Those Birthdays Keep Coming


courtesy Wikimedia Commons



For his eightieth birthday, a friend gave my husband a T-shirt. The words emblazoned across the chest read, the older I get, the better I was.

No, no, no. keep going. Reinvent yourself. Deal with the infirmities as they arise.

Remember Betty Friedan? She wrote The Feminine Mystique fifty years ago. (Dell has produced an anniversary edition.) “Shake off the shackles of your vacuum cleaners and get out of the house,” Friedan told women. Now that it has been fifty years, of course some women would just as soon open the front door and head back in. Anyway, Friedan gave the movement a name. F-E-M-I-N-I-S-M.

Several years later, Friedan wrote The Fountain of Age. (Simon and Schuster, 2006) This book celebrates old age as an opportunity for new beginnings. New contributions. Pleased when a group of Harvard physicians invited her to join them in a study or aging, Friedan found Alzheimer’s Disease to be the new beginning they most wanted to study.

Sons, daughters, grandchildren. Don’t write us off. I, for one, write. (Three books—one published this year, two languishing in the storeroom.) Blogs and Facebooks. I’m not the only one. I know of a ninety-two-year-old woman who has recently written a book called, Still Boy Crazy at Ninety.

I adore my grandchildren. Their creativity, their fresh outlooks, and their joy renew me as I watch them explore the world and grow. But sometimes they’d just as soon savor each year a little longer before it passes forever. On his fifth birthday my grandson told me, “I don’t want to grow up. I want to grow down.”

I hope you see fine possibilities ahead even if you don’t have a birthday cake like the one above.










A Chinese Delicacy via Marco Polo


Marco Polo in Tartare costume, courtesy Wikimedia commons

Marco Polo ranks right up there with Hannibal and Alexander the Great as a pioneer traveler. But Marco Polo was an explorer, not a conqueror. He left Venice in 1271 and spent the next twenty-four years traveling through China, India, and the Middle East before heading back to Venice.

With his pasty Caucasian skin, the Chinese considered Marco Polo a barbarian. But Polo may have brought some of his own culture with him to China. Delicacies shared today in both Italy  and China are meat-filled pastries. Like the traveling Finger Game  featured in last week’s blog, no one is certain in which country they originated. These pastas are known in Italy as ravioli, and in China as jiao-tze.

At Oriental gatherings, we enjoy watching Chinese women form an assembly line, fill thin-skinned wrappers with meat or vegetable combinations, and pinch them with a fluted seal before setting them to boil in a steaming pot. Rich with plumpness, the jiao-tzes never break.

My husband, born in pre-World War II China to expatriate parents, will go anywhere any time for a savory jiao-tze. We go early to Chinese parties to watch the ladies make these morsels with the marvelous speed that can only come from years of practice.

Do your taste buds favor a special international treat?

Travelling Fingers

pointing hand

Marco Polo traveled through China around 1275, dropping off bits of Venetian culture and picking up Chinese inventions. Polo’s accounts of his travels created the first written record of porcelain, coal, gunpowder, printing, paper money, and silk.

No one knows for sure who originated the drinking game shared by Italy as Moira, and China as Hua Chuan — loosely translated from Chinese as finger guessing. The idea is to guess the number of finger’s on one’s opponent’s hand when he throws out his fist, and add it to the tossed digits of one’s own. The one who calls the sum total wins. Being a Chinese game, it is the loser who must drink the wine.

To start, each raises his fist while shouting out a number and flings his hand forward to show the number of fingers he is playing. If one plays two fingers, then the other, to win, should call “three” while playing one finger, “four,” playing two, etc. The call numbers vary between zero and ten.

Numbers are rattled off in rapid succession in a shrill voice, like a military command. The hands should rise and fall in rhythm. When the wrong number is called out, the loser must drink. To avoid being caught, the player must change his fingers constantly. Meanwhile, he must guess the right number.

Quick wits and dexterous fingers are winning assets. But a loud and domineering voice is priceless. Short of blows and poking fingers in the other’s eyes, there is no rule against bullying one’s opponent.

The loser suffers a loss of dignity known in China as Face.

My husband spent his first ten years in pre-World War II China where his expatriate father worked as an agent for the Standard Oil Company. Once they returned to the U.S. he played fingers after dinner every night with his father and brother. The loser had to do the dishes.

“Never crybaby when you lose,” Pop always said.

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