Monday, December 28, 2015

LET'S TALK ABOUT MY BIRTHDAY!

Christmas is over for 2015.  It was great.  Mellow and fairly stress free,  except that just like Thanksgiving, I find there is too much time spent in the kitchen, prepping, serving, and cleaning up.  It feels sort of out of balance, time-wise, for a 30 minute-meal payoff.  Maybe we should all eat more slowly.   We might linger longer if our dining room chairs were more comfortable.  (Re-upholstering with new foam cushions is on the "to do" list for 2016.)

So, let's talk about my birthday!!!

Hub says if I die first, he will be sure to mention at my Memorial Service how much I love my birthday.  And I do!  I don't know why.  I've lamented that it comes so close to Christmas and as a kid it frequently got all rolled into one.  (Now I insist that my gifts NOT be wrapped in Christmas paper!)  But having a holiday birthday is kind of fun too, because the world is already in a festive mood!

This year was a "big" one -- 65.  Our culture has decided this is a milestone birthday, but in thinking about it, that basically came about due to a financial/career decision made at some point that 65 would signify the traditional retirement age and the age at which we Elders get on the dole and can receive Social Security benefits and Medicare.  Now that the retirement age is all over the map and Social Security can be taken "early" or "late", those things don't really signify anything at 65 anymore.  I did get to sign up for Medicare and experienced the learning curve of what the heck "supplemental" insurance is.  But other than that, so far 65 feels a lot like 64.  And likely like 66; we'll see.

I was flattered by the offers from family and friends to throw me a party.  I like my birthday, but I don't like birthday parties.  So I declined.  What I like is an extended birthday celebration, so that's what I created and was treated to.  Perfect-o!

On Birthday Eve I went to my usual morning Yoga class, then off to a Holiday/Volunteer Appreciation Luncheon put on by the social service agency where I worked for 10 years before retiring.  I'm officially volunteering there now two days a month, so I got an invite and a gift card.  It was a nice kick-off to my birthday weekend to spend time there with my BFF and former supervisor, although a bit startling to realize I only knew about a dozen of the 60 or so in attendance.  Time marches on.

That evening a dear friend hosted a dinner party for me.  We six gathered to enjoy her considerable culinary skills in a home decorated beautifully for the holidays.  My women friends (we three are the "Shiny Sisters", a moniker we've adopted and I don't recall why...but who doesn't like shiny things???), gave me lovely gifts, one of which is a bit over the line of R-rated, and a hoot!  Then I was surprised by an after-dinner gathering in the living room where Hub and my friends feted me with prose, poetry, and song.  It was so moving and so beautiful for me to hear (BEFORE the Memorial Service) the ways in which I have touched their lives, the things they appreciate about me, their wishes and blessings upon my "Third Age" stage of life.  Such creativity from my poet, theater, and musician friends!  And Hub moved me to tears by bringing a recording of a song that has special meaning for us -- sort of the story of our tumultuous early married years and the gratitude we have for  our ability to survive and grow in love together to an age we never could have imagined back then.

On birthday morning, I sat around drinking coffee and chatting with Hub, a favorite pastime and one that happens too rarely as we go about our hustle, bustle lives.  Early afternoon I headed for the spa and treated myself to a 90 minute "Vitality" treatment:  foot soak and foot, ankle and calf massage, then a relaxing full body massage with hot stones, then an "anti-aging" eye treatment.  I don't know if I reversed aging at all, but at one point I flashed on that old query:  "On your deathbed what will you wish you'd done differently?"  My answer: I didn't get enough massages.  I'm gonna fix that in 2016.

Late in the afternoon we met friends of 32 years for Happy Hour at one of our favorite local places with a view of Puget Sound and the ferry landing. But the view was secondary.  What I know is no matter where we meet, I am always renewed by their company -- the history of old friends shared, the goofiness, the wit, the laughter.  It was a highlight.

From there we drove to Seattle (in a traffic snarl, reminding us why we so rarely make that trip anymore, sadly) to attend a Kirtan with the amazing Gina Sala.  I'm going to plug my other blog here so you can read about a Kirtan if you don't know what that is (and poke around in the blog for a minute.  I keep telling you it's not just for Yogis!)  : http://circlingthemat.blogspot.com/2015/12/make-joyful-noise-kirtan-coming-to-yoga.html  I was transported, as always, by the warm energy of those in attendance, the music, the mantra.  Ahhh...

On post-Birthday morning, my "kids" all showed up for brunch prepared by Hub.  I had lots of help from our 6 year-old Angel to open presents, the food was delicious and my gratitude for every single moment with them was beyond measure.  I don't know what I thought it would be like to have grown children, their partners, and grandchildren in my life -- I don't think I had a clear idea of it.  Or if I did, I might have assumed they would only show up out of obligation and avoid us when they could.  Imagine my delight that they actually seem to ENJOY family time and coming home to see Mom and Dad.  So blessed.

The afternoon found us in front of the TV, our Sunday ritual, cheering for the Seahawks.  They won!  Then off to a Holiday/Caroling Party which had nothing to do with my birthday, but I included it in my personal festivities nonetheless.  It is such fun to hang out with friends who are musicians.  We are not musical at all, something I regret, so maybe that's why I am drawn to those who are.  We had such fun singing and banging away on various percussion instruments while those who can played guitar and piano.  Plus, yep, I got another lively rendition of Happy Birthday and a Tiramisu cake!

So, now I'm 65 and I think the celebration was worthy of that milestone.  I appreciate those who endure and indulge my birthday every year.  I crammed a lot into that weekend, as well as a get-away BD/holiday weekend the week prior and a sweet and festive BD breakfast with my BFF a few days later.   Then Christmas came along, so it was a busy week.  I've always said December 26th is my favorite day of the year -- a day for relaxing and letting the craziness of December start to fade away; my goal this week is to do just that.

At least, that's the view from here...©


Tuesday, December 22, 2015

SHOPPING FOR FIGS

All was calm, all was bright....until today.   Readers know I have teeny, tiny stress and Scrooge issues around the holiday season.  I always participate, often grudgingly, in all the traditional hoo-hah.  But I mostly just keep December 26th in view, ready for the checkered flag.

But this year, I've been...dare I say it?  Relaxed!  Happy!  Not stressed or resentful or overwhelmed or exhausted.  It's all seemed pretty easy-breezy.  As I said in a previous post, I've cut way back on many of the usual activities of the season and that likely helped.  So yay me!

But today.  Today I tackled the grocery shopping chore of the season.  We do a Christmas Eve Buffet and a Christmas Dinner for the family.  It's usually the same food every year and I'm frankly sick of it, so I decided last year that this year would be different.  I got on Pinterest and found some really cute and easy "finger food" ideas for the buffet, including a dessert that features figs!  Figs!  Just like the song!  Cool, huh?   We are having a different menu for Christmas dinner too.  I'm excited about both.

But it would be hard to overstate how much I HATE to grocery shop.  I mean I truly detest the whole ordeal.  Hub does 90% of our food shopping.  But he is working Monday thru Wednesday this week and we have our grand-girls with us Wednesday and Thursday too, so there was literally no time for him to hit Costco and the regular grocery store in time to have the ingredients here to prep.  So off I went this morning.

Costco was a madhouse by 10:30 a.m.  I drove around forever looking for a parking spot and finally got one a day's hike from the entrance.  Let me say something about shopping carts at this point.  I think we need to institute a cultural norm that when you exit your car and see carts in the parking lot cart coral, you grab one and push it into the store.  I did that this morning and was glad of it because people were literally milling around outside the entrance waiting for someone to bring the carts in from the parking lot and replenish the cart area.  Really?  JUST GO GET ONE!

But most people must not have been in much of a hurry because once inside the store, jammed with  shoppers pushing their Costco-giant-sized carts, one would think the ventilation system was pumping out sleeping potions.  Every single person seemed to move in slow motion in every aisle.  And "keeping right" seemed to be a pie-in-the-sky notion because people generally moved down the very center of the aisles, sometimes two and three abreast, literally coming to a dead stop at frequent intervals to check their lists, chat with an acquaintance, or abandon their cart altogether to head for ubiquitous food sample tables.  Please!  JUST PULL OVER!

I finally made it out of Costco and through the parking lot again where cars were at a standstill waiting for parking spaces to open up.  I should have taken bids on mine, in spite of its distance from the store -- I had three people jockeying for position as I pulled away.

I then had to go the "regular" store, also jammed.  As I headed in, I found myself in the crosswalk in front of the store where pedestrians ALWAYS have the right-of-way.  But as I crossed, a big blue Oldsmobile came bearing down on me.  I really and truly hate to say this because I am a proud and vocal anti-ageism proponent, but the woman driving appeared to be well over 80-85, could barely see over the steering wheel, and had absolutely no intention or thought that she should maybe be stopping for me, even though I WAS RIGHT IN FRONT OF HER as she coasted (thankfully!) to within about a foot of my right leg.  I yelled, "JESUS!  STOP!" and jumped out of the way.  She just kept creeping along, foot never touching the brake, as I turned to watch her proceed at a snail's pace through the parking lot.  I am grateful she wasn't gunning it.  I'd have been a goner.

Here's a pet peeve:  grocery shopping is so inefficient.  I lift the items off the shelf and put them in my cart.  I push them around the store like some precious fragile cargo, then I stand in a long line, pick them up again and put them on the conveyor belt where someone else picks them up to scan, and yet another person picks them up to bag.  Then they are returned to me in my cart, where I wheel them gently to my car and pick them up again (at least now nestled together in bags) and put them in my car.  We drive home, where I pick the bags up yet again (!) and lug them into the house where they are plopped on the counter top and picked up AGAIN! to be put away.  By now I think we've developed such a meaningful and long-term relationship that it's no wonder I don't want to disturb them to pick them all up again to actually cook!  Ugh!  There must be some way to get that food from the store to my kitchen via quantum physics parallel universe convergence or something.  There's far too much touching and lugging.  And I don't even like to cook, so half the time my good intentions come to naught and the perishables perish before they are even put in the pot.

But that won't happen this week, because it's Christmas.  So bring me some figgy pudding...and bring it right here!

At least, that's the view from here....©

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

COME FROM AWAY...AND MORE.

Just thought I'd let you know how December is going so far.  I'm sure you've been curious about my vow to "chill".  So far, so good!

The tree is up and lit.  Ornaments will go on tomorrow.  A few table decorations made it out of the bins after all and I feel happy when I look at them.   Angel and I had a craft-making day on Saturday and cranked out some glittery stars and pipe cleaner/bead candy canes.  I play a couple of hours of Christmas music every day and burst into song all on my own on occasion -- mostly to entertain the granddaughters who seem to find my renditions either pleasing or hilarious.  Me too.

I've taken myself on a few easy, low-key outings.  The Assistance League, a do-gooder organization in town which runs a thrift store, manages estate sales, and provides clothing for low income school children, held a Home For the Holidays Home Tour fundraiser on Monday afternoon.  Being a weekday, most of the attendees were of retirement age and mostly female.  Like me.  It was fun to tour the six historic homes chosen for this year's tour and see them decked out in Christmas finery.  Talk about extravagant!  My practical side kicked in and wondered where they store all that stuff and how much work it must be to get it out, arranged, and put away again.  Also dusting...who dusts?   The tour seemed well-attended in spite of the downpour that day.  We all had to either remove shoes or put on those surgical bootie covers at each house.  That created quite the bottleneck at the entry, but people were of good cheer about it.   I went all by myself, something I rarely do, and had a great time going at my own pace, chatting and laughing with strangers, and seeing a few folks I haven't seen in years.   I enjoyed my own company and had a lovely, holiday-festive time!

On the way home, I stopped by a new coffee shop in town run by a local organization that provides housing, childcare, education, and job training for people who have experienced homelessness.  The coffee shop is their newest enterprise, attached to a vintage/antique retail store.  The proceeds help fund programs and clients work there learning retail job skills.  Starbucks coffee and a favorite local bakery provide the goodies.  I'll be back!

Yesterday was the annual neighborhood Ladies Holiday Tea.  It's a tradition dating back probably 30 years.  I have only gone a handful of times.  The whole "ladies" thing is not my thing.  I was always busy with meaningful work on "tea day" -- driving carpools, working PTA events, being involved in political campaigns, working full time, and just generally being all judge-y about "ladies who lunch". But this year, in my newfound desire to get out of my own way and just do things that sound like they might be enjoyable, with no highfaluting agenda attached,  I went.  Plus it was hosted by a woman right across the street who I like a lot, even though we are both introverts and rarely even talk in person. (We are email friends...weird, but it works for us.)  Well, it turned out to be a blast!  I thought I'd not know many women there, but I knew about half and it was great fun to catch up on neighborhood news, share some festive treats, and connect with others who have lived here for nearly as long as we have, as well as those who are new to the 'hood.  I realized that with 33 years at this address behind us, I am now one of the "old-timers".  Whew!  That's both hard to own and a source of pride.

Last night, was the topper:  A friend and I braved yet another torrential downpour to drive to Seattle to see a play.  We had to park a ways away since the Seattle Center garage was full (so many activities at the Center this time of year!) but that allowed us to see the grounds lit up for Christmas.  City Sidewalks...Busy Sidewalks...Dressed in Holiday Style...

The play was a lively and funny musical: "Come From Away" -- a Newfoundlander colloquialism meaning "not from here".   It was outstanding!  It's a story I knew nothing about.  On 9/11 US airspace was closed and flights from all over the world were diverted hither and yon.  One such place was Gander, Newfoundland, a burg of about 10,000 people on the North Atlantic coast.   On an average day their airport, mainly used by US military, sees 6-8 planes.  On that day, 38 jets landed, carrying nearly 7,000 passengers and crew members from all over the world!

The play is the story of some of those passengers and the residents of Gander who welcomed them with such compassion and caring and generosity, as these folks were grounded and far from home for five days before they could again fly on their way.  The townsfolk provided them with food, clothing, shelter (in their own homes in some cases), medicines, medical care...What an inspiring story!

"Come From Away" is all the rage right now in Seattle -- sold out audiences and extended runs.  Rumor has it, it will be Broadway bound --  a deserving kudo.  Last night was Canadian Night and the actual mayor of Gander was in the audience.  He received a standing ovation when introduced and he spoke briefly.  What a funny and warm, down-to-earth man!

People want to honor and embrace examples of kindness like demonstrated in Gander on that sad day in 2001, and what better season to remind ourselves that there are good people, (many... most, actually) in the world.   I'm still basking in delight and remembering, we've all "come from away" at one time or another.

At least, that's the view from here...©

Saturday, December 5, 2015

PUT ON A HAPPY FACE

So, my BFF (and loyal blog reader/supporter) told me she looked back in this blog's archives.  (NOTE: Remember --there is now a subject index you can use to find posts related to various subjects (top left corner of any blog page; at least it shows up on my computer -- but not on my phone and I don't know why; different formatting for "mobile" sites?  I will never really understand this tech stuff...)

Anyhow...she went back in the archives and re-read some posts from last December and told me I really struggled with the holidays last year.  I haven't re-read them, but I believe her.  I struggle every year.  I both love and loathe this season of "joy", which is so often false, manufactured, forced, and too damn hard to sustain.  I have fleeting moments of joy.  The rest is a lot of work.

So this year I am determined to drop the quest for perfection, the almost OCD drive to create "holiday magic" for my family, and just "chill".  I may go all the way to ... dare I say it?  Selfish! I might actually sit down and decide what I want!

Decorating:  Hub put up some outdoor lights and garlands yesterday, but cut way back since squirrels decimated our lighting extravaganza last year (ate through the cords and ruined a King's Ransom in strings of lights!)  We hung a pretty wreath at the front door, which I love.  I have agreed to a Christmas tree.  I'm thinking that might be the extent of my decorating.  Hauling all those bins out of the attic and setting out a bunch of red/green/gold/silver hoo-hahs all over the house feels like a "should" and I already dread putting it all away.   I think I'll go out and cut some greens and holly and stick a votive amongst the foliage and call it good.  I might buy a poinsettia.

Gifting:  The granddaughters will make out just fine.  I'm focusing on educational, artistic, bookish gifts, but for our Angel I'd better throw in a Disney Princess of some kind.  The baby seems delighted with a set of measuring spoons.  Tee Hee.  The adults -- always a bit of a quandary, but have a few things stashed away in the attic and have a few more ideas.  It will be fine, except I wish all those years ago when I made big stockings to hang by the fireplace with care that I'd used a smaller pattern.  Filling those up is a challenge!

Cooking/Baking:  I suck at both of these and dread the very idea.  But I've been on Pinterest and have some new ideas for our Christmas Eve buffet so we'll see if I actually pull that off.   Christmas dinner is pretty easy -- ham for the fam and a bean burger for me.    Not gonna bake.  Will welcome any gifts of baked goods from friends and family. (Hint!)

Music:  I love Christmas music!  I grew up sharing TV Christmases with Andy Williams, Dean Martin, Lawrence Welk.... I just love those old renditions of holiday music and Christmas carols.  I've got it dialed in on the music channel on my DISH TV -- switching from contemporary to traditional.   Faves:  Silver Bells, Winter Wonderland, Let It Snow, Santa Baby, Silent Night.  Also the Mannheim Steamroller renditions of Christmas classics.

Outings:  I always think we should go into Seattle and do the city thing -- then I think of traffic and parking and crowds and rain; I generally talk myself out of it.  There are so many holiday shows and events to choose from I get a bit overwhelmed.  So, we're going to a Solstice Kirtan on my birthday.  Non-traditional, I know, but will be among friends and my spirit will soar with mantra.  I do hope to find a place to sing some carols at some point; might check out a church somewhere or a community sing thing.  Going to a couple of holiday parties; not hosting any this year, which cuts down the stress considerably.  Hosting means more decorating and more planning and more food prep, so we're taking a break.

Birthday:  Yep.  My birthday falls six days before Christmas, so there is an extra dose of festive in December for me.  I actually LOVE my birthday and I love celebrating it.  Hub and I always go away for a romantic weekend to our favorite little town on the Olympic Peninsula around mid-December; a friend is hosting a BD dinner for me (the milestone of turning 65 seemed to be an occasion for an extra fete), and the family will be by for BD brunch on the big day.   (Note: I do not allow anyone to wrap my gifts in Christmas paper.)

Do I sound curmudgeonly?  I actually don't feel that way.  I feel relieved.  I think I can actually pull this season off without sinking into December Depression if I can stay on top of keeping it simple, making decisions with thoughtfulness and intention, and quieting the "judge" who wants to scream "not good enough!" in my ear.   I'm going to put on a happy face and find gratitude in the little things that truly bring me joy.  Although, I admit, I'm currently working on the fact that the outdoor lights are not quite to my liking -- and parts of the deck garlands are already burned out -- that's totally not prefect from the get-go!   Even so, I hope to look back on this year's Christmas posts and say, "You did it!  You were merry!"

At least, that's the view from here....©