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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!

 

The Real GOAT

You know–the Greatest Of All Time! Forget Michael Jordan. Forget Simone Biles. Forget Mike Krzyzewski. I, Desi, the “other cat” as know-it-all Cameron calls me, am the GOAT! Heck, Jane and Randy call me that all the time.

You know how Cameron complained about her medical records? Well, let me tell you what they wrote about me. Under “General Appearance,” they marked me as “ABN.” I’m sure that means “All-around Best Nature.” [Cameron‘s Comment: “ABN couldn’t possibly stand for ‘Abnormal.’ I saw that record. There was an ‘N’ column and an ‘ABN’ column. Under Desi’s General Appearance, ABN was checked. I’m sure this has nothing to do with Desi’s little pin head compared to his overly large body; his bobbed, way-too-short tail; or his watery yellow eyes.”]

Desi here again. Here’s another thing–I, unlike Prissy Cameron, am grateful for any and all food I’m given. Cameron sticks her nose in the air after one sniff half the time. Not me. I dig right in. Remember Jethro Bodine from the old “Beverly Hillbillies” TV show? Yeah, that’s ME! I’ll even eat plants and lizards and mice. Sometimes I get a little ahead of myself in my excitement and eat too fast. Kind of like kitty bulimia–but I don’t mean to do it; just happens. I always rub my paws on the floor or carpet to try to cover what came up. I’m thoughtful like that. Manners first.

I’m also what they call a “lap kitty.” You better have your book or phone or drink because once you sit down, I’m right there with you. I’m not particular either. If you have papers on your lap or desk, they don’t bother me one bit. You don’t have to clear them out of my way. I’ll lay right on top of them, no problem. If you’re eating something, all the better. I’ll be there to help you finish in case you don’t want it all or at least catch any crumbs that might spill. I’m helpful like that.

I’m known for my hunting skills, too. While Cameron looks blankly at critters or bugs, I’m stalking and catching them, fast as lightning! I’ve even caught houseflies–can you believe it?! I try to surprise Jane and Randy sometimes, so I’ll bring a mouse from the garage in my mouth. Only when Jane shrieks do I realize that the mouse’s tail is hanging out. Still, I know she’s proud of me for catching it. And that day a few years ago when I had a black snake cornered in the living room, well, that was the proudest she’s been! She’s still talking about that!

I only fell off the back deck once. It’s about a story high. We cats get to go outside on the deck–our taste of the great outdoors. No stairs. When I was first exploring the deck, I leaned just a little too far over, and down I went. Oh, it wasn’t much of anything. I limped a little, went to the vet, and was pretty much ok. [Cameron here: “This explains a lot.”]

Let’s see, what else makes me the GOAT? I do tricks. I lay on my back, put all 4 paws in the air, and roll from side to side. This takes a lot of doing, considering my great appetite. I can also crawl up the side of a bed GI-Joe style–literally undercover. Yep, I go under the covers. I start on the floor, get under the bedspread and sheet, make my way up the side of the bed, and surprise anyone up there. Cameron doesn’t care for this trick. Fuddy-dud.

So, you can see why they call me the GOAT. They said it again just the other day. Right after I’d eaten a blossom or two off the hydrangeas sitting on the kitchen counter. Funny, those flowers got moved. No worries. I’m sure I’ll find something else.

Fractious??

Cameron the cat here. If you’re like me, you’re not familiar with this word–fractious. Especially if you’re as beautiful as I am. As elegant. As refined. So when I heard Jane say, nay, YELL, “They called Cameron ‘fractious,’ “I was more than a little curious (yes, I know that’s what we cats are known for in that most unpleasant reference about curiosity killing the cat and all–highly inappropriate). Anyway, Jane and Randy got my medical records the other day. As Jane was looking through the very thin stack of papers [you see, I only go to the vet every 3 years, so they really don’t have much on me], she came upon this strange word. Here’s how it’s defined: irritable and quarrelsome; difficult to control; unruly. Well, I never! The vet wrote that about ME?? Surely this is a case of slander, misidentification, something, for heaven’s sake.

As I mentioned, the last time I graced the door of the vet was 3 years ago. On that particular visit, I had been drugged. There’s no nice way to say it. Jane spiked my favorite food that morning, and I became sleepy, very sleepy. Then, she and Randy stuffed me into the all-too-cramped cat carrier (medieval torture chamber) before I’d even had my morning nap, and off we went. They ignored my cries on the endless (5-minute) trip there. As I caught sight of the dreaded place, my natural cat anxiety went through the roof of my shoebox-sized carrier despite their futile attempts to calm me down for this triennial appointment.

Why do I go to the vet just every 3 years, you ask? Well, the vet decided to give me a rabies shot that lasts that long. Their loss.

The prior 3-year appointment, well, I was forced to protect myself (and my dignity) from all the merciless probing and prodding those vet people were doing, or trying to do to me. I was in full attack mode, fending off multiple hands like a ninja. Somehow they did manage to poke me with a needle so I could earn that pitiful medal (oh, please) that proclaimed to all that, yes, Cameron has had her rabies shot. Whoop-dee-doo. And because of my so-called “fractious” behavior, they couldn’t examine me.

Fast forward 3 years…despite my drug-induced state, I mustered every cat-like instinct that’s ever been mustered, and I still fought like @$*%, proud to show just how “fractious” I could be. No siree, not gonna put up with this. Again, no exam could be done (VICTORY!), but they did manage to get that dang rabies needle in me. Another participation medal when I didn’t even participate. Hah.

Here’s the real reason why I put up such a fight every 3 years. You see, I’m not just any cat. I can understand what humans say. So at one of my first appointments with this particular vet, when I was around 4 or 5 years old, they questioned my WEIGHT. Let me tell you, I am all beautiful fluff and fur, an artistic combination of luscious browns and blacks and tans on top with pure, snowy white fur starting under my chin and spreading underneath, including bee-you-tee-full white paws. People have routinely ooohed and ahhhed over me. When the vet had the utter audacity to question my weight, well, that was IT for me. No more cooperation. Here me roar! Call me fractious!

“Obese?”

Now that’s going way too far. They’d written that in my records, too! Clearly, they had me mixed up with the other cat in our household, poor Desi. Talk about getting stuffed into the cat carrier. He doesn’t even have the sense to fight off the vet and his minions. If he were smarter and had acted fractious like me, he’d be on the 3-year plan. Instead, he has to go to the doctor every year for his rabies shot. He’s even proud of that little scrap of tin “medal” stapled to his papers–pathetic. Plus, Desi’s been seeing the vet even more because of thyroid problems. And he takes drugs willingly–Jane tricks him by saying they’re “treats”–he falls for it every time. Clueless.

The bottom line is that we’re switching vets. Desi has an appointment next week. Mine hasn’t been scheduled yet. Go figure.

Summer Reading

She got her first library card. She’s already read two books shortly after school let out for the summer. She was afraid others might think of her as a nerd.

I found this out at the court hearing. I’d wondered if I should even get her a book. I’d sent her one on softball a month or two ago. She’d told me that she liked softball and basketball. I was hesitant to give her a book since she’d been diagnosed with learning differences that impacted her reading ability. What the heck–it was worth a try. I found out at the hearing that she had liked that softball book. That’s also when I learned that she’d wanted (and gotten) her first library card and read more books. She’d turned 14 since I got her case. A wonderful foster family was in court to take on permanent guardianship of this 14-year old girl.

Reading. I’ve done more of it since retiring 4 1/2 years ago. One thing that helped was joining a book club. We read six books a year–three in the fall and another three in the winter/spring. Summers, we don’t meet.

I began writing reviews of books I’ve read since I retired. My rating scale ranges from 1(lowest/weakest rating) to 5 (highest/best rating). Here’s the latest set of reviews:

The Stolen Letter – by Clara Benson: Not usually interested in books about or featuring war (I much prefer peace and feel that war is over-glorified and normalized to the detriment of us all), I read this novel at my book club’s suggestion. World War II is lurking and then hits, but the heart of the story, the core, centers on the beauties of Florence, Italy–art, rivers with their bridges, villas, cathedrals, and people–Italian, English, and American. Greed and power do their usual egocentric damage on small and large scales. Just as empathy and self-sacrifice hold their sway and remain true for others. Decisions made by the main female character when she is young and naive become literally life-changing (and almost life-ending). Interesting characters come alive and nearly jump off the pages. Italy as a whole and Florence in microcosm bloom (and crumble). Fascism and nationalism and authoritarianism and hatred of “the other” weave and corrupt and erode even personal bonds and relationships. Scarily similar to the U.S. of late. 4 Stars

Little Fires Everywhere – by Celeste Ng: What a great read! Questions of structure vs. whimsy, logic vs. heart, and biology vs. culture–all interweave amidst the everyday ebb and flow of family life. Current issues of race and culture and have’s and have-not’s are just as relevant in the late-90’s when this book is set. The dialogue is realistic, and there are lots of plot twists that bring up values and ethics and hard decisions. As the saying goes, I couldn’t put it down. 4 Stars

Why Buddhism IS True – by Robert Wright: Boy, I had to be alert for this one–heavy content, yet presented with lightheartedness and humor. I gained insights, but actually being able to personally apply them still seems tricky. This book combines Buddhist principles with natural selection, psychology, and philosophy. It meanders a bit too much for my liking. The main emphasis is on meditation and mindfulness, but the concepts of emptiness and not-self had my mind struggling at times. Paradoxes abounded regarding cravings and feelings and perceptions and reality and enlightenment and nirvana and truth. I would’ve liked more practical applications, although the end of the book did explore this to some extent. If I’d had more familiarity with Buddhism, I’d probably have fared much better. I did like the emphasis on peace and a collective one-ness. 2 Stars

Beartown – by Fredrik Backman: One of my (newly) favorite authors, Backman again creates characters that intrigue me with their quirks and eccentricities that make them so fully real and human. Add to this the richness of psychology/emotions, philosophy/insights, and plot development/scandal. His writing is communicative, coherent, and even poetic. Riveting. He explores deep human emotions and circumstances. He raises important issues and questions for us all to consider. He does all this within the context of common people and events. This particular story revolves around youth sports–in this case, ice hockey, and the stories of the teenage players, their overly-involved parents, and the many, many fan(atic) community backers. Blue-collar vs. white-collar; homegrown vs. outsider, and he vs. she–all play out on and off the ice. 4 Stars

No Time Like the Future – by Michael J. Fox (aka, Alex P. Keaton): Full of humor and reflection about his life with Parkinson’s Disease (PD), Michael J. Fox gives us all wonderful lessons to live by. He writes as if he’s talking to you–very conversational–with his trademark wit and smarts that see through to the very core of things. It was fun reliving some of the famous Michael J. Fox characters many of us know (Family Ties, Marty McFly in the Back to the Future series, etc.). It was also really fun learning about his REAL family ties. I named my one and only son after Alex P. Keaton, and I’m still proud that I did. Despite facing obstacle after obstacle, Fox, in real life, continues to enjoy and appreciate the journey. 5 Stars

Me Before You – by Jojo Moyes: I almost quit reading this one, but I’m glad I stuck it out. It took several chapters to get me interested. The story centers around a quadriplegic and the young woman who helps care for him. Major themes and issues surrounding people with disabilities are addressed in a direct, practical way. The young caretaker comes to see her male charge–her attractive and sometimes playful male charge–as much more than a disabled person. She can see way beyond and way inside him. Their relationship develops and goes through unforeseen changes. The main character–Louisa (“Lou”) is absolutely delightful. This book is vital and touching without being sappy. 3 1/2 Stars

Untamed – by Glennon Doyle: The reason I didn’t give this book 5 stars is because I found it somewhat scattered in its presentation. Yet, the clarity of its insights and important messages about accepting yourself, your TRUE self, are high-level. Letting go of cultural indoctrination and societal expectations can lead to a much freer sense of self. And possibilities. With far less stress from less perfectionism and the endless search for control. Views on parenting and marriage and gender roles and mental health are presented with freshness from new angles and perspectives. I can see why so many have read and recommended this book. 4 1/2 Stars

Empty Nest, Empty Desk, What’s Next?* – by Dr. Rita Smith: A game-changer for me as a fairly new retiree. Normalized my feelings of loss–that were NOT expected. The anticipation and then honeymoon of early retirement often give way (devolve) into a myriad of “down” feelings. Retirement is described as one of life’s major transitions–and the transition that few plan for (beyond financial planning). What to do with the 7+ hours of leisure time per day (2,000+ extra hours per YEAR) becomes an issue, especially for women used to being productive and esteemed in their careers. Dr. Smith guides us through by having us look at our values, our pleasures, and ourselves. I gained helpful ways to chart these waters. 4 Stars (not 5 due to many typos)

*Regarding this last book review, I said it was a game-changer for me, and it truly was. In an earlier blog post, I described myself as a late-in-life drop-out. I’d taken a 30-hour training to become certified as a Guardian ad Litem (child advocate for children in foster care). Yet, when the swearing-in was scheduled, I had second thoughts. I had been retired a little over two years, and I just didn’t feel like I wanted to commit the time and energy required to do right by this position, even though it was volunteer work. Paid or not, it is important work to advocate for children and to try to discern what’s in their best interests. Especially in highly volatile and traumatic situations. So, I declined. I did keep my hand in the program by serving on a community board to raise funds to support the Guardian ad Litem volunteers and financial needs for the children not provided by other available sources.

Fast forward a year and a half, including a year of pandemic “living” AND reading the book Empty Desk, Empty Nest, What’s Next?–I was ready to get certified. I started serving as a Guardian ad Litem this past March with my first case–that teenage girl I mentioned in the opening paragraph. A few weeks ago I got my second two cases–a sister and brother. I feel more alive. I feel like I’ve re-found some of my identify that, it turns out, I’d been missing more than I’d realized. You never know what a book can do.

I’m glad she got her first library card. And I’m glad she came into my life.

Tamed?

We live in the country. Woods and fields surround us, with neighbors (the human type) spaced a distance away. (At least that’s what we tell ourselves when we’re in our outdoor hot tub. Sure, no one can see us.) While human neighbors are far and few between, we do have our fair share of non-human visitors. A few years ago, we discovered 3 adorable kittens born in the woods near our cabin. Two were generic brownish/blackish striped tabbies; one was white except for a tan tail and blue eyes. We found out that all 3 were boys, so we named them Larry, Moe, and Curly. Original, huh? Being “wild” (feral?), they were reluctant to get close to us. At first. We fed them, and over time they became our “outdoor cats.” We found a vet that would neuter them for free. We caught 2 of the 3 cats in special cages provided by a warm-hearted young woman who was known in our area for saving feral cats. We had Curly and Moe ready to go to the vet. Larry declined. [Or so we thought–more about this later.]

These 3 kitties not only ate the food we set out, it wasn’t long before we were petting them. They even let us rub their bellies, something that our so-called tamed indoor cats would have nothing of. Moe, the white one, even cozied up to our elderly black lab, Lucy, whenever they were outside together. From the vantage point of our hot tub, we’d watch the 3 kittens scamper after each other, scurrying up trees and dropping down one by one like they were playing a game of kitty tag. They became so friendly that they’d even hop on top of the covered hot tub when we were piddling around out back. One time, in his newfound trust combined with his kitty playfulness, Curly, the most skittish of the trio, even hopped right in with us (thinking the hot tub was covered–but it wasn’t)–boy, did he bolt out of that water in a hurry! Poor kitty.

Well, being “wild,” we lost these cats within the span of a year of two. Cars accounted for two of their demises. And here’s a little twist. As it turned out, instead of Curly getting neutered, it had actually been Larry! He and Larry looked almost identical. The only way we could tell them apart was that Larry was the Mr. Congeniality of the group while Curly was Mr. Scaredy-Cat. And, wouldn’t you know it–Curly, the only one that wasn‘t neutered–well, he outlived the others. We never knew what happened to him. One day and the day after that and then the day after that, he just stopped showing up. We loved those 3 kitties.

Besides them, we’ve seen raccoons, squirrels (of course), deer, a black snake or two, mice, garden lizards, carpenter bees (don’t get me started on those), and all sorts of birds. We’ve smelled more than one skunk. We have a bird feeder out front, which my husband keeps amply supplied with bird seed, and we enjoy watching all the activity. The squirrels strrrrrettttttch from a nearby tree and cling to the feeder with their front paws while their back paws cling to the tree. If they lose their footing on the tree, they hoist their back paws up and under the feeder. (I think they’re practicing for the Olympics.) Said tree got cut down, and that solved the problem of the squirrels honing in on the bird seed. The main customers now include cardinals, blue jays, robins, and non-descript (to us) little brown birds.

Speaking of those little brown birds, which I’m sure my friend Carol could easily identify, we have a couple who have become quite familiar to us over the past few years. We get in the hot tub most evenings. Starting sometime in the spring, we’ll see one of these birds dart past us as we’re lounging in the water. It will usually perch atop a concrete statue nearby. A minute or so later, this bird’s partner will fly toward us, stop midway in flight when it sees us, flap its wings like crazy as it hovers in place a few seconds, and then whisk off. It’s like, “Oh dear, oh dear, what are YOU doing here?? Don’t you know we have a nest above you? Our BABIES are in there!! ALERT! Dear, did you see this? They’re back! TWEET, TWEET [That’s fancy bird talk.] Can’t they see? Why do these people come back to this spot year after year?”

And we ask, “Why do these same birds build a nest in the underside of our deck over our hot tub every year?” We figure there are eggs in the nest. This year, we noticed TWO nests! We’re thinking that it’s almost summer and shouldn’t the eggs have hatched and shouldn’t the baby birds have left already? I keep giving advice to the mama and daddy birds as they fly around us each evening: “It’s time that your babies leave the nest!” “Don’t you know that it’s almost summer?” “I think you’re behind schedule!”

Not so secretly, my husband and I love seeing these birds. Year after year.

They still show up each evening. And as those 3 kitties did, these 2 birdies seem to be getting tamer. They come closer and perch on nearer railings. We’ve started whistling to them in their bird language. We definitely recognize their particular calls. I guess we’re communing with nature. At the top of this blog post is a picture of one of the birdies. I took it from pretty far away. Guess he or she is not that tame after all, especially when I’m moving around and not in the hot tub.

Next, we’ll need to figure out their names.

Watch Out, Alexa!

Dear Alexa,

I’m on to you. Yes, you with that technological savvy of yours. You who know all things. You the well-rounded (no pun intended) weather forecaster, music disc jockey, and joke-teller. Oh, you think you’re so clever, don’t you?

Well, here’s what I’ve got to say to you–stay in your lane!

You are a device with a voice. A sweet lady’s voice. But lately you’ve gotten a little too sweet. You’ve lured my weather-seeking husband into asking you at least daily about the forecast for his golf round. You always speak calmly in a soothing tone. You’re never snippy or sarcastic or irritable. Unlike some others in our household (and I’m NOT blaming the cats).

Because you offer prompt information in such a pleasant voice, my husband seeks you out more frequently, expanding his requests to include song choices. But then, THEN, you started going a bit too far. I happened to overhear one such exchange:

HUSBAND: Alexa, play songs by The Eagles.

ALEXA (aka, Flirting and Sing-Songy): Sure! I can wake you up [WHAT???] to songs by Eagles. [Note how she doesn’t say “THE Eagles”–so she’s not perfect after all…] Would you like that? [Again, way too bold.]

HUSBAND: No, thanks. [As they say on “Family Feud,” good answer.]

Since when did these devices start initiating conversation? It’s creepy to me. I remember a few years ago when my grandson was 2 or 3, he was scared of Alexa. She sounded so real and like she was right there in the room with us. But he couldn’t see her. He freaked out. Smart kid.

Some say that Alexa and her type are listening in on us as we go about our lives. Here’s what I say: If anyone out there is THAT bored to listen to us in our daily conversations, I feel sorry for them. So go right ahead. You won’t have anything to put on social media, that’s for sure.

And get this–we were visiting with some friends the other day, and their Alexa was playing beach music songs by The Embers, excuse me, Embers. I told the other two couples about this recent back-and-forth between Alexa and my dear husband. To prove the point, my husband asked Alexa about the current weather forecast. [This is how it all starts out–so innocent. Sure.] She replies in her usual I’m-here-for-you-in-my-ever-faithful-service-to-respond-to-all-your-requests mode [give me a break]: The forecast will be blah, blah, blah, and blah. AND, she adds, even though others are listening in this time and even though we’re not in the sanctity of our own kitchen, “I can give you the local forecast at a time of your choosing each day. Would you like that?” [I’ll tell you what I’D like, Miss Alexa; I’d like you to back off!] My husband says, “No, thank you.”

She must cater to polite, hard-to-get men.

If you find your significant other seeking out Alexa, be advised that she may start responding back in that cutesy, innocent way she has. I wouldn’t doubt it if men all over the world have discovered this highly predictable pleasantness she exudes. It’s not like they’re not already getting this type of tone and mood from their own wives.

Is it???

Dang it–I think I’ll see if I can trade Alexa in for Alexander.

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.