Sunday, December 28, 2014

Mellow Christmas Moments...

It has been a lovely Christmas here, enjoyed all the more because Peter and I have learned (finally?) to relax, to make fewer and less elaborate plans, and to go with the flow and enjoy what comes.

The grandkids are the center of our attention, and sometimes their parents need to make adjustments in scheduling. Case in point: Augie was sick with the flu Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. We still gathered at their house, but we delayed the start and kept things fairly low-key. Abby still made wonderful meals and Peter contributed a side dish and a pie, and we were grateful that we were all--even Augie--healthy enough to enjoy them.

Compared to other years, we seemed to go easy on gifts for the grands, or at least we didn't go as far overboard as usual. Abby and Eric's home gained 5,000 new Lego pieces on Thursday, but thankfully not all came from us. Our gifts to one another were both satisfying and modest, and we didn't have to stay up all night wrapping.

At one point I found myself watching part of the Christmas Eve Mass from St. Peter's in Rome. I grew up Catholic and I've avoided watching that Mass for years now, but this time I was drawn in by the music. As a teen and young adult, I played the organ for three different church choirs, and on this Christmas Eve I found myself singing along quietly with some of the Gregorian Chant. It didn't make me want to go back to church, but it did reach something deep inside. Memories of Christmases long ago, certainly, and of my family back then. And also the basic urge that humans feel to honor something greater than ourselves.

It's not that I've abandoned that urge; I've pursued it in lots of places and lots of ways. And it's been on my mind as I visit with my youngest brother David, who two weeks ago entered an assisted living and hospice facility.

In fact, this urge to honor something greater than ourselves reached out and tapped me on the shoulder while I was buying Christmas cards last week. It seemed to tell me to stop rushing around, to be mindful of others, to think about my priorities. Maybe it's just a silly card, and all those things were already in my head. But sometimes it takes a gentle hint to make me listen.

So, dear blog friends, I hope your holiday season is long and mellow and filled with sweet moments along with whatever harsh slices of reality elbow their way in. I hope as you review 2014 and look forward to 2015, you'll find love and enjoyment and fulfillment and deep pleasures that go way beyond the schedules and to-do lists that sometimes distract us from our real happiness.

As the card (created by Pamela Zagarenski with art by Daniel Ladinsky and produced by sacredbee) says:

This post linked to the GRAND Social

Friday, November 28, 2014

Do. Be. Dooby-dooby-dooby-doo.

I came of age feeling that my value as a person was based on what I accomplished. I'm pretty sure I'm not the only person to feel that way.

I can't explain the psychology of it, but it seems to be one of those cases where you say, "There are two kinds of people in the world." In this case, those who seek to be loved unconditionally for who they are, and those who seek approval for what they have done.

Or maybe we all totter somewhere between the two.  

I've tried to value "being," and in fact lately I've done a lot of it--if things like relaxing and playing games and taking naps count. But guess what? I hate that I'm not doing more. I have lots to do for the carousel and to promote the book (sheesh, I haven't even told you about it yet). I manage to keep up with Peter as we take care of the grandkids, but I'm not as creative as I might be. I need to exercise more and to practice my tap routines. I need to finish cleaning up this office, still messy after a  year of writing our book and putting on a carousel birthday party. And so much more, all of which I expected to tackle with gusto as soon as the carousel season was over.

In the past few weeks I've taken note of two blog friends' posts that really resonated with my current slowed-down state. Sally, the Retired English Teacher, wrote that she has been foggy, unfocused, pulled in many directions. I began to imagine her sitting around as I have been, until I discovered that she (1) flew across the country to help a son badly injured in an accident, (2) had a nasty bout with an allergy that attacked her whole system, and (3) had recently gone back to teaching, 10 hours a week plus all new preparations. Noting how much she was expecting of herself, my comment was along the lines of, "No wonder you feel pulled in all directions!"

I decided that given all the work I've put in, and some difficult changes we are making at the carousel just now, I too am justified in feeling foggy and tired. But then the voice comes back, "If you'd eat better and exercise more, you could do more." Can't argue with that, exactly.

But Marie at Rock the Kasbah wrote that she has been avoiding some tasks, including promoting her book, and she realized that she was feeling the need to stay in her comfort zone for a while. Whoa, I said to myself, she hit the nail on the head. I've avoided promoting our book because it makes me uncomfortable. It takes reaching out beyond my introverted habits, boasting (an activity that is foreign to Minnesotans), and perhaps worst of all, risking rejection.

For about three years, being retired meant I could stop worrying so much about doing, and focus much more on being. But this past year has consisted of writing the book, creating items for sale, planning multiple big events, and ultimately making lots of media and public appearances. If I were the least bit extroverted, I might be less drained. But that's not going to change. So in fact taking time to rest and stay in my comfort zone, at least a little, seems to be a reasonable kind of being, and in the long run it will make me better able to do what needs to be done.

Do. Be. Dooby-dooby-dooby-doo.

I'd be surprised if you didn't have some experience with this dilemma. Am I right?

Monday, November 3, 2014

Casting spells and eating candy

At Halloween we've taken to leaving the lights off and not buying candy. We do, however, enjoy the holiday through the grandkids.

The girl who loves pink and princesses and rainbows and unicorns went totally in the other direction, dressing as the evil Bellatrix Lestrange from Harry Potter stories. Abby converted Vi's black flower-girl dress into a fabulous take on the movie costume worn by Helena Bonham Carter. Eric made an appropriately crooked wand, and Vi added just the right sense of drama, casting spells at every opportunity. (She went as the red dragon Smaug for two years, so this was not too surprising.)

In the movies, Bellatrix has on her arm a "dark mark" that identifies her as a follower of He Who Shall Not Be Named. We knew Vi's arms would need to be covered for warmth, so I drew the dark mark in silver glitter glue on the black trick-or-treat bag I made for her. Just before I finished it, Vi said she hoped the skull wouldn't frighten little children, and she wondered about changing the skull to a heart. I told her I thought the snake was the scariest part, and we decided to stick with the original. But I gotta love her combination of scary wizardry and real-life concern.

Augie planned his Ninja outfit months ago, and he was eager to assemble it so we helped. It begins with black sweat pants and hoodie he can wear any day, plus a balaklava (winter head covering) that he could close down so only his eyes showed. At a second-hand shop we found soft black "Ninja shoes" ideal for moving stealthily. Eric made him a long sword and Grandma Anita made a scabbard. Augie's new best friend dressed as Pokemon--a bright contrast to the all-in-black Augie and Vi.

When the kids finished trick-or-treating, they handed out candy at their house, literally jumping with delight. And since they turn over most of their collected candy to the Switch Witch, who in turn gives them a toy, they were more than willing to share a handful of Butterfingers and Reese's Peanut Butter Cups with Grandma.

I used to buy bags of "fun-size" candy and we'd eat a lot of it before the big night even arrived. Peter stopped eating candy many months ago, and I've mostly cut back to one dark-chocolate truffle a day. But I did splurge just before Halloween with a "trick-or-treat" malt from Snuffy's, a St. Paul 50s-style hamburger and ice cream shop. This malt had Snickers, Butterfingers, and Reese's Pieces mixed in! I ate about half, then took the rest home, stashed it in the freezer. and made it last two more days. So yes, I still celebrate Halloween. If only I could cast a spell and make sugar a nutritious thing.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Dragon, moose and other wildlife

What could be better than a crisp autumn day when the leaves are turning and the sun is both cheerful and warming? And what better way to celebrate such a day than to get out of the house for a half-planned, half-spontaneous adventure!

Too big for the carousel, the moose welcomes visitors.
On Thursday Peter and I dropped the kids at school and then drove south toward Kellogg, Minnesota. Our target was Lark Toys, a family-owned enterprise that includes an enormous toy store, a museum of old toys, and, best of all, a wonderfully inventive hand-carved wooden carousel.

Baby goldfish swims after its parent.
Lark Toys began modestly about 40 years ago when Donn and Sarah Kreofsky, who had made and sold a few wooden toys at art fairs, found their line increasingly popular with retailers.  Facing enormous demand, they decided to open their own shop, and built it into the nation's largest independent toy store. Donn decided to create the ultimate wooden toy, a carousel. He drew the figures and roughed out the wood, and he enlisted a couple of talented local artisans to carve them and apply stain, rather than paint. The effect is charming. Our last visit was in the early 1990s, when the figures were on display in the studio awaiting a carousel platform.

I rode the deer; I hope ViMae will ride the dragon (above) soon!
This week I rode the carousel for the first time. The gears and cranks need adjusting, but the figures are clever and playful and the workmanship is gorgeous. I am usually partial to antique carousels, not new ones. But this one is exceptional, and as someone pointed out when I posted about it on Facebook, we must hope that one day it, too, will be an antique! 

The place is now owned and operated by another family, and it includes miniature golf, several llamas, a small cafe, and other delights that make it a destination much of the year.

Five eagles too injured to live in the wild live at the center.
About 15 minutes from Lark Toys is the National Eagle Center in Wabasha. It's right on the Mississippi River, at a spot where the water stays open all winter, so eagles gather by the hundreds. Even now, when only a few eagles native to the area can be spotted rising on the updrafts near the river, the center draws dozens of folks to its hourly presentations on these amazing birds. Lots of displays and activities are great for adults and kids alike. I hope to go back during winter months some year, but I'm glad we went when we did. It was a great way to spend a beautiful fall day together with my hubby.

Note: This dragon was my blog's header while this story about the Lark Carousel was posted.

Monday, September 29, 2014

A Carousel Odyssey, part 1

Eleven carousels in four days. I rode them, photographed them, discussed them, and in a few cases fell in love with them.

The occasion: the National Carousel Association convention, this year centered in New York City. Peter and I have been involved for 26 years with this group, which works to keep antique carousels operating. But this was my first convention, joining more than 200 carousel aficionados to visit selected antique carousels. The schedule is always packed, and long bus rides are inevitable. (Not a fan of bus rides, Peter stayed home.)

The most spectacular setting, by far, was Jane's Carousel in Brooklyn, virtually in the shadow of the Brooklyn Bridge. Riders enjoy spectacular views of the East River and Manhattan (see above and the header).

Jane Walentas, for whom the 1922 carousel is now named, is not the idle rich dowager I'd imagined her to be. An artist married to a real estate developer, she rescued the carousel at a 1984 auction in Youngstown, Ohio. Then she spent 26 years restoring it so her husband could make it the crown jewel of a revived Brooklyn area known as DUMBO--Down Under the Manhattan-Brooklyn Overpass. And it's beautiful. She has used subtle colors the original painter would have used--the same man who painted all the horses on the carousel we operate at Como Park. Jane's Carousel is a younger sister to ours, both built by the Philadelphia Toboggan Company.

Remember this media image from Hurricane Sandy? Jane's Carousel looked like a fragile gem about to be swept away. But its acrylic jewel-box building held, the carousel was undamaged, and its lights stayed on--a solitary beacon through the storm. I was excited to visit this carousel but I didn't know whether I was going to like its unusually modern home. In fact it's perfect. If you're ever in the neighborhood, be sure to stop by. And you can see more at Jane's Carousel website.

I'll be back in a few days with a couple of  other very special carousels from this journey. I leave you with this shot, from Jane's site, of the overhead rounding boards. All the scenery paintings are original; Jane restored them by removing layers of old, darkened varnish.

Note: when this post first ran, it was accompanied by this photo, cropped and used as a header. 


Sunday, September 7, 2014

September transitions

I love the fall, but the first hint of its approach always makes me think it's coming too soon, that it can't be the end of summer yet. On top of that, this late August-early September period brings other, more personal transitions.

Mom in 1937, athletic and single
For starters, this time of year puts me in mind of my parents, who for many years annually celebrated a raft of early-September birthdays among friends and neighbors with a party that featured lutefisk (that horrendous dish that my mother wouldn't touch) and Swedish meatballs. Happily, one of those friends celebrated her 103rd birthday Friday! Dad would have turned 99 last Thursday, September 4, and Mom would have been 98 today. Their anniversary was August 31, which also turned out to be the day we buried her 34 years ago. My brother Bruce died of a heart attack eight years ago on September 15. Grieving for them is not as sharply painful as it once was, but it seems to drain a lot of energy over a period of a week or two.

Mom, Dad, me, 1946
Then, too, it's always a let-down when Saint Paul Saints minor-league baseball season ends, closing out a big chunk of our social life for the year. But about 10 days ago the team played its last game ever at Midway Stadium, where we've spent 22 memorable seasons. The final game at the old park was surreal and sad.

A new upscale ballpark is being built downtown, in an inconvenient location we fear will not succeed. Worst, there are no provisions for tailgating. The Saints offered a distinctive baseball experience which relied heavily on the camaraderie of sharing food in the parking lot before every game. Current fans overwhelmingly preferred a new park on the existing grounds, but owners and the mayor decided they could find new fans downtown. Time will tell. We are buying season tickets for 2015 and hoping for the best. Last week we were the last to leave the stadium along with Chris and Wendy, who for 22 years have sat two seats away from us. Wendy sobbed the entire night, big tears rolling down her face. 

Dad in 2000, surprised at his own longevity
Meanwhile we are back to our school-year routine, with two adorable grandkids turning up every morning at 6:45 for breakfast and all the fun we can squeeze in before we drop them at school for their 8:30 start. As much as we enjoy them, it will not surprise you if I say I'm having a little trouble adjusting to the early schedule. 

For many months, as we scrambled to finish the book and prepare for the carousel's 100th birthday and do media interviews, we promised ourselves that by mid-August the rush would be over. Certainly, I thought, by early September I'd be rested up and ready to go. I'm not feeling that way, and I'm a little frustrated with that. But this is the start of a new week and I'm promising myself that while naps are still okay (and even decadently wonderful) I need to get moving. There are web sites to update, books to sell, gardens to tend, tap moves to practice, family members with whom to celebrate life.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

I'm back, and starting year six of blogging

Five years ago today, I wrote my first blog post and sent it into the universe. I'd forgotten until my friend Jayne wrote about her own fifth blogiversary.

Not surprisingly, my first post was about my grandkids. Augie was 29 months and Vi 14 months. We'd gone to a Saints game on a Sunday afternoon and they'd run the bases after the game. There were no comments. I had done nothing to promote my blog, or even to let anyone know of its existence. I only planned to record memories, or maybe to share them with family members.

But then I was curious to see what other people were doing, and soon I was following and commenting on lots of blogs--photography, humor, parenting, grandparenting, daily life of all sorts. Some of those people followed me in return, and commented on what I wrote. Before long I was writing not only about adorable grandkids but about my own ideas and experiences. Having spent a career writing in an institutional voice, I enjoyed exploring my own thoughts and writing in my own voice. And I have loved making new online friends.

For the past eight or nine months I've been writing in "our" voice, a book jointly authored with my husband Peter. It's the 100-year history of a wonderful carousel, including the 26 years we've spent rescuing it from being broken apart and then restoring it and operating it for the public. While I was immersed in the book, I couldn't feed the blog. When the book came out in July, we plunged into full-time event planning and media interviews for the carousel's 100th birthday. At the end of each of those days, we'd fall into a daze in front of the TV.

Our giant birthday party August 9 drew about 1,500 people, and we spent the entire day talking with guests including current and former volunteers, staff, board members, avid riders, and people who bought our book and asked us to sign it. Have I mentioned that both of us are strong introverts? We loved every conversation, but by the end of that 11-hour day we were nearly comatose. I spent the next three days sleeping. 

And that is why, when my life really was full and I should have had a lot to share on my blog, I couldn't do it.

I'm becoming functional again. I've managed to balance my checkbook, clean off part of my desk, get to tap class for the first time in a month, mow the lawn, and seriously weed the garden for the first time all summer. And now I've managed to produce a new blog post. It's not fancy, but it's a start. The first post of my sixth year in blogging.

When I was working I focused on work and deadlines, and too often I forgot to feed my personal growth, relationships, etc. Having those work habits helped us finish all the tasks we needed to complete in time for last week's celebration activities. But both Peter and I are making it a priority to get back to being ourselves. For me, that includes blogging. 

Friday, July 25, 2014

Toiling in the garden of Life...

I would love to be sitting in the garden, sipping tea and admiring the flowers of summer. Good thing I can see most of them from the window next to my computer! Let's just pretend we're sitting there, you and I, having a leisurely conversation.

Our book is finished, but we immediately went into overdrive getting ready for the carousel's 100th birthday events. For those who don't know, my husband and I founded a nonprofit organization 26 years ago and rescued a beloved 74-year-old carousel that was going to be broken up and auctioned to collectors. We led the fund-raising efforts and then we restored the carousel and moved it to a new location. Now we operate it with a volunteer crew in a new pavilion in St. Paul's Como Park.

There's a lovely event tomorrow for which I'm posting a composite I created in Photoshop. Then there's a big public birthday party August 9, for which a whole lot of details need to be coordinated. Media promotion is taking a lot of our time, though I'm not complaining, because the carousel needs the exposure and this is a big chance to generate some.

Peter and I work well together, but for 26 years we've had long periods of time when all our energy has to be applied to some aspect of saving or restoring or operating the carousel. We have promised ourselves that this is our last really big project. Having decided that, we can get through the next couple of weeks. Then we begin the process of handing over the reins, so to speak.

I'll be back to blog again. I especially want to talk about the book. But I have to get it into the places where the we plan to make it available; it's only at the carousel right now.

Hope you are having a great summer! Wish me luck as I take on some public speaking and TV interviews (eeek) and as we plan an outdoor event not knowing what the weather gods may bring. Next summer I really do want to sit and chat with you!

--Nancy aka BLissed-Out Grandma

(Like us on to see pictures and coverage and coming events.)

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Dancing into Neverland

Okay, I have not carried out my pledge to dance every day in 2014, but I did make it safely through two recitals last weekend, and I smile whenever I think about it.

It's not that everything went smoothly. Backstage, young children went stir-crazy, show-runners were frustrated by the recital's complicated format, and many dancers (including me) panicked their way through ultra-quick costume changes. I won't know how our dances looked to the audience until I see the video, but it was fun and it we seemed to do a good job.

Our adult tap class--three enthusiastic women with mixed skill levels and two high-school students who are avid dancers--never made it through an entire practice without mistakes. But in performance our rule was "Keep smiling and keep your feet moving." In our pirate routine, "keep smiling" was replaced by "stay in character."

We were cast as pirates because the whole recital was a dance version of the Peter Pan story. In a typical recital, you just bring each class onstage, start the music, and let them dance. This year, the show was a continuous production number. Each piece of music flowed right into the next, and getting onstage exactly on cue was often tricky. Tuesday's dress rehearsal was a nightmare, with the director and teachers struggling to have the right people in the right places (and in the right costumes) at the right times. But at Friday and Saturday's performances, there were only a few minor bumpy transitions.

While I care a lot about hitting my cue and doing things well, it surprises me that I experience no stage fright (unlike when I do public speaking). In fact I had great fun adding little flourishes to my pirate character--a snarl here, a menacing gesture there.

As I left Saturday's show, a woman approached me to say she was inspired by my dancing and was considering joining our class. She said she last took lessons when she was about 5 years old. I told her that was my story, too, and I'd started back last year at age 70. It turns out she is 73. I should have gotten her name so that in case she doesn't register I could call to encourage her.

Just after that, a young man about 30 years old approached. "I just have to tell you that I think you are inspirational," he said. His wife seemed almost apologetic. After all, what he was saying was, "You dance pretty well for an old person." But I was happy for the positive reinforcement.

Here's the secret: I dance like nobody's watching, even when I know that they are. And I love it.

Sometimes I wish I'd rediscovered dancing many years ago, but then I remember. I love it now. This is the only moment I have. I need to get up and dance now.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Best Mom Ever Day

While everyone else in the USA was preparing for Mother's Day, our family was busy with Augie's latest invention: Best Mom Ever Day.

He hatched his plan several weeks ago and carefully explained it to the rest of us when Abby wasn't around. We would surprise Mom with a dinner party at her own house on Saturday evening, May 10. Each of us had a part to play.

* Vi and I were assigned to get Abby out of the house Saturday afternoon.

* Augie and his dad would make a fancy cake and set the table.

* Peter would stop at Keys' restaurant and bring food for dinner.

Plans became more detailed as time went by. We were to take Abby shopping for "queen stuff" that she could wear at the party. (Vi quickly added her own "princess stuff" to the plan.) A week later he was rethinking our task. The best place to get queen stuff, he said, was the Dollar Tree. But that was close to Keys and he didn't want to risk Abby seeing her dad there. I told him we'd go to the party store instead.

Oct. 2012
Meanwhile Augie wrote up his own recipe for a cake, to be made in Mom's castle cake pan. It included cut-up bananas as well as chocolate chips and marshmallows. He called for baking powder and 1/4 cup of cake flour. Peter found a recipe of the right size for the pan and added Augie's "must-have" ingredients, but it took about two weeks to persuade Augie that if we used his original measures, we'd have a moat instead of a castle. Peter also researched how to make stable whipped cream icing and how to color it gray, the proper color of a medieval castle.

Augie kept busy; he had a secret stash of papers in his room that he used as inspiration to create a banner for the occasion.

At 2 p.m. we girls went to the party story where we bought mom a lovely royal blue hooded robe that was properly queenly for the event (and can be worn later to the Renaissance Festival). We went to the mall for some other fun shopping. By about 4:30 Mom got permission to return  home, if she'd agree to observe Augie's rules: she had to stay in the living room for a while and not peek through a curtain shielding the dining room from view.

Soon Peter came with dinner, and Mom was allowed to see the table, adorned with flowers, as well as the fabulous castle cake, flying cutout flags and well guarded by medieval warrior toys. She put on her royal robe, and we all had a wonderful dinner she didn't have to cook. 

Augie had organized everything. He was so proud he was just bursting. The rest of us had played our parts well. Mom was appropriately surprised, even though bits of the event had seeped out over time. And who wouldn't be thrilled, having your seven-year-old son organize the whole family for such a wonderful occasion.

The cake, by the way, came out of the mold perfectly, and it was delicious. As Augie pointed out, you never knew exactly what you were going to get in the next bite--some banana, some chocolate, and/or some marshmallow.

I was planning to document "Best Mom Ever Day" using my iPhone, but I discovered it had no charge. Not even a little. So you'll have to imagine it. Start with six big smiles.

--Nancy, aka BLissed-Out Grandma

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Catching up

I'm working lots of hours on the book, and I can't bring myself to write a real blog post. But once a week or so, I have posted on Facebook, and it occurs to me that you might enjoy one or more of these short items. I have used both photos as my profile picture lately. 

March 19:
Somebody stole my shoes last night. Actually, we saw the guy; he came off the street into the dance studio and pretended to be interested in something. Then he dropped a piece of paper on the floor, and while down there (on the other side of a half-wall) he stuck my athletic shoes in his jacket before leaving.

We tap-dancing ladies were so busy being polite! Sheesh. I had to walk to my car in tap shoes; it was both snowy and slippery but two classmates in real shoes offered a helping hand. I hope somebody out there is making good use of their sturdy new brown suede New Balance athletic shoes. 

March 27:
The kids and grandkids do lots of reading together, recently including Lord of the Rings. Augie applied the story to what he was learning in science class. "The red blood cells are like the Gondorians, defending their home. The bacteria are like the orcs attacking Gondor. The medicine is like the Riders of Rohan coming to the rescue."

A drawing by ViMae
March 11:
At Christmastime, Peter Boehm ("Pa") wears a Santa hat, grows out his white hair and beard, and wears red sweaters. Schoolmates often ask our grandkids whether their grandfather is Santa. Today he handed Vi his iPhone so she could see a photo he'd just taken. Ever curious, she wheeled back through old photos. Suddenly she saw a shot of me holding a pink princess dress...just like the one she got from Santa. She studied it, checking every detail, and then said, "Hmm, I guess Pa really is Santa." Oops. Our explanation: We sent the photo to Santa so he'd know what to bring.

April 7:
Grandkids came back Friday from their spring break trip, and they are still bouncing with joy! They visited a great-grandma and other relatives, climbed to the top of a lighthouse, collected shells on an ocean beach, and discovered that New York has great pizza, bagels, and Chinese food! As they tell us these things, they are jumping up and down and interrupting one another to list more good stuff. And they ran smiling into school this morning. Such fun to be part of their lives.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Better than the alternative...

Last year on this date, I turned 70. That number sounded old to me, but I didn't feel especially old--a good thing, of course.

You've probably figured out that today is my birthday again, 71 this time. This time I do feel older. It's partly because of those two or three falls I took in November, and the two cataract surgeries I had in February. And also this: Now that I can see better, I am much more aware of all my tiny wrinkles. I was thinking that my skin had aged a lot in the last month or so, and I was blaming it on our everlasting winter weather. Then I also noticed more "salt" in my salt-and-pepper hair. I like the effect, but that's beside the point. It isn't the's the fact that now I can see what's been there for a while.

To avoid falling when walking outside in winter weather, I plant my feet and walk slowly, watching the ground. I think, "Geez, I'm walking like an old lady." Then I remember that I am one. This is real.

In fact, growing old is a gift. My mother would have been a delightful old lady, but she died just before her 64th birthday. It doesn't take much for me to remember that as bad as it may be to grow old, it's better than the alternative.

This morning after breakfast I was sitting on the window seat in the kitchen and two lovely children crawled into my arms. We've been talking about my age. Vi has her eye on a few things she wants to inherit when I die. In the next moment she hastens to say she hopes I live to be 200. I tell her my goal is 90, or maybe 95.

I know, of course, that we don't control these things. Instead, I remind myself to enjoy the moments, the delights, the gifts each day brings. I make a birthday resolution to remain open to the lovely moments of life. Then I go back to writing the book, facing an unrelenting deadline. And then I take another few moments to write a blog post to remind myself, and to share with others, what a lucky woman I am.

Monday, February 24, 2014

I love my right eye, too. Really I do.

Having a second cataract surgery is a lot like having a second child. Or at least it seems that way.

With the first eye, they told me to use drops every four hours (they said 8 a.m., noon, 4 p.m., 8 p.m.). I did that faithfully, although if I slept in on the weekend I just pushed everything a bit later.

With the second eye, I followed that schedule the first day post-op. I think. Since then I've been lucky to use drops three or four times a day, usually prompted by the fact that my eye had begun to bother me. It occurs to me that second children get fewer pictures taken and have fewer milepost entries in their baby books (if indeed they get a baby book). It's not that I don't love my right eye, it's just that the routine isn't so central to my life now.

Meanwhile the schedule for drops in the first eye changed. I couldn't just do both at the same time, because the needs were different. I should have expected that. When the second child comes along, the first always has very different needs and is on a completely different schedule. And sometimes the younger child, or eye, gets along fine while the older one acts up a little. In this case it's nothing serious and the eye drops do help.

The first eye, when I'm wearing glasses, has 20-20 vision. This amazes me. With the second eye, it's too soon for numbers but I know I'm seeing much better than before.

Right after surgery I had to wear sunglasses because my eyes were sensitive to light. Now I am enjoying seeing the clean new snow, the sky and trees and houses in sharp relief, and bright sun flooding over all of it. All the beauty catches my eye many times a day, and each time I am grateful. That's true whether I'm looking through the first-surgery eye or the second. Just as it's true with kids and grandkids.  

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

If you were an eyeball you'd be irritated, too

My first cataract surgery, last week, was both better and worse than I expected.

Happily, the "worse" elements amount to nothing more than temporary discomforts. I was surprised that this minor surgery left me needing extra sleep for several days. I was surprised when my eye clouded up for three days, and again when the doctor told me it wouldn't be fully healed for two weeks or more. Note to self: The fact that you don't even change out of your clothes for this surgery does not mean you won't need to heal from it. 

Meanwhile the "better" element--improved sight--delights me every day. As Peter drove us home after the surgery I noticed immediately that I could read street and highway signs better than I had in years. I can read the newspaper again, something I stopped doing a few weeks ago because it was just too much trouble. I can clearly see the birds at the feeder farthest from the window. Yesterday I noticed, again, that I was easily reading the instructions on my medicated eye drops.

Oh, and there's this: I had assumed that my new glasses would be wildly wrong for my left eye with its newly implanted lens, and that I'd have great difficulty functioning until getting new ones. But the glasses seem near-perfect.

Periodically I play "right eye, left eye," covering one and then the other. I marvel at how poorly I was seeing, and I wonder how awesome things will be when the right eye is done. (And then of course I remind myself that the result could be less than perfect.)

Imagine someone's head in the middle of this picture...
On Saturday night, life played the right eye, left eye game and the result was pretty amusing. Attending a ballet in a poorly designed auditorium, I found my view of the stage bisected by the head of the woman in front of me. To the left of her head, everything was amazingly, wonderfully clear. But because of the angle, action just to the right of her head was visible only to my right eye, and it was blurry. Very blurry. Dancers swirled in and out of focus, crisp one moment and hazy the next. It made me laugh, but best of all it reminded me what a gift clear sight can be, even when you can't quite see center stage. I look forward to getting my right eye done next week. see ballet as I saw it last weekend.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Moments with Augie

Augie (gray shirt) ready to play the xylophone at school concert
Periodically I look up from writing our book and realize that it's been two weeks since I changed clothes, washed my hair, or posted on the blog. Okay, only the blog part is true, but I have definitely been trying to stay focused. So here I am, checking in and sharing just a couple of the precious moments that keep me going.

Augie had a tooth pulled last week and spent the rest of the day here. His face was swollen and full of Novocain when he arrived, so he kept to himself and focused on building Legos. If you asked a question, he answered with a grunt. Because he couldn't hold his mouth closed, he developed a noisy but effective method of slurping so he wouldn't drool.

Dancing the quadrille in school conceert
So it went until about an hour after he'd arrived. Vi and I had on our tap shoes and were tapping around the kitchen. Augie looked up from his Legos and ventured one word: "Dance." "Okay," I said, not really knowing what he wanted. He guided me into the den, took his position across from me, and began the quadrille he had taught me a few weeks ago. I would call it a square dance, but his music teacher gave him a more elegant term and I'm all for that. He and his classmates performed the dance at a concert last week, and on this day he showed the same enthusiasm in spite of his discomfort.

Another hour later, he happily ate a gigantic lunch and still later said he said no thanks, he didn't need another does of Tylenol. Resilience. It's a wonderful thing.

The next morning he was showing me his newly arranged (world's largest) Lego fire department. He has at least 25 different fire-fighting vehicles including trucks, cars, helicopters, a plane, a large boat, and two fire stations. He showed me the first fire truck, parked in bay number one in the old station. "This is the first one I made," he said, sounding like a historian giving a tour of revered old things. "From this blossomed all these other creations."

Being a third-generation obsessive-compulsive, as he is, is probably a mixed blessing. But right now it gives him awesome organizational skills and he combines it with the language of a poet. That combination would serve me well as I work on this book.

 PS, We're back in the polar vortex again. "Brutal cold" was the TV weatherman's forecast. Stay warm. Or cool. Whichever suits you.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Thinking about summer...again

Back in fall 2009 I posted these photos, which I was intending to print and frame for a "winter garden" on one of our walls. Since almost nobody saw them and since we are enjoying a week of plus-30 degree weather instead of minus-30, this seems a perfect time to post them again.


Bellflowers and roses

Red Admiral butterfly

Monday, January 6, 2014

'Thirty Below' is just an expression...

View from our window 1/6/14
I grew up in Hibbing, Minnesota, where we expected subzero weather all winter long (and I do mean long). My mother would wake us, go down to the kitchen to start breakfast, and call back up the stairs, "Get up, and dress warm. It's thirty below!" Often, it was. Other days it might only be ten or twenty below, but you still needed to dress for it.

So "thirty below" became an expression that meant, "It's so cold your eyes will hurt." It's so cold your glasses will freeze to your face." And, "It's so cold you better hope your mittens dried out overnight."

Minus 12 at 4 p.m.
It never meant "You can stay home from school." My mother did keep me home one day, when I was in kindergarten and, I swear, the temperature was 54 below. This number is burned into my brain, and I suppose it could be the product of a misunderstanding, but who's going to argue? It was so cold that my mother, who sent me out to walk four blocks to school when it was thirty below, kept me home.

When I was in third grade it was super-cold again. By then I was walking three blocks and waiting for a school bus to take me to the Catholic school. My mom hated to have me standing out in the cold, and my dad was working out of town, so she asked the neighbor across the street if he would drive me to school. He said okay. But his car wasn't up to the weather. We chugged and lurched our way down the street with all the car's heat (which wasn't much) aimed at the heavily frosted windshield. Three or four blocks from my school the car broke down. He was so apologetic telling me I'd have to walk. But I couldn't quite believe it, and it was a while before I could move to climb out into the wind and the swirling snow. I was late getting to school, and I was so frozen I couldn't even speak to tell my teacher what had happened.

"Feels like" minus 40
I'm glad Minnesota schools are closed today, and glad most or all will be closed tomorrow. By Wednesday the high temperature here will be around zero, but it will still be well below that up north. I think about cold children, and homeless people, and folks who have to work outdoors in this weather. And I remember what a burden it was for me just to get dressed and drive three miles to work in this kind of weather, and to hike on icy sidewalks through blustering wind to get from the parking lot to my office. And I am SO GLAD I am retired and blessed with a warm, cozy house.

On Thursday morning, we get back to driving the grandkids to school. It's supposed to be 16 degrees above zero all day. That will be easy!


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