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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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.

 

 

 

An Atypical Fondness for Monday

Yeah, I kind of felt like that this weekend:

It wasn’t a bad weekend, not really, but dodging of flying objects needed to be done.

The festivities began on Thursday. For some reason during the first part of May, Oakley gets a colitis flare-up. Right on time, it arrived.  The urgent 2 AM potty run request pulled me out of a sound sleep. I called the vets’ office, explained what was going on, asked if Doc R. wanted me to bring him in or of we could just fill a prescription for antibiotic and so when could I pick it up? They called back, saying I could pick it up before closing. We quickly ran over to pick it up. I checked Oakley’s weight–he’s lost six pounds of the weight brought on by the Prednisone. We slept better that night.

On Friday, I confirmed that my nephew was in town for his birthday. Oakley and I would make the drive up to see him at his parents’. I decided to make one of my grandma’s carrot cakes to take with, not a formal birthday cake, but just a little something to contribute to whatever festivities there were. Sounds good; see you tomorrow.

Saturday began with a clogged toilet. With not a little cursing and not a few petitions to any deities concerned with plumbing, I unclogged it. With a sigh of relief, I returned to my native land of the kitchen to put the cake together.

Eggs, flour, sugar, cinnamon, carrots, baking soda, carrots, and butter were introduced to one another in the medium sized pink bowl. Oh, don’t forget the dash of salt. Just a dash. A bit of stirring, then into the 9″x13″ glass pan. Set oven to 325F. Puttered, wiped counters, wondered why the oven was taking so long to heat.

Because it wasn’t. Hubby troubleshot. The igniter went bad, most likely. He launched into a mumbled rant concerning everything breaking at once. Well, the stove is the one we’ve had since he build the house 18 years ago, and the plumbing is plumbing, and the VW is 15 years old and the lock cylinder on the driver’s side needs replacing and…

Alrighty, then. When he gets rant-y like that, nothing can be done. Just let it draw to its natural conclusion while making sympathetic noises. Scoop batter into two separate pans that can fit into the toaster oven. So it just took a little longer.

This was all before 8 AM. This was all before my second cup of tea. As I started the slide into a pool of self pity, I reminded myself that I had coped well, and should be pleased with myself for staying centered,  and for that a second cup had been earned. Especially since I make a point of not opening the wine before 4PM, antioxidants and iron aside.

After breakfast, the day leveled out, or so we thought. I loaded Oakley and the cake into the car and headed off to my brother’s and sister-in-law’s. The visit itself was pleasant, if a bit tricky. Nephew had brought his cat home. Oakley loves cats, and believes all cats, like Sonny at his day care and boarding place, want to be friends with him. I kept him on his leash since Nephew’s kitty seemed ambivalent at best. Kitty hid in Nephew’s room or under the sofa table. If I were a 10-pound cat, I would be intimidated by an 85-pound dancing, squealing, play bowing dog as well.

Due vigilance prevented any incidents. We had a good visit, and parted ways. As I drove off, I adjusted the car’s air conditioning. It hadn’t responded well on the way up, and now  the air blowing from the vents was the same temperature as the air in the car. I opened windows, stopped at a drive through for iced coffee (me) and ice water (Oakley). The high for the day topped out at 85.  I sprinkled Oakley with the water at each stoplight to cool him down. He set a personal best for number of stink eyes shot in my direction in an hour.

Hubby was cleaning the garage when we pulled up. The sorting, stacking, and sweeping had proven therapeutic for him. When I let him know about the A/C, he shrugged. “Well, it is 15 years old,” he observed.

I concurred. Not much else to do, especially since I had neglected to grab a bottle of rose or Shiraz. We watched a goofy sci-fi movie on TV followed by an international mystery, then went to sleep.

Sunday began with a bit of rain. It cleared in time for us to walk with friends. The chaos dissipated, and the day unfolded in a most pleasant manner.

Still, it was good to start a fresh week this morning.

 

 

 

 

Picnics and Remembrances

 Today’s temps are expected to land a fingertip from 90. Oakley and I finished our sweaty panting morning walk by 8:15. Neither of us do well in heat, so a picnic is out of the question. Perhaps an afternoon jaunt to one of the local dog-friendly stores will be in order this afternoon.  Otherwise, we will limit outdoors time to that required for canine hygienic purposes.

However, it’s Memorial Day. Remember the ones who lost their lives in service. Remember the ancestors and loved ones who went before. And celebrate their memory with a picnic or cookout.

We mostly did cookouts at our house. Dad (Army, medic, served in Operation Fairwing to help keep Adolph and friends from establishing a beachhead near Rio; later stationed at a rehab hospital for returning soldiers where he met my mom) presided over the grill. Fallen sticks from the hickory tree in the back yard  elevated the burgers or chicken from postwar chow to gourmet delights for the ages. He didn’t do anything really special otherwise, just a dash of salt, a touch of pepper. That was it. Mom and Grandma did the potato salad and Jell-O and some other sides with pie for dessert. Kind of like Thanksgiving, only with lighter foods and warmth, usually.

That usually happened on Monday. The weekend was filled with running Grandma to the cemetery where her parents and several siblings (she was second oldest of nine and the last one standing) were interred so she could pay her respects to them while tending their graves. Sometimes we went up to St. Louis, a small town an hour or so north of Lansing where my grandfather had grown up to decorate and pay respects there. A few flowers, a little clean-up work, and all was as it should be.

We also tended the grave of the stillborn  premature child who should have lived to be my other big sister. I poured the water over the storm cloud colored flat stone while Mom scrubbed the dirt accumulated over the past year from the outline of the lamb and the letters BABY GAY APRIL X 1957 as gently as she would have her child’s cheek. Why didn’t she make it, Mama?…She was just too little and too weak, honey. More water over there, please…The small pot of pink geraniums were centered just above the stone. Why did they just name her Baby?…She wasn’t alive when she was born and new babies were just listed as Baby with the parents’ last name….What did you want to name her?…long pause…Pauline….Mom picked up the empty milk carton and wad of used paper towels in one hand, then held the other out to me. I took it, and we walked back to the station wagon. That makes me kind of sad….Me too, honey, but now I have you…She ever so gently touched the tip of my nose with the tip of her finger…and you make me very happy.  

Mom, Dad, and (yes, I say her name) Pauline rest together now. Mom on one side, Dad the other, and Pauline in between them. I haven’t been up to visit the cemetery since my dad’s burial. I just don’t do graves myself; I prefer to remember my parents doing what they did best: Dad grilling or cooking, Mom at the piano playing Debussy. There is no way of knowing who or what Pauline would have been.

Except very much loved, and in the end, that’s all that matters.

 

A Back-to-Basics and Stay in the Moment Year

Happy New Year, gentle readers. I hope that your end of year commemorations were peaceful and happy, or at the very least the local people in blue were not last minute additions to the guest list.

Mine passed peacefully, but not without a few bittersweet notes. My niece and nephew are adults now. Very odd to see them as such, especially my nephew with his shaved head. My sister and brother, now firmly entrenched in their 60’s, have finally figured out that 1. what happened in 1955 should stay in 1955 and 2. we no longer have the luxury of time to quibble about that, or which dead relative said what, or the color of the sky. The darker note was my sister in law’s diagnosis of dementia. The last round of neuropsych testing indicated that she’s holding steady with no deterioration since the last consult with the psychiatrist. For every remembered name, for every recalled detail, for the results of this doctor’s visit, we give thanks. We know what the future is likely to hold, but we will deal with it when it gets here.

The last chapter of 2015 completed, we step into 2016 with a focus on the truly important things. I don’t make New Year’s resolutions. Intentions, yes. Resolutions sounds too harsh and unforgiving. If the intention comes to fruition, great; if not, oh well. My intentions are pretty simple:

  • to remain civil and kind in the face of the unrelenting wave of bat crap craziness that intensify as November’s presidential election draws closer. To remain civil and kind, period. I shudder at comments on social media and the lack of anything resembling manners in the real world. I’m not advocating the strictures of “Downton Abbey,” but can we say “please,” “thank you,” and “excuse me” at the very least with a response of “how interesting” when someone 180 degrees from you on the political spectrum tries to pick a fight?
  • revitalize meditation and yoga practices to help keep my brain focused and not let the ADHD gremlins hijack my thoughts.
  • to plant a vegetable garden this spring.
  • read more real books. I just read Anita Diamant’s The Red Tent and wondered where I’d been since it saw the light of day.
  • and the ubiquitous lose weight.

The last is a radical journey to what works. I’m combining two things that have worked in the past: paying attention to body cues and following an exchange plan that I used in high school. It’s worth a shot.

May you have a year of many moments worthy of your precious attention, and may you have a year of peace.

And for the sake of any deities you believe in, or for the sake of humanity, get out and vote in November.

 

 

 

The Mortality Dialogues

The last leaves cling to the trees, defiantly bright as the wind tries to strip them from the branches and pile them on the ground in a tapestry of yellows, oranges, and crimson. Despite a couple of chilly days, 60-plus highs reprieve us from the inevitable crash of the temps as the month winds down. This will not last forever, I know.

Nothing does. A couple of weeks ago on a dark windy day, my stylist trimmed the last of my autumn-toned hair ends. I colored my hair through my forties, various shades of blonde, a lighter brunette, even red once. As the journey into my fifties launched, the cost in time, upkeep, and money to have a younger woman’s hair became questionable. When she was done, the final three inches of what had turned brassy and dried lay on the floor around the chair with a few snippets of the original dark brown, now with streaks of stars running through it.

I felt better. I looked younger, too, ironically,  without the silly brassy puff that sat on my head when I pulled my hair up and back with a clip. Took myself out for a latte to celebrate.

As I stood in the windy parking lot with cup in hand, I had an overwhelming urge to call a close friend. Not unexpected, as are season changes, but still a surprise, was the news that her father had passed the night before. He’d been in his last decline for the past six months. We chatted; I extended condolences while I watched the clouds cross the sky.

The clouds parted last weekend. Hubby came home to tend to business related to retirement. Get signed up for our own health care insurance. Get finances in order. We discussed everything calmly, no real reason to get upset. Made decisions, budgeting, when to sign up for this benefit, that investment, structuring this withdrawal. And then he said it.

“You’re probably going to outlive me by a long time.”

I got a little cold.

He, being a man of science and math, had a point with the calculation of the odds. His mom was in her early 80’s, but spent the last years in poor health. His father was only 40, and his end came from a head injury. His grandma was in her 70’s.

My family, however, was a different story. Both my parents smoked two packs a day. The last thing I saw my mom do the day she died was puff away on a cigarette. My dad smoked until his first heart attack and successfully quit, but did a lot of damage to himself with the diabetes and the drinking. Neither made it to 70. Three out of my four grandparents made it into their eighties and way beyond. Grandpa G. was a noncompliant diabetic and passed in his 50’s. Gram G. was 80-something, and the leukemia couldn’t be helped. Grandpa L. was 96. Pneumonia. He was getting pretty fuzzy at the end. Grandma L. was 98. I really believe that she’d still be here if she hadn’t broken her hip. Until her last week on this side, she was was as sharp as a tack and still slicing and dicing politics with the best of them when she wasn’t watching boxing of professional wrestling. (For the skill and expertise, you know. Yes, Grandma, I really would love to buy the Mackinac Bridge from you.)

My meditation teacher once said that impermanence is a gift. Watching the leaves fall is bittersweet, but the new ones will come in next April. It saddens me that my friend’s father made his passage, but my God, he had cancer and midstage Alzheimer’s. And while this week passes in a blizzard of paperwork and revamping budgets and the chill of remembering that we will not be here forever, we have the relief that Hubby has taken back his soul and made room for his true passion of woodwork.

We have another retirement-related meeting tomorrow. While we don’t know quite what’s in front of us, we can see a little further down the road. It’s still long, but we know and from some orientations can see that there’s an end.

In Grandma’s Kitchen

Yesterday, I had my Easter lunch out with a friend. I had a chicken Cesear salad; Terri had a chicken flatbread pizza. Both were yummy. For dinner, Hubby and I had mussels marinara with salad and a little cake for dessert. We just are not into holidays, him for religious reasons; me for one of those long stories best shared over tea or something at least 30 proof.

We had a lot of strong personalities around the table in my early days. When the cracks began showing in the veneer of civility, it was time to retreat to Grandma’s kitchen and play a game of Twister or hopscotch on the linoleum floor.

The walls were blue and white. One or two houseplants flourished in the southern window over the sink. The scents of coffee, carefully saved cooking grease, and Lux dishwashing detergent floated in the air. Her stove, a 1939 electric GE, sat next to the refrigerator. It was working when she had to go into assisted living in 1989, and there’s no reason to think it’s not today. The white tongue and groove cabinets hid a treasure trove of goodies for good children, homemade cookies and caramel corn and candy.

 

Today’s designers would have called it the focal point, but we just called it the table. We–some combination of me, a parent or two, and a sibling or two would sit around it with her, drinking coffee or Coke (never Pepsi) or milk and enjoying some of her cookies. I sat quietly, tracing the white border on its grey Formica top with a finger. I had my first cup of coffee at that table, strong and laced with a liberal pour of half-and-half and sugar. I also drank my first beer there with Grandma. My father had called to tell us that my other grandmother had made her passage after a struggle with leukemia. “It’s a strengthening drink,” she said as she opened the dark brown bottle and poured its contents into two glasses.

It was also at that table where I learned how to make her Christmas cookies and copied her recipes for them and for carrot cake, her signature go-to dessert for holidays, birthdays, graduations, and because it was Wednesday. Even though it’s her recipe, mine just don’t taste the same as hers. Granted that I’ve done some tweaking by using butter instead of oil, and had to recalculate the amount of flour since she measured using a 6-ounce coffee cup and I use a standard 8-ounce measuring one. I make good carrot cakes, if I say so myself. But they aren’t Grandma’s.

My kitchen is as unique as hers, but there are traces of her influence. I have a GE gas range, still going strong after fourteen years. I have her recipes in a folder carefully tucked into a drawer and some of her dishes have found homes in the oak cabinets. As she did for the long line of companions, the dozens of kitties and pooches including Rags, Brownie, Prinnie, and others who have faded along with their photos, I cooked for Orion and now for Oakley.  The scent of coffee fills the air. The sense of her presence fills my heart.