Saturday, February 25, 2012

End of February,...

Blame it on the end of February.  Blame it on the Michigan political primary coming to every where near us next Tuesday.  Blame it on the guerrilla type onslaught we have endured with "robo calls, cutthroat political ads, and some candidate in the news every minute and appearing somewhere in the state every hour.  Blame it on the end of much of my life as I've always known it, though not quite.  Blame it on winter and the fact we are now 2/3's of the way officially through, but it still feels like spring is a long, long way off.  Blame it on a mild winter that makes us believe even though we know better, that spring is just around the corner.  Blame it on the tulip spears that have shot out of the ground only a half inch but have been there to remind me for close to a month now.  Blame it on envy that friends are heading to Florida and warm climates, and I am going nowhere fast.  Blame it on the restlessness that is just a part of me right now, and can't seem to be quenched until warm days and long sunshine banish winter from our minds for another year. 

So here I sit, still in robe and "jammies" not having the incentive to even dress on this Saturday in late February.  The dogs are on the floor and sofa next to me.  They prop one eye open if I move and Gauge will accompany me as I trail out to the kitchen for yet another cup of coffee, whitened with a large quarter cup of milk.   If I actually ascend the stairs to dress, the dogs will likely break out into hallelujahs, as that generally means outside time for them.  Maybe that's why I haven't ascended those stairs...

Many things have been coming to an end.  They have affected me indirectly, but in the most life altering way.  What wisdom I have accrued is teaching me that this is another door that has been opened for me, and its up to me if I charge through it, grabbing with open arms what's on the other side, or if I sidle up to it, peer cautiously around and step tentatively through, pretty sure that what's ahead won't be as good as what I left behind.  And finally I can be shoved through that door, kicking and screaming, but knowing that I can't slam that door shut much as I would like to.  Just as I am having these grave thoughts and thinking for all the world, I would prefer nothing so much as crawl into bed and under the covers and not emerge until the next few years are finished, the sun emerges and floods an otherwise gray February morning with light...and I feel better.  Foolish?   Oh yes, but we seldom can understand our most basic desires and fears, and what motivates us to smile and feel optimistic, until year's after.  If we are truthful, we have learned that life is never what we thought it would be when we finally got there.  If this be true then death will surely be the biggest of surprises.

I am exhausted by the endless political harping.  I am appalled by the vast amounts the mysterious Super Pacs are giving candidates.  I am cynical that any of them mean one word of the political fodder they are feeding us. I do not understand a land so divided that we care nothing for our neighbor, only what is benefiting or hurting our wallets.  We have become grasping and penurious, niggardly and selfish.   We will buy things we don't need stating its for our sanity, and use the tired line, I know I should function without all of these things of our techno world, but I don't want to.   We cut corners on human kindness and generosity to make sure we have cable tv and a smartphone.  Gasoline prices are surging again, and we are vehement in our anger, but helpless to do anything but complain.  Voices united as one make no difference in this, as we are the voice of the voiceless and there is no way to change it.

We are a Nation addicted to our instant access on all of the news, but find little of the news, palatable.  There is one bit of good news, kind, generous news, sandwiched in around hours of the opposite.  High gas prices, Iran with the Bomb, political evil doing and falsehoods, the famous misplacing their lives and often paying the ultimate price.  No jobs, a housing market in recession decline, and scams everywhere.   The Baby Boomers are now big business, and we are bombarded everywhere about our impending retirements, what we should have and what we need to live the life we were meant to.  If only I could figure out what that life was.

Day by day it all threatens to engulf us and drag us down.  We didn't create the National debt crisis, but little interest in it thirty years ago, and allowing the government to run unfettered for a half century has gotten us to this point.  The government had plenty of help down this long road.  We all believe in austerity as the only way out, and yet none of us wants to give up what we are entitled to.  We are told to work longer before retiring and cut out of jobs for the younger who need the work.  Health care has taken over most of our lives.  We can't afford it and we can't live without it.  A pill will solve everything, but who can afford the pills?  It seems a vast, endless rut we have put ourselves into.  There is optimism in the world, and I hope the young are leading the way in not just existing, but in facing the tough problems and feeling there are ways to solve them.

Its the end of February and March will likely be different this year, but much the same.  There are the things that abruptly change our lives, a sudden death, natural disaster, unforeseen crisis.  And there are the slow takers of joy, long term illness, aging, job loss and recessions.  I look at things with the eyes of someone who has seen many of these things.  I have been blessed and my hurdles have been small.  As my mother would tell me so often, "this too shall pass".  But I want to be one of the "sunshine" senior mature, and I mean that not in needing sunshine, but in being grateful to be and optimistic in sharing and being rewarded by God's generosity to me.  I want to shout for Joy when my time on earth is done, not want Heaven because earth has become such a meaningless place.  I want to be productive and give more time back and not expect return for it.  I want to feel there is a place for me, even if it is a minute niche.  I want to feel I am appreciated and needed.  But to have all of these things I can't sit and wait or be kicked through that door.

The world will always have trials and tribulations.  There will always be recessions, depressions, chicanery in government and dirty politics.  There will be those who dream, those who build and those who scam.  There will be those who are kind and those who are treacherous.  There will be the power builders and the power takers.  There will be the poor and the rich.  And hopefully, though it seems less likely every day, there will be those of us in the middle, just trying to lead a decent life, and be kind to those we love and those we meet.
If I am graced to see March, I want to be one of those decent people. .... 

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Ash Wednesday

The Lenten season for Christians arrived today.  We do not all put the ashes on our forehead of the Roman Catholic faith, but we all observe this start to the somber and sober six weeks before the death and resurrection of our Lord.  Easter Sunday is the joyous triumph of Christ over death and sin for us. 

As a child the time before Easter known as Lent was just a word.  My best friends who were Catholic, usually gave up something for Lent and that quite often in our world was candy or sweets.  We didn't come by candy all that often so it wasn't as difficult as some would think, but desserts were a part of at least two meals every day, so the technical term, "sweets", meant a much more sober dedication to following our Lord's path of suffering.  I'm not sure any of us really got the sobering concept, but as Lent was usually over the long, sloppy, not-quite-spring-yet, month of March, it seemed somewhat easier to be sober and impatient at the same time.  As kids we were resourceful, we could make winter go farther by ice skating and there was always the late winter snowstorm to give us additional time to use boots and sleds.  March never really seemed like the windy month projected on all of our calendars in school.  Here it was snow, wet, slush, and occasional thaw with a robin sighted after March blew in like a Lamb, instead of the proverbial Lion. 

No, Lent was not much of an intrusion in our kid lifestyle.  There was Wednesday night Lenten services and sometimes a Lenten supper, but aside from that it was just the countdown to Easter.  Easter meant spring was here, even if the calendar and the weather were at odds as to when it really got to Michigan.  I got an Easter bonnet and a new spring dress and shoes.  My brother's got new shirts.  We all waited and dreamed on our Easter baskets.  Where they would be hid and the candy in them and the little gifts fit inside.  While not the glorious bonanza of Christmas in terms of gifts, Easter baskets came after the long winter months and always spoke of little treats we looked forward to.  New pajamas, toiletries, small stuffed animals, and little toys.  Easter candy, and always our favorite kinds.  Jelly beans were obligatory, and while we ate them, they were never the treats the chocolate candy was.  Grandma always gave us a large chocolate bunny and often a sugar egg, huge and beautiful, wonderful to look at, but something we never thought of trying to eat.

Easter was the tide that turned into Spring.  School would soon be out and we would have the long, lazy summer ahead of us.  Spring meant the farmers would be out in the fields, the high school baseball teams would be out practicing and the track kids would be running down the roads.  Spring meant showers that brought flowers and wonderful chances to explore our favorite places now bright and green, we were reborn, though we never thought of it that way.  Our parents called it spring fever.  We called it JOY.

Now, in the seeming need to make a bigger holiday out of every regional event, we had Fat Tuesday yesterday.  While many would never admit it, Fat Tuesday has only come to my attention within the last decade.  I knew of Mardi Gras, but it always seemed a big celebration, known only to those living in New Orleans.  I had no idea that Mardi Gras was celebrated in many places in the South or that it even had anything to do with Lent.  Along about the time that Mardi Gras and its flamboyant displays of overindulgence before the somber period of Lent was upon us, Paczki's became known in the North.  An Eastern European, largely Polish tradition, Paczki's suddenly became big business in our area.  Paczki's, (pronounced Pune-Chkee), are deep fried pastry's filled with fruit or a custard like filling, much like a jelly filled doughnut.  As I have learned it was a way to use up sugar, lard and oils before the fasting of Lent began in the old country.  I can honestly say, I grew up around many Polish and Slovac and Czech families and not one of them celebrated Fat Tuesday or Paczki's, but times and our penchant to overindulge have a way of rewriting history, so that the children of today think they are as much a tradition of Fat Tuesday as Easter eggs are of Easter and Christmas cookies are the Lord's birth sweet of choice. 

Yesterday I watched the local news stations and the now, annual Paczki eating contest, and watched National television that featured Mardi Gras celebrations and King's cake, a dessert of the South.  Many of my southern friends had never even heard of King's cake, but I am sure it will become less of a novelty and more of well known before Lent staple as regional traditions and ethnic lines are blurred.  We readily share traditions across boundaries.  I don't know whether that is good or not.  I am growing older and like the traditions that made us uniquely who we were within the bigger framework.  But I also know that there is no turning back as our country which was always known as the great melting pot is even more so. 

I'll never be a Paczki fan, just not my "cup of sweet", and King's cake I don't quite understand.  I understand Mardi Gras all too well, and while I may not need the release of letting it all hang out before Lent begins, I do understand the sober reflection this season now means.  Our ancestors understood it in a way we miss.  They understood life was often joyful and cause for celebration.  They also understood, it was hard and often indescribably sad.  There were no set days to be either.  You worked hard and sometimes it was good and sometimes it wasn't.   It is little enough that we reflect on this time and what lays ahead, as a way to set our Christian compasses to true North. 

Monday, February 20, 2012

Its a Sunny Day in February....

It was a sunny day in February, what to do, on an afternoon, that would hit 40 degrees, but felt warmer, because of no wind.  It had been a sunny weekend, but cold.  President's Day, no mail, no banks open.  Frozen ground that kept the mud down and allowed the accumulated snow from Friday go down slowly.  Ice crystals in the air at sunrise, made a misty fog shrouding the close ground.  But the sun burned it off by the time I walked out of the PMR center where I worked out for a couple of hours.  

Lots of things to do but today was one of those days where I couldn't wrap my head around any of them.  I didn't want to dig through papers to be sorted, or clean off furniture to be put up for sale.   I didn't want to vacuum the mounds of dog hair that seem to accumulate as if by magic everywhere, and doing research on the internet, didn't hold much attraction today, though there is much to research.  It was just one of those days.  Feeling restless and not wanting to let worry overtake me again, what to do.....

For me, it was not even a question, if the weather is good, I head out of doors.  My first intention was to let the dogs out and just toss a tennis ball for them.   That was my first intention.  But that gets old pretty quickly for me, though Gauge never seems to tire of running after that ball, taking it away from Tally if she gets there first, and bringing the ball right back and dropping it at my feet.  He is very much like Odie of Garfield fame, "do it again, and again, and again"....So, I looked around to see what I could do in a still winter yard that was at least somewhat productive and would keep me in the sunshine.  Yup, prune an apple tree.  We have four semi dwarf MacIntosh apple trees in our back yard.  They have been here for over 20 years.   For the most part we just let them go and if they produced apples, great, and if more often was the case, they didn't, that was all right, too.   Four years ago after urging from our son, to really prune the trees as apple growers do, we took a chain saw, pruning saw, loppers of various sizes and even some hand pruners to whittle down our over grown trees.  Every spring  since we have taken more tall, upright branches out of the center, along with the water sprouts, upright growing straight twigs, with no branching, capabilities.  These most often grow from pruned large branches, and can grow four feet or more in one season.  Spring is always the time to prune these back. 

We put up a four foot fence 3 years ago, and it bisected the trees.  Now, one tree along with a cherry tree remain inside the fence, and the other three are on the outside of the fence, bordering it.  My first thought was to just trim off some of the water sprouts, while tossing the tennis ball.  The pile of lopped off twigs grew around the tree trunk.  The dogs chased the tennis ball and an hour flew by.  When I made the decision to get the small stepladder out, I knew it was becoming less something to do, than something I had to do.  Another half hour and some bigger branches were lopped off, and I determined the 10 foot ladder had to come out.  Along with carrying out that heavier ladder, I also brought the pruning saw, which meant I was serious about cutting off some bigger branches.  Another hour and several two inch branches later, I had made a serious dent on really doing some pro pruning.  I decided not to waste a good, sunny day in February and another hour later, I had quite a pile of branches and twigs, but I also had an apple tree trimmed as it always should be.  I took a day that wasn't quite right, despite the sunshine and unlikely mild winter temperatures, and let my earth woman, God given love for the land, take over and pruned a tree.  It felt good, and now I only have three more to do....

Friday, February 17, 2012

Days Gone By

We were sitting in the aerobics pool.  Five women ranging in age from me, the baby at 58, to somewhere in their 70's.  Most were in the 60 age range, but we liked that we all had experiences shared and just a bit different. 

We had been laughing about working out and trying to get in shape, as if it really mattered.  My desire was perhaps different from the rest.  I can work out by myself, and do much of the summer when I ride my bike around my country neighborhoods.  I have a perfectly fine reclining stationary bike which in year's past has gotten me admirably through the winter months, but the last couple of winter years it became less desirable to climb on board..  When the opportunity came to work out at Covenant's new rehab center and enjoy pool time 5 days a week, I tentatively agreed to give it a try.  I told myself it was for the exercise equipment and the chance to be able to talk to others while I used a variety of machines.   I told myself it was a chance to get away from my solitary house during the winter months and talk to other women.  And that was a large part of it, but it soon became apparent, almost love at first toe dabble, that the heated aerobic pool was the real clincher to the deal.  Heated water, a chance to exercise and not feel like I was working at all and if I really pushed myself on the machines before, I could use those wonderful jets in the pool and feel like I was getting the best of massages.  I told myself these were all the reasons I went, but it was more.

Today we sat in a circle, four of the women who had grown up in the west side of Saginaw city.  They found, though disparate in age that they had all attended and graduated from Arthur Hill High School.  They talked of what the  school was like then.  They talked of shopping in the downtown area, taking the bus over, and often walking back across the Genesee Street bridge on summer evenings to their homes.  They all ate at the Home Dairy, as if it were the only place to eat when you went shopping.  It could have been for all I knew.  I was the lone country mouse among this group.  I had actually been born and lived in Hemlock, virtually all of my life.  I had gone away to college but returned for one last summer after graduation and met my now husband, married, and never left.

Though my mother remembered shopping in the downtown as a girl and as a young woman, once she married and moved to the farm, she never looked back to those days, and raised her kids in the country amidst the wonders of catalog and small town shopping.  I don't remember ever going downtown to shop until I was in high school and went with my girlfriends and their mom once.  My mother also spoke fondly of eating at the Home Dairy, and going to the movies in Saginaw and being able to visit relatives who lived in the city and walking all over, even as kids.  Years have changed it and one reason we all wax nostalgic for times in Saginaw that will never come again.  Decades separated these women, but they shared the Home Dairy and the city of Saginaw that was.   A safe place to walk, even after dark on a summer night. 

I can't share that insight, as I remember Saginaw only as places you didn't drive after certain hours.  Even the annual trip to the Saginaw Fair in the south downtown area, became less and less of a thing we did at night, and more and more a day time trip.  My friends had a front row seat to the decline and flight of many in Saginaw.  They ended up in Hemlock.  My children have left Hemlock and have only known a Saginaw slowly dying.   They just tore down the IOOF building on the main street of Hemlock.  The hotel burned down a decade ago.  The roof on the IOOF was caving in.  The stores on the ground floor had been gone for years, the windows boarded over.  An eye sore that had long lost its usefulness and function.  So last month it came down, gone in a day.  The space where it stood looking huge as the gap in our main street becomes greater and another old building is gone.  The hole where the basement was has already been filled and now awaits an unknown buyer.  The main look of Hemlock has changed almost irrevocably.  Richland Township will celebrate its 150th anniversary.  The Sesquicentennial has been planned for almost 3 years.  I never felt as old as I did in realizing all the landmarks I grew up with are now gone.   The Hemlock Hotel is gone, and now the IOOF.  The drugstore is now a quilt shop after being an auto parts store for years.  Ozzie Bauer's store ...gone.   The Dime Store is no longer and Hohman's Garage and Pontiac dealership is also a memory.  Small gas stations and a creamery.  The ramshackle buildings that were the Hess Duck Farm also burned down and the land bought and divided up into a trailer park and subdivision. 

Change must come and just as we women know we are only going to grow older, we also are figuring out that each day is a gift and each day we can climb into that pool and soak away increasing aches is a good thing.  See ya all on Monday morning....

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Not Sure About Now.

Its been awhile since I have written on this.  My saving Grace.  My way to get out of my closed in world and communicate went rather awry. 

My intent when I started writing last year was to comment on life, tongue in cheek, as I saw it approaching grandma hood. It was a year I thought many changes would be happening and that seeing the lighter side of life, of where I had been and where I was going, (didn't have a clue on that one), would help me.  Writing has always been my way of expressing.  I heard Art Lewis on WSGW, the other morning, just one of many new things that have happened, and he was commenting on how he was a speaker of the written word, not a writer.  He confessed he finds it very difficult to write and always has, and I am the opposite and find it my release, when I am alone.  He is a people person and I want to shape people's opinions of me through my written word. 

The year didn't go quite as planned, but I have found out, really nohingt in life has gone by my vague plans.  It was kind of a "put on hold" year, almost a limbo type of time.  I had two grandchildren approaching, but excited as I was for their arrival, the events seemed dwarfed by all that was going on in my personal world.  Many things will be resolved in the next few weeks, and while I still can not write about them fully, they will mean a new direction for my next chapter of life.  The past year was the greatest personal struggle I have ever encountered.  It shook me to my core and likely was my Achilles heel, the soft spot where I could be felled. 

Many days it felt like holding on by my fingernails.  Feeling inadequate, forlorn and totally helpless to do anything about the situation confronting me, threatened to pitch me into a black hole.  When you are in such a place, your vision is tunnel like and even though you know many have it far worse, you can't see past your pain.  It took months of a roller coaster ride, one day, good, one day, only okay, and a day of plunging back down.  I often felt like a punch drunk fighter, just trying to stay on my feet.  And I wasn't personally experiencing the worst of it.  That was the good man I married, who saw his whole life shifting dramatically.

Some days it was just putting one foot in front of the other, and getting through.  The nights were the worst, as they always are and the long nights of winter, something I dreaded.  But I had wonderful support.  My daughter became the best friend, I never thought I would have in her.  She called, encouraged and told us we would see the end of this. My sons kept me sane and kept their dad feeling like he had some control.   And I had prayer, and in the end, though it seemed tortoise slow in coming and inadequate in ready answers, God did provide.  He got me through many a night, just by getting me through to see the new day.  He put things before me that perhaps would have passed my understanding at another time, but were His instructions to me at a critical time.  Words I found in the strangest places, buoyed me.  Friends, without knowing gave me hope and lifted my spirits.  And little by little, small step after small step, the winter isn't as harrowing any more and I fear less.  I have learned that worry doesn't add one day to my life, and that in fact it is the most counter productive thing I can do.  I have learned to lay my worries at His feet, and let Him provide the solution.  Even in the darkest times, He has put things in my way, and sometimes it was as simple as getting through the night.  For someone who has always had sleep problems, and dreading the long winter nights, that is a revelation in itself.  I will backslide and I will falter but I know now, that I am no longer lost, and have a place always to go.

So, while my blog may now spend days with large holes in the time line, I have replaced trying to replicate a childhood which was not always perfect, (in fact almost never), using witty anecdotes and nostalgia to conjure up a better time, with getting out among people and doing what I am least comfortable with, becoming a people person.  I won't give up the writing as every day I think of something I would like to share, but now I will try to carve out time to do just that.  I won't feel obligated to write as something I started and need to finish, but rather something that gives me joy, along with many other things in life.

Today there is a thick fog enveloping my house, and this is the middle of February.  I don't like fog and gray especially in the days of winter where daylight is at a premium.  My plans for working out with friends took a postponement when one friend couldn't come and looking out on the gray, it just felt better for today to stay home and write.  I feel cozy today, and I seldom say that about these kind of days.  Things long put off have a chance at accomplishment today, or at least an examination of needs and time. 

While I enjoy writing about good times and a childhood that now seems of the best, I also know I can't hide behind that.  Here's to a better year and new challenges as long as I draw breath....