Travel and new adventures…

IMG_5608As I’ve mentioned many times, one of the truly enjoyable things in my life is travel. And since I retired in 2007, I have been able to experience many, many miles “out there” on the road!

Of course, a good number of the travel adventures haven’t come about until we gave up our summer cottage rental a few years ago. We always knew that we wouldn’t be able to afford to do both: a summer cottage and the expense of nice trips. So, after several summers spent on Magician Lake in Sister Lakes, Michigan, we opted to give it up beginning in 2017 and take those trips to places we’d longed to see and visit.

And 2017 was certainly a memorable one for our travels. In mid-August, with a group of friends and otherIMG_5251 acquaintances, we embarked on a Holland America cruise to Alaska’s Inside Passage by way of Vancouver. I had been on one other cruise previously, and it couldn’t hold a candle to this cruise in terms of elegance, comfort, and amenities. It certainly whetted my appetite to “go cruising” in the future! There was never a time on the trip that I was bored or disappointed in the itinerary or the cruising life in general. My one regret for the whole trip, though, was my health (heart valve issue and A-fib) which hampered my ability—or desire—to walk and enjoy the ports of call: Ketchikan, Juneau, Skagway, Glacier Bay, Denali, and Anchorage.

The smoked salmon we had in Ketchikan, the trip to Mendenhall Glacier in Juneau, the train ride through history on the White Pass & Yukon Route out of Skagway and sampling Spruce Tip Ale afterwards, the stark beauty of Glacier Bay are all “moments” forever etched in my bank of memories.

Leaving the ship for the final time in Seward, we made the long bus ride up to Denali National Park where we spent an overnight, leaving little time for any real exploration of the area. The next morning we boarded the IMG_5375McKinley Explorer train, with domed cars for glorious views en route to Anchorage. As luck would have it, it was a crystal clear day, with visibility unimpeded, making Mt. McKinley/Denali as clear and close-up as anyone could have hoped for.

Through all of the miles, the only wildlife we saw other than birds and small game, was a black bear cub scooting back into the forest as we zoomed past. The ubiquitous moose failed to show, leaving me just a bit disappointed.

After spending the night in Anchorage, we had all of the next day free to sight-see and enjoy the beautiful sunshine of an Alaskan summer. The colors were out everywhere the eye could see, provided by flowers larger than we were used to back in the Midwest!

As night approached, and our bus hauled us to the Anchorage Airport, most of us were ready to get back home. Of course, our flight didn’t leave until midnight, so it would be a “red eye” special, of a full airliner, that took us back to O’Hare International.

Weary and travel worn, we made it back safe and sound and recalled all of those terrific moments of our group’s fun days just past.

But that wasn’t the end of that summer’s travel. In September, Carolyn and I would set out on the next adventure—driving Route 66! 

Until next time…

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The highway calls…

One of the things I’m most counting on to “get back to normal” as soon as possible, is the opportunity to get out on the highway and roll onward—whenever and wherever—I please. At this writing, in early January, surrounded by snow-covered lawns and icy sidewalks, I long for the pleasant days ahead that are just perfect for road tripping! Even though I’m still awaiting “official” word regarding the COVID-19 vaccine, and when I can receive it, I’m mentally making plans for dates and destinations once so many restrictions are lifted.

The Mother Road–Route 66…Somewhere in Arizona…2017

If I listen carefully, I can hear Route 66 calling…shouting… out to me—and so many other travelers—that it’s been way too long away! As old friends, the road and I will eventually enjoy a wonderful and rewarding reunion.

No, I won’t be making the entire trip from Chicago to Santa Monica, California, this time. We did that in September of 2017 and still cherish the many memories of the people, places, and character of The Mother Road. Because of time constraints, there was much we missed on that trip, a prime reason for my intention to make the whole drive again—sometime, just not yet.

Living outside of Chicago, the legendary eastern point of the legendary highway, I’m in a perfect location. First, as soon as I’m able, I will drive the whole of Illinois’s portion of 66, ending at the famous old Chain of Rocks Bridge near St. Louis. Because access to the bridge site was closed during our 2017 trip, we weren’t able to get out to it to walk across it, since it has been closed to car and truck traffic for several years. The thought of being able to get back there, when the days are warm and sunny, helps me put up with this cold and snow and ice.

Besides renewed adventures on Route 66, there are other miles to click off, on other roads and highways, such as US-6, the route I enjoy driving from Illinois, through Indiana, ending at my mother’s in Ohio. It’s been nearly a year since I’ve been able to make that drive, and much has changed for all of us in that time. I know, the Turnpikes and Interstates are quicker, but they’re nothing more than a necessary evil in my way of thinking! Because of my absence from all of these old, familiar roads, I believe I’ll see and experience the “things” along the way in a whole new perspective! I’m eager—even anxious—to do so!

Until next time…
The winter outside…from our toasty sunroom!

The road ahead in 2021…

Greetings!

As usual, I have been absent from posting here since writing about my impending “graduation” from cardiac rehab on December 14. To be sure, that all happened as scheduled, and I was ready to hit the next Phase. I took advantage of the three sessions offered at the hospital’s Health and Wellness Center for no charge, and liked it so much, I took a membership for the new year. For the past couple of weeks, I’ve enjoyed going there and getting an hour’s worth of cardio workout on various machines as well as strength and balance with weights and bands. As I tell anyone who asks, “It’s all good!” So my recovery is moving along swimmingly.

Like everyone else, I’m glad that 2021 finally arrived. With all of the sad election outcomes and the turmoil in our country over the COVID nonsense, we can only hope that a new year will include new answers to old problems. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that we’ll all come out of all of this so that we can get back to some sense of “regular” living. 

I was thinking the other day just how glad I am that one of my true loves is reading, especially since I watch very little of what is on TV. There are certain shows that we both enjoy, but I could certainly live without them, as I have for unusually long time periods because of the delays in production, etc. And what’s truly amazing is just how many books there are, sitting on my shelves that have yet to be read. It’s almost as though when I bought–or was given–a book, and I placed it on a shelf, that I knew I’d eventually get to it. This past, strange year has really offered me many opportunities to finally get into those that were unread. It’s been, as it always has been, my favorite way to pass time. So many people can’t see how I can sit still for such stretches to read as I do. By the same token, I can’t understand how someone could enjoy painting a house, or puttering around under a car. I suppose that’s the spice of life that makes us all unique.

In closing, I am happy to report that just before I sat down to write, the mail truck pulled up, and I quickly scurried out to the box to see what she’d left for us. Besides the standard junk mail and other waste, there was my Winter Edition of The 66 News, the newsletter for members of the Route 66 Association of Illinois. Skimming through it, fired me up to make plans to be able to once again “hit the road,” something that was out of the question this past year. But I am seeing a glimmer of hope for the road ahead—in so many respects—and that can’t be all bad! I hope your new year is off to a good start and stays that way!

Until next time…

Cardio rehab “graduation” has arrived!

As the days of December wend their way toward year’s end—rather quickly, it seems—so, too, are many events in my life reaching some sort of conclusion. For instance, the cardio rehab program which I’ve been active in since mid-September wraps up this coming Monday when I’ll “graduate.” 

Sitting here on this cloudy and soon-to-be rainy Friday afternoon, I find it hard to believe that I’ve made it through these months and have felt so much better—physically and mentally. What has made it so hard to believe is that when I entered the rehab program, following several weeks of recuperation at home, I was in no way in any condition to do much moving about on a treadmill for any period of time. My entire body was way out of sync, having lacked the needed conditioning and care—even long before my surgery in August. I had put on excess weight over the last few years as well as totally ignoring a routine of some sort of exercise on a regular basis. Yes, I always used the convenient excuse that it was my deteriorating aortic heart valve, which was the biggest factor for my lack of energy or interest in doing much of anything.

Ultimately, open-heart surgery and an implanted pacemaker back in August took care of that excuse, and the rehab program at the hospital these weeks and months has changed my outlook on most things. Things seemed to be racing away from me and my life lacking needed direction. Now, after a good forty-minute workout on a recumbent cross trainer and treadmill, I feel as I haven’t felt in such a long, long time! I no longer dread the thought of something so basically simple as walking. 

For the most part, my mind is now free of fears and “what ifs” about my state of health, and I now actually smile more. My wife and others even go so far as to say, “You’re a different person!” My weight is significantly lower than it was prior to this year of aortic stenosis, A-fib, surgery, and an endless cavalcade of appointments and doctor visits. And, of course, not to forget the COVID pandemic that has forced us all into a different way of living with altered outlooks on such a calamity and our seeming need to be extremely cautious about everything amidst lockdowns, quarantines, and closures. Even so–knock on wood!—I have made it through unscathed thus far.

And now I have one more cardiac rehab session facing me. I’ll check in at 9:15 a.m. next Monday, hook up a heart monitor, rest quietly a few minutes, and then have my blood pressure taken. After that, I’ll get started for my twenty minutes on the NuStep recumbent cross training machine, providing me a solid workout for the legs and arms and overall cardio factors. Next, I’ll get on the treadmill (that thing I dreaded at the beginning of all this!) and walk comfortably for another twenty minutes.

When that part is over, I’ll once more sit in my assigned seat and wait to get the “OK” that my heart rate has calmed back down and I’m free to unhook my monitor and leave just as I have all those other times. Of course when this happens on Monday, I know I won’t be returning, and these four nurses and techs who have become my constant encouragers and helpers (friends?) these many weeks, will no longer be a direct part of my healing and well-being three mornings a week. And that makes me rather melancholy. Although I only know them by first name and the upper portion of their faces due to the required masking, I think of them as special people whom I’ll never forget. What I wouldn’t give to see them, however briefly, without a mask for the first time! Perhaps someday when we once again carry on in a normal manner…

We shall see…

Thanksgiving thoughts…

Thanksgiving 2020…

Despite what must be considered a dismal year, I still  have much of which to be thankful: Family and friends, doctors and nurses, a new home and location, food and clothing, and the good fortune to live in the greatest nation in the world!

I know that all of the ills cannot be remedied at once, but I do believe that the road ahead is going to be healthier and we will eventually be able to go about our lives maskless and unafraid! Whenver that may be, I look forward to it joyfully!

Happy Thanksgiving, wherever you may be!

Gray day; bright Thanksgiving memories…

It’s that gray, rainy morning I’ve been waiting for here in northern Illinois! 

To be sure, there’s nothing wrong with those bright and sunny days that have greeted us every morning, but one such as this is perfect to finally attend to all of the writing projects I’ve managed to procrastinate around for way too long. I’m really not sure why this sort of day has always prodded me to get the writing going—and sometimes finished—but I’m thinking it may be nothing more than a psychological “trigger” telling me that it doesn’t get any better than this, so sit down, fire up that computer, and quit putting things off!

Whatever any of this means, who really knows? I only know that I always seem to be in a better “writing” frame of mind when there’s an aura of dreariness about. Not to come off as a Poe type, but I do love days that are full of rain or snow or wind that provide an overall sense of grayness. That’s exactly how it is this morning, less than two weeks away from my favorite holiday: Thanksgiving. Understand, I don’t need the gray atmosphere to write about this holiday’s moments that shine brightly in my memory bank. And as the stiff wind swirls the rain all about and against the windows, my mind harkens back to my family’s many Thanksgivings at my grandparents so many years ago.

For as long as I can remember, Thanksgiving, and the days leading up to it, have always created within me a special feeling of joy and anticipation. Not anticipation for all of the delicious food we would enjoy, but the eagerness to be with cousins for the first time since the previous gathering. Those few days spent together provided us a time of fun and a hiatus from our everyday routines of school and life in general. 

Because we lived a few states away from the grandparents, we always had a pretty long drive to get there. Even then, I never balked at a road trip that would involve many miles of familiar places along the way. Most of the time, we left after dad was finished with work on Wednesday, and we’d arrive late that night. My cousins would usually be there ahead of us, so it was always a festive and raucous occasion when we were all finally under roof at my grandparents the night before Turkey Day.

Thanksgiving Day usually began pretty early, despite our lack of sleep after our late night. A quick breakfast, and then our day began! Epic backyard football battles that wore on for hours never failed to get our spirits up—as well as our appetites! I never fail to smile when I recall those wonderful long ago Thanksgiving  mornings.

Of course, after we’d cleaned up and changed clothes from the morning gridiron action, the afternoon featured the main attraction: A dinner which was nothing less than spectacular! 

After all, who could cook or bake any better than Grandma? Sure, she had lots of help from our moms, but it all was her deal! Turkey, ham, sweet potatoes, rolls that would melt in your mouth, squash, beans, etc., etc., and pies of pecan and pumpkin and mince meat were of what dreams were made. As my uncle always said afterwards: “If you came away hungry, it was your own fault!”

When the annual Thanksgiving repast had finished, there would be football on TV and an inevitable card game (usually Hearts) with Grandpa. Our dads always managed to find convenient out-of-the way chairs or couches on which to snooze, and our moms cleaned up the dishes and put the food in the fridge. Ah, the glorious leftovers! 

Then, they and Grandma would retreat to the dining room table that had quickly been transformed back to its normal state and chat about whatever moms and grandmas liked to talk about. Usually, as I recall, there was lots and lots of reminiscing and laughter of bygone people and places. I always learned a lot about my family from listening to some of this “table talk,” and even the repetition of some of the stories I’d heard many times through the years, were still fun to hear all over again. Somehow, it seemed a ritual that was just expected to happen.

And so, Thanksgiving afternoon wore on, and nightfall came early, as it always does in late November. The leftovers were pulled out, and the turkey sandwiches were the perfect capper of the annual Thanksgiving gathering. And even though we were tired, we never wanted to “give up the ghost” and call it quits.

But the day’s excitement and fun was all but over. I was always filled with a sort of melancholy at this point, knowing that we’d be up early the next morning and wending our way back to Indiana and back to that routine we’d blessedly been allowed to escape —if only for a few wonderful days. 

I could go on about other “moments” from other years surrounding this special holiday, but I’ll just say that as I’ve grown older and married and had my own children, through the years we’ve tried to invoke the same kind of Thanksgiving magic that we enjoyed so much as kids. Family gatherings at our own house were a staple for many, many Thanksgivings. And though I would have loved for everything to continue, it’s so true that “All good things must end.” A few years back, that’s exactly what happened. There is no blame to be dished out, other than the reality of kids growing up, leaving the nest, and starting families and their own traditions. Even so, as my own childhood memories of Thanksgivings at Grandma and Grandpa’s long ago were special, our own Thanksgiving memories are forever there!

I hope you have fond memories of bygone Thanksgivings, and may you make many more!

November and the finish line ahead…

Ah, there you are…

Like an old friend showing up after a long absence, you have arrived, bringing with you, as September and October started before you, so many glorious changes. As only you can do, you prepare us for grumpy, old winter ahead. 

Where we live here in northern Illinois, most of the leaves have either fallen, or those “reluctant” ones are on the brink of doing so. It has been a time of raking and rounding up those evasive brown and golden leaves that have detached themselves from the branches overhead, leaving the sugar maple in our front yard naked and alone, ready for the winter ravages that cannot be that far away. img_6672-1

Even though our temperatures have been consistently in the 60s and 70s for an extended unseasonable stretch recently, we know very well that it will not last for very much longer. Those of us who wear shorts whenever possible are aware that it will be “jeans and sweatshirt” weather sooner than we think, so we enjoy this while we can. Those mornings that feel more like a Florida- “Spring Break”-kind, instead of the Midwest model, will be fond and distant memories before we realize it.

Regardless, as nice as it has been—being spoiled with not having to wear too many clothes and keeping the furnace off this time of the year—late autumn has always been my favorite part of the year. Among other things, I love the transformation of nature from September and October before “handing things off” to November, who, like the “anchor leg” runner in a relay, gets us to–and past–the finish line and the inevitable winter ahead.

I could go on, but I’ll close with these thoughts: I kind of like winter, too! And spring and summer.Thank heavens we have the changing seasons. Now, we should all take a breath and realize that it’s a beautiful world around us. We need to pause and appreciate it whenever and however we can. I’m thinking that Thanksgiving can’t come soon enough in a few weeks. I will write about that–my favorite holiday–very soon.

Until next time, enjoy November as it carries us to the finish line ahead!

First snow: Happier times ahead?

Coming out of my cardiac rehab session this morning, I was confronted with our first snow since last March. Sure, it was predominantly a mix of rain and snow, but it was enough to give a bit of a white trace on the parking lots and trees and streets. It was destined to remain on the ground for a very short period of time, but it was wonderful all the same! 

I rather enjoyed this, as I always do, because it seems to represent that we’ve “turned another corner” in the year—that winter is edging ever closer. Perhaps I’m alone in this way of thinking, but I’m hoping that it might bring about a change in everyone’s state of mind. Realistically, though…?

Maybe I’m just ready for another “corner” to be turned in this year of years! There is so much going on in our lives right now, that it’s hard—often—to breathe regularly, it seems. Besides the Covid-19 calamity, it has been a contentious year of political upheaval that has been very draining on so many of our social relationships. Anyone else notice that many friendships and relationships have sort of disappeared because of all this political “great divide?” Sad, isn’t it?

And I’m most definitely ready to turn another “corner” in my own health saga. For the past few years, I knew that valve replacement was inevitable…just not this year! And the need for a pacemaker wasn’t really something I ever considered previously, but the very real necessity to have one implanted during my “surgery week” back in August removed any doubt. 

Throw in the atrial fibrillation that came about somewhere before all of this stuff transpired, and it’s been just one more battle to fight. As I write this now, I’ve had two cardioversions since May, a change to some strong and rather vile medications to deal with the A-fib, and lots of discomfort and worry along the way. A cardioversion is a quick procedure that the doctor sends a control electric shock to the heart to attempt to set the heart back to a normal sinus rhythm. The one I had in May did that, but it didn’t hold for very long.

Fortunately, things on this front are seemingly working out regarding the recent cardioversion and the daily regimen of the meds.  The pacemaker is working fine, and the cardio rehab is a very good thing. I’ve lost about 35 pounds since last spring, for which I’m healthier on that fact alone.

 But enough of my albatrosses for now. As everyone else knows in dealing with life’s numerous curveballs it enjoys tossing our way, it’s a “one-day-at-a-time” thing.

So maybe my good feeling about the light snow that fell this morning—lightly and briefly—will be a signal that better times are ahead; that it’s time to put the current state of things behind us, and move on into a new and brighter time. At least, in my own way, I’d like to think that better and happier times are ahead. It will be nice to see all those smiles again, and maybe some of those friendships can be restored. Let us hope so.

Stay safe and healthy, friends!

Will it ever be “normal” again?

When I sat down to create this blog post, I had every intention of writing about how this has been the worst year in memory—the one from hell! But it didn’t take me long to realize that everyone is well aware of that fact, and why dwell on how badly things have gone?

It would be so easy to list a litany of all of the bad things that have befallen the world, and I’ll do my best to avoid delving too deeply there. I do, however, want to share some thoughts that I have been thinking about through these many months.

 I sympathize with those whose families have been victims—in some way—by COVID, and nary a day passes when I don’t spend time thinking (and hoping!) that some form of vaccine will be ready and available to make a difference—SOON. And I would like to think that it will not become any more of a political endeavor, but that’s probably way too much foolish thinking on my part.

I feel for anyone who has lost a job, business, income, family member, friend or anything else that disrupts their comfort and well-being. Because we are so dependent on so many other entities in our daily lives, and when one of those parts is “messed up,” the results are never good.

I have always marveled at the resiliency of young people, and never more than those whose “normal” routines have been totally altered. Trying to maintain some semblance of going to school, playing on a team, participating in a “normal” fashion, have pretty much stretched the limits of adaptability. Those high school seniors last spring, who had to miss so many traditional aspects of school life—prom, graduation, and various other end-of-school activities—all have my best wishes that somehow they will find ways that will ease that part of what should have been wonderful and memorable moments before transitioning on to the next phase of their lives. 

From my own situation, I have a 91-year-old mother who lives in Ohio, and I have not been able to make what used to be frequent and routine drives from my home in Illinois to see her. Travel restrictions, coupled with my own health situation, have prevented my in-person visits with her. The last trip to Ohio was in mid-March, just prior to the nightmare of this sweeping pandemic setting in. Fortunately, I am a pretty good letter writer, and I have faithfully written (the old fashioned way!) and mailed two letters a week to her. At times, it has been a stretch to come up with something fresh to “chat” about, but she really doesn’t care about that part of it. It’s the receiving of a letter from her son that brightens her day. At least I hope it is!

So how long will we all have to endure the masks and social distancing and regulations on restaurants, bars,  and grocery stores? When will we feel confident that we’re being led down the right paths to survive all of this? And will life as we knew it before last spring ever return in some familiar and “normal” manner?

I guess there are no easy answers, and perhaps what we knew as “normal” is a thing of the past. Right now, it seems that there is way more bad that has ensconced itself in every aspect of life. Somehow, though, I do my best to “keep the faith” and believe that the good will return. I hope you feel the same!

Got to keep smilin’!

Catching up-part II

A scene of recent days that really helps the healing!

Regaining consciousness following open-heart surgery is like returning to the here and now from some distant, unknown journey where there is absolutely no recollection of anything that transpired during the previous hours. In my case, there were about six hours I cannot account for. The first thing I experienced upon beginning to “come to” was the sound of voices, none of which I could really make out what was being said, but it was somewhat comforting all the same.

The critical care nurses and doctors who had been involved with the operation were on hand, easing my return to consciousness in a caring and comforting manner. At some point, they removed the breathing tube, and I was functioning on my own again. And through the haze of waking up, I was able to discern my wife Carolyn nearby, saying my name and some other “welcome back” banter, that I have no recall of what any of it was. Regardless, it was wonderful and uplifting. Although I was slowly coming out of anesthesia and on the brink of total consciousness, I dozed back to sleep.

So that was the beginning of my week’s stay in the hospital. I would remain in the surgical critical care unit for most of that time. One unplanned event happened the following day (Tuesday), which caused great concern for us all. Although I was alert and doing well, the monitors indicated that my heart rate was way too low. Dopamine was soon added to my IV regimen for the purpose of keeping the heart rate up.

One of the possibilities going into the surgery was that I might eventually need a pacemaker for just this very thing. And it was decided on Wednesday that I would, indeed, need one—and soon! You can figure out what I had in store for myself sometime on Thursday. Late that afternoon, I was carted to the Cath Lab and had a pacemaker implanted near my left shoulder. At least the procedure was less invasive and didn’t take too long.

My pacemaker appeared to do what it was supposed to do, and the heart rate issue was under control. The A-fib was still there, though, so I knew that I would be dealing with how best to handle that in the weeks ahead. For now, I wanted to get strong enough to be discharged from the hospital by the weekend.

On Friday, I was transferred from Critical Care to a regular room where I would be until discharge—hopefully—on Sunday. And as it turned out, that’s exactly when I “got out” and, heart surgery pillow in hand, I carefully eased myself into the passenger side of my car and journeyed home with Carolyn at the wheel. Since I wouldn’t be driving for six weeks, I knew I would be completely dependent on her for the few times I had to venture out, mostly to doctor appointments, etc. Plus, with so many restrictions due to the COVID situation, there weren’t many places I could go anyway.

Once home, I had to learn new ways to recover: Showering, getting out of chairs/couch, dressing myself, etc. I am now nearly five weeks into cardio rehab back at the hospital three days a week. It’s been great and each day I achieve something new in regards to strength and physical conditioning. There are a couple of issues to resolve at this point: Blood pressure medication adjustment and another cardioversion next week for the A-fib. Keeping my fingers crossed on this one. 

I will spare the reader any further details of this ongoing piece of the adventure. Instead, I will conclude by saying that for so many weeks, I managed to heal and get strong again—physically and emotionally—through the efforts and love and care of my wife.  

Thank you, Carolyn!