Masking: a better you?

As we age and get closer to the last stages of life, we sometimes have regrets about experiences we didn’t have or ones that passed us by. I’m not yet at that stage (I hope), but I have arrived at a period where I’m delighted that certain cultural phenomena are leaving me behind. I’ve named several here and I’m sure I can come up with more and you can too.

I’ll start with bitcoin. It’s something I don’t understand and am thankful I never have to.

The second cultural experience that I’m happy to miss is ageism on the job, specifically what can happen to someone starting a new job, but by no means a first job, well before the age of sixty-five.

From an article by Tad Friend in the November 20, 1917, “New Yorker”: At fifty-one, a laid-off reporter takes a job at a startup company where his boss is in his twenties and has been on the job for a month. The reporter doesn’t dress up, but fails to come to work dressed as a complete slob, and finds himself, “surrounded by programmers in flip-flops who nickname him Grandpa Buzz.” He soon learns that the “expiration date” for tech sector employees is forty. Heaven forbid if he’d shown up — no, not naked — wearing a sport coat.

The third is related to social media. These days I’m relieved I’m not a teenager or college-age student. These young people — usually women — have an opportunity to learn every ten seconds from Facebook, or worse, from some campus rating system, how many of their contemporaries think they’re unattractive or unpopular, and how many social events they’re missing out on because no one wants them there.

Before the age of extreme social media you could enjoy life without knowing what you hadn’t been invited to.  I learned this when I worked on the planning committee for my most recent and probably last high school reunion. Other members of the group were making reference to the popular pizza spot in our area where apparently everyone congregated, and I had no idea what they were talking about. I am thankful that since I didn’t know I was missing out back in high school, I had no reason to feel slighted.

On-line photo and message-sharing platforms are vehicles that allow one to do more than simply insult. They can make multi-millionaires out of twenty-somethings who post on them, but that’s not what I want to talk about. I just read about a disturbing new trend from another “New Yorker” article authored by Jiayang Fan. Called “internet celebrity face” in Chinese, it has spread to more of Asia and is moving to the U.S.

It involves posting clever, silly and sexy selfie videos but with a new twist. Users can and do add apps that allow them to change their appearance before they post their works. They can “smooth out, tone, slim, contour faces, whiten teeth, resize irises, cinch waists and add height.”

Of the generation using this and similar apps, the writer says, “No one I asked would consider posting or sending a photo that hadn’t been improved.”

A few of these young internet celebrities are making millions selling ads. Their biggest day-to-day worries focus on whether their current video has gone viral. It’s a form of fake news, but the lie is not in their words but in “improved” faces.

On the other hand, is anyone developing an app for marionette lines? Maybe the Chinese app developers can create a new market they haven’t yet considered.

Posted in aging, personal reflections | 4 Comments

The high costs of changing eating habits

(NOTE:  I wrote this yesterday so tomorrow has become today.)

Tomorrow I begin the “Cooking Light 3-Day Detox.” I’m preparing by trying to eat up all the sweets still remaining in my house after the holidays, but my husband and I are heading out to a party soon and I fear I will fail to finish everything.

The first step in the program is to look over the magazine’s list of forty-three food items and go shopping for the ones you don’t have. I’m thankful I had many of the ingredients, which meant I only had to spend seventy dollars at the grocery store for the ones I didn’t. Seventy dollars for three days for one person, and that doesn’t include the chicken breasts I still have to buy.

But no one said detoxing came cheaply. Which reminds me of a cleansing treatment popular twenty years ago — it may still be, but I don’t hear about it any longer — called colonic irrigation. Now that kind of detox sounds downright nasty, like the enemas kids in my generation had to suffer through. I’m thankful to whichever medical expert persuaded our mothers to give up this folk remedy early in our lives.

My last supper (from NY Day party)

This detox diet consists mostly of whole grains, vegetables, chicken and fish. Unlike some detox treatments, this one has no strange ingredients, no eye of newt or toe of frog.The only sugar comes from the frozen mangos and bananas on the first morning, which will offer an interesting contrast to my daily Trader Joe 72% dark chocolate bar and my nightly helping of ice cream or tapioca pudding.

Although this is not a weight loss diet, I hope to lose at least one of the eight pounds I’ve gained since June, when my husband and I ate our way through Scandinavia via its many smorgasbords. “Restrained” did not describe our behavior when presented with fifteen starch choices; six chicken, beef, sausage and fish dishes; seven types of bread; and fourteen desserts twice a day for almost three weeks. Everything but the lutefisk (which smells like ammonia and likely tastes worse) called to us from the warming trays nestled together on tables covering miles of ballroom-sized rooms.

Ever since I made my decision a week ago, I have poured over the magazine’s menus for each meal and wondered if there will be enough food to keep me from being tempted to cheat. A half cup of brown rice pilaf and two cups of kale? I’d rather the measurements were switched. And speaking of kale, it looks like I’ll eating a lot of it. I guess they expect you to fill up on that plus fresh parsley and cilantro, walnuts by the teaspoon, and spinach. I tell myself I can make it through three days. But my story stops there. Any internal monologue about what happens after that is missing.






Posted in health, personal reflections | Tagged , , , , | 5 Comments

Winter solstice and dreams of summer

January 2012

“The winter solstice has always been special to me as a barren darkness that gives birth to a verdant future beyond imagination, a time of pain and withdrawal that produces something joyfully inconceivable, like a monarch butterfly masterfully extracting itself from the confines of its cocoon, bursting forth into unexpected glory.” Gary Zukov

Today is the solstice.  In the Pacific Northwest, we will have eight and a half hours of daylight. But wait until June when this number is nearly doubled, and we all become monarch butterflies.

I minded the darkness more when I was working than I do now. Driving to work in the dark and driving home in the dark made it seem like I was living in a twenty-four hour night. Now I can get up at seven, see daylight coming and not think so much about its loss.

I checked other cities, ones my husband and I love, to find out how they were faring. We will have fifteen minutes more light than Paris, the City of Light, and nearly an hour more than Amsterdam.

But we’re all more fortunate than residents of Reykjavik, who will have a four-hour day, and Swedes in Stockholm who are enjoying only six hours of light. We’ve tried to imagine what it would be like to stay in these two cities for a lengthier period, a few months rather than a few weeks.  A spokeswoman for Reykjavik’s tourist information center reminds us that they have many hot pools in town, which would surely raise one’s spirit on cold, dark days. Swedes probably take saunas. Still, you can only sit in a large bathtub for so long, so the moral of the story is: if we were to go to Iceland or Sweden in winter, we would need to bring a good and very long book.

People in northern countries have to get used to delayed gratification when it comes to temperature and light. Having been to both these northern cities during the June solstice, we can appreciate how nicely they are rewarded in summer for their patience in winter: Reykjavik, 22 hours of daylight, and Stockholm, 18.

We’ll be fine today because the sun is shining, but our normally rainy winters do make some people depressed. The consequence of a steady string of dark, dreary days for some is Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). I had a boss who became very cranky by the end of January and I always advised him to take a trip.

SAD is “thought to occur when daily body rhythms become out-of-sync because of the reduced sunlight.”

The easiest solution to the SAD problem — other than joining the geese and flying south — is the light box therapy lamp, which you turn on for a short time each morning to brighten your mood for the day.  We bought one, but have not yet used it.  Perhaps we should visit Iceland to try it out.  We’ll take that and a large book.






Posted in current events/themes, health, seasons | 3 Comments

“NaNoWriMo” is over and so is any hope for discipline

2011 NaNoWriMo t-shirt

November was National Novel Writing Month, also known as NaNoWriMo and mispronounced by friends as something like “Nah, No Rhinos.”

My first foray into NaNoWriMo took place in November 2011. That year I participated fully, which means I started a novel and wrote 50,000 words in the month, which added up to 1666.67 words a day. I did this while blogging three times a week. At the end of the month, I bought the t-shirt welcoming me to the winners’ circle, but it didn’t fit. How could it, when I hadn’t left my chair for thirty days except to raid the frig?

As to how I managed all that writing, I can only say I was younger then. Surprising as it may seem, this exercise in carpel tunnel syndrome, neck-jutting and shoulder-rounding did have a downside.  Besides weight gain, that is. A few years later, after I completed my novel, I had only used one or two sentences out of those 50,000 words.

This year, I signed up for NaNoWriMo and set my own rules: write 700 words every day, and add to the novel I’m working on now; don’t even think about starting something new.  Even following my own rules and hardly blogging at all, the experience was a huge challenge. Why?  It took Discipline, a word I’ve capitalized because it wasn’t the kind of normal discipline, such as getting up early one day a month to get to an appointment on time, which my life as a retiree calls for. This discipline required writing from two to five hours a day for thirty solid days. I regret that it did not require I stay out of the refrigerator.

By the time I finished, I had brought another seventy pages into the world, pages that are keepers, at least for my first draft.

“I should do that every day,” I told my husband. I’d finish in another month or so. “All it takes is a goal and discipline.”

December 1 passed and then December 2. Now it’s December 3 and I haven’t put a word to a page. Why not? I don’t feel like it. What I would prefer is to keep eating sweets. To stop one bad habit and restart the good habit, I’m going to have to demonstrate more discipline, but it seems impossible to be disciplined in two areas of my life at once. So if I want to get the novel done, it looks like I’m stuck with having to eat desserts while I’m doing it.


Posted in current events/themes, humor, personal reflections, writing | Tagged , , , , | 6 Comments

My sexual harassment story

Although I’ve felt too busy this month to blog, the daily onslaught of accusations of sexual harassment around the world has inspired me to take a break from adding seven hundred words a day to my current novel and share my personal story.

I’ll introduce my story with another, namely, “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.” In this novella, Dr. Jekyll attempts to create a potion to prove his theory that two different entities may live within the same body. When he drinks his potion, he turns into a murderer: Mr. Hyde. Drinking it again turns him back into the man of science: Dr. Jekyll. Two men in one. Over time, the alternate personality of Mr. Hyde becomes dominant and takes control of Dr. Jekyll.

Now for my story.  For five years, I worked in a community college admissions office. Recently, I read that someone coined the expression “sexual harassment”on the east coast in the 1970’s. Maybe so, but for years the word didn’t pierce the west coast bubble I lived in.

My experiences at the college started small. It was a two-story building and I always took the stairs to the second floor. One time, when I opened the door on that floor, I was greeted with a pair of puckered lips attached to the face of an administrator, who had seen me enter the stairwell on the floor below and then taken the elevator up himself, so he could ambush me. (Despite this bizarre encounter, I continued taking the stairs because seeing his lips approaching me in an elevator would have been much creepier.)

This man’s behavior was mild compared to the stunts of the Director of Admissions.  He would rub up against women from behind and encourage them to take advantage of his many physical gifts. I once made the mistake of entering his office — at his request — and letting him shut the door behind me. On my way out he stood at the door and grabbed hold of my breasts. Dr. Jekyll.

The women who worked for him traded stories. While what he did was humiliating, our stories made him the laughingstock of the department. For some reason he never seemed powerful, never seemed like he could hurt anyone’s career, but none of us ever spoke up. Who would we complain to? Other guys just like him?

The man had a young child maybe three or four years old, and from time to time he brought her to work. When she was around, he was not the same lecher. He glowed when he walked into the office holding her hand, and she worshipped him.  Jekyll or Hyde?

Fast forward many years. I was promoted to a different department, then left the college for several other jobs and forgot about this man.

My last job before retirement was in the central office of a K-12 public school system. Imagine my shock when I met the harasser’s daughter as a thirty-something adult just beginning her teaching career. A veteran teacher mentor, who was protective in the extreme, worked with her. The young woman struck me as very vulnerable.

She hadn’t been teaching long when I heard that her father had died of a heart attack.  Traumatized by his death, she took a long leave of absence and ultimately quit work.  I never knew what happened to her after that.

I’m sure there are many examples from history of dictators who treated their families well, but never have I known someone personally who was two distinct people: Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Given the behavior of my boss’s child, I fear the Hyde character might have taken over him.


Posted in current events/themes, grief and loss, personal reflections | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

What is that smell?

Ever have a room in your house you didn’t know what to do with? I did. But recently, I decided to fix up that room, which is known as a “bonus room,” even though having it did not feel like a bonus. I decided my bonus room should be an uncluttered, peaceful space for writing, reading and meditating.

Uncluttered didn’t work out according to plan, but peaceful and quiet are still good descriptors.  Among the items I moved there were my collection of essential oils purchased in another era and the aromatherapy diffuser. When heated, the oils soothe, comfort and cover up the odor of the cat’s litter box, which is also in that room.

What a surprise when I opened up the October 9 issue of The New Yorker and found out that essential oils are big business. “Something In The Air” is the name of the article and it’s a good read.

You can buy these oils, or sell them and possibly make a bundle of money. The article says the current annual incomes of people selling these products range from $1 to $1 million. The latter record must belong to those who got warmed up in an earlier life selling Amway, Mary Kaye or Tupperware.

I’m taking a slight birdwalk here to talk about a personal Amway experience. Years ago, in Guanajuato, Mexico, an acquaintance asked me to talk to her Amway crew.  She had a group of women –her sales force ?– she met with regularly and wanted me to give them a pep talk… in Spanish. Within hours I found myself in front of a large group having planned nothing to say in English much less Spanish.  I stumbled for a few minutes and realized I didn’t even know what Amway was. As soon as it was clear to the women that I had nothing inspirational to say and I could barely communicate on this topic, they started looking at their watches and filing their nails. My friend looked crestfallen and I felt mortified .

But back to essential oils. The founder of one prominent oil company (not to be confused with Exxon or Shell), a naturopath who earned his “doctorate degree from an unlicensed school,” was once charged with practicing medicine without a license and was seen on video “performing gallbladder surgery and giving essential oils intravenously.” But we’re safe. He only does this in other countries.n

The health promises of different oils are beyond good or even great.  Healthy digestion? Simple. Reduced anxiety? sure. Regenerated cells? Of course. conquering autism? Why not? Cure cancer? You bet. And much more.

Frankincense and rose oil are among the most costly ones. A single barrel of the latter, per one wholesaler, “is worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.” He keeps the rose oil, an ounce of which takes more than a million petals to create, under lock and key.

After reading the article, I rushed upstairs to read the labels on my oil bottles. I found geranium, sandalwood, honeysuckle, applewood, clary sage and bergamot — the anchors of my collection — which the article did not mention once. I did find something called Rose Absolute, which at the price I paid for it, probably required ten petals in its production.

Needless to say, even if I had the right stuff, it hasn’t been properly stored, cold-pressed, or grown organically, so I cannot sell it on eBay for an outrageously expensive sum. The one thing I can promise to any potential buyers, is that it is a great remedy for litter box odors.





Posted in current events/themes, humor | Tagged , , | 3 Comments

Bad experiences make a good story

implant models: source of my friend’s disastrous experience

“We’re all made of stories. When they finally put us underground, the stories are what will go on.” Charles de Lint, contemporary fantasy author.

I love stories, to tell them and to hear them. When I’m in a particularly uncomfortable situation, I tell myself that once it is over it will make a good story, and usually it does. I like to hear friends’ horrible experiences too. Misery loves company and all, but others’ stories also help me think about how I might handle the situations they describe (usually not as well as they did).

I’m hardly alone in my appreciation of story. According to the book, “Wired for Story, ” “Stories allow us to simulate intense experiences without actually having to live through them. This was a matter of life and death back in the Stone Age…”

Unlike Stone Age people, most of us live routine lives: wake up, satisfy our morning caffeine needs, get ready for work and go. A good story takes us out of this everyday world.

It’s fall, time to sit by the fire with a glass of wine and share stories. This week, a friend named Lydia told me one about her first two weeks in a new job, which I’m going to share.

 Starting a new job

Lydia spent her entire first week at a public relations firm going through training. Not the “here’s your desk and your job description and our code of conduct” kind of training, but rather, a full education on the topic of silicon implants. Yes. Really.

Here’s a little about what she learned.  Silicone is a rubber-like compound used for many purposes, including by plastic surgeons to build up biceps, pectoral muscles, breasts and a male body part.

In 1992, the Food and Drug Administration “banned these implants for general consumption” as a result of hundreds of women who’d had breast implants complaining they caused cancer, autoimmune problems, and other medical issues.

For her second week on the job, Lydia got to attend a plastic surgeon’s convention. There the keynote speaker, who was head of the corporation that made the implants, announced that the ban had just been put in place and then immediately skipped out of the conference.

Anticipating an unfriendly response to his speech, he also left his own firm’s PR people at home and left hundreds of plastic surgeons in a state of despair, because they had a full schedule of implants on their calendars and feared they would not be able to get the product in time. (I keep wondering why they didn’t have a teensy bit of concern for the safety of the women they’d already done surgery on or were about to cut, but apparently that wasn’t their issue).

My friend and her new colleagues — now suspicious their primary role was as cannon fodder — spent hours trapped in an information booth trying to appease these unhappy plastic surgeons.

“It was horrible,” Lydia said. “We expected professionals to be…well…professional.  Instead they just wanted to vent and they directed all their anger at us.”

I suspect the plastic surgeons were less impressed with my friend’s and her colleagues’ new knowledge about implants than with their total inability to resolve the problem.

The biggest surprise was that my friend stayed with the firm after her trial by inferno, but she did.  Maybe she figured the job couldn’t get any worse.

Do any readers have horror stories from their first days/weeks on the job stories? If so, please share. I’d love to compile them into a blog or two.






Posted in humor, Uncategorized | 4 Comments

Magical realism in Norway

To open his magical realism story, “One Hundred Years of Solitude,” Gabriel Garcia Marquez puts his character in front of a firing squad and has him remember the first time his father introduced him to ice.

In a different magical realism story, which we heard in Norway from one of the owners of the Steinsto Fruit Farm, the opening line might be something about a group of seniors introduced to hard apple cider.

Last June, my husband and I had the chance to visit this lovely orchard on a steep mountainside above the Hardangerfjord in western Norway. While there, we enjoyed Heidi’s apple pie, a wonderful, buttery pastry that tasted a little like a pie and cake all in one. For a few cents we could even buy her recipe, which I did. Coming across it this week reminded me of the story she told. (Some followers of this blog have heard Heidi tell this and may find my recollection different from theirs. Remember the childhood game of telephone? This is what happens when stories get retold and passed along.)

The fruit farm’s younger owners decided to invite a group of elders from local senior housing to the farm to enjoy Heidi’s now-famous apple pie — 7,000 sold in the 2016 season. Their father, also a partner in the farm, makes hard cider for family gatherings, but does not sell it commercially. He decided to share his product with the seniors.

The weather on the day of the event was nasty, a total downpour. The bus carrying the seniors and all their gear managed to make it up the hill from the highway to the farmhouse. The family then helped escort their guests and move their walkers and canes indoors, not an easy task since there were stairs to reach the dining area and a large crowd needing help to climb them.

At last everyone had settled in and the family served the apple pie and ice cream. As if this weren’t enough of a treat, glasses of hard apple cider followed the dessert. Meanwhile the downpour worsened and the bus driver had to move the bus to the highway below, away from water moving downhill. The hosts fretted.  It had been difficult enough to move the seniors and their equipment from the bus when it was close to the house.  How would they ever walk them safely down the gravel road to the highway below? Especially after they had drunk the cider.

While their hosts worried, the seniors didn’t. They abandoned their walkers and canes and easily made the trip downhill. The hosts had to scramble to retrieve all the equipment and deliver it to the waiting bus. The elders’ aches and pains vanished with the attention, loving care, apple pie…and possibly the hard cider.

Last we heard, the cider maker was considering applying for all the licenses needed to sell his brew commercially.  Here’s hoping he gets permission to sell internationally.  Just for the sake of senior citizens here. Right. That makes me eligible too.





Posted in humor | 3 Comments

A good season to hibernate

I’ve taken a long blogging break, necessitated by being sick off and on for a few months and running out of topics that interest me. What I’ve been thinking about lately is hibernation.  I like my on-line dictionary’s synonyms for hibernate:  “hole up, withdraw, retreat, cocoon.” Perfect descriptors for how I’ve felt.

It seems like I’ve been more aware of the change of season this year than any other: the quick drop in temperature between September and October; darkness earlier and later; having to remember to add an extra vest or jacket before going outside; the roar of leaf blowers when I’m out for a walk; the shocking reds, oranges and yellows all around me; and crispness in the air when I step outside for the morning paper.

My cat is my role model for this season. After lazing on the patio under the sun for four months, and despite a thickening coat of hair, he now prefers to spend his days under the bed covers. On early, dark mornings, that’s my preference too.

I’ve made my first pot of lentil soup and my first stew. I have a new bread recipe I want to try. I bought tickets to see four plays in October. All these are automatic reactions, ones I don’t have to think about, but are built into my seasonal system like sleeping under the covers is built into my cat’s.

I’m in the process of ordering a ton of books from the library and amazon. My social calendar is slightly emptier than it was in July. I’m ready to withdraw, to spend more time alone.

If I lived in a different climate, one in which it never got cold, would I feel the same?  Probably not. The weather really does exercise control over much of our lives. I’m just glad our climate is mild and we don’t get snowed in. That might call for a whole new set of seasonal behaviors.




Posted in seasons | 7 Comments

Why I stick with Facebook

Not a cat video; he doesn’t move. And I had to include a wineglass

I opened up my Facebook page today and was greeted by ads to subscribe to The Economist magazine, and for a Subaru fall sale, State Farm Life insurance, and the Do-It-All Shoe. I also received a request, on a different page I administer, to pay FB to boost views — and thus attendance — at a long-past event. However, despite these efforts to pry into my buying habits, I still see value in FB.

It’s not that I don’t agree with those who criticize the social networking site.  It does have its issues. One source describes it rightfully as an “amoral corporation collecting personal data.” To anyone who uses FB regularly the personal data collection is obvious. My last car was a Subaru and I have State Farm insurance. However, I’ve never heard of the Do-It-All Shoe and am dying to know all that it does, but without having to click on the ad and support FB advertising. Though, if I thought it might clean the cat box I’d change my mind.

We all know other FB negatives, such as the 3,000 ads linked to fake accounts which were linked to other fake accounts set up by a “pro-Kremlin troll farm known as the Internet Research Agency.”

But I don’t turn away from FB any more than I turn away from searching with Google on the grounds that people use that to find pornography and white supremacists’ websites.  I wouldn’t be filling the pages of my historical novel, albeit very slowly, without Google and other search engines. And I wouldn’t re-connect or stay connected with friends without Facebook.

When I left high school I didn’t look back, not to teachers or classmates. Thanks to FB, I’ve not only written to, but seen elementary and high school friends and a college roommate.

Before retirement, I worked in a school system with 2,000 employees and knew many of them. Since retirement, I’ve never run in to more than a dozen of them, usually at the grocery store or a shopping mall, and see only a half dozen regularly. With FB I can keep up with the rest, as in people who have traveled and taken beautiful photos allowing me to see some of the same places they have. Or friends who should be congratulated for celebrating a birthday or a large-numbered anniversary. And I can follow up on plays or art exhibits that other friends have recommended.

Since I haven’t yet formed the habit of reading obituaries, Facebook friends sometimes share the important news about who is sick, dying or dead.

Funny thing: before writing this I thought I still kept in touch with many people I used to work with.  I just looked at my contacts’ list on my computer and realized that I keep up with most former colleagues through Facebook. So that’s the point, the reason why I can accept cat videos, too many pix of grandchildren, and even more pix of meals and wineglasses in the sunlight, because FB allows me to keep in touch and know that friends and acquaintances are usually content (if not, they don’t usually post that), aging well and making the most of life. What other tool can do that?


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