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.
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.
Love may be in the air, but today there was also rain and gloom. My antidote was to go in search of the perfect pink flowers for my Vday dinner a deux. With the Be Mine banner hung, it was time to think about the table.
I love our table and it fits our space beautifully, but it’s not always easy to find tablecloths to fit. When I saw this beautiful gray floral print that was the ideal size, I didn’t hesitate to make it mine. I even purchased a few gray plates to complete the perfect setting. With this tablecloth in mind, I decided I wanted to use pink spray roses as a centerpiece. It took me three stops, but my perseverance was rewarded!
I separated the stems and made three small vases to line the center of the table. I wanted them to look like I had gone out into my cutting garden and snipped a few blooms. I interspersed different candles with the vases, including a couple of the tapers to provide some height and add interest. But the piece de resistance today was finding a Chalkboard Paper Roll at Target for $3.00! I used it down the center of the table and the drama it adds is a fabulous touch.
I have a set of cocktail plates I got years ago on clearance at Pier One. I’m sure Mr. Smith will take pleasure in knowing my heart still beats for him! I tied a spray rose to a piece of chalk for each of us as a party favor. What sweet nothings will be written?
Mr. Smith will be working all day on Friday so I’ll be preparing our lover’s feast. But he is providing the bubbly and nothing says it’s Valentine’s Day like the pop of a freshly opened bottle of champagne…
When I stopped into the post office to mail a package on Monday, I remembered to ask for some stamps. The postal worker assisting me responded: “Love is in the air!” For a split second I thought how great it would be if he and his fellow employees broke into song, a disco rendition of Love Is in the Air ala Tom Jones! What he did do is show me the valentine stamp offering which I quickly purchased. Perhaps next time, a song.
I had another Valentine encounter on Tuesday at Target when I watched an extremely patient mother look on as her two young children carefully selected their Valentines to distribute to their friends and classmates. She recognized the seriousness with which they approached this task and didn’t rush them or try to influence their choices. That’s some great mothering.
Since love is in the air, everywhere I look around (read in Tom Jones voice), I decided it was time for me to get rolling on my V Day preparations. I already have the requisite Valentine greetings ready to go to my grandchildren and I am digging out my heart-shaped cookie cutters for some fun cookie baking. I already found the absolute perfect card for Mr. Smith and I’ll be preparing a special dinner for him on the day of love.
All that is left for me to do is create my Valentine cloche. Brainstorming what to put under the glass dome to create a holiday vignette is great fun for me. My goal is to primarily use items I have already. The Love Nest is short on storage space, so I prefer not to purchase still more holiday gewgaws and anyway, I like the challenge of using what I have in different, creative ways. This year I decided to honor both Valentine’s Day and New York City. I have a beautiful Empire State Building statue that my sister Jeanne gifted me. Mr. Smith and I have been in New York City on Valentine’s Day and I love looking up at the heart on the Empire State Building, so I added one!
I searched for other items that I have around the apartment that evoke New York City. When my niece and I took the tour of the New York City Public Library, we visited the gift shop and I bought a Christmas tree ornament of one of the sentry lions. There’s no reason a Christmas ornament can’t be shown a little love at Valentine’s Day. And luckily I had a tiny NYC taxi. I was ready to start creating.
One issue with my cloche is that the bottom is not completely flat so items don’t always stand up the way you would like. Years of working in a flower shop (thank you, Donna!), taught me where there’s a will there’s a way. There is a lot of engineering involved in flower arranging and display design so I knew I simply needed to shore up my building and all would be well.
With my New York City items in hand, I needed to add a few whimsical touches. Some pink paper shreds for the bottom, chocolate hearts for fun, and in the background I hung a glittery heart that I cut out from a Valentine Mr. Smith had given me years ago. The only things purchased were the paper shreds and the chocolate hearts! I will save the paper shreds and I’m sure the chocolate hearts won’t go to waste.
Do you decorate for Valentine’s Day? Do you send Valentines or bake cookies? Check in on Wednesday to see a sneak peek at my Valentine tablescape and setting, complete with fresh flowers.
In July of 2013, I began keeping a written record of the books I read. I no longer remember the catalyst for this list keeping and I’m sure I’ve neglected to record a few along the way, but when I look it over, I see a roadmap of my life. It reflects my interests, conflicts, and challenges through the years. Where some titles are like running into a familiar old friend, some I barely remember.
Last Saturday I was recording my last read in January when I noticed it had been a banner month. I normally average three books a month, but in January I had read seven! Mr. Smith did have a two-week cold in January which resulted in us spending more time than normal at home. I obviously put those hours to good use.
Early in January, I wrote about a couple of the titles I read, Rules for Visiting and How Reading Changed My Life. Of the remaining five books I read in January, one that I won’t soon forget is The Fires of Autumn by Irene Nemirovsky. Born in Kiev, Ukraine, Ms. Nemirovsky was of Ukrainian-Jewish origin. She lived more than half her life in France, but was denied French citizenship. By the 1930s, Nemirovsky had become a hugely popular and critically acclaimed writer. Then came the war and the Vichy government’s anti-Jewish laws. Nemirovsky was dropped by the literary establishment and was no longer able to publish under her own name. She was arrested as a Jew during German occupation and died at Auschwitz at the age of 39. Her husband, Michel Epstein, was arrested shortly thereafter and also died in Auschwitz. Their two daughters, Denise and Elisabeth, survived the war due to the kindness of neighbors who hid them from the Vichy Government. The girls did not know the fate of their parents until after the war ended. Miraculously, a suitcase containing some of Nemirovsky’s writings survived the war. In the suitcase were family photographs, diaries and other writings, including the manuscript for Suite Francaise, first published in the United States in 2006.
The Fires of Autumn is considered its prequel. Set in France, it revolves around a group of friends and neighbors from the beginning of World War I through the early years of World War II. The main character is Bernard, a naïve young man still in short pants who wants to fight for the honor of France. Witnessing the realities of war, he quickly loses his idealism and becomes cynical. He returns home from World War I addicted to obtaining wealth and success. His doting mother feels she no longer knows him. His lover eventually leaves him. And then comes World War II. The book does start out a little slowly, or that may be just me. I’m always a little impatient with “setting the scene”, I want to get right to the point. I stuck with it and my reward was a satisfying read that taught me a lot and made me think. What more can you ask of a book?
A difficult read, but one that I didn’t want to put down, was JoAnna Goodman’s The Home for Unwanted Girls. At one level it’s an age-old story. Young girl gets pregnant, parents reject the boyfriend and force the girl to give the baby up for adoption. The baby, Elodie, is raised in Quebec’s impoverished orphanage system run by the Catholic church. On a deeper level, it tells the story of a dark time in Quebec’s history. Elodie’s life takes an even more tragic turn when, along with thousands of other orphans in Quebec, she is declared mentally ill as the result of a new law that provides more funding to psychiatric hospitals than to orphanages. Not only are the orphans declared mentally ill, these young children are forced to be caretakers of the truly mentally ill, feeding and bathing them, all while trying to avoid the wrath of the nuns. There were moments while reading I had to remind myself that this horrendous offense against thousands of orphans truly occurred as it is hard to understand such greed. But the Duplessis Orphans scandal, orchestrated by Premier Maurice Duplessis, a staunch Catholic, was real and took place in the 1940s and 1950s. Duplessis’s time as Premier is now referred to as “The Great Darkness”. This book is going to haunt me for some time.
I am considering making other book lists. One would be Books That I’m Searching For. A small notebook kept in my purse that I would have when I happen upon an extraordinary used bookstore would be just the place to record these titles. I may also start a list of books I’d like to purchase for my grandchildren, sharing some of the books I loved growing up as well as more current fare. After all, who doesn’t love a book list?
“You may want to sit down for this.” This was the caveat my friend, Julia Tipton, used before revealing to others the adventure on which she and her husband Tracy were about to embark. The news was certainly unexpected and astonishing, but for those of us who know Julia, it was amazingly true to her nature, and as it turns out, to Tracy’s.
I’ve known Julia for over 30 years, meeting her fairly soon after Mr. Smith and I moved to northeast Indiana in 1988. We belonged to the same philanthropic organization, I took an exercise class she taught at the local Y, and we trained together for my one, and only, 5K race. She has devoted her life to public education starting out as an elementary teacher, progressing to instructional facilitator for curriculum, to principal of an elementary school. In 2019, Julia left public education when she was hired as the executive director of the new Community Learning Center in the town where she lives, helping to build a non-profit from the ground up.
Julia and her husband Tracy met when they were in the eighth grade. They dated off and on through high school and college, eventually marrying in 1985. They filled their home with three active offspring, providing them with a safe space to grow and flourish. With the daunting task of parenting three children and successfully launching them into the world behind them, they were just beginning to truly relax into their “empty nest”, enjoying their adult children and their newfound freedom.
The Sunday before Christmas 2018, they were walking into church when they ran into a friend who works for Hand in Hand International Adoptions. She shared she had just made a trip to Wisconsin to retrieve two children from an adoption situation which had turned dreadful. Knowing how connected the Tiptons are in the area, she asked if they knew anyone who might be looking to adopt. To say Julia was surprised when Tracy responded “Yes, us”, is an understatement.
The two children who were brought back from Wisconsin, Jethro and Dorothy, are from the Philippines. They share the same mother but have different fathers. Neither knew their father and they primarily lived with their maternal grandmother.
The children’s odyssey began one morning when Jethro was 9 and Dorothy was 5. In what must have been a painful decision, their grandmother had them pack a bag and took them on a boat to Manila. Once they arrived in Manila, Grandma walked them into Social Services and left them there. Social Services took them to an orphanage and the two had no subsequent contact with their mother or grandmother.
During their years at the orphanage, they hung onto the dream of finding their “forever family.” They thought that had happened when a couple from South Carolina chose them as the children they wanted to adopt. Along with apprehension, there was excitement and hope as they boarded the plane to South Carolina. After a month there, the parents decided it wasn’t going to work out. I cannot imagine what Jethro and Dorothy were thinking and feeling when they boarded their flight back to Manila.
They returned to the private, non-profit child caring home they were at before the trip to South Carolina, somehow hanging onto the faith that life was going to work out ok. Eventually they were chosen for adoption by a second couple, this time from Wisconsin. Once again, they boarded a plane and flew off to meet their forever family. They lived with their prospective parents for over six months which ended shockingly with the mother’s suicide. It was at this point, Julia and Tracy’s friend went to rescue the children from this tragic situation.
Tracy had often brought up the idea of fostering children during their marriage, but Julia so totally immersed in the public education system, felt she was “fostering” all day and was not drawn to the idea. But faced with the plight of these two children, now teenagers, who had endured so much in their short lives, Julia and Tracy talked. What followed were hours upon hours of soul searching and a couple of sleepless nights. The situation was critical and they didn’t have months to make a decision. They brought their adult children in for a family discussion to get their insights and perspectives. Then they came to a decision. They would open their home and their hearts to these two orphans who had known so much disappointment in their lives and try to provide them with an environment in which to heal.
With the decision made, the adoption agency began the process of their investigation. Before they knew it, Tracy and Julia received a phone call telling them they had been approved and the kids could move in to their home. The first order of business was to decide where Jethro and Dorothy would go to school. They were looking at three possibilities: the district Julia worked in, the district where their son teaches which is smaller and more rural, or the local district where they would be living, increasing the possibility of nearby friends and activities. The choice soon became crystal clear.
While meeting with the guidance counselor at the local district, a small miracle occurred. Many tears were shed that day when they met a student currently attending the school who had been with Jethro and Dorothy at the very same orphanage in Manila. Later Dorothy shared her journal with Julia, showing her photos from the orphanage of Jethro, Dorothy and the student. The serendipity of this still makes me misty eyed.
Happily, the children’s adoption was finalized on March 21, 2019.
Julia is the first to admit there have been challenges.
“It is hard and I think it should be hard. Nothing this big should be easy.”
They have spent the past two years learning each other and building trust, as well as adjusting to cultural differences. Through the bumps and hiccups along the way, Tracy and Julia have marveled at the resiliency of these two children who have endured so much disappointment over the years. Dorothy and Jethro are very close, but very different, each having their own particular needs. Jethro will graduate from high school this year. He goes to school half days and is employed through the Interdisciplinary Cooperative Education Program the other half. He opened his first bank account and is learning to handle money. He plays guitar and is happy to entertain, singing and dancing. At age 20, Jethro is looking forward to graduation and hoping to get his own apartment and try life on his own.
Currently 16, Dorothy is more reserved than her brother, but has found a niche in soccer and tennis. She’s never experienced the support of close friendships with other girls her age, and Tracy and Julia are thrilled to watch her grow more independent and form relationships. Having grown up in a family of all girls, Julia has often said her sisters are her rocks and she hopes Dorothy will develop a similar support system of her own.
In addition to bringing her and Tracy even closer, this experience has made abundantly clear something they knew all along. Humans have the innate ability to grow to love, nurture and protect another human being, whether you gave birth to that person or not. Yet after speaking with Julia about their experience, I was still left wondering exactly what made them say yes. What was the deciding factor? I believe the seed was always there in Tracy. His nature is such that he feels most content with kids in the house and people to care for. And as for my beautiful friend Julia, much like young Owen in John Irving’s A Prayer for Owen Meany, I believe all her life experiences were preparing her for this moment.
In flipping through Julia’s Facebook feed looking for information to help me tell her story, I came across something she posted as encouragement to others. “You are capable of amazing things.” Julia and Tracy were 57 when they stepped out of their comfort zone to save two children and nearly 60 when the adoption was finalized. At an age when many people are regularly checking their retirement clocks, they are attending high school sporting events, making sure homework is done and providing a safe environment for two young people to heal. At any age, that’s a pretty amazing thing.
I will turn 65 this year. At one point in time, I thought of 65 as ancient. That I would be sitting in my rocker, easy listening music on the radio and waiting for my children to make that occasional, obligatory phone call to mother. Boy was I wrong…
I do spend some time sitting on my favorite perch, looking out at the world below me, wondering what I’m going to do for my third act. My children are all independent and thriving, there are no aged parents to care for and with the least responsibilities I’ve had in a long time, I’m searching for my next endeavor. This past Sunday I took several online quizzes with regard to life expectancy and it seems the internet believes I’m going to live to be 92. I want to spend however many years I have left continuing to evolve and grow.
I’m not keen on being identified as a senior citizen. The term congers up visions of someone who drives too slowly, dines at 5:00 p.m., and fills her evening with crocheting. An alternative for senior citizen for women is “a woman of a certain age.” Urban Dictionary defines that as “Ironically polite term for a woman who does not want her actual age known.” The Oxford English Dictionary describes “a certain age” as a time “when one is no longer young, but which politeness forbids to be specified too minutely: usually, referring to some age between forty and sixty (mostly said of women).” With all due respect to Urban Dictionary and the Oxford English Dictionary, I am claiming my age! I am shouting from my 10th floor apartment “I am 64!”
I don’t need you to dance around my age or give me a cute moniker. Please know that when I am obviously more than a decade older than you, I find your addressing me as “young lady” condescending and obnoxious. I am not afraid of growing older and prefer that you look at me and recognize my countless life experiences that have brought me this far. Aging is simply moving forward in life.
In 2020, there are more women over 50 on earth than there have ever been. The ones I know are pretty amazing. For the next four months, on the first Sunday of the month, I will introduce you to a woman who has made powerful changes in her life at “a certain age”, sometimes through choice, sometimes not. Please visit my blog on Sunday to meet Julia, a woman who is truly evolving, personally and professionally.