Thursday, July 31, 2008

Tough Day

The head cold in the middle of summer is bad enough. I'm grumpy, I can't breathe and if I do that deep breathing that men so love to watch a girl do, I cough so hard I'm afraid a lung will pop out. It'll be gone in a day or so, but I went to work miserable. Partly because I couldn't breathe without sneezing/coughing, partly because hubby suggested I take the day off. As the Director and entire staff, it's tough for me to do that. So I trudged out the door, determined that with tissue by my side, I'd be fine.

I wish I'd stayed home.

Working with older people has one down side: they get older. And they get sick. I was thrilled to hear one of them had just exited the hospital to recoup at home, which is always good news. Besides, he's the Bowling Coach and they have a fit when he's not around to offer good natured suggestions.

The first woman into my office came in to ask one question and quietly fell apart one emotional piece at a time. Picture if you can a woman in her mid 70s who has taken back under her wing the first husband she so adored... the one who cheated on her early in life and divorced her for another woman. Yes, younger. He came back into her life 2 years ago, in the early stages of senile dementia, because his family couldn't handle him. He had no place to go. She took him in. She cared for him. She is a kind woman but not a warm one...not the touchy feelie type who dispenses hugs with soup. She offers shelter and no nonsense care. He tried to care for her when she had back surgery this year but he was never sure how to do that. Then he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. She's nursed him through treatments and doctor's visits utilizing only the Social Security money he has available to him. She pays all of their living expenses. I knew he was in the hospital but didn't know he'd had a mild stroke until she came in today to ask a question about a nursing home. They believe I'm an expert, not because I work with them, but because my aunt has had a stroke, is in a nursing home and I'm responsible for her care. I gave her more information than she probably absorbed, but it included the business card of a nurse who aids my group. She grasp it like a life preserver. Then she grasped me and I hugged her, this tiny little woman who shuns physical touch but who almost broke me in half trying to absorb some strength from me, one who she sees as fitter and stronger.

She left and the phone rang. The wife of one of my favorite couples was on the line. "That spot on the x-ray of his hip is cancer," she stated softly. I sighed, knowing this woman has had her hands full taking her mother to the doctor one day and her husband to the doctor for his back on alternate days. She added that he would begin chemo today and when I asked if that meant they couldn't operate, she got quiet. Too quiet. I waited, took a deep breath and asked what else had happened. "It's spread," she said slowly, as if trying to convince both of us. The answer to "how much" was "to his lungs and liver." Before I could stop myself, I said, "Shit!"

It was like hearing my Dad's prognosis all over again. He had cancer of the esophagus, which traveled to his lungs, then his liver. Three months after it took up residence in his liver, he was gone. I told her I thought the news sucked and she agreed. All she could say to anything I said was, "Can you believe this?"

"No," was my honest answer. I bit off the rest. The part where you think the nice guy gets hit with the wrong stuff. Where people launch into "Only the good die young." I'd learned my lesson about that the hard way. With Dad. Moments after his diagnosis, Dad had sighed, "Life...," to which I had added in shock, "is a bitch." Dad smiled wanly and added, "And then you die." It was like being smacked in the face with my own insensitivity. Life hands us surprises, not all of which are nice. I learned to phrase things better. If you over look today's sigh of "Shit!"

I told her I would let the others know. Seniors always want to know who is ill and how they can make it better. Prayer is usually their first answer, a second opinion is often their second. I did what I could to comfort her over the phone, then began to make calls for her, to spare her the misery of hearing the shock in people's voices, especially as she related for the umpteenth time the sad story. I hung up and cried like a baby for a couple of minutes. I saw Dad's face pass before mine but he was smiling. We had the same sense of humor, Dad and I. It was like an unspoken reminder that what helps the most at times like these is to know people care about you. Truly care. I picked up the phone and began to make calls.

Halfway through my list as I was about to tell the woman about our "sad news," she asked me, "You mean about Sam?" No, I'd replied. Sam had moved 2 months ago to N.C. to live with a son of questionable repute when it came to Sam's money and wanting to have it. "He died," she added nonchalantly, as if the shock hadn't registered with her yet either.

Shit!

"Talked to him last week and he was fine," she added, as if telling me a story about a stranger instead of a man who'd been her friend for years. "The family doesn't want to talk, but the preacher said he thought it was kidney failure." I told her I was sorry but she said as miserable as Sam had been, he was probably better off.

What a lousy choice to make your day better.

On days like these you want to touch base with the one person who will understand even if you can't make it through the explanation. I finished my list. Then I called home. I can truly say that the sound of my husband's voice was like the reassuring hug that I needed. "You know it comes with the territory in your line of work," he added kindly at the end of the conversation.

"I know," I huffed, "but I got one home from the hospital, now one's terminal and another dead. It's a little much for not quite 10:30 in the morning."

That's when the lady in charge of Canasta charged into my office to tell me another thought she'd had about how I could do my job better. Her way. She has breast cancer and is finish chemo. The grumpy disposition came way before the cancer did. I wonder if she knows a bad attitude can slow down her recovery? I merely nodded and she left happy..well as happy as she ever gets. As I went to hang up, hubby reminded me that he loved me.

No matter what doctors say, it's the people who love you that can be the best medicine of all.

Monday, July 28, 2008

If At First You Don't Succeed...

Hubby just announced in passing that Mama and Papa bird of the Rose bush have built a new nest, in a much better location. The hydrangea they chose is sheltered by the house, is out of the wind and rain. I hope to peek soon and see if there are 3 eggs or more intruders. :)

We seem to attract birds. I just went outside to water my aloe plant [which is so huge it looks like it belongs in a desert!] and found a wren has built a nest there! Guess this old house is comforting to more than just hubby and me.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Not Just Another Day at the Office

Oh, it might've started out that way. My new "helper" called in with car trouble AND an abscessed tooth. In all fairness her face was so puffy yesterday I'd told her to stay home if she needed to, but she promised to come in if the car cranked. It didn't. That made my To Do list longer.

There was the usual myriad of phone calls to be returned, people coming into the office with questions, paperwork to handle, all to the sounds of the Line Dance class meeting across the hall. But at 10:00 a.m., things got really interesting.

A group of my seniors is taking a CERT [Community Emergency Response Team] training class. I'm proud of them because they are the first group of senior citizens to tackle the course. The idea behind the CERT team is to be able to aid the "professionals" when their resources are stretched thin during times of disaster...sorry, during an "event". Can't help unless you remain positive. Last class we learned how to respond to hurricanes/floods/tornadoes and terrorist attacks with input by the County's Emergency Management Director and a Capt. with the Sheriff's Department. Today it was the Fire Department's turn.

This isn't just sit in the chair and listen training. Oh no. After the usual safety portion of the speech, we reached into our CERT backpacks and pulled out our hard hat, gloves, goggles, dust mask and fought a fire. Okay, it was a small one, but each of us had to put it out using the buddy system. You literally backed up your partner by carrying a 2nd fire extinguisher and keeping one hand on their shoulder. After the first two pairs went, my buddy and I were up. He's an ex-Marine and although he's in his 70s, he's as by-the-book as they come. He went first, which probably looked hysterical with 5'1" me reaching up to clap onto his 5'11" shoulder. Actually the hardest part was walking backwards, me keeping an eye on him, him keeping an eye on where the fire had been...you can never know when one might flame back up. Then the Instructor looked at me with a smile and advised the class,"Now we're going to give her the fire extinguisher that is going to go out mid fire. She will need to get rid of her extinguisher while her partner hands her his." I am pleased to say this went off without a hitch and the wind actually shifted and blew stuff away from us, unlike what it had done to the first two groups.

So before lunch I had learned the proper order to flip electrical breakers, how to pull an electric meter off the outside pole, used my "all purpose" tool to turn off/on a gas meter and put out a fire.

Gee, this afternoon is going to feel kinda boring.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Random Thoughts

This morning I began my day doing someone else’s job. That’s nothing new, but today it was especially aggravating as I’d previously explained to my co-worker I didn’t have time. Today is the day I cook for my senior citizens, so time is already precious. And yet I fell victim to what I always do: my conscience is motion activated and it doesn’t have an OFF switch. So I did the right thing…setting up a display in an un-air conditioned room that was over 100 degrees from the day’s previous heat. I was cheerful to those I came in contact with but when I got into my car, I groaned. Loudly. I don’t believe in cultivating ulcers by internalizing. Turning the A/C full blast, I aimed my car towards my office and turned up the volume on the radio. Donna Summer was singing, “She works hard for the money, but they never treat her right.”

I burst out laughing. I swear my car has a sense of humor.

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Talk about an accident waiting to happen! On my way to work I passed a man riding a bicycle. On the wrong side of the road. Against traffic, which was veering wildly around him and into my lane. He had a pair of crutches balanced on the handle bars and a small oxygen tank in his other hand. Looking in my rear view mirror, I saw he was wearing an oxygen mask. I can only imagine the expression on a cop or medic’s face if this guy gets into a wreck…he’s already got half the equipment he needs to recoup with him.
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This one is for Rachel, who like myself, has the ability to see the funniest images even in the most innocent wording. It gets even funnier when 2 people are using two very different frames of reference.

One of my husband’s archery customers bought a new bow, a dozen arrows and a quiver to hold them in. Unfortunately, the customer only remembered to take the bow and arrows. As he lives far enough away that a return trip for just one item would be expensive, my husband agreed to mail it. This meant I got to add a trip to the Post Office to my usual Saturday list of things to do.

After terrorism, the first thing a postal worker asks after “Regular or express mail?” is “What’s in the box and is it dangerous?” Now the guy working the window is use to my husband mailing items so after the first couple of trips, there was no longer any joking discussions of how dangerous a bow or arrows were when shipped separately…unless someone could throw an arrow by hand with lethal results. Postal Guy knows my face but doesn’t always put 2+2 together until he sees the return address.

So on Saturday I smiled, handed him the box which he laid on the scale with a grin. When he asked what the package was, I replied, “A quiver.”

He stopped smiling and looked confused. I kept smiling but felt confused. He looked at the package, balanced perfectly on the scale, then back at me. Puzzled.

It was then I realized why. It was all I could do to keep from laughing. He thought I meant the package was a quiver, as in shaking. Biting my lip, I managed to spit out, “To hold the arrows.” He nodded sagely. I made it out without laughing.

So Rachel, remind me to tell you later why I’m not so fond of the word “duck”.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

From the Earth to the Moon

I'm a couple of days late, but I like this photo I took last year at mid day.

On July 16, 1969 as Man first set foot on the moon, little girl me watched it all on T.V., the grainy black and white picture making my jaw drop as my fingers crossed. And yes, when it was all over, Mom took us outside to look up at the moon. I waved.

It was such a vivid memory I still look up at the moon in wonder and amazement.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Why?

Ah, the age old question of the incurably curious. Mom said once I learned to say it, I apparently became addicted. Today's "why" is part of the question, "Why do I bother to blog?"

Do I hope to entertain others?
[I certainly entertain myself when writing instead of tackling the dreaded chores of housework].

Am I trying to share, to give someone in another place a glimpse of my own backyard?
[Hubby thinks you should see the yard since he mowed it yesterday. It's 5 acres, which takes 3 hours of pruning].

Do I need a place to share my opinion, uninterrupted, so you can really see my point of view?
[Okay, I treasure the uninterrupted thing more than trying to change your mind].

Am I trying to find a common thread which weaves us all together into a blanket of humanity?
[Truthfully...no. I've seen some blogs that scare the crap out of me].

So why do I bother, sitting here at the keyboard when there are a million other things screaming my name? It makes me think. And much to my surprise the oddest things come flying out of those mental boxes. Boxes I was just sure were covered with dust and stored in the back of my brain, pushed well past those labeled "Childhood."

One of my goals is to finish my family tree in a way that is more than "Mr. A. married Miss B. and they begat at least a dozen children". I want to be able to tell their stories, give them the lead roles as the characters they really were instead of who I hoped they'd be. My family often shakes their collective heads when I wax poetic about long dead relatives as if I'd seen them last week. What I don't add is that some of the "dead" ones are more interesting.

When I'm here, in my little universe of "WHY?", I discover family stories I thought were long forgotten. Often one simple word can be the key to the memory box. So whether I entertain or enrage those who stumble onto this page, at least I have a way to document those wisps of story that will one day disappear if no one takes the time to write it down.

And so I write on.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Mother Nature plays by her own rules

We had the mother of all thunderstorms last night, with howling wind and enough lightning to power a small city. Sadly, when I went to check on the "new kids" in the backyard, they were all gone. Their nest was tipped at an angle which, on a man's hat is rakish or jaunty, but is just plain depressing after much wind and rain.

I know nature has its own balance but it's still hard to look harsh reality in the eye. On the upside, [and with a name like "hope" you know that's the road I'll take], hubby says it's possible the baby birds are alive. Because they were a couple of weeks old and their eyes were open, he says if they landed on their feet, their parents could have walked them to a safer spot. I'm keeping an eye out.

I guess I really take our state motto to heart.... "While I breathe, I hope."

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Meanwhile...out in the rose bush

As you can see, all five eggs hatched. The two "intruders" hatched first...they're the couple on the left with the red throats. The trio on the right, children of our Indigo Buntings, have orange throats.

So far everyone is playing nice and no one's been pushed out of the nest. However, it's a pretty tight fit, especially with the Red Throats being physically larger than the Orange Trio. I can't wait until they get some real feathers...right now they look like someone scalded them. Yikes!

They do, however, make the most lovely music together. And their parents, sitting watchfully in the tree above with dinner in their mouths, were kind enough to let me take the first family portrait. Hubby and I made sure to not outstay our welcome.

Monday, July 7, 2008

The World...from my doorstep

It’s vacation season, but I experience it second hand. Vicariously. Working for the local Recreation Dept. means I do the “work” to ensure others have “fun”. In the Summer, work triples.

Someone asked if I resented staying put and not traveling. After all, I only live 22 miles from where I was born. Hubby’s family was Air Force and the man was born in Japan. He teases me about having only seen 8 of the 50 states…and most of them while driving through, not stopping. Oh, I’ve escaped the U.S. border. Once. Hubby and I went to Canada. For 3 hours. It was a tour to see both sides of Niagara Falls. He’d laughed and said, “Congratulations! You’ve done it.” When I looked perplexed, he’d added, “You’re in a foreign country.”

Looking back across the Falls, where I’d stood only hours before, it didn’t feel like traveling.

Truth is, I’ve never had wanderlust. I know, odd for someone with my sense of curiosity. Maybe that’s why I enjoy reading so much. Vicarious thrills aren’t that bad. And in this economy, that’s safer and more economical. But before you mourn my sheltered existence, I have met people from other cultures. Yet there is an irony in the meeting.

Quite simply, they landed on my doorstep. Literally.

Hubby has an Archery Shop. It was once housed in our old fashion country store near a popular lake. When the lake dried up, so did everything but the archery, which we moved closer to home. But while we had the store, I met the most curious assortment of people. That’s only odd when you realize we were literally located at a crossroads in the middle of the country. I still don’t know what’s funnier: the cowboy who rode up to our gas pump on a horse looking like a page from a Louis L’Amour novel or the French Mexican.

Okay, I’ll explain.

The cowboy looked every inch like those I’d grown up watching on T.V. westerns, right down to tipping his hat at me with a soft spoken, “Ma’am.” Once I got past the visual of the Marlboro Man on horseback with a gas can, I could focus on the explanation. His horse trailer had run out of gas just over the hill, which rendered it invisible from the store. He said it was just easier to saddle up a horse than walk and we concluded the transaction with him never leaving the saddle. As he turned to ride into the sunset, almost literally, I asked where he was from, imagining somewhere in Big Sky country. Touching a finger to the brim of his hat he replied softly, New Jersey.”

Sigh. So much for childhood stereotypes.

The French Mexican was a Pro Fisherman who’d stopped by to get a license for a tournament. A resident of Mexico City, he was surprised I could read his driver’s license, which was in Spanish. Turns out he wasn’t complimenting my skills as much as confessing his lack thereof. His mother was Mexican, but he’d grown up speaking French, like his father. With a laugh he said between the two of us, I probably knew more Spanish. Dios mio!

The prize for Most Unusual however, goes to The Moroccan Johnny Mathis. I kid you not.

Hubby had told me about an unusual man who’d come in to purchase a bow; a Moroccan named Myunde. As dark as the brothers in the neighborhood, his hairstyle was like, well...Johnny Mathis. He was well dressed, dripping in gold and very sure of himself. It was interesting to watch the brothers in the hood greet him, then scurry away when Myunde returned their greeting with a crisp British accent and immaculate grammar.

He came in one weekend when I was working with hubby. I skeptical of this stranger who claimed to be a past Olympic fencer, an expert golfer, fluent in four languages and a Moroccan prince with three wives… who was still accepting applications. He’d stopped in the area to visit someone he knew before heading to Vegas to headline as “The Moroccan Johnny Mathis”. No, I didn’t ask him to sing. He volunteered.

I hate to be in the spotlight or the center of attention. As hubby worked on Myunde’s bow, the singer asked if I had a request. My mind went blank. Then I heard my lips offer, “Well ever since I heard about the Johnny Mathis gig, I can’t get ‘Chances Are’ out of my head.” He nodded sagely, closed his eyes, then opened them to focus on me with such intensity it was all I could do to keep from taking a step backward. And then he sang, acappella, the most beautiful version I’ve ever heard of that song. It would’ve made Mathis cry.

In the middle of this unique concert aimed at me, one of hubby’s buddies wandered in. He politely slipped past me and asked hubby in a hushed voice what was going on. To which my hubby deadpanned, “A private performance for the wife. He’s very famous. What? You’ve never heard of the Moroccan Johnny Mathis?” The buddy stood there, eyes wide, mouth agape, shaking his head. In a conspiratorial whisper I heard him beg hubby not to tell his wife because he couldn’t afford to have someone famous serenade her.

I hear last month a Native American and a Little Person were here for an Archery tournament. I missed them, but they’ll be back. Or so they told hubby. I can’t wait.

In the meantime, my Guardian Angel is giggling and trying to find the next entertaining person to send my way.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Two Down, Three to Go

Well, as I tiptoed down the back steps this morning I heard a sound. I took a quick peek 'cause I know Mama Bird is somewhere up in that Paper Birch staring at me. I don't know if she has the dive bombing skills of my favorite Mockingbird, but I don't care to find out.

Seems the two "uninvited" eggs have hatched. They're doing fine and are VERY vocal. I just hope Mama is able to hatch the three she actually built the nest for. Time will tell...then so will I.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Celebrating My Independence

Even if we hadn't had that little tiff with the British, followed by a rather non-social tea party in Boston by the harbor, July 4th would still have been a holiday at our house. It was my Dad's birthday. Whether we celebrated at home or at his cousin's lake house, we considered that date Dad's, with America's birthday a footnote.

Dad use to call me every year on Juy 3rd and say, "Tomorrow's my birthday. Take the day off." Working in local government, that's an automatic holiday for me. I use to tease him, "One day, I'm going to get MY own holiday!" to which he would reply, "You were born in January. Good luck." When Martin Luther King Day became a recognized government holiday, I grinned. Dr. King and I were born the same day. So even if the government likes to mess with the date in which it's celebrated [the Monday closest to the 15th], it's still a holiday. I called Dad up the first year and said, "Hey, tomorrow's my birthday. Take the day off." He laughed, not at the holiday but because he believed I'd pulled off the impossible. Who ever heard of a holiday in the middle of January?

I miss Dad. I have his sense of humor...slightly warped but not mean. July the 4th will always be Dad's day....but Uncle Sam can come over for cake.

As for celebrating my Independence from a day of work and acknowledging the GOOD things about America [oh yeah, remove politicians and there are good things], I have a plan.

The Traditional Day: spending time at the in-laws, cooking hamburgers on the grill. No fireworks. Not because there are no longer little kids around...that never stopped us before. No, we're under a drought warning. Shooting Roman Candles and Bottle Rockets could result in torching an entire neighborhood when they once again become earthbound.

The Non-Traditional Day: which would be the 5th because I know the majority of the 4th will be spent away from home. I will shirk my housework duties. Okay, so I'll do the laundry early and have time for me. When "Me time" kicks in, I will sit down and read Rachel's new poetry book. {I've only had time for the postcards and they were a hit!} I might even revisit Shug's book as well. That's the nice thing about poetry...you can revisit and see what you missed the first time out. Now if Ken Armstrong and Dave King would add something to the mix, my reading list would be full.

Whether you celebrate this holiday or not, I hope you have a wonderful weekend! Don't eat too much and remember..... laughter is filling, but it has no calories. Is that a great deal or what?