Sunday, May 26, 2024

rainy day Sunday and more advice which really isn't advice

Here's an admission: my mind works in lyrical form. Everything around me is a trigger to a song lyric from the past and if I am feeling good and content, I will hum the tune that accompanies the moment. My friends noticed this last week when we were working on the puzzle together. Blue sky piece? "Not a cloud in the sky, got the sun in my eye..."  Is that part of the grass? "Green grass, 'round my window, young leaves..." You get the idea. When I work in the garden, my mind stays clear of worry and clutter because it is too busy tracking songs in my head that fit the scene before me.

Sometimes, the lyrics get a little twisted and bent out of shape. Like this morning, when the rain came down (and I know it will be with us all day long), my mind launched into "rainy day Sundays always get me down..." even though the song is really about rainy days and Mondays. (Carpenters, 1971). 

No, I'm not down. Not at all. But I think about those who are and how they got themselves into that tailspin (so often not of their own making, but sometimes maybe just a little of their own making). Foul moods are frequently out of your control. The National Institute of Mental Health states that more than 8% of all American adults have had at least one depressive episode in their lives. I bet that number is even higher. My hunch is that many people feel and act depressed and they don't even recognize it for what it is.

I don't know anything at all about these things. No training on these issues, no inside scoop. But I do know about the effect it can have on a person to be around someone who just cannot get their emotional state to rise above the depths of despair and displeasure. So that you're always on the receiving end of their felt or imagined crises. It feels like you can never escape it: that person's negativity is always threatening to flood you and drag you down with them. What to do? Shore up your defenses. And do all you can to build your own happy world.

So, on this rainy but not gloomy day, I throw out yet another piece of advice: I've long known that it's on you to learn how to be happy,  (Ed will remind me of this periodically, but I know it without his prompts.) Possibly the greatest skill you can develop in life is to accept full responsibility for  your own emotional well being. Yes, it may be their fault that you're anxious or dispirited, but don't wait for the fix to come from them. It's on you to then learn how best to live with joy, despite everything. Don't get sucked into making excuses and pointing a finger at the one who pushed you to the brink. Find a way to rise above it. Don't just engage in the blame game. Which, by the way, rhymes with the "Name Game!" You know, Nina Nina bo bina, banana fana for fina, fee fye mo mina..."


So, rain, eh?

A brisk walk to the barn. The cats aren't happy, the hens aren't happy. But it's a gentle rain (for now), so I can pause for a picture or two without getting very wet!

I drive then to Batch Bakehouse.  I like their cakes for celebratory occasions and I ordered one for this day because it is (actually was, but plans are for me to celebrate it today) Sandpiper's birthday. Chocolate with strawberry frosting. I used to whip these up by myself, but honestly, I just haven't the time these days to bake much of anything!

(While there, I could not resist some more breakfast treats.)

Breakfast is in the kitchen. Cozy trumps wet and cold. Two cats join us.

And eventually I again check in on my still anguished mother. Some of the care providers think she may be calming down, but I dont see it. She always saves the best for me. The one who "doesn't understand," who let her down, who is allowing her "to die in misery," who attacks her, abandons her, who talks too quietly ("I cant hear you!") and then too loudly ("stop shouting"). Who for a short while was "a miracle child," but is no longer much of a miracle child at all. Briefly "beloved," now merely the "cruel" one.

Still, the hope remains that she will return back to her old ways, such as they were. Once again I wish I could scour her old room to see if I neglected to bring some items she may deem necessary to her survival. Sometimes something as trivial as a box of toothpicks can be seen as life-changing. I know some of such items, but not all. Again, I get no help from her and so I return home, knowing that I have one more chance (tomorrow) to bring over something we may have inadvertently left behind in her old room.


At home, I cannot take out the tractor and hack away at burdock because it's been pouring rain. I consider a stiff drink. Well that's not a healthy response! Instead, I turn my attention to fixing dinner for the young family. 

 (here they come!)




It's a birthday dinner!

 (Sandpiper, at the head of the table)


Sandpiper is now officially three.

Sandpiper: you hear so little about him here, on Ocean! Luck of the birth order. The geography. The age of the grandparent. He was born when I was a fresh 68. He is thus three to my 71. I move, think, behave differently now than I did, say, when Snowdrop was three. I'm reminded here of my conversation with the girl two days ago when she asked me during one of our numerous car rides together -- gaga, would you rather take a car trip across the country or go on a trip to a European city? I said, without hesitation -- a trip to a European city. (The kids looooove playing "would you rather" games!) I felt I had to explain: Snowdrop, I have taken hundreds of road trips. Mostly as the designated driver. Across America, to the coasts and back, with little kids, alone, with big kids, with u-hauls, many many times. After a while, when you're driving, the highways all look the same. At a European city, I could go to a cafe and sit and do some serious people watching! Add a museum, a park -- it all sounds great!  Snowdrop responded -- you are such a perfectly correct grandmother! You fulfill the image of a sweet old lady so well

I took it as a very beautiful compliment.

But Sandpiper is just barely three and he is lively and as demanding as any three year old. He flies through games, finds joy in many toys, often all at the same time, and he is adventurous in just the ways grandparents find terrifying: he will scale furniture, climb rocks, swing high with feet flying. It is small surprise that I see him mostly when there is another grownup to help with the supervision, especially when the two sibs are also in the picture. 


(grandparents are for getting their grandkids very large stuffies!)

Still, today is his day in my book! With all that liveliness comes a heart so full of love, a face so radiant and bursting with smiles, that your heart melts at the mere sight of him.

Happy happy year ahead, little guy!

And the rains come to an end and the day does as well, with Ed, on the couch, loving every minute of our sweet, quiet time together.

Saturday, May 25, 2024

advice, but not really advice

I am sure you have read a ton of articles, books, listened to a million podcasts, heard a gazillion stories about how the one sure fire strategy that we should all employ to reach a ripe old age is exercise. Move your body. Work your muscles, pump your heart, expand your lungs, practice agility, climb those steps, walk, run, bike, swim -- do it all and you will have a better old age.

I don't disagree. Physical movement is good for you in too many ways to count. But I think in focusing on physical exercise (as a strategy to a good senior life), we're not paying attention to something just as important. Perhaps, dare I say it -- even more important?

Here it is (and you can tell everyone you read it on Ocean first, that source of worldly wisdom!) (just kidding):

If you want to have a healthy and happy senior life, you have got to practice happiness with just as much vigor and commitment as you practice physical dexterity. Because if it's not your thing at middle age, believe me, you will not suddenly develop happiness skills in your senior years. Worse -- all those simmering feelings of self pity and disrespect toward those who aren't like you, who don't look, act, think like you, that "I know better" attitude, all of it will fester and grow and soon it will be like sticky willy weeds -- it will consume and choke you and you will not be able to climb out of your world of judgment, anger, and despair. Happiness is like a muscle -- use it or lose it.

Just sayin'...

It's a gorgeous day today! Simply stunning!. Weird how we flip from bad weather to great weather! Yesterday's storms and rains were actually worse for our flower fields (and for those of real farmers) than the storms that pounded us on Tuesday. Peonies fell. Irises fell. Meadow flowers groaned under the weight of the relentless rain. It didn't last long, but it was a menace. 

Still, I think the fields will recover. Those peonies still look... okay.

The flower fields will bounce back. And they surely do look lush right now. Last year May was really dry. Not so this May -- we've had sunshine, we've had rain. On balance, we're doing well!

I am now in the habit of getting up very early on Saturdays so that I can be at the downtown farmer's market just a little after seven. On a day like this, the early market is one big piece of heaven.

My list is small -- asparagus, carrots, mushrooms, flowers. But I peer into each stall and watch the progression of produce as we move briskly through the season. Spring is way too short in my opinion!

Of course, there is also a stop for me at Madison Sourdough. 




For fresh breakfast treats. On the porch, with Ed, shortly after.

Yes, for sure, there follows an hour of weed pulling. You know the equation: rain plus more rain equals weeds. So I work on that.

But at the lunch hour, Ed and I drive over to my mother's new rooms to check in on her and to maybe get her to help me decide what else she might need from her old room. (Ed is there to do the heavy lifting, should the need arise.)

Unfortunately, I get nowhere with that. She is convinced that everyone is "cruel" and working their hardest to make her life miserable and of course, who better to share this with than me. But not only me. I think the staff has heard plenty from her on the subject!

Will she improve over time? I don't know.

Thinking that perhaps an arrangement of pictures and familiar objects put in front of her might help, I get Ed to lug a bookshelf up the hill and we place this in her line of vision with some arrangement of photos that would belie her complaint that she has nothing but a wall to stare at (as she sits by a floor to ceiling window with a beautiful view toward the forest).

Eventually, after reviewing everything with various staff members we leave. 

I think Ed was a little taken aback by the whole visit, but I wasn't. I've been listening to this far too long to be shocked. Though I admit it, it's not easy to be on the receiving end of someone's never ending unhappiness with life. 

It does take me a while to regain my feeling of peace after the visit. But this, too, is my "normal." I've had years of practice! I know what to do: it's back to the garden! This time I'm motivated to take out the tractor-mower to carve out good paths on farmette lands. I hack away at the thistles, the wild parsnips, the burdock and by the time I'm done and I shut off the loud engine the world feels grand once more.


In the late afternoon, Ed and I bike to our local park. I haven't seen the prairie move into its season of bloom. (So it's a bike-hike-bike!)

It's incredibly beautiful. The Golden Alexanders dominate, but the white wild indigo is starting up as well as is the purple Spiderwort. But as always, its the entirety that wows you. 

You look up and down and you feel just so good to be there on this sunny late afternoon in May.

And the cranes holler and the red tipped blackbirds dart to their perches and you do not need much else to feel happy. 

At the hike's end, we lie down in the cool grass. Sooo good, Ed mumbles. Feels so good...



Yes it does.

with love...

Friday, May 24, 2024

and then...

Hello, rains and storms! Haven't seen you since... Tuesday! 

Here's my thought on this day: everything about it is less severe than the days leading up to it. The rains hold off for a bit, so that my morning walk is pretty and very calm...

(the lushness of the Big Bed after the rains...)

(one out of my seven clematis climbers)

(peonies and purples)

(driveway bed: blooming Weigela)

(driveway bed: first daylilies)

(driveway bed: siberian irises)

(the Big Bed and its new extension)

(annual offerings)

(yellow false indigo)

Breakfast is quiet, on the porch...

And then I touch base with my sweet friends -- in Poland, in New Mexico, in Florida. They always make me smile. Really, always.

The rest of the morning has a lot riding on it but it's mostly out of my hands. My mother does not want to move. My mother has to move. You cannot in this world choose to stay at a Rehab facility as long as you want. The rehab docs (along with Medicare) decide when you're ready to roll.  They say now, so now it is. To their credit, they stipulated that will need more help going forward -- hence the transfer to a facility with round the clock help. 

In all this, I marvel at her enormous good fortune. She is old, but without the crippling illnesses that ruin the last years of so many lives. I have had luck in securing her a place at a terrific facility that cares for their residents at all stages of their advanced age. Given the long wait periods for nursing homes of any quality at all, especially for seniors who are short on cash, this has been an incredible piece of luck! Unbelievable, really.

And yet, I cannot remember the last time when she has wanted to spend a happy moment with me. Or when her smile would be part of our world. As always, I step in as the problem solver, something that has been in my courtyard since the day my dad left her nearly fifty years ago. Since then, I've been called lots of names by her -- cheerful, helpful, crazy, irresponsible, selfish, miracle daughter. Most recently I'm back in the negative box again, but I probably wont stay there because she needs me too much. For pretty much everything.

The wonderful staff at her retirement center succeeded in transferring her and she is now settling into her new and frankly very beautiful digs. Big floor to ceiling windows, looking out at a forested patch of land. I peek in again, but she is resting and I leave her to it. By the accounts of the staff, she is still unhappy with everyone. She will have let me know as much on tho phone when I finally reach her in the evening.

In the meantime, I pick up the kids. PJ's again. And rain. Again.

Briefly at the farmhouse, then delivered, in pounding rain and crashing thunder -- to a lesson (Sparrow), and to wait at a coffee shop for lesson to be over (Snowdrop). The girl's mom is with her. I'm in it for the ride! 

(Some of us are very wet from another dump of heavy rain.)

Then home again. It really isn't chili season, but we have last year's tomatoes still filling our freezer downstairs, so chili it is. Comfort food, even though, at the moment, my comfort and contentment are on overdrive. I'm so relieved that the day was smooth, the transfers were completed, the storms were lighter, and that the week ended with a gentle patter rather than a  great big crash.

With love...

Thursday, May 23, 2024


...back at the farmette now, up an hour (or two?) before dawn. And that, my friends, is too early. Even for me. But, there's much to sift through these days and strategizing and planning (and fretting and fuming) often percolates up to the surface in those wee hours of the morning. And then Ed comes up (having fallen asleep downstairs on the couch), and we get to talking, and before you know it, he says  -- I guess I should hurry up and fix the truck because it sounds like you'll need it, and I may as well open up the coop and feed the chickens. And soon after, I join him outside.

So what's happening in the garden after last week's heat wave and Tuesday's storms? Well, predictably, the weeds are tripping over themselves in their attempt to take control of the flower beds. But, if you look up at the flowers (instead of down to the ground where the weeds proliforate), you see the late May explosion of peonies. It should be a splendid farmers market this weekend -- the peonies have arrived!

Their tight, sticky buds are bursting with pinks and whites (and even the rare yellows).



You have to love the ants that make their way up to the sap that covers the buds! Some people are put off by discovering that peony buds invariably have a parade of ants crawling up to the flower to enjoy a drink of peony nectar. In fact, the ants are a good thing -- they protect the blossoms from more destructive insect species. 

The peony blooming period isn't long and the plant takes up a lot of space in a flower bed. This doesn't bother me: I have enough stuff opening up in the weeks after their bloom. The flower fields are not going to be without color. And I have plenty of room, especially in the Big Bed for their expansive foliage.

Okay breakfast, on the porch. 



And here's a pleasant surprise -- well, a tiny bit pleasant for me! My daughter's washing machine broke for good. You always find out this stuff just when you have a build up of dirty laundry! And so she brought her family's laundry here to clean, joining us for a few minutes on the porch.

It is a beautiful day! It's impressive how quickly we can move from good to awful to good again. (Well yes, I suppose then back to awful, but I'm not there yet!) This morning definitely belongs to the very lovely.

And so I weed, waiting to hear how my mother's transfer from Rehab to a skilled nursing facility (same complex, different room) took place.


I suppose I could have predicted that the transfer would not happen smoothly and indeed -- would not happen at all today. The roadblocks she is putting up are severe and the staff decided to give her one more day, with perhaps me picking out some stuff of hers to install in her new home so it would feel more like her own space.

So I spend the rest of the morning and all of the early afternoon staring at my mother's room back in assisted living, and I pick out things that I think she would regard as indispensable and uniquely her own. Photos, pictures, a quilt maybe? Her lotions and shampoos, her volumes of notes and written pages. He pencils and pencil sharpener. I think she is attached to that. Her grounding contraption which she swears contributed to her long life. I go through her closets, her dresser, her shelves and I pile the stuff on the bed (from where they will pick it up) and then I turn my back on it all. The optimal situation would have been one where she would help with these choices and decisions but she is angry and refuses to help, and so I'm left, as in all previous times, to guess, knowing damn well that I will be held accountable for all the choices I make that are not ones she likes. I have always been liked most when I solve problems following her directives to the last drop. Not so much otherwise.

I peek in on her at the Rehab Center, but I dont go in. If she sees me, she will unleash the same emotions that destroy her calm again and again. It's better to leave her in a quiet state. Besides, I have kids to pick up at school.

Sweet kids. Lovely and loving, no matter what.






The evening at the farmhouse is spectacular. Sunny and warm. True, we are getting severe storms again tomorrow, but I have to think they wont be of the magnitude that we had on Tuesday. Driving through Madison, you see so many trees uprooted, so many fallen branches, that you have to marvel that no one was killed or even seriously hurt that stormy evening. But tornadoes are infrequent here and severe storms without those powerful wind turbines are something we get used to during the warmer seasons. Severe, but not damaging. One can hope!

And in the meantime, Ed and I push open the patio door and listen to the birds and watch the sun dappled colors of our farmette lands. 




If you need a path to contentment and happiness, you will find it here, at our farmette. We do. Always.

with so much love...

Wednesday, May 22, 2024

still standing

Oh, we are a resilient species -- say the swallows who are building their nest in the eaves of the Prairie House outside of Mt Horeb in Wisconsin. We, too, survived -- say the lupines in the prairie stretching down the hill, albeit their pointy peaks had been twisted by the whipping winds and straight line tornadoes that torpedoed through the Midwest last night.

And the three of us -- friends, with varying degrees of weather sensitivity! -- we survived as well, though the windows shook, shook in their frames and twice we went to the basement just in case they came crashing down on us under the brute force of the storm.

(When you could still look out the window, we watched it coming...)

And now, this morning, all is calm.




And still standing (if a little bent out of shape).

We were lucky.

It is our last morning together. My friends will be returning to their homes, their daily routines, their neighbors and the good people in their lives today. And I will be going home as well, to the farmette, to Ed, to the young families.

One last breakfast...

And a valiant effort to finish the puzzle. 

We had to laugh: so close! We were maybe 20 pieces short of completing it and yet we had to stop. Because the clock was ticking. I had meetings and obligations. I needed to get home.

(So good to spend time with these two!)

*     *     *

In Madison again, I attend to my mother.

I have been scrambling to keep up with the real and perceived problems that appear to plague her right now. She is no longer able to control the swell of negative emotion within her, toward staff, toward pretty much anyone who tries to help her. This means that she cannot return to assisted living. (Indeed, she refused to go anywhere at all today, so she is stuck for now in Rehab.) Remarkably, it's not the physical barriers that keep her away, it's her mindset. 

I worked on a transfer to a skilled nursing/hospice facility -- same building, different floor, more attention. I've moved my mother from independent living to rehab, from rehab to assisted living number one, from that to assisted living number two. I know what I have to do and I know it will be done imperfectly because without her cooperation, I cannot fully grasp what she would like me to bring to her new home. 

I will say this much -- the new place for her is lovely, newly built, bright, larger even than her previous home. But without doubt she will not recognize the upgrade and I expect our calls and visits and emails (because she can still send emails!) will proceed in the way they have always proceeded -- with a focus on all that's not good in her life.

*     *     *

I had to leave my mother's place in the early afternoon, because it was grandkid pick up time.

Happy ones! How awesome is that!

We have a bit of a weird schedule because their dad has been away and their mom is juggling the three kids and her job demands (to say nothing of the fact that she, like me, has been coughing her way through the week, though she, unlike me, at least did not have lung deflation issues). To help things along, I picked up the two oldest kids and brought them home. Sandpiper, the youngest, had to stay home all day because Madison schools and preschools were closed due to weather damage. 

In the later afternoon, I brought Snowdrop to the farmhouse for a short reading time, stopping on the way for ice cream...

... and finishing the evening with my dropping her off at the Young Shakespeare Players program, where she is cast as Gonzalo in their full production of the Tempest. We have begun line memorization during our car rides!

*     *     *

Evening. Ed is biking, I'm opening my eyes again to the farmette lands and the emergent flowers. I'll show you what's blooming tomorrow. For now, I am delighted to report that the flowers in the fields are still standing. They promise me a summer of color and growth. And incredible loveliness.