Saturday, October 11, 2014

Turn the page, stir the soup

In one's younger days, the death of an agemate is usually from something like a car accident, completely sudden and random and rare. Eventually, death from natural causes starts becoming the norm, beginning with the heavy smokers and drinkers, which is somewhat easily accepted and expected. But when the seemingly health-conscious ones start toppling, we are suddenly facing our own mortality.

The most recent agemate death is that of a college friend whom I knew and liked but was not particularly close to. I wonder if she had any regrets other than wishing she had gone to the doctor sooner (although I doubt that would have made any difference - a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer is basically a death sentence). She was an English teacher, and during the summer embarked on some interesting adventures such as attending a Shakespearean workshop and participating in a pilgrimage through Spain. We tried to get her to Women's Weekend, but she was usually involved elsewhere.

What regrets will I have when the time comes? There are some things I would like to do while I still can, but they are not critical to my happiness. I'm not inclined to take a trip around the world or write the Great American Novel or become an expert in anything other than dabbling. I actively seek inner peace, but that is a process, not a goal. I really can't think of anything all that critical that I need to do before I pass on.

The few regrets I do have are based on things I could have done better. I could have been a better parent, could have made some different decisions regarding my education and career, could have been kinder at times. But most of those things would require that I be someone other than who I am. And I am stuck with being me.

The husband of a friend of mine suffers from chronic heart disease. After his first near-death experience, he took stock of his life and focused on completing a long time goal. After his second near-death experience, when asked how that affected his outlook on life, he just shrugs. Been there, done that.

I love my kids, and am proud of them. I absolutely adore my granddaughter and am happy to be a regular presence in her life. I made it to retirement, which I hope to enjoy for many more years (knock on wood!) Someday I may have to give up the gardening, the knitting and spinning, the rest of it. But not yet. Please, not yet.

Friday, October 03, 2014

No naps for you!

One of the delicious things about retirement is, if you get sleepy in the afternoon (or morning or evening), you can stretch out on the couch and take a nap. My usual MO is 10-to-20 minutes, just enough to reset the meter, like a power nap. Follow up with a cup of coffee or tea, and I'm ready to go again.

Occasionally, though, I fall into a deep, deep coma-like sleep that lasts 90 minutes, about the length of a full sleep cycle. During this dead-to-the-world state, I may try to rouse myself, struggle to open my eyes, to no avail. Sometimes I dream I am trying to open my eyes and can't, even though I am doing something sight-worthy like driving a car.

The long naps would not be a problem except sometimes I can't risk being unable to wake up in a timely manner. Like today, I'm dying to doze off for a bit, but I'm making bread and don't want to ruin it or burn the house down. (I can see me dreaming I am trying to escape a burning house but can't see because my eyes won't open.) Or the days I pick up my granddaughter after pre-school. Can't fall down on the grandma job.

Usually, those long naps occur after a poor night's sleep. Sometimes they also cause a poor night's sleep, like last night. Not only could I not get to sleep, but once I was asleep, a storm woke me. Betsy is afraid of storms but also getting kind of deaf, so she didn't waken then. She waited until about an hour before I had to get up (contractors coming today) to make sure my sleep was shortened at both ends.

At least I don't have to go to work on top of a crappy night's sleep.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Not according to plan

The idea was for all the siblings to convene to celebrate my father's 95th birthday. His chronically healthy body had a different idea, though. We still gathered but in his hospital room instead of his favorite restaurant. And there was no cake since he could not yet eat anything post-surgery.

For the generally healthy, we are perfectly fine until we are not. In this case, for unknown reasons, an adhesion put a twist in Dad's small intestine, causing a blockage. The surgeon called it a "best case scenario" because she did not need to resect the intestine, just snip the adhesion to release the twist.

This kind of surgery might leave someone in their 30's, even 60's, unfazed. But in the 90's? Recovering from the anesthesia takes days, mostly spent sleeping. As we age, the skin becomes more fragile, speeding the possible development of bed sores. Pneumonia is a potentially lethal complication.

And then there is the mental confusion. Lahey Hospital has a program whereby new nursing assistants spend six months serving as one-on-one "sitters" - they simply stay with the patient to make sure no tubes or IVs are pulled out and the patient stays in bed. This usually prevents the need for restraints, plus the newbie learns how to interact with patients and their families while also getting some on-the-job training when assisting in patient care. Dad required one of these aides for a few days post-op.

All was going reasonably well. I was particularly surprised Dad had no pain because after my abdominal surgery, I held the plunger for my morphine drip in a death grip. But then the oxygen level in his blood dropped. The first sign was a sudden lack of cooperation with the nurses. He became more and more incoherent as they tried to determine exactly what was going on and what to do about it. At first, this downturn was heartbreaking, but once he became more docile, the ensuing conversations grew highly entertaining.

Most of his babbling centered around the voices telling him to find the paper with the instructions about what our next steps were regarding the two bodies on the table; I used this fantasy to tell him his job was to cough up the phlegm in his throat. At one point, he lost track of who I was ("Do you have a sister?"), then he confused me with his second wife ("Time for our tea and a cookie"), and then with my mother ("We have a baby now. We need to take care of him.") And yet, when distracted by the construction of his bed, the plastics engineer in him spoke quite lucidly about the process and materials used to make it.

This story has a happy ending. The staff managed to short circuit the fluid gathering in Dad's lungs, gave him Nebulizer treatments to break up the mucus, and put him on oxygen. After a subsequent day spent with him thinking he was in Chicago, he became his old self again. He is eating solid food, the tubes and IVs are gone, and he should be released today from the hospital for a several week stay in the rehab unit of his retirement community. Then it will be back home to his apartment.

Of course, while witnessing all this, I couldn't help but think, This is my future. We like to ignore the fact we will get old and sick and someday die; that is something that happens to other people, not us. The getting old part is annoying and the dying part incomprehensible. The getting sick part, though, is scary. If we are lucky, we get appropriate care. But even the best facility, the brightest medical staff, a bevy of caring relatives cannot guarantee anything, not even a peaceful passing.

Dementia and Alzheimers are the scariest of all. Confusion in the elderly can be mistakenly attributed to either of these when the problem may be fixable, like low blood oxygen. Unruly dementia patients are often treated with psychotropics when frequently the actual problem is pain that can be relieved with ibuprofen were the patient able to communicate. My nightmare is to be bedridden and suffer excruciating leg cramps and be unable to ask for help. And then there are the well-meaning efforts to drag Alzheimer patients back to reality when the kinder thing may be to just let them go into the void.

Anyway, blah, blah, blah. The future is unknowable. All we can do is mitigate the risks - sign a will, designate a health care proxy, set an example to our kids of how to treat aging parents. Hope for the best but prepare for the worst. Nothing goes according to plan.

Monday, August 25, 2014

It's complicated

Once upon a time I worked at a mom-and-pop grocery (although in truth, this was just a mom operation, pop was long gone). This was back in the dark ages, when chain grocery stores did not have delis and they pre-packaged all the fresh produce so you could not pick your own from their displays. Eventually, the chains caught on and opened delis and stopped shrink wrapping the produce. Then along came Walmart, where not only could you shop for groceries, but just about anything else you might want, a modern day general store. Even Target now sells food.

As a working mother, even though I might have wanted to support the mom-and-pop operations, the convenience of one-stop shopping won me over. And it didn't really matter which store I one-stop shopped at, as they all offered the same products.

And then things changed.

First came the option of buying organic and "health" foods. While many of the chains now also offer what could previously be purchased only at food co-ops and health food stores, their selection is not as complete, nor do they vet what they offer. So now I became a two-stop shopper.

Then came the exhortation to buy local. The food co-op I frequent offers some items from local producers, but not always. So now I buy some food direct from local farmers and also frequent farmers markets. We have one FM that is open year round, so in winter you can still purchase local lettuce, potatoes, squash, plus locally roasted coffee (but is it fair trade?!?), locally baked baked goods, etc.

Then some smaller chains started moving into the area. One is Earth Fare. Their offerings are more varied than the food co-op, plus there is fresh meat. I can walk to it, reducing my carbon footprint while getting in some steps. And I like their bread. Another new store is Just in Thyme, which has not yet opened but is supposed to be modeled like a farmers market.

And then to make things even more complicated, the chains are either shifting, even limiting, many of their offerings to their store brands (Kroger, I'm talking about you) and/or not carrying the particular items I purchase at all.

This phenomenon is not limited to food. A walk through the mall reveals that many of the stores offer the same clothing styles, sometimes even the same clothing lines. In department stores, the selection of towels and linens is severely limited in styles and colors. There are common items I have purchased before that NO ONE carries today. The most recent example is sheers in lengths less than 84". Several years ago I was able to buy these at Target, but no more. Nor at the other stores I visited. An online search indicates that I can no longer purchase them anywhere. It looks like I will have to actually make them myself.

Maybe if I lived in a large metropolitan area, I would not see my shopping options contract even as the stores themselves expand. Here in the midlands, though, everything looks alike, everyone dresses alike, everyone does the same thing. I guess that makes me the weirdo.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Summer reading

Like many of you, summertime is when I catch up on some reading, more so now that I am retired. "Summer reading" (as opposed to fall, winter, spring reading?) usually connotes light stuff. On that end of the scale, I recently read two non-knitterly books by two knitting authors.

Stephanie Pearl-McPhee usually writes books of knitting humor. Yes, knitting can be funny, but mostly just to other knitters. Her latest book is just humor, no knitting knowledge required. The Amazing Thing about the Way It Goes contains essays, a couple of which are polished versions of stories told on her blog, but most of which are new-to-me. Common themes are marriage and parenting and self esteem, and they are likely to appeal more to women than men. A few of the essays are more serious than funny, and most are more amusing than laugh-out-loud funny (although I did laugh out loud more than once). I have heard Stephanie speak before, and quite frankly, her extemporaneous stories are much, much funnier, roll-on-the-floor-with-tears-running-down-your-cheeks kind of funny. Maybe she should try stand-up. Anyway, for a light read, I recommend this book.

Ann Shayne is one half of Mason-Dixon Knitting and co-author of two knitting books. When she self-published a novel, I admit my expectations were low. Not because she does not write well, but rather because of my snobbish, self-published-first-novel prejudices. Well, I was pleasantly surprised by Bowling Avenue, and in a big way. The book is about Nashville and is told in an Anne Tyler-lite sort of way, with lots of strong character development and great dialog and imagery. I definitely recommend this book for any time of the year.

At the other end of the spectrum, I have been slogging through Fooled by Randomness, by Nassim Nicholas Taleb. It's not that it is not interesting, but I find Taleb's writing style difficult to read. Also, I don't know much about the stock market beyond buy-low-sell-high, so some of it is simply lost on me. Some would take umbrage with his ideas about how our successes (and failures) are primarily the result of random luck. I half agree with him, as otherwise I don't have much explanation for why my life has been relatively easy. There have been tough parts and sad parts, sure, but nothing catastrophic or tragic (knock on wood). Every "good" decision I made might not have been so good given different circumstances, and none of my "bad" choices were so bad that I could not recover from them. I'm not sure I will finish this one, but the library has another by Taleb, The Black Swan, on CD, so I may try that instead.

Another not-so-light read is All the Rage, by A.L Kennedy, who has won lots of awards. This collection of short stories are not stories in the common sense of the word. They require careful reading (at least, by me) or else risk making no sense at all; I've already had to read one twice and I still don't quite get the ending. Maybe if I were smarter or had majored in English (like I *almost* did), I would not find this book quite so difficult. Or maybe I just need to go out to Good Reads and see what others have to say. Then maybe I'll get it.

(In fact, becoming at least a lurker on Good Reads sounds like a very good idea, now that I have the time for that sort of thing.)

The last book I'll describe here is All the Birds, Singing, by Evie Wyld. The format of this novel is intriguing, as the story begins in the middle, then in alternate chapters, works its way to both the beginning and end. Consequently, I was expecting not one, but *two* payoffs. Unfortunately, I was disappointed about both the beginning and the end of the story. Otherwise, I might have reread the book chronologically, just for fun.

Oh, one more, definitely for light reading: Have a Nice Guilt Trip, by mother-daughter Lisa Scottoline and Francesca Serritella (but mostly Lisa). I previously read Why My Third Husband Will Be a Dog, so was primed to be entertained, and I was. You will be, too.

What are you reading this summer?

Monday, July 07, 2014

So far, so good

When I decided to retire, I wondered how I would adapt to not going to work. It turns out I am adapting very well. Every day is Saturday, except for Sunday, when the morning paper is fatter. Besides a few work-related dreams, I rarely even think about the company I worked for or the people I worked with. Forward ho!

My so-called schedule, on the other hand, is in flux. BR (Before Retirement), there were certain things that had to happen on weekends or evenings. Now, not so much. I can get my hair cut at 9am instead of 5pm. I can do laundry any day of the week I want. Wednesday date night has become Wednesday date day. Housework can happen any ol' time.

I find I am sleeping better. Instead of fighting bedtime (you'd think I'd be too old for that nonsense, but at the end of a workday, I hated to give up any free time to slumber), I become truly sleepy eyed around 10pm. I set the alarm for 7am, but am usually up before then. There are still awakenings in the middle of the night, but none of this wide-awake-at-3am business. And the afternoon naps are delicious.

Speaking of delicious, I am eating better. Without a cafeteria or vending area nearby, but plenty of time, I fix three real meals a day, with vegetables and everything. The result is I am also eating less. BR, it was a struggle to stay under 2000 calories a day. Now, I seem satisfied with 1200-1500. A few pounds have been shed already.

I can't help but be more active now that I don't spend all day in an office chair in front of a computer. A typical day finds me in the garden all morning, puttering around inside during the afternoon, outside again in the evening, either back to the garden or taking a walk around the nabe. Time is no longer of the essence, so I can walk up to the grocery or the library - it's only 20 minutes round trip. I thought I would do more housework, but pfft. I'm the only one who lives here, so until it gets so bad even I can't stand it, cleaning remains on the back burner.

I actually watched two movies this past week, "Seraphine" and "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel". I finished a book, All the Birds, Singing, and started another one, Bowling Avenue. I usually knit for 1-2 hours a day. Tomorrow I babysit my granddaughter, in the middle of the week. Just unheard of BR.

They say happiness is an internal thing, but it turns out happiness can be encouraged by changing one's external circumstances. Again, I am fortunate to be able to enjoy this time. I don't have the money for fancy cruises or foreign travel, so it is a good thing I am not too interested in either. I am deliberately not taking on anything new over the next six months, while I decompress. Then, who knows?