Tomorrow afternoon, we will have been married 46 years. This has been an eventful year, with retirement for the husband, an interstate move and our house going up for sale, and then a diagnosis of Lewy Body Dementia that the husband was not expecting.
We may have many more anniversaries. But however many there are, we have this one to look forward to. We have an appointment with a lawyer in a nearby city, to discuss estate planning. As long as we are there, it will be nice to stay in a hotel and not to have to make the two-hour drive home. As long as we are staying for the night, we are going to dinner at a nice steakhouse as a celebration. It is all planned and will be more of a “night away” than we have had for a long time. It’s just hasn’t been something that we find ourselves doing.
It will be a celebration of another sort as well. Today we got the first real paper offer on our home in Florida. It’s been over six months on the market and this is the first offer we have had, although there have been lookers. It is the kind of family we had been hoping for, and although we feel we must make a counteroffer, we are hoping to come to an agreement with them. In a little over a month we could possibly be closing the sale. I have been looking forward to this for so long! (at least it seems like a long time). It would solve several other problems as well if this could come to closing. Prayers appreciated.
The husband has not been feeling well, but he is pretty certain he will feel better tomorrow. Don’t ask me how he knows. It’s as much a spiritual/emotional matter as it is physical, although it involves physical discipline to keep to the diet that he wants to be on. I am hoping the restaurant will have at least one good keto meal to choose from so he can enjoy the evening. I chose a hotel that has no stairs to climb and a nice hot tub to soak in. That should also be a treat, if he has the energy for it.
Things do fall in place at some point. I am glad it is now, or at least seems to be now. I know we could yet be disappointed, but I’m taking care not to find out until after our anniversary. Congratulations to us. We are in it for the long haul.
I am not a virtuoso, but I have played enough over the years, that I can relax and enjoy expressing myself through music. I’ve played hymns in churches most of my life, and always offer to do so when I move to someplace new.
And so it happened that I offered to play for the church that I am attending here, “up north”. and am collecting quite a collection of piano stories with a common theme. Embarrassment. It’s got me thinking. But, as always, what I let myself think is important. Humility and embarrassment are related, but not quite the same and that is where the importance starts.
This morning I arrived early enough for church that I could make sure the electronic instrument, a clavinova, was plugged in, turned on and sounded appropriate for the small early service. I only had to play for the communion portion of the service – one hymn. All was set. The service went well, the message was moving and the invitation was given for communion. To my surprise, when I started to play there was a pop drum beat and a very weird bass thing going on with my reverent, calm hymn.
I hunted for any button on the control board that had STOP written on it, and tried several times to make the hymn sound like a hymn, but no. What finally came out of the machine was barely recognizable and was probably more distracting than having no music at all. Stuff like this is a musician’s nightmare.
This particular service is early, 8 am, and has small attendance, so the music crew does not do a lot of practice for it. Other times when I’ve participated, I have played the wrong song at the right time, played the right song at the wrong time, and played when I was not supposed to play at all. I suppose the regular attendees are getting kind of used to me and my uncomfortable adventures.
I am filled with mixed emotions. Why do these things keep happening? It always takes a bit of courage to put myself in a place of service to others where what I do is noticeable if I do it poorly. I am aware that music sets the mood and can influence people. I desperately (yes, desperately!) want to not distract people from their worship, or make them uncomfortable because they are worried about me.
On the other hand, I realize that music is not what it’s all about. Worship is not about me at all and how I respond when things go poorly is what God is probably watching. What does my embarrassment lead to? What discouraging messages am I giving myself about my performance, my usefulness? Will I be intimidated and unwilling to serve again? Those would not be good choices. However, I have to consider that God might be telling me that my time playing for church is finished. Maybe I am to move on to something else, and it would be okay. It has to be okay. Kind of makes me look at my pride issues and wonder what God wants to teach me next. That is always a good thing.
This morning, the pastor asked me what I was going to write about next. I had no idea then, but God inspires in strange ways and look what happens. Just sayin’…
I was awake at 3:30 am listening to the plow over in the Walmart parking lot. There are fences and tree borders between our condo and Wally World so we don’t see it, but we do hear most everything. That’s how I knew there was more snow.
I didn’t actually get up until 5 and since it was still super dark, and I think it’s a little ridiculous to shovel snow in the super dark, I waited another hour to go out. It was simple dark then, and my brother was out with his Bobcat, clearing the parking area for his employees to arrive.
It was a whole different kind of shoveling today. The shovel no longer slid easily over the cement. I had to kick it every few inches because there was an immovable layer in there somewhere. If you’ve ever had a pan with food burned on it, that’s what it was like. It was also quite slippery – made it hazardous to get in a good kick when the leg I was standing on was slipping out from under me.
Frequent rest periods were the answer. Every time I would stop and look around I was amazed all over again at how beautiful the world is when covered with snow. And to be out in it is an experience so different from looking at it.
My snowman looked a little stressed this morning, just sayin’…
For a month now, we’ve been waiting for snow. We had such a good start in November but since then the temperatures have been between the high teens and a bit less than 40. The early snow has gradually melted in all but the shadiest, most protected places. In some ways this mild streak of temperatures is nice but it puts a damper on those who are waiting to ski, snowmobile or just see more of the pretty white stuff.
We were very hopeful about the winter storm that was forecast for last night. And sure enough, when I looked out in the dark this morning, I could tell by the streetlights that we had new snow. We also had a good chance of more precipitation in some form, but it was 37 degrees – that meant it would likely be rain not snow.
My brother is responsible for snow removal in the small development that he manages. I help him when I can. He runs a small machine with a plow, called a skid steer, and I shovel close to the houses where he can’t easily go with the machine. There are 12 dwellings. It’s a good upper body workout, yes it is.
But I like to shovel snow most of the time. This snow was wet and heavy. There really should be different names for all the different kinds of snow, and there are a few, I guess. This snow was white and pretty on top but slush underneath. Slush is heavy, being mostly water trapped in collapsing snow particles. When I pushed the shovel through 3 to 4 inches of this stuff it would curl up in a roll until it was too heavy for me to make it move. If I’d been out to play instead of work, it would have made super, sticky snowballs.
And the more I thought about it (play), I decided I was not an “all work” girl. Making a giant snowball is a pretty nifty way of clearing a path, so I did that a couple of times and ended up with a snowman. By this time it was raining instead of snowing. I had a hard time getting Frosty’s eyes and nose to stay on his face for a picture but I persisted. Mom is not “all work” either. She suggested one of her hats would look good on him, so that’s why he got photographed twice – the second time with a somewhat more glorified nose.
With top knot (probably a man bun) and nose…
The new look, with hat and a somewhat glorified nose.
The response to her brother’s note, left at the door of the fort, came two days later. It didn’t quite match any of the compelling situations she had imagined, but Shirley was okay with that. It was a relief to know that there was no criminal in hiding, no homeless desperado, no Bigfoot out in her meadow. It was still a safe place to walk. And it turned out that the real situation was as interesting to her as the imaginary one.
It was a survival class being taught at the charter school whose property bordered the wetlands and meadow. The teacher called to remind Dennis that he had contacted him months ago about permission to use the property. He had been taking small groups of students there frequently to practice skills like finding shelter, finding food, and starting fire. No one had noticed them out there.
The fort had been his idea. He had led the others out to the meadow to construct it. They had made fire probably four times for a simple meal, maybe six more times for keeping warm, preserving the fire bed for the next time. They were kids, but someone had to help them know that campfires were for more than roasting hot dogs and marshmallows. Shelter and fire could mean their survival. It had been a fun class.
It didn’t take her long to find him on Facebook and ask for a meeting. Sitting in the local coffee shop with their hot drinks, Shirley got whole story from the teacher himself. He was clearly passionate about the outdoors, about survival in a myriad of environments, and about teaching basic skills to anyone who needed to learn them. He had stories…
Survival was a recurring theme in his life and was extremely important. He learned that at an early age growing up in Alaska. He learned it in the military. He learned it traveling to foreign countries. There were countless experiences that reinforced that lesson.
He would present scenarios to his students. What if the plane they were on crashed in the middle of an uninhabited area and there were 50 survivors, or 100? What would be the best course of action to save lives, to survive? What would you do for the wounded? Where might you find food and shelter until help arrived? What resources might be right there in front of you but go unnoticed? He believed everyone should have a chance to think about those things. Those were the kinds of things they talked about out in the meadow, as they built the fort.
Not everyone responded warmly to the experiences he offered, at least not at first. There were the silent ones, the thinkers, the watchers. Some had been fearful and guarded all their lives. But as young people they were flexible, they learned what he was teaching and it gave them confidence, allowed them to trust and work cooperatively. It was life changing for them and rewarding for him.
“So what comes next?” she asked him as they finished their lattes and prepared to leave the shop.
“Maybe, if the fort is still there for the next class, we’ll figure out how to keep it warm. I want to see if the kids can figure out something solar, although you would be surprised how warm it gets with a dozen kids in there…”
Thanks to John (or Scott or whoever you really are) and Angela for the latte and a great conversation. Hope to hear more of your adventures in the future.
Shirley gave up trying to sleep, swung her legs over the side of the bed and cautiously made her way out of the room, in the dark. It was kind of early to be getting up, but that was happening a lot lately, and not just to her.
She found her glasses in the bathroom, wandered out to the kitchen and punched the button on the coffeemaker until the red light popped on and the noises started. She checked the digital thermometer, the third step in her routine, then opened the blinds on the kitchen window. Thirty-five degrees, and everything outside had that dark, wet look. Something was falling out of the sky. She could see it reflecting light from the string of Christmas lights she’d arranged on the patio, but it was hard to tell if it was rain or snow. Probably rain, but the temperature was dropping. They wouldn’t be seeing a sunrise today.
She and her husband had recently moved “up north” to the family farm in Wisconsin. Her mom was not liking being alone since dad had died. Her brother Dennis and his wife lived close but they were in a different stage of life, with younger children and an expanding business to deal with. It made sense for them to pack up and go help. It made more sense in the summer than in the winter, but oh well…
She and her mom, more often than not, found each other about this time in the morning and had the first cup of coffee of the day while watching the sun come up. Mom, especially, had a fascination with the sky and clouds and would raise the blinds on the east windows, wanting to see what would happen out there that day. They would talk, solve world problems as they jokingly called it. Shirley also had the sky watching disease and usually jumped up three or four times to step outside and snap pictures.
That’s why the photo gallery on her phone was predominately orange, red, pink, purple, with sunrises and sunsets. They were all amazing pictures, but how could they not be? It wasn’t her talent that made them amazing. She was not yet a photographer. She was also not yet an author. She was not yet a grandmother. “Not yet” was kind of like her title of nobility. She was not yet a lot of things, but most importantly she was not yet dead. She was going to make the most of that one.
A while later, breakfast out of the way, she was over at her brother’s place of business. Her brother was an entrepreneur and owned a small awards and recognition company, doing most of their business online out of a neat, up to date building only a short walk away from her mom’s condo. The prospect of getting some employment there was part of the reason she had made the move north from Florida to live with mom.
She was in the learning phase of making plaques for a sports team. Being “not yet” a proficient worker and having just made some wrong cuts, necessitating a complete do over on a print job, she was glad to stop when her sister in law came in the shop.
“Are there some packages here for us? Dennis said they were here but I don’t see them in his office.” M.P. said as she took off her gloves and outer layer of winter armor. She fished her cell phone out of her pocket and started flipping through photos.
“Claire flew back from Duluth last night, in a small plane. A friend of hers rented the plane for a week and he needed to get in some hours for his next level. She took some great pics from the air of the Christmas lights in Bentleyville. Oh, and did you see what Dennis found back in the meadow yesterday?” She stopped her searching and held out her phone.
On it was a picture of the meadow behind the barn and the large brush pile that had been growing there for over a year. There was a rather large, rounded out hole showing in the pile.
“You wouldn’t believe,” she went on “someone made some kind of fort there. It looks like they’ve been making a fire outside too. Dennis can’t figure it out. No one has seen anyone out there. He was thinking of burning the pile, and what if someone had been hiding in there?”
Shirley Not Yet looked at the photo. “I was just out there a day ago. I didn’t see anything like that.”
“That’s what Dennis said too. It’s really hard to see if you stay on the path. The entrance is on the other side.”
“Did it look like anyone was staying there?”
“No, nothing was in it except a cup. But there had been a campfire outside, so someone had to have been there for a while.”
Shirley had made a few forts as a kid, but not usually in winter and she certainly never thought of starting fires and hanging out. It sounded like more of an adult thing. The thought of an unknown adult spending time in the meadow where she frequently walked was… unsettling, maybe. Likely not dangerous though. She decided to go out and have a look.
Incognito, that was the focus. If you blend in, don’t get noticed, make use of what’s around you, but be careful, you’ll be safer. It had only taken about three hours to build the shelter. After pulling out a bunch of debris from the pile, he had found the pallets and even a sheet of old plywood. He’d made four “lean tos” and put them together with the plywood over the top. Water would run off and it would stay dry inside. Piling the brush around the outside hid everything. It was perfect. Done close to dusk, no one had noticed. The fire was kept small and smokeless.
All of his life he’d had opportunities to practice survival. It was kind of a passion with him. Well, who wouldn’t want to survive?
The pile had been growing for a couple of seasons. Downed trees from the bad storm a year ago, a whole summer’s worth of fallen limbs, old pallets that he didn’t need – he’d hauled it all out to the meadow behind the barn. It was dry and ready to be torched. That was the one of the things on his list now that the weather was cold and the ground was wet from snow that had melted.
It wasn’t that kind of melting that meant spring. It was only December, the month of cold and early dark. He was thinking of the burn pile and other chores as he did a routine walk through the meadow and surrounding wetlands. It was a favorite winding down time near the end of his work day. He skirted the barn, crossed over the small creek and around the pond and surveyed the pile.
It looked different somehow. He had been out with his machine and pushed it up around the edges, but some of the larger logs looked oddly placed. He strode over and walked around the pile, trying to remember just how he’d last seen it. There was no doubt that something had changed.
Coming around the side away from the barn and out of sight from the path, he saw what was left of a small campfire about ten feet away from the pile. That was new. Someone had been here long enough to enjoy sitting around a fire.
Had he forgotten giving someone permission to use the meadow? It was his private property and although he allowed some friends and local residents to walk the paths around the wetlands it was hard to imagine any of them hanging out for any length of time, not in the weather they’d been having recently. And there was just something not quite right about that pile…
He was just about finished circling the perimeter when he noticed it. A gaping hole in the side opened into the interior of the piled up brush. Kneeling down and peering in, he was amazed. There was enough room in there for a couple of people to roll out sleeping bags. The sides and top had been supported by pallets and piled high with tree trunks and brush. The whole pile had been re-engineered into a shelter, and a pretty cool one at that. It was empty, thank goodness.
He couldn’t think of anyone who could have done it, and remarkably, without being seen. Maybe kids? There were lots of them out on Christmas break, probably bored and needing something to do. A vagrant? It was a bit drafty but definitely better than no shelter at all, and there was plenty of dry wood left to burn to keep warm. What really bothered him was the thought of how he could have set the thing on fire with someone hiding inside. Not a good thought…
He sure wasn’t going to wait out there until someone showed up, so he decided to leave a note. He snapped a picture with his phone and went back to the house for paper and pen. The note went something like this:
“Hi. Whoever built this, please call me. You’re not in trouble. This is really cool but I am concerned about your safety. I was planning to burn this and add to it, and I did not know about this. Thanks. Dennis, Property Owner.”
He finished it off with a phone number and tacked it to a log inside the entrance where it couldn’t be missed. Now to wait.
My people are making plans to gather for Thanksgiving. They are coming “up north” where we have short, cold days. This gets me started thinking about what there is to do up here when I have visitors.
I’ve gotten suggestions of activities some would like to do, most of which are either out of the question, or I don’t even know what they are. One of my daughters will be here for most of the week. Thank you, dear, for this list.
Her suggestions were:
Afternoon of frisbee golf (didn’t I tell you it was snowing up here?)
Visiting a slaughterhouse (um, no slaughterhouses. A new interest of yours?)
Build a Star Wars AT-AT out of bacon (you don’t like to touch meat, remember?)
Skunk hunting (for sport) (oh sure…)
Chapel Hill graffiti tour (I don’t think we have a Chapel Hill)
Lunch at Chipotle (no Chipotle… sorry)
Power walking race (maybe, in Walmart – you ok with that?)
Photo shoot near the big pickle (no, it’s a Musky and it’s a fish!)
Hip hop dance lessons (I think we’d have to import a teacher, but yeah…)
Yarn bomb an italian restaurant (no Italian restaurant, sorry)
Bit torrent party (what?)
Go caroling outside some night clubs (we have bars, not night clubs)
Camping! (didn’t I tell you it was snowing up here?)
Make a turkducken (you’re kidding… why?)
Night at the ballet (no ballet, sorry)
Computer day (no one talks to anyone, except chat & email) (already do this, no)
Clean up a mile of I-40 (I think that’s in North Carolina, no)
Dress up Lily fashion show (what?) See if an iPad will blend (what? what?)
Frozen margarita chugging contest (my head hurts thinking about this…)
Uno (Now you’re talkin’, yes)
Amish day (how does one do that?)
Zelda marathon (?what?)
Arts & crafts table at the flea market (flea market closed when it started to snow – doubles as a hockey rink, sorry)
Make organic free-range black bean burritos (maybe, what’s a free range black bean?)
Christmas shopping roulette (incompatible ideas, no)
Street racing with test drive cars (snow, ice, remember? way too exciting)
Plant an acai garden (the ground is frozen, no)
Afternoon of epic naps (this will happen without planning, yes)
Record a music video (we could do this in house, yes)
Visit a winery (no winery, sorry)
Start a Google group (you would want to do this? really?)
A couple of weeks ago the talk of the town was the high school play. I wasn’t too excited about a plot that centered around the trial of the wicked witch of the east and featured every fairy tale personage you’ve ever heard of, but mom decided she would go with my nephew. She said it was fun, so, based on her glowing review I decided to go the next night. I was desperate for a theatrical cultural experience and figured this was as close as I was bound to get for a while. I even ended up going ALONE, which takes some courage. I sat in the front row. It’s just what I do.
High school plays have not changed much in the last 50 years. I was so reminded of my first chances to be on stage. There is a lot to appreciate in these simple beginnings that teach poise, presence and test one’s memory of lines, and ability to be someone else. I still have an occasional nightmare where everyone is waiting for my line while I look frantically through the script to find it. There was some of that this night, but overall the whole play was well rehearsed, and it was fun. I think the actors had fun too.
“Up north” activities may lack the variety and sophistication of big city life, but I see a simplicity and wholesomeness in what does take place. People work hard up here and their free time is often spent in community service, activities with their kids, or just being home. There are many choices in those categories. I’m just sayin’ that so far, I have no trouble keeping busy.
I don’t really know if it can be called normal. Normal seems to mean that something stays the same over a period of time, long enough that you can grow used to it. We can’t seem to grow used to things that are changing all the time as we deal with the husband’s problems. “Normal” has come to mean regular frustration as he deals with less of almost everything he needs in every situation.
It snowed yesterday and was wet, slushy and slippery everywhere we went. The husband’s shoes were getting wet and were clearly not what he would need for winter, so today we shopped for boots. This is something we both remember him doing by himself, but since he no longer drives, I am with him everywhere he goes.
The first thing we had to do in the shoe department was find a place to sit down. Dennis can’t walk very far or stand very long without getting tired, and he always has to sit to put on his shoes. We struggled. Putting on boots can be such hard work. I fetched pair after pair from the shelves, opened them up and pulled and pushed until he could get his foot down inside. Each time he had to stand and test out the feel of the boot. Up and down, over and over. He was worried about the small bench he was on as it would start to tip as he pushed himself up. We finally found a pair. I think he would have liked to go home at that point, but he had also wanted to get a new watch.
After pointing him in the direction of the jewelry counter, I thought, briefly, that I would let him look over the options and choose. But no, I decided it would be easier if I helped him so we went together. His vision is one area where “less” keeps happening. In order to see the time he decided the face of the watch had to be white, with dark hands and numbers that were easy to read. No shiny reflective surfaces would be suitable. The band had to be easy to close. He would have liked one that showed the date, but finally decided that he would do without since he couldn’t read those small letters anyway. It didn’t take us very long to pick one out but by then he was really tired. He went to the pharmacy where they have benches, and sat waiting while I got a few groceries.
And we are getting very good at finding restrooms in all the places we go. This was Walmart and he had to walk to the far end of the store for that before we could leave. He walks very carefully, and very slowly.
Often we think of dementia as robbing a person of their memory first. That is not a given with Lewy body dementia. Right now some of the husband’s most frustrating symptoms are motor related. He has less strength, less balance, less flexibility, less stamina. He will tell you that he is also forgetful but I find that he can make himself remember most anything he wants to, given enough time. He may get overwhelmed with thinking too hard, but he still thinks correctly. He remembers. And that is what is hard – remembering what he used to be able to do, but no longer can.
No, it’s not a disease or something to hold a beverage. Read on…
On today’s walk, my goal was to check out the corner of my brother’s property that is storage for all the large things he doesn’t want to look at all the time. I knew that there were two metal structures there, cupolas from an old barn. I had seen them years before, on the ground, near the barn on the property and just assumed that they were from that barn. My brother said, no – they did not fit – and since they were so large, moved them out of the way, into the storage corner.
There they were. They were large. They were also rusted, a bit banged up, and looking forlorn with tall grass growing up the sides and an old metal drag leaning up against them. My uncle, who was with me, explained that they were galvanized steel which had lost the galvanizing in spots, leading to the rust. Peering up into them showed that the vents were still covered with wire mesh to keep the birds and other animals from going in. I found myself attracted to them even in their dilapidated state.
A cupola is really a ventilation device for the top of a barn or any building that is tight enough to require ventilation. Barns have lofts where hay is stored and often the hay is put in without having dried fully. If it is tightly packed, organisms in the hay can produce enough heat to spontaneously combust. Barns can burn down because of this. Also, in the winter when cattle are kept in the barn, moisture levels rise and the environment can get quite drippy. And so, cupolas are necessary. But where did these cupolas come from? I had not heard the answer.
As I wondered, out loud, my uncle said “What about the barn out on the farm near Round Lake?” That barn had come down in a windstorm years before (read about it here). I had grown up looking at that barn but could not remember if it had cupolas. I knew that after it fell, my dad had cleared the wreckage and made a pretty impressive bonfire.
Fortunately, there are many pictures of that barn before it fell and in one of them, a cupola is clearly visible. It looks just like the ones stored in the field. I am even more fond of them now that I know where they came from. My brother has given them to me, to do with as I wish. I wish to enjoy them, see them and use them for something, but what? I’m just sayin’ I could use some suggestions here…