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Thursday, March 31, 2011

Word of the Day: Blogorrhea

I've discovered that blogging is a whole universe unto itself.  I had no idea.  It has its own rules and guidelines, even its own vocabulary.  Here's a word I ran across:  blogorrhea.  As you may have guessed, it’s derived from "diarrhea."  Here are a few definitions I found:


·       a large number of blog entries or an entire blog comprised of substandard quality or overly verbose content.

·       to write a blog entry just for the sake of posting an entry, not because you have done anything interesting today. 
I couldn't really think of anything good to blog about, so my last post was real blogorrhea.

·       A blog characterized by excessive commenting on irrelevant facts.
This guy's blog is full of useless crap.  It is like his brain just burst with projectile blogorrhea.

·       Writing a blog while highly intoxicated, and therefore, spilling your guts, all your secrets, and naming all the people you hate in the world.
Last night I had blogorrhea after I got home from the bar.  When I woke up in the morning, I realized it was too late, it had been read and could not be taken back.

(You can actually buy t-shirts, trucker hats, and coffee mugs emblazoned with that last definition.  It’s quite popular.)

I have the uncomfortable feeling that I may be guilty of all the above, except the part about being intoxicated.  I’m perfectly capable of spilling my guts without being intoxicated.  And I don’t hate anybody in particular, just general groups of people who deserve to be hated, like people who abuse kids and animals, blow up buildings, and so on. 

This whole blogorrhea thing has led to some serious introspection.  I ask myself:

Do my blogs contain useful content?  Not really.
Are they "overly verbose?"  Sometimes.
Do I post blogs even when I haven’t done anything interesting?  Definitely.  But then, that depends on your definition of “interesting.” 
Do I comment on irrelevant facts, “useless crap,” if you will?  Without a doubt.  Again, it depends on what you consider irrelevant.
Could this very blog post be considered blogorrhea?  I'm afraid so. 

In other words, do I have some wisdom to impart, a product to sell, or a platform from which to espouse a worthy cause?  No, no, and no.

Have I missed the boat, when I wasn’t even aware there was a boat? 

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

I Didn't Know I Was a Luddite

This week I had to take my husband to the doctor.  It seems he ate a bad piece of homemade deer sausage one of his teammates brought to his baseball game on Sunday.  Late Sunday night he woke up with violent shivering, fever, and nausea.  So next morning I drove him to see Dr. Y, our family doctor.  Dr. Y. is a good doctor, but besides that, we like him because he actually spends time with you.  He talks and explains and listens.  He remembers everything you told him last time, whether it was related to your health or not.  He knows about your parents (he has been the GP for James' parents for years) and your childhood.  He doesn't have substitutes that take his place when he's out.  It's a one-man office.  His wife mans the front desk, so it's a family operation.  (I have forgiven her for recommending botox treatments last time I was there.)   

But there's a downside to all this attention.  You can spend a lot of time in the waiting room.  And Dr. Y has the most egregious selection of reading material I'd ever seen this side of the Mexican border.  There were tattered copies of obscure health magazines (Prosthetics Today), battered L.L. Bean catalogs, and a few copies of
Sports Illustrated that were at least eight months old.  Even so, you had to wait your turn for those.  Oh, and ancient copies of Highlights
magazines for the kids, although I don't recall ever seeing children there.

But on Monday, as soon as we walked into the waiting room I could see the difference.  There were neat stacks of
National Geographics, recent copies of Sports Illustrated, even a magazine I'd never heard of called More, subtitled "For the Woman with Style and Substance."  I leafed through More and didn't find anything interesting, so I guess I have neither style nor substance.  Finally I settled down with a National Geographic
.  By the time they called James' name, I had read all about the migrating habits of zebras in an obscure African game reserve. 

Even more enlightening, I read part of an article about "Luddites."  I'd heard the term before but never knew what it meant.  Now I realize that I
a Luddite!  No, it's not an off-the-wall religious cult.  It's a term for people who hate technology.  Back in the old days, they did things like take sledge hammers to printing presses.  Nowadays, I'm not sure what activities they pursue (I didn't have time to finish the article).  Maybe they just do what I do:  complain a lot about technology they don't understand and occasionally wail, "I hate technology!" 

For example, I don't have an iPhone.  I just recently got an iPod, only because my husband bought me one for my birthday.  I was the last person of my acquaintance to get a cell phone (except my brother John, who still doesn't have one).  I never feel the compulsion to upgrade to the newest computer, phone, or TV.  I still read regular books, not Kindles. 

The other day I was railing to my daughter about something I couldn't figure out on my computer, and in my despair I cried out, "I'm out of it and proud of it!"  So that's my new mantra. 

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

So Many Books, So Little Time

Yesterday I mentioned I haven’t been discussing belly dance much lately, and that’s supposed to be what this blog is about.  Well, there’s another topic I’ve been neglecting as well, and that’s books. 
Reading is my favorite thing in the world to do, even more than dance.  My favorite place to read is in the hammock in the back yard.  Back when I had a job, it was where I would unwind after work.  It was sheer bliss to lie there swaying gently, hearing the burble of the waterfall, and staring up into the leaves and sky.  (See photo.)  The hammock was also the perfect place for thinking.  Or not thinking—to just look and feel and listen without actually thinking about anything.  This is much harder to do than it sounds--to stop the busy mind and just be. 
I’m appalled that so far this year I've read only 5 or 6 books.  Pitiful.  It’s true that two of those books required more time and concentration than most.  They were books of substance, dense with facts, names, and places.   We're talking serious scholarship.  One was Cleopatra, A Life, by Stacy Schiff, and the other, which I’m still reading, is Apollo’s Angels, A History of Ballet, by Jennifer Homans.  Besides those, I've read a few light novels, mostly thrillers by Lee Childs. 
I’m not a fast reader.  I miss too much when I read fast.  To me, a good book is like a gourmet meal, so I try to savor every bite.  I linger over it, mark passages for future reference, and admire how the author expressed this or structured that.   

View from the hammock

One of my fondest reading memories took place when I was 11 or 12.  It was the calm before the adolescent storm--the summer before I entered the adolescent horror show that we call junior high, or, today, middle school.  I would sit curled up in an overstuffed chair, munching on hot dogs and reading the classic Gothic novels Jane Eyre, Rebecca, and Wuthering Heights.  Jane Eyre was my favorite.  Sitting in that threadbare blue chair, it was just me, Jane and Mr. Rochester. 

If you haven’t seen it, check out the old Jane Eyre movie with Olivia de Havilland and Orson Welles.  There’s a new version out that I haven’t seen yet, but can it be as good as the original?  Let me know!
Where is your favorite place to read?  What were some of your favorite books as a kid?

Monday, March 28, 2011

Finding Billie Lu and Back to Belly Dance

At Billie Lu's in Odessa
Finding Billie Lu
Above is an old old recital photo of me. 

In a previous post I mentioned that I started taking ballet when I was about 5 years old, at Billie Lu’s School of Dance in Odessa.  Recently I found out that Billie Lu is alive and well.  In fact, I tracked her down and talked to her on the phone the other day!  She is almost 80 years old now, but her voice sounds the same as when I last heard it, almost 50 years ago.  Now she lives in Memphis, closer to her children and grandchildren.  We talked about what has transpired in our lives in the last 50 years.  We talked about the best students she had back then, and where they are now.  A couple of them went on to be professional dancers with ballet companies.  One of them is traveling around South America in a yacht with her husband. 

But the most startling thing I learned was that Billie Lu and my father dated, albeit briefly, way back when I was her student.  She was still single, and Daddy was a young widower.  He was serious about her, but she was more interested in the man who eventually became her husband. 

“You broke Daddy’s heart,” I told her.  She laughed it off and joked that I narrowly escaped having her for a stepmother.  Wow.  That blew my mind.  At the time I would have been so excited at the prospect of having Billie Lu as part of our family.  Now I realize how difficult it would have been for her to suddenly have three stepchildren on her hands.  Anyway, she married someone else and had children of her own, and Daddy remained a widower.  He didn’t remarry until I was about to graduate from high school, ten years after my mother died of cancer.  It makes you wonder:  How different would my life be if this or that hadn't happened, or if something else had?    

Back to belly dance

I’ve been neglecting my chosen area of concentration:  belly dance.  I’ve already made the disclaimer that I’m not an expert on any aspect of it.  This is just a diary of my own experiences, as an over-50 student of this dance.  Most of the time, the over-50 part doesn’t make much difference.  Except that I don’t have as much stamina as younger classmates.  I sweat a lot, but I’ve always been that way.  I guess my body lacks an efficient cooling system--by the end of class I’m so sweaty my hair is wet.  It was that way back when I country danced, too.  I would go to the ladies room and hold my head under the hand blower to dry my hair.
But one thing that definitely has to do with age is how sore I get.  After class I am stiff and sore, especially after 45 minutes of driving home.  I practically fall out of the Suburban and hobble to the house, sometimes hanging onto the car for support.  I’m sure it’s a pathetic sight.  The stiffness goes away after a few minutes of moving around, but the soreness usually lasts until the next day.  The muscles just don’t bounce back like they used to.  Thank goodness for Celebrex. 

Friday, March 25, 2011

Distemper at the Shelter

I haven’t written anything for a couple of days, and this is why.  Yesterday was a terrible day, and leading up to it were a couple of terrible weeks. 
I have mentioned that I volunteer at a local animal shelter.  We are a “no-kill” shelter.  But yesterday we had to make two exceptions to that rule:  two little dachshund mixes named Hans and Franz.
This is what happened.  Hans and Franz were two of the four dogs I mentioned in a previous post (February 28).  We took them in from another rescue group that couldn’t keep them.  Initially, our main concern about these guys was they were too afraid of people to be adoptable.  But before long, they started coming around.  Instead of hiding, they started coming out to watch the goings-on at the shelter.  They started coming up to us, if we were patient and waited for them to approach.  Then they started actually wanting human attention.  So things were looking good for them. 
Then a dog we took in from another facility started showing symptoms of distemper.  Lab tests confirmed it.  By then virtually every dog in the facility had been exposed to this deadly virus.  Distemper is devastating.  There is no cure and no treatment, and it is highly contagious.  I’ve learned a lot about it in the past couple of weeks.  It attacks the respiratory system, then the digestive system, and finally the brain.  Two of the dachshunds, Hans and Franz, came down with the disease.  We did all we could for them and hoped for the best.  In spite of everything, they wasted away before our eyes.  The veterinarian recommended euthanasia.  In misguided hope, we kept trying for two more days.  Finally, yesterday, we made the very difficult decision to have them put down.  I went for a long drive and cried a lot. 
Distemper is the grim reaper that every shelter dreads.  Until now our little humane society has been extremely lucky.  In over 30 years of operation, we’ve never had to deal with distemper.  But our luck ran out and so did that of little Hans and Franz. 
If anything good came of this, it’s that next time we will be better prepared.  We’ve learned a lot and will institute new policies and procedures to minimize the risk of distemper getting into the shelter and the damage if it does.  So Hans and Franz didn’t die in vain.  But that’s cold comfort today.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Middle Eastern Song of the Day

I love Middle Eastern music.  It’s so beautiful, melodic, and somehow sounds ancient.  Although most of what I like is probably far from traditional and very modernized.
I’ve gotten to where that’s almost all I listen to.  Usually I hear a song I like in class and ask Miss K about it.  That’s how I discovered singers Wael Kfoury and Ragheb Alama, my favorites.  The songs I like best are the romantic ballads. 
Part of the appeal is the sound of the Arabic language.  Even if I can’t understand the words, the beauty of the language is enough.  I love languages.  When I went to Brazil, I fell in love with Portuguese.  Like Rio de Janeiro, it was exotic and lush and strange.  All the Romance languages are beautiful:  Spanish, Italian, French, and Portuguese.  I never thought of Arabic as being pleasant to listen to until I heard it sung.  It is as exotic and strange and beautiful in its own way as the Romance languages.  You don’t need to know the words to appreciate it. 
In fact, one of my favorite Arabic songs is entitled “Not With Words” (“Mosh bil Kalam”).  I couldn’t find this song on iTunes, but part of it is translated as follows: 
Not with words
Can you capture my eyes and heart.
Oh, if it were up to words…
There were too many words before your love.
Oh, not with words--
They cannot capture my eyes and my heart
And make me love you.

Sigh.  So romantic. 
I’m going to try to post a YouTube video of another song by Ragheb Alama, “Naseeny El Donia.”  The translation is just OK – it never seems possible to capture the meaning of a song (or book or poem, for that matter) from another language.  And the video is a bit cheesy.  What I like is the sound of the music and language.  Sometimes it’s better to just close your eyes and listen.
Here goes.  I think you click on the URL and it should bring up the video. 

<iframe title="YouTube video player" width="480" height="390" src="" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>

Monday, March 21, 2011

On the Tejano Music Fair, Baby Strollers, and Jemileh

Spring has officially arrived as of yesterday.  The plants that froze during the winter are struggling back, and the pond is dotted with tadpoles the size of map pins.  It’s nice enough to leave the windows open in the house and let a breeze waft through.  In a month it will be too hot for that. 
On Friday night, the moon was huge and the weather was perfect for strolling around outside, specifically, at Market Square in downtown San Antonio.  James wanted to go to the annual Tejano Music Awards Fan Fair.  He likes Tejano music.  What can you expect from someone who was born in Carrizo Springs and spent his formative years in Corpus Christi, the home of Selena?  I like it too but perhaps not with the same intensity.  And we both like the local Tejano radio station.  Back when I had a job, I often listened to it on my way to work.  The Jonny Ramirez in the Morning show was funny, and, although it’s mostly in English, the occasional Spanish commercials and conversations kept me semi-brushed up on my Spanish.   
So on Friday night, there we were amid hundreds of Latinos in a slowly moving crowd.  We were two of only a handful of gringos in attendance.  There were entire families with the abuelos, the parents, and kids of all ages.  Tejano bands were playing all over Market Square.  There were vendors selling the usual stuff:  cheap jewelry, t-shirts, those little cloth bracelets with your name on it, and so on.
The food was delicious—no health food there, needless to say, not a bean sprout in sight.  We’re talking not only deep-fried, but deep-fried in lard.  I take that back – there was fresh juice made out of every fruit you can think of and many you couldn’t, and, of course, roasted corn.  Usually you nibble it right off the corncob, but at this place you could buy it in a cup.  I waited patiently for the woman before me to finish doctoring her cup of roasted corn.  With a practiced hand, she mashed in at least a quarter cup of whipped butter, then added paprika, Parmesan cheese, a couple of other mystery spices, and finished up with a squirt of lime juice.  I followed her lead, except I used less butter and left out the mystery spices.  It was delicious.  Then I ate two greasy gorditas, deep-fried corn tortillas stuffed with beef or chicken or bean-and-cheese, plus lettuce, tomato, guacamole and hot sauce.  Very tasty. 
With a gordita in one hand and a foaming cup of beer in the other, we wandered around looking and listening.  Some of the bands were young and the guys wore jeans and t-shirts.  Some bands wore the traditional cowboy hats and Tejano style western gear.  We saw one group of musicians dressed in Irish garb.  I’m not sure what that was about.  The singer in one of the bands announced they were from Snyder, Texas.  Snyder?  It’s a small town in West Texas, not an area known for Tejano music.  I suppose the arts can germinate in all kinds of peculiar places.  (Marfa springs to mind.)
We had a good time, decided the $10 we were fleeced for parking was worth it, and were back home by 11 pm.   I have only one complaint:  There should be a rule against bringing one of those limousine-size baby strollers into a crowded event like this.
When my kids were babies, they were perfectly content with a simple umbrella stroller.  It was light, inexpensive, and you just could fold it up and carry it.  Now it seems mandatory to have a gigantic, luxury baby stroller.  It’s funny how things that never existed before become absolute necessities at some point. 
Jemileh, again - Yesterday, I practiced that tricky half turn/quarter turn section in Jemileh.  I worked on it until I could do it with all the elements (hip circles, arms, hand twirls, and turns).  Now I need to practice it to the actual music, which is faster than my practice tempo.  I also dragged myself to the gym.  So I feel pretty virtuous right now.  In spite of the gorditas and beer on Friday.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Practicing While Driving

When I told James that the topic of my next blog was “Belly Dance Moves You Can Practice While Driving,” he said, “You’re kidding, right?”  No, I’m not.
First, let me say that you need to be aware of how many brain cells you need to allocate for driving.  I myself have practiced this only at stoplights or in very light traffic.
I discovered this little exercise completely by accident.  One day not long after Christmas, I was driving home from the mall (no doubt to return something—I hate malls).  I was listening to the radio and started moving my shoulders to the music:  Right shoulder forward, then the left, right, left, right, left.  Hey, a shoulder shimmy!  The driver's seat created the perfect setup for it. 
With your hands on the wheel, your arms are in a fixed position so they can’t move with your shoulders.  Your back is against the seat, so your torso can’t move with your shoulders.  The movement is isolated to the shoulders.  Perfect form.  Let me add here that shoulder shimmies are not supposed to involve bosom jiggling contrary to popular belief and episodes of Dancing with the Stars, although it’s difficult not to have some sympathetic movement there.  (The only person I’ve seen who can shimmy without chest involvement is the Divine Miss K.)  Anyway, this little exercise greatly improved my shoulder shimmy. 
You can also do this at your desk at work, but you run the risk of somebody seeing you and wondering, "What the...?" 
On the subject of practice tips, I think it’s time to revise my blog description.  It’s a little too ambitious as currently written.  I said I would provide all manner of belly dance information:  tips, history, myths--I don’t remember what-all I wrote.  (I don’t have the description in front of me.)  At the time it seemed like a good idea.  Throw it all in there!  But now I realize there are websites out there chock full of that information, put together by people much more knowledgeable than I am.  So I’m just going to stick to my own personal journey and random discoveries.  I am merely a pilgrim stumbling through the wilderness. 

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Jemileh and Why Full-Length Mirrors are Not

Happy St. Patty’s Day!  I didn’t realize it was St. P’s Day until my laptop conveniently filled in the date for me.  I appreciate that little feature, as most of the time I have no idea what the date is.  Not that it matters.  We don’t have plans to go drink green beer tonight. 
Last night was the rehearsal for Jemileh.  I regret now that I missed last week’s class.  Now we are in a section that involves doing four or five things at once, plus a bewildering sequence of turns that you really have to pay attention to.  Otherwise, you could wind up facing a different direction from everyone else.  This would be painfully obvious onstage.
At first, the dance sequence seemed simple.  You do a hip circle while taking two steps to the right, arms in the “L” position, hips going in opposite direction as travel.  OK, so far so good.  Then you add the hand twirls, like the flamenco “floreo,” where you twist your wrists in a delicate, flowery-like gesture.  Then, at the end of your two steps to the right you make a right half turn and end up facing the back wall.  At that point, your arms switch sides, and you repeat the sequence to the left, with arms and hips in opposition.  On the last step you turn again, this time a quarter turn to the left.  This goes on for four half-turns to the right alternating with four quarter turns to the left.  If you haven’t screwed up, you wind up facing front again. 
There were collisions, people saying “Sorry,” turns in all directions.  Hey, I thought this dance was for beginners!  Only one classmate got it right every time without a hitch.  “How did you do it?” we clamored.  She said she practiced it at home, over and over and over.  And over.  Which is the key to mastering anything, I suppose.  I know what I’ll be doing this afternoon. 
Unfortunately, I don’t have the ideal setup to practice at home.  For one thing, it’s hard to dance on carpeting, especially barefoot.  We have rooms with tile floors, but they won't work unless I plan to move furniture every time I practice.  To make matters worse, the "full length" mirror I have to work with is full-length only if you are 11-and-a-half inches wide and 4 feet tall.  I get around that by leaning it against the wall at an angle so I can at least see myself up to my neck.  But as soon as I step to the left or right I’m out of range.  I am in the process of researching the issue of a bigger mirror. 
Stay tuned for belly dance moves you can practice while driving. 

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

I Hate Grocery Shopping

I hate going to the grocery store.  Especially now that our old HEB closed and a new HEB Superstore opened just down the road from it.  I don’t know where anything is and have to push a huge cart across acres of lineolum to find stuff.  I wasn't that fond of the old HEB, either.  It was cramped and dingy, and often I couldn’t find stuff there either, but for a different reason:   they either didn’t carry it or were out.  For example, you could find entire shelves of Ranch dressing, in every flavor combination imaginable, but there was only one brand of blue cheese dressing. 
Inside the old HEB, you saw a cross-section of the people who live in this area.  There were the old ranchers and local families who have been here for generations--unpretentious, tidy folk, many of them from old German stock.  Then there were what some people unkindly referred to as “lake trash.”  These are people who live up the highway on Canyon Lake, not to be confused with the well-to-do Canyon Lake residents who keep summer homes at the lake and belong to the “yacht club.”  The lake people at our HEB looked like they just stepped off the set of The Grapes of Wrath, with their straggly hair, missing teeth, and grubby kids.  Then there's the newest  demographic, the city folk who moved out to the country.  They commute to the city to work and come home to pretend to be country squires.  I suppose we fall into that category. 
There’s a phenomenon happening all over Texas--all over the country--that isn’t mentioned much in the media but is a regular topic of conversation around here.  It’s the fact that the old cattle ranches are dying out.  I know this has been going on for decades, but now that we live out here, I see it first hand.  The old cattle ranchers die off, and their children, who have no desire to carry on the family ranch, working from dawn until after dark, sell the land to developers at exorbitant prices.  Then the city people (like us) move in.  It’s really kind of sad.
Our subdivision opens onto a narrow road that winds through the countryside for several miles, with ranches on both sides.  One ranch in particular I used to enjoy driving past.  I would slow down and gaze at the interesting array of beasts in the pasture.  There were llamas, Longhorns, horses grazing alongside buffalo, and even a couple of zebras.  In the spring they had babies, so there were little longhorns, buffalo, and llamas standing wobbly beside their mothers.  They all coexisted peacefully.  Then the land was sold and bulldozed, and now a huge church sits where the pasture was. 
Now that we have moved here, we are in the contradictory position of not wanting anyone else to do the same.  I hate to see any sign of encroaching civilization.  The city keeps metastasizing north and with it come fast food joints and chain stores.  It was almost too much when I saw a dollar store open up around the corner.  Yes, it is a “Quality Dollar Store,” but, still.  If the day comes when they start building a WalMart, I swear I will lie down in front of the bulldozers. 

We already have a Home Depot.  The Home Depot execs bribed the town by building a new library.  The old library was a crowded storefront in the same shopping center as the old HEB.  The new library is nice, I have to admit.  It sits on a hill overlooking, well, the Home Depot.  But in the spring the hill is covered with wildflowers, and it’s quite lovely.  Still, it was a bribe, and the Home Depot got what it wanted. 
And now, we have the HEB Superstore.  On opening day, people came from all around to see it.  The new superstore borrowed employees from the city HEBs for the occasion.  Armies of teenagers roamed the check out stands, waiting to grab your bags.  I usually carry my own, but the young man begged, “Please, ma’am, I don’t have anything better to do.”  How could I say no?  He and I wandered all over the parking lot looking for my vehicle, because I hadn’t thought to notice the letter on the nearest light pole.  This wasn’t necessary at the old HEB – you could see your car from the front door. 
All the talk for days was, “Have you been to the new HEB?”  The huge parking lot, the spacious aisles.  The fancy deli food, the electronics department.  The fact that it has more wine in bottles than in boxes.   Blah, blah.  I was resentful at first.     
But now I have adapted to the new HEB.  It’s clean, efficient, and it offers  several varieties of blue cheese dressing.  And the employees are as friendly as they were in the old store.  The other day I was sampling spaghetti sauce at one of those food tasting stands.  I noticed that the sample lady was wearing a name tag bearing my name and commented on it.  It’s pretty rare to meet somebody else named Cassie, at least in my generation.  (Nowadays it’s popular to give your kids unusual names, so it's not so uncommon.)  Then—and this was the interesting part—she explained that her real name is actually Kathleen, and she goes by “Cassie” only because her brother could not pronounce Kathy when she was born.  Wow.  I told her my story is exactly the same, except that my real name is Catherine.  My big brother, who was two years old at the time I was born, couldn’t say “Cathy” either, and that's how I became “Cassie.”  We bonded right there in the grocery aisle.  And that feeling overflowed onto the store. 
So I have come to accept the shiny new HEB.  Especially now that they—finally—got sponge replacements for dishwashing wands.  I’ve been waiting for those to arrive for weeks.  And today I squeaked with joy as I snatched up an extra-wide dustpan.  It will be a great help when I'm sweeping those leaves off the patio.
It’s the little things.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

On Dental Hygienists

This morning I had a dental appointment, and it threw off my whole schedule.  I thought the appointment was on Friday, but they gave me a reminder call yesterday to tell me it is today.  I’m glad they did.  It might have taken another six months to schedule another one.  So instead of sitting down to write this morning, I prepared for going “into town.”  This means putting on presentable clothes, applying full war paint, and doing a couple of passes with the curling iron.  Then it takes 45 minutes or so to drive to the dentist’s office.  Thank goodness I gassed up the Suburban yesterday.  I dutifully wrote down the odometer reading and the number of gallons I put in, so we can figure out how many miles per gallon the Beast is getting.  But I didn’t fill it up all the way.  I started freaking out when the gas pump registered $105.00 and stopped at that point.  So we still don’t know.  That will be a depressing statistic.    
I arrived at the dentist's office a few minutes early, so I picked up a magazine.  I got engrossed in an article in Outside magazine (never heard of it before) about a husband and wife who decide to go camping and mountain climbing to re-galvanize their marriage.  I found this an interesting concept.  Why not just remodel your house instead?  That provides more than enough stress for an otherwise happy couple to file for divorce.  Just as I was getting interested in the article (they’d already had two arguments in the car on the way), the hygienist announced my name.  I took the magazine with me, just in case.  But a dentist's office is not like a doctor’s, where making it into an examining room is just the first step in a long process.  The hygienist was ready to go as soon as I got settled into the dental recliner.  
The hygienist has worked for my dentist for going on 23 years.  She has a bright smile, nice teeth (of course), and is quite chatty.  Those qualities seem to be requirements for being a dental hygienist.  By the time any hygienist finishes cleaning my teeth, I know all about her children, grandchildren, and past and present husbands. 
(On a visit to another dentist, his hygienist told me all about how her husband and the father of her three children disappeared without a trace one day.  Years passed and she was just about to file paperwork to collect his life insurance when she discovered he had run off with another man and was living in Houston under an alias.  She told me this story quite cheerfully, with a bright smile.) 
But, God bless ‘em, I know I couldn’t do their job.  I think I’d rather empty bedpans than poke around in somebody’s mouth, especially doing icky things like flossing their teeth.  Have you seen some of those before and after dental ads?  It makes me queasy just looking at the pictures of those yellowed, gnarled teeth and nasty gums. 
So, because today’s schedule got off track, I didn’t get to write my blog or do my usual Tuesday stint at the humane society.  Instead, I’m going to pick up a couple of freshly neutered dogs from the vet and take them back to the shelter.  In fact, I need to leave now.   

Monday, March 14, 2011

To Elsekka or Not

Thank goodness we didn’t learn anything new at the Elsekka class on Friday.  Instead we drilled on steps in the choreography that we’ve already “learned,” steps that Miss K astutely noticed were sloppy, weak, or downright awful.  My problem is that so much of the choreography of Elsekka consists of moves that are new to me.  As Miss K teaches each new section, I’m faced with steps I haven’t had in class yet, at least not at the speed demanded by Elsekka.  I go home and practice like mad and come back feeling somewhat prepared to move on. 
We have until March 31st to sign up for the dances we'll be performing at the recital.  That deadline is now looming.  I’ve already signed up for Jemileh.  I can handle that.  It is slow and lyrical, with plenty of pauses when you can gather your thoughts, as in “What’s the next step?”  Not so with Elsekka. 
For one thing, my brain isn’t ready yet.  The Elsekka steps have not trodden my neural pathways enough to become almost automatic.  And it’s confusing.  Some sections repeat and others don’t; some sections we do twice, then switch to a different sequence the third time around.  In the middle of the dance I find myself wondering, “Have we done this part twice already or not?" 
Secondly, my body is not made for sharp, quick movements.  Being tall and long-limbed, I do better with slow, lyrical movements.  It seems I’m always a half beat behind in Elsekka, because either my brain or my body isn’t working fast enough.  Or both. 
The sign up sheet is hanging there on the bulletin board, rapidly filling up with names and check marks.  So far, only two people have signed up for Elsekka:  Miss K and one of the advanced students.  The only other beginning student in the class hasn't decided whether she's Elsekka-worthy yet, either, for reasons similar to mine.  If she doesn’t sign up, I may not either.  It’s a small group, and mistakes will be obvious.  I don’t want to be the dancer who stands out as the crummiest. 
Even one of the advanced students hasn’t decided whether she’s going to do Elsekka.  She gets terrible stage fright.  She told us that last year she didn't tell anyone she was going to be performing, not even her husband.  
A classmate said, “I don’t think it’s good to tell your husband everything, every thought that passes through her head. 
I said, “My husband doesn’t want to know every thought that passes through my head.”  In fact, if I natter on for more than 30 seconds, his eyes start to glaze over.  To be fair, I tune him out a lot too, especially when he’s talking about cars or politics.  And I needn’t concern myself that he’s going to read this blog.  He’s not interested in that, either, which is fine.  After all, he knows all this already.  Except for the parts I don’t tell him for the reasons given above. 
I go around saying that I don’t care what other people think.  Usually this takes the form of, “One good thing about getting older is I don’t care what people think anymore.”  In many ways that is true.  It’s liberating not to care about whether I look good at the grocery store, to venture out in public without putting on complete makeup or doing my hair.  I don’t stay up nights worrying about who does or doesn’t like me and why.   
But the truth is I do care what people think, at least in the dance venue.  Private embarrassment is one thing, but public humiliation is another.   
Later --- I practiced for about an hour this afternoon, all the drills I could remember from Friday's class.  So I feel a little better about Elsekka.  

Friday, March 11, 2011

Back to Class

It felt great to take a class last night.  I really needed to work off some pent-up energy, although I didn’t think I had any energy as I was driving there.  After not having a class in five days, it was a good workout, but this morning I am sore.  My back is sore, my hip is sore, and other parts are complaining, too.
Last night’s class was especially enjoyable for two reasons:
(1)    Only five students showed up.  Usually at least a dozen of us are crammed into the studio for this class.  But last night we had plenty of room to move around without smacking each other in the face.  Another plus is that we all had ample mirror space.  Nobody had to settle for a sliver or an occasional glimpse.  Being tall, sometimes I stand in the back so the shorter people can see themselves in the mirror.  I have accepted that it’s my fate in life to be relegated to the back row in group photographs. 
Another reason it was enjoyable was:
(2)    I can see progress!  It’s heartening and motivational to see the hours of practice and classes start to pay off, even a little.  I can do rib circles a little faster.  I can coordinate my arms, feet, and hip/rib movements a little better.  That makes it a lot more fun. 

I need to savor that feeling, because today at the El Sekka rehearsal class, I’ll feel like an uncoordinated mess again.
Last night when I got home, all I wanted was a glass of wine and to curl up in bed and watch some mindless TV.  I’m not a big TV watcher.  Maybe that’s because when my brothers and I were growing up, if the TV quit working, months would go by before Daddy got around to having it fixed.  Then there was the time someone pulled up in front of the house, went inside (we didn’t lock the doors back then), and left with our TV set.  He did it with such insouciance that the neighbors thought he was a repairman.  It took a long time to get that TV replaced.     
But I do have my favorites, like Friday Night Lights, which, alas, is in its last season.  It’s a shame that well acted, well written TV programs like that get cancelled and crappy stuff goes on for season after season.
However, for mindless TV, my favorite programs are what I call “M & M,” which stands for “murder and mayhem.”  You find these mostly on the ID channel, shows like Main Street Mysteries, On the Case with Paula Zahn, Deadly Women, and, my favorite, Dateline NBC with Keith Morrison.  He has a distinctive voice and intonation that’s just too easy to make fun of.  Check out the SNL spoof on YouTube.
These M&M shows are completely predictable.  Somebody gets murdered, the police bumble around for awhile, and eventually the perpetrator gets caught.  Then there’s the suspense of searching for the body.  This inevitably ends with a “grisly discovery” or, sometimes, a “gruesome discovery.”  Last night the narrator surprised us with a "heinous discovery.” 
I have no idea why these programs appeal to me.  Maybe because they are so comfortingly predictable.  Maybe because the bad guy always loses and the good guys always win (except the murder victim).  Or maybe I’m just seriously disturbed.  If so, there are a lot of people like me out there, because the M&M shows have multiplied in the last year or so.   
A belly dance class, followed by M&M TV and a glass of wine.  It doesn’t get much better than that. 

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Meet my Dogs

Yesterday I got busy and did everything on my To Do list, except belly dance and write, my two most important daily tasks.  I let the “urgent” get in the way of the “important.”  Mostly my time was spent at the shelter with two sick puppies.  But this blog is not about shelter stuff, although it may get mentioned here and there.
Speaking of dogs, I’ve attached photos of ours.  From left to right, they are Muffin, Sam, and Cooper.  Muffin is also affectionately known as “Mofo.”  How she got that moniker is surrounded by controversy and conflicting claims.  The only thing we can say for certain is that it started when my kids were teenagers.  My son claims he was the first to use “Mofo” for Muffin, but a couple of their friends at the time also claim the honor.  The mystery remains unsolved. 
Our dogs are all mutts.  Mofo was a rescue dog, but she has an inexplicable sense of entitlement.  Cooper is the alpha dog and the most well behaved.  Sam, alas, has gone to doggie heaven since this photo was taken.  She was 17 years old.  All our dogs live very long lives.  Mofo is 13 years old, and Cooper is 12.  They sleep a lot but still have bursts of energy.  Cooper lives for charging the dog next door, through the fence.  This started when the neighbor’s dog, a yellow lab, was just a puppy, and Cooper had the size and bluff advantage.  Now Ranger towers over Cooper.  Ranger mostly stands there and wags his tail, while Cooper growls menacingly but is careful not to get too close to the fence.  Mofo stands a safe distance behind Cooper and barks.  After an intense stare down, Cooper and Ranger eventually lose interest and wander away.  Usually this takes about 30 seconds.  (Dogs have a short attention span, unless you've seen a terrier watch a hole where a critter is hiding.)
I’m also attaching a photo of Mofo in the back yard.  Can you see her?  She blends into the background, being a nondescript beige color like dirt, rocks, and neutral carpeting.  She could be the canine version of “Where’s Waldo?”
Yesterday I fully intended to go to my dance class, in which we are learning the choreography to “Jemileh.”  But, as I said, I did other things first, and afterwards, it was too late and I was too tired to go. 
Tonight I have the two belly dance classes in a row, one a beginner class and the next the keister-kicking “beginning intermediate” class.  I’m looking forward to them.  Five days is too long to go without!
Footnote not related to any of the above:  My husband put a bumper sticker on his truck that has the word “Secede” superimposed on the Texas flag.  He said it would make it easier to find his truck in a crowded parking lot.  I told him, not around here. 

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The Ballerina and the Basketball Player

So where do Marie Taglioni and Kobe Bryant come in?  What do they have to do with my belly dance journey? 
And you might also wonder, Who the heck is Marie Taglioni?
For balletomanes, that’s easy.  Marie Taglioni was the first ballet superstar.  She was the first ballerina who danced in a modern style, that is, similar to ballet today.  In her time (she lived from 1804 to 1884), she was the idol of Europe.  All that is interesting and noteworthy, but what sets her apart was that she accomplished all this without having any real innate ability or even the “ballet look.”  She is described as being awkward, almost misshapen, with a rounded back and skinny legs.  Nor was she a great beauty. 
Marie Taglioni came from a family of itinerant performers and dancers.  Her Italian father was her main ballet instructor.  Eventually the family ended up in Paris, which was the center of ballet at that time.  Marie knew she was not good enough to audition for the Paris Opera ballet.  So she set up a regimen for herself that involved six grueling hours of training a day.  Over a period of months, she developed extraordinary strength and endurance.  She could hold a pose, like an arabesque, for a count to 100, something most ballerinas today would find impossible.  She danced on a very high demi-pointe, almost on pointe.  What makes that remarkable is that at the time there were no ballet shoes, and certainly no “toe shoes” with stiffened or blocked toes to make it possible to dance on pointe.  She and other dancers used ordinary shoes, which were soft and lacked any support for the foot.  She trained herself so that she could perform amazing feats of strength and precision, without grimacing or straining or appearing stiff.  She developed a style of dance that seemed effortless and soft, even ethereal.  That is what most ballet dancers strive for today as well.   
One of the most remarkable things about ballet is that it requires the strength and endurance of an Olympic athlete, but without the grunting, straining, and grimacing that goes with most athletic efforts.  (I’d like to tell the guys at the gym about that.)  So, after months of training, Marie not only became a dancer with the famed Paris Opera, but went on to become the sensation of Europe.  Not because of innate talent or beauty or perfection of form, but from determination and hard work.  (I learned all that about Marie Taglioni from Apollo’s Angels, A History of Ballet, by Jennifer Homans.)
What about Kobe Bryant?  He is probably one of those people who was born with the genetic capacity to do amazing things with his body.  So I was surprised to hear a sportscaster say, in one of those downtimes when they have to fill the air with chit chat and obscure statistics, that after the team’s regular practice, Kobe stays behind and practices extra hours.  No wonder he’s great.  (And it pains me to admit that, being a Spurs fan.)
The book The Outliers, by Malcolm Gladwell, examines what makes people great at what they do, whether they are musicians or athletes or computer geniuses like Bill Gates.  Among other things, he discovered what he calls “the 10,000 hour rule.”  People do not become great in a chosen endeavor until they have worked at it for 10,000 hours. 
I don’t know if I’ll reach the 10,000 hour mark.  If I never missed a day, I’d be 86 years old by then.  But, hey, why not?  As long as my body holds out, what’s to stop me?  So thank you, Marie and Kobe, for inspiring me to take up belly dancing at my advanced age, with no prior experience, and a bad hip. 

Monday, March 7, 2011

Shouldn't Breathing be Easy?

First, I have to correct a couple of errors in my last post. 
·        “Homy” should have been spelled “homey.”
·        “Was” should have been “were” in “acting and production was.”
This is embarrassing.  I used to teach English.  And I was a good speller.  In the eighth grade I represented Ector County at the regional UIL spelling bee.  I came in third there.  If I had won first or second place, I would have gone to the national spelling bee, the one they televise now.  I’m such a nerd. 
On to belly dance.  This afternoon I took a class online, then practiced some of the steps in “Jemileh” and “El Sekka.”  I don’t have an actual live class until Wednesday. 
We rehearsed some more “El Sekka” on Friday.  I tell you what, I don’t know if I have the stamina to get through it in a real performance.  I’m already out of breath halfway through the song.  One breathing problem I’ve noticed is that I hold my breath sometimes.  Maybe I’m concentrating too hard on the steps to breathe, although breathing is one of those bodily functions that shouldn’t require any thought.  So many of the movements in belly dance require you to expand and contract the stomach muscles and the diaphragm, and my brain hasn’t figured out how to coordinate that with the expanding and contracting you need to do to breathe.  So, come on, Brain, get with it!
I’m having trouble collecting my thoughts this late in the day.  Usually I try to write first thing in the morning, when I am at my best.  After lunch, it’s all downhill.  One good thing is that I finished the newsletter for this quarter.  Yippee!  But now I need to start writing the Standard Operating Procedures manual for the shelter.  I can’t believe I volunteered to do that.  What was I thinking?  But that was before I had my new self-imposed schedule and my blog, both of which take up a lot of time.  But that’s OK.  Schedules are good.   
I’m rambling.  This is it for today.
Question for next time:  What do Marie Taglioni and Kobe Bryant have in common?  Any guesses?  Anybody out there actually reading this?