Creating a Retreat in a Few Easy Steps


I could live here.  (Image courtesy Old Design Shop)

Would you like to come in? We could sip iced tea and enjoy strawberry shortcake made with biscuits–baking powder, not drop ones–and topped with whipped cream while conversing about books, pets, gardening, and period films. If we disagree, then we would agree to do so and move on to a topic of true importance such as chocolate. Or perhaps have dinner at the pine trestle table served on plain white dishes. Something good and peasant-y, like coq au vin. Of course we would have a crusty loaf and a robust red to go with, or iced tea if you were inclined away from alcohol. Dessert? How does mousse au chocolate sound?

Today seems as good as any to move there. I grow weary of the political vitriol and stories of animal abuse on social media. The campus shooting du jour unfolds as I type this. (Google “UCLA shooting.” I don’t want to give it any more energy.) It is a good day to create a retreat.

“Retreat” usually carries religious/spiritual connotations, but it doesn’t necessarily need to be such. You can create a temporary haven from the outside world fairly easily:

  • Heed the advice of John Prine in his song “Spanish Pipedream”. OK, just turn it off. (yes, this is the John Denver version.)  At the very least, stop watching the news. For tune-age, find internet streams or stations that don’t blast news.
  • Limit time on social media and don’t read comment threads on news sites. Even the threads on NPR are getting trolled and their moderators don’t seem to be doing very much.The amount of ugly out there is overwhelming.
  • This might sound weird, but if you can get your dwelling in order–a little dusting, a bit of decluttering–it might make things a little more restful.
  • Take a few minutes in the morning to read something inspiring. You’ll be in a better frame of mind.

Now, would you like some lemon with your tea?



Musings on Manners

Did you see the special on PBS about manners in the Edwardian era? The historical consultant for “Downton Abbey” gave viewers the rundown on the ins and outs of manners for the posh set back in the day. Rationalized by the perceived need to maintain social order to prevent an uprising a la French Revolution, they developed strict codes governing every part of life from raising children to table manners to clothing and everything in between.

We don’t need to tighten our societal stays to that extent, but I frequently wonder what happened to good manners. In her book Talk to the Hand, Lynne Truss postulates a theory that they were thrown out in the ’60’s in an effort to divest society of anything remotely reminiscent of the upper strata in order to create a transparent world as well as a way to rebel against the strictures of the past.

While creating a world with a higher level of individual freedom was a good thing, the problem came in the form of a systemic lack of respect at some levels. Sharing too much personal information (guilty); not minding other’s personal space such as people who ride on public transportation with their arms and knees sprawled; asking highly personal questions without really knowing someone; the ever popular fights on Black Friday, it all cuts into the quality of life.

Over the course of my adult years, I’ve watched as sitcoms rely less on wit and absurdity and more on how many references to genitalia or sexual situations they can cram into a half-hour for laughs. I don’t even watch “Big Bang Theory” any more because of this trend.

Social media amplifies it. The anonymity gives people the false courage to make inflammatory comments for the joy of it and for the warped pleasure of creating chaos. I blocked several people on FaceBook because of this.  Even my own beloved NPR has had issues with trolling lately. I wish that they would, could screen commenters more thoroughly. It hasn’t been pretty the last few months. It’s likely to deteriorate as the election cycle progresses.

It would help if I didn’t read comment threads.  It is fine to disagree. It is fine to have a divergence of opinion. Personal attacks, vulgarity, rudeness for its own sake, or whacking people over the head with religious texts are not.

I miss the days when candidates referred to one another as “my learned/esteemed opponent” and gently stated their position rather than resorting to crude comments in a desperate attempt to make themselves look better.

Roseanne Cash once blogged about the need for structure and boundaries in the day and in interactions with others. Without respect to them there is no safe place for intimacy. It’s something that needs to develop over time. Deb Ollivier, author of Entre  Nous, lived a good part of her adult life in France. She observed that the French reputation for coldness isn’t so much about snobbery as it is the creation of boundaries out of authenticity and respect for one’s self and others.

Personally, I am blessed. I have friends who are wise enough to know that the twain of our politics and social vision or our spirituality will never meet, so we simply don’t bring them up. We focus on shared passions for animals, for food, for movies. We value each other and time shared in conversations to initiate discussions that will leave us both covered in scratch marks.

And in those moments, my hope for the world starts to breathe on its own.







Monday Mashup: Media Edition

No, we do not have cable, nor do we have a dish. We never will, either.

Despite our distance from Chicago proper, some 50 miles, the elevated antenna and converter box built into our DVD/BluRay player pulls in the signals from the four major networks, providing us with hours of amusement, or at least background noise. We have Netflix. We have DVDs. We have access to two PBS stations and their respective substations. Make that three under certain weather conditions.

That’s all I want or need. Except for the monthly Netflix bill, donations a couple of times a year to the PBS stations, and a few shekels to NPR and another public station, it’s free.

I don’t know if it’s a function of age, or taste, or growing consciousness, but the last few times I tried to watch network TV (“Big Bang Theory” reruns the one exception), disturbed me. The quality or lack of was bad enough, but I started wondering if there was some validity to the conspiracy theory that mass media is being used by the Rothchilds to keep the masses down. Do viewers really know what they’re watching?

Comedies routinely present verbal abuse as strength, continue with varying shades of sexism and racism, and involve verbally castrating men or portraying them as weak and inept. News flash: we will not settle the patriarchy score by female characters ripping male characters. The last couple of seasons of BBT have started the slide down this slope.

I can’t really comment on dramas because nothing has held my attention long enough in years.

Reality TV is a plague upon the soul of the planet. Back in medieval times, the nobles had a rather nasty form of entertainment called “dwarf parades.” Little people and other subjects who were differently abled would get trotted out at court occasions for the amusement of the lords and ladies. That people give a precious hour of their lives to shows like “19 Kids and Counting” or “Here Comes Honey BooBoo” or one of the countless court or “talk” shows glorifying intense shades of dysfunction proves that we haven’t grown very much as a species.

One notable exception: ABC’s “The Quest,” a replacement from last summer. Ten contestants were chosen to defend Everealm from a villain. The show focused on teamwork and ability, and eliminations were based on evaluating the participants’ strength and weaknesses, not on arguments that sounded like the spewing of sugared up eighth graders.

Ironically, a TV character said it best: Mr. Spock once informed a subordinate that “there are always alternatives.”

What will it take to get the world at large to see that and maybe start picking up books again?

“A Prairie Home Companion” Turns 40

Last week brought one disturbing news story after another. Last week brought a lot of changes, some welcome; others not so much. Changes in a family member’s health were not good. Pending changes at Oakley’s day care were quite maddening. More on the latter as it develops.

One thing that hasn’t changed, thankfully, is turning on my NPR outlet at five on Saturday evenings for “A Prairie Home Companion.” Since (self-dating alert) junior high, catching up on the “News from Lake Wobegon” and the live, real, hand- and heart-made music and comedy have provided the backdrop for dinner preparations most Saturday evenings.

After a week of involuntary and unpleasant changes, it was good to eat pasta and broccoli while listening to the Wailin’ Jennys and an ad for Bertha’s Kitty Boutique, still located in the Dales after all these years.

How long this refuge overproduced music of questionable quality and news reflecting the worst in humanity will continue I can’t say. Garrison Keillor, the once and future host, still rips out the weekly scripts in about two hours as well as his short stories, novels, and essays. He is not old by any reasonable standards in his early seventies, and hopefully he won’t retire any time soon. The show will continue in some form, I’m sure, thanks to the light side of modern technology.

Perhaps in another forty years, it will still provide a touchstone, an anchor to supply some stability in the waves of change that had slap a person around, providing grounding for the week ahead.

NPR’s Sandwich Monday: Not for The Faint of Heart

If you need incentive to get to the computer on Mondays, check out Sandwich Monday on NPR’s The Salt blog. Staffers from the show “Wait Wait! Don’t Tell Me!” sample the uh, creations of both local mom and pop places and national chains such as White Castle in the link above.

Some of the sandwiches sound pretty good, such as Subway’s Sriracha Chicken Melt. Some of them are vomit worthy at least in appearance, like the Taco Bell waffle sandwich. Many of them sound as if they were invented by someone who was stoned or PMS-ing.  (Cro-nuts? Really?)

The team reviews other offering that need to be filed under “good idea at the time.” Pecan pie flavored Pringles? Seriously? 

I hope they know how grateful I am that they do it so I don’t have to.



As I Was Saying…..

You may remember musings from earlier this week about odd food combinations.

I offer further proof, Gentle Readers. 

Are we that bored, as I postulated? Or have all the endocrine disrupters in the environment propelled us into a state similar to the hormone-induced appetite variations of the PMS-ing or pregnant?  

Even though I am guilty of eating peanut butter and potato chip sandwiches in my younger days (whole wheat, natural PB, strawberry jam, and organic chips), this is a no-go.

Unless the fries were really crisp and fresh, then maybe. But more likely not.