For me, 2015 gets a mixed review. January to June completed the first year of retirement for us. We continued to travel. In January, we spent a few days in Washington, DC. The inspiration for the trip was a visit to the Holocaust Museum. Diane had never been there. The memory of our friend, Ragna Hamilton, who was a survivor, is very strong. I read several books about her camp, Ravensbruck, and exchanged e-mails with a woman who has written about the women of Ravensbruck. We located the rough English translation of Ragna’s memoir published in Denmark. Could we work on the translation and guide it through an English publication. We spent an entire day in the museum and met with someone in the Library. Need to work on this idea in 2016.
In February, John Paglione and I headed to James Madison’s plantation, Montpelier, in Virginia. We stopped in DC (hospitality of cousin Ellen again). We spent one day in the Library of Congress — took a tour, lingered in the new installation, the recreated library of Thomas Jefferson, looked at displays in several rooms, even applied for and got our Library of Congress cards. Now we can read books in reading rooms. In the gift shop I purchased a new journal with a antique world map cover. I christened it “the dream journal” — places I want to visit. 2016 projects — a reading visit to the Library of Congress and begin entries in the dream journal.
Our trip to Montpelier was to participate with other volunters and several professionals in reconstructing a slave cabin (check out my post, “Building a slave cabin in Virginia.” Temperatures dropped below zero, we had snow several days, so construction took place in a huge shed. For the most part we used historic, traditional tools. Quite a project but oh, so rewarding. This Christmas I received cards from Montpelier archaeology staff inviting us back in 2016. Diane did a week of archaeology in September 2014 but I don’t think another week at Montpelier is high on her to do list.
In March we spent four nights with John and Barbara Paglione on the Upper West Side. Friends exploring art and food in NYC. Lunch at Eataly; dinner at Prune. We took a immigrant and food tour of the Lower East Side. We visited McSorley’s Ale House and Russ and Daughters; the Museum of Modern Art, 911 Memorial and Tenament Museum. A great trip.
In April Diane and I spent a night in Concord, MA. I crossed Walden Pond off my must see list. We continued on for two nights in Portland, ME. We wandered around the old city, visited the Portland Art Museum and the Historical Society. As on most trips we ate well — J’s Oyster and Street and Company were our favorites.
April and May I went on a trip to Italy with my cousin Joey Lentz. The trip was to visit my grandfather’s hometown, Rocavivaro, on a mountaintop along the Adriatic. We stayed with my cousin Nick and his wife Marie. Many days we spent exploring the village, meeting people, some related. We took some day trips to Capracotta (Paglione hometown), Termoli (seaside resort), Trevento (where grandfather was in the seminary), Castle Petrosa (shrine visited by popes). I got to know Nick’s sons better. Hopefully with their help I can get back to Rocavivaro for another, maybe longer trip.
The first half of 2015 wasn’t all travel. We got Moe, a terrier mix from the SPCA. Moe kept us walking, most mornings I did a canal walk. Diane liked to take him in the afternoon on one of the many trails we’ve discovered in NJ. Unfortunately Moe was too lively, a jumper, just too much work and when I came home from the hospital, he had to go back to the SPCA.
We bought a new car — a Toyota Highlander. Hired a contractor to paint the exterior of the house and I began some additional outside painting. Bought a new wifi printer for our Apple devices.
Diane and I took a lot of local trips — Bucks and NJ explores. Food trips; lunches at restaurants. We went to plays, museums, and the flower show. I regularly took the train to Philadelphia (senior $1.00 fare) — sometimes with plans; sometimes serendipitous. We discovered the Farm Cooking School in Stockton and I took two classes. For Christmas, I gave Diane gift certificate for a class.
I joined a Great Books discussion group and help start a Yardley Photography group that meets monthly in the Continental Tavern. I have not been able to attend since surgery but hope to get back with both groups. Academically I worked with a teacher from the Science Leadership Academy in developing a draft curriculum for the book, “On the Run.” We were hired by Jon Amsterdam who is attempting to get a grant to finish and distribute the curriculum.
Most important for us in the first half of 2015 was the time we had to spend with our grandchildren — Eli and Viv. Jen might call us to babysit. We took them to plays, museums, and they spent overnights in Yardley. We also had time to make contact, have lunch, and visits with friends, alumni and faculty from HGP. One of the rewards of retirement is time to contact and be with friends and relatives.
My life and Diane’s changed dramatically in the second half of 2015. It started about two weeks after I returned from Italy when I developed a urinary track infection. The infection cleared up with antibiotics but I knew something was still wrong with my internal plumbing. A urologist at Penn diagnosed immediately — a fistula. Holes that developed due to tissue damaged during proton radiation to treat my prostrate cancer. The damaged tissue and fistula isn’t common but someone ends up as part of the low but “bad” statistic. We put off surgery until after a short trip to the Litchfield, MA area and our two week vacation with the Kwaits in Cape Cod.
September 16 I was admitted to Pennsylvania hospital. Surgery to repair (close) the fistula was 11 hours. There was more damaged tissue than expected. My hospital stay was a week, including the weekend of the Pope’s visit — no visitors. I was discharged to Manor Care in Lower Makefield for rehab. Nursing homes can be very unpleasant, demand constant advocacy. We realized the surgery failed during a visit to my urology surgeon. It wasn’t a total surprise since I had been told that the repair would be very difficult. Back to Penn for some tests to confirm the failure.
Mid- October, we were finally home. I carried two catheters and an ileostomy. I was still very weak and had a wound on my bottom from surgery that wasn’t healed. Diane and I have spent the past two months adjusting to a “different life.”
Several weeks ago, I saw a cartoon on Facebook. A small girl asked her mother, ” What’s normal, Mommy.” The mother responded, “Oh, it’s just a setting on the dryer.” Like the little girl I have been judging my days by asking, ” what’s normal.”
I don’t sleep through most nights, get up with heartburn (despite medication), can have bladder contractions (again medication) or must empty my new “appliances.” So I sleep later. Not too normal.
Breakfast, e-mail and newspaper are normal. We might have plans to go out — lots of normal activities — shopping, doctor visit, lunch with friends, car tour, or museum. It’s not easy getting in and out of the car and I walk quite slowly. But we keep fairly busy. On days that we stay home, I have been cleaning and organizing — slower than Diane would like. But it’s happening — car, coins, books sold. Photographs in albums, video and DVD collection being edited. These are all activities planned to do pre-fistula — rated normal.
We hired someone to finish the outside paint projects that I started, had the wood stove chimney cleaned, had grab bars installed in the shower and tub. Normal house projects that had to be done. But I am limited in what I can do. We read, listen to music, and watch movies — again all normal. We have continued to stay in contact with friends and see Viv and Eli (but not as much as we would like). They haven’t been able to stay overnight in Yardley — not normal.
Most days about 80% of my activity can be labeled normal. It’s the other 20% that can be an annoyance, a distraction, frightening. I have difficulty sitting, climbing steps, walking, bending, taking a shower and dressing. My appetite is limited. Much of the daily routine is not normal. Surgery, probably, hopefully, in January will make my exterior plumbing permanate. So I think 2016 will be a year of adjusting to a “new normal.” Can’t say I am pleased but it’s the hand I have been dealt.
Yesterday I began a daily walk on the canal. Something I did regularly for the first year of retirement. We hope to plan some Spring and Summer trips. We will expand our local explores, gardening, and cooking. House projects will continue. I would like to restart train trips to Philadelphia, maybe NYC. Interior painting is needed. Hopefully we can have Viv and Eli for overnights in Yardley and can continue to visit with friends.
I think 2016 will be a year to regroup. We need to get back to where we were in the first half of 2015. Once we do that we can look to other things we want to do in retirement. In 2016, we need to create the dreams, the plans for the rest of the decade, living with the new normal.