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DEAR FRIENDS ARCHIVES 2007
Thanks for staying in touch!
Feel submerged by emails, projects. I was delusional to think after a year, I'd be ready to "do something", "get involved." Instead, want less going on--no more meetings-- friends of library, DAR home, art museum, symphony, theater, kids at risk, diversity, immigrants; no, no, no. Jacksonville operates without much of a tax base. Groups fund raise to make the town a home, as it were. Easier to write a check now and then than to go to more meetings and dinners. Frequently whine--can't keep the pace of this small town! Yehudit says there's as much happening here as the Bay Area!
She bought cheap in a rough area, got wood floors, vintage class and style. Neighbors and neighborhood were so important to me. Under realtor's guidance, gave up search for wood floors and chose somewhat practical 1960s home with neighbors that care. A lot. Recently one mentioned my front yard was looking rather... forget how she put it. Couldn't agree more. However, I'm more obsessed with making the inside home. Another year, I'll start reclaiming the barren front yard. Vowed not to embarrass neighbors unduly when I moved into a proper neighborhood. Late this fall started digging up a strip of grass along the front walk, planting the first of 100 bulbs. Abundant squirrels found the few bulbs I put in last season; noticed them dug up and dried out around the yard last summer.
I've got window candles in the 4 bedroom and 3 living room windows, orange and clear this fall (red & green next). Every project seems an ordeal--finding, fixing, replacing--though ultimately satisfying, getting around to things undone for a year, or 2, or more. Still lots of boxes in the garage; however, it's almost functional (meaning room for the car for the winter). Classmate Bob was delighted to take the sheet rock I couldn't lift. The potential to organize is there--frustrated since the unfinished spring remodel left it in chaos. Bruoght home concrete blocks for shelves. What happened to those great lighter ones we've used for decades? How I moved all that stuff, those boxes, I dunno. Even after a year, I stare in wonder, never wanting to pack or lift another box.
Been telling everyone how much I like having a real bed now. No big deal for normal people. But I haven't slept off the floor since the beloved Seattle waterbed in late '80s! Just figured out how to sister the ledge so the platform boards won't fall out again. Not perfect, but good enough! Just in time for winter, yum, yum.
Finally plugged in the teevee and played a DVD! Hear this area has poor reception without cable, so my no teevee free life continues. During Ken Burn's War, Invited myself over to various homes to watch in dad's honor, the amazing WW2 footage Burns compiled, a heavy experience that clouded several weeks of the fall. Immediately called library and volunteered to interview veterans in this area. Feels urgent; recording WW2 stories interests me passionately.
Continue digging mom's Layer family roots with retired history prof/German records researcher David Koss' help. We're back to the 1600s! Nothing I ever thought about doing but the opportunity was there.... Springfield Family Research Center orders microfilms. Seminary graduate David's something of a mentor on small town survival and of course religion; he (as do others) shares his tv and has put me on to an excellent cafeteria in Springfield.
Recently I realized after all these years, I've more or less replicated my Grand Jct Toastmasters support group experience with TOPS. Minus those terrifying speeches! Met something every bit as Challenging as public speaking--losing weight! There's a reason you're not getting a report.
Still go to the Y 2-3 times a week for water class (followed by some "stepping" (to the new MP3 player) and micro weight work. My favorite thing in the weight room is to use a bench as a slant board and hang somewhat upside down. Makes my day. I've got the prison rec coord tryiung that too. We met one morning; occasional we talk prison.)
Delighted to come (late of course) to water class one morning and find a large black man doing leg circles and grapevines, chatting with pale senior women. Sometimes we're one big happy family. Took some dandy photos of the gals another sunny morning with the old digital camera (that's starting to jam). Took it right in the water with me. I'm safe; splashing is a no no! They're posted on the Y bulletin board!
Although I taught a weekly evening series of yoga at the hospital this fall, I still miss teaching an ongoing yoga class and scout for places to share. On suggestion from classmate, I'm venturing over to her health club in Springfield to visit qigong and yoga classes. Maybe sub? Every couple months I do a class for anger management in prison, which is amazing, considering I never became even faintly comfortable with Toastmasters. The men wait patiently until I get it together and start making sense; my gratefulness knows no bounds.
First real rain since June the week before Thanksgiving. Leaves just dried up, faded away this fall; not much color. West central and southern Illinois are dry, dry, d, inches below normal rainfall.
Eek! Can it really be time to write the Holiday Letter! And wrestle with whether I can get boxes off to the brothers EARLY before joining Elderhostel for Christmas! After years of threatening to do so, I'm escaping the holidays by running off to ITALY! Ever in a snit about travel and packing, I'm undergoing my usual packing/travel trauma, trying to be a practical but not an ugly American, especially at Christmas time in stylish Italy.
Goodnight and love from Illinois,
September 1, 2007
Corn sheaves are starting to break up and waft over highways and fields like small UFOs. They're showing up in yards, "far" from fields (though no place is all that far from corn 'round here). Hopefully I won't be watching again soon the bank temperature read out go from 101 to 102 to 103 to 104 all in the time I stopped to take photos (last week!). Heck of a hot August. (To survive, all summer I've averted my eyes from those temperature marquees, reasoning best not to know.) Think it's fair to say August was really hot. I had the mistaken understanding that when it got really oppressively hot, a thunderstorm would conveniently build and relieve us. Wrong. Last good rains in June. Hot and hotter. Somehow I've continued to sleep out on the porch, more accurately, pass out, no matter what. The only night I thought I simply couldn't stand the heat, I pulled mat and sheet into cooler living room right under ceiling fan. Hadn't been there long when a micro rain came by, easing the temperature enough that I moved right back outside. As I lay there I pondered why anyone would need to got to the South American jungle when Illinois has heat, humidity and... our version of monkeys. What's the dif! My slightly curly hair is having a field day. (Don't really understand how it can be so humid when rainfall's 8" behind! Cornfields are brown now, soybean fields are tinged yellow; still it's humid.)
Then there were ants like the jungle. Sudden, in the sink, scouting. Learning not to leave anything sweet anywhere, ever. Yearn for more peanut butter jars to store food in; wish there were a good recycling center here, like even Boise had, but recycling's not much here yet, noooo. Getting back to ants, evidently people regularly ring their houses with pesticides. I'll keep that in mind. I may be soft on buddhism but like most critters, I'm territorial about the home front. Spiders have slowly returned since the fumigation at the time of sale/purchase. There's a cobweb between any two points, any corner, everywhere, overnight. Jungle-like.
Love listening to night sounds though admittedly I'm uneasy about raccoons. Neighbors all have stories of evicting furry families from fire places. No thank you. Had another layer wrapped around the chimney, but it's only chicken wire. The large holes in the tight woven under wire are snagged with clumps of fur evidence. One night I heard lapping in the small lily bowl. Although I easily have a half dozen flashlights, couldn't come up with one, but was sure by ear silhouettes in backyard light, 2 raccoon kits were drinking. (Earlier "someone" pulled the lily off it's roots and tossed it onto the bricks, along with the 2 fake floating flowers; hence the micro pond is now covered with the end of the chicken wire.) The visitors purred almost like kittens, chattered and called. When I clapped my hands ferociously, they fearlessly purred louder and rubbed seductively against the screen and each other, exactly like large kittens. Oh, the charmers! They need water in this drought, one of my animals-uber-humans buddies reminded me, "poor things." He then turned gloomy recalling demise by parent of his beloved childhood raccoon. In sympathy, I winced with the pain of betrayal and memories of enormously appealing rascals. Several times I've heard two or more raccoons swiftly climb down--nose first--the paper birch-- wonder if they might not reside there. Raccoons streak up the nearby river birch like lightning. Accomplished climbers is an understatement. They're nervous now, and well they should be. I've heard terribly cries in the night, and I'm certain, gun shot (coming from Idaho, I know late night gun shot). In Boise from time to time I heard distant coyote and owl. Mornings I listened to the neighbor's cat murder birds. Different players,different wildlife dramas. Only once I've heard owls, though twice I've found feathers. Too many street lights and cats?
Have to admit leaves have helped shade the neighbor's backyard light, still, every night's a "full moon" at the Melrose ashram. Wanted a shaded backyard and got one; there's only a small hole to the sky which I watch on the rare evenings I use the hammock on the deck. All spring until only well into August, every hour of the night, birds peaked at "the light", thought it was morning and started in singing for the day, only to realize at some point, it wasn't really time. Must have been exhausting. I love having a backyard with cheery red cardinals flitting and singing, bright blue, noisy jays, busy robins, super singer house wrens; sapsuckers drilling, downy's calling. Quite a racket, really. Birds let me know when hawks stop by, or cats are around. Late one day I chased a young blue jay, cute as a button, up the hill. Couldn't catch "him", but he couldn't really fly either. Worried he'd make it through the night, knowing the backyard cat lurks in the junipers. The other backyard neighbor lets out fido to do his thing elsewhere early mornings. I seethe and scheme. Though there are less pets per capital here--or so I think--than out west, their defenders make up in ferocity. Janet won't even sing "The Cat Came Back" with the seniors, she's so offended by even yarns about doing in a cat. She sent a nasty email reminding me those who don't love animals are going to the hot spot. Never estimate the venom of a pet prefurrer. Or maybe it's just how crazy we all are here. Read on.
Hmm. Midwest happenings. One August morning I hosted a class reunion planning meeting. A dozen of us sat around the table and came up with a date for 2008 and brainstormed the weekend. I was knocked out by how respectfully we worked with each other, and how folks offered to help--what a pleasant surprise--who we've become. Each so different, so interesting, uniquely contributing. Served ice tea; set up coffee; was left with a ton of food--no takers.
The next week I semi-hosted a micro reunion of dad's fighter squadron--3 families with members in the Air Corps 66th Fighter Squadron--who just happen to end up living within a few blocks of each other. We met with researcher Gary from Tucson who found and connected all of us. Interesting, but stressful.
Didn't wanna do much for my birthday the following week. Anyone I mentioned going to the State Fair to pretended like they didn't hear me. So I headed over one super hot night, to find the french fries written up in the Illinois Times, and of course, eat pork, the State Everything, watch the tractor pull, wander and sweat, listen to cicadas and night hawks, and a watch huge orange sun set (thanks, Idaho fires). Interestingly the Gov keeps talking about cutting the pork. Just talk. As far as I can tell one's person's pork is another's meat and potatoes. Ha ha. These days I leave politics to others. However last week John interested several of us in attending a democrat party meeting at the old courthouse. I'd love to see him get involved since he's forever telling others THEY oughta get involved. The way I understand it, it's him who oughta. We doubled attendance.
This summer I finally got my prison id, connected with the new chaplain, and am hopeful of sharing meditation and yoga with the chaplain's first anger management class! Who knows. I'm game. Mentioning JHS class of '63 seems to open a lot of doors previously closed. If the Y doesn't want to relax and release tension, maybe prisoners do!! Huh?
I'm enjoying getting to know the Y this summer. Started visiting in July; joined in August. If it hadn't been so darn hot, I might not have been such a push over for senior water aerobics. We do have fun in Connie's (my grade school P.E. teacher who's 100x tougher than any of us) water class. I love seeing Betty and Vergene, Mary and Buelah, et al; some of these women knew mom and dad, Aunt Mary or dad's folks. Once I started looking around the Y, found a working stepper in a not too noisy corner and a couple of machines in the rusty old weight room are good enough. (Although if I turn up missing, I'm probably pinned under some slipped gear.) Rather decrepit old Y, compared to all the money that goes into "fitness" out West. New and slick is not the Midwest. Especially miss the wonderful inner- outer thigh, and fly machines, of the club in Eagle where I spent 8 years. I'm getting to know the downstairs maintenance staff and to leave the politics to upstairs. Then there are The Monthly Senior Potlucks with Harvey Walbanger cake and ... can't seem to resist getting to know other seniors better.
Shouldn't even mention food and resistance in the same sentence. Haven't found that balance. However, I love T.O.P.S. meetings and folks. Last week we adjourned to eat outside at the Sonic Drive In on the highway, perhaps the first evening in months cool enough to be outside. Imagine a bunch of retirees nearly as rowdy as kids, chowing burgers and salads (but not throwing food or trash). I howled when Janet went to the trash can to retrieve the mint she learned had been in each sack.
Summer confession: can hardly believe I'm FULL of vegetables, something I never thought I'd say after the long winter here. I've gone from being ready to eat dirt after the long winter, to being relieved that corn season is winding down. Finally have my fill of incomparable Illinois tomatoes. Originally thought I might can tomatoes this year. Maybe not. Every few days I still bring home pink tomatoes from the farmers market. It's a rare day without a tomato or 2. Now and then I wonder if there's a dead animal in the kitchen and find a tomato melted from the bottom. Whew--like a rotten potato!
I love the way small towns, some really very small, close off main highways, detouring traffic through old neighborhoods, during celebrations like the mighty Bluffs burgoo; Waverly town picnic; Meredosia 175th Anniversary, etc.-- so they can celebrate right in the old town square. Thus far the only fight that calls me in my old home town is to reclaim the old square so that we too can have gatherings downtown, like just about every other small town in the region does. Bring back the town square! Remove the new buildings that block where we once parked and drove!
Meanwhile, however, I'm enjoying Jacksonville's 9th Labor Day weekend Chautauqua (revived) on the "new" community park grounds, of the old State Hospital. Four evenings of music and re-enactments under a big tent, plus outdoor dinners, have been expertly organized by a retired German history professor and wife. Writing this makes me realize Jacksonville now has an agreeable park it didn't have when I was growing up, away from downtown, which makes the old square reclamation more problematic. Ha so!
I'm amused that the former State Hospital feels so deeply woven into the community in ways perhaps only a returnee notices. It's my current sense that my old hometown is one thoroughly crazy place, where who's "in" and who's "out" is unclear. "Inmates" and families connected with all the institutions that define Jacksonville have been mainstreamed in more ways than we might realize. Progressive Seattle has nothing on J'ville in terms of services to disabled. We think nothing of deaf sign language, blind students training, companions to and with any number of disabilities; commonly coming onto groups of variously differently baled folks and chaperons; folks wearing or carrying all sorts of gear and notable clothing, grunting or calling out. Handicapped, diversity and human rights have entire different sets of definitions here--it's quite a scene. One colorful village idiot? Dream on--it's a town full. In addition, we're a diabetes epicenter, cancer's on everyone's lips; walkers and wheelchairs are everywhere for all ages; canes rattle and get knocked over; oxygen tanks pulse; hearing aides squeal; handicapped parking's extensive. Definitions of health and personal rights continue to change. There are loud cries for "gov'mint" support of each new diagnosis; and "the gov'mint's broke!
About the only thing we don't bring up is the relationship of over-eating and health and operations such as joint replacement. Obesity appears to have become another right. Kids waddle, adults waddle; a great many of us waddle (and die early!). If it sounds like this writer's excepted--I WADDLE!, 50 lbs overweight. BUT I DON'T BLAME the feds, restaurants, not even the devil (well maybe churches a little, which I hold to a higher standard of truth). Yours Truly simply OVEREATS. Duh. It's a good week when I manage to get past the donut table at church without licking icing off my fingers. Believe in Satan? Couldn't have been anyone we know who decided donuts at church would bring in the lost; musta been the Big One. Snort!
When I left Jacksonville we were eating scrambled eggs and white toast. Now it's "horseshoes", defined as "heart attack on a plate". "On a steak plate (the anvil), place two pieces of toast in a U/V shape, cover with meat (turkey, ham, hamburger) in a horseshoe shape, cover with cheese sauce, never cheez-whiz, but a slightly spicy sauce (butter, flour, pepper, cream or half & half, cayenne, shredded sharp cheddar, maybe a little beer or worcestershire. Pile on the nails, freshly fried real potatoes. A smaller sandwich is a Ponyshoe." (Originated in nearby Springfield). Who underwrites these bypasses and stints! Ach--I'm really on the soapbox this morning! Likely to be late for water aerobics and end up grabbing something I shouldn't to eat in the car!
Find myself studying and staring at slender people, like model T's of the past. Health appears out of our own hands and overeating a sacred cow addressed with money and programs. Single level homes are in demand; it's why my tri-level was sold. I wanted a home with stairs to keep me moving! Now, after 40 years, folks suggest railings for the walk. The house used to be good enough!. (More challenging would be a main floor bathroom!)
It's wild out there and that's just the tip of the iceberg!
June 27, 2007
Three months!. No wonder so many Illinois tales have piled up I'm about to sink! Now I remember--this spring turned out to be yet another black hole--The Remodel. Sometime in February, began stuffing furniture, books--most everything that had been unpacked--into the purple bedroom (the rest went downstairs) so carpets, walls, paneling etc. could come out--my idea of opening and lightening up the house. For the rest of winter into spring, continued holing up in the yellow & orange bedroom. When action finally started after several delays, felt like a hostage from plaster dust, saws, men... in my own home. Learned a bit late if I left anything out, it'd be broken. Hard to use kitchen in the middle of it all (waited impatiently for the gas range to replace the glass top). For weeks I didn't have anything profound or pleasant to say to anyone. Strong spiritual practice--patience and breathing--with each delay, gouge or hurried mistake.
One of the first thing the guys did was screen the pack porch, then THEY moved onto MY new porch and their stuff STAYED for months and I couldn't use it. Living with strangers, parking down the street for months wore on me!! Felt myself crumpling inside and out. My good nature about camping in one room like I had for months last year, ran out. Became desperate to fully unpack, find favorite toys. When half the world carries water miles in buckets and would give their eye teeth to have the luxury of choosing faucets for a vanity, my idea of hell was staring at plumbing fixtures Friday nights 'til my eyes burned, finding nothing plain and simple.
Perhaps because I began packing up winter 2006, more than a year ago now, at times what felt like going backwards was more than I could deal with. (Tried leaving town several times, but little happened while I was gone. Works for others--voila! New home! Not me.) Have a sense of urgency about this phase of life.
Something like 10 weeks later the crew moved gear off the porch--the house looked like a battlefield--and I moved onto the porch. Dragged futon, then wicker couch there. Here I now sit, chasing tiny buglets that slip through the new screen when I use a light after dark. One just fell into the keyboard. Great. I'm trying not to itch poison ivy acquired cleaning out spirea bushes in the front yard! Carry calamine, hydrocortisone cream, liquid bandage and tea tree oil wherever I go, "Gonna need an ocean" floating through my head. I know why--it's like water! this calamine lotion. Some sort of Illinois reentry initiation, poison ivy? From time to time I've noticed folks with nasty looking yellow junk on 'em. Now I iz one. One web article suggested those with strong immunity are the ones who react most. Huh?
Googled poison ivy and swimming pools; seemed like it'd be ok to go to water aerobics today. When yoga class at the hospital wrapped up, figured I'd better investigate alternative ways to keep moving. Started visiting my grade school gym teacher's class at the Y. She's a hundred times more fit than any of us, an aggressive athlete. She urges us slugs clinging to the side, circle legs this way and that, faster and faster. Her enthusiasm is contagious; easy to see why there's a big group yakking throughout. Occasionally I get myself out to Walk about the time lightning bugs come out, sweat running down face and torso. Shades of sweat lodge, this Illinois heat. Something of an adjustment, The Midwest.
I'm praying one of the elder construction pros can install a whole house fan, per realtor forever Dian. No more of out-here, youthful, construction for this senior! About to look for someone to do the screens promised last February--still no screens! Duh.
One of my first spring Illinois adventures, after weather warmed, was Buffalo Gnats. Lucky folks wore head nets. Bicyclists and walkers waved furiously at what was supposed to be a couple of days of gnats, but easily lasted over 2 weeks. The paper mentioned chickens suffocating (from gnats). Felt for those who worked outside. Buffalo Gnats I noted recently are mentioned in Mari Sandoz' Crazy Horse. Same old, same old.
Then sensational night thunder and lightning storms rolled across the prairie. First class. I was in Springfield for a late afternoon storm--Impressive! Waterfalls off buildings. (By the way, no tornadoes like hit this area spring 2006!) Could swear humidity is 99% on the porch. My hair curls like I never remember. Think ferns--at last I'm where they oughta thrive! Decided my favorite down pillow was going to rot if I used it in this humidity--it's all blotched, needs recovering! I don't drool THAT much. Dashed out to the town epicenter (walmart) to get a synthetic one last night.
Corn is unbelievable to my new comers eyes--new varieties and techniques they say. Knee high by 4th of July? Naw, way over my head, weeks before!
Those of us who still cook are ecstatic to have the farmers market back. Seems like an eternity since fresh produce! Kept threatening to eat dirt. First-- asparagus, lettuce and radishes. Then peas, onions and potatoes. Yeah! Now corn, beans, summer squash. Endeavor to avert eyes from tables of Amish and others' baked goods. Ain't no pies like Donnas. (I'm fond of one elder's corn flakes cookies.) Thought I'd treat the Saturday breakfast group to sugar peas and raspberries last week. They stared, uninterested--not for everyone, local harvest! Heard--"...don't like raspberries!" Stunned! Grateful for Thurs evening TOPS meetings to help watch eating! Awfully fond of the TOPS folks (and adjourning to Grandma Rudi's or Steak'n'Shake).
Love the sign in myotherapist Mary's office: "How poor are they who have not patience! What wound did ever heal but by degrees. -- Shakespeare" Pleased to have met her. Sense I'm quite depleted from the relocation and years of below average eating and exercise. She's helping shoulders. Moving was tough, tough, tough, but the remodel could be the most stressful thing I've lived through yet in terms of letting go of control. Am I in some kind of a stress out contest? Dr A was a little alarmed when he saw me in June--shudda recovered by now! Not yet. Still deep circles under eyes.
Still enjoy singing with seniors; Thurs afternoon covenant group mercifully adjourned freeing up one commitment. Still enjoy erratic Bible study with prof Willets; and Living in the Psalms Sun am's with Alan. (Still wrestling with the evangelic v. intellectual church worlds.)
Finally started an Illinois rolodex. Slow, slow, slow to resettle.
Recently checked one important item off the to do list--invited friends of the rectory (where I stayed all fall) over for brunch this week. Several of the delightful fiery elders who clean and keep up the historic catholic rectory came for brunch live just a few houses away. Taught me to make coffee for them. We all enjoyed the NY Times rhubarb coffee cake (that took 10 times as long as a bisquick one.) Yum. So much fun, I'd like to do it again. I've waited years to live somewhere where folks take time to know neighbors (and write thank you notes--'bout fell over when I got personal thank yous from spring symphony fund raiser candidates.)
Couple more stories from the last few months? Yup, back in March went to the Museum of Funeral Custom's poetry reading (Charley begged off due to above mentioned campaign). Gotta return midweek to stop in Oak Lawn cemetery office across the street to learn where the Smiths/dad's twin are buried. End of March--awesome underground railroad tour day. Lovely Easter dinner at John's; he led fine outings around the area, like to Pere Marquette State Park and Elsah. Sometimes I'm included, sometimes not. I tend to want to stop and look at things and not follow orders as well as the catholics and episcopalians do. Tisk. In April I drove to Cleveland for Sacred Art of Living and Dying workshop (Sunday nighters rolled their eyes when I announced I was going), followed by sleuthing ancestors. I'm finally doing family research; just figured out who grandmother Mann's father was. End of May major 3 week return to the west (travels page). Ongoing Saturday am and Sunday night suppers at VFW and potlucks. We buried the youngest of the Sunday night diners, Jane, a premier underground railroad tour guide, a few days after our mother's day potluck. Everyone reads obits first. Small town life feels closer to the bone.
Tonight I'm in from a country church ice cream social. The clear glass arched windows framed the evening light over fields and barns with such beauty my head swam. It's a different kind of beauty, of course, from the West. Artist Carol says in Illinois the show's above the horizon. So it seems. The ice cream wasn't homemade, but the music and entertainment, like the sky, were absolutely stunning, and the company was good. I'm especially grateful to be here tonight.
March 23, 2007
We've gone from extreme cold to summer this month. (Interestingly my local Christmas cactus is just starting to bloom. The Idaho one began blooming in October!!) March came in like a lion, then a pussy cat, then a kitten. Love the thunder and lighting storms that come through; part of my DNA, one might say. I'm a bit leery of this sudden change, after endless winter. I venture out cautiously! Lo! it is so-- buds are bursting ahead of time! Seems the new yard doesn't have much coming up--no crocus; a few tulip and daffodil leaves. This week, found a nursery, and per Bob R ordered yellow wood tree for front yard. Nursery folk we're annoyed by this early bird, telling me I was a month ahead. I don't think so! Began digging and planting in the bare Boise yard in February while it was still diggable. Why would planting lilac, forsythia be any different here?
The other morning I listened to several hours of chain sawing; yet another big spruce gone from our cul de sac. Gotta do my part to counterbalance desertification of Melrose Court! I promise not to embarrass the neighbors with the front yard (though I'll be replace the trees that I can tell were cut down recently.) But the back yard is mine to make my own secret garden. Bob says he can give me ginger starts. I'm keen to have the back grow over as best it can to dim the adjacent backyard street light that makes every night a full moon, and confuses the spring birds all night long. Love to have this side of the light painted black, or put on a motion detector.
I'm a bit bummed, starting over in yet another rather plain yard, after getting the Boise one rolling (my point of view only, of course). I've got crocus, tulip, dwarf iris and daffodil bulbs on the front porch. Azalea, bleeding heart, columbine wait for inspiration for location in back. As usual, it's survival of the fittest. Just realized what looks like the logical place to plant is right in front of where the new windows will go during imminent major remodel #1. Better not plant there yet.
One hot recent day, in tank top and 3/4 length pants, learned I can get up on the back porch easily with my trusty Idaho ladder I insisted on moving. Walked onto the roof, cleaned gutters, and filled bags with leaves, that include raccoon scat. Around the hole in the wire wrapped chimney are unmistakable clumps of raccoon fur. Listen up, Jeannie. I was alerted to the trespassers when I came home one evening and saw a raccoon on the roof.
Funny--sat down to write about the cloud cover on the way home from the nursery in Springfield that looked like a Tom Robbins Skagit Valley oyster sky... . It skunked the new crescent moon that evening.... Earlier in the month, clouds hid the tail end of the full moon eclipse earlier. Otherwise, in my Idaho opinion, we've had lots of sun and stars this winter, though not always when I want 'em!
But this other stuff came out. One never knows what's waiting in the wings!
The night of the eclipse--Mar 3--was seriously cold. Hefted up the heavy raccoon coat (tricky karma, I know), fake fur hat and boots, long skirt and headed to Rammelkamp Chapel to hear friends sing in Rutter's Gloria (turned out to be in the 2nd half of the program). On the way inside, the full moon peaked momentarily through clouds, well past the eclipse. Charley, shuttling seniors to the front door in the golf cart, introduced me to former congressman Findley, whom I remember from 40 years ago.
I was looking forward to meeting up with our senior singers coach MaryAnn, who was given a ticket for the evening when she said she'd never been to the chapel. (Turned out there was a good reason she'd never been!) Good crowd for the symphony with chorale evening. I winced as MA thrummed her program in time to the symphony--she's a heck of a jitterbugger. Bless our tolerant nearby neighbors. At "half time" MA explained the obvious--not much for that "long hair" stuff, she put it. Indeed she wasn't. As a world class fidgeter myself , I can relate--although I thought the pieces exceptionally beautiful. MA's a farm girl and retired jr high coach, whose idea of a good time is wallowing in the mud to raise a barn. I only recall one of her many colorful remarks that evening. As the symphony tuned up, again and again, she cracked "Horn works, try your lights". That's our delightful MA. She may be unimpressed by long haired stuff, but she's an amazing store house of poems and lyrics from the time she was knee high to a grasshopper.
One of the songs Mary Ann has us singing to seniors in nursing homes (as opposed those of us, who by and large are still living on our own) is "Alice Blue Gown." MA remembered it from grade school; one of the singers tracked down the music for accompanist Irene! When we "sing out", fellow senior singer Pauline walks around in a long blue gown. Looked up "Blue Gown" on the web and found it's from the 1919 show "Irene"! Never a dull moment with MA. Since she's a coach at heart that may explain why the group includes 7 or 8 enthusiastic, strong male singers.
I struggle with the warning that my new/old home town is nothing but hicks and professors; it's probably more true than I can know. Good thing I enjoy both.
Perhaps the next major event of the month--another musical one--was hearing the Soweto Gospel Choir. Noticed on the web the choir would be coming to Milliken (University). Since I miss black gospel music a lot, called for ticket. Felt a bit silly paying big bucks to drive 70 miles to take a chance on a choir, but oh, I was so very glad I did. Best $30 and tank of gas I'd spent in awhile. Enjoyed every moment. What beautiful faces and voices; how integrated bodies and voices! Of course I couldn't sit still--I wasn't the only one. Floated home, a bit bummed that this sort of musical passion and freedom are missing from my new life. For now.
The following Saturday, I was walking (or waddling--can't even wear last summer's clothes!) in my first parade in memory--St Patrick's--with T.O.P.S.. Any chance to walk this time of year, I'm up for. Being an experienced winter person, I showed up with hat, mittens, long underwear and was not sorry. Loaned shivering (skinny) Howard my long scarf. People think it's spring. Not me. Not yet. I'm too close to the Show Me State to believe it! The group turned a deaf eare to my protests against folks watching weight throwing candy to chunky children. Put my bag of peanuts in shells in the candy wagon to be thrown out and marched off. One of us is out of line; could only be me--the relationship autistic! Imagine me holding a TOPS banner with a young union woman, preceded by 2 skinny TOPS losers holding another banner--Janet with rhinestone crown and Howe in green hat and coat. Behind us straggled the still overweight dog, that has lost 10 lbs--10 t0 g0--in a little green hat and scarf, led by our group leader's daughter. Right down my alley, really.
After grabbing a corned beef sandwich at the bar where the parade ended, buddy H and I went on up to Virginia to see one of his favorite white gospel bands. The $8 concert held in a parish hall with a dozen people, emceed by a ferverent older woman, opened with the Pleasant Plains AMVETS color guard parading in, complete with rifles. The main feature of the concert, unbeknownst to H or me, turned out to be a MN Bible College puppet show--large puppets singing along to recorded patriotic songs, such as a medley of Marine-Air Force- Army-Navy songs (puppets in uniforms of each branch of the service). At the end of the show, I was one of the few who stood for God Bless America. Maybe 'cause I've gotten used to singing and standing for it it at most of our senior singers practices and nursing home sings! (Needless to say I've never sung God Bless America as much in my whole life as the last couple of months in Illinois.)
As for H's favorite gospel band--I was horrified by the perfect smiles, teeth, hair, clothes and harmonies of the perfect family that sang along to their own CDs between puppet acts. After the wide open singing, moving and drumming of black choir 2 before, I was chilled by the contrast with what seemed highly contained "white gospel". (There had to have been another agenda going on!) I was completely out of my comfort zone. A St Pat's parade is one thing--after all, Hemphills hail from County Antrim--but white gospel? It appeared to be neither hicks nor professors but a world of its own.
The most amazing thing about the concert--if that's what it was--was the 3 sturdy, elder women with huge piles of hair, sitting together in the next row. One head was covered with long rolls of gray hair that almost looked stuffed like cabbage rolls, somewhat reminiscent of the wigs I'd just seen in British parliament in the new film "Amazing Grace". [See Travels page for report on yet another March musical adventure.] "Who are those women", I whispered to H, who was raised Jehovah Witness in MO. To my surprise he replied, "I think they're holy rollers." Maybe so! If I'd ever seen anything like it, I couldn't remember. Could the "rollers" of holy rollers refer to womens hair?
Between the rifles and uniforms, recorded music, perfect smiles, and zeal of the emcee, brothers and sisters, I was a fish tossed upon dry land. Give me a bunny hop around the sanctuary with Assembly of God folks any day, over the mystery of "white gospel". But stay tuned, I may groak the mystery yet! I just got back.
Rat's--it's almost midnight again! Not only that but I'm hungry!
T.O.P.S. heavy-weight mascot Early March gear Sunshine fellows (plus one gal)
February 6, 2007
Subject: Plus and Minus
We're doin' old fashioned, single digit, Midwest cold. Mississippi and Illinois Rivers are filled with giant ice "cubes". It took an "Alberta Clipper" to get me to make room for the car in the garage. Had to take the car top off (where I kept chains, jumper cables, snow boots, tow rope, hammock, etc) to get under the low garage door.
Hearing from y'all, just knowing you're there, in the bleak mid-winter is grand; life without connections would be much tougher.
Joined TOPS/weight loss group last night--meets just a few blocks away. (Buddy Howard's gone for years; joined his group.) Planned to do something to help pay attention to eating when I landed in Illinois. If I'm gonna live in deep fried catfish and hot roast beef and gravy sandwich land, gonna need help. We're still eating like farm hands, though it's been generations for most of us. We eat out a lot in funky restaurants; it's how we socialize. Great treat to know people who have time for long lunches. In self defense, in lieu of eating seasonally (stews and roots), I fill up on lettuce salads (always recalling that Paul says desert tortoises can't survive on iceberg lettuce). A few weekends ago I balked at watching an overfed kid portray Tom Sawyer. No matter how good his lines, no way was he Tom. Huck was good'n'rangy
The TOPS gals are real, accepting, inspiring; leader Mary is sincere, partially deaf mom who brings daughter Brittany (remember--state school for the deaf is here). Today H. talked me into walking around the inside of Shopko 10 times--something I never thought I'd do. Back and feet hurt; never been tough walker. Had to lie on the miracle balls awhile this afternoon. But I wanna write, so I'm upright already. Will she stick with TOPS? Stay tuned. (She since switched back to sandals walking is better.)
Great experience yesterday morning. Drove to Petersburg to meet the New Salem Historic Park dressmaker, Carlene, who made me up a pattern for an Abe Lincoln era “day” dress on the spot. Says she's done this for 45 years. V. cool woman who found out what she did well in high school home ec. When I asked how to thank her she said to write her supervisor! (Done.) Illinois (like everywhere) is full of surprises.
H. and I adjourned to Walmart after walking; never one to get 1 of anything, ended up with 2- 7 yard lengths of $1/yd cotton--dark purple (not authentic color) print (winter?); and a light blue flowered one (summer?). Will she sew even 1 dress? Stay tuned.
I'm grateful to have a yoga slot at the hospital. Good to start connecting with people the way one does in classes, get feedback, feel useful. Though it seems to snow every Monday evening, at least a few troopers have regularly braved the elements! Even in backwater Illinois, I think there's a place for gentle classes. Even without traffic and commutes, we're over stimulated (cell phones, tv, civic and church activities, clubs, families). There's 6am aerobics; full time work, volunteer and social schedules; benefits, arts and music; plus a lotta food, alcohol, and medications. Many people mention they can't sleep; I've run into bi-polar, severe ADD, and a host of diseases. I sense sometimes it's all just too much for us; stress and tension magnify most anything. I try to watch what I say, hardly being a sterling example of sound sleep, though I'm better this side of the move.
Realtor Dianne (who's in FL w spouse this week--lucky dogs) brought Becky to class. While Dianne was away Becky and I got to know each other other lunch. A devout catholic, she was a hospital chaplain!!! Suddenly I remembered-- when I relocated, I intended to pursue Sacred Living and Dying classes with Richard Groves center in Bend OR! Dashed to web to check schedule. Lo, there's now an east of the Mississippi coordinator in Cleveland OH. Think I'll go to Unit 1 in Cleveland in April.
Can't tell y'all how different life is here (but have fun trying).
My very first impression of Illinois was vivid: not a good place to be a small furry critter--say, squirrel, 'possum, fox, or coyote. Even deer. You will be run over and killed on the highways. I was, to use the old phrase, "grossed out" by slaughter along roads this fall.
Blood and guts aside, it's true, in many ways we're the same everywhere. People drive and walk around with cell phones slapped to ears and all the related disassociations; cell phones go off during funerals. We flock to Walmart. But what's amazing to me is: people still answer phones! Not only that-- they call back! Can't get over it after the busy west. Furthermore, names, addresses and numbers are in the phone book. Recently I dialed a wrong number and had yet another pleasant exchange. Store clerks, so much less hassled, more pleasant. Small town life-- more about relationship, slower pace of life. And of course, about church communities.
An unpleasant surprise is that drugs and crime seem closer, more common and real than out west. Out West, it was "them"; here it's "us". I'm still working on becoming a prison volunteer, doing my small part in this arena that calls me.
Utilities are much higher. On the other hand, I'm grateful for the modest prices of entertainment/concerts and meals. $5 Kiwanis breakfast coming up soon, the same one dad took part in, at the same venue, 40 years later! My stomach still knots at the thought of syrup and sausage together! (We were skinny kids.)
Things changed. As I suggested earlier, food and eating are an all around challenge. Without a real grocery store in town, I/we enjoy stopping in small towns that still have 'em. (Won't hurt me to learn to cook turnip and mustard greens (no chard). After getting my old fashioned dress pattern from Carlene, stopped at the local IGA for batteries and a delicious, inexpensive lunch. On the square, found a corning ware lid to replace the one I broke during the blue cheese meat loaf bake. All within a couple blocks. Ah, the simplicity of small towns!
Possibly the most unanticipated change in my life is to suddenly be around so many teachers. Nearly everyone I meet teaches or taught school! Quite different being with people whose lives are dedicated to educating (young) minds (and perhaps playing some golf and bridge) after being with folks who seemed to live primarily to 4 wheel, ski, fish and hunt!
As I remember, I didn't much like school. Being overly fearful, sensitive, critical and willful, for years I had a bad attitude towards most everything, including school and (most) teachers. Unlike many kids, books were not my friends! I was pushed through the system despite failing reading comprehension. I looked at pictures but read with difficulty.
So now, I occasionally horrify a teacher (retired or active) who's waxing eloquent about the importance of reading, by mentioning I was a nonreader until years after college. Another Heffalump conversation stopper. (Briefly.) As I mentioned, talkers aren't in short supply here. Nor did I enjoy writing until long out of school. I took the 1 required English class in college then headed to no speeches required science (until it went over my head). My true major was avoiding public speaking.
Felt no call to go on for a higher degree (or do much of anything for that matter) though I seem to enjoy those who get advanced degrees. Oh, I'm a piece of work. However did I survive growing up and school; however did those around me survive me! It can't have been fun.
My attitude towards education worsened when I discovered so many educated people were "clue less"! I don't worship education as The Answer to the world's problems (though it may be!) because some of my favorite people didn't go far in school, and my least did!
Now suddenly I've touched back down in an education epicenter, quite familiar, of course, having started out across from a college campus.
Whenever too many professors hold forth here, I find myself rolling my eyes and thinking "too many paid talkers, not enough listeners". Jax could have the most talkers I've encountered yet! If you want, imagine me (with my weak B.A.) totally indifferent to being among PhDs and educators and folks who Need To Know and Need To Tell. Eek!
Ironically, but perhaps not surprising, having struggled with education, I now find myself wishing I could teach something in addition to yoga (which took decades to work up to)! As mixed as my feelings about teachers have been over the years, I now exceedingly admire what I consider good teachers (what works for me, right). I know 'em when I experience 'em. I can't imagine having the skill to "lead" students onward in an academic subject, but sometimes wish I could. I've learned a few things in spite of myself.
With so many teachers, classes are everywhere! I'm in 2 fine Bible studies--childhood down-the-street neighbor Alan's psalms class--great teacher; and John's, Mon. mornings at 1st Pres, with the "regular breakfast group". John's an evangelist for diversity the way I am for meditation and yoga. He'd like more of his definition of diversity in the group (but who'd want to join such an odd group!) I can't imagine five less likely folks trying to study the Bible (we're up to 5 now). Or a better teacher. J's a true educator, and a theologian; teaching clearly brings out the best in him, as well as us--must be the real thing. (Smile.)
Perhaps the quintessential indicator that I'm back where I started has been meeting fellow candied grapefruit peel makers. Since leaving the Midwest in the late '60s, I've only met one peel candy-er. The last couple of months I've met several-- men as it happens.
Past time to turn in. Been wanting to write for so long. Or, I've had to much to write for so long. That's the news from the Illinois Prairie.
Dressmaker Carlene - Sunday Night dinner ends with chocolate cigars - Bible Study
PS. A word about geography from a recent letter. "There are a lot of small woody patches around, mostly within farms, private property. Deer and turkey hunting are big. Some public land along the Mississippi River. A few state parks. There's a state recreation area out in the farmland 30 miles north, with a reservoir; campground out in the open is used by the trailer crowd. I've got exploring to do. Probably not hard to find walnuts, persimmons, other harvestables I've heard mentioned; haven't seen abandoned apple trees. More apple varieties at Farmers Market than out west. Lots of small, old farm towns; I see camping signs, usually pointing to bare fields or treeless parking lots. Glad I'll have an agreeable backyard."
January 15, 2007
Still here-- the New Year!
November 20th, the house closed at the attorney-for-all-parties' office across from the courthouse. Took maybe 15 min, including my request for a photo assistant to memorialize the event. Weather was still mild. By 2pm, 2 guys with a flatbed had schlepped everything from the storage units into the double garage and I was staring at the pile in a daze! Why had the move taken me so long! Spent another night in my cozy rectory bedroom before re-nesting in the yellow room in the new house. The first night was a little eerie, not like my first night in the Boise house, which immediately felt like home, unforgettable full moon shining in. Still, beginning anew to a sliver of new moon seemed right.
When I realized the house smelled of pesticides and mothballs and went to crack a window, I discovered practically none of the windows open (no screens, nat). So much for pretending to be in a log cabin in the woods with fresh air! After the painted shut windows of the rectory--now I had my very own! A few nights later, Robert and Howe came by on their way back from Missouri and expertly cracked the paint on as many bedroom windows as they could. Another day, a neighbor (met when I investigated the two (2) streetlights in the backyard) expertly removed a main floor window lock; headed to Jarvis L&K to have key made. (Unfinished project #? since those windows are both locked and painted shut!) Along the same lines (opening and lightening up house) is adding front screen door. (Seems to me I did the same thing for the Boise house--put on front and back screen doors.)
The good news was that the move overrode The Holidays, something of blessing. I stood 'round the new house like a deer in headlights. All I got was a common cold, like everyone else, sometime over the holidays, rather than something stronger, as I'm prone to that stressful time of year. A couple days after landing, for the first time in decades I got together with blood family. Drove south to Edwardsville to meet brother Jamie at his wife's family in their semi rural orchard, for a lovely Thanksgiving dinner. St Louis has expanded hugely. I rather enjoyed the late night, empty (except for deer) drive home along harvested fields, patches of woodlands and small farm towns. I like the open, unchanged area I've returned to. (Have I mentioned lately how big hunting is in Illinois? Thought I'd left camouflage in Idaho. Hardly. The difference is that signs and "yard deer" statues aren't full of holes. Don't think anyone would dare have a fake deer in their yard in Idaho!)
The following week realtor Dianne fetched me to harvest late vegetables (still good without a hard frost), before the Dec 1st ice and snowstorm hit. Dug Kodiak Xtra Tuffs (boots) out of the garage. At the edge of town we slogged out to the garden of one of the market farmers, into famous Illinois mud, filling sacks with muddy carrots, squash, onions, turnips, and gorgeous cauliflower. The 3 of us can't bear to leave fine vegetables unharvested. We did our best. My kind of connections!
Once bedroom, bath and kitchen were semi functional, I stopped unpacking and took Judith Lasater's recommendation to relax between Christmas and New Year's seriously, extending it week after week until my high energy neighbor asked when I'm going to "do something" (as in contribute to this new/old community I'm getting reacquainted with!) Hmm.
Evidently I'm settling into one of the old lady areas of town-- Jax is retirement town. Perfect! I've got "shut in" widows on either side, a shut in couple across, with the above mentioned live wire in-between. at the neighborhood ladies luncheon she organized last week, I nodded yes, to my "no moss" neighbor's query "Do you cook?". Six well dressed ladies and the woman who moved back wearing her one acceptable top (scarf covering stains); pants, clogs and red wool coat. "And what do you cook?" I went blank--been eating out a lot (as well as eating a lot). When I'm home or have an old classmate over, it's coleslaw and spaghetti, or (prepared) pork BBQ.. Nothin' gourmet like I heard in the question. "Coleslaw!", I finally remembered. [Laughter.] "With pears", I added defensively, still picking olives off the seafood salad. One woman tried to save me, saying she likes coleslaw. I turned to the inquisitor and added that I'd made blue cheese meat loaf the other week". "My husband eats that." (I was shocked--I'm yet to meet anyone who's heard of it! Surely she just heard "meat loaf".)
Every time I go to cook, I can't find something (the right spice, pan, dish, ingredient, you name it), not to mention I'm not doing well with the glass top stove or digital oven--hate 'em). I like the kitchen a lot, but it's hardly home yet. I want to cook, but I'm out of practice; it's been years. (First there was the fantastic ethnic take out food of Seattle; then Chan in Boise.) Sorry, gals, no oysters romanoff (just made that up) or haute cuisine. Not yet. I am my mother's daughter--rather cook beans on a camp stove than shrimp on a glass top nightmare.
"Not yet" fast became my solution to unwelcome questions (thank you, author of Eat, Love and Pray). To queries as to whether I've met/ found/ seen/ got involved/ visited (fill in the blank), I'm learning to chirp back, "Not yet!"
The next challenging moment occurred when the conversation swung back my way to the earlier inference: "When are you going to start doing something for your community?" I breathed and said it: "the first yearning of my heart is to volunteer in prison; I just got fingerprinted". Silence. Took care of that. (I'm probably not a great candidate for the arts. Meals on wheels, yah sure.) [Heard a recent deliverer was bit by a beloved dog!]
Every time someone diplomatically referred to someone's spouse or family member as uh... strange", I nodded and said I was glad to be in a community where it's ok to be uh... strange, no doubt alarming those who heard. It's why I moved here--what a lot of... uh... characters! I'm weary of long being called weird out west. Good to be among strangers.
I'm wondering if this has to do with the early trade off Jax made for the capitol, receiving instead institutions for deaf, blind and insane. (And later, a prison.) Having grown up here, I think little of people talking in sign language, or trying to speak aloud, practicing with dogs and canes, or other uh... strange behavior. Lots of differently abled people here and the families, teachers and staff that come with those folks and institutions and stay. (Since I moved away and returned, the "What is" of the area, now includes a much higher incidence of gun shots and crime.)
The biggest "faux pas" of the luncheon was immediate--not ordering a(n alcoholic) drink. "You do drink, don't you?" I heard with alarm. uh. I am also my father's daughter (meaning not much of a boozer--aside from my annual margarita and inch of wine, I look like a nondrinker to drinkers--not even coffee!).
The other evening I visited old friends of mom and dad. Doc mentioned how "conservative" dad was. I knew from his view--an empty glass with melted ice cubes, his words slurring-- conservative meant that my eagle-eyed, WW II pilot father, Plenty Good Hemphill was not a drinker, like the definer of the term. Uh huh, I said, standing safely on the shoreline of his reasoning, looking off into the murky waters of good and evil, lies and truth, liberal and conservative. No way was I going in. Every area has it's own definitions. After Idaho, I'm intrigued by Jax's meanings for diversity and liberal/conservative.
Although like mom I'd rather camp cook, there's are (of course) differences. I learned a huge lesson from her- I can say No, the "N" word, clearly, usually without getting too defensive. I believe she was both frustrated and admiring of her willful daughter's ability to say No, rather directly. I wouldn't have moved back if I couldn't say No (generally adding either Not yet, or a Midwest Thank You). Hope it's gonna save me and others a lot of grief. On the other hand, my job is to find the place in this community to say Yes, with grace.
I've met a few tea drinkers willing to use my beloved collection of unmatched, flowery, chipped tea cups and saucers! (The ones that survived the express storage unload.) They gamely sit around my small, 1969 auction acquired, much painted kitchen table, warped sides propped open, telling stories about old Jacksonville, while I brew herb tea concoctions in one of the Bodun tea pots I've unpacked. Look forward to putting my minor collection of tea pots above the kitchen cabinets once the shingles are converted to shelves. Until the right dining table appears, I appreciate these good sports no end! I love having folks in for tea! The other evening, though, I tried a tasty lemon Italian liquor... First things first--shelves, beds, table...
Greetings from sunny, cold Illinois to all!