Archive for November, 2010

Power to the Pupil

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As most of my acquaintances will tell you, through a weak and weary smile, I am all about lessons learned. Maybe it’s because I came late to viewing life through grown-up eyes, I don’t know. But I have an unfortunate zeal for spreading the benefit of my revelational experiences throughout a sometimes disinterested population of family and friends, and it does seem that life lessons pop up around every corner. 

My major writing project these days presents such surprises on a regular basis. I am rewriting journal notes I kept while assisting my aging father and stepmother from January of 2005 through June of 2006. Reliving the joys and frustrations of weekdays spent with them is a rewarding but emotionally draining exercise – and one that leads me to stumble onto insights that only become apparent when viewed from a distance.

In one recounted scene, a gentle therapist helping my stepmother deal with Parkinsonisms tells me to remind the patient to “look to the horizon,” rather than let her head fall forward and her gaze drift down. These days I catch myself, on my long daily walks, letting my own head fall forward and my gaze drop as I contemplate weighty matters beyond my control. “Lift your eyes to the horizon,” I remind myself, and I’m rewarded with welcome distractions: the peach-toned underside of a bank of silvery clouds; a neighbor’s color-burst front porch arrangement of fall foliage; the frisky antics of a pair of scampering squirrels, taking a play break from the work of foraging for winter’s needs. 

When the first wet, heavy snow of the season caused power lines to sag and we lost electricity for three days the second weekend in November, I had another opportunity to “lift my eyes” – first of all from my minor, into-my-chest grumblings about the inconvenience to see that the temperature outside was – thank the Lord – 40 above, and not 40 below. By the time it was all over, I had realized a thing or two about the imposed tranquility of not being able to carry the day’s work into the evening hours, and that the world does not stop spinning on its axis if dishes pile up in my sink or my blog is late getting posted.

What a luscious luxury to while away a few morning hours writing birthday poems and Thanksgiving cards in a sunny corner of the dining room, or to play a leisurely game of Scrabble by candlelight after the evening has rolled darkness into that same corner. Not being tied to the clock or to my chore calendar went from exasperating to calming as we lit dozens of candles for light and warmth and psychological comfort, and soaked up the restful quiet like grateful birds refreshed by a gentle summer rain. (more…)

November 27, 2010 at 9:37 pm Leave a comment

Mainstreaming the “F Word” or How Not to Promote a Civil Society

I don’t watch much television these days.  Maybe a little Wheel of Fortune while I’m on the elliptical trainer before dinner, or occasionally kicking back in front of a rerun of The Closer after a tiring day.  For one thing, free time is at a premium, but I’m also just plain turned off by the current programming on that machine I’ve been turning on since I was four years old.  Even at seven o’clock in the evening, I can’t imagine kids and parents sitting down to watch together.  That slot used to be called the Family Hour.  Howard Stern’s family, maybe. 

I can hear the husband of a certain friend of mine now, as she reads this and says to him, “This week Sue Anne is offended by the content of commercial television,” and he says, “What isn’t she offended by?!”  In my defense, behind these particular convictions is painful personal experience and a long  history of trying to squeak out small protests amidst the oceanic roar that is the American Viewing Public, voting loudly with their viewing habits, week after bawdy week.  

What set me aboil over this hot topic, after decades of escalating coarseness?  Well, I got behind in my schedule and ended up having dinner alone at 7:30 one recent evening, so I looked to the TV for a little company as I ate.  Channel-surfing led me all the way around the dial, passing up The Big Bang Theory (frequent sexual innuendo, juvenile references to masturbation); Grey’s Anatomy (crude language and uncommitted sexual hookups, staple elements); Bones (fixated on kinky fetishes and provocative subcultures, as well as their characters’ pulsating libidos during brief periods of [gasp] celibacy); The Vampire Diaries (sex scenes including teenagers, some involving coercion, violence, and occult lore); and $#*! My Dad Says (profanity – there’s a shocker – and gratuitous references to oral sex, masturbation, genitalia size).  This jaunt landed me briefly in the smack-middle of an episode of Hell’s Kitchen, featuring the out-of-control rantings and ravings of restaurateur Gordon Ramsay. 

The violent tone of this side-show was the first thing to reach out like a slap in the face, but when I realized that participants were screeching the “queen mother of all dirty words” back and forth at each other across the counter tops, it almost put me off my dinner.  It takes a lot to put me off my dinner.  Even the short time I sat stunned, my thumb frozen in mid-air above the channel selection button on the remote, exposed me to scathing diatribes and rude antics (like throwing cooking utensils across a crowded room) I would never tolerate in a friend, acquaintance, family member, or co-worker.  Why would I choose to spend precious time wincing my way through an hour of it from a spectator’s seat? 

I don’t care how effectively the film editors patch together a dramatic crescendo or flesh out sympathetic real life characters, nothing can make this horror show seem like entertainment to me.  But let’s say I got into it, and started caring about those characters, and started loving to hate the Chef Almighty whose artistic temperament and directorial mandates give him license to verbally abuse those around him.  The question then becomes, should I risk desensitization to lewd, destructive behavior by exposing myself to it, packaged under the guise of entertainment? 

I have learned to say, “No,” but it’s not always easy, as when I get momentarily intrigued by the abject shallowness of the characters on (more…)

November 17, 2010 at 5:02 pm 1 comment

Schizophrenic Weather and Two-Way Suppers


There is something about this time of year that confuses both my body and my mind. Maybe it’s the split-personality weather, which can’t decide whether it wants to March through October like a roaring lion or gambol into November like a frolicking lamb. This back-and-forth leaves me with contrasting urges to either skip down the street in the autumn sunlight or retreat to a cave in the early evening darkness. Today, the temptation to hibernate beckons like a siren song. 

But as the ancient Greeks and Romans warned, succumbing to such lures can yield disastrous results. For me that would translate to a non-productive day in my tightly scheduled later-life attempt to make up for a wasted youth. I resist the urge to slump into a corner by seeking out ways to make a contribution; to create something worthwhile. And that’s when the “aha” light goes off in my cranium, illuminating an almost forgotten theme I came up with a few weeks before the shortening days messed with my hormonal balance and the brain fog settled in. 

So, before the urge for a mid-afternoon nap can hurl my good intentions up against the craggy shoreline of Lethargy Land, I turn to a subject I feel passionate about to revive my enthusiasm: good health vis-a-vis good food. Within my house divided, we often have more than one main dish on the table at dinnertime. But that’s a bit of extra effort that no busy cook needs to take on, so the idea of dual-appeal entrees seems tailor-made for other households with diabetic diners to be considered. 

If that doesn’t describe your situation, just go with the full-out version of Chicken Meatballs in Sweet and Sour Sauce (a slimmed-down version of Aunt Dorothy’s ‘circa 1958 Ham Balls, which called for 1-1/2 cups – yes, cups – of brown sugar) or Hamburger Casserole (revised from cousin Susan’s 1966 cream of celery soup hot dish) or the thoroughly modern Inside-Out Reuben.  The Reuben is loosely based on a recipe I came across last spring which has been percolating in my head for all those months.  Say, maybe that explains what’s going on in there. It’s not cerebral smog clouding my thinking, it’s creative steam… (more…)

November 4, 2010 at 11:20 pm Leave a comment

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