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Archive for the ‘Falling Apart at the Seams’ Category

If you could be given the option to never sleep and also never be tired, would you take it if it meant you’d also never dream again?”

First, I must apologize for skipping yesterday.  I would love to be able to write that it was Russian Christmas and I was off celebrating, but the truth is, I was down with flu.  Apparently it’s true that this flu season is so bad, you can still get flu even if you’ve had the shot.  (It was still Russian Christmas.)

Now, to our muttons.  It’s tempting to say “Yes” to the prompt.  I mean, 24 hours in which to get it all done!  Imagine what you could do with the eight extra hours!  Not to mention that the idea of never dreaming again has enormous appeal, considering that the only dreams I ever have are nightmares.  My last nice dream was over 20 years ago.

But all things considered…no, I don’t think I would take it.  For one thing, I really doubt that I would be any more productive in 24 hours than I already am in 16; I waste enough time as it is.  (Facebook, anyone??)  And where would the pleasure of a really rainy night be, if I couldn’t spend it lying in bed, listening to the whisper of rain all around me until I fell asleep?  Not to mention the delicious feel of snuggling down under a quilt and finding just the right spot to burrow in…

Okay, I’m a sleep hedonist, I admit it.  But the truth is that we have been designed to need rest.  I’m married to someone who seriously thinks that rest is sinful – because it’s non-productive – so he pushes and pushes himself until evening, when he collapses into his easy chair and passes out.  Then, two hours later, he wakes up and goes to bed.  The sad part is, for all his “productivity,” it’s all there waiting for him the next day.  That’s the nature of work.  It is never done.  Just think of laundry.

And maybe that’s the difference between us.  Because I do the laundry, I’ve come to realize that work really is never done, and that in order to have any kind of life, you have to drag yourself away from it, you have to take your rest.  There has to be a time in your day when you put your feet up and read, or work a puzzle, or focus on doing something creative – restorative – regenerative.  Otherwise, what’s the point in calling yourself a human being?  You’re nothing more than a machine.

And nothing gets the point across more immediately than the need to sleep.

Which, now that’s 4:30 a.m. and I’ve been up for an hour, I’m going back to.  Sleep tight!

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“Which daily tasks take up the most of your energy?”

It’s a funny thing about getting older.  You never realize it when you are young, but when old people talk about “not having their get-up-and-go,” they’re actually talking about losing energy.  Now that I am in my sixties, I look back on the things I did when I was in my forties – full-time job, night classes, plus keeping house for a husband and two teenagers – and I shake my head:  How on earth did I do all that?!  Nowadays it takes me all morning to do chores that used to take an hour.  And the one that wipes me out the most is…making beds.

When I was young, I was taught to make my bed as soon as I got out of it, and I did this for years.  It was one less chore to clutter up my mind, and the bedroom always looks tidier and more serene with a bed that’s been made up.  Then I began married life in Germany, where you Just Don’t make your bed before airing it out thoroughly.  And I mean “thoroughly”:  People sleep beneath duvets, those puffy feather-filled comforters that are always covered in a big envelope, and first thing in the morning, the window is opened and the duvets and pillows are hung out for at least an hour.

(A funny aside here:  When my daughter was a child, I took her to Saturday school to learn German.  One of the mothers had just returned from a two-year sabbatical in Germany, and couldn’t stop talking about how grateful she was to be back in the States.  Since I was aching with homesickness – no, I’m not German, but the whole way of life had really clicked with me – I couldn’t imagine why she’d be grateful to be here.  Her answer:  “Those women and their featherbeds!  Every morning, at punkt seven o’clock, every window in Stuttgart would bang open, and out would come the featherbeds.  You could set your clock by the way those women hung out their featherbeds!”  Oh-kay.)

Well…it’s a habit that has stuck with me (one of many).  I won’t say I’m so fanatic as to get my bedding out the window by seven o’clock – for one thing, in the winter in New England the sun doesn’t rise until seven-thirty at the earliest, and I like it to be fully up before I put things out in the frost, or dew, depending on the season – but every morning by nine the latest, I drag the featherbeds off my husband’s and my bed and get them out for at least an hour, and usually, until the afternoon.  I used to yank them off and whisk them out the window.  These days, I drag them off and carry them through the hall and kitchen (we have a one-story house) and hang them off the back porch.  Then I put the pillows next to an open window so they can air, too.

By the time that’s done, I need to sit down and restock my energy.  I tell myself that this is because I’m so short, and lugging those featherbeds all through the house, holding them up so that they don’t drag on the floor (yes, I fold them in my arms – that’s how short I am), is bound to take the stuffing out of me.  But the truth is – I’m getting old.  And, as the saying goes, “My get-up-and-go has got up and gone.”

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Like ICare

I’m finally beginning to understand why old people get so fixated on the past:  They have no idea what people are talking about in the present.

Recently I got an e-mail (Mother:  “What’s an e-mail?”) from Consumer Reports, wanting to know about my cell-phone service.  I felt like an idiot answering it; they had all kinds of questions about my SmartPhone and my IPhone and my IPad and my Tablet (I know what Tablets are – Moses came down from Mount Sinai with them.  And the newspaper for the Brooklyn Diocese was named The Tablet).  Really, what is an IPhone or an IPad?!  What’s wrong with just using a cell phone and a laptop!?

My husband and I hear ads on television all the time for these things, along with MP3 players and BlueTooth Capability, and look at each other in bewilderment – and what the heck is a Blue Ray?  Is it any relation to a stingray?  I’m sure that if we still had a Younger-Generation Person living in the house, they’d be only too happy to explain these things to us (eye-rolls included gratis), but the offspring are long gone, and when we do see them – mostly him, she living a thousand miles away – we have more important things to talk about than IShouldn’tUseThatLanguage.

Listen, I don’t even like cell phones.  I have one in case of emergencies, so that if I get stuck on my way to one of my two churches – one is forty miles away, one is fifty miles away – I can call for help.  (Is there an app called OHelp?  What’s an app?)  But I see far too many people glued to their cell phones like it was an umbilical cord or something – and the most pathetic ones of all are the young mothers who are out walking with their little children, gabbing away on their phones, oblivious to the little person right next to them.  And the most painful one was the father and son in a restaurant, the son looking totally miserable while his father gassed on the cell phone, like anybody on a telephone could be more important than the person in front of you.

Actually, if it comes to that – I’m not all that crazy about telephones, either.  Again, they’re good for emergencies, which is why I have one.  And speaking of telephones, when is Congress going to break up Wal-Mart the way they broke up Bell Telephone?!  Wal-Mart on a bad day is a far worse monopoly than Ma Bell ever was.

The world makes less and less sense to me, so I guess that means I’m officially Old.  And to prove it, there are days when I wake up with three men in my bed:  Will Power gets me out of bed despite Arthur Itis and Charley Horse.  But the first man I see in the morning is John, and the man I go to bed with is Ben Gay.  Sorry, I had to find a way to work that oldie in; it has become embarrassingly relevant in recent years.

But, as I’m always telling people – getting old is better than the alternative.  Meanwhile, I don’t suppose there’s an app for IAche??

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This has not been an easy week for me.  In another post, I mentioned that we are having some major renovations done to our house, both badly needed:  a new roof (think of the sound of nails being pounded overhead, all day long), and a new bathroom, which will be lovely when finished, but is most disconcerting just at present:  Where do we keep our toothbrushes? where did we put the toothpaste? where’s the shaving tackle? where’s that box of Unmentionable Personal-Care Products?  You get the idea.  Not to mention that during the day, the toilet is disconnected so that the contractor can work on the walls.  My hairdresser wanted to know if we were getting a whirlpool tub, and I had to say no, we aren’t; we’re pretty minimalist people.  But the concern with this project was that the caulking kept pulling away from the old tub, and we were concerned that there was water damage to the walls; so we really needed to have the whole  room redone.  Thankfully, no water damage, and the new bathtub has a raised lip that precludes the necessity of caulking.  A clever solution to a common problem; wish we’d known about it years ago.

And on top of all this chaos – our favorite radio station has signed off the air.  As of 5:00 p.m. on Thursday, WBACH has disconnected its Southern Maine transmitter; its frequency was sold at a bankruptcy auction to a group that has replaced classical programming with yet more rock ‘n’ roll, as if, you know, the cultural scene of southern Maine is going to fall apart if we don’t have one more venue for angry screaming.  All is not quite lost, as we can still access programming on our computer (and thank goodness for that – I can still remember the emptiness when New York’s WNCN went off the air the first time, in 1974), but our computer is in the office, and the office is nowhere near the living room.  We’re looking into getting a wireless router (or something along those lines) that will allow us to pick up the signal off the computer.

In light of the events of this past week – I refer, of course, to Libya – these concerns seem almost insultingly trivial.  And there are people out there, people whom I love and care about deeply, who are suffering real tragedies and crises, so if your reaction is, “You’re in mourning over a classical-music station?!  Get real!” that’s understandable.  But I’m not sure the two are entirely unconnected.

Just this past week, I wrote about classical music under the topic of beauty being in the eye of the beholder, and I noted that classical music’s reputation began to take a hit when “searching-for-the-lost-chord” compositions came into vogue.  Thinking about it further, I’m not entirely sure that that’s the actual cause; on another level, I think it might (also) have something to do with an American trait that suspects anything Intellectual.  When I was growing up – and certainly when my parents were growing up – classical music was firmly associated with the College Crowd.  In those years, college was only for the wealthy, or for people who were going into High Finance; they came out of college smoking pipes, if male, or wearing twinsets and pearls, if female, voting Republican and listening to classical music.  Then came the 1960s, and since then, the College Crowd seems to wear denim and eschew bathing and vote Democrat.  Listening to classical music is still associated with Rich People, and as any student with loans up the wazoo can tell you, college students are by and large not Rich.  (Nor are they educated to the standards formerly set by colleges, but that’s another story.)

A college education used to include mandatory music-appreciation courses, and the music on offer was exclusively classical.  That’s no longer the case – even where music appreciation is offered (as an elective), the music studied is only marginally classical – so lovers of classical music continue to dwindle.  And so does intellectual life, the life of the mind – dare I say, the life of the soul?  My point, if there is one, is that people who like classical music not only are suspected of being slightly weird, but have always been suspected of being – well, not like the rest of mankind, anyway.  Do they even know what hard work is?  (Only someone who has never tried to master a musical instrument can ask this question with a straight face.)  What kind of a brain actually likes that stuff?!  What does any of it have to do with Real Life, you know, that place where people get their fingernails filthy with embedded grime and their hands are cracked and bleeding from hard work?

I first encountered the term “philistine” when WNCN went off the air and was replaced by a rock station.  It seems to be a term describing anti-intellectualism, a dumbing-down of the prevalent culture to some level of lowest-common-denominator, a lack of appreciation for making the effort to become more than one step above Animal.  Think about that, an animal’s purely visceral reaction to what goes on around it.  Eat or be eaten.

Then think of the images out of Libya.

Then ask yourself what was refined about anything you saw in the news.

Then tell me that the loss of a classical-music radio station – of one more level of refinement – of being human – of being more than Animal – is trivial.

This week, the Philistines triumphed.

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Some time ago, my husband and I came to the realization that we needed to undertake two fairly extensive home-improvement projects as soon as possible:  We needed a new roof, and we needed to have our bathroom professionally overhauled – periodic re-caulking around the bathtub was getting out of hand.  The roofing job began last week; the bathroom retro-fit is taking place as I type, and it’s already apparent on both fronts that it was TIME TO GET THEM DONE.  The roof would not have lasted out this winter, and the wiring that we found when the walls were ripped out of the bathroom – well, let’s just say that building codes were very different sixty years ago.

What it all amounts to is that our regular schedule is, shall we say, “discombobulated,” as we try to stay out of the way of the roofers, plumbers, plasterers, and electricians.  In short – I stay on the porch with my cross stitch, and my husband stays in the office, online.  It’s been wonderful for my gigantic cross-stitch project; not so wonderful for catching up with e-mails, or blogging.

So I will blog as I can, and in the meantime, here’s today’s prompt from NaBloPoMo:  “Which sense is more important to you: vision or hearing?:

Oh, boy, I can hear my aunt laughing snidely from the other side of the grave.  We had this “conversation,” if you can call debate a conversation, when I was a teenager, and rashly asserted that if I had to choose, I’d choose hearing over sight.  Everybody in the family jumped down my throat on that one, most emphatically my mother’s sister, the family doyenne – if Aunt Mary didn’t approve of something, or didn’t like something, or stopped buying something or started buying something, whatever it was became gospel.  In-laws could find themselves frozen out in the cold for all eternity, with one dismissive glance from this particular aunt.

This is what I thoughtlessly challenged with my assertion on the subject of the importance of being able to hear.  Here’s the thing, though:  I’m a musician.  Not a professional musician, just someone who has always related to her world in terms of sound (and it’s this particular aunt who told me that I could sing before I could talk, incidentally).  I was in my fifties before I realized that not everybody can produce a melody with complete accuracy.  I cook, believe it or not, based on the sound of the cooking; I know when something has come to a boil, when it’s time to add more water, on the basis of the sounds emanating from the stove.  And my timer (another device based on sound) is my best friend.

I am also aware that blind people have a sharper sense of hearing that allows them to “see” with their ears, so my assertion wasn’t as off the wall as it sounds.  Nevertheless, my aunt never let me forget it; so help me Hannah, she was reminding me of that discussion two weeks before she died.  And I meekly reversed my assertion:  “Yes, Aunt Mary, you were right, seeing is more important than hearing.”  For most people, anyway.  What the heck, she was old, and she needed to be right.

Thing is – sight has become more important to me as I’ve grown older.  Not more important than hearing, but at least as important, as I’ve had to make my way around a part of the world that is absolutely auto-dependent.  How can you do anything if you can’t drive, and how can you drive if you can’t see?  That’s my current dilemma.  And there’s another aspect that I could never in a million years have foreseen when I was a teenager:  I “hear” with my eyes, too.  That is – I can sight-read music, look at it and know what all those little dots on those little lines mean in terms of reproducing a  sound with my throat.  I can look at a piece of music and, never having heard the melody before, sing right along with my choir without missing a beat.  I could even sing in harmony, if I still had the vocal range I had fifteen years ago.

So I take care of my eyes.  Go for regular vision checkups, wear those glasses that change color in sunlight, try to remember to take vitamins that enhance vision (I’m terrible at taking Pills regularly).  I cherish my ability to read, to work at the computer, to run my errands by car (bicycle would be even better, if New Hampshire ever gets on board with the notion of bike lanes).

But it all goes better with Bach.

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Are there any candies that you just can’t stomach?”

Pretty much all of them, actually.  Nobody realizes this when they’re young, but when older people talk about not being able to eat certain foods, there’s a reason for that:  Those foods cause, shall we say, “digestive unpleasantness.”  There are so many varieties of Digestive Unpleasantness that it doesn’t pay to go into details, and in any case, who on earth wants to hear about that?!  I don’t, and I live with it.

I have to be careful with candy.  One ounce of dark chocolate a day – the current recommendation of the chocolate lobby health community – is playing with fire for me.  I can have things with chocolate chips in them, as long as it isn’t an Eastern Orthodox fasting period like the seven weeks before Pascha/Easter, or the six weeks before Nativity/Christmas, since most chocolate chips are made from milk chocolate.  White chocolate, about which I rhapsodized a couple of posts ago, is a thing of the past.   😦

Hence the title of today’s post.  Friends who read my blog will remember the medical horrors  I went through about six years ago.  It has since been brought to my attention that I had what is known as a “close call” – I guess I really did come that close to dying – and since that unforgettable time, the expression “Eat dessert first” has come to my attention.

It’s meant to be a witty way of getting people to realize that there’s more to life than obsessing over one’s Perfectly Fit Condition, and any Orthodox priest worth his salt will tell you that it doesn’t matter how careful you are with your health – eventually you die, so you should devote considerably more attention to your spiritual health than to your physical health.  Whatever form that takes for you is a matter of personal circumstance, but to obsess over health is pointless; I was in pretty good shape when I went for a routine hysterectomy that turned out to be anything but routine.

And, as happens with most people who have had a close call, I changed some of my priorities.  I spend more time keeping in touch with family and friends, especially family.  (As I once told an investigator when I was applying for a job in federal law enforcement, “Polaks don’t have friends.  We have Relatives.”  He was Polish himself, so he burst out laughing.)  I spend much more time on my hobbies (reading and cross-stitching), and if my housework isn’t done by 10:00 a.m. – oh well.  It’ll still be there tomorrow.  I have a structure for spending an hour or so a day with God, and I make that a priority – it doesn’t always work out, but having that structure nags me to remember what’s really important here.

And while I don’t actually eat dessert first, I do eat dessert (carefully), something that, like too many American women, I used to avoid assiduously:  Gotta keep my Girlish Figure, y’know.  Let me tell you something:  Girlish Figures are vastly overrated.  Once you have children, you deserve a womanly figure.  You don’t have to get fat, but if your shape takes on a few more curves, you should wear them proudly; you came by them honestly.

And while you shouldn’t go overboard with sweets, I am deadly serious about this:  Do not avoid the sweet things in life.  If you’re invited to coffee, or afternoon tea, have the sweet things that go along with it.  Have Strawberries and Peaches and Cream for breakfast (if you combine it with rice and cottage cheese, you actually have a well-balanced meal.  If you use nonfat cottage cheese, you’ve mitigated the effects of the heavy cream.  It’s a great breakfast).  Eat dessert.

Because the day is coming when you wake up one day in your sixties and realize:  You can’t eat dessert anymore.  Sweet things don’t agree with you anymore.  But if you enjoyed them regularly in the past, you won’t feel regret; you’ll be grateful that you realized in time the importance of Eating Dessert First.

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For nearly twenty years now, I have kept track of my life with one of those time-management systems (Franklin-Covey, to be exact).  I like being able to track how I spent my days, and there are other components to this system, such as tracking money, auto servicing, and projects, that I haven’t found anywhere else.  I like, too, that it’s a two-page-per-day system; I can keep track of appointments and Things to Do on one page, and on the facing page, make notes about those appointments, or about the events of my life.  (I could wish that the Appointment section were less detailed – I can think of other things to put in that space – but that’s just me.)

One of the lesser benefits of this particular system is that each day has a quote at the top of the Notes page.  I say “lesser” because sometimes, those quotes are in direct opposition to my own philosophy of life, and I find myself composing tirades to someone who will never read them, clearly a waste of time.  Today’s quote, however, is the inspiration for today’s post:

“The proper function of man is to live, not to exist.  I shall not waste my days in trying to prolong them; I shall use my time.” — Jack London

I’m not actually a fan of Jack London’s Survival-of-the-Fittest writings, but this really struck a chord with me.  People who have known me awhile will remember the horrors of my 2006 surgery, about which I will only say, I have not known a day without pain since that time.  (There are blog posts related to it, beginning in August 2006, if you’re curious.)  What sticks with me from that time, though, is the memory of one of the visiting nurses, who, having reviewed my treatment plan, snarkily added, “And were we considering some Lifestyle Changes?”

Now…I’m fat.  I know it.  I’ve been fighting it since before I should have been fighting it, thanks largely to a mother with body-image problems; in my early twenties, I weighed 95 lbs., and she still thought I was fat.  Now I weigh considerably more than that, and there’s no question:  Even by the most generous measurement standards, I’m fat.  I also know that, given the standards of Orthodox eating, it cannot possibly be related to overeating; even if you pig out on vegetables and fruits, how many calories can you possibly be consuming?!  And my own husband, who’s thin as a rail, has had to concede that he doesn’t understand why I am as fat as I am, now that he’s retired and has seen how I eat.

And I’ve gotten The Looks from doctors when I describe Orthodox fasting practices, the ones that say, “Yeah, right, Fatty.”  I’m at the point where I carry an Orthodox pocket calendar and a copy of the fasting guidelines to every medical appointment, and when I whip ’em out, the only possible reaction is the one I get these days:  “Wow, that’s a lotta fasting.”  (It works out to about half a year, give or take a few days.)

So when Nurse Snarky came out with her comment, I made one of the stupidest remarks of my life:  “Don’t even go there.”  Needless to say, the relationship deteriorated from that point on.  Now, though, I know what I should have said:

“Lifestyle changes?!  Oh, yeah, I am so there!  You’re not kidding!  It’s time for some major changes!  And for starters, I’m gonna go back to eating dessert!  Hey, all these years of never having ice cream or a lousy piece of birthday cake have obvioiusly not done me any good at all, so what the heck?!  You only live once, and I’m not gonna live without ice cream anymore!  And exercise?!  Hey, walking a couple miles a day hasn’t done me any good in that regard, either, so you know what?  I’m not gonna waste another second of my valuable time on exercise!  I’m gonna park my butt in my favorite chair and read all the books I’ve been neglecting for exercise, and then I’m gonna stitch my fingers off on all the needlework projects I haven’t been able to get to because of all that stupid walking!  Now, let’s Do It!  Go Lifestyle Changes!”

Not entirely.  I do actually enjoy walking, though not in the current subzero weather (although I understand that the Norwegians say, “There is no bad weather, there is only bad clothing,” in which case, my wardrobe needs a major overhaul).  And dessert was never a part of our diet, anyway.  Not to mention that for at least half the year, ice cream is off limits (no meat, no dairy during fasting periods).

But the point is this.  You can do everything the medical people tell you to do:  eat a low-fat, high-fiber diet, work out religiously, get all the standards checkups and tests, and generally spend your days on various medical appointments.  Or you can decide what’s important for your life, and go out and do it.  And frankly, what’s important for me is not preserving my life at all costs, but living it:  reading those books, working that cross stitch, putting warm woollies on my family’s bodies, and most important of all, maintaining my spiritual life.

This last can, and does, involve long periods of sitting in a car, driving to and from church services; the services are never as long as the total amount of time spent driving.  A doctor would be aghast.  A nurse would think it sheer folly.  But know this:  No matter how much maintenance you put in on your body, eventually it will wear out, and you will die.  The wisest use of your time, therefore, is to spend it on matters eternal, storing up experiences that “neither rust nor moth will consume” (Matthew 6:20), leaving behind a legacy that will follow you into eternity.  In other words:  LIVE.

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