Sunday, January 19, 2020


I designated this Sunday as "pack up my mom's stuff" day. Full of brazen optimism, I allotted the hours between farmhouse clean up (early morning) and young family Sunday dinner (evening) to sifting through all the stuff in the apartment, packing all essentials, and discarding all the rest.

It's a bitter cold day. But of course, this is normal. It's January in Wisconsin. With a mostly cloudless sky and a decent snow cover, things are rather lovely outside. If cold.

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Oh, but isn't it always cold on this day? Wasn't it super cold on January 19, 1985 when my youngest little one was born?

It's her birthday today!

I haven't a good baby photo of her but perhaps you'll be interested to see her at more or less Snowdrop's age? She looks a bit like her older self, don't you think?

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I'll celebrate this day with her next weekend. We often push our birthdays around for each other to accommodate the distance between Chicago where she lives and the farmette where I live. Still, I can't help but think a lot about her wonderfulness today. January 19th will always be, for me, her day.

Meanwhile, back at the farmhouse, Ed and I sit down to breakfast.

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And then I drive to my mom's.

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She is such a keeper of things that the task of sifting and sorting seems endless. She is a note taker and there are notes and notebooks and folders and pads everywhere. And pens. Dozens of pencils and pens. What do I pack? What books? Which of her hats, caps, many, many pairs of reading glasses?

At one point I call her to clarify something about a particular scarf that she would like and which I cannot find (so many scarves! my mom beats the French in her affection for scarves!). She explains, I search. By the way, you kept the (such and such) folder, didn't you? -- she asks. Gulp. I look through all the messes of papers I stacked in the "YES" pile. Not there. I tear apart the bins of papers I placed in the discard heap. Not there. Oh boy...

It's like that all day long. I make decisions, some aided by her specifications, some -- wild guesses on my part. And I do finish sorting everything, but the evening is fast approaching and I have packed nothing at all.

Sigh... Tomorrow's another day.

The young family comes just as I throw the breaded chicken on the large skillet and peel some ears of corn for my corn loving grandchildren.

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Toward the end of the evening, Snowdrop wants a few pages of our current chapter book. The secret's out! The reading of it always brings out a bag of potato chips!

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So ends our day -- kids, chips, book, corn, chicken. Papers, scarves. Cold, sunshine, and a birthday!

Saturday, January 18, 2020


The snow is lovely. Not perfect (at just under half a foot, covering up another couple of inches already on the ground, it's not enough to be rated as stunning!), but still, it's pretty good!

(morning glance outside, right before sunrise)

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I feed the animals with an eye out for Dance. She has been sick and basically living on the porch in the lair we set up for Stop Sign. But, dare I hope? Today, as I leave the house, she follows me to the sheep shed...

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And she nibbles a little on some food. So maybe she is on the mend? (She then returns to the porch. I do not understand animal preferences! How is the porch better than a warm sheep shed??)

(Tomato, not liking the snow...)

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(the beauty of a good snowfall...)

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And after? I offload my dresser to a student who comes with his dad and dad's big car, glances rather indifferently at the dresser's stylishness and asks "is anything broken in it?" then pays the full amount ($80). Ed's amused as he always is at cerebral types who put all their eggs into abstract reasoning (this student is a math major at UW), perhaps forgetting about the mundane practicalities of life.
I opened and shut all the drawers for him. It's not a complicated piece of machinery: they opened, they closed.

Since the temperatures are about to start their precipitous decline this afternoon, Ed and I go out on the early side to cross country ski. It's getting to be windy out there!

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The trails aren't groomed so it's a little slow, but still, between all the shoveling, ice chipping and now skiing, I'd say we've had our outdoor fun for the day!

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Chili, reheated for supper, never tasted so good!

In the evening, Ed brings in a huge cardboard box that we'd hauled in from the storage facility. It's full of those envelopes that we once picked up from photo shops where we left films for development. Each envelope has negatives, plus a handful of photos that I deemed unworthy for the family albums. So many photos! I want to go through them all before discarding them. I wasn't quite sure what was there, but I have a window of a couple of hours today and so I dig in.

They are, for the most part, pictures taken by me during my girls' adolescence. Perhaps predictably, many of them were taken during our various vacations and travels.

When you do a project like this -- sorting through countless, most often imperfect photos of people you love -- you feel torn. Throwing something away seems heartless. On the other hand, keeping photos in old envelopes almost ensures their ruin. So I pull out a huge stack to keep, even though I know that keeping photos in this way is also not too cool. In my view, in photography, choosing a good way to display your pictures is hugely important. Creating photo books, or online albums ensures that they will not be forgotten. A stack? It'll collect dust.

I did pull two photos for today's Ocean post, both taken nearly 25 years ago. Pictures that make me smile, because of where the girls were at the time: Polish highlands and Luxembourg Gardens in Paris. See if you can guess which is which!

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Friday, January 17, 2020


How ridiculously packed was this day? So packed that I am three pages from the end of a book I love, and I'm insanely curious about the ending, and yet I have not had the time to finish the damn thing.

No one wants to hear details of another person's busy day. One person's "busy" is another person's boring. So, just the highlights of "boring:"

The animals:
I was troubled to see Dance -- our noble girl who gave birth at the age of six months and yet knew to take care of not only her own brood, but also her half-sibs that her mom had left behind. She is our friend. She likes us and tries hard not to be afraid.

But she is sick. This morning, she came out of the lair we have set up on the porch just for a second, meowed, allowed me to pet her, then went back inside. She hasn't eaten for days.

Ed and I conclude that she should be seen by a vet. We so want her to survive this. It should be easy: close the "lair," take her in. Except that the door gets tangled up and in our struggle to release it, she senses entrapment and escapes. So no vet. (She returns later in the day. If she's not better tomorrow, we'll try again.)

Lovely. No problem here.

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My mom:
Lots of issues today. Several hours of conversation. With her, with her county case worker, with the government agency processing her application for long term care. And with Ed, who truly believes I need to read more and learn more before I make the final decision as to which agency to work with going forward and which program best suits her needs. (I myself think I've done my homework, but Ed always find details that require further investigation.)

And there you have it. I am still hanging on the phone over mom care issues as I walk up the stairs to pick up Snowdrop. Fridays are "just Snowdrop" days. The little girl tells me -- you're late! I'm not really late, but on other days, I'm early. Today, I'm not early.

I let the little girl take the lead on our Fridays together. Without Sparrow here, she has free reign. It's a good day to really make progress on our chapter book. But she wants to break away from the predictable. Instead, we read many, many picture books, most --  a trip down memory lane. Things she liked as a three or four year old. I realize that this is the true marker of the passage of time: when your grandchild starts being sentimental on you and wants you to reread books that belong to her "younger years."

As we finish reading, the snow storm sets in. We need to go soon -- I tell her. But I want to work on a book!

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She works on a book.

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She has to show Ed her book.

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We drive home in a snowstorm. Is it a blizzard? -- Snowdrop asks. Hmmm... what's the difference between a snowstorm and a blizzard? Trust Snowdrop to ask the difficult questions.

It takes three times as long as usual to get her home and four times as long to drive back to the farmette. I use the time to review everything by phone with my mom. I know, there's snow. But we're all crawling on the roads at a snail's pace.

Finally. I'm at the farmette again. The snow hits us from all sides. It's a drifting blowing sleeting pounding kind of event. The worst of the worst. And, there's old ice under the snow. Snowdrop fell twice on her way from the car to house. Never mind. We're all safely in our homes! At the farmhouse, I cook up a big pot of chili. Dinner is very late, but very warm and comforting!

No, not done yet!

My mom is letting go of most of her bulky furnishings, including the two dressers she has acquired in Madison. One of them is a solid piece of wood and I want to swap it out with the cheap dresser I have at the farmhouse. Well, ours may be cheap, but it's heavy. We've listed it on Craigslist and we have a buyer. Near midnight, I empty it out, Ed takes apart the drawers, and we haul it downstairs for a viewing tomorrow.

I know, boring, right? Except in doing this, we want to move some Goodwill boxes into the car. It's getting too crowded with mom stuff in our mud room. Ed puts on his jacket. I shout out -- wait! Let me shovel the walkway first! If you trample it down, it'll be harder to clear tomorrow!

And so I shovel away the beautiful snow that fell all evening long. Light and fluffy. A bit windblown, but crystal clean and white. It is what makes for sublime winters here, in the Upper Midwest. Tomorrow, we'll have to find time to simply play in it. For sure.

Thursday, January 16, 2020


In the sun room, another orchid is in full bloom.

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Good morning! What a beautiful day! A harsh day. Cold. Sick cat on the porch. Mixed messages from government agencies that should not be sending out mixed messages. Super cold! But beautiful. Especially at sunrise.

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You may, by now, roll your eyes at this breakfast routine of mine. Every day a photo. The place of the meal does not change. We've not eaten in the sun room. We haven't gone out to Finca, the coffee shop, in a while. Same flowers on the table, same guy with, chances are, same t-shirt. Still, for all the grit and harshness to the day (so cold!), when I put up this breakfast photo I always smile at the recollection of our morning meal. Warm, milky coffee, oatmeal for both today, sweet fruits, gentle tones.

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The sky is very blue. No cloud, no wind, nothing but that forget-me-not blue sky and sunshine. Still, it's so cold! The animals stay inside. Ed and I stay inside.

Until it's time to visit my mom.

She hands me lists of things to pack. My doctor said I'm going to live -- she tells me, as if to surprise me. Well yeah! Why else all this fussing with a very messy transfer. I don't repeat to her the statistic of 3.17 more years. After all, it may be more. Why make her feel life is finite...

I stop at the grocery store on my way home. There's a storm rolling in tomorrow. We here in Wisconsin know that the best defense against a snowstorm is not to go out until it's all done  )unless you have to). So, almost mechanically, we stock shelves and make sure we're covered for the days of the storm. May the snow be dainty and light. Pretty and puffy. None of this howling wind, dangerous blowing drifts, piercing ice stuff.

One can hope.

In the afternoon I pick up the kids. This is getting to be a long process. Snowdrop's friend likes to play with Sparrow when he arrives with me to claim his sister. Games and works aren't put away, back pack remains unpacked. Disengaging everyone from each other is tough. And still, you have to take pleasure in the kids' love of fun, in their playfulness, in their ability to make a game of just about anything, including going home.

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At the farmhouse, we spin through the usual.

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Including art.

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A book is in the works. About super pigs.

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There aren't many things that are more beautiful than these two working a their art at my desk.

And in the evening, Ed and I both set out to my mom's apartment to offload the couch.

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Ed asks -- so, should we sell the desk? 

No! And really, there is too little time. My goal is to pack up and be out of the apartment by next weekend. January is moving ahead really fast. That's what happens when you have full days. Today was a very full day. Cold, but very full.

Wednesday, January 15, 2020


We finish part two of the application process for my mom's transfer to an assisted living facility. And now we wait.

Despite the (temporary?) lull in paperwork, much remains to be done with my mom's apartment and I have that unwelcome conversation with her (one of many) today about what to pack for storage (for her later use) and what to discard.

Ed, listening in on the telephone call, comments -- it's sad for her. She keeps repeating that she can't go back, as if to grasp the reality of that fact.

He is correct. She repeats "how am I supposed to manage..." as if there is an expectation that she should. And sometimes, in my desperation to keep all the details of the application, of the move, of her current placement in order, I find myself mechanically repeating stuff that I know she knows. She asks for affirmation of her condition, I offer it. Again and again and again. Still, maybe I should stay silent and just let her express her dissatisfaction with everything? Perhaps there is greater value in just being quiet? I am the only person whom she will talk to. She is firm in this. Just me. And so I wear many hats here: her personal representative, her accountant, her packer, mover, finder of next home, her sole link to the outside world, her listener.

Of course, as I see it, there is a future for her. A likely 3.17 years of life, by governmental accounting. I need to guide her to some aspect of life that's pleasurable. To focus on what she can do, because honestly, despite her age, she can still think clearly, read, write, move around - though in a more limited fashion.

All these are morning thoughts, though they come after breakfast.

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And after animal care. I no longer report here on the details of their care. It's so fluid! Some cats are missing, others seem ill. Dance isn't eating, one of the teens disappeared a few weeks ago, Stop Sign comes back to eat but never with her kittens. Who knows if they're still alive.

(Here's our outstandingly good looking teen -- Dark Blue Indigo Tuxedo. The girl with the four names.)

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The cheepers on the other hand are doing well! Two are now (occasionally) laying eggs. No hawks have visited the farmette lands this winter (so far). They eat, they walk, they sleep. Such an uncomplicated life!

And here is a random flash of color for you: it comes from an orchid that I have kept for many years, despite the fact that it hasn't bloomed since I acquired it some ten years back. Out into the yard it goes each spring, inside it comes each fall. But this year, the stars were aligned: unexpectedly, a branch of buds sprang forth. And now we have blooms. There is a moral to the story, one that has to do with waiting. I'll let you formulate it as you wish. Here's the photo:

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In the afternoon, the kids are here once more.

(I've got a new running theme! "The boy with the graham cracker!")

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Snowdrop and Sparrow are both affectionate and giggly today.

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There are worse ways to spend an afternoon than to be with kids who are in love with life!

A bitter cold spell is moving into Wisconsin tomorrow. We're ready for it. I think!

Tuesday, January 14, 2020


You learn things. Every day, you learn things, which is good because, at an advanced age (me!), if your mind stops processing new information, you'll walk yourself straight into a state of brain atrophy and resultant dementia. Still, some things you enjoy learning, other things -- maybe not so much. For example, I'd love to get back to refreshing my French. Instead, I'm stuck in a quagmire of forms and paperwork and details of someone else's (my mother's) life. And I don't care who that person is -- delving into their minutia is always a little... disconcerting.

But, as I said, you learn things: about yourself, and certainly about the person whose care has fallen into your lap.

First, though, there is breakfast. Somewhat rushed, because I have a lot to accomplish today. No kids -- they're spending time with their dad this afternoon. Just me and the chores.

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I drive to my mom's apartment downtown. You can track the state of Lake Monona by these trips of mine! Lightly frozen today, with a thin coating of snow.

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One of the day's tasks is to offload her couch. She wont need it, she doesn't want it anymore. Ed put it up on Craigslist and it's been an adventure. Each time someone wants to look at it, I have to drive downtown, so I limit viewing times to when I can take the time to be there. Today's viewer comes, admires it, asks me if I thought it would fit into his minivan (I've no idea!), breaks a lamp while measuring it (even though we'd provided measurements in the listing), leaves a twenty dollar deposit and says "I'll be back." Okay...

While there, I give myself the job of cleaning out my mom's kitchen of food. I thought this would be easy. Not so. Turns out my mom is a collector of not only papers but foods. I take four heavy loads of canned and boxed foods downstairs to the communal table. Lots and lots of duplicates, or triplicates. For example, a very interesting collection of unopened jars of cinnamon. A person could learn a lot about my eating habits by looking at the farmhouse pantry. I surely learn a ton about my mom's tastes and inclinations by examining what's there, hidden in the back of her cabinets.

Then comes the paperwork. I'm looking for one particular document and I find it, but in my search, I come across all those neatly filed pages upon pages, thousands of pages of, well, everything. Ed and I have by now moved most of her current life from all those folders to the internet. But some things remain stuck in the old world of a paper trail.

My life, Ed's life, our records and receipts -- these are by now online rather than in a folder stuck on a shelf or banker box. Still, I am from a generation of mixed computer skills. I think I'm medium savvy in working with this stuff online. Ed is of course super savvy. But, many people are less adept and far less trusting of cyber space. So the generation that follows us will have some clean up work: figuring out parents lives will be easy for some and a bit more muddled for those who have parents hanging onto the internet by a thread.

And here's a reminder to all of you: do leave a document for your sweetie or your kids with relevant user id and password information, so that they can access your accounts after you accidentally slip and fall into the lake and drown. Without a paper trail, they'll have a heck of a time cracking your codes if you don't leave them with some guidance.

In the afternoon, the couch viewer calls back. He wants to come late tonight and pick it up. Along with the hutch over the desk. (He'd asked if the hutch is sturdy enough -- he's got kids. I mean, I think it is, but what do I know! Should I worry about his kids? Should I tell him -- no, I can't feel responsible? Ed laughs: it's his decision, his responsibility, gorgeous. Not yours. Craigslist is like that: buyer beware! You could sell some child-killing-recalled device and be fine. Ed! What a horrible idea! Just sayin'...)

I want to say no. My evenings are sacred. It's our popcorn moment of calm. We remind him that there's always the weekend...

He writes back: my wife really wants it before the weekend. Smiley face.

The thing is, I know that craving to have a settled space.

Okay, I'll be there.

An hour later, another email: no, not tonight after all. How about tomorrow night?

Sigh... All this for a few more dollars for my mom's purse. Why not just donate the damn couch to a needy place? Too late now -- I got his $20.  Ah, but why complain? I'm in our warm farmhouse with the twinkling winter lights. I fix a supper of stir fried shrimp and sauteed veggies. Ed promises pop corn later on.

Monday, January 13, 2020


Three things stand out for me this morning: first -- how quickly routines can replace excitement, second -- how pretty even a light snowfall can be when there is no wind to shake everything off tree branches...

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... and finally -- how much paperwork remains to be done to get my mom properly transferred to another facility.

You can grouse about all that bureaucratic nonsense, but honestly, it's perfectly understandable why it needs to be done. I filled out pages upon pages of an application for my mom, but these are just my words. Everything I put into the forms now needs to be proven with supporting documents. Of course it does. I'm not surprised nor annoyed. Merely a tad overwhelmed by the enormity of the project.

Breakfast -- the more colorful parts of it...

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Afterwards, Ed jumps right into my task of gathering the needed receipts and statements. We spend the entire morning on this (and in the process, we unravel several puzzles in my mother's recent accounting; these need to be cleared up and... well, undone). By lunchtime, we're not even half finished. Tomorrow I'll have to chase down stuff on foot. But today, as the afternoon sets in, I need to quit.

Can we go skiing?
Do you think the recent snow has added a thick enough layer?
I do!

It's our first run this winter and oh, does it feel good to take a break from the paper mess!

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Ed first learned to ski when he met me. He's now solid on trails, but he can be wobbly on the hills and with icy conditions, I worry that he will someday end up in the lake or glued to a tree...

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Still, today he manages to stay upright and we have a splendid hour on an empty, quiet, calm, snowy trail, well groomed just minutes before we show up.

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I am back to a routine with the kids. I pick them up at school, I bring them to the farmhouse. I was thinking today that kids do best with a lot of routine in their lives and, depending on the personality, a small chunk of excitement and adventure. So a return to a regular schedule is good, even if the transition can be rocky.

Not so rocky for these two. When I pick them up, they are happy little guys, despite the multiple excitements this past weekend.

(Snowdrop and her friend of many years show me their friendship necklaces)

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Surely as we get older, our need for predictable routines grows. My mom's tolerance for adventure is near zero. Me, I'm still thrilled to have days of excitement. So long as the routines come back, the pace slackens again and the calm returns. Until the next adventure!

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At the farmhouse, the  grandkids are rarely demanding. We read a lot...

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There is always imaginative play...

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And oftentimes they get lost in art projects. They never "fight," and their default facial expression is a smile.

Nonetheless, by the end of this particular day, I'm tired, or at least ready for some downtime. Popcorn time. But it's not to be. Ed and I resume pulling documents, creating files, uploading them to the website that demands them on behalf of my mother.

Only much much later, after a supper of reheated leftovers, after many attempts to get one or another document upload correctly, do we put it all away for the day and exhale.

There may be more snow tonight. Quiet snow, A thin blanket of calm.