Hey! I never redeemed these….. I wonder if they are still any good?
Hey! I never redeemed these….. I wonder if they are still any good?
Left holding the bag again
Or box, as it so happens
A container of dust
That is not really him
Okay it’s true the person is gone
Their spirit and essence
Does not reside in this unworthy cube
of generic black plastic
The u-shaped outline
From the seat of his greasy work pants
On my cane kitchen chairs
The burned cord
Of my brand new mini-chopper
When he draped it across the lit burner
What I have left
Are photos and laughable memories
And this box of gray ashes
Some people don’t care what happens
With their own remains
Or anyone else’s
Well, good for you
Let this be my thing, okay?
If you don’t like how I grieve
The way I see it
These shards of a brother’s bones
Deserve the honor of loving placement
As a rite of passage
How many times would he laugh and say he didn’t care
Then tell me
In a moment of earnest
With eyes shining
“I know you’ll take care of it”
The box addressed to the S.O. from Lowes Home Improvement arrived some time in late October, minus any paperwork inside to indicate who had purchased it or sent it. Inside was one of those hamburger-shaped personal assistant devices that you speak into and it answers your questions. There was no occasion, no birthday to warrant a gift.
“Did you order this?” “Nope.”
“Could someone in the family have sent it as a gift?” Inquiries were made and nobody took credit for it.
“Could it have been a surprise from a customer?” “Doubt it”.
“A promotion for something?” “Not that I am aware of”.
So now we have this small, flying-saucer looking disc plugged into the wall in the kitchen. When you say “Hey..” it wakes up and four little lights come on to indicate it is listening to you while it fields your question.
Aside from asking it what the weather is going to be like, I haven’t found too many uses for it yet. A couple of times it converted measurements for me while I was cooking. Another time I asked it what time a particular store opened. The S.O. has streamed the news through it to listen while preparing food. It has been good for asking who was in that movie when you can’t remember the actor’s name. Or what was the name of that movie that so-and-so was in. That’s been about all I’ve used it for. Of course, you can do all of that with your smart phone already. And sometimes it is not able to answer a question.
I suppose if one had mobility or motor skill issues that it might be helpful in dialing a number or contacting emergency personnel, or looking something up. We have friends and relatives who have either the Apple Alexa or the Google Assistant and enjoy using it for all sorts of things. Shopping lists. Music. Answering trivia. Making a call.
To be honest, it kind of creeps me out and I find myself unplugging it. Not to get into any real paranoia, but there is something a little Big Brother surrounding the premise of these things, yet one more item to add to the already standing issues of smart phone and internet privacy invasion. I can’t help but wonder just a little bit if it is listening in to household conversations when it is not being activated; a “who” behind that innocuous little hockey-puck-shaped disc doubling as a spy. Not that we have anything all that interesting to say. But it arrived in the mail without explanation.
I laugh (but not so much) when imagining it going rogue and taking over the systems in the house somehow……which of course is not possible……. Still, there is something very HAL 9000 about it – “I’m sorry Dave, I’m afraid I can’t do that” as it locks the pod bay doors.
I’m into wild mushrooms. From spring until the end of autumn you might find me foraging around in the forest, hopefully emerging triumphant with a small basket of woodland goodies, yet other times thrilled to have found just one or two. More often than not I just come home sweaty and empty-handed, with twigs stuck in my hair and clothing covered in deer ticks. Yet if you are into wild mushrooms, there is an excitement connected to the finding, learning about and especially eating of the edible specimens (of course only those that can be safely and unquestionably identified).
While attending a mushroom festival near her home in Oregon, a family member kept texting me photos of various mushrooms and mushroom products she was seeing that would cause the heartbeat of any mycophile to start pounding. A generous and fantastic gift of dried candy cap mushrooms arrived shortly thereafter in the mail – Lactarius rubidus to be exact – native to the west coast and a very big treat for me. “Candy” is the key word of their common name. I had tasted them in delicacies made by others but never had the opportunity to prepare them myself.
The dried mushrooms arrived in a sealed plastic package which did not even remotely conceal the scent of the contents. The smell of maple syrup emanating from them was so strong that they perfumed the entire kitchen with a blast every time the kitchen cabinet was opened. As a second measure, I put the entire package inside a zip-lock bag, which did nothing, as the maple odor seemed to drift through the second layer as if it wasn’t even there. How is this possible? So I then put the entire double-bagged package into a glass mason jar, which seemed to do the trick. There they remained until a chilly December day seemed like the right time to bake some candy cap cookies.
In the back pages of The Complete Mushroom Hunter by Gary Lincoff is a basic rolled cookie dough recipe with instructions for adding candy caps to make an addictive cookie bursting with maple flavor. After reconstituting the dried mushrooms, I proceeded to saute them in butter as directed. The unmistakable, sweet aroma of maple syrup filled the kitchen, putting me into a Vermont state of mind. If you are into the chemistry-nerd aspect as to why that is, according to Wikipedia, a specific lactone is hydrolyzed when the mushroom is dried into a “powerfully aromatic compound” called sotolon – sotolon being “one of the main compounds responsible for the aroma of maple syrup, as well as that of curry”. Powerfully Aromatic. They are not kidding.
By the time the cookies were done, the house reeked of maple syrup. And I mean reeked. Not necessarily in a bad way (as reeking might imply) but in a pervasive, very intense way. It was everywhere, drifting up the stairs into the bedrooms, filling the dining room, living room, hallways. Into my hair, on my clothing. Everything smelled like maple.
I will admit I ingested a significant amount of dough before the cookies ever went into the oven. Eating raw cookie dough is one of those pleasurably-bad-for-you things that just cannot be helped. Honestly, I could eat an entire bowl of dough and never feel the need to bake them in the oven. I am one of those people who cookie dough ice cream was probably developed for and targeted to. Luckily, there was still plenty of dough left to make actual cookies. Those were sampled too. It was all exciting and remarkable in a cool sort of way to actually be eating cookies laced with mushrooms. You could hand them out to anybody and they would love them and never even think that it could be a mushroom (no, I didn’t do that, and no, in case you are wondering, there is no psychedelic component attached to these). I think even the Significant Other was genuinely impressed, seeing how he ate so many of them.
The following day the house continued to smell strongly of maple, seemingly wafting and recirculating through the forced hot air system. At this point the odor was beginning to be a tiny big cloying. The cookies were stored in a covered container. The utensils and dishes had all been washed. I had showered upon waking up and yet it I could still smell maple clinging about me.
That morning I had an appointment with a massage therapist. Towards the end of the session I started to tell her about the unique mushrooms that tasted like sweet maple, at which point she said “Aha, so that’s what it is you smell like”. OMG, seriously? Apparently it can come out through your pores, get right into your sweat, similar to people who eat a lot of garlic and aren’t aware of it. Except I was aware of it; I can smell the maple on my skin as if I had bathed in it. When I leave the house to walk the dog and then come back inside, the smell of maple hits you in the face like a syrup-soaked wet towel in an IHOP. While continuing to eat a few cookies…. because they were just so good (just can’t stop) I can barely detect the maple taste anymore. The maple is all around me. The maple is in me. It is as if I have become the maple.
On the third day following the making of the cookies, a friend and fellow mushroom aficionado walked into the house and commented that the house smelled like curry. I hadn’t yet consulted the internet to equate the curry connection, but clearly the “Powerfully Aromatic Compound” continued to be at work here. I gave her a few cookies to try out. She could taste the maple flavor and thought they were great. I haven’t asked her yet if it’s coming out of her pores.
It is now day four following cooking with candy caps. There are only a few left, which have now been stored in a container within another container. Although I am craving them, I have stopped eating them in an attempt to purge that mysterious aroma from my system. The SO continues to enjoy them, although he says he can’t smell anything and can barely taste the mushroom in them now. I suspect we both are walking around in a sweet, syrupy cloud but we just can’t tell. I have stripped the bed and washed all the sheets, my clothing, and myself again. The house has been vacuumed, the floors have been washed, essential oils have been diffused and I’ve taken out the kitchen trash that might have any residue of L. rubidus. And yet on day four the scent persists. I think I can detect it on the dog’s fur.
Would I make something with these again in the future? Yes. Because…. yes! They are precious, delicious and something special, as they don’t grow here on the east coast. Perhaps next time, eating a third of the raw dough laced with candy caps would not be something to endeavor. Maybe contacting some experts on the subject might yield a suggestion. Certainly there are worse things one can smell like than like maple syrup.
In the meantime, I am wondering how many more days it will feel like we are living in a sugar shack. While searching for information I read that a 64-year-old sample of L. rubidus was found and it had still retained its smell. Egads.
When my grandson’s elementary school class sent home a notice saying they have eleven crayfish that are coming up for adoption at the completion of their science unit, my daughter immediately said “NO WAY” and expressed how she is still traumatized from the one we had when she was a kid.
We kept a small fish tank in the kitchen filled with the usual suspects – a few zebra danios, a swordtail, neon tetras, guppies, and a tiny albino catfish. The white catfish with his bristly mustache continued to slowly grow and became a family favorite due to its longevity and overall cuteness. Periodically we would lose some of the others unexpectedly and go out for replacements. It was during one of those forays that we discovered you could buy aquarium crayfish.
My exposure to crayfish occurred at about age seven or eight, catching and releasing little ones in the stream that flowed beyond our neighborhood. Those were magical, sweet memories, so discovering a tank of tiny ones for sale in our local pet store was alluring. The kids would be fascinated. “How cool, they’re like miniature lobsters!” my friend Emrose said. So we bought one of the little guys, not even an inch in length, and added it to our kitchen community.
It actually was fascinating to watch this creature. Perhaps we did name it, but for the life of me I can’t recall what we called it, nor can my children, and Emrose – who had been living with us at the time and had the best recall – is no longer with us to ask. It liked to eat chicken, so we would save little pieces for it and then gather around to watch it quickly scissor up the meat into miniscule bits with its front pincers and shovel it into its weird vortex of a mouth with a whirling, chaotic motion of tiny front legs.
The crayfish grew. Every once in a while it would outgrow its shell and molt, leaving a ghostly exoskeleton image of itself at the bottom of the tank – which it would then efficiently scissor up and eat the same way it ate the chicken pieces we fed it! The molting and shell-eating continued to happen maybe seven or eight times throughout the year until the crayfish and the albino catfish, although both still small, were the dominant size creatures in the tank.
One day Emrose noticed one of the fish seemed to be missing. “Didn’t we have four zebras?” Perhaps it jumped out of the tank (fish do tend to do that sometimes). Or maybe we really didn’t have four zebras to begin with (space cadets). We shook our heads at the mystery. A couple of weeks later we noticed that a few of the neons also seemed to be gone without a trace. We also observed the albino catfish was no longer hanging out on the bottom as usual, but now lurking above and behind the filter. How were we so naive to not realize what was happening?
Everyone was rushing around before breakfast getting ready for work and school the morning the horrible discovery was made. In my mind I equate the event with “The Horse Head Scene” in The Godfather, because it was about that shocking to me. Within a fish tank suddenly eerily devoid of fish, there perched the crayfish, happily scissoring away. In its claws, held like an ice cream cone, was the upright body of the headless catfish it had been devouring.
We all screamed at once. With a knee jerk reaction I threw my car keys into the tank at it as it let go of the decapitated catfish and scurried to a corner. You would think after all the chicken it was fed that it would have been enough to satiate it, but no, it had to go and eat all the fish in the tank too. I don’t know what planet we must have been on to have missed this.
There was no question as to what needed to be done. Emrose scooped the crayfish up into a cup and we paraded down to the pond with it in order to get rid of the thing. As I tossed it as far out as possible, a bass quickly came to the surface and ate it before it barely hit the water. Emrose turned to me and said, “Karma, né?”
That was the end of our adventure in fish. After that we moved on to lizards. Given our history, I can’t blame my daughter for not wanting to adopt her son’s class crayfish. Years ago one of them brought home the class chicken (no longer a chick) over the holidays and we had a fiasco in our kitchen. But that story is for another time….
It felt like everyone was waiting “forever” for autumn colors to happen, since it was definitely later than usual. The leaves stayed green, but a dull green, and some trees had already turned brown without any show of color at all. There were a few flames here and there, but mostly not bright ones. “I guess this fall is not going to be one of the better ones”. “Sort of dull”. “Kind of a bust”. “Too much rain this year”. “Climate change”. “Wonder what this will do to the tourist season?” “So disappointing”. “Is it over?” But then ever so slowly, about three or even four weeks past what was “the usual time”, things began happening, and with that change I became edgy and felt the urge to shake things up a bit. The light had changed but it was more than that.
In yet another typical last-minute decision, I took off to visit a group of people usually seen only about once a year and decided to take the back roads to get where I was going. Literally over the mountains and through the woods where, through light rain and mist, I stumbled into such color I could feel my pupils dilating and heart pounding from the intensity of it all. Alone in the car, saying “Wow. Just… WOW” to nobody. Around a bend the vista opened to a couple of farm silos near a pond edged by low vermilion foliage, which grew beneath glowing amber trees juxtaposed against a moody gray sky. All of this reflected as if bleeding watercolors into the pond. The scene was so emotionally intense that my chest ached as I passed by.
There was no place to pull over. I considered turning around just to “take the picture”. But the picture was already taken in my head – one of the many memory photos that are permanently stored in an archive that cannot quite be accurately described. If I had stopped with my phone camera to take the shot, it was doubtful justice could have been done to what lay before me, and certainly not able to interpret what it did to the soul. Further on unfolded scene after scene of intensely golden-tangerine hillsides pulsating in that strange light against the steel-colored sky.
A few moments onward I wished I had someone with me to share the incredible beauty. Wistful memories rushed back to the vibrant autumns of the past and the moments shared with loved ones. Music by The October Project probably would have been an excellent accompanying soundtrack, and yet there was something about being alone and quiet in thought and alone with myself that seemed important in what was now becoming a rather introspective and personal journey.
Further on it appeared the Fall had already peaked, leaving only nut-brown mountains and patches of bareness as an indication of the season to come. Well, OK, that’s that, it was great for a while. Yet in another mile those hills became punctuated by spears of citron and school-bus yellow. Around another turn and there is a Japanese Maple of scarlet and carnelian pulsating against a dark stand of fir trees. A palpable presence of something beyond awe began rising up inside and radiating out as if electricity. It became so unbearably beautiful, I wept.
Then aloud, to myself, to nobody, I knew with certainty – “This is God”. For the rest of the trip I sporadically cried. Memories of other precious, fleeting experiences throughout life floated up like so many fragile, iridescent bubbles.
Autumn. The light is like honey, the air tinged with wood smoke and apples, pine needles and frost. The trees, mountains and sky pulse with the blood of the universe. Arriving at my destination, I was so overcome with emotion that I had to lie down for a while and let it wash over me.
Thirty-six hours later I was on the road again for the trip home. Coming from a different direction, it would be a new view to appreciate. The morning sky was a crisp blue, the early light creating a different portrait to step into. On the return the thought was to stop at the silos and lake and snap that missed photo.
Here and there was another foliage blaze to gasp at. One sigh after another. Exclamation points of goldenrod yellow spires against a hillside of darkest spruce. A flash of crimson oak, a burst of marigold tinged maples. I found myself thanking them out loud, all alone in the car. “Thank you yellow tree! Thank you! Thank you!” and then thinking “you are getting crazy”……but it felt so right to thank them for their precious gift. And then I hit more beauty that made me tear up some more.
Finally coming upon the lake and silos, I slowed down in order to find a place to pull over for that photo, only to discover that all of those vibrant ruby leaves that had been reflected in the lake were now a drab gray-brown, their vibrancy fleeting and gone in just over a day.
Nothing is permanent.
I found my religion again this weekend. There were no new revelations or discoveries, it’s still the same religion, just renewed. The preciousness of those small moments between people you love or care for, those still here and those who are gone – eyes meeting over a shared moment, across a table or a room. A laugh. An adventure, a sliver of intimacy. The beauty in an emerging seed, the turn of a flower petal. A flock of birds turning in unison overhead, the shadow of a cloud on a hillside. The devotion in the eyes of your dog. The magic of a baby being born, the glow on your child’s face, being moved by music, art, a rainbow. The incredible, hollow hole someone can leave in your heart when they are gone. It’s not new, it was only an in-your-face reminder.
I try to avoid using trendy cliché phrases like “Feeling Blessed” and “Grateful” and “Enlightened”. They are just so overused these days. Often one could just as easily say “feeling cursed” depending on the circumstances; although it is so unpopular to admit that truth, I’m there more than I would like to be. But this weekend I felt all those things, as if the trees were calling out, as if their voices could be heard through their colors. As a person who doesn’t hear well, over time everything seems to have become more visually intense. As the ride winded on, I felt profoundly at one with the vibration of the universe. It made me want to be good, to be patient and kind. It made me think about and ask for forgiveness. It brought forth words like “appreciate” and “gift”. It made me wish for the capacity to “accept life’s difficulties with grace”. It was an exercise in introspection brought on by intense natural beauty while taking the back roads, the longer way, the (oh, OK…) “road to enlightenment”. The annual friend’s visit was not the focus; it was merely the vehicle provided in order for this dose of religion to occur.
As someone special quoted to me a number of times in the past, “It’s not the point that’s the trip, it’s the trip that’s the point”.
It’s the second time in a few short months that I’ve searched out the owner of a missing wallet. The first one showed up in one of our garbage pails, only noticed because the area around the can was surrounded by strewn business cards and receipts belonging to the owner. There was no cash inside (didn’t expect to find any either) but there were credit cards, an insurance card and an out-of-state driver’s license. The kinds of things that are a headache to replace. Everything was soaking wet from the rain and dirty, but I went through it and made it a mission to find the owner.
According to the driver’s license, it was a guy in his early twenties. With the advent of cell phones it is pretty much impossible to find someone’s phone number on the internet anymore (unless you want to pay for it). So I turned to Facebook (the place I have recently loved to hate) to search for him.
Hardly anyone’s driver’s license photo (those mug-type shots) looks quite like the selfies people put out on social media, making it a bit of a challenge at first, especially since this person was from out-of-state and there were multiple people with the same exact name who lived closer and showed up at the top of the search. I didn’t think he had a very common name, yet there were over three hundred and fifty people on Facebook with that same name (yes, I counted, or started to, then gave up when I realized how ridiculous that was). And some of the guys with the same name actually lived in close proximity to where the wallet was found but were not him.
Luckily, he didn’t have all of his information hidden, so I was able to track down a few identifiable tidbits based on his license photo that “might” be him – that he was working for a local candidate running for Congress (which meant, despite his driver’s license of origin, he was in the area); that he had recently graduated college (which lined up somewhat with the birth date on the license). So I sent him a message on Facebook. “I think I found your wallet, can you give me some proof it’s you?” He got back to me in mere minutes with proof it was him.
It turns out he had recently moved to the area, and while canvassing the neighborhood for his candidate had left his wallet in his unlocked car, where it was promptly stolen. I pondered the wisdom of that and chalked it up to youth, or being a newbie to the area, or….. who knows what he was thinking…..or not thinking. Of course the cash was gone and he had immediately cancelled his credit cards, but that health insurance card, driver’s license and some other personal things inside were items he was very glad to get back, along with his soggy, dirty wallet. When he said “I have to go call my mom, she’ll be very relieved”, I had to smile.
The second one was found in the gutter this morning by the S.O. while he was walking the dog. He tossed it to me and said “Here’s another one to track down”. The wallet was wet from the rain (what is it about lost wallets and rain?) and so thick with credit/debit cards and papers that it was absolutely bulging. Of course, there was no cash inside this one either, but given the amount of stuff in it, it looked to be otherwise intact. I got to work.
This guy was in his late thirties and had a way more common name. By just scrolling down and guestimating, I would say almost eight hundred guys with the same name as his are on Facebook. It is staggering how not unique we sometimes are. Some of those people were local. And just like the last guy, the driver’s license photo didn’t quite look like what I was seeing on Facebook (glasses/no glasses. Hat/no hat. Facial hair/sort of facial hair, etc.). However, the address on the license was for a multi-family house right down the street. Which didn’t mean the person still lived there, so I didn’t want to hand over a wallet full of credit cards and other very personal info to a stranger. There were no contact phone numbers inside.
As I scrolled through the most likely photo of the person pictured on the license, I saw that it appeared they worked locally and there was a card in his wallet that also had the name of that business. People were also wishing the guy a recent happy birthday, which lined up exactly with the birth date on the driver’s license. I sent him a Facebook message but he didn’t pick it up. It didn’t look like he went on very often and he was probably at work anyway…..freaking out about his lost wallet. So I looked up his work number and called him at work.
You can imagine how wary he was when some stranger called and said “Is this ________?” I was guessing he probably thought I was a collection agency or a subpoena server, or something worse. He kind of grunted without quite telling me it was him. So I said “did you lose your wallet?” He responded with, “Is it a black wallet with debit cards in it?” (at which point I almost said “Aren’t almost all guy’s wallets black?“). I told him I wasn’t comfortable handing over a wallet fat with bank cards to anybody without more info. But then he told me his address and started ticking off familiar names of the neighbors, said he hadn’t noticed he lost it but must have dropped it when he got in his car for work this morning, which was parked pretty much where it was found. He also said he kept his cash in his pocket separate from his wallet, which I guess in this case is a good thing for him. He quickly left work to come and retrieve it.
So I guess in the event you might ever lose a wallet, it could be helpful to leave up a photo or some even slightly identifiable info on social media so people can find you. If it was one of those blank hidden accounts some people have, they might not have gotten their stuff back. The guy messaged me to say thank you, and I messaged him back to say maybe he wants to keep his social security card in his house and not his wallet. Not that I wanted to sound like his mother, but it’s probably one of the worst pieces of ID to lose.
Both times it felt rather satisfying to be able to get those wallets back to their owners. And now I know another person in our neighborhood.
Okay, it was clearly my fault.
Today started out poorly, following a week without one solid night’s sleep. Perhaps it was because I stayed up too late watching a forgettable movie with loathsome characters and a predictable outcome, but last night was the worst, tossing around with some unspecified, vague anxiety lingering beneath the edges of insomnia, which went off into multiple directions of angst and obsession.
What have I done with my life? What can I do right now to change my life? My friends are dying off. Am I next? How are my kids going to deal with all my stuff? I have too much stuff. What is going to happen to me? I should do _____. I should do _____. I should have done _____. I need to finish _____. I want to do ______. How am I going to afford _____? Why did I ever ____? This room is too hot. The fan is blowing on my neck. Maybe the flu shot I got is keeping me awake. There’s nothing good on TV. Am I depressed? I don’t want to be depressed. I refuse to be depressed. I feel something like depressed. What did they find on that CT scan? I don’t want to know. I don’t want to do this. I’m sick of this. There’s nothing to worry about on the CT scan. You shouldn’t turn on the TV or look at the phone when you have insomnia because the light will keep you awake. Don’t look at the phone. Why are you looking at the phone? Stop it! How come the S.O. can fall asleep with the TV on but I can’t? I’m hungry but if I get up I’ll never go back to sleep. Maybe the tea I had is keeping me up. Maybe the chocolate I had is keeping me up. For a little dog, he sure takes up a lot of space in the bed. It’s 12:30 am, I should fall asleep soon. It’s 2 am. It’s 3:14 am. It’s 4:05 am. And on. And on……
It’s been a summer of highs and lows – people in my general age group have been dying. My friends and I are in that demographic zone now where this is how it is going to be, where Mick Jagger is on the cover of AARP, where we stare down the tunnel of our own mortality. It’s been a bit sobering, affecting people in my direct social sphere. A very old, very close friend and co-adventurer, essentially a brother that didn’t share my DNA, unexpectedly passed away eight weeks ago, just a couple of days after we saw each other. We used to joke about a whole group of us retiring to his mother’s (long ago sold) condo in Florida when we someday got old, because of course that day would never come since we were young and immortal. We were going to go to Italy next year and eat lots of good food. We were going to California soon to visit his sister. Just that week we were going to drive up to my daughter’s home to see her before her new baby arrived. He was going to make the special glazed orange cake he always makes for an occasion to take to her. We were going to collect the free dessert we earned with our points at the lunch place we met at every few weeks next time we went. We were gonna. We were gonna. We were……..
For a while I was able to pretend as if we just hadn’t had the chance to get together for a while. I was able to immerse myself in a wave of “recently-departed-oriented-tasks” which was enough of a distraction to keep from looking at what was now gone. Those diversion tactics have long since served their purpose.
So I got out of bed this morning in a sleep-deprived funk. I realized I was depressed, not just about losing my friend, but with other good causes. The “D-word” is not a place I wanted to be heading, so I tearfully tried calling a few friends who would understand. Chatted with one for a little bit. Unfortunately, the other one who is also deeply mourning the same loss didn’t answer. Maybe that’s just as well…..
Feeling isolated, useless and really not liking myself very much, I stupidly went onto Facebook, a place I have been seriously disliking lately, figuring it would divert my attention. Don’t ever go onto Facebook when you are feeling poorly about yourself or life. While there are many interesting and fun things to see there, when in A State of Mind all you notice is the superficiality and ego, which prompted me to methodically start removing some of my photo albums, with a plan to perhaps take a break from the platform altogether.
Upon getting dressed, I discovered – as I have discovered every morning for the past few months – that all my clothes were uncomfortably and unattractively too big, especially my pants. For a while this was cause for personal celebration, as I have deliberately worked hard to drop a number of pounds, motivated by health reasons, and had triumphantly reached that goal. But then my friend died and the weight kept dropping beyond my intentions. Maybe it is The Grief Diet, usually seen surrounding divorce and death. Not a healthy way to lose. Getting back to a balance will be necessary, but in the meantime, I’ve been belting my pants overly tight to keep them up, giving the impression of a scarecrow with a cord holding up bunched, baggy, lumpy, straw-filled jeans. I figured perhaps a little retail therapy for a pair of pants might be a good thing to do today to help snap out of it. The other errand while out was to stop by the medical center and pick up the copy of my recent CT scan and radiology report they had waiting for me – just another nagging and sobering thing at the back of my mind I have been trying not to think about too much, but adds to the the weight of the day.
So anyway, with the above background and distractions in mind, this is probably the reason it was my fault.
There were two lanes of left-turning traffic into the shopping center. I didn’t see the big black SUV when I moved over one lane. It was either there all along, or might have zoomed up suddenly to get ahead of me, which is what I suspect is probably what happened. Either way, I should have seen it but didn’t notice it until it rode right up on my rear bumper and leaned hard and long on the horn – a very large, shiny black SUV with one of those menacing looking grills, with tinted windows hiding whoever was inside. Sorry and a little embarrassed at my faux pas, because yes, I must have cut the person off in my distraction, I mouthed “I’m sorry” and made the apologetic face and gestures that you give other drivers when you do something stupid like that. But the person couldn’t let it go and pulled up right next to me (while we are all still in motion up the road), letting down their passenger side window and extending “The F-U Finger” towards me while leaning on the horn some more.
Well, most of us have been there. As a toddler, one of my kids suddenly started saying the word “Ath-ole”. When asked where she learned that word, she said it was “In the car, Mommy says it when she’s driving”. So I get it. Since I was apparently the “ath-ole” of the day, I mouthed “I’m sorry” again and continued to turn into the store parking lot.
The SUV changed lanes and came right after me, close on my tail. Great, I had a road-rager following me.
Pulling into a parking space between two cars, I tried to get close enough to the store where other people coming in and out might witness what was going on, just in case. Then I sat in my car for a while and waited to see if the person was going to give it up and just go park. The car seemed to have disappeared and I hoped it was over and hopefully we would not recognize each other in the store, or if we did, I would apologize again and move on. I was just about to get out of my car when the white car parked to my left pulled out of the space and suddenly, like a shark on the hunt, that black SUV slipped in neatly next to me and rolled down their window. And I thought “Oh boy, here we go“.
I don’t know why I was surprised to see it was a woman, maybe in her thirties or early forties, hard to tell. She had tattooed sleeves on both arms, was wearing a bandanna scarf on her head and was yelling. I rolled down my window and I said to her “I’m sorry, I didn’t see you. I’m truly sorry” and put up my window again. But she wouldn’t let it go, she kept yelling and shaking her fist at me. Finally I let down my window again and said to her “I don’t know what else you want me to say. I didn’t see you. I am truly sorry I cut you off. It isn’t necessary for you to be so aggressive and get all road rage-y on me, give me the finger, tail gate me and follow me into the parking lot. It’s done. I’ve apologized. Why don’t we continue on our ways and just go shopping?”
But she still couldn’t let it go! And at that point I couldn’t totally understand what she was saying (because I’m kind of deaf) but it was something about “I’m not being aggressive” and “What if I had had kids in the car?” and “You need to know what you did” or “I want to make sure you know what you did” or something like that. Yes, I cut her off. It was my fault (I think). Nobody got hurt, there was no accident. I just kept saying “I said I’m sorry, I don’t know what else to tell you.” It occurred to me that she was overreacting so much that she could have even pulled out a gun. Maybe another time I would have come back at her with a different response, a more confrontational response. But I couldn’t get angry or even worry about it, I was that disassociated and in my own stuff. Clearly she was having a much worse day than I was.
Finally she stopped. I expected her to get out of her car and follow me into the store. But she pulled out of the parking lot and zoomed out to the road heading in an entirely different direction. She wasn’t even going to go shopping there, she had just followed me in from the street in her rage.
After that I spent a ridiculously lengthy and unproductive amount of time in the store attempting to find a decent fitting pair of jeans and trying on a number of other things that just weren’t going to work. Going into a dressing room when you’re not feeling that great about yourself is about as bad as going on Facebook. Yet another something I hadn’t thought out before embarking this morning.
I’m home now, eating chocolate. That’s about the best I can do today.
On the day I was changing the bed linens, I came across a set of butterfly pattern sheets that had migrated to the back of the shelf in the closet. The pillow cases were long gone and the elastic on the fitted sheet had lost its resilience, yet I felt compelled to pull them out and maneuver them onto the mattress.
I felt a little flutter in my chest as I went about this task. My mother had gifted two identical sets of these new queen-size butterfly sheets to me back in perhaps the nineteen-seventies or early eighties. I think they might have come from a store called Caldor or a similar department store that was prevalent back then. At the time my then-husband and I had been so monetarily challenged that a gift of sheets like this was an extravagance and a luxury, and yet two identical sets seemed silly to me. Even my mother had remarked, “I don’t know why I bought you two of the same”. In retrospect I do know why though. She wanted to make sure I would still have something nice that would last.
Given that we didn’t need two sets and were not in the best financial straits at the time, when a holiday came around and it was time to give presents, I (guiltily) re-gifted one set of the new ones to my sister-in-law.
I used my own set of sheets for decades. They were of the softest cotton, made even softer over time. My new babies lay upon those sheets. I have dreamed and cried into those sheets, and there was a comfort in the fact that they had been given to me by my mother, a connection to her and typical in the way I hold on to many things. As the years went by and the sheets started to wear out, I realized why she gave me two sets and regretted not keeping the second as a spare. One more piece of mom gone. I could not part with them or use them for rags. They made their way out of sight but not totally forgotten.
So there I was, putting those butterfly sheets on my bed decades later. While carefully folding back the top sheet I wept silently for my mother, who has been gone many years. Back in the day she would have ironed those sheets, which would have added a further level of comfort and bliss – there is something wonderful about sleeping in fresh, clean, ironed sheets which I have not experienced since childhood.
I snapped a photo of my butterfly sheets, which I imagine anyone old enough to have had them will recognize, as they were a popular pattern at the time. I even asked my sister-in-law if she still had hers in hopes of coercing them back to me, but of course that was silly as it’s been ages ago and she didn’t have them anymore. And that was to be the end of my blog post, which was going to focus not only upon my compulsion for holding on to things, but for the appreciation of what you have at the time.
But during the week I slept in those butterfly sheets and the time it came to rotate to another clean set on the bed, I didn’t get around to posting because two very powerful things occurred in my sphere. The first was the unexpected death of a very close, extremely dear friend who could rank up right up there with being called a brother. He was someone who shared a home with us back in the day those butterfly sheets were on the bed; someone who shared those meandering, colorful, free days of youth when we let the wind take us where it would before the colors faded from our wings and the spring flowers gave way to the autumn of our lives.
A few days following this incomprehensible loss, I watched my second daughter deliver my first granddaughter into the world, emerging wet and shiny and new like a magical butterfly from her cocoon. Circle of life and all that.
The metaphors concerning butterflies and the elusiveness, fragility and brevity of life have been flitting through my mind and heart.
It’s not as if I need any more books, but it seems they accumulate faster than they get purged. Library book fair day is always something spontaneously attended as there are a number of small libraries scattered throughout our area where book sales occur throughout the year. Never planned, I always seem to find myself there. Usually it means running into a variety of local friends and acquaintances, some that are only seen once or twice a year. Pleasant chit-chat ensues amidst a bit of crowding as we meander through the long rows of stacked books looking for a few gems of interest to entice the eye. This year though, something was different.
It was a sunny, clear morning as I set off for the library. Detouring down one of the usual neighborhood side roads, I discovered too late that there was a block-long tag sale going on. Every single house on the street had tables, driveways and front yards filled with the contents of their garages and attics for sale. Cars were haphazardly pulled over to park on both sides of the narrow street, emptying their contents of eager and fast-walking bargain hunters, creating a palpable static. There was no room to back up and no room to move forward – I remained stuck as a large pickup truck totally blocked my path while waiting for someone to get back into their car and free up a spot. The driver scowled at me from behind her steering wheel. With no place to pull off to let her by, I threw up my hands in a “what am I supposed to do gesture.” But she wasn’t going to back up and let me through, so we were at a stalemate. It was suddenly not such a nice start to the day. I edged my car over as far as I could without denting one of the parked cars, finally allowing yet another scowling woman to pull out of a parking space. The truck edged in quickly, clearly suspecting that I was going to steal her space (I wasn’t), narrowly missing my fender. Continuing further down the street and on to my escape, I could not help but notice that the pushy throng of treasure-seekers on the sidewalk did not look happy, but rather intense and grabby, as if at a Black Friday sidewalk sale in early June.
The library fair had only been going on for about a half hour when I arrived. It was the most crowded I had ever seen it, with streams of excited bibliophiles striding purposefully towards the tents filled with books. Elbow to elbow, bumping and tripping over each other, profuse with “Excuse me,” “Oh, I’m sorry!” we made our way down the rows as we browsed. That is when I noticed something different was happening.
Crouching under tables, reaching around the feet of the browsers, rifling through boxes and cruising along the tables at high-speed were a perhaps four of five people using their cell phones or other devices to scan the books. They were not enjoying the titles or searching for a subject of interest. Clearly they were book dealers with scanners trying to find the titles that were rare or would be able to bring in money. Without even looking at the title they would quickly scan the book jacket with the disinterested demeanor of a supermarket checker running through a large order, dumping large quantities of books into their boxes.
On one hand, I suppose it is a good thing for the library to be able to sell as many used books as possible, regardless of what the reason is. And yes, everybody has to make a living, including second-hand booksellers, who do take the work out of searching for titles an interested party might want to find. Yet there was something that felt rather grubby about seeing these somewhat mercenary individuals at a friendly, small-town library fair zipping through the stacks at lightening speed without really caring what each book, each story, each gem of information, had to hold within its pages beyond its monetary value. There was something unsettling about not allowing the book-lovers there to even get a chance to see what treasures might have been available before they were dumped unseeing into the dealers boxes.
What happened here, and on the street earlier in the day, is one of the reasons I rarely frequent flea-markets anymore either. Browsing tables of bric-a-brac used to be something I loved, but the competitive air surrounding many of them these days has definitely taken some of the joy out of it. I came away with a few interesting books for myself and for friends and saw some people I knew. The point wasn’t that I missed out on anything “good”, because there were thousands of choices and certainly enough to leave one pleased with what they found. For sure, second-hand dealers have been doing these searches for years and technology has just sped up their process. But somehow, seeing people mechanically rifling through the books with scanners seemed to lend a sadly distasteful air to the event. It was just a little bit…… grubby.
There are individuals and organizations that sell service animal certification or registration documents online. These documents do not convey any rights under the ADA and the Department of Justice does not recognize them as proof that the dog is a service animal.
– U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, Disability Rights Section, July 20, 2015
You know, I’m just going to come out and say it instead of building up to the point here. I am just totally sick of these people with fake emotional support dogs. Of course there are some individuals with severe PTSD, autism, other diagnoses that honestly and absolutely depend on an emotional support animal to function, in addition to those who rely on assistance dogs due to a disability. These are considered “Service Dogs”. But suddenly more and more people are going on the internet and paying fifty dollars or more for a phony certificate, ID and a vest, or saying “Oh, I’m anxious” and asking their doctor or therapist for a letter. Or even acquiring a “verified” letter by a mental health professional by answering a few questions on a website, so that they can take their pets anywhere they like; on vacation on a plane and into public places at their convenience. They also do it so they can rent a house or apartment that specifically prohibits pets otherwise.
A few weeks ago I got into it with someone I know who was proudly displaying her dog’s new fake ESA (emotional support animal) certificate and service vest on Facebook, and boasting that she could now take him across the country on the plane with her on vacation instead of leaving him home. This woman is a feisty, independent, outgoing person who drives across the country alone and has enjoyed traveling and camping in her little tent all by herself for years, even in remote places. While it might be nice to go camping with your dog for companionship and protection, I was surprised about the ESA part, so I asked her why she suddenly went the service dog route with her pet. She said “I got a note from my therapist….. sometimes I have anxiety”. I wonder more if in the near future this is actually to make it more convenient for her to find a place to rent with a large dog. Maybe that sounds terrible but I think my suspicions are probably true. I mentioned that those sites are fake, but I think she already knew that as much as I knew by my saying it that it would push her buttons. I could feel her getting defensive but I don’t care. I know this sounds judge-y, but I just respect her a little bit less now.
In a different vein, my neighbor, due to her long-standing, legitimate and severe mental health issues, insists she has to take her emotional support dog to the supermarket – in the cart. Just what everyone else wants to be exposed to; her dog’s butt in the shopping cart where the next person is going to put their food. Doing that is not OK under the ADA. They must be carried or remain on the floor. This sudden plague of emotional support dogs (and cats, rats, birds, pigs, etc.) has become such a frequent problem that one of our local supermarkets actually has had to post a sign as you enter the store saying dogs are not allowed in the shopping carts. Also I have to wonder – I’m sorry, this may sound a bit harsh and might create some backlash – but if you are out and about doing lots of things without your ESA when it suits you but claim anxiety when you feel like taking your dog to buy groceries and stare at it while it sits in the cart, maybe try taking a friend with you instead. Or bring your teddy bear. Or take a pill.
Why, this afternoon, after not blogging for a seriously long stretch of time, am I ranting about this? Having just returned from the city clerk’s office where I was dutifully renewing my dog’s annual license, providing proof of vaccination and a check, I inquired whether they would like you to provide any documentation if you have an assistance dog. I asked this because I am severely hearing impaired and I depend on my dog in the home always – and sometimes outside – to alert me to certain situations. There is nothing “official” about my dog as there is no “official” registry for them at this time – ESA or otherwise. He has not been trained at a facility and is not required to be – I will provide the back story to that further along.
The nice lady behind the desk said “Oh, a therapy dog? You just need a certificate or a letter from your doctor.” If so, they don’t charge you for the license.
First of all, a Therapy Dog by definition is a dog trained to provide comfort and affection to people in nursing homes, schools, hospitals, hospice, trauma situations or disaster areas. While a therapy dog needs to complete a certain criteria to gain a certificate and access to these areas, they are neither Assistance nor Service animals. They are not covered or protected under the Federal Housing Act or Americans with Disabilities act, nor do they have public access rights beyond the specific places listed above where they are visiting or working. I realized that she was not talking about a Therapy Dog though -what she actually meant was an Emotional Support Dog. And that’s where I kind of lost it when I told her those certificates and cards are fake and sold on the internet, and that there is actually no such thing as a legitimate registry. She didn’t seem to care and deflected my statement, refusing to engage in dialog about it. I suspect she might happen to have an “emotional support dog” herself. These days it seems about everyone does. This society must be really over the edge since everyone and their mother suddenly needs an emotional support animal.
I am going to put the facts here. According to the U.S. Department of Justice Disability Rights Section, “emotional support, therapy, comfort, or companion animals are not considered service animals under the ADA. These terms are used to describe animals that provide comfort just by being with a person. Because they have not been trained to perform a specific job or task, they do not qualify as service animals under the ADA. However, some State or local governments have laws that allow people to take emotional support animals into public places.
The ADA makes a distinction between psychiatric service animals and emotional support animals. If the dog has been trained to sense that an anxiety attack is about to happen and take a specific action to help avoid the attack or lessen its impact, that would qualify as a service animal. However, if the dog’s mere presence provides comfort, that would not be considered a service animal under the ADA.”
Somehow I think that most of these supposed support animals who are taken into stores, restaurants and on planes are not taking any “trained” specific action to avoid an oncoming anxiety attack. Furthermore, the section states that “Service animals are defined as dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities. Examples of such work or tasks include guiding people who are blind, alerting people who are deaf, pulling a wheelchair, alerting and protecting a person who is having a seizure, reminding a person with mental illness to take prescribed medications, calming a person with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) during an anxiety attack, or performing other duties. Service animals are working animals, not pets. The work or task a dog has been trained to provide must be directly related to the person’s disability. Dogs whose sole function is to provide comfort or emotional support do not qualify as service animals under the ADA.”
I find myself in a limbo place concerning all this. A number of years back, as my hearing began to worsen, I started looking into the possibility of acquiring a hearing assistance dog. There are a few places that train them. At the time, the wait list was about one to two years, with dogs going to those who are profoundly deaf and are a priority. Perhaps I was in denial, but I felt I was not there yet. The cost of training a hearing dog is huge, about $10,000 and upwards. Although they are provided free to those in need, they are first made available to people who live alone (I don’t), who have a specific amount of dB loss (I now easily meet that criteria but I didn’t back then) and some of the providers urge recipients to hold fundraisers in order to offset the cost of the dog. This suggestion causes some discomfort, as I would not even allow a well-meaning friend to initiate a GoFundMe to raise money for my mega-expensive hearing aids which are not covered by insurance. I felt I just couldn’t justify a fundraiser for me while people are suffering greatly after losing everything after hurricanes, that there are children with life-threatening illnesses in need of support, people’s homes have burned down and are left with nothing, people are being bombed in Syria…..I just didn’t feel like I deserved to be high on that kind of roster.
Another roadblock was that I already had a dog, which is considered a distraction to the job of the service dog, therefore negating eligibility. So I found myself in the position of having to train my own dog. According to the ADA, “people with disabilities have the right to train the dog themselves and are not required to use a professional service dog training program.” And so we began.
My dog is not social. He is a rescue mill dog who does not like strangers reaching out to pet or grab him and will shy away, although he will not react negatively and is not aggressive. Being a pet with an odd personality to begin with, he is not the most suitable material. He would fail basic eligibility before ever getting into a hearing dog program as he is not a relaxed little guy. But it is what I have to work with now and at least he is very bright.
I started by attending basic obedience courses with him, then inquiring further about trainers who could help to train my dog for the tasks specific to my needs. But there was nobody local who would accommodate us further, so I had to turn to training videos found on the internet. He already provides a service to me in the home – oddly enough (or not) he is totally in sync and stays by my side. When someone is at the door, he lets me know. If there is some kind of commotion going on outside or strange noise inside, he alerts me. When I am out walking with friends and other dogs in the woods, he stays close whether off-leash or on, always keeping me in his view and within a few feet radius. He came and got me when the toaster oven was on fire. He has large bat-ears which are very expressive, so I pay attention to them and depend on them to see where a noise is coming from. I watch him and he watches me. It is clear he is aware of my deafness.
When I take my hearing aids out at night, there is pretty much no sound beyond clicks and thumps and the shrieking of tinnitus. If I am alone and not hearing, it is scary. This is where the dog comes in especially handy, not only in the home but very much in a hotel. If the Significant Other is trying to get my attention from downstairs, he will ring a bell, which I cannot hear, but my dog can. The dog will then come and alert me, barking, tapping me and running back and forth from the source to me until I respond.
“The task(s) performed by the dog must be directly related to the person’s disability. The dog must be trained to take a specific action when needed to assist the person with a disability.”
The dog should be able to demonstrate two tasks that assist the handler with their specific disability.
So we pretty much have it down on the home front. Taking the dog in public is where I walk a fine line. There are deaf people with trained hearing dogs who feel that dogs who support hearing just in the home are not actually assistance dogs. I don’t necessarily agree with that.
One of the biggest problems I have in public is when someone comes up behind me and says “Excuse me”. This constantly happens to me in stores, outdoor markets, waiting in lines, on the sidewalk. I might be standing in the way with my back to someone who has asked me a number of times to move out of their way, or tries to speak to me, yet I just don’t hear them. Inevitably they think I am rude at the very least, and it has actually caused some people to become extremely annoyed to the point of nastiness when I am intently reading the ingredients on a box, admiring something at a craft fair, a flower garden by a sidewalk, or making a decision about which pasta sauce to buy while inadvertently blocking an aisle. Subsequently, the first task became training my dog to tap me whenever someone says “Excuse me”.
He’s been doing that with more consistency. While I have taken him into the supermarket a few times, I don’t really like to. He’s small, small enough that he could get run over by a shopping cart. I also constantly have to tell strangers not reach out to pet him as he is supposed to be working. He’s so cute that everyone instantly wants to touch him. He doesn’t like it, I don’t like it, and it is distracting. This includes adults allowing their children to rush up to an animal they do not know. You would be amazed how many people do not respect boundaries when it comes to petting a strange dog.
The other thing he does is let me know when someone is walking up behind me on the street, which encompasses safety. That has been a big help. What I would like him to do is alert me when I drop my keys or some other item, which has happened a number of times. When I dropped my keys outside of Trader Joe’s, he merrily trotted away without a backward’s glance. Luckily, he responded to the woman who saw it happen and came up behind me yelling “Excuse me” while waving my keys behind my deaf back. So we are working on that. I have also been trying to train him to alert me to traffic. Not much progress with that task. Unfortunately I think traffic isn’t going to be one of his skills.
Because most of the support I receive from the dog occurs in the home, I don’t take advantage by bringing him everywhere. While he has made the occasional trip to Home Depot and we enjoy dog-friendly outdoor dining, he doesn’t need to come inside a restaurant – he isn’t going to help translate what the waiter asked and order off the menu. I don’t need to take him on a plane. If anything, I think that would be stressful for him and just one more thing along with the suitcase for me to look after or hold on to when I don’t really need to. When I am out and about with other people or traveling with others, they are able to help me if necessary.
I have a vest for the dog, which is not required by law nor is it provided by any official source. The vest is rarely used, but I keep it for those times where it clearly makes people feel better to see it (like in the hotel), even though it is not required. It has also been useful when pointing out to people that the dog is supposed to be assisting me and not petted. However, it is likely that probably 95% of these service vests you see on dogs (except for those that you see on seeing eye dogs, which is a whole other legit subject) were bought along with the fake ID’s and are most likely on animals that are just pets.
One last thing about some of these ESA dogs, both the real ones and the ones that aren’t, is how often you see people who are just disrespectful dog owners in general. They allow them to sit on chairs in restaurants, lunge out of control at people and other dogs from the end of long retractable zip line leashes, bark incessantly, don’t clean up after them and interfere with dogs that are being used for real support. Because of their actions, they generate negativity and resentment from business owners and the community, not only towards those who actually do need their dogs to help them, but towards responsible pet owners as well.
In the event that there ever ends up being truly certifiable criteria for my dog to prove – and that day will surely be coming in the future – I figure it would be good that we are prepared. It is ridiculous that it is easier to buy a bogus certificate and get a licensed health professional to write a letter saying the dog provides comfort due to the stress of my hearing loss rather than the fact that the dog actually is being used to assist with my hearing and having to worry about meeting proof of such.
And that just pisses me off.
During the gawky, dark, painfully insecure pre and early-adolescent summers of my youth, I attended what was advertised as an “inter-faith, inter-racial” summer camp out in what was once the wilds of Connecticut, before it became greatly suburbanized. From what I could discern, at least in my age group and bunk, the token “inter-faith” ended up being only me and the “inter-racial” one other girl. I was a skinny, tiny, frizzy-haired horse freak, finding my comfort zone mostly down the sun-dappled dirt road where the horses were kept, and I spent a lot of time there in my own bubble.
Amongst the bug juice, the folk songs and hopeless crushes on cute guys with Beatle haircuts from the boy’s bunk, I met a fellow camper named Fran. She too was a horse lover. She also struggled to tame her curls in the summer humidity. She was a bit aloof, with a dry sense of humor I could appreciate, and some special quality I couldn’t quite describe but was drawn to. We ended up becoming friends over those short weeks, trying to learn to play protest songs on acoustic guitar, talking about the boys we liked, fighting our hair to get it straighter, walking down to the field to round up the horses, groom them and ride. Once camp was over, we parted ways, not living near each other at all, but remained pen pals for a while. I attended a sleepover party or two with other campers at her parents’ house somewhere out on Long Island. Eventually the contact faded out.
Decades have gone by, leaving only a few powerful memories from that brief time. Outstanding is when the counselors took us to Newport Folk Festival, where I saw Bob Dylan put down his acoustic guitar and suddenly go electric. Some people in the crowd were booing in protest. I was standing way back, straining to see what was causing all the excitement. The other memory is of my friend Fran. Over the years I have often wondered where she ended up.
Fast forward and suddenly there is The Internet. Who hasn’t done a search to find those “Whatever Happened To” people? Periodically I would look up those whose lives had crossed paths with mine in the past. Surprisingly, I never located Fran, even though her last name was uncommon, her middle name distinctive enough that they should have stood out. With the advent of Facebook, it should have been even easier, but there was no sign of her that I could find. Sometimes when I would hear a certain song from that era or find an old photo from that time I would get a fleeting memory, but eventually stopped looking.
Fast forward again to last spring. I’m wasting time on the computer and suddenly got into my “Whatever Happened To” mode. I typed in Fran’s name. Her father’s obituary came up. A mention of her divorce. Oh, the amazing, scary, invasive marvel of the internet that tracks our lives! Now I had a last name, her married name, and I struck gold.
First I found her blog. Then I found her on Facebook. It amazed me that all these years later – we are talking over fifty years – she was still recognizable. In some of the photos she actually looked just like the girl I remember in our youth. She was specialized in a holistic approach to diet and healing. Her writing was intelligent and interesting. In reading her blog and posts on social media, there was so much that resonated with me, not only about her approach to healing but also the parallels in her life to mine. She had a following of people who she had helped who truly adored her. She was still into horses. Like me, she had two children and a little dog. I was floored. And excited. I sent her a message.
I’m sure my contact must have been both surprising and maybe a little bit weird to her. She told me she had blocked out a lot of things in her life during that time, those earliest of adolescent years apparently being equally as difficult for her as they were for me. She had snippets of camp memories here and there; the name of a guy with stringy hair at a party, the cute boy she liked. Honestly, I don’t think she remembered me at all, at least not at first, although she didn’t quite come out and say so. She was probably being polite. I wish I could have found the photo of us in our safety riding helmets with our frizzy hair pulled back, but it disappeared long ago, as did all those childhood letters I never saved. We messaged back and forth a bit over early summer. We shared a few personal incidents in our lives that were similar . It turns out she lived only an hour away from me and I told her I would like to come see her. She said she would be honored. My plan was to try to get there after the busy of summer was over, sometime this fall, and was actually looking forward to it.
A week ago, I learned via Facebook that Fran had passed away. She had been terminally ill, a disease not easily cured by either conventional or complimentary medicine, both of which she had been doing. It is clear her expertise helped ease her into her transition.
As we age this kind of terrible news about friends and family leaving us is becoming more frequent. Each time it knocks the wind out of us, leaves us reeling and gasping emotionally like fish out of water, has us re-examining our lives, perhaps vowing to make the most of the unpredictable time we have left.
I struggled over my feelings about Fran’s death. I didn’t know her as an adult at all, aside from the scraps of messages we recently shared and from reading her posts and articles. I barely knew her even back when we were young tweens so briefly in summer camp. We had not been in contact in over fifty years. And yet, it was as if I had suddenly found a glittering jewel on the beach, put it in my pocket to examine later and then discovered I had lost it before I got home. Beyond disappointed, I felt disoriented and definitely in mourning – for her life that ended at such an early age – my age; for her children and little dog left behind, and perhaps for a small sliver of my own past once again lost to the ages.
A memorial service in her honor was held this past weekend at her home. I felt compelled to go and yet feared I had no right to. My friend E., after commenting that weird things happen to me in general (and who, after I told her my friend’s name, happened to be a reader of the very same Fran’s newspaper column), said I might regret it if I didn’t attend. One of my daughters thought it actually would be a nice thing for someone from her far and long ago past to show up.
And so I drove up to my summer camp friend’s home, perched in a beautiful field overlooking the mountains on the bluest of days – clearly a sanctuary. Knowing nobody, I walked into her yard and was greeted by her friends who were welcoming, dispelling my fears of intrusion as irrational. The tributes given by her children and those close to her honored her spirit in the most touching of ways and words – it was clear her love and nurturing had raised very beautiful people. I could not help but think the quality and depth of the tribute was something I would have wanted for myself, and others echoed the same sentiment. Along with photos around her home and conversations with people there, many blanks were filled in, giving life and color to the years. She was loving and kind, decent, intelligent, resilient and strong in the face of adversity. I know without a doubt, had we connected, we would have become friends along the path again. I mourn the loss of that opportunity.
We were sent on our way with garden zucchini, a pot of chrysanthemums, essential oils and literature from her office. I teared up on the way home, realizing I was crying for losing another piece of my own past as much as for Fran and her family. Without a doubt, attending her memorial created some kind of closure for me. I had to wonder if she thought it strange, or merely saw it as part of the circle, by having a friend from half a century ago suddenly contact her out of the blue during her last few months earthside – oddly, perhaps, adding its own type of closure on those scattered fragments that make up a life.
Serious clutter-bugs hoping to change their ways were buzzing with excitement about how The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo was helping to unburden their lives. Being the Collector of Lots of Good Stuff, it seemed like just the thing I needed to kick-start a new, unencumbered life. So at the next gift-giving event where my kids asked “Mom, what do you want?” I requested and received this best-seller anti-clutter bible. I began in earnest, following the suggestions in each chapter religiously. I went through one category at a time, starting with clothes.
Per instruction, I piled everything on the floor and then picked each item up to see if it “sparked joy” when I held it. If it sparks joy, you keep it, if not, you let it go. What I found was that a lot of my clothing, even if I hadn’t worn it in a while or planned to wear it in the near future, happened to spark some joy. I discovered I actually had an entire closet filled with decades of unworn Joy. It was a challenge to winnow things out with all that sparking going on, but when I was done, a number of large plastic bags had managed to get filled and on their way out the door. Somewhat liberated, I plowed onward.
It went along like that for a while. I learned how to honor my socks by rolling them into little sushi rolls and to stack my shirts like color coordinated files in a drawer. Upon completion, there was some feeling of accomplishment, so I moved on bravely to “Books” as the next formidable chapter. And this is where I got stuck.
My books are my people. They are the dreams and memories, the escapes and fantasies, the doorway to knowledge, the loved ones. Following Marie’s instructions, I put the vast collection of books in a giant pile on the floor and then picked up each one and held it, to see “whether or not it gives you a thrill of pleasure when you touch it”. Difficulties began to arise here. I reluctantly sorted out many great novels I enjoyed but probably would not read again, including those I had started and meant to finish, or those I had purchased but hadn’t gotten around to reading. There were some which were gifts, and that was especially hard to consider parting with, as a vision of the person who gifted it was strongly attached to the book. Some, of course, were clearly keepers. I kept the books written by people I actually knew, some reference and how-to guides, all my childhood favorites, or anything from my family. Despite this, I did manage to fill a number of bags and boxes for the local library book sale, actually reducing the amount down to one-third of what I originally had. However, there was one small paperback I struggled with.
It was an herbal from the 1970’s called Common Herbs for Natural Health by Juliette de Bairacli Levy, which I had purchased back when I was a hippie girl living alone in the woods. It had been my go-to reference book back then, an eye-opening first introduction to an approach I still value today. Even though many more comprehensive, current and easier to follow books have come out since, I just liked having it on my shelf and seeing the cover, if only because it was a reminder of those challenging times of growth. So why not keep it? It was small enough that it didn’t command much room.
The issue was that since its publication there has actually been a revamped version edited by a local herbalist, which I promptly purchased due to the larger, clearer typeface, the easier reference index, updated information regarding health and effects, and the fact it was edited to better reflect the political correctness of these current times. So I had both versions on my bookshelf, side by side, and when it came time to purge, I felt it would be silly to justify keeping the old, worn and outdated version with the small print that I never looked at with these aging eyes, aside from the comfort of its familiar cover. It seemed to go against the Kondo-ian principles outlined in her guide, as it didn’t actually “spark joy” in so much as invoke some wistful tug of almost melancholy “memory”. Given I had the new and supposedly improved version, this was a perfect example of how I would get stuck on things. I resolved to move forward. So I reluctantly scratched my name out from the inside of the cover and into the discard pile it went.
Once it was gone, I regretted it. I am not particularly missing any of the other books I have passed on (so far) except this one. Of course it is purely emotional, given I have the reworked, “better” copy. I considered looking for another old copy of the one I had given away, but it would not be MY copy, the one I held in my hands and pored over so many times while trying to cure a cough or sooth some irritation, or just to assimilate knowledge; a companion while living by myself in that young, transitional state of being so long ago. So I don’t know if anything but the original would satisfy the feeling of loss or not. Perhaps it would. But it’s just more stuff, right?
Even though it is not her fault, I found I started to really resent Marie Kondo. While I forged through the remaining sections of her book, ridding myself of years of papers, dead files, sample cosmetics, boxes of unnamed cords, plugs and electronics, kitchen items, stockpiles of cleaning products, extra towels, drawers of odds and ends and even photos, I repeatedly found that further on down the road I would suddenly find the need for something that used to be stashed in a utility drawer, or was only used irregularly – one of those things that you are glad to have at some odd time – an eyeglass case, an old towel for a wet dog, an extra charger or key ring, a spare pair of shoelaces….and would have to go out and purchase it all over again. Each time that would happen, I would say “Damn!” or worse. I wonder if she gets letters and emails from disgruntled purgers, or from actual hoarders gone crazy?
While looking for another reference book the other day, I became keenly aware that my original little herbal was not on the shelf. I keep coming back to that small, missing book, hopefully now in the possession of an herb-lover (who are you?) the name of the former owner scribbled out to avoid detection as she attempted to move forward from her past.
Of course I remember July 20th, an image burned in my brain, because that was the day I looked up at the solar eclipse and got slapped in the face by my grandmother, while she shrieked “You’ll go blind!”
It was moving day. I stood on the stone steps of the new house watching the moving van being unloaded. I assume Grandma F., my father’s mother, was there to help, although we usually only saw her on holidays and she never lifted a finger to help out with anything when she came to visit. Out of the two grandmothers, it was no secret she was not my favorite one.
That bright July day, I ran in and out of the door excitedly, arranging objects in my room, unpacking my model horses and other precious possessions – but acutely aware something more momentous than the move was about to take place. The moon and sun were aligning; ancient mystic voodoo was about to occur, something weird, magical, mythic, scary. I was nine years old.
Grandma F. stood on the slate steps like the figurehead on the prow of a ship. I was never very fond of her – she was a domineering, vain woman with long, lacquered red nails, darkly dyed hair often accentuated by hair pieces that she called “wig-lets”. She used Jean Nate perfume too liberally. Her lipstick was deep red, her face heavily powdered. She was always dressed well and adorned herself with costume jewelry. Giving her the expected greeting kiss on the cheek always produced an inexplicable static shock, which further repelled me from her. She expected to be waited on while she held court. She was condescending to my mother, bossing her around and making her demands in a throaty voice much like the crowing of a rooster.
Grandma F. was the opposite of my other grandmother – Nona – who had a deep voice and thick Old World accent that fell somewhere between Count Dracula and the sound water makes going down a bathroom drain. Nona, with her blue-gray hair, who told stories of her childhood, sang songs to us in French and Italian, hugged us, made us “angel bread” from toast fried in butter and sprinkled with sugar and secretly pinned holy medals to the sides of our mattresses to protect us. Unlike Nona, Grandma F. shared nothing. Our history from her side of the family was a mystery;“I don’t bother with all that”.
On holidays she would descend upon us, eclipsing our moments, overshadowing my mother with her demands, until the blessed relief of her leaving. Afterwards, when we imitated her or complained about her, my father would only say she had a hard life and had been a very hard worker. To him, she was the original liberated woman and a survivor. He was proud of her accomplishments. She certainly knew how to take care of herself.
What I came to learn about her later was that she had been widowed at a very young age, left with three small children to raise. Her husband was carried out of the house with some sort of infection and died on Christmas Eve. So Grandma F. went out to work and struggled as a single parent back in the day, as did her three young children to help make ends meet – my father began delivering newspapers at age five. She was a disciplinarian and was not beyond taking a switch to her children if they misbehaved, an image that was further dis-enamoring. She was an excellent cook. She liked to go out on dates and expected her boyfriends to treat her well. She was careful with her money and saved, but she liked nice clothing and paid attention to her looks.
If I try to look upon her with more benevolence, I can recall examining the gold charms on her bracelet with wonder – specifically a little gold cage which contained a dollar bill folded up into the tiniest square. Somewhere packed in a box I must still have a little gold jockey charm on a tiny bracelet, which she gave me knowing I loved horses. She used to come bearing Italian bow tie cookies she had baked for the occasion, dusted with powdered sugar.
So I don’t recall exactly why she was with us mid-summer while we were moving, but there she was. She stood on the stairs wearing a big circle of a hat, casting her shadow on the operations, pointing with her claws, questioning everything, calling attention back to herself amidst our hive of activity, her moon moving across our sun.
As the moment of the eclipse drew near, the light began to change and the air slightly cooled. I heard my mother’s distant voice from somewhere within the new house say “I think the eclipse is starting“. I could feel my senses becoming alert as I lifted my eyes to the specter, awaiting magic.
Suddenly I was struck with a tremendous blow to my face, Grandma F. standing over me, having slapped me hard and raked my cheek with her red talons as she shrieked, “You’ll go blind!”
It took me a long time to appreciate that she probably/definitely saved my eyesight and that her action sprang from a moment of panic and yes, actual concern. But at the time I felt nothing but loathing for her, as my eyes welled up with tears, I lifted my hands to my smarting face and ran into the house. I can still feel those nails upon me. As a result, even today, long painted nails remind me of vanity and I find them unattractive and distasteful.
As this eclipse approaches, I have as strong an urge to look up to the sky just as I did when I was a child. I will not stare into the sun but I will reflect upon that moment again as I have whenever there has been an eclipse, and actually, almost every July 20th since the incident happened.
It has taken me a lifetime to come full circle and truly appreciate her swift action as a moment of caring, and perhaps, in her own way, of love.
There will be some people who have serious disagreements with this post. But I’ve kind of reached a bit of saturation on the subject and feel the need say something. If you can come up with a better solution, I’m sure many would be interested.
In this small city, in this residential neighborhood, we live on a street filled with diversity. There are people from all walks of life, different races, different nationalities, different ages, some with disabilities, employed and unemployed. One thing the majority of us appear to have in common is that we are pet owners. For the most part (aside from the occasional inconsiderate), people leash, confine and pick up after their dogs, save for an infrequent escapee. This is not the case regarding some of the cat owners, and honestly, there needs to be some brainstorming and a solution to this problem. Because it is a problem.
Of the cats that are not feral, most of them are indoor pets (again, with the sporadic escapee). However, there are a few owners who don’t seem to understand that are pushing the feline envelope, with multiple cats which they indiscriminately allow to run freely throughout the area. Aside from leaving them at risk to be run over by cars, getting into fights with other cats, attacked by dogs, raccoons, fox, coyotes or fisher cats, a few months back one of these neighbors experienced the horrifying situation of having six of their ten (or maybe it was eleven) outdoor cats suddenly dying within a very short period of time, and without explanation. They were convinced that the cats were being poisoned and contacted the police and whoever else was necessary to make that determination.
When it happened, we pet owners, both of dogs and cats, went into panic mode. Who would do such a terrible thing? We started to look at everyone with suspicion, imagining some evil person sitting in their basement mixing up toxic chemicals and rubbing their hands together with demented delight. We scoured the sidewalks and our yards looking for dangerous material. Was somebody spreading poison all over the neighborhood? Was it a deliberate act or was it actually an accidental something inside their very own home that caused this?
There is some background that possibly lends to this situation. The people who were losing their pet cats let them roam freely outside. They all seemed to be healthy, well-cared for and loved, and supposedly had regular vet checkups and neutering, which seems contradictory to compromising their well-being by letting them out. I don’t know how far the prowling territory for these cats reached, but I did a little research and was surprised to discover that the home range of a domestic house cat who goes outside is actually almost five acres! That covers a significant amount of area, especially in a tightly packed neighborhood. Domestic cats also tend to lurk within about 980 feet of a building when they are out there cruising their range.
I was familiar with most of them, as they were a regular fixture (and nuisances, yes) around our house and yard. No doubt they were also visiting other people’s property, considering a five acre range could take them blocks away, making it likely they were doing the same thing they were doing on ours. Spraying all over and beneath our porches. Sharpening their claws on the outdoor furniture. Using our gardens as one giant litter box, including around the entire perimeter of the house. Killing the birds that came to the feeder with regularity. Leaving bunny ears and dead baby chipmunks on the stairs. Getting into fights and stand-offs in the back yard. One of them even rushing out from the bushes to attack our very small dog – while I was walking him on a leash!
Even though the cat situation was aggravating, I did actually have a few favorites out of the pack that would come around. Some of them were friendly, some were beautiful – I used to photograph the one I liked best, who was engaging and often tried to sneak into our house when I opened the door. Looking at this face, I have to wonder why anyone would not realize it was endangering him, or any of them, to roam the streets, and it saddens me that he was one of the first ones that died.
Although I didn’t encourage them and I wasn’t happy about the lack of response from their owners after mentioning it (“Um, hi, you know your cats have been using our yard as a litter box…”. “Um hello, did you know your cats are living on our porch?” ) in order to avert them we gave up planting flowers and put down slabs of stone around the house over the now former flower beds in the areas they liked to defecate. We periodically sprayed down the porch and furniture with lemon scent in hopes they wouldn’t like the smell, and would aim the garden hose or plant mister with dish soap at them if we happened to be standing outside when they came by. I will say that these methods did not discourage them at all, as they would look at us with impunity and often return in less than an hour. I used to think to myself that they were lucky we liked animals.
So it is highly possible that they infringed on the property of someone who doesn’t like animals, or someone who was eventually just pushed over the edge by their intrusions and finally had enough. I can easily see that happening. There are children who play in their own backyards. There are people who enjoy digging in their gardens. There are neighbors who like to sit outside on their decks and porches. There are people who have businesses around here, including a bed and breakfast. I imagine multiple cats using their property as a toilet would be construed as a major negative. It’s a health risk, among other issues. Who wants that in their child’s sandbox? What pregnant woman working in her garden wants to risk toxoplasmosis? Who wants to sit on their own patio and smell cat urine?
So the cats mysteriously started dying. Not disappearing, but actually found sick or dead in their own yard or house. It was baffling. The tests run by the local ASPCA were inconclusive. At first it was thought that they had gotten into some kind of garden pest poison, but last I heard that was not the case. I have no idea what they keep in their home or if anything like that might have played a part in it or not. There was a large container of antifreeze on their porch at the time but they said it was not the cause. After the loss of so many cats so suddenly, they decided that it might be safer to keep their remaining cats inside. A good idea.
Although I was sad knowing my “favorites” had met such a sad end, I have to admit that the absence of so many cats has actually been rather nice. Of course we are still plagued by the woman across the street who feeds the feral ones, of which she has attracted many (and, come to think of it, they seem to have not fallen victim to the supposed poisoning). Her house and property reek of urine and excrement, and when the west wind blows, the immediate area is bombarded by the stench. Almost everyone in a three street vicinity hates it and complains to each other about it. She has been spoken to and someone from the city even came out to investigate, and yet nothing has been resolved with that, which is a whole other story. Anyway, there was no more peeing on our porch. No more cat crap in the garden. No more bird massacre.
Things have quieted down. Aside from the ferals, we haven’t seen any of their cats. They started replacing them with a number of new ones. I think maybe they are even back up to ten again. It seems that over the last couple of weeks maybe one or two cats are appearing outside again. The other day one of them left this in the driveway, which is actually what has prompted my lengthy post:
I don’t know if it is disrespect or cluelessness that causes people to be so disregarding of their neighbors regarding loose pets. This goes for unleashed dogs as well as outdoor cats. Given they are animal lovers and are fairly friendly, I am going to go with the hopeful assumption they just didn’t understand the scope of the problem.
My thoughts on all of this: If you live in a rural area, having barn cats is a whole other topic. But anyone who owns a cat in a city or a busy suburb municipality should be required to license their cat the same way dogs are required to be, with micro-chipping and proof of vaccination provided at the time of licensing. They should not be allowed to roam free. If you want your cat to experience the outdoors, install an enclosed cat-patio (a “catio”) or take your cat out in a harness and leash.
Animal control should be called for cats running loose the same way as for dogs. The cat can be identified by microchip and the owner contacted. No chip – to the pound. If the owner repeatedly lets their cats out, they should be fined, each incident fined more heavily. Repeat offenders – massive fine. If you can’t keep your cat from roaming the neighborhood you shouldn’t have a cat. Feral cats need to be trapped, vaccinated and neutered, but in cities and more heavily populated areas not re-released. In this case, the younger or more docile ones would be made available for adoption at pet stores or humane societies. Feral cats that are sick or dangerous would be euthanized.
End of story.
I imagine this might not be a popular sentiment with some cat lovers, but it is a responsible one.
My Facebook feed has been exploding with pink gorgeousness from friends doing the “oooh-ahhh” from Japan, Washington D.C. and other places around the globe. The cherry blossoms have been blooming.
K. and I were reveling in the herald of Spring when she mentioned hearing that in Japan, people take off from work in order to view and celebrate the arrival of the cherry blossoms. We surmised it would be great if we did that here in our country. I did a little research, and indeed it is a big deal. The centuries old custom of flower viewing, called Hanami, these days involves an outdoor party that can occur both in the daytime or at night beneath the blossoms, where people celebrate their beauty and the arrival of spring.
I can imagine taking a day off (or more!) to enjoy such transient splendor. Actually, wouldn’t it be wonderful if schools were closed for the day, or a field trip was organized, and employees were given the time off at the peak of these moments in order to celebrate the earthly joys? “Inhale The Lilacs Day” or “Arrival Of The Peepers Day”. “Smell The Roses Day” or “Appearance Of The Monarch Butterflies”. “The Robins Are Nesting Day!” or “The Hummingbirds Have Returned Day”.
In these times where the earth is so abused, where people have their faces immersed in their smart phones and computers and are not in sync with nature, we could use days like this to get back in touch and appreciate these natural, fleeting gifts.
Beneath the kitchen counter there is a corner cabinet with one of those two-level turnstile type lazy-susan gizmos which is supposed to allow you to easily view and access your stored canned goods and other groceries. I hate it. I hate it with a passion on a daily basis. Having had one in my last kitchen, I vowed I would never, ever, want one again. It gets loose, becomes wobbly and doesn’t turn well. Smaller items fall off of the back of it and land in the corner into a dark no-man’s-cabinet-land, where it jams the flow of the turnstile and will never see the light of day again, until you move away and someone else finds it while doing a kitchen demolition years into the future.
Therefore, it is with tremendous dismay that I ended up with yet another one of these abominations. When the Significant Other was renovating the kitchen about ten years ago, I kept making suggestions as to what I wanted in a kitchen, figuring this was probably the only opportunity I was going to get regarding a new kitchen. He quickly got fed up with my input. It really isn’t the kitchen I had envisioned, but at least it was new, and at some point amidst the reno chaos I realized I needed to back off and allow him some say in it. As part of his man-decision, he insisted a corner turntable shelf was something that should be installed. There comes a point where you need to pick your battles, and so I stayed quiet – but I am so sorry I did.
So here we are in the present day, where I do regular battle with the hateful turntable shelf. I try to transcend how much I absolutely loathe it. It is an awful thing to actually despise something every. single. time. you use it, even if it is only a kitchen cabinet. One way to avoid dealing with it is to store things that are not going to be used too often. The popcorn maker, the salad spinner. Extra boxes of tea, pasta sauce, obscure spices. It is laden with those things – apparently too many of those things – because it had gotten to the point where it has tipped to one side and you have to balance jars and boxes carefully within. Recently it has reached critical mass and will not move more than a few inches, making it necessary to finally sit down on the floor and tackle cleaning it out. That happened yesterday.
The S.O. tends to buy multiples of the same item. He will open the refrigerator, a cabinet door or drawer and stare into the space without looking, then make a declaration that the item does not exist, even though it is staring him right in the face. Historically, this seems to be a common occurrence not only with men, but also with teenagers. Then he will buy another one and lose that one too as it mysteriously becomes invisible. Needless to say, I have been on his case about this in the past, for example, during “the great nail-clipper discovery”, which was mentioned during a major clean out in a past post.
Or the fact that not too long ago, he was grousing around the kitchen complaining that there was no relish left. I ventured into the dreadful turntable cabinet and found (no exaggeration here) six jars of relish. Six.
So as I sat down to deal with the turntable shelf contents, I was prepared to find more cans and jars of S.O. hoarded groceries. There were a few. He seems to have a penchant for barbecue sauce.
But it is with great embarrassment that I discovered in this case, the hoarder is actually me.
Aside from the four large bottles of lemon juice, five new boxes of assorted herbal teas, five jars of pasta sauce, multiple jars of cinnamon, extra bottles of vanilla extract and containers filled with fennel seed (!!!) there were the expected odds and ends like peanut butter, jam, mayonnaise, and corn starch. However, there were some unusual surprises. I am adding photos of what I unearthed here so you can get the gist of this. Of note:
Three jars of coconut oil, one expired, in addition to the two existing opened ones. That’s five.
Three jars of chutney, to add to the two open jars in the refrigerator. Total – five.
Three bottles of green hot sauce. There is one bottle of green and two of hot red in the refrigerator already. Total – six.
From here it gets a little more interesting. Six bottles of tamari sauce. Plus one in the refrigerator. Total – seven.
And finally, all things pomegranate and tamarind. Six bottles of varying sizes, containing pomegranate molasses, pomegranate juice, pomegranate concentrate, along with tamarind syrup, tamarind paste and jallab syrup. There is also a bottle in the refrigerator. That makes eight.
Given all of this, you can only imagine what the inside of the refrigerator looks like. I’ll spare you! Of course, unlike a classic hoarder, all of these items will actually be used. The reason they keep getting purchased is because they are things I use in meals or as condiments, and they keep getting lost in the void of that shelf-from-hell.
I guess I better get cooking……
Out of the blue, my usually uncommunicative brother sent my sisters and I this text:
“Do you guys remember amp bump???”
Amp bump? I could almost feel my brain physically shifting into a time warp. Amp bump. Oh my God, Amp-bump!
Different from the 1950’s stamped metal doll house and plastic furniture of my earliest years (which rusted when I left it in the back yard and got dents in it that left raw edges which could slice your fingers), in the 1960’s my mother purchased a doll house – a Bavarian/Tyrolian themed doll house which she called “a Swiss chalet” – for my younger sisters, who we called “The Babies”. Even though The Babies were a number of years past being babies, I don’t think they had actually reached the age yet when they would become offended by the reference, and the nickname stuck to them for a good long time.
The Swiss chalet house was a simple, tidy house of maple, painted white with red and green flower accents and shutters, curtains and a little balcony. The furniture within was also Bavarian style in blue and red, with painted wardrobes and chests to place at the feet of the four poster beds, flower motifs on the little chairs and table and checkered bedding. There was a tiny toaster with teeny slices of toast that you could make pop up and down. The pieces of doll house food were realistic and had the scent of marzipan – I can still remember the smell of the doll food. It came with a family of dolls dressed as if ready to tend goats with Heidi. It was no secret our mother had actually bought the doll house for herself, not only as a reference to her Swiss roots, but more so to satisfy her own unfulfilled 1930’s childhood dream of a doll house. She shared many stories of playing with her best friend Lucy, whose father had built a spectacular doll house which she so coveted in her own impoverished life. Her glowing memories and descriptions were so vivid that she planted a fantastical image in my mind that most likely was greatly exaggerated. When my mother bought “the Swiss chalet” doll house, she let us have free range playing with it. Still, I remember the way she would look at the house and furniture pieces and could tell it meant much to her on many levels.
My siblings and I, staggered in ages over a span of eight years, would come together in different configurations as we wedged our bodies close together in front of the open side of the house to play. Many scenarios would be orchestrated. We even developed our own short hand and sound effects. Thus amp-bump was born.
A little doll-person comes to visit the doll-people of the chalet:
(visitor makes the sound of a creaky door opening) – “Aaaaaaaammp”
(visitor makes the sound of door closing shut) – “Bump!”
Every time a doll-character would enter or exit the doll house, the person holding the doll would make the sound effect: “Aaaaaaaaaaammmmp BUMP!” As the doll-people were in and out of the doll house at a constant rate, eventually it became abbreviated to a quick “knock-knock, Amp-bump”, which was said rapidly and without emphasis on any syllable. Amp-bump. Amp-bump. Amp-bump. The sound of coming in the door, or leaving. If you left angrily and slammed the door, you could even say AMP-BUMP. We moved across the country. The Babies (“We’re not babies anymore!” said with indignation) had reached the age where they were not playing with the doll house. My mother carefully packed up the furniture, but somehow in the final moments the doll house itself did not make it onto the moving van. In haste, one of the last things my mother did as she was saying good-bye to relatives was to bring the Swiss chalet to my aunt and uncle’s house and ask if she could store it there until we could get it at a later time. I remember my aunt saying “Sure, it will be there for you”, and carefully placing it in the basement with a towel over it. That was the last we ever saw of it. My aunt, uncle and cousins have no recollection of the doll house, although my mother always suspected it was given away to one of the relatives on the other side of their family.
When I had my own children, my mother would gently unwrap the few pieces of chalet furniture that she had saved and let my daughters and niece play with them while she exclaimed with a wistful sigh, “I wish I still had the Swiss chalet”. I searched everywhere to try and locate the exact replacement. The pieces were so nicely made that I was sure it must have come from F.A.O Schwarz back in the 1960’s. I looked at flea markets, tag sales, antique shops and eBay, hoping to someday surprise her, imagining the look on her face when she received it and lovingly placed the remaining furniture inside. But I never did manage to find one for her. And then one day she passed away.
After her passing, I went through her address book in order to notify anyone who might want to know. I found the name of someone named Lucy who I surmised was her old friend. So I wrote her to tell her about my mother, mentioning how our entire lives we had heard stories about their friendship and her doll house. Lucy wrote me back. In her letter, she included some photos of the doll house her father had made for her, the one she and my mom spent hours immersed in and which was now in possession of her grandchildren. It was every bit as amazing and detailed as my mother had described it. I could imagine her longing and envy as a young girl.
I stopped writing this just now to look on the internet for the Swiss chalet once more, in hopes of finding a representative photo to post here. Wouldn’t you know it, I discovered a number of photographs, sadly, much too late. There is nothing spectacular about the house. My own daughter’s doll houses were elaborate dwellings made from kits, with many rooms, realistic furniture, wall paper, flooring, roof shingles, siding and carpeting, and even electricity – much, much grander than the simple three room Swiss chalet of our youth. And yet, all that size, those details, are clearly not necessary catalysts to bring forth what can come from a child’s imagination.
As a matter of fact, in my hazy recollection, the house was much bigger and painted blue. But the more I looked at the photos, like a creaky door opening (“aaaaaaamp”), the clearer those memories suddenly became. The hours of imagination, fantasy and camaraderie I had with my siblings filled the spaces of those few simple rooms to make complex adventures and keep us connected in a small heart space of time and history that is uniquely our own.
As summer has waned and eased into autumn, the deciduous trees have turned to that “it’s-all-over-for-this-year” dull green, with small bursts and streaks of color here and there, as highlights on fading tresses. While driving, I could not but help lifting my sunglasses up and down, checking the differences.
With shades on, the changing leaf colors are deeply apparent – the russet lurking beneath pops forward, revealed as if through magic glasses. Take them off and it is back to a spent, drab green again. Which is the true color? Do these sunglasses reveal what is actually beneath the exterior? On. Off. On. Off.
Not unlike the x-ray glasses they used to sell at the back of the comic books of childhood, with promises of skeletons or revelation through an unsuspecting someone’s clothes (!!!), wouldn’t it be amazing if we could don a pair of magic sunglasses and see the truth?
What if we could instantly see who people truly are beneath their facades? That grumpy, scowling man is actually full of rainbow hues once you look through those glasses. Beneath that smiling, peaceful woman perhaps lurks some dark malevolence you would never guess at. That pretty girl with the bitchy face might be the most lovely, caring person despite her demeanor. Those declarations of love could just be an illusion. That aloofness might just be armor.
The glasses could reveal well beyond personality traits. Under that healthy glow could lurk a brewing illness. Is that house you are considering buying totally solid beneath? Is this prospective job as bad as it seems? Or as good? Does any politician really ever tell the truth?
Perhaps these magic sunglasses should be adorned with crystals and glitter to indicate their special powers. Or maybe they should remain plain and undecorated in order that one could go incognito, a mild-mannered disguise.
Wouldn’t it be great to not really need those filters at all? Or would that render everything much too dull? It could be that our illusions are actually necessary in order to navigate through this life.
Daughter #2 called me a few weeks ago. “So Mom, I have a story for you!” I love a story.
She went on to tell me that a man walked into the building where she works carrying a guitar and asked if there was anybody there who played one and might be interested in buying it. He said that it had been his father’s and it wasn’t being used. She really wasn’t in the market for a guitar, but asked to see it anyway. It was a nice looking Gibson guitar, so just out of curiosity she asked how much. He said he needed the cash so he would let it go for $45. “Forty-five?” Yes, that’s forty-five dollars. She wasn’t even sure if it was genuine, but at that price, she bought it.
After making a few calls and sending around a few photographs, she discovered the guitar was indeed a Gibson and worth at least $1000. Yes, that’s one thousand dollars. She figured she might be able to sell it. But there was a nagging suspicion that it was probably stolen.
Musicians encompass a significant number of our family and friends, including some serious guitar players, all who would be devastated if one of their instruments was stolen. As much as it was tempting to either keep the Gibson or turn it over for a quick profit, she knew it was just not the right thing to do. My children have a moral compass regarding these kinds of things. So she called the local police first to find out if anyone had reported a missing guitar. They were surprised that anyone would bother to report such a thing; indeed it was pretty much unheard of to have anyone return stolen property and especially a guitar, at least in their precinct. Usually an instrument would end up in a pawn shop or just vanish. However, nobody had reported a missing guitar, so she figured she just had gotten lucky.
The excitement didn’t last very long though, as a few hours later a detective called her back. The guitar had just been reported stolen from a hotel where a music event was going on, by a guy who was from out of state. He had decided not to lock up his instrument with the others in an area the hotel had provided and instead chose to leave it in his room, where it was subsequently taken. He stated he had paid $3000 (yes, that’s three thousand dollars) for this guitar, which was a Gibson ES-339.
She dutifully brought the guitar to the detectives, who returned it to the owner when he came back for it later that evening. They supplied him with her name and address, suggesting he might at least reimburse the $45 she had paid for the guitar, if not also a reward for her efforts and honesty. Actually, even a thank you note would have been appreciated, but he never even bothered to contact her. Pathetically, I was not surprised that he did not acknowledge her good deed.
This pushed some of my mother buttons. I felt like writing this ungrateful jerk and telling him off. I wished I had his name, because I probably would have outed him on social media for being a thankless dolt. In a way I was suddenly a tiny bit sorry that she just hadn’t gone ahead sold the thing in the first place. As the police said, almost anybody else would have. But of course, that would have been wrong. I guess I raised them right.
Following this event, Daughter #2 reports that she found $20 in her pocket (even though it was her own money) and won a raffle later on during the week, which seems to have (mostly) satisfied her as far as karma goes, although she does wish she had her forty-five dollars back.
Update: Well, there is now a conclusion to this story. Daughter #2 was called in to testify before a grand jury. She was not happy about this development, as not only was she out forty-five dollars but now was also going to miss a day of work and the pay that went with it. She was beginning to wonder about where “doing the right thing” had taken her. She was also a bit anxious about what or who she would see there that day, this being a first in her experiences.
When she arrived at court, the owner of the stolen guitar was there. After sharing a detailed story of the guitar, a rather remarkable story how he came to own it and what it had been through, he said he had not been given any information in order to get in touch with her. He thanked her profusely and offered a reward that pretty much covered her lost day of work, her $45 initial outlay, and then some. And he turned out to be not a thankless dolt at all. It was a happy ending which restored perhaps a tiny bit of my faith in people, and also caused me to look inward at my own perceptions. You never know…..
Every six to eight months I pay a visit to the hair salon. Because this does not happen very often, I continue to patronize the same person I have been seeing for decades, even though I have moved a number of times and the salon is now about a forty-five minute drive from my house. Because it is just twice a year it is not difficult to be remain loyal, so I have stuck with this hairdresser. Since these hair appointments occur so infrequently and require driving a bit of a way to do it, I have created a small ritual surrounding them. Arriving slightly early, I drive through the Starbucks window and get a grande Java Chip Frappucino (either decaf or not, depending on the time of day). Then I enter the salon and sit on one of the couches, sipping my Frapp, reading, and waiting until she’s ready for me. That is what I was doing this afternoon when I encountered a Space Invader.
Space Invaders….you know the type. They invade your personal space and appear to have no concept (or don’t care) that they are doing it. Sometimes they are close talkers and get in your face. Or else they stand too close to you on the line at the bank, or practically sit on top of you when you are taking public transportation. I encountered one of them today.
There is one large leatherette couch and a matching loveseat in the waiting area of the salon. Here is the couch, which could seat three.
The matching loveseat (not pictured because I was sitting on it when I took this photo) accommodates two people – actually more like two children-sized people. Both couches were empty, so I chose the smaller loveseat to sit in while waiting, got down with my Frappucino and proceeded to leisurely peruse my email from my phone.
Suddenly I was rudely jostled by a woman who plopped down so hard on the couch cushion next to me that I was actually airborne for a second. She was a short, large-sized, loud middle-aged woman with gray roots, who appeared to be familiar with or related to one or some of the girls working there, as she began to chat with them and they all seemed pretty chummy. She did not engage with me at all.
There was not really enough room for both of us on this loveseat. She spilled over her own side of the cushion and overlapped onto my side, so we were sitting uncomfortably close, the way you might be crammed into a row of airline seats with a stranger. Except we weren’t on an plane. What was even more disconcerting was that as she sat down, she tucked one of her legs beneath her so that she was sitting on her foot, which was then pressing up against my left thigh and touching my shirt. I could not believe it!
That turquoise blue at the bottom of the photo is my left hip beneath my shirt. Above that is her butt spilling over her side of the seat cushions onto mine, and her foot pressing up against me. The only reason I could think of as to why she would sit like this was perhaps in order to help propel herself off the couch once she decided to stand up again.
OK, I am not fat-shaming here. I’m not the smallest person at the party either. However, we are not reluctantly sitting in assigned seats in the economy section. There were other roomier seating options available to her. She was not a close friend or family member, or anybody who I felt comfortable sharing body heat with on a couch. Why would she even want to wedge herself in next to me? It somehow reminded me of those guys who do “man-spreading” on the subway. It was incredibly rude – no sense of respecting someone’s physical space, no less putting her dirty shoe on my shirt. I could not for the life of me understand why she would even want to cram herself next to me instead of sitting on the nice big three person couch that was empty. Did she have no concept of her own presence?
My gut reaction was to just whip around, give her a major eye-roll and say “SERIOUSLY????” but I held back from that. My second thought was to tell her to please move her foot off my body, but instead I just made myself smaller and scooted farther away from her. She had to have noticed my shifting, but that didn’t seem to register. And no, she did not appear to have any sort of intellectual disability, although clearly she was missing something in the social graces department. My third thought was to pull a bit of a counter-aggressive tactic; to tuck my own foot underneath me just like her and put my own shoe right up against her leg so she could get a taste of it. My final thought was to just get up and go sit on the larger couch myself, which would have made a statement. All of these things fired through my brain in rapid succession, but I did not act on any of them.
The thing is, I just didn’t feel like any kind of confrontation. I was in my twice a year hair appointment groove and I had been feeling pretty OK – I just didn’t want to disrupt my own chi with a reaction. So instead, I ignored her. I continued to read my email. I slurped my Frappucino through the straw right down to the last drop, very, very loudly. I did take a photo of her invasive butt with my phone, and I hope she saw me do it. I see people post this kind of stuff on Facebook all the time….maybe I will too.
Suddenly they were ready for me, so I got up and didn’t look back at her. I don’t know what she was there for, but when I was finished, the Space Invader was gone.
Breakfast this morning consisted of a handful of foraged chanterelle mushrooms sautéed in butter and garlic, then scrambled into two fresh eggs from a neighbor’s chickens and sprinkled with ground Himalayan pink salt and fresh peppercorn. The mushroom eggs were paired with a slice of multi-grain sunflower seed toast from bread I had baked and then slathered with locally made cinnamon butter. A handful of blueberries recently picked on a sunny day from a nearby farm completed the meal. Oh, add a cup of Tulsi Rose tea to that too. After finishing this bounty, I topped it off with one of my addictions, a large square of sea salted dark chocolate (SO: “I can’t believe you are eating chocolate after that”. Me: “Why not? I consider it very European”). As if that was not enough, we soon found ourselves drinking our tea and coffee while tasting the remnants of my home-made blueberry pie, eating it right out of the pie plate together with one big spoon.
Partaking in this meal was a blissful (and perhaps, in the case of the pie, a bit gluttonous) experience. While breakfast was happening, emotions of gratitude, appreciation and satisfaction washed over me in great waves. And yet, at the moment, I am feeling depressed.
It is dark and rainy this morning, steamy with mid-August humidity. I’m home, with errands that are not pressing and no specific obligations today. It might be a good morning to lie in bed in front of a softly blowing fan, marathoning Netflix while crocheting a hat, with a small dog curled up by my side. How fortunate to be able to do this, to indulge in this simple but significant privilege! And still, at the moment, I am feeling quite low.
Perhaps having three old and dear friends pass away in the last two years, one of them just a few weeks ago, has helped to color this mood. Or that the worsening of my hearing, leaving me isolated, somewhat dependent and lost at times has added yet another overlay of blue. It might be the realization that we are beginning to physically break down as we age and that things are already starting to hurt. It could have to do with the state of the world, of our nation’s political situation, of the daily barrage of hate and violence that seems to spew constantly from the news that has contributed to this feeling of heaviness. It could be the fact that I just discovered and read some heart-wrenching memoirs of a Holocaust survivor that turned out to be one of my teachers in junior high school, a very kind and remarkable woman who I fondly remember, which has caused me to break down in tears. Maybe it is the wistful acknowledgement that things did not go exactly the way as once hoped or planned, or the memories of loved ones and loss that have resurfaced unexpectedly, causing a hitch in my breath. It is possible that the angle of the sun in the sky has shifted and the light is changing as we head towards autumn, the days inperceptibly growing shorter. Or maybe it is none of those things at all, but more of a chemical reaction. I know I have been eating chocolate like crazy lately.
Upon sharing this current state of being, one of my sweet sisters, in an attempt to cheer me up, gave me a laundry list of things I should be grateful for having accomplished in my life, which essentially sounded something like “You should be grateful for this. You should be grateful for that! Look at all the amazing things you’ve done, the places you’ve been! Your talents! Your children! And your grandchildren! Look at what you have! I have never experienced all of these things, but you did.”
I acknowledge her efforts at being a cheering squad and realize she is well-meaning, trying to be helpful – and perhaps she is a bit worried too. I love her dearly. But I felt the need to explain to her a little bit concerning bouts of acute depression or ongoing dysthymia; comparing one’s situation to someone less fortunate is not really going to make them feel any better about it. If anything, it can just makes things worse, as if you are ungraciously unable to appreciate what you have in the face of those who have not. That is not the case. I totally realize and appreciate what I have in my life, from the sunflower seeds in my bread to the fact that I can sit here and write about it. I acknowledge both the small and large pleasures daily, be it picking berries in an orchard with a view of the mountains, sitting on my front porch with my dog and a glass of water, having lunch with a friend, watching a bird on a branch, eating a bag of Pirate’s Booty in the car, enjoying the sunrise, seeing a video of my grandson riding his bicycle alone for the first time, or slipping into a clean and comfortable bed at night. All those things exist side by side, tangled in with the painful issues. They cannot necessarily be teased out separately.
Contrary to the opinions of some, I don’t look at the glass as half empty. My glass is definitely half filled – many times totally filled, even overflowing. But sometimes the cup seems to have a leak in it, or the contents get spilled, or it might be a very small glass to begin with. That is how it rolls for me.
Someone I know who at times suffers from terrible bouts of anxiety once told me that people who have not experienced anxiety attacks have no idea what they are talking about when they say “just snap out of it”. They could have been talking about depression as well. As an example, someone who has never raised teenagers, had a life-threatening illness, been to war, been raped, experienced a severe depressive state or even something as joyful but transformative as the experience of childbirth does not truly know what it is like and are in no position to make judgments on that experience or a person’s responses to it, much less become condescending when their advice is not taken (*of note, I am not at all talking about my sister here).
I have a few friends who tend to be “Eeyores”, or at least sometimes have an air of “Eeyore” about them. I find them to be some of the most intelligent, creative, interesting and compassionate people I know. Their dark and light is what makes them faceted and unique. I would not look down on them or judge them for their proclivity to melancholy or lack of ongoing optimism, and I would hope that in my “Eeyore” state they would reciprocate that courtesy. I think they do, because they understand.
Sorry, I don’t have the Pollyanna gene. I also do not walk around with a look of glazed bliss on my face and I will not give out saccharine smiles nor go around spewing joyful-sounding, vacant comments to alleviate the discomfort surrounding someone else’s perceptions of what is the “right” or “best” way to be. My resting face is not necessarily a smiley button, but perhaps I am smiling inside. I am a realist with a hidden but strong spark of optimism, who at times rides an unfortunate current of dysthymia by using dark humor to stay in the saddle. People who want to label that as pessimism and make judgment upon it or feel they are being “brought down” can just let the door hit them hard on the way out. Those who get it will nod knowingly or have constructive ideas from their own experience. Those who don’t but still care will get on their own horse and ride along side for a while until the terrain changes again.
Having said that, here we are, later in the afternoon. The sun has broken through and is now a golden glow, dappling through the leaves as it arcs toward the west. A bit of humid mist has risen from the road and cleared, much like my mood. I have run a few errands, brushed the dog, had a good phone call from a daughter, and am at the moment enjoying a sliced, crisp apple with some Scottish cheddar from the farmer’s market, along with a glass of iced chai which I brewed up earlier. It is very satisfying. For dinner I will cook up the rest of those chanterelles, cut up some fresh herbs and mix all into jasmine rice, to serve as a side dish to something I have not yet decided upon.
Shadow and light, Yin and Yang. Sometimes life is good.
Standing outside watering a thirsty garden
watching prisms arc through the spray
under a late afternoon sun
I am reduced to a child
reliving the joy
of running under the rainbow
in the sprinkler
on a hot summer day
Sweet scent of mown grass
wild roses on the breeze
hum of bees
and butterflies alight
in my mother’s garden
Of the mystery in finding a palette of color
round rainbows in the road after a rain
superimposed on black pavement
before you understood
it was just a spot of oil
Of leaves turning over to show their palms
foretelling a summer storm
blue white zigzags of light
until we hear the rumble of angels roller-skating
across the sky
to guess how close the storm is
Hard warm rain
electric scent in flaring nostrils
steam rises from the earth
a double rainbow!
fading fast before I can find you
to show you
now a hazy pink cloud
like a dream
Last night I stood outside and watched
dancing in the front yard
the magic of their phosphorescent lamps
winking and beckoning back
to warm summer evenings
scooping lightening bugs into jars
discovering in daylight a surprise
they have transformed!
into little brown bugs
no longer dancing faeries
carrying little green lanterns
Tiny red efts on the forest floor
their dewy skin glowing
frogs with bubble throats
and big eyes
to catch and let go
The electric hum of whining cicadas
drone through the hot afternoon nap
voices of crickets a discordant harmony
float in on open window wind
lulling to sleep
Marking the weeks by the different flowers
as each blossoms
that much closer to the end
After having a conversation with an old friend about the healthful benefits of juicing, my guilt about my packed-away juicer was tweaked just enough that I hauled it back out…..what good is it if you are not using it?
In the past The Juicer, an Omega centrifugal style that belonged to my father, had – according to him – restored his health after being diagnosed with cancer. It appeared to have had positive benefits.
Once he felt he didn’t need it anymore, he passed it on to me. In turn, after being diagnosed with my own health issue, I got serious about using it. It was clear I felt better doing it, in addition to helping to feel somehow connected to him. One glass of fresh vegetable juice always seems to provide a jolt to my system, a clear rush and eyes wide open.
Over time the juicer continued to get occasional use until one day when it became unbalanced while spinning, vibrating violently and impressively like the pod launching machine that sent Jodi Foster time traveling in the movie “Contact”, causing the plastic “bolts” that held on the top to actually shatter. The part involved the main body of the machine, which was irreplaceable. So that was the end of that.
“But wait!” said the Significant Other, who went digging in the cavern of the basement and came up with a discolored old centrifugal juicer salvaged from some previous relationship. It was not the most effective machine, but being rather practical when it comes to my appliances, I made do with it for a while, until it just wasn’t doing the job. Or maybe it just wasn’t making me happy. Instead of conjuring up images of my father encouraging good health, maybe I was conjuring up his ex-girlfriend. How could that be productive ? I wanted “a good one”, so I went shopping.
The “good one” ended up being a highly rated, mostly stainless steel model. It is extremely effective, but I must admit that, much like the rest of them, it feels a bit time-consuming to clean. It takes up a lot of counter space, and if you don’t keep it out on the counter, it has to be taken apart and put away somewhere, then brought out again. Out of sight, out of mind…… which meant I hadn’t been using the juicer as much as I had meant to. It was lurking in the back of my mind, a little voice nagging at me saying “you are not taking care of yourself“. Urging my friend to start juicing got me kick-started again. I imagined my father approving.
So here I am, back on board. Which brings me to what I wanted to post about in the first place – Waste Not.
I got out my juicer and made some carrot juice.
When I was finished I had a container of pulp left over.
I took the pulp and baked it into some whole wheat bread.
Then took the bread and made french toast for breakfast.
It felt Useful. It felt Healthy. There was something extremely satisfying about the flow of it all. And I keep hearing the term “Waste not, want not” in my head…..
While rummaging through some drawers and stored boxes, I came across a number of different knives, mostly pocket-type and folding knives, which have been given to me by various men over the years. It is not the first time I have stopped to wonder why men keep giving me knives. I have concluded that on some level they must see me as “one of the guys” and that is the reason they have continually been gifted to me. Maybe they feel I need protection. Perhaps they think some self-defense is in order. Or maybe that the many rural (and recently urban) areas I have lived in scream out for the availability and handiness of this tool. It could be just a friendly guy-gift gesture. I’m not sure what the reason is, only that it has been an ongoing theme. There once was a drawer full of them, but I have since passed on a few of these knives to other people, pausing to reflect where they came from.
The first one I owned was a little mother-of-pearl-handled single blade pocket knife given to me by my father. It wasn’t a formal gift of any kind and I can’t recall the exact circumstances, but I think I was playing with it and he told me I could keep it. I wish I could find it now – it is probably in one of my treasure boxes somewhere – at least I hope so. I used to always keep it on me, first in a pocket and later in my purse.
Looking back, almost every single boyfriend I have ever had, along with a number of male friends and former housemates, has also given me a knife. Not necessarily a new knife in a box – most of them just said “Here!”, and handed me a knife. To name a few, they have ranged from Swiss Army knives to some neat little polished wooden-handled or deer antler folding types; a three-blade explorer pocket knife; a large hunting knife with a leather-wrapped handle that I wore in a sheath decorated with turquoise, which hung from my belt in my hippie days; another massive leather-wrapped hunting knife gifted from a friend whose uncle owned a sporting goods store; and a very large, very sharp, very scary-looking retractable switch blade given to my by a coworker at the highway department where I once worked, who said I should “keep it for protection”. It had some serious street cred attached it. Not the type of knife (or person) you would want to mess with. I packed that knife on me and felt pretty much like a bad-ass until I didn’t work there anymore, when it was relegated to a drawer. In truth, the only thing I ever used it for was slicing pepperoni while sitting on a curb during lunch break. That particular knife was so dangerous looking that when it turned up again last year, it actually made me feel anxious to keep it and I gave it away.
While out in the woods recently looking for mushrooms, I jumped over a stream and lost the little Swiss Army knife that my Ex-Husband had gifted me in the earliest days of our relationship. Attached to a long piece of knotted leather cord, it had been in my possession for so many decades that I felt sad about losing it. Even though it was just a small old knife, dirty and dull, it was lightweight and useful and had accompanied me on a number of travels through many states, a few countries and a variety of adventures over the years.
But no sooner had I lost that knife when another man – a total stranger, actually – in a random act of kindness handed me his old-style wooden handled Duluth Tactical Lockback knife. He said it had been given to him and he already had a knife, so he was passing it on to me! I came home with my new pay-it-forward knife and was telling the Significant Other about it when he suddenly said, “Oh, you need a knife? Here, take this one” and he opened a cabinet and handed me a Gerber Paraframe knife, which he said he had found somewhere a while ago. I just have to wonder…..
There are superstitions about receiving the gift of a knife. Supposedly if you give a person a knife you run the risk of “severing the friendship”. To counteract that happening, you can tape a penny to the box the knife comes in. The Gift-ee of the knife then pays the Gift-er the penny, therefore making it a transaction instead of a gift and avoiding the “curse” of a severed relationship. However, I have never had a penny attached to my knives, or even a knife that came in a box – and have never lost a friend over the gift of a knife. If anything, during those Andy of Mayberry days of youth, we used to become “blood brothers” by slicing our fingers and pressing them to each other to mingle our blood (which just isn’t done anymore). I had even done that as a romantic gesture with an early boyfriend while dizzy with young love.
To me, there is still a symbolic bonding over being given a knife, kind of like “blood brothers” without the blood. To my recollection, I have never been given a knife by a woman (unless, come to think of it, it was metaphorically a knife in the back….). And, oddly enough, when I have passed them on, I have always passed them on to men, except for the ones I gifted to my daughters when they were younger. I think every woman should have a pocket knife.
I did an internet search about the meaning of men giving women knives but have found nothing of significance and, happily, nothing negative. I did find something about a knife being given as a sign of respect, at least in Finland, which has a nice ring to it. And if I think about the times those knives were given to me, I believe there was some mutual respect and friendship going on.
Recently I ordered another small Swiss Army knife to replace the one I lost, which happened to arrive on my birthday…. sort of an unintentional knife-gift to myself – hopefully, a new start to a new set of stories.
Have you stopped to notice all the little miracles that pass through our hands daily? While skimming through a number of recent and stored photographs, I could not help but realize how many beautiful things these worn out old hands have held. Looking at each picture, I felt gratefully aware of the many opportunities to appreciate the magic around us and decided to start compiling them into an album.
Wonder is everywhere. I wanted to share a few of the quietly magnificent gifts of Spring I have held in my hands just this past week alone.
“Maybe life doesn’t get any better than this, or any worse, and what we get is just what we’re willing to find: small wonders, where they grow.” – Barbara Kingsolver, Small Wonder
My very pregnant daughter was standing at her kitchen counter one morning eating some mushy stuff out of a bowl that looked like oatmeal but wasn’t. When I asked, she told me it was “Fauxtmeal”.
Just coming into the last days of completing a “Whole 30” elimination plan that seems to be trending right now – a clean-eating, month-long diet which cuts out sugar, alcohol, dairy, grains and legumes – her face was all glowy, probably from the glow of motherhood …or maybe the clean food actually contributed to that. I am not particularly into diets (and well, OK, I look like it too) but have no problem eating something that originated from a diet plan if I like it. She had found a recipe for grain-free oatmeal on the internet, doubled it, slightly modified it and calls this fake oatmeal that contains no oats “Fauxtmeal”. I tasted her faux oatmeal…. and then I proceeded to eat the rest of the bowl.
Some nice mother I am, finishing off her pregnant daughter’s breakfast, right? Since it was tasty enough to provoke stealing nutrition from my not-yet-born grandchild, I figure it is worth sharing. I have really enjoyed mixing some up late in the morning or having a bowl after doing some gardening or a taking a walk. Although it doesn’t seem to fill me up the way a bowl of oatmeal or granola does, there is still something rather satisfying about it. It feels healthy and it certainly is yummy. If you are not doing a specific diet, you could probably use milk in it too. I use a mini food processor to chop it all up.
1 apple (cut it in chunks)
2 dates (take out the pit, cut in chunks – I use Medjool dates, they’re so good!)
2 TB coconut flakes (unsweetened)
2 TB slivered almonds (I bet whole almonds or cashews would be fine too)
1 TB chia seeds (I want to call this optional. The chia makes it kind of crunchy. I’ve used chia/hemp mixes too, but I think I like it better without the chia seeds).
Coconut milk (I use coconut water. You could also used almond milk, soy milk, etc.)
1 TB cashew butter (or more. Or any nut butter. Save this for the end.)
Put all the ingredients except the coconut milk and cashew butter in the processor and pulse until it’s all chopped up. Then put it in your cereal bowl.
Pour some coconut milk (or your chosen liquid) into it and stir.
If you like it warmed up you can microwave for about 30 second (optional – we like it warmed up but you don’t have to, it’s fine cold too)
Add a tablespoon (or more) of cashew butter (or almond, or whatever nut butter you like) and stir it in.
For the source (or at least what was her source) the link is → here.
Try some “Fauxtmeal”! Tell me what you think!
“Why are we paying the price of whole wheat and artisan breads when we could be making it ourselves?” Almost to the day that the Significant Other made this economy-driven announcement, an old bread machine was synchronistically gifted my way. It seemed an easy solution; since then, bread-making has been at least a weekly habit in this house. I’ve been playing around with all sorts of combinations; whole wheat/oat/buckwheat/flaxseed, whole wheat/sunflower/wheat germ/bran, light whole wheat/pumpkin seed/rice flour, green chile/polenta/pepitas, caraway/orange/rye, and gluten-free combinations, just to name a few. I mentioned that I had a fondness for sourdough bread, but he has turned up his nose at the suggestion, so I have not bothered to either buy it or bake it.
My mom was a major fan of all things bread, especially sourdough bread. I might even say she was kind of a “bread-a-holic”. She just loved her bread. It must be genetic. Try keeping me away from a hot bread basket in a restaurant. Although I can hear her say “Don’t fill up on bread before your meal”, we always did. That San Francisco sourdough bread is as unique in taste as New York bagels are – there is just something different and special about where it comes from. With sourdough it’s the bacteria in the starter that lends the regional flavor. With bagels, it has been suggested it might be the water, although supposedly the skill of New York bagel makers might have something to do with it. Fond memories surround sitting with my mom in her SoCal kitchen and swooning over sandwiches made with fresh sourdough bread…..the slight tang, the scent…the carbs!
Back to the present – the S.O. suddenly developed an interest in the health benefits of bacteria like Lactobacillus acidophilus in yogurt and kefir, or the lactic acid bacteria in fermented foods like kimchi. Kimchi has been the new kick. I cannot get on board with it, at least not yet, and I don’t think I ever will. Have you ever gotten a whiff of kimchi? To me it smells like raw sewage. Not only that, it looks like reconstituted road kill in a jar. There are few things that look less appetizing. I realize there are some very big fans of kimchi out there, but getting past the smell to be able to eat it remains an issue here. When he eats kimchi, I have to leave the house. I mean it, the odor is that bad to me – and it lingers for hours. Want to get rid of me? Open up a container of kimchi, I’m out of here.
So I have been suffering through his kimchi phase, when all of a sudden he discovers that sourdough bread is supposed to be highly digestible and filled with B vitamins and is a good thing …..so why don’t I make some sourdough bread? Amen.
The starter for sourdough contains lactobacillus and yeast, with Lactobacillus sanfranciscensis being the lactic acid bacteria that gives it that special taste. Different parts of the country and areas of the world have their own strains of bacteria in the air, which eventually will permeate and give a regional flavor to your starter, no matter where it originated. So my sourdough really is not going to be exactly like the sourdough I ate and craved in California years ago with my mother, although it will taste similar, and honestly, some people probably can’t even tell. Because I didn’t have an ancient “this has been in my family for generations” starter bestowed upon me, I had to create my own. I have ended up with an Upstate New York River City Sourdough Starter. And it’s pretty good.
Basically, starter is just flour and water – I looked up a number of different ways to get one going from scratch. There are a lot of interesting choices using grapes, orange juice pineapple juice…some recipes even call for yeast. But I finally decided on an easy one from King Arthur Flour. Figuring bread is their thing, it was simple and probably a safe bet. One cup of whole wheat or rye flour and a half cup of water to begin. After that it is a scenario of adding a measured proportion of regular baking flour and water and discarding part of the starter as you go along. You use it, you feed it, you use it, you feed it. Any search will bring up step-by-step instructions from many sources. Anyway, within a week I got a starter going with no problem. It just fermented and bubbled up and was pretty exciting. Just the aroma of it brought back floods of memories.
Some people seem to take their sourdough making very seriously. There appears to be a lot of discussion, opinions and some passion surrounding individual approaches and methods. Apparently, some people actually name their starters too. I haven’t come up with a permanent name for mine yet, although in my head, without any clear reason, I have been referring to it as “Bob.” Suggestions welcome…..
Next, I had to figure out how to incorporate it into a bread machine recipe. Yes, the process of letting bread rise, kneading it, letting it rise again and then into the oven is a satisfying and therapeutic thing. They certainly look so much prettier as funky rounded loaves instead of that toaster-shaped weird hulk with a paddle-shaped hole in the bottom that you get from a bread machine. But I didn’t feel like being held hostage by my bread every four or five days. Bad enough I have this loose commitment of catering to this starter now. And the aesthetics are of no consequence as we attack it instantly, there being nothing like ripping into a loaf of hot, freshly baked bread.
I am still in the experimentation phase, making whole wheat, half-whole wheat, and white varieties in the machine to see all the results. A few times the breads have come out a little dense with not too many air holes in them and not rising as well as they could, although they still taste pretty good and have that tang. Other ones have been great. I have not been able to figure out exactly what is happening that is causing the difference yet. I soldier on.
A few times weird things happened with my starter because I was not paying attention. Once or twice I fed it too much liquid and not enough flour and it became a little separated and soupy. I corrected that. Bob seems to be forgiving.
Yesterday I had a starter explosion. It grew into a massive, bubbling blob of science fiction madness overnight, leaving its container and taking over the top of the refrigerator, creeping towards other objects stored up there and adhering to everything it touched. It is really sticky stuff! What a mess! Perhaps I should name it “The Beast” or “The Blob”… or “Bob the Blob”. I removed some of it and spread it out to dry so I will have some dried starter flakes to store for another occasion, should I decide to deliberately kill off Bob the way I have historically killed off some of my house plants…..
Apparently sourdough is getting a lot of attention lately – I just noticed the New York Times even had an article on it the other day. So not only are we sourdough addicts now, we are hip and trendy sourdough addicts and didn’t even know it! Plain, toasted with good butter, and as french toast….I recently saw a pretzel recipe for it somewhere that might need some investigation too. Inhaling that aroma – ah! And I get to have my Mom-flashback daily.
Sure beats kimchi.
Anyone want some sourdough starter, let me know…..
The Great Divorce in our family took place in California back in the 1970’s. Along with moving herself and children to the bottom half of a stucco two-family house with a Spanish tile roof, my mother launched into her new reality by making a considerably pricey purchase of four bentwood Thonet Hoffman style cane chairs made out of beech, imported from Poland, along with a simple butcher block table. The clean, simple 1920’s design of the furniture, which is attributed to Austrian architects Josef Hoffman and Josef Frank, was (I believe) representing her desire for a new, clear, uncluttered start in life.
The purchase of these chairs was not made lightly. She was careful and frugal; the chairs were pricey back then, which we were reminded of often enough when she asked us to “stop rocking back in that chair!” , to “sit up right in that chair!” and to “stop kicking that chair!” Having come from a background of very little, my mother cherished and took care of her possessions and expected the same respect from us. Her furniture, along with everything else she owned, remained clean and intact for years.
Following his defection from the family, my father apparently also had plans for an uncluttered change. His new apartment in Santa Monica was filled with glass, chrome, neutral colors, a girlfriend……and a new set of four Thonet Hoffman style bentwood cane chairs imported from Poland – identical to my mother’s. Neither of them had any idea that the other had gone out and bought the exact same furniture upon separating. It was so odd that I was afraid to mention it to the other. They really were more alike than either realized.
After a number of years, my remarried father and his chairs eventually made their way east to the state of Connecticut. Due to a lifestyle change in both taste and income, a number of pieces of his furniture generously came up for grabs, including his four bentwood chairs. Although they were really not “my style”, ever the scavenger, I ended up taking them to where I was then living in upstate New York (having migrated east myself) and added them to the hodge-podge of mismatched furniture in my kitchen.
Over the following years those cane chairs survived a Then-Husband and two children, a toddler nephew who lived with us for a while, a Then-Fiance, two almost step-children, everyone’s friends, numerous Thanksgivings, birthday parties and gatherings. We have sat in them while drinking tea, glasses of wine, rolling cookie dough, coloring and drawing, dying Easter eggs, holding babies, doing homework and science projects, finishing taxes, mending clothes, sewing costumes, sharing secrets, arguing, laughing, crying. They have held up under a lot.
The most abuse they took actually came from a much loved almost-uncle Bachelor Roommate who insisted on regularly plopping his entire weight down onto any chair or couch instead of just sitting down like a normal person. Because of his propensity for doing this, despite being constantly reminded not to, the cane attachments on the seats of a couple of the chairs began to break. He also used to come home from his job in dirty clothes and sit on the furniture, which caused the cane seats to begin to darken, despite my diligent cleaning. Considering these chairs were coming into their third generation of use and had survived shipping across the ocean, transport across the country, been moved in the back of pick-up trucks, endured years of oatmeal, smashed peas and fidgety children and still held up well, it was a bit upsetting to have that happen. Sigh. Some guys, I swear…..
The other four chairs, my mother’s bentwood chairs, eventually also migrated east when she did, from California to Pennsylvania Amish country. They remained in pristine condition until the day she died, when I took them home with me to upstate New York and united them at the table with my father’s more battered but otherwise identical chairs. Now I had eight of them, and I admit there was an odd satisfaction that although my parents were never together again, their chairs were. The chairs continued to survive teenagers, their girlfriends, boyfriends, family events and my Significant Other, who is also a bit rough on furniture.
Oldest Daughter grew up, moved out, married and had children. I gave her the butcher block table and her grandparent’s eight chairs, which headed up to New England and ended up in the state of Rhode Island, where they have endured yet another generation of swinging legs and spilled sippy cups. The initial damage done by Bachelor Roommate has been exacerbated by a pack of little boys who are constantly in motion while they play with their trucks and Legos, causing the cane on some of them to finally give way. The others – probably originally my mother’s – have seen considerable use, although they are still intact. Eventually Oldest Daughter decided she needed something a bit more solid for her kids to sit on, and so she returned them to me – complete with crayon, oatmeal, milk, Play-Doh and other unidentifiable substances dried onto them. In my mind I can see my mother’s face of disapproval at their condition, although I know she would have been happy they had gotten so much use, all the way down to her great-grandchildren.
The chairs have now made their way from Rhode Island back to upstate New York again, to the big old Victorian house where I presently dwell. They have traveled through at least two countries, resided in four states and witnessed a whole lot of life.
I wish I had a bright, airy sun porch or another room where these chairs could be utilized, but I don’t. They could be cleaned up and repaired, but the simple design of these Josef Hoffman style chairs are dwarfed by the high ceilings, large window frames and a fireplace mantle with heavy columns and roaring lion heads that adorn this old house.
They just don’t work well in this space. Subsequently, they ended up in a storage garage, and most recently, dragged up to the attic. Sadly and a bit surprisingly, other family members have no interest in them.
I kept thinking that “someday” I would be able to use them somewhere again. I appreciate the simple design a lot more now than I did when I was younger. Aside from the fact they once belonged to my parents who are no longer here, they also represented the new hopes, changes and fresh starts that each one of us who has owned them had experienced. I have learned though that sometimes “someday” never comes. (Conversely, I have also learned that often as soon as you get rid of something, you are suddenly in a position where you really could have used it). However, feeling burdened by “too much stuff,” I decided it was finally time to let them go. But this is not the type of thing you just put up for grabs out on the sidewalk. The chairs are still made today by Thonet and they are still expensive.
There are eight chairs lined up in the hallway downstairs at the moment, awaiting the scrutiny of a possible buyer who has expressed interest but may or may not show up, which seems to often be the case when trying to sell something these days. If that falls through, they will probably end up at the local auction house. I am anticipating there will be a feeling of lightness from unburdening once they are gone, but right now all I am feeling is a bit sad.
Our local nursery was having their annual Spring flower display, an early teaser, and it was raining, so I stopped there to get high. On flowers. I get pretty buzzed on flowers – it’s true. Obviously I am not the only one, as a number of people were tilting over, staring with blissed out looks on their faces, sniffing and staggering around…. clearly intoxicated. In the background the sound of the waterfalls provided a kind of music.
I was focusing on the colors and could practically feel my pupils dilating as my brain took in the textures and juxtaposition.
The Renunculus looks like a monk’s saffron robe. Even the name is trippy….Renunculus!
A crowd of tiny Jump-Up’s waving. All those little faces looking up at you! Are they scowling or are they happy? …Eeeeeeeeee!
Daffodils were trumpeting their golden trumpets!
And my favorite activity – huffing lilacs. I could practically pass out from the scent of lilacs, couldn’t you? Everybody was doing it.
I even saw some green fairies in the hellebore…..
When I finally pulled myself away and lurched out of there, I walked over to the koi pond and communed with the fish. They gave me fish kisses. Fish Love.
High on flowers! A little taste to launch you into the garden season.
It’s that time of year in these colder regions where the maple sap is running. This past weekend a number of local people have been busy boiling down their sap. On a Saturday complimented by a stellar-blue jay sky, friends and I were invited to the beautiful property of some generous and lovely people for brunch and their maple syrup boil. As I watched the sap bubbling in the evaporator, many memories resurfaced.
Back in the day (the good ol’ hippie days of youth which I periodically and sometimes achingly refer back to in this blog), there used to be an old dairy farm that periodically held barn sales in the large barn that fronted the road. You could always find something useful there.
At the time, most of my pots and pans and dishes had come from the barn. I had picked up a number of Warner and Soule cast spiles (taps), thinking they were kind of interesting and figured one day I might use them. Sure enough, a few years later while living on acres of woods filled with maples, we decided to tap them. The spiles worked just fine and looked similar to this:
I didn’t have enough though, so I added a few of the more modern Grimm spouts like these:
We had a very simple, great big evaporator that someone graciously made us out of stainless sheet metal. It sat on cinder blocks surrounding a rather smoky fire, which we diligently tended to for hours and hours. It took a lot of time and a whole lot of wood to keep it going. Luckily, we had both plenty of time and plenty of wood back then. Even though it meant standing out in the cold all day long (including in cold drizzle), the time was spent with friends and family, being warmed by the fire we were feeding, “shooting the breeze,” getting lost in quiet reflection, and just enjoying each other’s company. It really ended up being a social event of sorts, devoid of electronic distractions. Food, of course, would follow. Metaphorically, what it boiled down to was much more than syrup.
By the time darkness would begin to fall, we would be more than ready to come inside. At this point the sap would be boiled down a considerable amount so that it began to thicken. It would then be scooped out of the evaporator and brought into into the house to be finished off on the stove – either the woodstove or the kitchen stovetop. This caused the windows to become ridiculously steamy, so the less you did inside, the better.
At the very end was the prize – delicious amber maple syrup and a sense of satisfaction. It truly is liquid gold, especially if you consider that depending on the percentage of sugar content of your sap, it could take many, many gallons of sap – maybe twenty to as much as eighty! – to make even one gallon of maple syrup. That’s a whole lot of boiling. After the first year I did it on a much smaller scale using the wood stove in the house to get a cup or two at a time. But needless to say, the end product was highly coveted. Aside from using it on French toast and pancakes, it is a family ritual to pour it over freshly fallen snow to make “maple snow”. Sap that had not thickened too much was poured into ice pop molds and frozen to made tasty maple pops too.
Back to the present day, after a wonderful brunch and a crisp, sunny afternoon outdoors, we were sent home with a jar from our host’s private stash. I am grateful for both the hospitality and the trigger of filtered memories.
Not that long ago it seems, before cell phone contact lists and computer address databases, there was The Address Book. Even though that information is stored on both my phone and in a computer file, stashed in a top drawer of the night stand I still keep the address book that my mother gifted me years ago. It has botanical drawings on the cover. I think of her every time I look at it and it makes me happy to see it. There is something satisfying about physically feeling the cover and opening it to see what is inside. It is a bit outdated, but I try to keep it as current as possible. As a backup to technology, there is something personal and real about having it.
For the sake of portability in the pre-smartphone days, I also had a little address book that fit in purse or pocket. Back then, if you really wanted to be mysterious you kept a “little black book”. And if you aspired to appear popular, that little black book would be filled with names and numbers of potential dates and romantic interests, although mine was filled with neither. Well, okay, maybe a few. It was pretty tiny – only a couple of inches high in fact. And actually, my little black book was blue, only because they were out of black ones the day I bought it.
This little book has been obsolete for decades. I stumbled upon it the other day for the umpteenth time as I was looking for something else. It was lying underneath other outdated things at the very back of one of those drawers you never open. Periodically it turns up and I think “Oh, I should look through this thing and then get rid of it”, before it returns to the oblivion of the drawer again. Finally I have addressed the address book. Not only did it take me back but also aback. I could not help reflecting upon a few observations.
At least half of the entries were written in pencil. This was a deliberate move due to the transient nature of the people that I knew. We were young and in flux. Only those who you could pretty much count on to have any sense of permanence were considered ink-worthy.
As I flipped through each page, it was sobering to note how many people listed were no longer living. The elder generation of course – grandparents, parents, aunts and uncles, their friends. But there were also peers who had passed on, which caused me to stop and reflect on that. It didn’t seem possible.
Perhaps blue was an appropriate color for that book, as most of the couples listed were no longer couples anymore either. The little book reads like a Directory of Divorce. Out of an entire A through Z there are actually only four couples left on those pages who are still together after a few decades. Not only that, but hardly anyone was still residing at the same address listed anymore – except for the four couples who also happened to be the ones still married; apparently complacent in both relationship and location. Everyone else seems to have moved out or moved on, sometimes numerous times, indicated by the multiple erasures. Even some of the ink-worthy people had cross-outs. Practically all of the phone numbers were obsolete too.
Lastly, there were a few transient friends who I did not expect or desire to ever be in touch with again in this lifetime, and at least one where I had to stop for a minute and wonder “who is this and why are they in my book?” There was only one “I wonder if they are still there?” address that was worth saving, and I copied that onto my computer with the more current information. As I went through each page, I tore it out and put it into the shredder until they were all gone.
I was left with two things – the empty blue cover and a profound sense of the impermanence of life.
The Significant Other is self-employed in the construction trade and is kind of a “Mr. Fixit.” Following a recent accident which required some surgery, the involuntary down-time has kept him home for much of the week. He is pretty good at down-time when it is on his terms, but when the choice is not his he tends to get antsy and needs to fiddle around with stuff in the barn or around the house. There is plenty to focus on that needs fixing around this house so I was hoping something would grab his interest. Clearly we all have a different interpretation regarding priorities.
I have my own list. At the top of that list is installing railing on the back steps and porch so you don’t go falling off the edge, which is something I have been anticipating for the last six months (the falling over the edge part). After that would be heavy things that need to be carried. As for easier inside work if one was wont to be looking for a project, I would choose using the drill gun to put screws into these old plaster walls so all the artwork that has been waiting forever to get hung up can be hung up. Yes, I could do that myself, but then I have to hear “Look what you did, you cracked the wall” (OK, Guilty; for some reason when I put screws into these 100+ year old walls, they tend to chip and crack and when he does it, they don’t. I chalk that up to his practice on the job, but, whatever.) Bottom line is there is a lot of stuff to be hung up that is lying around.
There are also window shades to be hung in his man-cave. They were purchased because they are room-darkening. There are woven rattan shades that I put up years ago, but you can see through them and they let light in. With the room darkening shades installed beneath them he can watch TV on a bright day and be able to see the TV screen. But more importantly it is because the man-cave faces the street, so when he is watching TV or the lights are on at night you can see right into the room from the sidewalk. Personally I find it kind of tacky and a little bit creepy when I am out with the dog late at night and happen see some guy standing around a room in his underwear as I walk past a house. I don’t want us to be that house (or him to be that guy). Although he knows this and went out and bought the shades, that is where the idea died. Perhaps there is an inner exhibitionist I was unaware of, because at this writing, the shades have been waiting there for exactly fourteen (14) months.
So how did he spend his recuperative week of antsiness? What was his Mr. Fixit priority? Dimmer switches. He spent hours installing dimmer switches.
I will preface the forthcoming rant by saying I am a fan of dimmer switches on dining room overhead lights, should you want to eat your dinner with lower lighting. And the S.O. felt there should be one in the main bathroom, should you want to take a long relaxing bath that is not beneath bright glare. That makes sense to me. What does not make sense is why he decided to install dimmer switches to every other place in the house. They are everywhere!
He put a dimmer switch over the microwave (romantic mood lighting over the reheatable leftovers?) and one on the lighting over the counter near the refrigerator. The reason the
lights over the kitchen counters were installed in the first place was to provide some light while cooking because it was too dark. If you dim them, it becomes too dark again to see what you are doing. Plus you now can’t even reach the switch because it is behind the microwave. There is also one over the kitchen sink. The light over the sink needs to be bright in order to see when you are washing the dishes, but now you have the option of cleaning the pots and pans under a warm glow in case you really don’t want to see what is stuck on them.
He added two dimmer switches in the half-bathroom, one over the mirror. It seems if you are bothering to look in the bathroom mirror it would be to check for something in your eye, in your teeth, on your face – so you would need a good strong light in order to see, right? Why would you dim the lights over the sink? Am I crazy here? Why?
He installed dimmer switches in the bedroom overhead lights. The reason I like the overhead lights to be bright is so that I can see when I am cleaning, while vacuuming, or to find something that rolled under the bed. Otherwise there are table lamps for more ambient lighting. Again, I don’t get it.
But the one that has floored me the most is the switch that is now installed to dim the outside porch light over the front door. Isn’t the point of having a light over the door so that you can find your key and open the door at night, or to look out from the inside and see who is out there knocking in the dark?
As an aside, most of the switches in this house are ivory color. The dimmer switches he used are all porcelain bright white and so they don’t match the other switches or the switch plates. Some don’t even have switch plates. There must have been a big sale on white dimmers or something that just couldn’t be resisted.
And finally, they are all covered with black hand-prints as if a kindergarten class just ran through…..adding another project to my own to-do list. OK, it’s first world problems for sure. I’m lucky to live in a house. I’m lucky to have electricity! But I have to wonder – is this one of those Mar/Venus things? Am I missing a good point somewhere as to the logic behind this? Is this kind of weird?
My books are like old friends. When it comes time to purge items from the home, the most difficult items to reduce seem to be the books. Even when I know I am not going to be reading a particular one for a while, I pick it up, thumb through it, put it down again, find myself getting lost in it and often it never makes it out of the house. Having them in the bookcase seems to bring a sense of familiarity, connection and well-being. There are plenty of us who feel this way – there is something so interesting and homey about a bookshelf.
Out of the long-standing “keepers” are a number of bird identification books – some of them are pretty old but have always been helpful figuring out who landed at the feeder or has been spotted in a tree. From this collection, both the Peterson guide and the Audubon Field Guide have seen some hard use over the years. I can’t quite remember if one of the puppies of long ago got hold of it or if it was visited by mice while boxed up in an attic between moves, but something chewed much of the spine off the Audubon guide.
Although the book was still usable, seeing this has continually bothered me, bringing up feelings of annoyance, disappointment and/or dismay at any given time (which makes me think it was probably mice that did this, because I don’t reluctantly smile about it as I might had it been a puppy.) Although the book is no longer “nice”, I have not quite been able to find the justification for replacing it. So what if the spine was a little bit chewed off? You don’t judge a book by its cover, right? It doesn’t affect the contents and has been that way for decades.
A recent purge led to reducing the book accumulation just a tiny bit more. Seeing the Audubon book on the shelf caused that same feeling of annoyance/disappointment/dismay to hit me once again. Opening it, a couple of pages that used to be attached to the binding started to come loose and I thought to myself “you know, there is nothing stopping you from replacing it”. Cosmetics is one thing, construction another. Being able to justify it to my own weird standards, instead of buying a new one I decided to look for another used one, but in better shape – why not? Somehow that felt righteous, if that makes any sense.
The copy I found on the internet claimed to be in “good” condition, and was actually even an updated version of the one I had. The book arrived. Technically it is in “good” condition. There are no pages missing and the spine is intact. At one time it had belonged to a library before being pulled out of circulation. This is not the first time I have purchased old library books from book fairs and the like. However, it was clear this library was making damn sure that nobody was going to walk off with their book while still in their possession! This book screams “Not Yours!”
The name of the library is stamped on all three sides – the top, bottom and along the outside of the pages, so any way you look at it you know where it came from.
Just in case that was not enough to remind you whose book it was, the name is also stamped on the inside in great big letters.
And if you happen to miss that, there is a strip with a bar code on the inside so it can be scanned when checked out. The strip was perfectly in place; it is peeled off a bit in the photo because I was working to try and carefully peel it off the book. It wasn’t going anywhere – it is glued on pretty securely.
If you happened to miss the bar code strip on the inside, not to worry because there is also another one glued to the outside of the book (which, as you can see, I have also been working on removing, requiring solvent).
There was yet another identifying sticker on the book, but I had managed to remove it before deciding to take some photos, but you get the idea. I have yet to go through the entire book, but would not be surprised if there were stamps or stickers (or hidden cameras) somewhere within too.
Such diligence on the part of the Duxbury Free Library, which resides somewhere in a state that I do not live in, is rather impressive. Their efforts pretty much spell out Do Not Steal This Book, or at the very least, This Book Does Not Belong To You. Out of curiosity, I looked up the website to see who these determined people are. It appears to be a pretty nice library, filled with smiling people, events, and plans in the works to create an outdoor “reading garden”.
I have always felt the library is a magical place, a haven and a gateway, a portal allowing you to get lost into other worlds. As a matter of fact, my very first official on-the-books (no pun intended) job ever was in a public library.
Perhaps this sounds strange, but now that I am the new bird guide owner, even though I am happy to be part of the recycle process, I feel almost illegal walking around with my replaced copy…..as if I dared to take it into the field, people would see it and whisper “Aha! Library book thief!”
You would think I had grown up in the days of my grandmother or possibly my great-grandmother if you saw the kind of appliances I had in my house, right up into the 1990’s. As a twenty-something and even a thirty-something, it appeared we somehow had not made it into the modern age. I don’t know how it happened, but there was quite the regression from what my own mother had. While my friends were having bridal showers and receiving shiny new appliances, I was living in a time warp.
I suppose much of it had to do with coming of age during the hippie years, during a period when many people were looking towards self-sufficiency. There is something attractive – both functional and charming – about an old kitchen tool, especially while living in old houses with vintage kitchens in the country. The attraction for these things at flea markets and antique venues is testament to that.
My thought at the time – Was it really necessary to have most appliances? Then there was some unexplained and possibly paranoid thoughts about “What if the power goes out?”
Starting with the basics, just to put it out there, our main heat source was a wood stove. OK, that is not something unusual – plenty of people I know still heat with wood. There is a satisfaction and beauty in heating with wood, being warmed by wood heat, drying your mittens, cooking your pancakes and finishing off your maple syrup boil over wood heat. Just something very basic about it.
The kitchen stove was one of those propane stoves that didn’t have a pilot light. You had to light it with a match, which meant there was an old kitchen match holder on the wall next to the stove to facilitate that. To get the oven going meant getting that match at just the right angle to fit inside the tiny hole in the bottom of the oven, then quickly pulling your hand away as soon as it went “boof”. When that oven lit, it was a very satisfying feeling. When it didn’t, it was a little scary. Between the wood stove and that kitchen stove, if you ran out of oil or the power was out, at least you still had heat and could also cook a meal.
Kitchen tools included a rotary egg beater – the kind with the handle that you turn; a mezzaluna crescent chopper; a mortar and pestle; cast iron pans and dutch ovens that could also be used on the wood stove, a coffee pot that you heated up on top of the stove, a glass citrus juicer, a big canning pot and an old wooden hand-crank ice cream maker. I also had the toaster that was in my mother’s kitchen when I was a little girl – the kind with a fabric cord.
Along with a number of acoustic instruments, in the living room was one of those 100-year old upright pianos that nobody wants anymore because they are so huge and almost impossible to move. This one had yellowed, chipped ivory and ebony keys, and a wobbly claw-foot piano stool.
Also in the living room was my sewing machine – a treadle – the kind you pump back and forth with your feet. I made curtains, quilts, repairs and even some clothes on that machine….. and for a while had some serious calf muscles!
We had oil lamps as back-ups “just in case” the power went out. They came in handy.
When we weren’t going to the laundromat, I was washing clothes in a tub with a zinc washboard and a wringer and hanging them out on the clothesline with wooden clothespins. I can’t believe I am typing this, but it’s true. Not only did I wring out the clothes, but I used to run my long braids through the wringer after swimming to get the excess water out.
To mow the lawn we had a metal push mower.
Essentially, if the power was out for a good while in winter, we would still be able to heat the house, sit by the fire, cook a meal, bake bread, sew clothing, read, play music, do the laundry. Sounds rather romantic and cozy, doesn’t it? It was. A little bit “Little House on the Prairie” even. It felt safe. But it was also a lot of work……
The first machine to come into the household was the electric mixer, a hand-me-down. To be able to mix and bake without turning that crank or trying to recruit someone to take a turn was such a joy. I retired the rotary mixer to a bottom drawer (because hey, if you lose power and you feel absolutely compelled to bake….)
Next came the blender. Somebody gave me their old blender, a lovely stainless one-speed Oster that was so powerful it could even crush ice. I was amazed at how convenient and nice that was. I wish I still had it. That one disappeared in a move and was replaced by a 1970’s model.
Following that was an appliance bonanza – first a gift of a food processor and the following year an electric food dehydrator. The mezzaluna also retired to that bottom drawer. There was an electric ice cream maker that eventually broke. And a more high-tech orange juice squeezer that disappeared somewhere. And two pasta makers. Wish I had one of them now….
With the advent of children the washer and dryer arrived. I could still well up with tears thinking about how wonderful it was to have a washer and dryer. Washboard relegated to the attic. Antique ringer sold.
After that, the appliances seemed to accumulate with steady speed. Some have not lasted but others are still here. Even though most of them have either been gifts or tag sale finds, they are still taking up space. I seem to have guilt about having so many of these items, even if they are used. After thinking about it, I walked around the house and took a tally. This is what I found (bear with me….as I list these things I am impressed/amazed/dismayed):
– No more wood stove. We heat with a furnace now. Although there are things I do miss about wood heat, I don’t miss the mess, the splinters, the dry skin, and the years of walking around smelling like a barbecue. I am a big fan of the thermostat as a primary source. Would love the wood stove as a back up again though…..
– The antique piano is long gone. The piano stool remains. Anyone looking for an antique piano stool?
– Washer and dryer. Amen. Amen.
– Electric sewing machine. And a serger. The treadle made a charming end table for many years. I really liked the way it looked but I sold it during one of my many moves. The serger…..well, I have no patience to thread it. It brings out the worst in me, impatience and frustration rearing its ugly face. Anyone looking for a like-new serger?
– Vacuum cleaner. A decent one.
– Electric lawn mower for a little lawn (following the gas mower given away for that once-upon-a-time big lawn).
– Toaster oven
– Regular pop-up toaster….with slots wide enough for a bagel!
–Food processor (OK, it’s over 30 years old, but it is a food processor)
– Mini food processor (this one is about 20 years old but it means you don’t have to take out the big one for everything)
– Blender (as above, also about 30 years old)
– Little Bullet blender (for little blending)
– Stand Mixer. THIS! I have seen brides get these Kitchen Aid stand mixers as shower gifts over the years. I used to scoff. I had no idea how wonderful they are. Instead of standing there holding the electric hand mixer (remember that big improvement over the rotary one? ) while your wrist goes numb and batter spatters all over the counter, you can turn it on and go about grating or scraping or cooking or adding ingredients or whatever, while this thing continues to mix up your stuff. Who knew? I can’t believe I waited until the sixth decade for a stand mixer. They are pricey but…if not now, when?
-but still have the electric hand mixer (for those little jobs).
– Hot-air popcorn maker
– Vegetable juicer (big! heavy! Takes out the pulp. This is supposed to make you healthier)
– Coffee maker
– Spice grinder (mortar and pestle to bottom drawer)
– Blender wand ($2.00 garage sale find. Use it often for soups and dal)
– A few stainless steel pots and pans
– and most recently, a used, free bread maker (how could I resist?) that gets used every four days. When you are making bread every four days it’s a nice thing to have…
None of the above appliances is buried in the back of a cabinet never to see the light of day… or not for long. Even though some of them are no longer state-of-the-art, they absolutely all get used and they make everything so much easier. I adore my stand mixer, it has made baking even more pleasurable. And I would surmise that most middle-class American homes have most of these things; at least those homes where people cook regularly. So why does looking at all this stuff bring out such uncomfortable feelings?
It is a bit overwhelming to see the amount of appliances that have accumulated. Looking around the kitchen, I feel a bit pressed upon. Opening up a cabinet, there they are, taking up a lot of space. They really need their own pantry just to neatly house them all. An “appliance room” to get them off of and out from under the counters. I imagine some people might actually have that very thing. As I look around at all these machines and gadgets, I have to admit it gives me a twinge of anxiety.
We are living in a machine age. Televisions, cell phones, computers – just the tip of the iceberg. Denying technology would be like sticking your head in the sand. However, there was an aesthetic about the old appliances, the way they were made, the decorative details on some of them, the function. They had an appeal to them and there was a meditation at times in using them. Perhaps I have just slipped into that Era of Grandmother – a tug of wistful nostalgia for those simpler times.
Returning from the weekly excursion to our uptown farmer’s market, I added sweet white donut peaches and local apples to the avocados, tiny Seckel pears and other staples already filling this bowl of good fortune. This vision required the need to stop and appreciate such beauty of bounty, my thoughts reflecting a silent prayer of thanks.
This is an odd thing that I have only shared with a very small handful of people because it is so weird. I have often wondered if anyone else has had the same experiences, and after giving it some serious debate, have hesitantly decided to put it out there. First off, I would like to make it quite clear that I am sane (really!), credible, not delusional. Next, I would like to state that this could just be coincidence, but it is rather odd. Despite the title of this post, I am not talking about pencils skittering across a table or fruit floating in the air.
To begin, it is no secret that when one sense begins to deteriorate, others often become heightened to take up the slack. It is upon this premise which I base my thoughts on these experiences. It has been an unfortunate situation that my hearing has been deteriorating for quite some time. Because of this, intensely focusing on visuals in order to garner cues to what is going on around me has become a way of life, as it is for all people with the sense of sound diminished. Of course, this heightened scrutiny brings on a different sort of awareness. Body language, the most minute of facial expression, a general aura about a person – all this reveals extra information that does not require hearing.
Colors evoke extra strong emotions. The sense of smell has become so acute that I am sometimes floored by certain perfumes and scented products, where once upon a time they didn’t bother me. Beyond being able to tell the obvious – who had garlic for dinner or drank beer the night before – it is sometimes possible to detect the odor of a medication. The scent of the world in nature has become more powerful than ever, giving the smallest hint of what it must be like to be an animal in the wild. But even more abstractly I have noted the ability to discern and react to someone’s discomfort or happiness, the smell of fear and of joy. It is barely perceptible and not always present, but something that has been experienced.
People who lose a sense often are able to pick up on energy. After a few experiences, I have to wonder if a person can also emit some sort of energy field that can manifest itself in odd ways.
The experience of profound grief; the loss of a loved one, be it through death, divorce, a parting of ways; the diagnosis of a serious illness; hitting the bottom of addiction; the loss of a home or a livelihood, or of everything you ever owned; a catastrophic event; circumstances beyond our control….. whatever those scenarios might be, they affect us deeply and leave us wide open and raw. What I noticed was the most peculiar of phenomena when at my own most grievous, vulnerable, totally blown away moments. There seems to be a disruptive, almost electrical charge that happens, some sort of positive/negative emission that possibly makes these things occur. Or at least it has seemed that way.
To start, my hearing aid batteries instantly die, one after another. When it seems I just cannot bear one more thing, the batteries will suddenly pop, leaving me floundering and bewildered. OK, it is not so unusual to have a battery die. I will put a new one in ….and the next one will instantly stop working too. Must be a few defective ones….try another and the same thing happens. Must be a bad package! Try a new pack and they keep blowing up, one after another. So it must be that the hearing aid is bad. First one hearing aid totally dies…..then the other one shuts down too within a few hours.
But wait! I actually have back up aids just in case….put in a back up hearing aid and that too dies within the hour. How can this be? So I put in yet ANOTHER back up to the back up (I save everything, you can see why) …and that one dies too. This has happened not once, but a number of times during periods of intense stress.
It is not only the hearing aids. Phone calls will keep disconnecting. Light bulbs also blow out more than usual during the incidences of great tension and emotional strain. It has been so noticeably bizarre that I have wondered how much of a coincidence it is, or if some sort of energy charge comes off me to cause this. It has happened enough that I have (jokingly, but not) felt like some sort of low-key Carrie, unbidden, destructive phenomena swirling around my emotions.
On a particular day following a terrible personal loss, with batteries dying and light bulbs freakily popping, I reluctantly got into the car to drive my kids to an appointment. With a non-functioning hearing aid, shaking hands and just on the verge of being late – probably too upset to attempt going anywhere – a tall box truck suddenly pulled out from a parking lot up ahead and caught some low hanging wires, ripping off a large piece of metal that anchored the cables to the telephone pole. They were pulled loose, causing a metal box to swing down from the air, Tarzan-style, crashing through my windshield and showering all of us with shattered glass.
I am not trying to be new-agey here. All of this could be coincidence. Or not. I am wondering if anyone else experiences this kind of an event during times of great pressure or deep grief. Do your hearing aid batteries die when you are stressed? Does something else occur that you notice when you are grieving? Do you think we emit some sort of electrical current that can cause these things?
I just happened to have another one of those oddly moving parking lot experiences.
It is a hot, bright August day with a slight tinge of humidity in the air. Despite the delicious temptation of slabbing out in front of the fan with a book, I needed to venture out for some groceries. As soon as I turned out from the tight, tree-lined streets of our neighborhood, it started to get exciting.
Approaching the local somewhat seedy little shopping plaza revealed a dramatic view of the clouds building up over the mountains in the northwest. For some reason they set my heart racing. The contrasts of dark and light, all of that serious billowing happening, I just couldn’t keep my eyes off them.
As I turned each corner towards the plaza, glimpses of the contrasting clouds would appear and disappear between the buildings of this small city. When I finally got to the plaza parking lot, I stopped my car right in the middle of the hot pavement and stood there. My mouth was probably open. They were so moody, threatening a possible shift in weather.
This long, dark one was hanging in the western sky.
What I couldn’t understand is why nobody else was looking up? Here we were, not in an idyllic spot of nature in the country or on the water at sunset, but in a ratty old city supermarket parking lot in the middle of the afternoon, surrounded by this spectacular display of nature. It was a gift. There was something so visceral about it, my nostrils were flaring.
The parking lot was hot and smelled strongly of tar patch, as they were in the process of repairing it. Reluctantly I grabbed my grocery bags out of the trunk and turned to head into the store to do my shopping. As I closed the hatch of my car I saw this lovely reflection in the glass:
Heading inside, one lone raindrop landed on my shoulder. I was expecting to come out afterwards having to dodge hail stones with a cart full of groceries, but it never happened. Just more glorious, dramatic clouds.
Sunrises and sunsets are always special, but this whole sky experience in the middle of the afternoon in the middle of a city parking lot was especially unique. It made my chest ache, it was so beautifully, unexpectedly unusual. I wanted to yell at everybody, “HEY PEOPLE, STOP AND LOOK AT THE SKY!!!”
I guess my head is in the clouds….
Last night the west wind blew down all the cherry blossoms from the tree across the street. They landed on our side of the road, gathering in a lovely line of candy-pink bubblegum bliss along the curb. I was filled with child-like excitement to find this.
You never know when and where you might discover a moment of contentment. It feels like a gift when those times happen unbidden and unexpectedly.
Having just finished shopping and while loading my groceries into the trunk of the car, I spied the bag of cheese puffs – a last minute impulse buy – took them into the driver’s seat with me and ripped into them, not even waiting to get home first. There I sat in the parking lot of the Hannaford Supermarket, this being one of the first spring days following this way-too-long winter, stuffing my face with Pirate’s Booty White Cheddar Puffs, the sun coming through the windshield while I watched that small section of the world go by.
There wasn’t a whole lot of action happening in the parking lot, although this particular Hannaford does seem to have more diverse and interesting characters frequenting it than some of the others I have shopped at. There is nothing attractive about our local Hannaford’s parking area; as a matter of fact, it is a rather dismal expanse of broken pavement and weeds, still covered in unsightly, exhaust-blackened snowbanks. And yet, as I sat there within the sun-warmed interior of the car with my bag of Pirate’s Booty, savoring each puff and watching high clouds move across a late afternoon sky of utmost blue, a feeling of great contentment washed over me. I actually felt inexplicably happy in the moment. And although I dislike the phrase “feeling blessed”, finding its trendy overuse on social media a bit obnoxious and somewhat self-aggrandizing, I will admit that buried within the happiness that lay within the contentment, there might actually have been the slightest sliver of a blessed moment involved. Or perhaps more accurately it should be called an awareness of gratefulness.
Despite all manner of worry that sits heavy on my mind and heart regarding so many serious issues, right then and there I became aware of the good fortune to be sitting comfortably in my own car, absorbing the sunny warmth of an early spring day, able to afford a few bags of groceries and enjoy some baked cheese puffs. The privilege was not lost on me. The moment lasted about long enough to finish off half the bag. Not a great while, but enough time to acknowledge that it was indeed a Moment happening, and that it was good, this cheese puff bliss.
Watching a bird at the feeder; enjoying a hot cup of tea; laughing with an old friend; a morning phone call from your children; coming home to a dog with a wagging tail, and yes, even sitting in your car eating a bag of cheese puffs in a supermarket parking lot on a sunny day – each like so many semi-precious stones. Strung together they make a lovely necklace.
Skunk wafting on the wind is a scent I actually enjoy. There has been an especially strong aroma lingering around the back of the house for the last couple of weeks. Honestly, at first I thought either someone spilled a keg of beer in the road or it was the aroma of marijuana drifting over from the neighbor’s place……and if it was summertime, where everyone was out on their front porches or having barbeques in the back yards, it might have been one or the other. But we are surrounded by feet of snow at the moment. And I happen to know that this time of the year – around February/March actually – is skunk mating season. With a gestational period of sixty-six days, that brings their litters right into spring.
The skunks on those vintage valentine cards (vintage now being my childhood)….did anyone ever wonder what skunks had to do with amour? It is because that is the time when the skunks are out seeking love. And probably getting run over in the road while doing it. I read that somewhere, really! It is one of those pieces of trivia that continues to swirl around in my brain. So in a way, they are a very early harbinger of Spring. A scent of hope. And for people like me, who really and truly enjoy a light tinge of skunk in the air, it evokes pleasant memories.
But my intention today is not to write about animal husbandry, but about this Endless Winter that is Almost Over. It seems like every few days here in the northeast we get hit with a few more inches of snow. And in between the snow there is ice; lots and lots of ice. And along with that there have been weeks where the temps did not get above freezing and long stretches where the thermometer read sub-zero digits.
I was priding myself on how well I was navigating The Endless Winter. This one was going to be a relative breeze. Commuting is no longer an issue for me – that long ride over the bridge and down slushy, winding two lane roads is over. Working outside in the elements is also now a thing of the past. Every time I see a highway sander or snowplow go by, I silently thank the Universe that it is no longer me riding in one. And I thank those that are out there doing it too.
Because I now have this small dog and do not have an enclosed area to let him out into, it means having to walk him multiple times a day. I got myself a pair of ice cleats, making these enforced excursions more of a sure-footed adventure. All bundled up in multiple layers; colorful ski hats with pom-poms, sweatshirts, vests, sweaters and scarves, the S.O.’s giant down coat over it all, and especially my mother’s boots, which have been worn daily this entire long season, keeping my feet “warm as toast”, I have been out at a variety of odd times and am surprised to admit having enjoyed those moments. There is something magical about walking late at night in a snowstorm, or being the first set of footprints in the quiet blue dawn amidst newly fallen snow.
Even when it got down to sixteen degrees below zero here one early morning, everything seemed doable. The house was warm. The street lamps dazzled with illuminated flakes and ice crystals. Lights from the house windows cast a warm glow. Snow blowers sent impressive arcs of white up into the sky. My indoor houseplants bloomed and lent a contrast of color. Winter sunsets glowed pink and orange through frosted windows.
Friends and family that have been enjoying the sunny beaches of Florida, southern California, Oman, Goa, Puerto Rico…..posting photos of surf, sun, sand…..none of this seemed to bother me, and I impressed myself with what I imagined was good ol’ northern resilience. I hunkered down and baked brownies, super-duper healthy hippie coconut oatmeal cookies and ginger snaps embedded with chocolate chips.
I cooked stews and healthy soups, whipped up lots of spicy Indian dal, roasted fragrant rosemary chicken, warm breads sprinkled with herbs, brews of hot cocoa, chai, buttered rum. Cozy under a blanket, I watched movies, read books, crocheted.
I was seriously rocking winter and feeling pretty smug about it. But then I smelled that skunk, and it all went out the window, abruptly ending this winning winter streak.
The sidewalks and driveway are covered in small glaciers and patches of black ice, a perfect slip-and-fall scenario waiting to happen. There is no place to safely ambulate – all you can do is shuffle.
Even the dog does not want to walk anywhere, and I find myself shivering and muttering “Hurry up, hurry up, HURRY UP!!!!” while he balances, splay-footed, sniffing dog-pee accented corridors of three-foot high soot-gray mountains.
My car looks like a salt-encrusted pumpkin seed, wiper blades shredded after being frozen to the glass. The front bumper is now cracked and one fog-light housing has fallen off after striking the corner of a snow-bank while trying to navigate around it.
I need to get out and walk, to smell earth and green things, to walk barefoot in the sand and feel warm sun on skin. It is official – having joined the ranks of the rest of the bleary-eyed, winter-punchy people around here I admit defeat. Essentially, I am done. It took just a whiff of skunk to change an entire mindset.
Being sort of a nerd when it comes to science, botany, animals and insects, it has been a regular practice to study, scrutinize and read up on many of the critters, diseases, and earthly creations that I stumble upon. The slug in the garden. The spider in the bathroom. The fungus growing along the back porch. They are all to be inspected, observed and marveled upon.
Those science, Geographic and Discovery television channels are often on in our house. I have seen the octopus squeeze its body through a tiny little opening and escape from the hold of the boat, slipping back into the ocean over and over, many times. I have watched the lioness take down the wildebeest and not looked away, the bees doing their mating dance, the ants finishing off a grisly carcass when the jackals are done with it. I stare, fascinated, at those luminescent deep-sea creatures with razor-sharp underbites that lurk where no light shines.
There is one, however, that tends to just skeeve me out. I can’t get past their creepiness. It is the Scutigera.
“Scutigera coleoptrata – one of several species commonly known as the house centipede – is a typically yellowish-grey centipede with up to 15 pairs of legs.” Have any of you ever encountered these guys? I found one in the kitchen sink.
Although I have come across them a number of times over the years, I had to strongly resist the flight response in order to deal with it. I wasn’t going to let it stick around. This is not the kind of thing you can just catch and put outside like a spider (I relocate our spiders). These guys are fast as lightning. Along with those fifteen pairs of legs (which seem to have knees!!!) they also appear to have some kind of internal radar, where they intuit your moves when you try to get them. They look menacing too, even though they eat other bugs and tend to mind their own business.
I know there are some lurking in the dark of the basement but I kind of put that out of my mind because they tended to stay down there. I wish they would continue to stay down there (I never go down there). But every once in a while, one will appear in the main part of the house, and I. just. never. get. used. to. that.
They may live up to seven years. SEVEN YEARS! They can bite and they do have venom, but I have never known anyone that was bit by one. Yet. When I see one, a combination of fascination and revulsion washes over me that takes a while to abate.
Scutegera! Ew. Ewwww. Ewwwwwww!!!
While packing for a trip to Holland years ago, my friend suggested we should bring all of our old underwear that was on its very last legs and discard them along the way, leaving more room in the suitcase to bring things home on the way back. We laughed and it didn’t really happen, although I did toss a pair during a side trip to Paris.
But the following year as I prepared to do a budget road trip through Europe with my children, I figured Why Not? The stretched out, the holey, the spent elastic, the faded, the not so nice anymore. The ones you are not supposed to be caught dead in. I had so many of them. Don’t we all? The kids had some that could be discarded too. Why do we keep them for so long?
Because they are still functional and I am a Functional Girl. My mother would cringe at the thought. How many mothers have said “What if you get in an accident and you have those ratty old panties on in the emergency room ?” Now there’s an excuse for you.
So I packed them all up, mine and the kid’s too – a whole lot of underwear! One for every single day of the trip and then some – with the hopes that there would not be any serious TSA suitcase checks at the airport. I am sure they have seen it all, but a suitcase full of old panties is not something I would enjoy having to stand captive to while they publically rifled through them. We made it through, undies intact.
Oh vulgar American! We tossed panties away in Venice, in Vienna, in Munich, in Prague. We left them in trash receptacles in Luxembourg and Bern. It was so liberating that I have left a trail of underwear from Maine to California, from Florida to the Grand Canyon, from the French Antilles to Marrakesh; in Nantucket, New York City and Istanbul. It almost seems that having panties wear out becomes an indication of when it is time to travel again. Old undies? Vacation alert!
The best part is, once you get home you can start all over again with brand new ones. A fresh start in life….
A collection of oldies seems to be accumulating again. I think it might be time to plan a road trip…
The calendar on my iPhone was serving me well until it appeared I was showing up for appointments on the wrong date and missing scheduled engagements. This happened because in the process of scrolling to turn on the reminder alarms my finger had also been moving and displacing the dates and times of things I had added. The final blow happened while updating my phone on iTunes during a snowstorm and having a temporary power glitch – just a second where the lights flickered – and finding my entire phone contact list was erased and everything on my calendar had also vanished. Every friend and family member. Every appointment projecting into the upcoming year. My forgetful mind was in that phone and it was a horrible feeling.
I should have been able to retrieve it, but for some reason nothing I did allowed me to regain that information. As a matter of fact, everything I did seemed to make it worse. My stuff was not floating around on some storage cloud somewhere, even though I thought it was. Everything had to be re-entered by hand.
Although I also have an annual calendar on my wall, I haven’t been that good about using it because I was relying on technology. It was my back-up to the phone. This year will be different. The phone will be the back-up to the calendar. And I will have other things in place to back up the phone.
The item that will be decorating a prominent place in front of your face all year should be something you are going to want to look at. I’ve tried desk calendars but found they were getting misplaced and stacked under books. So it has to be on the wall. It has to also have enough room in each square to write in. Bank calendars with tractors and fall foliage don’t do it for me. I need something that I can glance at and feel good about for thirty days at a time.
2014 was a lovely one from the Butterfly Conservatory at Niagra Falls. 2013 was an illustrated collection of Rumi poems. The year before that was Hindu deities. One year it was Kandinsky. There has also been about a decade of Georgia O’Keefe’s. This year I had something specific in mind, a lovely collection of illustrated seed packets sold by a local business, which also happened to feature an illustration from a very talented and dear friend. It was so nice that I ordered one for my sister-in-law for Christmas, but for some reason at the moment I forgot to get mine. So I found myself on December 31st without a new wall calendar to start my year. Not the end of the world, but the little snippets of paper reminders and appointment cards were starting to pile up, and for some reason the urgency to have that new calendar seemed to really press upon me. I added the snippets to my phone, but faith in the phone is very much gone. So with determination I set out into our local uptown art store to find a wall calendar – that fresh, new, hopeful start to the year. With any luck, at this late date they would be on sale.
Having a new wall calendar feels the same as the first day of school. Anything is possible.
Well, I blew it. The calendars were picked over, leaving a few of cute kittens, some illustrated Jewish holiday calendars, vintage cars, and a pathetic collection of oddballs. I suppose I could have taken a fifteen minute ride to major book seller and seen what was left there, but I wasn’t into doing that. I needed immediate gratification, where I could grab the thing, go home, and fill in all the Important Dates. It had to happen Now.
There was one down at the bottom of the rack of woodblock prints by Gustave Baumann, a German American artist who eventually landed into the art scene in Santa Fe, a place that has always held a draw for me and which I have returned to a number of times. Because it was New Mexico, it was sort of appealing, although most of the months seemed a bit dark. I was already in a dark place at the end of 2014, which has been one of the more difficult years, with loss, turmoil and change, despite the bright butterflies on the wall. There were some amazing highlights to 2014, but it was overall a hard one. Did I want to move through the upcoming year with a dark calendar by my side?
So I waffled. Was I getting a little too crazy about this? Jeez – I grabbed the calendar. It was not on sale. It didn’t matter.
Here I am, sitting at my computer with the calendar on the wall to the right of me. For the month of January we have a print called “Morning Sun”. It is a bit shady. But there is also something hopeful about it, like looking out into a new day, a new morning.
A new year. Hope it is a good one for all.
Some people have issues with The Empty Nest after their children grow up and move away from home. For me this has not been much of a problem. The teenage years of my youngest were so
dramatic disruptive emotional intense that I believe it actually accelerated the whitening of my hair. And so when the last child grew up, moved out and pulled her life together, as even some of our wildest kids are apt to do, a peace descended upon the home and I did not find myself rattling around at a great loss but instead proceeded to discover other pursuits and enjoy my life – as long as I remained in regular contact with them.
Over these empty nest years, I have often thought of bringing a new dog into the home. I dog-sit sometimes for a friend (and also for my former wild-child, who brings her little dog home for visits). However, much like grandchildren, you can enjoy them and then give them back. Having a dog can definitely restrict some of your spontaneous movement. And then there was that part about Getting Attached. Just the memory of the loss of past dogs, even though it is going back decades, can cause me to well up with tears. So I dog-sat instead. But then I started looking at the myriad of rescue sites on social media, which narrowed down to becoming one specific rescue site that ran regular adoption clinics. Then all of a sudden it was one particular little dog that kept showing up which caught my eye.
He was an endearing little calico-colored guy with big radar ears. They would run photos of him, “waiting for his forever home”, and then there would be a clinic and he would not be adopted. The next week it was the same thing – fetching photos a small dog sleeping next to other dogs being fostered, curled up like a little package on a blanket. But not adopted. And the week after that too. Maybe it was even four clinics (I forget now) and nobody had taken him home with them. My rational mind was saying “What is wrong with this dog that he hasn’t been scooped up yet?” while the emotional mind kept whispering “Go get him”. I contacted the site and got the number of the person who was fostering him to ask a few questions. She said he was a great little dog. She also said he had a few “quirks”. Well, don’t we all……? So that very next weekend, I decided to take a ride upstate “just to check it out” and see.
Now, the back story to this is that the Significant Other does not want a dog. He’s always been more of a cat person, while I have been a dog person. And worse than not wanting a dog, he is not crazy about small, yappy dogs. Actually, I have never been fond of small yappy dogs either. The smallest dog I ever had was a solid 25 pounds of howling beagle. But I figured at this stage of my life, a smaller dog would be easy to clean up after, easy to lift up, easy to take places. I could depend on the dog to alert me to when someone was at the door, since I can no longer hear that sort of thing. Who knows, maybe the dog could be trained to be a hearing dog, a wonderful service dog. I thought back to my years of being a veterinary technician, of the dogs I had trained, of the litters I had raised or cared for. This would be a snap. The S.O. would soon see what a wonderful thing having a dog in your life could be. It would be so great to have a canine companion again.
So I arrived upstate for the clinic, which occurred in a strip mall outside a big name pet store. There were a number of pens set up that were filled with an adorable variety of small, newly groomed, tail-wagging dogs of all kinds. I zeroed in on the one I had been thinking about, which appeared to be a sort of Papillon-Chihuahua-Whatever mix.
Well, he was even smaller than I had pictured, just a bit over seven pounds and maybe a year old. His hair was longer than I had wanted, and honestly, I really was more interested in getting a female. While the other dogs were wagging their tails, barking and leaping up against their pens amidst the chaos of interested adopters, this dog was totally glued to his foster person, disinterested in anybody else and a bit tense and morose. I picked him up and tried to walk with him away from the throng of grabby people to feel him out a bit. He let me take him but it was clear he just wanted to get back to his foster person.
I asked her why he wasn’t adopted after all this time. He had been a mill puppy and spent his entire life in a cage and was not really socialized. Nobody had bought him, nobody had wanted him. He had been en route to being “thrown back” and perhaps in for even a worse fate when someone from the rescue org had seen him. She said he was rather attached to her and not engaging, so people were not gravitating to him at the clinics. She also again mentioned that he had a few “quirks” but I didn’t really hear what they were beyond that “he likes squeaky toys”. He leaned up next to her again and seemed to shut out everything else going on around him. And then something just wrenched in me and there I was, calling the S.O. and saying “please, please can’t I bring this dog home? And I adopted him.
As we drove away, he stood on the seat with his paws against the window looking for his foster person, and he cried. Then he gave a resigned sigh, curled up in a ball on the front seat next to me and was quiet the entire ride home. I thought to myself that this is the last time he would have to go through this kind of loss. From that point on he was glued to me.
We named him Rudra from Vedic Sanskrit hymns, which appears to translate into many meanings – “the roarer”, “the mightiest of the mighty”, “the howler”, “to cry “, “the red one”, “the wild one”, and “extremely terrifying” – all or none which might apply to him at any given moment it seems. Rudra was instantly morphed into Rudi.
They say rescue dogs and especially puppy mill dogs will often have problems. Rudi’s “quirks” immediately became apparent, although some of them are good quirks. He clearly has abandonment issues and does not let me out of his sight. If I leave him home for even a half hour, he yips and cries in excitement when I return, as if I have been gone for weeks. Everywhere I go, there he is following me. If I am in the shower, he is poking his head in the curtain to make sure I am there. If I close the door, he is waiting outside of it. As I type this, he is in the chair next to me. When I move into the bedroom, he will follow. He will only leave my side if another dog is around for him to play with.
I will say, he is a constant little buddy. He has a sense of order. He will pick up his toys and put them all in his dog bed. If I remove the small striped towel from his bed and put it into his crate, he will remove it and put it back inside his bed. He doesn’t sleep in his crate but it is there for him if he wants to retreat, and he clearly wants one towel in his crate and the different one in his bed. I couldn’t believe it so I tried switching them again and he went and removed his bed towel from the crate again. Maybe he has a little OCD.
He has been helpful to me. While he is not official, he is still an assistance dog. He barks when the mailman drops off the mail. His expressive radar ears are constantly going, letting me know what direction sounds are coming from, who is walking behind me, etc. And in one brilliant move where I thought for sure I had a great little service dog, he stared towards the kitchen and kept barking at “nothing”, until the S.O. finally got up to investigate what “that dumb dog is barking at” and discovered the toaster oven was on fire.
He is terrific with other dogs and seems to get along with just about every dog he meets. He actually has a few dog friends and relatives that he enjoys visiting with (plays well with others!)
I cannot say the same thing about people though. When the S.O. comes anywhere near him, he growls, despite bribes of good food. While he is a bright, loving little dog (to me) with lots of potential (I can tell!), he is what is considered a “fearful dog” and it is clear how not having early socialization has had an impact on him. Over the last few months he has been here, he continues to avoid and back away from people, has an obvious fear of men, and when most people (besides me) try to pet him, he will lean away with discomfort while he barely tolerates it. He doesn’t show his teeth or bite…but he often growls in fear. This does not bode well for a service dog, although the jury is not out on this yet. As the S.O. so aptly noted, Rudi has “worried eyes”.
When the S.O. comes home from work, Rudi becomes physically tense, elongates his neck like a submarine periscope, starts up with a low rumbling growl much like the motor sound of a loud cat purr and puckers up his mouth in disapproval, which we now call “Pucker Mouth”. I haven’t been able to get a photo of Pucker Mouth, which is subtle but also quite distinctive. Night after night this does not change. I have heard that sometimes it takes a very long time for these rescue dogs to acclimate. I am hoping he will get over this at some point. Nobody likes being rejected, even if it is only by a seven pound dog. It figures that the S.O. did not want a dog and now, despite all his efforts, Rudi will not bond with him.
Every time I think he is finally housebroken and we have gone for a significantly long stretch without an accident, suddenly there will be a setback. Luckily, as I imagined, they are very small accidents. And today he threw up in my car (again). It appears I have forgotten much of what I knew back in my vet tech days and although my past dogs were wonderfully trained, I seem to have forgotten how I managed that. Now that I am paying for those services, I am somewhat shocked at what pet food and vet visits and obedience classes cost. Guess I have been out of the loop for a long time. Despite the quirks and the costs, it’s all worth it. On some deeper level, I have to wonder which one of us is really rescuing the other.
I didn’t know if I could love another dog again, but it appears I can, and I do. As a matter of fact, I think if the circumstances presented themselves at a given time, I could love another one too….
While deleting over a hundred spam hits, it really drove home how lax I have been about posting anything. Distraction has been the issue. A lot of new things have popped up in my life that have grabbed my focus away – things that deserve comment and will be shared in future posts, I promise. New dog. New grandbaby. And very, very soon, a new hip.
Why someone Not That Old should be needing a total hip replacement is something that continues to floor me. What caused this to happen? Was it the major fall I took from slipping on smashed green beans while hurrying past a salad bar in my clogs on New Years Eve, so many years ago? Was it all that yoga, where I pushed myself into positions just beyond reach in the quest for greater flexibility? Is it genetic? Or just bad luck?
Whatever it is, the increasing instance of pain has curtailed just about anything I have wanted to do and has had a major impact on my life. Hiking? A thing of the past. A trip to the city? Out of the question. Even a walk through a shopping mall, which is something I never do anyway, is not an option. Soon it was trying to get up stairs, or walking a few blocks uptown to the farmer’s market….. and then even sleeping at night began causing pain if I moved the wrong way.
But it has been intermittent pain. One minute the stab of lightning is so great it makes me gasp, and then a few moments later perhaps nothing at all, as if the hip is just fine and it is all my imagination. Which is part of the reason I waited so long. Maybe it would get better on its own. Maybe it was all in my head.
I got a few medical opinions – conflicting ones, which made the decision even harder to make. Yes, the damage shows on the x-rays, but the “good” hip that doesn’t hurt actually looks worse than the one that does. At one point I had finally decided to go ahead with it….until the surgeon sent me home with some pamphlets that had cartoon depictions of hunched over ninety-year old people with walkers, limping through their recovery. Talk about bad advertising!!!!! Where was the pamphlet targeting younger people with sports injuries? Where were the people like me?
I was so turned off, depressed, and freaked out by this that I actually cancelled the surgery date. I know people have this operation all the time and do well, but to be honest, the thought of having the top of my femur sawed off and some foreign body installed that will be setting off TSA alarms in the airport for the rest of my life is beyond less than appealing. I am mourning the imminent loss of my hip. And because I am sort of geeky in this way, I’ve watched those YouTube videos of the surgery and have managed to skeeve myself out pretty well. But finally, I am caving in to the total hip replacement – by the anterior method – which is happening tomorrow, in fact.
So ………while getting some things in order this past week in anticipation of being slowed down, a friend asked me – quite spur of the moment – if I would like to go to the annual Mermaid Parade on Coney Island. Those of you who read this blog might recall that I ended up in the parade two years ago – here. I figured that was more than it for me. But suddenly, this option manifested itself and seemed like the opportunity for a Last Big Hurrah for my old hip. And so I decided to go. With a cane. And analgesics. And back-up pain medication, if needed. I mean, really, what else could I do to it at this point? It might as well go out in style.
I am impressed to say I walked the entire length of the parade in my mermaid blue; all the way down the crowd-lined street and up the board walk in a blur of kaleidoscopic color. OK, there wasnt’ really any dancing involved, but I made it with the cane and some Extra-Strength Tylenol. I didn’t even need to break out the Big Drugs. The weather was really nice and my friend was so well prepared in the most motherly sort of way, so we had plenty of water and healthy things to snack on. We rested on the beach in the shade of a building afterwards, and later I walked down to the water for a glimpse of the sea. We had made it through the day. People cheered us on and wanted to pose for photo opportunities with us. It was a major party.
Although I don’t think I will do the parade again, for this hip it seemed a fitting farewell.