"Be conservative in what you do; be liberal in what you accept from others.” Jon Postel

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Mourning

I’ve endured the weather of this cold, icy, snowy winter with few complaints, other than joining in the general conversation. The wood stove, 2nd floor office (where I benefit from the rising of heated air), electric blanket, down coat, and bounteous collection of warm knitted clothing have kept me warm.


What has been more difficult has been enduring loss, and grief.


First we lost Patches, our 17 year old calico cat. She developed a severe urinary tract infection in December. We treated her, but the infection returned in January. A bunch of tests didn’t turn up an underlying condition, so she had a second round of treatment. This cat hated being doctored, but somehow we managed to administer three weeks of medication, and she seemed to rally for a few days. Right about the time we were to take her back for a checkup, she began to fail. In early February we took Patches to the vet for the last time.


Almost immediately after Patches’ death, our cat Mewah’s long, slow decline accelerated. She was more than 20 years old and was already thin. Suddenly she began to look gaunt, to smell faintly of urine even after a bath, and to lose her interest in food. Some research on the Internet led us to conclude that her kidneys were failing. We did our best to find food she would eat but nothing worked past a few days. Meanwhile, she was on the move constantly, and we realized that she was uncomfortable. On her last day, however, she spent quiet time in each of her favorite spots in the house: sleeping in a sunbeam on the futon in the guest room, curled up by the pillow on our daughter’s bed, on her favorite down-filled comforter in the living room, and on the warm sandstone that tops our wood stove enclosure. That night, she climbed up the steps to our room and meowed by the bed. She slept between our pillows for a few hours, until it was time to wake up. When we brought her downstairs, she was no longer able to drink water, and we knew it was time to release her indomitable spirit from her aged body.


Her death was calm, peaceful, and painless. It happened almost exactly two weeks from when we said goodbye to Patches.


I’ve cried so much for this cat, as she failed, and after her death. She was a special part of our daughter’s childhood, her beloved companion. Saying farewell to her ended a chapter in our lives. Ana wasn’t able to be here to be with Mewah at the end, so we had the vet take clay paw prints for her. As for us, we have a drawing on a shelf fungus that Ana made many years ago, serving as a tangible reminder of a little girl and a little cat.


IMG_2351-2014-03-9-21-01.jpg


And then, a week ago we learned that our dear friend Vivian had died in her sleep.


Vivian served on the town board with Robert during a troubled time in our town, and we became friends. You learn a lot about a person in adversity. I learned that she was a person with a huge heart and the capacity, as her son said, to take a lemon and make five gallons of lemonade. Her daughter-in-law talked about staying at Vivian’s house for several days during the 1998 ice storm, and said she had never laughed so much in her life.


We were far from her only close friends. At the evening calling hours, we waited for an hour and a half to talk with her family, and the afternoon calling hours had been as crowded. It was standing room only the next day at her funeral. Vivian was not rich in worldly goods, but she may have been the richest person I’ve ever known in people who loved her.


We would all have loved her to stay with us longer, but no one can deny that she left us in the best way possible. On Saturday night, she was at a large, happy party with her extended family, hugging, kissing and laughing with friends and family. Then she went home and went to bed, and died peacefully in her sleep.


Several days ago, as I drove to work, I said out loud, “I am in mourning,” and experienced a shock of realization. It has been a long time since I’ve mourned, and it’s a state that few of us are prepared to weather gracefully. I don’t think that mourning is a selfish state. As I explore what it means, however, it seems to be more about what I have lost than what those three loved ones lost when they died. This is food for my meditations, as I touch the edge of the mysteries of the finiteness of life and the nature of suffering. I can feel some joy and gratitude through my tears, that we share our lives and care with other creatures, and that I was fortunate enough to know Vivian.


I end with an image of Mewah and Patches sharing Robert’s lap.


IMG_0093-2014-03-9-21-01.jpgx



Saturday, January 11, 2014

Ice Storms 1998 and 2013: Compare and Contrast

My Christmas holiday is my favorite of the year. I take a week and a half off from work and make as few plans as possible. Knitting, spinning, reading, cooking and eating good food, spending time with family and friends, and general indolence are my priorities.


This year our holiday plans were rearranged by an ice storm that brought back memories of Ice Storm ’98, the only natural disaster I’ve directly experienced. We were lucky - the storm fell short of the ’98 standard in the end. Still, it was a major weather event that will affect the rest of the winter and that will require hours and hours of clean-up work come spring.


I wrote a 100 page journal in 1998, so I have a historical record to refer to as I compare and contrast my memories of the two weather events. It surprises me to find myself emotionally moved by the tale of those days, when we had a 9 year old daughter and 84 year old stepparent in our home. She’s all grown up and he is dead, but my words bring back memories of them, and of a younger me.


Onset: Advantage 2013

The most eerie similarity was in the onset of the two storms. In both cases, the icy rain fell for days and built up gradually. My journal says that the icing began on Monday January 5 and concluded with a heavy rainstorm during the night of January 7. The December 2013 storm began on Friday December 20 and ended on Sunday, with ice building up gradually.


A key difference between the storms: on Sunday night, the temperature rose above freezing and stayed there all night. When we woke up the next morning, much of the built-up ice had fallen from the trees, and the world looked much less dangerous. I don’t record in my journal when “ice off” occurred in 1998, but it seems to have been days later.


Length of Power Outage: Advantage 2013

In 1998, we lost power early in the morning on January 8, and had power restored on January 26 - that’s 19 straight days of power loss. We bought a generator from out of area, and hooked it up for the first time on January 15. I’m still grateful to my stepmom for researching an appropriate machine and finding a supplier. That generator now lives in a cute A-frame shed next to our power entrance, and kept us comfortable nearly 16 years later.


Compared to 1998, this outage was a piece of cake. We lost power on December 21 and had it restored on December 23.


Damage to Infrastructure: Advantage 2013

Our basic support systems took heavy damage in 1998. On the fourth day of the disaster, a friend came over with a log skidder to open up our very long driveway, which was covered with downed trees. The skidder pushed the trees aside like matchsticks, but on its way out, a downed power line caught on the skidder’s axle, and the machine pulled down the entire line along our driveway, snapping the pole with our main entrance in half.


We also lost our running water, which was a crappy system anyway. We brought water up to our house from a well that had been drilled in the wrong place, above ground across ledge rock, over a brook, and underground up a hill. We had to run a trickle all winter to keep the system from freezing up, and it froze solid early on with no pump to keep that trickle going.


When I remember what our homeowner’s insurance did for us, replacing our main electrical entrance and paying for a new drilled well right by the house, I pay my premiums without complaint.


In 2013, we had one broken window, from a branch falling from a tree.


Damage to Trees: Advantage 2013

Here’s a quote from my 1998 journal: “Almost every tree south of the house is broken - tops broken off. Only the evergreens are intact. Of the three maples next to the house one is probably gone and one is not in very good shape. The poplars in front of the house look like ship’s masts.”


One thing we learned in the aftermath of 1998 is that trees have amazing recuperative powers. We gave many maple and black cherry trees around our home a chance, and they grew new branches and regained health and beauty.


Those darn poplars were goners, though. Good riddance.


We have plenty of fallen limbs on the ground from the 2013 storm, but damage is significantly lighter than 16 years ago. We heard a lot less crack - whoosh - tinkle, which was the constant sound for a couple of days in 1998. That said, some of the trees near our house that were spared in 1998 may not be so lucky this time. One maple tree that is dangling a broken branch above our solarium windows will surely go. Robert and I are both wondering if our choice to have a lot of trees growing close to our home is a wise one, and we aren’t going to keep any tree with a significant flaw.


Household logistics: Advantage 2013

Simply put: fewer people with fewer needs. In 1998 we had a 9 year old child and a partially disabled 84 year old man living with us. This time it was just the two of us.


Connectivity and Technology: Advantage 2013

Re-reading my journal, I am struck with how isolated we felt in the early days of the 1998 storm. We lost phone service, and that loss was wide spread throughout our region. Because Robert was Town Supervisor at the time, the phone company ran a line on top of the snowbanks to hook us up again; if he had not been a “very important man”, who knows how long we would have had to wait. My journal records our searches for functioning radio stations for news, and our happiness when the local public radio station went back on air. (Fortunately we had a radio with batteries.)


Now there is a cell phone tower a mile from us that was up and running throughout the power outage. Not only did we never lose phone service on our cells, we never lost access to the Internet. Woah. Just like remote areas in less developed parts of the world, where cell phones connect people to the world. I’ve read the thoughts of people who think that phones are more powerful devices than computers, and I feel like I experienced that first hand.


One weakness we have addressed: we were using phones on our landline that required electricity to function. They are gone, replaced by a Cortelco phone that gives us all the goodies we love, like a digital screen showing caller ID of incoming calls, but needs only to be hooked to the phone line. No more power adapter on our phone!


Emergency Preparedness: Advantage 2013

Our utility companies and local governments were poorly prepared for a major ice storm in 1998. Right-of-ways were clogged with underbrush grown too big, communication systems were poorly developed, and preparedness was on a back burner. Cue Frank Zappa: “It Can’t Happen Here.”


There’s been a greater emphasis on emergency preparedness everywhere you look since then, and there’s a formal structure designed to get up and running quickly to address needs. On the county level, we were fortunate that one of the County’s most effective department heads was serving as interim head of emergency services. On the local level, our highway and fire departments were on the job from the first indications that we had another major storm on the way. The clean-up from 1998 removed a lot of trees from the right-of-ways, and our town and utilities are more aggressive than they used to be at keeping growth cut back, so there were a lot fewer down lines.


Personal preparedness was better, too, mainly due to that generator. We have areas of needed improvement, though. Our oil lamps need new wicks, and we couldn’t find a reserve of lamp oil. We also need to make sure we have an adequate stock of batteries of different sizes on hand at the beginning of winter.


Physical Strength and Stamina: Advantage 1998

Another place where the facts are simply put: Robert and I are 16 years older. Also, Robert was struck with a vicious viral infection as the ice started to fall, and was sick and exhausted for the entire storm.


Some photos of the 2013 storm:


IMG_1839-2014-01-8-18-35.jpg


The view from the kitchen window on Saturday 12/21.


The rest of the pictures were taken on Sunday 12/22.



IMG_1840-2014-01-8-18-35.jpg


Fallen black cherry limbs.



IMG_1841-2014-01-8-18-35.jpg


We go for a walk. Robert and Samwise provide scale as we head away from the house towards an outbuilding.



IMG_1842-2014-01-8-18-35.jpg


Horizontal birch and constricted evergreens.



IMG_1844-2014-01-8-18-35.jpg


The top of a young white pine. The top eventually snapped off of this tree. Its lifespan is doomed to be short in any event, as it is growing in the right-of-way under the power lines.



IMG_1846-2014-01-8-18-35.jpg


Another doomed young white pine.



IMG_1845-2014-01-8-18-35.jpg


The only place along our power line where an overhanging tree would short out the line.



IMG_1850-2014-01-8-18-35.jpg


An icy lattice wall, and the shed that houses our trusty generator. That’s another tree that is already history, pushed down by the heavy equipment that finished clearing our driveway.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Knitting blog: Gifts Without Occasions

Two projects are off the needles this fall and in use. In both cases, they were gifts to people I love, just for the heck of it. In one case, I finished the gift on a happy night, so it turned out to be a gift that coincided with an occasion.

First: the Jacki scarf, designed by Nancy Marchant.

This scarf is knit in the brioche stitch, and Ms. Marchant is the world’s leading authority on this stitch. I knit a mohair sweater in brioche stitch years ago, so I’m no stranger to the cushy, double-faced rib-like fabric. Brioche also creates a reversible fabric, an attribute that appeals to me. I signed up for Ms. Marchant’s class at Craftsy.com, because I got a deal and because I like the class projects. After I was a few inches into knitting the Jacki scarf, I knew it was a gift. An inch or two more, and I knew it was a gift for my sister.

She loves quality clothes with good lines, and she always looks fantastic. Years ago I sewed her a kimono style jacket for Christmas, and she still has that jacket and wears it proudly. I realized that I’ve never given her anything I knit. It was past time to make up for that omission! It was especially appropriate because of she loves scarves madly, and loves a warm scarf best of all.

I gave her the scarf on the weekend I went down to Rochester to take a knitting course from superstar Stephanie Pearl-McPhee. Julia was the person who encouraged me to put my name into the lottery for the course, so it seemed fitting to give her the scarf the day after the knitting class. We had a wonderful visit, and she loved the scarf, and I drove away realizing “DAMN! I forgot to take a picture!”

She sent me this picture that evening:

1236625_10151919737018894_7121898_n-2013-11-21-18-17.jpg

Gift number two was a pair of socks for my husband. He loves my handknit socks, and was hinting for another pair. The same night I bought yarn for my sister’s scarf, I bought sock yarn in gray for him. The pattern chose itself: the one knitting pattern I can say that I have designed myself. The first time I knit the pattern in bright red, which meant I never got a good picture of the finished socks. There’s something about bright red yarn that screams at the camera, obliterating all detail. I’ve long wanted to reknit the socks in a color that could be more successfully photographed. With a good picture, I could create a nice PDF of the pattern and make it available to other knitters. Not only does gray photograph well, it’s also a color more suited to R.’s sensibilities.

I finished these socks on election night, soon after we knew that he had won re-election to his post as Town Supervisor with 71% of the vote. So maybe instead of calling these Dragonskin Socks (after the stitch pattern I used), I should call them Victory Socks. It was a fitting night to give him the socks, and I think that they fit him very well.

IMG_2224-2013-11-21-18-17.jpg

I’m knitting another pair of socks as fast as I can for my stepmother. In fact, I’m picking up the needles again as soon as I post thjs entry. There is little that I can give her for Christmas, but I am seeing her next week, and maybe, just maybe, I will have a third gift to give this fall.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Milestones

Three milestones in my life this past week, in order of increasing importance:

100K

When we bought our Honda Civic 3 years ago, I did a rough estimate of how many miles we were likely to put on the car each year. My prediction: we would roll over 100,000 miles right around the time we would make our final payment.

Early this week, I was out and about and had a thought, “Gee, that last payment is coming up. I wonder how close I am to my prediction?” I tripped the odometer to the life-long miles driven counter and found this:

IMG_2186-2013-11-2-09-35.jpg

Right on schedule! I’m still tickled that I happened to push the odometer button at exactly the right moment to capture this.


One less debt

We are - now that I’ve written the check for the final payment on the Civic - in that most joyous condition of having NO CAR PAYMENT. We also are not currently in need of a replacement car. Losing that monthly payment puts us in a better position to pay off other debts before we retire. Let’s see how long we can go before we buy a new-to-us car!


That safety net beneath my feet just got a little stronger.

Me on my birthday:

IMG_2191-2013-11-2-09-35.jpg

I turned 62 this past week. It’s a good age to be. Not only can I now draw Social Security if I need to or choose to, I can also draw on my pension plan without penalty.

Certainly there is more gray than even a year ago. Also a few more pounds and a bit less muscle than desired - though those are fixable with a bit of effort on my part. The gray is here to stay, because my hair stylist doesn’t want to color my hair and previous attempts at DIY hair coloring were less than satisfactory. I am also too cheap to commit to the ongoing expense of dollars and time needed to properly maintain colored hair.

I have no immediate plans to retire, but now the equation shifts as I continue to work. Do I need to work or do I want to work? Right now, I want to work. I’m learning and doing new things, which helps with the tedium of accounts payable. Every year I work now brings the goal of retiring without mortgage or student loan debt closer to reality. It’s a good goal, and I’m going to do my best to achieve it in four years time.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

A morning ritual ends, and I am bereft.


R.I.P.

imgres-2013-10-17-19-26.jpg


For quite a while I have started every morning by stirring a rounded teaspoon of this lovely stuff into my cup of coffee.

Keeping it on hand has required a certain degree of foresight and cunning, especially since I am a frugal soul. I could buy it for quite a price from the natural foods store, or I could get it much more reasonably at a Hannaford supermarket. The two Hannaford stores in our area are many miles from my home, however, and they have only carried the product from early fall through spring. As soon as it was time to expand the shelf space devoted to iced tea mixes, the Ghirardelli hot cocoa mix disappeared from the shelves. I would pick up an extra can or two if I could in March, and hope my supply would hold out until September. Sometimes I resorted to buying a case of four from Amazon, if I didn’t make it to the store before the change of beverage season. This year I ran out, and spent the summer without my morning hit of chocolate.

A few cans materialized on the shelves several weeks ago, and I bought one. When I was back in the store a couple of weeks ago, though, there were no precious golden cans on the shelf. But - but - but - they were there last month! I left the store with a troubled mind.

Amazon was the tip-off that something was seriously wrong. My usual vendor of a case of four no longer carried the product, and another vendor was asking $70. I went to the primary source for information, the Ghirardelli website, and found the fateful word Discontinued.

They are still selling individual packets of the stuff, but I’m not going down that road. I’ve already used up the one can I found this fall, so no more chocolate in my morning coffee.

I’ll be okay. I’ve almost convinced myself that the coffee didn’t taste as delicious as I remember while I worked my way through that last can.

Monday, October 14, 2013

On Meeting an Old Friend for the First Time


Several years ago, on a now largely defunct social blogging site, I met Eleanor through the words that she writes. Over the years we have had a stimulating series of conversations in blog posts and comments, and we both long suspected that we would like each other a great deal if we were to meet.

Meeting is not nearly as far-fetched as one might think. Eleanor lives in Quebec, east of Montreal, and we go up to Montreal frequently to visit our daughter. The issues for me were whether I would take time away from family to visit with a friend, and whether I would gird my loins and drive in Montreal. Once I decided that yes, I very much wanted to meet El and yes, I can drive in a busy city with cut-throat drivers, I emailed her with a possible date. She was available that weekend, and we settled on meeting in Granby, halfway between my daughter’s apartment and her home.

I drove out of Montreal successfully, into a landscape that never fails to enchant me. This is good, level farmland, with well managed fields growing various crops. The flatness is broken up by isolated little mountains rising from the plain, much like I imagine the Lonely Mountain in The Hobbit. The trees in the hedgerows and on the mountains were all at peak fall color, and Quebec forests glow with all the shades of red, from scarlet to burgundy, mixed with yellows and oranges.

My wonderful and generous daughter loaned me her cellphone, with GoogleMaps’ wonderful voice GPS. This was a very good thing, because Granby has closed a major route into town for reconstruction, and I would have had great difficulty finding my way to our designated meeting spot without help from a GPS.

We met at a Tim Horton’s and agreed it was no place to tarry. We found a place on the street to park our cars, and walked in search of a congenial restaurant to eat lunch. We found a lovely vegetarian restaurant where we sat for more than four hours, eating, talking and knitting.

The first thing that struck me about Eleanor is that she is petite. I am not a big person in any of the 3 dimensions, but she makes me feel almost tall.

IMG_2163-2013-10-14-10-55.jpg

We had both decked ourselves out in knitted items that we knew the other would admire. Eleanor wore a gorgeous lace sweater, a scarf, and lace stockings to die for. I wore hand-knit socks and my beaded Aeolian shawl in midnight blue, an item that she had commented upon on its Ravelry project page.

Together we enjoyed a delicious lunch and more than four hours of conversation and knitting. Fortunately the restaurant was not busy, and seemed not to mind our prolonged use of the facilities. We made sure to buy dessert and tea at intervals. I loved hearing Eleanor speak French, and was very glad to have a companion who knew the language in a town that is not bilingual.

It’s not surprising to find that two people who have found sympathetic voices in each others’ written words would find they have much in common. We talked about our children, married life, books and films, the death of the blogging site where we met, what the Internet means to us, and, of course, knitting.

We will meet again. We both feel like we are life-long friends.

And on the way back to Montreal, there were hot-air balloons in the sky, providing a last touch of magic at the end of a very good day.


IMG_2166-2013-10-14-10-55.jpg


Monday, August 12, 2013

There's no such thing as too much zucchini.


This is a repost of something that I wrote in August 2007 at another blog site. I still love this soup!

Are you overwhelmed with the bounty of your garden - or with the bounty of other people's gardens? Are lonely, homeless zucchini turning up on your doorstep, looking for a purpose in life?

Last year my stepmother gave me her recipe for zucchini soup. I love it, and I'm not alone. The whole family seems quite content to eat it frequently in zucchini season, and my friends love it, too. I have come to believe that this soup is zucchini's reason for existence.

So here is the recipe:

Start with a couple of large zucchini, or several small ones.

 

Chop into chunks.

 

Put into a large pan. Add about 1/4 to 1/2 inch of water.

 

Cover and bring to a boil. Simmer until the zucchini chunks are very tender.



Puree the zucchini and cooking water in a food processor or blender.



Return the puree to the cooking pot. Add one can of evaporated milk.

 

Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Enjoy a delicious summer soup.



This whole recipe can be prepared in about 1/2 hour, if you are working efficiently and not trying to take pictures for a blog post.

Now, you tell me if there is such a thing as too much zucchini.