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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.

How May I Help You?

What a pleasant question. UNTIL YOU HEAR IT OVER AND OVER AND OVER…

It was April 29, 2022. Easter had come and gone. The weather was warming up. COVID (as it seems to do most springs) didn’t claim as much of the daily headlines. So when our friends called to say, “Hurry, there’s a big sale on a Caribbean cruise–do you guys want to join us? If you do, you’ll need to act quickly; the sale ends in 2 days, so we all need to jump on it!”

ME: “SURE! Sign us up!”

HUSBAND: “I thought you told me you didn’t want to go on another cruise.”

ME: “This is different! Our friends are going” [Husband thinking: friends went last time–just how is this different?]; “plus this itinerary includes lots of new destinations. And it’s ON SALE!”

We all signed up for a January 2023 cruise. Deposits were made. Yay! Done and done. Visions of excursions started dancing in my head.

Mid-June 2022: Email from wonderful cruise company arrives. “We’ve made some changes to your itinerary. Instead of going to destinations A, B, and C, we’re substituting destination D. And, we KNOW how much fun you’ll have at this new location. Only 7 months, and you’ll be cruising with us!”

Guess what? We’d never been to A, B, or C. Guess what else–we had been to D and all but 1 of the other places. NOOOOOOOOOOO! Oh well, we don’t want to let our friends down.

Fast forward to early-August 2022: We’re eating lunch with said friends. We happen to mention the change in the January cruise itinerary. Our friends happen to mention that they can get credit to use on a future cruise if we want to cancel this trip.

ME: “SURE! LET’S CANCEL!”

HUSBAND: “What about our $$$ that we already paid for the deposit?”

ME: “Oh, I bet we can get it back.”

All-of-August: “Hello! This is blankety-blank BIG MONEY IN OUR POCKETS Cruise Line RESERVATIONS Department–How may I help you?” I give my spiel about the itinerary changes and how heartbroken we are and that this was no longer the cruise we had anticipated. “Let me check on that.” (16 minutes later) “If you look at the Terms & Conditions you agreed to, you’ll see that the cruise itinerary can change without notice.” You mean that little box that I hurriedly checked just so I could get the SALE deal? Oh. USUALLY LAID-BACK HUSBAND TIRED AND FRUSTRATED FROM DISAPPOINTING GOLF ROUND: “We think it is unacceptable to change the itinerary THAT much. This is NOT the trip we paid for, and we think it’s only fair to get our $$$ back.”

NICE CRUISE PERSON: “Oh, now I understand. I am sure we can handle that. Let me transfer you to our REDEPLOYMENT Department.”

NICE CRUISE PERSON #2 (NCP2): “How may I help you?” ME: same please-take-pity-on-us spiel. HUSBAND: same indignant proclamation while fuming to himself, “How-did-I-shank-that-many-shots?” NCP2: “I am sure I can help you with that. Will you please forward the email you received in June to me? My email address is gobbledygook times the square root of 84.743 dot lol.” ME: (after breathing into a paper bag, pushing a cat off the keyboard, and correcting typos) “I forwarded it.” NCP2: “Thank you. I received the email. Did you know that the cancellation deadline was May 20, 2022?” HUSBAND: “But we didn’t get the letter about the itinerary changes until June 21st!” NCP2: “I see. I am sure we can take care of this in our REACCOMMODATION Department. I will transfer you.”

NICE CRUISE PERSON #3 (NCP3): [Note: Please do not confuse CP3 with the famous basketball player Chris Paul whose nickname is CP3, although I’m sure that Chris Paul is also a nice person.] “How may I help you?” ME: same. HUSBAND: desperate last-straw tactic–“Everyone knows what a wonderful reputation your cruise line has. I would hate to have to tell all my friends how disappointed we were with your service.” NCP3: “Yes, I understand. We are so sorry. I can help you with that. Can you hold just a moment?” (one year later) “Because of this issue, you will need to talk to our RESOLUTION Department. I will transfer you.”

Lilty cruise-type music playing…

NCP #4: “How may I help you?” ME: completely silent. HUSBAND: gone. ME: “I have talked to 3 people before you with no resolution. Since this is the RESOLUTION Department, I hope we can get our REFUND RETURNED to us. I think I should talk to your supervisor to work this out.” NCP4: “Let me transfer you.” (forever) SUPERVISOR: “Hello, this is Charlie. How may I help you?” ME: same with a hint of I’ve-had-it. SUPERVISOR: “I can help you with that. But did you know that the regular Terms & Conditions apply here? And, who knows, there’s a chance that your cruise itinerary will change back to the original itinerary. We should be seeing updates in the next few weeks. I suggest you call back then. And here is a direct number you can use at that time.” ME: “OK.” I’m done. And done.

Throughout this maze of transfers, I saw visions of Dorothy and her friends trying, trying, trying to follow that yellow brick road to finally make it to Oz and THE WIZARD. And, like in that story, I discovered that The Wizard was just a man behind a curtain in the form of one REPRESENTATIVE after another.

Two weeks later, I call the direct line. Husband is nearby but not actively engaged with the call. Nice Cruise Person #5 (NCP5): “Hello, this is Jean. How may I help you?” ME: “I was told to call back at this time to resolve an issue. Is this the RESOLUTION Department?” [Remember, I was given that magical, VIP-only direct number.] NCP5: “No, but I’m sure I can handle your issue.”

Believe it or not, NCP5 did propose a RESOLUTION. And just as the not-so-wizardly man in Oz managed to get Dorothy’s problem solved, so did Jean, aka NCP5, work out a REASONABLE REFUND.

And this is a REAL RECOUNTING and RENDERING of REACTING too READILY in REPLYING to friends about REDEEMING a discount on what appears to be a REALLY RELAXING, RESTFUL, REJUVENATING, REFRESHING, and REINVIGORATING form of RECREATION.

Just remember to READ all the REGULATIONS.

Your Spot

Forget-Me-Nots

I’d been away a few months. So when I walked in to the line dance class, I wasn’t sure what to expect. But there it was. MY SPOT! Saved for me. Still. Just waiting for me to show up again. And, yep, even my old “spot-mates” were there to greet me. Nice feeling.

Got me thinking about spots. Throughout my life I’ve had special spots. In school, I had my own spot–my desk with all my stuff. I was lucky enough to have my own bedroom growing up–another spot for me. I remember when I was allowed to choose a new paint color for my room–Pepto Bismol pink–yeah! Pink bedspread and pink curtains, too. (I’ve always been more than a little obsessed with matching colors.) Again, a place for all my stuff.

I’ve had a spot in choirs over the years. At family dinner tables. At church. When I was first dating my husband, a minister, and asked him where I should sit when I went to a service, he responded, “Why not with my mother?” Okay! And, hmmm… His mother had her church spot–aisle seat, right side, second row from the back. My grandmother also was a back-of-the-church sitter. She and her friend, Mrs. Ferguson, whom she always described as having a cream-and-peaches complexion, had side-by-side spots. My mother and I had a spot near them before I found a new spot in the choir.

Speaking of church spots, my husband dared to rope off several rows of back pews one month to “encourage” (force) folks to sit closer to the front and to change their usual spots. This idea was met with moans and groans and more than one person letting him know what a lame-brained idea this was. They wanted their spots back! Likewise, at another church, our tour group made its way down the aisle and settled in for a Sunday service–only to see an elderly woman clutching her purse as she stood nearby and stared at us. Time went by, and the woman held her apparently sacred ground. When a member of our group asked her if everything was okay, she replied, “Well, you’re in my spot.”

[Note: This is NOT how you should act when someone visits your church and happens to sit in your spot. We did move to another row, however.]

Remember the TV series “Cheers?” Not only did Norm have his spot at the bar but also everybody knew his name, shouting “Norm” each time he came through the door. No one calls out our names, but my good friend and I meet for lunch every month at the same restaurant where we have our spot. We half expect the wait staff to know this by now so they can just lead us to the right area. Not yet. She and I first met in our choir spots 40+ years ago.

All my various spots have made me feel secure and settled. When I worked as a school psychologist, my “offices” ranged from a partitioned cubicle to a storage room to an actual office-type office with actual walls and an actual door. No matter what kind of office I had, though, it was my spot. Which I’d decorate with my children’s elementary school artwork, my photos, and the rest of MY stuff (just like I did in my pink bedroom).

When I’m new to a group or situation (where I don’t have a spot), boy, is it ever nice, really nice, if someone offers me a spot. Especially to join them. That’s a big part of helping someone feel welcomed–offering them a spot. “Come sit with me.” Wow, does that ever feel good. In fact, one of the best parts of being a grandmother is when a grandchild wants to sit beside me or on my lap. They want their spot to be near my spot. Melts my heart. Every time.

Even pets have their spots. We often find Cameron (you remember her–the queenly cat) lying behind the deck grill. Not very queenly, but that’s one of her favorite spots. Desi (the big orange cat) prefers our laps–his spots.

I hope you have your own special spots–places where you feel comfortable and comforted. Places that are familiar and maybe even saved just for you. And if you are fortunate enough to have some of these spots, be sure to offer a nearby spot to someone who doesn’t have one. It matters.

What I’m Reading

Photo by Krisztina Papp on Pexels.com

Before I start the reviews, I want to recommend a great place to buy and sell/trade books–Edward McKay’s Used Books in Greensboro and Winston-Salem, NC. It’s my new “mecca” for books, and I sold and traded many of my own books using their easy and quick process. One of the books I’ll review cost 5 cents at McKay’s–now THAT’S what I call a bargain! Granted it was an older book, but even newer ones are usually under $10. Check it out (no pun intended). Now for the latest books I’ve been reading (rating scale 1-5 stars):

City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert – By the author of the well-known book and movie, Eat Pray Love, this is a story of Vivian, who recounts her life to someone face to face. Vivian comes from a wealthy family with all its privileges and opportunities. When she doesn’t fit that mold, it’s not long before she’s shipped off to NYC to live under the not-so-watchful eye of her Aunt Peg. Dear Peg happens to manage a way, way, way off-Broadway theater called the Lily Playhouse. Vivian resides upstairs in the Lily, staying in Aunt Peg’s ex–Uncle Billy’s–old room. With her trusty sewing machine in tow, she soon becomes the theater’s new costume designer. A whole host of colorful, unapologetic people (on and off the Lily’s stage) emerge and influence young and impressionable Vivian, who finds plenty of adventures in the big city. Until its web nearly strangles her. This engrossing novel is set in the 1930’s and 40’s. It’s fun and freeing; flamboyant and frenzied. I found myself immersed in Vivian’s world. And loving being along for the ride. 4 stars

The Pleasure Was Mine by Tommy Hays – A delightful read that I really enjoyed, this is a story of life and love. A husband finds himself trying to navigate the tricky path of his wife’s dementia. Having to make decisions without a roadmap or clear direction is hard enough. The impact of his decisions on other family members is another challenge. When the man’s young grandson, who’s already lost his own mom, comes to live with him for the summer, well, there’s quite an adjustment. For everyone. Part of this book’s charm lies in the poignancy of sharing everyday routines. There’s adapting to “new normals;” there’s considering others’ wants and needs. It’s true and sweet; thought-provoking and tender. Funny a lot. I thoroughly enjoyed it. 4 stars

Same Kind of Different as Me by Ron Hall and Denver Moore – A true story, this book tells how two men forge an unlikely friendship. Their lifestyles couldn’t be more different, yet they discover values they have in common. Over time. They also find that commitment and the true bonds of a loving friendship are invaluable in coping and handling even the hardest of times. This story is authentic and spiritual; real and inspiring. As told from both men’s voices and perspectives, it shows how a true friendship is woven together to create a sturdy fabric that weathers life’s many circumstances. This book sets a high mark–an example we all need to heed on some level. It speaks to second chances, hope, and the genuine value of connecting with others. 5 stars

The Accidental Tourist by Anne Tyler – Macon Leary–what an unforgettable character. He and his brothers and sister (Rose) abound with oddities that bind them to one another and cause many a discussion. Such as, how to properly set a table, where to hang a picture, the in’s and out’s of one toothpaste over another. Things like that. Nothing is simple with this bunch. Then there’s Muriel–equally unforgettable and the exact opposite of Macon! She’s as spontaneous as he is rigid. You see, Macon writes a guidebook for the business traveler, the type who has no interest in exploring where he travels when away on business. Instead, Macon lists all the hotels and restaurants that are as close to “American” as possible to avoid unfamiliarity and to make the traveler feel “at home.” Macon (and his guidebook) are all about organization, planned experiences, and control. Yet, when he catches a whiff or two of frivolity and joy in the unexpectedness known as Muriel, his world opens up. He breathes it in instead of marking one more “to do” item off his list. Lots of laughs–even in the midst of loss. I devoured this book. In 1988, it was made into a movie starring William Hurt, Kathleen Turner, and Geena Davis. RIP, William Hurt–I know you played Macon Leary well. 4 stars

Beyond Done with the Crying by Sheri McGregor – I read this around Mother’s Day, which is always a difficult time for me. Even though my son and I are in contact (largely when I initiate it), I feel a void. Reading about other parents’ similar experiences with their adult children helps. And this book, as in McGregor’s first one, Done with the Crying, offers concrete suggestions to parents who find themselves in this situation. There’s also comfort in knowing that others–many more than are willing to share–are in the same rocky boat. 3 stars

[Note: After reading the above book as well as the book Same Kind of Different as Me, I was inspired to make some changes. I realized that I had maybe given up hope more than I’d admitted. I changed my behavior and perspective, and I’ve seen positive results. You just never know.]

Leaving Time by Jodi Picoult – I love this author. She always gives me so much to think about, getting beneath the veneer in a deep, intriguing way. This novel interweaves a young teenage girl, a crusty detective, a psychic, and elephants. Not your usual combination of characters. An unsolved murder, a missing person, and the search (and longing) to find answers take the reader on a fascinating journey. Each character alternately tells his/her story, giving their unique perspectives–what each discovery means, what the truth may be, what’s important. Searching is a primary theme. And how do you know if what you eventually may find will be healing or heartbreaking? When some story elements didn’t make immediate sense to me at first, I got a little frustrated. But, that’s just my nature. I assure you, hang in there. Put those inconsistencies and “what’s?” on hold. In the end, all of the dots will connect in a way that will be both unexpected and amazing. 4 stars

Becoming by Michelle Obama – I could not put this book down. I read it daily because, put simply, I wanted to. I identified with Michelle Obama in many ways as she candidly told her story. And, although “her story” is unique, just as my story and your story are, she expresses feelings and goes through stages that seem universal and familiar. Fortunate to grow up being loved and grounded, she was determined, achievement-oriented, and aware of others’ needs. She maintained a sense of humor and down-to-earth personality whether she was on a farm in Iowa or at Buckingham Palace. “Becoming Me” leads to “Becoming Us,” then “Becoming More.” Michelle shows that we can continue to become our whole lives. We can continue to explore, grow, and reach out. That’s what she did, and I have no doubt that’s what she still does. 5 stars

My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry by Fredrik Backman – Almost-8 year old Elsa has a wild, fun, and sassy grandmother (“Granny”). For as long as she can remember, Granny has told Elsa a continuous fairy tale from the Land-of-Almost-Awake. And it comes to seem like much of this tale actually happened in real life. Or will happen. After all, as Elsa is told (and firmly believes), EVERYONE has their own superpower. From one of my favorite authors, this book absolutely captures quirky personalities that we all see. Those quirks that make us so human, interesting, maddening, and different. Granny tells Elsa that “different” is good. It takes Elsa a long time to accept this. But Granny sends her on a scavenger hunt that she hopes will change Elsa’s mind. One surprise after another ensues. Funny to the core, heart-wrenching, and heartwarming. I loved this book! 5 stars

Images of Sorrow, Visions of Hope by J. Randy Hall – In true transparency, my husband published this little book in 2010 when he was the pastor of a small Presbyterian church. He shares his experiences and insights (even humor) on grief and loss, told through real stories and by using creative images and analogies. The first part portrays this topic in current times and events. The second part explores the theme through the Book of Ruth in the Bible. The book is written in a warm, conversational tone, its purpose being to provide understanding and comfort in something we all go through and share. If interested in a copy, let me know. 10 stars! (Give me a break–I’m married to the guy!)

Freedom with Responsibility

Today, July 4, 2022, I’m thinking about freedom. Freedom with responsibility. Freedom while keeping OTHERS’ freedoms in mind. It’s not just about ME.

As we know all too well these days, in this country we have the freedom to disagree. It’s usually harder to disagree in person, face-to-face. It’s much easier on social media. It’s especially easy to air our grievances when we’re one among many in an amorphous group. We can be bolder and louder. We can take more risks when egged on and depersonalized (dehumanized?) by a group-wide identity. We say and do things we normally wouldn’t on our own. Rules? Propriety? Who cares? Limits? Nah. We’re FREE, right?? Don’t fence me in. Don’t fence US in. It’s my right!

Well….not too fast, there.

On this Independence Day, what does freedom mean? Better yet, what might freedom mean when fostering the freedom and well-being of us all? Here’s what President Franklin D. Roosevelt told the U.S. Congress on January 6, 1941 (note that particular day). He spoke of four essential human freedoms and the need to consider freedom in a much larger context–beyond our country, our comforts. Hitler’s Germany was exerting its will within and outside its borders.

*Freedom of speech and expression

*Freedom of every person to worship God in their own way

*Freedom from want–an economically secure life for each nation’s people

*Freedom from fear–a world-wide reduction of armaments so no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbor

These freedoms challenged our nation to empathize with others, other cultures, other religions. Still today, freedom isn’t just about what I want to say (without regard for the harm it might cause), what religion I choose (or don’t choose), how much money I have, and what makes me afraid. This is an outward-looking endeavor that considers the common good.

What can this empathetic, responsible freedom look like? How can this freedom for all be practiced?

*Show courtesy and consideration towards others, especially those who are different from you.

*Try to understand others and offer help when they’re in need.

*Respect and obey the laws, abiding by an orderly process to change laws.

*Respect others’ property.

*Educate yourself by seeking truth based on verifiable facts–both in the present and when looking back at history.

With this, I wish you all a Happy Fourth of July!

The Wrong Store for Me

I’d done my Senior Sneakers workout at the Y. I’d gotten my free Medicare-paid TDAP shot at the pharmacy. All was going to plan. Next step–the grocery store, you know, the one where I’m familiar with where things are. Just a quick trip to get a few things, then home for lunch. A line of cars where there shouldn’t be a line of cars came into view. Before long, I noticed everyone turning left–a detour leading to the local country club, then a stop sign by the putting green. Which way to turn? I had no idea. All I knew was I had originally wanted to go straight on that closed road, so I took a right to proceed in the same direction. Or so I thought.

This particular neighborhood featured a meandering golf course with one twisty road after another at minus-15 mph dotted by the occasional caution sign for a cart crossing. Yet, yours truly is not so much the scenic off-the-beaten-path kind of person. Noooo, just get me there as quickly and straightly (word?) as possible. I was turned around so much that I had no idea where I’d end up. And there was no good place to pull off to use my GPS. I finally spotted a somewhat familiar-sounding street name and turned. Even waved to a man walking his little dog. And, believe me, I was not exactly in a smiling, hand-waving frame of mind.

After what seemed like an hour later, I found my way out of this asphalt maze and actually knew where I was. Spying an “alternative” grocery store on the horizon, one that I don’t normally frequent, I, feeling especially brave and even invigorated after mastering the dreaded detour, decided to try out this store. Surely, I would find the few items I needed.

Five hours later (just kidding), I emerged. First of all, figuring out how to get into the parking lot was a hurdle. A myriad of one-ways and bridges and exit ramps mixed in with the previous neighborhood maze to get my blood pressure up. Second hurdle–chained shopping carts. Luckily, I had a quarter; unluckily, I didn’t know how to use it to unchain a cart. I pushed it in a slot, but it didn’t go all the way in. I gingerly tugged to pull the cart loose from the others. Didn’t work. By this time, I was reduced to brute force, so I threw caution (and decorum) to the wind, yanking that cart like I was starting a lawnmower. Magically it released from its cohorts.

My luck seemed to change when the first thing I saw on Aisle 1 was wine. On my list! Carefully scouring each section, my luck turned again–there was none/nada/zilch of the type of wine I wanted. No, not just the brand, an entire category. I looked a second time–nope (which happens to be the name of an upcoming horror movie–sounds about right). Instead of taking this as a sign of things to come, I naively told myself to just take a look, see what else there was. Surely this place will have some of what I wanted.

Nope.

Never-seen-before brands, “organization” almost nonexistent, and few choices awaited me. Even with my stomach growling, I was not tempted. Strolling aisle to aisle with my quarter hanging out, I searched. Only 1 type of toothpaste. No more. One brand of cat food I’d never heard of (I got a bag because of the cheap price, but I’m not holding out much hope–watch out, kitties).

Time to check out. I spaced my 5 or so “goods” (loose term for what I got) at least 2 feet from the person’s items in front of me on the conveyor. Wouldn’t you know, the cashier ignored this space and began ringing up my things as if they belonged to the poor woman ahead of me. In desperation, I shouted, “Stop! Those are my groceries.” After giving me a semi-stink eye, the cashier corrected the mistake. She rang me up, and I dared to ask her how to get my quarter back. She explained in a way that totally went over my head. I then took my cart (and quarter), putting the groceries into cloth bags I luckily had. You guessed it, this store doesn’t deign to offer bags to its prisoners, I mean, customers.

Next came the moment of truth–returning the cart and figuring out how to get that (blasted) quarter released. In a dither from the detour and the shopping debacle, I wasn’t thinking straight (much like those curvy roads around the golf course). In this hazy state of mind, I approached the line of chained shopping carts. I glanced around for someone, anyone, to take mercy on me. Apparently I didn’t express my dilemma very well because a nice man offered to GIVE me a quarter! Then, before I knew it, I was trying to put my cart back while the groceries were still in it (talk about putting the cart before the horse). I fumbled it back out, asking a nearby woman how to get the quarter out. [Note: I did notice there was more than one quarter still stuck in more than one cart. I took a little comfort in that.]

After pushing the cart to my car and unloading, I returned to the daunting line of shackled carts. My hand shaking, I pushed a key-like thingy in to the area behind the slot where my quarter was being held in metal clutches. I’m happy to say that my quarter sprang free and returned to me. I’m also happy to say that I will NOT RETURN to this grocery store–no matter how lost I am.

What Do I Know?

My last blog was titled “What to Do When You Don’t Know What to Do.” I’m doing a 180 and writing about something I DO know. They say you should write about something you know, so here goes.

Anyone who knows me can tell you that my favorite thing to eat is…

Photo by Lukas on Pexels.com

And my favorite ice cream can be found just off Highway 220 South in Ellerbe, NC. My husband and I call it “The Strawberry,” but its official name is The Berry Patch. The Berry family (for real) started this fruit and vegetable stand within which sits a life size strawberry within which the most delicious ice cream in the world is made. Homemade ice cream that is perfection materialized.

Here are my ice cream standards and why this particular ice cream is my favorite for meeting all of them:

  1. Texture – not too soft, not too airy, and not too hard (like Goldilocks says, “just right”–not that I’m picky or anything)
  2. Flavor – not too bland; rich and creamy and natural-tasting (I know, you’re trying to keep up with all of my technical terminology at this point.)
  3. Portions – ample (nothing less is acceptable); There used to be an ice cream shop in a nearby town which shall remain nameless (although the color of grass is in this town’s name) that was so persnickety about their portions that they would actually WEIGH each scoop. Then, they would most always take some ice cream off and have the nerve to hand it to you (as if you wouldn’t be fighting tears at that point). As I’m prone to say, give me a break. Which leads me to my next criterion of exemplary ice cream.
  4. Price – must not be a rip-off; The ice cream must be worth the charge.
  5. Cone – favorite way for me to eat ice cream; must be fresh, crunchy, somewhat lightweight yet won’t break apart while being held; waffle cones are primo.

There you have it. And guess what, The Berry Patch meets all 5 of these criteria with flying colors. So much so that one of the main reasons we go to the beach so often is to get this ice cream–on the way there AND on the way back home. I’ve been eating this particular ice cream for the last 15 years or so. Once I discovered it, I was hooked. So much so that I gawk in abject horror and disbelief when I ask fellow travelers who traverse this highway if they stop at The Berry Patch, and they say no. When they add that they’ve never heard of it, I proceed into my dissertation on its many outstanding qualities. When they say they’ve heard of it and may even have stopped there ONCE, just once, I shake my head and seriously wonder what is wrong with them.

On a trip to Italy a few summers ago, our tour group visited a medieval village. I spotted a long line of folks at a shop’s doorway. Above the door was a banner reading, “Best Ice Cream in the World!” Well, being an ice cream connoisseur, I had to test it. Yes, it was good, and it met standards #1 and #2, but it failed miserably on standards #3, #4, and somewhat on #5. So, I had to respectfully disagree with their claim.

Finally (I promise), on one rare occasion during the recent/ongoing pandemic, I stopped by “The Strawberry” and got one of my favorite flavors–Butter Pecan. I ate it while driving and noticed a different taste. A taste I wasn’t used to from this perfection of all confections. However, being the ice cream aficionado (addict?) that I am, I soldiered on and finished the entire cone. When I got to my destination, I called The Strawberry (aka, mecca) and relayed this most unusual information about their Butter Pecan, usually their gold standard. Don’t you know that they agreed with me and discovered that they’d gotten the mix from a different seller due to pandemic holdups. They assured me that they’d dispense with the rest of the ice cream so that other loyal customers would not suffer my fate. AND, I could get a FREE double scoop of Butter Pecan on my next visit. I even talked to the Butter Pecan ice cream maker herself, and she sincerely thanked me for calling.

For some unknown reason, I didn’t get back to The Strawberry until a month or two later. When I said my name there at that beautiful red life size strawberry, a nice person said, yes, my name was up there, and my free ice cream was coming right up. Not long after that, the ice cream maker herself appeared IN PERSON to thank me again for calling 2 months prior. I ever-so-humbly explained that I was their biggest fan, that I had loved their ice cream for years, and that I surely didn’t want their reputation to be damaged. I, for one, had been proclaiming their ice cream as truly the best in the world all this time, and I wasn’t about to stop. I KNEW that something must have been awry that one day (morning, if I must admit–never too early for ice cream).

I left with 2 large scoops of Butter Pecan in my just-right waffle cone. All was right with the world.

“What to Do When You Don’t Know What to Do” – Ramon Durham

This was the title of his sermon a few Sundays ago. A first-year Divinity School student, he had me with that title. I was curious. Where would he go with this?

Much more often than we’d like to admit, we don’t really know what to do. In many situations–from the small to the potentially life-changing–uncertainty looms. Many times it’s hard to even know where to start.

Oh, we get lots of advice. There’s the Nike slogan: “Just do it!” And many an old saying: “You snooze; you lose.” “He who hesitates is lost.” “Strike while the iron is hot.” All these bits of advice tell us to get on with it. Whatever “it” is.

On the other side, we’re warned that “Haste makes waste,” which tells us not to jump in too quickly. “All good things come to those who wait” and “Don’t count your chickens before they hatch” and “Patience is a virtue.”

I believe that MOST of us don’t know what to do in lots of situations. Again, from the most trivial to the weightiest.

So, what do we do when we don’t know what to do? These are some of my thoughts:

*Prioritize your values.

*Consider what brings you joy.

*What are you passionate about?

*Think outside the box. Be creative.

*Read and seek advice from reputable sources.

*The older you are, the more you can trust your gut instincts. These instincts are based on years of life experience. If something doesn’t “feel right” for you, it’s probably not.

*Get an outside perspective from a counselor (we all have emotional blind spots).

*Ask questions, lots of questions. After all, asking good questions is more important than thinking you already know or have all the answers.

Finally, take some comfort in realizing that most people don’t know what to do a lot of the time. And it’s perfectly ok not to be perfect. It’s a mistake to avoid making any mistakes. Also, saying you don’t know is a great example for others, especially for children. It shows that none of us knows everything or knows what to do all the time, and we don’t need to feel bad about it.

Kids in school are expected to be good at so many different things–reading, writing, and arithmetic not to mention conversing in the cafeteria, kicking a ball on the playground, and wearing the latest fashions. It’s unrealistic for anyone to have all these skills. Yet, we grow up still thinking that we’re supposed to, that we should know what to do, what to say, how to act. In every situation.

The next time you don’t know what to do, realize you’re right in there with the rest of us. Just trying to figure it out.

Our Recent Experience with COVID

After more than 2 years, we thought we might have escaped it. So when the tests came back positive, we were a little surprised. However, the latest Omicron variants are reportedly 80% more contagious. We’re hearing of a lot of people in our community and pretty much everywhere testing positive but, thankfully, having milder cases.

Started with my husband’s mild cold symptoms–congestion, fatigue, aches. After a few days, I had my “usual” beginning of a cold– scratchy/sore throat, runny nose/sneezing, followed by coughing. Plus, I had aches and a low-grade fever off and on for a few days. I was very tired. We never lost our sense of taste, although it’s common for me to lose my sense of smell when I have a cold. That returned once the congestion cleared.

I called my doctor to let her know. Since I didn’t have shortness of breath, I was told to take over-the-counter meds for the symptoms. The doctor did order a prescription that could be taken to reduce chances of being hospitalized. As I did ok, I didn’t end up taking that prescription. The latest guidelines are to quarantine for 5 days. If symptom-free and fever-free for 24 hours after the fifth day of quarantining, you can go out with a mask on through Day 10.

We both slept a lot. One morning my husband slept until 11:00; one day I slept until 11:30. Plus more naps during the day. I’d say we had cold symptoms 4-5 days. The last symptoms to leave were the coughing and fatigue. By Day 10, we were pretty much back to normal. We didn’t have underlying conditions other than our age (65 and older). Also, we were both fully vaccinated and boosted.

We’re thankful to have fared as well as we did. It was no cake walk, but as we all know, it could have been so much worse. We heard from a nurse and on NPR that once you have had COVID, you should have immunity for about 90 days. Fingers crossed.

We really appreciate the friends and family who checked on us. Our neighbor even offered to bring us groceries. Another friend brought us a homemade pecan pie–our favorite. So glad we took those home tests. We were due to visit my 96-year old mother for Mother’s Day. Of course that visit was canceled. In our case what seemed to be a cold wasn’t.

Cat-astrophe!

Desi here. I’m the big, orange cat in the house–and apparently the only creature (either 2- or 4-legged) that takes care of things around here. That gray cat you see with the title, well, that cat invaded our home WHILE THE HUMANS WERE GONE. Yep, once again all responsibility fell on me. [Cameron, the extremely self-centered cat in our family, spends much of her time staring at her reflection in mirrors, shiny oven doors, and windows. In other words, this feline diva cannot be bothered.]

It all started when the humans left us alone while they were off galavanting (again). They deigned to ask the cat sitter about us (no doubt feeling guilty). She replied with the above photo of the gray cat.

And this one:

That’s ME on the right. That gray cat was an uninvited, what-the-heck-are-you-doing-here intruder! And get this, our deck is way high up off the ground with no stairs. How did this rude, ruthless creature get up here??

And get this–our kind but overly trusting humans often leave the deck door open on nice weather days. So, last week when the neighboring cat sitter heard all sorts of cat ruckus coming from our house, she hurried on over. And found this stray cat on the deck with me. Since the door leading into the house was open, nothing was safe! She told the humans that I stood my ground, saying there was no way I was letting this cat into our house. I don’t want to brag, but I was putting all my extra pounds to some mighty good use.

I doubt that Cameron even woke up from one of her many beauty rests during this attack. While I was engaged in all out combat defending our very lives and property, she was either sleeping or looking at her reflection again.

Why do I have to do all the work around here?

After taking these photos and texting them to the humans, the cat sitter got me back in the house and away from that gray cat. She then tried to pick up the other cat, but that was a no-go. So it stayed on the deck, the cat sitter dead bolting the door behind her. She was surprised to see that I had a little present waiting for her inside–a cute, little mouse I’d caught.

The next day when she came over again, the gray cat was gone. It had to jump a long way down to get off the deck. Believe me, I tried this once myself, and it didn’t turn out too well. [Cameron says that explains a lot.]

Of course the humans downplayed my heroics, saying I was just keeping that gray cat away from the mouse I’d caught versus protecting the house. Seriously? Some of us are never truly appreciated. All I know is I’m exhausted from all this upheaval.

Cameron’s note: I’m limping. I’m just too modest to steal poor Desi’s clueless thunder and reveal who REALLY took care of that gray cat. Pardon me, I think the media is calling.

So Many Good Books

Here we go!

The Usual Rules by Joyce Maynard – What do you do when you don’t have a blueprint? A game plan? What do you do when you’ve never experienced something so life-changing? Such as September 11, 2001. And you’re 13. And your mom never comes home from the office.

And you live with your step-dad and your little brother–“half” brother. And your real dad, whom you don’t really know, suddenly comes back in the picture. Hmm…

The “usual rules” don’t seem to apply. Nothing is the same; nothing will ever be the same. Everything changes–YOU change.

Anyone who has ever gone through trauma (and MOST of us have in some shape or form) will see themselves in this book. The characters are believable and multi-dimensional; the story line is unpredictable; and the takeaways are insightful and usable. **** 4 stars

Dear William by David Magee – This is a true story about losing a son to a drug overdose–a much too familiar true story for many families these days, especially with opioids like Fentanyl seemingly everywhere.

In this particular family, many members struggle, although from the outside looking in, they’ve got it all–book deals and TV appearances; athletic awards and honors classes; friends galore and active social calendars all around.

So, what happens? That’s what I wondered; that’s why I read this deeply personal, honest recounting of what happened to this one family, a real family that decided to “go public” instead of hiding behind the curtain.

I read it in less than 24 hours. Anyone facing addiction, or who knows a family member or friend facing addiction, will find this book relevant. **** 4 stars

Evvie Drake Starts Over by Linda Holmes – A fun book, but it didn’t have enough plot developments or nuance to sustain my interest. I’d put it down for awhile and then have to re-familiarize myself with the characters and what was happening. I did NOT like the frequent curse words the author chose her characters to use (those words didn’t add to the story or even seem all that likely in the various circumstances). Highly over-used and, to me, a cop-out for more original and descriptive language.

The premise involves a major league baseball player who loses his “stuff” and ends up hanging out in a small Maine town to get away. A recently widowed woman takes him in as a renter, and, voila, a rom-com unfolds. *** 3 stars

The Weight of a Moment by Michael Bowe – Two men experience life-changing moments. They each escape in their own ways. Their paths cross. Then entwine. New friendships, different pursuits, and newfound purposes emerge. But their pasts still haunt and identify them. And, as in life, no matter how individual our journey, others close to us (past and present) still come along for the ride.

The past does matter. It shapes and forms us. Are we then stuck in that mold forever? Can our perceptions of our past change? Can WE change?

This is their story. Wonderfully written, the characters are wonderfully complex. They take the reader through humor and tears; connections and disconnections; heartbreak and forgiveness. And the unburdening renewal of forgiving yourself. ***** 5 stars

Addict in the Family by Beverly Conyers – Nonfiction must-read for anyone who has (or even suspects they have) an addict in the family. Alcohol and other drugs not only impact the user, these substances wreak havoc on their loved ones. Through her own story and those of many others, Conyers clearly and poignantly takes the reader through the first red flags all the way to the hope of recovery. Bereft of jargon and totally real and relatable, if you’ve ever lived with or befriended an addict, you’ll see common threads. You’ll see somehow comforting similarities among not only the users (“hmm, my relative isn’t the only one who acts this way”) and family members (“I’m not the only one who feels this way”)–many common patterns and emotions. The author also offers suggestions about how to live through it. Without being trapped in despair.

The science and brain chemistry behind addiction are explained without being overly technical. The writing is excellent; the themes are not sugar-coated, and there are plenty of practical, do-able suggestions for those finding themselves in this all-too-common situation. ***** 5 stars

Never Have I Ever by Joshilyn Jackson – Entertaining with lots of plot twists and riveting female lead characters. Yet, at the same time, it felt somewhat repetitive. The main character (“Amy”) has tried to leave her more-than-murky past in the past. The other main character (“Roux”) has other ideas that heat things way up to boiling over. Kind of a “Desperate Housewives” take on life in the not-so-quaint suburbs. *** 3 stars

This Is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel – Labels–black/white, wrong/right, abnormal/normal. Tradition vs. change. Comfort vs. discomfort. Autopilot vs. navigation. “This is how it always is” vs. “Why not consider something else?” Something more loving, humane, and accepting.

This is the story of a family. A doctor/wife and a writer/husband have their 1st son, their 2nd son, their 3rd and 4th twin sons, and their 5th son–Claude. This is where the story begins–with son number 5. Early on, Claude wants to wear princess dresses. And jewelry. He wants to be called “pretty.” He loves the fairy tale his dad makes up at bedtime and asks why there’s only a prince in the story. So, Princess Stephanie emerges.

As the years go by, Claude himself emerges and “becomes” Poppy. As the years go by more, the whole family discovers that real life is surely no fairy tale.

This book enhanced my understanding, and it gave me empathy I thought I already had but actually needed so much more of. (And, yes, the preposition is dangling. Not “normal,” but, maybe, symbolic.) ***** 5 stars

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