You’ve got a friend… Carole King

I am still amazed and almost startled by the fact that my new lifestyle allows me blocks of time to just sit and think.  I can ponder on all sorts of random thoughts and topics.  This week I have been reflecting on the importance of friendships and why some last and some do not.

Friendships can last for a lifetime, but they can also end in dramatic ways.  All through junior high and the first couple of years of high school, I had the same incredible best friend, Gina.  She was smart, funny and beautiful.  We shared the trials and tribulations of learning to navigate the world of bellbottoms and boyfriends. Then she began dating someone who became the center of her life and our time together dwindled.  I was thrilled when she called one afternoon and asked me to meet her halfway between our houses as we had done hundreds of times over the years.  When we met that day and started walking back to her house, she insisted that I tell her what I really thought of her boyfriend.  She said I was her best friend and I needed to tell her what I truly thought.  So I did.  In my opinion, he was not the right guy and was in no way worthy of her. Sadly, the reason she wanted to know was because she was pregnant.  I hugged her and we both cried. She left school, got married, and had the baby.  Our friendship was never the same. 

But more often, friendships simply fizzle out.  We have friends or family who just stop calling or we are the ones who drop the ball.  There surely are a thousand reasons this happens.  Illness, family problems, just plain crazy busy or self-doubt about oneself.  Sometimes people just change.

In my case, I relocated.  I have found it challenging to stay connected with friends after Mr. Smith and I moved several states away.  You are no longer a part of each other’s daily lives.  Everyday intimacy and shared experiences are strong bases for a friendship and without them maintaining a close connection can be much more difficult.  It takes more than Facebook and an occasional text to nurture a friendship. 

Now that I have more blocks of me time than I have had in years, I find myself recalling memories of old friends who were part of my life.  I spend time thinking on whether to try and reconnect with them and wondering if you can recapture lost connections.

You would be hard pressed to find anyone who denies the importance of friendships for your physical and emotional health.  Everyone from the Mayo Clinic to Good Housekeeping writers stress the importance of positive friendships to our wellbeing. While most people are lonely at some point in their life, studies indicate that loneliness, particularly in our sixties, seventies and eighties, is widespread.  It seems a little perplexing because I find older women so fascinating.  We have outgrown much of the drama and competition.  We are stronger and more empathetic.  And probably have more time to nurture friendships.

There are friends of circumstance, folks we meet just living our lives, and they are lovely.  But there are also those friends of the heart, kindred spirits you feel drawn to.  I am an introvert and a bit of a loner, but still long for that connection, a partner in crime.  Someone who allows me to grow and feel good in their presence.  My sister comes pretty close to fitting the bill, but she is 13 years older than me and still sees me as the “little” sister.  Mr. Smith and I are two peas in a pod, but I believe having other people in your life who add additional dimensions make you a better, more interesting partner.  

Australian novelist, Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach reflected, “Old age transfigures or fossilizes.”  I want to be one who is transfigured.  The ups and downs of the past 64 years have made me both stronger and kinder and I have learned the value of women friends in my life.  I haven’t seen my old friend Gina in almost 40 years.  I heard she got divorced and remarried.  I know she has at least two children.  I do wonder if she is also a grandma.  And I wonder if I am in her Friends Hall of Fame, because she certainly is in mine.

C’est la vie.

“Language was invented for one reason…”

I have fond memories of sitting in Mr. Strycker’s English class in seventh grade, diagramming sentences. While others in the class often moaned when we were asked to pull out our notebooks and begin diagramming, I was in my happy place. First drawing a line to separate the subject from the verb, I would then use my trusty ruler as a straight edge to draw precise diagonal lines for the adjectives and adverbs.  Even when it became trickier with gerund phrases and infinitives as noun, I reveled in the challenge. I was a genuine English language nerd. I haven’t diagrammed a sentence since high school, but I do think about subject-verb agreement, split infinitives and dangling modifiers.  Mr. Strycker’s lessons have stayed with me all these years.

Today is National Grammar Day.  An obscure holiday to be sure, but one I salute.  It was founded in 2008 by Martha Brockenbrough who also founded the Society for the Promotion of Good Grammar.  But in today’s world of hashtags, tweets, emoticons and shorthand phrases, does grammar still matter?  

The new generation might argue grammar rules are no longer relevant, they have become obsolete.  If another person understands what you mean, you have accomplished your goal.  Are the rules antiquated, or have we simply gotten too lazy to apply them? In our digital age, everyone is a writer.  In-person meetings and phone conversations are often replaced with emails, text messages and three-letter abbreviations.  Do you ever consider what impression you are giving the receiver of your email or text?

Every time I push ‘publish’ for a blog post, I experience some uneasiness.  I do love grammar, but I am not an expert.  While blog writing is supposed to be relaxed and natural, I still want to show respect for my readers and clearly and concisely deliver my musings.  

So avoid using the word ‘very” because it is lazy. A man is not very tired, he’s exhausted. Don’t use very sad, use morose. Language was invented for one reason boys. To woo women – and in that endeavor laziness will not do. It also won’t do in your essay.

John Keating, Dead Poets Society

So my answer to the question does grammar still matter is yes. It certainly matters to me.

C’est la vie.

                        

Nevertheless, she persisted.

There are only a handful of people in my life that I can remember meeting for the first time. Lou Anne Pillers is one of them.  On a gorgeous sunny afternoon in the summer of 1990, I was corralling my brood out to the pool area of our town’s brand spanking new Day’s Inn where we were meeting a new employee’s family.  A woman sitting poolside looked up from her Diet Coke and with her blond hair and distinctive sunglasses, I immediately knew it was Lou Anne. We sat together watching our collective children perform their best aquatic tricks, ensuring they didn’t drown in the process and began the dance of getting to know each other.  We were brought together because Lou Anne’s husband had accepted a position at the same printing company that Mr. Smith worked for and the Pillers were in town looking for a place to live.  Luckily for me, their search led them to purchase the home two houses down from me on Diamond Street.  It was the beginning of a long and event-packed friendship.

Lou Anne quickly settled into life in her new town.   Over the years our friendship strengthened, our children grew older, and life was busy. While coordinating events for her two children, slumber parties for her daughter and outdoor activities for her son, she still found time for book group, church activities, charity projects and providing many satisfied customers with delicious baked goods.  Her cheesecakes are legendary in our small Indiana town.  When both her children were in school full time, a dear friend of hers persuaded Lou Anne to take a position as an assistant at a preschool, which she did for the next eight years.

Despite her busy life, Lou Anne still felt incomplete.  She had taken some college classes after high school and “piddled” at it over the years, but in 2002 finally decided that she was going back to school and pursue a teaching license.  She isn’t sure what pushed her to finally commit to get her degree, but she felt it was the right time.  Perhaps it was her daughter off to her first year of college or the shocking events of 9/11, both events that make one aware of the passing of time.

So she left her preschool position and became a college student with the goal of becoming a history teacher.  And she loved it.  Undaunted by instructors who were younger nor bothered by being the oldest student in many of her classes, she excelled, earning top marks.     One day in a conversation with an instructor she mentioned that her major was social studies.  Their response was, “Do you know how hard it is to get a job teaching Social Studies?”  Well, no she didn’t, so she simply added an English minor to her academic load.  

Five years later Mr. Smith and I found ourselves sitting in an auditorium and looking on with affection as Lou Anne received her college diploma.  In 2007 with her teaching license in hand she began the job search.  

While obtaining her degree had been easier than she anticipated, finding a job was much more difficult. She would often get an interview, but not the job.  She would go for the interview, leave thinking it had gone well, only to watch someone younger and perkier land the position.  Seeing a pattern developing, Lou Anne signed up to be a substitute teacher.  Disappointed but not defeated, she persevered, hoping to make connections that would lead to a full-time teaching position. Few new teachers think substitute teaching is an easy gig and while there are a couple of classes in her early subbing days she would like to forget, for the most part Lou Anne found the students to be great.   Her reward for this was a principal who appeared in her classroom doorway one morning, checking on all the classes with subs that day.  “Oh, it’s you.  I never worry when you’re the sub.”  But when she interviewed for a position there, despite having concrete evidence of her ability as a teacher, she still failed to get the job.  It went to a young woman fresh out of college.

Subbing was exhausting so Lou Anne was thrilled when she landed a long-term assignment.  An English teacher had left in an angry huff in February and she stepped in to finish the year for her.  She felt she had found her home.  The entire English Department and the principal acted like Lou Anne was a natural for the permanent position.  Yet at the end of the academic year, the female principal retired, a young man became principal, and he decided “to go in a different direction.” Again, she was stung by disappointment. Was it her age?  It certainly felt like it was.

 Was it that every principal she interviewed with was male? Or was it her?  Feeling more than a little frustrated, Lou Anne did some research on a group of students she had met while working on her degree who were also endeavoring to make a career change midlife.  She was surprised and discouraged to learn that none of the group had found a full-time teaching position and many of them had allowed their teaching license to lapse. But not Lou Anne.

She was disheartened by what she viewed as recent lower expectations of students and a creeping apathy toward learning at many of the schools and frustrated with finding a permanent position.  Yet she didn’t give up.  In 2013 she was rewarded for her perseverance when she accepted an invitation to join the faculty at St. John Lutheran School.  She knew the school.  Her children had attended St. John’s and she thought it might just be a great fit for her. And it was.  Instructing 6th, 7th and 8th grade students in Social Studies, US History, English Language Arts and Art, she would be teaching all things she loves.  

One benefit of a smaller size school is that it fosters a close-knit staff.  Lou Anne feels like they are working together toward a goal based on trust that allows her independence and creativity to flourish. In addition to her teaching responsibilities, she helps with extracurricular activities like spell bowl, fundraisers for the annual Washington DC trip, student council and outdoor education.  Teaching different subjects calls for a tremendous amount of prep work.  Starting her workday at 7:00 a.m. and not leaving school until 5:30 or 6:00 p.m., she still feels the need to spend some time in her classroom each weekend.

Fulfilling goals at any age is empowering and she will always be proud and grateful she persisted.  In a bittersweet decision, Lou Anne will be retiring at the end of this school year and her talents will be missed.  A part of her is sad to be leaving because she feels she has accomplished a lot and touched many lives.  But the pull of the prospect of time spent with grandchildren and relaxing days watching TV from her sofa without feeling guilty is fiercely tempting.  No lesson plans, no papers to grade, no grades to record.  Just Lou Anne, the cozy couch and the remote.  And probably a Diet Coke.

C’est la vie.

Our fingerprints don’t fade from the lives we touch. Judy Blume

Mr. Smith and I were Facetiming with our 9-year old granddaughter, Olivia, this past weekend.  She was excited to show us a charm bracelet which had belonged to her great-grandma Pat.  It was a piece of jewelry Pat had curated during her life and now it is Olivia’s.   While studying the different charms she came across a palm tree.  “Hey, did great-grandma Pat go to Hawaii???”

Grandma Pat’s travel charm bracelet is a wondrous way for her great-grandchild to get to know her better.  Pat was 83 years old when Olivia was born.  When you’re a little girl and your great grandma is in her late 80s, you only see the wrinkled, feisty old woman.  It is difficult to realize she was once a young girl and woman with dreams of seeing the world.

When I asked Olivia about her favorite charms, she happily explained that she particularly loves the hourglass, the tricorn hat, and, of course, the Eiffel Tower.  Pat added the hat when she visited Boston.  Olivia had read a book about the Boston Tea Party and listened to the Hamilton soundtrack and feels drawn to the hat.  Pat’s fingerprints on Olivia’s life. Paris is a destination that Olivia and I hope to one day visit together.  Perhaps she can wear the bracelet when we are there and we can drink a toast to Pat. The hourglass remains a mystery, but perhaps a reminder to all of us of how precious our time is.

Olivia and her Great-grandma Pat at Pat’s 90th birthday celebration.

I do not have a charm bracelet, but I’m hoping someday my granddaughters and great-granddaughters will sort through some of the items I leave behind and take them for their own.  I hope wearing a piece of jewelry or a silk scarf that once belonged to their grandmother who loved them so dearly will give them confidence and comfort. And maybe just a little curiosity about the old woman who treasured both her grandchildren and her mementos.

C’est la vie.

Music & Lyrics…

Most mornings after Mr. Smith leaves for work I tidy up our apartment, either read or write for a little while and then about 11:00 take a break to go to the gym.  Last Wednesday I headed out for my noon exercise class, had a great workout, then headed home.  I was full of endorphins and, as usual, singing along with the radio.  I laughed out loud at myself when I looked down at my dashboard display and suddenly realized I had been singing the wrong words to an Aerosmith song since 1987.  In my defense, in 1987 I was the mother of a seven-year old, a four-year old and a two-year old.  In other words, I was a little distracted.  But my apologies to Aerosmith for mishearing Dude (looks like a lady) and belting out Do Just Like a Lady for the past 30 years!

Apparently, many people mishear music lyrics.  A classic from my generation is Credence Clearwater’s There’s a Bad Moon on the Rise.   So many people heard it as There’s a Bathroom on the Right that the songwriter, John Fogerty, occasionally sang the misheard lyrics in concert. Hold me closer, Tony Danza (Hold me closer, tiny dancer); Sweet dreams are made of cheese (Sweet dreams are made of these); the list goes on and on.  And I’m not sure about her ex-lovers, but Taylor Swift would be insane not to appreciate all the attention Blank Space received because people heard Starbucks!  Apparently even her mother asked her why she was singing about Starbucks.

There is a word to define these misheard lyrics.    It’s a mondegreen.  This usually happens when a person is listening to a poem or song.  When the listener is unable to clearly hear a lyric, they simply substitute words that sound similar and seem to make some kind of sense.  There are difference reasons why we sometimes don’t hear the song lyrics that the writer has toiled over.  The singer may not be enunciating very clearly.  Without any visual clues, is difficult to interpret when words are run together.  And you may be listening on lousy stereo equipment. I have a memory, albeit hazy, of being at a party circa 1975 when I’m Not in Love by 10cc start playing.  The party tunes were obviously being played on a better stereo system than I had, because when the chorus of “Big boys don’t cry, big boys don’t cry” came on, I thought, huh, so that’s what they’re saying!

As it turns out, mishearing lyrics goes back to my childhood.  I remember watching I love Lucy and The Bozo Show, but I don’t remember Here’s Geraldine.  But I obviously watched it because the theme song is still stuck in my head today.  On our recent visit with our grandsons I thought it might be fun to teach them the song and they could sing it for their parents.  While the tune is ingrained in me, I could only remember the first couple of lines:

                        Be kind to your parents, you know they deserve it.

Thanks to the wonder of the Internet, I was able to pull up the lyrics and couldn’t believe how wrong I had been.  And I wondered, did I sing it for my parents?  Did they chuckle in private at my faux pas?  The actual words are:

                        Be kind to your parents, though they don’t deserve it.

We are governed by familiarity and if we aren’t sure of lyrics, we fill in with something recognizable.  I was a docile and obedient child.  It wasn’t conceivable for me to think a children’s program theme song would say parents don’t deserve respect.  I didn’t teach it to my grandsons.

There are websites devoted to the subject of mondegreens. There are online quizzes, studies on “auditory illusions” and YouTube videos galore.  You can spend hours on the Internet reading misheard song lyrics.  But now Mr. Smith is home so…

Excuse me while I kiss this guy…

C’est la vie.

Technology is anything that wasn’t around when you were born. Alan Kay

I have slowly accepted technology into my life. I’m certainly not a computer whiz, but no longer consider myself a complete Luddite. I cherished my first cellphone, a lovely flip phone, but Mr. Smith converted me to an iPhone several years ago. I have a few apps on my phone such as Instagram, Messenger and Apple Music, pretty basic stuff. Mr. Smith, on the other hand, has a more extensive inventory on his.

This past Saturday morning we headed down to the D.C. area to visit our kids and grandkids who live there and celebrate Sam’s seventh birthday. We stayed at a hotel that is part of the Hilton family. Mr. Smith had made our reservation online through the Hilton app. Using this app, he checked us in online and received a message back asking if he wanted to use his smart phone as his room key. Of course he did! He received a text when our room was ready, and with no need to stop at the registration desk, we used Mr. Smith’s phone in the elevator to access our hotel floor, and unlock our hotel room. While it was pretty slick, when traveling solo, I think I’ll visit the registration desk to check in and get a key.

After unpacking, we headed over to see the birthday boy and his family. We took a walk, played at a playground, dug up rocks, and shot some hoops. The weather was beautiful and we spotted many daffodils poking through, promising that spring is not far off. That night we went out for pizza and then headed back home for cake and presents.

The next day I got to hang out with my grandsons while their parents went out for a belated Valentines day lunch and massages. The boys and I frosted cookies and spent a little time cleaning their rooms. Sam’s choice for dinner that night was a Japanese steak house and no technology was needed to keep kids occupied as the hibachi chef provided the entertainment, flipping food at them and squirting water in their mouths.

Back home after dinner, the boys quickly changed into their PJs. I hit the jackpot with two of them being in particularly cuddly moods that evening. There’s nothing like having your grandchildren vying to sit on your lap. Our grandsons love technology so grandpa and I told them about things from our past that they will never be able to fully grasp like party lines. In a world where the vast majority of adult Americans have a cell phone and seem to be on it constantly, it seems a bit like science fiction to our grandsons that we used to wait to make long distance calls after 5:00 p.m. or on weekends because the rates were lower!

I’m sure some of our reminiscing bored them, but they still snuggled. I am aware that the day will come when grandma’s lap won’t hold the same appeal, but until then I will treasure every bony wiggle, no app required.

C’est la vie.

The Art of Growing Old…

I’m too old to be young and too young to be old.  This quote from Evelyn in Fried Green Tomatoes sums up what I’m feeling these days.  I’m not ready to start polishing up my obituary, but I recognize I am entering my third act.

When I contemplate the remaining chapter of my life, I know I want to be the author.  When you are a child, your parents write your script.  On my own from 18-23, I had no clear direction. I know there are individuals who in young adulthood take control and endeavor to forge their own paths, but I think they are few and far between. I did make the choice to marry at 23, but in retrospect I think that decision was largely driven by social expectations and limited exposure to our wondrous world. Luckily, I chose a mate well.  Then we had our sons and when you are raising a family, they become your focus and direction. But now, pushing 65, life has grown simpler.  I am lucky to be basically healthy, all our children and grandchildren are healthy, and Mr. Smith still loves me. I’m not naïve enough to think my remaining years will be all champagne and beach sunsets, but I hope to direct them as much as possible.  In looking for guidance, I went to the place I always go.  Books.  

The Art of Growing Old, Aging with Grace by Marie de Hennzel was referenced in several articles I read about aging, so I decided it was time to check it out.  Marie de Hennzel is a French clinical therapist, largely focusing on the art of aging well.  She is also the recipient of the Legion of Honor, France’s highest honorary decoration. I found her book to be positive and heartfelt, drawing from many of her life challenges and personal experiences.

There is no doubt that we live is a society obsessed with youth.  If you feel you have an issue with your appearance, there is more than likely a cosmetic surgery procedure you can undergo.  But Dr. Hennzel believes that in order to age gracefully, we need to dwell less on the physical aspects of aging and focus on the positive emotional changes.  Accepting that we may be slowing down and acknowledging that this slower pace will allow you new observations and insights is just one of the positive aspects of aging.  She doesn’t ignore our inevitable physical deterioration and provides practical life plans for dealing with the fears of becoming a burden on our families, illness and isolation.  

I do think my time spent reading this book was time well spent.  I will share that for me, it read a bit like a research paper full of academic references and studies. What I was really seeking in a book about aging, was something with a more conversational tone.   Like sharing a cup of tea with my beloved Aunt Ruby while she shared her best wisdom for growing older and remaining so loving and kind.  I’ll take inspiration from both.

C’est la vie