projects and memories

Long time readers of this blog may remember me complaining about the ancestral “stuff” we have accumulated over the years. For instance, here is part of my 15 July 2018 post:

You might guess from my recent choice of reading material that I’m still struggling with the objects and possessions I inherited from our ancestors. Things started piling up around 2008. Hard to believe it’s been 10 years! I have managed to dispose of a lot of stuff but cannot rest on my laurels. What’s left is stacked halfway to the ceiling in a corner of what is supposed to be the genealogy/guest room. The corner takes up almost half the room. … Trouble is, life (births, illnesses, travels, weddings, visitors, deaths) keeps happening and I need a good chunk of uninterrupted time to roll up my sleeves and dig in.

Four years after writing that, nothing had changed. More illness and then a pandemic… Well, I finally measured the pile of boxes. 6′ x 5′ x 4′. I’m terrible with numbers but I believe that was 120 cubic feet of stuff! And I finally realized that a good chunk of uninterrupted time was never going to come my way. I was going to have to seize it for myself. Walks, yoga, blogging, housework, puzzles, reading and family history research were all abandoned for the project.

I rolled up my sleeves and dug in. Much of it was disposed of. There were countless trips to the dumpster, the Book Barn, Goodwill and the Give & Take Shed at the transfer station. It took me a little over a month to make that pile disappear.

There were many treasures in there and these were roughly sorted and then stored where I can get my hands on them and organize them. (Soon, I hope!) At first I was trying to file important papers, like birth, marriage and death records, into the loose-leaf notebooks I created back in the 1990s. But it quickly became apparent that these would have to be reorganized to accommodate the volume of paperwork and photographs I was finding. These are the old notebooks:

There is room for expansion on the shelf below now. All the paperwork is put into acid-free sleeve protectors and kept in these notebooks. I need more! The first one was for us and our parents and the rest were for our eight grandparents and their ancestors. But I’ve had to start new notebooks for our parents and change the size for some of the grandparents. I can’t believe how many citizenship papers and wills and property deeds I found. Not to mention photographs.

One thing taking up a lot of space was my grandmother’s and my mother’s slides. My sister has made a start on digitizing them. Sadly, some are badly deteriorated.

There was about a decade in the 1990s I think of now as my genealogy heydays. My children were in their teens so I had more time on my hands. My mother had died of cancer in 1991 and my father decided to spend some of his time helping me with research. We took a day-long local family history class together with the Connecticut Society of Genealogists in East Hartford. He also came with me to a national genealogy conference in Hartford one summer where we bought a map of the Austrian Empire in 1875, as it was laid out when his parents were born there, in what is now Ukraine. I found the map and got it hung up again.

In 1993 I started a correspondence course with the National Genealogical Society.

My father and I also made many trips to Cape Cod during that decade. My late mother’s beloved parents were still alive and we visited them about once a month, sometimes making a side trip to a cemetery to locate an ancestor’s resting place. Grandfather finally had to put Grandmother in a nursing home when she kept falling and her dementia was too difficult for him to cope with. I am so grateful for my father’s companionship during those years. It was on these visits that Grandfather told me stories about his parents and grandparents, and I wrote them down. I did find many of my notes and corralled them into one place.

Grandmother died in 1996. After her funeral Grandfather took me and my sister and my cousin and my children to two of the cemeteries where Grandmother’s parents and grandparents were buried.

After a few pauses and restarts, I finally completed my course in 1998.

I wish that my mother had lived long enough to enjoy that decade with us. She became interested in family history toward the end of her life and my father used to help her visit town halls and genealogical libraries. She was just getting started with genealogy chat rooms online. She would have loved using the resources, like Ancestry.com, that I take for granted now. Once in the 1980s, before she got too sick, Tim had a work conference in Boston so he took Mom and me up there with him and dropped us off at the New England Historic Genealogical Society. We spent a memorable day in their library doing research. Went out for lunch in the city. It was a fun day, a rare mother-daughter outing. I can’t even remember who was watching the kids — was it my father?

Time marches on. Papa fell in 2000, breaking his femur, and began his slow decline. Beverly & John moved back from New Mexico to stay with him. Grandfather died in 2001. Auntie Lil needed ever more help and finally moved from elderly housing into my father’s house. Children went to college, got married and moved away. The 2000s are a blur of eldercare to me now. Tim had a major heart attack and almost died in 2007. Tim’s grandparents’ home in Provincetown was sold in 2009 and the Dennis Port home of my grandparents was sold in 2010, if I remember correctly. We wound up with lots of stuff we couldn’t handle or absorb. Papa, and Tim’s brother Toby, who lived out his last eight months with us, both died in 2013. Auntie died in 2016, at the great old age of 101. In 2017 Tim had major surgery, a sigmoid colon resection, and later that same year I was diagnosed with cancer and had a hysterectomy. So this is all why there was such a huge, untouched pile of stuff!

It’s such a relief to have it finally done. There are some loose ends to work on but these can be handled a little at a time. I’m looking forward to making new covers for my notebooks and reorganizing the insides. That’s fun work. It was so nice being able to set up air mattresses for our grandchildren to sleep on in the space formerly occupied by that awful pile of stuff!

throwback thursday

1973? ~ Tim and Dan (#2)
They look more alike now than they did back then!

Tim (#1) had five younger brothers. Recently brother Dan shared these photos from his collection with us. Sometimes being in quarantine starts a trip or two down memory lane. Sadly, Toby is no longer with us.

1973? ~ Tim and Toby (#4) (1960-2013)

So Connecticut started to reopen yesterday, apparently the last state to begin loosening restrictions. Time will tell what this will mean for us. But since the state had 314 new COVID-19 cases the day before we will remain in our bubble for the foreseeable future. The deadly virus is still out there.

Our mayor has decided to open the beach for the summer on June 20, with plenty of restrictions. No day passes. Only season passes with no guarantee that you can get in if the beach is full. No picnic tables and no concession stand. Restrooms will be monitored and only one person with a mask allowed in at a time. Masks to be worn at all times unless you’re sitting or lying on your blanket. People in high risk categories (like us) shouldn’t come. I actually agree with all of this. It seems like the best compromise. The mayor was in a tough spot, damned by someone or other no matter what he decided to do.

What I will miss the most is the chance to see my gull friend with the mangled leg. And to sit on a bench with my husband and eat our supper while watching the ferries and sailboats and gull antics. Enjoying the sea breeze. But it is a necessary sacrifice we’re willing to make.

We now have 103 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in our town. Our county (New London) has 880 confirmed cases. Of those 24 are still in the hospital and 66 have lost their lives.

thank you for the songs

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Dave Matthews

My songs are like a three-legged dog – you have to get to know them to have any love for them.
~ Dave Matthews
(Facebook, July 8, 2013)

I’ve been a fan of many songwriters over the years, but Dave Matthews is perhaps my favorite, his lyrics resonating with my unfolding experiences and observations, inner and outer. In the 1990s, when my kids were teenagers listening to the radio all the time, an occasional song would catch my ear and I would ask them who it was by. The answer was almost always “Dave Matthews Band.” So I bought an album and was hooked. Listening to his albums would energize and inspire me to cook, clean and drive up to visit my father, giving me a boost whenever I felt too weary to go on. Most of them were spiritually uplifting to me, or, if filled with existential angst it would be a feeling I knew well.

On my way came up with the answers
I scratched my head
And the answers were gone
~ Dave Matthews
♫ (Spoon) ♫

So I have an iPod with all his music on it, and a large sampling of other favored songwriters’ music, too. I play my whole collection on shuffle, mostly when I’m cooking or cleaning the kitchen, so I rarely get two songs by the same artist in a row. But an interesting thing happened while Toby was living with us. He often popped into the kitchen and asked me about a song that must have caught his ear, and it always turned out to be a Dave Matthews song. It got to be a joke between us. He never would say if he liked the song or not, for all I know he may have been asking in order to find out who that terrible singer was!

When I step into the light
My arms are open wide
When I step into the light
My eyes searching wildly
~ Dave Matthews
♫ (Lie In Our Graves) ♫

But I think now, whenever one of Dave’s songs is playing, I will half expect Toby to come up the stairs, poke his head in the kitchen with a smile and say, “Dave Matthews, right?”

Happy Birthday, Dave!

Zoë’s Topsy-Turvy Year

1.4.14 ~ Groton, Connecticut

Zoë

This is the sweet face that I see when I open my eyes every morning. My precious Zoë. We’ve been through so much since she decided to be my friend last year, around this time. She picked me – I’ve never had a cat single me out for special affection before! The beginning of this story can be found here: Second Day of Christmas.

She arrived here by car from Virginia with her sister Scarby, on March 2. When we opened the cat carriers, both Zoë and Scarby bolted out and hid under the basement stairs. But in a few minutes Zoë emerged, adorable with cobwebs clinging to her whiskers, and came right to me for greetings and petting. Cleary she was happy to see me again. But poor Scarby was not at all pleased with the new living arrangements and did not come out from under the stairs for about a week, when she shot upstairs and started hiding under Tim’s bed. When Scarby did come out she would hiss at Zoë, making it known in no uncertain terms how much she blamed her litter-mate for this unfortunate turn of events.

And then on April 4, Toby came to live with us. So much was happening over the next few months. Major surgery for Toby. Nate & Shea installing a powder room for his use. Dima & Larisa’s wedding. Toby hard at work making my garden beautiful. Putting my aunt in a nursing home. My father’s final illness, death and burial. So many people, so much activity, noise and confusion – not the stuff cats are fond of. My sister and her husband finally took them in for some peace and quiet early in October.

But Zoë was depressed up north there, and I finally brought her back home in the middle of November. Scarby stayed on, happy as can be exploring the house and the woods up there, already catching mice. Last I heard she had her sights set on catching a chipmunk – I hope she doesn’t succeed though! She is as attached to my sister now as Zoë is to me.

Zoë, my little couch potato, has been getting fat over this year – she weighed 24 pounds when we took her to the vet in August. We think it is stress eating, something we do as well. So now it’s time for Zoë, Tim and me to get some exercise and stop eating so much!

After she came home in November, I think Zoë started to sense that Toby was very ill. Before she went away she hissed at him all the time, every time he came into a room she was in. But one day after she returned, while I was sitting on the couch with her, Toby came over and sat on the couch, too. She stood up and turned around and went over to him, lay down and put her two front paws on one of his thighs. He started to pet her in a fumbling sort of way, and she didn’t cringe at all, but gazed up into his eyes until he fell asleep. The pain meds he was on made him very sleepy and his hand landed on her pretty heavily when he drifted off. She didn’t seem to mind, though, she seemed to understand. I will never forget that touching moment.

I’m starting to get the urge to take pictures again – so I dusted off the camera and got this picture of Zoë. It’s another start.

There are two means of refuge from the miseries of life: music and cats.
~ Albert Schweitzer
(Cats of Our Lives)

a trail of busted stuff

"The White Mantle" by Willard Metcalf (1858-1925) American Painter
“The White Mantle” by Willard Metcalf

1° F here this frigid morning… Winter storm Bethany dumped some snow on us Thursday and Friday, and this morning I peeked out the window to see what kind of shoveling job I have ahead of me this afternoon, when it should be a little bit warmer. It doesn’t look like many of our neighbors have been out to shovel either. The world seems so still in the cold.

It was a production getting the bathroom warm enough to take a shower in! But now that I am clean and swathed in extra layers of clothing, I decided to find a painting and type out a few words for a blog post. It’s a start.

Not surprisingly, after nine months of unrelenting stress, my poor husband has succumbed to a bad cold. He’s tucked in on the couch, watching old movies and science fiction movies – a well-deserved rest from his care-giving. I’m bringing him soup, tissues, medicines, hot tea with honey. It’s going to take us a long time to recuperate and rebuild after a rolling stone entered our lives, in the form of his brother Toby.

A rolling stone gathers no moss
But leaves a trail of busted stuff
~ Dave Matthews
♫ (Busted Stuff) ♫

I hesitate to write much about the past year and the the joys and sorrows it brought, all blessings, some in disguise. Toby was easy to love but impossible to live with. Yet somehow we did it. I still had much to learn about family love and pain and trust and compassion. My heart is full of gratitude as I hibernate here in the winter to contemplate and heal…

Toby

Late this morning, Tim’s brother died here at our home, where he had come to live out his last days with terminal bladder cancer. He was only 53, and he struggled to live fully until the bitter end. We feel blessed by all the family who have come at various times to help us through this sad chapter in our lives. Fran and Josh were here at the end, and we are all relieved that Toby has been released from his suffering.

Our life is a faint tracing on the surface of mystery.
~ Annie Dillard
(Pilgrim at Tinker Creek)

indian pipes

8.10.13 ~ Storrs, Connecticut
8.10.13 ~ Storrs, Connecticut

That without suspecting it you should send me the preferred flower of life, seems almost supernatural, and the sweet glee that I felt at meeting it, I could confide to none. I still cherish the clutch with which I bore it from the ground when a wondering Child, an unearthly booty, and maturity only enhances the mystery, never decreases it.
~ Emily Dickinson
(Letter to Mabel Loomis Todd, September 1882)

“The preferred flower of life” Emily is referring to is the Indian pipe, a ghostly flower with no chlorophyll. Like Emily, I was captivated by Indian pipes as a child, whenever I found them while playing in the woods. Native to New England, the flowers are about 3/4 of an inch long, and bloom from June to September. In one of her poems, Emily compares it to a spirit: “‘Tis whiter than an Indian Pipe –” (#1513)

My father has been in the hospital this month with a pulmonary embolism, a blood clot in his lung. He is too old (91) and too frail to tolerate a treatment with clot busters, so the doctor is opting for a conservative treatment with blood thinners. Time will tell if this will be helpful or not. Now that he is home he is hooked up to oxygen around the clock. It’s been a very stressful time for all of us, and I’ve spent many hours at Dad’s bedside, leaving Tim here to cope with his terminally ill brother, Toby.

These Indian pipes were growing near Dad’s house in the woods, and the sight of them stirred up some pleasant childhood memories for me. I put the camera on the ground for this shot and was delighted with the results! A bug’s eye view!

wedding in the woods

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15 June 2013, Orange, Connecticut
Camp Cedarcrest, by the Wepawaug River

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Dima waiting patiently
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Grandma Nina and Vladimir, father of the groom, waiting patiently
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Larisa and Tim ~ photo by Susan Kwan
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6.15.13 ~ Orange, Connecticut
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Larisa reading her vows
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Dima reading his vows
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a kiss
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matron and maid of honor, Alyssa and Alicia
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Larisa & Dima…Tim & Barbara
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our dear friends from Macedonia, Bojan and his sister Ana
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Larisa
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Dima
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Larisa made the dress with help from her friend, Brit; Janet and I went to New York City to help Larisa pick out the fabric
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Svetlana, mother of the groom
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karavai, Russian wedding bread
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tradition is that the person getting the bigger bite “controls” the marriage
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the newlyweds
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best man, Dave
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Tim, father of the bride
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Vlad, father of the groom
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Aunt Delorma, who has been like a mother to both Tim and me,
and a very special grandaunt to Larisa
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the lights of my life, Nate, Larisa and Jon
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cousins Erica, Larisa and Erin
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cousins Nate, Jon, Larisa, David, Erica and Erin
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Larisa and me
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Tim and Larisa
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Nate and Larisa
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Nate, Tim, Dima, Larisa, Barbara and Jon
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Larisa and Eliza
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Toby and Larisa
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Drew, Janet and Tim
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my favorite picture!

Shea helped me out with a lot of the picture-taking, and Svetlana made all the lovely decorations. Dima & Larisa created an amazing wedding and reception, in a perfect setting, and we could not have asked for better weather. A very special day for all of us to remember forever.

An interesting side note – all of the women in the bridal party and the mothers and grandmothers and grandaunt have names that end with an “a.” Larisa; her attendants, Alyssa, Alicia, Erica and Lisa; the mothers, Barbara and Svetlana; Dima’s grandmothers, Nina and Anna; and Larisa’s grandaunt, Delorma.

knowing trees

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5.14.13 ~ Stonington Cemetery

Finally, some leaves have appeared on my tree! I think it is an elm tree.

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My grandparents had an elm tree on the northwest corner of their house lot. Its branches and leaves could almost be touched when looking out the window of the green bedroom, feeling like the leaf canopy of this elm in the above picture.

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Knowing trees, I understand the meaning of patience.
~ Hal Borland
(Countryman: A Summary of Belief)

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Zoë ~ 5.13.13
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flag flying outside our fish market today ~ 5.14.13

Toby went into the hospital for cancer surgery five days ago, and will probably be staying there for another week or so. The day he went into the hospital I had to go up to my father’s house for a few days to help out with the ancient ones. Chelsea had some time off so my aunt Em from Maryland came up and she and I tried our best to fill Chelsea’s shoes! It’s good to be back home now and slip into a more “normal” routine again, at least for a little while.

Up at my dad’s it was so quiet without Bernie around, but I was able to get outside for a short walk and take a few pictures. Later, while sitting on the porch watching birds with Dad, I experimented with the telescopic lens and got a fairly decent picture of a nuthatch (below), if a little blurry! But next time I think I will use the sports setting with the auto-shoot feature. It worked so well today with the flag picture this morning (above), which was whipping in the wind.  Enjoy!

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a nuthatch
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pansies for Bernie
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branch shadows playing with the roots of my hemlock tree
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trillium
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garden steps
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primrose
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life and death on a maple leaf, spider eating a lady bug
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garden whimsy