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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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Dear Brian

I am listening to Emmylou Harris and Dolly Parton collaborate on “Coat of many Colors” as i write this. Recently, I read an article about how our dental health is determined by our poverty. I feel compelled to write you (even though I know you will never read this) about that very subject. In our last communique, you wrote that my daughter/niece had “dental issues that could have been easily fixed” in her youth. Then you closed the door to further communication as if this very subject ruined her life.

You have not raised children.

You have not studied genetics.

You are a self-made highway engineer and you not only make good money but you have good insurance. You have forgotten your own parent’s struggle to make sense of this world. You think because you know us now in our comfortable middle age that we are – or were – well to do, or at least have/had great dental insurance.

I get your misunderstanding of the situation. The media paints it that way. But bear with me.

I was not born into poverty. My parents were lower middle class. We had government insurance but that insurance did not cover vision or dental so well. And my siblings and I had dental issues. We inherited them from my mother’s side of the family, not from my father. No amount of flouride would change the outcome, but let us make this clear at the beginning: there was no flouride in the water of Winnemucca, Nevada, in the 1960s. We kids were on our own. We had a good family dentist – my best friend’s father. Thirty years later, I would have dentists look into my mouth only to declare what an artisan had filled my teeth in my childhood. Doc did the best with the technology available. I was one of his exemplary students. If he said “Floss”, I flossed.

My sister never did take care of her teeth. She lost them all in her mid-twenties. Her children developed problems early on, most commonly “bottle teeth” . You should read that.

Chrystal came to us with a mouth of decay. I was in my late thirties, early forties. I was dealing with the decay of my own teeth brought about by generations of poor dental insurance. I had good dental hygiene by then, but the genetics that formed this family were in full force. And I had Chrystal. I took her to dentists and paid as much as I could per annual deductibles. I stood between her and dentists she didn’t like. I held her hand through extractions that put her under. I watched my own dentist wince as she jerked in pain from procedures. I scheduled appointments with different clinics, hoping one would connect with her and her pain – and work with us financially. In the end, it was Chrystal who decided she wanted nothing more to do with the dentists we sent her to.

She chose decay and pain over what we could offer. We could only offer what we could afford. American insurance doesn’t recognize dental health as integral to overall health despite the studies.

I am 63 years old. I have my Wisdom teeth but I am missing ten molars from my jaw. I have spent countless hours in a dentist’s chair- of my own accord – having my teeth fixed. I did this mostly on my own, after I left my parents’ insurance. They could not pay for the work I needed. It’s merely a fact of life. You think that Chrystal’s dental issues could have been “easily taken care of”. I know you to be someone who has never been a parent or lived blow the poverty line. Ask my other children. I only hope they inherited their father’s teeth = not mine.

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We have been “suffering” a May heat wave here in the northern Willamette Valley. It’s been dry, sunny, and warming up into the upper seventies (Farenheit) – and even close to that lovely 90° mark. The heat doesn’t bother me, but this early in the season, it brings out the worst allergens (Aah-CHOO!). So it is with welcoming arms I greet the upcoming cooler, rainy days.

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The flowers are blooming steadily now. I planted two roses, a hops rhizome, and sowed seeds of naturalized wildflower mixes (Renee’s Garden seeds). Oh, and lots of nasturtiums. My husband put in the vegetable garden for the first time in three years, and I can’t wait to make home-made catsup with those plump Roma-style tomatoes in the Autumn.

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I have been tinkering at yard art. This is a beer bottle stuffed into one of those corn cob holders for feeding squirrels (they don’t work, or I have picky squirrels who prefer the easier pickings of the bird feeder).

Speaking of the bird feeder, I changed things up a bit with bird baths and feeders. We now have two small platform feeders in the backyard, plus the two regular feeders in front. We feed black oil sunflower seeds, suet+mealworms, and mealworms with sunflower seeds in the back. In addition, there are five hummingbird feeders and now, five bird baths of varying size. There’s so much I could write about the birds that come to our little haven to drink, bathe, eat, and find nesting material. We have juncos, song sparrows, spotted towhees, house finches, bushtits, cinnamon-backed chickadees, black-capped chickadees, downy woodpeckers, scrub jays, and robins. We also get Eastern fox squirrels and Eastern greys.

But let me tell you about our friend, Corvie, so named because he belongs to the family Corvidae. I moved the bird baths to the back yard to discourage his antics, but he has learned that we no longer have big dogs loose in the yard, and his antics have spread to all five bird baths. Usually, he sticks to the one out front, which is nice because today I found a dead mouse soaking in the water and I was able to merely hose it off into the daylilies.

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This was the mess left after he “washed” a hamburger bun in the water. he washes all of his food, much like a raccoon. The dead mouse asn’t the worst: I’ve found dead chicks of other bird species soaking in the water. Currently, he’s finding peanuts somewhere and we have peanut shells floating in some of the bird baths. I change the water daily so the other birds can have a go at it.

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I was recently contacted by a cousin in Florida, who is helping out a distant relative in Maryland. We all tie into my great-great-great-great grandfather, Thomas Force Palmer. The cousin who called me is descended from my great-great-great grandfather, Joseph Snow Palmer. This has opened a whole new resource of family history. I am so excited to learn more about my family’s heritage.

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For Mother’s Day, we hiked a short section of the Salmon River Trail out of Zigzag, Oregon. The couple we hiked with have health issues, so it was a very leisurely walk amongst the old growth fir, cedar, and hemlocks. The trail is heavily used, which is not the kind of trail my husband and I usually hike (we go out there with the wild animals and no people). Lots of dogs on the trail – but we did not meet a single dog owner who was disrespectful of other people.

Left to right each row: false Solomon’s Seal, Hooker’s Fairybells, Indian plum (faded), Oregon oxalis, salmon berry (edible but not tasty), Scouler’s corydalis, yellow violet, and one giant trillium (I put my boot into the photo for comparison).

In addition to the wildflowers, it is a wonderful fairy world of roots, ferns, mosses, lichens, stumps, and eco-systems growing on the surface of dying ecosystems: downed trees providing the nutrients for more trees growing out of the timber.

We stopped in Sandy, Oregon, for a brew.

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If you know me, you know I like my beer. Boring Brewing Co. used to be located in Boring, Oregon (sister city to Dull, Scotland). They lost their lease and had to start over in a new location. Same great beer (their hot Scotch ale – pictured – is wonderful).

Tomorrow, the rains return and weather will become normal: cool, cloudy, wet. That gives me a little reprieve from the hay fever (until the next heat wave). It also means that my peonies won’t simply all bloom at the same time and fade quickly, but they will bloom slowly and linger. I love peony season.

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Back story: we stopped at a little brewery out in the country after we cut our Christmas tree last December. While we were there, three lovely women in jodhpurs came in to sit by the fire with us and chill. What are jodhpurs? Only the kind of pants one wears when riding “English” or huntseat on a horse. Their very presence said “horses nearby”. I happen to be incredibly horse crazy although I’ve only ridden western and I haven’t owned a horse for 18 years.

Flash forward to about a month ago, same place, but we were sitting with friends. “K” was lamenting how she wished she could smell horses in a barn again and how she’d passed a lovely looking barn/arena on the way to the brewery. And – serendipitously – two of the same women came wandering in to chill, wearing their riding clothes. I made the bold move of edging in on their table and introducing my friend. We had a great conversation about horse rescue, volunteer opportunities, and “just come to the barn to see the horses”. My friend has an autoimmune disease and I hoped this would be a great low-impact opportunity for her.

Sadly, she never followed through. On the other hand, I started following the rescue on Facebook: Arabian Horse Rescue & Education. I kept forgetting to call to see if I could come to take photos to use for artwork, but still – I was following them. The other day, they posted a shout out for volunteers to help bathe the horses and my husband suggested I follow up on it. I messaged the rescue to see if I could come in at the same time and take photos and the answer was “YES!”

I was there by 8:30 this morning, camera in hand. Most of my photos are sketch quality only – just general outlines of horses & horse heads.

Arabs are so inquisitive and have such unique faces that it is hard to not fall in love with their profiles. I tend to like other breeds more, but even I fall for these gorgeous dish-shaped heads and pointed ears. They’re around 14-15 hands, which is not a large animal in the horse world. Intelligent, loyal, and sometimes a bundle of nerves, these particular animals have come out of abusive situations and auction houses (where the other bidders are from the meat industry – in short, they were animals headed to slaughter for no more reason than someone decided they couldn’t keep the horse any longer or they never learned how to handle it in the first place.

I haven’t got to the best part – her name is Amirah and she has the same calm persona my horse did. I had a little Arab/Appy that we passed on to a friend when we moved into town with the understanding that I could come visit Whisper when I wanted to. They kept her a couple of years before giving her away to an unknown party and I have no idea what her fate was. It kills me.

Amirah is thirty-ish, the same age Whisper would be if she is still alive somewhere.

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This is how I met her. That battered old face hanging over the stall wall, just asking to have her ears scratched. She was waiting her turn to be groomed and bathed, calm, serene, and an absolute love.

She looks pretty amazing for an old girl, and a lot better than she looked when AHRE saved her.

I am fully, completely, irreversibly, in love. Best of all – she is so photographic!

I left after an hour, my hands smelling like horse (best smell in the world) and my heart full. I’ll go back. I’ll be donating to the upcoming gala to help fund the rescue. I am not in a position to own a horse right now, but I can foster one of these babies (or help foster). I feel like God opened the door for me to begin to understand what my mission here is truly about – at least partially.

I’m also very grateful to a husband who suggested I step out of my comfort zone, get up early, and just go.

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It’s cool and getting ready to rain right now, but for the past three days I have taken my coffee outside to sip while I watch the world around me grow. Some mornings were a tad chilly, but a towel on my bench and a blanket over my knees, hot coffee in hand – who cares as long as the sun peeps out from behind clouds?

The birdsong this morning drowned out the ambient sounds of the city (the distant freeway, traffic on the street beyond our fence, the drone of airplanes): “Cheery Up! Cheery Up!” sang robins delineating their territories and calling their mates. The familiar “Brr-Whirr” of the Spotted Towhee told me that they are nesting nearby.

The past few days, a male Anna’s hummingbird has been doing it’s dangerous aerobatics over our heads: it flies thirty feet up into the air, hovers, then makes an arcing dive. Ten feet above the ground, it abruptly changes directions back toward the heavenlies and the wind through its wing feathers creates a loud “CHIRP!” overhead. He’s courting a mate, but often she’s nowhere in sight. (It is a startling sound if you don’t know it is coming and he lets loose his miniature version of a sonic boom just over your head.)

My computer is being crazy slow today and my photos are not loading properly.

IMG_5745I’d love to show off the new flower bed I created in front of the house, where I have planted my rose (which is showing no signs of life!), a Rose of Sharon, and left room for many more perrennials while cutting down the need for lawn mowing. Purple anemones, Vinca Minor, hens-and-chicks, above the wall, Lady’s Mantle and orange daylilies below, on the city right-of-way.

Along the back fence, I pulled and cut and swore at English Ivy that has entrenched itself over the past 15 years (the last wild spot in our yard). I’ve weeded and planted – no more than three hours per day (my mind wants to keep doing but my hands and back rebel – especially my hands! – and I have to give the work up. Still, I have accomplished more in April of this year than any single year in the past – yay for retirement and the freedom to be out there when the air is clear and the day is still cool enough to work!

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The crazy Camellia is over-laden with blooms, a cacophony of pretty pink-and-yellow flowers, new green leaves, dying yellow leaves, and messy wet fallen blooms. I hate it when it looks like this, the limbs drooping low with all the weight and the slippery mess underneath.

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My husband broke my garden bench (it was rotting through). I’m excited about this corner because I have Comfrey that will try to push past its boundary of weird metal grating – a perfect bee flower I have to gold in check because it *is* invasive and it can cause caustic reaction to skin. I planted a blue elderberry to the right of the comfrey (behind the yew), a blue huckleberry just to the left of the white grate and a red flowering currant behind the bench. COLOR! (The black plastic is killing the nasty Oregon Grape). I plan to encourage the forget-me-nots to fill in a neglected space – but I also love them right where they are in this photo, blooming bright blue and covered in mason bees.

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It looks sweet and tiny here, inside its cage, but that broad-leafed plant will be six feet tall by mid summer: Comfrey.

I love this time of year, my hands in the dirt, the small insects and invertebrates (except the slugs!), and the myriad of birds who come to visit. Mesmerized by diamond-dew drops in the early morning, I sip my coffee and know I will not get anything done inside the house on such a day.

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