More Living On The Edge

jcc-signFebruary has been a month of new experiences. Martin and I spent last week at John C. Campbell Folk School in Brasstown, NC where we took an art class in enameling. As artists this was a departure from our usual drawing, painting, carving — more living on the edge.

Taking Highway 11, also known as Cherokee Scenic Highway, across Upstate South Carolina, we meandered into the twisty back roads of North Carolina sometimes wondering if our GPS was really working. Highway 11 dumped us onto Whitewater Falls Road and so on and so on until signs of civilization markedly diminished.

I carried with me a copy of Hillbilly Elegy by J. D. Vance. As we snaked through the winding turns past dilapidated homes littered with rusted skeletal remains of cars and whatnot, I felt like I had entered the Appalachia described in Vance’s book. Martin and I wondered out loud how the inhabitants made a living. We encountered little traffic, and that which we did seemed to not care about speed limits or centerlines. Finally, after almost 3 hours on the road, out of seemingly nowhere, the school rose before us on a sparsely wooded hilltop. This was our home for the next several days.

Welcome to our room

Welcome to our room

 

JCC Folk School is an experience in itself. The accommodations consist of several homes spread across the rolling terrain within the Nantahala National Forest below the Smoky Mountains. Most likely describing the burning off of morning fog, Nantahala is Cherokee for “land of the noonday sun”.

The guest quarters along with assorted art studios, a dining hall, gift shop (of course), JCC history building and rustic offices for staff make up the campus. The main building also includes several rooms for evening events such as trivia games, square dancing and fiddle playing as well as the daily “morning song” of story telling and singing. Everything is very regimented with defined mealtimes announced by the ringing of a bell at the dining hall. There is not only six hours of studio time with instruction during the day, but many instructors also open their studio for evening work as well.

Dinner bell

Dinner bell

 

The houses are retrofitted into hotel type sleeping quarters. However, as we were told at Sunday afternoon orientation, this is not the Holiday Inn. There is no room service, in-room coffee pot or housekeeping to tidy up your room and make your bed every day. There are no phones, TVs or blow dryers and ironing boards. Wi-fi is weak and cell phone service is spotty. We were advised to drive a little further up the hill to a local church graveyard if we absolutely needed to make a call. There is a bin in every room with ‘towel exchange’ written on it. Towel exchange occurs on Wednesday. Oh, and there are no keys to the rooms. That’s right…no keys! You can lock your door with a dead bolt once inside. Valuables can be placed in a safe at the office. Talk about living on the edge, stepping outside your comfort zone; I found unlocked doors a little creepy.

 

 
Sunday night we were introduced to our instructor, Charity Hall (CharityHall.com), a guest teacher of enormous talent. Her equally talented assistant, Paul Roche is an artist-in-residence. We also received an overview of the studio along with a sampling of Charity’s work — beautiful pieces of art. Ovens that would be heated in the morning to 1500 degrees lined one wall. Jars of powdered colored glass filled plastic tubs. Each student had a kit we inventoried. A couple of the seven students had previous experience, but most were novices like Martin and me.

Martin paints a switch plate after enameling

Martin paints a switch plate after enameling

An exercise in frustration for me, our first full day I sought only to keep up with understanding the process for enameling a piece of copper. Forget the artistry! I was overwhelmed. There were so many steps and they varied depending on the piece you chose to create — hammering, burnishing, wet stoning, filing, using saws and a drill. My more scientific husband was able to take the annealing, melting, pickling and various substances all in stride. The safety precautions alone set me back as I cautiously used the ever-clicking ovens and set timers for only two minutes to melt the glass into enamel. Fifteen hundred degrees is glowing hot!

Following dinner at 6 many students returned to the studio. A mentally exhausted me went back to our room to enjoy a glass of wine (no alcohol is allowed anywhere on campus but the rooms), take a shower, read a few pages of Hillbilly Elegy before tucking myself into bed at 8 p.m.

Next morning Martin walked to the main building to fetch coffee in our brought-from-home mugs. We sat with the blinds open enjoying the scenery of the notoriously foggy mountains and sipping hot coffee before heading to the dining hall for breakfast. As a gardener I much appreciated the five minute walk through the daffodil speckled woods each morning. Emerging at the main campus we were greeted with dusky purple, pink and green hellebores and tiny crocus among the periwinkle.

Kathy's enameled fall leaves

Kathy’s enameled fall leaves

After a hearty breakfast of scrambled eggs, bacon, fresh fruit and biscuits, we wandered down another path to the studio, me feeling more like I could grasp the intricacies of enameling, Martin ready for a larger project. By the end of this day, I was still living on my personal edge but approaching a certain comfort with the process as I produced some amazing pieces of art. Along with my comfort came confidence. Exhilarating!

While we, as human beings often shy away from any experience making us feel uneasy, with practice and patience (not one of my strong points) comes comfort. Stretching our abilities is the only way to continue stretching our minds and emotions at any age. Good stress creates a great life. Yes, February was a month of new experiences, of feeling overwhelmed at times and definitely uncomfortable. But, it was also a month for adventure and growth. As I look at what I accomplished this month, I don’t feel retired; I feel reawakened. And I look forward to more living on the edge.

What’s A Senior?

After announcing last week that I was only posting once a month, some of you wrote to suggest I re-post older blogs and others talked about searching my archives. I thought you had a good idea (thank you) and decided to re-post older blogs. This post originally appeared February 28, 2013.

 

I receive a monthly e-newsletter from an organization called care.com. Care provides all kinds of services…babysitting, tutors, pet sitters, senior care, housekeeping and more. I originally signed up with them for pet sitting for when we are away on our jaunts. Until recently I didn’t pay much attention to any of the other topics. But, a couple of days ago I received their newsletter including an article titled, “A Checklist for Aging in Place”. Thinking we intend to age in place as opposed to a retirement or assisted living community, I thought this is a must read for me. But, when the author started talking about walkers, wheel chairs, tripping hazards and the inability to drive a car, I immediately jumped to, “Wow, this isn’t me! At least not yet. I’m not a senior.”

Granted, when we built our house 12 years ago, we built it with the idea of aging in place. With an eye to the far, far away future and the help of our builder, we came up with an open floor plan one story with wide hallways, a huge walk-in shower with bench, and very few steps to the outside areas. According to a 20 year study by the US Census Bureau, 90% of baby boomers are planning, just as we have, to age in place.

But, back to the article. It made me realize there is a huge expanse of years involved when we talk about seniors. My point here is there are so many different stages a person can go through during a fifty year expanse of time that the term senior cannot possibly be all encompassing. In fact, the dictionaries I checked all define seniors as being elderly, on a pension and over either 60 or 65 years of age. Elderly is further defined by Merriam-Webster as “rather old” with synonyms like aged, geriatric, unyoung, ancient, over-the-hill (really!). As someone who goes out on my property and cuts down dead trees with a chainsaw, I do not consider myself elderly! Further, I know people in their seventies and eighties who I wouldn’t look upon as elderly. And, I doubt they view themselves as elderly.

Before age 50 I always thought of seniors as 17 or 18 year olds in their last year of high school. Then, when I reached 50 and saw how many times in our societal order of things, age 50 is referred to as being “senior” I thought this is too young an age to be considered a senior. Ditto for age 55. Now that I’m 64 and hitting my stride I question the entire use of the terms senior and elderly just as I do retiree and retirement.

As Bob Dylan, who just won the Nobel Prize in Literature at age 75, once crooned, the times, folks, they are a changin’.  According to the last census, it’s estimated by 2017 there will be more 65 year olds in the US than kids under 5. And, by mid-century there will be approximately 600,000 centenarians. So, if you become a senior at 50 and live to be 100, that’s your second half of life! Instead of seniors, retirees, elderly, this age group should be called “second lifers”. Or, maybe we shouldn’t be defined at all.

I’d like to hear your thoughts on this. Tell me, what do you think a senior is?

Indifference To Making A Difference

Making A Difference

Making A Difference

On a news blip this week I saw people on a California street being asked how they voted. Since California hasn’t held its primary election yet, I guess this was supposed to be funny when people told the reporter how they voted. One woman even said she didn’t have an ‘I Voted’ sticker because her polling place ran out of them. The reporter then stuck an ‘I Lied’ sticker to her shirt.

I don’t usually write about politics. And, I’d prefer not to hear about the candidates and all the hoopla surrounding this year’s presidential election in the United States. That said, this election cycle is like nothing I’ve seen in my lifetime. But, more unsettling is that as each four years passes, fewer and fewer people vote. The apathy highlighted by the above mentioned comedic street scene is actually no laughing matter.

As a high school senior my history class teacher required her students to read either The New York Times or Newsweek and be ready to discuss politics and weekly historic events in class. At the height of the Vietnam War, the war, demonstrations and the Kent State killings gave us plenty to discuss. This was serious, sobering stuff for seventeen year olds. I’d like to think we all continued to pay attention to politics and events affecting our country and the world.

In fact, I thought my generation would never stand idly by in apathy toward anything. But, the day Martin and I went to vote in the South Carolina primary, we walked into our voting venue with no line before us. We were voters number 6 and 7. The polls had been open for an hour.

I’ve heard all the excuses over the years from people who don’t vote. Everything from my spouse votes for me to not liking any of the candidates to my vote won’t make any difference. Now I’ve heard someone say how they are too old to be bothered with this year’s election.

What?!!!

Whether you like any of the candidates or not is irrelevant. There is no perfect candidate. I have never seen eye to eye on everything any candidate proposes. The reality is someone will win the slot whether you totally agree with their views or not. It’s a matter of choosing the one who comes closest to your way of thinking. And, if enough of us speak out, we may change their way of thinking.

Every vote makes a difference. Throughout our history there are elections where the winner took the seat by one vote or only a handful of votes, including the Presidency of the United States, gubernatorial, congressional and state legislator races. What if those few people made an excuse and didn’t vote? When we vote, we, the people, write history.

Wherever you are in the world, if you have the right to vote, don’t squander making a difference on indifference. Register. Know when the election takes place, date and time. Go stand in line at your polling place _ hopefully there will be a line. Walk up to the booth.

Vote.

JET LAG

In the mid to late eighties I jetted the country end to end, top to bottom as part of my job. As I boarded my flight and settled in, I adjusted the time on my watch to whatever time zone I was headed into. Supposedly, that helped with adjusting my body and mind to the new time, thus decreasing the negative effects of what is commonly known as jet lag. I’m not sure if it really helped excepting in the weeks when I was in the other time zone for, well, the week or more. Then, after getting adjusted to the new time, I’d turn around at some moment, going back to my home base and have to go through the entire adjustment all over again. When I took the job and first started traveling from time zone to time zone, I quickly learned there are two very sane states in the US, Hawaii and Arizona, that don’t tamper with their time twice yearly like the rest of us crazies do. As I’ve spent the last week, like most of the US population, going through what amounts to jet lag, I can’t help but think of the lucky Hawaiians and Arizonans who are not subjected to this brain damage by their legislators.

Oh, sure, the federal government is slo-o-o-o-w-l-y shorting Standard Time so we’re now up to early November for “fall back” and early March for “spring forward” but why prolong the agony? Admit it. You probably don’t even know why we changed the time in the first place. Growing up my Dad used to tell us it was so the farmers would have an extra hour of daylight in the evening to harvest crops. Farming. Supposedly the same reason kids get out of school in June. So, even though our society is no longer largely agrarian and farmers have machines that can do the work of 10 people, we still enslave ourselves to this antiquated notion of time change. Well, not so fast. Farming has nothing to do with it. Daylight Saving Time is not just practiced in the good ol’ US of A. There are dozens of other countries bent on upsetting the sleep patterns of their populations. It seems this all started with World War I to save coal. Coal! Then we all stopped fighting and the time change was repealed. Even though legislators back then didn’t have data showing how the time change didn’t save on energy, disrupted sleep patterns and may even cause heart attacks, they saw the craziness of all this nonsense and pulled the plug. But, we all went insane again, got another world war started and, along with the guns and ammunition, we pulled Daylight Saving Time back out of the same hat. Only thing is, following the end of World War II, our legislators didn’t repeal the law. Hence, twice yearly national jet lag, save Hawaii and Arizona.

I thought, since I’m retired and all, the time change really wouldn’t have much effect on me. But, you see, like many people, I have pets. When a cat is used to meowing at the bedroom door for breakfast at 6:30 a.m., you can’t just say, “Now tomorrow the clock will say 5:30 a.m. so we want you to sleep for another hour so we can all adjust to the time change. Yay…we’re sleeping in. OK?” And, think of the poor people with dogs, who show up bedside, leash in mouth, eyes begging for that morning walk. How do you tell Fido he has to wait another hour to relieve himself? As the morning person in our household, Martin’s the one who feeds the “kitty kids” every morning. So, Martin’s solution is to make the cats wait an extra 10 minutes for him to get up. Then, once they’re used to that, he’ll stretch it another 10 minutes. I figure by the time we get to “spring forward”, he should have the cats on Standard Time and he can start all over again. However, so far, the cats are winning so he may just have to stay on Daylight Saving Time all winter. And, me? Well, I’m sleeping in.

“PRESENT JUROR”

A few weeks ago I received a jury summons. I’ve been summoned several times before. When I was summoned for federal court a few years ago, the summons came with a four page questionnaire asking all kinds of information about my jobs, Martin’s jobs and life events. After sending back the questionnaire, I received a letter telling me I did not need to report. I was rejected! Apparently, I wasn’t the type of juror they wanted. But this summons was for summary court, which is basically traffic court, so there was little to fill out on the questionnaire. Where it asked for place of employment, I simply answered “retired”.

So, last Tuesday I reported to summary court along with what looked like a hundred other people. By the time I arrived, there was no parking left in the court-house parking lot. Apparently arriving 15 minutes early wasn’t early enough. So, some of us parked at the church next door, flowing over onto their grass. Others parked at the gas station and Subway shop across the street. Still, others filled the side streets. We lined up, signing in when our turn came and then filled the court to standing room only. Along with we perspective jurors, there were attorneys with their clients, the defendants, a prosecutor and other defendants sans attorneys who were representing themselves.

I sat in the first seat I came to…the front row that nobody wants. Looking through the open door to the closed door across the hall, I stared at a poster of Albert Einstein on a big Harley hog of a motorcycle. Not exactly what you’d expect to see in a courthouse. The man seated next to me and I both laughed at the poster, surmising that must be the magistrate’s chambers. Yup! Eventually, the magistrate appeared through another door leading to the same office. He looked very official in his black robe. But, yes, he must be the Harley guy. The long beard almost touching his chest was a dead giveaway. As the buzz in the room quieted down, the magistrate introduced himself and the prosecutor and started to explain the process of jury selection.

There were several trials over the next three days, starting today at 11:30 a.m. They expected jury selection to be over by 11 a.m. Not wasting any time here! He asked each of us to stand up when our name was called. We were to state our name, our occupation, our marital status, our spouse’s occupation, if we had one, and our age. If we were retired or unemployed, we were to state our previous occupation. Ditto for our spouse. I found it interesting that they didn’t want to know if we had a significant other and what did they do with their living. I guess the influences of those close to you only count if you’re married. So, one by one, we stood up during roll call, gave our information in front of the group, as attorneys, defendants and the prosecutor made notes, presumably deciding who was acceptable or not.

Then, the magistrate proceeded to call out the possible exemptions from jury duty. He asked anyone meeting the criteria to raise their hands. There were several teachers, whom he excused with the promise they would be placed on the summer roster. When he came to the 65 years or older exemption, he paused. Then, noting how he was 67, he further noted retirees make excellent jurors because of all the experience they bring to the jury. Hmmm. The subtle guilt tactic. So, the pressure was on not to raise your hand if you were 65 or older. Regardless, one brave woman put up her hand, was excused and made a very quick exit. Next, he went on to ask about anyone convicted of a crime where they were sentenced to one year or more in prison. To my surprise, the man next to me raised his hand and was dismissed. When the magistrate asked who had been charged with DUI (driving under the influence), more surprise. I turned to look at a sea of raised hands. O.K. if they all get dismissed, there’s not going to be but fifty of us left to serve on all the juries needed this week. Alas. While they all had to get up and give their names, no one was dismissed.

Finally. We were at the moment of jury selection. We all received our summons because we are voters. Supposedly, a computer runs through the registered voters and randomly chooses the jury pool for the session. My ever-suspect little mind isn’t sure it quite believes the randomness part as my question, then, becomes, if Martin is also a registered voter, why has he never once received a summons when I receive one about every three years? Well, anyway, that’s how we all got there. Now that we’re all sworn as possible jurors, however, we are not chosen randomly by computer. Instead, our names, typed out on strips of paper, are stuffed into a little wooden box, which the magistrate shakes up, then opens up and starts pulling names from. It’s sort of like pulling names out of the hat. Very scientific.

If your name is called by the magistrate, you stand up. If the prosecutor likes you, then he says, “Present juror”. If he doesn’t like you, he says, “This juror may be excused from this trial”. Then, if the defendant’s attorney, or the defendant representing themselves, likes you, they say, “Please seat this juror”. If they don’t like you, they say, “This juror may be excused from this trial”. All very formal. Six jurors were chosen for each trial. After each jury was filled, a constable handed the selected jurors a paper with the date and time of their jury duty. One man, having already been chosen for one jury, was called a second time. When he indicated to the magistrate how he was already selected, the magistrate said, “Oh, you’re not off the hook. If you get chosen for five trials, well, then, go buy a lottery ticket.” I don’t think anyone was chosen for five trials but several people were chosen for two or more.

As for me, my name was pulled from the box five times. And, each time, either the prosecutor or the defending attorney/defendant said, “This juror may be excused from this trial”. I have no idea if they didn’t agree with the judge about retired people bringing lots of experience to the jury or they didn’t like the kind of experience I was bringing. Whatever the reason, I’ll never know. But, I do know, today, I’m going to buy my lottery ticket.