Winter Wind Down

It’s not quite the big melt down today, but  I can  definitely  see it from here. And for the most part we are all  ready for spring. And here is something I have noticed; no matter how mild the winter, how few snow days were called most people commenting on the weather want winter over, gone, finished, done.

It seems that our patience with snow, ice, and its next of kin slush, diminishes daily in proportion not to how many inches we may have shoveled but instead how many days we must wait before slipping on sandals and shorts.

I have lived in the Midwest (capital “M”) most of my life,  and I wonder why we have all gotten so whiny over winter. I like spring as much as the next person, but this constant moaning over windchill and accumulation totals is getting old.

Maybe it’s the television media’s overuse of “storm watch” forecast bulletins. And does anyone else think it unnecessary to see another poor reporter standing in another local parking lot describing how snow “falls” (down) while the camera zooms in on the reporter ‘s foot showing us, guess what, it’s snowing.

I like snow, and winter, in moderation. And that, is what we have most every year. As a mater of fact we are somewhat under our usual snowfall totals to the extent that we need more rain and snow to get our water levels up to healthier amount.
A friend recently commented on her winter walk how “very quiet , no lawn mowers and garden tools running. It’s like everything is resting. So quietly peaceful.” Sounds divine  doesn’t it?  It is.

So let’s put our big girl\boy snowpants on and get a grip. We live in the Midwest, we get four seasons, delivered to our doors. One of them involves boots,hats, and mittens. It also brings pristine clear mornings, laughter on snowhills, crisp evening walks, and ice-laden branches auditioning for fairyland. Shovel what you must, walk carefully if you will, and hang in there. Soon enough it will be time to complain about high humidity and mosquitos. I’m just say’n.

After The Ball

Halloween night my husband and I went to view the Great Pumpkin event our little village hosts. For all of the time I have been a resident here, I have enjoyed this wonderful kickoff to autumn. A village consortium of volunteers and a non-profit foundation put the event together. My children and I have all volunteered in the past. And, I remember fondly,now, how when they were young, they would ask to go see the pumpkins at night  –every night– that the jack-o-lanterns were lit. Truth be told, when a Whitefish Bay child stops asking to go see the pumpkins, it’s a little sad.Sort of like when they no longer believe in Santa.

I was thinking about the folks who put the event together, neighbors, scouts, schoolchildren, teachers, civic group members. And it dawned on me that some of those contributing time, candles, doing the carving, the unloading of the more then 1000 pumpkins, were not all on the same side of the political fence. Why, just as the pumpkins kick off Fall so too do the appearance of election yard signs. This realization gave me pause and yes, a really  good feeling. Despite our political differences our resident can work together towards common goals. No small thing when you read and listen to some of the words that pass as “public discourse” these days. I would venture to say that civil discourse was the norm for all those involved working on the display. And probably, no one volunteered using a “pen” (re: false) name while engaging in name calling or character bashing at any time while working on the display.

While I was walking my dog  through my neighborhood Halloween week, a neighbor who ,yes, has an election sign in direct opposition to the one in my yard, came out to talk to me. We often chat. Sometimes I ask him about his daughters, now grown and on their own. Often he just wants to say “hi” and pet my dog as we are both longtime pet owners and we have even hugged when one of our dogs has passed away. He’s a good guy. He’s my neighbor. I like him. He will still be a good person the day after the election- no matter who wins.

On the day after Halloween the DPW came to clear away the tents and the pumpkin remains. The little park is empty and the fountain is closed up for winter. In a few days the yard signs will be all gone too. Let’s all remember that the day after the election we will all still be here as neighbors and citizens. Let’s work together on small neighborhood projects and insist that our public servants follow our lead and be civil and work together too. Whether it’s a school, civic, or charity project we all do know how to get along. It makes our communities much better places to live, and working together also actually gets things done: I’m just say’n.

Better Than Gold

We’re Olympic crazy at my house. The DVR is in full use. My 19 year old could not be pried away from the Archery competition. It’s a family tradition. And though my own athletic experience peaked as a high school cheerleader, the rest of the family has a more personal relationship with wins,losses’ and scoring for the team. Still I have a favorite Olympic moment.
In 1984 my husband, two close friends and I attended the Summer Games of Los Angeles. That experience was so good that I encourage anyone to go to an Olympic games if at all possible. During the days and nights of events I saw preliminary competitions as well as finals and medal ceremonies. The venues themselves were artfully landscaped  and decorated. The volunteers friendly as they practically chased down spectators to hand out sunscreen. From rowing to boxing, swimming to basketball, every event was exciting, every day was memorable.
But the event, the ticket we were so excited to have was the day pass to  track and field at the LA  Coliseum. It was the event that might just make track and field history. Carl Lewis might break the World and Olympic record in the long jump.  A record set many years before and thought  to be possibly never broken, except maybe at this Olympics. It was hot, after all it was southern California in the summer. And as we sat down in the upper section of the historic stadium that morning we anticipated  seeing great athletes and athletics.
If you have never been to a track meet you may not know that it is something of a three ring circus. Runners may be racing around the track while at the same time field events are underway at either end, or in the center of the the oval. That day a Brazilian won the men’s 800 meter and two American women won  two races. But it is safe to say that most of the more than 100 thousand people in the stadium were most looking forward to the men’s long jump.
As the late afternoon wound down ,discus preliminaries were taking place in the oval, and on the track the first of two heats in the men’s 3000 steeplechase began.  The steeplechase is a long distance race broken up by the runners jumping over not just hurdles but hazards of water. It’s a long race, multiple laps taking over 8 minutes in 1984. There were 12 runners in the heat, there would be two heats and the the fastest times   would seat 12 runners out of the field of 24. By 6:30 that evening most of the spectators were planning where to have dinner after leaving the early session before  returning  for the long jump finals. I myself was chatting with a family from Australia. I glanced up periodically to watch the runners circle the track, jump the hazard. As  the race  progressed  the field separated, the fastest runners distancing themselves from the rest of the field. Then, as the race continued I noticed the runner in last place. He was just not last in the field of 12, but was in danger of being lapped. Not only I noticed this. My new friend from down under agreed with my assessment. And eerily the stadium was filled with the whispering of thousands. “Poor kid, how embarrassing to be lapped at the Olympics.” The multi -language whispering was unlike anything else I had heard then or since.
The runner was from Kenya. Who knows how he trained to come to those Olympics. What was his life like before he got on a plane  and traveled so far to compete in the Olympics?  I am sure that being last in his heat and possibly lapped was not in any of his Olympic dreams.
We all sat, silent now, as the heat leader lapped the the Kenyan. The  other runners ran. And then the leader finished the race. The runners ran. And then one by one 10 athletes crossed the finish line. Now in the waning afternoon sun there was only the Kenyan, running by himself. The field athletes had already exited the stadium. The volunteers were packing up the measuring tapes from the  discus, cleaning up the oval. And the Kenyan. ran. Finally,his tortuous race came to an end, he approached the finish line. He crossed the line. No chance for a Gold or a medal of any kind. And as he ran across the finish line, as if on cue 120 thousand people stood and cheered. It may not have been a World Record run, but it remains my favorite Olympic memory, a runner from half a world away and a stadium full of spectators , together realizing  what the Olympics can truly be. I’m just say’n.

Farewell Old Friend

I said good bye to and old friend today. A relationship only five years shorter than my 32 year marriage. An association that outlasted two dogs,six cars and numerous soccer socks and beach towels. Today my new washing machine was delivered and my old one removed by two young men who seemed unaware of the history they hauled out of my basement and onto a waiting truck. Am I alone in feeling slightly sentimental over an old appliance? We bought the washer at the same time we purchased all four of our major appliances, for our “new” old home. Our first house. They all made the move (with the first golden retriever) to the next house. But, alas they all were replaced and updated by newer shiner models. Happily not all at the same time as was my fear. But that washer kept on washing. Four years ago I thought it was done for, poor timing, as my eldest was on his way to Spain to study abroad in a few days, and a college tuition bill was due. But a gifted repairman worked his magic and the fix we hoped would last about a year stuck. Even now it wasn’t broken, it just wasn’t efficient enough, too many trips up and down the basement stairs coaxing it to the next cycle finally sealed its fate. And so I gave it a gentle pat and bid it adieu. Now those who know me know that I sentimentally attach to things. The Wedgewood dishes from my college dorm residents,a bridal gift to their R.A. The watercolor painting my cousin painted of her grandson and my daughter. The Spode tea set a beloved friend found in an antique shop and sent for my birthday. These are treasures to me. Not too hard to understand. But just as valuable to me is my ironing board. On my 22nd birthday ten days before my wedding my mother gave me what I thought was the lamest gift ever, a new iron and ironing board. I smiled to myself at this most practical and least sentimental gift a mother could give a daughter days before she left her home to marry her college sweetheart. It was a total representation of her practical nature and outlook. And, these many years later I think of her every time I pull it out of the closet and press a shirt. It still sports the pad she purchased and fit over the old white sheet she covered it with, to provide what she thought was the necessary padding for optimal ironing. Yes, just like the pink handled pie server the ironing board and the washing machine were the not so glamorous tools of some of the least romantic and sentimental aspects of family life. Our family life. Not as pretty as a picture or graceful as fine china, but used and reused and touched and explained and instructed about to each of us in this family. Sometimes memories are not made of parties, graduations or holidays. Much of our lives are connected by daily tasks and chores. A son ironing a shirt shocking and impressing his mother, a daughter finishing and folding the laundry. The times that mark the passage of time as household appliances age and wear out. So farewell old friend. I still remember how excited I was the day you arrived. I promised my self and my husband that I would never complain about the laundry now that I was released from the pay laundromat.

I’m pretty sure I kept that promise. I’m just say’n.

Lessons and Carols

It’s back….with all of it’s beauty, excitement and memories. Christmas is back. It’s another year older but are we any wiser? The question your friend in the blogosphere has is this, what have you learned from Christmas?
Over the years I have enjoyed the return of the Christmas season to the extent that it often highlighted the lessons the year had delivered to me. Sometimes those lessons were happy. In other years, the “classwork” of Christmas was too difficult. When you have experienced a loss of a loved one Christmas holds up the loss to you in the cruelest of ways. When everyone else is having all that Christmas fun you are reminded in a thousand ways, small and large how much you miss by missing a loved one. When everyone else is singing you are sighing and wishing for one more day, one more moment with the friend, parent,or child no longer present.
But, there are other lessons too,poignant if not painful.There was the Christmas I learned how to let my children gift me with needed time. They were young and I was busy trying to get all the things I felt I must do for Christmas done. That Sunday of Advent I had much to do to get ready when a request was made I could not turn down. An older member of my church congregation,unable to attend services had requested communion be brought to her. As a deacon I could do this. But my “to do” list beckoned. On the other hand how could I not? So, I took the children home (my husband was out of town for work) and drove to the seniors apartment. I remember how grateful she was, and how she urged me to stay for a cup of tea, so happy for “Christmas company” as she called me. I left feeling I had done the right thing, but anxious over the task in front of me with 3 hours now gone by. A big stack of gifts for cousins, nieces,nephews, aunts and uncles waited for me to wrap. But, when I arrived home I was met by my two excited elves. They had wrapped all the gifts themselves while I did “church work” as they called it. Now like all “Christmas control” moms, those gifts were not wrapped as I would have wrapped them. Instead they were done with love and shining eyes for me. What a gift!I don’t remember any other present I received that year. But I remember how proud “big brother” was and how excited his little sister was to help mommy that day. What a lesson.
Christmas music like Christmas memories flood our days and nights the closer we come to Christmas Eve. And I am addicted to the sounds of Christmas even more than a child to peppermint. The more I think about it the best telling of the Christmas story is probably done through music. Whether it is the rich sounds of a wonderful practiced choir or in the unpolished carols sung by children. The essence of Christmas is best displayed by voices raised in song. Think of the simple rendition of Charlie Brown, Lucy, Linus and the gang from “Peanuts” breaking into “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” and you will understand what I mean.
If you are like me you probably have many memories of Christmas’ past. The “live Nativity” I performed in as a 13 year old, an angel on top of the stable. One of my best friends was “Mary”, we still laugh when we remember how the real barnyard animals brought in to add realism provided more “realism” than planned, on the shepherds sandals.
It’s memories like these that connect our Christmas’ to each other one year to the next. When the children were little I waited to decorate until they were sleeping to “protect” the delicate bells and ornaments. When they were older I assigned them a task and they whirled through in a frenzy of excitement fueled by Christmas cookies. And I stood back trying not to “adjust” their work. Later, they were too busy to help with the tree,or lights beyond a cursory attempt to humor me fueled now by a modicum of guilt.And this year I missed them both, he in his own apartment in another city, she away at college. Once again I decorate mostly alone waiting for their return to enjoy and share the holiday. When they were small I waited for them to to wake up from nap,come downstairs and see the decorations. Now the house and I wait for their return to give their stamp of approval.
Christmas continues to be a gift and a lesson to me. Remember a loved one, let others wrap and sing, treasure the days, they fly by in a moment. And when I look at the Christmas bells on my mantle, I recall the little hands selecting one each night to ring before bedtime. A lesson and a carol with each sweet chime.

No Words

That morning was beautifully sunny, cool and crisp. I had just walked the dog and was going to throw in a load of laundry. Typical, mundane, like countless other mornings in my little Wisconsin village. The kids were at school and they were young enough that I was glad that school had begun again and that I had until 3:15 until they were home.

We had a patio poured the day before as well as a walk-way to our front door. They were both edged in stamped concrete simulating red brick. And that was the problem. The contractor had not,as he had promised, “cleaned up.” And from my driveway’s foot and gutter and to the four houses past mine to the corner, there was reddish sludge. What a mess. A surefire way to annoy my neighbors. I realized I would have to clean it up. First I took the dog back into the house. Before I went back out I turned on the TV. An initial report announced a fire at the World Trade Center. I watched for a minute, and then sat down at the kitchen table to watch the horrible story unfold.

We all know how the “fire” turned into a much more hideously terrible story. And you like me probably recall the typical mundane things you were doing as history unfolded in New York, Washington D.C., and Pennsylvania that day. Then like you I called people. First I reached my husband, his office a 10 story Wisconsin style “high rise” was later evacuated as a precaution. My girlfriend in Colorado called. We were both doing laundry as we talked on the phone. Trying to avoid watching more of the carnage on our TVs.

Since the advent of mass communication, first radio then TV, now the Internet, people have ‘touchstone’ moments. For my parents it was the attack on Pearl Harbor. For those my age the day JFK was shot. For people no younger than my now 18 year old daughter,it was September 11. She was in 3rd grade, my son a freshman in high school. For a long time after ward they both called those events “the tragedies.”

I remember other things that happened in the hours and days that followed. That very afternoon I pulled myself away from the TV, and went to the grocery store. I needed groceries but could only bring myself to buy milk. As I left the check out I saw a neighbor come in. She looked at me with consolation in her eyes walked towards me, and we just hugged each other wordlessly. At our church the following Sunday there was no sermon. Just the reading of Scripture. I forget which ones. But I remember as church ended and we filed quietly out, the minister waiting at the door as usual, when one congregant,a young mom like me, broke down into tears in his arms. No words spoken.

There have been many changes in our lives since then. But, taking our shoes off at the airport, dims in comparison to the loss of loved ones by families on that day, or in the days that followed our country’s military response to the attacks.

I remember all of this. But mostly I remember a great heavy feeling of sadness shock and grief. And, unable to watch anymore that day, I went out to my yard, picked up the hose and started to clean my red stained gutter. The water worked the heavy sludge down the street. But I didn’t have enough water pressure to get it all the way to the drain at the corner. One of my neighbors saw me and came out and stood with me, his wife followed a few minutes later. “The second tower just collapsed,” she said. He walked back to his house and picked up his garden hose and turned it on, joining me at the curb. Soon as I looked down the street I saw my other neighbors doing like wise. Silently- all of us, trying to wash away the ugly red waste from our sight.