Sunday, March 25, 2012

My Favorite Job!

It happens every year about this time. At church we have “WEE School Sunday.” W.E.E. stands for Weekday Early Education and the church’s program for 3-year-olds through Kindergarten. The little ones come up on the steps and sing two songs and there are proud parents behind (now cell phone) cameras and Denise up in the choir loft, misty-eyed.

I always said, “You can take the gal out of the preschool, but you can’t take preschool out of the gal.” Many of those who have worked with me since have noted how I used primary colors to decorate, organize and personalize my various office settings. I am also the "safety chairman," keeping dangerous "tools" put away, locked or whatever they should be if young children were around.  However, it’s more than that.

This picture was taken in 1989. These children are all grown
up now. My neighbor is in the white dress with the red
trim. My daughter is harder to identify.
I alluded to my “preschool” years in “Aging: Together and Separately.” My association with WEE School was not in my life’s plan, but it’s probably the most rewarding thing I have ever done. When my daughter was four, I began doing the books as a volunteer. The following year, I bartered for her schooling with my services. By the third year, I was a paid employee. I went from “bookkeeper” to “business manager,” which fundamentally is about decision-making and creating and implementing a budget. It’s ALL bookkeeping!

Even though I was not a teacher, nor did I have the direct involvement with the children, I WAS involved with the children! I got to know whole families. I have watched them grow up.

And, every year on WEE School Sunday, I get to watch them again, and I get to mourn the fact that I am not doing this day-to-day anymore.

I left because our family budget needed a better income. No one teaches pre-school (or as I was, in administration and support) for the money! I moved on to another job, but was able to come back to a Christmas program. At that program, I ended up in the back of the room swaying with a three-month-old so her mother could enjoy the performance of her older brothers; and the pastor at the time was standing next to me. After a few minutes he said, “Denise, I just realized that you aren’t supposed to be here!” I guess I was kind of like the furniture.

These were great years. We built the school from three classes of 8, to 7 classes with a total enrollment of 108. I have no idea how many individual children, and families, that I worked with. I couldn’t even tell you how many employees I worked with. I worked under three pastors, two ministers of education and three directors. The last one is still my very close friend today. She knows me on several levels and is a close confidante. When I want a hard and truthful answer, I go to her.

Vocationally, it was not lucrative, but they were the happiest years of my working life. I loved the kids, I loved my staff and I loved the staff of the church. In ten years, there were plenty of changes, the biggest one being that of documentation of everything! I guess I could have called that job security, because it’s what I did. The other big change I notice as I reflect on these years is that of going from a very simple school, changing curriculum and making corresponding changes to add many programs and “events” to teach this new curriculum. It became more complicated and the support became more complicated.

So I have watched the kids grow up. One boy and girl were “close friends” in preschool and we always said they were going to be the football star and head cheerleader! Although they attended different schools, we called that one! (They don’t even know this!) My oldest alumni are 30-31 and the youngest are 19-20. One of my daughter’s classmates is now my neighbor!

I miss those days, and I probably could not keep up with them today, but it sure makes me wonder if there is an opening for an aide this next school year.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Six Degrees of Separation

You know in a blog about Connections, we had to get to something like this. I fully disclaim that this blog has been approved by the people I am implicating.

My wonderful sister-in-law Sharon
I was working at the Springfield Museum of Art, and it was in November of 2008. My husband's sister Sharon called me at work. She had this story for me. I listened.

She worked for her son, the chiropractor, as his receptionist and whatever-needs-done person. She took a call from a man who worked for his son, an attorney, who had some questions about a client. I assure you, no HIPPA laws were even bent here. She goes on to tell me about this man, and their conversation turns to the weather in Fort Wayne, and his weather in central Florida. He says he understands her pain, because he grew up in Ohio.

Of course she asks what town, and he responds "Oh, it's a small town in southern Ohio, you have probably never heard of it. Fairborn." I am starting to get ahead of her at this point.

"My brother lives in Fairborn and he taught there for 34 years!" Well, they determined that really, they are about the same age so he would not have taught this man. I am gaining on her here. "Well, my sister-in-law grew up in Fairborn, perhaps you knew her."

"What was her maiden name?" 


"Hmmm, I knew some Klines. Is her name Judy?"

"No, it's Denise. She's seven years younger than my brother though." I am beginning to inwardly chuckle here.

"DENISE??? She practically lived at our house!" Now I am laughing out loud!

She didn't really have to tell me his name, as I already knew it was my good friend Jean's older brother. 

"Sharon, this is not a casual acquaintance. I was in his home 8 months ago. Do you remember my bridesmaid Jeannie?" She had to think; she doesn't remember all the people in my wedding.

At this time Jean and I were not texting and did not have smart phones, but I knew when I got home there would be an email. Her brother had called her while she was out shopping (!!). We all had a very good laugh about it.

Donny Osmond
What a small world it really is. Now I am going to tell on Sharon with the six-degrees thing. She likes Donny Osmond. Heck, I like Donny Osmond and rooted for him to win "Dancing With the Stars." (1) Sharon is related to me (by marriage). (2) My very close friend is Jean. (3) Jean has a niece who is married to (4) Nathan Osmond. (5) Nathan is Donny's nephew. Now, you can stick Alan Osmond in there between Nathan and Donny or Jean's brother in between her and her niece, but it's still basically the six degrees.

Sharon's really excited that there are six-degrees between her and Donny Osmond. For me, only five! Haha!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Aging: Burying Our Peers

Sometimes there are going to be weeks like this. I know this will be so, if I live a long life. One of the hardest things about aging is burying your peers. No, I think it is THE hardest, without a doubt. I know I talked about loss in a former blog, and this is an expansion on one part of it. We know that our grandparents and parents will die before we will, or that’s the way it’s supposed to me; but now we are the old folks and this is hitting closer to home.

Although many of us are blessed to still have our parents with us, the deaths of peers are becoming more and more frequent as we close out our 50’s and enter our 60’s. It used to be that a death occurred which was accidental or tragic and once in awhile you were faced with the death of someone close in age. We acknowledged how sad it was, how tragic, but it was not normal. Now, it's becoming, well, I won't say "not tragic" but definitely closer to normal.

One day recently I drove to work and drove past the home of an old friend, one who was closer to me as we were young married women (she married the weekend after me) and having our babies. She was first, and finished by the time I had my first, so I ended up with some great hand-me-downs. I helped her move, we did lots of things together and babysat each other’s kids.  Her son was visiting us when we had pictures taken to market a local pool company as the “perfect little family” using our pool.  He easily looked like he could have been mine.

Once my family moved out to the Greenon area, we didn’t spend as much time with some of our former friends, although I did keep up somewhat with her. I knew she had been ill, and as I drove by the house, I thought “I MUST get over there soon and have a visit.” I was too late. She died 6 hours earlier.

Her funeral was lovely and I knew she was finally healed. I was not to grieve for her. But each time I go to a funeral of  a peer, it slaps me in the face how fast time is going by, how bad things do happen to good people, and next year, it could just as well be me!  I ain’t ready to die yet! I want to see my grandchildren grow up and I have things to do! But, accident and disease is no respecter of persons and I know it.

Several years ago I buried my own brother. With the issues he had, he did not take care of himself. Although a shock, it wasn’t really a “surprise.” You are never ready for it.

We have lost one of our class reunion committee members. She had a myriad of health problems and I don't know exactly what actually ended her life. I do remember her memorial service was on my birthday. Another classmate just.....died. She also had a plethora of health conditions and in talking with her mother at a later time, it was just determined that her heart gave out under the stress of all the issues she faced. This death was memorable to me personally as I thought I was talking to "her" on Facebook, when I was actually talking to her daughter. She asked me who I was (because she didn't know me!) and then told me. What a "thud" in my heart, even though I was aware of her illnesses and struggles.

Then there are the "close calls," the serious illnesses that blessedly do not end in death, at least for now. It is important to remember we are ALL terminal, and as I have said before, very few of us will make it from cradle to grave without a serious illness. They are all scary, to the one experiencing it, and those around them.

As I write this, I have learned of the tragic death of a young person which is an absolute horror! But it’s not the same thing as these increasing times of attending visitations and funerals of our peers. This is but another indicator of our aging process.

I remember when my father died at the age of 47. It was a tragedy, and there are no words for the loss of Daddy for his "little girl," even though I was 24 and very much grown. But what I remember the most about his visitation and funeral, was the look in the eyes of his peers. Family is supposed to grieve and we all did grieve, but these men had a hollow look in their eyes, and I really did not understand at the time how deep the loss of a peer hits. I do now.

Losing peers makes us increasingly aware of our own mortality. I know, for myself, the last five years have spurred me into a “seize the day” mentality. Only finances and a moral code define what I won’t do.

I don’t know if I will find other issues about aging to write about in the future; but I feel that for this time, this topic has come to a close, and it is time to move on. I welcome any comments or emails about something else I might do in the future regarding this topic. For now, though, I am finished.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Aging: Becoming an Old Fuddy-Duddy!

I am fast becoming an old fuddy-duddy.

No, I am not turning into my mother or even my grandmother; as both of them embraced new things. I like new things too. I am the computer guru of my household, but I barely get by with the DVR. Generally speaking, I am not afraid to learn something new. As I edit this, my new iPad 3 is in Louisville KY and ON IT'S WAY!!!!

I never thought I would be one of those people who thought the good old days were so good. But there are several things from days gone by that I miss:

Casual everyday. I am the first to admit, I like my jeans. But I feel like our society has lost the concept of what is appropriate in what circumstances. Whether it’s t-shirts with one or more of the “seven bad words” on it, pajama pants, tight everything, pants on their way to the ground, or just plain sloppiness, I grieve the loss of people actually trying to look good. Even the dress up clothes don’t have much fabric, or not enough to cover the person wearing them.

My family, minus Ben, dressed up
for Easter church in 1968. I really
do not grieve the loss of orange purses!
Not only to I grieve, and that’s the word I am using here, the loss of standards in dress; when I do see someone who is “cleaned up well,” I am actually attracted to that person, in a way I would have never thought. They don’t have to be “handsome” as we were when we were young; and I am speaking of women as well as men, but they just LOOK GOOD! I miss people taking the time to look their best. I miss seeing people dressed up for church, or a concert.

Television programming. I have to address TV, because I rarely even go to a movie anymore. I know they are out there, but I just don’t go (maybe I don’t want to have to dress up).  The other day I posted a clip of Barney Fife on Facebook and was surprised by the responses I got. My kids do not get that I think “The Andy Griffith Show” was the best (sit-com) show ever on TV. The humor is not the humor of today. Today they are watching Adam Sandler, Jim Carrey or Will Farrell. What I liked about Andy Griffith is that you could watch it as a family; but if parents got up and went into the other room, Andy was a pseudo-parent (Ron Howard is my age) to a generation of children. There was always a moral to the story, and we were raised with those morals. Today we have children being raised by Charlie Sheen. God help us.

I miss the “getting together” with people in the natural course of the day. Everything has to be so planned. Perhaps I feel this because I lived in the downtown area as a teen and everyone dropped by and it was OK. We just don’t do this anymore and I grieve this. Perhaps, as I think this through, we are more casual in the day-to-day of dress, but we don’t interact as much with neighbors, and our face-to-face time is less. I can have as much fun as anyone with texting and social media, but nothing beats just “being” with people. As I write this, it is a Monday evening and I am planning breakfast with one girlfriend before we both go to work and dinner at the home of another friend, just us girls and it will be casual.  The breakfast has been planned, and dinner is spontaneous, so I am glad about that. I grieve that we don’t do this more often.

I grieve the loss of excellence in all media. I know I am not gifted, but as I write this blog, I strive to write clearly and well, in as much as I am able. It is proofread. I wish I could say that about my morning newspaper, and yes, I still read a morning newspaper.

I grieve the loss of common courtesy. I know, I came of age when women were “liberated” and didn’t want men opening their doors for them. Now, I really don’t care who opens a door for me, or who I open a door for; I opt for whatever makes the most sense, but I enjoy being treated like a lady. I cherish the kind word, courteous gesture and just……kindness. I live in a world of road rage and “attitude.”  I miss customer “service,” and the customer can also serve the merchant also, by a gracious thank you. Speaking of which, I miss thank-you notes; and I….notice. I am not hard-line; in many instances an email will do. I am a hold-out for real notes for graduations, wedding and baby showers. (My kids didn’t get their graduation money until thank-you notes were written)

I wonder if I am the only one that is bothered by this. I enjoy going out to eat with friends and good conversation. We don’t always have the time and/or money to go someplace really fancy, so it’s one of the local “chains;” be it Italian, Mexican or Various. Is it just me, or are these places playing the music entirely too loud? When there is loud music, the people just talk louder, and the din of the entire restaurant is LOUD! I did the bar scene when I was young and am so over that. I just want to have an interesting conversation with friend(s) or family, and I don’t feel that it’s possible. I grieve the loss of low-keyed entertainment.

Speaking of music, I watched the Grammys this year for the first time in years, admittedly because I was curious as to how they were going to handle the death of Whitney Houston, and I just…didn’t….get…most…of…it. Oh, I did recognize that “guy from Liverpool,” and I thought the marriage of old and new Beach Boys music went well (and I am critical). Glen Gampbell did well for his situation; since I have had intimate knowledge of Alzheimer’s, I realize that he probably has less trouble with the words of “Rhinestone Cowboy” and his work from long ago, than remembering what city he was in yesterday. All in all, it was a good performance for him.  But the younger performers—I just don’t get it. As much as I believe music speaks to the soul of all age groups, I just didn’t get it. I guess I am a fuddy-duddy.

I don’t think I am cranky by nature, but I am bothered by many of these things. I don’t pretend that “the good ol’ days” were all that good; we benefit by medical knowledge and yes, technology also. The generation that I am a part of has not only NOT been the “keeper of the flame” in terms of kindness and courtesy; we have become rude also, and we have been examples to our children and grandchildren. Not in a good way.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Aging: Sex, Is It Over?

In an effort to continue the discussion about aging issues, I would be remiss if I did not include one of the most important "connections" we have in life, that of the sexual relationship. For my blog, I am going to assume the situation of a long-time partner, not "Love the Second Time Around." Honestly, I have not had the opportunity to discuss that with someone. Maybe there's another blog for the future.

I don't know what it is about me; but people talk to me, and I am amazed and yes, confounded by how many people of my age are NOT HAVING ANY SEX AT ALL! This stumps me, and I shall humbly attempt this discussion.

All of us would admit that things change. Our bodies do not move in the same ways they used to, for any activity! Hormones are everything, as any women who has been through pregnancy, childbirth and menopause can attest. I don't think I am being too theological when I say that God gave us "desires" in our younger years for the propagation of the species. Whether you believe in God, nature, or whatever, it is the "Circle of Life." Old people are not supposed to have babies.

The other thing that comes to my mind is that our sex organs are just that, organs of the body that perform a function. We are not surprised when other organs in our bodies are not functioning as they did when they were 20; why would we be surprised that these organs are not doing what they used to do? I have yet to see a gym for sex organs! The media would tell us to take a pill; I am not against a medicine, but understand who is profiting here; the pharmaceutical companies. They don’t care about you!

I want to make a statement as a woman, but I believe it applies to men also. Listen up, guys. If this is a new revelation, listen up. THE LARGEST SEX ORGAN OF THE BODY IS THE BRAIN!!!!!  Do you hear me? Flirting, (text each other, just don't do it while driving!), showing appreciation and affection goes a longer way toward building intimacy than pointing to "the room" and saying "Me Tarzan, You Jane!" Maybe you need to have a conversation about this. Maybe you need to have more than one conversation about this. But DO IT!

Physically, there may be some things that need attention. As we age, we sometimes need medications to keep us from killing ourselves. Along with this discussion, there are the issues that lead us to the place where we need these medications. Perhaps we can do something about those issues (i.e.bring the blood pressure down), and in the process jettison some of the meds. But if we can't, we must accept that changes in sex drive, response to stimuli, length of time involved, are all affected by medicines. Ladies (or gentlemen), if there is discomfort, talk to your doctor about this. There are over-the-counter things that can help too. For heavens sake, try them. This connection is worth working for!

I feel I must address the issue of fatigue also. I know I am tired a lot! There is a reason that people our age are getting ready to retire. They tire more easily! Being tired does not create a mood. It’s important to set the time aside for love-making as we do anything else that is important to us. We all set our priorities.

Emotionally, there may be some things that need attention. We don't feel the same way about our bodies. If we are honest, we are ALL there, even those people I personally consider stunning. This comes from our realization that we are NOT who we used to be, and for some of us this is just plain difficult. The changes are not dramatic as they occur gradually. I had surgery before my daughter was born (or more accurately, SO my daughter could be conceived) in 1981. I had the same incision opened to deliver my son in 1988. I am NEVER going to have a flat stomach. This is where acceptance comes into play. Would I prefer my flat stomach over my two beautiful children and stunning grandchild? I think not.

Finally, a word about serious illness and sex. I am not there yet, and I am too chicken to interview anyone on this. Private message me if you have a comment about living through this. I would be fine with doing another blog on this matter. I did do a little reading. Several things were repeated in the different articles I read.
  • Fatigue: fundamentally using all energy to fight the disease.
  • Mood changes: anxiety, depression, guilt and yes, the grieving process.
  • Changes in self image: my previous paragraph, only taken to another level.
  • Physical symptoms: caused by the medications and treatment. Pain, nausea, constipation, just to name a few.
But every article justified the good things that sex brought in terms of euphoria, connection to each other during an illness, and every article mentioned that intimacy did not have to end in intercourse.

In summary, have the mental attitude of "I know what I can no longer do, but I am going to concentrate on what I can do, and be happy with that."

In closing, I just have to relate a conversation with my grandmother, who lived from 1905-1987. We were talking about french kissing. I may not be quoting exactly here, but she said "Your grandfather and I never had to do THAT! We were perfectly happy with normal kissing!" I have no doubt that up until his final (brief) illness which led to his death at 61, they had a passionate relationship. It can be done.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Aging: Retiring in Steps

Many people today say they will never be able to retire. One way or the other, they will. Failing health will force it. I think planning is very important; but even more important is attitude.

I like to think of retirement in terms of a “step down” approach. I am not talking about “double-dipping” in any industry. I am talking about retiring one step at a time.

Fundamentally, we must prepare ourselves to live on our basic retirement income, whatever that is going to be. My readers vary from those in good to not-so-hot pension programs. However, we must face reality. At some point we will not be able to augment our pensions because we will not be able physically to work.

If you retire fairly young and you can live on it, good for you. You have time to volunteer and give back to the community and organizations you would like to help. Most will work a second “career” in some way, but it’s best to put that into savings for the future and not live on it.

I am working part-time. That was a step-down. Sometimes it’s hard, but it’s getting used to less and making it work. I will retire in July 2015, as soon as I am able and my Social Security will be slightly less than I make now. So, indeed it is another step-down.  The next step will be in 2018 (or whenever they let me go on Medicare) and a good bit of my Social Security will then go to pay for Medicare B.

How can we possibly do this? For one thing, I think nature takes over in our energy levels and we flat out don’t do as much, well stuff that costs money anyway. We will not have to have “work” clothes, or other expenses that come with working.  We will have to make other choices and set new priorities. We will look for the deals.

The other thing to think about is the tax liability of those “small” jobs. Do not ever hear me say that I am against paying my fair share of taxes. However, when a job robs you of time that could be doing something for others, and it keeps another person from HAVING a job that you are holding on to; meanwhile you end up paying more to the government, or is negated by the amount of money you can move to an investment product that will help you tax-liability wise, it’s time to rethink. I would add that the tax laws change all the time. Unless you are an expert, you need help; a big-picture person to look at the whole picture; not just look at dollar signs or the bank balance.

Aside from the monetary considerations; keeping the activity level is far more important if a person just retires period. The person needs to have interests and things they want to do. I get annoyed listening to retired people who say they have nothing to do. Are there hungry or needy people in your community? Is there a food pantry that needs volunteers? Just about every organization needs volunteer help as they cut back on their expenses. Personally, in addition to my church, I look forward to working with the public library. I think it’s important. Surely, there is an organization in your town that needs some help. 

I think the biggest thing about retirement is that none of us will live BETTER in retirement than we did in our working years. That is a media mirage; not reality. The sooner we accept that, the better. We can enjoy some things, but we will not spend all of our days walking the beach. We may take vacations, but it won’t be a “rest of life” vacation. There will still be home-keeping to do, family to visit, volunteering as we are able. Hopefully for many healthy years!

I am not ready to write about the following stage of life!

Up next: Sex: Is It Over?

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Aging: Nurturing Sibling Relationships

I write this edition from the perspective of a child and that of a parent. As a child, who still has a parent living, my relationship with my brother is the only one that begins the day he was brought home from the hospital. He is ten years younger, and I have cousins that are closer in age that I have earlier history with, but it’s my brother and I that will have that unique relationship until one of us leaves our early home. We have already lost a sibling; as I have mentioned previously and will not belabor that point. It was a very difficult time, but also a bonding time.

The three of us. You know I have
no shame! This was taken in Medway,
so it had to be before Sept. 1964.
We moved on Loren's 1st birthday.
I am not going to explore my husband’s family because I want to respect their privacy; but I do remember talking with my in-laws in 1992-93 during the time I was administrating my uncle’s estate. I probably would never have noticed this quote otherwise. It was in Parade magazine and the gist of it was: “You spend your life building your family, don’t let your estate tear it apart.” I quoted this to my parents-in-law, and I will just say they did well.

During the last years, the siblings got together primarily to “take care of Mom and/or Dad.” I repeated this over and over: “We (the siblings) need to get together FOR US, so that when they are gone, we still have our relationships!”  I am happy to say that we all get along well, and we still do things together.

As a parent; it is my goal to have children and their spouses that get along well. I am fortunate that this is the case. If, when I am gone, they don’t—what was the point of having a family anyway?

There are those that are only children; and when the previous generation is gone, or they survive all their siblings, there is a loneliness that is hard to fill.

As we age and go through the stages of life, there are several issues to navigate. The good news is that we have ways to connect that our grandparents and parents didn’t imagine. (Wait a minute, there was the Jetsons!) In addition to electronic mail, there is Skype and many ways of sending video to each other. The number of older people on Facebook is skyrocketing. This is good as we have our own growing families to keep in touch with, which takes much of our time, and the years are coming when we will have to depend on travel methods rather than driving ourselves. We still need our siblings!

We need to share what we have in common, and minimize those things we don’t agree on. Each family will have a different comfort level. Some are involved daily, others weekly, and yet others monthly; all different. I also believe that we should have other friends, so that if we are the last person standing in our families; we don’t rely on our children—if we have them—for our companionship. We also must ask ourselves "Are we in a place where we have no one but family as our friends?" I don't think this is a healthy place to be. For the vast majority of us, it probably never becomes an issue as our families do not live in our "town," but even so, with all we have available, it is easy to stay involved with our extended families.

As we age, we also need friends who are not related to us. Maybe it's that "soccer mom" we shared a season with (men, put in your version of this!) or maybe an old neighbor, or maybe it's that buddy we have known since we were 10, but they all play a role in our lives and we need them! Family, at best, carries baggage and we need outside balance to this. We need others to bounce ideas off. The Bible has a good way of putting this in Proverbs 27:17 As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another. I really believe this in so many ways.

I need my ideas sharpened by another person, and that person does not have to agree with me.