Thursday, August 17, 2017

Memory Thieves

"Dad stopped being dad last Friday..." my cousin, Susan.

My uncle has reached the point where he no longer recognizes anyone in his family, including my aunt. She can no longer care for him so he's been placed in a hospice. It's a heartbreaking scenario played out across the country, over and over, as the elderly population succumbs to various forms of dementia.

For some it's a gradual onset that eventually takes them away. For others such as my uncle it's sudden and devastating. Regardless, it's a catastrophic event, heartbreaking to the entire family, but especially for those close enough to have the responsibility for their care. 

There's not anything useful I can add to the conversation. Except I love my uncle and aunt and my heart is breaking for both of them. They've been together a very long time. In December they'll have their 60th anniversary. And it grieves me that this is the way it ends.

If you have a time and place in your hearts, all good wishes and prayers for them are welcome.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

The Statue Game

Last weekend certain members of our country engaged in the most recent game of statues. It wasn't news--until someone died. Then, it took on an entirely different cast. And what got lost in the name calling and blame calling was the supposed reason for the gathering...the preservation of a statue.

From the earliest times, statues have been created and placed on high supports to honor individuals or ideals or gods/goddesses. Statues have no intrinsic value except that conferred by people. One population might venerate the statue while another will vilify it. In the iconic last scene in Planet of the Apes, the hero stumbles across the destroyed Statue of Liberty. For the inhabitants of the planet, human and ape alike, it had no meaning. Only the hero found meaning in the statue.

All over the world, statues--ancient and modern--stand for ideals mostly forgotten or no longer with any significant meaning. Depending on just how ancient they are, we humans might preserve them because we value their artistic appearance or their historical/cultural meaning. What I find interesting is the fact that these are the statues that survived. They are a small, very small portion of the thousands of statues that were destroyed through war, rebellion, earthquakes, weathering...because humans have always toppled or buried or defaced statues that no longer represented their beliefs or their rulers.

Often the toppling was carried out by angry mobs as a cathartic means of triumph over their previous overseers. For those who object to the removal of statues, they forget such actions have historical precedent. When the populace no longer actively venerates the ideal represented by the statue, inevitably it will come down, either voluntarily or by mob rule.

People change. Cultures change. And the folks in power change. You might say the history of statues is also the history of humans. When the meaning represented by the statue is no longer valid, it will be replaced by some other meaningful object. For those who wish to preserve a statue that's lost its significance, instead of rioting maybe they should offer a new location for it.

Perhaps their front yard.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Faith and Ritual

Faith is pure belief. Ritual is how we dress that faith...and sometimes, ritual is what we substitute for faith. For example, I can firmly believe in vampires. But if I festoon my home with garlic bulbs and holy water to ward off vampire depredations, then that is ritual, with perhaps a side-order of secondary belief in the efficacy of garlic and holy water.

Religion is not faith. It's organized ritual. And not all religion takes place in a church. The military could qualify as a religion. It has a core belief, organized rituals, and a ranked power system. What separates one military from the next is the differences in core beliefs and loyalties. The fact that we assume the military is there for our protection is part of our belief system that may or may not have any validity in truth.

I have met folks who protest they take no part in rituals. However, most of us have a certain routine in our lives that borders on ritual. We get up, we shower/dress, we have our coffee, we check our e-mail--and when our routine is interrupted, it creates havoc with our entire day because it is in fact now ritual.

If we get together with others of like mind and then decided our day would be better is we say...lit candles and drank coffee together, then we're bordering on religion. Maybe we'll decide to light candles in the early dawn, watch the sunrise, and then drink our coffee before we start our day. And so it goes.

Faith on the other hand requires no accoutrements. It just is. We believe. Or we don't. Going to church, dancing naked in the woods, marching with our fellow man, none of those creates faith. I do think one single thing can aid and abet in the faith process and that is mindful awareness. That's hard to do unless we take time for it.

Some folks call it prayer, others call it meditation, and still others call it thinking time. But without it, we might find our faith wavering a bit. No ritual required. Just time.  

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Simple Gifts

Friends are the family you choose. Some folks have the same friends almost from the day they're born. Others have a rotating stable of friends as they move through life. By the time I landed in Baltimore fifteen years ago, I'd moved over forty times across the country, living in several states so I'm more of the rotating stable variety. Distance prevents spending time with old friends, but social media allows me to keep up with them, even if it's not as often as I wish.

Last night I was working on a crochet project when the hunk asked me why I held my hook the way I do...and I smiled as I remembered my friend Joyce showing me how to hold my hook like a writing implement. It might sound weird, but it's a lot less stressful and allows better control. That was more than thirty-five years ago and I still hold it the same. Such a simple, long-lasting gift from my friend.

When I first married, I had a cooking repertoire of zero. The hunk would attempt to teach me, but he often found it simpler to just make dinner himself. Then we moved across the street from our friends, Dorian and Orlando, and Dorian took me in hand. She taught me about making a grocery list, what to look for when we shopped, how to plan a meal, and finally how to prepare the meal. It took months. But my children and the hunk can thank her persistence for all the meals I prepared for the next forty years.

I still have a plaque hanging on the wall that she gave me. "The best thing I can have in a kitchen is a friend who can cook. Help wanted!"

When we moved to Baltimore, I was lonely in that way that you only get when you leave your friends, family, job, church...everything behind. I didn't know what to do with myself. And then I met Jane. She tucked me in, beneath her wings. Listened to my crazy writing ideas. Introduced me to all the places I needed to know about in the new neighborhood. And accepted me for who I am, regardless of how weird that might be. Heh. Another friend, Kelly, sent me a 'surprise'. I took the box downstairs and opened it with Jane. I will NEVER forget the expression on her face when I opened it to reveal a purple vibrator called a 'throbbin' robin'. Still smiling. She was the one I called when I received my first contract offer.

Friends share themselves. Even when they live a long ways away. I have a friend in Australia--Amarinda--who regularly props me up with a 'get with the program, woman!' Sometimes you desperately need someone who will do just that.

Honesty is hard to come by. So I value the two or three writing friends who are willing to tell me my writing sucks. It's a hard thankless job, but they've hung in there, speaking the truth so I could improve my projects. It takes tact. It takes courage. It takes empathy.

It occurs to me to wonder what I might have given back to my friends. I hope they look back over the years and remember me kindly, with affection and a smile. Because that is the essence of friendship.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

The Mere

The suspect. Watching mystery television is so...frustrating. About eighty percent of the time I figure out who the real bad guy is in the first five minutes. The other twenty percent, the writers paint everyone into such tight corners while leaving huge gaping plot holes that they actually prove the bad guy could NOT have done it! So who was it then?

Aliens, magicians, vampires, were-whatevers...

Then there are the shows that drag out catching the bad guy for episode after episode after episode after episode to the point that the average viewer just stops watching because by this point it's became a bad soap opera. Catch the bad guy already! When you do, kill him off so he can't come back! By now, I don't care about justice or lawyerly posturing or any of that other stuff.

It all makes me long for the days of MacMillan and Wife, McCloud, Columbo, Remington Steele, and all those other shows that entertained us. They didn't require huge multi-member casts that only have five seconds screen time except when it's their turn to be the featured member of the week. What is it with all the big casts? Can't the writers produce a script that centers around a couple characters?

Anyway...I figure it won't be too long before we have an entire mystery series that centers around a were-bear detective with a vampire sidekick, a receptionist who moonlights as a zombie killer, and a pet brownie who keeps the office clean. Maybe a blue alien who gets left behind when his fellow aliens take off after they finish their exploration mission. If so--you read it here first! 

Friday, August 4, 2017

Rise and Shine

I'm retired. Every retired person lives their own lifestyle. Some rise with the dawn. Others sleep late. It's all about body clocks and preferences and all that other stuff. To each his own.

One woman I talked to recently was of the opinion everyone should rise early, go to bed early. Otherwise, they were lazy bums. She's free to believe whatever she wishes. As long as I sleep eight hours (whenever that is), I'm good to go.

It's all about getting enough sleep. Back when I was in my forties, I rose at 4:30 AM, ran like crazy all day, tumbled into bed around 11 PM, woke the next morning and did it all over again. So, my math is rusty, but I'm pretty sure I averaged five and a half hours of sleep per day. Not enough.

The body requires a certain amount of sleep to keep it ticking in good working order. While we may live several years in a sleep deprived state, eventually, the time comes when we pay the piper with failing health. If we burn that candle at both ends too long, the effects can be permanent. Oddly enough, one of the effects of sleep deprivation is obesity.

Think about that for a moment. If you're gaining weight and tired all the time, it's probably because you aren't getting enough sleep. If you're dieting like crazy and exercising and doing all the stuff you're supposed to and still not succeeding with your weight loss, you just might not be sleeping enough.

After punishing my body with too little sleep, too much poor nutrition, too much stress, I hit retirement age and discovered the joys of sleeping. When I'm ill, I might sleep around the clock for a couple days. I generally take a nap every day. When I 'rise and shine', I actually enjoy my time awake. My glucose counts are lower. I feel better. And I'm not as cranky and short tempered. Part of my even temper is simply getting enough sleep.

My meds work better when I have enough sleep. Instead of fighting to work with my body, they can actually do their jobs. A couple weeks ago, I had a root canal. When I arrived home from the dentist, I took my pain meds and went to bed. The extra sleep allowed my meds to work so I had minimal pain when I woke up. Too often, we don't understand our bodies. Even the most 'simple' procedure is an assault on the body. Sleep allows our bodies to recover.

Unfortunately, many adults feel guilty about sleeping. Women have spent their lives believing they are supposed to be first up, last down. They use their children's nap times to race around their homes trying to take care of tasks when they should also be napping, because an even-tempered parent is far more important than a spotless home.

Men believe it reflects on their masculinity when they take a nap after a medical procedure. They're men! They're tough! Maybe that's why so many have unexpected heart attacks.

The body does not lie. If you're tired, if your thinking is muzzy, if you're short tempered...take a nap. Then you can truly shine when you rise.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Chili Everyday

When I was younger with a houseful of kids, I strived to prepare a variety of dishes for dinner (though I suspect they would have happily eaten pizza everyday), but now...well, now I would be just fine with having chili every night. I suppose I should explain my chili. Minimal spices. Onions, peppers, tomato sauce, beans, some kind of meat. Sometimes I chop up a tomato and toss it in. That's it. No salt as the tomato sauce has plenty.

As we get older, take more meds, our taste buds fall down on the job. Nothing tastes quite like it used to. Most things require more pizazz. And all that pizazz backfires in the middle of the night. The list of foods that backfire is growing by the day so I'm really quite content with the same-old, same-old that I know won't be revisiting me around 2 AM.

So. Chili is stomach friendly (again I reiterate MINIMAL spice) and it's sugar friendly. Balancing the two is difficult.

We don't eat chili every day, of course. In between, we have things like beef and beans (no tomato sauce), green bean/potato/meat goulash, salmon, salmon, shrimp, and...chili. Once in a while we venture out to have a hamburger. The next day, the sugar is generally up fifteen to twenty points.

When you're in a weight loss program, there's a lot of emphasis on variety in your meals and staving off boredom from eating the same thing over and over. Well, I think they should have a special group for the older crowd. We LIKE eating the same thing every day.

And another thing...I look at all those ooey, gooey, cake pics on Facebook, dripping with chocolate and caramel and other stuff and just shudder. My sweet tooth has changed drastically over the last few years. A simple Hershey's bar is tooooo much. When I tell someone I can make a candy bar last several weeks, they just don't understand. Two bites and my teeth hurt. Self control is no problem.

I've been thinking about how we used to go out at least once a week...and we can't be bothered any more. I think it's because nothing tastes like we remembered. And who wants to pay for something they don't even enjoy?

Give me chili.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Series Bingeing

Hello. My name is Anny and I binge series. All kinds of series. Sci-fi, romance, action adventure... just let me find one book I like and I'll devour the rest. The downside is when I run out. I mope around the house while I search for something else to grab my attention. I might do laundry or knit or play a computer game, but nothing really satisfies. Until...until I find that next series to binge.

Let me be clear. I'm talking BOOKS here. Not television, not movies, but books. Often, I re-read a series from the beginning because I can't find anything else. And of course, when a 'new' book from a series is released I read the entire series before I read the new book.

I have heard from other readers who never re-read a book and I'm sorry to say this, but that's just beyond my comprehension. Of course, I've also heard of people who never read. And some who read maybe ten books a year. And I can't imagine that. Ever. I don't remember a time in my life when I read less that a couple hundred books a year and usually, I read twice that.

I love authors who write big multi-book series and especially those who branch out with new inter-related series. You know what I'm talking about. Robert B. Parker had his Spencer series and then his Jessie Stone series and then...yep, you know. J.A. Jance has her Beaumont series and her Joanna Brady series and a couple others. So when I sit down to read, I have all sorts of goodies to keep me entertained. And then there's Jayne Ann Krentz/Jayne Castle/Amanda Quick. Mercedes Lackey. Dorothy L. Sayers. Elizabeth Peters. Sigh.

Well. There you are. I could fill a couple pages just listing series of books I read. Over and over and over. Have you made my list? Well, some recent authors are Rena Marks, Cynthia Sax, Michael Anderle, and J.L. Wilson. As I said, I could list and list and list. The test of time is whether I will re-read them. Oh, yeah. Pamela Clare. Susan Bliler. And on and on.

Why? What's so attractive about a series. Well, I would say it's the same reason folks watch a television series. We care about the characters. We get caught up in the series world. We want to know the answer to the age old question, "Then, what?"

The difference between reading a series and 'watching' a series is the effort we expend. Reading requires mental discipline and effort to imagine what the author is conveying. What do the characters look like? How do we envision the world the series is set in? And when we find a series that grabs us by the throat and drags us in? Well, that's a true prize. That's a gift. That's the sort of thing we used to call our friends about because we were so excited.

I wonder what happened? When did we stop sharing? Who's your go-to book binge?

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Don't Need No Stinkin' Insurance

There are some idiots out there who think we don't need insurance--medical, vision, dental, etc. Over the weekend, I started having tooth pain. I thought I had a broken tooth (which would have been bad enough) and made an appointment to see my dentist on Tuesday.

He informed me I had an infection in the gum/tooth and for various reasons would need a root canal and crown...and sent me to a specialist as I have tiny fragile teeth and all sorts of secondary medical issues. He also started me on antibiotics.

Saw the specialist on Wednesday with an emergency appointment. He drilled and hummed and once I'm pretty sure I heard him mutter a curse under his breath. And the upshot is I have an abscess, a spreading gum infection, and while the majority of the root canal work is finished, he can't complete the work for two weeks so I have time to get rid of the infection via antibiotics.

So two days worth of dental work equals six x-rays, one prescription (because I already have leftover pain meds from my back issues), an office visit with my dentist, a referral visit with the specialist, $30 in 'sooooft' foods--and I'm sure there will be more in the next two weeks.

Here's the thing. When the hunk retired we opted to continue our dental insurance in his medical coverage. So far, we haven't paid a dime except for the $10 prescription and the groceries. However, if we didn't have dental insurance, I might have had to go with the second option and have the tooth pulled. It's located in the middle of the left side and such an action would no doubt result in a lot of crooked, shifting teeth.

Tell me why we don't need comprehensive coverage for everyone. Everyone.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Monday, Monday

What is it about Monday? It's an arbitrary day chosen back in the mists of time for the first day of the week. I say we choose to begin the week on Thursday. Or Friday. Yeah, I like Friday much better.

Broke a tooth over the weekend...not exactly sure when, but when it started hurting, it got my immediate attention. Have an appointment tomorrow with the dentist. I love my dentist...I just don't want to see him professionally.

Woke this morning after restless, mostly sleepless night (see paragraph above), dragging my behind, thinking about stuff I needed to do. Waiting for the coffee to finish when a loud knock on the door changed all my plans. Contractors were here to replace our AC/Heat. Trouble was...the closet for the AC is where we store bakeware, extra TP, papertowels, etc. And the maintenance office failed to notify us. Took a minute to dress more appropriately. Then we had to empty said closet while the gents carried in their tools.

Then they discovered a cabinet on the wall next to the closet door was in the way so we emptied the cabinet and moved it. Still no coffee.

Once that was all done and various pieces of furniture were moved out of the way, it was finally time for coffee. At 12-ish, the hunk started cooking breakfast while I discussed my woes with the dentist. By then the gents were carting bits and pieces of the old AC out.

It's 4:00 PM and they're still here finishing up odds and ends. And sometime after they leave, we'll have to put all that stuff back.

So that's my Monday. How's yours?

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Caturday Reflections

Ah, the weekend! Strictly speaking, I'm quite busy today, though so far, that has not included writing. Bread is rising. Laundry is chugging away. A tad of reading is edging in on the fringes. I was up very early (for me) to talk to the post office about a package that wasn't delivered yesterday because the postal person didn't knock loud enough to wake us up. Today when she delivered the package we had a very amicable chat about getting older, the perks of retirement, and the necessity for loud knocking when you're sleeping in the other end of the apartment.

By the time all that was straightened out, I was too wide awake enough to go back to sleep, so I see a nap in my future. At least, I hope I can sneak in a nap. Sometimes things don't work out. Such is life.

July is zipping by. I'm not sure why time seems to move faster as you age. Maybe you have an increased sense of time lost. It's reached the point where I feel sometimes as though I don't dare just stop and sit down as that's a loss of time. I don't remember feeling like that when I was younger. Back then I actively prayed for a ten minute break. All right. A five minute break. Anything.

Now I wonder if I can get back all the hours I wasted watching television reruns and reading sub-par books and working at sub-par jobs. Oh, some jobs were...necessary for survival, but others were not.

I'd like back all the hours I spent folding and putting away laundry. Think about it. You fold it up. In two or three days you take it back and wear it. Who sees wrinkles in your underwear and socks? Who? No one. When you put them on, your body waves stretch them out. Voilá! No wrinkles. Same for sheets. Why not just put 'em back on the bed when they're dry? Nooooo folding. And towels? Don't talk to me about towels.

I want back the hours I spent worrying about paying bills. No one should have to worry about that if they're working. They should have to worry about eating or needing a doctor or how they're gonna keep their vehicle. Back in my younger years I spent a lot of time worrying about such things. Folks talk about how things were so much better in the past, but I don't think so. They're not good now, but parts of my early adulthood were no picnic.

When my first two children were born we had no medical coverage at all. No one I knew did either. Think about that. We lived in Chicago, a major city, and I didn't know anyone who had medical insurance. Of course, when I was growing up you didn't go to the doctor unless you were dying. I can count on one hand all the times I went to the doctor between age five and eighteen. I wonder...was I better off then? Or not?

Everyone I know goes to the doctor frequently. So does that mean we're sicker now than back then? And if we are...why? Why is there a growing tidal wave of obesity, cancer, and all those other things we're sick from? Seriously? There are a LOT of obese folks who work their butts off. It's not just a matter of eating too much, or all the wrong stuff. And that cancer stuff? Why are our children and young women getting cancer?

When did I stop singing? I used to sing a lot. So what silenced my voice? Is that how life goes? Maybe. Maybe that's life.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Great Outdoors

This coming week (in the USA) we'll celebrate July 4th, popularly known as our country's birthday. Traditionally, the day is marked with picnics, fireworks, and in the past, parades. Until I was an adult, I never lived anywhere that had a July 4th parade, but I've read about them.

When I was a little kid, we didn't have grills and such. Our picnics were more organic. I remember one evening my folks took us to a sandy dry wash (that's a dry gully that fills with raging water in the monsoonal season). Dad built a little fire from drift wood in the center of the wash so we could grill our hotdogs over the open flames. The hotdogs (and later, some marshmallows) were speared lengthwise on straightened wire hangers. We knelt on an old quilt mom brought along and held our hotdogs over the fire until they swelled up--and in some cases--turned black. Then mom or dad would slide the hotdog onto a slice of bread. Add ketchup and wrap the bread around the dog and we were good to go. Usually, mom brought along baked beans and maybe potato salad. That was it. Dessert was toasted marshmallows. And we had tea in a gallon jug to drink.

The point wasn't the food. It was the experience. The fire would die down and there in the dark with the faint glow from the coals, we would listen to our father tell us stories while we stretched out on the quilt and watched the glorious dance of the stars above us. Sometimes we would sing songs. But the thing I remember best from such picnics was the unshakeable knowledge that all was right in my world.

Not all picnics were so peaceful. Another time we met with another family for a picnic...cold fried chicken, potato salad, Kool-aid in a big recycled gallon glass jar that had once held pickles, I think. The oldest boy in the other family and I were special friends, only in the way nine and ten-year-olds can be. His name was Kenny and he had a particular interest in wildlife, the slimier, creepier, the better. We once got into major trouble for taking all our younger siblings with us when we went to catch a gila monster (highly poisonous lizard). We didn't catch one, but we did find a tarantula. Unfortunately, Kenny didn't have any way to carry it home so we had to abandon it where we found it.

Anyway, back to the picnic. Our parents sent Kenny and me off to gather firewood so we could have a campfire after we finished dinner. Naturally, we didn't just find some sticks. We also captured a snake. And it says quite a lot about our parents that when we arrived back at the picnic table with said snake that they emptied out the Kool-aid jug and rinsed it out so Kenny could take the snake home with him.

Now days, we have coolers and all sorts of paraphernalia for picnicking, but when I was young, there weren't any such items. When we traveled, lunch was a quick stop by the side of the road, beneath a shade tree if we were lucky. Bread (frequently smashed a bit), peanut butter and jelly or bologna. We didn't travel with condiments because they would go bad. If we were really, really fortunate, my parents might buy a watermelon at a farm stand and cool it off in a handy irrigation ditch. And if that irrigation ditch was one of the new-fangled concrete variety, they might even allow us to strip off our shoes and socks and splash in the water. A dip like that could keep us cool for quite a while as we continued our journey in the heat of a non-air conditioned car.

Back then there were no rest areas or restrooms at picnic areas. If a pitstop was necessary, it was normal to find a convenient bush to take care of business. And most cars had a roll of toilet tissue in the picnic basket. Boys generally had it much easier than girls. Of course, we didn't wear jeans or other kinds of pants. I think the first time I wore trousers was in junior high school when I received my first pair of peddle-pushers. Now...just think about that for a minute. For the first twelve or thirteen years of my life, I only wore skirts or dresses--even when playing or picnicking or traveling.

When I look back, I see our life was simpler before all the 'stuff' we acquire now. I remember, even after I married, the times we took our kids for picnics out in the shady yard where we had sandwiches and cookies and juice or milk. We sat on an old blanket and maybe stayed late enough to look at the sunset. When was the last time I did that?