The Sensuous Art of Plum Picking

Plums from our backyard tree are incredibly sweet and juicy. I take them to church and put them in the kitchen, where we munch. If you stand outside the room you’d think they’re having an orgy in there. “Oooooh…ummmm…OMG this is sweet…ahhhhhh…just one more… ”

I wait for the Magic Moment.

It sounds like they’re making love, but they’re just in the kitchen eating plums I hand picked. Actually, “pick” is too crude a word. I don’t just pick them, I caress them. I fondle them. I squeeze each one very gently and if there is a softness, I tug it ever so slightly, tenderly, away from the branch. If it doesn’t come off with this gentle grope, I leave it on the tree. It is not ripe.

My husband is annoyed by all this. Frank is a no-nonsense, just-get-it-done kind of guy. He goes out with his bag and just indiscriminately grabs every plum he sees hanging. He pulls them forcibly, with lightning speed. “You’re coming with me!” I can almost hear him say. He’s done in a jiffy, and comes in the house with a big bag of hard, slightly green plums.

It’s easy to tell whether people are eating plums that Frank picked or that I picked. When they’re eating Frank’s, it doesn’t sound like there’s an orgy going on.  

Silicon Valley Girl

I’m a stranger in the Bay Area, though I was born right in the midst of it in Silicon Valley. That was a long time ago. It was Santa Clara Valley back then, and you wouldn’t recognize it. Unleashed dogs romped. Kids played gloriously unorganized softball in vacant lots. Orchards were everywhere. I didn’t know my gentle world was the future birthplace of technology, and that it would be invaded and covered with freeways, malls and business parks. 

You could say I’ve kept up with things. I telecommute, I network, I’m linked-in and hooked-up and hands-free. But I don’t always like it. My life, perhaps like yours, is stressful and upgrade driven.

It seems I’m always upgrading to something—new software, faster internet speed, blue tooth, GPS, Alexa, iPhone 7…. On and on. But there was a time here when things didn’t need upgrading because they were perfect. The lovely orchard next to our high school yielded its gifts when we burst into its stillness after school, needing spending money. I cut cots—that’s apricots—for 50 cents a tray. Now the orchard is a condo complex; our high school, a strip mall. Graceful pepper and oak and fig trees that once grew everywhere, welcoming climbers, are gone, victims of street widening and development. Little running creeks I followed for hours with my dog are concrete flood control channels. And the friendly people who chatted with each other in the grocery store have been replaced with a new breed. Self-absorbed, they wear funny ear gadgets and talk to themselves. 

I’ve learned to accept things as they are. I stay pretty current. But sometimes, in front of my flat screen monitor pushing my mouse, I daydream. I’m cutting sweet ripe cots in the mottled sunlight of the orchard, thinking that when I’m done I’ll go find a softball game somewhere. It’s like going home. 


This commentary originally aired as a KQED Public Radio Perspective.   

Grace

I woke up grouchy one morning, still tired. I pondered skipping my morning aerobics. Commitment! I told myself, then dressed and headed to my workout room. That was my first mistake.

I do an online aerobics routine on the British Institute of Health website. I turned on my computer, clicked on Chrome browser, waited…and what came up was “no internet service.” I restarted, went to Chrome again, got the same message. On my third try, the same thing happened so obviously it was not a temporary fluke. I was going to have to call my internet service provider technical help number, and spend a long time on hold then a long time doing the troubleshooting steps, but it would have to wait. I was barely awake. I couldn’t face computer troubleshooting without a shower and a cup of coffee.

I decided I would get my exercise in with a brisk walk. My neighborhood provides a good aerobic workout as there are some pretty steep uphill stretches. But when I looked out the window, I saw it was raining heavily. No walk today, I thought.

At a loss, I went into the kitchen and popped a Keurig pod into my coffee maker. Then I remembered I had a chocolate hazelnut croissant from Starbucks with my weekend treats in the freezer. Even though it wasn’t the weekend yet, I took it out and thawed it. I knew it contained 400 calories and 50 percent of my daily saturated fat allowance. I went for it anyway. I would double my aerobics routine when my computer was back up. 

I added Italian sweet cream to my coffee and sat down at the table. Savoring the chocolate hazelnut decadence and sipping my coffee, I started to feel pretty great. What had started as a growing list of frustrating problems had turned into the perfect morning.


Grace: the freely given, unmerited favor of God.  

Blogging is good for your health.

Maybe you think the above title is a mistake, that I meant to say jogging. Nope. I mean blogging. You’re getting healthier if you laugh while you blog. 

Everyone knows jogging is good for your health. It strengthens muscles, improves cardiovascular fitness, helps maintain weight…yadda yadda yadda. As long as you don’t ruin your knees.

But how in the world can blogging be good for your health? The answer is endorphins. When you laugh you increase the number of these “feel-good” hormones in your system. The trick is you need to write humor. I write a lot of it. At least my friends tell me my stuff is funny. My blog posts make me laugh, which is the important part. Writing humor increases your health only if you laugh at your own jokes like I do.

Two young bloggers ramp up their endorphin counts.

When I’m at my PC blogging, sometimes I laugh so much that my husband thinks someone is in my office with me. It’s very therapeutic for me because I’ve suffered from depression nearly all of my life. I won’t go into the details, which I’ve been boring my friends with for years, but some very dark things lurk in my family background: suicide, heroin addiction, crime, hellacious accidents, alcoholism, permanent estrangement…the list goes on, but as a public service I’ll stop here.

So when I write about campaigning for a tooth fairy who comes to seniors, or becoming a Victoria’s Secret reject because my bra band size is larger than their max 38 inches,  or trying to meditate at home with Judge Judy’s obnoxious voice blaring from the TV, I’m manufacturing endorphins. These happy brain chemicals also relieve pain.

In a scientific test conducted at Oxford, participants’ arms were wrapped tightly in a blood-pressure cuff and tightness was increased gradually. Some participants watched 15 minutes of comedy, and they were able to withstand 10 percent more pain than participants who didn’t watch comedy. There’s also a bonding effect in an endorphin rush that is important in our social lives, believed to be like grooming for certain highly social animals such as monkeys. Endorphins also reduce stress and create a positive feeling in the body.

So next time someone tells you laughter is good for your health, don’t laugh. It’s true. And it doesn’t ruin your knees.

Poor Man’s Keurig

A small coffee-lover’s miracle recently happened in my life. I love Keurig coffee but their single-cup coffee brewers are too expensive for me. So are most other single-cup makers. I’m at financial critical mass in my retirement. I seriously need to cut down on my spending and am following an airtight budget. The single-cup brewers are also large, and we have a small kitchen with limited counter space. Lastly, most brewers come only in black.

After a lot of shopping around,  I just sighed and figured I’d have to plod through my life without one…drinking boring old ground stuff…the same flavor for months until the container is finally empty.  

I got hooked on Keurig at my church, of all places, which has a big selection of pod flavors and a Keurig brewer in the kitchen. I thought about buying one and reducing my tithe accordingly. After all, the church got me hooked. But the better part of my conscience prevailed.

Enter Procter-Silex, with a single-cup coffee maker for $25.00!! I just couldn’t stop searching, and one day voila! There it was. It’s small and it does the job. I feel almost guilty, finding a single-cup brewer that cheap. Like I’ve outsmarted the gods. And another miracle is that it comes in white, on Target.com. It’s perfect in my kitchen.

My mornings are joyous. Now I go into the kitchen wondering, “What will it be today? Dunkin’ Donuts Dunkin Dark? Green Mountain Southern Pecan? Eight O’Clock Original?” The choices are infinite. And I usually drink only one a day so it doesn’t break the bank. I’m enjoying single-cup coffee just like rich people with big kitchens. And loving it. 

Laughter deserves some serious attention.

We live in a world of war, famine, injustice, genocide, homelessness, isolation, all manner of suffering….and here am I, grinding out funny little essays. At least I hope they’re funny. I actually don’t know why I write them. I don’t ask for the ideas, they just sort of roll down the right side of my brain, unasked for. They land in my consciousness with a dull thud, ready to be organized into blog-post format, tweaked and embellished, edited, proofread, and then published with a click of my mouse.

I’ve been writing pieces like this for years. I had some published in magazines long ago, before single working parenthood swallowed my life whole and I had no time for writing them. In those days I jotted ideas down wherever I happened to be, on whatever was available when they came to me. Menus, napkins, the backs of receipts and parking tickets, matchbooks (I smoked then), concert programs—whatever was made of paper that happened to be at hand. I still jot down ideas when they come to me, but in my iPhone notes. It’s not as much fun, actually.

Sometimes I feel guilty about my blog, like I’m wasting valuable time doing something totally unimportant. Something that doesn’t help solve the world’s problems. Usually I feel that way when I’m tired, stressed, and feeling generally down. But when I practice self-care—get some rest, take a walk, talk with a friend—I feel much better about my little blog.

Laughter, after all, is a healing thing. These days it gets a lot of respect from scientists and medical doctors. It’s all about endorphins. Laughter increases endorphins, which are produced by the central nervous system and the pituitary gland. They’re the feel-good chemicals produced by the brain and have been proven to heal us both mentally and physically. When I visualize them they’re very cute. How can something called an endorphin not be cute? I see tiny pot-bellied creatures wearing bikinis, with corkscrew antennae and hair like Art Garfunkel, multiplying exponentially and spinning faster and faster as the human host’s laughter increases. Realizing that, I no longer feel superfluous, like I’m not doing anything useful. I’m performing a public service, improving my readers’ health. That’s you! So I’ll just write on, and I hope you’ll read on.