"To be too certain of anything is the beginning of bigotry." -- Novelist Abdulrazak Gurnah

Saturday, November 27, 2021

Ghosts of Thanksgiving Past

      After Thanksgiving dinner was safely tucked under our belts -- standard fare of turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, peas, cranberry sauce -- we joined our family on Zoom and started reminiscing about Thanksgivings past. Most of the memories were fond ones -- of mini-vacations, family get-togethers, convivial dinners and good food. 

     I recalled one Thanksgiving, back in the 1970s, when my wife and I were vacationing with a few friends. Nobody wanted to cook, but being in our 20s we didn't plan ahead, so we couldn't get a table at a restaurant . . . that is, until we found a Chinese place tucked into the back of a mini-mall. We walked into an empty room, with 20 or so empty tables, and proceeded to enjoy a great meal with great service. The cuisine seemed a little out-of-place for the occasion -- I had the pu pu platter -- but we all had a wonderful time laughing and joking about our sudden and unexpected cultural adventure.

     My sister remembered with a laugh the frozen string beans our mother used to overcook. I recalled the cranberry sauce plopped straight out of the can -- and the sweet potato casserole drenched in sauce and decorated with little marshmallows.

     "Speaking of marshmallows," my wife said, "did you guys ever have Jello with fruit in it? We used Mandarin oranges. with marshmallows and sometimes sour cream on top."

     "Oh, we had that stuff," said my daughter. "It was terrible. I also remember the turnips and mashed potatoes." She wrinkled her nose. "Mom used to mix the turnips in with the mashed potatoes -- thus completely ruining the mashed potatoes!"

     But then my son recalled how he loved to sit around in his pajamas on Thanksgiving day, watching the Macy's parade and helping his mom tear apart the bread and prepare the stuffing -- and how great it tasted after it came out of the turkey.

     "Yeah," my daughter added. "And I loved drowning everything in gravy. Mom made really good gravy."

     Then my other sister recalled, "Well, our mother wasn't much of a cook. But in her defense, she made a great leg of lamb -- not for Thanksgiving, but usually for Christmas."

     I remembered the leg of lamb. I don't even like lamb anymore, but I did back in those days. I liked the lamb and the roasted potatoes and all the other trimmings -- and just the fun and the warm feelings you get sitting around the table with eight or ten or twelve family members.

     "And remember Mom's hard sauce?" my sister added. "How did she make that? I think it was basically butter and sugar. It might've had a taste of vanilla and maybe some nutmeg."

     "And a drop of rum," I added. "Don't forget the rum! But . . . what did we put it on?"

     "Pecan pie," she said.

     "No, pumpkin pie," I corrected. 

     "Maybe fruitcake," added my other sister.

     "Oh, God, not fruitcake . . . spare me the fruitcake . . . "

     And thus it went. Another Thanksgiving full of family fun and fond memories. And now it's on to Christmas . . . 

Sunday, November 21, 2021

You Don't Have to Be Rich to Enjoy Retirement

     When we're in our 50s and 60s, before retirement, we tend to think retirement is all about money -- saving up in our IRA or 401K, watching our pension grow, figuring out our Social Security strategy. But one thing I've learned in doing this blog is that retirement is not primarily about money.

     Most people will have enough money, especially if they're flexible enough to make a few changes in their lifestyle. We do not need an impressive McMansion; we do not need to wear the latest fashions; we do not need to travel; we do not need a new car, or maybe not even a car at all.

     Instead, retirement is about family, friends -- and some activities that we like to do and might even find meaningful. And all we need is the courage of our convictions. The courage to pull up roots and move near our grandchildren -- or perhaps overseas if that's what we always dreamed about. The courage to take a class, join a church group, pick up a paint brush, start a band, or just to step up to the mike and sing karaoke.

     I like to play golf and ping pong; I like to go visit my kids and grandkids; I like the volunteer job that I do. And of course, I do this blog. But you know what? I feel like I could do more, something more meaningful or impactful. I'm still searching.

     What do you like to do? What would you like to do?

     I heard some advice that I try to take to heart: Instead of just killing time, we should try to do things that we find both fun and meaningful. And whatever it is we do, it should involve some time spent engaged in physical activity, some time engaged in mental activity, and some time in social activity.

     My brother-in-law recently emailed me. He's 87, and still an avid golfer. Last week, he boasted, he almost shot his age. He got 88. Didn't quite make it; but he'll keep trying.

     I know someone else who can match his age in pushups. He's a bit younger. But a couple of times a week he gets down and does 70 pushups. And I just read about the guy who celebrated his 90th birthday by jumping out of an airplane . . . 9 times in one day!

     One thing I'm just beginning to realize, however, is that as we get older we become more invisible. People don't ask our opinion. They don't include us in social activities. They ignore our suggestions.

     Some of that is inevitable, but if we know it's a problem we can work around it. We can find something more interesting to talk about than our health problems, or how the world has been going downhill ever since the 1970s. And if we're involved in something, we can talk about what we're doing, where we're going, who we've met along the way.

     Another thing we realize is that our lives are finite. We've seen friends and family develop health problems, or decline mentally. We don't know how much time we have left. So while I don't believe we should ever give up searching, there's no reason to put off doing what we want to do. 

Saturday, November 6, 2021

Is Your Home Retirement Ready?

     Maybe my wife and I are in denial. We've been talking to some friends lately, and it seems that everyone we know has prepared themselves for living with a disability -- or "aging in place" as they say. Meanwhile, we're cruising along in a center hall colonial that was built in the early 1960s.

     We have a yard. This afternoon we're going outside to rake leaves. Fortunately, we only have to get the leaves to the curb. Our town picks them up. Still, even though we have a small yard, we have an oak tree and a couple of maple trees, plus there's a huge tree in our next-door neighbor's yard that seems to drop most of its leaves onto our lawn. 

     Meanwhile, most of our friends have moved into a townhouse or condominium. They don't have to rake leaves at all.

     We'll see how my arthritic ankles and knees hold out for the afternoon. But my wife B says the exercise is good for me. 

     We know several people who have moved out of their family home into a one-story house. The master bedroom is on the first floor. They don't have to climb steps.

     Our bedroom is on the second floor. I go up and down the stairs at least ten times a day. Again, B says it's good for me.

Be careful!
     Actually, going up the stairs doesn't bother me. But going down is a little more difficult. I get a twinge in my knee, a crack in my ankle. I have resolved to always make sure to hold onto the bannister when negotiating the stairs. I know the last thing you want when you're our age is a fall. 

     So what about you . . . have you given up lawn care, settled into living on one floor without the hazard of stairs?

     One good thing for us: We have only one step up to enter the house. I remember when we were touring around a few years ago looking for a place to retire. We considered Charleston, SC, where we have family. Every house we looked at was built on stilts. We had to climb a full set of stairs just to get to the front door. It honestly didn't bother me at the time -- we moved to Pennsylvania for other reasons -- but today I'm glad I don't live in a house that's 12 or 14 feet off the ground.

     What about throw rugs? They are a tripping hazard in my book. But B thinks that they look nice, that they brighten up the place. We've compromised. There's a throw rug in her office, and another one in the guest room. But for the most part we have bare floors, except for the carpeting in our bedroom.

     When we redid our bathroom, I insisted on installing a grab bar. I remembered the time, six or eight years ago, when I slipped in the shower. I grabbed the soap dish and pulled it out of the wall. I went down hard, taking the shower curtain and shower rod with me, ending up sprawled over the edge of the tub. I didn't break any bones. But I had a nasty bruise from hip to shoulder -- one that took two months to clear up entirely.

     Some other things to watch out for:  Lighting. We have good lighting on our stairs. But there are darker areas in the house, and yes, I have tripped over the corner of a chair, or banged my hip on the side of a kitchen counter. But even if you have good lights, you have to turn them on to do any good. I have been known to prowl through the house at night when I can't sleep and decide I need to find the kitchen, or the bathroom ... all in the dark. 

   Most of our doorknobs are the old-fashioned round ones that you twist to open or close. But we do have a levered doorknob on the front door. I don't know why. We didn't put it there. But in all honesty I do find it easier to open and close than the door to the garage which seems to simultaneously get stickier and slipperier with every passing year.

     There's definitely more for us to do to get ready for "aging in place." One thing I refuse to worry about is making the house wheelchair accessible. When and if that time ever comes, I'm heading off to a retirement community.