Online dating best left to the young

ann:gregRarely do I wish to return to my youth. Only when it takes forever for an injury to heal, or when my head tells me I have the flexibility, strength and stamina of earlier days and my body proves my head wrong. (Or when I see a photo like this one where my husband and I look so young.)

There are many aspects of my younger life I never want to relive. These include high school, college, job-hunting, eating hot dogs and twenty-cents-a-box macaroni and cheese every day, and dating. As far as the latter, I wouldn’t even know how to do it now.

For many people the search for a serious relationship has become as time-consuming as job-hunting, and probably more emotionally draining.  And for millennials — those born between 1980 and 1995 — “on-line dating is the norm.”*

Until I read an article on the topic in last Sunday’s “Seattle Times,” I’d never heard of dating apps and sites OKCupid, Tinder, Hinge, Siren, Coffee Meets Bagel, Double, and Plenty of Fish.*  Today, these are common ways to make that first connection. And those first connections require research, decisions about whom to contact, then the anxiety involved in waiting for a response. After that, is a second meeting in the cards? In some ways, it’s the same process as young people have used for decades, but for an old-timer like me it sounds much more punishing.

“Between 2005 and 2012, more than 34 percent of married couples met on-line, outstripping work and friend introductions…”* So the system must work, but the research phase seems more like hard work and the effort more stressful.

My husband and I met in a philosophy class at the University of Washington, when we were both 19.  Our degrees did not lead to jobs, but we always say that meeting each other was one good thing to come from our choice of major.

We married at 25, which then was considered late in life but now isn’t.

We’re still happily married, forty-plus years later.

Looking back, it seemed so easy. It was easy.

I’m glad that younger generations seem to be up for the modern dating game and that for many of us older folks, the game ended long ago.

*”Working for Love: Online dating is starting to feel like a second job”

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A humble plea

the humble cork tree

the humble cork tree

“A true genius admits that he/she knows nothing.”
Albert Einstein

After a week in which 1) Donald Trump pouted because he didn’t come in first in the Iowa caucus, 2) a price-gouging company owner took the fifth amendment and smirked throughout the congressional hearing about his ethics, and 3) I watched the film “Inside Job” about the Wall Street executives who enjoyed cocaine and call-girls while fueling an economic crisis that spread around the world, I feel a rant coming on.


not so humble flower on a humble cactus

I’ve heard enough from egos large enough to fill a sports stadium. I want to see signs that some of the rich and famous understand humility. By this I mean they show a certain modesty and lack of vanity, and a recognition that whatever they accomplished was done with help. Is that too much to ask?

Why is humility — not to be confused with humiliation — important? A 2012 piece in Psychology Today on the topic of ethics says, “Humility has been linked with better academic performance, job performance, and excellence in leadership. Humble people have better social relationships, avoid deception in their social interactions, and they tend to be forgiving, grateful, and cooperative.” Wouldn’t the world be better off with a few more forgiving, grateful and cooperative people in leadership roles?

Humble people recognize that the contributions they make were possible because of countless factors, including some of the following:

*genes from parents and earlier ancestors, along with guidance and support from family members;
*past teachers and the resources available in the schools they attended;
*opportunities to take part in extra-curricular programs to develop a range of skills;
*people they met along the way who affected their finances, their values and personal philosophies, their work opportunities, and their social connections;
*the era and the setting in which they grew up; and
*their own talents and efforts.

Recognizing that we didn’t do it alone is a humbling realization and a valuable one. Suddenly we feel gratitude for all that we’ve received.

Now that I’ve finished my rant, I realize that humble leaders must be out there, but we don’t hear about them because they’re not seeking attention.  I guess this is the place where I have to admit I don’t know very much.






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One way to escape the sense of entitlement

jane and parsleyYesterday was my mother’s birthday. No matter what our age, we never stop thinking about our parents. Inevitably, when we’re younger something reminds us — not always as a good memory — of a childhood experience, a family outing, a special holiday. And later in life we wonder if our own behaviors are starting to resemble those of our parents, despite our vows that this would never happen.

I confess to feeling annoyed by my mom for much of my adult life, mostly because she was always so good-humored with her friends, and seemingly so critical of me. We got along best when we took day trips. Visiting nurseries and flower gardens, strolling through parks, and shopping for clothes brought us closer than conversations about my flaws.

She changed when my father died. She stopped criticizing me and was always happy when we were together. But even then we were never close. Occasionally, when I hear about parents and kids who seem to truly relish each others’ company, I feel a pang. (I also know from reading the “Dear Amy” column in the newspaper that this isn’t the case for many families.)

But an article I just read — “How We Were Loved; How We ‘Should’ Have Been Loved” — caused me to step back and take a longer view.

Author Greg Krech says, “As long as we hold fast to our ideal of what we deserve from the world…we look back on our childhood and notice what could have been done for us and given to us, that we think would have made us happier.”*

He goes on to remind us that we humans have many ways of showing love and kindness and often they don’t involve oodles of praise, fawning, bear hugs or extravagant gifts. Parents may show love by working hard to keep the family fed and living comfortably. They may attend piano recitals, school plays, PTA meetings, whatever they believe is the right thing for good parents to do when children are growing up. According to Krech, By imagining what should have been, how we should have been raised instead of how we were raised, “We miss the countless moments when we were perfectly cared for and attended to.”

Both my mom and dad made sure I was well nourished, safe, encouraged to do my best, to treat others with kindness, and to become independent. They both made sacrifices so I could attend the college of my choice. When I realize this, I’m no longer focusing, as Krech says, on the gap between reality and my ideal of what should have been. The gap becomes much less important than the reality.

From my mom I got my sense of humor, my love for clothes, my willingness to make new friends on many occasions, and my general good mood. Our last years were good ones, and I’m happy that she lived long enough for us to enjoy this late lifetime together.

*from Naikan:  Gratitude, Grace & the Japanese Art of Self-Reflection



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Challenging our assumptions

suzanne aka laurieI’ll call her Laurie — not her real name. She stands on the sidewalk holding a confusing sign asking for help from drivers pulling out of the grocery store parking lot.

This week I decided to walk to the store. This is what happens when you wear a fitbit exercise tracker and become obsessed about the number of steps you have not yet taken on any given day.  A block from the store, I pictured Laurie standing there in the rain and me having to walk past her and feel guilty about her situation compared to that of the shoppers inside, including me.

From my perspective, standing on the sidewalk asking for money has to be one of the worst jobs imaginable. If she’s there, I’ll talk to her, I said to myself.  Why?  I don’t know. Curiosity maybe.  Months ago, I figured she was homeless and a drug addict. How else to understand someone who is that skinny and looks so unhealthy. However, a few days earlier, I saw that she had painted in, “Not a junkie” on her sign. This piqued my interest in hearing her story.

I started with introductions. She seemed fine with that beginning, so I asked about her health.

I have lupus,” she said (“a chronic inflammatory disease that occurs when your body’s immune system attacks your own tissues and organs”), “had it since I was twenty-five.”
“And you’re not getting medical care?”
“Yes, I have medical care.”
“How old are you now?”
“Forty-seven. If you first get lupus when you’re young, it’s much harder on your body by the time you reach my age.”
“Are you homeless?”
“No. I have a place to live.”
“So what else do you need that causes you to stand out here in the rain?”
“Food. I used to get food stamps and social security, but the state took away food stamps from those of us getting social security. After I pay my rent I have nothing left for food.”
So much for my assumptions about her appearance and her needs.
“Do you use the food bank?”
“Yes. I go there twice a month, that’s what we’re allowed. And it’s hard to find much to eat.  I have diverticulitis, so I don’t take anything with fiber.”
Twice a month? I had no idea that was the limit. And all those cans of beans people donate aren’t helping Laurie.
“Is that why you’re so thin?”
She nodded.  “I weigh 68 pounds.” Then she looked down. “I never thought this is how things would turn out.”

Nothing in our conversation suggested that Laurie was feeling sorry for herself. The best word I can come up with to describe her attitude is ‘resignation.’ I gave her money and later investigated some additional options for her, which might keep her from starving that day, but will not provide her with ongoing funds to shop for the food that best meets her needs. She’s been a good teacher, though, helping me see how assumptions like mine don’t help solve any of our more pressing social problems. And her face will appear when I vote, volunteer and donate money.

Early yesterday morning, more than 1100 volunteers in our county went out and counted the number of people who were sleeping outdoors between 2 and 5 a.m. Laurie isn’t homeless. But from her story we see that having a roof overhead isn’t enough.





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Morning walks: more than just exercise

Yesterday, I took a walk in my neighborhood and nearby downtown to watch the day begin. Not before dawn, but before the normal workday got underway. Morning is a good time to see a city, before cars and their rumbling engines dominate the landscape, before stores are open and bustling, and while only a few people are out on the street.

While I was walking, I thought of the advice in the Rick Steves’ guidebook to France.  “Here, [France] strolling down the street with a big grin on your face and saying hello to strangers is a sign of senility not friendliness (seriously).” This might be good advice for other countries and cities, but is not necessarily a requirement at home.  Even folks walking fast to get to work yesterday made time for a morning smile and greeting.

In contrast to the empty streets around me, stood my neighborhood bakery where people were lining up for coffee and pastries.

a reason to be up early

a reason to get up early

bakery windows

bakery windows

Winter morning walks are completely different experiences from warm weather strolls. The air is crisp and clean. Bird songs are few. Squirrels and dogs are the only four-legged creatures outside. And the dogs are running. They give their city-dwelling owners the push — or rather the pull — they need to exercise early in the day.

Cities with open air farmers’ markets are some of the best places to enjoy mornings. Stall keepers are laying out their wares and arranging them in tidy rows.  Few people are there to disturb the order.


unusual Chinese fruit in Porto market

European cities are excellent places to experience open air markets. In Portugal last fall, we hit the markets early, which allowed us to get close to the produce before real shoppers could crowd us out. And the vibrant colors that called to us from each stall made for a good beginning of the day.

Porto market

Porto market

roostersIn his TED talk on grateful living, Brother David Steindl-Rast suggests that every day we “stop and look” not only through our eyes, but our ears and noses. The morning walk — any walk for that matter — is not just about exercise, but about opening all our senses and taking in the wonderful richness around us.

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Finding inspiration in the life of a 95-year old

eleanorMeet my friend Eleanor. She’s a terrific writer, former teacher, advocate for the mentally ill at city, state and national levels, addicted thrift-store shopper (though she claims to have quit cold turkey this past year), patron of the arts, and all-around good person. She is also THE poster child for lifelong learning.

In honor of her 95th birthday, which she celebrated yesterday, she shared hostess gifts of Toblerone chocolate and kitchen knives.  Well, not all were kitchen knives.  A few looked like daggers and there was one cleaver.

hostess gifts still unclaimed

hostess gifts not yet claimed

The photo shows those tools remaining after many of the guests, who were as keen as Eleanor and much sharper than the knives, snapped them up.

I met my friend in the Popular Fiction course at the University of Washington.  She had not started the program with the rest of the students, but by the end of her first class appearance we all knew her as well as if she had been with us from day one.  Eleanor is special. She’s written a memoir of her life up to age eighteen.  Now if most of us started telling our life stories beginning in childhood we wouldn’t have much to say, at least not much that any reader would care about.  (I know this because once I was a judge for a literary contest and the selection I read, about a girl’s life from birth to age twelve, was notable for its lack of a single interesting event.) But Eleanor’s memoir as one of nine children of Italian immigrants is stuffed tighter than a ravioli with history, adventure and, shall we say “interesting” family dynamics.

In addition to learning about Eleanor’s past from her writing, I know about her present life from having spent two weeks a month for the last three years in a critique group with her. She’s excellent at analyzing others’ work and offering suggestions for straightening out a confusing paragraph and enlivening a dull scene.

cakeWhat impresses me most about Eleanor is her energy level. She puts the Energizer Bunny to shame for its indolence. She says she wants to live until she’s 101, another six years. For those of us who love her, that’s not nearly long enough.

Happy Birthday, Eleanor. And congratulations for a life so well-lived that you continue to inspire all who meet you.



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Never enough time

marilyn postcardsFor many years, the Medalists — a group of female friends who’ve been together for about thirty-five years — hosted dinners around a theme:  purple food, round food, things stuffed in other things, even the eruption of Mt. St. Helens.  (The latter was the only theme that didn’t work. It led to a limited menu of asparagus representing fallen trees and ice cream for the volcano) “Why don’t we do these dinners again?” I asked. “No time,” was the answer.

We used to play mail art games, stamped mysterious messages on postcards and sent them to each other to figure out the meaning. We even wrote stories. “Shall we do this again?”  “No.”

sylvia story

fishy story

We submitted entries to the Bulwer-Lytton contest, which awards a prize for writing the worst opening sentence of a novel. Here are two doozies:  “In a fury of bits, bytes and RAMS, she slipped her disk as he tried to interface with her bottom line across the spreadsheet.”  Or. “Kathleen directed her gaze down the length of the conveyor belt, looked with envy at the young women chattering away about their boyfriends, parties and new clothes, looked with affection at the older women talking softly about grandchildren and retirement dreams, or lost in reveries and not talking at all, then sealed a large, dirty fingernail in the can of tuna fish and thought, My coffee break can’t come soon enough.” “Shall we try this another time?” I say. “No. We don’t have time.”

The above was part of a recent conversation as we looked at photos and stacks of creative projects we’d completed over the years. Sadly, one member of our group passed away last fall (the second Medalist to leave us). She was the archivist of the various projects, which, along with memories, we are now sorting through.

How can we have no time? I wondered. We were holding down full-time jobs when we made these meals, created this mail art, and wrote these stories.

Everyone shrugged.  But what does “no time” mean when you’re retired, or semi-retired as two members of the group are? When I was working fifty-hour weeks, I still managed to entertain on weekends and even cleaned my house.  Now I have no time for either, well, a little time for the former but none for the latter.

One possibility is that we’re aware that the time left to us is limited; our lives no longer stretch as far as the horizon, like they did when we were kids. This can makes us feel rushed to complete unfinished business. Also, some people create long lists of faraway places to visit while they’re physically and mentally able and hurry around the world to check off the countries on their lists. Some retirees become obsessed with projects that fill as much or more of their days than work did earlier. I’d put myself in that category.  Writing two novels is more than a full-time job.

Speaking for myself, things take longer these days…on purpose.  Before retirement, I got up early every morning.  Now I might wake up about the time I would have been at my desk starting my workday. Before retirement, I read the morning paper while I drank my cup of tea standing at the kitchen counter. Now I sit on the couch with the cat purring on my lap, drink two cups of tea, and read at my leisure. I meet friends for lunch more often, ones who aren’t looking at their watches or smartphones while we eat.

Even if I start my day slowly, by the end of the day I still feel the time crunch. Then I remind myself that I’m the one controlling my time. My friends and I have made choices about how we spend our lives and if we feel we have no time, we’ve done it to ourselves. By the way, if I were honest, I’d admit that I probably have time to clean my house.  I just don’t want to do it.  Maybe with a little more time…








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Year of the Monkey not so great for monkeys

3 monkeysSurrounded as I am these days by an unusually large collection of monkeys made from paper, ceramics and socks, it only seems right to find out what this “Year of the Monkey” will bring. In China the year begins on February 8, so we have a few weeks to prepare.

(BTW, you’re a monkey if you were born in 1920, 1932, 1944, 1956, 1968, 1980, 1992, 2004.)

A friend said that monkeys signify chaos, things running amok. If that’s true, it certainly fits with the times, but I would like to hear something more hopeful.

The website China Highlights says, “Everything points to disaster for Monkeys in this Monkey Year.” Travel China Guide agrees: ” Their overall fortune won’t be smooth in the whole year.” I am relieved not to be a monkey.

Sock monkey I made

Brown Monkey with red lips and butt protecting us from Red Monkey

But I do want to know what will happen to the rest of us, the roosters, dogs, oxen, tigers, rabbits, sheep, dragons, snakes, rats, horses, goats and pigs. I can’t find anything about 2016 in general. All reports relate to the experience of each animal when interacting with a monkey. So I look up dogs, because my husband and I were born in the Year of the Dog. Telling people you’re a dog is not nearly as exciting or romantic as saying you’re a tiger or dragon, but easier to admit to than being a rat or snake.

The Chinese Fortune Calendar says this is the year of the “Red Monkey.” My husband and I “won” a red monkey at a holiday gag gift party. I was about to donateredmonkey it to a thrift store. Now I’m not sure.

What I learn about the relationship between dogs and monkeys in 2016 is not inspiring.  We canines are straightforward, loyal and brave and have a strong sense of responsibility. Apparently the “monkey is a smart, wily, irritating and impatient animal… It’s used to take impromptu and immature actions. Dog can provide protection, education and training for Monkey.” Great. Can’t wait till Feb. 8.

There is a bit of good news in this scenario.  Dogs contain earth and monkeys contain metal and water (don’t ask me what that means) and “Water in the Monkey stands for money to Dog.” Hmm.

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The death of spontaneity

Spontaneity is becoming extinct, going the way of the dodo or the woolly mammoth.

Years ago, when my husband and I moved into our first apartment, friends lived nearby.  We would drop in unannounced — a mortal sin these days — and if they were cooking enough for extras we’d stay for dinner. Another couple who lived a few blocks away introduced us to horse racing.  During the racing season, the four of us would head for the race track after work with little or no planning and no schedule conflicts. During the same period, my husband and I would drive to a movie theater in a not-so-nearby community a couple of nights a week to see foreign films.  If someone invited us to play, we’d drop everything and go.

Fast forward to today.  We arrange to see friends weeks or months ahead.  The calendar fills and we have to send regrets.

half of a Rosca de Reyes

So last week, when a friend unexpectedly rang the doorbell and delivered a homemade Rosca Del Reyes*, a sweet bread for the feast day called Three Kings Day or the Epiphany, I felt a pull to do something spontaneous myself. I invited her and her mother, who was visiting from Mexico, and another friend for lunch the next day.

Since it’s always fun to cook with friends, I decided that making dessert could be a good group activity.  Ever since we went to Portugal, I’ve wanted to make nata, a custard in a flaky pastry, which is the traditional sweet of Lisbon.

my nata

my nata

I printed out pieces of three recipes and used these to make my ingredients list, which consisted of puff pastry, seven egg yolks, lemon zest, whole milk and sugar. The resulting dessert looked so spontaneous that it barely resembled the treats we had eaten in Lisbon. But lunch was tasty and fun. It was a testament to what can happen when we go for spontaneity.

So what has changed since earlier times?  In the past, our jobs could be done in eight hours and we didn’t take them home in our heads. These days friends are busy with travel and grandchildren and live farther away. We commit more time to outside groups and our particular interests. Still, I look back to those earlier times as delightfully carefree and wonder if they will ever return.  Probably not. We’re different people than we were back then. Plays are more appealing than horse races and neither my husband nor I want to go out every night of the week.

I should add that spontaneity doesn’t always come easily. I rescheduled two appointments to pull off one luncheon.

Now I’m looking for uses for seven egg whites. Coconut macaroons seem like the best bet, though I don’t feel very spontaneous at the thought of making yet another trip to the grocery store, buying new ingredients and spending the afternoon baking. Maybe I should invite someone to lunch.

*Huff Posts “Latino Voices” explains the tradition this way. ¨In Mexico, thousands gather every year to taste a mile-long “Rosca de Reyes” (Kings’ Bread) while others simply make the holiday staple at home. The tradition calls for hiding a baby Jesus figurine** within the bread, and the person whose slice has the figurine must prepare tamales for everyone on the Day of the Candles on Feb. 2!”

**I got the baby Jesus with the first slice of bread and served Trader Joe’s tamales to fulfill this obligation a few weeks ahead of schedule.


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We didn’t really dress that way, did we?

I made it to the last day of an exhibit called Counter-Couture at the Bellevue Arts Museum, which allegedly “celebrates the handmade fashion and style of the 1960s and 1970s.” I went to be reminded of my life after college. I’m pretty sure most of these high-fashion hippie clothes never made their way up the coast from Haight-Ashbury in San Francisco to the Pacific Northwest, or across the country from New York’s Greenwich Village.

commune style

commune style

Tie dye was definitely in back then, and so was fringe, though neither played a prominent role in the show. Wait. Aren’t these back in fashion?

I do remember seeing the flowing commune style worn here. (It could also work in an on-screen ancient Roman saga.) This particular garment was a staple of members of The Source Family, led by Father Yod or YaHoWha. He and his fourteen wives lived in Hollywood, supported by the income from a health food restaurant Yod founded, which was popular with celebrities.

Patchwork played a role in fashion, but mostly to cover up holes in jeans and overalls.  Overallspatchwork for men and women were big. An entire piece of pieces like this one was not common.

Hats like these could have slipped from the 1970’s into 2016 without notice.hippie 5hippy hat2  But the rest of the show consisted of clothing made for the special few. The rest of us couldn’t have afforded it in that earlier era even if we’d found it appealing.hippie 1 My husband and I did have an Indian bedspread, but no clothing that would have turned it into camouflage.

The cape to the left looks like it might fit into a contemporary fantasy film, and an English queen in the 1500’s might sport the “necklace” below. I’d gone to the exhibit to be reminded of the past. However, not much of the past came through.  Or maybe I no longer remember.hippie 3hippie 6

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