Monday, May 08, 2017

Of Pizza and Collecting Human Souls: Parenting in 2017

Pizza restaurant talk with my nine-year-old grandson this past weekend. A light, casual conversation...  or so I thought.

Me: So tell me about the videos games you like...

Ian: I really like "Unturned."

Me: What's that about?

Ian: It's a pixelated zombie apocalypse game. (Said with sweet, slight condescension, obviously simplifying his explanation for me).

Me:  What's pixelated? 

Ian:  The picture is in little boxes, Grandma.

Me: Got it!  Uh... what other games do you like? (Asked thinking the next must be more understandable to a baby boomer.  About sports, maybe. Or dogs.) 

Ian: I like "Undertale" a lot.

Me: What's "Undertale" about?

Ian: Well, it's monsters vs. humans.  (Again simplifying for me.)

Me: Monsters vs humans?  How do you play? (Attempting to dig deeper. Show interest. Spark connection.)

Ian: Asgore is the monster. The game is he collects human souls so he can become a god.
(He responds excitedly.)

Me: Uhhhhh... (Stunned pause. Maybe I misheard? What???)

Me:  Hey, your extra-pepperoni pizza is here!  (Relieved... Collecting human souls? This is a game?.) 

Ian: Oh cool! 

Me: How's school? (Safer topic. I have new respect for parenting in 2017. How do they do it?) 

Monday, April 10, 2017

Of Treadmills and Foolishness: Breaking the Family Pattern

Sports and exercise were simply not done by women in my family. Mothers and grandmothers model our first, and lasting, examples of femininity. The idea seemed far-fetched to them that physical activity was important, much less feasible.  Other than leisurely golf, tennis, badminton, or backyard croquet. 

I can't imagine my grandmother ever exercised for her health, and she lived to age 89.  Grandma was a hearty, lifelong farmer's wife, a busy occupation during her era (1897 to 1987), at least until Grandpa retired from small-time farming and beef ranching.

The idea of Grandma on a treadmill is a hilarious vision of cheeriness and her trademark impatience. Bundle of restless energy that she was, I don't recall her sitting except at the meal table.  And then only for 20 minutes before pushing seconds, clearing the table, washing dishes, stoking her prized wood-burning stove. And sitting, absorbed in her favorite TV program, "The Lawrence Welk Program.

Yet, without formal exercise, Grandma remained mobile and lived nine decades with nary a trace of heart disease or cancer, although those last few years were spent in a fog of what we then called senility.   

As a young girl, my outdoorsy mother camped summers in nearby Sequoia and Kings' Canyon Parks, bonded with the family dogs, and rode her beloved horse Dolly everywhere. 

Mother's 1948 community college yearbook featured four full pages devoted to "Girl's Sports," including archery, badminton, volleyball, square dancing, jumping jacks, and lots of tennis. Oddly, she was in none of those photos.

As an adult, my mother never exercised for health, and paid a terrible price of arthritic pain, inflammation, and immobility later in life.  For 15 years, she didn't walk more than a dozen yards at a time, and rarely ventured outside. But still, she lived to age 86, also without a trace of heart disease or cancer.   

My sister exercises and exercises and exercises. Teri walks. A lot.  She walks for miles every possible day, usually on beautiful southern Oregon beaches. She ponders as she walks. She finds peace of mind when walking. But mainly, my sister, a nurse for 30-plus years, walks and hikes for good health.  

Since childhood, I've been a reluctant exerciser. As an exasperating teenager, I would rather be in my room, my head in a book or listening to music. In junior high, Mother pushed me into tennis and archery in summers to get me out of the house. 

I detested P.E., and was mortified when I once fainted while running the high school track.  During my senior year of high school, Mother did what I thought finally qualified her as very cool: she often called me in sick for first-period P.E., and made excuses why I would be well by second period English.  She didn't see the point of exercise or sports for a 17 year old girl. Neither did I. 

Today, though, osteoarthritic pain and stiffness threaten the richness of my life.  Exactly like my mother at sixtysomething. 

Seems our tricked-out recumbent bike has harmed my right hip more than helped over the last two years, so we dumped it last month. But not exercising yields unpleasant results for me... stiffness, pain, inflammation. 

I took a bold (for my family) step recently to do things differently. To break the mold. I bought a treadmill.  And I'm using it. Daily. Comfortably, to my surprise...  

Grandma would be bewildered at our foolishness.  Why do we sit so much today?  When would we find time to to "exercise," when meals need to be created, crops grown, produce canned, farm animals tended, people cared for, laundry done, socks mended, letters to loved ones written? I can hear her: "For heaven's sake, why would you need a machine to walk?" 

Mother would be stubborn.  Two years before she passed, she lamented that had she known more about nutrition and health, she wouldn't have "ended up like this."   Which was utter nonsense. About health, she was hard-headed as an annoyed mule. Unteachable. Pain was pain, and it meant to her that you slow down, not bear down. 

Mother wanted better for me, though.  She beseeched me to handle my health differently then her. She told me, with urgency, innumerable times in those last years.  My sister is proud and supportive, but understandably skeptical. 

Why exercise?  Family genetics aren't everything, of course, and neither my sister or I are particularly predisposed to cancer or heart disease.  But I don't plan to sit for the next 15 years. I don't choose to live in pained isolation or dwell in pain. I choose to follow my sister's good example. 

I also committed to a treadmill to demonstrate to myself that I remain teachable.  I want better for my life, family patterns be damned.  God willing.  

(Note - First two photos were taken from "The Tiger" yearbook of Reedley College in Reedley, California, 1948, my parents' alma mater.)

Tuesday, March 07, 2017

My Shared Pain: No One Wants Family Heirlooms Anymore

I have a plethora of pretty things from my mother that no one wants. I'm paralyzed with procrastination... too pained to donate fragile, lovely homewares cherished by my mother, yet burdened with dust-catching items I rarely, if ever, use.   

Seems I'm not alone in feeling discouraged that our adult children are uninterested in enjoying, then passing finely crafted family heirlooms down to their children.  

The Greatest Generation, raised in scarcity during the Depression, treasured stuff. The generations before them collected stuff for use or as mementos of distant or deceased family or ancestral lands.

Last month, Next Avenue, a PBS newsletter for those over-50, published its most popular article ever, "Sorry, Nobody Wants Your Parents' Stuff."

Reports PBS:
"This post about a heartbreaking, pervasive problem struck a minor chord in a major way: It was the most viewed article in Next Avenue’s history, garnering more than 1.5 million views, 32,000 Facebook shares and 5,500 comments, and was printed over 3,100 times."
Comments to the Next Avenue blog post fell into five categories:
  • "I so relate"
  • "This is so sad and difficult"
  • "I feel guilty about what I had to do"
  • I won't let this happen to my kids"
  • "You're wrong. People want these possessions." 
Here's a few of the comments that touched a heartbroken nerve in me... 

"My children have already told me they don’t want any of our antiques because they don’t care for ‘brown furniture.’ Drives me crazy that they prefer cheap furniture made of pressed sawdust and glue, but what’s a mom to do?"
"My mother was a serious collector of imported English Victorian antique furniture and spent her weekends throughout my life polishing it to an inch of its life … I cried when her table and chairs were loaded onto a trailer- I hated them but I loved them as well!"

"It’s a good thing our deceased loved ones can’t see what’s happening to their prized possessions. Many of them struggled through financial woes and 'made do' during hard times. To see their things pitched and tossed would be heartbreaking for them."

"My mother… always preached to me the 'value' of this or that…. Well, I’ve learned that nothing is worth anything if no one wants it... I couldn’t even find buyers for her genuine gold and gem stone jewelry and had to liquidate it for pennies at one of those 'we buy gold' places. I still have a storage unit full of stuff 20 years after her death because in her memory I can’t bring myself to just give it away."

One particular comment rings painfully true... " My mother made me promise to never get rid of certain items so now they sit in the basement because I would feel guilty selling or giving them away."  

You see, months before she passed away in April 2016, I told Mother that I have her 68-year-old white satin wedding dress.  And I asked her, my unsentimental mother stricken with Alzheimer's, what she wanted me to do with it.   She paused for a long moment, then slowly responded, "Keep it.  Please keep it." 

I'll likely keep my mother's crumpled wedding dress until the day I die. She considered her 1948 wedding day to be the best day of her 86-year-long life, and she asked me to keep it.  I can't bear to give it away to strangers. I could have her dress made into charming decorative pillows for my two daughters, niece, and granddaughter.  But sadly, I don't think they care that I long for them to value something of my mother... It's just more stuff that doesn't match their taste. 

Among other family heirlooms gathering dust in our cupboards and two china cabinets:  two punch bowls, one crystal with 18 matching handled punch glasses and two crystal punch ladles. A demitasse set of eight porcelain cups and saucers, hand-painted with Audubon-like birds. English and French bone china teacups and saucers. Tiny wine glasses.  Some cool 1950s pyrex and melmac bowls. Plus an exquisitely embellished linen tablecloth gifted to me 40 years ago by my maternal grandmother. And much more. 

Two distinct types of parting thoughts were reflected among comments to the Next Avenue post:

Despair... "In the future there will be no personal history … only ‘in the moment’ … no graves, no personal letters, no hard copies of long-lasting photographs, no heirlooms …. no footprints in the sand." 

Laissez-faire... "Personally when I die if someone enjoys something of mine great but it’s not me!! Do whatever you want with my stuff after I die, but keep a good memory of me in your heart!!"   

... and "It doesn’t bother me that my girls are not interested in our stuff. It’s just stuff, really."

I'm working on the latter.  And looking for a seamstress to make heirloom pillows from Mother's wedding dress, including a special pillow for me. 

Saturday, March 04, 2017

Golden State Woman: Focused, Not Crazy Anymore

My longtime personal blog has new life!  

A new name, new look, and new excitement, as I (finally!) embrace my new phase of life... 65 and never happier or more free.

I will still be blogging about the usuals:  faith, family, food, books, travel, the great, green outdoors, and whatever catches my fancy.  

Welcome, friends. to, formerly  I feel focused, not crazy anymore. 

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Blessed Foolishness to Think You Can Make a Difference

On this New Year's Eve, I offer a prayer from my Christian faith. Please ponder it through the lenses of your faith beliefs...

"May God bless you with discomfort at easy answers, half truths, and superficial relationships, so that you may live deep within your heart.

"May God bless you with anger at injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people, so that you will have a passion for justice, equality, and peace.

"May God bless you with tears to shed for those who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation, and war, so that you will reach out your hand to comfort them and change their pain into joy.

"And may God bless you with the foolishness to think that you can make a difference in this world, so that you will do the thing which others tell you cannot be done.


(Note - The stained glass window is by Marc Chagall (1887-1985) and is entitled Peace. Per the United Nations. "The 'Peace Window' was a gift from the United Nations staff members, as well as Marc Chagall himself, presented to the United Nations as a memorial to Dag Hammarskjøld.  The 'Peace Window' was dedicated to his memory on 17 September 1964, exactly three years after Dag Hammarskjøld, then the second Secretary-General of the UN, and 15 other people with him died in a plane crash.")

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Is Post-Election America Fraying at the Small Edges?

America, or at least my little corner of America, is making mistakes lately because businesses and people seem to be moving too fast, too frantically, especially since the elections.  Micro mistakes, I grant you, but mistakes that hint of new unreliability... 

Over the last couple days, I've experienced...

A medical office sending prescriptions three times to the incorrect pharmacy location, an inconvenient one, despite clear requests. (Turns out they were using an incorrect FAX number. Offices still FAX?)

Amazon losing an important package, then finding it, then losing it again, then delivering it to their own surprise. Beaten up.

Sporadic mail delivery in our neighborhood.  One recent night, our beleaguered, hard-working carrier was doling out mail at 11 pm.  The confused carrier yesterday confessed that he's a temporary import from another city because our post office is understaffed for mail volume.

Scrutiny of our cable bill revealed monthly charges of $15.99 for a movie channel we've hardly heard of, never used, and certainly never ordered. Have you tried to review your bill with cable TV customer service, much less demand a credit for back over-charges? Yeah, been there now...

Even El Pollo Loco asking me three times to come back for a small order I pre-placed earlier... 

All workers were consistently pleasant, kind, and helpful.  All workers seemed genuinely overwhelmed. 

This aggregate of mistakes could be the sign of a growing, vibrant neighborhood pacing ahead of service providers. Ours is, indeed, a growing, vibrant area with new local businesses and new housing. 

These could be signs of organizations deliberately under-staffed to meet year-end profit targets, a common management technique. 

This, of course, is God challenging and testing me on patience. You know, "Don't Sweat the Small Stuff." 

But it also feels subtly like something more. Like tiny details of my tidy American life are fraying at the edges. Like the assumed reliability of comfortable, trustworthy suburban life is suddenly a bit less reliable.   

I unconsciously equate these to the grand traditions of our great country fraying at the edges.  I unconsciously sense that life in these United States feels less stable than before the election.  

And I wonder about and pray for our American way of life, both at home and across the nation.  

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Nobel Vindication of My Moody Youth: Bob Dylan's Music

The music of my moody youth won the Nobel Prize in Literature today. I feel vindicated for my then-maligned taste, and relieved that the world sees what I saw, heard and felt... and still see, hear, and feel. 

I was deeply obsessed with one album, "Any Day Now - Joan Baez Sings Bob Dylan" a double-album released in 1968, when I was a high school junior. My conservative parents worried I was weird... 

I still have it, my original album from all those years ago.  The only vinyl I've kept, after selling hundreds of others. The album remains part of me. It sits here on my desk, propped against the wall. 

Dylan's most famed tunes... "Like a Rolling Stone," "The Times They Are A-changing," "Rainy Day Women," even the iconic "Blowin' in the Wind"... are not on this album. (I love those songs, too, mind you. Can never refrain from singing along. Just ask my embarrassed husband.)

The album's sixteen powerful tunes, instead, are ones of empathy for others, of struggles of the downtrodden, of dreams for a better life and world.  The poetic songs demonstrated love for others... prisoners, immigrants, drifters... like I'd never before heard, witnessed or experienced, and it touched my heart.  Over and over and over... Still does. There but for the grace of God... 

Included on "Any Day Now," which is the refrain from one of the album's songs, "I Shall Be Released," are:
  • "I Pity the Poor Immigrant"
  • "Love Is Just a Four-Letter Word"
  • "I Dreamed I Saw St Augustine"
  • "Tears of Rage"  (with extraordinary acapella by Joan Baez)
  • "Dear Landlord"
  • "The Walls of Redwing"
  • "One Too Many Mornings

And "Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands," 11 minutes, 18 seconds long, and I knew every word, every breath, every pause.  My poor mother... I must have played this cut a thousand times, and never at low volume, as I immersed myself in feelings of Bob Dylan's sacred lyrics and score. 

"Dylan has the status of an icon. His influence on contemporary music is profound..." wrote the Committee.   And, I might add, the subjects of his music... empathy, struggles, unfairness, rebellion, keenly observed experiences of others... are entirely consistent with the body of literature honored by the Swedish Academy since its 1901 founding. 

Congratulations to the Nobel Prize Committee for Literature for awarding the 2016 award to Bob Dylan "for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition."   Indeed!