End of March

March is nearly over. I’m giving myself grace when it comes to doing all the things that could be called productive. It’s a little hard to concentrate so I go walking instead, alone most of the time. Even in this very unusual time, life goes on, and so, unfortunately, does death. In two separate instances, people I’ve known well enough to grieve over, have died. Neither had anything to do with corona virus, but were unexpected and shocking. These strange weeks/months will stand out in my memory for a long time.

My refuge is to walk in the woods and be reminded of how beautiful and special this world is and how it was designed to be a place where people could thrive. I see God’s intricate design everywhere – in the way the snow melts, the way some plants stay green and alive under the snow, the way the birds find their way back to their birthplace, the way everything responds to the sun in some way. God’s outdoor magic is medicine for my soul.

It looked like bubbles from the bath tub blown all over the meadow.
Ice hazards in some spots, but bare ground in others.
When the snow is gone, so is the path. The pink ribbons suggest the way, when you can find them.
Wintergreen, some with berries, alive and well.
Hepatica (mayflower) always first because of this head start.
Lakeview Loop, aptly named
I want to give this landmark tree a name but can’t quite decide.

P.S. The seeds went in today. I hope I haven’t done it too early. I couldn’t wait.

A to Z Challenge 2020: Theme Reveal

I don’t know how to categorize my topic. It’s about health, emotional, mental and physical. It’s often about family. It’s personal. It’s definitely about a particular lifestyle. It’s about caretaking.

Lots of us are caretakers these days. We care for our children with disabilities, our aging parents and family members with dementia. Some of us work in healthcare institutions and give care to patients of all ages and conditions. It’s a special calling, a special task.

This year I’m using the April A to Z Blogging Challenge to share my own experience, my stories, my thoughts and feelings about caretaking. I am a retired RN, retired in the sense that I’m not getting a regular paycheck, but I’m still learning and doing, in the field of caretaking.

I live with my husband, diagnosed with Lewy Body Dementia in 2018. I’m also across the yard from my mother, a courageous 87 year old, and within a short drive of my uncle and aunt, both in their 90’s. Like so many others these days, I have a friend and a dear sister-in-law who are fighting cancer. While not giving daily care to all of these people, I’m often involved with their needs and I do care.

I’m interested in hearing from others about their experiences, since I have already found that caretakers, as a group, have much to share and teach each other. These posts are an invitation to all who read to contribute and connect. The A to Z format doesn’t cover all possible topics of caretaking but serves as a starting place for discussion. Please join me this month as we explore being caretakers.

There is a moral task of caregiving, and that involves just being there with that person and being committed. When there is nothing that can be done, we have to be able to say, “Look, I’m with you in this experience. Right through to the end of it.” Dr. Arthur Kleinman

Yes, It’s Time for This!

People, the perfect thing to do while social distancing is planning your spring garden! At least, it’s one of the many perfect things. I am always super excited when I get in garden mode.

It reminds me to be hopeful. I have to wait for things to grow so it’s a futuristic activity and there is no better way to think about the future than to imagine myself out in the sunshine, digging in the soft, moist dirt and making all those straight rows of soon to be green stuff. Think birds singing, soft breezes, green grass (but not in the garden), blue sky, leaves on the trees. All that beauty that God wants us to enjoy.

And that is really the point of enjoying gardening for me. I feel like I’m worshipping God when I see and experience how crazy it is that a little pinpoint of a seed that I can hardly see grows into a carrot, or a bean. All he uses is water, light and dirt and a very smart self-sustaining program. God figured that out and those plants have been carrying out his plan ever since! Sometimes I think I get so used to seeing vegetables and fruits in the store that I forget that they are such high tech design.

Our retail stores were still open today, so I went for a quick trip to L&M where seeds were 40% off. I’m always conflicted when I see all the different kinds of every vegetable there is – they all look so good. I picked ones I thought would have the best chance of making it to full size before we get freezing weather again. Now I’m just going to sit and look at them for a few days, because they’re pretty – and the ground is still frozen.

In a few days I’ll start the tomatoes and a few others in starter soil – I’m going to use the plastic containers that I save from getting grocery store spinach. They make good little greenhouses. And I have some south windows where the seeds can get nice and warm and start to grow. I can hardly wait!

God likes gardening too – he planted a big one once. And he knew I would like it. Thank you, God.

Proceed!

Lately, I’ve found it challenging to proceed with normal life when so many NOT NORMAL circumstances are developing around me. How about you? I didn’t really think that I was very busy with outside events and gatherings but it seems I have a lot more quiet time at home now. Part of me welcomes that, and then there’s the other part that seems to waste that time wandering about looking for something “important” to do. It’s like the path ahead has suddenly gotten blocked by obstacles, kind of like this foot bridge that I came across yesterday.

And it’s right in the middle…

I often head to the woods when I’m frustrated and need a new and bigger perspective. There’s a foot trail there that gets some snowshoe traffic in winter but is primarily a spring/summer/fall path. Yesterday it presented a pretty good metaphor for life in this singular time of worldwide concern over COVID 19. There were places in the trail that were soft with mud, other places where the hard packed snow made it slippery and impossible to climb the grade. One time when I stepped out onto an innocent looking flat area, the ice got me and I fell. I was thankful I had my hiking pole along (and that no one was watching me trying to get up…).

In spite of all that, the bigger perspective was there and I found it. The forest is getting ready for spring. The streams have lost their cover of ice and the sound of moving water is everywhere. The snow is wet and waterlogged where the sun shines and cold, hard and dead where it’s in the shade. It’s days are numbered and short. The cold air from the ground, like from a freezer door left open, is no match for the sun’s warmth on these longer days. The beautiful contrast could be seen everywhere I looked. I am so thankful for seasons, and promised change.

Esther’s idea.

I found these little notes, written back in April 2016, with goals/aspirations for the future. Some had been accomplished, some not so much. They were kind of like a message from God (and my former self) affirming that progress had been made, but there were still worthy things to put my hand to, and what better time than now? I spent a couple happy hours going back to a long overdue project.

I’m not worried. God is providing a path through this. I’m proceeding.

Would you give me a comment telling how “social distancing” has given you a new routine at home or a new focus in your life?

Follow the path.

The Next 2000 Words

For the next 2000 words, I am a writer. (Don’t worry. They’re not all going to be here.)

Back before the start of 2020, I made a few bold (for me) promises about progress in my writing journey. I am three months along that path now and haven’t felt like saying much about it. My irregular schedule of posting on my blog hasn’t given much evidence of progress either. But, in taking stock, I’m happy that some things have happened. I’m not standing still. I’m moving at my own pace and I’m thankful that there aren’t a lot of scary deadlines imposed by others.

I have installed a writing program on my iPad and am using it. Like with any powerful tool, there is a learning curve involved with the program (Scrivener) so I also had to invest in a course to teach me how to use the thing. Amazingly, I’ve found time to listen to most of the lessons in the course. The lessons have taught me that even after the course is finished, I know only the tip of the iceberg of Scrivener knowledge. It is only a start, but there it is!

I have done a lot of reading because I believe all those who say that reading is one of the most important things I can do to become a better writer. I think I have finished all the books on that past list, and have a deep well of subjects to think about and discuss with others. I have a whole new list of books for the next few months, which I’ll share later.

I’ve planned out the month of April, which is the one month every year when I write a post every day (except Sundays). The April AtoZ Challenge is definitely challenging for me. Looking back, I see that I’ve gone from random, “anything goes” topics to more purposeful, planned out writing. This year my topic could actually turn into a small booklet that would be helpful to others. I’m excited about that.

Hope*writers has been my biggest financial investment in my writing life and it has been inspiring any time I’ve let it be. It’s my online community of writing resources. The best thing about it is that it has actual “faces”, friendly ones, that consistently show up on social media, phone, and the hope*writers website with encouragement and so, so helpful direction. I’ve taken to listening to their hour long interviews with successful writers while I walk on the treadmill in the morning.

Light box, tread mill, podcast… so many good things at once.

One of the lecturers this week left me with this useful information. From a scientific study, it has been shown that even short periods of creative writing, done regularly, affect mood in a positive way. I’m taking that advice and choosing some event from the past or present, as long as it has some emotional energy attached to it, and writing about it for 20 minutes. I’m describing what happened, what I thought about it, and what feelings were attached to it. I’m doing this because it’s the end of a so long winter, there are some critical things happening in life, and I need to find some positivity. Give me some good mood! Help my brain think right!

I’ve had to give up a few things to make room for these new demands on my time, but that is okay. These new practices are better than the ones they’re replacing. If my desire and love of writing is something with a God-given reason behind it, I had better be finding out what the reason is. I no longer have thirty or forty years to play around with the whole writing thing.

Most importantly, I’ve become deeply interested in who you are, my reader. I’m asking myself what I have to offer you. I realize that my most compelling reason for writing has been for myself – what it does for me. While that is still important, it’s not enough anymore. I want to add value somewhere.

Not Done Yet

It snowed again this morning. I am not sitting in the chair in the picture, but I am in one close by with the same view. Winter knows its days are numbered, but March gives it one more month to exhaust itself. I am SO ready for the next season. It is now very important to keep going on and not lose heart.

I’ve gotten that message in so many ways – not that it’s a new thought that I must persevere. Every inspiring story ever told has the theme of “hang in there”. It’s probably because we humans are always finding ourselves in the “go numb and give up” state of mind over some circumstance in our lives.

I was all set to go visit my daughter, the one who is planning a wedding. We were getting ready for some good mother/daughter stuff, a bright spot to take up the last days of winter. And then along came COVID-19 and all the warnings for people over 60 and the immunosuppressed. That pretty much describes all the people that I come in contact with on a daily basis, myself included. Add to that, the fact that my daughter lives two crowded airports and 6 hours in a plane from me, in a city where the majority of U.S. deaths have occurred. Yep, Seattle. So, I’m not going there now. Thank you to all who helped me make the decision. (It was sensible, but hard anyway.) I’m not giving up on a chance to do this trip in the future – that’s where the perseverance comes in.

I also thought about the merits of continuance, keeping pace, and not giving up on a recent walk with my brother. Winter walking through the woods is a bit of an art. The path is very hard and slippery in places and very uneven, which makes me tend to look down and watch my footing (while running into branches at eye level…). I’m always conscious of the biting, cold air I’m breathing in, even while I’m sweating under layers of winter clothing. It’s a strange mixture of exhilarating and exhausting. But I can see my brother’s feet ahead of mine and I know if we keep putting one foot ahead of the other, we will finish the 3 mile loop.

Right, left, right, left, slip, scramble, hop to get in step again, KEEP GOING

Persevere, my friends. Rest and recoup, if necessary, but keep going. Whatever your “winter” is, DON’T GIVE UP.

This encouraging smile was in the snow along the trail. I added the hair.

The Least Favored Soup

The Least Favored Soup

They kept coming, wave after wave of people carrying backpacks, looking a bit dazed, numb. They were hungry and they needed food, warm liquid, salt, calories. They had just skied 29K in below freezing temperatures. This was the Kortelopet and Prince Haakon races of the American Birkebeiner. https://www.birkie.com/ski/events/kortelopet/

Our small town hosts this winter event every year in February, unless there is no snow or the temperatures are deadly, rare situations. The number of people in town goes from the usual 2500 to 40,000 for the two days of races. It’s a pretty big deal for people who like snow. It takes nearly the whole town volunteering to pull it off. This is my second year of helping in the food tent, where all the skiers congregate after crossing the finish line.

The International Bridge which all skiers cross to reach the finish. It is erected over the main highway and covered with snow.

My brother is one of the race chiefs, heading up the serving of food and all the volunteers who help him. The menu is simple – soup, bread, bananas, cookies and drinks. The challenge is doing it in a tent, set up on a vacant lot where everything you need has to be brought in by someone. All the soup arrives frozen in gallon bags and has to be thawed before being warmed to serving temperature. It takes a crew of several men to keep filling the warming tanks, opening the bags and emptying them into the cooking pots, then transferring the hot soup to the serving tables inside the tent. All this is done outside.

“I ski the Birkie every year just for the chicken soup,” one man tells me. I don’t believe him, but the soup is really good. Volunteers inside the tent ladle it into serving cups as fast as they can for hours. Chicken noodle soup is the favorite but there is a choice. The tomato vegetable soup was my station and it is also a good one, perhaps a bit more nutritious too. However the chick/noodle is favored two to one.

I’m guessing that the pots are filled with about seven or eight gallons of soup at a time. I emptied seven of them – I can’t even imagine how many servings that was. It helped that I was tall. Scooping into the pot is easy when it’s full but as the level goes down, it gets more difficult to reach the bottom, and messy, especially when doing it fast.

The (least favored) vegetable soup

It was cold in the tent before we started serving the first finishers. The wind would lift the tarps and blow cups and table coverings off our tables. The ground also is frozen and cold, which is why we stand on rubber mats. After we got really busy I forgot all about my feet feeling like frozen blocks of ice. Watching the people come in, young ones, elder ones, men, women from all over the world, all I could think was “why would they want to be this cold and still call it fun?”

We fed over 3,000 today, and this was the smaller of the races. Tomorrow’s crowd will be twice as many. I hope to be there again, serving up the least favored soup, just sayin’…

Small Town Chronicles

Grocery Shopping with Mom

It is dead of winter in this small town in the northern part of the Midwest, which is synonymous with saying not much is happening from day to day, except trying to keep warm. Our weekly excitement is going grocery shopping at Walmart on Friday mornings.

We go on Friday so we can plan a pleasant sabbatical rest day on Saturday. Eating good stuff always makes it special. We go early to avoid the Friday rush. The parking lot is not full yet at 8 am – we usually have our pick of the handicapped spots. It is also nice to avoid crowds since we have an immune suppressed person in our family to consider. We just don’t need to be around coughs and sneezes.

This particular Friday I loaded up our trash and recyclables because we take it all to the dumpster on the way. We always take Mom’s SUV because it’s easy for her to get in and out and has lots of room for all the stuff we buy. It’s also a significant blessing to have this SUV in a heated garage. We never have to feel the freeze when it’s below zero outside. We just get in our seats and off we go.

I say that we shop at Walmart, but that’s really the last place we go. We know what’s there most of the time, so we check out the other grocery store in town to see if they have different/better stuff on sale. I pulled into the parking lot at Marketplace Foods and looked for good parking. I was just planning on how I would park so we could wheel our carts right up to the lift gate, when I remembered that we had forgotten to stop at the dumpster. The back of the car was full of garbage.

Another wonderful thing about living in this small town is that everywhere we go is within five minutes drive of home. So we extended our outing a few minutes and drove back home to the community dumpster. Good to get rid of that stuff and have room for groceries, yeah.

The rest of our shopping trip, through the two grocery stores, dealt with the details of finding a boneless turkey roast – not just any turkey roast, but one with both light and dark meat. It involved tech skills on smart phones and researching the store we hadn’t yet shopped. It resulted in a large white meat roast and a package of turkey legs, bone in, at the first store and the kind of turkey roast we wanted at the second store. In short, research was ineffective. Way too much turkey.

That’s it folks. That was the excitement last week in Hayward, for us. But before you label us totally lame, know that this coming weekend 40,000 people are showing up in Hayward for the American Birkiebeiner (ski race) and it will be enough excitement to last us until spring. I get to help feed hot soup to this crowd after they knock themselves out skiing 40k through the woods. This is not something one sees every day, not in this small town.

The soup crew (me on the right)
How we cook soup for a crowd with no kitchen.

P.S. There actually was more shopping excitement last Friday. Mom is redecorating the living room and we also have two furniture stores in town… but that story is for another thrilling post, someday. I don’t want to throw all the adventure in one post when it’s really worth two. Just sayin’…

Sharp Things

I am most certainly blessed in the kitchen lately – blessed with new sharp things.

It started with the apple cutter. I helped with kid’s snacks one afternoon at church and got familiar with that little tool. It worked so great I had to go to the cooking store in town and get one for myself. The store is called Hayward Mercantile and it’s kind of high end, with appeal for shoppers from the “big city” who don’t go to Walmart. That’s not usually me, but it’s such a lovely store. Their apple cutter was heavy stainless steel and came with a plastic guard. That should have been my first clue that it was really sharp. I cut myself the first time just putting it away in the drawer.

Later, we were having a rare meal of steak or some other meat, I can’t remember which tough thing it was, and the husband was having trouble cutting it up. He wondered why we didn’t have steak knives on the table. I reminded him that our two sets of steak knives were in North Carolina living in storage. Knowing that he would appreciate it, I secretly bought six lovely Cutco table knives for his birthday. Tough meat has met its match.

The reason I bought Cutco, which is probably one of the more expensive brands of cutlery, is because a young relative has gone into business selling it. He wanted to practice his sales pitch in front of a friendly audience. I felt it was only friendly to buy something, so there, I did it. The demonstration was remarkable. He had a pair of Cutco scissors that cut through a copper penny. Wouldn’t that open up a whole new world of cooking options? (A literal 50 cent meal!)

A couple of weeks later he practiced in front of Mom, who was also very friendly to him. She bought some knives AND the penny cutting scissors. What I didn’t know was that she intended to give them to the husband and me for an anniversary gift! They now reside in the drawer with the sharp apple cutter. Several times I have accidentally brushed the cutting edge with a hand – a touch that would have accomplished nothing with my usual knives – and come away bleeding. It is a fact that I almost always have two or three cuts on my hands, in various stages of healing. The kitchen has become a dangerous place.

As if this was not enough, one day we visited some friends who had a very nice cheese cutter. I hate the kinds with the wire, but this one had a shape like a server with a knife blade in the middle. You just drag it across the cheese and a cute little slice of just the right thickness appears. Again, it was the husband who wished for a cutter like that, because he is always snacking on his special cheese. Back to the Mercantile. They had one, only one, made of heavy stainless steel and costing more than a meal for two at Perkins, but I bought it anyway. It will last forever if I don’t lose it. And who ever loses their cheese cutter?

As I said, the kitchen is a whole different place now that I can cut things. And I do a lot of cutting. My sharp tools save me time and money too. Just this week I quick cooked a nice roast, well,… actually I burned it onto the bottom of the pan. But it turned out to be juicy and tender after I surgically removed the char. I couldn’t have done it without my new knives, just sayin’…