CONGREGATING IN THE SLOW LANE

It turns out, there are a lot of variations of congregate meaning “to get together, join together, group together, party hearty.” With some fish, it also mean joining in union to make baby fish. Or is that conjugate?

But, there is no word which means “someone who congregates.” No congregator. Congregationalist? Do you have to join a group for that?Way back when, in the days when I had energy, enthusiasm, and I genuinely liked most people, I was enthusiastic about “getting together.” I was considered sociable and I almost agreed with that. I was never quite as sociable many thought. I was a party “edge person.” I would look for whoever was standing along at the edges of a party and engage them in conversation. I never like big groups of people in one place because you couldn’t have a conversation with anyone when everyone was there.

I made exceptions when I gave the party because if it was my party, I didn’t expect to engage in conversation. Party giving was more about flitting about and making sure everyone else was having a good time. I gave a few good parties through the decades (generations?), but mostly, I preferred having a friend or two or three — and a great conversation about everything.

Remember conversations that lasted until dawn? We covered philosophy, government, the meaning of life. Travel to the stars, reincarnation and the best books we’d read lately. No one got bored or left out.

Later, people got old. Died. Drifted into a world of their own, moved to senior housing “somewhere near their kids” which was always hundreds of miles from us. Others simply drifted. What we had in common — work was big — it was not relevant when we all had mostly quit working.

Those of us with functional marriages who really liked our partners have been the lucky ones. Singleness is fine when you are active enough to travel and gad about, but these days, it’s an abiding joy to have a partner whose hand you can hold while you watch old movies, cuddled by dogs with cold noses.

We’ve been talking lately about how few friends we have remaining. This isn’t unusual at our age. People leave and don’t come back. Many others don’t like traveling. Or driving any distance. More don’t like going places with which they are not familiar. Everyone like their own bed. If you have pets, it gets increasingly difficult to find someone to take care of them when you aren’t there.

We still have friends. They are old friends. Friends forever. Who knew the people we used to know and share memories of the times through which we’ve lived. Have common political and philosophical beliefs — and hopefully enjoy the same movies!

SUSPICIOUS? ABSOLUTELY! THEY ARE ALL FULL OF GERMS!

VALID SUSPICIONS


Garry and I don’t go anywhere and it isn’t because of the weather.

It’s the flu. The stomach flu. The lung and chest and sinus variations on a theme of flu. Go to the doctor? DOCTOR? That’s where all the sick people go! Grocery store? Pharmacy? That’s where the rest of the sick people go.

I swear to you … every time I go anywhere, I come home sick. And so does Garry. Then we give it back and forth to each other for the rest of the winter. Sometime in April, we start to feel better and this isn’t because we got old.

We have been doing this “togetherness” act for a very long time. When Garry was a working reporter, he got everything. If anyone anywhere sneezed or coughed, he came home with it. He still had to go to work because Channel 7 didn’t believe in illness. Sick? So? Unless you were in the hospital on life support, you were expected to be at work.

My work was nominally less grueling, but not much. I inevitably worked solo, so if I didn’t show up, the job just waited. There was only so long I could let it go before I had to drag myself into the office. No one else could do what I did. There are some disadvantages to working alone and that is definitely a big one.

I’m tired of being a little bit sick, a little bit sicker, or finally getting better only to discover Garry is down with something I am absolutely sure I will get in three to five days. If there is an answer to this problem, let me know what it is. Other than living in a bubble, of course.

It isn’t really that I love warm weather. It’s that warm weather means less disease stalking the valley. I can usually count on not being sick from early May through late October. By Thanksgiving, all bets are off.

How are you doing these days?

MY EVEREST: THIRTY YEARS OF SAN DIEGO HIKING (WITH DOGS!) – MARTHA KENNEDY

My Everest: Thirty Years of San Diego
Hiking (With Dogs!)

Kindle and Paperback
August 29, 2017
Author: Martha Kennedy

I don’t like reviewing books written by friends.

What if I don’t like it? Will they hate me if I can’t give them a great review? Authors take book reviews personally. We aren’t supposed to, but our books are personal. I can’t think of anything in my world more personal to me than the (one) book I wrote. Apparently, no matter how many books you write, you will continue to feel that way about all of them. They are your babies, your little love children.

My everest martha kennedyI wasn’t too worried about this one, though. I’ve read other books by Martha and I liked them. I’ve always liked Martha’s writing (if you don’t read her blog, you should), especially when she is writing about her dogs. When this when came out, I dashed over to Amazon and immediately bought a copy. Then I got bogged down with other stuff and didn’t start to read it until a few days ago.

This is a wonderful book. It’s so very good, I hardly know where to begin raving about it.

back cover my everest martha kennedyThis isn’t just a book. It isn’t about hiking (despite its title) in the San Diego hills with your dogs. This is a book about finding what is real and what matters. It’s about discovering the world is God and you are part of it. It’s about recognizing all living things having an equal right to be on this planet. It’s about learning how tiny we are while expanding to be part of the hugeness of life.

“My Everest” is a beautiful book. It is profound and thoughtful. I found myself putting it down to leave myself time to think about it and what it meant to me. I don’t do that. Really. I don’t. I just read. This was different.

Truffle and Molly in the Medicine Wheel

“My Everest” is not one of those silly books about searching for yourself, either. Martha has found what I also found — that we are where we should be and we are in the right place. Our job is to enjoy it. Fully. See it, feel it, absorb it, love it. Be part of the all-in-all. Fly with the buzzards and the hawks. Get warmth from the earth with the rattlesnakes. Watch eternity roll by with the rocks.

This is not self-revelatory narcissism. It reaches out and says “I love you” to everyone and everything. It’s not offering you rules to follow so you can walk the same path. There is no path. “My Everest” is about joy and sanctuary , the world that Martha Kennedy and her many dogs found in the Chaparral in San Diego.

Taking the world hiking.

Those hills and mountains were her place. The suggestion is implicit that any place can be your place. You don’t have to go to those specific hills or mountains. The important thing is that there is a place — your place — that brings you that full measure of contentment.

I don’t think I can explain it any better except to say I loved the dogs and the mountains. I love the people she met on the way. The young people she brought with her to hike the hills. In good weather and bad.

I loved how she loved her dogs, yet understood that when they passed, that was how it had to be. Because we live, we pass — humans , dogs and all that lives.

The Models – Two magnificent huskies

This is not the kind of book I would have normally sought to read, but I’m incredibly grateful to have had the opportunity to read it. In many way, for me, “My Everest” is a prayer and a hope for a world gone wrong. I don’t find a lot of hope — or any kind of prayers — in 2018’s world.

I most fervently recommend you read this book.


It’s available on Kindle for the extravagant price of $3.00 and in paperback for the break-the-bank price of $7.00. I have it on Kindle and when my next Social Security check arrives, I will get the paperback, too.


I want to be sure it is in the bookcase with other books I love too much to leave in the cloud.

CHECKING IN WITH MYSELF – BY ELLIN CURLEY

I haven’t written an introspective blog in a long time. I’ve written about things that have happened in my own life and stories about other members of my family. I’ve written a lot about the political situation in America and the social schisms it has created. I’ve written about my dogs and the weather and what I’ve watched on TV.

But I haven’t checked in with myself recently – and there have been some internal resets. Over the past six months, I’ve had some uncomfortable and inconvenient but not serious medical issues. I forgot how closely one’s mental state shadows one’s physical well-being.

Constant physical issues for months at a time can really take a toll, both mentally and physically. I was chronically exhausted. No energy for anything. That translated to demoralization and withdrawal. Doing anything outside of the house became a big deal.

I started believing that my life was seriously lacking in many ways. I fixated on those deficiencies and my glass suddenly became half empty instead of half full.

When I started feeling better physically, I could step back and see where my body had dragged my mind. I realized I had to turn myself off and then back on again. I had to totally reboot my attitude.

I realized that I am, in fact, fine as I am. My life is fine as it is. Is it what I wanted, ideally at this stage of my life? No. Is it where I imagined I’d be at my age? No. Is that bad rather than just different? No.

Me and my dogs

I wanted to be a grandmother by my age, with a life revolving to a great extent around my nearby adult child and my grandchildren. Many of my friends are ecstatic and devoted grandparents. But I’m not a grandmother. And the most likely child to give me grandchildren in the future lives in LA, 3000 miles away.

As a retired person, I expected to be part of an active and gratifying social life with my large group of local friends. But people moved away. My remaining best friends still work 60 hour weeks and have limited time to socialize. As a result, Tom and I spend a lot of time alone with each other.

But this doesn’t make my life bad or inferior or deficient. Just different than planned or expected. I can’t compare my life to other people’s lives. I can’t measure my life against my past expectations.

Am I actually happy spending most days at home with my husband and my dogs? Yes! Am I fulfilled reading, writing blogs and working on our Audio Theater Group? Yes! Do I love my wonderful friends spread all around the country plus England and Germany? Yes!

So I wake up happy every morning, looking forward to another quiet but satisfying day. I focus on what I have and who I share it all with. I’m good. I’m lucky. And I’m grateful. I just have to try to keep this positive outlook when my body throws me the next curve.

A POSITIVE PARENTING MOMENT – BY ELLIN CURLEY

I had a brief shining moment as a parent. I did something right. It felt right then and I still believe that it was right now. I even think that my daughter, Sarah, would agree.

It has to do with Sarah’s Bat Mitzvah, which took place in January of 1998. We started planning it in 1997, when Sarah was twelve. Sarah has always been a very organized, efficient person. She could reorganize her closet, on her own, when she was five. So, my brilliant idea was, why not give Sarah the lead in planning her Bat Mitzvah events! She loved the idea.

Sarah at twelve years old

I gave her the budget and off we went to the invitation lady, the potential venues, the party planner, the florist, etc. Sarah got the final word on all decisions (after some maternal prodding and advice) as long as she stayed within the budget. That got tricky, which was the point of the exercise.

I remember, at one point, she fell in love with some fancy invitations. But, she realized that if she spent the extra money there, she’d have to cut back on the party favors for her friends. It was a carefully thought out decision. She finally went with the simpler invitations and the better favors.

Invitation Sarah picked

She had to use a calculator to plan her menu. For table decorations, she decided to save money on flowers. So she used balloons and paper decorations to supplement the very basic floral treatments on each table.

It was an enjoyable as well as an educational process. Sarah took great pride in doing everything herself. She learned about budgeting, time management and other sophisticated organizational skills.

The event was beautiful and lots of fun. I think it also had more meaning for Sarah because the day’s festivities were a result of her own input and effort. She not only had a memorable coming of age party, she actually grew up a lot in the process.

Sarah at the evening party

I’m proud of Sarah for handling everything so gracefully, maturely and responsibly. I’m proud of myself for giving the reins to the soon to become Jewish “woman”. We both benefitted from the experience and Sarah blossomed. A+ for the Bat Mitzvah, A+ for parenting.

Sarah and me at the morning services at the Temple

 

 

FORGIVENESS AND OUTLIVING THE BITCHES

One Sunday in church, Pastor’s sermon was about forgiveness. He asked everyone in the church to stand up. Then he asked those who had any enemies to sit down. Everyone sat down but one very old woman.

“You have no enemies at all?” asked Pastor.

“Not a single one,” she answered, nodding her agreement.

“Please, come up here and tell everyone how you reached such a great age without having any enemies,” said Pastor. A deacon accompanied the elderly woman to the pulpit and everyone in church applauded as she slowly made her way up the steps. Pastor adjusted the microphone.

“You must have done a lot of forgiving,” said Pastor. “Please, tell us your secret.”

The old lady smiled beatifically.

“I outlived the bitches,” she said.


Life marches on. You get older and after a while, you realize all the people you used to obsess over, the people who hurt you, are mostly gone. By the time you pass 70, a lot of people have disappeared from your life. Good ones you loved and the evil ones you hated. The sickly ones with bad hearts.

Chickens come home to roost. Crazy drivers meet their maker on a dark highway. Heavy drinkers, smokers, drug users find a sad end. It turns out that hating them was a waste of energy. Cancer, heart attack, and other diseases weed out people, the best and the worst, remorselessly and without no regard for personal qualities. Meanwhile, the older generation passes away, one funeral at a time.

Time makes most of the fears and worries of life less important. It turns out, forgiveness is not about repairing relationships so you can be friends again. It’s all about letting go. Passing stuff to your “higher power,” whatever that means to you. Acknowledging you can’t fix everything.

Realizing it’s not your job to fix it.

Shit happens. Some of it — unfair and unforgivable — happens to you. You can make it the center of your world and spend your life brooding and obsessing over it. Or, you can decide you won’t be defined by the worst stuff that happened to you — or the worst stuff you’ve done.

I know people who had wonderful careers full of honor and respect who lost their jobs and promptly declared themselves failures, as if that one bad thing — getting fired — negated everything that had gone before.

I know men and women who were abused as children who still define themselves as victims — 50 or 60 years later.

If you like yourself, you can be pretty happy no matter what life throws at you. It’s that simple. And that difficult. When you start forgiving, forgive yourself first. For the mistakes you made. For the bad choices, the stupid decisions, the asshole(s) you married, almost married, allowed to mess with your head.

perfect path in the woods

The jobs you screwed up, shouldn’t have taken, should have taken (but didn’t). The opportunities you blew. The unfinished manuscripts, the unpublished stories. The times you were wrong and didn’t apologize. Your failures as a parent, the books you didn’t read. All the “shoulda coulda woulda” you’ve accumulated.

If you throw it all out, you won’t eliminate all your problems. The money you don’t have won’t suddenly pop into your bank account. Youth and health won’t return. But, you don’t have to haul the past with you into the future and you can enjoy what you do have without obsessing over what you missed.

The sooner you do it, the better. Life isn’t forever, even if you live entirely on salad and never miss a day of exercise. Then, with a little luck, you’ll outlive the bitches.

SNOWBOUND

By Rich Paschall, Sunday Night Blog


As far as Ralph was concerned this was the worst winter ever.  There were years with more snow, that’s for sure.  There were years that brought colder days.  There was never a winter that brought one snow after another followed by one arctic blast after another. Memory had no recollection of this many days below zero.  There were several days when pipes were frozen at Ralph’s house, leaving him without water to the kitchen.

After that, every sub-zero day meant water would be left running to prevent the pipes from freezing again.  Towels and throw rugs were tossed against the bottoms of exterior doors to prevent drafts.  Humidifiers were used to make the house more comfortable and the gas bill…  Well, Ralph did not want to think about that.75-BigSnowHPCR-7

While he hated every day of it, the neighbors might have thought otherwise.  Ralph was always out shoveling the snow that fell or that drifted across the sidewalk in high winds.  Even when the temperature fell below zero, he was out doing something for a little while.

Some years, there were teenagers to be bribed, but this year there were none around so Ralph was resigned to doing the work himself.  When he finished the walks, he would shovel around his car and brush the snow from the windows.  Sometimes a snow plow would push a ridge of snow against the car and then it was time to dig some more.  This winter, Ralph was a busy man.

After he finished the work by his house, he frequently walked down the street about 5 houses and shoveled around an old brown Pontiac.  Some days, he could not do it due to subzero temperature, but when he could he went down there.  No one else on the block seemed to know whose car it was that got so much attention.  Now and then it was moved and parked back in the same area, but when the brutal weather hit, it just stayed put.

And yet, Ralph walked down and cleaned it off, just in case.  It was not Ralph’s car.  He never drove it in his life.  A few on the block might have wondered why he shoveled around the car and cleaned it with great regularity.  It was just something that Ralph felt inside he had to do.

Certainly there were some that felt that a man of Ralph’s age should not be out shoveling snow in such extreme weather.  It was winters like this that made Ralph understand why people retired and moved to Florida or Arizona.

As a matter of fact, Ralph might have retired and moved to Florida on his last birthday when he turned 62, but the pension he paid into for decades lost most of its value 6 years earlier.  It was reduced to 25 per cent of what he had.  He knew he would never make that up in the short time left before he would have to retire.  He just hoped when he did, the meager pension and meager social security would be enough to live on.  It certainly would not be enough to send him to Florida.

One particularly frosty day, Ralph arrived home to some fresh snow on the ground, took his usual parking spot and went right to work. When he finished his walkways and parking area, he was tempted to go in, but decided to walk down to the brown Pontiac anyway.  It was weeks since the car last moved and no one had seen the driver.  Nevertheless, Ralph was on the job, cleaning off the car and all around it.

By the time he was satisfied with his work, his fingers and toes were numb and almost in pain.  As he started to walk away he noticed an old man come carefully down the stairs of a brick 2 flat house and walk toward the Pontiac.  He had a decidedly puzzled look upon his face.  Ralph tossed his brush and shovel aside.

“Hello, Mr. Schuman,” Ralph called out.  “How are you today?”

“Cold,” Mr. Schuman replied with an odd smile that he had acquired whenever he was unsure of what was going on.  “And who are you again, young man?”

“It’s Ralphie, sir.  Ralphie Combs.  I had you for Economics in Senior Year at the high school.”

“Oh,” Schuman said.  “What year was that?”

“I guess it was quite a few years ago, but I remember it well,” Ralphie beamed, as he recalled his senior year.

“Were you one of those boys that I put in the front of the class so I could keep an eye on you?  You look like one of those boys,” Mr. Schuman said with a suspicious glance.

Ralphie laughed.  “Yes, sir.  That was me, sir”  At that Mr. Schuman laughed too.

“Well I was expecting a lot of work on the car today, but all the snow is gone.  I am certain it was piled on there earlier when I looked out the window.”

“It must have been the winds, Mr. Schuman, sir.  The wind was very strong this afternoon and has blown a lot of it down the street.”

“It’s a good thing, because I have to run some errands and shoveling snow is too much for me.  I guess I was pretty lucky with that wind.”

“Yes, sir, I think you were.”

“Well, I have to go young man, it is too cold to stand and chat.  Now you be good.”

“Yes, sir, Mr. Schuman.  I will be good.”

The old teacher got in the old car and drove away.  That few minutes of conversation was the warmest Ralphie felt all winter.