Category Archives: Uncategorized

Korean in Small Bites

At my university in Korea, there was a tall, quiet Chinese teacher from Inner Mongolia. Li Su, attractive and graceful, showed up one day when I was trying to buy bananas at the grocery store. She interpreted for me when the lady there was trying to tell me I had to buy a certain quantity.

Instead of being grateful, I was ashamed at my incompetence and envious of Li Su. How did she know Korean?

I learned later that she had already spent one year at the university and, more to the point, that the grammar of Chinese, and some of the vocabulary, are similar to those of Korean and Japanese. For these people, learning each other’s languages is like learning French and Spanish for me.

I became friends with Li Su later, when the faculty took an overnight trip to a resort area at the end of the first semester, that is, in May or June. We climbed a mountain together and were hot and exhausted at the end.

These team-building and bonding trips seemed to be quite common. Maybe that’s because they work. After that, I felt comfortable enough to join Li Su for lunch in the cafeteria. We could speak English together; she knew some, and liked to practice. But we had some exchanges in Korean too.

“Tari appayo?” I asked her when we first met after the mountain trip. I had learned the phrase in a Korean textbook. “Tari” meant leg, and “appayo” meant both it hurts and does it hurt.

“Ne,” she said with a smile. “Ne” is yes. “Appayo!” It was our shared experience. She asked me the same question back, and I also said yes, it hurts. Not scintillating conversation, but we laughed. We deepened our friendship.

Another phrase that served us well in the cafeteria was “oepsoyo,” which means there isn’t any, it doesn’t exist, it isn’t here. It’s the opposite of “issoyo,” there is, it exists, it is here.

This handy little phrase could be used in so many ways. We made jokes using it.

We joked about the food. Actually, I loved the meals in the cafeteria, which always included rice, soup and side dishes—for a good price. The Chinese people, though—there were two others—didn’t think much of it. They missed Chinese food, which was so much better, they claimed.

“Gogi oepsoyo,” Li Su would say, lifting her spoonful of soup, shrugging her shoulders. She thought the soup was thin and unsatisfying, lacking “gogi,” meat.

I could show an interest in her Chinese colleagues by asking, “Toksu isseoyo?” Is Toksu here? And she would answer, “Oepsoyo. Onul chip-e isseoyo.” She’s not here. She’s at home today. A whole conversation! These little nothings meant so much to me.

Most language learners want the whole thing, right now. I did too. I became frustrated when I didn’t understand the conversation in a social setting, when I had no idea what the bus driver was asking me, as others waited in line behind me, waiting to get on.

But I also had fun and got such satisfaction using the little bits of language I knew to get what I needed. “Chuseyo” meant please. I could go to the fruit vendor on the street and say, “Kam, chuseyo.” Persimmons, please, “tasot-kye,” and get five of them. She would hand them to me, and I would say “Kamsahamnida,” thank you—and walk away like a normal person.

I could go to a restaurant and order “Keopi, chuseyo.” Coffee was easy. I could ask for milk in it. “Uyu, isseoyo?” I could say thank you, I’m sorry, I don’t understand, and just a minute. These phrases covered a pretty wide range of daily experiences.

Of course, I still had days when shopkeepers gave me blank stares, having no clue what I was asking for, when I thought I was speaking their language. And just as often, times when strangers intervened, helping me in the checkout line, translating the simplest things into English for me. So many Koreans can speak English. They might say they don’t, but when it is clear that your Korean is not even close to their English proficiency, they will come forward and be very helpful.

For a foreign-language learner, persistence, humility and a sense of humor are helpful too.

How Do You Like My Hashtags?

I just posted something on Facebook and included several hashtags. This is new for me. I had to go back and edit them when I realized you don’t put any spaces between the words!

How weird is that?  And why?

Well anyway, I did it, and I can’t believe it.  These things go against the conventions of the English language as I’ve known them, and taught them.

And yet . . . I am fascinated by hashtags, and all the changes in the language that have resulted from our use of technological devices.  I have changed along with everyone else.

On texts, for example, I don’t always use periods or capital letters.  Yes, I feel guilty–but I’m in a hurry, so why bother?  Does it really matter?

I still use complete sentences, with punctuation, in my emails.  Well, except I’ve noticed lately how often I omit the subject pronoun in my sentences:  “Got your email.  Hope you’re doing well.  Don’t have time right now for a long reply.”  Emoji emoji, send.

And now hashtags are occurring naturally to me, in the same way that new words heard by young children begin to pop naturally out of their mouths, or new slang expressions, after you’ve heard them used for a while, are suddenly not only used by you, but seem like the only possible way to express that thought or feeling.

I’ve observed people’s hashtags for a while now on Facebook; I’ve been intrigued and entertained by them.  There’s something very amusing about a short narrative with a hashtag or two attached, like afterthoughts or side remarks.

So today I tried it myself, and I’m not sure how well I did, but I liked doing it!

#alwaysalinguist #nevertooold



Please Don’t Call Me Sweetheart

Modigliani, Madame Pompadour, 1914

Modigliani, Madame Pompadour

You may or may not know the song, “Let Me Call You Sweetheart.” It’s an old-fashioned, romantic tune with a simple sentiment: “Let me call you sweetheart, I’m in love with you.”

Being called “sweetheart” by a significant other is lovely. I do object, though, when a waitress or clerk in a store calls me that. Simply put, I am not her sweetheart. Nor am I a child. Words like sweetheart and honey, when addressed to a woman who is clearly beyond childhood—and middle age—are demeaning.

It’s not so bad in the hospital, when a nurse does it. You’re drugged. You don’t care. You feel bad and you want to be taken care of.

But at the cosmetics counter in Macy’s, it’s a whole different story. That is a time and place when you do not want to be reminded of your elderly status.

I used to hate it when these people called me “Ma’am.” I felt it implied that I was an older woman. (Which I was! But they didn’t have to rub it in.) But now I don’t mind being called Ma’am. At least it doesn’t put you in the little old lady category, the cute, the helpless, the clueless.

Even worse than sweetheart, sweetie, or honey is “young lady.” Is that supposed to be a compliment or a joke? It’s usually some dapper young salesman who uses this one. When they do, I feel like slapping them. I know I’m not young.   Who are we kidding? Just because I’m over 65, it doesn’t mean you can patronize me, treat me like a child.

Two summers ago, I was on the Paris Métro trying to get the door open at my stop, and couldn’t.

“Madame!” a man called out. (It sounds really good in French, with the accent on the second syllable.)  When I looked, he gestured the right way to turn the handle. I murmured a quick “Merci” and made my exit. Merci for the help, and for treating me as a grown woman, with dignity.

To quote another musical title, you can “Call Me Madam” anytime.  But please, don’t call me sweetheart!

Sorry, No Pictures: Fashions During Hip-Replacement Recovery

This is my fashion post—outfits I’ve created for the woman in recovery from hip-replacement surgery. (Sorry, no pictures!)

The centerpece is always the Ted (Thrombo Embolic Deterrent) stocking, a pair of ugly and uncomfortable white tights that go up to the top of the thigh and have big white pads at the top. They are elastic compression stockings designed to keep the blood flowing to the heart and prevent clots.

Important and necessary, yes. But could someone please invent a replacement? I think these evolved from those flesh-colored stockings the old ladies in Woolworth’s used to wear, with black tie shoes.

My doc wants me to wear these 23/7. Yes, I can take them off for an hour. But they take about an hour to put back on, so I’m not sure if it’s worth it. And if I wash them, they take longer than that to dry. I’m not allowed to put them in the dryer. I’ve tried a hair dryer. It gets the job done, but not quickly. And they are hell to put back on. They’re so tight, you can barely get them on your feet. I don’t even worry about getting them on straight. Then you can’t lean over, so you’re using a grabber stick to pull them up, inch by inch. It’s a way to pass the time, I’ll say that.

I hate them. When it’s humid out, it’s like Chinese torture—sorry if it’s not okay to use that expression. I’ve been keeping the air conditioning on.

I complained about the Teds to the home-health nurse. She looked at me and said, dead-pan, “No one likes them.” Okay, so I’m not the only one.

Teds with Yoga Pants

When I have to go out, to a doctor’s appointment, e.g., I don’t care if it’s hot. I wear my black wool yoga pants, which almost hide the Teds.

Teds with Jean Skirt

I wore them one day with a jean skirt and navy tee. “Nice outfit,” my sister said—and she meant it! It’s the best look I’ve found. Another day, when she said “Nice outfit” to me, it was with a totally different tone. That was when I wore white elastic-waist shorts from Wal Mart, and a pink peasant blouse. Puffy. Not a good look.

Teds with My Daughter’s Cutoffs

I also paired the Teds with my old (second-hand from my daughter) jean cutoffs. I thought that looked pretty cool—but then I passed a mirror and saw the big white pads hanging out at the thighs. Eew, gross. Regular tights don’t have those.

A Revolutionary Look

When I put on blue capris that tie at the knee, I thought, “Hey! Halloween costume!” Just add white wig and a fitted jacket, maybe some gold braid trim, et voila! George Washington! I have to find a three-cornered hat though.

Teds and Exercise

Today I’m ready for a double-header–physical therapy and home health—with grey cotton elastic-waist shorts, like for running, so I can do the leg exercises and I can also make the scar accessible, without compromising modesty. (I know the nurses don’t care, but I do.)

And Don’t Forget the Shoes!

With this outfit I’ve paired a clean white T-shirt, short-sleeved. I’m not wearing shoes, but I have two pairs I wear these days, that go with everything! I wear moccasins inside, their backs flattened from use so that they are now slip-ons. When I go outside, I wear my tan Easy Spirit actual slip-on shoes. They look okay with Teds. Sort of.

The Bottom Line

Really, Ted socks look best with a cotton nightgown, no makeup, and uncombed hair. And I can’t wait for the day when I can peel them off for good!

For some other styles of Ted stockings, see:

(I flipped out when I saw this page. Can Ted stockings really look this good?)

No Accounting for Taste

No Accounting for Taste

Recently, in preparation for my right-hip-replacement surgery (I had the left one done in January 2013), I stocked up on food and books.

Kevin O'B and other books 004

The odd thing is, many of the easy-to-prepare foods I chose—which are things I eat and like—just haven’t appealed to me.

Odder still, the books I carefully chose for my recovery time have also left me cold. In fact, I haven’t even wanted to read!

I had a pile of books ready to go on my night table. The first was Natchez Burning (Greg Iles, 2014). It came highly recommended by two friends whose opinions I respect. A fictional account of racism and social upheaval in 1960s, connected to a murder case in the early 2000s, in Natchez, Mississippi, the book is compelling.

Kevin O'B and other books 003

But it’s also discouragingly long, close to eight hundred pages. And it’s not the kind of book I usually read, so to remember the names of all the characters, their connections and their politics, was just too much for me. I had thought this book would accompany me through my month-long recovery, and it could have. I just gave up trying. Maybe later.

Then I picked up Ann Patchett’s Bel Canto. I thought this 2001 literary novel would be a good choice for me, with its elegance, magic, romance, and operatic theme. But as yet, I haven’t been able to get into it either—too literary, too elegant, for now. (I do think that at some point Patchett will be a good author for me, and I’m glad to have discovered her.)

Kevin O'B and other books 002

Behind the scenes while I was attempting these books, I kept returning to the next one on my night table, a paperback thriller by Kevin O’Brien, Terrified.

Kevin O'B and other books 001

I’ve been waiting to read this book ever since I received my copy several months ago from Kevin’s sister Mary Lou. She was one of my best friends in high school. The O’Briens lived a few blocks away from us in Glencoe, Illinois. Kevin was about seven then, the baby of the family.

Now he’s a successful writer of thrillers, a lot of them, including Left for Dead, One Last Scream, and Final Breath. Kevin is really good at concocting these tales, but the problem with these kinds of books is that they’re scary! So I can’t read them when I’m alone, and definitely not at night, when the house makes noises!

But recently my daughter was visiting from St. Louis, helping me out with cooking, cleaning, laundry, and everything I could think of! While she was here, I decided to try Kevin O’Brien’s Terrified, and found it was the perfect book for my recovery time: a page-turner, easy to read, suspenseful, with great details of time and place, and good descriptions of people.

As a bonus, the book is set in both Seattle, where Kevin now lives, and Chicago’s North Shore, where we grew up. It’s fun for me to recognize and remember places he mentions—Hackney’s restaurant in Glenview (is that still there?!), a house in Hubbard Woods that was used in the movie Home Alone, Glencoe Beach, and the towns along the lake—Winnetka, Wilmette, Evanston.

I’m already past page 200 and ready to get back to the book, now that the sun is out!

I have a lot of helpers in my recovery from hip-replacement surgery. Although he doesn’t know it, Kevin O’Brien is one of them. Thanks, Kevin!


I’m not much for jewelry, just earrings. When did I start wearing them? Maybe when I was over forty. Before that, earrings had a sort of gypsy feel for me; they were foreign. Then they suddenly became popular, and ubiquitous. I got my ears pierced, and now I wear earrings every day.

my earring tree

My earrings aren’t expensive. I like simple gold hoops, medium-sized, and something similar in silver, or maybe a spiral pair.

earrings sept 2014 005

I had a pair of silver earrings I loved, that were my daily default pair. They looked like an abstract leaf by Matisse, and on each earring, on one of the leaf blades, was one tiny blue stone. Unique and simple, these earrings became my favorites. But I lost one; earrings are easy to lose.

The replacements I finally settled on at Claire’s are pretty cute—little silver Eiffel Towers, with tiny blue stones in the tower. Sometimes people ask if I got them in Paris, a logical question. But no. When I was in Paris, Eiffel Tower souvenirs were so common that I shunned them. It was only when I was back home for a while that I wanted a reminder of that beautiful city. Now I have two!

earrings sept 2014 004

I have an earring story. One time I was on a spiritual retreat—but I wasn’t feeling very spiritual, because someone I was angry at showed up there. I was obsessing on my anger instead of connecting with my Higher Power.

I went to see one of the priests. It was a Catholic retreat, and I am what they call a lapsed Catholic, so I was a little wary of what he would say to me, but I needed help. I just hoped he wouldn’t be too religious.

He really surprised me. After I told him my story, he paused, then said, “Have you noticed the earrings on the women here? There are so many beautiful earrings.”

earrings sept 2014 008

“Yes, I suppose so.”

earrings sept 2014 009

“Why don’t you look at the earrings?” That was his advice! Kind of zen. Focus on the earrings, instead of that person and your resentment. No mention of the Bible, Our Lord, any of that.

earrings sept 2014 006

And it worked. I not only looked at the earrings; I listed and described them in my journal. It was a kind of three-day hobby, a pleasurable activity, focusing on all that beauty instead of on my negative feelings.

earrings sept 2014 007

I don’t know how that priest came up with that idea, but I am forever grateful. I had a good retreat. And sometimes, when my head is stuck in a bad place, I tell myself, “Look at the earrings.”

earrings sept 2014 010

Ten Books That Changed My Life, Part 2

As I said on Part 1, these are books that made me make changes in my life, for the most part.  They may not be on the list of Great Books of the Western World (of which I’ve read a few), but they got me to do something different!

6) The Primal Scream. Arthur Janov’s revolutionary method of therapy intrigued me so much that I went in search of a primal therapist in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where I was living in the 1970s. I won’t go into detail, because you will laugh. Suffice it to say that I screamed my way into the realization that I wanted to change certain things in my life, and I did that. I moved to Southern Illinois and started over.

Artist's Way and Bird by Bird 002

7) The Artist’s Way, by Julia Cameron, got me writing every day back in 1994, and I’ve never quit. I met weekly with a group of women to do the exercises designed for self-exploration and creative rebirth. What a wonderful book! Cameron’s two basic tools are the Morning Pages and the weekly Artist’s Date.  I did both.  I enjoyed going out once a week to do something totally fun for me, alone–looking at trees, playing with crayons, making a collage, whatever; Cameron calls it “filling the well.” But I’ve kept up better with the three pages of writing every morning. That has been life-changing! I’m a writer, and I have been published!  Everyone should read this book!

Artist's Way and Bird by Bird 003

8) Bird by Bird, by Anne Lamott, is the best book on writing I’ve ever read—although there are many good ones; Stephen King, Natalie Goldberg and Amy Tan come immediately to mind. But two things I will never forget—and I always use—from Lamott’s book are: the title story, when her little brother has to do an overwhelming bird report for school, and he moans to his father, “How am I ever going to do this?” “Bird by bird, buddy. We’re gonna do it bird by bird,”  was the famous response.  I love that. When I have an overwhelming writing or other chore, I remember that advice. Break it down. The other phrase she coined, that resonates with me, is “shitty first drafts.” I need to write those in order to get to the gold (or silver, or bronze). It doesn’t come out perfect the first time, but there is something I can work with in a shitty first draft. Anne Lamott saved me from giving up on writing, and on myself, with that one.

9) Jasmine, by Bharati Mukherjee, made me realize that novels by international writers can be accessible and engaging. From childhood, when I trolled for books at the wonderful Glencoe Public Library, I was very narrow in my choices. I liked books about American girls approximately my own age. The librarian, Miss Jacobs, tried to broaden my tastes with books about other kinds of people. I remember in particular one day when she suggested The Five Chinese Brothers. I had no interest whatsoever in these pig-tailed guys who fished. I still remember that the illustrations were done in silhouette, and the book was shelved in a nook by the window, when I rejected it. But finally, having read Jasmine, I became open to Indian writers, and others from many different cultures.

10) My last book is one that I think has the phrase . . . On a Motorcycle in the title. If anyone knows this book, I wish you would refresh my memory. It was a small, quick read in paperback about a woman, possibly a nurse, who was stressed out and wanted a simpler life, a life with more time to do the things she loved. She knew that would mean working fewer hours and making less money. And she finally took the plunge. I loved that book! What she did was exactly what I wanted to do, and dreamed about for years, before I finally retired early at the age of 59. After that I got a part-time job I loved, at a library. It worked out fine. Life-changing–whatever that book was!

Ten Books That Changed My Life, Part 1

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A recent challenge on Facebook is to list ten books that changed your life. It says to do it fast, without thinking.

I’ve done it here, but slowly, with thinking. I’ve come up with a list that will be amusing to many. Because when I really thought about books that changed my life, not many were Great Books or classics or the ones assigned in school. But they are books that caused real changes in my life.

I’ll go chronologically, from childhood on.  I’m dividing this list into two posts of 5 books each.

1) Dick and Jane. I remember the main characters: Dick, Jane, Baby Sally, Mother, Father, Spot (the dog) and Puff (the cat). It was a simple book for simple times—except for the scary part when Baby Sally got lost in the woods—omg!

But how it changed my life was, our family moved when I was halfway through first grade, from Cleveland, Ohio, to the Chicago suburb of Glencoe. When I started at Sacred Heart School in Hubbard Woods, they didn’t know if I belonged in first or second grade, so the nuns had me read a Dick and Jane book. On the basis of completing that tome, they moved me up to second grade, and so for all of my grade-school years, I was the youngest in the class. I liked that. It was my claim to fame.

2) Betsy-Tacy. This book, the first in the series of Betsy, Tacy and Tib books by Maud Hart Lovelace, got me hooked on reading. I loved these books, the setting in a small town in a valley, the characters and their adventures. Details I still remember: cucumber sandwiches on Sunday night at Betsy’s house; her sister Julia practicing her opera singing with “Mi Chiamo Mimi”; Tib’s baby dress with accordion pleats; and the trunk in Betsy’s bedroom where she did her writing.

3) Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl. This might be the only book on my list that was assigned, and that is a classic. But I loved this book. I read it in high school and was inspired by its brave, intelligent, unique author.

4) Teacher. Sylvia Ashton-Warner’s account of how she taught Maoris in New Zealand to read with her own organic method, letting children choose the words they wanted to learn, inspired me to become a teacher and to use similar teaching techniques.

5) Contemporary Crochet, by Susan Morrow and Mark Dittrick, is a funky little paperback I bought in the mid-1970s, and I still use it, although it’s now held together by a rubber band and some of its pages are falling out. From it I learned the basics of crocheting and was able to make some pretty fancy stuff, including wall hangings, a baby afghan, and a cowboy hat for my boyfriend!

But it changed my life because I was able to quit smoking by picking up the crochet hook instead of a cigarette. Really!

To be continued . . . 

Ai Chi: A Few More Words

beautiful names for beautiful postures

beautiful names for beautiful postures

The Ai Chi poses have beautiful names: Contemplation, Nurturing, Soothing, Acceptance, Freeing. It is a new routine for me though, getting out of the house at 9:30 am on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, floating in the pool from 10:00 to 11:00.

I do like to get up fairly early, usually somewhere between 7:30 and 8:30. But my inclination is to stay inside, read, write, and putter around for most of the morning.

This new routine requires several new habits. I have to cut my at-home morning activities down to the basics: journal writing, shower, breakfast, meditation.

Then too, I have to bring a swimsuit, towel and change of clothes. These are the pesky details that deter a lot of people from heading to the pool in the morning. And coming home, you have all the wet things to deal with.

But once out of the house, I’m glad to be on my way. It’s a pretty drive over Crab Orchard Lake, which sparkles in the sunlight and harbors tall water birds in its coves, some white, some gray. Are they cranes or herons? I’m sorry to say, I don’t know the difference. But I love to spot them as I drive past.

When I get into my own body of water, I’m always glad I made the trip!

Afterward, there’s the shower to remove the chlorine, then a few minutes in the warm, relaxing sauna.

And if I want to stop at Kroger afterward—which makes sense, since it’s on my way home—I have to make sure my hair and clothes are semi-presentable. (Too many times I’ve thought, I’ll just run to the store for a couple of things; no one will see me in these sweat pants, this twenty-year-old T-shirt. Ha! Invariably, at these times, I run into someone I know.)

So those are the hassles, but—already I breathe more deeply. I sleep better.

It’s good to change habits sometimes.

Ai Chi

Yesterday I went to my Ai Chi class. I started it a couple of weeks ago, and I love it. It combines slow, graceful movements of the body with conscious breathing.

It’s Tai Chi in water. Chi means energy, and the movements are designed to increase circulation, improve balance, relieve tension, and help the circulation of energy to flow evenly through the body.

I once took a Tai Chi class. Tai Chi is Chinese. If you’ve seen people doing it, you know that Tai Chi is  beautiful in a strange, mysterious way. In China and Taiwan, people do it together in the park, in the early morning.

Ai Chi, I learned from our class syllabus, was created by a Japanese man, Jun Konno. I like it so much, especially now that I am older and stiffer. We meet in a warm-water pool that feels delicious the moment we step into it. We are slow and quiet in our movements.

In the water, my body is able to do things it has a hard time doing on land. I move, and stretch. I feel good while I’m doing it and afterward.

It is also, as one woman said, a meditation. All our focus is on what we’re doing in the moment—breathing, moving from left to right, right to left, slowly, always balancing. I find that paying such close attention to my body relaxes my mind.


I love water!

In Florida, 2013. I love water!

When I look around at the others in the pool, everyone looks beautiful doing the slow, quiet motions. With one or two younger exceptions, we are sixty- and seventy-somethings—the Age of Arthritis, I suppose you could say! Our teacher Nicole is younger. She’s so toned and flexible and pretty that I thought she was in her late thirties, at most forty. One of my classmates told me she’s in her fifties! So that’s inspiring.

Everyone is encouraged to go at his or her own pace. It’s three mornings a week, for an hour. It helps my hips and back especially, my entire body and mind generally. I love Ai Chi.