Friday, June 29, 2012

Beautiful Tomatoes

Aren't they beautiful!  Look at that rich red!  I just read a small bit in today's NYTimes that says genetic scientists have found (only now?) that the gene they added or enhanced to give tomatoes that beautiful color had another function -- guess what? No surprise to most of us -- it turned off a sugar making function that is necessary to give tomatoes the wonderful taste that those of us who are old enough remember.

It's a case of choosing beauty over substance -- I immediately thought of all those airbrushed photos of celebrities giving them such perfect skin, such perfect curves.  The sad part of the tomato story is that the gene changes are so pervasive it is almost impossible to find tomatoes that haven't been genetically modified.  If you're willing to play a lot of money and can find a farmer's market where heirloom tomatoes are sold you might find some with that lovely flavor.  But there a great differences in the heirloom tomatoes -- I've tried them.  Some are good, some are as uninteresting to eat as the ones in the supermarket.  Can anyone tell me an instance when commerce has chosen to keep something honest and natural when they can change a product, especially a food, to make it prettier?  And can anyone tell me why so many people think that something pretty is going to be superior to something a little less pretty?  Don't tell me about survival of the fittest being based on prettiest, it's just not true.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Uprooting -- rerooting

In response to a comment on my post about women's intimate conversations, Elaine points out that she has moved away from her group of friends.  I've also moved and, like Elaine, am finding that a daughter is becoming a best friend.  Yet, that is different -- by a generation obviously but qualitatively different also.

Many older women do move from where they've spent the central part of their lives.  Sometimes because of retirement (husband, or themselves), because of empty nest (downsizing), because of divorce or widowhood, because of physical disabilities.  Finding a new group of friends may be very difficult.  Who shares your interests?  Who shares your specific situation (can afford some luxuries, or can't afford to do much that costs  much)?  Who is empathetic to you specific problems?  To what extent can you become involved in  something that interests you?  Can you drive?  If you have a retired husband what amount of free, personal time are you willing to expend with a new group of (potential) friends?  Your life is simpler and yet it's very complicated.
I am happy to have found outlets for my literary and quilting interests.  I found a quilting guild where, in fact, I have not made specific friends because I have not taken full advantage of the possibilities -- largely because it is a hobby and I prefer to spent my time with my primary interest, which is literary.  I found the Academy for Lifelong Learning -- can't remember just how it came to my attention. I enrolled in a writing class and a Shakespeare class.  The latter was delightfully taught by a retired professor who is both erudite and very enthusiastic. The former was not at my level so I decided to offer to teach a class that would offer what I felt that one lacked.  You see I am not timid about sharing what I feel I know.  What a good decision! I've enjoyed both the teaching and the wonderful women I've met.  I've become more involved with the organization so my contacts grow.  Not everyone has such interests or opportunities to pursue their interests.  I am very busy, I know an increasing number of people who share some of my interests, that's all I need for emotional balance. 

I can't write and wouldn't want to write a self-help, how-to book on making new friends once uprooted, by choice or need or chance.  I look at the situation and think of women who have to find the soil for their new roots to thrive in -- they once fit in a community, either or co-workers or socially with husbands and families.  If work and family are gone, and few other interest have taken root, the new situation will be either a time of withering and sadness or of growth as a woman finds interesting outlets, be it church, volunteer, neighbors or family or some combination.  It IS very possible for an uprooted plant to truly thrive and flower and send down deep new roots even if the environment is different.  For the older woman, that often means she alone is responsible now for her own well being, and that can be  new kind of growth, discovering never before tapped abilities.  No, I'm not a Pollyanna, but I've seen it happen.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Nearly Perfect

A reshowing of an Metropolitan Opera simulcast I missed last October was at noon today -- not exactly what one expected to be doing on a lovely late June Wednesday afternoon -- but nothing I could have done would have been more perfect.  I've seen a few Don Giovannis and never quite understood who was who and why they were doing what they were doing.  Today I really got it.

For my tastes this was a near perfect production; it had very good subtitles, the music is wonderful although I'd have wished some arias were shortened as they were all repetition but that's what music was like in Mozart's time.  The casting, costuming, acting and stage directions were as nearly perfect as I could hope for.  Most of the voices were wonderful.  The Don and his servant Leparello where really wonderful actors as well as singers, the women finally came across as distinct individuals. The set was simple and appropriate and didn't call attention to itself as too many new sets do -- I don't go to opera for architecture.  This was a level of operatic production that was satisfying in every way.  I can't say that about all the new Met productions.  In the next month the theatre will show Tales of Hoffman and then Lucia diLamamour both  of which have music I like more than this actually.  I've seen the Lucia and liked it but the production values didn't seem as fine.  I'm looking forward to Hoffman which I haven't seen in a Met production.  Summer opera is a treat even if it messes up my eating schedule.  The picture above is the Mariusz Kwiecien, Don Giovanni, who I had never seen before -- I couldn't ask for a better one, he rarely looked so serious.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Technology and the Older Woman

The last time I really got excited about a technological advance was the introduction of the IBM Selectric typewriter.  For many years I happily used first one Selectric and then a second.  It was the perfect typing machine.

Then came, of course, computers.  I liked computers immediately for their editing functions and they taught me to spell. Yes, by pointing out my errors in a nonjudgmental way (if a red underline is nonjudgmental) and showing me the correct spelling they accomplished an educational feat which a college Comp 101 teacher had suggested I might never accomplish because, maybe I was dyslexic.  No, I'm not dyslexic and now I can spell.

For years I worked on a PC and when my office upgraded, on a couple of occasions, I was given one of the outmoded machines. I didn't need the bells and whistles of the new ones, all I really wanted to do was write and edit what I wrote. But along the way I heard again and again how much better Macs were than PCs and what enthusiastic and downright lovable people Mac users were. Eventually I became a Mac user too. I found the Apple stores in NYC, where I lived, full of enthusiastic young people who did not condescend to older people when I took introductory classes or on the occasions when I went to the "Genius Bar" for advice or trouble shooting. 

I'm not in NYC any more but there's a Mac store in my town. They have mature sales people and a back room with, probably, a few "geniuses" and they gave very good classes.  I like the atmosphere. But, being a white haired woman (although I don't think I'd be called a "little old lady") who is obviously not young, I hesitate to take my small problems in to the store.  But today I went in with my two latest problems.  I knew there would be embarrassingly simple solutions so I was prepared to  be firm in stating that when they did a "spring cleaning" on the machine not long ago two settings got changed and I didn't know how to change them back. 

Happily a 40ish man I'd never seen before was polite and, indeed, the problems were easily resolved, in one case as simple as moving an indicator from off to on.  (But I didn't know how to even get to that sub-screen).  The exchange took five minutes; I was treated courteously and I am not in the employ or pay of Apple.  But I do tell friends who are often even less computer literate than I to buy a Mac and NOT, absolutely NOT, from Best Buy.  Mac people are nice people.  Even to white haired ladies who aren't little and don't think they're old.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Women Talking to Woman

In an evening class at Stanford the last lecture was on the
> mind-body connection - the relationship between stress and disease. The
> speaker (head of psychiatry at Stanford) said, among other things, that one
> of the best things that a man could do for his health is to be married to a
> woman whereas for a woman, one of the best things she could do for her
> health was to nurture her relationships with her girlfriends. At first
> everyone laughed, but he was serious.
> Women connect with each other differently and provide support
> systems that help each other to deal with stress and difficult life
> experiences. Physically this quality “girlfriend time" helps is to create
> more serotonin - a neurotransmitter that helps combat depression and can
> create a general feeling of well-being. Women share feelings
> whereas men often form relationships around activities. We share from our
> souls with our sisters/mothers, and evidently that is very GOOD for our
> health. He said that spending time with a friend is just as important to
> our general health as jogging or working out at a gym.
> There's a tendency to think that when we are "exercising" we are
> doing something good for our bodies, but when we are hanging out with
> friends, we are wasting our time and should be more productively
> engaged—not true. In fact, he said that failure to create and maintain
> quality personal relationships with other humans is as dangerous to our
> physical health as smoking!
I read the above on another blog which said, "copy this and share it" which is exactly what I'm doing.  I don't think it needs very much commentary by me.  I know I usually feel better after a talk with one or more women friends and I know that we share much more personal information than men do.  This happens in some online forums as well. On one, currently women are sharing their anxiety about a husband's chemotherapy, another about an auto accident in which daughter and granddaughter suffered serious injuries, another about having to admit her depressed husband to a mental hospital, another about her many volunteer activities and her estrangement from a son and grandchild, a couple about their family financial worries, and  so on -- it is not a sob sister site.  These are women in far flung places -- it seems all these difficulties descended at once -- it would be frivolous to ask, was it the sun flares? The women write understandingly and with concern. Face to face would be more satisfying, of course, but I believe even virtual sharing has a positive effect.  I can't imagine such an online conversation among men.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Summer Solstice

Of course is happens every year. I think many of us, as the psychiatrist Karl Jung believed, have a deep memory of more primitive times when the summer solstice was awesome -- I mean, struck people with a sense of awe.  Isn't that why Stonehenge was built?  Isn't that why, when we need something to say to strangers in an elevator or anywhere casual, we talk about the weather? Deep down, we know the weather is out there, beyond our control and that we are all dealing with it in our own way -- complaining, rejoicing, taking off jackets, wrapping up in layers, turning on the A/C or opening a window.

I love weather!  After a month of a mostly gray and cool spring, yesterday burst upon Cape Cod with 90 degree sun all day.  We were waiting but not quite for so much all of a sudden.  Today will be much the same but then normalcy is going to return.  Summer is here and I love it.

I also love that my dreams of seeing some of the wonderful places on earth have come true.  I saw Stonehenge over 50 years ago and I'm so happy to have seen those standing stones and wondered how primitive people had managed to get the stones from a distance and then arrange them -- what mathematical genius was needed to put them just so?  There were Einsteins way back then!  Genius is not new, it is a wonderful rare gift that brings about awesome constructions.  I love reading about ancient peoples, seeing some of their accomplishments, great stones in the pyramids, and in the Cuzco area.  If someone offered me a plane ticket to anywhere today, I think I'd say Easter Island to see the amazing statues.  Maybe awe is an inborn propensity, not an accomplishment such as genius can effect, but a trigger for pleasure.  I know many people are not curious, don't care if they see these standing stones, so maybe I am blessed to have not only wanted to see ancient accomplishments but to have been there and to remember them with so much happiness.

Sunday, June 17, 2012


We Americans, and especially women, and especially women of "a certain age" love to talk about eating, dieting, cooking, dieting, gardening, dieting and more dieting.  I try not to talk about it.  Now and then, as recently, I read in a blog the list of what some slender woman of my age who is "green" in mentality and at least borderline vegetarian in philosophy eats.  I get uptight thinking about how she cannot possibly shop impulsively as I'm apt to do,  purchasing what's seasonal in the stores, sometimes what's a bargain, always worrying about cholesterol and calories and antibiotics and transfats. 

Is this what life should be in the final quarter?  A constant fear of what our accursed commericalism has made available to us?  Shouldn't we be not only watchdogs of our well being but also enjoyers of the years of life we have had and will have yet?  I have just lost ten pounds without dieting but I do not recommend my weight loss method to anyone. It's a consequence of that bout with the tick bite -- a couple of days when food was of no interest to me at all and now, for the past nearly two weeks a depressed appetite thanks to combinations of medications -- I presume.  Actually I'm not looking for an answer but I'm hoping it continues for maybe another month although there are signs it's fading away.  When I sit down to a nice looking sandwich or dinner and feel about 2/3rds of the way though that I do not want any more, that's great.  I am eating what I want, and I'm not wanting all that much -- but enough.  I know this will not continue very long.  At the moment I'm a bit like those enviable and mostly mythical young people who can eat anything and never gain weight.  Yes, well, they have metabolisms that are not like my rusty, slow old metabolism.

For as long as it lasts, I'll gladly ignore my life-long habit of cleaning my plate and I won't feel guilty when I dump part of my food down the disposal.  I won't feel particularly righteous if I'm lucky and another ten pounds comes off putting me comfortably into some very favorite pairs of pants again -- so favorite I just haven't been able to give them to Goodwill these last couple of years.  At this point in life I take the silver  linings where I find them and know better than take credit for their existence.  But I will also not feel guilty if my occasional cravings for chocolate chip cookies returns.  I don't want the pounds around my middle but I do want life's small joys. I've had a bunch of big ones, but I haven't forgotten how small ones add oomph to a simple day.

Friday, June 15, 2012


Do you ever look at your hands and marvel at all they do for you?  All the wonderful skills you practice because you've trained your hands to respond, seemingly automatically, to do a task?

The picture is a famous one called Drawing  Hands by the artist Escher, it captures some of the wonder and magic of our hands.  I've just read an article illustrated by stencils of hands on a cave wall dated back to 40,000 years ago, possibly done by Neanderthals -- yes, those supposedly crude, barely intelligent human-like creatures that populated Europe before the supposedly superior homo sapiens arrived from points south.  Actually the anthropologists aren't sure whether the cave hands were Neanderthal or homo sapiens because they aren't sure when  homo sapiens supposedly killed off the Neanderthals in Europe.

Whichever those hands belonged to, they were people with something in common with me, and  probably with you: they realized that hands are marvelous.  Hands help make things that animals cannot make, including art on cave walls.  I stare at my hands quite often.  They're very ordinary hands, they show their age with ropey veins and liver spots, they look a bit gnarled, my finger nails are not things of beauty.  But, my gosh, they're typing right now.  They know where the letters are, they can play the piano, they can open child-proof bottle caps and sew buttons or fancy beads on a shirt, and so on and on and on.  Seems to me if Neanderthals had the sensitivity to understand the magic of hands, they couldn't have been all that stupid.  We now know the Neanderthal genes got mixed with the homo sapiens genes -- which may make the Romeo and Juliet story one of the oldest in the world -- so quite possibly most of us have a little Neanderthal in us.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Morning news, re broccoli

During an election year I am very selective about reading the morning newspaper (NYTimes online) because so much about polls and candidates is here today, gone tomorrow.

This morning I read that the the august sages of the our Supreme Court have somehow become hung up on whether the Health Care Bill they are now considering -- the legal ramifications that is -- mandates that every American must buy health insurance and if that's the case could they be mandated to buy (and presumably eat) broccoli?  How and why did it devolve to a question of broccoli?  Is that a newspaper writer's hook to get our attention?  Or have some of the shining lights in Congress spouted this ridiculousness to draw attention away from the pros and cons of the Health Care  Bill. Or did one of the Justices exercise his or her sense of humor only to be misunderstood as seriously extending the control of American eating habits to requiring broccoli?
 Sometimes reading the paper is an exercise in credulity.

I happen to like broccoli a lot, even had a craving for it last week, bought some and ate it.  But I don't like mandatory health insurance.  I did not have health insurance of any kind from the age of 42 to 62 and I didn't need it.  I worked as an independent contractor, I had no benefits of any kind from my employment, except pay for the job done and freedom to make my own hours which was important to me.  I took care of my health, had yearly check ups which I paid for myself, paid for the few meds I took and once, when an EKG and stress test were recommended so shocked the staff at the doctor's office I was told, "we don't know what to charge you."  And it took them three months to come up with a number and it seemed a reasonable on to me so I paid it immediately.  I know many people truly need health insurance. I checked a couple of ways I could join groups and buy insurance through them.  It was a huge number -- more for a year of coverage than I probably spent in that entire twenty years, at least if you don't count a couple of root canals.

My belief that we should not require everyone to have health insurance is really not a political stance. I am safely -- sort of -- in the Medicare years. It's a complex question.  I wonder why many European countries can take good care of their citizens' health and have done so for many years while America seems not to care about healthy citizens unless a grass roots movement like the anti-smoking one shouts loudly enough to get tyrannical laws passed.  It's all nonsense -- I won't stop reading the morning paper but I'll try to sift out the real news ... the exercise is getting harder and harder.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Once a Mother, Always a Mother

Maritime Festival, Hyannis Harbor, June 2012
Way, way back in the early Mommy days, I began taking my daughters to dance classes.  I sometimes I was able to sit on the edge of the class and watch six year old bodies learning go plie and move to music.  How I wished I could have done that as a child.  Over the years both daughters took ballet classes and I went to many recitals as well as the classes.  I loved watching them dance, imperfect as such dances were, my daughters were always the best, the prettiest and I hardly saw the other little girls ... of course! Later there were competitive gymnastic classes which also thrilled me -- how wonderful it must be to swing on the parallel bars!

Once, years later, I signed up for a dance-exercise class in NYC with retired prima ballerina Melissa Hayden.  I was in my early 40s and a yoga practitioner, the class members ranged from 20s to 60s. I found I was too self-conscious and physically too unmusical to do well in the class.  If only I could have started at six ... Ah well, I learned a bit about myself.

Motherhood and performances never cease.  Yesterday Rachel's dance group -- mostly dance, partly exercise, participants from early 20s to early 60s -- did a four minute performance at the local Maritime Festival, one of the first tourist based events of the summer.  There she is on the far right, well into her 40s but obviously (to me, of course) the best dancer in the group.  She told me when it was over that I wasn't the only mother who had come to watch an adult daughter dance. What did they dance to?  The Pop-eye polka, what else?

Thursday, June 7, 2012

As the years pass, not done yet

At the top of Acadia Mountian, summer 2011
From Longfellow's long poem for the 50th anniversary of his college class:  This is on Ronnie Barrett's blog, As Time Goes By this morning. Since it's my birthday and I'm thinking a lot about all the things I want to write in the next few years, it seems very appropriate: 

...But why, you ask me, should this tale be told
To men grown old, or who are growing old?
It is too late! Ah, nothing is too late
Till the tired heart shall cease to palpitate.
Cato learned Greek at eighty; Sophocles
Wrote his grand Oedipus, and Simonides
Bore off the prize of verse from his compeers,
When each had numbered more than fourscore years,
And Theophrastus, at fourscore and ten,
Had but begun his "Characters of Men."
Chaucer, at Woodstock with the nightingales,
At sixty wrote the Canterbury Tales;
Goethe at Weimar, toiling to the last,
Completed Faust when eighty years were past.
These are indeed exceptions; but they show
How far the gulf-stream of our youth may flow
Into the arctic regions of our lives,
Where little else than life itself survives.

No, I'll write nothing to compare with Oedipus -- to me the most perfect drama every written -- or The Canterbury Tales, but the ideas come thick and fast and I have a big project only begun.  With this verse in mind, I'm thinking it's time to get cracking.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Sunrise -- It's not over 'til it's over

Normally I see the sunrise every summer morning.  My windows face east and I am an early riser.  We're having an unusually long stretch of gray wet days and I haven't seen a sunrise for over a week.  Oh, I know the weather will change.  After this long on earth I've seen enough weather to understand patience with the periods of gray or cold or whatever it is the sky offers. 

As for my little bout of tick-induced fever, the course of antibiotics is finished so I assume the mean little bacteria that knocked me out for a few days has been knocked out by the greater forces of American medicine.  All should be back to normal.  But it's not.  My energy flags in the afternoon -- so, okay, that means for reading time or hand quilting.  My appetite is a bit repressed -- I am not going to complain about that.  If I feel like eating a bit more sparsely than normal I'll lose a few of those pounds I accumulated over the winter.  At this point coffee is a bit too strong, and -- surprise -- a candy bar was suddenly too sweet.  That's good news.  It's fresh cherry time and cantaloupe and watermelon season -- well not locally but close enough for the good things to be in the stores.  Fruit is better than candy bars -- or so I've been told.  Never thought so until now. 

Apparently the initial bombardment with many antibiotics and other drugs in the hospital has shook up my normal liver and blood functions so I have to follow up with specialists about that.  Okay!  It's always tit for tat, isn't it?  So it's not over until it's over. 

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Lessons Learned

Maybe I should say lessons contemplated.  I'm approaching a birthday, always an occasion for  meditation.  One of the recurring thoughts is that new lessons keep popping up in our lives and the ones that matter are usually surprises.  In well over seventy years, I see that I cannot control much about my fairly simple life and that the only preparation for the sudden shocks is patience and belief in the powers of my aging body that, I'm seeing clearly, are not the same powers that body has always enjoyed.

Those are the generalities.  Generalities are like melting ice cubes (here now, gone very shortly) without specifics.  Specifically, of course, I'm thinking of the current bout with ehrliciosis, a mean little bacteria I never heard of until early this week, that came to try to live in my blood having hitched a ride on a common tick.  I have always been a very healthy person and take my good health and stamina for granted.  Lesson: no one should take good health for granted, yet we can't avoid doing so.  I've done the right things in terms of diet, exercise, good sleep and hygiene habits.  That's been enough.  Ehrliciosis doesn't give a damn.  The bug just found a good supply of blood to invade.  The good news is that ehrliciosis has a proven enemy, doxycycline, an antibiotic that I'm told will kill it all off in a total of ten days -- i.e., sometime next week. Happily the hospitalists at our local hospital arrived at a cause for my unhappy symptoms quickly and send off blood samples for identification immediately.  Hurray!  War won!

Not so fast.  More lessons on the boards.  As bodies are supposed to do, mine reacted with high fever that sapped my physical strength like a wet rag being wrung limp.  I watched my body unable to simply get up off the floor despite what should be normal effort. I watched my generally lucid mind compulsively "write" the history of Alexander the Great, Roxanna and Beucephalus in those long night hours when I passed between sleep and wake.  Actually I know little about Alexander and haven't a clue why that history obsessed me so suddenly.  I watched the hospital staff unwittingly -- although it is what they do -- infantilize me for the sake of my own safety.  I had little strength so they did not allow me to get out of bed without someone at my side, they feared I'd fall in the six feet from bed to bathroom and even added a brilliant yellow plastic bracelet marked RISK.  I came to distrust my own sense of balance standing on my two familiar, dependable feet.

Being an analyzer of situations and watcher of my own reactions, I saw that many other people my age with little experience of hospitals could find this the first step of a downward spiral of dependence and loss of self-confidence.  The nurses were more than happy to set up visits by visiting nurses to continue my dependency.  Living alone is a danger signal in their minds.  I understand but I reject the premise.  I'm not ready for the med-alert button.  I'll go on taking my chances.

Another lesson, not the last, but enough for present considerations:  follow up doctor's appointments litter my calendar for the next month.  Ehrliciosis did some possibly lasting damage to internal systems like the liver (perhaps that wasn't the bug but the bombardment of a whole armamentarium of antibiotics and auxiliary drugs poured into me in a very short time).  There are consequences of this episode.  There are always consequences!