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Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Reflections on a Train Ride

I’m sitting on the upper level of a train called Surfliner. no. 774. It is heading south just out of Santa Barbara along the Pacific Ocean on a Chamber of Commerce day at 9:30 a.m. The sun is doing its job with sea, sky and sand. It washes over rooftops of what must be some of the choicest real estate in the country. It brushes trees and shrubs and flowers, sweeps out beyond the horizon, warms the beaches, sprinkles the waves with diamonds. And I have a panorama view through clear clean windows and from a comfy seat on the business class car.

I imagine what it must be like to live here and admit to myself that I almost feel a touch of envy. I don’t see the occupants of these charmed dwellings, not even walking along the ribboned surf, though a couple of dogs are bounding over the wet sands in gladsome joy. They know the moment is theirs. The sea knows too, reflecting its whole gamut of blue and green in slow motion. The people? Where are they? Still a-bed? Who are they? 

I ask myself, would I, if I could, choose one of these places to call my home? I’d be sorely tempted! Who knows that I might someday? How often have I brushed up against my future home and not known it? Even the home I’m heading toward which, for its relative modesty, has about all the charm I can bear for now. About twenty years ago I passed by Quail Creek twice a day on my commute to work and never dreamed I’d ever live there or gave it a second thought.

My heart is so filled with gratitude, the beauty of this moment, the smooth and rhythmic ride, I can’t help thinking there must be something I’ve done to deserve all this. What could it be? What have those who live here done to deserve all this? I think I know. They’ve done just what I’m doing, they’ve accepted it. A dear friend with a century of life behind her paid my way to accompany her on this trip so she could visit another friend of hers in Santa Barbara. She stayed. I’m coming home. I wasn’t sure I wanted to go. Now I am thinking, how many times do we forfeit the acceptance of an offer to help another and miss out on something magnificent? 

Farther along other dwellings line our route. They are less rich and expansive. Cramped and fenced back yards with humble signs of life. A dog, a child’s tree swing, a barbecue and clothesline. Sometimes more upscale houses sport bright small pools. Often there are taller apartment buildings, clean but generic. No doubt their occupants are on the job somewhere else. And, of course there are the usual manufacturing sites, the junk yards of old cars, storage barns, and an occasional tract of mobile housing. I can’t imagine that these people should be any less grateful or rich than the millionaires or me. The same California sunshine warms them, and something else perhaps. Love? Family? Hopes? Dreams?

For fun I lift my thought to another “train.” I call it the Train of Life. Love is the engine, the power that can pull us along past other scenes as well as the glorious one I’m filled up with now. If Love is the engine of my Train of Life, then what is the caboose? I’m guessing it is money. Why? Because money is the least necessary ingredient to happiness but, whether more or less, it is still necessary and a little can be sufficient when a lot can often not. Three cars follow the engine. They are Time, Space and Health. These are unable to get us anywhere of themselves. They have only the power we give them to limit us or to afford satisfaction and well-being. Also, they are relative to what we do with them, how well we care for them and use them. 

I look around and see some people reading. Others are sleeping. A few are talking to fellow passengers or invisible ones on cell phones. Some, like me, have their eyes on the places we pass, though they seem lost in thought. It’s good to be a passenger on a train. You don’t need to worry about traffic or look for road signs. You’re not confined with a seat belt because accidents are rare enough to warrant that freedom. You can see where you’re going and where you came from, feel underneath the security of those giant wheels on smooth rails on railroad ties anchored to solid earth.  You know that intimacy with nature, with farmlands and humanity that you can’t feel from 30,000 feet in the sky. You can wonder about things. What might it be like to live here? Or over there? What might it be like to climb up among those huge boulders, to bask in the sun, smell the earth and growing things? 

Suddenly everything is dark except a faint reflection of yourself in the window. We’ve gone into a tunnel. We’re blind! But soon we see again and somewhere along the line cars are waiting behind clanging gates for us to go by. On the sidewalk a small boy stands beside his daddy and they wave to us. I wave back and know exactly what that father is saying to his son. “Someday, my boy. Someday.” 
My day is today and I’m a little girl again enjoying the ride on the upper level of a train called Surfliner, and that other one, too, called The Train of Life.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

My Sunday Philosophy of Life

Most calendars have Sunday as the first day of the week and I like that idea. I like the thought that we can start our weekly round with the day of rest. By rest I do not mean the sleep kind of rest, but rather the early in the morning rest one feels when he or she takes time to think about loftier goals, spiritual destinations, and the good that is permanent and ever-present. This kind of Sunday rest I indulge in the first thing of every morning. The idea of starting with Sunday rest is like starting in mathematics with the principle that provides perfect answers instead of starting with countless mistakes. Even if I have to go back to the one, two, three of things, I start with what I know for sure and then work out from that.

Getting up to head straight into the workday may be virtuous, but not to me. What’s the good of work if you don’t know why you work or where your work is leading you? You might as well be an oil dredge. If you’ve seen these dredges at work you know what I mean. To me they symbolize obeisance to the institution of slavery and their end is either to be moved to do more of the same or to quit and rot on the ground. What a boring life they live!

My philosophy says, “Sit. Have your breakfast if you like, but have it sitting down, preferably in your most comfortable chair. I’m assuming you’ve given yourself time to get a good night’s sleep, so don’t sleep now! Now is the time to taste of the good things in life, and I don’t mean those you can touch, taste, smell, see or hear. I mean the ideas of what life is, what it means, where you’re headed in the long term, even the eternal. You might enjoy jotting down the ideas that come, and if those ideas seem out of reach, never mind. Remember what your dad used to say: ‘ Can’t never did anything.’”

As I see it, unless I give time to this kind of reflection I’m stuck in neutral gear. I keep moving, but in the same old rut. I never set any standards for the kind of morning rest-reflection I do. Sometimes I think of ideas way out of the box, not always practical. Other times I get ideas about how to do things better, how to make life easier while also making it more productive. If I must, I do battle with negative thoughts such as old age ailments. But I know they have only the power I give them myself. If I need to do battle with them I let the Powers That Be do it. I am only a spectator and I always know the better side will win.

Now to my faithful bloggers I say, I don’t expect your philosophy to be the same as mine. What works for you is good for you, and if you want to keep the Sunday rest at the end of the week, or even the end of the day, great! Isn’t it good to get hold of a philosophy that’s tailor made for you alone? It’s a free country and there’s only one thing better than a free country. That’s a free mind.

Monday, March 12, 2012

The Early Bird Club

I think I belong to a special club. It’s special because the members don’t know each other or see each other except by the rare chance we meet in print somewhere. In my early morning hours when curtains are still closed and lamp light glows softly in the corners of the room I find ideas to be great company. They lure me along unexplored paths with frequent viewing places into the past and future. Then my friends in the Early Bird Club seem to walk and stand beside me whispering, “Isn’t this absolutely marvelous?”

I don’t know what the others do about breakfast but I generally have a bowl of cereal topped with one chopped-up date, fresh berries, half a sliced banana and milk. A mug of black coffee too. These, enjoyed in my comfy chair, launch my day well before daybreak. Even my canary and finch are asleep as well as a small Chihuahua I’m room and boarding for a granddaughter.

Sometimes I venture out to take in the morning paper but I don’t like to take it out of its sleeve yet. I get enough of media talk later in the day. What I enjoy most in these morning hours is the company of those ideas I mentioned. I especially enjoy new ones, introducing them to old ones and listening to them talk. I do a lot of wondering and asking questions that seem hard to answer. I feel like a child pestering her parents with “Why? Why? Why?” And when I listen, I usually get answers, or at least indications of where to go next for them.

Living alone in one’s senior years would not be everyone’s choice. Some are far too social to enjoy that, but I love it. Still, I also love the fact that I have a spare bed in my bedroom and it is often occupied by one or another of my children or grandchildren, friend or other relative. Most recently I had a dear granddaughter stay a few days with her three week old baby boy. Now, that was the cherry on top!

My sister-in-law lives alone in another state. We were visiting on the phone yesterday and, as before, she commented on blogging. “Why anyone would want to read about another’s personal life and thoughts, I don’t know.” My answer was, “The beauty of it is, they don’t have to! Many of my friends and relatives know I write a blog but rarely, if ever, read it. I don’t care. It’s like fishing. You catch a fish and that is fun, but it’s also just fun to stand on the river bank and watch the bobber while enjoying the setting of serene solitude.” We weren't talking on Skype, but I could just see her shaking her head.

I don’t aspire to living to be the first to reach 150, but if I should, maybe some would like to know how I did it, and they might get a hint or two from my blogs. I’m learning more about healthful and happy longevity myself as I head into these advancing years. Here are a few tips:
1. Get up early.
2. Think about the good things of life.
3. Never stop learning.
4. Be willing to change your mind. 
5. Love, love, love, and never hate! 
6. Treat each day as the grand prize of days. 
7. Again, get up early! It won't hurt you to get up early and it can be far more satisfying than dreamland. What's more, you might learn how to be young again by finding the Fountain of Youth. I welcome you, whoever you are, to The Early Bird Club!

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Done Cooking!

I like to eat as much as most people, but I’ve lost interest in cooking. When I’m hungry I want to eat right then and not wait or work for a meal. I’d rather look at a menu in a good restaurant than peer inside my refrigerator wondering what to put together, how much time it will take, how much of a kitchen clean-up will be required, and what is on the verge of spoiling if I don’t eat it today.

I found a hand-crafted sign in a thrift shop that I couldn’t pass up. It belonged in my home.

Keep this kitchen clean

It hangs in my kitchen where all can see.

After too many years to count when my home was Grand Central Station for family gatherings on special occasions, when groaning tables held food, labor-intensively prepared and quickly consumed, with kitchen clean-ups (gladly shared labor,) I feel I am justified in calling it quits. But I have yet to find a satisfactory solution. I’ve tried all the single portion cardboard-contained frozen meals I care to and I’ve run out of options.

My bachelor brother who lived in Minnesota used to go deer hunting once a year, get his quota, have the meat processed in packages for his freezer, and every week take out enough to make a large slow-cooker stew with vegetables and gravy. He’d then package it in single meal portions to take to his office in the County courthouse, heat it in a microwave oven there and eat it with a slice or two of buttered bread. Every day. It worked for him, but would not be my answer.

I’ve toyed with the idea of eating my main meal out at restaurants every day. I’d bring home half to be consumed the next day. That might work but I’m not sure it would be economical. 

When I took over housekeeping and cooking as a fourteen year old after my mother had passed on I could get a meal together in no time. Pork chops, mashed potatoes, a can of peas or corn, a stack of bread and butter, and whatever I did pleased my dad and younger brothers, especially if I’d baked a cake  or pie for dessert.

As a young bride my husband bought me The Joy of Cooking cookbook. I decided my plain cooking would not do so I’d choose recipes for the evening meal, list the ingredients necessary, go to the market and buy them, re-read the recipes and gauge the time for preparation of each, and write it all down with a time table. Then I’d tidy the house, get myself dressed for dinner, put on an apron and get to work. I’d set the table carefully with candles and a centerpiece, follow my hand-written time-table, and be ready to greet my hubby when he got home from work and finish up the last minute things like warming the dinner rolls, getting the salad out of the fridge and filling water glasses. 

Now, there’s nothing like sitting down opposite a new husband and watching him eat your very own cooking. Nothing like it was for me. To my consternation, the man I’d chosen to love and obey could not tell a lie. Not even a little white lie. We’d talk about this and that and the meal would be only half consumed before I’d give in to asking: “Well, Honey, how do you like the dinner?” His answer was, “Oh, the potatoes are good, but the squash is a bit under-done and the meat is rather tough, don’t you think?”

After a few responses like that I learned not to ask until one night I broke down and asked again with the same general response. Then I  pleaded, “Wally, if you knew how hard I’m trying to please you, how hard it is to make everything taste just right, couldn’t you just once tell me it was good, really good, even if it wasn’t?” Then he got a pained expression on his face and said, “Well, gosh, if I did that I’d get it again!” I couldn’t help it, I just laughed. After that I did what I should have done all along. I gathered tried and true recipes from relatives and friends. Found a few favorites, and through the years built up a reputation for being a wonderful cook.

In 1998 after being widowed for twelve years I surprised myself and my family by getting married again. Dr. Robby, he was known as by his students in college.  (My children had all taken geology in his classes, but this was more than twenty years prior.) I met him for the first time at an adult summer session at the same college and within three weeks we were married. His first wife, Barbara, had been an excellent cook. I knew I couldn't compete but had a few favorites of my own he liked. Curried shrimp on rice, beef stroganoff,  etc. and I did enjoy cooking for two. Sometimes I'd give Robby a couple of suggestions. "Shall we have spaghetti today or would you prefer a hamburger and potato salad?" After a few moments of studied thought he'd look up and say with a grin, "Let's go out to eat, shall we?" He knew that was music to my ears! We'd have the delightful few minutes of choosing among our favorite restaurants and then out the door.

But now I’m alone again and done cooking. No fun cooking for one. No fun busting a gusset for company either. There’s a generation under me that has taken over. I’ll bring a special dish to one of their homes for a potluck dinner at most. Their kitchen, not mine, is teeming with people, male and female, who love to cook and chat when doing the clean-up work. I sit in an easy chair and play the part of Grandma and Great Grandma to the hilt. If I don’t have a baby or toddler in my lap I just sit and smile and secretly pat myself on the back. Being the matriarch of the family is pretty nice even if I'm not the hub. It beats being alone or just another spoke in the wheel of some retirement home. I still have my own little quiet nest, however, and the only thing I lack is a plan for quick, painless and nourishing dinners with little or no clean-ups. When I work that out I’ll let you know.