midsummer in self-quarantine

6.20.20 ~ our geranium

All change is a miracle to contemplate; but it is a miracle which is taking place every instant.
~ Henry David Thoreau
(Walden)

Oh my, how things do change! Perhaps because of the poison ivy blunder, and the coronavirus pandemic, as Midsummer approached I was feeling pretty glum. Wistfully my thoughts drifted to memories of celebrations gone by, like the ones in 2016 and 2009. But then I remembered Tim & I had celebrated alone before. 2011. So we tried to make this Midsummer special, too.

We haven’t used our balcony for outdoor living in a long time because it is badly deteriorated and needs replacing. Our turn to have it replaced hasn’t come up yet, but we decided to bring the little outdoor dining set out of storage and make the best of it. We had also bought a pink geranium at the end of May and it was blossoming profusely. In fact, I had to deadhead it before I could take the picture. 🙂

6.20.20 ~ our dinner

Each new season grows from the leftovers from the past. That is the essence of change, and change is the basic law.
~ Hal Borland
(Sundial of the Seasons)

Since before my radiation proctocolitis diagnosis in January, food has been a big problem for me. I’m still losing weight and have now lost 40 lbs. since November. Sticking to a low-FODMAP diet seems to be my only option for avoiding painful flare-ups.

So we splurged and grilled a marinated swordfish steak to celebrate. Delicious! And we made a low-FODMAP potato salad from my new cookbook, which was pretty good. The Gut-Friendly Cookbook: Delicious, Low-FODMAP, Gluten-Free, Allergy-Friendly Recipes for a Happy Tummy by Alana Scott.

Last fall I had a margarita and got pretty sick, and have avoided alcohol since, but for this occasion I decided to try a Cape Codder made with gluten-free vodka. Mistake. I enjoyed it but a couple of hours later I was very sorry. 🙁 It looks like alcohol is out of the picture for me for good. Lesson learned.

6.20.20 ~ sunset at Avery Point

The changes we dread most may contain our salvation.
~ Barbara Kingsolver
(Small Wonder: Essays)

Fortunately we were able to go down to Avery Point to see the sunset before my gut turned on me. It was beautiful! We had a nice chat with another couple from behind our masks and from a distance. They were sitting on their own lawn chairs. Why hadn’t we thought of that? Instead of going to the beach and sitting on public park benches this summer, which we have decided isn’t an option for us, we can bring our lawn chairs to Avery Point and sit for a while. 🙂

Things change, we make adjustments, modify our habits. Nothing will ever be the same.

garden in the woods

6.3.20 ~ Connecticut College Arboretum, New London, Connecticut

This walk was from June 3rd. Still catching up!

I have the impression that Emily Dickinson enjoyed the companionship of her large dog, Carlo, while she tended her garden. I used to discuss things with Larisa’s tabby cat, Mary, while I was planting and weeding my little plot. She was always interested in what I was up to and what I thought about this or that. Emily’s poetic musings…

buttercup

Within my Garden, rides a Bird
Opon a single Wheel —
Whose spokes a dizzy music make
As ’twere a travelling Mill —

?

He never stops, but slackens
Above the Ripest Rose —
Partakes without alighting
And praises as he goes,

peaceful paths

Till every spice is tasted —
And then his Fairy Gig
Reels in remoter atmospheres —
And I rejoin my Dog,

burl

And He and I, perplex us
If positive, ’twere we —
Or bore the Garden in the Brain
This Curiosity —

rhododendron

But He, the best Logician,
Refers my clumsy eye —
To just vibrating Blossoms!
An exquisite Reply!

~ Emily Dickinson
(The Poems of Emily Dickinson, #370)

arboretum pond
flower and fern carpeting
sassafras sapling

So everything that slows us down and forces patience, everything that sets us back into the slow cycles of nature, is a help. Gardening is an instrument of grace.
~ May Sarton
(Journal of a Solitude)

cinnamon fern
rhododendron
andromeda aka lily-of-the-valley bush

My mother’s favorite flower was lily of the valley. She also had an andromeda shrub planted in the front yard, right near the dining room window.

wild geranium
rhododendron
shady spot
celandine poppy

A garden isn’t meant to be useful. It’s for joy.
~ Rumer Godden
(China Court: A Novel)

enjoyable moments

5.21.20 ~ chipmunk
Fennerswood Preserve, Stonington, Connecticut

For the animal to be happy it is enough that this moment be enjoyable. But man is hardly satisfied with this at all. He is much more concerned to have enjoyable memories and expectations — especially the latter. With these assured, he can put up with an extremely miserable present. Without this assurance, he can be extremely miserable in the midst of immediate physical pleasure.
~ Alan Watts
(The Wisdom of Insecurity)

I enjoy all the hours of life. Few persons have such susceptibility to pleasure; as a countryman will say, “I was at sea a month and never missed a meal,” so I eat my dinner and sow my turnips, yet do I never, I think, fear death. It seems to me so often a relief, a rendering-up of responsibility, a quittance of so many vexatoius trifles.

It is greatest to believe and to hope well of the world, because the one who does so, quits the world of experience, and makes the world they live in.

~ Ralph Waldo Emerson
(Journal, May 1843)

healing

5.21.20 ~ garter snake
Fennerswood Preserve, Stonington, Connecticut

Some animals are archetypal symbols of healing. The snake is one such animal. It sheds the old skin and moves into the new. It is a symbol of leaving the old behind for the new. As a symbol of transformation, meditating and focusing on the snake during times of illness will help accelerate the healing process. Animals that appear to us at times of illness, provide clues as to the best way to focus our healing energies.
~ Ted Andrews
(The Intercession of Spirits)

For the second time in a little over a month a garter snake has slithered across the path in front of me and then stopped in the leaves right beside me. The first time the snake kept its head hidden but this second snake lifted its head up and looked at me.

Rod of Asclepius

At first I was excited about the photo opportunity but after I got home I started wondering about the significance snake encounters might hold. In Greek mythology, Asclepius is a deity associated with healing and medicine. The Rod of Asclepius features a snake.

So what meaning did meeting these snakes hold for me? Since November I’ve been struggling to cope with radiation proctitis/colitis, which is incurable, but with the help of a wonderful gastroenterologist I’ve been figuring out how to manage the symptoms. It involves medication and strictly avoiding certain foods. Too many foods!

When I got my official diagnosis in January I highly doubted I would ever be able to take a long walk again. And there are still days when I’ve eaten the wrong thing and cannot leave the house.

My goal is to take a walk in the woods one of these days. And to have supper at the beach with my gull friend this summer.
~ my blog post, 8 January 2020

At first we made tentative little visits to local cemeteries to find the graves of more ancestors. I learned that three of my ancestors lost their lives in the winter of 1711-1712, probably victims of a ‘malignant distemper’ epidemic that swept through Connecticut. I had no idea our own lives would soon be turned upside down by a pandemic just two short months later. But then, on March 21, mostly because of self-quarantine and having nowhere else safe to go, it finally happened. We took a walk in the woods! And we have continued walking!

Sadly, due to the COVID-19 pandemic we probably won’t have supper at the beach with my gull friend this summer, which was my second goal. But we’ve decided to make the best of the situation so we put our outdoor dining set out on the balcony and plan to get some flowers from the nursery so we can enjoy eating outside. Who knows? Maybe we will make a new bird friend.

Our lives have definitely been transformed and I’ve experienced more healing than expected. I also started taking bioflavonoids because they are supposed to help with radiation damage, tinnitus, and allergies. It does feel like the chance meetings of two snakes in the woods highlighted us leaving the old behind for the new.

On Monday I fell. I was weeding my garden (a little plot in front of our condo), bending over at the hip. One weed resisted and I pulled harder. It let go and so I fell on my side on top of the stones bordering the garden. Nothing broken but my right shoulder, arm and leg are aching quite a lot. And I have a huge bruise on my hip! But it still felt satisfying getting the garden tidied up for the summer.

autumn in the quiet corner

10.14.19 ~ along Rte. 169

Every autumn we take a leaf-peeping drive up Rte. 169 in the “Quiet Corner” of Connecticut. The state highway winds slowly through scenic countryside but it’s almost impossible to stop and photograph anything because there are no breakdown lanes on the side of the road. We stopped at a cemetery, however, and found two beautiful trees, one in full fall color and one with about half of its leaves already down on the ground.

10.14.19 ~ along Rte. 169

We were headed for the Vanilla Bean Café in Woodstock where we enjoyed a lunch made from local farm-to-table ingredients. We missed coming last year because we were in North Carolina welcoming Finn into the family. (The little explorer has started walking! He’s been raring to go since before he was born, so it’s not too surprising. He’ll be a year old on November 1st.)

10.14.19 ~ along Rte. 169

After lunch I was disappointed to find the Christmas Barn was closed for the Columbus Day holiday. And then Tim was very disappointed to find that Mrs. Bridge’s Pantry had gone out of business. A lot can change in two years. But we found a new antique place, the Rusty Relic, which we both enjoyed exploring before we set out on the return trip home.

10.14.19 ~ along Rte. 169

Recently I have discovered cassava flour. And the discovery has come at a most opportune time because my gut problems have been getting worse over the past year. Bad enough to send me to a gastroenterologist. In addition to sticking to the paleo diet, I am now incorporating a low-FODMAP diet into the plan.

10.14.19 ~ along Rte. 169, a new antique store, one of three buildings

I’ve always been sensitive to wheat and milk and because of this have not had pancakes in many years. For a while I could eat some gluten-free pancakes, but they were often made with almond flour and I’ve developed a sensitivity to nuts. But cassava flour is made from a root vegetable (thank goodness I can still eat those!) and I found a paleo recipe for cassava pancakes made with coconut milk. (grain-free, gluten-free, dairy-free, nut-free) We tried them and couldn’t believe how good they tasted!!! Tim even said he didn’t think he could tell the difference between them and wheat pancakes.

10.14.19 ~ at the Rusty Relic

So now we’re enjoying a new (revived) tradition, Sunday morning pancakes. And that is part of what was very nice about our autumn drive this year. We had cassava pancakes at home before we left and felt like real New Englanders for the rest of the day, taking in all the sights and sounds and tastes of a crisp fall day.

10.14.19 ~ at the Rusty Relic

feathered stomachs borne on mighty legs

10.14.19 ~ Brooklyn, Connecticut ~ emu

Emus are little more than feathered stomachs borne on mighty legs and ruled by a tiny brain. If an emu wants one of your sandwiches, he will get it, and then run away. He cannot help you with your sudoku.
~ Richard Fortey
(Horseshoe Crabs & Velvet Worms: The Story of the Animals & Plants That Time Has Left Behind)

Last weekend we stopped by Creamery Brook Bison looking for local bison meat. Nobody was home, except this curious creature, who came over to its enclosure fence to check us out.

10.14.19 ~ Brooklyn, Connecticut ~ emu

The more I talked to it, the higher it lifted its head. Wonder what was going on in that little bird brain. Thinking about me as a potential source of food, no doubt. I don’t think it gets its picture taken very often.

10.14.19 ~ Brooklyn, Connecticut ~ emu

descriptions of commonplace things

“October” by Willard Metcalf

Back in March, when I was sorting through the boxes of family stuff, I found the following undated, typewritten account of a lovely October day Tim’s great-grandparents spent together many years ago. Charles Amos Hamilton (1866-1943) wrote it for his wife, Gertrude Mabel Hubbard (1874-1965). They lived in Batavia, New York.

AN OCTOBER DAY

Written for the delectation of my good wife, Gertrude, who delights in reading descriptions of commonplace things, written in rather grandiloquent language.


The poet wrote,
“What is so rare as a day in June,
Then, if ever, come perfect days.”

Without questioning the judgment or belittling the taste of the writer of this couplet, I make the assertion that, with equal or even greater veracity, it might have been written with the substitution of “October” for “June.” For, in old October, Nature gives us examples of a brilliance of coloring, and a tang of ozone, which June, for meteorological reasons, cannot duplicate.

I arise on a bright October morning and raise the shades of my bedroom window. What a riot of all the hues of the rainbow meet my eyes. From the pale green of maple leaves not yet touched by autumn’s frosty fingers, up through the entire gamut of the spectrum, to the vivid scarlet of maples of a different species. As the leaves rustle in the light breeze, they seem to be whispering “Goodbye” to their companions of the departed summer. The dark green limbs of the evergreens nearer the house, stand out like sentinels, bravely daring the blasts of the coming winter. The sunlight lies in little pools in the verdancy of the lawn, dotted here and there by vagrant leaves which have thus early abandoned the protection of their parent branch. The clump of spireas, which last June resembled a snow-bank, now has the appearance of a cluster of shrubs, which in the serene consciousness of a duty well done, are now nestling quietly and unobtrusively together. A belated hollyhock, and a few sturdy petunias, render an additional dash of color. Glancing from the the rear window, I behold the majestic line of cedars, bowing gently before the breeze, but standing with all the dignity of a line of knights in full armor. The row of sweet alyssum shows the same white purity it has maintained for several months. Two scarlet rose-buds, with youthful optimism, raise their heads fearlessly to the autumnal skies, disregarding the improbability of their ever being able to attain maturity.

Later in the day, we take a drive in our Buick, through the farm lands of the vicinity. The same magnificent coloring marks the foliage everywhere, outdoing the most artistic efforts of the painter’s brush. Huge stacks of golden straw stand beside the farmer’s barns, testifying to the repleteness of the barns with fodder for the stock. We know without inspection, that the cellars are well filled with fruits and vegetables, destined to adorn many a well-filled table, and to furnish apples and pop-corn for groups of merry young people. In the fields, the sheep are quietly nibbling, already comfortably clad in their winter woolens. The cows are lying placidly chewing the rumen of contentment. Everything denotes peace, harmony and plenty. Occasionally, a vagrant leaf flutters down momentarily upon the hood of the car, then, as if disdaining its warmth, flutters away to joining its companions by the roadside.

In the evening, fortified by an excellent dinner, maybe washed down by a flagon of “Old October ale,” we sit by the bright flame of our fireplace, and as we listen to the occasional snap of the apple-tree wood, and watch the sparks seek freedom via the chimney, we feel that “God’s in His heaven, all’s right with the world.” Yes, what is so rare as a day in October?

solstice memories

Katherine still loves her penguins

Trying to get used to this new editing page with its blocks and new steps I am having a difficult time… 🙁 But I must adapt to changes no matter how challenging this one is for me. It took me hours to create my last post but I will give it another go.

Today was a very emotional day for me. I took all the decorations off of the solstice tree, the best tree we’ve ever had. It was a Fraser fir. It smelled amazing! Its branches were strong enough to hold the glass bead garland my sister made for me years ago. I had such a good time decorating it with Tim, using all my white, silver and clear glass ornaments. A white skirt resembling snow. A white owl on top and a white fox curled up in the snow underneath it.

Katherine with the snow orb tree behind her

And while I was at it, I sorted through all the decorations I’ve been hoarding over the years and donated at least half of them. It’s funny when I think I’ve made so much progress simplifying my life and I still find object collections that have yet to be minimized. Now I have kept only the ones that truly “spark joy,” as Japanese decluttering author Marie Kondo teaches.

This holiday season was extra special for us. Nate & Shea haven’t been home to celebrate since they moved to Georgia in 2011, and Larisa & Dima were last here for the holidays in 2014. It was interesting how it worked out because we usually have our niece and her teenagers and my sister and her husband here for Christmas day but this year all of them couldn’t make it for one reason or another. We missed them!

It was wonderful having a house full of children again. I will especially remember the brisk winter walks we took. Also the first time Finn smiled at me, his whole face lighting up when he heard my voice, and holding my sleeping snuggle bug for hours… Getting two temporary PJ Masks tatoos from Katherine ~ Owlette is her favorite character from that show. She also introduced me to Puffin Rock, which has to be the most adorable children’s show ever. (It’s Irish but it can be seen on Netflix.) Katherine and I had some special moments together as she talks well enough to tell me about her life. I love listening to her observations. One time she darted down the stairs and exclaimed, “Grammy’s the best!” Talk about melting my heart…

Nate & Shea brought their nephews Julius and Dominic and they were sometimes here, too, when they weren’t visiting other Connecticut relatives, of which they have many! Julius, in his teens now, loved my meatloaf, which forever endeared me to him, and Dominic is so curious and active, he’s 10 after all, and interested in how families are related, cousins and all that. His main objective for this trip was to see snow for the first time. His chance came at 3 o’clock in the morning one day, and he was awakened to see flurries, but not the blizzard we were hoping for.

Dominic and Finn ~ Shea is Dominic’s aunt and Nate is Finn’s uncle. That makes them cousins, sort of, right?

Dominic and Katherine hit it off ~ it was fun to watch them interact and listen to their conversations. Nate, Shea and I took them to a holiday light fantasia which they both enjoyed very much.

One night Shea cooked us a lovely pork dinner, and another night Larisa cooked a chicken pie. Dima saved the day on Christmas when I suddenly realized I hadn’t even thought about dessert! All the stores were closed. He scrounged around in my pantry and was able to make some gluten-free chocolate-chip cookies, using a chocolate bar for the chips. It was great having Dima’s parents join us for that day, too. We all enjoyed the crazy gift basket tradition we have. Instead of exchanging presents we fill baskets with little items and take turns pawing through them to fish out whatever we’d like to take home with us. Some gag gifts, some treasures ~ it’s always fun.

And Nate helped Tim with his honey-do list. My pantry door stays closed now, the bathroom door no longer squeaks, the hole in the kitchen ceiling is patched and the dartboard is hung securely.

It was a wonderful two weeks!

old enough to die

“Old Woman with Child & Goose” by Willard Metcalf

Once I realized I was old enough to die, I decided that I was also old enough not to incur any more suffering, annoyance, or boredom in the pursuit of a longer life. I eat well, meaning I choose foods that taste good and that will stave off hunger for as long as possible, like protein, fiber, and fats. I exercise — not because it will make me live longer but because it feels good when I do. As for medical care: I will seek help for an urgent problem, but I am no longer interested in looking for problems that remain undetectable to me. Ideally, the determination of when one is old enough to die should be a personal decision, based on a judgment of the likely benefits, if any, of medical care and — just as important at a certain age — how we choose to spend the time that remains to us.

In giving up on preventative care, I’m just taking this line of thinking a step further: Not only do I reject the torment of a medicalized death, but I refuse to accept a medicalized life, and my determination only deepens with age. As the time that remains to me shrinks, each month and day becomes too precious to spend in windowless waiting rooms and under the cold scrutiny of machines. Being old enough to die is an achievement, not a defeat, and the freedom it brings is worth celebrating.

~ Barbara Ehrenreich
(Natural Causes: An Epidemic of Wellness, the Certainty of Dying, and Killing Ourselves to Live Longer)

A year after my cancer surgery it seems like a good time to mention a book that tumbled into my life at just the right moment. After my brush with a life-threatening illness, the ideas set forth in Barbara Ehrenreich’s book, Natural Causes, make a whole lot of sense to me.

I spent many years carting my mother-in-law, my aunt and my father around to those “windowless waiting rooms,” getting test after test, some of them downright painful. My aunt finally put her foot down and proclaimed, “Whatever I’ve got, I’m taking it with me.”

She lived to be 103 in spite of refusing all the standard tests recommended for her in the last years of her life. When she died, it was from an infection. After accepting treatment for a day or two, she finally refused treatment for that, too.

Nothing ever came of those countless tests.

In my own case, because my mother died of breast cancer, I have submitted to many “required” mammograms and wound up with three false positives, causing weeks of anxiety. Now I refused to have any more. At this point in my life I am old enough to die, and if I wake up one morning and feel a lump in my breast, so be it.

The endometrial cancer I wound up getting? Well, there is no screening for it. Irony.

Fortunately I’ve found a general practitioner who understands my feelings and treats my “urgent problems” without pushing me into a “medicalized life.” Barbara Ehrenreich’s book has all the facts and figures I needed to convince me that as a culture, we are indeed killing ourselves, or at least making ourselves miserable, in order to live longer. All these expensive, invasive tests have not increased our lifespans.

Therefore, I have chosen to enjoy spending whatever time I have left to me without borrowing trouble.