Aging, Losing a Parent, Music

Bringing Back Dad

At the memorial service for my dad, my nephew, Chris Kiehne, sang a John Denver song:

Still I love to see the sun go down

And the world go around

And I love to see the morning

As it steals across the sky

I love to remember

And I love to wonder why

“Around and Around” was the perfect choice for celebrating Dad’s great zest for the world.  Thank you, Chris.  (I get a real kick that my nephew even knows who John Denver is.  I thought only old fogies like me know John Denver.)

My father died, still exuberant at 92, while taking what was supposed to be a short nap.  My mother went to wake him and he was gone.  Still in his bed, but gone.

I had a moment when I realized that my father was really dead.  I stepped in the study and saw, on the bookshelves, his CDs.

Dad adored music.  Now he would never play his beloved CDs.   Never listen to “God of Our Fathers” or “A Mighty Fortress” on Sunday morning before church.  Never blast John Philip Sousa on the Fourth of July or Ray Conniff at Christmas.  Never slip on my favorite songs just for me  or play “Alberta Bound” to remind my daughters of the fun they had dancing to the song  when they were little.

“Take some of his CDs,” my mom said, and I did.

But I didn’t play them.  Couldn’t.  Too sad.

I had a few dreams that my father wasn’t really dead.   He called us up.  “I’m fine,” he said standing in a phone booth.  (He wasn’t much for cell phones.)  “I’ll be home soon.”

But he didn’t come home.

And for about six months I had the strange feeling that I could bring him back.  Yes, me.  (Hey, it’s not that weird.  Joan Didion recounts a similar idea in The Year of Magical Thinking.)

But Dad didn’t reappear.  And his CDs sat on my kitchen shelf.  Silent.

But then one day I put one on. And then another and another.  Gordon Lightfoot.  Phantom of the Opera.  Mama Mia. Simon and Garfunkel.  Peter, Paul and Mary.  South Pacific.  The Drifters.  Mitch Miller.  Willie Nelson.  Glen Campbell.  John Denver.

Dad in the music!  Dad in my kitchen!  Back to life.  Not in the same way, but still, back to life.

Photo Above One of the last pictures of my father, Ernie Kiehne, taken in his office in Baltimore for an article in The Baltimore Sun.

Photo Below At my daughter Katherine’s wedding, with me, June, 2007.

My nephew, Chris Kiehne, is a singer/songwriter who lives in Brooklyn.  He says:  “I write songs about dogs, wolves, Hamlet, living and dying, Baltimore County, the Loch Raven reservoir, and dark forests.  A lot of the music that my friends and I make is available for free download at our collective website, theburgundycord.tumblr.com.  You can also listen to music online at chriskiehne.bandcamp.com.”

“Around and Around”:   You can hear John Denver singing his magnificent “Around and Around” here.  Of course, even though he wrote the song, John doesn’t sing it nearly as well as my nephew did that August 2010  morning.

PS:  Dad was an Orioles fan, therefore the touches of orange in this post.  He loved classical music as well, especially Brahams and Beethoven, but mom asked that I leave the classical CDs for her.  I also left some I thought my brother, a musician too, would like.

Children, Hot Flashes, Menopause, Menopause Symptoms, Mood, Perimenopause, Periods, PMS

Surf and Turf–When Menopause Is on the Menu

Abby Catering Company Photo

Mima Tipper and I are both graduates of the MFA Program in Writing at Vermont College of Fine Arts.  I am pleased to present her guest post…

Recently at dinner I fanned my face, asking, “Is anyone else hot?” Without missing a beat, my 18 yr-old son said, “Oh, Mom. It’s just menopause.”

Some pun intended, his snap-quick response gave me pause.  Sure, I knew I was experiencing dribbles of early menopause, but to have my child—my son, no less—chime in (even going on to joke that he learned about menopause on “hotandcold.com”, and oh, yeah, that site required a “flash” drive) well, that surprised me.

Later I reflected on my own teen years: did I have a clue menopause even existed back then? The answer? No. Worse, I don’t think the concept registered with me truly until I was well into my twenties, maybe older.

Intrigued by my cluelessness, I asked my Mom about her menopause experience, particularly the onset. Her answer surprised me more than my son’s dinner-table comments.  “Oh,” she said, “I don’t think I went through any of that.”

Hunh?

How did she escape the mood swings? The hot flashes? The night sweats? The bizarre cycles of doom, where hellacious PMS pre-curses 30 or so hours of flooding rivaling the red sea?

Could she have forgotten? Or could it be that she hadn’t been aware that these early signs had anything to do with menopause?

Then I remembered…The Trip.

In the spring of 1975, my Mom and my then StepDad took all of us (2 yr-old half-sister, 15yr-old brother, and 14 yr-old me) to Florida for a little R&R. The cracks in Mom’s and StepDad’s marriage already showing, the trip’s mood was rugged from the get-go, everything coming to a head the night we dined at a fancy restaurant. My brother ordered the most expensive item on the menu—yes, “Surf and Turf”—and StepDad had a conniption, demanding he order something cheaper. My brother did, and Mom, usually conciliatory to the max, sank into a pinched-lip sulk for the remainder of the meal.

Later, through the thin wall of our no-frills motel room, I remember hearing Mom and StepDad “discussing” things. The next morning he was gone. Mom? She took us on a Mastercard-driven spending tear that, frankly, scared us kids. What I remember most was going back to that fancy restaurant (more than once) and Mom insisting, insisting, my brother order the Surf and Turf.

When we returned home, StepDad had pretty much moved out and, probably needless to say, divorce was imminent.

I reminded Mom recently about The Trip, and a door of realization opened. Maybe some of her furiously irrational behavior back then could be attributed to the onset of menopause. The likely truth gave us both an aha moment.

Now, I’m not trying to make a big point here, but these days when I think of the sum of my own menopause experience so far—that steak-sized helping of discomfort often accompanied by a tasty lobster-tail of humor—yup, I see a big plate of Surf and Turf.

Sure, my head and body are often whacked, and it is mad strange to have my teenage son (along with my other two kids AND my husband) tease me occasionally about that whackedness. The truth is, however, that I know we’ll all deal better if we keep discussing life experiences like the big M openly, and—more than anything else—if we just remember to keep laughing.

Mima Tipper:   Mima Tipper has an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts, and is represented by Erzsi Deàk at Hen & Ink Literary Studio, henandink.com. Her YA short story “A Cut-OutFace” is in the latest issue of Hunger Mountain’s online Journal of the Arts (Read it here) and another of her YA short stories, “Waiting for Alice”, will appear in Sucker Literary Magazine’s premiere issue, coming winter, 2012. Mima lives in Vermont with her family, and can be found on Facebook and Twitter.

Menopause, PMS

Good Sports

We all know them:  The good sports.

Good sports don’t care which restaurant they go to.  They don’t complain about the weather.  They don’t mind being teased.  They don’t embarrass easily.  They’re always up for adventure.  They aren’t afraid of new things.  And they’re willing to make do.

 My family might say that many times, I’m a wonderful sport.

They also might say that other times, I’m not.

There’s something about PMS and Menopausal Hormonal Madness that can make us terrible sports.

And there’s something about the zest that can come with The Great Pause that can make us very good sports.

I don’t know how to always be a good sport, no matter what the circumstances.

(Good sports out there:  Send us your advice.)

But I’m working on it.  And I seem to be getting better.

In recent years, I’ve been able to say to myself, “Don’t ruin the fun.”  And often it works.

Take a breath.  Be slow to react.  Tell yourself you can do it.

There you are:  A good sport.

And good sports have a sporting good time!

The Photo Above:  Be a sport and read the slightly complicated explanation of this photo.

In the summer, my daughter Katherine’s teddy bears come to live with me, and I write posts about them for her blog, Katheats

Last summer, one of my posts was “The Bears Face Their Fears.”  You can read the post here.  Churton, the bear in the picture, had a fear of public speaking.  I decided he should dress as a shepherd and read the Twenty-third Psalm in church.

The photo above shows Dr. Bob Brizendine, pastor of Hillsborough Presbyterian Church, posing with Churton.  Since Bob was out of town that Sunday, we had to take the shot on a Tuesday.  Bob donned his robe at my request and stood with Churton at the door of the church, not many questions asked.  Now that’s a jolly good sport.

Photo Below:  This is Churton at the lectern.  He was also a good sport and is happily no longer afraid of public speaking.

Celebrations, Gratitude, Menopause

A New Hat Thank You

I have much to be grateful for on Thanksgiving, and I know you do too.

This year, I’ve put on a new hat, thanks in part to menopause, but mostly thanks to all of you.  I so appreciate your readership and the encouraging and upbeat words you have sent me.  Thank you!

The only other thing I wanted to say is remember that there are NO calories on Thanksgiving Day.  Pumpkin Pie, turkey, gravy, stuffing, sweet potato casserole, biscuits, spiked cider, and anything else you eat on Thursday will not cause you to gain a single ounce.   Our Pilgrim and Native American foremothers put that into place for us.  A big holiday thank you to them!

Here’s one of those zero calorie but delicious dishes.   You can make it ahead of time and reheat.   I got the recipe from my mom, who found it years ago in a collection of Maryland recipes put together by Helen Tawes, the wife of J. Millard Tawes, Maryland Governor from 1959 to 1967.

Sweet and Easy Corn Pudding

Four cups corn (white corn is best, but yellow works too)

Two tablespoons flour

Four eggs

Six (or less) tablespoons sugar

One teaspoon (or less) salt

One and a half cups milk

One stick (or a little less) butter

Blend for ten seconds in blender.  Pour into a large greased casserole dish.  Bake about an hour at 350.  Pudding is done when it’s light brown on top and seems to be set in the center.

Serves a bunch.  You can easily halve this recipe.

HAPPY THANKSGIVING!

Photo:  The hat belonged to my Great-uncle Herbie, who would probably be mortified that I am writing about menopause as would be, I suspect, most of my other departed relatives.   I hope they are in heaven having a glorious time and not paying a lick of attention to me.

Gratitude, Life, Menopause

Bless All Buttons


What life has this button seen?

A wedding, a funeral,

A cheerful greeting,

A bitter quarrel,

And ordinary moments

Filled with the extraordinary.

Breath and sight,

Words and step,

Taste and touch.

Bless all buttons,

And fasten me to this life

With energy and love.

Buttons have seen a lot of life.  It’s a pretty intriguing thought if you really ponder it.

And we’ve seen a lot of life too.  But how do we keep on keeping on?  Day in and day out, how do we fasten ourselves to life with energy and love?

We’ll save the love for another time (and I find that one easier), but energy.  Wow.  It’s not always easy to have the emotional and physical energy to step lively with life.

When I was thinking about this post, I read a slew of tips on how to have more energy:

Drink a combination of grape and lemon juice.

Unroll your ears in the morning (never heard of ear unrolling!)

Change your socks.

Sniff lavender.

Consume caffeine. 

Do not consume caffeine.

Get your entire office to stand up in their cubicles and sing a rock song (in unison).

Wear an energy patch.

(Raise my right hand, as my dad used to do, I read each of these tips on some pretty fascinating websites.)

I’ve only tried the socks (a bit of a pleasant pick-me-up) and various experiments with yes and no to caffeine.

CNN’s Heath site has some ideas that have worked for me including Tip #2 Faking it, Tip #3 Spin your situation, and Tip #4 Change up your routine.  These take some energy, actually, to implement, but they are worth trying and can help you get to the root of your energy troubles.  They can spur other energizing techniques, too.

For a boost of mental energy, especially when you’ve hit close to bottom, counting your blessings can help.  Write those blessing down  or say them slowly, with intention.

Make sure you include buttons!

Photo Above:  A lone, brave button.  Photo Below:  Eyes light up when you mention Grandma’s button box.  Many a grownup can tell stories of rainy days and winter days when that button box empowered  the building of roads, the creation of a collage,  the fastening of handmade doll clothes, the detailing of puppets, and countless other happy pastimes.

“Bless All Buttons” was published somewhere, because I have the invoice for payment, but I don’t remember which magazine.  I wonder if any of my buttons  remember.  Bet so!


Life, Menopause, Periods

Would You? Questions for People and Bunnies

I’ve gotten myself in trouble by asking hypothetical questions.  I can’t help it.  I love them.

Arguments, some silly, some serious (and some huge) have been sparked by my questions.

Years ago, a friend even got so upset when visiting me that she picked up her baby.  (This was in the baby days.)  “I have to go,” she announced.  “You’re making me nervous.”  She and the baby went out the back door.

I grabbed my baby, and followed her to the car.

I was too afraid to ask a single question.  Right before she pulled out of my driveway, she said, “You confuse me, Barbara.  You ask so many questions, and I don’t know the answers.”

Zoom.  She was gone.

Hypothetical questions help us dig deeper, think wider, and live higher. There aren’t answers to lots of them.  That’s the fun and the challenge.

So in the spirit of hypothetical questions, here are few for you:

  • If you could be the opposite sex for a day, would you?  What would you most like to learn about that sex?
  • If you could become any age and stay that age for twenty years (knowing what you know now about life), what age would you choose?
  • If you could change one decision you’ve made in the past, what would it be?
  • And now for an extra girly, (sorry, men readers*) menopausal sort of question: If you got to give up all the troubles you’ve had with menopause, but you have to endure periods for ten more years, would you make that trade?  (For those of you not there yet, you can imagine those symptoms and then decide.)

Love to have you post some of your answers in the comments for all of us to read.  Would you?  Could you?  Should you?  Of course!

Photo:  These rabbits sit in their rocker and ponder question after question:

  • If we could come to life, hop about, and munch carrots, but only live as long as real rabbits do, would we choose to become real?
  •  If we could switch places with Peter Rabbit, and therefore be famous, would we, even though Mr. McGregor put Peter’s father in a pie and Peter carries that tragedy with him every day?
  • If we could be models for the world’s most delicious chocolate rabbits, would we, or do we think candy rabbits are demeaning to the Rabbit World?

You can’t read it on their faces, but they are now in a heated debate over the last question.  I think I need to intervene before stuffing starts to fly.

P.S. I snapped many photos of these bunnies, and each time, the bunny on the left (in the blue jacket) came out fuzzy.  I think he’s what my mother calls an “itch,” and he just can’t stay still.  He’s also the one really revving up the discussion over the last question.

* I actually do have a few male readers.   Thanks guys, for reading!

Aging

OLD HAND

Old Hand:  One having knowledge or ability gained through long experience.

That’s the definition in the Webster’s Third New International Dictionary we have in the Academic Success Center at Piedmont Community College in Yanceyville, North Carolina. And the Webster’s ought to know. It’s such an old hand, heavy and wise with words, that I can barely lift it.

But what I’ve noticed in the ASC that makes me want to shout some nasty words is that I have OLD HANDS.

I often put my hand up to the computer screen. I’m a writing tutor, so it’s all about words:  “How about a stronger verb here?”  “That’s plural.  Better put an S on it.”  “Love that short sentence.  It really packs a punch.”

And sometimes, when I’m happily pointing out the strengths and weaknesses in writing (I love working with students), I am shocked by how old my hand looks.  Yikes!

This aging stuff is tricky.  I want to be agreeable.  I want to not care.

But OLD HANDS?

Mr. Webster says an old hand is someone who has gained ability through long experience.  I’ve spent a lifetime fiddling with words, and now I’m helping learners fiddle with them too.

The students I work with see their words, important words, clever words, sometimes heart-wrenching words, light up  the screen.   Not once have they complained about my old hands.

Photo:  This is Jean Badgett, student extraordinaire, at work in the Academic Success Center.  

The Dictionary:  Yes, we do use online dictionaries here, but sometimes I like to run these old hands over a paper page full of words.  And who knows more about life, words, and old hands than Webster’s Third?