Thanksgiving Chronicle: Ordinary Times and Travels post 6

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We all love a road trip in the rain, right? Yeah.

We met at the coffee house for a quick group goodbye and whatever breakfast we could handle. Bob and Elizabeth had already left for their drive, and ours was about to start. We were headed to Pennsylvania.

The husband grew up in the row mountains of central PA and over the years we have made some pilgrimages back to visit, but not as often as we should have. We’d been trying to arrange it all summer but there was one disruption after another. With winter setting in we knew the time was short before safe travel would be uncertain and Mom had graciously offered us the chance to go there on the way to Florida, in her car. Upon hearing this, both daughters, who also had not been there in quite a while wanted to come also. And because we didn’t all fit in Mom’s car, poor Ryan, Esther’s friend, (who perhaps did not have much of a choice) decided to share his rental car and go visiting with us.

Who calls up relatives they haven’t seen in years and tells them six people, some of whom are not even related to them, are “dropping by” for three days, and, by the way, do you have a place for us to sleep? Me. I do.

Visualizing the trip in my imagination, we would swap around at each stop and share time between the two cars. We were going to read to each other and have meaningful conversation, especially between us women – you know how valuable “car time” can be.  That didn’t happen. As it was, we started out divided into elders and youngers and that’s the way it stayed the entire time. We just couldn’t seem to end up at the same place in spite of frantic texting at 70 mph.

“We are at service plaza at mile 169 for gas and likely Burger King (one of Gram’s favs) 12:46 PM”

“We will probably miss you unless you linger but I think we’re closing the gap. 12:47 PM”

“There’s a Panera here! We’ll take our time if you want to stop. 12:58 PM”

“We are at 162. We’ll stop if you are still there. 1:15 PM”

“Still here eating soup. 1:22 PM”

“Sorry. We thought you’d have left and went past it :/ 1:22 PM”

Our trip planner, Julia, who blanched at the thought of never getting beyond Interstate fast food, had picked out a mid morning coffee stop for us, and a dinner stop, both designed to give us some local culture and a significant memory of some kind.  The coffee stop got scrapped before we were past Detroit, however, we elders did not hear of it until quite a bit later. We stopped at an Interstate fast food place, ho hum.  The youngers went downtown Detroit to some more trendy place as I recall.(Great Lakes Coffee)

This trip was purported to be around 8-9 hours. I think for us it was about 12 as we leap-frogged past each other on I-80, taking different lunch stops and fuel stops at different times. We did finally get together for dinner in Danville, PA. This time our trip planner hit a home run and we all had a good meal and an interesting time at the Old Forge Brewery. Spacious and rustic it was, and the food was good. These days the young crowd puts a lot of stock in craft beers and exotic coffees, which is okay – everyone has something they care about.  Someone has to keep all these brew pubs and coffee houses in business (although they didn’t do it for my brother in Michigan, did they?)

Our last most scenic miles were in the dark so we had no views except for the twisty, turning, hilly road in our headlights and the farmhouses and villages built, literally, right next to the road. We arrived at Ron (the husband’s brother) and Deanna’s house and sorted out our sleeping spots, visited a little, and went to bed. But, there were some plans, and we had three days….

More Good News

This is more about my recent excitement after watching a PBS presentation by Dr. Daniel Amen. I don’t know why I had never heard of his research before, since it is not new or hidden. First, look at all these acronyms and think of how many of them have affected you or people you love:

OCD – obsessive compulsive disorder

ADD – attention deficit disorder

PTSD – post traumatic stress disorder

TBI – traumatic brain injury

and then there’s also depression, anxiety, epilepsy, dementia, Alzheimer’s and a whole range of behaviors that we call mental illness and that are becoming common words in our society. The science of mental health was always kind of mysterious to me in nursing school, and since then as well. Sometimes therapies worked, sometimes worked for a short while, sometimes not at all. Medications were so “trial and error” oriented that they were discouraging. Many of them produced side effects worse than the condition they were treating. What I saw had me thinking that having a brain problem was a sad and permanent downhill course. And that is why I am so thankful for this research that shows otherwise.

Dr. Amen is a clinical neuroscientist, a psychiatrist and a brain imaging expert. His research includes over 83,000 of a particular kind of nuclear medicine images called SPECT or (get ready for big words) single photon emission computerized tomography. What this is, according to WebMD, a gamma camera that rotates around the patient taking pictures from many angles which a computer then uses to form a cross sectional image.

When I saw the before and after images of brains having some of the above listed mental health diagnoses and saw visible improvement that correlated with behavior improvement, I became a believer in what he was saying. You need to go look at these images, seriously. He explains it very well in some of his TEDx talks (like this one, click here). A couple of his most important and revolutionizing statements are “When your brain is not right, your relationships won’t be right” and “Change your brain – change your life, and here’s proof”.

I’ve not been diagnosed with a mental health issue. I’ve never been in therapy (although I’ve wished many times to have been) but I’ve had mild concussions, PMS, headaches, periods of anxiety, deep sadness. Who hasn’t? I’ve watched patients with dementia and worried that I would someday struggle with that. I’ve watched friends go through the stages of Alzheimer’s dementia and cried with their families. This is the first time I’ve heard that we can see even these things before they happen and do something about them. We can understand  what’s going on and counter with proven strategies instead of “shooting in the dark”, as Dr. Amen puts it.

(Btw, if you are a parent with a child who plays football, you need to hear about his treatment of professional football players with brain injuries. Even supposedly mild blows to the head create some images that show amazing amounts of damage, but the improvement that can be made is equally amazing.)

So that’s what has me excited. I’m going to watch more of his presentations. A lot of his treatments are related to exercise, good nutrition, good sleep, and good thoughts. In other words, it’s do-able and we should be doing it. Again, just sayin’.

Lake a Day Challenge: Spider Lake

A spider is probably not anyone’s favorite image to attach to a memory or a place, but when you grow up calling a place Spider Lake, you eventually quit thinking about real spiders and just think about the lake.  This lake is really a chain of lakes, four to be exact, connected by short rivers.  For many years one of my cousins has owned the Spider Lake Golf Club and Resort and it was only recently I learned that it is actually located on Clear Lake in the Spider Lake chain.  Big Spider (ugh!), Little Spider and North Lake make up the other three.

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Me and Spider Lake in rustic setting

My visit this summer was prompted in part by a reunion of my cousin’s family, as well as my own. This was the day we met at Spider Lake Golf Club for a wonderful dinner cooked on the grill and lots of family fellowship.  Cousins from as far away as Alaska and Florida (me) got reacquainted with each other, and fed mosquitoes. It seems the mosquitoes are a force to be reckoned with everywhere near the water or woods in Wisconsin. The young people hunted frogs, played catch and got underfoot. The rest of us visited and ate.  It’s kind of a standard theme among us. Always have food.

One of the most interesting activities at our gathering was making an African Praise Poem about mom.  Mom is one of three surviving siblings in her family of seven and a favorite among all the cousins.  After dinner we “poets” and mom talked together about the important events of mom’s life and the memories we had surrounding those times. There were tears. All these recollections were recorded and will be arranged, poetically and mysteriously, in the form of the African Praise Poem. We’ll all get to see it when daughter Esther puts the finishing touches on it. We asked mom how it felt to be the subject of an interactive poem like this and she admitted that it felt a little like being at her own memorial service, but not a bad thing overall.

I think Spider Lake is known for being a good fishing lake, and there are resorts and cabins available there still. It was a beautiful day, and a beautiful lake.

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Poet and photographerfor this shoot, my daughter Esther
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Possibly the oldest, my Uncle Wendell (with two l’s) and the youngest, Hazel Erikson.
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Frog hunting
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Family, food, fun.

Cleaning Your Room

 

I helped you clean your room

Not because it was a toxic death trap

But because I knew we might find something,

Something you’d been looking for.

And we would laugh at the candy wrappers, the moldy apple,

The discarded clothing, the random bits of paper with

Life scribbled on them, anguished life, raw life, devotion, angst

And dreams, scribbled on bits of paper.

 

I helped you clean your room

Because the hours spent with you were precious.

We talked and small traces of order would appear,

small traces of calm and pleasure, even though we knew

they were temporary. Your room, your life was meant

to be lived in, sometimes messy,  sometimes organized but

always uniquely your room,  your life.  And I was

always happy when you let me sit there with you. Always.

 

I helped you clean your room

And it was with the same strategy used in cleaning

My own room with its messes and secrets and disorganization.

My room never stayed clean either, but I always enjoyed making

It different.  I could always make a difference,  move the furniture,  clear the floor,

And feel fresh and renewed.   A messy room was just an opportunity, not an indictment.

I perhaps never told you these things, but I want you to know why

I helped you clean your room.

(A reflection on possible messages of shame, unwittingly communicated, deeply regretted)

 

Family Wedding Post 3

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The wedding is over. The marriage has just begun.

It’s over and I am the first one back to the quiet house. The others are still at the wedding site helping put things back together. It was definitely an interactive wedding.  My nephew, who hosted the event in his beautiful back yard, went above and beyond the call of family duty. He even had his hired workers over to help string up the lights. His patio and pool area was transformed with a serving area, a bar, numerous tables and the seating area for the ceremony. The pool, waterfalls and palms were gorgeously tropical and the weather was near perfect (maybe a little warm, but definitely could have been worse.).

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They are haning lights for later – the whole crew pitched in.
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Simplicity, this is it.
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The lights, the water, the festive occasion…

 

I’m trying to think of the traditional elements of this wedding. It’s a bit difficult because many of them were dispensed with.  It was a simple ceremony.  There was no music to worry about, no singing, no parades of girls in poufy gowns, no children wandering off to find mommy, or running away with the rings.  The groom escorted his parents in, kissed them and seated them.  The bride, escorted by her parents, did the same. The bride’s father gave a short message. The couple read their promises out loud to each other and exchanged rings. They were pronounced husband and wife and kissed.  We all waited for them to go happily down the aisle but that didn’t happen. They stayed by themselves in front of the audience and acknowledged and thanked everyone for coming. The groom prayed for God’s blessing on the crowd. To be honest, I thought it was a nice departure from the long receiving line where you have to hug and kiss people you don’t know very well and… I just am in favor of getting rid of lines of all kinds, whenever possible. Good job.

This part of the ceremony did finally end when the bride grabbed the groom’s hand and took off with a loud “Let’s party!” That was a bit untraditional as well, but then, that’s my niece. She’s not afraid to be herself.

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“Let’s party!”

And party we did. I am so NOT a party person. I go to occasions like this for love of family, not love of party. But I do like to see other people having a good time. George the chef had done a bang up job with the food, which took the spotlight next.  It was hot, so the bar was busy serving up nice icy cold drinks, and the music started.  People began to get their food and take it to the traditional sit down tables, or the untraditional stand up tables.

Then it began to be apparent that the one part of the planning no one had focused on was clean-up. The bar began to run out of clean glasses. Plates began to clutter tables and counters. But be aware that in every crowd there will be a few people who are clean-up ninjas, and they can’t resist the challenge.  I am one. I love nothing better than to stay inside where there is AC going strong and scrape dirty plates.  I get to see lots of people as they drop off their stuff. I get to be useful and oddly, I really do like washing dishes. It’s like making a difference in the world, one dirty plate at a time.

And when I was done I got to sit down with a cup of coffee and one of the bestest ever cupcakes. I will never recommend traditional wedding cake to anyone again. Really, cupcakes are a great idea and they can be unusual, fancy and delicious.

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The cupcake table was a big hit. The bridal couple got to cut their small tiered cake as usual, but everyone else got to choose from an assortment of ridiculously GOOD personal cakes. How cool is that!?

As I said, I am back at the quiet house, and it is still quiet. I love quiet. There were also a lot of really dirty pans left over from George’s labors. I washed them and cleaned up. I love cleaning up. Two nice things that I like, to finish up a very nice family wedding. I’m just sayin’ – it was good and I think we all had fun.

Family Wedding Post 2

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If you were the missing wedding band, where would you be?

“His ring has disappeared. We can’t figure it out.” This was said by the bride to be as she sat in the kitchen talking with a few family members.

The explanation went on. They had purchased rings months ago, including the engagement ring, with his and hers bands – three boxes in a bag, put in a high place for secure, safe keeping.  The boxes were all there when he went for the engagement ring. That was the most recent time anyone had made note. They became engaged in October and now it was May. The box was gone and no one who knew where it had been recalled doing anything with it.  It was a mystery.

Searching had been extensive. So many suggestions and she had followed up on them with no results.  If a thief had struck, would he not also have taken her wedding band?

With no time to solve the mystery, they went to the jewelry store and bought another band. Will it ever be found? Where do you think it is?

Family Wedding Post 1

My niece is getting married this afternoon, outdoors in her brother’s back yard. I have traveled the three hours to my brother’s city where all this is taking place, to represent my family at the occasion.  It’s been years since I’ve been at a family wedding and I’m aware that my status has changed. Instead of being involved in the necessary prep, I am an elder watching the busy-ness of the younger generation.  I hadn’t thought of this as being the case before, and it’s kind of a nice surprise.

Even as I sit down to write in a quiet room, the mother of the bride comes in to take a few deep breaths and we talk for an hour, then the father of the bride also joins us and we talk. The bride comes in and needs to sit for a few minutes even though she has nothing to say.  In the managing of a thousand details, people still have the need to step back and evaluate, to hear their thoughts articulated and validated. I get to listen and hear my family.

In the kitchen the groom’s cousin, a chef, is making sauces and marinades for the food.  There has been much cooking, baking and tasting going on the past couple of days.  It is a hands on wedding with the food being prepared by friends and family. It is also inclusive of a different culinary culture, the Hispanic Miami vibe being present in the background music, the exotic smells, the names of dishes being prepared.

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A wedding story in the making.

Yesterday afternoon the decibel level went high in the kitchen and dining room as the friends of the bride gathered to do table decorations. Laughter, loud discussions, and the occasional episode of dog barking sent me looking for a place apart where I could observe and listen without being overwhelmed.  Problems with the candles were solved, people were dispatched to pick up needed items. Everyone had a job or was given one.

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A wedding story in the making.

When I did venture out I was assigned to watch the frosting on the stove top, which, according to the recipe was supposed to get thick and fluff. Counters were laden with food items and dishes. The sister of the bride was making the cake and stirring up generous amounts of butter, eggs, and flour. Nuts, pineapple, cherries, brown sugar – all this and more adding to the smells to be smelled and the flavors to be tasted. It seemed like each new person who appeared at the door had more food in hand. Throw in a small fire as parchment paper in the toaster oven burst into flames and you have an exciting kitchen.

I finally saw the place where I was comfortable making a difference – the sink full of dirty dishes. I know how to wash dishes.  I am a part of this wild, family adventure. It is good.

 

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Oh yeah, a place for someone who likes to wash dishes – me!

One Last Place

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Rather than gliding smoothly

It won’t budge even though it’s pulled

Forward, backward until fingers ache from the effortl

It doesn’t look that bad

From the outside where the teeth

Are shiny and black and only a small bit of paint –

It flakes off with the wiggling, a sign of the greater problem.

 

It was in a bad place

Where the humidity and who knows what else

Sat on it for too long a time and it began to change inside

Looking closely, there

There it is along the edges…

Dusty, irregular, misshapen line of gray

The metal of one

Grows into the metal of the other

In a weld of fusion and confusion that renders it immobile, stuck.

 

Scraping it away

Looking for true strength beneath

There are so many places where the corrosion sits

But, there has to be

One last place, that when it is freed

It moves and becomes, once again, what it was meant to be.

 

 

S. Dietz 2016

 

Eulogy to Grey Kitty

Things change.  Back from a ten day trip, I spent the morning picking up the water bowl, the food bowl, cleaning out the litter pan, putting the towels and sheet used for bedding in the laundry, uncovering the furniture in her “sick” room.  Then I sat alone at my writing table thinking about all the times that sitting there would have guaranteed a cat in my lap within a couple minutes.  I will miss her and she was a good cat.

She came to us as a kitten, found alone by one of my daughters in a city parking lot.  She was very young, very scared and spent the first week hiding under my daughter’s bed.  We weren’t sure if she would make it.  What a way to start.  I think her memory of that contributed to her quietness, her timidity, her reclusive nature.  She grew to tolerate other cats but was never one to initiate friendship or cuddle up to any of them.  She grew to trust some people and be affectionate but that trust had to be earned. The sound of strangers in the house always made her disappear. She would come out from her hiding place when things got quiet again.

her magnificent green eyes and a pretty white bib

her magnificent green eyes and a pretty white bib

When my daughter moved away to school she left Grey Kitty with me, which was fine since I had grown fond of her.  I had inherited another cat from my second daughter and it would have been nice if they had gotten along but they didn’t.  They fought like, well, like cats.  They had both grown up being “only cats” and didn’t want to share their humans.  We had to keep them separated or there were consequences of loud cat growls and tufts of fur everywhere.  Once when we were away they were accidentally shut in the same room.  We found them sitting quietly in opposite corners pretending nothing had happened, but the room told a different story, way different.  I thought they might have gotten it out of their system and become friends, but no.

Grey Kitty was hesitant about all kinds of things.  There was the usual cat maneuver of standing in front of an open door, debating whether or not to go through.  She had the nervous tail tic.  It drove me crazy and I would sometimes pick her up and make the decision for her.  But most of the time, in deference to our friendship, I just waited until she either bolted out or sauntered in the other direction.  I think my willingness to let her be who she was made her like me as much as she did.

She had patience with me as well,  Many times she would come up on my lap and get settled for a good sleep and minutes later I would have to get up to answer the phone.  She had patience in the kitchen. She knew the sound of pans rattling and cans opening and would appear at mealtime.  After circling my feet for several minutes in an attempt to get my attention (trip me) she would sit quietly and look at me with her best stare.  The stare would continue right up through the meal until the husband would relent and give her a small bite of people food.

One day, years ago, I thought I had accidentally killed her.  She was in the garage when I closed the door automatically and turned my back to go into the house.  For some reason she waited until the last second to try leaving and got caught under the door.  When I looked again I could only see the back half of her and the door was down.  She evidently had been crouching low and hadn’t triggered the safety beam.  I slapped the control and ran to get her but she ran out faster than I could get there.  I was pretty worried about her but decided if she could move that fast she probably didn’t have a broken neck.  She was always a little leery of the garage door after that.

As she grew older, she began to be a very picky eater.  Dry cat food was not good enough.  Canned cat food was better, but only certain kinds.  She started losing weight, and her breath smelled awful.   Tests at the vet’s office showed kidney disease, so we tried various brands of special food.  She didn’t like any of them.  Finally, to keep her from starving I let her eat anything she would eat.  She was pitiful, and her soft meow changed into a more raucous sound that was disturbing and insistent.  I think she had nausea.

This story ends as you might suspect by now.  I took GK to my daughter the veterinarian and she and I, compassionately and with tears, euthanized her and laid her to rest.  She served a purpose in my life, as I believe animals were meant to do.  These awesome creatures that God made to share the earth with us make us think, make us love, make us give of ourselves and make us aware that we are not alone.

Now it’s a bit simpler at home – I don’t have to shut the doors to prevent cat fights, I don’t have to search for obscure brands of special food, I don’t have to clean up sick messes.  Simpler, but not necessarily better. I’m just sayin’, she was a good cat and I miss her.

P.S. This is not to be interpreted as a request for another cat.

Beep, beep, boop?

What?  Who did this? To those of you reading who are not also bloggers, I will explain.  One of the latest updates to WordPress, my blog host, includes a cute little “beep, beep, boop” message wiggling around in the center of a blank screen for a few seconds after certain commands are instituted.  It’s a thing to look at while you’re waiting.  Evidently someone thought that us bloggers would lose interest and wander off if we didn’t have something new to look at for three seconds while our post is being published.  I’d like to meet the originator of this idea and try to figure them out. I’m always amazed at the things people will think to do.  Actually, sometimes I’m also amazed at the things people don’t think to do – the old rule, never say never,  applies equally to never say always. Both good things to remember.

This last week, every time I sat down at the computer I lost interest and wandered off.  One day I didn’t even turn the thing on.  But that’s ok.  A week of inactivity online doesn’t bother me much and gives me the opportunity to write about what I have been into while I haven’t been writing.

– Equate extra strength Headache Relief,  for the headache that doesn’t seem to want to quit.  Although I’m probably not doing my stomach any favors, I’m grateful for the four or five hours of relief and super wakefulness that I get from swallowing a couple pills.

Hello headache, my old friend...
Hello headache, my old friend…

– Intraocular injections (shot in the eyeball), for the eye problem that was dramatically improved, in the doctor’s own words.  I’m grateful that it’s working and that I don’t have to get another one for five weeks, although I am getting used to everything about them (except the cost…)

the back of my eye
the back of my eye

– Childcare, for several of my yòoung friends who I realize I’ve been missing.  How come you guys can grow up in what seems like no time at all? Gracie, Lydia, Josh, Zeke, Shiloh – grateful for time spent with you that makes me feel younger even while I marvel at you getting older.  I’m troubled by the fact that I’ve never played X-box.  Is that weird?

Childcare for her, adult care for me...
Childcare for her, adult care for me…

– Old letters and old files, for the urge to purge and to organize. Lots of stuff has been burned or shredded, but lots else has been rediscovered and readied for the next project, memoir writing.  I’ve always been alarmed by my lack of memory for details of the past.  Not only did I forget all those details, but I forgot that I’d written them down in letters to others.  This morning, reading letters written to my mother ten years ago, all I could think was “Really, I did that?” and “Did some other person’s life sneak into my letters?”  Grateful for the written record of the past.

I'm more prolific than I remembered.
I’m more prolific than I remembered.

– Appliance shopping, because the washer and dryer that have wanted to leave my house for years, finally broke free.  Grateful that within hours of starting to shop for replacements I came across a used set that is probableyten years younger.  After only one session with the furniture dolly, the truck, the hoses, wrenches and plumbing tape, they are installed in my laundry room and functioning almost correctly.  The printed message under the temp dial that says “all rinses are cold only” really means they are scalding hot only.  I think I know how we can fix that.

the Laundry twins, Hi and Dri
the Laundry twins, Hi and Dri

– Air travel websites, for the supposed improvement of doing it yourself.  Instead of calling a knowledgeable person and telling them when and where I want to travel I can now spend hours online hunting for the best connection at the best price.  And American Express Delta Frequent Flyer card, how dare you revoke the companion ticket feature without telling me.  Planning my revenge…

Did. Not. Happen.
Did. Not. Happen.

– the garden that was, the heat that is, that yard that will be.  Grateful for the healing work that takes place in me when I’m outdoors.  Grateful for green things, if they’re plants – not, if they’re worms.

Good green
Good green
Bad green
Bad green

 

– Face time, with friends and family who care.  I am realizing that the purpose and value of life is all in the relationships I find and nurture.  Realizing also that God is that friend and that family member who makes it all possible.  Having less work away from home has given me more time to nurture the relationship with him and I am so grateful for that.  Gives me some precious times of discovery, comfort, peace and excitement. Arlette and I took a lovely walk yesterday and talked of all these things.

Nature walk with my friends Arlette and God.
Nature walk with my friends Arlette and God.

 

My friend Arlette (and maybe God too, on her left)
My friend Arlette (and maybe God too, on her left)