June 28, 2005

Cousins + Sand Crabs = Fun!

Cousins + Sand Crabs = Fun!
Originally uploaded by butwait.

It is nothing short of a minor miracle that I managed to get these four to stay still long enough to all fit into one picture. Mr. D coudn't be coaxed away from a very important wave-jumping engagement, and Summer was catching up on her cutie-rest. (Similar to beauty-rest, but for sweetie pie toddlers.)

Cheek to Cheek

Cheek to Cheek
Originally uploaded by butwait.

On the other hand, beautiful sunny beach days are pretty darned excellent!

June 27, 2005

Rainy Day

Rainy Day
Originally uploaded by butwait.

Who cares about a rainy day? We've got games and imagination!

June 25, 2005

He Just Couldn't Bounce Back

I've just returned from a round-trip drive to Brooklyn, and I'm pretty sad about it. Terri drove up to Brooklyn last night to scoop up F, the boy who spent two weeks with us last summer as a part of the Fresh Air Fund's program to give city kids a chance to have a real country vacation. He is a great kid, loves animals and bridges, and was a complete sweetie with Mr. D.

Something was different this year. We're not sure why, but F's homesickness, present but manageable last year, was absolutely paralyzing this year. I honestly think that part of it was that he'd never heard of Delaware before and was afraid to go someplace that was completely off his mental map. We might as well have invited him to a week at the beach in Albania. He talked a good game while he was still at home, bragging to his friends about the upcoming trip, but cried the whole way to our house, then cried himself to sleep and was barely functioning this morning.

Little Mr. D was the only one who could manage to get him to interact positively, and even that only lasted for a few minutes at a time. This morning, when a visibly despondent F wouldn't eat and talked about hurting himself, Terri and I looked at each other and called his mother. As soon as he got in the car with me and we headed north towards his home, he magically turned back into the F we all fell in love with last summer.

We're all disappointed, Mr. D most of all. But it was definitely the right decision. And we WILL get to the beach today, come hell or high water.

June 19, 2005

Crying from Happiness

Mr. D watched the tail end of the US Open (men's golf) with Tama today, and was quite surprised to see the winner crying. "What happened, Tama?" he kept asking. "Why is that man crying?" Tama talked about strong emotions and crying from happiness as well as sadness, and Mr. D took it all in. Tonight, as I was singing him some extra "special request" lullabyes, he scrunched up his face a little and asked, "Do you know what I'm doing?" "No, what?" I asked. "I'm crying from so much happiness," he responded with pride.

June 14, 2005

NJ AIDS Walk 2005, Part II

Team DFA
Originally uploaded by butwait.

When I arrived at Skelly Field on Rutgers’ campus, I thought of my mom at Douglass and my dad at Ursinus, back in the day. I wondered if they’d be able to imagine the spot from memory if I described it to them. Was the small pond to the left of our route nicknamed “the Passion Puddle” even back then? When I signed up for the walk I thought I might try to walk with Jeff – and Gigi, the third DFA’er – but Terri and Mr. D and I spent the night before the walk at Stacy & [she whose name is no longer spoken] & JT’s house because our air conditioning was on the fritz. I hadn’t taken the time to go online, and so had not connected with Jeff or Gigi. I’d never met either of them in person, only emailed back and forth online, so I didn’t have cell phone numbers or anything, and as I drove down College Farm Road and saw the huge crowd of people milling about in a staging area, any hopes I had of finding them quickly dwindled down to nothing.

I was immediately struck by the celebratory feel of the gathering. Despite the wilting heat and the seriousness of our cause, it felt more like a festival than anything else. There was a huge stage from which the organizers periodically made housekeeping announcements, and in between announcements there was a live band playing upbeat, “you can do it” music. This was very different from the “Silence = Death” ACT UP activism of earlier decades. People were walking in a spirit of support, and the common ground was a given. The walkers seemed generally willing to have the fighting of the disease – and the societal forces that work against those struggling with it – remain an implied and understood backdrop. The other thing that made an immediate impression on me as I tried to figure out where I was supposed to sign in was how predominantly brown and black the assembled walkers were. It made perfect sense, thinking about how communities of color have been disproportionately affected by the AIDS epidemic, but since living in Philadelphia I don’t spend that much time in settings where white people are in the minority. Sometimes I miss it.

As I stood near a merchandise table, reminding myself that the last thing in the world I need is another t-shirt, a voice came from the side. “Hey, you’re Shelley!” It was Gigi, who amidst the hundreds of walkers had somehow spotted and recognized me from the picture I’d posted on my NJ AIDS Walk fundraising website. And with her was Jeff! I was so happy to connect with my fellow teammates, and when the walk kicked off a few minutes later, we stepped off side by side.

Jeff and Gigi and I immediately fell into a comfortable companionship… a little odd, given that we’d never laid eyes on each other before, but nice. We traded book recommendations while scoping out the other teams. We talked about our first political memories and our experiences around AIDS. A Rutgers grad himself, Jeff smoothly shifted into tour guide mode and regaled us with tales of Rutgers traditions and news. We tried not to talk about the heat. (On the drive to the walk site, I heard an ever-so-helpful radio weatherperson breathlessly exclaim “Highs today will be in the mid-90’s, but with the heat index it’ll feel more like the 100’s!” Who pays these people?) Clearly concerned about the safety of the walkers, the walk organizers had arranged for plenty of water to be available along the route; although it was stored in buckets of ice, the intense heat meant that it only got vaguely cool, and that only for a few minutes. When a fellow walker blithely tossed aside an empty water bottle, we reminisced about the “litter bug” commercials of our youth and wondered whether “these kids today” would even recognize the phrase. Much of our walk route led us along sidewalks or pathways; when we walked on roads, it felt a little bit like walking on a cookie sheet. In an oven.

Still, I didn’t see anyone fall by the wayside. The route was clearly marked, there were volunteer marshalls everywhere, and it seemed pretty easy to just get caught up in the tide and swept along. There were a few large teams (ETS and J&J were the ones who seemed to have the most participants), but most seemed to be smaller, more intimate groupings. I saw families walking together, some with small children who were being pushed along in strollers. There were some grandparental-looking folks walking. A few groups of young women who looked like they might be sorority sisters. And while the group did thin out a bit from the initially massed formation at the beginning of the walk, the column of participants remained impressively dense throughout the entire walk; I would love to know how many people there were!

The walk was tiring, but surrounded by all that determination and good will, we just kept on trucking. I poured most of my walk water over my head, and I can still remember the sound of the collective “ahhhhhh” that went up from the walkers when a rare breeze blew down the lines of walkers. Towards the end, conversation died out a bit as we concentrated on the task at hand, and we periodically catalogued our growing list of aches and pains. (Reminded me of the kids’ song, “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes,” except that it went in the opposite order.) Finally, just as we were starting to wonder about our collective sanity, things started to look familiar and we realized we were almost back at the staging area. And then we were done.

The one aspect of pre-walk preparation that didn’t get covered in all the advice I received concerned my rings. About 3K into the walk, I noticed that my hands were swelling up in the heat, and managed to pull two of my three rings off. The last one was clearly on for the duration; my fingers finally got back to normal about eight hours after the walk. The ring I couldn’t remove was the one that Terri and I designed together, a celebration of the relationship whose beginning almost thirteen years ago was marked by a pounding heart and an AIDS test. Aching for all the right reasons, I slipped my ring back on with a silent prayer of thanksgiving.

June 13, 2005

NJ AIDS Walk 2005

NJ AIDS Walk 2005
Originally uploaded by butwait.

I had my first and last blood test for HIV in 1992. At the beginning of a relationship that felt like it might be going somewhere, I wanted to make sure to start things out right. To my mind, that included both of us committing to taking the test. I had to talk my doctor into it, because to an external observer, there was no reason for me to be taking this test; my identity as a monogomous lesbian put me in one of the lowest known risk groups. At the time, amidst all the talk in fundamentalist circles about AIDS being a punishment from God, the joke in the lesbian community was, “If AIDS is a punishment from God, then lesbians are God’s chosen people!”

But I prevailed, and on a crisp winter morning walked to my doctor’s office in West Philly to have my blood drawn. The results would come back negative. I knew they would. And my doctor’s office was only six blocks from my third-story Cedar Avenue walk up. So why was my heart pounding?

So much has changed since then. A different century, a different world, a different life. Same partner, though. And still the spectre of AIDS, menacing families and communities. The power of AIDS to make my heart pound stayed with me. When Ronald Reagan passed away and the news was full of rosy-tinged remembrances of all he had done for our country, I seethed. I was suddenly flooded with memories of my college years, during which Ronald Reagan remained silent on the subject of AIDS for years while the death toll inexorably rose. The daily undertow of fear and sadness that was the aftermath of the September 11th attacks reminded me of nothing else so much as that time in the mid-80s, when everyone I knew was waiting to find out which of their friends had been sentenced to die. AIDS is now less of a death sentence than it once was, at least for some people – e.g. those fortunate enough to live in America and have healthcare coverage – but its power to disrupt and destroy remains undeniable.

The last time I had truly engaged the AIDS epidemic in a personal way, was when I was living in Philadelphia and singing in the Anna Crusis Women’s Choir. One spring, a small group of us sang at an AIDS Hospice. It wasn’t a very large facility, but every inch of it felt sacred. The residents of the neighborhood had initially fought tooth and nail to prevent the hospice from opening, but it had since become a kind of accepted oasis. The patients, all in the end stages of AIDS-related diseases, were busy with the hard work of making peace and letting go. Not everyone was interested in having a bunch of strangers seranade them. In one room, though, we discovered that the Gershwin song in our repertoire was an old favorite of the man in whose room we were singing it. He struggled to a sitting position and quietly sang along as tears streamed down all our faces. In the intervening years, friends of mine had participated in events designed to raise funds and awareness in the fight against AIDS. Hearing about the upcoming NJ AIDS Walk made me wonder… was it my turn again?

As anyone who knows me could tell you, I am not a particularly fitness-oriented person. In grade school, I was truly talented – at sit-ups. While working at Penn, I played softball on a C-league team, C-league being Penn’s euphemism for “no skill required.” Since then, pretty much nothing.

Although I do come from good walking stock – if you visit my parents, good luck keeping up with them as they embark on their daily constitutional! And I live in an eminently walkable town. I heard about the NJ AIDS Walk at about the same time that DFA (Democracy for America) was calling on its members to give back to their communities in June; the more I thought about it, the more the walk moved into “I should do this” territory. When I heard about fellow NJ DFA’er Jeff Gardner’s commitment to make the walk, and then learned that the graduation ceremonies at Rutgers Preparatory School were later the same day and just minutes away from the walk site, the stars seemed aligned. I logged on to the awnj.org site and signed up.

So it was that I found myself soliciting my more athletic friends and family members for advice about how to prepare for the NJ AIDS Walk. They really came through for me. Stretch your achilles tendons and your hamstrings. Drink lots of fluid in the days leading up to the walk, but don’t over-hydrate on the day itself. Smear Vaseline all over your feet, taking special care not to neglect your toes. Check, check, check.

As the day of the walk approached, I was relatively confident of my ability to do it physically. It’s just a 10K, after all. But my heart was pounding again. I’d only ever seen pictures of events like this. And heard or read my friends’ accounts. As I’d been talking with family and friends and soliciting their donations, the reality of the enormity of the cause started to sink in. Not knowing what to expect, I set a fundraising goal of $200… my friends and family blew through it in just a few days. Every donation added to my sense of responsibility.

June 10, 2005

Just Once...

Just once, I'd like for my repair experience to go like this:

Me (to repairdude): So when can you be here?
Repairdude: Anytime you like, ma'am.

And then, when he arrives, promptly and not smelling even a little bit like smoke, here's how I'd like THAT to go:

Me (to repairdude): So, what do you think?
Repairdude: It's not that bad, actually... this little valve over here just gave out. And we sell a ton of these, so I probably have the part right out in the truck. (Goes to truck. Returns and re-enters the house after carefully wiping feet.) Yep, here it is! Should take me about 20 minutes.

At the moment, we have no air conditioning. I'm blogging from the basement, the only place cool enough to hear myself think. (Yay, DSL!) What do you think the odds are of the scenario above playing out in my lifetime? Sigh.

June 09, 2005

Under There Somewhere

Under There Somewhere
Originally uploaded by butwait.

Poor Hal Bigelow! He found some great pieces of cherry and handcrafted a beautiful dining room table for us. You'll have to take my word for it.

June 04, 2005

Music Lovers Ahoy

Anyone out there who loves music or is at least interested in musical instruments should check out David Ahmed's amazing freeware program here.

Great tip, Angela... I know a certain small someone who will soon be grooving on this.

June 02, 2005

Most Excellent

Hey, I'm liking the redesign. Just thought I'd mention that. Will shout it from the rooftops once I've got the bugs worked out.