Archive for February, 2012

What Color is Your Universe?

I have a pair of sunglasses that make the world look rosier.  They’re just clunky, black plastic cast-offs leftover from my husband’s eye surgery a few years ago; big, unfashionable, monster wraparounds. I’m not sure what tint it is that imbues the lenses with this marvelous quality, but on an overcast day, the gloomy tone is muted, and on a clear day, oh my:  The sky becomes a richer, more poetic shade of  blue, and the sun’s rays take on an intense golden hue that makes everything they bounce off of seem to glow with the promise of spring.  Well, almost everything.  It would require more than a bit of ophthalmic trickery to totally transform the gray-washed landscape this stretch of snow-deprived northland winter leaves behind it.

But lift your eyes to the skies, and the effect will grab at your breath – an intense reminder to soak in the warmth and beauty, and tuck some away for tomorrow.  Perry Como nailed it:  “Catch a falling star and put it in your pocket, save it for a rainy day.”  I think I was much better at that sort of thing when I was a child.  It’s easier, at ten, to be unaffected by news headline that seem irrelevant to your tiny square of cosmic real estate; to instead relive, on a drab, boring Tuesday, the thrill of last Saturday’s birthday party or even borrow joy ahead anticipating next week’s class outing.

But getting back there, to that spot where you are focused on something good and lovely, and you’re built up from the inside-out with optimism, seems a worthy goal for any adult steeped in relentless reality 24/7.  A January Sunday supplement article touched on this idea with a set of recommendations.  I have a history of miserably failing to measure up to such checklists, but I fared pretty well on this one.

For brightened prospects in 2012, the piece suggests, “track your passions,” and focus on core values and natural inclinations.  In my case, a set of negative circumstances – age, gap in employment, national economic decline – backed me into a spot where I am staying home, doing what I love to do.

I had already, to use the article’s catch phrases, noted that I was on a “joyless trail” before I left traditional office work to care for my dad and stepmother in 2005; I also had vivid memories of the consuming pleasure of hours spent writing, and had thus identified my “hot track”; and I’d had decades to “spot the patterns” of those activities that make my heart sing.  I’d even been able to “warm up” my life gradually, as I tiptoed tentatively onto this new path.

As for the author’s urging to “up your gratitude,” once again I felt vindicated, having been moved years ago to start writing gushy notes of appreciation to people in my life, past and present.  So maybe I don’t get an A+, since the ideal is brief, non-syrupy notes – a slightly different breed of correspondence than I’d been indulging in.  But I can try the less flowery approach from now on.  No prob.

Yup, between patting myself on the back for finally being ahead of the curve on a batch of “experts’ advice,” and armed with my own personal version of rose-colored glasses, I am very hopeful about the year ahead.  Just keep following my passion and letting people know that they are loved.  For me, the best way to cover both of those bases is to whip up a large presentation of something hearty and healthy and vibrant with color to place in front of my Partners in Dine.  And then gush about it, of course.

Something like a Simple Chicken Stir Fry with Brown Rice and some Honey-Balsamic Glazed Grilled Plums should  liven up even a snow-cloud-shrouded day like the one I am glimpsing through my study windows this morning.  The main dish requires only one pan, so clean-up is a breeze; it’s colorful, tasty, and nutrient-rich, so dinner guests are both pleased and well-nourished; and the tangy little surprise of grilled winter plums keeps things from getting dull – a good idea at any meal, but especially in the throes of mid-winter, when the next national excuse for celebration is over a month away.  (more…)

February 16, 2012 at 6:37 pm Leave a comment

A Cup of After-Christmas Tea, Anyone?

“There’s a bone-chilling dampness to the air this morning that makes me want to stay curled up in bed.  Not all my mornings are like that.  Sometimes I awaken wide-eyed at four a.m. and can’t drop back off to sleep; sometimes I  don’t get my leaden lids pried open until nine thirty, but still can’t seem to push myself into the day.

“And sometimes it takes me thirty minutes just to uncurl because the act of straightening out causes more discomfort than I care to face.  Or because I have no real reason for putting my feet on the floor. Since I gave up my driver’s license several years ago, there are fewer places to go and fewer people to see.  Longevity is a gift, but it also tends to rob us of loved ones and dear friends as the years go by.

“Once I get started, my days are both predictable and fluid.  I have a routine, but no schedule.  I may sit for an hour watching the morning news – wrapped in my robe, reading the paper, nursing a cup of instant coffee, and waiting for my achy joints to loosen up. Then perhaps a small bowl of cereal with a bit of fruit for breakfast, a cushion for the day’s first handful of pills to land on.

“I watched the squirrels cavorting outside my window this morning, the mild weather energizing them into mid-winter playfulness, but I dare not step foot out.  The doctors warn about taking a fall at my age (80-plus on my next birthday).  Perhaps once the springtime sun has had a chance to vanquish all those tricky hidden slippery patches I’ll feel confident enough to take a little walk like I used to.

“I look forward to the mail every day, even though 99 per cent of it is pleas for contributions from one group or another.  It’s a way to stay connected with the world out there, so I read every piece from top to bottom.  That fills up my morning until lunchtime, which is usually a can of soup or a peanut butter sandwich.  My appetite isn’t what it used to be.

“After lunch, I sometimes fall asleep in my chair.  It’s all those darned medications.  Sure wish we had known more about prevention when I was in my 30s; I might have been able to avoid some of the pill-taking and these side effects that knock me for a loop, yet never seem to ‘lessen over time’ like the drug brochures claim they will.

“I like to eat dinner early.  Maybe a selection from the Swanson kitchens, or one of Marie Calender’s specialty items.  Thank goodness for my microwave.  I just hope it holds up as long as I do.

“You know, it’s funny.  Not ‘funny hah-hah’ but ‘funny peculiar’:  When I was much younger there never seemed to be enough time in the day to fit in all that I wanted to do.  But now that I’ve outlived my spouse and my pets, it’s as if there’s not enough to do to fill the day.  My evenings tend to draw out, long and quiet.  Too quiet.

“November and December were such a nice change of pace.  There was Real Mail waiting for me in the box most days for a good month or so:  letters from friends near and far; group pictures of growing families – the next scene in their unfolding lives, something in-hand that I could compare with last year’s photo card.  I even had a phone call from an old school chum.  And Thanksgiving and Christmas brought friends and family together more than usual.  I had a chance to see my grandchildren and great grandchildren; to measure how they’d grown and hear about the twists and turns their lives are taking.   

“Sometimes I’m not sure what role I play at the annual gatherings, since I am no longer hosting Turkey Day or called upon to be the Official Carver of the Christmas ham.  And my hearing isn’t too reliable these days, so I don’t always feel like I’m part of the bantering.  But I truly enjoy having people around, in small enough conversational groups that I can reach their ears with a comment or catch what they are whispering into mine.

“These grey, snow-heavy clouds make for an ugly contrast to the jolly mood of the holidays, so January and February can seem pretty lackluster by comparison.  I sometimes escape into my daydreams, picturing what the hustle and bustle of everyone’s life must be like now that they are back to their usual routines.

“I have plenty of time for such excursions of imagination.  I’d love to hear it from them all first-hand a bit more often than I do, but I know how busy everyone is.  And they probably think my days are fuller than they are, that my universe is larger than it has gotten to be.  That I don’t feel as alone as I sometimes feel.

“In case you were wondering who I am, I’m your grandmother or your great aunt; your godfather or your favorite uncle; your next door neighbor or your former co-worker.  I won’t say any of this to you directly, because I’ve never been one to complain or to nag for attention.  But if you think of it, it would be really nice to see you again before the next holiday season rolls around.  With the stimulation of company, I promise I won’t nod off in my chair, and a rousing game of scrabble or cribbage would really brighten my week.

“That is, if you think of it.”

February 5, 2012 at 10:04 pm 4 comments

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