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 .(

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.