer away at camp, heading to the drug store to buy what we quaintly called "stationery"
and then going to the post office to buy books of stamps and self-enclosing air mail envelopes.   Phone calls, even local ones, were too expensive (and nothing was worse than waiting for the rotary dial to spin around, registering all those nines and zeros), so we spent the days surrounding Labor Day penning letters to all the people we said goodbye to when those buses pulled out at the end of August.  And that not only applied to summer camp, but also to my three summer breaks in between my college years.  It was, to put it mildly, another world. And needless to say, the effort to keep in touch grew old very quickly.

So back to Facebook. Once I established myself, the friend requests did come fast and furious. The categories were simple; high school and college friends, camp friends, friends from web-based special interest boards (most of whom I had already met in person) and family and friends.  I tried to explain to my kids and especially my son, who still thinks it's an aberration of nature that his mother should have a Facebook page and refuses to acknowledge that fact by ignoring any and all friend requests from said mother, that people my age use Facebook differently than he and his friends do. To them, Facebook is a way to connect in the most present of tenses, while to us, it's been a fantastic way to to "re-connect" to our past.

For instance, this weekend, my college roommates and I are meeting up at a nearby hotel for a weekend together. For those of you who knew me in SUNY-Binghamton, the six "girls" of 8 Arthur Street will be partying together for the first time in 30 years. Pretty amazing, isn't it? I think so.  Of course, our overnight bags will now contain reading glasses and medicinal aides as opposed to baggies of unnamed illegal substances and there will be no keg in the bathtub. But that's fine. Just the fact that we get to spend the time together after all these years is amazing.

There are other reunions in the works for me. One involves some travel pretty far away later in the year. And then there are the smaller, less involved get togethers.... lunch or dinner on a Saturday, nights meeting at a show or a bar in the city, that sort of thing.

You know, someone once said to me that there's a reason you lose track of people in your life over the years. They've "served their purpose" and are only relevant to the times in which you all lived, worked or played together. And after that, what's the point of keeping in touch? Those days are gone, and it's time to move forward. Well, I can honestly say that is the biggest crock of bull I've ever heard. We may have lost touch because the technology to keep in touch was not available then. But not a day goes by that I'm not unbelievably thankful that the people who were once so important to me in my life are now back in it. They, and the experiences we shared, wherever and whenever that may have been, are and will always be relevant, because they shaped the person I've become in a lot of ways. So to my son, I say, "Don't friend me, it's okay. I've got that covered."

Friday, March 4, 2011

Flights of Fancy

With the coming of Spring and the help of my countdown clock, my thoughts have now turned to the three airplane encounters coming up for me in the remainder of this year.

The first and most important, the one that's now 58 days 13 hours and 3 seconds away, is the 22 hour odyssey to Sydney undertaken primarily to visit my daughter.  Yes, to all of you who are familiar with my love of air travel,  I'm going. And I'm going with my sister, as a belated "special" birthday trip.

The words  "22 hour flight with my sister" originally conjured up the picture of me, heavily drugged in LAX, frozen in terror on the jetway, hands and feet spread wide,  clutching at the doorway of the aluminum tube soon to be my home for 14 additional hours, refusing to board, refusing to move. Said sister would be pushing me from behind, all the while muttering words that resemble, "I'm not putting up with this sh*t. Get moving or get out of my way!" Interestingly enough, as the day of departure draws closer, that particular picture has receded, to be replaced by thoughts of a comfy seat, interesting in-flight entertainment and a long 8 hour snooze (it has to be mentioned here that I have never actually been able to sleep on a plane for more than a second or two at a time, but hope springs eternal). I've purchased my neck pillow, my eyeshades (okay, so they came out of a cereal box and say Kelloggs All Bran on one side, but they are soft and silk-like and they do work. I'll keep the side with the print facing in).  I'm researching a foot rest and contemplating the best seating on a 747 so neither one of us has anyone crawling over us to get to the bathroom or to do in-flight calisthenics. I've ordered my supply of happy pills, both of long and short duration, and am generally keeping the goal in mind; getting off the plane and seeing my daughter and spending some time with her in a beautiful place a world away from here, in more ways than one.

Banished from memory recall are thoughts of the last long flight I took, stuffed in a middle seat, next to a small, whiny child, whose parent mistakenly thought I'd serve as an in-flight nanny, seat back in front of me inches away from my face and fighting a panic attack for the entire 7 hours it took to fly across the Atlantic. I will not think of that. I will not. I promise.

I am taking pride in the fact that my sister will be deprived of the opportunity to experience travel with  "Psycho Traveler," the name my immediate family calls me any time I need to board an aircraft. Psycho Traveler will be left behind this time.  I'd rather not travel with her either.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Nest Has Emptied Out Again

So, I've gotten through the last few weeks, with, if I do say so myself, flying colors. No hysterics, no screaming and yelling and hair pulling, no throwing things, and most importantly, no stress overeating. There were only two or three (or four) instances of pill popping. And now, my daughter is happily ensconced in Sydney and we are back to having our empty nest, well, empty.

Let me explain what it's like for those of you with children still inhabiting your abodes.

It's bliss.

It's like it was when you were newlyweds, except you have that entire shared child raising history together. And that's just the emotional side of it. The practical side is even better. You can do your laundry once a week instead of three times a day, the house stays neat and pretty much dust free for weeks at a time, the second bathroom never needs to be cleaned because no one is using it, you only have to change the sheets on one bed and best of all, you don't spend your nights listening for the sound of police sirens and the garage door opening and closing.

Don't get me wrong. I love my kids, and I do miss them. I sometimes find the house is way too quiet for my taste. There are days that I put off going home after work just for that reason. The fact that the time has gone so damn fast doesn't help either. I remember school mornings and afternoons and the echoes of music and laughter from rooms once hidden behind closed doors, which now stand wide open and empty. But that's all part of it. And instead of getting melancholy and depressed about it, I see it as a celebration of a job well done. And hopefully, once launched, my two baby birds will fly away and find their own permanent places to call home, as self-sufficient adults, happy to visit here and then leave again. And we'll be happy to have them, wave them off again and shut the door behind them.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Turn and face the strange...

I'm not good with change. Usually, when faced with new situations, I have a tendency to deny, deny deny, and then bury my head deep in the sand. There are things going on right now that don't leave room for my usual modus operandi and I'm trying to learn an abject lesson in facing front and marching forward with blinders on. I can honestly say that up until this point, I've been doing a pretty good job of failing abysmally. An small example of this is my reading pile. Usually, I can pack away two or three novels in a week, review one or two of them, and then get through all of magazines stacked by my chair. For the past month or so, the books have sat un-read, the reviews have gone unwritten, and luckily for me, my township has instituted magazine recycling, so I don't feel too guilty when I wrap them up with twine, untouched, and toss them to the curb.  Instead of productive activity, I find myself mindlessly flipping through Facebook pages, twitter feeds, blogs and boards. After what I think is a half hour or so of clicking and tapping away on my keyboard, I look up to realize that it's actually been two to three hours of total time-suck. Bad. Very, very bad.

The change I'm talking about? Well, to give you an idea, my to-do list these days consists entirely of helping my daughter get out of the house, packed and supplied for her semester abroad in Australia. And while that in and of itself should be really exciting (and it is, to her) it's causing me to want to move in the opposite direction. Perhaps if I procrastinate, if I hang out on my computer, if I  go to sleep a little later at night or wake up a little earlier in the morning, then next Thursday may not come as fast, and I'll have her around for just a little while longer. In the meantime, I'm just plain distracted. Don't get me wrong, things for the trip are getting done. Skype and iChat are set up, an old, unlocked phone has an Australian SIM card in it,  the visa has been procured, the rolling duffles are ready to be filled, space bags already hold a comforter, towels and linens...I'm getting there.  And so will she. And when the house is empty again, and she's 10,000 miles away (as opposed to 250) I can de-brief and see what I should do differently next time. Because there always will be a next time.  That's the reward and the drawback of being a parent; constantly watching the door close behind them as they leave you for their own adventures. The hard part is smiling as they do it.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Do-Over before Down Under, please.

If you could see my passport picture, you would understand why I hesitate to travel anywhere a driver's license is not adequate proof of identity or citizenship. It is, by far and without a doubt, the worst photograph ever taken of any human being, in any setting, anywhere. I can't emphasize this enough. When I applied for it, I decided to let the passport office staff take the 2x2 picture that would represent my likeness for the next 10 years. I figured they had more practice than the kid with the digital camera at CVS, so why not take advantage of their expertise? That decision made, I'll set the stage. It was a very warm night in October, with rain and high humidity (you see where I'm going with this, don't you?).  My entire family applied at the same time and I gamely volunteered to go last. As my turn came to sit down for the picture (This was my first clue of impending disaster.  No one looks good looking UP at a camera) my daughter shouted these words of last minute advice, "Don't smile, mom. You're not supposed to smile." And before I could look back from her general direction and school my bewildered expression into something resembling a non-toothy, slightly upturned tilt of the lips, the flash went off and I was done. Despite my pleading, I wasn't even offered the opportunity to look at the proof  and reject it for another go.  Instead, it was promptly printed up and paper clipped to my application.

Now, studying it from the other side of the clerk's desk made me realize two things. One, there was not an immigration control officer in the world who would recognize that picture as anything even remotely resembling a true likeness of me, and two, my hair and humidity do not good bedfellows make. These points were driven home  to me on a recent trip to Europe, when I certainly did not imagine those incredulous double takes as I handed over my passport for review at various intervals. The worst was immigration in Paris after taking the train from London. That  officer had a definite smirk on his face, and if I understood any French at all, I'm sure I would have heard him express some doubt as to the true identity of the woman standing in front of him. Either that, or he was mumbling that the kid with the camera at CVS would have been the wiser choice.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Router this.

In my family, I'm known as the Router Maven. I've set up more routers and wireless networks than I can count over the past 6 or 7 years, mostly for my kids when they've moved into their apartments or at my office. I didn't ask for this job. It came to me by default. Whenever this had to be done, I'd turn around to see if there were any other volunteers brave enough to make the attempt and I'd find myself standing alone in the room, the blinking modem and a shrink-wrapped box my only companions. So I would set to work. And over the years, I've become the go-to person when those installed routers stopped routing. The text messages that read, "my router died" are my worst nightmare.

For a piece of equipment that is so ubiquitous today, you would think that one company would package the thing with instructions that are easy to follow and written in English. What's that you say? They are written in English?? You could have fooled me. It's English only if you understand techno-gibberish.  Even the "Quick Start" instructions are anything but simple. Oh, yes, the yellow cable goes from modem to router. And even though it's a "wireless" router, to set it up, you have to be tethered into the modem with a cable. So that wire goes into the first connection...then power everything up in some arcane sequence that if you don't follow exactly will lead to the destruction of life on Earth as we know it, and then and only then, do you get to insert the "Start Up Disk." This is where the fun starts. What the heck is the difference between PPoE and DNS and DHCP. Or is that DHL? Or UPS? And what is an 811.g? N, G, Broad or Dual band? I don't think we're talking music here.  Do I want my channels on automatic, or should I guess which one my wireless X-Box playing neighbor is not on at any given time and choose one myself? Do I want my lease to renew automatically? Do I want WPS, WPA (I thought that was a depression-era work program) WEP 1, 2 or maybe even 3? Is a 45 character password acceptable? And even reproducible? And speaking of those 45 characters, don't forget to copy them down correctly (case sensitive too) before you click continue because if you don't... You. Are. Screwed.

Deep breath here.

Once the signal is up and running, and you can cut the umbilical cord to the modem and are floating free in the ether, you now have to get your computer to find the signal, and enter that 45 character password. I wonder how many times I've successfully done that on the first attempt.  If I had to guess, the answer would be, well, none. But eventually, and after numerous attempts to enter those  digits and letters, I've finally done it correctly (0 and O look a lot alike when scribbled on a post-it note) and, like magic, the network icon appears.

So now, the networks I've created stretch all the way from Central Pennsylvania to Manhattan, with a stop in Central Jersey (and my trusty Apple Airport Extreme-small plug there).  But the fun never ends. After about six months of blissful peace, those aforementioned text messages start rolling in. I have no idea why anyone would think it's possible to troubleshoot via text message, so invariably, I pick up the phone and call whichever one of my kids needs help. And honestly, while I can usually figure out how to get a router re-connected (at the same time, praying it's the cable company's issue) the pain of doing so is akin to the proverbial bamboo shoots under the fingernails. You get the idea. I'm successful about 95% of the time, despite the fact that the software for these routers is long gone ( works great in a pinch).  I've never had to call a router manufacturer to speak to a customer service rep who would undoubtedly have trouble understanding a word I say from his or her perch 6000 miles away. I consider myself lucky.

So there it is; my one latent technical talent that my friends have no idea I possess.  While I have yet to meet more than one or two routers that have totally defeated me, in the end, a few back-ups are available. One is a paper clip and the tiny reset button. The other is my credit card and Best Buy.

Monday, January 3, 2011

I'll put it on my list.

I have to admit that as I'm getting older, there are certain things that occur that have me just a tad worried. I find myself getting up to get or do something, and before I take two steps, I'm at a total loss. If I retrace those two steps, sometimes it will come back to me, but more often than not, the thought is gone, usually never to return. Or, I put something down, and then I can't find it. Or, I put something away where it doesn't belong (refrigerated cereal, anyone?).

All that is probably just normal aging stuff, although it doesn't explain why I can remember a conversation from a date that occurred 30 years ago and can't find the keys I put down five minutes ago. My husband is amazed at the useless bits of trivia that float around in my brain. It amazes me too, but more than likely, this stuff is squeezing the really important things into a corner of my head that is not easily accesible. At least, that's what I tell myself. To counteract the effects of this malady, I make lists. Lots and lots of lists. I go through pads of post-it notes. While my cellphone allows me to leave a voice memo,  I find if I don't write something down, it doesn't stick. So my pockets are filled with yellow post-it notes with to-do items scrawled on them, which I later combine into one written list on legal paper. I then proceed to go down this master list, crossing stuff off as it's done. Sometimes, I'll even add things like, "brush teeth" or "feed cats" just so I can cross them off and feel like I've actually accomplished something. Right now, for instance, I have four of those master lists in front of me. One is for organizing my daughter's study-abroad term (Money ordered, check. SIM card ordered, check. Credit card companies notified, check.). You get the idea. Then there's a list for house stuff like cleaning, laundry, etc. because if I don't write it down, it won't get done. And then there's a list for the fun stuff; reviews I have to do, books I have to read, etc. The final list is for things I've brought home from work; insurance claims, letters to write, bookkeeping, and other boring have to finish or the boss will yell, stuff.

Now, there are one or two people who have pointed out that my list making talent could be mistaken for  a psychological disorder. I'm going to brush that aside for now. I like to think that it's my way of avoiding that minute in time when my brain finds itself in suspended animation and  I'm left standing in the middle of a room, trying to remember something that shouldn't have been that easy to forget. And that, more than any pill I could swallow, keeps me (for the most part) calm and focused. It's a fair trade-off, I think.