Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Gigging at the old folks homes

Earlier this year our band, Bayview Sound, was invited to perform at the Friday afternoon Happy Hour at a local assisted living facility in Freeland.  I've had several folks from the congregation in residence at Maple Ridge over the years and appreciate the beautiful facility, the kind staff, and the good cheer of most of the residents.

It reminded me a bit of Canterbury Inn, the assisted living facility in Longview WA where my mom lived for several years; I had the pleasure of visiting her there many times, getting acquainted with her friends there, and meeting the staff.  She was happy there and well cared for, her multiple health difficulties receiving the treatment they required.

Our first performance at Maple Ridge was a success and we have been invited back several times.  We have enjoyed this gig so much that we asked the folks at CareAge, a nursing home in Coupeville, if they were interested in our performing for them, and we have been to CareAge several times as well this year.

CareAge is a facility for aged residents with very limited mobility and dementia/brain injury patients.  I have had parishioners in residence at CareAge in the past and was pleased with the standard of care they received.  Maple Ridge is a facility for people who can still live more or less independently, with minimal care, though they may have limited mobility and may be experiencing some memory loss.

What I've noticed is that as humans age, we seem to become more intensely the person we have learned to be over our lifetimes.  If life has been harsh, if we have been unhappy or angry much of our lives, we are even more unhappy and angry as our abilities decline and our circle of friends diminishes.  If life has been harsh, if we have been ill-treated much of our lives but have had a few experiences that give us hope, we seem to have a less-angry, somewhat happier approach to old age and the losses we experience.

If life has been privileged and cushy, if our demands have been treated with deference and compliance, we continue to expect that this will continue and, because of the nature of aging and its demands on our resources, we are apt to be fretful, angry, depressed, and hard to get along with as we age.  If we have had any life at all---harsh, loving, privileged, whatever---we face old age with certain ingrained behaviors that can make our last years miserable or fulfilling.

I've been wondering how the sweet-natured folks I've been meeting at CareAge and Maple Ridge have come to this place in life:  a joy to serve, a pleasure in conversation, a blessing rather than a burden.  And I've been wondering how the grouchy folks at these facilties came to be so grouchy:  demanding, difficult to satisfy, always unhappy, repellant rather than inviting.

Pain, of course, is a factor.  So are loss of hearing and sight and memory and mobility.  Many physical discomforts can make us frantic, begging for relief, but these discomforts are borne by some with equanimity, even good cheer and hope.  For others, it's just too much to overcome.

Staff personnel treat everyone with the same good care and attention, to the best of their ability.  But who could blame them for being impatient on occasion, for being slow to answer the incessant buzzer from the same room over and over.  We ourselves would doubtless struggle with these situations.

Is there anything we can do to learn the art of growing old, to ingrain those traits that will make our old age happier, and to let go of the traits that will surely diminish our ability to enjoy the life we have left?

I figure I have 15-20 years left.  I've been working on the physical health piece now for quite awhile.  I still have some aches and pains but I'm in pretty good shape otherwise.  Mentally, the crossword puzzles and jumbles and quizzes that I'm addicted to are keeping my brain working, more or less.  But spiritually?  attitudinally?  I'm still thinking about how these may be affected by aging.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Almost half-done with this house-sitting gig!

No, I'm not counting the days---yet.  But I'm getting very itchy to leave this situation behind and have a home of my own again.  It's hard living in someone else's house, using their things, trying to guess what they'd do in any given semi-crisis, and finding that the item I really need for this or that meal/outfit/experience is packed deep within the storage locker down in Freeland.  Very frustrating, that:  I have the lid to my electric fry pan---and its cord---but not the fry pan.  I have innumerable cleaning supplies but no need to use any of them because this house is well equipped.  This house, however, has very little kleenex in it, except the boxes I've bought at the store, since I packed all of them and left them in the locker, assuming there would be kleenex here.  Toilet paper, a decent amount, but not kleenex.  Oh well.  It does now!  I will have boxes and boxes of half-used-up kleenex when I move south.

The dogs are a lot of fun---they're obedient (now that I've figured out some of the commands), friendly, loving, and eager to be with me.  They also bark at every perceived intrusion on the property, so with deer, eagles, cars on the road below, neighboring animals, thunder, fireworks, etc., there is a lot of high-pitched barking and rushing out the door, scattering rugs, protective coverings, anything in their path, into muddy, hairy piles on the floor.

The horses continue to be fine and only a slight challenge.  The ongoing wet, thundery weather makes wading through mud a fact of life, just about every day, and one morning I couldn't untangle the gate chain without pliers, so I put all five of the horses in a different pasture than usual.  Mysteriously, when I went to feed them several hours later, one horse (the boarder) was in an adjoining pasture, not the one I'd put everyone in in the morning.  I still haven't figured that one out, as her owner didn't come to ride that afternoon.  I do not know how she could possible have gotten into the adjoining pasture without human help; I checked the fenceline, which was fine, no breaks, no low spots she could have stepped over.  Anyhow, if there had been a break or low spot, chances are all the other horses would have joined her there.  It will be interesting to see if it happens again. At least she was safe, just lonely at being separated from the other horses.

I have developed my little routines for the day, and nearly every day has some event in it, many of them lunches with friends!  Luckily, I have made my WW goal weight of 160 and am determined to stay there, but I am also getting so much exercise with the dogs (we walk a half-mile loop together at least 6 times a day) and horses that I am not worried about regaining weight, at least right now.

But I am absolutely craving my own home.  I like what I'm doing; it's a great break from ministry and I feel very relieved to have let that go.  But I fall into bed at night absolutely tired to the bone from the physicality of the work.  Feeding the horses at night is what mainly does it----the hay bales are heavy and need to be cut open and "flaked out", one flake per horse; the cart full of hay flakes is heavy and unwieldy; it needs to be lugged to the paddock and distributed into five feeding troughs, fences have to be checked, gates opened and closed, horses shoved around as necessary.

At 9 p.m., I am ready to conk out.  Luckily the dogs are too, so we all hit the hay (not literally) before it's dark.  I'm up seven hours later feeling rested for the time being, have a cup of coffee before getting the dogs up and fed and walked, then it's breakfast, a little FB and email time, and then moving the horses into the pasture of the day.

Everything I do during the day has to be timed around the animals' needs:  I can't leave for very long until after the horses are moved into their pasture at 8:30; I have to be back by 5:30 to feed horses and dogs.  Usually this is no problem, since there are helpful neighbors nearby.

Listen, it is going to be a piece of cake to take Loosy and Lily to Gearhart and start living with them again!  No more toting of barges and lifting of bales down there!  I can hardly wait!  That's assuming the girls are willing to leave their Auntie Carol and Unka Roy's palatial digs on Saratoga Road and go with me to the sandy terrain of the Oregon Coast.  Only about four weeks to go, girls, better get used to the idea.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Leaving things behind...

is inevitably one of the features of a major lifestyle change.  In the past year, I have left behind some old habits (overeating, for one; underexercising, for another), acknowledged the need to leave behind many people who have been very significant in my life (congregants, local friends, my bandmates), have moved out of the nicest home I've ever had, and have most recently left behind the most fulfilling work I've ever done (except possibly for mothering).

Interestingly, I feel very little emotion about any of this, at least yet.  I am not experiencing sorrow but rather relief.  In leaving behind the old food habits, I've taken on new habits---bring on the vegetables and fruit! cut that chicken breast in half!   In leaving behind congregants, I've found a new way of being with people I once served and it's not "on" (at least much of the time---I still have to be careful).  In leaving behind local friends and my bandmates---well, I haven't, not quite yet.

In leaving behind this incredible work, I've been able to bask in the sense of a ministry well-done, with almost no loose ends unattended, in the appreciation of a congregation that feels well-served, in the knowledge that I have been part of many people's stories as they've rejoiced, mourned, and turned pages in their lives' books.  Memories of me are in many hearts as I leave behind this time and place and work and that feels very satisfying.  Most of those memories are good, though I know not all are sterling.

Once I have left the island and this life, I will have moved miles away from a place and time that I have often called the happiest years of my life.  I'm not scared of the future, even though I'm leaving so much behind.  I contemplate the coming years as a retired person in a small town as a new book to be opened and savored, as new friends and opportunities, new ways to be useful, new connections to make.

Tending horses and dogs for two months is nice interim work.  The stresses of caring for dependent animals are somewhat similar to caring for humans dependent on my services:  feed and water them, make sure they have the space and shelter they need, have fun with them, be authoritative but not authoritarian, be kind and affectionate but don't let them walk all over me!  Dogs and horses don't have language, so they can't talk behind my back.  Their relationship with me is evidenced in their responses to my care.  People are not so different.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Creating a framework....

for this new life was a worry for me initially, particularly before I had gotten the feel of what days would be like as a dog and horse wrangler.  I didn't know how tricky it would be to work with the horses; I didn't know if the dogs would mind me; I didn't know if I would be lonely or bored or so eager to get summer behind me that I could think of nothing else.

Slowly the days have evolved and it's a little like being on swing shift:  lots to do early in the day (feeding dogs, moving horses---none of which takes much time), then time to putz around with household stuff (laundry, washing the dogs' rugs and blankets, shopping), a run into town to read the paper (yes, I succumbed) and pick up the mail.  Lunch, a nap, more walks with the dogs (I've been getting five or six daily), and late afternoon the responsibility picks up again (feed dogs, move and feed horses).  Evenings are mine, but it's the end of a day and everybody's tired, so I tend to hang around the house with the dogs and we're all abed by 9ish.

So a framework has been established, a framework which shapes the day and gives me edges to be observed so that the responsibilities are fulfilled.  I'm comfortable with it, I enjoy the work with the dogs and horses, I'm getting more confident as I work with the animals, and I've mostly quit worrying about where everyone is during the day.  The dogs always seem to return home, even after a couple of hours of being afield, and so far there have always been five horses afoot in the pasture.

It's interesting to do something so completely new to me, to have completely new responsibilities, to have let go of the old responsibilities completely, and to be able to draw on a virtually blank slate, as I find my way through these days.

I'm still thinking a lot about the final move to Gearhart, trying to figure out how to get help for my nephews Justin and Scott on the actual move day; the guys from the congregation can't promise to help on that date, so I'll need to go looking elsewhere, I guess.  But it will work out.  Once that's done, my tensions will ease another degree.

One more trip to Gearhart and back before the permanent move on or about Aug. 26, right after our Meerkerk gig; I hope my sore derriere will be ready to go by then.  At least once I move, I can call a halt to long car trips!

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

The Days of This New Life

My days are settling into a bit of a routine, but I'm not totally comfortable yet.  I'm still getting up early (6ish), but I don't want to wake the dogs (who sleep in kennels in another room) yet, so I tiptoe around, make coffee, sit down at the computer to read the latest whatever, and let them out for their breakfast about 7ish.   Sometimes we walk the 1/2 mile trail before I feed, sometimes after.  But we take a walk early---good for everyone's digestion!  We usually take four or five of these walks a day.

I eat bf myself around the same time they do and about 9ish, I go down to the paddock and lead the horses into the pasture of the day.  They're all interconnected, so that's just a matter of opening and closing gates.  But they're so eager to get into the grassy pasture that they're a little pushy.  It's no problem, though, as my old horse-skills seem to be coming back:  show no fear, show you're the boss, etc., with words and tone of voice and posture, basically. 

Not having a newspaper to read, except online, has changed that major morning habit for me; I'm debating going into town to the library every day to read the news, but I may find I don't need to do that.  The new habit may serve me well.  But in my new home, I intend to subscribe to every newspaper I can:  Oregonian, Astorian, Seaside Sun/Spotlight, maybe even the NYTimes Sunday edition.

Today I have to call my elderly aunt, who fell recently in her yard and lay there behind the rhodies for 3 hours before anyone found her.  She is in rehab again (last time was for a broken right shoulder, this time a broken left arm).  She's 89 and insists on living in her big house all alone; I hope she is persuaded to live with my cousin Peter or in assisted living somewhere after this.  My sister Jean and I have each been calling her once a month and we got alarmed when we could only reach her answering machine.

I also plan to go visit a woman in the congregation who had bigtime heart surgery two months ago and who just got home from hospital/rehab.  I felt bad about not seeing her while she was recuperating but there just wasn't an opportunity, so I feel like I need to make up for that, even though it's past my retirement date.

Friday I'll be going to Astoria to pick up my keys and drop some stuff off at the house, then heading to White Salmon to do the wedding and to reconnect briefly with some of the Athena pals, since I'll be staying at Judy's house in WS.  That will be a fun weekend, I think.

It's a quiet Fourth of July here on my hilltop.  Only a few firecracker booms, but it made the dogs a bit nervous.  I'm going to make sure they're indoors when I take off for the barbecue I've been invited to.  Roxy's the nervous one, but her fear seems to alert the others.

Today's the first day I've actually sat down to read recreationally!  I went to the library yesterday and picked up some (hopefully) trashy novels---I'm so tired of reading serious stuff and thinking about how I can write a sermon on the topic.

I wonder if anyone has ever written a sermon based on murder mystery novels?  That would be right up my alley right now.

Sunday, July 01, 2012

Eight hours of sleep last night!

After weeks of getting by on 6 and 7 hours of sleep because of the stress I was under (including Lily and Loosy's demands), last night I got a nearly-uninterrupted eight hours of sleep and this morning, except for the normal early-day stiff-and-soreness, I am feeling whole again, not scattered, not anxious about what I need to do next.

Today is Sunday and instead of getting dressed up and going over to the church to set up and be cheerful and welcoming to all who come in, I am sitting at the laptop looking again out over a steel-grey Saratoga Passage toward Camano Island.

I figured out how to turn on the gas fireplace and heat the house, as it has been chilly, breezy, and a little drippy for a couple of days, so it's toasty in here right now.  The dogs have been fed and walked (there is a 1/2 mile loop around the property that works perfectly for an early walk with them---I actually take five of these walks with them every day) and I have only a few things to do today.

Yesterday I made a quick visit to the B's to see Lily and Loosy, neither of whom were particularly overjoyed to see me.  Lily is still pretending to be afraid of the B's and hides under things much of the time but while I was there she did come out and was a little sociable.  They're confused, I think, about how attached to get to the B's, with me going and coming every few days.  But they are getting retrained into new early-morning habits, I hope, which I will try to keep them in when I move south.

The dogs are lovely---Rider, Roxy, and Keely are their names.  Roxy is Rider and Keely's mother, so she's the oldest, but all three are high energy, friendly, and seem to have fallen in love with me.  I tend to be pretty lovey-dovey with them, being deprived of my own animals, and they are eager to be with me.  Rider, who, according to the neighbor, is shy around strangers, seems to be particularly enamored, laying his head in my lap, gazing adoringly as I stroke his ears, bumping my hand up onto his head again if I should tire.  They are Irish Setters and it's a huge pleasure to see them racing hell-bent across the yard, ears and tails flying.  But they are obedient and quick to communicate their own needs and hopes.  Like a walk!