December Birthdays

I have a long history of having birthday parties in December. Very long. This year will be my 75th time. (I remember when I used to think 75 was old. But I thought 40 was old, then 50, etc. until I realized that at those ages, I was young-to-youngish. I do think that I was at the height of my powers in my 50’s. Now at 75, I won’t say I’m elderly, but I’m definitely older—See, I digress as older people are wont to do.)

my fortieth

My birthday is December 28. I was born at 11:59PM—on my first birth record, the nurse had written in December 29. Which we didn’t know until I was sixteen and was getting my driver’s license. It really doesn’t matter that much unless you are getting your astrological chart done—but really, who gets born a minute before midnight? No wonder I’m always late.

my fourth

You might think having a birthday between Christmas and New Year’s Eve would be festive and fun. It’s not. First off, no one is really in the mood—they’re full of sugar plums and are saving up for New Year’s Eve’s champagne. So, my birthday is an imposition. I started feeling this way at any early age. I was about seven when I heard my mother in the kitchen. She was making tuna sandwiches for my party.

“We’re in retail,” she said to no one. “I don’t have time for this.” It was a refrain I was to hear year after year.

Often the weather is not good on my birthday. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been rained or snowed out. It happened in Seattle all the time, but I thought I’d be safe in California. Nope. One year, we had a wonderful party planned at an Italian restaurant. The only problem was that the 101 and the entrance to the restaurant were both flooded. Friends from Santa Barbara had to turn around, and you needed waders to get into Padri. Once in, it was a wonderful evening, despite the smell of wet wool.

Three years ago, the family went to Hawaii in December. Everyone likes to adventure so I planned a birthday trip to the top of Mauna Kea. I’d arranged for a guide and picnic lunches. My granddaughter and I even went to Target to buy jackets and gloves. We were set to go. I didn’t even think about the weather—it was Hawaii for goodness sake. Then the guide called me.

“What kind of sandwich would you like tomorrow?” I asked him.

 “Sorry, but I’m calling with bad news,” he said. “They’ve had so much snow at the top, the road is closed.” At first I thought he was joking, but the joke again was on me.

We did go to a lovely restaurant that night, right on the beach. It was so cold that we had to wear coats, and the wind knocked down our water glasses across the table in a domino effect. We took the birthday cake to-go.

my 70th

My 70th birthday was not entirely rained out. It was cold and drizzly in Montecito, but all 19 of us were staying at the Biltmore, which was cozy and warm. Our family is intrepid, and from Seattle, so we didn’t let the weather stop us. We even took our family walk and managed to have photographs taken outside.

My husband used to make fun of me because I was so sensitive about my birthday—I didn’t want a Christmas wrap or even red and green ribbon on my package.

“You’re the only one who thinks like that,” he’d say.

But one day, after standing in a long line waiting to renew my driver’s license, I found out I was not alone. I happened to be standing between two truckers, who knew each other. (I knew they were truckers because their big rigs were parked in the lot.)

“Hey, your birthday’s this time of year?” the really tall one asked the other.

“Yeah, mine’s on Christmas Eve. Nobody wants to do anything, but maybe go to church,” the other guy said. He looked like a short Arnold Schwarzenegger.

“Mine’s on Christmas. I get one crummy gift that says, “Happy Birthday and Merry Christmas” on it,” the tall one said.

“Me too!” the muscle builder said. “And it’s wrapped in paper with Santa Claus all over it.”

“Me, too,” I put in. They looked down at me as if I were a pesky fly looking for Pence’s white hair, but I wasn’t deterred. “One year when I was ten, my three aunts gave me a half-slip for Christmas and my birthday. I had to write a separate thank you note to each aunt!” I said.

“That’s awful,” Schwarzenegger Wanna-Be said. “What’s a half-slip?”

I explained this antique piece of clothing apparel, and we continued to commiserate with each other until we were called. I couldn’t wait to get home to tell my husband.

my 20th

Some gifts you never forget. On my 20th birthday, my husband gave me an engagement ring. On my 30th, he gave me in an instant hot.  We’d been married ten years by then so you can see how our marriage was progressing. A few years ago, he did give me the largest iPad. My daughter called it a Homer Simpson gift—it seems Homer always gives Marge something he wants. Yep, the only time I ever touched that iPad was when I took it out of the box.

my 68th

I don’t want you to think that all my birthdays were a disaster. Truly, most of them have been great. We’ve had many fun parties along the way. Six years ago, we were in New Zealand and helicoptered to a glacier. And family does seem to like to congregate in Hawaii at the end of December…if there’s not a pandemic.     

So here I am about to celebrate my 75th. I feel much as I did when I was 65. Thanks to PRP and a stem cell in my knee, I can still walk three miles a day, do yoga and work out on ZOOM. I also continue to write and teach . I admit to being a couple of inches shorter and wider, and that my hearing is going downhill faster than Lindsey Vonn. But overall, I feel terrific. Which is a gift.

my 36th

As for other gifts, I’ve asked my family and friends to donate to food banks or a charity. The vaccine will be another gift, but I’ll wait my turn. Which because I’m now 75, will be sooner rather than later. I think I’m 2 millionth in line.

Not far left, Not far right

Not far left, Not far right

It occurred to me as I woke up that I’m not a far left person, although a few on FaceBook have accused me of being that. And I bet those accusers aren’t far right people either. As a matter of fact, I don’t think I’ve ever met a far lefty or righty. I know some Progressives and some Conservatives. But they’re not extremists. They’re not anarchists or white supremacists. They have very different ideologies and different beefs with the government, but at heart, they’re very similar. They’re Americans and they love their country.

Some Americans are “love it or leave it” types. Others are more “I love America, but I’m not blinded by our faults. We can be better.” Which ever, I think most of us want the same thing: to have our families feel safe in our homes and on the street, to be healthy, to have food and shelter, and the opportunity to hug a dear one.

The Covid-19 Pandemic has thrown all of us into a place of uncertainty. In the background there’s the feeling we’re living in an alternative universe of unreality. As my sister told me, “I never like science fiction movies and I hate living in one.” Then there’s the political rhetoric and the bad economic news thrown into the mix to raise my blood pressure and heighten my anxiety.

I think we need to turn off our televisions, radios and social media websites. We are being ruled by talking heads. I, for one, know my head is spinning.

Where Am I?

Trying to make sense of all 2020ing events.

A Corner of My Mind

A sense of foreboding accompanies me during the day and follows me into my dreams at night. It’s become so commonplace that it’s almost white noise now. What’s going to go wrong next? I wonder.

While I’m busy during the day, I’m actually fine. I drown out the dirge with the sonata of positive activity. I’ve always been a busy person and that attribute is saving me now. I can find more than enough to do each day. Then I stop thinking about the disaster our country and world has become.

I know that I am privileged. Our personal life is not a disaster. Although the shutdown caused us to lose almost half our income, we’re fine. Our kids are fine. Our grandkids are fine. We all have enough to eat and roofs over are heads. We have heat and air conditioning. So far, we’re healthy. But I can’t see…

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Where Am I?

Where Am I?

A sense of foreboding accompanies me during the day and follows me into my dreams at night. It’s become so commonplace that it’s almost white noise now. What’s going to go wrong next? I wonder.

While I’m busy during the day, I’m actually fine. I drown out the dirge with the sonata of positive activity. I’ve always been a busy person and that attribute is saving me now. I can find more than enough to do each day. Then I stop thinking about the disaster our country and world has become.

I know that I am privileged. Our personal life is not a disaster. Although the shutdown caused us to lose almost half our income, we’re fine. Our kids are fine. Our grandkids are fine. We all have enough to eat and roofs over are heads. We have heat and air conditioning. So far, we’re healthy. But I can’t see my family or hold them or give my grandkids nice tickles back rubs.

Our family has become even closer since the Pandemic started. Though we’re far apart, the phone, FaceTime and texting keep us together. Just now, my granddaughter who’s at Vanderbilt texted me a photo of a tree changing color. I’m in Hawaii–a five hour time difference and thousands of miles away, but the communication is instant.

So I know I’m lucky.

I’ve actually cut off a normal part of my thinking. I usually like to analyze where I am in my life, where I’ve been, where I’m going. Not now. Maybe that’s why I haven’t written my blog for awhile. Because that’s what I explore in the blog: where am I? Maybe it’s better not to know. I can stay on the tight rope and keep going one step at a time. If I look back or forward, I lose my sense of balance.

Two days ago I woke up wondering what has gone wrong now. That’s what I think every morning. It’s not good to have the sense you’re on the train that’s going towards its wreck. But I had a gift that morning, which lifted the feeling that the Grim Reaper was at my side.

As I was making my bed, I looked out the window. There must have been ten egrets roosting outside. Another ten were either on the rooftop or on my lanai. I sat on the rocking chair and watched them, my mood lifting as I did so. After awhile, I came to the computer and started writing.

A Corner of My Mind

I haven’t written in my blog for a while. I had a writing project to finish and then other projects to work on. My mind was taken up by working out how we can help the 600 furloughed people on the resort property we live on in Hawaii. When the hotel and the rest of the facilities closed, people became unemployed. Most still are. I’m on a board that normally works to help the employees with medical needs and by giving scholarships. Since March, we’ve twice given out gift cards to Target, Costco and grocery stores to our employees.

We came to Hawaii on December 8, planning on returning to California on April 20. Because of Covid-19, we are still here.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not complaining. It is a beautiful place to ride out the pandemic. We are fairly safe here although today 55 new cases were reported–the most ever. I know that might not seem like many compared to the surges in other places. But, we are a small place with minimum medical facilities. People are not good about social distancing–maybe people are complacent because they think they are safe in the islands. Some believe it’s nothing more than the flu. Some believe it could never happen to them so they have family gatherings and parties.

If I ever get down about not seeing my kids and grandkids and our dog, I tell myself to get over it. We are so fortunate that I can only be grateful. (I tell myself five things I am grateful for every night. It helps me fall asleep–sometimes.)

My husband and I are staying close to home. I don’t cook every night–maybe four times a week. He’s a grazer and doesn’t want to have to sit down to a meal–and I don’t want to set the table every night either! When our grandkids were here for seven weeks, we did sit down together for dinner every night–it was a ritual we needed.

My relationship with my husband is different now. We spend much of the day in the same space, which can lead to getting on each other’s nerves. The television is a bone of contention–he plays his war movies way too loud. I’m jumpy enough without hearing shooting and shouting all day long. He gets annoyed when I ask him to turn it down or play the sound through his hearing aids. Isn’t that what they are for? On the other hand, we watch more television together than we ever have. We enjoy that time very much–enjoy each other during that time.

When I look at pictures of the Corona Virus from under a microscope, I’m struck by how pretty it looks. How can something so virulent look so nice?

The Human Spirit

“It Is Not the Strongest of the Species that Survives But the Most Adaptable.”

I thought this column was going to be about how it feels to be a grandparent of a Westlake High graduate. I planned to grouse a bit about sitting in the stands as the heat of the sun attacked us while we waited for the ceremony to start. I planned to write about my pride in watching my Valedictorian granddaughter cross the stage to receive her diploma. I was going to write about how time is passing so quickly and how bittersweet that is.

But that was before COVID-19. That was when I still had the luxury to wonder if I could wear a large sunhat in the stands to protect my aging skin—and my hair color! As if…

Now my granddaughter will not have a graduation ceremony at all. She won’t get to throw her mortarboard up in the air in celebration. She won’t get to walk with the other Valedictorians. The world is a different place now. I don’t think it will ever be quite the same, and that’s not all bad.

Charles Darwin said that the survival of a species is all about their ability to adapt to their environment. And that’s what I see happening around me. We’re adapting to the circumstances we find ourselves in.

For instance, the hours I used to spend in the beauty salon, I’m now using to clean the house. I’m finding it satisfying in a strange way. I’d always wondered how to use a Swiffer. I’d see it in the aisle in the grocery story and it seemed a mystery to me. Not any more. But then someone told me about the power mop and I upgraded also found out about the wonders of the Clorox toilet bowl wand. My grandson, Garrett, and I tried it out together. Wow, did it clean the toilet bowl in a jiffy!

I have to admit that one day I was so industrious with my Clorox and Lysol that I gave myself an asthma attack from inhaling the cleaning solutions.  My throat was very sore and I began to cough—you can imagine what I imagined. Even my husband was concerned.

“Take your temperature,” he ordered.

It was my normal 97. 2.

Have you noticed that the things you prize after February 2020 are different than before? I first was aware of this during my cleaning frenzy when I checked under my bathroom sink and found a full bottle of Clorox spray cleaner. You’d have thought I won the Power Ball jackpot!

I’m also finding that we use things differently. My grandson, Evan, found a shell on the beach that must have been there for a while as it was crusted with sand and debris. Normally I’d have had him soak it in rubbing alcohol to see if it would bring up the shine. Because we had more Vodka in the house, we used that instead. We’re also learning to conserve. I can’t even imagine discarding a roll of toilet paper that isn’t down to the bare cardboard tube.

I see another positive pattern: neighbors helping each other out. It’s as simple as people checking with each other to see if they need something at the store. One day I found a source for masks and bought them for three families.

When Kathy came to pick hers up on the bench outside my door, she left me a bottle of Lysol spray. I was overwhelmed by her generosity.

I believe most people crave the company of others. We want to see each other and share important events together. Zoom, Skype and FaceTime are tools we’ve adopted to adapt our situation so we can do this. Even I, who can’t use the TV remote control, learned to create a meeting on Zoom so my creative writing class could meet.

We’ve had an unusual opportunity for adaptation. Two of our grandsons and their friends came for Spring Break and ended up hunkering with us in Hawaii. Every day, Moe and I have known how lucky we are to have these lively cheerful human beings with us. My only problem was learning to adapt to the amount of food young adults can eat. My first meatloaf, made in an 8X8 pan was way too small. The next, in a 13X9 filled the bill.

Adapting to how I really look is in another realm of Reality. Without Botox, my face is beginning to fold into a piece of origami. One thing I’m glad about is the loose elastic band of my sweatpants because my comfort eating has gotten out of hand. I find I can’t live without my Hershey’s chocolate bar with almonds. Or my double martini. As for the gray hair? I have used the Madison Reed hair product I bought so I don’t like so skunkish.

Staying home to stay safe has not been easy for such a mobile society as ours. We’re used to flying here and there, maybe on a whim. One of my favorite things is going to movies—I just read that may be a thing of the past. Warner Bros. pulled one of its big summer movies from release in theaters; it will go straight to video-on-demand. Universal did the same.

One of the hardest parts of the lockdown has been not being able to touch our loved ones. But keeping safe has been worth it. It not only helps us, it keeps our whole society safer. Even though I know that’s true, there’s a part of me that can’t help wishing I could still be in the Westlake High School stands, sweating through my clothes, watching my granddaughter graduate. I swear I’d never complain about anything again.

Getting to a New Normal

I can’t believe it’s been so long since I’ve written. I’m supposed to write every two weeks or at least once a month. But it has been a busy time. Our grandsons came for Spring Break and stayed for seven weeks. We were dealing with the disaster of the Covid 19 Pandemic and trying to create a haven for us all. I became a great cook again after a hiatus of quite a few years. I learned the wonders of the Clorox wand. And my best toy is the new Sharp power mop.

We sure have changed in a short period of time. I can’t believe I took that dopey picture in my last blog. Boy, was I ignorant. I’m making fun of the virus–who would wear a mask and gloves? Ha, ha, who’s laughing now. This new photo of me is from opening mail and boxes.

What! Me Worry?

I’m trying to be levelheaded about the COVID-19 virus, but I find myself of two minds. One of the minds says not to worry, that this too shall pass. And if I’m in good health and living a healthy life, I should be fine…even if I’m in my seventies and have lung issues.

“Oh,” the other mind points out. “You’re a perfect candidate, not only for contracting the virus, but dying from it.”

Great! I think and head to Target for more hand sanitizer.

I read an article by a man who had the virus and said it wasn’t that bad. That was the headline, at least, but as I continued to read about his 103 degree fever and two week hospital stay, I wasn’t reassured. Actually, I had a PTSD flashback because it reminded me of how I felt when I had malaria ten years ago. I had a 105 degree fever for many days–let me tell you it wasn’t good.

I decided to do a little more research on the effect of the corona virus because I wanted to be pro-active. One thing I read is that medications may become in short supply. That’s because many of our medications are made in China (who knew) where factories have been closed down and transportation cut back. So I decided to refill as many of our prescriptions as I could. That was easy. Hopefully there won’t be a problem, but I still have the medication for 3 months.

An issue that is already coming up is the hugging, kissing, shaking hands dilemma. I faced this two years ago when recovering from pneumonia. I didn’t want to be rude, but I was vulnerable to any infection and my lungs weren’t functioning well, as it was. I got good advice from people whose lungs were also not at 100%. One friend told me she bumps elbows with people instead of knuckles. Another told me to hold a glass of wine in one hand and an appetizer in the other at a cocktail party. “Then you shrug and say sorry when they zero in for a handshake,” she explained.

I think it’s important not to be Chicken Little. The sky is not falling. We’ll be okay. Meanwhile I hear my husband on the phone with his cousin. “Worst case scenario,” he chortles, “is our kids get their inheritance early.”