Thursday, July 31, 2008

Best Days

Yesterday, while I was out and about, I had to stop by a park to pull a trap. As I cut through the underbrush on the river side of the park, I passed by a playground area where a little boy was being pushed on a swing by his grandmother. His grandfather watched from the sidelines. The little fellow was chattering away. Suddenly he declared, "Today is the best day I ever had in my LIFE!"
It just tickled me to hear it, even though I know for a fact that the little man on the swing is going to have other 'best days of his life'. His grandparents said, "Really? The best day ever?" And you could tell that contented declaration had made two other people's day very, very special.
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I figured it up, just for curiosity's sake. I've had 18,694 days. I'd be hardpressed to pick just one of them to name the undisputed best day of my life. I've had lots of great days. Unforgettable days. Soul satisfying days. Pondering, dreamy days. I love my days. I gotta say, even the really sucky days were sometimes stepping stones to changes that made things better in the long run, so I guess I'm glad for those, as well. As a mom, some of my best days were the days I watched my children celebrate their own days, celebrating with them.
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I decided, right that minute, that I had a new goal in life. I'm not vain enough to think that my actions are going to create 'the best day of my life' for anyone. As we get older, it takes more that a turn on a swing to make the best day ever. I know, though, that I have it within me, to make everyone's day better. So do you.
Ready?
On your mark, get set, GO!

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Weird

Tim was getting dressed when he 'froze'. All of a sudden, he was grabbing his pants in unseemly haste and running out the bedroom door. I had been waking up slowly. Suddenly not being awake was no longer an issue. Tim heard a man's voice and a woman's voice. Right in the vicinity our front door, talking low. Tim was down the stairs in a flash, and out the front door. I was right behind him in my bathrobe with the dog. By that point, the neighbor's dog was going crazy in their yard. Nothing appears to been taken or disturbed, but it is a little unnerving. We live out in the 'boonies' and you do not expect strangers turning up in your front yard before 5 AM.
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We've got forty-eleven guns in the house. Tim is a hunter, and the boys are hunters and when our neighbor passed, he wanted Tim to have his gun collection, and then there are the swaps, and lord knows, I cannot keep up with all of this. I stopped counting them long ago. Now Tim wants a pistol. I think he may be using this shocking event as leverage to get something that he's always wanted anyway.
Really.
He should be ashamed of himself.
I'd never do such a thing.
But one of Mikey's rescued pups might not be a bad idea. She has three that look the image of our Buck, but younger and sprier...

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Me, II

This is me.
And this is a really big deal for me.

Me

Bush Babe, a while back, wondered if I was ever going to post a picture of myself. Um. Well. No. I hadn't planned to. But fair's fair. I've gotten glimpses into the lives of all of you, and it is only fair that you should get a glimpse of me. It's just that I'm extraordinarily self conscious. I get so self conscious that I have never, in my life, taken a good picture. Ever. Well. Once I thought that I did. I was having a good hair day, and I thought to myself, "Self...you need to have your photo taken for your driver's license. You are also having a good hair day. Never again with the stars align in this way. You'd best heist your hinder down to the Department of Motor Vehicles and get your picture taken ASAP."
And so I did.
And when I viewed the picture, well, it was okay. Not good. I mean it was still me. But it was okay. The nice DMV lady told me that it would be mailed to me within the month. Out the door I went. In the meantime, I was kind of excited. I told people: "You know, I didn't think it was possible, but I am going to have a nice photo on my driver's license." They all gasped in awe. They had heard that good driver's license photos were possible, but they had never actually seen a driver's license with a good picture, so everyone was anxious to see this marvel.
When the driver's license arrived, I tore it open confidently. I had already viewed the picture after all. But there it was. The worst driver's license photo I'd ever had. There was a flaw in the film and it looked as if I had a giant booger hanging out of my nose. This sort of sums up how it works when I am in front of the camera. I don't know why this is, but it's a fact, and it has always been like this. And so I avoid the camera.
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Today, however, I decided to suck it up. Cara is home from her trip, and so I asked her to take a picture of me today. And she began to critique. "Why do you hold your head like that?" and "Just smile normally." and "Stand here" and "Turn like this" and "I swear, every time somebody points a camera at you, you get the stupidest look on your face..." After one shot, I said, "Forget it" and then she followed me around taking pictures of me while I yelled at her to put the camera away.
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I'll get her to take a quick photo tomorrow when she's not in a rush, and will listen to me when I say, "Just take the damn picture and gimme the camera!" Nothing worse than artsy-fartsy photographers. And curious Australians. Those two things are the worst. Nearly as bad as my pictures,

Monday, July 28, 2008

Miracles

You ever stop to think about the miracles around us that we don't even notice? The close calls that we, in our oblivion, pass through, unscathed, not noticing the danger diverted by a divine and unseen hand?
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Yesterday, we had some wicked bad storms (again...) tearing through the area. Tim and I went to the other house in town. Ten minutes later, we were on the road. In that ten minutes, the storm had hit, and there were downed branches and wires EVERYWHERE. I was worried about Cara heading home from Dylan's house on the other side of the state. I called and got her voicemail. I warned her that the storm was severe, and that she should pull over and wait it out, because it was fast moving, and by the time she finished a hamburger, it would be gone by.
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No worries. She got home that night, long after nightfall. (Map Quest is not infallible, did you know? I was shocked...) She was heading west and the storm was heading east. However she was far enough south that she was completely unaware of the storm until she began to head north on the final leg of her trip. Debris everywhere. At one point, she came across a large portion of tree across the road. She said, "I didn't have a choice. I went around it. I heard a big snap, like a popping noise. I pulled over and checked the tires, but they were fine. I don't know what that was..."
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This morning we went out to discover that she was about 20 feet of high tension wire tangled under and dragging behind our car. Was it 'live' when she went through it? I cannot say, and I shudder to think it might have been, especially knowing that she had pulled over to check those tires....

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Lost Art

I do most of my communicating via e-mail. I am quite the talker, and I type like I talk. The words just pour from my fingers. So I keep in touch with my friends mostly through e-mail. However, there are a small group of people in my life who don't have computers and so I keep in touch with them by the old fashioned US mail. This week I got three letters, all of them hand-written. One from an acquaintance in Michigan, an elderly lady who's quite an artist. She's got quite a fascinating resume. Guess what job she held for most of her life? Remember the flannel boards used in Sunday Schools everywhere to illustrate Bible stories? Phyllis painted flannel board figures. I get a hand written letter from her at the beginning of every month, telling me about her comings and goings in small town Michigan, and how her garden grows, reminisces about her childhood in upstate New York. I also got a little card from Esperanza, the sister I sponsor through Women-to-Women. She 'greets me so much!' as she puts it. I love that. I also got a letter from Trevor, three pages, handwritten in his careful script. It was good to hear from him. I'd been worried about him. Big life changes are always, well...life changing. As I sat and read their letters, it was hard not to think that the three of these people set aside part of their day and hand wrote a letter. Although I'm noted for my letter writing abilities (everyone says, "Gees, you write just like you talk') and I can send some pretty lengthy letters, they are almost always pounded out on the computer and printed off, with 'Love, Debby' scrawled at the bottom. There is something wonderful about receiving a handwritten letter. The writer stopped what they were doing and sat down to compose a letter. I picture them sitting down, staring off, chewing on their pen, thinking over a blank sheet of paper, crafting their words for my pleasure. What a rare gift!
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This week, my printer is on the glitch. I got out a tablet and sat down to answer the letters of my friends. As the words flowed from my pen, I discovered, for myself, the joys of...my computer. Egads. Will fix printer today, or die in the trying. I am not an artist.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Duck

One of the things that people don't realize is that when you have one child with big problems, this affects family dynamics in a major way. Sometimes, Dylan and Cara will complain about some aspect of my strict parenting. I explain to them that their sister's problems threw me off kilter as a mom. I had no confidence in my own abilities to parent. I felt like a failure. I also had a child who needed rules. Lots of them. And I tried to institute them, for her own well being. It didn't work. She left us again, and yet again, into chaos. Finally, we had to tell her that she could not come home again. As the dust began to settle in my home, I slowly regained my confidence. As Cara and Dylan grew into adults, it became easier to breathe. They were going to be okay, and as soon as I realized this about them, I became a much better mother, able to listen, able to stand back and let them make their own decisions, able to counsel instead of preach. Sometimes I think about it, and I feel badly. They were robbed of a portion of their childhood, as well.
Bi-polar disorder affects the entire family.
It is what it is.
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Today, I was driving down a country road, pondering a high culex count. I sampled at the sewage treatment plant, and found nothing breeding. Looking about the fields, I had a hunch, so I walked around. Sure enough, wet areas in the fields were breeding mosquitoes. I got a sample to send off to Harrisburg. It will be interesting to see if they are, indeed, culex mosquitoes. I drove off, lost in thought, trying to figure if the field was actually treatable, what with all the tall grass hiding and protecting the wet areas. Mind working furiously, I went around a curve. A mother duck stood in the road. Two ducklings dozed at the side of the road, very close to the asphalt. A third duckling had been hit. The mother refused to leave. Mentally, I cursed at her foolishness, but even as I did, I understood why she couldn't take her other two ducklings and leave the one that was beyond her help.
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I didn't get far. I turned around and went back, and I gathered up the dead duckling in a zip-lock bag, taking it with me. It probably makes no sense to anyone else, but I knew that it was the only way that she could turn her attentions to the children left.
Her anxious noises, her nervous watching haunt me this night.

Friday Funny

A little girl's 5th-grade class had been studying astronomy.
One morning at breakfast she announced, "On Friday we're having a quiz on the moon." That's when her little brother piped up, saying, "Are you gonna let her go, Mom?"

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Mary

Tim and I went to an estate sale. It was held in a beautiful home, leaded glass windows, beautiful woodwork, a fireplace. The woman had died, and her belongings were being sold. I'd never been to an estate sale before. Basically, you just walk through this woman's home and buy her stuff. Very surreal.
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I learned a lot about the deceased. Mary was Catholic. There were a bunch of catechism books, dated 1917 (surely not hers!), every blank filled with a child's careful script. Crucifixes and roasaries and books about the saints, and Bibles. But she also loved martinis. And entertaining. She had lots of books on how to be the hostess with the mostest. A linen closet filled with linens, formal ones, casual ones. Dishes for every conceivable food you can imagine. Deviled egg plates, bread baskets, fondue ware, picnic things, crock pots, pickle plates, relish dishes. She was trapped in the 1950s. Crocheted couch pillows and boxy furniture with wooden legs. An old hi-fi with piles of albums. Tony Bennett, Andy Williams, Frank Sinatra. She played golf. She was a world traveler. I think that she was a professional woman. There was a small office with a Remington typewriter there. A bookshelf contained old books on short hand, and office management, and presenting a professional appearance. She cared a lot about her appearance. Her makeup was in the medicine cabinet. Perfumes on the bathroom counter. Hair dryers, the old fashioned ones with the bonnets that you put on over your head. Curlers with white hair still in them. Clothing hanging in the closets and in her dresser drawers, shoes in their racks, costume jewelry. Family pictures on the walls, in frames on the tables, photograph albums, souveniers from her travels. She must have been married to a doctor because there was another room full of old medical books. I imagine that he died some time ago, because there was no men's clothing in the closets. Little old lady cloth coats, and rubbers over little old lady shoes hung alone in the downstairs hall closet. Every last thing in that house had a price tag.
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It reminded me of a charactor from the book that I'm reading 'The Enchantress of Florence'. She is called 'the memory palace'. Although she exists in the present, her mind is trapped in her past, her body pantomining her memories, her eyes vacant and staring at something which no longer exists. Not much different from Mary. I picture Mary's world shrinking, person by person, with the passing of years, until in the end, there was only Mary left, and then she, too, was gone. All that was left were her things, no person to claim them, no one left that they meant anything to. A bunch of strangers walked through Mary's house, looking at the most private details of Mary's life, picking through Mary's things.
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It was a very hot day, but I shivered anyway.
I was very happy to leave Mary's beautiful home.

Worn Jeans

The very best jeans are the ones that you've had forever, and they are worn, and they are soft. They are comfortable, allowing you to stride through the underbrush. The perfect color of blue. Yesterday, I was squatting with an armload of equipment, while scanning the water surface for signs of larva, when I felt the unmistakeable sensation of my jeans splitting right across my right cheek area. All the way. I usually wear my jeans until they can't be worn any longer, but this time, I had no choice...I had to wear these just a little bit longer than that.
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My brother-in-law tells his worn jean story: Years ago, he was working with a tractor, digging a hole with a post hole digger attachment. He jumped on top of the post hole digger. The leg of his blue jeans got caught in the power take off, and there was a brief horrifying moment where he realized that this is exactly how people lose limbs. Just that quick, those very worn blue jeans gave way, and they were ripped right off his body, leaving him standing there, shocked, naked from the waist down, in the middle of his small town, save for the waist band of his jeans held securely by his leather belt. The postmistress stared wide eyed from across the street. His co-worker went into action, doing what any good friend would do...immediately bursting into loud laughter. Dave, struggling to cover up the more private bits with his hands, said, "Give me a coat or something!" His friend, still laughing, made sure to throw it high, so that Dave's arms had to go up, to catch it. (What are friends for?) Like I said, Dave and Anna live in a small town. It made the paper. The post mistress likes to write.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Trippin'

Two things....Mikey's back! You remember Mikey, right? She sent Tim a package. She tanned the rattlesnake hide herself. Tim was really pleased with that. Well, guess what? In her absence, Mikey did not suddenly become sane. Lucky for her readers.
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Talked to Cara. She's having a fine time in Allentown. They got lost in the Bronx yesterday. (My logical question: "Fer crying out loud, all the things to see in the big city, what the cornflakes were you doing in THE BRONX?" Oh. Yankee Stadium.) Cara, being Cara, walked up to two fellows with gold teeth to ask directions. Her brother felt they were not the sort of people you ask for directions. Especially when the directions include 'go under that bridge, and take the stairs...' and the two fellows begin to head in the same direction. Dylan hissed, "We are NOT going under that bridge." And they didn't. Until they eventually found out it was the only way to get to Yankee Stadium from where they were. Cara considers herself quite an astute judge of charactor. Last summer when we went to New York City, she got into a spirited debate with a street vendor. She did buy from him, explaining to me, "I looked into his eyes and they were honest eyes." Those honest eyes belonged to a man selling bootleg copies of 'Ratatouille'. She was asking 'These aren't illegal, right? I'm not going to get in trouble if I buy one of these, right?'



She also lost $4.00 in the subway gate. She was trapped on one side, her brother trapped on the other. After another local helped her, brother and sister were reunited. They spent 8 hours tramping around the city.


I said, "So what do you think the odds are that Dylan will ever go to NYC again?" Dylan hates crowds. I figured the answer would be something to the effect of, "Not very likely." Instead, she said, "Oh, it was great! We're going back Wednesday."


Really.
I think this girl could charm the explosives off a suicide bomber.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Grownup

Cara had taken a week off work to go help at a children's camp. They didn't need her. Camp attendance is way down. Probably just another reflection of our economy's downturn. Anyways, she called her brother on the other side of the state and arranged to go visit for the week. A six hour drive. She's an adult. Dylan had driven to Michigan and back twice by the time he turned 18. I don't know why it made me more nervous to think of Cara driving off by herself, but it did. I want her to be independent, so I bit my tongue and never said the 'no' that sprang unbidden to my lips.
*******************

Cara's got plans for the week. She was dragging Dylan off to New York City. Although he's lived in Allentown for a year, he's not been yet. And he's moved from his apartment to a house outside town with a garage. "Moved in' means something different to a man than it does a woman, so Cara took lots of things to make his house a home. I contributed a bathroom set. She's going to decorate his bathroom one night while he's at work. She figures that he will be so awestruck at her talent that he will give her his debit card for the rest of the week, so that she can continue her 'extreme home makeover'. Dylan laughed pretty hard when I told him that but I'm fairly sure I was able to make out "Um...no..." She's going to bake cookies, and said when she told him she was going to fix nice meals for him, he squeaked "Wait...you COOK???!!!!"

**********************
So Cara is on the other side of the state.
My house is neat.
No pile of unwashed dishes at the side of the sink.
The phone stays where it belongs.
No wet bathroom towels to be collected from the floor.
My house is quiet.
No music blaring.
No exasperated "But, Mooooommmmm!"
No sharp, "Enough, Cara!"
The phone is not ringing off the table.
I need to get used to this,
because this is how it's going to be.
How strange.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Daydreamers

The world of blogs has been a great comfort to me. I've long had a fascination with old stuff. Lo, didn't I find that I'm not the only freak with that particular preoccupation? Over at Bush Babe's blog, she often regales us with pictures of the old things around their cattle station. I love those particular picture posts of hers.

Tim and I bought a house in town about Christmas time.

It was built in the 1880s, and was quite the house in its time. You can see at the back of the house, which happens to overlook the Conewango Creek, that a kitchen was added at some point. It is a nice kitchen with a wall of windows that provide a nice view for whoever's cooking. Glass front cabinets on the other side. Hardwood floors which some damn fool covered with carpeting, vinyl backed. Even in the aforementioned kitchen. (Who on earth carpets a kitchen?!!!)


A two car garage was added at some point. We replaced the garage doors and the roof and fascia boards. Next comes a good power wash, and then replace some boards at the bottom there, and give it a good coat of paint. The rest of the house is sided, and in fine shape. The windows are all themal windows, replacements, except for one in the upstairs. The house is well insulated. But the floors sagged something awful. The last owner had a washing machine in the downstairs bathroom that leaked, apparently for years, into the basement. The floor was rotted away, as were some of the main support beams in the basement. I want to show you these beams.



These are hand hewn. But the most remarkable thing about these is that these are scavenged beams. They came from a barn. These beams are older than the house. Let's do some basic math here. Suppose that these beams are from a barn, say, even 25 years older than the house, this would set them in the same time frame as our Civil War. Now, how old were those trees cut down to make those beams? These are some massive beams, a foot square. The trees were old, maybe 75 years or more. These trees may well have been growing when we were a British colony.

That's a lot of work there. You can see why they were recycled. Getting hold of these beams saved someone a lot of work. They merely made new notches and fit them all back together and built a house on them.

I wonder about the man who sweated all those years ago, making these beams for his barn. Was he the farmer, piecing together a farm, through the labors of his own hands, the sweat of his own brow, making a life for himself and his family, taking pride in his land, and his craftmanship?

Tim has the pegs carefully saved so that we can put these back together.

Look at the square nails. Now stuff like this can send me off on mental tangents for days, daydreaming and pondering. Here's my question for you. Now that I have scavenged these beams from our house, forced my husband to bring them home, what would YOU do with them, were you me?

Here's our latest find. When we jacked the house up, and replaced the beams, a lot of the lathe and plaster cracked. We ripped this out to be replaced, discovering two old chimneys. Tim also found this. This was in the outside wall of the original portion of the house, behind the original plaster and lathe that was hidden by some cheap paneling from the 1950s.

This is hand blown glass. No seams. You can see where the hot glass was twisted to make the neck narrow and shaped. The top was formed by 'folding' the hot glass back down over the neck to provide a good seal when it was corked.

And I'm off and daydreaming again. Do you suppose it's possible that the man doing the lathe and plaster work finished off his drink, and tucked the bottle behind the walls,

daydreaming about who would find that bottle

...and when they would find it...

And finished his good work, daydreaming about what the world would be like then?

Well.

That's the story I like.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Amazing Hannah

When I wrote the post about Rita, it was because I am inspired by the people in Rita's life, and by Rita herself. Everyone has struggles in their lives, but Rita has more than her share, and still she manages to smile, and to hug, and to love. There's a lesson there, and it didn't pass by me unnoticed. Well, Jo read that post and was moved, and she sent me a link to a montage she created for her daughter, Hannah. I watched it this morning before I went to work. It was so wonderful that I asked her permission to pass it along for you, as well. This video made my morning. I'm not a poker player, but I believe that life deals every person a hand, and it is up to each one of us to play those cards the very best way that we know how. Jo and her husband are doing just that, and in such a way that not only blesses their Hannah, but it blesses and enriches them, and it appears to reach out to bless and enrich the lives of people who come in contact with them. I'm glad to know that I share the planet with the likes of this family.
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Thank you, Jo.
Hannah is amazing.
And if you've not heard it already...
so are her parents.

Update to Public Service Announcement

My cell phone is now working again, after a night on a window sill, and another round on a charger.
Yay.
Yep.
I'll buy one of those holder thingy-mabobs.
Valuable life lesson.

Public Service Announcement

Since my county has gone positive for West Nile Virus, I've been busy. Really busy. I am rarely in the office. This poses a problem, because sometimes people from the office need to get ahold of me. It doesn't do you a lick of good to get a dead bird call after the samples have shipped from DEP for the day. Birds decompose quickly, especially in heat like this. If I come back to the office at the end of a long day to find the information left on a memo, it's usually too late. They are past the point of being tested. (Do not ask questions. You will not like the answers.) Anyways, I have a cell phone, but I am not always in range, and in moving from site to site, I don't always remember to check it regularly, and miss calls. I usually wear tank tops or tees, so I don't have pockets. Stuffing the thing in the pocket of my jeans is annoying. I've got enough things my pants pockets as it is. But I am a resourceful person, and was kind of impressed with myself. I got the bright idea to stick the thing in the front of my bra. Added plus: it vibrates when it rings, so voila, phone calls aren't nearly as bothersome as they used to be.
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The first day went quite well. I missed no calls. I was pleased with myself.
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Yesterday, the thing began to beep in a way that I'd never heard it beep before. I pulled it out and much to my horror, I watched the screen go blank before my very eyes. It did not come back on, even after I wiped the sweat off it.
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Dang it.
I'll be missing some calls now.
But everything happens for a reason.
Now you know...
Don't keep your cell phone in your bra.
*This has been an unpaid public service announcement brought to you by Life's Funny Like That.*

A Gospel Truth

Justus, age 10, and his sister Taylor, age 13,were always teasing each other. One day, Justus was getting"sensitive" about things his sister was saying to him. he was reminded that he had said the same types of things many times in days past. With quiet reflection, he said: "But it doesn't hurt as much coming out of my mouth as it does going into my ears."
***********************
St. Francis said 'Preach the gospel always. If necessary, use words.'
Justus has preached a sermon we all need to hear, hasn't he?

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Call of the Wild

The coyotes are raising a ruckus down in the woods, yipping and howling, and carrying on. Probably a successful hunt has excited them.
Buck stands alert, poised at the sliding glass doors.
He just had his one cup of diet dog food topped by his (*very* generous) tablespoon of canned food.
I watch his ears twitch as he leans forward to listen.
He's never read Jack London, I know,
but Buck wants to be coyote.
Nobody puts a coyote on a diet.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Rita


This is Rita. Rita is 45. I know this because she told me. And Tim, and Uncle Herman, and Uncle Chuck and Aunt Hazel, and...well...let us say that anyone who did not know that Rita turned 45 was simply just not paying attention.
Or hard of hearing.
One of the two.
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Rita used to live on the family farm with her mother, Mary Jane and her father, Uncle Harold. Harold died a while back, and Mary Jane started failing. She was finally put in a nursing home. What to do with Rita? Her brothers and sisters had a serious discussion and Rita lives with her sister in Missouri, and, last I knew anyways, she has a job counting out 10 lids for 10 cups at a factory, and was enjoying herself there. Probably hugging everybody she meets,
because everyone loves Rita, and Rita loves everyone. She is a smiler, and a hugger, and she doesn't forget a name. Which is embarrassing. I do, you see. I stink at names. Majorly.
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Anyways, Rita loves a big party, so she is a great fan of the family reunion. People coming in from Kentucky, and Texas, and Maryland, and gees, I don't know, all over the country, heading back to the farm to bake bread, and break bread and wallow around in family for a while. One year, the reunion happened to fall on Rita's birthday. She joyously assumed that all the folderol was in honor of her and her special day. And so it came to be that we always have a birthday cake and party celebration for Rita at the family reunion.
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In the real world, Rita would have a label, one that marks her as 'different'. In this family, you just never hear it. Rita is just...Rita. A unique individual with her own shortcomings and weaknesses, just like any of the rest of us.
And, by golly, when it is Rita's birthday, everyone celebrates.

Monday, July 14, 2008

And the Greatest of These is Love

This is a family reunion shot.
It is remarkable for the stories in this picture. You don't know them unless you are in the middle of the picture, so let me try to recount, as an outsider, some of these stories. Over on the right, you see that dapper white hat? And underneath that, there's quite a bit of mustache, and underneath that, there's Uncle Chuck. Like the rest of the matriarchs and patriarchs here, Uncle Chuck and his wife, Aunt Ruby, are in the 80-90 year range. He'd been pretty sick awhile back. People were afraid we'd lose him. But we did not. He was pretty spry at the party. I commented to him how good it was to see him so perky. He matter-of-factly told me that he's more worried about Aunt Ruby's wellbeing. And his mustache trembled just a little when he told me how sometimes she makes a little gasp in her sleep, and that he lays there in the dark, afraid, everytime it happens. Uncle Chuck loves Aunt Ruby.
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The guy in the middle, hands up, blabbing away? That's Mike. He's married to Joyce who is the daughter of Herman and Anna. Mike and Joyce are part of the crew that live nearby that make sure that Uncle Herman and Aunt Anna lack for nothing. There is a team of willing bodies ready to drop everything if something needs done for those two. And when Mike was in a bad wreck, all that love and concern was reciprocated in a very big way. Everybody loves Mike.
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See the older couple standing off to the side, the woman with the baby on her lap? This is Joe and his wife, Caroline. He's a preacher. They live in Chicago. They've taken in hundreds of foster children. I really don't know if people would recognize them without a child in their arms. I love to watch them at family 'doings'. They're chatting animatedly with people that they haven't seen since the last family 'doings' and they've almost always got a small child on their lap, or on their shoulder. And these troubled little people cling for all that they are worth. Joe and Caroline talk on and on, but their bodies never stop rocking these children, their arms never stop patting these children, and their gentle voices, going on and on, never stop soothing these children. I'm sure that these fine people are aware that they are helping children, but they haven't a clue of the magnitude of their gift. But the children know. You can see it in their eyes. By the end of the reunion, they were running around with the other kidlets, just as secure in their parents' love as any of the rest of them. Joe and Caroline loves anybody that God sets in their path.
******************
I've got more pictures of more people with more stories.
Really, this is a family that kind of overflows with joy and love. There are the exceptions to the rule, I'm sure, but it doesn't matter. For this one day, even if you don't belong, you get scooped up in a bear hug and dragged on in anyway. Once I wrote a column this event for our newspaper, focusing on Rita's birthday (see tomorrow's post) which is celebrated at the reunion. What a response! For some time people would greet me with "I wanna go to Rita's birthday!" Everyone, it seemed, wanted to have a family like this one. And you know, in a perfect world, they would.
*******************
Talking about gifts, the Lord said, "The greatest of these is love." Jesus knew what He was talking about. And I'm thinking that He would be pleased to sit down and flip through the pictures from Tim's family reunion.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Shall We Break Bread Together?

Some of you may remember reading about Tim's Uncle Herman.

This is Uncle Herman's cane. He wants to make sure that you all understand that this is not sassafras, but hickory. So if you are inclined to make your own cane, he guesses you'd want to tie a knot in a hickory sapling. Then you patiently wait three years, and then go out there and cut it down. Varnish it up and put a rubber tip on it, and there you go. You got yourself a dandy walking stick. It is also good for emphasizing a point when you are talking.

Anyways, this is a brick oven that Uncle Herman and Uncle Harold made years upon years upon years ago. Uncle Harold passed on, oh, probably, 8 years ago now. Well, Tim and I got up early, and were on the road at 7 AM, because we had to pick up Uncle Herman at 9, sharp. We were driving him out to Uncle Harold's. Tim and he had the mighty responsibility of getting the brick oven fired up. Well. Uncle Herman had the responsibility, Tim being a mere peon in the operation. The fire is started. Once the oven heats up to 425 or 450 or so, once the bricks are good and hot, you reach in there and drag out all the fire.
Then you begin to fill it with all the different kinds of bread.
It will hold about 22 loaves.Keep on keeping on, Mike and Dave. There's about 40 loaves of bread there, two firings worth. Uncle Herman has to keep an eye on the young wet-behind-the ears-whipper snappers. A very close eye.
While we wait for the bread to bake, people socialize. Here are two of the matriarchs of this mighty gathering. Anna is on the left. She is Herman's wife. Aunt Mary Jane is the widow of Uncle Harold. She's in a nursing home now, but was able to come back home to her farm to spend the day with her family.This is the view behind the bread oven.
Now, while Uncle Herman might well be the undisputed master of the brick oven, everyone knows that Aunt Anna is the undisputed judge of when the bread is done. That's her in the foreground cutting into a 'test' loaf. The hand on her back is pretending to be supportive, but he's actually sticking real close to be the taste tester. The greedy critter just wants the first bite. Don't you think the woman carefully documenting this day should be the taste tester? Excuse me while I put down my camera and go straighten this deluded charactor out.
Okay.
I'm back.
Man.
Driven mad by the prolonged exposure to the smell of baking bread, the old guy fought hard.
I did not want it said that I, an outsider, was responsible for bloodshed at the
Oglesby-Winkler family reunion.
So I cried.
He shared.
DO NOT JUDGE ME!
It may have been 'pity bread' but it was warm from the oven!
Little toes wiggle in delight.

Finally, Anna gives the official, unchallengeable word. 'The bread is ready to come out of the oven.' The crowds roared.
Well.
They began to salivate in earnest, anyways.

Tim and Gene get right to work. The crowds press in from all sides. Can you blame them? Imagine a table of fresh hot bread, with butter, and honey butter, herb butter, and honey from Aletha's hives, and jams, not just the Welch's, but Uncle Chuck's homemade strawberry jam, and Ellen's elderberry jam, so many others, homemade.

Ooooooh.

And we broke bread together.

And, lo, it was good.

Very, very good.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Tim Shops

Tim was browsing at a local home improvement store when he saw a dandy sale on bathroom fixtures. The clearance things were an additional 50% off the clearance price. Since we are putting in two new bathrooms, he was delighted with this, and picked out a sink bowl, marked $99 and an oak medicine cabinet for $115. They were both very good buys at $50 and $58, respectively. But when the cashier rang them up, the sink top rang up for $99 and the oak medicine cabinet rang up for $32. Things like this bother Tim's conscience, so he said, "Well, that's not right. The sink is half price. The medicine cabinet is part of the same sale, but it's more than $32. The price sticker is over here...." The cashier impatiently called her manager to verify that the clearance merchandise was actually 50% off, and was told it was. She briskly turned to her register and rang the merchandise up again, this time pricing the sink at the proper $50, but then pricing the medicine cabinet at $16. Tim's mouth opened, and she glared at him in a very un-customer-friendly way. His mouth shut and he ran the debit card through the reader.

Depressed Buck


Buck has finally succumbed, driven by starvation to eat his one cup of diet dog food.

He then dragged himself to his dog pillow and collapsed, where he snores heavily,
too weak from hunger to exert himself physically.

His look says, "This is all YOUR fault!"

That and, "By all that is holy, if I had opposible thumbs, I'd be opening cans, woman!"

Buck Staring (Cont'd)

Oh boy.
Buck is still staring.
His diet dog food is still in his dog dish.
He goes out from time to time to lick it.
Is it my imagination, or is he beginning to look mad?
Maybe he's hallucinating.
Maybe he's thinking that I'm a pork chop.
I have coffee in the morning and a toasted bagel.
Yeah.
Today, I think I'll skip the bagel.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

The Vet

Last night was not a good night. Buck was in obvious pain and whimpered something awful, having an awful time walking. I gave him a painkiller from when he cut an artery open and nearly bled to death in our yard. Anyhow, by the time that I went to bed last night, I had a sick feeling that I'd wake up to a dead dog. Nope. He was much better this AM. He had a visit to the vet anyways. The diagnosis is arthritis in his back. He needs to lose weight, the vet said. About 25 pounds. That was astonishing to me. He is a big dog and sturdy. I never thought of him as overweight. She gave him a strict diet of one cup of diet dog food, and one tablespoon of his Alpo. A day. Less than half of his normal rations. I'm glad Buck doesn't understand people talk. If he had known what she was saying, he'd have probably attacked her before she could finish her lecture.
**************
Anyways, I managed to delay his supper until after 7. We went swimming at the neighbor's pond. Well, he did. I watched. He liked this very much, diving in and doing a lap, leaping out to roll in the grass like a puppy, and then diving back in for another lap. I think he probably forgot he was hungry.
**************
He remembered he was hungry on the way home. One measured cup of new 'senior' dog food, topped with one half a can of his Alpo. We'll work our way down to the one tablespoon. When I set this before him, he looked at the bowl, and he looked at me. He daintily ate the Alpo from atop of his new dog food and sat there looking at me in askance. Like "Okay. Nice first course. Where's my dinner?"
**************
I guess dieting is no more fun for dogs than it is for people.
**************
And he won't stop looking at me.
**************
(Stop, Buck!)

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Today Sucked.

I got rained on something awful today. My boots are soaked again. They were newly waterproofed since they dried out over the long 4th of July weekend. This meant that they held water very well. My bugs were smashed, battered, a sodden mess from all the rain. Took forever to sort and count.
*******
The secretary cries now when I go into the office.
*******
My dog is having a very hard time walking tonight.
*******
I lost my keys. Had myself worked up into a fine state before I found them. Right where I thought that I'd put them. Something had been set on top of them. Erg.
*******
I am behind on nearly everything. Tim wants to work on the new house, while I want to work on this one. He's also finangling on another apartment house. Which I am not in favor of.
*******
A lawyer wishes to speak with me.
This never bodes well.
*******
I forgot to eat today, until supper time.
By that time I had the shakes.
I was also grumpy.
*******
My sister needed me to pick up her little dorm refrigerator. It had to be done tonight. I stopped what I was doing to run down and get it because I felt guilty. She doesn't ask all that much. Her 'tiny little refrigerator' won't fit in my car. I'll have to go back tomorrow with the truck.
*******
The phone is ringing off the wall, most of the calls for Cara. Who is, natch, out.
*******
Make me feel better.
Tell me about your worst day.
Thank you.

Favorite Things


You ever hear the expression, "Yeah, when pigs fly...".
This is used when things are unlikely, even impossible.
At my house, I have a pig that flies. Everytime I look at him, with his joyous face, body poised to soar, little wings a-flapping, it makes me laugh.
When pigs fly,
Anything can happen!

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Happy

Over on her site, Rhubarb Whine, Shirley lists her 'happies'. Now here's the interesting thing. It's always a pleasant thing to think on the things that make you happy, but it is a challenge to look at all the things that make you happy and pare that list down to just the six things that make you the happiest. So when I woke up in the middle of the night, it gave me something nice to think on before I finally got myself up and began my day.
*********************
In no particular order, here goes:
1. I like the partnership of a good marriage. I like the fact that it is something that I can rely on, and I know this from a deep place in my heart. When Tim and I met, we were both working at a factory. He was a machinist/mechanic. There was a woman, Jane. She was, how to say it politely...heck, there isn't one...she was a rough looking woman who thought she was hot. She was also mean and competitive, and loved drama. She had lived a very hard life, and was bitter and angry. She would try to flirt with Tim, and then tell everyone I was jealous of her. I wasn't. It didn't even occur to me. She was bad news. Tim knew it. He's a quiet person who avoids people like that. When Jane's words were repeated to me, by another trouble maker who was hoping to see a cat fight, I was flabbergasted. I stood there saying, "No, I'm not jealous. I know my Tim", everyone listening thought that I was just saying the words. but I wasn't. Not at all. It was a 'ken', a 'knowing', and a certainty that in the midst of all the uncertain things in this world, there was one thing that was true and unchanging. Saying the words out loud was a shock. I knew how naive they sounded, but I was smart enough to recognize 'truth' and that truth changed my life.
2. I love thunderstorms. I really like the wind and the rumbling and the wildness of it. Mother Nature is a moody woman.
3. I like fireflies.
4. I like writing a column, the excitement of putting the words together, the joy when it comes together, and it says just what I want it to say, just the way I want to say it. It never fails to make me feel glad, and when I get e-mails from readers, it makes me all the gladder, knowing that there are kindred souls out there, that there are others who think in the strange way that I think, who believe as I do. I also like reading for the very same reason. I also like talking to people for the same reason, give and take conversation, laughing and enjoying the minds and thoughts of others. And blogging. I like blogging for the same reason. I know that's actually four things things, but let's just lump this entry under "I like words", okay?
5. I love asparagus. I love strawberries and watermelon, and crisp apples. You know why those are special favorites? It is because when you sit down to a meal of asparagus, it is like ingesting 'spring', filling yourself with the season. Making a meal out of fresh strawberries and watermelon is actually taking a heaping helping of summer, really tasting summer, eating of the richness of it until you cannot eat any more. Apples give that same opportunity in the fall. I don't think there is a food that I really associate with winter, but I do love fresh seasonal fruits.
6. I like stone. Stone buildings, rocks in the woods, little pebbles on the beach, tombstones. I like touching something that has been here, has borne silent witness to history unfolding, and will linger on long after I have gone, with an epic saga to tell, and no voice to tell it.
********************
So those are my happiest happies.
Narrowing them down to six was hard.
Lucky for me, eh, having so many happies that I had to struggle to find the happiest of happies?

Monday, July 7, 2008

Anger

I have a problem. This problem is that I have never learned how to deal with other people's anger. The biggest hurdle, for me anyway, is that invariably, the angry person will try to blame his anger on someone else. As in, no matter what, s/he would be a happy and contented person if it were not for me pissing on their parade. At 51, I have learned to sit quietly and watch. It has never failed. After a lifetime of being told that every problem my mother ever had, every irritation, was my fault, I backed out a couple of years ago, accepting that it was futile to try to work things out. My mom is 70 now. The situation will not change. And even though I backed out, what I find is that my mother is still an angry, angry woman, even two years after I'm gone. This is just one example, but it's always true, no matter who I'm dealing with. An angry person is an angry person whether I'm standing there or not.
*************************
This work situation has been weighing heavily. I requested that the situation be brought before the personnel committee. I expect that what will happen is this: After years of dealing with angry people, I'm going to find out, for once and for all:
Am I to blame?
And it will be a relief, in a way, to hear the unbiased answer.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Putz

I saw a marmalade kitten under the bushes as I was walking to our house in town. He looked at me and stretched out, rolling on his back. I could not resist him, and knelt to pet him. He immediately began to purr and pat at my finger. Oh my gosh, he was so sweet, my teeth ached. Really, is there anything at all more comforting that the weight of a purring and contented cat on your lap as you curl up with a good book?
*********************
Tim saw what was happening, and told me that it was time to go. "Isn't he just the sweetest thing you ever saw?" And Tim's answer was, "No. He looks like a nuisance." And the nuisance began to follow us down the street, scampering to keep up. People on their porches laughed as I tried to shoo him back to his home, where ever that might have been. He leapt and gamboled along. "Tim," I said, "I think he's a stray." And Tim replied, "No. No, he's not." "But he's following us." "That's because you stopped to pet him."
*********************
One of us is wrestling with this whole 'empty nest' thing.
One of us is not.
One of us is drowning in her own maternal feelings.
The other is a stinking putz.
*********************
I'm not telling you who is who.
Guess.

Crime and Punishment

There was an interesting little letter in 'Letters to the Editor' in our local paper. Seems an inmate was upset about the budget cuts at the local jail. Seems that he was upset about the fact that his only television options are "two religions channels, two shopping channels, and 15 others." I nearly cried at the inhumanity of that. (Not.) At our house, we get a total of seven. I should note that I have broken no law. This letter went on to complain that they have two hours to go into the yard, and to play handball, and otherwise, the inmates have 12 hours to play cards, stare at the wall, or basically nothing. The tensions are high there, and the writer claims that this will lead to more fighting, and/or more activities not allowed. I guess the threat here is that if we do not keep these folks entertained, there'll be hell to pay. I'm trying to follow this logic. Basically, how I'm reading this is that if the man gets bored, he's going to get in trouble, begin breaking the rules. Um. Do you think that perhaps it was this mindset that got him in jail to begin with? Better start working on his attitude, or he'll be back.
********************
You know what? This is really starting to irk me. I get tired of hearing of the conditions over at the jail. I'm tired of hearing about the crappy food they're fed. I'm tired of hearing about the TV. The inhumanity of the guards. Do the prisoners have rights? Most certainly.
**********************
They have the right to be fed, no doubt about it. When I was raising kids, I had a 'mom-ism'. This was 'As your mother, I have a responsibility to provide you with three nutritious meals a day. Sorry you don't like the meal, but I have satisfied the requirements of my job.' I think the same rule applies here. We have an obligation to make sure that there is adequate food, that it is safe to eat, and it is nutritious. Period. Nothing more. Nothing less. If it is not 'mom's good home cooking', well, that is probably because Mom most likely is not working there.
*********************
We owe prisoners clean facilities. As previously noted, Mom most likely is not working there. As the letter writer noted, there are a lot of people with long, empty hours. Let them clean.
*********************
Prisoners have the right to be treated humanely. That's a given. But if the guards are matter-of-fact and abrupt with them, if they are not standing there listening to a long list of complaints, well, that's because the guards are there to do a job. These guards are not, as previously noted, their mamas.
*********************
The bottom line is this. People are in jail because they stepped afoul of the law. I realize, from personal experience, that the law is not infallible and that justice is not always blind, but the plain fact of the matter is that the vast majority of people in jails, in prisons, are there because they have done wrong. When a child does wrong, if a child has good parents, he will be punished for doing wrong. He will not enjoy the punishment. He shouldn't. The whole reason for the punishment is to discourage the child from repeating his misdeed. I don't think that it is simplistic at all to apply the same principles to jails and prisons. The incarcerated are there to learn a lesson. They probably will not like it. When it is done and over, when they have paid their debt to society, they should walk out of there vowing "Man, I don't want to do that again." Hopefully, they will go on to live lives that insure that they won't be incarcerated again.
*************************
The letter closed with the question, "Is this guy (the warden, I guess) a Nazi?" I've got a few questions for the prisoners. 'Are you being worked to the point of exhaustion, beaten when you finally drop and are unable to move? Are you watching your fellow inmates sicken and die around you, starving to death before your very eyes? Do you see people marched off, never to be seen again?' No? Okay. The guy is most likely not a Nazi.
*************************
Final note to all prisoners: In these days of rising gas prices, inflation, and unemployment, you've got a roof over your head, food to eat (whether you like it or not), health care, and crappy TV to watch. There are a good many people in this world who don't have access to even those basics. They've broken no laws. You've got 12 hours a day to be thinking about how you can make a difference in this world. So get thinking on it.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

The Fourth


We picked strawberries today. Great big huge ones, unbelievably sweet. I came home and made a batch of biscuits, and we ate strawberry shortcake for supper. The berries were so sweet that I did not even add sugar. Just fresh-out-of-the-oven biscuits topped with a hearty helping of strawberries still warm from the sun, topped with whipped cream. It was not our dessert, folks, it was our supper.
*********************
Then we went to the fireworks.
*********************
I can't think of any way to improve on this day. It was just about perfect, even though I did not get anywhere near my book.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Parade



It's the Fourth of July.

Like most communities, ours had a parade. It started out with representatives of all four branches of the armed services bearing 'the colors'.

There were horses.
We're a neat town. No horse crap on the streets of Warren. The sign says that this runs on methane. A vehicle that runs on horse poop?!! Mikey, Susan, here ya go. You'd have all the fuel you need for the foreseeable future.


Search and Rescue dogs marched. This one tickled me. Who says a working girl can't look good too?


There were baton twirlers, and tumblers, and dance troupes.


Pipers.


Marching bands.


Buffalo Soldiers. I guess now that the Civil War is over, they've gotten into precision marching, big time.


We did not often go to the parade as kids, but this calliope was a part of every parade I ever saw. Actually a part of every parade since 1927.


Dixie Doodlers played Dixieland Jazz.


All manner of clowns.


Cute kidlets watching the parade.


Cute kids in the parade, being pulled in wagons by their parents marching with their businesses.



Marching. This little feller was too tired to hold his flag even a second longer.


Firetrucks from all over, from Cherry Grove, Scandia, Tidioute, Clarendon, Sheffield, North Warren, Pleasant Township, Grand Valley, Youngsville, Sugar Grove, all of them blaring their sirens, and throwing candy at kids who were standing at the sides of the street screaming to hear the sirens.


Oh, and not all of them were red.


My favorite? Probably the synchronized Lawn Chair Drill Team.