Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Four Wheel Camper About to Break Out of Slump

Where's the Four Wheel Camper? Sadly, it  is no where near Blossom Bar on Oregon's Wild and Scenic Rogue River, pictured above in late June. But the Toyota Tundra that hauls the raft also carries the Four Wheel camper, and it cannot do two things at once.  Early this summer we enjoyed several river trips in succession, and it was impractical to mount the camper on the pickup. Thus while we are rafting and having a wonderful time, the camper is home alone, sulking.
There it is, poor thing, dwarfed by landscaping and stranded on
sawhorses awaiting its next trip.

Our last Four Wheel outing was in May to visit grandchildren who live in a city. As usual, we popped the lid in the backyard and the Four Wheel became a playhouse for grandson, Noah, four, and now also little sister, Hadley,  age one. Young children LOVE campers, and ours has lots of knobs and drawers and lights and a radio/CD/iPod player that drive them insane.

We didn't buy the Four Wheel so we could camp in our son's backyard and provide a playhouse, and also endure  the cacophony of helicopters and police sirens,  barking dogs and neighbors with bad taste in music all night. But it works way better than paying buckets of money to stay in creepy casino hotels, and we kinda like the kids raising a ruckus, especially since they head inside at night, and we get our queen-sized bed to ourselves.

             Let's hope she doesn't jostle the commode on her left. And yes, thank you,
she IS adorable.
Now we're talkin! The camper is snugged into the truck bed, has a new carrier up top to haul gear for the months-long all-weather trips we're plotting, plus some new hydraulic help for lifting the lid. 
PK installed the external hydraulic assists, front and back, which make it possible for one person to pop the top and bring it down unassisted. No more snarling and snapping as we occasionally do, when we jockey for position in a tight space, and 1,2, 3 LIFT!
The Four Wheel is ready, but it's still eight days before we can get away to Washington's North Cascades, San Juan islands, and the Olympic Peninsula. Other travel plans are nebulous but persistent and include taking the Four Wheel from our home on the West Coast USA to East Coast to visit family. Then to Guatemala. Why? Check this out.  We want to volunteer gardening expertise there, or anything else needed.

Traveling cross country and to Central America will require months away. We're retired! What's the problem with taking off any time we damn well please?  It has to do with family obligations, mostly, and, for the time being,  we DO have a garden that requires TLC.


Oregon's Illinois River Getaway

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Is 90 the New 70? Ask Pauline.


A few years ago I met Pauline, then 91, at an annual  July 4 celebration at the forest home of her son and wife in nearby Wimer, OR, an unincorporated rural community. As told in the post I wrote then, she impressed me with her youthful appearance, her bright spirit, and her formula for graceful aging. 

I loved seeing her again at this year's July 4 party. She'd driven from Southern California, about 1,000 miles, with her younger friend, who is only 88 , Thick traffic.
Pauline celebrating her 90th birthday.
The last time Pauline,  age 91, saw her doctor he gave her license to eat whatever she wants.

"My HDL is 96," she mentions casually, referring to a cholesterol number that would make many younger persons swoon. "He told me, eat what you want. You've earned it."

And so she has. She's not sure what her healthy aging secrets are, but she's willing to explore, with a stranger (that's me), how she has arrived in her ninth decade in enviable condition.

I'm interested because 1) I'm looking my seventh decade right in its wrinkly face and 2) my mom is approaching 99, and her ninth decade has not gone well for her.  During the seven years since my mom relocated from Minnesota to Oregon to live close by, I've spent a lot of time with people in their 80s and 90s. I've seen that so many are absolutely delightful human beings trapped in bodies that have gone south on them.  I know, I know. The southward direction is inevitable. But some people seem able to postpone the worst of it, or maybe they're just lucky?

Perhaps Pauline is lucky. I don't know, but I wanted to investigate and maybe pick up a tip or two.  I met her at a July party thrown by her son, Scott,  and daughter-in-law, friends of mine. I noticed her, an attractive older woman of indeterminate age, but I guessed maybe mid-to-late-seventies. I struck a conversation and my jaw hit the table when I learned her that her age exceeded my estimate by about 15 years.

We chatted amiably, and she was soon telling me that she'd been married, happily, for nearly 71 years to a good man named Harry, and that they had a lot of sex, because, she volunteered, men like it.  Presumably, women too. I loved this! I would never have asked a question that resulted in such a personal  revelation, even if I was dying to know. And especially when we'd just met five minutes earlier. She just laughed and said, "My boys (adults in their 60s and 70s)) do not like to hear this, but it's true!"

That's Pauline on the right dancing with her son on the uneven lawn, to a live band. You see lots of gray hair in this photo, but young families were the predominant demographic.  My gray hair is second from the left next to pink-shirted Linda Hugle, Pauline's daughter-in-law.

Pauline at 27. 
A week or so later, I called her at her home in California, and heard the abbreviated story of her life. It isn't that Pauline hasn't experienced tragedies, rough spots, and even health problems. But she never let bad things beat her down. Pauline lost her husband in 2012 after a two-year siege of aggressive prostate cancer. Earlier in life, her fourth child, the couple's only daughter, died when she was just two-and-a-half  and childhood leukemia was still a death sentence. (Survival rate has improved dramatically.) Most of her long-time friends are gone.

"I don't know what was worse," she says. "Losing a child or losing my husband after 71 years."

She also has had her own health problems. She lost her thyroid to Hashimoto's disease when she was young and had back surgery in her sixties. The upside? Back rehab introduced her to stretching and back-strengthening exercises, which she still performs daily.

Pauline in younger days, only 88.
Despite some  emotional and physical setbacks, she remained vital and interested in all that life has to offer, including intimacy, which continued for the couple into their late eighties/early nineties, far past "quittin time" for most.

"The last time we made love,  he was 90 and had not yet been diagnosed with cancer," she recalls. "Once he started treatment, life as we knew it was over. It was very sad. I think he should not have had radiation at his age. He would have died anyway, but he would have had a better quality of life."

He died in her arms in the house they'd occupied for 58 years, a home she vows not to leave.

"I'll probably die right here," she says. "My boys worry about me and want me to move closer to family, but I can't leave my home."

Not that she's thinking about dying anytime soon. "I know it's coming, but I do not dwell on it,' she says, dismissing death as if it's something you can stash in the cupboard and take out if you want to get philosophical.

What she focuses on is enjoying life and staying healthy. I vote for that! Here's what she does, and what she thinks, about elements believed to be important to longevity and living a vibrant life.

Good genes: She doesn't necessarily have them. Her father died in his 50s and her mother  her 70s. Her three siblings are also deceased. The last to depart was an older sister, who died at 88.

Cosmetic surgery: She hasn't had it. For years she used a dermatologist-prescribed skin cream that contained retin-A. Now she uses an over-the-counter  Neutrogena product containing retin-A.

Diet: She's no purist, and says she's eaten the same way her entire life: meat, potatoes, a vegetable and salad for dinner in small portions. Now that she's alone, she doesn't cook much.  "I HATE to cook" she insists,  but she sometimes drives to a nearby Kentucky Fried Chicken franchise for takeout.

Medications:  She takes thyroid meds as her thyroid was removed. She takes one-a day vitamins and calcium.

The surprise in her medicine cabinet is something hardly anyone her age is prescribed ......are you ready.....ESTROGEN. She has been taking it daily for 45 years,  ever since her uterus was removed due to endometriosis in her mid-forties.

 "My doctor doesn't want to keep prescribing it, but I keep insisting!" she says.

Why don't all  post menopausal women clamor for estrogen? Is the hormone the underlying secret to her good health and her good looks? I'm not going to tackle trying to answer that question, but it is food for thought.

One thing I do know is that estrogen taken alone causes thickening of the uterine walls and may trigger cancer.  That's why menopausal women are prescribed progesterone in combination with estrogen, to negate estrogen's effects on the uterus. But Pauline doesn't have a uterus. And in 45 years on estrogen, she's suffered no ill effects and perhaps enjoyed some highly beneficial ones.

Sleep: She gets 8-10 unmedicated hours a night, and rarely naps.

Exercise: Religious about it. She puts in a half hour every morning before she has coffee or breakfast. She does stretching and strengthening exercises beginning with drawing her legs into her chest before she gets out of bed. She cleans her own house, but hires a gardener for the lawn and landscaping.

She still walks a mile most days, and recalls with fondness when she and her husband walked every day around two lakes near their home. She grew up dancing, and still loves it.  She sometimes plays her favorite music, mostly 40s era big band tunes,  and dances around the house. Dances around the house.

I have to ask. When's the last time you danced around your house? When's the last time I danced around mine?  I'm with Pauline in believing that dancing is the best of all aerobic activity and that it elevates mood right along with heart rate.

It goes without saying that Pauline does not require a walker or a cane, let alone a wheelchair.

Soundness of mind: "A lot of my friends have, or had, dementia. (Remember, she doesn't have many peers left.) "There's no dementia in my head yet, and my husband didn't have it either."

Attitude: Pauline describes herself as outgoing and she enjoys time with friends, family and neighbors. Most importantly, she rolls with whatever happens. "I don't dwell on the negative," she says. Optimism outweighs pessimism.

Luck: Due to my own mother's lack of good fortune—she is nearly blind,  extremely hard of hearing, and confined to a wheelchair— I know that people in their  90s who can see and hear well are blessed. Pauline still drives, although she avoids being on the road after dark. Her hearing is sharp. She can read, watch TV, go shopping, take a walk, dance, talk on the phone......all activities my own mother can't enjoy.

Spirituality: Pauline doesn't attend church or identify with any religious group. That doesn't mean she isn't connected to the world beyond.

"I may not pray in the way others do, but every night I commune with all the people I've lost," she says. "It's comforting."

So what did I learn from Pauline? 
  • Keep active and exercising no matter what. Increasing strength, balance,  and endurance is all good, all the time.
  • If you have a resilient spirit,  guard it from negativity.
  • Use a good skin cream containing retin-A.
  • Don't obsess about a particular diet. Moderation in all things.
  • Stay close to your partner in every way. Nurture the relationship.
  • Look on the bright side. Choose it. Don't let darkness, your own or others',  bring you down.
  • Be grateful. 
  • Be accepting.
  • Dance more!

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Uganda - Best Travel Day Ever

Our "best travel day ever" in Uganda was our last touring day in that country. It was also when we saw Nile crocodiles for the first time. They are fearsome, huge, powerful and deadly. Ironically and tragically, a croc was behind what brought us to Africa. See the "back story" at the end of this post. 

It has been nine months since PK and I returned from Africa where our socks were blown off so many times we had to swathe our feet  in bandages and drink strong potions. Just kidding. But seriously, three of our way-too-few days in Uganda (only 12 days!) stand out for over-the-top-all-time travel greatness. They were days studded with surprises that kept us breathless.

What does it take to inspire breathlessness in a couple of almost-geezers, aside from hiking a steep slope, dancing to Talking Heads,  or having sex in a VW bug?  Quite a lot, actually, but Uganda's wildlife and natural wonders delivered. (The sex in a VW bug is ha ha, of course. Check out an earlier post. My prediction was correct! That post continues to attract deviants (!), and, I'm sure, has left them crestfallen in the titillation department. Hint. The post is not about sex.) Don't even look.

But onward. Of the three best-ever days, one emerged as the most-best because it started full-tilt before first light and didn't end until way after the last shafts of a spectacular sunset disappeared from the Nile near the Murchison River Lodge. The two other contenders for "best ever" days were when we scrambled through a rain forest  Gorilla Tracking, and when we experienced Bush Camping in Murchison Falls National Park.

Here's a quick rundown of one day in October 2013, ruled by excitement, surprise, wonder, and awe. We were in or near Uganda's Murchison Falls National Park. 


5:30 a.m. We meet  guide Pete Meredith (a wonder himself) for a quick breakfast, then squeeze into his Land Rover and roar down another rutted red road, this time to the Budongo Forest for chimp tracking.
8 a.m.   Chimp tracking was so fun and exciting. Highlights: running through the tangled jungle behind our guide in pursuit of chimps, both in the canopy and on the ground. Stopped dead in our tracks by chimp choruses. Exhilaration. (Full post of chimp tracking here.)

10:30 a.m.  Skitter along the red dirt, rolling up windows to ward off tsetse flies, en route to Murchison Falls. This cape buffalo grazed just a few feet off  the road with his buddies. Yawn. Just the usual massive African wildlife. A herd.

Noon: Murchison is the most bad ass of falls. It roars, plummets and boils for 141 feet, compressing the mighty Nile River into a 23-feet wide gorge. Great place to eat a sandwich! 

 PK is just a few feet from the top. Note the safety sign painted on rock behind him. Stop! Other spray-painted signs say Slippery! Do not cross!
 Murchsion Falls is an awesome spectacle as it thunders, booms, and vibrates the earth. 

PK puzzles at the sight of an old bridge piling surrounded by slippery rock and surging water. We know supposedly intelligent people (Chris Korbulic, Leyla Ahmet, Pete Meredith) who ignored the signs and stood atop the slick piling for photo ops. They lived. Somehow. The wet rock is super slick.
A 30-foot boil surges up the gorge walls before cascading another 100 feet.
We had the place to ourselves except for a couple of British soldiers returning home after training forces in Mogadishu, Somalia. We enjoyed their stories and insight into what it's like to serve in the world's most dangerous city. A guide, arranged by Kara Blackmore, ushered us down the river to board a tour boat. (More about Kara below.)

3 p.m.  Ho hum, we thought. A boat ride  with a bunch of tourists. Big deal! What could we possibly see that we haven't already? We figured we'd kick back and watch the green banks drift past as we enjoyed a Nile Special (beer) and digested the excitement of chimp tracking and seeing Murchison Falls. But no. 
3:30 p.m. Crocs cooling off below Murchison Falls. Seeing crocs was creepy and transfixing in equal measure. Some in this toothy gang were 15 to 20 feet long.  At least 25 were gathered on a spit of land or cruising the river nearby. No one swims in this part of the Nile, by the way.

Nor do they collect water without a makeshift croc barrier. Even then, the river devils sometimes manage to get around the barrier and snatch people. or whatever warm-blooded hapless creature is in snatching range. 
4 p.m. Just a short sweep downriver, the boat veered toward a sandstone cliff. The closer we got, what appeared as dark spots from the middle of the Nile came alive with primary colors. At least 100 vivid birds perched, flitted and flashed for our viewing pleasure. Where's the popcorn?
I was able to capture close-up images while on my back on the deck, hands shaking and eyes tearing. I don't know. Sometimes beautiful things make me weep. 
                DRAMATIC DUSK
5:30 p.m.  As we caught our breath after the sensory overload set off by the bee eaters, we were stunned by the clotted sky and the gathering dusk. In the meantime we had left the tourist boat and boarded a skiff suitable for four passengers for the approximately 15 minutes it took to get to Murchison River Lodge, where we were staying. With the driver, five were in the boat. Crocs and hippos were in the river, which is wide and still and musky. On the opposite bank, the pilot spotted an elephant. Ho hum. An elephant, and he roared right over to the grassy bank where the behemoth was feeding.


5:40 p.m.  Our little boat bobbled close, but the elephant paid us no mind, except to move away. What a thrill to be so near we could hear him rustle and almost feel his movements. So beautiful. And like most of the day's wonders, unexpected. 
6 p.m.  We return, exhausted but jubilant, to Murchison River Lodge in time to rinse off the day's dirt and have dinner before falling into bed. But wait! There's more!

6:30 p.m. Kara Blackmore, our personal Cambridge-educated cultural anthropologist, cultural consultant, Uganda expert and minute-to-minute itinerary planner, clears the view so we can get the full impact of the coming sunset. No rest yet on our best-ever travel day. And about 50 sunset photos later....finally......

This will be my last post about Uganda. Much gratitude to the late and great Hendri Coetzee, whose brilliant  memoir,  Living the Best Day Ever, along with our son's travels with Hendri in Africa, inspired our trip.

Hendri perished, as you may know if you've followed this blog, in December 2010 when, on an Eddie Bauer-sponsored expedition he was leading, a giant crocodile exploded out of the still waters of the Lukuga river in the Democratic Republic of Congo and took Hendri in an instant. Our son, Chris, was just a few feet away in his kayak. PK and I met Hendri's family in 2011 at the Telluride Mountainfilm Festival, where Kadoma, a film about the expedition, premiered. They invited us to visit them in Africa. Two years later, we did.

Thanks also to Kara Blackmore, who planned our 12-day itinerary in Uganda and spent several days with us, and Leyla Ahmet Meredith and Pete Meredith, owners/operators of TIA Adventures, Inc. The Merediths are highly recommended if you ever want to go on safari or experience a teeth-clenching Nile River adventure. Or, if practicing yoga with a glittery slip of a woman with a beautiful spirit is up your alley, you can do that, too.

Hendri's memoir, Living the Best Day Ever, was published in 2013. It's a great read. (You can buy it here.) Hendri tells in fascinating, sometimes jolting, detail about his myriad adventures, plumbs his unique philosophy, and in between, explores the nature of the hours, days, weeks, and months between peak experiences and how to make every day the best day ever no matter what. 

PK and I read the book before our trip (we got it prepublication  as I did light editing of the manuscript at the bequest of the book's real editor, Kara Blackmore. ) The book helped to inspire us to visit Africa, Uganda in particular. We were determined that, while there, we would go with the flow. Good idea, because the flow swept us from one trans formative experience to another. Our African days truly were our best days ever.

If you've made it this far.......OTHER POSTS ABOUT AFRICA
My personal favorite 

Monday, July 7, 2014

I'll Drink to That!

A lovely twilight reflected in a glass of cabernet sauvignon. Why deny?
I will make this short and not-too-sweet. Since declaring wine as a "special occasion" treat 18 months ago, I have slipped back into my decades-long daily habit of enjoying wine during dinner prep and dinner itself. Savored. Sweet. Silky.

Failure to sharply curtail wine intake had a lot to do with the "special occasion" clause PK and I set for ourselves when we launched our wine deprivation experiment. Turns out that almost any turn of event can qualify as "special." Weekends, of course, even though we're retired and it shouldn't matter. Travel. (We spent a week in Mexico with a group of 10 friends just a few weeks after our declaration, which put a serious in crimp in our resolve.)

Other special occasions: A colorful sunset. A day that the cat didn't spray in the house. A good dinner. A Ducks game. The grass growing. Flowers blooming. The first ripe tomato.

PK is on the same page. What the hell? We enjoy wine, but we were worrying; are we alcoholics because we drink wine almost daily?  I don't think so. And I don't even care.

My initial impulse about drinking less wine was to lose 10 pounds, which I've now determined I don't need to do. Damn, some parts of getting older are liberating. Why stress about a few pounds? Who cares???? NO ONE! No one cares if I wear size 10 or 12. Those are good sizes for someone approaching, in just a few months, age 70. Yes. Freaking 70.

So I am claiming the age advantage of doing whatever I want without apology. Vanity is giving way to comfort and comfort includes drinking nice wine and cozying up with a book and toasting the world for my family, great life, good health, wonderful friends, precious grandchildren—and special occasions, of course.

Not to mention a ready and steady supply of fantastic locally made wines. Plus those from around the world stocked in affordable abundance at our local Grocery Outlet store.  Cheers!

Camping is, of course, always a special occasion as this pic from a few years back illustrates.