Boredom Yields Grief

A few days ago I completed a project that took me several months to execute. Begun in March of 2019, and then set aside in May of 2019 to spend time with my wife. I restarted again in January 2020 a full six months after Peggy died. During the time I worked on this animal, my life was never lonely. This week, I found myself with a couple of hours of free time that I didn’t know what to do with.  I missed going to my shop to cut and grind, sand, and finish wood pieces. I found myself getting lonely and wishing Peggy was still alive, what a terrible feeling. Not that I didn’t want her to be with me, but that I wanted her to be with me so badly.

To ward off the loneliness, I dressed for winter and took a long walk. Exercise helps ward off grief. My shoes are beginning to show signs of wear because I am walking so much. Somedays, I will walk several times. If I need a book, I’ll walk to the library, if my hair needs cutting, I’ll walk to the barber shop. If i am meeting friends for a drink I’ll walk to the bar. Today, I’ll walk to a noon meeting with my men’s group for lunch. (KETO for sure.)

Loneliness is an emotion that causes me to be depressed. Therefore, I must avoid it with a passion. Instead I find more powerful activities to fight depression. I pray when I walk, I watch movies that absorb, I read books with stories that engulf my mind, the last thing I will do is nothing, because then the mind begins feeding me bullshit about how tough I have it when the exact opposite is true. My blessings far out number my adversities, and I thank God for having blessed me so much.

Yesterday, a friend texted me with a link to a Lions event which is in September. I texted back that I have not been able to think that far in advance. Then immediately, I signed up for the event, a three day training session called the USA/Canada Leadership Forum held in Louisville, Kentucky this year. I thought, what the hell. there is nothing holding me back but me. I have looked at this event for three years always thinking that when I am free again I will go. I am going.

While on the Forum website I was reminded of a newer Lions educational program. One can earn a Bachelor’s, Master’s and a Phd in Lionism online from Lions University. I signed up for it while Peggy was still alive and I was President of my club, but put it aside. I clicked the button and completed the first of ten sessions required for my Bachelor’s Degree. I want to receive the degree at the forum in September. Why not? I can be a widower who sits and watches grass grow, or I can be a widower who attends Webinars to get a degree.

Activity, activity, activity, is the key to trudging through grief, along with writing about it.

 

To Die For

Learning to be single in one’s eighties is really different. Throughout my life I always had some type of support. From birth until college it was my parents, brother and sister. In college it was a room mate. After college it was back to my parents for a short while, then, marriage. That phase lasted forty two years, and I was single again, living alone, then marriage again. The second time it lasted fourteen years, and that brings me up to today, single again. I vowed never to get married again, but never say never. I am determined to stay single.

Life has become a battle between grief and loneliness, but after nine months of it I  can claim I am gaining on the task. To combat loneliness I have developed a daily pattern. Basically, it is get up, make breakfast, clean up, read mail, listen to my radio show, make lunch, go for a long walk, surf the net, work on my art, make supper, cleanup, work on my art some more, watch movies, read, then go to bed. Exciting? Not really, but it takes my mind off my loves and keeps grief away. After seventeen years I still grieve for my first wife Barbara, and now my second wife Peggy, such is life.

I thank God for allowing me to have Xfinity On Demand, and Amazon Prime, both services are keeping me going. I stay away from zombies, terminators, cartoons, satanic, comic characters, and stick with drama. Do you know how many movies are in the genres I just listed? Thousands. I do like action movies involving espionage, and mystery. All of them have to be included with the service, I refuse to spend money on rentals to get recent selections.

Most of the films I watch are family oriented stories. Most of them have plots based on the effect of someone dying. I estimate nine out of ten stories depict the hardship that life brings after a family member dies. Knowing a little bit about life after losing a partner I can attest to the truthfulness of how life gets screwed up. Many stories are about the effect of death on children. I watched one last night called “A Father’s Choice.”  A cowboy falls for a city girl, and they marry. They have two daughters. Their marriage falls apart and the mother raises the girls alone. She meets a man she wants to marry. The happy family to be is returning from a night out at dinner and the movies. As they exit their car and approach the house the new man notices strange things, like the dog is out in the back barking, the front entry light is out, etc. They take two steps toward the door and a man in black jumps out of the dark and begins shooting. He kills the mother on the spot and nearly kills her fiancé, the girls are spared. Think of the impact of this scene on the kids. The rest of the story involves how the kids cope and how their estranged cowboy father learns to be a parent after a long absence. I love this kind of plot, but there are too many off them that rely on death to become a story.

Many of the better films are not produced int he USA, but rather in Canada or Australia. Folks in those countries are not as focused on the weird zombie stories like we are in America. come to think of it, zombie movies are dependent on death also.

I got hooked on a series called Jack Ryan, based on author Tom Clancy’s stories about espionage and intrigue. The remarkable thing about these stories is the unbelievability of the central character to endure enormous punishment and his bullet dodging capability to stay alive while killing untold numbers of bad guys shooting at him with machine guns with single shots from his pistol.

If Hollywood ever decides to quit making this genre I am in trouble.

 

Snow or Summer Which Shall It Be?

The Lord gave me a huge gift this week-end, He routed the predicted snow storm away from Frankfort. We did have snow, cold, and wind but the inches of snow and ice did not get here. I”m sure somewhere north of us the situation is different. As a kid I loved snow, I couldn’t get enough of it. Snow  meant building snow men or snow forts, snowballs, and snowball wars. It meant sledding down hills and rolling off at the bottom. It meant getting so covered in the white stuff that our pants would be frozen stiff from the knees down. It also meant getting sick with sore throats, and fevers. If we were lucky we’d have some frozen ponds and then we could add ice skating to the fun.

As an old man, I love to look at snow, but despise having to go out into it. It means being cold, or getting the car stuck, and of course it means shoveling walks and driveways clear. It means parking a car is harder, and walking through piles of it from the car is a chore. I would much rather be in a warm sunny climate where snow is something that makes the mountain look pretty. One of my not favorite pastimes is shoveling the drive clear after the Village plow comes by cleaning the street and deposits the street snow onto my newly cleared driveway.

I love sitting in my nice warm house looking out at the bird feeder watching the birds as they feed in a frenzy. I also love seeing tracks made by the squirrels, raccoons, and deer. It is rare to see the actual animals but they are there because after a week the back yard looks like a children’s playground with all the tracks they leave.

Photography in the snow is another favorite passion for an old guy. Winter scenes are among the most beautiful on planet Earth, they project peacefulness and purity.

I guess there is a balance between what I like about snow, and what I don’t like about snow, and I am neutral to it, and if I get really tired of it, I’ll pile onto an airplane to fly to a southern climate. The problem with moving to a warmer climate is that my ass is too firmly rooted in Illinois with family and friends. I recall when I spent the winter months in Arizona with Peg experiencing a strange emotion that something was not right in the Valley of the Sun, I missed snow. Now that is crazy isn’t it? I found having endless days of sunshine without dark cloudy, rainy days boring. I did enjoy not having to bundle up to take a walk. I also enjoyed the greenery and the colorful flowers, but deep inside me there was this nagging feeling that I was out of place there.

Then the days began to get warm, I mean hot. By the end of April ninety degree days were the norm and we had an occasional hundred degree day. The greenery began to turn brown, and It was time to come home. In my mind I envisioned greenery, and colorful flowers and warm, not hot, sunny days. We loaded up and drove home, only to find it still cold, still freezing at night, and mountains of snow piled in parking lots. It would be another eight weeks before we hit the hot humid days of an Illinois summer.

All I can say at this point is that living in midwestern USA prepares one for every type of weather experienced on the planet.

Taco Tuesdays With Tracy

This story begins five years ago when my friends Donna and Al began having dates every Tuesday. Their routinely went to a movie, ate, and then to a local bar for a drink. The bar is different from normal saloons. This one has couches and easy chairs in addition to the standard bar with bar stools. It smacked of a living room setting and it was lady friendly. Al is a super friendly guy with a dynamic personality and often invites walk-ins whom he doesn’t know to join Donna and him for a drink and conversation. It started slow, but then people he knew came in and he corralled them to join too. That is how I got involved, he asked me to join them at the Stray for a drink on Tuesdays. I joined. My wife Peggy and I both came. By then the group was regularly up to six, most were established friends. I watched Al as he looked for people coming in.. He has magic when it comes to getting people to like him.

One Tuesday he spotted a young lady with long jet-black hair sitting at the bar alone and called her over. That was the beginning of a lasting friendship until two weeks ago.  Tracy was young fortiesh with jet black hair that she rolled into a chignon. Her eyes were dark, almost black and she accented them with make-up. Her skin an olive white, she looked very Italian or Greek, She was a beautiful lady. Both Al and I have children that are older. Tracy’s personality was bubbly and upbeat. Occasionally, Tracy showed up with her hair long and straight and looking glamorous. On the days she did we called her Stacy because her person was so different. She easily fit into the group and was able to withstand the teasing she got.

To speed up the story I fast forward to where I am now going to the Stray Tuesdays by myself. Peg’s dementia progressed to the point of her not enjoying the outings any more. I hired a caretaker to be with her full time, but I also stayed home to be with her. For a few weeks the three of us came to the Stray, Peg, me and Irene. All of us got a respite from the house. Eventually, It became too hard on Peg and ergo I took advantage of the time off.

Tracy didn’t have a car, and often walked to the Stray from her apartment a few blocks away. I always gave myself a curfew and when it was time for me to leave I asked her if she wanted a ride because I drove right past her apartment on my way home. She took me up on it. Many times, it was winter, dark and cold, and riding was much safer than walking.

I developed a habit of leaving the Stray at six-thirty to give me enough time to grab a taco or nachos bowl, and I could still be home by seven. I felt I could leave Peg’s company for two hours without me feeling guilty.

Time moves on, and so did Tracy. She moved to a more affordable space. Actually it was a room in a condo owned by a lady who needed some extra cash. Tracy rented a room from her. Tracy loved it. On one evening on our way home I asked her if she wanted to stop for a Taco. She jumped at the proposal, but didn’t like the place I suggested. She instead liked My Taco also on the way home. That is when I started going for Tacos every Tuesday with Tracy. It was a regular thing for us until she got sick and nearly died with liver failure.

Miraculously, Tracy slowly came back. She had to apply for disability which she received from the state. But as soon as she started getting income the state took its piece of the action. She was defunct on a student loan and State said ye shall pay up. Her meager disability-income diminished by a whole lot. To offset the difference she took a job as a part-time property manager with her former boyfriend. He loaned her an old car to allow her to do this. She still struggled with survival. In addition to the rent collections she became a hostess for Capri, a four star restaurant. Because she no longer needed a ride home and because her time was crunched we could no-longer go for a taco together.

About six weeks ago, Tracy was not her usual bubbly self. She sat quietly and watched but didn’t participate. We all suspected she was having a problem, Then she stopped coming. Donna texted her and asked why. She received no answer. Donna called her sister to learn that Tracy was back in the hospital. Then two weeks ago we got a text from a friend that Tracy died that morning. She was fifty years old, a mother of two, and a grandmother of three.

Today, the Stray group attended a memorial service for Tracy. We sat sullenly before a vase with her ashes surrounded by flowers. Several of her friends came forward and told stories about their relationship with Tracy. I was just about to do the same except the reverend stepped in and began the homily/eulogy.

No more Peg and no more taco Tuesdays with Tracy, I thought to myself. How wild is that? It got me to thinking and asking, just where does a person’s soul go after the body craps out? I believe we all have a soul but I can’t fathom where it goes. Are we just a whisp of ethereal light or gaseous matter floating about the universe? What? That is something I will not discern until I too crap out.

Saints Barbara of Prestwick, Peggy of Brown, and Tracy of the Stray I miss you, I need you, I love you, and will be with you soon.

LUV, Grumpa Joe

It’s Over

My attitude is still positive in spite of the fact that in 2019 I lost my beautiful wife to Alzheimer’s, and just this week learned of two very close friends who passed also. Death is a bummer when taken from the earthly perspective, but it can be the greatest gift one gets when viewed from the heavenly side. Whenever I first learn of a death, I am saddened but within a few days I begin to recover and move forward. There is nothing one can do to change the outcome. I had both of these friends on my daily prayer list for more than two years, It was all I could do.

This year ended my two year term term as President of the Frankfort Lions Club. I took the position seriously and gave it my all, but I was glad it ended. The position gave me a lot of respect from the community, and I enjoyed that, but it also meant I was more available to the community than I was to peg. My term ended the day after Peg died. Needless to say, my regret was not spending more time with her because of my responsibility to the club. Could it have been different? I don’t think so. I needed to get away for a few hours regularly to keep me from going insane watching Peg fall apart.

In 2019 I reached a new milestone. I passed 157,000 miles on my car and I have owned it for fourteen years. That is huge. I never owned a car that provided reliable transport for more than ten years and 110,000 miles. By that time these autos were too tired to be reliable anymore. With my present car I would not hesitate to get in and embark on my Great Last Time Around Tour of ten thousand miles. In my previous jalopies I would never have considered it.

My bucket list is one item shorter because I entered and displayed my Intarsia art in a public show and sale. I didn’t sell anything, but I did enjoy receiving many compliments on my work. It was a joy getting the display ready and borrowing some of the pieces from their owners to display them.

I started a new art project in March only to set it aside in April because Peg needed my attention more than the new piece. A week ago, I returned to the work and this morning I had a long talk with myself about starting another work as ambitious as this one. I find myself sitting and staring at the assemblage to study the contours of the model and then to envision the same lines in the flat pieces of wood before me. What was I thinking runs through my mind. To date, I have recut six pieces, broken four during shaping, and have added more cuts to split large pieces into smaller more manageable ones.

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Although I have not decided to put my house up for sale yet, I spent three months clearing the clutter of too many souvenirs, un-needed gadgets, and clothing, it is show ready.

For the very first time since I retired from work I bounced a check. In fact, I bounced several for three months in a row. I am still trying to determine what I spent so much money on to run my checking account dry.

Twenty nineteen is over, but I look forward with relish and intend to spend as much energy as possible to not waste the precious seconds God is granting me to make humanity better.

Have a very, very happy, and prosperous New Year!

 

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What?

Today I read a short headline proclaiming that Chinese mega phone company Hua Wei is becoming the world’s leader in artificial intelligence infrastructure. Evidently, the Chinese want to know everything about you before you do. I only wish they would place particular emphasis on designing hearing aids for me that can differentiate between the noise of a crowded restaurant and the person sitting opposite me. If ever there was a need for artificial intelligence that would do it for me.

I am on my third set of Siemens hearing aids (eight years) and although I will admit they have made some progress in reliability, and in sound quality, hearing aids are still in the stone age. Siemens is the European version of General Electric, known for its advanced quality in all things electronic. When I bought my last set they changed the name of the hearing aid division from Siemens to Signia. A good move I thought, why tarnish your entire company by one poor division. Give it a new name and we dupes of the world will believe the product is better.

Ask anyone who uses hearing aids what they like about them and they will say, “I can hear.” Ask what they hate about them and they say, “I can’t hear.” The “I can’t” has to be qualified with I can’t hear in noisy environments. When I got my last set the audiologist sold me on the many wonderful ways the devices can be programmed. For instance, I have a setting for noisy environments which dulls the sound I hear. The only problem is that the AI required to separate noise from voice is still lost in China. The second setting is a super sound deadening for when I am running noisy machines in my shop. This setting is almost as good as removing the aids from my ears. A third setting trains my brain to forget I have tinitus or ringing in the ears. Basically the device plays one of six different alternate noises that are more pleasant over the top of the ringing (a form of noise cancelling). I used this setting every chance I got until I realized that the chances of killing the ringing is slim since my ears have been ringing for forty years. A few minutes of sound training a day is probably not going to shut that off.

There are a couple of things these aids do that I really like. I get the sound from the TV piped right into my ears. I like this so much that I have the TV on mute because it is easier to hear through the aids. I can also listen to the radio the same way. I need a smart phone and a radio app, but the bluetooth feature will send the sound right into my ears. This is useful for when I am mindlessly surfing the net, I can also listen to my favorite program. Because I have bluetooth, I am also able to control loudness from my phone or the bluetooth pendant I have hanging around my neck. The TV requires a special sending unit and the radio requires the phone. It only took me one year to learn how to control these connections because it was not obvious that when I want to watch TV I have to “pair” the TV sending unit to my pendant which then directs the sound into my ear. All of that should be totally automatic with no need for human intervention, training, and frustration. The pairing and the electronics should all be integrated in the hearing unit. If AI and the automated pairing were part of the package then I might believe the money I paid was worth it.

I am sure the next generation of hearing device that I buy will no doubt work on a network which means it will require user names and passwords to access anything. I can visualize it now. You ask me something and I say, “hold on while I input my user name and twenty character password.” After all, I wouldn’t want anyone to hack my hearing aids to hi-jack my brain.

Maybe if I live to be a hundred and eighty I’ll see some real progress in artificial intelligence come to fruition. In the meantime AI is just another acronym that people will try to impress us with.

Dreary, Dark, and Windy

Closeup of wild turkey in newly fallen snow

Today I postponed my daily walk a bit to catch a few extra degrees of warmth. The temperature didn’t matter though, the wind was blowing hard with gusts of fifty miles per hour. If it was at may back I was literally being pushed along faster than my legs would move. On the return, I got my workout. Several times the breeze stopped me dead in my tracks. Combine that with an uphill climb and the workout was intense. In either direction the breeze carried away any heat that the workout was providing and I was under dressed for it.

This after noon I added some more decoration to the house for Christmas. I am stopped at this point having broken my promise never to decorate again. As sorrowful as I want to be I force myself to see only the joy that Christmas brings. The tree, the lights, the colorful ornaments all add brightness to the dreary November days. Historically, in Illinois, November and December have the least amount of life sustaining sunshine in the year. So, why not brighten it up a bit?

I will post photos of my decorations once I figure out how to do it using a smart phone. (A smart phone operated by a  dumb operator who is beyond the tech-savy required to survive the conveniences.)

Have a very blessed and happy Thanksgiving holiday with family, friends, or with yourself, what ever the situation presents.

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