Friday, December 29, 2017

Ode to the Library

I have loved reading as long as I've been able to identify what a book is for. I remember going to the Folsom Library with Aaron when I was in middle school--he would drive us over and I don't recall him ever rushing me. He'd get his nose in a book somewhere while I'd happily peruse the young adult section. I always ended up with a nice stack of books to take home.

Once I started high school, we no longer went. I had a little more income of my own, so I bought more books. My card was lost at some point. I moved here, there, and everywhere. I grew up, got a job, and bought lots of my own books.

It was only a few months ago that it occurred to me to get a library card again.

I don't have a tremendous amount of time to spend in libraries, perusing...but here's the most glorious part: the Sacramento County Library system is all online. So I can request a book, and when it comes in, I can pop in to get it on my way home from work.

Yesterday, I was out running some errands--a dental cleaning, gas for the car, a stop to buy deodorant--and on my list was to stop at the library to pick up a book they had on hold for me. I decided to go in for a bit, and ended up in the children's section, reading three books I found of the Cinderella story...but in the Hmong culture, in ancient Egypt, and Mexico of the 17th century.

Later in the day, I got to chatting with my dad about taxes--all the upcoming changes and what it means for me as a single-income homeowner. It remains to be seen if it will affect me all that much. Talk turned to what our taxes pay for, and I told him, "One thing I'm very glad to have--my library."

Think of it--books galore, books I want to read, available to me at no cost. All I had to do was show proof of address to get my card, and it's good at any branch in Sacramento County. And with everything being online, I don't have to go out of my way to get any particular book--I can simply request it be sent to Antelope for me when it is available. When it arrives, I get an email notification, and off I go to pick it up.


And libraries aren't just books anymore--they are community spaces with free internet access, meeting rooms, and events. My library has yoga one Saturday a month, and currently has a community tapestry weaving project set up next to the entrance. I even saw a sign where people can check out games to be played in the library. It has current periodicals and newspapers, and DVDs. It was quiet this morning, but I've seen it busy and bustling with people. It is a warm, safe, clean place filled with resources and knowledge. It is a community treasure and out to be treated as such.

It saddens me that library funding is often cut, when these are places that communities should gather, where children should be encouraged to go for books. When did schools and libraries stop being so important to us? Isn't it a tragedy that they did?

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Home Improvements

Once Christmas is finished, I'm pretty much over all my holiday stuff, so Tuesday (the 26th), it all came down and got put away. As I was maneuvering boxes around on my balcony, I got a bee in my bonnet to organize the closet out there once and for all.

A couple months ago, I tore out the shelves that were in there (and screwed to the wall) because they were falling apart (like everything else the former owner installed in this place) and not quite right for my storage needs.

That not-so-simple improvement (I had to haul a bunch of heavy crap through my living room, out the front door, down the stairs, and to the dumpster about 50 yards away) made my closet much more manageable, but it still wasn't perfect. So I got creative.

I put some screws in the wall to hold a little sleigh I have for my Cabbage Patch Kids in their Christmas finery, and made one big high stack of all things Christmas. Next to that are two Rubbermaid bins--one with all the other holidays in it, and one with garden stuff in it. That leaves ample space in the other half of the closet for my trees, a canvas chair, my stepladder, and my broom.

That's a lot of Christmas stuff, yes...
While I was in there, I took out the six leftover cans of paint and figured if they're sitting out where I can see them, I'm more likely to do a bit of the touch-up work that has needed doing since I moved in to Casa Meg. I bought a small brush last night, and some new spackcle, to use. I'm going to start doing that over the next few days. As long as it's sunny, I can open windows during the day for ventilation, and stay warm by working.

Yesterday, I did some much-needed pruning in my little garden. The weather has been weird so far this winter--not very rainy and while it's been perfectly mild during the days--up into the 60s--it's been cold at night. I pruned the dead bits off and gave everyone a shot of water and some love.

My succulents are thriving.

My allyssum is also thriving--the purple stuff spilling over.

Coming Soon: Daffodils!! (My favorite.)

Mandevilla is a vine, and I've been meaning to get a cage for
mine. Gonna need to get on that!! 

Today, I straightened the second bedroom a bit, and put together the gift I bought myself this week--a new barbell. My home gym is growing, which is great because I'm trying something new--working out here, early, before I shower and head off to work. I'm working long days, and getting to the gym after a day at school on my feet is not easy. I'll do it, but I know my workouts are more effective if I do them first thing when I'm well-rested. Plus, it gives me a big shot of adrenaline to start my day.

My dumbbells, kettlebell, yoga mat, floor mats.

Barbell set, ballet barre, and in the bag, my resistance bands in
the little BodyFit bag. 

Yesterday I did some spackling on a few unsightly spots--like the spot where the front door, when it didn't have a door stop behind it, was repeatedly slammed into the wall by the former tenants. I filled it before painting when I moved in, but the whole was large enough (because the tenants were really, really hard on this place) that some of the spackle fell into the wall. I recovered it an might add a bit more before I paint over it. (One of the first things I did was put door stops in this place--they'd all been removed at some point in the history of this place. Why? Who even knows? Why did the tenants have ten rodents and a dog in this place?)

It's satisfying to get to so many of the little things that need doing. I simply haven't had the time or energy these last few months, but I still have another week off after this one and can't be on the couch the whole time.

Moments 2017

This year was, overall, calmer than 2016. But, as ever, the moments tell the whole story.

A Moment That Was Everything

Relief. Joy. Love.

Mom's surgery to remove a tumor from her colon was terrifying for all of us. We had great trust in her surgeon, but no surgery is without risk. Dad and I were anxious messes all day, and I'm glad he felt comfortable leaning on me as much as I leaned on him.

The surgery took place in the evening, so we didn't get to see Mom until the next morning. I was going to wait 'til the afternoon, but Dad texted me in the morning that she was already awake, mostly lucid, and smiling, so I raced to the hospital.

When I walked into her recovery room in the ICU, her face lit up. She couldn't talk, as she had a respirator in her throat, but she didn't need to. The smile said it all. I had tears in my eyes--and I do now, as I type this--as I rushed to her bedside and grabbed her hand. I stayed there for a while, talking to her, smiling at her, relishing her return smile. She was tired, she was groggy, but she was there. I took this picture, and in her groggy state, she didn't really notice me doing it. The response it got on Facebook, from her friends and my own, was tremendous--mostly made up of "Love" reactions and many, many comments about how happy everyone was that she'd come through her surgery with no problems. Especially, of course, her husband and daughter.

A Grand Moment

In April, I spent a few days in Arizona, visiting Summer and Ben in their new home, and going on yet another adventure with my long-time partner in adventures. We do know how to have them.

This one took us north from Phoenix to Sedona, Flagstaff, the adorable town of Williams, and, of course, to the Grand Canyon. I was fifteen the last time I had seen it; Summer had never been.

It has it's name for a reason--it is grand in every sense of the word. We wandered around on the South Rim for a bit, looking in the various gift shops and whatnot, but mostly just enjoying the view.

Too soon, it was time to take our train journey back to Williams. Fortunately, what waited there was the kitsch of historic Route 66, something I've always wanted to see.  My visit to Arizona flew by way too quickly, but as ever, any time spent with Summer is grand.

A Moment of Discovery 

This picture is not one I took, obviously. And it was not taken in 2017, but rather, sometime in the 1930s.

This summer, I took on the task of scanning Mom and Dad's old photos. I started with a box of pictures from Mom's side, and uploaded them to Facebook with any information that might be written on the back. For many, Mom was able to fill in some of the missing info.

This picture, however, surprised us both. On the back, it says, "Edna Merchant." My grandmother, and Mom's own dear mama. We didn't know of this pic until this summer, and we both absolutely love it. Wasn't she marvelous?

Finding this felt like unearthing a treasure--it's a side to my grandmother I never got to see. I had her for 15 years before she died, and I've always felt lucky to get that much time. She was a generous, loving, funny-as-hell lady who loved her family and talked to a little girl's Snoopy doll to make that little girl giggle. Twenty-four years after she left us, we still miss her all the time.

But oh, how lovely to re-discover her.

A Moment of Faith...In Myself

I started a garden this year.

Me. The woman who has killed so many houseplants over the years. When thoughts of pretty little pots of flowers on my balcony started forming in my head, I tried to chase them out. "Houseplants run screaming when they see you..." I thought to myself.

But the idea stuck.

I started with two tiny houseplants and a pot of daffodils. And one small metal bucket, bought in the bargain bins at Target, with a little just-add-water pod of soil and a packet of forget-me-not seeds. I followed the directions to the letter, and set my little charge out on the balcony.

It was a wet spring, and at one point, I had to perform a rescue operation that included soaking excess water out with paper towels. "I've probably killed the poor thing, before the seeds even had a chance," I told Mom on the phone. "Just drain as much excess water out as you can," she responded. Mom is a true Green Thumb.

Before long, I had sprouts. Then leaves. Stalks. Goodness, it got taller and taller. I added to my garden. Dahlias, petunias, geraniums, jasmine, lavender, lantana. A small tree with a tropical-looking flower on it. Fuchsias, which much preferred the shady part of my balcony. Some succulents.

The daffodils died off as they were supposed to. Some flowers didn't survive the heat of July and August, and one of the original houseplants was a lost cause. But for every failure, I had even more successes. My petunias thrived, my lantana exploded with color. My tree got taller and fuller. And my forget-me-not sprouted a perfect little bloom...and then more.

I came to love the garden centers of all the home improvement stores. I bought fancy string lights and little solar lights. Every garden needs a gnome, so Gnomeo came to stay, and he guards my garden with a cheerful smile and a bulbous nose. Even my hummingbird feeder has proved successful, with birds coming constantly to feed.

Maybe black thumbs can turn green.

A Moment of Joy (and Relief!!)

When Archie got out on November 8, I was, at first, only annoyed. He had slipped out the door before, but he'd never gone down the stairs. "Come back here, you little shit," I muttered, but something had spooked him, and he was off and running.

We got a few buildings down and I knew I had to go back and lock my front door. "I'll be right back," I whispered to the bushes where he was crouching, and I ran home to grab my keys and phone.

When I came back, he was nowhere to be found.

I trampled through bushes and mud puddles. I crept behind the buildings of my condo complex (sorry neighbors). I put up signs. I walked around calling, "Archie-doodle! Here baby!! I'm here! Where are you?!"

After two-and-a-half weeks, I was starting to wonder if maybe he hadn't been taken in by someone else, or hurt by another animal, or a car. The possibility of him being hurt was too much, so I avoided that thought as much as I could.

And then it happened--a knock on my door, an out-of-breath neighbor panting, "I just saw a cat...he's crying..." I ran to where she had seen him in pajamas, ratty old shoes, and without my glasses. I squinted into the dark and saw a cat that looked like Archie coming out. Scared, dirty, and hungry, he approached me cautiously, and realized who I was. Tears of joy sprang to my eyes as I recognized his (now filthy) Jedi Master collar, and his sweet little face, slightly gaunt from two-and-a-half weeks out on his own. I carried my wiggly, protesting boy home, crying, "Bless you!!" to my neighbor, Joy, who had followed me to see if it was, indeed, my boy.

This picture is minutes after all of that action--a joyful woman, a dirty cat who was not feeling this whole "be still, take a picture" moment. He had to sniff the whole house, and his brother, who was following him, non-stop, with his nose on him. He had food to eat and his mama's legs to rub against.

He was home.

A Moment of Fun

One month after this picture was taken, the legendary Tom Petty suffered a cardiac arrest at home and died several hours later in the hospital. I received a shocked text from Sarah at work, and rushed to my computer during my prep to see it was sadly true.

But before that, we got this great evening at Sacramento's Golden 1 Arena, singing along with all of the classics--three rebels without a clue, American Girls, having a great time listening to a great musician give us everything he had on stage.

My first "major" concert was Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers in about 2001 or 2002, with Sarah. It was fitting to see him again with her and Deborah, at one of his final gigs. The last couple years have been really rough on musicians that shaped my generation (Petty, Bowie, Prince, George Michael...).

A Keane Moment

Keane has been on hiatus since 2013, only banding together once in that time to make a quick recording of the glorious "Tear Up This Town" for a movie that a friend of theirs was directing. They have been roundly missed by fans far and wide.

It started to emerge that Tom, the golden-voiced lead singer, had been battling addiction and receiving treatment for it. He was also spending time rebuilding his relationships with family--especially his wife--and being father to his toddler daughter. But somewhere in all that, he wrote a lot of music, and recorded a solo album. In February, he brought his music--and a few special Keane favorites--to San Francisco. It was the last stop on his American tour for the album, and I was delighted to see him.

I had met him once before, at a meet-and-greet where we were shuffled through very, very quickly. I managed to squeak out, "I love your voice!" before being moved on, and he responded with a sincere, "Thank you!!"

This time, I got to actually chat with him for more than a moment, with my Keane friend Marion. We remarked at how relaxed and happy he seemed to us, how his voice wasn't showing any strain. I told him I'm a singer and I know about voices. "You are sounding really, really good." He gave me a delighted smile and said, "Thank you! That's really good to hear." I got this picture, of a happily worn-out British singer and a giddy Meg, on a darkened street in San Francisco's Tenderloin neighborhood. It was worth the Rush Hour drive to San Francisco on a Friday evening, and the cost of a hotel room, to be there.

A California Girl Moment

The 2016-17 school year was a rush of stuff happening. I bought a home, had all new floors put in, started the school year, finally moved in to my new place, and then, in October, finally got to move into my classroom after a little over a year of being a roving teacher. In December, I adopted Da Boyz. There was so much going on, and I was adjusting to being back on anti-depressants for my the school year sort of whizzed by in a flurry of stress. Then Mom started getting sick, and we couldn't figure out what was going on (what we hoped was anemia caused by ulcerous tissue in her stomach instead ended up being colon cancer). By the time June rolled around, I was exhausted.

An adventure was needed. I had been to Arizona for Spring Break, so this adventure needed to be a little less expensive (no airfare) and maybe only one night away. I booked a hotel room in Monterey, and left early on a Wednesday morning to drive there.

I visited the wonderful Monterey Bay Aquarium, and lunched on Cannery Row overlooking the water. I spent a couple of hours on the beach in my swimsuit, listening to the sounds of the ocean and happy children, and read my book. I had dinner at a lovely little Greek restaurant in downtown...and then I drove out to the very edge of the coast and waited for the sunset. It was cold and windy, so I sat in my car until the light was just right, then hopped out to take some pictures, including one of a California Girl in her happy place.

The Obligatory "I Love Da Boyz" Moment

The year has only strengthened my bond with Archie and Popcorn, and my belief that orange tabby boys are the sweetest cats ever. But then, so are torties/torbies. And tuxies. And...

Well, these two orange tabby boys are awesome, no matter what.

Poppers had some urinary issues this year (as in, "Sorry Mom, I peed on the bed...again.") that took some sorting, and then there was Archie's "I just want to see what's out there!!" moment-turned-two-and-a-half-weeks in November, after which he returned slightly skinnier, covered in dirt, and quite chagrined. So while I've gained a grey hair or two from these worries, I've also gained oodles of cuddles and laughter and joy. Da Boyz are delightful, and having them around has improved Casa Meg greatly...even if it does mean a lot more sweeping to keep the cat hair/Meg hair/cat litter in check.

They turned two in May, and even as Popcorn was visiting the vet for his urinary crystals, the vet, checking him out, said, "Well, this is one healthy cat." His heart is strong, he's the perfect weight for his frame (my thirteen-pounder, big-boned boy), and Archie is just the same (though he hasn't had to go to the vet--but will soon, for the regular yearly check-up).

A "Pushing 40" Moment

In August, I turned 39. Sarah took me to lunch and made sure the wait staff sang to me over my cheesecake, as friends do.

I can hardly believe I'll be 40 in 2018--I don't feel "middle aged" and I don't particularly care for that term. I still prefer silly socks over plain; I still enjoy swinging on the swings at my local park after a Sunday morning run.

One thing that keeps me young are my friends--from Sarah to Summer and everyone in between. I am truly one lucky lady to have them.

Here's to many more moments in this coming year!

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Christmas, and Other C Words

Christmas is one of my favorite holidays, and we've had years of wonderful family Christmases. Though in more recent years, it's just been Mom, Dad and I here, we always have a lovely time. After the hectic weeks of performances and preparation, of hyperactive students and crowded grocery stores, the quiet lazy Christmas is welcome.

This year, as usual, it's just the three of us (and three cats). I came over a little before noon, with an overnight bag, my favorite pillow, and two cats in tow. Mom planned a nice dinner--a lovely roast, mashed potatoes, green beans, and ambrosia.

There are other C Words in our holiday, of course. Mom has chemo this week for her cancer--only four more treatments, as things stand right now!--so that is definitely something we are always aware of. It doesn't take over our lives, though. We're just so happy to have a peaceful Christmas together, enjoying good food and the antics of Da Boyz as they explore every inch of the house, and Bella, as she pouts under the bed at this home invasion.

I did the bulk of today's food prep. Mom tires so easily, and apologizes every once in a while for needing to rest. I remind her that I really don't mind, and happily take on the work so we can have a nice dinner. I think of all of the things Mom and Dad have happily, selflessly done for me--paying my airfare so I could teach in England, letting me move in when I was unemployed, all the times they helped me keep my head above water, and supported me in my career choice. Truly, making Christmas dinner (and Mom did the meat, for the record) is not a hardship.

Later this week, Mom will have another PET scan so the doctors can see what is going on with the cancer cells. We're all a little anxious, and very, very hopeful. I wouldn't say it hangs over our heads--truly, we manage to just be in the moment around here--but we don't hide from it, either. It's reality. We still have our fightin' pants on, and part of my present to Mom this year (in addition to a show she loves on DVD and a book) was yet another pair of fun socks to wear when she goes to the infusion center.

I know that Mom wishes she had more energy, and didn't feel so tired from the effects of the chemo...but I also know that all of us are simply grateful this season to be together, to have a lovely Christmas together. The other C Words don't matter so much.

Sunday, December 03, 2017

How to Run a Marathon



Now that I'm nearing--gulp--a decade into my running career, I've learned a few things. One of the most important things I've learned is that I have zero desire to train for a marathon. None whatsoever. It's not that I don't think I could run a marathon. I could figure it out if I wanted it badly enough. I just don't want all. 

See, training for a half marathon has proven tough on my body. I love the process and how I feel when a run goes right, but overall, though the months of preparing, I deal with near-constant sciatic nerve irritation and soreness that all the stretching and foam rolling in the world doesn't really do much for. I walk around my classroom with one hand on my back, groaning softly and scaring the children (or at least making them think I'm even weirder than they already suspected). 

Now that I've gone through that process (three times, thankyouverymuch), I feel like I can back off the ole Guts and Glory routine and just run for my general well-being. 

When the opportunity to be part of a relay team for the annual California International Marathon came up, I figured, "Hell, why not?" My school is part of a program through a couple of local shopping areas where we can earn points through making purchases...but also through various endeavors like having students carol at said shopping centers (guess which school music teacher is doing that later this week?) and putting together a four-person relay team for the marathon. 

Four intrepid women--Angela (Spanish), Chrystal (English Language Arts), April (3rd grade) and Yours Truly (Music) signed up and got training. None of us is going to medal in running at the Olympics, but we all enjoy it well enough and were willing to put ourselves out there on the road for our school. Besides, now we can say "I ran in the California International Marathon" and no one can call us a lying liar even though none of us ran the whole thing.

Once our team was set up, it was time to divvy up the different legs. Two legs were a little bit over seven miles, one was 6.2, and the last leg was 5.7. It was decided that Angela would take the first leg (7.3 or something like that), starting in Folsom. I would take the second leg (6.2). Chrystal took the third leg (about 7 miles even, I think), and April the finishing leg. We would cover 26.2 miles, from my hometown of Folsom to the Capitol building in downtown Sacramento. Easy-peasy!

Hold up, there.

See, there's an elevation change of about 300 feet between Folsom and Sacramento, so we figured it would be mostly downhill. And it was...for everyone but me. Turns out my leg is one of the shorter ones because it has more hills. I'm not complaining, but my calves were. 

Anyway, how to run a marathon...relay.

The official starting time for the race was 7:00 in the chilly morning. Because the course is a point-to-point course, and not a loop, runners were taken to the starting point, or to their relay exchange point, in school buses on loan from various local school districts. The buses for the second leg relay runners would depart at 6:30 in the morning. It was still dark out.

The bus was nice and warm, and we had the option of staying on it when we reached the relay point, but I didn't wait long. Though it was cold out, I wanted to see the first competitors come through.

The marathoners using hand bikes and such were the first to start the race, so the first person through was on a hand bike. We cheered like mad for him.

I took my requisite pre-race selfie.

Finally, the first runner came through. He was super-fast and way ahead of everyone else. This was only mile seven-point-something, so I wonder if he burned out later.

Behind him a little ways was a group, and they were fast, but quite obviously pacing themselves.

I almost missed Angela, and she almost missed me. But fortunately I saw her and yelled her name. We exchanged the ankle timer and I was off running.

It was not an easy run for me today. I'm just not in the form I was in a couple years ago, which is frustrating. It didn't help that a good chunk of my run was uphill. My calves were screaming.

Whining aside, the course itself was very high-energy. People lined almost every stretch of it, yelling, cheering, ringing cowbells, holding signs. Dogs in funny Christmas sweaters watched us pass. Aside from the official aid stations with water and energy gels, there were random neighborhoods were several people would be passing out orange slices and banana halves (always wearing gloves). Some people had boxes of tissues for those of us whose noses run as much as our legs do (I had a bandana for such needs). There were even people who had bought water to give out between aid stations. The amount of support and energy given by people whose weekend has been totally disrupted by this event was lovely, and reminded me why I love the greater Sacramento community.

When I reached mile 12, I had a little over a mile to go. I texted Chrystal a picture while jogging, and a little while later, I told her, "Be ready."

I shuffled in to find her waving and cheering me on. I yelled, "Oh my God I did it. Thank God I'm done!!" as she strapped the anklet on. I patted her on the back and said, "Have a great run!" Then she was off, and I was left thinking, "Okay, now what?"

The "now what" was easy--there were signs directing me to the bus to get back downtown.

But first, a selfie:

My bus, I was delighted to see, was Folsom school district for the whole of my public schooling, and later, my student teaching. I chatted with the driver, who has actually driven band trips for my former band teacher.

Traffic on the freeway was a nightmare, but we finally reached downtown, and were let off right by the capitol, where the finish line was. It was a hot mess of people, and I'm not a huge fan of crowds on a good day. When I've just slogged through 6.2 miles of hilly terrain on two spoonfuls of peanut butter (breakfast) and a few packets of Gu, crowds are downright terrifying.

So I grabbed some pretty pictures of the Capitol and the fall colors, then I spent a few minutes cheering runners on as they approached the Mile 26 sign. But my stomach wouldn't wait and my calves were gently weeping, so I crossed the street to my car and got on my way.

Team GIS did a great job today, finishing in 5:15 and earning points and pride for our school. I couldn't have picked a better team of people, and hope that if we do this next year, we have two relay teams, so people have running partners. 

That's my marathon story. It was exciting to be part of such a huge event, but I'm glad I didn't have to do twenty more miles than I did.