For the Book Lovers Among Us

actual books are preferred by many readersIn spite of all the changes in our tech-mad, on-line-media world, I’m not the only person who still loves the satisfying feel of a real book with pages you can turn.

Even though I’m older, I’m not old-fashioned, and I happily admit that I enjoy the ease of my small, slim Kindle, easily packed for travel, instant access when I can’t sleep that’s better than a pill and immediate gratification for a swift book purchase. Ah, but a Kindle can’t match the tactile thrill of turning pages, savoring cover art and design, flipping back and forth on a whim and marking special spots in a treasured book—a unique satisfaction that’s hard to explain.

The magic of words threaded through a world history tome or riveting our attention on a “page-turner” weds mind and body into a curious combo, an intimately personal and intensely felt experience. Reading—its pleasures and pluses—has been loved and lauded forever. Its package, a book, enjoys equal status though we rarely analyze the various parts of the whole. Every now and then, we may come across a special edition, beautifully bound with color plates, outstanding graphics, maps, genealogies or additional indexes and appendices—often difficult to decipher or appreciate in electronic form.

Therefore, dedicated book readers will smile and appreciate the following clever little quiz. Easy but thoughtful, author unknown, it was a small square of newsprint handed to me by a friendly checker at my local supermarket. I guess he knew more about his customers than I realized. Odd gifts pop up in the most unlikely places and at the most unexpected times. Enjoy this “bookie’s” teaser-test, copied verbatim:

 SUPER QUIZ*– Subject: PARTS OF A BOOK

Each answer is a word that also refers to a part of a book. (e.g. Body part between your neck and your bottom. Answer: Back.) Cover the answers at bottom until ready.

 Freshman level

  1. A flat thin, green part of a tree.
  2. A knight in training.
  3. The row of bones down the human back.

Graduate level

  1. A sheet or blanket that you lie under in bed.
  2. The part of a ski that holds the boot in place.
  3. The finger next to the thumb.

 Ph.D. level

  1. A local branch of a fraternity or association.
  2. The process of telling a person’s name to another when they first meet.
  3. A ceremony that marks the completion of a new building.

 

Answers: 

1. Leaf   2. Page   3. Spine

  1. Cover 5. Binding   6. Index
  2. Chapter 8. Introduction   9.  Dedication

* republished by North America Syndicate Inc.

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Ritual Reruns

learning to tie shoes is a life lessonAt my advanced age, it’s amazing that I had to re-learn how to tie my shoes. In our re-imagined world, rote tasks that used to be so simple and swift can now seem iffy and intricate. At least I’m catching up with 5-6 year olds.

Using Velcro, even today’s toddlers can quickly “tie” their shoes instead of bumbling through bunny ears and granny knots with fumbling fingers, formerly a giant step toward growing up and on a par with potty-training. Today, kids of all ages can also choose unique shoe styles that flash lights at each step, glide on runner-wheels and even the smallest size dazzles with stars, stripes, flowers or fake fur.

Recall your own first attempts tying that lowly shoelace? A physical as well as mental process, it’s threaded through memory and stitched into time, memorized as much by our muscles as our minds. Children of my era eventually mastered this small but treasured task. A few years ago I found the same joy of discovery with a pair of exercise shoes.

Like many techno-fancy footwear, they were red fabric and had those puzzling, extra holes at the top. I shrugged and left them empty for months. Then someone explained that those top holes closest to each ankle accommodate a same-side loop of each lace before crossing over for the final tie—a modern maneuver for extra support. Eureka! I got it! An emotional re-run recalling that rush of self-reliance from so very long ago—tying my own shoes.

My latest pseudo-suede “gym” shoes have gone a step (pardon the pun) further. Each shoe “ties” with one continuous, elastic loop. Permanently crisscrossed, this lace tightens by pulling the ankle loop up and sliding a mini-lever down that closes the shoe to anchor tightly against the tongue—no lacing, threading bows or ties. And considering the slip on, step into, boots, loafers, sandals and flip flops most of us wear year round, long gone is that magical shoe-tying rite of passage.

My granddaughter recently purchased her prom dress, a tasteful, knee-length, navy blue A-line, plain but pretty. “I’ve got a pair of pumps that would look lovely with that,” I offered. Both she and my daughter looked puzzled. “Show Grammy the shoes you already bought to go with the dress,” said my daughter. Neither heels nor sandals, they were the “in” style I was assured, flat, rubber-bottomed, high top copies of combat boots. But they matched in color and were “dressy,” a light-weight fabric printed with small silvery stars. At least, as a teen, she’s learned how to tie them.

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Older and Better

healthly older adultsWe’ve all seen that greeting card…so appropriate on big-number birthdays…that highlight adding another year to the pile we’re already dragging behind us, “Remember, you’re not getting older, only better!”

Hold that thought! There I was, still merrily celebrating the start of a new decade without noticing that a few additional birthdays had piled on. Time doesn’t just fly as one ages, it telescopes! How could those few months of the recent past that I dimly recall have swiftly morphed into…several years? Was I a female Rip Van Winkle? A time traveler?

I do admit, however, that even with my dimming eyesight, inescapable signs mark the passage of years and bridge memory gaps. Hard to miss extra wrinkles, shrinking stature, my face and body’s slides and sags. Still, much like upgrading an older model car, a few new parts to replace those wearing out help slow down the wear and tear. Not the scarier slicing and dicing of face or bod; neither lip-plump nor lift-up would do much to shore up my sense of self-worth. I shun any youthful urge that would hurt!

Instead I opt for the plastic molar that daily slips into my lower jaw. It will never get a cavity! I can better weed out real words from crowd chatter through my new hearing aids. And as long as I don’t completely bend toward the lowest shelf in the linen closet, or try to skip upstairs, whatever magic potion was pumped into my collapsed knee still smoothly slides in place—well, depending on the weather.

My “old school” internist and I discuss the “less is more” theory of aging. He’s careful not to over-medicate, and abstains from prescribing trendy health aids like probiotics or diuretics. We both agree on an “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” approach to self-maintenance. Ditto for highly touted supplements or vitamins.

I’m careful not to be cavalier or somewhat smug when all goes well. “You don’t look your age,” I’m often told. “I never had chemo or radiation,” I quickly counter, “ditto for joint replacements or operations,” all of which I know can quickly erode the heartiest among us.” Like the model who blessed her great beauty on good genes, I’m grateful to my healthy forebears.

At any age, however, expect the unexpected. Merely to shorten a routine treatment, a dentist once gave me an antibiotic that almost did me in. I immediately stalked my doctor on-line and downed three different pills! I welcomed every available test and each heavy-duty prescription. Both the medic and medicine saved the day! “You’re lucky,” a nurse told me! “This cutting-edge cure might not be so readily accessible in other parts of the world.”

However, once back to regular check-ups (because that’s what seniors seem to do and what Medicare pays for), my results happily wind up with the doc’s usual refrain. “Everything’s fine, watch the blood pressure, forget any minor aches and pains.” These days, my parting reminder to my semi-retired doctor whom I so appreciate, is, “Don’t forget, Doctor, you can’t totally close up shop until I’m gone!”

Always pleasant but never overly personal, on this visit the good doctor gave me a hard look, thought for a minute and semi-whispered more to himself than me, “Well then, I may just have to bump you off!” What better compliment and positive proof than a physician’s confirmation that most likely, I still had a long way to go!

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Caught in the World Wide Web

After all my warnings to readers of my financial advice columns about on-line scams, overblown ads and that “free” usually isn’t, I got caught in the web of online sales!

How could I have fallen for a pretty face—the one I hoped to have from an all new wonder cream touted by the already pretty face on my computer screen eager to send me a sample…free! Smart, enlightened me—a wary, skeptical senior—fell into a typical internet trap on The World Wide Web…which swiftly tangled me in its sticky strings.

I believed the charismatic T.V. cook, designer, decorator, now into facial care, whose miracle potion would immediately wipe away years, erase wrinkles, tweak time…at no cost…just a modest charge for postage and handling. Her celebrity had earned her the right to invade my skin and my credit card.

I’d decide to buy more “later” if I wanted. The copy assured me that this brand alone offered the secret to ageless beauty easily proven after a short trial of daily slatherings on my freshly cleansed face. All for free, no purchase necessary.

Did I miss any “fine print?” Did I search for any hidden box about on-going purchases? Did I seek a clue to future fees, or a way to delete sure-to-follow sales? Nope! I eagerly capitulated to this second string Martha Stewart who warned of “no time to delay!” I must quickly click…for the almost gone…only one to a customer…still free sample!

My “gift” arrived faster than any second thoughts. For a few nights, I gamely scrubbed, smeared and searched for signs of a freshened façade. Almost through the gunky stuff, however, the only thing firmed up was the fact that my wrinkles, age spots and eye sags remained intact.

Not ‘til the credit card’s outrageous charge arrived did I face (you should pardon the expression) the egregious cost for a skinny jar of Crisco colored lather that clearly reminded me of my mother’s long ago Pond’s face cream, an earlier promise-her-everything product from those dark ages before the internet.

And listed beneath the promised low rate for postage and handling was another huge sum that rivaled the down payment for an entire face lift. Obviously, I’d missed some on-line opt-out!

“My bad,” as the kids say; I had no one to blame but myself. The only lasting change would be on-going charges popping up on my credit card bill. All I could do was share my chagrin with the understanding, if not optimistic, Billing Department of Discover.

“Yes,” I said, “I’d tried to call the line of numbers listed on the bill. No answer.” On–line searches revealed…no product name, no email, nothing at all, until I chased Ms. Semi-Star to another web page with another number. A smiling voice answered, heard my story, plight and money-back request. Still quite friendly, she said, “Oh, we only do pots and pans here.” She had no knowledge of creams or corporate offices or company websites. She was cookware only, and Teflon or not, she was sticking to it!

My journey with Discover covered numerous explanations, apologies, shameful begging! They’d do what they could—and did—a one and a half year block of any future payments ($.01 to $1,000), in case I’d unwittingly signed on for a life-long supply. I carved the date on my calendar and prepared to pay the costly initial penance…until…the subsequent statement listed a full refund and complete cancellation of my original order. I gratefully accepted this early, unexpected Christmas gift and didn’t wait ‘til New Year’s for a real face-saving resolution: severely limit on-line purchases and always read the extra fine print!

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Teaching, The (Ig)noble Profession

Many women “of a certain age” began their career paths teaching school. A close second to motherhood, teaching’s the ultimate challenge combined with infinite multitasking.

Work your passion was the new mantra in my era! So I began my adult life as a school teacher because my four year college passion was the French professor at Northwestern whom I daily stalked (fortunately before the term equaled a felony.) Since teaching Spanish as well as French was the only way to get hired, I convinced a junior high principal that “Ay caramba, si, si, senor” of course, I “hablo muy bueno.” And as few real world jobs at that time required even “un poquito Espanol, or any Gallic terms beyond “Resume,” I implored squirrely seventh graders to “faites attention” to my “ooh la la’s,” and “c’est si bons.” Mixed with “adios amigos,” and “hasta la vista,” I often dismissed them early when I ran out of foreign vocabulary.

However, “La Tete du Departement n’etait pas amuse” and gave me a new “language arts” assignment of flunked parolees from Juvenile Hall. Their passion was to bulls-eye my eyeballs aiming paper clips from rubber-band slingshots. We compromised—class parties, my treat vs. classwork, my mistake, but a winning life lesson in self-preservation. They graduated to Street Gangs, and I was “promoted” to 8th grade art class.

The most I knew about teaching art was how to spell it which left innovation and imagination wide open. “Basic shapes,” I exhorted my budding Picasso’s as I hastily assembled a still life: a half-eaten apple from the previous class, a few frayed schoolbooks and an old gym shoe. “Space, lots of white space, for contrast” I instructed, and a lot less mess I silently hoped. Sprinkling terms like, “mass” and “perspective,” I thoughtfully peered at each smeary attempt. Leaving no time for questions, everyone earned an A for effort—especially me.

Hmmm, maybe I’d found my true teaching niche; no papers to mark, no tests to score, so no parents pushing for grades. I vowed to learn which two colors made purple.

I bought a smock, a nifty color palette with a thumb hole and a fresh apple.

“Time to clean up,” I directed at the end of a class; “let’s all scrub our tables, close up the paints and rinse our brushes.”

“Ya gonna make me?” came a sneering shout from the back corner. “I ain’t cleaning up all this crap.”

Stunned, the students and I both froze. Bad manners! Worse grammar! Unheard of Middle school mutiny? Authority still reigned supreme in the suburban ‘60s!

“Now, now…We must remember…good citizenship…prepare for…the next class….” I succumbed to shock and teacher-speak.

Before I fully recovered, a hippie clad, Amazonian female, fists braced, feet planted and face inches from my nose, spit out, “Try ‘n make me scrub anything, Teach, and I’ll push your face in!”

Mute and mesmerized, twenty four pairs of 8th grade eyes stared and waited for their teacher’s doom or deliverance. Ed Psych 101 had never covered this!

My heart skipped, but only one beat.

“Push my face in? I swiftly retorted. “Oh would you? How wonderful!” And I launched into a lilting monologue accompanied by sweeping gestures. “I’d like a little off here, see, where it’s beginning to sag…” I fluttered the back of my hand under my chin. “Now how about these crow’s feet? Maybe a little lift…there…” I said, stretching the corners of my eyes into a reptilian squint. “Oh dear, these lines, anything you can do?” I frowned; “my forehead’s positively pleated.”

The entire class earned extra credit as they cheered my snappy comeback proving they’d tuned into the recent face-lift craze. Then they laughed my deflated bully back to her seat. “Oh, you’re nuts,” she grumbled, “like some kinda crazy lady.” And she grabbed a rag on her way.

Disaster diverted, curriculum vitae expanded, as I acquired the only advanced degree that counted—Masters in Middle School Survival—along with the proud and lasting title of Crazy Lady.

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The Road Less Traveled

Modern travelers circle the globe, cruise, and tour from China to Cuba. However, anyone seeking the ultimate adventure needs only to drive anywhere across our own grand country.

The open road stitches our country together. City dwellers clamoring about crowds can marvel at the vast open spaces. Children and teens will imbibe living history everywhere. Touring “at home” is the “wagons-ho” formula for discovering America’s greatness in the slow lane, a reminder of the USA’s beauty, hospitality, diversity, uniqueness, unsurpassed anywhere else in the world.

Travel old Route 66 of song and TV fame with its “old-timey” kitsch and kooky outposts from start—Chicago’s famed Art Institute, to finish—California’s fabled Santa Monica pier. In the ‘50s, I wound up the Atlantic coast featuring Key West’s Hemingway House, Florida orange groves, then north through the solemnity of civil war battlefields, and Kentucky horse country. No one should miss the grandeur and civics lesson of D.C., the bustle and bounty of New York, our beginnings in New England.

The thrill of the United States delights in all directions. My personal American odyssey was a drive From California to Chicago in 1961 then replicated in 2002—noting 40 years of change and revisiting the magic of cross-country America. The first trip, my husband’s sporty two-seater Triumph followed the rolling ribbon of two-lane highways through huge swathes of lush farmland, classic small towns, even July snow in the massive Rockies. We propped up our pup tent when the mood hit, the sun sank or we got hungry—no reservations necessary. Our goal was to hit all the national parks, and back then Yellowstone offered a few campsites for latecomers. Fortunately the bears and most tourists skipped the near-by Grand Tetons. In a near-empty landscape, we reveled in its majestic peaks, a leisurely horseback tour and lazing on Lake Jenny in solitary bliss.

Forty years later, the national park scene had changed and clogged. Expansive vistas gave way to snaking lines, ticket booths, gift shops and limited access. The concrete pavilion/cafe of Mount Rushmore distanced the impact of the presidential carvings. Cruising swiftly along a widened Interstate 80 sharply contrasted with our earlier route now weedy and cracked, with worn out towns and shuttered gas stations. However, in ’02 we watched an enormous Crazy Horse mosaic unfolding on a mountainside, gazed at the 1,000 pound pig at the Iowa State Fair and welcomed the wonderful Mormon Museum that straddles the wide highway, a true bridge to their historical flight.

If memory dims the differences of my two trips, it highlights their delights—much remains. The amazing corn palace constructed solely from cobs still beckons travelers to Mitchell, S. D.; the ‘49er’s wagon ruts survive as do the daily orders tacked up at an original Kansas fort. We again enjoyed a picnic on the banks of the Mississippi, joined a friendly coffee klatch of prosperous Iowa farmers at a far-off-road café and tucked into a farmhouse feast with sociable strangers.

A multitude of adventures also merge—car wheels stuck at a deserted Ogallala beach; an almost plunge into a reservoir in total blackness, a lightning storm across the open plains, eerie Jurassic terrain above Cody, Wyoming. Over two thousand miles, we grew bored, tired, hot, and then swiftly revived at a Las Vegas style, neon mecca rising like a mirage above the Bonneville Salt Flats.

It’s America—tempting byroads, famous landmarks, hidden gems, silos, skyscrapers—always, amazingly more. A few maps, lively curiosity and a loose schedule will cement one’s pride in our great country and rival any other route in the world.

 

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Count Your (Family) Blessings

Several quotes sing in my psyche—not lines from great lit or epic poetry—but from my adult children. They do not soft pedal the icky side of aging; they tell it like it is. If the truth sometimes hurts, it also sticks.

“How does this look?” I ask my daughter; “Do these pants make me look fat?”

“It doesn’t matter, Mother,” she says with a shrug; “no one’s looking at you!”

When I chronicle my cantankerous confrontations with the phone company,” she admonishes, “Too much time on your hands, Mother!” and this truth highlights my slide from busy career to daily doldrums even though I consciously chose the mixed blessings of retirement. I had eagerly fantasized a giant leap into new and creative endeavors, a balanced blend of Julia Child and Jane Austen. I definitely plan to start….baking, novel writing and with an eye to the world stage… very soon.

My boys point out the obvious from a different angle. “Don’t run for the phone, Mom, most old peoples’ accidents happen at home.” And son #2 endlessly asks if I’ve locked the gate, turned off the water, put out the garbage….well, yes, it’s thoughtful and helpful and kind, but it’s almost a parody of how I used to hound them!

So it’s important to carve what used to be the clichés of aging into the cement of true wisdom: You’re as young as you feel; old age begins five years older than your current age; keep moving; less (makeup, weight, jewelry), is more; growing old isn’t for sissies; keep moving; the best is yet to be; we’re getting better never older and even if it hurts, keep moving! These are indeed the words we need to live by.

Besides crosswords, aerobics, friends and family, from gardening to volunteering and other brain/body exercises to keep us old fuds from mental creaks and physical aches, I find that there’s a “must do” that’s a secret sauce for longevity—never, ever forget to count your blessings. This list can also keep moving, so it’s important to review and check regularly. Start humming that old jive song that exhorted us to ac-cen-tu-ate the positive and eliminate the negative—a long ago jazzy lyric and it’s more modern mantra: attitude is everything!

Except, all these good intentions, like my planned apple pie, are easily postponed. “Where does the time go?” I wonder; “Must be the darn phone,” I alibi. Stopping the proverbial merry-go-round to quietly tot up all the truly good stuff needs to head our To-Do list in bold type. Like that morning blood pressure pill, it works best when done early.

That’s my wake-up call to a new day after I slide out of bed, shuffle to the coffee pot, then settle in my chair across from our big windows just as the sun edges over the fence and fans across our slice of sky. My good-life gratefulness—family, bank balance, health—links to a positive litany of—old friends, new ones, my doctors who promise not to retire. I mentally meander towards those long gone and give a nod of appreciation for their place in my heart. Some mornings my inner eye scans past lucky breaks or scrubs lame regrets. I remember to end with the secular prayer of “yesterday’s gone, tomorrow’s not here, let me live in the promise of a happy today.

Finally, I’ll breathe deeply and radiate a bright aura toward my children. I know that along with their parental-type nagging, they always prove their caring connection after a call or visit. “Be careful out there, Mom, you know we love you.”  Age has its rewards, after all.

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Best Friend Forever (BFF) … or Not?

Best Friends ForeverHow many times have I heard seniors say, “I’ve known her (him, them), for at least forty years. Or… “Can you believe it? She was my bridesmaid, and my husband and I will celebrate our fiftieth.” People of a certain age seem to hold the prevailing attitude that having a holdover friend from long ago beats the current competition. In fact, a book that followed the lives of four schoolgirl friends still meeting after many years earned best seller status!

That’s nice, though I’m not exactly sure why. Do old friends equal best friends? As we age, maybe we revert to a rose colored past putting a gloss on those halcyon days when all things were preferable. Old buddies mirrored our youthful selves, sort of an early thumbs up that “You’re o.k.; I’m o.k.” Those were the days…simpler, straight-forward; what’s not to like about friends just like us? We cling to a past of first love and budding intellect before things got scattered, messy and sometimes disappointing. Ditto for people.

My longtime friend, Sue, always reminisced, “Evie, we went to grammar school, high school and college together, and I’ve been at both your weddings! Not many people can say that!” A grade apart, our lives weren’t lived in tandem, but rather diverged, re-touched at—often long—intervals. Sue was “of” my life, though rarely “in” it during these last decades. When she was wheel-chair bound after a broken hip, we remained phone “confidantes,” laughter, as always, cementing our togetherness. After Sue’s incapacitating stroke, I managed to visit on the day before she died. And I drew a small smile from her one last time. A cherished old friend!

In contrast, about ten years ago, my “best friend” from sixth grade firmly wrote, “I always answer my emails!” Did that mean that if I no longer contacted her….? It did! Haven’t heard a word from her since.

Happily, during this same past decade, most of my friends are new. I love it. I adore them. I count myself truly fortunate to be welcomed by a grand group of both older and younger women whom I meet daily in aerobic dance and step classes. “The only reason we exercise,” goes our mantra, “is to have coffee together afterwards!”

I have no history with them. Our past paths never crossed. But even as a widow, I’m invited to couples’ dinners and celebrations, backyards and posh soirees. And I’ve found fun ways to reciprocate. We’ve traveled with a small group within the group, share goodies at different homes for Valentine’s Day, birthdays or for no reason at all. A twenty-years-my-junior member introduced me to sushi, the eldest invites me to use her late husband’s opera ticket; a few unique ties occurred just because we clicked!

These add to a few grammar school friends from ages ago who have even traveled for mini reunions. Surprisingly, I’ve rekindled a special bond with my very first crush—there was something “there” after all. And yes, his wife has been most welcoming.

Experts list a social life as essential for healthy aging. So, along with a welcome ties to the past, I’m especially blessed to currently revolve within the orbit of a gracious, supportive and interesting cast, the late-life new friends who people my final scenes and always make me feel like a star.

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Senior Unassisted Living

senior woman householdMy son has just threatened to write my unflattering obit—Death by Compost Bin—because such a disaster almost came true. In our enlightened Palo Alto community, taking out the garbage/recycling/compost has become more complicated than dealing with the IRS, with a lot more moving parts.

Chez-moi, the black bin is for the-less-the-better garbage; blue holds paper, wine bottles (oops, I mean glass), and plastic-stamped-with-a-numbered-triangle (but absolutely no Styrofoam); and the good-earth-y, green cart packed with dead leaves, dropped branches, dried plants, will now be composted and reused to…Save Our City.

However, Our City has leap-frogged over the entire country to…Save Our Planet. Palo Altans succumb to the theory that China, India and the rest of the smoggy, smelly, wasteful world will soon follow our lead.

In order to Save Our Planet, the green cart must now also hold comestible compost-ables—all those icky, yucky, squishy, scummy food-scraps that in the bad old days one either stuffed in the disposal, tossed to the dog or “for shame,” threw in the garbage. No more!

Those waxy milk cartons—no longer taboo (green!) But what about truly tricky trash like soiled paper plates (green?) or slightly used napkins (blue?) And in a drought, should I wash the plastic mayonnaise jar and toss it (blue?) or since it’s sort of food, keep it (green?) “It’s not the work that takes time,” my husband always said; “it’s the decisions.”

“Are you crazy, mother?” my son shouts. “Do you really think your two banana peels, a few chicken bones and some radish leaves will actually make any difference? I thought you just got rid of the ants?”

“I have my own system,” I counter. “The garbage company’s purse-size container breeds enough fruit flies for major sex experiments, so never take anything from the top shelf of the freezer; it’s all garbage.”

Last week, after a late Book Club, I juggled the giant, open compost container (green), to the curb. Brimming with rotting leaves and frozen food scraps, its wheels suddenly stuck in the bark covered, drought tolerant landscape and stopped dead. I, however, plunged on, a head-first dive across the bin—and driveway—in the dark. My twisted body wound up splayed atop the container like road kill, my forehead smashed against the thick plastic rim and my shins sliced by the knife-sharp edge of the hanging cover. Dazed, I peeled myself off the can and struggled to my knees, giving thanks that nothing spilled very far (melting food mush), or broke (my aging bones.) Two days later I learned that a big lump on my forehead and “shiners” are a sign of healing.

Go be a homeowner! There’s always something…to repair, remodel, paint, plant or toss. So this new mantra of “Let’s keep seniors in their own homes!” may just turn out to be a disguised end run around the assisted suicide movement—or—Death with Indignity. Staying put may prove so dangerous to our health that trimming Medicare costs will be achieved via the pitfalls and pratfalls of the “at home” elderly. We’ll be thinned out in droves.

Let me count the ways.

You know those dandy little mandated-by-code smoke detectors to keep us old fuds from going up in flames? One woke me up chirping like a hidden cache of crickets, the incessant low-battery warning especially elusive at 3 a.m. There’d be no relief without an eight foot ladder that lived in the garage behind the rusting lawnmower and spider webbed-tools.

Steering the ladder lengthwise between my car and a wall of gorilla shelves, I “keyed” a ten foot scrape on my Toyota’s driver’s side that resembled a racing stripe if you squinted, and rounding the door, I knocked off a corner tile from my newly remodeled kitchen. Slithering up each rickety rung, I frenetically waved my hand toward the plastic ceiling case that remained a fingernail’s length out of reach. I froze. Better that I inched down, blasted my son’s old Stones’ CDs and poured a stiff drink. The next day I cornered a handy friend to help me in exchange for babysitting his two year old twins.

Fortunately, a returning wasps’ nest tucked under the eaves only required a step stool for me to eyeball their papery home. I waited for dusk when (I hoped) the insects had retired after a day of terrifying my grandchildren. I gulped a deep breath and sprayed a lethal cloud to wipe out an entire colony of God’s creatures while decimating the food chain and destroying the environment for the next generation.

I never told my kids how close they came to receiving an early inheritance as I survived another week of home maintenance and escaped Last Rites from Raid.

Of course, there’s always a chance of tripping over the tree roots recently unearthed in my lawn-gone landscape, slipping on the un-padded Oriental rugs to better let the

radiant heat through, or colliding with the double-paned sliding glass door rushing for a robo-call. There’s certainly the omnipresent fear of further battering by one of the lurking bins.

Talk about living—or dying—on the edge, I’ve got it all—hard plastic, decorative wood, sheer glass and shiny stainless steel.

I try to look on the bright side! None of that same old banal slipping in the bathtub for this aging homeowner. I hope my demise will exhibit some dramatic flair, perhaps snagged by a garden hose snaked around my ankle as I crash unconscious on the pool coping and, Ophelia-like, gracefully drown. I’ve always enjoyed the out-of-doors, and my children will thank me for a quick-exit. Then, as my son suggested, they can just scoop my body right into the compost bin (green or blue), all ready to recycle.

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Obits for the Rest of Us

obit humor aging babyboomersI’ve discovered there’s a definite point when a person becomes old! No, nothing like a special birthday, new decade or those indelible signs like cataracts or wrinkles—gray hair, stiff backs and slower steps don’t even count. What I believe is that the very first time we begin checking the obituaries truly signals we’ve slid into that can-no-longer-avoid stage—and moved on to acceptance of—old age. Even when we soften the blow and call ourselves seniors or elders, reading obits tacitly admits that people in our own generation really do…I mean that those in our peer group…actually can…die…that we’re well on the road to the startling possibility, if not strong probability, that there’s more life behind us than ahead!

What freaks me out the most is “meeting” someone on those obituary pages I know, and now suddenly…knew. I search for dates of birth much earlier than my own and then breathe a sigh of relief finding dates of death approaching the century mark. How happily satisfying when someone else’s longevity immediately suggests a personal reprieve, like a welcome invite to hang out at the party a little longer than planned.

“There’s still time,” I inwardly cheer; “years ahead” I muse. If I’m lucky, and keep all my marbles, and exercise my body and brain, I promise to: start taking vitamin supplements, finish writing the great American novel, plow thru those stacked boxes of photographs! Job jars remain viable, jilted ambitions do-able…if I hurry, get going, plan carefully…time can still be on my side.

And then, I turn the page to What’s New In Town, Guest Opinion or local sports and slide back into that comfortable condition of passing the time, not really wasting it. Suddenly there’s tons of time, and it’s o.k. to just let time slip by.

Of course, Old Timers in Palo Alto, CA, ever creative and optimistic, have smoothed the rough edges of our inevitable demise and morphed the obit into a “transition.” Merely another chapter in the good life we enjoy and celebrate…that sadly happens to others…for now.

I can’t stop the nagging one-note, however, about what, in the end, will be written about me? What did I accomplish or actually do all these many years? I can see the black-bordered paragraph flash before my mind’s eye: “She read the paper and drank coffee, talked on the phone to her friends, shopped, went to lunch with friends, talked on the phone to her kids.” So I started thinking what exactly I am leaving behind besides mother’s Bavarian china. Does anyone care if I taught school, sold investments, even dabbled in the food business?

Frankly, I’m absolutely cowed by so many over-the-top recaps of super human accomplishments by ordinary people who lived—and died—all around me. I marvel at the alphabet soup of credentials trailing some of the names, not just plain old PhD’s either. And the fat columns of their multi-volunteer labors pitted against my long-ago PTA membership. Can I “belong” to The Red Cross if I really just donate to them? Will my short teaching stint be considered noble? Guilt by obituary! Obit oblivion!

There’s always hope! I’ve never yet read a scathing or even mildly bad review of someone’s life; the closest thing to a personal or nasty knock is a few mid-sentence adjectives like “irascible, curmudgeonly, strong-willed, outspoken” that hint at someone’s darker or difficult side. But, hey, it’s death we’re talking about in these few lines, certainly the perfect opportunity to ease up. It’s a fitting farewell to accentuate the positive and eliminate the negative as in that old WW II era song most of these just-popped-off people would remember and appreciate. It’s the last chance to erase a lifetime of errors and omissions.

Most religions consider just remembering someone as proof of their immortality. I’ll talk to my children.

In a local paper, the most interesting bios retrace a fascinating history of the area via long-time stints of committed employees who built iconic Silicon Valley companies like HP—a fairly quaint loyalty these days. It’s also a rare gift to read the nostalgic tales of our long-gone fruit farmers who turned the Valley of Heart’s Delight into a sea of blossoms and a fruit canning capital. Other obits trace a genealogy, track an early, still-trusted business or uncover a venerable legacy.

Mainly, I can’t help marveling at the importance placed on the more mundane accomplishments of so many people touted as never missing a Giants or Stanford game, who cooked a secret spaghetti sauce, loved their dogs, flowers, crosswords.  Most printed legacies always plug in the prosaic but passionate honor to beloved parents, love-of-their life spouses, adored and accomplished children—a must-do requirement to insure resting easy, I guess, and a tidy, treasured package to accompany kin on their journey. These human connections all sound much preferred to the gold and lapis treasures of kingly tombs.

Myself? With no celebrity status or exciting career past, do I really want to leave my own lowbrow legacy? Then again, why not. Like Popeye, “I yam what I yam,” and whether my grand-kids or my book club gave me real pleasure, I hope someone will thoughtfully chew on a ballpoint, remember me fondly, smile indulgently and lovingly pen a few highlights of my life as a gentle goodbye to quietly honor my last hurrah! Maybe something like, “She lived in the only second story house allowed on the block, let 20 boxes of Little League candy bars melt on her radiant-heat floor in 1976 and always enjoyed a really good glass of wine!”

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