Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Does this bring back memories...

Part of growing older, and we'd like to think more mature is looking back and relishing memories.  For many of us the longer we hang around on earth, the better the "good old days" appear.  Things that we likely griped about are now cherished hallmarks of how we overcame adversity.  The "hip" and cool generation we thought we were just yesterday, wasn't it, is now as historic as World War II was to us in our childhood. I just asked a friend, the other day, how did that happen?   Aren't 1970 Chevelles and '68 Stingrays just as cool now as they were 40 years ago?  And the fact that I say forty years ago so nonchantlantly tells me I have crossed into the no-man's land of "senior citizen".  I and my friends now talk the merits of how the U.S. is going to heck in a handbasket to borrow a phrase from my grandpa.  When did we quit seeing hope in the next generation to guide us and seeing only a huge ruse in the "Golden Years" analogy?  When did we start seeing greed and excess as the most visual aspects of our National Government?  When did we quit trusting? 

So, bear with me as I have just taken a stroll down Memory Lane via the Barrett-Jackson car auction the past weekend.  For those of you unfamiliar with it, it is a 5 day automobile auction in Scottsdale, AZ, specializing in the best of classic cars for sale.  It is a show within a show, but for those of us who reached our teens in the '60's and 70's, it is a great look into how cars influenced our growing up even as we did not realize.  I saw Chevelles, Corvettes, Mustangs, Baracuda's, Camaros, Cougars, and GTO's.  The muscle cars we grew up wishing we could all afford, and even as a female, looking back and thinking, was there anything cooler than riding on a spring afternoon when it was just warm enough to make you think summer was coming in a burgundy chevelle with some guy who was trying to show off and impress?  Ah, the innocence of those days.  We thought life would go on forever and we would never live to see thirty, and couldn't conceive of getting beyond twenty though we all wanted to be older.  How youth is wasted on the young, I once read, and it is kind of true.  Sometimes we just need to get to this point to realize we had it pretty good.  Not everyone does, but we did.... And to just reach out and grab back all those days, and see them once again in their golden tinged foreverness.

Now that I am on my way to "Grandma-hood", and trying out names for the new person I will become in less than 5 and 6 months, I have lots of sage advice which won't be of any use except to my friends who already know all of this.  The flurry of baby showers and baby "needs" begins, and a whole new level of what we will become in this new order arises.  We now talk baby beds, not cribs, and strollers that do eight different things: if only they could change diapers...I am slowly learning to be conversant in monitors and ultrasounds on a whole different level, and high chairs, (they do still make those, don't they?).  And I have to smile, as I know from all this untapped experience, babies are pretty simple after all.  They can sleep in an empty dresser drawer, lined with a blanket.  Their daily nutrient requirements are supplied by Mom, and the most important pieces of clothing needed are lots and lots and lots of diapers.  Being loved and held  are the greatest gift we can give that newborn and its as instinctual in us as breathing. 

When I became pregnant with Ryan, at that time we had no way of knowing what the sex would be.  While there were new gadgets on the horizon, Ryan was the last of the baby generation looked on with practicality in mind as much as "the next new big baby thing".   We bought a baby crib for the new one.  Outfitted with a mattress it was certified safe.  The side went up and down.  The bars didn't allow for a baby's head to go through.  Pretty simple.  We painted the new nursery room a sunny yellow, as we figured that could grow with the baby, whatever the sex.  My sister in law, had been through all of this before me,  she lent me maternity clothes and piled up baby sleepers, receiving blankets, (I have since come to believe you can't have too many receiving blankets), spit up cloths and rubber changing table cloths.  These basics were the best things I got as they are what I needed every day, and made the rest of the baby items, wonderful luxuries.  My dad renovated an old wooden table into a changing table.  He refinished the wood, added a large shelf underneath, and Mom made a vinyl changing table pad.  It was perfect and served three children well.  An old wardrobe stored in Dad's shed, which once housed a gun rack, was hauled out, cleaned up and retrofitted with shelves.  The doors which once held glass, then were outfitted with mirrors, I now added gathered fabric panels, and we had a storage dresser/wardrobe for the baby's things.  My parents gave us a wonderful collapsible stroller that was used, but in perfect shape.  We thought it the greatest thing ever as it actually collapsed to just a frame of heavy steel.  It was like lifting a small bicycle into the car but it was the newest thing since the "pram".   Korey would be the lucky recepient of  the new "umbrella" strollers which were just coming out, a stroller that folded in on itself like an accordian and could be carried on your arm like an umbrella.  I didn't think baby inventions could get much better than that.  Kurt's parents gave us the newest thing in "play pens" as we called them with mesh sides that folded down.  Aside from sleeping when we went somewhere, my children were never huge play pen kids, and it mostly housed the myriad of baby toys we accumulated as it was like one big open toy box to pitch things in.  Many years later the now slightly damaged play pen made a very serviceable birthing bed for our Brittany spaniel, Murphy.  Use and reuse.

Not all the baby things we were gifted proved to be of great use or even very lasting.  When Korey was born the "new" thing was an expensive stuffed teddy bear that when pushed in the stomach emitted the sounds of the mom's womb.  It sounded vaguely like water lapping on shore, and when placed in the bed with the newborn was assured to keep the little one sleeping through the night.  That didn't work at all, and I think after a couple of weeks, Mr Bear ended up in the toy pen along with all other stuffed animals.  My children all slept their first weeks of life in a generations old German cradle.  My grandfather was rocked in the cradle.  When I say cradle you would think it was something small that sat next to your knees and you could gently rock it.  Nope.  The carved head and footboard to this cradle stood almost five feet.  The wood side slats were two inches of carved wood and were over 18 inches high.  It could be rocked by hand and was a wonderful testament to craftsmanship of an era no longer with us.  We will certainly pay more for baby things now but we will never get the quality...(There's that senior mentality creeping in again....).  My mother did not even know of the cradle's existence until her children were adutls.  An aunt who had never had children had stored the cradle for many generations.  Upon her death it was retrieved and my grandpa remembered.  All of my children and my brother, Kim's children slept in that cradle.  I like the feeling that the generations whisper to the sleeping child of family things and those who have gone before. The cradle now waits for me to bring it here to allow another generation to sleep in it, rocked by a loving grandma.

For the births of four boys, my two and my brother's two, and the birth of Annie, maternity clothes, then baby sleepers, blankets, baby towels, and baby items were traded back and forth between my sister in law and I.  What a bond it created for us and one that existed long past our kids growing up.  I gave baths to my babies in the kitchen sink.  It was deep and small enough that the kids fit into it perfectly.  We put our babies to sleep on their stomachs every night, because they stayed asleep that way and it was what our mother's and grandmothers had done.  We taught them to walk by allowing them to fall down and get back up again.  Somehow they survived to be healthy, and I most certainly hope, happy children.  Things are different now, but in my old age wisdom, I know that they are very much the same.  My children will add new "bells and whistles" to raising children and in the end they will learn what works, (a Johnny Jump Up and bounce chair were my best friends, and things my mom couldn't conceive of), and what doesn't.  It is somewhat a "figure it out as you go along" kind of thing, and there is no manual I know to make you the perfect parent or make your children be carbon copies of one another, so what worked for one will work for all.  But you will figure it out, and if there is one piece of advice above all others, don't get caught up in the "needs and the changes". They will come and they will be figured out with Yankee ingenuity, some German pluck and Italian dramatics.

I see the next page of life being readied.  It will soon turn and I hope and pray I am young enough of heart to trust it will all unfold as the good Lord wishes.... 

Saturday, January 22, 2011

And Here We Are...

Yesterday, I received good news, in fact, great news, considering the alternative.  The best news would have been if the cancer had never been found and my friend had avoided surgery and all the worry associated with it and the threat of what might lie ahead, but the lumpectomy revealed the mass was contained and no lymph nodes removed and after a round of radiation, the prognosis is excellent.  After I hung up the phone, I cried.  I cried like I hadn't cried in years.  Tears of gratitude for my friend, but tears of unadulterated relief.  Relief that her life wouldn't be so totally upset this next year that she would miss things she could never get back, and relief that the outcome looked so good when it had been so scary just the day prior.  But deeper down was the relief that someone I had come to like, and admire would still be around to laugh with me and do things as a foursome.  It is a rare thing when you find another couple at our ages who seem to fit so perfectly with you and your spouse.  I know it was the most selfish of thoughts, but mixed in with the feeling of gratefulness, it was there. 

Today I have awakened to a snowy, cold world.  While the thermometer outside my kitchen window, did not read the predicted 0 degrees, and actually was a balmy, (in comparison), 10 degrees this morning, it is still bleeping cold.  And the snow is a fine, driven thing which is supposed to leave no accumulation behind, but is still there and makes wanting to do mundane Saturday things like grocery shop, something I do not look to doing with any enthusiasm.  I could try foisting it off on Kurt but the months' grocery bill would be blown and I would still have to go back out for staples by mid week. 

As with everything else in my life, I am late to the "party".  I am late to this blogging thing.  By now, kindergartners know how to blog, and I am just taking my first tentative steps.  By now the link for my blog which I have sent out to family and a few friends has been read once or twice, encouraged by the ones who have actually read it, and doing their good deeds, discarded now, the link probably long forgotten.  It does not really matter as I started this for myself as an outlet to write.  Trouble is my best thoughts come when I am out walking far from a laptop or keyboard.  It is when my thoughts bounce off of one another and bubble up so quickly, I think I will need hours to get it all down.  But by the time I have returned with the dogs and unhooked them from leesh, and harnesses, thrown a few well chewed rubber toys for them, divested myself of gloves, heavy winter coat, thick scarf, hooded sweatshirt, knit hat, and finally, pulled off my lace up all weather boots, and cushy, warm wool socks, and replaced them with regular socks and indoor shoes, whatever brilliant thoughts I had that should have been put down for posterity, have long since fled.  I often think I should carry around a small tape recorder, much like my foot doctor did to "talk" out my thoughts as I walk.  He would record the patients prognosis and I assume his medical assistants would transcribe them.  He was a pompous ass most visits so maybe he was talking for the tell-all book he would someday write, and enlighten all of us to the wonderful world of podiatry.  I even bought a small, hand held recorder years ago, but never got the small tapes out of the package and inserted them in the recorder.  Maybe its another resolution I need to make.   This year I have actually crossed off the list several yearly resolutions that never were accomplished and just re-added to the list. 

As I said, I am late to the party, and always have been.  I got my first teeth late according to my mom.  I retained "baby fat" long past the baby time and then was so skinny my dad called me a zipper if I stuck my tongue out.  No girl wants skinny when the teenage years come calling and she just wants something up front and to be that mysterious thing called a woman.  Late to that party also.  Late to figure out a direction in college, though I guess I can say I went which was still something of a novelty for a female around here.  As a stay at home mom, I dreamed of coming up with things to do from home.  Great ideas but no incentive to see them through and dang, someone else always invented them.... I would look at the tv of the greatest time saver on infomercials and say, "I thought of that"....Too little too late.

And with my luck, the one thing I will be early at will be saying good bye to this world.  The good news is its not nearly the scary propisition it might once have been, and my friend's battle and ultimate victory will remind me that it is a new day with no mistakes in it, yet, and time to go shop for those groceries...

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Glad its Done...

Yesterday I had my first routine colonoscopy.  Yes, I know it should have been done 5 years ago at least, but I tend to put things off that sound yucky, and wasn't cornered into it until last year by my healthcare professional.  She talked me into a bone density test along with the routine mammogram which I had been having, and a colonoscopy.  The bone density was kind of cool, but cool costs money and I could just hear the cash register on our health care doing its "cha ching".  Kind of like the electrical meter outside the house, going round and round and you can just hear the money leaving your bank account. 
The colonoscopy was scheduled for a few weeks later and when they called to pre register it, there was a hassle about the insurance, and as it turned out we were switching over, so I just called and canceled rather than deal with it until it was changed.  Of course, in the back of my mind, I had received a reprieve and completely forgot about rescheduling when the new insurance was installed.  A crisis from a good friend, who had gone in for a routine colonoscopy only to find there was cancer in a segment, which promped immediate surgery, reminded me about my postponed appointment.  I called before Christmas and a date was decided in January. 
A month ago I received the instructions from the doctor doing the colonoscopy.  Included was a prescription for the "solution to clean me out beforehand".  Oh goody...I tossed it in the drawer, and marked on my calendar the date and the "before date" so I could get the prescription filled. 

My first indication this was not going to go totally smoothly was getting the prescription filled, the Friday before the Tuesday procedure.  The pharmacist asked which one I wanted to use.  There were two prescriptions and both were marked.  I had no idea they were both separate prescriptions as I had never done it before, but the pharmacist was pretty adamant I didn't want to attempt both.  She tried calling the doctor's office which was futile, it was Friday afternoon after all, of the approaching Martin Luther King holiday.  I think its a written rule doctors never work on Fridays anyway.  We were trying to decide whether to wait until Monday to fill it when the pharmacist started laughing at what we both thought was an ink scribble was actually an "or" written between the two prescriptions.  They filled it out for the first, and a $40 co pay later I had my Halflitely and Biscodyl tablet firmly in hand for Monday's "fun". 

On Sunday night I carefully read the directions and I was ready for the process on Monday.  It started at noon when I took the Biscodyl tablet.  I was told that it would work in one to 6 hours.  It took about 3 to do its thing.  OK, got through that with only minor discomfort, and thought if this is as bad as it gets...not bad....
Little did I know....
I had premixed the Halflitely with water and one of the included flavor packets.  Oh the choices.  Cherry flavor.  Nah.  Cherry reminds me of cherry cough medicine as a kid.  Never could get even a tablespoon full down easily.  Orange reminded me of Tang and I was never a Tang fan.  Pineapple?  Just couldn't imagine anything good would come of something with Pineapple flavoring in it.  So, I went for the last choice, Lemon-:Lime flavoring, hoping against hope it tasted like Squirt.  I had been fasting all day.  I discovered the white grape juice I could have and bought especially for today was really sweet and just didn't do it for me.  I stayed with water and made some orange jello, the only non red or purple jello I had in my cupboard.  It was probably from around 1990 or so.  If you've guessed we're not big jello people, you would be right.  So I had the orange jello which managed to be soupy on the top and like rubber on the bottom, and dined with Kurt that night and the scalloped potatoes and ham I had saved for him.  It might have been worse but the biscodyl tablet had kind of kicked in and I was suffering intermittent cramps, so avoiding food wasn't all that difficult and I had the orange jello.  I scraped off the mushy, jiggly part and ate that and after one bowl full it was enough. 
At 6 pm sharp I took my first 8 ounces of Halflitely.  Not awful, but the after left a salty, sweet lemon  taste in my mouth.  Thereafter I had to take 8 ounces again at 6:10 and 6:20.  I was to wait an hour then finish off the Halflitely in 10 minute intervals.  By the third glass, the Halflitely wasn't going down nearly as easily and still didn't notice any really cleansing beginning.  I tried to gamely drink what looked to be 4 or 5 more glasses of the mixture at 7:20.  I got down 3 more glasses and believe me when I tell you, the last one felt like I was drinking a lemon flavored ocean.  I decided it was enough and dumped the last probably two glasses of the mixture.   In hindsight I must have had a genius moment, as I was paying for the 6 glasses of Halflitely I did manage to swallow for the rest of the evening and night and even into the day of the colonoscopy.   Most people will tell you the prep is the worst, and they are right.  Getting down that vile tasting stuff was bad enough and then having to camp out in the bathroom for the rest of the evening and several times during the ensuing night was akin to being in labor.  At least at the end of that, I got a baby. 
Up at 5:45 to shower and have more bathroom time, Kurt and I left the house at 7:45 to assure driving time to the hospital where the procedure was occurring.  It was snowing, when we left. and it was wet, heavy snow that piled up on the road and while it was supposed to stop long before noon, it made morning driving slow.  At the hospital by 8:30, an hour before my 9:30 appointment.  No Cicinelli on the registration sheet downstairs, so she took us up.  In the Endoscopy wing they had my name and told us to be seated while I filled out the forms.  Life is made up of forms, I've decided and the more along in life we are, the more forms we need...
The nice receptionist came over to ask me what time I thought my appointment was.  When I told her, she said they had me down for an hour later.  Obviously a mix up, but I had written it down on my calendar.  Geez, another thing to worry about, early onset Alzheimers.  She said, she would let the doctor and her staff know, but as it always goes, we didn't get in before the time they had me down for.  The prep nurse apologized for the mix up and they put me in a bed in a room with a television so at least Kurt and I had that.  They started the IV and apologized again, and said the doctor was running even a bit more behind, "what with the weather and all".  Yup, the story of my life. 
After she came in a third time to apologize, I figured they really were sorry for the delay, which at the least was refreshing and a handwritten note from my prep nurse made me think that the cold, sterile hospital really might have a heart.  Finally I was taken down to the room where the colonoscopy would take place.  I met the doctor and she explained the procedure.  The sedative was added to my IV and then I remember things only as a dream until I awoke back in the room with Kurt.  I distinctly remember voices though, and something being being inserted and removed.  It didn't hurt but I knew it was there.  All as if in a dream....the only way to go...If only we could leave life this way....maybe we do.
While I woke up, we waited for the doctor to come in.  The very good news was there was nothing.  I was clean and pink, and healthy according to the doctor.  While it was the news I expected, I was also immensely relieved.  I guess in the back of my mind, I needed to be reassured.  And its nice to go through all the discomfort and have a happy ending.  Best of all, I don't have to do it again for ten years.
We came home and I was warned that the air they have to put in your stomach during the exam, has to be expelled and to expect to be gaseous for a time.  I was certainly gaseous for a time.  The rest of the day to be exact and finally getting to eat again wasn't quite as charming as I thought it would be.  The Halflitely was still there and everything I ate last night pretty much went right through me, the express route.
But this morning, I slept in a bit and didn't feel guilty.  I did my "Fit and Firm after Fifty" exercises and embraced it, as I could do it, even if I didn't really want to.  I could do it and that was the important thing...
I still have to schedule my annual mammogram as I now know, things can change, even though they are supposed to remain the same. 
A good thing to know and embrace....

Sunday, January 16, 2011

A Gathering of Friends

Our old group got together last night.  Five couples, who have somehow survived all the things life has thrown at us for over thirty years.  A few couples have been added and substracted again through the years but this group has remained together. 

The husbands played fast pitch softball together once upon a time.  The girlfriends and later wives saw each other at least twice a week during the summer months when the league was going.  We partied together as young, unfettered people party, drinking cold beers around open coolers after games, descending on bars in city tournaments after games, and back country festivals at other tournaments.  We were young and partying hearty was the highlight of a workweek.

First came marriages and then inevitably for all of us, came the baby carriage.  As the kids came and new responsibilities, for the men it finally became clear that playing softball unfettered was most likely in their past.
After a few years of going our own busy ways, we decided that we desperately needed a night out and a chance to all get together and so began our first steps toward what would become, "Couples Club".  It started as an invitation to join a group for the Stumper's Hunt, a road rally of sorts through the streets of Saginaw.  It was great fun and we enjoyed it immensely, but we had kind of attached ourselves to another larger group as fill ins.  We changed and adapted to go again, and slowly the group that emerged was the guys that had played softball together all those years.  We enjoyed getting together and for me, it was about getting out of the house and being with friends who weren't fellow story hour moms or relatives. 

We decided to "host' the get togethers during the fall and winter months when cabin fever was at its height among us.  We picked months we wanted to do it and it was up to us to decided the entertainment.  We could host at our homes and have a card game or board game ready for fun, or we could pick an event we would all go to.  The one rule, unspoken, was it had to be affordable for all of us.  We did Halloween parties and traveled as a group to Haunted Houses and even invaded a wedding reception dressed in our costumes.  The father of the bride was so tickled he had a group picture of us taken with the bride and groom.  We became groupies and followed a favorite band around venue to venue.  We attended more road rallies and had sleigh rides on nights so cold, the wine in our bottles froze.  We had bonfires and murder mysteries to be solved and Christmas caroling, and looking back we had a ball at all of it. 

Divorce split some of us up and some came a few times but drifted away.  The core five couples remained for years.  But as change is inevitable, it also came to us.  We lived in different towns and our kids attended different schools and in different districts.  Our kids became involved in school activities and sports and as they were involved so were we.  As they entered high school the Couples Club adventures ceased, to a once year gathering, usually at Christmas and running into each other at the kids rival school events.  We stayed in touch but the Couples Club was suspended for a time.

Our kids began to graduate and we would see each other at the Open Houses.  We talked about getting together again, but it was usually just talk, then came weddings of the older kids and we decided it was time.  So now we try to get together once a year at least and discuss weddings and the latest in all or most of our lives, grandkids.  Pictures were passed around and we oohed and aahhed over the newest addtions.  We laughed at the thoughts that those wonderful grandbabies become toddlers and we sometimes lament them not being babies any longer.  We talked of all the things we know in our lives as retirement creeps up on some and has descended on others.  We talk about aches and pains and kids far from home, living, working and starting families too far from us.  Our talk turns to those we have all known in our pasts and who are no longer with us.  Parents and friends who have passed on.  We talk about things once so important to us, and now how importance is a relevant word, as those things that mean the most to us are sharing laughter and the intimate things left to us by those we loved.  Its not so much what we have, but what we know now, we no longer need.  We laugh until we cry about what we will do when we become grandparents and the sage advice of those already there. 

We talk about traveling and for some it is a dream fulfilled and for others of us, it is an itch we might never scratch entirely.  We sigh and talk about how a warm house and a big fire or a big black dog flopped next to us gives us comfort we wouldn't have imagined a few short years ago.  We acknowledge much as we hate to, the Flower Children of the 60's, the Vietnam Vets, the rebels, and the Me Generation of the 70's that we are aging and things we swore would never happen to us, have come and they're not so bad.  We don't want to run a marathon, (well, some of us do), but for most it is a time past.  We like for the most part where we're at.  We're cancer survivors, retirees who've gone back to work, and those of us facing retirement who aren't sure what it will bring.  We are adventurers and world travelers, and humanitarians.  We abide in God and believe in our "Causes" and don't see why everyone else can't use common sense.  We are Liberals, Conservatives, Moderates and Independents.  We talk politics sparingly as we have known each other too many years to let those differences define what we should be in the future.  We respect and cheer for one another and we bless and cry for them.  Most of all we just enjoy our times together.

Someday our circle will be broken beyond earthly separation, and we will grieve with one another, but for now we just plan the next time we will get together and enjoy each other's company.  And that's enough...

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Turkeys in the Snow

Today we had fresh snow and I walked the dogs.  I walk my dogs nearly everyday during the cold months and the path to the back woods is my favorite way.  My two black labs are as eager for the walks as am I, and I would swear Talladega has a big grin on her face.  Tally goes on a 15 foot lead, attached to a harness.  She is an alpha female, meaning she wants her way and she wants it now.  She is often more of a "guy" then Gauge my loveable other lab, who is still more "puppy" than grown up even at 2 years old.  We call her Butch, jokingly, as I think if she could lift her leg to yellow the snow, she would.  Gauge never strays far so he doesn't need a lead.  Some day I will figure out the e-collars that Kurt finds so easy, but for right now giving even a "nic" as they like to call it, is more than I want to try.  I believe both dogs need to walk on leads also and Tally really is good on lead.  I only have to untangle her legs from it a few times every walk.

We head straight back beyond our pond where a swath was mowed late in the summer to the food plots planted close to the ditch that cuts the two areas of land across our forty acres.  Today, as we passed the pond and looked to the back I saw a head pop up, in the food plots now snow covered.  Another head popped up and another.  I could see a body and realized it was a flock of wild turkeys.  Before the dogs saw them,  I directed them across the field to the lane.  By the time we came abreast of the turkeys they had crossed the ditch and were meandering across the field in the back.  I could see them clearly, and counted heads.  One, two, three, four and finally eleven heads poking among the ruined vegetation and snow on their way to the woods and the cover of trees and perhaps an acorn or two beneath the snow.   I breathed a bit of a sigh of relief that the dogs had not spotted the turkeys though they had seen us and were cautiously watching us as we headed to the back and the pond beyond that.  I noticed a lone set of tracks in the new snow of the lane.  Single file canine tracks heading toward the road.  These were not made by any dog.  These were coyote tracks.  I have never seen a coyote in our back woods, but I know they are there.  The various tracks I now see in the snow and across the ponds is evidence.  Last week after a snow, a single set of tracks went across our pond behind the house.  During the late spring and often during the warm summer nights we will hear them yipping.  They start as a single voice and a chorus will erupt, and just as suddenly they will stop.  I have heard them more and more even before dark during recent summers.  Sometimes an hour before sunset I will hear them calling.  I still remember the goosebumps the first summer night howling I heard awoke in me, but as with all things foreign, when they become commonplace, the thrill is gone, so to speak.  I still wonder if I wandered out of a late winters night if I would surprise one and who would be the more scared.  I wouldn't take bets that it wouldn't be me...

Our walking route takes us to the large pond in the back and we circle it to the south and then west.  When we come to the path's end, we head back the way we have just come but skirt the pond this time, instead of using the path through the trees.  Halfway back I spot a black lab dog trotting along the side of the pond that we will soon be approaching.  A yellow lab appears behind him, they are obviously together.  They are headed our way and are still a good quarter mile away, but I know sooner or later they will spot me or my dogs will spot them.  My dogs won that contest and started a barking brouhaha that stopped the other two dogs in their tracks and they immediately turned tail, (literally), and bolted back the way they had come.  It was all I could do to keep Tally from wrenching my arm off as she was all for pursuing.  Gauge would not run after without us along for the jaunt, so he stayed close but quivering with anticipation.  By the time we got around the pond where the dogs had been, all that was left were their tracks, which mine eagerly sniffed and circled and wondered where potential friends or enemies had gone.  Our walk back was uneventful, and after ball tossing in the back yard which was the end to our walks, we came in.  The end to our adventure came when a large red tailed hawk which we see often in the field, decided to make a swipe at the songbirds in the feeder I had just filled off our back deck.  He made a couple of passes flying nearly into the french doors flanking the deck and setting the dogs to barking again.  A bit closer than I like.  I figure he can have whatever field mice and "varmints" he can catch in the fields and woods, but he needs to stay out of my yard, that's a rule.

So a walk in the woods that most days is without adventure but never without pleasure, gave me both today.  It was something I would need later on as news of what should have been a return to post Christmas normalcy was not.  Its these moments I am learning I need to store up and pull out when I need that "normal" that may elude me....

The Smell of Linseed Oil

While the Northeast part of the U.S., shovels out of yet another snowstorm, I am looking out at about 3 inches of newly fallen snow.  Everything is pretty and white again and in the lexicon of snow up here, it didn't even slow down the field mice.  School buses ran, people went out and had coffee and were off to work.  No big deal.
And I have begun my day.

My kitchen smells like linseed oil.  It is a smell that half a generation ago would have been common in many homes, but is now relegated mostly to wood shops and refinish stores.  It is a smell I like as it brings back sweet memories, and memories are such good things to bring back up in the long winter days and lick up like a bowl of your favorite ice cream.  Linseed oil is my dad's work shop in the basement, and while you would think that is a childhood memory, it is actually from my adulthood and would resonate more with my kid's childhood than mine. But somehow I knew the sweet odor was from my childhood further back and in searching it is back to Mom's art room I go.  When she started seriously painting, an easel was set up in our "old" playroom, the room adjacent to our living room in the old house.  At one time it was my grandparents bedroom, but I only remember it when we moved to the farm and my dad took over the dairy herd and bought the land. Mom took a "mail order, art correspondence" course.  I remember the excitement when the big art books would arrive by mail with another part of her course being taught by the artist within those covers.  As she progressed and after she finished, an easel was set up and paint tubes were always scattered about on a nearby table and the proverbial jar of linseed oil with at least one brush in the jar awaiting her return and more colorful strokes to be added. I loved the brilliant colors of the paints, even as a child and even more than my 64 count boxes of crayola crayons, and few things were as precious to me as those.  I think it is still with me in my lifelong love of color.  Perhaps not wide swaths of color, but bold, small points of brilliance that show up in unexpected places I would like as my signature.  Art was a part of my life I think,from my birth.  Some things are just there and while nurtured would still be as much a part of us as breathing, and so it is with me and colors and the art that color makes, but Mom's easel and paints spurred that love forward.

Dad worked in wood for as long as I can remember and built things but his workshop was more likely out in the toolshed in younger years than in our house.  The smell of the toolshed was a mix of old, old wood, metal and the grease used to keep machinery of every kind running.  There was the acrid smell of metal shavings and the smell of the damp earth floor which was part of the toolshed for many years.  After harvest and before the machinery was put away for the winter, there would be the smell of corn picked or beans and decaying plant matter.  When Dad cut wood that smell would mingle with the other smells and there was the ever present smell of tobacco from Dad's cigarettes.   The finishing oils rubbed into the woods and one of those was always linseed oil would lay over top of all the other smells.  It is a smell like fried apples and coffee in the morning that always conjures up a place and time.

I made up a homemade kitchen cabinet cleaner yesterday that is equal parts white vinegar, turpentine, and boiled linseed oil.  The linseed oil took over the smells of the other two, and after serious 'elbow grease' for more than a few hours, my cabinets shine and my kitchen is full of a pleasant smell other than food.  I found a rhythm as I rubbed with a white cloth soaked in the concoction, saw dirt and accumulated grease on the cloth and then hand rubbed the door again with a clean, soft cloth.  There was a pleasure in seeing the transformation and a feeling of a job, long neglected, now accomplished.  Glowing wood was my reward and made me smile.  Sometimes the old ways are still the best.  We forget that all too often.
I will have to tell Mom how much the smell brings back the good memories of my childhood, the comforting memories.  Its a good way to start a winter day....

Monday, January 10, 2011

And its Monday....Again

A weekend of perfect memories that I should have gotten down, but also a weekend with Kurt here and seemingly little quiet, as to have Kurt home is to have a tv going somewhere.
Friday evening brought snow here and we awoke to a very cold Saturday, but one with sun shinning on buildings and plants of all sizes, topped with lavish layers of white frosting, outlining every branch and spent bud, roofs looking like gingerbread houses for Christmas.  It was a magical world and later as we walked through that snow, bundled and well protected against the cold, we had no thoughts other than to enjoy the sights and be with our dogs, who like nothing better than to be with "their peoples" as I refer to us. 
We enjoyed the back woods and walking in areas untouched by anyone else and the dogs were constantly sticking their noses into snowy banks and coming up smiling, a nose full of snow and immensely pleased with themselves.  Single tracks across the pond showed the coyote that had passed since the snow had ceased, sometime during the night.  Bunny tracks around the buildings also showed evidence of our "backyard wildlife" and the birds scolded me from the trees to let me know the feeders needed refilling. 
It is has become one of the favorite part of my winters, watching the birds at my feeders.  When I was about 12, at my grandparents they fed birds at a feeder about 15 feet from a sliding glass door.  They also put down food for squirrels, rabbits and deer on the ground.  Their kitchen table was at that window and they were absolutely mesmorized by the wildlife that would be at the feeders every morning.  When I would visit I could never quite get that fascination with watching wild animals eat, but here I find myself, forty-five years later doing the very same thing and watching with the same anticipation as the birds hover at my kitchen window feeder and the one off my back deck.  The back deck feeder is mostly populated by the bullying blue jays who will drive away the smaller songbirds and sparrows, as soon as they find a full feeder.  Once they've had their gorging and flown off, the goldfinches, juncos, sparrows and occasional nuthatches and chickadees will appear.  It varies year to year but the finches, sparrows and jays are a constant.  The kitchen feeder off my window is populated by the finches who are shooed away from the deck feeders.  Mourning doves will sit in the surrounding bushes and wait for seed to be scattered on the ground as they prefer that to the feeders themselves.  One day last month I had 10 mourning doves lined up on the ground below the feeder waiting for scattered seed.  If it is a good day I will see a cardinal couple and a Downey or red bellied woodpecker appear for the suet mix I put out along with the seed.  Watching the birds is a window to the world if I am willing to take note.  They care not for anything save finding food, and there is a certain joy they exhibit which while perhaps selfish in many respects is everything stripped down to its core in survival.  "They toil not, neither do they spin", but they know what it is all about in its simplicity.  I know too much deep thinking but I do know that Grandma and Grandpa would be smiling at my joy in the things they loved and I once thought only for "old people"....
So I look at sunshine and cold and know that we are fortunate here today as the snow and ice while perhaps not always welcome here, (though I like nothing better than a good blizzard, which  on my side of the state are few and too far between), would be tolerated, and instead is doing its best to wreak havoc on an unsuspecting and befuddled South land, disrupting again the flow of life in the lands known for magnolias and not icicles.  I only hope my friends down there are surviving and not without power and that warmer weather will soon be with them.
I think on many things this Monday morning as always for me, Monday is the time for quiet, for reflection and for planning for the week to come. I hope for my friend as she undergoes her biopsy and for others as they struggle with problems that seem to have no answer.  Somehow I feel hopeful that there are answers for problems and prayers as its Monday and anything is possible....

Thursday, January 6, 2011

What a Few Hours Can Mean

Here it was a lovely winter morning.  Snow in fat, fluffy flakes had been falling and after a couple of inches stopped as if on cue and a wintry sunshine now assails us.  The Christmas tree is down and at present resides as a perch for the birds by the bird feeder which they frequent in numbers up to the 20's as long as it is filled, almost a daily job now.

I have walked my dogs to the back, taking a right turn at the pond instead of the normal left.  To walk the north side of the big pond in back is to walk on its wild side.  While a path runs around it, it is the path not often traveled.  European reed taller than my head and not kept in check last year on this side, wave its feathery plumes over now dried stalks, closing off the shoreline on this side, now encased in a solid sheet of ice.  I have seen the miraculous sight of otters in the waters in the early fall and sometimes in the spring, something I thought I would never see.  In the spring and summer months all manner of water fowl call the pond home, the great Canada goose prominent among the lesser ducks.  Wild turkeys also find the oak trees and acorn food supply enticing and nest year round.  Pheasants light in the reed area and coyotes watch the dogs and I from their places of hiding as we pass.  I have never seen a coyote in my meanderings at this pond, but they are there.  The single line of tracks through fresh snow attest to it.  A couple of willow trees hug the shore at one point, graceful in summer, their long leafy fronds sweeping the pond.  In winter they seem an enchanted area with snow and hoar frost clinging to the long graceful branches now embedded in the ice.  I am sure fish and turtles slumber beneath their exposed roots.  A large white house has been built on one side of the pond, the opposite from where our land abuts it.  It was built by a doctor and his wife from the Detroit area.  Their bit of Canada we were told.  They are seldom at the large farmhouse style building they had erected.  For a time a brother would hunt the area during the deer seasons and erected deer stands in a couple of areas.  One stands a stark sentinel in a low lying area against one tree.  Camo sheeting flaps sadly in the wind, unattended and neglected in years of absence now.  The dogs notice little of this, more interested in the scents that assail their noses, poking into snowy brackets of decaying pond growth, raising their heads, ears perked to a sound I can not hear.

I have walked this back for many years and with many dogs.  A golden dog who's lumbering gait always reminded me she'd rather be eating.  Two orange and white Brittany spaniels who delighted in this area and in late fall would be lost in the foliage.  Their noses were always searching out birds and scents that would make them bark in eager anticipation.  A big, yellow lab who took great pleasure in chasing everywhere and exasperating me after more than a few wild chases into the underbrush and fruitless calls to return.  And now two black labs have been my companions.  Always eager and ready to embark on whatever our rambles will bring us.  While the seasons remain unchanging in my ramblings, the landscape has changed, from secluded sand pit, water seeping up only in the spring run off.  For years it was only the path through the woods encircling this sand pit that I trudged, and then a trucking company bought it and took sand out of it for two years.  After it lay untouched for a time, a rough pond where only a sand pit had been.  A chance to sell the now exhausted sand/pond brought about a deepening  of the pond and clearing of trees and brush to the edges.  Perhaps development was the desire, but in the end it was sold to the doctor in total and the large house built, which stands largely empty encircled by an alarm system that erupts sometimes on clear cold nights and can be heard all the way to our place.  The dogs and I like the quiet and the chance to walk in areas still wild but with a good path to meander.  We do not disturb the house or yard and stop short of the drive and keep our walks to the other 3 sides of the large pond. 

Just as the pond and woods seemed unchanging but have undergone a tremendous metamorphosis beneath my eyes almost without my noticing, things can change in an hour's time, in a minte's phone call from the hospital.  A good friend received such a call from the hospital after a routine mammogram revealed a mass.  I had talked to her twice yesterday and we laughed and joked about getting together tomorrow.  Then came the note about the phone call.  And just that fast the light went a bit dimmer in the day, and all that seemed right and content about winter, wasn't so much.  We can never take for granted that beautiful winter morning, or the summer sunset, or the tulip blooming on the perfect spring day.  The call of geese heading south on a November day.  It all can change so fast.  I pray that she will find in the follow up that the mass is a benign cyst, but once again I am reminded nothing is everlasting and time is so fleeting....

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

And Down it Came

A good winter day here.  A good winter day with snow showers that only lasted a half hour at best, but still were pretty with fat flakes that floated lazily down.  It didn't last long enough to do more than be a pretty scene looking across the yard, but it made it a cozy day to tackle the Christmas tree.
Taking down the Christmas tree is something I always approach with some very mixed feelings.  Some years I am just tired of Christmas and as soon as New Year's is finished I just want it down.  Many is the year I have watched the Rose Parade while starting to box up ornaments.  The taking down continues with the miriad of Bowl games that occur on this day.  The kid's grandma  started them off in life with a Hallmark Christmas ornament.  After she passed I continued the tradition along with my own obsession with Hallmark ornament collections I can't seem to bypass, year to year.  Every ornament has a box and every year they have to be unboxed and at the end reboxed.  At one time, I enjoyed the unboxing much more than the reboxing, but as the kids have grown up and for the most part left home and left their ornaments with me, I appreciate the taking down much more than I once did.  I take a large cup of coffee, well whitened with a combination of milk and Italian sweet cream and take a few minutes that lengthen into almost an hour to just look at the tree, lit and waiting for daylight to come.  It is still somehow magical as it was to me as a child, when I believed fairies lived in the branches and if I lay underneath long enough I could spot them.  Now the magic, is the ghosts of all those Christmases which somehow flew by and went from a decade to now over three.  Sometimes I just shake my head and wonder where they all went. I marvel at each ornament as I take it down and remember why I bought each one.  The angels I started for Annie and every year could find new and different.  The classic cars and trucks for Korey, and the sporting figures and airplanes for Ryan.  The country animal ornaments I couldn't resist, now added onto with Santas and snowmen.  The garden ornaments and the glitzy mitten of Michigan that has nothing to do with any of my other ornaments but just appeals to me as some part of my personality that is hidden from most of the world.
I wonder as I take them down, if my kids even looked at the tree while they were here.  Did they pick out the ornaments that were theirs?  Did they look for the hidden pickle, a German tradition and my newest pickle picked up on a visit to Annie in Nashville a few years ago.  I think that they probably didn't and wonder if I should have a tree trimming party next year to not only share the job of the tree, but to allow them the chance to remember and talk about themselves in Christmases past.  But I know that the logistics of doing such a thing would be daunting, as most arrive so very close to Christmas.  Then I think that maybe it should be a tearing down party, but also know that will likely never happen as no one wants to take down, and they all have that job in their own homes.  So, I go about the job of boxing up ornaments and remembering, but it is a good remembering and I also get to remember the Christmas trees of my childhood.  Not the ornaments so much though certain things come to mind.  The big Scotch pines we always had, the lighted strings with lightbulbs so large and multi colored, and the silver icicles we always applied last.  I remember the "bubbling lights" on my one grandma's tree and the blue light set my other grandparent's always used.  The ornaments don't stand out, but then we didn't have Hallmark ornaments then and many were just balls and glass ornaments that all too often broke in unpacking.  I do remember the trees though.....
The tree is now bare except for the light strings which I will take down tomorrow.  It still looks pretty but somehow sad as if it knows its time to shine is just about at an end.  Time to put away the ornaments for another year and start the New Year....

Monday, January 3, 2011

Today May be the First Day of the Rest of My Life...or Not so Much

I decided after over 30 years of a daily journal to give it up.  While I believe strongly in putting on paper with pen firmly in hand, the written word, something we seem to be missing in this world of the instant message, tweet and Facebook posting, my little red journals are lined up neatly on a shelf and problem is, I'm running out of room on that shelf and I've decided I don't really care if the world knows what the weather was on November 2, 1982.  It became more and more difficult to just keep up the daily logs and when I fell behind, harder to remember what happened with any great regard on that day.
The people most important in my life, my 3 grown children and their wives and husbands will smile indulgently at me and tell me to keep on journaling if it makes me happy, while secretly plotting ways to get rid of all those books when I am committed or dead whichever comes first and that depends on which child you speak to, on which day.
So while I have momentous things coming around the corner for me this coming year, it seemed a good time to say goodbye to some old things.  And when I decided not to plunk down the now, $40 for the red journal books, I felt no remorse and just felt it was time, and that was very satisfying, something that I have learned in my over 50 years is a very good thing to know.  I don't sweat the small things any longer and seem to naturally know when its time to say goodbye, something even 4 short years ago would have been unfathomable.  Its a good feeling.

I took down the Christmas cards I keep on my bulletin board every year.  Its always at this time that I have the time to really look at the pictures of nieces and nephews, grandchildren of friends, and cousins who now have young families.  I reread the Christmas letters and find bits and pieces of friends and families lives I had missed the first time around.  Then I get out my "Christmas book" and add this year's Christmas letter to it.  I now have 15 years worth.  I look back over the years of my children's Christmases in pictures, and of parents and grandparents no longer with us.  And finally I add the picture cards of those nieces and nephews who now have young families, knowing how much they will change by next Christmas and also smiling that next year I will be the one adding a grandbaby picture or two to my Christmas book.
Yes, I will become a first time grandma in the coming year and thats a great joy to anticipate.
For the first time in a long time I see the continuity that my "Christmas book" represents and maybe it is why in the quiet of my country home I savor it again along with the Christmas tree that still shows the ornaments that I bought for my children when they were young.  The ornaments are slowly leaving as the children claim those for their own grown up Christmas trees but new ones always take their place and next year another generation will be added.  The tree should come down tonight, but maybe not quite yet....