HIGH PERFORMING SENIORS


bathing ladies

These women with whom I spend time every month are tied together like knots in the rope mooring us to shared memories. We traveled in parallel lines in the long ago, touching base when necessary, but not really reaching the stage of complete truthfulness.

Knots“Knots” original watercolor painting by kayti sweetland rasmussen

Memory is a complicated thing. A relative of truth but not its twin. Ann Beattie says “People forget years and remember moments.” I’m sure that is true, because as we meet over lunch, moments of our pasts are revealed and relived by some but not all. “Where did we go for our Senior picnic, do you remember?” Several choices may be given, but who can be sure?

Our ballet dancer remembers marching a squad of ROTC boys straight into the railroad yard, whereas I, marching along beside her with another squad, have no recollection of it. Memory can be a squirrelly thing. Looking back I was clueless until the age of 50.

We are beginning to lose friends, but I’m at a time of my life when illness and death and grief aren’t the surprise visitors they once were. The casualties are increasing among the people I loved and even the people I didn’t love, but they still shock and unsettle you.

We had role models as young people, but none in old age. How do you learn how to be old? My friend says we are ‘high performing seniors’, and that seems good enough to me.

AMAZING GRAZING~~~~The Perfect Hostess


Ladie's Tea

In 1946 the Westmoreland Sterling Company put out a free booklet teaching newly married women how to be a perfect hostess. and since my parents had supplied us with a full assortment of their silver, I set out to learn the rules of perfection.

Setting the stage was important, and the first pages were filled with pictures of table settings which used their silver and china, appropriate centerpieces, decorations and menus. Pages were devoted to what to serve at various functions every young wife might be hostessing. Luncheons, Bridge, When friends drop in for tea, midnight snacks, After Theater suppers, and of course an afternoon tea party.

It included a section on ways to serve: family service, which was all either of us knew, Russian service, which they hastened to tell was seldom if ever, used in the typical American home today except for strictly formal occasions when the host and hostess assume no responsibilities whatsoever. This section was difficult to accomplish anyway in a tiny three room apartment on the third floor when one of the rooms was a bathroom.

They even suggested games one might want to play to entertain their guests, such as Battle of the Sexes, Balloon Race, and I’m sure you get the idea. Times were simpler in many ways in those far away days. I was amused even then at the choices of party suggestions, considering that I, as well as all my friends, were working wives, with no time to create these marvelous parties.

However, since we were now grownups, and since family and friends had gifted us with lovely knick knacks and more silverware, I chose to show them off with an afternoon tea party. My mother did not do tea parties, but as a child while living in Bremerton WA, she took me to tea parties put on by the Admiral’s wife, where large silver coffee and tea pots sat at either end of long tables, and important looking ladies filled cups as people moved around the table grabbing cookies on their way.

I felt confident having read the Westmoreland Silver Company’s brochure though, so after preparing all week long, our little apartment filled with female relatives from both sides all marveling that someone who had shown no interest in the culinary arts, had somehow pulled the affair together. A free booklet from the Culinary Arts Institute in Chicago provided the dessert recipes.

Desserts

Yesterday we were guests at an afternoon tea party hosted by our good friend from England. Her garden, abloom with roses and butterflies flitting amongst various flowers, was a hubbub of happy friends fortunate to see how a delightful English lady presents a truly authentic afternoon tea party—liberally laced with wine and spirits of course.

A mainstay for afternoon tea parties, or any other time is a good cooky recipe, and cookies happen to be one of my fortes. This recipe was one I served at my initial tea party, and every Christmas since then. It has been called by many names: Mexican Tea cakes, Russian tea cakes, etc. but I use its most basic name; Butter Balls.

BUTTER BALL COOKIES

1 cup butter
4 Tbs. powdered sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
2 cups flour
1 cup chopped nuts (walnuts or pecans. I toast them a little first, it brings out the flavor)
Cream butter, add sugar, and continue to beat until light. Add vanilla. Add sifted flour and mix well. Fold in nuts. Shape into small balls. Put on ungreased pan. Bake at 350, only 7 – 10 min. Butter burns quickly so watch them. Roll in powdered sugar wile hot, and then again when cooled.

I’M NOT GETTING OLDER


122 “Underwater Fantasy” original watercolor by kayti sweetland Rasmussen

I don’t know about you, but I’m not getting any older, despite evidence to the contrary. The hair may be a little lighter in color, the skin a bit more flabby, and my eyeglass prescription a little stronger, but —I am not aging. Is that clear?

I had to get new eyeglasses and after seeing an old picture of Dorothy Parker in dark horn rimmed glasses, I thought it gave her a more intelligent look as opposed to grandmotherly. I asked my husband what he thought; he gave them a thumbs up. An old man sitting in the waiting room said “Scary”. I countered his attack with “They’re meant to be”.

I came upon my 25 year old bathing suit and though it still fits in a baggy sort of way, the exposed body is a little lumpy. When I bought it, my 8 year old granddaughter sneered and said that “her mommy would never wear a suit like that”. “We’ll see about that” I sneered back.

My friends however, are getting a bit on the shaky side, maybe even a little forgetful. One woman came for a Sunday afternoon bridge game with curlers in her hair. She thought we were to play the next day. She’s fine otherwise.

The popular word around town these days is “downsizing”, and because others out there are aging, or so I’m told, it’s not too soon to think about downsizing—in fact, it’s hip. After listening to friends who have done this, and in some cases moved into retirement apartments, it’s a real mess. You might say it’s asking for trouble doing this before it’s necessary, but think of the pleasure you will have clearing out desks and closets you haven’t looked at for years. My daughter cleaned out a closet and found three outfits she forgot she had—two with sales tags still on. Her sister began bargaining with her to buy one of them and she ended up with a small profit she used for a new toaster.

Several years ago my friend asked me to come help her clean her closet and get things ready for a rummage sale. Much to her sorrow she gave me a cute pair of green shoes which hurt her feet. They hurt my feet too, but they were so cute I thought it didn’t matter. The next day she arrived at 7 a.m. and wanted them back. But she got my free help in downsizing.

But you say “Wouldn’t this make you feel like you are winding down?” Not at all. Think of it as the first step to freedom. The less you have the less you worry. It doesn’t matter if you are 40 or 80 years old, we can all do with less. I may clean my studio one of these days, but I’m not aging, is that clear?

STAFF OF LIFE


Beside soup and possibly love, bread is perhaps the greatest source of sustenance the world has ever known. You can’t live on love alone, but it is possible to live on soup and bread.

It was 9:00 o’clock on a sunny summer morning when a small group of bright-eyed women, aprons in hand, converged on my kitchen, all intent upon taking home a loaf of their very own homemade bread for dinner. It wasn’t a regular cooking class, just a few curious friends interested in finding out what was so mysterious about a food which had sustained humans from nearly every culture since they stumbled out of their caves. We were doing different yeast recipes, and each woman took her choice of one.

The variety of bread around the world is mind-boggling. From tortillas from Mexico to the airy croissant of Paris, each have their place in history and on our dinner tables.

Bread is politically correct, not caring if you are a Democrat or a Republican, or a Catholic or Jew. A few yeast cells in a bowl of flour and some water, in a suitable length of time, can transport you to nirvana. The added pleasure of bread making is the glorious smell of baking bread, better to me than the most expensive bottled perfume.

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Once on a rainy morning in Paris a line of people drew me into the convention hall opposite Notre Dame cathedral where a large group of professional bakers were contending for prizes in their particular offerings. A good many were making sculptural renditions with bread dough. There were baskets, animals, flowers, etc. All impractical but beautiful.

The divine smell combined with the excitement and chatter of the great number of onlookers all engrossed in watching the expertise of the various bakers, was a morning I won’t forget. If you are a bread baker, or if your mother or grandmother supplied your daily bread you will know what I mean.

A week or so ago, I had made two kinds of bread plus a few jars of apricot jam. A grandson stopped by and promptly relieved me of a jar of jam and a loaf of bread. Clearly the smell of one or both were too much for him. I well remember my mother’s kitchen on baking day. It was like waiting for Christmas to come before she would allow me to cut into the warm loaf and slather it with jelly. It was a nice beacon to get me to hurry home from school on those days.

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In my own kitchen on our communal baking day, the several bowls were rising nicely except for one disappointed lady, whose dough looked sullen and unhappy with its situation in the bowl, so we had a vote and decided it might be better to toss it in the waste bin and she could try again. Given the unpredictability of yeast dough, the silly thing began to rise nicely while nestled comfortably among the leftover cabbage leaves! Not that it was planned, but cabbage can make a good biga, otherwise known as a yeast starter. Serendipitous.

We keep our kitchens so sanitary, and have all sorts of modern equipment to make baking fast and fun. We fuss over the dough trying to make it perfect. But yeast has a mind of its own and will do whatever it pleases.

In my first summer of staying with the Pueblo, I became part of the morning baking for the village. There were six of us working together to make about twenty-four loaves.

After the dough was mixed and while it was rising, a number of pieces of wood went into the beehive oven, and when the heat felt right and charred a small piece of paper, the dough went in. No timer, no thermometer, no bread pans, nothing fancy. When someone figured it was right, the first loaf came out and was thumped to see how it sounded, and it was pronounced done. Their people had been making bread the same way for centuries.

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My friend whose dough took a vacation in the wastebin, reminded me of that day recently. I don’t know if any of them still make bread, but I do. Every week. Drop over sometime and have a warm slice with butter and jam.

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.

NAUGHTY OR NICE


Tootling through the Poppies  KSR

To paraphrase David Brooks:  Most of us think we are pretty wonderful.  We try to balance our virtuous self-image with our selfish desires, and keep our  image in positive territory.  We give ourselves permission to cheat a little because when we look at our overall life we see that we’re still a good person.

Most of us measure ourselves leniently.  This is what Yom Kipper and the confessional are for.

When I was a child I had a small book called “The Naughty or Nice Book”.  The naughty part showed a little girl who did not make her bed and did not match her newly washed socks and put them away,  so was not permitted to attend her own birthday party (which was in full swing in an adjoining  room,)  until those chores  were done.  I could identify with that girl.  And besides she probably got cake and ice cream later anyway.

The naughty girl impressed me so much That I don’t remember exactly what the nice litle girl did that was so nice.

I have a friend who says she is thoughtful but not nice.  She unfailingly remembers everyone’s birthday dates even if she has just met them.  Quite amazing considering she is nearly 90.  She says her gift is dates but she can’t remember anything else worthwhile.

My friends are mostly all nice with a little naughty thrown in.    “Nothing wondrous can come in this world unless it rests on the shoulders of kindness.”