Friday, December 31, 2010

The moodiest of holidays

I've mentioned more than once on these pages that the New Year's holiday is my favorite of them all. It's a time that always moves me deeply, moves me in a spirit of reflection, remembrance, and renewal. A time for taking stock.

Yesterday I watched and listened to many, many versions of "Auld Lang Syne" on YouTube, trying to find the one that best fits the way this holiday makes me feel. This one, by Daniel Cartier, does it beautifully:

I wish for each of you whatever it is you personally need in the upcoming year to put your life into a balanced, peaceful state, and I hope that each time you take stock of your own life, you find yourself more richly blessed than you were the last time you counted.

Happy New Year to all of you who bring me so much joy.

Saying goodbye to 2010...

...and kissing it, gently, right on the lips.

At the end of 2009 I was unhealthy and depressed. I had retired at the end of July but couldn't relax enough to enjoy it. I'd been told I needed parathyroid surgery, then subjected to test after test that showed maybe I did need the surgery, maybe I didn't, until I felt like a human guinea pig. My blood pressure was higher than ever, and there was constant pain in my legs and knees, pain so intense that longevity was not something I aspired to.

Now, at the end of 2010, I feel like a different person. The surgery never materialized, and if the question of whether I need it or not is still unresolved, I no longer worry about it. I figure if the doctors can dilly-dally about it for a year, it must not be a big deal.

The leg pain stayed with me for the first half of this year, to the point that I actually needed a walker for a week or two this past summer. Then two things happened at the same time: I broke a decades-long Diet Coke habit (4 to 5 a day) and cut my use of Prilosec in half. I have no idea whether it's because of either, neither, or both of those facts, but within a week of those changes, my leg pain began to diminish. I still have achy times, but the pain is no longer constant, and my knees are much more flexible than they've been in years. I can almost (not quite) do a deep knee bend.

At the end of 2010, I'm 31 pounds lighter than I was at the end of 2009. There's no doubt that the weight loss has helped to diminish my leg problems. I'd give it full credit except that the pain began to ease several weeks before I started the low-carb diet in September. There's lots of weight still to lose, but I feel so much better already that I wouldn't dream of stopping now.

My first great-grandchild, Owen, was born this year, a happy, healthy boy who has brought tremendous joy to our family. Three generations of family members are more than willing to do whatever it takes to bring a smile to his face, but it actually doesn't take very  much. Owen smiles easily and often.

Two new fur-babies joined our family this year, too, Oliver in the first week of the year and Levi in the last week. Lucy is doing well, and Butch and Kadi are hanging in there despite age-related issues that increasingly drag them down. I can truthfully say that having Levi around has perked the old dogs up a bit. They've been more active in the last few days, more interested in what's going on around our house, and it's good to see them getting involved.

Butch and Kadi both require expensive medicine now. Fortunately, refinancing the house in October gave me a little budget leeway, plus I'm no longer spending nearly $50 a month on Diet Cokes. The savings in those two areas is paying for the dogs' medicine, which I couldn't have afforded last year.

My daughters are thriving. The younger one has blossomed in her role as "Nana" to baby Owen, and the older one has flexed her wonderful, underutilized writing muscles in preparing five glass-art tutorials this year.

One of the greatest gifts I received in 2010 was reconnecting with my good friend, Annette, who is once again brightening my days with her words, her wit, and her wisdom. We had lost contact somehow about 11 years ago, and Facebook recently helped me find her. I'm so grateful to be in touch with her again, and so pleased that we were able to pick up our friendship right where we left off.

Then, of course, there are the blogging, the photography, the books (and the Kindle my daughters gave me for my birthday), the never-ending genealogy project, and the must-see TV. I'm in the right frame of mind for all those things and to appreciate the time I have to enjoy them.

Is life perfect?  Of course, not. Nobody's life is ever perfect. But for 2011, I'd really appreciate another cup of 2010.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Problems that never crossed my mind

Nobody gets through this life without having problems of one kind or another. There are health problems, relationship problems, financial problems, job problems -- problems related to all facets of life, I suppose. There are big problems and small problems, and if you're a worrier like I am, you've probably encountered many of these problems in your imagination, if not in real life.

But what about the problems that you haven't imagined? What about the ones that wouldn't have occurred to you in a million years? I've had two such problems in the recent past. On a scale measuring problem magnitude, these two might lie near the bottom of the "insignificant" range, though I was stunned in both cases by the need for an immediate solution.

Problem No. 1:

The night before my daughters and I were to pick up Levi from my niece and my sister at a point on Interstate 10 halfway between our homes, I went to gas up my car for the trip. I pulled up next to the pump, popped the little lever that opens the door over my gas cap, and got out of my car with my gas card in my hand, just like I always do.  Except that this time the little door didn't open when I popped that lever. I popped it again and again, and nothing happened. I tried to pry the door open with my car key and couldn't budge it.  I called my son-in-law, told him what was going on, and asked him if he knew of any kind of override thingy that would open the gas-cap door when the lever doesn't work.  No, he didn't know of anything, but he suggested that maybe the door was stuck because of lack of use.

There was nothing else I could do at the gas station, so I drove home, dug out the rarely used can of silicone spray, and sprayed both the lever and the little door thoroughly.  Several times. Finally, I got the darn thing unstuck. Just to be on the safe side, I took the can of silicone station with me and drove back to the gas station to try again.

So, do you see what I mean? Would it ever have crossed your mind that you wouldn't be able to get fuel for your car because that little gas door would stick closed? Of course not.


Before I go on to the next problem, I'll issue you a fair warning:  If you're squeamish, you probably shouldn't read any further. The problem I'm about to discuss is not a pretty one, nor is it something to be discussed in polite company, but I'm going to tell you what happened anyway, because if it happened to me, it could happen to you.


Problem No. 2:

I was driving along on my way to do a little last-minute shopping, almost there, when I sneezed. I always cover my nose and mouth when I sneeze, but this time I didn't. I could tell it was going to be a big sneeze, I knew my eyes would close briefly when it happened, and I wanted both hands to be firmly on the steering wheel.

In fact, the sneeze turned out to so big that I felt something fly out of my nose. (Don't you dare say I didn't warn you!) As disgusting as that was, I didn't recognize the urgency of the problem until I had parked my car. Then it hit me: That thing that flew out of my nose? Where was it? Was it on me? What if I couldn't see where it had landed, but everyone I'd eventually encounter in the store would be able to see it clearly? I was literally trapped in my car until I found it. Me, a full-grown woman, held hostage by a booger. Could you ever have imagined that particular problem?

Thankfully, I located the offending item after a careful, two-minute search, disposed of it, and continued my shopping expedition confidently.

Now that I've exposed this hidden danger to you, maybe you wish I hadn't. Maybe even I will wish I hadn't, but I did it because the same thing could easily happen to you when you least expect it. Yes, it could, too, no matter how hoity-toity you are.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Levi is home

Curly-coated Levi

We brought Levi home today, and all the dogs are adjusting at various rates. Levi and Oliver had a great time playing chase in the yard, but when we came inside, Ollie became territorial about a certain toy. Kadi has snarled at Levi twice, head-butted him once, and seems to need my reassurance that she's still my second-in-command. Butch permitted the requisite sniffing exercises without any apparent stress, but has since growled (not snarled, just a  low warning growl) at Levi a couple of times. Butch has done that with every new dog he's ever met, so I'm not concerned at this point. Lucy checked Levi out once, then seemed to decide that the best course of action is to pretend he doesn't exist.

As for Levi, he is trying very hard to fit in and simultaneously trying not to offend anybody as he samples the available food and water supplies and explores every nook and cranny of the yard and the house. His manners are excellent; I'll be happy when the other dogs show him the same kind of respect he is showing them. I know he'll have to earn their respect, but if he keeps doing what he's doing now, I believe he'll earn it in a short amount of time. He's already won the hearts of us humans.

Right this minute they're napping. All five of them at the same time. Life is grand!

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas, Everybody!

I hope you're safe, warm, happy, and spending Christmas in the company of the ones you love.  Oliver and Lucy, the granddogs, spent the night with Butch, Kadi and me, and we slept in on this rainy morning. This afternoon I'll be with the rest  of my local family at my younger daughter's home, and tomorrow I'll get to see my sister and my niece. My heart is full of love.

The happy glow I've been feeling for several weeks didn't particularly have anything to do with the fact that Christmas was approaching, but yesterday, when I found myself singing "Winter Wonderland" in the shower, I realized that the Christmas Spirit had finally kicked in.

My little sister made a minor change in the lyrics of that song when she was very young, and it's her version I've loved ever since.  My Christmas gift to you, dear readers, is a tiny snippet of song lyric that might bring you a smile:

"...Later on we'll perspire
As we dream by the fire..."  

Here's wishing all of you a happy, sweaty Christmas!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Famous last words

I said I'd get my next dog from a shelter or a rescue group. I said I'd get an adult dog next time, that I didn't want to go through the housebreaking and furniture-chewing phases again. I said I'd get another female, because Kadi has always been eager to please, and Butch has been a little hard-headed. I said Butch and Kadi are so old that I'd hate for them to have to learn to get along with a new dog in the house. I said all those things, and I meant them.

But I also said that my next dog would be a non-shedding breed.  I said it would be no larger than Butch and Kadi, preferably even a little smaller, but not as small as Lucy and Oliver.  Lucy and Ollie sometimes tangle themselves around my feet when I'm walking, so I need a dog large enough to make its presence known. I said I wanted to get a third dog soon, because if Kadi should die before Butch, which is likely, he'd be lost without a canine assistant.

I've mulled over all these dog criteria for a long, long time, thinking I'd know what to do when the time became right.  I've thought about them almost obsessively since mid-November, when I began to fall in love with this guy:

Photo by Jennifer Rives

It's a one-sided Internet romance; I've never met him in person. He's a few days shy of five months old, definitely still a puppy. He'll probably grow to be near Butch's size, in the neighborhood of fifty pounds, but nobody knows for sure. Yes, he's a male. He'll have to be housebroken at the time of year when my backyard is at its muddiest, and if he's anything like Butch and Kadi were, chewing will become his reason for living in the next few months. The good news is that he's supposed to be good natured, smart and easy to train, and he'll shed very little. And I guess it's because of how much I love Butch and Kadi that I just have some kind of a "thing" for big yellow dogs.  

My niece raises Goldendoodles, a deliberate cross between a Poodle and a Golden Retriever. One night in November, just before bedtime, I saw the above picture that she had posted on Facebook, and I sent her a message asking for more information about him. In the middle of that night, when I woke up to take Butch and Kadi outside, my first thought was, "What the hell am I thinking?" I came back in the house and sent an immediate follow-up message, something along the lines of "Never mind sending the info; I've come to my senses and I'm not ready for this."

But that was then and this is now. In the meantime I've seen more pictures of him, and each one has tugged at my heartstrings more than the last. My two daughters, whom I've always encouraged to use their heads, have respected that I was using mine, but they've subtly urged me to follow my heart in this matter.

Two weeks ago I began thinking about what I would name this dog if he were mine, or  what I would name the one just like him that I would get sometime in the future when it was the right time to get another dog. I settled on the name "Levi." Of course, Levi wouldn't be appropriate for the female dog I planned to choose.

Naming this dog made me want him even more. I could imagine rubbing Levi's belly or throwing a tennis ball to Levi in the yard.  I could imagine dealing with Kadi's attempts to correct Levi when he breaks the rules. Levi began living with us in my imagination, though I'd made no more real-life inquiries about him.

I thought for sure someone would buy him, at which point my obsession would end, but Monday night, there he was on Facebook again, the last of his litter of five, in need of a forever home by Christmas. He was no longer just for sale, he'd been discounted, and a couple of my niece's Facebook friends were showing interest. I realized that I was sitting by and watching my dog be sold out from under me.

So I made the phone call. I had lots of questions, and my niece patiently answered them all. I explained that I wouldn't be able to make the six-hour round trip to get him until the week after Christmas, and she said she doesn't mind keeping him a little longer while we work out the logistics of getting him from her home in East Texas to mine in Southeast Louisiana. We made a deal.

Sometime next week, Levi is coming home. I hope Butch and Kadi will understand.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

One more dishpan post

In my last post I wrote about my grandmother's old dishpan and showed a picture I believe was taken in the mid-1950s.  Marion commented, "Do you know, I had a big old dishpan just like that. My first husband and I had a cabin on the ocean and when we were there, I would bathe my young children in it."

That comment made me remember seeing an old picture of a baby sitting outside in some kind of tub, so this morning I hunted up the picture and looked at it again.

Yep, it's the same dishpan.  And that cute, chubby baby in it?  That's my mother, who was born in 1923.

Things were made to last back then.

Monday, December 06, 2010

So much more than dishpan hands

Last night for some reason I started thinking about my grandmother's dishpan and wondering whatever happened to it. It was already old when I was a little girl, its cream-colored porcelain chipped in many places, but its size made it a useful item in our household. If you'll clasp your hands together, then raise your arms to form a circle parallel to the floor, you can see how big it was.

What I was remembering last night was the occasional joy of coming home from school to find that big dishpan sitting on the kitchen table, filled with Mammaw's freshly baked sugar cookies. She always sprinkled a little cinnamon on top along with the sugar, and the wonderful aroma of those cookies would greet me as soon as I opened the front door.

The dishpan was also our family's popcorn bowl. We popped corn the old-fashioned way, shaking the kernels in hot oil over a gas burner until they'd popped so high that the lid on the pot began to rise. Last night I remembered one time when I was the evening's corn popper. I'd put two whole potfuls of popped corn into the dishpan, sprinkled it all with salt, and poured an entire stick of melted butter over it. As I carried the dishpan into the living room where my family watched TV and waited, I caught my toe on the edge of a little throw rug and spilled the entire buttery mess right in the middle of Mammaw's good living-room rug. You might not think that would be a good memory, but it is. I remember that I didn't get scolded.

That old dishpan was still on my mind this morning, so I went looking for this photo:

I was drying that day, and my little sister (little enough that she had to stand on a stool) was washing. You can see the old dishpan in front of her. You can also see an Ivory Snow box behind the dishpan. I'm thinking this picture was taken in 1954 or '55, more than a decade before Madge the Manicurist convinced us all to switch to liquid detergent.

All my memories of Mammaw's dishpan are related to growing up in Missouri, but dishwashing wasn't a daily chore for us until we were older, after we'd moved to Texas.  By then I was in high school and my sister was in junior high.  We did the supper dishes every night in a divided sink that made the use of a dishpan unnecessary.

The thing I remember best about the nightly dishwashing ritual in Texas is that my sister and I, and our new stepsister when she was with us, sang in harmony as we washed and dried. Until this very day I think we sounded fantastic. What with the glorious sound of our blended voices, I'll never understand why my stepdad used to ask us to be quiet so he could hear the news. (I wonder if my sister will back me up on this.)

I have some of the songs we sang together in my current iTunes collection. I still love them today, though it's the associated memories I love now more than the music. Here are some representative samples from our nightly repertoire: