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.

Seen Better Days: Barns

Manitoulin Island, Canada

I was immediately pulled into Tina’s Len-Artist Photography Challenge: Seen Better Days. Maybe I can related because my body has seen better days. I love photographing barns and the barns that catch my attention have changed over the past 12 years. I started wanting to photograph old, falling down barns, then I was more attracted to barns with unique architectural features or color, then I enjoyed photographing working barns, and now I find my favorite barns are those that have character. Maybe that same kind of character I attribute to my body; warn out from years of good use but still serviceable and maybe can be patched up a bit with proper care. These categories of barns aren’t mutually exclusive as I’m driving down dirt roads but as I have gotten more photography time under my belt (that has gotten a bit bigger) I have gotten more selective. Here are some of my favorites from over the years.

Vermont, U.S.
Prince Edward Island, Canada
Down a Dirt Road in Michigan

This next barn was taken this past week as I was going down quiet country roads looking for fall color. I saw the beautiful doors, put on the breaks, and did a U turn. I have been noticing in our travels through Michigan this summer that many barns are getting renewed with this sheet siding. It doesn’t have the patina and character of wooden boards, but it preserves barns for another generation or two.

Love those doors!

After I took the photos I wanted, I had to turn around and there was a drive to another house close by. I was excited because this also gave me an excellent opportunity to photograph the barn from another angle without drawing attention by noticeably trespassing. This barn had truly seen better days before the owners decided to give it some hope for the future. Is this a lesson for those of us who are struggling with the impact of living in aging bodies while our minds are saying, “Wouldn’t it be fun to…”? Maybe it just reminds us to “patch, patch, patch.”

My last barn was chosen just because it made me smile. I don’t remember the photograph and have no idea where I took it. It is dated 2014 and the file is named Amish country, encompassing a large area to the south of where I live. The slight tilt (didn’t straighten with editing) and the architectural features make it seem slightly inebriated. I wonder if Moonshine had been made in this barn at some time in it’s history?

This & That from My Dot on the Map

Last week I was sitting in my reading room by an open window doing some sudoku puzzles, wondering what deep-in-my-brain memory the sounds and feel of the day were eliciting. It was the experience of late summer when the kids were back in school and all was quiet except for some distant sounds, like maybe a rooster crowing and a tractor in a far away field. Maybe the memories are from long ago on the small urban farm where my grandparents lived. It really doesn’t matter where the associations are buried in my brain because they are of late summer and they are so very sweet.

We were having a period of perfect weather (except for some violent storms), more typical of September than the middle of August here at my dot on the map in Michigan. The days were pleasantly warm in the high 70s/low 80s F. with low humidity and a gentle, cool breeze. The nights were cool enough to sleep under a light quilt with windows open to the sounds of the night chirpers. Many times during the day I stopped to breath deeply and slip into the relaxed state of being that I experience at this time of season.

The bees know fall is coming!

I took refuge in this place where past and present weather-triggered experiences are intermingle, especially taking refuge from the horrors that are happening in Afghanistan, the frightening politics of the far right, and the rising threats of the Delta variant, and all the climate-related disasters. I am trying to wrap my mind around the fact that I can experience the joys of life while there is so much evil and suffering in the world. Does my breakthrough guilt make any sense? I wonder if there is a spiritual connection where I can shed some tears to lighten the burden of some mother and daughter who fears Taliban rules, rape and death?

I am having trouble finishing this post because I continue to be consumed with finding a better work-flow for getting my images from my new camera into Lightroom. In the meantime the dog-days of late summer have hit my dot on the map. It has been hot and humid for the past week and now early fall weather is just something to look forward to.

My flower garden has that late summer look where spring bloomers have either been trimmed back or need to be and summer bloomers are going to seed. Whereas spring has the exuberant energy of new growth and greening trees, and summer has the explosion of blooming flowers and lush dark-green trees, early fall has a tired look. My garden has mostly completed its yearly cycle of reproducing itself through seeds with only asters, sedums and mums yet to bloom (and maybe my morning glory). I enjoy this tired look because it reflects what I experience on good day, the tiredness of work well done. I look at my garden and smile because it is doing such a good job and now I will do my fall chores to keep it healthy.

I need to spend some time this fall thinning out buttercups and daisies that have gone beyond their allotted spaces. I also have to dig out where grasses are taking hold in the middle of clumps. Not easy work for me but I will be more relaxed when it is finished. Weeds tend to stress me out. There are some summer bloomers, like cone flowers and bee balm, that are here and there due to silly planting or self-seeding that I want to put together. Once I get into my fall routine in the garden, I find joy in cleaning up and making it all tidy for next spring. I am given encouragement to keep working by day lilies and irises who are sending up new shoots to get some of the remaining light before they go to sleep for the winter.

Even as this year’s garden is finishing up, I am looking toward future years. As soon as I get all this work done, I will take some photos of the bare bones of my garden to study and mark up as I’m thinking of shifting the ratio of my mixed garden. I think I will be going more towards small evergreens and flowering shrubs with my favorite flowers as fillers in between. If I don’t make these changes I don’t think our aging bodies will be able to maintain this home and we will be looking for a condo. That may mean giving up my purple porch swing.