Friday, August 21, 2015

Thinking of Jimmy Carter

 Author's Note: Many years ago, I wrote this essay about my Dad and Jimmy Carter. The recent news of President Carter's cancer diagnosis is sad and I heard about it while visiting my parents in Florida, where my Dad is still recovering from his coma. I remembered this essay and am posting it now as a tribute to both men, still strong despite the challenges of a life of hard work and debilitating health issues.
My parents with the Carters at Maranatha Baptist Church in October 2003)
 My Dad, Jimmy Carter and me
February 2003

I have a crush on Jimmy Carter. I think he can fix all the worlds’ ills and strife just by opening his mouth and allowing that soft, gentle Southern accent to pick everyone up in its great big ever-loving, peanut farmer richness and get everyone to start remembering just what is important in this world. Like peace, shelter, dignity, rights. I’m not alone in this feeling, am I? The man did, after all, win the Nobel Peace Prize.

Maybe it was because Jimmy Carter was the first president I ever voted for. That is a memorable experience – voting in one’s first presidential election. It is a huge civic and mature responsibility especially when combined with an equally exhilarating milestone – reaching the legal drinking age. I was of age, in Texas, in my first semester at college and voting for a United States president – who won! It doesn’t get much more memorable than that.

Or, maybe it’s because he resembles my dad. My mother has always maintained that I have been drawn to men who look like my dad – blonde, fair skinned, blue eyed. I once kicked my pediatrician’s stethoscope across the room and hid under a table, all because, according to my mother, he had dark hair and didn’t look the slightest bit like my dad. I was pretty sure it was because he was messing with my dress and he had a huge needle in his hand. I was four, I’m supposed to be discriminating? My dark, chocolate-eyed, Italian husband doesn’t believe that theory, and hasn’t for the last some-odd years. But the fact remains, there is a resemblance between Jimmy Carter and my dad. I have definitely done a few double takes when I’ve seen Mr. Carter on TV– “Hey, what’s my dad doing on CNN?” Then I realize – oh – it’s just Jimmy Carter.

Looks aside, there are other similarities between Mr. Carter and my dad. They are both family men, married to the same woman for almost 50+ years, in their 70s, seemingly ready to retire and yet working harder now than when they had real jobs. Mr. Carter’s real job, of course was being president of the United States. My dad was a chemical engineer at General Electric. Now they are both peace activists working against time and tide of popular thought to prevent war, pain and suffering.
My brother writes a monthly newsletter from Hollywood, where he moved to keep warm. One of them referred to the emails that our dad sends us – daily. With the war in Iraq being waged daily on TV, the internet and in our hearts, the emails come fast and furious alerting us to peace vigils, phone calls to make, petitions to sign, and other people-driven contributions required to remind people that peace is good – war is bad. This activism has not just recently occurred, however. We attentive offspring have been watching our parent’s commitment to good causes all our lives. Because you don’t think my dad did all this alone? The very least he needed was my mother’s support. The best he got was her complete agreement in the issues and causes he felt needed the most attention. Hunger, race relations, conflict resolution, and yes, peace.

And here I sit, going to work everyday, reading or, sometimes not reading, all the emails I get, wondering, who thought it was a good idea to get this man a computer? I feel like I did when I was in grade school gym class. I hated gym class. Besides the fact that we had to wear these ridiculous blue gym suits – ugh – even the most un-athletic of us were forced to participate in very excruciating athletic calisthenics. Like jump rope. I guess my gym teacher also didn’t resemble my dad, because I didn’t like her very much either. Anyway – when the group jump roping started, everyone had to line up and jump in, jump for 10 counts or something and then jump out. Please – could I just wear this stupid gym suit to classes all day instead? It would be less painful. The anxiety I developed waiting to jump in, jump for the expected number of jumps and jump out was unbearable. I would let the other girls cut in line – they liked this crazy jumping!

And that’s how I feel about all this peace activist stuff – I am waiting for the rope to come around at just the right time so I can jump in and not make a fool of myself, or not fall down and get laughed at. What do I do? What can I do?

If I wasn’t so uncoordinated, I would smack myself in the forehead. Of course it has been before me the whole time – my whole life in fact. I’ve seen what one man – or woman – can do, both on the worldwide stage and the personal. My dad will never have a non-profit, nongovernmental organization named after him, like Mr. Carter. But believe me, he works hard at the same causes with the same impressive dedication. Mr. Carter has unlimited resources at his disposal and he has the dignity to use them with respect. There probably aren’t too many people out there who will say “no” to a former president. Plenty of people say no to my dad. But that’s ok – because he just gets back on the phone, computer, or podium and asks again. I have two role models before me, one whose website I can visit and research the latest work on conflict resolution and one I can call on the phone and ask advice from – that would be my dad. If I haven’t learned by now that one person can make a difference than I haven’t been paying attention. Or, to quote Mr. Carter’s Nobel Acceptance speech, “an individual is not swept along on a tide of inevitability but can influence even the greatest human events.” So where does that leave me? I guess I just get in there and jump.

(My mother sent President Carter's office a copy of this essay. 
He read it and sent a short note back in return.)

Monday, August 10, 2015

Too Old

You’ve heard it a million times: “I’m getting too old for this.” Most recently these words panted out of my own mouth as I tried to keep up with my daughter on one of our frequent walks around town. One of the routes we take (and we have several with varying degrees of difficulty) combines the flat sidewalk along Main Street with the uphill side streets by the firehouse and the post office. It was during one of those uphill stretches that I uttered those words that often describe a once-manageable task now found daunting: “I’m (huffing and puffing) too old (more huffing) for this.” And I wasn’t even the one pushing the stroller with my toddler grandson.

The Aging Cheerleaders would have you believe that getting older is all in one’s head. Adopt a positive attitude! Do brainteasers! But it’s not. Aging isn’t just in my head; it’s in my knees, my belly and many of my internal organs. Of course it is...these body parts have been around as long as I have, generally, and some diminishment in function is to be expected. My knees don’t always bend when I want them to and when they do achieve the desired angle in an attempt to ascend stairs, there is often pain associated with the movement.  What other mechanism can last that long without some deterioration? We’re not Volvos.   The uphill climbs I attempt never get easier, but there are days when I accomplish them with less exertion. And some days I feel like Sisyphus because-- “it’s just one of those days”--another aging adage that explains why doing something one used to do with ease is now fraught with some difficulty.

Until quite recently, I have been slightly oblivious to having to “deal” with getting old. I admit, those lovely comments insisting I must have been twelve when I had my children because how could I possibly a grandmother are sweet music to my ears. And although I am on a couple of medications that help regulate a faulty thyroid and some pesky hypertension, it’s not that big a deal. A little wear and tear on this old body has not hampered me in the things that I really love to do, which, quite honestly, isn’t that much--physically speaking. I like to walk (on flat sidewalks), do some swimming, putter in the garden and get down on the floor with my grandson to play trucks. I often opt for the low footstool instead of lowering myself all the way to the ground to play, but so far he hasn’t complained.  I can usually complete one of those brainteasers, too, if it’s not too hard. 

Facing my own aging struck me recently when I needed to choose a photograph to include with a local interview for my book. There is one (and only one) photograph of myself that I don’t mind showing to others. Obviously I use it every chance I get. But it’s slightly outdated and I was compelled to get a new one and the new one makes me look old. And it’s not the photograph that makes me look old. I am old. I am an older woman now and I look it. My hair is grayer, there are deep lines in my face and smaller ones around my eyes. And if you pinch the skin on my elbow, it stays that way much to the delight of my grandson, who tries it out every chance he gets. I must have thought all those aches and pains I’ve complained about over the last few years were going to go away. But they’re not. They’re here to stay and I am--to employ yet another old adage--not getting any younger.  My body and my mind and my looks are, in fact, aging. But, as they also say (and they must be those same AARP cheerleaders), aging beats the alternative.

In an effort to broaden my perspective on the aging process and how to best navigate its sometimes-choppy waters, I consulted my uncle Art. Uncle Art has been enjoying nonagenarian status for several years now. And counting. As far as I know he golfs fairly regularly and he and my aunt Diane play cribbage every night. They enjoy a steady stream of family visitors while managing a full social calendar, which includes continuing education courses. He told me, “Old age is a reward. When you reach old age, enjoy it fully. Don’t complain about not being able to do this or that any more than earlier in life when you would dwell on one obstacle for too long. If life is a meal, then old age is the dessert. And dessert is the best part.”

So that’s the advice I’m going to follow. The changes and challenges of getting older are no different than the changes and challenges at every life stage. A challenge is a challenge. Bodies will succumb to the planned obsolescence of physiology at one point or another.  I will learn to remember to enjoy the meal that has been my life. Besides, I always did like dessert best. 

Sunday, August 2, 2015

That's What Friends Are For

Annie, my 34-year-old daughter, packed up her little family early one beautiful Sunday morning, much earlier than I was ready to get out of my pjs and come downstairs, to attend a friend’s housewarming party--in Vermont. That’s a three-hour road trip up and a three-hour trip back. I am still nosy enough to have inquired the night before: What’s the hurry to see them? Tony had been out of town for most of the week and they had been out all day Saturday. Wouldn’t a nice relaxing Sunday at home be just what the doctor ordered?  I pressed further (I’m not only nosy, I can be downright persistent sometimes).  “Why don’t you just tell them this weekend won’t work? Can’t you go up another time, maybe when you can spend the night?”

I got one of those looks. You know the look. The look comes when you’ve ventured way over the line and meddled too far into your child’s business, particularly your 34-year-old child. The look says, “Um...I’ve got this...stay out of it.” And most of the time I can. But, sadly, I had another question. “Annie, what’s so important that you have to go this weekend? They’re not moving out--they just moved in!”  She answered as if she were trying to convince Luca to please eat his peas--exasperated, but trying to be patient: “Mom. These are the kind of friends that we really need to work at. They won’t understand if we don’t come.”

And there it was, right in front of my eyes. The generation gap, looming large.  You’ll be happy to know, dear readers, that I did finally stay out of it. In fact, I stayed so far out of it, I stayed in bed Sunday morning while they bustled about trying to get out of the house on time. I had worked all day Saturday, so even though I was a little sorry to see them go, I was a little excited at the prospect of some alone time.  And as I heard the car pull out of the driveway, I thought to myself, “thank god I don’t have friends I have to work so hard for.”

Friends now are people who won’t get mad at me for canceling because I’m wiped out. Because, honestly, they’re probably wiped out. We are at the age where getting together is fun, but getting out of getting together works, too.  Attendance at a birthday or retirement party doesn’t get recorded as a measure of friendship. Often, not showing up when expected garners a concerned call or email. I don’t want to “work hard” at friendship and I suspect my friends don’t want me to either. Because they don’t want to.

Friendships after fifty are based on mutual respect and common interests. In my 30s, I am pretty sure I had friends that I felt I had to “work hard” at. Friends who had come into my life by way of the school my kids went to, the places I worked or people my husband was friends with, when I had one. 

Just recently I invited a friend and her husband to join Angelo and me for an evening at a jazz concert. Even though I was looking forward to it (kind was outside and the forecast was for blistering hot temperatures) when she emailed me the morning of the concert to tell me that she and her husband were going to beg had been a long weekend and they needed some down time, I assured her it was fine. In fact, it sounded like such a good reason to me, I didn’t go either. Angelo and I stayed home, hung out on our shady porch and grilled outside. No black marks on either side of this friendship.

I tried to impart the wisdom I’ve gained on Annie’s Sunday plans, but she didn’t need my wisdom. This is her friendship to manage; they may stay friends forever (based on all that hard work, I hope so!) or theirs may wane with the passing years. That’s her business and definitely not mine. It’s a process of maturing that can’t get skipped over because that’s how we figure out who our friends are.  If she needs help with this, she can ask her other friends. That’s what friends are for. 

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Voglio (I want)

When I'm in Italy I want to wear high heels.

I don’t know why, I don’t wear them here in the US. (Right. Everyone knows I wear flip-flops, don’t they?) I don’t even want to wear high heels here. I fall when I wear high heels, even standing still. But when I am sitting at a café in an ancient piazza, with a bell tower and a splashing fountain and a guy washing his shirt in that fountain and a black-haired, sunglassed woman with red lips strides by confidently--and quickly--in heels, I think to myself, “Maybe I should get a pair of those.”

That’s what being in Italy does to you. It makes you want things. For example, Angelo and I were home a little over 24 hours and we were already looking at houses on the real estate website in his hometown. There is only the one company; it’s a very small town. We think we want to find a small apartment so we can have a place to go back to every year. See? Now I want to go back to Italy every year because once every couple of years isn’t enough.

Here are some other things being in Italy made me want: 

  I want to eat food like this every day.

I want to walk down the street as an old couple next to the Naples waterfront where the tourists and townspeople are still partying at 11pm and sit at a café with Angelo and have a Prosecco. 
(He’ll have an espresso. Someone has to get us back home.) 

   I want a local bookstore with a bar inside.

  I want a bottle of wine that costs $1.70. 

   I want a view like this out my bedroom window.

You have to grow up in Italy, I think, to wear heels there. They have cobblestone streets with dangerously wide spaces in between the cobbles. I watch in wonder as women walk by talking on phones, lighting cigarettes, chatting with friends and they don’t fall down. Ever. I think it’s in the blood. I am positive that if I put on a pair of shoes with a higher elevation than an eighth of an inch, I’d be face down before I took two steps. So, wearing heels isn’t in the cards for me. But all those other things? I think I can manage them.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Join the club

Things sure have changed, haven’t they? It used to be that if I wanted to buy a bottle of wine, I’d go to the liquor store and get one. Simple. These days, as with most everything, I can get it online. For months now, I get emails several times a week from a couple of online wine sites with whom I registered with unbelievable offers, helpful buying tips and rapidly expiring $15-off coupons. I open some, but usually delete them because, at 57, if I want a bottle of wine, I still go to the liquor store and get one.

Then along came Club W.

I don’t even remember how this little guy wrangled his way into my checkbook. I think it was the promise of getting a bottle of wine on the house. I opened the email, clicked on the link and discovered I would have to sign up to get the deal. So I did. I signed with the other two helpful online wine proprietors, didn’t I? Why not make it a hat trick? But, after I did so, the deal disappeared into the ether and I lost track of it.  I closed the fancy, scenic wine country page, deleted the email and forgot about it. Not a difficult thing for me to do.  

Then, the following week, Club W showed up in my email again. They wanted to buy me another bottle of wine. Since they were so persistent, I allowed it. They didn't send me just any bottle of wine, Club W wanted to know my preferences and my tastes.  I thought that was thoughtful. I looked through the selections, chose my 3 bottles (I had to buy two to get one, but still, it seemed like a good deal) and entered my credit card number. They assured me that I would be happily receiving my shipment in a few days and that my next selection would ship next month about the same time.

Wait. What? What the heck did I just sign up for?

It turns out that Club W is a subscription wine service and you get three bottles every month, rain or shine. This seems to be a trend in Internet shopping: you can get almost everything without even lifting a credit card anymore, except that first time. There have always been subscription services for goods, but it was typically limited to reading material; magazines and newspapers and Book of the Month Club. Of course, Harry & David have been selling apples and pears by subscription for years, but, now, it seems like everyone’s getting into the act. Take a look at all the places you shop online--most, if not all, will offer an auto-reorder option for your oft-ordered items. You can get anything from razor blades to maternity clothes delivered to your door on a regular basis. Bourbon, science experiments and dog treats will also arrive monthly for you, your kids and pets.   Plated is one of many companies that will gather ingredients together for a specific recipe and send you dinner in a leak-proof, insulated box. (You still have to cook it.) They have cute and clever names like Mantry (The Modern Man’s Pantry), Flicker Box (a monthly assortment of candles. Seriously, candles) and MeUndies (Yes, it’s underwear). So, why am I surprised that there is a subscription service for something as normal and essential as wine? 

I guess I’m not as surprised that it exists as much as I am that I finally gave in to such a service. I am not an Internet novice; I typically don’t let the siren's call of easy delivery tempt me. Also, I am Yankee-frugal. But this is wine. And in fact three brightly labeled selections showed up pretty expediently and in time for the weekend. Each selection had an accompanying recipe. (Thanks, but my go-to recipe is cheese and crackers.) I will have to investigate this subscription further to see what I’m in for. It’s not like I don’t drink the stuff. (In fact I wrote about wine in the last post.) Maybe I can get on board with this deliver-stuff-to-me-every-month system.What else can I get to come to my door?

I'll let you know.

Friday, May 15, 2015

White Hot & Red Faces

A few months ago, during the longest winter in recent memory (which in my case is just a few months ago) my body clock decided to ramp up the hot flashes. On one hand, nothing wrong with a little extra heat during a record-cold winter. On the other hand, we had recently changed over our oil heat to gas and added insulation throughout the house, so extra heat was not terribly welcome. The flashes were too hot and too frequent. If I had been able to turn them into a super power and melt the five feet of snow in our driveway, I might have been a little friendlier to the ever-present volcanic blasts. But, no. Hot flashes do not melt snow. They do not burn calories. They only make the sufferer look as if she has just emerged from an overly long session in the sauna and that’s never a pretty look.

So, how to manage these gusts of fiery heat?  Drink wine, of course. (When isn’t that a good idea?) None other than the New York Times itself reported that, “One drink a day in women who are not at risk for alcohol abuse may be beneficial for the heart. Red wine in particular contains a substance called resveratrol, which is classified as a phytoestrogen and has estrogen-like effects.”

Wine is like estrogen. I’m not going to argue with the New York Times.

Although the recommended lifestyle changes are to “Avoid hot flash triggers like spicy foods, hot beverages, caffeine, and alcohol,” this clearly paves the way for wine as a hot-flash solution, as I am pretty sure alcohol refers to bourbon and tequila. Probably not vodka; vodka is a vegetable.

So, after months of research, I am here to help. The following is a selection of Wine Pairings to help with as many instances of menopausal tribulations as possible. I figured two for each category, because, let’s be honest--we’re not really worried about bouquet and tannins right now, are we? Please know, that in the interest of science, I will continue my research as long as necessary. Anything for womanhood.

White Hot & Red Faces: A Guide to Menopausal Wine Pairings

Let’s start with the obvious:
Hot Flashes
·      Hot to Trot Red Blend - I couldn’t resist this one: Why? The name. Also, it is a blend of Merlot, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon and other red varieties and I figure the more resveratrol-bearing red skins, the merrier.
·      Neige Apple Ice Wine - It has ice in the name (and the method). What could be bad about that? Also, it has apples in it, so you get a little more fruit, too.

·      The Prisoner Wine Company Prisoner 2013- Obvious, right? You feel like a prisoner in your own skin, don’t you? Have a glass of’ll feel better. Maybe wear stripes, too.
·      Rhiannon Red 2013 - Put on some Fleetwood Mac and take yourself back to a time when life was simpler (and by simpler I mean not so many annoying people around).
·      Flip Flop wines - (You didn’t really think I’d forget this one, did you?)  I paired Flip Flop wines with Forgetfulness for the helpful alliteration...Flip Flops For Forgetfulness.  Also, if you forget your favorite wine, there are many to choose from: A reliable Chardonnay, a friendly Cab Sav and a Pink Moscato for when you’re feeling frisky. Alliteration galore!
·      Bogle Essential Red - Because it’s essential, you might remember it.

Weight Gain
·      Cupcake Vineyards Riesling- you really have to go with a white wine for its lower calorie count, so choose this one. You get your wine and a cupcake all in one.
·      Champagne - your choice. Champagne has fewer calories than most reds or whites and you might as well celebrate the fact that you haven’t hit anyone over the head with a wine bottle yet.

Loss of Libido
·      Opici - Or anything that comes in a 1.5 liter bottle or box. Make sure you and your spouse or partner drink most of it and you’ll both fall asleep and forget about having sex.

General fatigue
·      The Chook Sparkling Shiraz - it’s sparkling and it’s red...doubly good for you, right? Bubbles are so good for cheering you up.
·      Mulderbosch Rose 2014 or Casal Garcia Vinho Verde Rosé  - Both of these are good choices to perk you up a bit. The Vinho Verde is slightly effervescent and I added this one because it’s good and I like to use the word effervescent.

Good luck, ladies. You’re welcome.

Monday, April 20, 2015

57 years young

As many of you know, my daughter Annie and her little family are currently living with us. To not admit there are some adjustments would be to flat out lie about how easy it is to live with your children after they've moved out (several times) and moved back in again. But, mostly, it is.  We probably would feel that way anyway, but the icing on the cake is that Angelo and I get to hang out with our grandson Luca almost every single day. That is one of the best gifts ever. And the cherry on the icing is that, at 3-1/2 years old, Luca makes quite an obliging slave.

I realized this one winter evening months ago when I was happily ensconced in "my chair" in the living room. Before bed Luca often plays for a little while while we finish up from dinner.  I played the elder card and went to sit down and relax. I could reach the lamp next to me, but I needed a little more light in the room. Luca was playing on the rug next to the floor lamp behind the TV stand. The switch is also on the floor, so I asked him, "Lu - do you think you can turn on the light switch behind you?" He needed a little instruction, but within seconds he had accomplished his task and looked quite pleased with himself. 'What a wonderful gift I've just given him,' I thought to myself, 'the feeling of accomplishment.' So I gave him that gift every chance I could.

"Luca, can you turn on the lamp again?"

"Luca, will you put this in the garbage for me?"

"Lu, see if you can put this book back on the shelf."

And so on and so on. I rarely moved from my chair all winter as all my previous knee-shuddering tasks were taken over by my enthusiastic and helpful slave, er, grandson. He wanted to help me; what was I going to do, disappoint him?

Then, I went to Florida for a few weeks when my Dad was in the hospital. Between me and my two siblings, if we weren't by my dad's bedside in the hospital, we were at my parents' apartment with my mother. I'm not saying that my parents were helpless...but let's just say that with a little extra muscle in the house, I was doing a lot more heavy lifting.

"Cindy, can you open this jar?"

"Cindy, are you sure you don't mind taking the laundry down?"

"Cindy, can you reach that book up on the shelf for me?"

And so on and so on. I was happy that I was able to be so helpful when there was so much during that time that was making us feel so helpless. I was bending down for this, running out for that, and carrying the other things. One day it dawned on me...I was the slave! I was the one whose knees still bent and whose back was still (mostly) pain-free. I could see to drive at night, run the shopping cart back to the corral and drive the car around to the front. I was still the kid.

One evening, soon after I returned home, I took my rightful place in my chair. I lowered my cold, aching, aging body into it and prepared for an evening of reading, catching up on Agents of Shield and enjoying the rest of my Cab-Sav. Luca was on the rug with his zoo animals, and he looked up and said, "Gramma, want to play with me?" I left my chair, switched on the floor lamp and grabbed the elephant and the peacock and sat next to Luca on the rug.

The chair can wait.