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Watching the Sun creep towards the Watchman Campground at Zion National Park. — Photo by Pat Bean

Aging my Way

Not sure what my brain was up to this morning, but after reading some words by Eleanor Roosevelt — “You gain strength, courage and confidence in every experience … You are able to say to yourself, I have lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along” – I thought of a few things I had lived through.

Like falling asleep in a hot bath and dropping the book I was reading into the water. Or sitting out a windstorm in Amarillo and being thrown six feet onto the ground by a huge gust when I opened the RV door.

I guess what I learned from those experiences was to not fall asleep in the bathtub, and to stay inside when the wind was gusting. Of course, I did continue to read in the bath (it was a safety zone away from my five children) and I still go outside on windy days.

Knowing is not always doing.

Then I remembered a horrible, horrible morning back in 2009 (that was how I referred to it in my journal) when I was camped out in Zion National Park. I had spilled coffee grounds inside my tennis shoes, used hand lotion instead of conditioner on my head, and then discovered my RV wouldn’t start because I had forgotten to turn its lights off after coming through Zion’s mile-long tunnel. To make things even worse, I couldn’t find my driver’s license.

Then a friend came along and got my RV started, and then found my driver’s license. While he couldn’t do anything about my hair, he fixed us both some coffee – with fresh grounds – while I dumped the ones in my tennis shoes in the trash.

As we sat outside and drank the coffee, with a little Irish Cream added to ward off the chill until the sun creeped up and over the red-rock ridges to our east, I knew what I had learned that day. It’s good to have a handy friend.

Pat Bean is a retired award-winning journalist who lives in Tucson with her canine companion, Scamp. She is an avid reader, the author of Travels with Maggie available on Amazon (Free on Kindle Unlimited), is always searching for life’s silver lining, and these days aging her way – and that’s usually not gracefully.

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Nature scenes take away the cacophony in my brain. — Art by Pat Bean

Aging My Way

When I was a kid, I read few children’s books, having graduated into adult fiction almost as soon as I could put words together into sentences.

I mean, how boring is: See Dick and Jane run with their dog, Spot. While Theodore Geisel’s first children’s book, And to Think What I Saw on Mulberry Street, was published in 1937, and I was born in 1939, I don’t recall ever seeing a Dr. Seuss book until I bought them for my own children in the 1960s.

My reading of adult books at such an early age, however, meant that I often came across words I didn’t understand. I simple passed over them, guessing their meaning from the context of what I was reading. But then came the day – I think I was about 11 – when the word cacophony had me stumped.

I remember rummaging through the chest of books that I had inherited from my late grandfather’s library, which included the complete works of Robert Louis Stevenson, Edgar Allen Poe, Charles Dickens and even Kathleen Windsor’s Forever Amber – which I had to read a second time when I was older because a classmate called it a “dirty book – until I found a well-worn thick Webster’s Dictionary. I had known it was there, but I had only opened it once, thinking it was as boring as Dick and Jane.

Cacophony, I learned, meant a bunch of loud, discordant sounds. There was more, and I was fascinated. It would take more than a decade after that incident, before I had even an inkling that I wanted to be a writer. But I never stopped searching out the meaning of any strange, new words I came across.

At this point in my life, I absolutely love it when an author sends me scrambling for a dictionary. While the tattered Webster is long gone, I now resort to the internet to find meanings and answers.  

I do this almost daily, especially when I’m reading books written by authors like Peter Matthiessen, who casually uses such words as leucogeranus, and japonensis. Discovering the meaning of such words means I’ve met my goal of learning something new for the day.

Cacophony, meanwhile, is still one of my favorite words. What is yours?Pat Bean is a retired award-winning journalist who lives in Tucson with her canine companion, Scamp. She is an avid reader, the author of Travels with Maggie available on Amazon (Free on Kindle Unlimited), is always searching for life’s silver lining, and these days aging her way – and that’s usually not gracefully.

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My Canine Companion Scamp keeps me smiling all day long.

Aging My Way

I was recently thinking about things that make my current life better. While earlier lists might have included climbing a mountain, winning a journalism award, or rafting a wild river, this one’s for the 83-year-old I am today.

Being able to walk my canine companion, Scamp — even if I have to use a rollator to do it.

Not taking anything other people do or say personally.

Writing and journaling.

Watching birds, anywhere, anytime.

Reading and listening to audible books.

Believing in myself.

Accepting that I’m not perfect.  

Learning something new every day.

Watching Survivor, Amazing Race and the Challenge on TV, and then discussing the programs with my son, D.C,

Getting enough sleep, but also occasionally having a fun night out to keep going until I drop.

Smiling.

Living independently in my own cozy apartment.

Hugging someone.

Playing computer games.

Watching my great-grandchildren grow up on Facebook.

Third Wednesdays – because that’s the day I get my Social Security check,

Laughing often and loud, especially at myself

Eating chocolate – especially with a Jack and Coke before bed.

Piddling around with my watercolors.

A surprise box from my Guardian Angel daughter-in-law.

Completing a project.

Saying no when I don’t want to do something.

Not breaking promises to myself.

Doing something I’ve never done before.

Watching sunrises and sunsets.

Completing a 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzle.

Entertaining and cooking for friends.

Playing Frustration with my granddaughter Shanna and her wife Dawn.

Visits, phone calls, email and snail mail from loved ones and old friends.

Simply sitting and connecting life’s dots in my head.

Getting paid for something I’ve written.

Pat Bean is a retired award-winning journalist who lives in Tucson with her canine companion, Scamp. She is an avid reader, the author of Travels with Maggie available on Amazon (Free on Kindle Unlimited), is always searching for life’s silver lining, and these days aging her way – and that’s usually not gracefully.

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On Being Still

These days I go to bed with the chickens but wake with them at o-dark-hundred as well. I used to make fun of my mother for doing the same thing. Thinking back, I realize she could never sit still either. I’m proud I share her DNA. — Art by Pat Bean

Trying to Age Gracefully

As those who read my blog regularly know, I’m a big fan of Louise Penny’s Inspector Garmache. Well, I’m currently reading the 11th book in the series, The Nature of the Beast. In it, Gamache has retired to the peaceful village of Three Pines, where he is sitting on a bench mulling over a murder case in which he has been consulted, and an opportunity offered him to return to work.

As I read, I came across this sentence, which so totally describes my present situation that I wrote it down in my journal. “Garmache knew that sitting still was far more difficult, and frightening, then running around.”

After a lifetime of running around – raising five kids, working for a newspaper and chasing stories on deadline, and leading an active outdoor life of hiking, rafting, tennis, skiing and exploring the wonders of nature, here I am mostly stuck at home. I’m just now able to slowly walk my dog using a rollator – and very thankful I can do so, because for a while I couldn’t even do that.

Being still is harder on me, emotionally, than all the running around I used to do. But I’m doing my best to adjust. It’s part of my plan to age gracefully and to be thankful for all the things I can still do – and things I love to do but never had enough time to do when I was younger and in better shape than I am at 83,

I read, write, journal, draw and paint, do jigsaw and crossword puzzles, write snail-mail letters to friends, moderate a writing chat group, spend a little time on Facebook to keep up with friends and family, peruse and weep over the news, cook and do my own housework a small bit at a time, usually between chapters in books, watch birds at my feeders and in my yard, play Candy Crush, Scrabble or Spider Solitaire games, snuggle with my canine companion Scamp, visit with friends who drop by, watch sunsets with a cocktail, and occasionally stream  a TV program.

Writing all this down makes me think I’ve found my own way to continue running around. And thankful I am for finding it. Being still, I think, is not yet a part of my DNA.

Pat Bean is a retired award-winning journalist who lives in Tucson with her canine companion, Scamp. She is an avid reader, the author of Travels with Maggie available on Amazon (Free on Kindle Unlimited), is always searching for life’s silver lining, and these days learning to age gracefully.

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A Sandhill Crane family at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge

I just started reading The Birds of Heaven by Peter Matthiessen. The birds he refers to are cranes, of which there are 15 species, 11 of which are considered threatened or endangered. While the book was published in 2001, nothing seems to have changed much since then.

I have seen three of the crane species: Whooping and Sandhill cranes found in North America and the Grey-Crowned Crane, which I saw in Tanzania’s Ngorongoro Crater.

Where I live here in Tucson, Sandhill Cranes can easily be seen. They gather at a place just two hours away from me at a place called Whitewater Draw, where they spend the winters. I’m also seen Sandhill Cranes in Texas and in Utah, where I was privileged to see them conduct their mating dance. And I once had several fly overhead just a few feet above me. It was magical.

The Grey-Crowned Crane sighting in Africa was a one-time thing but I’ve been privileged to see Whooping Cranes twice on the Texas Gulf Coast, where they winter. The first sighting was at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge and the second was from a boat out of Port Aransas.

It was in Port Aransas that I met George Archibald, who wrote the forward in Matthiessen’s book. George is the co-founder of the International Crane Foundation and is considered the Quixote of craniacs. I attended a workshop of his in which he entered wearing a crane outfit, which we learned he used in raising crane chicks so they would not become used to humans before being released in the wild.

I can’t help but think I’m going to enjoy reading The Birds of Heaven. Cranes are magnificent birds.

Pat Bean is a retired award-winning journalist who lives in Tucson with her canine companion. She is an avid reader, the author of Travels with Maggie available on Amazon (Free on Kindle Unlimited), is always searching for life’s silver lining, and these days learning to age gracefully.

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The Journey

Anhinga — Art by Pat Bean

I recently came across the phrase, “…that good book you read for the journey and not the ending,” which sent my mind scurrying in two directions

The first thought related to my memories of the many books I have read in which I couldn’t wait to get to the end to find out how everything turned out, and that includes most of the mystery books I have read over my lifetime. And then there were the books that I never wanted to end. Usually those were ones that made me think and opened new doors in my brain.

The second place my mind scurried to was about bird watching, which I didn’t become addicted to until I was 60. Before one fateful 1999 April day, I was seldom aware of the bird life around me, even though all my life I’ve been an avid nature lover. After that day I couldn’t not see birds everywhere and wondered how I had missed them.

And since that April day, I have also faithfully kept a bird list of all the birds I have seen. It’s a common habit among bird watchers.

The thoughts that crystalized while I was reading Neil Hayward’s book, Lost Among the Birders, included the two kinds of birders I’ve come across while bird watching. The vast majority were birders who enjoyed the journey, but I’ve also met a few birders who were more interested in adding a new bird to their list then again watching common birds like house sparrows and their antics.

While I sort of pity the latter, I realize it’s a personal choice and just as valuable to them, as my choice is to me. Perhaps they pity me,

Because time has become so precious to me in my 8th decade on planet earth, I’m carefully weighing my choices these days. The years have shown me that almost all choices – except those that do harm to someone – are right ones. We just have to find what works best for ourselves, and hopefully come to respect the different choices others make.

I’ve also learned that if you make a bad choice, you can always reverse your direction. That little bit of wisdom comes from all the wrong choices I have made in life.

Pat Bean is a retired award-winning journalist who lives in Tucson with her canine companion, Scamp. She is an avid reader, the author of Travels with Maggie available on Amazon (Free on Kindle Unlimited), is always searching for life’s silver lining, and these days learning to age gracefully.

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A tree and birds. I like that. — Art by Pat Bean

Nothing like a day spent at a hospital emergency room after being woke up at 3 a.m. with crippling leg pain to set you on a path of new beginnings. I swear it was worse than childbirth, and I have five children.

Thankfully, it wasn’t a blood clot, or something else life-threatening. After tests, it turned out to be related to the back pain I’ve been fighting for a few years – just on an atomic bomb level.

It clearly called, however, for a major change in my life, one family members have been pestering me to take for a few years now, a move to a ground-floor apartment. I know I’ve been a stubborn bitch for not heeding their advice, but I loved my apartment, and I wasn’t interested in a change, even if it meant continuing to walk my dog up and down three flights of stairs four or five times a day, not to mention laundry and errand trips.

I’ve been calling it my fool-proof exercise plan. But dang-it, the plan was no longer working.

So, while recovering this week at home, with family and friends taking on my dog-walking duties, I came across a quote by Stephanie Raffelock, which I found in her book, “A Delightful Little Book on Aging.

We should all take a little more time to cry and wail, allowing tears to baptize us into fresh starts,” she wrote.

Well, I certainly did that Friday. I wailed and sniveled practically all day about my horrid, bad, no-good dilemma. Then on the weekend, I begin online searches for a new apartment. It wasn’t looking good, until my granddaughter Shanna and her wife Dawn, remembered a small nearby apartment complex that they had looked at for themselves a few months ago.

Its office was closed until Monday, but with them carefully ushering me down the stairs, we drove by to take a look at the apartment that was for listed to rent on their web site. It was just about 10 minutes away, a location near the top of my priority list because I wanted to stay in Tucson’s Catalina Foothills, which I’ve come to love since moving to Arizona in 2013.

While I still haven’t looked at the inside, I immediately fell in love with the soon-to-be-vacated outside’s large, fenced-in patio that had doors leading to it from both the bedroom and living areas. It would be perfect for simply letting my canine companion Scamp in and out, an amenity that topped my list of must haves, given that I’m 83 and my back pain is likely to recur.

The clincher for me was the huge tree growing in the middle of the patio. You should know that I once bought a house almost solely because I fell in love with its huge backyard tree.

The new neighborhood is older but nice, and the small apartment complex grounds abounded with flowers and greenery. And within minutes I was looking at birds, including nesting doves above the office door. I can already envision a small fountain and bird feeders beneath that patio tree.

All of the above gave me the confidence that I can meld the inside to fit my needs. Age has let me know that no one can ever simply have everything they want, but it looks like I will have all I need for a happy life.

I cinched the deal Monday and will be moving in around the middle of August. I’m so excited about this new beginning that I’m not even thinking about all the tasks involved in a move. Not yet anyway.

Pat Bean is a retired award-winning journalist who lives in Tucson with her canine companion, Scamp. She is a wondering-wanderer, avid reader, enthusiastic birder, Lonely Planet Community Pathfinder, Story Circle Network board member, author of Travels with Maggie available on Amazon (Free on Kindle Unlimited) and is always searching for life’s silver lining.

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Viewing Niagara Falls from the bow of the Maid of the Mist

In The Beautiful Mystery, book eight of Louise Penny’s Inspector Garmache series, one of the homicide investigators is sitting at the bow of a boat as it speeds across the water, reveling in the spray of water peppering his face.

The writing reminded me of all the times in my life that I, too, have claimed the bow of a boat.

My first experiences were simply sitting up front as someone else drove a motorboat around a lake. Then I discovered white-water rafting when I was 40. From the first, I wanted to be up front.

Never was I happier than facing an oncoming wild wave with only a paddle to defend myself. If I plunged the paddle just right into the oncoming torrent, I would both be able to help pull the raft through the onslaught and be held firmly in the raft.

Misjudge, and the wave would eat you and not so gently toss you around in a maelstrom of fast-running water and currents. If you were lucky, it would finally let your life jacket float you to the life-giving air above. I lost the wave battle a few times during my white-water days – but I was lucky.

Why would somebody do something so stupid, you might ask? I think, back then, I might have said because it’s fun, exhilarating. Thinking on it now, I know it was more than that. I don’t consider myself brave, as my ski instructors well knew from my fear of pointing my skis downhill. I don’t try to beat red lights and these days I always hold on to railings when I walk up or down stairs.

But I think each of us might need just a little something to let us know we’re truly alive. For me, it was sitting up front in a boat and being drenched with spray, or as close to that as I could get.

 I also remember a time when I scrambled my way through a crowd of tourists to grab a front-row view on the Maid of Mist for a water-drenching view at the bottom of Niagara Falls. The ferry, which has operated since the mid 1800s, takes passengers quite close to the falls. I got so drenched that the blue plastic poncho handed to me as I boarded the boat was totally useless. But the exhilaration lasted for hours – as did my wet jeans.

Louise Penny’s words brought back all those magical memories so clearly that I suspect she might have sat at the bow of a boat a time or two herself.

Pat Bean is a retired award-winning journalist who lives in Tucson with her canine companion, Scamp. She is a wondering-wanderer, avid reader, enthusiastic birder, Lonely Planet Community Pathfinder, Story Circle Network board member, author of Travels with Maggie available on Amazon (Free on Kindle Unlimited), and is always searching for life’s silver lining.

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1953 House of Wax Movie Poster

Back in the mid-1950’s, I watched a movie called “House of Wax,” starring Vincent Price, whose character created his wax figures using people he killed. The part of the movie that stayed with me for months afterwards involved a missing head.

 Every time I went into the garage, which held a freezer and a washing machine, I feared I would come across that head. Perhaps the fact that the movie was presented in 3D had something to do with my fright, but I’ve not watched a true horror film since then.

But I have children, grandchildren and friends who love nothing better than going to a scary movie. I thought about the reason behind this willingness to be scared this morning. It popped into my head while I was reading Ann Lamott’s Bird by Bird, in which the author talked about the fear of letting oneself be imperfect when writing that “first shitty draft.”

Before you ask, I have to say I don’t know why my brain made this odd connection. It just did. And then it jumped to what I have done over the years that gave me a fright. For one thing, I loved riding roller coasters, the bigger, faster – and scarier – the better.

And then in my 40s, I took up white-water rafting. There was nothing I enjoyed more than sitting in the front of a raft facing a roaring rapid – even after I fell out of the boat in Granite Rapid floating the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon. When I was pulled back into the boat, after being thrashed through the racing water quite vigorously, I was still eager to take on the next stretch of rapids, of which there were many ahead.

 Was I afraid? Yes. But adrenalin coursed through my body and I felt more alive than ever. Remembering this, I might have just answered my own question of why people want to be scared.

But no way will I watch a horror movie.

Pat Bean is a retired award-winning journalist who lives in Tucson with her canine companion, Scamp. She is a wondering-wanderer, avid reader, enthusiastic birder, Lonely Planet Community Pathfinder, Story Circle Network board member, author of Travels with Maggie available on Amazon (Free on Kindle Unlimited), and is always searching for life’s silver lining.

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Books and Birds make me happy. — Art by Pat Bean

I’m currently reading Bury the Dead by Louise Penny, whose protagonist features Armand Gamache, a homicide inspector in Quebec. He’s an older man who’s risen through the ranks to a leadership position, and a thoughtful man whose mind is always pondering about the people he meets and what makes them tick.

I wouldn’t call Louise’s books a cozy. They’re darker than that, but the darkness comes more from looking into the corridors of the black places in the mind of possible suspects than blood and gore.

Reading Penny’s words this morning was like taking a graduate course in psychology. It was wonderful.

I came away with bits of wisdom and much to ponder about how the author’s words translate to my own life. One of the many thoughts of wisdom scattered throughout the book, was the idea that things are clearer from a distance. Quite true. I know that from experience. But then I also know, as did Gamache, that from a distance, details are missing. So, which is view is more important, he and I pondered.

I decided the best option is to be able to view an event from both distances, a tip I should keep in mind when pondering life events. Even an old broad can learn something new.

A few pages later, another character told Gamache: “Sometimes life goes in a direction not of our choosing. That’s why we need to adapt.”

Recalling all the directional detours in my own life, I silently said Amen to that – which was quite appropriate as the character speaking was a pastor. But not just a pastor, one who would rather canoe a half-frozen river than sit one-on-one with a dying parishioner. He did both. Because he felt weak for not wanting to do the second task, he was doing the adventure to prove to himself that he was strong.

Penny brings her characters to life on the pages, even the minor ones feel like they are worth knowing.

As I put down the book to go wash my breakfast dishes, I thought about how fortunate I was to have books like Penny’s to read. And then another thought hit me. Bury the Dead was only the sixth in the Gamache series and the author has written 17.

Pat Bean is a retired award-winning journalist who lives in Tucson with her canine companion, Scamp. She is a wondering-wanderer, avid reader, enthusiastic birder, Lonely Planet Community Pathfinder, Story Circle Network board member, author of Travels with Maggie available on Amazon (Free on Kindle Unlimited), and is always searching for life’s silver lining.

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