Tag Archives: aging

When Masks Brighten the Break

Kansas writer and artist

The most unusual answer I ever got to “What are you going to do over the break?” was “Write a novel.” This from a friend who was quite sincere at the time. I was in awe of her hugely ambitious goal and couldn’t imagine how she’d do it (she didn’t). This year, as the winter break drew near, I made my own list of goals: 

  1. Clean the whole house.

When I wrote this down, I was being a little like the friend with her intended novel. In the end, my cleaning consisted of dusting the shelf above the stove. Helen was much better as she wanted to show me how well her new vacuum worked. Now I want one but I’m not sure how much I’d use it.  Thinking of cleaning seems to bring my mother’s words to mind—“Honey, you need a nap.”

2. Reapply for a social security card (I have no idea where mine is).

I don’t even know why I thought this would be a good time to sit holding a number for an unknown amount of time and seeing if I could read the signs in Spanish.

3. Find my living will so I can send it to my doctor.

This request has something to do with turning 65, along with the questions on the Medicare wellness checkup forms, things like do you have trouble dressing yourself (no, but I have trouble deciding what to wear, just as I did when I was THIRTY!) and do you need help feeding yourself (not in the least, thank you very much). The disappearance of this rather important document is as troubling as the missing social security card.

4. Go through all my poems and organize a chapbook on aging and mortality.

 I think I kept forgetting about this one.

5. Back up all my files.

If you know anyone who would live in a trailer behind my house in exchange for computer work, can you contact me?

6. Put up a Christmas tree.

The tree never got put up and it started to depress me until I strung some lights around the living room. I did plug in the outdoor tree lights most nights.  Twice I went out to find the cord pulled out of the socket. I wanted to believe it was a racoon but Helen insisted it was a person and got out our trail camera to catch him or her. The camera is still on the dining room table, but the lights have been staying on lately and my new theory is that a deer kept tripping over the cord. 

7. Update my website.

See number 5.

8. Take down Christmas stockings and indoor lights January second.

They really can seem rather cheery if left up a bit longer. 


I could also make a list of the things I did do:

1. Walked the dogs every day.

It was so cold I couldn’t watch people on TV wearing short sleeves without thinking they were idiots. How can people live in Minnesota? They must be really tough.

2. Helped Helen buy a car by co-signing for the loan and also wheeling and dealing—okay, just a little, but certainly more than she would have done.

This was quite rewarding as I could brag to Helen about my high credit rating and also the car place sent cookies with their postcard survey. I liked the salesman but not the business man who kept pushing the extended warranty.  Was it a mistake not to take that out?

3. Worked three jigsaw puzzles, two repeats from previous years.

I believe I’m getting better at this all the time though I now prefer the ones with easy grip pieces.

4. Bought a 40 pound bag of black oil sunflower seeds to feed the birds.

 I can’t lift 40 pounds anymore but Orscheln has the nicest guys who help me. How do birds survive in Minnesota?

 5. Watched 32 episodes of Friends on Netflix starting at the beginning.

I love this show as it makes me laugh but I’m envious of their constant fun gatherings. Helen reminded me that it was quite unrealistic and when were they ever at work? Usually that’s the kind of thing I say to her about the shows she likes.

6. Watched the first five episodes of Stranger Things 2.

Rose watched this with me even though she’d already seen it and kept saying, “This is where it gets weird.” but I couldn’t see the difference. 

7.  Stayed out of the way when the girls made frosted sugar cookies and applesauce bread so they could have some sister bonding time.

The cookies are rather cute but still uneaten and I should throw them out. The two loaves of bread came out very flat as I forgot to tell Helen to double the recipe. She continues to remind me of this. Rose claims Helen was as bossy as ever.

8. Spent a morning on the phone with Helen while she sat in O’Hare airport.

It seems that her connecting flight was overbooked and nobody would agree to get off.  So instead of pulling someone off (I wonder why?) the airlines had to find a bigger plane. Apparently they couldn’t make up their minds and changed gates four times. I just kept thinking of some tired mother dragging her young children back and forth. I have too many airplane stories from when the girls were little. Like the time Helen threw up on her shoes and we had to run halfway across the terminal to catch the next flight and her flip flops were sliding around as we didn’t have time to clean them up. But I really should save that story for another time. I was just glad Helen had me to talk to and glad they found a big enough plane.

 9. Did face masks with Rose.

These little premixed packets were a present to her from Helen. I used the mud one and Rose said it made me more bright and youthful looking. I did notice a certain glow afterwards. She did one with paper that peeled off and I told her it made her skin smooth.

10. Spent a day with a good friend who was having a chemo treatment.

I’d never been in a room where the chairs were lined up like that. And I don’t think I’d ever entered a room of strangers where so many looked me in the eye and smiled. The youngish woman sitting next to my friend offered me gum. I also took some of the candy by the coffee machine until I saw the sign that said “Treats for patients only. Please be respectful.”  The grandmotherly woman on the other side talked about her two breast cancers but not as much as she talked about her craft projects.  She had some with her to show us.


I need to make a new list for 2018 that includes all those things I didn’t get done over the holiday. I could start on item 1 today. Helen’s vacuum cleaner is still in my laundry room, after all. But I think I’ll take the dogs on a walk instead. It’s hard to resist the eager way they are standing at the door. Kosmo looks awfully cute in his red coat and Finn acts like he must have been born in Minnesota instead of Oklahoma.

I’m not sorry about how the break turned out. If I ever write a novel, it won’t be about vacuum cleaners but it just might include the sweet lady with breast cancer and craft projects.  My friend bought one of her knitted dish scrubbies —the one that was periwinkle blue.  We all agreed it was a wonderful color.


Bungee Jumping No More



Several years ago I felt quite pleased with myself for overcoming a sensitivity to annoying noises. I decided it must be from having children around. Like getting allergy shots, all the exposure made me immune. It sounded logical but then I started to get irritated with the opposite problem. Why did my children have to turn the TV volume so low? It was ridiculous and yet they kept doing it.

When I was in my mid 40’s, I was at a small indoor concert in winter, feeling very warm, while all those around me hadn’t bothered to shed sweaters and jackets. The concert was well underway before it occurred to me that the others must be reasonable people (after all, it was bluegrass music) and so maybe, just maybe, the odd person out was me. Having my first hot flash was almost as bad as being told I needed bifocals, when I remember thinking, “Tell me I’m going blind but, dear God, not this!”

I now accept that my hearing isn’t that great and try to find humor in my odd interpretations of what is really said, though I seem to be the only one in the family laughing. It also comes in handy, as in, “You told me this morning I need to drive you and Winona to the mall after school? I’m sorry, but I didn’t hear that and now I’ve made other plans.” In all fairness to myself, I try not to take advantage of this and many more times than not (call it selective hearing if you want), I really didn’t catch what was said.

Aside from the hearing loss, there are the knees that hurt and the heartburn and the test results that show bone loss. And with each new sign of aging there is at first shock. We know it happens but we don’t expect it yet. All this leads to what I call “late middle-aged” crisis (“elderly” should apply to only those past 90 and “mature” unfortunately doesn’t work for all the over 60’s). If mid-life crisis is about frustration and disappointment at where one is at 40, this later crisis is more about a grieving process. It’s the recognition that there are things you always dreamed about that really aren’t going to happen—as in really aren’t going to happen. At 40, the likelihood that I would gallop a pinto pony over the hills of Kansas was very remote but still, one never knows, right? Now the idea of falling and breaking a bone becomes much more of a real possibility, and I have to recognize that it’s not to be. And the loss of that dream I have had since childhood goes deep. Very deep.

We of a certain age are told to compensate these losses by enjoying “the little things”, which my 101 year old uncle, once a missionary in Africa, certainly knows how to do. He is still able to write a very coherent longhand letter. In the most recent one, the words a bit wobbly since his stroke, he states, “I still enjoy the good food Krista prepares for me each day and I seem to have adjusted to the medicine I take for a daily bowel movement, for which I praise the Lord.”

One can laugh at this—I certainly did—but it doesn’t mean my Uncle John’s life is only about such things or that it no longer has meaning. He certainly still affects my life by his thoughtful and detailed letters. I send a small check when I write back, telling him to buy a treat. He always lets me know what he bought (usually ice cream) and I am touched by this communication. Like all of us, at any age, he has a story to tell.  And it’s important to listen.

What is not funny is the way so many things just aren’t easy. If I have to conduct business on-line I steel myself for a hike in blood pressure and hope the dogs are outside when I throw whatever is handy across the room. I don’t know why my smart phone keeps telling me I have “important” upgrades which apparently aren’t important at all, and I pray that at some point in a call about a health insurance claim I can get a real person to talk to me. Aside from feeling outdated by all this, there’s a sense of being pushed to a state of decline before we want it, even if well intentioned. Rose, at 14, associates the name Via Christi with a nursing home where we visited an elderly woman (yes, in her 90’s) and where her middle school choir sang holiday carols. She didn’t know it is also the name of other health services, one of which sent me a notice about needing to schedule an appointment. She saw it, open on the kitchen table with the letter head showing, looked at me, and quite sincerely said, “Oh, Mom, congratulations! You’ve been accepted into Via Christi!”

I have recently added closed captions to some of the shows I watch and figure it can’t hurt my reading skills. My children seem to be more tolerant of my need for repetition, though is there really any good reason for them to mumble?  I don’t know what tomorrow will bring. I won’t be bungee jumping (though bless those, like a friend’s aunt, who celebrated her 80th birthday by getting a tattoo and skydiving), but I do expect my life to continue to have adventures and challenges and all those emotions that make us know we are alive. Fortunately, life doesn’t end with the final goodbye to Flicka. And I think I can still hear her whinnying as she gallops off.



My Uncle John as a young man and then in his late 90’s. Below is his father on a dairy run.  John helped on the farm and later delivered milk in Kansas City by truck. He was known to be rather wild behind the wheel. This is a just a part of his story.