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I am a collector of sticks. It’s a terrible habit, I see an odd-shaped, twisty branch on the ground and I am compelled to pick it up and bring it home. I pick up rocks, too. And interesting baubles. Often, my sticks get incorporated into something creative, but sometimes they just get hauled back out to the yard and tossed into a pile of other sticks I never quite found time for.

That doesn’t narrow down my inventory. It just clears out the ones that no longer spark a bit of “Hmmm…What can I do with that?” or “Wow, that looks magical!”

Take Mr. Leprechaun, for instance.

I painted him years ago, but never quite found the *right* place to display him. He doesn’t stand very well. Last week, I decided he’d look mighty fine hanging on my vintage mirror (which is actually a piece of something greater – I only found the mirror). A little wood glue and – TADA! (Yes, that is an old locker. I stole it from my son when he left home.)

The Dragon and her dragonets took a lot more work to put together than the Leprechaun – he’s just painted on a naturally curved piece of wood.

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Her legs and curves are a nice piece of wood, but her head is polymer clay. The nest is a half-shell of a large oyster, decorated with beads. The dragonets are polymer clay, but their shells are dyed silk moth cocoons. Beadwork added as decoration.

Again, she was created long ago and I never could quite figure out how to display her properly. Shutting her in a box never seemed right after all the work that went into painting, gluing, and imagining.

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Small cup hooks & a ribbon solved my problem.

All well and good, but the hardest one to deal with has been the shrunken head. I mean, how do you display a shrunken head?

How do you make a shrunken head in the first place? Carve a vague face into an apple and hang it up to shrivel and dry.

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The results can be quite amusing. I highlighted the head with flesh-colored paint, beads for eyes, and the seed pod of a tree peony painted to look a bit like a joker’s cap, glued to a stick wrapped with fake vines.

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I added the praying mantis and the pink blossoms this year. Don’t freak out: I had nothing to do with the death of the mantis: I found it in that state. I expect she laid her eggs and died of old age and exhaustion. I’ve had her preserved in a wee box for years until a week ago when I decided not only do I need to clean out things around here, but I needed to add her to the shrunken head. She’s heavily coated with clear nail polish as are the flowers (but I forget what plant they are from, only that they stayed pink when dried).

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I hung the shrunken head above my computer desk where she can smile at me while I work.

I used a tiny carabiner clip and a cup hook, then a pin to keep her hanging straight.

My husband is going to freak when we move out of this house and we have to fill all the holes in the wall. I’m like a sixty-year old teenager when it comes to hanging things on the wall…

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It’s not that unusual to have flowers in the Portland metro area by Valentine’s Day, but it never ceases to amaze and bless me when the first flowers peek out of the mud and from under the cover of old flower heads and un-raked leaves.

Don’t get me wrong: we try to keep the lawn leaf free over winter, but there are some advantages to leaving the leaves in the flower beds until early Spring, and most of those advantages are beneficial to invertebrates and insects. I’m not so fond of the local invertebrates (slugs are a garden pestilence in the Pacific Northwest), but I am extremely fond of the insect life harbored under those nasty oak leaves. I haven’t raked them out of my flower beds just yet (next week probably – I do have to stay a step ahead of the native slug population and the best way is to not provide them with hiding places).

We had two fifty-degree sunny days this past week. I got out and dead-headed all the plants I didn’t get to last Autumn. Again, I deliberately didn’t deadhead some things as they were still providing seeds to the birds. We gained a new sparrow family over the winter: the golden-crowned sparrow. I’m certain that the stalks of seed heads played a huge role in keeping them here over the winter. I also kept the insect suet well supplied and the hummingbird feeders full, although there were days we were lax in refilling the black oil sunflower seed feeders. In a word: squirrels.

We welcome the squirrels and even have a peanut feeder for them (and the scrub jays), but they are greedy and voracious… and obese.

Today was a good day. I’ve been under the weather, down, and feeling disjointed. That’s good for me creatively, but not good for me spiritually. Weeks of rain take their toll and being a confidant for struggling friends also wears on the heart (but I wouldn’t change that). I’ve managed to take control of my art studio and have been creating like a whirling dervish, but I *NEED* the out-of-doors to give me a reboot.

I was up early. I wanted to go walking, but I’d forgotten to lay out clothes the night before and didn’t want to wake my husband up (note to self: always lay out clothes the night before because I get up early and he sleeps late). I did eventually go on that walk. Something about the act itself that clears the mind, fuels the imagination, restores the soul… and leaves all the muscles drained for days afterward. The price we pay.

I finished dead-heading the garden afterward, having already accomplished half of that the other day. I made mental note about which flower garden spot to start weeding in on our next pleasant day. I put out nesting material for the birds.

Then I picked flowers from my garden, the very first blooms! Granted , I only picked four half-open daffodils, two stems of Forsythia, and a very vibrant wallflower (Erysithium linifolium). – but the first vase!

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(That’s a stock photo from Pixabay of a wallflower like mine).

So – Happy Valentine’s Day.

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I got to thinking about Mr. Tack today. I can’t say why, but maybe it came out of a conversation I had with my cousin’s wife about buying dogs from breeders. We both have done that and will continue to do so. We both believe in rescue dogs, too. What we don’t believe in is 1) puppy mill puppies and pet store puppies and 2) people who try to guilt you because you purchase a dog from a reputable breeder. There are reasons people shop for and purchase dogs from breeders.

There is no excuse for purchasing a dog from a puppy mill or through a pet store. Rescue a dog from a kill shelter. Rescue a dog from any shelter. Research and find a purebred or hypoallergenic breed and find a reputable breeder to buy from. Never let your dog go, even if you move away. This is a lifetime commitment (the dogs’ life. Or cat. Or horse. I’m guilty. Never again.

So, back to Mr. Tack.

Someone abandoned him in Paradise Valley, Nevada, in the mid-1960’s. We were between dogs. Our childhood pet had been hit by a car and killed: Butchy, the dog of seriously unknown parentage. Butch was a legend and not a dog to be replaced easily.

Mom was a dog lover and needed a dog.

Mr. Tack was a pestilence in the small berg of Paradise Valley. Dad was the Forest Ranger who occasionally went out there and connected to the residents and ranchers. He was apprised of the abandoned dog (this was during the 1960’s before most rescue animal groups existed). He coaxed the dog into his truck and brought him home to surprise our mother, who loved small dogs.

Fifty years later, I am surprised they knew Tack’s registered name, but they did. He was AKC registered Miniature Schnauzer, salt-and-pepper in coloring. There were no microchips and anyone could deny they still owned the dog, so he was basically quite abandoned. Mom welcomed him with open arms, but he was traumatized and did not adjust to our family life.

Dad returned him to the wild, abandoning him just like his previous owner. What else did you do in those days? Go shoot the dog? Well, yes. That’s what you did. It was the mid-1960’s.

Mom moped for about two weeks before she decided she wanted to give that dog another try. She couldn’t just leave him for the coyotes to finish off or some rancher to shoot him. He needed to come home to us. He needed to be Mom’s dog.

It was months before we saw any change in him. He moped. He didn’t bark. He just hung around.

Then, one incredible night, he howled.

I don’t remember if it was dark or day, only that he’d been out in the yard for a while and suddenly there was this long howling that started and drew off, then started again. Who called him in? I don’t know. One of us hurriedly begged him inside the house lest a neighbor complain. Oh, and they did – eventually.

It was that day or night that Mr. Tack declared us his family and my mother as his person. He barked. He howled. He talked to Mom.

“Arrr rarr roww rarr arr”

She talked back. They became best of friends.

Tack became one of us kids and I could go on about his exploits. He was funny, short-sighted, stubborn, and incredibly loyal. He got out “once in a blue moon” and ran the neighborhood (and my mother scolded anyone who called to complain our dog was in their yard because she was frantic to bring him home).

He left me high and dry after a summer of 4-H obedience training. County Fair 101: your mother’s dog will decide to fall asleep in the show ring. Thanks, Mr. Tack.

He tolerated every cat we introduced to the family but ate every lizard we tried to bring home and tame. He attacked the garbage man without fail. He bit anyone entering the house unannounced, including my father. He bit me when he was tired of me trying to get him to go hiking. He was a crotchety old man.

Mom paid to have him groomed but Dad occasionally disagreed and attempted to groom him: he ended up looking sort of like a lion. He regularly nipped at his regular groomer, Mrs. Butterfield. In retrospect, I would have bitten her, too.

When my mother was frustrated with one of us kids she’d call out, “Terry Jackie Denny Tacky”. Tacky was one of us.

He died after I left for college and I do not know where my parents buried him. I know my mother cried. He was smart, funny, obnoxious, vocal, purebred, abandoned, rescued, and a sibling.

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My best friend with Mr. Tack circa 1966.

He died in the mid-1970’s. I have a soft spot for Schnotzers (Schnauzers).

 

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February Aches… and Joys

I have been so achy and tired the past three days – so much so that I am thankful I do not have a job to report to because I truly would have just called in sick. I’m not sick, I just hurt everywhere and I’m so-so-so tired. I do not have an autoimmune disease but days like these halp me empathize with those who do (oh, and my thyroid is fine – I have it checked annually because of these episodes of pain and weariness).

January was a good month: I got up early to pray 5 days out of 7 every week. I spent 30-90 minutes each time communing with my God, telling Him/Her about my people, seeking wisdom, direction, inspiration, and praying for peace – not just my peace, but political peace, peace in this broken world, and peace in the hearts of family, friends, and strangers.

I accomplished quite a bit of decluttering throughout January. I started rereading a favorite saga (The Circle of Ceridwen by Octavia Randolph). I pruned the grapevine but forced myself to do no other gardening as February is often the coldest part of winter for us here.

And then.. Sunday morning. I slept until almost noon. I dragged all day.

I wasn’t much better Monday, except I managed to get out and buy necessary groceries and pay bills. I also managed to drop my debit card in the local grocery store – I didn’t notice until I was a a parking lot away at the liquor store. UGH. I had to hoof it back to the store and check at the Customer Service desk where, thankfully, my card was waiting for me. And hoof it back to the liquor store because I’m not driving across the parking lot when I can walk.

Last night, I fell into the easy chair and zoned into the television to finish a Norwegian series on Netflix (Ragnarok, a modern tale about a modern Thor, dubbed in English).

This morning, I got up early – and sank into the same easy chair only to fall asleep praying.

I felt so guilty. I’ve let God down. I haven’t powered through with my early morning prayer routine. I could not keep the vigil with Jesus (which is the argument the Church uses to make us feel guilty about our prayer practices – trust me, I “came of age” in one of those churches – hence the guilt).

Later, sipping coffee and scrolling Facebook (even though I told myself I was taking a break from social media), I stumbled across this meme.

falling asleep

Tell me that didn’t accidentally happen.

Thank you, Abba.

 

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We met a couple at one of our favorite Brew pubs this evening and I think they changed my life. Well, maybe. Kind of an exaggeration. I just needed a really good intro line – and did I get you? If I did, please bear with me, because this is important in the flow of life.

The brew pub we met at is about 12 miles out of our small suburb city, in a rural setting. This couple said they were from our neighborhood in our suburb city, which makes it a neighborhood thing. Trying to follow directions we discovered they live just five houses from us along two streets (city blocks do not apply here). I recognized their house by description immediately: the Rose Lady lives there.

I met her many years ago when I was walking Harvey and I even recall her inviting me into her house. She had (has) an amazing 6×6′ rose garden in the middle of her lawn and the day I met her, she was bitching about her grandson not coming along to mow the lawn as promised. I commiserated with her as she was obviously quite old and needed someone to take care of her yard for her: white haired, short, frail. I fell in love with her.

The next time I had any contact with a person at that address was at a yard sale where the granddaughter was selling thins – and she assured me that the Rose Lady was quite fine & healthy.

Fast forward to tonight and our conversation with a couple we just met at Bent Shovel Brewery and their confession that he is the grandson of said Rose Lady and they just moved in to take care of her 98-year old self. She’s still quite feisty and still gets around pretty well albeit with a walker.

Small world. I have prayed every time I have passed that house: “Please let the Rose Lady be healthy and loved”…

When I was 13 we moved to Ely, Nevada. I had a hard time making friends, but I had my trusty blue Hawthorne bicycle that I rode in figure eights in front of our house for hours. There was a tiny old Basque widow who lived two doors over from us: Mrs. Soforino. She grew roses in her front yard. Amazing roses. she would cut a bowl-sized bloom off of one of her roses, call me over, and hand me the rose.

“You give-a this to your mother, yes? Tell-a her she’s-a beautiful.”

More than once. Many times. I fell in love with Mrs. Soforino.

When I was a senior in high school, she died. I’d never been to the funeral of a person I knew but here was Mrs. Soforino’s funeral at the local Catholic church during the school day.

I’m not Catholic, but I had a best friend who was and had attended many masses. I figured I could do this for Mrs. Soforino for all the roses.. I skipped school. They held mass and then six men carried a beautiful gold  casket down to the alter and out of  the church. My nemesis, the vice-principal of my high school was one of the pall bearers.

I didn’t stop there. I had purchased a single red rose and I followed the funeral procession to the graveside burial where I handed the rose to the son of the dead woman and hugged him. We cried. His sister hugged me. The vice principal shook my hand and whispered that he was her great grandson and I had an excused absence for the day – no questions asked.

I never learned the Rose Lady’s name. She has long reminded me of Mrs. Soforino and I have prayed for her over the years. I felt a connection, you know? Hey, maybe you don’t know – but you should. The elderly – our Elders – are our heritage, be they relatives or not. I was fifteen when I fell in love with Mrs. Soforino. I couldn’t work in a senior home, but I can love seniors. They brig so much to our lives, related or not.

The Universe gave me an answer tonight” the Rose Lady is 98 and well taken care of. I’ve become acquainted with her grandson and his wife and they have promised me that I will be invited to her funeral whenever that should happen (hopefully not for another 5 years or so). They have pledged to take care of those roses out front.

If I told you they want to retire in the same small town in Eastern Oregon as we do, would that not also be amazing?

Yup. Same goals. Same old Rose Lady in common. The Universe is amazing. God is amazing.

Maybe Mrs. Soforino just sent me a Gift of Passage.

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I finally tackled the Christmas tree. It’s always a huge project because I am, among other things, a bit OCD about how things get packaged, marked, and stored. I have pared down my decorations, but it is still a process. We also live in a house that is a little under 1100SF with very little extra storage room so I have to be creative about how I store things.

Fortunately, we lived in much tighter spaces when the children were growing up and I’ve learned how to be very creative with storage.

Unfortunately, we have amassed more possessions since the children moved away (and some of what we store is theirs, as yet unclaimed).

I got the Christmas things all put away and tucked neatly into the stairwell closet (formerly the Harry Potter Room when our grandchildren were littler)). I was sweaty and dirty by then, but on a roll.

I climbed the stairs to the loft and looked at the space we call the attic (really more of a crawl space that is about 10×6′ and 4′ tall in the center). Out came everything and I pushed all of my husband’s model railroad boxes into the very back. I’ve left those boxes out for the past seventeen-plus years even though I had room in the attic – maybe one day, he’ll build that N-scale model railroad.

Or maybe not. I decided to go with “not anytime soon” and cleared the loft of all those cluttery boxes (is “cluttery” a word?). Knee pads are essential when working in the attic as the entrance is an old window frame from before the house was added onto and you have to crawl over the sill. My knees aren’t what they were when I was twenty. Neither is my back. Or my shoulders.

I got that done and everything else put back into the attic as well. Now I have more space for books in the loft (I promise I am going to thin those out this year – I already have a large bag in the back of my car to take to the paperback exchange store).

The last thing I did was to haul the Fairy box into my studio. I knew what was in it: cassettes of 1980’s Country music. I haven’t looked at it since I brought it home in 2011, after Dad died. It’s a little cobwebby. And it is full of cassettes, but not exactly the genre of music I thought.

There are Country albums, some Western, some Tex Ritter, and some ‘mix’ tapes, but there are a lot of duplicate Clancy Brothers collections, Reader’s Digest Christmas collections, Henry Mancini, marches, and other dubious entertainment collections.

Also tucked inside was a cassette inside a white envelope with my mother’s name on it, written in my Aunt Donna’s handwriting: Mary Lou.

Now, I happen to have this fancy cassette-to-mpv converter my father bought in March of 2011. He bought it for me, so I could convert a cassette interview of my Gramps (his father) to a digital format. I’ve never done it. I’ll get back to that in a minute.

I got the mini cassette player out and dropped in Mom’s tape (after removing the cassette of Gramps that I have never converted) and hit the play button. It’s a recording of my mother’s mother’s Memorial Service. Grandma Em, as she is affectionately known by her descendants, passed in 1991.

Actually, it is only half the Memorial Service as someone forgot to flip the cassette over mid-scripture, but half a service is more than I had before. And half a service prompted me to see if I could figure out how this converter worked.

Let’s see: Dad bought it in 2011… That was several versions of Microsoft ago…Hmmm. Well, what the heck? I put the CD-Rom into my drive and waited. And I’ll be darned if the thing isn’t compatible with Windows 10 all these years later!

Guess what I will be doing? Finally converting that interview with Fritz Wilcox (Gramps) to a digital format. And figuring out how to pass some lovely Reader’s Digest music compilations on… Barbara Mandrell, anyone?

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Don’t Judge Me

It has been a year since I retired and I wrote – what? Three posts is 2019? I have no idea. It doesn’t matter. I was in the business of decompressing and finding the things I love to do. I took a very long break.

Now it is 2020 and I have no resolutions to post. I did find a word for 2020: “discover”: uncover,reveal,disclose,manifest; find, espy, descry; detect, unearth; realize. See: DISCLOSURE, VISION, KNOWLEDGE, LEARNING.

2019 was not a bad year. I raised crows. Well, OK, I didn’t raise them, but I befriended the newest clutch and I think they have started to trust me. Sadly,  had to quit feeding them for a time because the Avian Pox made a run through the colony and I didn’t want to spread it to other birds.

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Avian pox is that ugly growth around the eye and beak and that black thread-like thing coming out of the crow’s mouth. This bird is most certainly dead now.

We remodeled our 1930 Cape Cod bungalow: windows, doors, siding. It looks wonderful.

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The best part of last year was getting my husband to travel – by air. He has a hard enough time traveling by car or rail, but this year he was forced to fly. Twice. Or is that four times (to and fro, to and fro?). He’s only flown once before and that was pre-9/11. Luckily for us, we got random TSA Prechecks on three of those flights, so he only had to endure the TSA lines, scans, and shoe removal once. Yay for TSA precheck (and, no, I do not pay for it. If I flew more, maybe. It’s not worth the cost for as much as I fly).

We flew to Pensacola, Florida, in November. Our son & his family live nearby and my husband has never met two of those grandchildren. The highlight of that trip was the combined birthday gift we prepared for the two kids who had birthdays on either side of our visit: a camel ride at Emerald Coast Zoo ( a must see if you are ever in the area – it is actually an animal rescue).

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“Best present” said the nine year old.

We also spent a week in Phoenix with our daughter at Christmas. Lots of hiking and a ride on the Maricopa Live Steamers model train and Christmas light show. Get there an hour before they open if you want to do this – it was crowded!

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The sum of this all is this: I didn’t blog (much) in 2019. I was busy. I was decompressing. I didn’t feel like my words matter.

I will try to do better in 2020.

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