Sunday, November 27, 2011

Thanksgiving Day Plus Two

We had a great Thanksgiving Day.  Drew and Em were here and although it sometimes seems like there should be a crowd around the table, we were OK this year with just the four of us.  Mark and I were just home for a short, lovely trip to New York City so we had plenty of hustle and bustle and were ready for a few quiet days.

While we were in NYC, we decided to visit the new Ground Zero Memorial.  It was kind of a whim.  On Monday, the museums are closed so we wandered down to the tip of Manhattan.  It turned out you needed a timed ticket, something we would have known if we had planned ahead but it was all improvised.  We walked over to the temporary headquarters and got a ticket without much trouble.  The 'Occupy Wallstreet' protester had been removed from a block right there the day before and the police were out in full force waiting for them to return.  Part of me wanted to hang around and watch the drama unfold but we didn't have time to get arrested so instead we spent the hour before we could enter the memorial in St Paul's Chapel, which has been continuously open since 1766.  We walked through the doors that George Washington walked through on the day of his inauguration, which seemed like a very American thing to do.

Once inside the Ground Zero Memorial we were struck by the beauty of the day and the fountains.  There really is a sense of shared grief and peace.  As we watched, a young woman, accompanied by an older couple, make a rubbing of a name. All of the 2,819 deaths are memorialized on the fountains.  We were glad to have made the time to visit.

Back home, it feels like a long way off and yet, a part of all our lives.  We ate our turkey and counted our blessings.  It's best not to be afraid of joy as the holidays begin.  Embrace it, I say, or maybe the theme this year should be 'Occupy Happiness.'

Monday, November 14, 2011

Knitting As Therapy

This week a dear friend of mine started chemotherapy for breast cancer.  It's a tough path to start down and those of us who have known her for a long time are trying to walk it with her, to offer what support we can, both practical and emotional.

She has scheduled an appointment to have her head shaved in the next few days.  We will go with her and then join our husbands for dinner to 'celebrate.'  It's a gutsy move but I think I might do the same.  It seems less depressing than watching your hair fall swirl down the drain one clump at a time.

It's probably in response to that thought, but I have been knitting hats like crazy in the past few weeks.  In general, I'm more of a mitten person.  My hands are always cold and I love all the beautiful color work in the mittens.  However, all of the hat patterns have been calling to me so I am knitting hats and giving them to my friend.  I just finished a soft cotton cap she can wear around the house or to bed if she needs something to keep her head cozy. One of the things I hadn't thought of until a nurse mentioned it while I was with her at the clinic is that her head might get cold at night.

When someone you love is sick or facing tough times, you look for just the right thing to do.  Mostly that is for them, but a little bit of it is, selfishly, for yourself.  It's easy to worry and fret.  The truth is that you can't make someone better.  You can only offer them your love and support.  You can walk with them, cry and laugh, and somehow, get through it together.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Just The Ordinary Days

We packed up and drove home yesterday.  Our lake year came to an end.  The last day is always a busy one.  There are lots of chores to do. Some of these can't be done until the very end and a few you put off or remember at the last minute, like Mark's act of 'eco-terrorism' as he called his harvesting of a small birch tree that he plans to use for a new frame-making endeavor next year.

I made time for a walk down to the point which is as close as you can get on foot to the little bay where I love to kayak.  I was hoping I might see a trumpeter swan.  On Monday we drove to Bemidji and along the way we saw some swans feeding in small ponds along the road.  I read up on them when we got back to the cabin.  After almost facing extinction, their numbers are now up and they often travel through Minnesota on their way to winter feeding grounds.  Some lake friends said they have been spotted on Ponto in the past several years.

I crossed my fingers and pulled on my rubber boots.  Along the way I snapped a few photos.  Just the little bits of color left and the patterns found along a path I walk almost every day when I am in Minnesota.  Small changes happen everywhere.

There were no swans in our bay on Tuesday but that is OK.  Maybe they will come later.  Maybe we will see them next year.   In the meantime, we finished our chores while loons called to each other on the lake.

My thoughts are already turning toward my family and friends back in Omaha.  The holidays are ahead and there will be gatherings filled with laughter and talk.  Lots of knitting to do and books to read.  It reminds me of a favorite poem by William Stafford.

Notes For The Program

Just the ordinary days, please,
I wouldn't want them any better

About the pace of life, it seems best to have
slow, if-I-can-stand-them revelations.

And take this message about the inevitable,
I've decided it's all right if it comes.

Monday, October 31, 2011

It's So Nice To Have a Man Around the House

When I was growing up we 'hired it done' once we got past changing the light bulbs.  Imagine my surprise when Mark entered my life and I realized that people could fix things themselves.  I should have known.  My grandparents certainly had that type of household, but that's another story.
Mark's moto is that 'no job is too hard if you have the right tool.'  Of course it took me a while to realize that was a justification to keep buying tools but that's another story as well.

This story is about a project that Mark made, start to finish for our cabin.  When we had to take down a dead tree, he remarked on the size of it and one of the fellows said he could take it to someone who would saw it into boards.  They did that two years ago and then Mark and Em stacked the boards so they could age.  Early this year, Mark picked out a board, took it to another fellow he met and had it trimmed to the size he wanted for a small shelf.
He and Drew selected birch twigs and, after Mark figured out how to cut them, the they stained them.
During our September trip up, Mark finished staining the shelf and secured it (with my help!) to the kitchen wall.

I am always amazed when these projects work.  It's not that I don't have faith in Mark because I do.  It's just that I didn't grow up with anyone who planned or measured or took the time to do things thoughtfully.
I have had to learn, from painful experience with my knitting for example, that a little forethought is a very important thing.
Anyway, Mark has ideas for lots of projects which is a good thing.  It bodes well for retirement.  Always nice for a husband to stay busy.  It's worth the price of a few tools.

Thursday, October 27, 2011


We drove to the lake yesterday under ever-changing skies.  We arrived after dark and found the gate to our lane, not unexpectedly, padlocked. While this discourages intruders during these quiet months, it also lends to the feeling of entering the set of a horror movie.  Opening a creaking gate and driving down a dark lane was a little eerie.

This morning all seemed well and instead of feeling lonely, the lake seemed peaceful.  Some sun helped and a yard filled with birds felt like enough company.

Mark and I took the dogs for a walk and found all sorts of marvels.  When we were here a month ago, the trees were bursting with color.  Now, most are bare of leaves.  What that reveals are the quiet treasures.  Mark spotted a paper wasp nest suspended by a slender branch.  A white tailed deer later streaked by me as I drove to town for a few groceries.  I almost missed her because she blended into the woods so completely.

You have to look harder now to find each bit of beauty but it is there.  The few remaining bits of red and yellow seem almost out of place among these subdued landscapes.  I understand why the kids love the bright oranges of Halloween but the soft tones of the world right now remind me to slow down and pay attention.  I'm trying.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

One Wacky Bird

We hang bird feeders here in Omaha and at the lake.  Most days it is soothing to watch the finches, wrens and cardinal dart and swoop in between visits for seeds. But for the past three days, I have been visited by a Red-bellied woodpecker who seems intent on bashing his brains out against my window.
It's not unusual for a bird to bump the window once in a great while.  That is an unfortunate side effect of having a feeder close enough to really watch the birds.  But this guy is on a suicide mission.

The first few times I thought it was slightly amusing, in that odd sort of way.  Then I started to feel bad.  Yesterday, I finally took down the feeder, hoping he would go somewhere else.  He hung out in the tree right behind the house and kept flying along the window on the same endless loop. I have a window covered with bird poop to prove it.

It reminded me of how my mind loops back and back over something that is bothering me. I can't quite leave it alone, even when I know it is not doing me any good.  I become the Red-bellied woodpecker.  There is a look my husband and kids give me that says 'let it go' when I have been talking about whatever subject is worrying me, but more often than not, the loop just keeps playing in my head.

I thought he was gone so I re-hung the feeder this morning and he turned back up.  At least he is eating. And he seems to be hitting the window a few less times.  Either he is wearing out or he is slowly learning to find another way to cope.   Maybe if I watch him for a few more days, I will learn something.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Preparing for the Winter Ahead

Autumn is coming here on the shores of the lake.  Early morning fog rolls off slowly to show water banded by trees that no longer reflect only the greens we saw all summer.  Fewer birds call and there is a sense everywhere of preparation.  On the days when the sky is blue, the contrast is remarkable.

I took a break to drive down to Minneapolis and spend a few days at the trade show for independent booksellers.  I have gone to this show several times and so I have gotten to know some of the booksellers and publishing 'reps' who come.  It's always great to see these amazing book lovers get together and talk about their business.  Most are still doing OK, despite all the competition they face.  They discuss ways to help connect folks of all ages with great books. I got to hear from some authors.  Christopher Moore was a surprise to me and I think it's time to read some of his books.  On the YA side, Scott Westerfeld gave a great talk on how illustration has disappeared from adult books, why he added it to his new series and how he thinks 'fan art' has replaced some illustration and blossomed on the internet.  

Of course I came home with a stack of books. In my defense (if I need one) I left way more untouched than I took.  However, who could resist the newest book from Jeffery Eugenides, which won't even be out until October, or a new book by Ron Rash, when I've read everything he's written.  And after laughing until I cried at Chris Moore, I have to read Sacre Bleu.....  So you see the dilemma.
Anyway, I have at least another week up here to put a dent in my pile.  Cool days and a warm cabin suggest reading. I'll just get started so I can pass some of these on to other book lovers in my life.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Cold Toes

My toes are cold.  This means fall has arrived.  With apologies to my sister, who could do without the really hot days, I love summer.  Any day where I can get up, put on my flip-flops and wear them until I put on pj's at night, is a perfect day in my mind.  Red toe nails and sandals are a match made in heaven.

For the past few days, the sky has been glorious, the air crisp and clear  and the temps reasonable enough to have the windows open, so there are many reasons to be happy.  I have noticed.  We had a wonderful family gathering Saturday and spent the afternoon being entertained by a darling almost-one year old.  I loved every minute, even if my toes were getting colder as the day went on.

I'm trying not to let my cold toes get me down.  I also know that in my sock drawer are several pairs of hand-knit socks.  They almost make sock weather worth while.  When my sister gave me my first pair of homemade socks, I was thrilled.  Nothing is warmer and prettier but I never planned on making any.  They looked like way too much work.  Janie convinced me I could do it.  Now I love knitting socks although I still stick to the easy ones.  Turning a heal is a time-honored tradition among sock knitters. Just saying it makes you feel warmer.

So I will try to enjoy every day, warm or cold.  I guess you can have red toe nails, even under beautiful socks.  And sandal weather will always come again.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Minnesota Seashells

Last evening one of my lake neighbors showed me some rocks he had 'tumbled' for his grandchildren.  He's a gentleman of many interests and abilities.  He's also a great grandpa. He let each child pick a few rocks from the lake.  After he polishes them in the tumbler, he will give them back.  Minnesota seashells, I call them. Before he has finished, he will teach the kids a little geology and heaven knows what else.

Since he offered to polish a few for me, I took some time to go lay, belly down, on the dock next to the shallow water.  The rocky bottom on our side of the lake makes it a good idea to learn to jump off the end of the dock at an early age.  It also makes it fun to walk (carefully) along the edge and pick up whatever rock catches your eye.  For years, our kids would bring rocks up to the cabin to be displayed during our vacation.  By the next year, they usually dumped the pile back because they had found 'better' ones.  When the water is so clear that you can see all the rocks or take a photograph through it, you know you have found a great spot.

Funny though, I think one of our vacation treasures are our good lake neighbors.  We always make time for dinner together and our kids have grown up enjoying the conversation of several generations of folks.  It replaces those Sunday dinners no one has anymore.  The ones where you both squirmed to leave but also listened to the family stories that were repeated over and over.  Those stories are a little like the rocks that get polished until they become small treasures you can put in your pocket and carry around to remind you of your summers long ago.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Life On The Edges

We made a trip to the back woods dump today.  Although my lake neighbor said we now all it the 'compost recycling station.'  It's just a spot on some land jointly owned by the residents along our shore line.  We put pine needles and small sticks back there.  Since Mark had done all the work, I rode along.  It's actually a wonderful, private place to hike on a cool fall day.

While Mark used a pitch fork to unload all the brush, I wandered at the edge of a nearby meadow.  Just in the few minutes we were there, I saw an amazing variety of little insects, butterflies and plants.  It occurred to me that so much of the good stuff happens around the edges of life.

We are taught to face things 'straight on'.  It's a very American quality to barge right in, full speed ahead, take no prisoners.  But sometimes, if you just pause a moment and look at life from a slightly different angle, look at the edges of things, it all takes on a different appearance.   Poets know that. "Tell The Truth but Tell It Slant" says Dickinson.

I think Emily D. would have loved the meadow and the 'compost recycling station.'  I plan to walk back there this fall and sit, all alone on the edge of that meadow.  I'll bet it will be an experience worth remembering.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Folding Towels

This morning, as I folded and stacked beach towels in the cupboard, I thought of my mom.  I remember her sitting in the living room, folding towels fresh from the laundry. She was not a precise folder.  The corners seldom matched.  I think she just wanted to get the job done and get on to something more interesting like reading a book or walking her dog.  She tossed them in the drawer and got on with life.

Mark's mom was more of a corner-matcher.  When I first came to the lake I was amazed and slightly intimidated by the standing casket case that contained all the linens, very neatly folded and stacked.  Each shelf was labeled so you knew exactly where to put the hand towels and pillow cases.

The coffin case became the stuff of legends as the kids were growing up.  It's still with us, in the old garage.  Now we have lovely cabinets for all our towels and sheets.  Mark has once or twice mentioned the word 'label'.

I understand the logic behind it.  Different people tend to use a cabin and things don't always get put back in the same place.  I kind of like that little bit of 'travel' that happens.  It's like your sheets and towels have a little vacation from their drawer or shelf as well.  Mark doesn't always share my sense of whimsy in this department but we have reached a compromise.  His things definitely stay where he puts them.

In the meantime, he had the cabinet maker use the windows from the old cabin, complete with the oak pulls, for doors on the mud room cabinets and suggested putting the beach towels in one.  I guess that's enough whimsy for now.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Drew Was Here!

We had a fun few days with the younger generation, although it felt at times like being held captive in a pinball game.  Mark and I start our day in a meditative, early morning way.  By that I mean he knows to leave me alone until I have a cup or so of coffee and a chance to read the paper, even if I do it on line.  But then we are ready to get the day going.

Em and Danny did get up by mid-morning and kayak or head out on the bikes. Drew is not a morning person.  His idea of vacation is to sleep most of the day, get up late and eat as much as he can and then think about what he wants to do.

By evening, when Mark and I are winding down, the young adults were suggesting Cranium or Scrabble, rooting around for pop and snacks and, in general, yukking it up.  We had to adjust our schedule slightly to take advantage of their presence. It did make for some fun moments with Cranium.  I got to act out 'mud wrestling' and Drew did 'riding shot gun.'  I'm proud to say that I did just as well.

One night we all took turns choosing music from the computer and created a very eclectic play list.  Kind of fun to see what everyone picked.

After Em and Danny left, Drew and Mark worked on a little project Mark has in mind for the cabin.  Nothing like a power saw to bring guys together.  I had to stay far away from that but today when we sent Drew back to Chicago he still had all his fingers and toes.  So I guess it was a successful vacation.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Dream Catcher

One summer when she was little,  Em and I made a dream catcher at the lake.  I had a free kit from the bookstore and we picked up feathers and stones from around the cabin.  She worked carefully to assemble it with the brown paper and small metal hoop provided.  She hung it over the small bed she called her own when we came north.  That dream catcher always made me smile.  It reminded me of Em: her perseverance, the little bit of her that believed in magic.

Suddenly, it seems, Em is all grown up and this summer she brought her friend Danny along to the lake.  He's a great young man and it's clear that the two of them care very much about each other.  We are enjoying this chance to get to know him.  They both begin their senior year in college this year and the world is opening up to them.  It's a new chapter in all of our lives.

You have lots of dreams for your kids when they are little but dreams are hard to catch.  I think in the end it all gets pretty simple.  You want them to be healthy, find happiness and be good citizens of the earth.  So far, Em has been a dream child.   We will see what lies ahead.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

A Day For the Birds

I am all alone at the lake today, except for my dogs and a yard filled with birds.  I came up three days ago to spend some time with a friend.  We knit and read and chatted away the days.  Mark arrives later today with Em and a friend of hers.   The beds are made and the groceries are bought and the cabin is as clean as it's going to be.

In the meantime, here I sit, happily drinking coffee and watching the birds fill our yard with swoops of motion. There isn't a human sound anywhere so the birds think they are alone.  I've noticed that poets love birds.  I found this Jane Kenyon poem on the Poetry Foundation web site this morning and was reminded of what a wonderful poet she was. It's just the first of the 'Three Songs'.  The other two are available at the web site.

Three Songs at the End of Summer

A second crop of hay lies cut   
and turned. Five gleaming crows   
search and peck between the rows.
They make a low, companionable squawk,   
and like midwives and undertakers   
possess a weird authority.

Crickets leap from the stubble,   
parting before me like the Red Sea.   
The garden sprawls and spoils.

Across the lake the campers have learned   
to water ski. They have, or they haven’t.   
Sounds of the instructor’s megaphone   
suffuse the hazy air. “Relax! Relax!”

Cloud shadows rush over drying hay,   
fences, dusty lane, and railroad ravine.   
The first yellowing fronds of goldenrod   
brighten the margins of the woods.

Schoolbooks, carpools, pleated skirts;   
water, silver-still, and a vee of geese.

Summer may be drawing to a close but I plan to celebrate these last days with the birds, the sun sparkling off the lake and the quiet.   

Friday, July 22, 2011

Once Again

I've found myself.  Actually I just found my password and was able to log back in to my blog.  I have a mental list that begins "I feel old when...." and one of the items high on the list is how incredibly ancient I feel when I can't make my computer do what I want it to do.

Yesterday, I finally caved in and asked the server to help me out and they cheerfully email a new password to my Yahoo account which would be dandy except that I have a gmail account.  I went to bed frustrated but finally remembered that little icon up in the corner of the screen that I can click on to search for items lost in the computer.  So this morning I typed in 'password' and magically it appeared.  Where was it, I wonder? Anyway, I'm back.

That makes two of us at our house.  Mark says Pretzel is the Lazarus of dogs.  She is now back to her normal, slightly daffy self.  I know this for sure because yesterday, in the heat of the afternoon, she somehow snuck into the garage and managed to tip over the food bin.  I found the hot little dachshund trying to eat her weight in dog food.  Really, she has no self control and, obviously, no memory of how sick she was just days ago.

After all the heat, rain blew in this morning and I think all of Omaha heaved a sigh of relief.  I don't mind the heat as much as some but tempers were growing a little short and everything needed a good drink.  Maybe we all feel a little revived. Em has been helping us out with the weeds and went out to work in the rain.  She said it was better than weeding in the heat.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Sweet Pretzel

We came home from the lake a few days early because of reports that Pretzel, one of our aging dachshunds, wasn't doing well.  Em, who has been Pretzel's pal for more than 12 years, was home caring for the dogs so we knew she was in good hands.  However, anyone who has ever had a dog knows that they are a part of the family and to face loosing them is a tough go.

Our two dachshunds came from the same breeder.  We always said Ernie is the smart one and Pretzel is the pretty one.  From the beginning Ernie figured everything out.  When he was hungry, he nosed his bowl around or barked until the noise drove us to get up from what we were doing and supply dog food.  Pretzel just sat and looked at us like "gee, I wish I could tell them I was hungry."  I won't say who is more likely to leave a puddle on the floor but her name begins with P.
On the other hand, Ernie can be a little neurotic and unwelcoming.  Pretzel never met anyone who wasn't a friend.  She wags her tail and sniffs hello to kids and adults alike.

Our biggest concern as the dogs age is how one would do without the other.  They are great buddies, often napping together.  This morning Pretzel looks just a bit brighter and she is curled up next to Ernie on their cushion.  Whatever happens, we think they should get to spend these days together.  I think that's what I would prefer when I am old and ill: to be at home, resting comfortably next to the person I love the most, with plenty of people around to rub my back.  

Monday, July 11, 2011

Haiku To You

I love both the discipline and the surprise of haiku.  Those little poems that satisfy, usually with a single image. They are the deer that flashes past you near the side of the country road as you drive past, the ground squirrel that manages to climb the six-foot pole to perch triumphantly on the bird feeder.  Something catches your eye, makes you smile and pause for a moment before you move on.

This little nest caught my eye this morning.  I was out puttering and I noticed it lying in the yard.  It fit easily in the palm of my hand.  I'd like to think that it served it's time as a home for a tiny family and then the rain last night blew it down.

An empty nest, lacy
and alone, like a glove left
on an oak church pew.

Sunday, July 10, 2011


An early morning kayak ride put me in a philosophical mood.  This is amazing since I set out before my coffee.  I was nudged because my husband and brother-in-law had a nature extravaganza the other morning.  They were out early and came back with descriptions that sounded like something from the Discovery Channel.   Eagles were swooping, loons were swimming, osprey were feeding babies.

What caught my eye this morning was that when it is calm, everything on the bank can be seen in the water.  It is a perfect reflection.  It all seems in balance and it all supports the same system.

If there are insects and plants, the fish can feed.  If the fish feed and grow, there will be loons, eagles and osprey living near by and building nests because they can fish.  If we can manage not to muck it up, it will go on and on and on.

It's easy to be proud of what we own.  This is my little piece of the world, we like to think.  I'm sure the eagles and the loons don't care who owns what.  I'm wondering this morning what reflects back from our ownership of land and lakes.  I hope it is something good, something that leaves the land at least no worse than when we came.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

A Rainy Day

Today is a rainy lake day.  We use these days to catch up.  The loon parents can take their babies (two right now) out for some swimming lessons without the competition of jet skis and other fast watercraft.  The geese don't seem to mind activity but the loons are shy. On days like this everything takes on a more subtle beauty.  The sky is filled with clouds that change from moment to moment and the water on the lake sends small waves our way.

All of our company is gone and Mark and I are back to puttering.  I feel my stack of books calling.  It really isn't good to work too hard.  I may dig into 'Old Cape Magic' by Richard Russo.  That seems like a good fit for a lake read.  He gets the family thing right.

So we will miss everyone who came to visit but we have lots of good memories to store away.  Even as we finished up this year's visit, we talked about 'next time'.  The best adventures never end,  they just wait for new chapters.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Pancake Pajama Party

The pace of life picked up at the lake.  My sister and brother-in-law are easy visitors, they move at our pace.  The boys do a few projects and Janie and I walk, knit and kayak on the clear days.  My brother and his seven-year-old daughter are also here and she likes to keep a little busier.  Lots of Go Fish.

We decided a party was in order and since there is a gaggle of darling kids at the cabin next door, we concocted a pancake pajama party one morning.  At 8:30 a.m. we had eight kids show up.  The little girls had braided their hair prettily and they were all in their 'best' p.j's.

We are no dummies so we had all the pancakes made and warming in the oven, the table was set and we had enough adults around to keep everyone served and catch any spills.

After breakfast, they made a fort on the front porch and a few of them played cards out there.  We had one art project ready and for a while they all colored together at the table, happy voices all around.  Before long, some of the construction paper became airplanes and those flew beautifully off our balcony.  Who knew.

By 10:30 a.m., they were all off for a wild flower walk with our niece in tow.

In a few days it will be quiet again.  Both ways are fun.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Turtle Bay

We got off early in the kayaks this morning, trying to beat the weekend boat traffic on the lake.  We paddled down to Turtle Bay, one of our favorite destinations.  Right down the bank from our cabin, you can loose yourself in a world where bullfrogs chirp and fish swim only a finger's length below the water.

I wove my way back in among the reeds and lilly pads, savoring the loveliness of the morning.  For a few moments I just sat there, soaking it all in.

Later the day was filled with the fun of big families enjoying a beautiful sunny day on the lake.  We applauded kids who got up on skis for the first time and listened to fish tales from a young fisherman who caught a one-pound bass.  We paused during his description to watch an eagle fly overhead.

This evening, it's quiet again on the lake. A breeze is coming through the screens and it's about time to pick up a good book. It's the contrast that makes it fun.  No day is without some adventure.

It seems like a good place to celebrate America's birthday, which we will do quietly tomorrow.  I'm not sure the loons are big on fireworks.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

My New Neighbor, Bartholomew

When I stepped out of the cabin this morning, I was swept up in the excitement of two barefoot kids next door. They have a new pet, Bartholomew the Turtle.  This box turtle was rescued from the road by one of the adults in their cabin. (I was wryly informed he's on suicide watch because any turtle who tries to walk across the road on the July 4th weekend must has a death wish.)

Anyway, Bartholomew has a new tupperware home, nicely decorated with rocks and water.  He has lettuce to munch on and two new owners to admire how fast he can walk and how quickly he can retreat when anyone gets too close.  His under-shell is a lovely orange and he seems friendly enough.

The policy up here is generally catch and release, which could be re-interpreted as survival of the fittest. It's hard to be a critter loved by a seven or eight-year-old, even for 24 hours.  On the other hand, there is a lot to be learned from watching a frog or a turtle or a giant warty toad.

And let's face it, Bartholomew might have been good for nothing but soup if someone hadn't come along and pulled him off the road.  Life is a game of chance, even for turtles.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Uncle Tom's Cabin

Yesterday, in a fit of productivity, I ran around Omaha doing all my pre-lake errands.  One of the stops was the County Treasurer's Office.  I was dispatched to pick up new plates for our car.  Of course, silly me, I didn't give a thought to the fact that it was the last day of the month and the day before a long holiday weekend. The line that greeted me was daunting to say the least.

I gritted my teeth and took my place, feeling my blood pressure rise as I was sandwiched between conversations and perfumes that held no appeal for me.  Then I remembered my phone has an ap called 3D Classic Lit.  It was free and I downloaded it on a whim.  I'm pretty much a book person.  I like the feel of a book in my hands but in a pinch, any medium will do.  I read a review last Sunday in the New York Times  of "Mighter Than The Sword",  a book about Harriet Beecher Stowe and the influence of "Uncle Tom's Cabin".  It struck me at the time that I had never read that book.

Right there in line I pulled it up on my phone and for the next 50 minutes, I read "Uncle Tom's Cabin."  It was amazing.  I barely looked up.  I just shuffled along with the crowd, tuning out all the noise and chaos of the room.  I may get the actual book at the library to finish but in that moment, I was saved by the electronic version.

I guess the moral is that you should always carry something to read.  A friend once told me she keeps a copy of "Pride and Prejudice" in her car for emergencies.  That works too.  I still like paper best but words are words. They rescue me from uncomfortable places.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Reading Poetry On a Busy Day

Sometimes, when you have too much to do, you just have to walk away from it all and read a few poems.  I think the world would be a lot better place if everyone read poetry every day.  Even a little bit.

We are reading "Forty Rules of Love" by Elif Shafak in our book club.  Since it is partly about Rumi, a Sufi mystic and poet from the 12th century, I wandered from that to a book of poems by Rumi. One poem leads to another and I ended up with a few old favorites by Ted Kooser and Naomi Shihab Nye.  Really, you can't be in a bad mood after you have read poems by Kooser and Nye.

"Walk around feeling like a leaf,
know you could tumble at any second.
Then decide what you want to do with your time."
---from The Art of Disappearing by Naomi Shihab Nye
Rumi says "there are thousands of ways to kneel and kiss the earth."  This afternoon, my way is to read poetry and watch the sun play in the trees behind my house.

This pensive gentleman sits in a park in Vancouver.  He struck me as a symbol of waiting when I took the photo.  Maybe he was listening to his inner poet as the leaves tumbled around him on a lovely autumn day.


Saturday, June 25, 2011

Last Lake Day For Now

We are home again in Omaha for a few days to catch up on mail and see what's going on down on the prairie.  We had a great last day at the lake.  Bright sun overhead and the lake with a glass-like surface.  My sweet husband carried the kayaks down to the dock and we set off for a paddle.  The neighbors were watching eagles fish in the lake and rumor had it that you could see their nest from a swampy area across the way.  We found the nest but no activity to report yet.  It's way up in the top of a dead tree and  we will have to wait for babies to start peaking over the top to see anything.

We meandered around the edge of the lake for a while, playing tag with a loon.  We guessed that we might have gotten too close to her nest and she was leading us away.  June is the time of babies on the lake and you have to be respectful. 

Right before the sun went down, my hubby popped into the cabin and asked, "do you want to see something neat?" We made one last trip down to the bank where he had made the following discovery.   We only stayed for a quick peak.

It's a nice image to carry home.  

Friday, June 24, 2011

Parenting, A Messy Affair

This nest greeted me when I arrived at the lake.  It was empty and a broken shell lay on the ground below it.  I'd like to think the baby robins hatched safely and flew away but more likely, the eggs were robbed from the nest and the parents flew off.  Parenting is a risky business.

Yesterday, our daughter was worried about a math test (and who wouldn't be).  We talked to her several times.  I think she calmed us as much as we calmed her. In the end, it went fine.  By 10 p.m., we were tucked into bed reading, feeling lovely after a good lake day and decided to check in with our son in Chicago.

"I'm a little under the weather," he said after the hellos.  Hmm.  "What's up?" I asked.  He had been coughing for a week and had a temp of 101.  "Have you called the doctor?" I asked, my voice rising slightly.

At this point,  D's dad, hearing only my end of the conversation and knowing that I am given to over-reaction, got on the line to sort things out.  The next thing I hear from him is "You need to be seen first thing tomorrow."

OK, this is a smart, capable 23-year-old with friends he can call but I still felt like I should be up checking flight information to Chicago.  There is something about being a mother, whether they are 3 or 23.  You just want to get your hands on them.

We turned out our lights and said good night.  At 3:30 a.m. my mom alarm went off.  That middle-of-the-night gut check.  What if...what if.... Nothing you can do but that doesn't stop you from worrying.

This morning the sun is out.  D says he feels better and is headed to work.  I'm doubtful but he's 23 so I guess I have to let him make that decision.  He patiently answers my text queries and reassures me that he is alive and well.  So OK, little birds.  We made the best nest we could.  Spread those wings and fly.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Giving Car

When I drove this Explorer off the lot in 1995, I couldn't have been happier.  It was the first brand new car I had ever driven.  I felt safe and smug as as drove down the highway in my oh-so-special car.

My history with cars isn't great.  As teenagers, my sibs and I shared a string of very used cars.  One Ford was famous for the passenger-side door that swung open when you made a sudden left turn.  But gas cost about 35 cents a gallon and we lived in a small town, so we just made lots of right turns.

I had a used VW bug that I adored as I finished college.  It was the first car I owned.  The wind whistled through the front (engine in the rear) on cold days but it was intrepid.  And you could park that puppy anywhere.  Believe me, I did.

For a while I drove a little Datsun that backfired so loudly when you shifted on winter mornings that it set off all the car alarms up and down the street.  I took a wicked pleasure in waking neighbors in the Denver neighborhood I drove through on my way to work.   If I was up, they should be too.

But the Explorer was a good family car.  It only stayed new until the first time the kids dumped pop all over the backseat, which they managed to both do it the same day.  How is that possible?  And soon reports surfaced about tires exploding and roll overs at high speed.  Hey, nothing is perfect.  We had lots of good trips to the lake and back.  It hauled lots of groceries, plants and made trips to the lumber yard.

When our son, D, turned 16, he became the driver of the car we now called The Exploder.  It mostly went to school and home.  Cautious describes his driving style for those first few years.  He added some stickers to the back window to mark his territory but otherwise, left it unscathed.

When he left for college, the famous Exploder passed on to E, our daughter.  Her driving style at 16 was interesting, to put it mildly.  Instead of stickers, she added dents.  Somehow the garage was never a big enough target for her.   Every week seemed to bring a new addition to the car.  By this time, we were resigned to using it as a practice vehicle.  It was safe, it was dirty.  Better to practice on this one.

E got better. She is now a responsible driver.  And the Exploder?  Like the 'Giving Tree', it has given its all, but not quite.  We are still wringing a little more use out of it up at the lake.

I have to admit that, as bookseller, I really don't like that book.  I mean, what is the point? Let someone take advantage of us until we are used up?  Or that it is OK to do that to someone else? Don't ask me.  But looking at the rusty old Exploder parked out back, I couldn't help but tip my hat to Shel Silverstein.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

For Every Child, A Trail To Walk

If I ever run for office (God forbid) my campaign slogan will be "For Every Child, A Trail To Walk." I'll explain.  Just down the lane from our cabin, a lovely retired couple created the Coffee Walk Trail.  They named it that because you can walk it in about the time it takes to drink a cup of coffee.  It's surrounded by lovely green forest and loops back on itself so that you can't possibly get lost.

They marked the beginning with a gnome and added a small bench along the way.  Then, slowly, other little creatures began to show up along the trail.  Neighbors added treasures and each year the trail has a slightly different, more enchanting look.

Last year, my seven-year-old niece, Miss P came to visit us here for the first time.  One of her delights was to walk the trail.  We did it over and over again.  At first she stayed close to "The Aunties" as she called my sister and me.  We made a game of finding all the little decorations.  On each walk she became more sure of herself until she was leading us, racing ahead and pointing out her own discoveries.

Miss P will return for a visit in July and I'm guessing she will head down the lane soon after she arrives, to make sure the Coffee Walk Trail is still there. She will know the way this year and we can follow her.

So for every child: you should have a place to run ahead, where no one has to shout 'be careful.'  You should have some enchantment in your life so you can dream that anything is possible.  You should have traditions to look forward to year after year.  That wonderful moment when you hold your breath and wonder, is it still there and then you see that yes, the path is still there, still open to me and I know the way.  Come on, I will show you.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Not now, I'm reading

It's cloudy and cool, with a forecast of rain today.  You know what that means.  Where is that stack of books?  I want to make every day constructive so I plan on 10 or 15 minutes of house work followed by five or six hours of reading.  The dogs won't let me sit forever.  I will have to stand up and move around  but before too long, whatever book I am reading will begin the siren song and I will find my way back.

I am an eclectic reader from way back.  I just finished 'The Sisters Brothers' by Patrick de Witt. It's a western where horses fall off cliffs and men shoot each other without much thought.  Who would have thought?  Even the cover is sinister but deWitt is a clever and engaging writer and I never once thought of giving it up.  I went from that to 'R My Name Is Rachel' by Patricia Reilly Giff.  It's the kind of book I would have loved as a kid.  Set in the depression, it tells of a family pulling together against long odds.  Who can resist those scrappy little heroines?  They just pull up their knee socks and soldier on.

There is so much talk lately about what kids should read and about how the YA literature is too dark.. I say just let them read.  Let them read anything and everything.  How will they know the good from the bad without something to compare it to?  Let them be passionate about literature and their favorite authors.  That's a topic for another day.  Right now I feel a book calling to me.  Even Ernie is classy enough to snooze by the bookcase.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Ambushed by Joy

In Northern Minnesota you expect to be wowed by the mirrored surface of the lake and the song of loons and infinite variety of green in the roadside.  I love the stillness.  There are days early in the season when I can sit for an hour and never hear another sound created by a human voice or machine.  That is amazing in this world.

Sometimes though, you find a surprise, like the one above.  I was tooling down the road and had to stop when I saw the horses lined up like kiddie calvary. The question that came to mind was 'why?'

The place was a little rustic to say the least but I figured I really ought to knock on the door and ask permission to take a photo so I hopped out of the car and walked up the long drive.  I could see a small house, opened to let in air. Someone had to be at home.  Then I got my second surprise.  Up closer to the house, tucked away from the road, were lovely gardens. Flowers of all kinds were overflowing sweet beds and inventive potting like a tea kettle were everywhere.

I never did find anyone at home but I couldn't resist snapping a few photos.  Joy comes when we aren't expecting it and it's best to take advantage of it.  Besides, I could see a copy of "Where The Sidewalk Ends" on a table in the main room and anyone who reads Shel Silverstein would have to be OK, or at least wouldn't shoot a visitor on sight.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

From The Lake

It takes about three cloudy days in a row and I begin to wonder why I should bother to get out of bed.  Then a good hot shower and a strong cup of coffee later and life begins to seem somewhat worth living again.  Really, is the sun that important?
Of course cloudy days are easier to take here at the lake, where the loons call and, looking up, I catch the arc of a great blue heron passing overhead.
As Wendell Berry says "When despair for the world grows in me........
                                       I come into the peace of wild things......
                                       who do not tax their lives with forethought of grief.
                                       I come into the presence of still water.
                                       I rest in the grace of the world and am free."
I wonder about the phrase 'forethought of grief.'  I think he knows that early morning worry that can creep in if you let it on a cloudy morning.  There is enough grief in life without planning ahead for it.  Better to drink strong coffee and try to stay in the present.  Rest in the grace of the world.