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.

TIME TO MAKE A SWITCH – TO MAKE A CHANGE

A LIGHT SWITCH IN OUR FAMILY ROOM

Wanting this post to be about making changes in ones life I started looking for appropriate clip art to express my thoughts. None I could find was fitting for my needs. As I was staring at the wall, thinking about what would be a complement for my writing, my eyes focused on the family room light switch. I liked its simplicity and its capability of reflecting the thoughts I was striving to express.

This light switch has two functions:it can be turned on and it can be turned off. Sometimes in life it is important to make a change – to switch. There are so many examples of this: in our likes and dislikes, in our occupation, in our plans for the future, in our medical care. The list goes on and on. Being capable of change is part of growing up. My particular focus right now is on medical care. As I have covered previously, in mid April I suddenly experienced a left kidney block. Because of the pain involved it has been a rough almost six months as the urologist ran many tests and tried to come up with a course of action. He finally set on a major surgical procedure that was to take place three weeks later in mid September to remove the abscess/cyst that he felt was causing the blockage. At that visit with the urologist I asked him in his twenty years of practice how many cases like mine had he treated. When he replied “maybe two to three” I was taken aback. I asked the surgeon if there was anyone he might recommend for a second opinion. I was amazed at myself for having the courage to ask this question. I liked this doctor but I wanted a second opinion. I was surprised at how quickly he suggested the Chief of Urology at George Washington University Hospital. It took several weeks but I finally got an appointment with Dr J.

Jerry and I brought with us copies of the various scans the local doctor had ordered and summaries of the procedures that either he had ordered or himself performed. When Dr J suggested I have a procedure that would involve drainage of the cyst/abscess to see if that would relieve the blockage we made the decision to switch to this doctor. The local doctor and his Interventional Radiology team had tried three different stents through the blockage which only made the pain more intense. When the local doc suggested to his Intervention Radiology team that an attempt be made to drain the cyst/abscess they said “no, too dangerous”. And yet when Dr J suggested that the GW IR team try draining the cyst, we felt such confidence in Dr J that Jerry and I agreed with the planned drainage.

We had a tele med conference with the head of the GW Intervention Radiology team. He put on the screen the scan which clearly showed the blockage and a very misshapen left kidney. We were impressed by this doctor’s clarity and competence. Two days later I was admitted to GW for the drainage procedure which never took place. While I was lying on the OR table in the Radiology lab and the anesthesiologist was prepping me, the head of the IR team ordered a further scan to check the exact location of the cyst/ abscess and then he ordered another scan. I was aware of his intense studying of the scans. Finally he said to me that he had talked with Dr J and informed him that he was not going ahead with the drainage procedure – the GW scans showed NO sign of the cyst/abscess.

A week later I was back at GW for a procedure where Dr J removed the ureter stent which had been put in place by my first urologist and then he did a cystoscopy of the kidney examining it and the ureter in detail. When I woke up after the procedure and had to pee it was amazing – it did not hurt. This was the first time since mid April, except for the two weeks when I had a tube in my back which drained urine into an external bag, that I had no pain on urination. It has now been several weeks that I have been pain free. It is pretty amazing. Suppose I had not switched urologists and the first urologist had gone ahead with the major surgery he was proposing. I am so glad I switched.

Dr J ordered one more cat scan to take place about three weeks after the above hospital visits. Though I continued to feel good I must confess to being a little nervous that this final scan would show that the cyst/abscess was attempting to make a comeback. Yesterday I read the report of that scan. It went into great detail but the words that filled me with gratitude read: “The previously seen 7.0×5.5cm complex cyst … has completely resolved…currently both kidneys maintain normal size and shape.” Dr J says he has never seen anything like this. He does not knows what happened, but Jerry and I do. It is the power of prayer. I am grateful for the love and prayerful support of so many.

As Masaru Emoto says:” No one particular religion has been able secure the exclusive rights for the power of prayer. No matter who you are, we all have the ability to take advantage of this amazing and wonderful power.”

A day etched vividly in my memory

So much has happened in these last twenty years – a mix of happiness, sadness and pure joy. In June of 2001 our youngest daughter, Meg, was married. It was a beautiful wedding that reflected the caring and the specialness of Meg and her husband Brendan. In the summer weeks that followed we often reflected on the happiness of this occasion. And then came September 11.

Jerry and I had been in Massachusetts for the funeral of a dear cousin. As we were approaching New Jersey on the return drive we decided to stop and visit our Aunt Bette , a truly amazing woman. In her upper 90’s Aunt Bette was still full of the spark and enthusiasm that had made her a very successful art teacher and then art supervisor in the public schools. It was such a fun visit that when she asked us to spend the night we happily said “yes.” Next morning we were sitting at breakfast with Aunt Bette when the woman who was her daytime companion and helper arrived for work. She asked if we had heard of the plane crash into the World Trade Center some place in Europe, she was not sure exactly where. Jerry and I looked at one another – we did not know of any World Trade Center in Europe. Our thoughts were of the World Trade Center in New York City where our son Jerry’s law firm had its offices. With Aunt Bette’s permission we turned on her TV. We were quickly horrified to learn that this terrorist attack was taking place in New York City. Two buildings collapsed – one was the building housing our son’s offices. It was now after nine o’clock and we knew that our son when possible got to work early. We were frightened. For the next several hours we tried reaching Jerry on his cell phone. We called our four other children. Everyone was worried about Jerry but relieved to hear from us. Since the decision to spend the night with Aunt Bette had been a last minute decision our family expected that we would be back in Virginia and they were concerned when we didn’t answer our home phone. In talking with the children we learned about the attack on the Pentagon. These were hours of prayer for the safety of our son and for all those effected by the terrors that were unfolding. And they were hours of fear of the unknown.

As so often happens with prayer when our prayers were first answered it was not in the way we expected. Around noon we got the inspiration to check the answering machine on our home phone. There was a message from our son Jerry. After hours of no cell phone service because of overuse he was finally able to make calls. He told us that he was in Jersey City. He had been able to catch a very overcrowded ferry from lower Manhattan. A friend called him when the ferry docked and they set up a meeting place in a local restaurant. The friend was going to take him to his home. But we finally got through to Jerry on his cell and made plans to meet up with him and take him back to his family in Brooklyn. This turned out to be a bit complicated because a number of roads were closed but we finally made it back to Brooklyn and united Jerry with his family. Though this took several hours it was an unmitigated joy to feast our eyes on this precious son we had feared lost.

After their wedding Meg and Brendan who had met in their jobs as Jesuit Volunteers in Portland, Oregon returned to their work in Portland. On September 12th Meg and a friend went for a long walk after work. They finally decided they were too ambitious in their exercise plans and they had better call Brendan for a ride home. They stepped into a convenience store while waiting for Brendan. Meg spotted the local newspaper, THE OREGONIAN and was taken aback to see a featured article about the plane crashes into the World Trade Center that started off ” Jerry and Peggy have five children………” The article then went on to talk about our family and in particular about our son Jerry whose office was in one of the downed World Trade Center buildings. The author of the article was a sports writer, Chuck, who also was a dear and special friend of our son, Jerry. They had met at the University of Virginia and to this day are still close friends. Meg was so touched on reading the article to learn that Chuck when he wrote the article did not know that Jerry was ok.

Though Jerry was usually to work early, September 11, 2001 was such a beautiful day in New York, Jerry decided to walk his children to their near by grade school and then to go on and vote in the New York City primary. So often in life we make simple decisions that have powerful consequences. This certainly was one of those times!!! On September 12, 2001 Jerry wrote a reflection on his past 24 hours. It is powerfully and beautifully written. He posts it every year. We must never forget what transpired on September 11. Jerry’s post is a powerful tool to make sure we do not forget.

Spiritual needs/ Physical needs

The sun begins the day at Diamond Beach

Physical needs have taken up a lot of my time recently – not my choice but the reality of where my body is now. As far as I know I am not battling any disease process. It is just that structurally a cyst that has resided in my left kidney/bladder area for perhaps sixty years has suddenly decided to block the ureter connecting these two important body parts. The urologist offered three different ways to solve this problem. The first two have not worked – surgery happening in September is now the only remaining option.

Saturday night we returned from our family beach week at the Jersey shore. We are blessed with our large family and fully understand that as the children get older, as they finish school and are out in the work world, as they marry and enter into relationships, and have families of their own, the size of our gatherings is going to vary. This time we had 31 family members for all or part of the week who came from California, Virginia, Pennsylvania and New York.

Many years ago we settled on Diamond Beach, New Jersey as our go to place. Jerry had participated in a sprint triathlon at Chincoteague Island and when the excitement of that race was over, we then traveled up the Atlantic coast, stopping at various beaches so Jerry could test the waters as we searched for the perfect beach for our body-surf loving family. When the children were small Bethany Beach and Fenwick Island were our go to places. Beach erosion and a sewage pipe that was extended out into the ocean had changed the contour of these beaches. They were no longer ideal for body surfing.

Growing up on Long Island, it was only a short ride on the train to reach the Rockaway beaches. I have always felt a spiritual connection to the ocean waters: the sound of the waves crashing, the repetition of the waves, the birds, the dolphins, the many ocean treasures. When I was really young my father used to carry me into the water on his shoulders because I was a little water fearful. That stage passed pretty quickly but I didn’t tell my father because I loved being on his shoulders. Then one beach day Pop got the message that I was not acting like a scared mermaid. He swung me around – took one look at my smiling face and tossed me into the water and off I swam.

This year we tried something different for our dinner gatherings at the beach. Because of Covid we didn’t start looking for accommodations for each family till February and then we had a hard time finding condos that were very close together. Instead of sharing dinner we experimented with each family taking a turn providing a dessert for all. That was pretty successful. One night after dinner we all gathered on the deck of the place where Jerry and I were staying. Son Jim made an insanely delicious tiramisu for all.

Our beach gatherings are pretty casual with each family following the timetable that works for them. And wherever the first arrivers on any day settle is where the rest follow suite when they arrive at the beach. When the nineteen grandchildren were little, water safety was a big issue. Now with ages ranging from fourteen to twenty seven everybody is ocean competent. There is also lots of reading, cross word puzzle solving, beach walks, bocce ball, soccer, body surfing, and sharing of what has happened since we were last all together and of future plans. For our family the ocean offers the ideal setting for satisfying physical needs and spiritual needs.

As I have mentioned before there was a period in my life when I used to pray that if God wanted to suddenly make me musical it would be a pretty dramatic miracle. Well God did answer this prayer by gifting me with my wonderful husband who has music in his very being and each of our children and grandchildren are musically gifted – some write music, there are several guitar players, and piano players. To my unbiased ear they are all gifted vocally. With this in mind it just kind of flows that we have talent night during our beach week. No pressure, participation is strictly voluntary.

This year we held it on the large outside deck of our hotel where we had previously shared Jim’s incredibly yummy tiramisu. Since this was going to be more than a dessert sharing I checked with the hotel staff to make sure they had no problem with our family gathering on the deck. They liked the idea of the deck being a place for a family gathering. They didn’t ask the size of our family and I didn’t volunteer any number. We gathered at 7 on the deck for pizza and then moved into the various family performances. Jerry was the MC. I was bursting with pride but that was mixed with a tinge of nervousness as we applauded loudly each performance. Many of the hotel rooms overlooked this deck. I hoped we were not bothering any of the other hotel guests. The setting was perfect overlooking the sand and the ocean beyond.

The next morning I decided to stop by the front desk to make sure the staff was still ok with our deck activity. I was greeted with a big smile by one of the managers who said how much they enjoyed the music and singing from our gathering. I smiled a thank you but was confused that they could hear anything inside an office that was quite removed from the deck. From what I could gather the hotel has a device in place that allows them to monitor activity on the deck. They also said that several families had made a point of stopping by the front desk to say how much they enjoyed the performances and asked if this was a regular Thursday night activity. We also heard that other guests with rooms near the deck had come out on the walkway in front of their rooms to better enjoy the music.

Sunday morning, after our beach week, we attended services at our parish church. This was only our second time since Covid restrictions began. It is so nice to be back to in person church services. Zoom services work – if there is no other option – but actually being present, in church, surrounded by folks who seemed as pleased as we to be there, is very powerfulI! I had been musing on what to call my next blog and had pretty much settled on the above title when at sermon time the priest focused on our various needs, grouping them under their spiritual and physical aspects. I was so pleased. We were meant to be at this particular liturgy.

Right now I have surgery scheduled for September 13 at our local hospital. In the last visit to the urologist before we headed to the beach, we learned that in his twenty years of urology practice he has had only two – three cases like mine. I was a bit taken aback. He said that if I would like a second opinion he suggested the head of urology at George Washington University Hospital. After googling this recommendation I learned that this doctor was also at Sibley Hospital and prior to that was at Johns Hopkins – where our son Joe graduated from medical school. I called and made an appointment. His first opening was August 27. I took it.

Though I brought my laptop with me to the beach I was able to ignore it , and pretty much only used the i phone to message our various family members about the logistics of some of our gatherings. I stopped reading about, and tried to stop thinking about the significance of my health symptoms , about the qualifications of various doctors and various hospitals. I stopped planning for my hospitalization. It was a much needed break as I opened myself to the healing powers of family and of the ocean. To quote Vincent van Gogh,” the heart of man is very much like the sea. It has its storms, it has its tides, and in its depths it has its pearls too. “

FRIENDLY VISITORS

Picture taken through our front window because I did not want to scare the fox and her pups away!!!

In the thirty plus years we have lived in our home we have always had a fox neighbor in the woods to the side of our house. There was no warmth in our relationship. It was more one where we tolerated her existence and she tolerated us. We also have had a precious wild bunny population. They were most evident when we would return home after dark and the car headlights would pick them up frolicking on our lawn. And when the bunny population was missing we knew the fox had been busy satisfying her own hunger needs.

As I get older I frequently find my thoughts focusing on the value of relationships – family relationships, friend relationships, animal relationships. We have a ceramic plate in our kitchen that we purchased when our five children were very young. It has these words of wisdom embedded in an etching of a tree with roots:” There are two lasting gifts we can give our children. One is roots and the other is wings.” The roots part for us was pretty easy and straightforward when Jerry and I were blessed with the large family we wanted. The wings are definitely more challenging. Since our children are so close in age – five and a half years apart – once we entered into the “wings” stage it was a pretty time consuming part of our lives. Now as grandparents we just relax and enjoy the grandchildren and let their parents deal with the “wings”issues.

My great Aunt Mary lived into her late 90’s. Her home was in New York City, fairly close to Cornell’s nursing school. She herself graduated from Nursing School in the 1890’s. She loved being a nurse and loved talking about the changes in medicine between the 1890’s and 1956 – 1959, my years at Cornell. We had a regular routine – she would invite me for dinner and she would talk non-stop for the first fifteen minutes and then she would say,”it’s your turn “. She wanted to know all the details of my nursing student life – how things had changed in the last sixty years since she was an active nursing practitioner. I can now so easily relate to Aunt Mary’s desire to know the latest. Every time we are with grandson Gus I like to hear his nursing school experiences. And I find it very impressive that weeks before he even graduated from nursing school he was offered a job in one of the top hospitals in Virginia.

When Jerry and I moved into our present home in 1990 we were about the same age or just a little bit older than the twelve couples who eventually came to live on our street. Now we are definitely the oldest. In fact I believe we may be one of the oldest couples in the whole community. When we first moved in, there was a contagious friendliness that I don’t think is unusual in brand new communities. We may have been the ninth family in this brand new community that now has many hundreds of homes. The special friendliness that is the mark of a brand new neighborhood started to fade with time as job transfers and downsizing got more prevalent. We occasionally give some thought to our own downsizing but the thoughts never go anywhere. We love being able to host family and friend gatherings and there is plenty of room for those who live out of town to stay with us.

This is the third house we have lived in. We were apartment dwellers until the birth of our first child, son Jerry. When we were pregnant with our next child, our daughter Maura , we started to give some serious thought to buying our first home.. We finally found the ideal rambler in Kensington, Maryland. When we moved in we were the youngest family in our neighborhood. Maura, our sons Joe and Jim and our daughter Meg were born there. It was a sweet little house but definitely tight quarters for a family with five children. When Meg was about eighteen months we moved to a new home in Upper Marlboro, Maryland. There was plenty of room for our family of seven. Again we were younger than most of our neighbors but we soon developed a circle of friends and there were lots of neighborhood children for our children to play with. And as our children approached school age we liked what we heard about the grade school. Reports on the junior high school and the high school were not so favorable but that was a long way off.

In the late 1960’s my father retired from teaching and my parents gradually closed down their law practice. With my priestly brother teaching at a Jesuit high school in Washington, DC, and my brother Pete and his wife Louise and their daughters living in Virginia my parents decided to move to the DC area and buy a home in our community. Jerry and I had developed such a nice circle of friends, as much as I wanted my folks near by I was concerned that they would not find many contemporaries in our neighborhood or in the surrounding area. I decided to start a senior citizen club and enlisted some friends to help me. I approached a local church with the idea and they were very supportive. As was the county office which focuses on the needs of senior citizens. The church offered free meeting space and the club got off to a great start, serving the needs of the older local population both in and out of our community. We called the group SLOGGS – slightly older guys and gals. Once the club was well established I withdrew from active involvement because my parents were not interested in joining SLOGGS. They wanted to be involved with their children and grandchildren and with old friends whom they were sure would come to visit.

Unfortunately my parents were together in their new home for less than two years when my father first had surgery for cataracts and followed that with a fatal heart attack . I was very touched with the way friends and neighbors turned out to support my mother. Giving of yourself to support another when they are going through a difficult time is such an incredible gift.

This pandemic time has been tough in so many ways but it has also had its special gifts. I am so touched when Jerry and I take our daily walks and are greeted by smiles and waves from those we don’t know. And it has made me more appreciative of the animal life roaming our neighborhood. Now I am still not psyched when the deer and the bunny rabbits nibble on our plants but I am more appreciative of their specialness. Yesterday I spotted a baby deer standing on the hill in our backyard gazing about with such cuteness and such intenseness that I was completely smitten. And when the cicadas finally ended their seventeen year appearance I was grateful for the return of the pre cicada bird population with its color and variety. I like to think i have always appreciated nature but now it is even more so.

Today is the first time since the pandemic began that with restrictions lifted we attended in person church. In this pandemic time our church has been very creative in ministering to the spiritual needs of its parishioners. They continued to hold services following the guidelines for masking and social distancing. And they provided streamed services for those who were not comfortable with attending in person services and for those over seventy who were considered to be in the more at risk population. Our church is a very warm and welcoming community. And today it seemed even more so. It was so good to be back. An extra special treat was seeing and visiting with some dear old friends.

Close friends are a special treasure. On June 29th we lost a dear friend who had been sick for a long time. Our friendship with Al and his wife Moira who died about five years ago was a gift of forty seven years that we valued deeply. Our relationship with Moira and Al makes me think of the Irish proverb: A good friend is like a four leaf clover: hard to find and lucky to have.

Early in the pandemic we lost Les – another friendship treasure. A college friend of Jerry’s who was the best man at our wedding and the godfather of our firstborn. It is easy to focus on life’s losses but we must not forget life’s blessings – the joys that have come from various relationships.

I am comforted by the words of Leo Tolstoy: the more you transform your life from the material to the spiritual domain, the less you become afraid of death. A person who lives a truly spiritual life has no fear of death.