Apples to Oranges!

  The Gods of Power Consumption are at it again. 

I recently received yet another of those periodic mailings from the local power company, purporting to tell me how well (or not) I’m doing in managing my power consumption.

Uh….

Their mailing states that my power usage is being compared to “100 similar” homes within the area, and then continues on to state ways in which I can reduce power consumption and so (one presumes) my bill.

Now those 100 similar homes… Hmmm. I suppose The Gods of Power Consumption are looking mostly at square footage. Well, not to put too fine a face on the matter, this is simply stupid. Idiotic. Worthless. Comparing apples to oranges.  Let me count the ways…

Just a few of the factors which that “how you’re doing” memo is (I think–depending upon how hard Big Brother is watching!) to take into consideration, are, for instance, the number of individuals in the household, and, more specifically, their ages and states of health. Elderly people notoriously need higher temperatures to be comfortable, due to the loss of insulating fats in their skin layers; newborns, having just come out of a 98.6º environment, ditto.  Heavily pregnant women lap up air conditioning like a kitten with a bowl of cream. People who are ill with any number of diseases may very well feel best in either exceptionally cool or warm settings, while many desperately-needed home medical devices consume power as they operate.

Are the people in those 100 houses living in groups of two or three (the highest number that would fit comfortably into my small home), or is there only a single inhabitant? Are all those people out of the house for ten or more hours most days, attending work or school, or are they often home for long periods of time—retired, as I am, or stay-at-home parents of small children, and thereby using lights and stoves and microwaves, TVs and computers, at times when the empty homes are sitting idle, evincing little draw upon the power grid?

Then let’s consider those “100 homes” themselves. Are they two-story, as mine is, or one? And, if two-story, is their second story a partial area, with a balcony opening into a large cathedral ceiling overlooking the lower floor, and altering air flow significantly?

Were those 100 homes built over two decades ago, when air vents and ducts were being built to smaller dimensions? Or are some of them brand-new, tightly constructed, with recent, energy-efficient furnaces or air conditioners and lots of wide air vents and ducts that are heavily insulated?

Apples to oranges.

And then there were those irritating commercials shown last winter by the power company, providing suggestions for reducing power consumption. (As my 90-year-old father grumps, “Why the hell do they need to advertise? They’re the only game in town!”) One of their more idiotic winter suggestions was to turn the heat down or even off completely when leaving one’s home temporarily. I’m sure my elderly rescue cats would have been greatly unappreciative of that action—especially as I keep my heat set to only 67° in the first place. Not to mention how much power would have been consumed by bringing the heat back to bearable temperatures upon my return—or the possible icing up of water pipes during that time of absence with little to no heat during some of our Siberian winter conditions. Their summer recommendations (which also include that confusing suggestion to “turn off the air conditioning when you leave your home”–are none of these people pet owners?!) are even more hilarious. Being at home most days, I’m in the habit of placing big box fans in open windows on cool mornings and evenings in the spring, summer and fall; I prefer fresh air. Far from setting my thermostat to their recommended temperatures, at the height of the summer I do not even turn my air conditioning on until the lower floor of my home reaches 77°–which means that the upper floor is at least 80° or 81°. Only then do I remove the fans, which I presume draw so much less power than the central AC unit, from the windows and switch on my air conditioner. And were it not, again, for my elderly animals, not to mention my own asthma, I would probably allow the room temperatures to rise slightly higher. I grew up without air conditioning, and although I appreciate it, I do not consider it essential except during the direst times of heat.

Their recommendation is, of course, to set one’s thermostat on 78º or 80º in the first place, and to then run fans if one is uncomfortable.  The logic of this escapes me; don’t fans run on electricity?!

No, the next time I receive one of those irritating little “How Are You Doing?” mailings from the local power company, I won’t waste my time rolling my eyes and tearing it in half to be tossed into the wastebasket. Instead, I’ll just print out this blog post, attach it to their nonsense, and mail it back.  And may everyone else reading this irritated little diatribe feel free to do the same!

The Great Paint Can Head Splash

§  Since I’ve already reproduced, I’m not a candidate for the Darwin Awards! But as I continue forging links to the chain of my days, I’ll probably find other, incredibly stupid ways to nearly do myself in.  §

Each morning before I eat breakfast, I boot up my laptop and read the news stories while sipping a cup of tea. This habit actually falls under the category of “Why, oh Why, Would I Even THINK This Was a Good Idea?”

I mean, really—consider it: news. Politics. Murders. Police brutality. Inane stories about celebrities. News story comments. Vicious name-calling and rude remarks.

Before breakfast. Every morning.

As I pointed out: Why would I even think this was a good idea?

And yet I have done and continue to do it.

But then, many things in my life fall under that category. And often, the question is not even so much why I ever thought these behaviors were a good idea, but how the hell I managed to survive them.

Take, for instance, the fact that I was, for years, in the very bad habit of waltzing out barefoot to pick up my mail from the mailbox—barefoot, or, at most, clad in stocking feet. Now, it’s just the length of the driveway from my front door to the mailbox, and my driveway is quite short. But I did this daily mail run regardless of the condition of the concrete: wet with rain; slick with whirligig seeds from the maple tree or slippery with autumn leaves; slightly glazed with ice; under pelting rain or even tiny hailstones or falling snow. Just a quick trip out to pick up the mail. No need to put on my shoes.

Only to fall on my butt. Not once, but several times. Or perhaps not fall—just find myself with arms windmilling and mail tossed every which way as I tried to stay upright.

Then there was the time that, beneath the soft rays of the Super Moon, I decided to decontaminate the poisonous atmosphere created by a nasty neighbor by going out with my salt and white sage bundle to cleanse the area around my house. Again, in my stocking feet—it was chilly, so I didn’t want to walk in bare feet. Having first lovingly scattered Himalayan pink salt all about the perimeter of my home, I lit my sage bundle and paced the boundary of the house, concentrating on positive thoughts. Forgiving thoughts. A very noble and praiseworthy action…if only I’d worn shoes. Because as the sage bundle burned down, the ash scattered. Scattered straight onto my toes. Where it immediately burned right through the sock. Ooow, ooow, ooow! (Goddamned nasty neighbor, this was all his fault, I wouldn’t have been burned if he had just not been acting like an ass so that I had to go out and cleanse his spitefulness from the atmosphere….)

Why, oh why, would I have ever even thought this was a good idea?!

Also under the heading of Really Not Bright Things That I Have Done was the six-month time period in which almost daily I reminded myself, “If I don’t wiggle under this desk and snake that computer cord to the back, I’m going to fall over it.” Of course, I didn’t, and I did. It took nearly another six months for my strained tendons to heal.

Then there was the day that I decided, while cleaning my carpets, that I was fed up with crawling down the stairwell on hands and knees while using the hand attachment. When I reached the landing where the stairwell turns, I resolved to stand on the floor of my entry way, reach over the two bottom steps, and use the upright carpet cleaner on the landing. This might not have been so bad an idea had I not decided to back down those two steps to the entryway below. That’s right—step down two steps backwards in shoes (for once) that were damp from working on the carpets of the upper floor.

Of course I slipped. Of course, I fell down those two steps. And of course, I slid prone across the laminate of the entryway, the carpet cleaner machine half on top of me, and slammed my head into the wall opposite.

After awhile, having determined that all I had was a goosegg and a headache as the price of my stupidity, I finished cleaning my carpets.

But, of all the things falling under the category of Stupid Things I Have Done and Yet Survived, none of them will ever beat The Great Paint Can Head Splash.

The original owner of my condo had, shall we say, unusual tastes in décor–as in a living room done in flat khaki greens and browns, and bathrooms painted dark, dark royal purple, or dried-blood red and poison green. Needless to say, repainting was a priority. The unused spare bedroom closet seemed a logical place to store the paint cans as the final touch-ups were done…or, that is, might have been a logical place had I not decided to store the cans on the upper closet shelf.

And so it came to pass that I went to grab a can of wall paint and work on touch-ups…only to discover, as I lifted it from the shelf, that the top had not been hammered on completely when it was last used. Like Captain Kirk under the rain of tribbles, I stood there as the can tipped and poured paint all over my head, my clothes, the closet floor, my hair–my freshly-colored hair….

Later that day, as I visited my daughter, she nobly refrained from commenting on the numerous ivory-pink paint speckles liberally bespattering my hair, despite two careful washings.

I’m sure that, as I continue forging links to the chain of my days, I’ll find other, incredibly stupid ways to nearly do myself in. Since I’ve already reproduced, though, I’m not a candidate for the Darwin Awards. And, happily, although those genetic testing kits don’t include it, I suspect my intelligent offsping escaped inheriting the “Why Oh Why Would I Even Think This Was a Good Idea?!” gene. I certainly hope so, anyway.

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.