Monday, February 01, 2016

Hangin' with Phil and Mary

Phil and Mary are members of the church we started attending almost a year ago. They live in a very elegant and distinctive-looking house on the main street in town. It’s not a new house: Phil says Mary grew up in in the house, and they began living there as a couple after they got married, which was 52 years ago.

The two-story white house looks like what I imagine a mansion in the South might look like. Four large pillars across the front porch support the second story overhang. The attic dormer that faces the street has a beautiful fan-shaped window. There is another large porch at the rear of the house. The doorknob on the front door is in the middle of the door, surrounded by circular molding. The only houses I have ever seen with doors like that have been in British TV programs.

The lot is huge, and there is a narrow ribbon of trees that run along the back edge of the property.

A few years ago the city did extensive work along the street where they live and put in new lovely new sidewalks. It is a great place to walk, and three mornings a week I walk by their house between 8 and 8:30.

One morning in late Fall I was startled to see that the trees along their property line were filled with vultures. I stopped and I was able to count 38 of them, but I know I didn’t get all of them counted because some began to fly off to began the day’s foraging.

The next Sunday at church I mentioned to Mary that I had counted 38 vultures in the trees, and she shuddered and said “60!” Phil said they couldn’t do much to encourage the birds to find somewhere else to spend the night because they are in the city limits. Aside from being in the category of birds that are protected from hunting, he said he didn’t think the local police would take too kindly with him firing a shotgun at them.

We just assumed the birds were gathering before flying off south for the winter. But that hasn't happened. They are still there. Why all of the vultures in the area are roosting in the trees on Phil and Mary’s land, when there are acres and acres of wooded countryside less than a mile in any direction from their house, is indeed an oddment.

Now Phil is a lovely man who has a lively, mischevious sense of humor. He is in charge of making the coffee for Sunday School, and yesterday after the worship service, he was bustling around in the kitchen cleaning the coffee maker, when I drifted in there to get the creamer for my coffee. After I rinsed the spoon and cleaned up the mess I made, he looked at me and said…

“How about some buzzard stew to go with that…?”

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Waffles…

A day or so after a light snowfall dropped a couple of inches of snow on the ground, I arrived at the park with the Mollywog for our afternoon walk. I was not surprised to see that I was the first person to walk on the path since the snow had fallen. I have frequently been the first person to tramp through the snow in the park. The path was not totally pristine though. Tracks from an unaccompanied larger dog (or perhaps a coyote) and a smaller dog (perhaps a fox), who seemed to be on separate missions were meandering about. Rabbits and squirrels had also been busy, along with some birds  with big feet – probably crows.

I never walk very fast with the dog because I can’t walk fast anymore myself and she has to stop and sniff every 10 feet or so and I let her get away with. I’ve always wondered what exactly she was sniffing if not pee left behind from other dogs. I was not that surprised to see her stop every few feet and sniff each footprint that the dog (or coyote) had left in the snow until she was satsified and went on to sniff something else.

The next day when I returned, I had company -- the high school track coach was running laps since school had been cancelled – but aside from him, again no one else had been there. The prints I had left the previous day were still there by themselves. We exchanged a few words each time he sped by me, and on one pass he observed that I had been the only other person there since I was now laying down a second set of identical tracks that weren't there when he began running.

The pattern of the snow boots I wear looks like waffles.

Waffles.

What a sweet fun memory that brought to mind. Dad loved to cook. Here he making my birthday cake a few years ago..



During the weekdays he would get up at about 5:00 a.m., long before anybody else was awake, and he made his own breakfast. He ate bacon and eggs just about every day, and ironically, after years of that diet, his cardiovascular system was in excellent shape -- no atherosclerosis, no blockages, no nothing – and still is at age 91, except his heart is slowing down now and he needs a pacemaker (which they have decided not to do).

But he would occasionally make waffles on weekend mornings. They had an old waffle iron that they had probably gotten as a wedding present, and he would plug that in and heat it up. He made the batter using Bisquick and he’d start turning out waffles. I loved the crispness and how the syrup would puddle in the depressions. It was a lot of work, and it was a mess to clean up because the batter always oozed out the sides and then baked on to the side of the waffle iron.

I remember at the Seattle World’s Fair that they offered up Belgian waffles, with strawberries and whipped cream. I had never heard of such a thing -- mom and dad were too careful with their money to buy strawberries and whipped cream for waffles for four kids.

I remember we had a waffle iron after we moved here – I think I got it at a thrift store – but it eventually broke.

I haven’t had a waffle in years. Perhaps I ought to do something about that.

We need to remember what's important in life: friends, waffles, work.
Or waffles, friends, work. Doesn't matter, but work is third
.
--Leslie Knope



Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Is this better?


I am working my way through the annual eye examination. I have gone through a battery of tests on various machines: one tests for peripheral vision (it is excellent), one puffs air at my eye to measure for glaucoma (I don’t have it), and one tests to determine if I am developing macular degeneration. I have done particularly well on that test; in fact, the technician tells me the average score for a woman on the test is 33 and I have scored 77.

Now for the last examination.

The optometrist adjusts two sets of knobs on the device that I will look through so she can see what I can see, and she brings it up to my face.

"Please read the letters on the lowest line you can see," she says.

I am alarmed. I see squiggles that look like worms dancing at a disco.

I tell her so.

"Oh, I’m sorry," she says, "I had these set up for mumble mumble mumble."

She adjusts the knobs and returns the device to my face, and now everything is clear and sharp (yes, I can see clearly now). I can easily read the bottom line.

Then the fun begins.

"Which is better? This? (she flips something) "Or this?" (she flips something).

Well, one is obviously better than the other, and I tell her so.

"Good," she says.

And she does it again…. and again…. and again…

And before long I can’t tell the difference from one flip to the next. I ask her to repeat it. She does. I still can’t see much of a difference.

"Is this a trick question?" I ask her

She laughs, "No, not at all."

I make a choice.

We finish one eye and then do the same for the other eye.

Finally we are through.

She looks into each eye with a very bright light. "I see a cataract starting to form," she says, "but it’s not on the clock yet and we call this an incipient cataract, especially since it isn't bothering your vision."

That I am going to eventually have a cataract doesn't bother me. What does bother me is that when they measured my height, I learn have shrunk another 1/2 inch from last year. Doggone it!

She tells me there is a slight difference in the vision in my left eye compared with the examination last year, but not enough to require change to the lenses in the glasses I use for the computer and reading.

That eyes that can see clearly is important and a blessing… but then I think we need "seeing eyes" also…
The common eye sees only the outside of things, and judges by that, but the seeing eye pierces through and reads the heart and the soul, finding there capacities which the outside didn't indicate or promise, and which the other kind couldn't detect.
Mark Twain, Joan of Arc

Monday, January 18, 2016

How cold is it?

Weather forecast for tonight: dark. Continued dark overnight, with widely scattered light by morning.
George Carlin

I guess the answer to that question is “it depends.”

I met a young woman at the library checkout counter a few days before Christmas. It was possibly high 30s, low 40s that day – brisk, but not bone-chilling cold.

“Brrrrr…”  she said. “Is Missouri always this cold.”

The librarian and I looked at each other and smiled and then looked at her and said, almost simultaneously, “This isn’t bad, it gets a lot colder. Where are you from?"

“South Carolina” she said in her soft accent. “I called my friend there yesterday and it was 70 degrees, and I am glad I am going home for the holiday.”

It does seem so mundane that we talk about the weather all the time—whether to complain or exclaim or just luxuriate on what seems to be a perfect day—but the weather really does have quite a profound effect on our lives in ways we probably don’t think about that much and in those we definitely do, like when it comes time to fill the propane tank in the Fall to keep the house warm or pay the electric bill to keep it cool in August.

Sometimes the weather forecast is so laughably wrong that we don’t even pay attention, but then we can’t really afford to do that because sometimes it will be horribly accurate.

On Saturday I had an unexpected conversation with a woman I used to go to college with -- we were both student assistants in the Admissions Office -- but haven’t seen since 1971. She  just happened to be visiting the father of the boy she dated in college at the very same time my brother was there also visiting. She wondered if he might be related to me, and so he called me and handed her the phone. One of the first things she asked me as we started talking about us having moved away to Missouri was “Is it cold there?”

Yeah, it sorta is; not as cold as some places (I listen to a live radio broadcast from Minneapolis on Saturday night so I hear the weather report and I get it!) but a lot colder than others.

And so when I stepped outside this morning to take myself and the dog for our morning walk (t-shirt, wool long-sleeved shirt, light-weight nylon jacket, heavy coat, two pairs of sweat pants, ski mask, knit cap)…

I couldn’t help but think about that young woman from South Carolina. Hope her pipes didn’t freeze overnight.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Painted ponies

Richard and I grew up within the same community in Southern California – although we didn’t meet until I was 18 – so we did similar things and went to similar places for amusement and fun.

One of those places was the Long Beach Pike, an amusement area on the ocean. It had arcades and a side show, and various rides. It was already old in the 1950s when we went there.

Probably the most popular ride, at least for some people, was the Cyclone Racer, a wooden roller coaster with dual tracks (two trains could run at the same time). It was loud and shook and at one time it was the largest and fastest roller coaster in the country. I rode it once and never rode it again. Richard had the same experience – he rode it once and that was enough for him.

I preferred the tamer rides. The ones I enjoyed the most were a circular ride where you stood against a wall and it began to spin, then the floor dropped away and you were left stuck on the wall, and the Ferris wheel, but my very favorite was the carousel.
And the seasons they go round and round
And the painted ponies go up and down
We're captive on the carousel of time
We can't return we can only look behind
From where we came
And go round and round and round
In the circle game
And yes, the seasons—and the anniversaries that come with them—do indeed go round and round and round. Anniversaries of weddings, of birth days, and of death days.

And today is one of those anniversaries. Our son died 5 years ago today.

The singer Ellis writes about how she felt when she remembered that a certain day was her dead Granny’s birthday: 
...I didn't try to be happier (like I often do). Instead, I was honest with the moment of disappointment and grief. And then, I felt a quieter version of happiness. Tender joy.
So I am trying to practice this today. 
There is nothing that can equal the treasure of so many shared memories
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
 And here are a couple of the treasures in my memory of our son with my Mom and Dad...


 that have indeed brought tender joy.

Saturday, January 09, 2016

Spelling 101

Having given in to the primal urge to “hunt and gather," he ventured forth, enduring many hardships and dangers along the way, before finally arriving back home with a lovely bottom round roast.

The roast had been marked down because it had not sold by a certain date, and so I immediately put it into the slow cooker with potatoes, carrots, and onions and a few other things – just like my mom used to do.

The meal was wonderful, and there was enough meat left over for two more meals and enough broth left to be frozen to cook the vegetables for a second go-round.

Now I have to interrupt the pot roast story to discuss the chest freezer. I know that the freezer bags we put in there do not breed and reproduce litters of freezer bags, but it is rather shocking how fast they seem to accumulate, and it is a bit of a mess. To make some order out of the chaos, he has decided everything must be labeled, which is a very good idea, because on many occasions he has found bags filled with mysterious freeze-mummified stuff, with no idea what it might have been.

So, I dutifully wrote a note

Make label beff pot roast

 

I knew I had spelled it wrong. This is not a big deal, sometimes I spell my own name wrong when I am scribbling and in a hurry. My writing is barely legible even when I take my time. I didn’t correct it. I assumed he could figure it out and that he might not even notice it was spelled wrong.

He came in later, laughing, “What is this? What’s beff?”

So we laughed about it and off he went.

And then he came back a couple of hours later and handed me the label.

Looking forward to those leftovers. Yes I am. Nothing quite like a nice bit of beff.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Imagination

Studies have shown the important role that imagination has in the development of children’s cognitive abilities.

I am not sure where my cognitive abilities are on the scale these days, but I am part of the generation that was raised before computer games and interactive electronic devices. There were plenty of opportunities for our imaginations to be developed. We had toys that we manipulated with our hands and we did things with them that required some imagination and creativity – Tinker Toys, Lincoln Logs, Erector Sets. Grandpa kept a big cardboard box filled with wooden blocks in the spare room and we spent hours happily creating all sorts of amazing things with the blocks and not bothering the grown-ups.

And we made regular trips to the library. Books… books… and more books. We had to imagine what the things looked like that we were reading about, there weren’t always pictures. We played role-playing games that required imagination, “Cowboys and Indians,” “Army,” and other fantasy games. I can remember lying on my back in the grass when I was a little kid and looking up and imagining I was a mackerel (my dad went ocean fishing a lot) and the sky was the “top of the water” and what would it be like to be a fish?

What I’m saying is that I’ve got very active imagination. It doesn’t take much to get me going.

Naturally, one of my favorite things to do is watch the amazing shapes form in the big white puffy clouds that sail along before the wind across a bright blue sky. Whales, pigs, elephants, bears, profiles of crones with hooked noses and jutting chins… all sorts of things and creatures that appear and then disappear as the wind shapes the clouds.

I have to be careful though doing this because I tend to fall easily if I don’t watch where my feet are going, so I have to stop walking. Of course, if I don’t keep an eye on the MollyWog, then she can get into trouble too. Usually, she'll just start trying to dig out of its hole some small furry mammal, but the last time we were out walking and I started cloud gazing and stopped paying attention to her, she managed to hop over the bottom strand of the barbed-wire fence and then left part of her hair behind when she hopped back.

So I am beginning to wonder whether I have an overactive imagination. Richard recently came home with a package of stevia sweetener. It sat on the counter for a while with some other stuff he bought. Part of the photograph on the front of the package was blocked on the right by something else, and before it was finally put way, I had plenty of time to look at it…  and pretty soon I started seeing a smiling face – somewhat distorted, but a face with a bow at the top of its head.
I finally asked Richard, “Do you see a smiling face?”No. I see cookies, a cupcake with frosting, and a cinnamon roll.”

One of my dad’s favorite sayings, was “He (or she) is nuttier than a fruitcake.”

And I’m thinking I just may be getting nuttier by the day.