Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Chit Chat

Let me say a few words about saying a few words. Why is it that most women talk way too much? And why is it that most of what they say is completely insignificant?

As a woman, I consider myself to be intelligent and opinionated, although no more of either than most people. The hard part is knowing when to keep quiet. Unfortunately, this trick seems to have escaped most women.

When I was a teen-ager, lo those many years ago, the typical teen-age girl was portrayed on television by the likes of Shelley Fabares, Sally Field and Patty Duke. On the big screen, we were represented in the Gidget movies by Sandra Dee and Deborah Walley. No offense to any of these actresses, but at the time the image of teen-age girls was frothy, shallow and giggly. As an adult, have you ever suffered through Where the Boys Are? If so, then you understand.

In the 1960s, there was no pressure whatsoever placed on teen-aged girls. After all, they were going to marry, stay at home, and raise children. It was OK to be frothy, shallow and giggly.

A lot has changed over the decades since astronauts first ventured into space. Perhaps this entire burden can be placed on Sputnik and the resulting space race. But suddenly, there was an emphasis to encourage women -- as well as men -- to think about science and math. Suddenly, Susie Homemaker was not the ultimate fantasy for women.

Personally, I was pleased that this evolution came to pass. I never was the frothy, shallow and giggly type. Oh, I enjoyed laughing and teasing and could tell a good joke. But even decades ago I resented the way girls were depicted in film and on TV.

Here are some song lyrics that demonstrate the point I'm making:
When I have a brand new hairdo
With my eyelashes all in curl,
I float as the clouds on air do,
I enjoy being a girl….

I flip when a fellow sends me flowers,
I drool over dresses made of lace,
I talk on the telephone for hours
With a pound and a half of cream upon my face!
(Lyrics of I Enjoy Being a Girl, From Flower Drum Song by Rodgers and Hammerstein, 1958)

Even in the1960s, I could never tolerate getting telephone calls from friends who apparently had nothing more interesting to do than talk to another teen-aged girl. Often I would make some excuse just to get off the phone.  After all, I had already spent the entire school day with them.  What could I possibly have to talk about?

During much of my working career, I worked with women. It was often a tortuous experience to hear high, squeaky-voiced co-workers drone on about what they had for dinner the night before or what they packed for their kids' school lunches. They could babble about some meaningless event that occurred with their kids over the prior weekend. They assumed that everyone within ear shot was fascinated by the number of times their dog had an accident on the carpet or how their husband forgot their anniversary.

Meanwhile, I had a personal life. There were many things in my life which interested me and which, by the way, I chose not to share. People may have perceived me as a cold fish, but such concerns have never bothered me.

Guess I'm not a sharer. Well, so be it. I will never understand why so many women can chatter about everything that happens in their lives. Is it because they have watched too much television? Do they think that they are guests on a talk show? Do they think they are being taped for America's Funniest Home Videos?

Ladies, wake up and shut up. If you want to be taken seriously by your family, your employer or the world at large, learn to keep some of the details about your life to yourself.

Or instead you could post these details on Facebook. At least there you won't be boring the person in the next cubicle.









Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Essence of Cool

The conversation began when I was thinking about a former co-worker of mine who I always thought was cool.

"What does cool really mean?" my friend asked.

I thought a bit, then replied, "Someone who isn't afraid to say something funny, even though it may not in his character to be funny. You know, a person who appears solemn, perhaps stuffy, who has another side to his personality which occasionally shows through."

"Does it have to be a man?"

"I think so," I answered. "Women can't be cool because their very temperament requires that their true personality be on display most of the time."

My friend asked, "The big question then is, who do you know now that is cool?"

I thought for a while. "I'm afraid I can't think of anyone."

"What about famous people. Who can you think of that's cool?"

"Well, let's see. Clint Eastwood is kind of cool. He has a sparkle in his eyes and a wry grin. You might not know what he is likely to say or do next. Dustin Hoffman is cool. So is Louis C.K. I think humor comes into play. Being cool means that you can laugh at the world or yourself in an instant. Other cool people should include Jon Stewart, Robert Klein, Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine, Bruce Willis, Phil Mickelson. These are people who you would invite for a party, who are charming to be around and no doubt have plenty of good stories. Dick Cavett, Jim Lehrer, Bill Murray, Charles Osgood, Alex Trebek, David McCullough, Vin Scully."

"What other qualities make someone cool?"

"Self confidence goes a long way to making someone cool. They should be unpretentious, gracious, easy-going. Someone who wouldn't yell at a waiter or criticize someone who made a mistake."

"Wow. You are really raising the bar here. Can't you think of someone around you every day who you would consider to be cool?"

"No. My dentist is cool, but I only see him once a year or so. None of my co-workers, none of the neighbors. Nope. Can't think of a single person."

"What about people who are no longer living? You know, from the old school of cool. How about some people from that group?"

"Paul Newman was pretty cool. Humphrey Bogart probably was, too. There were plenty of people who could at least fake being cool during the days before the media followed you around to every party and premiere. I'd have to say Yul Brynner, Leonard Bernstein, Tony Randall, Alistair Cooke, Eric Severeid, Arthur Fiedler.  I read that Lionel Barrymore was an amazing guy. Very artistic and a composer, as well as being a great actor."

"What a mish-mash of names! I don't see any common quality shared by these people."

"They each have something that makes me think they would be worth knowing. How many people can you say that about? How many people do you know whose opinions interests you, whose stories fascinate you, who you'd like to spend time with?"

My friend thought for a while. Then he said, "I think you are on to something. It's a pretty sad comment about the people we know today when we can't think of more than a few people in our circle of acquaintances who we enjoy knowing."

Sunday, July 21, 2013


Yesterday a man drove up the house next door, got out and placed a metal "For Sale" sign in the yard. He snapped a photo and drove away.

Obviously the owner of that residence has put that house on the market. A routine transaction, to be sure, and hardly newsworthy.

But what struck me was that despite having had that particular neighbor living next door to me for four years, I barely know her at all. If our paths crossed in a local grocery or restaurant, I doubt I would even know what she looks like.

Too bad that neighbors today are so far removed from the good ol' days. Neighbors used to be our friends, part of our extended family. In an era when mothers stayed home with the kiddies, neighbors provided connection with others in a similar situation. Neighbors helped each other by taking turns to watch the kids while errands were run. They dropped in to chat, share a cup of mid-morning coffee and catch up on news tidbits. In the days before television, our neighbors had names like Eula, Nettie, Don McNeill and Arthur Godfrey.

Neighborhoods sometimes held get-togethers, cooking out a one house or another and gathering to socialize. Men did the grilling and women brought potluck salads or desserts. There were not a lot of such events in our circle of neighbors, but I can recall a few. There were more apt be visits during the day which largely escaped my notice except for summer when school was out.

Our neighbors were similar to neighbors portrayed in sit-coms, familiar faces appearing in a supporting role. They also popped in almost as frequently, too. But many visits were brief, even occurring in the yard while mowing, on the sidewalk while skating or biking, even a quick wave from the front porch. They were there, nonetheless, warm and comforting and offered support when needed.

There is a commercial currently being shown on TV. It's for Chinet dinnerware, I think, and shows a girl wandering through a hall of memories. The voice-over alludes to the old days when doorbells rang more than cell phones. I wonder how many of us recall that period of time.

When I was a kid, I knew every neighbor in each block around our house. I was aware when a grandchild would come for a visit, which house had a newborn, who had a sister in high school, what the dad did for a living (every house had a husband) and who had good Halloween candy. These factors helped shape my world, demographics before the word came into vogue.

When a house had a special event, we got to sample the goodies. One of the couples a few house away, parents of my friend, once had a big square dance party with outdoor lights, a caller and couples dancing. The works. They had large tubs of iced drinks and as a privileged guest, I sipped my first bottle of Grapette from the sidelines, watching enthusiastically. Pretty heady stuff. I was about 6 years old.

Neighbors did thing like help trim trees and rake leaves. People all took pride in their homes and kept their yard tidy, so we all had a stake in the overall appearance. I think we felt a sense of kinship, as though we were somehow all in it together. It was a neighborhood society and we were all members of the club.

So, now the lady in the house next door has put her house on the market. Who is she? Over the past months, something happened to her relationship with the man who used to live there, too. I don't think they were married but they seemed happy. Then his car stopped parking on the driveway. Her kids are grown but I didn't know them either. Who were they? Who knows.

Too bad that neighbors rarely talk to each other any more. Everyone is too absorbed in their own lives to spare a minute to talk to someone else -- unless that person is calling on a cell phone.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Summer Doldrums

All signs point to the arrival of the summer doldrums. You remember the doldrums. When you were a kid, that meant that summer was beginning to wind down. We are still in the middle of July, so it hardly seems like summer is over. But it all began with the first advertisements for a dreaded time: Back to school.

Saw the first commercial at least two weeks ago, for Ziploc bags or some type of container for back-to-school lunches. I was shocked and thought it must have aired as the result of some type of scheduling error. A TV tech pushed the wrong button or something.

But now other commercials are streaming in. Saw one tonight for Target in which an unseen female is pushing one of the infamous red plastic carts through the aisles while little kiddies deposit items inside. There are backpacks, clothing, tablets, pencils…all the goodies which parents must provide for school these days.

I don't have kids or grandkids, so I could care less about back-to-school. In fact, the last time I cared a hoot about returning to school was 1975, when I was teaching 5th grade. I really disliked teaching and had stuck it out for five years.

When school was out in May that year, like most other teachers (whether or not they will admit it), I was really tired. All I wanted was a little time away from the students and the demands put on everyone at the school. Teachers are truly underpaid and underappreciated, and that hasn't change over the decades. We used to put up with rude behavior and even had an assortment of seriously bad students, even at the 5th grade level and even in 1975.

The phrase "even then" is worth noting because already the input of parents -- whether well meaning or not -- was causing tension between the administration and the teachers. All the administration wanted was a year of smooth sailing from Fall to Spring. They didn't particularly care about the quality of teaching that occurred as long as no one made any waves.

The administrators in the large district where I taught were focused on one thing: their pensions. They just wanted to reach the magic number and retire. No doubt there were some exceptions to this statement, but I neither saw or heard about them at the time.

I recall one staff meeting when we were discussing classroom control. The principal wanted to share a tactic that he had found to be of real help when he was confronted with an unruly class. "Stand behind them," he smiled. "That way they can't see you coming." The man seemed quite pleased with himself for demonstrating his natural-born leadership skills.

By the time Spring had arrived, I was giving serious consideration to finding another career. Meanwhile, I was glad for some time off.

In early August, a friend and I were riding go-carts at a rental track and were taking out our aggressions on each other in the blazing sunshine. When my turn was over, I pulled my vehicle aside and climbed out. Suddenly it occurred to me that we would be returning to school in a few weeks. My heart sank at the prospect.

"I can't do it anymore," I told my friend, a fellow teacher.

"Do what?" he asked.

"Go back to school."

He laughed. "Oh, I know. I think that each year. But you know we will go."

I stood there in the bright desert sun and said slowly, "No. I'm not going back."

And that was it. I didn't return to teaching and except for a half dozen days since when I happened to substitute, have never returned to teach again.

I truly appreciate the great teachers from my own education. We all experienced teachers who stand out as inspiring, sincere and dedicated. But those days have long disappeared.

Teachers should not have to fight uphill for every improvement. They should have administrators who support and encourage them. They should have cooperative parents who say "bravo" when their kids improve, not ask "Why are you such a bad teacher?"

I can imagine right now there are teachers in every part of the country who dread seeing commercials reminding them that it's back-to-school time. Somewhere, there are teachers who have likely made up their own minds that they have had enough and may be going through the same thought process as I did.

For any teachers who might read this, I wish you good luck in your future endeavors. You gave far more than you received in those classrooms. You deserve more.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Wants vs. Needs

I frequently hear people explain about some of life's hard-learned lessons. For instance, it is tricky to tell the difference between items that we want and those that we need.

It should be easy to tell. But we have become such a country of shoppers that the lines appear to have become blurred.

People actually need few things in order to survive, including food, water and shelter. Those are the same necessities provided to prisoners and hostages, although not often in abundance. Shelter may be inadequate and food is likely restricted. Water is of the utmost importance, the one requirement that can be the undoing of hikers and others who venture in the desert unprepared. Without water, most people will quickly perish.

Most visits to large cities remind us of the homeless residents who may have to resort to living on the streets. Even under dire circumstances they can still survive, needing only the bare basics to endure. When I lived in Washington, D.C., I would often see the homeless sleeping over grates on the streets above the Metro tracks. Even on the harshest winter days, they would be lying on the bare metal, covered by large plastic sheets. No doubt that is not how they wanted to live, but they were able to survive.

Stories of men shipwrecked on desert islands indicate that survivors quickly figure out how to construct some type of shelter and to capture rainwater for drinking. They learn to identify which plants are edible. These people would no doubt enjoy a bit more comfort, yet they survive.

As we go about our daily lives, we have lost the ability to distinguish what is necessary from what is merely shiny and superfluous.

We have become a nation addicted to shopping, which now consumes a great deal of attention, time and, unfortunately, money. There are people who would rather shop than do just about anything else. Even with a closet filled with clothes, they feel as though they have nothing to wear. These people will immediately set out to capture another addition for their bulging wardrobe. How many similar items do we really need? How many cardigan sweaters can we wear at the same time? How many handbags does a woman need? Or jeans? Or jackets?

Clothing aside, many of us tend to have a lot of "stuff". When it comes to kitchen items, house wares, linens and general gadgets, we likely have more than we will ever need. Merchants know this. That's why they constantly feature newer versions of some item that we already have, only this one may be more colorful, easier to use or lighter in weight, rendering the old version obsolete. So, of course, we purchase the new item but retain the former model. After all, the older item is perfectly good and we might need a spare.

Truth is, we probably didn't ever need the old one at all.

When people are young, they need very few things in order to survive. I remember being very happy to get my first set of pots and pans. What luxury! Pots of increasingly large sizes with lids that actually fit. I was master of the universe. What else could anyone need?

Once we enter the working world, we are thrilled to have money of our own to spend. We soon realize that by receiving a paycheck, we have a certain amount of power. Buying power. This was heady stuff and we grew to like it.

Problems arise, however, when the paychecks stop. Whether it is from job loss, illness or retirement, eventually those nice, big paychecks will stop. We must suddenly decide how to identify whether an object is one that we really need or merely want.

This determination can be a difficult adjustment.

I often hear people repeating about virtues of "wants versus needs". Financial advisor and speaker Suze Orman repeatedly advises that if we ask ourselves this question when confronted with tempting options, we will be able to keep our financial lives healthy.

Temptation is a strong force but one that is sometimes hard to control. However, for anyone with a reduced or restricted income, mastery over temptation is certainly a lesson well learned.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

The Fourth of July

I'm really glad that the Fourth of July is over -- finally. It appears that long ago the country lost all respect for the holiday and now it is just another hot, steamy summer day.

Growing up, the Fourth of July was exciting. It was fun to have a holiday smack dab in the middle of summer. The 4th meant having fun with friends I hadn't seen very often since school was out. We would ride our bikes to the local parade and watch the bands and proverbial red-white-and-blue bunting. Our family would haul out the big American flag and hang it from the front porch. We usually grilled burgers on the patio. Night time meant fireworks at a local park. It was tradition and fun, despite being fairly predictable.

Well, times have changed.

First of all, there are the fireworks. Fireworks are illegal in our state, though they are sold from temporary tents erected around the county. Laws prohibit fireworks being discharged "within the city limits" unless it is by a licensed group, like the Chamber of Commerce. However, fireworks were discharged in our neighborhood for six consecutive evenings beginning on June 30. These were loud, explosive firecrackers which are easily purchased in a neighboring state. By the way, that other state does allow the discharge of such fireworks inside municipalities.

That was obnoxious enough. No, I don't have a small child who goes to bed early or a dog, neither of which would be too thrilled with the noise. And these were really LOUD explosions, set off relatively near to the homes in the area. Our neighborhood is in the middle of town, not near a park or overlooking a lake or marina. It was quite disturbing. The final night of fireworks, last Saturday night (July 6) ended at approximately 11:00 p.m.

It is widely known that the local police department will seldom perform any task that requires effort. You can phone the P.D. if you have a problem. But even a friend of mine, formerly on the City Council, laughs about the police in our fair community. He told me, "Seriously, if I ever have a real problem, I would never call the police. I would be better off to call the Fire Department because they will actually do something."

Many readers may recognize their community's crime fighters in that description. Enough said about local government.

But the Fourth of July has been diluted from its origin. Rarely do any programs retell the story of the nation's founding. I will give credit to specials and features over this past 4th that discussed the Battle of Gettysburg which was observing its 150th anniversary. The Battle of Gettysburg -- and, in fact, the entire Civil War -- is a chapter we must never forget. It remains a pivotal chapter in American history.

Sadly, the Fourth of July has become something far less than it should ever have become. It now means sales on everything from mattresses to cars -- and little more. Trying to run errands on July 5th was also strange. Many businesses were closed as they took advantage of the holiday. Who could blame them? Many people were out of town anyway, so what's a little lost business income?

Because the date floats unlike many of our 3-day weekend holidays, it is hard to schedule any type of out-of-town travel since many businesses resume work on the following day. The Fourth of July has become a blip on the screen and it deserves more.

Hey, guys. Let's be consistent here. Why not observe the 4th on a fixed date? We know that February 12 was actually Lincoln's birthday and February 22 was Washington's birthday. But we combined the two dates together and observe "Presidents' Day" as a fixed holiday, always on the third Monday in February. That way, we all know that we are marking a national holiday and there is no mystery about what is open.

Whether anyone ever proposes to make the 4th a stationary holiday, we should do more to observe our country's history. It's unfortunate that a holiday as important as the Fourth of July has become nothing more than a reason to buy home furnishings at a discount.

Oh, yes. Don't forget the week-long explosion of fireworks.













Friday, July 5, 2013

Oh, My Feet!

Take a moment now to show a little respect for your feet. They are, after all, rather important and serve us well. They require only occasional pampering and a tiny bit of admiration.

Summer being in full bloom, feet are even more important than ever. During warm weather, feet get overheated in confining or heavy shoes. Some of my friends would never wear anything on their feet but tennis shoes and white socks, even during summer. My feet don't enjoy sweating and have told me so on numerous occasions. "No socks!" they demand and I have to listen to their requests.

My feet are nice and have served me well through the years. They demand large-sized shoes and are a bit on the boney side. But the toes are straight and the nails are nice. However, our relationship hasn't always been so cozy.

When I was a kid, I couldn't stand wearing shoes. One of the first things I did every year was to discard my shoes and get into sandals. This was many years ago when people still had standards when it came to appearance. I wore little white sandals with white anklets. They were lightweight and looked cute. My toes could move about but remained somewhat protected by the shoes.

Even as recently as the1950s, there were plenty of kids on my block who avoided wearing shoes all summer. We viewed them as bumpkins or hooligans despite the fact that they were bright and mannerly most of the time. I suppose they didn't wear shoes because they were partially uncivilized. My parents never passed judgment on my friends -- at least within earshot -- but made it clear that shoes would be worn in our household, even if they were sandals.

By the 1960s, when most teen-agers wanted to be beach babes, we wore white canvas shoes and/or tennies, but with no socks. This was a cool look, at least until the shoes were washed for the first time. Then they lost their ultra white sparkle and looked a bit shabby. Come to think of it, that entire decade was one of white canvas shoes and/or tennies without socks. At least as we went to high school and on to college, that style of undistinguished footgear was comfortable.

By 1970s, I had graduated to low heels and "dress" shoes, leather contraptions that pinched and made my feet hot. Even though living and working in Phoenix, we had to wear hose. Try that at 110 degrees!

Speaking of discomfort, one of my favorite quotes is by T.E. Lawrence in the film Lawrence of Arabia. Lawrence extinguishes a lighted match by squeezing the flame with his fingers.

When another man tries it, he says, "Ooh. That hurts."

Lawrence smiles. "Certainly it hurts."

The other man asks, "What's the trick then?"

Lawrence replies, "The trick is not minding that it hurts."

We experienced significant discomfort wearing stockings in the desert. Despite perspiration running down our legs, we wore hose because it was the fashion. Casual days and hot summers allowed us to wear leather sandals but never to work. The so-called rubber/plastic "flip flops" weren't in vogue at the time, still relinquished to status as an unfashionable but waterproof option for situations like washing the car.

Through the years, the percentage of women wearing stockings has dropped markedly. Sandals are now often worn on bare legs even in elegant settings. Heels range from flats near the ground to stilettos for those who still like to torture themselves.

During the intervening period I have broken my fifth metatarsal bone while wearing cute, stylish sandals but stepping wrong and turning my foot. I have broken two toes on my right foot while falling down stairs on a terrazzo staircase. I have stepped onto a cholla cactus, filling the bottom of both feet with hundreds of tiny hair-like stickers, some of which I still can feel decades later. But each injury has brought a new respect for my little tootsies, which are rewarded by resting on a footstool and occasionally experiencing a full-blown pedicure.

I wasn't always close to my feet. Things were dropped on them and I stepped on plenty of splinters and pointed objects over the years. However, we have now settled into a rather tranquil relationship as we recognize that we will continue to depend on each other for some time to come.

Just remember to kick off your shoes and wiggle your toes freely whenever you can. They deserve it.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Timeless Treasures

I have a certain appreciation for classic material goods.

Some people might consider old things to be passé, obsolete or out of fashion. But I find there are qualities in classic items that deserve closer attention.

I enjoy going to antique shops and am specifically drawn to vintage items. These do not include more lavish items like chandeliers or silver goblets. I prefer things that middle-class, working people actually used. Kitchen utensils that helped get meals on the table. Lamps that helped light a living room. Coin purses that kept spare change from falling to the bottom of a woman's handbag. Useful things from a bygone era.

What's also fascinating about some of these vintage items is the workmanship used in their preparation.

Some of my favorite items are small objects that might have been routinely found on a woman's dressing table. Many of these miniature items could have been made a century ago. Things which routinely grab my attention include hatpins, gloves, small boxes, handkerchiefs and button hooks. If you examine the details of these items, the quality is amazing. Such objects often remain in remarkably good condition despite having survived use, world wars, packing/unpacking, travel and likely several owners. They were created by hands that cared about the quality of the end product.

People also took care of such items. Women took pride in having nice gloves. Accessories like hats and jewelry were important to the wearer and demonstrated that she cared about how she was viewed by others. Because people were aware of their appearance, gloves were placed carefully in a dresser drawer when not being worn. Handkerchiefs were washed, perhaps starched and certainly ironed to be properly at the ready when needed.

Antique items tend not to include overstuffed furniture. Stores might display an occasional fainting couch or divan, but such furniture did not usually survive. Fabric of the day were velvet or other material which was not durable. Spotting and wear was so common that people placed doilies on the arms and across the back of furniture to absorb hair oil and dirt. Stuffing was often horsehair which tended to eventually to compact and lose shape.

Furniture that endured tended to be wooden furniture like rocking chairs, dining tables, hutches and bedroom sets. Carefully carved in hard wood, these pieces have passed the test of time. No particle board or self assembly here. These items were carefully crafted and continue to enchant collectors.

Vintage doesn't necessarily mean exceptionally old either. Some vintage stores contain items from as recently as the 1970s. It's amusing to see objects displayed in antique stores exactly like gifts I received for my wedding in 1967! Sets of matched drinking glasses fitted into a metal carrier -- something every hostess needed. Small, clear glass snack plates with matching glass cups which rested in a ring on the plate. Perfect to hold punch and cake for an afternoon soiree. Chip and dip sets and Lazy Susan trays. Many households contained such collections but it is doubtful that they were used very often.

Some of these later vintage items seemed to fall out of mainstream use for a couple of reasons. By the 1970s, more women worked full time. There were still social gatherings, but hostess glass sets and snack plates were probably less in demand. Also, many items given as wedding gifts were not finely crafted. They were mass produced and not always in the U.S.

The tide had turned.

From mid-century forward, quality has slipped in most of the goods we routinely use. House wares, clothing, even automobiles have become inferior to previous products. Watches, once a product of careful design and fine workmanship, are now disposable. If a watch requires needs anything beyond a new battery, it's cheaper to simply replace it.

Most items, in fact, are often not even designed for repair. Many products wear out about the time a newer version comes on the market. Planned obsolescence.

Perhaps that explains the appeal of goods from the past. Things of quality will endure when little else does.