PEOPLE OF THE SUN


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“People of the Sun” oil painting by kayti sweetland rasmussen

What is this painting asking us: Are we blind to Life’s possibilities? Are our lips sealed to prevent the dissemination of heretic thought?

The rising sun is obviously our touchstone, without which we would forever wander in the terrors of darkness.

Now put this in the context of today’s life.

Do we stumble through life without taking every advantage offered us in the way of work, play and love?

Are we quiet in the face of dissention? Do we keep our opinions to ourselves for fear of disagreement?

The sun gives new life, light, warmth and hope.

Possibly the painting is saying “The darkness is over, it is a new dawn, and you can escape fears of the night.

THE ART OF AGING GRACEFULLY—-OR NOT!


Beijing grandpa_0002If we are fortunate, we will age. It will happen, whether you like it or not, and if you are healthy, it needn’t be a time of despair. My friend refers to us as “functional seniors”, which is also an apt description of an old car in good repair.

These are mostly the seniors I consort with, although there are a few who no longer function as well, and I love them even more for their courage in the face of their pain. A strong woman does not let the hardships of life tear her apart. But a woman of strength goes on to accomplish what she wants even when she is torn apart.

Two women friends who are well into their senior years, one of whom is nearly 91 (going on 75), prepared a full Christmas dinner for their large families, and thought it was not a big deal. Another, a high school friend of mine of 85, regularly drives almost 4 hours to Lake Tahoe from the Bay Area to see her family. My mother-in-law, when in her 70’s, drove a number of times to Washington state to visit us, sometimes carrying a jug or two of the good wine we liked. As a matter of fact, she got a ticket once in Ukiah for speeding. I don’t think the trunk was inspected however.

My husband, who is quite a handsome fellow of 86, can frequently be found on top of our roof, or at the top of a ladder trimming a tree. His loving companion, besides me, is a frisky Jack Russell Terrier, a breed sometimes humorously referred to as Jack Russell “Terrors” They regularly disappear twice a day for mile-long walks which keeps them both in trim.

I took part in a great tap and ballet class with a stunning group of women when in my senior years, as well as a Tai Chi group for many years. As a dare from a grandson, I got a tiny “three-feather” tattoo to celebrate my 50th wedding anniversary, even though I really, really dislike the abundant tattoos on other people! Show a little class, please.

However, the best example of a “functional senior” is Liu Qianping, who is a 72 year old grandfather in Beijing. The five foot 8, 110 pound former rice farmer has become the new fashion sensation, and according to his fashion-designer granddaughter Lu Ting, “Looks great in crimson”. After struggling to find a model who could boost her online store, she realized her retired grandfather was the perfect model for her line of clothing, and now credits him with more than quadrupling her sales. He sometimes struts out on stage doing his own version of Korean rapper Psy’s “Gangnam Style” dance.

Enjoy life, it has an expiration date.

SLEEPING BEAUTIES


Sleep has never been the one long block of dreamland that we think it ought to be. Historian Roger Ekirch began doing research for a history of the night, perhaps hoping he would actually spot a ghost. He kept seeing strange references to sleep. In the Canterbury Tales, for instance, one of the characters in “The Squire’s Tale, wakes up in the early morning following her “first sleep” and then goes back to bed. A fifteenth century medical book advised readers to spend their “first sleep” on the right side and after that to lie on their left. And a scholar in England wrote that the time between these two separate types of sleep came one after another, until Ekirch could no longer brush them aside as a curiosity.

Historically, people fell asleep not long after the sun went down and stayed that way until sometime after midnight. This was the first sleep referred to in the old tales. Once a person woke up, he or she would stay that way for an hour or so before going back to sleep until morning—the so-called second sleep. The time in between sleeps was an expected and natural part of the night, and was spent praying, reading, contemplatig your dreams, or having sex. The last one was perhaps the most popular. (i’m not saying which I do, but bear in mind that “Sleepig Beauty” stayed asleep until wakened with a kiss by her Prince Charming.)

Pschiatrist Thomas Wehr, working for the National Institute For Mental Health in Bethesda, Maryland, was struck by the idea that perhaps the artificial light we are subjected to each day could have some effect on our sleep patterns.

On a whim, he deprived subjects in his study of any artificial light to try to recreate conditions such as were common to early humans. At first, all they did was sleep, making up for all the lost sleep they had accumulated. After a few weeks, they were better rested than at any other time in their lives. However, the experiment soon took a strange turn. Soon, the subjects began to stir a little after midnight, lie awake in bed for an hour or so, and then fall back asleep again. The experiment revealed the innate wiring in the brain, unearthed only after the body was sheltered from modern life.

Numerous other studies have proven that splitting sleep into two roughly equal halves is something that our bodies will do if we give them a chance. Yet two decades after Wehr’s study was published in a medical journal, many sleep researchers–not to mention your average physician, have never heard of it. When patients complain about waking up at roughly the same time every night, many physicians will reach for a pen and write a prescription for a sleeping pill, not realizing they are medicating a condition that was considered normal for thousands of years.

My advice is to take a lesson from those early ancestors and get up, read a book, contemplate your dreams, study, have sex, or maybe even write a blog.

TOTAL NOISE CULTURE


There are people to whom silence is odious. The radio and/or TV must be on or they become uncomfortable. The art of conversation is not lost on them; for to them silence is not golden. If TV should fail them, they talk.

A man friend of ours is devoted to classic jazz, which he cranks up to the decibal of a B-17 bomber. He is also an antique clock collector, and each of his many beautiful clocks chimes the hour, the half-hour, and some even announce the quarter hour.

But we are so overburdened with data, rhetoric and spin that it is difficult to absorb, much less try to make sense of. We are entertaining ourselves to death.

A friend living alone and with a slight hearing loss, was fitted for a hearing aid, thinking it would give her twenty-five year old hearing once more. Not so. She thought it would be a little “pre-old-age” touch to prepare for for the inevitable. Now she is aware of the slightest creaking of her house in the dark of midnight, the rhythmic pulse of the refrigerator, with it’s periodic glassy crash of the ice-maker disturbs her sleep. The rustle of the leaves in her garden sound like a freight train rumbling through the yard. You begin to hear sounds you heard before but weren’t aware you were hearing, and they aren’t always pleasant.

We are failing in our efforts to pin down this increasingly incomprehensible reality. The ubiquitous cell phone ring tones, the lyrics to contemporary pop music, the sounds of today’s everyday life of course skipped our ancestors, and have left us envious of the “quiet life” people speak of.

We can recapture that delicious “aloneness” when hiking in the wilderness, running a well-known trail, or fishing a solitary stream, or walking beside a quiet sea at sunset. During the War, to get a little peace and get away from the pounding of the engines, my husband used to sit at the fantail of his ship and listen to the sound of the screw while watching the phosphorescent wake pealing out behind.

Peace and tranquility are what we sometimes need for our own well-being.

SUFFER THE FOOLS GLADLY


Suffer fools gladly. You read that phrase often about prominent people who don’t suffer fools gladly. It’s often taken as a compliment by them. suggesting that a person is so smart he has trouble tolerating people who are far below his own high standard. It’s used to describe people who have the guts to tell idiots what he really thinks. It sounds OK, but when you actually see people in the act of not suffering fools gladly, it looks rotten.

The philosopher Andre Comte-Sponville argues that “politeness is the first virtue, and the origin perhaps of all the others.”

Surprisingly, the phrase originally came from William Tyndale’s 1534 translation of the Bible. In it, Paul was ripping into the decadent citizens of Corinth for turning away from his own authoritative teaching and falling for a bunch of second-rate false apostles. “For ye suffer fools gladly,” Paul says with withering sarcasm, “seeing ye yourselves are wise.”

Many people handle fools well; members of the clergy and many great teachers. I don’t give myself high marks always, but I would never knowingly put anyone in an uncomfortable position.

G. K. Chesterton had the best advice on suffering fools gladly. He put emphasis on the word gladly. “A man and a woman cannot live together without having against each other a kind of everlasting joke. Each has discovered that the other is a fool, but a great fool. This largeness, this grossness and gorgeousness of folly is the thing which we all find about those with whom we are in intimate contact; and it is the one enduring basis of affection, and even of respect.”

At the end of the day, only kindness matters.

THE FOUR MANIFESTATIONS OF BEAUTY


sachi
“Sachiko With Bamboo” watercolor painting by kayti sweetland rasmussen

“With any form of beauty, there are four levels of ability. This is true of painting, calligraphy, literature, music, dance. The first level is Competent.

We were looking at a page that showed two identical renderings of a bamboo grove, a typical painting, well done, realistic, interesting in the detail of double lines, conveying a sense of strength and longevity. Competence is the ability to draw the same thing over and over in the same strokes, with the same force, the same rhythm, the same trueness. This kind of beauty, however, is ordinary.

The second level is Magnificent. We were looking a another painting of several stalks of bamboo. This one goes beyond skill. Its beauty is unique. And yet it is simpler. It conveys both strength and solitude. The lesser painter would be able to capture one quality but not the other.

The third level is Divine. The leaves of bamboo are now shadows blown by an invisible wind, and the stalk is there mostly by suggestion of what is missing. And yet the shadows are more alive than the original leaves that obscured the light. A person seeing this would be wordless to describe how this is done. Try as he might, the same painter could never again capture the feeling of this painting, only a shadow of the shadow.

The fourth level is greater than this, and it is within each mortal’s nature to find it. We sense it only if we do not try to sense it. It occurs without motivation or desire or knowledge of what may result. It is pure. It is what innocent children have.

Turning the page was a painting called Inside the Middle of a Bamboo Stalk. . It is the simplicity of being within, no reason or explanation for being there. It is the natural wonder that anything exists in relation to another, the viewer to the painting.”

This fourth level is called Effortlessness. It is like the effortlessness with which one falls in love, as if actually being two stalks of bamboo bent toward each other by chance of the wind. The two have become inseparably one.

(With thanks to Amy Tan for borrowing some of her words.)

GOODBYE UNCLE LENNIE


LENNIE_0004 He wasn’t our uncle; he wasn’t even related except by choice. For over 65 years he was our “big brother”, wise advisor, lawyer and well-loved friend. The only photos I could find among the many taken during the years of our friendship, had someone’s arm around him, so I’m including this one. He was “Uncle” Lennie to many people for his wisdom and good humor, especially to us and our family.

He loved kids, and as his grandchildren began arriving, he took them all for a day of fun every Saturday. When our own grandchildren arrived, my husband’s first remark was to say he wanted to be the same kind of grandfather as Lennie. I think he has been.

For thirty years he gave his own all-male birthday party at Scott’s, a prominent Oakland restaurant, to which over 100 guests came, entertained and were entertained with jokes and hi-jinks. He was fond of saying that women were also invited as long as they would jump out of the birthday cake naked! To my knowledge that never happened. He always arrived at the party in a limo wearing a tophat and his red clown nose and a big bow tie.

Lennie was a joke-teller supreme. He told jokes to his grandkids, to the postman, the waiters, and to anyone who would listen. The coming of the internet with its joke-sharing gave him constant new material. His penchant for crazy hats and a red clown nose added to the fun. At one memorable party he brought the mascot mule for the Oakland A’s and at another, the cast of the musical “Chicago” came to liven things up. Red clown noses were passed out at his funeral which he would have approved.

He was a CPA, and at the age of 44 he went to Law School and became an attorney as well. Besides that, he became Probate Referee for the County of Alameda for many years. His loyalty to the University of California was legendary, and he loved the Cal football team, win or lose.

He was a good athlete, including tennis and raquetball, and loved golfing, was a member and also the president of the prestigious Sequoya Country Club. Upon his death, the flag was lowered to half-mast in respect to a man loved not only by fellow members, but by the bar and wait staff as well.

Most of all, he was our dear friend, and we will miss him. He always used to say, “Just because they don’t call you, you call them. The phone works both ways. Remember, you’re a long time dead.” Lennie Gross, your 94 years went all too soon.

USE IT OR LOSE IT!


On this last day of the year 2012, I’m reminded of all the people who like to say “I can’t believe how fast this year has gone!”

Well, I don’t think it went very fast, in fact sometimes it went downright slow.

For me personally, this was a “put and take” year. Something in was a new shouler; something out became the rest of my hard working teeth. However, I admit to being forgivably vain about the new teeth.

In the spirit of “use it or lose it”, we continued our entertainment schedule, as long as the invited guests did not object to a liquid meal. I found the turkey for the 2011 Thanksgiving dinner rather difficult to stuff into a blender.

We are very fond of soup, and since our diet this past year contained a lot of it, there were many new recipes tried and created.

One imaginative production, containing a great number of vegetables and chicken as I remember, cried out for heat, so that became jalapeno pepper which I liberally tossed in at the last minute. The assembled guests eagerly dipped their spoons and let out a collective scream for water. “I thought we’d never come back friom that one” said one friend the next day. She’s lucky they did, because shortly after that, I made this beer/cheese soup, which is a warm soul-satifying luncheon dish, or a light supper.

BEER CHEESE SOUP

3/4 cup butter
1/2 c. 1/8″ diced celery
1/2 c. 1/8″ diced onion
1/2 c. 1/8″ diced carrot
3-4 cloves garlic chopped fine
Saute vegetables until done
Add 1/2 c. flour, 1/2 tsp. dry mustard
2 1/2 pts. chicken stock
cook 5 minutes
Blend in 6 oz. grated Cheddar cheese, 2 Tbs. Parmegiano cheese
12 oz bottle of beer
Simmer 10 min.
Salt and pepper to taste

Essentially, that’s it, but the addition of a few meatballs is a nice idea too.

MEATBALLS FOR SOUP

1/2 # grnd beef
1 egg lightly beaten
2 Tbs. finely chopped onion
Tsp. olive oil
Enough fine bread crumbs to make a stiff ball

Poach meatballs in hot water for 5 min. to take off all the extra fat
which clouds the broth if using them in a brothy soup

If you sometimes have leftover greens such as chard, spinach, etc. it can be a nice addition too.

Remember what your mamas told you and don’t slurp your soup! And do have a Happy New Year!

Worry, like rust, never sleeps.

A FRESH LOOK AT TALENT


We are all talented at something, We can agree on that can’t we?

Unfortunately, we are often not talented in the way we would have chosen to be talented.

You may have dreamed of becoming a brilliant neurosurgeon, but you can’t handle the math or the knives. A major league catcher may be your greatest desire, but you can’t catch a beachball, and your allergies go haywire in the spring.

There are so many “perhaps”; we all have different dreams and sometimes miraculously, our dreams come true. So don’t get all distraught and angsty about it. Believe me, your particular talent is hidden in there somewhere.

Maybe it’s cooking, gardening, decorating, or just being a friend. You don’t get to pick and choose what talent you have. Embrace your talent, but don’t expect anyone else to embrace you. This is your own particular thing.

I will, of course, talk about myself, because that’s what you get to do when you write a personal blog.

I always felt I could have been a fabulous concert pianist, but we couldn’t afford a piano when I was a child, and besides, we moved too often to cart one around with us.

Some time ago .I was getting burned out with sculpture and had decided to stick to tennis, at which I was pretty lousy. About this time I took a visiting young man to his church, and listened to an inspiring sermon on the surety of everybody possessing a personal talent, and the absolute necessity to share it. I felt the message was aimed at me personally, so I went home and made a sculpture of St. Francis to gift the priest with. The most prolific period of my artistic life followed that simple sermon.

You can never be an artist if your work comes without effort.

SHADOWS OF OUR ANCESTORS


raku pot
“Large porcelain raku pot”

Shadows of Our Ancestors
“Shadows of Our Ancestors” watercolor painting by kayti sweetland rasmussen

I’m not sure how I feel about so-called “ancient memory”; the qualities, gifts or understanding we may inherit from a forebear, though it is true that we certainly can inherit appearance, and certain other characteristics and mannerisms from those who have gone before.

To say that we do believe in ‘ancient memory” it would follow that if we happened to have a talent for singing, dancing, art or whatever, that it came from Great-Aunt Harriet, and not from the hours of hard work we put in every day. We could possibly just sit on our duffs and “let it come”. But I have a friend who believes implicitely that somewhere buried deep in our psyche, resides “learned memory” which can emerge with a little deep thought. Personally, I am not that deep a thinker.

The only concession I will grant however, is that the first time I plunged my hands into a pile of nice, gooey clay, I felt right at home. I was in the place I was meant to be.

Two hundred years ago, my ancestors operated a large production pottery in Devonshire, England, where along with everyday tableware, they manufactured the glaze used by the Doulton Company, which with a Royal grant, soon became “Royal Doulton.” Upon their emigration to Canada, they continued in the pottery business for many years.

Now I would never presume to believe that that is where my love of pottery came from, but then again—who knows?

It would be nice to think that through the years, our children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren may somehow “know us” as people just like themselves, people who stayed out too late, ran along the beach with a friend, snuggled with a lover, were funny and silly and made mistakes, and were nice to old ladies and dogs.

The door to the past opens creakingly, but I hope they peek through to the other side now and then.