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The Long Summer

July, 2022. What a long time ago. What a long, dry, warm time ago. We had a summer to rival my childhood memories of growing up wild and free in Nevada under the blistering sun, barefoot on the concrete, bathing suit and towel tucked under our arms as we made our way down to the public outdoor swimming pool. One hundred degrees. Our feet hardened to the concrete, but we still ran across the pavement and the creosote railroad ties. Sprinklers kept the lawns alive.

The Willamette Valley of Oregon heated up and dried out. Sprinklers are for flower beds and vegetable gardens: lawns go dormant in the stifling heat of an unusually dry summer. The mercury dipped and climbed between the normal eighties and the unusual triple digit days. I no longer go barefoot and there is no outdoor public swimming pool I would be caught in (not even a swim suit I would be caught in!).

My mother-in-law had a sudden decline in health. She’s dealt with A-Fib most of her life, but her primary care giver retired and a new doctor took over her care. The A-Fib freaked the new doctor out and new meds were prescribed. All of our lives turned upside down for the rest of the summer (she’s fine now, for the record). My husband was about to spend the best part of the summer in a town across the state from me and I was about to spend the summer alone.

Alone, with the dog.

I like solitude. I was perfectly fine with no one here. I avoided most social contacts. It was a summer for me to work in the yard, clean the house, sip some wine, and enjoy the quiet. If I needed companionship, I knew where to turn, but – for the most part – I soaked in the solitude. Quiet. Just the dog and me. And a single phone call every evening between five and seven o’clock to catch up on the news with my beloved.

He was not having a good summer, but he was making the best of a bad situation.

We spent six weeks apart. He was four and a half hours away (four, if he drove hard). I was here, tending the vegetable garden, the apple trees, and the flower gardens. I deep cleaned the first floor of the house. I socialized on weekends. He socialized on weekends in a tri-county area, watered his mother’s lawns and vegetable garden, and mediated between his siblings.

I loved it, but I missed him. Some social events need a partner in crime, and he’s my go-to. We have mutual friends, but it’s not the same when you are the third wheel. And our oldest grandson came down to visit us, only there wasn’t an “us” during his visit. That was hard: not having Poppa here to visit with Z. Grandkids need to know their grandfathers.

We timed Z’s visit with the Bigfoot Festival in Canby, Oregon. Z’s mom flew down with him. The temps soared into the triple digits and we have no A/c in our 1930’s bungalow because no one has ever really needed it here (and, as a native Nevadan, A/C is overrated). Too hot to sleep in the house, so we did what I did as a child growing up: we camped in the back yard under the stars. We didn’t have Wolfman Jack to DJ the music on our transistor radio. West Coast people my age will recognize that reference: the best DJ ever.

Ruger. Ruger had a bit of trouble accepting new people into his life. Z already towers over his mom and I. Ruger was a tad bit afraid of this gangly giant in his yard. The first night when Z had to go into the house in the dark and come back out, Ruger thought he was seeing a ghost. He barked. His tail tucked. He never raised his hackles, but he was afraid.

Ruger and the Ghost

We went to the Bigfoot Festival. What a waste of money! It was pushing triple digits. We sweated. We looked at vendors and we spent money. There were speakers from different television shows and supposed research people. There were NO exhibits of actual evidence. We are open, but we’re also very logical. The local store that sells Legos™ was the big hit. Screw Bigfoot Festivals that can’t bring in any evidence and only want to sell you junk.

They only spent a week with me.

Don returned home after his weeks were over. His mom was stabilized (it was her meds all along, much like my scare earlier this year). Ruger was over the moon. I am happy. I was beginning to get a little lonely.

Summer has been over for a few weeks, but the weather is only now beginning to change. I think it stayed nice for a few weeks so Don and I could enjoy it together. I just wish he had been here to visit with Z.

Triggered

The past couple of weeks have been very triggering for me. I don’t mean to make a political post: the past 20 years and four presidents have led up to this. Two Republican and two Democrat. No one is innocent. The entire war could have been handled differently if men weren’t looking for power and seeking the popularity to get enough votes to stay in office. I don’t have the capacity to form an opinion because I’ve lost my military compass – and he’s the reason I have been so triggered.

Our son, Levi, served in Afghanistan from January 2020 to June 202o. His tour was cut short when his father-in-law and very dear friend had triple bypass surgery (or maybe it was quadruple – does it matter?). He was sent home to help his wife. Six months later, Levi was dead.

While he was in Afghanistan, the last two soldiers were killed (before last week). Comrades of his, also assigned to 3rd Battalion, 7th Group, Special Forces (Airborne):

Levi knew the war in Afghanistan was winding down. That was part of his mission there: to build a competent Satellite Communications System for the Afghan Army before the USA withdrew its troops. He excelled at what he did. He was a Goddamn hero.

I have heard all sorts of stories about how the withdrawal was supposed to happen vs. how it did. Separating truth from fiction is nigh onto impossible. What did happen was this: we withdrew out main forces before we took care of those who needed us most. We abandoned interpreters, equipment, support people, Afghan allies, American citizens living in the country, and more. We just pulled the majority of our troops and let what happened, happen.

The Taliban, the group that killed my son’s comrades, invaded their own country in what could be considered a Blitzhrieg. Eleven days is all it took for them to swarm the countryside and enter Kabul, the capital city. They commandeered the equipment, the satellite communications, the bases, the towns, the cities. Suddenly, all the Gold Star Families were thrown a question: Did my child serve/die in vain? Was it worth the cost? What about the maimed who came home, physically, and psychologically? Was any of this worth the cost?

I have followed the author, Khaled Hosseini, since I saw the first movie: “The Kite Runner”. I read the book, then I read “A Thousand Splendid Suns”. If you have never read his writings, I highly recommend those two books, especially the second one. Hosseini was a refugee from Afghanistan in the 1970’s. He writes poignantly about the things young boys, girls, and women face under the rule of the Taliban. Knowing these stories doubly triggered me: what about the women, girls, and boys?

It’s hard enough questioning whether your child’s sacrifice meant anything, but then having to read the Facebook posts by people who have no skin in the game post how they defend the actions of our government at this time. My son didn’t die over there, but he lost 6 months of his life away from his family, a family that would be ultimately torn apart by his death in December of 2020. Reading other people’s opinions on the validity of my son’s sacrifice or how I should feel about it is triggering.

Nobody gets to tell me how I should feel. I lost a son. I lost my compass. Do I feel President Biden should carry the blame? He is the Commander in Chief right now. Do I blame all the presidents over the past 20 years? Hell, yes. Do I believe what my son did in that war-torn country made a difference? I want to. I want to. I know he saved a couple puppies.

And what about the dead? The maimed? The US Servicemen (and women) who came home so changed because of their time there and the Taliban?

Last week, a suicide bomber set himself off in a crowded queue at the only airport withdrawing troops and people from that country. Eleven Marines, one Navy medic, two U.S. Army soldiers., and countless Afghanistan refugees. We trusted the Taliban to guard the airport. We.Trusted.The.Taliban.

Today, the last military transport left the country, hours before the deadline set by our enemy, and stranding U.S. citizens and Afghani citizens seeking asylum.

How am I supposed to feel? I feel betrayed. I feel grief. I feel anger. I am disgusted. Disappointed. I hurt, people. I can’t ask Levi what his take is on this. He’s gone. You can’t tell me how to feel. I have to work through this myself.

And if my grief disagrees with you, you have a choice: come beside me and help me through this without judgment or just scroll on by. But Do.Not.Tell.Me.How.I.Should.Feel.

2021.January 1

My word for 2020 was “Discover” and it lasted for about two months before we found ourselves starting a two-week “lock down” that lasted through the end of the year, ten months later. I didn’t do much “discovering”.

It is now the first day of 2021. I have no word for the year. The only resolution I have is to be kinder and to be quicker to reach out to someone when they are hurting, sick, or bereaved. I probably could lose 25 pounds, too.

Today, I worked through grief by deep cleaning the bathroom. I have already rearranged the kitchen cupboards. Two days in a row, I have been out in the garden cutting the deadheads I didn’t get to in the fall because it’s currently warmer now than it was in October and November when I normally do those things. I closed the door when I worked in the bathroom, but I had help in the garden. Too much help.

His name is Ruger. Ruger Buhl’s Fall Surprise, per AKC records. He’s a Wirehaired Pointing Griffon, born the 24th of September and hauled home to Oregon mid-November. He chews on all my plants which is not a good thing. I don’t know what is poisonous to puppies and what isn’t. I’m guessing peonies, primroses, asters, different salvias, and irises are not. I dug out all the foxglove in November. I know we have some arum in the corner flower bed that I will need to dig out because this dog is so mouthy – and because it is starting to show green shoots.

I have a stack of paperwork to filter through but no desire to. There’s a stack of sympathy cards, Christmas cards, and Christmas-cards-as-sympathy-cards to go through. I need to call my cousin in Montana back because the last time I spoke to her, I blubbered the entire two minutes. We have received so much support from Seventh Group Special Forces (Airborne) and I need to preserve all those commendations sent to us, specifically.

I need ideas to send gifts to my grandchildren who not only lost their father but who were taken from his home to live with their mother in Texas. She didn’t have custody when our son was living; he did. But she is the birth mother, and the law recognizes her first and the widow, second. I did decide I should put together three memory books of photos on Shutterfly. Monthly letters and cards. My daughter bought a subscription to Highlights Magazine for one of them. Is there a Pokémon magazine club? (Note to self: do the research).

I am not the only person grieving right now. I need to focus on taking care of myself, but also on helping my loved ones walk through their grief.

I don’t have a word for 2021. I have a sentence. LOVE ONE ANOTHER.

Disney World 2020, Levi in the middle with all of his children. ♥

Summer of the Bird

The imposed lock-down that kept most of us home over the summer proved to be a boon to the hobby of back-yard birding. There were reports that birds changed their songs in some cities, and other articles about how loud the birds seemed as traffic noises dwindled in some cities (not here!). We certainly heard and saw more birds as we had little else to occupy our lazy summer afternoons when it was too hot to work and too nice to be inside the house. We positioned patio chairs around the lawn to maximize both sunshine and shade, as well as the view about our yard and flower beds.     

                  This was another summer without a dog or cat: the pup we looked forward to in May was a miscarried pregnancy. Wild birds took this as a boon, as did the squirrels: Eastern Fox and Eastern Grey, both invasive to urban areas of the Western United States. We settled in after the morning chores were finished (weeding, planting, digging out new flower beds) and popped the top of a beer to watch the birds and the antics of our invasive clowns, grey and red. We were never disappointed.

                My husband and I hail from very different political backgrounds but what we have in common is out love for the outdoors, insects, arachnids, flora and fauna, and birds. He grows vegetables. I grow flowers and herbs. He fills the birdfeeders with black oil sunflower seeds. I render pure suet down to pour over mounds of dried mealworms and red pepper flakes, eschewing the commercial suet fillers which are filled with GMO corn chips and other things birds neither like nor eat (and which attract the damn squirrels). I boil the nectar and clean/refill the hummingbird feeders as quickly as the little buggers empty them. He studies and names the myriad of native bees and bumblebees my flowers attract. We both stalk the spiders hoping for a award-winning photo opportunity.

                Mid-summer found a pair of chestnut-backed chickadees checking in to the little ornamental bird house I have hanging from a Shepherd’s hook next to the Hawthorne. We weren’t certain when they actually moved in so it was hard to gauge how far along the eggs must be. Then I could hear the tinniest little dee-dee-dee from within the bird house next to my head. (Yes, I meant tinniest, but tiniest will also do.) We tried to calculate how far along the babies were. They fledged on an afternoon when my husband was out of town, but I was sitting next to the bird house playing on my cell phone.

                During the weeks that followed, the crazy little birds flew back and forth between us, often narrowly missing our heads on the wobbly little wings. They didn’t fear us: our voices were ever in their ears from before their hatching. Three tiny daredevils. Two proud chickadee parents.

Maiden flight

                The scrub jays brought their fledgling into our yard. We made a platform feeder for the crows (which, sad to say, mostly avoided our yard this summer as last years’ fledglings all died of Avian pox). This platform was a boon to the scrub jays with their loud squawking praises for the bounty of peanuts as they raced the squirrels for the prizes. One afternoon as we sat with our back to the Hawthorne, we were startled by an unearthly scream. We jumped up as the Hawthorne shuddered and an angry sharp-shinned hawk beat its wings in a backstroke to get out of the mess of inch long thorns. It flew up and out of our yard. Inside the heart of the Hawthorne, the scrub jay fledgling huddled having just escaped with its feathers intact.

                We saw fledges of nearly every backyard bird: golden-crowned sparrow, Downy woodpecker, Northern (red-shafted) flicker, Dark-eyed (Oregon) Junco, Lesser Goldfinch, Anna’s hummingbirds, bushtits, black-capped chickadees, and even this year’s crows. The Bewicks Wrens, which only last year raised their young inside our garage, eluded us (they were here but not as visible). So, too, the Spotted (rufous-sided) Towhee.

                Overhead, we watched bald eagles and turkey vultures each their young to catch thermals. The osprey young had a harder time with thermals and often dropped to just over our home on the bluff before they caught the rising air and could slowly circle up to dizzying heights, ever chirping. The eagles are by far the largest of the big birds. Red tailed hawk and owls sometimes migrated through the neighborhood, the hawks screaming their eerie call.

                A week ago, we saw the first of the turkey vulture migration south. Fifty plus birds caught thermals and soared, single file, overhead. Two days ago, during a break in the October rains, we watched in awe as three other kettles of turkey vultures (or buzzards) catching thermals and racing south for the winter. (Kettle=flock or group, but specific to vultures.) They will return in March.

                We are preparing the feeders for the winter. Many of our small birds over winter: song sparrow, junco, bushtit, both chickadees, Townsend’s warbler, white-breasted nuthatch, red-breasted nuthatch, Downy woodpecker, scrub jay, and Anna’s hummingbirds. We will have a dog next summer, and perhaps a cat. It will be a very different birding year.

Get Out There

I hate that phrase but it is exactly how I am trying to shift my focus. The other phrase I hate is “Just Do It”. Like somehow you can change your life and outlook by doing something. My life changed on December 12, 2020, and I’m just trying to recover some part of me that wants to go on living.

No, I am not suicidal. But I have days when I don’t want to get out of bed. I have a lot of days when I don’t care what I look like. And days when I cannot clean the house.

I joined a Facebook group for parents who have lost adult children and I am discovering that it is not unusual to have these feelings, even when we have surviving children we love and grandchildren we adore and love. Even when we have a spouse that understands. Or a huge circle of caring friends who continue to reach out years after the event.I have all of the above but some days I just don’t know how to feel.

Backtracking a little here, many of the parents who post on the group are people who do not have a strong network to catch them. Their friendships have dissolved, they are on the verge of divorce or separation, their circle is wondering “why haven’t you gotten over it, yet?” “When will you move on?”

We can’t. We are crippled in one of the worst ways: the child we carried for nine months, nurtured, and set free to become an adult on their own has been ripped from us, suddenly, inexplicably, and painfully. A clock has been set on a mantle and the hands are stopped at the exact moment our child left us or we learned. We are broken and we are forever changed.

We are not the person we were before. That person died with the child we buried.

I suffer mild depression and severe anxiety, but I am not given to wallowing in too much self-pity. My son would not want me to. Yet, here I am, two years and several weeks later, doing just that. I am in therapy and I take a healthy dose of antidepressants. I drink too much. I have gained weight and lost interest in most of the things I have always loved. I can’t find the Creative Muse and I have tried. Oh, how I have tried.

But the muse evades me and what I create lacks the spirit and life I wish to impart into it.

Which brings me to where I am now. You already know I am in therapy. That’s new. I’m not much for spilling my heart out to a stranger much less a friend. A blog is more anonymous and doesn’t cost this introvert much anxiety. I am an introvert. I prefer my own company to almost anyone else. I reserve the right to bail on a get together for no reason. It’s an introvert thing, but it is also a sign of a highly anxious person.

The odd thing is this: I don’t mind being in large gatherings for short periods of time. I can be very social. I can manage small talk. I could even deal with the chaos that was my son’s household long before he died. Or the chaos that is my daughter’s life. they both have large families: chaos goes with numbers of children. I have no problem befriending a stranger in a public restroom (one of my very best friends became acquainted with me in a public restroom).

That particular friend has invited me to join different groups with similar interests. We did a spin with a cosplay group but both became disenfranchised by the “control” certain people held over the group. If nothing else, I hate controllers. Introvert, but highly independent. Now we are trying out a group of women who like to go camping. Just women. No rules: tent, car, RV. I’m a pro at tent and car camping as is my friend. I am a pro at dry camping and wilderness camping. I don’t need a paid spot in a government or state sanctioned campground. But the group sounded interesting so we both joined.

Jury is still out on that organization but that’s a huge move for me. Camping on my own. No husband or dogs. Meeting new people who might have similar interests. Camping as a group. I know my son would approve.

I know I need to embrace the new woman I am. I can’t continue to spend my days feeling the undertow of grief. That grief is fueled by the loss of my mother, my baby sister, my father, my son, and the loss of my youngest daughter who has had to take her own path to healing (a path does not include me). Relationships I can’t repair or replace.

I signed up for three course at The Great Courses.

I’m not going sky diving – just yet. That was a fantasy of mine when I was younger (and my bones were not fragile). Then my son usurped that dream and became one of the US Army’s elite Special Forces (Airborne). He loved jumping out of airplanes and helicopters. It damaged his knees and back, but he loved to fly in the open air with just a parachute.

I believe he wants me to jump out of the airplane and trust my parachute.

Wish me well.

Not A Resolution

One of my goals this year is to write more often. It’s not a “resolution” so much as it is a “goal”. Another goal is to finally finish those pesky projects I have tinkered at or played with over the past 20 years we have lived in this house. I also want to purge myself of unnecessary “luggage” as evidenced by the prior post to this one. I’m plowing through that last one and the second one, but I haven’t worked much on the writing bit.

I tossed out a lot of natural detritus I have collected over the years: moldy artist’s conks, interesting pieces of wood, seed pods for some fanciful future craft project, and so on. I started purging the rocks several years ago: the little pocket sized pieces of agate, obsidian, igneous rocks, metamorphic rocks, and sedimentary rocks. I moved them from inside the house and inside jars to outside and in my garden beds. I’m still clinging to the found feathers. Feathers are gifts of passage from Beyond: some ancestor or passed friend sends them to let me know I’ll be all tight in the end. I need all the reassurance I can get some days.

I kept nine artist’s conks (ganoderma applanatum). I collected all of them with the intent to use a wood burner and create fanciful scenes of elk and wild creatures. Ha! And double Ha!Ha! I put them in a drawer with all my other finds and let them harden and dry, and in some cases, mold. So my number one project after going through my art supplies was to put those conks to use. I ruined the first two. Recycle.

I finished five. One is still sitting there as I lack an idea of what to paint or carve on it. Please, not another sappy painting of a seven-point bull elk whistling in the rut. I’m done with that sort of painting.

I learned that I am not particularly gifted at painting or carving conks. Ones I find in the wild from now on will be safe from my prying hands.

The ones I “finished” still need to be sanded with the Dremel tool and sealed with a good sealer before attaching a way to hang them on the wall. At least one of them is so “YUCK” to me that I almost discarded it but I remembered that I am not the judge of what people will buy. Someone may actually pay $5 for it and hang it on their wall for a few years before discarding it. So I kept it. Ever the entrepreneur.

The sloth is my least favorite. It’s only six inches tall.

The owl is four and a half inches tall. It is also not my favorite but it will pass muster.

I went with a stain that was on the conk that reminded me of two sleeping bears with this one. It’s 3×2″. I actually was beginning to like painting on the conks with this one.

The sitting bear took me a lot longer to visualize. There was a “face” in the conk, and a bulge below the face that indicated a fat animal. I finally settled on a fat Brown Bear.settling in for a long hibernation. 4×3″ and I’m starting to feel it a little.

I’m going to confess that I like the sea turtle. 4.5×3″. Very “folk art” in design and paint (I blame my “essential tremor” for the messed up spots – some things we have no control over).

I shut down my art webpage last year and I lost access to my Facebook business page so until I figure that out (another headache), these are only available locally and only after I finish them. Or you can comment with your email address and we can have a conversation if you are interested in any of them.

The last one may become a Celtic design. I don’t know. It’s not inspiring me.

So that’s my on-resolution in progress: a new post, a little art, and a lot of purging.

Purging 2023

I just spent the past few days going through my studio piece by piece, drawer by drawer. I have tossed pieces of Nature that I saved to “do something with” but never seemed to find the time. I tossed old polymer clay because I once fell under the spell of “more color is better and you can easily create things from…” It happened, but not with the molds I bought and not with all the pretty colors. All I need id white and flesh colored clay. I purged supplies for making faerie houses that I will possibly never make. I can’t even remember everything I purged.

I placed all the items in boxes or hauled them out to the trash or recycle bin. I gritted my teeth and asked myself: “When will I finish this project or actually start this project?” When the answer was “pretty much never” I gave it a toss.

There were other things I gave up as well. Mementos from a former version of me. I am incredibly sentimental. I did not choose to destroy my childhood stuffed animals, for instance. Like the Velveteen Rabbit, those two relics of my childhood still lead mysterious lives after dark. I suspect they will die when I die and the memories are gone. Maybe there will be a day when I can turn loose of them and not worry that they will lay in a garbage heap like the Rabbit and wonder why they were discarded. I would like to spare them that.

I cleaned the wall in front of my desk. It was cluttered. Busy. Unproductive. Sentimental.

My grandmother gifted two of the above items to me. The little “Jackie USED OF GOD” plaque and the November découpage. No one- besides me – will remember that Gramma M gave those to me, Or understand the significance of my relationship with her. She maintained a strong relationship with most of her grandchildren. I really don’t need to keep those forever and burden my child with disposing of them after my death. Gramma is long gone.

I earned the little plastic plaque on the left when I memorized the 23rd Psalm in Methodist Sunday School. I lent it to my sister for a good many years but after her death in 2000, it returned to me. My faith has led me down a different path in the past two years. I still believe in the power of prayer, but I have been unable to pray for months. And I survived those many years when it was in my sister’s possession, so why do I need it now?

I took photos so I could remember those things. Remember they were mine and how I came by them. But their time of service to me is past. It’s time to bury some things.

I have cried. I have mourned that which will never be. I have mourned that which once was but will never be again.

But I still have my stuffed animals to comfort me. For now.

Beginnings

The year was 1977. I was on a solo trip across America via Greyhound bus and a six-week pass. One of my first stops was a private school in the mountains of Utah where my younger sister was enrolled. My sister and I had a tumultuous relationship, but we were sisters with a sister bond and I was not surprised to be welcomed with her arms open. I met her friends and her boyfriend. We spent a weekend together. It was a wonderful time. I attended their Senior Prom where my sister posed with this man she thought she would spend the rest of her life with. She wore a long blue dress.

I returned west in time to see her walk across the podium in our hometown to receive her high school diploma. She had earned all her credits elsewhere, but she was granted her request to graduate with the people she had known since 6th grade. She was radiant and expectant. I mean, really expectant.

I moved to Oregon over the summer, and we exchanged letters. She was distraught about the future of the child she was carrying in her womb. There was pressure to end the pregnancy with an abortion. Neither my sister nor I could condone such a move. The father was supportive but only to a certain point. My sister felt all alone in her decisions.  In the end, she gave the baby up for adoption, but the act marked her forever. She wanted her baby, and she mourned him.

Deni died in 2000. She contracted a bizarre autoimmune disease known as “necrotizing faciitis” or “flesh eating bacteria”. It is a staphylococcal infection that makes it way into a body through an open cut and begins to work on the flesh and internal organs of the infected person. Doctors need to be trained in identifying the infection and most small-town doctors (read: rural doctors) are not. Deni was in sepsis within 24 hours of the first symptom. The hospital was flummoxed and she was loaded onto a Life Flight helicopter to Reno, a several hour flight from Ely, Nevada.

My father called me with a desperate prayer request. I sent it on to my prayer lines. My nephew loaded his little sister into a car and drove to Reno, a five hour drive.

Deni died before morning at what was then Washoe Medical Center. She was surrounded by her husband of a few months, her son and her oldest daughter. She was never to know what had become of her oldest child, the boy born in Ely and given up for adoption at birth.

That haunted me. It haunted my father. Dad gave me all the information he had (Nevada is a “closed” adoption state). The birth date, the sex, the hospital. There was really no hope in finding the baby boy.

In the years since my father’s death (where he made me promise I would continue to search)  I have become close friends with adoptees and adoptee advocates. I know there is no way to open closed records. I favor open records. There may be a lot of pain involved in “reunions” but there can also be a lot of unanswered questions answered. Unresolved adoption trauma can be addressed. I have heard both sad stories but also a lot of wonderful stories of adoptees who found their birth family and managed to resolve both birth and adopted family history.

It doesn’t always work that way. I get that.

My “foster” sister hunted down her own birth mother and had a successful reunion. Her birth mother was present at her wedding where my father gave her away. She reunited with siblings, aunts, uncles. She created lasting relationships. We were all blown away (sorry for the 1970s language) by the resemblance between her and her birth mother: the way they held cigarettes, waved their hands while talking, walked, or expressed themselves. It was uncanny.

My father died in 2011. He felt guilty about my sister’s first born. He made me promise I would continue the search. But what can you do with closed records? I put it out on a few Nevada adoption sites but there’s really no hope.

Then comes new DNA research. I spit into a tube and sent my DNA off to two sites: Ancestry.com and 21andme.com. And I left it. It was enlightening as far as my genetic history: the Irish is minimal, the Scots is somewhat minimal, but the British and Germanic are strong. There’s even some Finnish and Norwegian. I’m basically a melting pot of Caucasian countries. White, oh so white.

I left it there. If my nephew – should he be out there – might eventually take a DNA test. My niece took one, but I knew we were related. My other nephew took one, but I knew we were related. And years passed.

November, 2022. A man in the Midwest took a DNA test for other reasons. He k new he was adopted. He did not expect to find his biological family, much less to find out that that family had been hoping and searching for him for decades. He knew there was an off-chance of finding things out. Still…

I start 2023 with my nephew. My oldest nephew. The one my sister mourned. The one my sister gave up for adoption. The one I didn’t really search for but the one who drove me to take my DNA and make it public so if he ever came searching for his family… he would find us.

Welcome to the Family, John. You have been loved, watched over, and mourned. I’m thankful for your adoptive family. They were angels. I know they loved you. I honor them this day. And I look forward to a year of learning about you and making you feel like one of the very large family you come from.

Giving Thanks 2022

It is Thanksgiving week (United States). I don’t know if the Thanksgiving story we were told as children is true, but I would like to think that for one week or two that it was true. There was a bit of peace on earth and fellowship between races before everything went to hell.

But let us be thankful.

I am thankful I know people who have been through such horrific trauma allow me to be a part of their lives even though I can scarcely imagine or relate to their trauma. I pray they know I am trying to understand, and I will stand with them no matter what the future holds (healing, we all hope).

I am thankful for the family I still have living on this earth.

I am thankful for the family that has passed on.

I am thankful for friends of many differing opinions.

I am thankful for the LBGTQ people who have graced my life and taught me about love, life, and acceptance.

I am thankful for the cats that chose me to be their person.

I am thankful for dogs. All the wonderful dogs.

I am thankful for horses.

I am thankful for sunshine, flowers, insects, and birds.

I am thankful for the coworkers who mentored me, put up with me, and befriended me despite my unlovable ways.

I am thankful for retirement.

I am thankful for grandchildren.

I am thankful that my son found a wonderful woman to marry and the granddaughter that union brought into my life. Love you, Kays!

I am thankful my son found some happiness in life and was a father to six beautiful children during his short stay on this earth.

I am grateful for my son-in-law who loves my daughter and likes us. Love you, Sam!

I am thankful for my elementary school friends who still remember me and who share so many memories with me.

I am grateful for my high school friends, especially those who looked past what a jerk I was in high school. I was a jerk.

I am grateful for the years I had a little sister who drove me nuts, confided in me, and befuddled me. I am especially grateful for her sense of humor and her four children.

I am grateful Cyndi Erquiaga considered me a sister. God rest, sweet friend/sister.

I am thankful for gardens. Flowers, herbs, vegetables, bushes.

I am thankful for insects and for the fact my father encouraged me to study them.

I am thankful my father showed me how to fight chauvinism in the 1960’s. Thanks, Dad, for being a man ahead of the times.

I am thankful for the close relationship I have with my brother and his children.

I am thankful for color.

I am thankful for il paints, acrylics, inks, and watercolors.

I am thankful for an online homeschooling community that supported me through the years of homeschooling and gave me lifelong friends, most of whom I have never met in person.

I am thankful for those online homeschool friends I have met in person who still like me.

I am thankful for the Internet that has helped me bridge the gaps between fandom and authors and musicians I truly appreciate and love. It has also helped me connect to old friends and acquaintances, often revealing that acquaintances should have been good friends.

I am thankful for eighteen years in the real estate business as an office coordinator or paycheck provider. The networking is one thing, but the life-long friendships is another. Besides, I learned I was good at math.

I am thankful I am good at math.

I am thankful for artist friends and connections.

I could go on. You could go on.

There’s a lot to be unthankful for. A lot of hardship.  A lot of uncertainty. I get it if some folks can’t post what they are thankful for: they have a reason. Life is uncertain and we’re in the midst of a recession. I don’t mean to make anyone feel inadequate. Existence is moment to moment. I could list a lot of things I am NOT grateful for. But what is the point? Life is fucked.

I’m just choosing to focus on what I can this week.

I pray/hope you can, too.

Who Am I?

I decided I wanted to be a wild stallion running across the wild Nevada wilds by the time I was eight years old. A black stallion at first, then a buckskin, and eventually any color of horse that could be imagined. My girlfriends in elementary school played wild horse with me. We neighed, stomped, and lopes. And the normal kids made fun of us.

It was hard not being normal. I had so much imagination and so many dreams. I could be a coyote or a wild mustang stallion. Anything wild. Anything that I was not. The imagination is such a wonderful escape.

Fifth Grade comes and you are supposed to let go of the imagination of your childhood, but I could not. I preferred that pretend world more than I liked the “real” world I lived in. Bullies. Popular kids. Prettier girls. Girls who wore nylons in 5th Grade. Girls who got their ears pierced when they turned ten. Children who didn’t have a spastic bladder and a teacher who didn’t believe in restroom breaks during class time.

I peed my panties twice in the Fifth Grade. I felt as ashamed as the boy who was probably Autistic who shat his pants. I wasn’t the same as he was (and know this: we didn’t understand Autism when I grew up. I just knew I wasn’t the same). I simply was afraid to ask to be allowed to go to the restroom. He had a deeper issue. I hope his parents advocated for him the way my parents did when they found out about my shame through gossip and my older brother.

My parents met with the teacher and the principal without my consent. I had no idea they were so angry until the conference was over and the teacher suddenly changed her bathroom policy: if you had to go, you only needed to raise your hand and she handed you a pass. It’s probably the first time I knew how much my parents cared for me.

I remained the strange child. My parents couldn‘t understand me.  I was “sick” most of my 6th grade year. My stomach hurt so much. I couldn’t go to school. I needed to be hiding in my bedroom, cutting out paper dolls and drawing. Anything that didn’t require actual socialization. There were multiple trips to the doctor who was just that: a doctor, not a psychologist. Eventually a 6th grade teacher came on board and began to empower me.

I won’t lie: she did a lot of good. But my imagination was still so wild, untamed, and untrained. I could be anyone else in an instance. I pretended to be someone else all the time. A wild horse, a hippie, a coyote. I made up stories in my head and enacted them while walking home from school, trying not to be bullied by the popular kids who were completely normal. I simply wanted to be someone – or something – else.

There were moments when God protected me. I missed school the day a sparrow flew into the band room and all the popular kids threw things at it until it died. I would have exerted myself that day, berating them for their ignorance. I don’t think I was spared: I think they were spared. They didn’t need to know the anger growing inside of me.

Or maybe they did, and God spared them.

We moved away just as I was entering high school. I still fantasized I was someone else, something else. Anyone who was not me. Anyone. Or Thing.

I don’t know when that fantasy left me, and I became aware of reality. I’m not a roan wild Mustang stallion. I’m not another human being trying to make their way through life. I’m just me. Mother of two, mother of three. My oldest now living in Alaska. My son, buried at Fort Barrancas, Florida. My youngest: my niece, living a few miles from me but not speaking to me.

I am wholly me now. I don’t know who I was when I was a child, but it was wonderful.

I am not ashamed to say I wasn’t all on board with getting a second Wirehaired Pointing Griffon. I liked Murphy, our first one, but he challenged me. We got off on the wrong foot when my husband left me for a weekend and my right foot was in a cast (see what I did there?). I couldn’t manage the dog, a crutch, and a teenager who was afraid of the puppy. Griffs are mouthy and Murphy had puppy sharp teeth. You can tell a kid what to do, but the kid has to *do* it and this child couldn’t bring herself to assert her dominance. Me, I researched how to assert dominance. For the rest of his life, I asserted dominance with him. He was stubborn, loving, funny, and loyal to a fault – to my husband. I was always second fiddle, and he knew it.

But the sadness in my husband’s heart after the loss of his beloved bird dog was more than I could bear so we saved pennies until we had news of a new litter on the way.

That litter failed. We were put on a waiting list for the next time the breeder had a bitch ready to deliver puppies. The wait was excruciating but on September 24th, 2020, we received news that the pups had been born. My husband had first pick, but we would have to travel to eastern Idaho in November to pick the pup up. Oh, Joy.

That’s a trip over several mountain passes. Winter is not kind in eastern Oregon and all of Idaho. And wouldn’t you know? It snowed the morning we headed out of La Grande (we spent the night with a relative there as a halfway point between Portland and Bonner’s Ferry). We pulled onto the freeway as the snowplows began their ascent up Ladd Canyon. I made my husband drive. He made me drive all the way back home.

Oh, the puppies! I can’t remember how many there were but most of t hem were male. I think we had nine puppies to choose from, all males. There was this one pup that just did its own thing, wandering off by itself. And there was this other pup that just wanted to crawl up in our laps, stub of a tail wagging, and pushing all of his siblings aside to get to us. He was hardly the size of an adult Chihuahua (but chubbier). We brought him home.

He has been different from his predecessor from the get-go. He’s mouthy, but not in a nippy way. I don’t tolerate it so he doesn’t chew on me. He has wreaked havoc in my flower beds. He picks flowers because I pick flowers. He “talks” to me the way my mother’s Mini Schnauzer used to “talk” to her. He’ll talk to my husband, but he prefers to have his “conversations” with me. He looks so sad when he gets chastised. He needs to be touching members of his pack all the time.

His pack includes friends of ours who come over and spoil him. When our grandson visited this past summer, it took only a couple nights before Ruger decided he needed a teenage boy in his life.

Ruger chases butterflies. You can say the word, “Squirrel” and he stops everything he is doing to look. He just set his head on my keyboard because he has an insatiable need to “help”. He pulls weeds. He lays down in front of me when I am weeding, smashing my flowers. He steals weeds out of my weed basket and throws them around the yard. He takes care of his stuffed animals. He knows them by name: Sloth, Moose, Baby Puppy, Wolfie, Donkey, Giraffe, Lambchops,Tiger, Flat Rabbit and he knows where he last left them.

He has wormed his way into my heart.

He barks at things he doesn’t understand. A tarp that is rustled by the wind. His toy swimming pool when it is empty and rolls across the yard in the wind. A teenager coming out of the house in the night looking for all the world (to Ruger) like a ghost. But once he understands, he no longer barks.  And he slept on top of that teenager for a week.

And today, he provided the best entertainment. He found something he didn’t understand, and he started barking. His tail tucked between his legs and his back legs quivering. No, his hackles don’t rise: it’s just something he doesn’t understand. Something off. But he was insistent that something was “wrong”.

My husband and I followed him to the source of his angst.

A leaf dangled from a spider web, inches from the side of the house, seemingly suspended in the air by a mysterious and invisible source.

We’re terrible parents. We laughed. And laughed. We didn’t offer to show him it was harmless. We just laughed at him as he inched closer to the mystery, his haunches taut and shaking in fear. He moved his nose forward, trying to get a fix on this mystery, then the wind would shift, and he would jump back, barking at the Thing in the Air. He would inch even closer, his hind end shivering and his tail down (not tucked, just down). Jump back. Bark. Adults laugh.

He finally got his nose on the leaf and realized he’d been tricked. He took a bite out of the leaf and dropped it on the ground. He looked at us, proud of his ability to discern, explore, and dispose of a mystery threat.

He’s an idiot, but he’s our idiot.

SQUIRREL.

Long Ago

Burning incense:

the smoke rises, curls,

and dances

like the smoke from your cigarette.

A memory from long ago

When you and I drank wine

and talked into the wee hours of the night

solving the world’s problems.

Mother and daughter.

Daughter and mother.

Long ago.

I miss the smoke dance

But I miss the wine

and the long talks more.

Jaci 2022

(Mary Lou 1932-1995)

Image by Ralf Kunze from Pixabay

Garden

The rains have come, and with them we have cooler temperatures than normal. The switch from dryer and warmer than normal to cooler than normal caught me off guard. I’ve been waiting for the rains to come and soften the hard ground so I could transplant several items, but I was hoping for a little warmer Autumn. Ah, well, we get what we get when it comes to the weather, especially during a La Niña year. And the rains did do what I wanted them to do: seep into the dry earth, soften the soil, and lend some good transplanting weather.

It was dry on Thursday, so I donned my rubber boots, several layers of clothes, and found my garden gloves. I had plans of digging up some sod, but it hasn’t rained enough for that chore or I am feeling my almost 66 years of age. I gave removing sod a hard pass.

We leave a lot of dying plants standing: mullein, evening primroses, sunflowers, and plants in the sunflower family – anything the birds will work over during the next few months. The cosmos is still unruly and blooming, so I didn’t touch that. I pruned the hydrangea flowers back as far as I dared without damaging the bush: hydrangeas do not like to be pruned but this one has taken a beating by the sun in the years since our tree fell down and it lost its shade. I feel badly for it.

Last spring, I bought a number of bushes that I potted for the summer. I had a few potted plants left over from 2021 as well, waiting for me to decide where I wanted to permanently place them. One I decided I didn’t want, period: a cutting from my rosemary that had grown root bound in the pot I had it in. That went down on to the corner with a FREE sign on it. It was gone within three hours (she came back the following day to thank me for it – that has never happened!).

I placed the mock orange and the red flowering currant, native bushes, about five feet apart. The soil is rocky and I don’t water that flower bed very often which should be perfect for both bushes. I have four roses and a Rose of Sharon in the same border in front of our house. One of those roses will be history next spring as I have decided it was not what I expected and I really don’t like it that much. I’ll put it out on the street as free when I dig it out and replace it with a rose I do like. It’s a floribunda (Burgundy Iceberg – Jackson Perkins) and I prefer English tea roses. The point is: I will have a row of bushes blocking our house from the street from the mock orange through the small lilac. Lots of small flowers in between, like marigolds to repel the aphids.

I have an accidental strawberry patch out front as well. I planted one Hood strawberry in the ground as it did not fit in either of my two strawberry planters – and it took off, filling a 4×4′ of cleared ground.

I pulled a number of huechera (coral bells) out and a handful of geraniums. These have been sitting in a bucket of water waiting for a nice day to replant. I can move more of them in the Spring, but for now I wanted to see if I could get them to take root during the rainy season under our vine maple out back and along the shady south flower bed. I lost my blackcap raspberry this past summer. I’m sad about that: I love my raspberries and it is a native that the bees, spiders, and birds love (and me – did I mention I love my raspberries?). Not to worry: there are seedlings coming up where the old vine was and they will be fruit bearing by the time I run out of frozen blackcaps.

While I was in back, I remembered I wanted to move my Lenten rose to a shadier spot: it was growing under the yew tree but the yew tree inexplicably died last summer. It was a native yew, too. The loss of the yew left the Lenten rose in full sun, not a good combination.

On the subject of the yew that died, it came as a package deal my husband dug up in the National Forest (permits are free): a mountain maple (also dead now), a sword fern, and a plethora of poached egg flowers (limnanthes douglasii). The latter have taken over that flower bed but they only bloom early in the Spring and die completely back afterward. The sword fern is large enough that it shades my perennial fuschia. I threw half a package of Pacific Northwest wildflower seeds back there this year and to my great surprise, most of the seeds germinated. I’ve had wild mallow in shades of pink and white and now I had tall cosmos in shades of pink and white. I planted one of my hyssop plants where the Lenten rose ad been: it was potted and had been in the same garden area all summer, so I know it likes the lighting.

The dog dug it up right after I planted it and I cried and swore and replanted it, blocking the dog with bricks and big rocks.

The dog has smashed my poor English lavender to smithereens. I dug it up and planted it in a different location and threatened the dog’s life if he so much as sniffed it. Sometimes he takes me seriously. The rue was planted in the same sunny flower bed, root bound as it was. It dies back in the winter.

The mystery plant was planted into the ground. I don’t have a plant marker or tag for it. I know when and where I purchased it but I cannot remember what it is. I pawed through all my plant tags and labels – nothing. I didn’t even write it down.

I did deadhead a few peonies that already have blackened leaves. I cut the hops down. I pruned the small lilac away from my roses.

We have pulled all the tomatoes and peppers from the ground.

I am leaving the tender perennials and self-sowing annuals to spread their seeds. I will cut them back in the Spring. I will cut the cosmos down as they fade and cease to bloom. The Japanese anemones will have to be cut back as well as they fade – birds don’t feast on the seed heads. I need to dig up and separate irises, especially the invasive yellow Japanese flag irises. I had no idea when I planted them, but I also had no idea when I first planted fireweed in my yard. Fireweed is a native. And, oh, can it take over, much like our native milkweed. Someday e will die or sell this house and the person buying it will curses us for the milkweed.

And maybe the fireweed, too: I discovered a new fireweed plant amongst the wildflower seeds that germinated. I didn’t dig it up, but left it under the Camellia.

I left so many plants waving their seedy heads. We have lesser goldfinches, golden-crowned sparrows, and our usual juncos, chickadees, and song sparrows: they love the left overs of our garden, unruly as it seems. The grapevine ran down the length of the fence in both directions, providing us with a little more privacy from the little entomologist next door: she’s six and is always asking us to catch bugs for her. Her parents allow her to paw through their compost and we are often regaled by loud announcements of what she’s discovered in said pile: maggots, worms, native snails, slugs, non-native slugs, and more. We are hopelessly in love with the neighbor girl.

Blessed

This summer, while I was Home Alone, I had a recurring thought on our life: Blessed. Oh, not so much financially, but in friends, in the location where we live (the USA), and in being able to do things we need to and love to do.

For instance, we are blessed that we are retired and my husband could go spend several weeks with his younger sister taking care of his mother’s home and visiting her in the various clinics during her ordeal. We are blessed that it was all about the medications and that an ER doctor put it all together for us after eight weeks of fear and confusion.

We are blessed that my own scare with the heart issues this year was also just medications and high cholesterol.

I was blessed to be able to take a break during my days and just sit in the backyard. No bombs going off, no hurried packing, no running for our lives from invading armies: just a suburban backyard with flowers, birds, and insects. My heart went out on a daily basis to Ukraine and Afghanistan (women in particular in the latter). We have too much junk and I made several trips to a thrift store to donate what we no longer use, never used, and don’t need – all in good condition. I put things out on the corner of the street and advertise them as “free” and people just make off with the bounty because they need or want what I no longer need or want. I never even see it go.

It’s the peace that gets me. I read the news and take on all the emotions of people oppressed. Ukraine. The Congo. Fears of the Boko Haram. Somailia. Rohinga. Myanmar. Syria. Venezuela. If I was rich, I would pour my money into helping these refugees. I am not and all I can do is pray and acknowledge that I know their pain and suffering.

I worry about the insects. Bees and wasps and pollinators. I worry about the decline in birds. I watch my neighbors put poisons into the soil and into the air. I shrink a little bit every time. But my yard is a haven.

We feed squirrels, crows, birds, and probably a few Norway rats (as long as they don’t make a home in my home, I don’t care). We provide haven for multiple species of native bees and wasps as well as yellowjackets and bald-faced hornets (don’t get me wrong: the latter two tread a very thin line with me: if they are in my path of hand-weeding, they are GONE). I don’t use herbicides, I hand-weed everything.

My days as a conservationist are drawing to a close. I am sixty-five going on sisty-six. My knees don’t work as well as they once did. I have to have a plan to get back up when I go down. My wrists hurt. It doesn’t take much to make my back ache. My days of weeding by hand are numbered. I recently hurt my Achilles tendon by stepping wrong on a piece of wood the dog left laying around in the yard. Took a week before I could come down stairs normally.

And just today, I experienced a slow-motion backward fall out of the laundry room.

But I am blessed. I have medicare. No bones broke. I swallowed arnica pills and no bruises popped up. My ego was damaged, but I am blessed.

The yellowjackets dug a nest in one of my flower beds and I couldn’t get to their nest to kill them. I weeded carefully around their nest and they tolerated me. I am blessed. Last time that happened, I got stung three times and my dog got stung several more times. This time, I saw them first.

The thing is this: it’s easy to look at the dark side of life. I lean into the window of a car of a stranger, a Veteran, to say “Thank you.” His wife asks if I still have my son. I have to reply, “He’s buried in Pensacola.” And that took my breath away. I cried in my car, alone.

I am blessed: my oldest is still living and she came to visit me this summer. My son’s ex-wife sends me photos and videos of the three children they had together. My beloved daughter-in-law was able to sell a asset this autumn that put money in the kids’ college funds. I am blessed.

There are moments I don’t feel blessed. Quite a few moments when I don’t feel blessed. I despair. The world is so messed up right now, how can any one person feel like they are blessed? Why should I be chosen to be blessed? I don’t have an answer to that. My fortunes could change in a heartbeat. Anyone’s fortunes could change in a heartbeat.

That’s why we cling to that feeling of being blessed.