Alphabet Challenge: I

I’ve signed onto The Blogging from A to Z April Challenge 2021.

The challenge is to blog the whole alphabet in April and write at least 100 words on a topic that corresponds to the letter of the day. 

Every day, excluding Sundays, I’m blogging about Places I Have Been. The last post will be on Friday, April 30 when I finally focus on the letter Z. 

I: Italy

I retired on September 17, 2004. On October 7th,  my husband, Ernie, and I left for Italy. We joined a tour with another couple, long time friends, exploring Palermo, Rome, Naples and Venice. The final week we rented a car and a villa in Tuscany. A vacation I had dreamed about for years.

Casa Pavon in Castigliore d’Orcia
The villa was once a monastery. Large window in the living room looks out on the valley

Memories:

  • Enjoying breakfast of Italian bread with butter and orange marmalade, tea and fresh pears (when we didn’t visit the café for cappuccino and pastry) 
  • Taking day trips to Siena, Assisi, Montalcino, and near-by villages 
  • Stopping  spontaneously at the roadside churches with varied facades and weathered pews  
  • Dining in the one restaurant in the village where we savored ribollita soup and wild boar
  • Drinking bottles of fabulous Italian wine
  • Watching the green hills and valleys from the living room window while sipping Limoncello in the late afternoon
  • Calling family back in the States from the public phone in the café while groups of Italian men smoked and played cards near-by, drowning out our conversations 
  • Watching the Italian laborers nearby setting up a hot plate to boil water for their spaghetti lunch 
  • Cooking dinner with meats, fish, vegetables and bread from the local markets
  • Loving the slow-paced life, leisurely dinners and magnificent sunsets 

Most of all these memories have, over the years, kept my husband and me connected to our friends who journeyed Italy along with us.

Alphabet Challenge: H

I’ve signed onto The Blogging from A to Z April Challenge 2021.

The challenge is to blog the whole alphabet in April and write at least 100 words on a topic that corresponds to the letter of the day. 

Every day, excluding Sundays, I’m blogging about Places I Have Been. The last post will be on Friday, April 30 when I finally focus on the letter Z. 

H: Hospitals

I counted up all the hospitals I have worked in during the 40-plus years I have been a nurse. The total is 18. These are the hospitals where I was officially employed. That is, I attended an orientation, worked forty hours a week and received a regular paycheck. 

It doesn’t include the hospitals I visited as a nursing instructor when I had to review patient charts in order to choose appropriate student assignments. 

It doesn’t include the hospitals that I visited to enroll a patient in a home care program. 

It doesn’t include the community hospitals that I visited to evaluate the care that veterans received (I worked for the VA at the time).

So, I have been in many hospitals. Hospitals prompt a plethora of memories.  

The newer hospitals don’t stir up remembrances. They are disguised as hotels. Sterile. I suppose that’s desirable in reassuring patients and visitors that germs are kept in check. The older hospitals, to me, expose the nursing effort of caring for patients at a critical time in their lives—sometimes with success and sometimes with failure.   

I visited an older hospital in 2001, right before I retired, to enroll a patient in a hospice program. The hospital was a small community facility that had little renovation over the years. 

I needed to copy a form. The xerox machine was in the basement. I hiked down the stairway. On opening the door, humidity from steam heat, warm ovens in the kitchen and the noise of the washers and dryers immediately assaulted me. 

This was a functional basement of hospitals of long ago. 

Jolted by the sensory stimulus surrounding me, I trekked along the long corridor feeling as if I was twenty years old, wearing a white uniform, spotless white shoes and starched nursing cap held with bobby pins on the top of my head. My life in nursing, unlived, still ahead of me. 

Lost in nostalgia, I almost forgot to look for the Xerox machine.   

Alphabet Challenge: C

I’ve signed onto The Blogging from A to Z April Challenge 2021.

The challenge is to blog the whole alphabet in April and write at least 100 words on a topic that corresponds to the letter of the day. 

Every day, excluding Sundays, I’m blogging about Places I Have Been. The last post will be on Friday, April 30 when I finally focus on the letter Z. 

C: Coney Island

Last year, I had planned on taking my grandsons to New York City with a side trip to Brooklyn to scour the neighborhoods and check out the restaurants and, especially, to see Coney Island. The COVID-19 Pandemic interrupted my plans. 

Truth be told, I really wanted to go to Coney Island. I haven’t been there since the 50’s. My high school friend, Gloria, and I would take a couple of trains from Jersey City to Brooklyn at least once a week during summer vacations. Besides slathering baby oil on our bodies and roasting in the sun, we also went on the rides: 

Cyclone

Steeplechase horse ride

Parachute Jump 

I’ve read that the Parachute Jump still stands since it has been designated a city landmark but Coney Island as I knew it is gone. No matter, when I return the beach and ocean will greet me.  

Haunted Townhouse

Back in the 70s we rented a townhouse in Arlington, Virginia that was haunted. 

Now what made me remember this? Maybe because I, like many others, have been fixated on food while sequestered in my home over this past year due to the pandemic. Food and kitchens and houses. Now there’s a connection. Right? 

Back in the 70s, I was young and energetic and loved to cook and entertain—even though I had a toddler and worked part time in the recovery room at a local hospital. Some of my best creations came from that tiny kitchen in the townhouse. My husband and I often hosted dinner parties for the other young families who lived in our cul-de-sac. Once, inviting several couples, I made my husband’s favorite meal: Sauerbraten, sweet and sour red cabbage, potato dumplings and, from scratch, Black Forest Cake. Foodies out there will know that Sauerbraten marinates for five days and then is cooked long and slow and Black Forest Cake is a bear to make. Not to mention the challenge of that cramped kitchen. 

Back to the haunted townhouse. First, you have to know that we moved into a friend’s townhouse. Karl and his family outgrew their two-bedroom house and moved next door to a three-bedroom. He suggested we move into his vacated rental. We loved the idea of being close to our friends and having more room than our one-bedroom basement apartment, especially since I was expecting a second baby.  

Continue reading “Haunted Townhouse”

Thanksgiving Tradition

Looks like I have started my own tradition. I am posting Happy Lasagna Day on my Blog during Thanksgiving week for the third time since 2016. That year, my husband and I chose to spend Thanksgiving alone. Last year, although we enjoyed a traditional turkey meal with my daughter, son-in-law and the grandkids, I posted Happy Lasagna Day for the second time. 

This year we will spend Thanksgiving day alone, again, but not by choice. My husband and I are at high risk for the devastating effects of Covid-19 and we decided to stay safe at home. 

Rather than feel sorry for our isolation, I will relive the warm memories of family celebrations of the past by posting Happy Lasagna Day for the third time. Yes, my new ritual. 

Happy Lasagna Day

First posted on November 24, 2016

My husband and I are spending Thanksgiving alone—by choice. We had been invited out but graciously declined. 

After having three sets of houseguests in six weeks, we are happy to be alone. By the way, the house has never been cleaner. 

And we broke from the traditional Thanksgiving dinner—we are having lasagna. 

I love leftover lasagna as much or more than leftover turkey, stuffing and gravy. 

Over the years lasagna has become the ubiquitous casserole. You can find it premade in deli departments and frozen food cases in grocery stores. It’s the go-to meal neighbors bring over to neighbors on happy occasions (childbirth) and solemn occasions (sickness or death in the family). 

My love of lasagna goes back to my childhood when we visited Grandma in Jersey City. She lived in a second floor walk-up two blocks from my house. Who remembers what time she got up in the morning to begin cooking the lasagna and the rest of the meal, including homemade bread and a roasted chicken? As for the lasagna, she made the pasta from scratch. The tomato sauce (we called this gravy) simmered for hours on the stove. She used whole-milk ricotta and mozzarella cheeses that were made fresh at the Italian store down the block.  

Being the oldest granddaughter, I sometimes helped by assembling the multiple layers of the dish. First the sauce, the pasta in one layer, a few spoonfuls of cheese mixture (ricotta, parmesan, eggs, oregano and parsley), sliced mozzarella, more sauce/gravy and then I started over again finishing with the mozzarella on top. 

If the family ever had turkey for Thanksgiving, I don’t remember. 

In Grandma’ s cramped kitchen the men ate first—Grandma’s three sons, her five sons-in law and Grandpa. My cousins and I sat at the “children’s table” that was cobbled together with end tables and folding chairs. The women served and cleared and eventually sat down to dinner with the windows open to let out the steam from the kitchen along with the delicious aromas of the Italian Thanksgiving feast.  

So this Thanksgiving I am thankful for the usual, although not insignificant blessings, such as health, family, friends, but also for the memories that warm me and bring me back to Grandma’s table laden with her gifts and in the company of my extended family—some long gone but not forgotten. 

Wishing you a Happy and Safe Thanksgiving with Joyful Memories. 

Some Needed Levity

I don’t know how Tim Holt does it but he grinds out an entertaining post every week. I could be one of his little old ladies shuffling along in my black church shoes with a grin on my face. However, I don’t wear church shoes or walk with a shuffle–yet. I do, however, have a smile on my face because his story brings back memories of dancing to the big name bands at the Plaza Hotel in New York City the 60s.

In this time of uncertainty and worry, I submit Tim’s post to bring a bit of levity to your day.

 

 

~I Play a Little~

“I’m no Tommy Dorsey” is what I say sometimes to hunched little ladies shuffling along in their black church shoes who look old enough to know Tommy Dorsey, to have danced to his music. Often, they grin and drop in a dollar.  I don’t need the dollar.  I need the grin.  Other times, I tell people I am Tommy Dorsey.

You don’t know Tommy Dorsey?  Oh, for crying out loud.  This is the year 2020. Put the toilet paper down and go in that store and buy a CD.  But be careful.  Or better yet, tap this, then keep reading.    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cKQc-cbAvdQ  The ads will pass quickly. That’s not true. They will pass excruciatingly slowly.

You recognize it? I’m Getting Sentimental Over You.  I play that one in front of the store every Saturday. I don’t need to play for money.  I have a nice income.  I live quite comfortably.  But I discovered that few stopped to listen unless I put a cigar box on the side walk next to my trombone case.  I drew a big dollar sign on the lid.  Folks want to help the old guy.  Kinda nice, isn’t it?  I don’t like how the young ones calling me “Sugar,” but that reflects how they feel about old dudes with beards like me.  Kindly. I’m sure they’d pat my hand if I put it out there.

But we old folks need to get our kicks.  Do they still say that? I play here on Saturdays.  And a bunch of us meet in the park once a month and bring sheet music that’s older than our grandkids, and we play for a couple of hours.  Until nap time.  It astounds me how many over-80s plan their days around naps.

The trombone doesn’t consume me.  I love its feel in my hands, and its sound, mellow and sad, like dropping pennies into a deep well. Something like that.  At least for me.  Everyone hears the sound from way down somewhere.  That’s the magic of the trombone.  But for me, it’s a Saturday thing. And a grassy park thing. And a sunny day thing.

I also like to bake.  So I have a job at Paulie’s Bakery on Fridays.  We start early.  It’s a long day.  Dough is mixed and pinched and divided and like monks in white robes, they rise.  The buns, hundreds of them, stand like congregates, demanding my commitment.   Instead of paying me, I ask Pauly If I may fill two bags at the end of the day with hot cross buns, still warm, all separated by little tissues.  He did the calculation.  He said, “Sure.”  It’s nearly 7 by the time we finish cleaning up.  I drop the bags off at Hope Church on the way home.  Saturday morning is treat-time for folks whose circumstances cause them to need to dine for free.

Not a bad life for an old Ophthalmologist, is it?  Just listen to the music and wonder what else I do.

Tim Holt

 

 

 

 

 

 It Takes a Village or a City Block

This is my 262nd Blog post. It’s a significant number for me. I spent the first twenty years of my life in a two-bedroom apartment in a three-story brick building in Jersey City, New Jersey: 262 Summit Avenue.

Most of the buildings on the block were three stories with an apartment on each floor. I could name everyone who lived on the block. Few people moved. Multigenerational families stayed in close proximity. My grandparents’ place was a two-block walk away.

2009 visit. The gates are new.

We children couldn’t do anything wrong without a neighbor correcting us or telling our parents. In the summers we played outside until evening darkened the skies and the streetlights came on. In the colder weather, when the chill kept folks indoors, the older women sat by their windows as if afraid they would miss something.

Across the street, taking up most of the block, sat the massive New Jersey National Guard  Armory. The National Guard soldiers came for weekend training. Blaring brass bands cut above the street traffic. It was only when I reached my teens that seeing all the young men in uniform kept me close to home.

In summers, the Armory hosted the Rodeo and big-name performers: Frank Sinatra and Jimmy Durante. My friends and I, probably around ten or eleven years old, had managed to sneak through a side door and wander around before the Rodeo started, watching the workers set up the stands for the audience and the pens for the animals. During the show, we edged up so close to the action that we could hear the cowboys’ grunts, as they desperately tried to stay on the backs of the bucking horses or angry bulls.

Unknown

We listened to Frank Sinatra from the shadows along the walls. A spotlight followed his lanky body on the stage as he crooned into a microphone. We felt invincible.

In retrospect, it seemed easy for my friends and I to slip into the Armory. I don’t remember ever once getting kicked out. Perhaps the workers chose to look the other way.

My best friend, Carol, lived at one end of the block and I lived on the other. I’ve written about her in a post: Taking the Bus. We met when we were four or five years old, attended the same grammar school and high school. After she married, she and her husband moved to south Jersey. Two years later, I married. We moved to Newark, then near DC, making other moves until we eventually settled down in North Carolina.

After many years of exchanging Christmas cards, Carol and I now live 20 miles from one another. When we get together, we rehash our childhood memories on the 200 block of Summit Avenue. The city street that was the Village that raised us.

The Perks of Serving on the Board

 

I have served on the Family Patient Advisory Council at my local hospital in Raleigh, North Carolina since it’s inception a little over two years ago. I became the first Chair and now I am the Senior Chair.

This last week, the hospital funded my travel to Chicago to attend the Patient Experience Conference 2018 where the Chief Nursing Officer, Manager of Service Excellence, also a nurse, and I gave a presentation: Operationalizing Patient Advisory Council: Going Beyond the Boundaries.

 

I felt privileged to discuss the successes and challenges of our group and pleased, as a retired nurse, that I am using my background in health care services to facilitate change. In this case, to promote and improve the patient experience.

 

Patient Experience

Patient experience encompasses the range of interactions that patients have with the health care system, including their care from health plans, and from doctors, nurses, and staff in hospitals, physician practices, and other health care facilities. As an integral component of health care quality, patient experience includes several aspects of health care delivery that patients value highly when they seek and receive care, such as getting timely appointments, easy access to information, and good communication with health care providers.

Understanding patient experience is a key step in moving toward patient-centered care. By looking at various aspects of patient experience, one can assess the extent to which patients are receiving care that is respectful of and responsive to individual patient preferences, needs and values. Evaluating patient experience along with other components such as effectiveness and safety of care is essential to providing a complete picture of health care quality. – Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality

At the conference, not only did I learn about the patient experience movement and its growing numbers of supporters, I came away excited about the direction of health care.

After the conference, I met my friend Lois. Our friendship spans 40 years. We had one day of sleet and one day of sun in our quest to revisit old haunts and discover renovations to Chicago’s old buildings. At Navy Pier we asked a mother and daughter to take our picture. It turned out the daughter was starting nursing school with the intent to become a nurse practitioner. At this serendipitous meeting, Lois and I shared sage advice about the rewarding aspects of a nursing career.

Back home in temperate North Carolina, I look back at my time in Chicago and feel privileged to have attended the conference and had the added perk to have spent time with Lois.

The Old Faded Picture

Recently rummaging around in my office closet for my watercolor materials, I came across an old envelope with a faded 5 X 7 picture inside. Years ago I had planned to frame it. Obviously, I forgot all about it. Most of what is stored in the closet fits into the category: out of sight, out of mind.

This closet is stuffed with past journals, yearly calendars dating back more than 20 years, greeting cards, and evidence of my artistic endeavors: pastels, watercolors, acrylics and scores of papers for each medium, along with canvases, and a variety of paint brushes. However, the significant items sharing the confines of the closet are the photographs spilling out of albums, in shoeboxes, and in dilapidated wooden frames.

Over our many moves, I boxed my memorabilia without weeding anything out but only adding to the collection, always promising myself that I would organize the stash.

And as the years passed I became more reluctant to tackle the task. Maybe the constraints I have placed on the act of clearing out do more to deter me than support me. I will need two days since I will pull everything out of the closet, not returning anything until I have handled it and made the decision to toss or save. Did I say I needed only two days?

I can see myself sitting on the floor surrounded by these old pictures, fingering each while nostalgia washes over me. I will be revisiting places I lived, missing family members who have long since died, dealing with changes that the passage of time had not only had on me but my spouse and children. Yes, I know how this all will affect me and I am not anxious to deal with such an emotional task.

Getting back to the picture.

 

We rented a house on Sister Bay, Wisconsin after I read about the area in the Chicago Magazine: the best place to see the fall colors and beautiful sunsets. Since we were “poor”—my husband was in graduate school and we were living on my salary as a part time nurse—I wrote the owner of a rental home asking for a discount. Since we didn’t go during the annual Fall Fest, the owner agreed. Our children loved that we were steps from the bay. They explored the large room on the second floor with rows of single beds and at least two cribs. We took out the rowboat on that first visit, catching the winds of an abrupt storm and just made it back to shore without capsizing. We rented bikes to survey the fall colors. Our favorite breakfast restaurant had a goat grazing on grass that grew on the roof.

We rented the same house over the years, without the discount. Each time the owner had made improvements: a porch, a wrap around deck, bedrooms replacing the one large room on the second floor, and finally he declared “no children. “

On our last visit, my mother came with us. Late one afternoon she must have picked up my camera on the deck and took this picture of my daughter and me. She also captured my son sorting stones on the narrow strip of beach. My husband probably was grilling hamburgers on the other side of the deck. Perhaps after another magnificent sunset, we went inside for dinner. Perhaps afterward, my son would show us the best stones he picked at the water’s edge to take back home.

Perhaps sorting through the old pictures won’t be too daunting after all.

Nurse at the Switchboard

Ten of us from a class of 44 traveled to Cape May, New Jersey to attend our 55th nursing reunion. We first met as young Catholic teens in the late ’50s enrolled in the diploma program at Saint Peter’s School of Nursing in New Brunswick, New Jersey. Hard to believe we are now in our mid-70s.

At our luncheon at the Inn of Cape May on a glorious sunny day this past September, we laughed and reminisced about the three years we lived together, when Connie mentioned that she had to man the switchboard at night during the psych rotation at a private psychiatric facility in a Maryland suburb.

Never heard of this we said. But one of us (can’t remember exactly who that was) chimed in to say she remembered at the time how glad she was that she never had to do this. So there was validation that Connie’s memory was intact. Imagine having to work at a telephone switchboard! What does this have to do with learning about psychiatric patients?

lady at switchboard

I found a picture of a telephone switchboard for you too young to remember this contraption that connected folks to each other via telephone lines. Or you could just watch the old movie: Bells Are Ringing with Judy Holiday and Dean Martin.

 

 

 

After hearing about the switchboard, we began outdoing each other with anecdotes about our early nursing days.

I wanted to take notes to capture these unique tales but decided I would rather just enjoy the fellowship. Later, I asked my classmates if I could call them, one by one, and document what they would want to share with current nurses about life in the “olden days.” They all consented.

So now I have a new project. I had been thinking about surveying my classmates about their nursing lives for quite a while. Since our 55th celebration is over, I realize it is now or never. We are dying off. Sad to say but true. Who will remember us? Or what nursing was like years ago? Who would believe that as part of the educational program to learn to be a psych nurse you had to know how to work a telephone switchboard?

You’ll be hearing more about my classmates.