It has been a good BAD! year here on Antler Lake.
2011 has been a hard year. The Jeep snowplow broke last winter and got stuck at the bottom of an icy hill, leaving us snowbound until spring. The freight elevator we use to ferry packages from the ground floor garage to the second (main) floor stopped working. This has required us to carry every single thing we consume up the stairs. Golly gosh, it is hard enough getting ourselves up the stairs without the added burden of dog food, cat litter, 24-packs of soda, and assorted other groceries.
The water softener caught a virus and threw up. The heat pump compressor vibrated apart. One of the vans misted US Hwy 8 with four quarts of transmission fluid. Countless electronic gadgets – cell phones, cordless phones, the wireless router, and an e-book reader, to name just a few – up and died. The oven thermostat jammed full on, requiring us to cook everything at 800˚.
Like everyone else of advancing age we have been witness to incredible changes in technology. We have seen 78s, 45s, 33s, reel-to-reel, 4-tracks, 8-tracks, cassettes, CDs, MP3s, MP4s, AM, FM, satellite, and HD radio – and that is just audio. But every new wave brings its share of expense, teething problems, and landfills full of items that were last year’s must-have Christmas presents. Can we interest anyone in several hundred pounds of computers that have hard drives so small they can only load Windows 95? Wireless and cordless phones the size of Maxwell Smart’s shoe, obsolete car stereos, analog televisions, speakers that buzz and hum? How about fifty pounds of a/c adapters from various dead technologies or a vacuum tube oscilloscope?
Given all that trouble with modern technology, can you blame us for wanting to go back to the simpler life of days past? While we were camping in the Black Hills, we had the following family picture taken and pledged ourselves to a simpler life.
That lasted for a couple hours, as we we cooked our dinner over a campfire, used the campground’s rustic outhouses, and pumped our water with a hand pump. But then we wanted a snack before bed, so we fetched the ice cream from the RVs propane freezer/fridge. We played some video games, Smokey watched a DVD, and Kathy read an e-book. Since then we have continued to backslide from everything rustic and natural.
Our troubles were not all technology-based. There was the ice sheet that slid off the garage roof, taking out a deck and a window and bouncing off the hood of a two-week-old car. Total damage: $5,000. There was the pontoon boat that spent the winter in the lake. Tiny cracks in the top of one pontoon allowed water from snowmelt and rain to enter; in the spring we rechristened it Titanic. As far as we know, no lives were lost, and we now have a newer, bigger, and better pontoon boat.
Okay, now that you are all depressed and feeling sorry for us – and maybe secretly glad this all happened us instead of to you – let’s talk about the good stuff, m’kay?
First of all, we are both still above the sod (ice!) and in relatively good health, thanks mainly to modern pharmacology. Crestor, Lisinopril, Lovastatin, Cardizem – sometimes our shopping list reads like a Physician’s Desk Reference. Smokey discovered the wonder that is a shot of steroids and anesthetic in the lower back, resulting in three months of feeling downright perky and full of vinegar… right up until he broke a rib in a fall. Kathy had a similar injection in an aching hip that had been keeping her awake at night; success! All of which is not to say we are ready to run any 5K races, but while the shots lasted we were both able to walk, bend, stretch, and lift better than before. We are now on round two – please wish us a continued low-pain existence.
Last December Kathy was told that her pancreas had “an abnormal curve,” and that it required further investigation. When you are older you realize that abnormal is sometimes a code word for cancer, and cancer of the pancreas is often lethal. On Christmas Eve day, however, Kathy received word that her pancreas was just fine, although perhaps a bit funny looking.
Aside: when did we become the old people who talk about their health all the time? Even worse, when did we get OLD? Recently we watched a PBS rock and roll special that featured Peter Noone (of Herman’s Hermits), Davy Jones (of the Monkees), Mitch Ryder (name that group), Gary Lewis (ditto), and several others. Gosh, did they look old!
In 2010 Kathy’s CPA firm did not require her services; in 2011 they realized they cannot get along without her. She is no longer a seasonal CPA; she is now a year-round, part-time employee. Her hours per week vary week-to-week depending on the workload, but net effect is that she is working more total hours. She will run for a third term as county supervisor in April, is on the boards of several community organizations, and volunteers with several others. Drop some money in her Salvation Army bucket at Wal*Mart this season. If you ever want to know what is going on with us during the rest of the year, check out Kathy’s blog at www.kmkat.typepad.com. Although purportedly a knitting blog, it often features whatever she may be thinking about that day. In its five-year history it has had 10,000+ hits.
Last spring Smokey worked a lot during the installation of a new computer system at the hospital. Not just a lot – three consecutive 90-hour weeks. Since then he has only worked one additional shift beyond his scheduled two days per week. His plan is to work about 1,000 hours a year, which would be half time. This Christmas he will don a Santa suit and pass out gifts to the children at the hospital. People think he looks like Santa. “I get that all the time,” he says. “Personally, I think I look like John Travolta.” It has been nice for him to catch up on the aforementioned broken things at home now that he is there more. His car collection shrinks and grows; the latest acquisition is a 2002 Chrysler Sebring convertible with 97,000 miles in perfect condition. Craigslist, $2500. (December is a great time to buy a convertible!) The car has been dubbed “Walter” after Walter P. Chrysler, the founder of Chrysler.
Last May we spent a few days in New York City with Andrew. While the highlight of the trip was being with him, we did some other fun things, too: a trip for Kathy to a renowned yarn shop on the Upper West Side, Ramblin’ Jack Elliot in concert, genuine New York-style pizza (see photo at left), and the Sunday gospel brunch at Sylvia’s Soul Food Restaurant at 126th and Lenox in Harlem.
Andrew will finish medical school this spring. When you see him thereafter you can officially ask him, “What’s up, doc?” It will be another four years or so before he will become established in his chosen specialty. Next year he will go to graduate school to get a masters degree in public health; he is currently sending in applications. (Harvard, Yale, Columbia, Emory, Tulane – the man thinks big.) The following year he will begin his residency in family medicine. He hopes eventually to work for the US Public Health Service and thereby pay off a large chunk of those annoying medical school loans. We fully expect that, given his love of cold and snow, he will request to be sent somewhere in Alaska.
Matthew and his girlfriend Alexandra got engaged last summer after being together for a year. They traveled to her ancestral home in Baton Rouge twice in 2011, and we understand that Matthew has been found worthy in the eyes of those that matter to Alexandra. She is currently working at Banana Republic in retail sales and plans to start school in cosmetology next year. They plan to marry after she graduates, probably in 2013. We couldn’t be happier to welcome her to our family, especially since she is an excellent cook. She specializes in the Cajun dishes of her ancestors, and they have invited us to their apartment for Christmas dinner.
Last summer they got a dog, an American Staffordshire terrier, one of the breeds more often called a pit bull (but Percy is not at all aggressive). He is still under a year old and has oodles of energy. We dog-sat him while they were in Louisiana last month (he came to us adorned; see photo at right); he spent a week playing with our dog Lucy until they were both exhausted,
Matthew continues to work at the video postproduction firm but is now the resident engineer. He maintains and repairs the electronic gizmos (including the million-dollar whatsit) needed to accomplish the video magic that they do. The job is perfect fit for his talents and temperament. We benefit, too; when our computers or network stop working (see “dead electronics, above”) he is our go-to guy. He continues to be an avid bicyclist. He has one of our cars but uses it mostly to make the 75-mile trip to visit us. He rides his bike to work every day no matter how deep the snow or how low the temperature. Last summer he was part of a 5-man team cyclists that participated in a 24-hour endurance race in Milwaukee. They bested about 200 other teams to come in first. The trip to Milwaukee was fun as well. The team played video games as they coaxed our old conversion van to Milwaukee, as the picture at left shows.
For the last fifteen years we had a big, friendly, sweet-natured dog named Bear, a chow/Newfoundland cross. We got her when she was about two, so she had a long life for such a big dog. A conversion table Smokey found online claimed that a 17-year-old large dog was similar in age to a 110-year-old human. She and Andrew had always had a special bond, ever since we first got her and he would take her for a long walk every day after school without being asked. For the last few years Andrew would say a long goodbye to his dog before he returned to New York, wondering if he would see her again. But time after time he would return home to find her waiting for him, tail a-waggin’. Shortly after he left last Christmas she began to shut down; she couldn’t walk very well and slept almost all the time. We took her on that last long ride to the vet in early January. We miss her still.
In the best tradition of the-king-is-dead-long-live-the-king, Smokey has been on the lookout for another dog ever since we lost Bear. It had to be the perfect dog – big, gentle, furry, low-energy, and willing to be cuddled. We may have found her; we just adopted Keesha, another Newfoundland cross, from an animal rescue organization in central Wisconsin. We renamed her Mischa after the little bear mascot of the 1980 Olympics in Moscow.
We vacationed again in our ancient (1988) Dodge motor home, spending a month camping in Wyoming with a brief break so that Kathy could fly to New York to qualify as a Jeopardy contestant. She passed the tests and audition (again; this is the third time). Now she waits for Alex Trabek to call. While Kathy was in New York Smokey visited his Aunt Ruth and cousins in Laramie, WY. Dear aunt is 93. Look at the picture. Who looks younger?
At the end of the vacation Matthew and Alex met up with us in the Black Hills, and we all spent a long weekend together in a campground near Mt. Rushmore. A good time was had by all: biking and swimming (them), napping (Smokey and Lucy), knitting (Kathy), sightseeing (all of us). The pre-technology portrait was taken in Hill City. We made one more camping trip last summer, a week on the North Shore of Lake Superior. That gave us nearly two months of vacations last summer. This semi-retirement thing ain’t so bad!
Have a great holiday season and an even better 2012!
Kathy & Smokey