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Senior Moments: Reflections from a New Retiree

This is the post excerpt.

I retired almost 8 months ago after working as a school psychologist for a little over 30 years.  I want to express my thoughts and feelings about this new phase of my life (including “senior moments” in the usual sense/nonsense as well as “senior moments” involving real life, real moments with everyday events, travel, and reading).  As I figure it, I’m in either the last half, third, or fourth of my life.  Concerning life in halves, Priest Richard Rohr has written about the first half being the “resume years,” time spent building one’s credentials, making it, if you will.  He calls the last half the “eulogy years,” time spent doing things and treating people how you’d like them best to remember you, concentrating on what’s truly meaningful and important in life (cue the play “Our Town”).  Then, if we want to think of life in thirds, I figure with people living longer in general, the thirds would be birth to 30, then 30 to 60, and finally 60 to 90.  Since I just turned 60 in December (don’t you like the way I put the word “just” in there?!), I’m embarking on this final third.  That’s a lot to reflect on, and I’ve been doing a lot of “just” that, especially since I retired in January, 2017.  Lastly, looking at life in fourths, I’d say there’d be these age spans:  birth to 25, 25 to 50, 50 to 75, and 75 to 100.  With this schema, I’m only 3/4 of the way along.  Hey!

I currently have writings I’d like to share about “moments” from a life-changing trip to Africa a few years ago; a life-challenging medical diagnosis from a year ago; and various “moments” since retiring.  I’ll have reflections on retirement itself and what it has meant to me so far.  I can say that it first felt like floating without a tether (picture Sandra Bullock in the movie “Gravity”).  Scary.  I have felt more grounded as the months have gone by, although there have been unforeseen bumps in the road.  I’ll have travel experiences to share, and I’ll offer short reviews on books I’ve read since retirement–maybe only the ones I’ve liked in an effort not to be too disparaging.  We’ll see.  And, finally, my cat Cameron (who must be some ancient queen reincarnated and who just retired from her own job as columnist for a monthly church newsletter) is, like me, a senior (10 cat years and 70-ish human years).  She will offer her own cat-like comments.

I hope you’ll stay tuned!

 

Hair

My 95-year old mother finally got her hair fixed after more than a year of no trips to the beauty parlor. Love that old term–beauty parlor–a place where you go to become beautiful. Or more beautiful. My two sisters and I have given my mother a year’s worth of gift certificates to get her hair done for many Christmases. She always went to Judy’s beauty parlor. My sisters took her on Wednesdays. But COVID stopped those routine visits to the beauty parlor. Heck, my mom’s long-term care facility was shut down to outside visitors for a year. And residents were on lockdown inside, not allowed to leave. My sisters and I would see her outside with a plexi-glass barrier between us, all of us wearing masks. It’s hard for my mom to hear us when we’re up close and she can see our faces, so this setup didn’t lend itself to much communication. One of us would say something, another of us would repeat it louder, and a variety of gestures was tried. It was better than nothing, though. One time, my husband and I spoke to her on a cellphone as she sat inside the building while we sat outside, positioned on either side of a glass door. A kind nurse let my mom use her phone that day. My mom can no longer remember to charge the cellphone she used to have. This past Christmas of 2020, my sisters and I were allowed in the spacious lobby of the facility, still with masks and plexi-glass between us and our mom. But, some wise person at the facility gave each side a microphone, and we could hear each other just fine. So could anyone else within a pretty wide range, loud and clear! That’s ok. I’ve always liked a microphone. And it worked to let us hear each other. A kind worker helped my mother open the presents I’d brought.

My mother, since I’ve known her, as NEVER had long hair. I’ve seen old pictures of her when her hair was shoulder-length, chestnut brown, and wavy–thick and wavy. She’s always had good hair. With the shutdown, residents of her facility had to stay put in their rooms. They couldn’t even get their hair done within the place. So, I saw my mom’s hair get longer and longer with each visit. She didn’t look quite as much like “my mother.” That’s how we all have been during the pandemic, at least most of us not getting our hair cut. In many states, hair salons (beauty parlors) were shut down along with other businesses. My hair got grayer (whiter) than ever. When the time came that I was able to go back to the hairdresser, I tried to give the gray/white a go. It was only a few weeks later that I returned and had color added. Whew. Since that time, I’ve gradually let my current darker hair blend in with the gray/white hairs, adding some blonde streaks in the mix. Somehow, it’s growing out without such a pronounced root streak. Hallelujah.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for people letting their natural hair turn as they age. Many look great, and I admire them. I’m just not ready for that myself. At this point.

Back to my mother. She received both COVID vaccine shots in January. The few positive cases they’d had in the fall and early winter kept declining. The door to my mother’s room finally was open at the end of March. We visited her in person, wearing our masks. And it was so good. Still, hairdressing services hadn’t resumed. The facility apologized, and appointments were canceled.

Yet, this past week, my sisters were able to take my mom to Judy at the beauty parlor in town, the same one she’d gone to for years. Here are the results:

Before

After

That’s my mom, sitting in Judy’s beauty parlor and getting her hair cut and “fixed” after a year of no hair appointments. Not too shabby for a 95-year old!

Earth Day (to an Impressionable 7th-Grader)

I was that 7th-grader back in, oh, I think 1970. The first official Earth Day…April 22, 1970. I was 13 and in Mr. Jennings’ English class. I can still see him…dressed in a coat and tie, black hair. And I can almost hear his voice…his kind, earnest voice telling us about the importance of the environment. To him. To us. To everyone. To the world. I can’t remember exactly what he said, but he surely made an impression on me. They say that middle-schoolers, young teens, are at an impressionable time of their lives. Even though I can’t recall the specific words Mr. Jennings used on that very first Earth Day, the sentiment has stayed with me forever. And that means a lot.

Mr. Jennings stressed the importance of protecting the environment. I remember him as caring about us, his students. So, it was easy to see that he also cared, truly cared, for nature as well. And he didn’t try to make us feel bad or guilty about how we may have been mistreating the environment; he made us feel as if we, yes, we 7th-graders, could make a difference. In our lives, and in the lives of others. Even in the future of our planet. In a good way. And that’s powerful.

I’ve often said that you never know what impact (hopefully, positive) you can have on another person–“the power of one.”

Because of Mr. Jennings, at least in part, I believe in recycling and turning off lights and not letting the faucet run willy-nilly while brushing my teeth. Setting thermostats at temperatures that are okay (dressing a little warmer in the winter and a little cooler in the summer). I really can’t understand how somebody can throw trash out of a car window. I just don’t get it. Such a blight on the waysides of our lives. It’s so easy to use a trash can. I don’t understand. On a more positive note, I get such a charge out of nature. I’m amazed that my hosta plants and day lilies and irises poke their leaves up through the hard ground after a recent winter and in a matter of weeks come into their own once again, year after year. I marvel at waterfalls and mountains and oceans and green fields. And there’s nothing quite like fresh air. Just stepping outside lifts my spirits.

Yes, Mr. Jennings, you impressed this impressionable 7th-grader.

Back to now, I recently decided to become a Guardian ad Litem (GAL). I wrote in an earlier blog about “dropping out.” I’d done the training to advocate for children as a GAL. These children find themselves in Department of Social Services custody due to abuse and/or neglect. At the conclusion of my training, I didn’t feel ready to commit the time that this volunteer work deserved. I did keep my hand in by serving with a local group that supports GALs and foster children. Then, after a year of COVID shutdowns, I felt ready to act on the training I’d received. I was sworn in a few months ago and got my first case, a 13-year old girl. I’ve met with her three times so far, read reports, and talked to others involved. One report I read was a psychological evaluation that had testing I used to do as a school psychologist. I tried to impress upon this 13-year old some of her skills I’d noticed in the testing as well as other skills I’d picked up on in my meetings with her. She seemed a bit surprised at what I told her. “Really?!” she said. Her grades have slipped a little; I hope she’ll try harder. I know she’s up against trauma and obstacles beyond any innate ability she has, but I believe in her. I hope she can believe in herself.

Mr. Jennings made an impression on me all those many years ago. He made me feel like I could do something, that I could make a difference in the environment. However small a difference, Mr. Jennings made it seem important. So, every April 22nd, Earth Day, I think of my 7th grade English teacher. Yes, Mr. Jennings, your influence has lasted a lifetime. Sometimes it only takes someone believing in you and what you can do.

What’s Your Bias?

If you’re human, you have one. Or more. Depending on the situation or circumstance. It’s often hard for me to understand how people, even people I think I know, can sometimes think and feel so differently that I do. Some of this can, perhaps, be explained by various biases. In this time of such division, Brian McLaren (pastor, author, lecturer) lists 13 types of biases in his writing Why Don’t They Get it?  Overcoming Biases in Others (and Yourself). I think he does an excellent job of clarifying them, and I think it’s something for us all to consider.

Confirmation Bias: We judge new ideas based on the ease with which they fit in with and confirm the only standard we have: old ideas, old information, and trusted authorities. As a result, our framing story, belief system, or paradigm excludes whatever doesn’t fit.

Complexity Bias: Our brains prefer a simple falsehood to a complex truth.

Community Bias: It’s almost impossible to see what our community doesn’t, can’t, or won’t see.

Complementary Bias: If you are hostile to my ideas, I’ll be hostile to yours. If you are curious and respectful toward my ideas, I’ll respond in kind.

Competency Bias: We don’t know how much (or little) we know because we don’t know how much (or little) others know. In other words, incompetent people assume that most other people are about as incompetent as they are. As a result, they underestimate their [own] incompetence, and consider themselves at least of average competence.

Consciousness Bias: Some things simply can’t be seen from where I am right now. But if I keep growing, maturing, and developing, someday I will be able to see what is now inaccessible to me.

Comfort or Complacency Bias: I prefer not to have my comfort disturbed.

Conservative/Liberal Bias: I lean toward nurturing fairness and kindness, or towards strictly enforcing purity, loyalty, liberty, and authority, as an expression of my political identity.

Confidence Bias: I am attracted to confidence, even if it is false. I often prefer the bold lie to the hesitant truth.

Catastrophe or Normalcy Bias: I remember dramatic catastrophes but don’t notice gradual decline (or improvement).

Contact Bias: When I don’t have intense and sustained personal contact with “the other,” my prejudices and false assumptions go unchallenged.

Cash Bias: It’s hard for me to see something when my way of making a living requires me not to see it.

Conspiracy Bias: Under stress or shame, our brains are attracted to stories that relieve us, exonerate us, or portray us as innocent victims of malicious conspirators.

I bet you can think of people you know or have seen/heard on TV or social media who exemplify some of these biases. I’ve always felt that by first seeing where someone is “coming from” I can better understand them. I may not agree with them, but I can try to come to some level of knowing or understanding. As a school psychologist, it was the same. The first goal was to try to get a clear picture of what the issue or problem was. Oftentimes, it didn’t even reside within the individual student. Instead, the problem may have been that student’s environment or circumstances. The main point here is to strive to understand.

Same with biases. Striving to understand them and how they may have come about can give us some level of grace towards others who baffle and also towards ourselves. With such awareness, maybe we can develop some healthier views and perspectives towards others and ourselves.

We need to start somewhere.

Happy St. “Patch’s” Day!

The picture accompanying this blog post is not my grandson, but it could be. You see, his real name is Patrick, so St. Patrick’s Day is kind of his day. But, fairly recently, Patrick came up with a nickname for himself. Patch. In fact, he came up with a nickname for me (one of his grandmothers) and most other family members. He had us in stitches as he told us our new names. Where he got Patch, I don’t know. But I like it.

Which led me to thinking…what’s in a name?

My name, for example. Most know me as Jane. Patrick, I mean, Patch usually calls me Grandmommy. I used to be Mommy to my own two kids. If you REALLY know me and if you grew up with me, I was Jane Ellen. My mother really wanted my first name to be Ellen, so that’s what she sometimes would call me. Her name is Mary Jane, and she’ll be 95 on the 31st of this month. She’s always been Mary Jane–not Mary. Being from the South, I had many relatives and friends that went by two names–Rose Marie, Terry Kay, Mary Ellen, Betty Ruth, Becky Sue, Mikey Joe all come to mind.

So, what’s in a name?

A very few people have called me Janie–just a few, and I remember one, in particular. He’s passed on now, but he always made me feel special by giving me that little nickname. I started elementary school as Jane Ellen, but by the time I was in the sixth grade, I decided I’d outgrown that two-name name. I declared to all my classmates that I was now Jane. Just Jane. So, when a couple other elementary schools merged to create one middle school, I had a fresh start with all the kids who hadn’t known me as anything else but Jane. That small name change somehow made me feel older and wiser. It was a whole new ME!

With this personal name background of mine, I’ve always thought it’s important to call someone by the name they want to go by. I always felt sorry for people who went by their second name. Unaware teachers and phone solicitors and so many others would call them by that first name. Classmates would muffle laughter at that poor unknowing teacher. When someone called and asked if “such and such” was available, it was a dead giveaway when the first name was used. Nope–not here. AND I think it’s so important to pronounce someone’s name correctly. It has floored me when I’ve asked a person what they wanted to be called (after hearing two possibilities and not being sure), and they said something like, “Oh, it doesn’t matter. Either one is fine.” What?? I simply don’t get that. I guess I’ve always felt that something so personal and so special as a name should be kind of revered. So, not to care what you’re called, well, that kind of laid-back, anything-goes-style really surprises me.

After ditching my former two-name name long ago, I now find it heartwarming to hear someone call me Jane Ellen. It means they’ve known me for a loooong time, and there’s something very special about just that. Also makes me feel young again. I had a few nicknames over the years, too. One of my grandmother’s neighbors called me Peanut. Another of her neighbors called me Giggle Box. Both made me feel noticed and kind of unique in a way. I remember referring to my daughter as “Missy” and my son as “Mister.” Those weren’t really nicknames, but they were terms of endearment. I call my husband “Baby,” and he calls me “Babe.” Same thing–special and endearing.

What’s in a name? What’s in YOUR name? Where did your name come from? What does it mean to you?

On this holiday of green and leprechauns and shamrocks, “Patch” and I wish you a Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Give Me a BREAK!!

This has become my favorite (or at least most frequent) comment since, oh, about a year ago. It all started in early-March of 2020. Picture this. I’m sitting on my back deck, robins tweeting melodically, early spring blooms swaying in the gentle breeze, a cat sleeping peacefully nearby–when I look at my phone. You see, I was greatly anticipating the 2:30-ish start of the Duke vs. North Carolina State Basketball Game in the 2020 ACC (Atlantic Coast Conference) Tournament. The Holy Grail for us ACC fans. And, my team–my Duke team–well, we all thought they were poised for another good showing in this (and the other BIG) tournament to follow. You know, March Madness!!

Nooooooooooooooooooo!!

Surely, this was a mistake! A hoax some meanie posted that happened to make its way to my phone. An ERROR! Do NOT tell me the 2:30 game of my team was CANCELED!! Not postponed, mind you–canceled. Not happening.

GIVE ME A BREAK!!

It wasn’t long until the proverbial domino effect happened. From sports to schools to offices to restaurants to salons to gyms to theaters–one fell, one shut down, one after another. You know the rest of the story. Almost a year later, we’re still in the grips of shutdowns. And, we’re all “done” with this. So, my “give me a break moments” have increased in frequency and intensity with each passing day.

Fast forward to this morning when my husband and I (alongside 1 of our 2 cats) were watching an on-line church service. “Spiritual practices” is the minister’s theme during this season of Lent. Last week, the focus was on the practice of contemplative prayer–much akin to meditation. (Aside: I’m reading a book my son gave me for Christmas that speaks to mindfulness and meditation called Why Buddhism IS True by Robert Wright. Such practices can enhance emotional well-being. So far, I’m still in the learning and training phase.) Anyway, the topic today was fasting. Oh no, I thought, count me OUT. I was pleasantly surprised to find out that fasting can apply to more than just food. Thank the Lord! Fasting can be used for any number of activities–usually those that are unhealthy if done to excess–say, too much screen time, running from one bad relationship to another, even eating too much ice cream (that last one is sheer BLASPHEMY–my Sunday morning terminology for “give me a break”).

As I was mulling over this fasting/denial theme, a practice many take up during Lent, I was also thinking (you guessed it), “Give me a break!” Don’t we have enough to deal with?? After all, for nearly a year we’ve been navigating the extremely rough waters of COVID and racial injustice and election turmoil and post-election turmoil and the wettest year/coldest winter EVER (or so it seems). Plus, I can’t go to dances or concerts or plays. I can’t sing in groups or hug my mother! NOW you tell me I should give up something? Haven’t I given up enough already?? GIVE ME A BREAK!!

And then it hit me.

Maybe I should try to stop complaining so much. When I actually let this thought go from my mind to my mouth and then out to the universe in an out loud statement that I said within earshot of my husband, he literally sat up and yelled, “PRAISE JESUS!!” (Apparently, he’d heard me say “Give me a break” one too many times.)

Here’s the psychology behind this. Our thoughts trigger our feelings. And our feelings then determine our actions. Our actions impact a situation’s outcome. That outcome then influences our thoughts in a circular fashion. And so it goes, on and on, round and round. Thoughts to feelings to actions to outcomes and back again. These are Cognitive Behavioral psychological principles (plus maybe a little bit of Buddhism).

Since this morning, I’ve tried to break my “Give me a break” cycle. So, when I caught myself having a negative thought or complaint (or two, or three…), then feeling frustrated or irritated, I managed to squelch the action of saying, “Give me a break.” It wasn’t easy! The next step will be to think the complaint and NOT have the negative feeling. The next step will be to not have as many negative or complaining thoughts in the first place, perhaps, seeing a situation in a different light, from a less stressful, more mindful perspective. The feelings then won’t be so frustrating. And, I might not say, “Give me a break” quite as often.

I truly think that, during these hard times for us all (and, believe me, I’ve had it good compared to so many), I’ve gotten into a habit of reacting in this “Give me a break” way. As I said, it won’t be easy to break my go-to. Trying to break a habit never is. I’ll actually need to give myself a break in this endeavor through the inevitable failures along the way. Little by little, at the very least, I hope to be more mindful of my complaining. I won’t be successful at stopping myself all the time. I’ll still have negative thoughts that I’ll try to catch before I say them out loud. I’m hoping that, over time, my thoughts themselves won’t be quite so negative. Or numerous. And not quite so quick to come to mind.

As I told my husband shortly after proclaiming this new goal of not complaining, I may not have too much to say, at least at first! You know the old adage, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, then don’t say anything at all.” It could be mighty quiet around here! We’ll see.

I Got a Zero

Yep, I got a 0. And for the first time in my life, I’m really happy about it.

One thing that’s far from being a zero is my cholesterol. Since I was in my 30’s, it’s been high. I used to take Statin drugs, but the side effects became too bothersome (and painful).

Diet and exercise–blah, blah, blah–yeah, after depriving myself of soooo many of my favorites and going into a not-too-minor depression as a result, I think my total cholesterol number went down by 10 or 20 points. Big whoop. My cholesterol was still WAY high.

My family is known for high cholesterol. Guess it’s good to be known for something. And here’s another thing about my high-cholesterol relatives. The ones that have gone before me and the ones that are still very much kicking live to be old. I’m talking in their 90’s. My great-grandmother, my grandmother and her siblings, my father and his siblings–most all lived to be in their 90’s. Heck, my father’s sister (the only girl out of 9 or so kids) lived to be 102! My father died a few years ago just shy of his 94th birthday. My mother will be 95 next month. So, I figured, why worry? My family’s genetics show that we produce our own cholesterol, thank you very much.

Then COVID hit.

All this extra time at home to reflect. And worry.

When I ventured back to my trusty doctor, who notified me that he was about to retire after being my doctor for 30+ years, my cholesterol was–guess what–as high as ever. As I said, it has been many years since I’ve taken medication for it. He did an American Heart Association risk assessment, and I was pleased to find out that, despite my high cholesterol, I’m at very low risk for a “significant cardiovascular event.” This assessment takes into account other health factors such as family history, weight, blood pressure, smoking, etc.

But, and there’s usually a but, as I myself get older, my risk may increase.

So, my doctor retired and referred me to a new practice/doctor. The cholesterol issue cropped up again. Oh, I forgot that a few years ago, my gynecologist also weighed in on this. He ordered a special blood test to show how large my cholesterol molecules were. Turns out that smaller molecules have an easier time getting into arteries, so they’re more dangerous than larger molecules, which can’t squeeze their way in as easily. Guess what size my molecules were? Small (of course). Drat!

So, I hung my hat on the American Heart Association (AHA) risk assessment results.

I met my new doctor a few weeks ago via video chat. When the cholesterol question came up, she agreed with the AHA assessment, but she also warned that with increasing age, I’d be in riskier territory. She then recommended that I have a quick, painless CT scan to see if my coronary arteries had any build-up of calcium. If they looked clear, then my cholesterol was not having a negative impact.

I had this CT scan this past week. It took about 5 minutes. I got the results later that day. All 0’s. The nurse from my doctor’s office confirmed my thinking that, in the cholesterol department, 0 = good. In fact, she told me that 0 is the BEST score you can get. I had 0’s in all my coronary arteries. I showed no signs of problems, and the report even stated that my heart was “of normal size.” A bonus tidbit of information.

Now, this particular test is not covered by insurance, so I did have to pay a flat fee of $199. It was worth every penny. Just goes to show that all cholesterol is not equal in its impact. I’m grateful that, so far, mine is behaving. Wanted to pass this test along in case any of you out there are in the same boat. I hope you also get a 0.

I’m a Monkey!

In honor of the Chinese New Year, the Year of the Ox, I decided to find out what animal I was. It’s determined by the year you were born. Happens that I’m a Monkey! Now, as most of these astrological things go, the positive traits are listed first. Just when you think you’re exceptional and wonderful (saying to whoever is nearby, “Wow, that hit the nail on the head–this monkey stuff is legit!”), then comes the inevitable list of negative traits. As you’re mumbling under your breath, “Yeah, that’s me, too,” you might admit that these other traits fit you as well. You might not.

So, I start out with these glowing personality traits: intelligent, eloquent, adaptable, flexible. Wow! Added to this in the ensuing narrative are affirmations such as brilliance and perseverance. Then there’s independent, honest, cordial, and positive. I know, right? Bet you’d like to meet me (if you haven’t already). I read on to find that I have “acute intuition and predictive powers.” I achieve goals. I’m curious. I’m amicable and kind. I’m upbeat and helpful. Feeling pretty darn good about myself.

Then there comes the “weaknesses” section. What???

Irritable (wait a minute, I just found out how positive and upbeat I was/I mean, am). Impetuous (give me a break, I thought I worked hard to meet goals–you know, I stick to a task until it’s finished. What does impetuous mean, anyway? Who uses the word “impetuous” in everyday, normal conversation?). And, it goes on to say that I’m easily frustrated (not since at least 10 minutes ago). And impatient (when WILL the buffering circle-y thing stop circling?). Sometimes irascible, fussy, and upset, I read on. Just reading that made me irascible, fussy, and upset! Stubborn??? Surely not! Just because I want to prove my case, my point, what’s right, debate, argue, and stand my ground?

Give me a break!

Now, all of you out there who know me, please hold your tongues. Keep an open mind. Don’t let all your experiences with me and my personality get in the way of thinking of me as a compilation of all my strong, nice traits over the, well, weaker ones.

Here’s the next section: Career. The first trait listed is problem-solver (yes–as a school psychologist, I tried to solve problems). Strong leadership, tact, and sociability. Ok, ok, and OK! Now we’re back on the right track! Oh, the music to my ears of hearing about my competence, my persuasive abilities, and my superb communication skills (not my words, mind you; it was all written there in black and white, right on my cellphone screen). “Strong logical proposals and high-efficiency working plans garner lots of appreciation,” I read, thinking of how well this really fit me. How could they know me so well?! As for specific suitable jobs, it listed diplomat, journalist, writer (yay!), and entertainer. Yes!!!

So, I encourage you to look up your own Chinese New Year animal and discover all of your wonderful personality traits. If your less-than-flattering qualities put you in an irritable, impetuous, frustrated, impatient, or stubborn frame of mind, I totally understand.

Groundhog Day Revisited and Revised

Instead of Groundhog DAY, it’s more like Groundhog YEAR. Am I right? It’s been nearly a year since we became aware of COVID on a national level. Now, it’s become all too up close and personal.

In my search for what to do with my time while distancing at home, I started reading a book entitled Empty Nest, Empty Desk, What’s Next? by Dr. Rita Smith. I must say, this book really spoke to me. I’m 3/4 of the way through it, and already it has led to some great ideas on what to do in this retirement phase (and shutdown phase) of my life. [Once I complete this book, I’ll be sure to review it in detail in another book review post.]

So far, this book has had me consider my values, passions, and talents. Music took a top position. I need it in my life. It brings me joy. It brings me calm. It makes me sing and dance. Soooo, this all led to my starting an online piano course–pianoinaflash.com by Scott Houston. I did a free webinar to find out about it and decided to sign up. I love it! I took a few piano lessons as a young adult (and tinkered with a little electric piano as a child), but I still struggled to sit down and play for fun. I love this method of playing the melody with my right hand and playing chords with my left hand. Before this, I’d occasionally (very occasionally) go to the piano. Now, I’m drawn to it. Lessons and playing are no longer chores or mountains to climb–they’re fun and relaxing. So playing the piano is occupying more of my time these days.

What else made my list? Social justice. I’ve begun reading articles and books such as White Fragility by Robin Diangelo. I joined a Facebook group of women searching for ways to ensure that values of inclusion and equality remain what our country represents and as an example to the world. I participated in an online national day of service this group of women sponsored on MLK Day. Through that experience, I learned of a service opportunity called Letters Against Isolation (www.lettersagainstisolation.com). This involves volunteers writing letters/cards that are sent to seniors in various long-term care facilities across the U.S. and the world. This gave me the idea of doing this type of thing for the facility where my mother resides–with a twist. I’ve been coloring as a fun and meditative pastime since I retired 4 years ago. I thought maybe folks would enjoy getting a picture I’d colored with a little note attached. I contacted the Activities Director of my mom’s facility, and she thought that was a great idea. I had no idea how many pictures I’d colored, but I sent 100 out last week–one for each resident. And I still have plenty more. It’s kind of like coloring with a purpose.

Exercising is important to me, but I’m not nearly as motivated doing it on my own. I’ve missed going to line dancing, water aerobics, and barre or pilates classes at my local YMCA. So, I’ve enlisted my dear husband to join me in exercising to some videos I’ve had for ages. (My cat, Desi, liked being my exercise buddy, but he kept getting under my mat, which made it a little tricky.) When we don’t do a video or YouTube session, we try to walk in our neighborhood.

I’m still reading and have enjoyed including this in my new daily routine since retirement and COVID. I’m also considering some online courses and/or discussion groups offered by my alma mater and also by a nearby church. Speaking of church, we’ve been exploring various services that are streaming now due to, you guessed it, COVID. We’ve found one we like, which is opening up other possibilities for involvement, including community service and social justice discussions.

Don’t get me wrong, I still have my down times in these down times. I’m tired of winter with its cold and often dreary days. I miss being in groups to sing and dance and eat out and socialize. I miss seeing my family. I miss traveling. In the meantime, I’m trying to explore new possibilities. I’m still attempting some cooking–made a pot roast with carrots and potatoes that turned out great, to my surprise. My husband made a chocolate walnut pie that was to die for. Had we not been in this situation with the virus, I don’t know that we would have made either. We did, and we now know that we can. Heck, I even figured out how to freeze raw carrots by blanching them first. Trust me, I was irritated at first when I had to figure out what blanching was, but now I know.

Many days (most days?), I do feel as if I’m on a treadmill or on a big hamster wheel. My dear hamster, Eric, used to ride the wheel in his cage mostly at night–squeak, squeak, squeak–round and round. He seemed to enjoy it. After going stir crazy, I’m trying to find my own ways to get more enjoyment into this time when one day is pretty much like the next. Oh, and there’s always writing.

Some of My Favorite Books

It’s been awhile since I posted book reviews–last entry was March, 2019–almost 2 years ago–yikes! These are all books I REALLY liked and highly recommend. These are in the order that I read them, so that doesn’t indicate that first ones listed are any better than the others.

  1. Small Great Things – Jodi Picoult: What a GREAT book! Picoult weaves a tale, though fictional, that could be straight out of today’s headlines. It’s powerful. It’s captivating. It’s intriguing. It’s poignant. And so much more. The 3 main characters–a black nurse, a white supremacist, and a white lawyer–all speak from their own unique perspectives and “truths.” The story unravels; the writing is remarkable; and the insights gained are profound. I couldn’t put this book down! 5 stars

2. Britt-Marie Was Here – Fredrick Backman: Almost as wonderful as “A Man Called Ove”–such amazing character development with so many interesting and intricate layers! A story of loss and new beginnings; of losing oneself (and one’s problems, even one’s burdensome “identity”) in others–in damaging and fulfilling ways. The joy of taking on others’ pains and finding new paths and joys in the process. Unforgettable in the best way!! 5 stars

3. Where the Crawdads Sing – Delia Owens: Riveting from the start, a wonderful tale of nature (including human nature) and all its beauty and pain. The marsh and coastline come to life through the loving, protective, and exhilarating eyes and actions of a young girl left to fend (and discover) for herself. All this contrasts with the “real” world of death/murder, gossip, and pretense. Which side, which world will ultimately “win?” 5 stars

4. If Cats Disappeared from the World – Genki Kawamura: A sweet, little tale of a 30-year old postal worker, who makes a deal with the devil to extend his own life. Choices become wrapped up in memories; memories become more precious than future desires; and realizations of what’s really important are made. A lovely reminder. 4 stars

5. The Power of TED: The Empowerment Dynamic – David Emerald: An easy-to-read book that illustrates the “Dreaded Drama Triangle”–Victim, Persecutor, Rescuer AND the antidote to each–Creator, Challenger, Coach. Recognizing that our Focus causes our Internal State that then impacts our Behavior (FISBE), the author points out human behavior that has existed since the caveman and is still as active today. The key is to get away from these automatic, simplistic, reactionary responses (that often involve fight, flight, or freeze) and replace them with conscious intention and chosen responses. This all leads to TED–The Empowerment Dynamic. 4 stars

6. Before We Were Yours – Lisa Wingate: Haunting fiction based on real life. Children are taken away from their biological families with siblings usually split apart to be doled out to “new and improved” parents. All of this done with officials turning a blind and approving eye. Liked how the author wove the stories of past and present until they intersected in an unforeseen twist. Very powerful and thought-provoking about what can be (and has been) done in the name of “good.” 4 stars

7. It’s the Little Things – Erica James: I couldn’t put it down for at least the last half of the book. The story took unexpected twists while holding true and being realistic. GREAT character development with many facets, just like most of us. Touching and riveting with wonderful dialogue. The British terminology added a spark of class and quaintness and charm. The story itself was pure human nature with all its ups and downs and breath-taking moments. 4 1/2 stars

8. Educated – Tara Westover: WOW! What depth, what real/true tragedy–AND what an almost impossible-to-imagine outcome. Mental illness interwoven with fanatical religion interwoven with suffocating family obligations and allegiance all create preventable chaos and suffering–both physical and emotional. Some escape, some remain. Some betray, some stay bonded. Again, as in the memoir North of Normal, what one’s “normal” is can really be crazy. How someone can somehow get out of this craziness is fascinating. 5 stars

9. Too Much and Never Enough – Mary L. Trump, Ph.D.: I couldn’t put this book down. Read it in 1 1/2 days–a record for me. Traces the background and family dynamics of Donald Trump. As his stern, all-business father’s “favorite son,” he was enabled and put on an unearned pedestal at an early age. Enough so that he ran (and surprisingly won) the election in 2016. His incompetence, narcissism, and inability to show empathy are paramount in all he did as president regarding immigrants, treatment of women, flaming racial bigotry (and other divisiveness), disobeying the Constitution in threatening our democracy, and mishandling the COVID pandemic. His niece professes that he is truly a danger to us all. As a clinical psychologist, she explores the roots of his “great” fear and weakness–both so deep and profound that he covers them up with bullying and cruelty–all to save his fragile ego that can never have enough affirmation. 4 stars

10. White Fragility – Robin Diangelo: Somewhat textbook-like and sometimes at a graduate school level, I nonetheless gained a lot of valuable and perspective-shifting understanding. Looking at racism as systemic and absorbed into our white selves from birth, we whites are all born into a way of thinking that is automatic, ingrained, subconscious. We have to think to recognize and realize our white privilege. In sharp contrast, we don’t have to think about ourselves as “white” to easily get through life. When confronted with this systemic privilege and how we sustain it (overtly and covertly), we bristle and declare that we’re not racist. How to become more aware of systemic and personal racism is critical to positive change. 4 stars

11. The Giver of Stars – JoJo Moyes: Based on a real program in the 1930s, this book portrays the lives of women who rode horses to bring a “library” to mountain people. Led by an inordinately strong woman, Margery O’Hare, the unlikely mix of fellow librarian riders makes for adventures–both physical and emotional. Alice, new bride from England, is another major character. Other unforgettables are: Mrs. Brady and her “handicapped” daughter, Izzy; cigarette-smoking, no-nonsense Beth; widowed Kathleen; and organizer supreme Sophia. Much insight, humor, love, and truth in these pages. Absolutely WONDERFUL! 5 stars

12. The Overdue Life of Amy Byler – Kelly Harms: Pure fun! School librarian and mother of a 12- and 15-year old (including priceless daughter, Cori), Amy lets her estranged ex take over parenting for a week (and then a summer). She ends up being featured in a “Momspringa” magazine article while staying in an old college friend’s NYC apartment. A far cry from her Pennsylvania life. Glamor and dating and rejuvenation–personal and professional. A really fun read!! 4 stars

13. The Silent Patient – Alex Michaelides: What a great exploration into the human condition of mental illness and reality vs. imagination. Add into this mix themes of hurt and betrayal. Plus, a murder mystery. My mouth literally dropped open in sheer surprise and disbelief at one point! Such an interesting format that revealed different perspectives and realities. The use of the “silent patient’s” journal–in her own words–was riveting. The characters were believable and captivating. I highly recommend this book. 4 stars

14. Bossypants – Tina Fey: I know this is now cliche’, but this was laugh-out-loud funny! Reading at night in bed after my husband had gone off to dreamland, I had to literally suppress my laughter from waking him up! Tina Fey writes an autobiography (with tongue firmly in cheek) that includes honest (and hilarious) commentary AND pictures of herself from childhood through all those awkward years. Loved this book! 4 stars

My Increasing Awareness (over the last 4 years)

I will list 10 things I’ve learned and awareness I’ve gained due to the 45th president’s foray into politics over the last 4 years. In no particular order, here goes:

  1. I’ve paid much more attention to politics. From debates to congressional proceedings to tweets, my attention has been engaged, almost on a daily basis.
  2. As many have said, words do matter. They can hurt and control. They can spread disinformation and do untold damage. Words can also inspire hope and positive action on the behalf of others.
  3. No leader (especially the leader of the so-called free world) should be allowed to keep his job if he lies day after day. Truth really does matter in a democracy.
  4. Racism is still very much with us, and systemic racism has been with us since our country’s founding. We all need to be educated about our country’s history. This information should be brought out of the shadows and put into the public domain in a systematic, intentional manner.
  5. Social media is much more dangerous than I’d previously thought for spreading hate and conjuring up extreme beliefs and behaviors locally, nationally, and internationally.
  6. Decency, respect, and civility are vastly important in how we talk to and about one another. Without them, we cannot even begin to listen to each other.
  7. Democracy is fragile. The influence of one angry and power-hungry individual can tap into the anger of many, who will fight for unexamined causes and misperceived rights purely in the name of this one individual.
  8. It is still dangerous to mix religion with politics. And to feel that all should have one certain religion. The Golden Rule stands as a worthy goal for which to strive–treat others as you would like to be treated.
  9. Stoking distrust and fear is divisive and destructive.
  10. Empathy is necessary for a good leader.