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Saturday, July 22, 2017

"Sailor"

I've always thought that if I had to serve in the military, I'd choose the Coast Guard.  I could sail around on Lake Erie, pick up drunks who fall out of their boats, and party with Canadians.  I found out they could send you to some other part of the US coastline, and I thought, that's fine.  I could go as far as Chicago or Buffalo.  I abandoned all thoughts of the Coast Guard when I found out they could send you to the Gulf of Mexico or something.  No hablo Espanol, so I doubt I'd enjoy their parties.

There were times when I was a kid that I spent quite a bit of time fantasizing myself to Canada.  As the crow flies, I was only about 5 miles from the lake.  As a fish swims, it's considerably farther down the river, but I could get there eventually.  I sent the Canadians messages in bottles, but the Canadians never called.  I stole the bottles.  The summer people next door had a storage area of such useless junk, and I didn't think they'd miss the bottles.  Maybe the Canadians could sense my theft and their silence is a just karma?

As I pause to consider whether to talk about message bottles or theft, I remember the vividness of a memory that popped into my mind earlier this week.  Jackie, Sis2's friend, stepped on broken glass in the river.  Her foot was sliced very badly, and she did it on the wrong side of the river, downstream of civilization.  My dad picked her up and carried her across the algae-slippery shale riverbed through the rapids, and then all the way home with Jackie weeping blood the entire time.

After they left, I studied the broken glass in the water.  The clear glass blended with the clear water.  Dancing reflections of current camouflaged the shining reflections of the glass.  It was beautiful and dangerous.  I picked it up and threw it into the woods in a place where no one would step on it again.  My parents made a new rule that we had to wear shoes in the river after that, a rule I greatly resented, seldom followed, and probably explains why I lost so many shoes.

Why do I remember this so clearly?  And why did this moment pop into my mind so vividly this week?

I tracked my associated memories for a connection.  Older boys drank beer and threw their bottles across the river, laughing at the shattering sound, never considering a child's sliced foot.  Perhaps their thoughtless, selfish, stupid behavior was stirred in my memory as I see the same kind of behavior in politicians or some people I know?  Maybe I feel guilt at all those messages to Canadians sent in stolen glass bottles?  Maybe there's a danger I can't see through glittering reflections?

Six years ago, I wrote another post about sending negative thoughts down the river in paper boats.  You can see it here.  Creating that post seems as clear in my mind as Jackie's bleeding foot.  I think everything we've experienced is still in our heads somewhere, and sometimes I wonder why.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

"Ice Cream"

It was a beautiful summer day -- deep blue sky, tall forest looming overhead, screaming, laughing Girl Scouts running in circles, and the "Shooush!" of rock salt getting thrown off the back end of a pick up truck.  I was standing at the wrong place at the wrong time, and had to help lug the rock salt to the designated area.  Rock salt is heavy.  More things had to be moved.  I didn't understand what any of it was.  I just cooperated while the other girls continued to happily run around in circles.

Wooden buckets were packed with rock salt and ice.  Cream and sugar were poured into a metal cylinder.  Vanilla in one cylinder, chocolate in another.  A metal collar (wo)manhandled across the top of the contraption, and a handle banged onto one side.  "We're going to make ice cream!" the troop leader exclaimed.  Great!  I love ice cream!

Girl were called from play to sit on top of the buckets, and more girls were assigned to turn the handles.  Excellent.  Girl Scouts are great at teamwork.  I turned the handle for a few minutes.  "Is it ready now?"  No, it was not.  It became a relay effort of handle turning; I'm pretty sure we turned the handles for at least 4 hours.  Maybe 5?  Time is different when you're a child.  What I know is that it took forever.

It was the best ice cream of my life.  Specks of vanilla were peppered throughout.  It was so sweet, so creamy, so hard-won, but with a troop of girls, it was quickly gone.

We packed the buckets up again, churned the buckets again, ate strawberry ice cream with super red, super sweet berries plastered throughout.  I don't know what was in the other bucket.  Who would eat another flavor when you can have strawberries?  Forget what I said about the vanilla being the best ice cream I've ever had.  That strawberry ice cream was the best.

Of course, we did it again.  I was starting to suspect that the troop leader's plan was to work us all to exhaustion.  I think she succeeded.  I quit eating ice cream when the choice became pineapple.

Night fell in the forest.  Mosquitoes came out.  We built the essential bonfire and sang campfire songs.  It was a wonderfully perfect day.

By coincidence, I was thinking about ice cream when I went to the grocery store.  I wanted to buy Ben and Jerry's Cherry Garcia.  Full test -- don't insult ice cream with low fat, or try to pull one over on me with yogurt disguised as ice cream.  $5.79?!!!  You're kidding me, right?!!!  I am not going to pay that much for a tiny tub of ice cream.

But now, the word for the week is "ice cream", and I don't have any.  It just feels so wrong.  I may have to go to the store again.  Well, I know I have to go back.  This was my shopping list:  dog food, soap.  Can you guess which 2 items I neglected to get when I spent $120+ at the store today?  I think my revised shopping list is now dog food, soap, and ice cream.

BTW, I fussed around with this art more than you'd know by looking at it because in the end, I deleted most of what I'd done.  Sometimes that has to happen.  I decided I just felt like having a happy bookmark :)

Saturday, July 8, 2017

"Portrait"

I gave my first presidential vote to Jimmy Carter in 1980.  I also nullified my first vote by guilting my boyfriend to the polls where he voted for Reagan.  Bf didn't know much about either candidate, or any of the issues, he just thought Reagan seemed friendlier.  I learned a lot about how some people vote.

I know, I know, lots of people still lionize Reagan.  I fundamentally disagreed with him about environment concerns and the "Trickle Down Theory", but I can accept that people are allowed to disagree with me.  (Though, of course, the world will run better once everyone starts coming around to my point of view!)  We can reasonably criticize any of the US presidents.  They've all had flaws.

I recently had a conversation with a friend who lives in the DC political bubble, a guy who voted for Reagan twice.  He intelligently pointed out a slew of Carter's presidential flaws.  Okay, that's fair.  Carter made political mistakes.  He was also intelligent and far-sighted.  He put solar panels on the White House.  Think about how much farther we'd be along if he could've been better able to win people to addressing climate issues back then.

Years later, when Jimmy Carter was discovered to be quietly working on Habitat for Humanity homes, some started rethinking their opinions of him.  They see he's motivated to help people.  He's thoughtful and intelligent.

I think the political errors Carter made while in office came from a fundamental misunderstanding of the motivations of influential movers and shakers.  He is a decent human being who wants the best for the people in his country.  That doesn't motivate everybody.  I've had a terrible time trying to get my mind around this.  Not the part of Carter's motivations, the part about how there are others, many others, who don't give a damn about their country or about anybody but themselves.

I used to take drives with a pal of mine.  We drove through the parks and past pretty mansions.  We enjoyed each other's company and the beauty around us.  I didn't consider that someone else could take exactly the same drive and bemoan wasted land in the park, feel anger about maintenance taxes, and envy at the pretty houses.  A person like that can be judgmental towards my impractical aesthetics while I can be just as judgmental about their callous disregard for nature and craftsmanship... and never the twain shall meet.

Park levies pass easily in Greater Cleveland.  It isn't that everyone appreciates trees.  It's that some people appreciate trees, and the other people appreciate the fact that Cleveland's parks increase their property values.  Win/win... except some people still look at parks and fantasize about turning those trees into saleable lumber and an apartment complex.

I'm never going to agree with those people.  I'm never going to agree with someone like Paul Ryan who fantasized about getting rid of others' health care while he was still a student.  What's wrong with someone like that?

I wish our current president was more like Jimmy Carter.

Friday, June 30, 2017

"Love"

Oh geez, now I've got The Beatles "All You Need Is Love" stuck in my mind due to this week's IF prompt.  You can sing with me here.  This is all happy, though I'll admit my thoughts on love have been deeper this week as I took quite a bit of time deconstructing my past relationships to find where I own responsibility in the resulting messes -- though in a way, maybe there's some happiness to be found in that too?

I know, some of you found your one true love in kindergarten, and you're still happily married with loving, perfect children.  Quite a few of the rest of us haven't been as fortunate, and many of us think that the break-ups were all the fault of our exes -- even though it's never all one person's fault.  It doesn't matter if your ex was a serial killer megalomaniac.  You have to own some of it, even if your part is falling for that person in the first place.

This concept makes some people sputter in indignation.  He's a drunk!  She ruined us with credit card debt!  Whatever.  Those are their problems.  Hopefully, they're out of your life now.  What part did you play in it?

I asked a date this question, and he couldn't answer.  (Dating tip: don't spend a first date cataloging your ex's faults to a new prospect.)  This guy didn't get a second date.  Why go out with someone who is still hung up on his ex and doomed to repeat his mistakes?

Owning responsibility isn't the same punishing yourself.  For instance, one of the things I discovered in my own self-inquiry is that my most painful relationships exhibited early signs to get out, but I didn't move on when it could've been so much easier.  What's the point of blaming myself for that?  It's over and done.  Yet, I can use this realization to help in the future.  If the warning signs are there, listen.

Some of my traits that I'd like to think of as positive, like patience and optimism, burned me in relationships.  Should I be less patient and optimistic?  No.  Just find someone who doesn't abuse those traits with empty promises.  Be aware when the promises are empty.  Set boundaries, goals, and measure progress.  Of course it's all very easy when it's hormone/pheromone-free hypotheticals, but life's a journey.  If it were easy, we'd all be living happily ever after.

I told a friend that I'm happy by myself and don't know if I feel like getting involved again since men are all a pain in the ass anyway.  He agreed, adding women are all a pain in the ass too.  Clinked glasses and laughter.  Time out for local boy Eric Carmen here while smirking at their hairdos.

Wildlife Update: The damned groundhog sat on my deck, bold as brass while I sent it mental death rays, which were somewhat diminished by my observation it's actually pretty cute.  But no!  Death to groundhogs!  I told my dog to get it.  She looked at me like, "Are you crazy?  That thing is as big as I am!"  I said, "You can take it!" and dog obediently raced to the deck and chased it away.  I gave her lots of praise.  Later that day, I saw a skunk.  Happy puppy raced into the back yard "Woo hoo hoo!!!"  "NOOooooooo!!! Not the black and white kitty!!!!"  Thankfully, she wasn't sprayed, but clearly the wildlife is winning the war.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

"Sprout"

I wrote an apt post about "sprout", mostly about my bloody fantasies about a groundhog who is decimating my garden, but my heart just isn't in it.  Well, my heart is definitely into dead groundhog fantasies, but the groundhog will probably continue to live despite my frustrations.  I'm also waging a war against maple tree sprouts, but I guess that's as bad as talking about groundhogs.  I am an excellent farmer of maples, nightshade, coltsfoot, dandelions, etc., but maybe not so great at actually achieving vegetables.  Grrr.

I'll talk about going to a nursing home instead.  Right up there with hospitals and funeral homes, nursing homes prick unpleasant memories, and I avoid them -- which makes it all the more remarkable that I had a good time at one this weekend.

My 86-year-old friend has been struggling to live independently, and breaking her arm put an end to her negotiations on the subject.  Technically she's in rehab right now, but it seems unlikely she's going back to her condo once her arm is healed.  Yes, I know, this all sounds as bad as dead groundhog fantasies, but give me a moment to explain.

First, it was an absolutely glorious day, when snow-haters decide to move back to Ohio because it's so balmy and beautiful.  Poofy clouds in a bright blue sky, birds singing, and good will towards all.  I alleviated some of my nursing home dread by going with another friend who spilled a steady stream of political damnations to which I could nod and agree while laughing at her colorful observations.

We wound our way through endless halls of the pleasantly lit nursing home, smiling at the room full of parrots and tanks of fish.  This is a Jewish home (which is odd since my interred friend is ultra-Catholic), and I was interested in all of the Jewish art adorning the walls.  There were some old testament themes, some men's portraits showed yarmulkes, but mostly it was just art.  Some of it good, some not, but it's always good to see real art.  Somehow I missed the large sign that I wasn't allowed to bring in food or drink, and got chided for my probably-not-kosher cup of iced tea.

We finally found Helen, who asked about my recent writing, and who definitely wants mentioned in my pending book.  (I assured her that of course she's included!)  We chatted and laughed, commiserated with her injury and her inadequate lunch, then rolled her down a million hallways flanked with windows, gardens, and sculptures for a Judy Garland concert.  I learned I apparently know all of Judy Garland's songs and trivia.

The singer encouraged her audience to sing along.  Some of the old folks are alert and able.  One woman had on a colorful, vintage hat decorated with flowers, and I smiled at her chair dancing to the music.  One man looked about a breath away from coma -- but he faintly sang the songs too.  Part of me couldn't help but notice that the singer didn't hit every note exactly right, but as she made her wide, welcoming, inclusive gestures to the old people, she won me over.  There must be a special place in heaven for nursing home singers.  Well, if Jewish people have heaven?  (Quick google search was inconclusive.)

I left the nursing home happy.  That's a first.  I hope never have to live in such a facility, but may all the people who do need a home like this be serenaded with Judy Garland songs, and blessings to those who make old people's lives better.

And a P.S. regarding wildlife, a robin broke into my house and pooped purple mulberry juice on the linens I just washed yesterday.  I think I'm losing the battle with wildlife!

Sunday, June 18, 2017

"Three"

The thing I like about Illustration Friday's words for the week is that they prompt me to think about things in ways I wouldn't bother thinking about otherwise.  Random thoughts like "two is a pair, and three is a set" pop into my mind.  I think about being three years old.  My first brother was born, and I started running away from home to explore my world.  But mostly, I am the third and last girl in a large family.

My mind feels like a wheel stuck in rut once I arrive at the importance of three -- but I don't know what I want to say about being the third girl of a set.  I think about running and playing games with my sisters.  I think about how hard I tried to keep up with the things their older bodies and brains could do.  I remember special moments and torments.  There is simply too many sister associations to consolidate all of it into one neatly typed blog post.

I'm the one on the right who needed a boost to keep up
We're alike.  We're different.  There were times when we were tightly packed into the backseat of the car, or a bed, or a bathtub, or in a writhing mass of arms and legs rastling on the floor.  Everything in my life was explored and used before I had a chance at it.  I learned from their successes and mistakes.  We played, we fought.  Sometimes we bled.  I often envied only children.  I feel blessed to have sisters.

I'm writing this on Sunday, and I've been thinking about being the third girl of the set since I saw the word for the week on Friday, feeling like everything I think and feel on the subject is too personal, or too ingrained, for me to recognize or share, yet also feeling my internal reluctance and difficulty is part of the point of the exercise.  Personal growth and creativity are results we gain from pushing past our comfort and resistance.

My oldest sister made her annual trek to Ohio this weekend.  I was very glad to see her.  Should I talk about sitting around the picnic table talking about menopause?  See, it gets pretty invasive, but an older sister is a window to understanding my body, my thoughts, my feelings, and my future in ways only kids don't get.

Sis1 had a health scare this year.  Thankfully, everything seems fine now, but I've been thinking of her a lot as a result... and then my mind goes into a galaxy of swirling thoughts and memories which seem so personal and important and trivial while chastising myself about taking too much for granted.  We can't count on people always being there when we think of them as absolutes in our existence.  Value them while they're here.

I feel a bit out of sync with the world to write about sisters on Father's Day, but the same point hold true with dads too.  If your dad is alive, I hope you have a spectacular relationship together and that you let him know you love him.  If it's too late for that, I hope you have great memories.

Happy Father's Day to all the dads!

Friday, June 9, 2017

"Skate"

Some people skate by in life, which is an odd expression because it seems to me that gravity is kinder to children than adults.  I distinctly remember sitting bruised on the ice the last time I skated.  Despite this fact, I'm pretty sure I have 3 pairs of ice skates around the house.  It's like the hiking boots, 1 expensive pair, 1 garage sale pair, and then the nostalgia of Dad's hockey skates which I can loan to a male skating partner if necessary.

Dad could spin on the tip of a hockey skate, which I'm pretty sure is a skill most men don't share.  Since we lived in a valley, and all water runs downhill, we had a lot of frozen water in winter.  Ponds were usually better for skating, but we skated the river too when the winters became extreme enough to freeze the running water.  That didn't happen every year, and some years we thought it was frozen enough, and it wasn't.

One year, I tested the ice and it failed.  I stomped home while fighting hypothermia, and Dad busted a gut laughing at my cold, wet, miserable self.  When he was done laughing, he built a fire and threw me a blanket.  I was toasty warm when Sis2 came in bedraggled, wet, and miserable.  I was warm enough by then to join Dad's laughter.  We might've even been consoled with hot cocoa, which was a real treat in our painfully sugar-free home.

I'm trying to cheer myself with warm memories because the nearer memories are rather painful.  There was another funeral this week, of someone too young to go.

Danny Flannery died just short of his 29th birthday.  He was one of the nicest guys you could hope to meet, which I suppose proves the good die young.  He was smart, funny, gentle, sensitive, and kind.  He was also a giant.  I don't really know how tall he was, but big enough to make me feel downright petite when I gave him a hug.

He worked in my office which was filled with mostly ladies older than myself who had known him since he was a kid in school.  The Dan memories that really touch my heart are quiet, sharing moments that happened between just the 2 of us, but I smile at drinking and laughing with him too.  But I'm sad.  Really sad.  Can you tell?  He had a long, painful last few years, and I'm sad about that too.  I wish he'd had a long life with a loving wife and children and grandchildren.

I felt like a coward, but I didn't go to the funeral.  Besides, I knew the place would be packed.  Nice guys have a lot of friends and loved ones, and they didn't disappoint.  I hear the parking was impossible.  Good for Danny.  I'm glad he was loved by so many people.  Maybe a packed funeral is the best sign of a life well lived?

I swear he's been talking to me in my dreams, but I don't know what he's saying.  I can hear his voice, but not the words.  It's like he's behind the tattered curtain in the Department of Mysteries -- which once again shows that Harry Potter addresses all the important stuff.

I feel like I should write something uplifting, but all I can think is that I hope Dad takes Danny skating in the afterlife.