More Walter

Walter has been in his new home with Julie, Dennis and daughters Lydia and Natalie for about eight weeks. Here are the latest developments.

Walter is a Havanese mix. According to Google, this breed is a small, sturdy dog of immense charm. The native dog of Cuba, he is beloved as a friendly, intelligent and playful companion. He is slightly longer than tall, with a long, untrimmed, double coat.

Walter goes to “school” twice a week to the dog day care of the seventy-year old dog whisperer who made house calls earlier. Walter was placed with other small dogs and made a friend.

In fact, his best friend at school is a Maltese named Lila. They hang out together all the time. The dog whisperer took Lila and Walter to Pet Smart recently. So, he’s now up for shopping trips and other outings. On a recent family vacation to their cottage in Door County, Walter had a ride with Julie on a kayak.

Walter has been mostly with smaller dogs like Lila. But when Julie recently picked him up, there he was “hanging with the big boys,” a Pit Bull and a Golden Retriever. Julie said he looked cool, calm and right at home.

Walter has settled into his new home quite well. He’s found a few favorite places. One is on the living room couch and Julie says he is a real couch potato. In fact, he often keeps her company in her home office while she’s working. He has a couch there too.

In the morning he cuddles in bed with Julie and Dennis. But he only cuddles with Dennis during the day. They often nap together. But only during the day.

At night, if Dennis even moves an arm or gets up from a chair, Walter runs away and hides. It’s clear Walter experienced trauma at night and at the hands of men. Julie and I had a long talk about the effects of such trauma and know some of this behavior will never go away completely.

And that’s okay because Walter has become the center of their lives. It’s almost like having a new baby. Case in point. While talking on the phone with Julie, she immediately sent lots of Walter pictures to my e-mail. Just like a new mom.

Now when I talk to Julie our conversation goes like this. How are you? How’s Dennis? How are the girls? How’s Walter.  And off we go.

 

 

The Carpets They Are a-Changing’

TALES FROM THE TERRACE

Hawthorne Terrace’s top-to-bottom redecorating, updating, refurbishing project, stopped during the pandemic, has restarted as of July 1.   And not only are the carpets being changed but every wall is being painted, rooms emptied of all furniture, making way for the new. The culture of the building is quickly going from old and run down to new and sparkly.

This old school has been turned from a senior apartment into simply an apartment; its hallways are filled with young, fot workmen with special skills. It’s exciting to take a daily walk to see the latest transformation. But dark clouds hover.

Residents who’ve been here a long time and others who’ve obviously never seen a construction project up close are full of negative comments, complaints and questions. Again, I’m honoring the privacy of residents and in order to still tell the story, naming all these personalities Maxine, of greeting card fame.

Many Maxine’s are complaining: why did they paint around our doors in that blue color; will they be painting the hallways that same color; I don’t like that dark trim in the hallways; I think the wood flooring in the lobby will be slippery in the winter.

Then the big deal made by legions of Maxine’s about the new carpeting. Blue and grey with the same pattern, down each hallway. In front of each door was a square in the contrasting color. One of the workers explained to me they laid the carpeting quickly so residents would be able to walk the hallway in safety.

Then they went back and changed the square to a triangle. Huge discussion by Maxine’s about the what, where and why of the triangle. Mostly the why. Not liking the pattern, not liking the triangle. Here’s my thought. Clean and fresh carpeting. Who can complain about that?

One of the Maxine’s in particular hasn’t had one positive thing to say about anything. When she complains to me about color or light fixture, I always respond whatever they’re doing, it’s an improvement.  In her usual crotchety cackle, she replies I knew you were going to say something like that. Funny, she and I have only exchanged pleasantries lately. How refreshing.

Another Maxine expected a flurry of workers everywhere so the entire project would be done in a week or two. She seemed perplexed when I explained how a general contractor has to hire and organize sub-contractors to do various parts of the job.

That’s why the women’s room had been closed for over a month in order to install the plumbing for the coffee bar that’s going into the lobby. Then the job was idle until other workers arrived to install the cabinets. Finally, still others will install the coffee dispenser. Let’s stop complaining and just be glad we’re getting a coffee bar!

Still another Maxine wondered why the computer room had to become a construction office. Haven’t you ever seen a construction site where a trailer is set up as a base of operations, I think but don’t say.

I’m bracing myself for a barrage of complaints when the new furniture arrives. That’s right. New furniture in all public areas of the building. I can just hear it. Why did they put that table there? I don’t like that couch. The color of that chair doesn’t go with the room.

Oh, but then, just wait until the new art work arrives. Yes, new art work is planned throughout the building. That replaces the jumble of pieces left by past residents and haphazardly hung everywhere.

I’m waiting breathlessly for the response when the pool table in the card room disappears. And the horror when the bocca ball court is installed in the dining room that’s being turned into a club room.  There are fun times ahead.

I’ve heard about some residents, shall we say, being unfriendly toward the workers. I’ve  heard of one actual yelling incident. They’re only doing their jobs, for heaven’s sake. I’ve found all the workers to be very polite and accommodating. I’ve made it a point to be friendly back.

As my Wednesday night cocktail group was meeting at the lone remaining table in the hallway, a nice young worker approached and apologized with apprehension, saying he had to remove the chairs. I’m sure the afore mentioned yelling incident had warned all workers to beware the wrath of crabby old ladies. We assured him we understood, had a few laughs and made way to the library. His relief was palpable.

I get it that we older residents aren’t the primary customer for this old-made-new building. I get it that change is hard. Uncertainty seems to bring out the worst in some people. The next two or three months will be filled with more changes, improvements, adjustments and surprises. You’ll hear no complaints from me.

 

 

Hey, Mr. Postman

I didn’t know what to think when I opened my mailbox. There was a letter. A real letter. My name and address printed out nicely with a return address, stamp and postmark. I can’t remember the last time I got one. The return address said it was from Lydia, the fifteen-year old daughter of a friend.

After politely introducing herself, Lydia explained she and her sister were writing letters to their family and friends, people of another generation; they wanted to see what their past experiences had been with a pandemic or other kind of crisis.

Then she filled me in on what they were doing during these hard times. My first thought was this was a school project or assignment from her teacher. I’d find out later from her mother, the girls had come up with this idea on their own. The letter was sweet and I answered it promptly.

What came to mind then was the memory of a pen pal I’d had in grade school. My teacher had arranged for our class to pair up with students from England. My pen pal was named Vera. She wanted to be in fashion design. I recall some of her designs on small pieces of paper being tucked into the letters she sent. Funny I so vividly recall those details after all this time.

That just says how letters can be very important. Holding in your hand, a real letter that can be reread anytime is a joy. This came to mind once again when I saw on the news how two teen-age sisters in Boston were affected by their grandmother who lived in London.

She’d expressed great appreciation for their letters and how she couldn’t wait for the next one. So, this prompted them to begin recruiting volunteers, gathering 18,000 across the country to write letters to seniors. The program is called Letters against Isolation.

Soon after, I saw on the local news how Heroes Mail Call is doing a similar thing in Milwaukee. This campaign, sponsored by Kapco, Inc. in Gratton is asking people of all ages to write a letter, draw a picture or create a video to show healthcare workers and those in senior living facilities they are not alone.

Thousands of letters and drawings sent across the country to extend love, care and appreciation during this difficult time. What could be better. My hope is this will reignite the nearly extinct custom of letter writing, help slow down life and give more attention to the simple things. In the meantime, I’m hopeful each time I open my mailbox that another letter will be there to make my day.

 

Walter

I have deep empathy for a dog I’ve never met. His name is Walter, a small, six-year-old terrier-type with one eye.  He whines a lot. Due to the virus, I’ve only heard of him over the phone.

My friend Julie, her husband, Dennis and twin fifteen-year-old daughters, Lydia and Natalie, have adopted a rescue dog. Though getting a dog had been a family decision, Walter has bonded only with Julie. He’s afraid of Dennis. Lydia and Natalie are hesitant. In the early days,

Lydia and Natalie took Walter out for a walk. As soon as they returned home, Walter peed in the kitchen. Upon questioning, it became clear the girls had taken him for a walk with no stops. Time for training. The daughters, not the dog. You need to stop during the walk so Walter can do his business. Oh, okay, they replied.

Though getting a dog had been a family decision, Walter has bonded only with Julie. He’s afraid of Dennis. Lydia and Natalie are hesitant. In the early days, Lydia and Natalie took Walter out for a walk. As soon as they returned home, Walter peed in the kitchen.

Upon questioning, it became clear the girls had taken him for a walk with no stops. Time for training. The daughters, not the dog. You need to stop during the walk so Walter can do his business. Oh, okay, they replied.

Now to Walter’s whining. Julie has hired a dog trainer who comes to the house to check out the situation and advise them. This relieved Julie’s frustration when family poo-pooed all her suggestions. It helps immeasurably, calling in someone with street cred, to say the same thing you’ve been saying all along.

Back to the whining. The dog whisperer’s advice was to give a short, direct command when he whines: Walter, quiet. And it worked. On the next visit, she addressed Walter’s fear of Dennis.

Dennis, a kind man, unaccustomed to such rejection was taking it personally, avoiding Walter. Her advice was for Dennis to feed Walter. Now Walter gets excited when he sees Dennis delivering his food. And Dennis probably feels better too.

The thing with a rescue dog is no one knows what they’ve experienced out there in this cold, cruel world. Walter’s physical injury and his behaviors don’t paint a nice picture.

Both Julie’s and my social work background lead us to think of Walter as an abused child, reacting to present circumstances through the lens of the past. The classic attachment dilemma.

My latest phone call revealed Walter is twice a week spending the day at the dog whisperer’s doggie day care. This will help with his socialization, she said. And guess what. Walter has found a friend. A dog, small like himself. The dog whisperer says they hang out together all day. This is positive news on the relationship building front.

Walter has been with Julie and her family for five weeks. Dog studies say it takes about three months for an animal to feel secure in a new home. I can’t wait for my next phone call with Julie.

The Zen of Not Cooking

I began as most girls of my era, thinking cooking and other domestic activities were the basic principles of being a worthy woman. Mom was my first role model. She toiled away each day putting out hearty meals for her husband and six kids. Twelve-year-old me was impressed by her stamina but decided early on not to follow her lead.

I had two husbands who thought they’d gotten a traditional wife with spatula at the ready; I really disappointed them. When I left, I didn’t take any pots and pans or spices. I only took my clothes. In one case, my dog. And of course, my books (no cookbooks, by the way).

The rocky road meandering through the many kitchens of my life verifies my deficiencies. Cooking is an innate talent. Either you’ve got it or you don’t. And I don’t.

In later years, a friend gave me a card showing a Betty Crocker type woman in the kitchen. The caption read: I have a kitchen because it came with the house. She knew me so well.

I’ve become accustomed to bringing deli or bakery treats to pot lucks and other gatherings.  I veered a bit when I mastered deviled eggs. But I was quick to squelch anyone’s hopes of improved gastronomic prowess; I joked this was the only thing I knew how to make. And I intended to keep it that way.

Being retired and living alone I only have me to please and I’m quite proud of the creative ways I’m meeting my culinary needs. Perhaps some of my activities could qualify as real cooking but experts in haute cuisine may disagree. I’ll let you be the judge.

I haunt only certain sections of the grocery store; envelopes and boxes are the mainstay of my list. The frozen pancakes microwaved, three on a plate, for 1:15 are one favorite. Oatmeal from an individual envelope is microwaved just two minutes with 2/3 cup of water.

Pre-cooked brats go freezer, to microwave to bun in just ninety seconds, complete with my nicely applied mustard and onion slices. Oh but, onion slices; that means I have to visit the spooky aisles of the fresh food section. A harrowing experience indeed.

Perhaps my chili could be considered real cooking but I doubt it since the ingredients come from an envelope. Can browning meat and boiling noodles to add to the envelope’s ingredients be considered real cooking? You decide.  Each batch yields six plastic containers lodged in my freezer to be thawed as needed.

The apartment building where I live has a monthly potluck. I never miss it for food prepared by someone else along with my bakery or deli contribution; an enjoyable social time and little clean-up afterwards.

Best thing ever. In the last year, I discovered a private meal delivery service. On Monday and Wednesday, a fully cooked dinner arrives at my door. Each week, I have two or three choices that include an entrée along with a vegetable and a starch. Three minutes in the microwave. Voila.’ Salads and desserts can be ordered a la carte.

Not sure what I’d do if it wasn’t for lunch with friends. Sometimes I have three in one week. Jane and I plan our trip to the museum around lunch. Poetry breakfast includes food. Pat and I never miss lunch after yoga, a just reward for our hard work. My menu picks often include thoughts of left overs for the evening.

I’ve also transcended the challenge of eating out alone. All I have to do is look around the restaurant to see many others doing the same. I’m in good company. And my Kindle provides more than satisfactory companionship.

All in all, I’m managing quite well and fully accept what I do can’t be considered real cooking. With a refrigerator filled with take-out boxes and lunch dates on my schedule, the Zen of not cooking gives me peace and serenity. Namaste.

The Daughers I Never Had

First is my niece Jujee. This is a complicated relationship. Jujee and I have been close since she was in second grade. I was living out of town and whenever I came for a visit, we followed an established tradition.

We first went shopping at Capitol Court. Then to lunch at McDonalds. Once lunch was finished, I’d ask what to do next. Jujee always said more shopping. I take full responsibility for her prodigious shopping habits.

When she got older, this tradition morphed into going out to lunch. I recall when Jujee was in college and very seriously announced to me she was now an adult, making her own money and thought she should pay for her own lunch now. To this day, and she’s now in her late 40’s married with two children, we go to lunch and pay our own way. And we never talk about her mother.

In the 1970’s and 80’s, while living in Upper Michigan and working at the county social service office, I met Linda. She and I started working there around the same time. We also got laid off at the same time. I still phone with Linda a few times a year. Linda is maybe ten years younger than me.

Another friend, Erin, was like me, a transplant in the UP.  Linda, Erin and I belonged to a craft club together. I recall Erin introducing me to her soon to be husband in a mother/daughter sort of way. Erin and Linda are about the same age.

Next was Lori. In 1985, when I moved down to Milwaukee to go to graduate school, I worked at Rogers Hospital in Oconomowoc. When I was on sick leave, Lori filled in for me. She was the girlfriend of the program director. Talk about professional incest.

When I returned from sick leave, Lori had been covering my work. We shared an office and had great fun trying to make sense of a psychiatric hospital. I don’t know how it started, but we’d close our office door and let out a scream. How unlike me, others may say. But it was fun and we did it to let off steam. Or just for a kick. Lori is twenty years younger than me.

Then after graduate school I started a job, in the Naseau Project. There I met Carolyn, the family nurse practitioner in the same project.  And around the same time, I met Julie. She had been a student in my field placement and then a co-worker.

Carolyn, Julie and I became the self-described Naseau Babes, derived from the name of the project; it will forever be how we identify ourselves. Julie and I have gone to Florida to see Carolyn. Once for her wedding. Carolyn has come to Milwaukee several times. Carolyn and Julie visited me when I lived in Eagle River. It just goes on and on. They are both about twenty years younger than me.

Then there is Stephanie who Julie and I worked with at St. Mary’s. Stephanie taught me how to talk with street cred. This resulted in identifying ourselves as the Stankin’ Ho’s. Believe me, there’s more to that story. Stephanie is twenty-five years younger than me.

So, what’s going on here, many, including my mother have asked. I’m old enough to be the mother of each of these fabulous women. Maybe where I came from tells the story.

I was the oldest of six and chief helper with my three youngest siblings. That wasn’t so bad until I was in high school and had other things on my mind. Hence, my declaration. My mother recalled how I emphatically told her I never wanted to have children.

As an adult and through two marriages, I kept this promise to myself and have no regrets. I saw parenthood as a huge responsibility and wondered how people could bring children into this troubled world. Maybe that’s the social worker in me coming out.

But I don’t feel like the mother of these women or even an older sister. But really a good friend. With each of them, I’ve had a relationship that’s both fun and, other times, serious when meeting the challenges of life’s ups and downs.

We’ve talked about everything and went through it all together. Marriages, divorces, boyfriends, family issues, having children decisions, changing jobs dilemmas, health issues. We’ve shared the spotlight when one or the other had accomplished something big. We’ve supported each other all along the way and talked through all of our life changing conundrums.

I’ve always said age is a matter of the mind.  And this proves it. Though we are from different generations, we have a grasp of what’s important. While I have friends my own age, these wonderful relationships have added a unique perspective to my life and I wouldn’t give them up for anything.

 

 

Should I Go or Should I Stay

Nine poets
Meet once a month
At a restaurant for food and chatting
Then read and critique our poems
We haven’t met since March

Some want to try it
Bring a mask, bring gloves
Each has to do what’s best for them
No shaming no blaming
No judging no grudging

Three of us meet
On my open-air patio
We sit far apart
Bring our own food and drinks
Read our poems and critique

We aren’t wild and crazy gals
Been doing the right thing all along
So fun so safe so glad
Hope more will join
We’ll try again next month

 

 

Breakfast in the Time of Pandemic

My favorite breakfast is at Pegasus.
Two eggs, hash browns, toast, orange juice.
To die for.
Ten minutes from order to delivery with a smile.

With the shut-down I’m forced to do this at home.
Cooking averse me, I’m climbing Mt. Everest.
First, stock up on just right ingredients.
A special trip to the grocery store.

Two small frying pans to the top of the stove.
Cooking oil and heating up one.
Plunk down a handful of hash browns.
Cooking time just right.

Crack eggs into a bowl. Worry the yokes will break.
Then hash browns start to brown. Slow that down.
Heat second pan and wait until just right.
Whatever that is.

Drop eggs into pan. Hope the yokes don’t break.
Watch hash browns for just right browning.
Ladle eggs with spatula to keep them apart.
Are they ready for flipping? Who knows.

Flipping eggs is like threading a needle.
Hope the yokes don’t break.
Tension rises as hash browns and eggs look done.
Oh crap! Forgot the toast.

Turn off the burners and everything sits.
Just a minute. Don’t get cold.
Plate and silverware at the ready.
Eggs. Hash Browns. Toast.

Oh crap! Forgot the orange juice.
Finally, a sigh of exhaustion.
Just not smiling.
Can’t wait for Pegasus to reopen.

Camp Hammock

TALES FROM THE TERRACE

I’ve lived at Hawthorne Terrace for over six years. It’s been one of my joys, enjoying the view of the soccer field across the street. I’ve often spent an entire afternoon taking in the many games happening throughout weekend days. Watching the families and antics of the kids is so fun.

When there is no soccer activity, the field is used by families playing ball, walking the dog, picnics and any number of other gatherings. The late night-parties are another thing.

One unique use to the field I got a particular kick out of was that one person who’d set up a hammock by tying the ends between two trees. They’d often spend the entire afternoon quietly swaying, enjoying the summer day. Then they’d unhook, pack up and leave.

With the virus disrupting the schedule of soccer games, I’m noticing a new phenomenon. Today there are four hammocks in the area of trees just west of the playing field. They are like two separate camps about twenty feet apart. Each camp has two hammocks strung on separate pairs of trees.

Surrounding the hammocks in both camps are bikes and chairs. Someone is sitting in a chair in the sun. Another is doing yoga. Those in the hammocks are swaying in the shade. Sacks that could be for food or books rest against a tree along with a cooler. They are clearly here for the day.

I recall once seeing two people trying to get into one hammock all together. It was pretty funny watching them swing, lose their balance, crawl in, fall out. After a while they gave up and took turns. Another day, two children sat upright in the hammock and swayed as though it’s a rocking chair.

Another day, one hammock dweller had five or six kids hanging around on their bikes. For a while they moved near the field to play catch. Then they got on their bikes and left.  Just one person remained swaying in the hammock.  A family with small children come by, stop and chat before moving on.

So, who are these people, I wonder? What brings them here? Possibly apartment dwellers who don’t have a back yard. Or maybe it’s just for a change of scenery. The way they come and go, they appear to know each other.

Perhaps they are nearby neighbors. I seldom see a car parked on the street so they either walk or ride bikes to the field. Are they here because public parks are still closed due to the pandemic? Whatever is going on, it’s an interesting sight and helps me feel less isolated as I pass the time trying to figure it all out.

 

 

Compassion in the Time of Pandemic

Our survival as a species depends on our ability to recognize that our well-being and the well-being of others are, in fact, one and the same. The problem is that we are taught behaviors that disconnect us from this natural awareness. It’s not that we have to learn how to be compassionate, we have to unlearn what we’ve been taught and get back to compassion.
Marshall Rosenberg, Sun Magazine, February 2003

The pandemic is teaching many lessons. Watching the nightly news shows the courage and selflessness of everyday people. The health care workers who are now cheered from the windows of Manhattan apartment buildings every evening. The teachers who do a drive-by to wave to each of their students, sequestered at home. The volunteers at the local food pantry, carrying bags of groceries out to a waiting car.

But then, there’s the other ones. The ones who defy wearing a mask in the name of freedom. Worse yet, those who shame and attack someone who does wear one. Then, the ones who bring an assault weapon to a protest, signifying their patriotism. The masses who can’t wait until its safe, instead flock out for a beer or to the beach.  I’m comforted when polls show they are a minority. But still I wonder.

I spend day after day in the confines of my home; my only trips (masked) out into the world are to the grocery and pharmacy. With an occasional visit to a drive-through for a coveted burger and fries. I’ve learned to live without my yoga class, writing class and poetry group.

Yet, I feel so fortunate. Being retired, I don’t have to report to a dangerous work place in order to buy food and pay my bills. Money appears in my bank account, automatically, without fail each month. I’m living in a relatively safe building, in a relatively safe neighborhood.

Single and living alone, I make it a point to talk to a real person every day. Sometimes it’s one of a few friends in my building. We sit on the patio if the weather permits or in the lobby waiting for the mail. More often, I call someone. It’s great to hear a familiar voice and catch up. I laugh when answering the usual what’s new? question with a giggling and a sigh of nothing much.

New phrases have entered our daily vocabulary. We’ll get through this together. Take care, stay safe.  Are they true? Will these feelings endure? Friends muse, conjecture, that things will be different once this is over. We’ll reach a new normal. I can hope. But I wonder.

 

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