Thursday, June 26, 2014

I'm calling as a volunteer for Joe Bock...

This morning between ten and twelve, I made over 35 phone calls as a volunteer for the Joe Bock for Congress campaign.  I was recruited by Joe's wife earlier this week and in my empathy for her, I said , "Yes, I will try it once."

It was interesting to see how a phone bank is run.
 The list of people to call came up one by one on my computer after I recorded  information from the previous call.  All my calls were made to undecided voters between the ages of 65 and 92 so it was a carefully selected group for that time of day. There were four of us calling from the Democratic Party Headquarters downtown.

I was given a script which sounded a bit artificial to me but I stuck with it for the most part.  Only one person hung up on me; maybe three curtly said they were not interested.  One woman said I woke up her 90 year old patient;  another care-giver said the person I asked for was dying of cancer.  I was sorry I made those calls.  Twenty-three calls were recorded as "No Answer"-- not home,  disconnected,  wrong numbers, or the refusals mentioned above.

Eight folks were definitely going to vote for Joe in November.  Several of those asked who was he running against and when I replied, "Jackie Walorski," the result was a wish to see her out.

That was my motivation for helping out as well.  The only other time in my life I worked on a campaign was 29 years ago in Raleigh, North Carolina, when I also was working against someone, "Senator No", aka Jesse Helms.  He beat our former Governor James Hunt, a pretty conservative Democrat.  I remember handing out information at our polling place with a little Dan on my back.

Will I do it again?  I said I would but not until late July.  I am thinking I can do this once a month.  But does it do any good?  Maybe it is an impetus for those eight to be commited to vote.  It seems to me that it would be more effective to call closer to election time to make sure folks do vote and know where and when to vote.  These elderly folks could vote early or by absentee ballot.

Joe Bock and his campaign manager came by to thank us.  At least four other young people were working phones or doing other jobs around the office and they were also very appreciative.  I want to support their efforts even if I am not sure phone calling is an effective way to do so.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Two Personalities; One Marriage

I knew Jim wanted to golf Saturday and Sunday.  I also knew I don't like to be alone both weekend days.

I wondered if he could think of anything that we could enjoy doing together on a beautiful day.  I couldn't.  I decided to give up and just go to the Leeper Art Fair myself and let him do whatever he wanted  to.

 Suddenly he said he did have an idea.  A pre-LPGA golf tournament was going on at Blackthorn Golf Course here in town and would I be interested in watching the women play?  He hesitated because it was still a golf outing.  I thought that would be great.  We've never watched a golf tournament and the $10 fee was cheap enough and for a good local cause.

It was great fun.  The women were good--not yet pros, but hopeful that they could be someday.  We watched them on several holes that Jim has played often.

We came home, ate supper, and then Jim went off for nine holes of golf, just getting it in before the storms came.

Sunday afternoon I decided I would still go to the Art Fair.  Again, to my surprise, Jim asked if I would take him along!  Of course!  I was touched by his trying to be a good companion.  However, the event was pretty dull and I need to remember not to go next year!

We came home, had a drink, did a puzzle, ate leftovers, and then I joined Jim walking for nine holes of golf.  It was muggy and sticky, but it was pretty out on the course with the sun low in the sky and lots of birds singing.  No one was ahead of us or behind us and that meant Jim was done in less than 1 1/2 hours.

It was a good weekend of compromising and enjoying each other's company.

Mothers and Daughters

I read Glitter and Glue by Kelly Corrigan all afternoon and evening yesterday.  At one point, Corrigan reflects on her own reading of My Antonia by saying

I remember a lecture from one of my lit classes about a theory called "Reader Response," which basically says:  More often than not, it's the readers--not the writers--who determine what a book means.  The idea is that readers don't come blank to books.  Consciously and not, we bring all the biases that come with our nationality, gender, race, class, age.  Then you layer onto that the status of our health, employment, relationships, not to mention our particular relationship to each book--who gave it to us, where we read it, what books we've already read--and, as my professor put it, "That massive array of spices has as much to do with the flavor of the soup as whatever the cook intended."  

So is this why I wept audibly at one point in reading Glitter and Glue?  My own mother died at age 59 when I was only 22 years old.  I never had a chance to know her as a grown-up; I only knew her as someone who loved us but was not always easy to live with.  

Corrigan did get the opportunity to appreciate her mother as an adult, especially when she was needy herself after diagnoses of cancer.  For me the best parts of this book were not her thoughts about her mother today but the longer middle section relating her five months of being a nanny twenty years ago in Australia to two children whose own mother had just passed away from cancer  (my reaction is exactly the opposite to the Washington Post reviewer on this).  Her observations of the children's neediness and resistance as well as her own awkwardness and earnestness was very honest and poignant.  It was during those months that she learned to appreciate her own mother and also to recognize that she herself would want to be a mother someday. 

 Glitter and Glue?  Corrigan realizes that her father whom she loved dearly was the "glitter" in her growing up, but her mother was the "glue."  Again, I see myself and my husband in this word picture.  I think our kids (oops--children as Corrigan's mother would have insisted they are called!) would see their dad as the parent who was more fun.  Maybe or maybe not they would realize that a lot of the behind the scenes work came from me.  This is still true with our grandparenting.  Grandpa is the "silly grandpa" but it is because of my initiative and planning  that we are able to spend time with them.

I don't know what my own daughter, a mother of three little ones,  would think of this book. I wonder if she hears my voice in her head as she interacts with her children.  I don't know that I will recommend it to her at this point in her life.  

Friday, June 20, 2014

Thinking about Friendship

I have always had good female friends.  Thinking way back to Jim's seminary days and my first years of teaching, I remember the group we partied with and friends still in town from college and high school days.    We spent a year in Scotland and I bonded with the group of women in the childbirth classes, some of whom we met again on another venture there. Then there were Harvard student housing days with other mothers in the same situation I was in.

It didn't take long to make good friends in Raleigh--from church, from nursery school parents,  great neighbors, and a YWCA exercise class.

Moving to South Bend was a time to reunite with some old college friends at church and to make new friends at church and with teaching colleagues.

But life goes on.  I have retired and I keep contact with just one former colleague from work. Many of those friends we met twenty years ago at church have moved on to other places.  We see a few of them occasionally and email and Facebook and the phone keep us in touch a bit.

In the last year or so, I have enjoyed a new friendship of someone my age as we walk and talk maybe twice a week.  Maybe the art museum docent class will be a source of friendships of others about my age.

As I looked around the group at a pool party held after a church softball game this week, I realized that many of our friends are the age of our children.  In some cases, we are older than their parents.  We enjoy their company a lot and it is a delight to have friends of all ages.

Through all the years, I consider my sister my most faithful friend.  We talk a few times each week and email a few more times.  She has been a listener and a support to me always.  She has lived in the same area all her life and has several good female friends.  Living in one place has its advantages at this stage of life, I think.

Jim's mom has outlived her relatives and her friends.  Friendship is difficult  with her hearing and memory loss.  A. good friend of hers in the past moved into her assisted living but she seems to have forgotten she is there.  Plus neither one of them hear well.

For now, I will try to nurture the friendships I have and look to initiate others.  Losses are inevitable.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Travelling Solo

Due to construction, it was a good walk on a misty Monday morning to the Princeton Train  Station.   From there, the Dinky, as it is called,  took us to Princeton Junction and then on to New York Penn Station.  At $7.50 for a senior, it is quite a bargain.

I decided to walk to the Midtown Hilton at 304 East 42nd Street, about a mile and a half criss-crossing across the city.   I always love that first walk in the city as one emerges from underground.  It gets the adrenaline flowing for me.

After some quiet time in my lovely room which did not have a lovely view,  I took a subway from Grand Central Station to 86th Street and walked a few blocks back to the Met Museum of Art.  I  focused on three special exhibitions- Goya and the Altamira family, Photography and Concealment, and Charles James fashion design.  To my surprise, the fashion one was my favorite, partially due to the way the exhibit itself was staged with dark rooms, dresses on circular platforms, and videos showing the underlying design.  The Met overwhelms me however and I must have asked at least five guards for directions including how do I get out of here!

Back to the hotel to dress for the theater!  The email requested "festive attire" and I did my best under the circumstances.  I treated myself to a cab ride to the Al Hirshfield Theater at 45th and 8th.  The evening was a gala for the Irish Repertory Theater and I think they were forced to sell empty seats at reduced rates to fill the house.  I paid $75 for my seat in the balcony.  Because it was a fund raiser, we  listened to lots of thank yous and accolades and presentations, but I was quite patient with all of that and it was done well.  The program of Lerner and Loew show tunes was great--very professional orchestra, chorus, emcees with narration, and soloists who were real pros--including our own Nathan Gunn from South Bend and St. Joe High School.

After the show, I walked through Time Square and enjoyed the lights and then put on my sneakers for the walk of about a mile back to the hotel.

 Supper at 9:30 pm was a great baguette from Pret Manger along with some chardonnay.

I slept well in spite of phantom toilet flushing and 2 AM ruminating and worrying about Jim's mom who is causing us all much concern.

Tuesday morning--a blog has already been posted about my nostalgia for this part of the big city.

The Morgan Museum and Library has been on my list for years but it never seemed to be the right time.  Today it was and it was wonderful.   It is a manageable museum built adjacent to Mr. Morgan's Library and Study which are also "Wow" provoking.  I enjoyed "Gatsby to Garp" (an exhibit of books with original jackets and letters), A Dialogue with Nature (Romantic landscapes--not so interesting to me except for the very impressionistic Turner watercolors), Miracles in Miniature (tiny illuminated books from the Claude Master--1400s), and Marks of Genius (treasures from the Bodleian, including a Magna Carter, a watercolor illustrating a Mendelssohn manuscript, and a draft of the Maimonides' Mishneh Torah from the Cairo Geniza.)

Another baguette from Pret Manger along with more wine made a great lunch. There was time to nap and write blogs--and now time to go out with Dan and Raven.

We had a very pleasant dinner in an upstairs dining room at Re Sette, a "sophisticated Italian restaurant" near 45th and 5th.  It was quiet enough to be able to visit although the wedding party in the front of the room was having a great celebration for the bride and the groom--both women.  Dan checked in on Foursquare and found out we could get a complimentary dessert so we shared a tirimisu after our pasta and pizza.  We walked together to Grand Central Station where they took the subway back to Brooklyn and I walked the rest of the way to the hotel.

The end of my stay in New York City makes me sad.  Yet I am eager to be home again.  I am so glad to be healthy and strong enough to do this--it does take energy and a sense of adventure.

A Visit to a Busy Family

Disclaimer: This post and the next one will probably be of interest to no one except me and my family.  But it is an easy way to keep a travel journal, so here goes!

I am nearing the end of a seven day-six night adventure on my own.  It didn't start well.  Travel time from our door to our son's door in Princeton was 12 1/2 hours.  We could have driven it in that time.  A flight was cancelled, a second flight was delayed, a monorail was out of service and the shuttle bus ride in Newark was endless at rush hour.  It made me sad not to be able to help out during the late afternoon hours as I had planned to do.

The next day went better.  I was quite apprehensive about driving Susan's large van, but I enjoyed it.  I did
eshew parallel parking however!  My duties for the day were to do the grocery shop and transport the older two kids when needed.  I fulfilled my duties with only one miscommunication but Katie was patient with me.  

I spent a few hours of free time visiting the Princeton University Art Museum for a wonderful exhibit called Rothko to Richter.  These works of Abstract Expressionists were great examples of what I had just learned about in my art docents class.  Photographs were not allowed, but the guard suggested I photograph the works in the catalogue.

I delighted in seeing Susan in her work environment at the new Chemistry building.  A brisk walk back to my car showed only nine minutes left on the meter.

Jeff was able to return early from his talk in Annapolis so he fixed supper for us.  What a treat to have one's son fix a family meal!

Saturday was a leisurely day for me but not for the others who had dress rehearsals and baseball.  I watched part of one baseball game and enjoyed seeing Coach Jeff in action.  Later,  I walked from the baseball field to Palmer Square and then back to Jeff's house--a three mile walk.  In all the years they lived there, I had never attempted that very pleasant hike.  Of particular interest to me was Witherspoon Presbyterian Church, just down the block from the large Nassau Presbyterian Church.  Its former name included a church for people of "colour" and it was founded by a former slave almost 200 years ago.

Susan's parents had arrived by this time so Sharon, Susan's mom,  fixed supper.  I had planned to go to Trenton and stay in a hotel near the War Memorial Theater but Susan took care of her mother-in-law and persuaded me to cancel the reservation.  She was right--the neighborhood was pretty desolate and sketchy.  I stayed one extra night on the futon in the play room (dinosaur sheets and legos decor!).

Sunday was the big day!   Susan managed all the group moms and the logistics backstage to ensure a smooth performance for  "It's a Small World," the 12th  annual recital of the Dance Factory.  Katie has danced all 12 years and she was marvelous in this performance.  She is so graceful and strong and controlled and looks as if she is taking pleasure in her dance whether it is funk, tap, ballet, or lyrical.   Watching Michael in his hip-hop solo brought tears of pride to my eyes and Jeff--for the first time ever--participated in the Dad's Dance and was great.  I didn't know he could be such a ham!

Between performances we watched Michael's travel team play baseball--and saw Michael make a great catch in center field.  

Supper was take-out Chinese and wonderful. Jeff brought me to my quiet room at the Nassau Inn and I spent the night there.  Family time was over.

Thoughts while at the McDonalds on the corner of 39th Street and 2nd Avenue

I walked a few blocks from the Hilton to a familiar place for breakfast--the McDonalds at the corner of 39th Street and 2nd Avenue here in Midtown Manhattan.  I detoured a bit to take a photo of Tutor Time where our grandson Jasper spent four good years in daycare.  I passed the bodega on the corner with its display of flowers and newspapers.

I was tempted to walk to The Corinthian and greet the doormen there--very familiar faces for several years when Laura and Michael lived on the 38th and 43rd floors in units with priceless views of the East River and Brooklyn.

Memories came floating back.  After Jasper was born, I went to the Duane Reade on the corner to buy diapers and was asked if I needed adult or children's diapers!

Next door was the Japanese restaurant from which I got take out when I stayed for several days in Laura's apartment.  I didn't know the power of wasabi and thought I would die alone when I swallowed too much of it at once.

Across the street was the Baskin-Robbins where I treated myself to ice cream one night, sat at a table outside and noted that every woman walking by was wearing black or white.

People watching in New York is always interesting and sometimes sad.  This morning I saw a very well-dressed woman about my age pushing a shopping cart with the usual suitcase and blankets and detritus piled up high.  Her hair looked styled; her long skirt looked like a designer skirt with tucks and pleats.  Where had she spent the night?

The lovely young lady who waited on me looked so beaten down as she rested her head on the cash register.  After she brought me my sausage biscuit (what a treat!) and coffee, I asked if she were tired and she said she was.  I asked what time she started and she said 6 am but she had to leave home at 4:30 am to get there.  I commented on her long commute and she gave me a big, beautiful smile.  I wanted to go back and tell her to hang in there, stick with this job for a while and make it look good, and try to be cheerful--it would make the time go faster.  But I said no more and was content with the one smile she produced.

Somewhere recently I read that one can try to treat those who wait on you as people and I have learned that the response has been good.  I hope no one thinks I am a garrulous old lady.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Do I Look That Old?

Last Friday, a friend and I were walking on Notre Dame's campus.  We had on our sneakers and were keeping up what I thought was a decent pace even though we had been walking about 45 minutes.  It was Alumni Weekend and a fellow on a golf cart came up to us and said, "Do you need a ride?"  We assured him we were getting our exercise but I wanted to snap back, " Do we look like we need it?"

Jasper, our dear seven year old grandson, is so loving and yet so blunt.  "Grandma, why are your teeth yellow?"   "Grandma, the skin on your arms is all spongy."

I am startled when I look at photos of myself.  Who is that white-haired lady with that thick waist?  Oh, it's me!

On the other hand, yesterday I lifted my luggage to the rack on the plane without help, I carried it up and down steps at the airport and train stations, I avoided all moving walkways during my interminable delay in Detroit and I felt tough and strong!

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

"Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant?"

Roz Chast's new graphic memoir is very funny, very sad, and very honest.  It is getting great reviews and I have been recommending it to anyone with an aging parent--and there are many of us.
Chast's cartoon figures are recognizable to anyone who has ever picked up a New Yorker magazine.  They are frazzled looking and stressed and in this memoir, for good reasons.

Chast was the only daughter of two elderly parents, a domineering mother whose threats to "blow her top" had always frightened her and others and a mild mannered father who never learned to drive or use a credit card but tried to protect her from her mother's rages.  Chast could no longer keep her distance (literally--she didn't go back to their apartment for over ten years) when her parents reached their 90s and frailty and dementia set in at a faster pace.  Even they realized independent living was over when her mother fell and her dad went to get help but couldn't remember which apartment was his once he left without her.

This memoir is honest and heartbreaking and yet funny.  We see much of what Chast describes in our own aged mothers---the paranoia of hiding things under a pillow and then losing them, the inability to distinguish between dreams and reality, the increasing need for sleep and withdrawal.  The descriptions of assisted living door decor and the choosing of dinner partners (who wants to eat with a non-stop talker or someone who forgets to swallow?) were painfully familiar.

What kept me awake for a while the night I finished this book was the thought of this happening to me and to my husband.  How can we prevent this from happening?  If we live to be that old, is it inevitable to become frail and helpless and to fade away slowly?  Is the alternative to die faster and sooner?

 I try to put those thoughts away and try to live in a healthy way and pray for grace for the years that are left.

Monday, June 2, 2014

It's Still Me

I've been thinking about a new blog title and emphasis now that my “time of retirement” is over.  Or at least the school year is over.  I am still in the mode of thinking of a year from September to June, I guess. 

We were walking to town in South Haven last week and I was telling Jim how I would not want to use the term “re-inventing” oneself for any retirement blog because after all, “It's still me.”  I stopped and said, “Hey, maybe that's my new blog title.”

We have observed how often the word “still” is used when questioning  folks of a certain age.  “Are you still working?  Still playing softball?  Still golfing?”  And then as life goes on, “Still living in that big house?  Still living on your own? Still driving?  Still traveling much?”  

I can no longer say when asked what I do, “I am a teacher.”  I can not even say much longer that I recently retired from teaching.  So I guess the question is, apart from work, who is the me of “It's Still Me?”

I am “still” a wife, mother, grandmother, daughter-in-law, organist, reader, gardener, blogger, cook, laundress, housekeeper and friend.   I hope to explore some other roles along with the art museum docent in training that I have begun.   

 However, as one friend said years ago, “The trouble with vacations is that you have to take yourself along.”  That's pretty sad and cynical, but there is some truth in it.  Some of the old worries and concerns and neuroses are “still me”—working or retired. 

How is it not “still me?”  I am sleeping better; my blood pressure is down enough that my doctor recommended cutting back on medication; I am finding it far easier to live in the present without concerns about the past or future.  I try to take each day as a gift with possibilities.  

So this posting is full of me and me and more me.  It's still me, but this will not be the title of the new blog.

Finding a Name

"It's Time for Retirement" is closed.  "" is no longer an appropriate address.  M Vanderkam IS retired and has been for almost six months.  As the last posting stated, the honeymoon is over.

I have missed blogging however but have been hesitating to get started because I needed a name for my new blog.  Some suggestions (and my hesitations) were:

M Vanderkam is Retired--too close to what I had.

The Gift of Years--like Chittester's wonderful book, but I didn't want to use her title.

It's Still Me--I liked this and will post using this title but too centered in "Me" and besides, it's ungrammatical-as one friend pointed out!

Life of Ease--I hope it is more than that!

So, with the theme that life is a gift I will use "The Gift of a 69th Year."  I won't be shy about giving my age, although it does startle me to read it in print.  I hope and pray this 69th year brings good things--good health and energy and the opportunity to be of service to others.