Tuesday, May 20, 2014

The Honeymoon is Over

A few months ago Jim read some retirement advice referring  to a honeymoon period of six months in which one should not set major goals or make major changes.

So the honeymoon is about over.  It has been five months since I taught an adult education class.  GED graduation was last week.  I was pleased to see 16 former students listed in the program.  Several of them were from years ago and probably were motivated to take the old GED exam before the new TASC came into effect.  Some were students in my class last fall.

 I am beginning to feel a bit more restless.  I will need more structure in my life.  This will mean having to continue to find the right balance between good things to do and having time to rest and relax and be renewed.

It's time to end a blog that says "mvanderkamisretiring" or "It's Time for Retirement."  It has been great fun to blog,   It has helped me process my thoughts in a semi-public way as I made this major transition in my life.  I have appreciated the comments made by readers on the blog, on Facebook, and to me personally.

I won't stop blogging but this will be the last entry under this title.  My plan is to print it up  using Blog2Print--as a momento of this milestone year.

And then what's next?  I might title the next blog just that--"What's Next?"  Or does anyone have other suggestions?

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Extreme Grandparenting

Some grandparents spend a few hours with their grandchildren; some a whole day.  Jim and I just spent most of four days and all of four nights with our three grandchildren (ages 2, 4, and 6) while their parents had a vacation.  It was intense!

 As a bonus, we also saw our other three grandchildren (ages 10, 14, and 16) about an hour's drive away. We saw the 10 year old pitch two great innings in his Little League game--before the downpour hit and we ran for the cars. Our 16 year old granddaughter bonded with the little one by braiding her hair beautifully. The 14 year old patiently played video games with his little cousins.

What a joy to be with the little ones for those several days--and what a joy to celebrate bedtime with a glass of wine each night.   We were so thankful to make it without any incidents of any consequence.

That is if you don't count my trying to pass off the fish sticks for dinner that I thought were chicken nuggets.  The two year old was not convinced as she hollered "I don't like these nuggets" and refused to eat them.

Or when we discovered that the McDonald's ice cream machine was broken and WaWa didn't have ice cream and by the time we got to DQ, it was dark and raining and the kids had to sit outside under the table not at the table.

  Or when we pulled off I 476 near their home, one child hollered to turn to the right and the other to the left and both were insistent that Grandpa was going to get lost.  Or the maddening tendency of the lovely roads along the Main Line near Philadelphia to change names every half mile.

Or when the two year old was left with her mother's 30 year old doll that I had cleaned up and bewigged--two minutes at most--and when I came back, she had facial tatoos (fortunately, water soluble!).

But then there were the hugs and snuggles and Bible stories and prayers and questions and books and puzzles and songs and playgrounds and soccer and the train diner--and lots of love all around.

My arms felt empty today and the house is so quiet.  I'm glad to be home again but I am so thankful we could be a part of their lives for a few days.

Feast of St. Matthias

Therefore, it is necessary that one of the men 
who accompanied us the whole time 
the Lord Jesus came and went among us,
beginning from the baptism of John
until the day on which he was taken up from us,
become with us a witness to his resurrection.”
So they proposed two, Joseph called Barsabbas,
who was also known as Justus, and Matthias.
Then they prayed,
“You, Lord, who know the hearts of all,
show which one of these two you have chosen
to take the place in this apostolic ministry
from which Judas turned away to go to his own place.”
Then they gave lots to them, and the lot fell upon Matthias,
and he was counted with the Eleven Apostles.  (Acts 1)

The Lord will give him a seat with the leaders of his people.  (the refrain from Psalm 113:8)

 Five years ago, Jim and I were in Oxford staying at the Jesuit House while Jim delivered the Speakers Lectures.   I decided to get up early one morning and go to the chapel for mass.  Much to my surprise and initial discomfort, I was the only person there not participating as a reader, acolyte, or celebrant.  The message was about Matthias who is mentioned only in this one place in Scripture and yet is "counted with the Eleven Apostles" and even has a feast day named for him!  I wondered if I would be counted when the bread was broken--if I would be allowed to partake.  I carefully noted that the wafer was broken into four pieces and I was welcomed at the feast.  It was a celebration of the Lord's Supper I will never forget!

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

"Low Moment Narratives"

My daughter Laura's almost daily blog reviews The Nesting Place today and is getting a record number of responses.  She zeroes in on an issue in the book that I have been thinking about as I have kept up this retirement blog. I quote from the end of her long and rather acerbic review: 

 Which brings me to another issue that’s been bothering me about this book. It’s celebrating “imperfection” and how we’re all imperfect, and she’s imperfect too! And we’re supposed to like her more for all her flaws. I know people love this narrative. People have written me that their favorite blog posts are ones in which I’ve talked about my struggle to lose weight, my falling off the wagon with running, etc. This sometimes makes me feel like an anthropologist studying a culture, because I really don’t understand why people find these low moment narratives as compelling as they do. It’s not just my belief that life isn’t lived in epiphanies; non-fiction cannot always contort itself into the hero’s journey. The issue is that I’m more drawn to people’s talents and achievements. I want to get to know Smith because she’s an incredibly creative designer, not because she and her husband got into 6-figures of debt. I want to learn from her decorating ideas, not feel better about myself because hey, she has flaws and I have flaws too. 


I have not posted compelling  "low moment narratives." My blog postings have been almost always upbeat this year.  Even when they are about aging bodies or unfulfilled goals, they usually end in thankfulness.  Do I feel that way all the time?

No, but I don't write on the days or nights when I am a bit bored or worried or restless.  Maybe I don't want to share all that much about the down times.  But the truth is that there have not been many down times--yet!  

This past week I was beginning to think that I needed more structure in my life and more ways to be of help to others.  I prayed about it.  Was my first answer to prayer my daughter's request to come help out in July when her nanny has a week off and she is under a deadline?  Maybe it was.  I hope to be able to help her out!  

I researched local volunteer options online and may look into our wonderful library that has provided me with such immediate results when I request anything.  I hope an opportunity will present itself to use my skills and experience to teach an illiterate adult to read.  I know they are out there but we need to find each other.  

I have not regretted for a moment that I made the decision to retire.  Life has been good.  I don't need to "re-invent" myself--a phrase I have read more than once for retirees.  But I do need to look for opportunities to help others in ways that I can really enjoy myself too.  Any suggestions?

And why the tulip photo?  These flowers with their beautiful and unlikely combination of colors were in front of the Notre Dame's Snite Museum of Art this week.  They are a work of art in themselves and I wanted to share them!

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Jim and Jubilees

  I don't know when Jim will retire--or if he will retire.  I have joked that I can't even get him to retire from the church's softball team, let alone Notre Dame.  However, I do not think he will play softball this year. He SHOULD NOT play softball this year!  I hope he will be content to sit in the dugout and keep the scorebook and yell out the batting order.

Last night our former small group at church  invited Jim to talk about Jubilees, the book that has been the basis of much of his life's work.  I was very happy to listen to their wonderful questions--some about details, some about the bigger picture and context of the book.   I learned things that I had not known before (or had forgotten!) and I have lived with Jim and Jubilees for 40 years!  It was a very good experience for Jim to have such interest expressed in his work.  I felt regretful that I have not always expressed enough interest and have tried to do better during this time of retirement.

Jim wrote his doctoral dissertation on Textual and Historical Studies in the Book of Jubilees.  25 years ago he published The Book of Jubilees: A Critical Text.  At one point he wondered if he would live long enough to finish the commentary he is working on now but as he is on chapter 46 of 50,  I think and hope he will make it!  In fact, he is beginning to think about what his next big project will be.

It is a privilege to be able to enjoy one's work as much as he does.  I do remind him that his research does not have to stop just because his employment at Notre Dame stops.  In fact, he'd have more time away from classes and meetings to do his research.

In any case, last night was a joy for me to hear him share his work and to love our former group members for their interest in his work and their affirmation for him.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Saturday Morning Pancakes

Breakfast on Saturday mornings may be be a symbol for our marriage of 46 plus years.

We have pancakes, often blueberry pancakes, and we enjoy breakfast together as we always do on the weekends.

However, Jim makes his own Mrs. Butterworth Buttermilk Complete (just-add-water) pancakes.  After he puts on the buttery spread, he pours on (I mean pours on) Spartan artificial butter and maple-flavored syrup.

I use my Purdue extension recipe for Better Baking Mix that is a combination of whole wheat flour, oatmeal, and white flour.  I have real butter with real maple syrup--delicious!

Jim says, however, and I quote, "We do our own things, but I do it so much better."  Humpf!  I don't think so!

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The Velocity of Autumn

I am more aware of articles that have to do with aging.  I read one recently about men who become Grumpy Old Men at age 70--and hope that doesn't happen to the one I live with.  (I'm not too worried actually!)


Yesterday's NYT had a review of a play called "The Velocity of Autumn."  I'm not sure if I should be encouraged by it or not.  The title refers to the "speed with which the frailties of old age can descend." In the play, Alexandra, played by 86 year old Estelle Parsons,  refuses to go to a nursing home and would rather blow up her Brooklyn brownstone with Molotov cocktails than give in.    At one point she says, "What the world is taking away from me, what time is taking away from me, what God is taking away from me--is me!"   Charles Isherwood, the reviewer, states that "Mr. Coble's play rises above its slightly formulaic structure to become a dry-eyed, moving rumination on the hard fact that the progress of human life being what it is truly happy endings are rare indeed."

So that's the negative part--but that is the play, not the reality.  The reality is that at age 86, Estelle Parsons is given a rave review by Isherwood for her "starchy, sentiment-free performance...."  He says that at the end of a 90 minute, two-actor play, she appears ready to run a half-marathon as an encore!

Good for her!  Maybe Alexandra is more typical than Estelle, but I think I'll ruminate on the reality, not the play.


Monday, April 21, 2014

68 Going on 70

My birthday is almost over.  Last night I did not feel upbeat or contented about this whole aging process.  I kept thinking that 67 rounds to 65, but 68 rounds up to 70 and that seems old.

My sister (two years younger than I am) said that most of their friends are 70 plus and they do just fine!  Jim and I, however, are usually the oldest ones in any group that we are a part of--church, work, friends, and family.

It was a good day nevertheless with several calls and cards.   We "celebrated" by having dinner in Kalamazoo with Jim's mother who never got her hearing aids from the nurse today.  Conversation was difficult!  We'll celebrate later this week with a dinner with friends, so I can look forward to that.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Playing the Organ on Easter Morning

I am playing for the service tomorrow morning.  I practiced and chose music before I left on our trip.  I practiced again this morning and felt pretty awkward at first after ten days away.   The Easter service is full of music. There will be brass and strings and drums and guitars--all of which have their assigned stanzas for the singing.  I will be playing at the piano for three of the contemporary songs--using chord notation only.  I can do it, but it's not something I do easily.

I have special glasses to use for times like this--so I can read the music but also look through the mirrors and see David, our worship director.  Fortunately he uses large gestures and is easier to follow than many conductors.

It is not a performance and I don't feel pressure to be perfect.  But I pray to have the energy and stamina and concentration that is needed to be a good leader in worship.  I don't want to be surprised, as I occasionally am, by some stop I have pulled accidentally.

I have written warnings to myself at the top of my postlude (and it is also true for my prelude and offertory):  "Don't hurry or you'll be sorry!"

Sometimes I think about retiring from this service to our church but there are no easy replacements for me at this point.  So I'll just keep practicing and choosing music that is within my abilities to play--and I'll keep praying to be able to help God's people at the South Bend Christian Reformed Church praise him--especially on Easter morning.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Traveling with Kids--Not!

While traveling with just the two of us, we have enjoyed watching and listening to families with young children on this trip.  We find ourselves grinning a lot--and sometimes offering to take photos as our small part in their adventures.

Bits of conversation we overheard on the trails in Zion National Park:

Mother to son:  "You intentionally didn't smile for that picture."

Mother to daughter:  "Sarah,  you have to hike, not look at ants."

Daughter contemplating a park brochure:  "This trail is a lot longer than it looks on the map."  (Maybe needs to learn about map scale!)

Father to son just a few feet down the trail:   "Are you taking a break already?"

There is so much joy in sharing experiences with one's children.  There is also great freedom in traveling with just one other travel companion.

Me and My Laptop

We're travelling and for two nights in beautiful, amazing Bryce Canyon, we had no wifi access except in the main lodge lobby, a short walk from our room in another lodge.   We also had no TV and pretty poor satellite coverage for our iphones.  I was OK for about 18 hours and then I woke up feeling withdrawal!  I am addicted to being connected with friends and family and to having the world of information at my fingertips.  I wanted to know what was going on at home and in the news;  I wanted to update my photos on Shutterfly; I wanted to check potential routes for getting back to the airport.  I wanted to blog!

Having this limited access made me realize how important my little Chromebook is to my leisure time in my retirement.  It keeps me from feeling lonely.  It gives me opportunities to learn.  And it gives me opportunities to express myself.

I felt much better after I walked down to the main lodge, sat by a lovely fire in the fireplace, and connected with the world again for about an hour.

I don't like thinking of this as an addiction and my time can be wasted online, but having this wealth of information and ability to connect with others is a blessing for each of my days in retirement.

Monday, April 14, 2014

The Aging Body

Most of my posts are pretty upbeat.  Maybe I just don't write about the down times--and really, there are not many of them.  And this is not a discouraged or complaining post, but it is a realistic one.

There have been at least three times in the last two days in which I regretfully told myself "No" when my head and my heart wanted to do something but my body didn't want to cooperate.

I wanted to climb up a steel spiral staircase to the top of a tower at Trolley Square in Salt Lake City to get a great view of the mountains without the parking lots in my way.  I was all alone.   I took about a dozen steps up and realized I'd have to come down again looking through open metal and decided I couldn't do it.  Later, I fantasized getting to the top and having to holler and offer a tip for someone at the bottom to come up and help me down.

"Le Weekend" looked like a charming date night movie for older folks.  A couple married for 30 years wants to rekindle their relationship by remembering their honeymoon in Paris.  It was a half mile walk to the theatre for a 9:05 showing.  Jim said he would go with me if I wanted to do it.  And when the time came, I felt as if I could not walk another step having walked about five miles that day already. Jim asked me later if I was irritated about something.  I admitted I was a bit grumpy and disappointed with myself as I went back to my crossword puzzle and book.

Yesterday we walked about  3/4 of a mile on the hike rated "easy" to the Lower Emerald Pool in Zion National Park.  It was lovely and we began the climb to the Middle and Upper Emerald Pools, hikes rated "moderate."  After a steep and winding climb up about 50 slippery steps, I said "Let's go back."  Jim was quite agreeable to my suggestion.

 Later at dinner we agreed that it may be wiser at our age to pace ourselves.

So today, it's another "easy" hike or two and that is just fine with me.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

For the Busy Mothers Who Read This Blog!

The Mormons are very much pro-family and some might think, anti-feminist.  Once again this year, the assembly of the church decreed that women would not be admitted to the priesthood and, as someone wrote in the "Salt Lake City Tribune," this is no more news than that the sun came up again.

An exhibit at the History Museum in Temple Square titled "Practicing Charity: Everyday Daughters of God" probably depicts the prescribed role for women in the Church of the Latter Day Saints.   Curator Laura Hurtado,  describes it in the brochure: “These paintings depict the divine nature of women while simultaneously celebrating the importance of their everyday lives."  

I particularly enjoyed two paintings by Brian Kershsnik because they made me chuckle.  The first one, "Halo Repair,"  recognized that mothers are not perfected yet and sometimes need an angel to come and repair their halos.

The second one,  "Climbing Mother,"  reminded me of  times I felt everyone was too much with me--and in particular, a memory of standing at a grocery check-out with a little person tugging at my coat or shirt.

It's not great art, but it rings true in a way, and it represents this culture in this time and place.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Serendipity when Traveling

We are in Salt Lake City where Jim has a Dead Sea Scrolls conference for two days.  I was happy enough to come here but really was looking forward to the days after the conference when we plan to go to Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks.

However, today has been full of unplanned good things.  First, I had forgotten how the mountains dominate Salt Lake City.  They are still covered with snow and are beautiful.  Snow is in the distance, but tulips and pansies and hyacinths are at our feet in the beautiful gardens of Temple Square.

My seat-mate on the plane said that the geneology museum was amazing so we decided to take a quick look at what is called the Family History Library in Temple Square.  After warm greetings from Mormon volunteers, we watched a short video, were directed to a computer and were given instruction on how to go about finding information.  I decided to see if I could find out anything about my grandmother Anna Rietmeyer.  I knew nothing about her other than that she was not an immigrant but was born in Grand Rapids, unlike most of our other grandparents.  Within 15 minutes, I had her parents' names, her marriage record to my grandfather, her occupation as a domestic, as well as his parents' names--all of which I had not heard before.  So now there is one more goal for my retirement--a bit more searching into these names of the past.

I was sorry to see that the noon hour organ recital in the famous tabernacle was moved to the Conference Center, but it was not a disappointment after all.  The organ was another  impressive instrument and the organist gave us a recital of works ranging from a Sousa march to improvisations on hymn tunes to Vierne.  He came down from his perch to chat afterwards to the few of us who went forward and that too was very interesting.  He converted to Mormonism after "reading and much prayer" because of friends at a conservatory in Philadelphia.   I told him I have a recurring nightmare of sitting down to such an organ instead of our own small two manual organ and having to cope.  He said his recurring nightmare is similar but instead having to play for a service with no time for preparation even if he is used to five manuals and hundreds of options.

I assume the dozens of greeters I met this morning--most of them my age--were also volunteers doing their service for the church.

So there is still dinner this evening, a keynote address at the conference, and a reception--none of which has me very excited.  But who knows?  It may be as surprisingly good as the rest of the day has been.

A Day Filled with Music and Friends

April 9, 2014

Again,  today looked like a day without much of an agenda--except for the routines of laundry and cooking and cleaning.

But it is now 3:30  pm and the day has been full of good things.  My friend Maggie and I walked along the swollen St. Joseph River downtown and, as always, had plenty to chat about.  I came home and returned a call to my friend Sue who has left South Bend, but has been good about not leaving behind our friendship.  After lunch I called my sister and we both had time for a chat that was postponed from yesterday when we played phone tag.  I have always had good friends and I have always needed good friends.  I do  not want to contemplate a day when that is not possible.

Carrie Groenewold, a former member of our church,  posted a link to "Pipedreams"  on Facebook and I have spent much of my work time around the house listening to a two hour pre-recorded performance at the University of Kansas where Carrie has just completed her PhD in organ music.  She was interviewed by Michael Barone and was so articulate and charming in her response to his question about what a nice girl from Iowa's farm country was doing playing a wild "Saga" by Jean Guillou.  Now I'm listening to another "Pipedreams" performance from Harvard Memorial Church, a place where Jim and I worshipped many times in another era of our lives .(www.pipedreams.org)

Still left for today--my "taking on" for Lent (not giving up!) of singing through the Psalms using the Psalter Hymnal or Lift Up Your Hearts.  If the goal  is reminding one that Lent is a time of focusing on spiritual things, this has been a good thing for me to do.  If the goal is a sacrificial giving up, this has not been so for me.  I have often gone beyond the three or four psalms I said I would do each day because it has been fun!  However, singing is a reminder of my aging.  I can't sing as easily as I once could.   Even a pitch above middle C is strained.  Would it help to vocalize?  Would it come back?  Or is it just the aging process and the tightening of the vocal chords?   Sometimes I just think the words along with my piano accompaniment  rather than hear myself sing them!

Eventually I will need to structure my life a bit more and find more ways to volunteer or help others.

But for today, I am contented.   Joan Chittister in The Gift of Years says, "Age is meant for the revival of the spirit.  Age is meant to allow us to play--with ideas, with projects, with friends, with life."  She says, "Life is now.  Only now."

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Sharing Stories

A recurring theme of Joan Chittester's book The Gift of Years is that we older folks have wisdom and experiences to share with the younger ones.  I have been thinking that there is danger in this idea of sharing stories.   I have to bite my tongue sometimes, and too often I don't, when someone tells me of a problem with a child, or a funny family story, or a travel adventure, and I want to say something like, "That happened to us too" and then go on with my story.  A life of almost 68 years does provide one with many stories!  But often it is better just to be a good listener and not always have to contribute another anecdote--however treasured a memory it may be to me!

Learning to Express Appreciation

 In the last few weeks, I have written "fan mail" to two authors and one composer.

I have very much enoyed and benefited from reading  A Farm Dies Once a Year by Arlo Crawford and I Facebook messaged him to tell him so.  His response a day or so later was to thank me for being in touch and that it was good to know his book was getting "thoughtful reads."

Mending a Tattered Faith, Susan VanZanten's book of devotions based on Emily Dickinson's poetry, was with me each night for a month before I went to sleep.  I would read a poem and puzzle about its meaning, and then after reading VanZanten's comments, I would understand and appreciate Dickinson's skill.  I emailed VanZanten and she responded saying it was her favorite book of the ones she had written.

Alfred Fedak, a graduate of Hope College,  is a composer of organ music and hymns.  I loved his arrangement of Genevan Psalm 77 in our new hymnal Lift Up Your Hearts and have used several of his works as preludes and postludes during worship at our church.  I emailed him to tell him "Thanks" and he wrote back quoting Daniel Pinkham who said that sending off one's music is like sending one's children into the world.  You let them go and hope for the best.   He was happy to hear his music was useful.

I think my appreciation was appreciated in all three cases--and in turn, I felt very affirmed by the responses I received.  It's not difficult to write an email or send a card or a Facebook message and I need to keep remembering to do so.   

Thursday, April 3, 2014

TASC--My Task for Today

TASC--the Test Assessing Secondary Completion--is the new "GED" for Indiana and three or four other states.  It went into effect on January 1, 2014 and its implementation seemed a good signal for me to retire.

This morning I went to a Work One adult education class where one of my former colleagues gave me the practice test.  I was curious as to how all the warnings and reassurances would play out.  I took three of the five tests, leaving math and language for later.

The material on the reading test was interesting and accessible.  There were definitely fewer questions of facts and vocabulary and far more of interpretation and comparison.  Testing higher level reading skills is fair enough.

The social studies test seemed quite easy.  There were questions based on The Declaration of Independence, concepts like balance of powers, and basic economic ideas like supply and demand--much of it based on knowledge anyone who is well read or who listens to the news would know.

Then there was the science test!  I did not know enough about physics, geology, genetics, chemistry, and other branches of science to do well.  In fact, I got frustrated enough to fail to go back and guess on a few items I had left blank.  Amazingly enough, the bar for passing was set so low that I did pass the test.  But I could envision a student test-taker with less confidence or chutzpah than I had just giving up!   There is no way an adult education teacher could cover all of these areas in 6 to 12 hours of week of class time.

I do not envy my former colleagues as they face these new challenges.  They have been subjected to many hours of professional development, not all of it very relevant to the test which is now finally available.  So many of my students entered with math and language and reading scores below 8th grade level and thus found it difficult to pass the old GED.  The new TASC will be even more frustrating.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Being Alive and Having to Die

Being Alive and Having to Die:  The Spiritual Odyssey of Forrest Church by Dan Cryer

I finished this biography too late last night and it stuck with me for a few restless hours.  Because of  mutual friends, we attended Church's ordination in a Unitarian-Universalist Church in Boston in the early 70s so I have followed his career somewhat over the years.

"Being alive and having to die" was why Church said people responded with religion.  He was very much alive and amazingly prolific in his writing, his preaching and his pastoring of the All Souls congregation in New York City.  He died with great grace and courage at age 61 of esophageal cancer.  He smoked and drank heavily for years until he admitted his alcholism and remained sober for the last several years of his life.  He almost lost his position due to an affair with a parishioner whom he subsequently married.  Cryer, a parishioner of All Souls, admired Church greatly and spent much time with him in the last few years, but this biography is not hagiography.

Church's mantra:  "Want what you have.  Do what you can.  Be what you are."

When asked if he would really want cancer, he replied, " We cannot wish away all that is wrong with us without including all that is right.  Each day that I am sick, I pray for the sun to come up, for people to love me, for manageable tasks that I can stil accomplish, for a little extra courage."

 Later he said when interviewed, "I don't pray for miracles.  I don't pray to cure my incurable cancer.  I receive and consecrate each day that I'm given as a gift.  I have no idea what happens after we die, and so I go with Henry David Thoreau, who, when he was asked about the afterlife, said, 'Madam, I prefer to take it one life at a time'...One of the beautiful things about a terminal illness is that your friendships become stronger.  Your loved ones become more vital and more present.  Each day becomes more beautiful.   You unwrap the present and receive it as the gift it is.  You walk through the valley of the shadow, and it's riddled with light."

There is much I find puzzling about Church's beliefs.  I cannot understand picking and choosing Jesus' words and considering him a great man and teacher but denying or ignoring his words about being one with the Father and his death and resurrection.  But I very much admire Church's courage in dying and hope that someday I can find that kind of grace when needed.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

A Day without an Agenda

Yesterday I had nothing at all scheduled.  An appointment was deemed unnecessary and cancelled.  I wondered how the day would go when I really had no reason to go anywhere and nothing planned.  There have been a few other days like this since I retired but most of them were necessitated by the extreme weather we have had.

I almost feel guilty writing this because my sister spent her day taking care of grandchildren, my friend spent hours waiting to hear from a doctor and then going to the ER, my husband listened to two job talks, and I had an open day.

Joan Chittister in The Gift of Years speaks to this in the chapter I happened to read last night called "Mystery."  

So much in life is aimed at either youth or middle age.  Almost nothing points us to the days when time alone will be our guide, our companion, our goal.  We have few or no promises about the glories of being less busy, less harried, less consumed by everything....We have learned so well to live the rules of life.  We are not so sure how to live its freedoms...Routine can finally give way to mystery, to possibility, to the grazing time of life...Mystery is what happens when we allow life to evolve rather than having to make it happen all the time...There is something holy-making about simply presuming that what happens to us in any given day is sent to us to awaken our souls to something new...a whole new awareness of the immanence of God in time. Something will surely happen.  What will it be?

When I was a young mother, I was desperate for solitude--some time alone to read or write in a journal or play the piano.  I used to think that the curse of my old age would be solitude as a result!  That may still be true but at this point I have good health, many options and companionship.

But yesterday was a blessing.  What did I do?  I read a chapter of Jim's commentary in progress.  I played and sang several psalms--my goal for Lent.  I purged a basement closet of old paint cans.  I picked up fallen branches in the yard.  I walked outside and used the exercise bike in the basement.   I read half of a murder mystery. I planned our itinerary for a trip in April--and caught a crucial error in the travel agent's bookings.  I emailed an old friend and commented on my daughter's blog.  I cooked a good supper and did a crossword puzzle.

  Our former pastor used to talk about the idolotry of "busyness."  People would respond to a "How are you?" with a "So busy."   I'm not busy any more and I am very happy and contented to slow down.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Taking Risks

We met with a financial advisor last week who told us to keep doing what we are doing--which means taking no risks at this point in our lives.  As we really have taken few risks anyway with our retirement funds, that seemed just fine to us.  Our finances have not been a priority  but we have done well anyway thanks to years of contributions automatically withdrawn out of paychecks--Jim's mostly, but some for me as well.  Words like annuities, IRAs, life insurance, bonds, stocks, etc. make me want to shut down.  We're trying to do better.  It's not too late to learn!

However, this conversation brought back memories of earlier times in our lives when we were definitely risk takers as far as our finances went--and maybe just in life in general.

In 1970 we spent a summer travelling in Europe with friends, sharing gas expenses and living in pup tents.   We had money for seven weeks which somehow had to last for 13 weeks due to our inability to enter Jordan for an organized dig.  We came home with $17 in our pockets.  We couldn't seem to wire our families for more money--we tried.  In fact, most of the time they didn't know where we were.  I can't believe our doing this to them, particularly because my mother had passed away in 1969 so we were aware that there could be crises in which we would need to be found.  I can't imagine our own children doing this to us What a difference cell phones, social media, and ATMs make.

Then, in 1971 Jim won a Fulbright scholarship to study in St. Andrews, Scotland for one year.   We thought that as long as I couldn't work abroad anyway, we would love to have a child.  We didn't think past that year and all the years that Jim would have of further graduate work when I would need to work.   Jeff was born in February of 1972 and how glad we have always been that we took that risk!  As it turned out, I did work in Scotland as an "assistant music mistress" teaching piano at a boarding school for young ladies and we saved some money for the next year.

The following year I worked part-time as a secretary at Harvard while Jim began his studies there.  I made $45 a week and our rent was $210 a month.  Our landlords liked us and they loved Jeff, so they lowered the rent and fed us at least once a week.  We used a street clinic for health needs and applied for USDA surplus foods and WIC coupons.   My dad sent along an occasional check.  Jim did some pulpit supply work, preaching in the New England area.

I really hated being a secretary and when there was little work to do in June, I took a leave of absence.  In the fall, I began training for a teaching position and quit the secretarial position without a definite commitment of being hired as a teacher.  I was sure they would want me and they did!   How could we have taken that risk?  However, that position as a tutor of the "perceptually handicapped"  was life-changing, as I learned a method for teaching dyslexic children and adults that is validated today by many and that I used to teach reading and writing for years.  

Somehow we survived those risks.  If our own children lived on the edge like that, I would be really concerned.  I am thankful they don't and that we can have such a comfortable life now in spite of our risky behaviors and our lack of financial planning.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

A Favorite Prayer

  I  pray often (not unceasingly!) but my prayers tend to be very simple.  I think of Anne Lamott's two prayers:  "Help me" and "Thank you."  I think she added "Wow" later.

 I admire those who are willing to do the congregational prayer at our church and do it so well like my husband and my friend Maggie.  That is not my "spiritual gift."

Prayers that others have composed are meaningful to me.  I have several prayer books from places as far away as used bookstores in Hay-on-Wye in England or as close by as South Haven, Michigan.

 I don't know where I got Prayers New and Old (published by Forward Movement Press) but I have read and reread the following prayer from that little book:

Our High Calling

Our Father,
who hast set a restlessness in our hearts,
and made us all seekers after that which we can never fully find;
forbid us to be satisfied with what we make of life.
Draw us from base content, 
and set our eyes on far-off goals.
Keep us at tasks too hard for us,
that we may be driven to thee for strength.
Deliver us from fretfulness and self pity;
make us sure of the goals we cannot see,
and of the hidden good in the world.
Open our eyes to simple beauty all around us,
and our hearts to the loveliness others hide from us because we do not try  enough to understand them.
Save us from ourselves,
and show us a vision of a world made new.
May thy Spirit of peace and illumination so enlighten our minds
 that all life shall glow with new meaning and new purpose;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

There were times when I was working that I clung to the words "Keep us at tasks too hard for us."  There have been other times that I prayed "Save us from ourselves" when I was tired of my fretting, worrying, obsessing self.  And last night I thought how much the last lines related to this new chapter of my life--"that all life shall glow with new meaning and new purpose."

I don't know who wrote "Our High Calling" but I have been grateful for the words that have become my words in prayer over the years.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014


Retirement is making me lazy.  I told my husband yesterday that I didn't like making commitments.   I like  to get up in the morning and then see what evolves for the day.

I remember years ago our older son interviewed an assistant pastor at our 4000 member Presbyterian Church in North Carolina.  He asked him what was the most difficult part of his job.  His answer?  Counting on volunteers who don't always make a commitment and show up.

When I was working, I didn't have much choice as to whether I went to work or not--whether I slept the night before or didn't, whether the roads were icy or not, whether I had a good attitude or not.   Commitment was not a choice.

This morning I had a commitment to be a reader at Tarkington School.  This was my fifth Tuesday of reading with M, a first grader.  Last week she expressed concern about getting to Level I before the end of the year or else she'd have to be in first grade again.  I had some concern also because she seemed to be stuck at Level D or E with books that were far too easy for her.    Apparently M lives with her mother five days a week and her dad two days and somehow the signing off of homework gets forgotten.  I was ready to be her advocate and ask for harder books if needed.  But her teacher gave us a more difficult reader this morning and it was challenge enough.

As we were reading, I mentioned that I had read one of the stories with A the previous week.  A was an extra assignment because my other student, a third grader,  was taking I Step tests.  M was quite put out.  "You're not A's reader, " she said. "You're MY reader."    Later she said, "I love to read" and then added, "with you."

Commitment?  I think I better keep that commitment.  It means a lot to a little girl and this morning it meant a lot to me as well.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Reactions to Retirement

I have had two rather different reactions to my blogging about retirement--or maybe just the idea of retirement in general.

Several younger readers have said that they envy me and can't wait to retire.  I wonder if that means they would like to skip the next ten years of their lives.  I doubt it!  I guess I could have retired ten years ago, but at that point the thought didn't even occur to me.

Other readers who are about my age have said they are not ready to retire.  At least two of them are single women living by themselves.  They have said that they still need the structure in their lives of getting to work and having colleagues.  I can understand that sentiment entirely.

A few others have told me that they are in similar circumstances and can relate to my musings.

Writing this blog has been a good activity for me.  I like to process my thoughts and I like having readers.  Yes, I do check the stats!

  Now if I could just figure out why some who try to comment see their comments disappear.  I posted on a Google Forum today and was given some suggestions.  Disabling the Captcha requirement did not help those who try to comment as Anonymous.  (My cooperative and patient husband tried!)  I am reluctant to disable cookies--even if I understood how to do so!  At this point, only those who have a Google account or possibly a URL can post comments.  Any suggestions on how we can enable comments?

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Mortality and Ash Wednesday

From the liturgy for Ash Wednesday at the South Bend Christian Reformed Church, March 5, 2014:

Mark: We begin our journey to Easter with the sign of ashes. 
This ancient sign speaks of the frailty and uncertainty of human life, 
calls us to heartfelt repentance, 
and urges us to place our hope in God alone. 

Paula: Almighty God, 
you have created us out of the dust of the earth. 
May these ashes remind us of our mortality and penitence 
and teach us again that only by your gracious gift 
are we given everlasting life 
through Jesus Christ, our Savior. 

I'm not comfortable with Ash Wednesday.  I don't like having that black smudge on my forehead.  I don't like looking at others with that smudge on their foreheads.  I go forward anyway--maybe as an act of humility and unity with others or maybe just peer pressure. 

I don't need many reminders of mortality.  At this point, I look at the ages in the obituaries and think--good, today most of them are in their 90s.  That gives me many more years of life.  Or I see that there are many in their 70s and think about having only a few years left.  

My mother-in-law is 94 and my step-mother is 98.  Both have dementia.  Dealing with my mother-in-law is a very strange experience. The snow banks are high around us on a Monday evening and she thinks it is a summer weekend.   My step-mother sends us a daily email that is mostly unreadable and refers to her daughter needing to get to the post office to mail it.  I don't want to live like that.

But I have no choice in the matter except to try to exercise and eat healthy and hope for the best.  I will meditate on the words Mark said last night "this ancient sign....urges us to place our trust in God alone."

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Forever Learning: Ballet? Zumba?

I went to my first Zumba class this morning at Forever Learning, an organization for us older folks in Michiana where one can learn anything from Beginning German to Chinese cooking to The Papacy in the 14th Century.  Last fall I tried Ballet.  I've never had a dance class and thought it was time to give it a try.

Ballet was a challenge--a mental challenge more than a physical challenge really.   The instructor was wonderful--patient and encouraging--a model teacher with a diverse group of students.  I was still teaching then and the class reminded me of my own adult education students--all at different levels and with different abilities.

I decided that this semester I wanted to try something more upbeat that would give me a good workout.  Zumba!  I thought that at a place like Forever Learning it couldn't be too challenging physically.

How do I feel now?  Stiff.  Tired.  And challenged again.  At one point, the instructor said that we had time for one or two more songs.  Someone in the front row shouted out "Two more."  I quietly said  "One?"

I will discipline myself to go back next week.  I probably won't want to, but I know it is good for my body and my psyche as well.

No, this is not a photo of our class.  Try to imagine 30 women of a certain age dancing to Latin music.  It's another picture entirely!

My daughter often ends her blog with a question thus encouraging comments.  What do you do for exercise?  Any other suggestions for my aging body?

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Retirement in Florida?

February 27, 2014

I am sitting by the pool at the lovely home of Jim's brother Dave and his wife Gwen in a gated community in Bonita Springs, Florida.  I can see a lemon tree, palm trees, orchids, Spanish moss, and much other vegetation that I cannot name.  It is 7:30 am and I am comfortable in my pjs outside!  Is this heavenly?

   It is a temporary glimpse of a very pleasant way of life, a very luxurious way of life.  Jim and Dave golfed nine holes yesterday and we ate at the country club's sports bar which was packed with people.  I looked around and asked Gwen if all these rather young-looking folks were retired.   She said they were older than they might look.  I did think later that I may have been the only white-haired woman I saw.  Gwen said that plenty of money and time is spent on "maintenance."

Life centers around the club with many opportunities there for exercise, bridge, choir, Bible study, and golf, of course.  Gwen and Dave knew so many people and greeted them warmly.  The whole area is absolutely beautiful with paths for walking and biking, and waterways for kayaking.  I marveled at the variety of palm trees and brightly colored flowers.

I shall enjoy the day.  After a good night of sleep, it is a gift to me.  And then I shall happily go home tomorrow, scrape off the snow on the car in the airport parking lot, turn up the heat in the house and go back to our comfortable routine with much gratitude for a break in it.  It is a good thing I feel this way because our retirement funds would disappear quickly if we lived in the Bonita Bay Community.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

From the Balcony of Room 1430

We've heard that it is maybe 10 degrees in South Bend.  It is about 85 here in Fort Lauderdale as we enjoy the view from our Doubletree Suites balcony in the late afternoon.

 A drawbridge below crosses East Sunrise Boulevard. On the other side is the Hugh Taylor Birch State Park,  a "paradise in urban Fort Lauderdale," and then a bit east of that we can see the Atlantic Ocean.  It's not quiet.  I hear a fire engine with its siren blaring as it crosses the bridge.  An occasional motorcycle roars by.   But it is peaceful anyway from this high vantage point.

This morning we had a pleasant walk through the Birch park and marvelled at the banyan and palm trees and the wetlands.  How wonderful that Birch gave this land to the state to preserve it or it would be all high rise hotels and condos here.

This afternoon we walked through the upscale Galleria mall a block to the west of us.  A restaurant's sign said "Fashionable Dress Required"--not the usual demand for shirt and shoes.  Last night we scorned those restaurants and instead went to a place that looked a bit sketchy from the sidewalk--Franco and Vinny's Pizza Shack.  What a find!  It was the kind of place where customers and waiters and waitresses were greeting each other with hugs and kisses.  The woman across the aisle introduced her nephew to the waiter and said later that she had been coming there for 20 years.   I put in my order for the chicken ravioli with marinara sauce and the waiter asked if I was sure I didn't want to try one of the other sauces because he recommened the "aurora"--a cross between marinara and alfredo.  He was right--it was fabulous.

I wonder what it would be like to live here or even just winter here.  We feel young as we look around at so many elderly people.  My sister said one of her friends came home saying he'd had enough of Florida and seeing old women in bathing suits!  I wouldn't care for a life of golf and bridge and shopping only as I think about what is making my retirement interesting and worthwhile in South Bend.

But the warm air is so soothing and relaxing.  I don't think six days are going to be long enough!

Friday, February 21, 2014

Checking in on goals

I wrote a list of goals for retirement last fall. I thought I would check to see how I was doing with them.  Here they are with comments:

1.  Keep a blog about adjusting to this next chapter of my life called "retirement" and share it with others.

       This has been a lot of fun for me.  Ideas pop into my head and I know there are some readers  because I check the stats.  I have learned how to add links and photos.   Occasionally I  post to Facebook but  I don't want to be annoying about that.  A further goal is to get more readers to  comment.  We have   been unable to determine why my husband cannot comment nor can my Goodreads penpal Marilyn.

2.  Take docent training at the Snite and SBMuseum of Art.

              We have had two Monday sessions so far and they have both been really worthwhile.  I have enjoyed doing the homework and feel as if this commitment is enriching my life.

3.  Travel with Jim and extend those trips like I am doing right now.

              We hope to go to Florida soon, extending Jim's work commitment by four extra days.  March will  bring a trip to see the kids and grandkids and enjoy the gifts we gave our older grandchidlren with them--tickets to the 76ers for the fellows and to the Philadelphia Ballet for the ladies.

4.  Relearn geometry with jmath.net.

               I have made it through only four lessons.  Jay's lessons are longer, there are no worksheets yet, and my laptop downloads slowly.  Maybe I am not as motivated as I was when I was teaching.  Jay is still   terrific however!

5.  Learn lots of new organ music--maybe even some challenging stuff.

               I have begun some new pieces.  The sanctuary is very cold these days.  Practicing is not entirely a joy when it is 58 degrees and one's fingers won't move well.   That's my excuse at least!

6.  Watch videos online.

                I ordered Amazon Prime but have not done anything with this yet.

7.  Read longer books--instead of quick reads.

                 Middlemarch--I read a chapter and realized I had attempted to read it before.  I gave up a second time.    The Goldfinch was so highly rated but it too was returned to the library after I read a chapter   or two.  I have plenty of time but no enthusiasm for these longer volumes.

8.  Find a way to help out in adult education--maybe not in the spring but in the fall of 2014.

                 I was asked to sub later this month and at first I said I was willing to do so as a volunteer.  I think I am not allowed to work for pay for 90 days or I would lose my pension.  But when I thought it over, I knew there were others who needed more hours of work and one of them will do the assignment.

9.  Spend more time with children and grandchildren.

                  I hope this will take place in March and in May and this summer.  

10.  (added November 25)  Learn Greek so I can read the New Testament with greater interest!

                  Hmm--not so sure about this one!

I have added a few other goals or at least regular actitities.  I am reading with two young students at Tarkington Elementary School each week.  I plan to read Jim's commentary on Jubilees as he finishes each chapter. I started with chapter 40 so I guess I have lots of catching up to do!  I need to exercise regularly and have been walking with friend Maggie twice a week.  I have signed up for Zumba which, as it is offered by Forever Learning classes, I am optimistic that I can keep up.  I participated in three Bible study sessions led by Maggie on the gospel of John.   And then there is the major purging of every room, closet, shelf, file cabinet, etc in this house.  There is always a bag on its way to Goodwill or St. Vincent's.  

Each day fills up.  I have not been at a loss for things to do.   It has been good.

Five star books

I've been musing this morning over what I enjoy doing most in my bounteous leisure time.  I concluded that I really like writing in this blog and I really like looking for books to read--more than reading them, I fear.

I read the NYT Book Review first each Sunday (after the Travel section maybe) and especially like the By the Book section where authors cite their favorite books.  I look at Goodreads suggestions particularly from my "penpal" Marilyn McClellan who is a great mystery buff and an author herself.  I like to read the NPR reviews.  My friends Sue and Beth and Maggie are great readers and give me suggestions.  Sometimes I go back over previous journals and look for books that I have loved and want to reread--or to find others by those authors.  I have a long list of books to read at this point.

However, many of those books on my "to read" list never get read.  I start them and decided they are not worth my time and energy.   So I rarely rate books on Goodreads lower than three stars.  If it is a two star book, in my estimation, it doesn't get read.

I thought I would look back and see which books I rated five stars on Goodreads since I started this blog in September.

Dissolution  (Sansom)   I didn't think I liked historical novels, but this one was fascinating in its setting of Cromwell and Henry VIII and the breaking up of the monasteries.  However, when I tried the second one in the series, I found the torture scenes too upsetting and gave it up.

The Gods of Guilt   (Connolly)   As I wrote in my Goodreads review, the plots are so convuluted that I can read this one again and enjoy it again.  I'm not even sure why I rated it five stars at the time!  I'm sure it was one that totally absorbed my attention.  I am a Connolly fan for most of his books.

Someone   (McDermott)   I would rate this higher than five stars.  It was short, dense, powerful, and true.  McDermott took an "ordinary" life and made a wonderful book out of it.

If I go back farther than September, I can add a few more:

The Little White Horse (Goudge)--a favorite of CJ Rowling.  Again, I don't think I like fantasy but I loved this book and would enjoy rereading it.

Fin and Lady (Schine)--quirky characters--an unusual family configuration with resilient characters.

After Visiting Friends:  A Son's Story (Hainey)--a real life mystery in which a son tries to find out the real story of his father's sudden death.  Would he have been better off not knowing?  Should he have shared it with his mother?

Notre Dame and the Civil War (Schmidt)--This short book was so informative and interesting.  Can you imagine a food fight at St. Mary's College between the Yankee women and the women from the South?  More seriously, the chaplains from Notre Dame suffered a lot to be with the troops.

Astray (Donoghue)--A very unusual book in which the author took bits of old news and made them into stories and did so in a way that convinced me.

As I look over my list, the books are a mixture of fiction and non-fiction.  Maybe I rate books as five stars when I am surprised at home much I enjoyed them--when I think I don't care for fantasy or short stories or historical novels.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

All Joy and No Fun?

There is a new book on parenting called All Joy and No Fun.  This title has intrigued me but I don't think I will read the book. I hope the title is hyperbole.   I looked it up and found this short quote:

"Our experiencing selves tell researchers that we prefer doing the dishes — or napping, or shopping, or answering emails — to spending time with our kids," Senior writes. "But our remembering selves tell researchers that no one — and nothing — provides us with so much joy as our children. It may not be the happiness we live day to day, but it's the happiness we think about, the happiness we summon and remember, the stuff that makes up our life tales."

I know that sometimes I felt like an imposter when I was raising young children.  Often  there were things I would rather do than play a board game or read a story or kick a soccer ball in the back yard or go to a swim meet.  But in spite of ourselves, our children brought us much joy as we watched them grow into productive, happy, independent adults.  

And they still bring us much joy.  I have spent the last hour checking out a Charley Rose interview with Jeff Hammerbacher at Dan's suggestion.  It was a fascinating glimpse into a world of big data and its importance for accelerating science and health care delivery.  I would never have looked it up without Dan's interest and guidance.

I read Laura's blog daily and it often sends me into further investigation of a world of young professional parents besides giving me a glimpse into Laura's busy life.  (lauravanderkam.com)

Jeff cannot share his work with us.   The Institute for Defense Analysis is a world of its own which we were permitted to observe as visitors just once.  But a great joy for me this week as a grandmother was watching a video of young Michael playing Pachelbel's Canon on a grand piano at the Westminster Music School.  I wish we could have been there.   

We have been parents for almost 42 years.  February 27 is Jeff's birthday--which I always think of as the anniversary of my motherhood as well.   Once again, I'll end with my thankfulness--this time for the blessings of children and grandchildren.