Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Baltimore and Baseball

I love Baltimore and moving here 13 plus years ago is a decision that I have never once regretted. When I moved here, I immediately felt at home, as if to say, “Hey, Baltimore, where have you been my whole life?” As a city, it’s not flashy or pretentious and neither are the people. If they try to be, the joke’s on them—it just doesn’t work here.  I chose to move to Baltimore from the D.C. area for two distinct reasons:  it’s quirky and cheap. Well, cheap is relative, but for sure it is more manageable than most other cities in the North East. And, it is indeed quirky. I hit the nail on the head with that one.  I was born in New York City but my family moved to a very small town in Northern New York (I’m proud to call Canton, NY my hometown) and Baltimore seems to be the perfect blend of my two experiences growing up—small town and big city. So, since spring of 1999, I’ve been proud to call Baltimore my adopted hometown.

I wasn’t a big baseball fan growing up. My father loved baseball, but didn’t have an affiliation—he was still mourning the loss of his beloved Dodgers who had moved from Brooklyn decades earlier. We were so far north, that going to a professional game meant going to Canada to see the Expos play. Or maybe, a Red Sox game in Boston. Many folks up there are Yankees fans—it is still New York State after all. Hockey was the spectator sport of my choosing and even then, it was Division I college hockey that I preferred over the professional variety.  Fast forward to the present day—I would describe myself as an avid baseball fan—more to the point, an avid Orioles fan. I have been for most of the time that I’ve lived in this city. Each of those past seasons has meant rooting for a losing team. My husband, Greg, has been a lifetime fan of the Orioles and remembers their past glory. He has taught me about the sport and we’ve followed the Birds together each season.

This season, we have probably watched about 140 of the 159 (on television with the exception of going once to the ballpark) games that have been played thus far. I was miffed last week, when Greg started making weekend plans that did not revolve around watching the games. “You mean, that with just 6 games left and the Orioles in the race, we’re going to not watch the games???!!” Clearly, Greg had momentarily lost his head and we made sure that our every activity of the weekend revolved around the chance to see our beloved Orioles play ball. For the first time in fifteen years, the ball club is making it to the post season.   

A decade ago, the Baltimore City government began a new campaign aimed at bolstering the citizens’ home pride which would have a cascading effect over the entire city-- banishing crime and making the drug-addled go straight all with one simple word:  Believe.  The message was simple and the hope behind it palpable. The cool among us would roll our eyes. Believe. Really? It was an urging to have self-confidence, hardly something you would have to invoke in a more sophisticated city that had its shit together.  Nonetheless, this whole idea of believing was not being bolstered at all by the city’s beleaguered baseball team. The football team—the Ravens—won the Superbowl in 2001 and have had winning seasons. (The history of football in this town is a whole other story rife with emotion.)  If football, with its 16 game season is a sprint, then baseball, with its 162 game season is a marathon.  To be a true baseball fan from beginning to end, patience is required.  I had just added in the carbo-loading for my own benefit.

On Opening Day, in April, the fans believe. They really do. This will be the year, they tell themselves. Until it becomes exceedingly clear that it’s not. How many games it may take for this precipitous decline varies from year to year.

But this year, our egos and the overall fan psyche never got deflated.  Almost all the way through (and now, still, with just two more games remaining in the regular season and at minimum a wild card berth guaranteed), I’m hesitant to say too much, not wanting to disturb the baseball gods in any way. Every win is hard-earned and meaningful.  We’ve come this far (all of us—we’re in it together) and who knows what’s up ahead. I can feel the tears of joy bottling up behind my eyeballs.  If I could, I would wrap my arms around Buck Showalter, the O’s stalwart manager who created a team that lives up to the adage that there is no “i” in “team”.  Showalter gets it. He really gets how much this team means to the city. He gets the sense of nostalgia and the pride for this small market baseball team that once held court over all of the others, but then felt the humility of 14 consecutive losing seasons.

He’s not from here and neither am I—but our hearts have been captured by Baltimore—this once elite city that now is so often associated with the unsavory parts of the city publicized in Homicide and The Wire. I’ve lived here now for over a decade and I remember at first feeling slightly apologetic when telling others from far and wide how much I love this town. Even those who were from here would look at me a little funny as if to say, “you do?”  Yes. I do. I love this town and its ball club whether it’s winning or losing. If you go to Camden Yards right now, you’ll see the larger-than-life statues of the Orioles greats: Brooks, Frank, Earl, Jim, Eddie, and Cal. Each statue was unveiled in a ceremony to honor the individual it represented in this 20th anniversary year of Oriole Park at Camden Yards—winners who can still feel the appreciation of fans young and old. Whether it was long ago or in the recent past (and hopefully as we head into the future), I get the sense that winning is something that Baltimore doesn’t take for granted.  

Monday, July 30, 2012

New Signs

Here are some new "signs" that I've done recently:

Let me know if you are interested in purchasing any (they are approx. 8" x 10")

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Lynda with a "y"

The other day, on my way home from work, I heard my mother's name on the radio. It startled me because my mother has been dead for years. It took me a half-second to realize that the NPR announcer wasn't talking about my mother, but rather was talking about another Lynda Jacobs. But wait---was it Linda with an "i" or Lynda with a "y". Over the radio, this distinction is even more subtle, but I could hear that this was Linda not Lynda and I was relieved. This Linda Jacobs worked with orangutans in Miami. Could my mother have worked with orangutans if she had lived longer?  That's the thought that popped into my head.  What else could she have done? Everyone always said she could have been a great writer.

Then, I remembered meeting another Linda Jacobs a long time ago--when I was still in high school. I went to a writing program for high school students at Bread Loaf in Vermont. A poet read for us and gave a talk to all of us prospective writers. In her talk, she mentioned that she had changed her name from Linda Jacobs to Verandah Porche, a tongue-in-cheek name if I ever heard one. After her lecture, I shyly went up to her (I did everything shyly back then) and told her that my mother was Lynda Jacobs, Lynda with a "y"--somehow, this connected me to this poet and she handed me a copy of her book of poems, The Body's Symmetry. I still have this book and I looked to see what she wrote so many years ago. Here is what she said: "Dear Tracy, I'm sorry that this book is so battered. I've actually worn out my 'new' ones and I figured you wouldn't mind this one which I used for readings. Hope we cross paths again. Sincerely, Verandah Porche (another mom)".

Our paths never crossed again--at least not so far. But in the years since then, and in the years since my mother passed away, no one has managed to replace my mother. Instead, there have been a number of women who were contemporaries of my mother who I feel have been maternal toward me in other ways.  My mother's best friend, another Linda (but with an "i") is chief among these women along with other friends of my mother (Sheila, Judy, etc.) and family (Ellie).  I don't need another mother and they know that.  Maybe that's the maternal instinct and these women became "another mom" just in case I did need one. I know my mother would have done the same for their kids.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

RIP Murray Lender

I read in the paper today that Murray Lender died this week at the age of 81. Having grown up in a small (and I mean small) town in Northern New York, his bagels were the bagels of my youth. Sure, there were the occasional trips that my family made to New York City—where my parents were from and where I spent the first several years of my life—to visit family and to eat. It was our chance to have the Jewish comfort foods that we were unable to find in Canton, NY back in those days: Chinese food, a good pastrami on rye, knishes, potato pancakes, matzo ball soup, and of course, bagels. I remember my mother bringing bags of bagels back north with us—some we kept and some she gave away to her friends.  One dear friend, Janet, thanked her and then, perplexed, asked, “What do I do with them?”  My mother’s reply: “You hang them on your nose.” The culture shock was big. A few years later, a bagel shop opened in the next town over by a woman we met at the synagogue there. The bagels were good and we’d go when we had the chance. But, in between our visits to NYC or our trips just ten miles away, we had Lenders.  By the time I was in college, the mystique of the bagel in Smalltown, USA was still prevalent, I could tell. Back home for spring break, I went into a local supermarket and found my way to the frozen food aisle. There it was, right before my eyes—a handwritten poster on neon cardstock taped to the freezer and announcing “Lenders Bagels: A Favorite Lenten Treat”. I laughed all the way home. Thank you, Murray Lender. I think you'd find that funny too. 

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Sleep is Good

Last night, I slept from midnight to 5:35am—overfive and a half hours of uninterrupted sleep. This is my personal best in consecutive hours of sleep—at least as far back as I can remember. I have always been a bad sleeper. I remember trying to defy sleep as a young child, sitting alone in my room with the lights on and staring at my Mrs. Beasley doll.  In the morning, I was convinced that I hadn’t slept a wink, though I’m sure I did. Now, I’d give almost anything for a good night’s sleep. With last night’s record 5-plus hours of straight sleep, I was so very excited when I woke up that I thought about how I would immediately post the news as my status update on Facebook later that morning (which I did). I still had time before my alarm was set to go off, so I tried to sleep some more. In the half hour or so of my continued sleep, I actually had a dream about celebrating how well I had slept. Sad, I know.

Part of me believed that everyone was like me when it came to sleep, or lack thereof. Then, several years ago, a co-worker described how she used to stay asleep during fire drills in her dorm when she was in school. I had a unique response: envy.  I was mystified. How could someone sleep through a fire alarm if I couldn’t even remain sleeping when the breeze caused all the neighborhood wind chimes to clang incessantly throughout the night? Damn the breeze and damn those wind chimes!  I found it particularly difficult to sleep through the night at that time and had even taken to downing several Tylenol PM pills before heading off to bed. When I told my doctor that four pills weren’t doing the trick, he seemed alarmed and told me he wanted me to do a sleep study. “You might have sleep apnea,” he ventured. “Don’t you have to be asleep for that?” I replied.

I arrived for my sleep study not really knowing exactly what to expect. Sign-in was at 9pm. As per orders, I hadn’t had any caffeine that day at all. I was pretty tired and knew that I’d fall asleep. Falling asleep wasn’t my problem—it was staying asleep that was the problem.  An hour or so into the nightly sleep, I’d wake up only to toss and turn the remaining part of the night until shortly before it was time to wake up, I would land in a restful sleep.  

The sleep lab was on the top floor of the hospital.  To get to the lab, you first had to cross through the seemingly abandoned hospice ward.  When I made it to the lab, the tech on duty greeted me and the other patient for the evening, an older man who brought a big bag of food from Burger King along with the largest size beverage they had.  He also had a portable DVD player and a few DVDs to help him while away the evening. I had only brought a book with me—very old-fashioned, I know. I figured the man with his big beverage and DVDs was doomed to a night of wakefulness, while I was at least going to try to make myself sleep.  

After check-in, the pre-sleep process began with the tech affixing a number of wires to my head—these wires attached to monitors. Everything was portable in the event that one had to use the restroom, which of course, I did. There were wires coming out of my head, wires in a harness around my chest, a pulse monitor attached to my finger, and lastly a plastic thingy that went up my nose. When the tech put this up my nose, she looked at me curiously and said, “Do you know who you look like?” I answered, “C3PO?” Thankfully, she could see beyond the wires and thought I looked like the Princess Bride and I was relieved that she thought I looked like a human being at all.

Once already hooked up, I could relax and watch television or read before I decided to turn in for the night. I read a little and watched some Seinfeld reruns. At one point, the tech came in to check on something and told me that the man next door had invited me to watch DVDs with him. I decided to read a little more and then hit the hay. The hay was a Tempurpedic™ bed with a light blanket and my pillow from home (they tell you to bring your own pillow, even though there are also pillows supplied there.) The room appeared to be furnished in cast-offs from some hotel clearance center and with the television hoisted high near the ceiling, the ambiance was motel-meets-hospital.  Slowly, I drifted off to sleep.

At least I was asleep for a short time—something like half an hour. I tried to get comfortable—made all the more difficult by the series of wires and doodads attached to me. I was unable to do my usual, violent tossing and turning. Sometimes, I was even known to become airborne while twisting in bed. It was as if I was on a rotisserie.  When I caught the blankets in my spin cycle, I was like a giant fork twirling spaghetti.  In the sleep lab, I wasn’t able to move in this way.

The tech was monitoring my sleep situation from outside of the room.  At one point, she came in the room to put my finger thingy back on.  At another point, she came back into the darkened room to retrieve some equipment. “I know you’re awake,” she said when she came in. Then, she found the c-pap machine that she needed for my neighbor, who it turned out was fast asleep the whole night despite the extra-large beverage, the movie watching, and his sleep apnea.

Weeks after my sleep study, I learned the results: I am a light sleeper. I didn’t hit my REM cycle until the end, right before it was time to wake up. I was pretty chronically sleep-deprived by that point. It also didn’t help that consciously or subconsciously, I was afraid to sleep in my apartment. I lived above a guy who smoked so much that I could smell the tobacco in my apartment. I also knew from the few times that I glanced into his apartment that his floor was covered with paper and other detritus. “Great”, I thought, “kindling.” And, I would plan my escape route in case of fire. This did not allow for a very restful sleep. My doctor put me on a medication,
Rozarem™, and that helped a good deal.

My sleep is much improved these days, but I still wake up multiple times each night. As long as the cumulative amount of sleep that I get is decent, I’m satisfied.  It used to be that I would stress out so much over the very little bit of sleep that I was getting that I developed anxiety about whether or not I would sleep the next night. Thankfully, I haven’t been in that trap lately. Given my past bouts of insomnia, my current sleep pattern is pretty good, but I’m still in such awe of those fairytale people who sleep 8 hours or more each night without any problem--those lucky bastards.


Just as suspected, the previous night’s regenerative sleep could not be repeated--at least not two nights in a row. I tossed. I turned. I spun around. I woke up a bunch of times. I feel like I got a decent amount sleep albeit interrupted by periods of being awake.  But I still hold out hope that I might beat my own record and sleep 6 hours straight. Maybe tonight.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Balancing on Three Legs

Sydney, my cat had surgery to remove her back leg from the hip down just over a week ago. I am relieved to say that it went very well.  Now, missing the leg and with her lower quadrant shaved and sewn up, she looks as though part of her has been stuffed into a suede bag. I stayed home with her on her first day of recovery. She was a bit wobbly but really there was only one mishap. She lost balance while drinking water and fell into the water bowl. I was right there to towel her off and her stunned look went away almost instantly. 

I had planned to use Sydney’s recovery as a metaphor to represent how we were both trying to find balance in our lives. But, it appears, it only takes a cat a day or two to get back up on her feet (albeit only three of them now). While watching her teeter and sway that first day, I was reminded of my never ending quest to find balance in my own life. Work. Creative Life. House. Marriage. Family. Social Life. Physical Fitness. Intellectual Fitness. Finances. Relaxation. Sleep. All of these things are balls up in the air that must be juggled (and thank goodness I don’t have kids to add to the mix) and kept from ever touching the ground. I am not talented at keeping them all up in the air and then I have to retrieve the few that bounce away from me. Add a cold (which I had for a week), veterinary issues (two months, plus) and Greg’s grandmother in and out of the hospital (two weeks and counting) and I have really let some of these balls drop. 

How is it that some people don’t seem to have this problem? I have a coworker who appears to be a genius at maintaining balance in his life. I envy him for his ability to keep in touch with his social network, work on his own artwork, travel, read, etc. , without ever seeming to lose out on any area of his life. I have never been successful at doing this—of giving equal amounts of undue attention to the various important aspects of my life. In fact, I’m many times quite unsuccessful at this give and take. I know that I’m not alone. Something—or more than one thing--always seems to fall off. Is it a matter of needing more hours in the day? I don’t know that this would help. 

Sydney, like other cats, sleeps a good portion of the day (oh, how I could use some of that right about now), and I suppose she isn’t as worried about paying her vet bills as I am, cleaning the house, writing, reading, and being otherwise productive. She does seem to like to relax and play from time to time and these are definitely important items to include in my life as well. Needless to say, I am not buying her self-help book, even if she did have the moxie to write one.  Unless, that is, she were able to write a book on how to get a sufficient amount of sleep. Yes, that one I would buy. Surely, she knows that I am her market for such a future tome, as she is partially responsible for my lack of sleep in the first place.

How does my co-worker maintain such good balance in his life? Does it rest on his ability to get a good night’s rest? Is it possible that his outward expression of balance is all just a mirage for the rest of the world to see and admire? 

My guess is it’s all about starting good habits and sustaining those habits. It’s been said that if you can do something for 20 days (I think that’s the figure, but I could be wrong), the behavior or activity will become a habit. I’m looking forward to reading the forthcoming book, The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg, who recently wrote an article in The New York Times magazine (“How Companies Learn Your Secrets”, Feb. 19, 2012) on how companies are using data to figure out consumers habits. It’s interesting to me that companies such as Target can determine your future purchases based on your buying habits. Of course, this information enhances their marketing and is so subtle that many customers are completely unaware of this extra sensory perception.  

If a discount retailer can know me well enough to know that I get occasional migraines that require nothing stronger than Excedrin Migraine, than I should have the ability to have enough insight into my own lifestyle to assess my current habits and form new (better) ones.  Lately, I’ve been in the habit of writing about my cat. I’ll give that a rest for a while as I work on forming some of these new habits.