Another Autumn Walk

I have to say that there are some stunningly beautiful , peaceful, quiet, memorable moments available to us, even in hard times. We must chase them down and live in them whenever possible.

This was actually an accidental take but I find it gets me into the walk quite nicely. Come along…
The place, Duluth MN, the Western Waterfront Trail (or Waabizheshikana if you have trouble pronouncing Western Waterfront) along the St. Louis River. At Indian Point Campground the Parks and Recreation Department is hosting a Glow Hike. The half mile trail is marked with glow sticks. It is dusk and light is fading.
The trail is not crowded, but there is a steady stream of couples, families with children in wagons and strollers, singles like me. People are talking quietly above the sound of feet on the gravel and leaf covered path. There is an almost reverent feel to it all.
It is the perfect time to catch the last light as it turns from warm orange to cool blue. Flocks of ducks fly low and glide into the sheltered marshes along the river. The sense of peace and grace is almost overwhelming.
Even the children, decked in their glowing accessories, find a place to sit and watch.
And we all take pictures because we think we will never again see something so beautiful. We don’t want to forget.
At the campground there are fires to roast marshmallows, cookies and treats for all, quiet conversation, smiles, extra glow sticks.
On the darker side of the peninsula, the lights of Duluth in the distance are almost like glow sticks
The wood around us is darkening, but the silhouettes of leafless branches still catch my eye. The trees are like living beings, exposed against the wide sky for the last few minutes of twilight.
But one last gift comes – a crescent moon among the tops of the pines. Could the world be more wild and beautiful in this place? I have to say that I don’t think it could.

Thoughts in the Night

So many thoughts come when I’m awake at night, usually waiting for a headache to resolve, praying because I cannot sleep. Those times are not necessarily bad, even very sweet once in a while.

People come to my mind, one after the other, and I realize how rich my life is with a wide variety of friends. Circumstances come to mind and I realize how complex the world is. Everywhere there are situations that make people suffer and cry. Some say that God, if there is such an entity, should step in and make it different. I’ve read in the Bible that it was different once, and the people of that time chose to trust their own decisions instead of the wise instructions they’d been given. Turns out that has been a prevailing trend ever since.

I’m amazed that there is so much hope, beauty, encouragement left in the world and it often steps into view when we need it most. That is not an accident. It’s the plan, to lead us back to the way it was, eventually. No one but an all powerful God is going to bring about a world that we will all want to live in. It’s too far beyond any world leader or government. I am encouraged because I see evidence of his forethought and control everywhere in nature. The question becomes, how then shall I wait?

What hope do you have if you cannot imagine there is a God who could be wise enough to solve our problems, who could dissolve the anger and hate in hearts, who could comfort the inconsolable and bring justice to both sides of every equation?

It is arrogance to think that because we cannot imagine something, it cannot exist. Our search should be for a better, more faith filled imagination.

There is more beauty this fall than I remember seeing, ever. Maybe it is just because I am driving through miles and miles of it nearly every day. It puts me in awe and strengthens me for the coming months of winter.

Thoughts I Didn’t Plan on Thinking

Today we are in my brother’s truck having a rare family road trip. It’s a change for me not to be driving. It leaves me free to look out the window at the gray, somewhat foggy fall day. The leaves are turning but the colors are muted and dull. There is still a lot of green out there so maybe we’ll have a better autumn brilliance in a few more days.

We are going to Eau Claire, a small city two hours away, to visit Chippewa Valley Eye Clinic. An ophthalmologist/plastic surgeon has been working on Mom’s right eyelid after removing a small basal cell carcinoma. This is our fourth visit due to complications of the surgery and repair. Mom has been struggling with ointments, painful eyes, poor vision and a sense of being really tired of this whole process. We don’t know what to anticipate today.

We have so many medical options for anything that goes wrong with our bodies these days. And things do go wrong sooner or later – that is a given. There are many decisions to be made because of this, some we make for ourselves and some others make for us. Swirling all around these calls for decision are issues like the value of life, quality of life, the comparison of one life over another, our views of death and suffering and medical accountability. It’s deep water and not fun to navigate.

This week I was sitting in my husband’s hospital room as he slept. In the common room where I could see and hear them, a family was sitting with their youngish looking son who had obviously been in an accident of some kind resulting in brain trauma. Like my husband, he was there for intense rehab and he was showing good improvement. I had a moment of guilt as I compared him to my elderly husband, with numerous comorbidities, struggling to show progress at all who was taking up a valuable bed in the facility. I felt sorry for the doctor who had to decide to move my husband out to a nursing home for rehab, and I understood what she had to consider. Because we’re having trouble finding another suitable place, he is still here at Miller Dwan in that bed.

My husband spends time thinking about what purpose God could have for him that he was allowed to survive this stroke. He is so tired, and to look at him on some days, you might think he was half dead already. I think he looks half dead, which makes me get busy waking him up, shaving the stubble, sitting him up and telling him to open his eyes before the next therapist arrives. I want him to look valuable, hopeful, worthy of the time and effort they are putting into his rehabilitation. He has indicated he wants that and I am his advocate. It’s a job.

I’ve asked him to think about what he would want if he were to have another stroke. Would he want to go through again what he’s experienced the last two months? He said he hadn’t thought about it. How can that be? He has so much time to think. So many things happen to us because we can’t imagine what we might have to decide, but now he knows and doesn’t have to imagine.

Last week there was an article in the local paper by Garrison Kieller of Prairie Home Companion fame. He also had recently been hospitalized and had experienced many feelings my husband recognized, a lot of mention of bodily functions. He had a good laugh when I read the article to him. Helplessness and dependency is not just happening to Dennis Dietz. And at some point, it could easily happen to any one of us.

I’m thinking about my future, although I know there’s no getting “control” over this realm. It seems to help me to do mental role playing around the possibilities, that way I’m not completely surprised by some of what actually happens. My choices play into my future so I try to make good ones (most of the time) but my best choice has been in believing that God is in control, and that he doesn’t plan on wasting any of my experiences. I can accept that hardship is part of life, and that circumstances can be beyond awful at times. Endurance is needed but there is help along the way in many forms. My belief is that the outcome is good, and it is sure. Just sayin’…

Northwoods Journal: Changes

Hi from a friend’s house in Duluth, Minnesota. She lets me stay in “my room” when I’m too tired to drive home.

Back several weeks ago, in July, we were getting ready for our family reunion, enjoying walks like the one in my last post, and having a great summer. And then the husband had a stroke, a cerebral vascular hemorrhage (CVA). He has survived but our lives have changed, a lot.

Since then, most of what I’ve written has gone in a separate blog, one that tells the story of our experience since his diagnosis of Lewy Body Dementia. I won’t tell it again here, but in summary, we now have first hand knowledge of ICU’s, ventilators, tracheostomies, feeding tubes, and several other things that the husband never wanted to know about.

Hi, I’m the husband. My real name is Dennis and this is Occupational Therapy at Miller Dwan Rehab, the nicest place I ever wanted to get out of.

This is the first day in five weeks that I’ve been home all day. Dennis is in a rehab hospital now, a really good place, and making progress slowly. I felt he would be okay if I didn’t see him every day. The hospital is in Duluth, 90 miles away, and I’ve grown a little weary of the drive. I’m often in the car eating things I shouldn’t eat, just to stay awake – a bag of popcorn can last nearly 70 miles if I don’t spill too much of it.

Although I have wonderful support from friends and family, these changes leave me feeling physically alone quite often. Fortunately, I am spiritually befriended. God is such a friend. Jesus is such a friend. I took a walk this evening, kind of like the one in my last post, on the wetlands trail and saw evidence of my friends. It was almost like things were being pointed out, to look at, to talk about and enjoy. And I took pictures, of course.

All by itself in the middle of a nicely mowed field
Hello
She looked and then went on eating.
Sunset coming on.
Like fire in the sky.
Clouds, not mountains, in the east and in the water.

It’s September now. August was surreal, hard, and so different from anything we have known. We have yet to find out what our new normal will be. But it’s coming, and it will be okay.

Northwoods Journal: Summer

It is sinking in that summer is really, finally here. This usually happens about four weeks before it gets cold again, so I am being very much in the present, eyes wide open, walking without a jacket, swatting at deer flies and even getting a bit warm at times.

It is getting late, almost 8:30 but I have sunlight still and it’s been a few days since I walked the wetland trail. We’ve had regular rain so the meadow is green. There are a few clouds but no wind. The sunset is getting better by the minute.

Even with the rain, the creeks and ponds are low but I love the way this one looks like a ribbon of reflected light.

The first sections of my path go past fields where milkweed plants abound. They are in full flower now which makes for a rather stunning plant. I often see deer in the fields in the evening and tonight I got to lock eyes with this young fellow. I thought he was stunning too.

Farther out in the marsh, I’m seeing “my geese”. I’m getting a sense of ownership – after all I’ve watched them grow up. Most of them look like adults now. Tonight they have the company of a pair of sand hill cranes. None of them seem to mind that I am taking pictures of them so I spend quite a bit of time watching.

Passing the wildflower field makes me happy because the black eyed susans are the color of happy. Passing the wildflower field also makes me sad because black eyed susans are a mid to late summer flower and I don’t want summer to be over anytime soon.

Splashes of color are everywhere, if you look for them.

I am reminded that this beautiful greenspace used to be a small golf course every time I see this sign, which now makes me laugh. It’s all green so I guess we can exit anywhere we want to.

The sun is nearly down and I am feeling like I’ve just had a shower of peace and blessing. Even the deer flies have gone to bed and are no longer following me. Time to be thanking God for helping me to be here in this place, at this time. Time to rest. Thanks for coming along.

Northwoods Journal: July 15, 2022

Up north where summer is cool (except when it’s 100 degrees F.).

We are having a family reunion in, roughly, two weeks. This time we number around 45 individuals from the east coast, the west coast and in between. They are coming from Alaska, and Florida, from Washington, Georgia, Michigan and North Carolina. By plane and by car. The meeting place is Hayward, WI and thankfully that is close to the middle, however it is also over two hours from the nearest airport. Everyone flying in has to shuttle, rent a car, or find someone to give a ride. Travel arrangements are getting wildly complex.

Family reunions are somewhat about food, since we all need to eat. But it’s not that simple. Everyone has favorite meals and food traditions that we like to recreate. Like most families, we love grilling outdoors, pizza, good coffee for breakfast and cinnamon rolls. We love popcorn and ice cream. We love a meal out at an interesting restaurant. We have kids who only eat one food. We have adults on special diets. Food arrangements are getting complex.

We love to sit around and talk, and for some of us that is the most physically active we can be. We have others who would add a silly game, a movie night, or a campfire to their talk environment. There are some of us who have to float the river for four hours or it’s not a real reunion. There are some who have to be on wheels, or boats doing something potentially dangerous. And all of us care about sharing worthwhile, memorable experiences with each other. And although I have never felt that boredom is a fatal condition, I would prefer that no one remember our time together as BORING. It’s getting complex.

The next couple of weeks this reunion is going to be on my mind pretty regularly. My four brothers and I, along with Mom, are the linch pins of the event and are talking, calling each other, and figuring out all these complexities. I appreciate how it draws us together, joining our particular skills, taxing our creativity. It’s work, but good work. It’s going to make some interesting journal entries and I hope I have time to write them.

I love that our complex family cares enough about these periodic reunions to consider planning, spending for them and coming to them. I know it probably will not always be possible. Our families are getting larger and developing groups within groups and that will change the when, the who and the where for our future get-togethers. That is okay, because no matter the size of the gathering, we are teaching the tradition to the next generation. We teach cooperation. We teach sacrifice. We teach commitment. We teach fun. We teach family.

All photos are from past reunions. This one in 2018.

Do you have family reunions? If so, do you look forward to them? Are there special traditions or ways of handling complex arrangements that you can share?

Northwoods Journal: July 11, 2022

My senior assisted living community has gone down by two – a whole 50%. I still have the husband and Mom to help but my uncle and aunt, both in their 90’s, have gone south to live near my uncle’s children.

Me and Mom. Glad I still get to help her. She’s fun.

They lived near a town, about 25 minutes away, out in the country where we had trouble getting cell service. They had neighbors, but I was always worried about them being able to contact someone if they needed help. My aunt was disabled with Parkinson’s, and nearly blind. My uncle was the main caregiver for her and he was getting tired. On top of that there was the difficulty of keeping warm and plowed out during our severe winters. Something had to change, and it did.

My aunt had a crisis on Friday, July 1st, and after a week in the hospital recovering it was obvious that she needed nursing home placement. I was surprised to find out that there were no available beds for her level of care anywhere in our small community. None. But there was a place for her in a care center in the town where my uncle’s daughter lived, and they were willing to accept her. I am in awe of the social workers who helped get this done so quickly that it about took my breath away. I also think it was God’s plan to give my uncle some good time with his daughters after many years of just seeing them for occasional visits.

Caregiving… my aunt and uncle didn’t require my time on any regular basis, but more as a problem solver and go between with their doctors. I helped a little with their legal and financial affairs and often with their tech problems. Cell phones and computers drove my uncle to frustration. So, you would think I would feel free and have lots of extra time now that I don’t have those responsibilities. I guess that’s partly true – but I’m mostly aware of how quickly it all happened and how I miss them. Strange.

And that is one of the strange things about caregiving. It’s often hard, restricting, physically tiring, stressful, and has distasteful elements but it is also rewarding and more meaningful than a lot of other things I might be doing. Although I’ve been a paid caregiver and felt the weight of responsibility for my clients and the importance of being faithful and dependable, being a family caregiver is that and so much more. There are no 8 or 12 hour shifts, seldom a vacation, no weekends off, no differential for nights and no overtime. There are times when it feels like I’m handing over my life to someone else.

But, it is my life, and I know I made intentional choices that determined my present circumstances. Like many other aspects of life, the challenge is in taking what comes to me and making something of it. I must make plans but I must also expect the unexpected and figure out how to respond. I want to respond to situations in ways that won’t make me disappointed in myself at some later date.

In case you haven’t noticed, preaching to myself is one of the ways I’m meeting those challenges. It helps me to remember that God has given me specific skills to use for the good of others, and that he will strengthen me and keep me in the game until I’m no longer needed. Knowing that I am in the right place, at the right time, for a good purpose makes me satisfied and gives joy. What more could I ask?

Northwoods Journal: Hayward, Wisconsin

Riding around Hayward, not in a car, but on a bike – that was my joyride yesterday. It was a relatively slow ride, not a race of any kind, and I took care to be noticing everything. It was a great way to tour a small town. I’ve always loved Hayward, but I kind of “fell in love” over again. I’m pretty sure you would like Hayward too.

Many changes have taken place in our town since I was a child. Of course, one of them was the paved bike path I started on. It follows the perimeter of the business and residential districts, starting very close to my condo, and circles around to end up at the starting point again 12.5 miles later. I probably put in a few extra miles going through quiet streets, just looking at houses and yards because that’s what I like to do.

On my ride I started at what used to be my Grandfather Smith’s property, and the house where he raised his family.

Not too much later I rode past the house where my Grandfather Boone used to live, and the field where my mother and her brothers used to play.

I rode past three water towers. Except for the giant fish, I think maybe it’s our town’s mark of distinction to have three of them, although none of them are very attractive – a little rust, a little graffiti, lots of sirens and satellite dishes hanging on them.

I crossed the same river twice, and rode along it for long stretches. The Namekagon River valley is where Hayward is situated and I saw several smaller streams on their way to join the main river. Lake Hayward is the result of a dam on the Namekagon. The area grew as a logging town and for a while the lake was a collection point for logs. I rode past the water arena where lumberjacks still show their skills to the public, log rolling, climbing, chopping and sawing.

I don’t know if this entrepreneur was ever a lumberjack but I am pretty much in awe of his skill with a chainsaw. I rode past his outdoor lot where he sells some amazing log art.

Is that Jack Link’s jet? I don’t know.

Near the end of my ride I went past Hayward’s airport. You could probably charter a plane to bring you to Hayward but there are no major airlines serving this town. Many of the planes, jets and helicopters belong to people wealthy enough to fly in and out, rather than drive the nearly three hours to Minneapolis or six hours to southern Wisconsin cities.

Riding a bike is a friendly way of getting around, similar to horse and buggy days when stopping to talk with someone you knew was common. I rode past the house of some friends and saw one of their kids outside fixing his car. I thought a minute, and then turned around and went up the drive to say hi. Why not?

Last stretch of the bike path leading home.

I have decided to ride bike more often this summer. It really is a pretty good way to get around for moderate distances. I thought that it might be my next challenge (gotta have a challenge…) to ride 100 miles a month, for the next four months, until it snows again. But today it is raining and I’m already losing my enthusiasm. Haven’t learned to love riding in the rain, yet.

That’s all for today for this northwoods journal.

June Journal: Goodbye Beautiful Month

I haven’t seem much of the geese since the tall grass around the pond was mowed. This pair and their young’un saw me coming this evening and high-tailed it into the pond. Most of the families have gone further into the wetland marsh.

June 25, 26

The weekend did not bring answers to the electrical problem in the garage. I unplugged the garage door opener one night and the fault still occurred. The only conclusion I can make is that none of my appliances are causing the problem. It’s going to be up to an electrician I’m afraid.

I went back to church on Sunday and it was good to be involved in the music. I am the oldest on the worship team – never thought that would be my badge, but I’ll take it. We have an eclectic pool of people to man the different instruments and lead. Teenagers, married middle-agers, seniors, even some middle school volunteers (because they are so good running slides on the computer). It feels like a privilege to worship with them.

The husband wanted to eat out again! We had lunch at Perkins and then went next door to get a DQ hamburger for Mom. The line for ordering was 10 cars long. That place is crazy ever since Covid started.

June 27

Major accomplishment today was getting my aunt (96 years old) and uncle (91 years old) to the doctor for wellness checks. I drove the 18 miles to their house, helped them get in their car, drove back 18 miles to the clinic with them. Their appointments were easy enough, but then we also had to stop at the pharmacy and get their Covid boosters. The return trip, another half hour there and half hour back home. I have to laugh at their car. I used to be worried about all the warnings of tire pressure being low, the loud clacking of the fan, the smell of decaying mouse, and the unpredictable door locks. Not any more. We just go.

June 28

More doctor appointments but this time it is for me and the husband. We lived in Florida for 30 years and need to get our skin checked for cancers. It turned out to be a little unnerving for me since she found six suspicious places on my face and used her “freeze” gun on them. It hurt but I can’t see that it did much to them. In addition she looked at my hands and decided to do x-rays and blood work to see if I had rheumatoid arthritis. I wasn’t expecting that.

I went home and spent the evening pulling weeds in Mom’s borders around her condo. There’s nothing like doing a job that really needs doing to calm me down. The border improved, one small weed at a time – and me, marveling that there were no mosquitoes, amused by the bullfrog sounding from the retention pond out back. So ended the day.

June 29

Fighting a headache all day. I read to the husband in the morning and we finished a book. Reading is not the best for headaches though.

Before it was filled in with dirt, this silo foundation was home to a large pig!

We have an historic silo foundation behind the barn. It has had various plantings in it and is also a graveyard for Scruffy, my brother’s dog who left us a couple years back. At times it’s been featured in family photos, and since we have a reunion coming up, I wanted to get it weeded and respectable looking. Once again, pulling weeds is therapy, this time for my headache. I feel such power, deciding which things stay and which things go. I might have made a good dictator.

RIP Scruffy.

I took the husband out for a wheelchair ride on our street after dinner. I’m glad that he is able to get outside, if only for a few minutes, but there is something about doing this that saddens me. It makes such a statement.

June 30

The last day of June, sob! A third of our summer is over.

The headache is still hanging around, so much so that I wondered if I was getting second Covid, long Covid, or whatever it is called when it comes back. But I had no fever and felt better after medication.

Spent some time with my client at New Life. She is a delightful young mom who likes to sit and talk, which I find very refreshing.

The only other redeeming thing I did today was clean up my closet a bit. Decided it might be safe to box up my winter socks – a fitting way to say goodbye to June.

The flowers change with the months. Daisies are still in style but the late summer blooms are starting already.

June Journal: Appointments Driving Me Crazy

Appointments, yes. But what is really driving me crazy is the GFS outlet in the garage that keeps tripping and shutting off power to all the outlets where my second refrigerator, and my freezer are plugged in. Every day a new tactic, trying to isolate the problem…

June 19

We are not having our usual company after church today. We are not going to church. The husband keeps asking if we are doing our normal things and I have to remind him that we are staying home because I have had Covid. I did go out and watch the geese. They are getting big.

The adults are always watching – good parents.

June 20

Today was over 90 degrees and windy. I could easily have imagined I was back in Florida. I passed up helping the Boys and Girls Club with their canoe trip. The cold water would probably have felt good but the heat made me feel sick, even being inside. It’s probably too soon for me to be doing something that strenuous. Glad to stay home.

Except for the chiropractor appointment that the husband thinks he needs. Once again, I had him go in by himself while I sat in the car and watched their hanging baskets twirl and wilt in the heat and wind. They came out to check on timing for another appointment and I said it was okay, but don’t have my calendar with me to be sure.

June 21

Mom, brother Dennis and I are back on our morning meetings, discussing the day ahead and doing some reading. I had two appointments. The first was with our financial advisor, a quarterly update. He’s had Covid too so we were in about the same shape and not too worried about catching it anymore. To be proper we met outside on the patio. It was hot but not quite as bad as yesterday.

The second appointment was to look at a camper that some friends of friends were willing to rent us for the reunion. I drove out to the Schrock’s and met Erik and Julia. Their camper is nice and I think it will make a good abode for my brother Ron and his wife. Once again, I’m aware of my passion for other people’s campers, and how I will probably not ever have one of my own. Whatever…

June 22

Cooler today. An exciting morning in the garden, hand weeding the beets. Some of them are growing good and some are not and I’m not sure what the difference is. But it was nice to be outside and breathe fresh, cool air. Some neighbors came over to say hi.

After spending several hours wishing I didn’t have to go anywhere – I found out I actually didn’t have to go anywhere. The program manager at the Resource Center met with my client in the morning, assuming I was still isolating with Covid.

June 23

I hate it when I have mistakenly made appointments too close together – usually because I don’t have my calendar with me. Wondering how to have the husband at the chiropractor at 12:15 and still make it to my haircut appointment at 12:45. But, guess what? The salon called and said I had two appointments for the same day and one was at 9:45! Once in a while my appointment mix ups actually go in my favor. I took the early one and cancelled the other.

I had time to brave Walmart to pick up prescriptions for the husband and get some groceries. He had been wanting some slippers without a back that he could put his foot into easily, and I found some in his usual size. But no, they felt too small, so later I walked back to Walmart for the next larger size. Again, no. They felt like “shackles” and necessitate lifting one’s feet up with each step. I am done with the slipper game.

Like “shackles”, I’m told.

Welcome distraction – a Zoom call with my daughter in Seattle and her husband. We are working on a newsletter for the family reunion in August.

June 24

Why are my strawberries small and orange? They taste great, even when they don’t look ripe, which most of them don’t. Just in case they aren’t getting enough water, I put the irrigation on them for a good spell.

Highlight of the day – I got invited to go out for fish fry this evening at a restaurant! The husband decided to go too. I was worried about that, but he did okay in spite of being too hot (we sat outside) and not wanting to eat fish.

This week has left me wondering about my mental health. I can’t seem to apply myself to anything. Waiting for some kind of change, I guess.

At least the freezer and the extra fridg are now plugged in where they won’t be shut off every night when the GFS faults