Janet Combs

Janet Combs

Can your life be culturally rich while you’re involved in physically demanding home-improvement projects? This critical question will be answered shortly, because what is the intellectually stimulating Planet Janet column if not a platform for the inconsequential stuff on my mind?

My Grandma Fricke used to tie $10 bills to the Christmas tree with my name and those of my brothers and sisters on them — and she’d always say, “Save half, spend half.” This was my earliest lesson in leading a balanced life — reinforced later by years of raising my own children and attempting to make each day a mix of chores and fun. In the past decade, my weekly yoga classes have underscored the concept of balance; I am proud to say I no longer create my grocery list in my head during the meditative “Savasana” close of class.

Lately, I’ve been wondering if we’ve tipped the scales in favor of housework. Should my husband and I be carving out time instead to go to a lecture at the library, attend the theater, or listen to a musical concert? Sadly, the answer is “Not right now,” unless it suddenly becomes socially acceptable for these evening activities to be accompanied by our thunderous snoring, or for us to attend with our twin plug-in heating pads.

Physical work is exhausting. Please feel free to embroider this on a throw pillow, to remind your smarty-pants friends that a large segment of the population in America is doing significant, valuable work with shovels or paint rollers or sanding poles in their hands. We don’t even attempt this type of physical work for eight hours at a stretch in this, the autumn of our lives —and yet we get a marked satisfaction from finishing a difficult project with our own two hands.

Sometimes, I forget my balance mantra and overdo it. Last weekend, after moving a new desk upstairs and getting on the floor to assemble it with my husband, we decided to attack the pollen covering all the horizontal surfaces in our home. (South Carolina is apparently where the pollen goes to party for Spring Break.) Just before we were about to call it quits — in fact, my husband was in the shower and I was mopping the last room — I bent to rinse the mop in the sink and — KAZOWEE.

Kazowee is the sound you hear in your head when your lower back “goes out,” and you can neither sit nor stand, but remain in an awkward pose as if you were playing freeze tag with your grandchildren and are too competitive to admit you are in excruciating pain.

Let me tell you, it was a good thing we didn’t have tickets to a cultural event that Sunday evening, because I couldn’t even stand up to get in the shower!

Notice how this column has come full-circle to the intriguing question about leading a culturally rich life. My point is, at this stage, we can apparently only tolerate small, sedentary spurts of cultural enrichment in the evening hours. But do not despair! I have found just the thing.

“Duolingo” is a free app you can download on your phone to learn a foreign language at your own pace. Now, while sitting in my chair in the evenings with a heating pad on my still-aching back and half my brain occupied by March Madness basketball, I am also learning to speak Spanish! There are a number of categories — travel, family, restaurant, shopping. You select the topic and complete as many lessons as you can culturally endure before you fall into a deep, open-mouthed, snoring sleep in your recliner.

I can now remark “I eat apples” to a native Spanish speaker. I can also state that I need a ticket to Madrid.

If only my Abuela, Grandma Fricke, were still alive; I could thank her for her early lessons in leading a balanced life.

Janet Combs is a freelance writer living in Georgetown County. Her column is published regularly in the Georgetown Times. Contact her at https://janetfrickecombs.wordpress.com.