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Monday, December 26, 2016

2017: Bring It On

OK, I realize I’m a week early with the 2017 New Year’s resolutions, but this year can’t end soon enough for me.

So here they are, in no particular order:

1. Get pets: a couple-o-cats from Treehouse when it opens its new palatial digs in West Rogers Park. As for the dog, well, just like last time, I expect s/he will just show up.

2. Travel this year to at least one strange and exotic place, though one with nice bathrooms.

3. Screw up my courage and do the online dating thing. (And, not to be pessimistic, but if nothing else it should give me plenty to write about. With all names changed, of course.)

4. Buy a condo. Or a small house. Or, better yet, a Tiny House and park it in a friend’s backyard. Or in a far back corner of a local forest preserve.

5. Do more guest lecturing in academic courses, similar to what I did this past fall at the Lutheran School of Theology/Chicago. (With many thanks to Professor Schweitz for making that happen.)

6. Continue to act up, lobby, march, and protest for those issues that matter most to me, especially the green ones.

7. Be more generous and forgiving (at times, aren’t those the same thing?)

8. Other than just sending a check, volunteer with organizations that serve Chicago’s needy and marginalized.

9. Get regular manicures (see “online dating thing.”)

10. Keep track of these resolutions to make sure they’re more than just a wish list.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Walk a Mile on an Icy Sidewalk in My Shoes

During this morning’s walk in my Chicago neighborhood--when the temperature had soared to 8 °--I wrote in my small pocket notebook the addresses of two nearby businesses along Western & Peterson Avenues. Each, among several, had yet to shovel and/or de-ice their sidewalks, which I was getting pretty damn tired of negotiating on the way to the store or the bus stop, holding my breath the entire time for fear of slipping and falling.

I stopped into both of the businesses, first Jimmy John’s, then Napleton car dealership, to let them know that I would be calling 311 to report their civic transgressions to the city. This would involve their paying a hefty fine, which, more than doing the right thing, seemed to get their attention.

Well, we’ll see. I will be out there tomorrow to check on them. Because, really, who else would? Certainly not the city’s Streets & Sanitation Dept, whose trucks regularly plow piles of snow up onto the crosswalks at major intersections. Nor my 40th Ward Alderman Patrick O’Connor’s office. Truth is, I doubt that most city employees or aldermanic staff regularly walk on sidewalks, so why would they take notice?

Which leaves the health and welfare of pedestrians up to, well, us pedestrians. Which is why I felt inspired to write this Letter to the Editor at the Chicago Tribune last week.* I don’t recommend walking in the streets as a way to avoid icy sidewalks to everyone, but in many instances, I feel much safer doing so.

Sad commentary on “age-friendly” Chicago, ain’t it?


* Each winter, Chicago turns into a walking hazard

There's a certain irony in Chicago being designated an age-friendly city by the World Health Organization, especially for older pedestrians trying to navigate icy sidewalks on days like these last few. While drivers get streets cleared of snow as soon it lands, pedestrians are at the mercy of homeowners and businesses that may or may not clear their sidewalks of snow and the ice that accumulates when temperatures plunge. And so these past several days, I've taken to walking in the street instead of on sidewalks filled with ice. Not the best option for my 73-year-old bones, perhaps, but Chicago doesn't really offer me any other choice.

— Carol LaChapelle, Chicago

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Walking the Suburbs

“Suburbanites vs. sidewalk backers” by Scott McFetridge of AP appeared in the November 27, 2016 of the Chicago Tribune.

Here’s how it opens:

“When officials in the Des Moines suburb of Windsor Heights began talking about installing sidewalks to improve safety and encourage outdoor activities, they anticipated some grumbling from residents who liked the look of uninterrupted, lush lawns.

“They didn't expect packed City Council meetings, protest signs stretching down leafy suburban streets and threats to defeat officials in the next election.

"People are afraid of change," City Council member Threase Harms said of sidewalk opponents. "They are very passionate, but I think they've gone a little too far with their passion."

“At a time of rising obesity rates and a push for cities to encourage more active lifestyles, intense opposition to sidewalks may seem surprising, but similar disputes are raging in neighborhoods across the country.”

Reading this immediately brought back memories of when I taught nature writing workshops up at the Chicago Botanic Garden in Glencoe, back in the mid-1990’s. Because I don’t own a car, I’d take the metra train north from Chicago to the Braeside stop, then walk east to the Garden, probably a mile plus by the time I got past the parking lots and into the Education building.

What I was most struck by as I made my way from the train to the Garden’s entrance was that a) I was the only one walking on the sidewalk and b) many of the cars driving the two-lane highway next to it would slow down as they passed me, staring at me out the window, as if I were some exotic creature just landed in their midst. Or maybe they thought I’d abandoned my car down the road due to a flat tire or some other auto mishap.

But truth is I felt like an exotic creature—a walker in car-dominated suburbia—especially as I was on an actual sidewalk and not some designated path near or into a wooded area.

Fast forward some 20 years and of course things have changed. More people—including suburban Boomers —know that walking is good for them and that sitting, whether in front of a screen or a steering wheel, really is the new smoking. So they regularly walk their local sidewalks as part of an exercise regimen.

Which is why the resistance to sidewalks in Windsor Heights, Iowa kind of surprised me. Click on the link to read the entire article and see what you think.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Weathering the Winter in the City

I’ve been listening with interest to the recent radio ads running for the “Weather the Winter” marketing initiative at Friendship Village in Schaumburg. The Village is described on its website as:

“…a Continuing Care Retirement Community near Chicago, IL for adults aged 62 and older offering a range of services and amenities in a vibrant community of neighbors and friends. Our accommodations include independent living, assisted living, skilled nursing, and memory support for Alzheimer’s and dementia care, so it’s no surprise that we’re Chicagoland’s leading retirement community.”

In one of the ads, two friends are talking on the phone. One lives at the Village and enthusiastically invites her friend to come visit. The friend, though, is stranded in her home, alone, needing to shovel her sidewalk after a blizzard. She then describes how she’ll be spending her non-shoveling time: alone, with “just me and the TV.”

The image that comes into my head about the sad woman is that she lives alone in a house in the suburbs, probably not far from Schaumburg; is single, divorced, or widowed; has no children or grandchildren, nor nearby neighbors to help or spend time with her; and is dependent on a car to get around, as there is likely no good public transportation available out where she lives.

And so the most obvious response to this dilemma—older woman alone shoveling snow then cuddling up to a TV by herself—is to come “Weather the Winter” in a retirement community that she just may want to end up living in beyond the Winter.

Here’s how the FV website describes what awaits her during her 90-day stay:

Warm up to
Friendship Village!

Welcome to Weather the Winter, the easiest way to get familiar with Friendship Village. It’s a no-obligation, low-cost 90-day trial. Simply fill out the form and we’ll do the rest. A sales counselor will contact you to set up an appointment. All you have to do is pack a bag and relax in a beautifully furnished apartment home.

One simple monthly service fee covers everything:

Access to five dining venues, the fitness and aquatic center, scheduled transportation, housekeeping and more.

All utilities except telephone and flexible meal plan included.

Security and safety from the winter elements is guaranteed.

Sign up for Weather the Winter between now and March 31st and change the way your winter looks.

Now while perhaps a good marketing strategy, this initiative highlights what “aging in place” in the suburbs may look like for a sizeable portion of my fellow agers.

And it’s a pretty bleak picture, especially from the vantage point of an older, also single, city dweller, surrounded as I am by a multitude of communities to be a part of—libraries, cultural institutions, parks and preserves, circles of friends, music venues, etc., etc.—that ease the stress of Chicago’s fierce winters and are often a train or bus ride or short walk away.

Oh, and the best part is that these communities are rich in diversity and difference: Not everyone in them looks just like me, which only adds to the pleasure of belonging to them.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

A Sense of Urgency

I was grateful to spend Thanksgiving day with my lifelong friend Judy and her large extended family, including many young people, both in college and college bound. I don’t really know these kids all that well, chiefly as their great-aunt’s friend who they may see every couple of years.

But they are good kids and polite and so put up with my questions about how they were doing in school and what they hoped to do once they graduated. The usual questions non-familial adults might ask the young, I imagine.

And, of course, once I heard their answers, I couldn’t help but offer some unsolicited advice. After all, I’ve been around the block several turns now, including the academic one, having been adjunct at several universities over the years.

But all the while I kept trying to imagine myself at their ages—late teens/early twenties—wondering how I might have responded to the advice, even from a reasonably knowledgeable source. Would it even have registered? And if it did, would I have given it more than two seconds’ worth of my time?

Then, the day after Thanksgiving, I stumbled on a book review in the New York Times by Heather Lende: On Living, by hospice chaplain Kerry Egan. (Link below) Here’s how Lende describes the book:

“On Living” is part memoir, part spiritual reflection and part narration of tales told to Egan by her [hospice] patients.

Each of those “parts” of the book interests me, as a writer and a teacher especially, but also as someone thinking about how to use these remaining years of what’s turning out to be a blessedly long-ish life.

Ah, so here I am, a bona fide old person, now seeking the unsolicited advice I would’ve ignored—or even scorned—while in the midst of my late teens/early twenties. Funny how that works.

But, lucky me, this particular bit of advice from Chaplain Egan definitely struck a chord, especially the sense of urgency:

“If there is any great difference between the people who know they are dying and the rest of us, it’s this: They know they’re running out of time. They have more motivation to do the things they want to do, and to become the person they want to become. . . . There’s nothing stopping you from acting with the same urgency the dying feel.”

So, if like me, you’re looking for how to stay motivated in your life—to “do the things” you want to do and “become the person” you want to be—this book might be worth a read.