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.

February Goodness: Finding Lost Things

It is so good to be able to find things that are lost. Well, not actually “things” plural, but “thing” singular. I’m betting every woman who owns a purse or a bag that goes everywhere with her knows the panic of losing her purse.

It’s not a little purse.

This is my purse. I don’t take it everywhere because I carry most of what I really need in my phone wallet. But today I took it along to the husband’s weekly chiropractor appointment. I had it with me in the treatment room and hung it on his cane, like in the picture. After the appointment I had an errand to run for Mom at the hardware store.

I came out of the hardware store with my purchases and as I set them on the floor of the truck, where I usually put my purse, I was aware that my purse was not there. Thinking it must be in the back seat, I got out, opened the door and took a look. The inside of my truck is black too and sometimes the purse is hard to see. It definitely was not there.

No problem. We just went back to the chiropractor’s office a minute or two away. It wasn’t in the waiting room where I thought it had to be. But I could have put it down in the treatment room when I helped the husband up after his adjustment. The receptionist went in and looked. It wasn’t there either.

Back to the truck I went. Everything in it got lifted, opened, felt and thoroughly examined, but there was still no discovery. I went back in the office and waited for ten minutes until the person in the treatment room was finished and came out. I had to see for myself that the purse was not there, although I didn’t think they could have missed it. There was no purse and there was nothing left to do about it except pray that it be found. The chiropractor added his prayer as well, and it was comforting to know he was genuinely concerned.

I went back to the truck to inform the husband, who is also as eager to give lost causes to God as I am.

Husband: “God knows where it is. We’ll pray and keep looking.”

Me: “I know, but there isn’t any place left to look. It wasn’t anywhere in the office and I can’t see it anywhere in here, unless you’re sitting on it.”

Husband: “I am sitting a little bit crooked.”

Me: (looking at him in disbelief) (shoving my hand behind his back and feeling a purse strap) “You’re sitting on my purse! You couldn’t feel that?!”

Husband: (looking sheepish and overjoyed, a very strange combination) “Well, that was quick.”

All good. We were both so relieved that there was instant laughter. Losing things is not fun, but sometimes finding them again makes it all worth it. Just sayin’…

February’s Good Things: Forgiveness

Forgiveness is not something we do for other people, it’s something we do for ourselves, to move on.

From ProjectForgive.com

Today’s good thing is forgiveness, both the kind that others give me and the kind I give myself.

The day started out just fine, and I must have let my guard down a little because of that. It wasn’t much past noon when I forgot an appointment. I had also put my phone on silent earlier and forgotten to take it off, so I didn’t get Mom’s reminder call. I’m pretty sure I’ll be forgiven for both of those things just because my people are nice. But when I miss an appointment it really bothers me, so I don’t forgive myself right away. I carried that around in my bag of disappointments for a couple of hours.

I felt pressure to do my exercise before too late in the day. That was my one productive activity, after which I started messing up my room collecting things for the upcoming rummage sale. It was all out on the bed, and overflowing onto the floor, when I realized it was time to cook dinner. Where does the time go? I had intended to cook for Mom, but because I hadn’t let her know, she had eaten earlier. The bag of disappointments was feeling full, so I forgave myself for that one.

Instead I started cooking dinner and got distracted, until the faint smell of burning food brought me to my senses. I’m forgiving myself for burning dinner. After all, I’ve not burned dinner many more times than I’ve burned it. I cut the burned parts off and we ate it anyway. I forgave myself for ruining the non-stick pan because I don’t really think there is such a thing. I’ve never met a non-stick pan that I couldn’t make sticky. And I forgave myself for forgetting to turn off the burner for another hour. It’s -30 degrees outside and the house needs the extra heat.

Oh pan, I’m sorry.

And now I’m forgiving myself for the awful shape my room is in. I’m going to push everything off the bed and take care of it tomorrow.

Tomorrow is a brand new day, and that’s kind of what forgiveness is all about – starting over fresh, and second chances. Forgiveness and extending mercy feels good and in my life, it is oh so necessary. Just thinking about it and its merits has reminded me of how important it is not to hold grudges against others or beat myself up about things that are past. I’m not saying it’s easy to do this, but maybe that’s why God gives me days like this – to practice.

Donating (again)

Today I donated, not to Salvation Army or Goodwill or Humane Society Thrift Shop. Today I donated to Memorial Blood Center. I’ve done it several times since moving north, since I’ve stopped making trips overseas and since my hemoglobin number has been high enough. It’s kind of strange to think of my blood being shared with someone else, from my body to theirs. It’s strange and amazing to think that I have that much extra, and that I can make more so that it’s hardly even missed.

I became aware of a new kind of donation called double red because my brother had given in that way and told me about it. I wanted to help meet the demand for red cells, which I was told was high, and I qualified so I went online and got on the schedule. That kind of donation has to be scheduled because it takes considerably more time on a special machine called an apheresis machine. Blood is separated into various components and some parts are collected, in this case it would be red cells, and the rest of the fluids and plasma are returned into the donor’s body.

Pulling into the parking lot today, I was a little excited about doing the double red thing. As a nurse, I’ve seen a lot of blood and transfused a lot of blood so I’m not upset or queasy about the thought, but I’ve never been the one hooked up to the machine either. I registered at a table manned by the bus drivers (yes, they do multitasking when the bus is parked) answered my online questions and was sent to one of the buses to get the process going. I had quite a wait and started thinking about the apheresis machine and wondering how it worked and how they cleaned it, wondering if it ever malfunctioned… was even getting a bit anxious (deep, slow breaths, calm thyself…).

Then due to a scheduling mistake they told me they couldn’t get me on a machine and asked me to donate whole blood instead. So, short story, that’s what I did. It was over in a few minutes and was familiar to me. I was fine with that.

The most common blood type is O+ and it also happens to be the one most easily shared with others. I am type O+ and am blessed to be healthy enough to donate, to give back. There’s also a little something to be hopeful about – people with O+ type blood have been showing more resistance to COVID19 and are among some of the most long-lived people as well. I’ll take that.

Oh, and I got a T-shirt and a snack. Just sayin’…

A little wrinkled. I wore it already – a good workout shirt.

Coming Back to Center

Yesterday I finished working a lengthy project. Today I am re-centering. I started to describe it as finding my own life again, but that is not true. It’s all my own life. Choosing to immerse myself in work away from home and my usual routine is choosing how to spend my life, my minutes. Things, like this project, that seem like they could be distractions are really important parts of the main thing. They are my life. Stepping outside the norm challenges me to be resourceful and flexible. It brings new experiences, new thoughts and emotions, reveals areas of needed growth. And when it’s over, it makes coming back to “normal” sweeter and restful.

Be totally honest now, do I look centered?

Today I started back to center. I spent time talking with mom, and praying with friends. I took out the garbage, washed the dishes, found the washer and dryer under a rather large pile of stuff and started reading a new book to the husband. I watched snowflakes float down. I cooked broccoli, zucchini and salmon for dinner. I got a package ready for the mail. This too was all my life. One of my favorite sayings describes it perfectly. “It was all fun, and fun is good.” Just sayin’…

Survival Kit

Today, as I was looking through items from the friend’s house, I came across some small bags. They were labeled “Survival Kit”. A small brochure inside gave crucial survival information, tips, advice, and a list of what should go in the kit. I found it very interesting .

Is there room for some hay in there?

It was obvious that it was written back a while. This, for instance, among “items that might also prove useful” – quarters for emergency phone calls. Right. I wonder if recent generations would be able even to guess at how one might make a phone call with a quarter.

But most of the ideas were amazingly still good ones. I think that’s because survival is questionable only in a true crisis when the things we normally depend upon just aren’t there. The brochure called out several situations we might label as being critical, but followed up with this comforting advice:

“And remember, you can live through almost anything. Most survival is simply an inconvenience. Unfortunately, it is usually the individual who turns the survival situation into a life or death circumstance.” How true. How important it is to think clearly, avoid mistakes, and not panic, to conserve energy and resources for when they are most needed.

Then I had to laugh (and marvel) at the wise inclusion of this general rule of survival. It is probably the most universal and still practiced action, even by those who haven’t prepared for it. Here it is…

“Regardless of personal belief, most people confronted with survival have found great strength in asking for God’s help.”

Imagine that. What a timely reminder.

Old Feet

Today brought more lights.

And more steps. I’m 7 days of walking out of 9 in December and still going.

I’m noticing something about my feet as I continue to try to do 10,000 steps a day. For a while now I have a felt lump on the middle of my foot, right on the pad next to my toes. I used to take my shoe off and look for a rock, but now I know I won’t find one. It’s called Metatarsalgia, which just means pain in the metatarsal region. It hurts for the first half mile of walking, then it kind of flattens out and may not bother me the rest of my walk even though it makes my foot feel kind of round on the bottom.

In fact, both of my feet seem a bit rolly polly on the bottom and I sometimes lurch to one side or the other and have to make a correction. On the treadmill where the path is quite narrow, I can’t get off too far to the side or I’m losing balance and doing a bad thing. I have to focus on stepping “just so” whenever I’m not holding on to the grips. You have no idea how old this makes me feel, unless you’re having the same thing happen, of course.

Mom has been remarking about the same thing happening to her for years now. She thinks it’s neuropathy, and there probably is some of that involved. She prefers to go barefoot as much as possible, so she can feel the floor or the ground. When she wears shoes she can’t balance very well and worries about falling. The shoes feel so weird to her.

My siblings and I all have some version of whatever this is. Sometimes it’s numbness and tingling, and sometimes it’s pain. We are all hikers or work in physical jobs where we need our feet so this is disturbing. It looks like it’s an inherited trait, and I don’t think there is a remedy.

This isn’t really a story, but more of an observation and an inquiry. Does anyone else have information about Metatarsalgia?

I Blame the Washing Machine

Preparing a wedding in six weeks seemed possible but a bit scary, given all that has come to be expected of weddings these days. All of the bride’s women, Wedding Swat Team was our label, were meeting weekly on Zoom, from our locations all over the country. The important elements were gradually falling into place. I am the proud and excited mother of the bride.

A week ago, the husband and I traveled two days by car to the wedding city. The final two weeks before the big day kicked off with a bridal shower given by the groom’s family, and things started getting real. We jumped into the world of final decisions, last minute invitations, wedding gifts coming in the mail, and my job which was customizing the wedding dress.

The beautiful, expensive gown was a gift from the bride’s sister. I had only seen it in pictures. I was asked if I could help save costs by hemming it, fixing a bustle for the train and lining the bodice. To many, those sewing terms are like a foreign language and I was somewhat fuzzy on them myself but, eh, sure. I agreed to do the work.

My first look at the dress made me wonder if that had been a wise decision. There was a complex lace outer fabric over three layers of tulle and two taffeta linings, all needing to be shortened four or five inches. For some strange reason wedding dresses often have a long skirt that drags on the ground in the back, aptly called a “train”. The train has to get hiked up out of the way at some point so the bride can dance without tripping over it – that process is called “bustling the train”. And most puzzling to me is why any dress would be made with a top that is pretty much transparent and in need of a lining. But there you have it.

I spent a couple days watching tutorials on bridal sewing and shopping for things I didn’t know existed. Then came the scary cutting parts and all the stitching. It was with great relief that the final fitting yesterday morning showed it to be quite right. The bride will be lovely.

But wait, you’re thinking. When does it get ruined in the bad washing machine? This is not the end of the story, clearly.

The beautiful prospective venue

Yesterday, after taste testing the reception menu, I went out to work on the venue – the groom’s farm and barn. I love to dig into dirt and dust where I can really see I’ve made a difference. There was an area of the barn that met this description so I started dragging things out to be washed and de-spidered. Here’s where the washing machine enters the story.

It was there for washing horsey things. It was dirty and heavy but I wrangled it out on the lawn and sprayed it off. Later, I was again wrestling it in, inch by inch, back and forth. I distinctly remember the groom’s eight year old daughter looking at me, watching intently, as I muscled the machine around for the last time. And then my wet, gloved hand slipped on a backward pull and I fell on the concrete floor. In retrospect I should not have broken my fall by breaking my wrist. Surgery tomorrow with a nice doctor and maybe, by Friday, a splint small enough to fit through the sleeve of my beautiful, mother of the bride dress.

Now, instead of helping, I need people to take care of me and that’s awkward. It’s kind of fitting though, for a wedding in an already awkward pandemic year. There are reasons for all of this, but I’m blaming the broken wrist on the washing machine, just sayin’…. That’s my story.

More pics of me in splints and casts….

The Place Things Go to Be Forgotten

I just went over to take a quick picture of something to send to someone, but Mom had the garage door open and I went in to see what was going on. She had pulled everything out of the utility room. Stuff was everywhere and it looked like a lot of work for a nearly 88 year old to be doing. “What’s going on here?” I said, wondering whether those would be famous last words.

There’s a phenomenon that occurs after traumatic times involving death and loss. It’s kind of a restructuring of priorities, a re-evaluation of one’s life, a need to do something drastic to counter the trauma. My brother had talked about it in our early morning “touch base” session at Mom’s house. He was going through it, having just lost his wife to cancer. He was cleaning house, looking at everything and making decisions to keep or not. And evidently, it was contagious. Mom had caught it.

Her first excuse is always that she’s looking for spiders. Spiders are not allowed to live in Mom’s garage. It was only a few months ago, in the spring, when all the corners got “broomed”, and everything, including a freezer full of food, was moved and cleaned under. But we might not have done the utility room thoroughly, and today was the day.

“Since you’re here, would you mind going up in the attic and getting the blankets you said you saw. Tell me what’s up there, and bring it down if it’s something I should look through.” Mom doesn’t go up in the attic any more. It has one of those pull down ladders which is only wide enough to fit between the ceiling joists. The ladder is a little scary at any age, but certainly in one’s eighties. I had been going up and down, storing things, ever since we moved up from Florida two years ago – kind of the curator of the attic museum. Things only go up in the attic if they are willing to be forgotten for a while.

For the next half hour I tossed items down the hole, rearranged boxes, poked around reacquainting myself with the contents of containers, calling down to Mom as we made decisions. What to do with that set of dishes that used to belong to a friend’s mother, now deceased? What to do with the bag of fabric strips for braided rugs? What about all those fake flowers, and knick knacks that got replaced? Why are there two boxes of old jeans up here? How many good cardboard boxes do we need to save? Almost all of it came down the ladder. It looked like an attic explosion, with Mom in the middle of it.

This looks neater than it really was. But notice, no spiders anywhere.

“Don’t worry. I won’t do it all today.” She reassured me that she was only going to put things back in the utility room. I packed up a few things to take over to my attic for a few years. I stood, trying to think why I had come over in the first place. Although it felt good to organize and de-clutter, I was feeling a little guilty about the mess we’d made.

I guess it’s all a part of the grieving process, and everyone does it differently. Some of the things we do are helpful, some aren’t, and some don’t leave us feeling the way we thought they would. But we need to do something, a cleansing of sorts, and then maybe we can go on, one day at a time… just sayin’.

The Risk in Being Neighborly

I was late going out for a walk yesterday and was nervously watching a drift of storms on the weather radar. Sure enough, as soon as I got to the trail head a light rain started.

I thought it might quit so I stayed in the truck and made a phone call to the North Carolina daughter. We were ten minutes into our chat when a man came out of the warming cabin and approached the truck. He could see I was on the phone so he kind of stood there looking nervous and waiting. When I could see that he wasn’t going away I told Julie I had to hang up and why. She said to call her back in five minutes or she was going to send people to rescue me.

I totally get that, and would have said the same to her. But isn’t it a sad thing that we all have heard of so many disappearances, abductions and murders? Isn’t it sad that we have to think about that and make provision for the possibility? Yes, it’s very sad. And that’s why I ask for God’s protection over my day and everything that comes with it. And then I trust him to give me something – instinct, intuition, a gut feeling, an angel. I don’t care, I just trust.

I might have had a few red flags initially, mostly because I had no idea where the man had come from. I had been there for quite a while and all the cars that had been there when I came had left when the rain started. Had he been in the cabin all along? Doing what?

When I considered rolling down the window so he could speak to me I looked at him closer. I began to dismiss any wild ideas when I saw he was fully decked out in his mountain bike gear, and had obviously been riding hard enough to break a sweat. He looked like he had a request. I couldn’t get the window down without starting the truck, which I didn’t want to do. I opened the door instead and stepped out.

He explained that he had been riding on the single track trail and a branch had gotten caught in the derailleur of the bike and it was broken, beyond his ability to repair it. He had walked a mile with the bike hoping to find someone at the trailhead and had entered the cabin on the opposite side from where I was parked. He had gone riding without his cell phone and was asking if I would call his wife to come get him.

We stepped into the pavilion to get out of the rain and I made the call, holding the phone so he could speak to her. But she didn’t pick up – the unfamiliar number that is usually a robo call must have thrown her off. He left a message. He was clearly in a bind so after hanging up, I asked him where he lived. It was only a few miles away and here I was with a truck – I had to offer him a ride home. I wasn’t going to walk in the rain anyway, so why not?

He was polite and genuinely grateful. He asked if I was concerned about taking him with the COVID 19 precautions. He offered to ride in the back seat. I was feeling more and more sure he was a nice guy and in no way a threat. We loaded up his broken bike and got on our way. We talked all the way to his house. He knows that I hike and volunteer for the Birkie ski race. I know that he has skied the Birkie 24 times and has retired in Hayward from Minneapolis. I dropped him off at his log cabin home in the woods, completely forgetting that I was supposed to call my daughter in five minutes, or else…

She promised she would call for help if I hadn’t returned her call in five minutes. I hadn’t. She did.

When I checked my phone on the way home it was full of calls from the daughter. I had scared her and she had been busy alerting my brother. The sherif was next on her list. I had gotten back to her just in time.

Talking about this experience later with Mom, I had to admit that all the reasons I had decided to trust this guy could have been fabricated. It’s true that people bent on evil go to great lengths to appear trustworthy. It’s true that this small town, where it’s hard to find a stranger, is much like other places where unexpected crimes are committed. It’s true that it’s somewhat my nature to take risks.

But it’s also true that the art of being neighborly is an endangered item and needs to be preserved. Mom has a well worn sign on the freezer in her garage “Let all beings be filled with kindness and compassion for one another.” All beings. Filled. I think we’ve got a way to go.

What is one thing I could do, right away, to be a kinder, more compassionate person to a neighbor?