Getting a Good Night’s Sleep

To have a good night’s sleep, follow a few simple steps. First practice a relaxing routine before bed.

Before beginning her soothing routine, she checks her email one last time so it doesn’t weigh on her mind. She clicks the link to contact her legislators to encourage them to vote yes/no on that bill that makes her blood boil, types a few extra lines to get that off her chest and hits send.

She glances at the clock and sees that bedtime is approaching.  A little reading should settle her thoughts before sleep. She likes paper-and-cover books, plus staring at blue screens is linked to insomnia. Unfortunately, the first chapter opens with a sudden blizzard, a snowmobile accident, and an ominous figure barely visible through the blowing snow.

A glance at the clock shows that bedtime has passed, she’s four chapters in, and wide awake. Maybe she’ll read a little more before trying to sleep.

As she stifles a yawn, she puts the book down after chapter seven.

She completes her nighttime routine with personal hygiene, including essential brushing and flossing, because nighttime brushing is the most important time of day.

You’ll need a dark, cool, quiet room with a comfortable bed. If you live with a snorer, consider a fan for white noise, or in extreme cases, earplugs.

Easing into bed, trying not to wake her husband who is already snoring, she puts in her earplugs.

She settles gratefully under the covers, still wondering who the main character’s attacker might have been. Wriggling a little, she tries to shift her thoughts. Her mind goes back to the emails she sent, which takes her to the other ridiculous things she’s seen in the news lately, which reminds her of the storms, flooding, fires and recent crimes and…

Manage your worries and stress.

She rolls over and sternly tells herself to move on something else. She thinks about work the next day and then about the recent decisions that she disagrees with and her frustrations with not being listened to and that her toothpaste is making her thirsty and maybe a drink of water will help her settle down.

When she settles back on her pillow, she considers reading a little more, but makes herself stay in bed. She simultaneously realizes that she is getting drowsy and that her back itches right between her shoulder blades. She reaches back to scratch it, wakes up completely, and checks the clock. Two hours closer to morning.

When her mind returns to work, she must distract herself. After all, worrying never solves anything. She decides to count blessings like sheep. After family, friends and health, she thinks of the privilege of owning her own home, then wonders when the roofer will finally come to replace the roof and whether she should call them again in the morning.

She rolls over again and tries to find the most boring thing that could occupy her mind.

Halfway through the multiplication tables, she finally passes out.

 Set a schedule of regular waking and sleeping.

She wakes at six thirty without an alarm, because it’s important to wake at the same time each day when she wants a good night’s sleep. Her husband is still snoring when she takes out her ear plugs.

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Questions

On my way home, my gas gauge drops down to its last bar. My computer strongly suggests that I plug it in. My phone requests that I put it in low power mode. The world is conspiring to send me a message. Slow down? Fill your tank? I don’t know what metaphor it has in mind, but I’m definitely low on fuel.

My mind is whirring with work and deadlines, but what has me in a funk is my overwhelming confusion about my country and the world. Over and over I find myself asking why.

When you picture an American, what does that look like? If you are one of millions of Americans, the first thing you picture is someone white. Why? Why would the tired and poor, “the huddled masses yearning to breathe free” come only from European countries? Where, by the way, many are not white anymore either.

What does that feel like, to think you are somehow more entitled, more worthy of being an American, simply because of the color of your skin?

How does it feel on the other side of that assumption? And if your family is white, but you are a person of color, do you still feel different?

Not so long ago, the lines were drawn finer, between WASPs and Catholics, between Italian-, German-, Irish-, and other immigrants, Jews from any country. My ancestors were here during the Revolutionary War and came through Ellis Island, similar to endless generations of immigrants since we wrested the land from the Native Americans. Why do we always draw lines?

Do you wonder why wealthy football players would kneel during the anthem? Or why it would be less patriotic to peacefully protest than to stand with hand on heart and remain silent? Or why the press missed the point? As protests go, this one inconveniences fewer people than any major protest in my memory. It costs taxpayers nothing. No blood is being shed. So why are so many people so angry?

I want to know why, when the majority of Americans believe politicians are dishonest, a large percent, many of them well-educated, are willing to believe them when it comes to corporate tax breaks creating jobs and global warming being a myth. When did science become suspect? When did rationality and bias become so intertwined that people can’t or won’t follow a chain of thought to a logical conclusion?

Why is it so hard to imagine that others are facing difficulties that we ourselves don’t? When can we have a national discussion about bias without finger pointing and flag waving?

Most of all I want to know, why has the discourse gotten so much worse over the last few years? Have opinions changed that much? Or has the current atmosphere simply bared the faces that were already staring out at us?

Mourning

I drive to the church and enter the foyer, joining the line of mourners waiting to pay their respects. The length we wait will increase through the morning, a testament to a life well-spent.

The flowers and photographs have been arranged to keep us engaged as we alternately step and pause on our way to speak to loved ones lined up along the front. I wave to old friends ahead of me. They smile but it doesn’t reach their eyes.

I let a woman pass me so I can speak to a friend in line behind. We talk about other deaths and funerals, the importance of letting others know you care.

That’s the thing about helping someone else grieve. It brings back every parting. I can’t help thinking of my own losses. Time has faded these, but there are moments like this, that they sharpen again.

I remember being in that receiving line, surprised by the faces that came into view, touched by those who came based on childhood friendship.

I say, “I know it meant a lot to me that so many showed up for my father’s funeral.”

My friend agrees, and then we talk in low voices about our families, his new job, because everyday life goes on.

This is one of probably hundreds of visitations I have attended. As a teacher in a small town I have a wide circle of community.

As a child, I went with my father to pay our respects to any extended family member who passed away. In my stiff, black patent leather shoes and scratchy tights, I’d look up at the adults talking over my head, faces serious. Later were the deaths of the great-uncles and -aunts that readied me for the more difficult goodbyes. My dad taught me to honor the dead.

But my mother taught me that visitations and funerals are for the living. Although I was acquainted with the man who died, I am here for his children, who are old friends. As I near the front, I hear snippets of stories.

We tell our own life stories, until the end. Death is one story we can’t tell ourselves.

This man lived a long full life and has a large, loving family mourning him as a legacy. Many are not so fortunate.

I have known people who knew it was time to go. But even after a long illness, their loved ones rarely seem to feel the same. No matter how much or little time we get, we always want more.

I reach the front, holding hands and expressing sympathy, then hugging as I reach the friends I am here for. I remember them when they were young and joyful, then young parents, and now, the generation between. They have been greeting and shaking hands for an hour now and, like pros, steer the conversation to the periphery of loss, the flowers, their kids, introductions to the next down the line. How else to get through a day like this? I feel their grief, but know that with time, life will go on.

Back in my car, I drive home, the whiff of a woman’s perfume following me like the scent of grief.

Unhappy Camper

I’ve been celebrating my first blogging anniversary by sharing my favorite posts this week. This was first posted July 19, 2017

My mother and I walked the three blocks to the meeting place that Friday afternoon. I wore my usual jeans, sneakers, and a light jacket, all suitable for Girl Scout camping in the spring. My mother, volunteering as a chaperone, wore her light blue trench coat and one of the few pairs of pants she owned. She sniffed and dabbed at her running nose with a tissue in one hand, while the other arm clutched her bedroll and her sack supper that she’d put in a beaded shopping bag made of pink plastic netting, with handles for easy carrying.

My back tensed as we approached the gathering group of girls and our leader, nicknamed Nuke. I was only still in Girl Scouts as a seventh grader because of Nuke. She made meetings fun, took us to camp, was stern when needed, but genuinely seemed to like hanging out with a bunch of adolescent girls. I set my bedroll down next to her daughter, Missy.

“Your mom came,” Missy said.

“Yeah.” My shoulders slumped.

“I love your mom. She’s so nice.” Missy smiled.

I looked toward Mom, standing talking to Nuke, her blond head leaning in toward Nuke’s brown pinned-up braid. I loved my mom too. But at home. Not out camping for the first time in her life, with her pink beaded shopping bag. I sighed. Maybe it would be all right.

It was almost dark by the time the bus dropped us off at camp. We dropped our sack suppers on a picnic table. Then we paired up to head to our tents scattered in the woods and lay out our bedrolls before the last of the light faded. My friend and I brushed leaves and dirt off the wooden floor of the tent and were about to head out to eat when we heard a screech. It sounded an awful lot like my mother.

I rushed toward her voice. There was my mom, looking up in a tree and yelling.

“Hey! Give that back!”

Above her, the pink shopping bag dangled from a branch, while a raccoon reached inside, grabbing bits of her sandwich.

The raccoon won. Nuke and I shared our dinner with Mom and our group settled around picnic tables to eat. We sat around talking, but soon Nuke sent us to bed. The real fun of camping would start early.

The next morning, we started a fire, cooked pancakes for breakfast, cleaned up, and hiked in the woods. Nuke supervised, but the work was ours. One of the girls blared a transistor radio playing top 40’s music as we washed up. I waited for Mom to ask her to turn it down, but she said nothing.

The day flew by. That night I breathed a sigh of relief as we sat beneath the stars around a crackling fire, making s’mores and singing camp songs.

“Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me….”

The weekend was almost over and no more Mom catastrophes.

Sunday morning after breakfast we sat in the sun with the radio blaring again, while we waited for the bus to pick us up. Mom cocked her head listening.

“You know, some of this music isn’t bad.”

_______________________

Now that I’m well on the other side of being the embarrassing mom, I see that weekend from a different perspective.

I asked my introverted, book-loving Mom once why she went on that camping trip, when she was so clearly out of her element.

She shrugged. “They needed a volunteer.”

Now I look back and see the lilacs blooming that my mother was horribly allergic to. She dressed for the trip the best way she could. These were the clothes she had and money wasn’t plentiful. The goofy pink bag made sense. It was hard to carry everything and blow your nose at the same time.

That weekend she shared a tent with Nuke, who didn’t like the way the bugs clung to the roof for warmth. So, they slept with all four flaps rolled to the top all night and Mom froze.

She had grown up in an era and town where they used an outhouse until midway through her childhood. Mom valued indoor plumbing.

Mom camped for the one and only time in her life because she loved me.

 

 

Socks and Gloves

I’ve been celebrating my first blogging anniversary by sharing my favorite posts. This was first posted January 18, 2017

We pulled into the library parking lot last Saturday morning.

As we got out of her CRV, I asked my friend, D., “How did you start doing this?”

“I saw it on the Internet,” she said. “The first time we were going to tie hats and gloves to poles around downtown, but people came from everywhere and we didn’t have time to tie them. So now I just bring a bag.”

She pulled a large black tote bag from the back of her car and locked it. Then we slowly walked across the lot toward three men who were waiting next to the parking lot, outside the church where they would soon serve lunch.

A tall heavy-set white guy with a beard stood on the curb smoking. Another smaller white man and a black man about the same height, all around forty, leaned against the brick wall. All were dressed in jeans, winter jackets zipped tight against the cold, hats pulled over their ears.

My friend called, “Hello.”

Smoking man called back, “Hello, how are you?”

“Good,” D. said. “I have some hats and gloves here. Is there anything you need?”

She slipped a strap off her shoulder to show him what was in the bag.

“Take whatever you want.”

Smoking man showed us a hole in one finger of his gloves and selected a stretchy pair of gloves to layer over them. Once the other guys saw what she had, one approached and took a pair of gloves.

Both men called, “Thank you!” as we moved away.

“Could you use a pair?” my friend asked the remaining guy.

“No, I’m good,” the man said without moving.

Smoking guy tried to get us to stay to chat, with a story about his brother getting hit by lightning and blown apart. We made sympathetic noises, but went on our way.

We wandered down the sidewalk toward the library and a group of about ten people standing near the entrance. Again my friend called out a greeting and approached the first person who answered.

A slender young man with prominent cheek bones peered into the bag.

“Looks like mostly girly things,” he said.

“Dig down,” D. said. “There are some guy things down in there.”

“Hey, you have socks,” he said. “Can I have a pair?”

“Sure,” she said.

“Thank YOU! I can really use these.”

Once the other guys heard she had socks, several stepped forward and took a pair. A few took gloves. All thanked us. No one took more than one or two items.

“Could you use something?” I asked a young woman in a wheelchair, with various bags strapped to it.

“No thanks,” she said. “I just need my dad to pick me up. Dad, where are you!”

Meanwhile D. was talking to Slender Guy again. He asked if his girl friend could have something.

“Of course,” she said.

We headed into the library.

“Now we walk around the outside wall,” D. said.

As we walked around we nodded and smiled at anyone who made eye contact. Looking around I saw an older man sitting reading on a tablet, a girl reading with someone who could be her grandma, a few scattered people searching the shelves. A young woman, brown hair pulled back in a pony tail, came out of a side room to greet us. She was taking a pair of gloves when Slender Guy walked up.

“Oh, is this your girlfriend?” D. asked.

Slender Guy nodded shyly and they walked off holding hands. “Thanks!” they called back.

We came around a corner to a seating area with orange vinyl chairs and a couch. Five guys, anywhere from twenty to sixty, were sitting around. All the men were still wrapped up tight, hats on, coats zipped. A couple had small bags nearby. When D. greeted them, they seemed to know why she was there.  A man about sixty with his back to the window spoke up first, but the others soon accepted our invitation.  After every pair of socks, each one looked my friend in the eye and said, “Thank you.” The manner was casual, but the thanks was sincere.

We continued around, stopping once or twice more before heading outside.

“So socks is the biggest need?” I asked.

“Yes, socks is big, but it all depends on the day. I have coats in the back of the car too, and some shoes. You never know.”

“Are there mostly men?”

“No, there’s usually more of a mix. A couple of weeks ago there were a lot of kids,” D. said.

I thought about the people standing in the cold for a meal, grateful for a single pair of socks, taking no more than they absolutely needed. I thought about children with cold hands and parents who wanted to but couldn’t give their kids what they need. I thought about the smiles and the thank yous for something so small.

As we got in the car, I turned to D.

“Next week,” I said, “I want to come back.”

Waiting at the Airport

I’m celebrating my first blogging anniversary by sharing my favorite posts. This was first posted October 19, 2016

 

So, a few years ago, there I was sitting at the airport in Frankfort after a sleepless overnight trans-Atlantic flight, waiting for my flight to Dublin. A friend had told me something about the Frankfort airport, but I couldn’t remember what. The Germans put up few signs in English, expecting, I guess, that people who come to their country should learn some German. (Gosh! The nerve!) I couldn’t see any sign that my flight left from this gate, but I checked and rechecked my boarding pass.

There were plenty of open seats around me, so when a young, tall, blond German woman sat next to me I assumed she would be interested in starting a conversation. We chatted briefly, but although her English wasn’t bad, I could see that speaking English was uncomfortable for her. I learned she was a nanny, heading to visit a friend who was working as a nanny in Dublin. It was her first trip abroad and I’m betting someone suggested she sit by an older woman for safety. Just her luck to get talkative me.

After awhile we moved toward the desk to see if we could figure out where we would board. We couldn’t see any planes or any typical gates. There were stairs leading outside.

Others crowded around and a dark-haired woman about my age came up and asked slowly if we were waiting for a flight to Dublin. She struggled so, that my German companion said, “Use your German.”

The woman said, “I….speak…..French.”

Now something you should know about me is that my best high school French response (in French of course) is, “I’m sorry. My French is very bad. Do you speak English?”

So I slowly told the woman in English that I thought she was in the right place. When she further asked how I knew, I said, “Je vois,” (I see) and pointed to the stairs. Using gestures and a few words, the French woman urged me to ask at the desk. So off I went.

“Is this the flight to Dublin?”

“Yes.” Very efficient speakers, those Germans.

I went back and reported to my new friends.

About then an announcement came on. It was long, sounded like absolute paragraphs, all in German. I turned to my tall German speaker and asked what they said.

“We take a bus,” she said.

The French woman eagerly asked me, “Do we go now?”

I said, “L’autobus.”

“Ah,” she said.

We smiled.

I said, “Tres, tres peu de Francais,” holding my thumb close to my finger.

She said, “I..speak…a….little…English.”

As we boarded the buses, I waved goodbye to my German nanny and turned to my new French friend. “Ca va.”

She mimed wiping her brow. “Stress!”

I laughed. “Very American!”

As we went our separate ways, I called, “Bon chance!”

Life Around You

I’m celebrating my first blogging anniversary by sharing my favorite posts. This was first posted October 14, 2016

When we moved to this property twenty-some years ago, the trees were sparse and the only birds that summer were a persistent flock of killdeer that landed in the front yard and poked around the yellowed August grass. I had never seen killdeer and had to look them up to see what they were. We had none of the other common Midwest residents and migrants you usually see. But the killdeer were just a promise of the life to come.

My husband planted more trees, then more trees, and put out a feeder. He piled seed in the driveway and watched out the window to see what would come and eat.

Nowadays we are rich with birds: robins, cardinals, sparrows, finches, chickadees, big flocks of black birds that might be starlings and occasional glimpses of hummingbirds. A pair of chimney swifts nest in the rafters of the garage every spring.  Recently, in the tree outside our open window at night, we caught brief glimpses of a big dark bird and heard a low hooting. We have had big flocks of mourning doves too (accompanied by one confused pigeon) but since the arrival of a red-tailed hawk the doves’ population has gradually diminished. We find scattered gray feathers of the occasional meal, but not enough to account for the missing and I have to think somewhere in their little slow dove brains they have finally realized there might be a better place to call home.

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Of course all the food my husband puts out doesn’t just feed the birds. When the first ground squirrel showed up, we started calling it his “little buddy.” Now his buddies have a series of holes and tunnels throughout the yard. In the spring they pop up out of their holes and chirp, grabbing my dog’s attention, before ducking down out of reach. When she catches them out away searching for food, she’ll race at full speed across the yard, but hardly ever gets to them before they hightail it to a nearby hole. Only once she caught one. As I ran up to save it, it lay on its back, little feet clawing the air, or her nose if it got close enough, baring its tiny teeth and squealing a high-pitched squeal. When I grabbed my dog, it flipped over and ran, disappearing suddenly in the grass.

The ground squirrels aren’t the only critters benefitting from the bounty. Rabbits creep around the yard in the early morning and at dusk. My dog, about the same size as the rabbits, loves to chase those too. Where she is satisfied to race toward the birds and send them flying, her rabbit chases may involve long zigzags across the yard or racing circles around the pine trees before she listens to my calls and stays long enough for me to jog over to pick her up and end the chase.

The rabbits periodically appear, multiply and disappear. This may have something to do with the coyotes that we hear in the summer out in the fields beyond our yard, baying at the moon. Once, sitting at the kitchen table, I looked out to see three strange dogs (coyotes!) trot quickly in front of the house in broad daylight.

One of my favorite finds in the yard is the occasional toad. I read somewhere that when environments are poisoned, the frogs and toads are the first to go. So those toads are my canaries in the mine, telling me that, surrounded by non-organic farms fields, I am safe.

Of course beyond the mammals, birds and amphibians are countless multi-legged critters. There are always crawling and hopping insects, buzzing flies, swarming gnats in the summer. There are worms, caterpillars and roly poly bugs. There are countless spiders after them all leaving glistening webs in the grass and across the doorway to the garage. The first summer, clinging to the window screen, we saw a huge corn spider with bright yellow bands across its back. The occasional praying mantis can be just as big. My dog’s favorite crunchy snack is crickets in the fall and she’s learned the hard way to stay away from the stink bugs.

As I walked my dog this morning in the early morning light I heard a few tweets from the trees, but all our usual visitors and residents were hidden. It’s so easy to walk through life oblivious to life all around you.

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Unfolding From the Fog

(This is the post that I wish I’d thought to write to start the blog. It was first posted April 27, 2017.)

I am up before dawn, cursing this stage of life that doesn’t let me sleep late on a Saturday. I grab sweats from the floor and dress in the bathroom, while my husband sleeps on.

Downstairs, my dog prances around my feet, eager for her food and walk.

I bundle up for December, unprepared for the mild outside air. I step out the back door into another realm, my backyard transformed. Grateful now for an early awakening, we wander and linger as the sun rises through the fog.

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First Anniversary

This week marks a year since I started my blog. In the year since I first wanted a place to put my thoughts, I’ve written 71 posts, collected 458 followers and made a few friends. If you’ve joined me along the way, thanks for reading, commenting and joining the conversation!

This week I’m looking back by posting my favorite five posts. Look for one each day starting on Monday. These aren’t the ones that got recognition or got the most likes or views. These are ones that make me smile.

From Back in Time

I am from one-way streets lined by parked cars and houses so close you can almost touch two at once,

From Shell Gas and McDonald’s, just down the block from carryout hotdogs and 31 Flavors.

I am from a crowded ‘50s split-level,

Barely landscaped, unadorned, hearing every honk and door slam in your bed at night.

I am from the sky-high maple that shed helicopter seeds,

A patio and a patch of grass for a swing set where the neighborhood played,

I’m from homemade cocoa and popcorn waiting after school on winter days,

From Pooh sticks on the Spoon River bridge,

From Irene and Ray.

I’m from the “nose in a book” and “Don’t know? Look it up.”

From “Go to college” and “Get straight As.”

From synagogue and Sunday School, Hanukkah brachas and the Lord’s Prayer.

I’m from the Revolutionary War and Russian pogroms, pioneers and English coal miners,

From Osterizer latkes and Adele Davis whole grains,

From rope-turning seven girls deep where jumping in was your ticket to the game,

From roller-skates and scraped knees till the end of summer,

From home movies filmed under blinding light, played back with the tick-tick-tick of the film-wound projector,

From endless poses for pictures trapped in labeled albums,

Fading Kodachrome dimples, scanned and converted for another generation to treasure.


If you’re a regular reader, you know poetry isn’t usually my thing. Thanks to Freckled Foolery for the inspiration. Would you like to try it yourself? Here‘s a template and here‘s the original. I’d love to hear your thoughts. Here you go, Scribblers.