Saturday, December 20, 2014

A good enough death

My father passed away on December 1, at the age of 95. He had surgery in September for a bowel blockage and recovered from that. A second blockage sent him to the ER, and when they started treatment - insertion of a nasogastric tube and catheter - his heart stopped. After two resuscitations, we decided to let him go. My older brother was with him for the end.

Over the past six months, Dad had been going downhill slowly. He was sleeping more, so much so that I would not have been surprised if he had simply not awoken from one of his many naps. I was in the habit of phoning him several times a week, and he sometimes struggled to find words or remember names or dates. After his surgery, he couldn't follow plots or keep track of characters in the John Grisham novels he favored. Facebook, along with most computer tasks besides email, was a lost cause. He still loved to watch the Red Sox, though, listen to classical music and opera, play dominoes, dine with his friends, see family.

After his surgery, he spent about a week in "continuous care" getting rehab so he could return to his apartment. On the first day there, he told me he was in no hurry to leave. But the better he felt, the more horrific that unit became to him. He was one of the few that were mobile; the other residents spent their days in wheel chairs, watching the same show on TV in the day room, clutching teddy bears. He was very happy to leave that place behind, and said he would rather "jump off a bridge" than ever return. With his failing mental capacity, though, that is what I was afraid would happen.

Dad told me that, before the surgery, he had decided that if he were diagnosed with a terminal condition like cancer, he would not seek treatment. While recovering, he had a bout of incoherence caused by low blood oxygen, but it was interrupted by his asking me point blank why we did not just let him go. After the surgery, he said that he "would rather die" than have a nasogastric tube inserted again. So when my oldest brother called to ask if I had any objections to Dad not being resuscitated the next time his heart stopped, I said I had none. It was what he would have wanted.

After my stepmother passed away a year or so ago, I asked Dad if he had done any preplanning. No, he didn't care what we did, but he suggested his cremains be buried in Chicago where his parents and my mother (Dad's first wife) are. My brothers and I decided not to have a service in Massachusetts but to gather in Chicago at a later date, to celebrate a life well lived. With no service, though, sometimes his passing feels like a dream and I get a little panicky thinking I have forgotten to call him.

My two brothers that live in Massachusetts are taking care of business at that end: cleaning out the apartment, executing the will, etc. The brother in Chicago is tasked with interring the ashes. There was nothing for me to do, no ritual to mark the end. But then the Chicago brother thoughtfully asked if I wanted to be there for the interment. So on Monday, my son and I are going to Graceland (cemetery, not Tennessee).

My mother passed away when I was 20. I was young and callow then, and forged ahead into my future without much thought. Older and maybe wiser now, when I look back, I see what a hole was left by her death. Dad's demise is another hole. Even though I am 62 years old, I feel abandoned and orphaned. I miss him very much.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Summer to autumn reading

I like to listen to books on CD while I knit. At my older brother's urging, I recently selected Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow. I thought The Passage of Power was long - AH has it beat by two disks. But I did it. I listened to the whole thing, although I had to renew it twice. Fortunately, it was very interesting and educational. I didn't realize just how critical Hamilton's role was in the establishment and preservation of a federal government, as well as the economic framework that is basically still in place today. Aaron Burr was the prototype for the modern day politician (and an asshole). John Adams was a nut case. It's amazing that the nation survived its fragile beginning, and yet many of our modern day issues have their roots in the post-revolutionary period. When it comes to politics, some things never change.

Other recent reads:

  • Mr. Mercedes, by Stephen King. Not one of his better novels. The first of a trilogy - don't think I'll read the others.
  • Here to Get My Baby Out of Jail, by Louise Shivers. I'd never heard of this author until she passed away this past summer. The story in this novella rings true.
  • The Divorce Papers, by Susan Rieger. Told indirectly through correspondence, emails, memos, legal briefs, etc. Very effective. Quotes Tom Stoppard's The Real Thing.
  • The Real Thing, by Tom Stoppard. It's a play, so a lot is lost in the reading of it. One of my frustrations from living in the hinterlands is limited access to live performances of plays.
  • Starting Over, short stories by Elizabeth Spencer who is 93. She's still got it.
  • New Life, No Instructions, by Gail Caldwell. Not what I expected and a bit disappointing.
  • Dept of Speculation, by Jenny Offill (pronounced "awful"?). I think I would like to try being an art monster.
  • Breakfast at Tiffany's, by Truman Capote. Too bad Tru spent more time resting on his laurels than writing.
  • Tell the Wolves I'm Home, by Carol Rifka Brunt. My daughter liked this one, but I didn't despite the provocative title. In fact, I abandoned it after a couple of chapters.
  • No Country for Old Men, by Cormac McCarthy (on CD). Did not see the movie, but liked listening to the book.
  • All the Pretty Horses, by Cormac McCarthy (on CD). Read by Brad Pitt, the economy of language is stunning, makes Hemingway sound verbose. I didn't realize this is the first book in a trilogy, will have to read the others.
  • Mathilda, by Roald Dahl (on CD). A little disconcerting - I can see why some parents object to this book - but fun.
  • Tibetan Peach Pie, by Tom Robbins (on CD). He is so full of himself I didn't make it to the end
  • After I'm Gone, Laura Lippman. Classic Lippman.
  • Mr. Tall, short stories by Tony Earley. I particularly liked "Jack the Giant Killer".
  • Daring: My Passages, by Gail Sheehy. Having lived through the same time period (but while leading a much less exciting life), I enjoyed this survey of recent history. And yes, Sheehy was *very* daring.
  • The Third Plate, by Dan Barber. I'm enjoying it, but not making much headway due to Nook issues.
  • Misdiagnosed, by Jody Berger. This one will cause you to run screaming from any kind of health care professional, conventional or otherwise.
  • Silences, or a Woman's Life, by Marie Chaix. A bit confusing, and just as scary as Misdiagnosed. Don't get sick, don't get old.
  • Top Secret 21, by Janet Evanovich. One of the better Stephanie Plum novels.
  • Not My Father's Son, by Alan Cumming. I don't usually read celebrity authors, but I'm a fan of "The Good Wife" so I gave this a try. 
  • Stone Mattress, short stories by Margaret Atwood. Loved some of the stories, hated others.
  • One Simple Change, by Winnie Abramson. I already do almost all these things, and contrary to the subtitle, my life is not transformed.
  • Slow Dancing with a Stranger, by Meryl Comer. I heard one or two interviews with the author and was intrigued, but the book was a bit disappointing. Maybe I've read too many books on Alzheimers.
  • Rooms, by Lauren Oliver. When I realized this was about ghosts, I almost quit it, but the story is so well crafted, it sucked me in after two chapters.
  • Sex Is Forbidden, by Tim Parks. I really, really, really enjoyed this book. Most Buddhist nonfiction is a snooze fest, but Buddhist fiction tells it like it is. This is no exception. And such a provocative title!
  • If You Lived Here, I'd Know Your Name, by Heather Lende. Should be titled, If You Died Here.... Lende writes obituaries for the local paper in her tiny Alaskan village, so the main topic is death. BUT! This collection of essays is very entertaining and uplifting if a bit christiany.
Wow. I've been reading a lot, which is a good thing and one of my goals in retirement. And I read more fiction than I used to. Initially, I had a little bit of trouble giving myself permission to read more - shouldn't I be *doing* something? - but reading *is* doing something.

What are you reading these days?

Monday, November 17, 2014

More Nooky

Once upon a time, I decided I needed a treat and purchased a Nook Color. I found it handy for reading ebooks, took it with me on vacation when I wanted to be able to check email, etc. (I did not have a smart phone at the time), and of late purchased learning games for my g'daughter to play. It was the latter that drove me over the edge, Nookwise.

The primary issue is not being able to install purchased apps. This has happened repeatedly. Customer service recommends a soft reboot and/or archiving and unarchiving the offending app. These tactics have worked for me once or twice. Their next step is to unregister and reregister the Nook, which sounds too drastic to me. The last time I had this problem (this past week, in fact), the customer service rep tried to load the app on his Nook Color and it failed, which means, I guess, that the app is at fault. I received a refund, then I sent the developer an email: Are you going to fix this or not? No reply.

I decided some shopping was in order. After looking around online, I went to Best Buy (NOT because I was going to buy anything there, but because they are all stocked up for xmas and I could check things out; since it is pre-xmas, the sales staff is in assertive mode and practicing their spiels, so be forewarned). Nothing there appealed to me, especially the price tags, so I headed over to Barnes and Noble.

You might be wondering why I would consider another Nook after my experience with the Nook Color, but functionally and financially, that is what I wanted. And that is what I bought, this time the Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 Nook 7. It's like the Nook Color and my smart phone hooked up and produced an heir to the throne. The touch screen looks better and behaves better, it has more memory and is faster, and it weighs less than the Nook Color. Since both devices are registered with the same B&N account, there was no fooling around transferring purchases from one to the other. And best of all, now my g'daughter can play her learning games.

Sunday, November 09, 2014

No NaNoWriMo but I did go to a fair

In a previous lifetime, I dreamed about being a writer. For a while, I wrote pieces for a local small town newspaper, and I did manage to publish a few articles in national magazines before falling down the rabbit hole of software development. My ability to write in complete sentences frequently helped me land jobs because engineers are notoriously poor writers.

I still harbor that dream, so when our county library (which I LOVE) sponsored an authors fair, I decided to attend. Over 70 writers hawked their wares in the Great Hall, plus there were several panel discussions in Meeting Room B. I had never been to such an event, but I thought, Hey, I write (blogs), maybe I should go.

I'll say up front I was not interested in buying any books. I am not much of a book buyer in general - my house is too small - plus there is the library I LOVE so much. But I did want to see who these people were and chat up a few.

I'll also say up front that I am a rather shy person, not given to talking to strangers. After running the gauntlet without making eye contact, though, I put on my big girl panties and sidled up to the tables. Some authors must be as shy as I am, as they did not look up from whatever reading materials were currently capturing their attention, but most were eager to discuss their books. I probably insulted a few by asking if theirs were self-published; I wasn't being condescending, I'm just ignorant.

Many of the books were "young adult" (there was a panel discussion on that topic). None of the titles sounded familiar. I recognized the name of just one author, Betty Tonsing, only because she used to live here and was CEO of the Women's Bureau. Her book, Stand in the Way!, interested me because of my recent experience with my dad's hospitalization. (More information on the book may be found here.) So I did make a purchase, and Betty signed it, a plus I didn't expect because, you know, I'm ignorant.

To relieve some of my ignorance, I attended one of the panel discussions, "Reach Your Readers: How to Survive and Thrive in the World of Self- and E-Publishing". The panel consisted of Stephanie Cain (whose blog includes a series of posts categorized as "Self-Pub 101"), Lillie Barnett Evans, Jan Hinds, and Laura VanArendonk Baugh. I came away with lots to think about and lots to research.

And I am also a little excited because I *do* have some ideas for books. Surely, if these people can do it, so can I. All I have to do is apply my butt to a flat surface and start writing. Even if I only publish a dozen copies and force them on friends and family, I will have accomplished something I have always wanted to do.

Sunday, November 02, 2014

Watching TV is too hard

Despite spending a good portion of my childhood glued to the "boob tube", I haven't been much of a TV watcher as an adult. For a while, I was devoted to several sitcoms, but as those ended, so ended my interest in passive entertainment. In recent years, that has changed. I don't have cable or a dish, but I have Netflix, which allows me to binge watch all kinds of stuff, from the inane (e.g. "Desperate Housewives") to the excellent (e.g. "Damages").

I actually caught up on a couple of network shows and now try to watch them when they air (which requires I set an alarm on my phone to remind me to tune in). The first one was "Grey's Anatomy". In previous years, if I missed an episode, I could catch it the next day on Hulu. Last week, when I tried to do that, I discovered I would now have to wait eight days to watch it. Baffled, I complained to my daughter, who explained that the idea behind this eight-day wait is to get devoted fans to *pay* to watch a missed episode. (I don't quite know how this works because I am obviously dumb about these things.) The eight-day break put me into a quandary. Do I watch the next episode, then catch up on the missed one? That would be like reading chapters of a book out of order. Alternatively, I could stop watching in real time, always running a week late. Or go back to binge watching an entire season at a time, once a year. Halloween saved me this time - a holiday special bumped GA, allowing me to catch up.

Another show I decided to watch when aired is "The Good Wife". Usually I watch NFL football on Sundays, but I find I am losing interest. Football causes other problems, though. If CBS carries a late afternoon game, the evening shows get pushed back. If the game runs over, the shows get pushed back even further. Last Sunday, TGW didn't air until 10:00PM, way past my bedtime. So, again, do I stop watching in real time? If so, do I watch it online, week by week, or on Netflix, a season at a time?

Once upon a time, we collectively scheduled our lives around prime time TV. For one thing, television was a relatively new phenomenon. For another, there wasn't much else to do. Now there are *plenty* of alternatives. On a scale of 1 to 10 in importance, this dilemma rates a 0. But it gives me something to complain about other than Daylight Savings Time.

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?

Saturday, June 28, 2014

It is finished

After way-too-many-years as a software developer (more or less), I decided to call it quits. As I look back on those years, the far and the near, I don't quite know what to think. I followed my bliss, but my bliss emigrated. My first job was the best, and they went downhill from there. Being unwilling to relocate probably hurt my career, but at the end, what does it matter? The final employer turned out to be the best in terms of salary and benefits (one of which is the opportunity to retire early) even though the work was the most stultifying. Somehow, through a combination of working hard enough, making good enough decisions, and having good enough luck, I managed to get where I am: healthy enough, wealthy enough, with hopefully enough time to enjoy it.

Retirement is one of those one-off things to look forward to, like menopause. You think it will never happen, and then suddenly, you are on the doorstep. The past few years, I wondered how I would know it was time to go. Then it happened - I went into my annual review, thinking everything was hunky dory, only to be told I was not working hard enough, my work was not good enough, I was a burden to my co-workers. The next year looked like one big slog, and I discovered not only did I not want to work harder, I did not want to work at all. I waited a while to make sure I was not doing something rash before making my final decision, but frankly, once I *seriously* considered retiring, there was no going back. For a while, I fumed about the circumstances behind my decision, but one day I realized just how lucky I am to have early retirement as an option. And I have been happy ever since.

Yesterday was my final day. I turned in my computer, gathered up what I had not yet taken home, and left my ID badge at the front desk. I thought I might get a little teary eyed, but that did not happen. There is some anxiety about who I will be going forward, but I'm still me (which in some ways is a disappointment). We'll see how the rest of my life unfolds. So far, so good.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

24 hours with a pre-schooler

Last weekend the granddaughter slept over Friday night and spent all day Saturday in the company of oldsters. Friday nights are not my best - end of the work week - so I was a little reluctant about this plan. But duty called and I girded my loins. No worries, though. All went well.

Now that N is potty trained and capable of speaking in complete sentences, it is a new level of care that is required, one that is more fun and more interesting. We can be out and about without a diaper bag. We can spend literally HOURS "riding bikes" up and down the driveway (glad I had it redone). She is a bundle of energy that keeps me moving.

Lots of room to run at the playground.

Our conversations and her leaps of logic keep me entertained. For example, "Grandpa D* is old because he lives far away." Um, yes, he's old but it has nothing to do with how far away he lives. "You're old." Yes, but not as old as Grandpa D. Looking at the photos on my fireplace mantel, she had nothing to say when I explained that my grandfather had a hook for a hand, just like Captain Hook, but later she related the whole story to her mom. A little sponge, that one.

This is NOT Grandpa D.

N is also past the need for naps, for the most part, but neither of us got a full night's sleep. Knowing she would not want to nap, I told her she just had to stay on the bed while Grandma rested, then I played a relaxation YouTube video on my phone. The results were predictable.

Don't say the N word.

She now has a tricycle to keep at my house. I dragged my bike out, so we could ride together, and even went up and down the block. It was slow going, so I sat on my bike while pushing with my left leg. The next day, that leg was useless. The hellishness of getting old is revealed by the young.

*Grandpa D is my ex.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Memorial Day weekend

I spent this weekend with some old friends - friends I have known for a long time, although we are also getting older - at a get-together that has become known as Women's Weekend.

WW began as a reaction to the husbands' Memorial Day weekend canoe trip, which started as a two-day trip down the Eel River, during which the guys ran out of beer and had to call for replenishment. Since then, their annual adventure has become a nearly week-long trip into the wilds of this river or that. Meanwhile, the wives were left at home with the kids and the hope that their spouses' life insurance was paid up. In the spirit of reciprocity, WW was born.

Most years, we got together twice a year, usually at the same location: a reconstructed and modernized log cabin on the property of one of the participants. No phone (and this was before cell phones), a tiny TV which we hooked up to a VCR, no children allowed except nursing babies (and I don't recall that happening too often). While the guys were interested in activity, all we wanted to do was veg.

Initially, WW was about overindulging, in wine, chocolate, card games, R-rated movies we couldn't watch at home, (tobacco) cigarettes we couldn't smoke in front of our kids, etc. Conversation usually centered around our children. Nowadays, we mostly do the same things, but less so, as we are older and more health conscious. We still talk about our kids, but also grandchildren and aging parents and pending retirement and our various and sundry aches and pains.

While the spring meet-up continues, it has become more of a struggle to get together in the fall. You would think, now that the wee ones are adults, it would be easier, but no. Now we are more involved in our jobs and/or communities and/or extended families, doing a lot of the things we couldn't while actively parenting.

We started WW 36 years ago (I think). The first "weekend" was actually an afternoon. After a while, it became an overnight, then an entire weekend, from Friday night to Sunday afternoon. We talk about trying to take a week and travel to somewhere together. Given how difficult it is to arrange a weekend or two, I doubt this will happen, but it is fun to discuss the possibilities.

There is a core group that makes it to almost every WW. There are a few who come when they can. One or two have fallen away entirely. So far, we have not lost any members to death, but that is just a matter of time. It will be interesting to see how our tradition evolves over the next decades. Hopefully, we will be doing this for another 36 years.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

A day with grandma

First, we went to the library, where we had to try out all the seating.

Then we went to the Salomon Farm Fiber Arts Festival, where we learned to treadle and went for a hayride.

Then it was home for a little quiet time (while grandma caught a few Z's)...

...followed by exuberant hopscotch.

The day ended with a meltdown when daddy came to pick her up. Too much fun. My work here is done.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

I signed up so you don't have to

I subscribe to the New York Times headlines, so I get an email daily that keeps my ill-informed. (Since I am not a real subscriber, I can read only 10 articles a month.) There are a few ads sprinkled through the email, including one from The Grommet that is usually intriguing. But to get into The Grommet website, you have to supply an email. Being the clever bear I am, I have several email addresses, including one I never check, so that is the one I use for shenanigans like forced sign-ups.

The product advertised in today's NYT email is this:

It's an "ostrich pillow"! Available in both adult and junior sizes for a quick power nap after lunch. There are days at work (everyday?) when I really, really, really need something like this as long as it does not leave an imprint on my face. We don't have cubicles anymore, just "cubbies" with only enough space for laptop, keyboard, monitor, and mouse, but I could retreat to a privacy room for a quickie.

Would you pay $99 for this product?

Monday, April 14, 2014


I've been contemplating just what to do with the four (yes, FOUR) blogs I maintain for myself. (There are two others, one for my neighborhood association and another for an organization I am a member of, but both of those are practically defunct from neglect.) This is how I plan to divvy things up:
  • Woodchuck Acres: for yard and garden (obviously). This blog serves as a record keeper, to help me keep track of what I have done when. I also enjoy looking back to previous years.
  • Bitten by Knittin': for knitting, dyeing, spinning (again, obviously). Another record keeper, this blog helps me keep track of things fiber-related. I could replace it with more extensive use of Ravelry, but from my statistics, I see I get many visitors after-the-fact, looking for information about this or that.
  • Between Rome and Paradise: for what's happening to and in the house. Right now, that is mostly remodeling. Adventures in the kitchen could go here as well.
  • October Rose (you are here): for the up-close-and-personal stuff. This may border on TMI at times, but I hope it becomes more reflective. This also seems like a good spot for travel stories, book and movie reviews, autobiography, etc.
That is the plan. For now. Hope you stick around to see how it all evolves.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Does my sweetie know me or what?

The tee shirt says, "Recluse. Just stay home."

Sunday, February 09, 2014

Roads are snow-covered. So are trails.

Finally FINALLY I went cross country skiing this winter, yesterday at Metea County Park, today at Fox Island County Park.

Metea is one of those secret gems. Despite the development going on all around, this nature preserve remains quiet and relatively underused. There are trails of course, plus a creek, pond, nature center, sledding hill, etc. Yesterday there were quite a few cars in the parking lot, apparently all having to do with the cross country ski clinic going on in the basement of the nature center. I expected to at least hear the newbies when they hit the trails (falling down in the snow invariable causes high pitched screaming), but I was done before they began. I did not meet another person on the trails, so enjoyed a peaceful interlude.

Fox Island is another story. Usually it is quite noisy, the sources being planes, trains, and automobiles, but last night's snow limited air and car traffic, for a while at least. I was the first on the trails this morning, but by the time I finished, I was meeting other solitary skiers and one couple, all of us trying to beat the crowds. When I reached my car, several families were setting out with much giggling and shouting. Yes, time to head home.

In a previous lifetime, I was self-employed and had time to get involved in volunteer work at both Metea and Fox Island, so became quite familiar with the trails. That was 15 years ago. Now it is easy for me to get turned around at either. Not a big deal ordinarily, but when I decide I am done skiing, I am invariably far from the exit and also confused about the shortest route there. At Metea, I found my way back to the car without too much trouble, but at Fox Island I felt compelled to take the long way back to the parking lot, in order to avoid this hill that does not look bad from the bottom but is adrenaline pumping from the top. I usually force myself to go down it, but after last summer's fall, decided not to tempt fate.

Before going out today, I watched a couple of You Tube videos on how to cross country ski, just to pick up some pointers.

My style is more a shuffle than a glide, but otherwise not too bad. Today I worked on gliding more, and now there is a small blister on one toe of my left foot and a larger blister on the heel of my right foot. Must be like golf - if you are doing it right, you get blisters.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Cold bound

Last night, despite the frigid temperatures (which gave me an excuse to work from home), I was forced to leave my cozy house: haircut, jump start for my SO, library drop-off, milk pick-up, grocery run. As I backed the car out of the garage, I tried to remember the last time I drove or even left the property. I think it was last Thursday, when I worked at work. Five days of house (ar)rest.

I wasn't totally isolated during that time. The granddaughter came to stay with me for a few hours on Saturday, so I saw both my daughter and son-in-law then. The weather and an impending cold/virus thing spoiled the usual get-together with my SO on Sunday, but we were in close contact. Monday the electrician stopped by for a pre-remodeling consult (everything is fine). And when one has the Internet, one is never really alone. (Hi, NSA!) I *could* have gone somewhere one of those days, but there was no need, so why bother?

Unlike some, I don't mind long stretches with only myself for company. The pets offer their own special companionship. With the marvels of technology, I'm not cut off from human intercourse. I see and hear my neighbors as they come and go. And with my myriad hobbies, there is always plenty to do. Since I wasn't feeling too perky to begin with, a couple of days on the couch, knitting and reading and napping, with the occasional foray to the bird feeders and mail box, seemed nearly ideal. Of course, it helps that I wasn't very sick and we never lost power and no pipes froze.

Now that I have stocked up on toilet paper, dairy products, fresh fruit, and chocolate, I am ready for the next wave of winter weather.

How are you surviving the polar vortex?

Monday, January 20, 2014


I was one of those people who shopped at Target during the holiday season. There was no suspicious activity on my account, but my credit union was extremely proactive about identifying those who were vulnerable and replacing their cards. After reading a NY Times article on just how lax Target's IT security is, I now use only cash while shopping there.

A few days ago, I received an email from Target, offering me free credit monitoring. At least, the email *looks* like it is from Target. There are no links in the email to take me to god-knows-where, but I don't know *how* Target would get my email address or would know that I had shopped there during the time in question. The only legitimate answer is, my credit union shared my email address with them. Illegitimate possibilities abound, though.

It is not unusual for the ads in FB and Yahoo and other sites to reflect my online browsing and shopping, so I don't think I am being paranoid. Or am I?

Monday, January 06, 2014

Decluttering side effects

This past Thanksgiving, while my little family was all gathered together, I dragged my music collection out of the closets and cupboards. There were 50-year-old LPs, 25-year-old cassettes, 5-year-old CDs. My SO had already taken the few LPs he was interested in, so I let my son and son-in-law pick through the rest. The son-in-law is into vinyl, so he took *all* the LPs. (I told him if he sold one for $1 million, he had to split it with me.) My son helped himself to various and sundry cassettes (his car is old enough to still have a cassette player) and CDs. The leftovers will go to the local library and Goodwill.

I enjoy music but it is not something that is central to my life. When I do listen, it is with Pandora or through other online sources. Once, I borrowed a turntable to play some of those LPs and rediscovered the annoyance of that background hiss, of all the scratches, of having to flip the record after 20 or so minutes. The cassettes were nearly as bad. And my stereo system is so old that the disc changer frequently would not release the CDs. So I saw no reason to hang onto all that junk.

What surprised me was my (internal) reaction to releasing all that personal history. That is what our crap is - a record of who we were and where we've been, especially the LPs and cassettes. The LPs are from my teen and college years and 20's, the cassettes are what I listened to as I commuted back and forth to my new career in my 30's. The CDs were purchased post divorce. When that music when out the door Thanksgiving night, I felt like I was losing something vital.

Over the next several days, I fretted and regretted, but eventually forgot about it. I don't notice the hole in the closet the LPs filled because, quite frankly, they were in the way. The cassettes and CDs were in a cupboard I rarely access, so there is no visual reminder of them, either. All that remains is a paper grocery sack of the rest, that gets shuffled around until I eventually shuffle it out the door.

My reaction helps explain why I have closets full of old computer equipment. Another significant period from my life was the year I was self-employed. I started my own software development business while still working and continued it when I returned to the regular workforce, but eventually the clients dried up. I'm glad I tried it, do not regret its passing, have deposited the software printouts in the recycle bin. The hardware itself has been more difficult to deal with.

Even though I have not even powered up most of those old PCs for 15 years (and wonder if they would even start anymore), they continue to take up space in my storage-challenged house. The oldest computer is at least 20 years old, has a Bournoulli drive and multiple parallel and serial ports, as it became my utility computer. There is a slightly newer desktop that connected me to the Internet. There is a notebook I carried to the clients' offices and used for development; I backed up my work to a Zip drive.

One complicating factor to getting rid of all this stuff is I want to check the hard drives for mementos, like the early emails between my SO and me. How I would get this precious-to-me information off the hard drives is a problem, as they predate the USB era. I may have to print them out; I think I have a cable that will let me do that.

Yes, cables. Lots of cables of one sort or another, with connections of various types, with "gender benders" for mixing and matching the innies and outies. There is probably a modem or two, too, with their own multiple cables. And mice and keyboards and peripherals and god knows what else. It is all there, in my closets. It is probably a good thing I don't have a basement or an attic.

When my children were little, I would go through all their old clothes on an annual basis, to pick stuff out for garage sales. Some long-outgrown items remained behind each time, until their hold on my heart released. Eventually, it all went, as will all that I have now, if not today, then some day, when I am gone, too.

Part of me says, It's my crap and I'll keep it if I want to. But I really don't want to. It feels like so much dead weight. Starting with the newer equipment first, as it is not imbued with such power, would be easier. Once I start, it hopefully will become easier to let go of the past. What feels vitally important to me won't matter to anyone else down the line. It really doesn't matter all that much to me, except as a dim reminder of someone I used to be.

Saturday, January 04, 2014

That time of year again

I searched my blog(s) for last year's resolutions, but all I found was this back-patting post. Nothing special was promised, but I am happy to report that I am still jogging, and MORE. My employer provided us with FitBits and mine has actually helped me become more active. In fact, most days I hit my 10,000 step goal. It is not hard to do, but it is also easy NOT to. I wear the thing constantly so every step counts, even middle-of-the-night trips to the john. Still, I have to make an effort everyday.

The result is, I feel more sure on my feet (which should help prevent anymore falls like this one) and my cholesterol numbers are improved. I am also insufferably smug (on the inside). Over xmas break, I even inspired one of my neighbors to get out and walk the nabe.

Another resolution was to declutter. Better late than never, I started that effort just last week. The room my granddaughter sleeps in is now relatively kid-proof and de-yarnified, and has room for the crap she keeps here at my house. I improved the state of the West Wing by moving the spinning wheel and its accouterments to the other spare bedroom which has become my new yarn room. The treadmill has been relocated to the family room, the better to make use of it now that the weather has turned nasty (I watch Netflix on my Nook while walking about 2mph - steps are steps). Two garbage bags of this, that, and the other were delivered to Goodwill. There is still more to do, but this is definitely progress.

This year's resolutions are more of the same: eat less, exercise more, keep house better. Re eating less, this requires constant vigilance. I gained back a few pounds over the holidays - could have been worse. Re exercising more, I got off track this fall with my shoulder PT exercises, so there is room for improvement there. Re the housework, I would like my house to be clean and tidy enough that, should someone stop by unexpectedly, I am not embarrassed. It doesn't have to look perfect - after all, I live here - just reasonable.

What about you? Any new goals on your horizon?