Thoughts on Extended Winter

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I am thumbing through the photos on my phone – the ones taken out the living room window.  They are mostly black and white because those are the only hues out there most days, snow and not-snow.  The “Charley Brown” pine tree, sorry little thing, is my yardstick on which the snow level creeps up and up, storm after storm.  We have lost all sight of the shrubs planted around the condos. Everyone’s attention is being drawn to the heavy snow loads on their buildings, and guessing how many warm days it will take to melt the huge snowbanks. It is snowing again today.

And so goes the winter in Wisconsin. It is much as I imagined it would be. I am amazed that people lived here for ages without modern heat and shelter, and I suppose some still do. I have my own childhood memories of our family around the oil stove in the living room, and ice building up on the insides of the windows. How different it is now. Our two-bedroom condo is often too warm. We walk around inside in our bare feet, and even our car is warm and ready to go in the attached, heated garage.

It’s been a winter of doctor’s appointments. I think that’s what we did in January, although my memory doesn’t serve me well when the days and weeks are all so similar. February was marked by the big international ski race held in our area, followed by my aunt’s health crisis and several days in the hospital with her, followed by my own winter cold/flu and ensuing isolation. March has brought a return to the time change – we “sprang ahead” an hour this morning. When it stops snowing we will have a couple hours of playing in the snow, plowing out and shoveling.

While we are experiencing winter, the larger experience has been learning to live with “our” changing health status.  Because of this diagnosis the husband has received, Lewy body dementia, we are constantly surrounded by the fight to understand and reverse the disease. No detail of his bodily condition has gone unexamined, and since his way of processing his thoughts is to talk about them, we are all kept aware of each day’s change or lack thereof. He is very aggressive, or proactive about his condition and spends much of his time looking up research papers and discussing them with his brother. We discuss how it wears on us and colors our days, but there is very little else for him to put his thoughts on. I have some understanding of his preoccupation and can’t say that I wouldn’t be searching the same way if I were the one with LBD.

I am trying hard to save some attention for the many blessings that come along with winter isolation. There have been good conversations with Mom and my Uncle Wendell and Aunt Lois. They are my elders who hold much of the family history in their memories and are happy to discuss it.  I’m also very thankful for the many faceted relationship with my youngest brother and his family. They are my closest friends who share activities and meals, joys and sorrows, concerns and silly moments. I am often comforted with their words and aware of us having thrown our “soul anchors” in the same deep waters.

It helps me to write about my new life, and although the words don’t often appear here in my blog, they are being written. There will be a time and a place for them.  I have much encouragement in my writing life, having joined a group of writers whose theme is hope, always hope. The snowbanks are high and it may be June before they are completely gone, but spring is coming. Change is the unchangeable characteristic of the future and keeps me curious and ready to experience more. Bring it on, just sayin’…

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Introspection

The world has gone a bit surreal, and I’m not quite sure where to place myself in it. Thirty one years ago I left Hayward, Wisconsin for life in Florida. It was a completely new life in every way. Now I am back, but again it is a new life in nearly every way. The actual “work”of moving is done so now I have time to think about what has happened. Introspection is a mixed blessing.

We arrived last night, like we have for many vacations over the years, after a long drive, suitcases in tow, with plans to catch up with family members and visit childhood haunts. The surreal part is that we won’t be packing up again in two weeks for the trip back to Florida. We will stay here and see the seasons change, make new friends, start new routines, and settle in. Instead of calling Mom every morning I will meet her in the kitchen as we get our first cup of coffee.  Instead of cleaning my own house and taking care of the oneacrewoods, I will be looking for ways to help others with their homes and yards.

For months, this change from one life to another has seemed so far off and so slow in coming that it was hard to believe it would happen at all. “If you ever get here…” Mom would say. I would reassure her that the “challenge of the week” would be met and that we were making progress, but honestly, I had moments when I cried and felt like I couldn’t do it.  The most valuable thing I learned from it all is that I should not spend a lot of time looking at the large picture – it can be too daunting viewed as a whole. One day, one step at a time is all that I was designed for. Each small accomplishment should get its full measure of satisfaction and celebration. One by one the hurdles got crossed and now I am sitting at the end of the course wondering how I got here. Once again, the passage of Time has created a miracle, a change.

I learned about home improvement, about hiring painters and contractors and overseeing projects. I learned about getting medical and financial records in place and ready for a move. I learned about selling and buying trucks and what goes into the making of a good trailer. I learned I had friends. I learned that hard things become easier when I pray about them and decide to trust that I’ve been heard. I learned that some things must be waited for and are beyond my control. I learned that having even one concrete task that I can do is a comfort and a blessing – get busy and do it – then look for the next thing.

The house in Florida has not sold yet, but we joke around saying we are homeless, because the house is empty and our “things” are in storage. Instead I’m going to remember that my goal was to be with more of my family and that has come to be.  If “home” is where my people are, I’m not homeless. Instead, I’ve come home.

 

More to come, because this is going to be interesting, a new page. Just sayin’…

Battling Winter, post #3

A Walk in the Woods

When you can’t ski, you walk. There are trails for every kind of travel in the snow including snowmobile and fat tire bikes. It’s the biking that I don’t get. Riding a two wheel bike fast on a narrow trail through a forest of trees, rocks and other natural hazards? Why not just relax by walking blind folded through a mine field – same difference. But winter hiking is good.

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The straight rows of pine provide an easy trail for Mary Pat, Dennis and Scruffy. I’m last in line, taking pictures and catching up.

There are trails very close to the family farm and my brother and his wife go hiking there a lot. After a day of work, when they need some exercise, they dress up, take Scruffy their dog, and walk the loop by Hospital Lake. Part of the trail goes through a planted pine forest, along the edge of the lake and returns to the parking lot. It’s just the right length so Scruffy doesn’t freeze his feet. (Isn’t it weird how some animals can stand on snow and ice and not get frostbite?)

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An eye catching little ornament on a tree that seriously needs something.

There are a lot of outdoorsy people in this area so the trail is well traveled. In a bow to the season, someone (or maybe more than one person) has begun decorating trees along the way. It’s fun to find the variety of ornaments, although I felt really sorry about the Teddy Bear. It looked more like he was being tortured.

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After a walk, I might have cold feet, cold fingers, nose and cheeks but there is a core warmth that is sustaining. Breathing all that cold air makes me feel … healthy, I guess.  As I climb back in the car and the heat kicks in, there is such a feeling of calm and peace and “put me to sleep right now”.

Because it gets dark so early, these walks often coincide with the most beautiful sunsets. Really, I could not stop taking pictures because it was changing every minute or so and I wanted to capture it.

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Times and Travels: Vashon Island Get-Away

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On the way to Vashon on the ferry. Mt. Rainier faintly in the distance.

I come from a place where you hardly ever call anything an island. People tend to laugh if you call it anything but a “key”. Here in the PNW there are lots of islands around and in Puget Sound. People will laugh if you call the place we went to this morning Vashon Key.  It’s an island.

We rode the early ferry from West Seattle to the dock at the east side of Vashon.  The ferries are part of the transportation system and very well maintained and operated. Cars, buses and semi-tractor/trailers were lined up on deck for our 20 minute trip across the Sound.  It’s Friday, so there isn’t a crowd like there probably will be on the weekend.

This was the morning that Ryan Bruel was scheduled to receive the keys to his new property. But first things first – breakfast at Cafe Luna in the town of Vashon.  The signs on the way warn travelers that this is a rural area, although I’m not sure what danger that poses. The small town has a library, numerous businesses, a grocery, some artist shops, a school – pretty much what is needed is what is found there. I imagine there has to be some degree of self-sufficient mindset for a person to live comfortably on an island.

At Café Luna we ordered breakfast burritos, fresh quiche, hot from the oven and our latte’s. Esther walked around the corner to her favorite bakery for a Bob’s Burger.  The food and the atmosphere were good introductions to the island.

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Ryan’s cabin is midway between Vashon and the ferry dock, so we back tracked and pulled into the drive marked by the mailbox with the red butterfly. The roughly 3 acre property was owned by an elderly man until it got to be a project he could not keep up with. It is mostly forest, except for the drive and the clearing where the cabin, garage, and small studio sit.  I’m sure the buildings were built back when there were few codes to follow, and there have been additions and remodels since then, none of professional quality. This is to say that there are quaint surprises in many rooms of the main cabin.

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Kitchen – all
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Vintage decoupage knife block coordinate with vintage wall paper

The realtor and some helpers were there taking away some of the old appliances, and removing layers of old carpet. There were newspapers between the layers dating from the early 1990’s.  It will be a cabin suitable for camping and will provide years and years of interesting renovation projects for Ryan and Esther.

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Small loft areas adorn both ends of the main cabin, accessible only by ladder. Curious little spaces (with questionable usefulness since bathroom vents into this one…)
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Ryan and Esther, in the last moments of their comparatively restful life before property renovations

Codes now will prevent them from building new structures on the property but they can fool around quite liberally with what is already there. The separate studio is a sturdy one room log cabin and even though it has only one chair in it at present, it stirs my imagination in all kinds of interesting ways.

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the log cabin studio – how could you not be inspired to write here?
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complete with minimalist decor…
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One of many ancient guardians of the property

The forest around the clearing has numerous giant, old growth trees.  There is also a protected wetland and a green algae pond. The predominant ground cover is blackberry bushes. The clearing has been recently cleaned of growth but I can envision how fast it will come back and become wild again.  For people who have been living in the city, working at tech jobs in stressful environments, the Vashon Island get away is going to be an adventure of a whole different sort. That’s what they’ve been wanting.

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The lovely mystery pond – nobody knows what’s in there.

#AtoZChallenge: My Favorite Things A

For this year’s A to Z Challenge I’m being Julie Andrews and going on about my favorite things. I suppose there are people young enough to have no clue who Julie Andrews is or when she did this. Seriously, you need to watch “The Sound of Music”. It’s part of classic movie knowledge. Remembering your favorite things will keep you from being afraid, and who doesn’t need some of that these days…

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A is for my favorite chill busters, afghans. I like the word, to begin with, because it’s just a crazy combination of consonants that I always have to think about before I spell it. I even make it crazier sometimes by spelling it with more consonants – aphghans. I can do that, right?

Here is why these particular knitted or crocheted coverings are favorites for me. They are made by hands that I love (mine or others) and they are making use of scraps instead of wasting them.

My first afghan was a high school graduation gift from my Aunt Helen. She made countless numbers of afghans, quilts and doilies for people and always had something she was working on. She didn’t waste yarn, and she didn’t waste time. I took this afghan off to college with me and everywhere else since then. It is the multi-colored one in the picture with this post. It is still in great shape, and because of all the colors it has something to add to almost any décor. It is bordered in green which is my favorite color. Auntie Helen is no longer alive, but I have this beautiful thing from her that helps me remember her. Partly through her influence I have also loved to knit and crochet and I have hopes of being as productive as she was.

This afghan is an example of how a physical thing can represent more than just the physical. It can stand for values like thriftiness and hard work. It can be a gift of time and effort, showing love.

What gift have you received that has become special to you in this way?

Second Verse, Same as the First…

Four generations of sons

Today, walking around in the yard, I met a jet black cat with one long white tooth visible on one side of his closed mouth.  I had seen him other times and to this point he had always made himself scarce when he saw me noticing him.  Today I stretched out my hand and spoke softly and he immediately turned and approached me.

Years ago, as I remember it, our neighbor who was doing yard work, came to us to report finding a batch of feral kittens.  He knew there were die-hard animal loving children in our household and figured we would help solve his problem. He was right, of course.  We raised this batch and my daughters named them after famous people.  One that became a favorite of Julie, my oldest, was Hamlet, Prince of Denmark.  He was Hammy, for short, and continues to live with her today.  His unique characteristics are that he is small and compact for a male cat, has a sociable nature in a cat-like way, and is mostly black with a few crazy white marks.

In shape, size and nature today’s kitty was a match for Hammy and I wondered what genes they might share and if they had both started life in this same neighborhood.  The tooth was a little unnerving but other than that this little guy was fun to pet.  I think we have a bond going and I am calling him Snaggletooth.

The theme continued later this morning as Mom and I were conversing about our family relationships and how they also do replays.  My dad often told stories of his early years at home and the influence his dad had on him.  Even as he married and went out on his own, his dad was always involved in some way, giving feedback and support.  Interestingly, my dad also has a very similar relationship with one of his sons.  And taking it one step further, that son has a very close, remarkable similar relationship with his only son.  And by now, it is almost beyond surprising, that this third generation son is very much the same with his fourth generation son.  The sons may not have always agreed with the fathers (how rare, right?) or the fathers with the sons but there developed a high degree of compassion and appreciation in each case.  After a few generations of repetition these things start to jump out and be noticed.

Further on in our talk Mom’s early childhood came up.  She had a younger brother who was born last in the family and spent a lot of time with her.  They were often together as children and she would pass the time making up stories to tell him.  Their mother died when they were still young adults which added another layer of closeness to their brother – sister relationship.  As she talked about it, I noticed how much it sounded like the way I feel about my youngest brother.  Another comforting familial replay…

I’m not sure what all of this means, except that awareness of family influence and nurture might cause us to think more carefully about our parent – child interactions.  Seeing patterns over such a long time period might give new meaning and strength to biblical references about blessings or cursings that last to the third and fourth generation, or longer.  Just saying, it is interesting and food for thought.

Pact with my Children

To My Children: Putting Words Toward the Pact

There are various kinds of promises people make to one another in moments of devotion or need that are significant to their relationships. Some are of their own making, others I believe to have been modeled by God and meant to be carried on. One of those is the pact that parents make with their children – probably more like a covenant since it is more of a unilateral promise. I believe that God extended to me an unconditional love guaranteeing his care, his forgiveness when needed, his support, membership in a spiritual family that I can’t quite comprehend, and all the other benefits he is able to provide. He knew I would have trouble feeling the depth of his commitment to me, so he came up with an idea to help me experience his side of the covenant. He gave me a family.

When you children came along I began to love you immediately. I watched you grow and studied your natures and found you fascinating. I loved being with you. There were hard times and disappointments but none of that lessened my desire to work toward your highest potential and greatest good. I saw what God was trying to show me through our relationship. The trouble was, I was not God. My performance falls so short of his, and my understanding is never going to be complete in this life. But he also enables me to have his help. His help often comes from a spiritual, unseen world that many have trouble believing in and accepting. But I believe it and do not need confirmation from those who haven’t experienced that other world.

I promise as much as is humanly possible to love you, my children, without end. Nothing depends on your ability to return love perfectly because I know you are human too. I will try to listen to you, understand your messages, not be quick to conclude or brittle in my responses to you. Whatever you are going through, I want to be a safe place for you to express it, to examine it, and to process without it becoming “all about me”. God will help me do this.

Others will love and support you, but none of them will be quite like me because I am your mother. It doesn’t mean I will always care for you as when you were little and needed so much direction and teaching. It will be more like a friend who is putting you as a high priority when you need physical help, financial help, supportive time, care when you are sick, and all those things we all need even as adults. I am here to go through life with you. I am held responsible for that, right behind my responsibility to God, and then to my husband. I am told in scripture that this will bring me purpose and fulfillment in life and so far that has been true. In all its stages, being your mother has been my favorite career.

I will grow in my understanding of what God is doing among us, but I’m just saying, I think I’ve got this right.

For Gwendolyn with no middle name… on Mother’s Day

Mom, I am so blessed to have you as my parent. Thank you so much for:

  • my family unit of which you are the hub, the one around which we gather
  • your style, the objects you surround yourself with and hold dear, even though they sometimes come from garage sales
  • your availability, our early morning talks
  • your love of coffee and willingness to share it with everyone
  • well, hey, your love of food in general, and the way you make it a part of every good gathering of people (cinnamon roll queen…)
  • your total lack of complaining. I don’t know how you do it.
  • for not giving up on people or things too easily.
  • for helping Dad when he needs it.
  • for continuing to be curious about relationships, about technology, about faith
  • for making me feel special by sharing things with me that you probably don’t tell anyone else
  • for taking responsibility for your own feelings and not putting guilt trips on other people
  • for taking independent action when it’s needed, for being brave and willing to offend the right people at the right time
  • for loving books and being a reader
  • for your devotion to solitaire challenges and keeping your mind sharp
  • for faithfully reading my blog and liking my posts. I write for you most of the time.

Happy Mother’s Day, Mom. I will always love you.

Not about to win any contests but we are beautiful to each other, and that's not a small thing.
Not about to win any contests but we are beautiful to each other, and that’s not a small thing.

A to Z Family Stories: E for Every Easter

There we were.
There we were.

There we would be – however many of us there were at the time.  All lined up, or as close to that as possible, in the moment before the boys got into some dirt, the moment before we were herded into the car – hopefully not late for church.  It was the Easter photo op.

Weeks before the event the planning would begin.  Mom always made a new dress for me and I still have memories of many of them, partly from seeing the pictures so many times but also I remember how I felt in them, what I thought of the fabric, who I was trying to look like.  Little girls always got a hat. Who started the Easter bonnet thing is still a mystery to me but it was a habit that died hard.  Easter was also one of the two times when one might expect to get new shoes to go with the new dress.  And because the snow might be melting by Easter I sometimes got to wear the new shoes without boots over them.  There were so many things about the holiday that spoke of spring freedom.

The real miracle of Easter was getting all my brothers cleaned up and dressed in their church clothes before something tragic happened to one of them. For simplicity’s sake they always had matching outfits in various sizes. Often one component or another would go missing – a sock, a belt, a shoe – adding to the craziness of the morning.  I can remember family routines of getting things ready on Saturday nights (commonly referred to as bath night). Shoe polishing must have been one of my favorite things to do as I have a mental picture of small shoes lined up, last week’s newspaper underneath them to protect the floor.  But it was mom who did most of the work. I think she was the one who took most of the pictures, just to prove she had done the job.

Our church family and the routine of the church calendar added much to my growing up years.  It was a pretty safe place to be, and there weren’t expectations of perfection that left me disillusioned, jaded or burned out.  We were just people and we seemed to know there was something about God that called for our attention.  Sometimes we gave it fully and lots of times we didn’t. I don’t think God was surprised.

By the light of the moon…

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Today Dr. Julia had only one appointment and we were going to spend a good part of the day switching her vet box from one truck to another – a process requiring a lot of unloading and reloading and four strong men to do it.  Unfortunately the doc has also been on call all day.  It is now dark and she is still giving shots to Howdy, Whiz, and Li’l Snip.
It’s been a long day and a hard day. The worst of it was euthanizing a sweet little mini who was in severe colic. We shed tears along with the family over that one. Those are not easy decisions to make.
And we have not even started switching trucks. Maybe tomorrow.  Some days are just this unpredictable.

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