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Home Again


housebegoniasI sit here on my deck amidst dense trees and window boxes lush with flowering red begonias. The wind is blowing gently and there’s a faint rustle in the air. Life is good here in the woods. I’ve missed you.

Gone is the endless hustle bustle of the city. The traffic racing past, cyclers, skate boarders, runners, horns blowing, sirens shrieking – whew! The sounds of nature once again fill my psche and renew my soul. I’ve become a country girl. 20 years of living like this has changed my constitution, literally. Everything inside me has slowed down. I can once again hear myself think, sense my intuition and feel joy. I’m not racing anymore.housewoods

Some people thrive on the hectic and energetic lifestyle of a city. I used to. Back in the day when I lived in Pittsburgh I longed for a more active environment. When asked if I liked living there I’d say I don’t intend to die there. I was after more action. And later in Chicago I got it. Though we didn’t live in the city I was there every day and many evenings after work. I loved Chicago. It was rich in all categories: sports, theater, food, shopping and entertainment.

woodsneighborhood1Moving to Knoxville, TN was a culture shock – for years. But we bought the right house in a perfect neighborhood and it’s been home for 20 years now. And I’ve come to realize that it’s the woods that my body craves. It’s very much alive in different ways than the city. There are birds that sing and insects that talk and squirrels that bark if you get too close. woodsneighborhood3And the rain sounds delicious, rather than bothersome. I’m home here, and though I truly love Boston, I’m not home there anymore. I used to be. I used to get off a plane, smell the salty air and smile from ear to ear. I still love that city and the whole of New England.woodsneighborhood2

But one thing I now know for sure. Though I don’t have to always live in Knoxville, I do need to live within nature. It’s become who I am. Ahhhh…. I’m home.

Bye Bye Boston — For Now


The condo is in disarray, the van is partially packed and in a couple days we’ll be waving goodbye to our favorite city on the east coast. Summer in Boston has been both energizing and over-stimulating, an odd combination of paradoxical states to exist in one body. But for me, both are very real.

harvard-square-coverWalking around MIT and visiting their museums, hibernating in the Harvard Coop and shopping the Square, walking on the Esplanade while Bella swims in the river and chases squirrels, attending concerts and shows by world class performers – and being able to go everywhere on public transportation – all very energizing experiences. MITThere’s an intellectual aliveness in this city, the home of a couple hundred colleges and universities – including ivy leaguers. And athleticism is everywhere and represented by all age groups. It’s flat out invigorating to be in a city where intellect and fitness interact so organically.

New England is a diverse vacation spot too. 90 minutes from Boston you can be on Cape Cod and an hour’s ferry takes you to Martha’s Vineyard or Nantucket. Then, of course, rural Maine is right up the road and pastoral Vermont is just a couple hour’s drive. GingerbreadHousesNew Hampshire, close by too. I had the opportunity to spend a week on the Cape and take a short trip to a friend’s sheep farm in Vermont that offered million dollar views of rolling hills for miles in all directions. VermontI love this part of the country for all those reasons.

I’m also exhausted from the experience. City life is loud, busy, fast and relentless. We were staying at the intersection of two very busy throughways in town, and in front of a bustling expressway. Those are also reasons why it’s so easy to get around town. But the non-stop cacophony of traffic, horns, sirens is trying on the nerves and my patience level was tested to the max each day by cyclists who think they’re above traffic laws and buses speeding past cars and just assuming the lanes belong to them. BostonTrafficStraying from a walking path by a foot or so might cause a rear end collision from a roller skater, runner and cyclist in a real hurry to go somewhere but who doesn’t think it’s necessary to alert anyone he’s about to whiz past. And this was during the “off” summer season. Imagine the craziness when kids come back to school, soon.

Once upon a time, this lifestyle was my lifestyle and Boston was home for a few years. It felt perfectly normal then to be part of the hustle bustle of this busy town. But somehow, as my system has adapted to warmer seasons, so too has my need for peace and quietude. Since living in a heavily wooded community in a much smaller southern city – or as I call it, a town – I seem to thrive on living life more slowly. I’m happier, more content and, frankly, feel more at home. So while Boston offered a really fun summer, it’s time now to come home and resume a life that’s a bit more ratcheted down.

HouseSpring

Maybe age has something to do with it, though many active folks my age in Boston thrive on the go, go, go. I think my go, go, go years are behind me. After a very fortunate, fulfilling and successful career, I’ve retired. And now it feels time to live life a little smaller. A bit more pensively, experiencing adventure in a slower, richer way.

So – bye bye Boston, for now, anyway. My husband keeps devising ways to spend more summers here – maybe we will, maybe we won’t. But I do know that living here for good is likely not in my cards. And I love this city. That would be my paradox


Pat SummittToday was a day of national mourning that Lady Vols Coach Pat Summitt died, succumbing to her horrible Alzheimer’s Disease. She was one of the greatest women of our time coaching 38 consecutive women’s basketball victories – the most winning-est coach ever. She was a strong, tenacious and fierce, yet loving, leader who wouldn’t take no for an answer. Men, women and children can learn a lot from her examples of leadership. Her players loved and respected her. Fans adored and revered her. And she leaves a legacy that few mortal people can touch. Not just as a coach, but as a person who helped build strong young women for tomorrow.

Yet she was fallible, as we all are. Death will befall us all. And death by Alzheimer’s Disease is a particularly insidious affliction that affected her family as much, if not more, than her. You see, after a while, it stole her memory and her identity, ultimately leaving the shell that “used to be” the famous and very personal Pat Summitt. I have no intimate knowledge of her days with the disease and without. I do, however, have first hand experience with Alzheimer’s – from afar.

My perspective is different than most. Certainly I knew of Pat Summitt. Everybody knew who she was and what she accomplished during her productive lifetime. But as a former hospice volunteer whose last patient lived 10 years with that disgusting disease, I watched a person diminish and a family devote their waking hours to making her comfortable and trying to engage her. Cajoling her to eat, to walk, to converse, to show some semblance of the wife and mother they remembered. Ultimately, this patient became mute and bedridden for the last five years of her life. I saw her blank eyes stare into space during the hours she didn’t sleep. She was as close to a vegetative state as I’ve ever witnessed. The photographs of the woman she used to be didn’t even resemble the woman I visited. She was no longer that person. Her husband was “trapped” (my words) in a marriage to a woman he’d lost years earlier. Yet he was fiercely devoted to her care. He talked to her as though she might answer. Cracked jokes. Reminisced. Showed her photos of the travels they’d taken in their RV. Offered a litany of his day. Prepared meals he thought she’d enjoy. Scrupulously cleaned her, lifting up her dead weight out of the bed and onto a toilet or the tub or the chair. Delicately, lovingly, devotedly.

He was housebound until I came to relieve him once a week to shop, run errands or, with my prodding – have some fun with family or friends. His wife showed no signs of life except breathing in and breathing out, eyes sometimes open and staring and sometimes closed for sleeping. That was his life. For five years! Five years before that he’d gone through the stages of Alzheimer’s progression. Unpredictable behavior, walking out the door to head somewhere though she didn’t know where, unexplained outbursts of anger and tears. Life had been a roller coaster. Until she finally, thankfully, succumbed. He admitted he’d lost his wife years earlier. He didn’t know who this woman was that she’d become. Yet he lived on memories and devotion until she was freed. And so was he.

From my perspective, it’s a blessing that Pat Summitt died. Her diagnosis five years earlier had been her death sentence. There is no cure. There is only disintegration. I say she’s free. Free to be the Pat Summitt we all loved and respected. No more pity, no more tears, no more wondering. She’s free. May the great and unparalleled Pat Summitt rest in peace. Her legacy lives on.

BOSTON CYCLERS


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Maybe it’s my age. There’s no way I’d bike in heavy traffic without a helmet and casually meander out of my bike lane into one filled with cars. Oops, a horn on my tail, sorry mister, I’ll casually wander back. I look at those kids (and kids they are) and shake my head.   Their parents would plotz if they saw them.   If any of you are somewhat familiar with the Mass Ave Bridge or Beacon Street or Comm Ave you’d know what I’m talking about. Boston drivers are a mess unto themselves. cycling2Put a 20 year old on a bike cruising in from of them and that cycler is lucky he or she doesn’t go flying ass over teakettle. Maybe some do; I don’t know the injury rate – death rate – of those cyclers on city streets. I know that 35+ years ago my husband was one of those casualties, landing him in the hospital with a concussion and lots of cuts and bruises. He was lucky; except for about 5 years later when he needed a tumor removed near his brain stem which docs think may have been caused by head trauma. He doesn’t ride bikes anymore and I only ride safe greenways that are far away from speeding traffic.

It seems that everyone on Boston streets is a dare devil, even in the evenings. When I walk my dog at 9pm there are kids on bikes, also no helmets, no lights and no regard for traffic laws. Hit me if you dare. Or maybe they think they’re invincible. Even at 20 I had a healthy respect for safety and my mortality. At my university in Pittsburgh I walked everywhere, maybe because of all the hills but also because it just felt safer. This city is teeming with colleges and thousands of students, even in the summer. I can’t imagine what it’s like during the school year. Maybe they keep the hospital row ERs in business. Drive down Longwood & Brookline Avenues and you run into Mass General Hospital, Brigham & Women’s, Beth Israel, Children’s Hospital and the medical buildings associated with them. Those are big Harvard hospitals and streets are packed with people going every which way they please. Cars are incidental. And bike lanes are in the middle of the street packed with cyclists who also pass the cars! And nobody seems shocked, except for me. Am I the country bumpkin?

esplaade&bikesI walk Bella down at the Esplanade where there are long stretches of grass on either side of paved asphalt paths filled with skate boarders, cyclers, baby strollers and roller bladers – everyone weaving in and around those of us walking. On the dirt path by the river we have to move out of the way of dirt bikers racing each other. Nobody even calls out when they whiz by. Luckily she’s adjusting and doesn’t seem fazed. Maybe that’s because I pull her out of their way. We have to abide by traffic and safety rules; they don’t.EsplanadePeople

Boston is a great biker town; it’s flat and you can get anywhere. You can also rent a bike at many street corners if you don’t have one of your own. Pick it up at Beacon at Mass Ave and drop it off in Brookline for class. It’s a great system and a novel entrepreneurial venture that’s hugely popular here.

bikeRentalsIn the next day or two I’ll get on my bike too. But I’ll be riding the asphalt path next to The Charles River, safely away from traffic, with my helmet nestled on my head. I’ll likely make it to Harvard Square for a visit to the Coop for coffee and book perusing and then continue on the Cambridge side along Memorial Drive, again on the asphalt path. Call me an old fogy. And alive.

NOT IN KNOXVILLE ANYMORE


bostonBikesIt’s hard to believe we used to live here in Boston. Oh, the scenery is, mostly, the same (though construction sites are always changing) and everyone is as active as I remember – from college on up it seems that everyone bikes, runs, skateboards, rollerblades, rides Segways, strolls, & walks dogs and babies. Everywhere. And the traffic is still crazy busy, especially where we’re located, on The Charles River at the Mass Avenue bridge into Cambridge. Our living room and dining room windows offer sweeping views of the river and Cambridge beyond. That’s the same. roofview

The trees on the Esplanade are bigger and more lush and the Pru and Hancock Tower beyond are as grand as ever. BostonBikes2PruThe energy is electric and that’s infectious. But my sensibility and stimulation electrodes are on overload. We’ve been gone long enough for my innards to have slo—w—e–d down. I feel like a country girl taking on the big city again. I’m in ramp up mode, slowly adjusting to city sounds instead of chirping birds, crickets, and wildlife noises. My brain is speeding back up, but until my batteries recharge my nerves are on edge. And my soul screams for woods and solitude. And yet I love Boston as much as I ever had. It just takes some getting used to.

MadisonBostonOur cat Madison has surprised me. She’s been on an adventure since we left home, staying in three different places before settling into this fourth and last abode until the end of summer. Our shy and reserved beauty has been car riding very well and has been adjusting quickly everywhere she’s taken. She shows no signs of stress and does very little hiding. She eats, sleeps and finds her litter with no hesitation as though she’s enjoying this unique trip without her feline sisters and brothers. Maybe she feels like the chosen one. Who knows?

BellaRiver1It’s Bella, the dog who has to learn the most. Here there are city rules to abide by. No more meandering on or off leash, no more wandering up to every person and dog to say hi or to provoke into play. Lots of new sounds – honking horns, trucks and cars whizzing past, people dashing by, lights to stop at—whoa “where am I?” her expression seems to say. But I’m proud of her progress. Each day breeds more familiarity with the unexpected. Even our daily walks on the Esplanade are finding her (periodically) off leash and obeying commands. We’re both becoming more comfortable in the “new wild” together and we’re both enjoying our morning ritual more. She’s teaching me patience, never my strong suit. And I’m teaching her discipline, never her strength. And we’re falling in love again here on Mars.

Our latest challenge is the 6am pee and poo time. At home in Knoxville we have pet throughs and a fenced yard for her to accomplish her business without my help. Here we have to board an elevator down 5 floors, out the front door and walk a block (or 3) to the nearest large patch of green. 6am! She wants to casually experience all smells and sights along the way. I want to get the job done and go home. I just rolled out of bed without coffee, after-all! Lately she’s been picky about WHICH patch of green is suitable! I have to convince her that this early piece of business IS business. Get it done and leave! We’re arguing about that. Grrrrrr! My next strategy is to try training treats for a quick potty time. Yeah, that’s the ticket! Wish me luck. I’d like this event to be a non-negotiable.

More to come as I rediscover Boston.

RETIREMENT … AGAIN


 

Tybee Marsh

Tybee Marsh

Getting out of town was the transition I needed into retirement, again. I’d been out for five years, accepted a job again for almost two – and now I’m “really” retiring, at least from earning a living. There are many things I want to devote time to.  But it’s always been hard for me to separate from my last job because of the effort I devote to it. It’s always consumed me, occupying most of my thoughts and energy. I’ve never been one who could do a 9-6 and consider work finished; it’s always come home with me. Leaving the area was the physical and emotional separation I knew had to be done.

BusSo we dug our motor home out of hibernation, Mr. Bus “he’s” called, and got him ready for a relatively short jaunt to Tybee Island, off the coast of Savannah, the charming historic southern town about 7-1/2 hours from home.

Tybeemarsh3Tybee has the wildness I love – vegetation is rampant and most of the island is uninhabited by people, but lush with marshland and meandering rivers throughout. And, of course, the Atlantic Ocean kisses the shores. Here zoning prohibits high-rise anything – hotels, apartment buildings, condo developments, retail establishments. Three stories high are all that’s allowed and it’s that low-density commercialism that makes the island so attractive. Homes are eclectic ranging from small ramshackle dwellings to modern and expensive abodes overlooking the ocean or the marshes and lived in by residents of equal diversity.

TybeePaintedHouse1

 

TybeePaintedHouse2

TybeePaintedHouse7

TybeePorch        On morning walks with my vivacious Bella dog we discover secret “private” gardens that we explore (sshhh) and meet colorful people who live in happy, bright houses eager to swap backgrounds. As one older hippy tells me, many Tybee residents are retired professors and artists – or as he puts it

misfits who move to the island of misfits.” My kind of place!

We wander past Nancy’s house, a modest cottage in need of some TLC with impressive gardens. Tall plants of every kind populate containers peppered throughout her side yard of maybe half an acre. In the back are two greenhouses where she’s busy potting new plants. She’s been working on her yard for years, she tells me, as she names each plant she points out. Some are dripping with flowers while others tower overhead with large leaves – all plants shaded by enormous live oaks throughout. As we tour the garden she apologizes for sweating, explaining that her “prissy” sister-in-law would be mortified by the way she looks.  She loves kissing Bella and announces that her 19-year-old cat had just died, and, though the island is crawling with cats, she went to the shelter to find a new one to adopt. She invites us back later for an iced tea.

TybeePaintedHouse6Later, we wave to an older woman sitting in her moo moo sipping a beverage on the front porch of her charming purple house perched in the middle of an island of grass separating two roads. I explain to her that her house is our landmark for getting on the correct path to the campground. She’s used to that since many people driving by know her, evidently, well known home.

It is on our regular jaunt on a path through the park where we meet Jim, a man of 86 who lives in the nursing home around the corner. He was tooling through the park on his motorized scooter as he does everyday. One leg is amputated at the knee, the other leg is swollen and bruised, a byproduct of circulation problems he tells me. The twinkle in his eye tells of his joy for living – even in a nursing home. I’m curious about that life. I tell him that my father also lives in a nursing home – a beautiful, well appointed one that he hates.   He says that enjoying life was a conscious decision he made a few years ago after caring for his infirmed wife for a long time. When she died and his health declined he knew he needed to move somewhere that could take care of him. So he chose this facility on Tybee which is not as nice as my father’s yet he says it’s fine.

He moved in “with a chip on his northern shoulder” until he had an epiphany lying in bed one morning. He decided he didn’t want to be angry anymore, dissatisfied anymore, instead he wanted to enjoy the rest of his life.

 

So he decided to. And that’s when his life changed. He’s the president of his “block” and on the residents’ advocacy committee and friendly with his aides and nurses. He loves them and they love him. He talks to other disgruntled residents about how easy it is to change one’s attitude and then life can become joyful again. It requires accepting this stage of life and choosing to make the most of it. And voila, life changes. He says many residents ignore him. I wish Jim could talk to my father; maybe my father would ignore him too. I guess sometimes people don’t know how to change their attitudes.

BusDrivingTomorrow morning we head for home after a week here on Tybee. We’ve looked at houses here, for fun, to see if there’s something we would fall in love with. I have. So far, my husband hasn’t. He tells me it’s just a fantasy for me, that I’d be bored here after a while. Maybe he’s right. Maybe he’s not. I know I’d love to be friends with the eclectic people I’ve met.

On to more retirement living ….

 


PogoAndMeIs it serendipity that I euthanize my dog 12 years, almost to the day, that we met each other on that fateful walk around my neighborhood? And the night before my birthday no less. Then he was my birthday present – my first, ever, dog. Now what is it? A lesson on the cycle of life? An exclamation of the impact this 25-pound perpetual puppy has made on my life? An exercise in extreme grief and mourning?

I’ve loved Pogo with an intensity I’ve not felt before and I’m an animal lover, a mom to a couple dozen cats by now, all of whom I’ve exchanged deep bonds and connections with.  I’ve buried my fair share of kitties and mourned each one, some more deeply than others. But Pogo … Pogo is different. He’s the love of my life. Part of my heart has been ripped from my body and thrown into the ether. My best little buddy is gone. My greatest fan. My fiercely devoted companion. My tireless cheerleader. I’ve never been loved like that before.MyBabyPogo

I’d heard that a little brown dog had shown up in our neighborhood 12 years ago. Our wooded peninsula seems to be a magnet to stray or discarded animals who’ve become neighbors’ family members over the years.  Though I walked the neighborhood everyday I hadn’t yet spotted him.  And then I did!  Or rather, he noticed me and decided I was his long-lost mom – I guess that’s what he meant by jumping up and down and smothering me with kisses. He was beside himself with joy, and so life together was never questioned. Pogo and I instantly became family. And for 12 years he’s never wanted to leave my side, always looking up at me with his big cheerful smile and love drenched eyes. Buds forever starting at his estimated age of 2.

PogoOnWalkBoy did he love the summer we spent in Boston. Every morning I walked and he romped through the Esplanade, bounding into The Charles River to take bites of water. Chasing the geese and making friends with pups and people, alike, because of course they had to say hi to him! He’s Pogo!

He was the little boss of everyone and everything. Anyone coming near me had to pass his inspection. Even in the vet’s office. On our RV trips he owned our camper and was the self-appointed boss of the cat. And, of course, the trail we walked, always trotting ahead of me to make sure that the coast was clear. At campgrounds he was on leash. But at home I never leashed him. Never needed to. He was very familiar with our environment, having lived by his wits for about a month before we met. Truth is, he never wanted to be too far from me and always looked over his shoulder to make sure I was near, even if he had sprinted after a deer.

Pogo

Pogo

I’ve often wondered where Pogo came from and how he made his way to our neck of the woods. Perhaps a hunter came looking for game of some kind and Pogo ended up lost. As a Feist Terrier he was a squirrel hunter, very fitting for a dog bred in Tennessee. But as my baby he wasn’t allowed to hunt squirrels, or anything else for that matter. I turned him into a mama’s boy and I’m proud of it!

Things I’ve learned from Pogo …

That loyalty runs hand in hand with unconditional love

Suffering is optional

Simple things in life matter

Tomorrow’s another day to be cheerful

It’s unnecessary to feel sorry for yourself

Deep bonds are not fragile

To live is to love

Forgiveness

Pogo3I always told him he wasn’t allowed to die, that we had to be together forever. Anticipating his eventual demise was not something I could bear to do and yet now I have to.  His precious heart was in failure, his only eye blinded by cataract, his legs severely weakened by arthritis and dementia made him fearful, irritable and confused.  I’ve wailed myself empty and somehow the grief fills to the top again. I’m drained, I’m hollow, I’m numb. And so deeply, deeply sad to my core.

Goodbye my special, adored, feisty little friend. You’ve taken a piece of my soul with you.

“Until one has loved an animal, a part of one’s soul remains unawakened. ”   Anatole France

More about Pogo …

And again …

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