More Gratitude at Christmas

In my last post, I wrote about the gratitude I felt when our entire family was able to gather and celebrate Thanksgiving at our house for the first time in two years. Now, it’s Christmas Eve, and I am even more grateful. Todd had colovesical fistula surgery on December 8, and is recovering at home. Obviously, I’m thankful that he’s home and the surgery was successful. But there are so many things for which I am grateful.

This is the first Christmas I remember that I didn’t purchase any gifts for my husband, nor did I even bake a single batch of cookies. But I am so grateful. I am thankful for Todd’s highly competent surgeon, a man who humbly told us several times that he considers himself merely a technician. I will be forever grateful to this ‘technician’ who saved Todd’s life.

I am grateful to my family and friends for their emotional support to both of us. I am thankful for my daughter and granddaughter, who took time from their busy lives to feed, exercise, and play with Josie, our nine-month-old Airedale puppy while I was at the hospital. I am also grateful to my granddaughter’s husband for answering the phone early on a Saturday morning, and without a moment’s hesitation, brought his chainsaw to cut up and move the tree that had fallen across the driveway the night before. I am appreciative of my friends who cared enough to listen.

I am grateful to the urologist for his quick and accurate diagnosis. I am appreciative of the surgeon from our local hospital who referred Todd to the colorectal surgeon in Toledo. I am beholden to him for eventually sending that referral.

I am thankful that my husband, after more than a week of waiting for the referral from the local surgeon, forged ahead and and called the surgeon’s office himself in Toledo to inquire about that referral, which that office had not received. I am so grateful to the young woman in that Toledo office who took it upon herself to remind the local surgeon more than once, until he sent that referral.

I appreciate the entire staff at St. Anne’s hospital in Toledo, who gave Todd such excellent care during his stay there. What a class group of people! I am grateful that Todd was able to get into the hospital, have his surgery safely, and get home without getting Covid. He was only in the hospital for three days. He was released a couple days before he was scheduled because the staff said he was doing remarkably well for a 71-year-old, and the hospital was filling up with Covid patients. Within a few days after his discharge, that hospital, along with many others, cancelled elective surgeries. How very lucky we were that he was able to get in and out so quickly and safely. I am forever grateful.

As I stated earlier, his surgery was to fix a colovesical fistula, something we had never even heard of before his diagnosis. In case you are not quite up-to-date on medical terminology, a fistula occurs when two organs form an abnormal connection. Think of a fistula as a tunnel that shouldn’t be there. When he got the diagnosis a few months ago, he also learned that he had diverticulitis. The diverticulitis had formed a fistula between his colon and his bladder – a colovesical fistula. Google the term if you are interested in reading about the symptoms. They are just as bad as they sound. He suffered for weeks. If his surgery had been cancelled, he would have remained in misery, and his health would have continued to spiral downhill. I am so grateful.

I said it earlier, but I will be forever indebted to that colorectal surgeon in Toledo. As I said, he is a humble man, but he is certainly well-respected by his coworkers. A number of medical personnel told us he was absolutely the best. Todd even asked more than one of them, jokingly, if the surgeon paid them to say that. They would always laugh, then immediately say that this surgeon was the only person they would ever want for themselves or any family member who might need colorectal surgery.

We will be spending Christmas day here alone, just like last year. Last year I was a bit sad because we didn’t get to spend the time with our kids and grandkids. This year, I miss them still, and wish we could spend time together, but I am so grateful that my husband is alive and on his way back to health, and that our story isn’t over.

What have I gleaned from this? For one thing, I have relearned the importance of being purposefully grateful for all the little things that I might have taken for granted before. Consequently, this Christmas I am planning on bottling up some of that gratitude, along with some extra Christmas cheer. That way I can take a sip when I need it, just in case I ever forget to be grateful.

So, if you live in the area of northern Ohio and are ever in need of an excellent colorectal surgeon, I know a guy. Merry Christmas to you and yours. Peace.

Gratitude for the Thanksgiving that was possible

For me, Thanksgiving has always been the ‘can’t-miss-it’ holiday. I have nothing against the gift-giving associated with other holidays, but I prefer to celebrate my best-loved holiday with only the delightful, if occasionally exasperating combination of food, family, and friends. For me, the essentials for Thanksgiving happiness fall into place when my family gathers together, enjoying overflowing tables of food. I love the joy and comraderie during and after dinner, when we all chat for hours.

When they were younger, our grandkids played ball games outside and video games inside, chased the dog and each other all over the yard and house. Now they still play ball and video games, but also spend time together talking, sharing photos from their phones, and talking about their lives. The television is always on during the Lions’ game, but no one pays much attention, except to check the score now and then. At some point during the day, our son-in-law always settles into a chair with one of Todd’s guitars. Every Thanksgiving we’re together, Todd and I survey the scene at some point of the afternoon with near inexpressible gratitude. It’s only after the Roberts’ family leaves on Friday that our house finally settles back onto its foundation.

For me, all holidays at their best are gatherings of family and friends where the taste and smell of good food mingles with the joy of conversation and time spent together. Fortunately for us, most years we have been able to celebrate Thanksgivings with family. Usually, we have pretty much the same meal, adding or subtracting certain side dishes and desserts, in accordance with changing tastes or newer recipes. Thus, if you live long enough, the dinners tend to blend together. You can’t always separate one from another. What year was it that such and such happened? We’ll smile, maybe even laugh out loud at the memory. But sometimes we still can’t remember exactly which year it occurred. Except on occasion when something different happens, like last year — and this year. Last year it was a table for just the two of us, as it was for many. If gratitude is an overflowing table, then what was last year? Last year we gratefully made the most of what was possible.

We weren’t sure until the week before Thanksgiving that we would be able to host this year. Todd has been ill, with major surgery scheduled soon. We thought his surgery would be around the middle of November, so Thanksgiving here was going to be out of the question. However, the surgeon scheduled another procedure plus pre-testing first, pushing the surgery back. I wasn’t sure Todd would feel like having our family this Thanksgiving. But we both really wanted the gang here, particularly after having no family last year. Plus, that niggling little thought at the back of our minds, that gentle reminder that no one ever knows when any holiday might be one’s last, was a strong motivation. So, with less than two weeks left before turkey day, we decided to invite everyone. I knew that they all might have made other plans, but everyone quickly agreed to come.

Thanksgiving, 2021, was wonderful. It had been two years since we had all been together. It had been so long that our eighteen-year-old grandson, the tallest in our family, was surprised to see that his 16-and 13-year-old cousins have had major growing spurts, and may be close to challenging his ‘tallest’ status. Everyone in our family is fully vaccinated, so we hugged, more than once. We ate, we drank, we told stories, both old and new. The boys played basketball as always, but Kolton couldn’t dunk on his cousins anymore. The only mar on the day, despite the abundance of food on our tables, Todd could eat no more than a small piece of turkey, masked potatoes, and a sliver of pumpkin pie. But, other than that, the day was darn near perfect.

I shall always be eternally grateful for Thanksgiving, 2021. I know that the myth of Thanksgiving that we learned in elementary school, that of Native Americans generously and willingly sharing their food bounty with the Pilgrims, has been widely disproved. But, the individual family traditions and rituals that have arisen out of that myth are what we cling to. There’s an old Italian saying: ‘A tavola non s’invencchia’, which translates to ‘around the table one does not grow old.’ I am not Italian, but I like that. It speaks to Thanksgiving, of course, but also to any moment when we gather with family and friends to converse, commemorate, celebrate, and commiserate.

I will always cherish sitting down with family and friends to a meal made with love, allowing the world around us to slow for a bit; enjoying the simple delights of each other. Perhaps we don’t grow old around the table because of the company we keep there, and how alive and youthful we all feel when we are gathered around it, talking and laughing. Particularly this year, and perhaps for the future, I am going to remember that I am not losing time, I’m simply biding it, waiting, patiently or not, for our next chance to be together to share food, drink conversation, and give thanks for all of it.

Not the dog you want, but the dog that you need

Yogi in winter

In late July of 2011, we brought home a 7-week-old puppy, our 8th Airedale. We named him Yogi, in honor of the most famous number 8, Yogi Berra. We hadn’t had him long before we decided that he was, in many ways, a combination of all the Airedales who came before him. He grew into a big boy, around ninety pounds by adulthood. He had the loudest voice of any dog we ever had. He made the windows vibrate when he barked. We had no fear of anyone sneaking up onto our property. He always let us know in no uncertain terms when he thought danger might be approaching.

Yogi taught me to be much more fluent in ‘dog’. I’ve enjoyed all of our dogs, but sometimes when I was working & raising children I didn’t always take the time to appreciate their idiosyncrasies. I was too busy, or thought I was. I didn’t enjoy them as much as I could have because I allowed stupid stuff to get in the way. By the time I retired, when Yogi was three, Todd had taught him well, as he always has, & I got to spend much time enjoying him.

I mentioned that Yogi taught me ‘dog’. Some of our other dogs let us know they were hungry by barking at various decibel levels to inform us that it was dinnertime. Yogi was much more subtle in his requests. Yogi perfected the ‘stare’. I would be doing something, perhaps making dinner, when I would become aware that Yogi was somewhere near, staring at me. Standing tall and still as a statue, his attention would be laser focused on me. Often the very tip of his tongue was sticking out. If I didn’t acknowledge him, he waited until I glanced his way again, then he would rapidly stick his tongue out and pull it right back in, almost like a snake, until I finally acknowledged his needs and fed him.

He used the ‘stare’ often on Todd, his favorite human and pack leader. It often seemed like whenever Todd picked up a guitar, Yogi walked up to his chair, stared at him, and waited. It was as if Yogi was saying, “Do you really need to play that thing now? Can’t we just go to the woods?”

Todd first mentioned the Cesar Millan (the dog whisperer) quote: “not the dog you want, but the one that you need” to me a few months after we got Yogi. When Yogi was still a puppy, he started having skin issues. Suddenly, seemingly out of nowhere, he began to get random sores all over his body. Todd dutifully consulted the vet, who advised him, & we did what was suggested. But still the issues continued. Todd had a phone consultation with a young vet we knew who didn’t practice near here. She made some suggestions, including another vet. Todd took Yogi to this vet & began a new treatment. To make a long story short, no treatments seemed to help. Steroids, antibiotics, non-allergenic diets — nothing helped, though the issues did seem to be seasonal. The only thing that helped was Todd’s diligence & constant attention. Yogi was bathed twice a week, sometimes three, for ten years. The dog we wanted would not have required so much attention, but the dog we got needed much more care than most dogs ever require or receive. Todd became more patient because of Yogi. Yogi ended up in the very best place he could have landed, because no one ever took better care of a dog than Todd cared for Yogi.

Yogi worshipped Todd. He spent nearly every waking moment near Todd. Yogi wasn’t a dog who needed to be petted constantly, but he needed to be near the human he adored. If Todd was outside, Yogi just had to be there, too. When Todd was gone, Yogi listened and watched for his return, occasionally looking out the living room window or listening at the door. Yogi was always beside himself with joy when Todd returned. When Yogi was in the woods with either one of us, Todd had him trained so that he didn’t need to be leashed. He was able to wander and sniff to his heart’s content. If he wandered somewhere out of our immediate sight, it was never long before he came back to make sure all was still right with Todd and his world. Yogi never rushed back, but moseyed back in his own ‘you can’t make me hurry if I don’t want to’ Airedale way.

Yogi’s second favorite human was our daughter, Erin. He formed a bond with her when he was a puppy and he always, always got excited when she came to visit. He even got excited when he heard one of us say her name. If he heard her voice on the phone, he was certain she was coming & ran, first to the front window, then to the kitchen door to greet her. His disappointment when she didn’t come as he expected was palpable.

Though I was lower on the totem pole for him, probably his third favorite human, we developed a bond too. When he wanted me to walk with him, he would stand in the backyard, look at me, then look back at the path, then back to me again until I got the hint. He liked my baked goods as much as my grandkids do. He always got the first bite of a cookie after the batch came out of the oven. Somebody had to make sure the cookies were tasty, right? He really loved my homemade English Muffin Toasting bread. Somehow he could tell the difference between bread types. He couldn’t have cared less about sourdough bread, could take or leave whole wheat, but that English Muffin Toasting bread made him dance. And if he didn’t get a warm slice in good time, he got impatient and gave one loud bark to make sure I didn’t forget.

People have different expectations when they get dogs. I think one of the most common expectations is for a loyal companion. Yogi was that, and so much more. He was the dog we needed ten years ago, and he needed us just as much. He needed someone to tend to his many issues, & we both needed to learn more patience.

At his yearly checkup in late April, the vet proclaimed him in excellent health for a nearly ten year old dog. He just needed to lose some weight, as it was creeping closer to one hundred pounds. So I put him on a diet, and though he wasn’t happy about it, he seemed to be losing some weight. The day after my birthday, when Todd was giving him another bath, he found a lump under Yogi’s neck. Our vet couldn’t see him for nearly four weeks, so Todd made an appointment with the vet he saw when he was younger. Three weeks ago yesterday, Todd took him to that vet. Our sweet, sweet Yogi had terminal lymphoma, with weeks to live. And that was the best case scenario. So Todd made the decision he had to make, the only humane one, and had him put to sleep that day.

Erin took a few hours off from work that afternoon and came out to help us bury our darling Yogi. We buried him in one of his favorite shady spots in the yard, under the pine tree next to the patio.

Josie, the puppy we got in May, is a dog we both wanted. And now, we need her too. She doesn’t make the pain of losing Yogi go away, but her quirks and joy for life give us a reason to smile these days.

When we got Yogi, we still had another sweet Airedale, our Aggie. She was ten when we brought Yogi home. One of Aggie’s favorite things to eat were sweet peppers from the garden. She ran into the garden all the time to pick and eat them, no matter how much I scolded her. Eventually, she taught Yogi to pick them, too. I got in the habit of planting LOTS of peppers. The week before Yogi died, Josie watched him going into the garden several times to pick peppers, though she never followed him. The night after we buried Yogi, Todd was throwing a ball for her in the backyard. She retrieved it several times. Then, while she was chasing the ball, she suddenly made a sharp left turn, headed to the garden, and grabbed a pepper to gobble. She has continued to do so every day since.

The worst part of having a beloved pet is having to say goodbye, and that goodbye is always far too soon. We loved Yogi his whole life. We’ll miss him, and all the others, the rest of ours.

Josie and Yogi

Josie on the couch she and Yogi shared

On Turning 70

Forty eight years ago yesterday, we moved to our first house here on Skinner Road, ready to begin our life together. It was my 22nd birthday. I’ve always had a love/hate relationship with birthdays. I soured on birthdays when I was young. As an adult, I put a damper on more than one birthday by fretting about things I thought I should have accomplished. Perhaps you are familiar with coulda, shoulda? But no more. I quit that years ago. But I have only myself to blame that Todd still gets a little nervous when late July nears.

Yesterday was my 70th birthday. I am now officially a septuagenarian, someone in his or her seventies. Septuagenarian – what a funny word. It sounds likes something that jumps out and scares you at a haunted house. “Run! It’s the septuagenarian!”

I am indeed lucky to have reached the age of 70 without any surgeries or major illnesses. So far, my only health issues are commonplace and nonthreatening. That’s great. But still, I am 70. How in the world can this be true? I was mostly okay with the thought of beginning a new decade of life a few months ago. But July 27 kept creeping closer. And then, the pandemic, which has changed all of our lives, began surging back with a vengeance. Turning 70 felt a tad overwhelming.

I know that turning 70 is not to be mourned, but celebrated as an accomplishment. I know that it’s a privilege to grow old. It’s certainly true, but it’s also a cliche. If you are around my age perhaps you have received a greeting card or two with a sentiment similar to this printed inside. “Do not regret growing old. It’s a privilege denied to many.” Or, maybe you have gotten one with a comforting little bromide like this one. “Getting old isn’t bad… when you consider the alternative.” When I get one of those I must admit I have to choke back the caustic retort that pops into my head. Obviously, those of us who have lived 70 or more years understand that we are indeed privileged to have attained this age, particularly if we’re still relatively healthy. But still… we’re 70!

More than 300 years ago Jonathan Swift observed that “Everyone wants to live forever, but no one wants to grow old.” I doubt anyone has ever said it better.

Many of us have spent probably more than we’d like to admit on our personal anti-aging efforts. We’ve purchased makeup for ‘mature’ faces to try to conceal our sagging skin, dyed our graying locks, even when the color really doesn’t cover that well anymore. I don’t know anyone who has used Botox for wrinkles, or frantically begun a rigid exercise regimen to postpone the inevitable aging and slowing of their bodies. But there obviously are those who do. Eventually, for all of us, the appearance of our older ages cannot be denied. Then, sometimes people say, “She doesn’t act old.” That is supposed to be a compliment. But I always wonder, how is ‘old’ supposed to act?

I looked up life expectancy for 70-year-old females a couple days ago. According to the table I found, since I have made it to my 70th, I can expect to live another 16.57 years. I’ll take that, particularly considering all the people I have known who didn’t get the privilege of living as long as I have. My cousin, Karen, died in her late sixties. One of my best friends from high school didn’t get to see 50. My cousin, Kevin, died at 38. I am truly privileged to be 70.

One of the weirdest parts, for me, of turning 70 is the realization that there is no one left alive in my family who really knew me as a little girl. My three remaining first cousins are all a decade and more older than I, so they didn’t really know me as I was. The part of me that was childhood will never be known again. That makes me a bit sad. But, change is a part of, and maybe even a definition of life. So, now that I am 70, I vow to remember that nothing ever stays the same, even me. I choose to believe that getting older can be interesting, and I will strive to illustrate an interesting old age by fully living it. To quote a line from a James McMurtry song, “There’s more in the mirror than there is up ahead.” With this in mind, I will remember that time itself is valuable, and I will never forget that by the time many of us get a good handle on how to live, it’s time to go.

When was the best time of your life?

If someone asked you that question, how would you respond? Would you have an instant answer? Would you ponder it for awhile? Or would you draw a blank? You’d think it would be easy to come up with a few stand-out days or events, wouldn’t you?

How does one define “best”? Does it mean the happiest, the most successful, or maybe the healthiest?

People in their late twenties or early thirties might possibly point to their childhood, teen, or college years as being the “best” times in their lives. People that age are usually immersed in their work and often, their families, so at least occasionally, they might think of the years when they had few or no responsibilities as being the “best” part of their lives. And later, if that is how they really feel, or remains their main focus, perhaps they will always remain stuck in that particular part of their past.

For me, a period of little or no responsibility doesn’t represent the “best” of my life. I have no recollection of not being responsible to others who needed me through the years. The way I see it, responsibility to a variety of people and entities is a vital part of a happy, rewarding life.

For someone like me whose enthusiasms are varied, I couldn’t have asked for a better job than a school librarian. I had resources at hand that I could use to try to find answers to any question that I or students might wish to investigate. Plus, I had interesting people to talk to every day. Guess I am perilously close to admitting that in my life “best” has often meant simultaneously learning and being entertained, though I’m not sure that a lot of people would agree that’s a good thing. But it’s too late now; that’s the way I roll.

After all that explanation, my answer to the question I posed would be, “Now… right now is the best.” And, honestly, the answer would have been exactly the same during each of the periods of my life.

This might sound insincere, but I’ve always been a realist (voted Most Reliable Girl for my Senior Class waaaay back in the day). I figure you take what life tosses your way; then you either fix it, or you do what you can with it and be happy.

We’ve been waiting several weeks, and we were finally introduced to this sweet puppy today. She will be coming home with us on Monday. We got our first Airedale in 1979. We named that puppy Aja, which was the title song from one of our favorite albums by Steely Dan. This little gal will be our 9th Airedale. To name her, we decided to return to another song from that album, still one of our favorites. Meet Josie. She will become one more part of what Todd and I define as happy.

How do you want to spend the rest of your life?

When I was a young adult, I don’t recall reading much about aging. To be fair, I wasn’t thinking about aging much back then either. When older folks were mentioned at all, it was usually negative. “Don’t trust anyone over thirty” was a saying that was popular when I was a teen. When I was a kid, I remember thinking that life after forty would certainly be all downhill. What joy could anyone ever find after forty?

In 2006, the first of the baby boomers turned sixty and it seemed to me like the media suddenly took notice. The way I perceived it, aging became more acceptable. I remember reading a number of articles about the don’t-trust-anyone-over-thirty’s generation crossing into the “golden years.” Within a few years, I started seeing articles maintaining that old age now isn’t what it used to be. I wrote in a blog a few years ago about the changing definitions of old age. We now have “young olds”, “old”, and “old olds”. To me, this translates as baby boomers not quite ready to admit our advancing ages.

With the articles, there appeared a slew of websites designed to “help” aging baby boomers. I started noticing ads for “senior life coaches”. For a fee ranging from small to unbelievably large, coaches could “help” us by instructing us how to grow old. To me, most of the websites and coaches all offered the same boilerplate advice. I’m pretty sure you know the ones I mean. Stay positive! Be true to yourself! Age gracefully! Thanks for nothing. I don’t know about you, but to me, these insipid prescriptions seem pretty flimsy and useless. Why can’t we just let life happen?

After we got past the cowboy and princess stages, hardly any kids I knew in school had any inkling of what they wanted to be when they grew up. Only a few who were certain they would become a lawyer, engineer, or doctor actually did it.

Teachers regularly required us to write essays about our career goals. I always chose between two standard answers. One was teacher, which was what my dad always wanted me to be. The alternate was nurse, which was what my mom aspired for me. In high school, I didn’t need a teacher goading me into making a decision about my life. Adulthood was looming, so of course I thought about it. But, in retrospect, it seemed more like an existential question than the need to choose an occupation.

At eighteen, I headed off to college, like multitudes of others do every year. I decided to major in education because those in charge said I had to declare a major. So I did, but admittedly without much enthusiasm. In spring of my sophomore year, I went to the “Career Center” and took a couple of those tests that were supposed to help you decided what to do with your life. All these years later, I can’t remember what those tests said I ‘should’ do. I just remember that teaching and nursing were not recommended for me, though I also can’t recall why. By then, I had nearly finished my second year. Friends and my adviser suggested it was too late to change anyway. At not quite twenty, suddenly it was deemed too late in my life to ponder what might bring me personal satisfaction. As a result, I just put one foot in front of the other and walked, stumbled, meandered, and sometimes hurried down life’s path. Mostly, it’s been fine.

I have no words of wisdom for others on their own life journey. As for me, I guess I will just keep moving and see where it takes me. After all, it worked way back then. Why not now?

What about you? Do you have a plan for how to live the rest of your life? Or are you just going to let it happen?

M*A*S*H* and Us

Todd and I were newlyweds when M*A*S*H*, the sitcom, premiered in the fall of 1972. Before the television series premiered, we wondered how a television show could measure up to the movie. After we watched the premiere, Todd was sure the series would be a hit. I wasn’t certain after that first episode, though it didn’t take many more to convince me that the show was destined to become one of my all-time favorites.

We watched the series faithfully every week. By the final episode, on February 28, 1983, both kids were bathed and ready for bed well before show-time. Even our not quite five-year-old didn’t argue that night because she wanted to be allowed to stay up and watch it, too.

We still watch M*A*S*H* in reruns when we happen to catch a broadcast, though those reruns are not played nearly as often in recent years. We saw a rerun recently, and afterwards, it occurred to me that during the past year we all have something in common with Hawkeye. We have found ourselves in an impossible predicament over which we have little control and could kill us at any time. For Hawkeye, it was the bombs and gunfire of the Korean War. For us, it’s been a virus.

During this past year, we have been as trapped as Hawkeye and his cohorts, trying to make the best of our predicament and get through it the best way we can. To cope with his situation, Hawkeye resorted to women, humor, and the martinis conjured from a homemade still in the tent he shared with BJ, and either Frank or Charles. But Hawkeye always served it all up with a strong sense of decency and compassion. During our own situation, some among us have resorted to compassion and decency’s opposite: pretending that the virus isn’t real, refusing to wear a mask or socially distance, and going out and about as if things were they way they always were before. The rest of us tried to keep ourselves honest by talking about the virus, abiding by things doctors and other scientific experts asked us to do: wearing our masks, socially distancing, staying home. In addition, I and a number of my friends and family coped with the situation by dutifully and often expressing our moral outrage at the former administration, led by that guy in the tin foil hat, which seemed at times to want to kill us all, or at least the Democrats and people of color among us.

While mentally comparing all of us to Hawkeye, I have come to the conclusion that the old sitcom can serve as kind-of, sort-of case study in coping with dread, whatever the situation. It’s easy with the whole world seeming to fall apart before our eyes to feel despair, wishing that whatever is going to happen would just happen already. Then it would be over. But when I watch M*A*S*H* I feel encouraged to hang in there and persevere, because more than anything I want to be able to be able to spend time again with the people I love.

In the sitcom, the enemy everyone could see was North Korea. But it was also the cruelty of war, as well as the small-minded ignorance and hypocrisy of some of the leaders. We can’t see the virus, but we can see that nearly fifty years after M*A*S*H*, the callousness of the Trump administration in its refusal to take the virus seriously resulted in the deaths of over a half million people.

No matter how discouraged Hawkeye and his M*A*S*H* became, they relied on each other to keep going in frightening circumstances. Nearly fifty years after that first episode aired, maybe they can inspire us to do the same in our own situations.

Simple Pleasures

First crocuses of the season in my yard — March 1, 2021

I think we are probably all aware of simple pleasures throughout our lives. But sometimes we get so busy in the middle part of our life, with jobs, kids, spouses, parents, and parents-in-law, that we don’t always appreciate them. Perhaps it takes the laid-back life of retirement to remind us of the pleasure of small things. So, on this lovely cool, sunny early March day, here are some of the simple pleasures that never fail to please me.

Some of the best simple pleasures are the books I can’t put down, even when Todd is trying to talk to me… mostly because I don’t hear him because I have shut out the entire world and immersed myself in the world the book opened up to me. Even when I am so tired I can barely keep my eyes open, I can’t stop reading because I have to find out what’s next. Reading is one of my very favorite simple pleasures.

The promise of spring is certainly in the air. The red-winged blackbirds have returned for another season, so we will get to watch them hatch and raise their babies for another year, always a pleasure. On Monday, I noted the first crocuses blooming in front of the house. I am always pleasantly surprised every year when their lavender and orange-yellow heads first peek up; I always think it’s too early for them to bloom. They always make me smile.

I think full moons in winter are more beautiful than in any other season. What a lovely pleasure it is to see a full moon etched against the dark sky on a cold, clear, winter’s night. The full moon always seems to shine brighter in winter, hanging in the sky, a hopeful light among the distant stars. Am I the only one who has occasionally had the passing fancy that it was hung there just for me?

Another simple winter pleasure is the hush a new-fallen snow brings the morning after a snowstorm. Not only is it beautiful, but it is so quiet. The quiet of the world after a deep snow is something I always enjoy. I just have to layer up in all my winter outerwear and go outside to just “be” in such a perfect winter wonderland.

I think hot showers are underrated as simple pleasures. I take a hot shower every day, even in the summer. There’s something about that abundance of hot water pouring down over my body from above. That feeling is simply sublime. And best of all, I get to enjoy it every day.

Most mornings I wake before dawn. One of the great perks of being retired is snuggling in bed on a cold, winter morning. I lie there, suspended in the time between sleeping and full wakefulness. There is nowhere I need to be in the mornings anymore, so I lie there, and keep snuggling beside Todd. Can anyone tell me why my bed always seems the most comfortable just before I get up?

Dogs are small pleasures, too. Yogi, our eighth Airedale, is extra special to me. I’ve always enjoyed our dogs, but sometimes I was so busy with life that I didn’t appreciate all their little idiosyncrasies. Yogi has taught me to become more fluent in “dog.” Plus, there is the added bonus that he makes me laugh every day.

Our old Appaloosa, Pete, is an everyday pleasure, too. Since retiring, I have also become more articulate in understanding his language. Every afternoon, if I go to the kitchen door, Pete will inevitably be standing at the gate beside the barn, staring straight across the driveway, through the open garage door, and directly into the kitchen. When he sees me, he immediately begins bobbing his head. That is the signal that he thinks it’s high time for his daily apple, and maybe a little bit more hay.

Another favorite pleasure is eating a chocolate chip cookie just out of the oven. The chocolate chips are so gooey that you are forced to wipe your mouth after eating the cookie. You just know you didn’t get quite all of it into your mouth. And, as long as I’m thinking about food, I have to say that a piece of my own homemade apple pie topped with a scoop or two of ice cream is another delightful little pleasure.

Having coffee with Todd is one of my favorite simple pleasures. Since I retired, no matter what we’re doing, sometime around noon we stop, one of us makes coffee, and we sit together, talk, and enjoy one another’s company. It’s one of the best of the best simple pleasures.

What are your favorite simple pleasures?

Enough

Earlier this week it snowed at my house, as it likely did at yours. We had a foot of snow here, enough to please snow lovers, snow plow drivers, and all the kids wishing and hoping for another snow day. It was more than enough snow for me. Enough! How many times have I thought or said that word?

As I sat and sipped my coffee and watched the remnants of the snowstorm the morning after, I mused about snow days when my kids were young. The kids and I always listened for the phone when there was even a slight possibility of a snow day. If we were lucky enough to hear the phone ring around 5:30 or so on a snowy morning, Drue, Erin, and I would throw open our bedroom doors and rush into the hallway, often running smack dab into one another in our frenzied efforts to be the first to reach the phone.

Snow days were the best of times. We spent those days building snowmen, making snow forts, and throwing snowballs. Occasionally, Todd would hook an old car hood to the tractor, then drag it across the yard with one or both of the kids gripping that upside down hood, hanging on with every ounce of energy. How they shrieked as he drove, especially after they fell off the hood into the white stuff. We did that until one of us, usually me, decided it was too cold to stay outside any longer. Then I would declare, “Enough!” We would traipse back into the house, shuck off our boots and all our winter layers, and head down to sit in front of the woodstove to sip hot cocoa.

Raising kids was lots of kicks and giggles, at least most of the time. The joys of parenting are pretty well established. But of course there were times when parenting wasn’t all that much fun, and sometimes I just thought, Enough! There’s a recent Volvo commercial featuring a young couple. In it, the couple dashes around, chasing and caring for their twins while a Pete Seeger song, Hard Time in the Mill plays in the background. ‘Every mornin’ right at six, Don’t that ol’ bell make you sick? It’s hard times in the mill, my love, hard times in the mill.’ Is there a parent anywhere who can’t relate to that?

When my family was young and growing, after one of those Enough days, occasionally I would get up the next morning, look into the mirror, and wonder who in the world that was staring back at me. Surely I was passing for someone older because I couldn’t be one of the people in charge. That was for people the age of my parents. During the years my children were growing up, I chimed what grew to be familiar refrains. “Everything that comes into your head doesn’t have to come out of your mouth.” “Stop teasing your sister!” “Don’t tattle on your brother!’ Until I would finally spout, “That’s it. Enough!”

Enough! Such a neat word, a clear, verbal dividing line between what may have been grudgingly tolerated and what is no longer acceptable. It’s a declaration the parent who has absolutely had it shouts before banishing the arguing children to their rooms. Wouldn’t it be great if that were really true – enough? But the kids didn’t always stop quarreling, even behind closed doors in separate bedrooms. They just did it quieter.

Enough was wishful thinking, until the September day I got home from school and the house was empty. It was as silent as a ballpark in winter and I had the quiet I had wished for more than once. But then I didn’t want it anymore. Though not for the first time, I had the sense that day that life was passing too quickly, and I hadn’t had enough after all. A few years ago, a friend posted on FB that the house always seemed to sag after his grown children and their families went back to their respective homes after a visit. What a perfect description. I knew exactly what he meant.

As the pandemic has gone on, sometimes I have the feeling I always had in late August, when summer days were dwindling away and school was right around the corner. It felt like the light was changing too swiftly and time was stealing away. I felt this way every August from the time I was six until I retired. The long days never felt sweeter than they did as they slipped through my fingers.

Maybe because I’m only a few months away turning 70, with lots of time on my hands due to the pandemic and retirement, I have reflected on a wide variety of memories: my own childhood, my kids, and now my grandkids. I recall music we listened to and conversations the kids and I had as we drove to school; I remember things Mom and Dad and I used to do; and I tear up a bit when I think about playing make-believe with my grandchildren.

Do you remember those big, old reel-to-reel tape recorders from back in the day? A friend from high school had one that he used to record his band’s practice sessions. His dad owned a music store and he always had the latest music accessories. Later, the band would record over the song, but sometimes you could still hear the echo of the old song playing under the new track. I think that’s kind of the way it is for me now. I can still hear all those echoes. I guess maybe none of it is ever really enough. Enjoy the goblet while it is perfect.

Pandemic Gray

My favorite cousin, Janet, is thirteen years older than I. She began graying in her mid- twenties, and before only a few years had passed, her dark hair was history. People always told me I look like her, but I hoped that resemblance wouldn’t extend to hair. So, when I noticed the first telltale gray in my mid-twenties, I was less than happy. By the time I reached my mid-thirties, the gray hairs were multiplying quicker than I could pluck them. My original solution was to color my hair with a temporary rinse every month. I tried to stay close to my original color, but didn’t always succeed. I didn’t want to go to a salon to have my hair colored for a couple of reasons: 1) I didn’t want to spend the money, and 2) I didn’t want to admit that I colored my hair because I kind of thought of myself as the Earth mother type. Earth mothers definitely did not color their hair.

But the gray roots were persistent. The chestnut brown hair of my youth kept fading. About a decade ago, I finally found a hairdresser I liked, so I began having her color my hair every six weeks. I always felt younger and more attractive after my hair was colored. By the end of the fourth week, the roots usually began to reveal themselves, but things were never too bad until the end of the fifth week. The last seven days between colorings or touch-ups were always the worst. I hated those despicable roots. But so many years had passed that I was no longer sure what my color was. I knew I was getting grayer, but I couldn’t be totally gray, could I?

The state of Ohio shut down for the pandemic three days after I had my hair colored in March. By the time Ohio reopened in June, it was obvious that my hair appointment was overdue. The distinctive skunk-like appearance of gray and white at my hair part were accompanied by the same appearance along my temples and at the nape of my neck. Before I scheduled another appointment, I debated myself for awhile whether or not to resume coloring it. Finally, I decided that I wasn’t ready to be gray and headed back to the salon.

By late summer, the virus was beginning to worsen again and I decided it wasn’t safe to continue. And now, months have passed, my hair is not only in desperate need of a cut; pandemic gray is winning the battle against my faded color.

But in the last few months, I have done less fretting about my graying hair. Maybe I’ve finally realized how ridiculous such vanity is when a pandemic is steadily killing hundreds of thousands of people. Perhaps it’s that I am returning to my Earth mother stage of the seventies and early eighties. When I start of think about giving in and going back to recolor, I remind myself of all the unpronounceable names of all the chemicals in any hair coloring product. Then I ask myself if I really want to put that stuff on my head and wait the required amount of time for it to ‘take’; remembering that the whole time those chemicals are on my head, some of them are undoubtedly seeping into my scalp. Do I really want that? And how about when I rinse those chemicals off? If I color at home, the chemicals go down my drain and into my septic system and then….

I did some research while I was thinking about these chemicals. Some studies suggest that hair dye poses a significant risk for bladder cancer. One study found that women who had colored their hair for 15 years of more had a 50% higher risk of bladder cancer. This same study found that hairdressers were five times more likely to get bladder cancer. But other studies by equally reputable scientists have found no connection between hair dye and cancer. With no definitive studies, that really doesn’t help with my decision.

Dying one’s hair is a complicated issue for women. By the time hair dye took off in the sixties and grabbed women like my mom, Clairol had posed the provocative question on television ads: “Does she… or doesn’t she? Hair color so natural only her hairdresser knows for sure!” That advertisement helped catapult Clairol to the top of the industry. Up to that point, only 7 % of women dyed their hair. But by the end of the 1960’s, 40% of women were coloring their hair. I couldn’t find statistics about how many women are coloring their hair in 2021. But recently, I have noticed more and more women sporting gray or silver hair. Some younger women are having their natural tresses colored gray. Live and let live, right?

In the meantime, I have resumed my personal debate whether to recolor my hair when I do return to the salon. My best friend suggested that I really needed to resume coloring. My daughter-in-law has encouraged me not to color, but to embrace my new look. She also told me that she is the only one of her friends who doesn’t color. My daughter has remained non-committal, though she colors her own hair. Todd has chosen to remain silent on the issue. I am not happy with the way it looks now, with two plus inches of white at my hair line. But I am trying to think of it as a badge of honor – this pandemic gray. I am 69 years old and I my hair is much grayer than I like, but I am alive and healthy. Mostly, I just want to be able to see my family again and celebrate holidays, birthdays, and other special occasions.

Tuesday, I had my first Covid-19 vaccination. In four weeks I will have the second one. Two weeks after that, I have an appointment for a much needed haircut. Will I stay off the color wheel and accept my gray tresses? Stay tuned!