TIME AND TELLING YOUR STORY

Our friends, Larry and Joy Thon

Larry and Joy having a good time.

July 7 was the anniversary of the unexpected death of a good friend.  Larry was killed in his bed by an enormous tree that fell on his cottage during a severe storm.  Some will say “it was his time.”  I’ve never much cared for that sentiment.  I bet if Larry had had anything to say about it, he would have wanted more time.  Time is a gift that is always with us and yet is one we seldom notice.

Last week I had the good fortune to see Hamilton in New York.  I prepared for the experience by listening to the music, reading the libretto and Lin Manuel Miranda’s comments on what inspired him, how long each passage took to write, and how it changed over time.  It took six years for him to write Hamilton but Miranda is a young guy and he had plenty of time.  Would Larry have had six more years?

The press of time and what remains after our time has come are recurring themes in Hamilton.  I hear the songs in my head all the time now:  “Who lives, who dies, who tells your story?”  “And when you’re gone, who remembers your name? Who keeps your flame?”

I remember my great aunts telling family stories at our annual camping trips when I was a kid. I sat with my mother and her cousins, listening to Aunt Isabelle and Aunt Frances tell stories about their brother—my grandfather–and bits and pieces of family trivia, all designed to make us laugh.

The hole in Larry’s house has been repaired; the hole in the hearts of his family and friends has not and never will be.  When they are together, as they are this weekend,  they are sad that he isn’t with them and also able to remember his assorted foibles and have a good laugh.  They are telling his story.

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IS NO NEWS GOOD NEWS?

News overload

Photo by @rawpixel via Unsplash.com

I am a news junkie, married to a news junkie. Every morning each of us reads our favorite newspapers online, then we turn on television news for as long as we can stand it and later in the day repeat as needed—which is often.  In the past month we have been traveling and often out of the reach of the internet, television and sometimes cell phone service.  Though at times I felt as if I were going through withdrawal, for the most part I enjoyed detoxifying.

That leads to the question: which is better—keeping up with the news or avoiding it.  And the answer, as is true for most things, is that moderation is likely the best approach. As human beings, our survival depends on finding rewards and avoiding harm, according to Loretta Breuning, author of Habits of a Happy Brain.  Therefore, our brains are predisposed to detect threats and thus either avoid or be prepared to deal with potential harm.  Beyond that, there are individual differences:  some people can take in distressing news and maintain their equilibrium; others become upset to the point of illness.

Since returning from time away from the news, I have read and watched less of it.  I am still well informed but  feel better for making the change.  My passage from a lot to not-so-much news has been eased by the World Cup Soccer Games, which have been a wonderful diversion and explain, in part, why love of sports brings people together.  It was thrilling to see Croatia win today and to see the players hugging their Danish opponents afterwards.  And now:  Go Mexico!!!

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MAKING AMERICA AMERICA AGAIN

Mexican baby

Guanajato baby and mother

I have not posted this blog for the past two weeks, at first because I was on a photo trip to Mexico and then because I couldn’t bring myself to write about the vagaries of daily life while children are being wrenched away from their parents at the United States border.  It is impossible to imagine how people who have children of their own—that would be the president and presumably most of his defenders—can be so cruel and un-American. I remember well how, after I gave birth to my first child, I was shocked at how much I loved her.  I hadn’t known I was capable of loving someone that much. Now I imagine how those mothers and fathers must feel when they are told their children are being taken way “for baths” and they have not seen or heard from them since.  For many, I am afraid, they may never be reunited.  How can we do this to other human beings?  This is not making America great. This is making America vicious and shameful.

Funny Face in Guanajuato

Little boy making a funny face for the camera.

I am including three photos I have taken in the past two weeks.  Two are of children in Mexico—not vermin, not infesters but children of loving, hard-working parents much like most Americans.  The third photo I took from a BART commuter train.  If you look carefully, you can see an Asian woman, an African-American woman and several men, one of whom—Hispanic—is studying a book that prepares people for taking the Graduate Record Exam.  This mix is what I love about America, not the dehumanization we are seeing at the border.

Mix of races on BART.

BART train passengers–immigrants all.

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HOUSES AND OSPREYS

Ospreys

“Our” ospreys.

Returning to the Marion house is always a pleasure. I have loved this place for more than a decade, painting each room, moving furniture around, planting a garden, bringing to it bits and pieces of things that appeal to me. Walking in the door is like reuniting with an old friend:  when I’m not here, I think of it often and wonder how it’s doing; when I return it’s as if I’ve never been away.

The first thing I did yesterday was check on the osprey nest outside our windows. The ospreys winter in the southern United States like most of the summer residents of Marion, and they return to the same nest every year, also like their human counterparts. The nest platform we built is only three years old and was unoccupied when I arrived, though there seemed to be more sticks and moss than last year.  I stood at the window for a while, wondering if the pair who had been here before had found better digs someplace else. And then they showed up.  They stood facing each other on the nest, swiveling their heads back and forth as if they were checking out the Woman at the Window (a book I am currently reading).  I swear they were discussing me.

This morning one of the pair has been building up the nest, bringing sticks, grass and  shiny things she fancied in trip after trip and then rearranging the chosen materials each time.  It’s a painstaking task to move furniture when your only tool is a beak. Meanwhile, the other bird is sitting atop a nearby post eating a large fish.  In the hour I have been spying on them, the pattern has been the same:  fix up the house, eat a snack.  Based on personal experience, I decided the nest decorator must be the female and the snacker the male. He likely also brought in the food. I know this is anthropomorphizing, but it was too easy to ignore.  Alas, I was wrong.  According to Cornell ornithologists, the male usually gathers the nesting materials and the female arranges them later.  Apologies to my spouse.

I hope the ospreys will come to love their house as I love mine.

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WHAT’S UP WITH OPEN FLOOR PLANS?

open floor plan

An Open Floor Plan, Italian style

If you are a faithful fan of HGTV you know all about home buyers’ favorite feature, the Open Floor Plan. Whether it’s Love It or List It, Fixer-Upper, or those adorable Property Brothers, home buyers and remodelers want a house with an Open Floor Plan.  I have always thought that made sense.  In houses where we lived that had living rooms, they were as unused as a Victorian parlor; everyone congregated in the kitchen, which was either adjacent to or at one end of the “Family Room.”  Our current house has most of its floor space taken up by a living room-kitchen-dining area, the “Great Room.”  My husband, the chef-in-residence, calls it “a kitchen with couches.”  We love it.

Enter those spoilsports at The Atlantic magazine.  A recent article by Ian Bogost caught my eye:  The Curse of an Open Floor Plan, subtitled “A flowing, connected interior…has become ubiquitous, and beloved.  But it promises a liberation from housework that remains a fantasy.”* Who ever promised a liberation from housework? Mr. Bogost’s piece is well-researched and thoughtful and it’s not possible to do his argument justice in 350-word blog. But I’ll just say this:  I like having a kitchen, dining room and area with comfy couches all in one space.  Sure, the kitchen can look messy during dinner because often there’s not time to clean it up before sitting down to eat.  But so what?  I would rather be in the same room with my family and guests than be stuck in the kitchen while everyone else is having a good time in the other room.  And unless we hire servants, there will always be work to do.

Whether out of necessity or preference, in most countries around the world I have visited, there is a one big room for cooking, eating and being together and, if the occupants are prosperous enough, smaller rooms for sleeping.  My Croatian grandparents immigrated to Santa Clara, California and bought a modest three-bedroom house in the middle of an apricot orchard.  They furnished it in a kind of stuffy, old-country style and then added a great big room off the back of the house that included a second complete kitchen area, a long dining room table, several couches and a television. That room, my grandparents, and all the aunts, uncles and cousins in it on Easter, is one of my most vivid childhood memories.  It was a Great Room.

 

Photo courtesy of ialicante-mediterranean via Unsplash

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FAMILIES

Family at Nat's wedding

And this is only part of our clan!

We are spending a few days in Puerto Vallarta with our large extended family, celebrating the marriage of our nephew, Andrew, to his wonderful partner, Rochelle. This got me thinking about some of the books I have enjoyed about families and  their joys, sorrows and craziness.

Courtesy of Goodreads:  here’s a start on reading about all sorts of families:

Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim by David Sedaris
Roots:  The Saga of an American Family by Alex Haley
Hillbilly Elegy:  A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J. D. Vance
The Two-Family House by Linda Cohen Loigman

and don’t forget:  Kiss Me Over the Garden Gate by Alexis Rankin Popik

Happy Reading!

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I have been missing my mom lately.  I find myself wishing I could call her up to tell her something I know she would enjoy.  My sibs and I have been exchanging emails about what we remember:  her speaking voice, her laugh.  This is a remembrance I wrote four years ago.

Mom on L'Esperance

Mom on L’Esperance

Thanksgiving 2014

Thanksgiving 2014

Five years ago, a French friend explained to me what it meant to “make time for time.” It’s a lovely expression for an all-too-rare practice: making time to appreciate the time we have on this earth. The occasion was a visit to France with my mother.

When my mom was diagnosed with a terminal illness, my husband asked what she wanted to do with the time she had left. She chose a barge trip in France. (Who knew?) My husband, brother and I took her on the trip of a lifetime—six days on the small, luxurious private barge L’Esperance, meandering along a beautiful Southern France canal while we enjoyed being together.

This past week eleven members of my family were all together for Thanksgiving in Marion, Massachusetts, cooking, eating, drinking, and washing hundreds of dishes. Everyone pitched in so no one was over-burdened. By sharing tasks, we had time to do what we like best: taking walks in the frigid air, assembling a jigsaw puzzle, watching football, Louis C.K. and Comedians in Cars Drinking Coffee, and talking, talking, talking. This sounds too good to be true, but it was really like this. The difference between this family gathering and most of the others was time.

Half of my heritage is Irish Catholic, so I am inclined to look at the world as if something terrible is going to happen any minute. If it isn’t a natural disaster such as an earthquake, it’s the loss of someone I dearly love. I can’t prevent natural disasters but as far as personal losses go, I feel strongly that I need more time—time to clear up misunderstandings, to make amends, time to make sure those I love know what they mean to me. This week I got some of that time.

Mom lived an unexpected three years after that trip to France, long enough to return to L’Esperance for one more barge trip. While we considered Mom’s unusually long survival a gift, her better gift to us was that we, as a family, learned the value of making time for time.

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LIVING YOUR BEST LIFE, PART II

Magnolias

Photo of Magnolias blooming in Hartford RIGHT NOW! courtesy of my friend Heidi, who knows how much I love those trees and Springtime in the Northeast.

This week, many readers wrote to me with their own versions of what is Living Your Best Life.  Here is a sampling.  It comes as no surprise that no one’s best life includes owning a private jet and I love it that two of these three mentioned hummingbirds:

From Marcia:
I love the feel of the early morning sun on my face while walking around our beautiful lakes and trails. The sound of children playing outside. The sound of rain on the roof and the clean smell of the first raindrops. Playing with grandchildren. Watching the hummingbirds fight for a place on the feeder, and the squirrel working to get at the nuts and seeds from a swinging feeder. Playing golf and pickleball with friends. Volunteering at my granddaughter’s school, and with Kiwanis serving our neighborhood kiddos. And yes, sitting quietly with a good book and a cat… or two.

Janet writes:
Living the good life for me comes in two ways. Sometimes it’s a big deal and sometimes it’s a sweet moment.

Our recent trip to New Zealand and Australia was a big deal. It included riding a camel to watch the sun come up at Ayers Rock, a picnic on the rainforest floor and a view from its canopy, snorkeling in The Great Barrier Reef,  a BBQ in the outback, and day with koala bears, kangaroos and crocodiles, big beautiful cities and charming small towns—all this given the fact that when I was I child I hoped that just once before I died, I would go in an airplane to Italy. Since then, many airplanes and many trips.   Big moments!

Yesterday I was in my backyard sitting in a comfy garden chair. There were humming birds, blue jays, doves, little red-breasted finches, one fluffy white dog, and one much-loved husband.  The roses were sporting those great big first blooms of spring and the recent rains have made everything lush and leafy. Small moment. Living the best life.

Joan adds:
You manage to hit virtually every topic I’m now dealing with…..wow! The living your best life concept….hmmm ….  Somehow my “best life” is just rolling out of bed, hitting the gym, reading the New York Times, watching my weight, a glass or 2of wine, and sitting on the couch for a Netflix video while [my boyfriend] rubs my back…. then there’s his kids and my kids….Anyway, it’s an interesting topic….makes me wonder what else I might (should) be doing…….which I’ll address someday soon….

Thanks to all…. And Have a Good Week!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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LIVING YOUR BEST LIFE

Happy penguin

As good as life gets for a penguin.

I just heard the expression “Living Your Best Life” a couple of weeks ago and liked the sound of it—so catchy and original.  It referred to a U.S. senator who is not running for re-election and is therefore “living his best life” by saying exactly what he thinks.  Imagine that!  I did a little research into the phrase and learned that, as usual, I am late to the party.  The expression has not only been around a long time, it has achieved the status of a meme.  (I still can’t define “meme” with confidence but it sounds good.)

There are many descriptions of what it means to Live Your Best Life. WikiHow offers “14 steps (with Pictures).”  This is a bit much.  I don’t really need a picture of a “thumbs up” to understand “Staying Positive in Your Life.”  The ever-present Joel Osteen has trimmed the Best Life concept down to “Seven Steps to Living at Your Full Potential” but it will cost you $10 for the audio CD.  Buzz Feed’s advice is less spiritual and very practical, including getting enough sleep and being on time for appointments. As a bonus, BuzzFeed’s article includes a video of the adorable Lin Manuel Miranda dancing (as an illustration of “It’s more fun if you turn your cleaning chores into a dance party”).  Truly.

So what does Living Your Best Life really mean?  There are 113,000,000 responses on Google, so obviously it means many different things to lots of people.  For me, at this time in my life, there are the big reasons:  my family and friends, health;  and the small happinesses:  not having to wake up to an alarm, a comfy place to live, a cat who likes to settle down next to me wherever I am (as he is now, on the couch, in the living room). What does it mean to you?  Drop me a note.  I’d love to hear from you.

Photo by moi, South Georgia Island. 

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WORKING ON WORKING OUT

Woman leaping in the air.

Not my workout.

There are as many good reasons for not working out as there are for committing to an exercise regimen.  Among them:

  1. It’s fun to laze around in the mornings, read the news, play Words With Friends.  You understand—stop and smell the roses.  Enjoy the moment.
  2. Exercising can be painful—during and afterwards.
  3. Regular exercise requires not only effort but discipline.

On the other hand, the benefits are many:

  1. It feels good to be physically fit.
  2. Exercise is good for the brain as well as the body.
  3. It’s useful to maintain muscle strength.

The problem?  It’s easy to rationalize avoiding exercise. Who can argue with keeping up with old friends by talking on the phone instead?  Or vacuuming?  Surely vacuuming is good for the triceps.

Last week I once again began the “Seven-Minute Workout.” I was attracted to it a few years ago because it’s so short.  However, “short” doesn’t mean “easy.”  According to the New York Times, the workout “combines a long run and a visit to the weight room into about seven minutes of steady discomfort — all of it based on science.”  It alternates between exercises for the large muscles of the upper and lower body (30 seconds per exercise) with a ten-second rest between each. They are the longest 30 seconds and shortest 10 seconds I have ever experienced.  And the 30 minutes of panting afterwards doesn’t feel that great, either.

NOTE:  To keep it honest, after completing the above I went downstairs and did today’s 7-Minute Workout.  And now if you’ll excuse me, I am going to take a wee bit of Acetaminophen.

Have a good week!

 

Photo by Clem Onojeghuo via Unsplash.

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