Sunday, August 28, 2016

That Time of Year*

Not surprisingly, literature abounds with images and themes of aging. Aging is presented in literature as something to be celebrated, something to be avoided, something unavoidable to be lived.  That about covers it.  

For instance, Shakespeare has multiple sonnets on the theme of aging (a favorite of mine is Sonnet 73).  And one of his most powerful play focuses entirely on the ravages of aging: King Lear.

While I could focus this whole blog on literature as it deal with aging, where my thoughts take me on the subject of growing older is more personal.

Over the past several decades, I have been the primary responsible party for various members of my family.  The first family member who named me the "person to contact" was my step-grandmother. She had married my grandfather and enjoyed a brief marriage, as he died after they had been married 7 years. I visited her in the retirement home where she lived, and when there were special opportunities, she turned to me. For example, when a photographer came to the home, she could have her portrait taken with a family member. So she asked me...and I sat along with my son for a portrait with Grandma Mary.  When she suffered a stroke some years later, she was asked who should be called--and she said "Donna."

So I transitioned into being effectively her "power of attorney" family member. (She had no such document, but had named me.) As I slowly took over some of her affairs, I discovered that she had stopped paying the monthly charge at the nursing facility where she was. And I discovered that she was really "broke."  For a few months, my husband and I paid her monthly charge. But when it became clear she would not be returning to her room where she lived independently, I did all the work which got her on to Medicaid, a program for indigent people.  

When she died, immediately after the funeral the family was gathered to celebrate and remember her life. In addition to her step-family, she also had nephews from her birth family. The subject arose--who would take care of settling Grandma Mary's affairs--and again, someone said "Donna."

Some 20 plus years ago, my mother died. While she and my father had moved to a retirement village and were independent, her death meant that my father needed someone to turn to in every day circumstances.  So, he confided some of his deep grieving, and when he began to think about remarrying, I heard about his hopes. Thankfully, he did remarry.  


But as my father and step-mother have grown older together eventually they have had to live in two different levels of care, in the same facility. And once again, I have been named as power of attorney for each of them.  Given the care that nursing facilities render, that means every time there is some untoward event--a slight fall, an inadvertent nick--I get a call. When it is more serious--a trip to the hospital--I also get a call.

Recently, it has occurred to me that I am now the age that once was seen as old age and I am still being the "responsible party" for people older than me.  It has been a long haul--from the time I was first named by my step-grandmother (I was about 34 years old) until now, when I am 71.
  
--------------------  
*Sonnet 73 
by William Shakespeare

That time of year thou may'st in me behold
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,
Bare ruin'd choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.
In me thou see'st the twilight of such day,
As after sunset fadeth in the west,
Which by-and-by black night doth take away,
Death's second self, that seals up all in rest.
In me thou see'st the glowing of such fire
That on the ashes of his youth doth lie,
As the death-bed whereon it must expire
Consum'd with that which it was nourish'd by.
   This thou perceivest, which makes thy love more strong,
   To love that well which thou must leave ere long.


Friday, August 26, 2016

Yodel-ay-ee-hoo!

Favorite vacation, eh? That's the question this week.

Summertime is, of course, the time for vacations many places in the world. In the U.S., we don't really close down for the month of August...which seems to be the pattern in much of Europe.

Of course, those of us who live in the northern hemisphere tend to think of summer as vacation time...which is, of course, winter in the southern hemisphere.

Anyway, to my favorite vacation memory.  While we have had many vacations as a two-some, then three-some, then four-some, and with our children marrying, six-somes, my favorite vacation memory is when all five of us visited Switzerland.  Why five? Well, as of that year our daughter had yet to meet the man who became her husband.

It was the year 2000. An auspicious year to be sure. Remember the fuss about Y2K?  No? Well, you can look it up.  Understandably, decadal years are significant to we humans who are born time-keepers. One way the decade is marked is that every ten years, the village of Oberammergau performs the Passion Play. The legend has it that in the 1600s when the bubonic plague was raging, the village leaders prayed and promised that, should they be spared, they would forever after tell the story of Jesus and his life. Thus was born the Passion Play.

Now, we didn't go to Switzerland just to see the Passion Play.  No, we went to Switzerland because the family name is WENGER. In fact, one town we visited was Wengen, from whence Wengers wandered. (Sorry, couldn't resist the alliteration.)  So, we were returning to our roots.  

The trip took us to lovely places around parts of Germany and Switzerland--we sailed along the Rhine; we visited a Mennonite community (our family heritage is Anabaptist); we went to the cathedral in Worms where Luther delivered his famous "Here I take my stand" speech; we visited the Black Forest; we hiked to Wasserfalls--a 500 meter water falls;we saw places where Taufers* worshipped; we also saw hidey-holes where persecuted Anabaptists hid; and we went to Wengen which is "up the hill" from Interlaken.

Wengen is at the base of the Jungfrau, a towering mountain of some 4,158 meters (13,642). The mountain is a PRESENCE. It was everywhere--looming over all. One morning we got up at 5:30 a.m. to watch the sunrise which touched the mountain face with gold.  We rode a cog train up the Jungfrau, a one and a half hour ride at a 25 degree angle. All around we could see deep blue sky. The altitude made walking around quite arduous. 

As the tour was planned, the highlight was the visit to Oberammergau. In 2000 the Passion Play was a revised version. Over time, the play had been criticized for being strongly anti-Semitic. So, this version had addressed those content concerns.  As the play was a day long (seriously) and featured lots of singing as well as dramatic scenes, it was something of a tour de force. 

I can't say that our family enjoyed this tour "highlight."  We had a different event as our highlight.  One of the charming things we noticed was the great number of various festivals. One of the little towns we passed through just happened to be having a parade. So we watched as people in local costumes marched by.  On another day, when with a free day we traveled to Lucerne. And once again we encountered a festival parade.

So, our highlight event was the night we went to a Swiss folk festival--musicians playing accordions and a home-made bass with a single string were the first entertainers to come. Singers then entered, singing yodeling duets. Next eight dancers did several Swiss folk dances, followed by one man playing the alpenhorn. Suddenly we heard a clanging sound, unidentified until seven young men came into view, each carrying and clanging a large (make that HUGE) cowbell. They played these cowbells by rocking back and forth rhythmically.  Quite a sight, and most humorous.


Then there was time for audience participation. One of the events was playing, or attempting to play, the alpenhorn. AND our son won! He was the only one who actually got the alpenhorn to sound--after which our daughter yelled out "RICOLA."

The ingredients for this most memorable vacation--the whole family, breathtakingly beautiful scenery, dashes of history about our family origin, local entertainment! 
Yodel-ay-ee-hoo!
---------------------
Taufers--this was the name given to the early Anabaptists, who preached and practiced adult baptism. Taufen is the German word for baptize, so the people who practiced that were known as Taufers. 
Come to think of it, there is enough material here for a separate blog.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Water, Water Everywhere...and not a drop to drink*

Almost three-fourths of the earth's surface is covered with water. Of that, 97% is salt water, rendering it not fit for drinking. We humans are more than half water.

OK, enough with the statistics. Where is this blog post going?

Well, I am working up to my post of a "first world problem."

Several weeks ago, as I was awaking, my husband informed me we had very little water pressure in the house. After contacting the water company, we learned there had been a break in a major pipeline in the next township from ours, but it was affecting water supplies over a large area.

The first thing I did was fill two large soup pots with cold water--I had enough sense to know that I shouldn't run hot water from the water heater if the pressure was too low to refill the heater quickly.

For several hours that day, the water pressure remained low. Then by late afternoon, the pipe had been repaired and water pressure returned. BUT--because of the interruption in the supply, a boil water advisory was in place.

And that's where my first world problem began. Really? Bringing large pots of water to a boil, a full rolling boil for one minute, and then letting the water cool?  Sigh.

OK, I'll do it. But fortunately we had bottled water downstairs--so for our drinking, and even teeth brushing, we could use that. The boiled water? Well, we could use it for the pets and to make coffee.

For the briefest of time, I was scheming and planning--how to get water, how to make sure it was ready for consumption. And all the while, I was feeling...put out. What a problem. All because a water pipe somewhere broke.

Well, that's when the first world problem hit me. What was I thinking? I didn't have to walk any
further than my sink to get water. Even with the low pressure, I still had water. By some estimates more than a billion--that's BILLION--people have to walk miles every day to get water.


And some people drinking the water that is available end up with water acquired infections. Former President Jimmy Carter has made it one of his life's goals to help eradicate guinea worm infections.  (By the way, is Jimmy Carter not the best former president ever?) You can read more about his work at the Jimmy Carter Center.

So, for all of two days, we lived under a boil water advisory. We were never without water. We did not get sick. And even our pets were well watered.

First world problem? You bet.

And the current situation is just the beginning--far too many people without adequate water supplies. There are experts who believe the next big world conflict will be over water rights.

For now, turn on your tap (or faucet) for just a couple of seconds. And then say-thank you. And then go find a project to help other people have access to safe readily available water.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Let it Go, Let it Go...

If you have any contact with just about any pre-teen girl (or even some younger girl), were you to play the song "Let It Go"* you would find the girl singing along. It's the perfect entree for my topic of "what do I have to walk away from."

This may not seem like a problem, but it is for me. I need to stop trying to fix things. Now, I don't mean objects--while I tinker, and can pound in a nail, or do some such trivial thing, I am not the fixer of things in our family.

What I mean is--I need to stop trying to fix circumstances.

Herewith a few examples--I have a senior family member who depends on me to help out with things. While he is in a senior facility, he still needs help with going shopping to buy clothes, or having a button sewn on a shirt, or some other small task.  It is his penchant to say, as he presents me with an item, "can you...?"  I have been asked to change the fastener on slacks from one of those metal hook arrangements to a button/button hole or to take in slacks that are too loose. I have been asked to fix a printer (the sensor light kept flashing PAPER JAM) or failing that get a new one. I have been asked to...just fill in the blank.

My bent is to GO RIGHT TO IT...leap into action. With the slacks, I took them to a tailor who did as I asked.  With the printer, I got a new one (the old one would have cost more to fix than a new one cost).  Time and again, after I have done as requested, there is a second request. "I don't like the button and button hole; I wish I had not had it changed." Or "the slacks are too tight; I wish they were back the way they were." Or the printer--"I don't like it; I want my old one back."

So, I take the slacks home with me and let them out again. The button/button hole I can't reverse. The old printer I return, and take the new printer home.

OR--other examples. I enter a public bathroom and find trash all over the floor. Likely as not, I will pick up that trash and place it in the receptacle.  Or, I see weeds growing in a neighbor's yard. My impulse is to pull them. Please note--I don't.

On and on--my personality bent is such that I just know I can improve something.**

Perhaps because of these recent experiences with the senior family member, I am learning that sometimes I just need to walk away.

Let it go, let it go.
---------------
* From the movie Frozen--you can listen to it here.

**If you know Myers-Briggs personality typing, I am an INTJ.

Thursday, August 04, 2016

They're All Gone

In a few days, the Rio 2016 Olympics will begin...or, for purists, the XXXI Olympiad.  The events will be covered virtually non-stop, with many breathless stories being told as viewers around the world thrill to the feats of strength, courage, and sheer athleticism.




Entrance to the original Olympic Stadium--Olympia, Greece 
(photo taken in 2008 when we visited Greece)

Deservedly, the general sense that viewers bring to the Olympics is a sense of wonder and admiration. The original Olympics had lofty ideals. The reach of those Olympics was small--geographically--and limited to men only. On the plus side the contestants did have to participate in their events in the nude. Perhaps to prove they were not armed--it was after all an attempt to do something competitive without resorting to battle and killing.                                                                

When the Olympics were resuscitated by Baron de Courbetin in 1894, again the intent, in part, was to foster goodwill among nations.  Many of the images from those early Olympics are inspiring. Stories such as those enshrined in the wonderful movie Chariots of Fire showcase sports competition of the best type.

Of course, there were awful events in those early Olympics--examples include Jim Thorpe winning gold medals in 1912 for the decathlon and the pentathlon, only to be stripped of them*.  Perhaps the most infamous of Olympics was the 1936 Olympic Games** held in Berlin, Germany. Adolph Hitler, who was rising in prominence, wanted to show-case his ideal of the super athlete--the "pure" Aryan.  We know how that turned out when Jesse Owens won four gold medals. 


But, the Olympics that are seared in my memory did not center on individual athletic feats. Rather, the Olympics I most remember had the whole world watching, and the outcome was not known until the last moment.  In many ways, the unfolding events had nothing to do with sports. I am thinking of the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich, or the XX Olympiad.


The setting of the 1972 Olympics was Munich, West Germany. West Germany intentionally set about to have these games be a counterpoint to Hitler's 1936 Olympics. 


These Olympics are remembered not so much for which athletes won which events--although Mark Spitz set a new record when he won 7 swimming event. Rather these Olympics are remembered for one of the first internationally broadcast incident of terrorism.


As the athletes were assembling, there was concern for the level of security evidenced, particularly expressed by the Israeli athletes team. But the Munich Olympics were all "sweetness and light"--nothing particular was changed.  When these Olympics went into its second week, suddenly a previously little known terrorist group--called Black September (a faction of the Palestinian Liberation Front)--seized members of the Israeli team.


Thus began non-stop coverage of the unfolding drama.  Watching it at the time, it seemed like it lasted a really long time. Actually, the original seizing of hostages occurred at 4:30 a.m. on September 5 and ended around 10:30 p.m. on the same day. The first news reports indicated that all the hostages had been freed and all the terrorists killed. Soon, however, the story was changed.


Jim McKay was the anchor for ABC which was broadcasting the games.  He had reported in initial reports that all hostages were rescued. Then reality set in--the report was erroneous. Not only were there no survivors--they were all killed. As Jim McKay sorrowfully said--"They're all gone."

As Time magazine reported--quoting his father initially, McKay said " 'Our greatest hopes and our worst fears are seldom realized.'  Our worst fears have been realized tonight. They (sources) have now said there were eleven hostages; two were killed in their rooms yesterday morning, nine were killed at the airport tonight.  They're all gone." 


Eventually, of course, the Olympic Games regained their golden glow.  Great moments are still remembered: the U.S. hockey team beating the Russian team; Nadia Com─âneci  scored a perfect 10 in gymnastics; the British ice-dancing  pair Torvill and Dean thrilled viewers everywhere.  You can name your own favorite moments.


For me, the irony  is that these games which were founded in Greece--intended to give warring city states an opportunity to lay aside differences and a time compete peacefully--
should be so besmirched by the terrorists' actions.

----------------------------


* The medals were eventually restored to Jim Thorpe...in 1982.


** One tradition introduced at the 1936 Games was the first torch relay.


***You can read an account of the hostage crisis here.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

In Vino Veritas

I confess to an ulterior motive in suggesting the topic of "your favorite beverage."  A couple of years ago, I read a fascinating book title A History of the World in 6 Glasses by Tom Standage.  His essential thesis was that you can trace the development of human history in the world by looking at 6 different beverages.

In order of the chapters, here are the 6 glasses he discussed: beer, wine, spirits, coffee, tea, coca-cola, with a post script chapter on water.  Here is a quick summary, if you are curious to know a bit more about this book.

As human civilization was beginning, water could not be trusted as a healthy source of liquid. Thus, when the first discovery of beer (or wine...there's an uncertainty as to which occurred first) was made, humans had a solution to how to partake of a beverage without getting sick from the mere drinking of it. Beer and wine were both safe sources. 

Then came spirits--i.e. hard liquor. Standage traces the trade cycle that was set up--slaves, sugar, spirits. Thus, the distilling of hard liquor was intimately tangled up with the burgeoning slave trade--a linkage I had not contemplated before.

Next was coffee--which in part helped to fuel the age of enlightenment. Coffee houses sprang up, people gathered and talked over emerging ideas.

Tea was known long before it became a global drink--in China and in India. But when European empires began to push outward, and tea was among the discoveries, it soon became an international commodity.

And last, there is coca-cola. Well, that one you can figure out for yourself, given its most recent development.

Water--that's the next beverage that will (or is) having an impact on human history. Standage doesn't explore this beverage in depth, but notes that future clashes will occur around availability of water.

So, what's my favorite beverage. Well, the blog title tips it--in vino veritas

I was raised in a family that belonged to a tee-totaling church. In fact, my grandfather felt so strongly about temperance that he postponed traveling from Ontario, Canada where he was born and raised, to the U.S. (to marry my grandmother) because there was a local law under consideration that banned alcohol.  I don't know if the law passed, but if it did, it was doomed to failure--as was Prohibition in the United States.

It was not until I was in high school, working at my first summer job, that I even tasted anything alcoholic.  When my husband and I first got married, wine was not much of a presence on the American scene. That is ironic, of course, since the U.S. third president, Thomas Jefferson, was very much an oenophile.  In the late 1960s to early 1970s, wine was mainly available as "wine coolers" (remember them?) or sweetened wine.  So my introduction to "real" wine was quite delayed. 

In the last number of years, my husband and I have gone of various trips to parts of Europe. Several of these trips have included wine tastings--though that is not their primary purpose. Through this exposure, I have slowly enhanced my understanding of wine and appreciation of it. And, for me, it's RED wine!

Beverages may seem like an odd topic--but, think about it. Liquids are essential to human existence. Many of the traditions which we have in celebrations--for example clinking our glasses together--arise out of beverage consumption. Standage, the author of the aforementioned book, notes that beer was usually drunk from a common container--everyone drinking out of the same vessel. So, uniting our glasses by touching them recreates an age-old ancestral tradition.

So, here's to your health--as I raise my glass! 

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Upstairs, Downstairs

There are many rites of passage in the life of a child--learning to walk alone, learning to ride a bike, walking around the block (or whatever) the first time without mom or dad. Of course, there's the really big rite of passage--learning to drive.

But perhaps one of the bigger rites of passage is joining the working world. Understandably, it is a critical step in a child's journey from childhood to adulthood. Of course, we don't encourage child labor, as such. No returning to the heartbreaking images of the 19th century where children worked in factory jobs--a practice that sadly continues too many places in the world today. But it is important for a child growing into adulthood to begin to learn responsibility through that first job.

I have worked at something a good portion of my life, since I was a teen until I was an older (ahem) person. I firmly believe that a child growing into an adult misses out on a valuable experience if she or he doesn't have a job, usually during the summer months. Frankly, I look askance at young people in our neighborhood who do not "work" during the summer, assuming of course they are old enough. We have one such young man who lives nearby. He is an only child--his parents having thought they were unable to have children. Perhaps that circumstance alone has made them not insist on his developing some maturity. He is on the brink of turning 16, and has not as yet mowed the lawn.

Ah, lawn mowing and baby sitting. Two of the first jobs available to many teens in the United States. I certainly did some baby sitting in my teen years.  Oh, I can recall the children for whom I baby-sat.  What I am trying to recall is the first long-term summer job.

I think it was the summer I spent in Canada, along Lake Erie, working for wealthy Americans with summer homes along the lake shore on the Canadian side.  I wrote more extensively about this job here, but a few details can be replayed.

The matriarch of the family I worked for assigned each of us girls--yes, there were three of us, to our own jobs. One girl baby-sat the grandchildren of the family, one girl was the cook, and then there was the girl who cleaned all the rooms, made the beds, did the laundry--that would be me.

You can read the outcome of that first job in my earlier post, linked above. Suffice it to say that, having been part of house staff (think downstairs a la Downtown Abbey) I vowed that should I ever be able to afford to have someone clean for me, I would not treat them as dismissively as my first employer treated me.

The final irony for me was this--years later, with the availability of information on the internet, I "googled" the name of that employer family. I learned that the grand dame had since died--not surprisingly given that decades had passed. I read in her obituary some of the details of her early life. She and her husband had, as very young people, eloped. So, no doubt she was recalling her own poorer childhood and now a grand dames she decided she didn't want a young, somewhat pretty teenaged girl who her son and some of his friends found attractive working for her.

I can't really say I was fired, but I was not invited to return the next summer.

There are many lessons learned in a first job. Of course, there is learning the value of work, of responsibility. There is learning the joy of being paid for doing something. And there is also the value of learning that just because you are "fired" doesn't mean that you have failed.