Thursday, April 28, 2011


The weather channel is on as I sit out the remnants of another rainy morning here.  The wind is kicking up now so the rain is likely on its way out, but there is water everywhere, and its going to be another cool day here, and one that just seems to the never ending long period of cold and gloom we have experienced. 

Last night at a meeting of our Historical group, I looked around the lined faces of those people I had known all my life.  They are now the standard bearers of the memories for our town and what it was and what will be remembered in the future.  We talked about the rain and the weather as people in small towns always seem to do.  It is the single greatest influence on our lives, day in and day out, when we take time to think about it.  I asked how our grandparents had lived through endless, (or so it has seemed), crappy weather, and not  just endured, but had found reasons to be optimistic.  Without the distractions of television and even today's instant knowledge of everything going on everywhere, you turned to family and community to see you through times that seemed would never end.  Long winters meant time to do those things put off during the sunrise to sunset outdoor work of summer.  You took the time to do those solitary activities that the hustle of good weather didn't always allow.  You read, knitted, quilted, repaired and mended, and made music.  Families played cards and board games and did puzzles together.  Communities gathered for dinners, and local school sporting events, and town activities.  Church's were the lifeblood of most small communities and kept people in touch, and content that winter would end.  We knew only what we could see out our windows, and we also knew that each season held charms and we embraced it as we could not conceive of doing different.

It seemed this winter all we did was complain about the length of it, the cold, the snow, and the failure for it to depart on time and allow a true spring to descend upon winter weary, Michigan.  Now two weeks of heavy and dangerous storms have passed through the South.  Yesterday, tornadoes spawned all over the deep South from Arkansas to the East coast.  I have a good friend near Birmingham, AL.  He warned me early yesterday morning that they were predicting bad storms and an emergency level for tornadoes they had not experienced for 30 years.  He said it was likely I would not hear from him as power would go out.  He requested prayers for he and his family.

I watched the Weather Channel yesterday in the afternoon as the first round of bad storms went through and as Alabama prepared for the next round which was predicted to be worse.  It was almost hypnotic to watch the video captured of engulfing funnel clouds being shown almost as they happened.  Today's instant technology can make us voyageurs of so many weather events while we sit safe in our homes far away.  I don't know if that's a good thing or bad.  I have googled the town's involved to find out what I can, and I am impatient to know my friend and his family are all right, but know full well it will likely be days before he can get online to let me know.  Without power, cellphones, a wonderful savior for disasters, will die after a bit and I understand need to be used for imediate aid and relief.  So, I wait and know that my weariness with gray weather is nothing as compared to what is happening to people I know and many more I don't. 

Its all about perspective, and we need to have the lens of ours, scratched, shook, and smoothed every so often.  We learn to be more human when we realize there are so many others who have life altering realties, not just life stressing ones.

Its good to get perspective....just please, Lord, don't give me more than I can handle, at a time....

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Drip, Drip, Drip...

Drip, drip, drip, little April showers.   A line from a song in one of my all time favorite movies, "Bambi" and yes, I haven't met a Disney movie of old, I haven't liked.  They were the movies of my childhood.  The first movies at the drive in to lure young parents with small children.  The Disney movie would start just before dark and be done, the kids bedded down in the back with pillows and blankets, an hour and a half later.  The adult movie would then be shown and parents could seemingly have their cake and eat it too, all for a by the car price.  I saw most of the Disney animated movies that way, and the music from them is something I can still sing in my head whenever I recall the movie.

So it is drip, drip, drip, little April showers, and it seems it has been dripping or worse, (snow and sleet), the whole of the month and will pretty much end on that wet note.  At a time when I long to be out checking on my spring blooms and doing battle with pesky Peter Cottontail and his assault on all my new tulips, I am confined inside, trying to be optimistic that this rain will make for gorgeous blooms later on, and the cooler temps keep those precious daffodils flowering now, around longer, and that come summer's heat I will be wishing myself back to this time.  Right now I have my doubts I will ever see summer's heat again....

I wonder how my grandparents and great grandparents endured such times of long winters, unending snows, wet, cold springs and drought laden summers.  Did they complain as much as I seem to do?   I complain a lot and the older I get, no scratch that, the more mature I become, the higher the frequency of weather complaints spouts forth.  It would seem with all the distractions we have to combat every kind of mood, in our techno world, that such things as SADD and plain old boredom would be unheard of, but yet everyone I talk to complains about the weather.  We complain about the cold, coming too early in December.  We dread the long cold dark of the winter months, and even if we like the snow originally, by the end of January, it has lost its charms for all of us, and when we have to endure a March such as this year, which seemed to hold no signs of spring even when the calendar proclaimed it, it seems unendurable and we long for spring days like a duck to a junebug.  Speaking of which, those ducks have no sense as they arrived here in very early March and sat on the pond ice like they were nesting....

I don't know how Grandma and Grandpa did it, without hurting the dog or frying pans flying very near spouse's heads.  A couple of decades ago, I wouldn't have thought twice about all of this heavy stuff.  I didn't wonder at what my grandparents did during the long winter evenings, before tv, to keep from going CRAZY.  And I loved history, it was just that I would rather fantacize about riding into battle at Gettysburg, then actually contemplate what people in the 30's, 40's and 50's did to combat cabin fever.  Maybe I should blame it all on television.  While a wonder and one I grew up with, it takes what essentially for most of us, is the small worlds of our day to day existence, and enlarges it for us to see how globally, everyone lives.  We can see that in Argentina, in the midst of our winter, it is their summer.  We can look at Hawaii, the Bahamas, and even Tahiti and make them travel destinations, (at least in our dreams), and are no longer content to sit and wait out the bad weather, or bad times.  Its the word, content, not con-tent, but to be content, and I'm not sure any of us know how to be in that place any more.  We know what the world does every minute of every day, and we know the excesses and the tragedies almost as they happen.  These are anxious times and its hard to be content more than a minute at a time.  Its not that our grandparents didn't have troubles, heck, they had troubles far more life threatening than most of ours, but the troubles were something they dealt with.  If they had a roof over their heads, food to eat, a way to make a living, good kids, and a church that was their community, life was pretty good.

Maybe its the Norman Rockwell image I persist in believing that makes it appear that grandparenthood, if you lived to get there, was a time of ease, fishing with your grandchildren, making cookies with them, and enjoying the company of family and friends.  Maybe I am totally off base on this, and Norman Rockwell just saw things the way people wanted him to.  Maybe its what sold those illustrations.  I sincerely hope not.  I need to believe that there were elements of Norman Rockwell and his art, everywhere.  No decade and no generation was immune from war and strife, but maybe it was their perspective and their contentment in their situations.  Maybe.  The world and the U.S. in particular seems to be throwing itself headlong into a chaos of what has been before will be as fading as kodachrome film, but maybe there are pockets of humanity everywhere who don't buy the hype and the doom at the other end, and work towards being good neighbors, friends and family.  They love God, their spouses and their kids.  They love their country and get tears in their eyes at the Star Spangled Banner, no matter how hard it is to sing, and have known those who gave their last full measure to protect us.  They pay their taxes, though not without complaint at times, go to work, and try to be good employees and employers.  They try to do what is right, and though it often seems today that is like swimming upstream, they still do it.  Yes, they become jaded and yes, they are depressed about what is happening to us, but they believe and hope we will finally get it as a Nation. 

Maybe Grandma and Grandpa faced some of the same things I wrestle with.  That life in every stage hasn't been what I expected.  Maybe we are all just figuring it out as we go along, and every new generation has to do it all over again, as it changes.  Challenges change and our capabilities change.  Maybe that's the secret.  As long as God gives us breath to breathe, He is giving us a chance to figure it out, at least for today...

I wonder if I'll remember all of this to tell my grand kids.  And I wonder if they'll listen...Maybe we'll just make cookies...

Monday, April 25, 2011


Even as a child I knew what Easter weekend meant.  I knew it was the crucifixion of Jesus, though I was pretty fuzzy on what that actually meant.  I knew Easter Sunday meant that Jesus had Risen and because he had risen, the Easter bunny came and delivered eggs, but more than that at my house he hid our Easter baskets and filled them with CANDY and lots of little surprises.  While not in any way like Christmas, in many ways it was more fun as there were lots of little things.  Things, which today would be viewed as mundane.  A new toothbrush, a small stuffed toy or even a book, was a big deal to us. My younger sister was born on Palm Sunday and my brother and I stayed with our grandparents while Mom was in the hospital.  We spent Easter morning at Grandma and Grandpa's and it stands out as it was the only time as a child I went looking for my Easter basket not in my home...

As the verse goes "when I was a child, I thought as a child".  Then somewhere along the way, I grew up.  I had children of my own, and Easter weekend seemed to become about "rushing".   Rushing to buy the candy for the baskets and trying to decide what Easter basket gifts were appropriate.  Trying not to go overboard, but seldom suceeding. New Easter outfits and trying in the headlong last week rush to remember Lent and what it really means.  I didn't often remember aside from trying to attend church at Zion on Good Friday, even afer we had moved over to St. Peter's.  You see it was a tradition nearly back as far as Mom could remember to sing a certain song, "Lord Jesus, We Give Thanks to Thee" to end Good Friday service.  The church bell was always rung all the way through the song.  Somehow that song affected me like little else did.  As my children grew and people that had been special in my childhood, my grandparents, passed away, the song made me ache for the way things once were and how I wanted to leave this world and pass to Him.  Different ministers sometimes had a problem with a song being a tradition at our church on such a somber day.  We had some who didn't want the bell rung and others who didn't want the song even played.  But for years it prevailed and for me and a small number of parishoners, it made our Good Friday. 

This year I went back after a couple of year's abscense. It had been a long winter, and for the first time in a while I keenly felt Lent and the sacrifices generations before our "enlightened" one had made every year for those 6 weeks.  It wasn't about Fat Tuesday and Mardi Gras, in fact I had never even really heard those two words used together until a couple of decades ago.  I read the Gospels, each of them, as Jesus entered Jersusalem on Palm Sunday through that last week.  My own somber state of mind, seemed to make me more in tune with what Lent was meant to be about.  But why does it take something that threatens our sense of well being to make us look at what was always there?

The Good Friday service was beautiful.  Beautiful in its somberness, in our sorrow which we know turns to joy on Easter morning.  Beautiful in that last song, played while the bell proclaimed over the country that we were giving Thanks for Thee. And I came near sobbing as the song was played.  I had heard of people sobbing in church and in my arrogance I always thought it extreme.  Now I know different.  I went home, quiet, but also at peace.  I wish I could say it lasted through to Easter but it didn't.

Easter for many years was a big dinner at my grandparents house.  Searching for little plastic emptied whipped topping tubs, Grandma and Grandpa had made into Easter baskets, filled with plastic grass, brightly colored eggs and candy.  Grandpa delighted in hiding those baskets all around his yard, and even when I, as an older grandchild was too mature to want to look for a hidden basket, my younger cousins continued the tradition and then my own followed.  Easter changed over the years as my kids grew up, Grandma and Grandpa were gone, my brother and sister lived out of state, and Easter dinner reverted to just a hand full.  I had it when we could all be home and together but that became rare when two of my children no longer lived in the state.  I was doing Easter dinner but not with much enthusiasm as the restless feeling I have had for months now was still with me and I just didn't want to do a big dinner for 5 people.  But some things you just do because its expected and somewhere in between doing the expected you get a nugget of truth and the day turns into something you didn't quite expect.

Dinner would be simple, a baked ham, cheese potatoes which I made up the night before and just had to be baked in the oven, cut up fresh pineapple and fresh asparagus.  Mom brought dessert, a peach pie, which was just perfect.

I must admit I woke up at 5:00 a.m., not overly enthusiastic, but once in the shower and with water beating down on my head, my eyes were open and I was good to go.  The church service at 7:00, was crowded and Ryan and Alison met us there.  It was a good service and I felt better and even a wee bit joyous that Jesus had Risen, the universal truth for all Christians.  We came home and I made a pancake breakfast for everyone, something I hadn't done in a long while and it felt good.  The kids cleared out for a bit, and I finished up dinner preparations and picking up the house.

A cloudy morning gave way to sunshine and a nice day in the afternoon.   Mom came and the kids were here.  We said grace and had our Easter dinner.  Such a small thing and yet so unending in the circle of tradition.  After we told stories of past Easters and life in general.  These days, Mom likes to remember times when Dad was alive and they were young and life was ahead of them.  It comforts her to pass down the stories and even if we have heard them before, we gather some bit of wistfulness at the times before, as they seem so much better.  Dad used to be the storyteller, and Mom would roll her eyes at yet the same story told again and again.  I think she misses the stories and having him tell them.  In fact, I know she does because we all do.  We looked at old pictures from an album of Mom's I had borrowed and we remembered.  Mostly it was Mom and I remembering but it was good for the soul to remember.  We are so dispersed now and families are just one here and one there, and we always used to all be in one place.  We can't go back to those times, but I still miss the simplicity of them...

In the early evening when everyone had cleared out again, the dishes were done, the kitchen cleaned and the leftovers doled out and put away, I got my bicycle out and went for my first full fledged bike ride of the new year.  Winter was a long time leaving and spring still seems a long time getting here, but it was a quiet night and that's always good enough for a bike ride.  A crop duster plane was dropping crushed corn cobs used in eliminating mosquito larvae around all the wetlands and wooded areas.  These planes are common every spring around here and this one had been spraying all weekend.  Last night he was flying close to our house and as I rode by a home with small children I noticed them all outside with their parents awaiting the plane's next pass.  The pilot didn't disappoint as he flew low, seemingly 20 feet over top of us and then banked the plane sharply around.  I could see into the cockpit.  The children ooohed and aahhed and for a brief moment I was a kid again, amazed by what that pilot could do on his ordinary job.  It was magical.  If only we could stay in that land of joy and amazement, when the ordinary become extraordinary.  And if we could only cup those moments in our hands and cover them and keep them forever.  But it doesn't work like that and I rode on and the children continued to watch though each swathe of the plane was farther away.

The maple trees have the reddish cast that tells me they are just waiting and the willow trees from a distance show a limey green, also just waiting.  But there are no leaves this year yet, and we wait through more than the average rain and more than the average clouds, but it is an extraordinary sunset, and one that we must live on for a few days.  We need to cup it in our hands and hold it tight so we can remember, all that was good on this Easter day. 

Friday, April 22, 2011

Boys of Summer

I love my sports.  In fact, in the last decade I have become a legitimate fanatic on some sports.  I blame it on the Detroit Tigers, which from my earliest memories was on the radio and our television, seemingly every night during the long summers.  Somehow through osmosis or absorption of some kind, though I hated missing my favorite shows as a kid because of baseball, it just became a part of my subconscious and was always there lurking waiting for me to become just another "nutty" fan. 

As kids, during the seemingly then, endless summers, we had pickup baseball games virtually every day.  If none of the country neighborhood kids were available, my brother and I played with just the two of us.  We lived outside in those days of pre television on fifty gazillion channels, the computer, the internet and everything that could keep you inside in front of a fantasy life, instead of outside, using our imaginations and enthusiasm to make fun.  When winter came, which it did every year, and never seemed as long as it does now to me, we ice skated, and sledded and played board and card games during the long nights.  We never really lacked for things to do, and yet how limited we seemed by our kids and grandkids estimations.

So, I guess, sports love was always there.  We didn't have girl's organized team sports in high school then, it was club softball and 4-H, neither of which especially "floated my boat" as it were.  So when I married, after a college education that saw me going to home football games as much to drink "cider' as anything, I let Kurt be the sports addict for awhile.  But somewhere along the line of my sons entering little league baseball, I became the quintessential "hockey mom", or baseball as that's what we had here then.  From the time I learned Ryan actually would take to baseball, after the first year of bribing him just to swing a bat, and seeing Korey champing at the bit to get to play like his big brother, and finding Annie begging her dad to play catch with her at age 6, I just succumbed to what was already there, a very competitive spirit in the spectator arena, and an almost lioness type feeling watching my kids play. 

I went through little league thinking every level they moved up was so much better, and laughing at the parents and grandparents of first timers in T-ball with Annie, as I had already been there and done that, and it got much better later on.  It didn't really, it was just more competitive.  I followed the kids through baseball and summer softball.  Through Saturday basketball and then middle school sports of basketball and soccer.  High school had football, basketball and baseball/softball.  I became completely obsessed with whatever sport my kids were playing and never missed games.  When Ryan graduated and headed to college I grieved more for the loss of games to attend and the disintegration of the parent's groups who were faithful at every game, than I did his leaving the nest.  Annie's senior year in high school was faught with anxious moments that my life as I had known it for 6 years was ending.  Kurt and I consoled ourselves that she was going to play college softball so there at least was that. But it wasn't the same, and when the reality of what it was to play college sports at even the Division III level meant, and that Annie didn't want to do it, we somehow adjusted to post sports for a time.  We realized shortly after Annie graduated that going back to high school games wasn't the same when you didn't have a child playing.  I guess that made us fickle fans and I have the utmost respect for those who love high school sports just for what they represent to the community and continue to support and follow these things.  It just wasn't us.  I may regret that but I can't change it.

While Kurt had always loved virtually any kind of sport and could follow bullriding on his expanded sport's package with his satellite dish, I needed something to latch onto, and I didn't even know it until I found Nascar, after Kurt attended a race in 2003.  When we watched thereafter, he told me to pick a car and follow it all through the race.  I did it and bingo, a new passion was born.  I became addicted and obsessive and lived to read about my driver and the sport in general.  Of course, I had pretty much jumped on that bandwagon right when it was undergoing tremendous, even momentous change.  It was magical the first years, but 5 straight championships later, for one driver, and he ain't mine, the enthusiasm wanes.   I also rekindled a forgotten love of college football and added to my love of college basketball to the point, I began to think it was all that got me through the long winters here.  Somehow, my growing lack of enthusiasm for Michigan's long winters was directly in proportion to my added joy in watching hockey and college basketball and having at least a running knowledge of the NBA and the NFL, though I never really embraced either. 

Going to actual Nascar races and attending hockey games at the Joe, were the highlights of my winters and summers.  I fell in love with the Detroit Tigers again after so many years of feeling lukewarm about them when I attended Comerica Park and actually loved the new ballpark.  The magical summer of 2006 made believers of all weary Tiger fans once again, and it remained a bittersweet rememberance as it was the year, Dad died, and he and the Tigers are forever intertwined in my mind. 

Somehow in the years since, the sports I thought I would always love as passionately and obsessively, as I did at first, faded, tarnished by losses and the term, everyone loves a winner, seemed to sum up Michigan and its sports and its fans.  The state hit the recession/depression long before the rest of the Nation and we will likely be the last to climb out, lulled into believing that the auto industry would always take care of this state.  We hemmorage young people who find opportunities elsewhere and the rest of us wait it out and hope for better, if we just wait long enough.  We do the same with our sports, every season we hope for better.

Somewhere along the line, I lost the passion for those sports I thought sustained me.  I found myself caring less and less when it appeared dream seasons and championships would once again be denied us.  I lacked the enthusiasm that always said, next year.  Next year it will be different and we will win again. 

On a walk the other day, it hit me.  Sports were never meant to be an obsession.  They were never meant to fill a void that we found within ourselves.  They were meant to be a pass time.  That word says it all.  It was something my grandfather listened to on his old radio.  He loved his Tiger baseball, but not more than he loved his family, his church, his life and his work.  It was a diversion and something to be shared with family and friends and it made him smile.  Somewhere along the line, and maybe it was, its ready accessibility, we crossed the line of pass time into fanaticism.  It became our National product, and it became about money, salaries, ownership, fantasy leagues and television rights and sports talk.  We get umpteen sports channels on our cable packages and satellite dishes, and all in HD and streaming video.  We now have sold ourselves to living our lives out through the sports we once played, but now are just passive spectators, who like to think they own a piece of it just by watching.  We have overdone once again in the United States that which was supposed to make us happy and take our minds off things for a time. 

It isn't until I realized, my sport's loves weren't filling any voids and I wasn't really enjoying them as every game seemed to be life and death, that I realized how far I had gone away from what I thought I'd loved.  Every day life is pretty average, and doesn't have a whole lot of highs or lows.  We live life, far more average than we do on some kind of high or some kind of low.  We celebrate happiness for it is fleeting and we endure the grief of things lost or gone wrong.  Most of us live life, in our boats on a calm pond, wanting our sports to be the excitement our lives don't have. 

I guess now I just want the Boys of Summer back, and I want, once again to just enjoy those sports for what they are.  If it means missing more games on tv, turning it off, or just missing things because I am actually doing something more important, then so be it.  I want my love of sports to be an enhancement, not my obsession any longer. 

With that said, I still hope the Redwings bring home another Stanley Cup.....

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Ding Dong

I think I ding donged prematurely.  As I now sit in what has been seven days of cold, rain, sleet, snow, wind and some thunder, lightning, and hail thrown in.  For whatever reason spring just doesn't want to come this year, and much as "April showers bring May flowers" in Michigan, enough already!

I didn't even spend four of the past seven days in Michigan but went to Nashville to visit Annie and Pete and was caught up in a mild depression of "unfair" weather the two full days we descended from the frozen North to the sunny Southland.  It wasn't sunny until we left on Sunday, and at least if I had to suffer all day rain and storms on Friday and cool, breezy, and cloudy on Saturday, it was green and flowering, so that is some consolation. 

I got "Annie and Pete time", and that was healing to my soul.  I got to shop a plant nursery in Nashville which is akin to putting me in a candy shop.  I talked plants with gracious, helpful Southerners, and learn and put away for future reference all they told me.  We went to Annie's place loaded up with plants and after placing the herbs and tomato plants we bought, I let Annie and Pete "dig" in.  We cleaned out an overgrown area next to her patio, pruned, and pulled out, and replaced plants.  In a couple of hour's time, it was a completely different looking area.

And I got to walk her neighborhood, and it was comforting to me for some reason to see an older neighborhood where people still seemed to care about the wonderful old homes they maintain.  Not "McMansions", but delightful brick and stone homes built in the '20's, 30's, and '40's.  Tree shaded lots, homes set on the sides of hills, with streets that wind up and down and around.  The Cumberland River a half mile away, and the lights of Opryland twinkling across the other side at dusk.  In my dreaming, I could semi retire down there in one of those homes.  Kurt would definitely have other ideas of what he would want for a few months of warmer weather during Michigan's harsh winters, and this is just dreaming, but for a few days, I could again delight in what Annie and Pete have found in their adopted city, and love it as well.

So many things of late have made me think ahead to the swift passing of time.  I will become a grandma in a couple of short months now, and my initial thought was; about time, and somehow I have not quite been caught up in the pre shopping for the new little ones as many of my friends have, and I have to wonder at times, "am I missing a Grandma gene" or something?   Or when the blessed event happens will it just burst upon me like fireworks and I will totally get it?   Not sure about either one.  I am happy for my sons as the continuation of another generation is always reason for hope that it all goes on, in the circle of life, God intended, but past that I guess I will just wait and see what its all about.

I had a tooth extraction, a week ago Tuesday.  I had noticed a lump below a tooth that was capped and the product of a root canal, almost 15 years ago.  A quick visit to my dentist and he confirmed the root of that tooth was broken and part of it had worked itself upward and was the jagged edge I was feeling with my tongue below the crown.  The dentist said a tooth extraction was in order as the remnants of the tooth would do nothing but give me problems now, and I could risk infection of the jaw bone from the broken root.   Anyone who knows me well, knows that I would rather undergo two colonoscopys in a row then have to do any kind of prolonged dental work.  It goes back to childhood and a not so happy time with a dentist I had at that time.  I endured having 10 cavities at one time and having them filled by a dentist who had not much sympathy for kid's and their fear of dentist drills and pain caused by them.  Then I went through orthodontia well after most of the kids I went to school with.  I wore braces for my first two years of college.  While that is not all that uncommon now as many adutls are correcting what wasn't done in earlier life, back then I seemed to be the only one I knew with a "tin grin".  It was something I am forever grateful my parents allowed to be done as being able to smile meant a great deal to me thereafter.  But it just seemed one of the many more dental things I always have to endure.  A root canal in my forties, while the root canal was painless, lead to the tooth breaking off above it to the point I had to have a crown installed.  I often have kidded that if I keep breaking off teeth at the rate I now am, I will be like Bambi with nothing left but nubs.

So on the morning of April 12, I just looked to getting it done and hoped there would be no complications so I could head to Nashville the following Thursday.  Lots of numbing in the area and the nice oral surgeon commenting that I had "tenacious little roots", but an hour later, mostly spent in the waiting room, I had cotton gauze stuffed in the empty socket, a numbed side of my mouth and instructions to drink only water and eat softened foods for the first 24 hours.  No coffee until tomorrow morning....RATS.    A day of yogurt and bottles of water, and not as much pain as I anticipated.  I didn't need to fill the prescriptions for stronger pain killers and got by with just regular Motrin.  By the end of the Nashville visit, the swelling was gone, and the dissolving stiches weren't dissolved yet and annoying as my tongue wouldn't leave them alone.  But hey, if that's the worst I suffer.  In a couple of months work will begin on a new bridge, and dental construction will begin.  More fun, fun. I guess its just part of the maturation process.  The first part of our lives we spend growing all kinds of things.  The middle part we spend on trying to figure out how to best use all the things we've grown, and the latter part, we start to lose all those things we've grown and we cope with how to best use what's left.....

Its still a yucky gray day, more reminscent of March than April, but that seems to be the way this weird year of weather is determined to play out, and I am okay with it.........for now.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Spring Rites

Today it seemed spring finally came to Michigan.  No false sense of security that the worst of winter was over, when knowing by the calendar it just wasn't so.  It is April and though we will, without a doubt, have cold weather again, and typically may even see snow flurries, "Ding dong the wicked winter is dead" refrains in my ears.

A cold morning with frost on the ground erupted into mid 60's degree weather, complete with all day sunshine.  Just about perfect for the long suffering people who thought winter was never leaving.  Its a day when even in our rural area, people were seen outside their homes, raking dead grass in yards, picking up winter's debris, and just soaking up spring sunshine and the chance to be outside without 5 layers of clothing. 

One of our rites of April and the end to winter is to prune the apple trees out back.  We had been pretty lackadaisical about prunning and shaping the four Macintosh apple trees behind our house.  Planted at least 30 years ago, in my first bid to put down roots to the farmhouse we had purchased, I went on a kind of fruit tree planting frenzy, planting not only the apple trees but also peach trees and a cherry tree to start off my orchard.  The peach trees long ago gave up the ghost, as I found early on peach trees in Michigan were not terribly long lived succumbing to a variety of ailments.  The cherry tree also finally died after giving us years of cherries, but it also developed a fruit tree borer that weakened the trunk and finally heavy late snows and ice split the small trunk in half and the tree a few years later died.  But the apple trees survived and while the apples they provided became less and less with passing years, I blamed it on late frosts and Kurt's inconsistent tree spraying arrangement, but a neighbor who stopped over a few years back commented that part of our problem with fruit bearing was the semi dwarf trees were too close together and not pruned down properly.  He urged us to view actual orchards in the spring and see the seeming total mutilation of foliage on these trees in the early spring and to try it with ours over a 3 or 4 year period, pruning more down each year until the trees were a manageable height. 

Four years ago in early April what started out as a light pruning, began our odessy into going for broke with apple tree smackdown.   Small loppers gave way to a larger pair of loppers which gave way to a pruning saw and after the first rather large interior limb was cut away, to the chain saw to cut down large feeders of the truck.  Two days worth of a nice spring weekend were spent trimming.  The trees looked positively awful when done, and we had two large piles of severed limbs to dispose of, but a few weeks later when the blossoms were finished and the trees leafed out, we congratulated ourselves that we had much more manageable trees and they didn't look half bad.  I did say half bad, as we had a way to go to get to being even remotely professional.  The trees produced an abundance of apples, which while not always supermarket quality, and that very definitely can be traced back to Kurt's spraying policy, something that seems to need work, they were nice apples and we felt the time spent was well worth it. 

Every April since then we have pruned the trees, cutting off watersprouts which come back every summer with a veneagance, and eliminating larger limbs to make the trees look like a wind flattened umbrella with limbs and therefore, later apples easily accessible to us, easier to spray and easier to pick in the fall.  It seems for every larger limb we cut off, quadruple the number of watersprouts that are produced at that severance point the next spring.  While these "straight up" sucker limbs are easy to lop off, it is tedious and time consuming and I am amazed at the size they can reach in just one year of growth. 

This year I wondered how much longer the two of us will be able to do all of this.  The maintenance of even our small acreage of fruit trees, yard, and garden becomes greater every year as we age, and though we vow to just take it slower, we are often less inclined to want to do it at all.  I see Mom and how the farm maintenance has become mostly just the house now and her flower garden, as that is all she can manage.  I look with worry at the peeling barn paint and wonder how long it will be before buildings need new roofs.  Home ownership is a never ending process of the upkeep, so the problems don't keep adding up to a very large headache, and farm maintenance is an added larger migraine at times as there is more to maintain.  When even your small farm is a hobby farm and repairs have to be hired out it becomes even more of a chore and less likely to be a pleasure.

But once the trees are pruned and the branches picked up and moved to a large pile in the back which we use as cover for deer and the animals that inhabit our wood lot, we breathe a sigh, that it is not only done, but done well for another year, and something to mark off the calendar as a spring chore accomplished.  Our lives are a series of 'spring chores' we mark as accomplished.  Those chores change as we go through life, through marriage, children, work, loss of work, divorce, illness, and death.  We have to be elastic like the trees we prune so hard, and know that new runners will come from the scars and some will be eliminated next year, but some will find the sun and grow in such a way they will be left.  Our lives change like that and we face the changes, sometimes kicking and screaming, sometimes joyously and sometimes with a resolute quiet.  We cry, laugh and take delight in that first truly spring day...

Next up raking road stones from my yard.   Anyone seeking new opportunities for education, grab a rake....

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Photographs and Memories

I must be on a Jim Croce kick today.  For those of you, too young to know, Jim Croce was a soft rock singer popular in the early 70's who died tragically in an airplane crash after recording only a couple of record albums.  But he had a few top 10 songs and developed almost a cult following as his music spoke to many of us.  Some of his shortest songs, were his sweetest.  "Photographs and Memories" are one that has stayed with me through the years.

My nephew Jeremy's wife, Kerry and I are Facebook friends.  Since they live in the southern part of the state, I don't often get to see them and love following my two grandniece's and grandnephew through the pictures and anecdotes, Kerry puts up on Facebook.  She recently put a picture of her eldest daughter and son riding on a "penny horse" at a store.  Taylor and Trevor are about the same age apart as my brother Kim and I, and I was reminded of that and told Kerry as much in the comment section.  She asked if I had any old pictures of Kim and I as kids I could put up as many have told her Trevor looks just like his grandpa.  That prompted a visit over to Mom's for the "red" album which contained my baby pictures and Kim's.  The album was worn and frayed from much perusing over the years.  Pages had come loose and the cover was about to fall off.  But oh, such good memories are contained in those pages and pictures.

Before I came home with the albums, Mom and I had a memory catchup and left behind the dreary early April day in Michigan to remember a childhood that I describe now, as wonderful.  If I could just reach back and capture some of those times again....

We talked growing up rural and the country neighborhood, where all but Mom are gone now and only a handfull of their children remain.  But while we were desparate as kids growing up, my closest friends, two sisters, no longer live close, those that remained have formed a bond of shared childhoods in this setting.  We have stayed to look after our parents, though that was not originally the plan and to be the keepers of the country flame.  It is what it is, and the generations have thinned out.  What once was 3 and 4 generations farming the shared land is no longer.  Those that have remained look to children removed from that, and we know we are probably the last of our families to stay.  It is sad in many ways, but it is also the way it is...I can linger in that sadness or be grateful for what I have and have had and look to whatever future remains for me.

The afternoon proved a good one, one in which Mom and I connected, in a shared way of mother and daughter, remembering the bonds that hold us close.  And that evening amid dreary rain, I opened the albums and was transported back to a joyous time, I mostly only remember through the pictures snapped, forever capturing me in my all my baby glory, black and white and exquisite to me.  I smiled at the pictures of my two favorite girl cousins and the times we went up to my grandparents cottage, our moms taking just the kids up and we being kids, eating dry cereal out of individual serving boxes, called variety packs and something we got only when on vacation.  Glimpses of my grandparents cottage which I knew so intimately growing up as it was a part of every one of my summers.  Even now, I can close my eyes and smell the smells that made it unique.  The piney smell of evergreen trees that surrounded it.  The smells of water and wet sand.  The chatter of squirrels that woke us every morning, and the rich smells of coffee brewing and in August, Grandpa's "fried apples" on the stove for breakfast.  Even thought black and white picutes, I remember vividly, the colors of that place...

I remember the elm trees that surrounded my house and were gone so soon after we moved to the "farm", victims of Dutch Elm disease.  They are a faded memory, but the pictures bring back how lush the farm was with them and how denuded it seemed at first when they were gone.  But that was another good memory.  In order to replace all the trees we lost, my dad would dig up maple saplings from the creek area and brought them up to the house and planted them where Mom directed.  We each got a tree and it was our job to water that tree until it took hold.  It became our tree and I remember every tree we planted and nutured. 

We were country kids and did things like sled and ice skate in the winter, and wade in the creek in the summer and try to avoid "bloodsuckers" which visiting city cousins always seemed to find and a quick foot and leg check after wading was always in order.  We ate fresh picked sweet corn and strawberries.  We had homemade canned pickles, not realizing the work it took to can all those jars of cucumbers every August and why the smell of dill will always evoke the summer kitchen and pickle making.  We rode the tractors with our dad as often as we could and when we got our first two wheeled bikes, we lived on them during the summer months visiting our country "best friends"....

I often think, my kids could not possibly have had as good a life as I did growing up, but I have a suspicion, my mom would say the same thing about her childhood, and I hope my kids consider it a wonderful time of memories. 

So I looked through the albums and took a step back in time and thought how young my mom and dad were, how hopeful that all would go right in their young married life, just as I am sure I looked in my later albums.  It is the cycle of life we have been given.  My prayer is that I live up to all that has been bestowed with a willing and cheerful  heart even in my later years. 

Thanks for the memories....

Dates and Time

Today is the birthday of Kurt's late brother, Kim.  He would have been sixty years old today.  I couldn't imagine him at sixty as he lived by the  phrase, "Live hard, die young and leave a good looking corpse".  He did all of those things.  Still, I wonder if he would have been different staring pending retirement, and grandfatherhood squarely in the face.....Kim lived in California when I met Kurt and our wedding week was the first time I ever met him.  I heard all the stories and knew the background.  He was charming and spoke with a California drawl.  He was unlike both of his brothers, but very much a combination of both.  The night of Kurt's bachelor party at a township hall down from my house, he played cards and got so drunk he fell asleep with his head on a stove burner in the kitchen.  When I went over to Kurt's parent's house the next day, (they were both up North at their cottage), Kim was secreted away in one of the bedrooms with someone he had met after the party.  That was pretty much Kim, at least to me.  He remarried a few years later, had a second son almost 20 years younger than his first, and tragically died riding a motorcycle into a path of a car on a California highway at night.  So, I never knew this brother in law, Kim, who shared a name with my brother, Kim, (what a coincidence, one of many about my and Kurt's life intersecting), and always thought of him as the charming brother who never wanted to live to grow old, and he didn't....
For years I would confuse his birthday with my freshmen college roommate's, who's birthday is the 6th of April.  Why when I have forgotten so many other things, far more important do I remember the birthday of a person who I have not talked to in almost 30 years is beyond me, but I do remember it and seldom does the date pass by that I don't remember, Debbi, and what a riotous good time we had that first half of our freshmen year at Alma College.
Going away to college was a huge deal to me in 1972.  I was the first in my family to go to college and even though Alma College was a scant hour drive away, I would be living in the dorms and staying there, I, a person who didn't even like to overnight at my cousin's house when a child.  I never intended to live anywhere else than close to where I had grown up, and thought college was just something I would do in the meantime, as I needed a career at that point, and was "too smart" to just take an office job.  I am sure Mom and Dad were proud to send me off to college, proud that I had earned enough in scholarship money to pay all but the room and board fee.  Proud that their child was moving away from the expected life of many at that time, but apprehensive, because it was after all, me, who got homesick very easily, and had only a failed aunt's one semester attempt at Michigan State University to relate to. 
I don't remember any of that, just that this was a new adventure with no certain outcome and I was by turns, terrified and excited.  The roommate situation was probably upper most on my mind.  I had no friends going to Alma so I specified no roommate preference.  I was sent Debbi's name about mid summer and her Saginaw address.  We corresponded once back and forth just to kind of acquaint ourselves with each other and sent a senior picture. 
Mom was the one who took me to college that first week when freshmen were on campus before the rest of upper level students arrived.  I had packed and repacked and had rather a car full of "stuff" as I remember.  I even remember what I wore that first day moving in, how weird is that?  Debbi was all ready there with her grandma with whom she lived and had unpacked a great deal already.  I can't say what her reaction of me was but I remember thinking, "she was nice enough".   Her sister who was a senior at Alma popped in and she had a friend from high school who lived at the other end of our dorm, so she was well acquainted with people already and seemed at ease on campus.  I was just the opposite.  I and Mom unloaded the car and after an hour, Mom said goodbye and left me to my new life.  My exciting new life seemed kind of hollow right then but I unpacked and Debbi and I chatted.  By evening though she was off with her friends to walk uptown to a small bar that catered to the college kids.  She invited me along, but I didn't really know anyone, and being me, I said I was tired and stayed in.  I won't lie that first night was rough and I was terribly homesick, but it got better everyday after that, until I was more comfortable at school than back at home where my old friends had scattered and we were all doing different things. 
Debbi and I slowly started a friendship that by the Christmas break was strong.  She had me over to her home during the break and invited me to parties with her then boyfriend.  Some of my best college memories are the wacky things we did, she and I that first semester of college.  I'd like to say, it went on that way all through but in the second semester things changed.  Not for the worst as I look back on it now, but at the time it seemed my new world had a large crack in it.  After Christmas into the second of a 3 semester year at Alma, Debbi broke up with her boyfriend, who went to Western Michigan.  I only knew Mike through Debbi and he was distraught and turned to me for answers, of which I could give him none.  It boiled down to Mike was a rebound guy for Debbi who had dated another guy through much of high school, and that break up before I knew her had devestated her.  Oh the drama...
Debbi immediately began dating someone else and going around with the girl next door to us as both of their boyfriends were friends.  Patty had no roommate then as a girl from high school she knew, and had planned on rooming with was involved in a bad motorcycle accident and couldn't start until the third semester.  When Dianne did start school, and she and Patty lived together, it didn't take any of us long to realize that pairing wasn't going to work.  They fought every time they were together and finally our R.A. suggested a room switch with Debbi moving in with Patty, and Dianne coming to live with me.  I was devestated, as this was set up without my knowledge and I remember crying long and hard about it, which now seems so stupid, but young girls are young girls complete with all the emotions. 
The switch settled in and Dianne and I got along very well, though it was never the fun, Debbi and I had, had that first semester and what made so many special memories for us.  After that first year things changed, Dianne and I roomed together a second year but then I switched dorms and roommates, Debbi left Alma for a year to go to a junior college before returning our senior year.  We moved on.  We kept in touch right up to her getting married after she finished college to that first love she had had in high school.  I was married and already a mom then.  After she married and moved away we lost touch, and have never found each other again, but I still remember her birthday on April 6th, and still occassionally get out the book she made me for my birthday our first year, rooming together, a book of handwritten poems and other sayings she treasured...
"Time it was, and what a time it was... a time of innocence, a time of confidences...
Long ago, it must be, I have a photograph. preserve your memories.  They're all that's left me..."

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The Sump Pump and other Headaches

Its  fairly early yet by many standards and while most mornings I would have been up by at least an hour, this particular morning I have been up since 4 a.m.   You see last night about 9:00 p.m., in the middle of a "Dancing with the Stars" episode, (yes, I know its my one of my maybe, two dozen vices), during a commercial break I decided to go into the basement and water the several plants I winter over down there under a grow light.  I hadn't  watered them for a few days, and all day had been meaning to, and all day forgetting.  It always lifts my spirits to see the lemon verbena in full green grow mode and one or two geraniums blooming, especially in this early spring, we in Michigan know, will break your heart, often as not.

Upon flicking on the light to the "lower" basement rooms that contain the plants, I immediately, discovered we had water in those two rooms, effectively flooding them with at least 9 inches of water.  I immediately shook the sump pump line which is supposed to drain tile water and keep the basement dry.  It obviously had quit running. No luck there.   Kurt, upon my yelling up the stairs came down, not at all happy and in the way of men, complaining about what else could go wrong. After more lifting of the sump pump, and bumping it on the bottom bed it suddenly started and began draining water.  It seemed disaster averted aside from water in the basement and that cleanup which would have to take place again.  Though most of the furniture stored down there was up on some wood blocks, in a couple of cases the water was higher than the blocks.  It had also splashed up on the carpet that the stairs down from the living room are covered in and I was afraid it would wick higher up.  We took numerous pictures for insurance purposes and hoped this was the worst thing that would happen to us. 

After an hour I went back down to check and most of the water had drained out of the two rooms. I got the broom out to start sweeping low spots in the flooring to the sump pump.  When I didn't hear it clicking on, I checked the hole in which it sits and its full again, a foot only from the top of the hole.  We pulled the sump pump, but no amount of jiggling or light bumping would restart it.  We called two plumbers we know and as it was after 10 in the evening, neither answered.  We began bailing water out of the hole and dumping  it outside away from the house.  Ten to 15 trips later we were both exhausted  and the water was still filling up the hole pretty quickly.  I suggested we put the pump back in and try it.  Eureka, it worked.  We watched it for a half hour and then Kurt went to bed and I stayed up until almost midnight.  I watched the NCAA basketball championship game, and my hopes fizzled there too, as Cinderella team Butler was overwhelmed by a strong and tasting victory, UConn team.  Before I went to bed, I checked the sump pump and it was still working. 

At 4 a.m. I woke up and went down and checked and the pump had stopped again and there was about a foot of space to the top of the hole.  No shaking or bumping helped so I knew Kurt would be driving to Home Depot when they opened at 6 a.m.  I went back to bed, but knew sleep would elude me, so kind of tossed and turned until Kurt got up at 5 and I told him the pump had stopped again.  We tried to get it to run but no luck.  At 5:40 a.m., Kurt headed over for the 20 minute drive to HD.  He called from there and I had to measure the piece of pvc that came up from the pump.  He thought he would have to possibly buy a new piece and cut it down.   I began bailing water while he was gone as I didn't want the water to top the hole. 
Someone was watching over us as he got the old piece of pvc to work on the new sump pump.  Hooked up and ready to go I heard the blessed sound of water being evacuated by the pump.  A couple of clamps will have to be replaced but as I told Kurt, "If this is the worst thing to happen"......

Of course we still have the mess of a wet basement and some cardboard storage boxes that will have to be dumped but again, the sun is now out on a chilly April morning and if this the worst that happens.....we be very blessed indeed....

And both plumbers returned last night's calls and for that I am grateful, even if we didn't end up needing them.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Years of Birthdays

Today is "Baby Girl's" birthday.  She will always be my baby girl, but the nickname was given to her by an aunt.  It now always reminds me of the book, "Welcome to the World, Baby Girl", but she appeared before the book and somehow I think I said those very words when I knew I had a daughter after two sons.

A mother loves her children.  Doesn't matter what the sex, she only asks that they be healthy, and from there it doesn't really matter.  With two boys already I was pretty sure I carried another near my heart.  I remember little being different with this pregnancy, though subtle things happened towards the end that I just put to being the way this miracle happened and was scripted to end.  She was 3 days over the due date, the closest any of mine had been to getting here near when they were supposed to.  The last visit to the doctor, a day before the due date, he told me the baby was dropping, which is usually a good sign.  I had gone to bed the night before uncomfortable, but then when you're nine months pregnant, you're in perpetual "uncomfortable".  I woke up somewhere after midnight noticing that I had "leaked" a bit and that every time I rolled over, more seemed to leak out.  I wasn't sure it was my amniotic fluid or water responsible as when I had Ryan it broke in the hospital in labor and came out in one large whoosh, and with my other son, the water was broken during the last stages of labor.  I hadn't noticed any contractions but towards early morning contractions started, and I got up to start walking, as I had no intention of heading to the hospital before the contractions were strong and fairly close together.  Korey had been 5 hours start to finish and only two of those hours were in the hospital, so I had motivation to stay home as long as possible.

I don't rememeber the weather that day as I did so well with Korey.  It had been August and warm as I had walked outside when labor started with him.  I have to believe it was probably a day much like today is dawning to be, partly sunny with clouds, the snow had disappeared but temperatures only in the 40's.  I kept Kurt home from work, pretty sure this was it.  The contractions seemed to be coming pretty regularly and the amniotic fluid continued to leak but there never was any great flow.  After calling Mom to tell her my suspicions, my dear Dad came right over, sure this was it and took the boys home with him.  This was about 10 in the morning and after that I just sat down and waited.  In hindsight, probably not what I should have done as it slowed down the contractions and they became irregular.  We went all afternoon and they never seemed to attain the strong contractions I remembered from the other two in the end.  At 3:00 p.m. we called the hospital and they urged us to come in, in the advent my water really was breaking as I risked infection if I let it go too long.  So, we headed for the hospital, a half hour away. 

Upon examination at the hospital, it actually was amniotic fluid and I was set up in a room and a bed.  Unfortunately, the birthing room which was a new addition to the labor wing, and which meant I wouldn't have to be transferred to delivery wasn't available.  I had it for Korey and it was wonderful to stay in the same room, labor, and deliver and recover.  Now, from what I understand it is the norm, but back then, just like knowing the sex of the baby, for most of us its time had just not arrived.  I sat in a rocking chair unwilling to be strapped and monitored in bed until it became completely necessary.  By the early evening, the doctor on call decided it was necessary to "augment" the labor which meant taking an IV drug to essentially induce heavy labor.  I had always managed to avoid being induced but no such luck this time.  Luckily, I was far enough along that it didn't take but a few hours to get to the point of transition and heading to the delivery room.  In their haste to get everything set up in the delivery room, the overhead mirror that had allowed me, literally, to see Ryan being born was not adjusted.  By that time I didn't much care as getting this baby into the world was all that was on my mind. 

At 9:31 p.m., Ann-Marie was born.  When the doctor told me it was a girl, I didn't believe him as I had just talked myself into a boy and thought the lovely name we had picked out, named for both of her grandma's would never be used.  She was healthy and already then had a pretty good set of lungs on her.  When laid on my stomach to cut the cord, she immediately wet on me.  That's my Baby Girl. 

We waited in recovery until they brought her to us before we called both sets of grandparents.  She was the first granddaughter for my family and as I called Mom and Dad, she was crying loudly and I told Mom laughing, "Here is the girl, you wanted".   That year my daughter happened to be born on Good Friday, the saddest day in the World's history, but also the day of hope for what had been promised, had come and been fulfilled. 

Welcome to the World, Baby Girl.  For twenty eight years, you have filled my life with joy and all the emotions in between and around.  You have made me a keeper of the flame of life, and you are truly God's greatest gift to me.  Happy Birthday....