SURGERY TIME ?

The surgeon called on August 5, and said that after looking at the results of my CT scan and my MRI which I had had done three days previously, he felt he could offer me an 85% chance of success for surgery which would alleviate the lower back and right leg pain which was making walking so difficult for me. Though I would prefer 100% guarantee of success I was ready to go with the 85%. What I wanted to know was did he think I would ever be able to golf again. I am not a champion golfer but I am a very happy golfer. I love the beauty of our golf course. Even if I am not playing well I find the golf course setting to be very relaxing.

A surgery date was set for August 22. By August 15, I had gone through two of the four pre op exams required for this surgery. On August 16 I had a conference with the anesthesia department and the next day a final examination was scheduled with the surgeon. Husband Jerry and daughter Maura were with me for that. Was surprised that the surgeon was open to Maura being present. But the surgeon is definitely open to family participation – particularly when the patient is an 85 year old woman. Felt a little annoyed that the surgeon seemed to imply that 85 year olds were not all that reliable but I didn’t really care. He came highly recommended. The fact that Maura is a very competent nurse practitioner made her an ideal person to accompany Jerry and me. Our son Joe – the doctor- would have come too but his schedule is only open on Fridays – it did not mesh with the surgeon’s availability. Would have liked to have also had Joe present but I could not wait. I wanted to get the surgery over with. I had to go with the date that fit the surgeon’s schedule.

And then after several weeks of horrible pain – it suddenly wasn’t as bad. When I went for my final pre op visit I wondered if I should put off the surgery, should I let the surgeon know I was feeling some improvement in my symptoms? What if the pain started heading again in the wrong direction? Fortunately the decision was taken out of my hands. The surgeon detected my confusion. He made the decision to put off the surgery and to get a second opinion. He gave me the name and number of an orthopedist that he said he would go to if he had symptoms similar to mine. I was able to get an appointment for September 12 – three plus weeks off. The surgeon further suggested that, if possible, I gradually increase my daily activity routine. I have always been a faithful exercise lover but once the leg and back issues surfaced all that came to a screeching halt.

In early summer I started lectoring at the 9AM Wednesday mass at our church. Had not lectored in over thirty five years but now in spite of being nervous at getting up in front of the sixty to eighty parishioners who normally attend the weekday services at our church I was able to do it and I loved it. It was an honor to be able to share the word of God. But as walking became more difficult, I was unable to easily climb the few steps to the altar so my lectoring days were short lived – to be started again when the medical issues were resolved. When they showed some improvement I was ready to return to lectoring but the stair issue assumed a greater importance than it should have. At home I was walking up and down fifteen stairs going from the first to our second floor. I was doing that slowly, taking my time and holding on to the railing. Reflecting back now on the big deal I made in my mind over the three steps, I have told myself that this is a classic example of sometimes giving myself a hard time. I blame it on not feeling well but I think there are lots of times in life when we judge ourselves or circumstances too harshly.

I am now feeling so much better. When I saw the arthritis doctor this past week he was delighted at my progress and suggested I cancel the medical appointments related to my surgery – the second opinion surgeon, the pain management doctor. He felt strongly that time, rest, appropriate eating and exercise would lead to a complete recovery. He limited my golf to chipping and putting till I see him again in a month. In his opinion my swollen lumbar spinal disk was finally going down in size on its own. He felt that a surgical procedure was no longer necessary to facilitate this process and to stop the disk from pressing on the nerves which were causing all the pain.

I was a little tentative about canceling the various medical/ surgical appointments. It takes so long to get these appointments lined up. But when I finally made the cancellation calls I felt liberated and pleased.

According to Google ,” Pain is an uncomfortable feeling that tells you something may be wrong. It can be steady, throbbing, aching, pinching …………………it can be debilitating.” These words provide a good description of what I was experiencing. Pain medication was not very helpful. The weaker meds did not lessen the pain and narcotics made me feel loopy. My most powerful tool against the pain was prayer and prayerfully offering up the pain for either our wonderful family, for friends or for a meaningful cause. I like to reflect on the words of the baseball player Satchel Page. ‘” Don’t pray when it rains if you don’t pray when the sun shines.”

BEACH WEEK

A beautiful rainbow on a sunny day

We returned Saturday from our annual family beach week at Diamond Beach, New Jersey. Back in early winter husband Jerry studied the tides for late July and early August and based on the summer forecasts we went ahead and rented places for the last week in July. The tide study is very important for our beach loving, body surfing, wave riding family.

Of our nineteen grandchildren, sixteen were able to be with us for all or part of this very special beach time. When the children were younger everyone came to beach week but now with school and jobs and travels that’s no longer possible. We knew this day would come and we savor the time we do have together.

Four weeks ago the family came together for Emily and David’s wedding. The only ones missing were Augustine and his fiancee Rowen who are presently in Malaysia. The bride and groom could not join us for beach week because they had to return to California for the start of David’s post doc and Emily’s PHD internship. But they were with us in spirit. One day when we were all down on the beach and Emily and David were able to get away from work, they texted us from the beach in Santa Monica – we felt an instant beach communion with them.They just didn’t seem so far away.

This beach week we got a very special weather gift – something I had never seen before, something Jerry had never seen before. It is reflected in the picture above. I don’t know what to call it. According to wikipedia a rainbow is” a multicolored circular arc.” This was not an arc, it did not appear following a rainstorm. We were on the beach , enjoying a beautiful day when one of our group looked up and saw this weather treat. I don’t know how long it lasted – maybe five minutes, maybe ten – it was just awesome. We had several days when the dolphins put on a display for us. Maybe the skies just decided it was their turn to show off their beauty.

This is the first beach week that I did not actually go in the water. Perhaps the first summer in eighty -two years that I did not personally experience the glories of the ocean. My lower back and right leg decided to misbehave to the degree that just plain walking was difficult. Beloved family searched the web and granddaughter Annie found a shop about thirty minutes away that had a wheelchair capable of navigating the sandy beaches. We kept the wheelchair locked with the bikes in the parking garage. It was too bulky to fit in the elevator. I just had to walk from our unit to the elevator. And then one of the children or grandchildren would meet Jerry and me on the first floor with the wheel chair if we were heading to the beach. If we were all gathering in the outdoor lounge area of our hotel then Jerry and I took the elevator to the second floor and slowly walked to the lounge area. It was a little difficult but doable.

In the old days of beach week, when the children were smaller, each family took a turn providing dinner for all. This year we all gathered for pizza night in the second floor lounge. We also gathered there for dessert night: an incredible cheese cake with chocolate made by the master chef Jim and a very yummy birthday cake provided by Lane and honoring Joe and Alec’s birthdays. And we were also in the second floor outside lounge for our annual talent night. Grateful to our guitar players, our vocalists, our poet, our master of ceremonies- truly a very special night.

As we never really know what the future holds I with my walking difficulties was not sure how the beach week would unfold. Well it was unequivocally one of the best ever. I was so appreciative of the special times with each of our children and their families. I have a special health drink which I fix each morning for Jerry and myself. I forgot to pack a measuring cup. The powerful med which the doctor gave me to mitigate my lower back and leg pain made me a little loopy in the head – I didn’t feel confident without a measuring cup. Atar and Meg came each morning. The drink and the cereal which they created were so scrumptious. Loved having Jerry, Annie, Charlie and Lilly in our building. Their drop in visits were a special treat. The card games with the MacCurtin’s were challenging and fun. Lunch sandwiches by Paul were incredibly yummy. The chance to spend time with Joe, and Lane and Alec and Quinn and Elsa and Kiernan was a special blessing. Loved being able to have visit time with Jeremy and Amy and with Vaishnavi and Khushi, and Jim and Lisa and Meggie, Jimmy and Josh. A special thank you to Khushi for lining up the Cape May ferry for our trip home. And special hugs to Maura for staying on top of my doctor prescribed meds. The loopiness which they cause make me very aware of the need to check that I am staying on schedule.

Today I saw both the arthritis doctor – who happens to be a member of our golf club and a personal friend – and the pain management doctor/surgeon and got orders for a CT scan and an MRI. These tests will be the deciding factor in the need for surgery. I am so grateful that I was able to be part of beach week and to thoroughly enjoy our annual family gathering.

The Jerrys and Liam approaching the surf!

WEDDING JOY

The outdoor wedding venue

Saturday, June 25, 2022 was a very special day for Jerry and me. It was the wedding of Emily and David. Emily is our oldest grandchild. It was the first wedding of any of our nineteen grandchildren. A wedding that was originally scheduled for June 2021 but was switched to 2022 – a bow to the power of Covid. The extra year’s wait was long as far as this grandmother was concerned. My constant prayer for our beloved grandchildren has been and continues to be that they find the right life partner. When Emily and David got engaged in December 2019 my husband and I were so happy for both our granddaughter and her fiancee. They are both kind caring people ideally suited to be life partners. And they share a common interest in autism research and in neuroscience.

David is a triplet and it was his triplet sister, Alisha, who provided the venue for Emily and David’s first meeting. Alisha and Emily both were working at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia in the Autism Department. In the months that followed their first meeting we heard a lot about David. When David joined us for our family beach week it just seemed so fitting that he was with us. And then in December 2019 when we were in New York visiting Emily’s father Jerry and his wife Teresa, it was very exciting to get a call from Emily and David that they were engaged.

Our nineteen grandchildren range in age from 15 to 29. It is probably fair to say that there will be many more weddings in our future and they all will have their unique specialness. And they will also be sources of overwhelming joy. But at least now for future weddings we will be prepared for the overwhelming wedding joy that is invoked.

One of the unexpected features of Emily and David’s wedding was that they asked their grandparents to be part of the wedding party. Jerry and I were very touched and honored. It meant that we participated in the wedding rehearsal and the special gathering afterward. That was followed several hours later by a welcome party hosted by David’s parents for all those who were already gathered for the wedding. It was a special treat to celebrate the night before the wedding with those who had come from far and wide to honor the marriage of this very special couple.

Not surprisingly I have been doing a lot of reflecting not only on family weddings to come but on past family weddings. I thought of the double wedding of my mother and her twin sister to their law school classmates, my father and Uncle Jim. Great Aunt Mary who had no children of her own, wanted her wedding gift for her nieces to be that she would pay for the wedding reception and that it would be at the Plaza Hotel in New York City. I do not know how old I was when I learned that the site of my parents wedding reception had been the iconic Plaza Hotel. I had a hard time processing that this grand hotel located on Central Park South was the site of my parents wedding reception. For so many years in the post depression era money was tight in our family. It just did not compute that their wedding reception had been held at the Plaza. But Aunt Mary was a wealthy woman who was successfully running her deceased husband’s publishing business . She could afford the Plaza and that is where it was. I wonder what the bridal couples wanted. One time when Jerry and I were in New York we had tea at the Plaza. I tried to envision the wedding reception there. And I have to confess that I pocketed a teaspoon from our tea. I wanted a souvenir.

When Jerry and I were married I was living in Washington DC and working in Virginia. Jerry, a native Washingtonian, was working at the Patent Office and attending Catholic University’s law school at night. I can’t remember if we gave any thought to a Washington wedding. It just seemed fitting to return to the parish church on Long Island which had been my family’s spiritual home all my growing years. Jerry agreed. And we were both so pleased when the chaplain at the Cornell University – New York Hospital, who had become a close friend in my student nurse days, was available to officiate at our wedding , assisted by my Jesuit seminarian brother Bud.

In our sixty one plus years of marriage Jerry and I have lived in two apartments and three houses. I like to think of the our first home as the baby home, the second as the place where the children passed their school education years of grammar school, high school, college and post graduate time. The third home where we have lived since 1990 has been the wedding house of our children. And now Emily and David have introduced a new dimension – it is the house where we prepared for the joy of our first grandchild wedding.

The John James Audubon Center in Pennsylvania provided a lovely outdoor setting for the wedding. And the center seemed such an appropriate location – not that far from Haverford where Emily went to college and not that far from Princeton, David’ s alma mater. And it was close to Philadelphia where Emily worked at CHOP and where she and David spent many happy courtship hours.

Am closing this post with a picture of our son Jerry talking at the reception with the newlyweds after he gave a blessing and warm words of welcome to all. The smile on Jerry’s face captures the WEDDING JOY we were all feeling!!!

MISTAKES AND MAKING NEW PLANS

A recent tweet by Maria Shriver came up unasked for on my FaceBook feed: Don’t carry your mistakes around with you. Instead place them under your feet and use them as stepping stones to rise above them. Have been pondering these words and find them very powerful. It is all too easy to be consumed by a mistake. I like the visual that Shriver paints. Mistakes should not be given the power to dominate our lives, rather they should become”stepping stones ” to something better.

There was a time when reflecting on my life decisions I regretter heading to college two days after I graduated from high school. My first day of kindergarten was in February, as was my first day of grade school, as was my first day of high school and my first day of college. I was in one of the last classes in New York State to start my school life in February. Someone finally came to the decision that February starting dates for school students were not a good Idea and that phase of educational life was put to rest.

In high school I took an intense class load of subjects that culminated in New York State Regents exams. Some of my fellow February graduates opted to take a break from school and not start the college phase of their school life immediately but to rather wait till September. Not me, I wanted to go full speed ahead with my life. So one week I was immersed in a period of Regents exam taking and then soon after I was immersed in a fairly heavy load of college courses. On reflection, It might have been nice to take an education break. Had I made a mistake?

Starting college my plan was to go into teaching and perhaps attend law school at night – as my parents had done. I didn’t feel passionately about following this life path, it was just one that I was familiar with and comfortable with. In the first few weeks of my first college semester I read an ad on the subway as I was heading to a day of classes at Marymount. The ad had a profound effect on me. The ad was from the American Red Cross promoting their Spring class schedule. The subway was crowded. I had not been able to get a seat. To pass the time I starting reading the ads posted on the subway car. The ads were kind of boring except the one from the Red Cross. It spelled out information on their Home Nursing Classes. I was intrigued and interested in the medical content of the classes. I thought this is something I will do when I have finished all my other schooling. And then the subway arrived at the stop for Marymount and I got off. At the end of the day when it was time to take the subway home – I was a day hop – I searched the subway ads for the one on the class offerings of the American Red Cross. When i found it, I read it carefully and slowly. It was early March and I was in the midst of making a Novena to St Francis Xavier that I be guided in making the right life decisions.

As I shared in a previous blog, after a period of reflection and study of what would be involved, I started investigating nursing programs and in particular those programs that offered a BSN. I wanted a BSN nursing program because I felt it would offer more opportunities in whatever nursing field I ended up working in. My search came to an end almost as quickly as it began when I discovered that Cornell University’s nursing program, which was attached to New York Hospital, offered exactly what I was looking for. Cornell required 60 undergraduate credits coming from some very specific course requirements in order to be considered for admission. By participating in the six week summer school semester which Marymount required of all its February admissions, by attending Marymount for one additional year and by getting appropriate grades, the Cornell nursing program was definitely available to me. I was excited. I did not apply to any other nursing school. My maternal grandparents were both Cornell graduates in the late eighteen hundreds. My mother and her twin sister had attended Cornell for two years before they transferred to Barnard College of Columbia University. Their brother, my uncle, was a Cornell graduate as were many cousins. I felt like Cornell was in my blood. Now all I had to do was get the grades which would make admission to Cornell a reality.

Trying to be very disciplined in my studies and in what college activities to get involved with, and trying to do some good decision making, I decided that I could just join one club at Marymount. I was still feeling the academic blitz that included my final term of high school and the full load of college courses I started just three days after my high school graduation. The Marymount club that was most appealing to me was the Collegiate Council for the United Nations. I loved the discussions of world events. I thoroughly enjoyed when we had mock UN meetings with other colleges and each college was assigned a country to represent.

A few months into my CCUN membership I was honored when the president of the club asked if I would be one of the two Marymount representatives at a week-long overnight conference being held in June and hosted by Sarah Lawrence College. All CCUN organizations in our area were sending representatives. I thanked the club president for the honor but said it would mean missing a week of the six week summer school program. But she persisted in asking me as did the club moderator who stressed that since I would be representing Marymount the school would be covering all the costs of the conference;. The moderator even took it a step further and checked with the facilitator of the summer school program who gave her OK to my missing a week of class. I was so conflicted and did not understand why these good people were pushing me to attend a conference like this when I would only be at Marymount for one more year? I was very clear with everyone that I was on a nursing school trajectory. They replied that in the year plus time that I would remain at Marymount I could do some valuable promotion of the Marymount model UN program to my fellow students.

Here I was trying to make a good decision about my use of time and I was having dangled in front of me attendance at a conference that I knew I would love but didn’t think I should be attending. Finally with the encouragement of the summer school facilitator I agreed to attend the conference. And it was awesome!!!

Krishna Menon -who was a leader in India’s fight for independence- and Eleanor Roosevelt were my two favorite speakers at this conference. Though Franklin Roosevelt had been dead for a little over ten years, Eleanor continued to be very active in many socially important causes. I had never been in an intimate gathering with two such famous leaders. At the host college Sarah Lawrence, the setting for the gatherings with our guest speakers was a homey room with lots of comfy chairs. It was an intimate setting for the twenty five of us in attendance. To this day I still remember the awe I felt spending an evening sitting about five feet away from Eleanor Roosevelt. There are so many Eleanor Roosevelt quotes I like to ponder. One of my favorites is SUCCESS MUST INCLUDE TWO THINGS:THE DEVELOPMENT OF AN INDIVIDUAL TO HIS UTMOST POTENTIALITY AND A CONTRIBUTION OF SOME KIND TO ONE’S WORLD.

. Some decisions are not black and white and might entail mistakes and yet have very positive results. I learned so much about current events and past world history at the Sarah Lawrence conference. In my remaining time at Marymount I was a very vocal advocate for the Model UN organization, and at the same time, was well prepared to move on to Cornell.

APRIL SHOWERS BRING MAY FLOWERS

Spring has always been one of my favorite times of the year. It is a time of new growth. as trees and flowers start to strut their horticultural beauty. Spring is also the time when Jerry and I honor the birth of our daughter Maura. There was a late winter that year and when I headed to the hospital to give birth to Maura there were few signs of the coming beautiful Spring. When I headed home several days later Spring had burst in all its glory. I felt like nature was joining with Jerry and me in celebrating the birth of our precious baby girl.

My own birthday is ten days after Maura’s April 16th date, and while I would have liked her to be born on my birthday I was okey with us having separate birth dates. Everyone should have a special day to be honored. Though Maura has always shared her special day with my beloved cousin Jim, his home was in California so there was never any birthday confusion.

This past Tuesday was my 85 birthday. I am grateful to family and friends who have made this birthday so special. It has been a time of reflection on previous birthdays. Jerry and I met on March 5 of 1960. Though we had only known one another for less than two months I so wanted to spend my birthday that year with him and was sooo happy when he invited me to dinner for my special day.

Reflecting back on past birthdays the first one I remember is my 4th birthday. Maybe that one stands out because it was a surprise party. My brothers and the few friends who were invited were hiding in our basement. I was upstairs with my mother and was totally oblivious to any intrigue when she asked me to head to the basement to get I don’t remember what. It was only when I got downstairs and my brothers and my friends started jumping out of their hiding places – with exuberant cries of “surprise” ” surprise” that I started to realize what was going on. I felt both shy and happy. Surprise parties were not a usual event in our family.

When I was 16 and attending an all girls high school, I hosted a luncheon for about eight on my birthday. This was a big deal for me. It was how my friends celebrated their 16th birthdays and it was what I wanted to do also. My family didn’t do much outside entertaining. It was 1953. My father was teaching full time. My parents law practice which they operated from our home was gradually building up a solid client base of neighbors and fellow community members. We had now lived in our home for about fourteen years. Mom and Dad had developed an ever widening respect as real estate and estate lawyers. But, because their financial worries from the depression were still so vivid for them, they were both in agreement that my father should keep his full time teaching job. That meant that during the school year my mother handled all legal matters that arose between 9AM and 3:30PM. She was a busy woman. I did not want to impose.

When my parents asked what I wanted for birthday, stressing that they thought 16 was a very special number, with some trepidation I told them of my desire to have a “elegant ” luncheon. When my brothers were 16 they had a typical family celebration. I also wanted that but I wanted this luncheon too. I was so happy when my parents were in agreement. I sent invitations. I planned a menu. I did the grocery shopping and the food preparation. And when my mother suggested I set the table with their wedding china and glasses, that was like the icing on the cake. I knew my mother understood how important this luncheon was to me and that I was having so much fun preparing for it. I was about to be 16 – to me that was a magical age. Strangely I remember very little about the luncheon – except that it went off without a hitch. What stands out is the pleasure I got from preparing for it. I was growing up. I was about to become a woman!!!

The next birthday that stands out is my 21st birthday. I was in my next to last year in Cornell’s nursing program. I had great girl friends but no guy friends who could make my heart go pitter patter. I wanted to do something special to mark this milestone and was delighted when my Aunt Bette and Uncle Jim invited me and my cousin Kathy to spend a few nights with them at a hotel they liked in Wilmington Delaware. All I can remember of the hotel was that it was beautifully decorated and charming with lots of old wood that generated a warmth. And I remember the staff who made a fuss over my birthday. Not sure how we passed the time but it went by quickly. I loved my cousin and my aunt and uncle so this was truly a special celebration of turning 21.

Two years later I celebrated my 23d birthday with the man who nine months later would become my husband. It doesn’t get any better than that. I don’t remember where we went or what we did. I just remember that I was incredibly happy.

Having five children in six years we early on decided that it was important that each child’s birthday be very special. By the time they started school and for as long as it worked, each of the children had a family party, a friend party, and dinner out with just Mom and Dad. It was at the dinner with us that we started asking the birthday questions: What is the best thing that happened to you in the past year? What are you most looking forward to in the coming year? What do you want to be when you grow up?

The birthday questions have become a family tradition that continues to this day. And at some point the children started asking them of us . This seemed very appropriate as the children grew and we became empty nesters. As you enter a new phase in your life it is important that you don’t just stumble into this phase, but rather that you give thought to where you are and how you want to spend your time. In the past fews years a fourth question was added, ” What is your spirit animal?” This is a fun addition that has generated some “spirited” answers.

As I travel into my 86th year I like to reflect on the words of Albert Camus: “I realized through it all, that in the midst of winter, there was within me, an invincible summer.”

THESE SNOWBIRDS ARE RETURNING HOME

Not exactly a picture of the auto train we will be takIng back to Virginia but I liked the picture

A few days ago I was sitting on our balcony watching a dad play in the ocean with his two small children. I reflected on the passage of time. It seems but the blink of an eye ago that beach scenario would have been Jerry and me with our five. And instead of today when we have a hard time getting up by nine, it would have been more like 6:30 or 7 AM to match the getup time of our brood.

In the 1970’s we went in with my brother Pete and his wife Louise and purchased a two bedroom beach condo on the Delaware shore. We alternated our beach time with them. And on some occasions we went together. When the two families combined that meant the nine children were on sleeping bags in the living room – dining room area. That might seem like a lot but it worked. The nine children were close in age having all been born in a six year time period and they were all good friends. And as the children got older, friends were frequently added to the mix and there might be twelve or more young bodies occupying the floor space. When the children were small the large numbers worked well. As they got older and bigger it was a little tight.

I remember one time when the full cohort of children, cousins and friends were spread out on the floor, most already asleep, and Jerry and I and Pete and Louise were in our bedrooms, there was a knock at the condo door. We were going to respond but when we opened our bedroom door we could see that our oldest son had already welcomed the latest guest, a very pleasant teen, and was showing him a spot on the floor to put down his sleeping bag. We went back to bed. The next morning we were up early to get breakfast organized. There was no sign of last night’s late arrival. Oldest son reported that the teen had wakened, looked around at the various sleepers and asked what unit he was in. When told the number he said something like ” Oops, I am in the wrong place. I belong next door. ” He quickly gathered his stuff and left.

My mother, and her twin sister and husband also bought a condo in the same building. They divided their time between the beach and their Northern Virginia apartments and gradually they seemed to be spending more time at the beach – as long as their health permitted. They loved it when their children and grandchildren were beach present but they also carved out their own social life. They were good swimmers and excellent bridge players. They built a special relationship with the condo pool lifeguards who were rather lax on calling adult breaks for the pool. But many times when Mom and Aunt Marg arrived, a pool break was called immediately. No one seemed to mind – I think the parents of the little children in the pool were glad for the break. And Mom and Aunt Marg were happy to do their water exercises in an empty pool.

We are filling this final week of our 2022 Florida time with our favorite activities. Last Saturday night we went to the Elks Club St.Patty’s dinner dance with our friends Janet and Jerry. They are the special friends who like so many of the same things we do: dancing, bridge, and MSNBC to name a few. The Elks Club and Shuckers( which I have mentioned in a previous blog) are the only places we have found in this part of Florida that offer monthly dinner dances. Prior to our attendance at the Elks dance functions I have known very little about this fraternal organization. I was surprised to learn that it has nearly a million members nationwide and that it has been in existence for one hundred and forty one years. From what I can gather it seeks to promote patriotism and a sense of family and community. The dance was so much fun. We stayed to the very end. We had never done that before. We were treated to their special end of the evening ceremony. All were asked to gather in a circle. An Elks Club officer stood in front of us with an American flag and asked us to bow our heads for a moment of reflection honoring our veterans and then we all sang God Bless American. It was a very powerful experience!!!

Sunday we attended mass at Holy Family Church. We miss our parish at home when we are gone for three months but Holy Family has turned out to be an ideal spiritual home replacement for these snowbirds. We love its inclusiveness. The congregation seems to be a mix of hispanic; philippine and seniors of a multitude of different backgrounds.

The rest of this “final” week has been filled with golf, bridge walks, riverwalks, a beach walk, and dinner and bridge with Janet and Jerry. They came to our condo on Monday and Thursday night we headed to their home. We will continue our weekly bridge with these good friends but it will of course be on line till next we are together. Perhaps they will add on a trip to Virginia when they drive to Kentucky to visit their family.

Reflecting on this week I must also mention watching the confirmation hearings for Ketanji Brown Jackson. She is so eminently qualified I could barely maintain my composure at the attacks against her by some of the Republicans. Judge Jackson handled these attacks perfectly. Not me. I was irate at the grandstanding of her attackers.

It is now late Friday afternoon. Our car is packed and we are ready to head to the auto train tomorrow morning. We are sitting on our balcony. Jerry is reading and I am finishing up this blog. The ocean is relatively calm. A sailboat is slowly going by. We have been watching three pelicans glide over the ocean in formation . They skim the ocean looking for prey. And then suddenly all three dive in. It is a special Florida treat that I will miss, but it is time to return home. I am eager and ready as I bear in mind the words of TS Eliot, ” Every moment is a fresh beginning.”

SNOWBIRDS & OTHER BIRDS

Blue heron briefly accompanying us on a walk

Don’t know when I first heard the term “snowbird” but I remember being surprised that it referred to my fellow human beings. Little did I think that one day my husband and I would join the ranks of the snowbird family. A snowbird is someone who normally lives in a area that gets cold in the winter months and decides to pass those months in a warmer climate. For Jerry and me the metamorphosis came gradually after our children had grown. We started by accepting the kindnesses of Florida friends who wanted us to visit. We were truly blessed to have such caring friends but that got awkward- whose invite did we accept first? In 2014’s winter it got kind of complicated and we decided to forgo Florida and head to Puerto Rico. We had an awesome trip – dividing our time between San Juan, Old San Juan, the El Yunque tropical rain forest, Ponce, golf and the beaches.

In 2015 we rented on Hutchinson Island – the Stuart portion. We did that for several years till we switched to Jensen Beach and a condo right on the ocean. Last year with Covid on the rampage we did not come to Florida. But this year, once health issues were under control, when a unit became available, and not knowing what we were getting ourselves into, we grabbed it. It is a condo on the ocean with an equally stunning view of the Indian River lagoon at our front door. When we first became snowbirds we were not focused on an ocean front rental but now we are hooked.

This Covid time has been tough but it also has had some positives. One of them I blogged about in February 2021. In Covid time, Jerry and I have cultivated a more meaningful interest in the bird population. At home in Virginia we now have feeders for big birds, for small to medium size birds, for hummingbirds, plus we have a suet feeder for any interested bird. And thanks to a change in our choice of bird seed – at the suggestion of our former neighbor and now North Carolina resident, Gini – we no longer have an invasion of squirrels going after the bird food.

It used to be that I did not like the term “snowbird”. It seemed a tad derogatory to me, especially when verbalized by a Florida native. Recently Jerry and I were playing in a duplicate bridge game. While we were waiting for the bridge boards to be passed out, the couple we were playing against asked where we lived. When we said Northern Virginia they seemed genuinely surprised. They replied “you don’t dress like snow birds.” We were confused. They elaborated. When typical snowbirds arrive in Florida they put away their cold weather clothes, and dress like it is summer time – no matter what the actual temperature. Today is windy and in the low sixties – you are dressed accordingly. Look around the room. Those who are dressed like their next stop is the beach, have probably just arrived from the North. It was an interesting observation that I reflected on later. In duplicate bridge there is not much socialization once the games begin. You are allowed 7 minutes per hand. It does not allow much time for reflecting on non bridge thoughts.

Our backyard bird visitors at home are diverse in color and size with yellow and blue and red and black and white being the dominant colors. The Florida shore bird population is so different from our colorful backyard birds. On Jensen Beach the majority of shore birds that we see are sea gulls, pelicans, and large and small sandpipers. On our walks and on the golf course we mainly get treated to sandhill cranes, egrets, and a variety of herons.

When I was younger I wasn’t focused on the bird population. I liked robins because they were a sign of spring. As I got older hummingbirds and bluebirds became favorites. And when son -in -law Paul and I started a hummingbird competition – who spotted the first one as the cold weather was winding down – that added a special dimension to these small birds who graced our backyard feeder.

I don’t know the percentage of snowbirds who actually own a place in Florida. Most that we have met are renters. But there are disadvantages to being a renter. You must learn the ins and outs of your new unit, and the does and don’ts of the condo building. It is sort of weird that this year’s unit, the place we rented because there was nothing else available, has turned out to be the nicest and the friendliest. There are 66 units in this building and only 9 are available for rental. This year, because of Covid, and because of ill health in some family and friends, the number of our overnight guests has been drastically reduced. Illness in family and friends is of course more common in our age group. And because this is a reality of getting older, we “oldies” are especially appreciative when we are able to gather with those we love.

Gatherings in person are best but sometimes going virtual is the only option. This past Saturday, granddaughter Lilly who is in grad school in London, granddaughter Annie who is working in Miami and I – presently a snowbird in Jensen Beach, Florida – hosted a virtual bridal shower for granddaughter Emily who is in grad school in Santa Barbara, California. It was such fun planning this happy gathering with Lilly and Annie. Participants came together from California, the Midwest, the East Coast and London. It was special to see everyone, to meet for the first time David’s mother and sister and to share the love we all feel for Emily and her fiancee, David.

This past Thursday the New York Times ran a feature article on Jane Brody’s retirement . I have always enjoyed her Personal Health column in the New York Times. She has written extensively on aging . Just discussed with my husband the definition of a contemporary. Is it fair to call Ms Brody a contemporary since she is four years younger. We decided that anyone older than Joe Biden is our contemporary. Jane Brody urges all to have meaning and purpose in their lives. I am sure she would approve of our bird interest. A quote of hers that I particularly like is:” Our goal shouldn’t be to add years to our lives but rather to add life to our years.”

VIRGINIA/FLORIDA

The awesomeness of nature – a favorite scene that I like to photograph

We traveled to Florida by auto train about three weeks ago. The trip was uncertain until mid November because of my crazy health issues. Once they had subsided and we had the doctor’s OK it was a matter of finding a place to stay. We missed out on the condo building we were in two years ago(Covid kept us from coming last year) because by the time we knew we could come the condo unit we wanted was no longer available. Anthony, our rental agent, said that he would keep looking for us but no guarantees – it was definitely an owners market and places that would fit our needs had long ago been grabbed up. But then one day Anthony sent us a link to a unit that had just come on the market. It had the location we wanted on South Ocean Drive in Jensen Beach, however the pictures that were supposed to show its finer points were rather blah, so with no expectations of anything special we took it – we really wanted to go and nothing else was available.

The trip on the auto train was weird. There was no gathering in the club car or going to the dining car at an assigned time. Covid precautions were strictly enforced. In spite of the negative input from the Florida governor whose state was our final destination, masks were worn by all. I have always enjoyed the socialization at dinner time – meeting interesting folks from different backgrounds. Two years go we were seated with a couple from New Berlin in central New York State. They shared the story of the economic revival of their community by the Greek Yogurt company Chobani who, it seemed to them, had randomly opened a factory in New Berlin. I have always liked Greek yogurt, and this brand in particular, so that was an interesting bit of trivia to learn.

The auto train’s final destination is Sanford, Florida. The drive from there to Jensen Beach takes about an hour and a half. We speculated about the condo which was to be our home for the next two and a half months. Why hadn’t they put more energy into the link promoting the units finer points – what were we getting ourselves into?

Well the unit is lovely! Our expectations were so low but this has turned out to be probably the nicest place we have ever rented. Four things stand out for me: the view, the mattress in the master bedroom, the artwork on the walls, and the fact that the owners do not use it as a storage place for furniture they do not know what to do with. We have a view of the Indian River Lagoon out our front door and the Atlantic ocean is our living room treat. We are used to rental units that frequently have lumpy mattresses. The mattress here is firm and very comfortable – as one gets older the right mattress assumes even more importance.The art work in rental units has always seemed very generic – that the owners went to a store for equipping your rental unit, stated the amount of art they needed and walked out with whatever was sold to them. This place has a variety of interesting art work through out the unit. Some of the pieces I like very much. A good example of the owners using their unit to store furniture is the place we stayed in several years ago. It also was a two bedroom, two bath condo. In the dining area it had eight high backed stools that lined the wall plus a dining table with six chairs. This is a small example of the excess furniture that littered that unit.

We got to meet Mike and Amy the owners of this condo. They came when we let our rental agent know that the TV was not working. Fortunately they couldn’t get it to work either so they purchased a new one for us. We wanted to ask them to just buy a simple TV, not another 53 incher with enough bells and whistles to make your head spin. But no luck – the next day Mike returned with a newly purchased, equally complicated lighter version of the TV that had died. Back in Virginia we have two TV’s. The one in our bedroom is 19 inches, with no bells and whistles. It is at least twenty years old and has been a faithful provider of the news and music we like to listen to. The downstairs thirty inch TV is perhaps ten years old, a so called smart TV whose many skills took a while to master.

It is an adjustment when you rent – you have to adapt to the various owners style of house keeping. There is a big difference between renting for a week and renting for three months. In the geographical areas we like to rent in, a three month rental is pretty standard – usually going from January 1 to March 31st. Jerry and I like to be home for the full length of the Christmas season – keeping our Christmas decorations up till after Little Christmas. We don’t like to sell this sacred season short. This year we will be taking the auto train home on March 26. I am always so eager to head for home when the time comes. Even though some of our family is able to visit us in Florida it is nice to be local and accessible, and Spring in Northern Virginia is one of my favorite times.

We know that we are very fortunate to be able to pass some of the cold winter months in Florida. Particularly this past week when the Northeast was pummeled by a powerful “bomb cyclone”. It was cold by Florida standards but nothing like the weather our family from Virginia north was experiencing.

We are equally fortunate to have some good friends who are Florida residents – some are old friends who have retired in Florida and whom we see during our Florida snow birding time, others are new friends whom we have just met during our Florida stays. They all help to make our time here even more special. I have always valued good friendships but as you age you realize even more what a precious gift is a true friend. There are so many good quotes on friendship. I have enjoyed trying to find one that best summarizes my own feelings. Ray Bradbury’s words resonate with me: “We can not tell the precise moment when friendship is formed. As in filling a vessel drop by drop there is at last a drop which makes it run over; so in a series of kindnesses there is a last one which makes the heart run over.”

CHRISTMAS 2021

In this continued covid time it seems appropriate to repeat a picture of the fire pit since so much
of our family Christmas time was spent outside around this source of warmth

On December 9 Jerry and I headed to New York City for four fun days of family and Christmas sightseeing and attending a Broadway show. Several years ago our son Jerry and his wife, Teresa, started hosting a cousin party when we came to New York for our Christmas visit. The party brought us together with the families of my mother’s brother and her twin sister. It was a very special gathering.

And though New York City had some pretty tight Covid rules we were happy to follow the rules. It finally seemed that Covid was under control.And then the tide turned. Covid was back in charge.

We had twenty five of our nuclear family who were joining us to celebrate the birth of Christ and then the next day , December 26 ,our numbers would increase to thirty three as our children and grandchildren honored us with a celebration of our 61st wedding anniversary – the format of which was to be a surprise. Our wedding anniversary is actually November 26 but we had moved the celebration to December because our grandchildren are getting older and work and school commitments would have kept at least five of them from joining us.

The number 26 is very significant for Jerry and me. My birthday is April 26, Jerry’s birthday is August 26, and we were married November 26. And the date we were originally given for the birth of our first child was December 26. With Covid on its 2020 rampage, a celebration of our 60th anniversary was out of the question. We were very touched when the family suggested a 2021 celebration. Since the celebration had already been moved a year, adding another month was no big deal. We loved the thought that the format was to be our children’s surprise creation.

And then came another Covid surge. Should our celebrations be cancelled. It was a heart breaking thought. But there was a big difference between last year and this. We were all vaccinated and boostered. We were so torn as to what to do. The kids did not want us to be sick and we did not want them to be sick. The weather and the fire pit and the heat lamp came to our rescue. After getting our food buffet style in the kitchen, our celebrations were totally outside, on the patio.

Our 19 grandchildren range in age from 14 to 29. There are of course no longer any Santa Claus believers. and that’s okay because it allows for the focus to be on the spiritual meaning of Christmas. I love our manger scene – a gift from my mother in the 1980’s. It is the second manger scene we have had in our married life. We retired our first when we got the manger gift from Grandma McCloskey. Because we wanted our children to be familiar with the manger and comfortable with it, we used to let them play with the various pieces. By the early 80’s most of the pieces had lost vital parts. That’s when my mom stepped in with her gift.

As I mentioned in a previous Christmas blog the Advent wreath houses the first decoration that Jerry and I bought for our first married Christmas. It is a sweet baby angel who is definitely showing her age, but then perhaps we are too.

This year’s Christmas tree is the smallest we have ever had. We had plans to go small because doing decorating justice to a tall tree gets a bit harder as the decorators get older. But this tree is small. When we returned from our New York adventure late on the 12th it was one of the few trees left for purchase. And actually as the days have passed I have gotten very fond of the tree. We placed it on a small table that we covered with a green cloth. Instead of the two or three strings of lights, one was more than enough. The tree proudly shows off the few decorations that we picked to place on it. My favorite is the Christmas star that the children made in 1976. Each of the children decorated one of the spikes of the star. The star is rather fragile now but still looks rather regal as it sits atop our tree.

Over the years we have collected many children-made decorations. They are now on various pictures or windows or trays throughout the house. For the first time, all decorating was done with an acknowledgement that it had to be easy for us to put up and easy to take down. Our children would gladly help us with this task but they have their own homes to tend to. As one of our grandchildren pointed out, when it is time to remove this Christmas tree we will be able to carry it out just holding it with one hand.

The priest pointed out at Mass today that we shouldn’t be in a rush to take down Christmas decorations. They should be up for at least another week. Enjoy them. Reflect on the various memories they invoke. Reflect on the spiritual meaning of this time. Sometimes I think it is the American way to rush from one holiday to the next. As we get older we learn, we should learn to savor each day.

A slight bump in our holiday festivities was that a few days after our anniversary celebration I had an acute Afib attack – my 4th in about the last two years. It ended me up in the emergency room – not the place you want to be during Christmas week or actually at any time. Fortunately their cardiac protocols are very good and after a few hours husband and I headed for home.

GIVING THANKS

Sunrise at Ocean Grove , New Jersey

Life is full of ups and downs, good times and the not so good. It is all too easy to give too much time to dwelling on the not so good. I was particularly struck by a recent op ed in the New York Times by Lindsay Crouse suggesting that we “……can make any day the best day of the year”. It made me reflect on our family Thanksgiving dinner. This year there were twenty five of us gathered. Some grandchildren were missing either because of work or school commitments. The ages present were from twenty six down to fourteen. And for the first time instead of having three tables for dinner according to age we opted for multigenerational sitting. It was an attempt to acknowledge that our grandchildren are growing up (how could the time have gone by so quickly?). It was a start in adjusting to some life changes. We will do the same seating at Christmas. At each table we went around and asked – if the person wanted to – to share what they were most thankful for in this past year. I thought the answers offered a special glimpse into the individual lives of our precious family.

‘And because we had had our Thanksgiving go around the table question, I was particularly intrigued by Crouse’s reflections on having a best day in the past year and discussing what constitutes a “best day”. By the end of her op ed she is promoting best days in the future. She feels that she has often missed out by focusing on the past. She feels that sometimes the what she called “polished photos” of past events did not truly represent the event. She talks of wishing time away in this pandemic time of our lives. She talks of having a nostalgia for the past that was causing her to miss out on the joys of the present or to be excited about what the future has to offer. And so Crouse decided to start picking out days in the future which would be best days. This new tact has worked very well for her. She gets excited as one of these best days approaches. It is not that she is disregarding the future days not designated as best. She is just realistic that all days can not be best.

How we live our lives is up to each individual. Particularly as we age there can be too much focus on the past. I am certainly not promoting a total blackout of the past. Two weeks ago Jerry and I drove to the University of Virginia with our son Jim, his wife Lisa and sons Jimmy and Joshua to see their youngest daughter Meggie, a UVA third year, sing a solo in the Virginia Belles concert. It was so much fun!!! An added bonus was that we were joined at the concert by our son Joe, his wife Lane and son Quinn and Quinn’s friend Elizabeth. Quinn sat next to me. He too is a third year and a member of the all male UVA Hullabahoos – also an a cappella group like the all female Virginia Belles. There are certain protocols at a cappella concerts. Quinn was my guide through these protocols. Meggie was amazing. This whole weekend was a memory I will always cherish. This will be some good looking back!

On Sunday, November 28 the fashion designer Virgil Abloh died. He was the artistic director for Louis Vuitton. He was 41 years old, married and the father of two children. For two years he had battled a rare form of cardiac cancer which he did not publicize, not wanting his illness to define who he was. He continued to be excited about life even as he battled his life threatening illness. I did not know of Mr Abloh before his death but have been so moved by the many newspaper stories about him in the last few days. I like the concept that he did not want to be defined by his Illness. At some point this is a decision we all may have to make.

It is all too easy to go through life not focused on the people and the life happenings we should be thankful for. That is one reason I particularly love the Thanksgiving/Christmas time of year. It is a special time of reflection and of looking forward. When I was a child I thought that we were fully formed as a person by the time of grade school graduation – that all time after that was just expanding the person that was already formed. Thank heaven at some point I began to realize that it is never too late to have dreams and hopes and desires for the future – that it is never too late to change. It might not be easy but if we are not satisfied with where we are in our thoughts and desires it is never too late to do the work of changing – no matter what age we are.

In general – except when we are on vacation, I do not like the idea of just letting the days roll bye with no particular plan. To again repeat the words of Harvard professor Dan Gilbert, “Human beings are works progress that (sometimes) mistakenly think they are finished.” Till the day we die we must continue to be excited about life and the opportunities it offers – some days that is easier than others.