Oh hello, Monday…

Since commenting wisely on the personal bravery and sacrifice that have delivered us to this point in history is above my pay grade, I spent the Memorial Weekend in TV sports, online games, and quietude. We’re living in momentous times that continually threaten to overwhelm us, and sometimes ya’ have to check out for a while.

This morning I’m clearing my desktop and sharing a few things from the past week that got my attention, made me smile, laugh, cry, think. You’re welcome.

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Cara Brown, American watercolorist
“Blush” 2013
watercolour on paper

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And now it’s Monday…

It was a windy, rainy Sunday but happy and cozy all up in here, and I heard from my claim to motherhood first thing, working the holiday to help cover for all the moms, sons, and daughters who called out for the day. There was a perfect omelet and a spa soak… a Royals-White Sox game (we lost, but baseball is Zen even on a bad day)… peach malt smoothies… veggie lasagna for dinner… and I’m seeing a definite festive food pattern here.

A belated Happy Mom’s Day to all who signed up in any way.

Speaking of parenthood… the concept has somehow worked, after a fashion, down through the millenia, without improving massively during that time. It’s still a nebulous proposition, given that the scenario is always an original. First-time Mother Human meets new Baby Human, and neither has a clue, so they do the best they can with what they know at the time. Later, they realize they could have done better with more knowledge and experience… but since it doesn’t work that way, we’re all golden if we live through it and end up friends. I call that a win, and my job is to care for the relationship.

Nurturing each other, from inside or outside the confines of family, requires a compassion that takes in the whole picture, isn’t easily come by, and is always costly in some way.

My first instinct is to try to understand where someone’s coming from, in the interest of real communication, but after 25 years, I’m admitting defeat in the face of fascism’s propaganda arm, whose steady onslaught of conspiracy theories and general nonsense has been unrelenting and stops intelligent conversation in its tracks. Its presence in the world is an oppressive gray curtain, masking and obscuring clarity and truth, seemingly impenetrable after a quarter-century. It astounds me that they’re still in business… until I remember the 71 million keeping them there.

The Pro Wrestling of news…

There are clearly limits and roadblocks to human understanding, but given even half a chance I’ve been known to try for it anyway. It’s the Pollyanna in me that won’t quit, and in the face of pandemics and upheavals… no apologies.

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The days of wine & roses… page 214

Day 335 – 02/13/2021

Zeroº this morning, with the wind taking it to -17. No walking for now, but Kim got up at 5:30 and had half a day’s work done before I opened my eyes. He’s cooking eggs & taters now, so Saturday has begun.

My computer updated the other night and now I can’t get into Facebook except on the app. Not a crisis… I’ll figure it out… eventually. There are bigger fish to fry right now. Yesterday’s pathetic 3-hour “case” put on by DJT’s defense people was laughable, if it weren’t all so bloody dangerous, and if the Senate doesn’t agree to call witnesses today before slapping a CERTIFIED tag on this one, they’ll be culpable for what follows. Since watching arrogant men lie is one of my least favorite things to do on a Saturday or otherwise, they can just have at it today.

It’s Valentine-All-The-Time weekend and we’re here for it.

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New Year’s Day 2021… page 181

Day 292 – 01/01/2021

We woke up to fat snowflakes this morning and neighborhood flaws are being covered over hour by hour while I watch from my windows. Perfect way to observe a fresh start when everybody needs that more than anything, and now a little light is filtering through and making the snow look like fondant.

Our neighbors’ balcony

Kim says if he had more chutzpah than good sense he’d go down to the river and take pictures, but since we both know how that stacks up, he’s still here by the fire. Across the street, though, the little 3-year-old is out with his daddy, shoveling porches and sidewalks like a boss.

Our New Year’s Not-Rockin’ Eve was sweetly chill. Kim made Tortellini Bisque and garlic bread, we toasted to endings and beginnings, stayed up past midnight to escort 2020 out the door, shook the dust off our psyches, and burrowed our way into blessed sleep. We celebrated this morning with the Saturday breakfast on Friday, which will mean Sunday breakfast on Saturday, and a waffled-up Sunday morning. These rebel hearts will never be tamed…

Photo Credits: Kim Smith 01/01/2021

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New Year’s Eve… page 180

Day 291 – 12/31/2020

Better news yesterday, therefore it was a better day, cold but sunny. Little happened, and sometimes that’s the good news. Still waiting to hear on a COVID test (not mine), but it’s likely that a bullet has been dodged, and now we all find ourselves on the cusp of a whole new pack of challenges. I remember how we couldn’t wait for 2019 to end so there’s no such wild-eyed optimism on my part today – 2020 couldn’t have been dreamed up if we’d tried, and 2021 will no doubt leave a mark as well.

For starters, we’ll still have to suffer Jim Jordan and his buddies…

Do wrestling coaches not take history classes?

They’re all still out there and they’re neither leaving nor shutting up, so it’s up to me to wrap myself in a few protective layers to counterbalance what they’re putting out into the world – their lack of humanity is too toxic to allow inside. A good beginning would be to disown all the guilt in the universe that isn’t mine, and then ditch any guilt that IS mine, starting small and working my way through the heap.

DECEMBER 31, 2020 MISSION STATEMENT:

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Christmas Day… page 175

Day 285 – 12/25/2020

When you’re feeling old, tired, and beat up there’s much to be said for simplicity, and after the butt-wippin’ known as 2020, the simpler the better. Subscribing to that point of view, Rita made a yummy breakfast casserole and brought crescent rolls and champagne, with fresh raspberries for muddling. Kim made a skillet apple crisp served with vanilla bean ice cream and warm caramel sauce. Delicious, fun, and clean-up took mere minutes. Preston was not in a mood to be adventurous and get out of the car, even for a potty break, so Rita took him home around 2:00 and now they’re napping. Elma FaceTimed her while she was here to show her all her gifts and I got to see and say hi to Matt. It’s been a sweet day, a little microcosm of connection.

John’s habit since he started his nursing career has been to work on December 24th and 25th to allow a colleague with kids to be home with them, so that’s where he is today. I miss him so much my heart feels shredded, but he’s right where he needs to be and it’s all okay. He made sure to have his own celebration, which makes this heart a little happier. Missing lots of family… the holidays bring it to the surface in ways you can’t say no to and I’m sending a little prayer out into the universe that Christmas 2021 won’t feel like this one.

We create our own happiness, our own sweetness, our own peace, and we did a good job of that today. Rita always brings the joy, and great food, and the love. Life is good. 💙

As we get ready to close out a year we can’t wait to see the backside of…

A silent salute to all we’ve lost in 2020…

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It’s Christmas Eve… page 174

Day 284 – 12/24/2020

Yesterday was cold and windy, and today started out frigid… first morning in a long time that Kim’s given up his morning walk. And now Christmas is upon us, wonky but reliable.

I had a lumbar injection yesterday morning, SI-joint. If it works, great, if it doesn’t she’ll do another epidural. And if we get some more warm-ish sunny days soon maybe I’ll be ready to walk with Rita for real. I was already feeling better by last night, and this morning’s promising too, so hopefully we’ve got it whipped again for a few months.

Annnnnd… at 3pm it’s been a lazy and totally cozy day, exactly how I like my holidays. It’s sunny but deceptively cold outside so here by the fire is where I wanna be. Just leaving this entry here for posterity as evening approaches… 🎄❤️

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Trying to Christmas… page 161

Day 270 – 12/10/2020

I went to bed last night thinking the weather was slated to change overnight, but instead we get a BONUS day. By the time Kim comes home around 3:00 or so, he’ll have played four hours of outdoor PickleBall, which will likely have to last him for a couple of weeks or more. So while he’s out storing up endorphins, I’ve been rattling around here unsupervised and I’ve actually made a bit of productive headway.

We’re into double digits for December already, which used to be the signal to panic. I haven’t sent out Christmas cards in decades, but if I were to ratchet that up again I’d probably choose this design:

Searching my psyche, looking for why THIS year I would feel my skeptical heart opening to Christmas magic. I think it’s the sweetness, the gentle spirit about the whole thing, the sense of kindness under it all. I’m hungry for purity and human caring, which is why anything containing those ingredients breaks me now. Like this performance by Carter Rubin on The Voice. He recently turned 15 and is one amazing soul… this is exquisite with headphones.

Keeping an eye out for the sweetness and the humor…

Yup, if you’ve eaten hot dogs, SPAM, Cheez Whiz, chicken nuggets, or any number of other weird American fare choices, you’ve put plenty of foreign matter into your carcass without asking a single question. Too late, friends and neighbors.

This little video is the only thing out there that could keep up with Carter today… it’s everything.

Photo Credit: Kim Smith 12/10/2020

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Loving everybunny… page 154

Day 263 – 12/03/2020

For so many reasons, Christmas has been a non-event in my life for the past 25 years or so (other than that first magical one with Kim in 2004 which we decided we could never top), but today is December 3rd and my immediate world needs some cheer, so holiday mode it is. It was fun to have a mini-blizzard to start things off – a few minutes of tiny snow flurries – and my space heater’s keeping my toes warm this morning. ❄️❄️❄️

When I walked over to the barbershop at 8am it was below freezing, but no wind so no biggie. Says we might get rain today, with low 50s and sunny through the weekend. Sounds just fine.

The Jayhawks have been playing every couple of nights and we have a televised game to look forward to again tonight – Washburn here at 7pm. We’re 2 – 1 so far and the team’s coming together the way it happens every year… essential players leave, FNGs come in and learn the ropes, you gradually get a whole new team and life goes on. Sometimes it all gels into a beautiful thing and it’s always worth hanging around to find out.

Still taking our distractions where we find them, even though in a world loosed from its moorings things like sports and TV require a certain amount of cognitive dissonance to enjoy. Even the parts based in reality are sometimes a bridge too far alongside knowledge of what the pandemic and sedition in government are doing to us.

Aiming for holiday happiness, though. Pollyanna’s no quitter.

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Letting Monday gel… page 151

Day 260 – 11/30/2020

Good weekend, chilly with sunshine. The Chiefs and 49ers both won, and Rita came by for a while on Saturday.

Idle curiosity… we had stir-fry, but wondering how many people smoked a turkey for Thanksgiving?

A recipe I saved for Kim a while back, and you could substitute turkey for chicken…

I’d ask Kim to substitute thin crispy bacon for the thick cut, and less of it, but the rest of it sounds like… crack. Speaking of which, I should get cracking on something, like folding the laundry in the other room…

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Black Friday… page 150

Day 257 – 11/27/2020

Can’t remember why it’s called Black Friday but I’ve never done one and this year would be an incredibly stupid time to start. Kim said Mass Street was quiet this morning so the stores didn’t open early for sales – maybe #lfk isn’t going to the dance this time around.

I’m seeing lots of Twitter comments about crying jags and teary breakdowns on The Day After. I have a feeling we stayed home and did it right, all brave and stiff-upper-lipped, and today the knowledge of everything we’ve lost is proving too heavy. Will there ever be a road back to what we knew and believed to be real?

This day feels ponderous to carry so I’ll have to break it up into livable chunks – sixteen unbroken hours of staying awake for it is unmanageable. Tried not to write about it, but I can’t go all day without breathing. Tried not to talk about it to Kim but he’s the only one here. Looking for a diversion in the bottom of the toy box that will take me outside myself and into the sunlight. Feels like it will be a long winter, with days and days of isolation and uncertainty, so I gotta figure it out, I can’t whine my way through another year of this. And by the time a vaccine gets final approval, a distribution system is in place, and we’ve all received our two shots with a month between, it will most likely take that long. Then we’ll have to keep wearing masks and social distancing until we achieve community transmission reduction. Long haul ahead, Mama, pull up your big-girl undies.

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Getting thankful… page 149

Day 255 – 11/25/2020

Kim went over to the barbershop at 7:00 this morning for a haircut and brought me a bagel from Einstein’s, always a happy surprise. Everything bagel with veggie cream cheese. Pretty heavenly. Cold gray day but sunnier in here for whatever reasons. Gonna try to keep it that way. This week’s reminder to give thanks is right on time.

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Veterans’ Day 2020

Kim was rollin’ ’round the river early this morning and brought back the receipts…

Rowing crews, bundled up, down by the Boathouse
Crewing on the mighty Kaw
Old power station, still used but currently undergoing a cleanup and revitalization, in conjunction with work on the riverbed below the dam.
Yup, those are roads they’ve built out into the river.
Liquid sunshine on this Veterans’ Day morning
Can’t hold back the light…

Photo Credits: Kim Smith 11/11/2020

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Saturday, the 4th… page 58

Day 114 – 07/04/2020

Drinking pomegranate tea while fragments of thought pop in and out of my headspace.

It’s a wonky 4th, but I’m two for two so far – the traditional breakfast and a spa soak. The rest of it is gravy.

Thinking of a story I heard a while back about someone who’s managed to alienate their cache of friends and family and now they’re old and not in good health, with few human resources – a pitiable spot to find oneself in, and one I hope to avoid. But I’m outspoken to the max on social media among like-minded friends, so I always hope people who are on another page entirely will either out themselves or find the door… preferably both. They’re not the hearts and minds I’m talking to, and they will inevitably be offended. Oh well… they weren’t gonna come change my sheets at the end anyway, so…

Ray of sunshine here, veritable 4th of July sparkler! It’s those damn morose German genes, and before I bring the house up a little, let me just say this is the most demoralizing Independence Day observance of my 70+ years. If we reach the next one with our democratic system of government intact, functioning, and regaining health, we will be a blessed nation indeed.

So, the good news. The sun’s breaking through the clouds and the humidity is only 74%. The neighborhood is quiet this morning – no mortar rounds going off since last night. The flowers are perking their heads up and taking advantage of the wet air and sunshine to do that thing they do… likely only to get slammed by another rainstorm. Makes ’em strong, right? The day feels lazy and free, so imma celebrate that.

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Remembering…

An edited nostalgia piece from 2013 …

During a nursery visit to replace trees and plants lost to the western Kansas drought and heat (we’ve since moved to the northeast corner of the state), the greenhouse owner snapped off a king-sized rose blossom and handed it to me.  As soon as I caught its scent, my grandma was there beside me and a whole era lined up for review. 

We grew up across a gravel driveway from my paternal grandparents on a farm in the middle of wheat fields and pastures.  There were cows and chickens and a big barn populated by sleepy cats, but the best part of the farm was Grandma and Grandpa’s garden.  It spanned acres, and included most of the veggies you could name — potatoes, carrots, onions, radishes, rhubarb, asparagus, sweet corn, peas, green beans, turnips (yucky), strawberries and tomatoes (both of which we were allowed to pluck warm from the vine, with a tap on the salt shaker Grandma kept tucked under the leaves); fruit trees including apple, cherry, and peach; and flowers.  Peonies, mock orange, baby’s breath, tulips, daisies, columbine, cosmos, daffodils, lilies, phlox, snapdragons, roses. Not a complete list.

All of this was surrounded by hedges that my grandpa kept trimmed — a tall one across the back, with openings into the orchard beyond, and shorter hedges along the front and sides with shaped entryways into the three main sections of the garden.  In a corner, close to the cattle pens, grew watermelon and cantaloupe.  And a quarter-mile away, next to an irrigation engine, was a colossal watermelon patch (which became infamous in its own right — a story for another day) that produced enough for all summer and into the fall, including a happy celebration for friends and neighbors in the yard.

Outside the confines of the hedges sat the two-story farmhouse my grandpa built, saturated with decades of living. Between the house and garden a hammock was stretched between two big cottonwoods, and a rope swing hung from a branch.  The clotheslines where we helped Grandma “hang out a nice wash,” as she invariably declared it to be, stretched across the grass.  

There was a cement and brick milk house where our dad and grandpa filtered the milk from the cows, skimmed off the heavy cream, and left it all in glass jars to cool in troughs of ice-cold running water brought up by the windmill anchored next to the building.  A battered tin cup hung on a pipe next to the well so anyone who wanted to could pump a fresh drink of water. (There was no pandemic raging.)   

We (my sisters and brother and I, along with cousins and neighbor kids) spent long hours in that yard, held tea parties under the tall conifers set in the middle of the garden, and built more than one fort among the fruit trees and evergreens out back.  And on occasion, we worked.  

When I think of my grandparents – she born in 1889 and he five years earlier – he shows up in long-sleeved chambray shirt and faded Levis and she’s wearing a homemade housedress and apron, tied at the waist and pinned to the flowery cotton of her dress at the shoulders.  And she never went out, hoe in hand, without a handmade sunbonnet.  A real lady had creamy white skin, and although Grandma had been born with distinctly olive coloring, she tried.  Grandpa protected his head with a well-worn felt cowboy hat that he sweated through in nothing flat.

Thus they went forth every morning equipped for work, intent upon it, dedicated to it.  Those luscious fruits and vegetables out there in the hot sun were life, and life doesn’t wait.  They did their best to corral us, to slow our head-long summer romp through the garden, to foist sunbonnets upon us and thrust hoes and rakes into our grubby little hands.  I remember thinking I really should help out more, take more of an interest, learn something while I was at it.  But the fork in the big tree behind the milk house was calling my name, my book was still stashed there from the day before, and I was hot and tired and needed a drink of water from the well …. and I never quite found time to own responsibility and discipline in any discernible way.  

There was one time of year, however, when we all pitched in and did our part.  I’m ashamed to say, it had a lot to do with the fact that we got paid for our efforts, but, well ….

Every year in the days preceding Memorial Day, my grandparents would cut armfuls of tightly-budded peonies, wrap them in wet burlap, and store them in crocks of well water in the cool cement-lined root cellar.  The other flowers, too, found their way into crocks, awaiting that early-morning observance at cemeteries around the countryside.  Our job as grandchildren was to take old paring knives and snip daisy bouquets in counts of twenty-five, band them and put them in canning jars in the cellar.  It was a treat to go from the sunny garden to the damp coolness of the pit, and Grandma and Grandpa paid us a nickel a bouquet. We were suddenly rich, and Woolworth’s, McClellan’s, and Duckwall’s were a mere twelve miles away.

Despite our mercenary outlook, we managed to gain a sense of having contributed to something special.  The day before Memorial Day, which was known as Decoration Day in the 1950s, and very early the morning of, neighbors and strangers from surrounding areas started pulling into the drive to collect the big flower baskets and smaller arrangements they’d pre-ordered.  And many, knowing there were always unclaimed flowers, stopped by to see what they might pick up.  The air had a special freshness about it and people invariably seemed happy and intent on their mission.

I remember feeling proud of my grandma for her ability to grow and arrange flowers into spectacular gifts, and a connectedness to all those people coming to embrace her talents.  I started to feel tied to all the generations being honored on those Memorial weekends, and I still remember snippets of stories from the conversations I overheard.

After all the paying customers had retrieved their floral offerings, Grandma let us kids have the leftover daisy bundles to place on the graves of the nearly-forgotten babies from the 1800s in our small community cemetery a mile west of the farm.  It always felt like we’d done something amazing by honoring those brief little lives, and the yearly military ceremony conducted by aging war heroes in a sometimes haphazard and ill-fitting assortment of service garb lent added poignancy.

If my grandparents were here now they would be gratified to know how much I actually did learn through their example and the privilege of living in their shadow.  Things like hard work, respect for the living and the dead, a certain acceptance that no matter what happens life goes on … all of these have stood me in good stead over the years.

As with most farmers of that generation they never became wealthy in a monetary sense.  But the things they passed along to us are beyond price … and worth consciously appreciating as another Memorial Day arrives.

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