Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Hello, hello. How is it March 18th?!

I'm still a bit stuffed-up but am otherwise finally feeling better, thank you.    The month feels like a blur:  I returned from seeing my parents, and then I got sick, and now March is half-over?!  While out for groceries and medicine one day, I treated myself to a bundle of Daffodils--Last year at this time, I missed out on them, and I was determined not to this year--and seeing them in the sweet little pitcher (Valentine clearance at Jo-Ann Fabric) that my mom bought me while I was home a few weeks ago was one of this month's pleasures.  Ah, spring!  Only two days away now!  There is a sink full of dishes, I am weeks behind on laundry, there are piles of things everywhere that need to be sorted and put away, I still have to file my taxes, I am simply behind~behind~behind, but I am ready for spring.  Today I have all the windows wide-open and a "Vanilla Joy" candle glowing on the desk beside my tea, Stuffed is alternating from his favorite finally-sunny window perch to his second-favorite finally-sunny window perch, and thank God, I have my health back.  Life is good.  Love to you all.  I'll be catching up in the days ahead. 

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Dite, dite, Hodey. :)

I mentioned back in 2011 how much the following Sunday newspaper comic by Lynn Johnston made me and my parents laugh when we first read it.  The next-to-last panel's line has become something Mom, Dad, and I say to each other when one of us is sick and stuffed-up.  When I called them the other night, I told them about the horrible cold I've been suffering from this past week--as if they couldn't tell from my voice--but I forgot to sign off with our catchphrase until I was wrapping up a quick note home to them this morning.  While I recover here, please enjoy one of our favorite cartoons.   

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

At Mom and Dad's

My work schedule and my mom's work schedule magically coincided last week and we ended up having all the same days off, so I took a bus home and got to spend a rare four February days with her and Dad.  While my motion sickness wore off last Monday night, I sat in the window booth Dad built a few years ago and unpacked a bag of Honeycrisp apples for him and a foil pan of gluten-free cinnamon rolls for Mom. 
Usually my visits home are much shorter, so Mom and I find ourselves staying up much later than we usually would in order to have more time together.  This visit, that wasn't the case, so we were in bed by ten every night, better for me since I've been making quite an effort to take better care of myself lately, and better for her Mom since her Lyme disease tremors were troubling her the entire time I was home and they ease up a bit when she's resting.  Likewise, a visit the next night with my younger brother and his wife and baby was a bit short since the baby was suffering from her first cold, and what was to have been a Wednesday dinner with my older brother and his family was cancelled when he called to say he and his wife were sick.  It was an even more leisurely four days at home for me, Mom, and Dad, then, which meant more rest for everyone, all-around. 
Mom's been redoing the kitchen, which has alternated between blue gingham and red gingham my entire life.  This winter, it is red gingham with creamy butter-yellow walls.  The booth above is the one Dad made for her and is one of my bird-watching spots when I'm home.  I haven't yet learned to use the zoom feature on my new camera, but even without it, I could sit at this window and get good shots of Chickadees, my favorite birds, in the Rhododendron bush, and I spent a good bit of time doing just that last week from the warmth of this gingham-windowed booth.
My parents moved into this house in the summer of 2003, so it's not the home I grew up in.  I gave up my apartment in 2003 and moved in with them here, though, while I finished graduate school and worked and re-built my savings after a few rough starts in my early twenties, so being in this little blue and red house always reminds me of that time in my life.  That's sometimes nice and sometimes not.  I was twenty-six when I had to move back in with them in 2003 and thirty when I moved out in 2007. . .a frustrating four years of having my own furniture and most of my own things stored in their basement and garage, of coming to understand that my ex was my ex and not yet knowing that my just-a-friend Mr. Mike would hold such a place in my future, and of struggling with school and depression while working toward getting back out on my own.  For a long time in those years, I thought that my parents' perennial gray-blue and red gingham would forever remind me of those sad times, but I wasn't gone long at all before I wished I could see Mom and Dad and their cute little house more frequently again, of course.  Such is life. 
I have told Mom many times that I can't look at her kitchen now without marveling at the fact that she and Aunt Laurie transformed it into such an airy pastel pink and green wonderland for Mike's and my anniversary party a few years ago.  She laughs every time I bring it up and just says it was fun for them.  It's been a joke between us since I was a kid that someday she would want to "be like me" and have pink everywhere--Picture me coming home from elementary school to find her wallpapering the kitchen in yet another Colonial blue print and yelling at her, "Aw, come on, Mom! Give up the blue and red, and try PINK!  Just think:  Pink roses and pink gingham and bright WHITE everywhere!  And we could work in some GREEN!  You should at least tryyyyyyyyyyyyy it!  You don't know--You might really LIKE it!"--so walking into our surprise anniversary party a few years ago and seeing Mom's kitchen and dining room finally in pink, white, and green was such a treat.  We laugh together every time the subject comes up.   
So many of these items in her collections were in the kitchens of my childhood too--The hen-on-nest-beside-red-milk-jug-against-fence wall hanging that's behind the hen shakers above was a piece we found together at a Ben Franklin store in the mid-1980s--but she is always finding and painting something new for her home too.  The nut didn't fall far from the tree, etcetera.   When Mom's in "Blue Mode," she repaints the milk jug in blue and brings out her blue Spatterware and copper mold collection.  When she's in "Red Mode," it is gingham and hens.  The adjoining dining room is almost always blue and filled with her Americana and tavern signs, though.  Every now and then, she'll move the pewter and Colonial things into the living room, but they always seem to find their way back out here.  
Dad built the corner cupboard below for her to store her cherished old Pfaltzgraff Yorktowne dishes in, and they are yet another thing that automatically, and forever and always, equals "Mom" to me. 
The red gingham wing chair in the photo at the top of this post was one I saw on eBay years ago.  Mom had been wanting one just like it for decades--she has magazine clippings from decorating magazines from the 1970s that show similar chairs--so even though the eBay seller mentioned in her listing that the chair was "local (Texas) pick-up only," I emailed her to beg her to be willing to ship the chair.  She kindly agreed--and that still makes delights me --and I won the auction (as if I wouldn't, in this case, right!), my brothers and I divided the cost, my older brother drove to the local bus station to pick up the chair in his truck, and we somehow managed to surprise Mom with it on her birthday in 2006.  :)  
Giving Mom with this chair for her birthday that night is one of my favorite memories of all our times in this house and certainly of my four years living in it.  She moved it into this spot right away and sat down with my nephew, and these are the first two pictures I took that night.    And Mom and I both mailed thank you notes to the eBay seller for her kindness. 
Sweet, happy memories--and now this chubby little toddler is almost ten years old.    And the chair now has a skirt.  "Never too much gingham" is one decorating creed on which Mom and I agree.  :)
When I'm home next, for my birthday in May, the views from Mom and Dad's windows will be green, and the Cardinals, Woodpeckers, and Chickadees will be more than outnumbered by the buds on the Rhododendrons. 
 The snow on the hill outside their house will have melted to reveal the spring's first wildflowers.
And since Aunt Laurie and her family will also be in town next visit, coffee cake and homemade bread will likely be on the counter beside the cinnamon rolls covered in gingham dish cloths, Mom and Dad's TV will seem permanently set to a baseball game, and their blue and red house will smell of brewing coffee in between everyone's walks and fishing trips and flea market jaunts. 
In the meantime, February has turned to March, and we had our rare four winter days together.  And that, as Mom is known for saying about something she loves, is "not!  too!  shabby!"    

Friday, February 21, 2014

"Thank you for all the health and all the experiences that I have lived. . . ."

The only event of this year's Olympic games that interested me enough to look up the TV schedule for it was the ladies' figure skating--the skating is the only winter event that ever seems to catch my interest, just as gymnastics used to be the one in the summer Olympics--and I found myself enchanted by one of the skaters:  Carolina Kostner.  One of her programs was performed to "Ave Maria."  I haven't found a clip online yet that shows yesterday's performance, but the video above is one of the same program from a competition earlier this year.  It is hauntingly beautiful, and all I have read about Kostner's road to this Olympics has only made the performance more touching to me.  Apparently, she has battled injuries the past few years, fell a number of times during her programs in the 2010 Olympics, finishing in sixteenth place--prompting the satirical newspaper "The Onion" to post a headline earlier this week that described her needing to be rescued after falling through the ice this Olympics--and had decided after 2010 to retire from skating.  She took time off but eventually came back to it, deciding to return for the pure love of it, instead of thinking in terms of competitions, judges' scores, and others' expectations.  Kostner, in her "Ave Maria" performance above, reminds me of one of those miniature ballerinas inside a music box.  I have watched this over and over.  In an interview after this Olympics--in which she finally earned an Olympic medal, at the ripe "old" age of twenty-seven--she commented that the this lovely performance "felt almost like a prayer saying, 'Thank you for all the health and all the experiences that I have lived.'"  Ah!    I think it more than shows. 

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

"Valen-Christmas" 2014, or Kindness Toward Self and Others, or Issues: I Have a Few

After Mike and I exchanged cards and gifts Valentine's Day morning, he left to spend the weekend with his family.  Since he hadn't been able to visit them in December, the weekend became a combined Valentine's Day-Christmas (that I deemed "Valen-Christmas") for them.  I had packed a couple gift bags for Mike's family into his rental car, enjoying the opportunity to mix and match Christmas wrapping paper and handpainted Christmas ornaments with Valentine's Day flowers, heart-printed tissue paper, and heart-shaped cherry pies.  Two of my favorite holidays rolled into one this Friday. 
Mike returned Sunday evening with a car full of our Christmas presents from his family, and while our Christmas-in-February was fun, I was more grateful for the gift of his having made it home safely after a few hours of driving on slippery roads.  We usually take advantage of our once-or-twice-a-year car-rentals by heading to a local shopping plaza and stocking up on some things that are easier to bring home with a car, and we had planned both to do that and to enjoy a belated Valentine's dinner out, but when he called to let me know he was back and temporarily parked across the street, his first words were "I hope you're not disappointed, but the roads are awful. . . ."  No, I was not disappointed.  I was relieved, not really feeling like being out on them, or even away from home at all.  He returned the car, ordered a pizza--extra cheese with mushrooms, my favorite--we opened our presents, and we called it a day.  With his being gone and our plans abruptly changed, Valentine's Day didn't feel like it usually does here anyway.  I had sent the Valentine's Day bib to my niece but had mailed only a few cards.  I didn't even bake a cake, having expected us to eat out.  Due to my work schedule and energy level, this past Thanksgiving had the same play-it-by-ear feel.  Sometimes it's just like this. 
When I was younger, even a couple years younger, I would have beaten myself up a bit about these things--I should have made a cake and cookies, I should have knocked his socks off with some beautifully-creative impromptu dinner for us, I should have gotten more mail out, what happened to the homemade heart-shaped gluten-free cookies I was going to send to Mom--but ohhh noooooo.  One of my wishes for my thirty-sixth birthday was to be kinder not only to others, but to myself, as well.  It wasn't just words randomly typed into the text-box here; It's something I always need to work on.  I'll eat junk food in my packed lunches for a few days and spend my lunch money on a gift for someone instead.  I'll skip an extra couple hours of sleep in order to catch up on emails or get a long letter written.  I'll treat Mike to a book or cd he's mentioned but will rarely do the same for myself.  I go through phases and sometime long stretches of taking the time to watch movies and go for my beloved long walks, but spending this time on myself usually takes a backseat to looking out for my loved ones.  (I always make the time for journal-writing and that kind of reflective and prayerful quiet time, so that's in my favor here, at least.)  There is always more (and more and more) I want to be doing for people--and I love doing it--and I'm better at taking care of them than of myself.  It's just one of my issues.  When I mentioned this to my mom years ago, she seemed almost puzzled by the fact that I didn't "get it" and just said, "Well, Vally, there's always more that it would be nice to be able to do for people"--with an implied "???" clearly heard at the end of her statement.  And she's right, but I can be hard on myself and this runs deep with me. 
Almost a year after declaring that I wanted to do better in this regard, though, I can say that I'm getting somewhere.  I'm more likely to allow myself to sleep when I need it.   If I send ten Valentines instead of twenty, life goes on.  My loved ones know I love them even if their cards arrive a day late or the fudge shows up broken.  I am finally, in my late thirties, becoming gentler with myself.  I splurged last month and treated myself to a bottle of long-wished-for L'Air Du Temps perfume.  I recently bought myself a couple nightgowns.  I've been watching more movies.  Owning a camera now that can take good pictures outdoors should help me stay on-track with my daily walks.  Slowly, I am finding ways to balance showing love toward others with showing love toward self.   (Why is it just sooooo fun to give to others, though, and such work to take care of myself?!)  When I say that I like growing older, this kind of learning is one of the reasons why.  It is fascinating to me to see how issues that were so big to me ten years ago are no longer things I even think about, let alone "get hung up on," and how characteristics I accept as simply being my personality end up, given enough time, having been just quirks or the way I was during certain stages of my life.  Finding these patterns and putting these sorts of puzzle pieces together:  That's so much of the beauty and benefit and fun of aging. 
After all that, it will likely not surprise you to hear that while I nestled a number of mini heart-shaped pies into tissue paper for Mike's parents on Friday, I also set aside a few for myself.  And that a Valentine's Day that began with wrapping presents for others ended with curling up in a granny square afghan watching movies with Stuffed on my lap. This balance, even if it needs to be recalibrated from time to time, has been one of the great gifts and lessons of my thirties, and I am most thankful for it. 

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

In Love with a Tree

Saturday morning was a slushy mess here, but the sun was shining and I needed fresh air, so I walked around taking pictures for awhile.  I think trees are beautiful in every season but that they're best shown-off in winter--handsome women without any makeup on, nothing to hide.  Much of my first few visits with Mike here in 2007 was spent walking, and one of the beautiful things that kept grabbing my attention on our long treks all over the city was this tree.  After inquiring about it in an online forum back then, I was told it was the London Plane tree.  It is one of the things I most love seeing when I head outdoors here. 
The amazing jigsaw puzzle-ish camouflage bark is what caught my eye in 2007, enough that I mentioned it in a journal entry that summer. 
At the time, I jokingly called these "inflatable trees" and "papier-mâché trees."  Theirr bark and sometimes-saggy-looking trunks can make them look unreal, like hollow, painted stage props.   
From all I've read, it seems London Planes and American Sycamores are often confused.  The city has been working to save its old London Planes and has been planting a new-and-improved disease-resistant variety, as well.
Look at this incredible bark.
Just lovely. 
And majestic!  The height!  The strong curves of the trunk and branches! 
And well-worth the trudge through the snow. 

Monday, February 17, 2014

Two Pictures of a Pretty Baby

My younger brother sent me the picture above of my newest niece last week, and his wife sent the picture below on Friday.  (I found the bib online and had it delivered as a Valentine gift.  Bianca wears it well.)  Ideally, my niece will grow to become kind and good and strong and funny.  In the meantime, she is the prettiest baby I've ever seen.  I get to see her again next week for the first time since Christmas, and I'm so looking forward to it.  She was three months old yesterday--already!--and looks gigglier and happier in each photo my family shares.  
Darling girl!