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Catching up with the times

I have collected cookbooks for years. I’ve even created my own cookbook cutting out interesting and unique recipes from newspaper and magazines.  One evening, I decided to make spinach quiche for dinner and began searching through my collection to find one without too many ingredients and not too difficult to make.  While going through my cookbooks, my head buried behind the pile, my niece walked into the room. “Auntie, what are you doing?”  I looked up at her and down at her hand in which she held her cellphone. an appendage attached to her hand as she seldom puts it down.  When I told her, she said simply, “Why don’t you just goggle it.”

 

“Google it?” I asked. She peered down at her phone while tapping on the screen. Within seconds, she pulled up several recipes for spinach quiche and showed them to me.  I was impressed.  In response to many questions I have about anything and everything, her response is always “just goggle it.” Reluctant to give up the method I’ve used for so many years, I began to reconsider. Faced with the dilemma whether to move into the 21st century, I pondered, should I toss out my old cookbooks or keep them for old time sake; though I could use the space.

 

This makes me think about how many changes we face as technology advances. How many of us are torn between the old ways and the new?  I won’t go into moving from the corded phone to the cordless, to the cell phone; from large, unwieldly maps to Goggle map or GPS etc.

 

I decided to keep my cookbooks for now; haven’t gotten up the courage to get rid of them and I’m not sure I want to. But when I need a recipe, I use the internet. It’s faster and easier. I still carry a box with those large maps in the trunk of my car though I use GPS and Goggle maps whenever I travel.  Bottom line, because of so many advances in technology, things have gotten much easier on the one hand.  On the other hand, I’ll miss those days when it took time to find the answer to a problem.  There is something to be said about nostalgia.

Studying Other Writers

 

I’m always looking for ways to improve my writing. I try to write every day, I keep a journal. Whenever I read a particularly good book, I write a review for myself. Sometimes I’m so impressed with the author’s writing style, the seamless way in which a story is told combining all the right elements, in the right proportion, I study the author’s technique; not for the purpose of imitating his/or her style, but to understand what makes one author’s writing stand out from another’s.

In most novels the following elements are present in one form or another – protagonist, antagonist, conflict(s), setting, dialogue, exposition, theme, minor characters, storyline, plotting. But it is the way those elements are put together that distinguishes good writing from bad. I recently read a novel that contained all the above elements; however, as I read I was aware of the author’s missteps and rather than losing myself in the world the author had created, I found myself noticing the problems with the novel. It’s like making a cake. One might put all the ingredients together, but if they are not in the right proportion, the cake will taste awful.

While one can learn to write a novel in a relatively short period of time, reading well-written novels can elevate the writer’s sense of aesthetes. In art schools, students are taught to study the masters. I’m not suggesting that beginning writers have to study Shakespeare, Milton, Twain, Dickens or other writers of a period long ago. It can help; however, there are excellent novelists writing today. What I am suggesting is that when you come across a novel that moves you – not just the storyline itself, but in the way the story unfolds, by how the various elements come together to create a whole – believable characters, authentic dialogue, vivid settings, complex plotting, and a theme that resonates long after you put the book down, reread it or examine passages as one would study a painting or a textbook. Note what the author did that captivated you. Ask yourself how the author made you give up your time, lose yourself to spend hours, days, even weeks to enter his/her world.

My reading lists spans continents. I read widely. I read fiction as well as non-fiction, and poetry as well as drama. If you were to ask well-known authors for their reading list you’ll find they read widely, too. In essence, reading good writing enhances your own.

Vanity, thy name is…

 

I don’t think we ever outgrow vanity in some form or another. I remember when I was young, my eyesight was so bad that I needed to wear thick glasses. I wore them reluctantly, and would remove them whenever I could though it left me quite blind. Unless I wore those thick lense, my world was draped in blurred images like the time years ago, when I was in a play at a theatre in L.A. Though I was part of the Greek chorus, every evening before running on stage I left my glasses upstairs in the dressing room and made my way down to the stage. To this day, I couldn’t tell you who was in the audience. We could have been playing to an empty house as far as I could see.

Hating to wear glasses as a young girl was understandable then. During my teenage and young adult years I was very aware of the saying “men (boys) don’t make passes at girls who wear glasses.” More than a few times I and my other spectacle-wearing friends suffered under the moniker “four eyes” hurled by some cruel member of the opposite sex or, heaven forbid, being labeled a “nerd.” Today, glasses are fashionable prompting some who don’t need them, to wear them because they are “cool.”

Not wearing glasses when necessary is not the only form of vanity competing with sensible healthy choices. I’ve seen women whose feet were obviously killing them persevere in those 6 inch heels despite the possibility of doing serious damage to their ankles. It’s difficult to look cute when your feet are killing you. But what the heck! it’s the style.

Some forms of vanity can be more hazardous to your health than others. A friend told me he wouldn’t use his cane at his volunteer job in a hospital because he didn’t want people to know and feel sympathetic or worst, lose his job. He has fallen several times because of lack of balance. He’s 87 years old. We’ve suggested a walker or perhaps a scooter. At the moment he rejects those ideas.

Perhaps the worst case of vanity replacing good sense is one I recently heard. A woman who has spent her life smoking heavily now has COPD. When her doctor told her if she wanted to continue her mobility, she needed to carry an oxygen canister around with her. She refused declaring she’d rather be dead than carry an oxygen canister.

These are just a few examples of vanity dictating the choices we make. There are many more. Hopefully, as we age we realize that some forms of vanity not only can harm you, they may even kill you.

Stepping out of your comfort zone

first posted in 2009

I remember when I was a little kid, and like most kids I loved to explore, to venture into unknown areas, to discover new things and try to learn how they worked; that is until Mama or Daddy slapped my hands to keep me from harming myself. That adventurous spirit continued into my teenage years sometimes leading me to take chances, some reckless, some not so, depending upon the influence of my friends. I would venture into places where I didn’t know what to expect. Fortunately, no harm resulted. As a young adult, the first big chance I took was when I moved away from family and friends and across the country to a state where I didn’t know anyone and did not have a job waiting. I had saved a little money to tide me over for a few weeks until I could find a place to stay and employment. (Jobs in those days were plentiful.) Somehow I managed to survive, but as time went by, responsibilities and obligations set in. And with those obligations and responsibilities came fear leaving me little time to think about much less follow any adventurous nature.

Many older people have traveled down the same road. In our youth, with no obligations or responsibilities hindering us from following the call of the wild except maybe family pressures, we take chances. Then, as we become adults, our fears change and in some instances grow. Not the childhood fears of the bogyman or the teenage fears of not fitting in, but adult fears that spring from the need to support a family, to find a job that satisfies, to raise our children to be loving, responsible adults, to make enough money not just to get by but not to have to worry about paying bills.

With so much to consider, it’s no wonder our spirit for adventure becomes buried. When those responsibilities have been met, the children grown, and we settle down to enjoy our mature years, sometimes another fear invades our senses. We want to explore but we feel we must know the outcome before we venture out of our comfort zone. The need to think ahead gets in the way of answering that call to adventure. By adventure, I don’t mean doing something dangerous or life-threatening. I mean finding that spark that you had when you were younger, trusting in your judgment and following your heart. What do you have to lose? There is nothing sadder than regrets; wishing you had done something, but had let the opportunity go by. Keep in mind that life is fuller and more rewarding when we step out of our comfort zone.

Exercise Goes A Long Way

I first posted this blog in 2009.

I’ve been active most of my life either taking long walks to get away from my overcrowded home. Our door was always open to family members and friends; hence, our small Harlem apartment was many times filled with relatives and friends. Taking long walks from 145th Street to 125th Street, through Central Park and down to 59th Street was part of my young years.

When I moved out to L.A. I continued to walk, swim at the local pool, and practice yoga with Lilias who had a show on TV. At that time, exercise wasn’t a big thing as it is today. I never thought of my activity as an exercise regimen. These were just some things I enjoyed doing. I didn’t get into a formal exercise program until I joined the gym some years later. I began going to an aerobics class and worked out on the weight machines. This was followed by a step aerobics class until my knees gave out. No matter how hard I worked out, I could never keep up with others in those classes. Refusing to punish my body any further, I dropped out and did my own thing when I felt like it. Though I saw no dramatic changes in my weight or my physique, I did notice that my stamina increased, I became more flexible, and my strength improved.  Over the years, while I don’t participate in any of the high energy exercises enjoyed by many young people, I am like the turtle, slow and steady, knowing that it is a lifetime endeavor.

Studies show that regular exercise improves overall health,

  • improves stamina
  • boosts the immune system, making your body more resistant to disease and infection
  • helps prevent obesity
  • reduces the risk of heart disease
  • acts as a natural tranquilizer to help relieve stress, anxiety and depression
  • lubricates joints, thus easing aches and pains associated with arthritis
  • helps build strong, denser bones and decreases the risk of crippling osteoporosis
  • staves off, or improves many of the common disorders typically associated with aging
  • promotes an active life.

The American Heritage Dictionary defines the word “exercise” as activity that requires physical or mental exertion, especially performed to develop or maintain fitness. There are many ways to include physical activity into your everyday routine. The best kiind of physical activity is one where you are doing something you enjoy. I know a lady in her seventies who dances around her house daily to music she enjoys. And another who spends her day in her garden. And still another in her eighties who practices yoga and swims. I have a friend who at 102 still bowls. Whichever activity you choose to do, it should be part of your life.

It’s never too late to begin as long as you have a doctor’s approval especially if you have been inactive for a long time. Remember, a little exercise goes a long way.

What Ever Happened To That Old Dress?

Do you remember your old clothes?  At times I look up and begin to wonder, “What ever happened to that red dress that I wore to a party when I was a young girl? It was a long sleeve red knit with white dickie.”  My mother bought it for me from Macy’s Department Store where she worked; I wore it on my first date.  She was always bringing me the latest fashions which she got at an employee discount; that is until I was a young adult, working and able to buy my own clothes.  I remember buying a beautiful chiffon, yellow striped shirtwaist.  At the time I wore size 10.  I got to wear it once before it became too small or did I gain weight?  Still I held on to it for the longest time, hoping one day I’d be able to fit into it again.   After a few years, reality set in; I gave it to my local thrift shop. What ever happened to the dress I wore at my wedding? It was beige with brown trim.  Being impulsive and a romantic, I had convinced my boyfriend to elope to get away from his domineering mother.  We’ve since divorced.  And what did I do with those platform shoes that were fashionable years ago and have recently come back into fashion?

 

You’re wondering what brought about my reminiscing about clothes?  For some of us, clothes, shoes, hats, what we wear hold not only significant memories, but also a bit of cultural history.  Long after the item is gone, probably completely disintegrated, forgotten, something will trigger the image in our minds.  A dress gone out of fashion years later will suddenly be in vogue.   But the memory of the times and situations when we wore certain items remain embedded and can evoke happy or sad memories.  Few of my clothes carry any meaningful memories like my mother’s mouton.  I don’t have the mini skirts or Dashikis I wore back in the day.  Though sometimes I wish I did especially when someone throws a “good old days party.” Styles continually evolve forcing fashionistas to run to keep up.  Some people shop often, buying new things and tossing out the not-so-new without a backward glance.  I don’t imagine they attach any important significance to their clothes.  However, for those of us who seldom shop, once in a while, somewhere in those items we’ve tossed is a memory that lies dormant and when we least expect it, it will reappear and demand some sort of response, a laugh, a smile, or perhaps, a tear.

 

 

 

 

Laughter is Good Medicine

 

There is an old saying that laughter is good medicine.  It’s been around a long time and I believe it’s true.  Laughter is also contagious.  When I was a young girl, just a certain look from my sister would send me into spasms of laughter.  And she would do it purposely.  I laughed a lot when I was younger.  I laughed at movies like the “Carry-on” British series and “Dr. Strangelove.”  Recently I saw a Carry-on” movie on TV and I didn’t find it funny at all.  I laughed at my relatives when they’d do something, not intentional, but to me it was funny.  My father would lecture us on our behavior.  I wouldn’t laugh in his presence.  That could lead to dire consequences.  And I would laugh at my aunts and uncles who had a tendency to imbibe too much and act crazy.

 

As a young adult, I laughed a bit, but not the kind of guffaws that erupted unexpectedly in my youth.  Personal and family relationships, concern with school, job, marriage and raising a family really cut into my sense of humor.  My emotional rollercoaster seldom rose above a polite chuckle.   I don’t mean I never laughed.  I just can’t remember those deep spontaneous laughs from my young days.  Then one day, I realized I hadn’t had a good laugh in a long while and I missed it.  As an older adult, my responsibilities have lessened, my life has become simpler, and the belly laughs have returned.  Now, I laugh at the silly mistakes I make.  Once I couldn’t find my keys and I had an appointment.  I climbed out the window, went to my son’s school, got his keys, only to discover I’d locked mine in the garage.  I laugh at some things in life that I use to take much too seriously.

 

I’ve read that laughter is good for ones health.  They even have classes to show people how to laugh.  Now that’s funny.   There are enough things in life that make us cry.  And plenty of people who enjoy having company in their woes.  It’s best to avoid those who feel better only when they can make another suffer.  When I focus on the bright side of life, seeing humor even in little things like my grandbaby being mischievous, doing things one-year olds do and driving her parents insane, it makes me laugh.  I like to laugh.  It makes me feel positive, looking forward to life’s challenges, and it keeps me healthy.

 

Mama’s Mouton

 

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During the 1950’s Mama saved up from her stock clerk job at a big department store in N.Y.  When she had enough money, she purchased a mouton* coat. It was beautiful heavy, capable of withstanding New York winters and probably would do just fine in Alaska. It hada rich warm brown color, lined, with a high collar that covered her ears and wide sleeves almost like the sleeves on a kimono except the lining wrapped around her wrist to keep out the cold.  It wasn’t a mink, or a sable, Mama couldn’t afford either, but she looked fantastic in her mouton.  She only wore it to church and on special occasions likewhen Daddy took her out for a night of dancing at the Savoy Ballroom.  For a long time, we kids didn’t know what a mouton was or even how to spell it.  All we knew was that it was some sort of fur coat and that Mama loved it.

 

When Mama died, my brother inherited her mouton along with the house and whatever items his siblings left when we struck out on our own.   His wife buried it deep in the basement behind boxes and there it languished until one time when I returned for a visit.  She hurriedly retrieved the coat and thrust it into my arms. “Here, get this thing out of here!” she said.  It frightened her, made her feeluneasy.  I didn’t ask the reason.  I hauled the heavy coat back to California and putit in my closet.  Each time I moved from one apartment to another, from one town to another, I carried Mama’s mouton and put it in the back of my closet. Every once in a while, I take it out, try it on and think perhaps I’ll have it shortened, have it made into a jacket.  I’ll have to do it soon becausethe moths have begun their attack.  Even knowing that I’ll probably never have a reason to wear it unless I take a trip to New York in the winter or to Alaska or Siberia, I treasure Mama’s mouton and cannot see myself giving it away, tossing it, or trying to sell it on ebay.  It’s the same with Mama’s dishes, but that’s another story.  Some things are difficult to part with whether or not they are of use.

 

*A mouton is sheepskin sheared and processed to look like beaver or seal.

 

Pursuing Your Passion

Last year around this time my good friend Mattie decided it was time that she stopped procrastinating and do what she always wanted to do – learn to paint.  She said all her life she’d wanted to learn to paint but some thing or other would get in the way.  “I’ve seen too many of my friends with all sorts of dreams who never got around to fulfilling any of them before they were too ill or died.”  So she enrolled in an art class at the senior center and every week, she attends class.  When I went by her house the other day; all along the wall of her family room were pictures she’d painted, beautiful landscapes, portraits and still life.  On her easel was another she was working on.  After working as a nurse most of her adult life, she had finally acknowledged her passion and said it enriched her life.

I have another friend who taught himself to play the guitar and every spare moment, he’s in his garage learning new chords, listening to all sorts of musical styles and trying to imitate them.  He doesn’t do this because he wants to be a recording artist and make a lot of money; Rather, he told me, he’s doing it because it is what he loves.  He, too, has found his passion.

I’d never thought about passion in that way before – discovering things within you that you’ve always desired to do but for one reason or other, you’ve disregarded as being unimportant or because of what others might think.  We usually think of passion in a limited sense having to do with romantic desire.   In a broad sense, it is being enthusiastic about life.

So when do we find time to discover our passion, what we love to do no matter how trivial?  Retirement is the perfect time; that is if your health and finances allow you.  If you’ve always wanted to learn to sing, dance, travel, knit, write, act or whatever, find a way to satisfy your desire.  Don’t discount it or put it off for another time.  Don’t think that you’re too old.  Pursue your passion with boundless energy regardless of whether it will lead to financial gain.  Pursuing your passion can make life so much more fulfilling.

Reasons to study other writers

I’m always looking for ways to improve my writing. I try to write every day, I keep a journal. Whenever I read a particularly good book, I write a review for myself. Sometimes I’m so impressed with the author’s writing style, the seamless way in which a story is told combining all the right elements, in the right proportion, I study the author’s technique; not for the purpose of imitating his/or her style, but to understand what makes one author’s writing stand out from another’s.

In most novels the following elements are present in one form or another – protagonist, antagonist, conflict(s), setting, dialogue, exposition, theme, minor characters, storyline, plotting. But it is the way those elements are put together that distinguishes good writing from bad. I recently read a novel that contained all the above elements; however, as I read I was aware of the author’s missteps and rather than losing myself in the world the author had created, I found myself noticing the problems with the novel. It’s like making a cake. One might put all the ingredients together, but if they are not in the right proportion, the cake will taste awful.

While one can learn to write a novel in a relatively short period of time, reading well-written novels can elevate the writer’s sense of aesthetes. In art schools, students are taught to study the masters. I’m not suggesting that beginning writers have to study Shakespeare, Milton, Twain, Dickens or other writers of a period long ago. It can help; however, there are excellent novelists writing today. What I am suggesting is that when you come across a novel that moves you – not just the storyline itself, but in the way the story unfolds, by how the various elements come together to create a whole – believable characters, authentic dialogue, vivid settings, complex plotting, and a theme that resonates long after you put the book down, reread it or examine passages as one would study a painting or a textbook. Note what the author did that captivated you. Ask yourself how the author made you give up your time, lose yourself to spend hours, days, even weeks to enter his/her world.

My reading lists spans continents. I read widely. I read fiction as well as non-fiction, and poetry as well as drama. If you were to ask well-known authors for their reading list you’ll find they read widely, too. In essence, reading good writing enhances your own.