I Blinked in May

Yesterday was a beautiful day with sunny skies and just-right temperatures. We have the sense that summer is slipping away, and there are things we still must get done before it. Every year, it feels as if I blinked in May and it’s suddenly August.

JJ had to work all day yesterday—from 11 a.m  to 7 p.m. After he left, EJ and I went to the laundromat and then I hung the clothes on the line while EJ measured and calculated how many pieces of fencing we needed to buy to further our fencing projects. Then we drove to one of several home improvement stores in our area. This one has the fence pieces EJ needs–six feet high and quite thick and sturdy. They are heavy. I was hoping that there would be staff to help load the two pieces we needed into the truck, but we had to do it ourselves. I tried to help, but I was more of a hindrance because the pieces were heavy and unwieldy so EJ waved me away and did it himself.

EJ is very strong but years ago, before we met, he didn’t realize the floors had just been mopped at the factory he was working at, and he slipped and fell down two flights of stairs on his back. At the time he shook it off because he was young and tough and even stronger, but he injured his back and has struggled with back problems since. He lives his life to a melody of pain. Sometimes the pain is less and bearable, but often it crescendos into agony. At some point, he might have to have back surgery, but most people he’s talked to regret having the surgery so he doesn’t want it until there is no other option. Meanwhile, he wants to do as much as he can, so we plan activities and chores around his level of pain. Sometimes tasks go slow, but we have learned patience.

Taking down the old shed.
Taking down the old shed.

In May EJ and I took down the old dilapidated shed. He tore apart the shed and I helped put the pieces into the truck. We carted the debris to the landfill. 

It was amazing how much more space we have with the shed gone. EJ put in raised beds there for his veggie garden.

We also put up a taller fence–six feet instead of four feet–dividing the front yard from the back yard. We did not get the gate in, so part of the new fencing will be used to make a gate. 

 

EJ putting in raised beds where the shed was. The woodshed is to the right.
EJ putting in raised beds where the shed was. The woodshed is to the right.

We also need to finish the woodshed. Our woodshed has had several lives. When we moved here, it was a grape arbor. We changed it into a gazebo, but found that it didn’t really get used that much. Plus, we needed a place to put the firewood for our woodstove. So we moved our round picnic table on the front porch, where we use it more, and we are putting sides on the grape arbor so it will look like a nice woodshed. We got some of the sides up in May, but have to finish putting the rest up. 

EJ and I carried the fence pieces off the truck and into the back yard. EJ used a hand saw to cut the fence pieces into the sizes we needed. It was getting dark toward the end, so I held a flashlight so EJ could see.

EJ had hoped to be able to nail the fences pieces into place today, and we had hoped that we could carry out last year’s leftover firewood that is inside the woodshed so EJ could lay a pallet down so we could keep the firewood up off the ground, and we had hoped that we could then carry the firewood back into the woodshed. However, today was a rainy day.

We discussed what task we could do together since we couldn’t work outside. We finally decided to empty the RV. Last night EJ’s friend he has a friend who might be interested in buying our RV if we were interested in selling it. We have discussed whether to sell or keep it for a while now. We enjoy the RV we bought several years ago and really love the whole camping experience. However, with EJ’s work schedule, back pain, and all the things we have to do at home, we haven’t used it in two or three years. If we sold the RV, we could pay off some bills and we’d be almost entirely debt-free, which is one of our major goals. There is great appeal in that, so we emptied the RV today and I spent the afternoon finding places for stuff we brought into the house. Tomorrow is supposed to rain again, so maybe we can empty the outside compartment and give the inside of the RV a thorough cleaning. Just in case anyone wants to look at it.

When the sun comes out again, we can finish the woodshed. Then we can start getting firewood in. I wanted to spend all summer getting firewood, but I blinked in May and now it’s mid-August.

 

Advertisements

Waking Up Slowly

This morning, I woke up slowly and saw a delightful thing.

I like waking up slowly. I always wake up, get out of bed, make a pot of coffee, and then savor each cup as I settle on the couch with cats on and/or near me while I read and study and catch up with the world.

Today I woke up more slowly. I lay in bed, drowsily looking out the window at the beautiful morning.

Then I saw it. A little hummingbird landed on a small horizontal trumpet vine branch. He stayed there for a minute or two–a long time for a hummingbird. He flew away, but returned a few minutes later. I watched him flutter his wings and stretch. He was gone, but returned. I am quite sure I saw his impossibly long tongue stretch out and retract a couple of times.

I didn’t want to get out of bed, but I couldn’t stay there all day. When the hummingbird did not return after after several minutes, I finally got up to begin a busy day.

I like waking up slowly.

 

Changing Seasons

The day has been one of those perfect days that occasionally arrive to refresh the spirit. The weather was absolutely beautiful. The sun was shining and the sky was blue with only a few white clouds. The temperature was warmish, but with a coolish breeze. Although the day appears summery, there is a feeling in the air that autumn is coming. I love autumn.

I think I was so pushed to exhaustion and beyond yesterday that even Prednisone could not keep me awake. I actually slept hours without waking, and feel so much better.

The challah bread I made today.
The challah bread I made today.

Today was the day to make challah bread. I always start challah bread as soon as I get up in the morning, even before I make coffee. Challah bread is my favorite bread to make. Somehow, it always turns out beautiful, even on the days when it doesn’t rise as it should, or I don’t have the right sort of flour, or I have to use sugar because I ran out of honey. I’m always amazed that I can make such a beautiful bread. I never would have imagined that I could make such a work of art. Every week I say breathlessly: “Oh, this is absolutely BEAUTIFUL and I MADE IT.” And every week EJ says, “That is THE MOST BEAUTIFUL BREAD EVER.” JJ says, “HMMMMMM!”

Today’s bread turned out exceptionally beautiful: the perfect golden color, the perfect texture, the most delicious taste. The picture is of my challah bread–after we had eaten some.

After I had prepared the challah bread, let it rise, punched it, let it rise, braided it, and was letting it rise again, EJ and I left to take a few items into the consignment shop we have recently discovered in the next town. We are really trying to unclutter our lives, and thought we could start selling some items that we no longer use.

Usually my dog Danny takes no notice when I put on my shoes in the morning–he reacts only when EJ leaves for work because he recognizes THAT is the time he gets his walk. However, today, he shoved his way past us through the front door, so we decided to let him go with us. The woman at the consignment shop saw him and gave him two doggy treats.

The Farmers' Market.
The Farmers’ Market. I took this picture with my phone as we were driving away because I forgot my camera again.

The next stop after the consignment shop was the Farmers’ Market, which is set up each Friday in the hospital parking lot. My only regret about the Farmers’ Market is that we didn’t start going to it at the beginning of the summer or in previous years. We were aware of it, sort of, but we always forgot what day it was or were too busy to go. However, now that we have experienced it, it’s become part of our Friday morning routine. It’s so very fun. We love interacting with the farmers. We bought two dozen eggs from the farmer we usually buy eggs from…and also bought blackberries, blueberries, yellow plums, a couple of cucumbers, and a pint of buttermilk. We grow blackberries ourselves, but these were HUGE and EJ couldn’t resist buying some. We also are trying to grow blueberries, but they didn’t do so well this year, and I couldn’t resist buying some.

I looked at lavender plants at another booth at the Farmers’ Market, thinking I’d like one for a house plant. The woman at that booth suggested a French Lavender plant that was specifically developed to be an indoor plant, although any lavender can be grown inside, she said. I bought it.

We got home, I finished the challah bread, and made steak, yellow beans, salad, and cucumber slices for our very wonderful Shabbat meal, which we eat before EJ and JJ have to leave for work. The beans and salad greens were given to us by Frank, one of our sweet elderly neighbors. He likes to occasionally share his garden produce with neighbors. He is retired, and frail, and I think it gives him an excuse to visit with people.

EJ left for work at 2:30 p.m. and JJ left an hour later.

I had a friend ask me a few weeks ago how I would fill my time now that JJ has graduated and I no longer am homeschooling him. When JJ was a tiny baby a different friend said that every age that her children were currently at was always her favorite age for them to be. I have found that to be true as well. I loved JJ as a baby when I could rock him and nurse him. He was delightful (although exhausting) as an energetic toddler. I enjoyed (despite occasional battles) homeschooling him and watching him learn. But I am also enjoying his emergence into adulthood. I am sure there will come a time when he moves out and I will struggle with Empty Nest Syndrome. However, right now I am utterly enjoying this changing season we are in. JJ is maturing and I don’t have to say so much “do this…don’t do that.” There have been times when I wondered if our strong-willed child would ever learn the things we were trying to teach him but I am seeing now the fruit of our efforts. JJ is turning out to be a fine young man–a man who works hard, has integrity, is tenderhearted, and yet knows how to stand up for himself. I am proud of him.

Also, in this season, EJ and I have a newfound freedom to spend the mornings together (JJ is a night owl and sleeps in). My mornings are not filled with school assignments, and then rushing to fix lunch, seeing EJ off to work, and then getting my chores done and trying to fit in extra tasks. We get to enjoy quiet mornings together, or browse through Farmers’ Markets or thrift stores…or whatever. We love hanging out together. 

My Front Porch Garden
My Front Porch Garden

And although I enjoy them when they are home, when my guys go off to work, I have peaceful afternoons/evenings to do whatever I want. Many times I study Hebrew with my friend for a couple of hours via video-chat–although sometimes we just sit and chat, she in her state and I in mine. Today we couldn’t meet so, after I walked Danny, I transplanted my French Lavender into a better pot and added the pot to my Front Porch Garden of horse-radish, ginger, bay, rosemary, and cactus plants. Then I carried all the bricks that I had dug up from the path the other day to the place where I am stacking them. I “threw the shoe,” telling myself that I would carry and stack only so many bricks, and then only another additional segment, knowing all the time that I was planning to carry and stack them all. It’s just easier to imagine only doing a few at a time.

June 2013 030Danny came outside with me. He settled in the shade and quietly watched me as I worked. He is a quiet dog and his greatest pleasure is to be near me. I think he is an introvert, like me. My cat, Rikki-Tikki-Tabby, also joined me. He loves to be with me when I am working outside, and he followed me back and forth as I carried bricks.

The morning was so enjoyable with my family, and the weather so beautiful, and I was so enjoying my quiet afternoon tasks, that I felt joy filling me.  I wanted to take a picture of the day, but a picture would not have captured it. Sometimes only words will do.

The Nothings of Life

I was awake until after 4 a.m. this morning. I slept until 7 a.m. and then I slept fitfully with many wakings for another hour before getting up.

I have been utterly exhausted today, moving through the day in a thick fog. There were so many things I wanted to get done, but I am pushing them off until tomorrow. EJ and I walked to the bank this morning and then on to the post office for the mail. Our town is so small that there is no home delivery for residents. We all have post office boxes. When we first moved here, I couldn’t believe our mail wouldn’t be delivered, but I quickly grew to enjoy the daily walks to the post office and the occasional interactions with the people we meet along the way.

I am glad that I made pizza and potato salad yesterday. I let EJ and JJ have the leftover pizza for lunch today, and I chose to have potato salad. An easy meal.

JJ had to leave for work at 1:30 p.m. today, and EJ left at 2:30. To be honest, I spent the whole morning looking at the clock and thinking, “When they leave for work, I am going to lie down and take a nap!” When I was finally alone, I took Danny for his walk. I debated whether to walk him or forget it for the day, but he looks forward to it so much that I just couldn’t disappoint him. I certainly could manage a 30 minute walk. When we got home, I changed into my pjs, settled on the couch. Ahhhhh. Sleep!

But as tired as I am, I can’t sleep. Maybe I will sleep tonight. Only hours to go before bed time. Stupid Prednisone. 

Here are some rambling thoughts from a sleep-deprived mind that are sort of a continuation of the thoughts of my previous post.

My Dad loved gadgets. He had some interesting gadgets. For example, he hooked our living room lamps to a small control box in the dining room. It was fun telling my nephew that there were leprechauns in the house, and then remotely turning on and off the lights when only he was in the living room. However, after awhile it got tiresome to have to go into the dining room whenever we wanted to turn on/off the living room lights. “Go turn on this light,” my Dad would say, and off we’d go to the dining room to push a button to turn on the lamp sitting on the table next to him.

Early computer modem Photo: NPR.Org.
Early computer modem
Photo: NPR.Org.

When I was in high school, my Dad got a computer. He had the first personal computer among our family, friends, and acquaintances. Home computers were so new that when he wanted a new program, he had to input pages and pages of small print coding from a magazine. One little mistake could cause the program to not work right and then we’d have to go character by character, line by line, page by page to find the one semicolon that should have been a comma. My Dad also had the predecessor to a website. It was called a “computer bulletin board.” He put the handset of the phone into a modem cradle and those who knew the phone number could dial it up and access the information on his computer.  It sounds archaic now, but it was high tech then. It makes me sound ancient, but I’m not really. Technology really changed very quickly.

Back in those days, there wasn’t email. People had to write letters. Once in a while, a friend shared big and exciting news–acceptance to college, marriage, or the birth of a child–but most of the time their letters went something like this:

Hi.

How are you? I am fine. Nothing much is happening here. I hope you are well. Well, I’ve got to go.

Love [Friend]

I always was dissatisfied with such letters because they said nothing. I always wrote letters filled with small details–the “boring” little details of what I did or what I thought.  My friends seemed to like my letters–maybe because I brought them into my day, letting them share my life with me.

A few years ago, I encountered a woman who I hadn’t seen since we were young children. She was the cashier at Walmart ringing up my groceries. I recognized her mostly because of her name tag. Her name was so unusual that I knew it had to be her. When I introduced myself, she remembered me, and asked, “So, what’s been happening…?” as if we had last seen each other a week ago instead of a lifetime ago. At her question, my whole life from the time I last saw her until that point fast forwarded through my mind. So much had happened! However, I simply replied, “Nothing much” and summed up the major highlights (“I went to college, got married, had a child…”) because it was impossible to describe a lifetime of details in the few minutes it took her to ring up my groceries.

Sometimes I laugh that I really just write about nothing, and always have, and I wonder why anyone would bother reading it. However, I actually see value in the nothings of life that are sandwiched between the major highlights. I often ponder that Laura Ingalls Wilder simply wrote about the everyday nothings of her life, but people love her books because what was everyday routine for her–milking the cow or making butter–became fascinating glimpses into another life for those who read her books later. I think of a time years ago when EJ and I sat on the porch of an older couple from church and listened avidly to stores of their early life, of having to patch blown tires every few miles when they went to town because tires on the early cars weren’t as strong as today’s tires. Can you imagine?

Some day, all our descriptions of nothing will be glimpses into different eras.

Even back when I was writing letters to friends, I realized that life isn’t about the big events; it’s about the small details. It’s the small day-to-day struggles and victories, joys and sorrows, failures and victories that affect us most, changing us imperceptibly until we suddenly realize that we have been changed completely without noticing. Those who can’t be there to share the details with us, who only get the highlights, don’t really share life with each other. They grow apart.

In a similar way, I think those who share only their strengths with others are missing something deep and powerful. They are often very nice people and I believe they are trying to be strong, inspiring, and encouraging, which is admirable. However, I find it difficult to really connect with them at more than superficial levels because for me trust isn’t built in only the strong, happy times, just as life isn’t really shared only in the highlights. I know that everyone is touched by weakness, failure, heartache at one point or another in their lives, but when a person only shares the happy, strong times…I find no real point of connection. I always wonder: Are they being honest about where they are? Can they not trust others with their lives? Can they understand or have compassion for others’ sufferings? If they can’t share the suffering, how can they understand what others have overcome or really share in their joy?

Of course, I understand that you can’t share at deep levels all the time or with everyone. But I forge connections with those who share themselves. I love friends who share both their laughter and tears with me, who let me into the details of their lives. I think one of the most powerful things a friend has said to me was, after I went through suffering similar to hers, “I always knew you cared…but now I know you understand.” I have experienced rejection, a miscarriage, infertility, chronic illness, and more. I can’t remember how many times someone has said to me, “I share this deep heartache with you because I know you have been there [because I told them], and I know you will understand…”

Just as life is shared through the shared details of life, I think connections are forged in the realness of life.

On a sort of connected thought: Occasionally I hear people complain that the Internet is destroying connections between people–because people no longer write letters or communicate face to face. Others complain that people share silly trivial stuff on social media like Facebook.  “Who cares what someone had for lunch?” they mock. I think these people connect best face-to-face, and that is fine. But I think they need to understand that people are all different and have different ways of relating and connecting. It’s not “one size fits all.” 

I find the Internet and social media has increased my ability to connect. I love hearing of the little nothings of a friend’s day–even what she had for lunch. I love sharing family pictures, swapping recipes, exchanging advice, trading jokes, sharing another funny cat picture, studying with others with similar interests, and participating in discussions of interesting topics with an expanding circle of friends from all around the world. I love getting glimpses of daily lives that are different from mine, whether from friends in Iowa, Texas, Oregon…or Africa, Austria, Australia, the Netherlands, or a small island across the Atlantic. I ask questions of what life is like for them, and I learn about places of the world that I barely knew existed. I hear about problems like sheep getting buried in an unexpected snowstorm in the U.K. or a woman trying to get her garden to grow during a drought in Austria. I try to wrap my mind around the fact that the very hot summer months of June, July, and August are cold winter months for friends in Australia. I hear about holidays, traditions, or social issues that I was ignorant about from people experiencing them. If I say in the middle of the night “I am awake,” voices immediately respond from around the world: “Why?” I am entrusted with stories of private pain that breaks my heart or joys that delight me. I listen to the stories, and reach out in the night to encourage, or sometimes share silly stuff just to help people laugh.  I care, really care, and the caring ripples out to beyond my little family and local surroundings to reach the friends around the world.

Photo: mariamedia.net
Photo: mariamedia.net

I love the connection to the world I have through the Internet.

I am more than a quiet woman shopping at the grocery store trying to choose between one bunch of carrots and another. The world touches me and I touch the world.

But now I have to go wash dishes.

And maybe I will take a nap.

Waiting Up

My husband works second shift at work, which is nice,  because we get to spend the mornings together when he first wakes up and before a long day at work tires him.

When our son was young and throughout our years of homeschooling, I’d get up early  and go to bed early. I had to have a clear head to teach school all morning and the energy to care for an energetic little boy. Most of the time I was too tired by night-time to stay up to welcome EJ home. However, now that JJ has graduated from high school, I have been trying to wait up for EJ to get home. We talk a little and then I go to bed.

JJ started his first job at McDonald’s in May. McDonald’s is a good first job, and he’s doing well at it. He’s working hard, cheerfully, and with integrity. I am proud of him. JJ’s hours are constantly changing. Tonight he was supposed to work a four-hour shift and get out at 8 p.m., but he texted me that they asked him to close the store, so he’d be working until at least midnight, although it could be longer. Apparently, closers have to stay until the job is done.

I waited up for EJ to get home. Now I am waiting up to make sure JJ gets home ok. JJ is a good safe driver, but he isn’t really all that experienced, so I want to make sure he gets home safely. It’s ok. I can’t sleep anyway. Besides, with Prednisone or without it, waiting up is a Mom-thing. Many times it’s also a Dad-thing but tonight, EJ fell asleep in his chair with his computer on his lap, so I gently removed the computer and am letting him sleep.

Yay! JJ just came through the door. Now I can sleep. Well, maybe.

Last night I was so tired that I slept more than I have in days–in spite of the sleepless effects of the Prednisone I am taking for the rash on my leg. The rash is diminishing, I am glad to say. I am tired during the days, but I am doing well.

Yesterday I didn’t do all that much. I think I had worked too much the day before, weeding my herb garden and EJ’s veggie garden and digging up bricks from the path through the back yard. My body felt a bit battered. I couldn’t make it pull any more weeds or lift any more bricks.

Today was a beautiful day with periods of rain and sunshine, and even a thunderstorm or two. I like sunny days and I like rainy days and I like thunderstorms. On sunny days I can work outside and enjoy the day. On rainy days I can work inside or cuddle with a cat, a book (or computer), and a cup of coffee or tea. Stormy days are wild and exciting as long as they aren’t destructive. JJ and I like to drive in the car sometimes and pretend we are storm-chasers. These days he drives and I take pictures of dark clouds.

This morning I made homemade pizza. For some reason, the dough didn’t rise well. I don’t know if I missed an ingredient, or the rainy day prohibited the dough rising, or what. Oh, well. I made the pizza anyway. The crust was more like flatbread, but it still tasted pretty well. My husband grew up with six sisters (with a couple of brothers sprinkled in) and he ate plenty of their cooking mistakes so he doesn’t mind a few less- than-perfect results. As an only child, JJ is a bit less brave but, as I said, the flatbread pizza tasted pretty good.

After EJ left for work, I walked my dog Danny, as I usually do. Danny knows that when EJ goes to work it’s time for a walk, so he gets excited. Fortunately, it was during a time of sunshine and not rain so we had a very pleasant walk. It was very humid though.

After JJ left for work, about an hour later, I vacuumed rugs, swept and mopped the downstairs floors, and decided to make potato salad. EJ usually texts me on his breaks to make sure all is well, and I texted him back that I was making potato salad. Only I abbreviated my message and actually wrote that I was making “pot salad.” I figured he’d know that “pot” meant “potato.” Duh. He thought “pot salad” was pretty funny and was still laughing when he got home from work.

A few years ago, I started teaching myself (and then JJ) Hebrew. Then I started to study Hebrew with my friend. She lives several states away, but we study together through video-chat. Then she and I started to teach a few friends. We aren’t experts at Hebrew or anything, but we teach them what we have already learned and we have fun doing it.  If we get stuck, we ask friends who know the language better for help. It’s very rewarding to me when one of our “students” is able to read Hebrew. It is the same sort of fulfilling satisfaction I got when I was able to teach my son to read.

For two hours this evening I met with a small group of friends via video-chat to study with a Hebrew scholar/author, who is also a friend.

I love Hebrew because it is unlike any other language. I don’t want to get into a detailed discussion about the language because that is not the purpose of this blog, but Hebrew is very profound and teaches a lot about faith and life. Hebrew started out as a picture language and is very action based. Every word can be reduced to a three-letter root, and every similar three-letter root is connected even though at first glance you can’t imagine such dissimilar words could possibly be connected.

Photo: blog.fabflour.co.uk/
Photo: blog.fabflour.co.uk/

For example, the word for “bread” is connected to the word for fighting and struggling and wrestling. This doesn’t make sense until you think about the way you knead bread dough–pushing it around, pressing it down, and then punching it after it has risen. The process is very much like wrestling and fighting. Making bread is very physical. And, connected to this, when you think of it, life is like making bread: wrestling and struggling to provide “daily bread” for your family, hopes or dreams rising only to be punched down by disappointment or heartbreak, and yet, even though it doesn’t always turn out the way you wanted, it still somehow turns out good. Whenever I make bread dough of any sort, I now think of this concept. I like making bread, even when it doesn’t turn out perfectly.

Anyway, once a month, a small group of women and I study together with a Hebraic scholar/author. Most of us in the group are from around the USA. One is from Australia. We’ve never met in person, but we are connected through our desire to learn Hebrew and Hebraic insights. Our time together is very, very enjoyable and I always learn a lot. I have so much fun. I love the Internet because it opens the world up to me, and I can meet and study with so many interesting people and learn so many interesting things.

EJ told me that he once watched a television series in which the host would randomly choose a person from a telephone book in whatever city he was in and he’d interview that person. The only rule he had was that he had to interview that random person no matter how average or boring he or she first appeared to be. What the host discovered is that even the most average person had an interesting story to tell–some interesting trait or experience that made him unique. Sometimes I think about that. I think that if someone met me–or probably anyone in the group–at the grocery store, he might think I was a boring stay-at-home Mom. He wouldn’t know that I was learning and teaching Hebrew and studying with world-famous scholars. It almost seems like there are superheroes with secret identities out there, everywhere. This thought changes how I view people. Who are they? What stories do they have to tell? What hidden talents do they have?

I really like the Internet because many people are able to write blogs, and most of these are probably people who, if it weren’t for the Internet, wouldn’t write, or couldn’t share what they wrote, so you wouldn’t know they could write, and you wouldn’t know their stories. But because they can write blogs and share them, their stories get told, and the stories are fascinating.

EJ and JJ have been asleep for a very long time. The need for waiting up is long past. I suppose I should go to bed too.

Throwing the Shoe

This morning EJ and I stopped at the bank before heading to the store in a nearby town to pick up a few items. We had a nice chat with the tellers at the bank. The husband of one teller works with my husband, and the husband and son of the other were involved in JJ’s Boy Scout Troop. As we finished our business, EJ commented that every day “We just keep throwing the shoe.” I said to him, “You realize that no one but us knows what ‘throwing the shoe’ means.”

Contrary to what you might think if you read yesterday’s post about the sleep-depriving, emotion-intensifying effects I suffer from Prednisone, “throwing the shoe” does not mean throwing shoes at each other in anger. It is a phrase that came about from an experience in my life.

There are very beautiful sand dunes along Michigan’s west coast called “Sleeping Bear Sand Dunes.” They are so beautiful that viewers of the Good Morning America TV program voted it the most beautiful place in America in 2011. Here is a video of the dunes if you’d like to see them:

I have gone to the Sleeping Bear Sand Dunes several times in my life, but this particular experience happened when my family went camping at the dunes when I was 19 years old. At the time, only my younger sister and I were still living at home. My older siblings had moved away. I learned that it was only a three mile walk across the dunes from the campground to Lake Michigan. I suggested to my sister that it would be very fun to walk to the Lake and jump in and swim a while. She thought it sounded fun, so off we went.

sand3
Photo: Sleeping Bear Dunes – Pure Michigan

The dunes were high mountains of sand, and the sand was hot. We were wearing sandals and for every step we took, we slid back a couple inches. One step forward, half a step back. We kept expecting to see Lake Michigan glimmering from the summit of each dune, but all we saw when we made it to the top was another mountain of sand. And another. And another.

Hot and tired, it wasn’t long before my sister began grumbling and talking about turning back. I kept talking her into climbing another mountain. I didn’t want to quit. I told her that if we turned back, we’d be turning back in defeat, all our effort would have been wasted, and we’d never experience the refreshing joy of jumping into Lake Michigan. I encouraged her that we would probably see the Lake from the top of THIS dune. However, all we saw was yet another dune.

Finally, my sister said, “I am turning back NOW.” I suddenly had an inspiring idea. I asked her to take off one of her sandals and hand it to me. “Why?” she asked. “Just do it,” I said as I took off one of my sandals. She handed me her sandal and I threw her shoe and mine up the dune, just a few feet out of reach. “Why did you do that?!!” she yelled. I replied, “We now have a choice. We can climb up the dune and retrieve our shoes or we can turn back to the campground without them.” We climbed up the short distance to our shoes. “Let’s throw our shoes again and climb up and get them,” I suggested and we did. My sister caught on to the idea. The distance to Lake Michigan had seemed much too far away, but it was not too far to climb up and retrieve our shoes. We kept throwing our shoes and climbing up to retrieve them and throwing them again. We quickly made it to Lake Michigan, jumped in the oh, so, refreshing water, splashed around a bit, and returned to our campground in victory and having had a great time.

Photo: Ashcreekimages.com
Photo: Ashcreekimages.com

When I met EJ, I told him that story, and “throwing the shoe” has become something we quote to remind ourselves that when a goal seems unattainable, if we take it in little steps, it seems more possible and becomes reachable.

I throw the shoe when I have a difficult job to do. For example, yesterday when I was removing the bricks from the garden path in the back yard, I told myself that I would just remove the bricks up to the next post. When I reached it, I told myself I would do a couple more feet. Then I told myself that, well, I’ll just do a bit more. Suddenly, I had finished the whole path. No problem.

Sometimes when life has seemed very difficult, I have told myself that I would just be strong and have faith for today. Or for the next hour. Or for the next five minutes. Or even for the next 60 seconds. Life is just made up of seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks…and if I am strong for this minute…and this minute…and this minute…I will find that I am strong for the hours and days and weeks and years of my life.

Photo: greatlakesgazette.wordpress.com/
Photo: greatlakesgazette.wordpress.com/

Yup. Throwing the shoe works.

I am throwing the shoe with Prednisone. Eight (or is it nine?) days to go before I am finished with it. That’s a long time to not sleep well and to struggle to control emotions, but I can make it through TODAY. No problem. When I am done with the medication, it’s likely that the rash will be completely gone too. THAT will be like a refreshing leap into Lake Michigan.

Gardening on Steroids

I am currently taking a  corticosteroid medication called Prednisone,  a fact that makes my husband and son cower in fear.

The first time I took Prednisone was three or four years ago. It was, no doubt, for a rash or something. The first prescription didn’t clear the problem up completely, so I was given another prescription for it. A friend told me that to be on Prednisone, then off, then on again causes it’s effects to intensify. Prednisone seems to affect me like PMS, intensifying whatever emotion I am feeling. If I am a little bit anxious or irritated or sad then Prednisone makes me feel REALLY anxious or irritated or sad. I wasn’t prepared for how the medication would affect me that first time, and we were going through a stressful time (trying to buy a car in time to drive to another state for a wedding) so I was….um…easily upset and not pleasant.

Since then I am very reluctant to take Prednisone. The second time I had to take Prednisone, my husband and son began wondering if they should move out to the RV for a couple of weeks (or maybe, they said, I should) or perhaps they should go off on vacation…and leave me home. EJ said that if I celebrated Halloween, I could go as a witch–I wouldn’t even have to get a costume, I could just take Prednisone. Ha, ha, good thing I wasn’t on Prednisone when they said those things. I think they were a bit overly dramatic, but the truth is that I am not my normal self when on Prednisone. EJ says normally I am like Sandra Dee or Doris Day, actresses from the 1950-60s who played wholesome, sweet “girl next door” type of roles, but on Prednisone I am like the Hulk or something.

When I got this current rash on my leg, I tried everything I could think of to clear it up on my own but I have trouble getting rid of rashes so when this one spread…and spread…I finally went to the doctor and she prescribed the dreaded medicine for the third time. Actually, my doctor was busy so I went to her Physician Assistant, and she gave me three days of the drug. I didn’t really think it would be enough, and it wasn’t. It diminished the rash but didn’t have time to totally clear it up so my doctor prescribed another and longer dose. I am on day four of thirteen days. On, off, on again. Not a good scenario. I warned my family, as I always do when I am on Prednisone so they will know that I might be easily irritated or upset.  Warning allows them to be extra understanding…or keep out of my way. I am trying to be very careful to remember that any anxiety or irritation is probably magnified. Mostly I am doing very well, although I did yell at poor EJ a little bit yesterday about relatively minor things that suddenly felt major. He was patient and I apologized.

Prednisone also makes me not sleep well so I am very tired. I am operating on three or four hours of poor sleep a night.

I find that working in my garden helps me keep awake and also gives somewhere for me to drain off my extra emotion. I’d rather battle weeds than my family. There is something satisfying about pulling out weeds. I have gotten a lot done.

Yesterday I did laundry, cleaned the house, and weeded most of my herb garden.

My cat Rikki-Tikki-Tabby walking on the bricks I pulled up from the path today.
My cat Rikki-Tikki-Tabby walking on the bricks I pulled up from the path today.

This morning I finished weeding my herb garden, and went on to weed all of EJ’s veggie garden. Then I pulled up all the bricks on another segment of path in the back yard. I only have one more path to do–from the house to the garage. I am tempted to also pull up all the bricks in the path running through my garden so I can just quickly mow it rather than painstakingly weed it, but EJ is not sure I should and neither am I so I probably won’t do it…at least, not this year and not without more thought.

After EJ left for work, I did my regular tasks such as dishes and walking the dog. I video-chatted with my friend a bit. Then I made homemade bread–just regular bread, not challah bread. There was something satisfying about kneading and punching the bread. While it was raising, I went outside and weeded some of my garden until I didn’t have any physical strength left.

I sure get a lot done when I’m on Prednisone. Of course, the weather really helps. For the last couple of weeks or so we’ve had very autumn-ish weather. I love it. The cooler temperatures (high of 72 degrees today) make me feel like working.

Whatcha Got Stew

Challah Bread
Challah Bread

I make beautiful braided challah bread every Friday. It takes all morning to make because it requires several risings, so I begin making it as soon as I wake up in the morning. It did not rise as well this morning as it usually does, but I have discovered that challah bread is almost impossible to mess up. When it doesn’t rise well, it is very delicious. When it rises as it is supposed to, it is beyond delicious.

While the bread was rising, EJ and I went to a nearby town to pick up a few groceries. EJ found some steak on sale, so we put that in the shopping cart along with the other things.

After we left the store, we stopped at the Farmer’s Market, which is set up every Friday in the hospital parking lot. We arrived as the vendors were setting up. Since we just started visiting this Farmer’s Market, we are not sure what time they are set up and ready business. We arrived just before 10:30 a.m., so maybe they are open at 10:30? or 11? We came for some eggs, which we can get at half the price we can get at the grocery store. We bought two dozen and then left for home. I had to braid the challah bread and get it rising again.

EJ insisted on cooking the steak, so I worked on the other parts of our meal: potatoes, peas, and cucumber slices. I put the cucumber slices in vinegar water with onion slices, something my Mom used to make when I was a kid, and which both EJ and I really like.

I love that EJ likes to cook. When I am sick or tired or get in a rut with cooking, it’s nice to have a husband who can cook. EJ says I am a good cook, but I see myself as merely adequate. EJ is actually a better cook than I am. I see food as necessary fuel to live. He sees it as an art form. I follow recipes, he invents them. If I were rich, I’d have a chef so I could do what I most love to do: study and learn, walk my dog, look at the stars, work in my garden. If he were rich, EJ would garden, invent things, and cook. He says he can totally relate to this scene from the movie Ratatouille. He says that is how he sees food:

One thing EJ really enjoys making is “Whatcha Got Stew.” He pulls all the leftovers out of the fridge–no matter what it is–and combines them in a stew. If I tried it, it would be an awful mess, but EJ has a sort of magical touch and his stews usually turn out to be surprisingly delicious. 

I will never forget EJ’s most delicious “Whatcha Got Stew.” I like to brag about it because I like to watch people’s funny reactions. When I describe what EJ put into it, people always say, “Oh, YUCK!” I, myself, thought it would be a horrid mess as EJ was making it. I cannot convince anyone to believe how really wonderful, terrific, unbelievably delicious it really was. Are you curious about it yet?

01_ratatouille_blurayThat day, EJ put leftover spaghetti and leftover stir-fry in a pot. He added a piece of strawberry shortcake. STRAWBERRY SHORTCAKE???? You’ve got to be kidding! As he pulled leftovers out of the fridge, I started getting silly. I said, “Here’s a half a Burger King Whopper. Are you going to use that?” Into the pot went the Whopper. “How about this piece of mincemeat pie….” That went in too. Yuck! But using his incredible cooking magic, EJ made the most wonderful stew I have ever eaten. Go back and watch the Ratatouille video above. THAT is how that “Whatcha Got Stew” tasted. Hmmmm.

Because of that stew, I will always try anything EJ makes, no matter how weird the ingredients. Always.

Hummingbird Moth

Last Sunday was raining, so EJ and I worked in the kitchen. We continued our project for several more days. EJ painted the trim, while I reorganized all the kitchen cupboards. The kitchen is looking nicer and nicer.

It feels so much like fall that I felt like doing fall things.

This morning JJ drove us to the community college he will be attending this fall. We drove to the college for two reasons: 1. To get his school books. 2. To help him learn the way there. After we got his books, we walked around the campus for a bit. It looks pretty nice.

This afternoon I worked in the garden. I weeded and also cut down a few small trees that were springing up out of nowhere. It seems to me sometimes that mostly gardening involves ripping out, cutting down, and fighting plants and insects that are threatening to take over. I have too much to do!

Hummingbird Moth
Hummingbird Moth
(Photo from The Greene Tomato)

As I worked in my garden, I was very, very thrilled to see a Hummingbird Moth sipping from my flowers. I think Hummingbird Moths are cool. At first glance, Hummingbird Moths can be mistaken for Hummingbirds because they are the same size and many of the characteristics of a Hummingbirds. I haven’t seen one for a long time.

I wasn’t able to take a picture of the moth so I found one on the Internet.

I have Hummingbirds in my garden too. They are fun to watch.

The One With the Vision…

I was looking forward to working outside, maybe doing some weeding in both my garden and EJ’s garden. When I opened the door to go outside this morning, however, I was very surprised to see that it was raining. It was not a heavy raining that makes a musical drumbeat on the roof. Instead, it was a silent misty downpour. No working outside today.

Even though it is only July, the weather feels very much like autumn. It’s hard to believe it’s not September or early October. The temperature reached only a cool 63 and it rained off and on with scattered showers all day. The dark clouds were dramatic with occasional blue sky poking through. EJ and I absolutely loved it. The coolness made me feel like working. However, since I couldn’t work outside, I had to find something to do inside. There was clutter because EJ had taken down the shelves last Monday in order to paint the kitchen. I thought a good project would be to paint. Since I knew that EJ’s back and shoulder were really hurting him (he suffers greatly from a bad back), I offered to finish the job for him. He said he really wanted to do it himself.

I love the way EJ and I work on our house. I don’t know of any couple who decorates as we do: We always allow the one who has a vision for the way a room could look to have creative control of that room. The other one might give advice and help with the project, but the one with the vision makes the final decisions of color and style. This requires trust. We aren’t always sure of the other’s decorating choices at first and it’s always a risk to let the other have control. However, we’ve learned it’s also kind of fun to say, “It’s your decision….” and then see what the other does.

Our Master Bedroom
Our Master Bedroom

I had creative control of the master bedroom and downstairs bathroom when we worked on them a few years ago. I love the Tuscany style and was going for that sort of feel. EJ wasn’t sure he liked the gold, maroon, and touch of green in the master bedroom at first. As he saw the room take shape, he changed his mind and soon really liked the room. He kept asking “Are you sure?” when I chose to paint the downstairs bathroom a sort of mustardy brownish color, but now he agrees it’s very nice and the perfect color.

EJ painting the kitchen.
EJ painting the kitchen.

 

 

EJ wanted creative control of the kitchen. He’s done a lot of work on it over the last few years, completely changing the feel of the room. I almost shuddered when I saw him open the can of school bus yellow paint and begin painting the kitchen door a couple of years ago–but he has creative control of the room so I said nothing. After the initial shock, I quickly grew to love the yellow door. It is, after all, my favorite color, and I think it adds a note of brightness and warm cheerfulness to the room, which is very welcome on  a gloomy day. We always say in response to the other’s uncertainty: “I have the vision for this room, trust me, this is going to look GREAT!”  We always end up loving how a room turns out.

The end result.
The end result.

So this is why EJ wanted to paint the kitchen himself. It’s his project. He painted the whole kitchen today, hung the shelves, and did a variety of little jobs. He still has to paint the trim, but that is a job for another day.

While EJ worked, I kept him company and helped him as needed. I also did several small jobs, like grind our whole bean coffee, washed the cabinets, and so forth. As we worked, we enjoyed chatting. We love to spend time with each other.

 

 

A Philosophy of Used Things

Last night when EJ got home from work, he brought in a box of dishes that he had bought at a thrift shop on his way to work.

Wait, before I go further, let me pause to explain our Philosophy of Used Things.

I know some people want only expensive new things, but I do not like new things. I mean, I can appreciate the beauty and workmanship of expensive new things and sometimes I drool over them. I love beautiful homes (drool) or handmade furniture (drool), although I will never understand the appeal of clothes causing hundreds or thousands of dollars. And don’t buy me jewelry. I’d rather have books.

The reality is that we are not swimming in money, and we have a son, a dog, and eight cats. If we had expensive new things–depending on what the item was–we’d have to worry about them getting stolen, broken, ripped, stained, spilled on, or the dog shedding on them or the cats barfing on them.  I just don’t want the anxiety I’d feel if the cats scratched a new $800 couch or I stained a $60 shirt or something. So we visit yard sales and thrift shops, and if an item gets broke, ripped, stained, spilled or barfed on, we don’t have to worry. We just use the stained 25 cent shirt as a rag and buy another shirt, or find a new lamp to replace the broken one, or buy another old piece of furniture for $20 when the other one becomes too worn. In the end, stuff is just stuff, and even the most expensive thing becomes used the minute you bring it home from the store. I’d rather enjoy my family and pets than worry about keeping expensive things nice or safe.

Our $25 table and chairs.
Our $25 table and chairs.

A great appeal of visiting yard sales and thrift shops is that it is very much like treasure hunting. We never know what we will find. We might find nothing, but we might find something really cool. A few years ago, we bought a really nice couch for $10 at a moving sale. Last year we bought a very nice kitchen table and chairs for $25 at a yard sale. And we bought two lovely wing-backed chairs for $50 at a thrift shop. We get like-new clothes, many times of higher quality than we could afford new. Years ago, EJ found a full-length, fleece-lined, western sheepskin coat for $19 and last month he found an Australian Drover’s Coat for $10 at yard sales. Both were very expensive and had the sales tags still in them. Who can beat that? We even got a cat at a yard sale last year.

Sometimes we end up having great conversations with people operating a yard sale. For example, just a few days ago we stopped at a sale and chatted with the seller for 15 to 20 minutes. We started out by admiring the man’s beautiful dog, and then the conversation veered to other things–work and back pain and such. We could practically have pulled out a chair and visited all day. Once, years ago, the man running a sale actually invited us to stop in for supper sometime. We never did because, well, what were we supposed to do, knock on the door and say, “Hey, we are the strangers who stopped at your sale and you invited us to supper and here we are!” That would have been strange.

Anyway, back to the dishes.

One of our wedding dishes.
One of our wedding dishes.

When we got married, we were given a very nice set of dishes as a wedding gift. We have only a few left now because over the years dishes tend to get broken.

We had a complete set of apple dishes–including serving platters and everything– that we bought NEW at the store years ago. However, EJ read that many items from China are made with lead and are not safe, so last December he got rid of all our “Made in China” items, including the dishes. He purged them just before we were expecting a guest, which meant I didn’t have many dishes and had to wash the dishes frequently. Laugh. We have been searching for non-Chinese dishes ever since, laughingly grumbling about our lack of plates and bowls. We have been slowly finding replacement dishes. Most, but not all, of the dish sets come with serving platters and a creamer and sugar bowl (which we don’t use often). I like that we can choose the dish style or color that we like best on any particular day. Often we each use a different style for a meal.

Our beautiful Blue Willow dishes.
Our beautiful Blue Willow dishes.

 

 

We found a beautiful almost complete set of English Blue Willow dishes for $5 at a yard sale a couple of years ago. I had a nice chat with the woman selling these dishes. I love the pretty, delicate design. I use them on Fridays for our Shabbat meal.

Warm mustard yellow dishes.
Warm mustard yellow dishes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A few weeks ago, we found these dishes at our favorite thrift store. We love the warm mustard yellow color.

 

 

 

 

The dishes EJ brought home last night are yellow and brown. Except for one bowl and plate, they are a complete set of stoneware made in the USA. They are sturdy. I like that the cups are large and can be used for small bowls if we want to. He bought them all for $15.

This latest set of dishes came with a Quiche dish. EJ said, “You know what you are going to have to do with this QUICHE DISH, don’t you?” (Hint, hint.) I guess I will be learning how to make Quiche. Smile.


Oh, we all have our Favorite Coffee Cups. No one can use another person’s Favorite Coffee Cup on PENALTY OF DEATH. Choosing a Favorite Coffee Cup is almost a sacred rite-of-passage thing. This is mine. I found a set of four at a yard sale so if I break one (gasp), all is not lost. I love the colors and design of this cup.

My Favorite Coffee Cup
My Favorite Coffee Cup

EJ read this post and said, “Why didn’t you also share my Favorite Coffee Cup?” So here is his. He likes things plain and simple.

EJ's Favorite Coffee Cup
EJ’s Favorite Coffee Cup

I think we now have enough plates, and bowls. At least for a while. If they get broken, oh, well, we will just find some more.

If You Give a Woman a Shovel…

Challah Bread
Challah Bread

I woke at 8 a.m. and had to immediately begin making challah bread. Challah is a beautifully braided bread used for Shabbat. After preparing the dough, I let it raise for an hour, punch it down and let it raise for another hour, then braid it and let it raise for another hour, and then bake it for 40 minutes. I make it every Friday. If I do not begin preparing it early enough in the morning, EJ cannot enjoy it with us before he goes to work.

While I was making the challah, I finished drying the laundry from yesterday. After a night of only three hours of sleep, I stayed up late again drying clothes. I couldn’t stay awake to finish it all so I went to bed at about 2 a.m.

Albondigas
Albondigas
(Photo from Allrecipes.com)

I also made pancakes for breakfast. I was going to make meatloaf for lunch but discovered at the last minute that I did not have any ground beef  thawed, so I quickly made Albondigas instead. It is quick to make. Since I didn’t have any thawed ground beef for the meatballs, I cooked the ground beef in a fry pan and added it to the soup. It is a yummy soup.

After EJ went to work, I took Danny for a walk. JJ left for work a couple of hours later, and I really wanted to take a nap. I am exhausted from my battle with the fleas and a week of little sleep. However, first I decided that I better plant the rest of the ginger root that is growing on the window sill. I planted half of it the other day, but didn’t have another pot in which to plant the rest. Then EJ said I could have the sixth pot we had bought at the thrift store the other day. Planting the ginger would take five minutes, tops, and then I would come in and take a nap.

I got the shovel out of the garage and filled the empty pot with dirt.

The wheelbarrow blocking access. I took this photo after I had already moved the logs.
The wheelbarrow blocking access. I took this photo after I had already moved the logs and mowed the grass.

While filling the pot, I noticed the lawn needed mowing. JJ didn’t get the lawn mowed yesterday because he was helping me with laundry. He said he’d mow it at the first opportunity but…I particularly noticed the extra long grass in the back part of the yard. I had mowed the lawn for JJ last week, but wasn’t able to get the grass mowed in the back part of the yard because access to it was blocked by logs from the stack EJ was using to make his raised beds and a heavily-laden wheelbarrow that I couldn’t budge (I think there are bricks in the wheelbarrow under the dirt). I decided to move the logs out of the way to the very back edge of the yard so I could mow the extra long grass. Then I thought that I could just mow the WHOLE back yard, and I also mowed the brick path through my garden because I haven’t had time to weed it. I would have mowed the whole yard, but I knew I didn’t have enough gas in the mower and I didn’t have enough money with me to buy more. I didn’t want to have to go to the bank and then walk to the gas station to fill the gas can…I wanted to take a nap. I also didn’t want to get half the front yard  mowed and be unable to finish it. JJ can get gas and mow the front yard.

Reappearing Butterfly Plant?
Mysterious Reappearing Butterfly Plant

As I was mowing the back yard, I remembered that there are plants I needed to rescue from areas we are converting to other purposes. I got the shovel and transplanted a couple of flowers (I am not sure what they are) which surprisingly appeared among EJ’s raised veggie beds. He said he wouldn’t touch them until I moved them. I also transplanted a pretty iris from an area of the back yard that was part of my garden, but which we hope to turn into a grape arbor. I also noticed a pretty flower growing in Danny’s dog pen. I transplanted all these into a place in my garden where I had yanked out lemon balm this Spring. I had planted wildflowers there, but they didn’t grow. (I also planted wildflowers in another area of the yard, and they are growing well there). I also transplanted a couple other flowers to that area, such as Black-eyed Susan and an Impatient or two. Next year maybe that area will look very nice.

While walking back and forth, digging up and transplanting flowers, I was amazed to notice what I think is a Butterfly Plant. I had planted a Butterfly plant in that place YEARS ago, when JJ was very little, but after I planted it, it disappeared and I thought it had died. Apparently not.

My garden often surprises me, suddenly growing plants that I thought had died, or which I didn’t plant. Although I don’t like that some plants spread–like trumpet vine or poison ivy, I do like that the flowers are spreading. Because so many of my flowers were given to me by friends who were getting rid of excess plants, I have limited colors in my garden. Mostly I have yellow, orange, and purple. But that’s ok. I love them. I’m hoping that in a couple of years, flowers will fill my garden.

After I transplanted the flowers, I carried the shovel back to the garage. On the way to the garage, I noticed that my Strawberry Garden could use weeding, so I paused and weeded the garden. When I finished weeding the strawberries, I put away the shovel and carried the pot of newly planted ginger to the front porch.

I filled my watering can and watered all the plants I had planted and transplanted. It is supposed to rain later today, but I didn’t want them to die of thirst before it did. Besides, often the rain misses us.

EJ had gone to the store this morning for more flea spray, and he also stopped at the Farmer’s Market and bought eggs. (I would have loved to go with him, but I was too busy.) When I finally got back inside, I sprayed the upstairs again with flea spray, even though I have only found about four fleas on my socks ALL DAY. Although I think I have won this battle, I will not rest until every flea in the house is dead.

My five-minute afternoon task ended up taking me about 2 hours to accomplish. I never did get a nap. However, the heat has broken and the temperature is almost autumn-ish, the fleas are mostly dead, and I enjoyed working out in the garden.

No Fleas on My Socks

The shelf in the corner where EJ painted.
The shelf in the corner where EJ painted.

This week started out really well. On Monday I did a little garden work and washed the windows. Meanwhile EJ had found a wooden shelf for a dollar or two at a garage sale that matched the other shelves we have in the kitchen. It is just longer than the other two shelves. We are considering putting the one long shelf or the two smaller ones in the corner of the kitchen where a pantry unit used to be until we moved it to another room to use as a coat closet. Because the pantry was there, the corner didn’t get painted when the rest of the kitchen was painted. If we put the shelf/shelves there, the corner will need to be painted first, so EJ decided to paint it on Monday. Of course, painting is sort of like the children’s story “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie” because you can’t merely paint a corner, you have to also repaint the whole kitchen.  EJ took down the smaller shelves, putting everything that had been on them on the kitchen table. He got one coat of paint in the corner before he had to leave for work. As soon as he gets time, he will paint again.

EJ probably would have gotten the kitchen painted and put back into order, but he went with me to the doctor on Tuesday. I have been struggling, off and on, with a rash since December.  First it was on my hand. It looked like a zombie hand. Now it is on my leg. It doesn’t look like zombie flesh, but it is annoying. The high heat and humidity made the rash worse, so I figured I needed to go to the doctor.

The last two days have been spent in an all out battle with a plague of fleas. We have a dog and eight cats. The dog and two of the cats are allowed outside, so it’s only expected that we’d occasionally get fleas. (The two outside cats are older ones who are not happy remaining inside all the time, as the other cats are.) Usually I put flea medication on our pets’ skin, spray a little flea killer around, and any flea problem disappears.

This time, however, I delayed a tiny bit and bought a new cheaper kind of flea medication because money is more tight and flea medication for eight cats and a dog can be expensive. I am not sure the new flea medication worked as well or quickly as the other. Whatever, we suddenly got an explosion of fleas. I felt bad that if I had acted more quickly, I could have prevented this Flea Apocalypse, but EJ said his co-workers mentioned that they have been battling fleas too, so maybe it’s not my fault. This year has also seen an unusual explosion of mosquitoes and ticks in our area.

Anyway, I HATE and DESPISE fleas, so I have been battling with everything I can think of. My goal is to use “shock and awe” techniques–hitting them fast and hard to get rid of them.

Besides putting medication on the dog and cats, I got the brilliant idea of sprinkling Diatomaceous Earth around the house. Diatomaceous Earth is “an off white talc-like powder that is the fossilized remains of marine phytoplankton. When sprinkled on a bug that has an exoskeleton (such as bed bugs, ants or fleas) it compromises their waxy coating so that their innards turn into teeny tiny bug jerky. But it doesn’t hurt mammals. We can eat it. We do eat it! It’s in lots of grain based foods because lots of grains are stored with Diatomaceous Earth to keep the bugs from eating the grain!” Diatomaceous Earth worked very well on the ants in my herb garden and is a safe pesticide, I thought it would be wonderful to kill those awful fleas.

amelia_bedelia
Amelia Bedelia

When JJ saw me sprinkling Diatomaceous Earth around, he said, “What on earth are you doing????” I said matter-of-factly, “Dusting the house. Duh.” I couldn’t help but remember a series of stories from my childhood about a housekeeper named Amelia Bedelia. The woman she worked for gave her a list of instructions and told her to follow it EXACTLY, so Amelia Bedelia followed it EXACTLY even though the instructions didn’t make sense to her. When her list said, “Dress the turkey,” she put clothes on it. When her list said, “Dust the room,” (not “undust the room”) she sprinkled dust all over the house. So I told JJ that I was “dusting the house.”

EJ texted from work that maybe I could research foods or herbs that repelled fleas, so I did. I learned that garlic repels fleas and that it was safe to use on pets. When EJ got home from work that evening, I told him that I had rubbed garlic powder into the pets’ fur. (And also sprinkled garlic on the floor with the Diatomaceous Earth. Remember, this is a  “Shock and Awe” campaign.)  JJ overhead and exclaimed, “What??? Why on earth did you rub garlic into the cats’ fur????” I replied, “Duh! To protect them from vampires.” I mean, everyone knows that garlic wards off vampires, and if anything was ever a bloodsucking vampire, it’s fleas. And mosquitoes. And ticks. Oh my!

Ok, I can’t help teasing my son a bit. Don’t worry, he teases me back quite skillfully.

Yesterday EJ and I drove to a nearby town to get flea spray, but the store didn’t have what we needed. I use my socks as flea indicators. If I notice fleas hopping onto my socks, then I know we have a problem. By the end of the evening, I had reduced the number of fleas on my socks to one or so every couple of hours downstairs. My “Shock and Awe” campaign was working. The animals aren’t allowed upstairs (although Timmy is skilled at dashing up when we open the door), but when I headed to bed, I had fleas jumping on my socks. Sigh. So I got my Diatomaceous Earth and garlic powder and sprinkled them upstairs. I didn’t want to sleep up there when the fleas were more of a problem, so I decided to sleep on the couch in the living room. Only the cats are used to cuddling me, and they wouldn’t keep away.

Our cat Annie often doesn’t have a strong need for attention, but when she wants attention she won’t take “no” for an answer. She insisted on cuddling with me, and I could feel flea eggs on her. I kept putting her on the floor, and she kept jumping up next to me. So I got up and found the little cat flea comb, and tried to comb out the fleas from her fur. And then I decided to comb the other cats. The cats were funny. Luke purred as I combed out his fur. Timmy rolled over on his back, obviously loving it–as long as I didn’t pull. The other cats ranged from calmly tolerating my combing, to not impressed with it, to Yafah’s “After medicating me and rubbing garlic into my fur there isn’t any way you are getting near me!” I was combing cats until 4 a.m.

First thing this morning, EJ and I went to the store in a town a little further away to buy the flea spray we needed. When we got home, EJ volunteered to cook lunch while I began to sweep, vacuum, mop the downstairs. After EJ left for work, JJ and I herded the pets into the kitchen and closed the door. (NOT an easy task, but a very humorous one. Yafah wasn’t feeling the love and trust by then.) Then we gathered our laundry and bedding, and loaded everything into the car to take to the laundromat. Before I left, I sprayed the living/dining room and bathroom with the flea spray.

Biblical Plagues
Biblical Plagues

I talked to my friend on the phone while waiting for the clothes to finish washing. I told her that I can’t wait for autumn, I feel like we have endured plagues all summer: first mosquitoes, then high heat and humidity, then a rash, and now fleas. JJ spoke up, “Let’s move before we reach the last plague, ok?” He was referring to the Biblical account of the ten plagues that fell on ancient Egypt until Pharaoh agreed to let the enslaved Israelites go free. The last of the plagues was the death of all the First Born, and JJ is my first–and only–born. So you can maybe understand his concern.

JJ and I lugged the laundry home, and I began the task of drying baskets of washed clothes (using the dryer, not the clothesline)–a task I will probably be doing into the night. While the clothes dried, I went upstairs and swept, and vacuumed, and mopped and sprayed. Then I herded the pets from the kitchen and did the same there, as well as in the back porch. I also took all the rugs onto the front porch, shook the dirt, Diatomaceous Earth and garlic powder from them, and sprayed them with flea spray.

So far, so good. No fleas on my socks.
So far, so good. No fleas on my socks.

I took a shower because I was exhausted and hot and wanted to feel clean. I got dressed and put on a clean pair of socks and then walked around the house. The only fleas I found was when I sat in my spot on the couch. The cats often cuddle with me there. I sprayed that spot again. I am keeping a close watch on my socks and will re-spray any spot where fleas jump on my socks. I walk around the house with my eyes on my socks. Every little itch and tickle or dot is viewed with immediate suspicion.

I hope our flea measures work SOON. The pets are still scratching a bit. (You’d think no flea could have survived my efforts.) There often is a new outbreak as larva mature into adults. We will return for another can of flea spray tomorrow morning so we will be ready.

A doe and her two fawns
A doe and her two fawns

What a week. What a summer. I can’t wait for autumn. On a better note, today as we drove home from the store, we saw a doe with her two fawns. That is always a precious sight.

Outside Work

Once again I took Danny for a morning walk rather than our usual afternoon walk so that we could try to beat the heat. I took along a cup of coffee made with our own coffee machine. It’s nice to be able to make coffee again.

First thing this morning we registered for JJ’s college classes. JJ was able to get all the classes and times that he wanted. Yay! He is nervous about starting college because it’s all so new and unfamiliar, but I think he will do well.

Removing the bricks.
The bricks I removed from the path this afternoon.

Both EJ and JJ had to work today. After they left, I went out to mow the lawn. EJ had recommended that I wait until Sunday when it is supposed to get a bit cooler, but I really wanted to get it done today. There was a strong breeze, which helped, but I still got overheated and drenched with sweat. As soon as I finished, I staggered into the cool air-conditioned house, poured me a glass of iced tea, and sat in front of the fan, and then video-chatted with my friend for a bit.

Later, when I had cooled down, I went outside and dug up more bricks from the path I am eliminating in EJ’s backyard garden. The brick paths at one time defined areas of EJ’s garden beds, but since he removed the shed last Spring and reconfigured his garden, I think the paths are not needed. They are difficult to keep weeded and hard to mow. You can see in the picture that the path was grassy. I give more attention to weeding the paths in my garden. I worked until I was again overheated and drenched with sweat. I delayed long enough to quickly weed my strawberry garden and then I retreated back to the cool house, iced tea, and the fan. I didn’t even take the time to stack the bricks with the others.

I went outside into the heat one more time to take pictures of the brick bath and some flowers in my yard that are beginning to bloom.

Oh, I should say that I finally remembered that I had some Diatomaceous Earth in the garage. Diatomaceous earth is a fine, white, crystalline powder made up of the fossilized shells of diatoms, which are tiny, single-celled algae found in plankton. Diatomaceous Earth has many, many uses, including as a pesticide. I spread some on the red ant hill in my herb garden about a week ago, and when I went out to the garden yesterday, the ants were gone. I found another ant hill a few feet away, so I spread Diatomaceous Earth there too. Yay! Those ants always swarmed and bit me when I tried to work in that area so I am glad they are gone.

The Front Porch Garden

We were still without a coffee machine this morning. Or, rather, we were without the pot that broke the other day. Tuesday my husband made coffee by placing a glass measuring cup in the machine and holding open the doohicky that stops the flow of coffee when the pot is pulled out. Only a four cup measuring cup fits in the machine. That is not enough. Yesterday we walked to the local gas station and bought cups of coffee. At first EJ was only going to buy one cup of coffee. When I asked him why he was just getting one, he said he’d just take a sip of mine. Uh…I think we can afford for us to have our own cups of coffee, and I really wanted a whole cup of my own. EJ wisely decided to buy a cup for each of us. Anyway…this morning EJ asked, “Do you want me to make the coffee with the measuring cup or buy coffee at the store?” I said I didn’t care how we got coffee but I wanted COFFEE. We laughed.

We decided the priority for today was to buy a coffee machine.

But first I took Danny for a walk. We usually go for a walk after EJ leaves for work in the afternoon because my mornings are too busy. However, there have been heat advisories this week so it’s been too hot to walk Danny. Poor thing, he loves his walks. So while EJ got dressed, I took Danny out this morning. When he noticed that I was going to take him for a walk, Danny sneezed. I think dogs sneeze when they are emphatic about something. Usually Danny sneezes once when he knows we are going for a walk. Today he sneezed three or four times for extra emphasis. It was about time we went for a walk and he was READY. It was hot outside, but there was a slight coolness in the air. I poured some coffee into a travel cup and drank my coffee as I walked my dog. It was very pleasant. I love mornings, and would walk every morning but I am usually too busy. I mean, I like to wake up slowly with a cup of coffee and my computer, and then everyone wakes up and the day gets busy. The coolness was gone by the time Danny and I got home.

After Danny and I got home, EJ and I left for the local Hospice thrift shop in a nearby town. The thrift shop raises money for the organization. We found one coffee machine for three dollars. We also found a few other things. My greatest find (other than the coffee machine) was large plant pots that were two for a dollar. We took six. I chose five plastic terracotta pots and EJ chose a large white pot. I wish I had gotten more because I think I could use them eventually. Oh, well.

We went to the Hospice’s other store across town as well. This store has large items like furniture and exercise equipment. We always enjoy browsing through this store because…well, we never know what we might find. We also stopped at the grocery store on our way home for a few groceries. They have a coffee station with free cups of hot coffee. Ahhhh!

Front Porch Garden
Front Porch Garden

After we got home and fixed lunch, I filled five of the new plant pots with dirt. I repotted my cactus plants in two of them. I have had these cactus since they were little nubs. They are now quite big. I have discovered that it is not easy repotting cactus plants. OUCH! In another pot I put the new bay plant that I bought last week at the Farmers’ Market. The lady I bought it from said it will get quite big. She also said that Rosemary is supposed to be brought inside during the winter, so I dug my two Rosemary plants out of the herb garden and put them in the other two pots. I figured I better get them in pots before they got too big.

These plants all join my Front Porch Garden. My Front Porch Garden are potted plants that I take outside every summer and bring inside every winter. The horseradish and ginger plants are part of this garden, as well as a spider plant. I always feel sorry for the spider plant in the winter because for some reason the cats love to sleep on it. So to protect it, I have to put it upstairs in the library/guest room, but I tend to forget it’s there (out of sight, out of mind) and water it infrequently. By the time I take it outside, it’s looking pretty pathetic, but it bounces back and thrives in the summer.

Tesla in the window box.
Tesla in the window box.

EJ also has some salad greens in window boxes on the front porch railing, but they aren’t doing well because our cat Tesla like to sleep in the window box and she crushes the plants. EJ is going to have to come up with a way to keep her out.

While I was filling my new pots with dirt and potting the plants, we had a severe thunderstorm warning in our area. The sky got black and there were some rumbles of thunder overhead. However, the storm passed just south of us and did not hit us. I do not think we even got any rain. The storm did cool the air off a tiny bit for awhile, but by the time I finished potting all the plants it was hot again and I was drenched in sweat. It felt good to go back into the air-conditioned house and cool off.

 

%d bloggers like this: