Twelve weeks ago, I had no idea I would be relocating to Wisconsin. But after Mom passed away on March 2nd, I started thinking, “Now what?”
One evening a group of us were talking about traveling, and gal pal Gail mentioned having an interest in Portugal. Toward the end of the discussion, Gail said, “I just want to have one last adventure.”
A few weeks after this gathering, I was an elderly orphan. I remember asking myself, “Well, what’s your next adventure, Jenny?”
“Leave Missouri and move to a blue state. I’ve been here over 40 years and although I’ve enjoyed most of it, I need a change.”
As it turned out, blue states are farther away than I’d like, so I settled on the swing state of Wisconsin. It is near where I had my developmental years in northern Illinois, and I have a first cousin, Bob, who has lived there since his college days in the 70s. I remember visiting him there and becoming quickly infatuated with Madison. In recent months, we have been enjoying weekly chats on Zoom.
Another plus to the Madison, Wisconsin area is water. One item on my bucket list is to spend my final years near lakes. There are two large lakes right there, plus the Lake Michigan of my childhood is just a leisurely drive to the east.
I am going up to the Madison area to look at apartments with gal pal Susan. I am not ready to move into an independent living community for 55+ folks. I prefer to be around people of various ages, and the small city of Middleton, just west of Madison, is my target area. I like the suburban feel there and the easy drive to Madison for all that it offers. https://visitmiddleton.com/
So that’s the plan. My last adventure will be to create a final chapter for myself in a vibrant, progressive area of Wisconsin near lakes, parks, trails, and many other venues of interest. I’ll come back to visit friends and family here in Columbia, Missouri, but I am also expecting friends and family to come up and experience Wisconsin…in the spring, summer, and fall, of course. Winter is a whole other matter. Winter will give me an excuse to shop for long underwear and more substantial outdoor clothing, and it will give me an opportunity to practice “Hygge,” a lifestyle popular in Denmark and Norway where winter is far more severe than in Wisconsin.
And yes, I’ll be scouting out potential assisted living communities for the future. But for now, I’m betting on having a few years of active, independent living near lakes, and a first class university with first class medical care right there.
Several weeks ago we had a somewhat brutal (to me) cold snap. Local ponds iced over and folks stayed inside. I drank a ton of homemade hot cocoa.
There is a very small pond in my area at a nearby park called Louisville Dr. Park. The park is not large, but it has a shelter for gatherings, a basketball practice area, a walking trail, a children’s play area, and plenty of open air space for sunny picnics. It’s even starting to collect a few memorial benches.
Eventually, the temperatures warmed up a bit and ponds in the area lost their iced armor. I took my camera over to Louisville Dr. Park at sunset to see what I could capture. It was interesting to see how the light changed.
(This is the final “Parental Journal” entry for this blog.)
On Monday, March 1, I received my last kiss from my mom.
It was the first day visitors were allowed to schedule visits again, and I was on the books for a one-hour visit with Mom at 2 pm. I was contacted by two staff persons the Friday before because they wanted me to know that Mom’s decline had become more pronounced due to her not wanting to eat much.
At about 8:30 a.m. Monday, March 1st, I was called and asked if I could come “now.” Mom had had a difficult weekend. When I arrived, there were indications that her passing would likely happen soon, and the hospice coordinator confirmed this.
Mom was experiencing the expected agitation that often happens…pulling at her blanket, reaching out, moving her hand to her throat and then to her abdomen. At one point, I took her hand and she squeezed it. I squeezed back, and then when her eyes were opened a bit, I leaned over and said, “Hi Mom. I’m so glad I can visit you today.” I could see that she recognized either my face or my voice. She pulled our locked hands to her mouth and kissed my hand. “Oh…you gave me a hand kiss,” I said. “Thank you! I’ll give you a hand a kiss, too!”
Throughout the day and night, we would often hold hands and she would firmly bring my hand to either her mouth or her chest. I was thrilled because my goal was being realized: that I would be with her during her transition time and she would know she was not alone. I spoke to her frequently, hummed melodies, and played soothing meditation music to comfort us both. My hand rested on her arm, and I watched as she transitioned through the various stages of end-of-life breathing. Shortly after 6:00 a.m. on Tuesday, March 2…my birthday…I rang for the nurse and said I thought my Mom was gone. Her death was confirmed.
Personally, I thought it was wonderful that she transitioned out of this life on the same month and date she brought me into this life. Very cool, actually. Way to go, Mom.
I can see her blue eyes light up as she responds with a smile…”You’re welcome!”
Those who travel the journey of a long-term illness with their loved ones know that the grieving process begins long before the final days. This is especially true for families dealing with dementia/Alzheimer’s.
Being on this journey with Mom has been one of the most meaningful and profound experiences of my life, and I am grateful to have shared this time with an extraordinarily determined, witty, feisty, independent, and caring woman: Pearl Inez Leogrande. August 16, 1926 – March 2, 2021.
Beyond my little black deck there are old woods that lead down to Perche Creek. After leaves have fallen, I witness beautiful sunset colors that flow behind bare branches. It can be a spectacular sight, and I began to think about where in this small city I could find an expanse where I could practice photographing sunsets enhanced by other aspects of nature like clouds, trees, ponds.
Lucky me. About half a mile from where I live there is a new housing development on the very west side of town: Breckenridge Park. Beyond the development to the west, the land slopes down to Perche Creek and farmland. Bingo. A great place to practice photographing sunsets.
Brian Lloyd Duckett is a British photographer/instructor I have followed via YouTube and the newsletter he puts out. His instructions are clear and understandable for this aging brain. Plus he’s not a kid.
One of the lessons Brian stresses is to “have projects.” As a forever beginner, I am dabbling in a bit of this and a bit of that. After this first sunset outing, I now have a project. Sunsets are fine, but I am more interested in cloud formations within them and shadow features like trees…maybe people…interesting and familiar objects.
Now that the weather is getting better, each day I check the weather forecast. I want to know if there will likely be nice sunsets. Later in the day, I check the sky. Any clouds around? If so, then I check to see what time the sun will be setting, and if I’m motivated enough, I think about where I might visit to experiment more with this “project.”
There is something comforting about looking back and remembering others who were instrumental in helping us become the people we are. As we age, many of us seem to spend a bit more time looking back at our lives and thinking about those who helped us become who we are.
Contributor friend, Bonnie M, sent me an email the other day:
My mom used to find art teachers for me when I was growing up in Cleveland, sometimes through the Cleveland Art Institute or Museum, other times just through word of mouth. Sandy Diamond was one of those teachers I worked with from the time I was about 12 until about age 18.
Yesterday I remembered a piece I wrote about my “childhood art teacher” when she died five years ago. I had been out to visit her in Port Townsend, Washington in 2011, but I had not seen her since 1971, although we corresponded occasionally over the years.
She was a special soul, gentle yet firm, and encouraged however I did art.
Here is Bonnie’s remembrance of her former art teacher, Sandy Diamond: following:
On hearing of Sandy Diamond’s Passing
The world has lost a vital yet gentle soul. Memories will have to suffice, but enriched by the letters and cards we exchanged in the year before a treasured visit in 2011.
She lived delicately and purposefully, wrote and painted and designed, and most of all, blessed me with her gentle admonitions, no–too strong a world–her gentle wisdom about life, about people, and about art.
She would not want me to write that now I “owe it to her” to paint in her memory. She would suggest otherwise–that I embrace life and embellish it with my art, that I think of it as a “healing bouquet” for others, she had written.
And I, after rediscovering her some 45 years after we first celebrated with art, after recapturing those memories, I wrote to her: ‘I feel as though in going back I can move forward.’
Perhaps that is a suitable tribute to her–moving forward. Not to let darkness prevail, but to let in light, lines, and color. In that way I can honor her memory and offer thanks for the gifts she bestowed upon me.
Among my group of gal pals, there is Lynette. Petite, feisty, funny, and compassionate, she is a joy to us all, and we love to hear her stories about growing up in a large family. As today’s contributor, Lynette gives us an up close and absolutely true tale of one of her piggy episodes…back in the day.
My dad was a pilot, a respected professional pilot who supported a wife and five reasonably intelligent children.
However, in his heart he was a farmer, a farmer who dreamed big dreams of vast rolling acres of verdant cropland and fields of fat prize winning livestock.
There would be ranch hands, field hands, and the admiration of his peers on market days.
The reality was a pretty, relatively small 80-acre farm, predominantly of timber. It was a start.
Into this pre-empire, Dad installed a dozen piglets into a hog house he built himself. It included a sturdy wire fence that surrounded a concrete outside pad where said piggies could sun and frolic when they weren’t eating their way to market.
They were well looked after as Dad “Flyboy” watched their progress, but it wasn’t long and he thought they seemed bored. After all, how many games of “got your tail” can any of us really enjoy?
Bowling balls were the answer, their master read in one of his farm magazines. They could be snouted around in some version of swine soccer, I suppose.
That worked for a while, but after a bit of time, the players soon were bored again. Bowling balls were followed by rubber car tires, another suggestion from the magazine, and the piggies liked them. Finally. Fat, happy piggies.
All went well until the pilot wasn’t able to go out to this paradise in the making due to the family home being in town. One day he asked me to go check on their food and water needs, a function for which I was occasionally pressed into service.
Upon arrival, I immediately recognized an unusual situation. One of the residents was now wearing a tire. If you can recall Disney’s “Fantasia” with the tutu wearing hippos, you can get a smellier version of the scene. The poor guy was trotting around the pen enduring the derision of his fellows–an untenable situation.
Putting on my boots, I climbed over the fence to deal with the tire, much to the delight of the pack who had always found me inept in our other dealings. We had a merry time for the next few minutes with lots of squealing, most of it coming from the pigs.
I chased the victim who misjudged my intentions. Who could blame him, since one of our earlier encounters involved my assisting in divesting him of a couple of his “boy parts.” The chase continued with one of the pigs plucking a glove out from my back pocket and the others trying to get it away from him. Chasing after the thief, I realized that I was now an unwitting participant in yet another version of “got your tail.”
I was getting nowhere.
I hopped over to the less congested side of the fence and considered my options. I immediately decided this was not to be an audience participation event. Then I noticed that the tire-wearer had retreated to a far corner of the pen and was sitting on his haunches next to a blowing ball. This was my opportunity to reenter the arena and herd the others into a separate gated area, leaving just the forlorn ballerina and me to sort this out.
Over the fence I went again as I spotted an extravagant growth of purple flowering clover. Picking a generous handful, my plan was made.
I casually sauntered over to the pig, bearing this peace offering of clover. After a coy refusal, the tired guy rose and approached. I pushed the bouquet toward him and he accepted, unaware of my scheming plan. I jumped up on the fence, planted my feet halfway up, braced myself, lurched over, and grabbed the tire. The surprised porker backed away leaving us in a tug situation now with more of me over on his side. He was just as determined to get away from me as I was to keep my grip on the manure covered tire. But with one last mutual tug, he freed himself which sent me and the tire backward into the mud on my side of the battlefield. I was now covered in some of the stuff that made the clover so abundantly lush.
I won’t share the details of my fragrant dive back to town, but I did provide a nice bit of entertainment for any neighbor who might have been watching my backyard hose down.
I related the incident to my family when I went into the house. My grandfather helpfully suggested that it might have been easier to have pulled the tire from the rear, but I pointed out that it would have been hard to get that end interested in the clover.
The hogs and I enjoyed many exciting experiences over the next few months since I seemed to be well suited for these things. They even seemed to perk up when they saw my car…remembering the good times, I guess.
Guest contributor, Patti Brown, offers a reflection on gratitude. Patti and I have been friends since the early 1980s, and I know that throughout her life she has believed in the practice of taking time to reflect on things for which she is grateful.
Among the many things I am grateful for are three very special animals.
Cats were not my thing growing up. I preferred dogs. As a young twenty-something, I lived in Canada as a traveling entertainer. Sam, a black Siamese kitten, came along at the same time I married. He adapted well to living in hotel rooms and apartments. He was there when our daughter was born, when we divorced, and for the ten years I was a single mother raising a daughter. Sam was my rock…playing, cuddling, and loving us for 19 years. When I remarried and moved into a home with other cats and dogs, I believe Sam knew I would be okay. His health deteriorated quickly, and I lost my best friend.
Twelve years later, I found a litter of kittens on the side of the road and brought them to our country home where we already had several pets. Within six months I found myself in another divorce and Mikey, a beautiful long-haired tiger from that litter, had become my furry companion. His presence helped me through the devastating loss of that marriage, and for 15 years he was my lion-spirited but gentle protector. He loved me unconditionally and always accepted my friends by greeting them and wanting to sit on their laps. One friend often described him as a person in a cat suit, which I think was quite accurate. I am so grateful for the lifetime we had together. We comforted one another in equal measure. He will always be in my heart.
I allowed myself time to grieve and became closed off from wanting the responsibility of another pet. But when a stray 2-month-old kitten was offered to me, I felt the nudge to accept the care of a very frightened being. Mango now holds that special companion spot. He romps around and makes me laugh. He is learning enough trust that he can sit on my lap and accept caresses. He still dashes for cover at any strange sound, but his curiosity soon brings him back into the room. Mango reminds me to be more patient, nurturing, and responsible. I am so grateful I could open my heart again as Mango and I live one hug, one joy, one day at a time.
(My friend, Gail Hauswirth, gave me permission to share what she refers to as a “musing.”)
“Those that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall rise up on wings as an eagle. They shall run and not be weary. They shall walk and not grow faint. Teach me Lord, teach me Lord to wait.”
From the prophet Isaiah, this prayer for patience comes to me unbidden. Perhaps sixty years have passed since I prayerfully sang these words on Sunday morning. I have tried to learn to wait. I have worked at patience. I have understood that peace comes with the mastery of “waiting.” I have longed for this peace and have worked at breathing and being…but my unquiet mind has always told me to do something. Anything. I have had real trouble letting God be God.
Now I am seventy years old, and I am waiting with the world for things to be better. I have no choice but to wait. Is this the lesson? “Be still and know that I am God.”
I cannot fix this. I cannot make anything happen in my time. I see my insignificant ability to change anything. I feel the sweep of our collective destiny as we hope for vaccines and science to save us.
What purpose can be wrung from all this suffering? Will I finally learn to be patient? Will I understand, finally, my true ephemeral existence? Will I gain perspective on that which is immortal?
I present myself as a willing student. I await my lessons.
I’m just going to say it: I did not want to die when Donald Trump wasin office.Period. I said that flippantly yesterday while watching inauguration festivities, and gal pal, Lynette, sat right up and said, “ME TOO!” I am certain we are not the only elders who feel that way. Maybe it seems a bit silly, but I just didn’t want to move on to the “next adventure” with DT still in charge and governing by tweet.
Now we move on with the Biden administration. Not that things will be easy, but at least I feel hopeful again…(remember hope?)…hopeful and very proud to live in a country that has such an incredible diverse citizenry. It was all on display during yesterday’s segments of pomp and celebration throughout the day and evening.
One of the major highlights, of course, was having lived long enough to see a female Vice President of the United States. Thank you, President Biden. Millions of women offer gratitude from our hearts.
Will there continue to be stalemates, lies, and ugly politics in the halls of Congress? Yes.
Will extremists from the right, the left, and overseas continue to be problematic? Yes.
Will we get vaccinated and help poorer countries do the same? Yes.
Will it take a long time to recover economically from these pandemic times? Yes.
Will we be wearing masks for a while? Yes.
Will the kids go back to regular classrooms within a year or so? Yes.
Are most Americans ready to take their representatives to task and insist that Congress finally get some priority things done that will benefit all Americans? Yes.
When I woke up this morning, I was in a terrific mood. After four years of government by chaos, we were “free at last, thank God almighty.”
I hope the increased interest Americans demonstrated in voting continues. It will be the only way to preserve and protect our fragile experiment of a democracy.
Like millions of other Americans, I’ve listened to way too much political news and commentary over the past four years. My excuse to friends/family: “It’s history in the making,” or “These are historic times.”
Then, on January 6, 2021, the world witnessed a siege on the U.S. Capitol Building during the process of certifying Joe Biden as the next President of the United States and Kamala Harris as the next Vice President. On that day, “history in the making” felt shocking, dangerous, and tragic.
Since that day, I often find myself thinking about “the old days” as a way to escape current news events. The 50s and the early 60s were certainly not easy times. They had their own shock, danger, and tragedy. But I didn’t know. I was ignorant and innocent; my world was very small. This past week I found myself feeling nostalgic for some of the things I loved when I was young, ignorant, and innocent. They make me smile.
That Wall Telephone
Ours was the exact same color, and it was the only phone in the house. Occasionally, I would spend a bit of time sitting on the floor in the hallway and chatting with friend. But in general, I think my mom used the phone more than I did. If someone called, she would visit for a while and enjoy the break from housework, laundry, and cooking. I don’t remember her calling others to visit. We primarily used the phone for information: planning get-togethers, finding out if a store or restaurant was open, questioning something on a utility bill, etc. For some reason, thinking of that 60s era wall phone gives me a bit of comfort. Oh, right. Nobody could text me then. Life was quieter with fewer interruptions.
When Dr. Kokatec Made House Calls
I’m not sure of the spelling of his name, but I remember the doctor coming to our house a few times when I was sick and feverish with bronchitis or some upper respiratory issue. I didn’t like the shot in the butt he gave, but to recall that I lived in a time when doctors made house calls…well, that seems amazing. I remember him as being kind, gentle, and quite chubby. I also remember him telling me that eating chocolate causes pimples. Nope. Not true.
The Used Pink Schwinn Bike
I inherited things from my cousin, Geraldine…mostly clothes. But I was super excited to become the owner of her old pink Schwinn bicycle. That thing was a tank, and it didn’t take long for my dad to help me learn to ride it. I could not find an exact photo on the Internet, but it looked something like this…in bright PINK:
That bike gave me such a sense of freedom. I could ride it hands free and loved turning corners with my arms waving in the wind. And when I stopped, the brakes screeched to high heaven. Everyone knew I had arrived. I loved that bike and thoughts of it make me smile.
The Co-op and the Empty Lot
This building is where I grew up in Skokie, Illinois. Our co-op apartment was the lower left one. One thousand square ft, 2 bedrooms, 1 bath, a tiny alcove kitchen, and Mom loved it. It hasn’t changed much on the outside:
Almost right across the street there was an empty lot that looked something like this:
Our empty lot had a huge tree on it. Friends and I played cowboys and Indians, vowed to make a tree house but never did, vowed to make a club house, but never did, and when we found a somewhat large animal skull, our imaginations went wild. This was a true treasure. In our minds it was proof that long ago, cattle traveled through the area along with covered wagons filled with those wanting a better life. I have no idea whatever happened to that skull. I don’t think my mom would have let me keep it. But I can see it and still feel the excitement of discovering it. I still wonder about its untold story.
And Those Other Fun Times…
Oak Street Beach, Chicago, Illinois
Oak Street Beach was a staple of my childhood since toddler days. I have photos of my mom as a teen posing at Oak Street Beach. For my cousin and I, there was something special about going to Oak Street Beach when we were teens and working on our tans.
I was delighted to find the above picture on Etsy and wrote to Ms. Sayle Moser, the photographer, asking for permission to use it in this blog post. She wrote back: “Absolutely!…I moved here six years ago and have fallen in love with the area. With everything shut down I have really missed visiting and exploring Chicagoland. Please feel free to use this image for your blog and post with photo credit to me. Happy writing. I send Blessings for Health and Happiness in the year to come. All my best, Sayle”
So yes, I am nostalgic for Oak Street Beach. I think it’s in my family’s DNA.
This was the type of skate I used and the same type of key. Looks primitive now, but I remember the thrill of speeding along the sidewalk with them attached to my shoe. I don’t have that agility anymore and I miss it. But the memories of skating with pals are there. They make me sigh.
The Mickey Mouse Club!
Yep, even as a grandma, when I see old photos of the Mickey Mouse Club I smile. I think that show made me believe in possibilities, certainly much more than church did at the time. However, that photo does not illustrate in any way the diversity of Americans living in neighborhoods all over the country. Major manipulated failing, of course.
My nostalgia for jumping rope is because I was very good at it. Period. Today I have an artificial knee and no jumping is allowed. Just as well. I’d probably have a heart attack if I tried.