Small Pleasures, Part 3

This is a topic I’ve used before, and undoubtedly I’ll recommend some of the same small pleasures.  But it was on my mind after this week.  We had several dreary days of rain and DSCN0162cold.  I was averaging two and a half hours per day driving in traffic for my commute.  And now that Daylight Savings Time is over, I come home in the dark every day.

I find the change depressing.  So I started making a mental note of anything that lifted the grey fog a bit.  Here are a few small things that are a pleasure.

  1. The color of the last remaining leaves is especially brilliant this year.  The orange and yellow leaves are gone now, but the deep red ones are still here.
  2. Observed in traffic on the Long Island Expressway:  A Maine license tag with a lobster on it.  Gotta love it!
  3. Going to the last weekend of the Great Jack o’Lantern Blaze at Van Cortlandt Manor, even though it was quite cold.  It gets more spectacular every year, and the sound effects really add to the spookiness.
  4. The smell of clean sheets.
  5. My favorite sweater, an Esprit (yes!) which I bought more than 20 years ago and refuse to give up.  It’s warmer than anything else and has the coolest ethnic pattern.
  6. The new pair of ankle booties I bought at DSW.  Okay, I don’t look like the young’uns do, but they are pretty cute.  A girl and her shoes are not to be trifled with.
  7.  The word, “gallivant,” as in “gallivanting around.”  Used by my mother as a term of disparagement sometimes, and others as a description.  It means “running around from one place to another in the pursuit of pleasure.”  Sounds like fun to me!
  8. Being told that something I did was “excellent.”  No, it was not at my job, I’m sorry to say!
  9. Waking up in the night with a weight on my head, and realizing it’s the cat resting his chin on my head, and purring.
  10. Leftover food from any good restaurant for dinner the next day.  No or less cooking, and something good that I wouldn’t ordinarily have!

If you have some small pleasures of your own, feel free to share!

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Squirrels As an Economic Model

I was reflecting on the fact that I haven’t won the lottery yet, and thinking about my retirement savings strategy.  Everything was rosy when I was making six figures, but recent years have been very challenging to say the least.  My more affluent friends are not Sciurus_carolinensis[1]too worried; my less affluent friends are as worried as I am.  We joke about living under the bridge in a box, or moving to some backwater where rents are cheap, but it’s really not funny.

As I often do when I’m thinking of something unpleasant or looking for a solution to a problem, my mind went back to ancient stories.  Aesop’s fable, “The Grasshopper and the Ant,” came to mind as a model for savings.  But who wants to drudge like a poor ant all day, just for the safety of an ant’s nest?  And what about the queen, sitting up there and being waited on hand and foot?  The grasshopper’s life looks much more attractive.  But he will die when the winter comes.  The ant won’t take him in.

Then I thought of another model.  What about squirrels?  Sure, they are squirrelly, and they can be terribly destructive if they get in your attic and go to work on nest-building.  But they wear fur coats, and they play a lot.  They always seem to be having a good time.  And they put away a lot of food for the cold months.  They seem to have a nice balance of work and play.

So the squirrel is my new model.  I have the “play” part down.  Now if I can just find some more nuts to stow away!

The Wind in the Trees

A few weeks ago I went back to Tennessee to visit my sister.  She lives with her husband on a 400-acre farm about an hour from Nashville, in a two-story house which his great-great-iPhone Photos 028great (maybe more) grandparents on his mother’s side built somewhere in the 1800’s.  It’s been modernized considerably, but it still has painted brick walls and a large front porch with posts.  The windows are tall and narrow, as was the fashion back then.  I suppose the cost of glass had something to do with that, too.

When you’re inside the house, you could be in a suburb anywhere.  With air conditioners, ceiling fans, a dishwasher, a media room with recliners, satellite TV and internet, and cellphones, you’d never know you were in the country.   But sitting on the front porch brought it home to me.

The porch is wide and long, with comfortable furniture and hanging plants.  The yard and porch are shaded by several ancient trees, oaks and pecans.  The gravel driveway winds under the trees to the road, less than a quarter-mile away.  The distance is far enough that I couldn’t hear the sound of traffic, and there didn’t seem to be much other than the occasional tractor or farm truck.  My brother-in-law’s tractor shed is in a field next to the yard, but the fields they farm are across the road, so there was no sound of tractors or mechanical work.

Sitting on the front porch with my sister, feeling the breeze, the only sound was the rustle of summer leaves, green and supple.  We watched a rabbit hop slowly across the yard from one covered spot to another, wary of hawks or a neighbor dog.  A bobwhite called from the field. Later in the day I walked to the fence on one side and spotted a snake in the grass, curving its shiny black body to move swiftly in a straight line, intent on some mission under one of the oak trees.

Hearing the wind in the trees took me back to evenings on Aunt Lou and Uncle Floyd’s porch, listening to them talk with Mother and Daddy and tell stories.  That porch was on a wood-plank dogtrot house, not at all like my brother-in-law’s family mansion.  But the smell of cut grass, the birds calling and the wind in the trees will always take me back to childhood.

 

The “Go Home” Button

I’m now doing a commute by car to Long Island, an hour or more each way depending on traffic.  There are a number of alternate routes, some more obscure than others.  I was aware of a few of them but I’ve learned a great deal in the past few months from the Traffic

Chico and me on the farm
Chico and me on the farm

Alert function on my GPS.  It’s nothing fancy, a refurbished Garmin Nuvi, but I’ve learned to listen when it yells, “Severe traffic ahead!  Recalculating!”

It has taken me on scenic tours of parts of the Bronx to avoid traffic jams, some a lovely surprise like Pelham Bay Park or the Moshulu Parkway, which winds around in back of the Bronx Zoo, and others where I wished I had an armed guard riding shotgun with me.  It sent me through Queens in a snowstorm, winding through a few ethnic neighborhoods and then ending on the LIE (Long Island Expressway, for my non-New-York readers.)  I found out later it avoided  a car fire on the Cross Island Expressway.

All in all, it’s a learning experience, if an exhausing one sometimes.  My favorite function of all is the button on screen labeled “Go Home.”  Wherever I may be, I can touch Go Home and the satellite will guide me, around traffic and obstacles, the fastest way home that it sees.

On these long drives I get into a contemplative mood (unless someone cuts me off) and I have started wishing for a “Go Home” button in my life.  Sort of like Dorothy clicking her heels in the “Wizard of Oz,” but I’d like to be able to go through time and space to places, times and sometimes people when I felt safe and loved, or pleased and happy, or just content, and revisit them again.

I guess that’s a function memory serves.  But I would like to see Mother frying chicken, walk with Daddy to the tobacco barn, my dog trailing behind and startling birds or rabbits, or listen to my uncle Jesse (known as Fatty because he was so thin as a boy) playing guitar and singing old songs.  I’d like to eat my first meal in Paris, in a faded bistro with a fat old German shepherd eyeing my dessert.  I’d like to be back at Bear Lake in the summer on the pontoon boat with the cooling breeze of the boat’s motion.  I’d like to be there.

Until someone invents a time machine I’ll have to keep working with memory, and trying to add more to that vault of good feelings, and trying to forget the bad ones.  Peace out, and have a good week.

I am Woman, Hear Me Roar

Gloria Steinem, 1971
Gloria Steinem, 1971

I’ve been reading Gail Collins’s book, “When Everything Changed:  The Amazing Journey of American Women from 1960 to the Present.”  It’s a really interesting, well-researched story.  What amazes me, however, is that I was there and participating in the change for a good portion of this history.

Along with my friends, my sisters, my boyfriends, and classmates, we were all part of history and didn’t even realize it at the time!  At least, I didn’t think of it as changing history–I thought of what I did as standing up for myself and trying to make the kind of life I wanted.  More accurately, I knew what kind of life I didn’t want, and was determined to go a different way.

I didn’t want to be stuck on a farm doing hard physical labor and dependent on my husband or neighbors to drive me anywhere, like my poor mother.  Item #1 on the independence agenda:  Learn to drive!  I’m flabbergasted that fewer kids are learning to drive now.

I wanted to learn, to get a good job, to support myself.  Item #2 on the agenda:  Go to college.  Mother and Daddy were in strong agreement with this.  Their whole intent was for us kids to have a better life than they did, and college was the road to that.

I wanted to make a good living, travel, see the wide world.  Item #3:  Graduate degree.  I think that’s where the reality of the change I was pushing for really hit me.  My class at Wharton was 28% female, and most of the male percentage was not very welcoming (except the ones who were looking for high-earning wives.)  One guy said to me, “You know you got in under a quota.”  I asked him what his GMAT score and GPA were, and he wouldn’t tell me.

That was just the beginning of what I had to face in the business world–and still continue to face.  Women have made tremendous strides, but we still get paid less for the same work.  We still carry more responsibility for family and home while working more and more hours.

I used to get alarmed when I saw young girls continuing to play dumb to attract boys.  I’m glad that more of them are strong enough to not play those games.  The real lesson from the women’s movement for all women is:  Be prepared to take care of yourself.  The old social contract of the stay-at-home wife and breadwinner husband was irretrievably broken by bad economic times in the 1970’s, and there is no going back.  Even without equal pay for equal work, we still gotta work.

The other lesson I think we’re all still trying to learn is to respect ourselves, be kind to ourselves, and stop blaming ourselves when life is not controllable.  As women, we’re doing the best we can with what we’ve got.

Looking Forward, Looking Back

Mother and Daddy at home on the farm
Mother and Daddy at home on the farm

I always get contemplative at this time of year.  I think we all go into the new year hoping for the best, making resolutions, looking for better days.  Most of us think, “If I could lose 20 pounds, my life would change for the better,” or “If I got a new job, everything would be great!”  We look back as well.  Remembering the bad times and the good, progress made or lost–I think of that Bruce Springsteen line, “One step forward, two steps back.”

A lot of us have had to face a new reality during the years of the Great Recession and afterward.  The old life is not coming back.  That job, that money, that ease of living, will not be ours again.  It’s the new normal, and unpleasant as it may be, we have to adjust.

Like most people in their 50s, I didn’t expect this.  But when I remember my parents, I see that it happened to them as well, for different reasons.

Daddy worked for several years for a government contractor driving ICBMs (intercontinental ballistic missiles) into the tunnels where they were stored after the warheads were assembled.  Yes, that’s really what my dad did for a living!  But when the Vietnam War came about, gradually the cold war lost emphasis, government spending for nuclear “defense” was cut–and Daddy was laid off.  His life was never the same.

He was reduced to doing hard physical labor, unloading trucks and carrying meat in to the commissary freezers at Ft. Campbell, KY when he was in his late 50s.  He had a heart attack and couldn’t do that job any more, so he drove a school bus.  All the while he was farming our small farm.  He died of his second heart attack not long after I graduated from college.

The good news in all this was, he loved the farm and was never happier than when he was feeding the cows or driving the tractor.  We managed to keep our house and the farm despite mortgages, and when Daddy died there was property to sell so Mother had something to live on.  It was never carefree or easy, but we had family and friends and fun.

So when I feel like whining I try to remember that this is a new cycle and I’ve been given a second chance to keep going, to make this life work.  And hopefully to have some fun along the way!

2013 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 1,000 times in 2013. If it were a cable car, it would take about 17 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.