OMG! What Would Albert Schweitzer Have Said?–A New Episode

Probably not the guy in our bathroom…

The timing is eerie–and not because I wrote the original post admitting to my commission of Murder One: Beetlecide so close to Halloween. No; my unease is due to the fact that the episode that occurred just days ago is pretty darned close to the anniversary of my previous offense. Surely that has meaning…

Those of you who have been following my blog for a while are aware that I could anthropomorphize a pebble. I try very hard to–at the very least–“live and let live” with the natural world.

In the instance last October, I would have been happy to carry the beetle to a window and send it on its way. The logistics did not permit this pacific act.

The fact that the beetle was climbing among a mound of plastic bags in a corner of my bedroom, however, led me to wonder if it was trying to draw my attention in its teensy way to the existential threat of climate change.

To recap: I used one of those dastardly and way-too-handy vessels to deliver it to its watery grave. After the deed was done,  I did wonder about the possibility of retribution by some of its multi-legged peers.

That sets the stage for this week’s encounter. Different venue: this time, the bathroom.

And a vastly different coleoptera (scientific name for insect). This guy was not small and harmless-looking. It was huge, with spiky armor, bulging eyes, and semi-wings that enabled it to hop-hop-hop when I tried to grab it with a large wad of toilet paper.

Three attempts, three hops, and then it was gone. Disappeared. The bathroom’s not that large, but it was nowhere in sight. I’ve written about octopuses and their uncanny ability to squish themselves into tiny crevices; I’m wondering if this entity I’ll call Scary Gargantuan Coleoptera (SGC) had the same ability.

After searching for twenty minutes, I left the bathroom and closed the door. Exercising considerable self-restraint, I did not immediately call upon the Artillery-in-Residence–a kind soul but not given to anthropomorphizing.

But when he arrived (of his own volition, at a time of his choosing), I explained the circumstances. He, too, failed to find “hide nor hair” (both irrelevant, but sometimes a cliche comes in handy) of this displaced Force of Nature.

I won’t pretend I didn’t sleep all night, but I did have a bit of queasiness pondering that SGC, aware that its life was in danger (I know; I’m assuming memory and all that), now had the advantage of a dark bedroom AND bathroom in which to roam/hop about.

The resolution came on the evening of Day Two, when my encounter with SGC had actually faded from my memory…a little. The Artillery-in-Residence, about to step into the shower, said: “There it is!”

And he dispatched it.

The process took a series of maneuvers. The Artillery-in-Residence did not want me to write this essay, so I think he found the execution unsettling. Our compromise was that I am sparing you the details.

I am left to ponder, as is my wont, why I felt so guilty about the little shiny beetle and such relief about the much larger and uglier SGC. Despite its size, I don’t think SGC was a threat to my well-being, though I preferred not to find out by experiencing its pincers.

So this second encounter with the insect world, I’m abashed to say, has overtones of shallowness of character based largely on esthetics. And, of course, the all-important ick factor.

The Artillery-in-Residence, ever supportive of my writing, suggested a fictional piece based on the assumption that SGC somehow survived its ordeal, started its own blog, and is seeking retribution by pincing out stories about a crazy woman armed with plastic bags and her partner-in-crime, who had brought out the entire arsenal.

I immediately intuited that the blog posts would suggest that the subjects both naively believed they had ended these incursions.

And I demurred. Horror stories are not my genre.

But in truth, as SGC was far larger and more menacing than last year’s unwanted visitor, I am not looking forward to what I fear may be our personal “October Surprise” a year from now.  

Annie

Continue reading “OMG! What Would Albert Schweitzer Have Said?–A New Episode”

My Mindfulness Recipe for Smoothie Shakes-While-Unshaken

Banana Smoothie image from thespruceeats.com

Observe that large container of (expensive) vanilla protein powder (roughly 1/3 full) used to make smoothies to keep weight up has been tossed by spouse in error

Spend twenty minutes attempting to open new large container of vanilla protein powder

Pour 1-1/2 cups almond milk into blender

Reach into newly opened protein powder for scoop

Drop entire container of (expensive) protein powder onto kitchen floor; watch contents spreading over wide area of ceramic tile, missing no grouting whatsoever

Release profanity, repeatedly and loudly, into otherwise unoccupied kitchen

Dust off protein powder residue from sweatpants, sandals, and feet

Sweep protein powder from tile, grout, nooks, crannies, corners, spider webs

Standing closer to countertop, reach into container and successfully add 1-1/2 scoops of protein powder to blender

Add other ingredients: 1 ripe banana; 1 large tablespoon Trader Joe’s peanut butter

Add new ingredient for extra calories: several slices frozen avocado, as Avocado Growers of America have been persuasive that serious dislike for avocados in any form is insufficient reason to avoid this nourishing, highly caloric food choice

Place torn tissue wads into ears to minimize hearing damage from high-decibel whirr of blender

Start blender, press “Smoothie,”  step away

When blender stops, press “Smoothie” once again

Remove blender vessel from mechanism, carry oh-so-carefully to counter top

Remove torn tissue wads from ears and discard

Pour smoothie into glass pitcher; murmur “May I be filled with lovingkindness…”

Place pitcher into refrigerator, using two hands and careful concentration

Wash and dry all parts and reassemble blender

Take stock of oneself. Realize self resumed calm immediately after profanities and told self (while extracting protein powder residue from between toes) that all is OK, breathing’s been progressing, self is quite in possession of self. 

Notice with considerable surprise that Inner Critic has said nothing about the clumsiness and oafishness of dropping entire container of (expensive) protein powder onto floor. 

Ponder whether profanity frightened Inner Critic into silence.

Discard that conjecture: Inner Critic is not normally known for her timidity.

Spouse enters; is asked to assess level of calmness.

Spouse is puzzled but says “Fine.”

Spouse is then informed of the tossed-out perfectly good (expensive) protein powder in explanatory tone free of accusation or the slightest hint of negativity.

Spouse is reassured that the act of accidentally tossing out perfectly good (expensive) protein powder is not worthy of self-recriminations.

Told of the subsequent series of events, spouse confirms that mindfulness has indeed noticeably succeeded as guide through one of life’s trivial events to which one might grossly overreact.

Self mentally thanks all those virtual gurus who have explained over the past several years that the practice of mindfulness won’t ensure one always remains calm despite the circumstances, but may well help one quickly return to equanimity. 

Self breathes deeply and smiles contentedly.

Image courtesy of mindfulness.org

Namaste,

Annie

Continue reading “My Mindfulness Recipe for Smoothie Shakes-While-Unshaken”

BLOCKED!

Image courtesy of pikist.com

B efore the WordPress genies
L avished us with New BLOCK Technology—
O verflowing with features galore that I
C an’t with my non-techie brain fully appreciate—-
K eeping to two longish posts a week was
E nergizing and whet my creative juices, but
D amn: as change is hard, my post, today, is short.

Note: I know the above will please the “don’t give me anything longer than 500 words” readers, but since there are actually more than a few of you who encourage my verbosity, I felt an explanation was in order.

My brevity for who knows how long (?) is due to my needing time to master this new editorial challenge—and not an abandonment of my desire to continue researching articles on topics that I always feel require more in-depth coverage.

In truth, WordPress gave us plenty of warning that this day would come, but I was too busy writing to pay sufficient attention to the looming new requirements. In greater truth, I pretended the warning would never really force me to stretch my meager techie talents. But as I sought to enter my new post, the page I opened scolded me: “Time’s up, kid. Get to it!”

Thanks for understanding—whether your tastes in my posts fall into the long or short of them!

Annie

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A Mid-Pandemic, Anti-Panic, Slightly Manic Flight of…Oh, I Dunno

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Harlem Globetrotters image courtesy of commons.wikimedia.org

Dribble is a silly word.

Maybe not when we’re talking about the Harlem Globetrotters—or kids in a schoolyard testing their prowess by bouncing, bouncing, bouncing that ball on unforgiving asphalt, then arcing skyward toward a topless/bottomless structure seemingly stitched by a gargantuan spider.

Or a baby’s slo-mo Vesuvius after imbibing squished bananas and squashed squash from a teensy spoon dipped too generously into a tiny glass jar by a harried automaton-a-mama whose patience is now pandemic-thin. In such instances, the word bib, found conveniently nestling within the words dribble and imbibing, is very useful indeed.

Or the moistened sand transformed into architectural castle-wonder, dropletted with exquisite precision by small fingers onto a soggy mound, defying the waves in what was once as close to ecstasy as a five-year-old could fathom.

Those three dramatic exceptions aside, dribble makes me giggle.

Giggle is also a silly word.

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Giggle also makes me giggle.

Giggling, at my age, is better than dribbling. Giggling can still be age-appropriate. But dribbling?

It is fine to giggle when alone indoors. Funny fauna and flights of fancy courtesy of Google make me giggle. Philosophizing canines and condemnatory felines make me giggle.

Sometimes, the images projected onto the inner walls of my cranium, like bunnies made by silhouetted hands, make me giggle.

It is fine to giggle on phone calls or Zoomfests. It is OK to faux-giggle when old friends tell old jokes that once upon a long ago yesterday evoked a natural giggle—indeed, a full-throated chortle. After all, my own stories have surely outlived their shelf-half-life as well.

It is not fine to giggle when ambling alone in 90 degree heat around one’s neighborhood while dodging others who are far too near. It is not tempting to giggle then either.

But if one is tempted to journey outside one’s yard, appropriately masked and distanced, and one finds the absurdity of our contemporary lives so bizarre as to be ticklish, there are always earbuds.

Whether attached to a cell phone or merely ornamental, protruding earbuds provide the appearance of sanity. Of normality. Of stasis. Connected only to oneself, while appearing otherwise.

Earbuds are the last refuge of the solitary giggler—assuming said person cares about appearances and wishes to avoid arousing neighborly concerns.

Once in a while, with timely intervals intervening, the heaviness of political/pandemical events is outweighed by the ineluctable desire to allow the mind to enter stream-of-drivelness.

Any time now, I just may surrender to that desire.

Annie

Continue reading “A Mid-Pandemic, Anti-Panic, Slightly Manic Flight of…Oh, I Dunno”

How I Found My Inner Harpist On My Smartphone

 

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Image courtesy of wallpaper flare.com

Ah, the image: I am seated at a magnificent golden harp, my flowing blonde tresses resting on my shoulders, my tall, slender body leaning slightly forward, long fingers playing glissando after glissando. I am just warming up, but I am already enraptured.

Oh, the reality: It’s true that I’m thin and have long fingers. The rest of the description is more problematic. I’m short (slightly shorter each year) and my hair, though longer than it was pre-COVID, is definitely untresslike—closer to distresslike.

It’s also never been blonde; it’s brown, flecked with what I’m sure is more gray since the pandemic began. In fact, if the folks from the Pantone Color Institute were seeking a new description, I think “pandemic gray” would be appropriate.

But that’s the least of my worries. In fact, I never really wanted blonde hair except as part of my harp fantasy.

To round out the picture, I guess it’s worth noting that as far as I know, I have zero musical ability. I’ve never studied a musical instrument and can’t carry a tune. ( I did, however, lead the band when I was the drum majorette as a high school senior.)

But I do love music—all kinds of music—and get a special chill when I hear the elegance of a harp. I’m also fascinated by the concept of music and the brain, so I did a little research.

Note: everything about this topic is complex. Indeed, there are actually nine areas of the brain participating in our hearing and/or making music, with different parts involving rhythm, tone, tempo, and the like. I have simply tiptoed into this complicated topic. (You can click here if you’re interested in a neat graphic depicting the various areas—where they’re located, what they’re called, and what they do.)

That special chill, the critical emotional component of music, is largely created through the nucleus accumbens (NA), the pleasure and rewards center of the brain, and is intricately related to the neurotransmitter dopamine (DA), which—depending on the amount and our personal makeup—has the potential to make us happy or sad.

So music can act on us like chocolate, or sex, or cocaine. One neuroscientist, Kiminobu Sugaya, said in the article cited above that “music can be a very addictive drug because it’s also acting on the same part of the brain as illegal drugs.”

My mind immediately went to the many talented young musicians who died prematurely of drug overdoses.

That’s simply an interesting aside that most of us needn’t worry about. And it has nothing to do with why it’s suddenly become very important to me to make music.

I’ve repeatedly heard that as we age, one very good way to forestall dementia is to learn to play a musical instrument. I wasn’t surprised to learn from the research that the musician’s brain is noticeably different from the rest of ours. The differences are so noticeable, according to famed neurologist Oliver Sacks in a talk on NPR, that they are apparent with the naked eye.

Musicians, who obviously practice many hours a day, have greater development in various parts of the brain. Sacks mentioned enlargement of the corpus callosum: the bundle of nerve fibers that connect the brain’s left and right hemispheres.

One scientist found that when musicians listen to someone playing the piano, about 25% more of the auditory regions in their left hemisphere respond than is the case with nonmusicians, a phenomenon associated with musical tones.

And musicians who play the keyboard have better development of a certain area (the omega sign of the precentral gyrus) of the left hemisphere that’s associated with hand and finger movements, while that portion was found to be more prominent in the right hemisphere for string players.

There’s an increase in the gray matter nerve cells in musicians, a very good thing. And, though I’m skipping a bunch of steps, once music has been learned, it moves into the cerebellum, which coordinates voluntary motor movements. This is the part that interests me most.

When music has finally taken up residence in the cerebellum, it remains, and can be called up even when dementia or a stroke has damaged brain function. The stories are remarkable.

Sacks tells of a man whose daughter had written to him about her father and then brought him for a visit. The man had played the baritone part in an a cappella singing group for nearly 40 years. He’d begun showing signs of Alzheimer’s 13 years earlier, when he was 67.

His daughter had written:

“He has no idea what he did for a living, where he is living now, or what he did ten minutes ago. Almost every memory is gone. Except for the music. In fact, he opened for the Radio City Music Hall Rockettes in Detroit this past November.

“The evening he performed, he had no idea how to tie a tie…he got lost on the way to the stage—but the performance? Perfect…He performed beautifully and remembered all the parts and words.”

Music therapy has been used to enhance the lives of dementia patients even more severely afflicted than this man. It’s a wonderful field that has also improved the lives of many stricken with strokes, Parkinson’s disease, autism, and other brain-associated diseases or injuries.

I would love to write more about all this, but I fear I’ll soon be venturing too far into the reeds (!) for a blog post.

So I’ll move on to my personal musical quest, hoping you’re accompanying me.

I concluded that though I can’t fight whatever may lie ahead, and it’s probably too late to flex my corpus callosum muscles, it surely won’t hurt to try to tackle a musical instrument and put in some time each day—even if it’s just for the hell of it.

Briefly, very briefly, I considered seeking to fulfill my longheld dream and trying the harp. A nice young woman on YouTube promised that some people had become professional harpists even though they’d started in their mid-20s. Well, I’d passed that threshold quite a while ago.

But then she added kindly: “even people in their 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s…” can learn to play the harp (under her tutelage). I listened to a few beautiful examples, considered for a nanosecond, and realized I simply didn’t have it in me to pursue that particular grandiose dream.

We have a piano sitting in our living room, once played beautifully by my older daughter. For a while, our answering machine message contained her rendition of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata in the background, which never ceased to delight me.

Yet with my current musical knowledge confined to “Every Good Boy Does Fine,” I found the piano too daunting. At least for now.

Then I stumbled, truly stumbled, on GarageBand, the music composition app that had all this time been mutely residing within my iPhone. Suddenly there was a keyboard, and I could plunk away to my heart’s content.

New worlds opened up. I am actually making music—indeed, even composing a little bit. Not a harp in sight, but I have been on the keyboard and the guitar—played some minor blues last night. And GarageBand is certainly easier on my delicate fingers than real strings would be.

I’ll acknowledge that I don’t know what I’m doing. Sometimes I’m faced with a page that is filled with arcane stuff. I knew this effort wouldn’t be a snap when I found YouTube video how-tos for GarageBand that were definitely not for my newbie level.

And when I saw the telltale ad for the book GarageBand for Dummies, I was reminded of the weeks when I was first thinking about starting a blog, and my techie daughter suggested Blogging for Dummies. I dutifully bought the book, eagerly opened it—and understood not a word.

But with GarageBand, I get immediate feedback because I can make sounds. Mastery is not my goal. I may not even be increasing my gray matter or strengthening my corpus callosum. But I’m making music, dammit, and that’s a joy. If some of it finds its way to my cerebellum, that’s all to the good. In the meantime, a little more dopamine is a very lovely thing!

And I can still listen to this—and dream.

Have a lovely weekend, stay safe, and wear your masks!

Annie

 

Continue reading “How I Found My Inner Harpist On My Smartphone”