Fresh Starts and New Beginnings

 

women s white top and orange floral skirt
Photo by Samuel Silitonga on Pexels.com

East. Sunrise. As part of my morning rituals, I thank it for fresh starts and new beginnings. It’s at the top of the wheel of the year, signifying spring.

Which arrived, finally, this week. We had a beautiful Monday and Tuesday wasn’t bad. Yesterday and today have been cooler and rainy, but no complaints will be issued after this winter.

Winter is in the west position on the wheel. It is to be thanked as well for the times of rest and stillness. Growth can be forced, as with amaryllis bulbs, but going against nature’s rhythms and cycles has always felt wrong to me.

When the time to break through the ground or wiggle out of the cocoon comes, it comes at its own pace. The need for changes acts as the catalyst for the process just as the alchemy of sunlight and enzymes spur plants to break through the surface of the soil.

For humans, that might mean a change to one’s appearance. I had my hair cut last week. I just couldn’t do long hair anymore. It’s grown finer as I’ve aged and snarls no matter how much conditioner I use. Pulling it up and back made me look older. It’s in a just below chin length bob now with lots of layers to accommodate the natural curl. Even though there’s more silver and grey than brown showing now, I think I look younger, or at least feel that way. If I blow dry it and use a half-tube of product, I can look sleek and sophisticated. If I just scrunch in a dab of curl cream and let it air dry, it springs into its natural ringlets and waves. Hubby said I look like a mad scientist. I will take that as a compliment. Anyway, it’s lovely to run a brush through my hair and not feel like I’m picking apart a piece of felt when I reach the ends.

The other seedling coming to fruition involved buying a ten-pack of classes at a yoga studio in the town where we do our big shops. After a month of arguing with myself about it–ruminating about the 30+minute commute, distance, hassles with parking, weather issues–I just did it. Since the teacher I had studied with decided to move on to other things last year (and the fact that I was the only student showing up most of the time), I had fallen off the yoga wagon. I don’t have the discipline to keep going solo with the YouTube videos. Neither studio here in town is a good fit for me. When I remind myself that it’s an investment in myself, it goes a little easier. Plus I can see a couple of close friends for tea or lunch as a reward. I went to my first class this past Monday. The teacher greeted me warmly and went on to lead one of the best classes I’ve ever taken. I’ve made reservations for two more classes this coming week. I already feel more grounded, centered, and inspired than I have in quite a while.

We worked on tree pose during class. Tree involves balancing on one foot while placing the other foot on the ankle, calf, or thigh of the active leg. You may hold your hands in prayer position at heart level, or reach them towards the sky.

As I wobbled like a willow in the wind storm with my weight on the right foot and left foot on my ankle, I kept reaching for the sky.

 

 

 

 

 

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You Know It’s Spring When…

person standing using red umbrella
Photo by Aline Nadai on Pexels.com We are in for storms

I’m going to whisper this: it looks as if winter’s finally let go of us. Don’t let winter hear you repeat this; it might get ideas about returning.

Yesterday some redwing blackbirds sang in the day as I took Oakley out for his first round of social networking. It was breezy, but not to the point where walking and standing were neat tricks. The mild air smelled fresh and slightly milky with notes of green. Beneath my feet, the tender soil yielded to each step, making a slight sucking noise as I pulled my feet from the mud.

Yes. Hello, spring and all the things that come with you: the mud, the bird songs, the unstable weather. Welcome.

We are under a tornado warning until 5PM Central today. It’s to be expected when the day’s high spikes near 60 only to be chased out by a cold front during the afternoon hours. Starting tomorrow daytime highs will be more in line with averages for mid-March. After a winter with a polar vortex, they will feel subtropical.

So far today, we’ve had three short rounds of rain followed by crystal blue skies. The southwest wind is howling away. A little while ago hail smashed against the windows. No damage, just noise.

Oakley has spent the last few hours either sitting next to me with his tush glued to my hip or taking refuge in his storm shelter between the arm chair and the love seat. The flying debris smacking into the house and other solid objects is a bit nerve wracking for both of us. I don’t blame him. A seat next to Mom soothes his anxiety.

We tried to walk at the big forest preserve this morning, but bailed. The thunder under a half-blue half-clouded-over sky was disconcerting enough, but throw a couple of bus loads of elementary school students in and you can kiss any semblance of peace goodbye. We missed our 30 minute goal by about five minutes, but the speed of return to the car likely compensated for it.

I made sure to charge my phone last night in case of power outages, both so I can contact the power company and communicate with the outside world. We’re prepared. We don’t really have much else to worry about as this system makes its way to its next destination. For that I am truly grateful.

 

The Longest Month

 

accomplishment action adventure atmosphere
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

 

I have never been so happy to see a February go the way of the wind as I have been with this one. One ice storm after another; a day of winds at 35 MPH sustained with gusts nearing 60; no real thaw; all but a handful of days were as grey and dreary as a Dickens novel. Usually, the weather modulates in February, but this year all the meteorological events that prohibit outdoors activity trooped through the soybean field one after another.

The usual efforts involving DVDs, music, and decluttering projects to counteract the trapped feeling provided little help. I spent one post-ice storm day rage baking because I didn’t know what else to do with myself. Slick roads prevented any attempts at escape to anywhere a person could go for an outing. For that matter, we couldn’t even get down the blessed driveway due to the layers of snow and ice. The mixed apple-berry crisp turned out well, though. The olive oil and lemon cake landed on the dry side. If I’m going to invest calories and carbs in a cake, it had better be quite moist. This wasn’t and didn’t have much flavor. It was so bad that I wanted to throw it out for the birds. Hubby ate it with strawberry jam. He said it was good that way and that he didn’t want to waste it. Very well. However,  I’ll try a different recipe next time.

I’m going through my cookbooks and trying to think springtime thoughts, but when you have howling winds and daytime highs at least ten degrees below average, it gets tough.

This last Friday was rather warmish, and some signs of spring teased us before the temperatures began yesterday’s slide. Oakley’s been inspecting every inch of the field with me in tow, getting whiffs of scents left by the wildlife trotting through the back yard while posting his own messages. An odd brave blade of grass has turned green, and a few more of its fellows undergo the same transformation on a daily basis.

Eventually, the season will change. We have a cold week ahead of us, and next weekend will be warmer but with precipitation. Will we have a semi-normal spring, or will we go from heating to cooling in a single bound?

I don’t know. We’ll just have to see.

 

 

 

A Visit to the Ag Store

 

agriculture tractor
Photo by Skitterphoto on Pexels.com

We didn’t get out for a walk yesterday due to freezing rain. Outdoor activities are a no-go today, too. While it’s too warm to freeze, at least until tonight when the temps will plummet, the north wind tosses drops of drizzle around like the star-shaped weapons used by Ninjas.

On days like this, I struggle not to bake all the recipes. Oakley proclaims his boredom by pestering for snacks or licking the coffee table and the knickknacks on it to see how much of a rise he can get out of me, there’s only one thing to do: go to the ag store.

The one we frequent is housed in what once was a Wal-Mart on the far side of the next town over from us. The march of progress called for a move to a super center across the street, leaving this building unoccupied for some time. Then a furniture store that underwent reinvention at least twice moved in there. After its demise, the building sat empty again until the ag store chain bought it and set up camp there.

It’s not quite as good as a walk in the woods, but a bit of browsing and window shopping in a dog-friendly environment dulls the edge of cabin fever. We aren’t the only ones looking for a comfortable place to spend a bit of time. It’s not uncommon to see other people chatting or checking the bulletin board by the front entrance or debating the best tool for a given job.

After Oakley leaves messages on a lamppost or two in the parking lot, in we go. He’s happy and eager to do so because of the scents and the associates who tell him what a good boy he is and how handsome, mitigating the neglect he receives at home.

At the customer service desk, there’s popcorn and coffee for the people and a dish of biscuits for dogs.  The biskies don’t fit my criteria for Oakley’s daily consumption, but once in a while as a treat, they’re OK. I take two, then drag him away before he scarfs up the rest of them. From there, we proceed to the automotive department to give the tires and accessories a good sniffing.

When that department has passed inspection, we practice “sit,” munch on a bite of biskie, and walk through the aisles where hoses, hardware, and paint wait on the shelves to be purchased. Again, “sit,” and biskie bite.

Power tools don’t have much of a draw for either of us, and neither does the clothing intended for average sized and much younger women. We bypass those displays. We weave through the other aisles until we reach the livestock department. They have rabbits for sale year round, and next month spring chicks will join them. Oakley quickly peeks into the holding pens, keeping his nose high enough so he can sniff but not frighten the bunnies or chicks.

I rarely buy anything if Oakley is with me. It’s infinitely easier to make a solo return trip than to juggle 75 pounds of dog, a cartload of stuff, and my purse so I can pay.  When I see items I need such as pet safe ice melt or gardening supplies or the like, I make mental notes and swing by to pick them up after the day care run–it’s on the main route between our house and Ms. Lanette’s.

The true test of patience is in the garden department. We practice long sits as I look longingly at the seed packets and hand tools, anticipating the upcoming season of sun and earth. When I’m done, Oakley gets the final bite of biskie and we say “thank you” to the associates at the customer service desk as we make our exit.

We go home with stories to tell about who we saw and what smelled good that day. On days like today, those are just as important as the items I’ll return to purchase after the next day care run.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Getting Hygge With It

 

white polar bear on white snowy field near canal during daytime
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

(No polar bears in the field just yet, but I would not be surprised if one sauntered past us.)

Today Oakley and I experiment with the Danish art of hygge. There’s no direct translation of the word, but the gist of it means making things as nice as possible inside with candles, knickknacks, good music, books, DVDs, dog treats, and of course, chocolate and red wine along with having friends over. We have all of the above, and while I’d love to have friends over, not in this weather will I ask them to leave their homes, so I’ll make a couple of calls. It’s how Danes survive their winters without going totally mad.

Our winter chugged along in mild beauty and splendor until last week when weather turned into more typical January patterns of snow and co. This week, Mother Nature decided to send a cross-pole vortex our way. We’re going to make history for the next 48-72 hours out here in the soybean field. Tonight’s low will be -23F. Tomorrow’s high will be -15F. Thursday we’ll be hovering around zero, but all will be right again on Friday with a subtropical high of 20F. Right now it’s 4F above with the wind kicking up the top layer of the snow.

As much as it irritated both of us, I kept Oakley home from day care today. Usually he goes twice a week, but attendance this last month has been erratic due to weather. Today local weather people call for blowing and drifting later this afternoon, right about the time I usually pick him up. That’s the rub. The route I vastly prefer cuts through open farm fields. It gets blown in after snowstorms no matter how diligently they keep after it. I’ve been blinded by ground blizzards before and don’t wish to risk that, thank you. The other route involves a US highway that follows the railroad line stringing together the largest towns in the county. It’s better sheltered and the first road plowed after storms. However, accessing it involves doubling back to the east which jacks up drive time as well as negotiating a two mile stretch of  construction. As in 30 minutes to go two miles. Nope.

So we nibble a couple of extra treats, play some games, do some puzzles as we listen to the wind underscoring the current selection playing on WFMT. We only have to get through 48-72 hours of this, and we will.

I can’t speak for Oakley, but I intend to enjoy it as much as possible.

 

 

In Praise of Pantries

Image courtesy of The Graphics Fairy

Winter finally came to town this weekend. We didn’t get that much snow, but it was one of those storms that just strolled in early Saturday, pulled up a chair, and made itself at home until finally leaving in the wee smalls Sunday morning.

Luckily, we didn’t have to be anywhere this weekend. We made the big haul grocery trip a few days before, so we didn’t have to worry about perishables and had a fresh supply of nonperishables. Such is the joy of having a pantry and a freezer.

Oh, what’s in them? Something like this:

  • Fish, canned and frozen
  • Chicken from the place that meets both our specifications
  • Pasta
  • Jarred pasta sauce and canned tomatoes: crushed or diced
  • Rice, basmati and jasmine
  • Different canned beans and lentils. I’ve never been able to cook beans from scratch.  Yes, it’s cheaper and more ecologically sound to do so, but beans just won’t cooperate under my direction. Except lentils.
  • A few cartons and cans of soups: chicken broth for homemade, tomato soup from Trader Joe’s, clam chowder, and a vegetable soup Aldi gets from Germany a few times a year
  • Onions and potatoes and garlic
  • Olive oil
  • Frozen blueberries and green beans
  • Baking supplies including oatmeal
  • Nuts and nut butter
  • Shelf stable Indian foods for the days when neither of us just can’t

I always have seasonings on hand so I can create tasty meals such as soups and curries out of a few items from the pantry. While I have the luxury of a dedicated room (about the dimensions of a good sized closet) for storing canned goods and supplies such as toilet paper and paper towels, I know a lot of people don’t. I wish they did. I know some other bloggers who have their stashes in plastic storage bins that fit under their beds or tucked into closets. That’s not a bad alternative.

Being well stocked mostly prevents the temptation of making runs for fast food, so our investment saves money as well. Plus if the weather goes bad, we don’t have to pick our way over crappy roads to go shopping.

And while we’re on the subject of pantries….please don’t forget your local food banks. With the chaos and insanity in DC, the most vulnerable (children, elders, and disabled) are at risk for being forgotten. Thank you.

 

 

 

Winter’s Peace

 

afterglow background beautiful branches
Photo by Krivec Ales on Pexels.com

Yesterday afternoon, rose gold light tinted the bare oak trees and open fields along the back road I take between our house and Oakley’s day care and boarding. The road skirts a semi-residential area with a reduced speed limit and light traffic, so no one honked at me as I slowed a bit to take in the beauty.

The days lengthen in increments of a minute here, a few seconds there. I didn’t have to turn on the headlights as I had to last week on the way home from picking up a happy, tired pooch.

Oakley hopped in the car, looked out the windshield and the passenger side window, then curled into a snoring ball on the front seat for the trip home.

I kept the radio on the classical music station for a score befitting a drive home under a winter sunset. Much had happened in the news yesterday, so I chose respite from it  during the drive.

Once home, the aroma of salsa chicken* in the slow cooker greeted us. Oakley did his dinner dance, crashing afterwards into a hard nap on his spot on the sofa. Hubby watched woodworking videos on his tablet. I watched “A Craftsman’s Legacy” on PBS. We minimized news watching, choosing tranquility over the need for being well informed.

Somehow last night, things felt more OK than they have in sometime. The pieces scattered from by last fall’s losses are settling into their new shapes and forms. The lines in Hubby’s face have relaxed. There still are moments and there will be moments when  missing his sister and brother in law overwhelm him, but like an outgoing tide, those will fade away in time.

For last night anyway, everything faded with the evening light.

 

 

*Salsa chicken: one jar of salsa of your choice (I like Aldi’s house brand Casa Mamita organic fire roasted vegetable) and enough chicken to cover the bottom of a 5-quart slow cooker. Take the skin off the chicken if need be, place in the slow cooker, pour enough salsa to cover on top, then cover and let it go until falling apart tender. Works with any part of chicken. Pick it off the bones if need be. Use in tacos, on salad, in enchiladas, or in rice bowls.

 

 

 

The Year of Quiet Optimism

 

 

snow covered pine trees at daytime
Photo by PhotoMIX Ltd. on Pexels.com

We started 2019 in the soybean field not with horns and confetti but with deep sighs of relief. Oakley, Hubby and I are healthy for the most part. My sister and her husband (who had quadruple bypass surgery back in September) were able to make the trip from Michigan for the holiday gathering at our brother’s. We have the basics and enough to share. We are truly grateful.

On New Year’s Eve we went to Trader Joe’s, then to our favorite Indian restaurant for tandoori chicken and a dessert that’s like a cross between carrot cake and pudding. We went home and pulled in the day behind us, choosing to stay off the roads. The combination of unrelenting rain, impaired drivers, and cops looking to meet the year end ticket quota put a damper on evening celebrations for us. We finished the day by watching Lady Gaga and Tony Bennett perform selections from the American standard songbook followed by Renee Fleming sing opera and jazz with the New York Philharmonic on PBS. We made it all the way up to 10, then retired. I listened to the big band dance party on WDCB, a local public station that specializes in jazz, blues, folk, and runs a four-hour block of shows from the golden age of radio on Saturday afternoons. A touch of old school tasteful glamor provided a pleasant end to the holiday. Except for the midnight  interruption by the neighbors who observed the coming of 2019 by bringing out the heavy artillery, all was calm.

We woke to a mud-colored sky that spit snow and rain by turns. In spite of that, a sense of peace, of hope settled around me. Relief that 2018 had passed, and that the time to pick up and go on had arrived.

In the smaller, more personal world, the relief was akin to feeling as if I’d pulled into the garage after a drive in a severe snowstorm. We navigated the losses, the changes, and arrived in 2019 with dents and scars, but we’re here and ready to get on with it as the crowds exhort in “Monty Python and the Holy Grail.”

It wasn’t just me who felt it. Some predict that the energies of the universe will lead humanity in a positive direction this year. Others who watch politics believe that the new Congress will finally reign in the chaos emanating from the Oval Office.

Either way, I feel as if it will get better from here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Merry Christmas, Bedford Falls!

 

Image courtesy of Old Design Shop

If you observe the holiday, merry Christmas. I hope Santa and other gift givers in your circle treated you generously and that all your Yuletide treats were tasty.

We celebrated the day quietly. Hubby occupied himself with wood, power tools, and other small woodworking devices. I thawed a bag of the leftover Thanksgiving turkey as  a springboard for lunch and made a pan of brownies. Afterwards, Oakley and I took a ramble along a two-mile path meandering through a prairie restoration that’s about 15 minutes away.

On holidays and weekends, especially ones boasting above average temperatures, the forest preserve nearest our house gets filled with horses and their riders. That’s fine. It’s their forest preserve, too. However, I needed to clear my head and heart by getting into my zen space rather than dodging equestrians.

My mind had been going around and around since last night, questioning everything about myself over a movie.

Let me back up.

Last night, we ended up watching “It’s a Wonderful Life” instead of  “Star Trek” and a Swedish noir mystery on our local MHz outlet. Its viewing has been a point of contention in our household since, oh, 1986. For some reason, Hubby loves that movie. Me? Nope. No way. Not with my love for international film. Epically dated bittersweet goo is usually not my cinematic thing.

But last night, the potent combination of a “Star Trek” episode that leaves me lukewarm at best and a “Beck” plot involving child prostitution was just too much.  Couple that with the news and I just could not watch. The need for simplicity, the nostalgia for a time that never really quite was overrode routine. I gritted my teeth and let the saga of George Bailey unfold.

I actually enjoyed it.

Maybe it’s the losses and crises endured this year both personally and in the larger world that made me wish more than once that I could find myself splitting a beer with Grandma* at her grey Formica kitchen table so I could benefit from her wisdom.

Maybe it’s the scene where George served as an air raid warden during World War II as did Gram.**

Maybe it’s a function of age. The first time I watched it was when I was a college freshman in a film studies class that fulfilled a humanities requirement. We’d watched classics from France, from Germany; we’d discussed themes and motifs. And then a postwar hanky-soaker? Really?

Really.

For the first time last night, I watched it from start to finish. I’d just watched it in bits and pieces with many scenes taken out of context. When the light and shadows get blended together, the story balances out, cutting its own swath through the sticky sweet parts.

And God/dess help me, I truly enjoyed it.

Yes, we could do without the subtle racism and sexism. However, we could all use an infusion of common decency right about now, a reminder that money isn’t everything, and that community and service never get old.

I felt a little better about the world, and hope that more people will follow the path of George and Mary in the upcoming year.

 

*Grandma was my maternal grandmother. She lived just a couple of miles from us. Her many words of wisdom included “Beer is a strengthening drink.”

**Gram was my paternal grandmother. The town she served as an elementary school teacher and air raid warden bore a close resemblance to Bedford Falls.

 

 

 

First Storm

 

 

snowy pathway surrounded by bare tree
Photo by freestocks.org on Pexels.com

Bread, milk, eggs? Check. Coffee and tea? Check. Oakley’s food? Check. Better part of a bail of toilet paper from Costco? Check. Phones charged? Check. New snowblower? Check. Ready.

We had the first significant snow Sunday night into Monday morning. Only about six to eight inches which would have been enough of a pain in the butt had that been all it was, but combined with a leading edge of freezing rain and sustained northeast winds of 20 m.p.h. and gusting up to 50, it was a problem worthy of school closings.

Easily solved for us, though. We just holed up, hunkered down, and remarked “holy crap!” every time a gust swirled around the house. The lights flickered for a millisecond, but otherwise we came through unscathed.

Well, except that there was the driveway to contend with after the snow tapered off midmorning. When the wind hooks as it did Sunday and yesterday, it scrapes the front yard almost clean of snow, but pushes all of it into the driveway and into drifts against the neighbors’ hedge.  Hubby’s maiden run of the new snowblower took about 45 minutes. Now that he’s familiar with the its quirks, it shouldn’t take more than a half-hour next time. I peeked out of the upstairs window to see how things were coming along. He looked as if he was having fun; not quite at the level where he might be humming the theme from “Monty Python’s Flying Circus” as he and the machine wen through their paces, but happier than he’d been in a while.

It was a welcome sight.