Getting Ready to go North

Sending some sunshine ahead of us.

A strange thing is happening as we are preparing to head north, as we always do about the middle of April. This year Jim made the proclamation that we weren’t going north until the end of April. He is tired of my eagerness to get “home,” wanting to leave around the 15th – and then complaining that it is still cold in Michigan in April. We are staying a week longer and spending a long week-end with our daughter in North Carolina before completing our snow-bird journey. The strange thing that is happening is that I’m not ready to leave Florida. I finally felt like I was here and enjoying myself as I was walking across the parking lot towards the pool a couple of weeks ago. It was a jolt of awakening to my surroundings and a voice in my head saying how nice it is to be here. The first three months weren’t easy as Jim and I worked together to deal with his double vision and severe fatigue as a result Myasthenia Gravis. We have lived and loved together for so long that what happens to one, happens to the other.

I love the coloring of this one.

The zinnias in the Idea Garden at the Naples Botanical Garden have started me thinking about my northern garden. I have a space where I plant zinnias for some late summer and fall color. The past few years I have planted seeds, then waited and waited for the first blossoms. When I visited the Botanical Garden here in Florida in January the zinnias were just starting to bloom and then a couple of cool months later I noticed they had pulled them all out and the next week they planted another batch of seedlings. I was amazed when they were blooming a couple of weeks later. This year I’m going to buy seedlings to speed things up in my cooler northern garden, but will also be realistic that they won’t bloom as quickly as in hot southern Florida.

We have five more days before we head north so we are eating up what is in the refrigerator, freezer and pantry. I think I can put together some meals that aren’t too weird with the help of the neighborhood grocer with a great fish counter and a deli with really good salads. I’ve been thinking of making a batch of molasses cookies but will need to barter with a neighbor for some butter, maybe for a dozen cookies. On the subject of cooking, I am really looking forward to going north to my new gas range. The one here is electric and even after using electric cook-tops for over 10 years in Michigan and Florida I haven’t learned to regulate the heat so I don’t burn grilled sandwiches. Two grilled sandwiches always take six slices of buttered bread – four to eat and two for the garbage.

I was so enjoying being more relaxed about Covid during our winter months here in Florida. We were spending time with friends at the pool and in our homes, going to very early suppers (late lunch?) at restaurants with outdoor seating, and even forgetting to put masks on when going into grocery stores. These activities felt like getting back to normal. We felt well protected with transmission rates falling and having been vaccinated and boosted. Then four of our friends in our condo association got sick a week ago and tested positive for Covid. I had played in a Rummy Cube tournament at the pool with two of them a week ago Saturday so I could have been infected. Amazing how quickly we put the defenses in gear and also rallied round to make sure friends had tests and people who were sick had enough food and weren’t getting so sick that they needed medical help. Fear moved into our home again as we worried about sick friends who had serious heart problems, and friends who didn’t want to get sick because they had plans to see a 9-month pregnant granddaughter on Easter. And of course we have felt some anxiety about whether Covid would disrupt our schedule for going back to Michigan. We are well stocked with rapid tests so we will make sure we test negative before we leave on Thursday and maybe again before we get to our daughter’s home on Friday.

We are going to take less stuff back and forth this year (said in 2018, 2019, 2020, and 2021). We both thought we did a good job of bringing less when we drove down last October. We mostly have full wardrobes in both places and have coffee makers and sewing machines and household tools for both homes. As I am starting to put things on the guest beds, I’m wondering why I feel so overwhelmed with packing to go home this time. Maybe it’s because I’m a year older and both of us are having trouble with fatigue. Maybe it is because we are taking some things north for our children. Maybe it is because we are taking almost a week to go home instead of three days, making a stop at our daughter’s home in North Carolina. I think we are doing okay – I just have those week-before-we-leave jitters because I know what needs to be packed but can’t pack because we are still living here for a few days. I have this constantly running brain loop of things I want to remember to take home. Instead of getting ahead of myself like that, I think I’ll just putter around and take a deep breath. I’ve packed for various kinds of trips for too many years to get cocky-jawed about it now.

I think this pairing is a nice one I can use up north.

As I am finishing up this post I am smiling. Although it is snowing in Michigan today I am looking forward to being in my northern home, seeing northern family and friends, and experiencing a northern Spring. Today I have tasks to do and things to pack. And we have an exciting trip north planned this year.

A Focus on Beauty: Gentle Color for Aging

The constant news coverage of the bad and the ugly and the corrupt can lead me over the cliff of believing the whole world is evil. My antidote for this is to turn the TV off and focus on what is beautiful and good. The photo above was taken at the botanical garden and we are going this morning to let nature feed our spirit and the café feed our tummy.

This past week-end I had the opportunity to spend some time with one of our neighbors who is 98 years old. Dorothy is my role model for aging. She is sharp, knows what is going on, is fiercely independent (trying to get her to do something she doesn’t want to do always ends in her doing what she wants to do), she is well groomed with a little makeup and attractive clothes, her smile is radiant and her eyes sparkle like the brightest star. And she is still a snow bird, spending a few months here in southern Florida, a few months with her daughter in Maryland, and a few months in her Michigan community at the tip of the lower peninsula. Did I tell you that she is 98 years old. She gave up driving two or three years ago, has severe hearing loss, and walks slowly with a cane. I am so lucky to have her in my circle of friends.

On the topic of aging, when I was in my 60’s I thought I would like to live until 70 or maybe 75. When I reached 70 I upped it to 80. Now I am pushing 80 and think I would like to live until 90. If I can age like Dorothy, I would find it exciting to live to 100. I have come to the conclusion that aging gracefully and with joy requires acknowledging losses, going through the pain and nastiness of grieving, and then working to find ways to get our needs met in ways that nurture us and keeps us engaged. I don’t want to live beyond losing my ability to smile from my heart. Having beautiful things around me make me smile from my heart.

I have so many beautiful people in my life that make my heart sing and bring a smile to my face. My mother and grandmother frequently told me that “beauty is only skin deep.” I knew what they meant but what I understand now requires different words. Real beauty doesn’t have much to do with what is visible – what we carry on the outside. Some of the most beautiful people I know have wrinkles, pot bellies, blotchy skin, sagging everything. My husband, Jim, is so beautiful that I smile every time I look at him.

Our minister did a three-part sermon series on growing old – appropriate as we have a large older population. For the past three Sundays there was lots of laughter and nodding of heads as he shared information from three books that he has found useful (see list below). One concept that resonated with us was that as we age and loose various abilities we have to be open to accepting help from others. I have had fibromyalgia for about 15 years and there were some tense times as Jim tried to help me and I tried to do everything I had previously done. I think I became a little more gracious in accepting his help as the years went on – it was a gradual journey. Last summer he was diagnosed with Myasthenia Gravis that weakens his voluntary muscles and causes double vision. Medication has helped slurring, difficulties with swallowing, and a droopy eye-lid. We have an appointment with his specialist at UofM when we get back to Michigan to get the double vision corrected.

We need each other’s help now. We are finding ways of making our life simpler (read: less cleaning and maintenance), and housework is frequently a tag-team event. Our energy levels are similar so we plan activities carefully so we don’t become too exhausted to enjoy the next day. We are thinking about, and sometimes talking about, what we may have to give up, things that we really treasure and enjoy but may not be able to do any more. We’ll figure it out, and shed a few tears maybe, but our current strategy is to find joy and laughter in each day. And if life seems to sour a little, we take a nap.

Coping with…

A magical sunrise on our second morning in Michigan. What I couldn’t capture was the sparkle of the snow on the branches in the lower right. The rising sun was positioned perfectly to make this mundane deer run through a vacant, overgrown lot so very beautiful.

I have had this photo inserted in this “Edit Post” for several weeks now – believing it was perfect for several “challenges” that have come and gone. It has been a stressful December, until yesterday when I had an emotional meltdown. It wasn’t pretty and maybe I overreacted but I sure feel better today. I took control by cancelling four health-care appointment leaving only three for the rest of the month (there were 10 all together), I decided that we needed to become subs for our card club because I can’t handle the work of hosting once a year (tonight’s the night after two years of dodging), I cancelled the family Christmas Eve party at our house (I told you it wasn’t pretty), and I unplugged the phone land-line because I have been receiving about 12 robo calls a day (triggering murderous thoughts in my brain). Once I had completed this emotional housekeeping I felt less physical pain, stood straighter, no longer felt like I was 97 years old, was capable of smiling again, had energy to complete the tasks of the day, and dropped my caustic cynicism and snark. Life is good again.

Don’t distract a pushing 80 year old driver. Yesterday we stopped at a neighbor’s house down the street and as Jim was backing his truck out of their drive, I was commenting on Connie’s wreaths hanging out her up-stair’s windows. We both heard a soft crunch and he asked if he hit something. I looked in my side mirror and said no, but you are about 4 inches from their mailbox. He started forward and I saw he had pushed over the mailbox next to the standing one. He laid it flat on the ground. He took me home and went back to speak with the owner – telling her we would pay for repairs. He also saw that it was rotted so bad at the ground that it was ready to be replaced without Jim’s nudge. I think when we are in our late 70’s there is more personal meaning to something like this than just the trigger reaction, “Boy that was a stupid thing to do.” There is a meaning that we aren’t ready to talk about – yet.

I tried tatting a long time ago – when I was a teen but it didn’t catch with me. This year when I was hanging the two machine made, delicate lace snowflakes on our Christmas tree, bought in a gift shop up on Lake Superior, I though about tatting again and started the search for the shuttle, thread and book I bought a couple of years ago. At that time I couldn’t make sense of the written directions, in spite of the fact that I learn best by reading and they assured me (in print) that tatting was really quite simple to do (written by someone who had been doing it for 50 years). I decided to try YouTube and, walla, I understood what I was suppose to do to make the two parts of the one knot that is used. Until I tried it. I had forgotten how hard it is to learn a new skill, to create new muscle memory when there is none to begin with. Since I have retired I have continued to learn but it has basically been incremental learning, building on skills and knowledge I already had. After three weeks, two books, lots of throw-aways and restarts, and more stitches removed than I think I originally made, I am on my way to having a snowflake – about 1/3 of the way there. Yes, Virginia, you can teach this old dog new tricks.

We returned to Michigan at a time when covid cases are spiking to the point where we would be the worst country in the world – if we were a country unto itself. We are glad we received the booster in Florida before we returned and are wearing masks in all public buildings, restrict our shopping to times when stores are relatively empty, and use Amazon as much as I can even though I have serious reservations about their business model. We are balancing our risks of going out in public knowing that over 40% of people in Michigan are anti-vax, with our knowledge of how safe we are because we are fully vaccinated and wearing masks. It takes so much of my energy making these calculations but I continue because we know how important social contact is for our well-being. It seems impossible to understand how covid works, especially what causes it to spike with somewhat predictable timing but in unpredictable locations.

My topic for this post is “coping” but the one area that I’m not ready to write about is coping with our changing health status. I have so much to say – and maybe next week I’ll be in a better position to talk about how difficult I’m finding the aging process to be.

In the meantime, I’m wishing you safety and health, and hope you find joy in how you choose to spend the remaining weeks of December as we move towards another year.

Notes About This & That and Aging

I was waiting in the car while Jim ran into the hardware store, getting a little perturbed that he had stopped at a table of discounted merchandise outside the front door. I was in pain and wanted to go home. Then he turned around and started walking back to the car, towards my side, he had a question for me. I watched him walk across the parking lot and I thought about how he walked the walk of older men whose muscles aren’t as strong and joints not a flexible as when they were in a younger man’s body. And I thought, Oh how I love that man that he is today; I love his aging body, his maturity, his gentleness, our shared laughter and our shared fear. He asked if I wanted one of those retractable rulers that was marked down to $2, for my quilting. I said no but to buy it because I knew what we could use it for. He smiled really big as he was gazing in my eyes, turned and walked back to the store to also buy some birdseed. It continues to amaze me, as we are navigating old age, that the changes taking place in our bodies, the wrinkles, the sags, the age spots, the brain lapses, and decreased energy just don’t matter. Is my eyesight getting really bad or do I see these things but they don’t trigger the emotions of “being old” because what I see with my heart and soul is a beautiful man who has been my best friend for over 60 years. 

Bird of Paradise

We are now in Florida but it was a really rocky road getting here. During the past year both of us have hit some health pot-holes that threaten to change our lifestyle significantly and trigger unwanted thoughts that our days together are numbered. We had days when we were angry that our bodies were old and failing us. We had days when we were frustrated that all we seem to do is go to health care appointments and as problems are being checked out with imaging and blood tests, other problems are identified. And the best we could do to keep us going was to tell each other that it was better than the alternative. A lot of gallows humor crept into our conversations. But we made it to Florida after a week’s delay for me to visit a new doctor and to get pain under control because I fell down backwards, my already compromised lower spine hitting cement. We have both found some good solutions, if not cures, for the most pressing problems. But I am once again wrestling with the meaning of life and death.

Bulbophyllum Elizabeth Ann

I went through the frustration of another changing of our clocks, back from “daylight saving time” last weekend. In the grand scheme of things this isn’t very big, just another minor frustration similar to a clothing tag that irritates my neck or side. But I do get a little feisty on those two dates each year when it happens. I mean, what does “daylight saving” even mean. If they really want to save daylight they should gather some of the sunlight of the long days of summer into a “light box” and release it over the dark days of winter for those who live closer to the North Pole than to the Equator. Maybe I should just give up this phantom battle and view it as just another slight shift in light similar to taking a short trip across time zones or migrating back and forth from Michigan to Florida.

DSC_1412

This morning I was reading some articles in the New York Times about chronic pain and thinking about some new insights I gained about being in charge of my own treatment, especially in finding exercise that helps and doesn’t hurt my unique chronic pain. Jim was leaving for a bike ride and I initiated the following conversation:

I’m reading some articles on chronic pain and am thinking that I feel best after spending some time walking around with my camera. If the car is gone when you get back, I have either gone to the beach or Fliechman’s Park.

What’s that got to do with climate change?

I look at him as my brain contorts a little in my skull and start chuckling. I said “chronic pain.” 

He joins with a belly laugh as he says he heard “climate change.” 

We both love the fact that we can laugh about our strange interactions/actions that seem to have multiplied as we have worked our way through our 70’s.

A new place to “sit a spell” in the Naples Botanical Garden

No matter our age, may we all find that magic balance, that sweet spot that encompasses both taking control of our lives to make them better and giving up some control to let others help us through the rocky spots. Stay safe and love much.

A Little Bit of This & That on Aging

We visited Mission Point Peninsula going north from Traverse City (the pinky part of the Michigan mitten) a few weeks ago. One of the stops we made was to walk around the lighthouse that used to guide ships to either the east or west forks of Grand Traverse Bay. As we were getting in the car to leave I noticed these sandals that some child took off but didn’t pick up when s/he got in the car. Someone had hung them on the tree sapling, a flag signaling to the parents who may return to the scene of the crime. A silent giggle worked its way up from my tummy and I took a photo. In post processing I decided to use an aged photo color filter that had a warm tone, reflecting the warm feeling this scene elicited of memories past. No wonder I sometimes have a hard time remembering a word I need to express myself, my brain is filled to overflowing with the memories that are woven together to make my life story.

We cleaned the deck today, scrubbing off an accumulation of dirt and green stuff growing where the sun doesn’t reach, rinsing away dropped bird seed and bird droppings. At first we scrubbed side by side, feeling clumsy and awkward as we almost seemed to be working against each other, no pattern or plan. About the time that I felt tired and thought I would have probably stopped if Jim wasn’t working with me, we seemed to settle into assigned tasks without saying a word. He continued on the rails as I scrubbed the floor. We worked, usually in silence, until it was almost completed – when we could look around and tell each other how good it looked. Our aging bodies had grown tired, pain building in my hips and back, and one of us said s/he was going in to rest for a while and the other followed. I am thankful that fifty-some years of marriage has resulted in a dance that allows us to glide through our life tasks with a functional grace.

I feel late summer in the air, and this week we have a delightful break from what could be the dog-days-heat of late summer. The daytime highs have been in the low seventies with a cool northern breeze and nights in the 50’s. Some of the annuals in the pots on the back deck are getting leggy or died from either too much rain or too much heat. Many of the perennials in the front garden are finishing up their blooming so I need to spend some time each day deadheading to keep things looking tidy so the fall blooming plants can strut their stuff to full effect. The front beds are pretty big and I’ve been wondering how much longer I will be able to tend to them. The beds are now planted mainly with perennials with a few bushes and shrubs for winter interest. I think I may start gradually changing the balance so there are more evergreens and flowering shrubs, with perennials as accents. But not this year because I added several new perennials and have some mail-ordered iris coming sometime this month. My aging strategy tends to be a combination of staying engaged to the extent my body will allow while planning for how I can make life simpler for when I have to give some things up.

One of my new coneflowers. What a delicious color.