Speed Limit 75

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I suppose that if my life were defined by a traffic sign people might believe that “SLOW” would perfectly capture my current situation, but I suspect that maybe “SPEED LIMIT 75” is a more accurate description. I’ve yet to modulate my daily pace, and I don’t intend to do so until I am no longer able to zip around from one adventure to another. I continually thank the good Lord for my essentially good health and for the energy that keeps me going. I’m simply not ready to sit back and be a senior citizen yet. After all most of the folks vying for the presidency are my contemporaries or even a bit older. Seventy seems to be the new fifty and I’m plan to take full advantage of whatever time that I have to still be vibrant.

I was trying to plan a visit with one of my grandsons and I outlined all of the things that I had to do for the next several weeks. “So much for retirement,” was his response and I had to laugh at my busy schedule. I still teach mathematics to young people ranging in age from seven to sixteen years of age. I’ve been relearning concepts from Pre-Calculus that I haven’t used in so long that they may as well be brand new information. Somehow I’ve been able to keep the little gray cells in my brain operating without too much effort and it feels good to exercise my mind.

I try to close the activity circles on my Apple watch most days as well. I generally keep my rusty knees working in spite of the arthritis that has made doing so more challenging than it used to be. I always feel better after a brisk walk or time spend on weight machines. I hope to keep my body working at top speed as well as my mind even though I sometime see signs that both are slowing just a bit.

I keep a regular schedule that lasts from about six in the morning until eleven at night. I have always had a difficult time sitting still and that hasn’t changed as I have aged. If anything my need to stay active has only increased over time. I suppose that from a psychological standpoint I fear that if I give in to forgetful moments or bouts of pain in my joints that I will slowly erode into a state of disrepair.

There is still so much to see in the world. I pray that the Coronavirus won’t interfere with my travel plans for the next many months. I suppose that if I have one excruciating flaw in my personality it is a tendency to worry excessively. Anxiety has followed me for all of my life, a tendency that I came about honestly from my grandmother, Minnie Bell. If anything does me in it will be my propensity to worry myself into an excitable state of mind. For that reason I keep whirring about like the Energizer Bunny. The busier I am the less prone I am to begin considering scenarios that are unlikely to happen.

Spring is coming and with it my annual cleaning frenzy. I get my garden in tip top shape along with the inside of my home. This year I plan to repaint all of my outdoor furniture before the rust ruins it. I need to clean out closets and get things in order. We’ve been misplacing lots of items of late because everything got stirred around with the Christmas frenzy. It’s no doubt time to rid myself of items that I haven’t used in years as well. Each spring I promise to simplify but never quite go all the way as I should.

Scotland is calling me, but before that I want to take a trip to the mountains with my brothers and sisters-in-law. Somehow I never get enough of those majestic scenes, just as I require a quick visit to New Orleans at least once a year as well. There are places that stir my heart and keep my should happy. Visiting them is like filling a prescription to keep me healthy.

My mother used to urge me to slow down. My teachers complained that I was always tapping a foot or wriggling in my seat. My students laughed at the way I constantly moved around the classroom. I admit to being a big gooey ball of energy that is essentially unable to just sit quietly for long stretches of time. I long ago gave up attempting to be serene. I’ve tried meditating and I just can’t quiet my mind or my body enough to hear my own breathing or heartbeat.

A colleague once offered me an energy drink. I didn’t think I needed it but I was curious to see what it’s effect would be on me. I was soon feeling like a nervous cat. If I’d had claws I do believe that I might have been able to walk up the wall and hang upside down from the ceiling. I don’t need anything artificial to keep moving. Energy is my middle name.

Perhaps the day will come when “SLOW’ will finally be my mantra. I watched my dynamo aunts eventually spend more time sitting than moving around, but they were well into their nineties before that happened. I tend to believe that I still have many 75 miles per hour days ahead of me. I intend to take full advantage of them and be thankful that I still have the energy to zip through life.

Where Did I Put Those Glasses?

glassesI am still able to pass my driver’s test without the aid of glasses. When I drive I have no difficulty reading the signs and keeping an eye out for problems on the road. When it comes to reading however I’m as blind as a bat. Without the aid of magnification I’m as blind as a bat. Everything on a written page literally looks like a barcode making me think of that poor fellow in an episode of The Twilight Zone who after becoming the last human on earth consoles himself with the thought that he will just read all of the books in the library until his own demise. He’s actually looking forward to living alone and having unfettered time to enjoy his favorite hobby of reading. He gathers a stack of volumes with the intent of settling down with the company of good stories when he drops his glasses and hears them shatter. The look on his face when he realizes that his situation is hopeless has stayed in my mind since I first saw that heartbreaking story.

Back then my eyes were like those of a hawk. I had no trouble with eyesight and never considered that I might one day require some kind of assistance just to be able to read a label. I first noticed difficulty discerning letters on a page when I was in my forties studying for my masters degree, In between the reading for my job and the additional load for my classes my eyes were in a constant state of fatigue. Before long I realized that I was continually squinting and holding things as far away as my arms were able to reach just to make out the print. I knew I needed to submit to seeing a doctor to find out what was happening.

I wasn’t surprised at all to learn that I had become farsighted. The doctor prescribed the lenses that I would need and I purchased a rather expensive pair of glasses that made all of my problems disappear. Unfortunately I had to remove my eyewear for all of my regular activities save for reading, so I was continually misplacing them. Not having grown up with poor eyesight made it challenging to remember to keep my glasses at hand. Eventually I lost them somewhere and given what I had spent on them I was reluctant to rush out to replace them. Instead I tried on some reading glasses at the drug store until I found a pair that made everything clear again.

I’ve never spent more than twenty dollars on my lenses but I’ve learned from experience that I can’t be foolish enough to depend on a single pair. I’ve noted that they often have a tendency to break so I carry a little repair kit, but my biggest problem is leaving them somewhere and not knowing where it was that I set them down. Now I have additional pairs of glasses stashed everywhere in case of an emergency. I’m not about to be like that poor man who for all intents and purposes became blind because his source of eyesight was destroyed.

I’ve tried a number of remedies for keeping track of those devilish pairs of eyewear that seem intent on hiding from me. I’ve tried to wear them on a chain or a leather tether around my neck but they get in the way and detract from the overall look of my fashion. Besides I suppose that they think they make me look like an old lady as if nobody would otherwise notice that I am seventy one years old. “Vanity thy name is Sharron.”

I once purchased a cute little pin that allowed me to wear my glasses on my lapel whenever they weren’t on my face. That system didn’t look half bad but the critters somehow fell off without my noticing and left me in a real pickle when I needed them. I’ve found the best defense is to always have an heir and a spare at hand so most of the time I have glasses strategically posted in various rooms of the house, in my purse, inside my car and even in our travel trailer. I won’t go on a long trip without having extra pairs just in case. In spite of my best efforts I somehow I still find myself seeking a store where I might replace the ones that have somehow escaped from me. I usually end up paying far more for the new glasses than I would otherwise do because I am desperate and can’t actually see what they cost before I buy them.

I suppose that the day will eventually come when I will need to wear bifocals or some such thing. Then I will have to keep up with my eyewear all of the time. I’m hoping that having to wear them during all of my waking hours will do the trick but I worry that I won’t be as vigilant as my husband who gets by with his single pair of glasses with no trouble whatsoever. When I think of how often I misplace my phone I feel certain that I will somehow find a way to lose even a pair of glasses that I am supposed to wear all day long.

Wrinkles on my skin and aches in my knees are just a couple of reminders that I am growing old. So far I’ve been able to push back on becoming less and less energetic but my eyes remind me that time will take its toll in spite of my denial. Of late I’ve had to wear my glasses when cleaning so that I don’t miss dirt and grime that fades away without benefit of magnification. I worry about becoming like my grandmother who shortly before her death no longer noticed that her milk had curdled or that a foreign object was in her food.

Pride goeth before the fall. I suppose it’s time to make regular appointments with an ophthalmologist and maybe even purchase some bonafide glasses with a spare to be certain that I never lose the remarkable gift of sight. For now though I’m doing quite well with the cheap pairs that have become regular features wherever I go. For the time being I’m trying to remember where I put the brand new ones that I recently purchased. I suppose I should go look for them.     

A Treasure Trove

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There is no telling what might lie inside the folds of a woman’s purse, particularly when it is a rather large one. In my own case a handbag becomes a repository for all sorts of “just in case” provisions. Of course I carry the usual suspects regularly like wallet, phone, keys, reading glasses. For quick trips I don’t need much more than that, but if I’m going to be away from home for a time I need to include some ibuprofen just in case my knees begin to ache or I feel the threat of a migraine. I almost always need a comb to rearrange my fine hair that blows into a kind of bird’s nest at the slightest provocation from wind. I generally include a pair of sunglasses to shade my eyes from the bright rays of the sun and then there’s a tube of lipstick to brighten my countenance after a long day.

In truth I prefer the “less is more” version of packing a purse these days. It’s uncomfortable to lug a heavy load around as I do my errands. I find myself cleaning out extraneous items more and more often but when I was younger my purse was akin to a hardware store. I never left home without a repair kit for my classes and a sewing kit to men loose buttons or an unexpected tear in my clothing. I carried a little notebook for writing down things that I wanted to remember or lists of things that I needed. I toted tiny cans of hairspray and a little pouch filled with first aid items. I’d bring along my checkbook and a supply of pencils and pens. In winter I included gloves and chapstick. If the purse was large enough I might even bring a book or my laptop. Like a girl scout I was ready for virtually anything.

When I was still a fledgling mom I’d have toys and bags of snacks inside my purse, maybe even little bottles of water or milk. I’d bring extra changes of clothing for the little ones just in case of an accident. My bag was like a magician’s prop, holding anything that would feed or entertain my girls. There was no telling what may lie inside.

I used to go to the movies with my mom. She was from the old school when twenty five cents got her a ticket and a little snack. The ever rising prices of things astounded her and so she found ways to save on the cost of entertainment by getting me to hide candy and such in my purse. In between her own handbag and mine we were able to bring in some rather amazing things. On one occasion she asked me to stow away some fried chicken and two cans of Coke in the folds of my handbag while she smuggled in homemade popcorn. I have to admit that there was something rather exciting about the adventure of it all and we no doubt had the best food of anyone in the theater.

After 9/11 it became less and less acceptable or advisable to carry half of a household inside a purse. I’ve lost cans of hairspray, pocket knives, nail clippers and all sorts of things during searches. I’ve learned to carefully check the contents of my purse before leaving home lest I lose something that I value. Some places insist on clear bags or pocketbooks so small that only the most essential items will fit. I don’t grumble too much because it’s all in the name of safety but I sometimes worry that I’ll get caught short in an emergency situation.

I honestly don’t know how men get by with only pockets to hold their essentials. I suppose it works because their clothing is made quite differently. I have few outfits with sewn in pouches large enough to carry even the most basic things that I need whenever I leave home. My keys would take up most of the room and my phone would undoubtedly fall out of my jeans and trousers. My dresses have no compartments at all. To eliminate purses the fashion designers would have to rethink the way they make women’s clothing. It would be revolutionary and perhaps not so popular among the ladies.

I’m a fan of nice purses but I draw the line after a certain price. I’ve been in stores where the handbags cost more than my refrigerator, and while they are lovely I can’t imagine making such an investment in an item that I will probably want to replace within a year. Besides, I don’t want to be lugging something around that makes me a target for thieves.

My favorite purse of all time was one that my husband bought for me in Estes Park, Colorado. We found it in a little shop called Craftsmen in leather. The owner designed and made each handbag with magnificent skill. It was a thing of beauty that I treasured and it lasted far longer than any such item that I have ever owned. Sadly a leaky ink pen did a number on it one day, damaging the color and suppleness of the leather. When I returned to the little shop in hopes of replacing it with a new one, I learned that the man who had so lovingly crafted fine objects had retired and sold the place to new owners. The newer proprietors had kept the name of the store but filled it with horrid manufactured pieces that did not come close to the quality that I longed to find. I still dream of one day finding another purse like that one on ebay.

I suppose that like most women I enjoy a cute and comfortable pair of shoes and a nicely made purse but these days I find that I am more and more able to fit whatever I think I may need into a smaller and smaller parcel. I’ve lightened the weight on my shoulder and opted more and more for practicality. Still, there is nothing like a truly fine purse. It creates a kind of signature for an outfit and helps to define a woman’s personality. Even better is that looking inside of it can a be a real treasure hunt.

A Fall Tradition

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Fall is filled with a number of traditions for me. I don’t ever see leaves turning glorious colors unless I travel away from my home near Houston. Everything stays green here until the leaves eventually dry into a crispy brown and fall to the ground, so I bring out all of my artificial wreaths and garlands to remind me that somewhere the colors of fall are glorious. I decorate with pumpkins, acorns and pine cones, festooning my home with shades of orange, yellow, red and brown. It’s quite lovely and in many ways I enjoy the decorations of the fall season even more than those of Christmas.

I take an annual fall pilgrimage to The Cheesecake Factory to share a piece of pumpkin cheesecake with husband Mike. The treat is only available for a short time each year so I make careful plans to be certain that I don’t miss the opportunity to enjoy the creamy goodness while I can. I used to purchase an entire pumpkin cheesecake for my birthday but the days when I might eat entire slices without adding inches to my waist are long gone. Sometimes it feels as though simply looking at a slice of pumpkin cheesecake adds a pound or two to my girth. Now I eat sensibly and sparingly, but always include at least one shared slice of my favorite taste of fall.

I rearrange my closet each fall to bring jackets and sweaters within reach in case the weather finally turns cool. I store shorts and sleeveless tops farther to the back. It’s like getting a whole new wardrobe and I always find myself feeling a bit giddy about the way that the clothes hide a multitude of sins in my eternal fight to maintain a healthy weight.

So much about fall makes me incredibly happy save for one tradition that never fails to come around. Ever since I can remember there is a time when my throat begins to feel as though it is going to close up so tightly that I won’t be able to swallow. Almost without warning I am unable to speak in a normal tone of voice. My laryngitis forces me to weakly whisper any communication that I wish to convey. No lemon or honey or medication seems to help until it has run its course. For a few days each and every year I learn what it would be like to be trapped in a state of muteness.

Now that I am retired I am able to simply stay home until my body adjusts to whatever allergic reaction I have had to things floating in the air. When I was still teaching my problem was far more serious. I never felt so bad that I need to retire to bed or stay at home, but attempting to teach a lesson in mathematics with a voice so small that it sounded as though it belonged to a tiny mouse was almost impossible. Sadly each school year of my career I found myself attempting to manage students while keeping them in a learning mode without the aid of my voice that would carry across a room. It was always a challenge.

Amazingly my students always rallied to help me. They immediately sensed my predicament and rather than taking advantage of my inability to actually control the situation they resorted to extreme kindness toward me. No matter how rowdy the group of kids might have been under ordinary circumstances they rose to the occasion and proved themselves to be helpful in my time of need. It was as though their natural tendencies to be good overcame any temptations to use my illness against me. I always let them know how much I appreciated their efforts once my voice finally returned, and they assured me that they would save their shenanigans until it was a fair competition.

I find that all people, not just my students, trend toward kindness. This year when my annual bout of laryngitis came I was scheduled to have my driver’s license renewed. Upon my arrival the workers at the DPS were determined to be as surly as they are known to be until they realized that the squeak in my voice was real. Each person suddenly became incredibly helpful and even smiled at me. They actually seemed to enjoy having an opportunity to be nice. Instead of barking orders they treated me gently and even made suggestions as to how I might treat my illness.

On an evening when I was slated to help my grandsons review for a Pre Calculus test I stopped at a Starbuck’s to get some hot tea in the hopes that it might keep my voice going long enough to be of use to the study process. The barista was quite patient as I attempted to squeak out my order. The expression on his face told me that he was feeling my pain. When I was searching for the change I needed to pay my bill he anxiously waved away the few pennies that I was unable to locate and wished me godspeed and a quick recovery.

I suppose that my point is that each fall when my allergies wreak havoc on my system I am reminded that people are truly good. It’s always been that way and I am certain it always will be. It’s easy to focus on the ugliness in the world but it is the exception, not the rule. That’s why we notice it. What we often fail to see are the thousands of moments when we humans take care of one another without even being asked to do so. Being nudged to remember this each fall is just one more reason that I so love this time of year.

The Frogs

lucky frogMy grandchildren are becoming all grown up. They are all either teens or young adults in their twenties. The days of hearing the seven of them tearing through my house playing chase or hide and seek are gone. Now they are more likely to play quiet sedentary games or engage in conversations with us older folk. They have hundreds of questions about history and enjoy discovering the movies and music that are classics from the sixties, seventies and eighties. It’s rather wonderful spending time with them because our interactions are more and more adult and they become sweeter as they age, as unafraid to admit their love as they were when they were toddlers. They no longer hide with embarrassment when they see us approaching them while they are in the company of their friends. They quite openly smile at us, squeeze us with great hugs, and express their feelings with honesty. They even solicit advice and listen to our stories with keen attention.

It’s nice to know that they are going to be the kind of adults who will do a grand job of moving our world into the future. I have to give a nod of approval to my daughters and sons-in-law for parenting jobs well done. There’s still some minor work to be completed before they are fully launched into adulthood but things are looking quite promising.

I’m quite proud of the next generation but sometimes I miss the little ones with their innocent joyfulness and laughter that used to echo through the rooms of our home whenever they came to visit. When I see grandparents with babies and toddlers I remember how much fun it was to escape into a wonderland of joyful abandon when my own grandchildren hung on my every word and laughed at even the lamest of jokes.

These days I enjoy entertaining the children of my nephews and nieces who are still in the fanciful stage of development. They wander through my house giggling and asking delightfully silly questions about the most unexpected things. They notice items that I have on display that I sometimes forget that I even have. Among their favorites are my frogs, a trio of amphibians associated with my teaching days that remind me of dear friends that I now rarely see. They are whimsical and as adorable as the children who are invariably fascinated by them, the source of smiles and maybe even a story or two.

The oldest of my frog family lives upstairs in what I fondly call “the children’s room.” She is a rather lovely creature who sits atop a shelf filled with books, games, photos of former students and mementoes from my long career as a teacher. She was a birthday gift from a counselor at South Houston Intermediate, a quite beautiful woman with an impish sense of humor. The frog, not the lady, has green leathery skin and incredibly long and skinny legs that seem almost incongruent with her plump midsection. I hate to admit that her figure now resembles my own rather closely but like me she hides her flaws under a carefully selected outfit. Her gingham dress is bright and cheery and the little apron that protects it also serves as a way to keep her fat belly from being noticeable. She has lovely eyes that protrude with a kind of happiness that matches her grin. She holds a little net for catching flies and she used to boast a cute wide brimmed straw hat but it somehow got lost over the years. She is as cute as can be and nary a child fails to notice her. In fact I do believe that she might give Miss Piggy a run for her money in attracting Kermit the frog if given the chance.

The next frog that game to live with me is from Chinatown in New York City. I bought him at the suggestion of an art teacher who had invited me to join her for an award ceremony at Carnegie Hall where one of our students was to be honored. She showed me the frog in a crowded shop and convinced me that I needed to take hime home.

He’s a fierce looking but friendly character who stands guard by my front door. He is like a soldier on duty with his immovable bearing and elegant red coat. He perennially holds a quarter in his mouth which is supposed to be a sign that we will never find ourselves without the funds we need to survive. His fabled story insists that he is a bearer of luck, a creature who represents good fortune, tranquility and harmony. He is also the one object inside my house who totally fascinates every child who enters. They are never sure whether to love him or fear him until he gently allows them to take his quarter without harm. Then they seem to understand that he may look gruff but he is indeed a kind fellow whose only job is to be steadfast in his duties.

The youngest of my frog family was yet another gift from a colleague at work. He is lustrous and elegant, well toned and athletic. His sleek body and strong legs give him the appearance of an Olympic god. He proudly poses as though he is modeling his lovely attributes. His skin is a combination of jade mottled with ebony and tiny flecks of gold. He is a muscular creature who might join the ranks of the Avengers and fit right in with the superheroes. He is worthy of belonging to a king or a queen even though his actual monetary value is not great. There is just something remarkable about him that nobody fails to notice, especially youngsters who view him with a kind of reverence. They want to know who he is and why he is in my house. I always tell them that he is a treasure that reminds me of the glory of my teaching days and the dear friends who once worked with me.

I love all three of my frogs. Until I googled the word frog I had little idea of their storied history. They are the stuff of literary metaphor. No wonder they make me and my visitors smile. Mostly they remind me of other times in my life that I shared with people who brought me the good fortune that only comes from treasured friendships. Frogs are a sign of a peaceful and accomplished life and in my own case they are reminders that I did something meaningful for young people along with so many devoted people who worked alongside me. How wonderful is that!