To Dance…

To dance is to love… (srbottch)

Dancing Shoes

What is it about men and dancing ? While women flourish on the dance floor and enjoy the spotlight, many men seem reticent to join them.  I was one of them…

It began with the Swing, ‘it’ being pressure. “Change partners”, instructed the instructor. I felt it…palpitations…perspiration… pressure!  I was petrified.

I had agreed to dance lessons with my wife, a natural dancer. Me, I’m a natural wallflower, a slug on the hardwood. And while I was willing to learn, I wasn’t expecting to dance with other women, even if it made me a better dancer. Dancing, not better dancing, was my objective.

Understand, I had never danced with another woman since our marriage more than 25 years ago.  I rarely danced with my wife. This was virgin territory. I wasn’t resisting, but I wasn’t just jumping in feet first, either.

We conquered (my words) the swing and other dances; waltz, foxtrot, cha-cha, and the ‘dance of love’, the rumba.  As our confidence grew, so did our repertoire, we added some samba, a little mambo, and the always exciting and fast paced polka. We only sat out when they played a tango.

Now, we were hooked and looking pretty good on the floor, at least in my mind’s eye. I bought dance shoes and took compliments seriously, while my wife’s ‘eye rolls’ kept me grounded.

But, like anything, if you don’t use it, you lose it. Some fractures, a fall, and some inconvenient surgery interfered just enough to upset our skill sets. Did I forget to mention memory? We just plain forgot stuff, too. But we persevered.

Now we’ve discovered ’round dancing’.  Unlike square dancing, we dance to  traditional ballroom rhythms, moving in a circle, not a square, to a ‘caller’, and we don’t change partners. I’ll repeat, I only have to satisfy one woman, my wife. How hard is that?  Even the ‘caller’ tells me what steps to do. So simple! No sweat!  No pressure!

Of course, I do have to know the intricacies of the steps. After all, it’s dancing, and that can be problematic for me at times. Sometimes, I go left when she goes right, I step back when she goes forward, I turn when she doesn’t.

We’re having fun, laughing, often at ourselves, enjoying the social mixing, and the challenge of learning something new. We’re getting exercise, physical and mental, both important to us.

And just as the dance moves in a circle, a symbol of eternity, so do we, one couple, in love with the dance, and each other.

Go dancing, men.  Take the ‘lead’…

As entertainer Craig Ferguson quipped,

“If a man doesn’t know how to dance, he doesn’t know how to make love!”

srbottch

Oct 2015

Today, I Played Mah-Jongg…the Thrill of Victory

Play Mah-jongg

“Mahj!”

I announced boldly, with bravado in my voice and an overbearing victory grin that stretched from ear to ear across my face, a proverbial Cheshire cat. The thrill of victory*.

My playing mates, stunned at the sudden end of the game and annoyed at my over-the-top declaration, offered thinly veiled congratulations. The agony of defeat*.

But, to the victor go the spoils. And so they did, starting with high-fives, not once, but twice from our normally staid instructor herself, disregarding all rules of decorum. The air was heavy with envy.

My inner narcissist was soaking up the spotlight, as she unabashedly gloated over her student, me, winning on a ‘closed hand’, with no jokers, a 50 pointer, to boot. Together, we were gitty, sportsmanship be-damned, as the class looked on with slumping shoulders and narrowing eyes. For a moment, I thought we might celebrate with a leaping chest bump, the ultimate alpha male celebratory gesture. But, I doubted either one of us could leap, and why risk cracked ribs at our age?

Finally, the trophy, a reach into the grab bag of prizes. Yummy, Craisinettes! As I raised them overhead, I thought, “this is my Stanley Cup moment”, finishing Mah-jongg class with a stunning win, the teacher’s pet, and a box of Craisinettes. Life is good!

Winning is exhausting. Losing is, well, losing…

Mah-jongg, from the Chinese, is an intricate game that challenges your capacity to remember, identify, strategize and capitalize, in other words, it’s a thinking person’s game. There’s no running, hitting or throwing. Swearing, if at all, is under your breath. Drinking and smoking is tabu. And the stakes are low. But, like any contest, there is tension, anxiety and a bit of stress to keep you alert..

With Bams and Craks, Dots and Soaps, Jokers and Dragons, players pick and place, discard and call, mix and match tiles, thirteen each, in various combinations based on instructions from a ‘master card’. When a match is made to one of the 51 patterns on the card, the game is over and you have a winner.

If you like ‘thinking’ games and victory celebrations, then you’ll like Mah-jongg. And don’t be fooled by the transparent accolades when you win. No one really wants the game to end until they end it with their own shout out …

“MAH-JONGG!”

Mah-jongg Card

srbottch.com/October 2015

Dedicated to a wonderful Mah-jongg instructor with a big sense of humor, Linda Dinino.

“The thrill of victory, the agony of defeat”
(Wide World of Sports, ABC)

Welcome Fall…

Front Porch

“I cannot endure to waste anything as precious as autumn sunshine by staying in the house.
So, I spend almost all the daylight hours in the open air.”
– Nathaniel Hawthorne, American poet

What wonderful words to welcome the new Fall season. Today, I did just that, welcomed it, in all its glory; clear skies, early morning dew and a crispness in the air that snaps your lungs to attention.

Earlier this week, our house prepared for the change, as well. The air conditioner was retired, window screens removed, the furnace inspected, and most importantly, the oven reported for duty.

Welcome, Fall!

The much appreciated and long-awaited aromas of baked goods returned with scents of apples, cranberries and pumpkins for cakes, breads and muffins. Spices aroused my sensory receptors like perfume on a delicate nape. My salivary glands stirred from their summer sleep, anticipating the coming feasts. Surely, a measure of discipline will be required to maintain my belt size.

Maples and oaks will treat us to their final burst of fiery red, bright yellow and sparkling orange before laying bare their limbs to the certainty of winter. Blankets of grass will succumb to frosts and begin their seasonal dormancy, a relief to my tired lawnmower.

Welcome, Fall!

Hiking trails will become colorful murals and deer will be forewarned of intruders in their woods by the crunching of dried leaves underfoot.

Local farms will welcome us into their orchards for apple picking and cider tasting. We’ll sample the delicious fruit as we pick from trees, filling our bags with the sweet and tart varieties, intent on eating our daily quota to ‘keep the doctor away’.

Small town farmers markets become destinations for fun excursions. Families will mix and greet amid just picked greens, ripe tomatoes, a plethora of squashes and apples, fresh-baked pies and fall plants, while everyone’s favorite, the pumpkins with their long, twisty stems, wait to be carved and decorated with scary Halloween faces.

Fall, the season to lay gardens to rest and prepare their beds for the harsh winter. And, as Hawthorne opined, we will enjoy the Autumn sunshine with walks in the woods, shopping at outdoor art festivals, or raking leaves. We will breathe the crisp air and succumb to the beauty of the season…at least until kickoff, because, alas, Fall is football season.

Yes, welcome, Fall!

Pumpkins

(photos by Dick Moss)

Blueberries, Strawberries and The End of Summer


Oh, my, have you seen the calendar? The End of Summer is in sight.  Just a few more weeks of long days, brilliant sunshine and warm nights, then Fall ushers in with shorter days, fading sunlight, cooler nights and its lexicon of seasonal ‘F’ words; football, foliage and frost.

The End of Summer also means the end of one of my decadent pleasures, fresh fruit from local farms, especially
sweet, succulent strawberries and big, bold blueberries.  Sliced or whole, drop a handful of these tasty morsels on a bowl of your favorite breakfast cereal (Cheerios, for me) and it’s paradise for your palate.  Your lips will love you and your taste buds will tingle.  How depressing, knowing the ballet in my mouth is about to ‘go dark’ until next year.  End of Summer, please linger longer.

The sliced banana is a wonderful addition to my cereal concoction, and according to Wikipedia (the Internet), botanically it’s a berry.  By adding a sprinkle of crushed walnuts, my bowl overflows with a cornucopia of colors and textures with the patriotic reds, whites and blues of these three fruits.  But, thanks to the End of Summer’s culpable coalition with the calendar, ‘this too shall pass’, at least for the strawberries and blueberries, but not the banana.

What is it with the surviving banana?  The banana seems to escape the same demise of the red and blue berries.  The banana is always available and the price doesn’t fluctuate.  An ‘expert’ proffered that bananas are a fast growing tree so the supply is plentiful and constant.  Bananas are a healthy fruit, too, they just don’t measure up on the juicy and sweet scale, as do the others.

I’ve given up picking my own, but every season I recall the times my dad took my sister and me into the mosquito infested brush where wild blueberries thrived. We ate more than we bucketed, but had plenty for a pie, or two.  My wife and I often took our kids strawberry picking in the hot sun of local fields where we competed with bees for the biggest berries we could find. What lasting memories these ‘pickin’ times made.

At this moment, the bountiful strawberries and blueberries are disappearing from grocers’ shelves and I find it fruitless to complain.  After all, it is a natural change, as the seasons dictate the bounty of the produce we enjoy.  Besides, the End of Summer will reward our patience with the start of the apple season.  And a good apple will push the strawberries and blueberries to the farthest corner of my mind.

For now, I’ll turn to the iron filled shriveled raisin and its lookalike cousin, the craisin, for my cereal topping. And I must make time to travel south into New York’s wine country along the Finger Lakes to enjoy a unique local treat, grape pie.

End of Summer, after all is said and done, you and Mother Nature are treating us quite nicely.

My Morning Paper

Ahhh, the morning newspaper. World updates, local happenings, sports, the funnies. Quite frankly, I’d miss my morning paper more than my morning ‘Joe’. What about you?

I started reading the morning paper as a kid, growing up in Worcester, MA.  We were a ‘two-a-day’ family, subscribing to the Morning Telegram and Evening Gazette. Like clockwork, ‘paperboys’ delivered them to our back door early morning and late afternoon, six days a week and Sunday morning.  My sister and I raced for the Sunday comics. The winner would get smug while the loser got a tantalizingly long lesson in ‘patience’.

I don’t race to get the paper now, I can’t move that fast. Besides, I probably read the major news items on my smart phone during a night wakeup, hence the urgency isn’t as great. Regardless, reading it page to page is still a priority in the morning.

Afternoon editions are passé in today’s news business. Modern technology informs us as events unfold, no waiting. Cable news, Internet and ‘talking heads’ are fierce competitors for newspapers. In that same vein, I suppose, morning editions are likely carrying ‘stale’ news, as well. Isn’t progress wonderful?  Well, yes, but…

I’m a bit of a ‘dinosaur’ when it comes to the ‘speed’ of today’s environment. That’s why I like baseball, a leisurely game, completed when completed, no clock, just a comfortable pastime.  Quit tinkering with it.

I don’t like being rushed through checkout lines, either, and am not a fan of instant oatmeal. I like to take my time, and that goes for reading the news. The local paper allows me that quirk without pressing buttons, scrolling screens or double clicking. And I don’t mind a little newsprint on my fingers. I’m a ‘dinosaur’.

I like big headlines, bold and dramatic. The bolder the headlines, the more dramatic the event. Two word headlines really get my attention:

GORE WINS

BUSH WINS

DEWEY WINS

(In baseball, ‘1 outta 3’ is pretty good!)

So many headlines I’ve seen over the years: wars and weather, moon shots and hot shots, politicians and popes, winners and losers. I’ve read them all in my morning paper and even saved some in a box, stashed in my cellar. They probably deserve better.

Occasionally, I’ll read them and reflect, ‘a lot has happened in my lifetime,  what will my morning paper read tomorrow?’  I think I’ll hurry to the back door early for that answer. Will it be old news by then?  This ‘dinosaur’ enjoys his morning paper!

srbottch

The Garden and The Gardener

garden 1 “It’s summertime and the livin’ is easy…”, lyricized the song writer George Gershwin. He must not have been a gardener.

Up and down our Meadowbrook streets, summer gardens are coming into full bloom and it’s not because the gardeners are taking it easy. Soiled fingernails, calloused knees and aching muscles are testimony to the truism that gardeners love getting down and dirty.

My wife is a passionate gardener, one of many in our floral neighborhood. She does her part to make our parcel of land attractive, adding plants to every corner and contour where grass doesn’t grow, enhancing the beauty of our surroundings.

Fanciful colors dot our landscape: passionate pinks, plum purples, baby blues, ravenous reds and a potpourri of whites. Whimsical names like quick fire, limelight, pink diamonds, twist and shout and pinky winky, fill the pages of her ‘green thumb’ notebook.

From spring to fall, there is constant change in our yard. Colors morph from whites to pinks to browns, as plants begin their preparation for dormancy. Even those browns are beautiful, before the petals succumb to Nature and fall reluctantly to the ground.

Brisk winds will undress the heartiest of foliage at season’s end, leaving naked limbs pruned and shaped to perfection. Plants, even tall ones, will disappear under winter blankets. Our patience, once again, will be tested, as the long wait for spring emergence begins.

Gardening is hard work: planting and pruning, watering, weeding and waiting. I’m not a good gardener. I grumble too much about most everything associated with gardening: too many plants, wrong spot, time-consuming, too costly. But I enjoy looking at the results of someone else’s efforts.

From a window, I watch my wife and her helper dig, trim, mulch, water, talk and laugh. I guess the talking and laughing is a byproduct of gardening. It’s good she has a helper, I would make it stressful.

She moves among the plants with maternal instinct, straightening, cleaning, feeding, watching them mature, talking to them tenderly, giving encouragement and support. “You can do this. You can grow and be beautiful!”

Gardening is such a fundamental activity, so natural. It reveals the  creativity and strength of the gardener, herself. The garden brings joy to my wife and love to our home. Every household needs a garden. We have several, thanks to my wife and her hard work. I’m a lucky guy.

srbottch

garden 3

Buyers & Sellers

ROCKER 2There are buyers and there are sellers! Today, I was a buyer, with a great deal on a rocking chair, a deceased man’s rocker. I hope that doesn’t sound ‘insensitive’. But, a bargain is a bargain, no matter who the seller is, or was, in this case.

I looked at it as helping to settle his estate while ‘filling a need’ for my living room, killing two birds with one stone.  And isn’t that what ‘buying & selling’ is about, filling a ‘need’?

Someday, I’ll resell it when my frame finds the hardwood seat and spindled back uncomfortable, but not when I’m ‘gone’.  I‘ll sell it while I’m still here and put the proceeds toward another ‘need’.

Buying and selling one’s used, outdated or unneeded property is common in our American culture. Every weekend during nice weather, there are garage, yard and clothesline sales galore in homes, neighborhoods and towns across the country.   Look for the lawn sign, ‘Yard Sale Here’!

Bargains are waiting. Deals are to be made. Bid and offer is the action. Negotiating is almost to be expected. Junk is unloaded and becomes ‘another man’s treasure’.

Craig’s List, estate sales, penny saver ads…stuff is everywhere. Which begs the question, why do we buy so much? And, maybe more importantly, why do we keep it so long?

But back to my bargain hunting.  There’s  no doubt that this small rocker was a great deal. Yesterday, I saw the same chair for sale by a live person for 4 times what I paid. I guess you might call my sale the ‘drop dead price’. So, no, it’s not insensitive and you ‘never look a gift horse in the mouth’, whether it’s dead or alive.

Go through your storage boxes, attic, garage and cellars  Have a yard sale and treat yourself to dinner with your earnings. Anything that you can’t sell, donate to charity. It’s cluttering your life and probably not worth what you think, but the fun you’ll have unloading it will compensate.  Because it really is true, you can’t take it with you. The old fellow who had my rocker would tell you that…if he could! (Rest his soul)

As my wife reminds me, ‘less is more’!

srbottch

ps. I’m gonna sell that old putter, it never worked, anyway!!!