Saturday, December 29, 2012

Frosty the Snowman…

When we first moved here, a church was under construction on the land next to our property. They were holding services in the basement until the interior of the sanctuary upstairs was finished. We visited there a couple of times and decided to attend church elsewhere. But eventually, we did begin going to church there, and did so for many years. It was very easy to be on time for services  

Then the church sort of faded away and the denomination closed it. And then they found another minister to try again, and we resumed attending there. After a few more years, the church petered out once more. Since then, a couple of other groups tried to establish congregations in the building but did not succeed.

Last year the denomination finally sold it to a family with young children. For the first time since 1981, we can say “the neighbors next door.”

He owns his own business, and they said the plan was to live in the basement until they could remodel the upstairs and then use the basement for the business. I saw part of the remodeling project in the basement when they were up to their armpits in drywall dust, but I have not seen it since they finished it and moved in, and I am not sure what they have done with the auditorium. 

They seem to be a nice young couple and they have nice children. We can hear the children playing sometimes – laughing and having a good time outside. I think in her former life Miss Molly belonged to a family that had a child. She gets very excited when she hears them.

At the end of the summer, the father started building a tree house at the edge of the property along our driveway. When Richard came upon this construction project, one of the children was quick to tell Richard. “Don’t worry, we checked. It is not on your property…”

Richard wants to climb up the ladder and sit on the platform, but is afraid he will break it.

They were away from home over Christmas and came back early yesterday, beating the snowfall by several hours. This afternoon when I took Miss Molly for a walk I spotted this cheerful fellow in the yard.

 I couldn’t resist taking his picture.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Twas the night before Christmas…

And, to quote Bobbie Burns, 

The best-laid schemes o' mice an 'men
Gang aft agley…

We actually did have some plans for Christmas day, intending to venture a bit out of our comfort zone and have a couple over for snacks later in the afternoon. Except by noon on Friday, I was sneezing and my throat was scratchy… and it sort of went downhill from there.

Today I am not feeling quite as bad as I did yesterday although I am still coughing a lot, but now by beloved is sneezing and has the scratchy throat. Trying to entertain tomorrow is out of the question.

So, we will spend a quite evening at home watching Love Actually and eating food that is normally forbidden for people who are trying to watch their weight, and reflecting on the blessings of Christmas and memories of happier times. The last Christmas we spent with our son was not exactly a happy time. He was in the nursing home, dying, and being cared for by hospice.

I won’t pretend that getting Christmas presents wasn’t an important part of the holiday when I was kid. I most certainly was excited about what Santa was going to bring, and I can even remember some of the presents I got – a chemistry set, a bicycle, and a green snake (yes, a snake)—among them, but what I remember most vividly was the thrill of decorating the tree. The ornaments for the tree were loose in a big cardboard box filled with shredded paper. And it was so exciting: going with Dad to choose the tree and bringing it home, and then Dad would bring in the big box in from the garage and we would carefully fish out the ornaments and put them on.

In the first years after we were married, and then after our boy was born, we spent Christmas with my folks and so did not really develop our own tradition. When we moved here, the annual ritual was for Richard and Nathaniel to go out in the back pasture and cut down a cedar tree. We never had much room for a very big tree, but that became something he enjoyed very much – cutting down the tree with Dad and decorating it.

When Nathaniel moved out, we stopped putting up a tree, and had not had one for quite a few years. And then my brother sent us a “Charlie Brown Christmas tree”—I think he meant it as a joke.

Earlier in December, the town held a Christmas tree decorating contest. I doubt our little tree would have won a prize, but it has a place of honor on the old sewing machine.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

She who shall be named…

After several weeks of “Dog”, “Little Doggie” and other variations, she now has a name. The night I came back from my vacation, Richard was watching a documentary about Little Richard, and when the inevitable happened and he began singing “Good Golly, Miss Molly!,” we sort of looked at each other and said, “that’s it.”

Miss Molly she is.

It fits her. She loves chasing after her ball and she is most definitely a little doggie who loves rockin’ and rollin’.

And getting her to sit still so I can get a decent picture of her is exceedingly difficult.

Saturday, December 08, 2012

The trip....

Cattle cars...

Large trucks often rush noisily pass our house loaded with livestock, usually cattle, sometimes pigs. In the summer, when the windows are open, we notice that the smell lingers in the air long after the truck has barreled down the highway. The animals are crammed in so tightly that they can barely move. This is done for more reasons than just monetary greed to get as many animals as possible on the truck. Animals that are packed tightly together are less likely to fall and break something if the truck comes to a sudden stop or there is a sharp curve in the road.

Let’s make the seats really narrow and the aisle between the seats really narrow, and make the distance between the rows just a little shorter so we can add some more rows and see if we can’t get just a few more people into this tube of metal…

And indeed, they have packed us tightly together, but in this case it is all about money and not for some other more altruistic reason.

And the metal tube hurtles down the runway at the Dallas-Ft. Worth airport and launches itself into the air, and we spend about 3 hours crammed together, feeling like so many cattle in a truck or perhaps sardines in a can, and we head into the West and land in off-and-on drizzle in Los Angeles.

Before it is practical to be standing up, I am in the aisle, as is the woman across from me – a flight attendant who has been given a seat on the flight. She also complains about cramped knees. I do not wish to appear ungrateful. I am very thankful that I have arrived safely – the aching joints will shortly calm down.

Where the heart is…

Home is where the heart is, or so the saying goes. But what if your heart is in two places? What if your heart is here, in this house on a quiet street in a neighborhood of tract homes in south Los Angeles, and also 1500 miles away on 8 acres of land in southern Missouri?

I am so glad to be here. Dramatic changes take place in the life of a young child in an 18-month period, say from 2 years to 3.5 years, and similar dramatic changes can take place in 18 months when a person becomes elderly. I last saw my father in June 2011, and he is now 88.

The changes taking place in his aging body are inevitable and not unexpected, but sad nonetheless. Although he is in extremely good health – heart, lungs, and other organ systems appear to be working well – he has lost the strength in his legs and has become rather feeble. He can still walk around his house, has a walking stick for shorter distances, and needs a wheelchair for lengthy journeys. Fortunately, he still has nearly all of his “wits about him.” He does occasionally get confused and forgets stuff. But he can fix simple food, cook his own breakfast, and take care of himself. He reads the newspaper “cover to cover” and still enjoys working the crossword puzzle. He has not yet been caught in the vice grip of serious dementia or “old timer’s disease,” for which I am very thankful. He is cheerful and happy and still makes faces at me to make me laugh, and he is fun to be around.

Shopping for food…

My brother’s birthday was the day after I arrived. I was about a month into my 4th year when he was born. Funny thing. I am still 4 years older than he is. For his birthday present, he wanted me to cook food with him. We went to an amazing Mexican market and scoured the produce section for fresh “everything”…

several different kinds of chilies, tomatoes, tomatillos, cilantro, onions, avocados, Mexican-style cheese, and freshly made corn tortillas, still warm from the oven (the market makes its own tortillas on the premises).

I paid for the groceries, and then we went back to his house and used these fresh ingredients to put together a Mexican-style feast of enchiladas, chile rellano (I neglected to remove the ribs along with the seeds so some of the chili peppers were quite lively), and guacamole, all topped off with cherry pie. Cherry pie? Yep. Cherry pie with a candle in the middle.

On Sunday I went shopping and bought stuff and I cooked for Dad and my brother and his wife… lamb curry, a curried bean dish, gingered carrots, and broccoli with lemon sauce. The difference between almost winter in southern California and almost winter in Missouri is that one can go out the back door and pick a lemon off the tree (if one happens to live in a house with a lemon tree in the back yard).

They ate everything down to the last bite – there were no leftovers. A sight to warm the cockles of the heart of a cook whose food in the past has, on occasion, had a somewhat underwhelming response…

At the other home where my heart is, I actually don’t cook much any more, other than your basic “stick a large piece of meat in the oven at 350 degrees” and various strange things I throw together for my lunch. Richard is the one scouring recipes for interesting ways to fix vegetables and does most of the cooking these days, so it has actually been fun to cook for people, and very gratifying that they actually liked it enough to eat it all and weren’t just being polite.

Bearing witness…

There is a lovely line in the sweet movie Let’s Dance where Beverly, the character played by Susan Sarandon, talks to private detective she has hired to tail her husband, played by Richard Gere. They are discussing marriage…

We need a witness to our lives. There's a billion people on the planet... I mean, what does any one life really mean? But in a marriage, you're promising to care about everything. The good things, the bad things, the terrible things, the mundane things... all of it, all of the time, every day. You're saying 'Your life will not go unnoticed because I will notice it. Your life will not go un-witnessed because I will be your witness'."

So it was that various family members gathered at the small amphitheater overlooking the Pacific Ocean at Laguna Beach on Saturday

and bore witness to the marriage of my sister’s oldest daughter, who has chosen a life partner to bear witness to her life.

It had been raining more or less constantly for the past 2 days, and rain was forecast for that day as well. God answered many prayers. There was a break in the rain… it was perfect…

no wind coming off the ocean, so that nobody froze, and a light cloud cover with intermittent sunshine, so that nobody roasted…

and it was beautiful.


He directed me with pinpoint accuracy on the trip we took to the harbor to see the battleship USS Iowa, which has been decommissioned and permanently docked in San Pedro.

During his tour of duty in WW II, the supply ship he served on steamed alongside the USS Iowa and sent groceries over to the crew in cargo nets attached to cables that they shot from one deck to the other.

One of the ships my father served on picked up soldiers who had been wounded during the invasions. He saw some horrible things, but he was on a ship and did not have to fire a gun and kill people, and there were enough fun things that happened so that his war experience was not the nightmare from which many young men never recovered. 

He recalled on one tour that they picked up some Marines who had been in one of the invasions, and several of them decided to “go for a swim,” while they were steaming in the open ocean. Some of them were never found. Finally, the captain barred anyone from being topside except those on guard duty.


I graduated in June 1967 and our 45th high school class reunion is happening today. I had to decide whether to extend the trip several more days so I could attend the reunion or come home. I decided to come home. I had one best friend during high school, and she and her husband came to the house on Tuesday. He sat with my father and visited with him. I sat with her, and we visited…

and it was lovely. It was a great reunion.

A bit of culture…

The day before I left to come home, my sweet sister took the day off from her job as an elementary school librarian...

and we went to the Bowers Museum in Santa Ana and strolled through the various exhibits. Art covering 5000 years of Chinese history and culture…

exhibits of artifacts from the Pacific islands…

early California history, and art by California artists.

Pins that Madeleine K. Albright wore during her diplomatic career…. jewelry, and eggs, and other objects created by Peter Carl FabergĂ©…

And a meal at a Greek restaurant. Oh my.

Home again…

My brother picked me up at 5 a.m. to take me to the airport. There were no delays on the freeway. We were there in probably less than 15 minutes. It took less than 10 minutes to check the bag and get my boarding pass. A very kind airline employee helped me press the buttons on the monitor. There was no line at the security checkpoint. I spent a very stress-free couple of hours watching the people. I met a delightful trio of women at Dallas-Ft. Worth who had bought a package deal for Branson and were on their way there.

For the finale to what was one of the less stressful flights I have ever taken was a phalaenopsis orchid peaking over the top of the back seat.

Now, if I can just keep it alive…

Monday, November 26, 2012

A woman of a certain age...

A woman of a certain age may feel in her heart like she’s 18 years old, or 20, or maybe 25, 30, or 35.

But what she sees in the mirror when she looks at herself is a face that shows every one of the 50 or 60 or 70 years that she actually is. Who is this “old person” looking back at me?

I especially like the essay “Old Lady in the Mirror”

Having good genes helps, having good bone structure helps, having lived a good lifestyle helps (especially not smoking)—all of these things help to preserve a sense of “youngness,” in one's appearance, but having laughed a great deal in the 40-plus years since one was 20, and what age does to the jawline and the lines that extend from the edge of the nose to the outside corners of the mouths, and what happens under the chin, gives it away.

I can try to act like I am not “60-something.” I can still act "young at heart" (as long as my joints will let me) but I can’t pretend that I am still 24, or 30, or 40.

I made the mistake of taking a profile picture of myself so I could show my sister my haircut, which I have now gotten “used to” even though it is still too short. I don’t often see myself from the “side,” and it was something of a surprise to see that there is enough of a turkey neck there to make it dangerous to go out in the woods during turkey season...

which is why I retook the photograph with my hand under my chin to help hide it.

I was visiting with a friend about how that now that we are indeed “women of a certain age," and although we have not given up on attempts to look as good as we can, we have become invisible to younger men -- we are now their "mothers" and are no longer in the “breeding pool," we are not seen as “sexual objects,” and so their eyes tend to slide right over us. We are no longer being "checked out."

We have decided that is really "OK," because both of us love our husbands very much and we are not on the prowl for another man. We are not Cougars. But in some ways, to become invisible is rather invalidating.

Although most women in the U.S. who visit plastic surgeons do so to augment their breasts or for liposuction, a substantial proportion have operations to fix the signs of aging on their face – whether it’s their eyelids, a “facelift,” or injections to reduce the lines on their face, especially middle-aged women who are still in the workforce and competing with younger women. I can understand now a bit better why they do it.

I have gotten some rather expensive Clinique make-up that does an amazing job hiding the permanent flush in my cheeks and chin, which I use on certain occasions, but I won’t be getting plastic surgery.

As uncomfortable as I have been on occasions in my own skin over the years, I am just going to work at accepting me as I am now and am going to become as more years pass, and get on with enjoying life as best I can.

My brother sent me a lovely blue scarf (along with coloring pencils and dental floss sticks for my birthday). If I can figure out how to drape it around my neck, I may just do so. My wardrobe in the future may also sport turtleneck sweaters.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Bent out of shape…

Having concluded that our favorite way of preparing sweet potatoes (aside from sweet potato fries, or sweet potato chips... or) is to leave the peels on and cook them in the microwave, and then wrap them tightly in aluminum foil so that they continue to cook, it is imperative that the sweet potato be stabbed repeatedly—and deeply—with a fork all over to make sure there are enough holes to let steam escape so that it does not explode inside the microwave.

Sweet potatoes are somewhat denser than white potatoes...

 and it is best not to use a cheap fork to do this.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving

My brother called very early this morning -- for him out there on the Left Coast -- to wish us a Happy Thanksgiving. They were planning the meal for 4 pm and he invited us over for dessert.

Sure, I said. We'll just hop in the car and come on out...

I have had the blessing of having a wonderful family and I am truly thankful...

Here is a picture of us on Thanksgiving Day in 1963

And here we were 2 years ago about a week before Thanksgiving...

I have a great deal of wistfulness on this day of giving thanks. I do miss them very much; but, I will be sprouting wings and flying out there to see them in a week. Yea! 

Monday, November 19, 2012

A little piece of my heart...

Last Tuesday she walked out of the Animal Rescue Shelter and into our lives.

She weighs 14 pounds and a few ounces. She seems to have enough energy to power a small town.

We go on a 2-mile walk, and we come home exhausted, and she is still bright and lively and acts like she could go another 2 miles. I suspect she could quite easily pull me on roller blades.

She has captured our hearts.

She is far more of a hunter than our other dog was. She is convinced there is a rat living under some old rusted file cabinets that our barn has fallen down around.

She is probably right. 

She is obsessed with catching it.

We did not want a “yappy little dog,” and, fortunately, she is not. She is very quiet. She has barked once—and that was because she was beside herself trying to get to a rabbit.

The cat is not exactly thrilled with the new animal in the house, but they are getting long remarkably well. Squeaker came up to her the other day and gave her a head-butt, which is what Squeaker does to us when she wants us to scratch her head. And we are breathing easier.

We have not named her yet; for the moment, she is Little Doggie. Unless, as my friend says, she picks her own name, that is probably what we will end up calling her.

We are very glad she has come into our lives.

Monday, November 12, 2012

I am excited... and terrified

The 7-Up distributor in town went out of business years ago, and the various buildings connected with it have sat vacant ever since. Then, a few months ago, one of them was painted a hideous acid-green color and occupied by an animal rescue group.

I had told them that we would rescue a West Highland terrier, or a small terrier mix of that type, or a Schnauzer, or...

And they called me on Saturday and said they had a purebred Schnauzer. 

I saw this little silvery dog dog yesterday when I stopped by the place after church. I fell in love her. How could I not.

They put her in a room with some cats, and she showed no interest. They stuck a young kitten in front of her and she sniffed at it and the kitten bared it claws and she backed off. I know the cat is not going to be happy, but I was reasonably convinced the dog would not try to hunt down the cat and eat her.

Today I paid the adoption fee and bought a sack of food at the feed store of the variety that the dogs at the rescue center are currently being fed. Tomorrow I will pick up this dog, who is about a year old.

She is a sweet little thing. In fact, I suspect we will end up calling her "Sweetie" or "Sweetie-pie."

Our first dog died in 2003 (on our son's birthday, as it happens), so it has been quite a while since we have owned a dog. Our first dog was practically perfect in every way. I hope this one will be too.


Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Hanging on and letting go...

My sister added a little surprise for me in the birthday box that arrived in August for my dearly beloved -- a bar of beautifully wrapped and scented violet soap. The wrapping was so pretty that I decided to see if I could get the soap out without destroying the paper in the process.

Soap is one of those gifts that I absolutely love, but like food, is also a consumable – once it is gone, it is well and truly gone. I wanted to hold on to the memory of having received the beautiful soap, but I also wanted to use it.

My experiment was successful.

The Sunday before my birthday I was rooting around in the top drawer of my dresser to see if I could find some socks that more or less matched what I was wearing to church and came upon a bar of sandalwood soap. This was the last birthday present our son gave me. I was going to save it forever, and had promptly buried under the clothes in the top drawer where it had sat ever since. I will never get another birthday present from our son. Ever.

I have been gradually moving to a place where it is now a little easier for me to let go of some of these physical things that link my memories of him to him. I am more accepting now that my memories of him don’t depend on clinging to these things.

Having had success at liberating the first bar of soap from its wrapper, I got out his bar of soap and carefully removed it from the wrapper as well. And I started to use it.

A few days before my birthday, a box arrived from my sister and her girls and in it was yet another bar of wonderful soap, and so the wrapper for this soap has been preserved as well.

 Other things were in the box besides the soap. There is a wonderful store near where they live called World Market that has amazing “craft type” things from all over the globe. All sorts of interesting little goodies were in the box, including this fellow.

I am absolutely delighted to make his acquaintance and so pleased that he has come to stay with me for a while.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Just give it a week...

You look like a boy! My dearly beloved announces when he turns around and sees me.

Oh! You got your hair cut!  They all announce as I plonk into the room where our aerobics class meets.

Ya think?

It looks fine, they assure me.


(No! It does not look fine! I am stunned at how so not fine it looks)

The wonderful woman who took up cutting my hair when my regular beautician decided to retire, and who has done a wonderful job on my hair the past few times I have gotten it cut, did not do such a good job on it this time.

She got a bit carried away and she cut... and cut.... and cut some more.

I am not a happy camper.

Fortunately, I do not have to appear at the wedding of my sister's oldest daughter until the first weekend in December.

My hair grows fast. It will look fine by then.

In the meantime, I may be wearing one of my son's ball caps for a while.

Friday, October 19, 2012

The week that was...

There is a humorous scene in one of the Anne of Green Gables books where Anne finds a dead mouse in the plum pudding she was going to serve to the teacher. A somewhat similar incident occurred here last week, but it wasn't so funny. I made bread, and several days later Richard walks in and drops a dead fly in my hand.

Did you have any idea you had baked a fly into the bread?

(Yeah I did, actually. I thought you needed an extra bit of protein)

You're joking, right?

Nope. If I had not turned the bread over, or had cut it in a different place, I never would have seen it.

Yuck! Yuck!!! I know the federal government allows a certain percentage of insect parts in processed food. I know we probably get more protein in our food than we think we get  – indeed, I’m told that we unknowingly eat up to 2 pounds of insect parts each year, but to actually find one. And especially a fly.

The eeuuw! factor is right up there.

That is so disgusting. I can't figure out how it happened, because the dough is either covered and rising in the oven… or I am fiddling with it… or it is baking in the oven. But, in this case, the evidence doesn't lie.

We got brave last Sunday. Richard finished the final calculations on the tax return (for us April 15 means filing an extension for the return to October 15) and discovered we will get some money back, and to celebrate we took a walk out to the pond. Not sure what we were thinking -- I mean, if the pond had been bone dry that would not have been much of anything to celebrate, but much to our delight, there was still water in the pond and even a bunch of large tadpoles swimming around in it. Tadpoles? In October? Well.... whatever. The bald cypress trees that I was certain were dead earlier in the summer, look to still have a bit of life in them. So that was good.

The week has hummed along pretty well. I have had a reasonable amount of work, so I am not stressed out too much and have even slept in an hour or so a few mornings this week. I have started again to lose a bit of weight. I am hoping that by the time I leave here in late November for my niece’s wedding that I will be a few pounds lighter and will be able to wear some of my nicer clothes.

And I found out that American airlines, which I have to take to get to Los Angeles if I don’t want to go through Denver (which I don’t), has instituted a new policy to make flying on their airplanes just that much more miserable since Nathaniel and I flew to Los Angeles in November 2 years ago. All of the aisle seats are now “preferred seating” and apparently are reserved for customers who are paying the full price on the ticket (I didn’t read all of the qualifications to get one of these seats). I can’t afford the full price. I am annoyed but trying to remain grateful that I will be able to go. I can put up with a few hours of misery.

Yet another storm arrived earlier in the week… very heavy rain for a brief time until it moved through the area. Shortly after it passed I heard a fox “screaming” from somewhere toward the back of the field. Not sure what word to use to describe the noise they make – not a bark like a dog or a “yip” like a coyote -- but it was very loud.

The state highway crews came by with their machines and mowed down all of the wild flowers that had struggled through the drought of the summer and finally bloomed along the rights of way after the early fall rain. They have equipped their tractors with a new sickle device that allows them to cut down growth on the slopes and ridges that formerly were too steep or too narrow for a tractor pulling a brush hog. That is too bad because in the past some plants -- including the yucca with its beautiful bell-like flowers -- survived the mowing. Not now. For years we enjoyed seeing the large spikes of waxy yucca flowers, and now they are gone forever.

How easily something can be wiped out.

Overnight the trees have put on their fall colors, and it is quite gorgeous right now and will be for another week or so as long as we don't get any more heavy winds to strip them off. We were in West Plains yesterday for our monthly session with the grief counselor and to do some shopping and it was quite breezy. While we were stopped at one traffic light, we noticed a blizzard of golden yellow leaves coming almost horizontal from a tree in a nearby park. They were floating and swirling and it was quite fascinating to watch. Soon most of the hardwood trees -- the nut trees and the maples especially -- will be bare of leaves. Most people immediately think of the sugar maple when they think of "fall colors" and rightly so. Quite a few sugar maples have been planted in yards and it almost takes ones' breath away when they are in their full color. And we have our very own sugar maple in our front yard.

This area is not really a destination for people looking to see spectacular fall colors -- not like New England in any event, but we still enjoy it while it lasts.

Friday, October 05, 2012

Letter to dad

Good morning to you dear Father...

Well, of course it is not "good morning" to you because it is likely late in the afternoon that this letter has finally been deposited in the mailbox on the front stoop of your humble abode there in Gar-dinkey. Here, the hands on the tick-tocking clock on the wall are creeping forward in almost imperceptible clicks toward 6:30 a.m.. Richard is rustling around in the bedroom, gathering up last night's tubs of stuff, which he worked on while he watched TV, to take them back into his office to resume work, and in his office I hear the first of many alarms going off as his computer reminds him of the things he needs to do -- take medicine, gather up the household trash to haul up to the road, and on it goes and the day begins.

Richard is struggling to get control of his ADD without taking more drugs and so has ordered some books written by ADD people who have learned how to use this problem to their advantage. I hope and pray that these aids will help him get a handle on his life. I feel so sorry for him sometimes. Feeling sorry for him does not help him of course, but I am not sure how to help him. He has done an amazing job taking over the housework and the cooking so that I can "earn the money," but there is the downside too -- the "honey-do" list continues to grow -- maintenance on the house is on an ongoing thing -- never stops -- and he has less and less time, it seems, to take care of those things as well. 

He did, however, complete the project of arranging for the new propane tank to be installed and ordering propane for it while the price is still relatively low compared to what it will be as winter sets in. Of course, this like playing the arbitrage or dabbling in the stock market -- you take a chance buying when you think the price probably won't go any lower and hope that you did not make a mistake. Many of the companies that sell propane offer a "pre-buy" where you pay in advance. At the point when we took delivery on the tank, the pre-buy price was higher than the current price for propane, so perhaps we saved some money. No matter, we will at least not have the worry of running out of propane when there is 3 feet of snow on the ground and the tank is running out. I am thinking that we should turn the tank into a "yellow submarine!"

I have been here for almost more than an hour now, finishing up an article for the vascular surgery journal and getting ready to move on to the next project. Which is your letter. It is hard sometimes to pay attention to the important – writing to my precious father --

instead of getting sidetracked by the urgent (we must have this manuscript back by...)

The queue of work is getting longer and longer. For about 2 weeks last month I had a taste of what it might be like to be semi-retired -- the drought that struck us in the summer hit my work as well, and I had almost nothing to do. I floundered a little bit but found myself sleeping in an extra hour in the morning and shutting the computer down earlier in the evening. It was almost vacation, but a bit unsettling all the same. I concluded that it would not be too hard to get used to working much less than I am now. Richard repeats the mantra 3 more years... just 3 more years. Unless of course they decide to "fix" Social Security by making all of us work to an even older age. At any rate, the mini- semi-vacation came to a crashing halt -- they were wanting me to take on 3 more journals on top of what I am already doing. Impossible. Absolutely impossible.

The state of Missouri is kind enough to send renewal notices 60 days in advance of one’s birthday, so I received notice and did not procrastinate and got my license renewed a few weeks ago. The picture on my last license was actually quite good. The picture on this one would do well as a mug shot. Horrible. I was the first person that morning to renew a driver's license, and when she took my picture and told the computer to print the license, I broke the computer. I kid you not. She had to shut the thing down and reboot it, which seemed to take quite a long time but probably not more than 10 minutes or so. I have no idea what the first picture of me she took might have looked like, but I guess it must have been pretty bad! All I know is that when all was said and done, I walked out of the office with my new license, still warm from the lamination, complete with horrible picture – if I were a horse I’d say I look like I had been rode hard and put way wet with a hangover on top of it. Good to go for another few years.

One of the channels we get on the "small dish" has been running a program called My Cat from Hell about people with really bad cats, and then this person who is a cat expert tries to help them figure out why their cats are so horrible and how to fix the problem. I do "get it" that people become attached to their animals and are not willing to simply get rid of them when there is a problem. In quite a few of the programs I have seen so far, the cat is so bad that it is causing rifts between couples -- the cat hates the boyfriend or the cat hates the girlfriend, or the cat hates the couples’ friends, and in several of these programs it becomes very clear that if the choice is between the keeping the cat or maintaining a relationship with the "significant other" or the couple's friends -- the cat would win. That bothers me a bit. Quite a bit. Of course all of the programs end up with the guy solving the problem and everything is happy. After seeing some of these truly horrible cats I am thinking now that we do not have it quite so bad. Our little Squeaker is an aggravation...

 and annoys us quite a bit, but she is a very sweet tempered, so I see that we do not have it "bad" at all.

October sneaks in the back door it seems -- all emerald and golden -- thanks to the rains that finally came toward the end of September. For most of the summer the fields were burnt up, beige, with the beef cattle hard pressed to find much to eat and farmers running their wells dry trying to water them with field ponds dried up and scrambling to find hay to feed them, with prices beginning to skyrocket as demand increased. Now the fields are again lush and green again for a brief time at any rate before the first frost hits and the landscape puts on its winter clothes. We did not have many wild flowers this summer because there was so little rain – only one of the ranks of surprise lilies came up, and the second batch of tall purple flowers that usually fill the yard only bloomed just around the base of the maple tree and in the front flower bed where we were dumping water from the house. Now the goldenrod wave their yellow plumes gently in the breeze and yellow daisy-like flowers dot the rights of way. It is just lovely. Richard found an amazing fuzzy golden caterpillar outside,

which will become the next generation of a rather large, plain dagger moth, after it spins its cocoon to weather the winter.

The hummingbirds were still here and fighting with each other as late as last week, but in the past few days most of them have left and what I am seeing now I think are migrants stopping of for a day or too "tank up" as they head further south. Because our hummers don't have quite as far to fly as those coming from the upper midwest they can hang around a little longer. Unlike you, I will not get to see them year-round and I will miss their antics. Ornery little fellas! Soon the winter birds will be here -- snowbirds  (not people snowbirds but the real snowbirds) and the yellow-rumped warblers...

Yesterday when I went down to the basement to feed the birds I came upon the big black snake that patrols in there looking for mice -- the bottom of the basement door is starting to rot so there is a piece broken out of it that is big enough for this rather large snake to come in and out. Most of it was stretched out in the sun along the wall with the first foot or so of its body vertical up the side of vertical wood blocks that contain the flowerbed. There is a huge hole under the alcove, probably made by an armadillo, and we think it hangs out in there as well, or perhaps it is looking for one of the chipmunks, which also may be living under there -- rather precariously I think. Richard told me one morning he happened to walk around the corner of the house to see the chipmunk coming out from under the alcove just as the snake was going in. But the snake had just eaten something so the chipmunk lived – that time at least – another day

I am teaching Titus for Sunday School, and Paul's advice to him about instructing older women to teach the younger ones how to live reminds me so much of mom, and the wonderful legacy she left Jennifer and I as her daughters, and her sage advice and the example of her life as your wife and our mother. We were so very blessed to have her as our mother and I know you were blessed to have her as a wife.

Hard to believe she has been gone now almost 3 years.

Well... I guess that is all for now.... I love you...

Thursday, September 06, 2012

Behaving slightly badly in public

A couple of Friday nights ago a group of singers and musicians from St. Louis arrived at the Civic Center down the road apiece to present us a concert of African music and songs.

Richard decided he was not interested in going, and having somewhat of an independent streak, I hopped in the car and went by myself, intending to meet friends and some friends of the friends at the Civic Center and sit with them.

This we accomplished, deliberately choosing to sit in the middle very near the back of the auditorium because often these sorts of concerts involve audience participation and none of us were too inclined to participate and wanted to be out of reach and out of sight should the people on stage come off the stage and began stalking the aisle for victims.

I started off the evening in fine form by explaining to a friend of the friend how my husband and I had been sitting in a totally empty theater, and had commented that “we shouldn’t have a problem with someone sitting in front of us and blocking our view”, when lo and behold, another couple came in and sat right in front of us. Which of course made us start to giggle before we got up and moved. And I for some reason, I thought it necessary to mention that when this happened we were seeing an adult movie. My friend’s husband perked up his ears “And where was this?” he wants to know. I didn’t realize until later that they probably all thought that by “adult” I meant an “xxx movie”, when all I meant was that it a movie made for grownups.

I was saved from further embarrassment by the program beginning. And, sure enough, for two of the songs, members of the audience were invited to “come on up” and help them out. As it happened, children were involved both times.

I am afraid I behaved a bit badly. I chalk it up to racial stereotyping, harking back to the title of the early 90s film White Men Can’t Jump.

The first instance occurred when they recruited two little girls to join them on the stage – one black and one white – who were encouraged to dance along as the singers were singing. The little black girl got into the swing of things and was making an effort to move in rhythm to the music – she wasn’t quite in sync but she was trying. The little white girl mostly stood there, frozen, like a deer caught in headlights. I am afraid the words “white girls can’t dance” were heard coming from my mouth.

And then a little later, they invited another child to come up and play the rain stick. The rain stick is a hollow tube lined on the inside with obstacles (thorns or pegs or whatever) and filled with small objects (pebbles or seeds or whatever). When the stick is tilted end-to-end, the objects inside bounce off the obstacles inside as they fall to the other end and it makes a lovely sound, like rain.

The woman handed the little boy the rain stick and showed him how to make the sound and said “You can’t mess this up.” And the song began.

Sure enough, the little boy messed it up. He was trying to do a good job, this was obvious from the intensity on his face. He was concentrating intently on that stick, but instead of s-l-o-w-l-y tipping the stick up and down, he did it very rapidly, so whatever was inside basically stayed in the middle of the tube and did not move at all. The rain stick made no sound.

So even though he was trying so hard to do a good job, he was doing it wrong and he failed. I am learning a few life lessons about trying so hard to do a good job and being given the impression that I am not doing a good job, no matter how hard I try. The little fellow with the rain stick only had to fail once at it. I on the other hand, am being given the opportunity to do it over and over and over. Sometimes I wonder why they just haven’t fired me. And then I wonder what sort of feedback my colleagues are getting that I don’t know about. And maybe I am really not quite that bad.

And the other life lesson I am learning about this is that people need pats on the back. Lots of ‘em. So, go get out there and started patting…

Monday, August 27, 2012

Bird cookie

I came across this recipe for no-melt "suet" to feed birds which I will share. One does not have to have the handy-dandy vinyl coated wire "cages" to put it -- for a while I had a tree limb with holes drilled in the sides that I would pack it it in.

1 cup chunky peanut butter
2 cups quick cook oats
2 cups cornmeal
1 cup lard (must be lard -- store-bought or rendered at home -- do not substitute).
1 cup white flour

Melt the lard and peanut butter together, stir in the rest of the ingredients.
Pour into a freezer container that is about 1-1/2 inches thick... or a metal cake pan... or directly into your wire "suet feeders" or.... and freeze.

Now... if money is tight and you want to leave out the peanut butter -- you can add an extra cup of lard, or reduce the amount of oatmeal and cornmeal a little so it is has a similar consistency.

I was very annoyed to see that some words in my last post were automatically linked to third-party advertising that I have nothing to do with. Until I can figure out how to make Blogger stop doing that, there may be some strangely spelled words here and there.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

It starts with a lizard...

I have noticed that long gaps are appearing in the blogs of quite a few of the writers that I pay attention to. I suspect for some it is just “summer” and too much is going on, some have gotten tired of writing for their blog and let it lapse, some are involved in other writing projects – like books! Which is the explanation for the gap of more than a year that appeared in a blog I was first encouraged to read in 2008 by someone on the copyeditors news group.

I am not sure why I have let such a huge gap develop here – I guess, like what is happening with a lot of  other people, there is just too much going on at the moment and although I think about writing, I just don’t get around to it. However, with “gorilla moments” coming with more frequency, I have found this on-line journal has become a valuable “memory keeper” and one important reason why I can’t let it lapse. 

One of Far Side’s recent posts reminded me of something that happened here since the last time I wrote -- except I have never had anything quite as exciting as a pileated woodpecker at my feeder -- and that I had been meaning to write about but just couldn’t seem to find the time…
It all starts with a lizard. 

The st9or8m do6or at the back door doesn’t shut tightly unless it is persuaded to do so, and so most of the day it is not latched and there is a slight gap at the bottom, and small creatures--and the occasional wren snooping around the porch--have a habit of coming right on in.

Thus I was not surprised one recent afternoon to see a lizard running around inside the house by the back door. 

I am very fond of these little guys, because once upon a time I happened to see one on the porch race out from behind a potted plant and eat a cockroach.

I scared the lizard, but instead of running back outside through the gap, it ran into the mess on the floor in what passes for our clothes closet. What does the floor of your clothes closet look like? And I suppose it does not have to be anybody else’s bus6ine1ss what it looks like, because all you have to do is close the door to the closet.

I don’t have the luxury of a proper clothes closet with a door that I can shut. This house has no clothes closets. Our clothes hang on a 7-foot dowel in the space between the back wall of the back room and the kitchen wall, and there is a shelf on top of that were we store the toilet paper and some other items.

I can’t even describe everything on the floor under the hanging clothes – a covered cat lzittzer bozzx, a 5-gallon pail of popcorn, a box of clothes that belonged to my mother than I can’t figure out what to do with and can’t part with, a baking stone, a fire extinguisher, wicker baskets for clothes that need to be washed…

As the hands on the clock approach 4:00 in the afternoon we try to entice the Evil Kitty into the house and make sure the back door is firmly latched. We have learned the hard way that if she is still outside when the sun goes down that she is impossible to catch and then will wake us up at 3 a.m. wanting in.  

The day passed and I decided I better make sure the lizard was out of the house before I shut the door for the evening. I tore into the mess under the clothes to make sure it was still not hiding.

I did not find the lizard, but I was very pleasantly surprised to find something I didn’t even realize I had lost: one of the suet feeders that I put out in the Fall with blocks of “bird cookie,” a mixture of lard, oatmeal, corn meal, flour and peanut butter. I make enough to fill four of them, and then put out two at a time – one on each side of the house. 

Last fall when I brought in the last empty one, I had obviously dropped it top of the popcorn bucket and then got distracted and did not put it with the 3 other suet feeders that were now empty. In the meantime, it got knocked off and buried in the mess.

After I found it I could see what might have been: On one of those late summer days I would have prepared a batch of bird cookie and collected the suet feeders and found only 3 instead of 4 and would have become very frustrated as I looked in various likely places for the missing one and would have wasted a lot of time not finding it. 

So, lizard, you can come on in come on in any time…

Saturday, July 07, 2012

Stuff and nonsense...

I’m about to head out to chase rabbits. Feel like coming along?

When our Little Dog was alive and we spotted a rabbit ahead of us on the driveway, we would grab him, get him pointed in the right direction, and then say “GO GET ‘EM!” and he would charge at breakneck speed down the driveway toward the rabbit. The rabbit would wait a few seconds and then leap neatly into the brush alongside the driveway, and the dog would charge right on by and then figure out he had missed the rabbit and turn around and come trotting back and we would laugh and tell him what a good dog he was…

So yeah, this will be a mental meandering and who knows where it will lead…

A while back I went looking for a pamphlet I needed for the Sunday School lesson I was going to teach and I thought I had stashed it in between some books on the shelf. I have a habit of sliding cards and letters and other thin items between the books, which has led to some amazing and welcomed surprises. As time as passed, I have come across these unexpectedly while looking for something else.

In this case, I saw something white between a couple of books, which were wedged in there rather tightly, so I pulled out the book next to it and the white stuff and there it was. I go along most of the time OK, but every once in a while something will trigger an especially poignant memory and it is like getting hit with a tsunami – I am handling these incidents better and better as time passes – but still….

After our boy died I mentioned several times to Richard that I regretted that I had not saved more of the things that were important to him when he was a little boy. I had no memory at all of having saved this little book – which was among his favorites -- along with a birthday card my mom had sent him. It would have been when he was 5 or 6 years old.

The book it was sitting next to on the shelf was one of the Anne of Green Gables series, an old, battered and well-used book I had picked up at a yard sale or the thrift store, or some such place.

So then of an evening over the next week or so I found myself reading this book and remembering the excellent TV series that was produced based on these books.

The great actor Colleen Dewhurst was perfectly cast as Marilla, as were Richard Farnsworth as Matthew and Megan Follows as Anne. Dewhurst and Fransworth are both dead now, but I just saw Megan Follows a week or so ago on a new series and what a shock to see she is no longer the little redhaired girl in pigtails but a middle-aged woman.

A favorite Marilla quote in response to something Anne had said:

Oh, stuff and nonsense.

Which gives pause for thought about all of the stuff we collect, about ourselves, and how important it becomes to us, and what happens when it breaks.

There has been an outbreak of breakage here in the past few weeks. Four items I have valued very highly have been broken.

I put my yogurt in a pottery bowl my Aunt Betty made sometime in the 1970s, and when I was finished eating it, I turned in the chair so I could get up and take it to the kitchen. I was still seated when it slipped out of my hand. It fell less than 2 feet and landed rim-side down on shag carpeting, and there was no reason in the world why it should have broken. But there is was -- in pieces. Fortunately, I have two more of her pottery bowls, which I do not eat out of, so I can still enjoy looking at them without too much worry that they will break.

Richard was washing the dishes and the pottery plate I use for my lunch cracked. He has no clue why. He did not drop anything on it in the dishwater. It just… broke.

A few days after that, again while he was doing the dishes, the handle came off the pottery tea cup I drink tea out of. Again, he didn’t do anything to it, it just broke. He was able to super glue the handle back on so I can at least still use it if I don’t hold it by the handle.

The green pottery mug I drink my coffee out of is still intact, and I have asked him not to wash it – I’ll take care of that one myself.

Finally, within a day or two after that, the magnet that I had glued on to the back of the fossil fish, and which has been on my refrigerator for probably 25 years, let go. It fell and broke. He says he can super glue that back together as well.

It is hard not to become attached to stuff, especially stuff that brings us pleasure when we look at it or was stuff that belonged to someone we loved and cared about. It appears that even Neanderthals were buried with their tools.

I don’t think it is wrong to have stuff or even to like the stuff we have. I do think, though, we just have to be careful that our stuff isn’t also our treasure.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Christmas in June

After our Christmas service, the beautiful poinsettias that were bought earlier in the month to decorate the church were handed out to the congregation. I brought mine home and sat it in the living room for week or so and then moved it to the “cold room” where most of my plants live during the winter – it is heated, but not very much.

And so it was that about midway into January, we were encouraged by the author of the gardening column in the local newspaper to not bother with the Christmas poinsettias we had been given or purchased during the holiday season because there was no point in keeping them around. Just go ahead and toss them in the trash, she said. They would eventually die, and in any event, would never again develop the red leaves that make them such an attractive decoration during the holiday season.

I did not throw mine away. It endured the benign neglect suffered by most of my house plants during the winter. Much to my surprise, it not only did not die, but most definitely survived the winter.  And thus it was that Spring arrived, the last danger of frost passed, and it joined the yearly migration out to the back porch along with the Boston fern, and the Christmas cactus, and the rest of them.

OK, yeah, some of the bigger red leaves don’t look all that great, but on the other hand, unless my eyes deceive me, are those new red leaves?

Ya just never know…

Wednesday, June 13, 2012


 I have always been fairly confident in my ability to remember things accurately. At least I was. And then Judy said I just had to read “the gorilla book.” 

 The book has startling things to say about us humans and the way our minds work. We can look right at something and not see it at all. We can remember something that never happened. It was a hard book to deal with, and I have talked about it with Richard probably more than he would like. Our brains play tricks on sometimes, and I no longer trust very much my memories of the past. Judy and I refer to these as “gorilla moments.” 
The book presents two very public people who had “gorilla moments” with their memories. One was Hilary Clinton, who got off a plane having been to Bosnia and talked about things that she experienced at the airport that video footage showed never happened. Another was President George W. Bush, who said he remembered seeing some of the events of 911 that he could not possibly have seen in real-time because he was reading a story to some children in an elementary school (this, of course, played right into the hands of conspiracy theorists). Neither person was telling a deliberate lie. Their brains had played tricks on them. They were having “gorilla moments.”

And I came right up against my very own “gorilla moment” a few days ago.

The tumor in our son’s brain was removed on June 7, 2010. On June 8 at noon they moved him from the neurology ICU to the ward. Late in the day on June 8, the radiologist came into the room and said “melanoma… spread from somewhere else….” I left the hospital in the early evening and drove home with those horrible words ringing in my head and heart. Knowing now what I know about the gorilla and the problem of "distracted driving," that I was able to make it home without killing myself or someone else is something of a miracle.

The next morning, June 9, Richard left and drove to the hospital and spent the day with our boy. While he was there, the neurosurgeon came to check on our son. Richard and the surgeon went out in the hall to talk so that our son could not hear them. He said to Richard:
This is a very aggressive cancer. We will throw everything we have at it, and we will lose.
And two years later, as I was thinking back on that week, I thought that the surgeon had told us that when he came to see us immediately after the operation was over. I was convinced of it, until Richard assured me that I definitely was wrong. He was by himself with the surgeon in the hall. I was not there.

A gorilla moment.

But then in that blessed way that He has, another memory scuttled in to give me something else to think about.

Parts of the wood scaffold that Richard built against the side of the house several years ago have started to drop off. And at about the same time 2 years ago that Richard was hearing that dreadful prophecy in the corridor of the hospital, I happened to walk by the fallen board and I saw this fellow basking in the sun. 

A fence lizard, who very patiently sat still for me while I went in the house and got the camera and fumbled with it trying to get it to turn on and focus and get close enough to take his picture.

Yes indeed. Seeing this little fence lizard sent me on another much more pleasant trip into the past… 
A memory I absolutely trust. Or most of it. I think. It was summer and our family was visiting my father’s sister, Betty, and her husband, John in Carmel Valley. He had to go tag fence lizards for a project he was working on as part of his job as the director of the Hastings Natural History Reservation run by UC Berkeley. I have no idea what the project was about. I am sure he told me, but I don’t remember. It may have been simply counting them to see if the population was healthy. In any event, he let me come with him.

He had slick technique for catching the lizards. He had a fishing pole with fine line and a noose tied at the end, and he would slip the invisible noose over the head of the unsuspecting lizard and jerk, and the lizard was his. I am not sure how he marked the lizards he had already caught and tagged, but I am almost sure he used nail polish (go away, gorilla).

If I were keeping score, I’d guess the gorilla is slightly ahead.

Monday, June 04, 2012

A very nearly perfect day…

I have found myself on more than one occasion being invited into a home that has every appearance of having just been photographed for a Better Homes and Gardens spread and being warned by the lady of the house “Oh don’t mind the house, it’s a mess.”

Which of course prompts me to look around to see what the mess is; and of course, there is no mess anywhere. The woman is obviously lying. These sorts of self-deprecating remarks that fly in the face of reality have puzzled me greatly. True, one doesn’t want to be thought of as a person who brags on herself or himself, but why say anything at all?

On the rare occasions when people show up at my house unexpectedly or, since January, when I have on purpose invited them for lunch, I never ever say “don’t mind the house, it’s a mess.” Even when I do a good job of cleaning the house, I do not want to encourage people to look around to see what ever the mess might be that they haven’t noticed already.

Late last week I sent an e-mail to my next lunch victim, asking if she was allergic to anything, and was there anything she particularly did not like. She mentioned “mole,” which happened to be somewhat similar to the Buckaroo beans recipe I was planning to make. I sent her the recipe, and she said, “go ahead.” So I did.

I fixed it on Sunday and it was horrible. I made several mistakes. The recipe called for “strong coffee.” And the coffee was too strong. The recipe called for a one-ounce square of unsweetened chocolate. I didn’t have any so I used 1 ounce of baking cocoa. Some versions of the recipe use powdered cocoa, but between the cocoa and the coffee, the sauce had a bitter taste to it, despite the brown sugar.

The main mistake was that I had way too few beans for the amount of sauce.

So after several samplings, hoping that the taste would improve, I decided it had not improved. Richard agreed.

So I decided Plan B would be some vegetarian chili I have that has barley in it. I started cooking the barley and in the meantime I washed all of the bitter mole sauce off the beans and added canned tomatoes and cooked it some more.

It tasted much better, but still not good enough for company. I packed it away in freezer containers and will eat it later. So, there sat the cooked barley

I happen to have a recipe for a barley-vegetable salad, so I put that together, and Richard found some frozen Szechuan carrot soup, which I thawed, and my guest bought beet greens she had cooked with butter, so we had a rather odd lunch, that I think turned out OK…

I was assured that the more I did this -- the house and the food -- the easier it would get. So I ask myself: Is having people over for lunch getting any easier? In some ways, yes. I feel more relaxed now as we sit at the table visiting. I accept that people are coming to see me, not the house. I can forget that part of the ceiling looks like it is ready to all down. I can let my eye slide over the cobweb drape in the corner that I forgot to knock down and pretend I don’t see it….

And despite dithering for days about what I am going to fix, as long as I continue to prepare the food a day in advance and have a back-up plan so that I can snatch victory from the jaws of defeat, then "yes" to that question too….

And when she walked out the door, I felt that special sort of joy that come when one has spent some time with a kindred spirit.

Friday, May 25, 2012

“…clear skies, with occasional melancholy”

 Judy is reading a book Life's That Way, by Jim Beaver, about the death of his wife, and she feeds me occasional quotes. She wasn't sure if she should give me the book to read, because she worries it might be too painful. And before… way before… I might have agreed with her. But now I find that it often it takes a more eloquent person expressing how they feel as they walk through the death of a loved one to enable me to make sense of what I am feeling. He writes...

Today's one of those days when I catch myself saying, "I'm never going to get over this, am I?"  And then I remember the grief recovery proscription against projecting current feelings on the future. And so I allow myself the possibility of getting over this. Whatever that means.

Lots of twinges and groans from the heart today.  No special reason, no identifiable triggers.  Highs in the upper nineties, clear skies, with occasional melancholy.

Yet another similie to add to the collection.  This is like a runaway train headed down the rails and the engineer sees a disaster looming ahead and is powerless to stop it… Life is like a river, it flows over rapids, swirls and eddies and broadens into quiet pools…

May can be a tumultuous month as far as the weather is concerned. Some days will be crystal clear and beautiful and warm, and others crystal clear and beautiful and a bit nippy. It was very windy yesterday, Richard regretting that we do not have a windmill to generate power. Some mornings one wakes up to heavy fog hugging the land. Some days there are ferocious storms. In fact, it was about this time last year that a good portion of Joplin was destroyed by a tornado.

And the tumultuous weather is a good similie for the tumult in May on an emotional level as well.

Clear, with a chance of melancholy…

Even when one knows intellectually that one’s parents are going to eventually die, one is never quite ready for it. This was my third Mother’s day without my Mom and my second Mother’s Day without my son. Missing my mom so much. Being thankful I had the chance to be a mother myself… missing our son so much.

And overwhelmed at how loving my husband was on that day. He made me a pretend card as though our son were here to give it to me. He picked some daisies, as though they were from our son, and put them in the cup of the “trophy” our boy gave me on the last Mother’s Day we were to have.

And then on Wednesday morning of this week, I arrived back home from aerobics to a message from my Dad on the answering machine that his last surviving sister, Aunt Vera, had died. About 3 months ago she was given “3 to 6 months” to live, and the doctor had it about right. I am happy I got to see her last June when my niece got married. I am so sorry that my three cousins and their families have this sorrow in their lives.

I especially love this picture of her and my mother, which was taken 2 months before my mother died. 

It is one of the last pictures anybody took of my mother that I have, at any rate. My mother had a spiritual bond with Vera, and my sister tells me of a conversation she overheard between Mom and Vera shortly after Mom found out she had cancer. She had told my aunt, “Vera, I am on my way to heaven, and you’re a-comin’ with me…” And I believe she was right. I believe Vera is in heaven with her right now.

But it hasn’t been all sorrow and melancholy.

Early in the month, I moved the ancient cactus that once belonged to my Grandfather outside under a tree and poured about a half-gallon of water on it. This cactus was part of much larger cactus garden he had in his yard in the 1960s, and it went with him when he and my step-grandmother sold the house and moved into a mobile home park. And my father brought it with him when they came to visit us here in the early 1980s after my grandfather had died. 

A few days later one gorgeous flower appeared on the little prickly sausages.

A mother armadillo has taken up residence in the old culvert under our driveway, and Richard spotted her and 3 babies the other day as he was leaving in the truck; in fact, the babies were running around under the vehicle. He says one of them stopped to sniff his tire. These armadillos will almost certainly be killed on the highway in front of the house, but for the time being, they are safe with us. We do not have a fancy lawn, or beautiful flowerbeds, or an extensive garden. We don’t care if armadillos make holes in the ground looking for food.

Having decided we no longer wish to run the gauntlet of scolding wrens every time we come in or out of the back door, or listen to them berate the cat all day for sprawling on porch, we removed everything that they could possibly build a nest in from around the back door. 

So they constructed their nest this year in the coil of an air hose hanging on the back wall the garage (which used to be the side of our house). It is exactly at eye level as we come walking down the stairs,

 so we get a peak at the 4 fuzz-covered heads with gaping mouths that bob around waiting for mom and dad to bring bugs.

And my two nieces received their Master’s degrees on Wednesday. What a joy for all of us and especially their parents.

I believe Grandpa is especially proud of them. So am I... which reminds me...