Playing Games

 

Summer and games go together for me.

When I was a child, my family had a cottage on a small lake in Northern Minnesota. It lacked both electricity and plumbing which was fine with me; I liked the feeling of camping but still having a comfortable bed to sleep in at night. The only drawback was an outhouse that was half a block from the cottage and not a fun trip at night. My mother solved this by creating a “honey pot” that we all used at night and one of us emptied in the morning (although I suspect my mother ended up with the job most often).

In the evening, our light came from kerosene lamps and a large brick fireplace. After my father, mother, brother and I came in from evening fishing (or on a rainy day), we played card games in front of the fireplace; kerosene lamps hanging overhead to light the small table in the middle. We played gin rummy, 500 rummy and schmier, a game that I remember as being a little like bridge. (If anyone knows how to play smear, please contact me because I need a tutorial!) I especially loved gin rummy and won more than my share of games but I usually couldn’t beat my father. Looking back, I’m not certain which was better; the card games or the quiet evenings with family. However, I grew up treasuring both.

At some point, we added Monopoly to the list but I always had a love/hate relationship with that game. If you’re winning, it’s great. Your houses lined the board and the stack of money in front of you grew larger every time someone shook the dice and landed on your property. But if you missed purchasing the best properties, every shake of the dice put you further and further in debt – perhaps a little bit like real life! I couldn’t handle the slide into poverty and was usually very relieved when I lost all my money and was able to quit the game.

Of course, Scrabble was always a favorite but, as the youngest, I was a little handicapped by my vocabulary. At the time, I didn’t know about short words like Qi. Xu, Qua and Za that fit into small spaces and earned a lot of points. Today I play Scrabble every day online with friends and use these words regularly although I have to admit that I still have no idea what they mean.

In college, I was introduced to Bridge. I watched friends playing; listening to their bids and studying their plays. When I met Barry, my husband-to-be, I had only played a few times. After we were engaged, he and I were invited to dinner and a bridge game at one of his married friend’s houses. I was nervous and felt like a kid; these couples were four or five years older than me and actually lived in houses, rather than dormitories. By the end of the evening, I was feeling more confident and felt my bridge playing had been pretty good. As soon as we were in the car, Barry turned to me and said, “Never, never bid a three card suit!” He married me anyway and even taught me how to bid the right way.

For several years, we played party bridge with twelve friends who were, for the most part, at the same level as us. We all rotated around three tables and different partners. However, as always, there was one man in the group who took the game very seriously. Being his partner meant opening yourself to four hands of verbal abuse. I didn’t say anything at the time but this older and wiser version of myself would not have kept her mouth shut!

Once (and only once) I played duplicate bridge. We were living on an army base in Japan at the time and a friend asked me to substitute for her in a once-a-week duplicate bridge game while she stopped to have a baby. By this time, my bridge game had vastly improved and I immediately said yes. But I soon found out that this game had very little in common with party bridge. The room was deadly quiet, interrupted only with the sounds of quiet bidding at each table. The emphasis was on each hand and the score cards were kept meticulously. Also, the hands were carefully replaced for the next player.

After we had finished playing all the hands, everyone gathered to see where he or she had landed on the points list. I was second from last, with only a few more points than a 90 year old woman who had dementia. The game was only two hours but it felt like eight. By the time I got home, I had a terrible headache. When Barry walked in the door, I was lying on the couch, an ice pack on my head and a bottle of aspirin on the table beside me.

When our children came along, we both spent hours playing children’s games such as Candyland, Old Maid, Go Fish and Chutes and Ladders. Although those games disappeared as our children grew up, our game closet is now restocked with all of them, waiting for our granddaughter’s next visit. I’m finding it more fun playing the games this time around than I did when our children were young. I’m quite sure the reason for this is because we can truly enjoy playing with our grandchild without the anxieties that accompanied raising our own children. Grandchildren are simply fun!

With the advent of computers, we can also play a lot of games online. As I mentioned before, I play at least ten games of Scrabble with friends and family but these are slow games with only one move by each player in a day. In addition, I am addicted to the Microsoft Solitaire Collection which includes a daily challenge in five different solitaire games. You collect points which grow daily until (hopefully) you reach the gold bell by the end of the month when the scoring starts over. However, if you miss a few days, you get behind on your games. Catching up can be fun if you don’t mind a marathon day (or two) of computer games. And this is where the addiction begins!

Since we have lived in Florida, we have been introduced to two new games that we play with friends. The first is Rummikub, a board game that is a lot like 500 rummy. Barry and I play with three friends every couple of months and we usually lose. One friend has been playing this game for years with a group in her home town. They play for money, a penny a point and she would like us to do this also. I’d be willing if either Barry or I won once in a while but at the rate we’re going now, that isn’t going to happen anytime soon.

The other game we play with friends in our neighborhood is Mexican Train, a dominoes game. The strategy is fun but the best part of this game is pushing the button in the middle of the plastic train which emits a loud, “Choo cho, choo cho.” Of course, to be allowed to push the button you have to first win the game and, unfortunately that doesn’t happen to me very often. So occasionally I cheat and push the button for fun.

As you might have guessed by now, I don’t seem to win very often. However, I’ve decided that, for me, winning is not the object of the game. Of course I do prefer winning to losing but since that isn’t in “the cards”, I focus on other things, such as strategy, taking tricks, combining the correct numbers and adding up all the points I’m stuck with that someone else gets! I also tell myself that playing games is supposed to be good for your mind. But the best part of playing games is spending time with good friends, eating delicious food and building lovely memories in this phase of my life.

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The Snowbirds Are Leaving!

It’s May and all the people from northern climates who spend the winter in Florida are on their way back home where they will enjoy cool breezes, refreshing lakes and lazy afternoons on their decks. My mood grew bleaker as one by one, our friends in the neighborhood stopped by to say goodbye before they left Florida for the summer. I wanted to leave with them. Then we decided to take the kayaks out for the first time in a long spell.

Thanks to my husband, we were on the water by 8:15 am (I am not a morning person) and paddling our kayaks through still water, a silence broken only by the music of birds singing. We followed a watery trail between mangroves and through the sturdy legs of a long bridge, its crisscross design duplicated in the water. My depression was vanquished. We made a promise to ourselves to do this at least once a week at an even earlier hour to miss the Florida summer heat – I will set the alarm!

Until last year, we belonged to the flock of snowbirds. We had a delightful summer home on a small lake not too far from Rochester, New York. For 15 years, we spent our summers watching the world go by from our deck which overlooked the lake. We did occasionally leave the deck to go fishing in our small boat, swimming in the lake, or to mow the lawn, pull weeds from the garden, wash bugs off the windows, plant flowers and vegetables, repair everything that had broken over the winter and shop for tools to do the repairs. So, another words, our time on the deck was a little limited. But, for the most part, it was enjoyable work.

However, getting to the lake home was another matter. First, I hate long car rides. If you don’t believe me, ask my poor, long-suffering husband who, for 13 years, had to put up with me whining and complaining for almost three days as we made our way north. The tedium of sitting hour after hour, watching the landscape rush past our windows was definitely not something I enjoyed. And then there was the cat!

Our cat, a tortoise shell named Spooky, dislikes long car rides even more than me. In addition, she has a tendency to bite if you pet her in the wrong places, such as her back or stomach. Spending three days in a car with a cat that not only bites, but really doesn’t want to be there in the first place was not at the top of my list.

In spite of this, I tried to make her comfortable. I arranged the carrier artfully between the two front seats, put a soft, inviting pillow on that space in-between the driver and passenger, and allowed her to come in and out of the carrier as the spirit moved her. Sometimes I feared for my life but, animal lover that I am, it didn’t occur to me to simply lock her in the carrier until the third day on the road. That’s when her mood would go from bad to vicious.

In spite of our bad tempered cat, we did arrive safely in both locations for all those years. And that part was great! The cool air was invigorating, the cottage charming as always, and the lake beautiful. We unpacked, checked out the yard and settled in for the summer. A big plus was seeing our old friends in Rochester. The summers seemed to whiz by and before we knew it, it was time to pack up and make the trip in reverse.

When we left Florida, our tasks included cleaning out the refrigerator, turning off the water, packing the clothes we were taking (I always had to mail at least three boxes), canceling newspapers and turning the thermostat to vacation settings. Leaving the lake for the winter was a whole other thing. We cleaned out the refrigerator and unplugged it, turned off the water, drained the tank, canceled all electricity and internet, brought the boat in for storage, made arrangements for the dock to come out and the grass to be mowed, covered all the furniture with sheets, cleaned out the flower pots and put them in the basement for the winter, etc. etc. etc. It usually took a week to pack up. When we finally got on the road, we were so exhausted we couldn’t open our mouths for at least 100 miles.

Finally, the trip became too much. In addition, the shallow lake developed blue-green algae that appeared earlier and earlier every summer. So we sold the cottage and made plans to spend our summers in Florida with a few trips on the side. Last summer was the first and, by July, I was depressed and mourning the cottage. We do have wonderful friends who are here all summer and that’s a major plus. But it’s still hard to see the houses in our neighborhood grow quiet. One friend called them “dead houses.” Another said she sometimes feels like the poor cousin who has to stay in in Florida for the summer.

However, there are also many positives about spending the summers in Florida. First and foremost, traffic on the roads is minimal; it takes half the time to drive anywhere. In the winter, we would plan an hour for a trip from our house near Anna Maria Island to Sarasota. Now that trip is 30 minutes – 40 to be certain. The theatres need patrons and tickets are frequently reduced. Stores advertise half off sales and discount racks of clothes double in quantity. Restaurants are also begging for our business and prices fall.

During the season, we avoid the beach which usually has no open parking spaces and is covered with blankets, umbrellas and sun bathers. Last summer, we began visiting the beach around 6:00 pm and found a sprinkling of people, delightfully warm bay water and very few menacing waves. We took walks along the water’s edge, I swam and then we settled on our folding chairs to watch the sunset.

The summer in Florida is also a good time for indoor projects. If you’re from the northern states you used the frigid winter weather for this purpose, but once you’ve managed to change your mindset to summer, you can get a lot done. The garage always needs cleaning, the linen closet is a disaster, the freezer has run out of space, and the kitchen cabinets are messy. Of course, I can always find something else to distract me from actual work, such as writing my blog!

And that’s what happened last summer. I was depressed, missing the cottage and the voices of neighbors who were gone for the summer. I had stopped writing and knew I needed a jolt to get my creative juices running again. So, with the assistance of my in-house computer expert – my husband – I started this blog. My mind was constantly running, toying with new ideas for the next blog and my fingers were busy tapping it out on the keyboard. And then, I was able to let the cottage disappear into the past.

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For The Birds

Every morning we prop the door open with a chair to let the cat go in and out for a couple of hours. We call this her exercise time and she is usually in and asleep under the bed before I remember to close the door. A couple of days ago, a very small bird got trapped in our lanai when the door was still open. The bird was very frightened and kept hitting the screen in its attempts to get out. Carefully I herded it towards the door until it found the open space and quickly disappeared from sight. I heaved a sigh of relief.

Although this was a very small bird (a sparrow? I’m not good at bird recognition), the Florida birds I’m most familiar with are the larger shore birds. We live next door to a wildlife preserve, 487 acres of inland waterways, walking and biking trails, native plants, small animals and birds which often make their way next door to our area. Every day, we can feast our eyes on blue herons, roseate spoonbills, white egrets, wood storks, ibises, ospreys, hawks, cormorants, pelicans and (sometimes) eagles resting on our lawns or fishing in our man-made lakes that are stocked with fish. When I walk in the late afternoon, I often take binoculars along to get a better view of the birds that are just out of eye sight. I never tire of watching them.

Birds have been in our life and even in our house since our middle daughter was in grade school and we were living in California. She fell in love with the smaller tropical birds that you see in pet shops. The first bird was a cockatiel that was hand raised and very tame. He loved to sit on heads and shoulders and once he chose to do this to a TV repairman just as he bent over the back of our TV set. I heard his scream from the other end of the house. I don’t know who was more frightened, the bird or the repairman.

Our daughter had two parakeets in a cage in her room. One, Marco, was very tame and could be let out for short periods. One day she called and asked me to bring the two birds to school for show and tell. Obediently I picked up the cage with the two birds and headed for the car. But when I placed them on the driveway to retrieve the car keys from my pocket, the cage door swung open and Marco flew the coop. Horrified, I watched him until he settled in a large tree by the corner of the house. I waited a few minutes, then decided I’d better take the remaining bird to school where our daughter was waiting,

At school, I handed her the cage, mumbling something about Marco’s absence. But after the show and tell was over, I knew I had to tell her the truth. She burst into tears and asked to go home to look for him.

When we returned to the house, I was surprised to find that Marco had remained in the tree but on a much higher branch. I pointed him out to our daughter and when I saw her sad face, I knew what I had to do. I retrieved the extra bird cage from the house and loaded it with bird seed. Then, cage in hand, I started to climb the tree. I’m no athlete and climbing trees was never something I did well (even in my prime) but I was determined. With help from a step ladder, I reached a V in the tree and when I looked up, I saw Marco watching my every move. Carefully I maneuvered to the next protruding branch and, when I looked down, I knew this was my limit.

I balanced the cage on a branch above me, door open and hoped the seed looked good to a hungry bird. Marco cocked his head, looked at the bird seed and looked at me. He hopped down to a closer branch. Fifteen minutes later, he came a bit closer. My legs were cramped, my back hurt and the ground was much too far away but my daughter’s tearful face at the bottom of the tree kept me going. Marco moved again, his eyes on the cage. Then – bang- he was in and I secured the cage door. My grateful daughter took the cage from me and I carefully made my way down the tree, very happy to feel the ground beneath my feet.

Unfortunately, this wasn’t the last bird escapade. About a year later, my daughter decided to raise finches to sell to pet stores. We constructed an aviary in the back yard and soon it was occupied by dozens of finches. But our building skills left something to be desired and a few weeks later, we discovered at least half the finches had escaped through an opening in the screen that had come loose over the door. The escapees were flying overhead and perching on top of the aviary. I remembered the method I had used to trap Marco and thought maybe it would work again.

I grabbed the old bird cage, filled it with seed and then surveyed the yard. There was no tree to climb but there was a small one to hide behind. I tied a fishing line to the cage door and left the cage in front of the tree. Then I released enough line to get me behind the tree. I kneeled down and pulled the line taught so the cage door was wide open.

It didn’t take long before the first finch hopped over to the door, enticed (I hoped) by the bird seed within. As soon as he hopped in, I let the fishing line go and the door swung shut. After I returned the finch to the aviary I repeated the exercise again and again, until we had most of the birds back in the aviary which, by now, had been patched up.

However, the birds were only part of the menagerie. We also had two dogs, a cat, a rabbit, two chickens and one duck. A friend of ours would bring his son to our house to visit because the child thought our yard was the zoo! And he might have been right.

When we moved from California to Syracuse, New York, the aviary had to go but the pet birds – one parakeet, one cockatiel and an African grey parrot – came with us, in addition to two dogs. We traveled by air to our new home and created quite a stir at baggage claim when the three crates holding the larger creatures rolled down the belt. I hand-carried the parakeet and cockatiel in a small cage. They, too, startled other passengers with their small vocabularies: hello, how are you, good-bye and cockadoodle-doo.

A year later, when my daughter left for college, we found a wonderful new home for the cockatiel and parakeet with a woman who had an equally tame female cockatiel. The last I heard both cockatiels spent most days riding on her shoulders and the parakeet followed close behind. The African grey parrot got sick and, when I learned that the veterinarian treating him had a room at home just for her parrots, I offered her ours in return for the bill. It was a win-win but most of all, I knew the parrot had a good home.

I’m very happy now to enjoy the birds in the wild and at a distance and to pet other people’s dogs when I pass them on the street. My husband and I presently have close contact with only one cat – she is more than enough to take care of (and sometimes, too much!). But the zoo years – along with our children’s childhoods -were precious and the memories will be there forever.

Hairy Women Unite!

I’m over 70 years old and I’m finally coming out of the closet.

I’m a woman and I have hair growing on my face! In fact, I’ve had hair growing on my face since puberty. There. I’ve finally come clean.

For the past five plus decades, I had been tweezing hairs daily from my chin, my upper lip and my sideburns. My impetus to be honest about this horrific malady has slowly grown over the past several years as I pursued an action I had thought about for most of those years.   I’ve been getting electrolysis treatments.

It all started when a friend mentioned she had an electrolysis appointment. My ears perked up. I’d been thinking about this for years. Why not now? I’m retired, so time wasn’t a problem. Thank goodness, money wasn’t a problem. And I had this terrible fear of lying comatose in the hospital or a nursing home, a grey beard slowly covering my chin and upper lip. My husband and friends would walk in and be shocked, thinking this could not possibly be the woman they knew. In fact, I had already told both of my daughters to please, please cut, tweeze, or shave my face or at the very least, disguise my identity but don’t let me grow a beard!

So I made my first appointment with the technician my friend recommended and found a competent, no-nonsense but kindly woman my age who made me promise never to tweeze again. This was hard. Tweezing had become a habit, part of my daily routine and I found, strangely, I missed it. The first couple of months were especially difficult. I had an hour appointment once a week (sometimes sooner) and had to live with the growth in-between. Even though I cut the new growth as short as possible, I could still see it in my 10 X magnifying mirror. And I was certain, so could everyone else. The only thing that helped my extreme paranoia was the fact that the hair was now white instead of black, one positive aspect of being over 70 years old.

But the time went fast and it wasn’t long before I had half-hour appointments once a week; then appointments every ten days, which grew slowly to two weeks. The next step was half hour appointments once a month until I reached maintenance (Call when you need me, the technician said.) Hurray!!!

But a strange thing happened during the year of electrolysis. I began to notice that a woman always left the electrolysis office as I was arriving and a woman was always waiting when I left. Could it be I was not alone? If so, where were all these role models when I needed them?

Most of the inhabitants of the small Northern Minnesota town I grew up in were blonde and fair skinned, descendants of the original Scandinavian settlers. I was a brunette with brown eyes. When the first hairs started popping up on my upper lip at puberty, I was bereft. Then the first chin hairs appeared followed soon by sketchy sideburns. I was convinced I was an aberration. Something terrible had gone wrong. I was meant to be a boy. Women were not supposed to have hair on their faces.

But I was a girl in every other sense. In fact, I was a typical girl. I played with dolls, dressing them up for balls, had a lot of girl friends with whom I enjoyed talking about typical girl things and, at twelve, had already had crushes on at least four boys. .

My mother couldn’t help me. She was a redhead with very pale hairless skin. She didn’t even need to shave her legs. Then my aunt on my dad’s side of the family came for a visit. She became my confidant and it wasn’t long before my ugly secret came out. To my surprise, she laughed. She told me about hours in electrolysis (what was that, I wondered) and bought me my first tweezer. I had been saved and a lifelong battle against facial hair had begun.

I asked my electrolysis technician if many women had hair on their faces and she said it is extremely common. In fact, many have much more than I (Is this possible?). Indian women have a huge problem, she told me. African American women, Italian women, Jewish women (that’s my category). No one group is untouched, except perhaps for fair women like my mom and my Scandinavian friends. And the problem is not medical.

Where have these women been all my life? Why don’t we talk about this? Why does it seem to be a deep dark secret? Maybe it just doesn’t come up in casual conversations. Or maybe I’ve never brought it up with another woman. I was too ashamed, too certain that something terrible was wrong with me.

So this is a call to action. Hairy women unite! There is nothing wrong with you or with me. Hair on our faces is natural for us. We must get the word out; tell our sisters, our daughters, our girlfriends. Let our fathers, our husbands, our sons know this is a natural condition. Maybe we should stop tweezing for a month to show our solidarity. When we meet on the street, we will recognize one another and we can raise our arms in unity.

Well, maybe later. Right now I’m late for my electrolysis appointment.

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A Homage To My Mother

In many ways, my mother (Sophie) was amazing. But she was also a very difficult woman and our relationship throughout the years was often fraught with tension and disagreements. One of my proudest assertions has always been how different I am from her. And yet, as I grow older, I realize that we also have a lot in common.

Sophie was born in a small village in Austria. Pogroms against the Jews were common and her parents decided to seek a better life in America. Her father came first. He traveled to Akron, Ohio to find a job and establish a home for his wife and two children. When she was four years old, Sophie, her mother and brother made the same trip across the ocean and joined him. Over the next few years, more babies were born in Ohio; twins who lived only a short time and another brother (Abner – a future story) who survived.

Sophie was close to her father who, she remembered, always greeted her with exuberance and love. They shared outgoing personalities and heads of thick curly red hair. When her father developed schizophrenia, he was hospitalized and my grandmother tried unsuccessfully to support the family as a seamstress. Finally, the Jewish community placed Sophie and her two brothers in an orphanage for Jewish children in Cleveland, Ohio.

It was better than most orphanages at that time: plenty of food, access to education, and loving caretakers. But Sophie had been wrenched away from both her mother and father and she told me many times how she cried for days in the orphanage. She never really recovered from this abandonment and it impacted the rest of her life.

But she also had fond memories of the orphanage. Many of the children she grew up with became lifelong friends with whom she had regular contact. She brought songs from the orphanage into my childhood. I especially remember one; a poignant letter from a child telling her mother how much she loves her, how much she misses her and yet assuring her mother that she’s okay. She always spoke affectionately of the men and women who took care of the children. Her older brother, Mac, remembered getting enough to eat for the first time.

Sophie left the orphanage at age 16 and, for a time, lived with her mother and her new husband. This arrangement proved to be a disaster. Not only had Sophie left her immigrant origins behind, but she had become independent and had lost the relationship with her mother. After a short time, she moved in with a friend and began working as a secretary. She was attractive but chubby, and very self-conscious about her weight. Marriage eluded her during a time when girls married young.

When she was 24, my father (Paul) and grandmother traveled by bus and train from Virginia, Minnesota to Cleveland, Ohio for a visit with relatives. In truth, this was a trip to find a suitable Jewish wife for my father, a shy, rather frail young man who was managing the family grocery store for his widowed mother. Sophie and Paul met at a party, dated a few more times and corresponded for several months before my father proposed. After they were married, Sophie moved to Virginia, Minnesota, a small iron ore mining town about 200 miles north of Minneapolis.

Life in Virginia was very difficult for Sophie. She had come from a large city and lived primarily in a Jewish community. Virginia was small – 17,000 population – and the Jewish community was very small – about 50 families. The first year after their marriage, the couple lived with Paul’s mother, Jenny, in the apartment above the grocery store, Ostrov’s Grocery. This situation put a strain on the marriage and, at one point, Sophie packed her bags and made plans to go back to Ohio. Paul talked her out of going and soon after, the couple moved into their own home, a small duplex that Jenny owned and rented out.

In 1937, Paul and Sophie welcomed a baby boy and in 1940, a girl (yours truly). Sophie had an enormous amount of energy and, I believe, staying home with children was difficult. She also had a volatile temper that ranged from loving attention to sudden outbursts of anger that could go on for days. After screaming for a few hours, Sophie would disappear in her bedroom and would not reappear for at least 24 hours. Paul would coax her out, slowly talking her out of her mood and clearing the path for her reappearance. When she did come out, we would all pretend that nothing had ever happened.

My grandmother died when I was eleven and our family moved into her home above the store. This provided Sophie with an outlet; she worked in the store from morning until evening, stalking shelves, ordering, waiting on customers and (too often) finding fault with employees or having disagreements with salesmen and customers. Paul always stepped in, apologizing for his wife, smoothing the waters and allowing Sophie to return to work. But the store gave Sophie a purpose and a job and defined her life.

As a teenager, I learned to stay out of her way. We clashed, as teenagers and parents often do, over a myriad of things. And as a typical teenager, I rejected everything that was important to her. She desperately wanted to be accepted; by her husband, her children and, primarily her contemporaries. She worried about dressing appropriately, cooking the right dishes and establishing an acceptable home. But underneath all of this, was the child crying out for acceptance, the child who had lost her father, been taken from her mother and placed in an orphanage.

When I married and was raising three children, I was determined not to make the same mistakes my mother had made. And, of course, in my haste to do the opposite, I made my own mistakes. It took years of work to understand my mother, to forgive her and to love her for who she truly is; and to recognize the wonderful things we do have in common.

Sophie worked hard to fit in, which included dressing appropriately. Every year before school started, she would take me to a Duluth department store to get clothes for the coming year. My response was usually to sit in the changing room, arms crossed, unwilling to try anything on. And yet, today, I love clothes and I love shopping! I like to try new fashions and when I look in my closet, I see my mother’s influence.

Sophie always stayed fit; walking and exercising. As she got older, she worked even harder at staying in shape. The last ten years of her life, she even led an exercise class at the condominium where she lived. When I visited one time, I joined the class and I still remember the look of pride on her face when she saw me in the back row.

And now that I’m a senior citizen, I realize how important exercise is and also how much I enjoy it. I understand how quickly our bodies deteriorate when we are not active and how easy it would be to slide into infirmity once we fail to stay in shape.

Sophie liked politics and always had an opinion. A lifelong democrat, Sophie once took a bus to Miami to hear Hillary Clinton speak. I echo her sentiments and still remember the thrill of driving to Tampa to hear the fledgling presidential candidate, Barak Obama, speak. And, unfortunately, I also have strong opinions that I seldom keep to myself.

Sophie took great pride in her cooking. But, before her marriage, she had no experience in the kitchen. She often told the story of how she picked up the ingredients for a recipe from the store, carried them upstairs and tried to make the dish; but most of the time she ended up carrying the failed product (hidden in bags) back downstairs to the large garbage cans in the back of the store. Then she would pick up the ingredients again and start over.

Ultimately, Sophie became a superb cook who could produce all the Jewish delicacies and almost anything else. She often welcomed company to her table and there was always too much food. Although I am cooking much less these days (I’m fortunate to have a husband who enjoys cooking), I enjoy spending time with friends and having them for dinner. I especially enjoy celebrating the holidays with friends and family and cooking the traditional foods. And I always make too much.

And last, but not least, when I look in the mirror these days, I see my mother. At first, this was disconcerting and I would ask friends who knew her if they thought I looked like her. Occasionally a relative would comment on our likeness. Last summer when we were in Virginia, a man who had known her walked up to me. “Your mother was a beautiful woman,” he said. “And you look a lot like her.”

What’s not to like about a comment like that? And what’s not to like about a woman who not only survived a tumultuous childhood but built a full life for herself, her husband and children without having any background to base it on. I embrace the things we have in common and enjoy many of the activities that she also loved. She was, as the rabbi who officiated at her funeral said, a survivor. And my only regret is that I have not truly understood this until many years after her death.

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Sports and the Klutz

I’m a klutz.

When I was five, my mother ignored the obvious and enrolled me in a dance class with other girls my age. My lasting memories of that dance class are the teacher yelling at me because I was always out of step and a photo I still have of our class dressed in matching frilly skirts that was taken at a recital. I’m in the back row and I was the shortest girl in the class.

In grade school, gym was a nightmare. When a classmate picked students for a team sport, I was always the last one standing. Occasionally, a good friend was the team leader and she would chose me early on, even when she knew I would doom the team to last place.

In high school, my friends prodded me to join GAA, the Girls Athletic Association. I was a member of a girl’s basketball team and I don’t remember how we did but I’d imagine we didn’t win many games. These were the days when each girl covered a small designated area on the floor so we didn’t move all over the court. I’m guessing this kept me from doing too much damage.

As time went by, I went to great lengths to avoid team sports. At one point, I attempted golf but gave up when other golfers yelled at me because I was taking too long to complete each hole. On one course, I broke a record for the highest number of strokes for nine holes. It wasn’t long before I quit counting. Finally, I quit golf.

When my daughter was playing on a softball team in junior high, someone organized a mother/daughter game. I got a call from one of the mothers asking me if I wanted to play on the mothers team, and I said absolutely not; I was a disaster on any team. Our family attended the game and about half way through, it was obvious the mothers were drubbing the kids. The woman who had called me came over and asked if I had been telling the truth about my skills. She said the moms didn’t want to beat the girls but they didn’t want to throw the game on purpose.

Finally – I had been called to a higher purpose! The moms put me on first base and my total inability to catch or hit any ball made it possible for the girls to regain a solid lead over their mothers in only two innings.

The strange thing about this klutzy malady is that I love physical activity when I’m on my own. I like long walks and hiking down forest trails. I love to swim and sometimes, I feel more comfortable in the water than out of it. Kayaking is one of my favorite activities and I’d ride a bike for hours if I wasn’t afraid of falling.

With this in mind, I went on a search for an exercise class that would fit my needs. First, I tried yoga. It only took a few classes before I realized my body was never going to bend in the poses the yoga teacher was demonstrating. The classes seemed endless and my thoughts often wandered off in other directions.

Next came Tai chi and the results were pretty much the same. We were standing and moving a little more but it was still too slow for me. The poses felt unnatural and I was afraid I would break out laughing when the class went into full grunt mode.

I moved on to Zumba, which was definitely fast-paced and I enjoyed moving to music. But it wasn’t long before my knees started to object. The Zumba routines included a lot of jumping and stair-stepping which was definitely hard on older joints. I tried to stay on the ground but it was difficult to do something different than the rest of the class.

At one point, I decided to work with a personal trainer. At first, it was great. I met with him a couple of times a week and he put me through a series of exercises. Gradually, he added more and pushed me to work harder. I loved having someone to guide me. Then my bad knee started aching, my back felt like it had been stepped on and I couldn’t turn my neck. When I dropped a weight on my toe, I decided I had had enough. I would stick to walking and swimming.

Soon after we moved to Florida, I found an exercise class I had never heard of before. It was called NIA (Neuromuscular Integrative Action). The first class was completely different than anything I had ever tried before. The music was fun, the instructor led us in simple dance steps that even I could follow, and the routines repeated enough for me to learn them. The instructor explained that each person in the class should always do what felt best for her body. She demonstrated the different levels of kicking or bending and cautioned each of us to listen to our bodies. Half way through the hour, she told us to do our own dance; to follow the music and move in whatever way we felt our bodies needed.

I glanced at the other women in class and they were each dancing their way; stepping, twirling, bending – some fast, some slow, some simply waving their arms – most with eyes closed. Nobody cared what anyone else was doing and nobody was passing judgment on someone else’s ability. We spent the last ten minutes of the class on the floor on mats doing “Floor Play” which was, once again, moving our arms and legs, our core, any way that felt good to us.

I soon learned that NIA blends martial arts, Yoga, dance and aerobics. Another words, all the fitness routines I’d already tried and rejected blended into a fun, non-impact dance routine! I knew, without doubt, I had found my exercise home.

For me, NIA transforms that five-year old klutz into a graceful ballerina; the grade-school team failure into a successful athlete and the exercise-adverse adult into a passionate NIA disciple! I no longer feel klutzy- although I still avoid team sports (some things never change!). So, for today, for this moment in time, I plan to keep dancing with NIA!

A giant note of thanks to my intrepid NIA instructor: Gail Condrick

 

Estate Sale Treasures

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My husband and I went to an estate sale this weekend. We arrived during the last hour of the sale when everything was marked down to half price. There wasn’t much left but I still managed to find a red table cloth for $1.70.

I walked around the rather empty house, trying to avoid a surprising number of people still looking for something to buy. I paged through a stack of prints of lions, tigers and elephants. Then I noticed several small wooden carvings of animals and knew the previous owners had taken a trip to Africa. In another room, I found a stack of books on sewing and surmised that someone had enjoyed sewing. When my husband approached me with a hand sewing contraption still in the original package, I talked him out of it because I knew it would suffer the same fate in our house. Or, even worse, we would open it, find it unusable and it would end up in the garbage.

We’ve been going to estate sales since we moved to Florida in 2001. Our excursions have been part entertainment and part bargain hunting. I have to admit that, when the doors to the house are opened at 9:00 am and the ragtag line of antique dealers and bargain hunters is admitted, my heart races and my body tingles in anticipation of the possibilities inside.

The sales have been in houses ranging from multi-million dollar homes on the water, modest homes in middle class neighborhoods to mobile homes in mobile parks. But I’ve learned the size of the house has nothing to do with the furnishings. One of the most interesting estate sales was in a double-wide mobile home that was loaded with a variety of collections: cups and saucers, frog statues, spoons, Japanese art, candle sticks and more. On the other hand, a large new home on Long Boat Key was furnished with expensive, but bland furnishings that appeared to be right off the showroom floor.

Once, we arrived at an estate sale in Sarasota in the middle of the afternoon. As soon as I walked in, I was drawn to a small peacock statue on a side table. An original bill-of-sale under it said it was made of jade. I knew immediately that I wanted to take it home. But in one hour, everything left in the house would be marked down to half price. Did I dare wait until then? What if someone bought it before then? I took the chance and waited outside in a line until the doors were reopened for half-price sales; then headed right for my jade peacock. And there he was, waiting for me! He still has a special place in our living room.IMG_0163

One Saturday morning, my friend, Pat (who is the same size as me) called me. “Jeannie,” she said. “I’m at an estate sale and you’ve got to come. The bedroom is filled with petite clothes in our size. And many of them still have the price tag on them.” I was out the door and at the sale in half-an-hour.

Pat was not exaggerating! Racks and racks of clothes in our size filled the master bedroom. I couldn’t believe it. There was no place to try things on so we had to hold the clothes up and make a good guess. I was about to leave the room when I looked in the closet. It was filled with women’s shoes, all in my size. By the time I left the house, I had four pairs of shoes and a huge bag of clothes for the grand sum of $30.

At home, I headed right for the bedroom to try on the clothes. Then I decided to rearrange the closet to hold my new treasures. Just as I hung the last blouse on the clothes bar, it pulled away from the wall and collapsed, taking ten feet of clothes with it. Since this was an old closet, the only sensible way to repair it was to call in a closet organizer and redesign the entire room. The final bill for my estate sale bargains was $600. And most of the clothes I bought at the sale never looked quite right on me – they ended up at Good Will.

We went to an estate sale at a charming cottage on Anna Maria Island that, we heard, belonged to a woman known as the “Teddy Bear Lady”. That was not an exaggeration. Teddy bears were everywhere; in fact, the second floor of the house was dedicated to them. We bought teddy bears for a friend’s grandsons and several for our granddaughter. We also bought an adorable small wooden wagon that has “The Teddy Express” painted across the side. It’s on display in a high shelf in the kitchen.

Most of the time, a notice about an estate sale comes by e mail accompanied by photos of the household items that will be sold. It’s fun to look at the pictures and see if there’s anything we truly cannot live without. Once, I fell in love with a watercolor painting of wash drying on a line in a tropical setting and was determined to try and buy it at the estate sale. We arrived early but were still pretty far back in the line of people waiting to get in the house at the nine o’clock starting bell. It was a big house so I was hopeful that they’d let us all in at once.

The doors opened and I took off, leaving my husband behind. I hit the living room first, the dining room and the bedrooms. Nothing. Finally, I reached the laundry room and there it was – of course! It was laundry on that line, after all. I drew close. It was even more colorful and lively than the photo. Then I saw the small post-it note in the corner. Sold!

My exhilaration was gone; I wasn’t interested in anything else so I went in search of my husband. I found him in the kitchen, checking out an appliance. “I was too late,” I told him. “The painting was sold.”

He smiled and pulled a receipt out of his pocket. “To me,” he said. I hugged him and remembered once again why I loved him. The painting is now hanging in our guest room and I enjoy looking at it every day.

Sometimes the estate sale home owners are moving to a new city or just a new home. But often, I know, the home owners have died or are moving into assisted care facilities. I always wonder about the people who lived there and look for bits and pieces – like the sewing books- that tell me about the things they enjoyed and valued. When I purchase a treasure from an estate sale, I feel as if I’m entrusted with something someone else loved and cared for and it’s now my responsibility to use it kindly and take care of it until, inevitably, our home will be opened for an estate sale. And I can only hope that the next owner of our treasures enjoys them as much as we did.

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The World After Cataracts

I thought I was pretty well preserved for my age. A few friends made nice comments about my skin, sometimes new friends were surprised when they learned my age and I felt reasonably good about my image in the mirror. Then I had cataract surgery in my right eye.

When the dilation and fog of surgery cleared after a few days, I gazed at my reflection and my heart sank. I had had the lens corrected for astigmatism and distance and I was seeing a whole new me. In fact, I was seeing a whole new world. When I closed the left eye (cataract and astigmatism still in place), objects were no longer fuzzy; everything had well-defined edges and colors were vibrant. My vision was clear and I could see far into the distance. This also meant I could see every wrinkle. When had those tiny lines on my cheeks appeared? And what about my forehead? The circles under my eyes made me look tired and – there it is – old! I would have to start wearing bangs that came down over my eyes.

Why hadn’t someone warned me about this aspect of cataract removal and vision correction? If they had, I might have gone on until the end of my life, believing I still looked 16. Okay, maybe not 16, but how about 60? I was probably a bit unrealistic. But, oh, how I loved my visual fog. Now I would have to get used to the new “mature” me.

Half-way into the first week with the new eyesight, I turned to the computer. At my last visit to the dermatologist, I had asked the doctor to recommend a face cream for wrinkles. I googled the brand he had mentioned and was immediately rewarded: a dozen sites appeared. When I hit one of them, I found the cream and almost closed the computer. Two ounces of the lotion cost $75! How long would two ounces last? The directions recommended two or three pump-fulls spread over your face every day. Maybe, if I was lucky, it would last a week!

I kept searching, desperate in my new awareness. Finally I found the cream on Amazon for half the price. I ordered two and watched for their arrival, meanwhile avoiding mirrors. When they came, I unwrapped one and carefully pumped out a few drops. Forget three pumps every day; I was going to get along on three drops. These two containers were going to have to last a long time!

My brother, an ophthalmologist, called to see how I was doing. When I told him about my mirror shock, he laughed. After cataract surgery, one of his patients took a good look at the walls in her house and repainted every room. Another bought a new wardrobe and a third complained about how old her husband had become. So I wasn’t alone!

With one eye changed, my glasses are no longer useful. In fact, it’s just the opposite; they cloud my vision. Of course, part of this problem is because they are so scratched. I’m one of those people who take my glasses on and off ten times a day, leaving them between couch cushions, under bed covers and in bathroom drawers. Then I spend 30 minutes searching for them while my husband is waiting for me or when I need to be out the door and on the way to an appointment. Now, with distance vision improved, I can buy inexpensive readers and leave them all over the house! Maybe this will make up for the new wrinkles!

It’s strange to drive the car without wearing glasses. I keep wondering what will happen if I get pulled over and a policeman looks at my license which specifies that I need glasses to drive. Will he or she believe my cataract story? On the other hand, this is Florida and I’m guessing I am one of thousands, if not millions in this predicament. When I made my appointment for the cataract surgery, the eye counselor told me the schedule was very full because this is “cataract season”. This is a new one. I know it is tourist season, but cataract season?

The other thing about cataract surgery is the drops; there are four of them – an antibiotic, anti-inflammatory, pain-inflammation and lubricating drops. All of these are given at different times and for different periods of time and different amounts. The office does give you a nice sheet with everything clearly listed so you can actually cross off each drop after you’ve used it. At first I resisted this approach, certain I could keep track of this myself, but as the second eye approaches, I have given up. The check-list and a pen are in place by the little bottles of drops. And tomorrow I return to the eye surgery center for cataract removal, astigmatism and distance correction in the left eye. I’m just wondering how many new wrinkles I’m going to see by the middle of the week!

Let’s Compromise

Okay, I’m going to come clean. I’m a liberal. (Actually, I like the word progressive better) In fact, I’m so far gone, I support Elizabeth Warren for president. If you’ve been reading my blog, you already know I rescue bugs, fish and animals. So you must know that this impulse extends to any living thing, especially humans. I always want to empty my wallet into a beggar’s hat, to bring homeless families back to my house, and adopt every child in need – especially those who arrive at school with empty stomachs, live in shelters and on the street, or are barely surviving in countries where the ruling elite are bombing their own people.

I know, I know. I can hear you saying, “You can’t rescue the world.” You’re absolutely right but why can’t we at least try to do a better job in our own country? Shouldn’t we be doing something to help the families who are struggling right here In America?

These musings began when I attended a lecture on income inequality given by a PhD in Economics. As most of you already know, income inequality in this country is at an all-time high. In fact, we are close to the numbers of people either at or below the poverty level that France was in 1792 and you know what happened then. I hope nobody in this country loses his or her head but we must recognize that, even though we don’t have a king, queen or royalty, we do have an elite class. They are the one percent who run the country and make 99 percent of the money. And unless they are willing to surrender more of their assets to taxes and support some changes in our economic system, we are probably headed for trouble. What’s that old adage? “Those who fail to study history are doomed to repeat it.” So if you’re in the top one percent, better hang on to your head!

The speaker didn’t just lay out the problems; he had suggestions for change. The first suggestion was simple; Access to Education. This means reinvesting in early childhood education, making college or trade schools more accessible for low-income individuals and relieving college loan debt. I was lucky; my parents didn’t go to college but they were determined to send their children. In my home, graduating from high school was a given; it was the college diploma that really meant something. And both my brother and I fulfilled their dream; then passed it on to our children. We need to instill this dream in homes where it doesn’t exist and then help make it a reality. That’s how you change a cycle of poverty.

The second change the speaker suggested was to make certain everyone had a reliable retirement program. This means providing secure retirement savings programs for people who are working in low-end jobs, such as waitressing, cleaning homes, day labor, etc. Many people work very hard all their lives at jobs that provide no benefits. They deserve to have a safety net that provides them with the basic necessities of life when they can no longer work.

Tax reform was the third suggestion. The very rich now pay a lower percentage of their income in taxes than the middle and lower classes. If the rich paid their fair share, we (Americans) would be able to establish a stronger safety net to help people who fall into the abyss when they lose their jobs, develop a chronic illness or have an accident and are unable to work due to an injury. Or they may have a family member who falls into one of these categories. Not everyone can “pull themselves up by their bootstraps.” Some of us are more able, luckier, or smarter than others. We are not all create equal and I believe we have an obligation to help those who can’t help themselves.

The speaker talked about reining in the influence of money in politics, strengthening worker’s rights and raising wages. He also mentioned strengthening the implantation of the Affordable Care Act. If we are living in a country as wealthy as America and we cannot provide basic health care to our citizens, then something is terribly wrong!
I retired at age 62 so I had three years before I would be eligible for health care. The only insurance I could get cost $700 a month. And every six months, I would get a notice that the payments were going up. My husband and I were lucky; we could pay those premiums. But how many people can? One accident, one major (or even minor) illness and you are wiped out.

Okay, I’ve been on a diatribe; sorry. But I do get emotional about these problems. I feel strongly that people shouldn’t suffer because they’ve been dealt a lesser hand than I have. Many of us do extend a helping hand, either through volunteer work, through contributions to worthy causes and through acts of charity sponsored by our churches, synagogues or mosques. But just giving a family a turkey for Christmas day feeds them for that day and probably a few more (if it’s a big turkey). What happens after that? Should they wait to eat until next Christmas when we give them another turkey? We need to give individuals and families-in-need a gift that will help them buy their own turkey. That means prodding our government and our one percent to dig deep in our collective pockets and really make this the greatest country in the world. If this means compromise between progressives and conservatives, I’m all for it. In fact, I’m always in favor of compromise; it’s a much better solution than doing nothing! So this is a call out for people from all sides (or anyone that reads my blog!). Let’s make a difference.

Thanks for listening!

Senior Maintenance

I went in for Senior Maintenance earlier this week. The outpatient surgery was to rid my right ear of a cholesteatoma (A benign tumor). I know I’m past the anesthesia fog and body trauma because I’m in the next stage of recovery: I’m very crabby. My poor husband, who, as always, has seen to my every need and even anticipated a few, is, of course, getting the brunt of my crabbiness. The house is a mess, the food is off (and he’s a great cook), the couch is lumpy, the house is too cold or too hot, etc., etc., etc. I’m dying to go out for a walk but I have this space helmet over the right side of my head which is going to get a lot of attention and garner a lot of questions. And the bottom line is I’m too crabby to answer them. That takes way too much energy. So I’m a crabby captive in the house.

Senior Maintenance is one of the negative by-products of living into your 70’s, 80’s and 90’s. Our aging bodies are in constant need of repair. There’s the knee and hip replacements which many of my friends have had – and I’ve definitely got a new knee in my future. Most of my friends have had cataract surgery and mine is already scheduled for the end of this month. And let’s not even get into teeth – you all already know how much my mouth is worth.

We get shots for arthritis, rheumatism and wrinkles. (Okay, that’s not a medical condition, but maybe it should be). And there’s physical therapy for every body part that’s repaired or just sore. Then there’s the more serious repairs such as tuning up the heart, cleaning out valves and replacing leaky parts. And now (thank goodness) modern medicine often has enough medicines and procedures to treat cancer so we can say that someone is “living with cancer”. The bottom line is that by the time you reach 70, most people are living with some repairs, chronic illness and/or body pain that needs to be controlled, repaired or maintained.

Our calendars are filled with doctor’s appointments. There’s the ophthalmologist on Monday, the orthopedist on Tuesday, the ENT doc on Wednesday, the internist on Thursday and the dentist on Friday. Then we have Saturday and Sunday to rest up and get ready for the next week. You have to be retired by at least the age of 70 or you won’t have time to make your doctor appointments, let alone the time you need to recover from the latest maintenance.

When we get together with friends, we have to be careful to limit the time we talk about our maintenance issues. A friend calls it “The Organ Recital” and she actually sets a stop watch for 15 minutes; then time is up and we must move on to other topics. This is a good thing as it is unhealthy to dwell on maintenance and there are definitely better things to talk about.

Since all this does sound rather overwhelming, you must be wondering (if you’re not a senior) how we manage to enjoy life in spite of all our maintenance issues. We’ll, in addition to the doctor’s appointments, there is still time for reading, lectures, golf, fishing, movies, classes, etcetera- you get the idea. So we do have active lives. In fact, our children complain that they can never reach us because we’re always out.

What about the discomfort that comes with achy body parts? We’ll, I read an article that said pain from various malfunctions comes on slowly through older age so people get used to living with it. So you have an ache here or a pain there; just part of getting up in the morning. Unless it is overwhelming pain from a major problem or an illness that seriously limits activities, seniors are able to continue with their usual activities.

And then there is life itself. What a great motivator! There is time now to make a difference by giving all our energy (or what’s left of it after regular maintenance) to a good cause or helping someone in need. We can use our individual talents in ways we decide on, instead of a boss telling us what to do. Or we can pursue an educational goal that has always been elusive. We can read all those books we’ve heard about or work on our golf swing, our swimming strokes, and our new bicycle.

My husband and I have found one of the most important things in our lives are our adult children and our granddaughter. We enjoy hearing about our children’s triumphs and are glad we can be there to sympathize with the problems life throws at you. We are able to impart the perspective of people who have already lived through many of those issues. (On the other hand, what adult child wants to hear that perspective?) Most of all, we just enjoy their company, their stories, their fresh perspectives on life issues.

And then there is our granddaughter. Watching her grow and change with the years – no, the months and sometimes, the days- is enough on its own to keep us going in for repairs. It seems like one day she was a baby and the next a first grader, already going to her room with a new book, shutting the door for complete privacy while she devours it. Is there anything better than seeing a new generation fall in love with books?

So there are plenty of reasons to continue with maintenance. Which means I’d better get my act together and go out for a walk, ear hat riding jauntily over the right side of my head, dirty hair poking out around it. This too will pass and life is too precious to miss a moment.