Now that I'm getting acclimated to my new iMac, I'm taking some time to reconstruct all my bookmarks for Internet sites. As I looked up my old high school, East High in Memphis, I stopped long enough to peruse the news of my class of 1972. I do believe a fourth of my class has died.

Perhaps I'm exaggerating, but there are certainly a lot of "see obituary" comments on the list of alumni. Ed, who is 8 years older than me, has always been amazed at how many of my classmates have passed away. He says, "Your class has more people dead than my class, and my class went to Vietnam!"

I would expect to see a lot of deaths if I were much older. But this can get depressing. Our class of 1972 is dwindling. We've had murders and suicides and accidents. We've had a lot of cancers. I can't help but think of all those lives cut short, especially my friend Bernie. And here I sit, relatively healthy and happy and so blessed.

For the first time, I scrolled through the 25th reunion pictures, grainy though they were. They weren't captioned, and even though the participants had name tags on, the pictures were never close enough to read them. I recognized for sure about 3 people. Of course, the 25th reunion was in 1997, and since then we've had a few more deaths. I didn't attend that reunion, as the trip from Maine was too much for me to handle the year after we moved up here, financially and job-wise. Maybe I'll make the next one. I'd better at least try, assuming I'm still around.

I do notice, though, that this focus I have on death has accelerated since I turned 50. Until I reviewed the alumnae list today, I had forgotten that there had been so many deaths of people my age. Usually in life, you think, "That's not fair!" when you get the short end of the stick. Yet, you can have the long end of the stick, look around, and still say, "That's not fair!"

"Why me?" doesn't always have to be said with resentment. Sometimes I look at my family, the love that surrounds me, the forgiveness and encouragement that envelop me, and sigh, "Why me?" Then my next thought is to live in the moment, to reach my goals, to hug my spouse and kids and grandkids, to call my mom and sister, and to live the life I've been given, all the while remembering that others were not so fortunate.

Our paths diverged from the moment of graduation, but never so much as when we have divided ourselves into those living here and those living "beyond." God bless the class of 1972.

Technical experiment

Now I'm testing a system whereby I create my post in a journal software program and publish it to the site. If all goes well, this will be posted to my blog. Then I can chalk up another success for the ole gray brain cells! If not, it's back to the drawing board.

Head trip

Now that I am back to semi-normal life with a new iMac computer, I have to pause to ponder some things. Specifically I wonder if there is only so much a 51-year-old brain can absorb without self-destructing.

I know they say that one way to keep a brain young and productive is to keep it active. Learn new ways of doing things (such as brushing your teeth with the toothbrush in your non-dominant hand). Memorize lists. Do crossword puzzles. Read. All these lifestyle changes are supposed to ward off dementia. I always figured that, as a medical transcriptionist, I learn enough new facts every day to fulfill my brain activity obligations.

Now, however, I find myself in an information jungle, and I only hope I am up to the task. In the first place, at work I am learning to transcribe in EAR, Electronic Ambulatory Record, new software our hospital is using for the medical office transcription. It is not well written. In fact, it is very poorly written, and I don't even need Matt's professional opinion on that - It's inept and clumsy and it reeks of inefficiency and bugs. It's my job to learn it, though, so I am. Score one more activity for my brain.

Also in the last couple of months, I have been studying for the Certified Medical Transcripionist exam. Talk about harrowing - I do believe the American Association for Medical Transcription misunderstood my goal and thought I wanted to become a physician. Some of this information is pre-med level. The fact that I won't get a pay raise if I get certified will not deter me, however. I'm determined to learn this stuff one way or another. Score two for the brain.

And now I am maneuvering my way around a Mac computer. That's a whole new world in itself. Fortunately, I have my son and son-in-law to help me, but in the end, it's my half-century-old brain that has to absorb and remember the information. (The first piece of information that was hard to absorb was the fact that I have over 14,000 photos. And Caroline and Charlotte are still under 3 years old? Wow!)

Can I really learn as well at 51 as I did when I was in high school or college? Apparently it's possible. Here's some food for thought from Psychology Today:
Time To Remember: Elderly people are likely to forget anything--from where they left their house keys to where they live.

That doesn't mean they have Alzheimer's disease. Studies by University of Colorado psychologists Matthew Sharps and Eugene Gollin show that, given time, older people can remember as much as college students do (Journal of Gerontology, Vol. 42, pp. 336-344).

"You see deficits in the aging mind, but these differences may not be very important," Sharps says. "How important to everyday life is the ability to do everything fast?"

In the first test, the researchers showed a black-and-white map of a room containing 40 common objects to 28 retired people aged 65 to 87. When later asked to recall where the objects were located on the map, the elderly recalled only a few. However, when they repeated the test in an actual room using the same objects, their recall improved-- to 25 objects or more.

By comparison, college students scored higher on the map test, but did no better than the elderly did in the room exercise.

In another test, elderly and young people viewed pairs of geometric figures presented from different perspectives. The task for both groups was to rotate these images in their minds to see if they were the same. Under time pressure, Sharps says, the elderly performed "horrendously." Without the stopwatch, however, the elderly did just as well as the college students did.

I have learned from this that I should have faith in my old brain to still function at a high level. I also learned to remove the "stopwatch" technique and allow myself more time to process all this new information. Now I need to ask Matt why my blog formatting options on the Mac have suddenly been drastically reduced from what they were on the PC. Hmmm... time for more new information!


A few years ago, someone created a thread on one of my MT sites about favorite words. Medical transcriptionists in general love words, love spelling them, love pronouncing them and hearing them, love the history of words, and love how the words are placed together to form ideas.

Some words are just beautiful to my ears. Harmony is one of those words. Of course, here in the North they pronounce it "hahmony" which translates to "hominy" which leads to "grits." But, of course, I digress.

I grew up loving music, and being the daughter of a choir director, harmony was in my blood. Singing a solo is very enjoyable, but there is something fulfilling about blending my voice with another voice in a duet, and trios and quartets more so. Then you get to the full choir. If it's one of those days where everyone's voice is in good shape and no one is confused about what their correct notes are, the effect is magical. The sound soars across the sanctuary like a magnificent wave. The choir can feel the energy. The right song with the right harmony can send chills up the spines of the listeners.

It's a sign of getting older: You don't really appreciate the music of the younger generation.
There is some modern music that I like all right, but on the whole, I miss the harmony, the blend. The great hymns of the church provide that harmony "fix" for me.

I like to say sometimes that I have sung with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. It's true - at least it's true when I sing along to their CD, which I can't help but doing. I work on Sundays now, and haven't been to church in ages. I miss singing with a choir. To take various voices of various people of various ages and talent and experience - and to combine them into one harmonious whole - it's a feeling like none other. It's OK to hear a choir, it's OK to hear a CD of a choir - but the real joy is being in a choir (and it helps to have a great director!).

Ed learned in seminary that the more hymns a congregations sings, the better, because it is a proven fact that the singing forces the congregation to breathe together, and those breaths in unison have a way of uniting the group, making them more receptive to the sermon and prayers and everything else that constitutes a church service. Maybe that's another benefit of being in a choir.

Of course, most congregational music is sung "in unison," which means everyone is singing the same melody and there is no harmony. That has its own value, providing a strength and force of every voice pulling together. And there is a place for unison.

But there is also a time for harmony - a time when we are a group not trying to sound as one voice, but as a blend of very different voices, each of us bringing our share.

I wish society as a whole could nurture that feeling of harmony - balance - beauty. When we all work together for a common goal, each lending our little voice (which is always unique, of course) to the other voices, hitting those perfect notes, that perfect blend. When that happens, it's pure heaven.

All is not lost, but....

The good news is: I have my repaired computer back. The bad news is: There is just data and Windows, no programs. The good news is: There is some data that managed to be retrieved. The bad news is: I can't find my Quicken CD to load in order to access my financial data and update it. The good news is: Most of my pictures were retrieved. The bad news is: I can't get an internet connection working, so the computer's value to me right now is just as a storage facility.

So here I am blogging on my work computer once more.

I am a record keeper. I get it from my dad, who kept records of every bill he ever paid, I think. I remember that every once in awhile, just for kicks, he would dig in some files and look up his utility bill from 15 years ago. He wrote dates in his hymnal by each hymn to record when the hymn was used (so he didn't repeat them too often; he was a choir director).

For several years, I kept a diary of sorts. After we moved to Maine, the habit dwindled away, mainly because I found myself writing the same boring schedule ("I worked today."). When Ed was an active pastor in Tennessee, and I didn't have a job except that of pastor's wife, my diaries were full of interesting things. I recorded everything about each church service, the sermon topic, the choir's music, general attendance at each church, etc. I wrote down every time we ate out, every night we went to a high school football game, what book I was reading, how much I exercised, my attempts at making homemade bread, what TV shows or movies we were watching. I wrote diligently about our vacation trips. I recorded car repairs, errands, things the kids were doing. I mentioned our visits to parishioners' homes.

Life was certainly full of things to record back then. The kids were still at home, which made a difference. I wrote letters to Rachel and Matt until they turned 18 years old, then had them bound as my gift to them. So back then, I was still writing down things for posterity.

I mention all this because, of all my Kodak digital pictures that could be salvaged off my computer, there is a month or so missing. August 2004. Ordinarily, if you asked me what I was doing in August 2004, I wouldn't know and wouldn't care. But now that August 2004 pictorial documentation is missing, I'm obsessed with what I did in August 2004.

My family can attest that I have a passion for photography. Rachel says I've taken more pictures of Caroline in one year than I took of Rachel in her whole life. The guy who restored my computer was amazed at the quantity of pictures on there. I guess, then, instead of documenting my life with journals now, I am documenting my life in pictures.

The pictures come in handy, too. I once had an disagreement with Ed over whether our couch had ever been in the front parlor. He said it hadn't, and I knew it had. So I dug through my pictures and triumphantly produced the evidence - there it was in the front parlor, sitting by the bow windows. After the picture proved my point, Ed did vaguely remember how our dog Rusty used to jump on the couch to look out those windows at the cats.

It's just this August 2004 business. My lost month. It's just a few days, yet it is bugging me, because now I know I don't know. Before last night, I didn't know I didn't know, but now I do. (I sound like politician-speak.)

So I've retrieved most of my photos, thank goodness, but I'm still without a working computer, at least one that does me any good, until my new Mac comes.

The good news is: I'm getting a Mac!

Personalizing death

When you get past 50 years old, thoughts of death are much more prevalent - not just of our own mortality, but also those we know and love. I know for my mom and her friends, attending funerals is almost a full-time job these days. When we were members of the Episcopal church, they told us the reason their funeral services were so similar was that death is the great equalizer. Whether king or pauper, each would receive basically the same funeral.

Of course, when it comes to obituaries, that theory does not hold. Your obituary usually is in direct correlation to how famous you were in life. And if you have the misfortune to die the same day a really famous person dies, I guess your death would be quite overshadowed.

I spent yesterday afternoon, still sans computer, watching a seminar on Lincoln, one of my favorite subjects. Specifically, the participants were lecturing on his assassination. I started wondering who else died on April 15, 1865. They are long forgotten, I suppose, and the date lives on primarily as the day Lincoln died.

Up here in Maine, I enjoy reading the obituaries. In Memphis, my hometown, the city is too large to have detailed obituaries (unless you're famous, of course), so the facts are sparse and the life (many times the remarkable life) is reduced to some dates, a place of employment, principal survivors, and funeral arrangements. When my grandfather died in Memphis, I can remember going with my sister to the newspaper, asking for a longer obituary for him, hopefully with a photo - something to intimate his unique life journey. They acquiesced, and ended up printing a great article about Paw-Paw's days as a radio pioneer and his other accomplishments.

Here in Ellsworth, a town of about 5000 in the winter, The Ellsworth American goes whole hog on obits. The local paper knows how to publish a life story. These stories were written by loved ones and are in amazing detail. The people mentioned here have lived, for the most part, ordinary lives - but they did live and love and had passions and interests and did make their mark on the world.

An obit from December especially struck me. For one thing, it was her age - 53. It says she died of cancer. I like it when they print the cause of death in this case. I am annoyed when a relatively young person dies and the obit says, "died unexpectedly..." Of what? I guess it's none of my business, but it leaves a hole in the story. For each obit is a story.

The 53-year-old, though, died of cancer. Here are some of the things said about her:

Janice was a vibrant and beautiful woman who lived her life with audacious courage and no small amount of wit and wisdom. Loved by many, Janice explored many areas. She could play clarinet, banjo, bongo drums and loved to dance. She loved music from doo-wop to classical. Janice also abbled in poetry and short stories. She did many kind of handiwork, including basketry. Janice was an accomplished decorator and created beautiful flower arrangements...

What a remarkable and talented person! I wish I had known her.

The center of her life was her soul-mate husband, Bucky, her children, and her extended family. The sanctuary for the family was her very unique and lovely home. There was always something wonderful cooking and several projects underway at Janice's house. Friends were welcomed and they came frequently, and never left emptyhanded. Generosity was a value that Janice lived by. She listened, offered advice, and provided any support available to her for a friend in need including money, transportation, lodging, clothes, jewelry, food, hugs, tears and laughter. Janice loved people and was geninely interested in the people she met. She was guileless and trusting and offered assistance whenever she saw an opening.

I read that and think of the hole there must be in the lives of those who had loved her.

She attended many births both in the family and with friends. New life was as high a priority for her as living life to the fullest. Janice held life as a whirlwind adventure and she never wasted a moment. She looked and leaped for all that caught her attention.

An amazing woman, wouldn't you say? It goes on to say that in the last two years, the only regret voiced through her surgeries and cancer treatments was the fact that she wouldn't be able to give her children and grandchildren the beautiful Christmas she wanted them to have. So the obit states at the end that in lieu of flowers, those wishing to can make a contribution to a fund to provide her children and grandchildren with a beautiful Christmas, Janice's last wish.

After I initially read that obit, I cut it out of the paper. Every time I read it, I shed a few tears. Without this full, personal obituary, I never would have known the name of Janice Louise Hastings Maddocks, for it, like other "ordinary" people, would have been relegated to a small paragraph which would not have done justice to her "extraordinary" life.

So in a sense, the local Ellsworth paper DOES adhere to the theory that death is the great equalizer. Those who are NOT famous or infamous are given the same treatment (in this case, a whole column from top to bottom of the page, with photo) as others. I like that.

Clutter revisited

I am still not the owner of a working computer, but am borrowing one in order to post.

By accident (serendipity!) today I came across an article online called "Clutter-Clearing and Your Authentic Self" by Stephanie Roberts. With such an intriguing title, it had to be interesting. Clutter is one of my visible weaknesses. (As an aside, I want to quote another article, specifically about cluttered desks: "Northeasterners are more organized than their Western, Central and Southern colleagues." I guess my desk et. al. was never told we had moved from Tennessee to Maine.)

The article by Roberts focuses on feng shui, which I know little about, but this part speaks to me so clearly that I must quote it:

Have you ever felt so discouraged, your life so out-of-control, the universe so unresponsive to your needs and desires, that you couldn't help it: you just had to clean up? By paying attention to these impulses we recognize the deep connection between our personal environment and our innermost selves. It's as though by shifting the arrangement of our belongings we hope to rearrange the molecules of our emotional lives as well.

Feng shui teaches us that our spaces both reflect and affect our physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing. When our homes become cluttered and disordered, other aspects of our lives tend to feel gridlocked as well. It's a chicken-and-egg kind of situation. Not only does a cluttered home reflect a distracted and cluttered mind, it also makes it hard to focus and think clearly. It gets easier and easier to stop making the item-by-item decisions that could put you back in control of the mess
and help you to feel more in control of your life.

Eventually, we give up. The task seems overwhelming, and the clutter is so pervasive that we can't figure out where to begin. We slog through our days thinking "someday when I have the time I've got to clean this up." Clutter clearing becomes an abstract goal that awaits a mythical future time when our calendars will be free of obligations, we will awaken one weekend morning well-rested and energized, and mysteriously through some unseen grace we will have acquired the focused clarity and enthusiasm that will finally inspire us to dive in and get it done. We wait for the moment to be right before we begin, so beginning never happens.

We're approaching the clutter challenge backwards when we think this way. Regaining a sense of clarity and order is more easily achieved by putting our space in order than by trying to order and control our thoughts in a disorganized space.

Clutter saps your energy and erodes your spirit. Clutter makes it difficult to get things done, enjoy peace and quiet, or spend time the way you really want to. It adds to your stress, slows you down and drains your physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual strength. Clutter is disempowering.

The words saps and drains are only too well known to our generation. Does the expression "It sucks the life out of you" have meaning in your life, too? Energy is as precious a gift as time to us. For what is time without the energy to make use of it?

We have an effect on our environment, and it has its effect on us. I can read the statistics that state those who have a messy desk are more likely to make big money, and the messier the desk, the greater the genius. I am not a genius, however, and so far I don't see that a messy environment has afforded me any benefits.

My rationale is that I have too many interests, the accoutrements of which account for a majority of my clutter. My hobbies of piano and harp force me to acquire large piles of music.
My hobbies of quilting and sewing and cross-stitch similarly require accumulations of books, fabric, and other accessories. I receive several magazine subscriptions which I wish to save for other family members to read, so they have to sit somewhere. The newspaper, coupons to clip, bills to pay, papers to file - all pile up. And at my age, if I file it somewhere or "hide" it, I will definitely forget about its existence. "Things to do are things in view." That's my personal motto.

On top of all that, I am studying for the Certified Medical Transcriptionist exam, so I have that material sitting in a few handy places.

Oh, yes, I have rationales, but I have to cut through them because "it just ain't workin' for me."

The Roberts article goes on to talk about clutter in this way:

Opening the dictionary we see that "clutter" derives from the Old English word "clott", which means: "to cause to become blocked or obscured." Like a blood clot blocking circulation in our veins, clutter prevents energy from circulating through our homes and our lives.

That's pretty clear, and as a medical analogy, exceptionally understandable to me.

Well, it's one thing to work on while my computer is gone....


"It's better to be safe than sorry." "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure." How many times I have heard those expressions! Well, this week I was privileged to experience their wisdom for myself.

Part of the journey to simplicity, I have learned, is to de-stress your life as much as possible. Part of that involves prevention.

Prevention in itself can be stressful. It takes time and energy and probably money (doesn't everything important?). But the minor stress you experience in your act at prevention does not compare to the major stress you experience when the worst comes to the surface.

In my case, "worst" means a crashed computer.

Oh, there's a tiny glimmer of hope. (I haven't heard back yet from Jasper, the computer guru.) But I'm a realist at heart. The prognosis is not good for retrieving any kind of data from my computer.

I was complacent because I had Raid, the extra hard drive which was supposed to mirror the regular hard drive. But alas, nothing is ever guaranteed, and Raid failed along with its mirror image, and the first thought that went through my mind when I saw the dreaded screen which had the word FAILED in it a few times, was, "Oh no! I haven't backed up my pictures to CD since the middle of 2004!"

I have learned a valuable lesson. If I take a few minutes to back up data, I'll probably reap the benefits for less stress in the future. And that sounds like simplicity to me.