When I turned on the TV on a few Sundays ago, figure skating happened to pop up. I was mesmerized by the incredible beauty, freedom, grace and pure joy of the performance. It was Gracie Gold’s free-skate using music from Igor Stravinsky’s “Firebird Suite.” When my husband came into the room I played it back for him. It was the most beautiful–even perfect–figure skating performance I can remember ever seeing.*
More than anything else I could do when I was young, the thing I miss most is ice skating. In Northern Ohio in the late 1950s and early ’60s we had maybe six weeks of good skating weather, after Christmas into February. (I doubt if, with climate change, there is anything like that now.) I had my own figure skates and there was a nearby pond, called Lais’ Pond, which everyone called “Lacy’s Pond.” My parents let me skate on school nights (I was a good student and the season was short), and someone had always built a fire; boys played crack-the-whip and we girls practiced our figure-eights.
My church fellowship group had skating parties on the town reservoir or the smooth ice above the dam on the Huron River, in nearby Monroeville. I loved flying across the vast spaces of the reservoir. Natural ice, in case you’ve never skated on it, is quite bumpy and rippled from wind and water movement. There are no Zambonis on natural ice!
After I had children we skated at rinks in the Cleveland area and, after we moved to suburban Washington, D.C., in Fairfax County rinks. Indoor rinks with smooth ice were nice, but skating in an oval with too many other people could not match gliding across the dammed river or the reservoir.
The last time I was on ice skates was in 1982, when a neighbor had a birthday party at Northcross Mall, in Austin. I was so wobbly even then I realized my skating days were probably over.
In 2007, I was in Arlington, Virginia, on business. I had a free afternoon and got on the Metro to go wander around the National Mall for a little while. (Having lived in both D.C. and Virginia, I knew my way around well enough to take off by myself.) The National Gallery sculpture garden had a rink set up, with skates for rent. Hmm, I thought. “Should I give it a try?” Then: “I left the hotel without telling anyone where I was going. If I were to fall, hit my head and knock myself out, they would have no idea who I was or how I got there other than emergency info on my phone. They certainly wouldn’t know I was staying at a hotel in Crystal City.”
There was a sweet little café overlooking the rink, so I had a glass of wine and watched the skaters instead.
I still dream of flying across the ice on two thin blades. I never had aspirations for competition, no triple axels or double Salchow or death spirals for me. Just the freedom of pumping your legs and gliding across ice at top speed.
What do you wish to do that you could do when you were young, and are no longer able?
*After watching Gracie Gold on YouTube, I learned that the Firebird performance was in 2016, and she subsequently suffered from depression and an eating disorder, having to climb her way back into skating, which makes her even more inspiring than that young Firebird.
Since the pandemic set in, several publications have addressed the issue of boredom. I can understand that maybe if you’re stuck in a tiny New York City apartment with few options, yes, it could get boring.
I have not been bored for one minute since the lock-downs began. For one thing, we’re not really trapped inside: we have a big backyard with a nice pool, several nearby parks and trails, and opportunities for road trips to other outdoor activities. Errands such as grocery shopping and picking up prescriptions, masked, as early in the day as possible, also get me out of the house. We have Zoom church, video doctor appointments, so there is no lack of contact with the outside world.
The only times I have ever been bored in my adult life were if I ever got stuck in a situation without anything to read or to do. I keep a bag by the back door with reading and knitting in case I have to make an ER trip, having been stuck previously with a dead phone and nothing to do for four hours.
So, what’s keeping me occupied during the pandemic?
Let’s see, a household with a husband with Parkinsons, a 13-year-old granddaughter and a dog. The man and child are fairly self-sufficient, but there are doctor appointments, meds to manage and unpredictable interruptions*. The dog needs to be fed, walked, belly-rubbed and have tennis balls tossed. I do all the grocery shopping, most of the errands, most of the routine cleanup (we do have weekly pool service and a cleaning lady every two weeks), and most of the cooking. Lately the meals have been pretty simple–burgers, tacos, chicken, pasta, which is why I think the granddaughter has started cooking a tasty dinner one or two days a week. I take her to school for her theater elective at midday, come home for lunch and pick her up again; the rest of her schooling is on-line for now. I do monitor her schooling and intend to add some enrichment learning this week.
When the tasks and chores are done, this is how I use my “free” time:
- Exercise. This time of year it’s swimming. In the cooler weather it’s walking and going to the gym (where I can swim in the winter), and I walk the dog unless it’s just too hot (with highs near 100F lately).
- Puzzles and games: On the dining table is a seemingly impossible jigsaw puzzle that may outlast the pandemic. (We have completed three others.) Our local newspaper publishes a weekly puzzle book with mazes, jumbles and crossword puzzles.
- Art: some painting, but mostly my favorite, postcards. I’ve been working on some computer-generated designs, using my own photography, as well as original art in collage, water color and other media. I’m almost ready for a fall postcard mail swap.
- Knitting and other needlework. I completed so much knitting over the summer I decided to try to finish a needlework project started about 10 years ago. It may take another 10 years but I’m making progress!
- Most of all, my favorite default mode: reading. Daily periodicals (the local paper and the online New York Times); weekly (The New Yorker); and a delicious pile of books. I’ve even read some fiction, which is rare for me: a chick-lit piece about older women in Tuscany (almost like going to Italy); a novel about South Africa during apartheid and the Soweto rebellions; “Longitude,” about the search for how to determine longitude, thus saving ships and sailors; the Mary Trump book about her uncle (he’s even worse than I thought); and I continue to re-read “Waterlog,” which is maybe my favorite all-time book. I just started “The Soul of an Octopus,” which is a delight. I think science and nature and memoir are my favorite genres of reading. Prompted by last Sunday’s sermon, I printed out Eliot’s “Four Quartets,” about which whole dissertations could be (and probably have been) written. I’m also going to listen to Alec Guinness reading them (on YouTube).
- Writing: I have a novel, or novella, or something, in my head that I need to get down. So far all I’ve written is the premise, but I have the opening chapter in my head and need to lay out an outline, then start a draft. I have never tackled a novel, but I’ve written several novels’ worth of words in my career so I’ll give it a try.
- If all else fails, there’s always TV. We have full cable, Netflix, Amazon Prime and Hulu. It takes so long to scroll through the menus to decide what to watch that I often give up and read. Husband has been watching “Outlander” (which I would call “Outlandish”). We dip in and out of “The Good Place,” and enjoyed Ricky Gervais‘ “Extras” and “After Life.” (Gervais is an acquired taste, but love his humor.) Lots of movies. Most recent, “The Current War,” about Thomas Edison, George Westinghouse and Nicola Tesla. Poor Tesla got lost in history.
Hope y’all are staying healthy and busy. This difficult and historic time will end. I tell my granddaughter that she is living history. When she’s old she can tell her grandchildren (if she’s lucky enough to have any) about the pandemic of ’20, as well as the other history that’s being made this year.
* At least three while writing this post.
Seventy-five is one of those numbers that makes one think–about the years behind and (you hope) the years ahead.
Lately I mostly complain about the challenges and disappointments of a retirement life very different than I would have imagined. We’re nearly five years into the adventure of raising a granddaughter, who is now 13. It’s about two years since husband realized he had Parkinsons, which complicates and is complicated by a number of other health issues. Add to that a second dog and many of the responsibilities of our home, including big yards and a pool. (The second dog is going back to my daughter today, not too soon for me. She’s sweet, but with dogs one plus one equals about 143.)
The operative word has been “responsibility.” Some days I am overwhelmed with it. Just don’t want to have to be a grownup for a while. I almost went away on a retreat, alone (in a rented cottage on an unused rural property) a few weeks ago, but chickened out. Maybe the idea of total solitude was just too scary, or I felt I was shirking my multiple responsibilities.
So on my birthday I’m reflecting on the positives. I sat in the meditation garden. (Of course the yard guys arrived while I was meditating and the dogs were set off barking.) Oops, this is supposed to be positive. Here goes:
- We are blessed with a beautiful home in a neighborhood and community I love. It’s warm enough now for a cooling afternoon swim in the Texas heat (and our pool guy managed to un-green the forest-glade we had last week).
- We have excellent health insurance and, for now, my own health is pretty good except for some pretty normal aches.
- The 13-year-old is much less challenging as she gets more mature. She manages her schoolwork; she’s an amazing artist; and she can be a lot of fun (as well as a pain in the butt–she’s a teenager).
- I do get to spend time making art, which is a great joy. I am working on a painting and some mail-art postcards. I am in the middle of a postcard swap. I also have knitting and stitching projects and always have ideas in the works for future projects.
- Despite how awful the pandemic and quarantine have been for the world at large and for many individuals, we have been lucky to be in a county with few cases, and staying at home has given me more time for household projects that have been put off, as well as watching movies and TV and reading. I even made bread, and granddaughter made a cake.
- I am blessed with a circle of friends that I have made in the three years since we moved here. Through church, the arts communities, politics and neighbors, I have met so many wonderful people and made good friends. Last week I had a driveway coffee break with seven or eight women friends and we chatted for a good two hours.
I wanted to have a mid-May pool and birthday combo party, and my hope is to have it during the summer, celebrating my birthday as well as my older daughter’s and my 17-year-old grandson’s.
I hope everyone stays safe and healthy.
I love January. After the clutter and hubbub of the holidays, it feels clean-swept, a fresh start. I bought some yellow flowers for the kitchen windowsill because I was tired of red.
Last year was full of challenges and trials, although we have come through it pretty well. After the Parkinson’s diagnosis in 2018, my husband had a period of orthostatic hypotension, with low blood pressure causing a series of falls during the summer, and at least one trip to the ER. (We have made so many trips to the ER in the past year I’ve lost count. More than in the whole rest of my life combined.) He changed neurologists, and we love the new doctor. She prescribed a medication that stabilized his BP and he has been fall-free for quite a while. In fact, the Parkinson’s symptoms are well-managed all around. Our October trip to New York for his nephew’s wedding was successful and he was so happy to spend that time with his family.
On the grandchild front, after the unsuccessful home-schooling experiment the previous fall, we had the incredible challenge of getting her back into public school, which, in our little town, meant an all sixth-grade school. She went back in January and finally got into a groove of regular attendance and full cooperation around Spring break, in March.
Despite the difficulties of the summer Oregon trip, she was thrilled to meet her online friend, and they are making plans to try to get together again next summer. She started seventh grade in the local middle school and is doing well. She likes her teachers and has made friends. Except for math–and we have a tutor–she’s making decent grades. At this moment her hair is half pink and half lime-green, but she’ll dye it back to a color found in nature before school starts again next week.
And how am I? The year was a struggle, but I’m in pretty good health in my 75th year. I take care of the family, including the dog, do a little volunteer work in the church and arts community. I enjoy my art projects and knit whenever my hands are free.
Sure, there are things I wish were better–no Parkinson’s, for starters–but mostly life is pretty good. We have a nice home, good friends, and enough, while there are many people for whom that’s not the case.
This morning, while walking the dog, I realized that lately, when I get up and walk him, nothing hurts. No sinus headaches (which used to plague me), no joint or muscle pain. I just feel good! This is remarkable for a woman nearly 75 with an arthritic hip. I started taking CBD oil a year or so ago, and I credit that with this wonderful state of being. During the holidays, when my anxiety cranked up, I increased the CBD dose a little, and since then I’m pain-free for the first time I can remember.
I’ve made only two New Year’s Resolutions:
- Continue to take good care of myself: a healthful diet; enough sleep; exercise; good medical care; daily meditation.
- Be kind to everyone, especially my loved ones, and especially more patient with my husband.
I leave you with a series of poems I wrote last year. You can see them with artwork on my other blog, jillybeanswiggins.wordpress.com.
Be a hummingbird
Be a cloud
enjoying the view
Be a dog
scratching all the itches
Be the breeze
singing wind chimes
dancing prayer flags
Be a tree
arms spread, another world
of life above
Be a star
steadfast, silent light
Be the Buddha
holding everything in his lap
for just this moment.
I wish you all a wonderful 2020. I’m sorry my postings have been skimpy in the last year. There have been some very tough days!
Our New York trip:
There were no actual catastrophes. We made each engagement; no one got lost; nobody tripped getting onto or off a Metro escalator; we didn’t get terribly soaked on the one rainy day; my granddaughter was a great help in navigating in Brooklyn and Manhattan, especially when my ability to use google maps utterly failed me.
If you ask my husband, he will say it was wonderful: Seeing his family, his brother, sister-in-law, various other relatives, and, of course, the bride and groom (his nephew). The wedding was quirky and gloriously happy for the couple, despite the constant rain and the partially outside wedding venue.
The shows were great: Derren Brown’s “Secret” at the Cort theater was utterly amazing. He asked that people not share any of the “secrets” and I will honor that, so if you ever get an opportunity to see him live, I urge you to do so. (You can also find him on YouTube.)
“The Book of Mormon” was, well it’s hard to find words for it. One of the funniest and most irreverent shows I’ve ever seen–incredibly well-performed, cringe-worthy crude and vulgar (with a not-quite 13-year-old beside me, trying to explain female circumcision to her during intermission), but utterly hilarious and ultimately good-hearted with a great message. Worth the small fortune we paid for the tickets. (As was the Brown show–take out a second mortgage if you plan to see Broadway shows, or go to New York in general. Even a Metro ride is $2.75 per single ride. We bought multiple ride tickets and had some left over, so we left them at the AirBnB in hopes someone else will use the remaining rides. We had a wonderful brunch with friends we knew in Austin and loved catching up with them, but $134 for brunch for five people?
The purpose of the trip was, of course, the wedding of Raef Payne and Nicole Ofeno, two of our favorite people in the world. They are both incredibly creative, beautiful, loving people. They made the New York Times! The wedding was in a Brooklyn bar, the Union Pool. It was a crazy zoo, with Raef and Cole’s friends from all over New York and the U.S. and family members mostly from Texas.
The ceremony was dignified and Cole wore a beautiful fitted white lace gown.
One of my favorite touches was the Ring Bear.
There were wedding events all weekend: on Friday evening in Manhattan (which we were unable to attend); Saturday at a good Italian restaurant in Brooklyn; the wedding Sunday; and another family dinner Monday at a Chinese restaurant in Brooklyn.
In between times we saw the Brown show and The Book of Mormon; we went to the re-opening of MoMA (the Museum of Modern Art); granddaughter and I saw the T-Rex exhibit at the Museum of Natural History (while husband enjoyed a gorgeous fall afternoon in Central Park). Finally, on our last morning, we took the Statute of Liberty boat ride and visited the 911 Memorial, which always brings me to tears, especially telling granddaughter about it, and husband finding the panel for his friend who died at the Pentagon.
Oh, but the challenges! I took very few photos because I needed my phone to navigate virtually every step of the way. I was constantly thinking, “OK, where do we have to be next and how do we get there?” It was a fairly short walk from the apartment to the Metro station, but granddaughter was always 15 feet ahead and husband was always 15 feet behind, and I felt like the sole chaperone on a middle-school field trip, constantly worried about losing someone. Whenever we safely reached a destination, I would think “We’re safe and we’re where we are supposed to be,” and take a few deep breaths.
We were blessed that all our flights were smooth and on time and our taxi and Uber rides got us where we needed to go–although the Uber driver to JFK thought we were going someplace other than JFK and that took a bit of sorting out. I’m still not sure if the credit card bill is totally correct on that one. Did I mention how expensive everything was? Our 12-mile trip (40+ minutes to go 12 miles!) to JFK was about $70. There is a train, but it takes longer, we’d have to change trains, and with luggage that’s just not practical.
We got back to San Antonio about 10 p.m., and by the time the hotel shuttle arrived (we parked at the hotel where we stayed the night before we left to make an early flight), and got the car and drove home it was midnight.
I have never before been actually ill from exhaustion, but I was the past two days. Really sick. No appetite, feverish, terrible digestive upsets. I took two long naps yesterday.
I’ve concluded I’m officially old. I just can’t travel that way any more. Next trip will be a cruise, as close to a turn-key operation as possible.
Granddaughter missed almost a week of school, and one of her teachers told her it was fine because she would learn so much in New York. When I asked her what she had learned, she said it was how much she appreciates her home and our small town, that New York is too crowded, busy, too much hustle and noise. One thing she did enjoy was when we were passing Trump Tower a guy selling buttons held up a sign that said “S***hole.” She was wearing a “Ghostbusters” t-shirt and the guy gave her a Trumpbuster button.
My new therapist asked me, after we had covered the preliminaries: “What feeds your soul?”
After a moment’s thought, I came up with a few things. Since then, I realized I have a lot longer list than what I thought of on the spot with the therapist:
- Walking the dog. When we put the leash on and step out the door, he sneezes and I feel my breathing slow and my tight muscles loosen. Junior is truly my therapy dog.
- Being in water. In cold weather, I do water aerobics with the “old” ladies at the gym. As soon as our pool got over 70°F I braced myself and now plunge in almost every day. The hot tub helps afterwards.
- Meditation, the yard, listening to the birds.
- Making art. See my art blog for the recent international postcard swap, which occupied most of my spare moments in May.
- Knitting and other handwork (embroidery and other forms of stitching). Something else that slows my breathing and relieves stress.
- Music, especially singing. I sang this past season with the Hill Country Chorale. After the season was over I joined other singers for the Memorial Day service at an Episcopal church, singing the Fauré Requiem. Now that’s over, I sing to myself when I walk the dog, often just making up random nonsense songs or sung prayers.
- Friends: church, art, music, politics, knitting, neighbors, old friends from past lives. I joke that I have a three-person minimum at the grocery store–I rarely go without running into someone I know from various aspects of my life. One day running errands I encountered five people I knew! The knitting group provides conversation with busy hands two hours a week, plus monthly lunch.
- Our home. I love our house, yard, neighborhood, our community. I am so glad we moved here two years ago.
I wish I could say that taking care of my family feeds my soul. But with a husband with Parkinson’s, the days, hours and moments can be draining. The 12-year-old granddaughter is maturing and doing much better, to the point that we laugh together more than we argue. That is soul-feeding, especially after the transition from home-schooling into public school. She’s ready for seventh grade and middle school!
And someday I’ll look back at this time and realize that I have been doing deep soul work all along.
The best soul work is gratitude. I try to be grateful every day.
Lying awake a few nights ago, bracing for the next day’s stress with the grandchild, I fretted over my very long, color-coded to-do list. Why did I have so much going on, so much I felt I needed to do?
In my last post I briefly shared the challenges of raising a 12-year-old. If you think raising a grandchild is difficult, multiply that by 10 and you might be close. Every morning is a battle just to get her to school. I am incredibly grateful to the counselor, nurse and other staff at her school, who tell me to “Just GO,” they’ll take care of things.
Musing about the to-do list, I realized I NEED it. It’s my safety net. No matter what else is going on, no matter how worn down I feel after the drop-off, there are a dozen things I can turn to that will feed my soul, or at least get an onerous chore done.
The color-coding works, too. Orange is for top priority, deadline items; yellow is second; green, third; blue is creative stuff; pink is self-care. Sometimes they’re combined and orange overlays yellow; pink and blue (i.e. purple) are special–creative self-care!
Just a sample of my recent/current list: minutes of the church board meeting (I’m board secretary); drain, clean and refill the hot tub; find a therapist for myself; several sewing, knitting and art projects; practice my music for the Hill Country Chorale… etc. I even have sub-lists on separate sheets (gardening and household projects, specific art ideas, sewing and knitting projects).
I’ve never been much of a shopper, but since I’ve been retired I’ve found I enjoy browsing thrift shops with nothing particular in mind. Yesterday, between knitting group and picking up granddaughter at school, I popped into Finds and picked up a stack of books and this gorgeous silk jewelry travel case, which was a whopping 50 cents! I don’t really have much use for it but it’s so gorgeous I may just hang it on the wall. What’s funny is that the piping was white. When I washed it the water looked like Big Red, and the piping turned pink, which now matches the lining!
I also stopped in Home Town Crafts for canvases (yes, I have an urge to paint) and picked up some yarn to make chemo caps.
A few weeks ago I went with a friend to The Tinsmith’s Wife, a yarn shop in Comfort, and got some gorgeous yarn for a shawl, which I’m excited about starting soon.
Years ago I was talking to a poet friend. We had just moved and I was overwhelmed with having too much to do. She said, “Be glad you have too much to do. You will never be bored.” She was right, and that lady has since passed away. I still think of her when I wonder if I have too much to do.*
*In memory of Peggy Zuleika Lynch
If aging is a tunnel and there is a light at the end of it, we’ve clearly been hit by the freight train. Bette Davis was right about old age not being for sissies.
The other day someone used the word “elderly” in reference to a situation with me.
Adding to my anxiety is the suspicion that the worst is yet to come. Despite my relatively good health and a great support system, good medical care and sufficient resources to face what may come, I still have nights lying awake worrying about what’s ahead.
Home-schooling the 12-year-old turned out to be a huge mistake. I won’t go into detail to respect her privacy; I’ll just say it’s not working. She will attend a small private alternative school next year, possibly this year if an opening comes up.
But what has really piled on the concern is that my husband has been diagnosed with Parkinson’s. He actually diagnosed himself after reading an article by Alan Alda and putting his symptoms together. Some of them he’s had for a year or more–twitchy finger, shuffling, soft voice, some confusion. I thought of Alzheimer’s, looking for zebras while a herd of horses thundered by.
An advantage of living in a town with a large older population means there is plenty of good medical care. Gary has seen two neurologists; he has had physical therapy, voice therapy, a regular therapist, and he attends a support group. He can also get gym membership for tai chi or yoga.
He’s doing everything he can to be healthy. He walks, does his vocal exercises, takes all his meds religiously. He continues to perform his one-man 90-minute monologue of Clarence Darrow, which is an impressive undertaking for any actor. His neurologist assures him he has many good years ahead.
But. Everyone I talk to knows someone with Parkinson’s and has scary or sad tales of former athletes in wheelchairs, loved ones having to go to assisted living and every other sad scenario that accompanies aging and illness.
I try to keep a positive attitude and do all I can to keep myself strong and healthy. I meditate, get plenty of exercise and stay involved with my art, our church community, my knitting group, and friends and neighbors. I keep several inspirational books by the bedside. I remind myself that self-pity is unproductive.
The hardest thing is being patient with him and dealing with the challenges of the 12-year-old. Some days I am so worn down I go to bed at 8:30. The dog usually gets me up at dawn. I gripe and groan, but then I go out to a brilliantly clear, cold morning. Last week I saw a meteor from the Geminid shower. Sunrises over our nearby park are breathtaking.
Junior is my comfort creature, and for him, for life, for all that is beautiful, I am grateful.
I wish everyone good health, peace, joy and gratitude this holiday season and in 2019!
Because of my very complicated family life, I’m prioritizing my obligations and shedding some less-critical activities, including social media (Facebook, Twitter, blogs and the like). I hope to return before very long, but in the meantime, I’ll share what I consider to be the secrets to success.
I recently listened to a TED talk about “grit,” or perseverance, being the best predictor of success in a young person–more than economics, race, or even intelligence. It got me to thinking about what I consider to be the most important factors to success. (I’ve often joked that the reason I’ve never written a book about losing weight and keeping it off is that it would be the shortest book ever–four words: “MOVE MORE. EAT LESS.”)
Since there are also only four words in my success secrets, I guess there’s no book there, either. Here they are:
There you have it.
* I can’t resist the famous quote by Calvin “Silent Cal” Coolidge” about persistence.
Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan Press On! has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.
Who mothers the mothers?
Who cares for the caregiver–
wipes her brow when she’s hot
cleans her up when she’s sick?
Who picks up the slack
when she’s exhausted
and would rather sleep
than run that errand,
or the vacuum?
Who hugs her
makes her appointments
and takes her to them?
Who takes care of the mothers?
Who sends her flowers,
who will plant them on her grave?