Sunday, December 25, 2011

Nana Celebrates Christmas

Our presents have been opened and the Christmas meal devoured. We have enough leftovers to feed us for the rest of the week, but if past history is any indicator, we'll tire of turkey by Tuesday and order a pizza.  This has been a low key Christmas.  We stayed home, just the spouse and I and our adult son.  The spouse and I agreed not to exchange gifts because we didn't need anything and if we did need or want something, then we'd just buy it for ourselves.  So we bought ourselves a new television and the spouse ordered new fancy binoculars and next week I'll hit the after-Christmas sales and probably find something I can't live without.

We had dinner about 2:00.  I've never been able to determine how long everything will take to cook, so we don't plan a meal time.  We just eat when everything is done.

We had Christmas crackers at our dinner table.  There's a picture of a Christmas cracker above.  They're one of those things that you always see in pictures of English Christmas celebrations.  You hold one end and someone else holds the other and you pull until the cracker pops.  Inside there's a small plastic toy or charm, a paper hat, and a fortune or joke.  In those English Christmas pictures everyone is sitting around the table wearing the paper hats.  When I've visited England, I've always purchased crackers to bring home.  My children enjoyed the tradition when we could find crackers.  Now I can order them online, but it seems a little silly to get them for three adults.  Unless the grandchildren come visit us for Christmas  the four crackers I found this year in a dusty box when I unpacked the Christmas decorations will probably be our last.

So at dinner the spouse, our son and I held on to the ends of the crackers and tugged them open with a pop.  The tradition is that you have to pull the cracker open with someone else.  I got a lovely pink paper crown, a small plastic top, and a joke.  The problem is that none of us understand the joke.  I figure it must be an English thing.  Can any of you Brits explain this joke to me?

What do you call a fish with letters running down its middle?
Answer:  Rock Salmon 
None of us get it...and that's as exciting as our Christmas conversation got this year!

There's a part of me that longs for the excitement of Christmas past when we had small children giddy with anticipation for Santa.  This year I had to settle for talking with my granddaughters on the phone. 

I'm learning that in retirement the one thing that doesn't slow down is change.  Our Christmas is different now that our children are adults, but I've learned to appreciate however we celebrate the holiday.

Merry Christmas everyone!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Nana's New Hat - Let's Try This One Again

I got to try out my new winter hat today. It has turned cold and I bundled up before venturing outside to tidy up the flower beds for the winter ahead. My friend Shawn and I attended a craft fair in Spokane a few weeks ago and I found two different hand knit hats. I love hats, but they look better on other people. I wish I could carry off wearing a hat and looking stylish. Instead I ...well, I can't think of a good simile. I look like a pinhead.

The last time I worked in the flower beds I was surprised by a snake.

"What kind of snake was it?" the spouse asks me. Like I'm some sort of snake identification expert in my spare time.

"How the hell do I know...It was a SNAKE!!!"

I do tend to believe that all my questions can be answered on the Internet, so I googled "snake identification." Several websites have tools to assist in identifying your snakes, but this is perhaps a better idea in concept than in practice. (Try it yourself here.)

The identification process starts off pretty easy. There are pictures of two snakes and you have to select which one looks most like your snake. Second question, rattles or no rattles? Again, pretty easy. Third question: longitudinal stripes or no stripes? My snake had stripes. Fourth question: belly with four brown stripes running the length of the body or belly without stripes.

Wait a minute! I have to pick up the snake, turn it over, and look for stripes!!!

The only way this identification process is going to work for me is if I've chopped off the serpent's head with my shovel, and, let's get real here, if I were brave enough to slay a snake and not run screaming in terror, why would I care what kind of dead snake it was?

One more thing to worry about. I'll be found dead in the garden from a snake bite and I'll be wearing my new hat and the emergency response people will stare at my lifeless corpse and remark "Wow, look at her pinhead!"

Update: I wrote this a few weeks ago just as the weather was turning cold. Today is the official first day of winter and it's cold every day now. I've taken to wearing my hat all the time...even in the house. The spouse says I look like a homeless person...yeah, he's full of complements, that one!  I'm not worrying about looking like a pinhead; I just want to be warm! One good thing about slows down the snakes!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Chrismas Memories from the Blog Vault

I put the Christmas tree up last weekend.  We have a fake tree.  As much as I love the smell of freshly cut evergreen, I like not having the mess even more.  The ornaments on our tree trace the history of our family.   The following is a reposting of the third post I made to my blog almost two years ago.

December 28, 2009

Memory Tree
I took the Christmas tree down today.  Each ornament holds a memory of a past Christmas.  My mother died at Christmas two years ago.  When we cleaned out her house, I kept several of her ornaments.  I think of her as I wrap the tissue around a small plush crown with rhinestones.  Ours was not an easy relationship, but as I’m wrapping up the Christmas ornament it’s not the challenges that I remember.  Together we would shop the after Christmas sales for half-price ornaments.  I have fond memories of teaming with my mom against the crowds to score my discounted decorations.  Our bargain hunting treasures were the start of my family’s Christmas collection.

As the years have gone by, we’ve added a few new ornaments every year.  This year we picked up a souvenir ornament on our retirement cruise to Alaska, It hung on the tree alongside the green salt dough dinosaur one of the kids made in kindergarten.  My son will be thirty this year; his “baby’s first Christmas” ornament dangled alongside the double-decker bus from the Rayner Reunion in 1997.  The decorations document births and deaths, major life changes, and the spirit of Christmas past.   I remember the love as I put each shiny or tattered ornament in the box.

When my grandchildren were born we started the tradition of buying each of them an ornament every year.  I try to find one that reflects their current interests.  This year I bought my oldest granddaughter a cow, because she says, “the cow is my favorite animal.”  I hope years from now, when she is putting her own tree away, she will remember when cows were her favorite animal and how much her Nana loved her.

Update:  I helped my granddaughters decorate their tree this year when we were in Austin for Thanksgiving.  We hung the cow ornament on the tree, but the cow is no longer Megan’s favorite animal.  When she was four and was asked why the cow was her favorite animal, she always answered “Because they’re tasty!”  Now when I see that cow ornament I am reminded of that time in her childhood…and how quickly she has grown up.   I haven't bought this year's ornaments yet.  Maybe I should wait for the after Christmas sales?

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Reflections on an Uninteresting Life

The spouse doesn’t read my blog.  I’m not sure if it’s because he isn’t interested or if it’s just that his technological skills haven’t advanced enough for him to be able to find it.  I expect, though, that he just prefers to be in denial.  So, last week he saw me chuckling at my computer screen and asked, “What’s so funny?”

“I wrote about your ear wax and I’m reading the comments from the readers.” I innocently replied.

“Well, THANK YOU for sharing my issues with the world.” (If we had a sarcasm font, that sentence would be in sarcasm bold!)  But, I like the idea that he believes that people the world over are waiting breathlessly to read my words.

Yesterday I told him I was going to write about his weekend project…I am not making this up; he says he is going to “organize my rock piles.”

“If your life is so uninteresting that you have to write about mine,” he tells me, “maybe you shouldn’t be writing a blog.”

Damn, I hate it when he’s right!

Friday, December 9, 2011

Nana Learns Something New

The spouse got hearing aids last year.  For some time he had been accusing me of mumbling, denying that I'd ever told him about various events, and watching TV with the volume set at levels that caused  most humans to run screaming from the room.  These symptoms, however, weren't enough for him to realize that he had a hearing problem.  Then his brother got hearing aids and it made such a difference in his brother's life that the spouse thought maybe he should get his hearing checked too.  A month (and thousands of dollars) later he was sporting hearing aids that were nearly invisible, but allowed him to once again hear. 

He's had some challenges in adjusting to using hearing aids.  He still has trouble distinguishing conversations in a room with a lot of background noise.  He temporarily gave up using his aids at Thanksgiving with a room full of noisy relatives and our granddaughters' constant chatter, but the hearing aids have allowed him to once again be a part of the conversation of daily life.

In the past few weeks the volume on the TV has been creeping up and I was repeating myself constantly.  The spouse said "My hearing aids have stopped working for me."  So he made an appointment with the hearing aid technician to get them adjusted.  There was nothing wrong with the hearing aids, but when the technician looked in the spouse's ears they were packed with wax.  Turns out that when you wear hearing aids it can, over time, pack the ear wax into the ear canal. 

The next day the spouse went to the doctor to get his ears roto-rootered.  He reported that there were chewing gum sized wads of gunk in his ears!

Who knew that hearing aids could cause the formation of giant wax plugs that interfere with hearing.  Since the wax vacuum sucked the gunk out of his ears he can hear again and the TV plays at a reasonable level.

Perhaps the most interesting thing I learned from this experience was after writing the above I googled "ear wax images."  I was looking for a picture for the top of the post.  Take my word for it, you don't want to see those images!

Ear wax,  one more thing I get to look forward to on my journey to old age. 

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

WTF Wednesday: Holiday Travel

WTF Wednesday is a semi-regular feature of this blog. It documents the things that have made me pause, slap my forehead and say "What the f**k!" Well, that and I just like saying WTF. I'm retired. I don't have to watch what I say anymore. I'm not any one's role model.

I got home late last night from a lovely Thanksgiving visit with my grandchildren in Austin, Texas.  There’s nothing like holiday airline travel to fuel a WTF Wednesday post!

The problem with traveling during holiday periods is that the sky is filled with amateur travelers.  Aunt Edith flying to Nebraska to spend time with her sister was last on a plane during the Nixon administration. I don’t expect every traveler to be experienced, but why can’t they pay attention to what is going on around them.  At the airport security screening in Pasco, a small regional airport with just two security lanes, a woman with six plastic tubs that had gone through X-ray stood at the exit of the machine and slowly started to put away one item at a time from her six tubs.  The line  of travelers waiting to enter security stretched to the door, but she was oblivious that no more luggage could enter the X-ray machine until she moved her baggage further along the belt. 

WTF!  My shoes and one suitcase were trapped inside the machine until she moved.  I tried to model appropriate airport courtesy by reaching around her for my shoes and moving them down the conveyor.  She never figured out that she should move all her belongings to the end of the table before stopping to reorganize.

This trip we flew United.  It is not my preferred airline.  They have an additional charge for everything.  In case of emergency if those masks fall from the ceiling, I bet United would bill you an extra $25.00 for oxygen!

It was two days before Thanksgiving and the flights were crowded, but not full.  Our first leg of the journey we flew from Pasco to Denver and had an almost four hour layover.  We ate lunch in Denver and then wandered down to our gate.  On the way we noticed another United flight going to Austin boarding.  Since we had only carry-on luggage, we thought “Hey, let’s take the earlier flight.”  We checked at the gate and seats were available, but…

WTF !!!  We had to pay an outrageous ticket change fee!   We decided to just wait for our original flight.  I don’t understand the airline’s reasoning.  The flight to Austin was ready to leave with empty seats.  Once it left the gate the opportunity for revenue was lost.  If they had let us take the empty seats, they would have had an additional opportunity to sell our original seats on a later flight.  The closer it got to Thanksgiving, the more crowded the flights become.  Doesn't it make sense to fill those early seats and have some space for the last minute travellers? 

We were flying small regional jets.  Because the spouse was traveling with me, at least I was squished into a seat with someone I know.  A definition of hell might include being strapped into a coach class seat on a cross country journey with a stranger’s damp body parts pushing against your thighs and shoulders.  On this trip the sensory assault came from the passenger in front of me who had bathed in a musky perfume.  It didn’t do much to cover the stench of stale cigarette smoke that hung in an invisible cloud around her.

United charges an additional fee for “preferred” seating.  What they consider preferred are the exit rows and the rows toward the front of the economy cabin.  You pay a premium price to not sit in the row just in front of the rest room.

Leaving from Austin on our flight home there were a lot of families with small children.  Having just spent a week with a six and a four year old, I realize that wrangling children is a challenge.  I’ve learned to always carry bribes,um…I mean small educational toys.  The only reason Nana eats a Happy meal is for the free toy that can be used as a behavior modification tool.  The parents in the Austin airport apparently didn’t believe in behavior modification.  Their children were entertained by pushing an empty stroller around and around and through the crowded waiting area.  I arranged my carry-on suitcase as a crash barrier, other waiting passengers weren’t so lucky.  The smallest child was entertained by a toy cell phone.  Every ten seconds the fake phone rang and rang and rang, and then ten seconds later it rang and rang and rang… 

WTF!  Parents, bring your damn child a SILENT toy or, here’s a novel idea, read them a book in a quiet voice.  Yes, your kids are adorable, but the rest of us aren’t interested in their cute utterances.

How quickly the glow of Thanksgiving gratitude faded once I hit the airport.  I found my usual cheery disposition turning surly.  I tried to regain a sense of thankfulness amid the irritations of travel.  Not an easy task, but as evil smelling and uncomfortable as air travel has become, I am grateful that I have the opportunity to spend the holiday with my family.  The joy of hearing my granddaughters scream “It’s Nana!   It’s Nana!” when we knock on their door makes the trip worthwhile.

I hope you all had a delightful Thanksgiving.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

What's Wrong With Us?

I haven't posted for a few weeks.  When I looked at my blog, I was surprised to see how long it actually had been since I posted anything.  I haven't  been absent from the online community, I've been reading the blogs I subscribe to, but I haven't been writing.  I've had a few topics roaming around my head, but the issue I needed to write about, I couldn't bring myself to write.  Over and over  my thoughts have been drawn to the horrible events at Penn State.  Jerry Sandusky, football defensive coordinator, is accused of raping young boys.  That by itself is horrific, but the scandal has brought down many others who are charged with not taking any action to protect the children that Sandusky preyed upon.  The abuse went on for years and those in power did nothing.  They turned a blind eye and maintained the status quo...and more children were abused.

I would like to say that I'm surprised at how those around Sandusky ignored his perverted behavior for so many years, but I've become far too cynical in my old age.  Every day, in every community, atrocities like those that happened at Penn State are going on.  What is wrong with our society that we can't protect our children?

I know that I couldn't say that something like what has happened at Penn State would never happen in my community, because it has.  It is not unusual to read in the court report in the local paper of another conviction of child molestation.  But there are also those incidents that are never reported.  And don't get me started about the fourteen and fifteen year old girls who get pregnant by older boyfriends and don't call it sexual abuse because they're "in love." 

Oregon has a mandatory reporting law that requires educators to report abuse.  There was a time when inappropriate behaviors were overlooked.  When my daughter was in high school a coach suddenly left his teaching position with the school district for "family reasons."  On Friday he was working and on Monday he was gone.  Some time later when he came up in conversation, my daughter told me he was having a relationship with a student.  It was never reported.  He still holds a teaching license. 

It was not an isolated incident, but in the fifteen years since  my daughter was in high school, we've implemented some safeguards.  Oregon now requires school officials to report investigations of inappropriate teacher behavior to the state licensing agency.  TSPC maintains a public list of teachers who have been disciplined.  It's quite an eye opening read.  Click here to visit the Oregon TSPC discipline list. 

There was a time when our society was somewhat tolerant of drunk drivers.  Our perception of that crime has changed over time.  Perhaps it's time for us to raise the awareness of child sexual abuse to the same level as drunk driving.  Our children are our future.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Some Things Nana Can't Fix

As I am falling asleep I’m often writing in my head, reworking sentences into perfect prose.  Last night I dozed off after writing a wonderful paragraph.  I remember thinking that it would be a perfect blog post and that I needed to get it written down first thing in the morning.  At dawn’s early light, okay maybe it was more like 10:00, I booted up my laptop and didn’t have anything to write.  Not only can’t I remember the perfect sentences, I can’t even remember the topic.  So, today’s post is some random thoughts from a recent week substituting.

A few weeks ago I was at a middle school covering a 6th grade reading class.  At lunch time I was in the classroom reading the teacher’s lesson plan when a girl came in early and started to chat.  After a few general comments she says, “I may run out of the classroom crying because my little brother’s father died last night.”

“Oh, that’s awful,” I tell her.  “What happened”

“It happened in his home.  I think it’s called a home cide,”  she says.

“A homicide?” I ask her.  “Someone killed him?”

This child is probably 11 years old and she’s telling me about a murder.  She’s  11 and she’s discussing how her mother is worried that she won’t be able to collect social security for the baby because the baby daddy never officially declared paternity and now they had to make sure they got a DNA sample before he was buried.   She’s only eleven.  She’s a child.  Children shouldn’t talk about homicides and DNA and paternity, especially with a substitute teacher that they’ve just met. 

I’m a problem solver, a fixer.  I’m good in an emergency.  I know where to go for help and who to contact.  It’s one of the challenges of substituting that the students tell me things and a part of me wants to take charge and make it better.  It’s not my role to make it better.  I can only listen.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Nana Celebrates a Birthday, Cha Cha Cha!

Today is my birthday.  I have nothing special planned.  The spouse bought me a chocolate cake with birthday greetings written in red frosting.  It is a well known fact that calories consumed on one’s birthday do not count, so I’ve indulged several times today.  We usually don’t buy gifts for each other, mostly because there isn’t really anything that either of us want or need.  I do reserve the right to buy myself something guilt-free, but so far I haven’t developed the urge for another bauble or techno toy.

The granddaughters called and sang “Happy birthday to you, cha cha cha.”  My son-in-law told me the song was accompanied by a complex dance routine. 

When my children were small some of their favorite stories were about the days that each of them were born.  This evening, after the birthday cha cha cha song, I talked with my daughter and told her that Grandpa Joe had recounted the story of the day I was born.  She told me that she didn’t remember ever hearing the story.  I told her she could read it in the blog.  I think now I’ll have to write and post  the stories for each of my children and grandchildren on their birthdays.   Whew!  That will give me material for at least four postings in the coming year.

My father (Grandpa Joe) called to wish me a happy birthday and, of course, declared that he remembered the day I was born.  It’s a story I recall being told numerous times throughout my childhood.  I was born in England, in Harrow, my parent’s first child.   As was the custom of the time, my mother was attended by a midwife and I was born at home.  The midwife had been on holiday and my mother was relieved that she was back on duty when she called her to come to the house late in the day on October 23.  My father, anxious to be of assistance, was pleased to be assigned the important task of boiling water.  Not sure how much water would be needed, this was after all the birth of his first child, he set numerous kettles to boil on the stove.  He was quite proud to be trusted with this vital task.  Once his pots were boiling he went upstairs to find out what to do with all the boiling water.  He was quite surprised to discover that he was boiling water so the midwife could have a cuppa tea!

Friday, October 21, 2011

Nana Makes A Subtle Change

Last week I colored my hair.  Not a dramatic color change, I just covered the gray.  Well, I covered a lot of it.  There's so much gray now that I can never get it all.  The spouse was oblivious.  Today I substituted at the high school in the same classes that I covered several weeks ago.  Numerous girls commented on my hair.  They had me as a teacher three weeks ago for only two days and they notice that my hair is different.  The spouse sees me daily and doesn't notice a thing.  Last week I was congratulating myself on a subtle color transition.  I was thinking that it was such a natural appearing color that the spouse didn't notice a difference.  I'm having to rethink those assumptions after my experience with the students today.  Either they are very observant and the spouse isn't, or that understated, refined color isn't as subtle as I convinced myself that it was.

This weekend I celebrate another birthday and the title of my blog will no longer be accurate.  I will have surpassed the benchmark.  I realized that I need to update the sidebars and the page design could probably use a freshening. On the other hand, if I make a change will anyone notice?  I know for sure that the spouse won't!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

One More Life Lesson

Years ago my friend, Darla, told me about a story she read in the newspaper that provided a life lesson and carried a profound message for her marriage.

The police were called to the home of an elderly couple.  They found the wife sitting calmly in a rocking chair on the front porch, the husband dead on the floor inside the house.  If the narrative ended here it would just be one more elderly widow left to finish out her life alone, but there is more to the story.  After finding the body of the husband and the hammer that had been used to kill him, the officers questioned the widow. 

“Why did you do it?” they asked.

“For all the little things,” she replied.

“All the little things”…it makes you wonder how much it takes to be pushed over the edge.  How many years can the little irritations be tolerated?  How much can be overlooked and learned to be lived with?  How many years does it take to build up the frustration that will make you snap?

Darla and I joked about keeping a hammer in a glass case that we could break in case of emergency.  The spouse and I both occasionally will say “Where’s the hammer?” in a moment of frustration with each other.  The spouse and I celebrated our forty year anniversary in August; Darla and her husband have been married even longer.  I sporadically think about that elderly woman with the hammer and remind myself to let go of the little irritations. 
The universe has once again provided a life lesson.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Nana Experienced the Thrill of Victory

It's Tuesday.  Aside from being the day we have to take our garbage up to the road for Wednesday's pick up, everyone in Hermiston knows that it is Lucky Number Day at Bi-Mart.  I had forgotten this well know fact until I pulled in to the parking lot and saw the stream of seniors clumping up to the door with their walkers like battering rams in front of them.  If I wasn't desperate, I would have skipped this stop on my list of errands.  On Tuesday the aisles are crowded with shoppers who seem to believe that Lucky Number Day is the Hermiston equivalent of winning Powerball. 

I was on a mission.  A mission to load my cart with lightbulbs.  After a week of the spouse complaining about the energy efficient lightbulb in the the lamp by his chair that made it impossible for him to read, I vowed to stock up on those soon to be obsolete, energy sucking lightbulbs that produce enough light for us old timers to read by.

My cart stocked with an assortment of lightbulbs, I headed through the aisles to the checkout, right by the Lucky Number poster, and

     I won!!!

The last time I wrote about Lucky Number Day I  didn't know a single person who had ever won.  Today I became the exception to my own rule.  For the first time I experienced the thrill of victory right in the middle of Bi-Mart, next to the seasonal displays of Halloween candy and pressed wood furniture .

What, you may ask, did I win?  Eat your hearts out, losers...

We're having Mexican for dinner tonight!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

A Fly With a Message

This morning when I got into my car in the garage, there was a fly on the dashboard.  As I pushed the button to raise the garage door and back out, he started flying frantically around the inside of the car.  I stopped in the driveway to push the button to close the garage door.  The fly settled on the dash next to the glass.  I opened the windows and shoved at him with an envelope to encourage him to fly out.  I was not successful; he moved to the passenger side of the dash and continued flying frantically up and down against the glass.  I headed down the driveway figuring that air currents would soon boost him out the open windows.  Three blocks later he was still beating himself against the windshield glass.  He never ventured away from the perceived escape exit of the front windshield.  After than initial flight around the inside of the car, he never tried to fly in any direction but into the windshield.  If he had, there were four other windows wide open that would have led him to freedom.   

I stopped at the red light at the Mormon Church and was finally successful at scooting the fly out an open window.   Notice I said "the light." There's only one light between my house and the high school. The stop at the light gave me thinking time.  Perhaps the Universe had sent the fly to remind me of another of life's lessons.  If the light had been green, that fly would probably still be trapped against the windshield of my car and I would have  missed an opportunity to ponder.

This is what I was pondering.  Like the fly against the window, it is sometimes impossible to see the options that are available to us.  Sometimes you have to look farther than just what is in front of you.  Even though it is uncomfortable to leave the safety of the dashboard, sometimes the only viable solution will be outside of the perceived safety zone. 

So, the darn fly has popped in and out of my head all I just need to figure out why the Universe thought I needed to be reminded of this lesson.  Or, it was just a fly on the windshield...

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Nana Googles and Cooks

Summer will officially end this week, but I’ve felt it coming.  There has been a chill in the air when I go out to the hot tub at night and last night it rained.  Every day I have been harvesting tomatoes from our tiny garden and I keep thinking that each harvest will be the last, but they keep on coming.  I had so many today I had to make another batch of tomato sauce,

I have written before about my lack of culinary skills, so making tomato sauce was a challenge for me.  I kept my laptop with me in the kitchen so I could Google for emergency directions.   I found a recipe that didn’t require exotic ingredients and collected the necessary equipment.  The first step was to peel the tomatoes.  I vaguely remembered that it involved boiling water and a slotted spoon.  Google found me explicit directions and soon tomato skins were effortlessly sliding off the fruit.

The recipe called for several cloves of garlic.  Is a clove just one of the sections of the bulb or the whole bulb?  Google once again answered my question.  One of the segments is a clove of garlic.

The preparation process probably took an hour:  Google, skin, chop and stir.  The pot of sauce has been simmering all day.  It has reduced down to half the original volume.  We had spaghetti for dinner, with what the spouse called V-5 sauce, because it has five vegetables.   

I read a blog ( The Simple Dollar) about  frugality and once a week there is a feature about frugal tactics that might not save money.  Making your own tomato sauce probably falls into the no savings category.  Even though the tomatoes were free from my garden and there was no cost for my labor, I have no idea what it cost for that giant pot of vegetables to bubble on the stove for hours.  So we had one free meal of tomato sauce tonight and as soon as the sauce cools down, I’ll put another five containers in the freezer.  All that work to save $2.50 on a bottle of spaghetti sauce?  I’ll have to be satisfied with the praise from my family….

Me:  “How is it?”

Son:  “It’s okay.”

Spouse:  “It  certainly has better  flavor than that bottled sauce.”

Such high praise.  I should cook more often!

Monday, September 12, 2011

Nana Stops in Biggs Junction

Those of us who live in the eastern part of Oregon are used to driving long distances.  We have good highways and relatively little traffic.  Portland, the largest city in Oregon, is just one audio book from where I live.  I enjoy the 200 mile drive to Portland.  The highway parallels the Columbia River and the scenery can be breathtaking. 

Starting at Arlington the blue, gray and green of the Columbia River is  speckled with bright flashes of parasailers darting back and forth across the river. 

Several years ago big horn sheep were reintroduced in the Columbia Gorge.  The herd has grown quite large and as soon as we hit Phillipi Canyon I start scanning the hillside for the rams.  Quite often I have seen them right next to the freeway.

Over the years I have traveled I-84 I have stopped frequently at Biggs Junction at Jack's Mini Mart.  They had the best selection of road food...and a clean bathroom.  I could usually count on running into someone from Pendleton or Hermiston at Jack's.  It was a favorite pit stop for eastern Oregon travelers.  Now it is closed and the roadside services are just like every other freeway interchange: chain gas station mini-marts, McDonald's, off ramp just like any other.
Jack's at Biggs Junction

Last week we drove the RV down I-84 and pulled off the freeway at Biggs.  We were headed to the Deschutes River.  I had never driven into Biggs any farther than one block from the freeway.  What a difference one block makes.  Just past the Subway and McDonald's it's a different world...

It was like taking a drive back to the 50's!

Friday, September 9, 2011

Random Thoughts on 9-11

The television has been filled this week with footage of the 9-11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.   I imagine many bloggers will post some sort of memorial piece about that day.  Most of us remember where we were when we heard about the attacks.  It’s another event in my life that I remember because I vicariously participated by watching every second unfold on television.  The Kennedy assassination and funeral, the Watts riots, Bobby Kennedy’s assassination and the funeral train, the ’68 Democratic National Convention, the Challenger disaster, and the World Trade Center attack….all images seared in my brain from television.

I love history and I believe that we need to remember the events that have shaped our world and the lessons that our shared history has taught us.  I do recognize the impact of the 9-11 attacks.  Our world was changed on that day.  I have to admit, however, that I’m a little uncomfortable with some of the coverage.  On the news tonight Diane Sawyer was interviewing “the babies of 9-11.”  These are all children born after their fathers were killed in the attacks.  They  never knew their fathers and growing up without a father is difficult, but parading these kids out on television and asking them “How does it feel to not have a father?” doesn’t add much to the historical record.

The term hero is probably over-used in the context of 9-11.  One does not become a hero just by dying in a terrorist attack.   I say that with great respect and admiration of the many heroic acts that have been documented to have occurred that day. 

As time passes we may begin to put the 9-11 attacks in perspective.  It was a great tragedy but today I found myself wondering about other families who lost loved ones on 9-11: a mother whose child was stillborn, or a wife whose spouse died in a car accident, a husband who lost his wife from breast cancer.  Are these losses mourned any less?  The children who lost a parent in the terror attacks are not any more tragic than the children who have lost a parent from other causes.  Every life is precious.  I guess I’m uncomfortable with the idea that the relatives of 9-11 victims are somehow worthy of more support because their loss was 9-11 related. 

A city not far from Hermiston has built a 9-11 memorial, complete with pieces of the wreckage from the Twin Towers.  There is no direct local connection to the event, no local boy lost.  Yes, 9-11 was a great national tragedy, but so was the sinking of the Titanic and there's no local memorial to that event.

The local (Portland) news had an interview with a woman who was in labor on September 11, 2001.  Her child will celebrate his 10th birthday on the anniversary of the attacks.  There was no connection to anyone involved in the 9-11 attacks, only that they happened to go into labor while the attacks were taking place, thousands of miles from the actual event.  The reporter asked the couple what they remembered from that day and they talked about a long labor and watching the towers fall on television and then the husband complained that there was nothing on network TV that day except coverage of the 9-11 attacks…so they switched to TVLand and watched reruns of The Brady Bunch.  Yeah, that didn’t add anything to the historical record either!

Several months after the attack I was in New York.  I walked by Saint Paul's Chapel that was being used as a relief station for workers cleaning up the devastation.  The fence around the chapel was covered with posters of the missing and with memorial messages.  I walked along the fence reading note after note representing loved ones lost in the rubble.  On the other side of the sidewalk street vendors had set up shop hawking 9-11 souvenirs.  You could buy commemorative T-shirts, FDNY hats, or slick photos of the planes smashing into the Twin Towers.  So many lives lost and another opportunity to sell souvenirs...the ying and yang of 9-11.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Nana Visits a Waiting Room and Writes About It

This morning I had to go to the lab to get blood tests done.  I stood behind the sign that said “For patient privacy please wait behind the sign until you are called.”   The three foot space between the sign and the receptionist window wasn’t much of a sound buffer; I listened in to every conversation between the receptionist and each patient.  I know that the woman in the clean white sneakers and navy plaid shirt last took her medication at 11:00 last night and that the small Asian man ate breakfast this morning.  I finally turned in my paperwork, quietly answered each question lest my privacy be invaded, and then took a seat to wait for the lab technician to call me.

An elderly couple entered the waiting area and took their place behind the sign.  The tiny woman was hunched over with Dowager’s Hump obvious under her Alfred Dunner shirt.  Her husband slowly made his way to the waiting room chairs using two canes.   I was far enough away that I could no longer hear the conversations with the receptionist.  The elderly man was comfortably seated by the time his wife finished with the receptionist and turned to walk the ten feet to the waiting area.  He looked up and saw her heading toward him and he struggled to pull himself up using his canes.  He remained standing until she was seated, and then he sat down again.

…and that’s something that you don’t see much anymore.  I can’t remember the last time anyone stood up when I entered a room.  It was a small gesture, but even though it was difficult for him, he struggled to his feet to show his respect to his wife. 

Today I had a glimpse of what was once commonplace…good manners.  Perhaps I’ve grown used to incivility, but that elderly couple stuck in my mind all day. 

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

WTF Wednesday: Nana Scores One For Feminists

WTF Wednesday is a semi-regular feature of this blog. It documents the things that have made me pause, slap my forehead and say "What the f**k!" Well, that and I just like saying WTF. I'm retired. I don't have to watch what I say anymore. I'm not any one's role model.

Our local newspaper is the East Oregonian. Last Friday they published an article on the front page about a "Pendleton girl" who is one of the few helicopter pilots in the army.  She will soon be deployed to Afghanistan.  This "girl" is 26 years old.

WTF????  Is that sexist language I see on the front page of the East Oregonian?

Yep, see for yourself below:

The headline is "Pendleton girl flies the big birds" and the article is titled "Adventure in Afghanistan."  Like flying a Medivac helicopter in a war zone is a ride at Disneyland!

WTF???  Where do they get off patronizing a highly trained professional woman?  So I wrote a letter to the editor.

To the editor:
In 2006 when the East Oregonian reported the death of Army Spc. Ryan D. Walker in Operation Iraqi Freedom, he was not referred to as a boy. Yet Ryan Walker was 25 when he died for his country, a full year younger than Amanda Charlton, who the East Oregonian refers to as a "Pendleton girl" on the cover of the August 26th paper.  Amanda Charlton is, according to the article, "one of the Army's few female helicopter pilots."   Amanda Charlton is not a "girl." She is a highly trained professional woman and to refer to her as a girl and not even list her military rank demeans her achievements. She is putting her life on the line just like all the military men who are deployed overseas. She deserves to be addressed by the rank she has earned and she deserves to not be patronized.

I realize that I run the risk of criticism that I am hypersensitive about political correctness, but the reality is that sexism still exists in our country and one of the biggest problem areas is our language.  Using the word "girl" in reference to an adult woman when the term "boy" is almost never used to refer to an adult male unless an insult is intended is a common example of sexist language.

Come on's 2011; you know better!

I emailed it to the editor Friday evening and he emailed me right back and said he completely agreed with me and had spoken to the person who had written the headline.  My letter was published in the Sunday paper.
Score one for feminism!

Friday, August 26, 2011

Nana Disproves The Theory That Pre-Planning For Yard Sale Shopping Is Beneficial

Fridays in the summer are prime time for yard sales.  This week, as temperatures hit the high 90s, the residents of Hermiston seemed to realize that the lazy, warm days of summer were almost over and they were losing their opportunities to hold an outside sale.  The Nickel Ads had column after column of yard sales listed.  This week I followed the spouse’s advice and made a list.  Last night I entered all the addresses into Google Maps, organized the sales by proximity, and printed out a detailed plan of attack for Friday morning.

My first stop was an estate sale.  I bought a pile of old towels to use for cleaning rags and a Field Guide to Western Birds.  I also called the spouse and told him he should stop by to see all the tools and man toys in the basement of this sale.  I moved on to the next sale on my list but later received a call from the spouse.  He was ecstatic.  He had bought every drill bit they had.  He found several old Stanley planers which he is sure are valuable (as if he’d ever sell them!)  He purchased several tools that he’s not quite sure what they’re used for…but he’s sure they’re good ones.  He also bought, wait for it…five chunks of lead and a giant plank of steel!!!  It really doesn’t take much to make him happy.  Later in the day I heard him talking on the phone to his brother and bragging about his great finds.  It’s fun for me to see him so giddy about shopping.  I know the feeling, but I usually get that way after Macy’s has a 50% off the sale price special on shoes.

I expected to find some real treasures today because I spent all that time organizing.  I think I shattered the spouse’s theory of the benefits of pre-planning.  I was even out the door before 8:00!  I wasn’t any more successful today than when I follow my usual practice of sleeping in and then late in the morning aimlessly driving around and looking for yard sale signs.    That’s what I’m going to do tomorrow.  It’s Saturday and there are more sales starting, but I’m not getting up early.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Forty Years Ago Today

Earlier this week I read a lovely tribute that a blogging friend had written about her marriage on the occasion of her anniversary.  You can read it here.  Because I try to be open to the messages that the Universe sends me, I realized that it was a reminder that my own anniversary was approaching. 

The spouse and I have never been sentimental about our anniversary.  Most years we would forget all about it until the anniversary card from my mother would arrive in the mail.  She always decorated the envelopes with anniversary greetings and drawings of flowers, so the mailman always knew it was our anniversary before we did.  My mother died four years ago and now no one remembers, so it’s nice that the Universe has stepped up to prod my memory.   

Today the spouse and I have been married forty years.  Forty years!  I have been married for two-thirds of my life!  I’ve spend as much time married as Moses spent wandering in the desert!

The traditional fortieth anniversary gift is ruby.  I won’t be holding my breath waiting for that to arrive.

The spouse and I married in Granada Hills, California at the Catholic church that I had attended as a child.  I was Catholic by birth, meaning that my mother had made me attend church every Sunday and Catechism classes every Wednesday night until I escaped to college.  The spouse and I met with the priest the night before the wedding because the spouse was a heathen.  Since I had attended those Catechism classes every Wednesday, I knew that anyone who wasn’t Catholic was a heathen, but I loved him and wanted to marry him even though he was probably going to spend eternity in Limbo which, if I recall correctly, isn’t such a bad place except Jesus never hangs out there.   It’s definitely a D List location.

The wedding party gathered at the church the evening before the ceremony to rehearse.  The priest asked to meet with us alone for a few minutes in his study before the rehearsal.  He asked the spouse, “Do you commit to raising your children Catholic?”   …and there was an uncomfortable silence in the room until I jumped in with “I thought the Vatican changed the rules and didn’t require non-Catholics to agree to that?”  And five minutes before our families were scheduled to join us at the rehearsal the priest says, “Then I don’t think I can marry you in good conscience.”  Do they learn those blackmail techniques in priest school?  The spouse and I sign that we will raise our yet to be conceived children Catholic.

On August 21, 1971 we married in a small ceremony in front of friends and family.  The priest wore Kelly green socks and sandals under his long flowing vestments and the wedding party got a case of the giggles when the priest pulled out a plastic squeeze bottle of holy water and spritzed the rings held out by our best man.  Perhaps he was warding off demons.   
At our meeting the night before the priest had told us that it wouldn’t be appropriate for us to kiss at the end of the marriage ceremony.  We did it anyway, so between that and not raising our children Catholic, I’m probably joining my life partner in Limbo.  We marched out of the church to the organ playing the tune made famous by the Carpenters in a bank commercial, “We’ve Only Just Begun.”  Grab the Kleenex and click the link below...

I dug out my wedding album this evening to look for a picture to accompany this post.  I hadn’t looked at the pictures in years.  We were all so young and all the men had so much hair!  It is hard to believe that forty years have gone by so quickly.  Forty years, two children, two grandchildren and a lifetime of memories and it still feels like we’ve only just begun.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Nana Likes Sudoku

I like doing Sudoku puzzles.  My local newspaper publishes a puzzle daily.  I always finish reading the paper by doing the puzzle.  While I was in Texas for three weeks last month visiting my grandchildren, the spouse saved all the local papers for me.  When I got home I scanned through every issue to get caught up on the local news, but mostly to cut out the daily Sudoku puzzle.  My son commented, “You know, Mom, you can buy a whole book of those puzzles for $1.00 at the Dollar Store.”  Yeah, I know, but there’s something in my frugal nature that finds satisfaction in getting those puzzles for free.

Our local paper publishes three different levels of puzzles: bronze, silver, gold.  The bronze are too easy and the gold are occasionally difficult.  The silver are, as Goldilocks would say, just right.  They are challenging without being frustrating.

I don’t know what it is about Sudoku that appeals to me.  They really are a mindless activity.  If you are systematic in working through the puzzle, it is unusual to not find the solution…and that might be exactly what speaks to me.  Sudoku are governed by a set of rules and if you follow the rules, the outcome is predictable.  The numbers all line up, everything is in its correct place.  There are no gray areas.

Life doesn’t have those same rules.  Oh, there are rules that we’re taught and live by, but the outcomes aren’t guaranteed.  We tell our children to study hard and go to college so they can get a good job, and now we’ve got 10% unemployment and a lot of those kids who studied hard and went to college are now unemployed or under-employed and burdened with student loans.  We tell people to work hard and save money and then they can enjoy their golden years and now we’re rolling back pension promises and reducing Medicare. 

I know, I know…there are no guarantees.  But every time I see a job go to an insider rather than a highly qualified outsider, or a criminal get off without consequences, or children going without medical or dental care,  I wonder what has happened to the rules that govern our society. 

I like Sudoku.  It’s predictable.  You follow the rules and reach success.  I just wish life were a little more like Sudoku.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Regrets, Nana Has a Few

In my last post I wrote about ten things that I had done right to prepare for retirement.  Today I address the things that I would do differently.

Plan:  I made the decision to retire quite suddenly.  Although I was eligible for full retirement, I didn’t have an exit plan in place.  I made the decision to retire when I lost total respect for the people I worked for and it became too difficult to continue to pretend that everything was okay.  Granted there was talk of changes to the actuarial tables that would have impacted the amount of my monthly benefits, but for me it was an emotional, not reasoned,  thought process that led to my decision.  Other bloggers have related accounts of their retirement plans; all in all I think that it is probably wiser to devise an exit strategy at least six months before a retirement date.

Take full advantage of employment related benefits:  There were benefits that I received as an employee that are not available to me in retirement.  Before retirement I should have had all my dental work done since my post-retirement plan does not include dental.  Six months before your final retirement date, get in to see your dentist and doctor and get EVERYTHING checked and fixed.  Because I retired with only 30 days notice, I didn’t have time to get an appointment with my dentist and get a few things fixed before my insurance expired.  My employer also offered an Employee Assistance Program that offered, among other things, free access to counseling.  Heck, it was free.  I should have taken the three free counseling sessions and had some assistance coming up with a post-retirement plan.

Start saving for retirement sooner:  I had retirement savings, but they took a big, well really gigantic, loss in the stock market crash a few years ago.  They are starting to recover but I wish I had more in savings to supplement my income from my pension and future social security income.  When I was younger I didn’t think about retirement.  Had I listened to advice and acted on it, I would have a lot more money in the bank.

Decide where and how you want to live in retirement and act on it before you retire:  If I were buying a house to live in for retirement, I wouldn’t buy the house I now live in.  If, for example, the spouse or I had to use a wheelchair, my current house is not fully accessible.  Although it is all on one level, there are stairs at both the front door and rear that would make getting in the house a challenge.  There is nothing that stops us from downsizing now, but  my sense is that it would have been easier to secure funding (and pay it off) while we were both still working.

Get a hobby or a plan for staying active:  The first few months of my retirement were a challenge for me.  After the retirement trip to Hawaii and cleaning out my long neglected garage, I had no plan for what to do with my days.  I am still envious of the people with well thought out retirement plans that include a bucket list of activities.  I’m still fumbling around doing whatever pleases me at the moment.  There’s nothing that stops me from creating a plan now, other than I’m quite happy doing nothing.  Unfortunately, there’s a little voice inside me that isn’t happy about my slothful behavior.

Build relationships with other retired people:  When I retired my friends were all still working.  It is only now, two and a half years later, that I am starting to build relationships with other retirees…and that is a challenge for a recluse!  I’m comfortable going to a matinee or shopping by myself and it is a pleasure to do these things during the week when they aren’t crowded, but it is also fun to have a friend along.   

Make a commitment to exercise:  Remember these are things that I wish I had done, not things that I did!  I have the time now so there are no excuses (except it’s really hot today.)  Commit to exercise several times a week.  There are days that I realize I didn’t leave the house…I should at least be walking or riding my bike a half an hour a day.

I wish I were one of those people who lives life without regret.  I’m packing around a boatload of regrets.  Sometimes it’s easy to fix…I can return that sweater that made my daughter comment, “Mom, what were you thinking!”  Sometimes it’s a missed opportunity that might never come my way again.  I may be piddling away my retirement years, but I don’t regret the decision to retire. 
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