A Fragmented Life

Like most folks who reach a certain age, I write notes to help me remember stuff. However, this isn’t recent– I’ve done it for years, with varying degrees of success. And because I’m a writer, I tend to do it more than many people, I suspect.

For the short term, the notes serve me well, and nobody was happier than I was when sticky notes came along. “Dry Cleaners!” commands a neon pink sticky on my car’s sun visor, and I remember to redeem my best black wool pants instead of standing in front of the closet wondering where they are.

I also make notes on things I observe or may want to write about. Sometimes a wait at the doctor’s office or at the oil change place gives me time to make notes on a short story idea or possible article. This is good. What isn’t so good is when the notes go cold and I have no idea what they once referenced. There is always at least one notebook in my purse, and going through some of the old ones is enough to make my head spin.

“Potty training experts, $120 a week” reads one mysterious entry. This must have been a story idea, since nobody at my house except the kitten has needed potty training for decades.

A hospital stay led me to observe that the names I read repeatedly seemed to become old friends or familiar places: “Stearis”–wasn’t that the name of that nice family that lived next door? “Fort James”–did once we go there for a weekend? How about “Tronex,” a brand of isolation gown which sounds like a new and improved Trojan?

The ones which really stump me are the ones which over time have come to make no sense at all. “Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet” is carefully noted. I have no idea why. And my all time favorite, so far: “The old woman could not but the pig went with him.” Hmmm.


You are so rude!

A young man in a hurry drove around my car on the shoulder of the freeway and cut in front of me. He also gave me a one-finger salute as he did this. I wasn’t surprised–this is not the first time this has happened lately. (And yes, I do drive the speed limit or a bit over, and no, I did not return the gesture.)

This apparent disregard of manners and increasing trend toward vulgarity is just a part of the current course of incivility in our times. People are increasingly dismissive of the rights, let alone the comfort, of others. The “new norm” is said to be bad behavior. It is unusual to attend a movie,concert or lecture where someone’s cell phone conversation isn’t part of the experience.

And it’s not only older people who notice and remark on it. Public Agenda, funded in part by the PEW Foundation, conducted a poll and found that 79 percent of the U.S. population thinks there is a lack of respect in today’s society. We are ruder than we used to be, say percent. And a whopping 84 percent think we are no longer teaching our children manners.

Sara Hacala is a certified etiquette and protocol consultant. She has written a book called Saving Civility: 52 Ways to Tame Rude, Crude and Attitude for a Polite Planet. You can read more about her ideas at http://www.savingcivility.com.

She believes that we must reclaim regard for others and reverse the current trend. She feels that older Americans can benefit themselves and the society as a whole by doing so. Here are five tools from what Hacala calls our civility tool kit:
-Make a habit of practicing kindness, generosity and gratitude. (You’ll live longer, healthier and happier.
-Nurture your social relationships. (Scientists say these relationships generate our greatest happiness.)
-Establish meaningful dialogue with medical providers, asserting your right to respectful and compassionate treatment.
-Seize “teachable moments” with your grandchildren if you love them but not their behavior. (Social skills are a more accurate predictor of future success than test scores)
-Promote decency and decorum among elected officials> Urge civil discourse and bipartisanship to avoid gridlock.

Our future depends upon it.


Water Aerobics Anyone?


I’m ready to try water aerobics. Much as I hate to admit it, regular exercise, like walking or floor aerobics, is getting to be a little too much.  My knees just won’t take it anymore.  Exercise like that may make me healthier, but it leads to sleepless nights.  When I exercise more than 15 minutes at a time during the day, the pain in my left knee keeps me awake for hours that night.  I’ve had one surgery on that knee but the orthopedic doc and I agree that I’m looking at a replacement—eventually.

            Our local senior center is offering water aerobics this summer.  Thirteen sessions over seven weeks, in the outdoor pool and all for $20.  The natatorium also has a sweet deal for seniors—senior water exercise or senior water strength training.  My insurance will pay for part or all of these classes.

            Because you are forced to move slowly in water aerobics, you don’t have to be especially quick thinking to do the exercises, which is nice for those of us who are coordination challenged.  Most people find water aerobics less tiring than land aerobics, and exercise physiologists calculate that a 150 pound person burns 190 calories in a 40-minute water aerobics class.  This sounds better and better.  Now if I can just find a swimsuit that will make me look 20 pounds lighter.

This may make me a better speaker . . .or not!Who says nothing in life is free?   Yesterday was the annual Weatherford College writers conference, Books & Authors & All that Jazz.  For the fourth year in a row, I was truly impressed with the number and quality of presenters at this one day FREE event.  Lots of chances to learn from established authors, and to meet and mingle with them at the breaks and after class.

One of the things which impresses me about the conference is how very willing the authors are to help us newbies along.  Harry Hall, shown in this photo with me and his book on author presentations, graciously offered to help me craft a speech once I begin the book signings for my new book, The Senior Center Shakedown.  The panel of authors was amazingly helpful in presenting their own marketing tips for getting their works before the public.

The authors have a chance to sell their books at the event, and get lots of exposure.  It’s a win-win situation.

The conference is underwritten by Parker County Today, a regional magazine filled with glossy photos of all things Parker County.   Linda Bagwell, on the staff of Weatherford College, has been the  ramrod for this conference for the last decade.  And she has done an awesome job–since I’ve been going it’s only gotten better each year.  But Linda is retiring this year, and the future of  Books & Authors is up in the air.  In an era of tight budgets and cutbacks I’m hoping that the college and the magazine will find a way to continue the conference and locate someone  brave enough to attempt  filling Linda’s shoes.

My grandson put a screwdriver through his lower lip yesterday. Through the lip and into his gum.  My stomach turned over just hearing about it.

“Not to worry” said My Daughter The Pediatric Nurse Practitioner.  “He’s okay now and it’s all good.  Could have been his eye.”

This is a woman who is very, very careful with her kids.  The kids are priority one for their parents. They are rigorously home schooled, the kind and amount of TV they can watch is decided by their parents, and their internet accounts are closely monitored.  The family attends church together.  Their parents spend lots of time with the kids and they know exactly with whom their kids are supposed to be spending time when they’re away from home.

But of course none of this can keep you from getting a screwdriver through your lip if you’re a teenaged boy and messing around with your friends.

And kids can run into things even worse than screwdrivers, no matter how carefully you parent them.  Several of my friends have granddaughters who have gotten pregnant and are now raising their babies by themselves, or with  help from their parents and grandparents.  And in at least two cases, friends’ children have become involved in what have turned out to be very toxic and life-altering relationships.

Sometimes in spite of all the parents can do, kids get involved in drugs or take paths that lead them to destructive lifestyles.  They become enamored of petty (or worse) crimes and end up in jail.  They drive drunk and end up in the morgue.

Things didn’t seem so complicated when my kids were growing up.  There was all the usual teenaged angst, of course, and they made some choices that nearly drove me wild.  I worried when they were out late at night and agonized over some of the paths they took.  But it was a very different world that they inhabited in the ’70s and ’80s, and that world didn’t seem fraught with nearly the temptations and opportunities for self destruction faced by today’s kids.

And of course in the end, young people will do what they will do.  It’s always been that way, even when I was a kid.  But I pray daily for the young people in my life that they will make good choices and resist temptations.  That they will grow up healthy and strong and the kind of people their parents are hoping they will be. And that they won’t run with screwdrivers.

Politics as Usual

Politics as Usual

The ongoing, never ending Republican debates are making me sick.  It’s a real three ring circus with the candidates swooping into some town in the heartland to shake hands, proclaim that “aw shucks, I’m just one of the people” and pose for sound bites.  Rick Santorum appears at a shooting range, Mitt Romney goes “down home” and brags about eating grits and biscuits for breakfast.  Newt Gingrich is—Newt Gingrich.  The whole thing begins to look more and more like a Saturday Night Live sketch run amok.

Don’t get me wrong.  I would hate this just as much if they were Democrats.  In fact I did shudder whenever the last  Democratic race was televised.  It had all the petty, acrimonious debate we’re being treated to this spring and a lot fewer really interesting candidates. With less good hair.

But the fact remains that these folks, Republican or Democrat, are career politicians, running for office in a country which keeps either electing or appointing them to a place at the public trough.

It wasn’t always this way.  Since the founding of our Republic, most Americans have been skeptical of concentration of political power.  The founders created a system of checks and balances meant to discourage the accumulation of power and influence. Congressional service was viewed as a part time job held by citizen legislators who would serve and then return home to their farms and businesses.

In his excellent book, 1861 The Civil War Awakening (Alfred A. Knopf, $28.95), Adam Goodheart writes “. . . These were the sorts of valuables that the capital city’s transient denizens often left behind, as the ever revolving wheel of congressional elections and presidential administrations, the waxing and waning  of political parties, regularly returned large numbers of inhabitants to the far flung provinces from which they had so recently arrived.”

Turnover back then was probably helped by the fact that legislators were paid $6 a day, while they were in session. If the member needed an assistant, he was paid out of the member’s pocket. In 1815 members began receiving an annual salary of $1,500 a year.  Today the salary is $174,000 for members of congress.  (The salary has been frozen for 2010 and 2011. Boo Hoo.)

Texas is one of 13 states that have no term limits for governor.  Our current governor, Rick Perry, is the longest serving governor in the state’s history. Perry was elected lieutenant governor in 1998, took over the governorship when George  W. Bush was elected President in 2000, and won terms of his own in the 2002, 2006 and 2010 races.  Early viewers of the Republican debates can judge for themselves how well his long experience in office inspired and educated Perry.

Unless the American people decide to demand term limits, it will remain pretty much politics as usual.  The incumbents will be re-elected and gridlock will cripple the country.  The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1995 that a constitutional amendment will be needed to impose limits.

It was Ronald Reagan who wrote “One thing our founding fathers could not foresee . . .is a nation governed by professional politicians who have a vested interest in getting reelected.  They probably envisioned a fellow serving a couple of hitches and then looking forward to getting back to the farm.”

Not Ms. Fix It

Not Ms. Fix It

My friend’s hot water heater had a nervous breakdown this week.  After getting my recommendation for a plumber, she called back later that afternoon to tell me the pilot light had been re-lighted. She would soon have hot water, but had to pay $85 for the privilege.

After commiserating for a while I mentioned that my next project (or attempted project) was the hanging of new mini blinds to replace the ones my rowdy kitten had recently demolished.  I say “attempted project” because anything involving electric screwdrivers and drills makes me nervous.  Very nervous.

I have no mechanical ability.  None. Zip.  Never met a nail I couldn’t manage to drive in crooked, never sawed a board which didn’t turn out to be too short or long, never mind that old adage to “measure twice and cut once.”  Light fixtures in which I have replaced a light bulb have been known to come crashing to the floor in the middle of the night.

I don’t think skill with tools is gender based. I’m a lot like my grandfather. He couldn’t do even simple repairs, but insisted on attempting them, until my grandmother hid the hammer and nails from him.  (Maybe it’s genetic.)  My grandmother, on the other hand, could saw, paint, hammer nails and build fences.

So it’s clear that all women are not mechanically challenged.  My friend Barb can do most household repairs herself.  She has her own toolbox.  Her dad taught her the basics and nothing intimidates her.  Another friend, Kathy, is a first rate carpenter and can not only do maintenance—she can build entire rooms!

Me, not so much.

My late husband knew about my ineptness and he either did or hired a contractor to do all things mechanical around our place.  This presumption that he would handle “all that” ruffled my feminist sensibilities—at first.  After seeing what a mess I made of any “projects” I attempted, we both agreed that work involving tools—especially power tools– would be his job. It was both safer and more pleasant that way. And so it went for 28 years, until he passed away 15 months ago.

My husband’s very good but much younger friend Keith has been a godsend to me.  He calls every couple of months to ask if I need anything done.  And if I do, he comes out promptly and takes care of things.  But Keith has a very responsible fulltime job, a family and lots of things to do with his time.  I feel comfortable asking only every so often, even when he tells me to call “anytime.”  And I can’t really afford to pay someone to come out for each tiny “emergency.”

So far I’ve managed to put together the new vacuum cleaner (who knew the darn things were plastic and came in pieces?), to patch some small holes in the wall and to do a passable job with the electric trimmer/edger (if you don’t count the one cord I cut in half.)

And now I have discovered a book called The-You-Don’t-Need-A-Man-to-Fix-It-Book. I’m reading chapters like “Getting to Know Your Plumbing” and “Hanging Things on Walls.”  There may be hope for me, but I’m not buying a nail gun yet.