Observations, Learning, and Activities for the New "Over 21s"

Posts tagged ‘Observations’

The Idea of Permanence

2015-06-10 18.16.32At my age (66), permanence is not to be taken lightly. No one ever knows how long he or she has on this earth, and no one really knows if there is an afterlife of any sort. Whether we get to do life again, as with reincarnation; or we move on to a heaven where our spirits live on forever; or whether our life energy just dissipates into the universe–well, no one can be absolutely certain.

It makes me feel good when I encounter someone who is so certain of Heaven or reincarnation. But it also makes me wonder what makes someone good enough for Heaven, and how the universe or gods would judge me for a reincarnate life: have I been good enough toward others? would I come back to life as a person of higher stature, or as an amoeba? Further, I wonder if I have been as good as I could be, or if I have hurt too many people in life with my good intentions? Have I left anything behind for someone to remember me by in a positive way? Would I be missed? Would my loved ones be relieved with my parting?

Life–the one being lived–is the one thing that is not permanent, for sure. True, little in life or Nature is truly permanent. Even Earth will one day be overcome by universal forces and the lifespan of a star, our sun, follows rules of physics, even if we want to believe otherwise. And if Earth one the sun cease to exist, what happens to any spiritual essence we leave behind?

Earlier today, I blogged on permanence in the learning of a new art form, and the relationship of permanence to the learning process, especially of practice work. I don’t claim to be an artist or writer, but what will happen to anything I produce after I am gone? Although there is some perceived permanence to the Internet, how long will that exist? How long will any impression we make on the world be left, whether an impression of our growth or some final masterpiece we leave behind? How long is permanence?

I am so glad that I don’t dwell on such thoughts. For now, just doing what I can to be active, to be me, to maintain contact with my family and friends–for now, that’s enough. I am just glad to be alive, experience new things, and enjoy the moment. I have not always felt like this.

Try hard to enjoy the days that are left to you, no matter how old you are. None of us is permanent. Leave behind the best impression that you can on those proverbial sands of time.


Several hours after publishing this post, I came across this passage in Cat Deck the Halls, by Shirley Rousseau Murphy.

That was the way the world worked, …, in gigantic cycles of change.
But that would be centuries from now, … ; everything about the earth was ephemeral, each in its own time and cycle, nothing on this earth was meant to be forever.
Except … Our own spirits. Our spirits never die, they simply move on beyond earth’s cycles. [p. 16]

Just thought I would include this.  

Growing Older…and older…and

During the past month, I have not been on my computer much.  In fact, I haven’t even been home this whole time.  First, I was in New Jersey for my mother’s funeral.  Next, I traveled to Texas, where I visited with my daughter-in-law and son, got to see my three grandsons, and managed to get my driver’s license (I had allowed my old one to expire).  Finally, I am in Florida, primarily to have cataract surgery so I can drive at night.  A friend had offered her home for the procedure, as both her husband and she herself had the identical procedures at the recommended eye institute.

My friend and I are the same age, and her husband is about 4 or 5 years older.  They live in a beautiful ocean-side community in southern Florida.  A good deal of the population of this community is well into retirement age.  I have been getting a good look not only at myself and where I am in the aging process, but also at the different ways people age.  What I am seeing is that there is no such thing as “normal aging.”  Each person progresses toward the end of his/her life  in a manner unique to the individual.  For example, I have seen a man in his 90s who is doing remarkably well by my estimation, but who those who know him say has slipped a great deal physically and cognitively in recent months–so much so that his friends are concerned.

So far, during the week or so I have been here, I have met a lot of wonderful and vital individuals who are twenty years older than I am, yet seem to have fewer health issues and much more energy.  Others are younger than I, but look and act older (I think–I don’t really know if I look and/or act my age).  I have met 90-somethings who look no older than my conception of people in their 60s (that is, my age), and 60-somethings whose skin looks like crumpled and smoothed paper grocery sacks; octogenarians with straight backs and 60-somethings like me who resemble question marks; 70-somethings with acute hearing and those like me who ask a speaker to repeat him/herself three times before understanding (maybe) what was said; over-60s with general outward symptoms of diabetes and 80-somethings with no signs of ever having suffered from any disease.

My point?  There does not appear to be any way to predict how each of us will age.  It appears that genetics determines whether we can live longer; knowing our genetic affinities may help us to plan our lifestyles to extend both our years and the quality of the later years.

Relating to quality of life, I think I may be behind on modifying my lifestyle.  For reasons I will not share, I did not properly exercise after surgeries during the past 10 or 15 years.  Actually, make that 20.  Had I been physically able to pursue a more active recovery after each major surgery (especially the 3 back surgeries), I would have fewer difficulties with back and abdominal musculature.  I am certain of this.  However, I also believe it is not too late to make changes in my lifestyle, and I am beginning to take advantage of every opportunity to strengthen this old body while I still have the motivation.

Motivation to become more fit is just one of the reasons why I purchased a Fitbit Charge HR this past holiday season (just over two months ago).  I am monitoring primarily my steps, general activity level, overall heart rate, and–something more important to overall health than many of us believe–sleep, especially quality of sleep.

Being away from my physical therapist and having limited access to walking and stretching environments, I have been feeling the effects of a lower level of physical activity.  Being away from my own bed has affected both the quantity and quality of sleep.   Being away from my physical therapist leaves me too “scrunched” and susceptible to pain to follow through on some of the tougher abdominal and back strengthening exercises, too.  These, in turn, make it more strenuous  (as well as more painful)  to stand up as straight as I would like for longer periods and during evening hours.  It is a terrible downward cycle that I am in, and so I monitor steps, stairs, heart rate, and sleep much more earnestly than I would when back home.  I am, after all, away from all things familiar.

Thus, I am more anxious to get back home to the island, back to a place where I can feel more comfortable about getting in the exercise program I had nearly “perfected” when I had to pack up hurriedly to attend my mother’s funeral.  Soon I will be back to a place where I can perfect my lifestyle modification program.

Okay!  Time to get some extended walking time into my day!



On (My) Family

I’ve got a lot of years behind me, and I’ve made a lot of mistakes related to family. But what I’ve discovered is that I don’t particularly care for my family, especially for the way my children turned out. I don’t know what their memories of me are, as none of them have the guts to speak with me, even though I’ve never closed off any doors to them. They, on the other hand–and for reasons they have chosen to keep from me–have shut off any means of communication there can possibly be.

As a student of human nature, I observe and see both the deliberate misinterpretations and the meanness with which my adult children choose to withhold communication. Both are involved with significant others who are nice enough and smart enough in their own right, but who have severe limits in acceptance of differences. But then, the same is true of my children, so the matches are probably heaven-sanctioned. For a while, I was hurt by responses–or lack thereof–related to the only visit I have made to them in many, many years. My own frustration to being shunned upon my return home turned to anger and outright and open vehemence. Upon further reflection, I realized that I simply do not like either my children or their mates, mostly because my own children have chosen to ignore the concepts of both individual differences (specifically in the person who gave them life), of acceptance of the reality of aging, and the ability to weigh the many sides of an issue to determine future action/interaction. Clearly, I had been judged and sentenced without the luxury of speaking in my own defense.

As I have aged, I have suffered from a series of ailments which have left me in severe pain 24/7. Two months ago, I suffered a bout of extreme blood loss from a surprise attack of bleeding ulcers which ended up requiring the transfusion of 6 liters of blood. This can be a fatal attack if one is alone when such a bout occurs. Had my husband–from whom I was ready to seek a divorce–not been home at the time (the attack occurred at 2:00 a.m.), I would have died from the blood loss. He immediately called the community guard who called for an ambulance. Although I was floating in and out of consciousness during the 20-minute drive to the hospital, the intravenous delivery of fluids helped to stabilize me enough to get me to the hospital, where I received an immediate transfusion of blood and kept in the Intensive Care Unit for several days. For the first time in our marriage, and despite rare visits from him when I underwent 4 major surgeries (during one of which I actually died on the operating table and needed to be revived), he was at the hospital with me this time for hours at a time, trusting his fellow faculty at the local medical school to cover for him when he was with me. This was a major feat for my husband, who doesn’t drive, and who had to pay for taxi service each trip. All previous hospitalizations were no more than a city block from his office, and yet he rarely visited. If he did, he spent no more than 5 minutes with me because he had to catch the shuttle to the train station or bus depot. So his frequent and long visits during the bleeding ulcer recuperation was a huge surprise that changed the dynamic of our relationship forever.

Just prior to this attack, we had decided to seek help for our 24-year marriage instead of just ending it outright, either formally or informally. The sudden realization that I almost died on him made him realize that he was actually afraid to lose me, despite all our differences. The effort that he made to visit me frequently–often more than once a day–touched me in a way that I haven’t been touched by anything he did in many years. Thus, we are making great efforts to try to change the way we interact as well as our expectations of each other. We are both taking the continuation of this marriage very seriously. To me, I now know that he actually cares.

Meanwhile, although I posted on Facebook from the hospital, neither my two children nor my sister made any effort to wish me well, or to at least check to see how I was doing. My mother uses no electronic devices, but lives with my sister, and I know would have made an effort to call me if my sister had mentioned my illness to her. Thus, my sister either did not see any of my posts, leading me to believe that I had been blocked from her news feed, or simply didn’t care enough to mention it to my mother. That I had been blocked from my children’s feeds was obvious even before I was hospitalized, although it is not clear to me why my son chose to block me. But then, he ignored any communication I tried to initiate with him since my return home from my visit with him as well, whether via post, email, or direct telephone contact attempt. Upon the recommendation of my psychiatrist–whom I had been seeing since before the visits to my children and sister because I was trying to make sense of my relationship with my husband–suggested I write a letter to my son, who, as far as I knew at the time, was not shunning me. Since there has been no response of any kind, I guess I received my answer about my place in his life. In addition, I wrote to my 86-year-old mother letting her know what my situation had been and simply giving myself a sense of closure, in the event I would have no further direct contact with her. My husband is not good at thinking about letting family members know about any important events, so there was no expectation from me that he would contact family to let them know what was happening with me–although it is clear that none of them would have cared anyway (except my mother).

Since my illness, I have come to realize that family is not everything–at least, not blood relations or in-laws. The people I now feel closest to are people who are not related by blood or marriage (except my sister-in-law and her family). These are friends, whose friendships I cultivate when I can; with each of these individuals, I have had more individual contact than with my biological family as a whole. For the first time in my life I have come to understand the meaning of the concept that family does not need to comprise ancestral kinship. Family is those people with whom one can be oneself, even when one is cantankerous  or when one makes unthinking remarks. I am finding I have Family all over the US and on this small island of St. Martin/Sint Maarten to whom I feel closer than with my biological family. This Family allows for my idiosyncrasies and passions and opinions without believing that I am being “dramatic” or self-indulgent. This Family understands when I take different positions–usually in a single 5-minute interval–because they know I am continuing to attempt to make sense of my world. In other words, they think the same way I think, even if we disagree at a given moment or on a particular point. I like to explore and weigh my thoughts out loud and through practice,and my Family is OK with that. My Family has no problem with being honest with me–often brutally–knowing that I will weigh all their comments and reactions, and apologize when needed or argue my case better when I disagree. These are the people I love and respect beyond measure, and they come from all walks of like–cultural, religious, professional, etc.

Thus, my initial hurt at the shunning by my purportedly Christian family was very quickly replaced by a sadness over the loss of their love and/or caring. For years I have known that I love my sister-in-law more than my sister, and have developed a respect for my niece(in-law) for her courteousness, including the simple written or spoken “thank you” for even the smallest gifts. Not one of my grandchildren has ever sent us a thank you note, and only two have thanked me when a gift or courtesy was delivered in person during my recent visit–but even they have never made an effort to provide the small courtesy of a thank you without physical presence. But then, neither have my children or my sister. What a family I come from and what children I have raised! It is almost embarrassing to be related to them at all.

Although my husband thinks I may be a little premature, I have decided to change my will so that, in the event my death precedes his, not a single token will be endowed to any member of my biological family. None of them deserve it. None of them would consider the intrinsic value of a bauble for the non-financial value I have placed on it. None of them would understand in the slightest why I have put any value on such a trifle. None of them are the type of people I consider worthy of inheriting an iota from a clearly eccentric relative. Not any more, anyway. My Family, on the other hand, will appreciate even the smallest token of what I have to give–mostly because they know and understand me so well. To them, my eccentricities are lovable–or at least tolerable–characteristics. They love me for who and what I am and are willing to accept my flaws as well as my charms. That is why to me they are Family as well as friends. The best part is that they understand my lack of phone usage, which I wrote about in a previous post. (sigh)

Here is the important part: I am more than the sum of my parts. I am stronger than my biological family take me for. I may not have achieved all that I set out to do; I may not have been whatever mythical person my biological family thought I should be; I may have not become the person aimed to be when I was much younger. But I like most of the elements that comprise me, and I continue to try to improve those things I do not like about myself. I am a better person today than I was yesterday, and I will be a better person tomorrow than I am today. I love people for who they are, not for what they are or what they have or what they can do for me. Those people who have hurt me in the past are no less deserving of love than the people who have helped me in the past. There is little enough love in the world, and I will continue to love my family because they are my family, even though they have shunned me as effectively as a fundamentalist religious clan blots out the existence of an excommunicate. However, I will no longer make any effort to communicate with family who clearly wishes to not communicate with me. They are in the past, and there is nothing more that I can do to open lines of communication–especially since I am not the one who closed them.

And I am surprisingly quite comfortable with that.


In one form or another, I have been an observer all my life. It started during infancy and early childhood in my birth country of France. But that was only the beginning…


I was born in 1950 in a small town in France. My parents, Displaced Persons from World War II ravaged Belarus, were “undisplaced” in northern France, in a town that needed more workers for its coal and steel industries. My father came from a family of comfortable farming, while my mother’s German-ancestry family originated in Russia where her family owned a flourishing grain mill. The story of how she ended up in Minsk is much like the Proletariat takeover of the house in which Dr. Zhivago grew up in the movie. Her family ended up in Minsk because they had relatives there. However, the relatives had already left–either through escape or through evacuation because of their German heritage–and my mother’s family was stuck there for a while. Minsk turned out to be a major battleground between Russian and Nazi forces, and male family members who had not already been conscripted by the Communists back in Russia were conscripted or arrested by either the Russian forces or by the Nazis. My father’s family fared a little better initially because my grandfather was shrewd enough to negotiate with those who would take his landholdings by demonstrating how he could run the newly expropriated farm. Although my father’s family lost all personal possessions, they were allowed to move into a small home on the property from which my grandfather could serve as overseer of the new cooperative. However, during the “negotiations,” my grandmother was badly beaten for trying to save her chickens (primarily laying hens) and died shortly thereafter.

Somehow, when the Nazis were defeated through the joint efforts of US and Russian forces, my parents ended up in a camp for Displaced Persons, where they met. Neither of my parents talked much about their experiences in this camp, although they managed to become part of a theatrical and choral group that met in the evenings after work, where they met each other and eventually fell in love. I am not certain, but it seems to me that the camp was in Germany, because they talked about how their German marriage certificate was not valid in France and they had to marry all over again.

In France, they lived in a community of Polish immigrants. The effect on me was that my first language was Polish, as that was the language of the community. So, when I started pre-school at two and a half years of age, I was an outsider looking in on other kids whose native language was French. To participate, I had to learn French. To become part of the group, I had to learn to communicate; so I learned to speak French. Now, science has taught us many things–one of which is that children pick up the languages used around them. In general, the first language children learn to speak and respond to is the language of the home. However, if this is different from the language of the community in which the child lives, the most likely language in which the child learns to respond is the language of the community. When a child begins to attend school, the language one speaks is the language of the school, which usually. Or responds to the language of the community. In my case, at a very young age, I was simultaneously moving through three languages simultaneously, probably learning none to any great degree of fluency, and having to contend with a fourth language–German–when we trekked to Germany to visit my grandmother, aunt, and uncle. Talk about potential confusion! Yet I managed, according to my parents. And then, at age four, we immigrated to the USA–where yet a new language needed to be learned–English.


It didn’t take long for me to end up in what was called a nursery school back then. Again, I had a new language and a new group of children to adapt to. Again, I found myself in the role of observer. By age 4, language skills are pretty well developed, so I had to start at a higher level of “beginning English” than where I started with “beginning French.” Although I observed and observed, it was not until a WWII veteran who worked as school custodian began to help me that I made any real progress. For whatever reason, he took an interest in helping a young child learn English. He was a natural teacher, and led me through naming objects and putting together words and phrases so I could communicate with the other children. Because of his help, I was able to catch up enough with English so that I could attend kindergarten from mid-year (January) in my neighboring school a year after my arrival in the US. Interestingly, not even the kindergarten teacher realized–until the first parent-teacher conference–that I was not from an English-speaking home. In fact, my teacher–Miss Oxenford–so quickly forgot that I did not start the school year with my classmates that she inadvertently provided me with my first sense of “differentness” when we were working on a circus unit.

Each child had been given a circus animal to color. At home, I was not limited to the box of 8 Crayola crayons that is characteristic of what kids got in schools back then; my mother insisted on as wide a pallet of colors as she could provide, and always purchased for me the 32 or 64 color box. I, even then too much of a realist apparently, knew that elephants were gray. I had a personal experience with an elephant just before we sailed for the US, when an elephant at the Paris zoo and a monkey in the same area became involved with a bow that my mother had affixed in my hair. The monkey stole it from my head; the elephant stole it from the monkey and actually returned it to me! Thus, I knew that elephants were gray, and–from my Crayola collection at home–knew there was such a thing as a gray crayon. However, there was no gray in the 8-color box. When I asked the teacher if she had a gray crayon, she turned to the class and asked how she had taught them to make gray. The response was that you use the black crayon very lightly. She had forgotten that I had only joined the class a short time ago, and I remember her blushing when she saw my own embarrassment. The good part of this exchange, however, was that she had established my sense of belonging in the class.

The importance here is that I used the observation skills I had been using for almost 3 years to blend in to a great degree, and to do so in a relatively short period of time. However, I should also add that the embarrassment that I felt forced me to observe even more carefully so that I could avoid future episodes of “standing out.”

These observation skills, due partly to self-preservation and partly to a need to communicate and belong, continued to be useful to me as I grew older. That’s not to say that I always applied the observations good behaviors and shunned the less socially acceptable ones; it’s just that I became an expert on observing and assimilating those observations as I grew older.

The difficulty with being an observer, however, is that it can interfere with genuine and sustained social interaction. And I can look back and see how many times I interacted or responded in a less than socially “proper” way. For example, although I learned to observe behaviors, I cannot say that I ever developed a fashion sense, or that I ever fully understood how I interacted with other children. Because of my parents’ background and their jobs, the social skills that were reinforced were not necessarily those of American children. Because my parents’ ethnic community was more scattered than the communities of other ethnic groups, that led to fewer interactions with local children than were perhaps helpful to my overall social development as a child growing up in America. Home and “community” expectations were simply at odds sometimes with American expectations. So I grew up functioning with one foot in two different communities, without adequately filling either set of expectations–this despite my observation skills…


Li’l Ole Lady Ellie


New Beginnings…

Short and sweet for today…

Just after I christened this site, I had an experience that–although not physically damaging–caused a lot of emotional damage.  I won’t go into it right now, but it was enough to make me forget I had a place where I could explore myself.

Over the course of the 12 days since my introduction, I have experienced an emotional crash, a surge of deep anger, an incredible need to share, and–finally–total acceptance.  Here is a summary of what occurred.

My husband went off-island to undergo angioplasty. He didn’t want me with him, claiming expense. That was the surface reason, but that wasn’t the real reason. However, that’s what I’ll go with. While he was away, I experienced such an emotional peace that I was glad he didn’t want me along.  I finally had some time to regain my own personhood, and it would be at least 3 weeks before his return. Well, because there turned out to be no need to insert stents, he returned only a week after he left.  When he called to let me know, my world collapsed.  Clearly, there was no time to find myself again–that person I was before we married 23+ years ago.  Since then, I have been posting on Facebook, and generally sharing feelings that I learned are shared by more other women than I expected to hear from.  I tried to respond to each individually while continuing to analyze my misery during my marriage.  To be honest, I learned much about myself and this relationship through that sharing back and forth, and began to look at this experience more objectively.  So it came as no surprise to feel the shaft drop yesterday, and the realization that all would be well with me.  Eventually.

Because I shared publicly, others were able to share privately.  This is a shared journey I am on.  I am not alone, and they are not alone.  But it may change the direction of my reflections, from the general life experience commentary to a more focused discovery of personal growth that can start this late in life.

This particular post is purposely vague because I am no longer clear on what this journey will become.  I am certain that things will appear on this site that are of a personal nature.  Those will be shared to help others in similar emotionally abusive relationships know that they are not alone.  Other posts will be focused on general observations prompted by an everyday occurrence, or something I read or heard…  I do not expect this to be a “bashing” place.  I expect it to be a place of sharing hope and positive energies and stories of recent social and historical events.

If you are following this blog, please have patience with me.  Read those posts of interest to you, skip those you have no time for, provide an alternate view point, etc.  Just please do not bash.  We are all fragile just because of our very human-ness.  Disagree carefully and without intent to harm.  Share, if you wish.  Suggest a new topic.  Just keep this blog site safe from the emotional abuse that some readers might be fighting or have fought.  And let’s see together where this road leads.

Thank you.

Welcome to my mind!


So happy you chose to visit me.
On this site, my plan is to share my observations and thoughts, reminiscences and forecasts–anything I believe might be worth sharing with others. 

Although I have other blog sites, those are related to education, educating, learning and learning disorders, educational psychology and research, children’s books… The stuff of which my professional life was built. This blog is more general, aimed at sharing rambling thoughts that may cover some “professional” topics, but mostly personal thoughts on life and living. 

On these pages, you will share my journey of discovering the finer points of my ebbing life, including my observations of change in institutions across time. My eyesight is beginning to fail, and so I am more cognizant and aware of imagery around me. Being a lousy photographer and a mediocre writer, words do not flow from my brain to my keyboard; but I’m hoping to sketch out what I see and how I view the world around me now that I am aging.

Join me on this voyage of discovery. Share your own thoughts and insights. This is a place for me to just be. And I invite you to share my space…to be a fellow traveler… 


Looking forward to your next visit,

Li’l Ole Lady Ellie