Some people go to yoga class to relax. I go to OfficeMax. I'm not really sure why, but a visit to the office supply store can be strangely soothing. All those color-coded binders and elaborate planners line up before me like willing foot soldiers in the War Against Disorganization. It's like back-to-school shopping for adults. I'm constantly impressed by the new developments in office supplies. Who knew there were smart pens that photograph your notes and can transmit them to your smart phone in text form?
Editor's note: This column was originally published June 12, 2005. In honor of Father's Day, I would like to address the issue of fatherly wisdom. I'm talking about those bits of advice you heard hundreds of times until they became part of your personal belief system.
My mother turned 80 on May Day. We ushered in her octogenarian years with a surprise party featuring all the things she loves: friends, family and food. Part of the event included a videotape tribute that allowed nieces, nephews and friends from far away to share their memories of what they most loved about her. My cousin Tracy's video was particularly touching, as she reminisced about the childhood adventures on our farm, Mom's kindness toward my cousins and her creative spirit. And then she said something that had never occurred to us before: My mother was "cool."
A dear friend recently experienced a death in her family. Like so many of us, I struggled with how to comfort her. As a good codependent, wasn't it my responsibility to somehow "fix" this and "make" it all better? But then I thought of the words of John W. James and Russell Friedman. These men founded The Grief Recovery Institute, and wrote the seminal book on loss and grieving, "The Grief Recovery Handbook: The Action Program for Moving Beyond Death, Divorce, and Other Losses."
In the 1980s Stephen King movie, "Maximum Overdrive," the machines of the Earth rise up and begin off-ing their human owners. Nowadays, their actions could be much worse. TV-maker Vizio got in trouble for using automated content recognition, which allowed them to collect owners' viewing information without their knowledge. And then there was all the flack Kellyanne Conway received last week when she made comments that smart TVs and microwaves could possibly be used as spying devices.
Some activities automatically make you feel more civilized. Like attending an opera. Or learning chess. Or binge-watching "The Great British Baking Show." Last weekend, I spent a delicious afternoon watching past episodes of this BBC series on Netflix. And when I finally tore myself away, all I wanted to do was bake a Boxing Day Suet Pudding, smothered in clotted cream and crumpets.
A Facebook friend recently shared a link to a blog that brought a whole new meaning to the term, "x factor." The author, Bert Fulks, wrote a lovely post about a ritual his family practices called the "x plan." (Read it at bertfulks.com.)
Once again, my mother was right. We've seen all sorts of stories lately on how the food industry is moving to replace expiration dates on food with an easier and more relaxed system that includes the terms, "Use by," and "Best if used by." They point out that most expiration dates are entirely random and that, contrary to popular belief, that can of green beans will not magically turn to a pile of botulism-laced ash on an expiration date. While some of these foods might not taste as fresh and flavorful as they did when first packaged, they remain safe to eat.
They say doctors make the worst patients. Obviously, "they" have never met Pat Swift. So far, Dad's had a tough 2017. He fell on the ice, resulting in a brain bleed, a surgery, a shunt and plenty of rehab. His prognosis is excellent, with strong hopes that he can return completely to pre-fall condition. By the end of his stay in rehab, the physical therapists were wracking their brains to find something he couldn't do. Dad was so anxious to return home where he could read his paper in the sunroom and get out of bed without alarms sounding. He was highly motivated.
I am often impressed by how much my mother gets done in a day. She will report that she just baked four dozen buns, washed all the linen and made the beds for two inn guests, cleaned the bathrooms, got her hair done, made chicken and dumplings for the evening meal and still had time to sit down and watch "Wheel" with Dad. Part of her secret is a lumberjack-worthy work ethic and a natural efficiency. But I have another theory as to why my parents' generation seems to have more time than I do.