Monday, December 23, 2013

Rump-a-pum pum…phooey


Let me stay right off that I do like Christmas music. I like the old-fashioned carols. I think it is wonderful that young musicians are writing new Christmas music. And I understand that each generation of singers likes to modernize and upgrade the old classic songs. I get it.

I normally listen to a Christian music station that plays contemporary “rock” style songs, but lately? The station began playing Christmas music the day after Thanksgiving. At first this was just occasionally, but now that Christmas is upon is, it has reached a crescendo. I do not want to hear one more upbeat “rock” style version of “Oh Come All Ye Faithful,” and so I am pushing the button quite a bit more often.

The Carol of the Drums (Little Drummer Boy) is beginning to become especially irritating. One wonders how many singers and groups of singers have done that song since the first early recordings of it. Some of the new groups that are doing this songs are amazing. And some are not and one would like them to just stop.

But, I do recall one particularly beautiful version of the song that I heard a long time ago – in fact I remember watching this on television back in 1977. Two men with beautiful voices and with very different careers—David Bowie and Bing Crobsy— singing a duet. David Bowie and Bing Crosy? You betcha.

The video on YouTube does not play in sync very well on my computer and if it does not on yours either, then just listen…


And Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 16, 2013

A time to grieve and a time to dance.


People often have a difficult time coping with holidays after someone they love has died. It is particularly hard if the person has died during the holiday.

In the months after our son’s diagnosis, we were given a few streamers of hope to hold on to:

Perhaps God would reach down and heal him….

Perhaps the melanoma specialist in St. Louis would be able to enroll him in the clinical trial for the new drug that was showing so much promise…

But as December advanced, our grasp on those streamers became more and more tenuous.

I tend to think of December 13 as the day marking the beginning of the end of our son’s life, because that was the day he went to the hospital for a palliative operation to remove the tumor in his abdomen and was so sick that the surgeon cancelled the procedure.

That was the day we were told any further surgical treatment would be futile. The day the streamers of hope were jerked out of our hands. Our son’s physical life came to an end a few days short of a month later.

Last year grief settled heavily on my shoulders, like a heavy winter coat. I was not expecting that to happen; it was, after all, the second Christmas since his death. The surprise of it hit us like a 2 x 4. I barely functioned. I had little enthusiasm for anything. I don’t think I sent a single Christmas card.

I can feel it happening again this year, but not nearly as bad, perhaps just a windbreaker instead of an arctic parka.

We almost never cry anymore. If one accepts the definition of mourning as outward expressions of inward grief, then our time of active mourning appears to be coming to an end. Another stage in the process of adjusting to the new normal in our life and moving forward.

After every snowfall, the huge state dump truck with the plow on the front comes down the access road and scrapes the snow to the side, leaving a huge berm of snow right in front of our driveway when it turns around. Depending on how much snow was on the road, we could sometimes just drive through it, but on other occasions, we would have to go out with a pickaxe and shovels and break through the barrier so we could get out. This year, God bless them, our new neighbor got into his handy dandy little Bobcat machine and cleared the ridges of snow away from both of our driveways.

When it comes to grief, however, there is no helpful neighbor to clear it away…
I have learned that if we are to heal we cannot skirt the outside edges of our grief. Instead, we must journey all through it, sometimes meandering the side roads, sometimes plowing directly into its raw center, Alan D. Wolfelt, PhD
So, while acknowledging that the grief at our loss will never go away, it is indeed becoming less painful. The center is becoming a little less raw.

And this year, on December 13, the sadness was balanced a bit by my being able to share the joy of someone I love very much who was finally able to get married, to her companion of 26 years, in a happy celebration surrounded by her daughters and grandchildren and friends.

Being a conservative Christian and a political liberal often sets up a conundrum, and for me this is one of those occasions. I cannot set aside what I know the Bible says, but given that the situation with her is what it is, I am also so pleased for her that she now has the legal protections that everyone else is given under the law.

Saturday, December 07, 2013

Not taking a walk...

On most days, the folks on Post Oak Road can set their clocks by me. The dog and I make the right turn from Willow Road on to Post Oak Road at almost the same time in the afternoon every day. On weekdays, a white car carrying two teenaged boys pulls into the sheriff's house just as we pass by. On the way back, a school bus stops in the middle of a right hand turn at the junction with the county road of lets a child off, and and the driver always waves.

But not Thursday or Friday afternoon, or today.

I walked myself and the dog at the park Thursday morning under threatening gray skies. The sleet and freezing rain started just as we reached the car. I managed to get the errands done without slipping on the pavement, which was becoming slicker and more treacherous by the minute, or running off the road.

A little later in the day the snow came… and came… and came… and now, about 10 inches are on the ground.

Since then, I have left the house only to put seeds out for the birds and take the Mollynater out for bathroom breaks.

Richard, however, did go to town and came home with a beautiful pork loin roast. Some of which is perfectly suited for…

Pork With Steamed Spiced Sauerkraut
2 lbs sauerkraut, drained, washed, and squeezed dry
½ cup chopped onion
1 tbsp margarine
1 tbsp sugar
2 cups cold water
1 large raw potato, grated
6 pieces of pork loin (18 ounces)

Place in a teaball or cheesecloth bag:
5 whole juniper berries
6 peppercorns
2 bay leaves
¼ tsp caraway seeds
1 whole allspice

Preheat oven to 325F. Brown onions lightly in margarine, add sugar, water, and sauerkraut. Toss with a fork until well separated. Add grated potato. Put sauerkraut mixture in a 2-quart casserole, burrow a hole in the sauerkraut and bury the spices. Brown the meat and place it on top of the sauerkraut. Cover and bake for 1½ to 2 hours. The cover may be removed if the meat needs browning. This can also be cooked in a slow cooker.

Enjoy…

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Gotcha!

As Fall advanced, a row of oak trees in the park began dropping huge acorns with fuzzy caps that remind me of images of I have seen Cossack dancers. Before they became crushed under the feet of people walking and running on the path around the park and the crews sucked them up (or ground them up?) in their leaf gathering gadgets, I gathered some up and brought them home.


We did manage to catch the pack rat that had run amok in our house while we were gone on vacation. We have not yet found its nest and so have not recovered the items it pilfered. I did not get around to buying any more dried red chili peppers to replenish the ones it stole out of the Mexican pottery dish that sits by my spice rack...
  instead, I filled it with some of the acorns from the park.
Our auto mechanic had an interesting pack rat story – well, just about everyone who lives here has an interesting pack rat story: every evening they would fill a dish on the counter in the office with small candy bars, and every morning when they came back, the dish would be empty. At first they thought a customer was taking all of them, but then they realized the candy was missing between the time they closed and opened. So they assumed a pack rat was taking the candy and set a trap baited with candy bars. And for several days in a row the candy would be missing from the trap. Finally, he took a zip tie and anchored the candy to the back of the trap so the rat would not be able to steal it and would have to spring the trap.

And it did.

In our case, we put sunflower seeds in a jar lid on the plate that causes the door to drop when it is pressed. And for several mornings in a row, the lid would be gone from the trap. Finally, Richard got some “3 and 1 oil” and lubricated the mechanism, and even before the sun had gone down, the rat was in the trap.

He is jubilant: I caught the rat!!! Do you want to take it for a ride or should I shoot it? It’s so pretty.

Despite how dangerous these animals are, I could hear the pleading in his voice.

The question is not an unreasonable one on several levels: I am very strongly in favor of “catch and release” whenever practical: I have taken big black snakes that were after my chickens for a ride and let them go far away from the house… I have taken white-footed deer mice on rides and let them go far away from anybody’s house…

And I understand his reluctance: killing something that is “pretty” is much harder than killing something that is “ugly.”

However, after all the grief and financial losses we have suffered at the teeth of pack rats over the years, there is no circumstance in which I would take a pack rat on a ride and let it go given the possibility, however remote, that it would find its way to someone else’s house…

Get the gun dear…

And he did.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Pucker balls


That time of year thou mayst in me behold
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,
Bare ruined choirs, where late the sweet birds sang...
It is indeed the time of year when most of the trees (except the evergreens) are “bare ruined choirs,” as Shakespeare wrote in Sonnet 73, with few leaves remaining, except perhaps on some oak trees...
where the brown leaves are likely to cling most of the winter.

The branches of the wild persimmon tree are bare, except for the beautiful fruit...
which is supposed be edible now that we have had a hard frost and cold nights, but which I found lived up to their name of "pucker balls" when I took a tentative bite of one a week or so ago.

The astringency of the fruit seems not to bother the smaller wild animals that feast on them. And how do I know this?

Well, on the long paved driveway that circles the pond at the church where I take Molly for a walk several times a week, are piles of poop left by one of these animals. Over the last few weeks, one particular pile of poop on the road has slowly dissolved, and all that remains now is a large pile of persimmon seeds. This animal, probably a raccoon, has certainly enjoyed them. Had the pile of poop been left in a more conducive spot, one might have seen persimmon trees sprouting in the spring.

In the meantime, a woman I went to high school with, who is from Japan, says “Mmmm… Fuyu…” and explains I should Peel the skin off, hang them by the stems under the eaves for a month, dried persimmons that can be eaten… or, Easier yet, my uncle used to wash them in vodka and stack them in Tupperware, seal and keep in a dark space for at least 2 weeks. Result is ripe gooey but sweet fruit…

Now, that last idea has possibilities!

Thursday, November 21, 2013

A perfect day for tea...

This is one of those gray and gloomy Fall days. We woke up to rain, and it has rained most of the day.

The weather forecast said there would be a brief break in the rain in the early afternoon, and indeed there was. I gambled on how long it would last, got the dog dressed in her raincoat, grabbed my umbrella, and off we went for a walk.

Had we just walked a mile, we would have arrived back home dry, but I decided we better walk 2 miles because that might be the last walk for the day, not counting brief forays outside for bathroom breaks.

It started pouring again when we had about three-quarters of a mile to go. I didn’t have to persuade her very hard not to stop and sniff. She began to trot quite briskly toward home, and I had to just about trot myself to keep pace with her.

A quick session with the blow dryer got her warmed up, and a change of shoes and socks for me, and... nothing quite like a nice cup of tea to warm up one when one is just a bit damp…



Things “Made in China” often are not of very good quality. But this is one thing they do quite well…


It’s jasmine tea, by the way.

Monday, November 18, 2013

On becoming a good listener and adventures with soap cannons and the mighty hunter

Beginning in January 2011 and going through May of this year, we had monthly sessions with the Hospice Compassus grief counselor. We desperately needed the counseling we got from her. We decided to tell her in May that we probably did not need to see her any more, and then she told us she was retiring so she could take trip to China with a friend, but that we could always call her at home if we needed to. Because these were, after all, counseling sessions, there was plenty of back and forth dialogue between us; even so, I think I learned some valuable things from her about being a good listener: There is a time to speak and a time to shut up. Often when people tell us stuff, they really don’t want counseling or our advice, they just want to tell how they are feeling.

We share a fence line with a couple who drive a small car with a “in memory of” decal on the back window. I was able to get a good look at it recently because she happened to be at the YMCA at the same time I was. So I asked her about it, and she told me the sad tale of her niece’s death. As the story spilled out, I realized I should just let her talk about it and not try to share my own sad tale… not to say “I know how you feel…” or “something just as bad happened to us….”  And then later on in the week a friend wanted to have lunch and said she needed to vent. And vent she did...about her husband, her finances, her health, the direction her ministry is taking, various things. Once again, I was able to mostly keep my mouth shut and not to leap in with my own tales of frustration at my husband, or my health, or the other things that get on my nerves. I did not try to offer her advice.

I hope that I did both of these women some good by just listening and empathizing without trying to top their stories Sometimes knowing what to say is very hard, and sometimes not saying anything is even harder.

My husband is the official dishwasher, but on some days when he is stressed about things he hasn’t been able to get done and I am not so busy, I help him. The other night was one such night. He got a little carried away with the dish soap and the pan was full of suds. And it just happened as we stood side-by-side at the kitchen sink that he plunged the funnel he was cleaning rather quickly down into the soap, wide part first, resulting in soap suds flying out the small end. He paused for a second, and grinned at me.

I’ve got myself a soap cannon

That was all it took. Soap went flying everywhere, and we were laughing hysterically, and then I got the mop stick and dried the floor before one of us could fall and break something (ahem).

I guess I am having a “second childhood” moment, he laughed.

I guess he was. And I hope he never grows up.

Once upon a time we used a series of PVC pipes to channel water from the washing machine out onto the lawn to water the trees in the front yard. We did not have to do that this past summer because we had plenty of rain. The pipes are laying at the side of the house and have become an escape route for chipmunks fleeing from the cat and the dog.

Molly knows they go in there, and she has to investigate the pipe each time she is in the front yard. I am trying not to turn into the crazy dog lady...


but could not resist getting the camera.

It would be helpful if she would catch and kill the packrats that hang around here. She would love to get one, and has dismantled a few of their nests, but they have so far managed to elude her. Unfortunately, a little shrew wasn’t so lucky earlier in the week and became her latest victim.

Saturday, November 09, 2013

For our freedom...

Tomorrow we remember the men and women who served our country in the military. Some of them actually did fight in wars to preserve our freedom. Some of them came home, and some of them did not.

It seems every generation has sent its sons and daughters off to at least one war.

My grandparents’ generation sent their children to World War II and Korea.

My parents’ generation sent their children to Vietnam.

My generation has sent its young men and women to the Middle East and Afghanistan.

My father was among the men and women who served in World War II. He wrote his mother many letters, which she kept, and which went to him after she died, and which have come to me.

I still have some of them. It is as hard to read his writing as a young man in his early 20s as it is to read now as an old man, who will be 89 years old on Nov. 13.

My father and mother married in 1945. He left the Navy in 1948, and I was born in 1949.

My dad was fortunate because the ships he was on were not battle ships.
 So although they did fire their guns at the enemy, they were generally not in the thick of battles at sea...
 

 instead, their main job was to transport troops and supply ships.

He did not return from the South Pacific physically wounded or mentally damaged with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Not all of his generation was so lucky. When I saw him last year, he told me a chilling story about his ship picking up Marines from one of the Pacific Islands where they had been fighting the Japanese, and some of them decided to go “swimming” while the vessel was steaming along in the middle of the ocean. Eventually the captain made everyone stay below deck except those on guard duty.

Most of the stories he has told of his Navy years were not so grim and were fascinating to hear. He told many interesting stories last year when I took him to see the battleship Iowa, that is now permanently anchored in San Pedro...
and which his ship supplied during the war.

We had our video camera with is when we saw him in October, hoping to get more stories from him to preserve the memories. But he was not interested in telling stories this time. Perhaps if we had taken him back to see the battleship, he would have been more willing to talk; unfortunately, we ran out of time.

As it happened, nearly all of the men in my life served our country in the military. Both of my brothers joined the Navy, and for a while they were stationed at the same naval base at the same time.

This brother was a cook....


This brother was a welder...
Neither one was in combat.

My husband was in the Army. He just missed going to Vietnam.
Instead, his unit went to Germany, and he served as the chaplain's assistant. He was not in combat, either.
 
Our son did not go off  to war. He tried to go, though. He enlisted, was accepted in the National Guard on a preliminary basis, and went on some weekend training maneuvers; however, at the final evaluation, they decided he did not quite have what it took to be a soldier, so he was discharged.

He was very disappointed. We were very relieved. He would have been in combat.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

While We (Humans, Cat, Dog) Were Away….

About mid-way through the morning of Saturday, October 12, I loaded the cat and the dog and their luggage into the car and drove them to our friend’s house, who had agreed to keep them for the 2 weeks we were going to be on our vacation. I had toyed (very briefly) with the idea of taking Molly Wolly Doodle with us, but discarded the idea, not the least reason being our little Toyota was simply going to be too small to carry her, the crate, the ice chest….

I did some more last minute stuff on the computer for work and spent nearly an hour trying to write about the significance of Sunday, October 13. We were leaving for Los Angeles on October 13, I started writing the blog on October 13, 2004 (9 years ago), and my mother died on October 13, 2009 (4 years ago). 9 + 4 = 13. October 13. I finally gave up trying to write anything coherent and resumed getting ready for the trip.

We drove… and drove… and drove… basically following the same route as the old Route 66 and arrived at my home town, at the edge of Los Angeles, a couple of days later, rather aching and sore, but without mishap, except for the fight we got into with our GPS device, which tried to route us through downtown Los Angeles instead of the way we usually go.

The weather was perfect, as only Southern California can be at the end of October.

Transplants from Hawaii bloom happily in the back yard...

spreading their lovely fragrance.

Lots of coming and going and lively conversation…

My sister took me to the beach.


Richard helped my sister’s husband work on the old truck he is restoring…

We went shopping with my older brother at the Japanese market and bought ingredients for a huge pot of sukiyaki, something our mother made frequently. I chopped lots of vegetables and cooked the food...
 
and we ate every last bit of it.

Richard met up with his high school friend from Seattle, and they went to the Santa Monica pier...
where the old Route 66 ends.

While they were doing that, I took my dad to the sidewalk park on a hill that overlooks the runways at Los Angeles International Airport...
and we spent an enjoyable couple of hours watching the planes land and take off.

Saturday there was a combined birthday party for my niece and myself. 
 
Our birthdays are 4 days apart.
 


  I had a lovely visit with my friend from high school. 
 A good time was had by all…

Sunday we cruised to the ocean in one of my brother-in-law’s restored cars and found ourselves at a kite-flying festival.
This brought back memories of the kite-flying contest sponsored by the Parks and Recreation Department that my dad and I entered. We used the crosspieces from an old kite and tissue paper that I decorated with tempera colors and a sponge. Our little kite was rather simple one compared with the fancy ones on either side, but it shot up into the air like a rocket and we won the contest. The kites at this festival, some 50 years later, were quite amazing.

Monday we visited Richard's sister (she wouldn't let us take a picture though), had a little pot luck for dinner with my brother and his wife, and then a riotous game of Kings in the Corner erupted after dinner when my sister and her husband came to say goodbye.. 
We whooped and hollered and some of us tried to cheat, and it was wonderful.

Tuesday morning I gave my father, who will be 89 in about 2 weeks, a hug goodbye and we headed off to a convention in Las Vegas.

The weather in Las Vegas in late October is nearly perfect. It is possible to take a walk around the block and not feel like one is walking in a furnace. We had two wonderful meals at the Coco’s Restaurant, which was around the corner from the motel.

But we also spent a miserable hour or so trying to get into the Flamingo Casino to see the wildlife habitat and nearly got stuck going round and round in the Caesar’s Palace parking garage before we figured out how to get out of there….

We were happy to leave Las Vegas and spent the evening of my actual birthday in Gallup, New Mexico, listening to the familiar sound of rumbling trains passing in the night.

...The Rats Will Play

A little while after we arrived home Saturday afternoon we became aware that things were not quite all right.

I immediately noticed something was wrong when I sat down at my computer and saw that the beautiful Hercules beetle I had found dead on the walking pathway at the end of the summer in the park was missing.



Then I noticed that the jute twine that had I used to attach my scissors to a nail on the shelf next to my work space (to keep them from wondering off) had been cut and was gone. My scissors were no longer attached to anything.

Sunday afternoon while I was cooking dinner I suddenly realized that the Mexican pottery dish my Aunt Betty brought back from Mexico a very long time ago was empty.
When we left, it was full of dried red chili peppers. They were gone.

Richard found rat paw prints in the dust in his office.

We are not sure what else might be missing. Perhaps if we can locate its nest, we will find some of our missing items.

It was good to go away and it was very good to come home.

Friday, October 11, 2013

A Tale of Two (pairs of) Shoes...

They were the best of shoes…. they were the worst of shoes.
And here I am being silly with one of the great opening lines in literature.  At any rate, I do have tale to tell about some shoes, and it is finally drawing to a close.

The story begins early last summer when the local department store had a “two-for-one” sale on athletic shoes. I hurried on down soon enough after the sale started that there was still a fairly decent selection of shoes to choose from.

I found two identical pairs of Reebok shoes in my size. They were comfortable and seemed well made, and I bought them both. They weren’t the most expensive shoes on sale, but they weren’t the cheapest, either
.
I started wearing the first pair, and they were great…. Except I noticed that almost immediately the heel on the left shoe was wearing down much quicker than the heel on the right shoe. Lots of people have an uneven gait – me included – and so I get it that the heels wear down at different rates, but this was a bit above and beyond what normally happens to the shoes I wear.

Finally, by winter, I decided I better start wearing the other pair of shoes, and so I put the removable ice cleats on the first pair so I could take the dog outside without risking life and limb in case there was an ice storm.

I began wearing the second pair of shoes, and almost immediately, the stitching on the top of the right shoe – where the leather parts are sown together – began to unravel. It didn’t really affect my ability to wear the shoes, it just looked awful. Several times I made attempts to sew it all back together. This was not very successful because it was at the toe of the shoe and I couldn’t get my hand in far enough inside the shoe to get hold of the needle.

The heel on the left shoe of this pair was just fine.

At this point a rocket scientist would have been quite useful, because the solution to this problem was obvious but it took a while for me to get there.

We're into May now, and the department store had another sale of athletic shoe, and seeing that there was no way I was going to be able to repair the shoes I was wearing, I came home with Sketchers; again, not the most expensive shoes in the store but not the cheapest, either. I did not wear them immediately though because being one of those "good to the last drop" sort of people, I decided I could get a  "a few more days" out of the older pair.

One day not too long after this, I was rummaging around in the storage area looking for something and I happened to pull out the first pair of Reeboks with the ice cleats (remember the ice cleats?), and the light bulb finally went on.

The left shoe of the pair I was currently wearing was perfectly fine.
The  right shoe of the pair with the ice cleats was perfectly fine.

Left…. Right… Yep!. So I got a “new” pair of shoes out of it, which I continued to wear until about a week ago.

“Oh,” said my aerobics instructor “You have new shoes!”

Yes, indeed I do…

So comes to an end the tale of two pairs of shoes that morphed into three pairs of shoes… leaving me to wonder why it sometimes takes so long to figure out easy solutions to problems.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

A Molly by any other name

It took us a few weeks to settle on a name for her after she walked into our home and our hearts. And it was within a few days after we started calling her Miss Molly that we began ringing the changes on her name.
  • Molly Wolly Doodle
  • Molly Pollywog
  • Molly Wog
  • Wog Molly
  • Mog Wolly
  • Magical Molly
  • Molly Malone
  • Molly MgGee
  • Molly Brown
  • The Divine Ms M
  • Molly the Trollop


  • The Mollynater

The Mollynater?

That Terminator is out there! It can't be bargained with. It can't be reasoned with. It doesn't feel pity, or remorse, or fear. And it absolutely will not stop, ever, until you are dead.

She is a terminator all right. She is relentless in her search for rats and chipmunks. So far she has caught and killed a mouse. After she ripped apart our Internet cable looking for a mouse in the hole where the cable comes into the house, we have had to be very careful about leaving her alone in the house. 

She has been to two different groomers, and both of them put bows on her when they were done. One stuck it to her ear and the other put it on her collar. We find this amusing, because she is not a bow-wearing sort of dog.

Were she to suddenly morph in to a woman, she would not be wearing a dress with “ridiculous looking frills and furbelows,” to borrow from Marilla Cuthbert in the Anne of Green Gables novel.

No sir. She would be wearing combat boots and dungarees, brandishing automatic weapons, and across her chest would be bandoliers bristling with large-caliber bullets.

It is Sunday afternoon, my day off. And in a rare moment for me, I am not watching a video or a DVD, I am not listening to the radio, I am not reading a book. I am sitting on the couch, and she is stretched out on her side next to my leg, and I am petting my dog. Her coat is still very short from her recent session at the groomer and is very silky. I find my fingers moving down her back, touching the knobs of the vertebrae on her spine, running over the faint washboard of her ribs, and tracing the outline of the big muscle in her thigh.
 
Molly sighs, and stretches a little, and then gets up and leaps the 4 feet from the couch to the recliner, where she rearranges the blanket until it is “just so” and curls up and goes to sleep. And I turn on the radio to listen to the medical program that comes on at 2 p.m., and stretch out on the couch, and I also fall asleep, something I never ever did before she came.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Growing season

One doesn’t really need the calendar to know Fall is here: the sun and moon have shifted in the sky, shadows are getting longer, and the days are getting shorter.

Today Nature agrees with the calendar that Fall officially starts tomorrow: it is perhaps the perfect Fall day – brilliant blue sky, just a very light breeze, and much cooler than it has been. Perfect weather for taking the Magical Molly for a brisk walk in the park; well, not exactly brisk because she has to stop very frequently for the doggy equivalent of Twitter—to read the messages and leave her own—and I let her get away with it most of the time, because, most of the time, I am really not the leader of the pack.

We had a nice rain a few days ago to wash the dust off and perk everything up. Almost everything is still green and gorgeous and the fields and rights of way are putting on a last extravagant show of purple and yellow asters, little bushy plants with white flowers, and tall Jerusalem artichokes with their sunflower-like flowers. But the subtle shades of Fall are here too, the hedges of burning bush that people have planted are beginning to turn their distinctive colors, and the poison ivy, Virginia creeper, and sumac are starting to show some color as well.

Our son’s tree that was planted last April was little more than a stick with a few leaves on it...


 and barely noticeable behind the plaque. 

Last summer, we hauled water to it and the three other new trees that were planted in the row. Our efforts as unofficial caretakers of the trees were not wasted: They all survived the terrible drought in good shape, and they survived the winter as well.

The tree that was planted next to our son’s tree a few months later is also a tulip poplar. The irony is not lost on us that this tree was planted in memory of one of the power brokers in town, a successful businessman for many years who was a wheeler and dealer and mover and shaker in town politics, part of the Old Guard who ran things for many years: a “somebody.” And next to it, the tree of someone who was a “nobody” as far as the “important people” were concerned. Death: the great equalizer.

We have only had to take water to the trees a couple of times this summer. Most recently, earlier in the week a few days before it rained. They got plenty of rain this spring and summer and both of the tulip poplars shot up and out and are almost equal in size, especially given that our son’s tree had to make up for a broken main stem that occurred shortly after it was planted.

Our boy's tree looks strong and vibrant...

and should be in good shape for the winter.

Nature is still wearing her summer clothes, but soon enough that will change, and warm days will give way to the colder days of Fall, and the summer clothes will be put away before the onslaught of Winter, leaving visible the bone structure of the landscape...
But then fall comes, kicking summer out… as it always does one day sometime after the midpoint of September, it stays awhile like an old friend that you have missed. It settles in the way an old friend will settle into your favorite chair and take out his pipe and light it and then fill the afternoon with stories of places he has been and things he has done since last he saw you.” Stephen King, Salem's Lot

Saturday, September 07, 2013

The Bucket Hat

My beloved likes to wear hats and never leaves the house without a hat on his head. He has worn a variety of hats since we moved here, but he doesn’t collect them. He finds a hat, wears it until it disintegrates, which often takes years (unless it happens to be a straw cowboy hat that I accidentally sat on during church), and then he finds another hat.

In addition to the cowboy hat that met an early end, he has worn a cloth touring cap, a Greek fisherman’s cap, and then he found he liked the bucket hat style and so began wearing them. Eventually he found a bucket hat with pockets on the side that that was perfect for carrying his mobile phone, and he wore it for years. I repaired it several times, as best I could, after it started to fall apart.

Then, a woman church, who is able to work minor miracles with a sewing machine, noticed my not-so-subtle repair said she had a pattern to make a bucket hat and could make him some.

So they struck a deal, and she made some practice hats out of material she had on hand to work out some bugs in the pattern, which had to be altered to accommodate the pockets.

We gave her some heavy denim that I had acquired from somewhere to make another hat.

After our son died we did not have too much trouble clearing out his clothes, although we still have all of his shoes, for some reason we can’t explain. Some clothes we gave away, many of his clothes were ruined because of his job at the sawmill and went into the trash, and some–mostly his T-shirts–we kept to wear ourselves.

Much later, though, we found a pair of jeans that were in good condition that he had stashed some place that we had not thought to look.

Richard asked her if she could make a hat out of the jeans, and she said she could. So we gave her the Levis.

Over the course of the summer, she has brought several hats for Richard. And then, finally, she finished the last and best hat of all.

Now Richard is being shaded by a very special hat made of something that belonged to our boy…


a hat that will last many, many years.

Monday, September 02, 2013

No channels

In Russia we only had two TV channels. Channel One was propaganda. Channel Two consisted of a KGB officer telling you: Turn back at once to Channel One.
Yakov Smirnoff
 Last week we made a major decision – for us especially – to have no TV channels at all.

Our love affair with the TV since we moved here in 1981 has been an intense and expensive journey.

It was immediately clear the first day we hooked up our television to the TV antenna on the roof that we are in a very bad spot for receiving the TV signal from the local network stations in Springfield. Other people were getting good reception, but not us.

We lived with it for a while and then decided to pay the local cable company to bring the cable to our house… and pay we did: $750.

We had the cable service for a while but became increasingly unhappy because we had to pay for channels we did not want to get the channels we did want. And, of course, the monthly fee kept increasing.

And then the huge satellite dishes became available. So we bought one of those. I’m not sure how much that cost – probably close to a $1,000. It was wonderful. We had access to all sorts of channels that didn’t cost anything – like channels from Canada with interesting programming that we couldn’t get here. One year, for example, we watched the Winter Olympics broadcast from the Canadian station, which was entirely different from what American television was offering.

Better yet, we didn’t have to buy a package deal for those that weren’t free. We could pick and choose the channels we wanted to pay for.

And then they did something with the satellites and we couldn’t pick up the signals any more, so we stopped using the huge dish and went to Direct TV and subscribed to just about everything.

Every year the monthly bill for Direct TV increased just a little, and when it finally topped $100, we cancelled all of the premium movie channels. We thought we couldn't live without the movies but discovered we could indeed get by without them.

And then the bill started started increasing again.

We took a long, hard look at what we were being offered on all of the channels we were getting for our $78 a month and decided about 90% were garbage and did we really want to pay for the huge selection of reality TV shows that we had no interest in watching? Toddlers and Tiaras? Here Comes Honey Boo Boo?

No we did not.

We have been without television for a week.

Oh, we still watch the television. We have numerous videos we have recorded ourselves and DVDs, and we can watch some programs we like off the Internet for free or for a small monthly cost.

I am amazed at how peaceful we both feel. We are no longer sitting in front of our respective televisions – he in the bedroom and me in the living room -- several hours a night flipping through the 200-some channels trying to find something to watch. And what a difference it has made in the noise level in the house without the barrage of heavy metal soundtracks that seem to go with most of the programs these days.

I have found a week in that I don’t miss the few programs that I actually watched from week-to-week. I certainly don’t miss the commercials, except maybe, the Cheerios commercials.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Wearing the air

Toward the end of July, back when the moon was full...


 my cousin in Hawaii sent me an e-mail with this phrase… 
Last night the moon was s-o-o-o beautiful. We are wearing the air tonight… there are clouds in the sky and rain will come our way later tonight, as forecast.
At the time she sent that e-mail, we were experiencing a rather unusual summer. It was unseasonably cool and we had gotten a lot of rain. 

For some people, too much rain. Local gardeners who come to the Farmer's Market complained that they lost some of their vegetables because the plants drowned. Of the cactus I put outside for the summer, at least one has died because it got too much water.

However, the summer we seemed not to have had, and which most of us were grateful not to have had, has returned in full force now that the children have started back to school.

Now, of course, we need some rain. The water level in our rain barrel, which was full to the brim, will soon be used up as it is doled out to the few things I have growing in containers: basil and parsley, and the double impatiens...


that my friend Judy gave me 3 years ago as a rooted slip in a glass jar and which is now about 3 feet tall. The original plant grew many years ago in her mother's yard in Indiana.

It is very hot and humid, which will push the heat index in this part of state close to 100, if not over 100, by days’ end.

Last night when I left the house at about 6 p.m. to take Molly Wog for her evening stroll, huge columns of white puffy clouds were forming on the horizon, but no rain is in the forecast. Even so, the air seemed to settle down around me like a coat.

It did indeed feel like I was wearing the air.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Entering mid-geezer-hood

When my lovely, funny, bewildering, and sometimes exasperating beloved husband staggered out of bed yesterday morning and began getting dressed for the day, I thought it might be fun to take a picture of the birthday boy in his birthday suit. I think he has exceptionally fine looking buns for a 70-year-old man, except of course I have not seen the buns of any other 70-year-old men so I really have no idea how they measure up. Moving right along….

He did not think it would fun. Dressing commenced without the camera making an appearance.

Ten years ago, when he turned 60 years old, we teased him about joining the ranks of “geezer-hood.” Now he is 10-years into it, and perhaps in “mid-geezer-hood.” I am not sure how one determines if a man is a geezer. I think some element of eccentricity should be involved, and I am not sure if being a geezer is more of a state of mind than it is of age. At any rate, I think he is eccentric enough.

I can’t believe this man is now 70 years old.



I am wondering if 70 is now the “new 50?” Even though his beard has turned white, his face still looks so young to me. He says he has started to "feel" his age, no thanks to added aches in pains in various joints. Even so, he just doesn’t seem like an “old guy.” Perhaps that is because I am getting old right along with him, although 6 years behind, by 2 months and 1 day.

Grow old along with me!
The best is yet to be,
The last of life, for which the first was made:
Our times are in His hand
Who saith "A whole I planned,
Youth shows but half; trust God: see all, nor be afraid!''
I am glad that we have had the chance to grow old together and am looking forward to some good “best” times ahead.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Yes, we have no Italian

We were finally able to use the gift card we were given for the Macaroni Grill (which closed down and was the topic of an earlier post) at another restaurant in Springfield where we have previously had a good meal.


Because we can eat whenever we want, rather than when the boss decides, we tend to eat early and so we were among the first people to arrive at the restaurant. We were seated in a lovely side room, which was empty, and the server took our orders. Richard asked for a salad, and she asked what type of dressing he wanted.

Italian.

I am sorry, but we do not have Italian dressing.

And she rattled off a list of dressings that they did have and he chose one and the meal proceeded.

I did not order a salad. I ordered soup, so I did not have the chance to ask for Italian dressing and be told that they didn’t have any. Besides, I would have ordered Ranch dressing, which they did have.

Not long after, this exchange, two older women with loud voices were seated in the booth behind Richard. The waiter came to take their order. They both ordered salad, and he asked them what dressing they wanted.

Italian.

I am sorry, but we do not have Italian dressing.

Humm, I thought to myself…

Four young professional people were the next to come in, and they were seated at a table across from me. The waiter came and took their order. At least one person ordered a salad. My ears perked. He asked what type dressing was wanted.

Italian

I am sorry, but we do not have Italian dressing.

Then an older couple and a single woman came in but I could not hear the exchange between them and the server because they were too far away. It would not have surprised me if they had ordered salad with Italian dressing.

Aside from the lack of Italian dressing, we had a very good lunch. But the attitude of the restaurant left me wondering: Why does the restaurant not offer Italian dressing? It’s not like there is a shortage of Italian dressing, as might have existed when the song Yes, We Have No Bananas was written back in the 1930s.

Just from what I overheard, it is obvious that the customers want Italian dressing. Shouldn’t one of the restaurant’s goals be to keep customers happy by giving them what they want (within limits, of course)? Having Italian dressing on the menu doesn’t seem like it should be that big of a deal.

Richard loves salad, and he has a big salad every night after dinner. And tonight, as he always does, he will have it with Italian dressing.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Now the fun begins...

Since July 4 I have been negotiating the activities of daily living with my left hand.

My father is left-handed. One of my brothers is left-handed.

I am not left-handed. I am most definitely a right-handed person, and I am often not very well coordinated with that hand on the best of days.

There were times in the past 5 weeks (give or take a few days) that the frustration level of trying to do things with my left hand resulted in crying jags and, I am sorry to say, an occasional word.

At about 3 weeks in, I suddenly remembered seeing numerous images of English people eating with their forks in their left hand, but turned upside down. And much to my delight (and the state of my clothes), I discovered a method to their madness: any food that could be impaled on the tines of the fork could be stabbed with the fork upside down and easily gotten to my mouth, without first take a side trip somewhere else. 

On Thursday, I had a follow-up appointment with the orthopedic surgeon, and left the splint in the trash can and walked out with just the sling and instructions to begin gentle range of motion and stretching exercises for 3 weeks. If all continues to progress well, then he said he will write orders for me to have physical therapy with the “Samsonite Monkeys,” which is the term he used for the people who will administer the physical therapy and which came from an old television commercial for Samsonite luggage.



I am not sure what I expected that I would be able to do with my right hand when I came home, but I quickly discovered that it wasn’t much, at least at first.

And the muscles in my arm, especially around my wrist, that had been used almost not at all for 5 weeks protested with vigor at being asked to do even the simplest thing. I can't rotate my wrist so my palm is up, for example

I know that sometimes praying for patience means we are then put in difficult situations where we get to practice having patience.

Even though I can see some progress in what I can do -- even in the last two days – I can now feed myself with my right hand, and I can take a shower by myself (which I think disappoints my dearly beloved just a little), I am still in a difficult situation.

Do I dare ask for patience? I need some!

Friday, July 26, 2013

But I could feel it, walkin' on a country road...

We have had rain twice this week. A few days ago, a ferocious slow-moving thunderstorm passed over, complete with high winds, hail, lightening and a torrential downpour that turned our driveway into a river, edge to edge, with water pouring out of the field and the wet weather spring overflowing its banks.

We were without power for about an hour, which was not too big a price to pay for the lovely water, even if it did come a bit faster than we would have liked.

It rained again today, beginning at about noon, but a very different sort of rain. More like a drizzle, and it has drizzled rain all day long and it is still drizzling as I write this. A perfect, lovely slow shower that falls gently on the ground and soaks in.

The Mollynater expects to go for a her evening walk at about 5 pm, and when her internal clock told her it was time, she was here, by my chair, looking needy and resting her chin on my leg. So. I put on her rain coat, punched my right hand through the bottom of a large plastic bag, wrapped up my broken arm and got it arranged in the sling, got the big umbrella, which I can hold in my right hand, and off we went for a walk.

I guess my feet know where they want me to go walking on a country road.
Walk on down, walk on down, walk on down, walk on down, walk on down a country road.


Na na na na na na na na na na na, country road, yeah, walking on a country road...
Only we did not go walking on this particular country road, which was my favorite place to walk with her until July 3. This lovely tree-lined road runs parallel with the town. To the left is one of the watersheds that runs through town, which one crosses on a low-water bridge, then comes the train tracks, and then on the other side of that is the city park with the walking trail, where I now walk with her most every day, the playground equipment for children, the tennis courts, and the baseball diamonds.

On a warm early evening in late May, one may walk down this road, hear any number of assorted birds singing to each other, the whistle of the coal train as it comes to the first crossing a few miles away, heading toward Springfield from somewhere south and east of here, the sound of burbling water in the watershed, which is flowing a bit thanks to a recent rain, and the crack of an aluminum bat on a softball, over and over, as someone practices hitting.

Unfortunately, I will not be walking on this road again any time soon – at least not without another body next to me to link arms with. I simply cannot fall again and break anything else. I just can’t. So, I have to be content with walking only on smoothly paved roads, unless perhaps I can talk someone else into going with me?

Monday, July 15, 2013

…mysterious ways His wonders to perform


The Molly Wog and I were about three-quarters of the way around the walking path at the city park on Saturday morning when I realized I did not have my cell phone with me.

Don’t leave home without it....

is supposed to be the new watchword, but I had obviously muddled my way out the door with the mail pouch, and the dog, and a plastic sack to pick up her poop, but not the phone.

So when I got home I looked for the cell phone and it was not to be found.

Anywhere. Gone. Missing in action.

I made return trips to town later in the afternoon and again early Sunday morning, retracing everywhere I had gone on Friday that I might have dropped it.

We were feeling rather glum. The phone had 2,200 prepaid minutes on it.

By the time Sunday morning dawned, I was still feeling rather glum but more or less reconciled to the fact that the phone was gone and I needed to let it go and move on.

I almost didn’t say anything in church about it but then suddenly decided to mention it as a prayer request.

No sooner had I finished then Sherril, who is often not there on Sunday because she spends weekends with her kids who are out of town, spoke up, and said…

I found a cell phone on the floor of the post office Friday morning and turned it in at the counter.

Richard wants to know “Did it have a black case?”

“Yep,” she says. “I believe it did…”

We sat there stunned at this unexpected news, and the day suddenly became much less glummy.

The mail at the post office is supposed to be in the boxes by 9 a.m., and that is when the bulk of the box holders arrive to get their mail, most of whom operate businesses in town. A steady stream of people flows in and out of the lobby beginning at 9 a.m., which is when I am usually there. And on occasion I even see Sherril, who is a real estate agent in town.

I did not see her on Friday morning, but I believe God sent her in there right after me so that she would be the one to find my cell phone… and that she would happen to be at church Sunday to tell me…

And this morning my cell phone was safe in my pocket when Molly Wolly Doodle and I made the circuit at the park.

Some would say it was just coincidence that things turned out this way. Not me! His ways are indeed mysterious and wondrous and awesome.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Busier than a one-armed…

One of my father’s favorite sayings when we were kids was “I’m busier than a one-armed paper hanger…” It was guaranteed to get a smile as we imagined the poor soul with one arm struggling to do a job that really needs two arms.

I sort of know the feeling.

Last Wednesday I was walking the dog on some uneven gravel on an alley behind Main Street in town (which I have walked down many, many times) and my ankle sort of rolled, and down I went on my right elbow.

I was hoping that maybe I had just dislocated it. How wrong I was.

I came home from the hospital late in the afternoon on Thursday (July 4) sporting some extensive, new hardware…


and a most miserable cast.



I don’t have any pain from the fracture itself, but the sensation that a colony of ants has taken up residence under the cast is just about driving me nuts.

I figured out how I could keep on editing using my left hand and the index finger of my right for occasional key strokes.

In a little while we are leaving for the first follow-up visit with the orthopedic surgeon. I am hoping to come home with something more reasonable on my arm.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Rembering Egypt...

As the history of Israel progresses through the Old Testament, Egypt becomes a symbol of slavery and oppression, a place from which they need to delivered and which ultimately resulted in the Exodus and some great movie footage a few thousand years later.

But Egypt wasn’t always the oppressor or a bad place to be. In fact, there are probably more stories about Egypt being a place of safe haven than otherwise. If one looks back at how Israel ended up in Egypt in the first place, their move to Egypt saved them. Egypt became an incubator for the Jews: they had food to eat, they were nurtured and protected, and they didn’t have to go to war to fight off any of the peoples who occupied the land that had been promised to them. That came later.

What might have happened to them had the “evil brothers” not sold their younger brother Joseph to traders who were going to Egypt and who in turn sold him… and so unfolds a rather amazing series of “coincidences” that end up with Joseph more or less running things in Egypt at about the time the famine breaks out and…

And then we fast forward to somewhere around the cusp of when B.C. became A.D., where we read the story of a new father who follows the advice he is given in a dream to take his wife and young son and flee to Egypt to escape King Herod, who has murder on his mind… and we know how that turned out.

I didn’t mean to do a Bible study here on the morning of the anniversary of the day I got married 42 years ago, but a scene replayed itself here a few weeks ago that reminded me so pointedly of our own “Egypt” experience.

We left California when our boy was about 18 months old and moved to Oregon, where we stayed for about 2 years before we moved here. Oregon became our Egypt. I don’t have to wonder too hard what would have happened had we not fled to “Egypt”: I am almost positive our marriage would not have survived. 

We had a good spring for strawberries here and Judy invited me to pick berries because she had more than she knew what to do with. Lucky her. Richard decided to tag along to visit with her husband so off we went. It was still overcast from the rain we had received a day or two earlier and I was soggy from the knees down.

The first place we lived in Oregon was in Lebanon. Strawberries grow quite well in that area of the Willamette Valley – and it only takes a transplanted California girl a few seconds to give away that she is not from Oregon by how she pronounces Willamette and indeed, Oregon. The town still has an annual Strawberry Festival.

U-Pick was a way for small landowners to earn extra money in the late 1970s when we were living there, and perhaps it still is. I was more than happy to go into the field and pay for the strawberries I picked.

But our Oregon experience wasn’t mainly about exchanging big city living for rural life and picking fruit and vegetables and learning to can and butchering chickens. It was about the incredible, nurturing friendships we developed among the Mennonite people who lived in the Willamette Valley, and who welcomed us into their homes and into their lives. It was about us being able to start over in a new place so we could stop the destructive cycle that was on the verge of destroying our marriage.

We wanted to stay in Oregon in the worst way, and I am not sure now why it was that we were not able to do that… but we ended up here…

I noticed one thing several hours after we came home from Judy’s with the strawberries.



There was a lot less pain associated with inching down the rows of strawberries when I was 30 years old than there was at 60 something.

My husband has surprised me with an adventure today... and so off we go…

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Oh what a time I had with....

I picked up an earworm last night, thanks to something my dearly beloved said, and I have been hearing it off and on all day. Perhaps it will go away if I write about it?

Earworm?

You know, a bit of music or a jingle that you hear in your head over and over even when it is not being played.

Let’s rewind back to the mid-1950s and early 1960s, when Marineland of the Pacific was perched a low cliff above the ocean on the Palos Verdes Peninsula in Southern California.

I loved going there. The aquarium had lots of innovations for its time, but I especially liked the nice way it had exhibited its octopus and loved watching that amazing creature with its rather creepy eyes. Marineland must have been a relatively inexpensive place to visit because I remember that we went there fairly often.

On one particular occasion, another family was with us (and I have no clue now who they were), and for almost the entire drive to the attraction, my father and the other man sang the lyrics to Minnie the Mermaid. Fortunately for us, it was not a very long drive.

Never heard of Minnie the Mermaid?

There were several versions of the song with bawdy lyrics, and my mother certainly would not have allowed him to sing the original versions in front of us, so I suspect he sang a G-rated version, such as the one that was on the Lawrence Welk show.



So… moving right along and now it is 2013.

Last night Richard was talking to Miss Molly and I don’t know what she did – and he doesn’t either at this point – but he said,

Molly, you’re a moron.

Actually, of course, she is not a moron. She is fairly smart for a dog.

But reminding myself that she is not a moron was too little and too late… all of a sudden, full-blown in my head, I heard to the tune of Minnie the Mermaid


Oh what I time I had with Molly the Moron, 
as we went walking down the road…

Silly me. Of course writing about it and finding the You-Tube video did not make it go away. Not at all.
It is so much fun remembering my Dad’s humor and exuberance, especially as Father’s Day approaches, I suppose if I have to “hear” Minne the Mermaid for a little while longer before it goes away… that’s OK too.

Wednesday, June 05, 2013

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery

It is inevitable that when we venture to California, at least one large family gathering will be planned and photographs are taken. Always. All of us “kids” are now on the far side of 50, and one of us is on the far side of 60. There is now an empty spot in the photographs where my mother used to sit, and one never knows when it will be before yet another face will be missing from the picture.

Having said all that, taking the photograph can be an adventure. We usually start off somewhat composed and behaving ourselves…
 But inevitably, one of my brothers (usually the one with the beard, but sometimes the other one, too) wants us to do something silly. And we always do.

  Naturally, some of these silly pictures are the ones we cherish the most. 

I recently took Molly Wolly Doodle to the groomer to get her spruced up and I thought it would be nice to have a picture of her. But because it is almost impossible to get her to sit still long enough to get the picture taken, I decided to recruit my dearly beloved to help me out.

He is normally quite reluctant to have his picture taken at all, much less to allow me to show it to anybody, but indeed he did this time.

And it started off OK...


but then, well, this happened…


And he did it all on his own. I think he loves this family he married into very much.