Friday, January 31, 2014

Living in the Present

It has been three weeks into what has felt like retirement and I am still doing very well.  There is that word "still" again.  Are you "still" working?  Are you "still" living in that big house?  Are you "still" playing church softball, golfing, etc.?   It is a  word that comes up at our age too often.

This morning while cleaning drawers, I found an old journal that contained some painful memories and they didn't hurt like they once did.  I added one last page entry (two years later) that I am really liking retirement and am living each day as the present--not a lot of unhealthy or obsessive thinking about the past or the future.

Then I wrote that each day IS a present and it has been.  I have been given the gift of enough sleep--and for me that is a real gift.  I awake each day with a list of things to do but almost nothing is essential.   I wonder if the day will feel boring or lonely and so far, it has not been like that at all.

 I thought retirement would be the time to read longer (700 pages plus) and more demanding books, but both The Goldfinch and Middlemarch will be returned to the library unread.  My friend Beth told me that both were worth reading and yet I find that I don't have that kind of energy or persistence right now and that is OK!

 I have tried to set a goal of doing something for someone else each day and that makes me feel as if my day is not all about me.  Sometimes it has been just writing an email to our missionaries, the DeVuysts,  in a very dangerous Ukraine,  or a posting on Mr. Vander Lugt's  obituary site or mailing a postcard to Jim's mom.  These are easy things for me to do.

I've tried to sit quietly for a bit each day, but I am not good at "meditation."  It was easier last summer when I could sit outside and look at the trees and hear the birds sing outside.  I have found a spot upstairs where I can look outside at the bare branches against the sky and that is a good place for me to try to listen and pray.

I hope and pray this attitude can continue and that I can thank God for the gift of each day.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Church Cancelled Again!

For the second time this month, and maybe only the third or fourth time in what I know of our church's history, a weather advisory has caused a cancellation.  Both times I was scheduled to play the organ.  Last time, my Christmas music will need to wait a year.  This time, I'll just play what I practiced next week.

Last week I had little enthusiasm for leaving home and going to church.  I had no duties; Jim was ushering.  We had missed church services for two weeks due to the first cancellation and then the trip to Houston for Hank's memorial service.

I sat down, listened to Carolyn's lovely prelude,  and looked around me.  I saw so many people I knew and loved.  I saw parents snuggling with children.  I got tearful and felt grateful for our church community and was so glad to be there--even before the service started!  Later it was good to sit next to my husband and to sing with him and pray with him at church.  The sermon made me think about God's going with us as the "I Am."

And then there was the evening Mosaic service with the baptism by immersion of six young people from two families.  Again, it was the spontaneous gesture of support of one father to his 7th grade daughter--an arm around her shoulder as she waited her turn to be baptized--that brought tears to my eyes.  Why?  I'm not sure.  Jim says maybe it was the thought of a Christian family trying to raise their children in faith in somewhat uncertain circumstances.  I thought maybe the idea that they are all so young and have so much ahead of them and so many secular influences in their future as our own children have had.  It was a gift to all of us that they were willing to be baptized and the immersion was a dramatic touch.

In retirement, I think about how good it would be to live nearer our children and grandchildren on the East coast.  As long as Jim keeps working and his mother needs us, we won't move.  Our church is our community and that too would keep us here.

I read a quote in the Economist (a gift to Jim from Laura and Michael) from Fridtjof Nansen, a Norwegian polymath, as it calls him:  "It is better to go skiing and think of God, than go to church and think of sport."  I don't agree with the quote, but for today, I'll enjoy being home, looking out at the white world, and try to think of God!

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Random thoughts about cremation, cancer, and other difficult things

Hank's death has caused us to think sober thoughts about the end of life--his and ours.  Having a sibling die is blessedly a new experience for us, but this experience will be repeated many times over the next 20 years or so--unless we go first.

Hank's body was cremated.  I have always said that I would not want to be cremated.  But where would I be buried?  I didn't want to mingle with the soil of North Carolina.  I guess I feel the same way about Hoosier soil in Indiana.  Hudsonville Cemetery in Michigan where my parents are buried?  Too far away and possibly full anyway according to my sister.  I still find the thought of burning a body repulsive.  My sister said that she could never, ever have had the body of her baby who died over 30 years ago of a massive heart defect cremated.  But the service of internment of Hank's ashes has made me feel it could be a possibility.  His ashes, in a small wooden box, were placed in the vault in the ground at the lovely garden at First Presbyterian Church in Houston, Texas.  He has a final resting place there.  Maybe ashes is no worse an end that the rotting of a body.

I have always disliked the phrase about "losing a brave fight to cancer" in so many obituaries.  Last week's NYT published a letter from Dan Cryer, a biographer of Forrest Church, a well known Unitarian Universalist minister who died of esophageal cancer in 2008. Years ago, Jim and I attended his ordination in Boston, Massachusetts because of a mutual friend.  Church wrote, "For me not to fight does not mean to give up.  On the contrary, I embrace my life with more appreciation and affection than ever before.  But fighting death as a full-time preoccupation squeezes out opportunities to embrace life as it is, as it comes, as a miraculous gift."   I hope that when my time comes, I can make good decisions and embrace life.

It is not death I fear; it is the dying and the horrible process so many go through to survive cancer.  And it probably will be cancer that kills us.  A recent article in the news said that deaths from heart attacks and strokes are decreasing and as folks live longer and longer, cancer and Alzheimer's are the killers.

I know I don't want to live in assisted living as Jim's mom does, coping with dementia, hearing loss, and a paranoia that makes life frustrating and sad.  As Jim said upon leaving her facility once, "Eat sausage, not salads!"  Who wants to be 90 under those conditions?

Jim's sister Terri observed from reading obituaries that folks seem to die in their 60s or their 80s.  That may not be statistically true, but I'd like to think we have some good years left!

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

A 24 Hour Mini-Vacation

My friend Sue asked if I would come to Grand Rapids, go to a concert at Calvin College, and spend the night.  Why not?  I didn't have to work on Tuesday morning.

I left around 2 pm yesterday.  My first stop was at my sister's to chat and share some old photos.  Then on to a fantastic meal of roast turkey and vegetable stew (quinoa and lentils with an Indian flavor) and red wine with Sue.  Then to the Calvin College Chapel for an unusual presentation of choral and organ music composed by Grand Rapids composers, four of whom participated by conducting or accompanying.  Maybe the works were not Bach-like, although the Sowerby prelude and toccata was of top quality, but I enjoyed the local flavor and gleaned at least one idea of a work to try--The Organ Hymn by Raymond Haan.

After another glass of red wine and much chatting, I spent the night in Sue's guest suite in her spacious condo.  Sue has a gift for making a place beautiful by finding and displaying lovely items, vases, mirrors, and photos.  It is fun to look around and enjoy one's surroundings.

This morning I enjoyed a breakfast of cereal and homemade apple coffee cake again with my sister in her sunroom overlooking the snowy woods and creek.  We sorted through some more old family photos.  I now have another retirement project of getting many of them digitalized.

The trip home was my final adventure.  The weather looked beautiful--not at all like the lake effect snow predicted.  So I took the Lake Michigan route and stopped in South Haven.  The sea was breathtakingly beautiful.  Three women were setting up a little site on the beach and asked me to take their photo.  I agreed and then laughed when I took a closer look and saw what they were wearing.  They told me they were from the Chamber of Commerce.  I took their photo and then asked what their real story was.  By the time I got home, the photo I took was posted on the Facebook Chamber of Commerce site.   They gave credit to their brave field photographer Mary Vanderkam!

Monday, January 20, 2014

Jay's Poem and My Last Staff Meeting

Jay Snyder, my colleague (former colleague!) wrote and performed a poem for my last staff meeting and here it is:

Mary, Mary…
What can you say about Mary?

I have something to say, about Mary today.

She did her Jmath, and did it with a roar.
That’s why she’s my best ambassador!

Mary’s a learner, and does it so smooth.
If we were a little more like her, we could all improve!

Mary, Mary… I’ve got to warn you, it’s only fair.
Beware, beware, I say beware.
If you’re gonna retire, get on the train & get down the track,
Cuz if you don’t, you’ll end up like the others, & you’ll be back!

With Mary not there, it will give us a scare.
So I have a challenge, call it a dare.
Be half as good as Mary, and in spite of TASC,
We’ll all be successful, and that’s all we can ask!

So Mary, here’s a toast.
To your retirement, I hope it’s a blast.
To one fine lady, who’s nothing but class!

Best wishes Mary.  Enjoy!
Congrats on a great career!
Congrats on a great career!

Jay gave me the opportunity to be a learner by his gift to all of us by creating  

I was honored greatly by the kind words of my supervisor and fellow teachers and the gifts--books, restaurant certificates, socks, a wallet--all wonderful.
But as I told them all, I'm not sorry I retired--and this meeting reaffirmed that as they are all struggling with the new TASC---Test Assessing Secondary Completion--and the unknowns involved with it. I left the meeting after almost two hours and they all stayed for at least another hour.

Friday, January 17, 2014

The Joy of Googling

How can I ever be bored when I have the whole world at my fingertips?  I spend a lot of time each day on my laptop.  I hope it is not an addiction although it may have some elements of that.  I like getting email, I enjoy  Facebook postings,  I read my daughter's blog,  I meditate on the lectionary for the day,  and I write this blog.

But it is the ability to do research from my family room couch that I appreciate as much as anything.  In the last few weeks I have read three books that were fiction but read as memoirs:  Alice Munro's The Lives of Girls and Women, Paul Horgan's The Way Things Were and Bo Caldwell's  The Distant Land of My Father.

 Horgan states in a preface that only one of his ten stories is based on his own life.  I'd really like to know which one because they all seem so true to the memory of a small child.   Munro's stories are set in Canada where she continues to live so at least the setting is true to her past.  Again, I'd like to know more about her faith as that figured in the chapter that really was compelling to me in her novel.

 Caldwell's book haunted me as well because it was so emotional and painful in recounting the memories of a young girl whose father was a charming but egocentric and absent presence in her life.  I could hardly believe it wasn't autobiographical.  Then I read somewhere that it was based on the life of her mother's brother.  I wanted to know more and none of the reviews I read mentioned any more than that.  So I googled "Bo Caldwell's uncle" specifically and there was my answer!

  Caldwell and her mother found a box of transcriptions of tapes her uncle made while they were cleaning up his apartment in San Francisco after his death.  He had been imprisoned by both the Japanese and the Chinese Communists in China.  He was the "black sheep" of the family although why was not stated.  Originally she planned to write a book of non-fiction based on these transcriptions but felt it would be a bit thin.  Her husband, the novelist Ron Hansen, suggested she do a work of fiction and she did so.  Now I look forward to reading her second novel, also based on journals and letters from her grandparents who were missionaries in China.

So as I thank God daily for health, food, sleep, family, friends and much else, I'll add to the list my laptop and its connection to the world of information.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Feeling Old!

Grey hair--silver hair--white hair?  In any case, I am happy that I do not spend the money or time on hair coloring.  However, there are times that I am sorry to have that visible sign of aging.  Saturday was one of them.

The manager of the Microtel that Hank owned in Florida came up to me to express her sympathy and asked if I was Hank's mom!  As Hank died at age 69, I was quite insulted!  For the rest of the day, I avoided her!

Immediately afterward, however, Sheila's young "stylist" asked me where I got my necklace and complimented me on it.  I complimented him on his shiny silver metallic shoes!  That made me feel better.

The other sad thing about aging was my inability to wear high heels when all dressed up for the service and to have to go with boring flats.  The pain was much too great to endure even for beauty and style!  How sad it was to return Laura's Christmas gift of those beautiful heels for a practical, even if luxurious, handbag.

Stitch-Fix has lifted my spirits however.  I received my first package yesterday and love the three tops they sent.  Each one has very individual style features--definitely not off the rack in South Bend at least.  I will return the shapeless dress and red trinket necklace.  I will enjoy my own personal "stylist" from this company and look forward to more packages.  Any referrals I make that result in someone joining will give me a $25 credit so if anyone is interested...!


Monday, January 13, 2014

The Real First Day of Retirement

Today felt like the first day of retirement.  I guess January 1 was the official day but not all has been settled with the school corporation and the retirement fund.  Christmas break lasted until January 7 and then there were three days of up to minus 15 temperatures that kept schools closed.  The first class at MC3 without me was held on Thursday, January 9, and that was the day we left for Houston for the memorial service for Jim's brother Hank.  We arrived home last night.

   Thursday I was able to leave without getting a sub and making extensive plans for anyone else to carry out.  And today was a Monday without lesson planning, record keeping, and phone calls.

Instead I spent the morning at my first docent training for the Snite and South Bend Museums of Art.  It was run well by the curator of education Sarah Martin.  I look forward to my studies and our next meeting in two weeks.

I walked and talked with friend Maggie.  I checked a few odds and ends off a "to do" list.  I read and I napped and talked to my sister on the phone.   I went out to eat at Legends with Jim at an introductory dinner for the Institute for Advanced Studies at ND.

The day was full and interesting and I hope and pray that this good beginning continues.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Blogging about Blogging and a Link

Friday I made the decision to go public--which in my case, means posting my blog on Facebook.  What fun!  I felt very affirmed by all the "likes" and comments which came from the rich variety of "friends" in my life.  I especially appreciated the words of former students and colleagues.

Maybe that is the way I will get readers!  Now if I could just get folks to comment on the blog directly, we could have a bit more of a "conversation" or "dialogue" to use cliches I really don't like!

Now I will try another experiment--a link to an article on retiring in today's South Bend Tribune:

I could not find it searching the South Bend Tribune, but I found it in its original location.

I don't think I will open a pizzeria or become a zumba instructor but I do need to "reimagine life."

"Meaning matters at all phases of life but particularly in the second half of life.  Purpose is fundamental.  Our immune system depends on it."

Friday, January 3, 2014

Sing a New Song

Psalm 98:1 was the refrain in the lectionary reading for January 2.  I think it should be my mantra this year.

Today I handed over the keys, files, and laptop to Tracy with a hug and no regrets.  I had a bit of a lump in my throat on my way to MC3 but none at all when I left.

It'a new year and a new way of life and I am ready for it!

Thursday, January 2, 2014


It's still Christmas vacation so I would not be working anyway.  The big change will come next week when everyone else goes back to work.  Tomorrow I will meet Tracy to give her the keys, laptop, and files.

Teaching GED students gave me a way to be of service to others very easily each day.  Now I need to find other ways to feel that each day is productive and helpful or encouraging to someone else.

Monday I printed up a remembrance card for Hank's service and we took Jim's mom out to eat.  She was very happy and proud of the card and showed it to two nurses on the floor when we brought her back to her home.

Tuesday Chantal and I went to Shipshewana and toured Menno Hof, the museum dedicated to Anabaptists.  It was a good adventure for learning and friendship.  Chantal is very much alone here in South Bend and was glad to accompany me.

Wednesday was New Year's Day.  I hoped to have the Nolls over for spaghetti but the roads were too bad.  I made ham and bean soup and was planning to give it away today, but again the roads are too bad and I will save that for tomorrow.

So, today--I started the process of making Jim's mom another calendar with all of our photos on it.

I need to be more thoughtful and proactive about this goal in my retirement.