Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Tradition



Ah-Choo! Ah-Choo!

In the waiting area of the doctor's office, a man sitting with his wife and daughter, 20 feet away, says to me, "God bless you."

Thank you.

At home in the kitchen: Ah-Choo!

Watching TV in the family room, Darling Husband says to me, "Bless you."

Thank you.

Ah-Choo!

DH again: "Bless you."

Thank you.

Susceptible to springtime allergies since forever ago, my sneeze follows me around for a month or two; getting the attention of a family member, friend, or stranger who promptly says, "Bless you," "God bless you," or an occasional "Gesundheit."

When I was a child at home with my parents, I rarely got those responses. More likely, I heard, "Woo, that was a big one!" "Cover you mouth," or Turn your head"...not that Mom didn't want God to bless me. After all, my heart was dangerously stopping and missing a beat each time I sneezed... according to the belief of many.

Always a smidgen of a non-conformist, it occurred to me that I don't have to say "Bless you" every time someone sneezes; though I think it's a kind and personable act. With no expectation of a reprimand, I tried it (silence) when my daughter, Girl#1, who likes attention, sneezed.

"You didn't say anything," she said.

Oh. Bless you.

"Thank you," she responded with a smile of satisfaction.

Dictionary dot com defines tradition as "the handing down of statements, beliefs, legends, customs, information, etc., from generation to generation, especially by word of mouth or by practice." Bless you seems to fit.

I began to wonder about other traditions. For instance... When we name a child after a relative - an honor to the deceased or to family unity - do we really like the name? And godparents... When I was little, I was told that a godparent took responsibility of a godchild if something happened to the parents. My children don't have godparents. Hmmm... (I'm counting on DH and I staying alive for awhile.)

I finished another book recently - This Is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper. A Jewish father dies. His wife and children sit shiva, a tradition of grieving together for seven days. The family in this R rated novel is probably not a good representation of sitting shiva, yet the characters learned some of life's lessons and benefited from it by forming stronger bonds.

Do we benefit from the traditions we follow? Do acts of tradition maintain order, as similar to laws?

Hmmm...

Are you a traditional person?

(Rhetorically speaking: Does the bride have to wear white? Does the man have to be the breadwinner? Does the family have to spend holidays and vacations at the same place each year?)


Thursday, March 13, 2014

Living in the Present


Balance.

Lately, it's the word that often enters my mind when making decisions that seem to have no concrete right or wrong answer. I've entered a phase of my life, the sixth decade, where it has become apparent that I simplify my routine, minimize my belongings, stop sweating the small stuff, and absorb as much of the beauty of life as I can.

No, I'm not ready for the retirement condo home.

Yes, I have three kids at home.

In other words, I'm still very much in the mix of a busy, obligation filled life; however, the gradual change has begun. It is my way of incorporating the balance.

Photography.

"What?" You may ask.

A Quick Story.

I had a journal as a teenager; just for a year. And like many who write, I also had a camera (110 film); freezing the times of my life in words and in pictures. Moments, thoughts, faces, events - I treasured it all. When I wanted to retrieve it to reminiscence or to supply my kids pictures for their Student of the Week posters, I could.

As the number of years increased, so did the number of journals. (I have a teen journal, adult journals, journals for my children, faith journals, a gratitude journal and letters.) And so did the number of photo albums - so, so many.

A large portion of those albums contain pictures of my children from film, as I did not jump on the digital bandwagon until 2007. For three kids, I've captured every birthday, every first day of school, every dance recital, every piano recital, several dips in the pool and the ocean, the first bike rides, award ceremonies, field days, every holiday, etc. And like most of the other parents, I've also squeezed my camera view between the heads of people sitting in front of me to get a shot of my kid performing on stage.

A few months ago, my daughter, Girl #3, said to me, "Mrs. R gets frustrated when the parents are snapping away or videoing instead of watching and enjoying the production." (Mrs. R used to be her theater teacher.)

"She should be," I responded. "She's very passionate and puts together a good show for us. And yes, sometimes I'm getting the shot instead of getting the show."

The Gradual, Energy-Saving Light-bulb comes on.

I'd already begun toning down my photography even before hearing about Mrs. R's frustrations, though she is a catalyst. Three reasons:

  • On vacation, I'm the only one lugging the camera and video recorder around to get pictures for the family history.
  • At extended family dinners - again - I'm taking pictures, feeling like the hired photographer, and having to ask one of my kids to get me into a shot or two.
  • Clutter. After joining my life with my husband's, our photo and photo album stock became massive. We also inherited albums from a deceased parent. Oh, and let's not forget the envelopes galore of pictures that were never put into albums. Remember the "duplicate" craze phase?

Implementation.

I ask myself if I really need to take my camera with me and if I so, do I really need to take pictures beyond the two or three that gives me a memory. After all - how often do I spend time looking through albums or picture files on my computer?

To convince myself, I think of Mrs. R. I also think about a "Quality" training session at a company that I worked for in the 1980s. It was there that I learned the concept, "Be Here Now," to focus on the task or pleasure at hand. Managing that concept means I'm not constantly living in the past. I'm also learning to see the whole of things; to peruse instead of skim; to slow down and absorb. It's a good thing.

Exception.

When photography "is" the activity. One of many subjects being nature.

Do you ever miss part of the sports game, play, etc. because you're getting the shot or video? or miss the total enjoyment of an event?

Any general thoughts about "living in the present?"


Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Think It (If You Must), But Don't Say It

Three days ago, I finished reading The Book Thief, in which an ongoing theme is the power of wordsThe protagonist is Liesel, who is nine years old when the story begins. It is 1939 and she quickly realizes that the words of Hitler contained enough power to rule Germany and a vast area of surrounding countries, ultimately sending millions of innocent people to their deaths.

While history, both distant and recent, has shown me the same or similar atrocities as Liesel witnessed, it is the little, common, day to day words that I hear that can pack a big punch—a punch that has a lifelong gradual effect. Much of the time, the speaker doesn't even realize his or her power.

Ironically, the punch is often delivered to children from their loving parents.

In a perfect world, we'd all be smart, talented, and good looking—among the obvious traits of being loving and giving. I can't imagine that world; it sounds like heaven. But while we're here, it would be great if we could improve upon the delivery of our opinions.

When I was eight years old, my brother began to tease me about a certain body part. I doubt that the teasing lasted more than a few days, but during one episode, my mother laughed. That was all it took for the indelible mark to be formed. It took a couple years of maturing to realize that the body feature was normal. Fortunately, I've never been overly self-conscious, allowing my imperfections to dictate the course of my life… well, maybe. I wonder about others.

Numerous times, I've heard children being told:
  • You're too short
  • Your hair is too curly or kinky
  • That class is for smart people
  • You need some more muscles
  • Get out of the sun - you're dark enough
  • You need some sun - you're too white
  • Your feet look like boats
  • You have elephant legs
  • You have chicken legs
  • Etc. Etc. Etc.
Or, if not directed toward the victim child, another child (often a sibling) in his or her presence will be complimented:
  • You're so nice and talll...
  • You're so smart
  • You're only 14! You're so big and muscular
  • I love your blonde hair and blue eyes
  • You look good in everything you wear
  • You're so pretty
  • You're so handsome
  • You have your dad's good looks
  • You have your mom's brains
  • Etc. Etc. Etc.
Albeit, fairly mild stuff.  (This is not about abusive situations.)

A lesson I learned from my mother came from a story she told me. When my brother and I were toddlers, an aunt said to Mom, "He's so cute," to which Mom replied, "Both of my children are cute." (My brother had more of the physical characteristics of what was—and still is—considered a good-looking black person.) History repeated itself when a shopper told my two year old how pretty she looked in her pretty dress as my four year old stood by. My older daughter probably paid no attention to the woman; however, I said to her, "Your dress is pretty, too." The embarrassed woman apologized as I kept walking. It was no big deal, but maybe a lesson for her - the shopper.

I look at my kids and I don't see physical perfection (whatever that is); sometimes, not even close. Nor are they candidates for Mensa, embellished with extraordinary personalities. All three have tease-worthy characteristics, but I refrain… most of the time some of the time. In other words, I try to think before I talk; to choose words that will promote balance and confidence instead of insecurity, but not holding back so much that results in a fragile child. On the other hand, overdoing it with non-stop compliments might create a sense of superiority. Cliché, but kids don't come with an instruction manual.

Of course, kids are not the only recipients of the life-changing words that have the power to shape us and mold us throughout our existence. Should we just man-up and take it? Or, should we embrace our wimpiness? Or, should we punch back?

I digress.

In a nutshell… The examples I cited above seem superficial, but are they really? "Are they" the impetus for a life thrown off course?

Did any negative words change the course of your life? Positive words?

Image found here

Image found here

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Gifts... Especially, Books



I started collecting classics in the mid 1980s. Every month, a beautiful, gilded, faux leather bound book would arrive at my home. Eagerly, but carefully, I'd open the box from the Franklin Library, to see what the title would be and what color it would be and what gold letterings and designs it would have on its cover. After savoring the smell and fanning the crisp new pages, I'd give it a home on my book shelf.

It was over two years before I stopped collecting the books that, at the time, were surprisingly inexpensive. Titles included, My Antonia, Gulliver's Travels, and The Portrait of a Lady. About thirty books were in my library, yet I read only six or so. Single at the time, I could have/should have read more. (Okay, so I had a TV and a life.)

Years later, I subscribed to another book collection - from the Eastern Press - and this time, the books were "genuine leather," a selling point on the advertisement. I read another six or so.

You may be able to tell that I have had a slight addiction to books. All of the above is not even intended to be what this post is about. Somehow, when I began writing, I found myself reminiscing and stopping to browse the shelves of pretty (yes I said pretty) and mostly unread books. Thank you for indulging me.

However, there are two other areas in the house that are filled with books that I have read. People in my life know that reading is one of my pleasures, which results in an occasional book as a gift. Many are from my husband and children, but also from other relatives and friends. How thoughtful they are.

The reality...

I can't read every book that I own. I'd like to, but I can't.

I was reminded of this when Cousin Bee asked if I'd read the book she gave to me for Christmas.

"No," I admitted. "I skimmed a few pages though. I'm going to put it on my night table," I continued, "that way, I'll remember to read it."

Does she really care if I read it or not? Isn't the gift her way of saying that she likes me and that the book says she thought about my interests?

I think so... or maybe she thought, "I don't know what to get her. I'll go with a book."

A gift to someone is somewhat presumptuous; a book seeming to be more of a message than a vase or a shirt. The title and content says, "You need to know this" or "This will make you laugh" or "This will help you cope;" or simply, "The reviews on this book are good, so I hope you'll enjoy it."

A book feeds you. Whether you like its story/message or not, it presumes what your mind wants to absorb.

A shirt says, "I think you'll like this" or "You'll look good in this" or "You need this." Whichever, it's all external.

The vase: I was at a friend's home when she showed me hers that was a present. I couldn't help but laugh when she said, "I need this vase like I need a hole in my head."

At least it can be stored away and brought out in the spring for fresh flowers; unlike the wedding present my husband and I received almost twenty years ago - a framed art print.

Hmmm...

The giver had never been to our new home together and had never asked what type of art we liked. Fortunately, she never visited and asked where it was hanging.

I'm all for books as gifts and fine with receiving more. Which ones I'll read, "Who knows?" Just when I decided my next book to read, I looked over and saw Cousin Bee's gift on the night table, picked it up, and began to read. It's a good book.

Do you give books as gifts? How do you feel about books you receive as a gift?
 
Other thoughts?

By the way, since I  started blogging, I've read at least 2 books written by bloggers. Day Laughs, Night Cries: Fifteen by Peaches Ledwidge and Whole Latte Life by Joanne Demaio. (Joanne doesn't appear to be making the blogging rounds anymore.) I've also read a book that I won by entering a blog giveaway. All were good reads.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Aging

You haven't changed a bit!

(Other versions: You haven't changed at all! and You still look the same!)

How many times did I hear this lie greeting at my husband's high school reunion! The former classmates were so excited to see each other that I think they actually believed what they were saying, and believed hearing it when the lie compliment was directed to them.

What does the phrase really mean? Does it mean that, even though you're older, you're still attractive? Or maybe it just means that you still... uh... have the same look?

If it's been several years since I've seen someone, I don't say that phrase. First of all, I'm not good at recognizing people who I don't see often. Very much a "live in the present" person, it's a wonder that I, at least, know you're someone I've known, even though I can't exactly pin you down. And if I do recognize you, I see that - you've changed.

Remember that adage, "If you don't have anything nice to say, then don't say anything at all." So if after 30 or 40 years, I can't say, "Oh, you're still so cute... or handsome... or fashionable" etc, then I stick with, "It's good to see you again!" which is better than saying nothing at all.

At Darling Husband's class reunion, after the third time hearing "the lie," I thought, "I hope he's (random person) changed, because if he looked like that as a senior in high school... well... hmmm..."

I don't know anyone - let's say over 40 - who looks the same as when 18, 21, or even 25 years old.

People age. For that matter, everything ages... I think. (Any scientists out there?)

Anyway...

Hair gets thin. Hair loss occurs. Hair color changes. Skin wrinkles. Skin sags. Skin spots. Skin cracks. Chins disappear. Backs bend. Heights lessen. Teeth shift. Hair grows in new places. Waists thicken. Bellies protrude. Hips spread. Cellulite gives you dimples. Under eye dark circles or bags increase. Crow's feet widen. Eyelids droop. Other body parts droop. Bat wings jiggle. Muscles atrophy. Fat accumulates. "And so forth and so on," as people in the south say... old people, that is.

So maybe you're lucky and most of these things don't happen to you.

You still don't look the same! Get over it! It's okay! You're breathing!
.
.
.
.
.
...however, keep that plastic surgeon's number handy.

Happy Monday!
Who's that girl?

How are you handling the exterior effects of aging? ...unless of course, you look the same as you did in high school.

(What's going on inside the body is a whole 'nother blog post.)

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Handshakes

Is a handshake different for a man than it is for a woman? For me, it is. Not because I want it to be; it just is. If I were still working for corporate America and in a position to be shaking hands on a frequent basis, then maybe I wouldn't notice a male-female difference.

I don't remember much handshaking as a child or as a teenager. What little I did, I'm sure it was weak and awkward. Looking back, they should have taught us in school how to properly shake someone's hand, and why; though I'm sure my parents mentioned it somewhere along the way.

Interviewing for jobs as a twenty-one year old adult is when it became something that I needed to do. I'm sure that I hit-and-missed with the quality of it. If I walked into a building with confidence and greeted a person who looked like they were interested in talking to me, then the handshake went well. If not, it may have been loose and reduced to protocol.

Men seem to have ownership of the handshake. I notice my husband shaking hands with another man at least twice during the encounter - upon greeting and when saying good-bye; and sometimes in between. If I'm part of their conversation, most of the time, I have to initiate the handshake because the man seems unsure of whether to shake my hand or not. However, I won't limit this to a male thing. A lot of women who I am introduced to will not initiate the handshake either. Sometimes when I surprise someone (male or female) by holding out my hand to shake theirs, it ends up being a bit wimpy - soft and missing the whole palm to palm, web to web effect because the person is still surprised. But when it urns out to be a good, firm shake, I see the look on the person's man's face; he is impressed.

Handshaking among men has been around for centuries. It's as natural as wearing a tie, watching sports, leaving the lights on around the house, and dropping socks on the floor... generally speaking.

For women - not so... generally speaking.

When I meet a woman for the first time, usually, I shake her hand. The second meeting - I don't. Instead, it's immediate conversation.

Nice to see you again.

How are you?

Hi! I like your dress!

Etc.

Anything that suggests familiarity... because we've already met before.

By the third visit, it could be a hug (if our second visit was chummy). Future meetings don't require any physical contact, though huggers will likely hug, depending on the occasion.

I wonder if women will ever shake hands as much as men do. Hmmm...


Another aspect of hand shaking is the growing fear of germs. I've seen at least three TV news stories admonishing us to "wash our hands!" because it's "cold and flu season!" And then they show examples of transferring those pesky little germs, like: touching door knobs, eating from the same snack bowls... and good ol' handshaking.

I'm not against handshaking, but it can be inconvenient at social functions; trying to remember to eat my hors d'oeuvres with my left hand, or a fork, and saving the right hand for handshaking.

And then there's my lotion. I really don't like to shake hands right after I've beautified my hands with lotion that hasn't completely absorbed into my skin.

Is the handshake on its way out? Many people abhor the socially expected ritual, and celebrities who feel the same are helping their cause by refusing to shake hands, in effect, leading the common folk to comfortably withhold their hands, too. There's even a web site named Stop Hand Shaking that posts other ways of greeting; like the fist bump, high fives, and nodding. They even sell "no hand shaking" lapel pins, which I assume is a major reason for the site.

(I laugh when I picture business people fist bumping.)

The world is forever changing.

So what do you think about handshaking, i.e. quality, male/female, etc?
And what about the germ factor?

Thursday, January 2, 2014

PDA


In case you don’t know, PDA is an abbreviation for Public Display of Affection; i.e. holding hands with someone, kissing, touching, rubbing, massaging, etc. in the presence of other people. I’ve seen various degrees of it my entire life, and have been a participant, too; albeit, minor. Darling Husband and I (pre children) could be seen holding hands or sitting very close to each other on someone’s sofa. Nowadays, a peck of a kiss on the lips to say hello or good-bye is the extent of our PDA.

Young people and the newly married seem to have a monopoly on PDA. While sitting in Starbucks during my summer vacation, a couple appearing to be in their twenties could hardly contain themselves while waiting in line to order. Arms wrapped around each other, bodies pressed together, big smiles and little giggles—it was a definite distraction to me and the other customers. Nothing bad, though; we all peeked, made our assumptions, and got back to our coffee.

However, in church, I am distracted by PDA a little more. Yes, I said church. Often, I see a husband with his arm resting on the back of the chair that his wife is sitting in, gently caressing her shoulder. Sometimes, she leans into him, her head on his body.

“How sweet,” I think.

Again, no big deal.

But one couple (that I used to see) took my mind off the pastor and his lesson longer than the typical five second distraction. Sitting only a few rows behind them, I had a clear view of the husband fingering through his wife’s corn silk hair as it fanned between his fingers and fell back in place. He’d add a little massage to her neck here and there, too, as she sat relaxed and still and attentive to what the pastor was teaching.

Or was she?

I’d find myself wondering if the hair play really felt good to her; that she didn’t care that others around her were surely noticing. Or, did she really want to tell her husband, “Leave my hair alone!” but too meek to interrupt his show.

(I don’t see them anymore. I wonder what happened to them.)

And then there is the massager—a man who rubs his wife’s back—a lot. He makes a circular motion as she leans slightly forward. Then he goes up to the neck and gives a little squeeze before resuming the circular motion—kind of like the kid waxing the car in The Karate Kid movie.

They are less distracting than the other couple was. Is it because they are older and heavier and have gray hair? In other words, he seems to be giving his wife comfort for a back issue, whereas the other couple appeared sensual.

And why does this take my attention from the pastor’s teaching on The Sermon on the Mount or some other encouraging or disciplinary message that I probably need to hear? What is it about PDA that gets a reaction out of us?

A letter to MissManners in the Washington Post expressed a woman’s annoyance with her brother-in-law’s constant PDA with his wife. She said she’s not “a prude,” but that the couple is driving her “bonkers.” And these people are in their late twenties and early thirties.

Like most situations in life, we all have our own way of responding. Public displays of affection aren’t major on my list of distractions; unless we’re talking about pure exhibitionists like the pimp man strolling down the street with two scantily clad prostitutes women on each of his arms that my family and I shared a sidewalk with while in Puerto Rico. On second thought, that wasn’t PDA; that was business.

Lately, I’ve noticed a few of my older/empty nest friends and neighbors holding hands while taking a leisurely walk. That goes into the “how sweet” category; hardly, the “get a room” category. Maybe Darling Husband and I will get back to it when we become empty nesters.


How do you feel about public displays of affection (PDA)?

image found here