Monthly Archives: July 2016

54 Marvelous Things

Fragrant mystery bush

Today's Ethnic Fest in Tacoma's Wright Park

Today’s Ethnic Fest in Tacoma’s Wright Park

I love the concept of a birthday week, because birthdays often fall on a day when it’s inconvenient or even impossible to celebrate properly, and a birthday always merits celebration. I’m a firm believer in celebrating milestones, big and small, and I know in my heart that birthday cake provides a shot of good juju.

This year my birthday fell on a Monday, and I had to drive my mother to the airport that day, so we celebrated on Sunday. I’ve been searching my brain for a 54-themed blog topic to celebrate my 54th birthday, and scribbled the flowing list yesterday at a meeting while someone was repeating, yet again, stories and recommendations that I’ve heard oh so many times. (May the gods save me from ever becoming such a person.)

To celebrate the end of my birthday week, here’s a list of fifty-four marvelous things that bring me joy. I’d love it if you’d add to the list, in case I’ve overlooked a potential source of joy. Since it’s summer, many of these are seasonal joys.

  1. Drinking my morning coffee outdoors while writing in my journal and listening to birdsong.
  2. Nature’s perfume. I don’t know what this flowering shrub is (above); it was planted by some previous owner of our house, and its scent is intoxicating.
  3. Kombucha! My sister-in-law turned me on to this stuff, and it’s so tangy and refreshing. It helps calm my belly, too.
  4. New friends. It’s funny how one new connection leads to another, and another, and another.
  5. Outdoor concerts. The little park in Old Town Tacoma offers a free concert every Wednesday—how marvelous! Gig Harbor offers free concerts on Tuesday, and Puyallup on Thursdays.
  6. Little children dancing at the above concerts. Wee ones are so utterly un-self-conscious, responding as the music moves them.
  7. Recipes on the internet. I love the ease of comparison, the helpful comment strings. It’s so easy now to come up with a tasty dish made of whatever odd ingredients I have on hand.
  8. Podcasts! I’m a late bloomer when it comes to tech. Lately I’m enjoying Gretchen Rubin’s Happier podcast, along with the Dead Robots’ Society, a fun program by and for writers. Listening to these lively conversations while walking or cleaning makes the time merrily, swiftly by.
  9. NPR while driving.
  10. Zumba!
  11. Cool, freshly-washed sheets.
  12. Our favorite walking path along Commencement Bay.
  13. Summer festivals: music fests, ethnic fests, food fests, beer fests…
  14. Thank you to the city leaders and philanthropists who set aside this land for our pleasure.
  15. A cucumber-mint mojito on the deck of Duke’s, overlooking Puget Sound.
  16. Trader Joe’s, especially their pot stickers.
  17. Sincere smiles
  18. The water-playground up the street. Children + water = fun.
  19. Happy dogs.
  20. The public library
  21. Taking time for a really good stretch after a workout.
  22. The fragrance of peaches, nectarines, berries—it nearly knocks me down when I enter the grocery store.
  23. Really fresh sweet corn.
  24. Sweet, mild onions in a salad.
  25. Growing tomatoes in my back yard.
  26. Laughing at my daughter’s jokes. Whether on Facebook, on the phone or in person, she has the most delightful talent for silliness.
  27. Nature shows on TV. Nothing holds my attention like that amazing photography, those soaring vistas, those startling close-ups, those life and death chase scenes.
  28. Blasting Latin music while cooking or cleaning. Sabor!
  29. Birthday greetings. I never get too old to be tickled by these.
  30. A new pen.
  31. A starry, starry night, especially when it’s warm enough to sit outside and enjoy the view.
  32. Iced coffee in the afternoon.
  33. Those little moments of shared humanity with a stranger, fleeting conversations and connections that remind us we’re all in this together.
  34. Watching the bees in the flowers.
  35. Watching the ducks do their bottoms-up dance in the pond. That’s always funny.
  36. A cold beer after a hot walk.
  37. A boat ride. I’m looking forward to riding the ferry to Seattle.
  38. A visit to an art museum or gallery.
  39. Reading outdoors.
  40. The feel of a summer breeze lifting my skirt.
  41. That wonderful scent of dry, warm pine needles as I walk through the forest.
  42. Grill time! There’s something so satisfying to our primitive nature when we cook food outdoors over fire.
  43. Playing guitars (uke, for me) around a fire pit.
  44. Late light evenings, when I can take a walk after dinner. Again and again, throughout the summer, I look outside and exclaim, “Look, it’s still light out!”
  45. A hot dog with all the fixings at the ball park.
  46. An afternoon nap outdoors, stretched out on a lounge chair.
  47. Surprise visits by hummingbirds.
  48. Gleaming, jewel-colored dragonflies. Everyone has their totem animal; these are mine.
  49. Huge, puffy clouds drifting by. Summer clouds have the most interesting architecture.
  50. A summer storm that makes the trees dance.
  51. Sitting out on the front stoop, watching the neighborhood roll/stroll by.
  52. Everyone looks cooler in a big straw hat.
  53. The scent of wild roses and linden trees.
  54. Only in summer and at Christmastime to we see so much of our friends and relatives. It’s good to catch up and laugh together.

Happy birthday to all you summer babies!

 

 

Have a NEAT Day: A Book Review and Testimonial

shoes and phone

Here’s where you get to say “I told you so.” A few months ago, I finally traded in my flip phone for a smarter model. I’ve long resisted that switch, but Hubs was upgrading his iPhone, and AT&T offered a two-for-one deal. I have to admit, it was getting pretty tiresome answering long texts on my ancient flip-phone, and it’s nice having a GPS that I don’t have to update. My new phone also has a pretty accurate step-counter, which has unleashed my inner statistician. Today I have walked 7, 359 steps. That leaves me fewer than 5K to go.

I’ve had pedometers before, but they’ve all stopped working, miscounted my steps, or ended up in the toilet—those waistband clips aren’t as secure as they ought to be. After tossing the sixth or seventh one, I figured I should be able to keep track of my activity level on my own, right? But there’s a big gap between “should do” and “do.” My phone has turned out to be a real boon in my effort to increase my daily activity. I also enjoy the Duolingo app, which has taught me such valuable Spanish phrases as “How many elephants eat rice?” “He is a double agent” and “I cannot die.” But that’s another story.

It’s a challenge for a desk worker like me, whose favorite hobby is reading, to get up out of that chair often enough to stay healthy. Until I earn enough to buy that treadmill desk I dream of, I need to retrain myself to get up frequently. Going to the gym or taking a walk each day is good for my health, but is not enough to counteract the harmful effects of all this sitting.

Get Up book

Here’s the book review part: I recently read Get Up! Why Your Chair Is Killing You and What You Can Do About It, by James A. Levine, M.D.  Kudos to Dr. Levine for making many, many scientific studies on the effects of sitting accessible to a lay audience. My take-away from this easy-to-read book is the importance of getting out of my chair and adding more NEAT to my life. NEAT stands for nonexercise activity thermogenesis: walking around, fidgeting, doing chores–all the movements, little and big, that our increasingly chair-bound, digitally enhanced lifestyle has eliminated. Of course, we all know that too much sitting is bad for us, but before reading this book, I didn’t really grasp the extent of the problem across prosperous nations. I certainly know, however, how crappy I feel during and after a day spent sitting at my computer, no matter how fascinating the reading/writing tasks I do there.

Although he sometimes wanders a bit in his explanations, Dr. Levine’s writing is entertaining and convincing. A true believer, he presents plentiful evidence of the damage done by our chair addiction, as well as practical solutions to avoid that damage. On Dr. Levine’s advice, I now walk slowly around my house or around the block for 15 minutes after most meals, in addition to getting my behind out of the chair more frequently. I heartily recommend this book to all my chair-dwelling friends and family.

How do you incorporate movement into your workday?

High Praise from the Other Side

Insecure Writers Support Group Badge

“I don’t usually like stories like this, but I really enjoyed reading yours.”

What’s the best thing someone has ever said about your writing? That’s this month’s question from the Insecure Writer’s Support Group, a collection of bloggers whose topic is, at least sometimes, the writing life. Support and commiseration from other writers has been so helpful during these first years of my writing “career”—nothing published yet, but I am working on it.

My face-to-face critique group meets twice a month, an ever-revolving batch of local writers with a few core members, of which I’m one. We’ve had submissions of historical fiction, memoir, vampire romance, literary short stories, mortal romance, blog entries, folk tales, military fiction, speculative fiction, fiction for children, and poetry, but the greatest number of writers in the group are working on science fiction and/or fantasy. And then there’s me, with my contemporary women’s fiction and cozy mysteries. No explosions, no aliens, no vampires, and only a little sex.

It’s a valuable exercise for us all to look carefully at evolving stories in genres we’d never pick up off the book shelf. In general, romance novels send me into a diabetic coma. Anything that smacks of post-apocalyptic leaves me cold—I mean, we all face enough tragedy and hardship in real life; why wallow in it? I don’t find vampires at all sexy. Descriptions of military weaponry make me snooze. Fantasy can be so predictable: flying dragons, magic crystals, some chica finds out she’s the hereditary princess and must lead her people in an epic battle against Snog the Despicable… And don’t get me started on YA. After more than a quarter century of teaching teenagers, I don’t want to read about some kid coming of age in predictable ways, whether it’s on Planet Zoltron or in fourteenth-century France. And, other than the occasional female writer around my age, no group member would reach for a lighthearted tale of a middle-aged woman reinventing herself after her kids finally leave the nest.

And yet, good storytelling is good storytelling. My writing is definitely richer from having plunged into all these other genres. I’ve really enjoyed watching these tales of talking animals, mysterious space ships, time travel, epic battles, psychotic breaks, and teenage family drama coalesce into entertaining, moving stories. And when one of the group members tells me that he enjoys my writing despite a lack of interest in the subject matter, I know that I’ve hit the mark. So here’s to stretching ourselves as writers by sharing and critiquing across genres. We have so much to teach each other.

Book Review: The Ice Cream Queen of Orchard Street, by Susan Jane Gilman

Ice Cream Queen

What a delight! Give yourself time to savor this bittersweet, funny, snarky immigrant tale, all 501 pages. We meet Lillian Dunkle, née Malka Treynovsky, as her family prepares to flee pogrom-afflicted Russia in 1913. Crippled by a traffic accident, abandoned by her shyster father and her crazy mother, little Malka is taken in by an Italian family in the ice cream trade, and ice cream becomes her guiding star. Sounds schmaltzy? Not at all; this is some of the finest historical writing I’ve read. Feisty, funny, snarky Malka/Lillian is driven by yearning for family, chisel-sharp ambition, and a wounded heart.  We follow her from her New York Jewish ghetto to fortune and fame as the Ice Cream Queen of America and beyond, into her feisty but very complicated old age. A mistress of historical fiction, Gilman plops us right down beside Lillian to experience most of the twentieth century though her eyes, and what a ride it is! Lillian is, at times, not a very nice person, but I still rooted for her as she went after those who’d wronged her along the way. As a bonus, I also leaned quite the arsenal of Yiddish expressions. Such naches I had from this book!