Spring Cleaning

DSC_0408Wednesday morning I woke up at 5:30 am in a panic.  I had to get up and write because I had just one year left of this decade.  I needed to start now.  Of course, I didn’t get up.  I burrowed under the covers but couldn’t fall asleep.  So I practiced analysis on myself.  Not reaching any conclusions, I got up at 6:15 to attend to my dogs.  The rest of the day, my birthday, was spent in contemplation.  Most of my life is behind me, what did I want from the time ahead?

When I was younger, birthday milestones didn’t bother me.  I whizzed on down the highway of life, laughing at the mile markers.  There was plenty of time.  I’d accomplish more in the next decade.  I have an entire decade where I didn’t write anything—not even a line of poetry.  I was raising children (I don’t recognize any of the music from that time period either; I was stuck in a Raffi loop).  And then the children were gone.  I got a job.  Overwhelmed I would tell myself: This week I have all these things to do.  Next week would be a better time to work on my   . . . . poem, novel, short story.  Like Scarlett O’Hara, I plopped on my doorstep and shrugged: “Tomorrow is another day.” DSC_0429

I should have been following the advice of a poster that I hung in my classroom:  “The Time is Now.”  While those days were spent teaching writing (and grading essays), I could have followed my own advice and squeaked a few more moments of creativity into my day.  And I certainly could have accomplished something the last three years. But it is so easy to procrastinate—read the newspaper, check out Facebook, get sucked into a novel.  And then the day is over.

It’s not like I haven’t accomplished anything:  I have a husband who still adores me after thirty eight years of togetherness.  I have three beautiful daughters who are educated and employed.  I have a charming grandson.  I have friends.  I have a drawer full of unpublished novels, a folder of poems, drafts of short stories and ten journals.  Sometimes life doesn’t turn out the way you expect.

DSC_0437It isn’t age that is making me so introspective.  I have spent the last few months sorting the debris of my life—just some of it.  I have boxes and boxes still to go.  I started with some boxes in the garage—out went my college notes and essays, bank statements from the seventies and eighties, old bills.  The bears from different colleges went to a garage sale to benefit a high school group.  Duplicate binders from presentations went into the garbage can.  I can’t bring myself to shove the binders of lesson plans into the garbage can.  But what else am I going to do with them?  I still have boxes of books on teaching reading, vocabulary, writing.  I also have boxes of young adult novels and duplicates of classics.  I know I need to sort them and give them away but I hesitate.  I didn’t finish the garage.  It became too cold to work in there.  But I had boxes in the attic that had to come down so we could have some repair work done.  These boxes were more difficult to deal with.

These were boxes of my daughter’s toys, packed up and moved to storage during a remodel of our former home in So Cal.  I carted them home from the storage unit for the movers and shoved them in the attic without peeking inside.   I brought the boxes down from the attic and placed them in a spare bedroom where I had also put the boxes and boxes of home movie film, scrapbooks, photo albums and miscellaneous papers from my mother-in-law’s house that I had shipped to myself in February.  So I had two types of detritus:  mine and my husband’s family.

My sis in law and I had spent some time sorting at my mother-in-law’s house after mom had moved into assisted living:  housewares for sis, for me, for my daughters.  Household goods for Goodwill, furniture for a consignment shop, junk for a trash bin.  But it’s the smaller things that make one pause.  What do we do with menus from defunct restaurants?  Airline pamphlets from the early 1960s advising what to wear on the Riviera?  Tickets from the 1950s for the SF ballet?  I almost threw out my husband’s baby book because I thought it was a book on child rearing.  It’s now in a box with his grandfather’s baby book.  In cleaning out my mother-in-law’s house, I found myself reassessing my relationship with her.  There was so much I didn’t know about her.  But this is how relationships are.  There is much I still don’t know about my parents (and I have moved them three times, sorting, packing, cleaning). DSC_0413

My own things were different.  Some things were easy.  Beanie Babies went into a special bin because small visitors like to play with them.  Other stuffed animals went into the trash, to a charity or back in a box destined for the attic. Inventories were placed in the attic boxes.  The bear belonged to ____; she got it for Christmas from Grandma the __________.   I made mistakes.  I showed my daughter a lovely gray Easter bunny:  “Do you remember this?” She frowned and said no.  I couldn’t remember whose it was either.  After the gray bunny had left for its new home, I found a photo of her, front teeth missing, holding that bunny.  Perhaps the photo is enough.  Do I have to keep every stuffed animal that ever sat on their beds?

In cleaning out my past, I found myself evaluating my own decisions.  There were things I did well.  There were things I did poorly.  There were things I should have never done.  There were things I never did but should have done.  It’s easy to second guess yourself in hindsight.  I didn’t have the life I wanted at 18, but I had a life that made me happy.

As I sorted through photos and toys, I could have mourned a life that never was; but I chose to remember the joy in the life I had.  I am thankful to have had so much for my life has been rich with people and events.   I am at the age where the end could be tomorrow or the end could be thirty years from now.  But that’s true of every one.  I can’t live life thinking there’s not much left.  I have to tackle each day as if I have all the time I need.  For that’s exactly what is left:  what I need.   And it will be splendid.


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In Like a Lion . . .

DSC_0219March roared in this year.  February ended on a beautiful Saturday—blue skies, sparkling snow, crystal icicles, a day that made me think that winter was over in spite of the mounds of snow.   Sunday brought another storm– cold winds, more snow, another chance for hubby to push the snow blower up and down the driveway.  On Monday, we had snow followed by freezing rain.  There was only an inch or two of snow, but it had to be cleared.  It was wet snow—slush—the consistency was like something adolescents buy at a convenience store and slurp on the way home.  I shoveled the sidewalks and deck, wishing for warm weather.   My husband chipped at the ice up on the roof.  We had yet another small ice dam leak.  I wondered how much more we could stand and dreamed of beaches.

The days have become warmer.  Warm is a relative concept.  Admittedly, if I lived in southern California still and it was 45 degrees, I would be complaining of the cold.  Today the National Weather Service in Los Angeles has issued an alert—“Unseasonably hot weather for this weekend.”   Bring on the warmth!  I just got another heating oil delivery.  But I shouldn’t complain.  Yesterday it was warm enough at lunch that my grandson and I danced on the deck, singing a song we made up about dancing in the sunshine. DSC_0242

Signs of spring abound.  Chipmunks chase each other over the snow in frantic courtship.  Squirrels dart down from the trees and look for stashes of food.  The snow has begun to melt.  Grass is peeking out in the area above my septic tank.  The snow has melted in the wetlands behind my house.  Yesterday a mother deer and her daughter gazed on the green swamp shoots—barely moving when I step out on the deck to take their photo.  They were still there when the dogs went out to attend to business.  They are hungry and we do not seem to be a threat.

All winter a herd of deer traversed the green belt between the houses.  I watched as they carefully stepped in the deep snow, stopping to strip bark from young trees.  I wondered how they stayed warm on those frigid nights when the wind howled and the snow fell.  I saw them frequently.  They left tracks in my driveway and on the edge of my lot.  I saw tracks of animals that I could not place: a rabbit? A raccoon?  Other animals that I saw frequently in the fall and spring have not yet emerged.  I haven’t seen the fox in a while.  Did he succumb to the winter or is he denned up someplace snug?  Soon the bears will venture out.  Will there be cubs this DSC_0230year?

In the meantime, my grandson and I keep busy, building Duplo houses for penguins and crashing toy cars.  We listen to Radio Disney and I try to teach him the “Cha-cha Slide.”  We go outside and play in the now melting snow—until we get too cold or wet.  Will he appreciate winter when he is an adult?  Or will he move to California?

This winter was harder than the previous two.  Instead of enjoying the quiet of winter, I went a bit stir crazy.  I wanted to get out on the weekends with my husband yet it snowed every Sunday.  I felt like I was constantly shoveling snow and sprinkling ice melt.  The leaks irritated me.  I loved how pristine the earth looked under a blanket of snow but I was tired of dealing with the snow.  I longed to be on a beach in the sunshine.

This morning I attended a lecture on getting your garden ready for spring and choosing plants for areas in the shade.  I walked out of the community room at the library into the brilliant sunshine, planning additions to my garden, eager to get started, only to contemplate the mounds of snow.  Will spring ever be here?  I’m eagerly awaiting May.


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The Ice Dam Cometh

DSC_0133When I first heard the words “ice dam” last year, I thought of a babbling brook blocked by snow and ice.  Or maybe a stream under ice.  A sparkling frozen river.  I thought this even though my friend said:  “It sounds like you have an ice dam” when I told her that I had a leak in my sun room.  An ice dam is not beautiful.  An ice dam is a destructive force of nature.   An ice dam occurs when the snow on your roof begins to melt, then freezes again, creating beautiful icicles hanging off your house and a block of ice on your rain gutters.  Then the next day, the snow begins to melt again but it can’t drip off your roof because it’s blocked by the bank of ice that has formed on the edge of your roof.  The water has to go somewhere.  It seeps around the frames of your doors and windows.  It oozes underneath the siding and down the walls to a ceiling.  Those beautiful icicles are a sign that your house is susceptible to water damage.DSC_0225

Last year I encountered my first ice dam.  Ice formed on an overhang, and then water seeped into my sunroom.  Even though I poked a hole in the ceiling, allowing the water to gush into a bucket, the plaster on the ceiling peeled.  Wood around the sliding door warped.  I called a roofer.  I called a handyman.  I called a painter.  I called a contractor.  I got all kinds of advice.   I had the repairs made.  I even did some upgrades to the sunroom.  Life was good.

In the fall, I bought a roof rake.  For my California readers, a roof rake is used for pulling the snow off your roof—one or two feet from the edge.  The basic idea is that you remove the snow from the edge of the roof so that this snow does not melt slightly and then freeze into ice.   If it freezes into ice, then the remaining snow will melt and have nowhere to go.  The water will have to ooze around the ice. It will come into your home.  The first good snow storm we raked.  The next one was a blizzard.  I raked the sections I could reach.  Even though the rake has a seventeen foot stretch, I could not reach the second floor except for one small section (and I stood on a stepstool to reach that).  Then I went to visit my sister in law for a week and missed two storms.


On my return, everyone was talking about ice dams.  You heard about it in restaurants, the grocery store, and the library.  Everyone was worried that they would get one or upset that they had one.   We had four small leaks:  the sunroom, the kitchen (where I was having some work done), the family room and my office, all places where the additions meet the original house.  My house was weeping.  This suited my own mood, but I had to take action.

I raked what I could.  I opened windows and knocked down icicles because someone told me that would help.  I threw sodium chloride on the overhang outside my office where the sunroom leak was.  I hung out the window of a second floor bathroom and banged on the ice on the kitchen roof.   Most of what I did helped some but did not solve the problem.  My husband got on a ladder and chiseled the ice from the gutters.  Torrents of water poured down.  We bought a bigger ladder so he could climb up to the second floor and hack at bigger sections.  I wondered why we thought moving to New England was such a great idea. DSC_0234

I learned about Tyvek, rain gutters, soffits, and insulation.  The latter two may be the most important:   ventilation and insulation.  Our house has inadequate insulation.  This allows the warm air to escape and melt the snow.  Then since it is so cold, the melted snow freezes, forming ice dams.  We learned that two sections of our roof may not have any insulation. They are additions that do not have attic space over them. DSC_0227

Yesterday we woke up to six or eight inches of newly fallen snow and rejoiced.  We were supposed to get three inches of snow and freezing rain.  Freezing rain would have turned the new snow into a sheath of ice.  Nature smiled on us even more.  Yesterday was a warm 40 degrees.  I raked the edges of the roof and my husband chiseled large blocks of ice from the roof (until he dropped the chisel, but that’s another story).  While we did not completely clear the roof, my husband was able to create channels for the water in the sections where we have had the most problems.  We were thankful for the reprieve from snowstorms and artic cold.  We watched the deer carefully traverse the woods behind our house and relished the sunshine.

Even though today is a chilly 22 degrees with a wind chill warning until tomorrow, we have no leaks.  The world outside is lovely, pristine and enchanted.  I can’t imagine being anywhere else.


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Saying Good Bye

Sierra Exif JPEG

Today the wind howls madly outside the house, hurling snow from trees, sending clouds of fine powder across the yard.  I watch the trees sway in dance, waiting for one to lose its balance.  This is not the peaceful snow fall that I love; this is a bleak gray threat that makes me wonder why people choose to live in this harsh environment.  But I am sad today and it feels like the wind mourns with me.

Yesterday I said good bye to The Beagle.

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAThe Beagle lived with me for fifteen years.  He was an exceptional beagle.  He didn’t bark much, mostly at people walking by the house or campsite and then briefly.  He chuffed and bayed on the trail of jackrabbits but not much else.  He howled only when he heard our voices on the answering machine.  The pack was everything.  He did not like his people or fellow dogs to leave the house without him.  He was loyal and protective.  He also wanted to be top dog, continually challenging people and other dogs.  Yet he was affectionate and reliable.  He might wander off but he always came back.

To be honest, I didn’t want The Beagle at first. Just before Thanksgiving, my youngest daughter, then a seventh grader, saw the beagle puppies in a pet store and wanted one.  There were two, both males.  One was smaller and friendly, putting his nose up against the window of his case.  His brother stood back and barked.  When an employee pulled out the small friendly one, the brother growled and guarded the smaller puppy, trying to keep the employee away.  I didn’t like either puppy.   I preferred female dogs.  We had a lovely nine year old female Springer Spaniel.   I was happy having just the one dog.  I had recently started working full time outside the home.  I had taken on additional responsibilities at work.  I didn’t have time for a puppy.  My daughter argued that she would take care of the puppy, feed him, train him, and walk him.  But I had just finished teaching Where the Red Fern Grows and didn’t want a hound.  She loved the book, Shiloh.  I didn’t want a dog from a pet store.  She wanted a beagle for her Christmas present.

My husband and I searched for a breeder on the Internet but couldn’t find a puppy in time for Christmas.  I suggested we wait for our daughter’s birthday in the summer.  That Thanksgiving, we drove   to Palo Alto to have dinner with my husband’s family.  The entire trip, our daughter honed her skills in argumentation.  On our return Sunday, we went to the pet store.  One puppy was left, the aggressive brother.  He seemed lonely without his pack.  We gave him a new pack.DSC_0179

He was an adorable puppy.  He was also the hardest dog to housetrain.  He was barely housetrained.  He had a strong need to mark his territory.  The Christmas tree was a target.  He snuck into the guest bedroom whenever anyone stayed there with another dog.  The Beagle figured that all the plants in my sunroom  made it an extension of the outdoors.  The Beagle was also a thief.  There was no safe place to set food.  He was capable of jumping onto a table or the kitchen counter.  Once he escaped from our house and ran into a neighbor’s garage and stole hot dogs that she had not yet put away after her Costco trip.  He was irascible.

Yet I loved that dog.  He had boundless energy and incredible endurance.  For years, He got up with me at 5 am and ran four or five miles.  He hiked for hours.  I could let him off leash and know he’d return.  If he dashed off after a rabbit and didn’t return, I knew he’d be under the car waiting.  There were hiking incidents.  One time he was with my husband and two daughters when he tangled with a rattlesnake.  Several times he rushed into tall grasses and ended up with burrs in his ears that required surgery to remove.  And he was way too fond of tracking bear scat.

20140508_155240In some ways he was the perfect dog: rugged and compact.  He could hike all day and then go back out the next day.  The Beagle had this endless energy, because like most hounds, when he wasn’t ‘working,’ he was sleeping.

He was a great traveling companion.  We took him to Death Valley where a group of Girl Scouts asked if they could take his picture.  On a trip to Mammoth Lakes, I took him on the bus to Red’s Meadow so we could hike to Devil’s Postpile.  He didn’t like being a lapdog but he could behave himself when necessary.  He was the perfect hiking companion.  On a trip to the alpine lakes above Saddlebag Lake, he kept my friend and I on the right trail.  No wrong turns for The Beagle.

But I knew things were changing four years ago.  At the end of a hike, he chased after a rabbit.  I assumed that he went back to the truck, but he wasn’t there when I arrived.  I retraced my steps to where I had last seen him, and then hiked off trail through a meadow, where I found him about half a mile off trail, just sitting, looking confused.  When I took him to our California vet, an older gentlemen from Kentucky who just loved “these dogs (beagles) because they just run through the briars, don’t let anything stop them,” he asked if I had noticed any signs of confusion or senility.  “These dogs usually don’t live past twelve, thirteen,” he warned me.  “The last few years, they often get a little senile.”  Once in a while, The Beagle would stop and pause as if trying to remember what he was going to do, but mostly he seemed to get cranky rather than senile.DSC_0025

He could remember how to climb up on the kitchen table or counter.  He never forgot meal time.  And if he saw my grandson eating, he waited patiently for grandson to take his eyes off his food.  The Beagle loved peanut butter sandwiches.  And once he snatched something, he bolted it down so you couldn’t make him drop it.

Friday morning he snatched a doughnut off the kitchen table, an act so outrageous and funny and normal, I was totally unprepared that afternoon when he had a seizure.  I had just gone upstairs to my room when I heard him choking on the stairs.  I rushed to him and found him trembling.  At first I thought he was just having trouble getting up the stairs.

The Beagle had been to our Connecticut vet two weeks ago.  She had done a thorough work-up because I had reported that he seemed touchy when I touched his belly.  His blood work was in normal parameters.  An x-ray showed that his hips were not as arthritic as I had feared but he did have a mass.  An ultrasound indicated a large tumor on his spleen.  This explained why he did not want me to lift him up or stroke his belly.  He started a regime of anti-inflammatory medications.  He obviously felt better, trotting around the yard, stealing food, demanding the best dog bed from the other dogs.  Until now. 576535_3288061252841_653629520_n[1]

The trembling was just the beginning of The Beagle’s seizure event.  I brought him up into the room and petted him while he convulsed.  When I thought it was over, I ran down to get a pain pill the vet had prescribed but he had not needed.  When I came back up, he was again convulsing but just slightly.  He snatched the cheese covered pill from my hand.  That was his last normal cantankerous act.  When he stopped convulsing, he could not walk normally.  He would lie down and then lose control of his bladder.  He tried to follow me back down the stairs, but he couldn’t negotiate them.  I had to carry him.  He hates being carried.  I took him outside and he just stood there, then he remembered to sniff but he didn’t mark.  He didn’t eat dinner.  He slept next to the bed but must have moved several times.  I had to clean the carpet in the morning.

Overnight he had become much worse.  He could barely stand.  He didn’t sniff when I carried him out.  He just stood there in the snow.  He wouldn’t eat breakfast.  He just flopped on the carpet, trembling.  Had the cancer metastasized?  Did he have internal bleeding?  Had he lost brain function?  I did not know.  All I knew was that he was suffering.  I gave him a pain pill and called the veterinarian’s office.  My regular vet’s partner agreed to see us before the regular appointments began.

DSC_0155This is never an easy decision.  I had options: I could let nature takes its course and possibly prolong his suffering.  I could seek medical intervention that might prolong The Beagle’s life for just a few more months.  I could seek medical intervention that would end the suffering.  It was obvious that The Beagle would never enjoy the things he loved again.  He could not walk around the yard marking territory.  He could not run with the other dogs.  He could not sneak up on the table and steal food.  And I knew, if The Beagle wouldn’t eat, then he must be suffering.  He never refused food.

I have made this decision before.  Two other dogs of mine have lived to an advanced age.  In both cases, much like this weekend, I woke up and realized that the time had come.  My companion shouldn’t suffer because I didn’t want to let go.   It is an easy discussion when talking about pets.  We control our pets’ lives, for better or worse.  We control the quality of their lives by how much we exercise them and what dog food they eat.  Are they companions?  Or property?  It doesn’t matter.  Our pets become an integral part of our lives.  We love them yet we have to make decisions for them.DSC_0001

We can make the decision for our four legged friends, but we have to make the decision for ourselves.  I would not want to live a life where I could not enjoy the things I love most.

I miss The Beagle.  The pack dynamics have shifted in the void left by his death.  The pointers have been sharing the large dog bed:  P rincess taking The Beagle’s spot.  Peanut didn’t want to go out in the cold.  Normally he would have followed The Beagle off the deck.  Dude sniffs around the house, looking for The Beagle.  But he’s gone.  Farewell, little buddy.


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Snow Storms

20150101_074304I am perched in my office on the second floor of our house.   Surrounded by windows on three sides, I am sitting in a snow globe that some child is shaking manically.  The wind swirls the snow, sways the tall tree branches, and whistles.  The yard, the woods, my driveway–all are blanketed in mounds of white cotton.  We are in the middle of a snow storm.

Earlier in the week, I prepared for the “Blizzard of 2015,” stocking up on necessities like coffee and dog food.  I’ve learned that the stores get rather busy just before a storm.  People rush out to buy staples like milk and bread, emptying the shelves of the local markets.  People fill up the tanks of their cars.  People take out as much cash as they can from ATMs.  (I needed cash yesterday and went to two different ATMS, only to find both unable to give cash.  And since this is a small local bank, these machines probably won’t be filled before Tuesday morning).   When the snow fall is heavy, I sometimes feel like I am never going to get back out into the world.

Outside, the world is quiet.  Somewhere the local herd of deer is hunkered down.  The squirrels have retreated to their treetop nests.  The fox is snug in his den.  Nothing moves out there except the street plows.  It is a hostile world and yet it is beautiful.DSC_0217

I wonder how the early settlers managed during these winter storms.  No one was plowing the streets.  No one had a giant snow blower.  Someone had to get out of the house to feed the livestock or bring in the firewood.  Our dogs run out to take care of business but run right back in.  The beagle, who normally saunters around the yard checking for intruders, doesn’t even want to leave the deck.  I shoveled a path off the deck this morning, but you wouldn’t know that now.

In a way, the snowstorm has a calming effect.  I can’t go anywhere.  I can only be.  After a hectic month this may be what I need.   The New Year started with my husband going to northern California to help his mom pick out a senior complex.  It was time, his family decided, that his mother live where she can get daily help.  Two weeks later, my mother was in the hospital for five days.  It turned out not to be too serious but I spent my time shuttling my dad who no longer drives back and forth to the hospital.  Then I learned that my fifteen year old beagle has a tumor on his spleen.  It might be malignant; it might be benign.  We’ll never know because his surviving the surgery is a longshot.  He’s on anti-inflammatories.  I can give pain medication as needed.  Since he started the anti-inflammatory meds, he’s back to his usual crotchety self.  Juggling all this meant that I fell behind in setting up a photo exhibit in the library.  With the help of friends, I finally finished this week.  Even now I am supposed to be in Northern California, helping my sister in law pack up mom’s house.  But my flight has been cancelled twice the last two days.  Staring out the window, I wonder if I’m ever going to get off the ground.


Then I start thinking about shoveling, raking the snow off the roof, salting the pathways and driveway.  Sometimes I need to get away.  A real get away would be Hawaii but that’s not going to happen.  Dude understands this need to get away.  A few weeks ago he took off again.  I let the dogs out around 6:30 in the evening.  They all came in, except Dude.  I forgot he was out there.  Until bedtime.  At 10 pm, I realize that I am missing a dog.  I go outside and call.  He doesn’t respond.  My stomach flops.  It’s going to be a cold night and he’s a short hair dog.  He’s wearing a field collar with a locator that beeps when you press the remote.  The beeping sound calls Dude back to me but wherever he’s gone, he’s not responding.  And even though he has wandered off before, he isn’t wearing a collar with my phone number on it.  My daughter and her boyfriend get in his truck and drive around the neighborhood, pressing the locator button on the remote and listening for his collar.  He’s less than a mile from the house.  The next day he took off again.  But I understand.  Once in a while you have to leave home.  Check things out.  Appreciate what you have.

And sometimes it’s good to sit by the fire and read a good book.


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DSC_0216The dogs were up first on Christmas morning.  They have no sense of the days of the week—every day is Monday.  My husband and I let the dogs out and then fixed their breakfast.  After breakfast, they were ready to go back to sleep.  The humans, however, had made coffee so we sliced cranberry bread, slathered it with cream cheese and took it into the living room to await our grandson.

Our grandson didn’t get up early—he’s too young to anticipate Santa Claus.  To be honest, I’m not sure how much of Christmas he really understands.  We are not a religious family.  My daughter didn’t take him to see Santa Claus.  The three Christmas books that I read more than once were The Grinch, Jack Ezra Keats’s The Little Drummer Boy and Jack Kent’s The Twelve Days of Christmas.  The Grinch is scary.  “Oh, no!” my grandson cries half way through and covers his eyes.  His favorite is The Twelve Days of Christmas.  Kent’s characters are comical and the gifts overwhelm the page.  So he really had no preparation for Christmas morning.

I cannot describe the look on my grandson’s face when he came into the living room.  First he noticed the penguin I had placed next to the fireplace.  I had bought it to put on the front porch but never got around to it. (Nor did I put lights on the house, former SoCal neighbors, for shame!)  Instead I put him next to the fireplace.  “Penguin!” my grandson squealed.  He ran up to the penguin and looked at it.  Then he ran around the room, peering behind furniture.  “What’s he doing?” asked my husband.  “Looking for the other penguins.  Everyone knows they come in flocks. ” DSC_0220

Finally he went to inspect the tree.  The tree is in a corner of the living room behind the sofa.  When you enter the living room, you cannot see the surplus of presents piled underneath.  My grandson does not get to enter the living room very often, but he had been in to see the tree and the presents several times in the week before Christmas.  He had even been allowed to open a few.  Still, the tree on Christmas morning made his jaw drop.  “Ohhhhh!”  He sat under the tree, picked up a present, and hugged it.

We have two traditions that are unique to my family.  The first is Santa paper.  In the beginning, Santa paper was the paper that Santa used to wrap my daughters’ presents in.  But one of my daughters had problems waiting until her parents got up before peeking at her gifts.  (The same daughter wrote Santa a letter each year explaining why she had been bad and promising that she would be better next year if he left her a gift.  Santa fell for this every year.)  Santa helped us out by wrapping each girl’s gifts in a different wrapping paper.  Only I was privy to whose presents were in each paper.  So many gifts under our tree do not have name tags.

The other tradition is that only one person can open a present at a time.  This gives you time to say ‘thank you,” and admire the gift (or pretend that you like it).  It takes most of the morning to open gifts at my house.  We start with the stockings.  The first present my grandson opened was a small penguin.  Immediately he set it next to the one by the fireplace.  “Mommy.  Baby,” he sighed contently.  My grandson was happy with this slow pace.  He had to open every box of toys, remove the contents and play with them before opening another gift.  “Thank you!  Thank you!” he said over and over as each present was opened.  It wasn’t just the presents that were awesome.  He had to crawl in and out of the big boxes that held other people’s presents.

I sat in the living room, watching his happiness, his patience, his excitement and thought:  “It will never be like this again.”  Next year he will be close to four.  He will anticipate Santa Claus and presents.  He will want a specific toy.  He might not spend so much time carefully examining each gift, making each one seem like the best thing on earth.  But this year was a year of wonder.

DSC_0242When I was a young mother, I did not stop to appreciate the miracles of my daughters’ world.  Perhaps it was the result of trying to make the world special for my children.  Perhaps it was the result of other relatives’ demands during the holidays.  I did not stop to think:  “This is the best time of our lives.”  There was always going to be another Christmas, another birthday, another time that would better.  And there were better days and there were far worse days; the problem was that I ruminated on the bad and failed to revel in the good.  I was always looking to some future where things would be different.  Perhaps I was too young to appreciate the simple joy of children.

Now I have decades behind me.  I have learned to take life slowly.  I have learned to value the miracles.  There are still but horrible, no good days in my life.  I still ruminate but I can delete them from my mind far easier than I could when I was young.  Life is better because I am no longer in a hurry to get to somewhere else.   Every day I appreciate my husband and daughters. Every day I marvel at something new and unique.  Every day I find a reason to laugh. This is the best time of my life.

Happy New Year! May your new year be filled with wonder and laughter.  May it be the best year of your life!

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wonder 1The trees have been decorated.  The crèches assembled.  The presents have been wrapped.  The stockings have been hung.  The Texas fruitcake has arrived.   We have eggnog.  All we’re missing is snow and a sleigh for our third installment of Christmas in Connecticut.

This is the year of enchantment and wonder.  My grandson wiggles into the living room to see the big tree with all the presents underneath.  His eyes light up at the ornaments.  “Oh Tree,” he sighs.  Almost three, he doesn’t fully understand the holidays.  One day he’s a penguin; the next day Grandma is putting away the plastic skulls. One minute we have pumpkins and then poof!  It’s evergreen wreaths and Christmas trees.  “Where are the pumpkins?” he asks.  Eaten by the squirrels.  And now there is the tree.  All he understands is the wonder of the tree—twinkling with lights and ornaments.

He is fascinated by the pile of presents accumulating under the living room tree.  It must be a happy happy (birthday).  It must be his.  “Thank you, thank you,” he chants as he begins to rip the paper off a present, any present.  As far as he knows, all the gifts are for him.  He wants Christmas now.

I understand his excitement.  There is magic in Christmas:  Houses are transformed.  The smell of special treats fills the air.  Gifts and cards arrive.   We reconnect with old friends and beloved family.  We set aside our cares and differences to embrace wayward kin.  In the coldest darkest time of the year, we seek the warmth of those we love.  The true light of this season is our humanity.  We need each other.

I want the happiness and peace of this season to last all year.

Whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukah or winter solstice, I wish you and yours a wonderful holiday.

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Boy apps vs Girl apps

20141219_145956True confessions:  While I was recuperating last week, I allowed my grandson excess screen time.  I allowed him to use the me-pad for more than two hours at a stretch.  My justification was that the me-pad was more interactive than television and I really needed to rest (read my Stephen King novel).  Admittedly, swiping a screen is not as interactive as building unique penguin houses with Duplo or drawing fish with crayons but it was a quiet activity and I was in pain.  So after naptime, I handed over the me-pad.  This worked well the first two afternoons.  Delighted he played “Endless Numbers,” “Endless Alphabet,” and “Little Builders.”  The third afternoon he grew bored and wanted something new so he went app shopping.  One of my favorite children’s interactive game makers has a link to their products on the opening page of each product.  Normally this is not a problem.  When my grandson goes into the app store, I take the me-pad and open a program I already bought.  This time he fixated on a new game:  “Pony Style Shop.”

My grandson loves horses.  He likes it when I drive by the horse guard and the horses are in the pasture.  He has two little horses that he plays with.  Horses rank next to penguins in his collection of animals.  One of his favorite apps is “Busy Bear On the Farm,” where he likes to make Busy Bear ride the farmer’s horse back and forth for long periods of time.  He finds this hilarious.  So he saw the horses and wanted to open the app.20141219_142542

I did not want to buy the app.  It wasn’t the cost.  I quickly downloaded another app: “Brazil,” which featured 3 Brazilian landscapes complete with native animals and soccer balls.   That lasted a few minutes before he was back to the ponies.

I did not want to download the pony app.  It was clearly a program designed for girls and the suggested age range was 4-8.  In this game, one washed and groomed a pony in her stall and then took her photo, changing the background and adding color overlays.  The market was obviously the same as My Little Pony (of which I still have a full box).

I was rather irritated, slightly frustrated, lying on the sofa, listening to my grandson say ‘that, that  that.  Neigh.  Neigh.” when the bolt of lightning struck.  If this was a granddaughter and she wanted “Little Builders,” I would download it in a flash.

20141218_105425Oddly enough for a stay at home mom, I was a true eighties feminist.  I dressed my oldest two daughters in boy’s Oshkosh overalls.  I bought trucks, Duplo and Brio train sets.  Both of my older daughters had train birthday parties.  I bought games and puzzles to encourage math skills.  Access to the same type of play was supposed to help girls be more assertive and help boys be more empathetic.  By the time my daughters and her friends were three, the differences between the friends who were boys and those who were girls was obvious.  For the girls, the baby dolls and strollers, plastic tea sets and play food were favorites.   Then one day Barbie’s little sister Skipper showed up at a birthday party.  The house was soon overrun by woodland creatures wearing clothes, my Little Ponies, My Little Pet Shop , American Girl dolls and Breyer horses.  We got out the Lego once in a while.  My husband put his childhood electrical train up around the holidays, but my daughters’ interest in the train was fleeting.

My grandson has no interest in dolls.  He prefers plastic animals to stuffed animals (although he has quite a collection of stuffed animals in his bed).  He cannot watch football without grabbing a ball, running around the room and throwing himself down—CRASH!  Just like the football players.  He has his own version of basketball—a combination of soccer and basketball.  He’ll watch any sport on television—even golf.  He can identify various types of balls: football, baseball, golf and basketball.  And trucks and construction vehicles are the best.  (And every thing crashes.) When the weather was nicer, we had to walk over to a nearby construction site just to watch the workers.  Today he was yelling excitedly:  “Deer, deer, deer!”  When I asked him where the deer was, he pointed to a yellow John Deere digger.

20141219_145820I downloaded the pony app. For a while, my grandson washed the ponies, one after another.  He took a few photos.  Then he closed the app and opened “Little Builders.”  After a few minutes of making one construction guy spill his coffee and opening the door to the porta potty a couple of times, he abandoned the me-pad to go build a Duplo dump truck and fill it with penguins.  Then he needed to cook for the animals in a Duplo oven he had built.  Of course, the dump truck crashed while dinner was cooking . . .


Crashed cars

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Does this bruise make me look fat?

DSC_0238Tuesday morning was bleak.  The sun was supposed to be up when I opened the door from the kitchen to the deck to let the dogs out but I couldn’t see it.  The world was gray and cold—19 degrees.  It had been raining the night before so I should have been more cautious but my mind was elsewhere:  congratulating itself once again for mailing all the Christmas packages; ruminating over a possible blog piece; making a checklist of things that needed to be done that day and trying to watch where the dogs went—because someone has to clean up the mess and that someone is always me.  I should have been paying more attention to the surface of the deck because then I would have realized that the top step (which is slate) was coated in a sheet of ice.  But I didn’t.

I just stepped off the wooden deck onto the ice, flew into the air and tumbled down.  I curled my head in and put my arms up around it.  I told myself to scream so someone would come because this was the way old people broke their hips.  And by the time I landed my roll down the steps, I thought for sure that I had broken my hip.  After a few minutes of lying on the ground, I realized that no one was coming to help and I had better try standing up because I would freeze if I lay on the frozen mud much longer.   I got up.  I was in pain, yet I could move, so I started walking around the yard after the dogs. (Later my husband would tell me that he looked out the window and saw me walking and consequently figured that I was all right).  I hiked up to the end of the driveway to get the paper, which wasn’t there, and came back inside for coffee and to assess the damage.DSC_0261

I had been wearing a really old puffy blue ski parka which protected my upper body.  I had a few sore arm muscles, but my tailbone and my right gluteus muscles were trashed.  My natural padding had saved my skeleton but my skin in this area was a solid purple and one buttock was twice the size of the other.  I have taken quite a few falls snowboarding but nothing as spectacular as this.

Luckily I had dental surgery scheduled for that morning.  (I know, could the day get any better?) Like my tumble off the deck, this surgery was the result of my own negligence.  Sometime last winter I was eating something (when and what I don’t remember) when I crunched down and felt something gritty—part of a filling.  Just filling.  No tooth attached to it.  There was no pain.  I couldn’t see where I lost it.  I was busy.  My cousin’s daughter was getting married.  Then I was going to Hawaii.  I thought I’ll wait and mention it when I went in for my checkup.  I didn’t go for a checkup until July.  The bad news: I had broken a tooth; gum had grown over the broken part; I needed a crown.  But I didn’t return for the crown until December.  I hate going to the dentist.

Had I taken care of this last January, I might not have had to have some of my gum and part of my jawbone diminished so that a crown would fit.  On the other hand, I would not have multiple prescriptions for pain medications.  I don’t know which was worse:  the jaw or the leg.

DSC_0224So I have been slowly recuperating.  I spent the rest of the week in workout clothes and comfortable shoes or slippers.  I don’t move fast.  This is difficult when you are taking care of a two and a half year old whose idea of fun is either running or playing crash.  Grandma doesn’t feel like playing either. (And this limits those painkillers because almost three year olds are wily and grandma needs her wits.) On Thursday my grandson kept unlocking the kitchen door and dashing outside and up the driveway.  Normally I would have him back in the house before he could leave the deck, but I had no speed.  My muscles ached with every step.  I couldn’t wait for naptime.

But going slowly also has its advantages.  Grandson and I sat by a window and watched the birds—sparrows, finches, chickadees–and three very plump squirrels on the front lawn for forty-five minutes one morning.  Would I have noticed them if I had been bustling around, cleaning the house?  I saw the fox on the edge of the woods in the morning and again in the afternoon one day this week.  If I hadn’t stopped to catch my breath, would I have known he was out there, hunting squirrels and chipmunks?  Would I have enjoyed the antics of the gray squirrels preparing for winter if I was my usual busy self?

My house isn’t totally decorated yet.  I have the three small trees decorated but not the big one in the living room.  I haven’t put out my collection of crèches.  Instead I drank cup after cup of warm spiced tea, sat by a warm fire and watched the world outside my windows.  It was heaven.


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Remembering Pearl Harbor

Summer 2010 252

Sunday will be the 73rd anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, “a day,” Franklin D. Roosevelt observed, “that will live in infamy.”  Time diminishes such events.  Very few people can remember the national outrage.  Only a few survivors remain.  Even as we venerate “the Greatest Generation,” read their stories, go to see the movies about their lives, the event that served as such a catalyst fades in our collective conscious. I admit that I seldom think about Pearl Harbor on December 7.  In the flurry of holiday traditions, who takes the time to remember that in 1941, young men and women sat down to Christmas dinner, already planning to join the armed forces as our nation prepared for war?  This year, however, I have been working on digitalizing photos of the servicemen (and women) from Avon, Connecticut who served in World War II.

During World War II, the town published a newsletter for those who served in the armed forces.  The newsletter featured the photos of those who had recently enlisted.  It had homey news about the town.  Some servicemen sent in photos of themselves in front of hospitals, ambulances, in France, in Germany, in Greenland.  Gerard Steben, who was in the Navy, sent photos of the USS Sea Snipe, a troop transport, in San Francisco and in Guadalcanal.  The photos for the newsletter ended up in the town history room and are currently being digitalized in preparation for an exhibit on World War II.  (They are not available to the public.) I edit the scanned photos, make sure the hats and chevrons show, verify the spelling of the names, and check for duplicates.  They all look so young.  They were so young.


After Pearl Harbor, some young men and women rushed to action. Others would be drafted later in the war.  As I work on the town photos, I do not know the history of each person.  Some like the Alsop brothers—Joseph, Stewart and John—were the sons of town selectmen, went to private schools and Ivy League colleges.  The library’s community room is named after their father.  A local park is named after the family.  Joseph and Stewart Alsop would become famous journalists.  Their brother John would run for governor of Connecticut (but lose).   Some were the sons of workers at Ensign Bickford, a local factory.  Some last names repeat two, three, four times. Brothers?  Cousins? The number of families that sent both sons and daughters astonishes me.  Most returned home.  A few didn’t.  The local VFW post is named after a native son who did not return: Guido T. Consolini who died in the Pacific theater in 1943.

If World War I marks the beginning of modern warfare; World War II is the beginning of our modern foreign policy. This event changed the course of our history, spurring us out of our isolationist policies into a war that already consumed much of the world.  Those who remained at home were united in their support for those who went to war.  Everyone sacrificed.  Everyone was affected. As a result, the United States became a symbol of freedom for the rest of the world.

On Sunday, take a moment to reflect on the sacrifices made on your behalf—for your freedom.  Do not let the collective memory of this day disappear from our hearts and minds.

On the World War Two monument, Washington DC

On the World War Two monument, Washington DC

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