Sunday, December 29, 2013

Hanging on to Christmas

The way I see the world, Christmas lasts right through New Year's Day. I suppose one reason I can't let it go is that I'm never quite ready for it, so I spend most of the time before Christmas in a state of denial that lasts right up until December 24.

I'm usually still in bed at 9 a.m. that day when I tune in public radio's Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols from King's College in Cambridge, England. The announcer solemnly intones a description of the service, the music, and the scene (it's 4 p.m. and the shadows are lengthening), and then comes the sound of one young boy soprano filling the chapel with the opening of "Once in Royal David's City." I always imagine the chosen boy, nervous beyond anything in his life to this point, in the moments before he sings. And he always sings like an angel. The hymn builds in strength and volume through five verses until the whole choir and the congregation have joined in and the organ has added both bass and treble, and when it all comes to an end you can hear people shifting position, probably from standing to sitting, and someone reads a Bible passage. I often continue listening, but none of the rest has the same impact on me. Christmas has begun.

When I think back to my childhood Christmases, I do remember gathering with the family to open presents, both on Christmas Eve (presents from the family) and Christmas morning (from Santa). It was nice, but I don't recall the glow or thrill that some people report. I never spent time paging through the Sears catalog to pick out a specific doll or dress or toy. My younger brothers were always eager to get on with the opening of gifts. They probably asked for toys they saw advertised on television. One year they snooped around and found their gifts--and thereby spoiled their own fun.

But my strongest Christmas memories begin when I was a bit older. At 12 or so, I began to play the organ for the elementary school girls' choir, and we worked a few Christmas carols into our repertoire. I played throughout high school, and we always sang the 11 a.m. high mass on Christmas Day. I came to love the music, and the performing of it. But the parish men's choir was my favorite; I would stay awake with my radio on to hear them sing at midnight mass. Finally, when I attended my first two years of college in my home town, I got to play for them as well. The music was beautiful, and participating in it was a glorious experience. I'm no longer a church-going person, but that music--a combination of Gregorian chant and lovely classic carols--is at the heart of my Christmas memories. It's why I love the annual Lessons and Carols broadcast and it's why the Christmas playlist on our iPod includes not only Willy Nelson and Barbra Streisand and Manhattan Transfer (and oh so many others) but also classical groups like the King's College Choir.

On Christmas Eve this year, I happened to leave the television running after the 10 p.m. news. NBC began to broadcast a tape of midnight mass from St. Peter's Basilica in Rome. I went to turn it off, but something caught my ear. The choir was singing part of the mass, which I recognized as the Gloria. I didn't think I recognized the version. But suddenly I was singing along. Words and melody came out of my mouth though I swear they weren't in my head. I sat down and watched for a while. The service did not move me. But the music left me thinking about, or more accurately feeling, Christmases past and experiences that were an important part of who I was/am.

As I mentioned at the beginning of this memoir, I try to stay in Christmas mode well after The Day. And so I continue to revel in my Christmas memories and in the warmth of this year's particularly wonderful celebrations. I was planning to tell you about those celebrations today, in this post, but now that I've lingered so long in the past, that story will have to wait.

I hope you, too, have some special memories to warm your heart at what happens, at least here in Minnesota, to be a VERY cold time! 

-- Nancy

P.S. The heart ornament at top is one of a dozen hand-embroidered ornaments made for me by my mother shortly before she died. The tree with green ribbon was made by Jeanie at The Marmelade Gypsy, and the round "Froliche Weinachten" came from Connie at Far Side of Fifty. There's a story behind it

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Writing a book...and celebrating

Just two of our 68 horses
Twenty-five years ago this month, my husband Peter and I flew to a New York auction and bought the former Minnesota State Fair carousel. We carried a letter of credit from US Bank for more than a million dollars; it was a loan to our nonprofit organization backed by the City of St. Paul. If we hadn't pulled off that purchase (and a lot of fundraising to repay the loan), the 75-year-old carousel would have been broken up and its 68 horses sold to private collectors. Instead, our volunteers have restored the carousel and operate it for the public under the name Cafesjian's Carousel. We'll celebrate its 100th birthday in 2014.

By many measures, we should not have been able to succeed.But we did, and now, all these years later, I'm writing a book about the history of the carousel including our campaign to save it. I put off this project for years, but we want the book published before the carousel opens for its centennial season on May 1. So I won't be writing a lot of inspired blog posts in the near future, but I'm trying not to disappear entirely.

for Thanksgiving.
Making pumpkin pie...
So I'm indulging myself with one sweet grandchild story. We picked up the kids after school yesterday (Friday) and brought them to our house, where their parents would pick them up an hour or two later. Both kids do lots of real cooking, but they still enjoy their toy food and make-believe cookware. Augie had decided Wednesday that we would have a tea party Friday afternoon.

Having holiday tea...
In preparation Augie laid out a scarf and a doll blanket near the Christmas tree, and on them he placed our tiny plastic tea party settings. He hauled in the big ceramic pot that he uses as a soup kettle and tossed in toy vegetables, which "cooked" for two days. We cut a real tea cake and brought out some grapes, and we used holiday mugs for individual beverage choices. Augie was so excited to stir the soup and serve the cake and make sure everyone was having a good time.

and dancing The Nutcracker
ViMae decided that her contribution would be to act out part of The Nutcracker, using the big nutcracker from our mantle. She danced with grace and joy, and then Augie joined in as the Toy Soldier and Daddy became the Mouse King. The Toy Soldier lost his sword, "Clara" threw her shoe, and the Mouse King was vanquished. Hurrah!

I relished all of this, knowing that the light was too dim to get good action shots but that the memories will live forever in the hearts of the lucky "audience." Whatever your holiday circumstances, I hope that you will rediscover some sweet memories from the past and make a few new ones to carry you forward. 

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Sometimes life gives you a little push...

My trendy new glasses
I am a procrastinator. Not about everything, just about things I don't really want to do or can't quite figure out how to do. Which covers quite a lot, I must admit. Sometimes when I delay making a choice, fate intervenes and does it for me, and most of the time things work out for the best. Or at least it feels that way.

Case in point, I was overdue for an eye exam. My doctor has been monitoring me for potential macular degeneration and potential glaucoma. Once a year he puts me through a lot of tests and says my sight hasn't changed enough for new glasses. This guy is very popular; it takes months to get an appointment with him. So I have wanted to believe I was getting the best care, but something was bugging me.

As I was leaving my appointment last year, I mentioned to the tech that I wasn't given a new prescription for eyeglasses, but I was certain my vision was a little worse. The tech said, "Well, that won't change until you have surgery." Huh? At the time, I didn't even want to know what that meant. My eyes were dilated and I needed to manage to drive home, and I decided I'd think about it "later."

To tell the truth I avoided thinking about it. But I noticed last spring that I couldn't read road signs until I was right upon them...something I'd have taken for granted except that Peter could read them from much farther away. And at the ballpark, he would point out an ad on the outfield fence and I couldn't read it.

I was due for my usual exam in September--a visual field test on one day followed by a dilated exam by The Doctor Himself a few days later. Around that time my clinic sent a letter announcing that they would be adding another doctor in January and I could feel free to set up an appointment with him. I wasn't sure...would he be any good? Should I leave My Doctor? I never got around to deciding.

One morning a couple of weeks ago I got out of the car in the Perkins parking lot, tripped, and fell. On my face. Again. I wasn't badly damaged this time, but my glasses were scratched enough to impair my vision--which, as we know, wasn't that good to begin with. So after breakfast Peter drove me to Lenscrafters. I had never used them, but he has been very impressed with their service and speed, both of which appealed to me at the moment. They couldn't repair the old glasses, but they could get me in the very next day for an eye exam with an eye practice located right there in their shop. I said okay. I thought I'd let them test my vision and get some glasses, and then probably see my regular guy about the bigger problems.

To his credit, the optometrist I saw the next day did a very thorough exam. Moreover, he was using more modern equipment than my regular doctor has, and he was able to show me pictures of a very slight spot in the macula, and slight narrowing of the ocular nerve, sometimes associated with glaucoma. He wants me back in a couple of months to see whether there are changes.

Meanwhile, though, he asked whether my regular doctor had ever mentioned cataracts. And there it was. No, I said, he never mentioned them but his tech said something about surgery.

"I recommend you get at least your left eye done within a couple of months. I'm referring you to a surgeon; her office will call you."

He wasn't even going to prescribe new glasses, since the scrip will change after surgery. But I needed them, and I already had learned that Lenscrafters will replace your lenses free if your prescription changes within three months. So I'm sporting new glasses (which marginally improve my vision and aren't all scratched up and besides, I like them) and I'll be having cataract surgery before long. Friends tell me it's not a big deal, though I will be nervous about the chance of something going wrong. On the other hand, there is a big chance that my vision will be a whole lot better!

This new doctor said the macular degeneration shouldn't be an issue, at least for a long time yet. And if glaucoma seems to be a threat, he'll start medication.

Maybe if I had seen my regular eye doctor I'd have learned all this and be in the same situation I'm in now. But I've made the change and I'm not looking back. The new doctor and the surgeon are both covered under my health insurance plan, I'm moving forward, and with any luck I'll see even better one of these days. I thank the universe for pushing me into this, but I'd rather not fall again for a while, if you don't mind.

One more thing...Lenscrafters employees are unusually helpful and personable, but that's not why I wrote this. They were just a supporting cast in this particular little drama. Still, they could teach all businesses a few things about customer relations. :)

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Happy Thanksgivukkah...

Two of my favorite people built a menorah from a Lego kit. They also made the pumpkin pies for today's dinner. They lead my list of things for which I am thankful today. Sending warm wishes your way.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Fifty years ago today

I was coming out of a journalism class at Marquette University when a couple of classmates bounded up the stairs shouting, “The President has been shot!”

I don’t think they said the word “dead,” or if they did I wasn’t going to believe it without knowing more. The students in question were editors of the campus newspaper, and they were headed for the closet where a venerable teletype machine clattered out breaking news. As soon as new information came across the wire, they would be able to rip the story off the machine. But I didn’t wait around.

I walked in a daze to my dorm. I looked—maybe stared—at every person I passed, wondering whether they had heard the news. It didn’t seem that anyone had. I turned on my radio—it never occurred to me to go downstairs to the TV lounge where a group was gathering.. I listened, wanting answers that never came. How could this happen, in this country, in this day and age? That was the day my generation lost its innocence.

I left early Friday evening for a religious retreat, where we spent the weekend in prayer and silent meditation. By the time I got back to my dorm Sunday, Lyndon Johnson was president, Lee Harvey Oswald was dead, and Marquette had decided to close early for Thanksgiving. So I boarded a Greyhound for an overnight 14-hour trip home. The rest of the world had been watching television, absorbing heart-wrenching scenes and shocking details, and dealing with their thoughts and emotions. But I had been in two alternate universes—a retreat and a bus trip.

When I got home, the television was on. I saw JFK’s casket lying in state as people filed by in tears. I watched the funeral, learned the word cortege, was haunted by the riderless horse. I saw Jackie, Bobby, and Teddy striding down the street looking grimly determined and, I thought, angry. And why shouldn’t they be? Within days, Life magazine brought out a special issue; I rushed to buy it and I paged through it again and again, soaking in the photos. At a church bazaar the Saturday after Thanksgiving I heard some women talking about Jackie—how she had been so brave, how she hadn’t seemed to cry, how when you looked at the pictures you could see her sadness and you knew she had indeed cried. They were relieved to know she was real.

Through it all, for days and weeks, it stayed with me, a sense that something was terribly wrong. I know now that it was grief, pure and simple. Grief for a president I didn’t appreciate until he was gone, grief for his family whose beauty could not protect them from tragic loss, and grief for our nation, which no longer seemed so shiny and promising.

At the time, I thought something had changed. Today I would say Camelot was an illusion, that ugliness and privilege and corruption and violence were present behind the gauzy curtains and JFK’s death merely showed us what was possible. Pearl Harbor had been a shock for my parents’ generation, and the attacks of 9/11 would have a similar effect on my daughter’s generation. But that doesn’t change the fact that I was profoundly sad.

Today as I write this I recall details from 1963 and I recall how I was again brought to tears just a few years ago by exhibits and films at the Sixth Floor Museum at the old Texas Book Depository. Fifty years after John Kennedy’s assassination, I am feeling that same grief again. I am wishing that my grandchildren would never have to learn that the unthinkable can indeed happen right here in the USA. And I know that wish will not come true.

Monday, November 18, 2013

On being silly (again)

I first posted this in October 2009, and I think of it often. It was my first introspective piece, on a skill I was happily incorporating into my life. 

I don't know how old I was when my mother started telling me, "Don't be silly," and "Act your age," but by the time I was a teenager I had pretty much translated the message into "Be dignified at all times." The St. Paul Saints have a slogan, "Fun is Good," and once they sold a shirt that said "B Silly," but before I realized that it was the perfect antidote to my internal voices, it sold out.

Still, I did learn to relax and take chances and let loose once in a while. And I've taken it to new heights with the grandbabies. I make up silly songs and do wacky dances and roll around on the floor and wear goofy hats (not to mention bowls and other things-that-aren't-hats) for their amusement and participation. Yesterday when Augie said, "C'mon, Grandma, jump on my bed with me," I did (cautiously, of course). A few months ago on a blustery day in New York, we went to the theater, but I also stopped to pose with Elmo (he was posing with tourists for a dollar). The kids were briefly VERY impressed. These days I think to myself, Darn it, Mom, I am acting my age.

Ironically, when my mom was 55 or 60, her older sister told her one day to "stop acting silly," and she was stung by the criticism. She did have a hint of a silly streak, and it was part of the reason people liked her. It helped her reach out to people, put them at ease, and generate a good time. At my 8th grade picnic at a lakeside pavilion, the jukebox didn't work so my mother started a rousing chorus of "Roll Out the Barrel." Kids loved it; lots of them got up and danced the hop-twice-on-each-foot ordeal we called the polka. On that day, I was embarrassed by her "silliness," but I was just-turned-14, so it doesn't count. If she were alive today, I think we'd both get silly with the little ones.

Bottom line, some silliness is good. Lots of silliness might even be better. Fun is definitely good. And while I'm all for ensuring children's safety and good behavior, I hope I never hear myself telling a child to "act your age" or "stop being silly." We need to be able to drop our pretenses sometimes, to let the inner child show through, to risk looking foolish, to try out ideas that might fail...or might succeed in unimaginable ways. B silly.

P.S. The kids are no longer babies, but we still dress up, dance around, play games. We may not be quite as silly as when they were tiny toddlers but we never stop ourselves because of embarrassment. To me, that's a big Win! 

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Breakfast of champions

Guilty pleasure: Reese's Peanut Butter Cups and banana
All due respect to Wheaties (for which the phrase "Breakfast of Champions" is trademarked), I don't consider them a healthy breakfast. I much prefer oat cereal. Peter cooks steel-cut oats three mornings a week when the kids are here, and we doctor it with plain yogurt, cinnamon, a little brown sugar, almonds, bananas, and/or blueberries.  Last summer at the lake, their mom cooked oatmeal every morning with applies and raisins, and she pre-cooked the brown sugar with a little butter. It was heavenly.

To my surprise, I discovered that dry cereals calling themselves Oat This and Oat That often have more wheat than oats. I just don't trust wheat anymore; it's been modified until it produces huge crops that aren't good for us. As I read somewhere (and I wish I could remember where because it helped clarify my thinking: It's not your grandmother's wheat anymore.When I want to grab a dry cereal, I've turned to plain Cheerios. Sometimes I experiment with a more exotic granola-type cereal; right now I'm eating something with flax seeds and quinoa.

But as you may have guessed, I'm really here to talk about a guilty pleasure.

In the 1970s, General Mills (who happen to make both Wheaties and Cheerios) opened a small chain of Betty Crocker Pie Shops. The first time I ate there, I fell in love with Peanut Butter-Banana Cream Pie. When I returned for it I learned they only made it occasionally, and the pie shop staff had no idea when it would appear again. I got into the habit of calling, and if it was on the menu I was there.

The chain didn't last long, and I never cared enough to try making peanut butter-banana cream pie on my own. But about 10 years ago I found myself with some Reese's Peanut Butter Cups on hand after Halloween. I took them to the office. On the same day, I happened to take a banana. The banana wasn't unusual because I never managed to eat breakfast at home.

On that magical day I got the bright idea of taking a bite of banana and then a bite of Peanut Butter Cup. Woohoo! Instant taste treat. And instant guilty pleasure. The candy is overloaded with sugar, coloring, preservatives, emulsifiers, who knows what. I will pay a price; fibromyalgia will bring pins and needles to life in my left hip and maybe keep me awake tonight. For one day a year, I don't care.  

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Everyday Jet Lag

Some people are larks. Others are owls. You cannot change which one you are.

If you are a night-owl like me, you can spend a lifetime forcing yourself to get up earlier than your body wants to. You will do that through your school years, and, for most of us, through your working life. Even in retirement, you might find a reason to get up early. In my case, two wonderful grandkids show up at our kitchen door before 7 a.m. every weekday. It’s worth getting up, but it’s never easy.

Theoretically, we can drop the kids at school and be back in bed by 9 a.m. But by then it has taken so much effort to be awake and talking that I can’t just pop back into bed. Lately, when I do go back for a nap, I’ll plan on sleeping for an hour but find myself waking up three hours later. On weekends I’ve been sleeping until 11:30 unless I set an alarm. I have blamed this in part on my own biological rhythms and in part on the fact that daylight hours are becoming shorter in our part of the world. I tried going to bed earlier than usual, but I lay awake longer than if I’d stayed up..

The New York Times Magazine of October 20, 2013, reports what I’ve known for years: Scientific research shows that each individual has a unique daily biological clock, or circadian rhythm, and it’s genetic. (I’ve known this because 30-some years ago I worked with a professor at the University of Minnesota whose job included promoting awareness of chronobiology research findings.).   

In the Times story, Till Roenneberg, a professor of chronobiology at Ludwig Maximilian University in Munich and a leading expert in sleep studies, groups people into three “chronotypes,” designated as early, intermediate, and late. He and other researchers have found that late people—night owls, as my mother called me—suffer the most from having their schedules interrupted. And their schedules are interrupted often, because the world tends to favor early start times.

“If you are forced to wake up earlier than your body naturally would, you suffer from what Roenneberg calls ‘social jet lag,’” says the magazine. Various studies around the world have linked this “jet lag” to increased levels of weight gain, depression, and changes in white matter that may make the brains of night-owl types less efficient.

I pause a moment to let this sink in, for those of us whose brains have become less efficient.

The Times story reports that being a person of the night is not just a bad habit, as some might believe. It says in a study reported in the May issue of the journal Chronobiology, “researchers found that late chronotypes tended to have activity in genes that contribute to later sleep onset, offering further evidence that the urge to stay up late or to rise early is not a lifestyle choice but resides in our DNA.”

Roenneberg has a suggestion and an observation.

His advice to late chronotypes: Get outside more, because soaking up sunlight helps move most people, regardless of chronotype, toward an earlier sleep time.

In addition, he has found that Daylight Saving Time disrupts sleep for everyone, but especially for us late people. “Everybody sleeps better when it ends.”

I hope he is right. I am celebrating the turning back of the clocks (I wish they would just stay this way year-round).  I joined Peter to sit in the sunny (if chilly) garden for a bit this afternoon. The story didn’t mention it, but I suspect exercise helps, too, so I’ll be practicing my tap dance routines more often.  

I’m an owl in a world mostly scheduled for larks. You’d think by now I’d be used to it, but you’d be wrong!    

I found the lark-and-owl illustration on a blog by Mitch Hinz, where he wrote about his own efforts to sleep better. 

Friday, October 25, 2013

Singing from the heart

Wednesday we picked up the kids after school and brought them to our house for an hour of play until their Daddy could come get them.

For most of that time, Augie played with his beloved Lego fire department.

Then he wandered over to the guitar and began to strum. And to sing a song he seemed to be making up on the spot. It went something like this:

Daddy and I have a lot in common.
We love games - board and video.
We love books - comic and chapter.
We love to go to Fort Snelling.
[then a few more things, and then]
Daddy I aDORE you
I'll always be there FOR you.

Our first thought: How sweet for this little boy to make up a song to express his love for Daddy. Our second thought: What a clever use of language. The parallel construction in those lines about games and books seems pretty sophisticated. And the last two lines make your heart melt. As we praised the song, he told us he borrowed the last lines from Phineas and Ferb, an animated series the kids watch. Great choice, we said.

We said Augie should sing the song to his dad. Immediately he wanted to orchestrate it. He would play the drums, Peter should play guitar, Vi and I would pick up other instruments. We countered that this should be a "quiet song," without the big drum kit. But Augie was busy trying to teach Peter, and then Vi, how to play guitar accompaniment: "You strum the lower notes fast, like this, and then two high notes slow." I realized later the two high notes were for the words adore and for. I should note that the guitar is untuned and missing a string so all its music is, shall we say, approximate. Augie began conducting us, using all the techniques he's picked up from his music teacher.

As this was going on, Eric (also known as Daddy) came in. We called him to the living room and had him sit on the couch. Augie suddenly wasn't talking, so I said, "Daddy, Augie has a special song for you."

At that Augie said, "I get a little queasy singing for everybody. I want this to be one-to-one, me and Dad." Peter and I quickly went to the kitchen, out of view but not out of earshot.

Accompanying himself on guitar, Augie sang the song just like he had the first time. As he sang, he kept moving a little closer until he was maybe four feet in front of his one-man audience. He kept his eyes on his dad and never noticed that now we could see him from the kitchen. It was the sweetest thing. It will be in my memory forever. I know it will live in his dad's heart, too. Plus Eric captured it on his iPhone, so he can watch and listen any time he wants.

Peter and I have both been saying that Augie has music in him. We've shown him that there are ways to make exactly the notes you want, and ways to write down the notes you want, and we've said we'll help him with that whenever he's ready. So far he's happy just to sing and play from the heart. And really, what more could you want?

Augie and Daddy at Star Lake this summer

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Life lessons from the castle

Once upon a time, in a land far away, some jumbo cardboard crates were filled with appliances and sent to the United States of America, where they made their way to our house. The boxes were cut into lovely large pieces of cardboard and set aside, full of potential for any number of activities.

The princess and the knight-defender-cook (and the iPad)
At first, two slabs of cardboard were used as side-by-side play areas for building Lego sets. They kept each child's pieces separate from the other's. Equally important, they provided a neutral background where the tiny pieces won't be lost against the pattern of the living-room carpet. They worked so well that we knew they'd be around as long as there are children and new Lego sets.

Meanwhile the children propped the cardboard against furniture and crawled beneath, pretending to be muskrats hiding from predators. Their structures grew taller and became a fort. Grandpa found more slabs and it became a castle where one child is usually a fantasy princess and the other a knight fiercely protecting against armies of invaders.

Defensive weapons April 2012
The castle roof was flat at first. The knight-defender would fortify it with all kinds of improvised weapons and vehicles. These were heavy and the structure unstable, so the whole thing often crashed to the floor without warning.
New improved Cardboard Castle

Enter Velcro. Grandpa has made the castle stronger but we can still collapse it, to clean or to allow grownups to use the living room or to use the pieces flat when new Legos arrive. He also made the whole thing a little bigger and expanded the roof so it can be either flat or peaked. At the children's request, he added a row of windows (for defense, they said), a "secret" back door, inside and outside latches on the main door, and a room divider.

Some food and dishes
The children immediately filled every bit of space, hauling in pillows, blankets, chairs, and their play food and cooking implements. The castle is down right now, but when it's rebuilt the knight-defender wants to leave out the room divider so he can bring in the table that matches their chairs. That's because the knight often cooks for himself and the princess. They talk over their "meals" and their conversations are increasingly interesting.

A week ago, I crept into the living room and sat on the couch listening in. As quickly as he could invent a dish, she would toss it out the window to feed the dragons. He was beginning to get impatient with this generosity. I tuned out for a while, and then I heard this from the knight-defender-cook:

"Vi, you can't live on rainbows. That's why I'm making bread."

She is a rainbow girl, a dreamer, a child who tells you in the same breath that she knows dragons are make-believe and that yes, she wants a real one for a pet. He is a different kind of dreamer, with an imagination that expresses itself more concretely in Lego inventions and a complete menu and business plan for the smoothie shop he wants to run some day.

I love his declaration, because it shows the contrast between them, and because it encapsulates one of the balances we all need to strive for. Let's do what we need to do, and let's have a few rainbows along the way.

This post is linked to the GRAND Social. Follow the link to meet more blogging grandparents.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Fall's feathered friends

As summer flowers fade away, nature compensates. The garden, along with trees and feeders, is atwitter with more birds than we've seen in months. Some had traveled north for the summer (a  tradition shared by many Minnesota humans). Many who stay find their own food sources in summer. And for a time an aggressive house sparrow was patrolling "his" territory, chasing away any bird that ventured in. More about him later.

Anyway, we looked out one September day and began to notice feathered friends we hadn't seen for a while, and we were happy to welcome them back.

Mourning dove in hiding
* Mourning doves--five or six of them--gather here every day. They roost in the big horse chestnut tree, scavenge under the main feeder, and occasionally perch--one or two at a time--on the feeder itself. They seem too large to fit comfortably, yet there they sit.

* Goldfinches are back in large number, mostly showing their winter olive drab. On sunny afternoons a few bustle among the seedheads of the coneflowers outside my office window, and each day our finch feeder is busy.

* Woodpeckers, both downy and hairy, have returned to the feeders and at least one is busy tapping on metal drainpipes. I wonder whether they ever shake loose a tasty insect.

Nuthatch being gymnastic
* Nuthatches have reappeared; when they're gone we miss the graceful arc of their heads as they peer from their upside-down perch.

* Black-capped chickadees are announcing their return, though they should never have left. Our nesting box was intended for them, and last spring a pair seemed about to move in. That's when a house sparrow, as they are wont to do, chased them off and began nest-building with his female partner. We watched for days as they brought grass, string, and bits of paper (he repeatedly brought one too-large piece and she repeatedly tossed it out). Our attention to this soap opera (The Young and the Nestless, of course) was interrupted by a weekend away, and when we returned, things were quiet. Too quiet. Then at mid-day a handful of crows visited, nosing around the nesting box and being loudly reprimanded by one mad sparrow. We think they had come before and had gotten the female sparrow just before she laid her eggs. When we opened the box later to check, there was a clean, empty nest. That's why during much of the summer we had one male sparrow and virtually no chickadees.   

Cardinal pair last winter
* Cardinals, in the neighborhood all summer, brought wonderful surprises. We have seen several sets of fledglings in our yard, sometimes accompanied by an adult who seemed to be teaching them to find food. One day we watched as an adult and fledgling came together for a moment, beak to beak. "Awww," I said, touched by this moment of seeming tenderness. I immediately told myself not to anthropomorphize them, but when I saw it happen weeks later, with a different parent and fledgling, I said "Awww" again. 

Last week I heard the characteristic "tsk" that tells me an adult cardinal is nearby with its young. When I looked up from my desk, a bright red male was on the fence looking directly toward me, repeating its "tsk" as if to warn me away--or invite me to watch? Moments later 10 or 12 small brownish birds were sitting all along the fence. I wondered whether they were some kind of sparrow.

Young house sparrows
I grabbed the nearest camera and shot--through the screen, into harsh light and shadow, the camera refusing to auto-focus on the tiny figures and the good camera out of reach. More than a good photo, I needed an image I could enlarge in order to identify these birds. Twice they returned in smaller numbers, and I got this better photo. When I published this two days ago, I was looking at their beaks and thinking they were baby cardinals.

Then I realized there is no trace of a crest, so I edited the post to say they were probably finches. But the observant Willow has pointed out in a comment that they are, in fact, house sparrows. Which is ironic, because it was a house sparrow--maybe their dad?--that chased away other birds this summer. We know they are typically aggressive, and they aren't the neighbors we hope for. But they were here at least twice in the presence of adult cardinals, so maybe we really did have multiple families on hand.

In any event, I hope nature is bringing you a few pleasant surprises.

P.S. The day I saw these guys drinking water that had cycled through the planter I drained it and put out a separate pan of fresh water.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Pearly days

We are in the midst of at least two weeks of glorious weather in Saint Paul, Minnesota. Sunny, pleasantly warm, highs in the 70s and low 80s--a string of ideal late-September pearls. 

This is the kind of day that inspires hope for a long, mild, blazing-orange autumn. The kind of day that starts us planning a long drive in the countryside to admire the fall colors--which will be a little late this year, we're told. The kind of day that makes us think maybe this year we'll get the whole garden properly put to bed before the ground freezes. The kind of day that prompts me to make another batch of iced tea and to put off thoughts of making soup, or chili.

Things don't look spectacular--summer flowers are about gone, greenery is turning brown, fall colors, as I mentioned, will be late. But sunshine and warmth are everything. Sleeping with the windows wide open? Amazing. Sitting here at the computer with summer-like breezes wafting in? Totally seductive.

In fact, something about this better-than-seasonable weather has made me put aside most of my to-do list and just soak it in. We have picked up the kids after school a couple of times each week and sat at the playground while they run and climb and laugh, and each time we think, "This could be the last time they go barefoot this season." We sip iced tea in the garden and think, "This could be the end of tee-shirt weather."

So that's the other side of the conflict that takes place in the mind of a Minnesotan. Enjoy today, because tomorrow will be cold and horrible. Or maybe, just maybe, this lovely weather will last a while.

In any case I've been enjoying it, and my to-do list has come up a bit short. Which is my excuse for not posting in almost three weeks. Some people get spring fever; I think I have fall fever.

Oh, and my computer malfunctioned last week and had to be repaired. I just realized I can't post any pictures until I move my files around again. So I'm limited to words for a while.

I hope whatever season you're in is an enjoyable one.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Quack! Bawk! It's a kindergartener!

Last week, proud of climbing
Peter's cell phone quacked at about 7:15 this morning. That's his ringtone for calls from Abby, and as he reached for the phone I guessed, correctly, "It's ViMae checking in before her first day of kindergarten."

She was calling via FaceTime, giving us a view of a bright smiling face and giving her a view of two doting grandparents looking a bit sleepy. She immediately volunteered that she was nervous. I asked if she was excited, and she replied emphatically, "No, nervous." I told her it was okay to be nervous because starting school is a big new thing, and we both assured her she'd be fine.

A quick cuddle with Pa
A while later, Abby (who took a day off from work to accompany Vi to school on her first day) sent us a couple of photos (see one of them below). In them I see the girl who has grown from a wailing infant to a supremely self-confident kid. She's a girly-girl who loves pink and princesses and who hurtles around playground equipment with astonishing strength and stamina. The other photos here are from last week, when we actually went to two playgrounds in one day (and shared a malt with lunch).

She has grown up knowing that her brother is a champion early reader and who decided she was not interested in competing, so she still doesn't read much. But she has the same amazing command of vocabulary and excellent recall of the many complex stories their parents have read to them including Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings (plus Star Wars and other movies). She also has her own highly developed original story-telling skill. Where Augie is shy and reticent, she rushes to meet any potential new friend and instantly establishes a bond. While he always hated crafts, she revels in them and even recently got him involved in "decorating for a party."

Her preschool teachers told her parents that Vi was a great student--quick to learn, cooperative, cheerful, observant. I have no reason to think she won't bring all those traits to kindergarten. She, however, is busy lowering expectations. Last week I asked what she was looking forward to most. "Recess," she deadpanned like a pro, "and lunch."

Ready for school!
Some time this past summer, Vi picked up a couple of new habits. She squints in a look of disapproval...what we call the "stinkeye." Other times she bawks like a chicken. Sometimes she uses that as a way to avoid a conversation that is either uncomfortable or boring.

Last week, Pa talked with her about not using the stinkeye on her kindergarten teacher. During our FaceTime conversation this morning, he began to remind her of that. ViMae's reply: "Bawk."

We laughed and she laughed. We wished her well and said we loved her. She said, "Me, too, bye," and ended the call.

When we checked in at the end of the day she reported she'd already made a new friend named Annabelle, who is also pretty good at bawking. Tomorrow we get to deliver both Vi and Augie to school, and neither one will be nervous.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Mad dogs and Englishmen

I’m enjoying the display put on by the phlox in my garden and decided to share some more photos.

Meanwhile, we’ve been planning lots of activities for the two weeks the grandkids are with us for daycare before they start school. That time is here…and so is the heat. And humidity. And we all know “It’s not the heat, it’s the humidity,” right?

Both kids will be with us this week, and Vi next week. They need activity out of doors, but it’s mostly going to be in the mornings, before the temps reach 100 and the heat index goes higher than that. After all, as Noel Coward said, “Mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun.” The rest of us, at least here in Minnesota, are delicate flowers who wilt easily and drop our petals.

So instead of heading to the State Fair right away on Monday, we’ll hold off until Wednesday or Thursday, when the highs should only be around 90. We’ll visit Hidden Falls Park on the Mississippi River one day, and go indoors to the Maya exhibit at the Science Museum one day. We have a couple of other surprises in mind, plus our usual trip to China Restaurant, where the kids devour steamed dumplings and lo mein and we order enough to bring home leftovers.

Even with all that, we’ll have lots of time just to play here at home. The kids will be happy to be reunited with their toys, and Peter and I will be happy for our air conditioning, even as we hate its effect on the environment.

I’m going to experiment with recording these activities using the Camera+ app for my iPhone, which I learned about from my blog friend DJan, I’ve been complaining about the quality of my iPhone photos, and this app seems to address many of the problems. I’ll let you see what I learn.

I notice that I once wrote about the finality that the end of August brings. At this moment, I don’t seem to mind the coming transition to September and autumn. How about you?

Monday, August 19, 2013

Staying in vacation mode

You know you've had a good vacation when two weeks later you're still in vacation mode. That's me...relaxed, taking baby steps on a couple of projects that will dominate the coming year, and mostly spending my time on gardening and grandkids.

After all, the flowers in the sunny part of the garden were pretty spectacular when we returned from the lake. It's only logical to spend time admiring them, and also to care for them while the season is still upon us (Minnesota gardening is a short-term opportunity). Peter has been helping me reclaim more patches from the weeds and solidify our claim with bags and bags of mulch. It's work, but it's the kind of thing I did for fun back when I was employed. In my head it's exactly like being on vacation. 

Just today an online news-gathering service called MinnPost ran a story saying there is very little research evidence to show that vacations have lasting value. Studies seem to show that people walk back into the workplace and pick up the stresses pretty quickly. It happened to me when I was working; I hated feeling the tension and toxins returning to my system.

Now I have a book to write and a centennial celebration to head up--I'll tell you more soon--and there will be stresses. But I'm determined to build relaxation and renewal into my days, and to start every day being grateful instead of stressed. I guess that's what I learned on my summer vacation.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Best. Vacation. Ever.

The last Saturday in July didn't look like a promising start for our family vacation at Star Lake, in north central Minnesota. The weather was cool as we left home, and we were heading three hours north. Forecasts said the temperature would drop to 41 degrees overnight. I packed extra fleece shirts, extra sox, a pair of gloves, a windbreaker. At the last minute I left my winter jacket at home. If it was that cold, I'd just stay inside.

A typically gentle Star Lake sunset
I'm happy to say the forecasts were wrong, and our week was pleasantly warm. The six of us--grandparents, parents, and youngsters--were able to swim, kayak, fish, bike, hike, and enjoy nature's wonders to our hearts' content. Sometimes Abby and Eric took the children out--for a boat ride or a hike or a trip to town--while Peter and I had some quiet time. By the same token, he and I took them fishing or looking for snapping turtles or we played games at the cabin so Mom and Dad could venture off on their own. Peter and I have been home for three days and we're still talking about what a wonderful time we had.

A few favorite memories:

Enjoying the ride, working up an appetite
* See that shopping bag on the pontoon boat? Abby filled it with "provisions" when Peter and I took the kids fishing. She meant for all of us to share, but Peter and I weren't very hungry and we didn't stop them, so they felt as though they got away with something. Ask them what they liked best about our vacation and one of them is sure to say, "Eating all the provisions on the boat."

* Pontoon boats are great--easier for us older people to climb on and off, easier for kids because they can move around, easier to take "provisions," cameras, and other stuff along. But they're designed and sold as party boats. All the seats face in, making it awkward to fish. The kids preferred dock fishing, where we catch tiny sunfish and throw them back "to feed the snapping turtles."    

* Augie and Vi love being outdoors and seeing wildlife, whether it's with their dad's family in Montana or with mom's in Minnesota. Loons, herons, beavers, snapping turtles, deer--or bison, mountain goats, pronghorns. They know them on sight and can tell you where they live and what they eat. And maybe what their scat looks like.

Eric paddling in after tipping the kayak
* Our grandkids love the water. Their enthusiasm and confidence as they swim, or jump off the raft, or climb aboard the paddle boat, is inspiring to these grandparents, who never shared that confidence. Star Lake is a deep glacial gash with very little shallow area, so the kids wear life vests and we grownups set a good example by doing the same. 

Augie and his new gymnastic trick
* Augie impressed us all last week with his natural ability to maneuver a kayak. I embedded a few seconds of video just above. But when Peter complimented him today on this "best new skill," Augie said, "Excuse me, my best new skill is my trick." Which involves climbing onto a bar attached to the swing set, doing a sort of aerial somersault, then dropping to the ground. He demonstrated it for anyone who came along.

* When the resident loons set up a loud, constant tremolo sound, it means they have spotted a predator--often the bald eagle that visits regularly. The eagle perches atop a tall pine near the resort and eventually glides the length of the lake, just above the water. He or she is often seen taking fish, but nobody knows, or is saying, whether its prey has included young loons. From the little I've learned watching eagle nest cameras, it seems possible but not likely.

* Vi discovered a small raspberry patch planted next to our cabin. She visited twice a day looking for newly ripe berries. The berries are still tiny; we'll see whether they get larger as the plants mature or whether the birds grab them before we get the chance. Another possibility is that as summer weather varies from year to year the berries might ripen when we're not around.

* Time at the cabin is mostly a celebration of the outdoors, but we all found it a huge treat to drive about four miles into Crosslake for hand-dipped ice cream. In fact, it leads Vi's list of highlights for the week. I liked it, too, because the little ice cream shop carries toffee crunch, with the added title "butter brickle." Bridgeman's butter brickle was my favorite ice cream growing up, and it's years since I'd had any. A little online research has just revealed that I can find it several places in Minnesota, including one just a few miles from my house. 

Dinner on the river, and yes, Vi's at that stage
* We usually try to catch enough fish to have one dinner of our own fresh-caught fish. We agreed in advance that if we didn't catch enough, we'd have Wednesday night dinner at The Wharf on the river just outside Cross Lake. We sat outside where we could watch the fancy boats go by. The food, scenery, and overall experience were wonderful and we all agreed to make it a new family tradition. (We'd still like to catch a few keepers each year, but sometimes undersized panfish are the only things biting.)

* Other than one dinner out, Abby did all the cooking for five days, and when they left Peter cooked for two more days. In other words, I had virtually no kitchen responsibilities for a week, and I loved it. Now that's a vacation. 

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Notes to Myself...

Dear Self,

There's a commercial that says more photos are taken with an iPhone than any other camera. Even if that's true (and who knows, really?), that doesn't mean you should make a habit of it.

You have taken photos and video using your iPhone, and you know the quality just isn't there, especially in dim light.

You've invested in three nice SLR that would do a great job if you bothered to learn more about its features, a high-definition video camera that is light-weight and fun to use, and the little point-and-shoot that tucks into your purse and performs especially well indoors.

Kindly carry and use them if you want decent photos and video that you can post.

Snarkily yours,
The voice that says, "Really? You're gonna be satisfied with that?"

* * *

Dear Self,

Your husband turns 65 in August and is enrolled in Medicare effective August 1. When he was officially accepted and also lined up his supplemental plan, you suggested a celebration.

Since you retired two-and-a-half years ago, you've been on Medicare and he, being younger, has been covered under a COBRA continuation of your work plan. It's been a little expensive, but it's a good plan and totally worth it to have him insured.

No wonder you want to celebrate. The two of you were both wise and lucky. You found out that you were eligible for 36 months of continuation coverage instead of the 18 months someone tried to limit you to. You figured out just how long you needed to work to keep him insured until he turned 65. Though you'd have liked to retire sooner, you stuck it out. Now you're happy to be retired. And happy that he has had insurance and therefore has gotten whatever care he has needed. While you're at it, you're happy that you have both stayed pretty healthy to this point, knock on wood. So yes, Self: You and Peter worked hard and played it smart and you've been lucky, and that's worth celebrating. Every day.

Gratefully yours,
The voice that likes to remind you to take time to appreciate and be thankful.

* * *

Dear Self:

Please stop eating cookies at the computer. The other day you spent nearly an hour shaking crumbs out of the keyboard. It's still not completely clean.

The little voice that wishes to note that now there are crumbs on the floor.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Summer time, and the living is easy...

...or so it seems. Now that Peter and I are down to one full-time job (his), a handful of responsibilities for the carousel (his and mine), and fewer daycare responsibilities, we have more disposable time on our hands. We've set out to use at least some of it wisely.

Cousins at the rodeo
We are making it a point to spend good time together, in ways that help us rediscover who we are besides grandparents. Peter used to comment that all our conversations related to the grandkids. They filled our lives and our home and our hearts and our heads. They still do, and believe me, we are happy about that. But it's good to enjoy our alone time, too.

After being with their Montana relatives a little more than three weeks, the kids have come for three play dates in six days, and we're all delighted to be together. But our relationship seems...fresher.

Bison just outside the car window!
As usual, the kids have lots to tell about their adventures - cousins, ballet camp, water fun, bison, black bears, a wooly mammoth excavation, and so much more. But guess what? This time we actually have a few things to tell about what we did while they were away.

And what DID we do while they were away? Among other things, we went to two concerts in ten days--and that's a lot for us. There was the Dylan concert, which was fun although, to tell the truth, it had the problems inherent in any Dylan concert: his voice isn't getting any better with age, it's tough to understand the words, and he rearranges songs so much that often you can barely recognize the old favorites. In fact, he takes off down musical side roads even during the performance and the band can't follow, so things get messy. But you know, Dylan fans will just keep showing up anyway.

Dr. John concert at the Minnesota Zoo
Last Friday we saw Dr. John perform at the Minnesota Zoo. A master of blues, rock, and the rich music of New Orleans, he is a long-time favorite in our house.  The concert was everything we could have hoped for. High energy, tight arrangements, and a band whose members are talented individually and together. It was another gorgeous evening; there were even ducks swimming on the pond just behind the stage. We went with friends whose daughter Irene was regularly serenaded as a child with Dr. John's version of Leadbelly's "Good Night Irene." It was Irene's birthday, and her dad had reached out to request that the song be included in the concert. We'll never know whether they would have played it anyway, but it gave our little group a special highlight for the night.

Just to bring things full circle...Dr. John was a big hit with Augie. When he was not quite two, I recorded his enthusiastic impression of Dr. John playing and singing the Pinetop Boogie. When Augie can stay up a little later we hope we can take him to a concert. We, and Dr. John, need to stay healthy long enough for that to happen! Meanwhile, here's a kid who loved the piano, and will again. 

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Claim to fame: I beat Bob Dylan... a talent contest. And I bragged about it.

Peter and I attended the Dylan concert at Midway Stadium in St. Paul Wednesday night, and as I have done twice before, I proclaimed my achievement on my shirt for anybody to see. (I've also told the story here.)

Some people who see the shirt think it's a joke at Bob's expense. Peter likes to say, "You'd still beat him in a talent contest," not because he doesn't like Dylan but because he knows many others don't.

But those who really do, and who decide I might be telling the truth? Those people are all over me. They ask me to tell them the story, and then they ask how well I knew Bob (I knew his mom and brother well but not Bob). Often they ask me to pose with them while someone takes a picture of us. I find this amusing, and I oblige.

Some of those people had Dylan connections of their own. A doctor told me he once stopped Bob on the street in New Orleans and they carried on a pleasant conversation. (The doctor's daughter backtracked, saying Bob was more surprised than gracious.) Another man told me he was friends with the English teacher who figures in some stories about Bob, with whom I also was a friend.  A musician spoke with me at length and then came back to ask whether I realized that Bob was playing keyboards as part of the concert - significant since both Bob and I had played the piano in the talent contest in question.

I came to realize that by striking up a conversation with me, each of these Dylan fans got to tell his own story, which made the concert a more personal experience for them. And, of course, for me.

When my dad was still alive and living in Hibbing, just across the street from the house where Bob grew up, I'd run into uber-fans who had made the pilgrimage to Bob's hometown. There are self-directed tours that tell people where he lived, where he went to school, and where to find displays of photos and other memorabilia (the library and a restaurant called Zimmy's). I was sitting on my dad's front steps one Sunday morning when a father and grown son drove up and began taking pictures of the house across the street. Eventually, as so many Hibbing residents do, I struck up a conversation. They only had a few hours, the library was closed, and they hadn't spoken to anyone else. They got to ask me a few questions, and they got to tell me of their devotion to the songwriter who has been called the poet of his time. They were excited and grateful...and they took each other's picture with me.

Just before going to last week's concert, I had posted about self-identity. I was wondering what I would tell people about myself now that life was changing. For one evening it was this:

"I beat Bob Dylan in a talent contest. Yes, really."

And as a result, I met some interesting folks and had a great time. 

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Who will I be when I'm not who I was?

Retiring from a lifetime of paid work was not difficult for me. For one thing, I eased into it over a couple of years, gradually decreasing my hours and doing more work from home.

With Augie 2007: New proud grandma
More important, while I was tapering off at work, Peter had begun caring for our grandson Augie at our home while Augie's parents worked as teachers. I spent as much time as possible with Augie, and before long with little sister ViolaMae. Being a grandma and a caregiver was a big part of my identity, and I couldn't wait to be home all the time. So when I finally retired in December 2010, I jumped right into our full-time ongoing adventure. I knew it was the most rewarding work I'd ever do; BLissed-Out Grandma was more than just a blog name.

In a sense I'm retiring again. As always, the kids are at home with their parents for the summer. This fall when we start up again, we'll only be part-timers. For the first time, both kids will be in school all day. Abby will drop them off here at 6:45 for breakfast and play, and at about 8:10 we'll drive them to school. By 9 a.m. our day-care day will be over. And that takes a little adjustment.

It's delightful that we'll still see the children every weekday. And of course we'll have play dates, Facetime phone conversations, family events, and occasional full days when their parents have school and they don't.

But the truth is, Peter and I have completed our full-time commitment to care for our grandkids until they begin school. We've had a month to absorb the fact that we'll miss our full days with them, and that as of now we have more time for other things. We've consciously spent more time together, started planning some special projects, talked more seriously about all those tasks we kept putting off "until we're done with daycare."

We'll de-clutter the house (and I don't mean the kids' toys we've amassed, I mean the lifetimes of paper and clothes and would-be valuables that inhabit every room and closet). We'll plan a 100th birthday celebration for the carousel and write the carousel history we've been promising, which will occupy us well into 2014. We might travel, just a little. Peter will continue to work full-time at home, and maybe now he'll sleep more regularly. I will dance, blog, garden, take photos. We'll take care of one another and hope our health continues so we can watch the children grow for a long while yet.

With ViMae 2011: Retired and happy
What we won't be able to do is to say, perhaps a little too proudly, "We provide full-time daycare for our grandchildren." This single statement has been central to my identity and sense of purpose since before I retired.

Sometimes I think a major reason people have trouble with retirement, or other kinds of change, is this: "How will I introduce myself to someone new?" How will I answer, "Who are you and what do you do?"

I was one of those who always led with my job. It only described part of me, but it was a handy label. When that no longer fit, I was more than happy to lead with my full-time grandma-daycare role. Will I now be satisfied just to say, "I'm retired"?

I've spent a little time experiencing this feeling, and thinking about what I might say. I don't have an answer, but I have this question: Why does it matter? I don't need a label or an instant claim to fame. I'm older now, more mature. I have time to carry on a whole conversation and mutually explore what it is about me that might interest another person, and vice versa. 

So I'm not really worried, but I'm curious. As I meet new people and make conversation, I'll be defining myself to them in new ways. I wonder what that will sound like.  

"Who are you and what do you do?" How do you answer?

Monday, July 1, 2013

Clearing a space for myself

I spent all of last summer nursing a broken leg and damaged ankle, and my garden went untended. I did no weeding, no mulching, no cutting back of overeager perennials or overhanging tree branches.

This year, for reasons including sketchy weather and a dance recital, I didn't start gardening until about ten days ago. That's when I finally took a good look at the state of things.

Everything was overgrown. Perennials wrestled one another for territory and threatened to swallow the lawn furniture. Weeds looked especially proud of themselves for having taken over the entire strip behind the garage--a challenge I'm ignoring for now. The stepping-stone paths I had carefully created were invisible under on-rushing greenery. And the giant horse chestnut tree (which may instead be a buckeye but experts can't agree), which is too large for a small urban lot in the first place, formed a low-hanging canopy all the way around the back yard. It gave me a choking sense of claustrophobia.

Last weekend I spent three days cutting back, clearing weeds, spreading the eight bags of mulch still in the garage from two years ago. On Sunday I got out a ladder and spend several hours cutting overhead branches. In the post I wrote that evening, I mentioned that thanks to dancing I had a lot more stamina, a statement I based on the fact that I had perhaps never spent so many hours working in the yard.

Monday morning I couldn't move. My neck and shoulders were so stiff and sore, and so resistant to the usual pain meds, that I began to wonder whether I had some kind of dread disease.

Then I remembered that I have fibromyalgia, a chronic condition that can kick in when I eat too much sugar or become too sedentary or, ironically, overexert. It's a tricky balance, staying active but not too active. Fibro kicked in last summer after I sat around favoring the broken leg, for example. But this flareup was stronger. My upper body felt as though it had seized up, and it stayed that way for much of the week. My sleep was disrupted, which only makes things worse. Eventually gentle exercise and massages from Peter helped enough for the meds to do their job.

So now I'm back in the garden, being a bit more cautious and aware. I always enjoy the work of gardening, but I have to remember to stop periodically and look around, admiring the progress I've made while allowing my body to regroup. It feels good to know that I'm in charge of this space again. There is room for me and mine to walk the paths, sit on the benches, smell the roses.

The last peonies greet the first purple coneflower.
Yesterday I took a few photos to share. A cleared and mulched pathway, a few planters now populated with petunias and calibrachoa, and a cleared and mulched seating area where last week we sat outdoors with guests. Small victories, but satisfying.

Life is good.


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