Tuesday, April 22, 2014

2014 So Far: Bests and Worsts




Dear George,
When I was thirty or so I rarely considered whether I was having a good year or a bad year.  There were limitless years ahead, and I had more pressing things to worry about.  Now that I’m older, have extra time on my hands, and no longer have an infinite number of years ahead to enjoy, I’ve seem to be more preoccupied with assessing my quality of life.  My New Years resolution this past January was to do something special every day.  (Not super special – but at least somewhat special.)  I’ve managed to do that at least half of the time, but I tense up when I ask myself how many really big things have happened in my life lately.  Anyway, now that we’re almost done with the first third of 2014, it seems like a good time to evaluate the year so far.  To accomplish that, I compiled two lists: (a) my best experiences; and (b) my worst experiences of 2014 to date.  I encourage readers to try this for themselves since it’s an instructive exercise.  Here’s how my lists wound up:

Bests of 2014

·       Biggest trip: To New Orleans for six days in late March, visiting J and K and our grandkids V and L
·       Most enjoyable workouts: At my line dancing class
·       Best sheepdog outing places: Eden Park and Miami Whitewater Forest (tie)
·       Best OLLI class at the university (for 50-&-overs): Behind the Scenes in the Arts
·       Most engrossing sports event: The Winter Olympics (esp. ice dancing and halfpipe)
·       Best flea market expedition: Monthly Flea-n-Tique show at the county fairground in Dayton
·       Most nostalgic kid activity: Riding in a bumper car with my granddaughter V at City Park in New Orleans
·       Best hostess: Katja entertaining 20 members of the Contemporary Club at our house
·       Biggest family laugh: When I told my NOLA physician relatives that I’d given my primary care doctor my detailed blood pressure records in which I’d listed all my systolic numbers on one sheet and all my diastolic numbers on a separate sheet (very amusing to physicians) 
·       Cutest pet: My granddaughter V's tiny white bunny, Olivia Rosetop
·       Best museum experience: OLLI Tour of the National Underground Freedom Center
·       Best fashion exhibit: "Threads of Heaven" at the Taft Museum, featuring garments of the Chinese royalty from the Quing dynasty (some of which required 250 artisans to make)
·       Best photography show: Civil War photos at the New Orleans Museum of Art 
·       Best art show:  Steffen Thomas at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art in New Orleans
·       Best gallery visit: A Gallery for Fine Photography on Royal St. in New Orleans (with photos priced to $95,000)  
·       Best movie we've seen so far in 2014: Nebraska, with a demented Bruce Dern
·       Best TV show: HBO's True Detective with Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey
·       Quirkiest TV show: The Search for Bigfoot in Menominee County (National Geographic Channel)
·       Most enjoyable book: Jonathan Goldstein, I'll Seize the Day Tomorrow 
·       Best theater:  CCM's "Les Miserables" and Broadway tour of “Evita” (tie)
·       Best opera: Donizetti’s “Don Pasquale” at CCM
·       Most enjoyable jazz outing: Aurora Nealand and the Royal Roses at the Spotted Cat Music Club in New Orleans
·       Best outdoor music festival: Rhythm Festival in Congo Square in NOLA
·       Best lunch: Baked Drum at Peche in New Orleans’ warehouse district 
·       Best dinner: Three-course prix fixe at Jean Robert's Table with the Opera Guild group on Vine Street downtown
·       Best holiday outing: Easter brunch at La Petite France with Ellie and Sam M.
·       Most fulfilling dramaturgical experience: Directing my five-year-old grandchildren L and V in our homemade play about “The Joys of Spring.”
·       Most enthusiastic dog encounter: Noisy reunion with our sheepdogs Duffy and Mike at the airport on my return from New Orleans.

Worsts of 2014

·       Saddest event: Attending the funeral of a long-time friend and department colleague
·       Most distressing news: A friend’s recurrence of cancer after several years in remission
·       Poignant week: Family birthdays in the last week of February including my mother’s and my deceased brother Steve’s, as well as my sister Vicki’s
·       Worst effect of our unusually harsh winter: Car stuck in the ice and snow three times
·       Most unpleasant financial expense: $1500 in car repairs from subzero temps (broken hoses, brakes, etc.)
·       Most anxiety-provoking: Dogs’ arthritis, evident in their difficulty climbing stairs and struggles to get up from the hardwood floor
·       Scariest accident(s): Me falling on the ice while walking the dogs and then Katja tripping on the parking lot pavement (no persisting injuries for anybody)
·       Worst recurrent nightmare: Having to teach a graduate seminar though knowing nothing about the topic
·       Stupidest comment to a doctor: Telling the gastroenterologist that I was looking forward to my colonscopy
·       Worst gastroenterologist comment: Telling me that he wasn’t going to “toss me on the trash heap” because of my age like most doctors would
·       Most annoying age discrimination: Doctor cuts my Ambien dosage in half because of federal government age guidelines
·       Daily pet peeve: The University's shuttle bus stop at our corner for which patrons wait in our driveway and on our side lawn
·       Most chronic frustration: my crummy hearing
·       Biggest life worry: What to do with too much stuff (i.e., attic and basement filled to capacity)
·       Worst late-night snack:  Katja’s leftover fig pizza.
·       Neighborhood dog losses: Lucy (died), Archie (died), Prissy (ran away), Harmony (moved to Illinois)

Like every other year, life continues to be a potpourri of goods and bads.  Apart from catastrophes to friends, the positive things for me outweigh the negatives in 2014 so far.  While I never anticipated it, I think this is mostly a consequence of being retired.  A lot of the sources of external pressure, evaluation by authorities, interpersonal conflict, and daily stress disappeared from my life when I left the workplace.  Instead I get to spend a lot of time doing things I like.  This is an unique and special time of life.  My immediate plan is to appreciate and enjoy the rest of 2014.
Love,
Dave

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Sheepdog Pics



Three sheepdogs on Ludlow Ave. (Mike, Sophie, Duffy)

Dear George,
Sophie -- Mike and Duffy’s younger sister -- came for a weekend visit last Saturday.  That’s always fun.  Two Old English Sheepdogs in the house are enjoyable, but three sheepdogs are an absolute circus.  I don’t know if it’s gender or socialization or simply genetics, but Sophie is perkier than her old brothers, and everybody livens up when she appears on the scene, even the humans.  Sophie likes to play more than the boys do, and, whenever I read the newspaper, she brings me a tennis ball to play tug of war.  Then she pushes on Mikey’s nose with her paw.  Mike growls like a grumpy old dog, but I think he secretly enjoys it. 

All the dogs are older.  Mike and Duffy turn twelve this month, and Sophie’s just six months behind.  It doesn’t seem that long ago that I came home and saw two little black and white balls of fur in our kitchen doorway.  At first I thought they were baby raccoons, but, when I came closer, I realized they were puppies.  After the death of our Bedlington Terrier, Katja and I had firmly decided not to get another dog – at least that’s what I’d thought.  However, Katja had seen an ad in the paper and, with no other plans for her afternoon, had gone to see what sheepdog puppies are like.  She claims she had no expectation of buying.  However, two of the puppies were so cute that she brought them both home.  At first I was shocked, but it took only minutes before I was completely attached to the new puppies.
  
Passersby are always surprised to learn that the sheepdogs are twelve.  They’re good-looking and could easily by mistaken for young dogs.  They are, however, showing signs of age.  Mike was born with bad hips and now suffers from severe arthritis, which contributes to his reluctance to go for walks.  Recently we’ve decided that he’s stone deaf as well, since I can’t rouse him when he’s sleeping by shouting at the top of my voice.  The dogs always leapt into bed when they were younger, but now I boost them up.  Most veterinary web-sites estimate the typical life expectancy for Old English Sheepdogs as ten to twelve years.  We worry a lot about our twelve-year-olds and take the time we have together as a blessing.  We just enjoy each day as it comes.  There aren’t many options.  Here are a few more photos of the sweeties.     
Love,
Dave







Katja walks three dogs in front of our house (Mike, Duffy, Sophie)





Mike on the back porch with flowers





Dogs milling and sniffing on the patio





The bed gets crowded with two dogs, not to mention three





Sophie and Duffy on the porch steps





Sophie with our new bear, Alfonse





A portrait of Duffy





Mike sunning himself





Alert watchdogs on the front porch (Sophie, Mike, Duffy)





Dave with three dogs (Sophie, Mike, Duffy) 





Sophie on the sofa

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Magic on Ludlow




Dear George,
Every year at this time Ludlow Avenue. the street in front of our house, is transformed into a wonderland of hundreds of white and pink flowering trees – magnolias, dogwoods, crabapples, plum and pear trees, and probably others. It’s the highlight of our spring and marks our most pleasing season of the year.  The glorious display lasts a week or maybe two at most, then vanishes virtually overnight. By the time a year has gone by, the white trees have faded from our memory, and then their reappearance is just as new and thrilling as it’s been in previous years – a vivid reminder that we can count on the regular  appearance of beauty in the world.
Love,
Dave




























































































Sunday, April 6, 2014

Perks and Perils of Senior Air Travel



Dear George,
I flew down to New Orleans over spring break to visit J, K, and our grandkids.  It wasn’t the best time to fly.  I’d just seen Harrison Ford’s new movie “Non-Stop” about passengers on a transatlantic flight getting murdered every 20 minutes.  And, of course,  the news was completely dominated by the disappearance of Malaysian Flight 370 over the Indian Ocean.  It all makes you a little edgy.  Katja was staying home to take care of our two Old English sheepdogs, and she dropped me off at the airport.

As I entered the security area, I noticed a sign that said that passengers over 75 don’t have to take off their shoes or jackets.  I was pleasantly surprised.  You get all kinds of good stuff when you turn 65.  But up to now I’d never seen a single benefit that comes from being over 75.   While I was happy about it, I wondered if they thought I was too feeble to take my shoes off.  Or am I now in the only age group where they can’t imagine one being a potential terrorist threat?  In any case, I decided to take advantage of my new privileges.  As I approached the first security checkpoint, a uniformed guy politely but firmly instructed me to take off my shoes.  “I’m over 75,” I said.  He squinted his eyes and muttered, “You don’t look over 75.”  I started to get out my wallet to show him proof, but he waved me on.  Then he called out loudly to his colleagues down the row, “This guy’s over 75!  Coming through.  This guy here.  Over 75!”  All the other passengers in the area turned to see what the commotion was about. 

I picked up two plastic bins, put my L.L. Bean knapsack in one, my wallet and pocket contents in another.  A tall woman just ahead of me took my knapsack out of my first bin, saying, “That’s my bin.”  It wasn’t hers, but I didn’t feel like quarrelling so I got another bin.  I got through the body scan X-ray machine successfully after some instructions.  Then another security guard came up and said, “You have your jacket on, so I’m going to have to give you a full patdown.”  I didn’t see the point since I’d already passed my body scan X-ray test, but I raised my arms obediently.  He patted my shoulders, underarms, rib cages, upper and lower back.  Then he said, “Your jacket is zipped up, so I’m going to have to pat down your stomach.”  By that time I concluded that the TSA agents got irritated when people were allowed to keep their jackets on and responded by deliberately hassling them.

My nonstop flight to New Orleans went by quickly.  I’d arranged to meet my son J at curbside under the Delta baggage claim sign.  The Delta sign was mounted on a large concrete pillar, and I was surprised to see a carry-on bag leaning against the pillar though nobody was in the vicinity.  J was running late.  Fifteen minutes went by, and still nobody had come anywhere near the abandoned carry-on bag.  I started thinking about the warning announcements they make about unattended suitcases in airports.  The bag was looking more and more ominous.  There didn’t seem to be enough traffic in the immediate area to attract a mass bomber.  On the other hand, if the pillar came down, it could bring down the whole upper level roadway.  I thought about moving to a new location, but I didn’t want to leave the spot where J planned to pick me up.  Instead I moved to the opposite side of the pillar, hoping that it was strong enough to bear the brunt of an explosion.   It never did explode, and, for all I know, the bag might be still there.

My visit to New Orleans was thoroughly enjoyable: all the major tourist sights, lots of good music and good food, and many family excursions.  Six days later J dropped me off at the airport.   New Orleans had the same sign in the security area:  “People over 75 don’t need to remove their shoes and jacket.”  Now I knew what that meant.  It means: “If you are over 75 and physically infirm, you can leave your shoes and jacket on.  If you are over 75 and not physically infirm, take your shoes and jacket off now.”  I promptly took off my shoes and jacket.  That worked excellently – no questions, no patdowns,  only the same routine harassment that forty- or fifty-year-olds are subjected to.   

My plane was set to take off on schedule.  I was tired and soon nodded off in my seat.  Some time later I was jolted awake when I felt the plane make a sudden sharp righthand turn.  I immediately thought of the Malaysian airliner changing course over the Indian Ocean.  Startled, I opened my eyes and looked around for hijackers.   Seeing none, I glanced out the window.  Surprise -- we were still on the ground!  The pilot had just made a righthand turn onto the runway to prepare for his takeoff.   Aside from a hair in my Diet Coke, the rest of my trip was uneventful,.   Katja and the sheepdogs met me outside baggage claim at the airport.  There were no suspicious carry-on bags at curbside in Cincinnati.  Katja, the dogs, and I had an exciting reunion.  Lots of barking.   I was glad to be home again.
Love,
Dave

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Being Five-Point-Five




Dear George,
I’m recently back from a six-day trip to New Orleans, visiting J and K and my grandkids, V and L.  It’s difficult being a long-distance grandparent.  When we’re all together, it’s engrossing and enjoyable, but then it’s another four or five months before we see the kids again.  V and L are now five and a half.  Each time we get together they’re more noticeably grown up – physically, mentally, verbally, socially.  Currently I’d say they are about twenty percent adult.  (Hmm…maybe fifteen percent.)  Things the children and I now share in common include liking dogs and rabbits, ice cream, Mickey Mouse and Batman, Raisin Bran cereal and tacos, hiking in the park, hitting tennis balls, knock knock jokes, and playing checkers and Crazy Eights.  In general, the children are more excitable than the adults, more easily distressed, more curious, more energetic, and more bewildered at times.  They laugh more, cry more, and sleep more deeply.  They’re much more proficient at Spanish (since they go to kindergarten at a 100% Spanish immersion school).  And they’re continually busy learning all sorts of new things. All in all, being five and a half is a remarkable time of life.  Here are some photos of L and V’s activities that I took during my trip.  This is a mere glimpse of what being five and a half is like.
Love,
Dave 





This is V at the age of five
She’s knows how to do many things
You can see that V loves being alive
It’s almost as if her heart sings





L is exactly the same age as V
He can be both serious and funny
All agree that L’s a sweet pea
It’s because his nature’s so sunny





The children love outings to City Park
They hike on the trail to Rock Mountain
Trips to the park are such a lark
Though they don’t let you wade in the fountain





L and V zoomed up in their plane
They traveled for one-point-two miles
They didn’t go all the way to Spain
But they got off with most happy smiles





V’s new bunny is Olivia Rosehop
Her dad built a very strong hutch
Rosehop, I think, is a Mini-Lop
Her fur is so soft to the touch





We went for a hike on Coutourie Trail
V found there a coconut shell
She asked a man if he’d give her his snail
Amazing, that snail didn’t smell






I’d say this rocket could fly to the moon
V and L are all ready to go
The blast-off is scheduled for half past noon
Hey Mom, can you give us some dough?








L and V like to climb up the trees
They’re not even frightened so high
You have to admire such climbers as these
Some day they’ll climb up to the sky





Iko is full of vigor and vim
He races round the yard at top speed
I took many walks round the block with him
On every bush he has peed





Checkers is not so easy to play
But the children are getting quite good
In fact L beat me the other day
Who ever imagined he would?





Our bumper cars gave us huge thrills
We crashed into one another
We collided so hard it gave me the chills
But it didn’t scare V or her brother





Each week L and V go to Sunday School
Their teacher’s name is Miss Sue
L and V always follow the rule
Miss Sue tells them just what to do





L and V got into a bucket of slime
It whirled so fast they got dizzy
The children reported they had a great time
It’s because their noodles were frizzy





L shows great promise at tennis
His forehand gets better each week
L might be a tennis menace
He's not yet close to his peak   





On Thursday V tried on a very fine wig
She hoped she would look like a doozy
I’m afraid that her wig was a little too big
Not a doozy though V did look woozy





The kids took a ride on the merry-go-round
They each had a very fine steed
The horses rose very high off the ground
V and L were great riders indeed





On Wednesday L lost his first tooth
A dollar got rid of his pains
Losing a tooth is a highlight of youth
It shows you that losses can be gains 





V and L zoomed down the slide
They went at a high rate of speed
It looked to me like a most scary ride
But these kids are brave sliders indeed





V fell asleep right on her dad’s hat
His head was a good place to rest
She slept as soundly as an Angora cat
Riding home on dad’s head is the best


G-mail Comments
-Terry O-S (4-2):  Soon you need to send this book to your grandchildren.  (A. A. Milne, “Now We Are Six”)
-JML (4-2):  That's wonderful dad. Can't wait to read it to them later today. Muchas gracias!!