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Remembering Aspens and Big Love

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I don’t know how many of you have had the privilege of standing in a quaking aspen glade when they are in full color, but it is both mystical and magical.

It feels like even the air is flooded with golden light in the hushed Autumn. The birds have flown south, the grasshoppers, crickets and cicadas have all burrowed in for the winter.

The only sound you hear is the clapping of the leaves as the mountain breezes set the leaves to quaking. It sounds like soft applause.

I was on a spiritual retreat in the foothills of the front range of the Colorado Rockies one golden autumn when I first laid eyes on Snookums. I was stunned. Unfortunately, she was there with her boyfriend, and surprising to some, I do actually have ethics. One does not hit on another man’s woman.

Most of the attendees were couples, and just three or four of us weren’t. So after meals and seminars, I spent most of my time alone, absorbing the golden hues and silence, and drinking camp coffee that one of the other solo attendees kept hot and ready on his campfire. I really don’t mind coffee grounds in my teeth, and there is something about coffee made cowboy style that makes it taste like heaven. I sipped his coffee while I sat on a log by a creek than meandered through the glade, and pushed away thoughts of Snooks.

I worked for her boyfriend from time to time, so I sat with them through many of meals and lectures, but I kept the conversation banal. Still, I wasn’t able to stop myself from furtive glances in her direction from time to time. So a few weeks later, her boyfriend called me to help him sneak out of their house so he could pursue a torch singer. I knew the singer, and knew where her heart was. And it wasn’t with the boyfriend. But I willingly helped him load his truck with his tools and belongings, and waved bye bye as he drove off.

I never pursued a woman until I met Snookums. I wasted no time calling her that evening and consoling her. Frankly, she didn’t need much consoling, but that is another issue entirely. We began attending lectures together, and I made sure that I called her every night before she fell asleep. I wanted my voice to be the last thing she heard that evening.

It wasn’t long before moved the friendship up a notch. It was a mere two months since the retreat in the aspens that I moved in, and we got a rent-a-preacher to make a house call for the simple wedding. It wasn’t always bliss, I brought quite a bit of baggage into the marriage that needed to be left somewhere. She even had to get some counseling. But in time, we grew together. I don’t know when that happened, but one day years later I woke to the realization that we had indeed become one.

I am writing much of this post from a Starbucks inside huge medical school complex. Pretty odd, when you think of it. The CEO of Starbucks said publicly that he would be happy if no one like me came into one of his stores, and I willingly obliged.

But today I put all that aside as I waited for Snook to finish her cognitive testing at the neurological clinic. I could be with her the first hour or so while the psychologist got the background material, and I was glad for that. She has forgotten all of the period between her two strokes, and has no recollection of her stay in the hospital. Then I was shooed away while they did their testing.

So I sit here and remember the girl that I married. She still peeks out at me from mirthful eyes. I hear the young girl in her quick but subtle humor. We have become one flesh.


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The political silly season is upon us again, and partisans on both sides are getting more strident in their posts and comments.  I have resigned from the discourse.  My mind is made up and I need no further rhetoric.  With me, it is easier to thread a camel through a needle than it is to refrain from politics, and comment on religion, to use a religious metaphor.

Well, there is the weather.  In Texas, we have gone from an unbearably hot summer to a miserably hot Autumn. But recent rains have broken the drought, and the verdant weeds on my one acre of paradise are mocking me, daring me to mow them down.  They will soon be abused of that insolence.  No, really.  Soon.  Maybe in the next day or two.  Maybe three.

Ill health is another.  Quite frankly, I am feeling much better than I did for the preceding five years.  So good that the cardiologist is sending me to cardiac rehab, where they put you on an exercise machine and try to kill you.  If they fail to do that, the next time they speed the machine up.

Snookums had both mini-strokes and a major stroke and is on the long road to recovery.  A speech therapist has been working with her, and now she is reading some, and seems to be much better at complex tasks.  Monday, she goes in for a full cognitive assessment that will take four hours.  I am anxious about that.

But her recovery from the point she left the hospital until now has been remarkable.  I admit that the day I brought her home, I was so discouraged.  She constantly inquired about things that she asked just moments earlier.  She could only hold about five words in her mind.  I wasn’t sure that she was going to improve.  The speech therapist got her to reading her Kindle again, and how to enlarge the type and turn it to landscape mode.  Snooks hates the work she must do, but I see small improvement after each session.  So perhaps she will be moved back from senility to functioning. 

This week I think my niece and her are going to try and make challah bread for Shabbat.  Snooks was doing that when she had her stroke and ended up crying with burned fingers and burned bread.  She went to the hospital later.  If this works, it will be a milestone in her recovery.

And the days go by in my geezerhood.  Once you earn the title of geezer, there is only one title left to earn. RIP.

So as I consider my lack of better alternatives and relearn to write again, I bid you a pleasant good morning.

  Burial is an odious chore

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My youngest brother who recently lost his wife posted this.  Most of these are clever inventions of writers writing little sermonettes, and this one may well be one of those.  It is a little too pat for me.  I note that it is unsourced, so I feel free to re-post it.  It illustrates a bitter truth to me.

When I have lost someone dear to me, I start wondering if I am on another planet as others laud their memory.  My soul goes flat, and effusive comments, while well-meaning ones, grate on me.

I prefer to do my grieving in silence and alone.  Death is not something we should love.  We should hate it.  Burial is an odious chore.  I long for a time when death does not exist.

What true love is:

“My parents were married for 55 years. One morning, my mom was going downstairs to make dad breakfast, she had a heart attack and fell. My father picked her up as best he could and almost dragged her into the truck. At full speed, without respecting traffic lights, he drove her to the hospital.

When he arrived, unfortunately she was no longer with us.

During the funeral, my father did not speak; his gaze was lost. He hardly cried.

That night, his children joined him. In an atmosphere of pain and nostalgia, we remembered beautiful anecdotes and he asked my brother, a theologian, to tell him where Mom would be at that moment. My brother began to talk about life after death, and guesses as to how and where she would be.

My father listened carefully. Suddenly he asked us to take him to the cemetery.

“Dad!” we replied, “it’s 11 at night, we can’t go to the cemetery right now!”

He raised his voice, and with a glazed look he said:

“Don’t argue with me, please don’t argue with the man who just lost his wife of 55 years.”

There was a moment of respectful silence, we didn’t argue anymore. We went to the cemetery, and we asked the night watchman for permission. With a flashlight, we reached the tomb. My father caressed her, prayed, and told his children, who watched the scene, moved:

“It was 55 years… you know? No one can talk about true love if they have no idea what it’s like to share life with a woman.”

He paused and wiped his face. “She and I, we were together in that crisis. I changed jobs …” he continued. “We packed up when we sold the house and moved out of town. We shared the joy of seeing our children finish their careers, we mourned the departure of loved ones side by side, we prayed together in the waiting room of some hospitals, we support each other in pain, we hug each Christmas, and we forgive our mistakes… Children, now it’s gone, and I’m happy, do you know why?

Because she left before me. She didn’t have to go through the agony and pain of burying me, of being left alone after my departure. I will be the one to go through that, and I thank God. I love her so much that I wouldn’t have liked her to suffer…”

When my father finished speaking, my brothers and I had tears streaming down our faces. We hugged him, and he comforted us, “It’s okay, we can go home, it’s been a good day.”

That night I understood what true love is; It is far from romanticism, it does not have much to do with eroticism, or with sex, rather it is linked to work, to complement, to care, and, above all, to the true love that two really committed people profess.”

Peace in your hearts.

Autumn is here, winter is coming

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Shabbat morning dawns quietly.  The songbirds are finished for the year, and only the infrequent cooing of the pigeons and mourning doves are in the air.  Snookums had the coffee brewing by the time I arose, changed out the tubing in my body, put on hearing aids, bumped the thermostat up a little, and padded into the kitchen for coffee, vitals, pills, and muted conversation.

Snook continues her recovery, albeit at a much reduced rate.  Experts tell me that it will be at least a year.  She continues with the speech therapist, but now it is only once a week.  Some days it is a little discouraging, and other days she is near normal.

I can usually tell what kind of day we are going to have by her remembering her morning chores.  On Shabbat morning, she puts the dishes from the Shabbat meal away, folds the special tablecloth and launders the napkins.  This morning she went looking for the napkins that Amber, my niece, had already done.  She double checked to make sure, then remembered to feed the animals.  So I am thinking this will be a good day. 

Her Shabbat morning ritual is to have coffee and cake with me, let me do her vitals, take her pills, feed the animals, and occasionally empty the dishwasher and dryer.  Then she sits at her computer and listens to services at our former congregation in Denver.  That routine was the first thing she remembered to do after her stroke.  The way she logs on is particularly complicated, but she remembers how to do it.  Other things like her log-on password are a bit harder for her to remember.  Today is a day when she didn’t have to ask me what the password was.

It has been two weeks since my last update.  Things are changing slowly now, but she is at least out of the woods.  Now it is time for the doctors to figure out a regimen that will prevent or lessen the likelihood of another stroke.  I still panic when she gets tired and lays down or goes to bed early, but I also believe that rest is necessary for her recovery.  So when she lays down or retires, I ask her the usual questions.  Are you feeling dizzy?  Nauseous?  Unstable?  Is your vision blurry?  I call it 20 Questions time.  Old people know that saying.  Young people probably don’t.  But she laughs, answers the questions, and lays down.

And  goes the Autumn of our years.  Winter is coming, to quote a more recent media event that young people will understand, and old people won’t.

Good morning!

Updates and Critiques

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I missed the usual weekend update.  To blame? Laziness and sloth I should think.

But it has been a good week, mostly.  Snook had two ‘bad’ days where she couldn’t remember the simplest of tasks, but the rest of the days were better.  And Sunday she forgot that Amber fixed the evening meal, so she started frying up ‘burgers.  I was a little leery of her working at the stove because she was baking when she had her stroke, so we carefully watched her.  Amber was able to prepare dinner Monday because it was a holiday.

I am looking out my window at the ground cover that is mocking me by waving in the gentle breeze of the morning.  Odd how we can instantly go from dry and crunchy to verdant green after soaking rains. So, mowing looms large in my future.  Snook said she thought she could run the mower, but I am not as confident as she is and don’t want to put her on a device that can seriously injure her.

Snooks is going in for an MRI Thursday.  She has a baseline to compare now, and we can see if the damage is continuing or not. Just from carefully watching her, though, I think that the damage has run its course.

The news today is the usual stream of outrage and horror, and I suspect that you are just as confused as I am by it.  So, no further comment.

The new Lord of the Rings is out, but I am not so sure I am up to Hollywood sermonizing right now.  I’ll wait for a few more movie critiques of it before I decide whether to watch it or not.  It sounds like it is another extravaganza to quietly dismiss, however.  The harder they hype something, the more likely it is to be a dud.

And the heat has broken, finally.  This morning it was a pleasant 74° at sunup.  Now that I have a new laptop, I may go back to porch sitting.  I will have to reclaim the porch from the feral cats that have made it their private property, though.  It will be nice to sit out there with my coffee and computer again.  But Chromebook’s have a weird keyboard and I will have to master it before posting anything serious.

The day comes and goes.  The sun rises 15°.  And I must get on with my loafing.

Good morning!

The Four Horsemen Ride!

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Well, here it is.  My newest addition.  A Samsung Chromebook.

I really wasn’t paying attention when I bought it through AT&T, and I was thinking it would be half the size that it is.  I intend to use it merely to record our vitals in the morning, but now I might try using it as a laptop.

I am also using google docs to write it.  I can add MSWord to it, but I think I will try to keep this computer clean.  But I have to relearn everything, both on the computer and the word processor.  It should be an interesting experiment.

Snookums is having a bad day today.  It is an up and down thing with her, and nothing that I can see triggers it.  It is like her mind comes and goes at whim.

The next visit with the neurologist is a month away.  We will then go over the MRI and do a cognitive test that will give us a benchmark to work from. I am still optimistic that she will continue to improve as time goes on.

Today is an overcast day that seems to fit my mood.  I admit to being a bit pessimistic.  I am sure that like most moods, it will go the same way it came.

Other that that, the day goes on like every other day, and I handle the woes and joys as they arrive and depart.  This week I get a respite from doctor visits and bill paying.  Perhaps the decompression is what I am feeling.

Of course, there is the news.  It is hard to browse over the offerings without getting a sense of impending doom.  Stupid decisions are made.  Rosey promises are given.  Prices go up faster than income.  Both sides are screaming at each other.  It can’t continue on like this, and when the break comes, neither side is going to like the results. The years of peace at home have ended.

Yeah.  I am a prophet of doom.  It does not matter which side prevails.  The four horsemen ride, yet few see them.

So dawns the day here in the dry pampas of Texas.  Soon the rains will arrive, dragging the hurricanes behind them.  The grass will green, the frogs will croak, and the mourning doves will change their lonesome wooing to a more pigeon-like coo.

Good morning!!

A Weak Weekly Update.

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Shabbat dawned sunny and warm, but it has cooled some as a very light rain started to fall.  The raindrops disappear as soon as they fall.  I woke up late this morning, but Snookums was still waiting for me at the breakfast table.  Our morning coffee and cake ritual is important enough to her that she remembers it each morning.  Today, her and Bruce had already polished off a pot of coffee before I awoke.  It has been a long while since I slept in like that.

But she had a fresh new pot awaiting me, and we went through our morning ritual of taking vitals, swallowing pills, sipping coffee, eating cake, and engaging in small talk.  It is a good way to greet the day.

It wasn’t always like that.  When we were first married, the ritual was a quick cup of coffee while scowling at the morning.  We didn’t talk.  We didn’t eat breakfast.  So this new ritual is an odd one for me, albeit a pleasant one. 

Snook is still having problems with her short-term memory, though I see a slight improvement in that.  But we takes our victories where we finds them.  I was almost in despair when we first brought her home from the hospital.  I wasn’t very confident that recovery was going to happen.  Now I think that in time, she will be restored, though there will be a gap in her memory from the day of the stroke until now.

Last week it was the follow-up by the cardiologist.  He was surprised that they didn’t put her on blood thinners in the hospital, so now she is on some that will help in keeping any future strokes from happening, or at least moderate the damage they cause.  He also examined her AFib incident from the hospital, and we went over the process of blood clotting.  Scary topic, but interesting.

Bruce and Amber picked up the slack while she is recovering.  I appreciate that, but I imagine the task is wearying for them.

It has been a time of reflection, a bit of fear, a change in life, but all of it is in God’s purview.  I do not fear old age, but I do fear dementia as I age.  That part still has me uneasy. Still, there is a blessing that is given to gray hairs.  Subtle nuances of scripture become obvious to me, and I wish to tell it to youngsters. but like I did when I was young, you just get a quizzical look and a quick change of subject.  That is fine.  They have babies to raise, and that appears to be a very high priority with God.

So goes the days in our retirement paradise in the vast pampas of Texas.

Good morning.

I Long For A Better World

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Shabbat morning dawns with the clatter of Snookums feeding her animals.  But this morning she is having problems remembering what she has just done.  Normally we have coffee and coffee cake the first thing, and it is a simple setup.  I lay out the blood-pressure cuffs, thermometers, pulse-ox machine and scales, and I take our vitals.  Once I get that done, I take my insulin while she sets the table with a knife to cut the cake, two butter plates, two forks, a glass of water (shared) and we make small talk while sipping coffee and chewing on the coffee cake.

But this morning she was having difficulty remembering how to do that, and I sat on my hands to keep from ‘helping’ her.  I am male.  I rescue females.  That’s what I do.  But rescuing my Snookums is exactly the wrong thing to do, so I gently remind her of what is missing.

On Shabbat mornings, she listens to a podcast from our former congregation since we no longer attend services anywhere.  And she remembers that she does that, but often needs help with starting her PC.  She seems to find the podcast without my help, however.  So, I resolve to keep a close watch on her without hovering over her.

Next week we visit the cardiologist to discuss a tachycardia event she had while she was hospitalized. I think it was more because of the acute bladder pain she was having.  After they got her bladder catheterized, her heart rate became stable again.  But the neurologist seems to feel that though it was the pain that triggered the AFib, it still shows that she may have heart problems as well. Stroke and irregular heartbeat often go together.

We had a hard rain yesterday that was quickly soaked up by the parched earth.  It always amazes me so that the native ground cover springs back to life so quickly after a drought.  Already the fields are turning green, the tree leaves seem a bit brighter, and the land recovers.

And we had a water main break the other day, and we still are under a boil water notice.  I laid in a stock of bottled water to use in the interim.  Such is life in the rural pampas.  You must be prepared for utility outages that can last several days.

The national news is still a dismal swamp, and I wonder why I even bother to read the news.  It isn’t going to get better anytime soon, and maybe it won’t ever get better.  I am certain the birth pangs of a failed civilization have begun.  Yet I am not morbid about it.  It must happen.

Next month I go on hospice care.  Not the kind of hospice where you die in 30 days, but now the doctors will come to my house, order prescriptions, make blood draws etc.  I have mixed feelings about it, but it is something we will all face.  I want to stay around for Snookums if I can.  Even now, I don’t want her unprotected.

So goes the day, and so goes the week.  The day comes, and the day goes.  The rains come, and the rains go.  We are birthed, and we die. I long for a better world.

Shabbat Shalom!

Later Events after the Latest Events

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Sunday dawns with a hazy overcast that filters the hot rays of sunshine a little.  Still, it is August, and the world turns a crunchy brown as we long for the rains of late Autumn.  Life has settled back into a manageable routine again, but my life has changed, and I must change with it.  Still, it is nice when old routines can still comfort me, though there are few of them left.

Snookums is still recovering, though it feels like we have reached a plateau in her healing.  The major damage is to her short-term memory, but if something is important to her, she often will remember it.  I need to remind myself that she needs the gentle nudging, and it isn’t bossing her around to prompt her for a chore that hasn’t been done.  And to be fair, she seems to appreciate the reminders.  I do see that many of her old routines have returned, and she does them without prompting.  She make the beds in the morning, does the laundry and remembers to tune in to our old congregation’s webcasts.

But on the flip side, she cannot remember how to start her computer in the morning, and she never did master the art of the cellphone.  I might restore her old flip phone now that she has no use for the whiz-bang features of a smart phone.

My cardiology visit went very well, and the group that watches my kidney functions told me that the nephrologist is going to be happy when I see him next week.  But my urologist really horked me off with their delays and tries to make their incompetence in scheduling my responsibility.  I will cut off my own nose to spite my face, and after all the pre-surgery visits but before the surgery, I told them to forget it as I had lost all confidence in them.  So, onwards.

I need to assemble Snookums new computer chair today.  The height adjusting tube gave up on her old one.  But putting stuff together has become a very difficult thing for me, but I still refuse to pay someone $45 dollars to put the damned thing together.

The national news is discouraging.  I gave up on TV news sometimes back and now get most of my news online.  I am just a little weary of government that can’t govern, but can do symbolic gestures that are useless in solving the problems with inflation.  It has effectively cut my paycheck by 20%, yet you see a Congress who wants more taxes to … ahem! … fight inflation.  I can’t believe they really think they can pull the wool over my eyes.  I KNOW what it costs to go to the store, and I know what it costs to put gas in my tank, and I know what it costs to have things repaired. 

Then some butthead in Washington tells me it is not all that bad, it is just bad ‘messaging’.

OK … put that down for a bit … trying to stay on top of things and elect fiscally responsible politicians is a useless endeavor.  Then they wonder why we hate them, because they are so … like … wonderful.  Or something.

Anyways.  The day unfolds, God is in his heaven and my only job is to deal with the day as it arrives.

Good morning!