The Use-By Date

Do you ever read those things on a can of beans? On the package of butter or noodles you just bought?  Have you purchased an item at the grocery only to discover when you got home that it was past its “use by date?”  My sister-in-law use to clean out my mother-in-laws refer and cupboards of all the past the use by date goods and she had little left in the pantry.  Do we get sick if we consume something past its use by date? Even if it hasn’t been opened?

What about people?  I think I am past my use by date.  This is the date where the parts start to fall apart.  Up to a certain point we have damage, just like the damaged goods canned food with big dents in them.  But after the use by date does the product begin to deteriorate?  Well people begin to deteriorate at some point in their lives.  All those hinges begin to wear and the body begins to fall apart.  This is the point in my life.  I try tai chi and digging in the garden and touching my toes, but it takes me a while to recuperate, but at least I still recuperate.

I was just reading a book by Daniel Everett called Don’t Sleep—There are Snakes. Though it is primarily a book about language and language development, it is also a study of a group of native people in a far off tributary of the Amazon.  Their use by date comes well before ours.  They live to be thirty-eight or thirty-nine years old and then they are worn out. They do not build houses but sleep on the ground outdoors.  They hunt when they are hungry, but not unless they are hungry. They have no record of the past and no concept of the future, no written language, no counting system or names for colors.  They found it most interesting that the foreigners lived to be so old and were so concerned about life’s comforts.

When I worked at Boeing, I rode to work in a carpool.  There were five of us, I being the youngest and Earl being the oldest.  Earl was counting the days to his retirement when he could go to the thrift and junk store seeking antiques on a daily basis.  He was going to make a second occupation of this after working a lifetime at Boeing.  Earl died within a year of retirement.  Back then the average life expectancy was about sixty-seven for men.  The average life expectancy for a Boeing retiree at that point in history was a year and a half after retirement. The use by date being considerably shorter than today.

No wonder many of us didn’t bother to worry earlier about end of life care insurance and help in our old age.  We only had a couple of years after we retired to make ends meet and then our use by date was up.  Now we can live another forty years or so.  My dad retired at fifty-three and lived almost that long again after he retired. Our bodies give out, but we continue on in a more limited fashion.

Next week I have my annual physical.  I am sure that I am fine, but the doc requires it to get his bit of Medicare payment for the “wellness exam.” I wouldn’t go, but he will no long renew my prescription if I don’t come in.  After surviving cancer twice, it is a good thing to see how much wellness I have left or if I am approaching my use by date. I think it is still a ways off yet.

 

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Winter

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I guess that winter is here.  In a previous blog, I wrote that winter should be two months before December 21 and two months after.  Well the day before yesterday (Nov. 3rd) we had snow.  Not much, but snow.  Now it is thirty-four degrees outside.  It is dark and cloudy and they predict three inches of snow tonight.  It is early for us to have snow, but not the earliest.  The earliest was Halloween when the kids wondered about amidst the snowflakes to collect their annual haul of too much sugar.  These days, we don’t have any trick or treaters.  Haven’t now for several years and we haven’t had much early snow either.

When we woke up yesterday morning, the internet was out.  Was it just my computer being its recalcitrant self, or was the system down?  After several tries at fixes, I called a couple of neighbors and found out theirs were down as well.  Couldn’t get through to the people who provide the service so assumed that they already knew that they had had a failure.

While eating breakfast, I hear the friendly beep, beep, beep and know that we are finally back on line and that emails are arriving.  Five minutes later the power goes out. This IS winter.  Typical.

I had already made breakfast so that wasn’t an issue.  We were eating when everything went black.  We live in the woods, so it is dark without lights in our house.

What to do.  We went for a two mile walk, visiting with friends along the way to be sure they were warm and could cook food, if needed.  It was much lighter outside down the road than in the house.  Though the temperature was cold, we spent about an hour and a half outside enjoying the crisp weather and the neighbors, except for the racket of generators chugging away to keep their houses lit.

We do not have a generator. We have lived through almost fifty years of power outages.  This is nothing new. We have a small set up for the evening of a large LED light bulb in a small receptacle hooked to an inverter and then to a battery.  Works great and it is a very bright light by which to read. Works for us and we usually read in the evenings anyway.  We don’t own a television, so we don’t feel withdrawal .

After our morning walk, in the freezing weather, we came home to have tea.  Why is it the power goes out when the weather is the coldest? Anyway, my husband filled a saucepan with water (we normally use an electric teakettle), put it on the wood cookstove to boil.  I asked if he wanted his tea more quickly he might want to use the stove in the kitchen which is gas.  He tried to start the burner with the clicker on the stove, but since there was no electricity, he needed to use a match.  Habit is a hard thing to break.

Shortly after lunch, the power came back on.  It was on for a while when we had a brown out.  I called it in to the power company, but didn’t see any response.  Yet again in the next morning it was still browning out.  I called again as low voltage is not good for many appliances.

The brown out did merit some phone calls to us from neighbors, some of which I hadn’t heard from in years, to see if we were affected. At ten thirty this morning, about twenty minutes after a call the power company, the brown out was over.  The lights are bright again and the motors are humming at their usual levels.

Now life is back to normal and it is snowing.  It started the day before yesterday, just a few flakes, nothing significant.  It started again this morning and some of the roofs were white.  Fortunately, most of our neighbors now have some alternative for heat besides electricity or they have a generator to run fans on propane furnaces and stoves.  Back in the beginning, forty or fifty years ago, many did not have a way to heat when the power went off so now in our community there are “warming stations,” back then we just all got together at a warm house and had a neighborhood gathering.  I sort of miss those.

 

Going the Distance

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It is just over six months since I started this project.  I am trying, on another venue, to work on my memoir AND to rewrite a seven hundred page journal into something that can be used as a book.  That journal was written when I lived in China and taught Western Culture and idiomatic English to scholars who were preparing to study overseas.  Both of these projects are a big and long row to hoe (a farm idiom).

I only started writing about two years ago.  I am an old woman and writing never came easily for me.  I can remember in high school English having to write a 200 word paragraph describing something.  I managed about two sentences and then I was lost. In college, the research paper on Conrad’s Heart of Darkness was a totally incomprehensible dialog.

I didn’t discover, cognitively, until I was a couple of years out of college, that I had a reading disability.  I couldn’t get it the first time I read it, or the second, and sometimes, not even on the third time through. I just couldn’t understand what the words on the page meant.

Maybe it was because my family moved many times in primary school.  I am unsure as I was really a good reader in first grade, but things went downhill from there and three moves in second and another in third didn’t help my reading skills.  It also wreaked havoc with math too.

By sixth grade, my teacher told my parents I was lazy.  I tested high but could not perform.  Didn’t anyone realize I had a problem?  Parents, be aware of your children’s progress in school.  Illness, hearing difficulties, eyesight problems, moving, and more can cause problems with learning.  If your child did well and then suddenly has problems, maybe there is an underlying cause.  Try to find out what it is.  Primary school children are building the formative basis for their studies throughout their lives.  I think if my parents had paid attention, they would have found I wasn’t lazy, but had lost the continuity of learning in so many moves from school to school and from teacher to teacher, all with different approaches to teaching.  Just the trauma of changing schools and being with new children so often, having to fit in, can interfere with learning.

When I was an adult and out on my own, I could little afford much in the way of entertainment.  Going to a library and getting books was not a high priority as I hated reading, but, having little money, I needed something to occupy my mind in the quiet times commuting on the bus, and in the evenings without television.  Books that were light and comic were my choice.  I soon discovered that my problem was being unable to read.  I worked very hard at remedying that problem.  After five years of reading as much as I could, I finally learned to read efficiently.  I went from droll humor like The Egg and I to reading texts such as Introduction to Geology and understanding it the FIRST time through.

Reading is a big part of my life now.  We do not have television and night comes at about 4:30 in the afternoon on a winter’s day in my part of the country.  Reading happens every day.  Sometimes just for a short while when I sit in the sun (if it decides to be present), or for several hours by the fireside on a cold, blustery winter’s night.

Now, here I am, a person who was almost illiterate, writing, writing about my life.  What a change from the sixth grader whom the teacher said was lazy, the college student who needed to read the collateral reading three times to get it.  Now I can enjoy the written word.  Too bad someone didn’t notice earlier.  School would have been a lot easier and more pleasurable.

 

Postscript:  As an undergraduate in college, my grades outside my major were mediocre.  When I went back to grad school, after I had learned to read, I was a straight A student. Too bad it came so late.

It is just over six months since I started this project.  I am trying, on another venue, to work on my memoir AND to rewrite a seven hundred page journal into something that can be used as a book.  The journal was written when I lived in China and taught Western Culture and idiomatic English to scholars who were preparing to study overseas.  Both of these projects are a big and long row to hoe (a farm idiom).

I only started writing about two years ago.  I am an old woman and writing never came easily for me.  I can remember in high school English having to write a 200 word paragraph describing something.  I managed about two sentences and then I was lost. In college, the research paper on Conrad’s Heart of Darkness was a totally incomprehensible dialog.

I didn’t discover, cognitively, until I was a couple of years out of college, that I had a reading disability.  I couldn’t get it the first time I read it, or the second, and sometimes, not even on the third time through. I just couldn’t understand what the words on the page meant.

Maybe it was because my family moved many times in primary school.  I am unsure as I was really a good reader in first grade, but things went downhill from there and three moves in second and another in third didn’t help my reading skills.  It also wreaked havoc with math too.

By sixth grade, my teacher told my parents I was lazy.  I tested high but could not perform.  Didn’t anyone realize I had a problem?  Parents, be aware of your children’s progress in school.  Illness, hearing difficulties, eyesight problems, moving, and more can cause problems with learning.  If your child did well and then suddenly has problems, maybe there is an underlying cause.  Try to find out what it is.  Primary school children are building the formative basis for their studies throughout their lives.  I think if my parents had paid attention, they would have found I wasn’t lazy, but had lost the continuity of learning in so many moves from school to school and from teacher to teacher, all with different approaches to teaching.  Just the trauma of changing schools and being with new children so often, having to fit in, can interfere with learning.

When I was an adult and out on my own, I could little afford much in the way of entertainment.  Going to a library and getting books was not a high priority as I hated reading, but, having little money, I needed something to occupy my mind in the quiet times commuting on the bus, and in the evenings without television.  Books that were light and comic were my choice.  I soon discovered that my problem was being unable to read.  I worked very hard at remedying that problem.  After five years of reading as much as I could, I finally learned to read efficiently.  I went from droll humor like The Egg and I to reading texts such as Introduction to Geology and understanding it the FIRST time through.

Reading is a big part of my life now.  We do not have television and night comes at about 4:30 in the afternoon on a winter’s day in my part of the country.  Reading happens every day.  Sometimes just for a short while when I sit in the sun (if it decides to be present), or for several hours by the fireside on a cold, blustery winter’s night.

Now, here I am, a person who was almost illiterate, writing, writing about my life.  What a change from the sixth grader whom the teacher said was lazy, the college student who needed to read the collateral reading three times to get it.  Now I can enjoy the written word.  Too bad someone didn’t notice earlier.  School would have been a lot easier and more pleasurable.

 

Postscript:  As an undergraduate in college, my grades outside my major were mediocre.  When I went back to grad school, after I had learned to read, I was a straight A student. Too bad it came so late.

The Dictionary

(Page 1977 from the dictionary.  Note I have used the slug drawing for this as it is the state mollusk.)

When I was in fourth grade in 1953-54, I had this very mean teacher. I had moved to Redmond Elementary School in January 1954.  I was eight years old and a year younger than my classmates. The teacher wanted me to be in third grade, not fourth. At the end of the year she told my mother she was keeping me back to redo fourth grade.  Mom negotiated and if I went to summer school, my teacher would pass me to fifth.

I didn’t care for this teacher at all but I imagine she probably had good points.  She was old, grey of hair and skin, skinny, squint-eyed and all the other fourth grade classes used to feel sorry for us in her class.  I don’t think I ever saw her smile. Later I found out she was a single lady taking care of a single sister with the latter stages of MS.  I guess her lot in life was difficult. Maybe this was why she never smiled and was gruff with us in class.  Since I was beginning to show a reading problem, may have been the reason she felt that I should be held back, taking the same year over.  I don’t remember getting any extra help with reading, however, and we were not divided into groups according to our reading skills.

I do remember her punishing students, myself included, for not keeping up in class.  Off to the coat closet.  Yes, we had an enclosed closet that spanned the back of the room where we put our coats, boots, lunches and other things we dragged to school for safe keeping during the class day.  I don’t know how isolating us from the studies helped us catch up. She was also generous with the use of the ruler applied to various parts of our bodies when we misbehaved.  Thankfully, it was never applied to me.  She retired two years later.

She always was harping on my not keeping up, though I don’t remember her helping me to get ahead.  I was just lost amongst a lot of new kids.  My dad had a full time job in town and commuted, something that no other parents did.  The rest of the students came from stump farms that raised a few dairy cattle or from small, low income cottages in town, working at the local ice cream factory, helping on larger farms, keeping small shops in town, though many were unemployed. Maybe she thought I had a more privileged life than my contemporaries.

At the end of summer school, which finished the end of July, the room needed to be put in ship shape for the coming year.  Old unclaimed school papers hauled out to the trash, all the desks cleaned out and washed, all the miscellaneous stuff that was taped to the windows removed and all the seasonal stuff, put up for the approaching summer from last spring’s classes, dumped or stored.  I guess the remedial students in summer school also were the grunt workers too (read janitorial help).

At one point, the teacher told me to take the dictionary out to the trash, they were getting new ones for the new school year.  The dictionary!  This thing was a thing of beauty.  Worn to the point that you could barely recognize the once gold-leafed title on the spine and front. The tobacco brown cover now was missing its shine and was worn through to the cloth.  The spine was still intact, amazingly, considering its size and having been used for eons by careless fourth graders.

Its size–I just weighed it–is fifteen pounds. It is nine by five by twelve inches.  I think we forget about dictionaries these days as we have them online when we use word processing and when we are reading electronic books online.  We don’t look up words anymore; we just point the digital pointer at them and are given the proper spelling and an abbreviated definition in seconds.  If we don’t know how to spell the word, several suggestions are given.

This behemoth book was not a pocket dictionary or even one that was held in your lap.  It was located on a special stand in the classroom so it wouldn’t be manhandled (kidhandled) too injudiciously.

The copyright date is 1926.  Maybe the school district felt it was time for us to have access to more modern words.  Today a dictionary is obsolete in about five years.  By then this one was twenty-eight years old.

Some of the wonderful things about it were the lovely engravings throughout.  Lots of engravings with several on every page.  It also had extensive etymological explanations taking up several inches at the bottom of each page.  It didn’t define words using the same word.

I remember finding, in fourth grade, that the word reach had twenty-seven definitions.  It gives variations and synonyms of the words.  It has a pronouncing biographical dictionary as one appendix. The pronouncing gazetteer, the population of the cities in the US with more than 5000 people, elements of pronunciation of foreign names, and pages and pages of illustrations of botanical, zoological, and mechanical objects are in the back as appendices.

That was why I was so surprised later.  This was truly a wondrous tome.  I couldn’t see taking it out and dumping it in the trash.  I asked if I could take it home.  Knowing the teacher didn’t like me, I didn’t hold out for much hope of a positive answer.  Her response was “How are you going to get it home?” Wow! I hadn’t thought about that but was so excited I could hardly believe she was going to be that nice to me.  It was July and summer school was a half day so we could be home for lunch.  The bus stop was three-quarters of a mile from my house.  Maybe she let me take it knowing the punishment it would give just getting it home.

School was OUT for the year.  It was in the 90s outside.  I trudged to the bus with my treasure.  I was tired when I got there and it was only a few steps from the building to the bus.  I got off the bus at my stop with the scorching sun shining down on my head.  The heat was rising in waves from the ground.  Now the trek.

Down a long ditch, one quarter mile down the railroad tracks, and the remainder down a dusty, dirt track to our farm.  Needless to say I stopped a number of times to rest and set down my load.  I was small for my age.  I probably would have to rest these days too, carrying a fifteen pound book in my arms.  I arrived home red-faced and late for lunch.  My mother saw the obvious reason for my lateness and my red, sweaty appearance.  I did have a BIG smile on my face though.

That dictionary always had a special place in my room.  I used it often and it went to college with me along with a new, more up-to-date version.  It is still with me and I use it only occasionally having succumbed to auto correct and online dictionaries as a more convenient and quicker way to get the right answer.

I still treasure it, though it is pretty battered.  I have tried to smooth out some of the convoluted pages in the front and back, but they refuse to stay flat. Who would have thought that one of my worst memories of a teacher would be associated with my having and keeping such a treasure.

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