eternally terminal

5.28.10 ~ Storrs, Connecticut
wheelchair ramp built by my son and my brother-in-law ~ 5.28.10 ~ Storrs, Connecticut

Whenever I make the hour drive north to sit with my father, I use the time to listen to my iPod play list, set on shuffle. It’s kind of like drawing cards, I listen for messages in the string of songs it “selects” for the day. Since I have 1,328 songs on my “car” play list, there is always something “new” to contemplate. Or, if Dave Matthews’ The Best of What’s Around comes on (I have fourteen versions of it, including studio demos and live performances), I might hit the repeat button again and again to energize myself with the sentiments expressed for dealing with an often discouraging situation.

Yesterday I started connecting some dots… Last week I wrote about changing perceptions and mentioned the tetralogy by Sigrid Undset, The Master of Hestviken, a story about the lives of Ingunn and Olav, set in medieval Norway. I mentioned all the waiting the characters had to do. This week I started and finished the second book, The Snake Pit, and started the third, In the Wilderness.

5.28.10 ~ Storrs, Connecticut
woodland garden ~ 5.28.10 ~ Storrs, Connecticut

I’ve noticed that most of the blogs I like to read have a theme or a focus, like art, history, nature, photography, places, poetry, quotes, writing, etc. And at times I feel left out because I can’t seem to find a theme for my blog. Others seem to have more time to pursue their interests, careers and dreams. But at this point in time my energy is focused on waiting!

Last month, when writing about the volcano in Iceland I observed that years ago people used to respect the power of Mother Nature and they did their best to live in harmony with it. It seems like today we are determined to carry on with our plans with no regard whatsoever for the weather, the seasons, the climate, or natural disasters.

5.28.10 ~ Storrs, Connecticut
dianthus ~ 5.28.10 ~ Storrs, Connecticut

Well. Isn’t dying a part of nature? Doesn’t it sometimes take a very long time to die? Am I doing my best to live in harmony with this reality? In The Master of Hestviken, when a character became incapacitated or gravely ill, his or her family would take turns “watching with” the one who was bedridden. Sitting by the bedside of a dying loved one was an honor and not considered a waste of time. Surely other pursuits were neglected and other plans put aside, but that was the way it was done. Even if a person lingered near death for years, like Ingunn did at the end of her life.

So I think this will be my focus, what I think about and what I observe around me as I “watch with” my father. Emotionally refreshed, I arrived at the house my parents built themselves when I was a preschooler, and went inside.

5.28.10 ~ Storrs, Connecticut
captain’s bell ~ 5.28.10 ~ Storrs, Connecticut

After greeting everyone, I went to use the bathroom. I couldn’t help noticing next to the toilet what appeared to be a plunger made out of a silver-toned metal. Huh?? Could not comprehend what I was looking at… So I picked it up to move it out of the way and it started ringing very loudly! It was a huge bell!! It struck me so funny – what on earth was a bell doing next to the toilet? The more I laughed the more it clanged and I heard my sister asking, “What is she doing?” and then my brother-in-law teasingly inquired, “Do you need some help in there?” Haven’t laughed so hard in ages!

Turns out it is Dad’s new bell to ring when he’s alone and needs someone. The little bell he had previously just wasn’t loud enough to wake anyone up and it was getting to be too hard for him to pick up and grasp. Beverly found this “Captain’s Bell” somewhere and now he’s back in business.

Now that I had arrived my brother-in-law took off for parts unknown and the grocery store. As he is the primary care-giver, a trip to do errands and go food shopping is a real break for him that he enjoys. My sister had been up much of the night with Dad, so she went upstairs to take a nap. And I brought Dad’s bell back to him and began “watching with” him. We talked for a little, he’d ask about the book I was reading and I’d tell him a bit about it and then he’d fall asleep. Twenty minutes later he’d wake and ask another question and then he’d fall asleep again.

5.28.10 ~ Storrs, Connecticut
Bernie ~ 5.28.10 ~ Storrs, Connecticut

After a while, the cat, Bernie, started yowling to go outside. Dad suggested I take him for a walk in the woods, so I did, knowing that monstrous bell would wake my sister if he needed anything. Bernie and I had a splendid walk! I had hoped to encounter Harriet, a wild turkey hen who has been hanging around lately. I think we heard her, but I couldn’t see her.

5.28.10 ~ Storrs, Connecticut
spruced up space to store canned foods ~ 5.28.10 ~ Storrs, Connecticut

Something else was new in the house. My parents had always used space between the studs in the wall of the stairway going down to the basement for storing canned goods. I did a double take as I walked past the opened basement door. My brother-in-law had dry walled and painted the stairway and added shelf paper under the cans! I thought of Kathy’s ‘playing with your food’ blog and snapped a picture of it.  🙂

In the evening we were all amused by the antics of two adorable baby red squirrels who couldn’t figure out how the adult red squirrels made the jump from the tree to the bird feeder. No good pictures – they’re fast little things!

The joke in our family is that Dad is eternally terminal. (Fear not, he finds this very amusing coming from a family with a delightfully dark sense of humor.) His “little” sister, who is 80, came to visit him from Maryland last week. She says he’s like a potted plant. Every time it seems to be almost dead it revives with a little watering and/or plant food. Maybe he’s a succulent. There’s no way of knowing when the end will come, but I feel a little more settled now about making the best of whatever time there is remaining, the best of what is now. “Watching with” Dad.

5.28.10 ~ Storrs, Connecticut
potted succulents on stone wall built by my dad ~ 5.28.10 ~ Storrs, Connecticut

my mother

Write something, anything…

Tonight there will be a full moon. Today is the day my mother died, nineteen long years ago. She was only 59. I was only 34. So young, the both of us. Fifty-nine seemed like such a long way off then, and here I am now, at fifty-three, wondering at the last nineteen years, each day so long in the living and yet the years speeding by. My son is 34. I look at him and try to imagine him motherless, as I became at his age.

It’s amazing that I still miss her so and often wonder what life would now be like if she was here… Somehow I want to do something in her memory, but I’m not sure how…

Elisabeth J. White

Mom was a nature lover and avid bird watcher. One time she found a baby owl that lived in our bathroom for a while until it was ready for release. Our childhood was spent camping, canoeing, and hiking. She was a physical therapist and loved to read. If she wasn’t outside, she had her nose in a newspaper or book.

Her high school classmates said of her: “With charm of soul possessed by her, she rules herself.” So true. Until I left home, I was unaware of the “war between the sexes.” My parents had a true egalitarian relationship. Mom disliked cooking and it was unremarkable to me that Dad did the cooking and Mom mowed the lawn. They modeled interdependence and mutuality for me and my sister.

She loved her grandchildren, my children, and took each of them separately for a special week-long visit at Grandma’s before she was too ill to enjoy them. After her special visit, my then ten-year-old daughter declared her intention to move in with her grandparents. Her grandma gently explained to her that it wouldn’t be as much fun if she was living there full-time.

Mom didn’t have any sons, so she adored her grandsons, who were thirteen and fifteen when she died. My older son was her little shadow and loved following her around, helping to feed her chickens, weed the garden, pick vegetables for dinner, or whatever else they found to occupy themselves out there. There was a special bond between them and he took her death the hardest.

It’s kind of funny, Mom had no interest in art or interior decor. My sister and I, who have more of an eye for balance and color, were continually exasperated at how she arranged the furniture and how nothing seemed to go together. One day while Mom was at work, my sister took it upon herself to make new curtains for the kitchen, paint it and put down some pretty shelf paper. Mom didn’t seem to notice and merely shrugged when my sister pointed it out to her and asked her if she minded. We later learned that her mother, who was an artist, had tried many times to give her daughter a hand with the decorating, but her efforts were for naught.

Some things skip a generation, and if my sister and I are like our grandmother, my daughter is very much like my mother. Especially in the wanderlust department. Mom loved the adventure of travel, and as Dad puts it, she dragged him to Greece to live for a couple of years when an opportunity to do that presented itself. And they took trips out west and through Canada to explore another of her passions, the culture of Native Americans. They also took a trip to the Ukraine, the land of my father’s ancestors.

First Congregtional Church Cemetery, Harwich, Massachusetts

Yes, I still miss her and her Seminole skirt. Had she lived I’m sure we would have found her rumored New England Native American ancestor by now. Yesterday I immersed myself in genealogical research, which was an occupation we both enjoyed. My goodness, what would she think of all the online research now available? When she died she was learning to use the online genealogical bulletin boards that seem so primitive now.

Well, I could go on, but this is long enough. Somehow I think my mother knows that she may be gone, but is by no means forgotten. And that I’ve learned that all we have is now, and that when all is said and done, that is enough.

a secret garden

Yesterday Janet and I took a three-hour stroll through the Connecticut College Arboretum, and I came home with 147 pictures! First we made our way through the native plant collection…

5.22.10 ~ New London, Connecticut
tulip tree ~ 5.22.10 ~ New London, Connecticut

… and then hiked through the woods, noticing the abundance of mountain laurel and flowering dogwood under the dying hemlocks, which used to rule the forest. Finally we made our way to a secret garden hidden in a corner of the arboretum, the Edgerton & Stengel Memorial Wildflower Garden.

5.22.10 ~ New London, Connecticut
5.22.10 ~ New London, Connecticut

We opened the gate and were soon greeted by a Cheshire cat, who let us know that it ‘didn’t matter which way we went’ in his lush and untamed neck of the woods. He appeared and disappeared as we explored the maze of paths, drawing our attention to various wildflowers and settings.

5.22.10 ~ New London, Connecticut
5.22.10 ~ New London, Connecticut
5.22.10 ~ New London, Connecticut
5.22.10 ~ New London, Connecticut

Janet will have to identify some of these flowers…

5.22.10 ~ New London, Connecticut
5.22.10 ~ New London, Connecticut

We were surprised to discover that maidenhair ferns have black stems – the black and green contrast was striking!

5.22.10 ~ New London, Connecticut
maidenhair ferns ~ 5.22.10 ~ New London, Connecticut
5.22.10 ~ New London, Connecticut
maidenhair ferns ~ 5.22.10 ~ New London, Connecticut
5.22.10 ~ New London, Connecticut
“Who are you?” ~ 5.22.10 ~ New London, Connecticut

See the cinnamon sticks in the cinnamon fern?

5.22.10 ~ New London, Connecticut
cinnamon fern ~ 5.22.10 ~ New London, Connecticut
5.22.10 ~ New London, Connecticut
star of Bethlehem ~ 5.22.10 ~ New London, Connecticut
5.22.10 ~ New London, Connecticut
lady slippers ~ 5.22.10 ~ New London, Connecticut

To see the world in a grain of sand,
And a heaven in a wild flower;
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand,
And eternity in an hour.
~ William Blake
(Auguries of Innocence)

There are a couple of Jacks-in-the-Pulpit (aka Indian Turnips) in this picture if you look carefully – they’re not fully in bloom yet.

5.22.10 ~ New London, Connecticut
Jack in the pulpit or Indian turnip ~ 5.22.10 ~ New London, Connecticut
5.22.10 ~ New London, Connecticut
yellow birch ~ 5.22.10 ~ New London, Connecticut
5.22.10 ~ New London, Connecticut
May apple ~ 5.22.10 ~ New London, Connecticut
5.22.10 ~ New London, Connecticut
waiting patiently ~ 5.22.10 ~ New London, Connecticut

Sadly, all the hemlocks are slowly dying…  new life is taking hold under bare branches…

5.22.10 ~ New London, Connecticut
hemlocks over wild phlox ~ 5.22.10 ~ New London, Connecticut
5.22.10 ~ New London, Connecticut
he was so tame and affectionate ~ 5.22.10 ~ New London, Connecticut

The Cheshire cat disappeared before we could say good-bye.

5.22.10 ~ New London, Connecticut
an enchanting garden ~ 5.22.10 ~ New London, Connecticut

After this delightful sojourn we sat and rested for a bit and studied our map. We still haven’t seen the whole arboretum, even after three hours! So we’re planning another visit in a month, when different things will be in bloom, and of course, we hope to come and see Shakespeare-in-the-Arboretum in July, too. Plans made, we then headed for Ruby Tuesday and quenched our thirsts with two strawberry lemonades each!

by the sea

It’s been another rough week – will things ever settle down? Dad is not doing well at all and seeing him in so much pain, or else so drugged up that he’s incoherent, leaves me with a pit in my stomach as I stay helpless to relieve his misery. It’s at times like this that it seems like being there couldn’t possibly be enough, although everyone tells me that it does make a difference.

It’s way past my bedtime and I’ve been sitting here at the computer emailing family… And fiddling with a different theme and name for this blog. As if that would change anything. Edge of the Sea suddenly sounded so sharp to me, like the edge of a razor, or the edge of doom, or the edge of night. By the Sea sounds so much softer and comforting. I simply couldn’t rest until I changed it.

None of life’s strings can last
So, I must be on my way
And face another day

Now the darkness only stays the night-time
In the morning it will fade away
Daylight is good at arriving at the right time
It’s not always going to be this grey

All things must pass
All things must pass away

~ George Harrison
♫ (All Things Must Pass) ♫

Larisa: Master of Social Work

Larisa Katherine Rodgers

Storrs, Connecticut, May 8, 2010
University of Connecticut School of Social Work
Master of Social Work in Case Work
Mental Health & Substance Abuse in Social Work Practice

Tim and Larisa
Larisa, Aunt Lil and Barbara
5.8.10 ~ Dima, Larisa, Mookie, Alyssa

The sad thing was that Larisa’s most ardent supporter, her Grandpa, was not able to attend, and neither were her Aunt Beverly and Uncle John there, because they remained home to care for Grandpa. But Auntie Lil braved the pouring rain and was pleased as punch to witness the grand event. We all went over to the house afterward and had a little party inside to celebrate and tell Grandpa all about the ceremony.

My parents met at UConn, when my mother was an undergraduate and my father was a graduate student. Dad got his PhD there, too, when Beverly and I were little girls. My sister attended UConn, too, where she met her husband, John, another UConn grad. Beverly went away and got her PhD at the New Mexico Institute of Mining & Technology. I have a feeling Larisa might follow Beverly’s path and go for a PhD at some other university. It will be fun seeing where her next adventure will be!

gardens and yards

Tim & I bought our little condo in 1993. We loved the wooden blue-grey board siding, the landscaping, the light, and most of all, the two birch trees in front of and on the side of our unit. Our little garden in front was just the right size for me to keep up and I loved taking care of it, and basked in the frequent compliments I received from the neighbors. But it was not to last. Sadly around the year 2003 the condo association decided the complex needed improvements. It was a very drastic renovation and we are far from pleased with the result.

First, they removed most of the trees, bushes and flowers in the gardens to make room for scaffolding. I can’t begin to describe the anguish I felt when the two lovely birch trees disappeared… After we got new roofs and new windows they covered the exterior with some ugly peachy tan stuff that looks like stucco or adobe. Here it is, seven or so years later and I still haven’t fully recovered from the trauma. Not that I haven’t tried. I’ve planted all kinds of things in the garden and made valiant attempts to keep weeds at bay. Occasionally it looks presentable, but most of the time by August (when my allergies kick in) I’ve had it and have given up.

My sister lived in New Mexico for many years and told me the siding looks like it would be appropriate there. But I am a New Englander and I’m still at a loss trying to figure out what would make me feel at home with the outside of my dwelling.

Tim was home sick with bronchitis most of this past week. So yesterday we went out for a drive to see the trees starting to get some green on them. We wound up in Mystic for a brunch at a little restaurant we love, and then decided to head up to the nursery in Ledyard following the back roads. We took pictures of a rusty tow truck that looked in worse shape than the last truck it ever towed! We wondered how many “Yankee points” this farm would score. (Not sure where I learned about Yankee points – many New Englanders, who can’t seem to throw anything away, keep all kinds of potentially useful stuff in their yards. The more stuff, the more points. You know the old saying, “use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without.”)

4.24.10 ~ Ledyard, Connecticut

When we got to the nursery I was immediately going off on a tangent wanting every other bush I saw. Tim helped me to recover my focus and stick with my new plan. A cranberry cotoneaster. I loved the one I had before it was taken away and this one promises to be 5 feet in diameter. It will eventually choke out some of the weeds. Maybe this will be the year I regain my footing out there. Maybe this fall or next spring I will dare to buy a birch tree. One step at a time… I dug a hole this morning and planted the source of my renewed hopes. It’s supposed to be drizzling for the next three days so it won’t need too much watering. We still love the light here… Will try yet again to make the best of it.

Bernie

The past few days have been stressed with still another false medical alarm, although this time it was Tim’s… To deal with the stress I’ve been distracting myself by adding and adding to my quote site and family history site, and have not felt much like writing anything new here. Today after receiving good news about Tim I came home to find that a third cousin I’ve never met before had found the family history and wrote me a lovely comment. Our grandmothers were cousins, but because they were both an “only child” they felt they were more like sisters. What a wonderful surprise to have at the end of a difficult day!

3.27.10 ~ Storrs, Connecticut
Bernie ~ 3.27.10 ~ Storrs, Connecticut

Above is a new picture I took of Bernie a couple of weeks ago, on one of our walks. I decided to dig out my story about him from last year and post it now that it is spring again.

The following blog was originally posted on Gaia Community on 19 April 2009:

4.13.09 ~ Storrs, Connecticut
Bernie ~ 4.13.09 ~ Storrs, Connecticut

This cat is named Bernie, a delightfully domestic old fellow who is still in touch with his inner bobcat. He was born in New Mexico and is at least 17 years old. My sister and her husband adopted him from a shelter while they were living there. They also adopted an iguana named Lizzie and a spider named Olivia – all of them had the run of their hovel, which is what my sister affectionately called their very modest duplex. When it came time to move back to Connecticut Lizzie and Olivia were left behind to other good homes, but Bernie was brought to the land of trees and snow…

It was quite an adjustment for him. He is a very athletic outdoorsy sort of cat who used to love running just for the sheer joy of it. When my daughter’s cat was living there with him for a while he would try and get her to play tag, but she just looked at him like he had to be kidding… He enjoyed exploring the woods, but his main objection to Connecticut was the long snowy winters here. Whenever it snowed he would go from window to window yowling, hoping to somehow spot a landscape without snow. My brother-in-law took pity on him, and to this day shovels a few paths through the snow so Bernie can get his exercise without too much contact with the white stuff.

A few years ago he was taken to a veterinary ophthalmologist for a problem with his eyes. They think he may have Lyme Disease, but whatever it is it has gradually robbed him of his vision. They give him eye drops every day to slow down the progression, but he is now blind. He does very well, though. He still catches mice – we can’t figure out how. He gets around the house pretty well because most things stay where they are, but he bumps into people, my dad’s wheelchair and stray laundry baskets or shopping bags inadvertently left in his path. He seems to take it all in stride, though.

Since he had a run in with a fisher they aren’t letting Bernie outside by himself any longer. They’ve also had two coyotes near the house. He gets several walks a day with whoever is on hand to escort him. Last week Bernie and I took a walk and had a good time exploring the bushes, flowers and trees. And I got this picture of him coming toward me, only possible because he doesn’t run anymore. He walks very carefully, but doesn’t seem to feel sorry for himself. I admire his spirit of acceptance and adaptation, making the best of things.

full moon flood

Six inches of rain for us from this storm! Connecticut is having its worst flooding since 1982. We live at one end of a road that cuts between two salt ponds. Our son and daughter-in-law live a mile down at the other end of this road. (Shea took the first picture from her end. I took the rest of the pictures from our end, which is just around the bend in Shea’s picture.)

We both live up on relatively high ground so we’re safe and sound. The white high water mark pole in the second picture is to measure storm surges in case we ever get a hurricane again as bad as the one in 1938. We’ve been instructed that we would need to evacuate if a category 3 or higher hurricane were ever to make its way here. What an exciting day it has been!

My daughter-in-law Shea wrote on Facebook:

OK just got back from rescuing my sister from work… She had to walk through water above her knees in order to get to us.. Got home and found out that the National Guard has all three ways to get to my house blocked… One of them was nice enough to move the road block so I could drive through the bumper high water… GO JEEP!!!!!

rails-to-trails

3.20.10 ~ Janet and Barbara

Yesterday we had a taste of summer. Low 70s! Janet took Tim and me on an adventure through her neck of the woods. First we took a hike on the Old Airline Trail – can’t remember which section – that runs across eastern Connecticut. It’s one of those Rails-to-Trails projects. We crossed over a very tall viaduct and were treated to lovely views, although everything is still brown and gray from winter. The trail also cut through some hills so we saw a lot of water from the saturated earth dripping down the moss and rocks bordering much of the trail.

3.20.10

Next stop was the Hebron Maple Festival. By then it was lunch time and uncomfortably hot in the sun. It was a relief when we got to the chainsaw woodcarving demonstration that was tucked in the woods on a back road, and of course we bought some real maple syrup!

3.20.10

And finally we stopped at Tangletree Farm in Colchester where Roger had been joyfully riding his horse, Tsultan. Janet introduced us to all the horses in the barn, including a new foal. He was born on Saint Patrick’s day, so his name is, of course, Patrick. He was very busy nursing so I couldn’t get a better picture of him!

Also, I did a brave thing, brave for me. I fed Janet’s quarter horse, Cruiser, a couple of carrots and actually petted his nose! When I was in eighth grade a girl in my class fell off a horse, broke her neck, and died one weekend. It was such a shock to come back to school on the following Monday and hear this news! And back in those days they did not have grief counselors come to a school to help students cope with their losses. The whole episode left me profoundly afraid of horses. But I have a feeling that this may be about to change.

Needless to say, we were pretty tuckered out by the time we got home last night. Today we’ve been catching up with computer stuff and a stew is in the slow cooker, and dinner is smelling good!