Too many friends or not enough books?

bookshelfWhile complaining to a friend recently that I had no free time, she reminded me of a very old song — the title sounds familiar though the tune doesn’t — called “Those Lazy Hazy Crazy Days of Summer.” I don’t think there is such a thing as a lazy day anymore, summer or winter. Hazy days, occasionally. The day after joining friends for “Happy Hour” this week, my memories of that experience were very hazy, though the word doesn’t characterize most of my days this month. Crazy, however, fits July perfectly.

Lunches out, a wedding, a birthday party, dinners out, more lunches out, more dinners, multiple “Happy Hours,” volunteer jobs, out-of-town visitors, and a four-day conference. I’ve even seen a friend from elementary school and a college roommate this month. I told my husband that based on the number of social events, July and December are remarkably similar.

We cancelled a trip scheduled for today to dine with friends in another city. We still want to see the friends, but what a relief to have a day at home to work on our own things-to-do-lists and not have to socialize.

Even if I feel too busy, warm summer days are a premium in this area and cannot be taken for granted, nor can friends.

I have read one novel this month, when usually I’d have completed four by now. Nothing is more satisfying than getting lost in a good book, ignoring everything but mealtimes, my husband and the cat. I opened a new library book yesterday and realized I’d read it. Following that I opened a book I bought. After 30 pages, I knew it would not be a favorite. Maybe my issue is not so much about too many social engagements as it is about not having a good book to read.



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Dress Codes

office wearA friend and I meet often at a Starbucks in an office park and enjoy the parade of office and tech workers coming in for their morning coffee break. We first revel in the fact that they’re working and we’re not and then turn to examining their work clothes. We check out the six-inch heels on the women and are thankful we’re not wearing them. Beyond that, there is little uniformity: slacks, mini-skirts, long skirts, dresses, tunics, jeans. Styles include high collars and no cleavage, low-cut and lots of cleavage, loose, and tight. Anything goes. Then we move to the uniforms of the men: shorts and t-shirts or jeans and t-shirts. Oh yeah, and athletic shoes. Backpacks are the most common accessory.

Thinking about today’s work clothes took me down memory lane. When I was a university student, women could only wear skirts or dresses. My second job after graduating was in a community college, where again we were not allowed to wear pants. A few of us “rebels” complained to our boss and said we would like to propose a new dress code, one that would allow for certain tasteful trousers. He told us to form a committee and develop a proposal.

About the same time, Yves Saint Laurent was designing the first pantsuit and the idea caught on fast in the ready-to-wear world. Our committee went through catalogs and magazines and cut out samples we thought the boss would accept, pasted them on poster board and presented them to him. After he approved, we shared our pictures with the rest of the staff.

I’m confident that what Laurent designed was not the pantsuit our committee came up with. Most of the ones on the market were one color, made from cheap material, and without any redeeming flourishes. I remember proudly wearing my first outfit that passed muster with our boss: a maroon polyester pantsuit. The pants were baggy by the end of the workday, but wearing pants represented victory.

Now, the thought of going through what we did to be able to wear pants in the office makes me cringe. But I researched the issue and found that our experiences were not unique. We argued for change and were successful in the 70’s, but “until 1993 women were not permitted to wear pantsuits (or pants of any kind) on the United States Senate floor.” I wonder if they had to form a committee and cut out clothing ads, then plead to their colleagues for permission. Or was the Supreme Court the final arbiter?

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A wedding gift for eternity

bouquetBeen to a wedding recently? My husband and received an invitation to a wedding this summer, our first in several years. Our friends are either long-married or confirmed singles. Given the infrequency of the invitations, we don’t know what’s in and what’s out for weddings, or more precisely, wedding gifts.  Actually, we never did know.  We were married by a judge in the county courthouse. We didn’t know about gift registries then, and even if we had, we never considered owning china, silverware or crystal. (Years later we inherited all these things.)  It was the seventies. We had little money and our lifestyle was simple.

Thankfully, the recent invitation directed us to a couple of wedding registries, so we knew choosing  a gift would be easy. A few days before the wedding date, we visited Macy’s and typed the bride’s name in the store’s wedding registry computer. We tapped our toes and checked our watches as we watched the gift list grow to the point it reached the floor. As it got longer and longer and began making its way toward the housewares department, we expected to see the message, “This machine is experiencing technical difficulties.” But the message never arrived. Eight feet and three inches of paper later, it ground to a halt.

Reading the 93 items on the list reminded us of two wedding gifts we received (the only ones we could remember): three stainless steel serving trays, which we still have, and a hideous bouquet of plastic flowers which we didn’t keep for more than a few minutes. We only received about seven gifts.  Imagine trying to remember 93.

Despite the length and depth of the gift wish list, it still signified that not much has changed from the past. When I mentioned this to a friend, she updated me on something that has: the addition of honeymoon registries. She knows two attorneys who are getting married and have added honeymoon options to their gift list. I’m imagining the choices:  hotel room upgrade: $300 a day; room service —  three dinners, $450;  private surfing lessons, $300; and new warm-weather wardrobe, $4,000.

Wedding customs vary from culture to culture. In many cultures, money is the preferred gift. This saves a trip to the registry and the time required to pour over the list. But even this practice has its drawbacks.  A Romanian friend said that guests put their cash donations in envelopes, which they set in front of them on their tables during the reception.  They then hold their breath as the emcee moves around the room, chooses some envelopes to open, and reports their contents to the larger audience. The stingy donor is soon exposed, much to the pleasure — and relief — of others who have given more.

The more I think about these changes, the better our wedding sounds.  We’re still married after 44 years and only have one bad memory of gifts. We still laugh about the plastic flowers. In a charitable moment, my husband said, “Plastic lasts for eternity. Maybe the sentiment behind this gift was, ‘May your marriage last as long as these flowers.'” Nice try.





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Getting soaked in Iceland

Blue Lagoon

Blue Lagoon

Who visits the saltwater thermal pool — a giant hot tub — in Southwest Iceland known as the Blue Lagoon? Tourists like me, who believe they’ll be sorry if they travel all this way and miss out on the most well-known destination in the country.

I say tourists because of the high admissions fee;  it cost us 60 Euros each, while there were seven public pools in Reykjavik with entrance fees of about $5.  Also, the number of selfie sticks or phones bathers carried into the Blue Lagoon in clear, waterproof bags seemed inordinately large for local residents looking to relax after a day at work.

Whatever the cost or clientele, I had to go.

As it turned out, the kind of adventures the seven of us from our group experienced weren’t quite what I imagined.  Getting to the pool was the first challenge.  The transport we thought we’d arranged turned out to be a free mini-bus that drove us two miles to the Reykjavik bus depot, thus giving us the opportunity to board another bus and pay about $40 each for the round trip to the lagoon.

Because rush hour and freeway construction were causing a traffic jam, the bus took a colorful alternate route, winding through neighborhoods and small towns at 20 miles per hour. We arrived at our destination 45 minutes past our appointed time.

As we checked in, we each received electronic bracelets, different colors for different fee levels that would permit us to open and close a locker and charge for other services. The clerk warned us that we’d pay a hefty fee if we lost the bracelet. Our pink bracelets labeled us ‘economy bathers.’

The three females in our entourage found an available locker in the darkened changing room only after peeping like voyeurs into a series of small rooms filled with naked women. We changed, showered, and dripped our way out into in the chilly evening light.  “Ah,” we said as we shivered, “So that’s why the lifeguards walking around the swimming pool are dressed from head to toe in winter wear.”

Once accustomed to standing in neck-high bathtub water, we checked out our setting. Why were the faces of the cluster of bathers standing nearby painted in white? And how could we achieve the look of geisha or Kabuki actors too?

In the center of the main pool bobbed a man balancing a tray that held several containers.  He looked like a butler about to deliver a meal. We slogged over to him and held up our pink bracelets. “You’re eligible for a silica mask,” he said, a treatment we hoped would tighten our skin and erase wrinkles. He scooped a handful of white mud, which we slathered generously on our faces. Our expectations plummeted as we spotted the facial for people wearing green bracelets: algae. If only we’d paid another 15 euros, we could look so young that bartenders would be asking for ID.

We walked around and tested the water temperature in different areas, which were separated from the main pool by bridges, lava rock buttresses and other geologic formations. We stopped at a wet bar and used our bracelets to charge Skyr smoothies (Icelandic yogurt) and continued to wander around.The water temperature was perfect, but after an hour, though our faces felt taut, the rest of our bodies were wrinkled. Buses back to town left infrequently and we intended to be on the next one.

Everything went smoothly until I’d changed my clothes and walked into a restroom. Shortly after I’d shut the door, I saw a pink bracelet on the floor.  I checked my wrist. Gasp. My bracelet was missing. I held onto the one I found as I searched futilely through the changing rooms. I was going to have to exit with someone else’s bracelet and pray they hadn’t charged too much for which I would be billed.  I explained my problem to the young woman at the checkout stand.  “What did you buy while you were here?” she asked.  I answered and she confirmed that what I’d charged matched the charge on the bracelet, “so it must be yours.” I felt like Winnie the Pooh and his friend, Piglet, who decided their own footprints belonged to a wild animal.

My husband (who had been patiently waiting for me to exit the dressing room) and I made it to the bus — to the cheers of the folks we had come with — one minute before it departed. Though the driver had promised us he’d drop riders off at their hotels, after stopping at five in the heart of Reykjavik, he took the rest of us to the bus depot where we caught another ride to our hotel.

I’m glad I went to the Blue Lagoon.  After all, I had to. But if we ever return to Iceland, one of those $5 community pools without tourists and cameras sounds like a perfect place to bathe but avoid getting soaked.









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Iceland: It’s the landscape

In brewing Olympia Beer, “It’s the water.” Touring Iceland, you’ll also learn that “It’s the water,” from snaking fjords, to boiling springs and spouting geysers. It’s also much more.

In what other country can you see the sights above along with volcanoes, glaciers, and lava fields, and most of these sights from the roadside? Not that I’d recommend staying in your car. If you did, you’d miss being covered by spray from Europe’s largest waterfall and jets of steam hissing from hot springs, and you’d fail to see the Strokkur Geysir spurting 66 feet in the air every four to five minutes. Take your own armchair tour with the photos below.


Gullfoss waterfall

peninsula rock

Snaefellsness Peninsula






glacier that erupted

farmhouse below Eyjafjallajokull: site of 2010 eruption


Strokkur Geysir



moss-covered lava field


boiling mud








volcanic colorscape: Nordurland Eystra




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More adventures in Iceland: eating putrified shark

I can’t write about Iceland without talking about the food. Fresh Arctic char, perfectly prepared lamb, creamy yogurt, roasted root vegetables, tasty ice cream, every kind of homemade bread, fish soups, smoked fish and meat, were on the menu every day of our tour. However, talking about gustatory pleasures will only make readers feel hungry, bored, or resentful that they aren’t eating this well. So I’m going to write about a simply awful food experience that will produce immediate feelings of relief for anyone who escaped it.


drying strips of cured shark meat

According to Insight Guides, Iceland, “One of Iceland’s most notorious food rituals is the ceremonious intake of rotten shark and schnapps.” Not only was our tour group invited to take part in this ritual, but we got to do it on the farm where the shark meat was cured and dried. Margret, our guide, told us that according to Icelandic tradition, everyone must eat this delicacy(?) on Christmas Eve.  She assured us we would be more likely to appreciate it, as her grown children did, if we had started eating it as children, though she admitted that living here most of her life hadn’t yet made her a fan.

The challenge of preparation starts with the local Greenland sharks themselves.  Having small kidneys, their urine spreads throughout their bodies making fresh meat poisonous to the eater. From the farmer’s smiling, exuberant son, we learned all about the process of removing the poison. As our induction into eating putrefied shark, he directed us to a table laden with bowls of small chunks of white flesh, tiny pieces of rye bread and toothpicks to skewer the two together, plus an array of small shot glasses of brennivin, the local, high-octane liquor.

greg eating shark

My husband smiles BEFORE he takes a bite.

Margret demonstrated the process and in doing so set the bar high by eating her sample without curling up her lips or squinching her face. While some fellow travelers jumped in, I hesitated. Why? Rotten shark stinks. Surprise, surprise.

One fellow traveler prepared her shark snack. After taking a whiff of it, she lowered her arm and paused to get up her courage. The family dog came up behind her and took a bite, leaving her with the empty toothpick and an end to her distress.

I too, hesitated. But the samples in front of me were tiny. How bad could eating one be? I dove in. The fish didn’t have much flavor and the first few chews did nothing to alarm my taste buds. What was the big deal about eating putrefied shark? Only after I finished swallowing, the after-taste of ammonia flooding my mouth and overpowering the brennevin, did I understand how big a deal it was.





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Adventures in Iceland: Part I

I’m not a travel writer, but I had to write about my recent 10-day vacation, a tour of Iceland.

Iceland is unlike most tourist spots.  Weather is unpredictable, cities are few and far between, and the things to do there probably don’t include any of the top ten items on many U.S. vacationers’ lists, such as visiting amusement parks, sunbathing on sandy beaches, or bobbing in the ocean.

Part I focuses on preparing for the trip. Don’t laugh. Before leaving home, we suffered mightily over how to prepare for a visit to a place so unfamiliar. We knew it wouldn’t snow, but what about rain, cold and wind? After all, “Ice” is part of the country’s name and one northern town we were to visit was located about 24 miles south of the Arctic Circle. The tour company recommended we bring hiking boots and poles for rough and muddy terrain; waterproof pants, coats, and hats; warm gloves, flashlights and umbrellas…but also swimming suits.

I sent several emails asking for advice from friends who had been there. I quizzed another friend who had just returned from Norway. Did we really need all this stuff? Would it rain every day? Would the wind blowing off the North Atlantic turn us into Popsicles? Should we have gone to Hawaii instead?

Practicality entered into our final packing decisions. Our hiking poles didn’t fit in the suitcase. When else would I ever need waterproof pants? The umbrellas also stayed behind. No room. And even if they did fit we could picture them whipped inside out with the first Atlantic gust. A friend donated two Seattle Seahawks rain capes, which we took, along with the swim suits and a flashlight. The latter was to aid us finding our bathroom in the middle of the night.

As it turned out, we used much of what we had packed. But the Seahawks rain capes never came out of their plastic cases. That’s because it was sunny nearly every day we were there. The two photos below, which were taken from our hotel room, show why we needn’t have brought a flashlight.


7:30 am

night reykjavik

11:30 pm

In the summer the sun sets very late and rises again a few hours later. It never really got dark. No matter how tightly we pulled the curtains shut, our hotel room had plenty of light.

We were thankful we hadn’t brought the hiking poles or the umbrellas, or any of the other recommended items more appropriate for navigating in freezing rain than strolling in the sun. We did have several opportunities to use the swimming suits as we soaked in different pools fed by geothermic springs. Hot pools are an Icelandic tradition. Our guide told us that friends soaking in a public pool after work was her country’s equivalent to meeting in a bar at the end of the day. The same hot water piped in from below the earth’s surface provided us with very warm showers in the hotels we stayed in.

So why did we think we had to prepare for life at the North Pole? As our guide said, “When people ask me what the weather will be like tomorrow, I tell them I can’t even predict what the weather will be like later today.  It’s always changing.” And even she was surprised by our days of fair weather.

The other reason for our uncertainty about what to pack is that Iceland is an island obviously named by a Viking with a bad sense of geography.  We bused 1,300 miles around this plot of land the size of Kentucky and saw snow-capped mountains looking down upon  a mostly-green landscape. (The mountains are not high enough to loom.) Coming home, we flew over a completely white Greenland accessorized by icebergs along its coast.  Whoever named the two countries got it all wrong. Or was that the whole point of the naming?


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Energize the brain

free download from Pixabay vintage advertisement

free download from Pixabay
vintage advertisement

At least once a week, something triggers a memory from my past. Yesterday, a friend’s photos of her trip to Norway immediately transported me back to Malmo, Sweden, where my husband and I spent a month 40+ years ago.   I can still feel the biting wind coming off the North Sea and picture the gloomy skies. (You’d think from living in Western Washington I’d have trouble distinguishing one country’s gloomy sky from another’s, but somehow the two glooms are different.)

Are these continually emerging memories a sign that I’ll soon start living exclusively in the past?  No. “The aging brain is energized by reconnecting with our most powerful memories.” This quote came from an article called “The Power of Nostalgia” from the blog, Sixty and Me. It was attributed to neuroscientist Dr. John Medina, who I met once at a meeting with my school district superintendent/boss and other local researchers and tech entrepreneurs. (My boss brought the group together to brainstorm the curriculum and classroom of the future and ways in which brain research might connect to these.)

The definition of nostalgia involves a longing for the past.  I don’t believe my recent flood of memories produce such a longing, though most are pleasurable What’s exciting about them is that they come accompanied by sensual details that place me in the past emotionally. The smell of dried seaweed and kelp and saltwater take me back to childhood.  Eating outdoors on a warm day accompanied by soft breezes reminds me of the many Junes when 10 or 12 of us — principals and school district administrators — would fill several tables on a patio of a restaurant near Seattle’s Pike Place Market.  The tensions of the school year would melt away with the lemon drop cocktails, the outrageous stories, the tempura asparagus appetizers, and the feeling of joy that always accompanied wrapping up a year.

I find great pleasure in remembering these details from the past. While I was working, life always consisted of now or this week. Now that my history is coming back to me, I feel more complete, like I’ve enjoyed a more complex, interesting and full existence. Here’s hoping the memories keep coming. This aging brain is energized by them.

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More alternative medicine

Illu_vertebral_columnThere was a time when people suffering from delusions talked about being abducted by aliens.  Maybe they still do. Anyway, the gist of what happened in these forced encounters was that the aliens did a lot of poking and prodding of their earthling abductees’ bodies. I can relate to their situations, now that I’ve added another alternative therapy to acupuncture and Chinese medicine, which I recently wrote about. (The condition I want to get rid of is chronic shoulder pain.)

The new therapy is “Network Care” and is a form of chiropractic medicine. The doctor did an assessment that told me what I already knew about my posture and spine: the first is poor and the second twisted. The treatment involves her gently touching parts of my spine, poking my tailbone, pulling on my legs. That’s about it. The idea is that my muscles have accumulated tension for many years and that the chiropractor is “releasing the underlying tension that keeps the spine misaligned.” Continue reading

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Bucket lists for the young and the old

photo by Dllu courtesy of Wikipedia Commons

Mt. Rainier photo by Dllu courtesy of Wikipedia Commons

Have you created a list of things you want to accomplish before you die, a so-called bucket list?

I haven’t. At this point in my life, a bucket list would seem like an extension of the “things to do” lists I created daily while working.  Complete a small project? Check. Return a call to an angry parent? Check. Visit Paris? Check.

Two articles I read this week inspired me write about this topic. One was an opinion piece in the Seattle Times (May 13, 2016) called “The case against bucket lists.” Mountaineering guide Kel Rossiter sees a lot of people who want to check, “Climb Mt. Rainier,” off their lists, and many of them are young. He argues that bucket lists were originally for the dying and often involved “putting things right,” such as making peace with an estranged family member. Now, he believes achieving the goals on one’s bucket list is more to gain cocktail party bragging rights than settle any unsettled aspect of one’s life.

Google “bucket list favorites” and you’ll find bucket list travel spots; lists of things to do during the spring; a list of food to eat at Disneyland; a must-visit coffee shop list; a golf course list; and one person’s wish to play a string instrument, a brass instrument, the accordion and the piano, while also mastering conversational Spanish, surfing, a martial art and juggling. And those were the blogger’s small goals. It looks like his last post came in 2014, which makes sense because some of the other goals, such as getting a song and novel published while writing a television script, and designing several theme parks, take time. Just reading the page of lists took time.

The other related article came from the Time Goes By blog. The writer names — here goes another list — psychotherapist Carl Jung‘s Seven Tasks of Aging. Among these are: “life review, letting go of ego, and determining the meaning of one’s life.” The items on this list seem more helpful at a certain stage in life than, say, try bungee jumping or other heart-stopping adventures.

In her book, “Top Regrets of the Dying,” palliative care nurse Bonnie Ware reveals what people close to death wished they had done differently. On her list of top five were “I wish I had stayed in touch with friends, let myself be happier and hadn’t worked so hard.”

My conclusion? The items on a twenty-something’s list may have no resemblance to those on the list of an eighty-year-old.  And some people’s lists just sound like a lot of work. If I had a list, I’d add a few travel destinations, a publishing contract and habits that lead to good health. But those are in my head and I don’t need to write them down. After hearing about how much time authors spend in marketing and promotion (the things that publishers used to do), I’m not sure I would be crushed if my book didn’t find a publisher. My biggest regret would be if I neglected my health and died prematurely.

For people of all ages, it’s never too late to reflect on where we’ve been, where we’re going, and what we’d like to be remembered for. Making a decision on the latter will help put our bucket lists into perspective.





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