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Living the length and width of our lives

NIAGARA, Wis. — A friend of mine recently posted on her Facebook page the following quotation by Diane Ackerman, “I don’t want to get to the end of my life and find I lived just the length of it. I want to have lived the width of it as well.” The more I thought about that phrase, the more I liked it, so today I want to delve into its meaning and ponder how we can all go about living long — and wide.

While the secret to a long life lies in our genetic pool, there are certainly many other tools at our disposal to help us “live long and prosper” as Spock used to say on “Star Trek.” My husband and I are blessed with longevity that runs deep throughout both of our families. For him, the DeBruin side of the family has fared better than the Killian side. His father as well as many of his aunts and uncles had issues with various forms of cancer that shortened their lives. His maternal grandparents lived into their 80s and may have lived longer had it not been for Grandpa’s pipe smoking. His mother, however, is still going strong at 93, and she has so far only lost one brother who lived well into his 80s; her younger sister is a vibrant 78-year-old who seems closer to 65.

I have little knowledge of my father’s side of the family, but my maternal grandmother’s family — the Kloehns — had terrific longevity. My grandmother was the oldest of nine children. They were mostly hard-working farmers who lived off the land they planted. My grandmother died just five months shy of her 100th birthday, and all of her sisters lived well into their 90s. My mother lived until she was 92.

I can remember a conversation I had with the pathologist at the hospital before I retired. We were talking about how aging was largely a product of genetics, and I told him exactly what I have described above. His words, “Well, you had better decide now to take care of yourself so you can feel good as long as possible,” still echo in my mind.

I try hard to use my grandmother’s example of clean living to guide mine. She was the quintessential model of the phrase “everything in moderation, nothing to excess.” She never smoked and rarely drank alcohol. Once in awhile she would indulge in a “schlock” of beer on a hot summer day. By the way, a “schlock” is about four ounces. As a Depression-era farmer’s wife, she did a lot of physical work in her younger years. She rarely needed a doctor and never took more than an aspirin for arthritis in her later years. She had a deep faith that gave her a calm demeanor and a great peace within herself. She always said, “What shall be, will be” and believed it completely. I think I only saw her angry once.

So, we all have it within our power to live as long as our genetics allow. Living where we do, we are blessed with clean air and water. We know what foods are good for us — lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, dairy, and lean protein. Avoid excessive amounts of alcohol. Stop smoking — better yet, never start. Get regular exercise and at least seven to eight hours of sleep each night. Have a family physician who you see annually at least and who can guide you healthily through your later years.

That brings us to the “width” of life. What is it and how do we live it? To answer those questions, I will share another piece of wisdom I found — this time a personal story by author Kurt Vonnegut. Popular the second half of the 20th century, he wrote such classics as “Slaughterhouse Five and “Man Without a Country.”

Vonnegut remembered, “When I was 15, I spent a month working on an archeological dig. I was talking to one of the archeologists one day during our lunch break and he asked those kinds of ‘getting to know you’ questions you ask young people: Do you play sports? What’s your favorite subject? And I told him, no I don’t play any sports. I do theater, I’m in choir, I play the violin and piano, I used to take art classes. And he went ‘Wow. That’s amazing!’ And I said, ‘Oh no, but I’m not any good at any of them.’

“And he said something then that I will never forget and which absolutely blew my mind because no one had ever said anything like it to me before: ‘I don’t think being good at things is the point of doing them. I think you’ve got all these wonderful experiences with different skills, and that all teaches you things and makes you an interesting person, no matter how well you do them.’

“And that honestly changed my life. Because I went from a failure, someone who hadn’t been talented enough at anything to excel, to someone who did things because I enjoyed them. I had been raised in such an achievement-oriented environment, so inundated with the myth of Talent, that I thought it was only worth doing things if you could ‘Win’ at them.”

By sharing this story from his childhood, Vonnegut has given us both the definition of, and key to, living the width of life. Living the length of life obviously gives us the amount of time we have on this Earth. Living the width of life gives us its quality, its richness of experience, the memories we have when we eventually become too feeble for new adventures.

It is never too late to explore new interests, visit a place we have always wanted to see, or learn a new skill. Now is the time to repair relationships — mend fences as they say — before we are no longer around to rebuild a friendship or explain to a brother or a son why we did what we did 10 years ago.

Life is so very precious — and fleeting. I cannot believe how fast a month goes by now that I am older. I find myself realizing more and more how little time remains for me in this world to see the giant redwoods, to visit the Atlantic coast, and to spend time with family who seem to be disappearing way too quickly of late. I have decided to start journaling so I have a place to record not only today’s events but memories from years gone by while I still have them.

Our accomplishments do not need to be meaningful to anyone else but us. We do not have to be experts at anything. We do not have to know the ending before we begin creating our story — or any chapter of it. The act of doing is what is important for it is in the trying that we learn and discover. Our lives are forever enriched in the attempt.

Every February I cherish the memory of my husband coaxing me across the very thick ice off of Little Presque Isle Point in Marquette so we could trudge through the snow to the other side of the island itself — just to see what it looked like in the winter. I will never forget the sight of Lake Superior undulating under a patchwork quilt of ice nor its sound as the waves crashed against the rock face beneath its icy cover.

We need to embrace those experiences that will give the length of our life its width – its where the richness lies in wait to brighten our days … when all we have left is memories.

——

NURSING HOMES

The usual senior living activity calendars and senior center menus are not being published 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 that 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 reopen, 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 that are either preparing takeout or providing home-delivered meals. Questions can be directed to the individual centers at the numbers listed here.

SENIOR CENTERS

Alpha-Mastodon Center

906-875-3315

Amasa Center

906-822-7284

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

Tuesday: Beef stroganoff, noodles, carrots and broccoli-cauliflower salad.

Wednesday: Pork roast, mashed potatoes, mixed vegetables and coleslaw.

Thursday: Spaghetti, green beans, garlic bread and lettuce salad.

Note: All meals served with milk, bread and butter, fruit and dessert.

Breen Center

906-774-5110

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

Monday: Pork ribs and sauerkraut and wax beans.

Tuesday: Chili and grilled cheese sandwiches.

Wednesday: Liver or bratwurst, parsley potatoes and carrots.

Thursday: Barbecue chicken, rice and green beans.

Note: All meals served with a choice of skim milk or juice and fruit.

Crystal Falls Center

Head cook: Lucy Korhonen

906-875-6709

Crystal Lake Center

Iron Mountain

906-239-0278

Home-delivered meals only. Menu for the week —

Monday: Cheese omelet, hash browns and spiced peaches.

Tuesday: Cheese burger, potato wedges, green beans, string cheese and ketchup packet.

Wednesday: Sweet and sour chicken, rice, Oriental blend vegetables and fortune cookie.

Thursday: Tuna casserole, peas, biscuit and cottage cheese.

Friday: Sack Lunch – Turkey and cheese sandwich, coleslaw, chips and Jell-O cup.

Note: All meals served with a choice of skim milk, juice, or no beverage.

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

Felch Center

906-246-3559

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

Monday: Barbecue pork, chips and mixed vegetables.

Tuesday: Chicken, mashed potatoes, gravy and winter blend vegetables.

Wednesday: Beef stew, garlic bread and salad.

Note: All meals served with skim milk or juice

Aging and Disability Resource Center of Florence County, Wis.

715-528-4890

Director: Tiffany White

Home-delivered meals only. Menu for the week —

Monday: Centers closed for Presidents’ Day.

Tuesday: Chicken vegetable pot pie with biscuits, broccoli and fruit. Florence Center closed for elections.

Wednesday: Cheese ravioli, carrots, dark green salad, garlic bread and fruited Jell-O.

Thursday: Liver and onions or chicken breast, mashed potatoes, squash and fruit.

Friday: Baked cod, potato salad, baked beans, fruit and cookies.

Note: All meals served with whole grain bread and butter and milk.

Fence Center/Town Hall

715-336-2980

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

906-498-7735

Iron River Center

906-265-6134

Home-delivered meals only. Menu for the week –

Monday: Pizza burger, potato wedges, peas and carrots.

Tuesday: Turkey wrap and chips.

Wednesday: Barbecue beef, scalloped potatoes and green beans.

Thursday: Baked chicken, sweet potatoes, broccoli, cranberry sauce and dessert.

Norway Center

Director: Michelle DeSimone

906-563-8716

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

Monday: Chili, cornbread, fruit, juice and dessert.

Tuesday: Salmon, scalloped potatoes, squash, fruit, juice and dessert.

Wednesday: Barbecue ribs, mashed potatoes and gravy, mixed vegetables, fruit, juice and dessert.

Thursday: Finnish pancake, sausage, hash browns, strawberries, muffin and orange juice.

Sagola Center

906-542-3273

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

Tuesday: Beef vegetable soup, grilled cheese sandwich and fruit.

Wednesday: Chicken cordon bleu, mashed potatoes, mixed vegetables and fruit.

Thursday: Taco bake, cornbread, carrots and fruit.

All meals served with fruit and choice of skim milk or juice.

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