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Archive for June, 2010

After Retirement: Life and Stuff

Wednesday, June 30th, 2010
Garage sale
Image via Wikipedia

by Nancy Werking Poling


I’ve gotten rid of STUFF. Multiple times.

In 2007 my husband, Jim, and I sold our condo in the Chicago area, had two yard sales, listed most of our furniture on Craigslist, and made multiple trips to the Goodwill bins. We stored the possessions that remained, most of them items we had sentimental attachment to, in a 10 by 10 climate-controlled unit, where they stayed for a year and a half. Many friends said they envied us, not because we were going to travel for a year, but because we were getting rid of STUFF.

It was a great year and a half. Two weeks in Poland, four months in Southern California, four months in Seoul, South Korea, with the rest divided between Atlanta, the Chicago area, and visits with family. During that time we had no responsibilities for maintaining our apartments and wasted little time shopping. Anything we were tempted to buy would have to fit inside our VW Jetta  when we left (or in the case of Korea, our suitcase). In California I bought a swatch of fabric to add color to the table setting; in Korea I regularly bought flowers to brighten our efficiency apartment. How freeing it was not to be accumulating STUFF.

A month ago, after living in a small ranch-style house for a year and a half, we moved four blocks to our new home. Jim had found the blueprints on line; we had come across a remarkable young environmentalist builder (who’s also a great guy); we had made the thousands of decisions that accompany building a house (many of them hammered out through arguing). Though a fairly modest home, with three bedrooms and a bonus room upstairs, it is spacious compared to where we’ve spent the past three years.

Yet we find we have too much STUFF. We need more shelves for books and mementoes we’ve gathered in our travels. Though we’re retired and have few occasions for wearing anything other than jeans or grubby shorts, we need more closet space. Where should I put my collection of fans from around the world? Where should we store old files we can’t let go of? Our photo albums?

And the wedding gifts. We still have eight place settings of not-so-fine China, white with rings of blue and platinum, which have to be washed by hand, and silver-plated flatware, which requires polishing, and a crystal bowl with a silver ring. I’ve not used any of these in the past fifteen years and doubt that I ever will. I’m sure our children don’t want them. Why keep them? Because they were wedding gifts.

With all this extra STUFF, what did I do yesterday? I went shopping for STUFF that organizes STUFF.

There’s a message here, which I’m sure the reader can figure out.

Note to my regular readers: I’m back. Building a house, moving, and getting a new book to the publisher have consumed all of my time in recent months.

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Role Model

Monday, June 28th, 2010

By Jian Ping

Birthday Celebration

On Saturday, I allowed myself to be indulged in a birthday celebration that marked the start of another decade. My daughter Lisa and husband Francis arranged the activities for the day: a brunch in Gold Coast, a leisure afternoon at my will, a delicious dinner at cibomatto in the newly opened Wit Hotel, and an evening show at the Goodman Theatre, the Sins of Sor Juana, a bit heavy, but a joy to watch because of the wonderful story and great performance.

All along, however, the fact that the first number of my age increased by a digit made me conscious, if not outright nervous. From time to time, I announced the big number out loud. Lisa and Francis laughed, good-naturally. “Mom, you have good genes,” Lisa offered her comfort. “People will continue to make the remark that you look like my sister.”

I selected a large, tea-colored Swarovski crystal necklace for her to remember the once-in-a-life-time year when my age doubles hers. Or maybe just for the sweet words she said and the time and attention she gave me—it had been a treat to be with her when she is busy like a butterfly with her job and social life.

 I know I’m blessed with good health and energy. I still feel young and have remained active. But the increase in number is a disconcerting reality nevertheless.   

On Sunday, Francis and I joined our partners at the racquetball court for our routine weekend doubles games at the University of Chicago. In the women’s locker room, the conversation I had with a woman who played handball suddenly flashed up in my mind. It was several weeks before. Right at the bench I was standing, I saw two handball gloves on top of a gym bag and a middle-aged woman drying her hair. For years, I had not seen another woman at the handball/racquetball courts. I struck up a conversation and was totally taken by surprise when she told me she was 72, a retired nurse, and had been playing handball for more than 50 years. “I used to play competitively in college,” she said. She looked fit and nowhere close to her age. It happened that our path never crossed because of our different schedule.

Francis, me, and Lisa

I would have guessed she was in her early 50s if she didn’t proudly announced her age.

Suddenly I felt better—the power of a role model.

I still have decades to look forward to and live a fulfilling and active life.

I texted Lisa to tell her that I was determined to make the new decade a better and happier one!  

Jian Ping, author of Mulberry Child: A Memoir of China. For more information, visit, or

Will Power

Friday, June 25th, 2010

by Jian Ping

A jacaranda tree in full bloom

I was in Los Angeles for two days in the middle of this week, meeting with my film director Susan and her team over casting and setting and interviewing PR firms with my executive producer. My body continued to operate on Chicago time, which meant I was awake at 3 A.M. local time, 5 A.M. central time when I usually get up and do my routine workout of swimming or a bike ride along the lakefront trail. When the weather is not cooperating, I’d settle in the fitness room on the elliptical machine or treadmill.

I am not a runner. The longest race I’ve ever participated is the 5K Chase Challenge, a whopping 3.5 miles. Even when I am on the treadmill, I do a combination of walking and jogging—stopping at the 3.5 mile benchmark. But surprised by the cool air and low humility in LA and lured by the palm and magnolia trees that lined the streets and brilliant blooms of lustrous red, purple, white, and blue from the roses, jacaranda, and bougainvillea, I went out for a run and pushed myself to keep at a pace faster than my comfort zone. I know three marathon runners. Rob, my friend Amy’s boyfriend who told me the principle of running a straight line, Ken, my next door neighbor who started running Marathon when he reached 50 and advised me to land softly on my heals in the fitness room when he heard me pounding on the treadmill, and more recently, Gregg, who talked about running a “10 miler” in a routine workout as if he was covering 10 blocks. I thought of them when I wanted to slow down. To my pleasant surprise, I was able to finish my hour-long run without stop.

Bougainvillea flowers

Encouraged by the result, I hit the sidewalk again the following morning. Although I felt the tightness of my thighs from the previous run, I persisted, pushing myself a little by speeding up. Except on the racquetball court where I’d give all I have to save a ball, I rarely sweat. I was pleased to feel beads of perspiration on my forehead when I finished the run. The large heap of blueberry pancake I swallowed afterward most likely made up for all the calories I had burned, but I was happy to realize that if I let my will power to reign, I could run, not a 10-miler perhaps, but at least 5.

I’m happy to start with that.    

Jian Ping, author of Mulberry Child: A Memoir of China. For more information, visit,

Another Favorite Program Gone!

Sunday, June 20th, 2010

By Jian Ping

Vitoria Lautman at Writers on the Record

It was first time I attended Victoria Lautman’s last Writers on the Record Program with a heavy heart. June 10 marked the last session of Victoria’s Writers on the Record, a six-year program which was broadcast live on 98.7 WFMT Radio. I have been to many of Victoria’s programs over the past four years since I moved to downtown Chicago, first at the Looking Glass Theatre and then, at the Harold Washington Library Center (HWLC).

Most of the writers featured on her program were very well known, Richard Russo (Pulitzer Prize Award for Empire Falls), Sherman Alexie (Pen/Faulkner Award for War Dances), Ha Jin (National Book Award for Waiting), and Jane Smiley (Pulitzer Prize Award for A Thousand Acres, to name a few. Victoria has an amazing ability to draw out the authors to talk about their works, and meanwhile, gives just enough information about the book(s) to the audience that even if you haven’t read the book in discussion or know anything about the author, you are able to get into their conversation and walk away feeling informed and inspired.

Victoria once announced the folding up of the program in 2008, citing limited sponsorship. Then, before the end of the season, she lined up with HWLC, and with the continued support of 98.7 WFMT, and others, she pulled off for another year.

“This time it’s my fault,” she said briefly on the last show. “It’s my decision so that I can read all the books I want to read.”

She said she read all the books of the writers who were featured on her program, which left her no time to read any other book that she was interested in.

I’m not sure if that is the entire truth. But I was very sorry to see the closure of one of my favorite programs in the city.

Last year, the Art Institute of Chicago shut down another wonderful program at the Museum: Voice Performance, a one-hour show at noon on Thursdays. It was a well-run program for more than 20 years in which local actors performed the roles of featured artists. While the images of the artwork were shown on the screen, the actor or actress spoke in the artist’s voice, talking about their life, their perspective, and their inspiration. Many times, tears welled up in my eyes as I listened. But after the opening of the new wing at the Museum, the well-attended program was shut down. I was so disappointed that I declined to renew my membership after regarding it a part of my literary life for so many years, a meable protest.

I’m crossing my fingers that Chicago, a city full of literary and cultural activities, won’t loss any more of such soul-touching programs!  

Jian Ping, author of Mulberry Child: A Memoir of China. For more information, visit,

Think Outside the Box

Tuesday, June 15th, 2010

By Jian Ping

Referring to a photo I recently took of the Chicago skyline, a friend of mine asked me if I could tell that “one building contains, within its architectural expression, the very essence of another iconic Chicago structure, which is also captured in the shot.”

I examined each of the buildings in the frame carefully, but couldn’t find any resemblance of one to another. Being an impatient person, I soon threw my hands up in the air and admitted defeat. “Enlighten me,” I said.

As he pointed out the similarities between two buildings in the frame, and I was shocked. Without looking at it carefully, I could see what he was talking about. More importantly, it suddenly appeared so obvious!   

How interesting that once I was able to think outside the box–my natural inclination of thinking and viewing, I was able to see and appreciate the subtlety and unique feature of the building, which I pass by every day, to the other, which I know well and used to pass by nearly every day! It speaks volume for the importance of looking at things from different perspective!

See if you can point out the resemblance from the photo on the right that I failed to see!

 Jian Ping, author of Mulberry Child: A Memoir of China. Visit or for more information.

Chicago Style

Monday, June 14th, 2010

By Jian Ping

Last Friday, Chicago celebrated the Blackhawks’ championship with love, passion and style. Reportedly two million people came out for the parade under the hot blazing sun and more than a hundred people had to be treated for heat inflicted complications.

I have to admit I was not a big fan of hockey—I didn’t go to Michigan Avenue, nor did I go out to buy a Hawks Championship T-shirt. I worked at my desk all day on Friday. The bright sunshine bothered me so much that day that I installed a thick curtain in my study over the weekend. But last Friday, when the heat cooled off substantially in the evening, I took my bike out for a ride on the lakefront trail—I needed to breathe some fresh air and stretch my limbs.

I peddled way south, dodging the assaults of small flies that moved in mid air in swarms. By the time I turned back, the city was cast in magnificent night lights. As I turned the corner from behind the Shed Aquarium, three signs of lights came into view and caught me by surprise. One was: Championship 2010, Hawks on the Blue Cross Blue Shield Building, and the other two were a big logo of the Blackhawks on the east side of CNA Plaza, matched by a huge image of the Standley Cup on the south side. I hit the brakes and jumped off the bike. Admiring the magnificent sight, I felt the dynamics and pulse of the city right there and then. It was not unusual to see tall buildings such as the Avon or Prudential posting signs for special occasions. But I was deeply touched that evening!

“Go Hawks!” and “Go Chicago!” I wanted to shout.

Jian Ping, author of Mulberry Child: A Memoir of China. For more information, visit,

Do you have the same problem or tendency?

Monday, June 7th, 2010

By Jian Ping

New York Times, Hooked by Gadgets

I read the article (see link below) this morning from New York Times and was alarmed by the addiction and interruption the new gadgets our new technology bestowed us. I’m not that tech savvy, but certainly guilty of checking my BlackBerry every time the red light flashes, even in the middle of my designated time for writing.  

I’ll certainly take the article as a wakeup call. Hope you’ll take a look and reflect on your behavior patterns, and more importantly, take actions to make changes before the addition takes control. We need to relearn how to be fully engaged in what we do without “multitasking,” or rather, being distracted by ten other things at the same time.    

Link to New York Time article: Hooked on Gadgets, and Paying a Mental Price.

Jian Ping, author of Mulberry Child: A Memoir of China. Visit or for more information.

Talking at Women’s Book Group in Barrington

Thursday, June 3rd, 2010

 By Jian Ping

Barrington, IL

Yesterday was the 2nd time in three weeks I went to Barrington, a northwestern suburb of Chicago. The first time was to give a talk at a Rotary Club on May 13. The Metra train ran late that day, so my husband had to give me a ride in the pouring rain early in the morning so I could make it to the 7 A.M. breakfast meeting.  Yesterday, my appearance was at a women’s book group. I was much luckier—Sharon, my friend Joyce’s cousin, came all the way from Michigan to attend the talk and stopped by in downtown Chicago to pick me up! And the event started at 12:30 P.M.

Barbara was the host for the group. After a delicious lunch, complete with desert, we all settled in her living room in a circle, more than twenty people. I showed a few posters and photos of China’s Cultural Revolution. Since they had finished reading my book, the Q & A was lively and enthusiastic. I always enjoy meeting and talking with readers of Mulberry Child directly—pleasantly amazed by their questions and interpretations. Yesterday, I was especially touched by their resonance with Nainai, my grandmother who played a significant role in my life.   

Several people in the group had been to China, so we also discussed about the changes in the country today, as well as the lives of my siblings and the devotion of my mother and late father. I also informed them of the docu-drama film based on Mulberry Child that is currently being developed. I also talked about the book I’m writing with my daughter Lisa. I was so engaged in the discussion that I didn’t realize we went way over time. I ended up missing my 3:18 P.M. train back to the city!

I was very touched by these women’s genuine interest in the book and in China and their appreciation of a life torn by political persecution and poverty in China in the 60’s and 70’s.

Joyce, my friend who introduced me to the group, couldn’t make it today due to a car accident. Thanks, Joyce, and keep up with that fighting spirit and get well soon.

Jian Ping, author of Mulberry Child: A Memoir of China. For more information, visit,