Reality Check


Penny Lane, so named because when I first saw her, her coppery color reminded me of a penny and the next morning, I couldn’t get the song Penny Lane out of my head, so she became Penny Lane. 

She was dumped at my kitchen door, about 11 pm on a 30º December night. Fortunately, my granddaughter was here. She heard the cries and came to wake me. “Grandma, there’s a cat, or something, outside the kitchen door…”  My response, through the haze of sleep, “Are you sure?”

And so I got up, and there was the kitten, crying. I set up a warm bed for her in the shed and went back to bed myself. Four years later, she is my reality check.

It was Sunday morning. I wasn’t that hungry and I had things to do. So breakfast was a waffle with butter and maple syrup. Carbs and sugar. Way down on the nutrition scale. But sometimes, my enthusiasm for a project causes me to forget about eating, and hydrating. The result is hypoglycemia, not noticed until I am about to faint. I don’t feel hungry or thirsty. Just exhausted and ready to fall down.The only thing I could do was lie down, and maybe nap, to wade through this episode. I should know better. I’m old enough to Know Better. This wasn’t the first time. 

So it was, after preparing a pasta dish, and a chocolate cake, not a special event; it’s just what I felt like having, one of the advantages to living alone. (Alone if you don’t count six animals.) I was wrung out, like an old rag needing to be hung up. 

I climbed up on the bed, feeling totally washed out. Penny Lane jumped up and came to me with the most nurturing a cat can give.

I looked at her and thought, you are my reality check. Whatever I had been doing was nothing compared with her presence and cat compassion. She rubbed against my hand, and settled in next to me, purring all the time, as if to say (and this is my interpretation), stay put, settle a while, rest. So I did. 

Each of us has a talent. It may be obscure, it may be transient, it may be of no use to anyone but ourselves. It’s true of animals too. Penny Lane has several talents, but her understanding and caring are foremost. Not bad for a stray foundling. 

She also helps with bed making….

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That Small Voice

It is winter; the locks on the doors tend to be stiffer. But the lock on the back door could not be opened from the outside with the key.  I found that out the hard way. Thoughts of getting a locksmith hung in my mind. They might want to change the lock and it was one I really liked. Old fashioned, efficient. A sturdy handle and a bolt lock.  

Then that small voice reminded me: WD40.  Got the can, and squirted in every lock orifice that was available. Within seconds, the lock was loosened. Good. Another pesky job taken care of. At the most minimal charge possible; WD40 is always in the house. 

Little did I know at the time, how important this attention might be.

Within days, going out the kitchen storm door as I have done for 29 years, I hustled to hang the freshly filled bird feeders. A downy woodpecker had complained about the lack of suet. I returned and the door wouldn’t open. It’s a storm door, not the proper door! How did that happen? How did it lock itself? 

But I had my keys, and went to the back door. Opened immediately with the key (bless WD40!).

Went to the kitchen and saw the problem: the hook had done a dance and fallen into the eye.  

In 29 years, this had never happened before. And somehow, the back door was accessible where two days ago, it had been inaccessible. 

This is how they work. They is the guardian angels and guides who work with us. We all have them.  But do we listen to them?  Their promptings are often subtle, or in disguise, meaning we may never know the reason for that random thought that, for example, we should take a different route home. Sometimes, we get a clue for that re-routing, like a car crash or first responders scene reported on the regular route.

Yesterday, I started out on a regular morning route. About 1/4 mile from home, I got a “prompt” to go a different way. Either way was fine (I thought), and it was Sunday so the schools were closed, no 15 mph speed limit zones or school buses to deal with on this other route, and I listened. I turned around and took the alternate route. Then I remembered. The usual route had a couple of spots where water accumulated on the road. It was freezing outside, and these areas could present a problem for drivers. Ice. I am not looking for a place to crash my car much less involve anyone else in such a scenario. 

I didn’t need to know I would need that back door lock to be fixed, because…. I needed only to hear, and listen, to the prompt and attend to it. Nice timing.

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A Friend in Meeting today talked about an older woman he met as she was preparing to leave hospital. She smiled, genuinely, and he appreciated that. She shared that we all have something to give, and that a smile is often returned in kind. Another Friend noted that with Covid restrictions, it can be difficult to see a smile behind a mask, but if you watch the eyes, you can see it there. 

“When you smile, your brain releases tiny molecules called neuropeptides to help fight off stress. Then other neurotransmitters like dopamine, serotonin and endorphins come into play too. The endorphins act as a mild pain reliever, whereas the serotonin is an antidepressant.”  (

I am frequently teased about smiling “so much”, but frankly I have reached an age where appreciation for every day scenes and events brings spontaneous smiles and even laughter.

It can be watching my dogs and cats as they romp, or sleep. A sleeping pet, or child, can be a beautiful thing. It can be a sunrise or sunset, or the birds that come to my feeders. It can be falling snow, or the flowers of Springtime. It can be a stinking hot day where luxury is found in a glass of iced tea, and doing nothing. It can be meeting with a friend, humor, kind words, and the honor of having such people in my life. 

So I take the teasing, with a smile (!). Selfishly, it makes me feel good (God bless endorphins and serotonin), so why not share it? 

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It’s been ten months since isolation, quarantine, no touching, mask wearing and distancing were established as sensible rules to at least try to avoid the Covid virus. 

Lack of food or nutrition is one kind of starvation. Another is the loss of connection through touch.

I learned early, as the child of an alcoholic, to let go of expectation. Surely, I thought, at least for my birthday, the drinking could stop; we could have a peaceful time at least for that one day. But no. I was too young to understand the compulsion generated by a gene and the difficulty in resisting that. I was simply hurt. 

I expected that the love for a child could override the need for a drink, if only for one day. There had been brief spates of being “on the wagon”; why not one for my birthday? On that one day, I hoped I might feel like a child who was loved. I did not understand that, at any given time, the craving for alcohol could override any other consideration.

Letting go of expectations has proved to be a valuable tool. And somehow optimism was not crushed. Disappointment, I learned, was based on expectation. If I didn’t expect a certain outcome, then I would not be disappointed. Without expectation, without that projection into the future, be it near or far, I was safe. 

So yesterday when, after the usual cleaning, the dentist did his exam, lifting my tongue, peering into my mouth for anything missed or aberrant, and gently probing my neck for swollen or tender lymph nodes, I surprised even myself when I said (being “old” I can say just about anything), “Oh, that feels SO good”, and he kept up the gentle massage for a while longer. It had been months since I had felt that kind of caring touch. 

And when my granddaughter says, when we can be together again, we will be like that really tough velcro that you can hardly pull apart, I welcome that.

It has been so long. 

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80 and Beyond

To clarify for those of you who have not been subjected to my rationale: when one turns a certain year, say 6, you have completed 6 years. So for me to turn 80 means I have completed 80 years in this body, on this earthly plane. I had little respect for or interest in being 79. That number seemed to have no glamour or prestige. It was a way station. Thus I have felt entitled to call the past year, my 80th year, albeit in progress. And when I turn (properly) 80, I can be 80 for another year. I started doing this about half way through my 59th year, finding 59 another uninteresting year, and have been selective as to which years were worthy of more than one calendar year. 

U.S. participation in World War II began the year I was born. I’m not sure the two events were connected. My Dad was in the Navy and could never talk about what he did, but he was awarded medals by overseas governments. My mother was a “housewife”, and an alcoholic. I had no siblings to lean on, but was blessed with an adoring grandmother, a 6th cousin, and an aunt who mentored me until their deaths. My goal as a young person was not “coming out” as a debutante, but to get into a good college and stretch my proverbial wings. Typical teenager seeking freedom. 

After my first round of graduate school, I moved to Miami where I met my first husband, Art. Subsequently we moved to Australia, divorced, and I met my second husband, Mike, a man I still consider a soul mate. Almost 20 years after moving to Australia, we moved back to the US, and divorced. My third partner, George, was introduced to me at a dinner party given by the eldest son of the aforementioned 6th cousin. The time lines were 10.5 years, 15 years, and 8.5 years, and each of these partners, each a good man, has died. 

So now what? Now I get to brag about my age and celebrate that there are lots of things I can still do, maybe not so well as I used to, or slower. In particular, the brain is a bit sluggish; parts are wearing out. 

But the main thing is that I have an appreciation for life that I did not have when I was young.  There has been a lot of learning along the way. I often manage to stay in the “now”, or at least to visit it on a regular basis, and whatever age you are now, know that that ability is truly a blessing: grab it if you can. 

Completing 80 years gives one perspective. Thus, I want to thank each of you for being part of my life. There are so very many highlights, the kind that keep one laughing in retrospect and going for years in gratitude. 

Thank you.  

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Early Morning Adventure(s)

We all have our traumas. How traumatic is in the eyes of the beholder and there is nothing like professional back-up for assistance. 

About 3:25 a.m., a sound that mimicked a large bird that has fallen from the nest, filled my house. It took a couple of minutes to figure out it was not a bird, but likely a “detector”. It was the CO monitor. I did what any “sensible” person would do: I opened a door and windows, called 911, checked on the animals (none of whom was groggy), checked the monitor battery (which was fully charged). 

Officer Eades arrived from the local PD; and then 2 vehicles (or was it 3?) from the Fire Department. Bless their hearts, they scoured the house, shed and basement with their CO detectors. Basement access is difficult enough but I had booby-trapped it with hoses that had been pulled in when freezing temperatures were imminent, and not put away properly.

This was one of those times when one can look around the house and see it through someone else’s eyes. The clutter, not so much the dust after last weekend’s cleaning, the cat and dog toys, dog beds in partial rehab from Cinco’s chewing ability, animal carriers, equipment for a knee replacement (which is not going to happen now), books waiting to be read, etc. Not to mention the hoses.

So whether it’s a sick child, a sick pet, a sump pump with no back-up battery in the face of a power outage, a tree down, a death in the family, etc., it’s a trauma. And these days, a trauma on top of a trauma with on-going national Covid infection rates rising. 

End result – having company at 3:30 in the morning is not necessarily a bad thing. Having professional assistance is great. A diagnosis of “old” detector, not CO presence, is the best. Mira! has a new friend in Officer Eades, and some of us could go back to sleep. 

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Observations on life now

I am a child of privilege. By birth, skin color, education, and scented soap in the shower. My first word was not Mama but most likely, “why?!”.  Education encouraged me to question, to challenge, to be an instrument of change, and to be not afraid of any of that.

I have had jobs that some would judge as unworthy of my degrees/education status. Any job I left, I did so voluntarily, to move on to something more interesting or productive, with valuable experience and no regrets.  

Now at the age of an Elder, I have learned, explored, experienced life in ways many people never even think about. “Fate” has plonked opportunities in front of me and I have responded. That in itself is a privilege, to identify the opportunities and be willing to jump in. Some would say that I have had my failures, depending on how they see my situation(s); others would say, as I do with gratitude, “what a learning experience!”  It has not been without pain, loss and re-orientation, and not just for me.

And now I watch as the world as I have understood it, is apparently falling apart, with a pandemic and riots reminiscent of the 1960’s. The unrest at that time propelled me to move overseas. 20 years later, I returned at the behest of a loved one, and stayed. 

In the 1950’s, a family member referred to U.S. society at that time, as an encore of the Fall of Rome. If she were living now, I wonder how she would describe our culture. The French Revolution would probably factor into her perception. Each enquiring generation has had their own take on what was happening at the time. 

Have I fulfilled the responsibilities imposed by my privileges? Frankly, I have bumped along, doing the best I could. Although I have been subject to the human characteristic of wanting to fit in, I have not been overly concerned with the judgements of others, and have instead embraced them as a challenge. Which puts me squarely where I am now. 

Change, loss, taxes and death. The inevitables of living as a human in the United States.  Inevitables. I know that’s not a “real” word, but it is now, because I have used it. Another challenge observed and met. 

At my age, loss looms above change, taxes and death. Every loss evokes a memory of a previous loss; they tend to compound one another unless faced and resolved. As a society, we are facing multiple losses which cry out to be resolved into new dimensions of growth and understanding. 

How successful we will be at resolution, growth and understanding has yet to be seen. 

In the meantime, everyone is fed, cleaned up after, laundry is done, and the cheese soufflé is ready to go into the oven. Life goes on. Whether we want it to, or not. 

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I was raised in a Republican family. I believe that teaching someone to fish is better than giving them the fish. My sympathies lie with health care for all, including access to medication, and a woman’s right to control her own body and make her own decisions. Living in a closed primary state, where one has to be registered with a political party in order to vote in a primary, I switch sides frequently depending on which primary looks more interesting. I guess that shows me to be an Independent.

I have lived overseas and I have some appreciation for what this country is and what it represents. But now, Betsy Ross is ousted by Nike and its critics for some offense that at the time was acceptable and for which no apology or explanation can be offered. People are criticized for opinions they held years ago and that may well have evolved since that time. The Washington D.C. 4th of July parade this year is to include a firm militaristic slant, at the cost of depletion of funds for national parks.

The current President (Donald Trump, lest there be any confusion) is not old enough to remember/be influenced by the history of Nazi Germany, evidenced by his stance on many issues as authoritarian and belligerent. Several red flags are flying while people have lost any ability to think critically, or are too lazy to see those flags. People are swept up in a rhetoric peppered with lies presented as truth while the press is hammered for doing its job, a job essential to a democracy.

Conspiracy theorists might point to Daylight Saving Time, or requirements for seat belts, as wedges in the door to government control over how we live our lives. They may be right. With the changes we are witnessing in the Environment Protection and other Agencies, I wonder when the 4th of July will no longer be the 4th, but moved to some more convenient date. Why not? No one seems to be paying attention.

In the meantime, I will rejoice in what our country has been, for me and multitudes of others who contribute daily to our freedoms, not least being the opportunity to speak for myself.


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Plans !

It has happened often enough: I have plans for the day; I have an idea of what needs to be done, where I need to go etc. And then it is six hours later and I wonder where my “plans” shifted and why. My plan this day included cooking, getting the dogs out for a ride in the car, doing some minor shopping, and going to the YMCA for a swim. It’s an overcast rainy day; not suitable for outdoor activities.

Around 9:30 a.m., after about a year of procrastination, I just felt it was the right time to re-organize the sheets shelf in the linen closet. I knew it wasn’t a huge job; I just hadn’t felt the urge to do it until now. A stab of guilt would surface when I opened the closet door as I picked a clean set of sheets, and closed the door again.

But this morning, it felt right, to tackle this job. I was looking specifically for certain pillow cases I thought were in there. Somewhere. The laundry basket served as a temporary holding space as I pulled linens out, or re-arranged on the shelf.

I never found those pillowcases but everything else went back on the shelf, in more tidy piles, and a few really old (?about 40 years) pillow cases bit the dust, or headed for the washing machine.

It’s what happened during those six hours that wasn’t on the “schedule” that made it interesting. I was barely showered and half dressed at 10:40 a.m. when the phone rang. Had I followed “the plan”, this was a call I would not have answered in person, and we know the let down of not reaching our target person when needed most. It’s why people have cell phones. I have an “old fashioned” flip phone which is rarely turned on: I still like my uninterrupted personal space, especially when I am driving or with company. Catching me at home is the best bet.

As the call unraveled a remarkable story, I realized that was why I never left the house this morning. I needed to be here for that call.

And so it is, that the “best laid plans” go astray and develop into the best reasons for that straying. Chances are, we never anticipated the denouement.


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How To Make a Good Day Better

Route 113 is a local major two lane road. Driving south, I noticed what looked like a turtle in the northbound lane. I pulled into the first road and did a “u-ey”. In my rear view mirror, I noted someone else had slowed at the site. She also did a u-turn and stopped to block traffic on the north bound side. I pulled in behind her car, flashers on. We determined that it was a snapping turtle in the road.


Snapping turtles can be quick, powerful, and easy to “piss off”.  The woman grabbed a sturdy stick and started to try to maneuver the turtle across the road. Soon, there was a back-up of traffic on our side, when a south-bound pick-up truck stopped, facing us, and a fellow got out to help. Then a man in the car stopped behind my car, got out to help. Now there were four of us trying to maneuver this not exactly social critter across the road.


Finally, the deed was done. I think we all felt good about it, including, possibly, the Snapper. Maybe not so much the traffic halted for the procedure.

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