Posted by: chlost | April 12, 2015

Still Home

There was a time, fifty years ago now, that my family lived in upstate New York. As a fourth grader, I made the transition which came with a move from the midwest to the east coast relatively easily. My family moved into what we believed to be an enormous, modern and fancy home. The front entrance had a little medallion that said the house was “all electric”!  There was an attic bedroom with purple ballerina wallpaper. There were dark, secret places behind the closet walls, and under the home’s rafters in that attic bedroom which were magical places for girls with vivid imaginations and thin bodies to explore.

My two younger sisters and I loved that house and the neighborhood. The top level of the next-door neighbors’ split rail fence became a balance beam which we conquered with grace and laughter, and no broken bones. The backyard abutted to a small pine woods whose trees dropped long needles that were easily swept into piles which became the “walls” of make-believe mansions with adjoining stables. Just beyond the split rail fence neighbor was a creek (which in the sobering reality of adulthood was a really just a drainage ditch) that entered a large culvert as the water flowed under our street. It was perfect for wading, building dams and for make-believe world exploration expeditions. The culvert was big enough that we could walk through it to the other side of the street, where the water dropped from the culvert in what seemed like a huge waterfall back into the creek. In the winter, the water froze into a blue ice slide.

We knew every family in the neighborhood, which of them had kids, and which families were in the very unusual situation of having no children. Our best friends’ homes were interspersed within the neighborhood, down one street or up another. The rich families lived at the top of the hill behind us, the elementary school was just a few blocks down the street from our home, and the busy main street was several blocks away. The neighbor kids all walked to school each morning. The school playground included a very steep sliding hill that we used in the summer, on large flattened pieces of cardboard and in the winter, on wooden sleds and toboggans. The unspoken but clearly understood limits on our parental-authorized realm were approximately 5 blocks in any direction. More for me as the eldest, and less for my younger sisters.

My parents developed a group of friends primarily through a small church and my father’s work at IBM. This group of IBM employees and their families were like our young family, and we socialized together. In those days, IBM had a joke that the letters stood for “I’ve Been Moved”. Most families had moved many times, and had no family in the area, so it was important that the employees’ families had a chance to get acquainted. The company provided its employees a company-owned country club, which included a swimming pool and golf course. We spent many sunny hours at that pool in the summer months. We felt very lucky. These same families traveled together towing pop-up campers to warm states each spring and to state parks in the summer to camp. For the most part, the families had children of similar ages, but some did not. We swam in the very cold ocean, played mini-golf, and sang together around campfires in the evening. The older kids played guitars and knew all of the newest songs, like “Blowing In the Wind”.

In my mind, I know these memories are long in the past, but it is hard to realize that they are from 50 years ago. FIFTY years!

This past week, Merle and I took a road trip to visit our daughter and son-in-law in Philadelphia. On the way home, we took a detour of a few hundred miles so that I could visit my old house in New York. With the assistance of the miraculous GPS, we were able to easily find the house.

20150409_172506While it has been well-cared for, it is obviously not the mansion of my childhood memories. But as I stood on the sidewalk across the street, it still felt very special. The sidewalk is still the same one where we roller skated (with the metal strap-to-your-shoes skates), back and forth in front of the house, as well as down the sidewalks of a  hilly street that is perpendicular to the house. The split rail fence is gone, the creek is filled in, and the little pine woods is now just a few trees with grass underneath. But when I looked at the house’s Zillow listing, the attic room looks the same, minus the purple ballerina wallpaper. Those secret rooms are sure to be there, and the room above the garage-mine-still looks over the neighborhood. I spent many hours just daydreaming out the window. The vinyl siding has likely covered over my name that I left written underneath the outside of the window frame when we moved. I wonder if the siding contractor noticed it when it was installed.

Over the past fifty years, I’m sure that there have been several families who have lived in the house. How many children have grown up there?  How many of them felt it was a special place?  Did any of them put their little sister down the laundry chute? Did they roller skate in the basement, while holding hands with a sister or two and circling around the metal center pole? They probably found those secret rooms behind the closet, but I’ll bet they didn’t play a game called “Green Ghost” in there. Did the mother iron laundry in the family room while watching her soap opera until her children came home from school screaming for snacks?

How many times did other children race outside early in the morning to get the garbage can down that steep driveway as the noisy truck rumbled up the street?  Did other parents curse that same driveway in the winters as they aimed the car for the garage when it was covered with ice?

My brother fell on those front steps and had to be raced to the emergency room. I wonder if his blood is still somewhere on the cement. When we had guests from overseas sharing a Thanksgiving meal, I fainted and broke off a front tooth. I don’t suppose that the kitchen renovator found a piece of tooth in the floorboards.

The memories which this house hold are all in my head. Only my sister shares them. My brother was too young. My mother was an adult. Her memories would be different, and she is not a sentimental person.  It was one of the best times of my childhood.

What memories does this house hold for others who have lived there? Will someone else use a GPS and track down the house to see it again?

All of those memories, all of those children, all of the families have made their own memories in that house. That is not just a house in that photo, it is a home, not just for me, but likely for many others. I hope that their memories are as good as mine.

There have been many days lately when I have felt as though I am once again on a very small island of sanity in an ever-rising sea of crazy.  The water has been lapping at my chin for many years. Recently I’ve felt that I may need a straw to point up into the air to maintain the ability to breathe as the tide of insanity rises over my head. I often feel this at work, but listening to the world news can also make the scene quite vivid.

Through it all, I usually see myself as coping fairly well. You get used to it. After a while, you just figure out a way to do things-routine, repetition, systems. We all have them. They become automatic.

20150319_225254

Almost every morning, I buy a coffee on the way to work. When I got to the office this morning, like every other morning, I sipped my coffee as I checked to see if there were phone messages, then turned to my computer on the credenza behind me.

CTRL+ ALT+DELETE   Enter password.  Password Incorrect

The computer would not accept my password. Re enter password. Password Incorrect

The state requires that our passwords change every few months. Instead of making up a new one every time, I have figured out a progression that I just change one part of the password each time. I wonder whether I need to change it. Nope. The password is still good.

I tried over and over. My one-handed typing is often not particularly accurate, so I set my coffee down and tried several more times using both hands to enter the password.

I typed it more slowly.

Password Incorrect.

Again.

Password Incorrect.

One. Letter. At. A. Time.

Password Incorrect.

Password Incorrect.

After several more attempts, I sat and stared at the monitor. And as I finally took a moment and just thought about it, I realized that I’d been entering the password for my home computer rather than my work computer password. When I finally used the right password, the computer magically allowed me access.

The password I’d been entering was incorrect.

It’s just a little thing, I know. And maybe it happens to everyone. And maybe it is normal. I realize all of that. But it made me realize how much I expect my mind to handle every day. Over and over. Passwords. PINs Multiple ones for banks, messages, computers, phones, security codes, email addresses, phone numbers. They are shoved in there with the thousands of names/faces of clients, colleagues, family, friends, baby’s and/or pets’ names of all of those people. My medication names, dosages (Is this a day for a 1/2 tablet or is that tomorrow?) my calendar, my mother’s appointments, bills, social security number, birthdays…….

No wonder the passwords got mixed up in there. It’s a wonder I can walk and talk at the same time, let alone know whether to enter a PIN or a password.

A few weeks ago, I started reading the book “Still Alice”. I had to stop. It was very disconcerting to read this woman’s story of losing her memory to Alzheimer’s . I was still at the very beginning, when she suddenly didn’t know where she was while on a routine walk in her neighborhood. It was too real. That could happen to me. I think it may have happened to me. I have not gone back to try to read it again. I’m not sure I ever will. I don’t want to see the movie, even though everyone tells me “It is SO good!” Um, no-it feels uncomfortably possible that could be my future.

The world seems crazier every day. People seem to do stranger things every day. The amount of information and feelings that must be maintained in our brains increases dramatically each day.

Sometimes the most rational way to react to an irrational situation is to lose your mind.

Maybe I am the one losing my mind. That sea of crazy surrounding me may be doing just fine.

Posted by: chlost | March 15, 2015

The Week That Was

wind

My high-school friends and I traveled to Texas again for a girls’ only vacation. Last year we were in Mission, stayed with a friend of one of my friends, and the four of us took a day trip to South Padre Island. The weather was not very warm. So this year, we scheduled it almost a month later, planned to fly into Mission, pick up that friend, then drive to Corpus Christi for a warm relaxing several days on the beach. We found a hotel right on the beach, and spent a bit extra for a “corner balcony room”. We were very excited. Then a few day days before the trip, one of my friends got the flu. the out of every orifice flu. We thought she’d be better in time to travel, but she could not take her diabetes medication, and became horribly ill. She didn’t want us to cancel, as the reservations were nonrefundable. She thought she might be better and could join us a day or so later. So only two of us got on the plane. And she didn’t recover enough to join us late. It changed the entire trip. Not only was it less fun, but we felt guilty the entire time. We made a “flat Stanley” version of her and took photos of it as we went to different places. People around us thought is was funny. A waitress came up with a prop for one of the photos. Others suggested poses or took our pictures with the flat friend. The weather was pretty awful, too. It was rainy, cold, and windy most of the time. We wore our flip flops one day. Otherwise, it was jacket and socks weather.  We are putting the photos into a book for her through shutterfly. We haven’t gotten the final product back yet, and we haven’t seen each other yet. I still feel guilty.

Even the seagulls didn't want to put both feet in the cold wet sand.

Even the seagulls didn’t want to put both feet in the cold wet sand.

When I got back to work, it didn’t seem as though I’d been on a vacation at all.  So work has been a bit overwhelming at times. I had a huge hearing soon after returning. Very emotional and depressing. Any positive effect of being away was soon gone.

This past week seemed very, very long. It’s so strange that sometimes a week can just seem to fly by, others drag along. It was a drag-along week.

There were some very odd things at work. My job is filled with odd things, but these were notable even for us.

* After learning that there was an outstanding arrest warrant for her
husband, a woman brought his box of ashes in and plopped them down
on the front counter to “prove” that he was dead.

* An entire jury pool was excused and the trials postponed until a new
set of prospective jurors can be called. One of the guys in the
jury pool had commented in front of everyone that he knew the defendant
because he “met him when he was in jail”. The judge agreed that it
may have compromised the presumption of innocence. It is pretty rare to have the entire jury pool contaminated and start over.

* Our boss, a man of 60 who has been married for over 30 years, came into one of my colleague’s office and sat down in the middle of his conversation with someone else. He then told them that he “really needs to get laid”, and that he just “cannot understand this menopause thing”. It did not appear to matter that one of those in the office was a woman.

* We learned that one of my former clients recently was married. To his
former adoptive mother. The family was part of a very conservative
cult-like religious order and they had adopted a boy they found on
a mission trip in Africa. The whole case was beyond bizarre. They had
ten other children. There were criminal charges for assault, criminal
sexual conduct, abuse and neglect petitions in child protection, with
the children removed to foster care. The parents’ rights were termin-
ated as to my client. Now, the mother and former adoptive son have
married. He is an adult, but not yet 21. She is about 39. She has a
blog describing their story. She’s not so religious any more, I guess.

You just can’t make this stuff up. No one would believe it. And although we laugh about the weird stuff that happens, it wears on you.

It seems that we may have an early spring, so most of the normal people in the world are in a very good mood. It is great to leave the window in the bedroom open a crack and smell the fresh air. The eagles are gliding along the tree line of the river, hunting. The small birds seem to be returning already. The forecast is to return to reality this next week, with the temperatures going back to normal, but it has been wonderful to taste the spring. I try very hard to take note of these things as a bit of a buffer for the weirdness of what I do for a living.

And family is what saves me from insanity, I swear. Earlier in the week, we were informed that we will soon be grandparents again. Our oldest son, the one who was married this past August will become a first-time father this fall. They are still in just the very early stages, and have decided not to tell anyone except their parents and siblings until they are about 20 weeks along. This means that I cannot tell my mother, my sister or my brother. It’s killing me. I understand why, but I am so excited I am bubbling over. So I am telling you…….just don’t tell anyone else!  It would be so much fun if it were a little boy after our 3 granddaughters, just for a change of pace, but I know that this will be an amazing child no matter, girl or boy. I suppose I can’t start shopping until it is formally announced either.

By Christmas, our family will have added my brother’s soon-to-be wife, her two children and this new baby to our midst, all within a year. Oh, we will have fun! The budget will have to be increased, that’s for sure.

After a week like that, I am a little curious about what this upcoming week may bring. I am hoping for a little less odd, and a bit more of some good stuff.

Now, if our daughter and her husband were to have a big announcement……hmmm.

Posted by: chlost | March 9, 2015

One Dog in the Chair is Worth Two Canaries in a Cage

Each morning, as I groan and roll away from him, Merle turns off the alarm and slowly rises to get ready for work. The green glow of the clock radio says 4:30. No matter the time of year, even in the daylight-rich summer months, it is dark. He is in the car and off on his hour-long commute by 5:30.

I have the luxury of a bed to myself and a 7 AM alarm. Even then, I often struggle to get going on my morning routine after being up much too late the night before. Seven o’clock is much too early for a night owl like me.

Our dog sleeps in even later. He does not move out of “his” soft armchair until I am ready to go downstairs each morning. At that point, I suppose he feels it is worth expending the energy to be let outside for his business and to eat his breakfast before he goes back to sleep.

Yesterday was no exception to the routine. Roll out of bed Stumble to bathroom. Pick out clothing for the day. Step into shower.

But while I was in the shower, I was surprised to hear Merle’s voice. “Hello!”  “Hi there!” I heard him coming toward the bedroom, announcing himself so as not to alarm me.

I waited to hear him explain why he came back home so early. I could hear his voice over the shower water. “Hi! It’s me!”  I waited just a few more beats as he came down the hall that runs alongside our bathroom.

“Merle?” I called from the shower, thinking that maybe his car broke down, or perhaps he wasn’t feeling well. “What’s up? Why are you back home?”

No response.

I turned off the shower and called his name again. “Merle? Is that you?”

Nothing. No response at all.

It was a bit unnerving, to say the least. It wasn’t like him to be home. It wasn’t like him not to answer me.

All sorts of scary scenarios played through my head as I stood there, naked and dripping with soap. What was going on?

Finally I turned the shower back on, rinsed, and stepped out to towel off. I called out again, just to be sure. Still no answer.

He wasn’t there.

As I thought about the whole thing, trying to figure out what was going on, it finally hit me.

Our dog barks like crazy and runs around and jumps up and down when Merle gets home. Our dog barks frantically and jumps to attack if someone other than Merle comes anywhere near me.

As I stepped out of the bathroom, the dog was curled up on a pillow in the chair. He was awake, but not moving. Just like every other morning. No frantic barking. No jumping and running all around the bedroom.

Merle was not at home.

No strange person was in our home.

There was no one. It was nothing.

I was hearing things (otherwise known as hallucinating, but let’s not go there) that were not there.

In the future, I will keep it in mind-if the dog does not bark, there is nothing there.

If the dog barks frantically, all bets are off.

But at least I will know I really did hear something.

Posted by: chlost | February 16, 2015

Worry, the Best Medicine Doctors Can Provide

Presidents’ Day. A holiday that virtually no one else has off from work. In a way, I suppose it is a preview of retirement. Everyone else is working, and except for the post office, all other services are available.

It was the perfect day for a doctor appointment.

With the help of modern medicine, I am relatively healthy.

If I did not have access to modern medical miracles, I would be a blind, seizure-ridden, arthritic cripple with a huge goiter-assuming I were even alive at this point. I may have succumbed at an early age to heart disease. I definitely would not be able to enjoy my grandchildren, may not even be able to see them. Yes, if I were living in the 19th century, my life would be quite different.

You would think that I would happily trot off to the doctor regularly in order to ensure my continued good health.

You’d be wrong.

It is not as bad as the dentist, but I have had my fill of doctor offices. It feels as though I have used up my allotment of doctor visits, and prefer to just avoid them all together. It isn’t fair for me to take up the appointment slots when there are so many truly ill people. Plus, I really don’t like to push my luck. At some point, I may become one of those legitimately ill patients, and I know I will find out about that by a doctor, in their office, while I am visiting there. Best to just stay away, right?

I know that’s not right, but my procrastinating nature buys the logic.

Thankfully, up until now, I haven’t had to deal with any life-threatening illness. I am not a good patient. I know my faults.

Today’s visit was for the ol’  twist and squish torture of the female parts. The tech told me it has been five years since the last one. That surprised me-I knew I was overdue for it, but didn’t think it had been that long. Apparently time flies when you are procrastinating.

In any event, now that I’m home, it is time to worry. I always worry about the results. I’ve had issues two or three times in the past, and each time it turned out okay. But I worry each time. It seems prudent.

And really, in this day and age, why aren’t there faster ways to receive the results of the scan? You mean to tell me that no one has figured out a way to use a computer to read and interpret these things for instant feedback? What are we wasting our research and development funds on if not for this?

As I stood there, attached by the you-know-what to a machine which must have been designed by the spurned male lover of a woman who didn’t let him get to second base, I wondered out loud whether or not there is a comparable machine for men. You know there isn’t. Men would never allow their nethers to be squashed between plates of cold glass, even in the name of cancer prevention.

The technologist was very kind and helpful. Who has this job? Who decides to become a professional torturer of female anatomy? What kind of day do those folks have, anyway? I can’t imagine maneuvering dozens of mounds of flesh onto a flat surface each day. then slowly but surely lowering the boom until the flesh resembles pie crust dough ready for baking. Then they have to make the subject turn to repeat for the other side.

And we allow them to do so willingly.

We pay them to do this.

And we feel guilty when it has been five years since the last time.

And worry each time about the results.

The marvels and the curse of modern medicine all squished together.

Posted by: chlost | February 9, 2015

We March to April One Day at a Time

The daylight is lasting longer!

Although it happens every year, it is always a treat to realize that I am not driving to and from work in the dark. It has been rather sunshine-y and relatively warm these past few days. Rather enjoyable over all considering it is the beginning of February in Minnesota.

The brighter, longer days makes it a bit more likely that I will be still be sane when spring arrives in May. That’s always a bit touch and go for me each year.

This winter there hasn’t been much snow. Right now the front yard is brown grass with patches of about an inch of snow here and there. Not so good for the plants, but not so bad for the psyche. It sure is easier to daydream of green grass and flowers when you can actually see the ground.

My 2015 theme word is “Do”, and I have tried to follow that in at least some small ways. We have had the grandkids here for one long weekend and one regular weekend. It is quite busy when they are here. I truly don’t remember that part of parenting….it is just a blur. We aren’t used to it now, and at times Merle gets a bit cranky about not having a chance to relax before starting another work week. We didn’t do a lot this weekend, just had a tea party, played some games, watched videos, and ate. Merle took the girls to see the cows, and I took them to the bookstore. Guess which activity they love more than the other?? When the girls leave at the end of the weekend, even the dog is exhausted. He goes upstairs and plops on his chair, and we don’t see him again until morning. I really enjoy having them here, and it definitely counts as “doing” something.

My “doing” also includes a baby blanket that I am making for an office colleague. She is expecting her first child in a few weeks, so I am under the gun to get it finished started. I make these blankets without any pattern, I just pick out some yarn and make it up as I go along. I suppose that means that the blankets can look a bit goofy, but so far I think they’ve turned out okay. I bought yarn this week, but got home and realized that I didn’t like the way I was thinking of doing it. That means I have to go back and exchange some yarn. So I haven’t started the actual making of the blanket yet. Unfortunately, I don’t think I could get away with working on it in the office, so I will be working on it feverishly in the next several days.

As part of “doing” things this year, I’ve also been booking trips. I am looking forward to several trips-to Texas, Florida and Pennsylvania on the long side, and Northern Minnesota for a couple of short trips for family events. I have things planned through late July-so I still have a bit more to set up to fill out the year. I’ve also been setting up several dinner dates with friends. I usually just go home after work and sit on the computer until I finally drop into bed, so I think that going out to dinner with friends qualifies as “doing” something. If only I could do it without eating so much!

The “do” motto is changing some of the little things in my life. I am a procrastinator of championship caliber. If it doesn’t have to be done, I won’t do it.  I tell myself that I will do it……any time but now. So I have made a big effort to just do it when it comes up and not put it off. That is for things as small as taking out the garbage or starting the laundry. It is a very hard personality trait to change. I still find that I suggest to myself alternative times for things to get done… and I am a sucker for these suggestions. I will find myself arguing back with my thoughts to convince myself that I can just do it now instead of putting it off.  My goal of working on the family budget, for instance, involved obtaining bank information. All of the information I put together is still sitting in a pile for me to review. A half victory, I suppose.

The anniversary of my sister’s death is this week, the day before her birthday. It is always a hard week. I usually feel it looming over me as soon as the holidays are over. This year is no different, but I do feel a little better about it. Five years is a long time to be in mourning for a sister, but part of my “doing” is to try to let go of some of the depression that has hung on since then. My procrastination is even part of this. In my mind I tell myself “After this anniversary, you can start to let go of the dark feelings”. It will be easier then.

Work has been slow as far as the number of cases, but the cases that I do have are more difficult. It drains me most days. I keep telling myself that I have only a few years to go, then I will be in a warm location for the winter.  Procrastination again…..in a few years when we are someplace warm for the winter, it will be better.

Meanwhile, the daylight is getting longer! It makes almost everything easier.

As Merle is fond of saying, “We are one day closer to April”.

Posted by: chlost | February 1, 2015

A Once-in-a Lifetime Gift

This past week I received a gift. It came from my daughter-in-law.

It was a complete surprise. Well, she did tell me that she was sending a package to me, but that was all. I had no idea that it was a gift. I expected that maybe it was something that had to do with my granddaughters. Drawings, notes, or perhaps treats from those three little girls. They love to make things like that and give them as presents.

I was totally wrong.

This gift was given in love, and is the most amazing gift I have ever received.

Over the Thanksgiving holiday, my sister had brought copies of old family videos which included my sister Kathleen.  We had not seen the videos before, and it was quite emotional to see her and to hear her talking. If you recall, I posted about that.

Kathleen was a professional singer. She had a spectacular voice. She sang for a Temple choir, a church choir, a professional Chorale, and had roles in operatic shows as well as more traditional musicals. She lived on the East coast, so we did not see many of her performances.

After watching the videos of my sister at Thanksgiving, we realized that no one has a recording of my sister singing. She sang for over 30 years in one venue or another, and no one had any copies of a performance. Not even a casual song like Happy Birthday.

My daughter-in-law tells me that conversation hit her hard. She never heard my sister sing. She only met her a couple of times. But d-i-l decided then and there to track down any recording that might exist. She knew that the fifth anniversary of Kathleen’s death was coming up, and she was determined to try to find a recording of her singing before that February date.

And she did.

She contacted my sister’s college. They have archived all performances of the school musical performances. Over 30 years ago, my sister performed solos in the school’s annual performance of Handel’s Messiah. She was a senior in college, at the very beginning of her career. The school sent d-i-l a copy of the performance, as well as several photos and articles about Kathleen.

And out of the blue, I received a small package in the mail containing a jump drive with my college-aged sister singing her Messiah solo

There also was an amazing note from d-i-l, filled with love and the explanation of how and why she did this.

“I never got to hear her sing, and while this is from some time ago, I am glad to have the chance to     hear her voice. I hope though this may cause you sadness, it will also bring you a touch of joy to have her voice near you again.”

I cried like a baby. Even when I think about it now, tears fill my eyes and my heart hurts.

What a true gift. My heart is full of amazement and gratitude that she did this.

My sister would be cringing to know that it is her young, virtually untrained and immature voice that we have in this recording. Her voice sounded much different in later years.

But one of the even more amazing twists to this gift is that Merle and I were at this 1981 performance of the Messiah. We traveled through a very dangerous ice storm, along with our oldest son (then just a year old) and Merle’s parents in order to see this concert.

Of course we never could have guessed that I would be listening to it again 34 years later while bawling my eyes out.

Thank you.

Posted by: chlost | January 25, 2015

Wanting it All

This past week, several of my co-workers have had to deal with sick children at home. They have had to shuffle daycare, job and marriage responsibilities. As I observed a colleague’s daughter “working” with her in the office because there was no school (her dad was at home with her 3 brothers), I remembered the years Merle and I did that kind of juggling. As I think about it, I am really not sure how we pulled it off. Three kids, school, jobs, unemployment, flu, colds, meningitis, summer vacations, teacher workshops, daycare, babysitters, family members who filled in for caregivers. It is mostly a blur.

We made it.

The kids turned out well despite the craziness.

And the years flew by.

Now retirement is within sight.

Our working years will be coming to an end soon. Our identities, tied into our jobs, will be changing. There are decisions that need to be made, and there are no easy answers to the many questions which arise.

Where will we live?

How much money do we need?

What do we want to do with our time?

When should we “pull the trigger” as one friend called it?

My job has an early retirement option. I could retire now. Merle could have retired several years ago. Many of our friends and relatives have already retired.The list of people we know who live in Florida and Arizona over the winter months grows longer every year. My address book is filled with the snow birds’ double bookings. My calendar is all marked up  with the various spring return dates. I’m getting a little jealous.

But Merle loves his job, and I still need a few more years to obtain a retirement amount that is reasonable. Early retirement equals monthly benefits which are substantially reduced…not much of an incentive there. So we are only in the talking stage. But we have been talking about it a lot.

It recently hit me that I have about 20 more years of what I can reasonably expect to be “active” years ahead of me. After that…..well, chances are I won’t be making my own life choices. Twenty more years doesn’t sound like a lot of time to me, so we have been trying to figure out the best way to go forward.

The biggest issue we are discussing right now is “What do we want?”

In fact, to be more accurate, it is really a question of what do I want. Merle is pretty clear as to his wishes. He wants things. He wants a bright yellow sports car and a boat. He wants more cows.

I realized that I cannot think of anything—meaning any thing—that I truly want.  When I consider what I want for my retirement years, I think of the type of life I want rather than things I want. This is a major difference between Merle and me which we have struggled with throughout our relationship. Even though I don’t see our retirement with a canary yellow Corvette (I mean how would I get in or out of it? It would not be pretty.), perhaps we can compromise. I am not sure how it will work out in the end, but I decided that I’d better make a list of what I would like when I am retired even if I make the list only for myself.

Here is my list for the next 20 or so years:

1. Live in a smaller space.  Yes downsizing is on the top of my list. I could have sold this large house a few years ago and been happy.  This would also include getting rid of lawn and home maintenance. Even though he has acknowledged that I am right about this, Merle loves this place and he is not ready to sell it.

2. My children and grandchildren. My life needs to be within a few hours’ drive or plane ride from my family. They may disagree, but my life has to have the option to be with them on a somewhat regular basis.

3. No horrible winters. I can take snow. I can also deal with cold weather. I’ve lived in Minnesota almost my entire life. But I don’t want to deal with snow and cold for 6 months of the year, and not to the point that it is dangerous to be outdoors. My dream is to be able to do a VRBO or something similar to that in a warm place over the winter months.

4. Good health. It is likely that I will need access to health care over the next several years. I hope to be able to be mobile enough to keep up with the grandkids (I’ve had one knee replacement and will soon need another).

5. Friends. I have never had a lot of friends. I’m just not that kind of person. But I have several friends whom I’ve known for many years. I want to be able to continue those relationships. Whether via personal contact, blogging, emails, or whatever new technology options become available, I need to keep these people in my life.

6. Travel. This is on almost everyone’s list, isn’t it? I love to travel. Road trips are my favorite, but if possible, I want to do more travel abroad. I have a plan for several small trips this year, and to travel abroad in 2016. Looking forward to a trip makes me happy. The trip itself is enjoyable. Looking back on a trip is almost the best part. And a trip with those friends or family noted above would make it even better.

7. Work. I know. It is retirement, right? Why would I want to work? I just can’t imagine a life without someplace to go, without something to do on some sort of schedule. A part-time job, or even volunteering with a non-profit or small business would be perfect. I could see myself in a small indie bookstore, or volunteering with teenagers or small children.

Is it too much to hope for all of this? I feel lucky to be in the position of trying to figure out a life in retirement. It is a first world problem.

Now all I have to do is make it through the next few years in order to retire.

Posted by: chlost | January 11, 2015

Freedom from Terror Should be a Basic Human Right

This past weekend has been awash with news from France about the Charlie Hebdo attack and the reactions to it. It is heartening and awe-inspiring to see millions of ordinary people in the streets of Paris, London and other cities showing support for freedom of expression in the face of terrorism. Clearly, I don’t know all of the political intrigue which may or may not have been behind the attack, but the fact that it happened at all was meant to strike fear in the hearts of ordinary people. The ordinary people of France have responded:

“We are not afraid!”

Here in the US, there have been very few, if any such demonstrations. Watching the videos from Paris, it struck me that if there had been such demonstrations here-say in New York, for example-the response to them would have been completely different.

It is hard to imagine such a demonstration here which would not have been met with riot police, SWAT teams, dogs, and a military presence (at the very least as a back up for local or state law enforcement). The demonstration, if it happened, would have been seen as threatening, a terrorist act in itself. Two million people on the streets of New York? That would send shivers down the spine of every local, state and national official. It would be reported as violent by the media, even it it were not. The mere act of that many people blocking the streets, forcing the closing of shops and businesses, snarling traffic and eruptions of thunderous applause would be seen as an attack on our civilized society.

If twelve staff members of Mad Magazine been murdered, would we have responded in the same way? How about if the Onion staff had been attacked? These are both long-established publications of biting political humor.

Let me answer my own question….it was a bit rhetorical, after all….No. There would not be two million people in the streets over such an attack. We did not have that big of a response to the Boston Marathon attack.  Or the 9/11 bombing. Or any other act of attack on private persons, none of whom were in the business of rattling the cage of the extremists.

America prides itself on its’ freedoms. We boast about how free we are. We fight over how our freedoms should be balanced against each other. Americans claim their freedom of religion, speech, press as the definition of what it means to be American.

How free are we?

The American reaction to a terrorist attack has been to take away the freedom of its’ citizens in the name of protecting us from future acts of terror. Our fear of a future attack has been used as a reason that none of us can be fully trusted. Our phones calls are monitored, cameras follow our daily routines, arrest without charges or trials are justified if there is suspicion of bad acts, and the media is denied access to some public information. All in the name of fighting terror.

We are still living in terror. We are afraid.

The French, on the other hand, seem to be angry as hell.

It will be very interesting to see which response is more effective in stopping these attacks on freedom.

At this point, I think the win goes to France.

Posted by: chlost | January 11, 2015

Pick a word, any word

Yesterday I received a notice from the “boss” as WordPress.com telling me that I have been blogging for five years.

Huh. I guess so. This blog is now of kindergarten age. The same age as my middle granddaughter.

It certainly has had ups and downs. The number of posts here has certainly declined. I have never had a lot of readers, as I don’t take advantage of the recommendations to Increase My Readership! by linking the blog to my facebook page, or whatever other ingenious methods that there may be. I’ve never been one to have a huge circle of friends. I prefer fewer good friends than a lot of acquaintances.

Thank you to my small group of readers, whom I think of as good friends.

A five-year anniversary which coincides with the beginning of a new year ending with a five-it seems a bit more momentous to me than just a “regular” anniversary.

My sister recently told me about a new way to think of new years’ resolutions. It is to pick a single word which you want to describe your goal for the year. Apparently, you are allowed to change the word up until January 31st. After that, you are supposed to live the year with that word as your theme. My sister had picked “creative” as her word. She has always been very artistically talented, but feels that she lost that in the past year or so. The past year was very challenging for her, and she felt that she had lost her creative side while dealing with those challenges.

Now I have been thinking of what I want as the theme for my upcoming year. My first thought was “travel”. I really want to travel more. I love to travel and have several trips planned for this year. But my goal is a bit more broad than that. The next word I considered was “active”.  I hope to be more physically active, including traveling. This computer has become an anchor, sucking me to my chair as I read blogs, facebook, watch Netflix and keep up on the emails and news sites.

Finally, I think I have my word. It encompasses much more, and really does describe my goal for 2015.

“Do”.

Do things.

Do More.

Travel. Go out with friends. Walk. Meet people. Take classes. Make things. Play with my grandchildren.

Stolen from Nike, when an opportunity arises, Just Do It.

It may mean that after 5 years on this blog, there may be even fewer posts. Or, it may mean that part of doing things will give me more things to post.

Perhaps things more interesting than posting about a 5th blog anniversary.

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