Monday, January 02, 2017

In the Memory Bank

A few weeks ago while I was having lunch with a friend at a restaurant in town, woman and her husband walked in with another couple. If one were serving a platter of gossip at a meal, this woman’s reputation could fill it and overflow. Although I know I was wrong to even think about gossiping about her, I am pleased that I did not follow through. I said nothing about her to my friend.

I started wondering whether gossip is one of the seven deadly sins. I know my friend was raised Lutheran so I thought perhaps she might remember what the seven deadly sins were and if so, was gossip one of them? She said she didn’t think so. Had either of us been carrying a smart phone we could have whipped them out and done an Internet search right then and answered the question, but  at the time both had very dumb phones, so we just talked about it a while.

I began telling her about the thriller Seven, which told the story of two police officers on the trail of a serial killer who murdered his victims (one was actually still alive when found) by posing them to be symbolic of these seven deadly sins. I knew the movie starred Morgan Freeman, Brad Pitt, and Gwyneth Paltrow. I could see the face of the actor who played the killer but I couldn’t remember his name. I struggled for a while, and then gave up, only to finally remember, a few minutes later, that it was Kevin Spacey.

We began talking and laughing about memory and ways to compensate. She uses lists to help her keep track of short-term things. “This has been happening to me for a long time,” she says. Not sure what the solution is for "long-term" memory retention.

Then a few days ago when I saw the icon of the program we chose to watch off one of the Internet services I commented to Richard that one of the actors was sitting in an egg-shaped chair exactly like the one Will Smith sat in while he was taking the examination in the movie…  and my mind went blank and I couldn’t remember the name of the movie. He stumbled a bit and said Men in Black.

And we laughed, trying to reassure ourselves that this is just normal for our age, me trying to beat back the frisson of fear. My mother watched several close friends die of Alzheimer disease, and she was terrified of getting it herself. And for that reason some years earlier she had began working Sudoku puzzles to try to keep her mind active. I believe she was actually relieved to find out she would be dying of cancer instead.

I get what she was afraid of, I really do. This “memory thing” is one aspect of getting older that I really am having trouble with. The reassurance that it is normal for “my age” is somewhat reassuring, but the inability to instantly remember stuff is still rather frustrating.

As part of the worship service of the church we started attending in the spring of 2015, the congregation recites as an affirmation of our faith the Apostles’ Creed on the Sundays that we don’t receive communion. I have never made an attempt to memorize this. I just read it off the laminated pew card.

On Sunday mornings I leave the house at 7 a.m. to take the dog on our morning walk so I can return in time to fix breakfast and clean the kitchen before we get ready to leave for the service. I usually don’t think about too much very significant as I walk along with her – I contemplate what I am going to write about next on the blog, or I offer up little prayers for people who come to mind, or my mind just wanders a bit. Yesterday though, as I watched a heavy fog bank approach from the south and then settle down over the land, with the leading tendrils of fog flowing over the hills, suddenly running unbidden through my mind was the Apostles’ Creed…
I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth,
And in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord; who was conceived by
the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, dead, and buried…
There it was, the whole thing – without making a mistake or missing word. I was literally walking through a cloud rather than walking on one but it felt wonderful.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Jogging the Memory

Memories, pressed between the pages of my mind
Memories, sweetened thru the ages just like wine

Quiet thought come floating down
And settle softly to the ground
Like golden autumn leaves around my feet
I touched them and they burst apart with sweet memories,
Sweet memories...

Elvis Presley
A few days before Christmas, I was amazed – and pleasantly surprised  – to see a well-known landmark from the days I lived in Gardena as the photo that day on Bing. A wonderful photograph by Mat Rick (www. of the pier at Manhattan Beach, decorated for Christmas.

When we were kids and Dad took us to the beach, we did not go to Manhattan Beach. He liked swimming at Hermosa Beach, which is a few miles down the coast. But as we grew older and swimming in the ocean was less important than simply “being” at the ocean, we tended to gravitate to Manhattan Beach because the area has a nicer ambiance, parking is available for people who can’t walk very far, and as a bonus, the pier has a small aquarium at the end with educational exhibits.

In November 2010, I took our boy to California for Dad’s birthday. By that time, we knew our son probably would not live very much longer. In June he had been given 6 months to live and we knew time was running out. I wanted my family to see him – and him to see them –  before he died.

We had a wonderful visit (which I wrote about in several posts in November 2010).

And on one very nearly perfect November day, I drove us to the Manhattan Beach pier and we got our feet wet.

I had not looked at the photos of that trip for a long time. But I knew I had a picture of the pier at almost the same angle as the beautiful photograph that had just appeared on Bing.

And so I did.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Practically perfect...

Yesterday went well. Inviting our friend for dinner was a very good thing for us and for her as well. The meal was practically perfect, but not quite…

"It wouldn't be Christmas," my husband says, "without some sort of Leilani disaster."

Fixing pie continues to present challenges. What happened yesterday wasn't exactly a disaster, but the presentation suffered a bit. The crumb crust I made from vanilla cookies for the banana cream pie that was dessert at yesterday's meal was like concrete and very difficult to cut with the knife. And after I did finally mange to wrestle the piece I was trying to serve to our guest onto the spatula, I flipped it upside down on her plate. And the crust was in chunks.

The misadventures yesterday with the pie, and our ability to laugh at them -- and probably just as important my ability to laugh at myself -- were a blessing in disguise. Yesterday was such a joy.
A joyful heart is good medicine, but a broken spirit dries up the bones.

I think all of us got a good dose of medicine yesterday, and I am hoping our bones were nourished as well.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Almost Here!

As Christmas was barely looming on the horizon, I was hoping to write something meaningful and contemplative and perhaps even a little profound and kept waiting for the Muse to strike. And now it is the night before the night before Christmas and the  Muse appears not to be in a striking mood. So it goes…

In the last few years I’ve found myself struggling with feelings of sadness as Christmas approaches, but it hasn’t been so bad this year.

The thing I am remembering now as I reflect on the last Christmas we spent with our boy, who was in the nursing home with only a few weeks yet to live, was that he had made a gallant effort to get a Christmas present together for us earlier in the month, before his condition deteriorated so badly. I was so touched by that: he was not just thinking about himself and what was happening to him.

Well, it is hard not to think about what was happening that Christmas and hard not to remember past Christmases with my mom and my wonderful aunts who have died – and why should I not remember those things – but what me helped so much this this year is that we were able to get the focus off of ourselves a bit and were able to do something for someone else who needed help. It felt very good to have been blessed enough that we could do that.

And another thing keeping me from wallowing in the bog as the day approaches is that must get my house in order.

Yes! I must. The house is a wreck, and I have lots to clean and dust.

We normally have a quiet Christmas at home by ourselves, but this year I learned that our friend Judy was going to be alone this Christmas and I invited her for dinner. This will be the second Christmas for her since her husband died, and I am so glad she accepted our invitation.

Nigella Lawson gave an interview on National Public Radio some years ago that I never forgot. She said

Sometimes if you cook in a complicated way, your tension translates to your guests. They'll have a much better time having chili and baked potatoes than they would if you did roast duck with a wild cherry sauce and then had to lie down and cry for a while.

I am always -- always -- nervous about cooking for other people, so I am fixing something I have fixed hundreds of times before (well, okay, not 100s—but often) and it always turns out tasting wonderful and so I don’t have to worry about that. And even if the house isn’t perfect, that’s okay too.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Not a Contest

At the close of the wonderful meal we had on Thursday with our friends and some of their friends (one couple we did not know), one of the other guests started asking us to tell what we were thankful for.

Like us, she has no family in the area, and so we have had Thanksgiving dinner there with her on several occasions. She has done this in the past. Richard was prepared, and so he pointed at me, and said "I am thankful for her...."

I was next in line, and I was not prepared. I was scrambling to think of what to say, and the first thing that popped into my mind was how I thankful I was that we had a new roof over our heads and that God had provided the finances for us to pay for it. I did not go into the details of just how much stress our leaking roof had caused in connection with Richard's ADD and his paralysis in making a decision -- so his ability to pick up the phone and arrange for this was such an incredible relief.

As she went around the table asking everybody, the responses started to become more and more spiritual, which was perfectly fine, but we both began to feel uncomfortable and almost embarrassed that our responses were mostly material than spiritual.

Richard commented today that it almost felt like it was a contest. I absolutely don't want to discount anybody else's response about what they said they were thankful -- I absolutely believe these were genuine and accurate reflections of how they were feeling inside -- but doggone it, I really am thankful for my new roof!

Thursday, November 24, 2016

A Roof Over Our Heads

Very early on Thanksgiving morning, Dad would set up the metal food grinder and get out fruit and sugar – I think it was oranges, apples, and cranberries – and into the top of the grinder they would go. I got to turn the handle, and what a wonderful popping sound it made as the fruit was ground up for Thanksgiving relish (I get quite the same satisfying feeling when I put a blood-filled tick in a bowl of water and crush it with a pair of pliers, but that’s a story for another time). That special time with my Dad is one I cherish. Since we moved here, it has been “Friendsgiving,” and we have indeed been blessed with friends who have opened their homes to us for a day of food and fellowship.

I am so thankful for all of these people that God has put in our path.

I am also very thankful that we have a new roof over our heads. The crew came out on Monday. They had to do more than just replace old shingles with new ones. They replaced rotten boards, removed a chimney, and removed two skylights. Even so, they managed to finish the job in the early afternoon on Tuesday – just in time – because by late afternoon, it began to rain.

For the first time in quite a while we were able to stand by the front door (which is actually the back door) without watching water drip from the ceiling and pour down the wall. It is wonderful to once again be able to close a door that opens and shuts without having to be forced and to walk on a carpet that is not wet.

He has already ripped out some of the ruined drywall, and the carpet will have to replaced eventually, along with the insulation on two of the walls, but … it’s dry.

I am also very thankful that I have been able to earn the money (at this stage in our lives, I earn more money than he does) without worrying about “how are we going to pay for this?”

We heard a sermon last week on being thankful in all circumstances (give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus, I Thess 5:18)..

Sometimes it seems hard to do this – obviously we are not always thankful "for" the circumstance we find ourselves in, but keeping our focus where it belongs allows us to be thankful no matter what (OK, sermon over).

I am trying to cultivate an attitude of Thanksgiving every day -- not just on one special day in the year

At any rate, happy Thanksgiving!
I think that is a better thing than thanksgiving: thanks-living. How is this to be done? By a general cheerfulness of manner, by an obedience to the command of Him by whose mercy we live, by a perpetual, constant delighting of ourselves in the Lord, and by a submission of our desires to His will
Charles Spurgeon

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Home Again, Home Again, Jiggity Jig

It is truly lovely when none of the stressful things one anticipates might happen actually happen.

All of the flights both coming and going were on time, and there were no unexpected gate changes at Dallas-Ft. Worth. The airline failed to provide a wheelchair when I got off the airplane at Dallas-Ft Worth, but I was able to get to the departure gate under my own power without difficulty and was allowed to pre-board the plane going to Los Angeles. That meant I could get myself and my carry-on down the aisle without whacking anybody on the way.

When I told a friend I was going to see my brothers and sister, she wanted to know if we got along.

Yes. We do get along. When our mother was alive, she frequently reminded us not to let the occasional flare-up between us get out of control, not to feed it and let it turn into a root of bitterness. “We’re not a-havin’ that in our family,” she’d say. We did have our moments when we were younger, though. The boys were sort of ornery and they teased me quite a bit. They reminded me of the time they got on my last nerve when I was doing the dishes. I came after them brandishing a cast-iron skillet and chased them down the sidewalk. What must the neighbors have thought? Fortunately for all of us, they were fast runners and I was not, and we all ended up laughing hysterically at the spectacle of ourselves.

My brother’s granddaughter turned 1 year old last Friday,

  and on Sunday our dad turned 92.

 So we had parties on Saturday and Sunday, and a good time was had by all.

 We went places and saw amazing things...

and beautiful vistas...

ate good food, and had wonderful fellowship.

It was just about perfect.