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Dear Mr. Greta

The realtor placed three sheets of paper on the table in front of Arnie and me. A picture of a house, its square feet of living space, number of bedrooms, bathrooms, type of furnace and when the roof had last been shingled was on each sheet.

An old, brick, farm house photographed on a sunny afternoon drew my attention like a magnet. Old wagon wheels with spokes flanked its driveway. I felt as though the place needed me. I wondered, “Am I attracted to the house because it reminds me of where Katie, a dear family friend once lived?

I picked up the paper and started to read the specifics. Seeing my interest, the realtor said, “That house is located along a little river north of Marshfield on 2.3 acres.

Even before seeing the house, I felt hooked. Arnie and I wanted to live in the country. This place was between Marshfield, where we both worked, and my parent’s farm where I’d grown up and visited often.

The house had been a fixer-upper. But according to Arnie who didn’t like cutting corners, the previous owners had patched it with band-aides. I loved the house enough to live with its imperfections, especially since the price was right. We had no money to make a down payment and in 1979 the interest on house loans was 12% . Continue reading

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Lions and Lambs

I zipped my jacket up closer to my throat. The sunshine was blinding, but Old Sol certainly wasn’t tempering the winter chill. Chickadees and goldfinches twittered and tweeted as they gobbled seeds, scratching and pecking for the best and biggest around the bird feeder. In the distance, from the top of a tree in the wood lot, I heard the unmistakable spring song of a cardinal.

The warm glow of joy filled my heart. I blurted, “Oh my gosh Tammie, did you hear that?”

My daughter had been reaching to open her car door. She straightened up, looked over the top of the car at me and asked, “No. What did you hear?”

Excitedly, I explained, “Do you remember me telling you that cardinals begin to sing their mating songs in the middle of February? Well, guess what? Today is the 16th of February, and I’ve just heard my first cardinal love song for the year!”

In the moment of silence following my announcement, we were blessed with an encore. The clear, pleading notes of a cardinal floated down to us from a nearby tree top. It sounded as it was asking, “Pretty-birdie? Pretty-birdie?”

Farther back in the wood-lot we heard a faint answering call. We were listening to a pair of cardinals having a conversation! Were they planning where to nest for the summer? Maybe they were discussing the best and safest food source in the area.  After a few minutes, smiling broadly, my daughter and I got into the car. Although it was cold that day, we knew winter would soon come to an end. Continue reading

Holler Uncle

I shivered while donning an industrial quality dust mask and a pair of nitrile gloves. The house was cold because the furnace had been off for a full two hours. Having taken all the precautions I could, I pushed ahead with the job at hand; the weekly cleaning of ash from the pellet furnace which heats my old brick house.

In April it will be twelve years since my husband, Arnie died suddenly. Two days into my grieving, I had realized that I needed to learn how to maintain the furnace. This had always been Arnie’s job, so I didn’t have a clue. Arnie wasn’t around anymore to tell me what I needed to know. I was horrified. Searching the house failed to turn up a user’s manual. No one in my circle of friends had a furnace like mine. All the local businesses that sold and repaired furnaces had never seen a Canadian-made Traeger pellet furnace.

Tammie, my reference librarian daughter found a manual for my furnace on-line. Taking the copy she’d printed for me, my son-in-law Mike, carefully guided me step-by-step through the process. We learned the ash needed to be cleaned out once a week. Once a month the face plates had to be removed to clean the heat exchange tunnels. Ash, soot and creosote blackened my hands, arms and face, staining my clothing. Continue reading

Abandoned

I didn’t turn the light on in the entryway. Soft light escaping from the kitchen and office let me to see enough. Louie, the cat with can-opener-claws wanted in. In the shadows, I could see Jonah, my grumpy tabby cat’s white bib as she crept along the wall.

Thinking I wasn’t coming, Louie impatiently fastened his claws into the office window screen and pulled, further damaging the wires. I threw open the door and yelled, “Louie, you jerk, stop it!”

Snow was falling and cold wind whistled into the house as Louie dashed in. I jeered, “You big baby! I knew you wouldn’t want to be out long on a night light this!” Glancing back at fat Jonah’s dark shadow, I asked, “Well, I know you like being outside more than Louie. Here’s your chance.”

Jonah crouched down and fearfully ran towards the door as if expecting me to kick her. She skidded to a stop at the threshold. Seeing the snow and feeling the cold wind, she backed away. Keeping as far away from me as possible, she returned to the shadows. Continue reading

Winter Dormancy

Spread around Tammie on the living room carpet were the things I’d given her for Christmas and the craft supplies she had brought home for us to use. She looked up from her packing to exclaim, “Mom, we never made the suncatchers!”

I sat down on the sofa and said with a chuckle, “We didn’t do a lot of things that we had planned.” My daughter and I shook our heads and grinned ruefully at each other. This was a conversation we’d had before.

The lights on the Christmas tree glowed softly and the tinsel sparkled. Sunshine slanted into the room through the large west window. I wistfully commented, “I thought that this year with you being home for a full week, we’d find the time to do them. You know this happens every time you we visit one another. We plan activities, but never have enough time to do them all.”

Putting the suncatchers on the coffee table, Tammie admitted, “I guess we just plan too many things. Will you work on the suncatchers by yourself? I’ve noticed that you haven’t done any crafts all fall.”

I retorted indignantly, “I haven’t done any craft work all fall because I was busy putting the garden to bed for the winter, washing windows, cleaning the basement and making elderberry jelly!” My voice softened as I added, “January, February and March are the main months I do crafts because my garden is resting and it’s cold outside.”   Continue reading

Resolved

Today is the 9th of January. How many of you made New Year’s resolutions? Are you sticking to them, or have you tossed them aside already? At one time or another, we have all resolved at the start of a new year to lose weight, get into better shape, start going to bed earlier or increase the amount of our daily water intake. Not many of us stick to our resolutions Some quit after the first day, others after the first week. By the time the first month passes, most people have given up.

When my daughter Tammie was home for Christmas, she told me, “We’d have better luck sticking to our resolutions if we made them S.M.A.R.T.”

Are your New Year’s resolutions S.M.A.R.T this year?

S  You need to make your goal as specific as you can. Will you be the one doing it? What do you want to accomplish? Where are you going to do it? When do you want it done? How is it going to be done?

For example, it isn’t enough to say you want to get in better shape so you can participate in the 2019 Boston marathon. You need to make concrete plans like, “In January I will stop eating donuts for breakfast and candy bars before bedtime. In February I will begin walking around the block once a day. In March I will stop eating second helpings. In April I will quit smoking. In May I will begin training for the marathon.” Continue reading

Christmas Island

In the backseat of my car, Niki, age eight and Tammie, age four happily sang along with me, “A-b-c-d-e-f-g!” I stopped singing as we entered the outskirts of town. My older daughter finished the song with her little sister.

As my daughters began to chatter to each other after the song, I thought about how long it had taken Tammie to learn how to talk. She had been fully three and a half years old. My wise pediatrician advised me not to worry, “She’ll begin speaking when she’s ready. She’s been busy concentrating on getting over her medical problems and surgeries.”

I would have worried more, but Tammie’s ability to communicate without words was so good that some nurses at the hospital thought she had used words instead of eye contact and gestures!

Tammie was born with Thrombocytopenia with Absent Radius syndrome, TAR for short. Besides missing both of her fore arms, her body made too few blood platelets, had leg deformities and intestinal problems. Until age three, she was hospitalized frequently for blood transfusions, leg surgeries and complications. The last complication resulted in an emergency tracheostomy shortly after her third birthday. I had commented to my husband, Arnie, “Tammie will probably learn how to speak soon, now that it’ll be a bigger challenge.” Continue reading