Heavenly Weather

§   “Oh, but it’s a dry heat,” I hear you saying. Well, so is an oven, but I’m not going to stick my head in one.   §

I have lived in only two States in my lifetime. After barely three years in Charleston, South Carolina, I returned home to Indiana. There were many reasons for the return move, not the least of which was family and friends, but the weather played a role, too.

Living in Charleston was akin to living in a tropical fish tank lodged inside a sauna. It was bright, colorful, endlessly interesting–and hotter than the hinges of hell. It was step out on the sidewalk and collapse from heat stroke hot. To add insult to injury, I lived there in the years immediately following the volcanic eruption of Mount St. Helens. Ash in the atmosphere somehow did nothing to reduce the glaring heat of summer, but gave South Carolina some of its coldest, nastiest winters ever during the years I resided there. (Climatologists will argue this fact, but, remember, I was living there with the Rebels. I saw how shocked they were at the winters of ’80, ’81 and ’82.)

No, much as I loved other aspects of that lovely city, the weather in Charleston was hardly my idea of heaven.

My idea of divine weather is days of temperatures no higher than the low 70s—75°F is optimal—and nights in the 50°F degree range. I call this “sweatshirt weather”, and I love it. I enjoy sunlight in moderation—a sun-and-clouds variation day is delightful to me, as are soft rainshowers and even an occasional mild thunderstorm. Breezes, too, are important; a windless day is anathema. Living in Indiana means that for at least two seasons a year, spring and fall, I get plenty of these preferred days and evenings. That’s six months, sometimes seven, with numerous days, occasionally even weeks, of the type of weather I favor. I’m willing to endure Indy’s less pleasant variants–the humid heat of July and August, and the bitter temperatures and snows of January and February, for the pleasure my lovely, perfect spring and fall days, with the windows of my home thrown wide open, and with the occasional white noise of a window fan whirring softly in the background.

Almost as important to me as the temperatures, though, are those variations. As dreary as the Midwestern world might be at the end of March, with trees still stripped of leaves tossing bare limbs in strong winds, it is merely a lead-in to the incredible bursting forth of spring buds. Daffodils, crocus, tulips. Forsythia blazing out. Trees softly cloaked in green lace. Nothing satisfies a hunger of the soul like the riotous colors of early spring following the dreary end of winter. Conversely, nothing is as welcome after the humid heat of July and August as the first hint of fall chill; of autumnal color in the leaves, and their crunch beneath one’s feet as they begin to whirl down, cloaking the ground in colors brighter than Joseph’s coat.

That is why when a dear friend moved recently to Sun City, Arizona, I wished her well and godspeed, but declined even the faintest notion that I might ever be visiting there. A city where the mean temperature in the summer months is 104°F is, I explained to her, quite seriously akin to my idea of Hell.  (“Oh, but it’s a dry heat,” I hear you saying. Yeah, well, so is an oven, but I’m not going to stick my head in one.) And please, please, PLEASE don’t give me that, “Oh, but in the winter…” nonsense, either. Yes, temperatures in midwinter might (emphasize might) drop to my preferred range for a month, perhaps even two, but by very early spring they are going to spiral back up into the 80s. The only thing temps in the 80s are good for, in my estimation, is hanging out at the pool…and I’m not one to hang out at the pool. Leaving entirely aside the un-pretty sight of me in a swimsuit, chlorinated water just isn’t my thing. Oh, I like to jump in and splash around a bit with the kids of the family, but, as I am prone to sunburn (as in, I step outside, say, “Hello, Sun!” and walk back into the house having turned the approximate shade of a boiled lobster), a sunworshipper I am not.

I know without question that my beloved “big sis” is having a glorious time in her chosen environment, but, nope-nope-nope! It’s just not for me. Barring, of course, a total backflip of that whole desert environment montage due to global warming!

 

True Friends

∼  If you want to know who your true friends are—the people who genuinely care about you—just get really, really sick. 

I have one former friend who is probably still puzzling over the demise of a relationship that spanned several years, surviving not a few misunderstandings and rough times.

But on my part, deciding to calling quits to the friendship was obvious: I was abandoned when seriously ill.

If you want to know who your true friends are—the people who genuinely care about you—just get really, really sick. Not a pleasant path to discovery, I admit, but one that is certain and true. The responses of your family members and friends will provide every clue to their genuine feelings for you.

Now, it’s easy to assume that family will help to provide your care: it is, after all, their responsibility. Spouses, especially, are supposed to look after one another; ditto, parents, their children, and children, their elderly parents.

Sadly, that doesn’t always happen–or, having happened, it is made all too clear to us that we are being cared for, not out of love, but obligation.

It’s really unpleasant being someone’s virtuous obligation. The “long-suffering-but-noble” stance and facial expressions of our carers, the occasional veiled but insensitive remark about things they could be doing, if only they didn’t have to look after us, the sighs and airs of self-sacrifice—even the slipshod methods employed to our care—yes, it would be almost better to struggle and risk harm to care for ourselves rather than be someone’s noble obligation.

Yet for those of us who are not natural malingerers, it’s almost as difficult experience to be cared for out of love. Most of us with dignity and conscience do not want to be a burden to others, taking up their scarce free time, making more work for those we love. Yes, there are those people who consider it their due to be looked after, even coddled—but those same people have probably spent most of their lives behaving in that manner, not just when they are ill or incapacitated.

But being cared for out of love, no matter how uncomfortable an affair for those who are independent and resourceful, provides a new perspective of relationships. And, heartbreakingly, a failure of care does, also.

When I was seriously ill, people whom I had not been in contact with for weeks, months, even years, seemingly flew out of the woodwork. They provided me with every service imaginable: meals, transportation, housework—even just sitting with me, mindlessly watching TV, when I was at my lowest point. Well over a year later, the warm glow of those acts of loving kindness lingers with me still. They reached out to me in my darkest hour, sending cards and letters and e-mails and texts. They put my name on prayer requests, and made certain I knew those prayers were being said. They made phone calls, or simply showed up on the doorstep. And, above all, they listened. They listened to my fears, spoken and, yes, unspoken, listening with their hearts as well as their ears. When I was at my lowest points, they walked with me through the valley of the shadow; they held my hands, figuratively and literally, through my dark night of the soul.

And others did not.

As I say, there is one former friend who is probably still puzzling over the demise of our years-long relationship.   When told that I had cancer, she assured me that she would include me in prayer at the next worship service. After that, although I kept her updated on my scheduled treatment plan and surgeries and the expectation of a lengthy recovery, I heard nothing: no cards, no phone calls, no texts, no e-mails, no letters. There were no visits, no casseroles, no assistance with housework during the dreary and long months of my illness.

As I always, naively, anticipate the best of people, especially friends, I was wounded. Most dismaying of all was the fact that, just a year earlier, I had been the person to provide her transportation to a minor outpatient surgery and wait with her through a long morning, drive her to pick up prescriptions and see her home afterward, bring her a get-well basket, call to check on her and send her one or two cheerful e-mails during her brief recovery.

I discovered, though, that I didn’t have time to waste worrying over her unexpected disappearing act during my serious illness. Having recovered myself, I became heavily involved with looking after another friend who had also become seriously ill. Giving the same service that I had been given was a way for me to repay the Universe for the kindness and care that had been shown to me.

Months later, my one-time friend suggested we might get together for dinner…so that I could meet her new boyfriend.

I declined.

The Power of an Insincere Thank You

Justifying bad behavior is being wrong twice.

A while ago I was shopping at Super Big Evil Mart, and found myself enamored of a pretty knit top which I didn’t need, couldn’t afford, and knew I shouldn’t buy. So of course, seeing that there was only one in my size, I flung it into my cart and marched up to the checkout with it.

The line was long since (as usual) there were only perhaps three checkout lanes open of the twenty or so available. So I was dismayed when the clerk started to ring up my purchases and found the top had no price tag. Obviously irritated, she switched her lane light to strobe, hoping to attract a supervisor who could verify the price. Meanwhile, I turned to the lady in line behind me, and said abjectly, “I’m really sorry to hold you up.” The woman responded with an expressive lift of the eyebrows and quirk of her head which seemed the equivalent of a shrug–whereupon the teenage clerk, not quite sotto voce, remarked snippily, “Well, if you’d checked to see if the item had a price tag, you wouldn’t be holding everyone up!”

Expressive Eyebrow lady raised her brows even further, if that were possible. I’m certain my own eyebrows were riding at high tide, also. But I reined in my temper and just looked coolly at the young clerk, replying in saccharine tones, “Oh, thank you so much! There is nothing I appreciate more than being given life lessons by someone at least 40 years younger than I am!”

When my purchases had finally been rung up by the now-silent clerk, I smiled sweetly at her and said in a voice dripping sugar, “I’ll be sure to let your supervisor know all about your helpful advice! Thank you again!”

This wasn’t the first time I’d routed a clerk at the Super Big Evil Mart using the extraordinary power of an insincere thank you. A few years earlier, I’d strolled into the garden section in the very early spring. The main shelves were already full, but I didn’t see what I wanted there, and so wandered toward an opening between some pieces of clear vinyl sheeting hung from the ceiling. In a hazy sort of way, I thought they were hung there to keep chilly air of the still-raw weather from seeping into the main part of the store; there were certainly no signs or cones indicating that the section wasn’t yet open. But a middle-aged clerk, who certainly should have known better, charged down upon me, snarling loudly and angrily, “Hey, YOU! GET AWAY! That whole area’s still closed!” I pulled up short as commanded, and, placing a hand over my heart, replied, “Oh, I’m SO sorry! I didn’t realize that! And thank you for letting me know SO courteously! Thank you for saying, ‘Please be careful’. Thank you for saying ‘Ma’am’. Thank you for speaking to a customer with SUCH courtesy! ”

If looks were a box of matches, I’d have burst into flames on the spot. But there is simply very little response even the most obnoxious person can make to being thanked, however insincerely.

There are some who try, of course. Spluttering or muttering, they attempt to defend their execrable behavior. My standard response to such equivocation is to stare them down with X-ray eyes and snap out a snarky comment of my own: “Justifying bad behavior is being wrong twice!” Occasionally, too, the chided individual will simply mouth off an insult (i.e., “Bitch!”). This, of course, requires a return to childish rhetoric: while still evading an exchange volley of insults, I just grin and sing out, “Hey, takes one to know one!”

I’ve utilized the astounding force of an insincere thank-you when given unasked-for advice or when, as described above, I’ve been victimized by those in a service capacity; I’ve even used it, very carefully and in a modulated tone, when faced with a situation in which a stranger seemed murderously angry. I was known to exercise the gesture back when I was still employed, although in those situations, also, I dialed down the saccharine tones and gestures quite a bit. Insincere thanks have seen me through many a moment in which speaking my mind or responding with my true feelings could have produced awful results.

In a world of rising dissension, in which common courtesy has become so uncommon as to be notable, there is enormous strength in the words “thank you”, whether meant sincerely or otherwise. But for shutting down outright rudeness, there’s nothing quite like the power of an insincere thank you.

Language Is a Funny Thing

Will regional idiom become more or less common due to social networks and instant communication?

I recently read a BBC article questioning whether Duchess of Sussex Meghan Markle’s accent was becoming more British. Skimming through the examples proving the author’s point, I shrugged. “Yeah, probably,” I thought, “because she now lives in Britain. She’s surrounded by those speaking British English.”   As myself recalled from three years spent living in Charleston, South Carolina, after a childhood growing up in the Midwest, one picks up not only regional dialect and phrases, but a touch of an accent, while living in those circumstances. I rapidly shed my faint overlay of a Southern American accent upon my return to the Midwest, but I still occasionally find myself reaching back through time for a turn of phrase which causes my Midwestern acquaintances to double-take, such as when I declare an attractive man to be “right pretty”, or claim that someone is “no brighter than a firefly’s backside”. I do not, however, complain that a room is too “airish” (breezy) any longer, and  the memory  is still vivid of my total confusion when a Southern acquaintance referred to the previous night as “slept under blankets”. Uh, didn’t most people sleep beneath a blanket or a sheet, I wondered? It took a real twist of Sherlockian brainpower to make the deduction that, to someone for whom a “warm” day was 90°F, sleeping beneath a blanket was a rare occasion, occurring only when the temperatures had plummeted to a surprising low.

It astounds me that, in a era of instant communication, not only accent and dialects, but regional idiom, persist. Yet they do, and I find myself often either bewildered or surprised by them.

I remember sitting in the theatre at the first showing of the movie “Home Alone” and being astounded when the sleepyheads awaken to screech, “We slept in!” My reaction was a straightforward, “Huh?” To my understanding, sleeping in was something desirable; it was a leisurely Saturday morning in which one had nowhere to be and nothing important to accomplish, and just planned to putter around in a bathrobe all morning. Rolling out of bed just when one felt like it was sleeping in; waking in horror, too late for an appointment, one’s job, or a plane trip was not sleeping in, but oversleeping. These were too separate occurrences, with two separate phrases to describe them: one delightful, the other absolutely awful.

I encountered the same confusion when watching a popular sitcom and hearing a character declare that he was close with his sister. Huh again. Close with? I’d never encountered that phrase. The Midwestern reference I’d grown up with and used all my life to describe a warm personal relationship was close to.   Just as one might be described as close to an emotional melt down, one was also close to a beloved friend or family member. Next to. Beside. Near to. Dear to.

More recently, a trip to the grammar advice pages of the Web was triggered by hearing the phrase step foot. By now growing accustomed to my “Huh?” moments, I decided to research, learning that the phrase had evolved from the original, set foot, around the year 1500. Huh. 500-some years. Funny, then, that I had never once heard it until 2018. The grammar page went on to explain, though, that the use of step foot rather than set foot had become more common since the 1980s…which actually made it still strange that I had never encountered the expression during those 30-some years. I’ve grown more accustomed to hearing it, but I can’t say that I like it. It just sounds wrong to my ear.

And then there are the phrases on accident and by accident. On accident makes me grind my teeth! One can do something on purpose, intentionally, but one can only do something unintentional by accident. Even the language tutor pages agree with me on this one: on accident makes grammar purists cringe. The difference—intentionally, unintentionally—is marked by the preposition.

But those who have grown up using the expression on accident would probably not agree. We usually prefer the language forms to which we’ve been accustomed. Which begs the question, will regional idiom become more or less common due to social networks and instant communication?

One can only wonder. I will ponder it the next time I’m waking from leisurely sleeping in.

They Have Ruined Oatmeal For Me!

The Ubiquitous They have ruined oatmeal for me.

You know the ones I mean: the “They” who inform our daily lives, inducing fear, spreading urban myths, dispersing vague and often erroneous information. I have always envisioned them as something resembling the giant ants in the old sci-fi movie, Them. “They say that….”   Who? Who says that? Rarely is the “they” who are saying these things defined. But we all know They.   We all repeat their information – or misinformation.

And They have ruined oatmeal for me.

Make no mistake: I love oatmeal. I have since childhood. It was rarely on our table, since in the 1960s most mothers preferred to hand out boxed cereal and milk to their children rather than to cook breakfast. But as a grown woman with my own apartment, I indulged my love of oatmeal – indeed, of all hot cereals. Cream of Wheat. Coco Wheats. Rolled Whole Wheat. And oatmeal. Real oatmeal – not that wimpy instant stuff. Old fashioned oats, which took longer to cook and were rich with texture and flavor. Rarely did I add in anything except a handful of raisins and some raw sugar. And even on those days when I caved to a time crunch, I could satisfy my longing with a delicious but now-discontinued cold cereal called Post Oat Flakes.

I was never quite able to convince myself that Cream of Wheat, laden with a big pat of butter and sugar, was really good for me, but I enjoyed it nonetheless; ditto, Coco Wheats. I still remember fondly a winter morning before school when I had spent the night at a friend’s home; her mother believed in a hot breakfast on winter mornings, and so I sat down to a bowl of piping hot Cream of Wheat with a pat of butter still warmly melting on its surface. Rolled whole wheat cereal, harder to find but prepared laden with honey, delighted me, and I could at least tell myself it was a whole grain. But oatmeal – oatmeal was GOOD for me, and I loved it. As I grew to adulthood, I rarely had time for it except on weekends until the addition of microwaves as standard office equipment meant that I could have my oatmeal for breakfast constantly. A recipe for Scottish oatcake was so delicious that I swore to indulge on it only a few times a year.  Exercising  restraint, I permitted myself to bake oatmeal raisin cookies only at the holidays.  I rejoiced when oats were declared, “heart healthy”.

Then my little world of hot cereal began to collapse like a deflating balloon. The word that poisoned my world was glyphosate.

Glyphosate,  the broad-spectrum herbicide used on genetically modified crops.  Glyphosate, determined by multiple jury trials to be responsible for causing cancer for those who used it regularly.  Glyphosate, infesting soil, water, animals, and crops;  occasionally mentioned by a few experts as a potential factor in the declining honeybee and butterfly populations, just as DDT had done to an earlier generation. Glyphosate, sprayed (They said) on harvested grain to dry it for storage. Glyphosate, ruining my Cream of Wheat, my Coco Wheats, my rolled whole wheat cereal. Glyphosate, infesting my healthy, hot, delicious oatmeal.

I continued to eat oatmeal even after first hearing about the glyphosate contamination of oats—even contaminating organic oats, due to the spray drifting from treated fields over  nearby organically grown and dried crops. The Ubiquitous They, I reasoned, might be wrong, after all. They might be repeating yet another urban legend.

But They weren’t. Lawsuits entered the courts, claiming glyphosate contamination in both hot and cold oat cereals, regular and organic. The company responsible for marketing the deadly weed killer was ordered to pay an incalculable sum to a groundskeeper who used the preparation regularly and contracted lymphoma.

Sadly, even after switching to an organic brand and praying it might not be contaminated, I find that I can no longer enjoy my healthy, delicious hot bowl of oatmeal. I can no longer bake and eat my favorite oatmeal raisin cookies, even at the holidays. I’ve entirely stopped baking my beloved Scottish oatcake.

I suppose it wasn’t really They who ruined oatmeal for me, but corporate lies and greed and misinformation, coupled with ecological apathy and insouciance.

But if I ever encounter giant, mutant ants, I’ll send them to the They who ruined oatmeal for me.

Spirituality is Big Business

When I was in my early twenties, I picked up a slim paperbound booklet that discussed a technique called Treasure Mapping. I think I paid about $1.50 for it. (I was not very affluent in those days, so I certainly couldn’t have paid much more.) The technique illustrated in the booklet would today be understood as making a vision board, and I found it fascinating. “Pictured Prayer”, the booklet explained, was simple and produced excellent results.

I gathered together the necessary accessories, all of them easy to obtain and inexpensive: photos clipped from magazines, glue, pens, construction paper — and created my first vision board. I’ve used the technique many times in the intervening years, often with surprising success. I have sometimes come across my old, discarded vision boards and realized with satisfaction that nearly everything I pictured on them had come to pass.

But recently I saw an announcement for a class in vision board making. The cost for the two-hour course, which included all materials, was $150.00.  I thought back to my $1.50 booklet, and the years of photos clipped from magazines or downloaded on the computer, the poster boards, glue sticks, glitter, stickers, or occasional scrapbooking supplies – and realized that I probably hadn’t spent $150 on all my Treasure Maps in the 40 intervening years.

In that distant era, even as I learned vision boarding, I learned to meditate by selecting library books to read about meditation techniques, listening to tapes borrowed at the library, and asking advice of those who meditated regularly. After hours of dedicated practice I found the method that seemed best for me and made meditation a lifelong practice. Today, though, I could chose to spend anywhere from $10 weekly for an hour’s guided meditation at a local new age shop, or up to $60 for an on-line course complete with an instruction manual, interactive forums, and (this one still puzzles me) a certificate of completion. I could purportedly learn the hands-on energy healing system of Reiki entirely on-line, without ever setting foot in a master teacher’s office. I could pay $10,000 for a spiritual retreat with a self-professed guru. I could complete an on-line course to become a “spiritual master” in any one of a half-dozen different disciplines – and, having completed the course, be surprised with the information that there is yet another, higher level available that could not be revealed to a mere novice, but only to a seasoned acolyte. And, of course, that newly-revealed level could be mine for only an additional $59.95!

Americans, it seems, do not believe that anything, even spirituality, has value unless it is paid for – by cash, check or charge, rather than blood, sweat and tears. You need not put real effort into learning as long as you are willing to sit at the feet of a “master” and fork over money – and plenty of it.

This isn’t to say that there aren’t legitimate costs connected with teaching classes or holding retreats! Retreat attendees have to be fed and housed, and the teacher’s time has to be compensated. A class venue doubtless has costs attached – rent to be paid, utilities to be provided, class materials to be printed. But the hubris of charging $150 for an hour spent “instructing” students how to paste pictures on poster board, or to chant, hold crystals, or meditate, veers (at least to my way of thinking) about 180 degrees north of genuine spirituality.

Once the provenance of moguls of big religion, spirituality, too, has become big business, and a lucrative business, at that. Native American spirituality is taught by those who have not one iota of genetic material from the original inhabitants of North America, and their students pay the sun, moon and stars for the privilege. Instructors with no passion except that for feathering their nests promise to incite a passion for life in their unwitting students, and coin money as they do so.

My personal advice to anyone seeking a spiritual teacher is simply this: remember, first, that you are your own best teacher. There has never been a better or easier time for self-learning. Explore cautiously, keeping both an open mind and a weather eye, but explore. Read, watch videos, learn, practice. And if you find you need assistance to progress on your chosen path, or feel ready for that retreat, or believe a class with others might help – do your homework. Seek out a teacher who is validly a master teacher in her or his discipline, who is passionate about passing knowledge on to others, and who, mostly importantly, lives in such as manner as to demonstrate the value of the subject in which they will instruct you. If a cost is associated with the instruction, investigate what the payment covers, and decide if it seems reasonable, reimbursing the instructor’s costs and time and other essentials, or keeping a center in the black, but not intentionally generating massive profit.  And only then decide if the price is genuinely worth paying, or if you can find methods less financial and more truly spiritual to gain instruction in your chosen discipline.

But the finest spiritual instructor will always be the one you find in two places: your own mind, and your own heart.

And if all else fails, you can always make a Treasure Map.

Retirement Is…

Yet another acquaintance who retired at the same time I did recently said to me, “Retirement is not all it’s cracked up to be.”

Frankly, I don’t get it. I love being retired.  I gladly trade my moments of loneliness, occasional bouts of boredom, and finances that are sometimes on the edge, for my freedom—freedom  from the unending daily stress of rushing to and from the office and of being always at the mercy of petty despots in a faux totalitarian state.

In truth, when I received a cancer diagnosis, one of the first thoughts that entered my mind was, “Well, whatever else happens, I have had two wonderful years.”   Two years that would not have happened had I not been forced into the early retirement that I had never planned to take.  Two years for which I have been immensely grateful.  Two years in which I have had time.  Time, at last, for myself. Time to do all I want to do for others.

I wonder if what my retired acquaintances are truly expressing is actually just coming head-to-head with the reality of aging. Sadly, it’s true: I am not as physically limber as I once was.  Unexpected aches trouble me, especially at night; and although I have not yet experienced major physical limitations, I nevertheless find myself concerned about them in my future, as well as the ever-present reality of falls (such as the tumble I took last year down my own stairwell).  Recovery from such mishaps is no longer assured or quick. I discover that I look for ways to avoid dropping to the floor, since getting back up requires a touch of maneuvering and the inevitable “Ooof!” escaping from my lips. Growing older is frightening because the only way out of it is even worse.

The truth is, though, that I can’t remain focused on these minor physical problems, because I’m usually just too busy. I work constantly on this blog (and anyone who recalls writing  essays in high school is well aware of just how much work that takes).   I read all the books I never had time to read—and that’s a lot of books–and I write comprehensive reviews of each, as well as reviewing any product I buy on-line. I joyously babysit my little granddaughter and lend a hand  in completing household chores at my daughter’s home, knowing that every dish washed or load of laundry completed is time freed that she might spend with her own child.  In the warm months, I invade her garden to battle weeds and overgrowth like enemies of an evil empire; in bad weather, I crochet

 

and sew and join coloring groups

 

and catch up on household chores. I read the daily news from at least three different sources to be certain I’m getting a well-rounded viewpoint.  My home (always neat as a pin) is at last nearly both as clean and almost as organized as I like it to be, and I’ve even managed to accomplish some of my home improvement tasks. I use the expertise garnered from 45 years of office work to help a friend create flyers and manuals for the classes she teaches. I help out with sick friends, and, blessedly, when I fall sick myself, I don’t have to worry about calling in to the office, obtaining a doctor’s excuse, or dealing with unsympathetic supervisors.  I meet friends for yoga or meditation, creating vision boards, thrift shopping, girls’ home movie afternoons, flea marketing and antiquing.  I have coffee and breakfast with them as we discuss the state of the world, verbally trash all the world leaders, consign every politician to the nether regions of hell,  and rehash exactly the many ways in which everything would be SO much better if we were running the show.

I do, in fact, everything that I always longed to do during the weary years from the age of 18 until 62, when I worked full-time, cared for my home and family, and, struggling to meet all my responsibilities, never quite seemed to catch up or get enough sleep or have any time for myself.

I’m not certain how to respond when my retired friends claim that they are disappointed in the reality of their situation, for I fail to understand their mindset. The truth is, I’m having a rip-roaring good time.  Retirement isn’t all it’s cracked up to be—it’s better.

My Totally Un-Grown-Up Coloring and Tea Party!

My 64th birthday was more than a bit grim, as I awaited surgery for a potentially terminal illness. Oh, the family celebration was enjoyable; a young relative and I have birthdates falling only ten days apart, and we chose to make the whole gathering a lively thing by celebrating together in conjunction with Chinese New Year. But throughout the entire evening there was no way to escape the knowledge, lodged like an evil imp in the corner of my brain, that this might be the last time I gathered with my family to celebrate a birthday in this lifetime.

Circle the world on its axis…  I woke one January night nearly a year later.  Lying there, unable to sleep, I was overwhelmed by a deep gratitude that I would be entering soon upon my 65th year, healed. This year, I suddenly realized, I wanted a birthday party that was truly a celebration. I wanted something simply fun. I lay there pondering the question of just how to achieve that aim, and the answer came easily: I and many of my cronies considered coloring to be fun: just plain good fun. An Inner Child sort of party, I thought. A return to the simple pleasures of childhood. A coloring party would be the perfect way to celebrate my 65th birthday. Still restlessly tossing and not sleeping, I considered the question of what foods should be served at a coloring party, and again the answer rose up easily: another childhood favorite. A tea party.  I might no longer own my beloved childhood Blue Willow tea set (see the post, My Blue Willow Tea Set, 06/26/18), but I still loved a tea party.

Having taken hold, the idea spiraled. IMG_20190228_072333378_HDR (2)A family member suggested that all the pages colored at the party could be gathered into a scrapbook by which to remember my 65th birthday; an old friend arranged the use of a local church hall, so that I could invite as many people as I chose. Family and friends committed to bringing tea party-themed dishes. I searched for and found delightful miniature tea sets—thumbnail-sized plastic teapots with matching fairy-sized cups–to be inserted into organza bags and handed out as “tea bag” party favors.Tea Set I bought crayons and colored pencils and markers and coloring books and door prizes and party goods, and lovingly warned out-of-town friends who could not be present that they were expected to send me a colored page, too. Then, much as I had done for my daughter’s wedding, I petitioned all the saints and powers given charge of the weather for a snow-free February afternoon, and prepared to party.

The saints and powers were kind; the Saturday of the party dawned grey, misty, and perhaps a little ugly, but snow-free and fairly warm for a late February day in the Midwest. Friends and their young children or grandchildren arrived in droves–with late arrivals and early departures, over 40 people were present at some point during the party. They hunkered down to laugh, gossip, win door prizes and sip tea while nibbling a luscious assortment of goodies: rose petal jam cookies and tiny tea sandwiches; canapés and strawberries; nut bread and cupcakes–all the while producing colored pages—beautiful, funny, delightful–for my scrapbook.

At the end of the day, everyone pronounced the party to have been a great success. I was gratified, exhausted, and pleased beyond all measure. All I had really wanted was for my family and friends to have fun as they helped me create the memory of a lovely birthday to expunge the uneasy recollection of the one that had preceded it.

And for that reason alone, the Coloring and Tea Party was more than a success; it was a small miracle. Although nothing will ever completely erase the memory of those  anxious weeks spent awaiting cancer surgery, the support and care of family and friends who saw me through those dreadful days limns that fearful remembrance with a halo of shelter and sanctuary. In the same way, the recollection of that former gloomy birthday pales into insignificance beside my wonderful new memory of loved ones gathered in laughter and  happiness to relive childhood pleasures.

Growing old is inevitable, the saying goes, but growing up is optional. I could not ask for more than that each of us occasionally once more experience the simple joys of childhood, right up until the day we leave this life.

Growing a Spine

I am one who avoids conflict at all costs, sometimes—often–to my own detriment. Early experiences taught me that it was safest to be a pleaser; to be cautious, to maneuver or manipulate, rather than confront.  The direct approach is rarely my chosen route; I am ever a pacifist.  Consequently, it’s been an on-going challenge throughout my life to be able to tackle opponents head-on.  Instead, I often go in through the back door of confrontation by writing—letters, reviews, e-mails–rather than speaking my truth aloud.

For that reason, following surgery last winter, I refused to answer the automated Patient Experience phone call a few weeks later. I had a lot to say, but I was NOT going to spend 20 minutes pressing 10 for “Very Likely” or 1 for “Worst Experience EVER”, and receive perhaps two minutes at the end of the call to speak my piece.  Instead, I looked up the address for the Patient Experience division and wrote a letter—a real, true paper letter.  A long letter.  I provided detailed descriptions of both the good and bad aspects of my pre- and post-surgical experience.

It’s probably notable that a few weeks after sending my letter, I received a call from a genuine human being. The call from an unknown number went to voice mail, and I declined to return it; I had said all I wanted to say in my usual non-threatening manner.

But I am also very much of the “do as I say, not as I do” mindset. Just because I’m rarely willing to speak up for myself doesn’t mean that I don’t recognize when those around me are doing the same thing—again, to their own detriment.  This was never made more clear to me than once when, at a party, I listened a woman discussing the mother-in-law who had browbeaten her for years.

Mother-in-law lived out of town, and had made it her habit to simply call and announce when she would be arriving to stay for any length of time—a night, a weekend, a holiday, or longer, with no consideration for any plans already made by her son’s family. That was bad enough, her victim explained bitterly, but this high-handed woman’s expectations went much further.  She would demand that certain other people, relatives and friends, be invited for dinner or parties during her stay, and would even specify what was to be served at those functions (food for which the mother-in-law paid nothing, her long-suffering daughter-in-law noted).  When the gatherings were held, the mother-in-law failed to lift a finger either for preparation or cleanup.  In fact, during each of her stays she expected to be waited on hand and foot.

As this angry woman expounded ever more bitterly upon her mother-in-law’s outrageous behavior, it crossed my mind to wonder why, since his wife was so compliant, her husband never put his foot down to refuse his mother’s demands. However, it’s often that “like marries like”,  I realized, and the husband was probably just as docile as his subservient wife.

One would think the breaking point would have been reached when, as the victim explained, she’d just endured major surgery when mom-in-law announced her latest visit—a visit which was to include inviting the husband’s sister and all her family for a dinner party, as well as several outings. Apparently, at this point her submissive daughter-in-law finally protested, explaining that she needed bed rest for her recovery.  Her protests were dismissed as her mother-in-law declared that that getting up (and apparently working her fingers to the bone) was the best thing for her daughter-in-law’s recovery.

At this point in the woman’s narrative, I finally spoke up myself. “This is HIS mother, and your husband didn’t stand up for you while you were ill?!” I spluttered.  She merely shrugged with her hands splayed upward.  “Well, I would have told her to shove it in a sock and just stayed in bed!” I pronounced, was horrified when she said that “was impossible”.

As non-confrontational as I am, I could not comprehend this woman’s inability to grow a spine. I’d have suspected that she was exaggerating her situation, but later, after she’d left, others at the party—all of them just as mystified as I was about her passivity–confirmed her description of events.

Growing a spine is harder than hell. As I say, I go in the back door by writing, but at least I take some type of action to stand up for myself.  This woman’s submissiveness, and that of her husband, was totally incomprehensible to me.

I think about that woman’s story sometimes, especially when remembering my refusal to take the phone call after the hospital received my letter. I told myself that I’d said all I wanted to say, but was that really the truth? Or was my own spinal pliability the real reason?

Hmmmm. Maybe I’ll send “Patient Experience” a copy of a couple of my blogs from that time.

Lemonade From Lemons

I saw the movie “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” at the theatre on the first weekend of its release. As I left the theatre that evening, I overheard a woman walking beside me comment to her companion, “I wouldn’t have wanted to miss that!”, a sentiment with which I and numerous other smiling moviegoers apparently agreed.  But as I glanced over at her, beaming agreement, I glimpsed the frowning face of her companion.  He proceeded to explode in a plethora of angry complaints about the movie.  It was obvious to me—and to just about everyone nearby in the theatre lobby—that he had NOT enjoyed the movie, and, by golly, she and every one of us present was going to be made aware of that fact.

I’ve had reason to recall this unpleasant moment on multiple occasions as various male companions responded to movies we had just watched together. And I’ve begun to wonder if this is just a facet of my generation—or my bad taste in boyfriends–or if it’s simply a male trait in general to respond to a movie disappointment by behaving as if the writer/producer/director/actors all intentionally conspired to perpetrate upon him a film which he despised.

I’ve attended many a disappointing movie with women friends. Discussing it afterwards, that’s basically what we’ve said, too: “Well, that was a disappointment.”  “I’m sorry I wasted my money on that.” “I didn’t really like it” (with a shrug).  “Well, at least the popcorn was good!” (with a giggle).

But leaving a substandard movie, or turning off the TV, while with a male acquaintance has almost inevitably resulted in an explosion of sorts. And I puzzle over this.

Discussing the subject with various female friends, it actually does appear to me that an irritation or disappointment—not just with a movie, but with outings in general—results in (shrug shoulders) “Oh, well” from the female contingent, while our male counterparts complain bitterly about the vile wrong perpetrated upon them.

Never was this made more clear to me than the time my sisters-in-law and I went to The Festival That Didn’t Happen.

Now, my Chosatives (see my 12/17/17 blog post) and I are small-town-festival junkies.  We love the fair food, the smiling crowds, the hokey little parades.  We adore shopping for homemade crafts and homegrown produce.  So a few summers ago, we hurried out of town to one of the first festivals of the season.

Which, as it happens, didn’t. Happen, that is.  Somehow the organizers had come up with a name for the “First Annual” festival, gotten it listed in the annually-published booklet of festivals throughout the state, named the attractions that would be available…and then somehow just lost momentum.

We arrived and there were no booths selling crafts and produce, no little parade, no corndogs and gyros and elephant ears. No Lions Club barbeque. There was, in fact, no festival, and the few year-long merchants in the area, dishing out ice cream and hot dogs and burgers at their little diners, were just as bewildered and apologetic as people could be.

Oh, there were still a few things to see: the town was an extremely old one, in a picturesque location, and there was, in fact, a wedding being held in that lovely lakeside venue; we watched from the outdoor seating area of a countryside diner as the photographer took gorgeous photos of a young couple. There were historic old houses, an antique shop, and a rustic general store.  And it was a simply beautiful early spring day, soft and warm with scudding, fluffy clouds in a bright, sunny sky.

So we three enjoyed ourselves. We strolled about and licked ice cream cones.  We looked at the town’s lovely old architecture, watched the wedding photos being taken, explored the antique shop and a century-old millworks grinding grain, the general store and a year-round Christmas shop.  We had, in fact, a lovely afternoon.  Then we came home.

But we also discussed what would have happened had the male members of our family been along for this “failed” outing, and shuddered, considering the complaints, angst, bitterness over wasted gas and a long drive, and general grumbles, moans and protests that would have taken place, ruining what had turned out to be quite a pleasant day.

Perhaps, as I say, this is just a personality quirk among my own family and friends, that our womenfolk tend to make lemonade from the lemons of life. Nevertheless, I wonder if, at some future date, I will not read some scholarly and scientific article comparing the rate of wars and generalized destruction to a predominantly-male habit of bitter resentment over the most minor vicissitudes of life.

But how much more relaxing to shrug and say that the popcorn was great, and enjoy sipping lemonade while strolling the boardwalk