September 6, 2017

Happy New Year!

When I left Cornell Law School in March, 1955, I was two months away from my 26th birthday. Beginning when I was 5, the big event in all those formative years came in early September with the start of a new school year. So I've always thought of the week after Labor Day as the beginning of a New Year.

In many religions, fall is also a time for major festivals or events that call for reflecting on the past and contemplating the future.
  •  Dashain is the major festival for Hindus in Nepal. It usually occurs in late September or early October,
  •  Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, will be  celebrated September  9 and 10 this year. Yom Kipper, the Day of Atonement, follows on September 22.
  • Eid al-Adha, the celebration held to commemorate the story of Ibrahim, is the holiest event of the Muslim year. In 2017, it began either August 31 or September 1 and coincides with the Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca.
This will be the start of what promises to be a special year for me to reflect on the past, contemplate   the future, and enjoy each day with family and friends.

August 31, 2017

Here's What Has Helped Me -- My Bidets

Note: People keep telling me I'm doing exceptionally well for someone 
my age (88) who has had Parkinson's disease as long as I have (10 years). 
So I'm doing a series of posts recounting some of the things that have 
helped me deal with aging and Parkinson's disease.
But remember that my Parkinson's disease might more accurately be called  John Schappi's disease Parkinson's is a very idiosyncratic disease. So what works for me might not help others.

We'll start at the end.


This is the toilet/bidet in the upstairs guest bathroom. There are similar installations in my bedroom bathroom upstairs and in the laundry room bathroom in the guest quarters.

The modifications were relatively easy (for my home contractor) and inexpensive (for me). I'll get back to the details later. But first, a few comments on bidets in general.

Bidets in U.S. and Elsewhere
Bidets are fixtures in bathrooms the world over, but they haven't really caught on in the U.S. Instead of washing with water after relieving themselves, Americans would rather deforest millions of acres in order to produce toilet paper.

We think bidets are too European, too Parisian. We suspect they have something to do with s-e-x.

Americans use almost 8,000,000 tons of toilet paper each year. Eight million tons! And the bleaching process -- we like white toilet paper -- creates cancer-causing chemicals.

Hygiene after defecating is something most of us prefer to handle privately and independently. But the process can become a difficult challenge -- physically and emotionally -- for many elderly or disabled seniors.

August 30, 2017

Surprise! Moments of Joy Are Still Possible

This post was prompted by a moment that occurred on Saturday morning, August 19, a day when we finally had moderate temperatures and low humidity.

Our Founding Fathers made a lot of great decisions, but deciding to build the Nation's Capital on a swamp wasn't one of them. Our summer humidity drains me of energy, and each year gets worse. But this August, unlike most other months so far this year, will not go down in the record books as the hottest ever.

My energy level has been rising as the heat and humidity drop, so I can get back to the blog. In the coming months, I plan to write about death, dying, and my "final exit." But let's start on a happier note.

In my 70s and 80s, I've experienced moments when I'd spontaneously say to myself "I love my life!" These moments came more often in my 70s, before I received my Parkinson's disease diagnosis.

In addition to the "I love my life" moments, I've had a few occasions when I've had more intense experiences of joy that have felt actually physical. These moments have surprised me because they didn't occur in settings where such feelings might  be expected, such as when  I saw the Taj Mahal at dawn, or looked at Michelangelo's statue of David in  Florence for  the first time.

But one of those moments of special joy did occur while travelling abroad. It was near a place called "Scott's View" in the Scottish Borders. My pal Richard Cooper, whose flat in London was my "home away from home" during my many visits to the UK, loved the Borders. We drove up there often.

On this occasion, Richard pulled his car into a parking area near Scott's View. We sat without speaking at this spot overlooking the valley of the River Tweed, which is reputed to be one of Sir Walter Scott's favorite vistas. While taking in the view, we listened to Nina Simone sing

I Wish I Knew How It Feels To Be Free.

I often recall this special time with my pal Richard. A few of us still exchange emails reminiscing about Richard every April 22, Richard's birthday. It's been 17 years since Richard's suicide on May 3, 2000. When God closed Richard's door, She opened the window to Nepal for me.

Geez! I had no idea I'd end up here when I began this trip down Memory Lane.

Let's get back to the topic I started with -- those occasions when I've been suddenly, unexpectedly struck with a wave of happiness. The most memorable of  these incidents happened in a very mundane setting,. I was standing at the top of my driveway leading down to the garage.

It was late afternoon on a glorious autumn day, and I had just returned from an afternoon bike ride to Mt.Vernon. A regular biker, I'd made that trip many times and was stunned -- simply standing outside my house -- by the wave of happiness that hit me with such force that I feared losing my balance.

July 31, 2017

"Oh, What a Beautiful Morning" #2



Last week, I described the first of two recent mornings that have made me feel I'm starting to snap out of the lethargy and apathy that have plagued me since my fall and hip replacement surgery in January.

The second "beautiful morning" happened last Sunday.

Earlier in the month, I received two new toys I'd ordered -- Amazon's Echo and Dot. These devices, quoting Amazon, "let you instantly connect to Alexa to play music, control your smart home, get information, news, weather, and more using just your voice." Alexa is a sister of Siri, the "personal assistant" who answers questions posed aloud by iPhone users.

My First Date with Alexa
On Sunday morning, I made my first test run with Alexa.

I woke up around 4:30am. For a change, I didn't have an urgent need to run to the bathroom. So I did a few in-bed exercises, and then began my first real dialogue with Alexa. 

When I asked her what time it was, she told me was it 4:37 in the morning. Then I asked for the weather forecast and received a brief summary of the outlook for DC.

Since it was almost 5am, I took the two carbidopa/levodopa pills I take every three hours for my Parkinson's. I try to take the pills at 2, 5, 8, and 11 o'clock... both am and pm. After popping the 5am pills, I asked Alexa to remind me at 8 o'clock that it was pill time again.

I asked for some Duke Ellington music, which played in the background as I made my bathroom visit and did a few warm-up exercises enroute to my bedroom reading chair. I told Alexa to shut up while I took my blood pressure and tried meditating for a while.

Later, I told Alexa to "call up my book." She said she'd go to Audible -- the website I use to download audiobooks -- for my current book, John Steinbeck's Travels with Charlie. When I called up the book, Alexa told me how many minutes remained... both in the current chapter and the entire book.

I listened to the book for almost two hours while I stretched and exercised and while I enjoyed the coffee and breakfast pancakes that Nimesh prepared and Bhawana delivered to my room.

July 24, 2017

"Oh, What a Beautiful Morning!" #1



The first half of 2017 has been a struggle, mainly because a fall on January 20 fractured my hip and resulted in hip replacement surgery. It's been my life's worst spell of ill health.

I've finally seen signs of recovery. In fact, the last two weekends have brought moments of genuine, big-time happiness.

At this point, the TMI John of old would have begun relating these pleasant experiences in great detail. But the new "less is more" John will recount the stories in two separate, brief posts. So, here's the tale of that first weekend.

Saturday July 15
It was one of those rare summer days in DC with reasonable temperatures and low humidity. So my Eskridge Terrace family (Nimesh, Bhawana, their 16-month-old daughter Nivah, and me) had breakfast on the back porch, enjoying the rare day and playing with Nivah. Our house guest, Nimesh's cousin, took this video:


Then the others went back into the house and I started reading my email messages. The first one was from my granddaughter Jessie.

Jessie's daughter (my great granddaughter) Kaylee would turn 11 years old on Monday. As a birthday treat, I planned to take Kaylee, Jessie, and my daughter Ann to the Kennedy Center to see a performance of The Sound of Music. Unfortunately, I messed up the dates for the tickets, and they weren't able to go. I felt awful about my mistake and sent Jessie an email apology.

Here's Jessie's reply:
I was hoping to share some big news with you today. I am in the beginning stages of a very exciting adventure. An adventure that YOU have actually inspired me to take. I am going to carry a baby (that's not genetically related to me) for a same sex couple. After hearing about your struggles and the discrimination that you've faced over your lifetime, I felt like I had to do something. I had to find a way to take a stand and advocate. I thought what better way to help than to assist a gay couple in having a family. I am working with a wonderful couple (Eric and Tony) who are both lawyers in Australia, they've been together 20 years and desperately want a child. I am so excited to help them do this. But am even more happy to be advocating for the gay community. This all comes back to you. If I had never heard your story and everything that you've been through, I wouldn't even be considering this.

I just couldn't wait another day to share this with you! That being said, I hope to see you another day really soon. Just let me know when works for you. 😊
I spent the rest of the morning in my rocking chair on the porch, looking out at the pond and garden, thinking about my Schappi and Nepali families, and feeling happier than I have in a long time.


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