MARRIAGE AND CHANGE

Osprey on their nest

OSPREY MARRIAGE

 

Yesterday Bill and I celebrated the 39th anniversary of our marriage. “Celebrated” may not be the appropriate word because we didn’t do anything special. We have been lucky enough to share so many special trips and meals that it would be difficult to come up with a unique celebration. (What was worth celebrating is that we both remembered it was our anniversary.) I look back to our wedding day all those years ago and hardly know who those two people were. We looked good, we felt good but we didn’t have a clue about what a lasting marriage involves.

The New York Times recently carried a column by Ada Calhoun entitled “To Stay Married, Embrace Change.” The illustration alone is worth the price of the newspaper. Artist Brian Rea depicts a wife in bed and her husband, sitting in his underwear on the edge of the other side, clipping his toenails. There are bits of toenails all over the rug.   With that title and that cartoon, you just know the writer and illustrator have been married to someone, sometime. Calhoun’s point can be summed up by one of her quotes: “I’ve had at least three marriages. They’ve just all been with the same person.” Time changes all of us.

There used to be a column in the Ladies’ Home Journal: “Can This Marriage Be Saved?” that I read when my mother wasn’t paying attention. I don’t remember what the marital problems were but the stories gave me plenty to think about when my parents argued. What I didn’t understand was that their arguments were only one of the many ways that they were smoothing the rough edges we all have in order to accommodate to the challenges of kids, jobs, finances and everything else that daily life brings.

You may wonder what the photo above has to do with any of this. These two young osprey are setting up their first nest together, one that they will return to every spring if all goes well. So far, they have a mess of a nest and an interloper who tries to oust them every couple of hours. They are holding firm. I am counting on them to join us next year for our big Four-O.

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SHIVA AND MAKING DAYS COUNT

Dad in his nineties

Jack Popik

Jack Popik died last week. My father-in-law was six days short of his 96th birthday and quite ill; he was ready. Jack was, however, the last of his generation from two large extended families and it was strange to think that all of those brothers and sisters, cousins, aunts and uncles, are gone.

Services were held at Temple Beth Jacob in Redwood City. The funeral was the usual combination of the ridiculous and the sublime. Probably due to the tension and grief surrounding death, every funeral I have ever attended had moments of hilarity.   I was concerned that our granddaughter, Kamiko, was too young for a funeral but she wanted to go because it meant a ride in a limo (where does she get this stuff?). Then she complained that the ride wasn’t very long. Jack was an accomplished tennis player, competing well into his eighties. He didn’t like to dress up—ever—so he was buried in his usual outfit: tee shirt, tennis shorts and sneakers. We (“the kids”) thought it was perfect but some of the mourners didn’t think it was suitable at all.

Later that day, family and members of the Temple gathered at Sue’s house for Shiva (a Jewish mourning ceremony) and to share memories of Jack . There was mention of a “life well lived.” I don’t know if Jack thought about that and, if he did, what living well meant to him. He worked hard, had a long, happy marriage and raised two children who in turn raised their own children. At the end of his life he said to me, “I never thought getting old would be this way.” By then he was too tired to talk much so I didn’t find out what he had expected.

At Shiva there were prayers about making every day count. It is a good thing to remember that our time here is limited and that too often we let the days dribble away. It can be hard to pay attention to small pleasures; it is so much easier to think of what we don’t enjoy. Later that week, I was taking Kamiko and her dog, Bella, for a walk. The dog needs to be walked twice a day and I was on duty. Bella knows how to savor every moment as well as every blade of grass in her path. Her walks take forever. Kamiko—in between skipping ahead—whined about wanting to get home to watch Beetlejuice. I had my own plan—to drink a glass of wine and watch the news. I wanted to whine, too. Then I recalled the lessons of the past few days. It was springtime, I was walking in a park with a goofy dog and a sweet little girl skipping along in front of me…. It made the day count.

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PENELOPE LIVELY AND BIG SMALL DECISIONS

fork in the road

Big Small Decisions

Penelope Lively
The idea that our entire lives can be shaped by early, small decisions is the lifelong subject of British author Penelope Lively’s novels. When you think of it, it makes sense. If forty years ago a long-lost boyfriend hadn’t recognized me on the Eastshore Freeway and chosen the same off-ramp, we wouldn’t have re-met, married and created the family we have today.

Lively has written several novels, including Moon Tiger (winner of the Booker Prize), How It All Began and a children’s book, The Ghost of Thomas Kempe (Carnegie Medal).  For more on this fine writer, read here.

Robert Frost
As long as we’re on the subject, Robert Frost captured the idea of the impact of small decisions in his famous poem:

Stopping By the Woods on a Snowy Evening

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.

 The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

Megan Cahn
The always interesting A Cup of Jo this week included this article by Megan Cahn, “Is Your Cat Your Best Friend?” You know where I stand on this. Just last week I caught myself telling CatmanDeux, as I was going out the door, exactly when I expected to return. Some of us confuse our cats with our humans.

Catman

CatmanDeux

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BIRD SEX ON THE BEACH

Bird on perch

Male Osprey Contemplating His Fish Offering

The words “bird” and “sex” don’t automatically belong together but that has been the spectacle this weekend. Spring has come to the south coast of Massachusetts and osprey love is in the air. A pair of these large, beautiful “fish eagles” is building a nest on a new platform we erected on “our” marsh last fall. Along with the birds’ adding sticks and other nesting materials, there is quite a lot of mating going on. The male is not much into wooing, but he occasionally brings his mate a fish as an enticement. She seems to appreciate it, as she undoubtedly appreciates the fact that he pulls in his talons when he mounts her so as not to tear her to shreds.

Ospreys on platform

The Fresh Fish Seems to Have Worked Its Magic

An interesting factoid I picked up from Return of the Osprey by David Gessner is that osprey nests are often a hodgepodge of materials: “sections of TV antennae, hula hoops, old flannel shirts, styrofoam cups and bicycle tires.” My favorite is Gessner’s report that “the early neighborhood prize for the most original choice in building material goes to the pair at Chapin Beach, who have added a nearly naked Barbie doll to their nest’s northeast wall.”

Other signs of New England Spring…

Cherry tree in side yard

Our Weeping Cherry

White daffodils

The Daffodils have one more week of bloom left.

Small hosta

This tiny Hosta will be enormous by July.

If you haven’t already, please “Like” this page.

 

 

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IS IT GOOD TO BE NICE?

It's nice to be nice.

NICE NICE NICE!

It’s nice to be nice–at least that’s what I was raised to believe. I think it’s a good approach to life but sometimes the reflex to be nice is inappropriate.  I am in agony every time I return an item to a store. Last week I put off returning a $100 item I ordered online because it involved calling Customer Service for a return label and I hated to let those people down.

There are other situations where it doesn’t make sense to be “nice,” if that’s the right word. Years ago I took my company car to be repaired and the owner of the shop wondered aloud “which boss I slept with to get the job.” I should have taken my business elsewhere but instead I was so shocked that I couldn’t think of what to say.

Here is a recent example. A few days ago I had a consult with a doctor regarding back pain. In the room was also a female medical resident, listening and learning. In the course of the interview he asked if I felt pain “during the day when sweeping, doing the laundry or gardening.” That really griped me. What century was this dude born in? But I let it pass because he was a kind man, meant well and I wanted to be nice. The urge to please, not to be thought of as a bitch, is very strong.

Luckily, I did get a second chance. As I swung my legs off the exam table, the doctor observed that I am “quite limber” and asked if I “did a lot of gardening.” I took the opening to tell him that I do a lot of carrying heavy camera equipment up mountains and assured him that I had recently acquired a lighter camera and no longer haul a tripod around. I wish I could describe the look on his face. I hope the medical resident learned something about not stereotyping patients during interviews.  They may not react nicely.

 

Note:  Angel illustration courtesy of ZWANI.com via Photobucket.

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IS TIME WITH FRIENDS WASTED?

Wasting Time

Is this wasting time?

Time is precious. For a long time, I didn’t believe time passed quickly.  An hour of elementary school seemed like 24 hours of my life today. The late poet, Richard Brautigan described it best:

I remember all those thousands of hours
that I spent in grade school watching the clock,
waiting for recess or lunch or to go home.
Waiting: for anything but school.
My teachers could easily have ridden with Jesse James
for all the time they stole from me.

Now time has picked up speed. After my mother died and I became next up at bat, so to speak, I began to take life more seriously. I started thinking about not wasting whatever time I have left. There are so many things we do that don’t help anyone, don’t enrich our lives, just fritter the hours away. I vowed to make nearly every moment count.

So why, oh why am I spending precious hours every day playing Words With Friends? I could be learning Spanish, working on my novel-in-not-much-progress, reorganizing closets—practically anything but trying to beat my friends with Words. The majority of my playmates aren’t even friends in the usual sense. They’re people I have never met and never will. We exchange an occasional sentence remarking on strategy or vocabulary. There’s nothing personal or creepy about it. Oddly, though, they feel like friends because we spend so much time online together.

The real question is, am I wasting my time? What’s wrong with a game that requires a reasonably good vocabulary, a little strategic knowhow and the opportunity for an hour (or two, seldom three) of relaxation every day? As Robert Reich would ask, “What do you think?” If it’s relaxing, enjoyable and not harming anyone, is it a waste of precious time to play computer games? I’d love to hear from you.

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APRIL FOOL’S DAY

Icy scene

Spring, Connecticut Style

Will Spring Ever Come?
I am writing this on April Fool’s Day and it is not a joke. Outside our window, it is sleeting. Our deck and lawn are thick with ice. It has been 13 days since the first day of Spring.

How sick of winter  is everyone in Connecticut? So sick that last week in the midst my dreaded annual GYN exam, my handsome gynecologist and I talked about how we couldn’t stand…[no, not the yucky procedure we were sharing]….the weather. That’s how bad it is around here.

And because I can’t seem to settle on one topic for this week’s blog…..

ADHD
It is well known that our current president has an attention problem. At his first White House photo op with the outgoing president, Trump sat nodding at Obama’s gracious words while looking around the room, nodding at the photographers, appearing not to be listening to a word Obama was saying.

I find that these days I am having a difficult time paying attention, too. I blame it on cable television. Just now I tuned in to CNN and here’s what I found on the screen:

The central image is of four “talking heads.” Across the bottom of the screen runs a headlines crawler. A box in the lower right says “Live CNN Newsroom” and the time. Above that is an ad for a show tonight including its title, a photo, time and countdown clock. Viewers can watch, listen, know the time and make evening TV plans all at once.

No wonder we can’t concentrate.

The Joy of Writing
Every so often I find that two seemingly unrelated topics are instead two aspects of the same idea. Rereading what I wrote (above) yesterday, I find that unconsciously, the April Fool’s Day paragraphs are about a singular, obsessive focus and the ADHD section concerns the inability to focus. I have been taught that ideally “the end should kiss the beginning.” This week it appears that the end has kicked the beginning.

Have a good, focused week.

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FIVE CURES FOR TRUMP FATIGUE

Get me outta here!

Please, no more Trump!

 

I’m tired of Trump. Despite the urge to follow the news entirely too closely, I am taking a timeout to focus on what makes me happy. You may find some of it useful, too.

  1. Pay Attention
    This seems obvious but in our hurry-up, multi-tasking society, focusing on one thing at a time is hard to do. I came across this quote from Ruth Reichl, the food writer, that expresses the concept well: “We tend to waste our lives waiting for big moments, and there is a lot of joy to be found in small moments.”

2.  Appreciate Your Family
Never underestimate the power of genetics. My siblings make fun of me for being over-organized, so this week I was gratified to see that Kamiko, our granddaughter, is a planner like I am. Below are her notes for her upcoming 8th birthday party. I particularly like that she has a “theme” and that “reading” is included as one of the activities.

Plans for Activities

Activity Plans

Chart #2

Theme and Guest List

3.  Get Rid of Stuff You Don’t Need or Like
It’s impossible to “throw the bums out” of Congress for now but entirely possible to throw out or give away stuff you’ve been living with for no reason. It feels SO good to lighten up.

4.  Read a Novel
Too often I spend my time reading news at the expense of what I really love to read: fiction. I have this crazy idea that in the daylight hours reading should be devoted to non-fiction and it’s a sin to sit down to read fiction until it’s dark outside. There are obvious flaws here. First, ditch the “sin” aspect. Second, fiction invites readers into different worlds with different problems and other perspectives—a good way to put daily life aside for a while.  [Ed. note: This would be a good time to read my novel, Kiss Me Over the Garden Gate, if you haven’t already.]

5.  Check Out Some Good Blogs
There are a few blogs I read regularly. I believe I have previously mentioned Cup of Jo by Joanna Goddard. It features links to architecture, fashion, food and other topics that interest me. I always take away something from it. Mind or Mirror, a blog by Jan Allinder Anestis is for those of us who are surprised that we’re aging and usually define old age as “one that exceeds your own by at least two decades.”  Vanity Fair has a daily Hive that is just gossipy enough and very well written.

Have a Happier Week!

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THE WINTER BLAHS

Shoveling Show–What Fun!

The Winter Blahs hit hard this time of year. Christmas is long past, Valentine’s Day only a memory, and St. Patrick’s Day not that much fun. The first day of Spring is next week but you’d never guess that by looking out the window, where deep snow stubbornly refuses to melt. There’s no cheer around here.

There are various names for the Winter Blahs, for example: Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD (“a form of clinical depression that occurs during the winter”) or Winter Blues (“a feeling of…deep unhappiness associated with experiencing the cold and darkness of winter “). The internet is chock full of articles about the Winter Blahs, many of them ridiculous and/or annoying.

Consider this excerpt from (and this is a real website) The Glamorous Housewife.com:

What about painting your nails a cherry color? You should also get a pedicure even if nobody sees your feet. Taking a moment to make yourself pretty is time well spent.

Warm up a bowl of nuts, pour yourself a glass of champagne and pretend you are on first class flying to somewhere fabulous and tropical.

Now is the perfect time to learn a new craft. I am working on my needlepoint skills.

And my personal favorite: Pop some popcorn and snuggle with your kids while watching a movie. [NOTE: I used to watch movies with our boys on snow days—not snuggling—teenage boys don’t snuggle with their moms—but how many times can you watch The Big Lebowski?]

And then there are the helpful suggestions from readers of a website I will not name. The responders who lived in long, snowy winter locales had reasonable advice:

“I start planning my spring plantings, going through seed catalogs, etc., “(Ohio)

“I load my camera with black-and-white film and head for the woods or a park.” (Montana)

Fine. However, several West Coasters wrote in as if they knew what a true winter, a long’ frigid, overcast half a year is like.

“I head to the grocery store, buy about six loaves of bread, and then find a pond full of ducks and geese.” (Oregon)

“I take ballroom-dancing lessons.” (Washington state)

Well, all this snark has cheered me up. As if to support that, a beautiful red male cardinal just landed on a barren, leafless tree outside my window. It helps. I’ll conclude with a photo of CatmanDeux, who knows how to get by no matter what the weather.

CatmanDeux stretching

Kitty Stretching in the Winter Sum

 

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A MEME AND TRUMP’S RUMP

Drawing of word "meme"

Meme

I have never gotten a clear definition of “meme,” though the word gets used a lot. Everyone has a slightly different take on it when I ask, usually involving incoherence and a lot of “you knows.” If I knew, I wouldn’t ask.

Here’s the clearest definition I could find (from Wikipedia):  “A meme is an idea, behavior, or style that spreads from person to person within a culture….Supporters of the concept regard memes as cultural analogues to genes in that they self-replicate, mutate, and respond to selective pressures. There is much more written about memes but most of it is incomprehensible. One could waste a lot of time surfing meme websites such as Know Your Meme, which calls itself a website dedicated to documenting Internet phenomena.

I wasn’t surprised to learn from Know Your Meme that I am completely ignorant of current memes, except one: the widely viewed photo of Donald Trump’s rump. I heard about the pic from my sister Chris, searched “Donald Trump big ass,” and there it was! You can see it here or you can take my word that it is a truly unflattering photo, taken from below in a high wind, showing our president’s weird hair flying and flapping suit coat revealing what is usually, mercifully, concealed. This photo mutated via Reddit photoshopping into Trump riding a broomstick and other inappropriate versions that in turn led to photos of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s backside, which prompted a separate meme and “Twitterstorm.” (Spoiler alert: it’s no contest.) Just like the definition said: the photo was replicated, mutated and went viral.

Not everyone will think that the Trump rump meme is funny. It almost makes me feel a little sorry for our president, a man who is so vain. It’s not easy to come to terms with aging, hair loss and weight gain no matter how much money you have. At least most of us aren’t public figures and thus not targets for embarrassing photos. But, come to think of it, there are family-generated memes that my kids post on Facebook (think dreadful 1980’s big hair, big shoulders, big sneakers). Excuse me while I un-tag myself. And have a good week.

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