Sunday, December 28, 2014

Post-Christmas Ponderings

When I collected up the clothes on my younger son's floor to wash and then fold them, what force in the Universe allowed for exactly five socks to emerge from the dryer, none of which matches another?
How is it that someone can not see the conflict in these two stickers on his car?
What are these piles in the mulched bed in the back yard?  Most under the birdfeeder, but also some under the oak trees. My best guess is raccoon poop, but why would they been scarfing down something clearly undigestible. If not that, what? The yard is fenced in, so it has to be something that can get in- so that should rule out, say, the coyotes and foxes I'm told are sometimes spotted in the neighborhood. I've sent this photo off to the naturalist I took the bird-friendly backyard class with and I'm hoping he'll have an answer.

***UPDATE:  The naturalist said he thinks it's raccoon scat - they are plentiful in this area and eat lots of berries in the winter.***
Why does my neighborhood library have this book drop sign with no book drop in sight? I walked the mile to the library Friday only to discover they were closed and I had to carry the books back home again. Turns out, I discovered later, the book drop in on the wall around the corner from this sign, on the back of the library.
And what sort of person thinks a bunch of horseshoe crab shells is a reasonable decoration in their home? Oh, right. That would be me.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Bring back the light!

I have been hoping that eventually, I'd get invited to a party at the home of one of my new neighbors. I was pretty stoked to find an invitation in my mailbox a couple of weeks ago, for a holiday gathering a few houses down the street this past Friday. And it was what I was wishing it would be - a warm group of folks and lots of food and wine and laughter until almost midnight. And best of all, I only had to walk half a block to get back home afterwards!
The next day, my older son arrived home, bearing a gift which he admitted was largely his girlfriend's doing. Pickles from their garden, a jar of home-made hot sauce and fresh-baked sugar cookies and challah.  Already a good daughter-in-law and they aren't even married yet.  He and my younger son and I headed out for sushi, with my older son now able to legally order a beer with his meal.  
His girlfriend won't be here until Christmas Day so my sons asked to watch the old videos their father had transferred to DVDs. There were some I'd never even seen, and others I'd just forgotten. It was funny to watch my sons as little boys, the older one rattling on about whatever interested him at the moment and the younger batting his big eyes and smiling sweetly at the camera. True to form, my younger son giggled through the videos as we watched while his brother kept up a commentary, "Aww, [younger brother] is so cute! Hahaha! His head is so big he can hardly hold it up! How was he able to memorize all those song lyrics so young?!" And in one scene where I'm leaning down into the lower bunk to kiss my younger son goodnight, the camera focuses on my rear and my son reacted with, "Oh, Dad!  Noooo!!!" Later, in a scene from an earlier year, I'd just finished nursing and he said, "Is that boob? That's boob! Ack!" and then covered his eyes. There was much hilarity over the awful 90's fashions of baggy clothes - and seriously, what were we thinking? While they were most entranced by their younger selves, I was just pleased to find out I had footage of people who have since died, including my baby brother, my grandmother and my favorite great-aunt.
Only a few days until Christmas and I find myself regretting not having taken tomorrow and the next day off from work. But the holidays are a busy time in my business, and I hate not to be available when so many people are struggling.
I do enjoy what time I have in my holiday-decorated home, though. I have traditional red poinsettias in every room except mine. I always spring for one in a pinker shade in there. It may be Christmas, but I still want my own room to feel a little softer.
Today has been appropriately sunny, making the sunporch the place I want to drink coffee and read. And dream about the days lengthening to a point where I can be back out in the yard working.
When I bought this year's tree, I didn't realize how full it was until I got it home. My younger son helped me decorate it, and when his brother walked in he said, "Whoa! That thing's enormous!" And it does dominate the living room. But I don't care - it makes me happy every time I look at it.
I love the Winter Solstice. I love knowing that after today, the daylight starts adding up again, creeping it's way toward sanity and life. It fills me with hope.

Sunday, December 14, 2014


My favorite niece was graduating from college Saturday, so I decided to break the drive up by getting all the way to Hilton Head Island the afternoon before. Off-season, I got a good price on a room a block from the beach.
As soon as I checked in, I headed over to take a long walk. You could tell I was the one from a more northerly area - everyone else was bundled up but I kicked off my shoes so I could walk barefooted on the chilly sand. At times, I couldn't see anyone else in either direction.
Any other human, that is - the gulls were out in full force.
I found a baby horseshoe crab shell and picked it up. Then another. And another. And then clusters of them, flipped and cleaned out by the birds. I realized I couldn't collect them all so I started only picking up the ones with tails still attached.
I found four in perfect condition and brought them, along with some cool sponges and a malformed sand dollar, back to my hotel to clean them up. I always accuse my kids of being scavengers, but I am no better.
A couple of flocks of pelicans flew in formation along the edge of the water. There was also a large great blue heron fishing in the channel by my hotel, who would squawk angrily when I got too close.
The next morning I went back again as the sun was starting to come up.  It was a little colder, but I couldn't resist another walk on the beach.
I love sunrises and sunsets over the ocean.
But I had a graduation to get to, so I reluctantly headed back to my hotel for breakfast and the remainder of my drive.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Pistol packin' mama.

So, remember back in July when one of my patients stock-piled ammo and threatened to kill me? Well, it scared me, and I had a peculiarly 'Murican response. That week, I was at the gun shop talking to the owner about handguns. A background check later and I walked out with a 22. Out at the range, it proceeded to jam repeatedly, in spite of help from a gunsmith who happened to be there that day. He asked a question I never thought I'd be asked, "Have you field stripped your gun yet?" And I gave an answer I sure never thought I'd give, "Yes." Everyone advised me to "trade up." Back to the gun store and after anther background check (in case I'd committed any crimes in the week I owned the 22, I guess), and out again with a Colt 380. It's a scaled down version of the Colt 1911. I picked it in spite of the price tag because it is easy to rack and known to be reliable.  The store owner patted his pocket and said, "That's what I carry." My neighbor, the retired cop, asked what sort of gun I had and when I told him, he whistled and said, "Can't go wrong with a Colt - that's a fine gun."
This is the first time at the range with the original 22. It's an outdoor seated range, and you can hear by the accents around me that it's primarily used by folks born and bred here. I'm something of a novelty at the range. I went back on my own, after I bought the 380, and overheard this:
First Guy: "That lady came here from work in a skirt and high heels, sat down and started shootin!"
Me: "Hey, I can hear you guys!"
Guys: "We're talking about you - come on over!" .... "You're a conundrum - you drive a Prius with a peace sign on the back, but you're armed."
Me: "I'm a Quaker, too, throw that in the mix."
Older two guys, "Whoa! Hahaha!"
Younger guy, "What's that? One of them little rice cakes?" 
After a few trips to the range, I got more proficient at loading the magazine and racking the gun. One of the guys there pointed at my target and said, "We've decided we like having you here but we don't want to date you!" I said, "Well, if you look closer you might be less afraid." Then after I'd retrieved the paper target I said to him, "Actually, I seem to shoot consistently low - so I could be your worst nightmare!" I will say that, to my surprise, the guys at the gun store and the range have been uniformly helpful and friendly.
And then it was time for the day-long required class for a permit. You can own a gun and keep it at your house without a permit, but I wasn't afraid at my house. The class was taught by a retired officer and mostly focused on gun safety and the law. In a rather sinister twist on the old idea that it's better to ask forgiveness than permission, the instructor said, "It's better to be tried by 12 than carried by 6."  I did, however, appreciate that he kept reiterating that if you own a gun you are responsible for where every bullet goes, no matter what. It was a surreal experience, though - we sat at tables with our weapons in front of us. Unloaded, chambers open, and no ammo in the room, fortunately. The class was held at the Sheriff's training building and the highlight for me was that they actually gave us coffee and donuts as a snack. You can't make this stuff up.
Finally it was time to use the indoor range. We stood up at those barrels and shot five rounds at a time at increasing distances from the targets. I wasn't wild about the setup, because there was not protection between each shooter.  The spent .22 casings of the woman next to me kept hitting me. It's not fun to have a hot bit of metal bounce off your forehead, especially when you are trying to concentrate. The worst was when one flew down my shirt. I flinched, automatically tucking inward, which allowed the hot casing to drop into my bra where it was caught against my skin. As soon as I was allowed to leave, I went to the break room to get cold water for the burn. When a friend asked later how the class had gone, I said, "Well, aside from burning my breast, it was fine."
To get the permit you have to pass a written test and the shooting test. And then, through the Department of Homeland Security (named by Aldous Huxley, I'm sure of it) fill out a long application, fork over a lot of money, get finger-printed, and go through a more rigorous series of background checks.  Which I'm totally on board with, by the way,
And there you have it. So... now that I've jumped through all the hoops for a concealed weapon permit, do I carry? Nope. I've actually run into the threatening patient a couple of times near my office. He glares at me, but does not speak since that would violate his probation. He still scares me. But you know what? I don't want to live that way. I went through all that because I didn't want to just sit around waiting to be shot. But now that I've had some time to think about it, I don't want to sit around waiting to shoot back. I just don't. I'll go back to the range now and again because I've discovered I kind of enjoy target practice. But otherwise, the gun stays home, unloaded.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

What, you don't have a cover for your thermostat?

I honestly don't know what gets into me, but I took a notion that my thermostat shouldn't be visible. I got an email offer for having photos printed on canvas and I got an idea. After looking through my photos, I uploaded one and got it back wrapped around a frame. Then I cut a hole in the styrofoam and backing to fit the thermostat with a utility knife, and sealed off the edges with black tape.
I attached hinges on the back of one side so that the frame can be swung out to access the thermostat.
I chose this photo I'd taken at a local park because the fall colors go well with the paint.
A silly project, yes. But let's face it - doesn't this look a lot nicer than white plastic?

Sunday, November 30, 2014

More reasons to be thankful.

Another thing I like about fall is that the colors mirror those of my house. One last weekend to enjoy them, before we launch into Advent and wintry decorations. My younger son went to visit his brother for Thanksgiving and a good friend invited me to join her family. I wish I'd gotten a photo of that spread - everything on the table was delicious and the family welcoming and friendly.
I made a small exception to my usual Black Friday no-shopping policy and ran out in the morning to buy my Christmas tree. I've only found one place in town that ever has a few white pines amongst the ubiquitous firs and I wanted to make sure I got one. I found a beautiful tree still dotted with pine cones. I chatted with the man who helped me wrap and load the tree and we talked about the gorgeous weather and spending time with people who matter to you. He said every Thanksgiving is good in his eyes. I drove home feeling glad I'd had that conversation and blissing out on the rich pine scent filling my car.
My sister and brother-in-law came up later that day for the weekend. I made a huge slab of salmon with herb cheese stuffing and several sides because I wanted to test out some recipes: caramelized brussels sprouts with lemon, asparagus with feta and a balsamic glaze, baby carrots slow-roasted on coffee beans and puff pastry spirals with spinach, capers, parmesan and lox. Let me just say: Mmmm. The next night I made a big pot of chicken vegetable chili-ish and blue buttermilk cornbread.
The visit was mainly so we could drive up to Lexington together to see our father. He was happy to have lunch with us and was surprised when he heard our ages. Time is a flexible thing with Alzheimer's. He recovered, though, and said, "You look good!" There is a noticeable decline since I saw him last. He is in a wheelchair now and struggled to remove the knife and fork from the napkin the restaurant had wrapped it in. When he finally just gave up and sat looking at his plate, I took the bundle and got the utensils sorted out for him, and was sad to see how little he ate.  He confused my two youngest sisters when we asked about them, and I know it won't be long before he has trouble remembering who we are. But for now he was happy to have us there. When my BIL told him he'd had a nice conversation with my younger son who is studying to be a mechanical engineer, my father perked up and said, "I was a mechanical engineer!" I hope that important part of his identity is one of the last memories to go for him. Dad has stage IV prostate cancer but, because of his dementia, is not aware of either the cancer or how little time he has left. The amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles that choke his brain make him live in a very moment-by-moment way. The formerly scarred and angry man appears to be perfectly at peace and grateful for small pleasures. And in turn, I am grateful for that gift hidden in a brutal disease. The man at the Christmas tree store was right - there is so much in this world to be thankful for. Sometimes, it's just a matter of looking for the blessings.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

An incomplete list for today.

My remarkable sons
Wonderful friends
Pretty good health
My cozy little house
Anticipating a visit from family
Work I enjoy most of the time
That dark chocolate, red wine and hot coffee are now health foods
My trusty, battered Prius
Being invited to share the holiday dinner with a dear friend's family
The ability to immerse myself in a book
The scent of evergreens
Reminders of places I've traveled
A warm bubble bath
The promise of spring

Sunday, November 23, 2014

"Time doth flit; oh, shit." (Dorothy Parker)

I always loved this photo, because in many ways the roles should have been reversed. The little devil in this picture was more steady and eager to please, the angelic one more mischief-filled. When they were young, time-outs were the consequence of choice. As a toddler, my older son would cry during his minute or two of isolation, and then when asked if he knew why he was in time out for hitting me, he would say tearfully, "Rule no hitting." In contrast, my younger son would sit in the time out singing gleefully, "I feel! I feel! I feel like a morning star!" I would have to duck around the corner so he wouldn't see me laughing.

I found a journal I'd started a little more than a year after this picture, when the kids were 6 and 3. It was only a few pages long, but included this bit about an upcoming school dance:
[My older son] has been practicing his moves for the dance.  He told me in alarm this afternoon, "You have to dance with someone!"  I acknowledged that this was the case and he said darkly, "I hope it's not wedding dancing."

And later, this:
He spotted a New Yorker cartoon with an abstract Picaso-esque room filled with women's torsos and said in surprise, "There are nipples! and breasts! and front private parts! Women's private bumpy parts!"

This same kid is now living with his girlfriend and planning a life with her after they graduate in May. I called him Friday to wish him a happy birthday, and talked about how 21 years ago, we lay awake that first night staring at each other. I distinctly remember that powerful feeling of recognition that I had looking at his serious face. I'd have known him anywhere.

And the cherub? The journal has this: 
Then he took a tumble down a steep hill, after refusing my hand.  Sort of slid on his back, bonking his head lightly. This traumatized him to the point, apparently, of renouncing books forever ("I never want any more books!"), stating that Sawyer Bear, who was with us during the walk, would now have the same name as his own, demanding to be carried and insisting that we go home where I would install him on the couch with his pillow and blanket, bring him chocolate caramel milk and let him watch "the video with Joshua on the potty." I complied.

He didn't stick to his anti-book proclamation, however, and went on to become the first 1st grader at his school to rack up 100 Accelerated Reader points. This was partially due to reading, on his own, the first three Harry Potter books that year. When I saw him this weekend, he came in after his chemistry lab final and then said he'd like to stop in on his way to visit his brother Wednesday and asked, "Might there be cake?" Well, of course - how often do you turn 18?

My Thanksgiving birthday boys are now birthday men, and I couldn't be happier with them.  The last bit of that aborted journal is a recounting of this argument, which I did my best not to get dragged into, between my older and younger sons when they were supposed to be going to sleep:

YS: "Dreams come from your head and your mind."
OS: "Dreams come from your heart."
YS: "No actually, dreams come from your head."
OS: "Heart!"
YS: "Head!"
OS: "Heart!"
YS: "Head!"
OS: "Heart!"
YS: "Head!"
OS: "Mom, tell him."
Me: "You're both right."
OS: "I know, the pictures come from your heart but the story comes 
         from your head.  Oh, WHY did we have to tie?"
YS: "Mommy, tell me the truth."
Me: "I think they are both involved."
YS: "The pictures are in your heart [brother], and the words are 
         in your mind."
OS: "You are SO right!  That's what I was saying."

My dreams do indeed come from my heart and my mind. And in this case, also from my womb.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Last bed, I promise.

This photo of the back of the house was from the pictures when the house was for sale. The little door leads to the crawlspace and the white fence adjoins my neighbor's fence.
I was going to leave it alone, but I have this tiller and a weird amount of energy.
The idea started when I found that wooden walk board, used with scaffolding, under the house. Meant to be a trellis, obviously. I have a Sweet Autumn clematis at it's base, which should have loads of fragrant white flowers. I was out of cardboard, so I had to add a section at a time as I acquired more.
In all the front beds, I used the original two truckloads of hardwood mulch. But for this back bed, I bought bags of pine bark mulch because I didn't need a whole truckload worth. And it was easier to transport to the back yard by the bag.
I just bought some cement pavers since there were just two small paths I needed to make and I was running out of the other flat stones. The first is a path to the water spigot. More transplanted hostas are in the corner, along with some ferns (most of them still hidden, just planted as tubers).
The other path goes to the crawlspace door. In the corner shaded by the huge oak are an azalea and rhododendron. I have various bulbs in the bed as well.
The "after." I don't plan to do other mulched beds in the back, but at least this one, once the plants fill in, will look a little less barren.

Friday, November 14, 2014

I'll slap a coat of paint on anything.

When I moved in, the backyard had a broken cement birdbath with a little statue in it. Not. My. Style. Out it went. But the one I bought to replace it, while beautiful, was lighter-weight and less stable.
I took a sledge hammer to the cement bowl of the old birdbath to brace the base of the new one. And then spray-painted it brown to make it look like dirt and then transplanted some ivy around it. It's funny to me to watch birds splashing around next to the ceramic frog.
I also found a rusting wheelbarrow under the house and decided I had the perfect use for it. But first, paint.  After drilling drain holes in the bottom, I painted the floor of it with red rustoleum to keep the rust at bay, and covered the white handles and wheels with bronze paint.
Planted in it are two of my favorite plants which are both wickedly invasive. In the spring and summer, there will be purple flowers on the vinca and lovely light pink Mexican evening primrose. And both will be safely contained in the wheelbarrow instead of taking over my yard.
I got these two pots to go with the larger one. Blueberry bushes are in two of them, and the empty one in the photo now holds a raspberry bush. I found a couple of pots the right size on sale, but they were a color I wasn't crazy about. No problem - I have paint!
After drilling drain holes, I painted them mottled shades of brown and green to mimic their companion pot. The technique was experimental but I was pleased with how it turned out. The funny part is that I didn't actually buy paint for any of these projects - I've just been using up what I already had in my garage.