Care of Widows … and widowers

Pumpkin bread * is one of the goodies I always bake at the holidays. Not only is the recipe a family favorite but it also makes three loaves, so I have plenty to share with others. This year it was three widowers in the neighborhood.
Although I wasn’t looking for appreciation, I got a thank you from one within the hour, “I love pumpkin bread,” Jim said as soon as I opened the door. He came in and visited with us for a time. Two days later, the second man was there and the third took time to send a note.
I wish I would do more for those who are alone, but the list is growing. Last year, seven friends said goodbye to their spouses. And at least that many the year before.
My care for widows began long before my senior years, in fact, I recall the first widow. She was the wife of one of my coworkers. He died young; thankfully he was ready. I had the joy of seeing him become a Christian.
As was the custom where we worked, associates contributed to flowers and a financial gift for his wife.
But then a few months later, I thought of her at Valentine’s Day. And decided this was a good time to do something special, since I was pretty sure no one else would. A few coworkers contributed to this candy and flowers gift as well.
So that started a tradition for me. When a friend became a widow, I took a gift at Valentines. Assuming someone else would remember a birthday, anniversary or Christmas, it seemed to me few would remember this special day. I tried to do this anonymously and left a modest gift bag with candy, a stuffed animal and/or jewelry or trinket, usually at the door or workplace.
One time I saw one lady wearing a pin I had put in her bag. “You gave me this,” she said. I tried to feign innocence, but she added, “Someone else asked who might leave a gift for them. And I said I knew you did.”
And of course, since my cover was blown, I looked for other ways to care for widows. My mother was a widow for 40 years, so I had lots of chances to do things for her: Lunches, doctor appointments, errands, laundry, cleaning…
Some widows and widowers might also need that kind of care, but for those who don’t, phone calls or visits might be more appropriate.
Encourage but don’t nag them to get involved in activities. My church has a widows’ group. They go to lunch, brunch, theater. And also meet for Bible study. So does a neighbor: she meets with 12 ladies every other Thursday for study and they enjoy a meal, and take turns being the hostess.
This neighbor is hard to catch up with she’s so busy. When she was younger, my mother also was quite active in various things and regularly picked up other widows to go with her.
Two friends, who lost spouses last year, went on a cruise this month. The trip was planned with their husbands and another couple, so they decided to go ahead with the plans. While they have mixed feelings about this, I hope the end will result in adventure.
Another group from church, spent many years doing couple or family trips, they always continue to include the widow and/or widower after a death occurs.
One thing I didn’t say at the beginning about the widowers. Along with the pumpkin bread, I included a container of sausage stew.* I knew one man eats a lot of microwave meals, so I thought he’d enjoy some home cooking for a change. He did. And “Got two meals out of it.”
What other suggestions do you have for widow/widower care?

*Recipes for pumpkin bread and/or sausage stew available on request.

A SONG FOR THE SUNSET YEARS

 Let my mind be sound and not confused, Eternal Lord;

Bring your ear a little closer as my voice grows frail.

Allow me to lean upon you when my own strength fails.

You have known me from birth and rescued me in my youth.

Don’t set me aside now; I trust you.

Save me from the con man and others who take advantage.

Society devises ways to keep me out of sight;

Some even plan a time for my life to end.

And others try to steal from me or vandalize my home;

They think that I am unprotected and forsaken.

I know that life is brief and I have fewer days,

So I will use them to their fullest potential.

All day long I shall sing and praise the goodness of God

In order to leave the next generation a great legacy:

A knowledge of the strong and powerful God.

Even though I have known pain and sorrow

And I have experienced trials and testings,

Now I face the last great hurdle — death.

I am confident that I shall rise up from the grave

To live again in the presence of the Lord eternally.

 

Published: Mature Living, March 1998
(Based on Psalm 71)

Retired, but still working

I retired 15 years ago, so why am I still working? Because I retired in the real world rather than the one of my dreams.
Yes I fulfilled some dreams about retirement. We took that 31-day trip to Europe and we did volunteer for the short-term mission.
But the face reality day came, when I had to stop dreaming and find some work to supplement our retirement income. My husband did too. But for now I’ll just tell my part.
Two years after I retired, the income did not keep up with the outgo, so I looked for part-time work. And I found it. Or at least my husband did. He was doing real estate photography and his contractor needed more help. So he recruited and trained me, at least how to use an automatic setting on a Nikon 5005 (Today with digital cameras, every real estate agent knows how to take pictures).
But at that time I was needed three days a week to drive around our scenic area and take pictures of new listings or houses being built.
That job lasted for two years when our contractor lost the bid to another firm. At first I thought this was the time to really retire. But supplemental work still was necessary and my husband was starting to have health problems.
One day in February, a floral shop called to see if he was still interested in a delivery job. Since he could not drive due to his health, I said no he would not be able to, but did they hire women? Well, they did and so two weeks later I worked for the Shoppe during their busiest time of the year: Valentine’s Day. And I loved the job.
“Wow. You have a great job,” is something I hear almost every week in the 11 years I’ve been doing this delivery work. And except for the traffic hassles and/or weather challenges, I agree: I do have a great job.
In fact, I’m one of the ‘lucky ones’ who has always, or almost always had a job that I really liked. Those jobs, which include writing, have given me great personal satisfaction.
Being a receptionist for JCPenney for 21 years was a fast-paced and multi-faceted job. While it may have been quiet at times, it certainly was never boring. Like the Pawn Shop owner, I never knew what might walk through that door.
But back to retirement jobs, which according to Tom Lauricella of the Wall Street Journal is a fresh challenge as more older Americans learn to juggle retirement and work. In his February 2012 calculation, one-third of men and women ages 65-69 were in the work force in 2011, up 24.5% since 2000. Among those 70-74, nearly 19% were still working in 2011.
And here I am one of them, still working after age 70. The age when I thought I’d really retire, 15 years after I took early retirement from full-time employment. And so far, my boss hasn’t been pushing me out the door other than to do deliveries. In fact, the other driver is a retiree and so are her parents. Mom does payroll and accounting and Dad does delivery too, as well as many stock jobs around the Shoppe.
Perhaps you’re like us and wonder what you could do to bring in some extra income; or maybe you’re just ‘bored’ about all the extra hours at home. I know that was another factor in my job search.
Here are some retirement job suggestions: (and here’s where my husband’s checkered part-time career resurfaces)

1. Photo shop deliveries. For a year or more my husband delivered developed photos in our area as well in the adjoining county. He also picked up film to be developed.
2. Dental Lab. For another year or more he picked up molds from dentists and delivered dental plates and partials.
3. Real-estate photos. As I mentioned, most real estate agents do their own digital photos today, but it never hurts to call and ask a large firm if they might have part-time work.
4. Bank delivery. For five years my husband drove one of 35 routes for a local bank. This was not only well-paying but also provided benefits like vacations and a 401k investment.
5. Newspaper correspondents. We both began this job while working in our full time employment. And continued long after we retired. My husband covered township and school board meetings; I did too, and also wrote feature articles for the newspaper supplements.
6. Flower shop. Even if regular part-time delivery work is not available, most floral businesses look for extra drivers around busy holidays, especially Christmas, Valentines and Mothers days. My two cousins did this work and also enjoyed the experience. Everyone loves to see you coming to the door.
7. Grocery stores. While the idea of ringing register or bagging groceries may not appeal, there are other stock and special jobs for seniors. My sister worked behind the scenes stocking and signing shelves for a grocery chain. Some stores, like Wal-Mart, hire greeters.
8. Custodial. One retired friend cleans his church weekly, to earn money for activity fees like bowling, golf and theatre. His wife, along with some volunteers, mows the grass.
9. Auto Auction. Most areas are not home to the nation’s largest auto auction, but many men around here drive cars for the one we have. Another related job might be for a local car dealer: driving customer’s home or to nearby mall while their cars are being serviced.
10. Trade or Talent. What did you do that might become a part-time job? Lauricella cited Gerald Green a 78-year-old attorney with his own limited case-load practice who spends seven or eight months in Florida while continuing to serve clients in New York. Did you practice law, nursing, teach, tutor? Or write. Unless, like my husband, health issues surface, I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to retire from this job!

Communication is more than Language

“I want to work,” said the young woman. “I have a degree in electrical engineering.”
The twenty-something professional looked across the table. I wanted to help her, but couldn’t, not only because I am not an employment counselor, but also because she’s not an American.
I wish she were, along with the other bright, eager students that sat in my classroom. I’d gladly transport them to the USA and put them to work. Happy to see them employed rather than looking for jobs that do not exist in a country with 34% unemployment.
“Bobi’s lucky to have a job at the aluminum factory,” said Natalija about her male friend who was with us. Bobi also recently earned a college degree, and in something more than factory work.
“He got the job on his own,” she continued proudly. “Usually you have to know someone.”
Understanding caused a sympathetic smile.
Despite my protests, Bobi insisted on picking up the tab for our dessert. Not wanting to offend their generosity, I agreed, although I was fully aware that this was his first paycheck after two months of work. And he only received a week’s salary.
His action was typical of the warm, outgoing eastern European people I’d come to know and love in just two weeks. My husband and I were there to teach conversational English, but as teachers usually do, we learned a lot from them. Not only about generosity, but also about riches.
“America is a rich country,” we heard several students say.
“You have riches that we’ve traded for money,” we told them, wondering when was the last time that a college-age man or woman gave even a second glance to a retiree, much less hours of time in out-of-class discussions and activities.
These students were learning English because they see that as a way to go to a rich country, but meanwhile they have an old-fashioned work ethic that makes them look for jobs, any jobs.
When you are teaching or living in another country and culture, communication takes many forms.
Verbal. What I described above comes from a working knowledge of the language. Most of these students took English classes for two to four years in school. They knew the basics, but had little opportunity to practice speaking and writing.
Often, we were able to converse because they knew English, or could translate what we said into English. Our own exposure to their language was limited to mainly polite greetings or requests for necessities. When we were not with the nationals, I learned to greet people in English, so they knew right away that we had a language handicap.
Gestures. When my husband and I found ourselves in situations where no one spoke English, we had to rely on gestures or pantomime. Shopping proved to be the biggest challenge. At times, it was frustrating, but it could also be funny.
In one small food shop, I wanted to purchase something to spread on bread. So, I gestured this to the clerk and she in return gestured towards certain tins containing cheese and meat. This satisfied me but I wanted to know what was in a particular tin. The clerk frowned and thought for a second then she put her hands under her armpits and flapped her arms like wings and made a clucking sound.
“Chicken!” I exclaimed.
“Kolku,” she answered.
We had a hearty laugh about our mutual understanding.
Heart. In all of these situations, the heart is touched or moved, but there is also a communication of the heart, which needs no words or language.
One situation occurred as we climbed the hill to see a monastery. Eastern Europeans love to show their monasteries to visitors, and they are worth seeing. On this particular sunny afternoon, three women descended while we were climbing.
Suddenly, one woman ran down the steps and threw her arms about me and made gestures about my face.
From what our guide could understand, my face or smile had blessed her. Her language of the heart, however, blessed me as well, and we quickly took pictures of our brief, but memorable encounter.
That same day, we picnicked under a pavilion across from some country folk. Without a word, they passed a plate full of spinach pita to us. We exchanged smiles and thanks in their language.
At other times, we found this language of the heart expressed as we worshiped with Christians who sang, prayed and preached in another tongue, but mutual faith drew us together.
In a letter, Natalija wrote to us that she has a job, not as an electrical engineer but with a travel agency. Not only will she give it her best, and be able to visit nearby countries, but this will also expand her ability to communicate.

I Resolve Not to Resolve

I hate New Year’s Day! Did I say that too harshly? Let me put it differently. Were I to choose my least favorite holiday, it would be New Year’s Day.

new_year_s

For some, turning the calendar page presents opportunities, a clean page in life, or a new start. Only the Tournament of Roses parade and a festive pork and sauerkraut dinner have saved the day for me. 

Resolutions are in mode January One. I am not geared to timeless commitments. So I developed an alternate plan. 

Why? My reasons may not sound rational to those who enjoy this holiday, but I do have them, at least four. Number one, I’m not a sports fan. One football game per week is more than my quota. When they are telecast back-to-back and end-to-end, I have reached my participation limit. Turn off the TV. Ha Ha. How could I do that when other family members sit in the cheering section? 

My second reason is that we have come to the beginning of a new year. That’s the general idea, you say. But, it also means that another one has passed into history. Just yesterday, we ended the 90’s and now we are into the 14’s. Oh, I am grateful to the Lord for the privilege to live through a year and enter a new one. I just wish time would slow down a little bit.

Thirdly, the time has come to undeck the walls, store away the silver bells and untrim the evergreen. “White Christmas” has turned into January slush.

Lastly, but certainly not leastly, I am being pressured into doing something with this day. Not just relax and enjoy it, like the Fourth of July. 

Everywhere, I hear this message. It’s the start of a new year and therefore, a new beginning. Time to make a reassessment of goals and objectives. Time to make an important list of resolutions.* What should be the order of my events, or what should be my priorities? What am I going to do with the twelve months, which are before me?

What indeed? I will tell you that, if you will stop the barrage of questions. I resolve not to resolve! Most resolutions never make it past February. Mine would not even make it that far. 

One year my Mother-in-law wrote, “Well, I guess I have already broken my New Year’s resolution. I had vowed I would write 2 letters a day until I got caught up. So here I am January 19, just getting started.” 

And she’s not alone. I read that only 40% of the people who determine to quit smoking on New Year’s Day get past the first 24 hours without a cigarette.

As I said at the beginning, instead of resolving to do or not do something for the next year, I developed an alternate plan. I have started my own tradition of doing one thing on New Year’s Day. This project might take from one to four hours. It gives me an excuse to sit in the family room while certain sports fans cheer a game.

Then, while savoring my holiday meal I feel a sense of accomplishment rather than apprehension about how long my resolves will last.

I have found that New Year’s Day is a good time to:

1. Start or finish a project. One year, I was appointed to the program committee of our women’s society. It was also the same year in which the president decided, in the interest of saving money, to have the program books made by the society rather than send them to the printer. 

Since I had the computer, I did the setup of the books. Many hours were spent in the fall aligning copy and making sure the correct pages were back to back. Then it was time to print, cut, paste and staple–more hours. I have appreciated the printers ever since, even if they do “charge a lot of money.” 

By December, the committee had prepared enough books to give to each member; however, the president needed more for county distribution. New Year’s day became a perfect time to finish that project. 

2. Sew a button. I hate mending. That can never be said too harshly. Items in need of repair stack up in a basket in my laundry room and remain there for weeks or even months. One year, I looked at a skirt I liked to wear but did not, because it needed a button. I made up my mind to sew it and other items as my project. 

3. Schedule my calendar. I don’t know whatever happened to those lazy, hazy days of summer or winter doldrums. They have not been a part of our lives for several years. Now, I find I have to begin to organize time and activities from day one. 

4. Plan a January dinner. One year, my former professor visited a local Bible college to conduct a mission’s seminar. Several of his former students were also in the area at the time. I came up with an idea to have him come to our home as guest of honor at a dinner. With all of the holiday rush, when to plan the dinner and invite the others became a problem. So on New Year’s Day, I sat down and planned the menu, chose table decorations and looked up telephone numbers and addresses for the other invitations. In a couple of hours, I had the dinner pretty well organized.

5. Write a thank you. I used to look forward to a few weeks of hibernation in winter. This was a time to paste photos in albums, sort through last year’s letters, or just to rest before the activities began to roll again. It was also a time to write thank you notes for Christmas gifts received. Or, answer notes written in Christmas cards. Since we no longer hibernate, I have to catch note-writing time where I can.

6. Organize a drawer. At the beginning of one year I had a virus and cold. It was making the rounds in the family and everyone felt a bit edgy. I was glad for the day off to relax and get well, however, I still wanted to do something that would not be too strenuous. While I was in my kitchen, I remembered a drawer that I had been promising to clean. I decided that this would be just the day to do it. 

As I cleaned, I found an outdated calendar and began to toss it into the wastebasket. On the other side, I spied a Scripture verse: “Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (Matt. 11:25) What perfect words for my aching body and congested mind. 

7. Claim a Bible verse. During the month of December, I begin to look for a special Scripture verse that I can take with me into the New Year. In my daily Bible reading I will often consider appropriate verses.(Job 32:7) Sometimes, however, I have found that verse through a sermon in church or a lesson in Sunday school class. I like to read the verse on New Year’s morning and at various times to claim its promises for all the unknown 364 tomorrows.

8. Fast with Prayer. Our pastor often recommends the first Sunday in January as a good day to fast. After all of the holiday goodies I have eaten, I am all for it. I know better than to think I can abstain from desserts for weeks or even days.

But, I can at least stop eating for one day or half a day. Fasting and praying is a positive experience. I have seen several spiritual victories as a result of a weekly fast day.

9. Take a walk. I never commit myself to a long-term exercise program, even though I need one. I can, however, take a walk on New Year’s Day. One year we used this day not only to take a walk, but to also trace genealogy. We walked around several cemeteries copying information from ancestor gravestones. 

This generated the start of a “roots” searching project.

10. Pot a plant. Start work on income tax. 

I resolve to enjoy the day!

–S– 

* The tradition of New Year’s Resolutions can be traced back to ancient Rome.  On the first day of the year, Romans looked back to what had happened during the past year and thought of what the coming year might bring.

To mark the beginning of the New Year, they gave each other gifts including branches of bay and palm trees. These gifts signified new beginnings or “turning over a new leaf,” and were the forerunners of our annual resolutions.

 

Dumping the Waste, otherwise known as downsizing

I took my trash to church tonight. There it was riding in the passenger seat of my car: a big black bag of trash, actually it was hazardous waste. The rest of the trash I’d set out at the curb for the weekly truck: the last pick up at our home.

Since this was hazardous waste: paints, varnish, turpentine, etc. it had to go directly to the recycling center. But the center closed before I would get there. Oh well, there’s always tomorrow.

The only place left in my car was the passenger seat. The trunk was full, so was the back seat. I put down a piece of the foam they were tearing out of the floors of our home.

So there it was accompanying me to prayer meeting.

This was the last load. A bazillion loads had already made it to our new home (apartment). The rest went to Goodwill, Habitat Restore, 1-800-Got-Junk.

Honestly, I never thought of my self as a hoarder or even a stuff junkie but the proof was in the moving. Oh. And did I mention the 14 boxes of books that got donated to church and public libraries.

We still have two full bookcases at the new place.

So how did I survive all this? With three great neighbors, a dear church friend and even the buyer of our house pitched in; his daughters, too.

And there I was following them with their full van load, my neighbors mini van load and my full carload, along with the hazardous waste. But at least no one was singing, We’re going back to West Virginia, even if it did look like it.

Who would have believed we had the professional movers, the donation trucks and pre-moved a couple van loads. Is that what one does in 27 years in one house? Collect stuff?

No wonder I used to have those dreams about moving to a new place and discovering rooms that I never used. They weren’t rooms, they were shelves of china, glassware and cookware. Actually they were hope shelves: I hoped someday to pass them along to the next generation. That too was a dream.

Shelves were also full of hammers, saws, and other gadgets left to us by two woodworkers in the family. They too had a dream of someone in our home becoming handy in using the tools. Another pipe dream.

Some of the stuff, I do admit to collecting. We did like to travel, but I usually bought small trinkets. Even switching to jewelry so I could wear them rather than dust them.

Then too, we’re both writers and never throw any papers away. I mean suppose we need that bit of trivia for the next article. And anyone who has published stuff never throws it away, even if it spends the rest of its life in a file drawer.

But I won’t tell you how much stuff 1-800-Got-Junk took away. Because then you’ll say “nanner, nanner, nanner. I knew a lot of the junk was junk!”

And you’d be right. I mean, who keeps two shelf units full of paint, stains, turpentine, etc. Especially when one seldom paints, stains or turpentines (whatever that is?).

It all clutters up. And now I’m glad to leave a lot of it behind, or at least not take it with us. Wish I could do that with some other things in my life. Maybe I need to take that trash to church, too.

Trains — Timed or Timeless?

Faint light from the pre-dawn sky edged the curtain in our sleeper car. I pulled it aside to get a view of the countryside. Too dark to see anything but images on the horizon, I shut the curtain and looked around the compartment.

On the bunk across the way, my husband slept peacefully. Later, I learned that I was the one who slept peacefully, when he was called out to the train platform in the middle of the night.

We were passing through Serbia, not war-torn yet, but tense.

“I’m not sure how it will go at the border,” our Macedonian host told us as he put us on the night train bound for Hungary.

An hour later, the first pass of Serbian officers was strained but we made it with little comment from them.

When the next check of passports came, I was asleep, but Bob was called out to answer questions. The train started pulling out before they returned his document and let him re-board.

I kidded him about the “sleep of the innocent” but would have panicked had he not been on board that next morning.

Eurotrain

Bob was the train traveler, so this European trip was a return to childhood delight. Memories from a time when he would travel in an American Pullman from home to military school and back again.

If I were a time traveler, this trip would be the beginning of a foreign intrigue. It had all the elements: British-style sleeper car of the early 50s, military-style passport checks and primitive-style privies. Just getting a cup of thick, Turkish coffee was met with wary glances.

It was, instead, the beginning of a two-week vacation from Macedonia (where we’d already spent two weeks) to Switzerland. There, after touring seven countries by Eurorail, we would board a plane for Washington.

When dawn came, I did see the landscape of Serbia –flat with small villages, small bungalows, then sunflower fields and trees with silver linings rolled by. At each whistle stop, we hung our heads out the windows just like we’d seen Europeans do in all the war movies, and learned why they did it: the train is hot when not moving.

In Hungary, the train station was better than the one we’d left, although not by much. At least we didn’t have to carry heavy luggage up three flights of stairs.

“May I help with your luggage?” a welcome voice greeted as soon as we stepped onto the platform. Of course, he was a taxi driver, looking for a fare, but we didn’t mind as long as he spoke our language fluently, carried the bags and got us to food and a good sleep.

But two days later, passengers sat on the ground waiting for two-day old train schedules to be updated. It took a couple from Arizona to help us find and read the schedule. Then, we all ran down a long platform and just boarded the car one minute before departure.

“Now I know why they call it first class,” I said, “You have to be in first-class condition to run the length of the train.”

We caught our breath, however, in comfortable lounge-style chairs and a view of the Austrian countryside showed other beginnings of western civilization. (Johann Strauss’ birthplace is now home to McDonald’s.)

Enough old-world culture–concert music, mammoth museums and cobblestone streets–prevails, however, for us to fully appreciate the land of our forbears.

In Germany, on our way to Munich, Bavarian-style cottages held window boxes overflowing with flowers. Later, fields were plowed straight up the side of mountains where castles still sat high above the Rhine River. We tried to photograph the passing scenes as our train rumbled through the valley below.

“You’re in for a picturesque ride,” a fellow passenger had told us before we boarded the train for Cologne (Koln). She was a Godsend to us after we got on a commuter train headed for Mainz instead of the right one leaving Frankfurt. She came to our aid as soon as she realized our mistake and suggested an alternate train ahead. Much to the amusement of one passenger, we had literally stumbled on to this one, luggage and all.

But we definitely had over packed and learned the hard way to travel light–no more than a backpack and one carry-on! Our Macedonian host, poor man, had helped carry our luggage up three flights of stairs in Skojpe.

Although most of the train stations still listed platforms and train schedules in other languages, after Austria we at least had the convenience of elevators and escalators.

Picturesque ride might be a good description for most of our Eurorail trip, as large windows gave us a view of countryside, cottages, cattle and castles.

I wonder: What view Amtrak gives visitors to America?

Is there an element of foreign intrigue?

Is anyone ever called out on platforms to produce passports in the middle of the night?

 

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