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

6.15.13 ~ Orange, Connecticut
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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6.15.13 ~ Orange, Connecticut
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tradition is that the person getting the bigger bite “controls” the marriage
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6.15.13 ~ Orange, Connecticut
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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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6.15.13 ~ Orange, Connecticut
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6.15.13 ~ Orange, Connecticut
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6.15.13 ~ Orange, Connecticut
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Aunt Delorma, who has been 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.

Grandmother Elm

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5.14.13 ~ Stonington, Connecticut

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

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5.14.13 ~ Stonington, Connecticut

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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5.14.13 ~ Stonington, Connecticut

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 ~ Groton, Connecticut

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 ~ 5.10.13 ~ Storrs, Connecticut
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pansies for Bernie ~ 5.10.13 ~ Storrs, Connecticut
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branch shadows playing with the roots of my hemlock tree ~ 5.10.13 ~ Storrs, Connecticut
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trillium ~ 5.10.13 ~ Storrs, Connecticut
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garden steps ~ 5.10.13 ~ Storrs, Connecticut
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primrose ~ 5.10.13 ~ Storrs, Connecticut
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life and death on a maple leaf, spider eating a lady bug ~ 5.10.13 ~ Storrs, Connecticut
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garden whimsy ~ 5.10.13 ~ Storrs, Connecticut

garden angels

5.6.13 ~ Groton, Connecticut
an angel in my garden ~ 5.6.13

Our lives have taken on a surreal quality, a numbness, in recent weeks. Tim’s brother Toby is now living with us, and sadly, has been diagnosed with incurable bladder cancer. A few days after receiving this devastating news, we were stunned to hear that Tim’s cousin has also been diagnosed with an incurable cancer. Radical treatments will buy them both a little time, but how much is uncertain. This is all so uncomfortably familiar, having lost three of our middle-aged parents to cancer when we were young adults. And yet, this is now all so terribly new to us, cancer striking our generation for the first time. Insidious, unrelenting, cruel…

5.5.13 ~ Stonington, Connecticut
new elm leaf ~ 5.5.13 ~ Stonington, Connecticut

Zoë has been wonderful company for me – I’m thinking of getting a cat harness and leash for her so she can come out into the garden with me. She seems rambunctious enough to enjoy an outdoor adventure. 🙂 Toby is doing angelic things in my garden – he loves gardening and it gives him something satisfying and distracting to do between medical appointments. And Scarby has been wonderful company for Tim – she is coming out of hiding more often and enjoys sitting on the cat tree to look out the window and soak up the sun. She often sits on his desk and watches him work.

The other day I sent Tim a link to an article, how to calculate tree height using a smartphone. And then, Voilà!!! Mr. Logic found the app and used it on our next visit to my tree! He determined that my tree is 60 feet tall! (That’s about 18 meters tall for those of you on the metric system.) An interesting bit of information to ponder, since I still cannot see the shape of its leaves just yet.

5.5.13 ~ Stonington, Connecticut
my tree ~ 5.5.13 ~ Stonington, Connecticut

Janet and I took a train to New York City. We met Larisa at Penn Station and went shopping in the fabric district for material for her wedding dress! She is sewing it herself with a little help from her friends. Seeing her drape the different shades of purple fabric over her body to see which one she liked best, well, they were some of the happiest moments in my life. My lovely daughter is going to be a stunning bride in just a little over a month!

cemetery notes

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my tree ~ 4.16.13 ~ Stonington, Connecticut
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4.16.13 ~ Stonington, Connecticut

On this occasion it was Janet who brought me to the Stonington Cemetery to visit my newly adopted tree. And this time I photographed her from her other side (above) and noticed something else of interest. It might be difficult to make out, but there is a stone corner post embedded in her roots and trunk. The tree must have grown around the post as she widened in circumference!

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the holy family ~ 4.16.13 ~ Stonington, Connecticut
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♫ It had to be you ♫ wonderful you ♫ had to be you ♫ ~ 4.16.13 ~ Stonington, Connecticut
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4.16.13 ~ Stonington, Connecticut

A little online research satisfied my curiosity about the woman buried in this grave with a very unique headstone (above), who died at the tragically young age of 51. She was Catherine Voorsanger, an associate curator of American decorative arts at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.

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buds are emerging ~ 4.16.13 ~ Stonington, Connecticut
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nooks, crannies and a needle-eye ~ 4.16.13 ~ Stonington, Connecticut

Josh has returned to England now, and Toby awaits further medical tests after an infection, for which he is being treated, clears. We’re getting lots of practice exercising patience as we wait and wait for elusive answers to our questions…

Scarby remains mostly in hiding, but Zoë is enjoying the fresh air coming in the open windows, and watching all the birds and squirrels scurrying and fluttering about near the balcony. She’s getting plenty of exercise chasing the red spot made by a small laser flashlight. Besides pony-tail elastics, it’s the only toy that seems to inspire her to play.