Saturday, October 29, 2005

When I was a kid...

I'm still young enough at 51 to appreciate "old people" jokes. Ed, 8 years older than I am, says they are too true to be funny. For instance, a cursory search of the Internet brought up these gems:

You know you're old when...

  • Your friend compliments you on your new alligator shoes and you're barefoot.
  • You don't care where your spouse goes, just as long as you don't have to go along.
  • "Getting a little action" means, "I don't need to take any fiber today."
  • You are cautioned to slow down by the doctor instead of the police.
  • You realize that caution is the only thing you care to exercise.
  • Your sweetie says, "Let's go upstairs and make love," and you answer, "Honey, I can't do both!"
  • The gleam in your eye is the sun shining on your bifocals.
  • You look forward to a dull evening.
  • Your house is too big. Your medicine box not big enough.
  • When you say something to your kids that your mother used to say to you (and you always hated it).
  • When you step off a curb and look down one more time to make sure the street is still there.
  • It takes twice as long to look half as good.
Now for me, I know I'm old when I find myself saying,"When I was a kid...." I grew up in Memphis, so I can't say I had to walk home from school in waist-deep snow, but I can say that I walked home from school, and it wasn't a short walk, either! I can say I was allowed to chew gum rarely, and even that meant the stick of Juicy Fruit was torn in half to share with my sister. I only had Cokes (or sodas, or soft drinks, or whatever you call them in your region) on the weekend. And - I have to reminisce here as the Christmas buying season is approaching - I had very simple toys.

Back when I was young, Chatty Cathy was the most technologically advanced doll one could have. You pulled the string and - magic - she talked! And she didn't even require batteries! Except for Chatty Cathy and Chatty Baby (my sister's doll), our other dolls and toys were pretty quiet.

One of our favorite games was jacks with a red ball made of real rubber that could bounce to the ceiling. It was our mother's jacks ball when she was a girl, and she guarded it as the precious entity it was. It was a grand occasion indeed when she gave us permission to play with it.

We played board games like checkers and Monopoly and Clue. We played gin rummy and slap jack. We played Password.

When we tired of our games and toys, we formed a club - The Tiffin Spy Agency (TSA), whose members were just the two of us. We had meetings and dues and a theme song and everything. We made up our own play - I have to laugh now, because our characters were two old people! We also created our own family Thanksgiving service, complete with sermon, hymns, and handmade bulletins.

Now I'm getting the Christmas catalogs in the mail, I am perusing them for ideas for Caroline, and Rachel tells me, "I want to steer away from things that make noise." I thought, well, that shouldn't be too hard. So I went through the catalogs and store ads and nixed everything with the warning "Batteries required." The remaining list was quite short. My head is full of memories of toys I had growing up, then toys my children had growing up, and now it's a whole new world. I believe when Matt (born in 1983) was young, Teddy Ruxpin was just hitting the market - the bear that held a cassette tape who told stories and his lips moved. Now it's amazing the things toys can do. Even books have buttons to push where you don't even have to read them - they read aloud themselves - complete with sound effects!

I look at the changing world with awe. And as much as Rachel was determined to stay away from batteries, she finally had to give in, I think. She just bought Caroline a play kitchen that makes bacon sizzling noises and "speaks" words in English, French, and Spanish.

Ed was determined to find a "simple" toy for Caroline and had to look through the Amish catalog. He found a spinning top. I think he ought to get it. Caroline would be the envy of her toddler group with such a unique possession; I think it would fascinate her little friends. And then Caroline will be heroine of the hour when the neighborhood homes run out of batteries and Caroline has the only toy on the block that they could play with!

(This post has been edited because my detail-oriented sister sent me a Hedda doll picture and insisted I post it (see her comment below). I thought the jacks ball was red; it must be the fact everyone tells me that I look at my childhood with rose-colored glasses!)

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Aging Part 2: The numbers game

I have a followup appointment in February for a recheck on my cholesterol, which is, of course, currently too high. My doctor is a dear and very comprehensive, but I'm afraid right now my health care concern (besides the mysterious thyroid nodule) is essentially reduced to two numbers - total cholesterol 259 and LDL 179. Until February at least, that's where the focus will be.

I am intrigued by the commercials for cholesterol-lowering medications where the participants have their cholesterol numbers taped to their chests, especially the one where the man tries outrun his number but it catches up with him and attaches itself securely to his shirt.

In my profession of medical transcription, it certainly can be a numbers game. When dictators get going with lab tests and such, numbers and discussion of numbers can easily take up half a patient's report. In my case, it's the cholesterol and the size of the thyroid nodule. In Ed's case, it's blood sugar. The pronouncement of his hemoglobin A1c (the test that gives the doctor an idea of what his blood sugar has been running for the last 3 months) is the highlight of his office visit. Ed knows that a sense of jubilation or utter failure will descend on him when he leaves that office, according to the number. He can't hide from the number. It squeals on him.

Add to our specific problem numbers other important numbers - the numbers of temperature, blood pressure, pulse, respirations, and - of course, I wouldn't forget this one - the almighty weight, or the new variation thereof, BMI.

I am not suggesting that to our physicians we are only a conglomeration of numbers; on the contrary, the numbers are the tools they need to make diagnoses and plan care.

I am suggesting, however, that how we feel about our own numbers, specifically our ages, may have some bearing on how we make our own diagnoses and plan our own care. And here, my acquaintance Rod's favorite word comes in - judgment. Boy, it's not nice to make judgments about other people, but you can really get into trouble when making them for yourself!

On an MT site I frequent, there is a recent discussion of age and what it means to get older. It runs the gamut, of course, for everything is relative. I write about what life is like at 51, and another lady is scared of turning 40, and yet another lady is already disgusted with photos of herself at 36. (Message to Rod: As pretty as the sequoia trees are, and as peaceful as you are with the aging concept - those are trees and you are a male and it is somewhat different for women in our culture. This is not to say that is a good or bad thing, but it is different.)

However, numbers do not create our identities. Neither do a lot of other things.

I think the problem so many women have with empty nest syndrome is that their whole identities have been based on their role as "full-time mothers." All of a sudden, they have to find out their true identity not based on a role. We read about problems with women identifying only with their profession - then they lose that or retire and have to rethink who they are. She might be a wife and then the word "widow" suddenly defines her to the world. Even Hollywood actresses have a hard time with the transition from "cover girl" to "character actress."

Have you ever heard someone discuss aging and say, "At age ___ I came into my own"? I always thought that expression was strange. Came into my own? My own what? The more I think about it, the more it sounds like identity to me. She came into her own identity - she realized who she really was - outside of the numbers, the roles she played in life, the labels society had given her, the fears that had ruled her. She came into her own wisdom, her own sense of power and accomplishment, her acceptance of the past and contentment regarding the future. She came into the knowledge that she can flow with changes and transitions and come out with her true self intact.

"I'm coming into my own." I like that. Now to work on that cholesterol...

Monday, October 24, 2005

Getting old

OK, so 51 is not technically old. Neither is 35, but our son-in-law made a big point at his birthday party last night that he is now half of 70.

Every time we celebrate a birthday in the family, even if it's not mine, I'm still reminded of the passage of time. We have the "kids" (now adults) and their spouses over, with 2-year-old Caroline, and everybody has a great time. Then after they leave, Ed spends the next day in a pensive mood, reminiscing on how he misses the kids being young, where did the time go, etc.

I'm especially reminded of getting older when I see myself in a photograph. Normally I am the photographer in the family, which gives me freedom to avoid being in the picture. Then I remember how my dad was hardly ever in a picture because he was always the photographer, so I make an effort to have someone take a picture of me once in awhile. And, of course, to upload a picture to this site, as well as to MT sites I frequent, means I have to get a decent head shot. It takes me - I am not exaggerating - about 50 takes before I find a picture of myself I can live with. It got so bad that Ed, who used to do the honors at my request, refuses now to take my head shot, because after he took 4 or 5, I would find fault with them and ask him to take more. So I have to do it myself, holding the camera at what I estimate is the correct angle, and snap away. Over and over. Fortunately, I have a digital camera. I would hate to have taken a whole roll of film to find out an hour later when I picked up the prints at the store that I hated every photo. Now I just hate every photo digitally - it's much cheaper.

Why do I hate every photo? Because I'm old and it shocks me. When did that happen? Unlike some folks, it didn't bother me when I turned 40 or 50. It didn't bother me when the kids got married. It didn't bother me when I became a grandmother. But it bothers me when I see myself in a photograph. Every imperfection is there in full blazing color. Thank goodness for the "delete" key. Delete, delete, delete. Maybe? if I squint a little?....nah. Delete.

Reader's Digest, in their section Life in These United States, had an entry which hit home for me this week:

Fortunately, my husband found a fix for his midlife crisis: a new job. Unfortunately, it was in another state, which meant selling a house where we'd had eight happy years. Getting ready for bed one evening before the move, I said sadly, "I pictured us growing old together here." As he kissed me goodnight, he replied, "We did."

Friday, October 21, 2005


In the latest issue of More magazine, there is article called "How Much Greener Is That Grass?" The premise of the article is to give the reader an overview of four women in their forties who live in four different areas - California, Kansas, Connecticut, and the Virgin Islands - and give details of how they live. They state their incomes, their mortgage payments, their property taxes, the reasons they love where they live, the hidden expenses, their splurges, and then a financial expert gives advice to each woman.

It is always interesting to see what a certain income level can buy in other areas, but I really had to take exception with the woman from the Virgin Islands, Beverly Banks Randall and her husband, Alex. She is an MD, a neonatologist, and her husband is a radio newsman and professor. They make $200,000 a year. Here is an excerpt from their story:

What that buys: An airy house and three rental cottages overlooking the ocean, along with a dock and a pool. Alex paid $250,000 for the property in 1995, and it's now worth $800,000.
Last year, they collected $50,000 from the rentals and put most of it toward capital improvements. They keep a new minivan and two cars on St. Thomas; transportation on Water Island [where they live] is of three golf carts and a secondhand boat. Food runs...$500 a week, since everything but fresh fruit has to be imported...Two children attend private school totaling $26,000 per year. The sitter gets $650 a week, plus an apartment. "We live well, but not extravantly," Banks says. "We bounce from paycheck to paycheck, sometimes dipping into savings."

Splurges: "We had to rebuild half of our house this year," she says, "so we went all out for a $60,000 kitchen." Vacations are a must..."If you live in a beach paradise, you travel to stateside cities with malls and museums," Banks says. The family goes north every Thanksgiving, paying $500 per person for plane tickets alone. And guess who recently spent $7,000 on a set of trains for the garden?

Hidden expenses: Home maintenance is a killer - the family spends $300 every month just for the pool chemicals..."

Why she loves where she lives: Sky, sun, and sea - Banks wouldn't dream of trading her lifestyle. But she admits it's not for everyone....Banks is usually home by 2:30 p.m. and although she's on call 24/7, emergencies occur only about once a week.

OK. I'm sitting here in a Victorian house in Ellsworth, Maine, wishing we had been able to sell this big house and move to our smaller one, and I ask you this: Am I the only one who thinks that they live an extravagant lifestyle? Am I not "getting" it? Well, the final moment of confusion hit me when she closes with this quote:

"You have to want a simple life," she says, "and I've discovered that it really suits me."

She is saying she lives a simple life? A $60,000 kitchen and $7,000 train in the garden and $300 a month for pool chemicals? Ergo, my previous blog. We all have to define simplicity for ourselves. There certainly seem to be a lot of strange definitions going around! It's not just income, it's not just money and expenses, it's not just what your house is like or what you eat or wear or how you spend your time - yet, it encompasses all of this. Reading stories like this make me want to do a survey somewhere, asking people what they think a simple lifestyle entails. The main thing I have learned from this article is this: Who am I to say that Beverly's life is not simple? Isn't that for her to decide? I need only to be looking at my life, with definition of simplicity for me and making changes accordingly. I think every time I find myself passing judgment on others, it is only a sign that I need to do some more thinking about my own life.
I consider myself reminded.

Friday, October 14, 2005


When the subject of conversation is simplicity, the views will always be varied. People have their own ideas on what simplicity means in general, and what it would mean for their lives specifically. Many of these discussions end on the idea that simplicity is easy. It's life without the "bells and whistles." Life in the slow lane. Well, that can be debated.

Tasha Tudor is an individual who fascinates me in some ways. She is a well-known illustrator and painter, over 90 years old, who lives in a cottage in Vermont. Her lifestyle reeks of simplicity. She eschews many modern conveniences. She lives alone with a few pets. Her life is simple...or is it? Here is how her web site describes her life:

Her home, though only 30 years old, feels as though it was built in the 1830's, her favorite time period. Seth Tudor, one of Tasha's four children, built her home using hand tools when Tasha moved to Vermont in the 1970's. Tasha Tudor lives among period antiques, using them in her daily life. She is quite adept at 'Heirloom Crafts', though she detests the term, including candle dipping, weaving, soap making, doll making and knitting. She lived without running water until her youngest child was five years old.
From a young age Tasha Tudor has been interested in the home arts. She excels in cooking, canning, cheese-making, ice cream making and many other home skills. As anyone who has eaten at Tasha Tudor's would know, her cooking skills are unsurpassed. She collects eggs from her chickens in the evenings, cooks only with fresh goats milk, and uses only fresh or dried herbs from her garden. Tasha Tudor is renowned for her Afternoon Tea parties. Once summer arrives, Tasha Tudor leaves her art table to spend the season tending her large, beautiful garden which surrounds her home.

Milks her own goats? Cans? Makes cheese? Makes candles, soap, ice cream? This is the simple life? Sounds like hard work to me!

Which is more indicative of the simple life - loading a washing machine and turning it on, or going to a stream and beating clothes against a rock? Loading a dryer and pushing a button, or carrying loads of wet laundry outside and hanging it on the line, then taking it down later?

I don't think a simple life is necessarily easy. In fact, it can be more difficult to attain than a stressful life. So even though "easy" may be a synonym for "simple," I don't buy it.

So when people say they are striving for a life of simplicity, what do they mean? I can't even see where the definition of "less stressful" and "less harried" applies in a general way. I can't imagine a more stressful life than your intake of food being dependent on having healthy chickens (who haven't been killed by predators) laying eggs on a regular basis, which you have to collect on a regular basis. My husband Ed knows the stress of getting wood ready for the fire, as he does the sawing and splitting by hand. Imagine having to have the fire not only to warm the house but to cook the food!

I was thinking about all this now because my sister Joy has spent the week in Mississippi, helping to clean up and demolish houses that Hurricane Katrina destroyed. I haven't spoken to her yet, but through our mother I hear that she has performed some pretty gross and unappealing chores down there. She had been planning to spend her vacation week in the comfort of her home, and instead she felt led to travel to another state and sleep in a tent. I don't think she would consider her week of the "simple life" one of relaxation!

So what is a life of simplicity? I have concluded that it is a life with integrity. A genuine life. A life where you realize that every act you do - whether buying a new outfit or choosing a new car, whether recycling or disposing, whether acquiring or giving away, the use of your time, the use of your gifts, the use of your money, the stand you take on issues of poverty and injustice - affects other people. It's a life that feels right. It is a life of wisdom. A life where you make choices over and over that are based on your own idea of what a life with integrity and simplicity means for you, knowing that what you do will impact the world.

Maybe I'm not one for making my own soap. I can recycle, though. I can buy a car that uses less gasoline. I can give to those less fortunate. I can educate myself and others about quality of life and what it entails.

And, as I have said before, it's a journey without end. Maybe we should drop the word "simplicity" altogether in favor of "integrity." Hurray for Joy...she has complicated her life this week to help others!

Friday, October 07, 2005

Time draws near

I'm thinking about Christmas. I know it's early, but it is ingrained in crafters/quilters and other creative type people to think about gift-giving way before the gift is needed. This is due to the simple fact that for those of us who would like to make our gifts, we really need a few months in advance...or in my case, a few years, since I'm still working on Rachel's wedding quilt. In my ideal world, I would make every gift that I gave! If I didn't have a full-time job, I might make headway towards that goal, but as it is, my procrastinating self is setting records for project incompletion times.

My sister ordered me a great T-shirt for my birthday. It says, "Live simply so that others may simply live." She bought it on, and shortly after I received it, I found some time to visit the web site.

I mentioned before that this will be the first Christmas since our attempt to start simplifying our lives. This will truly be the test. I considered the idea of not exchanging gifts at all, and instead giving to charity. But that is not what I want entirely either. Not to denigrate charity donations, but I have people in my life whom I love dearly and I want to give them something meaningful to celebrate Christmas. (Right now, I know one or both of our kids is thinking, "Money is always meaningful!" and at this stage in their lives, I totally understand!) Alas, we are into October and, since I am still working on the quilt for Rachel and Chris (its completion date was supposed to be June 2002), I don't really have enough time to make gifts for all my relatives (unless I get an early start for 2008). Nevertheless, I ventured forth on the simple living web site to read about ways to make Christmas gift-giving more meaningful. Here is what they say:

Consider how our consumer-oriented values have shaped our gift-giving practices:

  • Conformity is prized over individuality. Despite society's rhetoric about individuality, the "if-you-don't-have-one-you-are-inadequate" message of mass culture relentlessly bombards the senses from the air waves and print media. Consumer society's emphasis is to create needs rather than to create products to meet needs we already have. This results in conformity in how needs are perceived and the ways we meet those needs. The more far-reaching result of our conformity, however, may be an absence of dissenting voices in today's mass culture.
  • Whatever is bought and sold is better than whatever isn't. A broad assumption in the consumer society is that the only way to be happy is to accumulate things. Friendship, contentment, and security are significant only as they involve consumption. The way to express love and affection for another is by buying some "thing." By implication, gifts that are not "bought things" - including things made with one's own hands - are not worth much. The restrictive nature of this assumption rules out a whole host of wonderful ways to give, including the giving of time and skill. Not only does preoccupation with "buying to give" overlook other ways of giving, it also seems to make gift-giving less personal.
  • More and bigger are better. Less and small are chintzy. In a society which produces consumer goods far beyond the needs of its members, consumption without restraint becomes an ideal. This society's extraordinary levels of consumption have resulted in unparalleled amounts of waste, thus earning the title, "the throw-away society." Unrealistic ideas that Earth has unlimited natural resources, cheap energy, and adequate means of waste disposal have undergirded our consumption and waste. Yet all three of these assumptions are known to be false. The issues raised by this knowledge are more than ecological. Recognition of our planet's limited resources forces us to address the question of a just distribution of goods and resources. New consumer values, ideals, and practices are urgently needed so that all people can share in what the world has to offer.

I thought about why I want ideally to make every gift I give. Here are some reasons from:
  • You get involved in the gifts you give, or the things you live with. When you purchase, you are separated from the item; making items yourself yields a unique connection. As such, making things yourself is an antidote to the consumerism that seems to be plaguing our society.
  • You can ensure that the item will be of heirloom quality. When you make something yourself you are in control of the entire production process. When you purchase an item you are putting your trust in a brand name that usually represents a distant manufacturing facility. Of course, there are high-quality manufactured products but these are often the minority and usually very expensive.

  • Gifts that you make for others almost always have more meaning than those that you merely purchase. It is often said that the spirit of gift giving is not in the object itself but rather in the associated thoughtfulness. What gift is more thoughtful than one that is custom-made by you for the intended recipient? Such gifts indicate that you devoted some time and thought on a project to express an emotion or idea - therein lies true meaning.

  • The process of making something yourself is intrinsically enjoyable. Furthermore this joy is often extended beyond the initial phase. Many make-it-yourselfers enjoy their projects forever because they feel a sort of connection to them.

  • You can make truly unique things that are not available for purchase.
So there you have it - all the considerations swirling around gift-giving. And if you are ever shocked to receive a handmade gift from me - well, be honored! I probably started it in 1997!

Monday, October 03, 2005

They're baaaack!

My friends are back. They have been languishing in a storage facility with no one to love them. They are, of course, my books. At least, the books that we kept after we gave so many away. Our house was feeling strange without a ton of books.

Not only are the books back from storage, but everything else is too. When we rented a storage unit last spring, we assumed we would sell the house this summer and already be moved into our new house by winter, so we stored all our "clutter" and excess furniture, as well as winter clothes and Christmas decorations. Now that we've taken the house off the market until next spring, we decided we didn't need to be paying that $109 a month storage fee, when we need that $109 to help pay for heating oil this winter. So back everything came. Matt and Sarah were so sweet to help us do the hard work (after all, the boxes and furniture had to be carried up a flight, to a landing, up another flight, to the landing, up another flight, to the landing, then up the final flight, then the length of the house!). Our son-in-law Chris offered his help for the second day, but they had already finished up earlier than expected. Our daughter, Rachel, passed up the opportunity to help. What kind of excuse is being in the last few weeks of pregnancy, anyway?! She's so stuck out in front that all we would have done would have been to put a backpack on her and fill it up. It would even balance her better. Oh, well.

Even though we are inundated with boxes and furniture again, we are happy that our "stuff" is back in the house. We can access it, read it, wear it, decorate with it, or just plain admire it.

Even though we were disappointed the house didn't sell this past summer, we are happy it's off the market for the winter. I was reading a book about the sacredness of the home space, and I stopped to think about that. One of the reasons the constant showings were unnerving for us was that we have always considered home our sacred space, and the endless barrage of strangers traipsing in, through, around our sacred space just disoriented us in some way. It's different when we've had invited guests and led them on a tour through the house. That was fine. But total strangers usurping our home while they made their inevitable judgments on our decorating taste or lack thereof - that bothered us.

We know we will have to go through that again in the spring, when the house will be officially on the market once more. But for now, we are hunkering down for winter, satisfied that our clothes are not mildewing in a concrete storage unit somewhere, and inordinately pleased that that book we need to reference is just within reach.

It will be pleasant to have a few months of reprieve before we jump on the merry-go-round again in the spring.