Friday, October 13, 2017

CHEAP FUN, pt. 2: Unforgettable Dining Experience

Are you nostalgic for the old days when you had parties or patronized varied restaurants?  Even if you find yourself regularly eating dinner with the TV blaring and a dearth of scintillating conversation, you can host a daring dinner party. You don't even need to invite anyone over, although, by all means, include your partner or spouse, if applicable.

This party is sans silverware. Forkless in Fresno, fingers in Fargo! Feed yourself without utensils. Choose a menu item like spaghetti or stew, so it’s really messy. Set out extra napkins (or adult bibs--they really do make such a thing) and enjoy. Be radical by intentionally exhibiting bad manners. Slurp, slop, smack. Turn your meal into a contest. How loudly can you smack your lips and gulp your soup?  If you have a six-year-old granddaughter eating with you, this is a dinner they will never forget (trust me, I know), but it's even more memorable when your guests are six-or-more decades old.)

The next day, it will feel so comfortable to eat the "regular" way. Crank up the news and set out the utensils. You'll relish the return of your routine. Mission accomplished.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

CHEAP FUN, pt. 1: Phony Trip

A lot of us in my age bracket are fixating on how expensive our favorite activities have become. For that reason, I've decided to devise some inexpensive activities to take their places. Take, for instance, travel. Here's a way to learn about a country and have a little bit of travel-thrill without any expense. And, you don't even need to locate (or renew) your passport.

First, check out a library book on a destination you would like to visit. Next, make up your bed for sleeping on the opposite end. This will make your bed seem just as foreign as a hotel-room bed. While it may seem like a lot of trouble, it’s easier than going through airport security.

After dinner, start reading. When you begin to get sleepy, arrive at your “hotel”—your own bed with the sheets and blankets tucked in at the opposite end. You’ll feel as though you’re on the road with such an unfamiliar accommodation, and might even need a flashlight for your 2 a.m. trip to the bathroom. You won’t get much sleep, but it’ll be memorable. When you get tired of your "trip," return to the other end of the bed. You’ll feel like you’re back home. And because you pored over text and photos in the travel book, you’ll know a lot about the destination you didn’t see.

For extra fun, pack a suitcase and live out of it for a few days. You won’t have the hassle of the TSA, and when the inconvenience of rummaging around for that last clean pair of undies makes you irritable, you can arrive home that minute!

You get the idea. We’re constantly being told that changing our routines is good for our brains, too. So mix it up! All we have to do is use our imaginations to find small delights.


Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Enhance Friendships


The program is called Enhance Fitness. I've been enrolled since August of 2010, just a month after I retired from Symetra Financial (formerly known as Safeco Life Insurance Company). Offered through the Northshore Senior Center (a nationwide model for senior centers all over the country), Enhance Fitness was billed as a class offering seniors specific aerobic, strength, and stretch exercises. Interestingly, the program was developed locally by Group Health Cooperative and University of Washington Medical School. Now it is a nationwide program that keeps seniors on their toes (and heels) in fifty states.

Not very flattering
but it's how it is
When I enrolled in the class, which was held in Kenmore, a neighboring suburb of Lake Forest Park where we then lived, the class was a modest size, maybe twelve people total (if everyone was present). We worked in a circle setup in a church basement. The classes were (and are) offered three times a week, year-round. Every four months participants are tested in three simple exercises to measure if they're getting stronger or, at least, holding their own.

It was through this class that I formed several deep and lasting friendships, and I've become acquainted with wonderful people, all of whom opened doors and windows into my satisfying life. As the years have gone by, instructors replaced instructors and word of mouth caused participants to join up (sometimes as many as twenty-five exercisers on a given day). And, yes, people do stop coming for myriad reasons, too, some of them forever--you get my drift.

After Jay and I moved from Lake Forest Park to Bothell, the commute to Kenmore in morning rush hour traffic became more and more challenging, so several years ago I transferred my enrollment to an Enhance Fitness class (same curriculum) closer to my home at the Northshore YMCA. So all these years later, I still attend EF. The different locale has allowed me to meet even more wonderful people--men and women--and the quality of instruction has endeared the YMCA to me. I just hit my twelfth anniversary as an Enhance Fitness participant!  I'd like to say I'm still going strong, but . . .

Without the permission of participants, I won't publish picture in which
individuals are recognizable--but you get the drift: Music, movement, sweat!
Recently I was tested--the same three measurements as always.  When I received my results this time, the test results for the entire twelve years were included!  Not too surprisingly,  I did get stronger on the tests the first ten years, but now . . . gulp. Yup, you guessed it: I'm beginning to show a decline. That's the difference between ages 65 and 77, like it or not.

I am determined to keep at it, however. I can only imagine how decrepit I would be without this class! And I would have never met the dozens upon dozens of wonderful people I exercise with.  I deeply appreciate all the benefits that Enhance Fitness has provided me over the years.


Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Ecclesiastes' Words of Wisdom


The stump sculpture in its youth
As a result of recently walking to the deteriorating stump-sculpture (also known in our family as the "Jay tree") near downtown Bothell, I revisited one of my favorite, and (in my opinion) profound passages from Hebrew Scriptures. 

I fell in love with the Book of Ecclesiastes when I took a summer graduate class in Wisdom Literature at Marquette University in the late 1970s. The old professor (he was pushing seventy) took great pains explaining the metaphors of Qoheleth's poetry to his students. (In my late thirties, I was the oldest in the class.) We learned that almond trees become white when they blossom, grinding women represent the attrition of our teeth with age, lattices refer to cataracts, etc. Each line has metaphorical meaning that now I don't need to have anyone explain.

 As a person in my late seventies, I more fully appreciate the professor's passionate approach to this particular section. I also realize how timeless it is, as so many of my peer group enjoy reminding anyone who'll listen how they "find no pleasure" in their myriad exposure to life's current culture and experiences. This translation is by R.B.Y. Scott and published by Doubleday & Company in 1965. 

Ecclesiastes  XII 1-8

[1]  In the days of your youth, remember your grave,
We loved it when
Jay posed for photos by it--
similar eyes and mustache!
When days of trouble have not come yet,
Nor have the years approached when you will say,
"I find no pleasure in them";

[2]  Before the sunshine turns to darkness,
The light fails from moon and stars
And the clouds return, bringing rains.

[3]  When that day comes, the palace guardians will tremble 
And the powerful men will stoop,
The grinding women will case work because they are few,
And they will find it dark who look out from the lattices.

[4]  The doors to the street will be shut
As the sound of the mill becomes low,
The voice of the birds will be silenced,
And all who sing songs will be hushed.

[5]  Then will men grow afraid of a height,
And terrors will lurk on the road;

The almond tree will blossom, the locust be weighted down,
And the caper berry be impotent.
For a man is on the way to his long-lasting home
And the mourners gather in the street, [waiting]--

[6]  Until the silver cord be cut, and the golden bowl be broken,
The pitcher shattered at the spring
And the water wheel broken at the cistern.

[7]  So dust will return to the earth where it was before,
And the breath of life will return to God who gave it.

[8]  Breath of a breath! says Qoheleth--All is a breath!

Today the sculpture is clearly in the throes
of returning to earth. It is still magnificent.


Saturday, September 2, 2017

Fidget Sketcher


The rage (maybe it's dying back a little, by now) is Fidget Spinners, the little gizmos that can be twirled to amuse and assuage the perpetual fidgeter. I bought one, but couldn't make it work very well--so I passed it along to my eleven-year-old granddaughter.  

Besides, it didn't take the place of my favorite fidget-management tool, the tiny sketchbook that's always tucked inside my purse.

Even reading the spell-binding novel brought along from home doesn't do it for me when I'm waiting for something--whether it's a doctor's appointment, a plane trip, or a play or concert. I can't focus on a book when there's something 'about to happen,' something I'm waiting for. 


That's where my sketchbook comes in handy. All I have to do is look around, pick someone, and start to draw. Most people change their position within two or three minutes, so my drawings are all what might be called "time studies." 


None lasts longer than just a few minutes, like a classic life-drawing class where the teacher calls for warm-up exercises by timing models for one-, three-, five-minute poses at the beginning of class.    
Even feet fidget.
I'll just get started drawing
 them,and they move!
I commuted to downtown Seattle by bus (1986 - 1997) and my sketchbook was a great sanity provider then (pre-cellphone), although the commute was plenty long enough to get engrossed in a book. However, sometimes I didn't have a good book, so I began drawing my fellow commuters as they slept for the entire trip. It was a perfect set-up: my subjects didn't know I was drawing them (when a subject does know, I always stop--pretending that I'm making a grocery list) and a sleeping subject is an artist's dream-model: physically static. 


These are a few very fast sketches from my current purse sketchbook (4"x 6"), now almost full and ready to be stashed in a shoe box with all the others. Not great art, but considering none is more than five minutes (most are considerably less), it's a fun (and challenging) way for me to fidget while I wait. 

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Agog over the blog

When I first set up my blog in 2009, struggling through the design tutorial of the hosting Web site, little did I imagine the pleasures I would derive from it. Not only has it given me a forum to express my opinions, it’s provided much fulfillment as I write about a meaningful moment or a happy encounter. Likewise, it helps reduce frustration to write about something annoying or disturbing.

Initially I thought it would be a great means of publishing the bevy of personal essays I’d written over several decades, and, yes, it’s been useful for that, too. These days, though, I’m more likely to muse spontaneously about whatever is currently happening in my life.

My blog cannot be considered a huge success by objective standards. In the eight-plus years I’ve been writing it, there have been only 100,332 views (as of today at 4:30 p.m.). On the 364 individual posts, a total of 288 comments have been received. It’s hardly one of those Web sites that goes viral. Many topics I’ve written have generated zero response. It was just one old woman rattling on--"let her rip." I hope my kids will read it, but sometimes it's too convoluted or time consuming, even for them. The outpouring of multiple loving and heartfelt comments when I wrote about Jay's death on the blog are still a treasure for me.

Once in a great while, Beats Talking To Myself provides a thrill for me. Not just a happy moment, but a feeling that transcends whatever rough spots or unpleasantness the week may have held. A feeling that makes my old woman's heart leap with joy. Today I’m going to recount the two most recent thrilling episodes springing from comments left by readers. These two most recent occurrences still make me so-o-o happy—just thinking about them—that I can barely contain myself in this narrative.

A little more than two months ago the director of the MacArthur Memorial in Virginia, James Zobel, left a comment on the June 29, 2013, post, “Along the Way—My Great-uncle’s Memoir." James already was aware of Col. William Neill Hughes, Jr.'s  relationship with Douglas MacArthur during WWI and became eager to obtain a copy of the memoir. His inquiry made through the blog resulted in two wonderful events: a copy of  Uncle Billy's memoir being made available for the MacArthur archives, and a closer connection between me and my second-cousin, Allene. She is Great-uncle Billy’s granddaughter and beneficiary of the original memoir. We have enjoyed a Christmas-card relationship for years, and regularly e-mail. Lately, because of the request for the memoir, we have had reason to chat on the phone. Both of us agree this re-connection through phone conversations has been a lovely gift.   

And then . . . last week I heard from the man who helped a group of curious (and somewhat apprehensive) readers tackle James Joyce’s Ulysses. That triumphant feat began in 1999 (just think, last century!) and the group, led by the recent college grad, Barry Devine, met every other week for almost nine months. Five years ago, on July 16, 2012, I wrote a piece about this man and my literary life-time achievement he had facilitated. By the time I wrote the blog post, it was more than a dozen years after the fact, and I had completely lost track of him. Barry somehow found the essay on Beats Talking To Myself and left a comment on it, identifying himself and promising follow-up offline, which proved easier said than done. He persevered and found a way to contact me—literally making my day this morning when I opened email. We have begun a detailed exchange of what’s occurred in the intervening years, and I'm not surprised to learn that he's become a James Joyce scholar with a PhD and university appointment to prove it.

It’s moments like this that make me determined to continue blogging. That word—blogging(or "blog" in any verb form) may not yet be in the dictionary, but it has lots of meaning for me.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Lesson of the Stuffed Bear

Postcard rendering
from early '00s
Once upon a time (OK, it was Christmas of 1984), the oldest son in a family of four siblings was Christmas shopping in Minneapolis. As a sophomore at the University of Minnesota, he was headed home to Milwaukee for the holiday, and hoped to impress his family with gifts purchased at a store unavailable to them in Wisconsin. While at Hudson's Department store, he spied an adorable teddy bear dressed in a bow tie, tweed trousers, and a knitted blue cardigan. No question about it. He snapped it up for his mother who had a teddy bear collection.

The mother's collection had started just a few years earlier when the youngest son in the family purchased a trendy 'pot-bellied' bear in a desperate attempt to buy a memorable gift for his mom, notorious for her "I'd love some note cards" answer to the question of what she wanted for Christmas. When the mother opened the package with the bear, she hugged it immediately, effusing over its cuteness, and named her Deedee. "How do you know it's a girl? asked the giver of the gift. "I just do!" replied the mother.

Jules always sat still
when being painted
There was no doubt about the gender of this newest bear, Jules, on account of his being dressed as a boy. Because he was so smartly attired, she promptly dubbed him Jules, because she had just seen Francois Truffaut's 1962 film classic, Jules and Jim, for the first time. Jules remained a kingpin in the collection.

Fast forward several decades, and the bear collection was overtaking needed space. So . . . the mother sadly weeded all but ten, keeping her favorite bears, the ones with strong sentimental value. Jules was one of the ten (yes, of course, Deedee was too), and eventually made his way into the now-deceased Father's office, a room so empty without its thriving business being operated from its confines that the Mother began calling it the Bare Den. When it occurred to the Mother to set out the remains of her bear collection on the empty shelves in the Bare Den, the name of the room morphed into the Bare Bear Den.

Now it's January 2017 and the Mother has just had surgery. She needs a little pillow to put under her arm to remind her not to fully turn over on that side until healing has taken place. Searching for the right-sized pillow, she enters the Bare Bear Den and picks up Jules. "Ah, maybe you could help me, Jules," she says. She then strips him of his clothing . . . and tucks him under her armpit. Jules turns out to be the perfect size and softness-quotient for the task at hand. Before too many days go by, she begins thinking of Jules as "Baby Bear," a gender-free name reassignment.

As the months of 2017 tick by, the Mother decides that Baby Bear has a place in her life, filling the need of Listener from time to time (and Baby Bear never talks back, a good thing.) She realizes that she doesn't think of Jules as a male anymore. Without clothing, there is no profiling of gender . . . a Jules could be a Julie and, in fact, is known now simply as "Baby Bear."  And this gives her pause. She doesn't want to be flippant about this matter (a stuffed animal most accurately would be described as gender neutral) because she is deeply understanding and compassionate about issues surrounding transgender people. But she realizes how much of our expectation about behavior and propriety has to do with clothing and its encompassing assumptions. Absence of male clothing has completely negated the assignment of a male name.

Underneath that surface judgement we all make is what doesn't meet the eye--the essence of each being, which really has nothing to do with assignment of sex. Even this dear stuffed animal, now a steady bedtime companion for the Mother (who almost never goes to sleep without tucking it under her arm, even though not required for medicinal healing) can teach us that lesson.She wonders what she would have named the bear if it had arrived without it's handsome outfit. Of course, she'll never know, but she loves Baby Bear for this insight.