Friday, June 29, 2012


Wednesday, at the vet’s, after a long illness.

Rusty Mabee-Armstrong always refused to talk about her kittenhood, but she was born in New York City in mid-1996, mistreated by an early owner, and then cast out to make her own way on the streets of Manhattan.  Her life improved dramatically after she was found by a rescue organization and subsequently adopted by Beth Mabee and Tom Armstrong, who gave her her name and spoiled her so badly that she was known within the family as “The Princesse.”

Rusty was quite well-traveled for a house cat, having lived in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and several locations in Arizona.  She was beautiful but reserved, preferring to be admired from afar; she was pleased that several readers of her mother’s blog admitted to being more interested in her activities than her person’s.  She did have an unexpected possessive streak, and more than once expressed a willingness to take on a large dog or coyote that wandered into her yard.

Rusty’s hobbies included bird-watching, catnapping, racing down long hallways, watching TV with her parents, and hanging out with her best friend, Boo-Boo the Big Blue [catnip] Mouse.  Although she didn’t know her exact birthday, she usually celebrated it on the Fourth of July so she could pretend that the fireworks were in her honor.  She was looking forward to turning 16 next week, but her spirit was stronger than her body, which just couldn’t hold out.

She was preceded in death by her adoptive father, and will be sorely missed by her mother and her stepfather Barry.  She asked that in lieu of an expensive burial in the local pet cemetery, a donation be made in her name to a no-kill animal shelter.

"If man could be crossed with the cat it would improve the man, but it would deteriorate the cat." ~Mark Twain

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Back in the Bubble

From the things I've said about my late husband Tom, those of you who have been reading this blog for a while may think that I view his memory through rose-colored glasses.  That's not the case; I'm well aware of his flaws.  Remind me some time to tell you about the unholy tax mess he left behind when he died.  However, in one way he was the ideal partner for me. 

Looking back, I can see that my life before I met him was extremely goal- and future-oriented.  Some of my earliest memories are of my parents (particularly my mother) explaining that my sister and I had to go to college when we grew up and learn to support ourselves.  Our family did not nurture "princess waiting to be rescued" fantasies; in fact, I do not remember either parent ever suggesting that some day Sue or I would marry and have children, or even want to.  Over the years I've wondered a lot about that.  Cinderella isn't a particularly good role model, but surely my parents went a little overboard in the opposite direction.  At any rate, the brainwashing worked; my sister earned a full-ride college scholarship and became a respected electrical engineer, and at the height of my career I was the chief underwriting officer of a New York City insurance company.  However, my parents have no biological grandchildren to brighten their declining years, just two single daughters with control issues.  Ants R Us.

Tom, on the other hand, was one of life's grasshoppers.  He was better than anyone I've ever met at enjoying the present moment without worrying about the future or dwelling on issues from the past.  He was also the only person ever in my life who loved me without wanting to change me.  He didn't always approve of my choices but he supported them anyway.  The years with him inevitably had their stresses, frequently work-related, but they also contained little bubbles of pure happiness.  Yes, he spent money too recklessly, but if we'd been more saving we wouldn't have had all those magical vacations and he would still be dead.  This way we'll always have Paris - and Aruba, and Napa Valley, and many other special times and places.

I'm bringing this up because this week, for the first time in the eight years since he died, I've been having unexpected jolts of the same peaceful, grounded joy that I felt with him.  I'm not really sure why, and frankly I'm a little afraid to examine the phenomenon too closely for fear it will pop like a balloon under pressure.  I only know that whatever the cause, I wouldn't be feeling it now had I not learned from Tom how to relax into the moment and cherish the present.

"Find ecstasy in life; the mere sense of living is joy enough."  ~Emily Dickenson

Friday, June 8, 2012

Leaping Backward

This has been fund-raising week at our local PBS station, so none of the shows I usually record to watch in the evening has been on.  As a result, I’ve been channel-surfing for alternate entertainment.  I was pleased a few nights ago to stumble across a station that every night airs two episodes of the late 80s/early 90s show Quantum Leap.

The hero of Quantum Leap, Dr. Sam Beckett (Scott Bakula), tried to build a time machine, but when he used it he unexpectedly leaped into another person in the past.  (His personality did, anyway.)  The first time that person had lived through the events in the episode, something terrible happened.  Through Sam’s intervention, this time around disaster was averted, and as soon as that was a certainty (during the last 5 minutes of the program), Sam leaped into another individual in distress.  During the 5 years the show ran, Sam leaped into men, women, children, people of other races, and a vet who had lost both legs in Vietnam.  Every episode had the same basic plot – people in trouble, people saved, Sam leaps on – but the writers were a seemingly inexhaustible font of distressing situations and ingenious resolutions, and Scott Bakula was funny and endearing as the displaced scientist.

Because the show had a new cast every week, practically every not-yet star in Hollywood appeared on it sooner or later.  One of the shows I watched last night, in fact, featured the pre-Friends Jennifer Aniston with her original nose and bouncy brown hair, while the other starred the young Brooke Shields.  Talk about a time machine...

I didn’t get to watch Quantum Leap very often when it was originally on because I was in grad school for most of that period, with very little time for television of any sort, so I’m going to enjoy the back episodes for at least a few weeks.  A little nostalgia every now and then never hurt anyone.

"Trapped in the past, Doctor Beckett finds himself leaping from life to life, putting things right that once went wrong, and hoping each time that his next leap will be the leap home." ~from the intro to Quantum Leap 

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Still Struggling With Moderation

Last night I stopped on the way home at the Farmer's Market in Glendale to pick up some fresh produce.  I bought baby eggplant, zucchini, pattypan squash, and an heirloom tomato.  So far, so good.  Then I made the mistake of stopping by the booth of Dr. Hummus for some free samples.

Dr. Hummus (actually the Tunisien-born Sabeur Rouin) sells pita bread, pita chips, and an astounding array of things to eat on and with the chips - guacamole, tabouli, two kinds of tapenade, several types of pesto, and more varieties of hummus than you would believe.  He's always generous with the free tastes, and I always get carried away by them.  The ingredients are fresh.  Most of the offerings are nut-free and many are dairy-free; the outstanding spinach and onion dip, for instance, is made with silken tofu rather than dairy, but you can't tell from the taste or the unctuous mouth-feel that it doesn't contain full-fat cream cheese.  The hummus products are also tahini-free, so they are much lower in calories than many of their commercially processed relatives.

Yesterday I was sucked in by the sun-dried tomato pesto and the jalapeno and cilantro hummus.  I had some of the hummus with chips last night at dinner and some of the pesto scrambled with eggs for breakfast.  The pesto, by the way, lived up to its billing as "the best friggin' pesto you ever ate!"  Alas, it's so delicious that I have a hard time not scarfing the entire plastic tub of goodness in one sitting.

"Doctor Hummus products can be found at most of the metro area farmers markets as well as Whole Foods, New Frontiers, AJ's, Luci's Healthy Market Place, Phoenix Public Market - Urban Grocery and Wine Bar, Langley's Country Market, Tempe Farmers Market and Bashas in Carefree, Sedona, Scottsdale, and Payson." ~ Dr.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Kissing and Telling - or Not

The members of our book club are busy people, so we generally limit the size of the books we choose to be sure that as many of us as possible can finish them before the discussion.  This month, however, we picked a longer work than usual (about 500 words in paperback), and only about half of us finished it.  I really had to push myself to get it all read, not because of the length, but because by 2/3 of the way through I was so disgusted with the characters that I really didn’t care what happened to any of them.

The book was The Post-Birthday World by Lionel Shriver, and it’s actually two books in one.  The protagonist is Irina McGovern, an American graphic artist living in London with her long-time lover, a think-tank wonk specializing in terrorism.  Early in the book Irina is tempted to kiss a British friend on his birthday; the rest of the novel follows Irina through two alternate futures, one in which she gives way to temptation and one in which she does not.

This is one of those books that none of us actually enjoyed reading, but that generated a very lively discussion.  Sometimes directly and sometimes obliquely, the author examines what attracts us to members of the opposite sex; what constitutes true intimacy; how tradeoffs between talent, money, and power can enhance or destroy a relationship; and whether trying to change one’s real self for someone else can ever be successful.  In the end, although Irina is beautiful, talented, and desperate to please the man she’s with, both of her possible futures end bleakly, at least in her eyes.  That wasn’t particularly surprising, since no matter how well things went for Irina during the course of the story(s), she never cheered up.

My main quibble with this book, in fact, is that the tone throughout is one of grim irony.  The bitter discussions between the main characters would have been easier to slog through with an occasional leavening of fun. (That's FUN, Lionel, not just sex - got it?)  After all, these characters were reasonably well and well-off members of the middle class who supposedly loved one another; surely they would have had a few laughs during the years covered by the novel.  One would think that a female author capable of changing her name from Mary Ann to Lionel must have a sense of humor tucked away somewhere, but perhaps that choice was also informed by irony instead.

An interesting book, but not one that I’ll be reading again.

"...the author is more interested in raising questions about love and fidelity than in pat moralizing." ~Kirkus Review on The Post-Birthday World (quoted on the dust jacket)

Monday, June 4, 2012

Van Gogh Writ Large

During the years I lived in New York the airfare to France was frequently cheaper than to anywhere in the United States, so Tom and I spent several vacations in Paris  During one we went on a day trip to Giverny and Auvers-sur-Oise  At Giverny we toured Monet’s house and garden; in Auvers we saw the room where Vincent van Gogh stayed, the church he painted, the field where he shot himself, and his grave.  In the garden at Giverny, viewing the green bridge surrounded by flowers and arching over the pond of waterlilies, I could squint and see what Monet had seen.   In Auvers, however, it seemed to me that only Van Gogh could have looked at the humdrum landscape and interpreted it as a magical whirl of color and movement.

Van Gogh’s singular vision of reality has been on unique display at the Arizona Science Center for the last couple of months, and I finally saw the exhibit last weekend.  “Van Gogh Alive: The Experience” was developed by Grande Exhibitions in Australia.  Giant photos of Van Gogh’s works and quotations from his writings (thoughtfully translated into English) are projected on the walls of several rooms to the sounds of classical music carefully chosen to coordinate with the images.  Some of the art is displayed by theme – at various points, one is surrounded by an array of enormous sunflowers, or the progression of Van Gogh’s increasingly abstract and unhappy self-portraits – but it is also in roughly chronological order, ending with his final painting of that desolate field in Auvers.

The projections of course did not accurately reproduce the tactile effect of Van Gogh’s work, with its vigorous brush strokes and frequently thick application of paint, and some of the more abstract works dissolved almost into pointillism when blown up to room size.  On the other hand, this was a fabulous opportunity to experience the evolution of his style, to learn more about his theories of art, and to bathe in the glorious colors he used.  It was also the closest most of us will ever get to some of Van Gogh’s most famous paintings, now in private hands and rarely accessible to the public.

We stayed through several showings of the program, moving from place to place in order to see all of the pictures.  Overall it was an amazing experience, and I hope that someday Grande Exhibitions will do the same for Monet; the already enormous waterlily paintings in the basement of the Orangerie in Paris, for instance, would look awesome projected all the way around a room.

"Instead of trying to reproduce exactly what I see before me, I make more arbitrary use of color to express myself more forcefully." Vincent van Gogh (Letter to Theo van Gogh, 11 August 1888