TWILIGHT

July 4, 2017

As I approach what usually are considered “The Twilight Years” ( a term having the purpose of avoiding the obvious —- one may not have too much time left!), fleeting thoughts abandon their comfortable cover and begin to surge forward to the uppermost reaches of Ponder.

In my case, I spend much of my waking time trying to decide whether I should be considering leaving my comfortable surroundings for new vistas, or be satisfied with the present. In fact, I’ve made this into a Quest only a bit less showy than the one for the Holy Grail, perhaps only because it lacks some of the spiritual overtones. I’ve always been somewhat of a worrier, and if I’ve been assured that “There’s nothing to worry about”, I’ll make up something. I worry about what I would do if something major breaks down in my house, will I be able to afford to fix it? What is the status of my health issues, as they relate to non-Medicare or Medicare supplemental coverage issues?

And then of course there’s the ever-popular dental concerns: imagine my surprise when, after attaining the long-sought age of 65, when Medicare kicks in, I discovered that it doesn’t cover dental issues. Now I had been nursing along a relatively small mutual fund, which had grown to the princely amount of around $70,000. Soon after reaching 65, $25,000 of that went rather quickly for several implants and crown replacements; that was followed by the Great Recession, which lowered it down to $26,000. And this year, more implants and another $6000. You see my worry, there are still a few teeth left. And the original intent for the money was to fund world travel in my retirement. There’s enough left to get to a few places on this continent, maybe. (Did I just feel a small twinge in my lower jaw?)

Every few weeks in the summer, I question the wisdom of mowing the lawn, which has become an arduous task of 40 minutes followed by a couple of days of sore muscles. Yes, I can hire it done, but there’s something about caring as much as possible for one’s own stuff. That includes the lawn. When I visit my wife in her North Carolina townhouse, I’m jealous of her not having to do the lawn, but that jealousy doesn’t extend to wanting to have to endure the horrors of a Home Owner’s Association. I recognize that I’m thankful that there is no HOA to intrude upon my happy life. I do recall though that last winter, I realized that even though 15 minutes is not much time and energy spent in shoveling snow, it sometimes is a frequent unappreciated visitor to interrupt more important activities — like meeting my friends for coffee.

And so, I began to look around for a lifestyle that would take care of those things, and provide me more time to —- do what? I started reflecting on what actually I do during the day, and if I were to live elsewhere, how would my daily life be different? Are there things I would miss (not the lawn or snow).

First, I needed to catalog why I would want to leave this small town that has been my home base for 45 years, and which has, in general, served most of my needs quite well. For instance, its relative isolation (32 miles to the next real town) makes a trip to the nearest Walmart a special occasion, 55 miles away. On the other hand, having to drive 120 miles to the nearest decent airline terminal, accompanied by the higher fares just to reach a major hub, is disconcerting. I sometimes drive 7 hours to the Denver airport to save a few hundred dollars, and help their local economy be paying for airport parking.

Over the years, we have experienced increasing access to most of the major medical specialties, with doctors coming from major centers in Casper, Billings, and Cody on a regular basis. Occasionally there’s a need to go to one of those locations rather than wait a week or two for a provider’s next local appearance, but on those occasions one can “get in” right away. This is something one doesn’t find regularly in large urban areas; patients probably discover that the name “patient” was derived from the long waiting periods before getting an appointment. And of course, if there’s a need, the local doctors can refer you to one of the Nirvana’s like the Mayo Clinic, which was done for me five years ago, or the Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, as was done for several local folks having major problems.

I’ve visited a number of different levels of retirement living facilities and locations, and although most of them offer lots of amenities, they don’t fit with my personal comfort. I like South Carolina just across the border from Charlotte, NC, low cost of living, availability of things I like to do like inexpensive golf, nearness to my wife and son’s family. But I don’t like the climate, the lack of openness in the landscape, and the Eastern Time Zone. When I visit, I find that I don’t get to bed until midnight or later, and don’t get up and dressed until 10 a.m. the next day. Although South Carolina has a state income tax, they don’t tax the first $50,000 of retirement income, which means I wouldn’t be paying much if anything. The kind of apartment I would be wanting to rent, a two-bedroom, would be about $1200, affordable when compared with my present house payment plus utilities.

More recently, I visited several places in and around Frisco, Texas, a Dallas northern suburb where my other son and his family live. The best place I’ve found was an apartment complex which provides lots of amenities included in the rent, is located adjacent to a large “medical mall” of about 30 medical specialties, and across the street from extensive shopping including two grocery stores and a Macy’s-Nordstrom mall. It has a lake with fish, on the property, and one can garden if you choose. Rent for a two-bedroom apartment was around $1200. But it’s in Texas, a terrible climate fraught with tornadoes, ice storms, humidity; and then there’s all the traffic. I’m just not comfortable with all that. At least there’s no state income tax, but I think they make up for it with high sales taxes and personal property taxes. I would be happy in this complex, if it was in Wyoming.

Which brings me to my next stop, Cheyenne, which is a comfortable 85 miles from the Denver airport and those lovable Broncos and Rockies. I looked at two properties, similar in that they provide three meals a day, seven days a week, and have lots of structured activities for the residents. But I was totally uncomfortable in each, after viewing the residents in the dining area. Earlier, in visiting a similar facility in Texas, it had been explained to me that there are in fact a couple of levels of what is described as “Independent Living”, and that in that place as well as in both of these, their interpretation of the term was that the person is mobile and can handle the major life needs such as dressing, eating, keeping track of meds, personal hygiene, etc.  I asked “how active are these folks”; from the looks of them it might be they have races with their walkers to the dining room. Although I was told that the average age is around 78 (my age), they appeared to me to be in some kind of celestial waiting room, awaiting the call “Next” to depart for the next level of existence. I saw a few sitting outside on benches, staring at nothing in particular.

I may be 78, but I don’t think of myself as old other than the myriad of health issues that occasionally limit activity, or the effect on my golf game. I am active, these people aren’t. And although these would be nice places to live under the care and supervision of trained personnel, it’s not yet my need. And they don’t provide anything other than a small refrigerator in the apartments, and you can only have a microwave. I like to cook.

Several of the facilities like this have one or two levels of living beyond the Independent Living. The next rung up the ladder is Assisted Living, and the usual definition is that at least two of the six major living skills need assistance. In our case, my wife and I began purchasing Long Term Care Insurance 15 years ago, and I was told by administrators at several of these places that LTC is an extremely wise choice to make. For us, once certified for Assisted Living most of the costs would be covered by the insurance, up to five years. And as a resident continues to decline, some of the places have nursing home, hospice, or memory units. The ones I looked at in Cheyenne had costs ranging from $1800/month for a studio apartment with all meals provided along with utilities, up to $3500. The Assisted Living costs shoot up from there, and may be $9000 or so a month. Our insurance will cover most, if not all, of that.

Finally, I checked out the Wyoming Pioneer Home, an Assisted Living facility located in Hot Springs State Park, in my home of Thermopolis. Under the State of Wyoming, it provides living accommodations and care for longtime Wyoming residents in a park like setting. However, it would not fit my lifestyle at this stage of my life; in general, the residents live in various sizes of one room units each with its own bathroom. I would be far too restricted, unless I was to the point that I couldn’t be mobile. I need my space!

I guess to summarize, at least in Thermopolis I know my plumber, where to get my car fixed, the butcher in the grocery store to cut me just the right size prime rib, the folks at the hardware/garden store that are an unending source of help, local medical and governmental employees ready immediately to offer assistance when needed, etc, etc, etc. Lots of them are former students of mine, and we often chat about those “remember when” kinds of things from years ago. I’ve even threatened to go back to their files and change their grades, if they don’t treat me right.  Living here is easy, and so far I’ve not found anywhere else as economically inexpensive to live. And there’s my minimal work as a volunteer on the Wyoming Dinosaur Center Board, and temporarily as a member of the local committee getting ready for next month’s total eclipse of the sun. I’m in charge of having a “star party” the night before the eclipse, and have invited two retired professional astronomers to help with that. I finally get to use my Astronomy major!

But times change; we don’t know what will happen with income to the state and its effect on property taxes and other sources of income. That will cause major reductions of services statewide. And certainly as long as the Republican Party controls most legislative and executive branches at all levels, adequate funding for the purposes set forth by the Founding Fathers in the preamble to the U.S. Constitution will suffer. Our current leaders seem to ignore the facts that regulations and laws were created to address perceived problems, and doing away with those that were proving successful will only bring back the issues from which they emerged. Yes, it’s nice to contemplate having more “disposable cash”, but at what cost? I shudder whenever I hear people express thoughts about “the evils of socialism”, when in fact the countries enjoying the highest standards of living in the world, are democratic socialistic governments. Yet they have their million and billionaires, along with health treatment for all, thriving business and industry, and effective systems of education. I lived in a country that had a socialistic government when I was in the Peace Corps, and saw how it benefited the greatest number of folks while still allowing for private enterprise.  We  have a long way to go to get to that point with our fellow citizens, and the way to get there is being made even more difficult by our current President and his cronies who apparently are out to undue everything, from some type of personal animus ,that his predecessor accomplished regardless of  whether it was successful or not. Throw in the spices of intolerance, bigotry, and misogyny, along with isolationism and truculence, and we are faced with some very dangerous waters. Let’s not succumb!

Always Be Happy      To Our Youth

 

Whelmed Under

June 5, 2017

Writing, to me, has in recent years been an activity that has provided a calming influence in times of stress; much unlike the effects of my usual golf game.

My normal writing routine begins when some new event or topic arises, something that catches my attention to the degree that I want to think more about it. Never having been one of those persons gifted in the skill of rapid verbal argument, I’m much more comfortable with the measured placement of words on some variant of a document, closely paralleling the rate of my thought processes and representing some period of serious analysis leading toward closure. I would guess that the comment, “Let me think about that”, accurately describes my modus operandi, and in fact has served me well in keeping me out of trouble and preventing poorly-considered actions.

As far as most of my blog topics are concerned, they have generally been single events allowing me the luxury of “taking a sample and rolling it around in my mouth until I decide that it does indeed taste good, and deserves a place in my menu.” Each of these is subject to what I’ve referred to in the past as being “filtered” through the screen of my background of experience and knowledge, and therefore forms an opinion unique to my particular world view. That doesn’t guarantee that it coincides with the opinions of others, generated through their own screening processes, but it provides me with the satisfaction of some degree of closure and a sense of stability in my own world.

But I’ve run into a major dilemma, insofar as my personal peace of mind is concerned. Those other topics which I addressed sprang up unencumbered by others that would further complicate the analytic processes, they essentially “stood on their own” within my daily habitual perceptions of the world around. That is not the case today; each day a new concern arises, many of them far beyond my personal comfort, and threatening to the total stability not only of our own country but also of the world in general.

If I am to write about these warps in the usually smooth fabric of my daily life, where do I start? Do I once again harp on the topic of Denial, which runs rampant not only through the executive branch of our government but has also found a home in generous portions of our legislatures throughout the country and in Congress?

Do I write about my personal anger, an example of which occurred last week when I was watching an interview with Senator Mike Lee of Utah, on Meet the Press Daily. He was spouting one lie or half-truth after another, and Mr. Todd not only seemed unable to effectively counter, there was no latitude left for corrective action. I even threw a couple of things at the TV (soft items, that was once an expensive TV)! Lee, as well as the head of the EPA, both seem to think that by talking loudly and fast, and widening their eyes while wrinkling their brows to project sincerity, they become believable. Not so.

Do I rant again about the revelation that massive amounts of bigotry, both racial and religious, have left their covert warrens and emerged full-blown into governmental processes, including the judiciary?

Do I attack the “Karl Rove tactics” of the right wing that successfully and falsely painted our last President as evil and bigoted, and on a mission to destroy our country?  And what about the Executive Orders that he had to create to try and move the country forward when Congress, following the lead of Senator Mitch McConnell, refused to consider anything proposed by Mr. Obama and at the same time did nothing to address problems?

And what about Standards?  Many of the persons in major positions of leadership are flawed with moral and ethical character issues, yet have been elected over others less tainted. There’s talk about ignoring Political Correctness as if it’s a cancer on society; in reality it’s merely an effective method of minimizing conflict so that productive processes may yield greater successes.

These and so many other concerns have overloaded my mind and in a sense, rendered me more non-functional than I would like to be. I won’t address the promises to bring back coal jobs, when there are an estimated 600,000 renewable energy jobs waiting. Nor will I point out that those terrorists aligning themselves as “true Muslims” are in fact denying that ultimately, true faith lies in the depth of commitment by each individual toward his personal concept of a Supreme Being. These tumors on the Human Race have nothing to do with religious commitment.

And so, I’m going to rest for a while and see if any of these things get sorted out. In the meantime, I can dwell on all my continuing health issues and see how I can overcome them sufficiently to complete a round of golf.

 

Always Be Happy        To Our Youth

WORDS

April 22, 2017

 

I’ve always liked words, but more than a passing interest was stimulated by the excellent English teachers I had in high school. Along with the usual chores of reading a huge variety of books and short stories, there was an overwhelming emphasis on vocabulary development, dredging examples of the use of items in the weekly word lists from any source, not only just from the assigned work. With some rarely-used words from that era, such as “serendipity”, we could gain special favor from the teachers with a solid example; that particular word has become ubiquitous (another word from our lists) and is in danger of falling into the well of overuse.

I have slowly become concerned regarding trends in changes to the meaning of words, given that it results in potential confusion and difficulties in achieving satisfactory communication. My first inkling of problems began probably back in the 80’s, when words such as “awesome”, and “incredible” began to be applied to situations which definitely had not achieved a state in order to be described in that fashion. Perhaps in many instances, “interesting”, “unusual”, or other less powerful nuggets would more accurately convey the reality of the event. From my perspective, such words were “reserved” for things that deserved elevation to the level of superlative, for if they were to be applied to less spectacular circumstances, then what were we to use when something actually deserving of the words occurred?

My concern has recently been put on high alert, as a cascade of misused hyperbole has issued forth from our new President as he attempts unsuccessfully to curry favor among groups from whom he has so far received little support. Not only has he intentionally launched attacks on a variety of major portions of the fabric which is America, health care, environment, immigration, education, and other elements, he is perhaps unintentionally lessening the effective use of our English language as he showers his speeches with “fantastic”, “outstanding”, “incredible”, and all of their partners in meaning. What is even more discouraging is that so far, nothing he has done comes close to earning any of those labels, unless they are applied to the negative actions he has initiated which appear to further erode most of the progress made over the past several decades toward improving the Human Condition.

As a Corollary to my concern, the word “Recourse” lifts its head as I look at the array of appointees he has placed into positions supposedly of Leadership, but fail in the actual productive performance toward “Greatness” due to lack of skills, knowledge, experience, or perhaps even more because of major dysfunctional attitudes toward each of the areas I referred to previously. I, along with most of my friends and colleagues, have become extremely anxious and discouraged about the future, not only regarding our personal comfort but more significantly toward the future of our beloved country. We see no RECOURSE, there is no path we can follow to address concerns that arise to further emaciate our treasured hopes and dreams.

There have been so many troubling things which have emerged during the past two years; one, the emergence of major bigotry in support of a candidate totally unsuited to be in the office to which he was elected by a flaw in the system; two, the existence of an attitude which is pervasive and destructive among persons now in positions to wreak havoc in their areas of responsibility; third, the performance of the Republican Party in allowing all of this to occur, most sitting silently and merely hoping it will go away instead of doing something about it; and fourth, the leaders of the two houses in Congress who have intentionally promoted actions to hamstring any reasonable legislative interactions to address emerging problems affecting the nation. In fact, I blame Senator McConnell for much of the current state of affairs, and refer to examples such as his stated opposition to doing anything which our previous President proposed, effectively shutting down any meaningful  performance in the legislative arena. Mr. Ryan is no better, but different in that he continues to be obsessed with cutting expenditures even if such cuts further undermine the government to function, lessen the ability of millions of our fellow citizens to fully-participate in the benefits of living in America, and further  feather the nests of the rich and powerful.

Both of these individuals continue to ignore the basic tenets set forth by the Founding Fathers in the Preamble to our Constitution:

“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

Always Be Happy   To Our Youth

On The Road Again

April 4, 2017

 

Depending upon one’s perspective, driving long distances alone may be either beneficial or potentially destructive, given the long hours available for deep thought. I try to lessen its effects by listening to the unending hours of speculation on XM radio; however, that has only managed to have me probe more deeply into the depression I’ve suffered since the presidential election and its collateral damage.

My thoughts continually refer back to a previous blog I wrote, one in which I pointed out the differences between “ignorant”, “dumb”, and “stupid”. Most of what I’ve seen since that election falls into the realm of the latter and apparently seems to be taking on aspects of a snowball accumulating more volume while rolling downhill. Stupid is when reality is ignored in favor of what someone or some group would like to see, rather than what is.

During the past two months I’ve completed several trips, the first flying to Charlotte, NC, to visit my wife and watch our two older grandsons pursue their various athletic activities. Attending three basketball games and a swim meet were the high points; the low point was the gradual onset of tendinitis in my left Achilles tendon, causing some pain and limited mobility. Not wanting to spend a lot on a cane, as I have several back home, my wife and I went to a GoodWill Store to see if we could find an inexpensive example. Unfortunately, there were none, but my wife had the brilliant idea of using a golf club from among the large array reposing in a large tub on the sales floor. We selected a 4 iron, which seemed to be the appropriate length for my height, and I used its support throughout the remainder of my stay. I was not,  however, able to take it through security when boarding my flight home. If it were a real cane, then it would have passed through, but not as a golf club being used as a cane. Rules are rules. So I limped and suppressed any whimpering.

In the few days at home before leaving on my next trip, to Texas for a weekend of celebrating the birthdays of our two youngest grandkids, ages one and three, I spent time resting the leg and calculating whether I really could get a massage chair into the back of my Honda CR-V with the rear seats folded down. The big day finally arrived, the one in which I had arranged for two Mormon missionaries to help me get the 185 lb. chair into the car. They are required to do community help work along with their standard assignments, and are a great resource. We ultimately were successful in loading the chair, but not until we turned it upside down and attached it briefly to an extension cord in order to flatten it out a bit to get through the rear entrance. The chair, which I’ve had and used happily for several years but no longer provided the needed help, I was giving to my son and his wife, both of whom suffer from back injuries and accompanying pain. She was a member of the US Gymnastics Team at one time, and is now reaping the physical rewards of all those years of competition and injuries. he played football, basketball, and was a member of the 82nd Airborne, all sources of pain and suffering.

The trip down was highlighted by a stopover in Pueblo, Colorado, to visit my friends Molly and Joe  whom I had met during my year or so in Kemmerer, Wyoming, filling in as Special Education Director and Alternative High School Principal until a suitable replacement could be found. I had met Joe while playing golf at Fossil Island Golf Course, a name which caused me to have to explain to persons elsewhere that it was not a retirement community. His wife occasionally substituted in the schools, and both are highly intellectual apart from Joe’s commitment to golf. After his retirement from working at the local power plant, they had moved to Pueblo to escape the sometimes brutal Wyoming winters and had happily immersed themselves in several volunteer activities, Molly to a community soup kitchen and Joe to a sort of halfway house for persons undergoing significant psychiatric treatment.

Joe has sufficient expertise for his work, having himself been diagnosed (incorrectly as it turns out) schizophrenic early in life and having struggled through a variety of episodes including violence, incarceration, and institutionalization at varying periods in his life. He responded effectively through a combination of treatments and personal ability to overcome obstacles, to secure a degree from the University of Arizona and to write and publish a book, “Life Under A Cloud”, that details his lifelong search for security and peace of mind in spite of the issues which society heaps onto persons suffering mental hardships. I highly recommend the book ; it offers major insights into a world of pain and suffering but one which often is misunderstood and relegated to the backburners of treatment.

From Pueblo, I went on to Frisco, Texas, my destination, and arranged to collect my wife from the Dallas Airport. The weekend was spent helping host a birthday party for the two youngsters, the emphasis being on the one-year-old since her brother had already been recognized earlier in the month. Many friends of my son and his wife attended, along with their own collections of infants, toddlers, and older single digit youngsters. We were thus able to enjoy several  hours of entertainment similar to that which would come with cooking popcorn without using a lid, a complete absence of peace and quiet. At our ages, those are two cherished states only discovered after one reaches Medicare eligibility. The high point came with the presentation of the birthday cake and watching the guest of honor plunge her face into the generous layer of frosting once the candles were extinguished with the help of her brother. The family dog and cat were noticeably absent from the festivities, evidently feeling that there was more turmoil than necessary for the own peaceful existence.

We were able to return to our hotel for the balance of the evening, to rest for the next day’s additional birthday celebration; this time for one of the other youngsters who had attended “our” party. But this one was quite different; the parents had wisely booked a session at an emporium called “Jump it Up”, a collection of large scale inflated play areas including slides, Ninja courses, and other offerings requiring loud screams and squeals in order to participate. As I wandered about observing, I kept thinking I was looking at a high level Chucky Cheese operation which shares many of the same characteristics: lots of irritating noise and random chaos, activities focused on removing as much money as possible from patrons, and extruding an aura which I hope never to have to suffer again. The hour and a half ended with servings of ice cream and cake for the approximately 18-20 participants and everyone departed. And those wise parents enjoyed not having to clean up any large scale mess afterwards. Money well spent!

Later that evening back at my son’s home, we spent time chatting and said our goodbyes before heading back to the hotel; the next morning we departed for the airport for my wife’s early flight. After dropping her off, I headed up the interstate looking forward to a few restful days uninterrupted by intrusions into my normal reverie; however, before I had even traveled an hour I encountered a major traffic backup short of crossing the Red River into Oklahoma. No detour instructions were given, so I wandered east and west for an hour or so before I stopped at a farm implement store to ask directions. There, I found out that there had been a hazardous material spill on the bridge, and it would be quite a while before that route would be opened. I was offered two choices, one east about 30 miles before resuming my northern route, or west toward a familiar drive across the somewhat featureless plains of the Texas Panhandle through Amarillo and Raton, New Mexico, to Colorado. I chose that direction and headed out.

The rest of the trip home was uneventful, which is what wants when traveling, especially when flying. I managed to get to Casper, Wyoming early enough to get servicing done on my Honda CR-V which I had purchased new June 30, 2015. As I write, it now has 43,000 babied miles on it. I like to travel.

Well, a few days at home for laundry and reacquaintance with my blind cat Timothy, and off again, this time to work as a volunteer in the LPGA Founders Cup golf Tournament in Phoenix. This would be my second time doing so; I find that the women’s tournaments are a bit less intense than the men’s, and that they really seem to enjoy and support one another as the competition unfolds.

One of the benefits of this kind of volunteerism is that one’s travel expenses are tax deductible as long as it’s a charitable event, a great perk for the event’s sponsors as a way to lure the great number of volunteers necessary. This tournament only has about 800-900; the Wells Fargo men’s tournament I work in, in Charlotte, has over 2300! One can volunteer for most tournaments, needing only to get on the tourney’s website and enter the dropdown “volunteer” menu. It’s a good way to travel to neat places and that tax write off really helps. Be aware that you have to purchase an outfit, usually a shirt and hat, and the cost varies from $50-$150l depending upon the tournament. But your meals are taken care of, along with free tickets for the tournament and free parking. At this tournament, I had six tickets to give away. Usually, you are committed to work only three or four shifts during the seven day duration of activities beginning with practice rounds on Monday and ending with Sunday’s conclusion. A shift is generally about 6 hours and you can apply for morning or afternoon; at the same time there are lots of committees whose duties are described on the website and you are asked to identify your preferences.

At this tournament, I worked Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday afternoons, and could use my pass on the other days if I so chose. However, I wasn’t able to do much walking due to my uncooperative Achilles, and the unexpected heat wave of 90’s for this time of the year was highly enervating, so I did other activities along with Brad, my longtime friend and golf partner who lives in Phoenix and recently bought a new house. We played nine holes at rather shabby pitch-and-putt course, but again, my leg prevented doing any serious golfing which would normally be our major focus. Instead, I was introduced to my first pro hockey game although given their current level of success, some persons describe the Coyotes as less than professional level. Brad has two tickets to a select 20 games a season, and I really enjoyed the experience; it was much more exciting than those days I watched the Chicago Black Hawks on my 9-inch black and white tv back in the 60’s, when I worked in Gary, Indiana.

One of the other benefits of this trip was finally being able to try an In-and-Out Burger, one ballyhooed far and wide as the best of all burgers. And yes, I have to admit that it was very good, and enhanced by the relatively low price of $2.50 for a double burger. I understand that they are only available in California, Texas, Utah, New Mexico, and Arizona; I consider this an un-American situation and hope that our new President does something about it. After all, it might be one thing that he’s capable of; so far I’m  not only unappreciative of his performance but genuinely depressed about the prospects for the future.

Upon leaving Phoenix, I headed 80 miles to Prescott to once again consider it as a location if I should ever decide to move from the comforts, and chilly winters, in Wyoming. Prescott is at an elevation of about 5000 feet and as so, enjoys four mild seasons significantly away from the brutal temperatures in southern Arizona during the summer. In fact, I understand that many Phoenix folks have “summer homes” in Prescott. On the other hand, it’s not as high as 7000’ Flagstaff, just 35 miles to the north and having a nickname, “The Snow Bowl” during the winter to attract skiers.

Prescott itself is an older community and characterized by a town square, trees and hills, actual neighborhoods, and all the marks of a settled community. At the same time, its nearby brethren of Prescott Valley, Chino Valley, Dewey-Humboldt, and other small surrounding towns are quite different, each with its own unique character. To me, Prescott Valley is a sprawling, new area of malls, housing developments, traffic signals and tie-ups, and glitz. It seems very artificial, to me, and not a place in which I would be comfortable. About four years ago when I was thinking of moving there, I passed up a three bedroom, double garage five year old house for $79000, during the depression. Today it would probably be about $200,000, so there goes another one of those bad decisions. But I don’t think I would have found life to be as easy as it is here in little Thermopolis. More on that later.

I spent some time looking at available choices for rentals; there are in fact several beautiful complexes for low income retirees (max $25,000), and some others that retirees can buy into for $230,000 and then pay $3500/month for their meals and other expenses. Definitely not in my plans. I visited one 3-floor apartment building in the form of a square with an inner courtyard; it was mostly one bedroom apartments for $1500/ month, with great views if your apartment is on the outer side. Otherwise, you’re looking down into an inner courtyard containing a swimming pool and Jacuzzi. But the building itself was featureless; all the hallways were alike and blandly beige; you couldn’t distinguish one from another. And two rooms is too confining for my tastes.

After lunching on Sunday at a local golf course with my friend Ramona, a colleague from my Special Education days in Wyoming and who retired to Prescott several years ago, and looking at retirement lodging on Monday, I headed over to the gorgeous town of Sedona to spend the evening and overnight with my friend Rick, a retired urologist from Laramie-Steamboat Springs and his wife Jane, his former nurse. I cannot think of anywhere I’ve seen that’s more scenic than Sedona, and that includes having lived in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, at the base of the Grand Teton. And according to real estate listings, the average house cost is about $450,000, indicating the level of home owner to be found there. My friends have a home high above the valley, with breathtaking views in many directions from their windows and the encircling balcony attached to their home. I took them to dine at a very nice local Mexican restaurant and limited the number of Margaritas they could consume, showing my concern for their health (and the amount of the check).

I headed out toward home early the next morning, and spent an enjoyable day passing through some of my favorite scenery including Monument Valley on the Arizona-Utah border. I always expect to see John Wayne come galloping through, or Chevy Chase on his Vacation jaunt in that station wagon with Imogene Coca tied to the roof, but not this time. Later in the day I passed through Moab, which during my first visits in the 60’s was a relatively small residential town informally attached to the successes of the major uranium strike nearby. I had friends who owned a “ranch” high up in Castle Valley on the flanks of the LaSal mountains, 27 miles from town; my wife and I had spent three days there when on our honeymoon. Nowadays, it’s booming mecca for 4-wheeling and mountain bike enthusiasts, and congested with motels, fast food, and jeep/bike rental depots. Surrounding scenery is spectacular, including Canyonlands National Park, Arches National Park, and Dead Horse Point State Park, but one of my favorite things is driving the River Road which is Utah Highway 128 and follows the Colorado River Canyon for about 30 miles toward Interstate 70 and Grand Junction, Colorado. Along the way, it passes below Castle Rock, the sandstone pillar that GM used to put Chevy’s on top of for their TV ads, and other rock formations of Priests and Nuns,  and Fisher Towers. Quite beautiful, but there are lots of curves.

Years ago, a group of my buddies and I took a raft down the Colorado River in this area; it was our first experience with rapids and I fell out the first time through. Since we didn’t hit anything because the water took us around the rocks, we spent some pleasant hours going through backwards, sideways, and any other way due to our inability to steer the bulky rubber raft.

After  spending the night in one of my favorite hotels, the America’s Best Family Value Inn in Grand Junction, I headed home. The hotel is one of a national chain of “budget” (cheap) such facilities; they are ones that have been retrieved from former quality establishments but which have outlived their glamour. The chain evidently allows local franchises; the buildings may or may not be refurbished, so that there is a wide variance among them as to their condition and amenities. I’ve stayed in this one on several occasions; it meets all of my requirements regarding cleanliness, comfort, condition, and price, putting it roughly at the level of a Comfort Inn or LaQuinta but for less money. I made It home in early afternoon, time enough to collect my mail at the post office, replenish groceries, and start the laundry. Altogether, a most enjoyable trip!

Earlier in this account of my saga, I mentioned I would comment some more about life in Thermopolis as compared with considering moving to a warmer clime. Well, that decision is far more complicated than one would initially assume. In the first place, living in Wyoming and in Thermopolis in particular for 45 years, establishes roots and routines that are difficult to shed, and which would present difficulty for someone of my advanced years (78) to recreate in a new environment. I know where to get my car repaired, who will do my indoor plumbing (yes, we have that in Wyoming!), who handles renewing my driver’s license, where to get lawn fertilizer, who can shovel my snow and mow my lawn when I’m not able, how does the Home Health Care service work, how often to use the fitness equipment at the rehab center and how my physical therapy fits in, what to do about transportation if I’m no longer mobile, and on and on. One sort of all-encompassing benefit is that many of the folks in charge of things were once students in my middle school, when I was the principal. I sometimes threaten to go back to the files and change their transcripts if I don’t get decent service, but so far haven’t needed to do so. Our tax preparer, a gal who was the star of our first 8th grade girls basketball team (I started girls’ athletics back in the 70’s) just came through with a healthy tax refund. Another former student, one who felt the sting of the paddle rather than staying after school, is doing pre-summer maintenance on my lawn mower. I needed some skin cancer follow up and called the doctor’s office; they got me in the same day just as all the other health services usually are able to do. That can’t be done in a larger community.

So you see, the elements of daily living are quite easy to access. Of course, there are some negatives; cardiologists, neurologists, dermatologists, and all the other ologists have their offices in Casper (120 miles), and Cody (80 miles), but come to our town or the one next door (35 miles) on a weekly basis although the option exists to travel to their towns if one so chooses. The latter is sometimes preferred in order to help the local economies in those locations. The closest Walmart is 55 miles from here, which many consider a benefit.

The closest semi-major airport is 120 miles away although there are smaller facilities closer in Cody, Riverton, and Worland. However, some of the smaller feeder airlines require passengers to wear a long silk scarf and leather helmet with goggles upon boarding. I use either United or Delta, from Casper and connect to hubs in Denver or Salt Lake City.

Locally, if I need transportation, bus service is available through the local Senior Citizens’ Center or the rehabilitation center, for a small fee or donation. The Foster Grandparents Program also has bus service for its volunteers. Very few larger communities can boast of such an array of options; in fact, several I contacted said that they used to have some but their grants ran out.

Then there are my activities. I’ve been on the Board at the Big Horn Basin Foundation, the educational arm of the Wyoming Dinosaur Center, and which has been rated the #1 such museum in the U.S. and #6 in the world. And we’re having a ground breaking this month to begin construction of an even larger center, more than twice the size and with many more specimens. Some of them are excavated locally in the hills adjoining the town to the south; our largest (106’ long) is from a site near Douglas, Wyoming where we have digging rights. I really enjoy going to the Center and sometimes just sitting and contemplating how such creatures could actually have roamed about this area, intimidating any other living objects that came across their path.

If I have aches and pains, we have what is allegedly the World’s Largest Mineral Hot Springs located in the State Park next to the town. A State-owned free bath house is maintained in accordance with the treaty signed with the Shoshone Indians in which the springs were turned over to the government with the understanding that their use would be free forever. The facility is maintained spotlessly, and is an attractive benefit to living here. It is joined by two commercial facilities also making use of the water, but having swimming pools, soaking pools, saunas, and long slides for its paying customers. One can buy an annual membership for about $120, to each of them.

I’m also a golfer, but less avid than in my younger years. Our nine-hole course is well-maintained and challenging, and costs $528 a year for a membership. No other costs are necessary unless one wants to put a privately-owned car in the storage building, which requires additional costs.

The cost of living in Wyoming is usually targeted as one of the top 3 least expensive states in which to live. That begins with no state income tax and is compounded with low property and sales taxes, gasoline taxes generally at or far below national averages, affordable utilities, and reasonable real estate costs. I’ve compared food costs with other places as I travel, they all seem to be about the same regardless of where one goes.

From all of this, you can see my difficulty in considering elsewhere to spend my later years. Of course, I would like to be much nearer to my family, particularly if residence in an institutional kind of facility lies in my future. Among the thoughts I entertain while driving on those long trips, the necessity to leave all of this behind overshadows many of my other concerns including the depression I think I’m suffering along with many of my far-flung friends about what appears to be the erosion of our beloved country.

Wyoming is somewhat unusual politically, it has been described as “the most Republican state” in the U.S. but that doesn’t tell the whole story. Yes, I’m surrounded by mostly Republicans, but at the local and state level they tend to vote for the person and not for the party. In fact, during most of the 45 years I’ve lived here, we’ve had Democratic governors. Another fact is that Wyoming has the highest percentage of gun owners, per capita, but generally their use focuses on hunting and other sporting activities rather than shooting people. We must of course modify that a bit as Dick Cheney is also from Wyoming.

It appears that I’m leaning toward possibly becoming a “snowbird”, or at least some version of one. I’d like to spend time during the winter somewhere near Charlotte, NC, to watch my grandsons perform in their respective athletic events (basketball and competitive swimming) and spend more time with my wife and son. I’d like to do more visiting in Arizona during the winter; but during the summer to some traveling to the Northeastern area including New England and some Canadian Provinces including the Maritimes. The rest of the time I can enjoy the local benefits (next August the total eclipse of the sun will pass over our area, and I’m on the committee planning how to accommodate all the expected scientists and visitors) and entertain visiting friends. And there would be periodic trips to Texas, to watch my younger grandkids grow and mature and spend more time with my son and his wife.

And I can now turn my attention to considering a number of issues: Our President wants to shower the military with large amounts of money taken from most of the other areas of our government, in spite of the fact that I’ve not heard of the Chiefs of Staff requesting those additional funds. What is he planning to spend it on?

How much farther can his administration go in orders that go a long way toward handcuffing our agricultural and service industries, eliminating the progress we’ve made in attacking pollution and other environmental advances, abandoning all the essential elements of the humanities and the arts as a part of our cultural heritage, attacking and reducing the educational opportunities for our children; alienating our allies and escalating the potential for major military action against our foes, and other completely irrational actions. And it appears that he is joined in many of these efforts by the Speaker of the House and the Majority Leader of the Senate, the latter the primary criminal in denying the last nominee for the Supreme Court his day in the sun. And along with that, his declared opposition to allow anything our previous President proposed which was the major contributor to the current Congressional gridlock.

When I look at the minimizing of the Voter Rights Act, at Citizens United, at Republican state legislatures and their gerrymandering, at Congressional Republicans going against the great majority of people on issues such as gun control, abortion, LGBT rights, health concerns including insurance and Planned Parenthood, anti-Islamic overtures in immigration, I’M GENUINELY DISGUSTED AND WILL NEVER CONSIDER VOTING FOR ANOTHER REPUBLICAN FOR NATIONAL LEVEL OFFICE. We still haven’t gotten over the embarrassment of the Bush-Cheney years, and the economic and military mess they handed to Obama and which has grown due to the lack of cooperation of Republican Congressional perspectives.

Yes, I can accept the recent nomination of a Conservative to the Supreme Court; I don’t  know what my liberal friends expected. But it would seem that regardless of which conservative is nominated, all of them would share the same shortcomings so anathema  to liberals, progressives, and rational beings. We can only hope that the centrist Republican objections to the Trumps and their Mafia-like family business can only grow, and eliminate this cancer that is bent on destroying our country.

Always Be Happy          To Our Youth

Limbo or Purgatory?

February 12, 2017

This is the time of year when I annually have to decide if I’m in Limbo, that condition of waiting for something to happen, or in a kind of purgatory, a hopefully temporary step toward a new and different level, either good or bad. This is brought on by the NFL being over, thus freeing up my Monday and Thursday nights and Sunday afternoons; and personal golf has not yet begun. I’m definitely not an NBA fan, not even considering that to be the former finesse which was real basketball as opposed to the brute strength and athleticism we see today, replete with officials unable to effectively monitor the games due to their lack of the same physical speed and strength of the players. My only escape is to the three or four college basketball teams I follow, and I look forward to next month’s tournaments.

At present, my mind is churning in multiple directions, whether a naturally-occurring phenomenon due to my advancing age, or as a reaction to what’s going on in the world around me. For the time being and until I know for sure, I’m more comfortable blaming outside interference for disrupting my often-comfortable existence; after all, going the other direction would acknowledge that I am in fact in some level of decay.

As I’ve ranted about before, the whole election cycle and its outcome have wrought havoc upon the comfort levels of myself as well as those of many of my friends and acquaintances. The revelation of the vast undercurrents of bigotry, intolerance, ignorance, and denial rampant throughout a major slice of our citizenry has not only been shocking, it has been downright devastating in its demonstration that our so-called American Ideals have barely advanced beyond the “infant stage”.

And as the new administration begins flexing its muscles, and flexing they are, we daily wait to hear “the other shoe drop”,  cringing at the potential new damage that can be done to what I’ve earlier referred to as the Tapestry that is the United States.

I find that I am not alone; in fact, there apparently is an affliction spreading rapidly throughout the population that manifests itself in the same confusion over what to do. Is this “disease” a virus or bacteria? Hopefully, the latter, as the former can’t be cured but only allowed to “run its course”. But then what is the cure for the latter? I see articles on line, and in some of those senseless arguments called punditry, that no one seems to know what to do about it. I seem to be withdrawing rapidly from that outside world and find solace in little triumphs like choosing the $7.75 Walmart Ozark Trail 20 oz. tumbler over the $20 Yeti, after spending my time researching their characteristics (it turned out that not only do they produce exactly similar results, they are probably made at the same factory — in China!).

A recent article in The New York Times ( “Fatigued by the News” by Christopher Mele, Feb. 1) described the problem in a more cerebral manner as he quotes numerous reliable sources about their reactions and assessments of what is occurring and how people are coping. I find myself focusing less on the current political paradoxes and turning my attention to more important things like “when do I like the use of Velcro and when not? ( I confess to cutting those little Velcro strips from the flaps on my cargo pockets, but I employ Velcro to attach my portable XM radio to the ashtray in my van).”; do I appreciate the presence of the “check engine light” in my car, or would I prefer the olden days when we blissfully didn’t seem to need one ( we should probably have one attached somewhere on our body to let us know if we need some medical attention or not); do I like the internet because it allows me to find out just about anything I want, or is it too intrusive?

I’ve never been an Activist about anything important (although once again I’m volunteering to work at an LPGA golf tourney in Phoenix, in March); I’ve always found my Comfort Zone as an Observer, it’s usually safer. But I did recently write a couple of letters to Senator Enzi, expressing my displeasure at the potential destruction of health-related programs by his party, and the unconscionable choice to confirm the candidate for the office of Secretary of Education. Not unexpectedly, I received a reply (probably composed by a staff member) acknowledging my letters but filled with some of the standard phraseology ( i.e., crap) emphasizing especially “The American People” throughout. As with his colleagues, they continue to think they have some kind of “mandate” and are in denial that most of the voters wanted someone else. I received a more satisfying and lengthy personal reply from our former Senator Alan Simpson, who among other comments decried Congress spending so much effort on things which are personal issues (abortion, gay marriage) instead of improving jobs and the economy.

I guess for me it’s time to turn my attention to self-indulgence accompanied by the selective blocking out of negatively intrusive occurrences. I can continue to play Words With Friends with 8 or 10 people; I could look into SongPop2 which another of my colleagues recommends as an escape. My greatly-improved health is having me loosening up the body through increased weights being used at the health club, swinging a driver in the yard, and dribbling a basketball to gain back some lost strength and flexibility. I’m looking forward to the golfing season.

But I still don’t know, is it Limbo or Purgatory?

Always Be Happy    To Our Youth

 

2016 and Beyond

January 10, 2017

 

Where to start? Traditionally, all those “year in review” commentaries pick out salient historical events, the passing of well-known persons both good and evil, societal trends, and anything else some media darling feels deserves recognition. On a personal level, there may only be a few of those items that seem significant to the individual, other things closer to home may seem more significant.

However, in the past year the Presidential election process as well as the unexpected result has cast a major pall over our memories of the year as well as our perceptions of what lies ahead. Whatever reservations many of us had during the run up to election night have only been significantly magnified as we see the steps being taken toward transitioning to a new administration. Actually, it probably should be “transitioning to a new world”; so many reversals of progress portend a major reversal  and regression that may destroy much of what we have worked toward, for decades.

Virtually every proposed appointment of individuals to lead the various segments of government presents major concerns not only to me individually, but also to many of my colleagues who have shared many similar career experiences as we labored toward improving education  both locally and nationally. In looking at the totality of the staffing pattern, it has been suggested that if a foreign power wanted to destroy the fabric of the tapestry which is the United States, the best way would be to get persons into leadership positions, persons who are admittedly opposed to the very segment for which they have been nominated. Granted, at present that tapestry does show some tatters and fraying, but it is not in need of a wholesale restoration. I’ve heard references to the book and film, “The Manchurian Candidate” as an analogy similar to what we may be experiencing, but on a much larger loom. I’m frightened by the preliminary indications of the new design as each thread of the warp and weft is woven into a threatening pattern.

Along that torturous path of the election campaigns, many of us were shocked at the degree of bigotry and intolerance that was revealed, our Idealism having created blinders to overshadow what was still there covertly, negating much of the progress which we thought had been achieved through our own major efforts to meet the dictates of our Founding Fathers. Apparently “All Men Are Created Equal” is a phrase that rings hollow for a significant portion of our population, not only for those that don’t ascribe to it but also to those who suffer the consequences of its myth.

On several previous blogs, I’ve alluded to “denial” as running rampant through the concepts being presented as the immediate future for our country. Today I see that looming even more so as each new individual is named to a slot in the administration, even some to positions that have not ever been there. These are merely further examples of the methodology used by followers of GOP doctrine throughout the country as we see legislatures devoting serious energy to gerrymandering their states in order to more easily maintain control, even in spite of the population majority being opposed. We see one legislature stripping its incoming governor of numerous powers in spite of the fact that people voted him for the position that they understood was in effect, not some Trumped up change to make him less effective in addressing the many obvious problems which that same legislature has created. The Republicans are treating government as a game where winning is the important thing, and at the expense of actually governing. It was very ironic that this morning the Majority Leader in the Senate admonished the Democrats for having indicated they would work in Congress to the degree that they are comfortable with what is being proposed; he needs to be reminded of his statement far back in the Obama Presidency that he wasn’t going to even allow any Obama proposals to be considered. A gross abdication of his responsibilities and a position for which, if there was a mechanism to do so, he should have been removed. Both he and his partners in the House have brought effective governing to a standstill. They like to blame Obama for everything in spite of the fact that whenever he proposed an idea to address a concern, they wouldn’t even entertain it. He tried.

I’m tired of hearing the word “liberal” been used as a euphemism for evil, rotten, nasty, and any other negative concepts. The gulf between liberal and conservative has become so great that the practical meanings of the two terms has been lost. Conservatism provides a framework for action and decision-making, liberalism intelligently addresses problems which have emerged from that framework and suggests reasonable changes. But in no situation does liberalism say “Do away with the structure”, that’s anarchy. But look at what the Trumpets are blaring, “Do away with ……” fill in the blank.

Each day seems to bring something new. I read something that I hope is “false news” that Trump has said no ambassadors, world wide, will be retained, even those who have reached their positions as career diplomats. He’s in effect suggesting doing away with the institutional memory, in toto! What will that do to our standing in the world?

I’m not alone in my depression, but haven’t yet figured out how to deal with it. I did write a long email to a former respected Senator, initiating some discussion on how to revise the primary elections so that this does not happen again. My note was in response to an article he had written expressing his concerns over the process. Among the topics I included was the electoral college; he said he doesn’t think that will ever be eliminated due to too many pressures from different directions wanting to maintain it. On the other hand he was concerned about his party spending so much effort on abortion and LGBT which in his opinion are individual issues; “if you don’t like them, then don’t do them” and deal with jobs, immigration, health, etc. Would that his former colleagues take the same stance.

Health care and insurance, pharmaceuticals, environmental issues, immigration, education, security, military concerns, judicial and legal issues, labor, etc. etc. etc. I sound like Yul Brynner in “The King and I’. but the total picture has so many elements that it’s too confusing for my mind, aside from the fact that I last week completed my 78th orbit of the sun. I’m scared.

So, in the meantime I’ll try and look back at the good things that happened, and forward to those that I can control. We had a new granddaughter arrive last February to join her brother born in the same month almost three years ago. He arrived on Ground Hog Day, but did not see his shadow. Sienna is already really walking, at 10 months, certain to test the patience of her proud parents a bit earlier than planned!

I reconnected with two high school chums after 60 years, and discovered that one of them is a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist. I can’t recall if I ever loaned him any of my essays in Senior English.

I finally had that cervical surgery, and it successfully removed the arthritic spurs threatening my spinal cord. We’re working on the L4-5 area now to see if that can be lessened. I’m able now to walk as I used to do, long strides and acceptable pace. I recently did two miles on a snow-covered bike path, in 10 degree temperature, and felt good about it. That promises good things if I’m able to do any more overseas travel.

Next week, I’m headed to North Carolina for a week or so, to visit my wife and to watch our two grandsons perform, one in high school basketball and the other in competitive swim meets.

In February, there’re the two birthdays, initiating a trip to Texas.

I’m on the local Eclipse Committee, as we prepare for the August extravaganza and onslaught of tourists eager to watch the spectacle. Although one of my college majors was Astronomy, I thought it better to invite a couple of professional astronomers to help with setting up a star party the night before the event.

My continued association with the Wyoming Dinosaur Center promises some excitement as the process of building a new, much larger facility continues. The Center, already ranked as the best such museum in the U.S. and #6 in the world, promises to be even better when it opens in May, 2019.

I guess for the time being I’ll join the Trumpets and immerse myself in denial, establishing what I hope is only temporary for a couple of years and does not become a well-worn route to a world of fantasy!

Always Be Happy     To Our Youth

TEETH

December 9, 2016

I’ve had a long and unhappy relationship with my teeth. It began as early as that time in one’s life when those “baby teeth”, you know, the ones that emerge to the accompaniment of significant pain and parental anguish (Honey, where’s the phenol barb?), start to transition to the “real teeth”.

In the normal course of human growth, the first teeth are pushed aside with the help of the Tooth Fairy, a shadowy entity that masquerades as other persona at different times of the year —— Easter Bunny, Leprechaun, even filling in for Santa when he’s dealing with an occasional bout of rheumatism brought on by those long, cold, pre-UPS delivery nights. But in my case, that wasn’t happening; the new teeth were there but the old teeth were being very obdurate in their responsibilities to abandon ship. Help was needed and as we were not, as they say, financially flush, I was taken to the Kansas City Dental College where a newbie was allowed to work his magic, or in reality his ability to make fine motor skills into gross motor skills. As I was only six years old, I confused the location with that of the nearby Kansas City Barber College, and given the level of performance of my assigned taskmaster, thought they were one and the same. The offending grinders were removed and given to my mom with the understanding that she would seek out the TF for processing in accordance with tradition.

Over the next decade or so, my only “brush” with dental reality was in the form of an annual cleaning and an occasional confrontation with a cavity in need of attention; those were the days when dental drills sounded somewhat the same as one of those hydraulic jack hammers used to break concrete. Actually, I assumed they were of the same genre, only a bit smaller. B y this time, we were economically sufficient that we had a “real” dentist; one with whom we were to enjoy (don’t use that word much with dentistry) many years of contact.

It was during my Senior Year in college that the specter of the dreaded wisdom teeth arose, and I recall spending the Thanksgiving vacation wallowing in my bed for several days after three of those culprits were extracted, along with enough blood to stock any of the local blood banks. Earlier, one of them had become impacted and had been removed; that event was the trigger leading to its brethren having to follow along.

For most of the next 20 years, my involvement with teeth generally had to do with dealing with cavities, listening to a succession of dentists lecture me on the beauties of flossing, and feeling guilty when I missed carrying out the responsibilities associated with maintaining personal oral health. We even had intense discussions of which bristles to use, the proper hand motion of up and down vs. sideways, and the promise of the waterpik.

But then, tragedy struck! Sometime in my 30’s, married, a father, and lodged into a successful career as a school administrator, I got a toothache. My sudden visit to my local dentist revealed that once again, I had an impacted tooth; one which lay somewhere along the lower left side of my jaw. He told me, “This baby has to come out, and we’ll do it tomorrow!”  I spent the night walking up and down the sidewalk in front of the house, strawberry jello cubes lodged cozily between cheek and offending tooth, to relieve the constant intense pain. The next morning I eagerly  launched my attack on the dental office, not knowing what lay in store for me during the next 24 hours.

He began his preparation with the usual x-rays, and pointed out two things to me: first, there was a pocket of nastiness surrounding the root of one tooth and lapsing over around an adjoining partner, and second, the roots of the target tooth were somewhat twisted so that in order to do an extraction, he would have to split the tooth vertically and pry out each of the three segments individually. No longer was I blanketed with eagerness, but knew that we had to forge ahead.

With a variety of weaponry, which has to be an accurate term for their assaults on an enemy, he managed to split the tooth and began to attempt to remove the segments. Using a chisel-type of tool, he was prying upward on the first segment when the chisel slipped and plunged through the roof of my mouth. I believe I tried to make a comment at that time, one that would naturally be excluded from polite company but which was totally justified given the present performance. He said, with anguish, “in 17 years I’ve never done anything like that”; I replied with even more powerful anguish, “Why did you have to start with me?”. The rest of the three hours was conducted in a more solemn atmosphere, and the debris was successfully removed. He sent me home with some opiate pain pills and an apology, and I looked forward to a final painless recovery.

That didn’t happen. As evening approached, the pain was becoming more and more intense, to the extent that my wife drove me to the hospital emergency room where a local surgeon on call gave me a different, more effective pain pill, and instructed me to go back to the dentist as early as possible. And I did. And you know what? A new x-ray showed that he had pulled the wrong tooth! The impaction was actually on the one next to the one he pulled, it just didn’t look like the source of the infection given the amount of fluid surrounding the adjoining root. Oh well, he didn’t charge for the second tooth.

Going on through the years, there were those necessary root canals and accompanying expensive crowns, and even a bridge over troubled molars. I found that dentists are like doctors and auto mechanics, there are good ones and bad ones. It’s hard for us to know which until after they work on us or on our car. One of them in Jackson, Wyoming, dropped a new crown on the floor, but rinsed it off under the faucet in the wash basin before inserting it, and later it was discovered that he left some of the gummy stuff projecting out from under the crown. I was not happy.

More recently, the rage is doing implants instead of root canals and crowns. It’s where they remove the injured tooth and insert a small peg into the bone below or above the tooth. The peg has threads on the end and later, what looks like a real tooth is screwed onto the peg, and supposedly will “last you a lifetime” with no cavities or other issues. That’s a pretty safe statement at my advanced age, soon to be 78 this month. There are some problems with implants, however; the first is that they are comparatively very expensive, anywhere from around $2500 up to $4300 depending upon what needs to be done. Often, for ones in the upper jaw, a cadaver bone graft is necessary in order to provide sufficient bone to anchor the implant base and to avoid the sinus cavity above. That adds to the cost. Of course, you can go to Yuma, Arizona and arrange to be taken to one of the hundreds of dentists just across the border in Mexico, and save lots of $$$. You might also be taking a very, very big chance.

The other problem is time. It takes about three months for the bone graft to heal sufficiently to set the basal peg; it takes another several months for the peg to be securely adhered to the bone. Only after these two procedures can the final crown be measured and placed.

Unfortunately, when Medicare was being created, no allowance for dental concerns was included. Probably because they knew that old guys have lots of expensive dental problems. In my case, I’m headed next week to start the journey toward my fifth implant, the total costs so far are encroaching on about half of my retirement mutual fund savings. I have had choices to go with dentures, which although much less expensive have their own issues, not the least of which is having to take them out daily for cleaning and to avoid any unwelcome contact with soft tissue during the night.

Why not just take out the tooth? Well, that was the approach my dad took when, in his early 70’s he started having major problems. His approach was “Why should I spend all that money when I’m already old and probably won’t be around much longer. Pull it.” Well, when I took him for his 95th birthday dinner at his favorite Kansas City barbecue place, I asked him,” Don’t you have trouble eating, having only one upper and one lower tooth left in your mouth?” He said “corn on the cob was the only difficult thing, he could only do one kernel at a time.”

Well, I must admit that I’m getting mighty tired of all the recent medical problems I’ve had, and the amount of meds and supplements I’ve been prescribed. It’s gotten so bad that the local pharmacy is considering naming its “pick-up” window after me, the same as one of the five chairs in the dental office. Two pharmaceutical companies have named me their “Man of the Year”, and one has even offered to make me their 2017 Poster Boy.

Life was much simpler years ago. When I was in the Peace Corps in Ghana back in 1961-63, during a stroll through the market place there was always a guy standing alongside a rough cut lumber table, the top of which had a neat arrangement of extracted teeth and a couple of pair of pliers prominently displayed. Locals thought his two shilling charges were exorbitant!

I wonder if he does implants?

Always Be Happy    To Our Youth

A Menu for Election Change The tragedy of the recent Presidential election has left many of my age group reeling with depression and confusion; How could such a thing happen? It’s obvious that throughout the overly-lengthy campaigns of the main contenders that the “race” devolved into a clash of personalities, and not one of policy. At the same time, many of the proposed changes if implemented would have profound unwelcome effects on many areas of our daily life, health-related issues in particular. I leave it to the pundits to sort out all the collateral damage; instead, I am proposing changes in the manner in which our Presidential elections are conducted. First, let’s look at the primaries. Again, we’re confronted with a number of individuals seeking to attain the highest office in the land, and who have been forced in recent years to engaging in negative attacks on their opponents as the main weapon toward achieving victory. The series of so-called debates did little in letting the public in on understanding what these folks were going to do, if elected. Rather, the personal attacks continued to prevail, and over a time period seemingly comparable to the era when dinosaurs ruled the earth. Many of us became bored with the process; after all, 16 months seems a bit much to have to listen to the same litanies over and over again! My solution at this level is to have each Party’s National Committee create a list of issues which they deem significant for the short and long-term future of our country, and to have national primaries during which their party members vote on some portion, such as the “top ten”, of the issues. At this point, no persons are voted on. The “winning list” then becomes the basis for the political convention, during which solutions to those issues are generated by those persons chosen at their state level to attend and participate. At the conclusion of the convention, there would then be a slate of policies representing the direction that the party intends to pursue, if successful in the Presidential election While this activity was being conducted, at the same time those persons who wished to be considered to lead the party could address the convention, explaining why they are “the best fit” to lead the party as its Presidential Candidate. That fit must align with the policies generated at the convention as representative of the ideas and solutions they will promulgate during subsequent years in office, and not allow for directions inconsistent with the party’s program. For this reason, the final selection of the candidate must necessarily occur after the party’s policies are in place. Note that most of the effort is focused on policy, which should be the major consideration in the election rather than the personalities or past history of the candidates. To summarize, this approach says “Here’s what we intend to do as representative of our basic ideals, and here is the person we think would best implement our policies.” This could be done in a much shorter time period, maybe 60 days like is done in UK, or whatever seems appropriate to the tasks. The big losers would be the cable TV networks, with lots of lost advertising; the winners would be the public not having to listen to many months of intrusive, negative harangues, and to be able to clearly see what each party deems important and how they intend to put those items into effect. It would be hoped that this same approach could be implemented at the state and local levels, and would highlight voters being able to make choices commensurate with their own preferences. State level primaries could establish priorities for the state, draft solutions, and choose leaders best able to implement those programs. Note that this in no way changes the Electoral College procedures; that is something else that needs to be considered. It was conceived in different times, and should probably be eliminated. Although I personally am registered as “unaffiliated”, I tend to lean toward the left due to my many years of experience in human services activity. In general, I’ll vote for the candidate who seems to effectively use common sense in approaching issues, regardless of political party. Our former great Senator, Alan Simpson, is a good example of a Republican I strongly supported. In my home state of Wyoming, which is 70% Republican, a vote for any Presidential candidate other than GOP is a wasted vote. We need to go to the popular vote, as we do for every other elective office. And this is the most important one. Always Be Happy To Our Youth

November 30, 2016

A Couple of Bits

October 19, 2016

Well, another portent of the coming winter. The windshield on my van was covered with frost this morning, when I headed out in my sweats to reacquaint myself with my workout regimen put on hold during the recovery from the recent cervical surgery. Being lazy, I discarded the van idea and went to the warm comfort of my CR-V, happily reposing in the insulated garage. And headed to the rehab center.

On the way, another annual sign of the times; occasional glimpses of carcasses of a variety of local mammals —- pronghorn antelope, deer, and elk— hung by their hind legs while the proud hunters “dressed them out” (seems to me that “undress” would be more accurate). It’s a bit creepy to see the baleful stares from the dead eyes, making even me to feel a bit of guilt at removing a beautiful creature from this earth, even though not only do I not hunt, I don’t even own a gun. Some have said my lack of prowess with a golf club provides sufficient danger to anyone happening into my sphere of influence.

A corollary to hunting season is the school district scheduling a “Hunting Day” off from school, important enough to use capital letters in describing it. Children at age 10 may acquire a hunting license for certain small animals, and accompany members of their family as they seek to replenish their larders for the coming year. To some, October 15 is relished almost as much as Christmas; this is not restricted just to our small town but is nearly universal across the state although the date may vary according to whichever hunting area is opening nearby.

Wyoming is noted for having the most guns per capita of any of the states; I’m probably shunned due to not owning any guns, and slightly lowering that “per capita”. In fact, I’m passively anti-gun but accept their importance and downright reverence in certain circles. I’m nervous when I go to breakfast periodically at a local café, one that has the best breakfast menu I’ve ever seen other than a particular five star hotel in Cairo during one of my school evaluations. There’s one patron there, wearing his denim vest with lots of marine patches, a chain wallet, motorcycle boots, and an automatic pistol prominently displayed in his belt. Having had several of this gentleman’s relations as students years ago when I was the Middle School Principal, and knowing some of them were intellectually challenged, I feel justified in being a bit anxious. Wyoming is one of those “open carry” states.

Years ago, in the first few weeks of becoming a principal, one of our sixth grade girls was killed in a gun accident in the home, where her brother was cleaning a pistol. One of my staff had his nephew killed, tossing an automatic onto the bed and having it fire, sending a bullet into his heart.  A few years prior, I had a sawed off shotgun stuck into my stomach when I was heading up an education project in Gary, Indiana; fortunately I came through that okay. But my discomfort around guns is easily understood.

Anyway, it seemed to me that although hunting and the use of guns permeates our local culture, not everyone is a part of that scene. At the same time, all of us will be in situations around guns at one time or another, so what makes sense? As we were in the process of establishing exploratory classes for our middle school kids, I decided to put into the curriculum a REQUIRED class for all fifth graders, one that combined Hunter Safety with other topics such as Winter Survival, Hypothermia, and Fitness concerns. Three of my staff volunteered to become certified; we used free materials from the National Rifle Association back in the days when they emphasized gun safety instead of their current mission of, to many folks unreasonably, protecting all gun ownership. Arrangements were made to use a local indoor shooting range after sufficient classroom work, and at the end of the nine weeks, each student could earn a Hunter Safety card to use toward getting a license. Older students who moved into the school could also join the class and obtain their cards. Those classes continued for the rest of my years as principal in that school, and beyond. Unfortunately, at least in my opinion, it is no longer required but is offered as an after school activity. That’s good, except it only addresses the hunter safety aspect and non-hunters don’t get the safety training.

As long as I’m mentioning  education topics, I became concerned several weeks ago when I received a printed note from a fifth grade relative. I could barely make out the letters in his printing; I asked my wife why he was trying to print instead of using some form of cursive. She said it was her understanding that his school, which although a strongly Montessori-based program, no longer teaches cursive. She further stated that she runs across that periodically as she is a Team Leader for AdvanceEd’s school evaluation program and consequently sees a big variety of schools across the country.

Coincidentally, one of the writers whom I enjoy reading recently wrote a small blog decrying the same fact, that many schools no longer recognize that the skill remains important for many activities outside of writing term papers on a word processor program. A decent signature, written responses on student assessments, special quick notes while “on the job”, we still have with us.

As a former Assistant Superintendent, Curriculum Director, and Special Education Director, I decided to go to our local elementary school and see what was being done there. To my relief, they are using a program which I had implemented in the last district in which I worked before retirement; the program “Handwriting Without Tears” was being used by our Occupational Therapist, and he asked to try it out with a group of fourth graders at one of the schools. Up to that time, the teacher had been using another program which had been popular for a time, D’Nealian Writing, but which was a bit more complex than the one he recommended. The small pilot project was so successful that we introduced it into all five elementary schools in the district.

One bit of Food for Thought: One of the little bits of information that will be in my proposed “Middle School Primer” project was derived through my association with the late Dr. Al Arth, who at that time was one of the national leaders in Middle School Research while heading the Middle School Teacher Training Program at the University of Wyoming. He noted that in that era, kids were taught some form of cursive in elementary school, usually up through the fifth grade, and then nothing more. He said that kids handwriting generally was “as good as it gets” as they reached that grade. At the same time, Epsteins’ Brain Growth Research coupled with Piaget’s Theory of Child Development pointed to a series of growth spurts and plateaus at various ages; one such spurt begins for most kids around age 10 or 11, when their hands begin to enlarge along with the rest of their body. The stereotypical clumsiness of the Middle School kid is directly related to that sudden growth spurt, including some loss of fine motor control with the hands. As in handwriting. Yet we stopped teaching handwriting beyond fifth grade. And now, some schools don’t address it at all.

Well, now I can turn my attention to other, maybe more important pursuits. As I write this, I’ve ignored tonight’s debate; instead, I’ve been watching the Chicago Cubs apparently sticking it to the Dodgers. I have mixed feelings about this; as I’ve mentioned before, I told my various doctors that I wanted them to keep me alive until the Cubs win a World Series, given their history I assumed that I was perhaps asking for immortality. Now I’m getting nervous, how much time do I have left? Maybe I should have said “at least until”. And as is common, I am a Cubs fan!

Tomorrow I get a $4200 dental implant, certainly the high point of a somewhat unexciting week, so far. But Friday I’m planning to play my first game of golf in several months, as the surgeon said I can resume my normal activities. We’ll see how my resumption of the morning workouts affects my performance.

Always Be Happy       To Our Youth

A MINI-BLOG

October 3, 2016

 

Well, it’s almost four weeks since those five cervical vertebrae were freed from their arthritic prison, and with each passing day the rest of me is getting less confined to bed and house, able to even drive short distances to the grocery store, doctors’ offices, and the bungee cord jumping-off place. So far, however, I’ve chosen to skip the latter.

It was only slightly comforting when last week, as I met with the physician’s assistant and complained about the severe pain, she told me “Well, this is our most painful surgery.” I guess that if I need another, different surgery in the future, it won’t hurt as much.

Anyway, I hired a gal to come to the house one or two times a day, to prepare meals, clean, and assist as much as needed. And within our small community, there’s a program called Community Health Services which, funded by Medicare, provides a wealth of support for persons who are homebound. During the two weeks following my wife’s return to North Carolina, my hired hand and the health program were fantastic. I received scheduled visits from physical and occupational therapists, a certified nursing assistant, and the coordinating supervising nurse. After a week or so, it was evident that I no longer needed that team of professionals, being able to dress and shower myself adequately, so I signed off on those services and retained Melissa, my helper, for a couple of hours or so during the week.

As the pain has lessened I can stay upright for gradually increasing amounts of time, now about 10 minutes, without severe discomfort. There’s usually little or no pain when lying down, so sleeping has not been an issue. I’m told that the pain derives from the significant stress put on the neck and shoulder muscles during the surgery, and they take weeks to return to their former level of comfort.

Aside from the pain, the other issues were side effects from the opiate meds, and the loss of 20 lbs of weight. Inactivity for several weeks had its toll on this former Cathedral of Health; I’ve even considered becoming a vampire so that I can’t see my emaciated figure in the bathroom mirror. It’s almost as if there’s no muscle left anywhere in my chest, arms, and toothpick legs. I’m starting a high protein and complex carb diet to see if I can get that weight back but it may be difficult as I’m not to do any exercising for several more weeks of healing. I’m not supposed to reach out for things with both arms, or bend to pick things up from low levels; that puts stress on the healing muscles. It was recommended that I get one of those “grabbers”, a tool which has proved useful during my confinement.

At least I can now sit fairly comfortably at my desktop computer, and once again share my thoughts with any unsuspecting victims. Which brings me to my next narrative, what one does when virtually bedridden.

Along with learning that I don’t like pain, I found that although I had long suspected that there was nothing on cable TV that would justify my monthly $125 outlay other than news, weather, sports, and an occasional TCM movie, this was verified to also include all the stuff on daytime television. I decided that there is almost nothing that can be considered a “real news” broadcast other than the evening half hour network news at dinner time. All the rest are a parade of opinion pundits, engaging in hours of shallow speculation and prognostication. And even during those sessions, the discussions are usually extremely slanted toward one viewpoint or another. They seem to revel in personalities, as each of the channels have the same people again and again, saying the same things again and again. And I can’t stand some of them; Joe Scarborough, Chris Matthews, and Al Sharpton are among the most obnoxious people on TV; Hannity and O’Reilly are merely mean-spirited rabble-rousers and liars. Thank goodness for Rachel.

One of the good things that has happened recently was reconnecting with a high school chum, one with whom I had lost contact after graduation. It was therefore very surprising to learn that not only has he been successful, but that among his many credits is a Pulitzer Prize recognizing his excellence as a TV and media critic. Howard Rosenberg has written several books and many articles, and even at our ripe old age is still teaching journalistic ethics at UCLA. And among his publications is a book, No Time To Think, which he co-authored with Howard Feldman and which attacks the shallowness of the 24-hour cable news cycle. I quickly Kindled it (a new verb?) and found that it almost exactly aligns with many of the thoughts I’ve had about what Vance Packard referred to as “The Vast Wasteland” back in the 60’s. Not only have things not changed, they’ve become more sophisticated and worse.

The present Presidential “campaigns” are particularly troubling, for numerous reasons. One such reason is that when one wants to see news, we get unending video clips of either of the two candidates or their surrogates spouting off about their opponent, or we get daily reviews of the “most recent polls” as if they have any real meaning.

I would much rather see each of the political parties establish platforms of what they are going to represent if they achieve the Presidency and congressional successes, and let us vote according to which platform makes the most sense to us. Then, let the party select the person whom they feel is best suited to implement that platform, and get away from this clash of personalities. Issues would become the basis for the elections, not this disgusting circus we’re confronted with almost daily, for months.

To me, the most significant things which have occurred lately began with Colin Kaepernick’s  protest during the National Anthem. I understand that many of our fellow citizens seem to think that The Flag is some sort of Holy Grail, and therefore we should automatically “have pride in it and everything it stands for”. But I think that is a misguided perception, although one which I also had until spending time in the Peace Corps in the early 60’s in West Africa. My opinions changed, and I realized that opinions are only an individual’s interpretation of the meaning of facts as they are filtered through a person’s background of experience and knowledge, they are not the facts themselves.

This was brought home to me when I , along with one of my Peace Corps colleagues, had a private meeting with Harry Truman at the Truman Library in Independence, Missouri. In our conversation, he asked me, “Well, what did you learn over there in Africa?” I responded, “I got a different viewpoint of America, and saw some things which are wrong here”. His reply was characteristic of Harry, “You’re in a helluva shape if you think there’s anything wrong with this country!” I couldn’t let that pass, and said, “I don’t want to argue with you, Mr. President, it’s not the country but it’s some of the people in it.” Again, it’s our difference in backgrounds. I had been challenged by many young Africans to explain how people like Bull Connor could attack African-Americans with police dogs, during peaceful protest demonstrations; how widespread bigotry was rampant in a country allegedly established on a principle of human equality, and other uncomfortable questions. That’s when I began to question that “automatic pride” concept, and I arrived at something quite a bit different—–rather than say “I’m proud to be an American” I began to think, “I’m lucky to be an American, and proud that my country is the only one that has within its folds the mechanisms available to bring about change in order to meet the standards set forth by the Founding Fathers”. I’m certainly not proud of bigotry, major poverty in supposedly the richest country on the planet, and many other ills which we have yet to resolve.

And later, when I was working alongside some of the Black Panthers in the Gary, Indiana inner city, I began to understand that there is a very short journey from despair to desperation as I saw how “trapped” in the poverty cycle were many of the children in my Model Cities School Project. Occasional visits from persons who had “escaped” did little more than raise hopes without offering solutions; NBA players and The Jackson Five were only rare instances of successfully breaking those chains. We had one student shot accidently having brought a small handgun with him to school, and it fired when in a minibus on a local field trip; two of my staff and I were confronted by two drunken teens with guns, outside the school building one afternoon. I’ll never forget the fear when one of them shoved a sawed-off shotgun in my stomach. One of my Panther board members, with whom I had become a friend, told me how he was “arming for the revolution”.  One of our seventh grade boys had a wide selection of watches and jewelry pinned inside his long overcoat, offering them for sale along with pimping for his two sisters.       Despair.

So you see, this is where I’m at (I know, never end your sentence with a preposition). But I’m looking toward some better future, not only in my current health situation but toward the health of our country. I hope that the controversies initiated by a football player become something “writ large” and lead us into productive discussions and decisions to create that “more perfect union”. Remembering of course that most decisions are based on opinions, and at this point there is not sufficient unanimity of opinions for us to achieve that union.

The missing ingredient is Empathy, simply and most meaningfully expressed in the ancient caution, “Judge not thy brother until you’ve walked a mile in his moccasins”.

And then I will be proud.

Always Be Happy           To Our Youth