Thursday, August 20, 2009

Bags, redux

Some time ago, I wrote about the struggle I was having remembering to take my reusable bags into the store with me. I'm happy to report that 18 months later, I rarely have to do an about-face in the parking lot to march back to the car for the bags.

The west coast has a reputation for being at the forefront of environmental issues, so I was surprised to learn Seattle just voted down a referendum that would have charged shoppers 20 cents per plastic or paper disposable bag.

The fee idea was based on Ireland's PlasTax, which, according to an article posted on the Environmental News Network's website, reduced plastic bag consumption there by more than 90%.

I remember the first time I ran into this concept - it was years ago during G's and my courtship. I was visiting him in the Netherlands, and we went grocery shopping. G made sure to bring some sturdy bags from home. He explained that if he didn't bring his own bags to the grocery store, he would have to buy their heavy reusable plastic bags for 25 cents each.

It's funny how this idea struck me: I didn't consider the conservation aspect. What came first to my mind was how inefficient the system seemed, trying to get every shopper to bring their own bags. And then how with all the different shapes and sizes of the bags G brought, the bagged groceries didn't look orderly: in the grocery cart, in the car trunk, and then on the kitchen counter, there was a disturbing untidiness to them. (Looking back, a pretty nutty thought.) And last, a bit of disbelief, that something we got for free in the U.S., the Dutch had to pay for.

Now, of course, I know that those Dutch were pretty smart after all.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009


Photo by Kevin Clifford, AP, from National Geographic

Tonight is the peak of the Perseid meteor showers.

And tonight I have a new friend
who walked down the hill with me to the park
to get a good view of the shooting stars over the big pond.

Oscar is five years old, very sweet-tempered,
and a welcome addition to our household.

G has never been willing to go out to see the shooting stars.

Oscar didn't complain a bit.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Our Quincy

We have had to say good-bye to our Quincy, and we are grieving.

He came into our lives five years ago.

After G was diagnosed with dementia a little over five years ago, I started reading and researching what we could do to help us fight this disease. Having a pet was one of the themes that kept recurring, but I resisted. G has always loved dogs, where I am not a natural dog lover. But after a trip to see G's daughters in the Netherlands and seeing the pleasure G got from their dogs, I thought adopting a dog was something we needed to do.

It was so very much the right thing for us to do. What a joy Quincy has been for us. He brought us so much laughter and happiness. I know that G's health was positively affected by having Quincy in our family. But even if it hadn't been, Quincy was a constant source of comfort and reassurance. He loved to be with us and always had a bark or a tail wag ready when we needed it. He had his quirky ways and little eccentricities that endeared him even more to us.

For the last several years, Quincy has had a number of serious health problems, and he always managed to battle back from them. He was a source of inspiration for us, and I often would point out to G that if Quincy could keep trying, so could he. Gradually, and especially over the last months, Quincy's health grew worse, and his recoveries grew more difficult.

We never knew how old Quincy was - 12? 14? - as he was a stray that someone had found and brought to the shelter. And we knew nothing of what kind of life he had before we began to love him. But we know what kind of life he had with us, and we are so grateful for the five years we were together.

Saturday, July 4, 2009


The hammock is finally up at my parents' cottage.

It's at the edge of the yard, near the woods,
partly enclosed by leafy greenness.

Feel like opening your eyes? This is your view of the overhanging trees,
with bits of sky and flashes of sun as the wind moves through the branches.

Feeling really ambitious?
Lift your head just a little, and behold the blue waters.

Happy 4th of July.
I'm very thankful to live in peace and freedom.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Floral therapy

Rose mallow, white yarrow, creeping bellflower,
daisies, and wood aster foliage
in "Derby Posies" vase

The bouquet I put together last Sunday is much smaller than the previous weeks' arrangements, but I still like it.

Our friend Carolyn, who used to be G's cognitive therapy teacher, came over for lunch on Monday. We hadn't seen her since last October, when G had to give up the cognitive class because of some pain problems which knocked him out of his regular activities. Just two months ago, Carolyn's daughter and 11-year-old granddaughter were hit by a drunk driver and killed.

We talked about how Carolyn and the rest of her family are coping; how difficult it is to grasp such a horrific loss.

When we sat down at the table for lunch, Carolyn exclaimed over the flowers. It turns out that she is putting in a memorial perennial garden at her other daughter's new townhouse and is learning about different flower varieties as she goes. We talked about what she has put in, and what I have that might suit the new garden.

And now some of the flowers in my garden will have a new home in "Pam's garden," and that makes me feel very very good.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Life imitates art

G and I were driving the other day
and noticing the dramatic sky and roiling clouds ahead of us.

"Your sister could have painted that," he said.

He's right, of course, and the proof is hanging in our dining room.

My older sister Carlie is an artist, and this is one of her works.
G has always loved it.
It reminds him of how the sky often looks in his homeland,
the Netherlands.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Out of order

I started the dishwasher last night and headed up to bed.

A few minutes later I came back downstairs
and stepped in a big puddle of water. Argh!

So I stopped the dishwasher and then noticed
a very faint odor of burning.
Double Argh!

After mopping up the water,
I went to bed.

This morning, my first task was to empty the dishwasher of all the dirty dishes
(it couldn't have broken at the end of the cycle?) and wash them.
It's been a long time since I've washed that many dishes all at once.

After I got to work this morning, my boss called to say
his vehicle had broken down last night on the expressway.

In rush hour traffic.

In a construction zone.

Which caused a five mile back-up.

Now I don't feel so bad about my dishwasher.
At least I didn't have a five mile back-up of dirty dishes.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Eco-friendly cooling

We are finally having hot, humid weather, and today I read a blurb about low energy ways to keep cool.

It reminded me of something that happened ages ago, when a friend of mine and I would play racquetball when he was in town on business.

Our favorite place to play was the now-defunct Chicago Lakeshore Athletic Club on Lake Shore Drive. It was owned by Northwestern University, and my friend's cousin Jim, who was a nurse at Northwestern Hospital, lived in the building. We usually met at Jim's after work and changed into shorts and T-shirts, then went down to street level and around the corner to the club entrance to play racquetball.

Jim's apartment was small and without air conditioning. One very hot and humid day after racquetball, Jim, who along with my friend was the son of Greek immigrants, suggested that he show us the Greek way to cool off.

I was a bit dubious, as Jim had a few minutes earlier handed me a stack of snapshots of his recent vacation. Interspersed with the photos of lakes and forests were pictures of him and his girlfriend in bed in his apartment: she with the covers demurely up to her chin (and looking sound asleep); he on top of the covers, lounging in all his naked Greek glory. Did he know these pictures were mixed in with the vacation shots? Did he give them to me deliberately, or was it a mistake? And why was he taking pictures of himself while his girlfriend was asleep, anyway? It was all too weird.

At his suggestion for showing us a way to get cool, I decided I would play along, but would be ready to bail at the first sign of impropriety.

He got out his blender and some fresh fruit and ice, and he sent me into the bathroom with instructions to put the stopper in the tub and fill it with about two inches of cold water. Then I was to wait there in the bathroom.

In a few minutes he appeared with my friend and tall glasses of frosty fruit drinks. "Take off your shoes," he said, "and step into the tub." I complied and was still waiting warily for the next instruction when he handed me one of the drinks, and he and my friend got into the tub, too.

We stood there for a second, and then Jim beamed and said, "Isn't this nice?"

And it was. It was wonderful, in fact. Standing in the cold water, drinking a refreshing fruit drink - it was remarkably cooling. And the feeling lasted for hours after we got out of the tub.

G wouldn't stand in the tub with me.
He always complains about cold feet, so this trick didn't appeal to him.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Mid-June blooms

The cool weather and rainy days have thwarted some activities,
but what a boon for the garden this year.

I love being able to distill the garden into a lush bouquet.

Peonies, daisies, sundrops
(Oenothera pilosella), dianthus, spiderwort (Tradescantia ohiensis),
and wood aster foliage.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Better, sort of

Why are things at my house better these days than they were all winter?

Part of it is because G is in less pain than he was for about 5 months last fall and well into the winter.

Part of it is because I have given up the idea that he will resume the twice a week cognitive training class he abandoned when the pain started last October (and which he really liked and we both felt helped him, and now, for no reason he can express to me, won't consider restarting).

Part of it is because the days are longer and warmer and I can be in the garden, weeding, taking pictures, cutting flowers, and recharging my batteries.

Part of it is because I have taken a part time office job in town so have a little money coming in, and G can still manage on his own for short stints.

Most of it is because G is in a stable place, and I have (mostly) accepted this new, lower stair step on the long, descending staircase of the disease that dictates so much of our lives.

As I've said before, the accepting of the new lows used to come more quickly for me. I could find ways to cope and move forward within days of some new problem. I don't know what the difference is now vs. before. Is it because we have been fighting this for more than five years, and I'm tired of the fight? Or because the new lows are more disruptive to a "normal" life? Probably more of the latter.

Whatever the reason, I will count my blessings and hang on to this as long as I can, because the next stair step is out there somewhere.

Monday, June 15, 2009


I'm reading Coop by Michael Perry and loving it.

I heard him interviewed on the radio a few weeks ago while I was driving somewhere. The interviewer asked him to read the first paragraph of the book's prologue, and I was hooked.

I hurriedly scribbled his name and the book title on a piece of paper as I drove, then promptly forgot about it until I walked past our local bookshop last weekend and saw the book displayed in the window.

When I look closely at the picture of the author, he's not what I expected. By his voice, he should be older, taller, and have more hair. (Maybe I should suggest that to him.)

This man can write. Funny, thoughtful, poignant.

And hard to put down. But I'm trying to be disciplined about it and not stay up all night with it.

The other good thing? He's written other books. More Michael Perry in my future.

Sunday, June 14, 2009


I walked out the back door and did a double take:
it looked for a second like one of the yellow sundrop blossoms
took flight and landed on the pine tree.

After a moment, I realized it was a yellow butterfly,
slowly opening and closing its wings.

The only butterfly I know is the monarch,
and I wondered if this was some mutant version.

Later I found a website that helped me identify it.
It was a Papilo glaucus, aka an Eastern Tiger Swallowtail.

I'm not sure why, but this fills me with delight.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Walking the senses

Sunday was the first day of summer vacation for the choir.
So instead of driving to my usual parish in another town,
I attended church locally.
A 25-minute walk
(and I need 25-minute walks).

On the way home,
when I could pay attention
to something besides the voice in my head saying
"Walk faster! You're going to be late for church!"
I noticed how much I was enjoying
the sights, sounds, and smells of the journey.

It had just started to rain as I left church.
9:00 a.m. on a Sunday makes for a quiet downtown.

Freshly brewed coffee, and the sweet fragrance of a tree in bloom.

The acrid smell of creosote from the railroad ties,
and the gentle rumble of a car crossing the tracks.

Ah, the book shop!
I heard the author of Coop on the radio a few weeks ago.
And a new Michael Connelly book?
Note to self: reserve books from library.

Love these colors - especially on such a gray day.

Even the bakery looked fashionable.
No enticing smells, though. Closed on Sundays.

The bead shop.
If you have trouble making decisions,
this is not the place for you.

There are hundreds of little dishes with delectable beads.

The yarn shop always has clever displays.

And hanks of yarn in gorgeous colors and textures,
waiting for someone with nimble fingers
to turn them into something special.

Approaching the Main Street cemetery
(yes, in the middle of the village shopping district).
By now it had been raining long enough
to release the smell of wet sidewalks
and a whiff of worms and earth.
The brilliant blue-purple nepata had a sweet and spicy perfume.

Monuments of some early residents
date back to about 1850.

The building reflected in the wet pavement.
The owner used reclaimed materials
from buildings that were being torn down
to furnish the restaurant.

The fermenter in the micro brewery.
Like the reflections in the window?

Vintage chairs for those who await the opening of the salon.

The village center was left behind
for the tree-lined streets of a neighborhood.
As I walked, first under a tree and then in the open,
the sound alternated between
the soft patter of rain on the leaves
and then the light staccato of the rain
as it hit my umbrella.

Finally home, and a corner of the patio,
where the peonies bowed their heads
under the soft drenching rain.

Dianthus, but which ones exactly, I don't know.
Which doesn't dilute my pleasure in the least.

Friday, June 12, 2009

October, 1917

Camp Mills, Hempstead, NY, in Nassau County, Long Island

I am in possession of
a falling-apart scrapbook
of letters, postcards, and newspaper clippings
from 1917-1918,
picked up from my cousin last night.

In 1917, my 17-year-old grandfather
enlisted in the infantry.
He was named after his father
and as a child and young man
was called Junior or Junie
by his family.

Someone (my great-grandmother? one of my great-aunts?)
carefully chronicled the events of the war
and my grandfather's role in it.

I'm waiting to hear from a local military history museum
about how best to handle the fragile pages.
It is going to take quite a while to go through the materials and
figure out the best way to scan and organize them
so they can be shared with the rest of the family.

In the meantime, a sample:
a postcard sent in October 1917
to his six-year-old brother Bobby

"Dear Bobby
Here are some
guns like Junie
is going to shoot
the Germans with.
I hope you had
a nice birthday.

As I go through the letters,
I can't help but think
that World War I was also known as
the War to End All Wars.

Wouldn't that be nice.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Letters home

I found out a couple of weeks ago that one of my cousins is in possession of letters that our grandfather wrote home during World War I. She got them from her dad, my mom's brother, who got them from our great aunt, our grandfather's younger sister.

My mom was also unaware that the letters existed, so we were thrilled to find out about them.

I'm going to pick them up tonight and will be scanning them and posting them somewhere so that all the family members can read them. I can't wait to see them; I know it will give all of us a new perspective on my grandfather: to hear his voice as a 17 year old newly minted soldier and to get a glimpse into his world at war.

Monday, June 8, 2009

This week's bouquet

Some of what's available for cutting in the garden
is the same as last week:
blue columbine and daisies.

But now there are two more peonies blooming;
the deep pink one has a pearly luster to its depth of color.
The white one has a beautiful fragrance.
I wish I could combine the color of the first
and the fragrance of the second.

And the light pink roses are from a plant
that was in my father's childhood garden,
and now is in mine.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

By the grace of God and with the consent of the people of God...

...was the opening line of the invitation to the ordination.

Before the service at St. James Cathedral
the acolytes (the one on the left is the daughter of my friend)
light the candles on the altar.

What a morning - what an afternoon.
(It was a long service.)
Two friends of mine have just finished three years of seminary
and were ordained this morning as deacons in the Episcopal Church;
in six months they will be ordained priests.

The eight newly ordained deacons prepare to join the processional
at the end of the service.

It was a wonderful service in a gorgeous space;
with glorious music, inspiring prayers and hymns,
and an occasion to be thankful.

Photo op with the bishop after the service.

And the closing voluntary was one of my absolute favorites:
Charles-Marie Vidor's Toccata