Saturday, June 19, 2010

Landscaping, Putting Greens, and Airborne Automobiles

Since I got so off-point with last week's blog, I was determined to write on the topic of retirement this week. But then life threw us a curve on Saturday night/Sunday morning and I must write about it.

Since the story involves our yard and landscaping, I can also include the story of how Joe will never have to cut the grass again....ever! That happened thanks to me!

While playing golf with Navy friends in January of this year, he mentioned that I had taken my Social Security a year early but he was waiting until 70 in order to get the max. The friend asked, "So, are you getting your spousal share of Cathie's?" Joe remembered hearing about that when he went to his pre-retirement workshops, but he had forgotten about it.

Joe went off to the local office and found out that he was entitled but they could only make it retroactive for six months. The date he filed the paperwork was two days short of six months since I had started receiving benefits. Lucky! When he got the lump sum check, he told me he was going to use this new found treasure to replace all of the grass in the backyard with a putting green and a chipping green. One Putt Greens was the company we used and we are incredibly happy with the result. (What Joe didn't factor was my rose bushes that shed their petals onto his putting green whenever the winds pick up....he doesn't have to "mow" but now he has to vacuum.)

We re-landscaped our entire yard, including replacing the driveway with brick overlay, after the years of tricycles, bicycles, and kicking soccer balls were behind us. Joe wanted to minimize lawn-mowing and we both wanted an atmosphere of tranquility. We maintained some of the original landscaping on the slopes including some junipers that are trimmed to resemble bonsai trees (but much bigger of course) but the rest was redone in 2001. Much of the grass was replaced with brick and concrete/aggregate. We put in a pond and a beautiful waterfall that is right outside the windows that run the length of our living room/dining room.

Into that tranquil scene came an uninvited visitor on Sunday morning at 3 a.m. Joe thought he heard a crash on the main road that runs parallel to our smaller street (at the top of a 20 foot slope). He didn’t investigate, but when he heard the sound of tires spinning at around 5 a.m., he got up. He turned on the lights and saw a white car with its inside lights on moving very slowly up the hill in front of our home. He went to the garage to get shoes and a flashlight and by the time he turned on the outside lights and went outside, the car was gone. He checked the front and back of the house, but NOT along the living room/dining room area. He walked up to the corner and down to the neighbor's house, but didn't see anything out of the ordinary.

Later that morning when we were preparing to go to church, I noticed some black plastic around our waterfall. Upon closer scrutiny, we saw three of our full-grown hedges knocked down along with several smaller bushes and a very large palm tree. A branch on one of the bonsai-shaped juniper (planted 32 years ago) was also knocked off. Joe went outside and this picture is what he saw inside our pond. There were also two orange posts inside the pond. It dawned on us that the noise Joe heard was a car crashing. And it had crashed right into our waterfall. There was plastic and glass all over the place.

Remarkably, the culprit had gotten the car out and then drove it through all the plants in its way to our driveway and out of the neighborhood (it was him that Joe saw when he went in search of the flashlight). We were heart-sick. There’s a feeling of violation when you know someone has done damage to your property and then left you to pick up the pieces.

The next three hours were taken up with police reports, insurance company calls, and all the details associated with a crime scene. The Crime Scene Investigator arrived and took photos from every angle (hers are probably better than these). She also checked shoe imprints and tried to get fingerprints from the orange posts that had been used to help facilitate the exit from the pond. The police were astonished that neither one of us had realized this was happening on our property since at one point he was driving the car about five feet from our living room windows.

For my part, I was grateful that Joe hadn’t confronted whoever did it. The driver might have been drunk or there might have been several people and Joe would have been outnumbered. There were a lot of “what if’s” going on in my mind. (I watch too many crime dramas.) We both agreed that in the grand scheme of things, it could have been worse. The car could have come over the slope at a slightly different angle and could have ended up inside our living room. If that had happened, we might even have had a fire and could have lost much more than plants and trees. Also, the car could have flipped over and a life might have ended in our tranquil yard. You see…I’m very good at “what iffing” (my word). In church I said a prayer for whoever was in that car; thinking he/she must have been injured badly for there to be so many pieces of their car in our yard. (It helped that the homily included the admonition to “care for others”…the scripture was about the woman who wiped Jesus’ feet with her hair.)

In ordinary circumstances that would be the end of this saga. Prayers said; thankfulness that it wasn't worse; police reports filled out; insurance company called; and decision to put aside anger because it doesn't help.

But the story doesn’t end there. At 2:30 in the afternoon the doorbell rang. When Joe answered, he saw a middle-aged man and a young man standing there. The older of the two introduced himself as the step-father of the younger man and said, "My step-son Jose has something to tell you." Jose then said, "I'm the driver of the vehicle who crashed on your property this morning. I'm really sorry and I came to bring you my driver's license number and insurance information." Flabbergasted doesn’t begin to describe Joe’s reaction.

The step-father went on to say that he had had a “long conversation” with his step-son. A retired Marine, he told the son that he had to “do the right thing.” And he did. He had made copies of his license and proof of insurance. The young man apologized again and shook Joe’s hand. Joe commended him for the courage it must have taken to come to our home and admit his wrongdoing. It was a moment I’m sure neither of them will soon forget. (We still can't believe he wasn't injured beyond a small cut on his right hand. From the damage, the police determined the car was about 4 feet in the air after jumping the curb and before coming to rest in the waterfall.)

Joe called the policeman who is in charge of our case and when he told him what had happened, he replied, “Do you have any idea how rare that is?” Joe said that he did indeed. The police officer said he could not remember ever having someone “own up” to something they had clearly “gotten away with.”

I am reminded of one of my favorite quotes. It came from Anne Frank's diary and, coincidentally, was written on the day I was born:
"It's really a wonder that I haven't dropped all my ideals, because they seem so absurd and impossible to carry out. Yet I keep them, because in spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart." - Anne Frank

There is only one rule that comes to mind for this week's post. I'm sure you've heard it before, but it bears repeating here: "Do unto others as you would have others do unto you."

Friday, June 11, 2010

Produce, Profiling, and Parity in Politics

I love alliteration. I've had fun this week preparing this blog. Hope it gives you a smile or two. (Blogger had new templates so I'm having some fun with a new look.)

When driving back from Las Vegas a couple of weeks ago, we were approaching the California border and saw the agriculture checkpoint up ahead. My friend Pat said, “They won’t stop you. You’ve got a military sticker on your car.” I said, “I bet they do.”

I was right. The agent asked: “What kind of fruits and vegetables do you have today?” I thought that was odd. I mean, he didn’t ask, “Do you have any fruits and vegetables?” He assumed I did and wanted to know what kind.

I felt “produce-profiled”. I didn’t give him any cause to think I had fruits or vegetables. I didn’t have banana peels on the dashboard or strawberry juice on my shirt. What made him think I was smuggling fruit into California? I mean, I don’t like fruit and vegetable smugglers any more than the next person, but in that moment I felt resentful. Where was the VCLU (Vegetable Civil Liberties Union)? Should I report this to PETO (People for the Ethical Treatment of Oranges)?

Okay...I’m through with the tongue-in-cheek. What I do want to write about is being an immigrant. I came to this country when I was five-and-a-half. Several months later my mother told me one day that I was going to be naturalized. Not knowing what that meant, she went on to explain that “you’ll be a Scottish little girl when you go in and when you come out you’ll be a full-blooded American little girl.”

I was struggling with understanding English as it was spoken in Paterson, N.J. while I retained much of my Scottish brogue. At school my accent brought about giggles and stares when I declared, “I dinna’ ken” when I didn't know the answer to a question. Little by little, the Paterson “twang” blended with the brogue and there was a period of time when I wasn’t understood either at school or at home. It was during that period that I had to ponder my mother’s explanation of citizenship.

Lying awake that night I had visions of large nurses wielding larger hypodermic needles and removing all of my Scottish blood and replacing it with American blood. I didn’t think it was such a great idea to become an “American little girl”.

The next afternoon when we went to the courthouse at the appointed time, I eyed the railing in the center of the stairs leading to the front door. I wrapped my arms and legs around the railing and screamed bloody murder, refusing at the top of my lungs to go into the building. To say we drew attention would be an understatement. Passersby glared at my mother thinking she must be abusing me and inbetween wails I pleaded for someone to save me from my impending total-body-transfusion.

After several minutes my mother managed to pry my fingers from the railing and she literally dragged me down the hallway (still screaming of course) and into an elevator. When we arrived at the Immigration Office, my photograph was taken (if Webster's needs a photo to go with the word "waif" I recommend that one). Then my mother raised her right hand and swore to the authenticity of my birth certificate and the fact that she had been born in the United States and a few minutes later we were given my naturalization papers. That was it. No needles; no blood; no nurses, just a nice man and a piece of paper. Why is it that your most humiliating moments are the ones that remain crystal-clear after 60 years??

I don’t mean to trivialize immigration, or citizenship. I had the opportunity to “choose” my citizenship when I turned 21. Until then I had dual citizenship to both Great Britain and the United States where my parents each had been born. I remember making the choice of America and registering to vote when I was 21 (that was the age to vote back then). I was with Delta when I voted in my first presidential election. I fumed for days over the fact that the State of Georgia went to George Wallace before my absentee vote had even been counted. I felt nullified.

For a little more tongue-in-cheek while on the subject of voting, I might as well tell my solution for political parity. I think if the country is going to become involved in running banks, automobile companies, and other previously “public sector” entities, then we as taxpayers should be considered “shareholders”. If you are a “contributing shareholder” (i.e., you pay taxes) you should get to “vote your shares” the same way you do if you own stock in a corporation. Every taxpayer would get additional votes based on the amount they contribute (your “tax shares”). If you don’t own any extra voting shares (you don’t pay taxes and you are on the receiving end of tax dollars), you would still get your one vote. What would the outcome be? If the politicians wanted the votes (plural) of the people who held all of the share-votes, they would be answerable to them for their decisions. Gosh, what would you call that? Being answerable to the shareholders just like the Board of Directors of a corporation? I know: we’d call it “political capitalism”.

Rule for this blog: Above all else, keep your sense of humor.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Party and Panama

I know I promised a blog on cruising and this will get there, but I wanted to write about the retirement party I gave Joe. (He had a party with colleagues from the San Francisco office at a restaurant in Orange County and a party at his office in San Diego on his last day.) For someone who seemed to be resisting retirement, he sure enjoyed getting into “party mode”.

I had been thinking about his party for over three years. Not that it was going to be a formal party that needed three years’ preparation; Joe just kept changing his mind. Each November starting in 2004 (the year I retired), we would have a conversation that went something like this:
     Me: “Joe, I’m getting ready to write the annual Christmas letter. Is next year the year you’re going to retire?
     Joe: “You bet it is. I can’t wait to retire."

Then, somewhere around the end of March I’d see him sitting at his desk with a calendar and a calculator. Then we would have the following exchange:
     Joe: “If I keep working one more year, I’ll have enough days to sell back to get a new truck.”
     Me: “So you’re not going to retire in 2005. Does that mean you’ll retire for sure in 2006?”
     Joe: “You bet! I can’t wait to retire.”

You get the picture. That scene repeated itself over and over until finally on April 30, 2008 he actually did it. I planned a backyard barbeque and decided that I would have the food catered instead of doing it all myself. Here is where I give a major plug to Famous Dave’s Barbeque. If you don’t have one near you, you’re missing a treat. If you do and you haven’t tried it yet, you should.

I spent a long time trying to find the perfect retirement gift. He had given me my laptop computer to use when I went to college. It was the best gift ever and I didn’t know how to match it. One day while I was walking down the hallway in the Administration Building at MiraCosta College, I saw some beautiful watercolors. One was of the local commuter train, “The Coaster”, leaving the Carlsbad Village train station. Instantly I thought of commissioning a copy since it symbolized Joe’s daily commute to and from the office.

The artist, Benita Gleason, was a part-time counselor and professor at the college and someone I had known and admired when I was working full-time. I called and asked her if she could do a watercolor painting from a photograph I had taken of Joe with grandson Jackson and granddaughter Ava (Audrey wasn’t walking yet) when we rode the train to go to San Diego. Here is the result of her effort. I call it “Commuting Just for Fun”.

As the RSVP’s came in, I was pleased that many of Joe’s friends from Navy days, co-workers from years past, current co-workers, neighbors, church friends, and family were going to be with us. Best surprise of all was my sister, Jean, who came to represent my English family on this special occasion. She made the long trip just for the weekend, arriving Thursday and returning on Monday. It was a wonderful day (also coincidentally our 39th anniversary) and marked the beginning of a year full of amazing sights and sounds and people.