Tuesday, December 15, 2015

A walk in the woods

On Thursdays, my SO and I attend senior yoga at the Community Center, have lunch together, then hang out the rest of the afternoon - our midweek "date day". With the temperatures ridiculously warm, I suggested we hike the north side of Metea County Park. Neither of us had been there in a while, but we managed not to get lost. We put about 8K on our Fitbits and 14 flights of stairs.

Chimney in the middle of nowhere


Candy cache!

Geo cache!

Tree fungus

Monday, December 14, 2015

Get out of town

The family spent a weekend in Three Oaks, Michigan. I found the rental through HomeAway, which worked out well. The house slept 11, was nicely decorated, and was clean (sometimes a concern with vacation rentals).

Three Oaks is very flat, and everything is within walking distance. I was afraid that businesses would be closed during the off season, but not so; they even had a small xmas parade Saturday morning. I cooked dinner Saturday night, but otherwise, we ate out. It was a relaxing time, which was the whole point of the weekend.

The weather cooperated - cool but sunny. Saturday we explored the town. Sunday we hit the beach, at both Warren Dunes and Grand Mere state parks. I put "only" 8K steps on my Fitbit on Sunday, but 24 "flights of stairs" - those dunes are challenging!

I would definitely go back.

The rental:

Buck in the woods


Aga range!

Local activities:

Still working on the border


Get me down!

The dunes:

Obligatory snow fence photo

Lake Michigan from Warren Dunes

One of many dunes at Warren Dunes

Arty photo of dune grasses

Arty photo of sand and shadows

Wetlands at Grand Mere

Looking for the lake at Grand Mere

Lake Michigan from Grand Mere

Monday, November 23, 2015

A sangha of one

A while back, I met a friend for coffee, and she gushed, "I'm in love!"

We had both recently lost our aged dogs (mine was a basset mix named Charlie). She, however, had a new puppy, a shiba inu that looked like a little stuffed animal. I oohed over the photos, then enumerated all the reasons I was not getting another dog, the primary one being I was at work all day. She said she had thought the same thoughts, then decided she didn't care.

This resulted in my getting another dog, Betsy Beagle. I too fell in love. But when next I met my friend for coffee, I commented that, by getting a new dog, I missed an opportunity to face my self. She said, "And that's a good thing."

I knew that this was *not* a good thing, but life was full of distractions.

Fast forward. While rereading Teach Us to Sit Still, by Tim Parks, I paused to look up the definition of a term online. Included in the resulting search list was a link to the Insight Fort Wayne group, described as a sangha practicing Vipasanna meditation.

My SO practices meditation twice daily. I have tried meditation off and on over the years, mostly off because I have not been able to establish the habit. The FW group meets on Tuesday evenings, not the best day for me because of conflicts, but a Monday evening class for beginners was starting soon, so I signed up for that.

It's over now. While I don't think I learned anything new about meditation per se, being in a group with a teacher has helped me start a regular practice. I started with a 10-minute "sit" in the mornings, to set my intentions for the day. I tried complementing that with a longer sit in the evening, for 20 or 30, someday 40, minutes, but if the day had been full, I sometimes forgot or, if I remembered, struggled with nodding off. Now I sit for 40 minutes most mornings.

I have managed to attend the regular weekly meditation session on occasion. First comes a 40-minute sit, usually in silence. This is followed by a dharma talk, either one delivered by our teacher (Tamara Dyer) or a prerecorded one by another teacher, like Gil Fronsdal, a co-teacher at the Insight Meditation Center in Redwood City, California and the Insight Retreat Center in Santa Cruz, California. (Audio Dharma is a source of free dharma talks.)

And that is it.

Right now I am a little confused about the difference between Zen and Vipasanna Buddhism. Gil has trained in both the Japanese Soto Zen tradition and the Insight Meditation lineage of Theravada Buddhism of Southeast Asia, so they must not be mutually exclusive. Our local teacher, Tamara Dyer, is a retired psychotherapist and is of the Insight school. From my own readings, Zen sounds more rigid and ritualistic, at least when compared with what I am experiencing with the local group. Maybe that is one reason I find myself responding favorably.

I plan to continue attending the sessions when I can. Meanwhile, I listen to dharma talks at home and practice on my own. Maybe I will wake up to my life, maybe I will come home to who I am. Better late than never.

Saturday, October 03, 2015

If I were to suffer a heart attack, it would have happened at Starved Rock

I am a firm believer of vacations. Besides the obvious benefits of R&R, it is good to get out of town once in a while, and see something different. When my daughter changed jobs, she took no time off; in fact, the two jobs overlapped for a while. Crazy! I said, and urged her to take some time off, somehow, someway. Since I am sharing the inheritance from my dad with my kids in the form of subsidizing travel, money was not a real issue. All she had to do is take a few days off and choose a destination.

The end result was a girls weekend away, my daughter, granddaughter, and me, with guest appearances by my son and his pseudo-stepdaughter (that is a long story and not mine to tell). My daughter chose Starved Rock State Park because 1) it is close enough not to be an ordeal to reach, 2) it offers plenty of hiking experience, and 3) it is not in Indiana.

Fast friends

Starved Rock consists of 18 canyons along the Illinois River, near Utica, IL. The 13 miles of trails are well marked, including little signs that indicate whether one is moving toward or away from the visitors center, very helpful when one decides enough is enough. Going off trail is an invitation to disaster: the last time I was at the park, with my SO, a young boy slipped and fell into the river; he was rescued by a boater, but his uncle, in an attempt to save the boy, drowned. A more recent incident resulted in a spinal fracture.

Starved Rock itself as viewed from Lovers Leap overlook

Knowing this, it was tempting to put a leash on the granddaughter. Fortunately, she understands (at least, for now) the necessity of following rules, even when those around you are not. I was a little shocked that parents let their kids scramble around off trail, even taking pictures of the little monkeys. I hope they all get poison ivy, a distinct possibility because it was all around.

Anyway, we had a good time. It would have been nice to stay at the lodge or in one of the cabins, but they are booked well in advance. Instead, we took up residence at the Hampton Inn in Ottawa (not the best Hampton Inn I've stayed at, but perfectly adequate, plus free breakfast! And a pool!) We arrived on Thursday night, so we could have a full two days of fun before returning on Sunday. We hiked the trails for about two hours Friday. My daughter signed up for a guided hike Saturday, and my original plan was to do something outside the park with the granddaughter, but when I told my son our plans, he decided to join us on Saturday. I figured he would not find the Scarecrow Festival in Ottawa all that fascinating, so we hiked the trails again.

One of the shorter stairways

Here is the thing about the trails at Starved Rock. Hiking there involves going up and down a LOT of stairs, especially if one decides to visit a canyon floor. Even though we did not traverse the whole park nor visit every canyon over the course of our visit, my Fitbit registered 80 flights of stairs in two days. The map displayed symbols I originally took for bridges on the trails, but in actuality were "major stairways". Climbing those lifted my heart rate to its maximum, requiring a rest or two on the way up. Some stairs were so steep I insisted on walking in front of the kids on the way down, in case one tripped. I am surprised there are not more injuries, but off trail antics aside, people must be careful enough most of the time.

Wildcat Canyon

Starved Rock is open year round. When it is rainy, there are waterfalls. Migratory birds stop by (we saw white pelicans on the river) and bald eagles nest there in the winter. Fall wild flowers include mostly asters, golden rod, boneset, and jack in the pulpit. There is a dam on the river, and we watched tug boats push barges through the locks. I recommend visiting during the week, because it gets quite crowded on weekends.

My daughter brought work along, for which I properly chastised her. On the way home, she admitted the work had gone untouched. Instead, she hiked and swam for two days, read a whole book, enjoyed some quality time with her daughter but also some grown-up time away from her. Mission accomplished.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Color my world

When I was in college, back in the Stone Age, I (re)discovered the calming effect of coloring. I bought some crayons and a coloring book and when feeling stressed or overwhelmed, retreated to my dorm room to color. I don't recall sharing this activity with anyone, and my roommate was not often present, especially on weekends, so it was my private little vice.

Once again, I was ahead of my time. If you flash forward to now, you will find that "adult" coloring books and apps are all the rage. I tried one app, Colorfy, and while pretty good, it doesn't allow for shading or enhancements. However, you will never color outside the lines, as each space is filled with the color of your selection - no actual coloring required. I didn't find that as satisfying as the coloring apps targeting kids my granddaughter's age, although the subject matter was generally more interesting than fairies and Hello Kitty.

Barnes and Noble had some adult coloring books on sale, so I picked up one with a garden motif and one of Norse designs. (I'm clinging tenaciously to my Danish ancestry.) I also purchased some pens there, which I both love and hate. Each pen has two points, one short and stubby and one long and pointed like a paint brush. That's the love part. The hate part is there is no way to identify the true color of the ink without yanking off the rather tight caps and scribbling a bit. And some pens seems to have a different shade at each end. And if you don't get the cap back on completely, they dry out rather rapidly.

Naturally, my granddaughter wants to use MY pens and color in MY books. (Boundaries, child!) Yesterday I purchased an "advanced" coloring book for her at United Arts and Education (paisley prints) and some new pens for moi. I have more colors now, but the tips leave a lot to be desired.

I still find the act of coloring to be soothing, sort of like knitting but without the counting and the frustration. Sometimes I am in the mood for the tiny details in some pictures, other times I need to make broad strokes. While coloring, my mind wanders hither and yon, and I get some real thinking done without pulling a muscle in my brain. It easily becomes a time suck.

This pastime continues to be a secret, mostly, as I imagine some people just would not understand and/or approve. I figure it is no worse than watching TV. And maybe someday I will learn to share.

Monday, September 07, 2015

Up to a point

If one's fifties is the decade of regret, the sixties seem to be the age of reflection. At least, that is what I have been doing lately when not involved in this, that, or the other thing.

One thread of musing has gone along like this: How come I never became really good at something? I recall reading articles as a teenager where the author insisted that everyone is good at something, you just have to find out what that is. I don't remember being particularly encouraged by anyone, so blamed "them" for that. Then I wondered if maybe no one saw anything in me worth encouraging. Hmmm.

After I brief respite from that topic, I returned to it from another angle: what was I good at, and what happened along the way? In high school, I was very good at math, loved plane and solid geometry and trig. But then something happened in college when I hit calculus. I never quite understood calc, nor the higher math classes I took while pursuing my computer science degree. So maybe I was good at math, but only up to a point.

Speaking of computer science, I loved designing and writing software and believed I was good at that. But then along came a paradigm shift, from procedural programming to object oriented and event driven software. I understood both at an abstract level, but my OO efforts still looked like procedural code. My brain just did not want to make the shift. So I was good at software development, but only up to a point.

What else? I was good at sports when we lived in Illinois, but the competition was sparse because back in the dark ages, there were no interscholastic team sports for girls in that state. We moved to Massachusetts my senior year, where they were more enlightened and I was less good compared with the others. Not to be deterred, in college I tried out for volleyball and sprained both my thumbs the first day of practice. After that, I stuck to intramural sports. As an adult, I did continue to play tennis, teaching my son until he surpassed me. I also played in a parks and rec league, until I got tired of losing all the time. Now I play golf, and even though my form is good, the results are inconsistent. Again, I'm good, but only up to a point.

I'm a good gardener, up to a point. I'm a good knitter, up to a point. I'm a good cook, up to a point.

What is this point I reach where my talents don't develop further? Maybe I get bored easily and don't stick with something long enough to become better. Maybe I am lazy, just don't want to put the work into becoming better. Or it could be I am simply average (HORRORS!)

That is when it is helpful to remember, We don't all have to shine.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Still getting used to this retirement thing

I've been retired for a little more than a year now, and my new lifestyle is still evolving. A few activities have fallen by the wayside completely (Wild Walkers), some are worth doing but not so often (volunteering at Salomon Farm), some I want to do more (senior yoga and golf), and there are yet more things to try (memoir writing, shibori). I'm still knitting and gardening, cooking less, reading more, and grandma'ing as needed.

I've read several columns lately that could have been written by me. One celebrates the idea of being "too old for this", and by "this", the author means things like feeling insecure about one's looks or worrying about other people's opinions. Another is by Gina Barreca, who is cultivating the art of not caring about things like fashion (comfort trumps beauty), toned arms, and symmetrical eyebrows. I haven't cared about a lot of these for a long time, but something clicks once one reaches a certain, ahem, maturity that solidifies all this not-caring. It's very liberating.

So now I wear skirts that don't hide my varicose veins (they stop at the knee instead of descending toward my ankles, thus avoiding the member-of-an-evangelical-cult look), am growing my hair out (tough right now in the heat and humidity of August), and I talk back to my doctor. I still pluck chin hairs but am more lackadaisical about hair that grows elsewhere on my body. I would still like to lose 30+ pounds, but (Whole30 or not) I'm not giving up the occasional dish of ice cream or bottle of beer to do so.

I am also abandoning attempts to like activities or support causes that don't really interest or move me. It isn't that these things are not worthy; I'd simply rather focus my energies and money elsewhere, guilt free. Life is too short for "shoulds".

Life is also too short for fear. I hope I do not turn into one of those oldsters who is afraid all the time. Not that I don't nurse my share of fears, irrational and otherwise, but I don't want them to rule my life. At least, not yet.

Saturday, July 11, 2015


I've been calling the cat-with-no-name "Beau", which rhymes with "NO!"

Some days, Finn and Beau get along fine. Other times, I think Finn is going to kill Beau, pinning him to the floor and administering some punishing bites. And yet, Beau keeps coming back for more.

Beau is an indoor cat, so Finn gets respite by going out most nights. I put them in separate parts of the house when I am going out. But I wonder what will happen when Beau reaches his full size.

Thursday, July 09, 2015

Whole30, more or less

My daughter lost 15 pounds following the Whole30 way of eating, so I gave it a try. The first time, I lasted about two days. The second time, I kind of eased into it, but still could not make it all the way through 30 days. And I lost only 2 pounds. Nevertheless, I continue to eat Whole30 sorta - consuming lots of vegetables (averaging 2 cups at each meal) with animal protein and fruit on the side, avoiding processed foods, avoiding sweeteners (artificial and otherwise), avoiding grains and legumes, making my own mayonnaise using olive oil, etc. - because it feels like a healthy way to eat.

And now I have pseudo proof that it is good for me: my total cholesterol dropped 40 points and LDL fell 30 points, as compared to last year. Whoohoo! So often we do this or that, because someone somewhere says it is the healthy thing to do, but rarely do we see direct results from our efforts. While there may be other factors at work in these results (e.g. my life is less stressful since I retired), I am choosing to believe my new way of eating has a lot to do with it.

My doctor was not impressed, however. True, my numbers are still too high, but I received no kudos for my accomplishment, no questions about how I did it. Instead, I received the Statin Lecture (and a few other lectures - I'm a non-compliant patient). I held out, but left the office rather upset with the doctor.

Two days later, I think I have figured out why she was so adamant about statins, when in the past her attitude has been "You have no other risk factors, so I wouldn't worry about it": the Affordable Care Act. It is my understanding that doctors are now being held responsible for the outcomes of their treatments, just as teachers are being held accountable for their students' success. I'm generally in favor of the ACA, just as I am generally pro-education reform. However, I take issue with how they measure accountability. I don't know how best to measure accountability, but using test results, be they medical or educational, does not make sense to me.

Now excuse me while I go eat a bit of BBQ beef and a whole lot of cole slaw.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Back home in Indiana

My SO and I visited New York City recently and ran ourselves ragged. For one thing, the city radiates energy, so it's hard to act laid back. Also, people walk really fast on crowded sidewalks, so you either keep up or get out of the way. Then there were the steps in the subways.

In three days, we put 92 flights of stairs on our Fitbits. Not for the faint of heart. The walking and stairs also explain why NYers are so thin. Not sure why we saw very few tattoos.

Getting there:

Our flight out of FW was delayed, but Delta automatically booked us on a later flight out of Detroit. Our original flight from Detroit was also delayed, so we made it to NYC almost as expected. We were happy to leave the driving to the professional cabbie who got us to the Hampton Inn Manhattan/UN in one piece.

This was Midtown, not as swanky as other parts of the city, but plenty busy and lively. After a nap in our tiny but nicely appointed hotel room, we started walking south, toward the Strand. LOTS of places to eat (we ate at the Shake Shack), plus street vendors selling fruit. We didn't make it all the way to the Strand, which clued us into the fact our idea about walking across Manhattan to the Highline was just crazy talk.

Although we've never had a bad experience at any Hampton Inn, the service at this one was above average, presumably due to the diplomatic clientele. It also had the smallest footprint of any hotel I have been in, just eight (smallish) rooms per floor, 21 floors, no 13th.

Except for the construction next door, the neighborhood was relatively quiet, populated mostly by foreign missions. In previous visits to NYC, I've had to sleep with earplugs to deaden the nightlong sounds of honking cars and garbage trucks in reverse (BEEP! BEEP! BEEP!) This time they served to muffle my bedmate's snoring.

Day 1:

After sleeping in, we ate breakfast at the Comfort Diner. I had the red flannel hash breakfast, made with corned beef and sweet potatoes (vegetables ARE for breakfast). It was very good especially with fresh squeezed orange juice. There were lamps made with sports trophies, like a tennis trophy and a bowling trophy; I could make something like that with my bowling trophy. There were also these weird children's book covers on the wall, like Little Bobbby's Drunk Again and It's Not Going to Get Any Better when You Grow Up. (These are for real.)

We decided to do the Whitney before the Highline, which was a smart move. There was a lot to see there. I did not like that the descriptions of the sculptures were on the wall instead of near the works themselves. The Vietnam Era work brought me to tears; wasted young lives. My favorite piece was constructed of handmade stuff like crocheted afghans, macrame, yarn octopus dolls, etc. It reflected my life in crafting, and made me want to go home and make something with my old afghans. Photos here.

My SO was really good at knowing which artists did what. We also discussed how I could turn my pile of old computer equipment into a work of art: my career in IT. We were sitting under the stairway to the Highline at the time.

We walked part of the Highline, but SO's feet gave out because he bought new sandals for the trip too soon to break them in. I was disappointed that we didn't do the whole thing, but we went back the next day, primarily to see the the sculptures. I liked how they incorporated the old rails and the idea of rails into the design. There were lots of places to sit.

We were also stopped by a tiny (presumably) Buddhist nun who (for a donation) gave us malas. They smelled like sandalwood. The malas proved useful for waving off similarly dressed monks.

Once we were off the Highline, we stopped at the Empire Diner for some dessert. I had the Dulce de Leche, which was WONDERFUL. Then back to the hotel for a rest. Then out again, to see the UN building. We ended up walking north to 50th Street, then west to Fifth Ave. Lots of tourists.

Day 2:

Breakfast at Pershing Square, right across from Grand Central Station. The place was busy, but FAST. The food was not as good as Comfort, but perfectly adequate for breakfast. Then we (well, mostly SO) took photos in the train station.

We expected to spend the day in Brooklyn, but it was a bit of a bust. For one thing, neither of us slept well. For another, it was school field trip day at the Botanical Gardens. And it was HOT. We did take in their bonsai collection, plus wandered the Japanese garden a bit.

Since the Green-Wood Cemetery (another planned destination in Brooklyn) was too far to walk to, we came back to Manhattan and went to the NY Public Library to see a photo exhibit. We got there in time for the lecture, which was useful. Then we pooped out and grabbed some sandwiches from Fresh & Co to take back to the room. Time for a nap.

Up and at 'em to return to the Highline. This time we worked our way from north to south, seeing all the neat sculptures. Then back toward the hotel. We were getting tired of restaurant food, but we ate at Scotty's where we could order pleasantly bland pot roast and chicken pot pie. It wasn't all that great, but at least it was quiet.

Day 3:

We decided we were trying to do too much, so we skipped the Frida exhibition in the Bronx (too difficult to get to and too expensive) and went to the Guggenheim (which was between shows, so not much to see there), then hung out in Central Park.

We even visited Strawberry Fields, which was more meaningful than we expected. Everyday there are flowers and music.

To get to the Upper East Side, we gave the bus a try, thinking we would see more besides subway tunnel walls. Big FAIL. It took a long time for the right bus to arrive at our stop, then we had to stand up in the back and couldn't see out the windows very well. We were traveling up Madison Ave, so I watched designer names roll by. To get back, we took the subway.

Home sweet home smells like dirty cat litter:

We really liked the hotel. We were able to print the boarding passes in their business center. We used their car service to get to the airport (nice but a bit pricey). I left a note for the maid requesting coffee sleeves, with a drawing of a coffee cup in case they couldn't read English. They left lots of coffee and extra cups, but no sleeves. Must be my lousy artwork.

The trip home was uneventful, just the way we like it. If I hadn't been so tired, I might have tried to negotiate an earlier flight, as we were at the airport in time to catch the Detroit bound flight before ours, but I just could not summon the strength.


When in NYC, I carry what I call "bum money" (I know - not very PC). It's for when someone is sitting on the sidewalk with a cup or is playing music with an open instrument case or is explaining their plight to a captive audience in a subway car or is offering a mala in exchange for hopes for peace. The money is folded and stacked individually in my pocket so I can pull out a single bill without effort. I know some (all?) of those requesting funds are not homeless or even in need. I consider it performance art, for which I'm happy to drop a buck.

Never on any of our trips to NYC have we been mistreated by the so-called locals (there are so many languages and so many people speaking in accented English, the city feels almost exotic). Unlike here, where strangers make eye contact and smile and say hello on the street, NYers ignore each other with aplomb. Yet we saw random, anonymous, impersonal acts of kindness. NYC really is a wonderful city to visit.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

A cat with no name

I don't miss having a dog, but I do miss Betsy. Finn is a wonderful cat, but he stays out all night and sleeps all day, so sometimes it is like not having a cat at all. Hence, I was weak when I met the cat formerly known as Mr. B.

They call me MISTER Banks

A friend of a friend of my daughter's found Finn. A friend of a friend of my son's found Mr. B. No sense in my looking for cats when they seem to find me through my children.

Getting to know you, getting to know all about you...

The name he came with is an issue. I don't quite understand the evolution to "Mr. B" but the B stands for "Banks". I have tried calling him that, but half the time it comes out "Bates" (from Downton Abby). A few other names have been sampled, and right now I am leaning toward Puff (short for Pufferbelly - he hisses a lot).

He's so cute when he's asleep

Puff is ostensibly neutered although he does not look it, nor does he act it; I may have that double checked by my vet. He appears to be about eight months old, so I thought Finn would be tolerant of a kitten. Turns out Finn is not the problem. Puff is the confrontational one, and when Finn tries to walk away, Puff chases him down. Finn is about twice Puff's size, but it doesn't seem to matter. (Finn's reluctance to fight may also explain why he is remarkably unscarred for an outdoor cat.)

I predict a cat spat will follow this meal

Puff is more of a companion, albeit not a cuddly one (yet), than Finn. He loves to follow me around while I do household chores. The vacuum cleaner barely fazes him. He is full of energy and always ready to play. He is also litter trained, but needs to learn to keep off the counters/tables/dresser/plant stand/etc.

Why it is better to adopt an ADULT cat

My hope is that, with time and maturity, not only will Puff settle down but will entertain Finn during the winter when he drives me nuts with his incessant requests to go out/come in/go out/come in. Puff will be an indoor cat, though.

Two cats playing (sort of)

A few days after Puff arrived, I found a cat crawling across a busy street, obvious the victim of a hit-and-run. I stopped the car and scooped him up and took him to Animal Control. Three legs were still functional, so they took him in and posted his picture on the lost and found page, but I doubt anyone will claim him.

Invitation to a belly rub

I wanted to adopt him too, but my daughter talked me down from that crazy cat lady ledge. I felt bad but later realized I have all the cat I can handle right now.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Work-life balance when there is no work

Joining the Wild Walkers was a good idea, but lately Grandma duty has interfered. So far, this has been fine with me, as I have discovered I am a "fair weather" hiker. Once pre-school is over, I should be able to participate more frequently... assuming I can tolerate the mosquitoes and deer flies.

Meanwhile, other opportunities for human interaction have cropped up. The local parks department has a plethora of activities, many geared toward seniors. I attended a free estate planning session which was both informative and entertaining, as some of the other participants were real characters. Last week I started Yoga for Seniors, which is WAY more my style these days; instead of being pushed to perform like a skinny 20-something yogini, we are encouraged to make allowances for our various levels of decrepitude. Next week I start Golf Lessons for Women (I'm trying to get back in touch with my inner jock). And I'm volunteering at Salomon Farm, helping take care of the farm animals. Chickens and donkeys and pigs - OH MY!

When I was still employed, I balanced work with hobbies like gardening and fiber arts which I squeezed into evenings and weekends with more than a little desperation. They kept me sane. Now that work is no longer in the equation, the hobbies don't figure as large in my day-to-day life. I still knit, but not so obsessively. I still garden (or I would, if the weather would cooperate), but now it's more fun than frantic. I exercise more (a real necessity once one is past 60). I read more, and more widely (still pursuing the Stoic thing). My SO and I are even going to travel a bit.

A friend told me it took her about 18 months to rediscover her Self after she retired. The retired Me is not who I expected, and she keep evolving. How lucky I am to experience this stage of life!

Sunday, April 19, 2015

The tribe gathers

My dad died last December. We did little to mark his passing then other than inter the ashes, opting instead for a gathering this spring. As weird as some family events can be, this one was nothing but wonderful.

Over 40 of us (including some cousin/spouse pairs we had not seen for over 25 years) congregated at Graceland Cemetery, first by my dad's parents' graves before shifting over to where my mom and dad are buried. Dad was not a religious man, so no prayers were said, no minister presided. Instead, we stood around and shared stories and memories. This loose format worked well because enough time had elapsed since his death we were not mired in grief, although a few tears were shed just the same. Even my younger brother, who intended to remain silent, spoke up.

Then we repaired to my niece's home a few miles away, for the usual post-funereal repast and family reunion. The youngest cousins played, the oldest cousins swapped tales about growing up in Chicago, the family tree was examined (one line traces back to the Mayflower even though we are basically northern European mutts). It truly was a fitting send off for my Dad.

The only sad part occurred when I arrived home and had the urge to call Dad on the phone and tell him all about it. He would have loved it, would have loved being there. He definitely was present in spirit.

Monday, April 13, 2015


A week ago, Betsy Beagle made her final trip to the vet. She'd been going downhill for some time now: walking on her hocks, one by one giving up her favorite foods, sleeping 24/7. I administered Rimadyl for her arthritis, tried K-Laser treatments as well, which helped some for a while. Getting her to eat dog food became an issue. I tried this and that, and she would either refuse it outright, eat it once or twice before rejecting it, or eat it and vomit. Toward the end, I was cooking for her - chicken and rice, hamburger and potatoes, bacon and eggs - but when even people food went untouched, I knew it was time.

Betsy Beagle, 2002 - 2015

Betsy was a shelter dog with an unknown past. It seemed she had never been inside a house and had no vocabulary (not even "NO"). She was the first dog I've owned that I did not have to share with other family members, and we bonded quickly and deeply. Being a beagle, she loved people but was not a people pleaser. Being a beagle, she had quite the nose, and huffed rabbit scent (and ate rabbit poop) while ignoring the rabbits themselves. Being a beagle, she was a couch potato, which worked well while I was still employed. When I retired, she retired as well, sleeping in each morning.

Canine love is unconditional, uncomplicated, pure. No one loves us like our dogs. Who will love me like that now?

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Oops, I did it again

My dog is old (which is a topic for another post) and has become rather lacksadaisical about where she pees. In an effort to contain the damage, I laid a chair across the doorway between the kitchen and dining room, to keep her off the carpet. Then I forgot I had done so and tripped over the chair in the dark, landing nose first.

Compared to last time, this fall had a lot of positives to it: I landed on carpet, not concrete; I missed the dining room table; if I had fallen from the dining room into the kitchen, I could have hit the breakfast bar on the way down; my glasses remained unharmed. There was blood to contend with, and icing one's nose is awkward, but I felt *lucky* things were not worse.

I did go to the doctor to make sure nothing broke. Even though she is a "real" doctor, she didn't examine me as thoroughly as the PA did last time I fell. She suggested having my face x-rayed, but said if there were a fracture, they wouldn't do anything about it, so I asked what was the point? The visit turned into an exercise in due diligence on my part, followed by the purchase of an Ace bandage and two Cadbury eggs.

Almost everything I read about falls discusses balance and muscle mass, both of which are negatively affected by aging, but there is something else never addressed. Once upon a time, when I tripped, the fall occurred in slow motion, giving me time to react. Now the fall is instantaneous - one moment I am upright, the next I am kissing the floor. Is there a remedy for this?

I look worse today than yesterday, and hurt more. The modifications to make my house safer are useless in protecting me from myself. Any remedy for THAT?!?

Thursday, February 19, 2015

The ideal vs. the real

Having read a piece in the NY Times by Massimo Pigliucci titled "How to be a Stoic", I find myself drawn to ancient Greek and Roman philosophy. In college, I enrolled in a philosophy course, but dropped it after one week (much to the professor's dismay) because it seemed to be a pointless exercise. Now, in my dotage retirement, there is room in my brain for contemplating such stuff. Apparently, this is part of a trend, as evidenced by such exercises as Stoic Week.

Today I read a piece in the NYer about Seneca, ostensibly one of the Roman Stoics, who it turns out was quite the hypocrite, exhorting us to live one way while doing the opposite. He's not the only so-called paragon to ignore his own advice; Thoreau, Kahlil Gibran, and Chögyam Trungpa immediately come to mind. Which brings up the question of how to balance what one says with what one does.

I suppose it is not much different than parenting ("Do as I say, not as I do"), but I wonder what our cultural advisers thought of themselves. Did their lovely words provide some kind of psychic balance to their messy lives? Were they like me when my kids were toddlers, arising each day with the intention of being a loving, kind, patient mother and turning into a screaming harridan by the end of the day? Were they completely blind to the difference between their philosophy and their deeds? Or did they shrug off any criticism while accepting their foibles?

And what are we to take from their teachings? It certainly seems fair to cherry pick what is helpful and ignore what doesn't apply to our modern lives. It seem prudent to take what they say with a grain of salt. And it helps to consider our path through life a journey where we continue to strive to be better than we are without attachment to an outcome.


Thursday, January 29, 2015

So many books, so little time

I joined a group on FB called Read26FW, where the challenge is to read 26 books during 2015. This group is for Fort Wayne, but anyone can join, and other cities have their own version of this project. Group members post progress, sometimes with a short review. While I am not interested in most of the books, I have bumped into some new authors to try plus reminders of books I've meant to read but have forgotten about.

As knitting ramped up for xmas and the winter, my reading has fallen off, but so far I am more than on target for 26. (Some were started in 2014, but whatever.)

The Burning Room, by Michael Connelly. I like murder mysteries and I'm a Michael Connelly fan, so was thrilled when this latest Harry Bosch novel "The Burning Room" became available on my library holds list. I cruised right through it. His writing is clear and concise, the characters "true", and he touches on topics like the difference between justice and revenge. If you like crime fiction, this is one for you.

Nora Webster, by Colm Toibin. This is the first book I have read by this "critically acclaimed author", and probably the last, too. Not much happens - it's more of a character study. And even though the blurb on the back says this male novelist writes convincingly about women, I thought he never really broke past the surface. It takes place in Ireland around 1970, and I missed a lot of the references to Irish politics, etc., so maybe I missed other things as well.

Can't We Talk about Something More Pleasant?, by Roz Chast. This is a combination of cartoons and text about aging parents, some of which I have seen in the NYer. Chast is brutally honest about the challenges her parents face and the ones she faced caring for them, especially her "bad daughter" feelings. Well worth the hour or two it will take to read.

Tracks, by Robyn Davidson. After seeing the movie, I was intrigued and wanted to know more, so picked up the book. Although the movie and the book share an outline of events, the slant and message are quite different. Of course, I liked the book much better. I added another of her works, Desert Spaces, to my list. She is working on a memoir as well.

You Disappear, by Christian Jungersen. I think I actually finished this in 2014, but don't think I have mentioned it before. It's a Danish novel about a woman whose husband suffers a brain injury. There is quite a bit of information about brain injuries and personality in the book, but it is presented almost like sidebars. Besides an entertaining read, there is a lot of food for thought.

Does your hometown have a "Read 26" group or program? If not, start one!

Thursday, January 01, 2015

A resolution with a plan for 2015

When I retired from my job (which, by the way, I do NOT miss at all), I decided not to take on anything new for at least six months. That turned out to be a good thing, as the final remodeling of the house was underway and continued to be underway for what seemed like an eternity. Once that was complete, I settled into what I had planned to do all along during retirement. And very soon became a bit bored.

Not bored enough to find another job. One should never say "Never" but that is how I feel about having a conventional job. I can't imagine the kind of work that would draw me back to the labor force. But I do feel ready to rejoin the rest of the world.

A couple of semi-social opportunities have presented themselves of late. One is a group called the Wild Walkers. Twice a month they gather at a nature preserve of one kind or another and hike. The first gathering of the year is next week, so I'll find out more about what is what then.

In anticipation of becoming a Wild Walker, my SO and I joined the Resolution Reinforcement Hike at Kokiwanee Nature Preserve today. (The assumption is some people will make a resolution to visit all the properties owned by Acres Land Trust. I am not one of them.) We have both been to this preserve before, but not with a group. Despite the cold and blustery day, there was a good crowd. About half went on a physical hike (less talk, more walk) while the others went on an educational hike (more talk, less walk). We chose the former as I did not want to stand around getting educated while the wind froze my cockles. Instead, I worked up a sweat clambering up and down the ravines. I thoroughly expect my haunches to be complaining tomorrow.

All of this brings me to a New Year's resolution of sorts: to get out and about more. I tend to be a homebody, but even though I have a vast capacity for solitude, I do get tired of me on occasion. For a resolution to stick, one needs a plan. Part of my plan includes joining the Wild Walkers whereby all I have to do is show up every two or three weeks dressed appropriately for the weather. I think I can do that.