Wednesday, January 16, 2019

January 16, 2019

It’s already the middle of January! And, I’m kind of sorry to have to confess this because I know what a lot of you are going through, weather-wise. But as I post this essay (January 16) we do not have any snow on the ground.

Not one bit. Zip. Zilch.

This is so not normal for where I live. You know that place, the TRUE NORTH (a phrase from our national anthem). Oh, it’s cold enough. At the moment, at eight-thirty in the morning, the temperature (in Fahrenheit) is 28 but “feels like” 18. We just don’t have any snow.

When I think back to the winters of my childhood, they featured snow mounded so high on the side of the road, after the plows went down, that those banks towered over the cars so you couldn’t see over them. We’re not talking the sleek little cars of today, either. Think 1959 Studebaker, and you know I’m referring to a heavy, steel, behemoth.

We used to make snow forts. The kids in the neighborhood—our rural neighborhood had about six counting me—would divide into two groups and build the snow forts and then we would have snowball fights. Or, if the snow was deep enough, we would make tunnels between the forts. Oh yes, we did, in the open field beside my house and, no, we didn’t know at the time how dangerous that was! We just did it and had fun.

The other winter fun thing was the natural skating area right across from my house that extended more than a quarter of a mile. In those days the land on the other side of the road was very boggy, and if the water had been deep enough when it froze, you could skate from my house to the last neighbor’s house, no problem. Of course, we had to clear off the ice, and keep it maintained (repairing any ice divots created when one of us was clumsy—but hey, that was a small price to pay for free, unlimited skating.)

I mourn the loss of those carefree times. I mourn the loss of the joy that seemed to be just there for the plucking, as you roamed and explored and did. I’d leave the house some days right after breakfast and not come back until dusk. To my knowledge, my mother never worried where I was, nor did anyone’s mother worry about them. That thought is taking me slightly off topic. But y’all are used to that, aren’t you?

Were we naïve? Yes, most definitely. Bad things happened to kids back then, it was just never broadcast. It isn’t that things are “worse” in the current time than in the “good old days”, necessarily. It’s that back then, no one spoke of the dangers that were lurking in the shadows for kids. Back then, there was no such thing as the twenty-four-hour news cycle. The news came on as 6 p.m. for a half hour, and that was that.

If you saw the words “Breaking News Alert” or “Special Bulletin” on your television screen, something very bad—or really exceptional—had happened.

I’m not sure why it was, that we weren’t more up front with kids in those days about the dangers they faced. As kids, we were warned “don’t talk to strangers” – but that was it. No details were offered about what dangers lay in wait if we did. There was a vague sense that a stranger might take you and you’d never see home again. Certainly, there was no warning about private space and inappropriate touching. A part of me feels as if that failure to alert and prepare kids for the dangers they could encounter was a kind of complicity—because we know today that a lot of the sexual abuse crimes committed against children are not committed by strangers, but by “trusted adults”. And not knowing of the dangers that non-strangers posed gave us all a sense of well being. It also gives a shading to the phrase and concept of “good old days” that’s completely false.

Once more, I digress.

So here we are, mid-January, no appreciable snow fall—and I’m okay with that, for this year. I know there were green Christmases here and there all through my life. And I’d rather not have to fight my way through snow and ice, thank you. Walking is difficult enough without Mother Nature’s hissy fits thrown in.

But nothing is really all good. We’re reasonably pleased, because we haven’t had to worry about digging out the car or clearing our walk as yet. However, those who make extra money in the winter by plowing are having a lean time. Those who count on snow to have their leisure activities via winter sports are also likely feeling glum about now.

I try not to be selfish when it comes to my wishes for specific weather. Sure, I’d love to see it about seventy-seven degrees the year round, with maybe a week or two of cool, crisp temps in three of our four seasons—and maybe one hot summer day. But that would be selfish. So, I’m content with however much snow we need to have in order to provide extra money for the part-time entrepreneurs and to put as much moisture in the ground as the farmers need for spring.

But beyond that? Mother Nature can keep the deep piles of that white stuff—I call it kaka (and I don’t mean the Brazilian ‘football’ player, either)—and she can take some anger management for those hissy fits, too.


Wednesday, January 9, 2019

January 9, 2019

I recall watching an ABC news special, a few years ago, about the amazing medical recovery of former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. As you may recall, Representative Giffords was attacked in January of 2011 when a man opened fire at a mall where she held a “Congress on Your Corner” event, meeting and greeting her constituents. Eighteen people in all were shot, and six people—one of whom was a nine-year-old girl—died.

After having taken a bullet to the brain, initially it was believed that if Miss Giffords did survive, she would spend the rest of her life in a vegetative state.

Of course, now we see how well recovered she is, and while she’s not back to where she was before the attack, she walks and talks and understands her world, and now, her new role in making it a better world than it had been. She didn’t let this attack send her into hiding but used her experiences to help her chart a new path.

Two of the major factors cited by many in her recovery are pure force of will—and the use of music therapy.

I have heard it said that music is a universal language, and I believe that’s true. I also believe that music accomplishes more to the benefit of our bodies, our minds and our spirits than we truly know right now. The science isn’t there yet, but I believe that music is as fundamentally necessary to a healthy and happy existence as is food, air, water, and shelter.

I’m at that point in my life when sometimes, words escape me. I have to really think to remember things that a few years ago, I had no problem recalling. Our brains do change as we age, and that is something I’ve long known. The fact that I’m pushing 65, and that I do have several health issues means I’m not surprised to have a few lapses here and there. It doesn’t really bother me, at least not overly much.

A couple of weeks ago, I was going through my iTunes library. I wanted to make a Christmas play list on my PC. As I looked down the list of songs that I had purchased over the last several years, I saw that I had music I’d forgotten that I had (my library consists of more than 800 songs, a realization that left me a little slack-jawed).

There was a girl-group that was quite popular in 1990, when they came out with their debut album. They were active for a few years, and then fell off the radar, returned in 2004, and then made a comeback again in 2010 and are, according to what I can tell, still performing on stage.

The group’s name is Wilson Phillips, and their first big hit, Hold On, hit so many non-musical chords for me, that it quickly became my favorite song of all time. Well, until it was superseded by the next one.

That’s my usual relationship with music. I love so much of it and times change, and my favorite song, if I have one, depends on the moment I’m in. Right now, I have two: This Is Me, from the Greatest Showman, and Baba Yetu (The Lord’s Prayer in Swahili), by Christopher Tin.

So, there I was, in the last two weeks of 2018, doing a mental fist-pump because I had discovered that I have two Wilson-Phillips songs in my iTunes library: Hold On, and Release Me.

Task at hand completely forgotten (and that does happen fairly often), I put on the headphones, turned up the volume, and listened to the opening chords of that first hit. And then…I began to sing when the group did. To my astonishment, I remembered ever word, every pause, every extra little “uh-huh” along the way.

It was the most wonderful moment for me, because it was a moment when I realized that, as much as I focus on moving, and playing a couple of strategy games each day to keep my body and mind active, I realized there was one more thing I should be doing at least once a week, too. Something that really lifted me up and made me feel younger.

I need to do this more often—put on those headphones and reconnect with songs I have loved in the past…and maybe, who knows, it might prove to be the tonic I need, if not physiologically, then at least emotionally.

If you have access to music and a few minutes to yourself every day, I recommend that you do the same. Music not only soothes the savage beast; it can give us respite, and calm our busy, modern-day souls.

Music lifts us up and leaves us better than it found us—and that’s a wondrous thing.


Wednesday, January 2, 2019

January 2, 2019

Happy New Year!

Thinking back, I’m willing to admit I may have grown up with some “different” notions on things—notions that in this day and age may not make any sense. For example, when I was a kid, it was held that Christmas was for children but New Year’s? Oh, baby, that was all about the grown-ups. I thought that meant, you know, adults partying along with Guy Lombardo at the Waldorf Astoria on their TVs, dancing at a club, the big ball at Times Square…and the endless toasts, the silly hats, and the noisemakers and confetti. You can’t forget the noisemakers and the confetti!

Now that I’m one of those grown-ups, I have come to the conclusion that this really is an amazing time of year for adults. For a few brief hours, we adults can let go of our sour moods, our cares, and the weight of the world that is constantly dragging us down. For just a breath of time, we can believe once more that anything is possible. It’s a time of new beginnings, and as we enter the New Year, as that clock chimes and the sound of Auld Lang Syne rings in our ears, we can once more feel that everything is new again—yes, even if only for a brief moment.

We’re not indulging in silly pipe dreams or flights of fancy, we’re simply celebrating the New Year!

I always feel that way, every New Year’s—and I don’t go out anywhere in order to feel it. It’s a right here in my humble home kind of feeling—likely a right here inside my mind sort of thing. This is not a logical thing, it’s completely emotional and subjective and yes, I know that in many cases it’s not based on any facts what-so-ever. Nope, it’s an off-shoot of pure living, made of pure emotion, and in thinking about the fact that it is both of those things, I have come to another conclusion.

If some people can avow with a serious looking face that truth is not truth, or that truth is unknowable, then I can say any conclusion I may draw based purely on emotion is valid and true.

This sense of new beginnings is the reason I’ve always considered spring to be my favorite season. The air smells fresh and new, there are new buds on the trees, and new flower shoots poking above the ground. It doesn’t matter how bad the winter just past has been, that sense of newness abounds.

With spring comes nature’s new birth, a sign that life does indeed carry on and the future is waiting for us to make it.

That said, I do not make any New Year’s resolutions. Yes, I know it’s a tradition, but not all traditions are necessarily good ones, as far as I’m concerned. And this one is just a giant trap, in my humble opinion, waiting to gobble me up. Created, no doubt, by someone who believed that where there is hope, there must also be disappointment.

And should anyone press me about this failure on my part, I have the perfect answer. I do not need to make resolutions for the New Year as I am asked to make them on a regular enough basis as it is. 

Allow me to explain: Every three months, I go to the doctor. I’m a diabetic, type 2, and so this is my quarterly diabetic check up. I go for blood work a few days before my appointment, so that when I get there, the doctor and nurse can see all my important medical information, including what they call a “six-month sugar” level. And every three months, at this appointment, I am asked what my goals are for the next three months.

I don’t want to portray myself as a difficult patient. I’m really not. But this is silly. I’m not a person who makes new goals every three months; I’m a long-game sort of gal. So I give them the same two goals, every three months—to keep moving, and to stay alive. They’ve also encouraged me to have a “minimum step per day” target, since I do in fact wear a step-counter.

It’s a Fitbit these days, but in past days I had a step counter pinned to the waist of my slacks. Healthy adults should aim for ten thousand steps a day. My stated goal at the moment is four thousand, but in fact I am managing between four and six thousand most days, depending. I even, every once in a while, hit that magical ten-thousand step count, but not while my arthritis is in flare-up mode.

By anyone’s definition, four to six thousand steps a day is moving, even if it isn’t at a “brisk walk”. At this point in my life I’m not capable of a brisk anything. So it’s one foot in front of the other, and I ensure I get up every hour, and I take whatever progress I can get.

I always keep “staying alive” as a goal because—well, who wouldn’t? I usually call it “staying on top of the grass”. Those were words said to me in a chat/bingo room when I first went on line in the aftermath of my open-heart surgery, back in December 2002. The “room” was filled with women, older women, most of whom had health issues. I disclosed my sad story—yes I did feel sorry for myself for a few months as I coped with this major life change at the ripe old age of 48—and one sweet lady, who was a paraplegic and also a shut-in, typed, “Morgan! Stay on top of the grass!”

Her command made me laugh and was the moment I began to not feel so sorry for myself. She gave me good advice, don’t you think? So I keep that as a non-negotiable resolution the year round, and consider that it, along with the determination to keep moving, are really the only two all year’s resolutions I really need.

I hope this new year of 2019 is a good year for your and yours. And I hope all y’all keep moving and stay on top of the grass.


Wednesday, December 26, 2018

December 26, 2018

I sincerely hope everyone reading this had a wonderful Christmas. For those of my readers who don’t celebrate the holiday, I hope you enjoyed some peaceful and joyous family time.

And today for those who celebrate it, Happy Kwanza!

For my husband and I, and especially lately, Christmas has become a time to be with loved ones, to remember the past—and with the New Year just a week away—it’s also a time to look ahead. David and I don’t buy each other gifts any more. When we were starting out and were scraping our dollars together as we eked out our living, this was the time of year I looked forward to receiving a few things I not only wanted, but needed.

New slippers, a pair of pantyhose, and before the word processor, a couple of typewriter ribbons topped my list. I loved certain fragrances—Chanel #5, Chloé, and Oscar—but never expected to ever receive them. I was never so delighted as when “imitations” of these scents began to show up on the store shelves. In those days I was certain that was as close as I was going to get to the originals, and I was content with that.

When the kids were small, we poured most of our resources into getting them their gifts, because we didn’t want them ever to know how tight money was. We often ran at least a month behind in the bills in those days, because we had to give our kids a good Christmas. It was who we both were, and I doubt any amount of reasoning could have changed our minds about that in those days.

I am gratified to know that our son and daughter have both told us they never knew a Christmas, when they were kids, that wasn’t plentiful and magical.

Current day, we’re no longer generous to the point of beggaring ourselves. We bought simple gifts for the three great-grandbabies; we gave a very modest sum of money to everyone else in our immediate family (each of our children, grandchildren, and their significant others), and called it good. We’re much happier spending time with family than receiving gifts from them, and our reality reflects that.

When you ask us if we had a good Christmas, we’ll always answer yes, because for us both that is simply a matter of spending time with family. This year is the first Christmas for our youngest great-grandchild, born in May. He is the grandson of my oldest son and his wife, a little baby who is loved and adored by all.

His paternal grandmother—my daughter-in-law—is over the moon in love with him. I know for a fact she cherishes every moment she can spend with her grandson. We had supper with them on the 23rd. The look on my daughter-in-law’s face as she reached for that baby when he arrived was pure love.

That one moment, to me, is what Christmas is all about.

Thinking of my association of children and childhood with the best of Christmas, I’m not at all puzzled by that mental connection. We generally associate magic and wonder with this day of the year, if we think of them at all. That’s been reflected in popular culture all my lifetime at least, having been encapsulated by two of the most beloved holiday movies ever—It’s A Wonderful Life, and Miracle on 34th Street.

Children are the ones most susceptible to magic and wonder. They’re the fortunate ones among us, able to feel and appreciate those two elements full measure. They can believe easily in miracles and magic. And that is the second major connection, between children and Christmas.

The first is simple, and cuts to the heart of it all. Because at the very heart of this special day is the reason we celebrate it to begin with. A child was the very first gift of Christmas—a gift given to us all.

I truly hope your Christmas gave you at least a small taste—as it did me—of magic and wonder. And, of course, I hope there was love.


Wednesday, December 19, 2018

December 19, 2018

Last Sunday, my daughter brought her niece, our granddaughter Emma, and her two grandchildren—Abby and Archer—to our house for supper. Her grandchildren are five and four years old respectively. They’re cute kids, bright, energetic…did I ever tell all y’all that my youngest grandchild is sixteen? It’s been a while since dealing with little ones was a part of our regular routine.

We don’t see our great-grandchildren very much. That’s just the way it’s turned out. These two come perhaps every other month for supper, or for a short visit. I’ve never had the occasion to babysit them, the way I did with three of my six grandchildren. We occasionally looked after our daughter’s son, and for a time, more than a decade ago, she and her son moved in with us for several months while she went to college to become a PSW (nurse’s aid).

In the days following our son’s death, we had his two kids, Emma and Gavin, here a fair bit, too. Our Sonja had been working at a manufacturing facility that was closing down. She wanted, very much, to be a nurse.

She was able to get a student loan with some grant money, and we agreed to watch the kids when they weren’t in school and she was in class, or later, working. This began in 2006, the same year we lost Anthony. Her schooling took a couple of years, and then she began to work.

The kids considered this their second home during the latter part of their childhood. There were a few days here and there they spent with an older couple who lived in their same apartment building. But we had them here a lot of the time.

We had bedrooms upstairs for them, with beds and dressers, and they’d sleep overnight when mom worked nights. This was several years after I had stopped being a “mommy” on a daily basis, to my own kids. Most school mornings, whether they were dropped off here or slept over here, I’d make them breakfast.

 It was a busy period for us, and a bit of a struggle at the time, but I never complained. We were here and could help out in a way that our son could not. By 2013, our services weren’t as necessary, but we were gratified to have been a help.

Flash forward to current times. As I said, the great-grandchildren came over for supper on Sunday. Our great-granddaughter, Abby, gives new meaning to the word precocious. Emma had brought a smoothie with her, one that was green. Yes, it had spinach in it. She offered Abby a sip, which the little girl accepted. Watching, I could see she took a very small sip. Then she looked at her older cousin and asked, “why would you even want to put that in your mouth?” As the evening progressed, this little dynamo once more gave us a little preview of how she would be as ruler of the world some day in the future and did an adept job of ordering us all how to play a game she came up with on the spot.

Lots of drama in that one, and no timidity at all—which is both good and maybe not so good. My money’s on her for being the boss of whatever endeavor she pursues in the future.

Our great-grandson Archer did his best to grab his share of the limelight from his sister, but he was too easily distracted just being a kid to make a budding world dictator. I’m betting he’ll never develop an ulcer and will always find a way to get along regardless of the circumstance.

By the time our supper guests left, only about three hours after they arrived, my beloved and I had been pleasantly entertained, and were completely exhausted. Totally, completely wiped-out-exhausted. I know I’ve mentioned before my theory that young kids and babies suck the energy right out of any adults in their vicinity. I’ve always believed it. The only problem for us “old fogies” is that lately, we don’t have all that much of a storehouse of energy to begin with.

I have a new business idea, and I’m wondering if I should try to copyright it. Here is the advertising pitch: “Suffering from insomnia? Can’t get your mind to quiet so you can sleep? Don’t take drugs, simply have a couple of very young children over for an hour or so!”

As far as I can tell, that is the very best non-invasive, non-addictive sleep aid, ever.

It certainly proved to be so last Sunday night when my beloved and I began snoring in our recliners just minutes after the kids went home.

David and I wish you all a very Merry Christmas!


Wednesday, December 12, 2018

December 18, 2018

Yesterday our oldest son turned forty-six. It doesn’t seem all that long ago that I was forty-six. In truth, there are only eighteen years between my son and I. I do recall that at one time, likely when he was in his very early twenties and being a bit of a smart ass (a family trait), I told him it wasn’t entirely impossible that at some distant day down the road, we could end up living in the same old folk’s home.

At that point I was already using a cane to help me walk, and I shared with him a vision of a crotchety-tempered me waving that piece of wood in his direction—for emphasis, or just to underscore that the younger him should mind his Ps and Qs. In this imaginary tableau I was ninety-eight and he was eighty.

Theoretically, it could still happen.

I have a hokey little thing I do, usually, on the annual occasion of my kids’ birthdays. I call them and I sing the birthday song to them, deliberately off key and out of tune—and at the top of my lungs. I did call my son yesterday to wish him a happy birthday, and the first thing he said was not hello. It was, “please don’t sing. I’m at work and you’ll embarrass me.” I replied back that it would only be embarrassing if he put me on speaker phone. Nevertheless, I relented and instead just wished him the best on this day, part of the countdown, I informed him, to birthday number fifty.

He tried to convince me that no, no, he was counting down to forty. My son is a generally man of few words but an exceptionally quick wit. He could have inherited that trait from either my husband or myself. His dad is pretty fast with a come back, sometimes, too. Of course, I told him he could always claim forty with ten years experience, an idea he acknowledged then and there had merit.

Yes, smart-ass does run in our family, and proudly, too.

My son and his wife are going to Mexico over the Christmas break. I call it a break because my daughter-in-law is a teacher—an early childhood educator. She works for one of the school boards in the community to our north. This means she takes her vacation time when the schools do.

Since they will be gone between Christmas and New Year’s we’ll get together before the 25th for our annual Christmas-season supper. I used to host these gatherings, but the amount of work required to feed many mouths really is too much for me now.

I love cooking and I especially love feeding people. I don’t particularly love getting too old to do any of that. But I am getting older—those darn birthdays! —and I’ve decided to stop trying to pretend I can do the same amount of work I could do when I was in my thirties. I generally get things done—dishes, making the bed, various other house work tasks, and cooking. I just do it at a slower pace, and what I used to accomplish in an hour and a half now takes me at least twice as long, mostly because I need to take little breaks along the way.

I am grateful that I’ve never been one to just lay around and do nothing. I do like being busy, even if it means I’m busy doing chores. And there are only the two of us now, and not five of us, so that sort of…almost…counts for something toward less work than I used to have to do. Almost.

The thing is, aging happens to us all. We don’t know when we’re younger whether we’ll age well, or not. We don’t know if we’ll be hale and hardy, or not. You might think that being extremely health-conscious all your life means you automatically will have a graceful, and gracious September through December path to travel. But I don’t think it’s a given at all.

Like with other situation in life, the only thing you have the power to guarantee is your attitude.

I don’t generally waste much time bemoaning my difficulties. I admit them, and then move on. I do the best I can do and will continue to do so for as long as I can.

And I will continue to cherish each new day—be it an ordinary day or a son or daughter’s birthday—for the amazing gift that it truly is.


Wednesday, December 5, 2018

December 5, 2018

Perspective is a powerful force. We all own it, and it controls not only practically everything we think and do, but our reactions to everything we experience.

Where the challenge arises is realizing that this force is a subjective one. My attitude toward something is not your attitude toward that same something—and neither my attitude nor yours is right, nor is it wrong. Perspective is not synonymous with fact. Period.

I think one of the greatest talents to call your own would be the talent to be able to separate subjective perspective from objective facts. That can be a challenge, and one that a lot of people, lately, haven’t been able to wrap their heads around.

The topic of Christmas is a good example to use in explaining how perspectives can be true even if they’re opposing, and neither right nor wrong.

The unassailable fact is that Christmas is a Christian holiday in which people of that faith celebrate the birth of Jesus.

For some people, Christmas is a magical time of year. This is especially so for children. It always warms my heart, the way so many adults go out of their way to foster this sense of wonder in the wee ones, whether those children are theirs or not. Whether it’s helping them write letters to Santa, or the great good gesture of delivering unwrapped presents to a local toy drive, it’s been my experience that for the most part, adults will take the opportunity to promote the spirit of the Christmas, especially if children are involved.

We look forward to Christmas for our children, drawing upon our own memories of Christmases past. I understand that for me, the joy of awaking that morning to discover a filled stocking and a gift under the tree inspired my desire to pass that joy on to my own kids. All my Christmases included a fat juicy orange in the toe of my stocking. What a wonderful, and wondrous treat!

There were bacon and egg breakfasts on Christmas mornings, one of the few mornings in the year when breakfast didn’t come out of a box. Oh, and there’d be a pitcher of gape juice and orange juice, and real butter, too! I don’t recall the Christmas suppers as fondly. When I was a child, the bacon, eggs, butter and juices were all of my favorite foods, and all in one meal. Along with the food, there was family and music, and laughter. We had midnight Eucharist on Christmas Eve, and a general sense of contentment, peace, and well-being.

Of course, as a mom, I did my best to duplicate all of the above for my own family. I understand my perspective of Christmas being a magical, wondrous time of plenty was formed from my own experiences—and yes, flavored a bit from my own personality.

For some people, however, Christmas is a time of empty bellies and aching hearts, and sometimes that ache is nearly unbearable. For some, there never was a sense of “plenty”, or that sense was experienced for a time, and then lost. The Yuletide is a period of year when, for some, their state of want is more keenly felt thanks to the inevitable comparison to the bounty that surrounds them.

We’ve all seen that photo of a child looking into a window longingly gazing at a family celebration, or through the window of a toy store at the array of toys he or she has no hope of ever being able to call their own. Most of us hurt when we see that image, because we understand it represents a perspective shared by far too many in our society.

For some, Christmas is a time when the loss of loved ones is felt sharply. For these people, there’s a part of them that cannot fully celebrate, because the hole in their hearts is just too deep, and too black.

These two perspectives of the Christmas season are on opposite ends of the spectrum, but they are true, while being neither right nor wrong. As the saying goes, it is what it is.

Want and loneliness aren’t restricted to the Christmas season. But this season of giving and having and joy shines a brighter light on the need and the suffering of others. Thirty percent of all charitable donations occur in December. Whether as a reaction to the “spirit of Christmas” or the realization that one needs a bit more of a tax deduction, who can say? There’re another two perspectives that are true and neither right nor wrong.

If you can give even a little to someone in need, I hope you will feel encouraged to do so. And if you know someone who is alone, or missing a loved one, I hope you will think of them, and extend a little kindness.

Giving kindness to others is, I believe and yes, in my perspective, the reason we’re all here on this earth in the first place.