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Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Reflections on Changing Roles

I love to plan trips.  I love to travel most of the time.  And I love to reflect on the good times afterwards.

This morning I am chuckling to myself at a comment Dan made after we visited the new Whitney Museum in lower Manhattan a week ago.   I went up to the counter and as I ordered "one adult,"  Dan wondered what I was doing and what I was going to call him--forgetting that he was the "one adult" and I was going to be the "senior." 

Earlier in the evening, Jim and I found our way to the Whitney to meet Dan but not without uncertainty and several iPhone checks.  I know we didn't take the straightest and easiest route from the L station. When Dan was with us, we followed his expert lead as we walked to Ribalta's in Union Square where he made suggestions for the best pizzas  and treated us to dinner.  We followed his lead again as he chose the best subway for us to take back to the hotel--the limited that stopped at 51st Street and not the express that went to Grand Central. 

We ended the evening with drinks at our hotel.  That is,  two of us ended our evening.  Dan was on to his next engagement meeting friends back in Williamsburg at 10 pm.

Our roles in life are changing,  I hope we don't get to the stage when our children need to take the role of parents for us--or care givers.  For now, we can enjoy their company--and we hope they enjoy ours!


Thursday, December 24, 2015

Day Seven, Eight, Nine, Ten and Home?

I'm writing from a lovely, very contemporary room in another of the Hilton brand hotels--this time the Newark Airport Hotel.  This stay was not a part of our plan.  We hoped to be home but our flight was cancelled due to weather conditions along the route and there was no other way to get out of here before Christmas evening.  So here we are and we are at peace with it--except for the fact that I neglected to bring along extra medications.  And we are running out of clothes.

Tuesday (Day Seven)  we walked in the rain to Penn Station and took the train to Princeton.  We checked into the Courtyard by Marriott again, ate supper at Ruby Tuesdays, and met Jeff and Susan at Princeton University Chapel for the PHS Holiday Concert.  All groups from the freshmen chorale and orchestra to the more senior groups were amazing.  The venue at the Gothic chapel is impressive especially when lights are dimmed and the choir processes carrying candles. 

Back to Ruby Tuesdays for the Ruby for me and white wine for Jim and an apple strudel flatbread.  We were the last customers of the night.

Day Eight
A slow start and a walk in a light rain along the Delaware Raritan Canal and then lunch with Jeff at Main Street CafĂ©.  In the last several weeks we have had time alone with each one of our adult children--and I had lunch with Susan alone--moments to treasure.

We returned the rental car and Susan took us to the train station.  There was a crazy fellow on the train--I wanted to tell him to take a "chill pill" --a phrase I had forgotten but seemed appropriate.  The conductors seemed aware of him.  He was not really threatening, just completely hyper and talkative. 

As we were checking our gate at the airport we got word that our flight was cancelled.  An agent gave us a number to call while standing in line and we were booked for two days ahead--Christmas evening.  There were no other flight alternatives.  We sat down and took stock.  We tried car rental agencies but no one had anything available for one way rentals--even at $280 surcharges.  So we got a room at the Hilton Airport hotel, took a shuttle, had a lovely supper and just relaxed. 

I did have to let David know that I could not play the organ for the Christmas Eve service and that makes me sad to cause problems for him.

Day Nine

We enjoyed a complimentary continental breakfast in the Newarker restaurant and extended our reservation for another day.  We plan to take the train to Princeton to do some laundry, have supper with Jeff and family, go to church with them, and head back here.  Both of our children and their spouses have made us feel so welcome in their homes.  Michael offered to pick us up even here in Newark.  
___________________________

A change of plans!   Maybe there will be no Day Ten of travel!  We are at Newark waiting for our 5 pm flight to O'Hare and then a 7:30 flight to South Bend.  We are optimistic!  The Hilton cancelled our reservation and put it down as a late check-out.  I hope to end this travel segment of the blog right here.  No more adventures wanted or needed!

Day Ten (sadly!)

The 5 pm flight was delayed two hours for some cargo readjusting reason.  We missed the 7:30 flight so they rebooked us for Christmas Day at 5 pm.  We chose to take Tri Coach United Limo home ad boarded at 9 pm CST arriving at the airport in South Bend around 1:15 EST AM.  So it was Day Ten after all.  We almost chose to stay at another airport Hilton but there was no guarantee that the next flight might be cancelled again.  So it was a 3 am bedtime but we are home and happy.

A bonus of seeing everyone is that contacts are re-established.  There have been many texts, photos, and emails going back and forth as we get involved in each others' lives again.  I am so thankful for our family!

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Day Six (not being Grandma!)

I had a "bucket list" goal of staying a luxurious  hotel next to Central Park.  I thought it was the Waldorf-Astoria so I used my 80,000 Hilton points (many groceries!) to stay there one night.  Well, I was confused.  The hotel by Central Park is The Plaza which is now mostly condominiums with a few rooms at $800 a night or so.  I was a bit sad, but was convinced by everyone else to keep my reservation.


We arrived at the Waldorf an hour before official check in time.  The clerk was taking forever to find us a room that was ready and on a high floor as I requested. She told me it would be worth the wait when she booked us in the Waldorf Towers, Room 36R2.  She included two tickets for complimentary cocktails. 


We had a bit of trouble figuring out how to get  to the 36th floor but a uniformed attendant helped us and even opened up our room for us.  As we got off the elevator, he quietly told us that we were sharing the elevator with the General Manager of the hotel--so he certainly made a good impression of service to a guest! 

The room was amazing!  A view of Park Avenue, high ceilings, antique furniture, quality bathroom products,  and mirrors everywhere.  I know this room took far more than the 80,000 points I put into it.  So much for wondering if a guest who used points would be treated like the royalty and others whose photos are on the walls everywhere. 

After a bit of quiet time, we walked to Grand Central Station and took the 5 subway and the L line to the new Whitney Museum.  Jim stayed in the lobby reading someone's essay and doing crossword puzzles while Dan and I toured the museum.  The building itself was wonderful, the view of Manhattan was spectacular, and the exhibits, both the Stella and the Motley, were worth seeing. 

We stopped at the Strand Bookstore where Jim and I each picked up a volume.  The one I wanted was on a top shelf.  I asked a clerk how to get it down and she asked me, "Are you comfortable climbing on a ladder?"  Then with barely waiting for my answer and probably noticing my hesitation, she said, "Never mind.  I'll get it for you."  I was grateful!

We walked about a mile to Ribalta's in Union Square where Dan treated us to wood-fired pizzas.  Then, with Dan's expert help, we took the subway back Uptown to 51st Street and a short walk to St. Patrick's Cathedral where we joined hundreds of other tourists. 

Back to the hotel and that complimentary drink in Peacock Alley with Dan.  At $20 a piece, we were happy to pay for just one of them!  But what a treat to have a drink in a hotel bar with your son even if he did have to leave for still one more engagement for the evening at 10 back in Williamsburg.
The Empire State Building and the Google complex from the Whitney Museum
 

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Days Four and Five

Day Four started early--3 AM when I heard Alex crying hard.  His mom and dad, both struggling with bad colds, did not hear him.  I did my best to calm him down, give him a bottle, and sing to him.  At first I was optimistic as his little eyes closed and he stopped wiggling.   And then he'd bat the bottle away or throw the pacifier on the floor and try to get out of my arms.  I gave up after 30 minutes and woke up Laura who did get him back to sleep after a bit of nursing and another bottle. 

Amazingly enough, we all slept in until 8 am.  Laura heard voices downstairs and Sam, age 6, had helped Alex out of his crib and carried or dragged him downstairs.  He meant to be helpful but he was told not to try that again! 

I  left Laura's around 10:45 for the 65 minute trip back to Princeton.  It was easy enough but once again I was so grateful for the voice that directed me from my iPhone.  "At the exit stay left and then take a right to merge with I 476."  At one point I passed a two mile marker and wondered where was she?  Had she missed this one?  No, just a few seconds behind.

When I got to Jeff and Susan's, I knew Jim was there and yet felt startled to see him sitting in their living room.   I made the banket which I had started the day before.  We checked into the Courtyard by Marriott around 3 and then headed to the Princeton Symphony Orchestra Holiday Concert at 4.  Both Katie and James were singing in the Princeton High School choir.  When they began with "I saw three ships," I had tears running down my face.  I'm not sure why.  The choir was singing beautifully but it was also knowing that James was one of those deep bass voices and Katie was, as always, singing with such intensity and expression.  I was overwhelmed again by the Hallelujah Chorus but then it was the powerful words as well.  I felt far less emotion during "The Twelve Days of Christmas!"

Jeff and I picked up Olive Garden take out--five big bags--and brought them back to the house for dinner for 12 of us because Laura's family made the trip to join us.  It was a smorgasbord of Italian food with soup, salad, breadsticks, wine and a variety of pasta dishes.  (Smorgasbord--a Swedish work?  maybe just buffet?)

Katie and James and Michael are so good with the little kids.  Alex loves everyone's attention and came through with lots of smiles and laughter.  His  wobbly steps are so precious and getting stronger each day.

Now we are back at the Courtyard and it is really just fine to be with the two of us for a few hours.
Day Five

We left the Courtyard by 8:45 and thought we knew better than the iPhone guide.   We were wrong.  We adjusted and made it to Bryn Mawr Presbyterian Church with a few minutes to spare.  It was a very traditional service with an organist who tone-painted the hymns with different stops and drama. It does call attention to the words, but in some sense it seemed like a performance.  I appreciated the sermon on the Magnificat in which Rev. Norfleet mentioned that in some times and places those words were left in Latin or forbidden entirely because of their subversive content.


  It was fun to witness the Christmas Eve Pageant rehearsal in which Jasper had a speaking part and Sam and Ruth were sheep.  I'm glad that Laura signed them up to participate.  Jasper's voice was so clear and poised.

Jeff and Susan and family joined us for  a great ham dinner this time including Dan too. We opened  lots of gifts.  With 14 of us, it takes a while!

 In some sense, the excitement of Christmas is over for Jim and me.  Each family can celebrate Christmas in their own homes with their own traditions.  Dan will be leaving for a week's vacation in Mexico with friends so he will be fine too.

We will worship at our church's Christmas Eve Candlelight Service and then probably not do much of anything on Christmas Day.  We may be ready for a very quiet day in our own home at that point.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Being Grandma Mary: Days One, Two, Three

Wednesday, after a very restless and short night, I took the 6:30 am non-stop United flight from South Bend to Newark.  I wondered why the coffee I could smell on the plane was never served.  The answer?  I was sleeping and when I woke up as the pilot announced that we were 30 minutes from landing, the stewardess offered me a cup.  How kind of her to notice and give me a second chance!

As I began drinking my coffee, I put in the special ear plugs that reduce air pressure recommended by my friend Maggie.  I have had a cold for over two weeks and Maggie thought I might be prone to ear pain. It was worth the $7 price to avoid that trauma. 

Even with ear plugs, I heard a very strange sound that at first sounded like snoring.  A young lady across the aisle was crying and had her hands around her head.  I asked if she was OK.  Obviously she wasn't.   She mumbled something about pain and pressure in her head.  I offered her my ear plugs and she took them quickly.  She stopped hyper-ventilating and calmed down.  Were they really such miraculous ear plugs or did my offer at least stop her panic? 

I really didn't want them back so I gave her the little plastic case they came in.  She accepted it and said, "You were a blessing."   Later I heard her chatting in another language to someone on her cell phone as she put her coat around her bare midriff.  She wished me a good day as I left the plane. 

Getting to Princeton means a short air train ride, then the New Jersey Transit train to Princeton Junction, and then the Dinkey train to Princeton itself.  Jeff picked me up at the station. It was an amazing five hours door to door and that's all. 

After arriving in Princeton, I enjoyed another nap and then a walk in the downtown area.  I was happy I could help out with the afternoon driving and school pick-ups—a good Grandma role. 
The big event of the day was Michael’s choir concert.  Each grade level ( 6, 7, and 8) had well over 100 singers.  The program was very appropriate for each age level keeping in mind the changing of the young men’s voices over those years and the level of difficulty possible as the students matured.
Day Two
SJeff brought me to pick up my Enterprise rental car even before I ate breakfast.  I chose a cute blue Hyundai—mostly because the color was unusual enough that I could find it quickly in parking lots.  I had a couple of quiet hours alone before driving to Princeton University and walking in the rain to Susan’s office in the Frick Chemistry Building.  I loved seeing the display of the history of the Princeton Chemistry Department which she wrote and organized and the art department carried out.   

Susan and I had lunch at Alchemists and Barrister’s in Palmer Square.  I had always been fascinated by its historic building and was happy to enjoy a good lunch and conversation there.
Susan dropped me off near the Princeton University Art Museum.  I saw the Cezanne exhibit and paid homage to the Bierstadt for which Susan participated in a panel discussion a week ago. Her role as a chemist was to talk about its lead paint.
My afternoon duty was to stay at the house for the new dryer delivery.   I did that and thought I would do nothing else.  It gets dark early here on the east coast but I changed my mind and was brave enough to drive in the dark and the rain to Katie’s Holiday Funk performance at the Dance Factory.  It was worth the stress—although I had some problems with the car lights and missing the VK driveway on the way home. 
Day Three
On the road again—It's  55 miles to Gladwyne and Laura’s home.  I am a fairly bold traveler but driving on east coast interstates is threatening.  I was very thankful for my iphone and the great directions given as we went.  I thanked my guide but I guess she didn’t really hear or need my thanks! (Just noticed I wrote “we”—guess I really did not feel alone!)

One of the most important engagements of the holidays was Sam's kindergarten tea for grandparents.  Sam gave me a tour of his classroom and then we worked together on a Venn diagram answering questions about how my kindergarten experience was different or the same as his.  We were asked to bring an artifact from when we were a child.  I had to pack lightly, so I chose a 3D viewer which turned out to be a big hit.  Sam was very eager for me to show it.  "Grandma, you go next," he said.  I have heard that the little red viewers are going to be reincarnated with cell phones to show 3D videos. 

It's always amazing and fun to see Laura, mother of four, in action.  All four were in the bunk bed with her enjoying her company during the late afternoon hour.

Laura and Michael had a 8:30 dinner reservation at my suggestion.  Alex refused to go to sleep before they left and finally gave in at around 9:50--when I sang him to sleep.  Sam was still awake.  Ruth was sound asleep.  Good for her.  Jasper showed me several exciting pages in the Guinness Book of World Records and I tried to be interested in the man that held 147 pounds by his ears and others of the same amazing abilities  

And now all is quiet!






Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Christmas Angst and Joy

I have never been one of those women (mothers) who go all out for Christmas.  I was reading yesterday about how millennials don't want their boomer parents to simplify Christmas--even when they might be at that stage of their lives and ready to give away the dozens of boxes of Christmas decorations they have accumulated.  We do not have dozens of boxes of decorations and never have.  And we are very happy with our little Christmas tree this year.  I have put up a bit of greenery and a few candles with the added motivation of two parties we are hosting for graduate students over the weekend.

When I was working I had the added tension of organizing a Christmas party for my students.  Santa always visited our Family Literacy celebration and brought gifts.  This meant finding a Santa costume and finding a Santa who looked like the children in our class.  Even after I changed to teaching regular Adult Education classes, I celebrated Christmas with a brunch for the students.

 There was joy in all of this. in the midst of the stress. One of my favorite memories is having the students find the Christmas story in Bibles and read it together.  Yes, it was a public school setting but I always felt this was totally appropriate.  One year, Ephraim, a 70 year old from Nigeria, was the only one who knew where the story was found.  He read Luke 2 slowly in his beautiful British-African accent and it was as if I was hearing it for the first time.

Last year, I was able to visit our children and grandchildren just before Christmas.  On a very cold night, we walked across campus to Princeton University Chapel and heard Katie and James sing with their Princeton High School Choirs.  I delighted in hearing Katie and other PHS carolers sing on Nassau Street and just wanted to sing along.   I am going to hear them again this year with the bonus of Michael's middle school choir concert and Sam's grandparents' tea.   Retirement gives me these opportunities.

Three hats for three grandchildren
 
But...Christmas always makes me stressed.  I want to give the perfect gifts to those I love so much.  And I don't know what that would be.  Little Alex at age one is easy.  I have ideas for Jasper, Sam, and Ruth.  But the older grandchildren and their parents?  I do not know. 

This morning I put out a request for ideas on Facebook.  Maybe I'll get some good suggestions!



Sunday, December 6, 2015

The Circle of Life--and Christmas Trees

Jim and I made an important decision this year to buy a small Christmas tree.  No more struggling to tie a large tree in the trunk, to fit it into the rusty old stand, or to find enough lights that still work.  No need for one of us to be holding the tree while the other one determines if it is straight or not. We bought a little table top tree.  Our son Jeff said it was bigger than the one he and Susan had in their first apartment.  I can't remember what we had in our first apartment. 

I posted a photo on Facebook and it got an amazing number of "likes" and comments.  I think the whole idea of a small tree--or an artificial tree--or no tree at all--is something that folks our age can relate to.  At least we still have a real tree.  It doesn't smell like our usual Fraser Firs and we had to make decisions about which ornaments were worth using, but we are very happy with our cozy little tree.  And how easy it will be to take it down and carry it to the curb in a few weeks.

This was an easy "rite of passage" even if it is a recognition of our getting older and making changes.   


Friday, December 4, 2015

The "Uncommon" Cold

Jim and I have not had any colds for at least 14 months.  Probably longer.  He started taking methotrexate, an immune suppressant for rheumatoid arthritis,  in October 2014  and he was told to be extra careful to avoid infections.

However, a few days over Thanksgiving with our wonderful grandchildren left us both with colds.  Or maybe it wasn't them at all, but just travelling on airplanes three times in a week that exposed us to more germs than usual.

A week of nose blowing and I get a purple eye
It's been a rough week.  Today I feel better and can breathe most of the time without a struggle.  Feeling better makes me realize how bad I did feel!  I was so glad that I didn't have to go to work or take care of little children.  Jim taught his classes but said he probably should not have. . 

 I didn't stop all activities.  No one was able to sub for me as a docent on Wednesday at the Snite Art Museum, so I bravely toured three groups of third graders on their "Sculpture Quest."  Adrenaline flows and I didn't feel terrible until the third group went downstairs to do their project. I collapsed on the bench outside the museum before the long walk to the parking lot. 

I wonder why no one has been able to find ways to prevent colds or reliable ways to ease symptoms.  The array of over-the-counter medications at the drug store is overwhelming.  I tried a couple of them without much success.  Jim talked to a pharmacist tonight and signed for something kept behind the counter.  We'll see if that has more success.

In any case, I am glad that the common cold has been a pretty "uncommon cold" in our experience and hope that continues. 



Saturday, November 28, 2015

Thanksgiving 2015

We are home again after a week on the road--or rather in the air.  Jim had his annual Society of Biblical Literature convention in Atlanta and while he did his various meetings, I enjoyed the High Museum of Art and the MLK Center and we both enjoyed eating at various restaurants with friends or just with each other.


After the convention, we flew to Newark and took the train to Princeton for family time.  There were two nights at the historic Nassau Inn with one night in the middle at Laura's home in Gladwyne where we enjoyed Thanksgiving dinner with 14 of us.

 Actually, there were only 13 of us at dinner.  Little Alex was blessedly asleep after crying hard for an hour and pulling on his ear thus letting us know in his own way what was wrong.  He is the dearest, most pleasant and sociable baby and very, very busy so when he cries, there is a real problem.

It was so wonderful to hear all the conversations going on between our three children and their spouses and also between Katie and her Uncle Dan about colleges.  The big kids were so good with the little kids as they played football in the back yard or video games inside.

For me a highlight of the whole trip was walking into the dining room on Wednesday evening and seeing Jasper's handiwork in making place mats for the 13 of us.  I was moved to tears by his creativity and his sweetness in getting us all to complete "I,m greatful for..."   He was pleased that the first thing I listed was being thankful for our placemats!   Everyone mentioned family on his or her list; our dear Michael, age 12, was the only one to mention God.  We all should have done so!

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Taking Bus 110 down Peachtree Avenue

I am not a shopper but yesterday I took the MARTA train to Lenox Square, a very large mall with all the usual stores, but also a huge Macy's, Bloomingdales, and even a Neiman Marcus.  I didn't spend long there but instead headed down Peachtree Avenue for the Buckhead Shops, supposedly Atlanta's "Rodeo Drive."  It was a long walk past elegant office buildings, but also strip malls with mattress shops and nail salons.  My reward was finding a Trader Joe's where I purchased three of my very favorite milk chocolate truffle bars--at $1.99 each.  This is why we need a Trader Joe's in South Bend!

The Buckhead Shops area was very upscale with Jimmy Choo, Hermes,  and other such establishments.  There were many empty slots with signs "Coming in 2016" etc.  I was tired and my iPhone app said I had walked well over 8000 steps.  The nearest MARTA train station was back where I started.  I asked two security guards about taking a bus downtown and they were very helpful although they thought I really should download the Uber app and try that.

I waited quite a while for the bus.  When it finally arrived,  for some strange reason my empty MARTA card got me on free.  That was the start of my bus adventure.  A gentleman on crutches eased himself into the seat in front of me.  At one point, he asked when Thanksgiving would be.  Another person replied, "Thursday."  There was some questioning of this and I joined in affirming that it would be Thursday, refraining from saying, "It's always on a Thursday,"

Another gentleman with no legs boarded on a wheelchair.    The bus driver was very  helpful in getting him situated.  After about four or five stops, this rider asked when we would get to Shepherd's Place.  I knew we had passed it before he got on the bus.  This was a problem!  He could get off and head the other way or he could, as a voice from the back of the bus suggested, stay on to the end and turn around.  He chose to get off, was lowered to the pavement and crossed the busy avenue in his motorized chair.  I hope he found Shepherd's Place eventually.

Then there was the cell phone drama going on in the back of the bus.  A rather voluptuous young woman  never stopped talking while she tapped her MARTA card as she boarded the bus.  She was obviously talking to young children with lots of "I love yous" and "I'll see you tomorrow."  Her next conversation was not so sweet.  She was recounting her problems with her supervisor at work and the email she didn't get changing her hours and how she had just gotten her children back and she can't work those hours and she doesn't want to lose them again.  Her voice got louder and louder as she talked to her friend.  Eventually the driver asked her to lower her voice.  I hoped she wouldn't lower it too much because it was quite the soap opera going on.  I did feel a little strange as the only white person on the bus when she was exaggeratingly imitating the HR person, "this white lady," who may have been putting her on probation.

It was a slow ride, but a glimpse of life for me of those who take busses all the time. 

Friday, November 20, 2015

"Miss Mary"

Yesterday I purchased a few items at Sears.  The clerks looked up my phone number for some point plan or other and then said to me, "Miss Mary?"  The first clerk was African-American like many of my GED students who also called me Miss Mary.  The second clerk was older and Asian-American but she also called me Miss Mary.  I wondered if that was because of my obvious age and a term of respect or their protocol.  They did not say, "Ms. VanderKam?"   (I think Macy's clerks use your surname.)

I would tell my adult education students that they could just call me Mary, but some said their mothers would kill them if they showed that kind of disrespect.  My student at Hope Ministries also refers to me as Miss Mary.

At first it made me uncomfortable and  feel like the plantation mistress in the pre-Civil War South.  It probably is not a racial thing at all but just courtesy for an older woman or a teacher.  I learned to accept it and even like it--and sometimes give it back in return, "Yes, Miss Tamisha?"

  Our name tags as art museum docents have our first names in large letters with our last names in very small letters.  With 3rd and 4th and 5th graders, I wouldn't mind introducing myself as Mrs. VanderKam instead of Mary. 

A week later:  We ate at the PittyPat Porch in Atlanta last night--a very Southern restaurant where I enjoyed chicken, biscuits, hoppin' john, cornbread, and other delicacies.  The hostess was a character and welcomed me as "Mary" with our open table reservation.  At the end of the evening, as we complimented her on our experience, I became "Miss Mary." 


Friday, November 13, 2015

The Purging of Plan Books

It has been almost two years since I taught my last adult education class.  When I first retired, I got rid of all sorts of paper.  But I tired of it after a while and let those boxes in the furnace room sit there for a later date.

Today was one of those "later dates."  It is cold and windy and I have no reason to go anywhere.  Walking into the furnace room with the B and W furnace inspector on his annual inspection this noon reminded me that there was still plenty to purge.

I spent 45 minutes going through two boxes.  Ten blue plan books are now in the recyclable container.  An armful of colored folders with student goals, tests and permission slips are gone.  Purchase order records from ten years ago--no need for them any more.  I have made progress in purging; there are several more boxes left for another day.

I kept essays and notes that students wrote--for now at least.  I kept a few folders of students who are still my Facebook Friends.  So many students--so many names--and many I don't remember any more.  Some, however,  I will never forget! 

  A stack of photos of Hope Rescue Mission students from the early 1990s was hidden in one folder. Fortunately there are names on the back of the photos. I remember each one of those students , but their names may have been hard to recall.  I'll bring the photos in to Hope Ministries when I next volunteer and maybe someone will recognize them. I have wondered how they have survived over the years.  Homeless shelters can have revolving doors.

I also found a four page journal recording classes at the Mission in July 1995.  This is why keeping a journal or a blog is worth doing--the memory is weak and those memories are treasures or are they best forgotten?   There was the student who kept the cash from his SSI check in his shoe or the one who came in to wish my son a happy birthday, thus reminding me that it was his birthday too or the young couple who met in class as an excuse to get in a little affection because there was no other place they could get together--I remember it all clearly as I read about it again.

I've been reading several novels by Patrick Modiano, the 2014 Nobel Prize winner in literature.  They are very mysterious, haunting books with a repeated them of memory and forgetting.  The purging brings back so many memories of faces and feelings. I look over these files and can hardly believe that 20 years of my life were so involved in an undertaking with so many frustrations and challenges, but also occasional rewards.  . 

Recently our financial advisor gave Jim and me the usual sermon about how no one will say at your funeral how hard you worked and how much money you made.   He had in mind particularly the legacy we leave of time with our children and grandchildren.  I am glad to be able to spend more time with them.   So we didn't correct him, but I know that for both Jim and me, part of our legacy has been our work--our students--whether they were struggling to do basic math and reading and writing, or whether they were PhD candidates.  I don't regret those years of work.  But I also don't regret retiring!

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Poverty and Pain and Loss

My student at Hope Ministries has lost at least four family members in the few months that I have known her.  She has been sad, especially so on her birthday when she particularly missed her mother.  But this week a tragic death has been overwhelming to her.  Her cousin's three year old grand-daughter ran out into traffic and was killed.  The funeral will be today in Gary, Indiana and my student will be there with her extended family. 

I lay awake for a long time last night thinking and praying about this tragedy, not only about the horrible death but also about the contrast in life-styles between those who have and those who have-not.  The Chicago Tribune reported part of the story this way:

Diana Hobbs, DaVea's grandmother who lives in the 500 block of Jackson Street, said her daughter and DaVea lived with her. "I was at work and it was about 3:30 p.m. and DaVea walked to the store with my godson."
Hobbs said her godson who went with DeVea to the Family Dollar is 12. .
"She got home and had to have Family Dollar chips or something every day," said Hobbs. "She was such a bright child. She's very smart. She loved chocolate."

I think about my own grandchildren coming home and being greeted happily by their parents or their nanny.  The nanny prepares a snack for them and they sit down at the table to enjoy it together.   My daughter says her 8 year old is almost never on his own which she says may also not be a good thing but it is safer.

I grieve for the grandmother, for the mother, for the 12 year old child who was with DeVea, for my student who has suffered so much loss and for the truck driver who hit her and fell on his knees in prayer afterwards.  He is not being charged. 

During the night, the scene would not leave my mind.  A busy street, a liquor store parking lot, an omnipresent Family Dollar store, traffic cones for construction, and a child letting go of a hand and darting around the cones into the road. For years while teaching  GED classes I was aware of so many difficult lives;  since retirement I have been sheltered from much of that.   Volunteering at Hope Ministries has given me a glimpse of that world again. 

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Walks Close to Home

I have a goal of finding new places to walk or, if not new, places of  beauty and interest right here in Michiana.  I have set a goal of 5000 steps a day as recorded on my iPhone app--which does mean that I get many more steps when my iPhone is not on my person.

My intention is to record some of these places that I have walked in the last few weeks in some extraordinarily good fall weather--and great fall color. 

Yesterday's walk with Jim was along the East Race from the former St. Joe High School's parking lot to downtown and back.

My friend Maggie and I walked north from the Darden Bridge, past Healthwin Hospital, to River Commons  on a footpath bordering the St. Joseph River.

My neighbor Nancy and I walked on the McCoy Creek Trail in Buchanan while our husbands played golf--which I consider, along with Mark Twain ,  a good walk spoiled.

And it's always a lovely walk around the lakes at Notre Dame.








Monday, October 26, 2015

Three Score and Ten or by Reason of Strength Four Score...

This fall has been spectacularly beautiful. A single red or orange or yellow tree can make me gasp with joy.  A woods or a canopy overhead of color is beyond words to describe.   On the way to church this morning I said to Jim, "This beauty is not going to last" and he wisely responded, "Enjoy while it lasts." 

My life is going by too fast.  Occasionally a day will seem long but a week flies by.  Didn't I just fill that weekly pill sorter yesterday?  I met a young friend for lunch Friday and thought how could it be a whole year since we met regularly last summer outside Hesburgh Library?  Is it time to think about Christmas gifts already?  (not for me, but someone asked me about it today!)

I look at the obituaries in the South Bend Tribune.  So many of the deaths are of folks my age or younger.  There are some in their 80s but even then I think, "Do I really have just ten years left?"

If there was ever a time in life to think about living in the present and enjoying each moment, this is it! 

Thursday, October 22, 2015

The Great River Road


Road trip Day One--October 19, 2015

We left shortly before noon driving on Interstates most of the way—80, 294, and 88—traveling around Chicago and then heading north and west.    It was all pretty flat and boring until we got past Rockford when the terrain became hilly and there were panoramic views of the farms and forests.

Julia Dent Grant and home
We arrived in Galena around 4 and checked into the Aldrich Bed and Breakfast where we were greeted by the innkeepers, Robert and Douglas Mahan, and given an opportunity to choose from four open rooms.  We did not choose the one Lincoln had supposedly slept in but instead one that was a bit more spacious.  We walked to the Ulysses S. Grant home and appreciated the statues of both Julia Dent Grant at the home and  Grant himself on the bluff of the Galena River.   

After wine and snacks with the innkeepers who had been experienced Chicago hotel employees, we made a brief trip down Black Jack Road to get a glimpse of the Mississippi from Casper Bluffs.  We drove to town and had dinner at One Eleven Main Street. 
Day Two--October 20, 2015
I enjoyed a 35 minute walk to town before breakfast, crossing the Galena River and climbing to Bench Street up the hill from Main Street.  There was one historic house after another—mostly red brick and all located right on the sidewalk.  A sign said you could sit in the pew that Grant sat in in the old Presbyterian Church.
Breakfast with another traveling couple was a first course of a fruit plate and then quiche, potatoes, and sausages.
We left around 10:30 and drove to Mississippi Palisades Park where we had several great views of the big river from the bluffs.  The road followed the river  for several miles.  Our first bridge was the one near Sabula—the first of five for the day.
Other highlights were seeing the imposing Mormon temple in Nauvoo and then driving south again right along the river until we crossed it for the fifth and last time today.  

 We stopped for the day in Keokuk, Iowa where we stayed at the Grand Anne Inn; our spacious Tower suite had a great view of the river.   We ate at the innkeeper's recommended Hawkeye Restaurant with its soft rolls, paper napkins wrapped around silverware, an ample pour of wine, large portions of pretty boring veggies and, lest this sound too snobby, for me, a great Iowa pork chop and draft beer.  Back to the inn and a quiet evening of reading and listening to the thunder and rain outside.
Day Three--October 21, 2015
After a better night of sleep, we had another more than ample breakfast-- a soufflĂ©, yogurt, fruit and muffin—and bacon!  We could not finish it all.  The innkeeper introduced herself as the manager and was efficient and pleasant but not as eager to talk about the inn and the setting as the Aldrich innkeepers.
My attempt at whitewashing the fence
The sunrise over the Mississippi was spectacular. After a second cup of coffee and some reading, we left for Hannibal.  Following the Great River Road, we drove through giant farms in the flood plain with very few farm houses.  Hannibal exists for tourists.  We enjoyed seeing Mark Twain’s house but did not sign up for any tours.  
South of Hannibal along 79 was the some of the most spectacular scenery with rolling hills, panoramic vistas, and trees in full color.   However, when we stopped at a scenic point and got out of the car, we were completely bombed with lady bugs.  I literally had to shake off dozens and then we couldn’t help but bring some along on our journey. 
 We decided that there would be no more stopping at scenic points! 
The bluffs along the Mississippi
We planned to cross into Illinois at the town of Louisiana but the bridge at 54 was closed and wouldn’t be open until late afternoon.  Our alternate plan meant driving on main highways to the St. Louis area and then crossing  the Mississippi River at Alton. It was not a scenic route but the bridge  was fantastic and so was the short ride from Alton to Elsah where we are spending the night at Green Tree Inn.
The innkeeper gave us coupons for free wine at the Grafton Winery and Restaurant so that made a dinner decision easy.  We sat outside overlooking the river and a beautiful setting sun—and enjoyed grouper with a tomato basil sauce and our complimentary glasses of wine.  Lest we be too cheap, we bought a bottle to bring back with us.


So we saw the sun rise and the sun set over the river! 

Day Four--October 22, 2015
1857 Schoolhouse--note 1993 flood line

Part of the fun is chatting with the inn-keepers.  Connie is a trustee of the village of Elsah and knows all the news.  She referred to the other inn-keeper in town as so rich that she could "burn a wet horse with her money."   The former inn-keepers did not have flood insurance, suffered quite a loss, divorced, and now the gentleman has remarried and lives in Elsah and the wife is dating the mayor.  So that's only a bit of the Elsah news I heard!  

After a quiet, beautiful early morning walk for which I was filled with gratitude, I saw the labyrinth in the garden of the inn.  I followed it and this very appropriate message greeted me at the center. 

Bidden or not bidden God is present
  It has been a very nice road trip.  In one important way, it was more successful than last year's Mississippi River road trip--in that we actually saw the Mississippi a lot more.  Several times the Great River Road would go along the river for miles.  Other times the towns were right on the river.  In Keokuk, we could see the river from our window.  And here in Elsah, it is just a short walk to get another glimpse. 

We will take one last drive along the river and then it's five hours of interstate roads to South Bend. 

From home--October 23, 2015

Yesterday was more like six hours of travel through very flat Illinois farm country with historic Route 66 running parallel to I-55  The traffic around Chicago was congested and unpleasant as always.  But the ride along I-80 in northern Indiana had us gasping at the beautiful color--as beautiful as we had seen any where else--especially with the sun low in the sky lighting it up.

I write a blog like this primarily for our own memories.  But thanks to anyone else who is reading it!  I had so much fun planning the trip and the memories will be great.



Saturday, October 17, 2015

Musings from the Organ Bench

I have been playing the organ at our church (formerly South Bend Christian Reformed Church, now Church of the Savior) for about 23 years.  Before that we belonged to a very large Presbyterian Church in Raleigh, North Carolina with a full-time worship director but I always said that if needed I would dust off my organ shoes and play again. 

Even after all these years, when I am driving to church on Sunday morning, I wonder how I have the nerve to sit down at that organ.  I know it is not a performance; it is leading in worship.  And
mistakes are forgiven or not even noticed--unless they are egregious in which case they do disturb a sense of worship!  Sometimes the mistakes are not mine if the power point words do not change in time for the next stanza or someone skips a part of the liturgy.  I have to be ready to adjust and I always need to be alert.  

Last week I played a chorale prelude by Bach to begin the service and a partita by Bach to end it.  As I played Bach, I tried to remember that he put "Soli Deo Gloria" on each piece he composed and that needed to be the goal of my playing as well.  To my surprise the usual noise of fellowship during the postlude became softer and softer and I wondered if there were more folks stopping to listen.  Our worship director asked me if I looked in the rear view mirrors at the organ to check.  It never occurred to me to do so and it was good that I didn't.  I might have lost my place in my color-coded manuscript!  One visitor asked her daughter why everyone was facing the back of church and her daughter said, "Mom, it's J.S. Bach!" 

Well, this week it won't be Bach.  But I love the music I have chosen.  The prelude will be "Rhosydmere" by Ralph Vaughan Williams--still a dead white male but of the 20th century.  The offertory might be based on "New Britain" (aka "Amazing Grace") composed by Elizabeth Krouse, a woman about my age. And the postlude will be "Rondeau" by Carson Cooman, an organist and composer at Harvard who is young enough to be my son.   It's a bit dissonant but not enough to be disconcerting, I think.

Some of our hymns this Sunday are familiar hymn tunes but with contemporary words.  For example, we will be singing the tune "New Britain" to words  from Psalm  40, "I waited patiently for God." Sometimes that bothers me because I know the words from my youth that go with those tunes by heart.

 However, yesterday I was thinking about the cross so I went to the hymnal and sang some of the old familiar hymns.  I have to say that I stumbled on words like "there a precious fountain, free to all a healing stream flows from Calvary's mountain" or "I ask no other sunshine than the sunshine of His face." They did not  increase my devotional spirit.  Sometimes words are of a certain era and not for all times. 

Music is very important to me in worship.  My doubts disappear when I sing "In Christ alone, my  hope is found" and "here in the love of Christ I stand" or "from life's first cry to final breath."

So I pray for our worship tomorrow morning--for those who lead in liturgy and preaching but also for my part and those who will join me in  music. 

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Forever Learning

"Forever Learning" is the name of our local senior citizens program in which dozens of courses are offered each spring and fall.  I am taking my fifth course with this program right now. 

I have learned that I do not like group exercise.  My first class was a great opportunity for me to do  ballet, a skill I missed out on in childhood and something I really wanted to try.  I found it difficult to follow instructions and I did not enjoy the 50 minute lesson each week, even though the teacher was very kind calling us her "divas!"  I tried Zumba thinking maybe a more vigorous exercise would be better.  There was another wonderful teacher but I watched the clock hoping for the end to come soon!

I did better in my "couch potato" classes.  "A Ladies Guide to Football" helped me watch games with more awareness and fewer dumb questions for Jim.   Our teacher even treated us to a classroom tailgate party.   "An Introduction to Rare Books" was  taught by a very knowledgeable retired librarian who had a gift for making everyone in the class feel affirmed and welcome.


This fall I am learning the art of calligraphy.  Again the teacher is upbeat, full of energy, and very helpful.  I enjoy the class more each week and my letters don't look terrible.  Some look pretty good! 

It is always good for me to be a learner again.  It is a humbling experience in many ways.  I feel awkward and insecure but basically accepting of those feelings. 

It does bother me that I am not eager to practice my skills or do homework.  I would rather write about calligraphy right now on this blog than to return to the table and practice my majuscules (aka capital letters.) I dabble in all these new areas but don't stick with anything long enough to really pick up the skills. 

I have been a teacher almost all of my working life.  I am still a teacher in my retirement as I volunteer with an adult student at a homeless shelter. It is good for me to be a learner as well.  It helps me to be patient with my student.   Working with her helps me to be patient with myself too.

Friday, October 2, 2015

A Sentimental Journey



We are home again after a 24 hour trip to Grand Rapids and Cadillac.  It was a sentimental journey in more than one way. 

Laura was in Grand Rapids to speak at a conference of state policy think tanks.  She arranged to stay an extra night so that she could visit her 100 year old grandmother.  My own mother died at age 59; my dad remarried, and my Aunt Agnes became the only grandmother my children knew from my side of the family.  Aunt Agnes thought she would never see Laura again; Laura was quite aware that this might be the last time she would see her grandmother.  I had tears in my eyes as we anticipated the journey but also when Aunt Agnes who could not hear that Jim was saying grace before dinner burst in with a prayer herself--a beautiful prayer of thanksgiving and blessing. 

 But it was also a sentimental journey because I was returning to a place of my childhood.  I was delighted to stay at the historic Pantlind Hotel, now known as the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel.  I remembered it as being old and beautiful even when I was a child. We were given a room with a view--a corner room on the 12th floor in the newer towers.

    I took an early morning walk trying to         reconcile my childhood memories with a rejuvenated downtown of restaurants, venues, and offices.  I was totally confused.  Where could the Wurzburg's and Herpolsheimer's and Steketee's Department Stores ever have been in this maze of new buildings?  I knew they were all closed years ago but thought I might recognize the locations where we visited Santa Claus or rode the little Christmas train or shopped for special occasions.  I suddenly realized that Monroe Street was not the Monroe Street of the 1950s.  It is now called Monroe Center and I was so relieved to be re-oriented. Herpolsheimer's is now a police station; Steketee's is an office building with a plaque; and Wurzburg's was demolished with an Art Museum in its place. 

I am quite sure I recognized the steps leading up to a piano studio where my best friend had her lessons.  At age nine, we would take a bus downtown, she would have her lesson, we would shop at a dime store for nail polish and other frivolities, and take a bus home.  I guess we were "free-range kids!" 

The only recognizable shop from those days was Groskopf's, now owned by a fourth generation family member.  When I began 7th grade with changing classes, my parents bought a beautiful blue leather zipper binder for me to keep my work organized.  I wonder how long it lasted and whatever happened to it?  It was a gift that symbolized a rite of passage.

Laura blogged about the trip as well--and called her blog "Make the Trip."  I am so glad she did make the trip and that we also made the trip.