Telephone

The other day my husband said, “I think the phone isn’t working.”

Now, that might sound like something that should be obvious. Not so many of us still have landlines, but we do. We don’t make calls, but we have an answering machine hooked up that gets mostly scam artists worried about our credit or computers, pleas from charities, real and fake, and occasional messages from the library saying that a book I’ve requested is in. The phone connected to the machine is a cordless with a failing battery that could die any day. So really, it could just as easily have been the receiver as a wire.

We went to the desk I hardly use, which holds a computer I never use and an actual corded line that I use when the power is out and the cell towers have issues, which is rare. But that one was dead too.

We only noticed that the spam calls had stopped because a doctor’s office emailed when they didn’t get an answer.

Really, I’m not sure why I want to keep a landline. Few do anymore.

I’m old enough to remember big, solid telephones with dials. As a child, they were an endless fascination. When you dialed, the low digits spun and released with a satisfying whir, but the nines and zeros seemed to drag on forever. If you released it too soon you had to hang up and start again, or else risk a wrong number. Long distance calls were saved for emergencies because they were expensive.

Numbers back then started with words rather than digits. I still feel a certain affection for our old Keystone nine prefix and the home phone that belonged to all of us.

When push buttons replaced rotary dials, they were a wonder, but they didn’t have the loyalty-inspiring sensory impact of those earlier ones.

I really liked my last flip phone. It felt small in my pocket, but felt right against my ear. I could dial without looking and knew my speed dial numbers by touch. The screen was readable without my glasses. I had the hang of the click-click-click text messaging. It was almost perfect.

Finally, I caved and got a smart phone. For simply making calls, it leaves a lot to be desired. I swear the sound quality isn’t as good, though I don’t think any cell sounds as good as a landline. I have to be looking at the touch screen to have a prayer of dialing right. But…

It isn’t just a phone. It’s the computer I carry around in my pocket, and with that I finally let social media into my life. It’s my flashlight, my calculator, and my alarm clock. It streams videos and plays podcasts. It notifies me when I have email and when bad weather is coming. It lets me play games. It’s my camera, step counter, my GPS. (And with my sense of direction, or lack thereof, that’s important.) With my smartphone, I can text, call or video chat, and do it all with just my voice if I want to.

With all these services, of course I pay. It’s more each month than my landline, and certainly more in lost privacy. When I look up a product, ads for it show up in all my other apps, as though my searches have become part of my proverbial permanent record. Things come in the mail that are somehow tied to my online presence. Big brother is watching. The cost of convenience is allowing your life to be pigeon holed by vendors.

Maybe I keep the old phone line so I have an out if the cost becomes too high.

I called the company, who sent a repairman within a few days. A line had been cut, chewed through by an animal. The repairman said he was surprised that no one else had reported it, because it would have affected multiple homes.

Maybe we’re the only ones still on the line.

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2017’s Most Popular Posts

It’s always a surprise to me which posts become the most popular. When I reached my first anniversary of blogging I re-posted my own favorites, but here are the top five with the greatest number of views.

Tied for fifth were “Questions,” an October post about the surreal state of our country, and “Marketing,” my reflections on a July visit to Portland’s Saturday Market.

In fourth was another July post, “Unhappy Camper,” a story about my mom’s one and only camping trip.

The Change” from August, about the way I’m getting through this phase of life, came in third .

In second was the June day I cleaned out my closet, “Downsizing.”

And in first place from back in May, my non-morbid look at end-of-life arrangements, “The Best Laid Plans.”

Come back in 2018 for more eclectic posts on the things I think about as I walk my dog and walk through life. Thanks for reading!

The Other Side

Her shoulders were tense and her mouth was set in a line, as she recounted the conversation she’d had with her teenager that morning.

I smiled. “Thirteen is the worst, isn’t it?”

“Yesss!” she said on a sigh.

“There’s hope,” I told her. “Seventeen was a turnaround age for my kids. I was sitting on my bed folding laundry, when my daughter came in, sat down and started telling me about her day. I thought, Who are you? And where have you been for the last few years?”

Her mouth turned up, but she still sighed.

This is what people dread when they say they never want their little ones to grow up. But every age has something we’re happy to leave behind.

Well on the opposite side of those teenage years now, I’m dwelling less on the rough conversations, late nights, and drama. I’m glad the full calendar, endless events and rides, my-needs-come-last time is over.  I do believe that kids must pull away from us to become adults, and that’s hard for everyone involved. But there were amazing moments from that time too.

Last week a coworker showed me a video of her son’s solo in the school musical. And I remembered many other recitals, plays, impromptu performances.

I recalled one daughter’s grace and speed, as she leaped through the air, legs perfectly parallel to the floor.

I thought of my other daughter’s purposeful drive down a soccer field, her powerful kick, coordinated team passes, aggressive play.

I remembered stories told from first jobs, caring for others. I reminisced about proms, lovely dresses and makeup, and where-did-my-little-girl-go?

When else in our lives are we both skillful enough and free to try on roles like hats: scholar, dancer, artist, athlete, singer, star? How many of us continue any of these identities past those tumultuous teenage years?

While you couldn’t pay me enough to go back to my own adolescence, now I can look back at my daughters’ teen years with a sense of wonder.

But for the mother of a thirteen-year-old, there’s nothing to do but wait.

 

Small Blessings (a listicle)

 

Two weeks past Thanksgiving, I’m still feeling thankful. Yes, I’m thankful that the larger parts of my life are going well, and no, I’m not happy about the events in my newsfeed. But the little things in life have been catching may attention lately, small blessings that can make my day, in the same way that frustrations can ruin it.

I’m thankful when the sun comes out after days of gray.

I’m thankful that living in the country means I don’t have to rake leaves.

I’m thankful that my little Prius still runs well, for the simple reason that it’s the only car that I’ve ever loved and I want to continue driving it.

I’m thankful that my commute is ten minutes long. (Jealous?)

I’m thankful for a keyboard that had power to run for two years and especially for the friend that lent me her charger as soon as I questioned, “How do I charge this thing?” Because after two years, I had forgotten what that black cable was for and who knows where I put it.

I’m thankful for canceled meetings, like gifts of time opening in my day.

I’m thankful to be vigorous and active, though getting up off the floor isn’t as quick as it used to be. (Do you sit on the floor? I find myself there often, not just working with students, but playing with the dog, getting things off low shelves, and looking under the bed to find my missing sock.)

I’m thankful that I work with children, because with kids there is always hope for the future.

I’m thankful for peanut butter, especially the crunchy kind. (If you’re allergic, that’s unfortunate. I’ll eat it somewhere else.)

I’m thankful for openings at the doctor’s office when I need to get in and a good stick when I give blood.

I’m thankful for a cup of hot tea on a cold day and for chocolate, because who wouldn’t be?

I’m thankful not only for my wonderful daughters, but that their chosen fields make them great sources of information for me. My life is richer and better informed for knowing them.

I’m thankful that my friends still want to see me after we’ve had busy months away from each other. (That seems to be a condition of my friendship. You have to wait to see me and then pick up exactly where we left off.)

I’m thankful for new adventures, even if they are only online ones, and for the new people I am meeting through writing. (You can never have too many friends.)

I’m thankful for those who read my blog and come back to read more. I’m especially thankful to the ones who stop to chat, offer words of encouragement, yes, but also just share their thoughts and experiences. It continually amazes me that my words reach people around the world.

I am thankful that I come home to a wagging dog and to eat a warm dinner that I didn’t cook. I’m thankful that I have a comfy spot on the couch and can spend time with my husband as I end my evening. Then to bed, where I’ll be grateful to sleep.

Time for a Rant

I open my eyes on Sunday at my usual 6:30AM, except it’s only 5:30. I pretend for another hour, but it isn’t the same. I give up when it reaches 6:30 because the dog doesn’t know about time changes.

While she eats her bowl of food, oblivious to my grumpiness, I change the time on the microwave with a few easy clicks. Then I drag a chair over to the counter so I can climb up and adjust the clock on the wall. On my knees, I take the clock down, fiddle with the wheel at the back and hang it back up, leveling it with the border on the wall, because the ceiling isn’t quite flat. It’s an old house.

Later, sitting on my couch, I stare with annoyance at a clock on the shelf. Sighing, I stand up to change that one too.

At least I’ll have time for a nap today.

On Monday I wake up at 4:32 and quickly do the math. I have two hours till my alarm and my body still thinks it’s 5:32. I convince myself to go back to sleep for a while.  I wake with a start at 5:48, a minor victory.

Then I head into school where bleary-eyed kids do not understand why they’re so tired. None of us will feel like working, but we’ll plod through the week.

I hate the time change.

It will take several days to adjust, at least a week for my students. When we spring forward, it will take twice as long. If you expand that to the general population, just think of the loss of productivity twice each year.

I get a cold every year about now. I always figured it was due to stress and kid germs and frosty days closed up inside. But it turns out, the seasonal loss of sleep is also associated with increases in illness and even heart disease.

So, who’s bright idea was this anyway? Ben Franklin suggested waking people up early, but the US didn’t jump on the bandwagon until 1918. Back then, the idea was that if people were awake more in daylight hours, we’d save on energy consumption. But it doesn’t work out quite that way in our gadget obsessed age.

Also, it turns out Daylight Savings Time costs us money. The increase in daylight hours apparently causes us to spend lots of money. Then the economy suffers when we switch back in the fall. Maybe that’s why they made it another couple of weeks longer?

I would argue that Daylight Savings Time is bad for the environment. All those extra awake hours of daylight mean more hours in the car, which automatically means more fossil fuels, which explains who was behind the extra hour of DST in 1986.

My husband likes Daylight Savings Time better than Standard Time. I just wish we’d pick one and stick to it.

It’s even affecting the quality of this essay.

It’s obviously a conspiracy.

But I have a plan. One day, when I finally retire, I’m going to dutifully change my clocks like I always have. But come spring, I will go to bed an official hour later than I do in the fall. The time will change, but I will not. So there, DST!

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.

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.

 

 

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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Ripples in Time

On Saturday morning, my husband suggests we go to an out-of-the-way farmer’s market. We get there before they open, but he says “there are things to look at” and we continue down the road. I smile and nod. I’m along for the ride.

He points out a trap shooting place where he went as a kid and reminds me of the restaurant that burned to the ground. Several miles later we pull in to a conservation area where he used to fish.

“We came here even in winter because the water was always open.”

I ask, “Why didn’t it ice over?”

“They have bubblers,” he tells me. “You’ll see.

We park and walk down a gravel road along the “ditches” as the signs call them. He gestures to a row of wooden posts sticking out of the water.

“There were docks on those where we could stand and fish on all sides.”

Bubblers, like tiny fountains, send rings of ripples out around them. “See?” He points.

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We come to a patch of soft ground and spot paw prints.

“Looks like a big dog,” he says.

“Or a cougar,” I guess.

Another set of prints is clearly a racoon.

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He spots a fish making its own set of smaller ripples at the surface, but it’s the only one he sees. No one is here fishing on a Saturday morning, a sure sign that the catfish and crappie are gone. Further on, the ditches open into the Illinois River, where Asian Carp have taken over, dangerously lowering the native species.

A concrete boat ramp sits partially out of the water, skewed at an angle.

“I think this is where we used to launch our boat.”

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As we walk back, he kicks the gravel. “We used to find arrow heads along here, but they’ve probably built this road up with trucks of gravel several times since then.”

As he leans over to point to a tiny frog, it takes off with a powerful foot-long leap into the weeds.

We pull out and head down the road. Looking back, he says, “I must have fished here a hundred times, even though it’s a long drive.”

My childhood home is a city, hours away, so I don’t often run across people and places that bring back those early memories. The manmade landscape has changed many times over in urban renewal. I tend to reminisce about people, their words and how they felt.

His stories are activities: a neighborhood wiffle golf ball tournament, playing baseball where the library is now, and burying treasure in a friend’s backyard. The locations surround us as we live mere miles from where he grew up.

My recollections are moments pinned to a timeline of my life, emotional events that shaped me, as the lead, and the other roles in my story. There are moments of precious friendship, heartbreak, grief, joy, and loss, each one complete with characters and plot, even if the setting’s space is a little fuzzy.

His stories are fixed in place, literally the locations where they occurred. Each adventure is a spot on a map of his childhood, with episodes reoccurring to him as we drive past them in the present.

Our memories of our time together are parallel. He knows when the furnace was put in, when the trees were planted, when our daughters’ cars might need service, even though they live in different states. Mine is a memory of important events: first declarations of love, our daughters’ births and milestones, vacations, graduations, life lessons. He can find spots visited only once. I can find items others have lost in the house. Together we keep the structure of our home and lives in place.

The memories link like the water to the river, endless ripples flowing on.

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