Monday, July 6, 2020

Dr. Cranky

For those of you who he is from previous blog posts, Doctor Cranky died earlier this year.   That wasn’t his real name, of course.  For that matter, he wasn’t a real doctor, either.   He had a PhD in political theory or some such self created field of study.  He studied (I believe) for a year, or perhaps only a semester, under Dr. Henry Kissinger at Harvard University, and so he told everyone that he got his education at Harvard rather than name whatever state university actually gave him his credentials.   He also presented himself as a doctor, in fact, as a physician, because he had taken two years of medical school before he dropped out.   Although it was apparently never enough for him, as evidenced by the way he constantly inflated and misrepresented his accomplishments, he had a quite remarkable life.   

Dr. Cranky’s father was a pilot in World War I, and both of the two sons, Cranky and his brother Bill, joined the Navy.  Bill went to the Naval Academy and, when Cranky asked whether he should do the same, Bill allegedly told him that if he had to ask he shouldn’t go, that he wouldn’t be happy.  Cranky took that advice and always resented it because he saw it as an impediment in his later Naval career.   After graduating from high school at age 15, Cranky joined the Marines as a gunner (with his parents permission) because he was not old enough yet to get into either the academy or fighter pilot training.   He remained a skilled marksman until he lost his sight many years later.  Both brothers became Naval Aviators, fighter pilots, and Bill always said that Cranky was a far better pilot; but Bill was the one who became a 4 star admiral in the end, while Cranky left the service in what sounded like a snit.  He knew what the fast track was like for the academy grads like his brother, whom he considered less intelligent and less skilled, and he didn’t get the same options as an enlisted guy, and it always rubbed him wrong.   After leaving the service, he earned his PhD and spent some time as a University professor until burned bridges prevented him from gaining tenure, and ultimately he became a college dean at a community college.  There, too, he was let go as soon as they found it possible, although he had the sense to get a written contract when he took that job so he took a handsome settlement with him when he left.

I met Cranky in my one and only on-line dating experience,  and he showered me with attention and gifts and flattery.   My female friends pushed aside my concerns about some of his behaviors - road rage, hoarding, abuse of waiters - and said that I was just so long out of the dating pool, having been single for 14 years since my divorce, that I was misjudging him.   I was stupid, insecure and devoid of any history of healthy relationships.  He was fun to talk to, adored everything about me, and always treated me with gentleness and apparent respect.   I conditionally accepted his lovely engagement ring, the first I had ever had and which I loved with a pathetic energy, but eventually, if not quickly enough, realized that we could never live comfortably together.  Similarly to other narcissists, Cranky went into blind furies for no apparent reason, and despite his genuine intelligence, resorted to childish criticism and name calling of anyone and anything I held dear.   He was jealous of my slightest attention to anything that wasn’t him.

When I broke things off with him (and gave him back his ring), he asked if I would do him one final favor and drive him to a doctor’s appointment because he was feeling ill.   As I sat in the waiting room, I could hear the physician screaming at him that he knew exactly what was wrong and what needed to be done.  Cranky stormed out of the office and refused to tell me a thing as I drove him home.   Later that afternoon, the physician called me, as I was listed as the emergency contact, and demanded to know how Cranky, supposedly a doctor, had not realized sooner that he was ill.   The physician said that Cranky had advanced diabetes, advanced heart failure, and likely less than a week to live.   On receiving that news, Cranky apparently called the physician a quack and the argument ensued.

Cranky’s only son was a single man busy building a career in New York city.    The two of them were close in the way that two independent adults were close, but health concerns had never been shared.  Both of them were fit, cyclists, who rode hundreds of miles a week.  Sickness was the last thing on their minds.   In his view, his son could not drop everything to take care of a sick parent, so I continued to drive Cranky to a series of increasingly difficult appointments.   A cardiac specialist told me that I would one day walk into his house and find Cranky dead, that nothing could be done.  The physician also considered me something of a saint for trying to help.   But still Cranky lived on.

Cranky continued to decline, his legs swelling up like moon boots and then splitting and shedding more than an inch of outer matter.  His genitals swelled to the size of a soccer ball and he refused to wear anything but a t-shirt.   The caregivers I hired to help him were thrown — or ran — out of the house after mere minutes.  So I continued trying to work every day, caring for my own house and dog, and stopping by his house in the mornings to clean him and make him a plate of food (which he ate with his fingers) and again at night to clean  him up and feed him again.  I spent every spare minute in his house, cleaning and caring for him.  He stumbled around the house like an enormous goose, leaving his waste wherever it fell, and my life (and probably his) blended into one long nightmare.   

After months, I somehow got him into my car and finally got him admitted to a hospital but they threw him out the next morning after he spent the night berating and threatening the nurses with bodily harm.  The next time a physician told me that Cranky would die soon, I responded that he’d damn well better.   Meanwhile, Cranky was increasingly delusional, believing himself trapped in an underground series of Japanese tunnels, and not recognizing me from time to time.   Because he owned an arsenal of weapons, and because I knew nothing about them, I found as many guns as I could and hid them, which eventually led to my learning to shoot and handle guns as a way of recognizing and knowing how to handle the guns in Cranky’s house.    He became too weak for me to transport to appointments, and so time went by, both of us stuck in a cycle of ugliness.  It got to the point that every time I found him alive felt like a broken promise.

I eventually found, by trial and error, a wonderful endocrinologist who coached me on how to get some occasional insulin into Cranky by sneak attacks and bribery.   There were times when he screamed and fought at the sight of me, other times when I could give the injection without his even knowing I was there.  We were guessing at dosage, but eventually he improved enough that he could finally get into the office to see her, and she charmed him by telling him that his education was more impressive than her own.   In a matter of weeks, in what seemed like a miracle, Cranky became able to think and self medicate and behave again, at least as well as he had before.   His friends and brother were able to visit and celebrate his resurrection.  Cranky wrapped up the jewelry I’d returned and insisted I take it back, and his brother and friends all agreed that I was owed much, much more.    And when I lost my job a few months later, I was able to move away and begin to put the horrors of the past years behind me.

Cranky stayed in touch, and swore to everyone that he would have been dead without me.   I do not disagree, although I was never sure it had been worth the cost.   He sent me gifts, which I returned, but we talked fairly often.

And then one day on the phone he started insulting someone I love, for no apparent reason, and I warned him again that I would not talk to him if he was not going to be civil about people I cared about.   He repeated the insult and I told him good-bye and hung up.   He called me back to tell me that I did not respect him the way he deserved to be respected and hung up on me.   He never called again, although he sent a few more gifts, which I sent back.   I held my breath for months, but never heard from him directly again, although I had a few queries from his friends, who said he would love to hear from me.    It has been what?  12 or more years since then.

Several weeks ago his son sent me an email, telling me of his father’s death the night before.   His son wanted me to know that, thanks to me, Cranky had lived long enough to meet and enjoy his three grandchildren.  I am happy for that because I cannot think of a greater blessing for anyone.  When the pandemic is over, his remains will be interred at Arlington Cemetery, and his son hopes that I will consider being there.  My husband thinks it would be good for me to go if it ever comes to that.

And then, oddly and suddenly, every photo from the years when Dr. Cranky was in them disappeared from my laptop.   I suspect the pictures are there somewhere, nothing really disappears from a hard drive after all, and that I will eventually find and recover them.  But for now it seems fitting that they are gone.   

Saturday, July 4, 2020

Three More Weeks . . .

Today is the 4th of July, the celebration in this country of the adoption of the Declaration of Independence, a document not well understood by our citizens, who today are posting impassioned statements on social media about their Right to not wear a mask in the midst of increasing coronavirus infections throughout the country.     A Facebook 'friend' posted a blurb about how we must outlaw voting by mail to protect our Right to free and fair elections, another political red herring that annoys me on this beautiful July morning.   I was up early today.  While my husband slept, I drank coffee on the back deck until I tired of the squirrels up high in the trees who kept dropping broken acorn shells on my head.    My husband, going through his Daniel Boone phase, has eliminated most of the resident chipmunks, so now the squirrels are in perpetual party mode.

We have had recent visits - both day and night - from a raccoon family, as well as a couple of what appear to be raccoon senior citizens.    At one point the mother of four kits saw me watching and got up on her hind feet in a "begging pose," but (as much as I enjoy watching critters) we are not falling for that cute ploy.  

We watched the film version of the stage play "Hamilton" last night and I fell in love with it just as much as my family did when they first saw it several years ago.    It is hard not to wonder how different this county would be if Hamilton, an abolitionist (for whatever mixed reasons), had lived another 50 years, as his wife did.   

My husband continues to keep our house stocked with cut flowers.  I try to be sure to really notice and enjoy them a bit every day; I am afraid I will become so spoiled that they become meaningless to me, and that would be a shame.

My son's family came to visit this week, for the first time since the quarantine began.   We sat out on the deck and talked, keeping distance between their family and the two of us.  My grandson wore a mask most of the time but the rest of us relied on the outdoor air and the fact that we have all been socially isolated.    Any of us would be devastated to infect the others.   It was so good, so very good, to see them.   The visit seemed much too short and it was hard to see them go.  I didn't think to take a single photo., which I now regret, though at the time I was busy just drinking in the sight of them.

My shoulder and foot continue to heal.   Going to physical therapy two or three times a week has made a huge difference in both pain and range of motion for my shoulder.  My therapist can  move the arm far beyond anything I can reach, and so I am pretty sure that I would improve even more quickly if I could muster the discipline to do the exercises at home with as much dedication as I had at the beginning of this process.   I do some, every day, but I do not do them with either the rigor or regularity as I did before the surgery.

I had another x-ray of my foot this week.  The gap at the base of the 5th metatarsal is still visible from all angles, which my doctor said was expected because this is not an area that heals quickly.  I will have to wear the 'boot' for another three weeks, but then, if there is evidence that healing is occurring (however slowly), he will let me transition to regular shoes.    If the healing does not progress, or if there is still much pain, we will need to discuss surgery.  But the surgery, which would involve a bone graph and several pins, sounds to me as if it would be worse than living with the break, so I plan to avoid it if at all possible.

We have no celebrations planned.  Perhaps I will remove my 'boot' long enough to do a bit of sewing, or maybe I will find something to bake or something fun to cook.   No worries here.   At least at the moment - and the moment is all we ever have --  life is good.

Monday, June 15, 2020

Just Flowers

I've been discovering more flowers on our yard.  We have primrose, and false buck's beard, and columbine and foxglove beardtongue.     Things I had only heard of but never knowingly seen.   Along with trumpet honeysuckle and wood lilies and iris and hopefully surprises yet to reveal themselves.    Despite the world unrest and the isolation, we are surrounded by beauty.     Feeling so lucky.

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Taking a Break

My day started with coffee chaos.  Jack is really wonderful about setting up the coffee pot and putting it on a timer so that the coffee is usually brewing when I come downstairs.   He let me know last night that it was all set to go but when I went into the kitchen, I discovered that he had forgotten to put the coffee pot into the machine, so almost all of the coffee had been deposited, instead, into the drawer below the counter and onto the floor.   What a mess!    And worst of all, only about a cup and a half of coffee went into the hastily placed carafe.    Keeping our priorities in order, we drank that coffee before we cleaned up the considerable mess and made a second pot.   On the plus side, the kitchen smells great, sort of like a coffee shop, but it did put the day a bit behind.  Not that I expect much to get done.

We have a severe weather warning out for this afternoon.   The National Weather Service has advised that it does not know yet how the predicted significant rainfall will affect our area, so people in low lying areas have been advised to find alternative shelter and the Salvation Army is set up to house them for the next two days.   High winds are also predicted, so we need to move chairs and light objects inside.

Meanwhile, my own little storms continue.   I saw my surgeon yesterday and was quite impressed with the precautions his office was taking.   The nurses stopped anyone who entered without a mask, handed them one and told them they needed to wear it while they were in the building.   All of the staff were masked, and it was apparent that my surgeon, a good looking, usually well groomed man, had not had a haircut since the pandemic started.   He was very nice and understanding about my lack of progress, and said I had gained more strength than he would have expected, but nonetheless explained that I was "flirting with frozen shoulder" and that, to avoid another surgical "fix", I really need to go to physical therapy to have my shoulder loosened.  I am expecting another wave of viral infections in our area as a result of the recent flooding, but I will be calling rehab centers today to find out what precautions they are taking and try to find a place I can feel comfortable going.   

Meanwhile, he looked at and x-rayed my foot, which is still discolored and hard to walk on.   The 5th metatarsal, behind the little toe, is broken clean through, and separated enough to be visible from all angles.   He says that surgery is rarely indicated for this break, as long as it fuses together, so he prescribed a boot brace for me to wear for the next few weeks.    As one would expect, it is hot and uncomfortable, rubbing in all the wrong places, perhaps an appropriate punishment for being so clumsy.   Could be a lot worse though.   Honestly, I feel a little vindicated by the break, because I was starting to think I was just a whiney baby, complaining about every little hurt.

My granddaughter finished 8th grade this year and will be going to high school in the fall.   Since they cannot gather together, her class celebrated with a parade so the kids could see their teachers and  each other and make a little fuss.   One of my niece's school celebrates 8th grade graduation with a cap and gown, which I find amusing, since it seems to me to send the message that we are all amazed that she's made it this far.   We are not at all amazed, of course, that the kids have managed to finish middle school, and it will be fun to see them conquer the academic and personal challenges that will no doubt confront them all in the next few years.  Just managing this next school year with Covid-19 precautions will be an adventure! They are growing up so darn fast.  Renée will be 14 next month and my grandson Joseph will be turning 16 in November.   Where does the  time go?!

One of our two clematis is blooming; this is the one we refer to as the Dead Bird Bush since it was the location of our doomed robin's nest.   The other plant is just starting to form buds.   I hope we will discover other flowering plants as the season progresses.

Monday, June 1, 2020

Phase IV and Counting

Just as I started to wrap my head around the idea of Phase I in lifting the Covid-19 Quarantine, our Governor announced that we are going to enter Phase IV this week.  Since the Midland area was smacked by flooding this week, estimated at well over $640 Million in damages,  and since people have been mingling and protesting all over the country ever since, I am not at all convinced that this is a good idea.  In addition to the flood repairs and evacuations that are bringing people together locally, our whole Nation has been shaken to its core, again, by being forced to look at race relations.   What we have seen this week is not new, but we are good at denial here, and act shocked and surprised every time we are made to look. I hope, as I have hoped before, that this time we will commit to making no more excuses.

I plan to watch the numbers and not change my life too quickly.  The virus is still there and active, and I am still old, so there is no point in rushing to be first to join a crowd.

Rain is expected again this week and we've been advised that the National Weather Service has no predictions yet for how rainfall will affect out area. Water in the creeks and rivers may rise more quickly and crest sooner, we are told.   Or maybe not.   We'll have to wait and see.

I tried to get off my lazy rear this week to do some  sewing and long overdue yard work.  I finished the pieces for three Star table toppers; I thought I would make the bits for a couple more and then assemble them all at once to give to some of Jack's siblings and kids.

I set those aside to go outside and weed a bit.    The bird seed that has fallen from the feeders sprouted in our most recent rains, which I had foolishly not anticipated.  But the rhododendron and other flowery residents are looking good, and I found a toad in one of our downspouts, so it was nice to walk around.

So the yard work went well enough, but as I was on my way back to the house via the yard waste container, I slipped and fell, twisting my foot. The swelling is going down finally, but it is still bruised and sore.   I've been back to doing Not Much ever since.  2020 continues to wreak havoc,  but I am still hoping we can find some kind of peaceful compromise before it is over!


Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Lucky Times Three

For anyone who watches the news, it isn't news that Mid-Michigan, where I live, has had its share of troubles lately.   First, we are surrounded by gun-toting, mask-less extremists who insist that being asked not to contract and spread Covid-19 is a violation of their Personal Liberty. Although they are reportedly a minority, they include people we know. People we used to trust.  People I have no interest in ever seeing again.  Besides being surrounded by idiots, we are also surrounded by water.   

Michigan has about 2000 dams, I have read, and most of them are privately owned.   Most of them were built to create recreational areas, and most of them could not be built today under modern regulations.   Two dams northwest of us have been in the news for years because they were old and they were failing, but, as is true for most of this country's old dams, no one wanted to pay for their repair.   

Just last year, a FEMA report concluded that the southern towns -- like Midland, where I like -- would  be seriously damaged if those dams failed and also concluded that the dams were increasingly likely to fail.   Much of the Midland area borders rivers and creeks, and much of it is low lying.  Our house is on a creek that runs off of the Tittabawassee River, into which the floodwaters are released as needed to control the lake levels in Wixom and Sanford Lakes, so that people could enjoy their lovely lakefront properties.  Dow Chemical plant is also downriver from those dams.   That water from the river eventually runs down to the Saginaw Bay and into Lake Huron.  

The Four Lakes Task Force was formed in July 2019 to try to figure out how to protect the dams, but the local people objected at public meetings to anything that would cost them money.  Many (many) people lived on the lakes created by the dams, and they did not want their taxes to go up, and also did not want the water levels to go down, not even a foot or two, because the higher lake levels meant that they could have bigger boats and better fishing.   

Which brings us to this week.

We had several days of persistent rain.   The water levels were rising, but neither dam operator decided to release any water.   We received 911 texts telling us that the dams were structurally sound but that there could be some  localized flooding.   We kept a close eye on the creek in our back yard, and although the levels raised quite a bit, it didn't look dangerous.

And then the fire trucks arrived on our street, lights flashing.  We were alerted that the dam breakage was imminent and that we had to leave.  This is our first year here, and obviously the area has no history of breaking dams, so we didn't know what to expect.   We are not in a flood plain, we were careful about that when we bought the house, but we could see that the creek levels were much higher than usual.  So we moved a few things in the basement to a higher shelf -- I brought up the goose decoy that my brother made, but didn't even think to move my box of quilts upstairs since they were on a shelf.     I was woefully unprepared to leave.  For one thing, between my surgery and the quarantine, I had only driven away from the house a couple of times this year and no longer have any real memory of what I might need when I am away.   For another, I have just gotten so lazy.   For years, when I lived alone, I always kept a "go bag," with medications, clothing, flashlight and copies of insurance and identification, among other things.   I took that bag apart when I got married so that I could replace the documents, and I never got it together again.   We grabbed what we could think of and left, each of us driving a different car.  Almost immediately I realized that I didn't even have my wallet.   I turned around to get it, but the police wouldn't let me back into our street.  It was then that I remembered the quilts, and realized that there were a million things we should have brought with us, but too late to do anything about it.

I have read that, at the peak of the rainfall, the dams were over-topped and were releasing 5000 cubic feet of water a second.  That was when we were home and the creek was high.  When the dams broke, they released 60,000 cubic feet per second.  

In Sanford, up river nine miles northwest of us, whole houses were swept away  Every single business in that small town was destroyed.  The lakes where people lived are now empty, with boats and docks and household debris swept into huge piles.  Whole neighborhoods have disappeared.    Amazingly, no one was killed.

When we were evacuated, we went to Jack's old house, which is in a dry zone.   It was the first time that we were happy he hadn't gotten it ready yet to sell.  Within a few hours we saw a Facebook notice that the sewer system had been shut down, so we drove north to my brother's house.  He was delighted to have us, and we were able to pick up a birthday cake along the way to unexpectedly celebrate his 80th birthday, which normally we would have skipped because of the quarantine.   Our time there was a silver lining in a stressful time as we watched the news and realized how serious this event was going to be.   When we were finally allowed to go home, I arrived first and found that Jack had ordered a bouquet of flowers, which was standing on our front porch.   He didn't know what I would find inside, and he wanted me to remember that we would be okay.

I am still amazed to say that our house was not damaged.   I keep double checking because I still can't believe that it's true.   We can see on the outside of the door frame where the water lapped against the doorwall that leads out of our basement, and there was a little seepage on the carpet inside.   There was no standing water, but a small section of the carpet was damp.   Not wet, merely damp.   The basement has an unpleasant odor, but there was no sewage back up.   We will have the carpet cleaned and sanitized and, if that does not fix the smell, we will have it replaced, but as far as we can tell, nothing else is wrong.  When things settle down and workmen are available, we will investigate what we can do to further protect our property in the event of future flooding.

Our community continues to play on the national news.  Volunteers have poured in from all over the country, as far south as Louisiana, we're told.  Local churches, including a yellow shirt team from the Latter Day Saints and a non-denominational group called Samaritan's Purse, are helping to clean out basements and remove debris, working up to twelve hours a day, in nearly 90 degree heat, on houses they don't own, for people they don't know.   

Our neighborhood is southeast of the dam area so the destruction is less dramatic, but it has been affected.    The people in the house immediately to the left of ours have piles of wet carpet and furniture and dry wall on the curb for pick up.   

The people down the street had five feet of sewage in their basement, and another had 7 feet of floodwater and dozens of dead fish in their daughter's bedroom.   

But the neighbor to the right of us says they did not have a single drop of water in their house.    And we have a few inches of damp carpet.   The undamaged among us feel guilty.   The young ones are going out to help the neighbors.   I have volunteered my whole life but, at 70, I don't seem to have the energy to offer much assistance.  As became true in the Search and Rescue group, I am more likely to be a liability than an aid, so I stand back, send money, and feel guilty.  Guilty and very, very lucky.

Today the Four Lakes Task Force released this statement:
       Recent events related to the Edenville dam failure were terrible and tragic for our community. All of us on the Four Lakes Task Force are devastated by our individual and collective losses, and our hearts go out to everyone who is impacted. The Lake Associations and Counties were in the process of acquiring the dams, with a closing expected, and then to improve the dams to survive historic floods. The acquisition has not and will not take place under the terms that were negotiated with Boyce Hydro this past winter.
       We are reassessing the path forward to acquire the Boyce property and rebuild our dams and lakes. The Four Lakes Task Force is collaborating with the Counties, lake communities and regulatory authorities on the best path forward as we assess the issues and work toward recovery.
Class Action lawsuits have already been filed, blaming everyone and everything.

Friday, May 15, 2020

Beginning Phase One

We had another hard freeze the other night.  Our roof was blanketed in a thick coating of ice.   I had been primed to report in this post about a robin who built a nest outside our windows and was sitting on 5 little blue eggs.  We were looking forward to watching them hatch and fledge.   But sometime over the weekend she froze to death, bravely sitting on her nest.   Although the department of natural resources promises me that this is not uncommon, no one I know has ever seen or heard of such a thing.   It was a pitiful sight, but I've decided that our poor dead robin is my new mental symbol for 2020.   Yes, I've been in that cheery sort of mood lately.

Our Governor is beginning Phase I of trying to open a few more businesses.  I know the business owners are eager.   My dentist called and left a message saying that his office could keep me safe for my regular check up.   I called him back and said I am not ready.  After the armed protests in the Michigan Capital, I don't feel much trust for my fellow citizens.   I will hold back and watch to see how it goes.

Last Sunday was mother's day, most often a difficult day for me.   I was a single mom when my kids were young, and I didn't want them to feel pressured about mother's day.  I told them truly and would still say today, that it is only a Hallmark holiday and that it was enough to know they loved me.   But in those days, after all, they were home and I felt useful and busy and loved.   In my elder years, it is a day often overlooked, and I feel nostalgic for the days when they were young, and lonely for them.  In this quarantine year, it was a moody day for sure.   But Jack bought me flowers, and my son and his family arranged a "drive by" mother's day; my granddaughter Renée and her mom made delicious lemon squares for me, and they all stood at the end of my driveway so we could talk and just see one another.   I wasn't sure whether to laugh or cry, so I did a little of both.    I asked the kids if they could feel me hugging them with my mind.   I hope they could.  I miss them all so much.

Fortunately the hummingbirds survived the latest cold snap, now we just hope that there won't be another.  It is still mostly dreary and cold, with more dreary on the way.   It is still too early to plant tender crops, but there are no predictions of dangerous temperatures today.  In fact, for a brief time today, as a break from all the rain and cold, it was actually hot!   When I went for a short walk, it was 72 degrees, and I was worn out nearly before I started.  I did manage to anonymously deliver three of my pay-it-forward mini-quilts, though.   I will watch for the fourth graduation sign on my next walk and hopefully finish my deliveries.

I've used the rainy weather to make more  of the little house "coaster/quilts" and more masks.   I made masks with a trout pattern for my fly-fishing brother and masks with chemistry and math patterns for my grands.   I expect they will go back to school sometime over the fall and winter, and I think they will still need masks then, so I am getting ready.   I think my next fast and easy "break" project will be to make sets of coasters for a few relatives.   They are easy to mail and will be useful as we finally move into the season of cool drinks that tend to sweat onto the table top!

The afternoon was pleasant, though, and Jack and I took advantage to sit out on our deck for practically the first time since we bought the house.   We watched the newest batch of teeny tiney baby chipmunks -- a scourge, really, but oh so cute -- and were visited by blue jays, cardinals, orioles and woodpeckers.  An oriole visited the hummingbird feeder and spent time drinking the sweet nectar.  In the background, amid the chattering chippers and birdsong, we could hear an occasional chorus of frogs.   It only takes a minute of listening to national of state news to stress us both out, but this time spent listening to nature and each other made it truly an idyllic afternoon.  Jack made me a gin and tonic as a surprise, and I cannot remember being more relaxed and content.

Jack remarked last night that, if things get as bad as the worst-case-predictors think they will, we could spend the rest of our lives with only each other as company.   I hope that won't happen, I treasure seeing my family  and especially my grands.   But I am truly fortunate to know that, if that's the way things shake out, I wouldn't want it any other way.

Thursday, May 7, 2020

May Flowers -- And Birds

I am glad that I posted a photo of our tulip in my last entry, because someone -- squirrels? -- at the flowers clean off the stems within a day or two after I took the picture.   I can hardly blame them, they DID look good enough to eat!  

I decided to test my arm when we had our first warm day, and raked a small area -- perhaps a ten foot square -- that was matted with autumn leaves.   There were a lot of them, and they created a large pile, filling one of the large yard waste bins that our city provides.   The next day my arm felt fine and I was pretty happy with the experiment, but my arm has been painful ever since, which might or might not be connected.   It is annoyingly hard to tell, especially since I've been lax with my exercises lately.   To be safe, I called a landscape company and they have promised to come out when they can and rake up the rest of last autumn's mess.  They were supposed to clean the yard before my surgery, but first the snow and then the quarantine prevented it.   I hope they are able to get it done now,  if they are able to do it safely.  Our roofer called today, too, to say that they will be starting construction soon.   They and other workers are being told by our Governor that they can begin work again, but none of us know whether it is safe for them to do so. It is, at its core, a social experiment.   I think they need to stay home, but they think they need the work.  Selfishly I have to admit that I would be glad to have the work done although if, as we fear, another wave of illness hits, our roof and leaves won't really matter.

We feel so grateful these days.   We do not like being told to stay home (and away from family) any more than anyone else.  But we have a lovely place to stay home in.  We continue to discover the plants in our yard.  We have several large bleeding heart plants, which I expect will be huge before the summer is over.   We have a nice bed of trillium, and a scattering of forget-me-nots and spring beauties.    I love finding woodsy little surprises in our lawn.   I cannot imagine why so many people around here use weed killer to prevent them.

We are still seeing deer almost daily, although the trees are beginning to leaf out and that will make them harder to see.  And we have a raccoon who saunters down our fence line,  using it as a highway, every few days.

I saw a female wood duck up in a tree this week, at least 30 feet up, and was surprised to learn that she could be nesting there.   I cannot imagine how chicks survive the trip down, but apparently they do, so we are hoping that she will decide to raise her family here.  She and her fella have been frequent visitors this spring, along with mallards and Canada geese.    We've watched a Robin setting up housekeeping in one of our clematis plants, and look forward to seeing her family progress.  And we've already had a hummingbird checking out our nectar feeder, the earliest we've ever seen one!

I am finally sewing a little more regularly, and finished a star mat, about 21" across, to send to my husband's twin.  They are a (retired) career military family, so I was happy to find the Navy fabric.  I'm telling myself that quarantined hands should be busy hands so I hope to get a few more gifts done as time goes on.  My plan is to send them out as they are finished, for no particular reason.

Speaking of gifts, I was delighted to receive a "pay it forward" gift from my friend Barbara, and especially love that it has a little house in the embroidery!   I have been obsessed with house motifs during this quarantine time and have worked on little else.   It came with a "hug" token, which I love!  What a sweet addition.

In exchange for Barb's gift, I promised to make and give four 'pay it forward' gifts myself.   I noticed, from signs on their front lawns, that (at least) four neighborhood kids are graduating from high school during the quarantine, so I decided to gift them with little coasters and a note reminding them to stay home and stay safe.   I don't know any of them so I am not likely to ever hear whether they enjoyed their surprises, but at least my conscience is clear and I can enjoy Barb's gift without guilt!

Monday, April 27, 2020

Time To Bloom

We are discovering new blooming things in our yard every day.   I have no idea what most of them are, but I enjoy finding them.   We have two small bushes in bloom -- calling them bushes is an over-statement since each is really just a couple of sticks.   Berries of some kind, maybe?

We have a couple of forsythia bushes, which is a nice surprise.   They are pretty ordinary the rest of the year, but so pretty in the spring!

I found a single tulip bloom, and had earlier seen a single daffodil  -- since no one plants just one daffodil or one tulip, I am guessing the squirrels must have been responsible for the limited landscaping with bulbs.

We have several kinds of flowering ground cover.  Periwinkle, squill (I am told) and some very common but unknown variety.

And we have a flowering tree -- again, I have no idea what it is, but I am happy to see it!

The blooms are especially welcome this year because our back area is still extremely drab.  The woodland critters blend in nicely, and I find the view calming, but the colors certainly do nothing to lift the spirit!

My embroidery blocks continue to stack up.   I am enjoying the machine embroidery because it doesn't tax my sore arm the way that using the regular sewing machine does.   I have 21 of the larger blocks (6"x10") finished, and seven of the smaller (6"x6") blocks.  I have a few more house design patterns that I want to create.  Eventually I will need to lay them out and decide what to do with them -- at this point, I am still leaning toward a throw-sized quilt for each of my grands, and perhaps a table runner for us.    I am trying to embroider three blocks a day, with time off for good behavior, so it will be a week or more before I am ready to make any decisions.   I am glad to be getting some small bits of work done again!

I learned today that my physical therapy place has closed, gone out of business, another victim of Covid-19.  I feel bad that I wasn't able to support them and keep them afloat, but I am sure they are not the only local business that will not survive this time.   I am supposed to visit my surgeon next week and I am curious to hear whether they will want me to come at all.  I will wait a few days before I call them, but at this point I don't think the check up visit is worth the risk, however limited that risk is.

Our State Governor announced measures today to limit and monitor the reopening of some businesses during the pandemic, starting this week.   Her briefing was very detailed and explained the data they are using to watch for indications that we are moving too quickly or too slowly.   I was happy to hear it, because it is evident to the casual observer that too many people -- eager for what they claim is their "freedom" -- are already moving too quickly to gather again.  Jack drove by the ice cream store yesterday, thinking about getting a curbside pick up, and saw that the parking lot and porch were overflowing with people.   It seems unlikely that they were all from one household.   I, for one, would rather not die of this.   Since I believe it got out of hand in the first place partly because of bad government, and since I did not vote for that bad government,  I would resent paying the ultimate price for stupidity.

Meanwhile, I am happy at home, discovering the unexplored landscape of my own back yard.

Thursday, April 23, 2020

Safe At Home

Jack and I continue to stay in, respecting the Michigan Governor’s recommendations to quarantine as the infection and death counts continue to climb as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.    We were invited to a FaceTime “concert” last night, to hear my Grands play a duet of “Circle of Life” that they intend to post to YouTube.   It was the first time I had seen them and my son and daughter in law in months, and was very emotional for me.   I loved hearing the music, but even more I just wanted to drink them in with my eyes.   

Except for the ache of not seeing and being able to hug and spend time with my family, our life here goes on pretty much as normal.  We are not eating out, and I view that as a positive change; I have always been happy to cook.   This week we enjoyed a particularly delicious navy bean soup with ham (made in the Instant Pot that my family bought us for Christmas a couple years ago), a multi-grain and seed loaf of bread, and sheet pan pancakes, among other things.  We will not have lost any weight when the quarantine is over!

I love these overnight, no knead, no work breads, especially since these days our local groceries often run out of the breads we regularly use.   This particular change in our eating habits might be permanent!

I have finally started to sew again, in addition to masks and scrub hats.   Mostly I am using the ridiculously expensive embroidery machine that Jack bought almost three years ago, shortly before his strokes, a Babylock Solaris.   I was in the market for a straight-stitching sewing machine, because of my interest in quilting.  I had never been interested in the least in machine embroidery, but he was much taken with the idea and he decided that I should be, too.   The machine was on order when he went to the hospital.  We had no plans to marry at that time, but he roused himself in the ICU to insist that I ask his daughter to pick the machine up from the dealer so that I could start using it right away.  He was afraid he might die without getting the machine from the dealer and he wanted me to have it.  I felt quite awkward about the idea that he was spending such a large amount of money (and energy) just for my use, so the machine sat for about six months in his basement while I nursed him back to health.  As he recovered, he pressed me to take it out of the box, and then I felt obligated to use it since it was so important to him, but I only used it at his house.  Of course now it is in our marital home so obviously a lot has changed since then.   I never did buy my own basic machine and now we don't have room for one! This week I am using the Solaris to make house squares, all embroidery designs from  the Australian company, Sweet Pea.    Since I knew nothing about machine embroidery, when I discovered Sweet Pea I stuck with them, and almost all of my work is done with their designs.   I am not sure what I will make in the end, but a "Stay Home Stay Safe" theme made sense to me, so for now I am just creating the squares.  This event will certainly have lasting power in the memories of my Grandchildren, so a blanket throw or table runner seems in order to commemorate it.

In an odd twist, it seems we are learning more about our neighbors in this  time of isolation than we knew when people were free to mingle.  People are posting their special events and asking passers by to honk their horns.  When we see such a sign nearby, Jack goes out and plays his bagpipes if the weather allows, whether they want him or not.  Today we learned that the young man across the street is named Kyle, and that he is turning 16.    He was kind of embarrassed at the pipe serenade, but his parents were thrilled!

Friday, April 10, 2020

Time Slips Away

Tomorrow is the 13 year anniversary of my blog.   The person I was when I started writing this blog on April 11, 2007, has slipped away from me, it seems so long ago, and so much has changed.   And now, in the midst of the Covid-19 quarantine, there is no reason to believe that things will ever be quite the same again.    I was concerned about the state of the world for my grandchildren when I first started writing, and I am even more concerned now.    Although I must say, my grandchildren are more likely to take it all in stride than I am; the resilience of youth.

Tomorrow is Easter Sunday.   Although my husband and I no longer celebrate religious holidays, Easter was a very big event in my childhood, and even in my young adult years.    During this quarantine, I have started writing letters to my grandchildren every Sunday, and since there is no real news to report, I find myself recalling things from my childhood in those letters, remembering, for instance, the white cotton gloves and Easter bonnets of my childhood.   My family has not mentioned my pen pal endeavors, so I don't know yet whether the kids are even reading them, but it has been an interesting form of journaling for me.   

The stream of consciousness involved in writing those letters reminded me that Easter used to be filled with traditions involving family and food, so I am planning to make a little more effort than usual this weekend for our own Sunday supper.    In that same "trying harder" tradition, I made cocktails last night for the first time.   Jack and I are not cocktail people,  or at least we have not been in the past. But we have both collected a variety of spirits over the years, kept in a basement closet.  

I found a 'classic' recipe for Bees Knees on line.  Since we had honey and lemon juice and gin on hand, that was my first effort.   I made one cocktail for us to share, which was plenty, but I enjoyed it enough that I will be on the lookout for other simple options.   In the course of searching for the gin, I also found a little raspberry vodka and Chambord in the cupboard, so that will be the foundation of Sunday's treat.   I will also make a loaf of bread and perhaps a cinnamon coffee cake as well.   

I am still making masks in a variety of patterns, depending on what materials I am able to find.  Today I am experimenting with strips of ACE bandage and cut up leggings for the ear pieces, although my husband thinks he found a source for elastic and has ordered me a supply.   More and more people are requesting them.   It pains my surgical arm to sew for any length of time, but I am trying to make several a day.   The masked photo below is of Jack's niece, Sarah, an ER nurse in Mississippi, wearing one of my masks.    I am also sending her the scrub hat that I am modeling below, with buttons sewn on the brim to save her ears from the elastic ear wraps on most of her masks.

Sarah says that wearing homemade personal protection items helps the nurses feel connected and supported by their families and communities, and that is very much worth my effort.    But making and gifting masks to friends and family feels much the same as making and gifting bags or quilts; people seem to take them for granted, somehow assuming that because sewing is a hobby, I am using my fabric and time and postage to send these to them for my personal pleasure.   So sometimes I need to walk away from all of it.    See how grumpy I am?   Isolation is making me too cranky to always trust my responses.  I am grateful that my immediate family always seems delighted to receive my handmade offerings, but they are more the exception than the rule.

Aside from making too many masks, a sad and troubling task, I made pen wrappers for the Grands to mail as an Easter gift, since I cannot shop for the types of things I would usually have bought.   I mailed them along with new pencils for Joseph and art pens for Renée.  They are not very practical, but I hope they like them a little.  Joseph's is designed with a dragon, his school mascot, and Renée's is covered in owls.  They machine embroidery, a Sweet Pea design, and are fun to do.

It is trying to be Spring here, although last night we had snow and hail and freezing temperatures.   

The trees are starting to bud, and my one daffodil made a brave attempt to bloom before doing a face plant onto a neighboring rock.   Some days I think I know exactly how the daffodil must feel.    I will try my best not to do the same.

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Taking It Slow

Although I hear that many people here are disregarding the Michigan Governor's Stay At Home order.  Only essential businesses are allowed to be open, and we are only supposed to leave home for errands involving groceries, health and things necessary to life.   But we hear that the few open stores are crowded, which is a cause for concern.  Here at our house things are quiet and slow.   I saw a cute post on Facebook that says it all for me -- "I always thought I wanted to clean my house but didn't have the time.  Now I know that was not the reason."   There are so many projects that I should be working on, both practical ones and things I once thought would be fun.  But I seem to do less, and have less energy, than ever before.  Even the sewing room and kitchen don't tempt me.   My daughter in law is running a temperature, my daughter is looking forward to being released into the highly infected New Orleans area but melting down over how long the system is taking, and my brother is insisting that he wants to go home, where he lives alone in an area with few services.   We hear that some hospitals will not treat anyone with suspected COVID-19 if they are over 60; the youngest of us is 65.  And of course some commentators have suggested that grandparents should be willing to die -- supposedly for their grandchildren, but really so that portfolios can recover by boosting the stock market.  That kind of news is sort of a blow to ones self worth.   It is hard some days to find that elusive inner peace, even though nothing nothing nothing is really wrong.   But the ice cream will be gone before long.  What's a gal to do?

Some neighborhood critter seems to be trying to cheer things up, though.   We have received two gifts on our back deck this week: a dead chipmunk and a whole slice of fresh rye bread.  I know that they likely came from different sources, but I prefer to think of it as one gift-giver, either intent on pleasing us or, just as likely, trying to show us what it's like if your preferred food source isn't available.   We haven't been good lately about filling the feeders with corn and seed because we'll have no way of buying more when it is gone.  As far as we know, bird feed stores are not essential services.

We've also been visited by another turkey vulture this week and now, of course, we know why.  We still find it hard to believe that our deer succumbed to starvation -- he just didn't look or act that frail -- and so we wonder whether we have predators that could have taken him down.  We'll never know, the body was too far gone by the time we found it, but in these days with nothing to do but think, we are thinking.

I made and sent the sample masks for our nurse-relatives.  Their States, further south,  have not (yet) been hit as hard as Michigan has by COVID-19, so their hospitals told them they were not allowing homemade masks at this time.  Our relatives asked for one sample to try, so that they would know whether to ask for more if things get worse there.   I hoped they would never need to use them, although I know that they have many non-medical workers who are not protected and who could benefit (at least emotionally) from their use.    But I just this minute got a text from one of them saying they will now be "allowed" to wear home made masks.   This is not good news, because it would not be allowed if there weren't a shortage of the more protective gear.  

Locally and maybe nationally, we are out of elastic, out of ribbon, out of jewelry wire, and I can't find many of those items in my stash.    I have plenty of cotton material, though, and I can always make ties.  For my first masks I used the wire twisties from bakery wrappers to create the nose "pinch," but they would be nicer and easier to do with better materials, just as elastic would make the masks fit and feel better.  But I will keep sewing a variety of styles with what I have.  I will need to find another chair, though, if I am going to make many of these, because the strain on my surgical arm becomes annoying almost immediately with the current set up.  I have a new pattern that I used today that include rubber bands for the ear pieces.  I am not sure whether our ordinary, cheap rubber bands will be at all durable, but it is worth a try.  They do seem to wash and dry well, and are not uncomfortable to wear.   Since I am out of bakery twisties, there is no nose 'pinch' in these masks.   I've made some for our family, and now I will start on donations for the local health care systems that have requested them.

Meanwhile, here at home, we are moving too little and eating too much.  I made blueberry muffins this morning, a welcome break from the healthier breakfasts we've been eating, and perhaps a sign tht I am almost ready to get up off my rear!  It is time to create a schedule, I think, and to find a new normal in this not normal time.  We would like to support our local businesses and most of them are offering carryout food, but so far I have not taken advantage of that.   I feel safer just staying and eating at home, but I am pretty sure we will be trying one of the curbside options before this is all over.   I know I will need to visit the pharmacy in the next week or so to pick up prescription refills, and maybe that will be a good time to order food since I will need to be out anyway.  Besides, the list that was published in the local paper indicated that our favorite small batch ice cream store is on the list of open and essential businesses!      And Starbucks will still hand coffee through their drive through window.   It is amazing to me that my Facebook feed is so filled with complaints of hardship at having to stay at home.

My scofflaw husband supported one local business yesterday by ordering flowers for me, a surprise on  many levels -- I didn't think a florist would be open since they can hardly be called essential, but some small companies are staying open until they are told personally that they have to close.  According to the local newspaper, the police are visiting those small merchants to give warnings, and  reports say that even going out in our personal vehicles for an aimless drive violates the Governor's 'Stay At Home' order.   So the flowers are probably contraband, but they were a nice surprise and make a bright spot in the living room.  The lilies smell like summer and good memories of better days, despite the frightening news, rain and dreary skies.  It is hard to believe that just a couple of weeks ago, the Grands were in school preparing for science fair, robotics and the school play.  The older ones were getting ready for prom and graduation.   In what seemed like an instant, life's priorities are different than we've ever known.    I hope that we, and especially the younger ones, come out of this still filled with optimism for the future, perhaps a future that will have less focus on the "me" and more recognition of our shared planet and shared fate.