“Who Is Following Me?”

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Despite constant emails suggesting ways to increase the “traffic” to my WordPress site, I have followed none of them. From the beginning I did nothing to promote my posts. In fact, I only mentioned my writing to a few close friends. Basically I wanted an opportunity to write and share my writing with no expectation about readership at all.

In fact, one of my earliest posts was about “likes.” At that point at the start, I had to separate “likes” from the old childhood longing to be liked. Three and a half years on, I have come to understand that “like” is a way to communicate to the writer that something about the post appealed to the reader. I still prefer comments, but I am thankful for the time it takes to click the “like” button” too.

The mystery from the start was who in the world is following me. I expected that my friends might read me. Then I started reading a variety of blogs and when I found one I liked I followed it and wrote comments about its posts. In many, though not all, cases those writers followed me in return. That made sense to me and didn’t seem as mysterious after a while. Then readers of some of those posts must have seen my comments and checked out my site.

So far, so good. But how to explain the hundreds of visitors from all over the world(excluding the commercial appeals)that stop by. Most of them don’t either “like” or “comment.” Who is that person in Qatar who has dropped by 19 times? How about the reader(readers?)from Bangladesh? In some cases I have had to look up the country on a map(Mauritius, Slovenia) to see where they are. I wish they would leave a note of some kind. I would love to correspond with some of them.

So I continue writing and connecting with some, while I wonder about others. Whoever you are, and why you drop by once or many times, you are welcome to my writing. And thanks.

“Diving Into Character”

I often remember characters from novels, and I can come to think of them as real people. Sometimes an author uses the same cast of characters throughout a series of novels. Many times these characters remain pretty static and they don’t seem further developed from book to book. The detective remains pretty much the same throughout the books, for instance.

Elizabeth Strout presents the reader with a contrasting approach. After writing Olive Kittredge in 2008, she let her character rest in subsequent books. But in 2019 she published Olive, Again as if she, as a writer, had been unable to forget about Olive, wondered what had happened to her in the intervening years, and decided to tell us.

Strout’s books focus on character, rather than plot. As I have become older, I am more interested in character development and less in plot, so they are a good match for me. Olive, in the first book, presented as a cantankerous Maine woman, difficult to like, who grew on the reader as we encountered her in a series of short stories. We saw various aspects of her, and understood that she was as complicated as most people.

Olive, revisited, shows us the woman, still cranky, still opinionated, and still uncomfortable with herself most of the time. But throughout this book Olive has moments of self reflection. She begins to think about herself in a new way, as a wife, as a parent, as a teacher and as a neighbor. As she becomes self aware, we find a new level of compassion for this old woman. I suspect that is what Strout herself felt about Olive as the years passed between books. Olive was worth another look.

I appreciated the evidence that even in late life a person can soften some, can connect more deeply with others, and can feel, with self-compassion, some regret. May it be so with all of us.

“Candidates and Mayonnaise”

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When I was younger there were two sandwich spreads, mayonnaise and Miracle Whip. We were a mayonnaise family, while my best friend swore by Miracle Whip. The other day at the grocery store, the manager told me they were expanding to include even more products that people were asking for. I saw an enormous array of mayonnaise, including the eight varieties from Hellman’s alone. Kraft, Heinz, store brands and “organic” and “healthy” brands completed the offerings. Apparently that wasn’t enough, hence the expansion.

How does one choose among all those jars? Well apparently you find fault with one and look for another. Is it vegan and olive oil or vegan and avocado oil or “real?” You keep eliminating choices until you find the one perfect mayonnaise which meets every single one of your criteria. Either that or you decide to forgo mayonnaise altogether.

It is like that for me right now watching the Democratic hopefuls running for President. While the field is beginning to winnow down, there are still a number of possible candidates remaining. How does one choose? Well apparently you find find fault with one and look for another (yes that sentence is a direct repeat from the mayonnaise aisle.) And at the moment the candidates themselves are attacking each other. And the internet is full of complaints to prove that each one has faults. It is enough to make many Democrats decide to forgo the process altogether.

By the way, I still buy regular mayonnaise. Too many choices gave me a headache. I will support a flawed human being in the fall election. And the time spent arguing about all the possibilities takes precious time away from preparing for a united front in the November election.

“All New Retainer Diet!”

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As I wrote some time back, my dentist had to replace a crown which he had somehow attached poorly allowing some decay to set it. He put in the new crown, but the gum became inflamed and had to be treated. By the time the gum had healed, the molar sporting the crown had “drifted” back away from the adjacent teeth. Apparently this phenomenon is very unusual, but my teeth love to wander at will. To bring the recalcitrant tooth back in line, I needed to have a retainer for my top teeth. (Remember that all of this work is free since it was his error.)

I was soon introduced to an “invisible” retainer which I need to wear for several months. Actually it will be a series of three retainers, one after another as the tooth is rounded up and corralled. The above photo (not my airbrushed face I assure you) illustrates my type of retainer. The retainer may be invisible, but that is its only positive feature. The retainer cannot be exposed to hot liquids, cold liquids with sugar, or cold liquids that stain. I don’t know why they don’t just say cold water only. It also has to be taken out to eat. The device is supposed to be worn 22 hours a day. Each time I remove it to eat or drink said forbidden liquids, I am supposed to follow a strict routine. Wash my hands. Brush my teeth. Floss my teeth. Reinsert the retainer.

Imagine that every time you thought about eating a snack you faced the prospect of going through all that. Hence my designating this the “retainer diet.” I assure you that I have yet to find anything worth the fuss. My snacking has been totally eliminated. My doctor would be proud. I wonder if she is in cahoots with my dentist!

“Cooking Under Pressure”

I grew up with my mother using a heavy aluminum pressure cooker similar to one pictured on the left above. She used it for tough meat and beans. She always made us stay well clear of the thing, constantly scaring us about its ability to explode. (Maybe she just wanted some peace in the kitchen for a change.) It required careful monitoring and adjustment of the burner to keep it at the right pressure. I think its only safety feature was an ability to “blow its top” if the pressure went too high.

Needless to say I wasn’t interested in pressure cooking when I had my first home. But around then the slow cooker phase set in and I used it instead for the same foods. In fact I still have the same Rival Crock Pot that I first used in the early 1970’s and it still works just fine.

But after hearing friends rave endlessly about the Instant Pot, I finally succumbed and bought the one pictured on the right. So far I have only cooked chick peas in the dish Chana Masala. One feature that the slow cooker lacks is the Instant Pot’s ability to saute before it pressure cooks. For a browned exterior, I have had to use a separate pan to saute the meat had before using the slow cooker. In the case of the Chana Masala, I was able to saute the vegetables before pressure cooking the beans.

There really isn’t anything “instant” about the pot besides its name. It still requires time for the steam to reach full pressure, time to cook the food, and time for the pot to slowly release the pressure it has built up. Its main advantage, I think, is over the old and more finicky pressure cookers. The Instant Pot takes control of a constant pressure and doesn’t need watching as did the old style ones.

The jury is still out on whether I will convert from the slow cooker to the Instant Pot.  Nothing can be quicker than dumping beans and water into the slow cooker, setting it and walking away until the evening. As for other recipes, we’ll see.

“A Long Reach”

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I finished a lengthy book, Successful Aging by Daniel Leviton recently. Nothing particularly groundbreaking came through for me. He mentioned, as do most people, the need for good nutrition, exercise and social engagement. His discussion of the aging brain intrigued me since he pointed out that many blips in memory are normal and not predictive of dementia. When they occur in younger people, he points out, we think of them as scatter brained, not senile.

He did supply  one bit of information that addressed a problem that I hadn’t even realized was a problem. Occasionally I get an aggravating itch in the middle of my back that I can’t reach. Even when I manage to back up against a doorway to scratch it, the itch continues. I have looked to see if the skin on my back was dryer than usual, but that didn’t seem to be true. But Levitin, as an aside, mentioned that this particular itch not only commonly exists as we age, but that it also has a name. He pointed out that the itch is coming from aging nerves, not the surface of the skin.

I cruised the internet for more about this phenomenon and was amazed to see that it is quite common across the world. Most amusing is the speculation that back scratchers were invented to address the itch. Apparently the itch can drive some people to distraction. I will say that just writing about this has encouraged my back to itch!

So if you are older and have a spot that you just can’t reach to scratch, feel relieved. It is just another sign that you are “successfully aging.”

 

“Sewing Circles and Book Clubs”

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Women love to sit around and talk and seem to need an excuse to do so. Sewing circles managed to combine the occasion to talk with a “productive” activity. Just getting together once a week to chat seemed frivolous. My mother belonged to such a group, but it was honestly named “stitch and bitch!” Sewing in a group has gone out of fashion for most contemporary women.

Fortunately we have come up with an equally satisfactory substitute: the book group. Book groups seem to fall into two categories and people complain when they drop into the wrong type by mistake. My church book group fits the type of book club where the discussion is all about the books. People seem uninterested in knowing each other and would feel annoyed by any personal sharing unless it was very clearly “about the book.” I attended it hoping to make new friends and quickly found that was not the place to do so.

The other kind of book club uses the book as an opportunity to get together. In these meetings some people haven’t even finished the book. Rather than being shunned, they are welcomed in for the real purpose of the get-together: schmoozing. A reader coming for a deep literary discussion leaves with the complaint “they never even discussed the book!”

We used to live around the corner from a working man’s (yes only men were ever there) tavern called appropriately “Home Tavern.” Every early evening men sat around drinking cheap beer, smoking cigarettes and talking. I have no idea what they were talking about, though I am sure it wasn’t books. Sadly as the neighborhood gradually gentrified it became a “pub” with expensive beers and women. A welcoming place for men disappeared.

We all need reasons to get together. I wonder if all those people sitting alone in coffee shops looking at their own phones know that.