Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Good Medicine

A man should not leave this earth with unfinished business. He should live each day as if it was a pre-flight check.
He should ask each morning, am I prepared to lift-off?

Diane Frolov and Andrew Schneider,
Northern Exposure, "All is Vanity," 1991
There came a point Sunday afternoon when I literally thought I was going to “lift-off.” Several days before I could sense that pleurisy was developing, but I didn't think that much about it. The last time I had pleurisy it was not that bad, it went away after a few days. I thought this would be more of the same. It wasn't. It was different. Very different.

We came home from church and I decided to take nap. When I got up, the pain that hit was so intense, I could hardly breathe. I felt like my chest was in a vice. For a second or two I thought I was having a heart attack, but most of the other symptoms that one thinks of as going along with a heart attack were not present. I now know that women frequently do not present with the classic symptoms, and I have filed that way for the future.

Monday morning on my way home from taking the dog for a walk—and yes, I felt OK except for occasional pain under my ribs—I stopped at the clinic and made an appointment to see “I’m-not-a-doctor-just-call-me-Bob” for that afternoon.

Not-a-doctor-Bob came in the room, gave me a hug, and listened to my rather garbled explanation of what was going on and decided I needed an electrocardiogram and a chest X-ray. He has an old-fashioned clinic where you get the ECG and the X-ray right then and there instead of having to go 25 miles down the road to the emergency department of the hospital.

He gave me another hug and headed off to tell the nurse to set up the ECG. Then he came back in the room and handed me three squares of Ghirardelli chocolate (this is good-quality chocolate) and talked about how when he lived in San Francisco he used to go to where the factory was and the smell of chocolate was everywhere.

I had to lay down for the ECG, which showed my heart was just fine, but the pain that hit when I started to sit up was so intense, that he decided I need immediate pain relief, and I got a lovely shot in the arm. And it was a good thing that my dearly beloved, who was at home fretting because it was taking so long, showed up and was in the room to, because I was in no condition to drive myself after that. I was literally feeling no pain. No pain at all.

Next on the agenda was the chest X-ray, and while we were waiting for them to get that ready, Bob walked in and handed us both some more chocolate.

My lungs looked great on the X-ray image. Nice and black, with no cloudy white spots that would indicate pneumonia or another infection and no suspicious looking masses. What was surprising about the X-ray was that it showed an “S” curve in my neck, which Bob said was scoliosis. Which probably explains the slight hump that developed at the base of my neck about 10 years ago.

So in addition to the medical workup, I got several hugs from Bob and some very lovely chocolate. And I think hugs and chocolate are excellent medicine indeed.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Russian Tea Cakes

My cousin mentioned in an e-mail describing various plans they had for holiday celebrations that she had decided to make Russian Tea Cakes.

Russian tea cakes!

It is the rituals or the traditions, if you prefer, that we participate in -- either as children in the family home or those that we have created ourselves as adults when we formed out own families -- that serve as the foundation to the memories we have of holiday celebrations, whether cultural -- such as Christmas or Thanksgiving, or personal, such as birthdays or anniversaries.

One of the traditions that developed in out family for Thanksgiving when I was living there was that I would get up very early with my Dad, while everyone else in the house was still asleep, to prepare the cranberry dressing for the dinner later that day. He would get out the big metal food grinder, the kind that clamped to the counter. It had a hole in the top and an augur that connected to a crank which was turned round and round. We would feed the cranberries, oranges, and other ingredients into the top and take turns with the crank.

I remember only a few of the presents I received for Christmas as a child. What sticks in my mind the most was driving to get the Christmas tree, and my father getting down the large cardboard box filled with shredded paper in which were buried the Christmas ornaments and and lights and the fun of decorating the tree.

And then the thing we looked forward to as much as anything was the arrival in the mail every year of the box from my Aunt Betty, which contained a decorative tin filled with homemade cookies. My Aunt was a very good baker -- she used real butter -- and her cookies were wonderful -- especially the Russian Tea Cakes. I loved them most of all, I think.

It is only on very rare occasions that I make cookies. I learned over the years that I have no self-control in the presence of cookies and cannot resist gobbling them up. But, after reading my cousin’s e-mail and remembering the wonderful Russian Tea Cakes my Aunt made. Well… I just had to make some.

Knowing my difficulty in this area, I only made half the batch that the recipe called for, probably about 2 dozen cookies.

Now, Russian Tea Cakes are supposed to be nice, round little balls covered with powdered sugar. That’s what the ones my Aunt made looked like.

Mine, on the other hand, were misshaped lumps...
with only a slight resemblance to a ball.

I gave half of the batch to my dearly beloved. Although I intended to dole mine out to myself—half at lunch with the after lunch tea and half at dinner with my after dinner tea—I consumed all of mine within about an hour after they came out of the oven.

Richard commented on how wonderful they tasted, and then this morning, he said he had a lot of goodies to eat, did I want what was left of his half?

I certainly did.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

The Best Gift

Giving presents is a talent; to know what a person wants, to know when and how to get it, to give it lovingly and well. Unless a character possesses this talent there is no moment more annihilating to ease than that in which a present is received and given.

Pamela Glennconner

A new feature at the dentist’s office are televisions in the treatment rooms positioned so the patient can watch the TV while undergoing whatever tortu… uhh procedure is required to fix the problem.

At my recent 6-month checkup, while we waited for the dentist to finish working on my dearly beloved, the assistant and I watched a segment of one of the morning news programs in which three women (I assume they were hosts of the program) wrapped some awkwardly shaped items as fast as they could. The results were predictably hilarious, and I was amused along with the people on the set behind the scenes whose laughter we could here, but actually not that amused because I am terrible at wrapping presents. Just terrible.

And I am not kidding. This is not like the false modesty of the woman who invites you in to her home saying “Come in, my house is a mess” when of course it could be on the cover of a glossy magazine.

Which brings me to events of a few days ago. I have had some difficulty drumming up enthusiasm for Christmas, but I did manage to rouse myself and took a pie tin of cookies to the neighbors. We have lovely neighbors--a nice, personable young couple with three very friendly and very nice kids. I am not sure how to describe our relationship: it is cordial when we happen to see each other, and we wave when they pass us by when we are walking, but we are not on each others’ doorsteps. I expect I am easily old enough to be her mother.

I covered the pie tin with fresh aluminum foil and put some plastic wrap over the cookies but that is as far as I got with wrapping it. Oh, I did try… but after struggling with it for a while and looking at the mess I was making and how awful it looked, I just gave up and took the wrapping paper off and carried the cookies to their house without being wrapped.

My presentation of this gift left a lot to be desired.

The older daughter opened the door. I handed her the cookies and the Christmas card and exchanged pleasantries with the Cary, the mom, and she said “Oh, and I have something for you.” And she walks over to their tree and hands me this amazing package. All gold and sparkling with glitter.

The older girl says “You’re really gonna love this, it is very warm.” And then “Oh, the glitter is going to get everywhere.”

If there had been an available hole, it would not have taken too much effort for me to have leaped in and pulled the ground down on top of me.

Not hard to miss a life lesson here about being able to graciously receive a present from someone when you realize what you have given them is totally inadequate. And a spiritual lesson as well.

I am thinking tonight about the most perfect gift of all. God’s gift to man, a gift we can never match, the birth of the Child we celebrate on Christmas.
But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.…

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Oh, Happy Day!

Gloom we always have with us, a rank and sturdy weed, but joy requires tending.

Barbara Holland

Sometime in the late 1980s I came to know a woman who I will call Gloomy Gussie. The details of how this came about are lost in the fog, but she had the contract to clean the post office, and she arranged for me to fill in for her when she couldn’t get to town because of bad roads or other reasons.

The people who worked at the post office did not like her very much, mainly because of her attitude on the job and she was so unfriendly. If GG was cleaning the lobby when customers walked in, she was often rude or made unkind remarks.

So no, she was not a favorite there, and at the end of that fiscal year when the contract came up for bid, the postmaster asked me if I would like to have the job. I said I would, so he rewrote the contract and added some requirements that meant GG could no longer perform the job. I placed a bid and won the contract.

I had a good time cleaning the post office. I met a lot of interesting people in the lobby and enjoyed interacting with the people who worked there. I gave up the contract after about 15 years because we were just getting too old and stiff to meet the contract’s requirements to take care of the floors and shovel the snow off the sidewalks, and haul the lawnmower in to mow the lawns, and a few other things that were required.

But I am at the post office every day to pick our box mail. GG also has a post office box and so we often meet at the door of the post office.

We have had rather monotonous weather for about the last 10 days consisting of an almost uniformly gray sky, a lot of rain and fog, and rather cold with a sometimes biting wind. The blessing is that it is always well above freezing, so all of the moisture has stayed liquid instead of forming layers of ice. I am so thankful for that.

On one such morning a few days ago I saw GG at the post office and said,

“Hi, GG, how are you doing?”

Often a question like that gets little more than a shrug, but this time she actually had something to say:

“I am not very happy. I am tired of the rain and the cold.”

I was not surprised by her comment. And yeah, I get it. There are times when the weather can indeed cause a lot of stress. But I also get how important it is not to let the outside weather influence the “inside weather.”

We are advancing into a “hard time” of the year for us as couple, and I know what can happen if we focus on the rank and sturdy weed of gloom and how important it is instead to tend the internal joy “inexpressible and full of glory” that we are promised as Christians through our relationship with the Lord. If we are always depending on external things to make us happy, we are indeed likely to be very Gloomy Gussies.

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

The Crazy Dog Man

It wasn’t long after I brought Mollywog home from the animal rescue...

that my dearly beloved began to call me the "crazy dog lady."

I don’t think I am a crazy dog lady—I rather prefer to think of myself as a “responsible pet owner”—and I don’t want him thinking that I have become “loopy” or unhinged or unbalanced over the dog.

So I try to “watch it,” and not get too over-the-top obsessive about her, and I take his teasing in stride.

Early in the summer, my niece and her husband opened their hearts and their home to an old dog, Mr. Darcy, whose elderly owner had died, leaving him homeless.

I had heard quite a lot about Mr. Darcy and the struggles they were having over the summer trying to help him adjust to his new home. I was curious to meet him, and meet him I did when she brought him to my Dad’s house for a visit.
My intelligent, level-headed, and very talented niece is a crazy dog lady.

She does something that I do not do with Molly. She pretends to be Mr. Darcy and talks in a "Mr. Darcy voice." It is very cute, and it really is OK that she does that. But, when I told Richard about her and the dog, I had pointed out to him that at least that was something I did not do. So there!

Yesterday evening I had been sitting in the recliner reading a book and had left my reading classes on the arm of the chair when I got up to watch TV with Richard. When I came back into the living room, I saw that Molly had decided to move from the couch and was asleep on the recliner. As she typically does, she had made a nest for herself by rearranging the crocheted afghan and the small blanket that I throw over the chair to help protect it. 
It wasn’t exactly like this yesterday, but close enough. My glasses were missing.

Richard walked over and picked her up so I could see if my glasses were tangled up in the covers (and they were). Molly has learned that when Richard picks her up, something unpleasant usually happens—most often she finds herself in the bathtub (which she does not like)—and she becomes very stiff and looks worried. Then, much to my surprise, he said in a funny “Molly voice...”

“Oh no! What’s happening? Why am I flying through the air? Help!”

I looked at him in surprise, and I started to say, “Well, now I know who the real crazy…” But I never finished the statement because we were both laughing too hard.

But I do indeed think I now know who the crazy dog person in this house really is.

Saturday, December 06, 2014

Going to a good home

When our son was little, he was obsessed with all things mechanical—mostly trains, but anything with wheels would do. When he was about 18 months, we moved to a farming community in Oregon, and not far from our house was a company that sold farm machines, and on days when the business was closed, I used to take him there and let him sit on the equipment—tractors, combine harvesters, and the like. I would have gotten into trouble had I ever been caught doing that but, fortunately, I did not.

Among Nathaniel’s favorite books when he was this age was Richard Scarry’s Cars and Trucks and Things that Go, because every page was filled with “things that go” and the story was very cute.
I read that book to him just about every day for several years. I had it memorized and so did he, and I was never able to skip a page so I could get through it quicker.

When Nathaniel moved back home with us, I was surprised to find two tractors as part of the “stuff” he brought with him. 
He never said what prompted him to buy the tractors, but I like to think they brought back good memories of when he was little.

A few weeks ago, my husband said, “The tractors hold no memories for me. If you want to pass them on, go ahead.”

Which brings me to this little boy, named Elliott.
My brother married a woman who had two sons from her previous marriage, and both sons have, in turn, brought two boys into the world. My brother is having a good time being Grandpa to these four little boys.

Elliott is the oldest boy of the youngest son, and I have only seen him once in person, and that was at wedding several years ago when he was an infant. He is “fourish” now, and I find myself drawn to this child—and his parents—especially after seeing a picture of him with a birthday cake in which a clam shell digger was sitting on top of the cake with the shell taking a bite of the cake itself. How very, very clever.

The boy appears to like “all things that go.” Although he looks nothing like our son did at that age, he reminds me very much of our little boy. These tractors need to be played with, which certainly wasn’t going to happen at our house, where they have been sitting on a shelf and would continue to sit on the shelf until…

And so a few days ago, with Richard’s blessing, I packed the tractors into a flat-rate priority box (which was a good deal for me because the tractors were very heavy) and sent them off to Elliott in California. I believe they will have a good home there.