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Senior Moments: Reflections from a New Retiree

This is the post excerpt.

I retired a few years ago after working as a school psychologist for a little over 30 years. I want to express my thoughts and feelings in 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, reading, family, and issues I find on my mind.

As I figure it, I’m in the last half, third, or fourth of my life. Concerning life in halves, Priest Richard Rohr writes 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 (kind of like in the play “Our Town”). If we want to think of life in thirds, I figure with people living longer, the thirds would be birth to 30, 30 to 60, and finally 60 to 90. I’m in the final third. Looking at life in fourths, there could 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’ve written about all sorts of topics in the last few years:  from a life-changing trip to Africa to a life-challenging medical diagnosis; serious topics like politics and values to the ultimate in frivolity when my cat Cameron has her say; book reviews, reflections about family (past and present), and what to do (or not to do) in retirement. I know that, at first, being retired felt like floating without a tether (picture Sandra Bullock in the movie “Gravity”). Scary. I’ve felt more grounded as the months and years have gone by, although there have been unforeseen bumps in the road with more ahead. As my philosophical grandson has said, “That’s just life.” I find that sharing–the good, the bad; the life-affirming, the mind-boggling; the comical, the tragic–brings out the “human” in me and makes me feel connected in some way to others out there who might also be feeling somewhat the same. Not alone.

I hope you’ll join me.

Comfort in the Uncomfortable

From the moment we heard the news, we were sad, very sad. And uncomfortable.

My husband had known them for almost 40 years. I came on the scene much later but regarded them as good friends. Very good friends. We stayed with them; we shared joys and sorrows; we were close.

Close enough to know of their many tragedies. Her first husband died in a car accident when their son and daughter were young. Tragedy #1. A photo and phone call later, She came to know our friend, Him. Six months later they were married. Sometime later, a new baby boy made three children in the home. Until that baby boy died after five short days of life due to a heart defect. Tragedy #2. My husband, their friend and pastor, presided over the funeral.

A few years later, another baby boy was born. Things were fine–until they weren’t. He wasn’t growing in the usual way. As he went through childhood and his teenage years, he was given growth hormones. Still, he didn’t look quite right. Yet, he hiked and skied and went to college. He grew his wavy hair long to cover his oversized head and to hide hearing aides. As he was taking out the trash one morning, he died. He was 28. Tragedy #3. By this time, this family had become my close friends, too. My husband presided at the funeral of their second son.

The two children from Her first marriage were grown and working. In fact, they and their spouses ended up working at the family business, which had grown in scope to earn them all a comfortable living. Outright success, by financial standards. All was well, until His brother, His only sibling who was also a business partner, committed suicide. Tragedy #4.

We continued to keep up with this couple. We continued to feel close to this couple. When our political leanings became apparent, we chose to talk about other topics. We still loved each other. We still felt like “family.” On one of our visits a few years ago, we found out the heartbreaking news that both of the wife’s grown children and their spouses had a major “falling out” and cut themselves (and the two grandchildren) completely off from our friends. Tragedy #5. We’re not privy to all the details, but religious differences seemed to be involved.

I’ve written about my own son not keeping in touch with me as much as I’d like. This is nothing compared to what happened to our friends. My son takes my calls, responds to my texts, and we see each other. He says he loves me. He paints pictures for me. I have it so good compared to our friends who have been shut out from their children’s and grandchildren’s lives.

We got the call a little over a week ago. It was Him. He texted that his wife, the love of his life, died at 4:30 that afternoon. She was in her 60’s; not old, not previously sick. Our friend requested no calls. My husband responded to His text, and He texted back these five letters: COVID.

We drove the five hours to the funeral. We had learned that the husband, the now-deceased wife, and the husband’s 95-year old mother all had gone through COVID. All had been severely ill. Two out of three survived. None were vaccinated. This was something we would disagree about, and we hadn’t talked about it with them. So, mixed in with our grief over our friend’s untimely passing was the question of whether She might have survived if She’d gotten the COVID vaccine. The statistics say She’d have had a better chance.

Tragedy #6.

And here’s another way sadness and discomfort mixed. The funeral was held in a state and specific county where vaccine rates and mask-wearing continue to be low. Simplistic religion prevails among many: “God’s will” and “faith” and “when it’s your time” and a “better place.” Versus God’s will to provide us with brains to make sensible decisions. Versus faith in scientific research that creates life-saving medicines. Versus taking personal responsibility to prevent your own untimely death (and the untimely death of others). Versus making THIS place here on earth a better place. Those are some of the discomforts we were feeling. We wanted to be there (literally) for our friend. And we did go, and my husband presided and eulogized as he had for two other funerals.

Another discomfort had to do with the estranged part of the family–the wife’s son and daughter, their spouses, and the two grandchildren. We knew them; we liked them. We wondered if they’d been made aware of their mother’s COVID infection. We don’t know. The husband did tell us that He had informed them of their mother’s passing. He thought they would be at the funeral.

He sent us a copy of the wife’s obituary. None of Her children, their spouses, or the two grandchildren were mentioned. Uncomfortable, to say the least. None of them attended their mother’s/grandmother’s funeral. Tragedy #7.

We were two of just a handful of people who wore masks at the funeral. Uncomfortable. So uncomfortable that we started out NOT wearing them. We hoped our vaccines would protect us. Uncomfortable. We connected with the husband, and He was truly heartfelt in thanking us for coming and for my husband giving a sermon/eulogy for our dear friend. My husband and He did mention the wife’s son, daughter, and grandchildren in the service. For all to hear. Except the ones who were missing. Except the ones who needed to hear.

The chapel was overflowing with friends and other family members. We were told to sit with the family, and when my husband finished his part of the service, he joined me in the last row of the reserved section. And you’d think with all these family tragedies, all this heartache, well, it would all be so sad.

We did shed tears. The funeral took place on the exact date of our friends’ 40th wedding anniversary. In-between crying, we laughed. We laughed as we heard story after story about all of the wife’s adventures and gullibility and forgetfulness mingled with her ability to make every one of us feel oh so special and loved. She hosted us all. She cooked for all of us. She would scoop up a spider to set free outside at the same time Her husband was out hunting. She babied her dogs and let them sleep in His and Her bed until a tick mysteriously appeared on Her forehead one morning. Her clothes went missing after She arrived at a friend’s house for a weekend visit, only to discover that She’d failed to latch the compartment in the truck bed. She kidded a thin friend about causing the porch swing to break where they’d been sitting together, one ending up on top of the other as a side gave way.

So many stories. So many friends. So many memories. Just as the porch swing had given way under pressure, so did our discomfort give way under the pressure of tragedy and heartache. It gave way to humanity and oneness–despite masks or no masks; despite vaccines or no vaccines; despite hurt feelings and missing family members.

In reflecting on all this, I realized how good I have it. My perception of being not as close as I would like to my own son doesn’t hold a candle to the abject heartbreak and tragedy this other family has experienced. My perspective has changed. I have it good, and I need to appreciate that. They have had it bad in so many ways, but they still managed to see lots and lots of good. And they have shared that good with us and others year after year. We were part of their family; and they ours.

I did see my son over the weekend. We ate together. Right before my husband and I drove to the funeral.

A Special Place

It was a little church. Literally overflowing and bulging at the seams when I married the preacher. You see, he’d been single for 20+ years since his first day as their pastor. Oh, many other potential wives came before me, hoping to snatch this handsome pastor. Some sat up front, a Bible placed in a prominent place to be easily seen from the pulpit. One girlfriend even danced with my now-husband during a Sunday service, as they demonstrated a sermon illustration. As fate would have it, these other women came and went. Good for me!

I came on the scene when we were both in our 50’s. As I wrote in a previous blog post, we met at a dance. It wasn’t long before I started attending his church. A small church with about 60-75 active members–most regulars with their own specific pews, though unmarked, known as “theirs.” Sure, they’d always make room for a visitor. Which I was about 14 years ago. I’d told him (my boyfriend–“the preacher”) that I would be coming to the service that Sunday, and I asked his advice on where to sit. He promptly replied, “With my mother.” So I did–second row from the back on the right hand side (just happened to be where I always sat with my grandmother). Hmmm.

As I walked towards the front door of this little brick church with the white doors, three or four men smoking out front greeted me warmly. Entering the building, it was the same (minus the smoking). Friendly, welcoming folks were everywhere. Including my future mother-in-law.

It wasn’t long before I was in the choir–going to the Wednesday evening practices and loving the fun, relaxed rehearsals. From the moment I got to this special place, it felt like home. As the months went by, I came to know all the people. They had the preacher and me over to dinner, and I was even invited to sing with another couple, joining my now-husband to make a quartet out of a former trio. We’re still singing together.

As it turned out, the choir director/organist’s husband was the liturgist (lay reader) one Sunday after the preacher and I had been dating a little over a year. Before he began the scripture reading, he said this–on the microphone–from the pulpit–first turning towards my preacher boyfriend: “If you don’t ask Jane to marry you, I’m leaving this church!” Everyone gasped and laughed. I’m sure I turned three shades of red. Now that I think about it, this man who laid down the gauntlet, so to speak, well, he and his family are BIG Duke fans, like I was and still am. I think that was the real reason he wanted the preacher to marry me.

Anyway, it wasn’t long until we were engaged! As I said earlier, people who hadn’t been to church in a while made sure they were at our wedding to see who in the world this bachelor preacher was finally marrying. Standing room only, even out the front door. One dear, longstanding female church member later told me, “You were the only one we really liked out of all the women he dated!”

It’s been 12 1/2 years since that wonderful wedding day. Through those years, we sang Christmas and Easter cantatas, sometimes with a small mostly African-American church in our little town. We had St. Patrick’s Day auctions–one time I wanted the homemade Italian Cream cake so badly that the sky was the limit–it was worth every penny; another year I got outbid on a Bob Timberlake Christmas painting by a couple who later gave it to me as a Christmas gift. We enjoyed numerous potluck lunches after church with crock pot meatballs and fresh green beans and homemade pies and cakes–everybody bringing their specialties. Me–corn pudding. As I always told people, “That’s the only thing I know how to make.” There were ice cream socials. And Saturday Night Alive, an attempt to offer a contemporary service option. In one of these services, my new preacher-husband even did a “Gangnam Style” routine by the Korean artist Psy–hilarious! Our little quartet sang in church from time to time. I was always nervous. We had a Fourth of July lunch and celebration at our house, plus some Christmas dinners. We taught Sunday School–an adult class where the class discussed and shared to gain insight and understanding. We decorated the church for Christmas, and many women added lovely new Chrismon ornaments to the tree. Greenery and red ribbons adorned the glass-stained window sills. Large wreaths went up. It was beautiful.

My husband was their preacher for 25 years until he retired four years ago. They decided to merge with another small church in our town. A few weeks ago, a yard sale took place at the old church. You see, the land had been sold. My husband preached in the merged church, also just a few weeks ago. He was filling in, since a new pastor wouldn’t start until another week. And, then, on my husband’s birthday this past week, on the very day of his birthday, big machinery leveled our former church. Making way for something else, something new to be built there. We were in another town celebrating his birthday when this happened. We got word (and pictures) of the tearing down via text and Facebook. It was sad. I guess it usually is sad at the end of an era.

I drove by it for the first time this afternoon. That’s why I wanted to write about this little church. I have so many wonderful, meaningful memories of what took place there. My husband has many, many more after being there 25 years. The two beautiful Crape Myrtle trees were standing in front of the wreckage. I’ve always loved those trees. Today, as I drove by, I could’ve sworn that their full, white blossoms that were so radiant just the other day were now turned inward. I wonder if they’re bowing, ever reverent for this dear, dear place. A place that I’ll always cherish and never forget.

The Silence

I wrote another book review a few years ago. One that I never published. A book I told only a few others about, even though it was one of my favorites. I remained silent. Until now. Until the tears came yet again. And I decided that maybe other people can relate.

The book? Done with the Crying by Sheri McGregor, M.A. Subtitled “Help and Healing for Mothers of Estranged Adult Children.” I gave it 5 stars–my highest rating. Here’s the review I wrote but am just now publishing–breaking the silence.

“This book was a Godsend for me. Truly eye-opening. Truly affirming. I read it within a week or so. I did the exercises. I wrote direct quotes down in a journal. I even changed my ways during and shortly after I’d read it. Changes to break the cycle of despair, of clinging, and of seeking my self-worth through the uncontrollable words and actions of another. In this case, my own son. A son I thought would be the same sweet child I thought I once had. With such little time spent together all these many years, my idealized image is just that. Truth is, I don’t really know. What I do know is the facts–the very occasional phone calls, the one-way street that never makes a relationship, the lack of gratitude, the evasiveness, and, most hurtful, the sheer indifference. I’ve known (literally) unspeakable heartbreak year after year. This book also affirmed other things I know–I was and am a good mother and a giving/kind person. I will move forward and be grateful and positive.”

Chapter 1 – The Early Daze Chapter 2 – Why? Chapter 3 – Get the Support You Need Chapter 4 – Ready, Set, Prepare Chapter 5 – See Your Feelings in a New Light Chapter 6 – Managing Effects on the Family Chapter 7 – What Does It Mean to Reconcile? Chapter 8 – Life Goes On Chapter 9 – Walk Forward

I also signed up for the author’s blog, http://www.RejectedParents.NET. In sharing her own experience with one of her adult children cutting her off, McGregor soon found that thousands had similar stories. And pain. As of the writing of Done with the Crying published in 2016, more than 9,000 parents had completed a survey she’d put out, documenting their own estrangements. As with so many problems, learning that you’re not alone is comforting. Yet, this is still largely a silent phenomenon, one that we just don’t talk about or reveal.

I found out today that I’m not “done with the crying.” I guess it’s the grief process still at work within me. I think this was triggered by a similar mother/son situation I saw in a Netflix series last night. Stirred up feelings I thought were healed by now. You know how people comment about not knowing what to say to someone who has lost a loved one? They don’t want to bring up such a sad and sensitive subject that might cause the grieving person to relive that pain. Well, as one going through this particular type of grief and as I’ve heard many others say, don’t worry about bringing such-and-such up–he/she’s always on my mind. You may not cry as often; your thoughts may not go to that place as much; but that lost person is still at the forefront of your grief.

Apart from a few trusted others and, perhaps, a trained counselor, this particular problem usually goes unshared. It’s downright embarrassing, and you think that many will question your parenting skills. Even question you as a “nice” person.

With estrangement, there’s not the day-to-day “what’s up” and “how are you” and “is it sunny where you are” conversations. At least not very often. Holidays, birthdays, and other special occasions are very difficult. The rare get-togethers seem awkward. It’s almost like, where do we start? Or start over?

It’s the same type of dynamic with losing a friend, especially one that you’ve had for a long time. You never thought that friendship would end. When it does, especially when you have no idea or can’t think of any good reason why it ended, well, that’s such a hard loss.

One remedy we’re told is to seek out others who have stuck with us, others who support us and appreciate us. Still, there’s that hole, that irreplaceable hole.

For me, the hardest part is the silence. The silence that comes from the one you’ve lost. And the silence you have from your end because this is something that few parents will admit they’re going through. So you keep it to yourself. You stay silent. Reading McGregor’s book was helpful, and I recommend it. It is my hope that we can be more open about this issue with each other so that none of us will feel quite so alone in it. If you’re not in this boat, realize that others may be.

GALs

I wrote a previous blog about “dropping out,” and I’ve also written about dropping back in (or at least alluded to this a few times). Last March, 2021, I took the plunge and became an official, certified Guardian ad Litem (GAL)–a legal term that means I volunteer to advocate for kids who find themselves placed in foster care. Children in such circumstances are there because of abuse and/or neglect. Each state has a system whereby a trained community volunteer (in my state, a Guardian ad Litem) is assigned to children to oversee their well-being during the time they are in others’ care. Some states refer to this person as a CASA–Court Appointed Special Advocate.

I was trained along with about 7 others in my local county. Some of the training was in person; some was on-line. This was 2 years ago. Some that were trained with me were college students, some were actively working in various fields, and some were retired like me. Some are women, some are men. No specific background is required. No specific age or gender. Just a desire to support kids and reassure them that you want to get to know them and support them. You want to represent their wishes and their needs. This requires monthly contacts and responding to questions in writing that then go to the Family Court Judge, attorneys, and social workers involved.

My role as a GAL is primarily that of an observer. I observe how the child is doing over time from one month to the next. I work with the county social worker assigned to the child, and we share information. I get to sit in on meetings concerning the child’s welfare. I am also allowed to see medical, psychological, and school records on the child.

Confidentiality is a key component of this volunteer work.

Since I started about 6 months ago, I have had 3 children to get to know. The first was a teenager who had been in foster care for nearly 4 years. Parental substance abuse was the initial reason for this situation, and it continued as the reason despite attempt after attempt to help the parents. Eventually, a loving foster family wanted to assume “permanent guardianship” after a year of fostering and coming to love this young teen, who had become part of this stable family. The teen’s school attendance and grades had improved dramatically. Behavior improved significantly. Happiness replaced irritability. Playfulness bubbled up instead of undue worrying. And covering. Medical care led to normal hearing after years of failed hearing screenings and neglected follow-up. Most importantly, a child perpetrator had been thwarted due to this caring, attentive, and observant foster family and the watchful eyes of all involved. Working together on this child’s behalf were the foster family, social worker, guardian ad litem, judge, attorneys, medical professionals, therapists, exceptional children’s teacher, other teachers, school counselor, school social worker, and principal. ALL carefully observing and watching this child who, for years prior, was neglected. Her physical and emotional needs unmet. Until now, thanks to folks working together. And thanks to a loving family who took her in.

Before I forget, I want to recommend a Netlix series entitled “Anne with an E.” It’s about a young teenage orphan girl, who comes into a family (of sorts) at Green Gables. Wonderfully written and acted with breathtaking scenery.

I now have 2 siblings in 2 separate placements for whom I advocate. The progress they both have made in just a few months time is astounding and heartening. I am getting to know them, and they know that I am supporting them. I gain so much from just trying to see to their needs and wishes.

So, if you want to help in this way, I encourage you to look into the Guardian ad Litem (GAL) or Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) program in your area. As I mentioned, this type of program is in every state, every county. Volunteers are much needed. You WILL make a difference in the life of a child. And your own life.

One more note. I am on the board of a group that supports the GALs in my area. This group is called SOGAL–Supporters Of Guardians Ad Litem. We raise funds for foster children to fill in expenses that are not covered by the Department of Social Services. Some money also goes to support the GAL volunteers (for example, gas cards). A way you could support SOGAL is to list it as your charity of choice under Amazon Smile. When you order what you’d normally order on Amazon, just do it through Amazon Smile, and Amazon donates a percentage of their profits to this charitable group. The address for SOGAL is: SOGAL, P.O. Box 33, Clemmons, NC 27012.

Finally (I promise!), SOGAL is sponsoring a golf tournament! We need more teams! Here are the details:

WHEN – Friday, September 24, 2021, Lunch at Noon, Play starts at 1:00

WHERE – Meadowlands Golf Club, 542 Meadowlands Dr., Winston-Salem, NC 27107

COST – $60/player; $240/foursome

PERKS – Chance to win a new car for hole-in-one! Cash Prizes for top 3 teams, Gift Cards for golf for closest to pin, longest drive, and longest putt; Catered Lunch, Snacks/Drinks, Raffle, Tee (Goody) Bags, Silent Auction

For more information, contact Meadowlands Golf Club at (336) 769-1011.

A Tale of Two Kitties

First of all, a disclaimer: the picture you see of two kitties, well, the orange cat, looks WAY better than Desi. On the other hand, I, Cameron, look far BETTER than that other cat pictured. Now, on with the tale. As I’m the elder (and wiser) cat in the household, I’ll let Desi have his say first about the new vet. Please realize he tends to be quite naive, oblivious, and way too innocent.

Desi here! WOW, did I ever like the new vet AND the pretty assistant, who cooed and fawned over me. I let her pet me as much as she wanted, especially since she kept saying how “sweet” I was. She said I was “such a good boy,” and she just couldn’t get enough of me! She even said I was “pretty,” in sharp contrast to that other vet listing my “general description” as “abnormal.” At the end, she said she wished she could take me home with her. Maybe I can visit her. Meanwhile, I got to explore the room, and I loved looking out the window. I enjoyed sniffing all the scents of the animals that had been there before me. When the vet came in, he was so friendly! I let him touch me and look in my ears and listen to my heart and give me my Rabies vaccine. I didn’t even whimper. While everyone was talking after the check-up, I calmly climbed back in my carrier and settled down for a little nap. Can’t wait to see these kind folks again! I got my rabies certificate and medal! And, hey, they even thought my weight was ok!

Ok, ok–that’s enough. Cameron, the voice of reality, is back to give my side of what really happened. The night before my appointment, they did it again. Yep, they tried to drug me. Instead of going down to the basement as I usually do, they put me in the garage for the night. My canned food (my favorite) was there before me as they closed the door. The next morning, Jane opened the garage door and let me back in the house. My food, my favorite food, was still in the bowl. Uneaten. Except for a teensy nibble that I’d spit out about six feet away. The clear liquid they’d squirted on my food did NOT fool me. I was NOT going to be drugged. Been there, done that when I last went to the vet three years ago. NOT again.

I heard them say there was no use in trying to give me the second dose the day of my appointment. YES, victory! I let Jane put me in the cat carrier (again, way too uncomfortable with absolutely no amenities AND the smell of Desi from a few weeks prior). I let out all sorts of defiant guttural noises the whole way to the vet. I reached way down in my throat to make these scary sounds–they’d never heard anything like it. But they kept on driving. Oh well, it was worth a try. I only stopped when the car stopped. I chilled out a bit in the waiting area. Yeah, psych them out–let them think I was going to be a good kitty. Sure.

Once in the room, I got out of the torture chamber (cat carrier) and was met with one offensive smell after another. I spotted a window to plan my escape, jumping up and checking out other poor cat and dog victims being led under one type of restraint after another. “Somebody call the ASPCA,” I growled. Yes, cats growl. I’m a perfect example of that skill. Anyway, I let Jane and Randy pet me, more for their benefit than mine. They actually thought I was pretty calm. I heard them say that I was “older” (why, I never!) and that I wasn’t able to be as feisty (how delusional) and that I might even be nice to the vet. I let Jane set me on the scale without problem, and I’m happy to report that my weight was “perfect,” according to the vet. Hey, I may like this guy after all. No, let’s not go that far. I did let him pet me as I was sitting next to Jane. But when he stuck some cold, metal thingy on my belly, well, first of all, how dare he, and second of all, I am a lady. So I twisted and hissed and tried to get him with a right jab. Hiy-yah–take that!

That did the trick! He backed away, and quick, going out to seek a so-called “cat whisperer.” She came in, and I was just as irritable. I had every right to be as strangers were invading my personal space. Jane offered to hold me, and I let her. She’s getting older, and her nerves are frayed, so I took pity on the poor gal. The vet was able to do his exam while Jane told me how pretty I was and what a good kitty I was, all the while petting me, even scratching my ears. No fair! How can I be mean when I’m getting that kind of pampering? Jane said she was fine when the vet prepared to give me my 3-year rabies shot. The “cat whisperer” still put a white towel over my body, but my head was out for Jane to keep petting me. I barely noticed the darn shot, although I did let out a low-pitched growl just to make sure they knew I was offended.

When it was all over and I was back home, I refused to come get the treat Jane offered. I didn’t eat or drink my water. No, these people are NOT going to act like life can return to normal just like that.

Desi goes back to the vet next spring. My appointment is a year away. The vet wants Jane and Randy to try putting a powdered form of the sedative in my food next year. Good luck with that.

More Book Reviews

I want to thank my sister, book club, and friends for recommending most of the books I read. Occasionally, I’ll pick one up on my own if I find the title and back cover notes interesting. Here are my latest:

Mrs. Kimble – by Jennifer Haigh

Three women (maybe more?) become “Mrs. Kimble”–all married to a charming man named Ken Kimble. He woos and meanders his way into their lives and hearts. He, and they, are all such captivating personalities. Their individual stories and circumstances are unique, yet Ken’s strategies weave their way into each woman’s life in eerily similar patterns. He uses his charisma to pursue, capture, and ultimately add to his collection. 4 stars

Mrs. Everything – by Jennifer Weiner

[I promise that not all books I’ve read recently start with “Mrs.” and are written by authors named “Jennifer!”]

This book starts out in the 1950’s, covering a single “all-American” family. It ends in 2022 with the next generation. But the primary focus stays with the 2 girls in the original family–Jo and Bethie. Sisters, as different as sisters often are. I love how the author wrote the entire book in a pattern of alternating “Jo” and “Bethie” chapters. Women’s issues are at the forefront. Decisions amidst “musts” vs. “wants;” “shoulds” vs. “needs;” and “supposed to’s” vs. “can’ts.” This book rings true in its exploration of life’s passages and how women navigate them. The pathways are often spelled-out–still to this day. The expectations often remain–still. The way ahead is seldom clear, especially if you don’t stay within the lines. 4 stars

The Girls in the Stilt House – by Kelly Mustian

1920’s–Mississippi–sharecroppers–bootleggers–2 young girls–Ada and Matilda. After almost stopping, putting this book down due to an abusive, alcoholic father that hit a little too close to home, I ended up not being able to put it down. The 2 main characters–teenage girls alike in their principles and humanity and courage–yet different in their luck-of-the-draw rights and privileges in life–are compellingly interesting and multi-faceted. They come from separate sides of the swamp, both enduring poverty. And both having dreams with concrete plans to escape. As so often happens, rules (written and threateningly unwritten) get in the way. Mean-spirited, self-enterprising people get in the way. The girls’ paths eventually cross amid ongoing unpredictability and intrigue. Themes of distrust and abandonment; connection amidst differences; and beauty abounding in the same place as brutality bring simple, profound truths to the forefront. A must-read. 5 stars

True (…sort of) – by Katherine Hannigan

What a FUN/INSIGHTFUL book! After working with kids over 30 years, this book rings true to those who are a little too curious, a little too prone to lashing out, a little too shy, and a little too “different.” What’s more–and even better–is the way all of these tendencies can be turned around for the good of the individual children and the good of all those around them. A wonderful, and wonderfully FUNNY, story of a girl named Delly and a girl (?) named Ferris Boyd–so opposite–who come together and gain so much from daring to connect. They explore and create and have all sorts of adventures (= “Dellyventures”)! Heartwarming and important lessons for us all. 4 stars

Symptoms of Being Human – by Jeff Garvin

This is a Young Adult (YA) novel delving into a teenager facing and being on a continuum with female at one end and male at the other. The parents don’t “know” or at least don’t acknowledge this in their child. Plus, the father is a prominent public figure, in sharp contrast to his offspring, who wants to remain “neutral” and hidden in the shadows. Anxiety, therapy, and a blog all come into play. When/how/where/to whom to “come out?” Everyday life and situations require careful navigating. It’s complicated. It’s secretive. It’s a reality to many. 4 stars

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.