UNBELIZABLE!

I regret to inform you that on Saturday we went from here:

On the beach at San Pedro,
Ambergris Caye, Belize

To here:

Connecticut snowstorm (photo by Pam Verney)

Ambergris Caye, Belize or Hartford, Connecticut after a snowstorm? Hmmm. Well, we’re back and trying to prepare for another six weeks or so of cold weather—or at least what feels like cold after ten heavenly days in Central America. In keeping with the pleasant effects of sun, sand, rum punch and the company of Ben and Joanna Popik and brother Mark and wife Pam, I am going to continue relaxing and post only photos this week. (At least there are no selfies or photos of Mar-a-Lago.)

Speed bump, Belize-style. It’s a rope, not a snake.

Beautiful Mayan Temple–one of many on the mainland.

Ben fending off one of the Ambergris Caye’s vicious dogs.

Trivia Night at Ben and Jo’s Truck Stop.  Our team lost.

I stole the title of this blog, “Unbelizable!” from Daton Ramos, our very knowledgeable guide on the Belize mainland.

Have a warm week.

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COMFORTING WORDS

There are many ways to give comfort.

The most comforting words I’ve heard in a long time are, “I will be right there with you for all my remaining days.” That was what President Obama promised in his farewell speech. Politics aside (and how I’d like to put them aside!), the promise that someone will be beside us brings such comfort and sense of peace because it fills a basic human need: not to be alone in times of trouble.

My husband Bill is a doctor. One day I was waiting for him to finish up with his patients so we could go to lunch, wishing he would hurry, I had things to do, etc., etc.   His private study was next to one of the exam rooms and I could overhear him telling a male patient that he needed a rather serious operation, one performed by a surgeon specialist. I could hear the man crying and then Bill told him, “I’ll be there with you and see you through this.” This was true. Bill would assist in the surgery and afterwards continue to be his doctor. The man calmed down and they began to discuss the details. My first thought  was “Wow!” All I needed was to hurry up and get some lunch. The guy on the other side of the door had an uncertain future but he felt better because he wasn’t going to be alone.

As I write this, Bill and I are on our sixth Jazz Cruise (hang in—there’s a point coming soon) and like most cruises, many of the passengers are elderly. We’ve watched them for six years and there are more canes, walkers and wheelchairs every time. This is sad, but the comforting aspect is that everyone has someone with them to help—a spouse, a friend or even strangers like us.  As we bump along in these uncertain times, remember that we are all in this together, right beside each other for all our days.

 

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COUSINS LOST AND FOUND

The biggest gathering of my cousins circa 1976.  It’s a bad photo but a good group.

“Cousins are a little bit of childhood that can never be lost.”
Marion C. Garretty

I learned last week that one of my aunts on my father’s side of the family died. The information came from my cousin Jerry, via my brother, whose e-mail was the only one Jerry had. My sisters and I wrote back to Jerry’s group email, as did other cousins. It took the passing of Aunt Alice, the last of our parents’ generation, to bring us back together.

As a child, I used to spend a week every summer at my cousin Janet’s house in Mountain View, California. She lived in an apricot orchard on El Camino Real (yes, there were orchards there then) and between her house and the road were flats of halved apricots drying in the sun. My grandparents lived next door in a house I thought was a palace (it had TWO bathrooms!). It was all very exotic compared to our little house in a new post-war development in Stockton.

When I was a kid, the family gatherings were the fun times. I don’t remember being a particularly happy child otherwise. I am the oldest child and felt a great weight of responsibility and, of course, there was the psychological damage inflicted by the nuns at Catholic school—but I digress. Let’s just agree that I thought my life was grim and now I understand that even then I was making up stories in my head. Here’s an alternative view of my family life from two cousins’ letters that made me rethink those days:

From my cousin Janet: It’s fun to reconnect with everyone, especially you.  I loved going out to visit you and your lovely family as a kid.  Living in our house, in the orchard, I was so isolated socially.  And…your house always had so much fun stuff happening. 

And my cousin Katie: My memory of Uncle Vince and Aunt Doreen and all you kids was that it was like watching a Doris Day movie.  There was nothing better than going to visit you.  It was summer camp, pure joy–everybody fit in, could relax and play, laugh out loud, and most of all—unrehearsed, with no fear, no one to worry about pleasing or being concerned with propriety.  

What really struck me during the flurry of notes is that my cousins are like other close friends who, though we’ve been apart for years, instantly connect as if no time has passed. They were never lost, just missing for a while.

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THE BOSTON WOMEN’S MARCH

Alexis and Heidi in our “pussy hats.”

This past Saturday, January 21, more than 1 million people across the United States and the rest of the world marched in protest of policies President Trump is vowing to put in place. It has been 30 years since I’ve attended a demonstration but I think protecting the rights and freedoms that are the basis of our democracy is crucial, so I roused myself and decided to go to the Boston Women’s March with a friend. I even knitted pink “pussy hats” at the urging of my nieces and brought them along—reluctantly. I don’t like pink, I don’t like the word “pussy” and I don’t like feeling ridiculous.

Pussy Hats Galore

On the train
The first surprise was finding that the MBTA train in Lakeville, Massachusetts was packed with people of all ages heading for Boston. As we pulled in to South Station, my friend Heidi and I decided to put on our pink hats while others unrolled signs they had brought and passed around photos to hold up during the march. Boston Common, which is surrounded by a beautiful wrought iron fence, was packed with people—175,000 people. It was comforting to know that so many others cared about the future of our country and wanted to stand together to let our president and Congress to know that. What it is impossible to know is what will come of all the protests. Where do we go from here?

The funniest sign, in my opinion.

What next?
Today I read a meditation written by a friend, Nick Browning, M.D., on the meaning of the Boston march. He and his wife had also been there and he left wondering, as I did, what will happen next.  Here’s an excerpt from what Dr. Browning wrote: “Maybe we [are] facing something more ominous even than an unqualified man: a system that could no longer work as it should….Are our apprehensions real or imagined? And if they are real, what are we to do? Marches, after all, will not save us. Deeply thoughtful reflection and remarkable wisdom are needed to bring us to a better place. Wisdom’s voice, unfortunately, is often soft and not easily heard. We had better listen for it very carefully in the next several years.”

Part of the Boston Women’s March crowd.

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STRONG WORDS

Words and Strong Words

Words, Words, Words

My mother used strong words. Some of her tendency to overstate was inherited from her mother, my grandma, who used thrilling expressions like “Bloody murder in the third degree!” As she aged, Mom’s ways of expressing exasperation became increasingly dramatic. Among my personal favorites: “If that plumber doesn’t get here this afternoon, I’m going to (a) Shoot myself in the head! (b) Slit my wrists! (c) Blow my brains out!” If a common word was adequate, a stronger one was always better: “reluctance” morphed into “dread;” “anxious” became “terrified.”   When “I was embarrassed” seemed like an understatement, “I was never so mortified in my entire life” was subbed in.

During the past election cycle, I became fascinated by Donald Trump’s use of strong words: “big league,” “smartest,” “the greatest,” ” the wealthiest,” “a failure,” “a complete disaster,” “not smart,” “dumb,” “a total loser.”

There are important differences between my mother’s words and Donald Trump’s: my mother wasn’t the president-elect, her strong language was directed towards herself and the words weren’t unkind. By this time next week, Trump will be President Trump. His words will spread around the world, affecting economies, governments and our democracy.  It’s hard to believe his behavior or vocabulary will alter for the better, but if it doesn’t, we could be headed for disaster, Big League.

 

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SNOW DAYS AND RESPONSIBILITY

Every Day Can Be a Snow Day

Today is a Snow Day. Until we moved to New England I had never heard of Snow Days, but after my first experience I was hooked. On Snow Days, schools are closed, as are some public agencies and businesses. It is very, very quiet–partly because of the heavy blanket of snow but also because people who don’t absolutely need to be somewhere stay inside.

In the late ‘90’s my then school-age sons loved Snow Days and so did I. We would make hot chocolate and popcorn, rent a movie and settle in, absolved of obligations. The peculiar aspect of this is that I could have made any day a Snow Day because I was no longer working “outside the home.” I could do as I damn well pleased almost any time, except I didn’t. Raised at the altar of Our Lady of Perpetual Responsibility, I feel like I should always be doing something like watching movies in the middle of the day. Except on Snow Days.

Seven years ago, I learned to have snowless Snow Days. Kamiko, our only grandchild, was born in California and I traveled there often to see her. That’s when I remembered how slowly a day with a young child passes. The first few visits, I spent Miss K’s sleeping hours fidgeting or (horrors!) washing dishes. As she got older and more wakeful, I could get her to play with me but there was still that nagging feeling that I should be DOING something. That’s when I realized that my visits with Kamiko were Snow Days. There was nothing more important to do than play with her or read Pat the Bunny. We both enjoyed ourselves and no one showed up at the door to tell me that I should be doing something else with my time. Now, whenever I start to feel anxious that I’m not using my time usefully, I think of Snow Days and give myself a break. Or else I emulate my cat.  It’s very satisfying.

 

XXXXXOOOOO

NOTE: Happy Birthday to Janet Compiano Alonso, my friend since grade school and the bravest person I knew then. After a scolding by a very cranky teacher, Janet managed to lick her lips in a way that provided deniability but was clearly a way of sticking her tongue out at Sister Mary. A chill ran down my spine as I watched, but Janet got away with it and earned my permanent respect.

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WORDS MATTER, MY DEAR

In other words, HAPPY NEW YEAR 2017

Words DO matter. There are reminders of the power of words all around us. Think of the way extreme words were slung around during the last election. Or don’t think of it. Let’s start off the new year on a constructive note by changing the words we use to describe older people.

Last week a middle-aged man called me “Dear.” Twice. He let me go ahead of him in the coffee line in a hospital (“After you, Dear.”) and then again when I was leaving (“You have a Happy New Year, Dear.”). I smiled, nodded and wondered what it was that prompted him to call me “Dear.” “Honey” would have been offensive, too, but at least it doesn’t sound like a term reserved for the elderly. I made my way to my sister’s room, where the nurse was calling her “My Dear.” I would like to believe the term is part of the hospital’s employee training program but I doubt it.

That was the second time recently I’ve been reminded of the words we use for our elders. Friday I met a man—40-something, father of two—who knew my husband’s family. I assumed he was friends with Bill’s sister but it turned out his father was friends with her. I was a generation off. He is my daughter’s contemporary, not mine. It took a while to get over my confusion (“Wait a minute! I could be his mother!”). At least he didn’t call me “Dear.”

When I was a little kid, I spent hours listening to my great aunts talking about how they didn’t feel as old as they were. Looking back, I think they were all in their fifties then. I thought the ancient old dears were deluding themselves. Now I shake my head at how young they were.

In cranky conclusion, 2017 will be a better year in a small way if we think twice before addressing women over 60 as Sweetheart, Ma’am, Honey, My Dear or Dearie.

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

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MEDITATION, MINDFULNESS AND DISHES

Take a deep breath of mindfulness before you begin.

I am a great fan of Mindfulness though, unfortunately, not a particularly successful practitioner. Nevertheless, I keep trying. While surfing the news for something that wasn’t about politics, technology or economics I recently discovered a New York Times series called “Meditation for Real Life.” Who could be against that? Just last week while stuck in a traffic jam on I-84 with an impatient friend, I suggested that he might want to take up meditation to deal with his obvious irritation. He didn’t; I resolved to be mindful of my own business.

The essay about real-life meditation was called “How to Be Mindful Doing the Dishes.”   Whaaaat???  This is an example of one of the mindfulness guidelines: “Picking up the first dish, handle it with care. Observe its shape. Notice its weight.” As a person who has done the dishes nearly every day of my life since I was tall enough to reach the sink, I don’t give a damn about being mindful while washing dishes. I hate doing the dishes. I have always hated doing the dishes. The only thing I’m mindful of when washing dishes is that it is a seemingly endless chore.

The readers’ comments on the Times essay were fantastic. I encourage you to click the link and read them. This is my favorite, by W. Evans of Pennsylvania:

Take a deep breath before you begin. Exhale through your mouth.
OK, I can do that

  1.  Notice how your body feels, standing at the sink.
    Well, I’m 78 years old, so now that you mention it, the arthritis in my thumb hurts and the polyneuropathy in my right foot means that I can’t feel my right foot – I don’t know if it hurts.
  2.  As you run the warm water, feel it flowing across your hands.
    Our water heater is about 30 feet from the sink, so the water is cold and it’s taking forever to heat up
  3.  Picking up the first dish, handle it with care. Observe its shape. Notice its weight.
    Well, the dish looks just about same as it has looked for the last 10,000  washings. I did weigh one of the bowls once when I was trying to figure out how much cereal I was eating in the morning. (Oops – wandering, see 6 below.)
  4.  Starting to scrub, smell the soap and watch the bubbles foam.
    Well, we have a dish washer, but I do wash the Teflon pan and the copper bottom pan – have to remember to not use steel wool on these. Have to stay focused – don’t think about how warm the water is.
  5.  If you notice that your mind has wandered, bring your attention back to the warmth of the water.
    Please, the only way to get thru this is to let my mind wander. Did you see Brady on Sunday?  How did he ever hit that guy in the end zone?

Have a good week!

 

 

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Testing, testing and more testing

I’m trying to see if my new system works.

This tech part of blogs is as clear as the elephants' mud to me.

This tech part of blogs is as clear as the elephants’ mud to me.

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OMG! FREE CATS!

FREE CATS!

If you clicked on this link, OMG! You are one of millions who click on enticing titles that include words like OMG! in the headline. This stuff really works. NBC and many other sources wrote this week that Macedonian teenagers have been “earning” thousands of dollars by getting people to click on fake news articles at a penny per click. The money-making headlines are called “click bait” and, aside from providing fabulous incomes in a poor country, they also stoke the flames of prejudice and fear in the U.S. and other countries.

When I first began writing this blog, I learned about clickbait, though it was called “Search Engine Optimization,” a kinder, gentler term. The idea is to use words in headlines that would grab more attention (i.e., optimize) from people searching the Internet for entertainment. I learned that any title with numbers in it, such as “5 Ways to a Lose Ten Pounds This Week!” or something heart-wrenching (“You won’t Believe What This Little Boy Did to Save His Dying Mom!”) will get lots of readers. I lost patience trying to concoct headlines that would draw more clicks (forget about money—there’s no money to be made here). The only headlines that have ever drawn quite large responses have included the words “Free” and/or “Cat.”

The serious problem is that clickbait works and it can be used to spread fake news. Last week’s example of that is the man who showed up with a gun at a pizza parlor near Washington, D.C., who had read and believed a fake news article about child sex trafficking at the eatery. There are times, however, when I wish the news was fake. I would have been much happier if a teenaged Macedonian had invented the news in this Fortune Magazine article: “Trump’s Pick for Secretary of Labor: ‘Ugly’ Women Don’t Sell Burgers.”

 

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