Heavy Box

Small stories about me make me think about you, because we all share some of the same weirdness.

It has been cold this week and I only had one day of meeting my 10,000 step goal. But today it warmed up to 43 degrees F and I could not resist going out for a late fall walk. It was also the first day of deer hunting season so I decided not to tempt fate by walking in the forest. I headed west into town, on the sidewalk.

I may actually have taken a bigger risk by walking in town, since there was so much to look at, so many curbs to step off, so many stores to get sucked into. My route took me up Main Street. My town is working on winning the title of “America’s Main Street” and so far has made it into the top 25 five different years, including this year. There is a lot of electric decorating that’s going to light the place up after Thanksgiving, and it really does make it a picture perfect, small town Main Street. (Please, please vote for Hayward, Wisconsin by going to this link, every day through December 12 http://mainstreetcontest.com/profile121 It’s a popularity contest – you don’t even have to go there to vote for it.)

After my halfway mark of 3,000 steps I headed home. On the way there was a big garage sale at my church, so I decided to walk through.I usually consider it safe to do that when I’m on foot because who wants to carry a bunch of stuff for a mile? Not me. My excuse for stopping was that I might find the perfect thing for Mom’s birthday. She loves garage sale treasures. Instead I found a whole box of really nice glassware – just the kind I’d been looking for at the thrift stores. They were heavy glasses, sixteen of them.

But they are pretty (heavy) aren’t they?

Leaving the sale with my box of glasses, I started looking for shortcuts home. I am always aware of the difference between “as the crow flies” and the distances I normally walk on the streets. Most of the time I’m trying to get more steps in and don’t mind, but the box wanted to get home, and there was kind of a path heading in the right direction. I took it.

Shadow of girl walking with heavy box

It turned out to be the way to the impenetrable urban woods, where the church lawn crew dumped all their leaves and pine needles. I say impenetrable, but really it wasn’t. I was able to put the box on the ground and push it under the downed pine tree and follow it out into the ditch. The road I wanted to be on was right there, where the crow was still flying, in the direction of home. I was glad there were no cars going by though.

One more shortcut remained between me and my destination. I was getting a little tired, maybe a tad clumsy as well. But the thought of tripping and ruining all my new glasses kept me going so, so carefully.

It feels a little odd walking in places I normally drive, cutting across parking lots and ditches. It feels odd and sneaky taking back alleys and roads that most people don’t travel or even know about. But honestly, at my age, there aren’t a lot of things more exciting than this to do, so I like doing this. Especially with a heavy box.

Girl and box wondering if this alley with icy potholes is a good idea

I crossed the last highway and made it home, all the glasses intact. And today, once again, I finished my 10,000 step goal. But I will say it’s going to be harder to do it very often this winter, and it’s definitely harder with a heavy box. Might not do that again, just sayin’…

Stop pretending – you’ve probably done something like this too. What was in your “heavy box”?

Laugh

Going to a doctor’s appointment is not where I usually find things to laugh about, but there are exceptions. Mom and I manage to find them. We go together to her appointments, because two sets of eyes and ears are always better than one, and also because she has decided not to drive anymore and lets me take her around.

Yesterday found us at the clinic for a pre-op exam. We were hoping it would go well so she could have her carpal tunnel surgery next week. Mom wanted to ride in a wheelchair (why waste energy?) so after I parked, I went in and got one. It had no footrests, so in we went, masks on, feet held high, to join all the other compromised and infirm in the waiting room. It’s an exercise in gratitude to watch others who are living with conditions we are glad we don’t have.

But our observations were cut short when one of the assistants opened the door, with chart in hand and called out “Owen!” No one responded and we were all wondering where Owen had gotten off to, when she called him again. Still no response.

“Could you possibly mean Gwen?” I asked. The similarities in the names was something I had often thought about because Dad’s name was Owen – one letter different, and a G is a lot like an O.

And so started our relationship with Krisy, who was willing to laugh off her poor eyesight and be thankful she had not lost an Owen but gained a Gwen. We had our short stop at the scale, in spite of Mom’s joking attempts to get past it. Mom would make a great stand up comedian with her own kind of dry humor, which I think she gets from watching Golden Girls. Krisy directed us on into the exam room and in the course of getting us settled, she noticed Mom’s purse.

“I really like your purse! I need one like that to go with my new coat.” She went on about purses that didn’t go with her coat, until Mom, thinking that she would share a valuable secret with a new friend, told her where she had gotten her really cute red purse. Mom is unabashedly proud of her ability to find pretty much anything she needs at Salvation Army. Of course, there was no chance of finding another purse like that at Salvation Army now, so Krisy just answered her with “Oh, well that’s okay. I’m kind of a purse snob anyway.” I think she was surprised and I think Mom was glad she had gotten there before Krisy.

So the vital signs got taken and the routine questions got answered and recorded on the computer while Krisy chatted with us about the new coat. I can’t remember the exact words she used to describe it, but in general, it was black and shiny. I was picturing something like patent leather when she said shiny, but the image got more defined when she said one of her co-workers told her it looked like a garbage bag, the big, black kind. Krisy was having a great time telling us this so she must not have gotten offended.

It was not the end of the coat story either. She went on to say that her coat had fur trim around the hood which she really liked – very fashionable. Only one of the doctors at the clinic had told her it looked like a squirrel, checking out a garbage bag for something to eat. That cracked her up, and we had to laugh too. The exam was off to a real good start.

We had a good little wait time after she left. I went on a long verbal critique of the picture on the wall that I was facing. Mom felt a little cheated since her wall only had a mirror. She’s not big on mirrors and is always wishing to fix what she’s seeing in them.

We have a nice, woman PA and she finally came in and explained things that would be covered in the pre-op exam. Well, actually she only got about three sentences out before she got a tickle in her throat and had to leave the room, coughing into her mask. Mom and I kind of looked at each other in horror, or maybe it just seemed that way because all we could see were each other’s eyes.

These poor healthcare workers don’t have it easy. Our PA returned after a while, reassuring us that she had a cough drop in her mouth, and had gotten over her bout with Covid a few weeks ago “but that darn tickle” was hanging on.

The rest of the exam went just fine. Mom answered all the questions the right way. The PA listened to her chest and couldn’t hear anything alien in there. Krisy came back and did an EKG on Mom – she was still just as happy as could be. We finished off with a trip down to the lab for some bloodwork, and then out the door, feet held high, whipping off our masks.

Mom and I try to laugh a little everywhere we go, but as much fun as this pre-op exam was, I can hardly wait until the Covid test on Friday and surgery next week. Yeah, just sayin’…

Mom’s best pick of the day

Suddenly Winter

It happened at night when I hadn’t paid attention to the forecast. I woke up in the morning and there were 4 inches of snow on the ground. I had already been forcing myself outside for a couple weeks, in temperatures close to freezing and my suspicion (of winter) and reluctance (to accept it) were coming on strong. The snow clinched it.

Good morning! Yeah, it really looks this dark and this snowy.

Since the snow I’ve developed some new diet and exercise parameters.

Diet first, I did the Noom thing already last spring and summer so I’ve got the psychological part well in mind. Lots of psych tricks, no “all or nothing” thinking, no real guilt about satisfying my cravings. In other words I’m going to welcome a few extra pounds of insulation. It’s cold out there. Dessert after supper every night will be the new benchmark. I’m going to weigh myself daily to make sure I’m not gaining too fast. I believe in moderation.

As for exercise, I’m going to change my daily step count goal from 10,000 to … basically whatever I get. I do enjoy a challenge though, so I might have a week or two during the winter when I see if I can keep it under 1,500 a day. Do you know how hard that is? It’s hard, but I can do hard things.

My winter affirmation.

I’m thinking there might be a day now and then when it’s warm enough to bundle up and go cross country skiing outside. I have a goal for that sport too. There’s a particular hill that I attempted last year right after I got skis. This year, with the proper amount of instruction, I hope to ski down that hill and not fall over at the bottom. I missed the lesson and practice session last week. I don’t know how people make themselves leave their warm houses at 8:30 in the morning to go stand in a cold parking lot and do exercises. Besides, it was raining, wasn’t it? Somewhere?

Really though, what’s throwing me off my usual energy level and positive thinking habit is all this darkness. I’m used to going to bed when it’s dark but it’s so impractical to do that at 4:30 in the afternoon. I’m automatically tired looking at a dark sky. After a couple hours of pitch black, I tell myself it looks way too late to start cooking supper. But I have to do it anyway. The thought of dessert is the only thing that gets me through it.

All this is to say that I’m struggling, probably with the thought of winter more than winter itself. Thoughts are important, right Noom? And I live, thinking in my head, almost all the time. It’s going to be five long, dark months ahead. That’s what I’m thinking now, just sayin’…

Don’t Make Me Mad

A couple of weeks ago I went for a short hike on one of my favorite trails. It’s called a snowshoe trail because it is used primarily in the winter when walkers are asked to stay off groomed ski trails. Our northern summers are short but most of the vegetation that grows here has learned to grow fast and furiously, even in the forest.

The path through the mature woods was great – leafy, shady, very little undergrowth. Now and then there would be a tree down across the path from a storm, but nothing I couldn’t step over or go around. Since the path doesn’t show much wear from foot traffic in the summer, there are also plastic ribbons tied on trees and branches to mark the way.

But trouble started when I got to a section of forest that had been clear cut sometime in the past few years. Smaller trees, mostly birch and poplar, and all kinds of underbrush, stumps, and rotting logs made the path harder to find and harder to navigate.

Then I got to the blackberry thicket. Canes as thick as my thumb were bending over the path at eye level, lots of them, as well as smaller thorny new growth underneath them. I can’t be sure but I think the huge thorns actually moved out to grab me as I tried to lift them out of the way and pass through. It got worse the further I went, until I was too deep in to want to go back the way I had come, but could not see the end of it ahead either. Had it not been for the orange ties, I would have thought I had lost the path completely. My arms were bleeding. I was getting mad. I did eventually connect with a groomed bike path and made my way out.

I was thankful nothing was chasing me. If I had been a rabbit, that is where I would have gone to be safe from anything bigger. I vaguely remembered stories about Peter Rabbit and brambles, with new understanding.

That is when I began to plot revenge. I have a string trimmer but couldn’t see that being too effective on the thick, woody canes. I needed a machete, which I remembered from my days living in Florida. Machetes are everyday yard tools there. To my delight, my neighbor who is a retired surveyor had a machete and was nice enough to lend it to me.

Oh yeah, and a holster to go with it.

After my arms healed up, I returned to the woods. I was filled with energetic indignation. My resolve to clear that path was so strong I completely ignored the possibility of cutting my own leg open and bleeding to death. I approached the offending area, swinging right and left until I began to feel blisters coming where my hand gripped the knife. When I downed the biggest canes, I had to throw them aside and deal with the thorns again, but I won! The path got cleared. I tied new orange ribbon markers. I felt powerful.

I know this is a weird story, but it’s true, and it’s an example of how anger fuels resolve and can actually be a positive force. There’s a lot of anger out and about these days, and some of it can be used for good. But please notice that not once did I think about burning the forest down. I love the forest and I want to be in it. So do a lot of other people. Now others can go along that path safely with me.

However, if in the future, you’re out hiking in my part of the country, be careful of blackberry thickets which can be deadly. Also, if you see ahead of you an old, bloodied person with a machete, you might want to hang back a little.

Machete came with orange ribbon. I was pleased.

When I Don’t Have to Wait

It’s a strange, hard world out there. It’s time we fight back with a little fun. I have lots of thoughts on the subject and will be writing about it for the rest of October.

Everywhere we turn these days there is something to wait for. I wait in traffic, at the grocery store, for commercials to quit, for the spooling to stop, for food to be cooked, for my hair to dry, for sleep to come, for the headache to go away. What surprises me though, is that I find myself waiting for things I don’t have to wait for – out of habit, I guess. It is a habit I am setting out to conquer.

On this beautiful evening, calm, warm enough to sit outside, I’m not waiting to light a fire in my Solo Stove. Making fire (small and controlled) and watching the flames has always been fun for me so I followed the fun and started my fire. I knew I would love this little fire pit, but I can see that if I waited for others to come enjoy it with me, I would not be getting much use out of it. I do like to invite others to sit around the fire, but that usually involves some planning ahead. When it’s only me, I could be doing it any night when the weather is nice, even without a plan. Why wait?

Waiting can be a good thing, right? Why? Because I have to let the people in line before me go first (unless I want to get thrown out of the store…). Because the food tastes better when it’s cooked long enough. Because things work out better when I match my desires with right timing, right circumstances, right preparedness. I learn that patience is a good thing and I learn patience by having to wait.

But what about not waiting? You see, I’m learning that I won’t have much fun if I wait for it to happen by itself. I’ve spent my share of time feeling sorry for myself, wising I was having fun, being pitiful. I can decide to have fun, sometimes with others, but even when I’m alone. Often that is my only choice. I have a ready list of those things I enjoy doing, because everything in life goes better with fun mixed into it. It’s medicine really.

And honestly, fun is a huge part of my faith life, my life with God. I’m not sure I’ve ever read the word “fun” in the Bible, but I have seen “pleasure” and “enjoy”which are probably about the same thing. I can’t imagine the abundant life that God says he wants me to have, without it also being fun. I feel it in my heart, God is in favor of fun.

All this to say that it’s a good night out here on the patio. There’s work to do inside the house, which I’m not doing. I’m alone with my writing pad and my cup of tea, watching a warm, glowing fire. No guilt, no regrets. I’m having fun and fun is good. (Wish you were here…)

“Full of Feelings” Month: Social Awkwardness

Today I am basking in my role as Queen of Social Awkwardness. There are others who you might say look and act the part more than I do, but in my mind, I am it.

It’s not that I lack a proper degree of self respect, self confidence. For the most part I am comfortable with myself, and have grace for my shortcomings. It’s when I get around other people and want to feel comfortable with them that the awkwardness hits. I’m aware that I’m often the one standing by myself somewhere, looking for another person like myself, someone not engaged in a conversation, someone who’s not quiet sure what to do next. It’s always a relief to find this person because if they are ready to engage, I’m helping myself and them. Both of us can feel a little more comfortable.

I love people. Very much. I want them to know that. Truth, is I am also a people pleaser. I don’t have a lot of strong opinions, or dictates and the ones I do have – well, I’m okay with putting them second in importance to someone else’s once in a while. I think of it as flexibility. To me the question is, if they are the right people, why not please them? It gives me pleasure to do so.

But social awkwardness comes when I don’t know if I am doing that. I tell myself to stop wondering about it and just do the best I can, in those uncomfortable places that I might find myself. Because, maybe comfort is overrated. Maybe it’s more real and more “normal” to feel uncomfortable. Maybe it’s a good thing?

The last thing I should allow that awkward feeling to do, is to be an excuse to avoid people. What if everyone has some degree of discomfort, at times, in some places? I kind of suspect that is the case. Maybe I should be uncomfortable and make the first move, even if I can’t remember the person’s name, even if they look hard to engage, even if my own discomfort is overwhelming me.

Ultimately I know that for me, God is the person I want most to please. I have to trust that he’s going to help me love other people as they should be loved. Even in my social awkwardness, and stumbling around with words, God can help them know that I care and cover over the mistakes I make. Maybe it’s part of being brave and letting God be my social director. Yeah, that might be it. Just sayin’…

Queen of Awkwardness and oh, so comfortable.

Random Spring

Today it is raining and blustery. Will it snow once more in the hours ahead? It’s possible. I never know how to dress for my daily walks – down coat, rain jacket, only a sweatshirt, hat? So I put it all on and take it off and carry it if I have to. For our spot on this planet, the month of March is never sure whether she is winter or spring, which leaves us waiting in various ways. Life is just a little more eclectic and full of random activities, waiting activities.

We watch the snow melt. I know it’s hard to imagine that being exciting, but when you’ve seen nearly five months of whiteness, a little bare ground is a big deal. It has disappeared from the roads and most of the yards except for the deep snow banks that the snow plows left. There are still patches of snow in the woods where the sun doesn’t shine. The lakes are still covered with rotten ice, but the geese are arriving and looking for any open water in the streams and marshes.

We are cleaning closets, emptying boxes long forgotten, and making decisions. Spring cleaning, it could be called that but it’s much more. It’s like taking trips down memory lane and we spend a lot of time talking about what we are remembering.

We (I) are finally putting December behind us. I turned off the winter lights on Daylight Savings day. The sun is coming up earlier and in a different place on the horizon. The patio furniture is out on the east porch and we are ready for the first day that allows us to sit outside for morning coffee, no longer in the dark and cold.

For some odd reason, I’m finding puzzles to be more than usually comforting. They have appeared in greater than usual numbers too, thanks to friends who have dropped them off. This is the first year that I’ve done puzzles alone since there is no one in the house who cares for them like I do. When my brain needs a break from daily duties, the puzzle is there waiting, demanding nothing, requiring a different kind of focus, full of color, visually interesting, solvable and just challenging enough.

Even the cat is waiting to be let outside. She watches the squirrels at the bird feeder and gets all excited, but only spends a few seconds in the cold when I let her out. She is waiting for the warm times she remembers, and as I watch her sitting in the sun I am reminded of spring window washing duties. I cleaned this window this week and it looks much better now.

Everyone’s chickens are laying eggs now and it is easy to get them fresh from the farms. I get a strange delight at boxes like this one from a chicken breed called Rainbow – for obvious reasons. I am having time to pay more attention to our nutrition and exercise needs. I feel healthier and ready for summer, ready for the sun, and work in the garden.

I am writing, although finding it hard. April Challenge is coming up and I would like to have my posts finished beforehand. It is slow going because my theme is so interesting and personal. Stories of my great grandmother and her family are so thought provoking and absorbing and I find myself spending days thinking about one episode before actually nailing it down. It is hard but I know it will be worthwhile.

And amid all the projects that didn’t get done this winter, there are a few that are getting done. I’m sealing the beautiful outdoor chairs that my uncle made for our patio, and I sawed the backs off my kitchen stools and painted the seats barn red. Now they fit under the counter better. I swept under the stove, vacuumed out the truck, and put away the snow shovels in favor of the rakes. I am even finding time to knit, and that amazes even me. I am grateful for all there is to do that makes waiting an interesting part of life, almost like a season in itself.

I can almost forget I’m waiting,… just sayin’.

#A to Z Theme Reveal

April is nearly here. For me, that means spring and the end of winter, it means birthday month for me and youngest daughter, and it means the April A to Z Blogging Challenge.

Choosing a theme each year for the blogging challenge has usually been a chore. This year I have tried out several ideas and rejected them, because they required extra time in addition to the writing that I actually have started and want to continue. But wait! I can combine what I am already doing with the A to Z and maybe accomplish both at the same time. First, here’s what I am already working on.

My great grandmother was an amazing woman for her time, feisty, brave, resourceful and independent. And she was a writer. I have her story and will be magnifying her tales of midwestern life in the late 1890’s up to her death in 1954. I have to call it fiction because she leaves room in her story for imagination of the times and circumstances, but it is historical fiction. Hers is a story of family, of faith, of women’s place in society, of handling hardship and sorrow, even of living through pandemic times. I am proud of her and love her story. I think you will too.

The A to Z Blogging Challenge consists of a post every day in April, excluding Sundays, following the alphabet in some way – twenty six days, twenty six letters. Short stories from my great grandmother Alzie’s life will make up my daily posts and I’ll get the alphabetical thing in there somewhere. I look forward to any feedback from readers, because that has been my favorite part of the A to Z in all of the years that I’ve participated. The challenge has been a great tool to stimulate creative ideas, and to develop a consistent writing habit so I recommend it to all writers or readers who want to do something interesting in April. Follow this link (http://www.a-to-zchallenge.com) to learn more and see for yourself.

My favorite April picture from a print at youngest daughter’s house. Creator unknown to me, but I would gladly give credit if I could. Cute.

February Goodness: More Snow

February had this one last day to show up with something good and it decided that snow would be its choice. I walked over to Mom’s to say good morning and the walkways were bare and dry. I came home an hour later wading through several inches of very loosely packed, huge snowflakes. It was clear that shoveling and plowing would have to take place again. February is known for being indecisive about its weather.

There are many features in this field, none of which can be seen. White, white, white.

It was worse by the time we traveled to the church. The highways weren’t completely plowed. The confusing thing about new snow is the way it seems to erase important things like where the roads and ditches are. Everything is just white and more white and even the air is full of flying white. The husband’s remark, “maybe we should have stayed home today?”

But I was kind of glad that I would have at least another day of skiing, possibly a whole week. We ended up with about 8 inches which was just enough to fill in all the ski trails I had made the last time I went out. It was a different kind of snow too – so very wet that I could not get the skis to slide at all. The walk was much like traveling in very large snowshoes. I only went for a mile but the scenery was amazing and the experience of being out while the snow was coming down was worth it.

My feet are kind of like snowshoes, right?

I knew this month would most likely be a difficult month, unless I purposely looked for the goodness of God in it. Winter seems too long in February, especially a pandemic winter. A good friend’s death seemed imminent and, indeed, has come to pass. I seem stuck in some patterns I want to move out of. There are things I want to do that seem out of reach. February is a month of waiting for change. I know that if I wait long enough, change is certain, and for that I am glad. Change is part of God’s goodness.

March 1st, tomorrow, in the year 2021 has never happened before. It is brand new, like our snow today. There are good changes to plan for, dream about, pray about, and bring about. Looking forward to it, just sayin’…

February Goodness: Volunteering

I can hardly believe February is nearly over! So many good things to report, and many I missed writing about because I was busy living them…

What an amazing event! And I have gotten to volunteer to help with it, in a very small way, for the third consecutive year. The American Birkiebeiner is the largest cross country ski race in North America and the third largest in the world, and it was created by a visionary man who lived right here in Hayward, my home town.

Part of my amazement is the way the race has adapted to pandemic times and become even more available to sports enthusiasts all over the world. The Birkie went virtual. There were still over 8,000 skiers participating this 47th year of the race but half of them were not here in person. Yesterday I got to watch some of them as they passed the Fire Tower Aid Station. Unlike other years, they had to bring their own water containers and food, but we dispensed water and electrolyte drink and watched out for those who might need medical attention.

Our cozy aid station with drink systems in place. Challenge was to keep the hoses from freezing.
Volunteer and Birkie employee, keeping the fire going.

It was a perfect skiing day with temperatures getting into the 30’s and barely any wind. Many skiers remarked about the snow being just right. What they complained about were all the hills. There are few places that have the kind of hilly, glacial terrain found in the 43 K forested trail of the Birkie, so skiers have a challenge to prepare for it. I talked to one man who thought he had prepared but was seriously considering cutting his distance in half after reaching our aid station.

Most skiers would expect to be skiing down hills like this, but not in the Birkie, no, no, no. Every “down” is partnered with an “up”.

What did I and the others on our team do? We set up the aid station with water hoses, touch-less dispensing systems for water and drink, got the fires burning for those needing to warm up (but seriously, there were people with shorts and T-shirts in this race and they still thought they were hot) and served as the cheering audience. No spectators were allowed this year. I mixed up several batches of Noom in the 10 gallon coolers, answered questions (like “how much farther do I have to go?”) and held ski poles while people filled their drink bottles.

It was a great day to be outside. We started at 7:30 am and were done by 2 pm when most of yesterday’s skate skiers had passed our station. As I watched some of the last stragglers wearily climbing Fire Tower Hill, I remembered my Grand Canyon experience, and was glad I was going home in my truck and not skiing another 12 K out in the forest wilderness of north Wisconsin.

These were the elite, early wave skiers. The later ones did not power up this hill with the same energy.

I will probably never ski the whole Birkie Trail – it’s not on my list – but I would like to hike the whole thing. Maybe this summer will be the right time to do it. Tell me if you want to come along. It will be epic, in one way or another, I promise.