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The holiday season has started slowly for us. The household just was not ready for the onset of lights, decorations, and cheer! For instance: last year, I decided that if my neighbors were not going to play along, I was done with over 15 years of putting up outside lights and decorations. It takes a lot of work to do even the modest amount that I was doing, and so I boxed it all and dropped it off at a thrift store in January.

This year, 6 of my neighbors decided to put out Christmas lights in their yard or windows. Some of those neighbors have been subjected to my annual display and never once bothered to play along until I got rid of all the outdoor stuff. As Rodney Dangerfield would say, “I ain’t got no respect!”

We were late going out to get the tree, partly because of company over the Thanksgiving weekend, and – well, the loss of the family patriarch on my husband’s side. We would have gone into the mountains, but… Darn! The snow levels dropped to 3500 feet, making it impossible to get up to where wild noble firs grow. We were left with finding a tree lot with fresh trees or a U-Cut lot with wild-looking noble firs. There’s a tree shortage, and prices have skyrocketed. Oy vey, as my mother would have said.

We crossed that bridge with a very nice (but rather huge) noble that cost us $40 less than we expected to pay (whew! and thank God for short measuring tapes in the hands of those who charged us!).

Tree is up and the house (inside) is over-decorated as per usual. All the Santas, the snowmen, the ornaments, the Nativities (yes, I have more than one or two), and the wall hangings are up. We even hung our stockings, but it is a sad display without Harvey’s and Murphy’s stockings. Darn dogs!

Therefore, I made plans for us to attend an “Irish Children’s Christmas” at our favorite brew pub & tap house: Feckin’ Brewery.  We arrived early (no surprise) and locked in a first-class seat to watch the festivities. My grand plan was to stay long enough to see the Irish dancers, listen to some music, and watch the dog show (“best Christmas sweater on a dog”).

I dressed up these two over the years:

They were never very willing, especially not the dog on the right (Murphy, the German Wirehaired Pointing Griffon, who preferred to eat anything I tried to dress him up in). Harvey just looked sad, which was pretty much his default setting: looking sad and put-upon by his human family. Murphy always managed to look quite cheerful, especially as he demolished whatever costume I attempted to dress him up in.

There were seven dogs at Feckin’ today, which is possibly a record low. Usually, the number of dogs vs. children in the pub is about equal, but considering the Santa Claus draw, the children easily outnumbered the four (and three-) footed crowd. (Yes, one dog had only three legs. It gave me a doggie hug early on.) I tried to take photos, but the crowd was standing room only and I could not get close to the stage. Suffice it to say that the Standard Poodle should have won, the three-legged dog did well, and the dog that did win was a sweetheart.

Then Santa Claus arrived and even children who no doubt do not believe got into line to shake his hand and take a gift. Then, again, maybe all the little ones present believed, unlike my own children and grandchildren.

My daughter told her entire kindergarten class that Santa wasn’t real. That was in 1991. Yes, I am the mother that received THAT phone call. I assured the Kindergarten teacher that it was an anomaly, because *I* believe. Somehow, I never could pass that faith in the jolly old fellow on to my descendants. Just this last November, the four Alaska grands informed me that Santa is not real.

“How do you know that?” I asked. They couldn’t provide an answer, so I stand by my belief in Santa Claus.

I miss them so much at holiday time, and my Georgia grands as well. Hanging out at the pub amid a crush of young families, small children, and a few brave doggos is my compensation. I’m happy my husband was a willing conspirator (even though he also does not believe).

Oh, what are we to do with all these nay-saying folks whilst Santa and his elves are loading up the sleigh?

“Now, Dasher! now, Dancer! now, Prancer and Vixen!
On, Comet! On, Cupid! on, Donner and Blitzen!”

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Our daughter came to visit. She lives in Alaska these days, with her husband and their four children. They booked their trip for two weeks with one caveat: our son-in-law had to leave after one week (which was last Monday). The rest of the family leaves tomorrow. Therefor, we had our big dinner last Sunday.

I also had to work most of the time they were here, so we didn’t go on some of their Oregon Adventures (the zoo and Oregon Museum of Space and Industry -OMSI). Don did, however, teach the little ones how to play croquet – well, sort of. We don’t have a proper course in the backyard and some items are broken, so – well, you make do. Don taught htem how to use their opponent’s ball to help them win.

We hitched a ride in their rental van to the Oregon Aquarium in Newport on Sam’s last Saturday here.

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The aquarium was a huge hit. Sharks, halibut, crabs, starfish, flounder, sting rays – too many fishes and creatures to list.

Sunday, the 18th, we broke out the fine china and the heirloom silver. We had a real sit-down dinner with no “Little kids” table: turkey, mashed potatoes, rolls, black olives (Grandma always instigates a long session of children placing olives onto their fingers and popping them into their mouths), and cranberry sauce (jellied, of course!). There was a pumpkin pie chaser, topped with whipped cream (but not the real stuff because someone gifted us with the aerosol can type and we decided to use that).

Monday, the 19th, everything fell apart. My sister-in-law called me at work and advised me that her father – my husband’s father – had passed away. He simply did not put the oxygen tubes back into his nose, and he passed in his sleep somewhere between the evening of the 18th and the morning of the 19th. Life suddenly went sideways.

I closed the office and hurried home to tell my husband. We cried. We made phone calls, we made the painful decision to leave our daughter in Portland – in the middle of her vacation to see us – so we could travel to eastern Oregon to mourn with Don’s siblings. It.Was.Awful.

I worked part of the day Tuesday – long enough to tie up loose ends and make sure I was covered for Wednesday. Wednesday, we hit the road. We spent two nights with Don’s mother. Don’s brother was living with their father and found him on the morning of the 19th (“He looked so peaceful”). We had Thanksgiving dinner – impromptu – at the truck stop on the south end of La Grande (great food & service). Don and his older brother looked at their father’s collection of camouflage hunting clothing and tennis shoes. There’s nothing for women in Sonny’s estate, unless that woman is well-schooled in the art of fresh water fishing and deer/elk hunting. That was the sum of Sonny’s life: hunt. Fish.

Friday, we drove back to Portland in some of the worst weather I have ever had to drive in.

Let me take a moment here to tell you about driving. I’ve crossed over Cabbage Hill and Meacham in freezing fog and snow. It’s scary, even carrying chains. Semi truck drivers decide to pass just because one truck driver is going five miles an hour slower than the other – and they’re both going around 40mph, while you are going 70 or 80. You have to stomp on your brakes to allow some redneck trucker to pass the other trucker who is going five miles and hour slower (but you were going 20 to 30 miles an hour faster).

That’s not the scariest. The scariest is driving through the Columbia River Gorge on I-84 in the rain. The rain started when we passed the John Day Dam. It poured. Other drivers didn’t turn on their head lights nor their taillights. There were just blank spots in the rear-view mirror or in the headlights that meant there was a car – possibly -traveling there. From Hood River to Cascade Locks, the ruts in the freeway filled with rainwater. The water grips the tires and turns them sideways. The driver’s job is to keep the steering wheel straight. A car precedes you and the entire windshield is covered in water for 3 seconds. You just hang onto the wheel, steer straight and keep your foot off of the gas or brakes. It is terrifying, Anytime you hydroplane is terrifying: a trip down the Columbia River Gorge on I-84 is doubly that.

Add in the woman talking on her cell phone while navigating that section of road.

It is only by the grace of God that I don’t freeze up behind the wheel. I fall apart after I reach home and am safe. Damn. Headlights. Taillights. WTF is wrong with people that they don’t understand this simple rule: windshield wipers on = headlights and taillights on.

We’ve had two nights with grandkids since that wild excursion to reunite with family over loss. Croquet, soccer, fire, roasted marshmallows. Tomorrow is our last night together.

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Tonight we ended with grilled salmon (courtesy of our daughter) and roasted marshmallows. Tomorrow, these wonderful little people and their mother fly out, destined to their Alaska home. We will miss them.

We will miss their Georgia counterparts.

We miss out children and our grandchildren.

We miss our fathers” John T. (Jack) Wilcox in 2011 and Garald C. (Sonny) Presley in 2018.

That’s a hard “G” as in “Gary”.

 

 

Thirty eight years ago, my husband was called up by the United States Forest Service. He was an experience wildland firefighter and had worked for Oregon State Forestry for several years, starting during his high school years. He was an employee (currently laid off) of a local logging company. We needed the money. The Santa Anas were blowing.

From Wikipedia:

“The Santa Ana winds are strong, extremely dry downslope winds that originate inland and affect coastal Southern California and northern Baja California. They originate from cool, dry high-pressure air masses in the Great Basin.

Santa Ana winds are known for the hot, dry weather that they bring in autumn (often the hottest of the year), but they can also arise at other times of the year. They often bring the lowest relative humidities of the year to coastal Southern California. These low humidities, combined with the warm, compressionally-heated air mass, plus high wind speeds, create critical fire weather conditions. Also sometimes called “devil winds” in conjunction with Northern California’s diablo wind,[1][2] the Santa Anas are infamous for fanning regional wildfires.”

There were wildfires in Los Angeles in the autumn of 1980. Homes were built into the brush. There were no natural fire-lines. The hills were mountain mahogany, a plant that is pitch-filled and hot burning. There was poison oak, the smoke of which could poison lungs. The drought that has extended into 2018 had just begun.

Fire fighting is a scary and dangerous line of work. Fires can turn. Fires create their own weather and winds.  Fires jump boundaries.

One of my earliest memories as a child is of my mother sitting in the kitchen nook of a Forest Service house we lived in. She had the walkie-talkie turned on and was listening to the chatter about some fire my father was on. He was the Ranger, not the firefighter. She was clinging to the hope that he would walk away from the fire and return to us. I don’t remember whether she saw me or not, or whether she comforted me or not. I only remember the connection to her as she prayed Dad would come home.

1980. November. I wanted to have updates. I wanted to know he was OK. He was struggling with mountain mahogany and poison oak going up in flames. Men beside him failed when they inhaled the smoke from poison oak. He cursed the houses built into the brush.

I ate dinner with my father-in-law and my sister-in-law at some restaurant. He ate turkey sandwiches on the fireline.

1995. My mother died. My father, a veteran of 30+ years with the Forest Service, and my brother, took me on a ride up into the alpine levels of the Sierra Nevadas. We were struck by the California laws that didn’t allow home owners to cut trees or create a space where fire could be stopped. No: trees had to be left were they were. My father shook his head and predicted catastrophic results for this “environmental” strategy. He shook his head at the lack of salvage logging.

Agencies that fight fire are dependent on money from the Feds based on the previous fire year. If the year was light, the funds are light. A heavy year: more funds.

A fire fighter’s nightmare is having Federal funds cut off in the middle of a bad fire year. The safety of these fighters is on the line. My father. My husband. A friend who still fights fire. I get that people think there needs to be responsibility regarding how forests are managed out West. Sadly, they are from people who have no connection to the West or to firefighters.

I could give you a list of books to read. I could ask you to think about “what if my <insert relationship> was fighting fire, Or running from fire. Goddamit people. Animals. Livestock. Homes. People. #fuckpolitics

Yeah, I was all gung ho for the challenge this year, but as November 1st came and passed, I realized that there is no way I am going to attempt to write 50,000 words in 30 days this year. Nope, not happening.

I retire in less than 8 weeks. There’s still a lot to do to prepare for this momentous occasion, like applying for insurance on the open market between the first of November and the 15th of December. Oy vey.

Our daughter and son-in-love are coming to visit for two weeks. They come with four small human beings aged 5-10. I have to work during those weeks (except for one weekend and the four-day holiday). No way am I devoting time to writing when I could be spending it warping young minds! Maybe I will convince the grands to let me read A Series of Unfortunate Events to them!

I’m working through my 2014 novel, editing and so on. I have years worth of NaNoWriMo novels to sift through, edit, and revise. I don’t need yet another one on my plate.

That pretty much sums up November 2018.

How’s that for a catchy title?

It all started when a friend who lives in EnZed sent me an idea for Hallowe’en decorating – before I even had the decorations pulled out. It was of a pumpkin black cat lantern (you can see it here). Cute, but it involves real pumpkins and carving them. The pumpkins aren’t so bad, but I knew I was not going to want  to carve them or paint them, so I thought I’d just bypass all that.

Ha.

I bought a package of balloons and pulled out my trust bottle of fabric starch and the roll of black crepe paper. I’ve had both the starch and the crepe paper for about the same amount of time, which could be 20 or 30 years. The starch never gets old, amazingly.

 

I learned how to do this poor man’s papier maché when I was in the 5th grade. You cut the crepe paper into workable strips, wet it with the starch, and attach it to the balloon. Add layers, let dry, pop the balloon when dry & you have a form.

I’ve never tried to be so exacting with the cut out, however. But I drew my pattern on the balloons with a marker and set to work.

 

I used red and white crepe paper for the places where there would be “gaps” – where the pumpkin would be cut out. Then I added several layers of the crape paper in all the spaces that would not have and cut outs. This is a messy procedure and I had to lay out a plastic cover underneath the dripping balloons.

After a coupl of days drying, I finally figures out how to do the black around the cut outs.

 

I used tracing paper to sketch out what was to be cut out, then I cut a template that I used on flat tissue paper. Tissue paper is pretty much the same consistency as crepe paper, just not crepe-y. I held the black template to the balloon and used a paint brush to dab on the starch until the entire section was covered.

It came out reasonably well. I gave up on two layers as it was just too much of a hassle (what was that about not wanting to scoop out a pumpkin and paint it?). I spent a couple more days using short strips of crepe paper to get an even texture and color. Eventually, I decided the bottom was ready for me to pop the balloon and get on with body building.

 

The cat has to be able to stand flat, and the head needs to sit on the shoulders, so I cut out the top & bottom of the form (bad move). I cut the ears out of the bottom or the top (that’s those triangle things).

Attaching the head was not so easy. The form wanted to fold in with the wet layers of crepe paper. The head didn’t want to hold still while I tried to carefully glue the crepe paper on with starch. I did manage to attach the ears to the head and I repaired the bottom form by setting it over a bowl to dry out (again).

Tonight, it dawned on me to use hot glue to attach the head. I have black ribbon that is an inch wide, and by running hot glue over the back diagonally, I was able to glue the top and bottom of the form together! I even ran hot glue around the base to give it a little more firmness.

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He’s certainly got attitude, even though he’s much too fragile to set out on the porch this tomorrow (the rain will melt him).

My last steps were to pop the balloon in the head and cut a small hole in the back so I could insert a little battery powered tea light into the head. Should go without saying that I set the cat over another battery powered tea light.

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Sadly, there’s no way to preserve and store this creation, so I will be tossing it into the trash on All Saint’s Day.

Next year, I think I’ll just buck up and buy the pumpkins. I have the paint, after all.

 

I left church and organized religion sometime around 2005. I was just done. I loved my friends, loved church, hated “the ministry”. I was never called to “the ministry”, but I volunteered for a couple decades. My husband and I partnered in several things: running an outdoor ministry and ushering. It was a chance to be together after his odd work hours, and to take ownership of our faith.

I’m not going to hash out our decisions to leave. It’s counter-productive to list the sins of the church and the sins of leadership. You have to forgive and move on, and while you never forget, you should never dredge it all back up and enumerate the many things that went wrong. My husband left first, and I tried to stay on for another two years. It didn’t work. There are many reasons, but the final straw was being treated as if I were a newcomer to the church and a single woman. I left the church, a bitter taste in my throat and a promise that it would only be “a sabbatical”.

I have kept in touch with my friends from church. Once or twice a year, a small group of us that date back to “the cult” days get together for lunch and catching up. We laugh, pray, and watch our babies grow and have their own children. We joke about “the cult” – a brief stint for me, but a longer stint for some of them: we are all survivors of Wayman Mitchell and his Christian Fellowship Ministries. I’ll just let you research that on your own. It wasn’t God. I occasionally visited the church until about 2014 when I ceased to go entirely.

Back in May, my sweet friend asked me to go to a Mother’s Day luncheon at one of the splinter churches that came out of or former congregation. Happens that one of my dearest friends (and her husband) had taken up the reins of ministry at this new splinter church, and I hadn’t seen or talked to her in a few years. I agreed, but I made no commitment beyond that brief hour of hugging and meeting her grandson.

A couple weeks ago, the same sweet friend asked me if I’d like to go to a women’s retreat and room with her & one other friend. I usually say “no”, but I had just decided to retire at the end of the year (yay, me!) and I thought, “why not?”

It was a wonderful evening and day of ministry. There were a couple speakers who related more to the younger women, but two that resonated with me, in my current spiritual state. The weather was beautiful. I was among people who hold my very basic faith (albeit we might disagree politically, and I was grateful that no-one brought up those political differences the entire time).

The theme was seasons of life. The first speaker was a scientist who talked about how we can change our way of thinking, using scientific facts (I love this kind of stuff – science!). The next two were aimed at young women and mothers. My dearest friend spoke of seasons of life.

I am in the winter of my life, physically. I will be 62 on Friday of this week. Dia de los Muertos. Day of the Dead. November 2.

I am not in the winter of my life, spiritually. I died in my thirties. Those two decades  (30s & 40s) were some of the worst years of my life. I turned 50 and felt so free from death and the stark contrasts of winter. I felt like I entered into a Springtime of life. I had a time of blooming and warmth.

I feel like I am entering my summer as I turn 62. My body is failing me, but my mind, my spirit, my soul are alive and blooming. I see things from a different perspective. I am tolerant of other faiths. I am open and embracing of other walks of life. I have so much to accomplish before my final waltz down the aisle to meet Death.

I had a very good time, and I am still processing everything (an Introvert and HSP thing). I opened up to strangers. I felt accepted, but I am still wary. I hugged and teased a young woman who I half-raised when she was a toddler. I feel like God is bringing me full circle, but I can’t say if that means going back to church or now. I do know it means all id forgiven between good friends. I know I have been prayed over and loved, as I have prayed over and loved others.

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I love you, my friends. I may always be the odd one out – the one who celebrates Hallowe’en, does cosplay, and votes Independent – but I love you. (I’m the dork in glasses and dark hair in the middle.)

I have a group of friends who do genealogy for their families: we refer to the activity, and one particular genealogy site, as “The Vortex”. Once you start, you are inexorably sucked into the web of surnames, birthdates, marriages, deaths, wars, deeds done, and – especially for those of us in the New World – the mystery of our mixed DNA.

I mean, is there really a Cherokee Princess hidden in the 1800’s marriage records? Perhaps we’re Jewish? Was a slave hidden somewhere in our checkered past? Maybe, like the famed Alex Haley, we just want to know how we got here: what slavers, what tribes, what horrors?

I inherited a lot of previously researched material, hand-written or typed and carbon copied (yes, with real carbon paper). Old correspondence. Pages of family history that reads a lot like the book of Genesis: “so-and-so begat and he begat and he married her and they begat…” Cousins. Direct lines. Dates. Some word-of-mouth stories. Legends.

I tried to do a family tree when I was in the 6th or 7th grade, possibly the 8th grade. We came on the Mayflower, there was Native American blood (possibly a Canadian tribe), we fought in the American Revolution, John Brown of Harper’s Ferry was a distant cousin (but close enough to be uncomfortable), we possibly helped on the Underground Railroad, and the Scots side of the family was a latecomer (18060’s)to the USA.

Going through family names and working my way back through the reams of documents and the leaves of hints on Ancestry.com (being careful to weed out those that don’t match – you do have to watch those hints like a hawk!), I could find no Native American. I found English, Dutch, Irish, Scots. Ysseltyns, Van Ysseltyns, Van Esseltyns, and Van der somebody all down one line. Only Melrose (Scots) and Cusick (Irish) for the two heritages I was told my DNA consisted the most of (the most vociferous and latest additions to the family tree). I learned bits of Irish Gaelic from my father, bastardized by his distance from those who actually spoke the tongue. My mother recalled nothing of the Scots, but carried the surname for which we are proud: Melrose.

I can’t even find a tartan for Melrose, which was apparently a lowland Scots name as the Melrose Abbey (wherein Robert the Bruce’s heart is entombed. Think Braveheart).

Truth be told, I haven’t tried to cross The Pond to trace the family line when so much of my heritage is here in the Continental USA. And before I go any further, I am not a Nationalist. My people came here as immigrants, escaping religious persecution, and they established colonies. They married, had children, fought in the American Revolution (on the winning side), pushed westward to Illinois, and fought on the Yankee side of the American Civil War. Only one ancestor – to my present knowledge – participated in any war against Native Americans, and he fought in the Black Hawk War of 1832. He received a land plot for which I hold the original deed, signed by President James Buchanan.

All that aside, I took a DNA test to see where I came from. There’s no Native American. That bit about some Canadian Indian beauty just slipped right through the cracks. No color of any, truth be told: I’m strictly Northern European, English, Irish, Scandinavian.

Specifically: 92% England, Wales, Northwestern Europe. Most of that DNA is Wales & England. 3% Ireland & Scotland. 3% Germanic Europe (probably all those Dutch surnames). 2% Norway.

England, Wales, Scotland, Ireland – those are all countries that were invaded by the Normans (France, more or less) and the Vikings (the Danish, although one could speculate Norwegians as well, since Viking was not a nationality). Just within England, Ireland, Scotland, and Wales, there was a lot of raiding, raping, pillaging, and – well, there you are.

I’m just freaking pasty white. My ancestry is as old as this country has been a nation, yet I am still a newcomer here. We pushed as far as the Midwest, not migrating any further until the early 1900’s. We arrived on the Mayflower (and before that infamous ship), settled across Connecticut, migrated into Illinois.

I am so sorry I started looking into this family tree stuff again, because I am suddenly finding more “leaves” sprouting on the limbs. The Vortex is sucking me in. I want to trace every family line back as far as I can get before I pay for the International version and start looking overseas. It’s addicting. A little research and you feel the blood of all those women who came before you flowing through your veins.

If you don’t, you’re not truly doing the research. Those women – and men – birthed who you are.

(Sorry, not editing, so this is probably a bit rambling. Sue me.)