Saturday, March 17, 2018

A Moral Tale About Two Patients

Dear George,
There is an oldish couple who live on Ludlow Ave.  The husband has been bothered by sore leg muscles for a year or so.  It makes his walking unpleasant, and consequently he does about 90% less exercise than he normally does.  This has resulted in weight gain, heightened a1C scores, and overall melancholy.  His wife suggested numerous times that he see the doctor.  His friends have encouraged him to see the doctor.  Even casual acquaintances have urged him to do so.  However, it makes the husband nervous to see the doctor.  He feels he can take care of this problem by himself.  So he’s stretched his legs, used a heating pad, taken Ibuprofen, meditated, elevated his legs, searched the Internet, watched a lot of Netflix.  All to no avail.  He recently mentioned his problem to his pharmacist who suggested that his cholesterol medication may be causing the problem.  At the pharmacist’s recommendation, the husband made an appointment with his doctor.  The doctor recommended stopping the cholesterol medication for a while.  That was two days ago.  The husband’s legs are already feeling better.  The husband wonders why he put up with pain and limping for a year when this could have been resolved a long time ago.  

His wife, meanwhile, went in for a gastroenterological procedure.  When she came home she felt terrible.  Fever, cold chills, a severe cough, sick sick sick.  The husband thought this was a normal reaction and was just a matter of needing some bed rest.  The wife instead called the doctor’s office.  The nurse suggested she go to the emergency room.  The husband thought this was ill-considered and unnecessary.  The wife insisted on speaking to the doctor, and, when the doctor called back. he suggested she go right away to the emergency room.  She went, was examined, was given an antibiotic for pneumonia, and was admitted to the hospital overnight for monitoring.  The doctor said it had been very important that she called and had stayed overnight in the hospital.  She’s, of course, doing much better and seems back to normal. 

These are different ways of being a patient.  The husband is to be admired for his self-sufficiency and confidence.  Unfortunately he is also stupid and dysfunctional.  The wife, more assertive, knows what she is doing and takes action.  Hopefully the husband will learn from her example (though he hasn’t seemed to do so in some sixty years).

Thursday, March 8, 2018

TV's Weirdly Gendered World

Dear George, 
Katja and my TV watching has been creeping upward since we retired.  That’s not surprising since we do have a lot more time on our hands.  And, between cable and Netflix, there are many more viewing possibilities than there used to be.  Americans watch a lot of TV — about 35 hours a week for the average adult (1).  Adults 65 and over watch more than any other age group, approximately 48 hours a week (2).  What has struck me for a long time is that the content of TV shows is more about gender than any other topic.  Recently I’ve been collecting brief plot summary statements from to illustrate some of these themes.  Here’s a sampling of  storylines from TV Guide, subdivided by “women”, “men”, and “women and men together”. 

Piper has an epiphany 
Allison has to lose weight 
Peggy suffers from a migraine 
Mary Lou takes French lessons
Charlotte volunteers for the blind
Violet provides comfort to a friend 
Elena serves tilapia for Thanksgiving
Samantha is uneasy about holding hands
Bride Bridgette needs a dress to say yes in
Cindy uncovers a family secret — her adoption 
Stefanie sells makeup at school as a side business
An unflattering photo of Jade is posted on the internet 

Josh and his team search the Brazilian jungle for a giant anaconda
Jim sees a monster holding the lifeless body of his foster mother 
“Pharma Bro” jacks up the price of a life-saving drug 5000%
A guy asks a friend to shoot him because “I like the scars”
Mike and his poker pals bond during colonoscopy prep 
Chase and Jacoby struggle for command of the boat
A cross-dressing professor goes on a killing spree
Eli finds farming more than it’s cracked to be 
Alfie leads a lonely life hidden in a cave
Frenchy and Gee battle a cannibal
Hoyt is moved from death row 
Michael severs all family ties 

Women and Men Together 
A small-town beauty queen is terrorized by a wealthy would-be suitor
Katie’s ex hides video cameras and microphones in her home
A young woman’s ideal man has the heart of a monster
Christine feels intellectually inferior to Max’s friends
Sammy Jo is ready to wash Jeff out of her hair 
Diana learns the truth about Richard 
George gets a girlfriend (and a rash) 
A distracted Jeremy forgets Tasha’s birthday 
Hank butchers his marriage proposal to Karen
Bella and Will struggle to enjoy one another’s hobbies
Cooper confesses to Angela that he’s married with children 
An escapee from a mental institution aims to avenge a ruined romance 

Because it’s all familiar the examples may not be too surprising, but they do remind us how stereotypic, often sexist portrayals of women and men dominate the media.  Women are generally depicted as emotional, caring, concerned about beauty, worried about finding men, and engaged in domestic pursuits.  Men, meanwhile, are off in adventurous and dangerous pursuits, striving for power, and engaging in violence.  When women’s and men’s relationships or transactions are portrayed, they are often conflictful and on the verge of collapse, usually because of men being ne’er-do-wells. 

The examples I’ve given here, of course, haven’t been randomly selected and represent only a tiny percentage of the plot summaries of currently available TV shows.  Extensive social science research, however, paints a very similar picture.  UNC communications researcher Julia Wood (nyu) describes findings from empirical studies of TV and film content:   “Men are presented as hard, tough, independent, sexually aggressive, unafraid, violent, totally in control of all emotions, and-above all-in no way feminine…Women are portrayed as significantly younger and thinner than women in the population as a whole, and most are depicted as passive, dependent on men, and enmeshed in relationships or housework.”  (3)

Browsing in TV Guide is food for thought.  I doubt if we’ll stop watching TV.  However, it’s helpful to be conscious of what it is we’re watching.  Rather than reflecting reality, all this stuff creates a fantasy world which serves to reinforce traditional sex role expectations.   The viewer should beware.   (Actually I thought we had moved beyond this in the seventies.)

(1), “The average American watches so much TV it’s almost a full-time job” 
(2), “The State of Traditional TV: Updated with Q2 2017 Data” 
(3), Julia T. Wood.  (Dept. Communication, UNC)  “Gendered Media: The Influence of Media on Views of Gender.”

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Martial Bliss

Dear George,
Oh no, I did it again.  Every time I set out to write the word “marital” I wind up spelling it “martial”.  Why is that?  I never spell “partial” “partail” or “capital” “captial”.  One of my college roommates told me it’s a Freudian slip, but that’s hard to believe.  Why would anyone confuse marriage and martial?   In any case, Katja’s and my marriage has always been extremely idyllic.  Here are a few anecdotes from my daily journal which prove  this.   

Male Cleanliness Standards
Katja had been out of town about five days when Frya, our
cleaning lady, called.  She asked if Katja were back and said she had
us scheduled for the coming Wednesday.  Though I almost never play a
role in such decisions, I said to Frya, “It’s really strange but whenever Katja goes out of town our house doesn’t seem to get dirty. I think we should postpone.  How about if you call Katja back early in the week?”  Frya said o.k.  Afterwards I wasn’t positive my opinion was correct.  Maybe the house just seemed less dirty to me.  Actually it never seems dirty enough to me to warrant a visit from the cleaning
lady.  Probably Frya will be relieved when Katja gets back so she can
deal directly with the woman of the house.

Distressed by Non-Disasters
Katja noticed that the auto insurance card in her wallet listed an
expiration date of several months ago.  She called the company, and
they explained that we haven’t had any auto insurance for the last
seven months.  Apparently we didn’t pay the bill, and the insurance
company never contacted us again.  That put both of us in a state of
shock.  It’s crazy and hazardous to have been driving around for seven
months with no insurance.  I keep thinking of all the terrible things
that could have happened.  Happily, none of them did. 

Sleep Is Scary
Katja learned a while back that Frank M., one of her long-term
colleagues from her social service agency, had died in his sleep that
week, even though he was only in his early fifties.  She was very sad
about it.  At midnight she said that she didn’t want to go to sleep.
I’d begun to nod off myself, and, puzzled, I asked why.  Katja said
she just didn’t want to.  Waking up a bit more, I asked, “Is it
because of Frank?”  Katja didn’t answer directly, saying, “I have too
much left to do.”  Lacking empathy at the moment, I said, “Dying in
your sleep is probably the very best way to die.”  Katja repeated that
she has too much to do, and I repeated my opinion about good ways to
die.  Then I fell back asleep.  I guess Katja did too because she was
sound asleep when I woke up in the morning.

Quite a Big House
When Katja went out shopping, I said I might go to the office but I
stayed at home instead to work on my blog in our upstairs den.  A few
hours later I got a call on my cell phone.  It was Katja.  She said
she’d tried my office phone number, but then she realized that it might have been the wrong  number.  I said no, that I was home.  She sounded sort of confused, and I asked her where she was.  She said she’d been home for half an hour.  I asked whose home she was at, and she said she was at our home.  She wondered whose home was at.  I was upstairs; she was downstairs.  We both started laughing.  Apparently we have difficulty keeping track of who’s where.  

Incriminating Evidence
I was working at the computer when Katja came up to the door, held out
her hand, and said she’d found two women’s earrings in the TV room.
Her facial expression was sort of intimidating, like ‘what sort of unknown women have you been cavorting with in our house?’  Our friend Royce had visited two nights before to watch an episode of “Homeland” with us, and I suggested they were probably hers.  Katja gave me a suspicious look and said that Royce doesn’t wear earrings.  A little later I speculated that they might belong to one of the women who helped clean our house last week.  Katja gave me an even worse look.  Apparently she considered that idea was preposterous.  She gave the earrings to me as if I knew what to do with them.  I put them on the railing at the top of the stairs.  Later I was able to reach Royce by phone.  She’d left the earring here.  I told this to Katja, but I don’t knew if she believed me.  I personally think we’ve been married too long to get jealous, but you never know.

Fashion Frenzy
When I volunteered to type up Katja’s minutes for the Opera Guild board
meeting (for which she is the secretary) I ran across the following
statement: “At the ball women will be expected to wear formal ball
gowns, and white ties and gloves will be expected for men.”  I rushed
into the next room, and our conversation proceeded as follows:
D: Who in the world made this decision?
K: Everybody thought it was a good idea.  It will be nice.
D: I’m not going to any ball like this.
K: The arrangements are already made. Beside you agreed to go to one
ball during the year.
D:  What does this mean about the rest of my clothes.
K; The men will be wearing dark suits.
D: You mean tuxedos.  I don’t have a tuxedo.
K;  You have your black felt sport coat.  That will look nice.
D:  With white gloves.
K (laughing): You can wear your fur-lined gloves.  Or even your
gardening gloves.
D:  Stop laughing.  This isn’t funny.  I’m serious.
K:  I know you’re serious.  We’ll have a really good time.
D (grits his teeth and scowls):  I’m not going to go! I’m not going to
go!  (Though, in his inner self, he knew he had no choice.)

Night burglar
The other night I went to sleep at midnight.  As is often the case, I
woke at two a.m., took half an Ambien, and worked at the computer for
a while so the pill could take effect.  After about ten minutes I
thought I heard a noise in the dark from downstairs, perhaps
a footstep on the landing.  I stopped typing and listened intently, but
there was nothing.  Minutes later I heard something again, perhaps the
sound of a drawer being opened.  I held my breath, exceedingly
nervous.  We aren’t one hundred percent reliable about
locking the kitchen door at night, and I’ve always feared that a
prowler might test the handle and come in.   I turned on the radio, then clapped my hands loudly to let any intruder know that someone was awake upstairs.  Then I heard a voice call out my name.  It was Katja.  She was down in the kitchen doing dishes.  She wondered what I was clapping about.  I explained and went back to bed.

Candle Dangers
For some time Katja has kept a candle burning in a glass jar in the
living room because she likes the fragrance.  Recently she added a
second burning candle to the table in our sunroom where we eat most of
our meals.  On Tuesday morning we were reading the newspaper there
when Katja shrieked.  She had been holding the New York Times just above the
candle, and it caught fire in her hands.  Then on Wednesday morning
her newspaper caught fire again.  It occurred to me that we could set
the paper down some day, leave the room, and our house would soon be on
fire.  I did move the sun room candle to a safer location, but it still leaves me nervous.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Good Dr. Z / Evil Dr. Z

Dear George,
When our former family practitioner retired after 45 years, I switched over to Dr. Z, one of his younger colleagues.  That seemed to go well, at least for a while.  Dr. Z struck me as knowledgeable, laid back, helpful.  Then things got more shaky with my Ambien sleeping pill prescription.  Each time I wanted it refilled, I had to engage in a new round of conflictful negotiations.  Dr. Z says he doesn’t like Ambien, prefers not to prescribe it, and doesn’t want me walking onto the expressway at night in front of a semi.  Though  I appreciate the sentiment, I never worry about semis.   I did get more nervous last year when Medicare said that I was authorized to receive Ambien for twelve more months.  Now the twelve months are nearly up, and, when I asked Dr. Z last week if he could get a new authorization, he said that, because of my age, federal guidelines prohibit him from writing an Ambien prescription for me.  I might have imagined it, but he seemed to have a demonic look in his eye.   I get intensely annoyed by federal guidelines that prohibit this or that because of my age.  I calmly explained to Dr. Z. that Ambien is a wonder drug, and, just because I can’t imagine getting to sleep without it, that doesn’t make me an addict.  Dr. Z was unbudgeable.  He said that he wanted me to try Draxamyl* instead.  Seeing no other option, I begrudgingly said o.k.   

It turns out that Draxamyl wasn’t even developed for sleep problems.  According to the info I got with my Rx, it’s designed to treat “depression or other serious mental illnesses.”  Apparently it helps some chronically depressed persons sleep better, but there’s little evidence about non-depressed people.  According to the pharmacy info, Draxamyl has various possible side effects.    These include: nausea, vomiting, nightmares, suicide, trouble walking, constipation, panic attacks, unusual bruising, tremors, worsened depression, violent behavior, 6-hour erections, mania, eye pain, hallucinations, diarrhea, trouble sleeping, and a few dozen more.  I can’t believe that Draxamyl is a better choice than my beloved Ambien.  

I did start taking Draxamyl several nights ago.  The first night was un-thrilling.  I lay there in a heightened state of awareness till 3 a.m., then finally got up and took an Ambien.  Ambien, of course, worked perfectly.  The subsequent nights were up and down.  Sometimes I slept through the night; sometimes I woke in the early morning hours and had trouble getting back to sleep.  So far I haven’t noticed violent behavior or hallucinations.  I guess I’ll keep trying Draxamyl.  However, I am thinking of outwitting the evil Dr. Z by not taking any sleeping pill at all.  Google, it turns out, has a lot of good tips about how to go to sleep and stay asleep without medication.  Here are a few that strike me as promising**:   

  • Go to bed and wake up at the same time each day.
  • Get up earlier in the morning (so you will feel more tired at night).   
  • Eliminate coffee, cigarettes, and alcohol in the evening.  
  • Limit naps during the day.   
  • Exercise regularly (but not immediately before bedtime). 
  • Don’t watch TV, listen to the radio, or use the iPad in bed.
  • Don’t eat or drink right before bedtime.
  • Keep your bedroom cool (60-67 degrees) and free of distractions (e.g., light, noise). 
  • Don’t let your pet sleep in bed with you.   
  • Get all your worrying done before bedtime (e.g., after dinner, review the day and make plans for the next day). 
  • Focus on your breath (in, out, in, out).  
  • Try progressive muscle relaxation (start at one end of the body and work up or down, clenching and then releasing each section of muscles for all-over relaxation.   
  • Keep a Sleep Diary to help identify patterns or issues with your sleep habits.  
  • If you can’t sleep after 20 minutes, go to another room and do a relaxing activity such as reading or listening to music.    

I’ve never done well on most of these things.  Katja and I watch Frasier on Netflix for an hour before we turn the TV off to go to sleep.  Most days I don’t exercise enough to make myself tired, and I’ve taken to napping more often than I used to.  I’m inconsistent in my waking time, and I rarely get up early in the morning.   Sometimes I like to drink wine in the evening.  I go to bed obsessed with writing poetry in my mind.  If I do wake up in the early morning hours, I go straight to the computer.  Our thermostat is set for warm temperatures, the streetlights shine through our blinds, and Katja plays music on the radio.  All in all, I’d say everything I do is antithetical to good sleep.  So all I need to do is make massive changes to my entire life style.  I can do that.  I think I’ll start in the spring.  I’ll show that Dr. Z.    

*”Draxamyl” is a pseudonym.  The side effects listed for my prescribed drug are real.  

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

This Flu Is Not Going To Get Me

Dear George, 
I’ve been worrying more about the flu this year.  This could be a matter of getting older, but it’s probably due to generalized anxiety about the imminent collapse of the country (which makes one more vulnerable to all the horrors out there).  In any case, my nervousness got worse when Katja recently had an overnight stay in the hospital.  The doctor told her not to go to the chamber music concert when she got out (millions of flu germs), and, if she felt compelled to go to a friend’s funeral, she should only make a brief appearance and shake nobody’s hand.  Then the nurse came in and added that the current flu is lethal, that the vaccine this year is only 10% effective, and that it would be best to never leave our house at all.   

When I got home I went straight to Google and asked “How do I prevent the flu?”  There are a lot of good tips available.  Here are the main suggestions from and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention*:  

Get a yearly flu vaccination, preferably by the end of October.  This is especially important for persons in high risk categories: young children, people age 65 and older, pregnant women, and persons with chronic health conditions.
Avoid crowded public places.  Especially try to stay away from people who are coughing or sneezing.  
Wash your hands frequently with soap and water.  If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand rub.  
Every time you sneeze or cough wash your hands for 15 seconds (the time it takes to silently sing “Happy Birthday” twice).     
Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze.  
Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.  This is how most germs are spread.  
Clean and disinfect surfaces and objects that may be contaminated with germs, e.g., doorknobs, stairway railings, keyboards, phones. 

I was dimly aware of most of these ideas, but I’ve never done much to put them into practice.  I find that frequent hand-washing with soap is a lot like like drinking 8 glasses of water a day.  It sounds good and I have good intentions, but I rarely follow through.  This time, though, I went promptly to the bathroom sink to take action.  Our soap is a purple liquid which comes in a plastic dispenser named “Lavender”.  The label is decorated with purple flower images, and the soap not only smells good but it’s guaranteed to provide “freshness at your fingertips”.  I reviewed the fine print carefully, but it didn’t say anything about the flu or any other life-threatening condition.  I asked Katja if we had a regular bar of soap, and she did have a bar in the bureau dresser.  It was large, egg-shaped, purple, smelled exotic, and came in a woven silk bag with a purple tie.  Like our “Lavender” dispenser, it made me uneasy.  I decided to get my own more powerful soap at the drugstore. 

I never paid much attention to the soap department at our neighborhood pharmacy, but I have to admit it’s impressive.  The soap section is about 18 feet long, 5 foot high, and must contain three hundred or more different soap products.  The hitch for me was that they all came in plastic dispensers with floral designs and promises of “beauty”, smooth skin, and “freshness”.  For several minutes I couldn’t find any bars of soap at all.  Finally I located three packages on the bottom shelf at the end of the row.  I settled on the antibacterial bar (even though it’s irrelevant to the flu since the flu is a virus).  The label says “‘round the clock odor protection” and “the perfect balance of feeling clean & moisturized.”  They don’t explain just how they determined that cleanliness and moisture are balanced.   

Katja is unhappy with my choice.  She says the yellow-orange color doesn’t fit our purple bathroom motif.  My opinion is that yellow is complementary to purple so it’s a better fit than, say, pink or chartreuse.  So far I have used my new bar of soap once or twice each day.  I’ve yet to use it after sneezing or coughing although I hope to do so in the future.    I definitely worry less about the flu now.   Not only do I wash my hands with soap more often, but there’s probably protection just from having a real bar of soap sitting in our bathroom.

*SOURCES:, “Prevent the Flu: Good Health Habits Can Help Stop Germ, "How to Dodge the Flu Without a Shot"

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Snow Days

Dear George, 
We’ve just had our second snowfall of the month, a frosty reminder the we’ve reached the thick of winter.  According to Google, over one septillion snowflakes fall in the U.S. every year.  I didn’t even know what one septillion is, but it turns out it has 24 zeroes.  That’s a trillion billion, more than all the grains of sand on earth or all the gallons of water.  As adults we tend to forget just how astonishing snow is.  Among other things, it falls out of the sky.  Second, though each snowflake is tinier than a ladybug, a good snowfall blankets the earth, often spreading over thousands of square miles.  Snow not only turns the whole world white, but there are endless things to do with it.  Roll in it, slide on it, eat it, make snow angels, ski and sled, build sculptures, throw snowballs at the tree trunk, etc.  Having grown up in the U.P., snow was a dominant part of our lives.  Here are a few snow memories in honor of the season.    

KINDERGARTEN.  In my early childhood my parents and I lived on the second floor of a big white house on Ogden Avenue at the foot of the Interstate Bridge, and my friend Sally F. and her parents lived in the first floor.  At age 5 Sally and I walked the half-mile to kindergarten at Boswell School every day, and in the winter this often meant trudging through drifts of snow.  We were all bundled up with boots and scarves but it was still freezing.  Fortunately Sally’s dad owned the Boiler Works on Ogden Ave. which was midway on our route, and we’d stop in each morning to drink hot cocoa and warm our hands and mittens at the potbelly stove.  I don’t remember anything about my kindergarten classes, but I do remember our snowy journeys to and fro.  

SNOW WARS.  Our family moved to Sheridan Road when I was in first grade.  My friends Frankie S., Darl S., and I built a good-sized snow fort at the curb in front of our house, and several older neighborhood kids built an enemy fort on the opposite side of the street.  We lobbed snowballs at each other for hours, even if nobody ever managed to hit the other guys.     

PLAYGROUND TACKLE.  As soon as snow covered our Washington Grade School playground, the boys would play tackle at recess.  One of the more athletic kids was chose as a runner, and all the other kids would chase him until somebody tackled him in the snow.  The tackler then became the runner, and everybody chased after him.  The crowning moment of my youth was when Tommy H., the halfback on our school’s football team, ran straight at me and, to everyone’s amazement, I actually managed to tackle him.  I didn’t do very well as a runner, probably lasting about twenty seconds.  I didn’t care.   I’d had my day.  

ALL AGAINST ONE.  One of the boys a year younger than me lived in the house right across the street from the playground.  On winter days he’d come out in his yard during lunch hour, and all the boys would thrown snowballs at him from across the street.  He successfully dodged most of them.  However, when everybody threw their snowballs simultaneously at the count of three at least a few would hit the target.  The kid didn’t mind in the least.  He loved being the center of attention even if it was a matter of collective aggression.  

ON THE RIVER.  We moved out of town to our house on the river when my dad came back to the war.  Playing in the snow became even more of a full-time occupation.  We’d ski off the river bank, hike across the ice to Pig Island, and walk with snowshoes in the forest.  My dad tied the toboggan to the back bumper of the Lincoln V-12 and pulled us along the snow and ice on Riverside Boulevard, swerving from one side to the other.  Steve and I played endless hours of basketball on the snow-covered driveway, lighting the hoop at night with a desk lamp attached to an extension cord.  In the morning we ran barefoot races in the snow-covered front yard.  Every winter we tried to build an igloo, but when we got to the center of the roof it would always cave in.  

SNOW DRIVING.  Cruising around town in the family car became our major teenage activity.  I practiced winter driving on Stephenson Avenue near the cemetery, hitting the brakes, and spinning the car in circles as it bounced off the snowdrifts on each side of the road.  One holiday night my friend Bob A. volunteered to take my mother and I to the O’Hara’s house on the Green Bay shore during a major snowstorm.  Halfway there his Model A Ford skidded off the road and tipped over in a ditch.  My mother wound up on top of Bob, and I was laying on top of her.  Too embarrassing.

SNOMANCE.  In my second year at Antioch College I had a coop job in Madison, Wisconsin, and I went to visit college friends in Milwaukee.  Much to my surprise Katja was there with them.  I’d never met her before but had admired her from afar.  We went for a walk in downtown Milwaukee, and the snowflakes started falling.  We stopped on a bridge to watch the snow and the river, and I’d have to say those snowflakes led to love at first sight.     

CLOSED ROADS.  During one of our Xmas breaks my college friend Arnie P. joined me to drive the 600 miles from Yellow Springs, Ohio, to Menominee.  A major storm was raging, and, as we got north of Milwaukee, state troopers had shut down Highway 41.  They explained that all of the highways heading north were closed, with the exception of one two-lane county road which was still open for local traffic.  Disregarding police advice, Arnie and I set out on the county road  with the snow already up to our bumpers.  We never could see the road or its edges but simply pointed the car midway between the evergreen forests on the right and the left.  It took us 6 hours to go 150 miles and we didn’t see a single other car, but we did pull in to Menominee about 3 or 4 a.m. 

SNOW PARENTING.  Snow took on a whole new meaning when I was a new dad in the early 1970’s.  J and I would go sledding at Burnet Woods, or, for still bigger thrills, at Mt. Storm Park with its skyline view and steep hill.  Katja was raising rabbits at the time, and J and I would build a large snow rabbit in our side yard.  Every year, as J got bigger, the snow rabbit got bigger too.  After New Years Eve we’d go around the neighborhood and collect discarded Xmas trees, creating our own forest of a dozen or more trees on our patio deck.  

SNOW DOGS.  Our Old English Sheepdogs, Mike and Duffy, were curious about the snow but I don’t think they were true enthusiasts.  The snow stuck in their paws, and the salt from the roads and sidewalks was painful.  I put socks on them with a rubber band but they never stayed put.  For our best sheepdog outings we joined Donna and Sophie for winter snow hikes at Miami Whitewater Forest.  The down side of the snow season involved the dogs pulling too hard on the leash and me landing on the sidewalk on my rear end.  That probably happened fifty times over the years, but I managed to survive.    

It’s been snowing about six hours since I started these reminiscences, and our street is looking beautiful.  I think I’ll go for a stroll.  

Monday, January 1, 2018

2017: Sometimes Bad, Usually Good

Dear George, 
When I was 21, I didn’t spend nearly as much time on New Years Day thinking about what had happened in the previous twelve months.  Probably I started doing this around age 60 or so (when it dawned on me that I had fewer years left than I used to).  My first thought this morning was that 2017 was the worst year politically that we’ve ever experienced.  On reflection, though, there are a lot of other contenders, e.g., 1963 (JFK’s assassination), 1968 (RFK, MLK Jr., nationwide riots, Vietnam outrage and despair), 1973 (Watergate), 2001 (World Trade Center).   Fortunately 2017 has been much more pleasant for me on a personal level.  I’ve settled fully into retirement and am appreciative of a relatively stress-free and at least mildly enjoyable existence.  Here’s my summary list for 2017.

Worst day of the year: January 20 (guess why) 
My most reliable source of cheer: baby hippo Fiona at the Cincinnati Zoo 
Big birthday: No. 80 
Best one-day outing: the Ohio State Fair 
Best junk food: gigantic Bloomin’ Onion (at the Ohio State Fair) 
Favorite movie: Lost in Paris (Paris Pieds Nus) with Fiona Gordon and Dominique Abel
Best new activity with Katja: Israeli folk dancing 
Sweet out of town visitors: J, V, and L drive up from NOLA in June 
High Culture: Linton Chamber Music, Cincinnati Opera 
Favorite hiking place: Miami Whitewater Forest 
Favorite TV show: Ray Donovan
Tastiest dessert: Putz’s Creamy Whip chocolate sundae with peanuts
Most aerobic exercise: Zumba  
Sport thrills: Roger Federer wins two grand slams
Sad restaurant loss: Clifton Subway (where we regularly shared a footlong each week)
Most esoteric expedition: Victory of Light psychic fair 
Best local thrift shop: Valley Thrift Store
Irritating condition: sluggish hearing  
Funniest book: Razor Girl by Carl Hiaasen 
Overhyped natural phenomenon: the wimpy eclipse in Cincinnati 
Favorite Lean Cuisine: Swedish Meatballs 
Grandchildren accomplishments: V and L’s success in changing schools
Big loss: our friend Donna moved to Nashville in December (happy for Donna, sad for us)  
Made me nervous: J signing Katja up for Amazon Prime 
Museum show: Iris Van Herpen fashion exhibit at the Cincinnati Art Museum
Best trip: Caribbean cruise with V, L, K, and J 
Guilty pleasure: Spider solitaire 
Favorite Cincinnati Restaurant: Jean-Robert’s Table 
Favorite OLLI class: Poetry Writing Workshop
Temporary disability: strained Achilles tendon (two months recovery time — yuck) 
Something I like, Katja hates: Lawrence Welk show on PBS 
Best flea market: Flea ’n Tique (Dayton fairgrounds) 
Worst newspaper: the Cincinnati Enquirer
Neighborhood excitement: Clifton Market opened in January (after 5 years with no local supermarket) 
My biggest Amazon purchase: a home haircutting kit 
Happy Christmas celebrations: with the Minkarah family
New Years Eve dinner at Postmark: at the waiter’s suggestion we added a few truffles to our entrees (I hadn’t heard him correctly — they cost $36).  Such a start to the New Year.  

Sit less; get back to 10,000 steps a day
Take more camping trips 
Read one book a month
Clean up my junk room   
Cut down on Ambien 
Be less grumpy and picky around the house
Be less obsessed with Trump horror stories in the newspaper 
Plan a big trip 
Talk more by phone with loved ones 
Drink more water (I could actually accomplish this)
Lose ten pounds (fat chance) 
Get my blood sugar down (lots of luck)