Image #195 – Groundhog Day

Groundhog DayAnother Groundhog’s Day has come and gone. This is a special time of year for me. The dates–February 1 and 2–have special significance. It was forty years (!) ago yesterday (Feb. 1) that Robert and I began living together. In 1974 we had already known one another for eight years. We became good friends long before we became “a couple.”  That friendship was the dearest thing of my life.  When we became lovers it was a natural extension of the bond between us, a bond that grew and grew. He was the love of my life.

Groundhog’s Day? Well, anyone who knew us in the 80s and 90s is aware that Groundhog’s Day was Robert’s favorite holiday. Each year he would memorialize the event by mailing Groundhog’s greetings to all our friends. Long before there was email there was snail mail.  Robert would write the card–a rather esoteric report on the world at large– and I would edit it.  Then it was off to the copy shop. One year we sent out close to 200 “Groundhog” cards.  We would fold, stuff, lick and stamp the envelopes. I suppose we were able to produce a mailing list somehow. I think back to those days of eight inch floppy discs that actually flopped and could hold next to nothing in terms of data but they were “State-of-the-art” to us and we somehow made them work.

Today, Groundhog’s Day, I heard from several old friends who remembered those oddly charming cards. They are missed, just as Robert is missed.

So, in honor of all that, I present a picture of Franklin Fred. He showed himself back in November and I can’t recall if there was a shadow or not, just an anxious dog who wanted to chase that groundhog in the worst way. Groundhog’s Day was Robert’s favorite holiday because in February 1978 we were visited by two young folks from Arkansas, pot farmers visiting the nation’s capital. It was a bleak period in our lives. After fifteen months of legal access to federal marijuana the feds had managed to lure away Robert’s doctor and close down the program that provided him marijuana.  The young couple had read about Robert’s dilemma and arrived in Washington with a substantial amount of prime Arkansas marijuana. In exchange for a place to stay Robert received a gift of medical marijuana that would carry him through the next couple of months–until his lawyers were able to re-instate Robert’s prescriptive access.

Those were incredible days. We were blessed with the gift that keeps on giving, the love of good friends. And that is what Groundhog’s Day means to me.  Thank you all. ❧

Image #180 – Generations

Bunny  and her great grandson Winston
Bunny and her great grandson Winston

The holidays are officially over.  Tomorrow — Monday, January 6th — we return to “real time” but the past two weeks have been that special time of the year when things seem to slow down and focus draws inward to home and hearth.  For me this passing holiday time has been especially memorable, a time to share the joy of my cousins and, in particular,  a special woman — cousin Bunny — who can be seen greeting her great grandson Winston.

Consider, for a moment, the generational spread that is captured in this picture. Winston is just ten weeks old. Bunny is 93 years old.  If Winston lives to be as old as Bunny the year will be 2106.  Any 93 year old person who gazed upon Bunny when she was Winston’s age would have been born in 1827!

Let’s come at it from another perspective. When Winston was born in 2013 the president of the U.S. was Barack Obama. When Bunny was born in 1920 the president was Woodrow Wilson.  And for our imagined 93 year old who gazed upon the newborn Bunny in 1920 the president in 1827 was John Quincy Adams! ❧

#178 – Bunny’s Last Christmas?

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This picture is my 93 year-old cousin Bunny with her son, John.  You might have guessed it was taken on Christmas Day.  I’ve written about Bunny before. She is a dear person who has reached a point in her life that none of us ever want to see—a vast netherland with no beginning and no end.  It is the Land of Dementia and its population is growing with each passing day.

Bunny seems incapable of retaining recent memory yet she remembers the past very well. I always try to lead her to that land she remembers. It is populated with her parents and my grandparents along with numerous souls from the town of Norton, Massachusetts.  My connection to the town is garbled in her mind.  I did live there in my youth but Bunny was in her early thirties and long gone by that time.  But she talks to me as a contemporary and I do the best I can to sustain the memory.  It always seemed to bring her some joy to talk about “good old Norton.”

Today, however, was markedly different. I couldn’t lead her anywhere.  For the first time she failed to recognize me.  “You look very familiar,” she said.  “It’s your cousin, Alice.” I replied. She nodded but I wasn’t sure the information conveyed very well.  Her usual enthusiasm at seeing my dog Tango was also absent. We attempted a conversation about the recent Christmas celebration but she couldn’t recall it.   Then I told her that her youngest son would arrive tomorrow and that his children—now adults—would be bringing their newborns. That piqued her interest.  “A new generation?” she asked.  “Yes,” I said, “a whole new generation.”

For just a moment the Bunny of old emerged from the gripping fog of her dementia.  Her eyes got bright and ever so sweetly she simply said, “Wow.” ❧

The Fabric of Appreciation

There is a theoretical physics concept called string theory. I do not begin to understand it scientifically but in a spiritual sense it does resonate with me.  Part of the lexicon of this theory is “fabric of the cosmos”  and it puts forth that when we look into the “nothingness” of space we are really looking at a vast fabric that holds the the planets in orbit and the stars in the heaven. In short, this fabric holds the universe together.

When I learned about this theory I wondered why the “fabric” would not extend to everything, that ALL of it — including you and I — are bound together by this mesh, this fabric.

If you begin to think of the world in that way some things start to make sense. War, for example, especially world wars, always struck me as akin to some kind of global virus. What else could compel millions to think in a manner that could justify invasions?  Well, perhaps it is some kind of message that is sent along this theoretical fabric that holds the universe together.

But mainly I think of this theory in smaller venues.  And that brings me to the CBS show Sunday Morning.  It has been on the air for decades. Originally hosted by Charles Kurault the helm is now ably handled by Charles Osgood.  The show is like a comfy pair of slippers or a warm bathrobe into which you love to sink your weary bones.  It has refused to go the way of the “morning zoo” but has stayed true to its course of providing good news and entertainment, all in a low-key, Sunday morning way.

A regular feature is the “Almanac” and Osgood will bring to our attention an historical event that happened on the particular date of the Sunday morning that you happen to be watching. It can be a news story, an invention or a remembrance. Today’s “Almanac” was the latter and its subject was Mary Martin who was born one hundred years ago on this day, December 1, 1913.

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Mary Martin during a recording session.

Now frequent followers of this blog will, I hope, remember that just two days ago I posted a blog entitled “An Appreciation for Richard, Oscar and Mary.”  The Mary in that title was Mary Martin.  So I was enchanted this morning when Osgood began his small tribute to Ms. Martin. You can read it here.

Now, it is nice to think that Mr. Osgood read my blog two days ago and rushed to get the video piece together but that clearly didn’t happen. So, how does it happen that people — at least two of us — are suddenly thinking about a woman who has been dead for more than two decades?  Well, there’s that fabric idea again.  Some part of the cloth tugging at us to remember a person who was, by all accounts, as good-hearted and fun loving as her songs convey.  As I said before, we could use a few more like her.  So, Happy Birthday Mary Martin.  So many of us enjoyed your time on this earth and, best of all, your spirit is still coursing through the fabric. ❧

An Appreciation for Richard, Oscar and Mary

Thanksgiving 2013 is in our rearview window now and we are on the slippery slope to the Christmas holiday. But I prefer to linger in the Thanksgiving mode because there is so much for which I am thankful.  An example is some endearing music from my youth.

When I was a child during the 1950s my godmother, Nel, had a terrific collection of  phonograph records and the songs that I learned from those records have stayed with me for the whole of my life. The heavy vinyl 78s were my first “medium” and Nel had the very latest technology on which to play them.  It was a sleek  and modern victrola, about the height of a coffee table.  You slid back the wooden top and there was the turntable and controls.  I loved that machine and Nel would let me endlessly play the phonograph records, nearly all of which were Broadway musicals, while I colored or played with my toys.  So in those formative years of 4 to 9 I was continually exposed to the music of Irving Berlin, Lorenz Hart, Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein.  And there was the wonderful singing of Mary Martin, Ethel Merman, Alfred Drake, Gertrude Lawrence and Yul Brynner.

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Mary Martin as Peter Pan

Accessing those original soundtracks today is a simple task thanks to the internet.  Recently I’ve been traveling down memory lane, listening again to songs that shaped my youth.  In particular I’ve been enjoying South Pacific  with Mary Martin and Ezio Pinza.   For Baby Boomers like me Mary Martin is a childhood legend thanks to her enchanting televised performance of Peter Pan in 1955.  I would have been seven or eight years-old at the time and I remember it very well.  I would go around singing “I’ve Gotta Crow” at the top of my lungs and imagine flying with Peter to that place that wasn’t on any chart but I found it in my heart, NeverNeverLand.

For later generations Martin is better known as the mother of Larry Hagman.

In her role as Nellie Forbush in the Broadway musical South Pacific she sang the delightful song, “I’m Only a Cock-eyed Optimist” and it was that song that popped into my head and prompted this journey down memory lane. If you’ve never heard it just click on the link and give yourself a treat.

Listening to the soundtrack of South Pacific got me to thinking about how innovative and trend-setting that musical was in 1949. Like many of Rogers & Hammerstein‘s musicals the plot line has a distinct dark-side. In the case of South Pacific it is interracial relationships. Nellie falls for a Frenchman who is older and has fathered two children by his first wife, a Polynesian.  Nellie struggles with this fact and nearly throws away the love of her life because he has “been with” a woman of color. The sub-plot in South Pacific is a similar theme and has the young Lt. Cable singing the powerful “Carefully Taught.”  According to Wikipedia, the plot was so controversial that theaters in the South would not allow the touring production to perform.  In Northern theaters Rogers and Hammerstein, in several instances, had to threaten to withdraw the show if segregated seating was not allowed.  This was dramatic and culturally altering stuff in the 1950s.  Doctoral dissertations have been written about the role of Rogers and Hammerstein in the integration of America. We owe them a profound debt.

But from a strictly personal point-of-view I just wanted to say thank you to Richard, Oscar and Mary for creating such a wonderfully uplifting song as “I’m Only a Cock-eyed Optimist.”  I can recall singing along with that song as a young tyke, having no idea what the words meant, responding instead to an emotion that is conveyed by the tempo and the remarkable vocal qualities of Mary Martin.  As I got older and understood the words I wonder if I didn’t subconsciously begin to pattern my own life around the outlook and optimism of Nellie Forbush.  Similarly I would get chills hearing “Climb Every Mountain,” (from Sound of Music, again with Mary Martin) and there are mornings when I will break into “Oh What a Beautiful Morning!” (from Oklahoma).  I can’t help but feel that this music helped chart my course, giving me a fallback point of optimism, hope, and appreciation of life.  It has served me well.  So thank you Richard, Oscar and Mary.  We could use a few more like you. ❧

Death of a Friend

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My friend, Gail Walton, died today, She was 69 years-old.  That’s her in the picture, on the left in the blue shirt. She is with her life-partner of more than twenty-five years, my college friend Bonnie Powell.  The picture was taken in 2000, not long after they got McDuff, the Jack Russell Terrier in the middle.

Gail was a wonderful woman with a big heart. She loved dogs and rescued her fair share of abandoned or abused critters.She ran a pet supply business for a while. She was also a respiratory therapist, a gourmet cook, an M.P. when she was in the Army, and a whole assortment of other occupations or pre-occupations. She was witty and beautiful.

Fawn Hill feels a little lonely tonight. A year ago I never imagined I would be living here, neither did Gail and Bonnie.  After I moved here in June we talked about how incredible it was that we had become neighbors. Gail said, “Alice, I believe some energy has brought you here.” Just a few weeks later she was diagnosed with an advanced case of recurring lung cancer. Eight years ago she had a lung removed and the doctors felt they had gotten all of it. But they didn’t. By the time Gail was diagnosed, just over four weeks ago, the cancer was everywhere. There was nothing that could be done. Hospice was brought in.

Hospice was my occupation for the last six years of my working career. The irony that I would arrive here just before Gail’s awful diagnosis was not lost on any of us. I did the best I could in advising and helping. I have to say, however, that administering hospice care to a friend is so much harder than administering such care to others. When I was working for hospice people would often ask me, “How can you do that kind of work?”  I would explain that there was a certain level of detachment, which is not to say disinterest or aloofness,  but rather an acceptance that death is inevitable and that dying patients deserve compassion and competent care.

When the patient is your friend or a family member (and I have had experience in both instances) it seems that all you have learned in ministering to the dying patient just goes away and you feel helpless. You lose the objectivity that is normally present. Your thought process seems fuzzy and muddled. Actions and reactions that once seemed so sure and competent become tentative. The shroud of grief becomes becomes a straight-jacket that seems to paralyze you.

We did the best we could in caring for Gail. She was surrounded by loving friends and, for the most part,  we were able to control the pain. Still, it has been a difficult time that has once again brought home the fundamental truth: Life is short. Carpe diem! ❧

Image #144 – Changes

Image #144

Frequent followers will have figured out by now that this summer, for me, has been a photographic love affair with mushrooms.  That’s my buddy, Tango, sitting between two spectacular blooms of mushrooms in the patch of land that Boni & Gail call “the meadow,” at the top of Fawn Hill.  This picture was just three weeks ago.   On the right is an, as yet, unidentified stand. They may be Velvet Foot but I’m not sure.  On the left is our spectacular friend, Jack O’Lantern.  Tango’s presence gives a good sense of scale. These are not small ‘shrooms.

Here they are, a bit closer up.

Unidentified mushrooms, possibly Velvet Foot.
Unidentified mushrooms, possibly Velvet Foot.
Image #144(B)
Jack O’Lantern mushrooms

Three weeks may not seem like much time but, believe me, it is a long time ago. There have been many changes. The most dramatic and heart-wrenching were detailed in my previous post, Image #143.   My friend Gail is slipping, bit-by-bit, into that abyss from which there is no return…at least none that we can know. She has talked of the bright light at the foot of her bed. A Reiki master, who came and gave Gail great comfort on Sunday, spoke of the “bright blue light” that is next to Gail.  Change is coming…

On a larger scale, the air is cooler now, frosts are frequent and the leaves have fallen with a thud that announces “CHANGE!”  Sigh …. it is inescapable. Throughout the summer months we trick ourselves somehow, we believe the days, long and lingering, will go on forever. But change is here and in these northern climes it is ever so much more present. Perhaps that is why the elderly love Florida so much. Change is harder to see and there is a sense that change is being held at bay.  As humans we generally hate change and yet, ironically, it is the only thing of which we can be absolutely sure.

And speaking of change, frequent followers will note some changes on this website. I have finally figured out how to create galleries for my pictures. You can find them in the right-hand column. So far I have posted two — one with birds and the other with, what else, mushrooms.  I hope you enjoy this chance to view just the pictures but, of course, I also hope you will stop to read the words. After all, words matter. ❧

Words matter

Recently I heard a television news report about the suicide death of a teenage girl in Florida.  The report stated she was “bullied in cyberspace” by more than a dozen girls and could no longer stand the pain.  Her mother poignantly asked of those who bullied her daughter, “Who teaches them the hate?”

A very good question.

This young girl, press reports say she was 12, was first bullied at school and then the bullying followed her home on Facebook. Even after switching schools and closing down the Facebook site the bullying continued via other social media.

It is hard for me to understand how anyone can be “terrorized” in “cyberspace.”  But I am more than half a century older than this girl. We may as well be from different planets. I am wise enough to see that today’s children and teenagers inhabit a world that is far different from the one in which I “came of age.”

I remember being bullied but it was contained to school. When I came home I knew I was safe. When I was twelve my parents moved us from Massachusetts to Florida and I switched from public school to parochial. That school switch prompted some bullying but it probably also saved me because we wore uniforms. My parents were not wealthy and, as a culture, we had begun to enter an age in which “branding” was everything. The “right” shoes, dress, car…all of it became so important because everything we read or saw said it was.

So, is it the “branding” that teaches us hate? To a certain extent I think the answer is yes. Many children have so much material wealth with no sense of how it arrives and the tribal nature of children encourages cohesion and exclusion based on what is most familiar and comfortable.

But I also think of the time in which this young girl lived. She was born in 2000 and in the whole of her life she only knew war and divisiveness. War in Iraq and Afghanistan, divisiveness … everywhere.  Elections, Congress, TV talking heads, gangs, Fox vs. CNN, Apple v. PC, and on and on.  She was bombarded daily by thousands of words, not all of them very nice words and the majority of them thoughtless–as in without thought.

When they eventually identify the 12-15 girls who cyber-bullied this young twelve year-old I am sure that one of them will say, “Well, I never thought ________.”  Fill in the blank. You know what it will be. Another pathetic apology about the sin of not thinking that words matter.

And that is where this story becomes so sad to me. According to the report I saw this young girl, Rebecca Ann Sedwick, wrote the following:

“How many lives have to be lost until people realize that words do matter?”

Oh, Rebecca.  My heart was already aching for you but these words pierced my soul because they are SO true. Words do matter and our society has forgotten that. We seem to be moving at light speed away from the understanding of words and their value.

Several years ago I overheard two young colleagues talking to each other and one used the expression “ ’Ho” in referring to the other.  Something like “You ‘ho.”  I couldn’t bear it any longer and I called them to task. “Words matter,” I said. “If you call her a ‘ho she becomes a ‘ho.”  They both looked at me with that look the young give the old.  It plainly states, “You don’t understand.”

The one who had used the term tried to defend it and the recipient of the description waved it off, as if to say “It’s nothing.”

“You don’t understand,” I said.  “Language is the bedrock of society. If our language deteriorates so will our culture. Words are important.”

They both looked at me differently and the one who had used the phrase became thoughtful. “Language is the bedrock of society…,” she said.  “I have never thought of words in that way.”

For Rebecca’s sake, let’s please start thinking about our words.

Life Expectancy – What Should We Wish For?

Elder_HandCurrently I am in the process of moving and breaking apart a home in which I have lived for just over ten years.  It is my third house in eighteen years and whenever there is a move the process is to discard things — “hoe out” as my mother would say.  This time I am trying to be very diligent about the hoeing because I know the next time will not be any easier … nor will the times after that.

How many times? Well, there’s the question that has no answer since none of us can know what life will bring our way. But we can make some educated guesses and today I found a book that led me down that educated-guesstimate path.

It had been given to my late husband on the occasion of his 46th birthday. (We didn’t know at the time that he would have just seven more birthdays and one residence move.) The book was entitled “Happy Birthday: January 23” (his birth day) and is a clever collection of facts about the date.  But in the back is a fascinating chart entitled “At Your Age” which starts with age 1 and goes to age 100 and lists things like the number of times your heart has beat, the number of hours you have slept, breathes you have taken, etc. at any given age.  It’s very interesting. For example, I am aged 65 and my heart has beat an astounding 2,706,940,800 times!

I decided this information is fun to have handy and went online to see if I could locate a similar chart.  I couldn’t. (So I’ll rip the pages out of the book, scan them and throw it all away.)  But I did locate a fascinating website called “How Long Will I Live?”  You fill in data about yourself, press the “Calculate Life Expectancy” and Voila!  You are provided with the  best actuarial the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania can muster.

My life expectancy is 90.03 years.  On the lower end it is 83.32 but there is a 75% chance I will live longer than that.  Even at my median lifetime of 90.99 years there is a 50% chance I will live longer!

I wish I could say I found comfort and joy in these numbers but I don’t. I guess I have seen too much during my time as a nurse.  The golden years should probably be re-named the fool’s gold years because in most instances they are nothing like the plans that people make.  Laura Smith sings about this beautifully in a song entitled “I Never Dreamed”.  In one line she sings “I didn’t dream about old people/Getting diseases in their brains.”  It happens more and more.  We conquer the heart disease or cancer only to end up with dementia.  So, you can live to be 93 and your heart will beat 3,658,928,400 times, you will inhale 565,880,515 breaths, and eat 102,725 meals but you can’t remember what you ate for breakfast or the day of the week.

Honestly, I need to drink more and take up smoking.  🙂

My Buddy

Tango I have a new buddy…that’s him to the left. His name is Tango and he is a six-year-old Australian Shepherd. He came into my life in the most unexpected way.  He’s a service dog and his primary job is to make me walk.  I have two medical conditions that can benefit from vigorous walking therapy hypercoaguable blood–I can develop clots easily–and herniated and bulging spinal discs.  When I asked my doctor if it might be good to have a service animal she was enthusiastic and agreed to authorize it.

So, the next question was: what kind of dog?  Ideally I should walk 3-5 miles a day.  So Yorkies were out of the running as were most other small dogs. I was drawn to Aussies and talked it over with a friend who has bred and shown dogs. She thought an Aussie — the right Aussie — would be great.  She found a breeder in Orlando who was expecting a litter in the spring with summer placement of the puppies. That sounded ideal (I was thinking I wanted a puppy…not the smartest thought but that’s where I was). It was then that I began to learn about the world of breeding dogs.  In this case the female dog was going to be inseminated with sperm from a top-notch Aussie who lives in California.  I quickly realized we were talking about royalty and I can’t afford royalty.

But wait! Turns out this same breeder has a 6-year old Aussie, an obedience champion, fully trained and certified as a service dog–Tango! According to the breeder, Tango is “over it” when it comes to competition. He goes through the paces and does it all very well but … he’s tired of it. She had been looking “to place” him in a good home, a place where he could leave behind the pressures of competition.  In a sense, retire.  Well, I’m retired and looking for a service dog.  A perfect match?

Well, yes, it is. Tango and I have a great time together and we are walking a lot. Each of us has lost weight since he arrived (which is a good thing) and there are times when I’ll take him out and say, “Okay, just a short walk.” but we end up walking much more than I expected.  It is absolutely more fun to walk with a dog than it is to walk alone.

And he a great help with other things.  My spinal problems can cause instability, especially upon bending.  Tango gives a good assist in those situations. And he can pickup any item I tell him to.

When I learned last December that I had this hypercoaguable blood disorder I was a little low but life is funny.  There’s that saying about a door shutting but a window will open. There is also the lovely expression, “When life hands you lemons make lemonade.” I love lemonade…and I really love Tango.☙

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