Thursday, January 11, 2018

The weekend from hell

It started with the news of an impending snowstorm.  They called it a ‘snow hurricane’ to hit the east coast last Friday.  We were concerned for our youngest daughter, Peachie, who was due to close on her new house and start the move that day but at least our oldest daughter, Beaner, who was in Africa, was not due to fly back until early Sunday morning. Martha and I were going to visit my sister on Saturday and then leave early to pick Beaner up at Kennedy airport before driving the 3 hours back home. Surely the roads would be cleared by then and all would go well.

Thursday the phone rang with a very irritated Peachie complaining that their house sellers were asking for a postponement due to the weather. But because of other things happening in her and her boyfriend's lives, that would be near impossible.  They refused and wound up picking up the buyers and their attorney in their 4 wheel drive vehicle and the closing went on Friday morning as scheduled, in a blizzard.

Afterward she called, very agitated, that the U-Haul they had reserved was snowed in and the only accessible vehicle was a tiny box van. They would now have to make at least 8 trips, back and forth, in the blizzard.  There was lots of cursing on her end.  Lots of worry on ours.

Saturday morning the skies and roads had cleared and Martha and I made the 4 hour trek to my sister’s.  My nephew and his family also came and I got to meet my new grand nephew for the first time.  He had just gotten his new helmet and his mother did nothing but cry about how she wondered if he was in pain and how she will miss these months of cradling his head. Understandable emotions but it made for a rather stressful get together.

And then Beaner called.  It was Saturday night in Africa, she had checked her luggage in at the airport, but was now being told that their 15 hour,non-stop flight was cancelled.  Nothing was flying into New York. She was panicky that she had to be at her new job, she didn’t know how to get her luggage back (although why an airline would take the luggage knowing that the flight was cancelled is beyond me)  and didn’t know what she was going to do.  She said the airport was pandemonium and was feeling both intimidated and frightened.

Meanwhile Kennedy airport was a clusterf*ck, first being hit by the superstorm cancelling flights both in and out, two planes collided on a runway, baggage claim carousels were frozen and pipes burst flooding an entire terminal.  It would be a long time getting that back to normal and she was told that they had no idea when they could fly her out.

Fortunately her host family had not left the airport yet and she was able to meet back up with them, get her luggage back and drive back to their home, an hour away.  We got on the phone to try to arrange new flights.  Feigning a family emergency, $2600 later we got her on a flight to Paris the next day, with a 4 hour layover, and then on to Boston.

Sunday morning Martha and I left to make the drive home from my sister’s.   We were in a car she had just leased days ago and hadn’t had time to learn where all the buttons and gadgets were.  But it had a shining new GPS and were following it’s directions home - although it was a much different than the route I would normally take - when Beaner called again, close to hysterical.  Her hosts had kindly driven her back to the airport, she had checked in, but was now being told that the flight to Paris was overbooked by 50 people and she was being bumped.   Meanwhile, answering her call had turned off the GPS screen and I missed a turned and we were lost in the Bronx. Martha was screaming at me to pull over, not knowing that we were in not in the safest of areas to do that while Beaner was still crying on the phone. Her host had left because they were making a flight to Hong Kong, and she was alone at a foreign airport with hundreds of screaming, angry people.  

I finally found a place, just barely out of speeding traffic to pull over and tell Beaner to tell the ticket agent that she had a family member who was dying and had already had one flight cancelled.  To add to the stress, this actually took about 4 calls because the calls kept dropping.  Meanwhile while 18 wheelers were speeding past us,Martha called the airline directly to say that we had told the ticket agent when we bought the ticket that it was an emergency which is why we paid the ridiculously priced gouged ticket.  Between Beaner creating quite a crying scene at the airport and Martha screaming at them on the phone, they finally agreed to give her a seat.  Another couple of hours waiting to board and she was off to Paris.

After an 11 hour sleepless flight (us, not her) she landed in France in the wee hours. Nothing was open and she just had to sit for four hours so I stayed awake and shared texts with her. Once again they made an announcement that the flight to Boston was overbooked and were looking for volunteers to get bumped. And once again she called me exhausted and crying. But fortunately enough people volunteered and she got a seat assignment.  And as a bonus some stores opened before she boarded and she got me some amazing chocolate and macaroons.  

Now just an 8 hour flight away from the states her boyfriend offered to make the 4 hour drive to Boston to pick her up. And by 4:00 on Monday, after 28 hours of travelling through 7 time zones and 2 seasons, she was finally home. She had wanted to make the one hour drive back to her apartment but we said “no”.  She could barely lift her eyelids.

Now a few days have past and we are all where we are supposed to be.  Peachie is in her new house and is decorating.  Beaner is back to work regaling in her summer tan, showing off pictures of holding an orphan lion cub, and sharing the many treats she brought back including this cool, hand carved bowl she brought me.

It is now Thursday and Martha’s blood pressure, after swallowing a bottle of meds, has returned to a non-life threatening lvel.  My FitBit tells me that my normal resting heartbeat of 61 has come down from the 76 it recorded throughout the weekend.  We have finally been able to sleep through a night without worry.

And Beaner is thinking up ways to re-pay me for getting her Out of Africa.  I believe, among other things, she will be painting the lake house this summer. And staying stateside for a while.

Monday, January 1, 2018


My first year of being fully retired.

It was the year we adopted two rescue kittens.
They are the most affectionate, cuddly kittens I’ve ever lived with. They have brought us many laughs and much joy.

I got to see Cate live on Broadway and her amazing Manifesto installation.

I shared a trip to NYC with Beaner to see her heart throb Jake Gyllenhaal in
Sunday in the Park with George.

I managed to get my entire family to Las Vegas to see Celine Dion and then went on an incredible hiking adventure with Peachie to Sedona and Page, Arizona.

We all went to Yankee Stadium on Mother’s Day to see the retirement ceremony for Derek Jeter.

I cried as I watched my favorite bonus daughter get married, with Beaner standing by her side.

Spent the lazy days of summer rebuilding the camp deck (still not finished) and enjoying sunsets at the lake.  

And hammock snoozing

Did a lot of gardening and canning the first fruits of my young orchard.

Peachie invited me to go kayaking on the Charles river in Boston.

Martha and I went to DisneyWorld without kids
and got to be kids ourselves.

I had one of my healthiest years in a while with only one trip to the hospital for a procedure to figure out why I was having esophageal pain. The procedure was unsuccessful but the symptoms subsided as mysteriously as they had appeared.

Mentally I had only a few stumbles into PTSD and quickly recovered. They were just enough of a reminder of where I’ve been, but more importantly, how far I’ve come.

After a year of having a Fitbit constantly tell me to move, hitting the gym 3 times a week, and upping my fruits and veggies, I weigh exacting 1 pound less than I did last year.  At this rate it will take me another 7 years to make my goal weight.

As for my family -

My great nephew came through some seriously scary cranial surgery with flying colors. This is him in his new helmet.

My 40 year old niece was diagnosed with breast cancer. She just had a lumpectomy and is facing 6 weeks of radiation.  Like mine, it was an aggressive tumor. Like me, early detection probably saved her life.

Beaner landed a new job with a great raise and amazing benefits, including summers off.  Come May she will be moving closer to the job and to us.  

Peachie and her boyfriend bought a new house, two blocks from the ocean. (I can’t wait to visit) They will keep the 2 family house they live in now as rental property.  And she is being courted for a new job that will require more travel but also more money and benefits.

I think they will finally be out of my wallet!!!

With all the crazy happening in the world today (it still amazes me how one man can create so much havoc) my world has been relatively calm, restorative and fun.

My resolutions for 2018 are to further reduce my environmental impact,
work harder against crazy politics, up my volunteers hours,
and most especially to challenge myself to step outside my comfort zone.

And to lose at least 1 more pound.

Here's to seeing lots of squirrels in 2018

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Full of Grace

This week I am so grateful that my 3 month old grand nephew came through his surgery with flying colors.  He was born in August and it soon became apparent that something was wrong as his head became very misshapen.  He was soon diagnosed with Craniosynostosis, a condition where the skull bones fuse together and the brain has nowhere to grow and starts popping out in weird places. As you can imagine, it has been a scary time.

But his surgery went well and his head returned to an almost normal shape after just 24 hours. He will have to wear a helmet for the next six months and may need additional surgeries but for now we are all breathing easier.

In other medical gratefulness -

  • I received a letter from my former employer stating that once again my medical insurance will be fully paid and in fact, some of my benefits have increased.  I have never paid a dime for my health insurance. Ever.  One of the best benefits of my job was that after 20 years of service, individual coverage is paid for life.

  • A letter from my insurance company stating that I used $5,600 in benefits this year. That included one procedure in the hospital, three year long prescriptions, and visits to specialists such as my oncologist, gastroenterologist and eye doctor.  My total out-of-pocket cost in co-pays and prescriptions was $344.  

I can’t even imagine the stress of people who are held hostage by insurance companies or who are facing large increases to their premiums or don’t even know if they will have insurance in the coming years.  My nephew pays over $1200 a month for family coverage!  Although I’m sure he’s glad to have it knowing he is facing years of medical intervention just for his son, it is the biggest stressor in their budget.  The growing inequities in our society, and in our world, have me deeply concerned for our future.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017


I volunteer for an organization that helps elderly folk stay in their homes, mostly by providing transportation for shopping or medical appointments.  Sometimes I meet a client only once and sometimes I get to form a long term relationship.  Such was the case with Ethel.

Ethel.  87 years young when I met her.  I took her grocery shopping once a week. She would always be waiting in her lobby for me to pick her.  Always get in my car and start asking if she had her glasses.  It became like a Burns and Allen routine.  “I think I left them in my purse.  Is my purse in your car?”  No.  “Well, never mind, I don’t need them.”  “Oh, wait, where is my purse?”  I don’t know.  Do you want me to go upstairs and look?   “No, no, I don’t need it.  I have my wallet in my pocket.”  “Wait, where’s my wallet?”  In your pocket?  “Oh, let me check.  Oh look, here are my glasses!”  And then she would laugh.

Same thing.  Every week.

She had balance issues and needed to hang onto the shopping cart lest she teeter over.   As time went on she got too wobbly to go shopping with me and would instead leave me a phone message with her shopping list. Every week she would list “fish, very thin”  “milk, fresh” (as if I would get her old milk) “brussel sprouts, small”, etc.   I delivered every Thursday between 3 and 4:00 and every week she never heard me ring the bell because she had on some evangelical channel so loud she could hear nothing else. Eventually she would come to the door yelling “who is it?”  as if it was a surprise that I was there again and I would have to scream my name at least 5 times ("who is it?") before she would open the door.

She was a charismatic catholic with very strong beliefs and constantly told me she was praying for me.  Occasionally I would deliver groceries while her aide was there and Ethel always told the aide that I did not believe in God. I would try to explain that that wasn’t quite true but I eventually gave up.

She could never quite understand my and Martha’s relationship. She once shared Easter dinner with us and spent most of it asking Martha “who are you again?”  And almost every week she would ask me again about our relationship - “and who is she?”

When I first met Ethel her daughter was very ill with metastasized breast cancer and I asked her if she would like me to take her to visit. When we got there she wanted me to come in and meet her daughter who was in a hospital bed in the living room with her “live in” girl friend taking care of her. Her obituary and tombstone listed this “friend” as a long time companion.   Yep, I don’t think Ethel quite understood that relationship either.

Recently Ethel, now 91, began falling in her apartment. Once she called to tell me that she had fallen and could not get up but not to call for help as she would be fine. Of course, according to protocol I called.  The ambulance took her to the hospital where they did nothing for her.  She was so angry with me she did not speak to me for 2 weeks.  But the became worse and the senior complex she lived at said she would have to move to a nursing home, even though she was otherwise healthy. She was angry and devastated. She didn’t want to go. She was adamant but really had no choice.  I promised I would visit and bring her favorite snacks - Nutella and mallomars.  But I never had the chance.  Less than two weeks after the move she died.  I’m sure the loss of her independence killed her. She was a fiercely proud woman.

It has me thinking about what my future holds.  It’s a little frightening.  Statistics show that at least one person in a relationship will require long term hospital care.  I don’t want it to be me but I don’t want it to be Martha either. I’m not sure which would be worse.

Still, I am a planner and one must be realistic. I have spent the last year getting all our financial affairs under one umbrella to make the tradition to our kids that much easier.  And Martha and I recently did all the legal work to protect our assets should either of us need long term or nursing care.  I am trying to get Martha to start the Swedish death cleanse -  getting rid of excess stuff before you die, so other people don't have to do it for you.  It is a struggle but she is at least trying.

Working with the elderly has given me a front row view to the final stages of life, particularly in their efforts to stay independent and maintain their dignity.  I have seen lives end well, many not so well and some very painful and distressful.  I suppose it is all a crapshoot no matter how well you think you have planned.  Ideally I would like to die in my sleep like my grandmother and great grandmother and Ethel.  They were mostly healthy and independent til the end and then quickly and quietly gone.  But in case that is not in the cards I have some other options:

  • My veterinarian, who is a dear friend who watched his father-in-law die and slow and painful death, has promised me the blue juice should I need it.
  • My daughter who went to nursing school for a while tells me she knows how to put together a drug cocktail that would painlessly do the trick.

  • Or, as my father used to tease,  he wanted to die by being shot by a jealous lover.  Sounds good to me.

Either way, I’m sure Ethel will be praying for me.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Deja vu, all over again

Last week I broke my toe. The pinky toe on my left foot.

I was restoring some beautiful oak drawers that I salvaged from an old desk and dropped a large piece on my foot. I did have sneakers on but, of course, it hit at just the right unprotected spot.  I believe a few choice expletives may have escaped my lips. Although, I wonder, if a curse word falls in the garage with no one around, does it make a sound?

Anyway, my toe is swollen and half my foot is purple.  It has been somewhat triggering for me as it is the same foot that was smashed years ago during the attack.  If I stay off the foot I am in no pain. But as soon as I stand or walk on it, pain shoots from my foot to my brain. While I do appreciate and celebrate that I no longer curl into a ball and retreat into a non-responsive, PTSD quivering mess anymore, this triggering is causing my brain to flash ugly images of that day, like a ViewMaster going off in my head.

For a long time I wanted to feel this kind of pain, physical and mental, as a kind of self punishment. But I am over that. Long over that. Now, although I never want to forget what happened, I no longer want the graphic images popping up uninvited.  They are not pleasant and I wish I could get them to stop. It is taking a lot of energy to not have them effect me. I need my foot to heal and to heal quickly.  

On another note, one would think that when one broke a toe and had a lot of foot pain, that other family members might step up and offer to walk the dog.  Nope. Not even the daughter who brought her dog home for Thanksgiving.  Two dogs needing exercise, not one offer to help. And so I strapped on my high top hiking boots to stabilize the foot and limped around the block with two dogs pulling me along. Sometimes I do not like my family.

Anyway, this recent episode has me thinking that when I had breast reconstruction, I should have gotten double D’s instead of the small, never need to wear a bra, implants I did get. I think perhaps large implants would have stopped all the things I am constantly dropping on my feet.  Constantly!

Also, this injury is killing my daily step goals - down from 12,000 to 4,000. Arrrgggghh.

But as you can see, this post is going disintegrating into a whiny mess so I will say adieu.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Full of Grace

A furnace repairman who showed up before I, or the pipes, froze.

A new toilet handle.  It sounds like such a simple thing but the design is luxurious and it has solved the problem of the constantly running toilet.

A kitten who loves to sit on my lap when I’m on the john.  Kind of weird but an unexpected benefit on these unseasonably cold mornings.

Peachie and her boyfriend just bought their first house together . . . with a guest bedroom.

Beaner just won the job of her dreams. . . in a school with summers off, great benefits and a significant raise.

It is an ever amazing thing to watch my children successfully grow into themselves. Life is good.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

The Starfish Story

A quick walk around the web will quickly depress anyone these days.  People are feeling overwhelmed in the midst of the constant barrage of hate and divisiveness that has become our country.   It’s so easy to get stuck in helplessness and despair.

You may have heard this story before but I think it is a good reminder that we can all make a difference.

Once upon a time, there was an old man who used to go to the ocean to do his writing.He had a habit of walking on the beach every morning before he began his work. Early one morning, he was walking along the shore after a big storm had passed and found the vast beach littered with starfish as far as the eye could see, stretching in both directions.

Off in the distance, the old man noticed a small boy approaching.  As the boy walked, he paused every so often and as he grew closer, the man could see that he was occasionally bending down to pick up an object and throw it into the sea.  The boy came closer still and the man called out, “Good morning!  May I ask what it is that you are doing?”

The young boy paused, looked up, and replied “Throwing starfish into the ocean. The tide has washed them up onto the beach and they can’t return to the sea by themselves,” the youth replied. “When the sun gets high, they will die, unless I throw them back into the water.”
The old man replied, “But there must betens of thousands of starfish on this beach. I’m afraid you won’t really be able to make much of a difference.”

The boy bent down, picked up yet another starfish and threw it as far as he could into the ocean. Then he turned, smiled and said, “It made a difference to that one!”

adapted from The Star Thrower, by Loren Eiseley (1907 – 1977)

I used to be very involved in politics and group activism until I became tired and very disillusioned. I’m not saying that those avenues to change are ineffective, but they can be slow and frustrating and disheartening. Since that time I have concentrated more on one to one activism, trying to help just one person at a time.  My work is not about changing an entire world or an institution or even a policy. It’s about touching one life around me in a way that hopefully makes a difference to them.  

So instead of being overwhelmed about what you can’t do, consider what you can do. What is one action you can take? For just one person?

We can all make a difference. . .  at least to one starfish at a time.