Saturday, January 24, 2015

Family Friends Faith and Funerals

During the past five weeks I have witnessed the most incredible combination of grief, loss, friendship and support, all centered around the deaths of two people I don't even know.

A dear friend's ex-husband's mother died in December.  Exactly a month later (yesterday), the ex-husband died.

The timing is remarkable. I don't know if it's God or fate, but the mother (age 96) died before having to see the son (age 64) die, then the son dies a few months before his own son's wedding.  It all seems to have lined up is some cosmic sequence. That whole 'blessing in disguise' thing.

I'm spiritual but not religious, but many people in this family have strong religious beliefs and their faith is helping them get through it. What I do have faith in is the ability of people to come together and help each other solve problems; and I have faith in the power of friendship, family and community.
Tears were shed, of course. Most were from sadness, loss and shock. My tears are both from the joy of seeing all of this support and my sadness because my own circle is so small and somewhat remote. I have friends, good friends, but nothing like this. Most of my best friends live hundreds and thousands of miles away and most of my family lives a thousand miles away. My involvement with the family I'm writing about is growing and they have made me feel like I am part of their circle. At the same time, I am sad that I have done so relatively little to maintain my own circle.

The friends and family of my dear friend have rallied in extraordinary ways ... food, phone trees, 'stay here tonight', 'what can we do', taking donations to help pay for the funeral ... it goes on and on. I'm teary eyed just describing this.
I view nearly every observation in my life as a learning opportunity, so what have I learned during the past five weeks?  Alcoholism robs people of their goodness then it kills them, close friendships can develop quickly but deep friendships take decades, friendship and family relationships are priceless, funerals cost a fortune.

What actions will I take, based in what I've learned? I will reach out to far-flung friends and family and stay in touch with them better, I will set aside money for my own end, I will write up my will and advance directives and I will concentrate more on living for today. I will also try to find a way to help others get through situations like this.

I also think it's time to revisit my view of faith.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Name Trends and more

Autria, Jacqui and Jummy are the first names of three local TV anchors.  All three are female, all three work the same morning shift on the same station and all three have unique names which are non-traditional to those accustomed to American English. Jummy’s heritage is Nigerian and that is probably a more common name in that culture, but I don’t know where the other two got their names or what those monikers mean to their family or heritage.

I am both sensitive and curious with respect to names.  How do parents choose the names and what impact do those names have on children through their lives? I’ve lived my whole life with the first name Bernard, which is more familiar than Autria but still unusual.  In fact, I have only met seven other Bernards in my whole life and I was related to two of them.
The most popular names for girls born in 2014, according to, include Sophia, Emma, Olivia and Emily.  I know a 26-year-old named Emma but the only other Emma I ever met was my Mother’s sister who was born in the early 1900s.  The most popular boy names for 2014 include Jackson, Aiden and Noah.  I know a 50-year-old Jackson and a 19-year-old Noah.  Autria, Jacqui and Jummy are not on any list.

To further torture myself about my own name, I dug deeper into the list.  Bernard is not even on the top 100.  Some names like Michael, John and David seem to be popular over decades, even centuries.  Others from the distant past make a comeback, like Henry and Oliver.  Why?  I don’t know.

Jennifer is the name of my favorite female, yet her name is not on the top 100 girl names for 2014.  I know at least six Jennifers, but the youngest is in her 40s; I guess that name will make a comeback some day.  Some names that I associate with older women are on the list, however … Amelia, Hannah, Isabelle and Claire.  I know several women named Lisa and Linda, yet neither is in the top 100.  Another great friend is named Leahe (non-traditional spelling of Leah); that name IS on the list, in the middle of the top 100.

What’s in a name?  I looked up a few names on  Michael means ‘who is like God?’  David means ‘beloved’, Noah means ‘rest, comfort’, Sophia means ‘wisdom’ and Emma means ‘universal’.  Jennifer is derived from Guinevere, which means ‘smooth, fair’.  Interesting.
I’ve never really liked the name Bernard and I’ve gone by Bernie since high school.  As I age, however, I feel better about my name because it is uncommon, like me.  I am named for my Dad and another relative.  If I had had a son, would I have named him Bernard?  No.  I did pick out names once and Jason topped my list.

So what does Bernard mean?  ‘Brave, hardy’.  Well, that’s not so bad.  I guess I’ll keep it.

Monday, January 19, 2015


I took one of those 'quizzes' on Facebook a few days ago; the topic was grammar. There were fifteen questions, each asking the participant to select the correct sentence or phrase from a choice of three. My score: 13 of 15 correct. Not bad.

However, shouldn't a 'writer' score higher? Truth be told, I regularly question my grammar proficiency. Writing a blog such as this is a hobby but I write commercials for a living. Blogs have no rules and my style, described by an old writer friend as 'breezy', is suitable for blogging. Some commercials provide evidence that good grammar is not required for them either.

One grammatical pet leave of mine involves the words fewer and less. I regularly hear incorrect usage of 'less' in conversation and in commercials. I heard a commercial this morning with the line, "and that means less cavities."  Incorrect!  It should read "fewer cavities."  I am also annoyed by the regular misuse of their, there and they're.

The sad truth about bad grammar is that these incorrect words and phrases get used so much that they are eventually accepted as correct.

I wish the grammar quiz I took revealed which two questions I answered incorrectly.

I am no grammar expert but I do believe in clarity when it comes to writing, especially in memos and instructions. I think clarity is important in commercials too. Every time I hear the local casino ad that ends with "must be 21," I ask my radio, "what if I'm 50?"  I know they mean "must be over 21" but that's not what they said. So if I'm not 21 (because I'm 50, which is not 21), then I can't go there, right?

Is anyone still wondering why immigrants have so much trouble learning English?

Sunday, January 18, 2015

One Eighteen and Other Random Musings

As I started to write this post, I noticed it is 1:18 pm on 1/18.  That is pretty random, isn't it?  I have many random thoughts and observations floating around in my brain; some end up in random places on this blog.  Here are a few more random things.

I usually write these posts in a Word doc, make adjustments and corrections, and then copy to the blog.  I have saved all of them with the idea that some will end up in a book.  By the way, this is post # 1153 on this blog.  I've written a few hundred more on other blogs.  Writing is both a passion and a hobby for me, although I sometimes think I'd like to make a living at it.  My practical side reminds me to keep my current day job.  Another random note:  I am writing this one directly onto blogger rather than in Word.  Trying to be spontaneous.

I am engaged in a friendly (and fiendly) competition with another blogger (who also is now one of my best friends) ... last year she wrote more posts than I did, which sort of started the counting.  So far this year I am ahead.  I look at this competition as an additional incentive to keep writing.  She is a good and thoughtful writer and our friendship began with each of us reading each other's blogs.  Cool, ey?

There are now three restaurant/bars within walking distance of my apartment that feature live music at least one night a week and a fourth that has music once a month.  No cover charge for any of them.  I love live music. 

Back to blogs for a second ... I have begun writing at least five blogs on my iPhone.  Hopefully I will complete each of them soon and post them.  Stay tuned.  All for today.  Thanks for visiting.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Day Eleven

Today is Day Eleven of the new year, the 11th day of my annual 'process', just over a week into my year of embracing 'discipline' to achieve what I want in 2015.
How am I doing so far?
Not bad.  I chose 'discipline' as my keyword for the year and I am already making progress in increasing the discipline I apply to my daily activities and goals. 
I had hoped to have a more detailed plan for 2015 at this point but I'm a little behind in that endeavor. But the month is young. Stay tuned. 

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Shop Till You …

For the past several years I have done most of my clothes shopping online or at outlet malls.  My last few online wardrobe purchases have been less than satisfactory so I decided to visit an outlet mall recently.  The closest one is an hour from home, however, so I took a deep breath and drove ten minutes to the nearest traditional mall instead, for the first visit there in a year. 

Some random observations:
I forgot how much I dislike malls, even though I do like buying stuff.

Plaid remains popular, although I don’t really like plaid.  For me, plaid is a throwback to an earlier time in my life that I’d rather not visit.
When shopping, I often encounter decision stress.  This color or that?  This style or that?  And my size seems to be very popular, which means sale items in my size are picked over quickly, before I get there.

Really cool clothes are made for men in their 20s and 30s and look silly on me.
The good news about my shopping adventure is that I did find three shirts I like, all on sale, and a pair of shoes I like, not on sale.  There are still clothing items on my wish list, however, and I must go shopping again soon, while stuff is on sale.  I need a suit, a sport coat and another pair of shoes.  And a belt or two.  I weigh 15 pounds less now than I did two years ago and I need more new clothes.

Shop till you drop … to be continued.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

It Doesn’t Take Much

Snow is falling in my part of Maryland this morning.  Not much, just a couple of inches.  During the first twenty five years of my life, in New Orleans, I only saw snow three times.  That’s all, three times, for a total snow fall of less than two inches.  You read that right, a total combined accumulation from three separate snowfalls of two inches.  Each of those ‘minor’ snow incidents paralyzed New Orleans because that region isn’t prepared for snow.  It just doesn’t happen much there.

But here, in the Washington DC suburbs, we see snow a few times a month each winter, with accumulations in each ranging from a couple of inches to a couple of feet.  People who live here usually know when the snow is coming, the regional road crews have a century of experience treating roads and removing snow and everybody here has driven in the stuff.  Yet the two inches of snow that has fallen this morning is wreaking havoc on the roads.  Dozens of accidents are reported, most schools delayed or closed and I’m working from home till noon.  My driving skills are fine but I don’t trust all the other drivers.
People who live in Buffalo or Bangor must laugh at us every winter.  I admit that driving in snow, especially the powdery stuff that’s falling today in 20-degree conditions and sticking as an icy mess, is tricky.  But attitude can get you through it safely; pay attention and take your time.  My first home outside of Louisiana was in Wisconsin.  I moved there in December that year and experienced every-other-day snow and numerous sub-zero temperature days.  During the four winters I lived there, I only got stuck in snow once and I rarely slid on the ice … in my car … I did slip and fall a couple of times while walking on ice.  If a Louisiana native who had never driven in snow can survive four winters in Wisconsin, driving a rear-wheel drive vehicle with manual transmission, why do people here in Maryland have so much trouble getting around in bad weather?

Anyway, it’s time to shift from writing this blog to writing some stuff for work.  I’ll work from home for a couple of hours because I just heard from a neighbor who’s been driving for nearly an hour and has only gone four miles. 

Monday, January 5, 2015

My Cheers

Why I love my neighborhood hangout ... no two visits are alike. Sometimes we encounter friends, sometimes we know nobody. I met the other half of "we" there, so that's an extra bonus.

This evening I had a long conversation with someone I see there all the time but until tonight I didn't really know. It turns out he is an actor and we both know some people in common. During the same visit I had some beer-infused personal conversations with two female regulars about love, relationships, friendships and, uhhh, 'size'.

I've been a regular at this place for eighteen months; the 'real' regulars go back five to thirteen years. But I feel at home there. Sometimes I can observe, other times I can participate. That balance is perfect for me.

When I first moved to this neighborhood, I wanted to find a bar that had the vibe of the old Cheers TV show. This place is it.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

One Hundred Plus

While watching television last week, I channel surfed into an episode of “Growing Bolder” on RLTV.  It is an interesting TV show/website/etc. exploring boomers and seniors who have successfully transitioned into a ‘second chapter’ in their lives.  The segment of the show that got my attention featured Ruth Hamilton, who started blogging at the age of 109.  If you have been following my blog for a while, you know that I expect to throw myself a 100th birthday party, so naturally I am fascinated by people who have reached that age milestone.  I would like to know what they did to get there and how they spend their time now.  I am also curious about their attitude regarding their age.

Another aspect of my personality you might have noticed is that I continue to be self-conscious about my own age.  Most of my bosses and co-workers are much younger than I am, leading to a bit of paranoia; do I seem old, am I getting out of touch in any way, am I struggling to keep up?  With all that in mind, I rarely say my age out loud, even in this blog.  A hint: the original blog was called Fifty Something, a claim I can no longer make.  Enough said about that, for now.
Marc Middleton, the founder of “Growing Bolder,” wrote a book called “Rock Stars of Aging: 50 Ways to Live to a Hundred.”  The web site effectively teases the content, which consists of interviews with numerous centenarians who have aged successfully and regularly engage in activities such as baseball, championship swimming, video chatting and motivational speaking.  I plan to buy the book today.  I want to know how they made it to 100.  One interviewee says, ”exercise, travel and bourbon!” Hmmm, maybe I should try that.  Although I prefer wine.
One day I hope to be a role model for creative aging.  For now, I seek such role models.  My own mother and her three siblings made it into their 90s.  In fact, my uncle, her brother, married his second wife at age 86.  A good friend’s ex-mother-in-law died last week at age 96.  Her body was starting to fail her but her mind was sharp.  She read books constantly.  On the very day she died, a nurse asked her for her name, the date and the name of the facility she had just been transferred from following an injury and she instantly and clearly answered each question correctly.  I plan to have a press conference during my 100th birthday party.  Do you think blogs and newscasts will still exist thirty-five years from now?
My own strategy for creative aging includes physical fitness, staying active mentally (a necessity for work) and doing whatever I can to keep a positive attitude.  One source of inspiration for that is a book I try to read annually called “The Power of Optimism” by the late Alan Loy McGinnis.  Another piece of advice is printed on a square plate on a book shelf near where I am writing this.  I’ll leave you with a photo of that suggestion.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Happy New Year

January 1st is my favorite holiday.  New Year’s Day.  Symbolically it is a calendar point representing the phrase ‘out with the old, in with the new’.  We can use this day to shake off old habits and start new ones, rid ourselves of negative baggage in our lives and pack some new bags, free ourselves of self-destructive attitudes and start down a path of renewal.

Or we can eat black eyed peas for good luck and drink plenty of water and coffee to diminish the hangover from celebrating too much last night.
I use New Year’s Day to begin the annual ‘process’ I described in my previous post.  I wake up with a fresh attitude, a clear look ahead to the coming year.  Today, for the second New Year’s Day in a row, I woke up staring into a pair of beautiful brown eyes that make me smile at the possibilities of the coming year.  The year 2014 was the best year of my life and I have no doubt that 2015 will be even better.

I love life and I want to live forever.  One of the items on my ‘process’ list is to start preparing for the next phase of my life.  It is probably no accident that while writing this post, I was watching a show on the Retirement Living channel called “Growing Bolder”.  Their feature report was about a blogger who died recently at the age of 109.  She posted her last blog just three weeks before her death.  Stories like that give us all hope for creative aging.  Maybe they’ll do a story about me in a few decades.
It is cold but sunny in my part of Maryland today and I look at that as a good sign.  Here’s wishing you a very Happy New Year.  Thanks for visiting.