Category Archives: Observations

The Confessional

In what passes for a social life these days, my most frequent interactions outside of conversations with my husband reside in the beauty world, aka mani/pedis, haircuts, brow shaping, etc.

I’m not sure if men have comparable experiences, but the intimacy of beauty rituals with people we see regularly invites a certain amount of sharing. Mostly, we discuss benign frustrations, updates, and recommendations (will our home renovation EVER be finished; when can we visit with our kids who don’t live nearby; someone’s annoying neighbor or relative; where can we find the best sushi, etc.) but sometimes I overhear a startling story.

This week, the woman getting her nails done next to me told the manicurist a peculiarly personal and grisly tale. She was in the salon with her four-year-old niece and mentioned that she is unlikely to have children herself, as she is a widow approaching her 38th birthday. She went on to recount the following: her husband’s ashes are in an urn in her home and apparently the contents also include a necklace. It seems the lid somehow became loose and the niece has recently been using it as a storage container, removing some of the ashes to make space to add her own treasures.

I couldn’t help wondering what body parts have been replaced with a four-year-old’s special possessions. And maybe it’s me, but this seemed beyond the pale of what one discusses with one’s manicurist!

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The Book Club Virgin

Although I’ve been an avid reader all my life — and exchanged book recommendations with friends for years — I was never in a book club until today.

Of course, “thanks” to Covid, it wasn’t what I’ve always imagined: a cozy gathering in someone’s living room, drinking wine, snacking, and veering off-topic.

Well, that last part kind of happened.

This was a Zoom gathering of a dozen women including many who knew each other and a couple of newbies. What I soon realized is that a book club provides permission to gossip shamelessly and unreservedly about people we’ve never met: “I can’t believe he said that!” “I can’t believe she DID that!” “What on earth were they thinking?” “His parents never really understood him.” “She was just trapped.” “How could he have been so callous?”

And, of course, we all wondered what the future holds and whether there will be a sequel.

This could be my favorite new guilty pleasure.

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The Deploring Twenties

Happy New Year, dear readers! As we shake off our hangovers and make resolutions, I suggest we virtually hold hands and pray that 2022 isn’t a repeat of 2020 and 2021.

A century ago, the Roaring Twenties ushered in an era of economic prosperity, cultural milestones including jazz and Art Deco, the end of corsets along with acknowledgment of a woman’s right to vote, innovations such as automobiles, radio and telephones, electrical appliances, and moving pictures.

So far, the 2020s have little to boast about: a deadly pandemic; social isolation; increased pushback against the basic human dignities of controlling our own bodies, loving whom we choose, existing without fear because of the color of our skin; the ever-increasing consequences of climate change, etc.

It’s enough to make any sensate being take to our beds with a bottle of booze and wait until humanity comes to its collective senses.

But hey, it’s a new year, and optimism springs eternal. We’ve still got a chance to turn this century into the Soaring 20s. It’s just gonna take a little effort.

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What’s In a Name?

Is anyone else watching the middle-aged adventures of 55-year-old Carrie et. al. in And Just Like That? I’m enjoying it (after the shock of the first episode) but I have to wonder:

Does the world need a new definition for the no-longer-young but not-yet-old?

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To my mind, “middle-aged” is ’40s-’50s, and “elderly” is ’80’s-90’s. (Although from where I sit, 40 still seems relatively young.) So where do the ’60s-’70s fit in?

If you’re 60+, you’re not in the middle since we’re unlikely to live to 120. But is it “elderly”? Most sexagenarians I know are healthy, energetic, and reasonably current with contemporary culture thanks to technology. “Elderly” sounds frail rather than older and (hopefully) wiser.

I suggest that those of us in our ’60’s and 70’s deserve a designation besides Baby Boomers. “Post-ers” because we’re post-middle-age? “Pre-elderly”? Any proposals from the floor?

Back to the show. Some of Carrie’s outfits seem a little silly (“mutton dressed as lamb”) and I wish they’d let her look a bit more age-appropriate without being staid. But I applaud a world in which a show about older women (and their sex lives) still generates cross-generational interest. Maybe that’s all the progress we need.

The Art of Procrastination

All week, I’ve been trying to “find” time to write a post. And remaining unsuccessful, whether due to lack of inspiration or lack of dedication, who can say. All I know is, sometimes the things we want or need to do feel too much like homework. And, boy, do I hate that little voice in my head telling me what I’m “supposed” to be doing.

I’ve decided to consider this more as “postponement”; doesn’t that sound much more positive?! After all, all the ways I’ve been distracted have been productive, just not exactly in the same way as the task I failed to do.

I’ve paid bills. Taken lots of walks. Made blinis, to go with the smoked salmon I’m finally taking out of the fridge. I’m currently making another batch of sourdough — a great all-day postponement activity if ever there was one. I’ve happily done the laundry and other housework. Ordered holiday gifts. Answered e-mails. Called my 99-year-old cousin. Cleaned the car — or will, as soon as I finish typing.

“Writer’s block” sounds so unforgiving. Let’s call it “writer’s break” instead, shall we?

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The Lint Trap

Am I the only person who has managed to do laundry for decades without learning that occasional white spots or streaks on dark clothes are caused by too much undissolved detergent? Please don’t embarrass me by replying, “Well, duh, everyone knows that!”

Anyway, I know this now. And while I was emptying the lint trap today — today being laundry day around here — it occurred to me that we often accumulate little unwanted specks of debris in our psyches, too.

Mental “lint” accumulates when we’re exposed to too many little bits of negativity. It could come from the news. The jerk driver who cut you off. A chance remark by a nasty neighbor or co-worker. It could even be a self-deprecating thought that makes us doubt our own worth.

And, just like doing our laundry, we need to regularly empty our mind’s lint trap and start afresh. At least once a week.

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Money Isn’t the Root of All Evil

Jealousy is.

Money can fund philanthropy, the arts, technical innovation, beauty, medical breakthroughs, and many public services we take for granted.

Jealousy has a lot less to recommend it (though it might provoke healthy competition).

In our tiny neighborhood, jealousy has recently run amok. Sometimes expressed in the loathsome designations “up the hill” or “down the hill”, we’ve got an awful lot of neighbors (in both senses) obsessively focused on who has a better view, a nicer house, a prettier yard, or an apparently easier life.

Oh, this is seldom verbalized in any direct way. The jealousy is cloaked in righteous indignation: “Those damn so-and-so’s are breaking the rules again!” by allowing their dog to escape the yard and do its business “wherever it chooses”. The finger-pointers didn’t bothered to learn that said dog was dying of cancer and unable to control its bodily functions. (Dog died=problem solved=do move on, please.)

Then, there are false and oft-repeated claims that the committee responsible for managing the landscaper’s schedule spends the budget keeping the areas near the ocean looking good “for the benefit of the people who live down the hill”. Yet, these same folks are the first to grumble if their view becomes overgrown.

And finally, complaints about matters long since resolved, such as whether someone’s outdoor lighting is too bright. (Consider: #1 There are no street lamps in the community, #2 Ever thought about getting window shades?, #3 Maybe if you asked nicely?)

Sheesh. Have a nice glass of vitriol and (don’t) call me in the morning. I’ll be working on my next rant.

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A Productive Day

The older I get — and the longer COVID drags on — the more content I feel with small accomplishments. Here’s my list; what’s yours?

  • Cook something
  • Clean something
  • Plan something
  • Go somewhere
  • Write something
  • Read something
  • Fix something
  • Toss something
  • Learn something
  • Solve something
  • Contact someone — phone, text or email; bonus points for an in-person visit!
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A Week Away

Back in June, when it was becoming impossibly hot and boring living in our rental apartment (with molasses-slow progress on our home renovation), Dear Husband and I decided to brave the outside world and travel out of the country.

Armed with passports, vaccination cards, entry documents, and recent COVID tests, DH and I embarked on a short Viking river cruise to Lyon and Provence. The tipping point was their excellent health and safety program, in which every crew member and passenger takes a short, non-invasive COVID test daily. At least we’d be protected within our bubble.

A few highlights, as this is by no means a comprehensive travelogue:

  • Watching the world flow by from our little balcony
  • Cocktail hour with witty and cultured new friends K and S
  • Breathtaking mountain views of the countryside
  • Strolling through Arles
  • Morning croissants and coffee
  • A day on our own in Avignon visiting two museums (classic and contemporary) and finding a terrific place for lunch
  • The uniformly excellent food, wine, service and crew on board

And a couple of lowlights:

  • The airports in Marseilles and Frankfurt (our connection), which were overcrowded and understaffed, with insuffient time to check all passengers’ COVID documents
  • Not enough time in Lyon; we will have to return!
Tournon-sur-Rhône
Les Baux-de-Provence (from the bus)
Tournon
Just drifting along
Saint-Barthelemy-le-Plain
Soon to be sunflower oil
Arles
Arles Arena
One family’s multi-generational olive oil mill in Fontvielle

Damocles

How long is it before procrastination takes on the mythical proportions of an Impossible Hurdle? My plan to write about our recent excursion to France has turned into a post about NOT writing it (“for now”, says the procrastinator-at-large).

So what is the origin of the story (also the phrase, “hanging by a thread” to denote looming disaster or apprehension)? The History website enlightens, as follows:

History Stories

What was the sword of Damocles?

What was the sword of Damocles?

EVAN ANDREWS

The famed “sword of Damocles” dates back to an ancient moral parable popularized by the Roman philosopher Cicero in his 45 B.C. book “Tusculan Disputations.” Cicero’s version of the tale centers on Dionysius II, a tyrannical king who once ruled over the Sicilian city of Syracuse during the fourth and fifth centuries B.C. Though rich and powerful, Dionysius was supremely unhappy. His iron-fisted rule had made him many enemies, and he was tormented by fears of assassination—so much so that he slept in a bedchamber surrounded by a moat and only trusted his daughters to shave his beard with a razor.

As Cicero tells it, the king’s dissatisfaction came to a head one day after a court flatterer named Damocles showered him with compliments and remarked how blissful his life must be. “Since this life delights you,” an annoyed Dionysius replied, “do you wish to taste it yourself and make a trial of my good fortune?” When Damocles agreed, Dionysius seated him on a golden couch and ordered a host of servants wait on him. He was treated to succulent cuts of meat and lavished with scented perfumes and ointments. Damocles couldn’t believe his luck, but just as he was starting to enjoy the life of a king, he noticed that Dionysius had also hung a razor-sharp sword from the ceiling. It was positioned over Damocles’ head, suspended only by a single strand of horsehair. From then on, the courtier’s fear for his life made it impossible for him to savor the opulence of the feast or enjoy the servants. After casting several nervous glances at the blade dangling above him, he asked to be excused, saying he no longer wished to be so fortunate.

For Cicero, the tale of Dionysius and Damocles represented the idea that those in power always labor under the specter of anxiety and death, and that “there can be no happiness for one who is under constant apprehensions.” The parable later became a common motif in medieval literature, and the phrase “sword of Damocles” is now commonly used as a catchall term to describe a looming danger. Likewise, the saying “hanging by a thread” has become shorthand for a fraught or precarious situation. One of its more famous uses came in 1961 during the Cold War, when President John F. Kennedy gave a speech before the United Nations in which he said that “Every man, woman and child lives under a nuclear sword of Damocles, hanging by the slenderest of threads, capable of being cut at any moment by accident or miscalculation or by madness.”