Thursday, July 17, 2014

The Crayon Can

It is funny the material things we consider our treasures.  I imagine it is true for everyone from the poorest to the wealthiest amongst us that when asked which belongings we would save from a fire, we would answer with descriptions of our family photos, our love letters, our journals, and as many of those important-to-us-and-unrecognizable-as-riches-to-anyone-else items as we could gather:  Well-worn stuffed animals.  Stones.  Driftwood.  Handmade afghans.  A chipped tea cup.  Her berry-picking hat.  His soft blue  shirt.  When my grandparents were moved into a personal care home a few months before their deaths in 2001, this metal can that Grandma had always kept crayons in was one of the things I wanted from their house and was immediately relieved to know that I had saved. 
There is nothing obviously exceptional about either its exterior or contents.  It is a Folgers-brand coffee can with a handful of crayons, crayon-pieces, and crayon-niblets inside.  I don't remember ever seeing the can with the Folgers label still on it.  Like meals and decor and most everything else at my grandparents' house, the crayons were not fancy.  No glitter-filled crayons here, no crayons that change colors, and no leftover crayons from a highly-coveted 120-pack.  "Burnt sienna," "copper," and "Carnation pink" are as newfangled as these crayons' names get.  I learned this week that the stub of "green-blue" is a collector's item of sorts since the color was retired in 1990.  And because these things were also in the bottom of the can when I salvaged it from Papa and Grandma's house, I consider them equal parts of its sentimental wonder:  A rusted pair of scissors, a couple scraps of Crayola wrappers and once-clear tape--and a folded paper piece, which I would bet good money was from a cut-out heart. 
But the smell!  The crayon smell inside this can!  I take off the plastic lid, and the decades-old crayon scent works like the magic of an uncorked genie:  It is again a Sunday afternoon at Papa and Grandma's gray-shingled house outside of Punxsutawney, and while they, still safe and vibrant with good health, visit with my parents and aunts after dinner, I sprawl out on their moss-green living room carpet and color pictures.  Sometimes the scent takes me back to the late 1970s and early 1980s and I am doodling on the scrap paper Aunt Vee brings from her secretarial job to their house for just this purpose.  Other times, I open the can and find myself a little older, but with the crayons and scissors still around me, designing cards out of the pages of the Sharp's Penn wallpaper catalogs that Grandma saves.  Sometimes, of course, the scent just takes me back to childhood-in-general, and I can't tell what grade I'm in or whether I'm coloring a Christmas decoration or the blues and greens of water and land on a state map for a homework assignment.  Then there are the times the crayon can's scent sends me straight to Papa and Grandma's foyer to look for a not-yet-colored-in page of one of the few coloring books they keep under the crayon can on the tiered brass shelf beside their front door.  Or the times it takes me back to a summer week I am spending at Papa and Grandma's house, and my childhood Beagle is panting beside me while I draw his portrait on the couch.  There is so much going on inside this metal can, you see.  
I keep the crayon can on a hall shelf with other treasures, and it surely mystifies most who see it, dinged and unlabeled as it is.  As is true for us all, its magic lies inside.  Lately I find myself opening it more than usual as I pass by, breathing in deeply and eventually replacing the lid quite reluctantly, wishing its scent could keep me in its hold a little longer.  May I be granted one more day, please, when sticks of wax are all it takes to make my life colorful and pressing down too hard is my biggest concern?  Life has a way of demanding a wee bit more of us than that, though, and perhaps especially for those of us who began it in awe of these boxed rainbows, it is only natural that we sometimes grow frustrated as we figure out, over and over, how to grow up without losing that sense of enchantment.  No worries, Papa and Grandma, your girl is determined to get it right.  The crayon can holds not only the blue-green and green-blue of the wild seas I will surf someday, but also the pinks and reds and yellow-oranges of the roses I will grow around my home.  I will find the balance, I remind myself.  I will try not to worry as the years unfold.  And I will hope that my grandparents say an extra prayer every time they see me reaching for the lid.  

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

My New Favorite Val-Mom Photo

While I was home last month, my aunt Heidi passed around a folder full of old family photos, and one of them was this treasure from 1980.  I had never seen it before, and I'm still transfixed by it two weeks later.  This is one of the only candid shots of me and my mom that I've ever seen, and it's also one of only a few pictures of my mom from this time period, since she was almost always the one behind the camera.  Look at her looking at me:  Sweet Mama!    (She was probably just wondering what she was going to do with her crazy-haired three-year-old, but we'll imagine that she had more poignant and profound thoughts at this moment.)  So dear! 

Sunday, June 29, 2014

One of My Loves, Louise Odier

I made it home to my parents' house for a warp-speed visit last week, and one of the non-family highlights of my short stay was getting to see my beloved rose Louise Odier in-bloom in my old garden for the first time since 2007.  My spring visits home are usually over Easter and my May birthday, so I never get to see more than this beautiful rose's greenery anymore.  Last week, though, the timing was perfect:  Look at her!    This was my favorite rose in my garden:  Its color, its form, and its scent are all just Heaven-on-earth to me.  The next time I'm blessed with any kind of garden space, this will be one of the first plants I find for it.  Pure sweet beauty.  ♥ 

Friday, May 30, 2014

Favorite Birthday Present

My favorite birthday present this year was one I'd mentioned to my mom when she asked for gift ideas earlier this spring--and then about which I'd promptly forgotten, apparently, because I was so tickled to open a little box and find this darling 3"-tall figurine inside.  It is one of the Willow Tree-brand sculptures by artist Susan Lordi.  
Once I got it home, I repainted it to look more like me and Stuffed, of course. ♥ 
I don't have many knick knacks, but the few I do have are keepers, and the mantel holds most of them.  The miniature Stuffed to the right of this new figure was also from--and painted by--Mom this year.  The one to the left of the new figure is a thrift shop salt shaker I repainted years ago.  
The new figurine is especially poignant this birthday because Stuffed, in the past few months, suddenly seems older.  Mike and I aren't sure of Stuffed's exact age:  He belonged to the friend of a friend before becoming Mike's former roommate's around 2002 and then later becoming Mike's in 2007 when the roommate moved into a new apartment that didn't allow pets--but he was already an adult cat when Mike first saw him twelve years ago.  Stuffed rarely jumps up onto his window perch anymore.  Instead he stands beside the bathroom radiator that used to serve as his springboard and meows until one of us comes to lift him up.  He sleeps more lately, although I never would have guessed that I'd be able to tell the difference and Mike doesn't notice this at all.  It is often an awkward claws-out-for-traction struggle for him to jump up on to the bed these days.  He seems as happy as ever and still plays with his toys and rolls around with his catnip, but I've sensed a difference these past few months, and my cuddles with this shy little soul have felt bittersweet lately.  
(His face!  )
What else is there to say except I love him and love this dear little sculpture, beautiful gifts both. 

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Inside and Outside


Temperatures reached 88°F here yesterday, and since I had started my walk too late in the afternoon, I managed just three miles in the blazing sun before feeling too sick and shivery to continue.  (I passed at least three women pushing babies in strollers and more than a few runners, though, so I have to wonder--as I always do when the tempeatures are this high--if I'm just not sturdy stock.  Babies!  Runners!  In what felt like 90+° heat!  Goodness.)  After returning here for a rest in the air conditioning with an iced tea, I felt good enough to head out for The Walk:  Part II , but by then, it was almost time for Mike to get home from work and I still had to run out for groceries for our supper, so three miles my tally remained.  The days have been glorious this past week, and the nights have been windy with rumbling thunder and lightning like flashbulbs that we see even with closed eyes while we try to fall asleep.  (I just remembered Eddie Rabbitt's 1980s hit "I Love a Rainy Night" and looked it up online only to learn that he died on my birthday back in 1998.  I don't remember hearing about that at all.  Cheers on yet another stormy night this week to Mr. Rabbitt.)  One of this week's walks included the seeking and finding of one of  the country's only remaining wood-bricked streets.  If one of the sweet old brick homes on this little cul-de-sac were available and I had the means to make it happen, I'd be packing moving boxes right now, let me tell you.  It's a charming spot in the city, and examining the wooden blocks that make up its street has been one of the quiet pleasures of this week.  

I have been deliberately and most-obviously cutting back on the time I spend online--you all are in my thoughts and prayers even if I'm not in your comment boxes and email inboxes lately  --and recalibrating how I spend my days so that there is a better balance of fresh air and miles walked and quiet time (reading, napping, writing, puttering around the apartment, etc.) and social time.  Both my personality and my paid work always find me somehow taking care of others, and I am feeling healthier and more content now that I've made taking care of myself more of a priority this spring.  Laundry-doing, email-and-comment-sending, and letter-writing have temporarily fallen by the wayside as I get into new routines and better habits in other areas.  As I've said before, this self-nurturing bit seems to be one of my most-revisited life lessons, and although it's now taken me almost my entire first forty years to figure it out, at least I'm figuring it out.  :)  I had the sweetest dream a few weeks ago that I decided to drive down to my grandparents' house for a surprise visit.  Grandma and I greeted and hugged each other so joyfully, it still makes me smile.  "Oh!  I should do this more often!"  I squealed when I realized how happy this impromptu visit was making us.  "I should have been doing this all along!"  While she and I were catching up with each other in the kitchen, I looked out the window and saw Papa building a giant bee box in their side yard.  (He was a beekeeper [in real life].)  That was really all there was to the dream, but the feeling of it and my gratitude for it have remained with me almost a month later,  both because it was a rare happy dream of my grandparents and because it gave me a taste of the peace and nurturing I've been cultivating here, one steamy mile and one steamy bowl of oatmeal at a time.  

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

3 Good Meals and 8 Miles a Day: 37

Spring arrived with better health and a renewed commitment to it.  Two months later, I've lost eight pounds and have only forgotten my daily vitamin twice.  My breakfasts have become a routine of oatmeal, yogurt, and berries.  My tax refund bought me two new pairs of walking shoes, one for my "real" walks and one for my walks to/from work.  I have been keeping up with both my journal and my food/health diary.  (The food/health diary usually falls by the wayside.)  Heart-healthy raspberries, dark chocolate, oatmeal, and red grapes are now weekly purchases.  (I know red wine is good for the heart, but I've never liked the taste of alcohol, so I will stick with heart-friendly groceries instead.)  I realized the local marathon will fall exactly on my 40th birthday in May 2017--the city holds it on the first Sunday in May every year, and in 2017, that will be May 7th--and have decided to dedicate these last three years of my 30s to training for it:  I have enough time to get back into shape and to become a long-distance runner, and after having already suffered-though/completed two half marathons on no training, I have faith that with proper preparation, I can finish a full.  Walking in the meantime, then, and running again by year's end, I'm thinking.  More water and tea.  My beloved Diet Cherry Pepsi as a treat and not an almost-staple.  Talking things out with Mom and Aunt Laurie instead of keeping my thoughts bottled-up.  Making the time to write.  'Am now a third of the way through my first effort at a children's book.  Today's birthday cake was a single-serving dark chocolate one with cream cheese frosting and more dark chocolate chips, based loosely on this recipe.  (Mike enjoyed a slice of cheesecake and some cookie dough ice cream.)  Tonight was Taco Night.  It included an ice-cold  Diet Cherry Pepsi.  This past week has been filled with visits and messages from family and friends.  Life is quiet and sweet and good. 
When I made a second trip to the grocery store this afternoon to pick up my forgotten-this-morning birthday candles, the cashier ringing me up asked who was turning 73.  "It's 37," I said.  "They're for me."  The cashier and bagger both goggled at me and said in unison, "You're 37?!"  The cashier said I don't look it and that she'd have guessed  25.  THANK you!  The bagger said something like, "You wear it well."  And thank YOU, young man!  The cashier then started singing "Happy Birthday" to me, and she and Young Bagger Boy both wished me a happy birthday.  This was undoubtedly one of 2014's sweetest epsiodes.    A friend told me in 2003 that I look young but wouldn't appreciate it until I was 40, and today, at 37, I know that he was right.  As ever, aging fascinates and amuses me.  I feel quite blessed by the entire process. 
The green Holly Hobbie birthday tablecloth is actually a section of vintage fabric I'd set aside to finish the side of the wing chair with, and onto the chair it will soon go, but it only seemed fitting to use it first as a tablecloth today and infuse it with this happy time and all these sweet memories.  Oh, 37!  I am loving it so much already. 

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!"