Saturday, October 31, 2015

The Ghosts of Halloween Past

I was chit-chatting with some friends earlier about Halloween. One of them asked what we all thought about the older kids who come around begging candy.  Personally, I think that kids all mature at different rates and if a teen wants to go trick or treating, more power to him or her.  Eventually, I think they look around and see that everyone else is much younger and they give it up out of embarassment if nothing else.  

But, it got me thinking.

Back in the day when we were kids, I used to have to take my almost 5 years younger brother out trick or treating.  It was no big deal, really.  We lived in a small town and everyone knew who we were.  We could only go so far before we ran out of doors to knock on.  Usually, Mom would go with us but the last couple times, we went without her.  I was about fifteen or sixteen the last time.  Then I remembered the costume I wore.

I realize this is going to date me but you already know I'm old, so whatever. 

My last costume was inspired by Red Skelton and his hobo shtick. I got out one of my Dad's old suits and sewed some random patches here and there. I put that suit on, complete with askew necktie and jacked up collar.  I had to cinch up the waist of those pants pretty tight with a piece of clothesline rope for a belt.  Next I made a hobo pack with a handkerchief and a long stick. Then I rubbed some of Mom's dark eyeshadow on my face to look like I had the start of a grungy beard and tucked my hair up under Dad's old fedora.

I did not have a bag for treats because that felt somehow wrong to me, but I came home with pockets full of goodies anyway.  That's because everyone thought it was so great that I would dress up to take my brother out.  Little did they know that I had been conscripted to do so by my parents.  My Mom went so far as to threaten to revoke my after school privileges if I did not comply.  So, not only did I get to keep my after school activities, I got a boodle of candy to boot.

Then, today, as I was thinking about that costume, I remembered some of the looks I got from the people as they answered the door and realized who I was.  It was a small town and it was the 70s so seeing a girl dressed up as a man gave more than one door-answering housewife pause.  I was pretty oblivious at the time and honestly I was still oblivious up until this morning. But, now that I think about it, I was bending my gender pretty good for small town Nebraska in the 70s.

I've always had a knack for making people pause and maybe shake their head a little.  Most of the time, I do it without even realizing what I'm doing.  I've always been the black sheep...the different one.  Mom and I talked about that shortly before she died.  I have always tried way too hard to fit in.  She told me that it was my blessing to be 'atypical' and that I should embrace this gift.

In her own way, she was telling me to let my freak flag fly because nobody else would get it right for me.

I don't know how freaky I am these days. But, it is now a personal goal of mine.  And, if you're reading this, you're part of my tribe.  Welcome to Freaksville.

Scary, huh?

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

I Keep Thinking

That's the real problem, isn't it?  I just keep on thinking.  It sometimes gets in me trouble.

I keep thinking I ought to write...something yet I feel particularly uninspired to do so.

I keep thinking I ought to start those Christmas gifts. Still, there lay the yarn and thread and fabric waiting patiently to be crafted into something useful and, generally speaking, warm or at least decorative.

I keep thinking I ought to clean out my closet. But, that would mean I would have to clean up the stuff in front of the closet door so I can get the door open.  That feels like two chores instead of one to me.  So I put it off.  Again.

I keep thinking that I'll stop at the garage and have them listen to the squeaky noise the brakes on my car are making these days.  I usually think that as I'm pulling into my driveway and going into the house after work.

I keep thinking I'll try that new recipe I found a few weeks ago.  But first I need to clean up the spilled and burnt on apple pie filling in the oven.   Bah!  Oven cleaning is for the birds.  Not to mention that I have to decide if I really want to learn to like eggplant or if I just like the idea of learning to like it and really just want to continue growing it because the plant has velvety, soft leaves, the fruits are that lovely, shiny aubergine color, and the flowers glow with an ethereal, purple light that I find rather enchanting.

I keep thinking that if I just wait long enough, the right answers will come to me like a gift from the universe.  The answers to what you may ask?  Well, that's part of the problem...or so I keep thinking.

It's a familiar litany for me. The things I think I ought to do or say or be and the mental retorts that keep me from doing or saying or being the way I think I should do.  It's a melancholy thing that happens in the autumn.  But it also seems to me that I have a little more than usual to feel melancholy about this fall.

Don't get me wrong. I do like this time of year with the harvest and the changing colors and the smell of wood smoke and the crisp, fallen leaves.  I like the chill in the air and the rediscovery of that hoodie I bought a few summers ago in Colorado and forgot all about until now.  But, it's easy for me to get lost in the flow of the season and start to wind down myself. 

Maybe it isn't all bad this slowing and withdrawing even ever-so-slightly from the world.  In spite of what the internet and the news media tells us, it's not actually necessary to be productive at all times, is it?  By taking time out just to breathe and exist we are not inadequate parents, lousy partners, lazy employees, or just bad people in general.  We are not doing it wrong.  Living a life of balance is definitely desirable if not absolutely crucial in our society today.

Or so I keep thinking.

Friday, September 18, 2015

The Price of Love is Grief

Late summer is often a whirlwind of activity here on The Slice.  This year is no different in that regard.  However, it is very different in a couple of ways.

The new job is going okay.  I am slowly adjusting to the change in schedule although it is troublesome.  I enjoy the contact with the patients and being a comfort to them within the scope of my practice.  However, I find myself losing interest in school.  I'm no longer certain I will continue my nursing studies in January.  Things have changed around me and within me.  While I do enjoy my work at the hospital, I find I miss my work at the lab more and more every day.  I often wonder if I shouldn't move on to something I've never done before.  A true fresh start.

My Mom died a month ago.  August 19 to be exact.  I was sitting at my computer reading my email and I thought I heard her say my name right next to my ear.  About 30 minutes later, I got the call that she was gone.  She was very, very sick and her passing is a blessing for her and all of us who knew and loved her.  I feel her absence every day.  She was my first best friend and my lifelong confidant and supporter.  She taught me to take care of myself.  She taught me how to survive no matter what.  Those lessons have been well used these last weeks.

A month later I can still hardly believe she's gone.  Sometimes I am able to fool myself into thinking she's still living there in her little house in the mountains...just a phone call away.

Many folks have tried to give me comfort by sharing that she isn't really gone and that one day we'll be together again.  I know they mean well and I appreciate it.  I think it unlikely for a couple of reasons.  First, I'm not convinced that the afterlife they tout even exists.  Second, if I'm wrong and there is an afterlife like they say there is, I most certainly will not be going to the good place.  My Mom was a good Baptist woman.  Her faith was strong and it served her well throughout her life.  Sometimes I wish I had that faith to lean on.

The only thing that can be said to be worse than losing a loved one like my Mom is dealing with the aftermath of her existence.  I spent a week alone in her home packing and sorting and cleaning in an attempt to prepare it for sale.  It was probably the worst week of my life and probably just as well I was on my own.

If you have children and you love them, do everything you can to make this process as easy as possible for them.  My Mom did and I have been frequently surprised by the things she thought of and did for me and my brother before she died.  I can only imagine how much more difficult it would have been had she been as lackadaisical about housework as I am.

I hear that time heals all wounds.  It makes me wonder if I have enough time left to heal the wounds this summer has left on me.

In between the new job and the trip to Colorado and the dealing with banks and Realtors and whatnot, my life has been percolating along.  I have been canning like a woman possessed and basically just trying to keep all my plates spinning.  I've been zapped with the most unholy seasonal allergies this year and yet I still keep going.

The Energizer Bunny has NOTHING on me.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Oh Boy am I Feeling It

I have a part time job in a nursing home.  Back in the day, I was a nursing assistant.  Before I became a 'chemist', I had intended to go to nursing school.  But the waiting list for the nursing program was long and my patience was short.  So, at the urging of my chemistry professor, I switched programs to laboratory science and never looked back.

Until recently I was pretty fine with that.

When the rumbling at work started about the downsizing, I started to think about nursing again and wondering where I would be if I had stayed the course and gotten that RN that I wanted in the beginning.  So, just out of curiosity, I took a nutrition class.  It happens to be a requirement for the nursing program. Well, now it looks like I'm going to be a nurse.  Not anytime soon, mind you.  I can't start the actual program until next year.  But I'm getting there.  My current Human Anatomy class has enough details and booby traps to keep my head spinning and my lips moving for months.  I can't wait for the Human Physiology class next term.  Oy.

In the meantime, since my job was ending, I landed a part time gig as a nursing assistant.  I am here to testify that this is not an easy transition to make.  I've spent the last 16 years at what amounts to a desk job getting fat and out of shape.  The first two shifts last weekend at that nursing home kicked my hiney but good.  Two days later, I'm still feeling it.

Oh boy am I feeling it.

It's not pain exactly...anymore.  But I was using muscles I haven't used in that particular way for a long time.  I don't remember it being that painful when I did the job before.  But it was sixteen years ago and a lot of water and gravy has gone under this bridge in that time.  Oh, and pie.  Mmmmm...pie.  It's harder than it seems it ought to be working on your feet for eight hours at a time.  I know I'll adjust.

But I am still feeling it.

Just so I don't stray too far from the real topic of my blog, here is a gratuitous shot of my black-eyed susans.  Aren't they pretty?  They come up in this spot every year as well as some other random spot.  Enjoy!

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Season of Change

A couple of days ago my position at work was eliminated.  I knew it was coming months ago.  I have had a plan in place to make the transition as painless as I possibly can for a long time now.  I have lined up a part time job that starts this weekend and will become full time in the near future.  It seems I've managed to keep my affairs in order.

Still, it stings a bit to be told you're no longer needed in a job you've done, and done well, for the last 16 years.  So I've been feeling a bit sorry for myself these last weeks and especially the last couple of days.  I admit to spending a bit of time not quite certain what I ought to be doing consumed with an empty, nagging feeling that I've forgotten...something.

It seems I've always had something to do.

It's not that I don't have anything to do.  Perish the thought!  It's just that my routine is disrupted.  The things I had to do before are no longer on my to-do list.  Things like getting up at the crack o' dawn to drive an hour and a half to work.  Or like packing my lunch the night before and shopping for special lunch items that travel well and making sure I have something clean to wear to the office.  It's really a pretty long list.  I don't really miss that part so much.

No, the things I have to do now are simpler.  Take out the trash.  Wash the dishes.  Cook some dinner.  Mow the lawn.  Putter in the garden.

Ah!  The garden.  Now there's a change of scenery.  So much happens so quickly in the short time we have our growing season here in the heartland. 

I took some pictures.

The tomatoes are crazy tall.

New to my garden plot this year is the Indigo Rose tomato.  A friend at the aforementioned job grew them last year and gave me a few to try. They were cute and tasty.  These are still green, but when they're ripe, the bottom of the fruits will be red and the top will stay purple.

Just today I got my very first cherry tomato of the season.  I don't have a picture of that tomato because it didn't make it 3 feet away from the plant before I chowed it down.  But here are some its kin:
Right next to the tomatoes, whether I wanted it there or not, is a massive row of volunteer dill plants that are every bit as tall as the tomatoes.  They even came up in a bucket of dirt I had nearby.

Speaking of volunteers, I have a few in the garden this year other than the dill. Here are the petunias:
 The petunias I plant on purpose never look that good!  

There are, of course, sunflowers:
And these brown-eyed susans and catmint:
 And let's not forget this onion that I missed pulling last summer:

Onion flowers are quite pretty, aren't they?

The garden is really going well in spite of the record amounts of rain we've had this year.  Lots of the local farmers had to abandon hope of planting anything at all in some of their soggy fields.  I'm fortunate in that I garden pretty much exclusively in raised beds.  Minor flooding really isn't an issue.

After harvesting most of the potatoes and the last of the peas last weekend, I decided to plant some late crops.  I put in these pole beans where the peas just finished up:

Beans are almost instant gratification seeds since they germinate so quickly.  These yellow summer squash seedlings are coming up right where I dug the potatoes.  They come up pretty quickly, too.

The cucumbers are not really a late crop for me, I just got them planted later than usual.  I heard if you delay planting until after June first or so, the plants will do better and be more resistant to damage from insects.  I hope so.  Those cucumber beetles are a menace.
These are a bush variety that I've never grown before.  The plants are still pretty small and I'm not sure how big they'll get in the end.  Looking forward to cucumbers soon.

This year I was fortunate enough to harvest an adequate amount of black raspberries to make a whole pint jar of jam and still have enough fresh berries to snack on while I did the picking.  Here's the plant with the spent canes removed.  Those are the new canes that will bear next year.  I learned recently that if you let the ends of those canes get so much as a whiff of the soil, they'll set roots and start a new plant.  I have room for another bush, so I might just do that if I can get the plant to go where I want it to go.

The large daylillies in the front garden are going gangbusters this year. They look especially nice with the native bee balm right beside:
Today's blog closes with a parting shot of my latest garden toy.  Yep, that's right.  It's a tractor seat on wheels.  Now I can sit and pick tomatoes in comfort and style.  Just don't look when I try to scoot around the beds on that thing.  It's not a pretty sight.

Have a good one!

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Settling In

It's going on five years since we moved to our little slice of heaven.  In the beginning, it was a blank slate with a nondescript 1950s ranch style house plopped down in the middle of it.  The former owner had erected a clothesline and a storage shed in the back yard and had all of the trees removed from the property.  Apparently her husband had remarked to her once that all trees were good for was dropping branches on the roof.

We bought the house in October of 2010.  The photo from the listing was taken in September of that year.  I decided to take a picture every year on or about Labor Day to chronicle the transformation of our front yard and gardens.

Milquetoast.  From the listing (2010)
A little better a year later (2011)
Still better another year on. (2012)

2013.  Note the fence coming up the west side.

I wish I had more pics from this angle but I keep forgetting to take them! (also 2013)  The first tree we planted can be seen near the sidewalk here.  A State Fair apple tree.
Last fall (October-ish 2014).  A few more trees are planted.
This is our fifth summer.  In these five years, we have worked carefully to transform our place into our personal little shangrila.  This year, we put in the last of the fruit trees.  I have to give props to my husband.  He was hesitant to put in fruit trees at all. He was worried about the work that they would bring.  I reminded him that fruit trees are not very big and give a big return in apples, cherries, pears, peaches and plums.  All of them make for mighty fine pie.

In total, he planted three apple trees, two pear trees, two peach trees and two plum trees plus a row of cherry bushes along the alley.  We also have red currants, gooseberries, and black raspberries.  'Pie' is a magic word around here.

I sat on the porch and watched it rain for awhile today.  All those trees are starting to look pretty good.  In my mind's eye, I could see how they might look in a few years' time.  It made me smile to think of it.  Fruit trees feel like 'home' to me.

Spring is a fertile time of year.  Things sprout and grow from the earth and from within the mind.  The new ideas for our place are many and multiplying daily.  We have several projects that we've started and need to finish.  Other projects are in the works and a few have been set aside for next year or maybe the year after.  The more we talk and work, the more it feels like it's where we belong.

We're settling in.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

May Update--In Pictures

It's hard for me to comprehend that it is May already.  The winter seems to move so slowly for me.  Once spring has sprung, it's like Mother Nature puts her foot to the floor and time starts to speed by quickly.  Fortunately, spring makes me want to take pictures of the gardens.

So here's what's going on at The Slice:

Cayuga viburnum--I wish you could smell this!
Volunteer cilantro coming up around my onion set...and what looks to be a small grass seedling of some kind.

Some lovely daffodils

The Korean Lilac is in full bloom!

My favorite tulip came back yet again.
Wild violets in my perennial bed coming up through the rug juniper.

My hubby's fancy schmancy tree propping rig that helps my State Fair apple tree stand straight and tall.

The rig also comes in galvanized steel.  This one is holding the Kieffer pear up and allowing it to straighten up and flower right.

Jalapeno peppers peeking out of their white plastic cloche.
The peppers inside their cozy cloche. This protects my plants down to 30 degrees F.  It also works really well for tomato plants.
Growing the potatoes and onions together worked really well last year so I'm doing it again.  With fewer potatoes.
Radish crop circles.
Sugar snap peas coming up with a few extra radishes.
Volunteer fern leaf dill.  This stuff is everywhere but I'm not complaining.

That's it for now!  A lot of new things are happening at The Slice this year.  More to come.

Friday, April 10, 2015

April Garden Update

It's garden time.  Can you dig it?

Yep, I'm giddy with anticipation.  At last I have dirt under my carefully manicured fingernails.  It happens every year.  Just about the time I get my fingernails to the perfect length and shape to look really nice and elegant with nail polish, garden season arrives and screws the whole works up.  But, I don't really care much.  The season has begun.

Last weekend I was hunting through what is left of our potato harvest from last year in the bitter hopes of finding a couple of unsprouted spuds.  No luck there.  But, I decided to make lemonade out of those lemons and I planted a dozen or so pre-sprouted red taters in a nicely prepared bed out back.  I can hardly wait to see if they will actually grow or not.  Someone told me once that they won't if they're already sprouted when you plant them.  That sounds sort of foolish to me, so we'll see.

Tonight, after a week of on and off again rain and a smattering of snow yesterday, I planted my peas, some radishes, a row of carrots, a row of beets, and 100 yellow onion sets.  I got lucky and found the onion sets on sale for 99 cents a bag of 100.  Less than a penny apiece!

So, naturally, I bought three varieties.  As usual, I will plant way too many onions and I will have to tuck them in where ever I can find a little space.  We somehow manage to use them anyway.

Now that it's getting dark outside, I realize that I need to take some new pictures of the garden.  We modified one of the beds and made it deeper.  All of the beds are practically overflowing with composted goodness.

I also found some dill seedlings when I was planting the carrots.  It really is true.  Once you've had dill, you will always have dill.  My mother-in-law was right about that much.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

A Mile Closer

By now you've probably noticed that Colorado has become a second home for me.  Why not?  It's where I was born. So I guess I could say it's actually my first home.

The latest trip to the Rockies was prompted by my desire to attend the spring meeting of the American Chemical Society.  It was my first ACS meeting and I was suitably overwhelmed.  The number of presentations and exhibitors was staggering.  

I spent the first day of the conference wandering around the convention center and the immediate downtown Denver area.  During the afternoon I attended a workshop on communication sponsored by the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science.  We learned and practiced some techniques for improvisation in speaking to others about science.  In spite of myself, I had a good time.  I find myself resistant to the 'touchy feely' games that are the hallmark of the communication, team building, and leadership workshop.  I don't want to spend my time in the company of others and see if we can get the egg on the spoon across the room without dropping it.  I don't want to toss the imaginary ball to my partner while attempting to communicate the idea of a 'compliment' the manner of my tossing.  It feels pointless.

But there was one thing we did at the end of the workshop that I found rewarding.  It was a sort of storytelling time.  We took turns holding up a blank piece of paper and, using our own words, described a photograph that each of us had in our homes.

One-by-one we each took our turn.  There were happy stories and sad stories some of which moved us to tears.  I wound up going last and up until the moment that my turn came, I wasn't sure what photo I would use.  In the end, I used the first photo that came to my mind.  A sepia-toned photo of my great grandfather.

This particular grandfather was my Mom's paternal grandfather.  He died when I was nine years old.  I remember so specifically because it was the first funeral I ever went to.  It made a huge impression on me and I remember looking down at the casket after it had been lowered into the ground. I must have had a puzzled look on my face.  A man who identified himself as a funeral director assured me that he had done a 'good job' and if I were to dig up grandpa in 100 years, he would look exactly the way he did before he passed.

How creepy was that? 

I know the guy was trying to comfort a nine-year-old girl, but he was freaking me out.  As I walked away from the man and followed my Mom to the car, I wondered why in the world I would want to dig him up.  Then I wondered what exactly he meant by a 'good job.'

Tangent.  Sorry.

This great grandfather of mine had a particularly large soft spot for my mother and me.  When he visited us, he would always buy me Spaghetti-Os and take me shopping for dolls and such.  I remember once when I was about four or five he bought me a briefcase instead of a doll. I remember him crouching down to my level in the middle of the store and asking me very pointedly if  I was sure that's what I wanted.  It seemed so much more useful to me since I already had dolls.  What I really needed was a case to carry them in.  It was red, of course. 

I remember the look of surprise on my Mother's face when I walked in the door with the case and I remember hearing my grandfather say, "It's what she wanted..."  It was.  I had that briefcase until I was in my mid-twenties.  Tragically, it was ruined in a basement flood at a rental house I lived in.

To make it even more tragic, the contents of the case were also lost.  I had long ago discarded the dolls with their clothes in favor of using the case for storage for a large book the same grandfather had given me a couple years after the case.  The book was a huge, hardbound atlas of the world

It was red, of course.*

Inside was every map you could name of a country of the world.  All of the states and many of their major cities.  It was printed and distributed the year of my birth, so some of the names of the countries and cities had changed.  But I didn't really care much for the maps.  It was the first twenty or so pages of the atlas that interested me the most.

In the front of the book was a very brief synopsis of the sciences.  I remember there being a periodic table and an illustration of all the planets in our solar system.  There was a two page spread containing images of all sorts of different rocks.  I remember a drawing depicting a prism and the separation of the different wavelengths of light, but I'm not sure it was really there. 

I remember looking at the picture of the solar system and trying to memorize the order of the planets.  I'm certain I remember annoying my mother 1000 times by asking her to test me.  I could read the words 'Saturn' and 'Jupiter' before I could read my own name.

The impetus for my interest in the first twenty or so pages came directly from my great grandfather.  When he gave me the book, he sat down with me on the couch and we looked at the book together.  He showed me the maps and where both of us lived.  But, then he drew my attention to the front of the book.  He told me that the maps were useful, but the really important part was in the front.  As he began to explain, he drew me out of my tiny world of Mom and Dad and baby brother into the wide world where the wonders of the universe are kept.

This was around the time of the first moon landing.  The whole world was science and space crazy.  My parents had gotten me and my little brother out of bed to watch the moon landing on TV.  When grandpa told me about the planets and the moon, something clicked in my little girl brain.  He pointed at the pictures and told me that this was the future.  Someday, people would go to these places no matter how far away they are and we would see what was there to find.

Grandpa spent probably twenty minutes with me on the couch looking at the book.  Those twenty minutes were my initiation into the process of observation of the world.  He's the reason I am where I am today.  He planted that first seed in me that day with the book and his words.  I was young, but I remember it so clearly it could have been yesterday.

Which brings me back to the graveside and my puzzled look.  I was trying to remember all the things he had said to me in the short time I had known him.  What I wondered about the most was how odd it seemed that the future would happen without him there to see it. I remember protesting to my mother that it wasn't fair that he would miss so many things.  Being a little girl of an impressionable age, I decided that since he would be missing everything, it was my responsibility to see, learn, and do all the things and report back to him when we met again in heaven.

I thought all these things as I sat in my hotel room admiring the mountain view and how close the clouds were to the peaks across town.  On the last day before I left, it snowed and coated the mountains in a shroud of glistening, brilliant white.  I was reminded of the decision I made at my great grandfather's graveside. I wondered aloud to myself what heaven might be like.

Denver isn't heaven.  But, it is about a mile closer.

*Since starting to write this blog about a month ago, I have procured another copy of the atlas and I await its arrival in the mail.  I anticipate a prolonged stroll down memory lane.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

The Tater Menace and my Very First Garden Ever

No.  That photo is not from my first garden ever.  It's the potato patch from last year.  But it reminds me of my very first garden.  Today, I was chatting with a friend about getting my garden started and I suddenly remembered the first thing I ever grew.  At least, right now it seems like it was the first thing.

I was somewhere between seven and ten years old.  We were living in a rental house in Seward Nebraska.  One spring evening, I was helping my Mom with dinner when I found a potato in the back of the cupboard that had sprouted a bit.  She said we wouldn't be able to eat it and I should throw it away.

Now, we had been talking about food production in school and I had recently learned how potatoes were grown.  I became intrigued.  Was this something I could actually DO?

I asked if I could plant it.

Mom said she didn't think it would grow.  After much begging and many 'pleases', she relented and even gave me a second tiny potato she didn't want to peel.  Then, she told me I'd have to wait until after dinner because it was nearly ready and I shouldn't get all dirty before I eat.

The wait was interminable.  But, finally, dinner was eaten and the clean-up was done.

I grabbed my potatoes and hurried out to the swing set. Everything cool happened at the swing set.  In the gathering twilight, I found a pointy stick we had been playing with the day before. I dug two holes in the ground near the end of the swing set and planted my potatoes just under the surface in the heavy, compacted clay of the play yard.  I figured they'd be safe from trampling feet there.

Turns out they were.  It also turns out that the extra bath I had to take that night was totally worth the trouble.

I don't remember being particularly vigilant in my treatment and care of the potatoes or if they even produced.  I do remember bouncing for joy on the day I saw them both sprouting from the ground and being super protective of my potato plants.  Our neighbors had a three-legged dachshund that I was suspicious would try to pee on my garden so I shooed it away every time I saw it.  Looking back, I realize that the dog was also about 20 years old, badly crippled, and nearly blind.  Furthermore, when he was outside the house, he was nearly always on a long tether that let him roam slowly around the grassy bank in their backyard and nowhere near the alleyway that divided our yard from theirs.

Poor old Sam was probably not the tater menace I made him out to be.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Living Large by Living Small: A personal manifesto.

I was thinking about that word the other day:  Manifesto.  I thought about it for so long that I started to wonder if it really means what I think it means. So I looked it up on Google.

noun: manifesto; plural noun: manifestos
a public declaration of policy and aims, especially one issued before an election by a political party or candidate.
synonyms:policy statement, mission statement, platform, (little) red book, program, declaration, proclamation, pronouncement, announcement
"a party manifesto that would change the course of world politics"

Yep, I was right.  I wasn't thinking about it in a political sense.  I'm not a very political person.  At least I'm not political on purpose.  I figure there are plenty of people deciding how the world should be run.  Although there are those who would call me lazy and accuse me of shirking my civic duty, I think there are people who are better suited for making those decisions than I.  I vote my conscience.  I follow the laws.  I do my own thing.  I guess you could say I'm a bit of a free spirit in some regards.

Don't get me wrong.  There have been times in my life when my ambitions were very high.  I have worked incredibly hard and overcome some pretty serious shit to get where I am today.  Looking back over it now almost 52 years out of the gate I wonder how I manage to still be alive.  When I consider some of the health issues I've had over the last half century that were reasonably simple to overcome with modern medicine, I realize that had I lived in the previous century I would not have made it to 25 by my reckoning.

Yep.  A lot of water has flowed under my bridge.  Some of it was pretty damn rough.  There is some more of the same sort of thing just ahead...I can feel it coming.  And that's what got me thinking.  Actually, it was a conversation on facebook that got me thinking.  Either way, the thoughts have been thunk and this is the result.

A lot of people spend their lives in an active pursuit of 'happiness.'  I say 'happiness' because that means different things to different people and what makes me happy won't even come close to making someone else happy.  There are folks that I personally know who will not stand for owning a car more than three years old or a house with fewer than four thousand square's just not good enough.  There are people in my life that work 16 hour days six or seven days a week to provide handsomely for their families and to get the personal satisfaction from their accomplishments that they seek.  I begrudge these people nothing for their choices in the way they live their lives.

I also know people who work three jobs just to make ends meet.  People, both male and female, who are raising their children solo and putting them through college even though they themselves never made it past freshman year or at best an associate's degree.  I know a woman who survived a brutally abusive childhood, escaped a subsequently abusive marriage, raised her children without help or succor from her family all while putting herself through not just college, but graduate school and eventually obtaining her doctorate.

All of these people inspire me in pretty much the same way. They know what they want and they go for it. They are all in their own way living large.

Not too long ago, only a few weeks ago in fact, my Mom asked me what I wanted out of the rest of my life.  Frankly, I haven't really been able to think past the next visit I have scheduled with her.  But her question stuck with me and in the intervening days, and I've come up with my answer.

I want to live large like these people are.  To me, that means living small.  I want a house and a garden.  I want to grow my tomatoes and peppers and onions unmolested by neighbors, landlords, and politicians.  I want a reliable little car to get me around when the weather requires it and a bicycle for when the weather demands it.  Since it seems I must work to obtain the money I require to maintain my health and my sanity, I want a job within 20 minutes' walk, 10 minutes' bike or 10 miles' drive of my home.  I want to come home at night to my dogs and my husband knowing that I can cook my dinner and put my feet up in my own living room and watch reruns on TV while crocheting yet another shawl that I'll probably never use.  I want to raise rabbits and chickens and be left alone long enough to enjoy it completely.

I want to go fishing in the cool of an early June morning and then go home to sit in my garden in the stillness of a June evening enjoying that particular slant and angle of the sunlight as it fades from afternoon to evening and then to dusk. I want to know that all the choices that I've made, the sum total of my life, have brought me to this place of comfort and peace.

And when I die, for I surely must, I want to rest in the knowledge that I lead a good life, I did no harm, I loved others, and I might even have done some good.  Because spending my life in pursuit of ever increasing dreams with the carrot dangling just out of reach is not for me.  Working for someone else's goals is not for me.  I want to make a difference in someone's life.  Someone who needs somebody to make a difference.  Someone I might not actually know.  Someone that I might not ever see again.  Someone who might not even know that they need me.  I want that difference to count for something good and real and important.

That, for me, is living large.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Spring Fever 2015

Caught this robin in the act of stealing my dead grass for his nest last year.  The dirty bird!
I've got it pretty bad, I guess.  Spring Fever.  I know it's bad because after work today, as I sat in my car preparing to go home, I saw a flock of small birds feeding on the ground near my car.  I tried my damnedest to make those juncos into robins.  But, in the end, I realized my error and rather sheepishly went on my way taking solace in the knowledge that I had not jumped up and down shouting, "Look at the robins!" as I was tempted to do.

When I got home, I was greeted as per usual by two overly excited dogs, my dear husband, and the latest in seed catalog offerings from Burpee and Gurney's.

There is little this time of year, save spotting that first robin, that can match the joy inspired by the brightly colored covers of my beloved seed catalogs.  I fear the day when they all finally go completely electronic and I won't be able to leaf through the pages at my leisure circling all the things I must get for my garden this year or next.  It's an annual rite that I relish greatly...almost as much as the gardening itself.

This year is no exception.  After my husband retired to bed complaining of a vague sense of illness, I sat and perused my catalogs by lamplight.  So many seeds; so little space.

But the thing that caught my eye was not a seed, but a shrub.  A blueberry shrub.  You might remember that a couple years ago I purchased two Top Hat blueberry shrubs from one catalog or another.  They do, in fact, survive the winters here in central Nebraska; but, only just.  I have yet to see a single blossom much less a fruit on either of the bushes I planted.  Seems Top Hat just isn't really hardy enough for my neck of the woods.  You would think that a shrub developed in Michigan would do well here.  Not so much.  It doesn't die, but it does winter kill back so badly that it never really recovers over the summer.

Enter Dwarf Northsky Blueberry.  I am so excited.  This shrub stays small, although not as small as the Top Hat variety and the hardiness zones are 3-7 instead of the 5-7 of Top Hat.  I can hardly wait to plunk down my cash and get the order put in.  According to the literature available, the Northsky does well in containers and I found several images of purported Northsky bushes growing comfortably in half barrel containers.  I will probably not grow them in containers though.  No, I have a spot in mind if I can convince my ailing husband of the perfection of that particular location for blueberry culture.
Not my picture...found this one on google.  Nice shot though.

I do love blueberries.  The first batch of jam I ever made and canned was blueberry.  Now that I think of it, that was a very long time ago.  At least twenty years.  I'd say I'm due for a second batch.

Monday, February 16, 2015

The Depths of Despair and Other Challenging Holes

Today is the last day of my most recent string of vacation days.  I find myself in an bit of a quandary of what to do.

Once again, I spent the bulk of my time off visiting in Colorado with family although it was primarily my Mom I went to see.  This meeting with her is bittersweet in so many ways and is a story for another day when I have the luxury of distance in time.  I will only say here that this trip was at once possibly the worst and most likely the best trip out to see Mom I've ever had.

But enough of that for now.

Today's dilemma, as is common with me on the final day of any vacation time I've ever taken, is how to force myself back into the real world and my life.  'Force' sounds dramatic, doesn't it?  But that is what I have to do.  I have to force myself.  Because, when I'm off work, I'm completely off.  I don't think about it.  I don't dream about it.  I don't (often) wonder how things are going back at the lab.  For me, vacation has always been about being absent from the stresses of my life.  Or as absent as I can be.

I've been milling about the house today enjoying the fact that I was able to lounge in bed and watch not one but two episodes of a favorite TV program before I even got up to feed the dogs.  Those poor dogs. How they must suffer.  I have managed to make my bed the most comfortable bed I've ever had and I am loathe many days to leave it.  Especially lately.

Not too long ago I wrote a blog piece about depression and how people don't understand it unless they've been there and done that.  I am subject to seasonal depression as well as a generalized depression that seems to strike randomly.  I've had people offer me medications, meditations, and baptism in their particular flavor of religion.  I've had people offer me a hand up out of that hole with so many strings attached that the hole looked safer.  I believe in my heart that they all mean well. I am grateful to have so many caring people in my life.

The offers of assistance have happened so frequently lately that I decided it's time I pull myself out of this hole.  But it's hard.  So hard.  The gravity in here is more intense than anywhere else on the planet.  The inertia is solidly in place.  But it's happening.  Slowly.  It began with a gift from my Mother.

My Mom and I share a passion for bracelets.  I don't wear them often anymore since I spend so much time at work in the lab or the garden and I fear damaging or losing them.  But I do frequently wear a watch.  The one I usually wear is inexpensive and functional with a Velcro band.  I have never seen it as a piece of jewelry.  Just a tool.  Among many other things, my Mom gave me five of her watches that she said no longer worked.  I suspected that all they really needed was a new battery.

So I took my favorite of the bunch to a shop and had a new battery installed.  The second hand came back to life and the clerk set the time for me and handed it back.  I paid the lady and put the watch on my arm.  I stood at the counter and looked at the seconds ticking by.  Right there I was struck with a realization that my Mom had given me more than just a pretty watch.  The gift went deeper than that even if she didn't realize it.

She had given me the same gift she's given me all her life.  Time.  Over and over she's been there for me supporting and cheering me on and propping me up when I stumble all the while handing me the tools that I need to catch myself and cheer myself on and stand up for myself and pick myself up off the floor after dragging myself out of the depths of despair.  Maybe she doesn't know what she did just then when she handed me that watch.  I suspect she does.  But, it doesn't really matter.

I know.

I remember my first watch.  My parents gave it to me when I was ten.  I remember my Dad telling me that a watch was a big responsibility and to treat it with special care. It was a Timex on a wide leather band that was dyed white.  I was told that because I am right handed, I should wear it on my left arm which I tried for awhile.  In the end, though, I chose to wear it on my right arm and I still do.

I'm such a rebel.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

#@%#@$@# Winter Wonderland

I want to preface this with an apology to all those East coast folks suffering through yet another blast of winter with snow storms dropping totals measured in feet rather than inches.  I am sorry.  But, I hate this shit.

It's been snowing here since late yesterday afternoon.  The weather peeps had been predicting various amounts of snow for these here parts over the last week ranging from less than an inch to more than eight.  I listened to wind howl and the snow hit the side of the house last night during my many and frequent bouts of wakefulness and I knew the accumulation was going to be towards the deeper end of those predictions.

I spent this morning bumbling around the house in my pajamas and slippers sipping coffee and teasing the dogs. I was goofing around on facebook reading the status updates from people extolling the virtues of the new-fallen snow. 

You know who are you.

I peeked outside from time to time to watch it snow and blow.  Stepped out briefly to reload the bird feeder and sprinkle seed on the ground for my junco, sparrow, and cardinal friends.  I tried, rather unsuccessfully, to take a new profile picture for facebook.

As you can see, they are all of equivalent badness.  So I made a bad collage framed in one of my favorite colors.  I tried to tag myself in the pictures but I discovered that facebook won't let you tag yourself more than once in a 'picture'...go figure.  I eventually chose the one in the lower left hand pane as the least bad of the bunch.  A photographer I ain't.  I am also not photogenic.  I'm over it. 

I spent a goodly amount of time editing the photos and it was then I discovered this in the background of one of them:

Mr. Wiggles says, "You're trying to trick me!"
I have the only dog in the world who will actively hide from the camera.  He is the king of the anti-photo bomb.  I kind of feel like I photo-bombed him.  This hit me as so funny, I may have ruptured something important laughing at him.

Eventually, I ran out of ways to screw around and had to face the unnerving task of seeing just how badly my car was buried.

After having found my boots and having donned my warmest winter weather gear (that I could find anyway), I trekked out to the porch and took a gander at the snow up close.  It's really white.  And cold.  And deep.  Knee deep in places.  No matter how well you tuck your pants into your boots, the snow will get in there and make your socks wet and uncomfortable.

But that's okay.  I didn't really notice the wet socks because the wind was freezing my glasses to the bridge of my nose.  Then I noticed that the lenses in said glasses were going so dark so fast that I began to wonder if I might be having a stroke or if perhaps my retinas were detaching at exactly the same rate in both eyes simultaneously.  Then the lenses fogged up to the point where I was completely unable to see through them at all.

*sigh*  Dammit.

Peering over the top of my glasses, I trudged through the knee deep drifts over to where I thought my car might be.  I was able to make out the general shape of the vehicle through the snow adhering to the sides and I began to sweep the snow from the car with my arm.  The snow was at least six inches deep on the hood.

I fired up the remote start from just outside the driver's door and continued sweeping snow off so I could open the driver's side door and turn the defroster on the full blast 'inferno from hell' setting.  The door was only stuck a little and I managed to NOT get a boatload of snow inside the car.  I allowed the car to run while I finished clearing the snow from the windows and hood.  Then, I turned and looked back the way I had come and began to ponder the situation. 

Way back last summer during the heat of July, we bought a little electric snow blower on clearance for a remarkable price.  I was thinking maybe I could try it out when the sound of the wind in the neighbor's 80 foot tall pine tree caught my ear. I stood and watched it sway vigorously in the gusty air.  Behind me, I could hear the wind rattling the empty branches of assorted deciduous trees down the street.  The wind was in my face and I was being pelted with tiny shards of ice.

I looked over at the car puttering quietly in the snow and I looked back at the sidewalk with its knee-deep drifts.

There was only one thing for it.

I hit the kill switch and locked the car up.

I went back in the house like any sane human being would.
The view from my inside my front door.