Sunday, October 26, 2008

Never Too Old to Learn from Mistakes

Those of you who read my posts on a regular basis know that I’m always up to something. My hectic lifestyle allows me to sample a smorgasbord of new experiences and gives me ample opportunity to make mistakes. I believe that mistakes are the most powerful teachers I’ve ever had.

At Alzheimer’s Support Group, the best advice I can give to people who are just beginning the dementia journey is to tell them what to avoid, or “not do.” I hope others can learn from the mistakes I made during my ten years of caregiving. Some of life’s greatest lessons are the result of mistakes, and it’s always better if we don’t have to make them ourselves.

An incident this week reinforced my belief that I am never too old to learn. First, I learned that it is a bad idea to decorate a food table with tea lights although it makes the petite sandwiches, fruit and vegetable laden table, lovely. I also learned that paper napkins are quite flammable and when someone reaches for food and dangles a paper napkin over a burning candle, fire happens.

This leads to another lesson: a lace tablecloth can catch fire quickly if a blazing napkin comes into contact with it. Before the tablecloth reaches the flash point, you need to knock the napkin off the table and onto the tile floor and stomp it. I learned that burning napkins totally disintegrate and leave only a few pieces of ash and a scorch mark on tile.

The only way to know if you pass the final exam for all the lessons you learn in life is whether you can brush the ashes off the floor and press onward. Did you know that Comet cleanser removes tell-tale yellow scorch marks from a tile floor? I didn’t know that, but someone else had already learned that lesson. We can’t always “erase” our mistakes with Comet, but we can’t let the fear of making them hold us back.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

The Day the Music Died

I went to our local Liberty Center last night with a group of BPW ladies to watch the Buddy Holly Story. The day that he, The Big Bopper and Ritchie Valens died in an airplane that took off in a snow storm from Clear Lake, Iowa, is referred to as the “day the music died”. The play begins with a man, hat pulled low, playing an acoustic guitar and singing about the day the music died. Buddy Holly takes the stage and plays a Fender guitar that immediately reminds me of Jim’s 1952 Fender Telecaster. In a scene I found particularly poignant, Buddy picks up a guitar and sings a song just for his wife.

Unless you have been personally serenaded, you do not understand the intimacy of a song meant just for you. Certain songs Jim played were always meant for me regardless of how many people were in the room. Some of the special songs were Buck Owens’s version of “Cinderella” and Elvis Presley’s “Tender Feelings.” These songs expressed Jim’s own philosophy and capacity to love. He would strum his guitar and sing, “There wasn’t any palace and you weren’t a queen, In your faded cotton dresses anyone could see…but you’re still Cinderella to me.” Another Elvis song he sang for me was, “Come take what I offer you, and kiss me tenderly, and you will be forever young, and beautiful, to me.”

I don’t remember the last time Jim sang a special song for me. I don’t remember the date or the year. He lost his songs one-by-one but I remember one June day in 1999, he picked up his Fender Telecaster and played Buckaroo without a flaw. Jim’s music didn’t die in one tragic day—it faded away over ten years.

When I watched the play last night, I was reminded of Jim saying, “Waylon Jennings was supposed to be on the plane, but he gave up his seat to Ritchie Valens.” When you think about the talented people killed on that plane, you can’t help but feel a sense of loss. How high would those young and upcoming stars have risen with their careers?

In a sense, the singers killed February 2, 1959, have been immortalized in movies, plays, and with their recordings. They died, but their music didn’t—only the music that could have been.

The show symbolizes loss, with the man returning to the stage, hat pulled low as he sings about the day the music died. The lights go low and Bart Kuhns as Buddy Holly returns to the stage to sing a rousing rendition of “Johnny B. Good”. The show ends with the audience on their feet, clapping and smiling.

That’s the way life should be. Instead of crying over what could have been, we need to rejoice in the music that lives in our hearts. The music only dies when we let it.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Retirement Dreams

The world economic meltdown has endangered a lot of retirement dreams. Wall Street hit Main Street when American workers lost $2 trillion in retirement savings. Hardest hit are Baby Boomers who watch 401k’s turn into 201k’s. My 401k has lost more than $30,000 this month. I’m sure that’s only peanuts to a CEO who draws a multi-million dollar salary, but where I come from, $30,000 is a lot of money.

Those of us who believed “diversified” retirement portfolios would help us weather hard economic times have been rudely awakened to a new reality. Not only are stocks going down, but our safety net, bonds, are losing value too. In our efforts to out earn inflation, we fell victim to the fickle stock index.

I have always put as much as I could into my 401k because I want a secure retirement. The money that went down the tubes could have bought a lot of things. Not that I really need anything I don’t have. My home is eighteen years old, but it doesn’t have a mortgage. My car has more than 100,000 miles, but I own it.

I have chosen not to let my shrinking 401k ruin my life. I’ll be OK in my retirement. It just may be a lot farther in the future than I thought it would be. Or, it may not be as financially stable as I planned it to be. It irritates me that I put money aside for almost thirty years to see it become the incredibly shrinking fund. Irritates me, but does not depress me, or scare me. I grew up poor, and I have no fear of poverty. I really don’t want or desire a lot of material items. The Dow Jones Industrial Average and the S&P 500 will not dash my dreams!

This is the second time I’ve made major mental adjustments to my retirement expectations. The first time was when Jim developed dementia, and I realized we were not going to grow old together. Jim’s retirement dream was to purchase a motor home and travel.

Now I plan to enjoy the peace and quiet of home with occasional trips to the Rocky Mountains, the Oregon Coast, or other places that pique my interest. I want to spend a lot of time with my family and have more time to write—neither of which is costly. I can still retain ninety percent of my retirement dream irregardless of what happens in the stock market. Home-brewed coffee on my deck sounds good to me and costs only a fraction of Starbucks. I look forward to my share of total relaxation, deep breaths of fresh air and sunshine, squirrel and bird watching. With slight adjustments, futures are looking up for retirement.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Poltergeist or Short Term Memory Loss?

Do you believe in ghosts? Recently, I answered a survey about ghosts in the affirmative: “Yes, I believe in ghosts.” More than 70% of the people answering the survey said the same thing. Enough strange things have happened in my life that I don’t scoff at the idea. Jim always explained weird things by saying, “It’s just harmless poltergeist.”

September 30 was one of those days when strange things happened to me. It was the anniversary of my dad’s death, and he died on the anniversary of his dad. As I left the gym, my thoughts turned to a friend of mine who had died in 2005 and how a Rod Stewart song makes me think of him. I always seem to hear the song on his birthday and the anniversary of his death. I just realized the date had passed and I hadn’t heard it this year. I turned left on 65 Highway a few minutes later and the song came on the radio. That’s creepy, I thought.

I drove home and walked into my house to discover a plastic bag in front of my coffee pot. Oh, Ginger must have left something for me. Curious, I picked up the neatly folded bag and looked inside. It was my cat’s medicine which is normally on top of the refrigerator in a basket. I called Ginger, “Did you put Katrina’s medicine on my counter?”

“No, I haven’t been in your house today.”

I felt prickles on the back of my neck. “I don’t know how it got there,” I said, “but this is weird.” I walked through the rest of the house and didn’t see anything else disturbed.

I called my son, “Were you in my house today?”

“No, why?” I told him my story about finding the cat’s medicine on the counter where it hadn’t been when I checked my coffee pot just before I left for work.

“Could Katrina have knocked it off the refrigerator?”

He knows how Katrina climbs and although she once managed to break one of my light fixtures, even she couldn’t have gotten something off the refrigerator and folded it neatly on the counter across the room.

“Oh, Mom, you probably took the medicine down and got interrupted.”

About that time, a loud knock startled me. It was Ginger. She and I checked all the doors and they were all still locked, with deadbolts in place.

“I know I didn’t get that medicine down!” I said. “This is creeping me out. Why would someone come in my house and put Katrina’s medicine on the counter?”

Ginger said, “This is creeping me out too!”

“Well, it wasn’t Jim,” I said. Jim always reminded me to give the dogs their medicine. “I didn’t find Katrina until after he died. And it wasn’t my Dad because he didn’t like cats.”

So how did the medicine get on the counter? The logical explanation is, I did it, but don’t remember doing it. Does this mean I have short term memory loss?

Which is truly scarier—short term memory loss or poltergeist? ...Does anyone have a phone number for Ghost Busters?