Sunday, August 12, 2018

Of Course I Can

“You betchum, Red Ryder. I can get it done.”

So where did that woman get her silly ideas? What had my own wife doubting that I could do it? After all, I’ve been around the block a time or two. I know about these things.

You see, the old wood-frame deck on the back of the house was already in pretty rough shape when we bought the place. Now the time had come to deal with that, to perform the necessary surgery. 

The deck was a large two-tier affair……..more deck than we would ever use. Over the years the lower, uncovered area had born the brunt of a dozen or more Oregon winters. It sagged where it wasn’t suppose to sag and the wooden railings were rotten enough to be dangerous.

This summer’s sunny and dry months would be the logical time to act. After all, I knew what had to be done and how to do it. It was simply a matter of getting off the couch and going to work.

At first the only thing holding me back was her unsurprising questions. “Can you do that?” Roma asked, as she often does when I set off on some new project, especially since my crash and burn ladder experience. Still, what had I done to earn that lack of faith? (I will leave that answer for another time.)

“Of course I can,” I replied. And in that moment I was speaking what I believed to be the truth…….at least in my octogenarian mind. Though it was too early to have exact “how-to” answers in hand, I was sure I would able to sort those out when the time came.

You see, like many renovation projects, eliminating half of the deck would be a two part process. First the outer, lower portion would have to be torn down. With that accomplished new steps and railings would be constructed for the remaining upper deck. 

That meant I would be beginning with my strong suit, what I do best. Even my doubting wife would agree that I am at my best when taking things apart. I have always been good at that……all the way back to the foxy Model-A coupe I bought her fifty years ago. It needed some work, as you might expect. And I went right to work……purging the offending parts in preparation for a major renovation.

Long story short—-the gutted carcass of Roma’s Model-A, along with dozens of assorted parts and pieces, filled our garage for months before a mechanically-adept friend bought it for a pittance and let us have our garage back. 

By then the truth was there for all to see. Gil does pretty well taking things apart. As for putting them back together again ……. well, that's another matter.

Except…….demolishing a 20 x 12 deck, with its bulky wood infrastructure and half-rotten railing, would be a really big job. If I was looking to hire someone to do that work would I choose an 81 year-old fellow, who had never done that before? Probably not.

It took a day or two for my bruised ego to accept that logic, and move on to a better answer. You see, we have three sons and a son-in-law. They’re a strong-backed, hard-working bunch who could do the entire demolition job in a single weekend. That was what we needed. Obviously, it was time to call for a family work party.

Except……..the four of them, my potential wrecking crew, were dealing with their own busy summertime schedules. It might take weeks to find a day or two when everyone was available. If we waited too long to tear things down, there might not be time to finish the construction part of the job before the rains came? Man alive, I was still in the planning stage and already I was out of answers.

Except…….Terry, our youngest son, lives with us. In one sense he was already on the job. You might say he had a horse in this race. And more to the point he had a definite idea of what the demolition process would require. “Forget the work party,” he announced one evening at dinner. “The outer deck is already falling apart. I can tear the whole darn thing down in one day.” 
   
Really? My octogenarian logic was having a hard time buying that. But did I have a better idea? No, I didn’t.

Except…….Terry didn’t get the job done in one day. True, it took no more than eight or nine hours, but that was spread over three or four days, most of it in the evening after work. And you can bet he didn’t do it alone. As fast as he and his trusty saw carved the lower deck into bite-sized pieces, Roma and I were there to carry the remains to the refuse pile.

By the end of the week the lower-deck area was bare and the upper-deck railings were gone. And in the process Mom and Dad had managed to save Terry perhaps half an hour of lumber removal. 

And that, my friends, is how I was able to manage that job. It took some doing, but the deed is done…….and I am ready to turn my attention to installing new railings and steps on the upper deck. As the designated ‘idea man,’ I have some thoughts of how I'll do that.  

Except…….I’m pretty sure that too will be a team effort. I’ll be on hand to point out what needs to be done, and Terry will see that it happens. After all, that's one of the lessons we October and November folks have learned along the way. Two or three heads (and strong backs) are a lot better than one, especially if the ‘one’ is me.






Tuesday, July 31, 2018

A Gift Only We Can Give



Sure, I do fuss a lot about what I consider our late-life challenge to keep Becoming. I believe there are ways we can continue to grow, even improve, at our age. Still, I must admit there are times when I wonder how an old fossil like me can pull that off. Heck, there are times when it feels like those doubts have the upper hand.
Then, of course, there are times when I come face to face with the sad reality of how much I can no longer do……..those moments when my mind’s ‘want to’ is trumped by my body’s “can’t do.” In those sometimes depressing instances it is hard to believe there is still any meaningful Becoming left in me.
Thankfully, when I get bogged down in those doubts …….. when it is tempting to believe I am too old and worn out to influence the world I inhabit, I can be rescued by the realization that there are ways in which I sometimes forget to exercise my own Becoming. 
So how do we carry on as October/November ‘Becomers,’ when the clock and calendar seem to be working against us? Among the many possibilities is one that only we, you and I, each of us on our own, can make happen. No matter how age has slowed us down we can continue to create and refine our personal legacy. 
Take a moment to consider the notion of “legacy.” The formal definition speaks of “Something transmitted by or received from a predecessor.” On a personal level we are talking about our life, the way we live, and how that affects those whose lives we touch. 
Passing on our unique, very personal life experiences and the lessons we have learned, is something no one else can do for us. As elder members of our personal sphere of influence we are always in the process of creating and refining that legacy……the lasting impressions and lessons we bequeath to those whose lives we impact. Whether by words, writing, or loving example our personal legacy is a gift only we can give.
I mentioned in an earlier post a book I was reading……. William H Thomas’ “What Are Old People For?” One of his most important answers to that title question reads as follows—-
The first task of elderhood is the creation of a legacy that can serve others and be handed down to those who have yet to be born.
Barry Barkan, founder of the Live Oak Community, puts it this way—-
An elder is a person whose work is to gather wisdom from long life experience and formulate it into a legacy for future generations.”
I would submit that each of us, in our own way, is capable of doing exactly that every day of our elder life. Certainly no one else can do that for us. A lifetime of words, deeds, and attitudes…..of choices made…. has shaped the nature of our legacy and continues to do so to this day.
For better or worse, our presence in the lives of family and close friends has and will continue to have an impact. There is no way to avoid leaving our stamp, however modest, on every life we touch. A lifetime of choices made has created the wake that marks our life journey, shaping our individual Becoming and the legacy we pass on to our inheritors. 

We live in a world that is so often unwilling to accept that we October/November souls have anything left to offer. Perhaps we sometimes nurse those same questions. Yet we ought not doubt the fact that our life’s example…..the legacy we are still creating, has an impact……while serving as an indelible sign of our continued Becoming.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Those extra years --- are they worth it?


     I will begin this with a tip of the hat to Tom Utley, the Daily Mail columnist whose recent post set me thinking about possibilities I normally choose to ignore.
Most of us October/November folks, though we make no claim to expertise, have personally experienced the sometimes intimidating world of medical science. We know something about new and powerful wonder drugs and improved diagnostic procedures, meant to keep us healthy and extend our lives. 
There was a time, you know, when the road leading to the end of life was viewed through the lens of fate or Kismet. In those eyes death was a God-decreed event, the natural conclusion to life. 
But in some ways those times have changed. Today’s experts seem to be telling us that a balky heart, clogged arteries, even invasive cancer cells should be viewed as technical problems, for which there ought to be a technical solution. In that case could mortality, rather than being part of a divine plan, simply be a failure to provide the appropriate ‘solutions’…….if, of course, you can afford to pay for them? Would that mean if our pockets were deep enough we could live far beyond the four score years now assigned to us?
Chances are that even those of us with depressingly shallow pockets are caught up in our own personal war on mortality. I for one generally take pride in my prudent eating habits. I rely on an oatmeal, toast, and decaf-coffee breakfast to start my day. No sugary confections or greasy fried foods for me. 
Still, in the name of truthful reporting, I ought to at least mention the pharmaceutical smorgasbord I consume each morning before I ever touch my oatmeal. With just three tiny pills I fend off high blood pressure, dangerous cholesterol, and aggravating antacid for another day. Beyond that, though I don’t recall exactly what the Fish Oil, Vitamins B-12 and D-3 are meant to combat, I take them just to be sure. Finally, a single multi-vitamin capsule will insure there are no exposed gaps in my chemical armor. With that I am ready for my oatmeal.
Lest I leave the impression that my medical defenses are complete at the that point, let me add that the curcumin and turmeric capsules are taken before dinner, and the baby aspirin and hemp oil extract just before bedtime. With that I will be ready for a fitful night’s sleep, which will probably be interrupted by a middle-of-the-night trek down the darkened hallway to the bathroom. Come the next morning, with another infusion of medications, I will be ready for another day.
Is it possible that those preventative steps suggest a more pertinent question? If I could, would I really want to live for as long as I can be kept alive………perhaps extending my November and December to one hundred and beyond? At first blush that sounds like a tall order, given that our present health-care system, the most expensive and expansive in the world, delivers no more than the 31st longest life span on the globe. Besides, in a world of ever-rising health-care costs how could I possibly afford those extra years?
In any event, how many of us want to live to one hundred or more? Why can’t we simply accept that aging is part of the natural order and accept the status quo? After all, if we did live longer would we know what to do with all that additional time? At eighty-one I manage to keep myself reasonably occupied—-even productive some of the time. Could I do that at ninety-five?
More to the point, is how long we live a valid measure of a nation’s health care system or an individual’s life? That seems to me a fair question to ask, even in the most ageist society ever, where old age is mourned as proof that we have lost our youthful vitality, and billions are spent to avoid that dreaded result.
It’s a conundrum, isn’t it? Should our ultimate goal be to live as long as possible? Just think about that for a moment. I have been in a few assisted-living facilities and nursing homes. So have you. Though most of them do their best with the limited staff and resources available, they do not strike me as an attractive destination. Still, for an ever-growing number of us, absent the care of an extended family, one of those overpopulated, yet isolated ‘holding pens’ may well be in our future. 
Whether or not that possibility appeals to me there is a larger question to be answered. Will the the already stretched late-life care industry be prepared to deal with a tidal wave of aging Boomers? Will they have the facilities and caregivers to do the job? Truth to tell, I don’t want to find out for myself. That is not the way I dream of spending whatever additional years modern science promises me.
Still, I suppose I will keep popping those pills every day, hoping to remain as healthy and active as possible for the years I am granted. I’m not sure that makes a lot of sense, given my many reservations. But what choice do I have? In the meantime I have a hunch that in the future new ways of coping with us old-timers will be required, driven by increased social pressure and/or political intervention. 
Fortunately, however, the answers I seek may have arrived in my mailbox this very morning…..in the form a book by William H Thomas, MD, titled “What Are Old People For?” I will admit there are times I’ve wondered about that myself. So I am definitely looking forward to reading what Dr. Thomas has to say on the subject.. 
For now, however, how do I feel about living to one hundred and beyond? Rather than offering my own answer, I believe I will let the aforementioned Mr. Utley have the last word.

“I hate to sound morbid (blame all those pills for that), but I pray to God I will be dead by then.”

Monday, July 2, 2018

Is there a 'Reason' for November?


At this stage of the game I know a thing or two about late-life motivation, or lack thereof. I know how it feels to lay in bed in the morning, trying to generate at least a bit of enthusiasm about the day ahead.....and sometimes coming up short.

I have November days that are best described as ‘boring.’ I suppose that can happen to anyone when their imagination fails to instill at least a touch of adventure in an otherwise dreary day. That is our job, you know, a choice we have to make for ourselves—-to find a reason, a purpose, a meaning to carry on in what may otherwise be a bland and boring day.

You may recall that my recent Living With Dying cancer adventure had me dwelling on the notion of ‘meaning’—-a reason to keep going in the face of an alarming diagnosis—-something more than simply existing for another day or another year. Lots of November folks face that sort of challenge.

Now my thoughts have once again settled on that arresting possibility. This time the trigger was Wayne Dyer’s autobiographical book I Can See Clearly Now, where just the other evening I was reading about Dr. Dyer’s introduction to Dr. Viktor Frankl, the famed Holocaust survivor and author of Man’s Search for Meaning. 

That brief scene in Dyer’s book was enough to jog my own memory, recalling the following 2015 post, the first time that I included Wayne Dyer and Viktor Frankl in the same sentence. In light of my own renewed interest in defining a life purpose, it seems to me a good time to revisit that earlier exploration of ‘meaning.’

If you are a long-time October Years reader you might remember the following post from an earlier date.

                                                                     ~~~

                                       MEANING —— What does that mean?
                                                           (posted 12/2015)

Many of my heroes---from Viktor Frankl to Wayne Dyer---have stressed the importance of living a life that has meaning, a reason for our being here. Though they used different words to make their point, they each claimed that meaning, the ‘why’ of life, is what draws us towards authentic Becoming. I would suggest that if you are inclined to dwell on such things, perhaps your October & November years are an ideal time to consider what that ‘meaning’ means to you.

To be sure, the ‘meaning’ of life, our reason to keep going, is a very personal and individual thing. For some the subject may be theologically ‘out of bounds,’ prescribed by their faith and beyond the realm of allowable exploring. Yet in the course of my reading, writing, and meditation---as well as the stories I have imagined into being---I continue to tread that ‘purpose’ ground, trying to better understand the ‘why’ of my own life. 

Truth to tell, during the spring and summer of my years I seldom stopped to wonder if my life had a meaning, if there was a ‘why’ for my being. Those years were filled with other sorts of busyness---some of it important, some not so much. 

Yet for many of us there comes a time, perhaps in our October and November years, when we pause to consider the purpose of our stumbling efforts, why we did what we did, and do what we do. Hopefully by revisiting and remembering our own personal story we will encounter clues that help us understand who it is we are meant to Become.

Since the experience of ‘meaning’ is such an individual thing there are an endless number of ways to illustrate its impact on our lives. Dr. Frankl and Dr. Dyer each had their way of describing it in their learned professional-grade pyscho-babble.

In the following excerpt from my story, Family Matters, I offer a rather different example of ‘meaning,’ along with an important caveat…..it is not our place to judge the validity of another’s ‘meaning.’ What works for them is their business. (As long as it does not include injury to others.) With that in mind, here, in the words of a gnarly old cowboy, are the ‘whys’ of one hard-lived life. Seems to me he knew exactly why things turned out the way they did.

My storyteller, Dan Padgett, is on a back-road tour of the western United States when he meets a fellow who is willing to explain his own notion of ‘meaning’ in terms Dan had never considered

                                                 ~~~

  The Stone Bridge Saloon, in the back room of the Stone Bridge General Store, was not a spacious watering hole. The bar itself seated just three on high, wobbly stools. Fortunately, on that afternoon seating was not a problem since I appeared to be the only customer—-at least until the creaky rest-room door on the far side of the room opened and a balding, jean-clad cowboy limped across to the bar and plopped himself down on the stool next to mine.

 “Howdy, friend,” the newcomer mumbled, taking the thick-headed beer the lady behind the bar held out to him. He took a long drink, then turned to me. “Buster Henshaw here. Don’t believe I caught your name.”

   “It’s Dan. Dan Padgett.”

  “Glad to meet you, Dan.” He raised his glass in my direction, then put it to his lips. Seconds later, with a single long gulp, in was empty. Pushing it back across the counter he explained, “Gertie was hoping to get a little business from that bull-riding thing down the road. So far it’s just the two of us.”

   “I expected to see more folks too,” I nodded, taking a stale pretzel from the dish Gertie pushed my way. “Especially after all those signs I passed out on the highway. But I haven’t seen anything that looks like The Battle of Stone Bridge.”

Buster took a moment to ‘fondle,’ I believe that was the right word, the refilled glass Gertie slid across the bar to him. “That’s ole Pokey Turner for you,” he said between sips. 

   “No one knows how to squeeze a few bucks out of a bad idea better than that old bandit. You can bet that show of his will draw no one but tourists and city folks. Everyone around here knows it’s the wrong part of summer to find enough riders and decent bulls for a dinky little bull-riding show like Pokey’s. All the good cowboys are out on the circuit. So he rounds up a few kids and worn-out old-timers, pays them ten bucks to ride a couple used-up steers, and puts on his show. I guarantee you he don’t get many repeat customers.”

  “I don’t think it would matter how used-up the bulls were,” I offered. “From what I’ve seen on the tube, riding a bull is a tough way to make a few bucks.”

  Something seemed to have set Buster thinking. He sat staring into his beer, until I asked. “You ever done that? Bull riding I mean.”

  “Oh yeah.” There was a remembering look in his eye. “I’ve done that. Rode most everything with four legs. But I don’t do bulls any more. I might try the buckin' horses again during the county fair. But not the bulls.”

    “Horses are easier to ride. Is that it?”

   “Not really. Either way it hurts when you hit the ground. But it’s a lot better to get bucked off a horse than a bull. At least that horse won’t try to run you down when you’re on the ground. Not the way a seriously-mad bull will.”

   “So, how old are you, Buster?” 

  “Well sir, I just turned fifty-four. I expect that’s something like a hundred in ‘rodeo years.’ Nearly forty of those years been spent on ranches all over the Outback---from Provo to the Canadian line, Ogallala to Boise. Hell, I’ve done it all---trailing cattle, pulling calves, breaking mustangs, and baling hay. 

   “For a lot of those years I’d schedule my jobs so they didn’t interfere with my rodeoing. That’s really what I lived for in those days---a good bull, a good brew, and a good woman. Not necessarily in that order.”

  “You ever been married?” I asked. “Sounds like rodeoing would play hell with a relationship.”

  “A relationship?” my new friend repeated with a laugh. “Now there’s a big-city word if ever I heard one. Fact is, I have been married---three times in all. Had three kids that I know of. Don’t remember that I ever had a ‘relationship,’ but I did have three wives. The best of the bunch was Elsie. We were together almost a year.” 

    “Just a year? Why didn’t it last longer than that?”

  “Well you see.” Buster was chewing on his lip as he stared across the room. “Elsie made me choose between my job at the grain elevator and the Four Corners Stampede, down in the canyon country.”

    “So you had to decide? Between a rodeo and a job?”

  “Yeah I did. And I gave it quite a bit of thought.” Buster paused to nod his thanks to Gertie for the beer she handed him. “But you see, I’d won six-hundred bucks down at the Stampede the year before. Took first place in a short go-round. How could I pass up a rodeo that had been so lucky for me?”

   “So you went back again?” His dejected nod confirmed that much. “Did you win anything that time?

   “Nah. I ended up with a couple busted ribs. Couldn’t do much of anything for two or three months. By the time I got back home Elsie was long gone, along with the cutest little girl you’ve ever seen.”

   “You ever see her? The daughter, I mean.”

  “I have no idea where she is. She must twenty-five or so by now. Probably has babies of her own.”

  Buster set his beer down and half-turned to greet the lanky fellow, a cowboy from his Stetson to his boots, standing in the doorway. “Howdy, Tom. Good to see you again.”

   Tom answered with nothing more than a touch of his hat brim as he turned to follow Gertie out to the General Store.

 “Ole Tommy and I go way back,” Buster explained. “We started out together up on the North Fork. Went to lots of rodeos together in those days. Had some good ole times. At least we did ‘til he went to work for old man Brunner on the Cold Hand Ranch. After that we didn’t see much of him, especially when he married that Carrie Braxton gal. She was a sweet thing. A heck of a barrel racer too.

“Anyway, I’ve run into ole Tommy a few times over the years. Heard that they had a couple kids and built up a nice little spread of their own. Near as I could tell he was always working. Didn’t have time to rodeo any more.”

   I watched as Buster turned silent again, perhaps wondering how things had worked out so well for “Ole Tommy.” Finally, I had to ask, “You ever wish it had been like that for you? You know---a real family, a place of your own.”

   “Sure,” he nodded. “There were times I wished it could have been that way. But the thing is, stayin’ in one place that long just wasn’t in me. My old man used to thump me around a bit. By the time I turned fifteen I’d had enough of that. So I hit the road. I was a damn good ranch-hand. Everyone knew that. Finding another job was easy. So I just kept moving around, from one place to another, riding bulls when I could. 

   “Then, after I’d slowed down a bit, I moved on to broncs. Anymore, I don’t even do much of that. It got to where I couldn’t ride anything but a barstool.” I caught a flash of his gap-toothed grin. “Hell, I’ve been bucked off one of them a time or two.”

   “I can tell that rodeoing must have been hard on your body,” I said. “Seeing how you limp like that.”

  “Yeah.” He offered a sad little laugh, trying to make fun of what was not a laughing matter. “It’s my hip, you know. It’s kind of messed up. Been bent, broke, and stepped on."

        “Damn. That must hurt, whether it’s a bull or horse, or even a bar stool. If it hurts like that, why would you keep doing it---even a little bit?”

         “You’re right. It does hurt. Sometimes a lot.” By then his grin was about as sad as his laugh. “But what most fellows don’t understand is how good it feels when you make eight seconds. Hearing that buzzer---and knowing that you’re still on that critter and not on the ground. Let me tell you, that’s worth a lot of hurtin'.

  “Anyway, the doctor in Butte told me I needed a new hip, a ‘replacement’ he called it. He also said that I needed health insurance. Turns out, if I don’t have the one, I don’t get the other. It’s a sad thing for sure. But I guess it’s the price I paid for doing what I was born to do. You see, I was meant to be a cowboy. I knew that from the beginning. And at the same time I knew this is how a lot of cowboys end up. And that’s the truth of it.”

      I left Stone Bridge that afternoon thinking sad and sometimes envious thoughts of Buster Henshaw---of the hopeful young man he must have been, and the sad and tired old man he had become. Yet even so late in the game he was still claiming to have lived the life he was meant to live. A part of me had wanted to argue that point—-to help him understand that ‘what was meant to be’ ought not leave him broken and hurting. 

          I’d gone a few miles further before I settled on the truth of it. It wasn’t my place to judge Buster and what he was meant to become. He had made his choices, and followed what had meaning for him. What more could I add to that? By the time I had chased away the last of those Stone Bridge thoughts I was wondering if Buster’s choices held any lessons for me. 

                                                ~~~

Here’s hoping that your October and November years are a time filled with meaning---your own personal brand of what satisfies you. After all, by now we’ve earned the right to decide what ‘meaning’ means to us. 

They tell us that we mustn’t die with our music still inside us. I happen to believe that—-whether our music is a lilting tune or a mournful dirge—-even if it includes getting bucked off a bull, or a bar stool. 

For too long I viewed late-life as something intimidating, a reality I was reluctant to think about. But lately, since my recent Living With Dying adventure, I have tried to define the purpose that makes the best use of the time I have left….be it days or years.

     On a personal level I have decided that my Becoming ought to involve a continuing exploration of October and November life……its challenges and realities, in fictional stories and blog posts like this.

If I have my druthers these posts will evolve into an ongoing dialogue. However, since so few of you have been willing to join the conversation, I will carry on as best I can in a monologue format. In the meantime, I hope that each of you, in your own way, has found your October and November meaning. 


Thursday, June 21, 2018

November Dreaming


     I don’t know about you, but it was a late-life possibility I had never stopped to consider. See if you can relate to this. Our children—the ones whose diapers we changed (actually, in our household ‘we’ was something of a misnomer)—-the ones we drove to ballgames, track meets, and dance practice (Dad did help with that)—-the ones we taught to drive (Mom and Dad flipped a coin for that duty, the loser played Instructor for that day)—-the four precious souls who shared so many of our family adventures on their path to becoming the settled and productive adults they are now—those kids of ours are in the process of planning their own mid-life adventures. Can you believe that? 
     It’s a natural parental thing, isn’t it? Watching with pride as our children look ahead to their own September and October years. Of course we’re glad they are able to do that. Still, what do they mean, those nagging thoughts that bubble up in my aging brain when I hear our offspring speak of their dreams.  
     Is that a natural parental thing—-being envious of our own children for dreaming their dreams, the ones their own parents find drifting further out of reach? My first reaction is to deny such a selfish possibility. Yet I suppose those thoughts have been lurking in the back of my mind for a while. 
     Actually, I have a hunch I am not the only one who 'wishes it was me' dreaming those dreams. Perhaps most of us November types have experienced those moments. If so, I’m guessing we are feeling what aging parents have felt for as long as younger generations have set out to follow their own destinies, while Mom and Dad sit back in their rocking chairs, reliving their own youthful adventures. 
     Yet in the end Grandma and Grandpa are left with just one productive response—-“Get over it.” Use the hard-won elder wisdom we like to brag about to cope, to find the alternatives that work for us. 
     And that, dear reader, brings me to the meat of today’s post. How does a lifelong wanderlust junkie like me, who experiences pangs of envy when he hears his children dreaming their dreams of seeing the world, deal with his own limitations of age and infirmity?
     Truth is, those ‘limitations’ are not hypothetic. To begin with, in recent years Roma and I have concluded that at 81 our backpacking days, seeing Europe Through the Back Door, are behind us. Whether at home or abroad, the lengthy holidays we used to enjoy are no longer a fit. Just walking the length of a metropolitan airport has become a trial, let alone taking in the sights, stairs, and crowds that come with popular tourist destinations.
     All that seems to suggest a more sedentary form of travel. But that too comes with its own limitations. As young travelers how could we have imagined that simply sitting for hours—-on an airplane, a train, or in a car—-could be uncomfortable and tiring.  Beyond that it seems I have outgrown the lure of unfamiliar surroundings, exotic meals, and a different bed every night. And too there are budget constraints to consider. Who would have dreamed it could be so complicated.
     It seems that our response to those limiting limitations must deal with ‘age-appropriate’ issues we did not face as younger travelers. Simply stated, it is time to move beyond “What we wish we could do” to “What we can do.” I may be a slow learner, but I think I am catching on. Perhaps eighty-one is a good age to finally get realistic. Besides, it turns out my November brand of travel is satisfying and fun. Let me know what your think. 
     To begin with, what follows is bound to be very personal—-what works for me. Like I said, I have been a travel junkie for a long time—-since I first ran away from home at age thirteen. In the course of the last sixty years Roma, I, and our family have been blessed with opportunities to scratch that itch. And though our circumstances have changed I am not willing to let the ‘limitations’ I mentioned earlier put an end to our seeing the world.
     Those who know us understand that we are seriously serious Anglophiles. We love Britain, its people, its history, backroad villages, and picturesque landscapes. And that is where we are going today. If you too enjoy that magic country be prepared for a visual feast. In fact, if you are like us you may want to save some of the links that follow—-allowing for an easy return when you feel the need for an Anglo-fix. With that, let’s take a few minutes (or hours) to visit the Mother Country,
     I will begin our tour with one of our favorite stops. It was our friend Kay who introduced us to We Love England, an eclectic and exhaustive photo site. Once there I can click on any picture I choose, which produces an enlarged version. From there I use the side arrow to scroll from one photo to the next. Each page includes information about the photo's location, along with viewer comments. It’s a relaxing thing, scrolling from one sight to the next. With hundreds of photos you can scroll for hours.
     17 Most Beautiful Villages in Britain. That is a bold title, and probably unprovable. Still, the villages listed on the site are something special. This site includes enough narrative to have you wanting to know more. (That’s what Google is for.)
     Hampshire Photos. UK. It has been 46 years since we called Winchester, in beautiful Hampshire, home. We have returned several times, and still miss it as much as ever. These delicious photos will help you understand why.
     New Forest Photos. You must check out this special woodland park. It is big, nearly twenty miles square, and more famous for its ponies than its people. Once a royal hunting preserve, it is now a remarkable National Park, just a few miles from the highly populated Southampton/Portsmouth metroplex.
     How about 11 Gorgeous Places to Visit in ? Cornwall is England’s wild west—-a rugged coastline, scenic harbors, and brooding moors, with hidden, haunting villages at every turn. If you’re an OPB fan, this is Poldark Country. You’re bound to love it.
     And then there is Silver Tiger. This is a special blog that offers illustrated walking tours of many cities in England and Europe, complete with photos, maps, and detailed narratives of what you are seeing. This London-based blogger is really good. I signed up for his email posts and receive a new tour every week or two. 
     There you are, a sampling of our favorites. You can easily find your own. You can explore virtually any place you want to see with a your own cyber-ticket. Just Google “Photo blog XXX.” Fill in your own “XXX” and be on your way.
     Finally, we need to remind ourselves that it is time to let the kids do their thing, like we did in our time. And while they do that we November types can be doing our own thing. With today’s internet armchair travel it is easier and more rewarding than ever. Best of all it gives our body a break, while expanding our mind and renewing fond memories.

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Father Knows Best --- or not


      It’s about the best thing that can happen to a man—-being a father. I am reminded of that often, but especially on Father’s Day. Beyond that, in my book fatherhood is about family, which means that besides being a father I am also a husband.
      Fact is, for the last few days it has been my role as husband that has captured my attention. You see, when it comes to ‘husbandness,’ you can’t have reached the October and November years of life without having learned a few important, even existential lessons along the way.
      For instance—-absolute, 100% spousal agreement need not be the hallmark of a satisfying, productive marriage. Most of us know that having found the soulmate we deserve does not guarantee that we will agree on everything. Any self-respecting husband learns that bit of truth within days of their blessed “I do.”
      Of course the ways any couple responds to their personal mix of agreement and disagreement are as varied as the challenges they face. And why not? In every case the blend of personalities, problems, and possibilities is absolutely unique—-no other persons have ever encountered the exact set of circumstances that you and your spouse will face.
      What was it then, after fifty-eight years of marriage, that had me revisiting that all-too-obvious truth? So the two of us didn’t agree on something. What’s new? Surely, by this stage of the game we have learned to deal with that.
      Like I said, every marriage is unique, so I won’t pretend to speak for you. However, looking back at the course of our own maturing relationship, I can see in hindsight subtle, yet important changes in the shape of our partnership. Truth to tell, we are not the same persons we used to be.
      You see, over the years the cocky, head-strong young husband and father I once was has been appropriately humbled from time to time by the relational path we have traveled together. It may have taken longer than necessary, but I have learned some things along the way. I know now that I did not know what I thought I knew in the beginning.
      Meanwhile, the other half of our blissful partnership was, in her own understated manner, also changing. Perhaps a biblical reference will best explain what I mean.
      “The meek shall inherit the earth.” We learned that in Sunday school, didn’t we? If you were like me you did not understand how that will happen, or even what it meant. But according to that logic the ‘meek’ will come out ahead. I am not sure it always works that way, but I can cite at least one example where it has.
      Let me be clear—-I can’t tell you how theologians expect the ‘meek’ to pull that off. But I have a pretty good idea of how it happened in my world. In her own quiet and caring way, without raising a fuss of any sort, my partner learned how to shed some of what I assumed was her submissive meekness and make a stand.
      Though it was not something I see all that often, I have no doubt her determined resourcefulness was there from the beginning. I knew her mother, so I know where that strength comes from. Over the years I have seen that side of her, when she pulls herself up to her full five-foot two, (at least it used to be) to let the old man know he had slipped off the tracks again. Truth is, she seems to have grown more comfortable doing that.
      So what was it, you might ask, that sent me off on this detour—-rehashing what any reasonably observant husband has known from the start? Could it have something to do with another one of my really good ideas bumping into her determined resistance? Well yes, it could be something like that.
      Except…….this time made absolutely no sense. I was so right. Why couldn’t she tell that? Whatever happened to Father Knows Best?
      Roma, you see, is an energetic soul—-especially during this time of year when her gardens are growing, and the weeds seem to be gaining ground. There is so much to be done, so much up and down, so much stressing and straining. More to the point, it is a very bad time to be nursing what she at first called a “bad back,” before the doctor diagnosed a “pinched sciatic nerve.” At its best it was painful. At its worse—-excruciating.
      For days she tried to tough it out, relying on hot pads and ice packs, along with a occasional Aleve. It hurt to sit, to stand, lay down. A decent night’s sleep was impossible. It literally hurt to watch her going through her day.
      Finally, I did what any caring husband would do. I stepped forward with the obvious answer to her sciatic agony. The exercises the physical therapist  had recommended were not helping. It was time to bring out the big guns. And I knew exactly what that meant. After all, I had Googled everything I could find about her condition, and the answers were perfectly clear.
      Hemp Oil Extract, which contains the CBD element of the marijuana family, is touted for its pain-relieving capabilities—-with no risk of getting high or addicted. Beyond that, marijuana-laced edibles have proven to an effective form of relief for someone who has never smoked. Clearly those were the answers Roma was seeking. Right? How could she argue with that?
      Did I mention that my meek and occasionally-submissive life mate can be stubborn and unyielding---especially when my normally spot-on answers don’t ring true to her. There I was, prepared to show her the error of her ways. And I surely could have done that, if only she had given me a chance.
      By then it mattered little how much she was hurting and how much sleep she was losing. No doubt she was more desperate for an answer than I was. Yet,  even before I could state my case she let me know in no uncertain terms that any answer that included marijuana or hemp oil was not going to fly. There would be no ‘pothead’ answers in our house.
      Of course the lady was entitled to exercise her free will. And you can bet she knows how to do that. But why suffer needlessly when relief is so close at hand? Heck, Amazon Prime could have hemp oil in our hands in two days.
      Then to my surprise, it turned out that my meek, but unyielding lady managed to beat the promise of marijuana relief by twenty-four hours. The very next day her new doctor, who herself lives with sciatica, recommended that Roma double up on Ibuprofen each morning and night, with no additional reinforcement during the day. 
      I shouldn’t have been surprised to learn that the doctor knew best. That is their job, you know. This very morning, as I prepared to renew my hemp-oil pitch, Roma bounced out of bed, took two Aleve, and motored through the day without a hitch. Of course she took it easy, and an MRI is still on her schedule. But it seemed that for now the pain was largely gone---and with it the need to listen to my “obviously superior” answers.
      Just what I needed…….having her armed with apparently sound reasons to strut her feminine independence, while the man of the house retreated to lick his wounds. Like I said, “Whatever happened to Father Knows Best?”




Wednesday, May 23, 2018

What happens to 'unfinished business'?

What have I been thinking? For years I have babbled about ‘Becoming’—- telling myself that I can become something more and better than I am, even in October and November. I have tried to make that sound like a noble pursuit, a goal worth striving for. Yet there are times when it doesn’t feel so ‘noble’ at all. Sometimes ‘late-life’ and ‘old age’ seems like a good time to just settle back and coast to the finish line.

I know how it is, those moments when I feel used up, when the tank is nearly empty and I have nothing more to give. Yet thankfully, in my calmer moments, those dark thoughts will pass, leaving me to hope for ways to stay involved in life—-reasons to get up every morning. 

Truth is, all of us October/November folks encounter those existential speed bumps from time to time. Still, most of us find reasons to keep going, each in our own way. It is a very individual thing—-the path we follow, the ways we invest our late-life energy. Seems to me that any hobby, project, or interest that holds our attention and keeps us involved can be a ‘Becoming’ vehicle.

Still, at this stage of the game the notion of undertaking some ambitious new project that leads who-knows-where—-just to prove I still have ‘it’ (Which I probably don’t.)-—is a bit intimidating. Roma keeps reminding me I am no longer the high-energy pup I like to think I once was. I tire more easily these days. My concentration seems to wane by mid-afternoon. All in all, it is hard to get excited about a long-term, highly-detailed project that might require my full attention for weeks or even months.

What then does it look like—an October/November-appropriate form of ‘Becoming’? Well, I won’t speak for you, but I know that for me taking on some grandiose new project that will require all I have to give, and more, is probably not a good idea. To try something like that and come up short might be more discouraging than not trying at all. So where do I turn. I want to believe that I can be more than I am now—-but how?

Allow me to offer what I accept as an age-appropriate possibility. It took a while to stumble onto this approach, but it seems to work for me. You see, over the last few months I have decided to focus my efforts in a new and different direction——taking the time to complete some of the projects I had left semi-finished in the course of my twenty-year retirement.

That’s right, I have returned to what I call ‘unfinished business.’ In fact, once I settled on that sort of ‘Becoming,’ and began to consider all the possibilities that littered the path behind me—-projects I had taken on, then set aside before they were fully complete—-I was quite amazed at how much ‘unfinished business’ I had left in my wake. In my case most of those unfinished projects were stories that I had been willing to call complete, when in fact they were not. Rather than taking the time to do the grunt work required to finish the job, I had been more interested in hurrying on to the next story idea..
That does not mean I am committed to completing every project I have ever started. Some of those unfinished turkeys should never have seen the light of day in the first place. There is no reason to keep dragging them behind me like excess baggage. Perhaps you would agree that October / November readers don’t need another ‘Geriatric Vampire Sex Addict’ story. I just need to let that one go. (If you think you might miss it, you have more problems than I thought.)
There you have it---today’s October/November hint. Rather than hoping to  ‘Become’ more by pursuing some new and daunting dream, why not consider the possibility of returning to your own personal ‘unfinished business’ to resurrect one or more of the good intentions you allowed to get sidetracked before it was complete? 

The process itself is not so hard. It begins by enlisting the secret weapon every one of us possesses----our Imagination? No matter how tired or uninspired you are, your imagination is always alive and well, ready to go to work on your behalf. Best of all, it works just fine from the comfort of your easy chair. 

Why not return to some piece of your own unfinished business and give it a try. Grab hold of some idea that once captured your attention, before you left it behind for an even ‘better’ possibility. Turn your imagination loose on that unfinished business and see where it takes you. 

They say that examples help make a point. With your indulgence I will offer a bit of my own ‘unfinished business,’ and where it has led me. 

For more than a decade I hurried from one book to the next, self-publishing the results before they were fully ready to go public. I knew they were not as smooth and polished as they could be. There were ‘details’ I had left unfinished. The experts stress things like proof reading, cover design, and an upgraded Amazon sales page. But at the time I was happy enough with the stories the way they were. They were the stories I wanted to tell, told the way I wanted to tell them. Besides, there was always another new tale waiting to be told. So why sweat the details?

Long story short---since January I have taken the time to return to each of those books, nineteen in all—-rereading and editing each of them, creating new cover designs, and completely revamping its Amazon sales page. After four months spent dealing with that ‘unfinished business’ I am shamelessly pleased and proud of the resulting products. 
In my slightly biased eyes each of those books is finally finished. I invite you, heck I urge you, to check out the resulting Amazon Author’s Pages. (Just click ‘Here.) And while you are there take a moment to scroll through both pages and the roster of nineteen books. Clicking on any of the titles will provide additional details about that story. Who knows, you may find someone like yourself  in one of those stories.
Finally, in the course of my own ‘unfinished business’ inventory I have come across other possibilities that I hope will extend my ‘Becoming’ journey. Based on my own experience I highly recommend that you consider reviewing your own ‘unfinished business.’ You might be surprised at the opportunities for late-life ‘Becoming’ you’ll find waiting there.