Turning a Page

This pwatchast weekend I attended a memorial service for my aunt and uncle — a couple well into their nineties when they died within months of one another, having lived long, fun-filled lives.  My aunt was the youngest of my mother’s two sisters and the last of nine siblings to pass.

Most of us attending the service were cousins.  We had all grown up together and spent many hours at family outings. A subset spent many more hours playing while the three sisters laughed and visited over coffee.

We also had to re-introduce ourselves to one another, not recognizing our childhood playmates. In some cases, almost forty years had passed since we had last seen one another.

It was a bittersweet reception that followed, catching up, watching old extended family movies, laughing and sharing memories, highlights of our lives, children and grandchildren.  We reminisced about the family picnics in Stevens Creek and Huddart Parks, the splashing and netting crayfish in the meandering streams and pools, Thanksgiving evenings at my family’s home, and the weekends at the Pope Estate at Lake Tahoe, where one of the brothers was the grounds keeper. 

As the Pope family only visited once a year, we had our “own” private beach, complete with roaring bonfires, bar-b-ques and s’mores.  I can still see my elderly grandmother, in her early 60’s, quietly sitting in her chair, smiling and watching over her brood of twenty-some young grandchildren frolicking in the very cold and crystal clear lake.

Those of us at the memorial service agreed it would be a fun idea to get the remaining cousins together once a year, especially as nearly a quarter of us have already passed. 

Fun, yes, and also a tad sobering, recognizing that we are now the oldest generation living.

While I’m not the most senior of the group, this is my year of turning Seventy.  The big 7-0.  70. No matter how I write it, it looks old. 

Not so long ago, that 7-0 seemed so very ancient, so far off, so decrepit, so…oh, one foot in the grave and the other not too far behind.

It’s not that old, even though I don’t buy the current mantra of 60 being the 40, 70 being the new 50 and so on.  My body and mind don’t lie and both are daily reminders that I am no longer as young as I’d like to pretend to be.

I am aging no matter how it’s framed and, while I may not be as rocking-chair ready as my grandmother, I am nonetheless on the downhill side of life and that downhill trajectory sometimes feels like it is traveling at warp speed.

Even now, I realize there are life chapters that have closed — and probably not necessary to re-live — and dreams that may never be realized.

And yet…  And yet… 

There are still adventures to be had, dreams to be dreamt, and life to be experienced.

I wonder at times if fear and angst are the true shadow culprits that snake around the edges of an aging body or mind, painting a person’s world so much smaller and intimidating than it needs to be?

Of course, fear and angst can accomplish that task regardless of a person’s age.

The challenge may well be in keeping minds and hearts open to new possibilities ~ embracing new ideas, learning from misadventures and contributing to the world and people around us.

ah, 70, big deal. It’ll just be another day, another year. I think I’d rather focus on those adventures still to be experienced ~

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Old Gang

Once upon a timIMG_0790e, there were three grandsons of preschool age.  There was also one very large youthful black cat.

The boys quickly learned that if they were gentle with the cat, he would reward them with loud purring.

When the grandsons came to visit, they’d race into the house.

The cat raced under my bed.

Within minutes, the kids were down on the floor in my bedroom, circling the bed and the cat. 

Poor BlackJack. He knew better than to bite or claw and he didn’t stand a chance against three boys.  Sooner or later, one of the boys would get his hand on the 18 pounds of fur and muscle and pull the mildly protesting cat out from his hiding place.

The kids had their routine.  The three boys, with the cat in the center, would sprawl on Grandma’s bed and catch up with the happenings of their lives or make plans for their time together.  In time, BlackJack showed the boys his favorite hiding place on the shelf of a large bay window. The four would often curl up on a blanket in bay window, hiding from the adult world behind white linen curtains.

On the bed or in the bay window, BlackJack would eventually roll over on his back and purred along with their conversation while the boys rubbed his tummy.  The cat looked like a furry Buddha.

The kids adored him.

In time, the oldest of the three boys joined the 4H and got some hens and a rooster for his project.  He named the rooster BlackJack.  Neither his mom nor I could ever figure out the connection, but to a seven year old, it made perfect sense.

It was not too long after the year of 4H that BlackJack the Rooster died. Mom wasn’t too terribly concerned about informing the young owner as she had now taken over care of the remaining birds. She waited for her son to come home from school and sat him down.

I have some sad news. BlackJack died this morning.

My young grandson’s lower lip began to quiver and tears welled up in his eyes. Mom was not expecting this.

Honey, he was an old rooster and had lived…

The Rooster? The Rooster?  I thought you meant Grandma’s cat.  Jeez, Mom, he was just a rooster.

But BlackJack the cat…he was one of the gang.

Then, as things are apt to happen, the three boys grew into young men.  They got much taller, much louder with much deeper voices, and BlackJack the cat grew older as well.

During this last visit, the boys occasionally tried to entice BlackJack out from under my bed, but the cat was having nothing to do with the teenagers. He no longer wanted to hear about their adventures or be part of the old gang.

BlackJack spent the better part of their visit hiding under my bed, coming out only to grab a bite of food when the boys were at the lake, or curling up with me at bedtime. 

When the travelers got the car packed and headed off, it was a while before BlackJack ventured out.  He was exhausted and stretched out to sleep first on the couch, then on my bed.

But, for hours, every time a car drove by, his ears would perk up and BlackJack would stare out the front screen door, just to make sure the kids weren’t returning. When a car had safely driven past our driveway, he’d curl up to rest again.  Soon, he fell into a well-deserved deep sleep.

Truth be told, as much as I love everyone showing up, I know just how BlackJack feels.

I think I’ll join him for a nap.

 

 

Before Kicking the Bucket List

Many of us are apparently traveling down the same omg, how did I take this turn and land here? road.  We look around at a lifetime and home filled with treasures and stuff as well as treasures and stuff from dearly departed parents, grandparents and inlaws. 

As far as I can tell, my crystal ball being predictably cloudy, our kids will be overrun by all our stuff and treasures when we move on to our next adventure.

A couple years back, I was faced with a cancer scare.  False alarm, but I was warned to get things in order; if the doctor’s prognosis was correct, it could have been a matter of weeks.  So I cleaned out my closet which, in hindsight, may not have been the best use of my time.

When the non-crisis passed, I realized it was past time to finally sort through all the stuff and treasures. Not a Bucket List, but a Before I Kick the Bucket List. I decided this would be one New Years Resolution I’d actually keep.

This was also partially due to my also deciding to become a gypsy and try on new landscapes post retirement, thus putting me in a position of having to actually move all the stuff rather than sitting on a cloud in the hereafter, grinning and watching the kids deal with it all, although sometimes that thought was pretty tempting.

It took over a year to complete…the clearing out is not linear;  after all, it is a bittersweet process. I’ve never looked back, although I have had to replace a few things here and there. And, for the first time in my life, my closets and garage are clean and organized…well, as organized as they’ll ever be in this lifetime.

The first step was to go through my mom’s stuff. She had passed five years before and had been the Keeper of the Stories and the Photos, all collected before computers.  Boxes and boxes of genealogy papers and photos (as in, if one copy was good, twenty were better).  Volumes went into large garbage bags to shred, including all the photos of people I couldn’t begin to identify. It was exhausting work and I was so glad to be finished.

Or, so I thought.  Mom showed up about 3AM, standing at the foot of my bed with that stern And Just What Do You Think You’re Doing, Young Lady look that moms are oh-so-good at giving. With that, all the bags to be shredded were carried back inside.

I went on line, and some months later, completed Mom’s ancestry work (thank you, Ancestry.com).  She was amazingly accurate and I hesitate to think of what she could have accomplished had there been computers and the internet available to her.

The next step was to transfer the stories of our family’s history and the pictures and the pictures of the treasures into a hard cover book for each kid and grandkid (thank you, Blurb.com). And then shredded all the paperwork, without Mom showing up again. Actually, I did not shred it all; that would have been too much work. (another thank you, this time to Red Dog, with the largest shredders I’ve ever seen).

The next round of unloading stuff and treasures was to take photos of the treasures and stuff I didn’t want to keep and text them to the kids with a 24 hr deadline to claim, which also worked for giving back their stuff. They didn’t want much so local charities benefited.

I was on a roll. I pulled out the thousands of the kids’ growing up photos and slides. Whoever invented slides should be hung up by their toes.  I borrowed a small slide viewer from a friend, a slide-to-jpg contraption from another and went to work. It didn’t take long. I shredded about 80%, made some copies of others at Walgreen’s, all of which could all be accomplished on line (one hour turnaround to pick-up!  Whoo Hoo!) and put the keepers into albums for the kids. Happy Birthday to them!!

The final step was with the remaining stuff that I didn’t use.  Over the years, I’ve picked the brains of some wonderfully knowledgeable movers who have moved me more times than they can count.

There are three pre-move piles: Give away, Throw Away/Recycle, Keep. Do it quickly, and once you decide, no changing your mind. One room at a time, one closet or cabinet at a time, and, the movers are absolutely correct, it works like a charm.

I told my kids that getting rid of the stuff and unwanted treasures was my inheritance gift to them.

I’m spending the rest…

The Christmas Village

Homes speak to me, especially older homes. They call out with all kinds of ideas, usually excellent, about decorating or renovating. Problem is, they keep badgering me to make the changes.  At times I think I could end up with something akin to the Winchester Mystery House.

Long time past, I moved into a new-older home one February.  There was an enormous bay window in the dining room, with a built in shelf across its base.  It called out to me. 

I need a Christmas Village.

That was all that was needed. I pretty much did the rest on my own. 

Because I had never even seen a Christmas Village, other than a group of Victorian homes sitting on a blanket of snow, it seemed that a bit of  research was in order. I wanted a village that would fit on that very large window shelf.

Like Christmas trees, there are all kinds of Christmas Villages on the internet and YouTube but, unlike trees, not a lot of practical information — more in the neighborhood of Show and Tell.  

It didn’t really matter; I had my own personal bay window with its own personal plan:  it wanted a downtown area with a Christmas carousel as well as a mountain area for winter sports and an outlying home area.  oh, as there was a bit of an ocean view from that very large bay window, of course the village needed some water, a shore, a lighthouse and a couple of sailboats.

This had all the makings of a Winchester Mystery Christmas Village, which meant that the next step was pricing said village.  Holy Mackerel, after looking at the retail prices, I could purchase a real village with its own mountain and ocean front resorts. 

Then I remembered Ebay.  March and April are not particularly high demand months for Christmas villages and I got some very good deals.  The village just sort of grew and grew.  I was fast becoming the Christmas Village mogul or sucker, depending on your point of view.

As the boxes arrived, one after another, the postman began looking at me like I was nuts.  Perhaps he was correct.  He finally asked if he could see this village once it was finished.  I invited him back for a December show. Now, I was committed. 

I realized I had no idea, and the internet was of no help, as to how to actually build the village.  The pieces were all sitting on the dining room table, ready to go but the questions were Where? How?

I knew the mountain area had to have height, so I pulled out the grandkids’ old wooden block set and built a mountain.  In time, the framework actually stayed upright and held a village piece, then a second piece and a third.  Whoo Hoo! 

Next came the town and outlying areas.  As I had purchased everything piecemeal, not everything matched, but oh well, that’s the way it goes. Few people even noticed.

The electrical was interesting which is another way of saying it’s an electrical nightmare. It still is. I have visions of my dad, an electrical contractor, sitting on a cloud, shaking his head and keeping watch over the maze of wires and extension cords that worm their way through the wooden block formations.  It all works, thank you, Dad.

The last part was putting on the snow, ice and small pieces that make the whole visual move and dance.  People walking, kids building a snowman, well, you get the idea. This was getting more and more complicated.  I wondered if I would soon need a script.

Finally, everything got packed away until December, when I discovered that the trial runs were time well spent.  The village went up reasonably easily for a two day project and ran all through December. 

My four young grandsons delighted in it and wanted to visit often over the years.  I learned about the current superhero by who was left on the ski slopes to prank me.  I’ve entertained Superman, Spiderman and Darth Vader among others. 

What I didn’t expect was that grown up boys — aka, men, including Mr. Postman — also took as much delight in the village as my grandsons and would spend great amounts of time reminiscing over the village as well as wondering how a mere woman could build such a monster.

It’s been a number of homes since the home of the original large bay window, which is no doubt very sad and empty this December, and I realize that this will be the last year of my hosting the Christmas Village; the grandkids are growing up and superheroes, Santa and family Christmases at Grandma’s are fading into warm memories. 

It’s no doubt time the village gets divided among the boys so that they’ll be ready to entertain their children and grandchildren in future Christmases that I suspect will come all too quickly…

 

 

 

 

Deck the Halls and Flip the Tree

IMG_0231I did it.  I bought a flippen’ Christmas tree. It’s a beautiful artificial Nobel Fir that does really flip. I figure I’ll have to decorate it for at least eight more seasons to make this an economically sound purchase. On the other hand, the tree is far less expensive than therapy or vacations in the sun during the dark winter season, which means I’ve now rationalized my purchase.  That was easy!

It is a beautiful tree, artificial or not.  Kimberley, who help me through a rather prolonged selection process, is absolutely correct — get the tree that speaks to you.  This one definitely does.

It’s a bit of a new concept to me, flipping the bottom two-thirds of a 7.5 foot, very full Nobel Fir Christmas tree from an upside down position over four locked wheels to a right side up tree.

Now, instead of arguing with myself over the best tree, cutting it down, getting it tied atop the roof and getting it in and upright in a watertight container, I just wheel in the tree and quite literally flip the tree.  Put on the top third of the tree, easy peasy, plug in the light cord into the socket and I’m practically ready for the holidays.

Well, not quite.  First the needles need to be fluffed. Who would have thought?  From what I can gather, the first fluff should take a couple hours; next year will be easier.  I figure a bit of eggnog or wassail and brandy should make the whole process a lot more painless.

In irony or ironies, the flippen’ tree came with two pairs of gloves which I found hysterical.  I know, there’s only one of me and I come with the requisite two hands, but even if Mr. Santa were around, and there have been a few over the course of my adult life, I can’t recall any of them that got much beyond the getting the tree into the stand stage of setup before disappearing to watch a football game, mow the lawn, clean the gutters or anything that has nothing at all to do with decorating the Christmas tree.

So, fluffing the tree with Mr. Santa?  Wishful thinking, I’m afraid, but a nice thought nonetheless.

My friend Terry, who is also the best cat sitter I know (she made me say that), stayed with BlackJack over the Thanksgiving holidays, fed him turkey and now the darn cat won’t touch cat food.  She also provided the comic relief after I returned home from the kids and began setting up the new Christmas tree. 

I rolled the tree out of the closet, down the hall and into the living room, locked the wheels, flipped the tree, fastened its safety belt to make sure it doesn’t flip back on its own, stuck on the top and plugged it it.  It was enormous — much larger than I expected, but whoo hoo, I did it all on my own!

Two hours later, with Terry and me still laughing at the absurdity of it all, the tree was fluffed and ready for decorating.  Honestly, the tree is so lifelike and beautiful, it could have stood without an ornament and have been a stunning Christmas centerpiece.

nah. Of course I decorated the flippen’ tree and, like all Christmas trees, it is perfect.

 

 

o Christmas Tree

ChristmasChristmas tree (1) trees have always been at the center of my Decembers.  The lights and ornaments chase away the dark and gloom and essentially get me through the month until the Winter Solstice, which conveniently falls on my youngest grandson’s birthday. Then I can breathe again, knowing that the days are getting longer and we’re on the downhill side of the darkest winter days. 

I love winter for about twenty minutes and then I long for spring.

Around fifteen years ago, give or take, it dawned on me that I could no longer handle a freshly cut, or even lot cut, Christmas tree.  It was too messy, too heavy, all the too’s that said, go forth and buy and artificial tree.  At the time, I remember looking at a 7 ft. tall Christmas tree at the exorbitant cost of $79 and debating its worth.  I bought it and hauled it home where it has stood proud and well decorated, gracing the Christmas holidays.

A Christmas or two ago, my two middle grandsons — just entering their teens and sprouting like weeds — stood silently in front of my tree. Then, they turned in unison and announced with all the wisdom of 13 year olds, Grandma, when we were young, your tree seemed enormous and so tall.  But now….”

With that, a wee bit of Christmas magic simply evaporated into the pine and cinnamon scented air.

In the midst of this last move, I took a  critical look at the tree.  It was old and tired — of course, so am I — but, it was a tree and it was time.  So, the tree and I parted ways without so much as a tear.

Now, as daylight savings time is no longer and the darkness of winter has closed in all too quickly, I am in search of a new Christmas tree.  But, 15 years older, I am well aware that I can no longer lug 80 lb trees around and set them up, even if they’re artificial and look like the real thing.

My old neighbor, who is now my new neighbor in one of those ironies of moving — except she’s still much younger in years — purchased an artificial tree last year that is very beautiful.  Armed with iphone photos of the box and label, I went in search of the tree.  It looked a whole lot better in her home than the Lowe’s forest and I quickly realized that it was still going to be a challenge to set up.

Thank goodness for Goggle — how did we function pre-goggle, internet and smart phones? — and there is an encyclopedia worth of information regarding artificial Christmas trees. I narrowed down my selection and, as luck would have it, there was an artificial tree farm in the bay area in addition to their online farm.  I decided to make the three hour trek down to the farm.

Who knew there were so many choices?  Vermont, Colorado, Stratford, Norway, Blue and Red Spruces; Balsam, Frasier, Douglas Firs; Pines, Redwoods — the choices were overwhelming.  It was akin to walking down a hundred cereal aisles of the local supermarket, except this time I couldn’t just zero in on the old fashion oatmeal.

I walked up and down the rows of trees, tall trees, short trees, narrow trees, wide trees, trees with led lights, warm lights, clear lights, multi-color lights and the newest tree, the tree that rolls in on wheels and then just flips into place. It really does flip. I flipped it. A flippen’ tree.

This was not your Charlie Brown Christmas tree lot.  Far too many choices, and, no, I still haven’t made up my mind.

A Thanksgiving Turkey

turkeyIt’s amazing how we carry on traditions.  My mother hosted Thanksgiving for the extended family until, one year, she was done and the tradition was handed down to me. 

As the kids married, we tried T-Day at in-laws and out-laws, and we all agreed, it just didn’t feel like Thanksgiving.  Traditions die hard.  In short order, I got the day.  I tweaked the menu a bit, asking my son-in-law and daughter-in-law to bring their favorite dish or two from their family Thanksgivings.  Those dishes have become a part of our evolving tradition.

In addition to the meal, I also inherited the china, silver and crystal, which I used until the last few years ago when I purchased a new set of pottery that I like so much more and, even better, can be put straight into the dishwasher.  No one seems to use the finery any more, not that I ever used it much in my adult life.  But, it was an opportunity to teach my four grandsons all about forks; the oldest, my granddaughter, had already gotten that training from her other grandmother.  The boys all stepped up and, each in turn, helped train the next youngest in fork and dining etiquette. 

Not only do they know forks, they know not to eat until after Grandma’s Grace, which is what their parents call my once-a-year blessing. The grandkids know to patiently wait and remain silent while their parents provide the mocking setup for the annual event. The younger ones know full well not to mess with Grandma; Christmas is just around the corner.

Just to make certain the grandkids have the next holiday on the calendar and can start bugging their parents, each one of them gets a Christmas ornament with the slice of pumpkin pie.  Retribution is a grandmother’s prerogative. 

A few years back, I had minor hand surgery in early autumn.  The surgery went well; the recovery not so well and, in one of those small percentage glitches, the wound had a rough time healing.  It finally started to do what it was supposed to do in mid November when I went in for my weekly visit with the surgeon.

Looking good, he said. I’m assuming you do Thanksgiving.

Yep.

Not this year.

What???

The hand is still not totally healed.  You can’t do the cooking.  You can host it.

I can cook.

Nope. Not til it’s fully healed. Get the kids to help.

uh huh.

Seeing as no one answers their phones anymore, I sent a text asking for help as I was barred from the kitchen.  I could still host but the few days of intensive kitchen cooking was out.

My daughter was the first to respond. I don’t cook.

I already knew that. I raised her to stand strong and independent, which she is, except in the kitchen.  Her husband says she’d starve to death if she couldn’t find someone who could boil water.

My daughter-in-law was marginally more helpful. Whole Foods has a package deal.  We can do that.  I don’t do dishes.

My son jumped in.  We’ll bring paper plates.

This was proving to be more challenging than I thought it would be.

I texted back,  Thanksgiving. Traditions. Dishes. All that Stuff and Stuffing. Leftovers. Take out?

Silence.  Evidently, it was a take out or leave it proposition.

So I left it, sadden by the knowledge that when I can no longer handle T-Day, it might well evolve into a take out with paper plates day, given that everyone is too stressed in forty different directions to dedicate a day to family, gratitude and tradition.

In the meantime, thank goodness for the internet; there were entire websites devoted to make ahead Thanksgiving recipes.  I lined them up, and one at a time, got them done with no strain on my hand. 

And, on Thanksgiving, the kids proclaimed it was the best dinner ever. Of course they’d say that; all they had to do was show up and eat.

They still had to do the dishes.