Monthly Archives: September 2019

Read to Me

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I love to read, but in the last few years, problems have arisen.

My vision is not what it once was; I now need bright light to read by. That has pretty much eliminated reading in the bathtub, as the bathroom light fixture cannot handle a bulb brighter than 60 watts. Sometimes I still try, as reading in the bathtub used to bring me great enjoyment. The awkward position that I have to hold to get the book in the light and my face close to the page takes the relaxation aspect out of the experience. Squinting at a page in dim light while sitting waist-deep in a tub of cooling water is not the grand indulgence that reading in the bathtub used to be.

Reading in bed is another pleasure gone now by the wayside. The bedside lamp is bright enough, when it is directed at the page. If I change my position, though, I have to also redirect the lamp. I can’t hold one position for long. Whichever elbow I’m using to prop myself up gets tired and sore. My old back is not as limber as it once was, and I feel the strain after just a few moments. When I need to roll over to the other side, I have to sit up to reach the lamp, to redirect its light. I also have to readjust two small dogs that have settled in beside me. It doesn’t seem worth the trouble. I’m usually too tired to read more than a page or two before bed, anyway.

When I get a chance to have lunch in a restaurant, a book is my chosen companion. With the cost of of eating out these days, that’s a rare thing. I pack a lunch on days that I work, and rarely get more than a few uninterrupted minutes to eat it. I’ve quit trying to read at that time.

Used to be, summer was a time for reading on the beach. I always had a blanket and a good book at the ready, for any opportunity. There are books whose re-reading conjures up memories of warm sun, sand, and the sound of the waves, as that is where I first opened the pages. Now, summers seem way too busy for that. My hours at work are long; I have dogs at home waiting for me. This last summer, I think I only made it to the beach once, and that was when I had company.

At home, I used to sit in my comfortable armchair with a good book, for hours at a time. I’m sorry to note that the straight-backed chair I’m sitting on now has replaced the armchair. The computer, with its easy access to friends and family, news, and mindless entertainment has taken over many of the hours that I used to spend reading.

Last winter, having acquired a small handheld computer, I downloaded a program that allows me to listen to books. Other things, too! I am working my way through a series of guided meditations. My morning walk has become “intense walking with jogging intervals” thanks to Jamie, the trainer who speaks to me through the earbuds. She believes she’s building me up to a full out run in the series of twenty workouts, but I’ve got her fooled.

After nearly collapsing with exhaustion on Workout #13, I decided to take control. I repeat Workouts #1 (eighteen minutes of walking and speed walking, with 3 thirty-second jogs thrown in), #2 (more of the same, with longer jogging segments), and #7 (thirty minutes of intervals: walking for two minutes, jogging for one), depending on the time and energy I have. In-between lessons involve strength training and stretching; I do those inside, in the evening. I plan to eventually get all the way through her program…but on my own terms!

The books, though! My evening walk, which goes at a more relaxed pace than the morning workout, is also reading time. For about forty-five minutes, as the dogs and I wind our way down trails through the woods, someone is reading to me! I’ve finished several books this way! Currently, I’m listening to Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, by Carol S, Dweck, and I have several other books waiting. So far, I find non-fiction more suitable than fiction in this format, and, of course, the reader’s voice influences the entire experience. Still, for my life right now, this is wonderful. I am thoroughly enjoying having someone read to me!

What’s the Difference?

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What’s the difference? That’s a question that has plagued me throughout my life. I think I invite it with my Virgo tendency to believe there is one correct way to do a thing. Is it really so important that T-shirts or underpants or towels be folded one particular way? What’s the difference? Does it really matter if the books on my shelves are sorted both by topic and alphabetically? And will the world stop turning if one is re-shelved out of order? What’s the difference?

I’ve tried to relax. It’s true, most times, that, in the greater scheme of things, my little rules-of-order mean very little. I recently overheard my daughter giving a recipe to her daughter. When she came to the part about thickening a sauce with cornstarch, I wanted to jump into the conversation with, “No, always use flour to thicken a sauce!” I held back, though. It really doesn’t make any difference. Likewise, now that my children are grown, and not perfect, I’ve let go of the idea that there is one right way to raise a child. With caring and love, the particulars are less important. Sometimes, though, rules are there for a reason, and care in following directions makes all the difference. That came clear to me the other day.

I decided to make bread. That decision was born from a need to use up an uninteresting pot of soup that had been sitting for several days in the refrigerator. It wasn’t a bad soup. It had all the right elements for an outstanding soup: two kinds of dried beans, wheat berries, carrot, celery, green pepper, onion and tomatoes. Garlic and spices. A couple shakes of Tabasco sauce. Not bad, but – for some reason – not interesting.

Fresh bread would turn that boring soup into an interesting meal. I thought of it first thing in the morning. I’d make the easy, healthy whole wheat bread that has been my standard go-to bread for more than thirty years. I know the recipe by heart. Start by warming seven and a half cups of whole wheat flour in the oven. I scooped the flour into my metal bowl. Assuming it was a one-half cup measuring cup in the wheat flour canister, I counted out fifteen cupfuls, and put the bowl in the oven, set to a low temperature.

I greased two loaf pans, set the yeast to proof, and measured out the molasses and water. I pulled the bowl from the oven, and combined all of the ingredients. Always a fairly sticky bread, it seemed a little looser than usual. Hmmm. Well, I hadn’t made bread in a while. Between trying to limit my carbohydrates, and trying to avoid using the oven during the heat of the summer, it had been several months since I’d used this recipe. Maybe I was just remembering wrong. After all, I had followed the directions perfectly.

I set the bread to rise, which it did in record time. I put the two loaves in the pre-heated oven to bake. When I checked on it, the bread had spilled over the top of each loaf pan, dripped over the sides, onto the shelves and the oven floor. It was then, finally, that I thought to check. The measuring cup that I used, that I keep stored in the flour canister, was a one-third cup measure, not a one-half cup, as I’d assumed. Ugh!

What’s the difference? Well, beyond the mess in the oven, the hard-to-clean loaf pans, and the sunken loaves that are crumbly and difficult to slice, no difference. The bread did, in fact, make the soup a lot more interesting. Exactly as I planned!

Non-Vacations

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We all have an idea of what vacations should be. Whether it means a chance to reconnect with loved ones, a simple change of scenery or a whole new experience, usually relaxation is part of the equation. Not always, though. Some of my most memorable “vacation” experiences have had nothing to do with rest. Some don’t even involve time-off work!

There was the time I spent five days on a twenty-nine foot sailboat, as part of a three-person crew. In October! With a head-wind for the entire distance down Lake Huron! And I, seasick for most of the journey. Not quite a vacation, but it lives on in my memory as one of the greatest adventures of my life!

My first EarthWatch expedition was a trip to Grand Turk Island, now more than twenty-five years ago. It involved a lot of hard work, but also learning, and expanding my horizons and my life experience. I worked with people of all ages, from a seventeen-year-old young man recently graduated from high school, to an eighty-five-year-old woman retired from CitiBank in New York City. We put in a good eight hours of work every day, much of it on our hands and knees in the archaeological site. I learned excavation methods, survey techniques, and about the ancient Taino people.

In our off time, we drank local beers, explored the island, visited the museum, played Trivial Pursuit, and always ran down to the shore at sunset, in hopes of seeing “the green flash.” Every day was filled with fresh experiences, and I loved it. At the time, I thought I’d like to go on a similar expedition for every vacation.

Life gets in the way, though, of some of the best-laid plans. Grandchildren were born; my parents aged. A new mortgage on my house, taken out to pay off student loan debt, changed my financial situation. The years went by. Then, a letter from my friend, Warren, who I met on Grand Turk Island, reminded me of the possibilities. This year, my granddaughter, Madeline, and I went on an EarthWatch expedition together, in honor of her high school graduation. Once again, it was a lot of hard work, but worth every bit of it for the memorable experience!

Usually, I count the days when family or other visitors are on the island as “vacation.” Even though I don’t actually leave home. Even though none of the other work or life obligations go away. Even though it can be exhausting trying to fit dog walks, picking beans and throwing in a load of towels into days made more full by events shared with family and friends. In long summers without reprieve, any change is refreshing. When family and friends visit, my days are punctuated by trips to the beach, excursions to see the sights, and dinners looking across the table at the faces of people I know and love. At those times, my days are even busier than usual…but nicer, too.

When my two oldest grandsons were small, they used to visit every June. I would take a week off work when they were here. There was a lot of bedtime drama, of breaking up sibling fights, and arguments about house rules. Those memories pale, though. The things I remember best are mornings sitting on the beach at Iron Ore Bay, reading and drinking coffee while the boys built elaborate dams and bridges on the shore. We spent most of every day outside, no matter what the weather. Evenings, we’d drive around to see the deer. Those are the memories that hold.

Likewise, when the three younger grandchildren came to visit, there was a lot of shuffling of schedules and sleeping arrangements. There were peculiarities of food preferences and entertainment options. There were squabbles. What sticks in my mind, though, are the giggles and fun. Small hands in mine as we walked down roads and trails with the dogs. Little elbows and knees as they settled in when we gathered on the sofa to watch a movie. Bright eyes and smiling faces, sharing the adventure of Beaver Island. Not quite a vacation for me, but what a bright spot in my life!

Rest is a nice idea but, in my experience, there are much better things vacations have to offer!

Vacations

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I wrote a week ago about “what I did on my summer vacation.” You may have noticed, it didn’t sound so much like a vacation. More like a “working adventure.” My life has been peppered with experiences like that. I’ll write about them at another time. I’ve had real and wonderful vacations in my life. That’s what I’m focusing on today.

When I was a child, vacations always brought our family to Beaver Island. We came in August, when the sun shone bright every day, nights were cool, and Lake Michigan waters were warm. We had freedom to explore the woods and fields, to walk the country roads, and to play in the old cars and in the barns and outbuildings. My grandparents were there, with their own ideas for entertainment. Bingo at the church hall, games of “Kings in the Corner” around the kitchen table, and trips to the dump to see the seagulls broke up our days. Those are still some of my fondest memories, and shaped my love of Beaver Island.

As an adult, vacation locales were more diverse, but also abbreviated, and rarer. There were weekend camping and canoeing trips, and visits to amusement parks and zoos. Once, we drove to Arkansas to spend the Thanksgiving weekend with my husband’s cousin and his family. After our move to Beaver Island, vacations mostly involved going to see family and friends. That’s the way it has held, though there are exceptions.

Several years ago, my daughter Jen brought me to Chicago for a long weekend. We found a little Italian restaurant with white tablecloths, excellent service and a great wine list. We went to an exhibit of Jasper Johns recent work; we wandered shops and stores.

Last summer, my daughter Kate and her family treated me to a trip to Chicago for my birthday. We toured the city, ate fabulous meals, and visited parks, galleries and museums. We went to see the musical, Hamilton! It was a fantastic, exceptional, once-in-a-lifetime experience!

My sisters and I have taken several trips together, each one memorable for its own sake. Our first trip to Florida, in the winter after the awful summer that saw the death of my sister Sheila and my mother, was a healing journey. Six sisters, finding our way forward with laughter, tears and lots of hugs. A trip to Chicago for Mother’s Day of that same year included four sisters and three nieces. Another step forward into life without our mother, surrounded by loved ones who felt the same loss.

A vacation in Tennessee a few years later was memorable because we knew it would likely be the last time my sister Nita would be with us. She had already defied the life expectancy handed out with her cancer diagnosis, but her health was failing. Even so, that trip held lots of laughter, and even some bickering between sisters. One line stands out: “Dying or not, there’s still no excuse for being a bitch!” That, along with my sister Cheryl being called away for a family emergency, and my sister Amy driving the rest of us home – in a very crowded car – through a raging blizzard, made it a trip I’ll never forget.

On our last “Sisters Vacation,” there were only five of us. There was less drama and sadness, but just as much joy and laughter. In fact, for every loss, there is a greater sense of the value of family, and the importance of time together. We went to Florida again. Each of us chose activities for the group. Each offered something special. The Titanic exhibit was outstanding. The psychic readings were fun and enlightening. Having never been to any of the Disney parks, and not feeling like I missed anything, I would never have planned a day at Disney Springs. That turned out to be one of my favorite activities of the whole trip!

The primary purpose of most every vacation, for me, is to spend time with loved ones. Relaxation is important, but secondary. Beyond being together, opening myself up to new sights and ideas, and taking part in memorable experiences: that, for me, is what makes an exceptional vacation!

Brother, David

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This is an old post…it has now been more than nine years since my brother died. But today is David’s birthday, and he’s been occupying my thoughts for several days. It seems like the right time for a repeat.

cindyricksgers

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There’s a story in my family that my brother, David, was given nine lives.

Speaking to David about his many misadventures, and later to his friends and other siblings, I would have had to place that number closer to twenty.

There was the sledding accident that broke long bones and left him chair-bound for months.  The fight that resulted in a broken jaw. Riding home at night on a bicycle, David was hit by a car. Once  “road-surfing” on the roof of a van, he took a nasty fall onto the pavement. There was a fall from a roof. There were several near-drowning incidents on Lake Nepessing, in all seasons of the year.

Once, walking home on the side of a narrow road, someone opened a car door as they went by, knocking David into a pole, then into the lagoon. He crawled out of the water covered with cuts…

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Bounty

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This is the season. This is the time of year when all of my efforts come finally, and seemingly all at once, to fruition. The tomato plants are doing their own version of the biblical “loaves and fishes” story, with an endless supply of bright red fruits. They, along with the cucumbers that keep getting ahead of me, too, are present at every meal.

The row of yellow squash, which hesitated to grow and refused to blossom for most of the summer, now miraculously produces a perfect squash – sometimes two – overnight. The peppers, slow starting, are now ripening all at once. I gathered the potatoes from one bin, and have been working my way through them, with two more bins ready and waiting.

I picked a mound of green beans, and put them in the refrigerator, confidant that I could wait for a better day to clean and process them for the freezer. “This will be the last of this year’s green beans,” I told myself, with a touch of melancholy. Two days later, I went out and picked an equal amount. A few days later, I did it again! Now, I have three grocery sacks of beans in the refrigerator, and they cannot be delayed a moment longer!

I have a row of drying peas along the fence that will need to be dealt with soon. I avert my eyes as I walk by, because I don’t have time today. Likewise, the kohlrabi is ready for harvest, just as soon as I make room for them in the vegetable bin. The corn has started to form ears.

On top of all that, the blackberries are ripening. I am a forager at heart, and cannot ignore food ripe for the picking. So, at the very least, I fill a colander each day from the brambles that border my yard. Yesterday, I loaded the dogs into the car and drove down to “the forty,” a woodland parcel that is owned by my family, and that my cousin Bob mows, in order to make berry-picking easier. There, I filled two big bowls and a coffee can with the sweet fruit. Sigh.

I learned that sigh from my mother. She perfected it during this same exact time of the year. She’d be sitting at the table, enjoying her first cup of coffee, maybe chatting with some of her children, and plotting out the day ahead. Then the back door would slam. Heavy footsteps through the back room and hallway would announce Dad’s entrance. He’d arrive at the doorway into the kitchen with a wide grin, and a bushel basket full of tomatoes. “This is just that far, short row,” he’d state with glee, “there are a lot more ready to be picked!”

Well. There was a large household to feed, and a long winter ahead. Mom would let out a big sigh, and rearrange her day. Whatever had been planned would have to wait until tomatoes were canned. There is no negotiating with time or tiredness or ripe fruit. Not right now, in this season of bounty!

Falling in Love Again

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It’s nice to get away. No matter how much I like my life, the grind of everyday living eventually takes its toll. No matter how beautiful the scenery, I take it for granted. Yes, that’s my view: brambles and trees and paths that wind through the woods as the sun shining through makes dappled patterns on every surface. Hard to believe, but one gets used to it. When I go away and come home again, everything here seems fresh.

I am reminded daily, sometimes several times a day, how special my life is. Fall crept in, just a little bit, while I was gone. The mosquitoes have just about disappeared; morning air is fresh and cool. The garden is relaxing into this end-of-season, giving up its last and most appreciated offerings. My window sill is lined with fat tomatoes; every meal features them in some way.

The dogs are cuter than ever, or maybe simply just as cute as ever. They give me a hundred reasons to smile every single day. Blackie Chan has taken to talking to me when he’s ready for his morning walk, or waiting for his dinner. Rosa Parks, following her brother’s example, has started cocking one rear leg high in the air to pee, but only when he’s around to see it. When she goes outside without him, she squats to pee, as usual.

Darla’s infinite patience with and kindness toward the little dogs makes my heart swell. If Blackie Chan wanders down the neighbor’s driveway, which he is not supposed to do, Darla waits there for him, a worried expression on her big face. When Darla and Rosa Parks join forces in the front window to bark at the road truck. Rosa sometimes loses focus, and barks at Darla, instead. Darla gives me a look, and a little grin, but just continues on as if she were not suddenly under attack.

My house was the same as when I left it. My yard was surprisingly quite presentable. I’d heard we had a rainstorm, so I fully expected the grass to have once again grown to unmanageable lengths, but no. Inside, the houseplants were slightly droopy but responded right away to being watered. Both house and yard were no worse off than when I left ten days before. Except that I’ve noticed, and appreciated, their simple comfort and beauty since I’ve been home.

My job was waiting for me, and I was happy to get back to work. It was nice to see my coworkers, and to get updates on everything here. When I got called in to work yesterday, on my day off, to help with a problem, I felt honored rather than put out by the request.

In fact, I have been spending this week falling in love, once again, with my life here. Sometimes, I just have to get away. I need to reconnect with family and friends, take in the bigger world, and open myself up to new experiences. One of the best things about leaving, though, is the coming home again.