Category Archives: Life

Hidden privileges

Back in January I observed in a post on food that I easily make 700+ meals a year for myself. That number was so daunting! I wrote that “It’s work to put together wholesome, non-toxic, nutrient-rich meals from scratch on a daily basis.”

As I was thinking about the role food and cooking occupy in my life (a big one) and how the whole business of feeding one’s self can feel like a chore, I also started to think about the people I’ve met over the years, mainly older women, who would have loved an opportunity to be back in their own kitchen cooking. These are people who can no longer cook for themselves or who no longer live in their own home, but in nursing or other elder facilities. The days of preparing a meal for themselves and others are behind them.

I thought also about how many people in the world don’t get enough food, who would find the idea of complaining about, or just feeling tired or bored of fixing meals, unfathomable.

These thoughts led me to write a little index card that I put on the refrigerator which has been there ever since.  It’s a reminder I need.

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Short Thought 206

There ought to be a word for the experience of feeling left out of events you wouldn’t want to be part of in the first place.

Colette, Somewhat Improved

At the start of the year I set a few concrete, albeit simple goals for 2018, nothing too whacky, involving essentially: cooking, reading, and being in nature. I visited my progress already in March.

I’m back again to talk about it some more. I have read 15 books. Because I am horribly prone to being exacting and forthcoming, I have to say three of them were short. Two were what you’d call novellas and the other was Roz Chast’s “graphic novel” tribute to New York city, easily read in a sitting. Still…. am I proud of this accomplishment? Oh hell yes I am proud!

As I wrote back in January my ability to read had pretty much gone to shit. It was worse than I realized. I still thought of myself as a “reader” as I’d been throughout my life.  But how much was I really reading, that is, books? Not as many as I thought. I couldn’t tell you how many books I read in 2017 or 2016 or 2015 for that matter, but it damn sure was not 15 in a year, let alone four months

I’ve been thinking about how this happened. When I was preschool age I could not WAIT to get to start first grade because I knew it meant I’d learn to read (these were days long ago when, for me at least, kindergarten was mainly for playing and having stories read to you not learning to read). In gradeschool my class once had a contest for who could write the most book reports. Not only did I win, I blew the rest of the kids away. (Sadly the prize was some  kind of religious  trinket, a holy medal or such, I’ve forgotten what exactly but as you see, several decades later, I haven’t forgot I won.) Reading always excited me. In the years I went to college, it bothered me that my personal reading, as in nontext books, had to be cut back. When I did office work and spent long days staring at computer screens, my eyes were too red and tired after to read much at  home. This too disturbed me.

Once upon a time, books were the main thing and movies, another big love, were the occasional treat. This was when it wasn’t so easy to watch movies, when they weren’t so available. I read more books than watched movies. But in recent years that flip-flopped. I love movies but realizing I was doing more passive watching than engaging (more) of my mind by reading didn’t sit right. I also couldn’t tell you how many movies I typically view in a year, no idea. (I also don’t know how I’d quantify whole series like The Walking Dead or Game of Thrones; every two hours equals one movie??)

More than movies, the internet screwed up my ability to read. I am certain internet use has changed my wiring and not for the best. Your brain gets some sort of endorphin payoff every so often while being on online. The payoff is inconsistent and unpredictable so gaining it necessitates perpetual activity and vigilance. You go online and basically wait for something good to happen. Trouble is there is a whole lot of crap and wasted time inbetween those “payoff” moments, at least for me and I  imagine for many people. There are times when I’m bored or tired and just fool around online hoping magic strikes, or at least something interesting catches my attention.  It was easier to get online & read various (quick) stuff than to read a book.

I wanted to change, I wanted to recapture something I’d lost. And I have. It feels REALLY GOOD to have found my way back to books. My rule is I don’t have to read anything I don’t want to, even if it means quitting a book halfway through. This isn’t supposed to be punishment. I didn’t plan it this way but of the 15 books, only four have been fiction. The funniest was You’ll Grow Out of It by Jessi Klein, a woman I’d never heard of. The page-turner was Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness by Susannah Cahalan, which I knocked out in two days. I was back!

 

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I’m also doing crossword puzzles; I got a little book of them from Dollar Tree and a second volume for when the first is done. Doing the puzzles has made me sharper (I now can say with conviction there were nine Muses and “Clio” was one. This has come up a few times, despite t the puzzles being written by various makers.) I find myself saying  repeatedly, “I know this” or “I should know this” when trying to figure out clues. I know things I don’t realize I know; it’s often an issue of retrieval. I find real satisfaction in realizing what an answer is, particularly when it doesn’t come to me immediately. However, I  doubt myself because a voice inside me often says at the start of a puzzle when there are too many open spaces, “I’ll never finish this.”  I’ve done 40 (of 88) puzzles so you’d think I’d be a little more trusting by now.

The puzzles show me where my knowledge is decent and where there’s weakness; I don’t know sports or the Bible, and world geography isn’t too promising either. Greek mythology is iffy but improving!  The puzzles force me to consider things from different angles (like when an answer I filled in confidently subsequently messes up other answers and I’m compelled to rethink it). I’ve noticed that this skill is carrying over into other areas of my life; it’s as if my brain is deviating from overworn paths and checking out new trails.  It’s subtle but I can tell.

One of my goals was to make 10 new recipes. I’ve made 14. Also, my diet, already good, is a bit better. I’m eating less cheese and more vegetables for one. And I’m enjoying it. Food is pleasure to me. Tweaking my diet and nutrition makes me pay more attention,  be more conscious, which is a good thing. I really think my little goals this year are doing exactly that:  making me more conscious of how I spend my time, how I relax, how I eat, how I live. Solidly in middle age, I find it is entirely up to me not to become mired in ruts, or lazy and if not full-on lazy, maybe just complacent. I must challenge myself. I don’t want to be coasting along, I want to be alert.

 

 

 

 

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Short Thought 205 (mother/daughter)

Many years ago I realized that my mother hadn’t given me a model for how to be a woman. I was largely left to figure it out for myself. I subsequently told this to the man I was seeing. He said no, she had provided a model; it just wasn’t one I wanted. I thought that was insightful and probably more accurate than what I’d said.

So here’s how my “Kinda, Sorta New Year’s Resolutions” are going

I didn’t expect to weigh in on my “Kinda, Sorta New Year’s Resolutions” this soon but I’ve made progress and I feel like writing about it. These ” resolutions ” tie in with a renewed effort on focusing where I put my attention. I became more conscious about how much of my attention and mental energy I was permitting to go to less-than-worthy sources. I said it felt like my life was this huge ship whose direction needed slight correcting. I felt the creaking and heaving of the effort. Here’s what I’m thinking. The older you are and/or the longer you’ve been doing things certain ways, the more it takes to change course. So even if the changes you might wish to undertake aren’t HUGE or even a PARTICULARLY BIG DEAL – as is the case with me – it still takes more effort to get things going (as with even a slight turn on a big, ole ship).

Let me jump in on my specific goals. In 2018 I want to read 20 books, make 10 visits to our local lake, and make 10 new recipes. None of these are monumental but they were all things I considered worthwhile that I was not doing or not doing much. (Yet I seemed to have time for less worthy endeavors or things that just weren’t terribly satisfying.) There is something motivating about getting to make a new entry of my goals list.

I’ve made 13 new recipes! Standouts include Jessica Seinfeld’s Potato, Cauliflower, and Carrot cream soup and Easy, healthy Walnut, Date, Coconut Treats. Not-so-successful recipes were an oatmeal whole wheat bread and gumbo (I never realized gumbo was okra and tomatoes – I love both okra and tomatoes, how could it miss? It missed.) I feel more excited about cooking again, putting in the time and effort to make new things, not just “sure things.”

This year I’ve cut back on cheese – there are actual days when I eat no cheese – and kicked up my vegetable eating. I had to rethink vegetables, to prioritize them, because although I eat HUGE salads and like certain vegetables A LOT, normally they aren’t the first thing I think of and they definitely haven’t been my emphasis.

I’ve visited the local lake six times already. To be honest, my community has added a clothing dropoff box adjacent to the lake area so I’ve used the opportunity to drop off clothes I no longer want as an incentive to head to the lake. Once there, I walk around and such. Accomplishing a small task in the deal makes it easier for me to plan to go there.

Books. I have read six books. My pace here isn’t stellar though because two of the books were short. Also, I have started but not finished three books – I made myself a deal that I wouldn’t force myself to read anything. I got halfway through both Chris Kyle’s American Sniper and Stephen King’s The Dead Zone before quitting. I just didn’t want to devote more time to either. I also started Alice Sebold’s Almost Moon (having really liked The Lovely Bones and Lucky) but realized I’d either started it or read it before and wasn’t so wild about it.

I feel almost ashamed by how far “behind” I let myself get reading-wise. I have much catching up to do but the real point is I am making reading more of a priority again, recouping my ability to sit down and stay put with a book. They aren’t all going to be great but I know by keeping at it, I’ll find ones that are.

So not only have I made a point to do these good things, I’ve cut back on things I felt wasted my time or made me feel not right. There are a couple TV shows I have not watched at all this year, shows that weren’t really adding much to my life. I also stopped reading a community Facebook page, one that often aggravated me with the content and regular vitriol by some of its partipants. I checked back in this week and among the more normal posts – lost cats, community events, etc – was a lengthy “conversation” on hot-button topics that got ugly. I felt myself getting upset. I guess maybe I needed confirmation that staying away is best for me. See, my fear is I’ll miss out (FOMO) on something important. What that “something” is I don’t really know. The reality is my life has gone on, been better even, since staying away. I remind myself I had a life before social media.

I started doing crossword puzzles again this winter, another thing I used to do. As my attention became scattery from time spent online, I found I lacked the stick-to-it-ness required to do a puzzle. It would get hard and I’d quit. I began making myself stick with it and get more done. The more I did the sharper I felt. I found this little book of 88 puzzles at Dollar Tree. I love it! They are all written by different puzzle makers. They challenge me but don’t make me feel like I’m way out of my depth.
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When I get a clue answer I feel a little endorphin surge, especially those I struggled with or took awhile to guess. I find that I have a broader body of knowledge than I (consciously) realize and at the same time the puzzles force me to accesss different ways of thinking. My initial thoughts aren’t always right and I need to approach the clue from a different angle. For examples: the answer to the clue House calls? was “votes”, Back biter? was ” molar”, Singer who’s an actress was “Lori”, my mind went a number of places before it went the right way. I need this kind of intellectual challenge; my life doesn’t automatically provide it.

I have not yet checked out The New York Times puzzles which I understand are considered the best. I watched a DVD of Wordplay, the 2006 documentary on the Times puzzle and its followers, who have an annual competition, and it did make me curious. I always figured I’d find their puzzles kind of dry and boring but maybe I’m wrong.

From 2015-2017 I lost a lot of my energy to an ongoing problem in my life. I spent a lot of energy fighting it and, for a time, trying to get the people who SHOULD help, to actually help. I had a sea change in attitude starting last summer. In a way, I gave up, which doesn’t necessarily seem like the ideal or right course, but it has helped me. Instead I am focusing on those actions and responses within my control. I stopped focusing so much on the problem and as I’ve been saying, started putting my energy back into me. It is too easy for me at to get overly caught up in problems, be they mine or someone else’s. I totally get that there is a choice in this and I can choose otherwise. The ship is turning.

NOTE: Please forgive a delay in responding to comments; I do want to hear them!

Indoor and Outdoor

Some years ago I coined the terms indoor coffee and outdoor coffee. The first is what you make at home and the latter is what you buy outside. I’m almost exclusively an “indoor coffee” person (and I keep that minimal) unless I’m on a trip maybe.

Yesterday, after a visit to the eye doctor, I concluded there are indoor problems and outdoor problems. “Indoor problems” are those on the home front like a buzz on the telephone line, obnoxious loud neighbors, an ant infestation, a toilet handle that keeps falling off, a fridge that breaks down so you have to throw out all your food, or a wall with a hole that needs patching. “Outdoor problems” include doctor visits, car repairs, issues at work, car accidents, relationship struggles with relatives, people who owe you money, stores that don’t have what you’re looking for (after they assured you they did), harassment of any stripe, and so on.

I find that my problems tend to “clump.” I’ll have a series of indoor problems in short order or a bunch of outdoor problems piling up comsecutively. Sometmes there are a lot of BOTH. I don’t cope with overload of ANY kind especially well; you can hit a point where you cry uncle: I DON’T WANT ANY MORE PROBLEMS. It’s not as if saying that helps but just in case…

Focusing….

Winter lends itself to reflection.

I’ve been thinking about what I let enter my consciousness. Like a lot of you I get very torn between feeling I should know what’s going on in the world – no matter how ugly – versus feeling that my attention would be better served elsewhere. I am so sick of politics. I am sick of terrorism. I am sick of crime. I am sick of drugs. I am sick of focusing on everything bad, both micro and macro.

I really do believe that what you focus on is what you get more of in life. We’re made to feel guilty if we want to focus on ourselves, on enjoyment, on little things (or god forbid, nothing at all). How can we sit around and watch TV when the terrorists are planning horrendous crimes? How can I watch old Twin Peaks DVDs when every day there seems to be another national or world crisis demanding my attention?

I don’t have the answer but I am leaning a certain way lately. I am tired of letting my energy be siphoned off of me by unworthy sources. THAT’S what it is. I get sucked in too easily and for what? To what end? I’m talking primarily about the space that gets taken up in my head. I find myself getting worked up about things I really don’t even care about! If I stop and think about them. I do this on small local matters and larger world matters.

Too much time passes after which I neither feel satisfied nor fulfilled nor enriched. It’s my own doing. It’s where I’m putting my time, it’s where I’m allowing my focus to rest. I have a lot of say in that. I want to be more conscious about this.

There are certain shows I watch on TV, not habitually but sometimes, after which I feel kind of icky. Sometimes I read things on Facebook, posts with lots of comments, mostly local fare, and I regret it. I find myself getting all reactive (inside) as if it really mattered. I think: Why am I reading this? Why do I feel an urge to jump in (one I usually squelch)? Will it change anything? Will I be more enlightened? Will anything be solved?

Sometimes it seems like you have to wade through 70-80% crap to ferret out 20-30% good. And this ratio can be found in so many places: entertainment, online, in gatherings, etcetera. Those aren’t good odds. I want better ones. It’s kind of my mission at the moment to seek out those things (people, places, events, social media) that pay off regularly and to lessen or eliminate those which are hit and miss.

I’ve said it before. WordPress – blogging and reading other blogs and interacting in comments – is one of the best ways I spend time online. If I’m going to be online – and I am! – I want to read more of what benefits me and less of what mainly passes my time. Right now I’m looking for and following a variety of public people on Facebook  – authors, etc. – who I’ve liked in the past. If I think they’re adding something to my life (knowledge, wit, whatever) I’ll keep following. If not, that’s what the “unfollow” button is for. I’m ditching what aggravates or annoys me. I want to open up space for people who have something to tell me, something I need to hear.

Because I’ve been snoozing at the wheel I’m discovering that authors I’ve liked have published books – some several years ago and I didn’t know it. Where have I been?? I need to catch up. I’ve allowed my focus to become jumbled and fragmented in ways that don’t sit right. My last post about my “Kinda sorta New Year’s Resolutions”  is one concrete step (20 books, 10 visits to local lake, 10 new recipes) in that direction. The course needs slight correcting. I feel as if I AM steering a ship and am now throwing my weight and resolve into turning the wheel a few degrees. I can almost hear the creaking and heaving. 

 

Note: p!ease forgive a day or two delay in responding to comments, thanks.