The Last Day

12-31-2019

This morning is my cry time. It just hit me hard that this time I looked forward to so much is ending already. One daughter has left already, in the dark, on the trip to the airport three hours away. The other one leaves this afternoon. We have spent a week together, wearing ourselves out with talk, food, and as much activity as we could pack into a week of weird winter weather.

I am not put off by stillness or being alone, but the contrast is so vivid right now that I can’t not think about it. I’m looking at the special things they bought to eat and drink, but didn’t finish. I’m putting away the last puzzle we agonized over before we found out that one piece was missing. I’m trying desperately to think of what adventure I can plan next to mask this feeling of missing people I love.

I want to hug my kids again and tell them how much they are loved, and how much I hope they will always love each other. I want them to see how beautiful they are, how unique, how disarming and precious in those moments when they struggle.

There are always a few struggles even in the coming together. This winter gathering seemed characterized by the words “awkward” and “ bizarre” which we heard a lot, and said a lot in our conversations. Even in our commonness we are awkward and bizarre, and memorable because of it.

We are family, with the chance to display a special kind of love to the world. God help us to do do that.

I Shall Start

Why? Why is it that for nearly 60 years I have written letters to friends and relatives, written in journals, and written my blog posts? I’ve always told myself that it was for my family – so that someday they would have a book. Someday they would be able to read what it was like for their mom/aunt/grandma to live in the last half of the 20th century. I have relatives who have done this for me, and I have been grateful.

I seem to have found too many reasons for putting off the task of compiling this book, in spite of promptings that I would say have come from God. Yes, God wants me to write and I feel his partnership in this project. This is the year that I will do something, every week, every month until there is something to show for it.

I’m starting by reviewing and reposting old blog posts that are still meaningful to me. I didn’t have many readers back in 2012 and most of you have not read these. Here goes…

Furniture

February 2012

I don’t normally give furniture much thought – my house is a decorator’s nightmare – but I love to rearrange what I have. Really, tell me that something is too big and heavy to be moved and I will rise up from my death bed to prove you wrong. And it’s tricky work so you want to wait until you have little to no interference. When I’m in the middle of a complicated move the last thing I want is someone second guessing my strategy, the only exception being someone who is a kindred soul and has a good sense of humor.

 I started young and probably learned furniture rearrangement from my mother. She moved things around a lot to avoid boredom and because it was cheaper than buying new stuff – you just put it in a different place and it looks new, kind of.  I always loved it when things got moved around and required new patterns of sitting, walking, etc…  The only drawback to rearranging is that you have to give people a little time to get used to where things are, and even then, if it’s night and they’re half asleep they might make a mistake and dive into a dresser instead of the bed (sorry Dad, had to tell it).

Yes, Mom was a kindred soul and a mentor to me.  I came home one summer when Mom was “rearranging” and wanted to move an old mahogany dresser out to storage. It was slightly smaller than a compact car and nearly as heavy, and it was on the second floor of our old farmhouse. Many times since I have looked at those 20 steep steps and that narrow stairwell and wondered how we did it without being permanently injured.  My clearest recollection is of being stuck part way down in a very awkward position and having to wait until we stopped laughing to continue.

Carpet and other floor coverings are in much the same category as furniture. Changing what is on your floor can be liberating, and I have been liberated two or three times in my career. The same farmhouse, a downstairs bedroom with old wall to wall carpet with stains and probably at least fifteen years worth of dust mites… I found some decent looking wood floor under a corner of this carpet and decided to get rid of it one day when my husband was out of town. He is not a kindred soul.

Carpet requires as much or more skill to remove as furniture. Think about it. You either have to move all the furniture out of the room, or you have to move it all to one side, roll up the carpet and then move the furniture over the roll. No small matter. I don’t remember which I did because it was so awful, my mind erased all the memory of it in self defense.  Furniture amnesia is what keeps me doing these things. Once rolled, carpet is very stiff and surprisingly heavy. I could barely lift one end of it and there was no way it would bend around a corner and out the doorway. I had to go out the window with it, and it was a serious rival to the “dresser in the stairwell” for being ridiculously funny and somewhat dangerous. Most people probably don’t remove wall to wall carpet until they’re willing to cut it up in small pieces, and that is the way I have done it ever since.

And all this came to mind while I was moving furniture today. Twenty years ago we bought our first really good set of living room furniture – a large, heavy Lane sofa with recliners on each end (still in the living room) and a rocking love seat with reclining function also.  The love seat has been in a rental unit and has seen better days … kids, dogs, garage storage have all taken a heavy toll and I’ve decided at least twice to put it out by the road on it’s way to furniture heaven. But it was still in the garage and recycling is so “in” now that I decided to give it another chance. I pulled two pencils, a TV remote and a dirty sock out of the cracks, vacuumed and scrubbed the fabric with carpet cleaner and cleared the way through the house.

 I use physics principles when I move furniture; levers, friction reduction, and obstacle avoidance. And I have plastic sliders, which my mother never had but I could not live without. When I made it through the first doorway, I knew I could get it all the way into my bedroom on the other side of the house. It was really a pretty piece of work, especially since the recliners kept unfolding and rocking kind of like a ship at sea. I had to stand it on one end to get it through the narrow places.  It’s now sitting at the end of my bed under the ceiling fan, smelling like a dirty dog as it dries from the scrubbing.

All this to say that it may not stay there long.  It makes the room seem more crowded, and my designer friend, Arlette, says I never should have gotten furniture more than 37 inches deep in the first place. Who knew? If I don’t like it I can always get rid of it, and just like carpet, I may have to cut it up in small pieces this time.

The Other Side of Thanksgiving

If I had remembered to take pictures at the right time, I could have shown you my beautiful table, decorated and set for our Thanksgiving meal. But I didn’t and through that I realized there is an “other side” of Thanksgiving.

That side is as much a part of the good memories I hold as seeing that perfectly cooked turkey, the smorgasbord of pies ready to be served, or that plate full of food artfully arranged. The other side is seen here…

and here…

and here.

It is experienced as I wash dishes with help from guests, wipe counters clean, search space for an extra chair at the table, empty garbage, and wipe a spot of gravy off the floor (okay, it was really cat throw up but that’s not the point).

The other side includes that kind of relaxed, awkward time after eating when no one is quite sure what to do so they do this…

or this…

or this…

The other side is dear, but also a little stressfull as the number of people in the house swells, the kitchen counters are crowded with supplies, refrigerators are full of leftovers and entryways look like this.

Those necessary inconveniencies of travel, trying to keep rested over a long weekend, trying to connect in meaningful ways with each loved family member and guest – all are parts of almost every Thanksgiving I can remember. They are the other side that is maybe not so photogenic or talked about.

I think I love the other side too – the mess, the chaos, the spills, the broken dish, the menu item that gets forgotten in the fridge, the cat that dips its paw in my guest’s water glass.

Thanksgiving is a singular, memory making holiday with two sides. It might even be my favorite. All this goodness makes it easy to say “thank you family!” And “thank you guests!” And most of all “thank you God!” for another great Thanksgiving.

Autumn and Family

A past Thanksgiving in the place that is now my home.

I’m not sure I can blame it on the season, but there is something about fall that makes me miss my family in far away places. Sitting here at breakfast with the husband, I even miss our  family members that live down the street. Maybe I’m thinking longingly of Thanksgiving gatherings. Maybe it’s the thought that the long winter is coming and we should see people now, before travel gets risky. Maybe it’s because life is so obviously changing for all of us and I feel the need to KNOW how it’s affecting everyone.

We do a lot of sitting and talking. Good stuff.

Mom and I were sitting in her living room, doing our sunrise chat one day this week. She brought up the fact that many of our southern family members had moved recently. They were in houses she had never seen, so she didn’t know how to picture them at home. We started reflecting on how much better we know someone if we have visited them in their home – or at least we think we know them better. We know where they sit to relax, where they stand to talk on the phone, where they let their cat in and out, where they set the table for a meal. We know a lot of things, if we’ve been there. 

This topic is also on my mind because it was just a year ago this summer that we moved.  For quite a while friends and family didn’t know where to picture us. Even scarier, we didn’t know where to picture us. We were kind of floating and fitting in. A year into being Hayward residents, I feel like we are gradually setting our stamp on our home. There are beginning to be ways that it reflects who we are, our interests, our activities and priorities. As that happens, I feel the need to be known.

I am grateful today, for all the times I’ve been able to visit friends and family in their homes. I’m grateful for the times I’ve been able to host them in my abode. Those sharing times add to my awareness of their personalities. I know the ones who find minimalism comforting, and the ones who surround themselves with ALL their treasures. I know who is handy with tools, who loves creative touches, and who spends most of their time outdoors. I love knowing these things.

 And since this is Saturday sabbath, I have to consider that God is leading me to think about what I consider my “real home”. What will I find there and in what style am I getting ready to decorate it? From what I have seen of God (who I believe came up with the idea of home and family), the good things here on earth are meant to show us, in a small way, what he will let us experience in the future. He is such a hopeful God. 

I know not everyone is comforted by their knowledge of family togetherness. Some have never known a family. Some would like to forget what they know of family.  If that’s you, I want you to know that when it is done God’s way, family is wonderful. My family experience is not perfect – no one’s is, but even the hard and sad times have purpose. They create a holy longing for the perfection that will come when God makes bad things good again. I think it’s that simple, maybe. Just sayin’… 

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.