Building a happy life amid chaos and confusion

NIAGARA, Wis. — If, like me, you have lived long enough to know that this is not the first time we have seen such strife and turmoil in our country, then you also know it will pass. Times will improve as issues are confronted and resolved. Somehow, we find our way through the conflict to the brighter days beyond. But, what do we do in the meantime? How do we stay sane when everything around us, in the moment, seems to have lost all resemblance of normalcy? And can we be of help to others — those younger — who are searching for some sense to it all?

I have been going to the laundromat every week lately; my Whirlpool washer and dryer died after nearly 30 years of faithful service. I ordered a new Maytag, but due to this virus, production is at only 40%, so I have no choice but to wait for them to ship and then wait for my turn to have them installed at my house. There are no other alternatives so my husband and I decided it would be a wonderful time to give the laundry room a facelift. Actually, if truth be told, I decided and he agreed. I chose a lovely shade of light gray, and he did the rest. I also put away some decor I had gotten tired of over the years and had three pictures reframed since the walls were now a different color. It looks great, and is ready for the new appliances. The take-away from this is that we managed to make the best of a challenging situation.

There has also been a bright side to regular laundromat visits. I met a very nice young man on two different occasions. The first time we talked was back in March when I was there to just use the big machines to wash bedspreads and blankets — a task associated with my annual spring-cleaning ritual. He expressed concern then that I really should be home. It was early on in the virus, and warnings had been issued for “elderly people” to stay home. Then he proceeded to ask me what I “thought of everything.” I had to smile to myself as I shared this chance encounter with my book club friends saying, “I do not mind having historical perspective. I just don’t want to look like I should have it!”

I met him again recently. This time he was more specific when he asked, “Have you ever seen anything like this in your life?” I sensed that this was more than small talk. He seemed to be needing some reassurance that there was a solution coming. I described the late 1960s and early 1970s with its assassinations, Vietnam war demonstrations, college campus unrest and civil rights demonstrations. I also told him about how I had read that the pendulum of history swings every 50 to 60 years and that we would see it swing back the other way to a more peaceful time. “After all,” I said, “If we do not learn from history, we are doomed to repeat it.” He thanked me and seemed genuinely relieved after our conversation. And I felt as though I had been able to share “the wisdom of my years.” After all, gray hair and achy joints have to be good for something!

My husband and I have remarked often throughout these past several months that we are relieved to be going through this time of COVID at this stage of our lives. We are no longer raising children, so we do not have to worry about childcare or home schooling. We are retired so we have no work-from-home challenges or concerns about the interruption of our income. So far, we have followed the guidelines and have maintained our health. Certainly, we miss seeing our kids and grandkids. We miss being able to take our jaunts around the U.P. But these are mild inconveniences compared to the stressors so many people face these days. Thankfully, we still get a lot of enjoyment out of each other’s company.

But, living through these historically difficult times does beg the question, “How do we find happiness in the face of such troubling events?” Having been around the block a few times, we can draw on our experiences to help our children and grandchildren find the answer to that million-dollar question. We know that we cannot simply wait for the rain to pass. Who knows how long it will take for the storm to subside? No, we need to actively learn how to dance in the rain. We need to make a conscious effort to spend time on what we know brings us joy. We need to avoid the trap of sliding into despair and depression because once there, it is really difficult to find the way back out.

The website Very Well Mind reminds us that happiness is an active choice and gives some small, practical ways to achieve it in the wake of the turmoil through which we are trying to navigate right now. Music can provide some relief to all of the stressors; upbeat music in a major key has even been used in hospitals for pain management and emotional well-being. Maintain a sense of humor; if you do not come by that trait easily, surround yourself with people who can help to lighten your mood. Thankfully, I have a husband who makes me laugh every day. Change your perspective. Instead of comparing daily life to how it was “before COVID,” focus on what you can do “despite COVID.” My husband and I miss going out to dinner, so instead, I make a really nice dinner once each week, complete with wine and music. Our dining room becomes our own personal restaurant. And we easily spend an hour over that weekly meal talking and reminiscing. Find a way to safely help out a friend. I have been impressed with how much of this has happened in neighborhoods across America. Meditation techniques practiced regularly — instead of tuning into the daily news — can prove most helpful. Finally, they suggest to simply choose happiness over despair. It sounds too simplistic, but I have to admit that it works. We are not victims, and we can choose what thoughts enter our minds. When I feel sadness creeping in around the edges of my day, I consciously remind myself that “today I am choosing to be happy.” It actually works!

Most of us journey through our lives with a plan – a set of goals that guides us in our decision making and keeps us on the right track. The journey is richer when it is powered by an overriding purpose. It becomes more than a collection of “things.” I have quoted Roy H. Williams in previous columns. He writes a weekly newsletter called “The Monday Morning Memo,” through which he shares many helpful perspectives. One titled “The Power of Purpose” caught my eye. In it, he says, “Your heart, my friend, is the size of a stadium. If you try to fill it with small things — a new car, a vacation, a promotion at work, a bigger home, a stock portfolio — a mournful echo will fill your life. But if you fill your stadium with all of humanity and search for ways to make their lives better each day, you will find yourself in the right place at the right time, doing the right thing in the right way.”

So, I have decided to be grateful for my many years on this earth that have given me the wisdom only experience can provide. I remind myself that I am equipped to deal with COVID and with the upheaval it has caused in our world. Those years have made me a walking history book full of experiences I can share to help younger people cope and to find a reason for hope… after a chance meeting at a laundromat.



The usual senior living activity calendars and senior center menus will not be published this week in an effort to avoid confusion. Due to the coronavirus and the vulnerability of the elderly population, daily life in the senior living facilities and senior centers has changed dramatically.

All living facilities have closed their doors to public visitation, and the activity calendars have been modified to allow for one-to-one room visits only and individualized activities to keep residents engaged and active as much as possible while remaining within the health and safety guidelines provided by state health experts.

Group games are being substituted with individualized activities residents can do in their respective rooms. Staff are providing supplies as well as “overhead announcement bingo and trivia” games and “hallway games” that can be played in individual rooms or by sitting within individual room doorways.

YouTube and DVDs are being utilized to provide religious services. A big dose of gratitude and appreciation goes out to all senior care staff for their creativity, caring and perseverance through a difficult situation.

All senior centers also have been closed to any center-based activity. Until they re-open, no information is being published that talks about activities typically available at these centers. While some have reopened with limited seating, meals do continue to be delivered.

Some centers also are preparing meals to be picked up. Menus are printed below for those centers who are either preparing takeout or providing home-delivered meals. Questions can be directed to the individual centers at the numbers listed below.


Alpha-Mastodon Center


Amasa Center


The Amasa Center is a curbside pick-up-only kitchen for now. Call ahead for Tuesdays through Thursdays. Menu for the week —

Tuesday: Ham, potato salad and coleslaw.

Wednesday: Pork chops, baked potatoes, Brussel sprouts and lettuce salad.

Thursday: Lasagna, wax beans, garlic bread and lettuce salad.

Breen Center


Now open with limited seating from noon to 1 p.m. Monday through Thursday: Menu for the week —

Monday: Closed for Labor Day.

Tuesday: Chicken Alfredo, noodles and broccoli.

Wednesday: Liver or sausage, potatoes and carrots.

Thursday: Chili and sandwich.

Crystal Falls Center

Head cook: Lucy Korhonen


Crystal Lake Center

Iron Mountain


Home-delivered meals only. Menu for the week —

Monday: Spaghetti, Italian sausage, corn and bread stick.

Tuesday: Turkey chili, cornbread and pudding.

Wednesday: Cheeseburger, tater tots, peas and carrots.

Thursday: Cabbage rolls, stewed tomatoes and biscuit.

Friday: Big chef salad and pudding.

For more information, call Christine McMahon at 906-774-2256.

Felch Center


Now open with limited seating from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Monday through Wednesday. Menu for the week —

Monday: Chicken, mashed potatoes, green beans and salad.

Tuesday: Ravioli, garlic bread, peas and coleslaw.

Wednesday: Taco salad, Mexican corn and tortilla chips.

Aging and Disability Resource Center of Florence County, Wis.


Director: Tiffany White

Home-delivered meals only. Menu for the week —

Monday: Closed for Labor Day.

Tuesday: Chef’s salad with white beans, bread sticks and cottage cheese with pears.

Wednesday: Spaghetti with meat sauce, spinach apple salad, fruit and Rice Krispy bars.

Thursday: Liver and onions or chicken breast, mashed potatoes, broccoli, fruit and birthday cake.

Friday: Split pea and ham soup, bread sticks and fruit cup.

Fence Center/Town Hall


For meal reservations, call 855-528-2372

Same as ADRC menu, home-delivered only.

Florence Community Center/Town Hall

For meal reservations, call 715-528-4261

Same as ADRC menu, home-delivered only.

Tipler Town Hall

For meal reservations, call 715-674-2320

Same as ADRC menu, home-delivered only.

Hillcrest Senior Dining Center, Aurora

For meal reservations, call 715-589-4491

Same as ADRC menu, home-delivered only.

Hermansville Center

Coordinator: Pam Haluska


Iron River Center


Now open with limited seating 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Monday through Wednesday. Home-delivered and/or takeout only on Thursdays. Menu for week —

Monday: Biscuits and gravy and peas.

Tuesday: Spaghetti and meatballs, cauliflower and roll.

Wednesday: Smoked sausage, sauerkraut, mashed potatoes and gravy.

Thursday: Lasagna, cauliflower and garlic bread.

Niagara Northwoods Senior Cafe and Center

Meal site manager: Corrie Maule, 715-251-1603

Senior center director: Jill Anderson, 715-251- 4154

Norway Center

Director: Susie Slining


The center will remain closed; however, takeout meals will be prepared for pick up – must call ahead and wear a mask when picking up. Menu for the week —

Monday: Closed for Labor Day.

Tuesday: Chicken Alfredo over noodles, green beans, garlic bread, fruit, juice, milk and dessert.

Wednesday: Chili, corn bread, spinach, fruit, juice, milk and dessert.

Thursday: Shepherd’s pie, mixed vegetables, biscuit, fruit, juice, milk and dessert.

Sagola Center


Now open with limited seating from noon to 1 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday. Menu for the week —

Tuesday: Sloppy Joe, roasted potatoes, pea salad, and peaches.

Wednesday: Chicken pot pie, biscuits, green beans, tropical fruit

Thursday: Baked fish or hot dog or brat, rice pilaf and Brussel sprouts.


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