Wednesday, December 30, 2015

A December we'll remember (even if we try to forget!)

We were congratulating each other at how smoothly our transition to settled life had gone.  Our "to do" list shrank steadily during the months of July, August, September and October:
  • house shopping, check;
  • house purchase, mid-July (after only 2 days of shopping!);
  • buying necessary furniture, 2 weeks in late July and early August;
  • closing on house, mid-August;
  • immediate possession (house clean!);
  • furniture deliveries begin day after we move in;
  • we begin exploring the neighborhood;
  • we trade the Ram truck for a Honda CRV in mid-September;
  • we locate needed health care professionals and make "get acquainted" appointments;
  • we sell the fifth wheel to a lady who lives near our son in Athens County, early October;
  • we begin to enjoy the joys of the area such as the bike trail, local restaurants, the hometown symphony, plays at the local university, line dance classes, etc.
  • we manage to keep up our routine of exercise walking 2 to 3 miles each morning;

In November, we enjoyed sharing Thanksgiving with family for the first time in ten years.

Then December arrived!

Bruce has known since the early 1980s that the aortic valve in his heart was not working properly. Over the years since then he has been very diligent about having it checked by a cardiologist at least twice a year.  It has become steadily less efficient as the opening has progressively narrowed.

Echocardiograms and cardiac catheterizations have been done regularly.  They show the problem but doctors did not want to do the corrective surgery as long as Bruce was having no symptoms of cardiac distress.  When the cardiologists questioned him about symptoms, he would say, "No, no shortness of breath, no chest discomfort, no weakness or dizziness even when I walk several miles each morning and dance a couple of hours several nights a week."  Invariably, a shocked expression would spread across the doctor's face and he would say, "Oh.  Well, let's just keep an eye on it then. See you in six months."

Bruce's new cardiologist here in Westerville responded in exactly the same way.  He did, however, schedule a new diagnostic test for early December.

Then the first day of December with all its unexpected surprises, arrived.  It was cooler than we were used to -- but not really cold --, as we went for our morning walk.  About halfway along our route, he said, "I'm going to have to slow down a little.  I feel a little light-headed."  We did slow down (for which I was thankful!) and he voiced no more complaints.  Later, as we were walking home from Line Dance class, he said, "I had the strangest little spell of weakness during class.  But it went away; didn't last long."

We had a conference call on the phone that afternoon.  We had adjourned and I had gone off to do something around the house while he continued in phone conversation with a friend.  Suddenly I heard him call my name.  When I reached his side, he said, "I'm sick." I helped him to our bedroom to lie down on our bed while I took his vital signs: blood pressure low, pulse weak and rapid.  He reported the discomfort he had in his chest was easing up now that he was lying down.  "Shall I call 911?" I asked.  He nodded his head "Yes."

I don't know where the emergency squad had to come from but they were here in a matter of minutes.
They very respectfully and efficiently went about assessing Bruce who was now feeling a bit better.  In about 20 minutes, they had loaded him  into the ambulance and were on their way to the hospital.  Our dear neighbor had come out to see what all the excitement was about and she carefully gave me directions to the hospital, which was only 2 miles away.

I arrived and found him comfortably settled in a cubicle in the emergency department.  He was having no discomfort but announced to me, "They are going to keep me at least overnight."  I was relieved that he would be under professional observation for awhile, but my intuition was already signaling that it would be longer than just overnight.

He was moved upstairs to a very comfortable and impressive private room and was scheduled for a cardiac cath the following day.  I finally found my way to the cafeteria after asking directions of at least half a dozen people.

I stayed with him into the evening, silently patting myself on the back for staying so calm.  However, when I left to go home, I had to spend 45 minutes wandering around the parking lot.  I couldn't find my car!  I could not remember where I had parked it and I was surrounded by acres of parking lots!  I finally found it with the help of that handy-dandy little push button on the key fob that causes the headlights to flash!  By the time I got home, I was exhausted!

The next morning, while Bruce was undergoing a cardiac catheterization, I was sitting in the office of an attorney.  We had made that appointment planning to meet with him together.  He was quite understanding, but asked many questions I could not answer intelligently.  So, of course, we will have to continue that consultation in the future when both of us can be present!

By the time I got back to the hospital, Bruce informed me that he was scheduled for surgery the following day.  His faulty aortic valve would be replaced with a valve from animal tissue.  I stayed late at the hospital hoping to have a chance to speak with the surgeon.  However, he came to Bruce's room just after I left to go home.  We did have a phone conversation which I found very reassuring.  Throughout the afternoon we had received e-mails and phone calls from many friends who were already holding us up in prayer.

Surgery morning I arrived at the hospital early even though his surgery was not scheduled until early afternoon.  A friend from our local church family surprised us by coming to the hospital and staying with me until Bruce was taken to surgery.  We were grateful for his presence and his prayers.

The surgery is apparently painstaking and, to those awaiting news, seems very long. Bruce left for the operating room at 1:15 pm and I got only brief reports until 7:30 pm. Then the surgeon came out and gave me a more complete account of the procedure. Bruce had tolerated the surgery well and there was no evidence of any damage to the heart because of the faulty valve.

Shortly after that brief conversation, I was allowed into the cardio-vascular intensive care unit to see Bruce myself.  As I expected, he looked awful!  He was being assisted to breathe by a ventilator connected to a tube down his throat, about which he was quite restless.  He was connected to several IVs, a cardiac monitor displaying his vital signs constantly, and had tubes coming out of both known and unknown holes in his body!  I called his name, kissed him several times, and headed home to collapse.

The Westerville Street Department, however, was in the middle of a major repair project at the intersection where I had to turn left to get home.  In consideration to daily traffic, they worked on that project only between 7 pm and 5 am.  On this night, when I needed to get home as quickly as possible, they would allow no turns at that intersection at all!  So, I went straight, as the policeman insisted, knowing that was not the way home!

I thought I knew where I was, but in the dark I couldn't read the street signs, and before I knew it, I was lost!  But before I hit downtown Columbus, I had the presence of mind to turn on the GPS, and that "know it all" lady directed me straight home!

He progressed well and and had amazingly little pain (because of the approach the surgeon had made for the surgery which did not require splitting the breast bone.)  So, on Saturday, two days after surgery he was moved out of ICU to a room in the cardiac step-down unit.  I stayed to see that he was well settled and then headed home.

My phone rang at 1:30 am, an ominous sound!  The nurse informed me that he had experienced a sudden and serious drop in blood pressure so they had moved him back to ICU.    About 2:15 am, the ICU supervisor called to report that Bruce's condition had stabilized and he was resting well so there was no reason for me to come to the hospital at that time.  I did not sleep much the rest of the night.

Next morning, Sunday, I was so groggy I could hardly find the alarm clock to turn it off!  However, I knew I wanted to get up and go to church so I could get the signatures of our friends there on a birthday card for Bruce who would turn 73 the following day.

I made it to church and actually stayed awake during worship!  I got a card-full of signatures and well wishes to deliver to Bruce on his birthday.  I left church, and just as I reached my car, my phone rang again.  Bruce's blood pressure had dropped suddenly and seriously again, but he was now stabilized.

I headed for the hospital immediately.  Force of habit took me to my usual route instead of a more direct but unfamiliar way.  But, as I exited the outer belt. the main street was totally blocked off with barriers, orange cones and police cars.!  Now what?  I followed the car in front of me looking for an alternate route.  Suddenly a big, angry-looking policeman was frantically motioning for me to stop.  I did, and he proceeded to shout at me for "trying to get around our roadblock."

I apologized, but added that I was looking for a way to get to the hospital as quickly as possible.  He calmed down, directed me back to the beltway and the first exit to the west to get to my destination.  Then he stopped traffic so I could get out of my predicament and on my way.  I got to the hospital a few minutes later and found Bruce sitting up in a lounge chair totally unaware that he was having any problem!

 When the staff realized that Monday was Bruce's birthday, they gifted him with a birthday balloon and a greeting card they had signed.  Another "gift" -- an un-birthday type -- was the result of observations of a skilled nurse.  She became concerned that he was still having so much trouble swallowing four days after surgery.  She insisted on a consult with a speech therapist who immediately scheduled him for a swallowing evaluation X-ray.

I went along down to radiology to watch the process as I had never seen it before.  It was interesting, and discouraging!  He took a small swallow of barium which outlined his throat and upper swallowing passageway.  Every time Bruce tried to swallow clear or thickened liquids, they would go down just a short distance and then hit some invisible "brick wall."  There they would lie, causing him to choke and cough.  He was immediately ordered to have "nothing by mouth" and alternative forms of nutrition were discussed.

Two days later the swallowing evaluation was repeated in hope that there had been improvement.  There was no change so, on Thursday, one week after his heart surgery, he had a feeding tube placed directly into his stomach.  Tube feedings were begun and we were both instructed in the technique.

He was kept in the hospital for two more days.  I was eager for him to come home but those extra days gave me time to arrange for all the supplies and equipment we would need: tube feeding solution and equipment to give it, dressings for the feeding tube site, portable suction machine to help him handle his secretions and saliva, getting prescriptions for medications filled, buying several gallons of distilled water to go with the tube feedings, getting a "pill crusher" so the medications could be given through the tube, and arranging for the services of a home health nurse (to draw blood to monitor his "blood thinner" medication level), and a speech therapist to work with him on strengthening his throat muscles.

Soon after he got home, we had to increase the number of his
"tube meals" because he was losing weight.  

We now check his weight daily and adjust the number of cans of "goodies" accordingly.  

Our schedule is controlled by his "meals" every 2 1/2 to 3 hours
and the visits of the home care professionals.

Christmas was spent quietly at home enjoying the company of our son for the day.  Dad watched as the other two of us enjoyed a modest "feast" for the occasion.

Bruce is gaining strength every day.  Whenever the weather is tolerable, he walks outside several times a day around our little condo community.  Against the advice of the speech therapist, he is tolerating small sips of water without choking or coughing (we think that's progress!).

And suddenly, it is the end of December and of 2015.  December has, indeed, been a month we'll remember.  We are so grateful for that new heart valve that we are making the best of all the surprises that have come with it.  For the most part, our spirits are good and our senses of humor intact.  But where did December go?  We can't remember -- but neither can we forget!

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Peanut Brittle, a new experience

We knew there would be changes in store for us when we moved!  We changed our address, and our neighbors -- but, of course, not our friends.  We had to change our vehicle when we discovered that a one ton "dually" truck is not ideal for city driving.

We've had to change our eating habits because Mexican restaurants -- especially good ones! -- are few and far between in the middle of Ohio.  And, of course, we've had to make some changes to our wardrobe as winter approaches.  We are already taking advantage of the warm gloves and knit hat we got at Walmart.

But we never dreamed we'd have to make drastic changes in the skills we contribute to our volunteer service. Pulling weeds, caulking windows and painting window frames at the church we knew how to do.  But, the major fund-raising project for our Columbus-area church, is making peanut brittle to sell!

It took us most of our ten years in south Texas to learn how to roll enchiladas, the main ingredient of the fund-raiser at our church in Edcouch,  I think we were getting pretty good at that.  But making peanut brittle required a whole new set of skills from us.  Major changes like that are difficult for us septegenarians to master!  But it was sure fun -- and yummy! -- trying!

The next time you chomp down on a piece of homemade peanut brittle, please appreciate the complicated and exacting process it takes to make it.

It starts with the peanuts, large bags of them!

Then, someone more knowledgeable than we are, mixes the proper amounts of  sugar, syrup and a little water (as in the front skillet above).  And that's where we novices can help: at the entry level of stirring.  When the syrup is just the right color, baking soda and peanuts are added, and the constant stirring continues (as in the skillet at the back).  At this step, it takes someone a little more experienced than we are because with the addition of the peanuts the stirring gets more challenging. 

Again, when the color of the mix gets just right, it must quickly be poured out into a flat, buttered pan (back left), and rapidly be "forked" out as thin as possible with buttered forks (front, right) before it cools and gets set.

Then the pans are set aside to cool thoroughly.  Once cooled, the candy mass is broken up into small, bite-sized pieces which are packed into plastic boxes for sale.

And there, neatly stacked, was one Saturday morning's work.  But there would be at least two more opportunities to practice our newly developed skills! 

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Welcome to our house: a virtual tour

After only two and a half months, we are finally settled in our new abode and ready to welcome visitors!  So, come on in and let us show you around.

We don't expect to get much use of our small front porch in the coming few winter months.  But a couple of porch chairs from a near-by used furniture store prepare it for next spring.

Come in and make yourself at home.

The living room is small -- but bigger than the RV offered!

The larger -- and unmoveable -- living room gives us space to appreciate some of our "pretty things" that have been in storage for ten years.

This glass door curio cabinet has been cared for by my great niece while we were on the road.  We reclaimed it when we settled down and it gives us space to show off some of our souvenirs and remembrances, including my Vietnamese tea set there on the second shelf,

and my lovely lacquer and mother-of-pearl in-laid photo album.

The dining room, which opens from the living room, is large enough for us to display a beautiful quilt made by Bruce's mother and several of our favorite scenes from our decade of RV travel.

The kitchen opens off the dining room, has lovely granite counter tops, and a dishwasher,

stove,microwave, refrigerator,

and a HUGE pantry cupboard!

The short hallway from the living room leads back past the guest bath (on the right) to the bedrooms.

Our bedroom gives us a chance to enjoy the "friendship quilt" that was Bruce's retirement gift from the last church he served as pastor.  And the corner is just big enough for my desk, printer table and bookshelf that were all in storage for the past ten years.

The quilt is as warm with memories as it is with weight!

As you can see, we have plenty of closet space.  It's a good thing because now we have to have different wardrobes of clothes for four seasons of weather!

The "necessary room", of course.  It's so close to the bed I can find it in the dark of night!

Lots of space, but we had to add more storage units so we could find things in the wide open spaces!

Bruce's private work space is in the "guest room": desk, bookshelf, computers, printer.

This quilt, made by my grandma 70 years ago, makes a unique wall hanging in the "guest room."  It provides an interesting backdrop for our Sunday evening live stream worships.

Bruce's study doubles as the "guest room."  So, if you come for an overnight visit, this couch will be turned into your bed,

and there will be plenty of storage places for your belongings!

The hallway back out to the living room gives us lots of space to hang favorite family pictures.

Located between the entryway and the garage, the laundry room is great!
"Free at last, free at last,. from laundromats I'm free at last!"

The garage, too, is a real blessing.  Whoever heard of a condo having a two-car, enclosed garage?   There's room to store file cabinets, bicycles, and lots of junk, plus one small car. 

Our little house is one of twenty units in our small village.

We are gradually getting acquainted with our neighbors.

There's a tiny amount of green space in our village.  But just beyond that wooden fence in the distance is the Ohio-Erie Bike Trail.  What a treat to walk or bike it.  But winter is coming, we know, and it won't be nearly as much fun to bike or walk in the snow and ice!

So, in picture and description, that is our humble abode.  We'd be delighted if you could come and see it for yourselves.  Call ahead to make sure we are home, but you are welcome anytime!

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

It's Official!

No longer are we wanderers, as we have been for the last decade.  We are now officially settlers, because ten days ago we sold our wheels.

It had worn a "For Sale" sign since early September which had drawn some inquiries, but nothing serious.  Then, about a month ago Bruce had put up a listing -- including pictures -- for it on the Escapees on-line forum.  That generated a few phone calls but, when the callers heard that the fifth wheel was not "all seasons," equipped with freezeless water and waste tanks, they were not interested.

We had moved the rig to its storage spot on our son's property in Athens County, Ohio.  We were preparing to adorn it with the "For Sale" sign again when he had a better idea: Post the sign in front of the trailer in a more visible place at the roadside.   He even crafted us an eye-catching roadside notice.

Less than a week later, a call came from a woman who lives in his neighborhood, about four miles from his house.  She was seriously interested and was not discouraged when we told her about its seasonal limitations.  Her reply was, "Well, it can't be any worse than the one I'm living in now."

A few days later we met her at the trailer's resting place and gave her the complete tour, inside and outside.  She was obviously impressed and kept saying, over and over, "This is beautiful.  Those pictures (on the on-line listing) don't do it justice."  She bought it on the spot for only $1000 less than our asking price!  She was ecstatic and we were delighted that the RV dealer who offered us only $1000 was wrong!

She is retired from the police department of Toledo and has moved back to Athens County to help care for her father.  She was living in an old 27-foot trailer on her parents' farm.  The stove didn't work, there was no storage, and the roof leaked.  So our 32-foot New Horizons in excellent condition, and with lots of storage was a major upgrade in her housing.  She says her friends refer to it as "the castle."

Her purchase of our former "home on wheels" was a blessing for us, too.  It would not have to sit empty and untended thru the coming Ohio winter, and her check will help us with an upcoming bill for dental care.  Besides that, we were delighted to see it go to a good home where it would be thoroughly appreciated.

So, we are now officially settlers, dwellers in a fixed location, no longer wanderers or footloose.  But the transition has been fun, and is almost complete.  We are already well set up for guests and, being just a mile off the Columbus, Ohio beltway, we're hoping there will be many, including you.

As soon as we get the last of the pictures hung in our little home, we may take you on a virtual tour of it via blog.  Stay tuned.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Hanging Precious Memories

Six weeks we've been living in our new location and we're still trying to make a home out of a house.  The furniture is all moved in, most of the stuff has found storage (hiding) places and we're beginning to develop some routines that work well in these new digs.

We've made frequent use of the near-by bike trail and are really enjoying the brilliant colors of the approaching fall.  We've experienced our first taste of "cold" weather (cloudy, cool rain in the upper 40's) and it was enough to remind us that we don't own very many cold weather clothes!

So the new place is beginning to look and feel like home, except for one thing:  The walls of the new condo are all uniformly painted off-white.  That's an easy color to decorate with but unadorned they look like the walls of some kind of institution!  So, we had to fix that!

We remembered several quilts that had been made for us by special people in our lives but had been in storage for at least 30 years!  Why not use them as part of our decorating scheme and cover up portions of those large, off-white walls?

The first that came to mind was this "Flower Garden" pattern quilt.  We discovered that it just fits this wall in the study perfectly.  A note attached to the quilt said that it was made by my paternal grandmother in the 1940s (which means it is as old as I am!)  Grandma Bessie made a quilt for each of her grandchildren.  She had seven, of which I was the youngest.

Next , we remembered this beauty, made by Bruce's mother in the 1960s.  

It, too, was one of three quilts she made, one for each of her children.  It is quite large, but ios the perfect size for this wall in our dining room.  Our dear friend -- and expert quilter -- Jane Pronovost encouraged me to use a quilt sleeve to hang it which really enhances its beauty.

The quilt is lovely as a total work of art, but even the details are intricate.

Even the quilting stitches are patterned in a graceful way.

We were so pleased with the results of our "memory hangings" that we quickly hung one more quilt piece.

This quilt, wall hanging, and matching pillows were a retirement gift to us from the Greenville Church of the Brethren where Bruce had served as pastor for twenty years.   Each square includes the name -- and creative pattern -- of a family in the church.  It is as warm with memories as it is in weight.

So, finally, after many long years in storage, hidden from view, these gorgeous pieces of fabric art can be displayed and appreciated.  It's been a lot of work, but we are so glad that we have hung these precious memories.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Pulling New Weeds

Some of you dear blog readers may remember how much I enjoy pulling weeds.  Yanking those ugly vegetative intruders out of garden or flower bed is one of my favorite outdoor sports!  When I spend several hours at this task, I feel as if I have struck a blow against evil in the world – or at least the garden! – and it gives me a great sense of accomplishment.

So I grieved a bit when we moved into a condominium where outside maintenance is cared for by others.  “No more weeds to pull,” I thought sadly.  On our daily walks I kept noticing the weeds growing in flower beds in public places and it was all I could do to restrain myself from weeding on public property.

However, there’s good news.  The second week we were here in Westerville, the church had scheduled a workday for the coming Saturday.  We went, and Bruce got busily involved in some cleaning and maintenance projects inside the building.  Some workers were cutting down dead trees in the woods area behind the building.  Others were building and installing benches for bird watching around the prairie area in the front of the church property.

I looked around for a task I could do and I spotted a flower bed, long neglected and nearly overgrown!  So I pulled on my garden gloves and set to work.  Some of the weeds were taller than I am.  What a joy to pull or dig them out and discover flowers hiding behind them and good fertile soil beneath!

There were lots of thistles – which reminded me of the grass burrs of south Texas!  There were long strings of a weedy vine that climbed up and over everything in its path – rather like kudzu but not quite as aggressive.  There were roots and stems of long dead shrubs and trees, and grasses of many different types.  It was like a party for this weed-pulling enthusiast!

Bruce came to inform me that it was time for lunch.  I had been working for 2 and a half hours, but I wasn’t done yet!  I didn’t want to quit until I had rescued all the flowers and had completed my job.  He bribed me away from my work with two promises: First, lunch out.  Second, we’d come back and finish the job as soon as possible!

I helped carry off the mountain of vegetation I had removed from the flower bed.  Then  reluctantly I took off my gardening gloves and put away my digging and cutting tools.  Lunch out is even more attractive to me than pulling weeds, so off we went to the nearest Subway restaurant.  But my sadness had lifted because I had found new weeds to pull.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

If it ain't true, it oughta' be!

Social science has finally found the key to happiness!  A recent research study has found that the most accurate indicator for happiness in life is membership in a faith community and adherence to the values taught by the faith.  A relationship with a loving Supreme Being gives meaning and purpose to life, hope and courage in times of stress or loss, and serenity as the end of life approaches.  Some of us have known that for many years out of our own personal experience!

I was born into the lap of the church – and there I grew up!  I was loved and cared for, encouraged, enjoyed community, and responded to challenges.  I was given freedom to ask questions and pursue answers that were different than those others had discovered.

I remember the days when church benches were full on Sunday mornings, and activities continued through the week.  The spiritual realities of life were respected and honored.  Faith was not just a personal pilgrimage but a journey with treasured companions.

Now, in the seventh decade of my life, things have changed.  Many church benches are empty and I see more and more of my society rushing from task to task.  Folks run from one entertainment to another without time or interest in the movement of the Holy Spirit.

An atmosphere of cynicism and doubt has poisoned many searches for truth.  “You can’t prove God exists,” they challenge.  “I can’t see, hear, smell or touch God so why should I believe in God?”  “I’m a self-made person.  What do I need God for?”  “ I just can’t believe any more that all those old stories about Jesus are true.  I mean all that Bible stuff about kindness and forgiveness, and meekness and humility just isn’t realistic in today’s world.”

That may indeed be an accurate description of our 21st century society.  And it is quite possible that some of the tenets of faith people have been taught are not true.  But our society craves happiness, hope, meaning, compassion, community, and peace.  These are the gifts of a loving  Creative Power above and beyond us and the tangible things of our lives.  Now even social science research agrees: there is a positive connection between happiness and faith in God!

So, to all the cynics, nay-sayers, atheists, agnostics, skeptics, and doubters, if  God – and God’s incarnation in Jesus – ain’t true, it oughta’ be!

Friday, September 18, 2015

The Dangers of Bicycling in Westerville

Westerville, Ohio is certainly the most bicycle-friendly town we have ever lived in!  It has a well-designed system of bike/walk trails that reach nearly every place within the city and some scenic areas outside of town.

Fortunately for us, our new condo is located just about half a block from one of those trails! So, of course, we had to get out our bikes, dust them off, put air in the tires, and try out our local bike trail.  It is great!  Nice road surface, protected street crossings, no major hills, and absolutely no vehicular traffic!  Despite a few muscles painfully protesting being roused out of retirement, we thought we had found The Promised Land for bicyclists.

"Our" trail runs along the edge of Westerville South High School athletic fields, behind the post office, along the back side of the city building and the library. We ventured out a little farther from home each time we rode.  I always followed Bruce since he seemed to know his way around on the bike trails and I hadn't yet found time to study the map of them.

One evening we explored a little neighborhood park a mile or so north of home.  On another ride, we exited off "our" trail and rode along a trail beside a very busy street.   Another two-wheeled excursion took us across town to the Westerville Community Center several miles from home.

On one fateful afternoon we rode north toward a shopping center.  I had no idea of where we were or where we were going.  I just blindly followed my guide.  At one point, Bruce left the bike trail and crossed the street to the opposite sidewalk.  "That's dumb," I thought "when you have a perfectly good protected bike trail to ride on!"  So, I did not follow his lead but continued on the bike trail on "my" side of the street.

At the corner, I had to wait to cross because the traffic light was red.  I lost track of Bruce amongst the orange barrels of construction at that intersection, but I assumed that he was waiting for me to cross and join him.

As the light turned green, suddenly I saw him, red T-shirt, jean shorts and bike helmet, riding toward me, speeding past me and on down the trail behind me!  By the time I got turned around, remounted my bike seat, and hit the pedals, he was far ahead of me.  "How rude" I thought, "not to even slow down and give me a chance to catch up with him."

The faster I pedaled, the madder I got, as he steadily pulled away from me, almost out of view!   At the next intersection I lost sight of him entirely!  I stopped, angry and entirely confused: I did not know where I was or how to get home and I had no map either on paper or in my head!  Now what?

I was reaching for my cell phone when I heard a familiar voice behind me. "Do you know where you are?" it asked.  "And where in the world were you going so fast?"  It was Bruce!

"I was trying to catch up with you," I retorted.  "Don't you ever do that to me again, lead me out to an unfamiliar place, then take off so fast I can't catch up with you, in a totally strange place with no way to get home!"

"What are you talking about?" he asked with a very confused look on his face.

"I'm talking about what you just did to me, leaving me in the dust, lost and alone in a place I've never been before!  Don't you EVER do that to me again!"

There was a lengthy silence.  Then he asked, "Who were you following?  It wasn't me because I was waiting for you back at the traffic light when I saw you turn around and take off like a bat out of hell.  I couldn't figure out where you were going, so I followed you, and I could barely keep you in sight, you were going so fast."

"Well, then, who was I following?" I asked perplexed.  "I was sure it was you.  He had on a red T-shirt, jean shorts and a bike helmet, just like you.  But, I confess, it's not like you to go so fast as to lose me in a strange place.  So it really wasn't you after all?"

"No, my dear, it wasn't me," he reassured me as my temper cooled.  "And I'm so glad that you couldn't catch that strange man in the red T-shirt that you were chasing.  If you had, I might have lost you forever!"

Yes, biking in Westerville is great - if you follow the right person!

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Running Into Old Age

My favorite definition of old age says that “it is my current age plus ten years”!  That understanding assures us that none of us ever will reach that dreaded stage of life.

However, it was about ten years ago when I first noticed it!  About the time I retired, I discovered that an afternoon nap cured the after-lunch drowsiness that had plagued me for years.  When I began indulging in a regular afternoon nap, that’s when my life began sliding slowly downhill!

A few tasks I used to be able to do without a second thought gradually became difficult, like getting up off the floor.  Days that used to contain 24 hours seemed to have shrunk in length as they flew by because every task took longer than it used to!  Night-time trips to the bathroom increased in number.  Wrinkles puckered up my body in strange ways, and the mirror reflected back images of graying hair.

What was happening to me?  I was running into old age!  The aging process only rarely wipes us out all at once.  It’s more gradual.  Today my back aches; yesterday it was my knees.  Last week I was short of breath; today I have an earache.  Next week I’m scheduled to give an hour’s lecture on my favorite subject, but today I can’t even remember whether or not I’ve taken my morning pills!

Those were the days when I had run into some of the previews of old age.  But, once in awhile, old age runs into us and nearly knocks us over!  This year was one of those days!  Energy was nil; another abcessed tooth had to be pulled; pain problems I thought were solved long ago  came back to haunt me.

A long series of medical tests on my soul-mate revealed nothing serious despite original concerns.  We were grateful, of course.  But that whole temporary confinement in the healthcare system reminded us both that someday the pain might not get better, and the diagnostic tests might reveal a real problem!  We paused to consider the long-term probabilities of these “health-scare” events.  We had run into old age!  Now what?

As we began our annual spring pilgrimage north from south Texas to the mid-West, we noticed that certain tasks were taking longer than they used to.  Setting up in a new campground each afternoon and packing up each morning to get on our way seemed more like work and less like the fun it used to be.  The miles seemed longer; the potholes deeper; the truck seats harder, and the nights shorter.  Even the scenery was not as beautiful as it had been over the years.  It was time for a change.  We had run into old age, but we were determined not to sink silently into its depths!

So, as soon as possible, when we got to our destination in Ohio, we found an RV Park close to a lovely MetroPark, and we started walking.  Morning and evening we walk; sometimes only a mile and a half but usually three miles each time.  We can’t really run anymore, but we walk briskly, steadily, and regularly.

We take time as we walk to enjoy the wildflowers, the deer, the bison, the little garter snake sunning itself; the “croak” of the bullfrog hiding among the the cattails; the red-tailed hawk sitting high on a utility pole; the cotton-tails of the rabbits startled by our footsteps.

As we’ve walked, we have bought a condo, shopped for furniture, planned for a smaller new vehicle, worshiped with a new church family, and visited twice with our son an hour’s drive away.  Sometimes we discuss the problems of the world as we walk, but we haven’t solved any of them yet!

No, we’re not really running into old age but neither are we letting it run us down!  We’ll keep moving ahead at our own determined pace into whatever old age has in store for us in the days that are coming.  Oh, and by the way, our new condo is located on a bike trail, so we may soon speed up our journey into the future.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Cataloochee Valley in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park

Cataloochee is a beautiful valley in the midst of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park in western North Carolina.    We had spent the morning at the Museum of the Cherokee Indian, in Cherokee, NC.   After lunch we traveled on the Blue Ridge Parkway where we encountered the following view.

We left the Blue Ridge Parkway in Maggie Valley and headed north toward I-40 on Route 276.  Just two miles south of I-40 we turned onto Cove Creek Road having been warned that the road to Cataloochee Valley is a winding, gravel road that has some steep drop offs with no guard rails.  After eleven miles of winding roads over the mountain we arrived in the Cataloochee Valley.

Before long we came upon a large open meadow area and saw several dozen cars stopped along the roadway.   Sure enough there was a male elk standing out in the open keeping his eye on several females not too far away.   (Of course I had forgotten the camera with the good zoom lens!)

Of course the females were ignoring him completely as they munched on the fresh grass.

The Caldwell Place -- built 1903
 A variety of historic buildings have been preserved in the valley including two churches, a school, several homes, and outbuilding.   Following Indian trails, white settlers pushed into the valley in the early 1800s.   By 1910 this isolated valley was once home to some 1200 people.   However, by 1938 all but a few residents had moved out to make way for the creation of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Barn at the Caldwell Place
Just a short distance beyond the Caldwell place we encountered more elk.   This time a male who was too deep in the brush for a photo blessed us with the unforgettable sound of his bugling.  Hint -- you too can hear the elk bugle by clicking on this link:

In addition to the elk we saw dozens of wild turkeys.   Cataloochee is indeed a beautiful place.

Smoky Mountain Folk Festival

The 45th Annual Smoky Mountain Folk Festival was held on September 4 and 5.  The main show was on the grand stage of Stuart Auditorium overlooking the lake at Lake Junaluska Assembly, near Ashville, NC.  The two night festival features musicians from Haywood County and many surrounding areas of western North Carolina.  We were able to enjoy a variety of the region's finest fiddlers, banjo players, string bands, ballad singers, dance teams, and folk ensembles.

One of many clogging groups.

The Trantham Family

The Cockman Family

Stuart Auditorium (round building toward the right) in the
Great Smoky Mountains of western North Carolina.