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DECEMBER, Christmas 2008

    I've used music therapy to get through the holidays this year.  Keep calming meditation music on the car CD, and the Christmas Meditation series Chan turned me onto in Boise, playing at home.  (Or silence.)  Once I dared to put on Leonard Cohen to drive to Springfield in icy rain--how satisfying!  It starts: "Its four in the morning, the end of december,  I' m writing you now just to see if you're better.  New york is cold, but I like where Im living.  There's music on clinton street all through the evening."  Ahhhh.
    Taking this opportunity to attempt to gather up holiday lose ends I don't wanna forget, “wayward items” per one holiday stress book.  (Like that.!  Things I don't wanna forget, about this second Christmas back on the prairie, one of the first ever I've stayed put.
    Don't wanna forget the four mature man quartet at the Baptist service the other morning-- no slick crooners, these.  (Ever in search of music, returned to baptists after having not visited for many months.)  So fine I swung around to the older couple keeping tightly to themselves to my left, "Aren't they wonderful", I exclaimed enthusiastically to the tight faced woman who nodded, as to a mental patient.  Hope the gent with the barn door wide open didn't end up mortified when he got off stage.  It's a wise church, I believe, that doesn't turn it's services entirely over to attitude clad pre-teens, who keeps elders at the helm.
    Lutherans too, tend to be robust and enduring here.  Didn't much enjoy seeing some of their barely clad youth read the Christmas story last night.  I know, it's what they all wear.  Can't help wondering what parents are thinking, or where they are.
    Still feeling as though I was missing the magic of the season, dashed off to Christmas morning mass.  Ahhh.  Light filled huge sanctuary; the modern stained glass glowed; a bank of red poinsettias greeted me.  Plenty of room this morning.  The lone leader was the only singer, plus, the older oriental fellow a row in front of me, who threw himself passionately into the entire service.  We essentially sang a duo.  He sang very well, not loud; I sang harmony to him.  Guest singers, I guess we were.  A notorious non singing congregation, I  wondered why they bother.  Come on folks, we know these Christmas carols!  Whatever would Catholics do without Filipinos, Chicanos, et al!
    I was tempted to take communion when I saw good buddy Bonnie holding the chalice, but thought better of it.  Like faithful Catholics who practically live at their church, they were gone before I could reach them at the end of the service.  I lingered, remembering the first time I'd stopped by the Catholic church after moving back.  I appreciate the life and endurance of the local parish, how the Catholics are all under one roof in spite of it all.  Speaks well for them.  At the lovely crèche I met a classmate and family, adoring their new grandchild.  Afterwards I spoke with the saint gathering up luminarias.  "Too windy to keep lit last night", she explained with a heart smile.  It was a pretty cold, sunny day.  I emptied sand from a few hand painted milk jugs before heading home, mission accomplished.
    Eek.  I've forgotten about the lovely, lovely Dominican taize service I went to again this year, several Sundays back, truly the highlight of the season, followed by incomparable hospitality.  Again this year I was blessed to connect with the Methodist overseer's family.  He loves silence as much as I.
    Today, at Christmas dinner, as the hostess showed us her studio I inquired, are there more artists here than the average town?  Maybe.  I've been surrounded by art this holiday.  Is it because homes are more affordable?
    Earlier in December I was delighted to be invited to tea "in the country".  Ali's big old brick home in the country is essentially a gallery.  We drank lapsang souchong (It'd been years!  What a treat) and munched (among other things, scones made with cream), feasting our eyes as well.  As our hostess toured the active artists from room to room I snapped photo after photo of her lovely groupings of books, photos, plants, candles, etc.  Beautiful, amazing.
    That evening Karen and I continued onward, as guests at what turned out to be, our own central Illinois Babette's Feast.  Only it was better, because I was there, and I knew the dance of strong personalities around the table and in the kitchen.  The opening blessing was scooped from the priest by the cook.  I was glad I hadn't had to assign seating.  Never figured why I was where I was, though I did know, I was not there to talk, not with this chatty church group to which I was an outsider.  The priest, by me, spoke straight across.  Karen on my right turned to the grouping at the other end of the long table.  I listened across and to the left.
    Lynn's big old family home was exquisitely decorated; we used the family china.  The menu was too small for most to see, it looked grand, and turned out to be no holds barred.  Our buddy Jane, who told me, when I offered to help, no way would she ever serve, met me in apron with a beautiful pink drink in a frosted glass on a silver tray.  It smelled good, though I ended up passing on.  (Perhaps I was included because I wouldn't cut into the alcohol, a different one per course.)  Yes, alcohol flowed, even a 3 figure bottle.  My vote went for the scalloped oysters, peas and onions, or the double gorgonzola (or something like it) and stilton.  Aiyiyi.  Yum.  Considering the church politics around the table, the evening was amazing.  Remarkably, all was set aside or numbness moved in.  (Until much later.)  I particularly enjoyed the story of the symphony promoter's family scattering their mother's ashes in TX.  I'd known the family well.  The evening turned out to have a strong Texas theme, another reason I said nothing (knew nothing).  At the end, while others drank coffee with the pie, I drank remarkably strong Fortnum & Mason tea.
    Hours after we gathered, we staggered very carefully on the thin layer of ice back to our respective vehicles and homes.  I was full of awe for the food, generosity, conversation and the good fortune that brought me to this dinner to remember forever, at the opposite end of the 2 block street on which I'd grown up.  Thanks to lapsang souchong and Fortnum & Mason Royal Blend all the caffeine of the day, I had all night to wonder over the amazing day.
    Today we were back at it again, the small c church as the deacon calls it, back around the table of yet another artist or two.  This time, even the cat matched the decor.  Stunning home.  I was pleased to have been allowed to contribute pies this time.  Spent the much of the morning making pumpkin pie again (per request) and trying a new recipe for a walnut cranberry pie.  I enjoyed hearing how the hostess (of Jewish heritage) was adamantly not Jewish, not religious.  She was so Jewish I could hardly keep a straight face, especially when she tried to load me up when I went to leave.  I'd know a Jewish mother anywhere!  Tonya's home too is filled with spectacular, colorful art, beautifully arranged.  After all my years of dancing with and without religion, it's fun to sit with a group of cynics and enjoy their mixed messages, therapy, and "shocking" stories.  Been there.  Makes me want to run home and pick up Tippett's articulate Speaking of Faith journey.  I can't express why I don't buy into cynicism like I used to, so I more or less keep my mouth shut, except for the occasional mention of attending church, to keep folks wondering and myself upfront.
    After a week of oyster stew, scalloped potatoes, green beans and fried onions, well, you name it, I've crossed paths with it this week, I was practically ecstatic when our fat club leader canceled weigh in last week due to ice.  It's been quite a holiday.  Socially satisfying, theologically challenging.  (Musta been out west too long!)
    Better keep on writing "Christmas" cards as inspired.  I'll tape up those boxes to the brothers one of these days.  So good to hear from folks.  Most early birds (sending cards) sent no news.  "Slowly" folks I've not heard from for a year, email or write.  Yeah.  How good to reconnect in the bleak mid winter.  This year I've been inspired to send thoughts from the Tao Te Ching to some folks (ever so relevant re: government) and make cards from photos.  Some evenings I'm amused and content, as the year comes to a close.


    What's new in the land of fried chicken-greenbeans-mashed potatoes&gravy-cream pies besides growing waistlines?  Having trouble pulling together fall news from No River City.  Same, same, change, change.
    Speaking of regional dinner classics...  It's a good evening to ramble.  Just home from Wesley Methodist's annual turkey dinner, groggy with tryptophanes.  Remember going to turkey dinners at Ebenezer (church) with family in the '50s when we kids were small.  (This memory wisp from a church basement is a particularly favorite.)  When I moved back, learned Ebenezer had burned and the tradition was picked up by Wesley.  Helpers dressed in black with white dress shirts.  This solid rural congregation is a class act (though the insider beside me said Ebenezer potatoes were always instant). Afterwards my companions introduced me to another congregant.  She radiated an irresistible warm, grounded spirit.  Once again I marveled at the turn of events that brought me full circle, back to such familiar people.

    It's been the mother of all falls, simply lovely for weeks.  Oh, trees aren't so spectacular, but the weather has been mild and agreeable for nearly 3 months.  Not only that, but mosquitos, flies and ticks are finally fewer.  I'm about to surrender spring to them.  Poison ivy's dying back.  Downright agreeable right now!
    I think of fall as the Moon of Thudding Oranges.  Out camping, all night long (chartreuse) osage oranges dropped, crashing through branches, thudding to the ground, sounding like wild animals stomping through the woods.  Then came the Moon of...hmm...  I forget, perhaps it will come back.
    I'm thrilled at this break in difficult Illinois weather.  We look at each other drop-jawed—exclaiming over each beautiful day, evening, morning.  Like Prairie Home Companion characters, some of us are suspicious of good.  I try not to be but it's hard not to wonder what's next....  Not that summer was a piece of cake.  One stretch so humid--mold stains behind pictures on walls; bottom wool blanket stuck/grew onto shelf.  Mildew on cupboard doors, well, probably everywhere.  Still finding surprises.

    Took off camping one more time this Halloween weekend (if I recall right, my first fall here I camped in November in Missouri). Shirt sleeve weather!  Headed  to eastern IL.  Found McLean County's Historical Society and fished for McCluns and Palletts.  Short lived great great grandmother Rachel's folks elude me.  I'm hopeful; since her 1851 marriage was announced in the Pantagraph (in addition to being listed in records) one of the McClun obituaries listed in the old card catalog will link to a parent.  McCluns are buried in Evergreen Memorial cemetery (along with Adlai Stevenson).  Where lies young Rachel, wife of itinerant ME minister Wm Pallett?
    I'm terribly inefficient at genealogy, more or less following all lines both simultaneously and backwards, genealogical no no's.  Spend a half day here, or there.  Learn a little something, but realize I'll need to return to check this or that.  County records need to be searched week days.  Tend to work furthest from home, rather than near by where clerks are uhh.... less helpful than other places.  Local Taylors have been researched better than the McClun/Pallett branch, so off I go on nice weekends.
    Can't seem to stay away from Gilman IL.  Yearn to see original German Zion Evangelical records.  Since the pastor reported no one wants to go into the attic where they may have been stored, I put a mask in the car and thought I'd offer.  Introduced myself before the Sunday service (after an interesting night.  Perhaps I'll get to that, it's the kind of story others enjoy more than I do.)  Straight way the pastor shared that the board can't have a stranger in their attic.  How strange is a descendant of Charles Layer, one of three original German born church founders?  (Fortunately some time back an old roommate warned me about the role of pastors keeping control.)  Again and again, fear in the body of Christ keeps others from the small c church family.  Not my job to harangue people--but I'm 1/4 German, so I smile and say, I'll be in touch.  After all, I only live on the other side of the state!
    Headed upstairs to Sunday service.  Indeed, per 2nd cousin genealogist Ann's notes, there's a stained class window dedicated to founder Charles Layer and wife Katherine Ringeisen (Mr and Mrs Charles Layer).  I was riveted on The Good Shepherd window, the service lost on me as I gazed above the minister.  It's lovely (though I've probably never met stained glass I didn't enjoy); had no idea such a thing was connected to mom's family.  I'm stunned, humbled and delighted  that great grand uncle Frank Layer had the vision to dedicate a window to his folks.  German genealogist David would approve.  Lovely small church.  Whenever the sun came out I wanted to jump up and take pictures.  By the time the service was over, it was overcast and damp outside.
    During social hour following the service, I met a descendant of fellow co-founder Otto Meyer.  Asked for his help finding the German records.  A truly holy woman (new to the church I learned) did her best to connect me to the keepers of the town's old photos.  The family wasn't open to visitors that day.
    Maybe this lifetime I'll see the records, maybe not.  Who knows.  God's hands.
    That first night out, thought I'd car camp in old Wenger cemetery, by the Layer family plot, near the railroad.  (Noted there were more cars downtown tiny Gilman Saturday night than downtown Jacksonville!  Hmm.)  Why not, I thought, rearranging the car.  I was beat.  I was just getting used to the trains and drifting off when a bright light and voice woke me.  Not again.  "What are you doing?", the local cop said.. "Sleeping", I says in my nightgown, adding, "by granny and grandpa."  Perhaps he thought I was kidding.  "Can't sleep in graveyards in IL", he crowed.  Rats, I thought but said, "Poo", and began packing up.  He waited with the floodlight on me (senior dressed only in nightgown schlepping plastic tubs back into the car).  Otherwise, beautiful evening.
    Drove on, to the next family cemetery where I'd noticed a narrow road into the woods. Worked fine, if not perfect.  I was jumpy from a head full of eerie Halloween radio stories, somewhat uncomfortable having to sleep on side since putting one back seat in; always slightly uneasy about  trespassing.  Quiet, gorgeous morning in the woods.  I'm wild about the subtle colors this time of year--sage greens into yellows and browns.

    Tonight's campground feels very déjà vu.  I was here, a month or 2 or 3 ago, at this woodsy campground near the Vermilion River.  Clearly remember watching a new moon drop through the trees--maybe August?  Another visit I searched the west, failing to find the brand new moon that shudda been there!  This time the parking lot was filled with horses, trailers and horsey people when I arrived Sunday afternoon.  (Quiet now.)  Hunters or trail riders?  Nervously took a short evening walk; flushing deer made me nervous!  No shots; must not be hunting season.  The continuous drone that comes and goes must be from the nearby power plant.  Silence, an endangered species.
    Global warming?  So it seems, as I sit comfortably in the tent the second night of November, in the Illini sweatshirt I pulled on only at dusk.  Mild evening feels just like the ones months ago under these same oaks.  Ah, but less bugs.  Cold in Idaho I tell myself.  Moon drops low, into clouds.  Sky's dotted with little puffs of clouds and stars.  If I hear rain drops I'll scramble for the rain fly.  Same occasional slow zzzzzuh of cicadas, and crickets; however, fair breeze tonight.  Good night for listening and 14 hours of dark to enjoy!  Stars come and go. So mild!
    I'm moving carefully this weekend, listening to back and shoulders.  Spent Halloween eve being hauled around by a young rock climber turned PT.  What an understanding of muscles!. Surely have never had neck and shoulders worked on like that.  (The biggest surprise was the next morning when I discovered how much better the my overly sensitivity teeth felt!)  Afterwards headed to the UCC church for the last half of their Halloween eve concert, arguably their best event of the year.  If only they'd turn the lights down and back off the gaudy Halloween decorations.  The simplicity of the church speaks for itself Halloween eve!

    Missed all sorts of events being away this weekend--another symphony concert,  Sunday night supper.  Ever so much happens in a small town.
    However, I was in town for a recent Friday night trivial pursuits fund raiser.  No diversity in Waspy IL?  You gotta be kidding.  Check out the tables of folks that night.  Ours was too weird for words, too good to be true, trust me.  (About all we had in common was the 1/2 century mark.)  We stuffed our faces with licorice, popcorn and booze, issues and addictions spread before us.  No secrets in a small town.  No wonder I spent the last 40 years, as Jeeves would put it, “[ing] the psychology of the individual”.  Wouldn't wanna miss a drop of this adventure.  (I wouldn't?)  Heavy with education, bizarre as our interests and minds (or lack of) were, we came in next to the bottom.  So grateful to be back on the prairie, as the world shifts and realigns.  As Jaguar says, no place he'd rather be--"dying right here".  Me too.  Sometimes things are so good, I roll my eyes heavenward.  Other times, of course, I wanna pull my hair out, or snuff someone out Chicago style.
    Good to feel closer to both life and death here, to feel settled for the long haul.  It's all hospice, I find myself thinking .
    Speaking of dying... Studs Terkel died assuming Obama would win.  Terkel was right, no thanks to our county.  Early on I knew, try as we might, we couldn't turn our backs on hope.  We're all awfully careful what we say here.  The election felt like a sports extravaganza to me, with folks cheering and hissing for teams, cursing and flailing, following every move.  How we love a big game.  Dreadful, dreadful, my cherished opinion.

    Recent local "news" has been above average, reminding me of storyteller Garrison Keillor cajoling folks to tell him family stories. The buzz about a lawyer's fight with a long time lover heads the list of hot news.  Apparently the elder is quite beat up.  My neighbor assures me noseyness is because we care.  Regardless, I suspect interest in that particular domestic fight fell into the gossip column.  Recent shootings on the north side are sobering--bad scene, the lines in this town.  While I was Out West, apparently there was a sheriff who used to take care of things the old fashioned way; as in, no more problem.  Where's Henry when we need him?  Sometimes it seems like what's happening needs a no nonsense, old fashioned lawman who doesn't ask questions.  The loud motorcycle disappears, or the troublemaker.  Deferring to everyone's "rights" seems to short everyone.  Whatever we're doing these days, isn't working real well.  We whine no matter what.
    A letter to the ed appeared a few weeks back that cudda had my name on it.  The fellow pointed out how the newspaper's choice to print mean spirited letters and comments influences the whole attitude of the town.  Why not use the paper to promote the high ground of thinking and news, rather than low?  Tracked down the writer and wrote a fan letter.  Not long afterwards learned he was lunching nearby and introduced self.  Right on, Roy, I said.  He's a bit fragile.

    More Than Enough from the Prairie.  'Night!

PS.   After 2 months of murdering ants, they ceased traversing the kitchen window sill.  Whether it was frost or extermination that halted them, I don't know.


    New routine this month.  Morning and evening the first and last things I do are check on The Ants, the latest of the ongoing series of contractors in my home (on the list of those I'm  uneasy about.)  They began business the weekend of our class reunion, the weekend hurricane Ike hit the coast.  It rained a lot, fine, warm coastal rain.  Classmates from NY and WI fanned wildly, with wide, panicked eyes, in 100% humidity.  They oughta been here for the wall of heat that hit us last August when we stepped outside; still a classic show for Illinois.
    Woke one morning to ants all over the kitchen window sill, dropping into the sink, prowling onto counters right and left.  Why me.  Perhaps because earlier this summer I'd "taroed" the ones coming up the front drainpipe thinking they could be the cause of plaster sifting onto the kitchen window sill.  More recently I'd cleaned up some leaves behind the air conditioner when I covered it last week, and found a million ants and larva.  Oh no.  Soon ants came down from wherever.  Must be a connection I thought.
    Set out a string of taro stops and began murdering again.  By then my squooshing finger was sore, and I was using both hands, all fingers. Vietnam of the kitchen; killed thousands (ants).  Not without huge buddhist style guilt.  As uninvited (or did I?) guests go they're truly above average.  They're quiet, clean up grease and crumbs, unobjectionable in so many ways.  Could be so much worse as in raccoons.  BUT, noooo, they damage house.
    When someone said ants need to take poison back to their nest--where?--possibly I disturbed--I began letting them run more freely around the sink.  Like to think the kitchen's pretty ant proof since I had a few visit last summer.  Those they headed straight for the honey and sugar jars.  Now I keep honey in the microwave.  Everything's sealed.  I think.
    Every morning I study ant world.  Make sure they're not bee lining into cupboards.  Ha ha.  Kill a few strays and let the rest eat taro.  I swear I can tell the ones weak from taro.  Guilt, guilt.  Directions say it could take several weeks.  Ok.
    So while the class of 63 was reunioning, so also ants.
    We 2 leggeds had a terrific weekend.  My first class reunion, a ritual I thought I'd never be a part of but lo, I moved home and…  have been eating crow regularly, generally enjoying  it, when I can watch my own mind melt down.  (Thank you, teachers of letting go.)
    Friday evening's gathering at Patty's favorite bar turned out grand; she'd decorated and set up food just right.  Since we started planning, miracle of miracles, no smoking legislation went into effect.  There went that misgiving.  I took it upon myself to bring a package of $1.88 name tags, though the committee didn't think they were necessary.  Folks came right over to request them.  I was grateful to have the change to meet folks that way.  To understate, I needed name tags.  We all snapped photos wildly.  Either I didn't know how to use my camera, or it was just too dark.  Didn't stop me from taking a bunch of blurry, surrealistic shots with neon beer signs and laughing, ducking folks.  Inexpressibly good to see folks not seen in decades.
    Saturday night's dinner was equally convivial.  My only whine was that either night, I could only hear people right beside me.  Acoustics both places were harsh.  There were enough empty chairs that we could play musical chairs around the room.  Right amount of announcements, the rest was conversation.  When one fellow got ahold of the mike and started telling off color jokes, someone dealt with that.  I'm in awe of who we've become and how each of us contributed uniquely to a really fun, heart warming gathering.  We done good.  Apologizes, English teachers.
    I now have a couple more folks on the Illinois map to be in touch with, and perhaps a few out of state; plus, hope to get a local group together when classmates come back for family.  Absolutely, let us know, we said.
    Heck of a summer--starting in spring, and continuing into August, storm after storm after storm came through, record rainfall.  Not a scorcher like last summer, so I survived better. This 2nd full summer felt more like home.  Got around to seeing and doing some things on the wanna do sometime list, though I can't name a one at this moment.  My broken (from the ice storm) sprinkler system never got tested (not that I didn't put in calls....).  Didn't have to water a thing.  Grand 2nd season for the new little dogwood in front and the newest redbud on the side.  Still want major front yard tree.  Front of house gets full on sun.  New flowers I stuck in along walk delighted me.  Someday I'll have peonies, and rhubarb.  Not yet.
    August and September have been so lovely we just look at each other and nod in agreement--lovely days and weeks.  Not too hot to sit on back porch these evenings.  Though I've only dropped into the hammock 2 nights all summer.  Didn't sleep on the back porch this summer, more than a couple nights.  Don't have the right mattress this season.  Apparently my back and I are spoiled by the memory foam bed.  Except for a couple nights, I'd turn on the fan and spend the hot nights in the upstairs real bed.  After pictures mildewed on walls, stuck to the refrigerator, and mildew grew on cupboards, turned on air conditioning for several weeks.  Never lived in a jungle before, have I?  Slow learner.
    Here's to a Gorgeous Fall Everywhere!!

4th of JULY 2008

    Half hour to start downloading thoughts of the last few days before going out for dinner and fireworks.
    Last weekend I took myself off to New Salem's outdoor theater like I've wanted to do since returning.  Although on the drive over it rained, we just wiped off the seats.  LOVED being outside on a splendid cool evening.  As it turned out, the play (John Brown's Body) was utterly lost on me--no English major am I--but not the gorgeous starry night with lightning bugs darting.  Gave up and gazed overhead, remembering fondly camping out with girl scouts, watching for meteors.  So gorgeous was the evening--Jupiter in the east so bright moons were clear in the binocs--I car camped under big oaks.  About the time I came to in the morning, light rain started, and I realized that was gorgeous too.  Trotted around with the umbrella, snapping one handed, blurry pictures.
    Two nights later, another magical evening on Di's magic porch with magical food and The Yoga Girls, one of which is moving closer to kids.  The very loveliest of evenings--I was transfixed by the hostess' elegant details.  An impossible act to follow, my mind still whirred, planning my version of dinner with gals!  By the end of the week I was slurping "the world's best--or is it oldest-- burgoo" in Franklin.  For 100 years men have stirred huge lard rendering kettles of meat and vegetables all night.  Use your imagination.  Although most folks are above burgoo, having been gone 40 years, I thoroughly enjoyed 2 bowls at senior singer Marilyn's home in corn fields down the road.  Like many things, burgoo's a dying tradition, recruiting all night stirrers, a thing of the past.  ("Electric stirring ain't the same.")  The younger generation seems to have better things to do.  Takes an old army cook to pull off this mighty tradition--1200 gallons I think!
    How can I not love these neighbors, like the bee keeper who refuses to put his bees near the interstate: "Can't do that to my girls!"
    Only saw the tail end of 80 entries in the local 4th of July parade.  Our FIVE (5) outstanding mayoral candidates were highly visible, let's say.  Wish I could vote for all 5!  How can it be--such fine candidates!!  Feast or famine.   I'd puzzled over the Kliban July calendar picture of cats with red neck scarves in rows.  Not after the parade--it's clear cats are marching for 4th of July!
    Tuesday afternoon I picked the last of John's little pie cherries with him.  He'd thrown a net over the tree, like I used to do in Boise.  When a huge car pulled into his dear neighbors and I made my usual what-is-it-with-this-town-with its-beheamoth cars, J explained the car had belonged to Leplie, one of Jax's legends I remember from childhood because of his unforgettable name.  (It's filed deep with other fantastic, mysterious childhood names, for their sounds or notoriety: art teacher Miss (Marguarite--but I didn't know that) Shodesack; Mahalia McGehee (college piano teacher who sponsored recitals like the one that scared me forever); (Otto!) Schutte, band teacher; foreigner Rinda Stohl, from very early Sunday school days; Eric Sheets' infamous parents; arsonist Danny Shutt, Mabel Gregory (down the hill, with gardener consort); Pearl Crabtree; Pearl and Rolland Pearl Nutt; Charlotte Cleeland; Lokke, Alana; Jack Ricks.  Names sturdily planted on the ground floor.  I see them when I go through newspaper microfilms at the public library.  (Wonder if Virginia and Chandlerville have newspaper files I can find photos of Taylors in?)
    Now I realize these low miles, behemoth vehicles are passed down, willed from generation to generation, by those who can't part with them, widows or widowers.  Elders tell me their kids want them in big, safe cars and that they themselves (elders) wanna "look good" in their golden years.  (Greek to me!)  Preferably tan/gold/ silver Buick Le Sabres and similar models (or of course Lincolns and Cadillacs).  Parking lots (can't even see my small car between 'em) are full of 'em.  I wave at all.  Could be David or Liz or Lois ...    Now I understand these old guzzlers in mint condition live in garages, and are passed through families, neighborhoods and church grapevines, long surviving original owners.  Ah ha! Perhaps some day I'll join 'em!  Their owners, stop at invisible stop signs, left turn wherever they please.  Recently one of our 90 year old singers raced past me on the right shoulder (2 lane highway) as I was returning from Springfield, heading to singing practice).  Had an inkling it might be someone I knew.  Was delighted when we both turned into the senior center and I could see it it was!
    Wednesday I finally remembered to visit Doll Club, organized by Elizabeth, who's been so helpful finding Hemphill lore for me, and others.  She worked with grandfather Hemphill at the bank.  Fran (whom I met), turned out to have known Laura Hatfield, who worked for dad for years.  Ah--that's why I know the name!  I've got Lauras Hatfield and Roegge mixed up in that deep gulch of memory.
    Took the childhood doll I unboxed and put a new outfit on recently, but forgot the Jacksonville wedding photo that was under black and white snapshots mom had arranged.  Who?  Something very helpful thing happened chatting with these old timers.  When they asked what I'd done with my life, they gave me the line I've been needing, after I quipped that I'd simply "Been Out".  They chimed in with the old line from Pussy Cat, Pussy Cat... "I've been to London to visit the Queen!"  Of course!  I've been visiting the Queen!  Yes!  Now I know where I've been all these prodigal years!
    After visiting Doll Club I worked up nerve to go to a funeral of a relative of childhood friend Pam.  Don't quite recall how she's related, but she sure looks like family.  (Fellow funeral fan Charley reconnected Pam (now Ann) and I after nearly 50 years!)  Sat in the balcony alone, snapping photos of stained glass.  Heck of a funeral.  Small towns do that right.  Camaraderie was wonderful.  Seemingly no one but the minister and staff batted at eye at this stranger/me in their midst.  Quickly found the family's cousins.  The deceased hailed from Pine Bluff,Arkansas, where great grandfather William J Hemphill's wife sister Ophelia, lived with immigrant spouse Robert Galbraith, who went from RR man to banker in his short life.  Had a glorious time chatting with another black sheep, a Katrina displacee.  Two black sheep having the time of their lives swapping family tails, I mean tales.  If I got it right, her mom had a 10 day marriage to a WW2 pilot, much like dad's fellow pilot whose son Gary found, married 22 days before leaving pregnant wife, never to return.  On and on we chatted.
    Month before I'd crashed my first (funeral) visitation alone, a Taylor, from nearby Virginia.  A little weird going some place only knowing names, but as we say in TOPS, "You'll do better".  Hope so.  The funeral director is getting to know me, as he does everyone.  I was delighted and humbled to be able to meet some other descendants of the Taylor brothers from Scotland.
    Is this what I'm supposed to be doing with my life?  Uhhh.
    A few days ago Barb called and asked if I could help write checks.  She was mom's friend.  I drove her VW Bus for years.  It's my parents karma.  I'm grateful to be trusted as Bob's daughter.  May I be her trusted, patient servant, on this circle back around.
    One further note about these past few weeks-- it's the Moon of Turtles Crossing.  Several times I've stopped to hustle turtles across the highway.  Dreadful idea, wandering slowly onto an Illinois road.  Awful to see them smashed.  Some folks smash 'em; others of us move 'em 'long.

JUNE 2008

    Having just listened to Garrison (Keillor) talk about Lake Wobegon--always a twist I wish I'd remember but immed. forget--here's the news from my new/old hometown, which is smelling wonderfully of peonies and iris these days.
    Farmers Mkt opened a couple weeks ago with just a couple of hardies (sellers and produce).  Grabbed rhubarb, asparagus, lettuce.  Later in the week chose a hosta from a fellow who'd driven miles to set up a beautiful display, only to lose gas money, I suspect.  Last Saturday My Favorite Baker was back, a fierce old lady who can't stop baking.  Perhaps I shouldn't have said something lightly like "Good to see you you made it through the winter".  "Had another stroke", she said calmly, unsmiling as usual.  "Oughta know what they're like by now", she explained.  "I was baking when blacked out.  Grandson found me.  Each one's different."  (She meant strokes I think, not grand kids).  "Month in the hospital", she continued.  Recalled old mentor Barb saying she never felt a thing, had a great time in the Canadian hospital where she woke up vacationing.  "Don't know what I'd do if I didn't bake", The Baker went on.  Don't know what I'd do without her baking either.  Didn't lose weight last winter without her so...
    Went home with a buttermilk coffee cake (half eaten by now) and mini blackberry Pie (gone).  Also rhubarb, asparagus, lettuce, spinach and new potatoes.  Straight to the kitchen to steam potatoes and asparagus.  Dab of butter, and sea salt.  Zowee!  Whata long winter.  Asparagus' been up awhile.  D brought us lbs from her connection weeks back.  Flew asparagus to Seattle (like they don't have produce!).  Shared with hosts for breakfast.  Fine with oatmeal or buckwheat.
    Stories of grease and flames continue on the home front.  The last restaurant fire didn't close down the place long--forget whose deep fat fryer it was this time--hmm east side  drive in maybe (quite fond of it).  Long John Silver's finally back in biz.  Vic's closed, reopened at the VWF.  Couple folks refuse to go to the south side silver diner, so we switched back to Perkins, but they haven't been showing up.
    This move, as I knew well, is all about getting along with the people (at the state hospital as one of my new acquaintances and I refer fondly to town).  The opinionated people, like me, change their minds willy nilly!  One evening not long ago, for the first time since fall, I had company on the screen porch. (Waiting to be repaired by me from the ice storm which resulted in a modest hole I can use needle and thread on.)  Chatting the evening away I thought, yes, this is why I'm here.
    Hoped to go to the local play Friday night.  (Especially if kids are involved, shows sell out.)   But a tornado warning said stay in the basement.  So I enjoyed thunder and lightning, listened for hail, as skies got darker and darker, keeping in mind that the roof across the street had been lost just before I moved back.  Set out candles and oil lamp; unplugged computer and stereos.  Tried out Dikka's windup radio just in from Seattle.  Worst of storms went south.  Reset clocks.  Heck of a year for the Midwest, crowned by the Mississippi (that lawless stream per Mark Twin) breaking levees.  Who can argue?
    The next evening I Went to "Harvey"--no kids, no crowd.  Laughed so loud I moved myself to the side.  The perfect show for a crazy community like this one.  (So perfect I returned for a second round!  This woman needs a life!)
    Uhhhh.  I'm a little bitter about morel season.  The fact that I was unable to acquire--beg, borrow or steal--even one morel mushrooms proves I'm a newcomer.  Apparently it was a fabulous season, what with all the rain.  People ate themselves silly and gloated smugly.  Not one of the many people I begged shamelessly for phone numbers or a serving got back to me.  ha ha ha.  Three ticks, no mushrooms, and ants.
    With the rains, we all got ants, all at once.  Tiny ones in the kitchen.  Honey, apple pie, opened jello box, are in the microwave or oven.
    Off to sweep off the back porch.  Furniture still covered until I can find someone to reseal the porch.  I do believe it leaks.  Causing a chain of events that keep me tossing some hot sticky nights.  Contractor's all busy.


    Sure enjoy the challenging of trying to describe this new life in the Midwest (after wandering 40 years in the proverbial desert Out West.  Can't seem to quite total those very nearly 40 years—always thought there were 13 in Colorado, in the middle of which  7 in Seattle; the rest in Washington and Idaho.  Doesn't quite add up to 40 but oughta be close.  Maybe all those summers in national parks and forests threw things off a bit.
    Because Easter was about as early as it gets, it fell the same week as St. Patrick's Day.  One Sunday I was eating corned beef-cabbage-potatoes with D's Irish Catholic mom, the next Sunday was lamb.  Hold on, belly!  Changed window lights from green to Easter colors the following day.  (It's how I amuse myself?  My neighbors are mostly shut-ins.)
     The draft Hemphill family tree is enough to make me be sure to wear green around St Patrick's Day.  (Mercifully TOPS is in a slump so I didn't have to be a part of a candy littering parade this year.)  It's not clear if and for how long the Hemphills hailed from Ireland.  Next steps: contact Irish genealogy group; and, learn if Hemphill descendant Pierce's papers in the Museum of Natural History in L.A. include any of the research in grandfather Hemphill 1944 letter from Pierce!
   Easter brunch was one to remember, as it was visited by something like 9 paramedics and a doc when a fragile elder was overcome by wine and appetizers.  I was alone with Rosalie when I sensed something amiss and caught a family eye.  Heavy with medical expertise, we lowered her to the floor onto pillows.  I slipped from the epicenter and joined the diners in the next room, ever so glad the household dog was contained when the paramedic teams began assembling (the host kept offering brunch--remember, small town; everyone knows everyone).  All was well, I learned later.  A few hours later I joined an episcopal dominated gathering for lamb.  Not a few of us are recovering from Easter!

    Feel like Garrison Keillor when I begin: Quite a week in Morgan County, truly the west central Illinois version of Lake Wobegon.  How often I think of Keillor's stories!  A zillion things remind me I'm no longer Out West.  Like hearing a waitress consider a request for jello.  She studied the daily specials seriously, before replying, no, not today.  JELLO?  No one ever asked for jello out west, did they?
    The big news this week is the café reopening on the north side of town.  I was going to say "a café", but it really is, The café on the north side of town.  The Let's-all-go-to- breakfast-tomorrow organizer of the recidivist group (why didn't I, sometime prison volunteer, think of this name sooner--most of us have returned to town!) has been calling the owner regularly, rescheduling our first outing.  Jon too inputs reports from fellow Kiwanian/owner. I drove by with the camera recently, cynically snapping photos of a place that no way could be opening in the near future.  Lo, by Saturday morning the place was full.  We like a grand opening.  (We do?  I defer to the group.  I'd rather not!)
    Did I mention Super Walmart's February grand opening photo on the front page of the paper, Salvation Army captain praying over the event?  (I was beside myself with delight.  I'm pretty much used to starting events with the pledge of allegiance, opening prayer, and singing God Bless America regularly, still I was taken by surprise.  But of course, blessing the center of the community.)
    On the subject of community/food (what else is there), have I mentioned lately that the impressive display of community organization signs--about 30 per now historic photo I risked my life to take--busiest intersection--that greeted me BEFORE I moved back, are still not back at that major intersection with the ferris wheel to greet visitors.  I've never seen anything quite like it and can't believe they're gone.  Before I packed and returned--granted, it took a year--Rotary, Kiwanis, etc—all had been removed!  I commented loudly to a high profile high school classmate whose rental I looked at, what a strong statement the missing signs were.  To understate, things move slowly here.  It's been two years.  Much as I hate to even consider it, perhaps I should throw a line to the dreadful open line column of the newspaper.  One doesn't have to use sarcasm, does one?  On the other hand, my gratefulness submission wasn't picked up.
    Returning briefly to the north side opening.  We joined the crowd Saturday morning, but not being old timers, were seated in the hall.  I left for Springfield, before getting waited on.  Sometime I'll take a photo of the long, heavy “farmers” table the paper mentioned.  I heartily approve the idea of a huge long table for regulars and perhaps wanna be's....
    Thought of Garrison Keillor last week when I slunk into the grocery store (after going to a half doz other markets) to BUY rhubarb.  As a life time scrounger, oh, the humiliation of purchasing rhubarb, even good looking Oregon stalks.  Folks no longer grow it; it's a bit early here.  (The reason was rhubarb coffee cake for easter brunch.  2 sticks of real butter later, I over cooked it.)  Last fall I moved my new backyard rhubarb starter around to the side.  Leaves are peaking!  We've had great spring rains.  Hopefully I won't be buying rhubarb forever.  Earlier this winter, just to test their reactions, I threatened several of my ever so tidy neighbors with tomato cages in the front yard.  What a look I got!  Cutting through the backyard recently I noticed my backyard neighbor has peas and lettuce!  Hmm.  Maybe there's enough sun in my side yard for spinach and lettuce.  Wonder if it'd be possible to use the backyard before trees open.  I lost a lot of branches in the ice storm, but there'll still be backyard shade, while the front yard is still bare with full sun.
    Yup, I'm still adjusting.  When I broke out my rock collection for the crock pot for a home yoga class the other night, realized I can't go out in the backyard or to the church garden for more rocks.  Buy them at Home Depot someone suggested!!!  As a gardener to rhubarb, a westerner doesn't buy rocks!  Not yet.
    Saturday evening, as I drove back roads to and from the alley Baptist church turkey dinner, I shook my head at the flat, farmed land, private woods with tiny muddy cricks I can't visit anyhow, I was thinking no one would ever live here unless it was home.  Illinois just ain't cool--nearly all fenced, private land; no ski slopes, clear lakes.  Saw a couple off roaders tearing through a field of corn stubble.  No opera company (not that I care), no Wild Oats ( care), just boring rural America, old persons country.  Kids must absolutely hate it.  Sometimes at night I miss foghorns.  I really miss hearing spring frogs from the old backyard.  I miss mountains, elk bugling, sage grouse drumming-- I'd go on and on, but it's suicide!
    Illinois sure has a lot of hawks, mostly confined to precariously roadside hunting between field and highway, or between interstate lanes.  Careful, careful, I think; they do get hit.  Wild turkeys crossed the road on my way to the turkey supper.  Deer are plentiful, hit on the highway regularly.
    As I drove by grave stones out in fields, began to remember why I'm here, not "there".  My roots are all around this farm land.  When I stop at cemeteries, family names are often familiar; occasionally I see stones of people I've known.  One recent Sunday I drove up to Pekin to their historical society and to find Hollands Grove where the earliest family of mom's great grandmother Ringeisen line was buried.  Found cemetery but not their stones.  New immigrants, I suspect their markers (whatever they were) haven't survived.  Recently read there's supposed to be a marker for the Bethel Methodist church near Pleasant Plains, grandmother Taylor's Pallett roots.  It's "fun" sleuthing the family past, in a totally different way than walking the Boise river of course.  I have to conclude, Illinois is good enough for this recidivist.
    Last Friday, the very moment I was wondering about checking out the antique Road Show in town, mother's old, old friend Barb phoned.  Cut her fingernails in the hospital about a year ago.  Straining to hear and communicate--we've never spoken by phone--I agreed to pick her up the next afternoon--it's why she called.  Ok, God, you're on, I prayed quickly.  (Not quite true, when I phoned her to introduce myself after I moved back, she was kind but said she didn't remember mom.)  Surprising because I learned later she's sharp as a tack.  Fortunately, we agreed we weren't going to wait hours at the Road Show for her little box of coins.  On the way back I took her to the antique shop where I'd bought the dining room table and chairs.  When she was hungry, we drove a few more car lengths to the (south side) cafe in the same parking lot.  Into her 90s, there's not much to her; fetched a pillow from the car, so she could see her beef sandwich, which she ate fiber by fiber, while I breathed.  Where else could I have such intimate adventures!  I drove Barb's 1968 VW bus out west for years, still miss it to this day!  Under 100,000 miles when sold!
    Wandering back from Springfield the other week, swung by Jones Brothers grocery.  Grandmother Taylor was born near Ashland, records say.  I love this unchanged grocery store that "lets go to breakfast" organizer's family told me of.  The stone front step in is worn several inches deep. The smell of barbecue immediately had my attention.  Couldn't resist taking home ribs from butcher Jones; and curried bratwurst for Donna's spicy family.  The owner remembers me as though it was yesterday though it's been months and months.  Feels like he has all the time in the world.  It's an enormous gift to stop in.
    Still recalling our cloudless, endless hot dry summer, I'm loving gentle spring rains (while southern Missouri got flooded).  Although gray days dim my already gray mood, hanging on from winter, I try to get out when the sun peaks.  Several weeks ago I stopped to see Dorothy's yard plum full of purple crocus in bloom.  Spring isn't in my heart, but it must be here.  More recently I walked to the IC library on a Wednesday afternoon past the blue yard, full of glory in the snow and scylla in full bloom.  Stunning!  Wednesday afternoon club must have just been out--several women came out, with cameras, as I had.  Could have been History Club, mom's old club, one of whose hostesses told me in no uncertain terms I might not visit--the program was listed in the newspaper!  (Just wanted to hear that one; hate giving talks, thought they might be short on listeners--ha ha!)  Having seen the spiffy women, I was content to crouch in pants, near the wet ground, trying to capture those impossible blues on the digital.  Have I mentioned all the beige buicks in town?  It's The Car!  Haven't known anyone with a buick since I moved away!
    So many teachers/talkers here!  Being, as I mentioned, a sometime prison volunteer, I'd kinda wanted to talk personal about prison at book club the other evening--Wally Lambs book of women prisoner's' stories.  But a professor held forth.  Can't tell you what she said, but it didn't touch my heart.  Reminded me of school-- teacher dispensing information I was s'posed to remember.  Blech.
    Whine as I do, mainly to myself, how can I not like these people, like the book bindery matron who talks about going to the great book bindery in the sky!  Every waitress treating you like family "Crackers, honey?"
    Several weeks after St Pat's, Mary called to say she'd made corned beef.  I was pleased to be included with 3 other women friends, and pleased that I could walk around the corner to her house!  Jacksonville is pretty much widows plus the odd single.  Works for me.  Betty and Jan said they'd be going to the chamber music concert that evening, but when it came time to go, they did.  I went to the second half--absolutely beautiful music by a Chicago group, played on old style instruments.  Swung back by Mary's by on the way home--it was 10pm-- and was startled to find cars still there.  Rejoined the group--one gal never showed up.  Imagine, spending all evening eating and jawing.  It was absolutely delightful.  Jacksonville is all about getting together.  A lot.  I'd like to have those same gals over some evening.

    Although the news of the week was the cafe re-opening, my favorite recent headline was the lard spill.  Yes, here in grossly overweight Morgan County, 500 lbs of lard spilled on the main road in town one day.  I was totally missed the event.  Apparently every city worker was involved soaking up fat, stores donating clean up supplies.  I wince to think how many lbs of paper and plastic were disposed of.  eek.
    Speaking of lard, got a hot tip, perhaps a hot, greasy tip while waiting at the toyota dealer in Quincy.  (I've been a regular visitor since the "engine light" came on.  So much so that I've become attached to a highly agreeable thai lunch spot that has Phad See Ew.)  Anyhow, a fellow waitee entertained me with favorite restaurants all over the area while I took notes.  I'm especially keen to visit the real donut shop.  Haven't seen deep fat fried donuts since the place on the way to Paradox, Colorado-- I can still taste and see 'em!  Yum.
    Just follow the lard and Wonder Bread trucks to Morgan County!  And, don't forget to weigh in at TOPS this week!

Late WINTER 2008
    On the backroad to Quincy this week a police car sitting on the side of the highway hit it's brake lights to warn me to slow.  I was floored.  Where in the world am I!  Home!  Not only have I seen relatively few cops since returning to the depressed midwest, I've only been pulled over a couple of times by idle officers on frightful cold nights when I rolled through lonely stop signs, looking suspicious in the old fur coat.
    Practically choked when yesterday's paper said crime had been down last year.  Not my impression, though I can't prove it.  Never been so close to so many murders and arsons in my life.  Don't kid yourself, this is one happening place in terms of crime.
    Another viewpoint we argue fiercely this winter is The Weather.  Everyone swears this is the worst winter on earth.  I don't think so.  "Much worse than last year", folks wax.  Huh?  Last winter the Illinois and Mississippi Rivers were piled with ice--an awesome sight.  Not so this year.  A year ago January on another prison volunteer mis-trial, drove over to Mt Sterling on a dreadfully cold day, reminiscent of Gunnison, Colorado.  Wore the raccoon coat of course.  Alas, the drug tester wasn't in. Noticed bald eagles along the Illinois river.  I've got a photo of a large pile of mall parking lot ice from March last year.  We'll never equal that this year at the rate winter's going.  I do agree, this has been a super unstable winter, warm, cold, up, down.  Last winter we had the same snow for weeks.  Stable.
    On to more interesting news like???  One afternoon this week, it happened again.  Noticed a sleazy looking fellow (usual venue--grocery parking lot) and thought now there's a guy I wouldn't trust further than I could throw.  Then I noticed the woman in the car was a classmate.  When I looked closer, realized both were classmates.  Good grief.  What a stew.
    Waiting to get hair cut, sensed the man next to me wanted to talk.  Folded up my magazine and soon learned he and wife are more folks who've moved back to care for parents.  Our chat continued as he sat in the operator's chair.  Happens all the time.  Time--we're terribly busy, but we still have time to connect.  Busy-ness here doesn't hold a candle to my former life.  They say I'm on a honeymoon, as if one can honeymoon in a depressed town that can't hide it's troubles.
    Sorta enjoy watching us loose it during winter.  Some get grouchy, some defensive; it's my cherished opinion that we all get a little weirder over winter. "Why are you hiding", a woman snapped at me recently. I was proud of myself for not singing Takes one to know one.  I was stunned when in early January folks started whining about spring!  What!  This is Winter, people!  After the extreme heat of late summer, I rather like the fog, cold, skiffs of snow; love driving in snow, wearing the super heavy coats I've had no where to wear.  I've got heavy wool socks, hats, mitts, boots; I'm ready.  My loosing it's more like-- accusing this person or that of fuzzy thinking, blaming them for repeating stories, etc.  Pretty much every single time it turns out I was the one mixed up.  Not infrequently I confuse people, cross wires; think I'm talking to someone I'm not.  People listen patiently, like to a ... patient.  How much will it take to humble me into shape, stop selling others short?
    Most everyone's winter philosophy: keep busy.  However I love staying inside guilt free at last, when it's cold and gray.  When weather's good, I oughta be out there.  Illinois--no slopes to ski, not much reason to go out.  Shamelessly I hole up with the computer.  Then it got tired.  Gulp.  And was in various shops for nearly a week, during which time I had to face my extreme co-dependence.  Almost said "Our" co-dependence!  Calendar, phone, addresses nearly 100% on computer.  Strong wake up call.  How grateful I was for one of the colorful participants in our odds and ends group loaning an book!  How he was lured out of his den is a credit to an extraordinarily compelling personality.  The descendant of original laptop Amateratsu's back, a little worse for the wear, still going, minus screen brightness and volume function.
    Today was a classic central Illinois February "Lake Wobegon".   Headed out to water class at the Y--first time all week--about 8:30am (late of course), light snow falling.  Didn't toodle back to the ranch 'til early afternoon.  "Full" day.  Following water class/a bit of stepper and machine time at the Y; stops at Sharyl's for Avon (don't ask); contract post office: Szechuan House; Walmart & Goodwill.  Fleshing this in a bit--overheard helpful discussion on lowland Scots between faculty women peddling along vertically in the deep end at swim class.  Last night I puzzled over how I'd ever find which Irish ancestor dad's Hemphills hale from.  (Over a hundred Hemphill women and a hundred Hemphill men are listed in Illinois State marriages before 1915.  No wonder I despair of finding the right set of dates and siblings for the Robert, James and William Hemphills listed in Grandfather Hemphill's 1944 letter from researcher Pierce.  Wherever did he get his data?!)  The discussion was helpful.
    Ever since crossing paths with a Walmart greeter in Boise who moved from Jacksonville, I've felt right at home at the local Walmart.  Long timers remember Millie.  They post her notes (to me) in the employee break room.  With the new Super Walmart about to open (the whole region is atwitter), went in for another phone card and 3 ring notebooks, thinking I'd snap photos of the empty aisles to show Millie.  Unlike the competition who might discretely use a cell phone camera I was so unsubtle that I soon had the manager after me--who'd imagine photos are verboten at WM!!  Luckily by then I was checking out with one of Millie's friends, who explained I was sending them to Millie.  The police weren't called.
    Now that I have everything I need for the house, for the rest of my life and several more lifetimes, the excuse I use to stop in Goodwill is that the wonderful clerks get bored these snowy days when few come in.  Soon I was rooting through the hat and scarf bin with the woman who brings a handicapped child to yoga, learning she's a job coach.  Meanwhile L& J were shopping for crockery for the new garage.  Before I left, I'd bought the checkout clerk's flowered bag (just like the one I have from mom) to use as a Y gym bag and a leaf print lantern.  Luckily I got out without the garfield cat phone with eyes that open when the phone's lifted, close when it's hung up.  (Very cool don't ya think!)
    Needless to say I can scarcely endure the paradoxes of values!  Nearly split open days like this.
    L &  J reminded me it was fish night at catholic daughters.  By now we had maybe 2 inches of snow and it was my civic duty to show up, though I was full from late Chinese lunch, because I knew a whole lot of folks would bail because of snow.  They did.  Early in the day the high school basketball game had been postponed.  Almost ran off because the server kept putting more and more fish on the styrofoam plate--knew they had too much fish for the small turn out.  A half dozen of us enjoyed fish, baked potato, baked beans, slaw, and OF COURSE homemade dessert.  Said hello to one of the rectory angels who'd watched over me when I was new to town.  And yes, I was pleased to recognize the above mentioned fellow haircuttee and wife.  Introduced them to a few folks.
    Waddled home to sit by the fire, drink hot chocolate--starting to believe in serotonin-- and write about another winter Friday on the old stomping ground.
    Sometimes--certainly not always--I just love being where I am.  I'm also grateful I like talking to myself.  And I'm grateful for the folks who've kept me company this winter, came over for soup, included me at birthday parties.  Thank you!


    I'd say our New Year is pretty much about the new Super Walmart opening soon (just down the hill from me--arg); and the new, larger Steak 'n' Shake moving across the street from it's present location--even closer to me.  Over Christmas Long John Silver's had a fire, so it's out of commission.  Sign says something like closed for re-imaging!  I miss the crab bits I just discovered.  The worst news of the New Year is that McDonald's stopped carrying McRib sands.  A moment of silence.
    We're 8 days into the new year and the town's still be here.  The brouhaha over the new Illinois law banning smoking in public areas (you'da thought it demanded first borns) is giant, and a bit puzzling considering Ireland and France both pulled it off.  Jacksonville folks have been ranting and raving about their rights and Big Brother for pretty much a whole year now, opinions getting uglier and nastier all the while.  Folks say it's just Jacksonville.  Maybe so.  We're still here, and I was able to eat smoke free at the new Steak 'n' Shake twice last week.  Until 2008 you probably smelled the Saturday night smoke wherever you live!  We'll see how many bars fold.  Open Line says people are smoking anyway.
    As a prison volunteer, I'm curious and concerned what's happening at the local state prison.
    The big news in December, without a doubt, was the horrific ice storm Dec. 9.  Early Sunday morning in the dark, I began to hear the cracks and booms and knew it was snapping trees, some thudding to the ground, or onto roofs.  Big old oaks behind me, losing limbs, trunks splitting.  It was all around, in the silence of the morning. Eerie.  Earlier in the fall I'd had a logger come out and look at the ash hanging over the main part of the house.  He didn't recommend topping the tree; I agreed and put God in charge.  I hadn't bought a house, I'd bought the backyard because of its trees.  There they went.  Crack, rip, boom.  Finally I understood why people took trees down and didn't plant 'em.  Ice.
    Turned out to be extremely localized, Jacksonville's version of Springfield's tornado.  Because this neighborhood has older people, our power lines got extra attention.  Neighbors on either side of me don't have trees.  Mitchell's lost their old front yard birch that I'd noticed was diseased.  My few side and backyard trees were young and healthy--part of the reason the yard interested me.  Snap, hang, clunk, limb by limb, the hard wood ash shattered, eventually leaving just a couple unbroken main branches.  Moved things away from the outside wall in case the roof got punctured.  For the next ~48 hours this went on--heavy pruning by ice.  I was able to drive in and out the garage, but most everything was canceled.  Couple dozen of us rattled 'round church.  Ironically I never lost power, internet.  Frequently the neighborhood power goes off--but not this week!  For a week, nearly everything in the area was called off--concerts, schools, meetings.  Here I was needing to make myself pack for Elderhostel and suddenly I had no distractions and excuses.  Wrote my Christmas letter and mailed Christmas cards and packages ahead of time.  Weird.
    Eek!  Where to start?  It wasn't too long before a crew of 4 pulled into the cul du sac.  Newt met them and I seconded their offer to start pruning and cleaning up--while the ice was still on the trees!  I was beside myself with gratefulness.  For 2 days I tried to offer them coffee, cocoa and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.  Farm kids, they worked like dogs.  Turned out they'd done disaster work before.  I couldn't say enough good about them.  My older neighbors were unhappy their bills, but I eagerly wrote a check for more than they charged.  At the risk of being a disaster gawker, drove around taking photos of lines down, trees split.  Fellow tree lovers Diane and Mark's porch was hit bad by the neighbors whole tree.  Some folks, often the older generation, got right on clean up, mounding limbs everywhere, reminding me of clear cut slash.  The next couple weeks were an amazing resurrection from a natural holocaust.  Husbands were delighted to buy new chain saws.  Branches were stacked everywhere.  (I suspect people who hate trees congratulated themselves on their good sense.)
    Then I escaped and returned in January, to find huge slash piles lining the streets.   I'm still waiting for an estimate to have the pruning the first crew couldn't reach done.  Hope to save as much of the ash, river birch and white birch as possible.
   As soon as my holiday sniffs subsided, I was back to Y water classes.  Instructor's south for the month, a lot of women don't come out in the winter, but class continues with Shirley.  Since there's not a water class I like on the weekend and I go to Bible study Monday mornings, I've started going Monday afternoon class to get back in the swing of it.  Last week, as usual, I was late.  The women were walking in a big circle; I went to the deeper end to get in--usually someone blocks the stairs into the shallow end.  I smiled at Mickey and jumped.  I know most of the women hate getting wet, especially their hair--they refuse to shower before going into the pool.  Splashed Mickey a bit.  To my surprise, she came over and slugged me.  Since she was so furious, so I offered to let her hit me again.  These women hate water, but they like getting a little exercise this way I guess.  Mickey and I'll be keeping at opposite ends of the pool from each other for a good long while.  Don't mess with seniors, especially catholic.  The women hate water so much I safely took my camera in several mornings and got wonderful photos.  I think they're cute as bugs in their colorful suits--mostly shades of blue--often wearing crystal earrings and necklaces that pick up the light.  It's a beautiful scene in my photographer's eye.  I expected them to have a fit about the camera, but no.  Few see or hear well.  I was able to walk right along side them and take great closeups that are now on the bulletin board upstairs.  They're darling (if a tad dangerous).  One woman brought me a big bag of popcorn in exchange for the photos I snapped.  (Others wouldn't even look.)
    Maybe because we've got an official reunion coming up this year, I've been getting reacquainted with high school classmates fairly quickly.  At the last planning meeting, one of the men updated us on who was not well.  Last Friday night Barb picked me up to go to Ronnie's viewing at the funeral home by Diamond Grove Cemetery.  She didn't want to go alone (Lord knows, she knows everyone!), and I don't have anything to do Fri/Sat nights so off we went.  Left a message for the classmate whose husband died in December, figuring she could make the decision whether she wanted to come (didn't.)  Although, I went a classmate funeral when I first got to town, I have a better sense of how they work.  Couldn't get over all the people standing in line for hours to talk to family, standing by the casket.  Never seen anything like it.  Sat listening, watching, learning who was who, with classmates while others stood in line.  Every time I saw the wife throw her arms around someone, particularly teary men, I got teary.  Ronnie was much loved (I don't remember him).  Life in the empty midwest--what a change from life Out West (which I'm hoping to visit end of February, if I can talk myself into traveling).
    I'm often reminded of something I read about Gloria Steinham going back to her home town after many years, discovering how strong those she left behind were.  In their own she realized they were making changes.

Happy New Year!