Author Archives: Sandra Pesmen

God’s Waiting Room

Don Rickles once joked his mother was living in Miami, which he called, “God’s waiting room.” But that was while he was still young.

Those of us in senior years have a different view. Florida, Arizona, California, all start to look pretty good to us at retirement. They’re all places where we can walk outside without fear of slipping on ice. They’re also places where we can expect to meet others our age, with similar interests, often without mates, and the same eagerness to embrace some pleasure in these remaining years.

But you don’t really have to leave long- time friends and a beloved family to do that. There are plenty of very nice retirement residences, villages, and apartment complexes in most places provide the same. Granted, there’s the snow and ice issue. But there’s been less and less of both these last few years as climate change takes its toll. And when we DO get a snowfall, most of these places provide buses,in addition to the usual Pace, and Uber.

I recently attended a wonderful 90th birthday brunch at The Lodge, a charming (fast expanding) complex in Northbrook, IL. The chef prepared a beautiful and deliciious buffet table and the family provided decorations, a special birthday cake, and a pinata with the face of a president many there enjoyed smacking with a baseball bat.

When asked how they enjoy living there after 50 years in a nearby ranch home, the hosts exclaimed the many virtues mentioned above. “But the menu is too repetitous” grumbed the host, whose wife obviously spoiled him all their previous married years with varied gourmet meals.

“You get what you pay for,” sniffed his wife. “IT’s $13 a meal and it IS very good, but every two weeks they repeat menus exactly.”

I wouldn’t complain about that, since I eat a lot of broiled chicken and lamb chops here in my home kitchen (often in less time than two weeks apart.)

So I’d say The Lodge has a great rating since everything else was fine. I did suggest the couple organize a small committee to take a poll of residents and if all agree, to speak with the chef about disguising some main courses to vary menus.

The next week I attended a reunion of Chicago Media reporters and editors who meet once a month at our local Meier’s Tavern in Winnetka, IL.

One former publisher, who had already downsized with his wife to a nearby suburban hi-rise, said they were on the waiting list to move into fine old local senior complex.

“My wife has back trouble and just can’t cook or care for a condo anymore,” he explained, overlooking the idea that he might have pitched in on this over the years.

“This requires a down payment of several thousand dollars, which our kids will get back in part some day,k and about $7,000 a month for both of us. That includes rent, food, housekeepers to clean the apartment, and other amenities. ”

His biggest reason for moving now? “You have to be independent to get in,” he said. “They won’t take us if we suddenly become infirm and need assistance or nursing care.
We have to get in while we’re healthy .”

I wondered why he thought there would be no assisted living or nursing facilities available when they became dependent. There are many that provide services as good, or possibly better, than this independent complex.

But I’ve noticed there is a fear element in every sales pitch, especially to seniors, and we should consider them carefully, preferably with family members, an attorney, and definitely an accountant, before making final decisions.

There is much more than bingo and bridge to consider.

Me? In Home Depot?

I looked around wondering what in the world I was doing there.

Home Depot is huge, and I have no idea where they hide everything. Today I want to find a new toilet seat for the downstairs bathroom and some ant spray for the same place.l It’s an annual plague. Ants come in and the pest expert sprays the place–and in-between his visit, I like to help.

Fortunately, people in orange aprons run around rescuing the like of me.

One sent me to the right aisle, where I fortunately met a nice man also searching for a new toilet seat. Problem is there are so many choices, and they all look so alike, it’s hard to decide. We discussed the issue and together chose upper-mid priced seats. (Now I have to find a relative or friend to install it.)

Next I marched, over to the ant killer department. A very elderly but knowledgeable man perched on a seat at the front door wearing his orange apron directed me, saying, “You don’t want spray,that just kills ’em and you have to clean ’em up. Get bait . They eat it get it on their feet and go back out to the Queen and kill everyone in the anthill.”

Sounded good to me, so I went in search of bait. I found one and while standing in checkout, a lovely man standing behind me said, “You don’t want to buy that ant bait. It doesn’t work. Come back with me and I’ll show you the one brand that does work. I tried them all.” We retreated to the ant bait department (about a block by my measure) and he returned the package I had and gave me a box of Terro Liquid Ant Bait with six little packs inside. You just snap off the tab of one, and put it in the corner, label side up, and the liquid drips out for a month or so.

I couldn’t thank him enough, adding, “You know, I never had to do this while my husband was alive. He shopped in Home Depot. I belong in Macy’s. ###

Stand By Me

I was standing in line at the BBQ joint after seeing a fine movie, “Disobedience” Saturday night when my two friends, who had gone to secure a booth with their jackets, joined me.

“Say, We’re here in front of you, ” said two darling young men, who we hadn’t noticed behind me.

“Oh, we’re so sorry, ” I said, smiling at them and pushing my friends behind them. “They were with me, but you go on ahead of us. Please.”

They grinned back, shook their heads k and said, “Oh no, it’s ok.”

“Well, you’re right!” I quickly countered. “We’re old seniors, you’re so young. We have a lot less time left to wait around in lines than you do–so stay put!”

We all had a hearty laugh over that–and another unnecessary argument was averted.

Let’s all try and find the humor in those situations.

It would give senior widows a much better image.


Doing Our Part for Alzheimer Research

They call us “Superagers,” and we’re part of an ongoing study of people over 80 who still lead busy, active lives.

I became involved when I responded to an item in the paper asking for participants and admit I was flattered when I was invited to join after a phone interview/memory test.

That was five years ago, and each October I take the train downtown to Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, for three interviews a week apart, that each last three hours. We also are given an MRI each year to note changes. We are paid $10 an hour and given free parking in the lot across the street. Happily, they report there has been no change in my cognition and memory thus far.

The researchers explain the purpose of the study is to helps them better understand and identify factors that cotribute to “Superaging”–the maintenance of cognitive functioning in old age.

Our interviews also lend a comparison between us and those afflicted with the disease of memory loss.

We also all agree to donate our brains to the study when we die. That was a bit off putting at first, but then I considered, “What will I do with it?” and signed the agreement.

Today I attended the 24th Annual Alzheimer Day, presented at the Feinberg Conference Center at Northwestern University in Chicago.

The Keynote speaker,Dr.Jeffrey Kaye, Director of Oregon’s Layton Aging and Alzheimer’s Disease Center, explained how computing technology now also has been introduced in Dementia research and care.

Unfortunately, summing up, there are no cures yet, no one knows its cause beyond some genetics, but there finally is HOPE because of so many ongoing studies throughout the world.

The conference encouraged early detection and many care options as the symptoms intensify.

But the researchers welcome (and need) more candidates for study.

If you would like to help, call the Superaging Study at Feinberg 312 -503-2716.


Time to Get Move On

After a wildly insane winter–Spring finally arrived and I’m enjoying the garden at last. I’m glorying in Jonquils, Purple Iris and Tulips, with the promise of Lilacs and Peonies blooming soon.

But that’s not enough to fill all our days. Spring and Summer also can mean times to TRAVEL!

“Too expensive,” you say?

Well, say again. You can go to travel agents or discount Web sites and hope they find you a great deal. Or you can go online yourself and really search for the best value. Sometimes it’s the airlines themselves.

Remember, the discounters buy up airlines’ special values, then offer them for a few dollars more. Still a good deal for you with a commission built in for them. Travel agents also get commissions from airlines through their sales.

So maybe it’s time to do it yourself. Be flexible enough to travel whatever day that week is cheapest. Usually that’s Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and sometimes Saturday. Also, be willing to take red eye flights or fly at odd (less busy) hours.

Example: I wanted to visit a friend in AZ, and one way tickets ranged from $325 to $700. I went to American Airlines site, found just a few “basic fare” tickets for midweek and scored one for $133. I wanted to fly to Denver to visit family members the following week, so after a similar search on American, I found a Wednesday afternoon flight for $133 and grabbed it. (The $20 insurance covered both flights, considering two one-way tickets a round trip.)

My trip home to Chicago from Denver was an even greater coup. A Monday afternoon cheapest fare would have been $236 on the American Airlines Web site. The same trip on Tuesday offered a Basic fare ticket for $60!

I asked no questions and grabbed again. And guess what? I didn’t buy the $20 insurance on this one.

So come on. Get going!

To Speak or Not to Speak?

Unfortunately, as this presidency slogs onward , uncomfortable moments seem to increase everywhere we go.

Regardless of your political views–there is no avoiding the eventual opinions that pop up –pro and con-at ANY gathering.,

Out to dinner with six friends last week, the conversation started with comments about mutual acquaintances , movies we had seen and felt duty bound to review, and chatter about too much fried batter on the fish ‘n chips, (though I found it just fine.)

But toward dessert,there was a sharp turn to the right. Literally. One of the six made a clearly racist remark and attributed justification for it to her political party that, she claimed, “…understands how I feel and agrees with me.”

Her mate kept eating with no apparent surprise. Two others blanched, and sputtered arguments in an effort to show her remarks were, at the very least, unAmrican.

I felt the usual dilemma because I have been determined not to allow the bewildering political scene undermine longtime friendships. At such moments I usually cut in and ask that we all remember our treasured long-time friendships and refrain from political talk in such “mixed” company.

But this was different. It wasn’t just someone proclaiming good or bad traits of a political figure or law. This was an undeserved, mean, (actually cruel), biased, unsubstantiated (actually false), remark about an entire race. I had to ask myself where this would stop if people who believe in equality and truth let such malicious lies go unchallenged.

I said as much to the dinner crowd and faced silence in return.

Unfortunately, we are in a situation where, for the first time, we can actually lose friendships over differing views. But I contend this wasn’t really political.

Everyone has the right to chose a party, support it, and vote for its candidates. We also have an obligation to speak up about such candidates qualities and defend them when necessary.

But racism is outside the bounds. No American party should support it, and all of us should feel obligated to shout out against it whenever we hear such destructive remarks.

I know many widows try to be agreeable and keep the peace whenever possible in order to keep our dwindling supply of friends. But we can’t afford to do that in these cases.

Speak up when you hear despicable racist talk. Our democracy, and that of our children, depends upon it.

Moms’ Job: Cradle to Grave?

My friend Annie says her old Irish mother always said, “You will worry and try to care for your children from cradle to grave.” She meant THEIR lifetimes. Not yours.

And my old Jewish aunt said basically the same thing about maternal concerns, lasting “from the moment they open their eyes until you close yours.”

But where is it written that frail, elderly seniors should take on responsibility for senior children who unexpectedly face even more serious illness than they do? As we live longer and longer, it’s happening more and more.

Annie, now 88, has been living with a transplanted liver for 13 years. Hurrah for Annie! She watches her diet, exercises, religiously takes her medication to prevent organ rejection–and we all have been blessed with these joyful years since her liver cancer diagnosis and cure.

But there’s always a fly in the ointment, isn’t there? No matter how cheerful and grateful Annie is, she breaks down now and then in despair over her son, Tom, a 64-year-old Army veteran, with diabetes, heart disease and the myriad of ailments that accompany both.

Tom’s still a year away from Medicare, and because he worked and saved his money, he has a small savings account that prevents him from qualifying for Medicaid. Fortunately, his military service qualifies him for care from the VA and it has literally saved his life, since he can’t afford insurance, is too young for social security too, can’t work and lives on a small disability allowance.

That leaves “Mom” to drive Tom 50 miles to and from the VA Hospital for appointments, treatments and emergencies–of which there are many. She has arranged for cleaning help to come to his government owned low rent apartment a few days a week. But that leaves at least four other days for Annie to go over and do laundry, make sure Tom is bathed, clean his bathroom and kitchen. He is incapable of keeping the place–or himself– up between maid visits. He recently began to need a wheelchair.

What will happen to Tom when Annie can no longer do this job she shouldn’t be doing in the first place?

“From Cradle to Grave.” “From the moment they open their eyes until you chose yours.”

This is out of order.


What? Another Birthday? Can’t Be

I’ve had another astonishing birthday and–surprise–I’m still here.

I’m not only here, I’m still vertical and managing to walk a brisk mile and a half each day on the treadmill or outdoors. Also, My brain hasn’t deserted me.

Who knew that would happen? My mother died at 41 and my father died ten years later at 52. I assumed either of those years would be my “death anniversary” date.

It wasn’t. Not by a long shot.

After making a gala event for my 85th two years ago, our kids and grandkids decided to have a mini party for my 87th, and all came to spend the weekend together.

There was a lot of eating, of course, some here and some in restaurants, with a lot of laughter and wonderful memories.

When it ended, I decided I may as well stop waiting for my final moment (as I’ve done for about 30 years), and go ahead an buy a replacement for the TV chair that was falling apart, and while I was at it, get an upholsterer to repair the broken frame under the leather couch next to it.

If I don’t get my money’s worth before my exit, (which had been my concern) a child or grandchild surely will enjoy it. Meanwhile I am watching TV in comfort again.

At the same time, I called my home maintenance man to finally replace the cracked cement steps and sunken sidewalk outside the back door. There’s just no sense in having an 87-year-old lady fall off that ledge while she’s taking out the garbage. (Especially since she still can take out the garbage and remembers where to put it.)

I’m looking forward to seeing our landscaper soon too, to decide which old bushes to tear out and replace, and how many rose bushes to add out front. Also, it’s almost time to enjoy yet one more blossoming of the regal lilac bushes that line our backyard patio.

At this rate, I just may surprise everyone (especially myself) and hang around several more years.

That would be just one more of God’s pleasant little jokes.

Fix Clogged Sink Natural Way

There are so many times that I miss my late husband, and one of those occurred as I was preparing next weekend’s holiday dinner and the kitchen sink drain clogged.

I used the plunger as my husband always did, but it didn’t seem to completely. Since a plumber once warned me to never put chemical products down a drain, I wondered if vinegar would help since I use it to clean almost everything else.

Checking online, I found one blog that suggested mixing one cup of vinegar with a quarter cup of baking soda and pouring it down the drain as it bubbled. The blog advised waiting an hour and then running water to clear it.

Before I had a chance to do that I found another blog by a chemist who did an experiment cleaning butter from a dish–and guaranteed that the vinegar/baking soda mix would only coat the sludge in my drain. Instead, she advised boiling a pot of water, adding a few tablespoons of dish washing detergent and pouring THAT down the drain. Leave it a few hours,she wrote, then pour another pot of boiling water in.

I did that and the sludge disappeared and the water rushed down the drain like a rabbit chasing carrots.

So quick! Try it yourself before your Easter/Passover dinner leaves you with a sink load of dishes you can’t wash!