Thursday, December 24, 2015

Dr. Kathy McCoy: Living Fully in Midlife and Beyond: Holiday Expectations vs. Reality

Dr. Kathy McCoy: Living Fully in Midlife and Beyond: Holiday Expectations vs. Reality

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Peace to the World.

This is our second home, Riverbend Hospital/Specialty Clinics in Eugene, Oregon, one hundred and fifty miles from home.Here is where our doctors and specialists and surgeons practice. Here is where our grandson was born three years ago on a cold and wet day while carolers sang White Christmas in the big lobby. And this is also the town where I meet visitors who fly into Oregon, reigniting old friendships among pines and river banks/

Our doctors, friends and family are at our fingertip most days.
Personal appearances are not necessary in most cases.

This is Maggie Tintut and I two years ago in Los Angeles, where our children met and married, and we congratulated each other at graduations and weddings and comforted each other during sad times. We don't email or catch each other on Facebook, but our children do, and they pass on information back and forth, to be sure we are all connected as we can be.
We don't have to meet face to face as often as we used to to stay connected. At this gathering, as I walked ahead with Thizar my son's wife, her daughter and husband and my husband behind us, we were about to meet another dozen people, young and old, all stopping their lives to spend a Sunday morning with us all, sharing dim sum, catching up on all the events of the year. Notice how my husband back there is texting to our daughter,catching up with her at the same time.

My writing a blog or two also helped. My son Brian used to read my blog, and at times he'd call to tell me that he appreciated my thoughts on this or that topic. Blogging has allowed me an opportunity to understand my own sentiments about different aspects of life. By sharing my feelings, my children and my friends have known my point of view more often than we could ever find time or occasions to discuss.

Lately, my brother's grandchild tracked me down on the internet through my memoir blog. Imagine how happy we all were. I got to communicate across the continent and another ocean with people I would never have met, with whom we share a great deal.

My biggest joy at this time of the year is to scroll through my web album and discover this picture of my two boys and my granddaughter as we posed for pictures ten years ago, happy to get together for Christmas on the Oregon coast. This must have been an unusually sunny day, unlike the present weather pattern we are experiencing.

We live in great times for communication. We can instantly communicate across the globe and click our preferences for a post someone else shared. Love and War of words could be triggered without much fanfare. Unlike old days when sending a message across the land meant acquiring proper paper and envelopes, current address and stamps, we can be sitting in front of television listening to the news and typing away our Christmas greetings to everyone we know, and even to those we don't know.

It all breaks down to this simple message: we are all connected even when we don't know. What we say matters now more than ever. Let's enjoy this freedom. And let's us wish the world a future of peace and goodwill.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Looking back.

We're chugging along, Hubby and I, looking back more often than looking forward. Our conversations tend to go here and there, but mostly to some memory in the past, our shared past of fifty years, and our individual pasts before we met.

Recently, we had a celebration with his relatives, a brother, and a half sister, and scenes of their shared childhood kept popping up in the conversations. Things Hubby remembered did happen to involve one or the other sibling. Each then begins to add or subtract details, sometimes between moaning resentments dropped in to set the record straight.

You do remember that I paid for that car I smashed, Hubby says. No, you couldn't have paid for it, his brother declares. Of course I did; I had two jobs in my junior year and I saved every nickel and dime to buy that car. You, referring to his sister, you never had to pay for anything; Dad just bought you the lessons you wanted, the car you dreamed about.

The three of them talk about some slight the other committed and the conversation goes to another year, another decade.

As scenes were shared and re-created, detail were added to set the record straight on various improper times one or the other listed to make a point, or to correct the recollection. The rest of us, spouses who might never have met if not for the people doing the reminiscing, we just drank our iced teas or wines, and smiled.

Now, now, wasn't it nice you had each other through tick and thin, one of us might attempt to add a cold ice cube of levity to the muddle.

I don't have family or friends from childhood around me. The last time I spoke face to face with my brothers was fifteen years ago. We've moved a few times, changed careers, got divorced, married, remarried, retired, and otherwise remained connected only because the new phones are so much better at Christmas greetings than those old air mail letters that took weeks to get anywhere.

The last time I saw any blood relative of mine, excluding my children, was three years ago at a cousin's wedding. But even these were not people I knew before coming to America. And besides, cousins are not the same as the folks who might remember every detail of your childhood, even the color of that shirt you wore when you angrily killed that rooster that was bothering you as you played hide and seek in the backyard of some relative and could not succeed in shoeing that rooster away.

My husband's family moved about often; but the two brothers managed to keep up with each other even after they left home. As they recount this or that, I marvel at how much they remember, their first day of school, first fight or bloody nose, first stirrings of homesickness. They can name places and people and dates with no hesitancy. As they speak,  they help each other reconstruct, make sense of blurred occurrences, stabilize the importance of the feelings they remember with each scene.

I envy them the treasure trove of shared memories.
I envy their comfort.

And I long even more for the losses I feel, of family and companions, uprooting losses that have stayed with me. Losses that had names; and those that just floated by now and then, as I watched a movie, heard a phrase, tasted a food that brought back those lost years.

As waves of refugees cross continents, embrace new languages and customs, I'm reminded of my journey, easy compared to the one they are taking. I can see their future, and their struggles, and their looking back wanting what they left behind. They will never be able to reconcile these losses. They will concentrate on their daily prayers of gratitude that their lives were spared, and their children's lives have been blessed with new beginnings.

May they grow strong and brave; may they have the courage to write about their losses as they embrace their new challenges.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Are you the doer, or the adviser?

There are two types of people around you, everywhere: the doers, and the advisers.

The doers have done a lot of planning and shopping and organizing before they do what they do.
The advisers just run their mouths because they know a better way to get the task done.

When I was a young teacher, most of us with little experience  had little respect for those folks who were sent to advise us. These were usually not practicing teachers any more; they had hung their chalk, (chalk, the initial public writing instrument) and were now travelling and listing their wisdom on 3x5 cards which they read to us in the audience. Yes, before overhead projectors and computer presentations, speakers read their notes from 3x5 cards they brought to the lectern. Their advice might have been superb, but if the audience had not encountered the circumstances, the advice was lost, flew off the lectern. Worst, their advice was too general, or too idealistic. We kept thinking, this person has never taught in this classroom, with these children.

Later in my career, I too became an adviser. Remembering those initial feelings about advisers, I turned the writing of notes back to the audience. What happened last week in your classroom that you had not encountered before, and what did you need to know to handle that problem? Write that down on a 3x5 and pass it up to the front. These were the notes I used to talk about preparation and follow through.

In my house, and in terms of preparing meals for a company,  I am the doer, my husband the adviser. Whether I need his insights, he jumps right in and states them with confidence. While I can usually listen politely and nod to his desires often enough, around the holidays, when timing and traditions are crucial, I tend to be curt to my adviser in chief. "No, we are not going to make potatoes three different ways just because that's what your mother did when Aunt Carol visited."

The funny part about this conversation is the fact that I need my husband to run errands, move furniture, peel potatoes, and do all sorts of things at the last moment, and I can't listen to his reasons to do or not to do something in these circumstances even though I value his judgement and his logistics skills. Anytime I'm stumped with a dilemma, I can rely on him to simplify the steps.

Just this morning, as we debated when and how to cook the turkey for tomorrow's Thanksgiving feast with the family, considering the long distance of 150 miles, the possibility of delay, the possibility of not having time to re-heat the bird and all the other stuff, I wanted to shut him up and walk away. I could handle this, I thought, as the official cook of the family.

Instead, we each used our smart phones and researched the possibilities.
The solution: the turkey is being cooked, carved, and chilled today. Tomorrow, the turkey will travel chilled,  safely to our destination, even with delays. It will go into the oven and be re-heated properly. We moved the dinner later in the day, and provided lots of nibbling upon arrival.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone

Friday, November 13, 2015

What should matter?

Our health is directly related to the healthy environment we live in.

Lives, both visible and invisible, signal their presence, with rustles, screeches, scurrying, pecking, while we walk about in meditation, marveling at the different shades of green we never knew existed, and thousands of intricacies revealing in front of us.

This is not a fearful place anymore. This is a healing place; a place that lets us breath fresh air, calms our nerves, relaxes your stand. And when we hear or see an animal in a distressed mode, we feel compelled to stop, attend to it, look for ways to heal and remedy the situation, and might even take the step of removing that being to a place where it has a chance of life.

This has always been our habitat. That hurt animal, that could have been us, we think.

Something about our shared experience is still remembered, how we camouflaged  for millenia, first with covers made from skins of others, with paste and juices and mud and feathers so not to stand out as you do today in your red poncho. For millenia we learned  to blend in in this habitat that might recognize us as prey, skin and bone, but prey never the less.

That was our inheritance, our gene pool, our destiny. No birth control needed if in our entire lives our coital adventures ended up with just a few gestation events, and only one offspring ended up growing to maturity when by chance, among friendly tribes, someone else took turns watching the child at night while you dozed off.

How did we develop our intelligence and not our empathy? How did we learn to solve problems like building solid shelters, design clothing that protect us from all weather, build devices that can help us communicate our status to the world as this very computer I'm writing on, and still feel as though what matters is to take care of number one?  Even when we were prey on a regular basis, we took care of our tribe, we looked out for the benefit of everyone involved, and made room at our table for the stranger passing by. None of our discoveries or inventions would have occurred without global communication and assistance.

Did we miss an evolutionary cycle?
Are we still fighting our deepest fears in the deep recesses of our memory?

As elders of our tribe, we need to speak out for those whose voice might be silenced, and speak truth to power at all times. After all, we have the biggest memories; we have the deepest responsibilities to leave the world better than we found it.

Yes, indeed, Black Lives Matter.
Yes, indeed, where there is callousness and discrimination, and violence, we are sowing seeds of our own destruction.

Friday, November 6, 2015

What did Marcus Aurelius know?

Marcus Aurelius, (AD. 121-180) was a Roman Emperor and a philosopher. He called his writing/ thoughts "Meditations", and kept it private, even writing it in Greek, the language of the elite in Rome. Not a religious treatise, it is never the less, a spiritual journey, and it starts with paying tribute to those people who had helped him become who he was at that time, an emperor and a just man.

As I continue to search and borrow and ponder the meaning of life, especially at this juncture, when death is right around the corner for so many of us, reading the Meditations has become my own spiritual journey.

As I paid for the book at Barnes and Nobles, the young clerk looked puzzled when I told her everyone must read Meditations at every stage of their lives.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Not so small stuff.

When I notice the engineering and technical expertise that it took to tame the West, I go into culture shock. Goodness, I think, what serious work it was to build the Bonneville Damn, construct passages across mighty rivers, connect electrodes to a diseased heart and keep it working and ticking on time with a pacemaker. What did it take for all these things to come around and improve our life in so many ways?

My neighbors are living way beyond the age my parents reached when they died and I wonder what it was that has kept them alive for so long, what in their genes or lifestyles or luck produced a long living life. They didn't grow up without childhood diseases, without possibility of starvation or poisoning. Dietary guidelines weren't even on the horizon during most of their youth as well. A balanced diet, exercise, stress reduction are late comers to the scene. They probably all had measles and whooping cough.

When jogging came on the scene, and with it, running shoes, matching clothes, I was a new mother, juggling work, shopping, keeping the household running smoothly. I owned one pair of tennis shoes with flat soles that were thin and made of rubber that seemed to come apart in strips every time I actually tried to use them for tennis.. They were hot and flimsy for shopping; never mind using them on a hot asphalt in Southern California, where tennis courts and swimming were exercises I could have indulged in.

Ten years later, high heels at work began to give way to flat or semi-flat loafers and high priced running shoes with basketball heroes emblazoned all over the back heel were paraded everywhere, sign of status among high school students as well as their teachers. Ties disappeared from apparel at the same time. Sweat pants were seen everywhere, among joggers as well as on shopping mothers.

You'd think that with all that emphasis on exercise and all the ingenuity of medical devices for the last few decades, our health as a nation would have improved, and our lifestyles would be enhanced in so many ways.

Were we naive about the choices we made? Or the elimination of Home Economics and P.E from schools' curriculum kept us in the dark? Or the addition of so many fast foods and packaged snacks replacing old fashioned oatmeal and fresh fruit changed our taste?

Were these big or small decisions?

Were they even decisions? 

Friday, October 9, 2015

Reflections on Ishiguro's The Buried Giant

I don't know that I ever read a story written in such simple form that could cover so many themes, and speak to me so intimately in my present state. This is a modern fable unlike anything you'd find on the shelves of contemporary book stalls. From the start, we meet our protagonists,Axl and Beatrice, an old man and his old wife, as he awakes on a cold foggy morning, bothered by some distant thought or another, lovingly moving about not wanting to disturb his sleeping wife. This will be their story, a quest to find a solution to their present situation where they are away from family, relegated to live in the dark at the end of a long warren without heat, to search for a son they have not seen in years, along memory's trails to find whom and what they have forgotten from their youth, each element of their lives lived together slowly becoming clear to themselves, and to the reader.

The setting is England after the Romans have left, and after the conquests of KingArthur and his Knights of Camelot. As our protagonists travel the land in search of their lost son, they encounter various characters, some amicable, some unpredictable, as cultural consequences of both the Roman conquests and the Arthurian wars that aimed to bring various factions, Britons and Saxons, warriors and clerics, myths and realities, under a common flag.

These are parallel journeys of remembrance, the personal story for each of the character, each on a quest to perfect or pursue his/her aim in life, to lift the fog of forgetfulness, to see the land and its inhabitants in a clear light, to right the wrong according to personal code, regardless of personal consequences. Each encounter reveals the status of institutions, and the connections each character has had to the same. These understandings reveal the ultimate dilemma: to remember is both a way to be cleansed of the fog, revel in the joy of lost memories, and a way to be hurt again, as the hurts that have been buried deep in one's psyche, deeply concealed, the way the buried giant conceals all the bones of those who were atrociously cut down in their prime because of King Arthur and his knights' crusades or some other national atrocity committed for a cause that was sold as good for all.

What an apt bedtime story of us old folks.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

How do we choose?

(broccoli and cauliflower saute')

Hubby has been getting up early, many mornings, just to get to the kitchen before me, just so he can have his favorite breakfast, his way. What is that, you ask? Potatoes hash/brown with peppers and onions, a slice of crisp bacon and a fried egg. He changes this pattern rarely; even the breakfast he might order at a restaurant. If left to choose on his own, Hubby will eat the breakfast he has come to love, even though his doctor's orders are otherwise.

I fix all meals with three thoughts in mind:  what is in the refrigerator that needs using; what fits our nutritional needs.  This morning, I could have easily prepared this sauteed combo, but I had spinach to use up. So, we had a spinach omelette instead.

How we choose, however, is hardly something we do consciously according to the latest research. So, ignore that second paragraph, where I list my thoughts/criteria for preparing meals. The real process is quicker and unconscious, based on a lifetime of habits, and only when we think about our choices, we come up with rationales, clear patterns, philosophical standings to justify our actions.

As I watch/read the statements out of Pope Francis's mouth this week, throughout his visit to America and Cuba, I keep thinking of all the things he could have said and done in his role as the Holy Father. I'm sure his "handlers" act as all assistants do, help smooth out schedules, identify areas of concern, etc. His character and habits however, will show through and through.

The idea that we do most of our choosing automatically is a bit unnerving. After all, haven't we taken entire courses of study on planning, analyzing, prioritizing.

How will it look if an employer asked us to plan a strategy for improving a process, and our response is: No need to. When it's time to choose, we all jump right in.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Getting to the end of all things.

We are all fishermen, equipping our boats with traps and lures, life jackets and survival kits, adding extra ice in those coolers we hope to fill with our catches, as we go on, day in and day out to fight for our survival, one bounty at a time, on most days when the weather is cooperating, and even on those days when most people would rather remain under blankets. We are wired to work; we are wired to support our families; we are wired to keep trying until we succeed.

Our working lives give us sustenance and identity.

Whether in an office or on an assembly line, at sea or on the ranch,  our work has demands on our being, our full attention in the present and our full commitment for the future. We trudge through the worse days anticipating better days. We work and then, one day, we hope to take a rest, run into some extra cash to fulfill the dream of a bigger boat, a set of tools, all to make our work produce more income, more security for those days ahead we know we won't have enough strength to pull another load, to handle another complaint, to type another inquiry. There will be a time, you tell yourself, when all this will pay off; our lives will improve, and lady luck will smile broadly and long upon us.

Then, we are too old for work. Or, our boat brakes down; our equipment is too ancient; our energy level can't keep up anymore. It's time to retire. Time to enjoy the fruit of our labors. Or, sell what we have and move out of the rat race, identify the necessities and live without those trappings we have come to rely on.

When the end is near, we all think of ways to pare down. We might sell our house and buy a smaller condo, with no upkeep expenses. We try to sell our stuff too; or give it away as stuff will tie us down.

After all the dismantling, reality kicks in. What do I do with all my time? How do I live without the comforts I have enjoyed all these years? Will I miss my old work? Will I miss the grand kids? What happens if I become very ill? What happens if my money runs out?

We take a long time to prepare for work, decades. We take very little time to prepare for the decades that follow work, for the decades when our choices will be just as tough as the choices we had in our youth, yet the time to recuperate if we make bad choices is very short. Our health and social lives will change drastically; our partners, too, as we are then left to deal with life's circumstances on our own. If our families were close, there will be comfort. If we still can drive and travel, more comfort.

Mostly, the race to the end of life is a sad string of circumstances we have no idea how to handle, and very few resources left to address such needs.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Let's all be like Scout!

My grandchild gifted me with a copy of Harper Lee's Go Set a Watchman, intuiting that I would want to read it. She was right. I devoured the book, and the two of us will have so much to talk about when we meet next week. (Yes, she has her own copy and will be ready to discuss the book, even if she's not finished.)

Harper Lee was herself young and working in New York, and being exposed to a bigger view of the world when she wrote this book about a young lady returning home and discovering that what she thought of her father and of her uncle, what she had internalized all her life about how people behaved with other people, what people thought of each other, all those old ideas came crushing down.

Her beloved father, (yes, the one portrayed in To Kill a Mockingbird, the lawyer who defended the black man accused of raping a young white female) the man she admired and held on a pedestal, her brilliant and kind, and benevolent father was just an ordinary Southerner who had participated in secret societies' thoughts and actions to keep the races separate and to maintain the old status quo.

How could that be, a now grown Scout asks. Most of the book is a quest to reconcile this tension,to find the key to understanding, to stand tall and deliberate at the crossroads of adulthood and ask the hard questions, prepared to lose her family, to leave her hometown and never return to a place of bigotry and tensions.

I want to ask my grandchild if she knew about this history of  race relations in America; if she had any idea of how whole towns, or states fought to suppress a whole race of people? How this tension is still with us in so many ways? How a certain group still feels superior and entitled to its privileged positions?

I'm an immigrant, and though I've lived in the West and in the South for decades, my understanding of American history is limited. A book like this sheds light on a long history of wounds and resentment; opens up conversations that are hard to have; sets the stage for parents and grandparents to search the thoughts and underlining biases their children have and begin to elaborate, to search, to confront, just like Scout did.

The conversation will not be easy between my grandchild and me. We'll discover biases we all hold, known and unknown; we'll defend our point of view with personal anecdotes. The book will help us bridge our divide a bit; the book will show us that talking and clearing the air is what we do when we disagree; that we can still love those who hold thoughts we abhor; that people are complex; that our personal history shapes us; that our circumstances may have shaped us to this moment. But, we, at any moment, knowing more history and getting more ideas, we can begin to clear wounds, declare our intentions to align our intention toward the truth that is superior and more  just.

Yes, a great conversation starter. Thank you, Harper Lee for this gift!   

Saturday, July 11, 2015

What we leave behind.

Vista House, at the left of the first photograph is a monument built in the '30's at the height of the American depression years.  (Forgive this weird photo; amounting to nothing in particular, except the fancy car and its driver right at the bottom. My fault, entirely. Darn if I can offer a decent explanation!)

From the size and look of Vista Point House, you'd think it's a monument dedicated to some Hollywood celebrity, something you'd find in a California cemetery, a two story commemoration of substance, no expenses spared in this landmark. Even the bathrooms are treated in marble seen only in Italy.

Since weather and natural disasters keep changing things around, sometimes leaving no traces of humans, this monument stands as a watchdog on the great Columbia, reminding us that once, in the depth of despair, this country, and the president who led these projects, had faith in the enduring qualities of the human spirit, in its ability to dream and build, to understand that people need dignity, work and a sense of community that only public works can provide.

Hubby and I visited a few places in the Northwest where his dad had worked with the Public Works Project, and this was our final destination.  

Friday, July 3, 2015

Every now and then, my whole shrinks...

This is a water meter, one of two at our place. This one registers the consumption of water for outdoor use, an amount that regularly gets subtracted from the main register on a monthly basis. Imagine all this happening here on the coast in Oregon, where it rains 70-80 inches a year and ducks and beavers are our sports mascots.  Even in Oregon, we parse water consumption. Our vegetable gardening and all our pots are on drip irrigation. Our tiny lawn  goes dormant in the summer, most summers. We live on a lake; but the lake water cannot be used for irrigation because fish and other aquatic lives need a certain level of purity and a certain level of flow for their well being.

What if our well being was metered? What if we carried a device that told us exactly how well we felt all the time? What if human lives at all levels, regardless of position or function or wealth, what if each human was guaranteed a basic level of sustenance and protection from harm, from injury, both physical and emotional?

The last few weeks have brought me face to face with a strange feeling I get every now and then. The feeling that I don't belong to this land the way the natives do. As an immigrant, my sense of belonging is right under the surface, exposed now and then whenever the politics of the day question my status, my origin, my accent-tinged way of speaking.

Perhaps too many of us have skated around this problem, this sense of not quite deserving to be in this land, this sense of unease with all the rhetoric bantered about, and never quite finding the words to address the problem. I can only imagine how big the uneasiness for those Americans who were born here, and for no other reason than their color, their economic status, their ethnicity or their religion, their sexual orientation have been relegated to a life of less importance, a life that needs constant adaptation and metering, adding this or that to belong to the bigger society.

I can vouch in a tiny way for what it feels like to have that second meter with you all the time. It tells you, that no matter how much you succeed, how important you may feel certain days, you better remember that you are being monitored for your worthiness, watched for any careless display of your "otherness" among the bigger society. You are, after all, not the real thing.

Monday, June 29, 2015

How the West Was Built

Hubby and I celebrated our June/July events that included Father's Day, our anniversary and his birthday, at Timberline Lodge in the foothills of Mount Hood, in the Oregon Cascades, a monumental lodge built in the '30s as part of F.D.R.'s public works programs. This was our first visit to this elevation, over six thousand feet of majestic splendor. The Arts&Crafts style lodge has been renovated and modernized, with all the amenities one would expect in this age: running hot and cold water, heat, superb restaurant food, internet...

We love exploring new places whenever possible, anticipating both the good and the bad part of a new adventure. What we found was truly a remarkable place, everything hand built and furnished in just eighteen months. Eighteen months! Our little bungalow in California was built in eighteen months with plenty of big rigs and ready-made parts shipped to the site for assembly. Nothing at Timberline Lodge was pre-made. Even the furniture and drapes were constructed on site.

Ten miles south of Timbeline Lodge is Government Camp, the original site for all the encampment and organizing activities necessary to built the lodge.  Government Camp is still operating, btw. It is now a vacation village with all the modern trappings and reasonably priced accommodations for skiers and hikers.

This was a trip down memory lane for Hubby. His father worked at such camps during the recession, and it was fun for us to visit not one but many areas where the work of the WPA (Work Project Administration) left a lasting legacy.

On the way home, we stopped at Bonneville Dam and Power Plant, a remarkable place to trap the Columbia River's power and prevent destructive floods that had  destroyed towns and agriculture around the Columbia River Basin. 

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Remember Limbo and Purgatory, and...

Can life moments be captured by a photo or a memoir piece? I no longer keep thoughts or deeds journals. I never really succeeded when I tried. Snippets here and there, a moment in a decade, a blurry photograph. If low and confused, I write stuff down, as a way to decode, I guess, the importance of the blow I feel at the moment, rather than chronicle the entire event in details.

Something in me feels that there will be endless opportunities to catch all that is worth catching and this moment is repeated often enough that it is not worth clogging that memory stick waiting in the hole of the laptop.

I carry my phone everywhere these days; but I seldom use all its functions. Taking pictures takes me out of the action, becoming someone I am not. Besides, I rather receive pictures from others; and then, in a state of nostalgia for things and people I met across my journey, for the person I used to be in the moment someone else captured, I can enjoy and appreciate the event and all its facets again and again. What it seems to be, this reluctance of mine, is a distaste for posing rather than a distaste for recording. Also, it is a distaste for relegating life to snippets, to blurry arrangements that are neither artistic, nor realistic. In the moment of a picture being taken, we, the subjects, are being frozen out of our moment, literally.

Perhaps, my dislike for picture taking has to do with my realization that what is happening may not be what was meant to happen; what was detailed to happen in the plan we all made before the event took place.

Or, it is my desire not to be disappointed. You see,  I used to keep lists and construct elaborate plans for my life. Financial plans; food plans; career plans; educational plans...There was never a week when I didn't have a detailed weekly menu and grocery list; when I didn't maneuver my numbers to come up with more money for savings, for vacations, for those piano lessons. I excelled at planning.

At work, when processes such as , "Strategic Planning", "Total Quality Control";  and "Risk Abatement" were bantered about, I jumped on the "Bandwagon" and schooled myself in these strategies. I wanted to be the first and the best, eager and willing to implement new and improved methods and strategies I read about in the journals I subscribed to, or the workshops I attended.

(I never did take pictures at these events. If pictures were taken, and later became adverting for future events, I felt a sense of disappointment, and betrayal, as though a moment in time capturing two, three groups at a training could stand for weeks of pouring through notes and manuals, for mastering difficult ideas and making them fit in comfortably with current practices.)

What was a  long professional quest, to become state- of- the- art with vision, mission and strategic planning, accounting for all the factors that might derail or spur the team from or to success, such long planning  could never be captured in one, two pictures, in one two sentences.

Can we really capture things, frame them in a few words when they are  constantly changing?

Life, private or professional,  has a way to slip through, reach out and faze out processes even before they are mastered, becoming distracted  when something new hits the shelves. We no longer spend a lifetime mastering anything, as new tools appear right at our fingertips promising everything we were missing.  We no longer know what to trust when something hits the market.

We can't even trust our memories or the memories of those who came before us, the ancient wisdom that chronicled and provided  needed wisdom for the future.

As I watch my daughter implement Montessori learning opportunities for her toddler, I smile and rejoice. Maria Montessori's wisdom is still alive and thriving. Everything old is new again. Who knows, something I might have said or done will still survive past my lifetime.

Perhaps I should take a picture, or a video of this day. Some thing needs to be written down and recorded so when we feel neglected or disappointed by our present we can retrieve the past and begin anew. Remembering doesn't come naturally for many people. Writing things down or painting a picture may just help us see the folly or the glory of past days.

Friday, June 5, 2015

The unimagined life of the actuarian

How long do these blooms last?
How fast can I walk with cheap shoes?
How far will my money last?
What are my chances of getting cancer?

These and other questions do have answers, based on statistical analysis, a gathering of raw data supporting a longitudinal study or a species factor status...We do have experts who know what numbers to gather to provide the proper guidance for the rest of us.

Or do we?

My biggest surprises in old age were never on any radar, mine or my Hubby's. I thought we had the world figured out by our sixties. Expenses get reduced after children are grown; needs are diminished; wants are simple shelter,food and medicines.

How did medical needs end up costing  more per month than food?
How did communication devices end up tipping our piggy banks?
Why did we choose to live in a place that needed a sewer tax to rebuild its sewer system?

In my working years, I paid nothing for medical care. From the time I had my first child, the bill for his care and mine in and out of the hospital was the cost of that phone call home. Yes, $1.50 to call out of zone. Today, I might not even use the hospital phone, since my $ 150 monthly cell allows me unlimited local calls, coming and going. I didn't even have a cell phone until early 2000, and then, I only used it for emergency. But even with full insurance and Medicare coverage, I will be surprised by the hefty charge attached to my hospital stay.

We might imagine the future pain free, and even device free, in an all comprehensive smart environment that knows what we do, even before we do it, can identify the places and services we need when we type the first letter of a query on google search. But, can we imagine the future affordable? Reasonable? Friendly to those of us who were not born into it? Indiscriminate if we do not have a bank account with unlimited funds? Or, unlimited friends to rescue us when we are publicly shamed on some social media?

Will these blooms last longer if I avoid chemical additives?
Will a path be available if I do not have Nike's best running shoes?
Will my present income cover my future needs?
Will my cancer risks decrease with age?

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

How did your life turn out?

What an archaeological mine our minds and genes ; what a stew of possibilities,experiences, readings and encounters provide. We live in a connected and distorted world.  If we were to take any snapshot at any moment in time to "capture" our "status", nothing clear or "readable" will appear. Who we are changes as we speak; yet, we leave enduring images.

I could blame my mother for telling me, time and time again that truth lies not in what can be seen, but deep in people's hearts, in roots of century- old olive trees, in the clear night sky still too far at that time for any cosmonaut to travel to. Truth, like God, she said, is experienced in little chunks, in a child's kiss, a lover's first poem, a rainbow on a miserable cold day, on a letter from a long lost relative. Truth is too big to understand in our lifetime. Riches and crooks  exist in the same space and time, hardly distinguishable one from the other.

Mother had lived trough two world wars, famines and losses, death and destruction. She didn't fear these. She feared the hearts of men, the promises of false prophets, the betrayal at the hands of loved ones. These days we'd call her paranoid.

No wonder then that if we think about how our lives turned out, we'd have a different answer depending on the day, the hour, the food we just ate, the argument we just lost, and even the comment we read on a friend's blog. Come to think of it,  what a good question that would make for a communal conversation across the globe....

Are you up for it?
Here I go with my answer:

My life turned out so much better than I ever envisioned; and so much harder and sadder too. I've been healthier and luckier at love and work and family life. I've worked harder and longer than I ever thought I'd work. I have had a loving and thoughtful family without my working very much at it. I never anticipated loosing a son, and still four years later, I can't ease that pain at all. 

I'd say, my mother was a tad wrong on so many things; but oh, so right on the important things.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

"To survive, you must tell stories." Umberto Eco

Hubby talks about the time he fished on Sophie's Island with his step-dad. I must have heard that story a few times early in our marriage, just before I met Wes, just after Wes died, and lately, quite often, and at odd times.  He knows I met Wes. He knows I know the relationship; yet, he keeps telling that story re-establishing the relationship his step-dad had with his mother; and the relationship Hubby himself had with his mother. He has Wes down pat; his mannerisms, catch phrases; short cuts; short temper. He talks about him at length, with occasional snippets of this and that involving his mother as well. Yet, she never becomes the subject of a full story.

I have met Mary, a stunningly tall and slender woman with green eyes and blond hair on our way to Washington to meet my husband's family with our new baby, and since  his mother still lived in Portland, on the way to our final destination, we stopped there for one night. In pictures taken when Hubby was a small boy, the two of them look so much alike that I had no trouble recognizing her. I kept wanting to ask her questions about so many things, but especially about the time she had left the family, when her two sons were six and four, respectively. How could she leave her babies, I kept thinking, noticing how soft and gentle she was around us; how generous she was with her time and resources.

Even years later, under more leisurely circumstances, I never did find out her story from her point of view, her experiences as a young mother left alone for weeks at a time as her husband followed jobs here and there. The last time I saw her she came to visit with a dog and a cat who were fussy and messy, if I remember correctly. We hardly spoke. She spent days by herself in an empty house while we were all at school or work,  and when we all gathered in the evening for supper, she left the table in a hurry, gathering her pets and retiring to the guest room. Children noticed nothing, of course.

I did coax a couple of recipes out of her, a chicken and dumplings and a beef stroganoff. And yes, there was a lot of chopping and talking during those cooking sessions.

Later, after she had left, and I made chicken and dumplings on my own, Hubby told me for the first time that he had always missed his mother's cooking. Chicken and dumplings is the requested dish on his birthday. And Beef stroganoff became my youngest son's favorite dish.

Today, my husband has begun to write his memoirs.
Mary's story may show up as a full length portrait really soon.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

As the world turns...

Meet Lizzie and Jennie,  friends from Kent, England, and Vancouver, Washington, vacationing together on the Southern Oregon Coast, on the path to the Coquille River Lighthouse in Bandon, Oregon. They came up a walking path as my husband and I were walking toward them, having a loud argument, as our eyes kept a look on the pavement, trying to avoid the ups and down of a foot path that was not too safe for older folks like us. I was complaining that the red paint indicating the uneven pavement did nothing to prevent falls. "I'd have to keep my eyes glued to the floor!" I was arguing, frustrated that nobody had thought about smoothing the path and throwing wood chips over it to soften the blow of a fall.

The ladies said hi, and "peace today", as they passed us. We apologized for our loudness. Their smiles never left their face; they bubbled a few remarks about going south after that walk, and we recommended they stop in Port Orford and eat at Redfish. We took each others' pictures. We teased them about their last election in Great Britain.

A world apart, they in matching red coats and bright smiles; we, still trying to find a path of mutual understanding after their arrival had stopped the arguing.

They were on their way to California.
We had left California to retire in Oregon.

We could have told them of all the treacherous road conditions they might encounter on their way down. But then, we would have spoiled their enthusiasm. We actually did spoil their enthusiasm when we mentioned they should stop at Cape Blanco where they might meet migrating whales . One of them was holding that thought as a surprise for the other.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Before and After

I was cleaning up my files this weekend, making room for stuff my granddaughter needs stored for college during the summer months. I came across these two pictures, the first one is our present location, Port Orford, Oregon. The second one was a visit to Portland the year we retired.

Our plans had been to travel as much as possible during winter months when the winter weather would be too demanding for us.

Well, even that visit came at a time when things were different:
~before a couple of operations slowed us down
~before we discovered the possibilities in our neighborhood
~before we spent a ton remodeling this place
~before the market crash reduced savings

Yet, those days were actually difficult in other ways:

~our children lived far and visits were expensive
~our weather was harsh for newly arrived Californians
~we had not yet made friends and forged alliances
~we possessed only one computer and one mobile phone
~digital cameras were very imperfect and expensive

We tend to be either pessimistic or optimistic, counting our pains or our blessings. The facts are much more nuanced, all the time, now and then. For one thing, had we not slowed down, neither one of us would appreciate all the writing and media contacts we have made.

Progress tends to leave us nostalgic for certain things, while taking for granted those things we never dreamed we could actually accomplish or possess.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

A fishing adventure

Life, like fishing, has no immediate evaluation, no immediate currency. We can be aware of minutes only if those minutes contrast with other minutes, or are too cold, too hot, too uncomfortable, or immensely surprising by how much joy or pain they represent. We revel in contrasts, in disappointments, in unexpected events. We revel in moments that turn out to be "memorable".

At our house, we still talk about the day our youngest caught his first fish in this lake. He had spent days with a pole in hand, waiting, casting and waiting, unraveling the line and casting again, and waiting. Re-setting the bait, casting and recasting, and pulling in weeds and debris. Fishing is addictive if at certain intervals, by some kind of unknown pattern, the fish bites and you can pull it up, and show it off to the audience around. It happened for Brian when he had no audience. We heard his yell of victory from the house and our response to his victory was not what he had anticipated.

We told him the fish was too small to keep.

He unhooked the fish, and dropped it back in the water. Later, when he returned home, he showed us the fish's real size. We had mis-interpreted. That was the last time Brian fished in this lake.

I have seen people attempt to fish all day long catching nothing. I have seen people spend two minutes and catch all the fish that they are allowed to catch.  "Fish" stories about the big one that got away abound all over, at every waterhole. We tell the story of the fish that everyone thought was too little to become lunch.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Lessons out of order.

When we retired, we asked Brian, our youngest, to take back Wooly a mix breed Terrier/Malamud he had raised. Our children's pets were still around while our children had grown and left the coop. Our eldest had a dog named Snoozy since he was ten, our daughter a red cat named Red since she was eleven,  and Brian had Wooly for his tenth birthday.

One of the saddest moments for Brian was finding out that Wooly had incurable cancer. Losing her was one of the hardest blow he had ever experienced.

When we moved to Oregon, we had hoped Brian could relieve us of Wooly for a while at least. It was time for us to travel, to readjust to each other, to find a new way of life away from the hustle and bustle of big city life.  Brian was in graduate school at that time, with a house and room mates, and  a yard for his dog. He didn't hesitate at all. We gave him the option of bringing Wooly back to us once we were estabished in our new digs. He chose to keep her with him.

After he graduated and moved to a new job, now with a cat in tow, he kept talking about getting a house so he could get a new dog. He did, get a house, and get a dog.

After Brian's death, we had to decide what to do with his new dog and old cat. We knew his beloved dog would be too much for us. Young and full of energy, she needed not just a yard, but hours of intense workouts, things Brian had provided with pleasure. Fortunately, a young neighbor offered to take Butters in and she trotted off after him with enthusiasm.

Newkie, the long haired cat didn't have any takers among Brian's friends and neighbors. She had been mostly an indoor cat, we knew, and easy to care for. She came home with us after the funeral.

And here she is, examining her new digs, wondering around the property and hardly venturing further than the perimeter of the front yard. In the early morning, she whines to be let out, only to discover that the weather here in Oregon is decidedly different from her Southern California drought. She doesn't understand rain at all, finding refuge under the eves if she feels even one drop. But, she has adjusted to a different environment, that of quiet readings and quiet computer work. She sits right by my chair most days, at times, attempting to see if her paws can make the same pictures come up on the screen. I know she had not dreamed of such life, just as we never envisioned a time without Brian.

We look across the lake regularly, Newkie and I, and we absorb the  unanticipated calms after each storm. But storms do return; rather, storms will gather from afar, from places anticipated and unanticipated, will cut a major swath in our psyche, whether we want that or not, and will continue to do so.

Only we, Newkie and I and Brian and all the people and animals we have loved, we are just temporary witnesses to events we wish we had been smart enough to see coming, or lucky enough to avoid.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

The world of chatter.

Would we be aware of our own world if we didn't have that  contorted mirror we call social media and its chatter twentyfour hours a day, and information/gossip being dissected until all the facts no longer exist in real life? What if we lived without the conveniences we rely on so heavily to feel connected? Our phone; our Facebook page; our blogs; our sewing circle...

Here is how I get my news daily as  I have my first cup of coffee:

1. I check my phone for text messages, emails, missed calls and respond to these.
2. I check and interact on my Facebook accounts. (Remember how I came to have more than one?)
3. I browse the New York Times starting with the daily news and visiting my favorite pages such as Opinions, Health, Science, Arts, Recipes and perhaps Home. If an article attracts my attention I share it on Facebook or email it to my self for further analysis.

I used to subscribe to other newspapers in the state and in this region, but I can browse for information quickly by going to Google and saving myself the cost of subscription. Yesterday, after my doctor's visit, I signed up to get weekly recipes from the American Diabetes Association. This morning, in my email account, a lovely recipe for chicken wraps I could have concocted myself, but I do like to get new ideas and new tastes in my household.

Midday, as I take my daily walk in the neighborhood, I will stop and talk to folks who are doing the same. Here is where I find out how the new restaurant is doing, what they serve, what plans they have in the future. I can get daily reports of who was seen where this way. I also notice if a neighbor has been absent for a while and for what reasons. We stop and talk to the workmen improving a vacant house; we get a sense of how the work is progressing, and they get a sense that someone is watching their efforts as well. Absent residents appreciate such intercourse.

Since most of us in town do our major shopping at bigger stores in the surrounding cities, we run into each other at these places and catch up with additional details. Yes, some of us, like Kathie Griffin will forever tease our friends with off-color jokes, and we have to skim the newsworthy tidbits on our dime, but usually, we do want to update our neighbors of our health, our plans for vacation, our plans for visiting or hosting relatives, even our plans for major changes.  Sharing in a small town is mandatory.

I have friends on Facebook I have never met. They share enough for me to get a glimpse of their lives,and their inclinations. If they are way too preachy or way too conservative in their views, I tend to skip their posts. I nod their way now and then, just to be polite. All and all, I am glad to know a bit of their world, even try to understand their point of view; but I do not spend much time delving deep into their principles.

Mostly, I find myself attracted to like minds, reading and sharing similar points of view. Refreshingly, since we live in a small town, we still tend to see and socialize across the divide, democrats and republicans improving the world together as they meet in Rotary or The Arts Council. We do share concerns about our town and are willing to come together to improve things.

 Sometimes though, it takes a long time to define what we mean by IMPROVEMENT.

Monday, March 23, 2015

To be; or not.

Newkie, a fourteen year old tabby came to live with us after our son died. Brian had raised her as a newborn, someone to fill the void his childhood cat Sam left behind with her departing. He seemed to need his animals around, replacing his Wooly dog-half sheepdog, half Malamud, with a golden lab the minute he signed and collected the keys to his new house in Long Beach. Neither animal really replaced the one that was gone before.

We say things we heard said, words like "replacing" and "enhancing" to remind each other that we, though not replacing anyone or anything we know of, we are all coming into someone's life in a string of events that could very well have been losses of epic proportions, never replaceable.

Most of us tend to device certain narratives to make sense of the chaos around us. "Life goes on" is one of them. But does life go on? Or do we mean, life ceases, and in order to take our next breadth and keep looking forward, we can't dwell on life ceasing; we can't dwell on the pain that surrounds us without going mad, without abandoning hope.

"He's now in a better place" is often said of someone who died. Really? And how do we know that? What place? Where? I wished so much to have had that belief when I sat at my son's funeral. No. No place existed for me at that time, and since, and I still hold on that we tell each other things like this only to calm our nerves, to be able to accept the unacceptable. How could we be one minute, and the next minute be gone?

But what do we do if we can't replace those things, those people who are our circle of friends, our support and love and companionship? How do we live with such losses? How?

Once we accept the narrative of replacement, once we tell ourselves that we are better off even with our losses staring us in the face, are we sane in constructing such fantasies? Or, are we ok since the fantasy is shared by the rest of congregants? How could we all be wrong?  

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Life is a lot like cooking. Almost.

In my mid twenties, having had no experience in tennis, and no idea of the skills necessary to play well, I decided to take up the sport, with the same enthusiasm as Julia Child brought to the classes she took in French cooking.

After I purchased my first racket and a cute outfit, even new tennis shoes with socks that matched my skirt and panties, I signed up for my first lesson at the local park. The instructor had been teaching for years, and my husband had praised the man's abilities.

On my first lesson, I noticed that the other players all had more skills than I did. And they would nod knowingly to all the adjustments and posturing the teacher would suggest while I felt totally out of my comfort zone. Still, how hard could it be to hit a ball across the net in a certain spot and move a few feet back and forth and sideways?

I got nothing of the theory and physics of the sport, how holding the racket a certain way, and attacking the ball at a certain angle would cause the ball to spin and land in a certain spot. The entire experience was more a series of stretching exercises in a cute costume! I missed returning the ball ninety eight out of one hundred. The two balls I didn't miss were the ones the teacher had basically placed in the spot where I was standing, waiting for them.  I never got the skill of hitting the ball overhead to start the game, finding the posture way too difficult for me.

What I did get out of the classes was two things: I was totally uncoordinated for that sport; and I was totally dense in the understanding of all the physics laws involved even though the coach kept elaborating and demonstrating each movement in slow motion. Tennis was a foreign language, and not even the best racket and the most detailed instructions could be assimilated in the course of six weeks. I never thought of my body as uncoordinated before. But trying to move after a ball brought the concept of "aging body" close to home. In my twenties!

I put the costume away and didn't think about tennis for ages until we moved to the current address, forty years later, and sixty miles from any Chinese restaurants. My desire for Chinese foods, however, was immediate. Though I had never tried to cook Chinese dishes before, though Chinese cuisine is my favorite.

Within months, I began to purchase cookbooks, bought a wok from Le Creuset, and tried some recipes.  Nothing I cooked tasted as good as the stuff I had had at Chinese restaurants. I kept trying for a while. Every dish tasted the same as the one we had the week before. I was missing something, maybe a secret ingredient, or a technique, or... Frustrated I gave the wok to my daughter who promised to give it a prominent place in her vegetarian kitchen.

Darn, I thought. This feels  just like my tennis experience.

A few years later, my husband announced that he was going to cook Chinese dishes and where was that wok we paid so much money for?

Monday, March 2, 2015

It's all my fault!

This is what happened:
A few months ago, our phones changed. Both phones and the mobile carrier. My husband and I have now, finally, synced phones, or what I call "no secrets" phones. He gets my calendar, I get his. He can get my emails, I could care less about his. The fact that we both have Facebook accounts we can check and transmit from, also adds to our synchronicty, or in my parlance, a day with complications. And that's how I discovered that my old Facebook account could not be synced with my new phone.

No worries.
I started a second Facebook account, and since my husband has a hand in everything, and his calendar is synced with mine, a new birthday was imprinted. How can that be possible? He has faulty memories when it comes to birthdays. His first present to me, the year we were married, was a gorgeous, expensive charm bracelet with a birthday charm in 18k gold that had yet another date than my real birthday.

The fact that I do not celebrate my birthday makes all this a laughing matter, really.

I grew up in Southern Italy, and our only celebrations were Saints' days. And Madonna's days. Since my name, Rosaria, means rosary, I could actually chose any Madonna to be my special one, as long as her portrait contained the blessed rosary.

So, when last night a neighbor with a big heart brought me a birthday cake to celebrate my special day she had read in the current Facebook page, I did not have the heart to set the record straight. Even my husband, who knows full well that my birthday is in January, after the first expensive snafu he caused, which we never repaired, I might add, keeping that charm until a home invasion occurred and every piece of jewelry was taken and who knows where it landed, even he sat quietly and ate the piece of cake that was connected to a birthday someone kind and generous came to celebrate.

So, in the final statement on this topic, it was not my fault that Facebook printed the wrong birthday on the second Facebook page. It was my fault not to have corrected it!

Mea culpa. I hope the Madonna del Rosario forgives my sin.
I hope T.h Lightkeeper, accepts my apologies and my undying gratitude for her thoughtfulness. I hope all the well-wishers will not think poorly of me. Yes. I admit.
It was all my fault.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Maps get more difficult with age.

Had I known that driving would become such a pain, I would have never learned to do it! Sure, it feels great getting around in and about your neighborhood, running off to the mall, the restaurants, meeting friends at a museum. But, navigating in a strange city shows you just how old you've become.

The above is a map of Portland. Oregon.  On the left of the river was our motel, and on the right, the college our grandchild attends. We visited her for a weekend soon after she moved in her dorm, and had planned to drive her to the area where our hotel was for some fancy dining.

It didn't work out like that at all. We, Hubby and I kept getting lost each time we tried to catch a bridge and go across. Each time. As if we had never been to Portland. In fact, we had been to Portland many times, staying at the same hotel and frequenting the same downtown neighborhood where we enjoyed dining and shopping and people watching.  We had not attempted to travel to other parts, though. And that experience, finding the right bridge and getting off at the right exit, was way too much for our nerves.

Thank God our grandchild had a good sense of direction. She located the map on her iphone and helped us navigate back and forth  whenever she was with us.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Waiting for the next storm.

My husband is a good sport, indulging me in so many ways, even posing for this picture the day before the first February storm hit town. No, you don't hear about these Northwestern storms in the news  because though they are predictably harsh and fierce, cutting trees down, toppling sheds not pinned down, and eliminating any need to rake the lawn and driveway, they arrive with assurance and declaration after traveling for miles in the Pacific. Since few of us live on this coast, no need to worry anybody else.

This last week we had two powerful storms hitting us at 75-100 miles per hour, each lasting a few days at a time, pelting us with ferocious rain and debris to keep the hardiest of folks indoor. After such storms, the road crews are busy clearing roadways and repairing roads. We have been running errands with the full knowledge that we'd be crossing swollen rivers and creeks dangerously close to spill out on the main road, forcing us all to make hasty retreats.

In the past, before we were seniors, and before regulations changed, our pharmacist would provide us with extra meds during winter months for just such disturbances. Now, it is not easy to get extra meds for possible bad weather days.

Yesterday, between storms, we rushed out for emergency runs to get meds and groceries and were fortunate enough to make there and back without any incidences. Today, after last night's new storm, we are not sure those rivers are minding their confines. One of these days, I need to acquaint my readers with the vagaries of keeping house on such a frontier.

One would expect all kinds of life and death emergencies in these settings.
Animals seem to know these things and huddle low and out of reach. I have never seen cows or lambs battered around during these storms.

We rarely lose electricity, until yesterday, just for a half hour or so in the middle of the night; it was on when we got up and wouldn't have noticed it except for the clocks not being aligned. The bigger problem is finding out that some animal looking for warmth or shelter during such storms has found warmth under the car hood.

And so, as we canvas the property after each storm, fixing this drain, clearing debris, we also check under the car hood, or brush, hoping to rescue those caught unaware.

Hubby repairing a drainage pipe to stop further water damage to the roof.

Monday, January 26, 2015

What would you do?

I feel as though my neighbor is under a big boulder, and any minute, either the boulder will crush her, or an errant wave will topple her and carry her off who knows where.
I have a special dilemma and I could use your help.

Here it goes:
A neighbor of ours, who just celebrated her 95th year, who attends book groups and political chats whenever she can get a ride, is having difficulties getting around in her walker, doing simple tasks like bathing and cooking, and depends on a relative who lives on her premises, to do grocery shopping and occasional cleanings. The trouble is that neither she, nor her relative are really able to do much, so, neither one can clean up after himself, herself, and neither can keep the house up. Each cooks for his/herself, and neither has energy to do that well. The result, they are both malnourished, unkempt, in a house that is slowly gathering detritus.

Would you contact social services under these circumstances?

Saturday, January 10, 2015

What chapter are you on?

(our granddaughter Jasmine, Hubby and me at Redfish)

Forget what you heard or read about retirement.
Forget what your idea of a perfect retirement is.
Forget the cruises, the cottage by the sea, the ideal life you thought you wanted in retirement.
What you need is to be among young people for the rest of your life.

There. That's the secret to old people's happiness. Keep yourself available to young people and your life continues to be fun, unpredictable, full of pleasant surprises, and most of all, engaging and distracting. If you have to spend all your disposable income to stay close to your grandchildren and great-grandchildren, you will not regret it.

You'll need more distractions as you grow weak, infirm, grumpy.

Distracting? Yes! Young people are spontaneous dis- tractors. They will jump up and start dancing, or break into a song, drive off to the supermarket to pick up ingredients for ice cream at the drop of a pin. Young people will distract you from what worries you the rest of the time. With them around, you only see the arc of their lives, the future still unfolding with millions of possibilities, rather than the way your knees send shooting pains every time you sit on the toilet seat.

You'll need to see how your money can improve your grands' future.

Really? Can't you just spend it? No. Your doctor, pharmacies and clinics have you tied down already. You might have some fun at the mall. But since you have no more room in your house for extra anything, what's the use? You could go out to dinner every night. Yes. But you are diabetic, and eating out caused you to become so. Now, you have to settle for salads and fish at most places, with no extra salt or butter or anything. You should have gone out to dinner in your twenties, and then to the gym. But you had neither the money, nor the time to do either of these.

You need to live a year full of possibilities.

How? You may not see much in the way of possibilities for yourself, except perhaps needing new reading glasses, replacing that bridge in your mouth, and getting the local handyman clean the gutters at the end of winter. All routine events. But see life that your grandchild in college is living, and your memories of those days remind you to go shopping and pack up a care package for the youngster. You would have loved getting those extra socks in winter; jars of peanut butter; even a special delivery of pizza during final weeks.

Life will teach your grands many lessons.

But you, and only you can teach him/her that family remains close through thick and thin. That distances don't count any more. That mistakes help your footing. That knowledge is lost if not applied. That everything we do, and say, and convey through small gestures, everything adds up to create our soul, to give us patterns and attitudes and desires that help us thrive under all circumstances that will appear in our travels through life.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

"Unbroken", a review.

I am a movie buff. For me, a quick lunch, a matinee, and a walk on the beach after the movie to retrace our viewing pleasure or displeasure are ideal date events. I confess, I almost didn't go see the directorial debut of Angelina Jolie, Unbroken. The New York Times had said some unpleasant remarks that had me thinking, no, I don't want to see too much violence. And no, I don't want to see another WWII movie.

I was pleasantly surprised. Yes, the movie is a story of survival. And a story of how prisoners of war are treated. But the way it was directed, the intimate nature of each and every scene, left me in awe and admiration.

What Ms Jolie did was to de-mythologize all the big events that we have known through other movies, The Olympics, The War, The Japanese Camps, even immigrant life. She showed a remarkably graceful and realistic view of family life with just a few scenes, a mother making gnocchi-a scene the later soldier dreams about, father disciplining and directing the family with just a slap on the head when the young man becomes distracted in church, the climate of the times with schools and athletics helping children find a passion and a way to succeed . That graceful and realistic touch takes your breath away in the war scene when the bombardier plane falls apart and crashes in the ocean.

The cinematography of how a plane full of bombardiers operates under attack is one of the best war scenes I've ever seen.

The movie covered epic themes, immigrant life, war, survival, degradation. Yet, throughout, the audience experienced these things intimately, in the kitchen and the back of the bleachers, in the plane and the inflatable boat in a sea of sharks, on a dirty bed in the Japanese war camp, and on the pain and humiliation each word and each slash was delivered.

"Unbroken" is a remarkable movie.

Monday, January 5, 2015

The purpose of life.

As I sat across from my husband with a platter of seafood at Portside Restaurant in Charleston, a fishing village north of us, I saw this couple hard at work digging clams for the time it took us to eat our platter. Hard work to move about in the muck with rain gear, trying to remain upright while observing the movement of bubbles at your feet. Even if they didn't fill their bucket with clams, these folks would go home pleased. Later, after they opened  a can of their favorite beer and steamed their clams, they would have feasted the end of another year with friends and family.

Their supper will be reproduced in many parts of the world, people eating what they gathered, or grew, or bought at the local store, food that their parents had used to celebrate these events,  to say goodbye to another year in a memorable way. While our imagination colors our memories with rosy colors, and warms our dreams with candied stories, these simple tasks, gathering food, surviving storms, staying warm, celebrating with rituals, these are the memories our children inherit to share with their children, and grandchildren.

Our purpose is to stay alive, as best we can.

In this way,  paraphrasing Jodorowsky, we create the soul.