THE GOLDEN WINDOW

“All the windows of my heart I open to this day.”   John Greenleaf Whittier (American writer, 1807-1892)

Whose idea was it to call our late years, the Golden Years?  Is it meant to suggest that older adults are basking in the golden light of the setting sun?  Or is it a riff on the clichéd retirement gift of the golden watch?  A little research on my part suggests that it is a marketing term from the 1950’s designed to encourage retirees to move out of their homes and into retirement villages to enjoy their golden years!

When you think about it, until quite recently very few people had the luxury of leisure time after retirement. Old age, as we know it, is a relatively recent phenomena, as our life spans have dramatically increased.

ope window 2

Very few people take the Golden Years sell seriously anymore. I’ve come to think we have a window in time (maybe that’s what’s golden?) that appears to the lucky ones if their physical and mental health holds up and their kids are self-sufficient and they have enough money and energy to do things they’ve always thought they’d like to do in life.

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The brutal part of the window concept of course, is that it can slam shut at any time.  Bam. There will be a sound of finality when that window closes, as it ultimately must. Perhaps then a new set of opportunities will be created or will arise to keep life interesting and inspiring, but they’re most likely not going to be the ones you thought about when most options remained open.  So, I tell myself, Pay Attention!  Don’t piddle this precious time away.  It is a remarkable time of life, made more special by the fact that it is a Limited Edition with an unknown expiration date.

Windows can close slowly too.  So slowly, as to go unnoticed. One day you notice that you can’t or don’t do all you used to do.  Is it real or imagined?

I recently learned that staring at your “window” can be a dangerous preoccupation. Just like staring at your navel. Acknowledging that the “window ” exists seems healthy and can provide momentum to live life as fully as you can, but being preoccupied with it is probably not a good idea.  As usual, it’s about striking some kind of balance in life.

I recently learned that I might be getting too preoccupied with the “window.”

When I returned from Japan, the jet lag was tough.  I expected to feel like myself after a week.  When Day 8 arrived and I still wanted to take a nap in the middle of the afternoon, I immediately decided that this might be the sign of something more threatening than jet lag.  By Day 9, a miracle occurred and I felt alive again. I was over my jet lag.  Duh.  Awareness vs. hyper-vigilance.  There’s a big difference there.

When I was a sweet young thing  flying home from Florida to Massachusetts my freshman year in college, I sat next to the then “hot” movie star Tab Hunter. We chatted a bit, but I was far too overwhelmed to carry on any serious conversation with him.tab hunter

However, as we came in to land, he turned to me and said, matter-of-factly, “Cheated death again.”  It was probably from a script in a Grade C movie he’d made, however,  I’ve never forgotten that remark.  I’ve thought about in lots of different circumstances, over the years.

On Day 9 of my return from Japan,when I suddenly felt myself springing back to life,  I said to myself, “cheated death again.”

Looks like the “window” is staying open.

MEMORIES OF NEW ENGLAND SUMMERS

Certain sounds, scents and tastes will always spell summer to me, returning me to a long ago and seemingly simpler place and time in my life when summers spent in New England seemed to last a lifetime.

In no particular order, here are my triggers.

Bird song filling the early summer mornings coming from the “woods” next door to my house.

Dinners on the screened porch were followed by Dad falling asleep on the wrought iron lounge chair, the inevitable summer thunder-storm and the increasingly shrill calls from my mother signaling my Dad that it was time to come inside.

The first sweet corn of the season was bought only from local farmers with the mandate to cook and eat asap.  It was an eagerly awaited event in late July.  It was a brief, celebrated season, precious enough to make it a requirement for every dinner served to have corn on the cob from the Underwood Farm. By general agreement, Sugar & Butter corn, was the tastiest of all. It would arrive a few weeks into the season and really kick summer  into high gear.  Stories of acquaintances who could eat a dozen ears of corn at a seating, were told and retold around the dinner table each summer.sweet corn

Impatiens.  One of the few flowers my Mom could grow successfully in our shaded landscape. She made the most of it, adding baskets of them wherever possible and carefully monitoring them to insure  high performance all summer.  Her love of flowers soon became mine.impatience

Ferocious thunderstorms could be so terrifying and intense that I might have to crawl in bed with my parents. This behavior was generally, not encouraged, but sometimes tolerated. The darkness and heaviness before the storms was mixed with anticipation and fear. During one vicious storm, lightening split a giant oak tree in half just a few feet from our house, as sparks flew from the radio before all electricity cut off.

The sounds of the radio, broadcasting Boston Red Sox games.

The bitter cold of the Atlantic Ocean, north of Boston. 

The first smell of salt air as we neared the beach. Lobster dinners at the beach whenever possible, be it in New London, Conn., Cape Cod, Rockport, Mass. or Nantucket.  The pure pleasure of sunny beach days , sand dunes, beach grasses and wild roses mixing it up.  The importance of a good tan.

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The unforgettable beauty of a sunny summer’s day in Nantucket

The threat of hurricanes at the end of summer that would sometimes cut vacations short.

Pin ball machines, Miniature golf and the Dodge-em.

I always enjoyed our regular outings to Tanglewood, the Music Inn and Jacob’s Pillow (all in the Berkshires.)  I developed my love of jazz at the Music Inn listening to the MJQ, Dakotah Staton, Miles Davis and Brubeck whenever I could get a car for the hour long drive to get there. At Jacob’s Pillow, I got to sample some of the best artists of the era and expand my love and appreciation of dance.  Tanglewood was mostly my Mom’s thing. For me, it meant too many people trying to out-picnic each other.  The music outside the tent seemed secondary to the picnics.  But I went along, because it brought her pleasure.

The Good Humor Truck made a regular appearance at our little beach in Ocean Beach Park, New London, Conn.  A toasted coconut, please.

Most weekends we hosted large family cook-outs on our back porch, fighting mosquitoes. Dad was the self – appointed master griller, always ready with a rare juicy steak, while the women prepared the sweet corn, green salad and a fresh fruit salad.  My job was to set the table.

Black Raspberry and Maple Walnut Ice Cream, were my favorite flavors that were readily available in New England.  To this day, I seek them out when in the Northeast.

maple walnut
Yum. Maple walnut ice cream.
black raspberry ice cream
Double yum, black raspberry ice cream. Curiously, not available in the West.

“If I had to choose one ice cream flavor for the rest of my life, it would be black raspberry. Yes, there’s the color, which is almost obscene in its intensity. But the flavor of black raspberries, when combined with cream, sugar and egg yolks, transforms into something rich and lush, and at the same time floral; for me, it’s a nostalgic flavor, both childlike and sophisticated at the same time.”  Merrill Stubb (cookbook author)

Makes one pint of Black Raspberry Ice Cream

  • 1 1/4cups heavy cream
  • 3/4cup whole milk
  • 1/2cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar
  • Kosher salt
  • 3large egg yolks
  • 1/2teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 1/2cups black raspberries
  1. Heat the cream, milk, sugar and a pinch of salt in a heavy pot until it’s just beginning to bubble around the edges (do not let it boil).
  2. In the meantime, whisk together the egg yolks in a heatproof bowl. Temper the yolks by slowly whisking in about a third of the hot cream, and then whisk this mixture back into the pot with the rest of the cream.
  3. Cook the custard over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until it coats the back of a wooden spoon, about 5 minutes. Make sure not to let it boil. Strain the custard through a fine mesh sieve and stir in the vanilla.
  4. Puree the raspberries in a blender and strain through a sieve to remove the seeds. Stir the puree into the custard, cover and refrigerate until completely chilled, preferably overnight.
  5. Freeze the mixture in an ice cream maker, transfer to a container and put in the freezer to harden completely. Soften for a few minutes at room temperature before serving.

WHEN IT’S TIME FOR A PARASOL, OR WHEN IN ROME!

When out and about on the streets of Kyoto, my attention, in the summer, was quickly drawn to the myriad displays of fans and parasols that pop up in department stores and other retail spaces, as well as on women in the street.   I had thought these accessories were just a leftover affectation or vestige from ancient Japanese culture, used as elements and add-ons of intriguing design.  That was, until this summer’s visit to Kyoto, when the word ‘heat” took on a new dimension.

parasol 3
Lolita parasols
parasol 4
Schoolgirls with Parasols

The humidity in Kyoto ramped up suddenly towards the end of our visit.  Suddenly, I found myself having difficulty breathing, drenched in perspiration and chronically tired.  I immediately understood the necessity of having personal accessories, like a hankie, parasol and fan, in order to have a fighting chance of survival when venturing out-of-doors!  If possible, I would have had no objection to adding two sturdy men to carry me around,so that my exertion level could be reduced to zero.

Travel by kago
Travel by kago

I developed a new appreciation for hankies as well. In Japan, there are hundreds of choices available for that small square textile, from dainty to outrageous.   I had already learned to carry one in case there was no alternate drying method available after washing my hands, but I’d never had to rely on it to keep me from looking like I’d just run a triathlon! Now, they too became indispensable for coping with the heat.

hanky 1hanky4

At the beginning of our trip, I’d purchased several paper fans that appealed to me for their seasonal beauty. I parked them in a bamboo fan stand right in the middle of our dining room table.  Their designs ranged from painted hydrangeas to blue and white gingham check, to cut outs of morning glories.

My morning glory ujiwa fan
My morning-glory ujiwa fan

They quickly became my first “don’t leave home without it” item.  I also recognized the importance of carrying a parasol and soon carried one without any degree of self-consciousness.    Unfortunately, being uninformed on the practice of buying a parasol, I bought an inexpensive one, which although pretty, didn’t do much to block the sun’s penetrating rays.

I’d met my match weather-wise and ultimately admitted that I was, for once, relieved to be leaving Japan and going home to Santa Barbara, to the land of perpetual low humidity, comfortable temperatures and endless blue skies.

The parasol, the hankies and the fans, were all put to rest.

REMEMBERING DAD & Marilyn

daddyI just marked the 15th year since my Dad passed away at age 94.  Thoughts?  Fifteen have years flown by, but the memories of my beloved father are as strong as ever. It will always feel as if he’s just left the room. His memory always brings a smile to my face, which is about as good as it gets when it comes to being remembered! He was a natural comedian with a gift for delivering a one -liner that was unsurpassable.

My Dad even managed to leave this world smiling.

About a week before he died, many of us close to him gathered around his bed, in what looked like the beginning of a classic death scene from a Hollywood movie.  The head nurse from the retirement home joined our somber group. Her attitude differed from the rest of us, she was all about taking care of business and taking control.  My dad was quietly laying in his bed, eyes closed, unable to say much.

“Nathan,” said the nurse, talking a little too loudly. ” All the people who love you are here to see you.”  She then proceeded to name all of us who had gathered around, “your daughter, your nephew, your niece, your son-in-law, etc.etc. ” It was as if she thought he had no idea who was present.  She then asked him, “Is there anyone else you’d like to see now? “

There was a brief pause.  None of us knew whether my Dad would respond or not.

Without missing a beat, my father said clearly, “Yes.”  Another pause. We all waited for his answer.  It came quickly.

“Marilyn Monroe!”

maryiln

If MOM COULD SEE ME NOW

If only my mother could see me now, she would be smiling.  At long last, I have become the neatnik she so tried to train and deserved to have as a daughter.Somewhat to her dismay, I spent a lot more time wanting to be a beatnik!

beatnik 2

I was raised in a household of meticulous order, all generated by Mom.

All dishes in my childhood home were washed immediately after dinner and put away.  The dishwasher would not only be run, but emptied as soon as it finished its cycle.

All clothing worn during the day was supposed to be put away too. “It’s just as easy to hang something up as it is to throw it down,” my Mom would repeat to me on a daily basis.

Beds were made right after getting dressed in the morning, and I ALWAYS got dressed  before eating breakfast.  Lounging about in p.j.’s was never tolerated, unless ill.

Spring and fall cleaning were done regularly.  I’m talking deep cleaning.  vintage cleaningSlipcovers were put on and taken off as the season demanded, and draperies taken down at the beginning of summer, i.e. Memorial Day  and put back up again soon after Labor Day.

Drawers and shelves were always lined with contact or decorative paper.  Linen closet shelves even sported a tacked on decorative edging .

I never shared my Mom’s enthusiasm for such rituals, but I must say our house ran smoothly.  It was a very nice place to live.

Sadly, everything changed when my Mom developed Alzheimer’s Disease.  Cleanliness and neatness steadily deteriorated.  My old home would never be the same. I mourned not only the loss of my mother but also the beautiful world she’d created.

It was about the time of the onset of my Mom’s Alzheimer’s, that I began traveling to Japan.  Steadily, over the years, my visits there have made me care deeply about order and neatness.  At last, I take pleasure from negative space. Organization can be deeply satisfying!

If Mom could see me now, she might be surprised and pleased to find my housekeeping instincts might even surpass her own criteria! If only she’d sent me to Japan as a child….