Back in 2011, I wrote a post about my dad, and how much I admire him. I promised someday to post about my mom, and today seemed like a good time to do that.
Sometimes we joke that my mom is perfect, or nearly so. She has great habits and rarely, if ever, fails to do what she sets out to do. An impeccable housekeeper, she managed a household budget through recession and unemployment and managed to take care of everyone and everything. She made our bread and butter, canned our fruits and vegetables, and could butcher and dress a chicken (although I don’t think she liked it much.) We lived a pretty “green” lifestyle way before that was cool. We recycled, thrifted, reused, grew our own food, etc. Talk about eating “local;” our fresh foods were in the back yard.
My mom loves animals, even farm animals. She was the one to assist at the births of our cows and pigs, and on more than one occasion, she revived a piglet who could not breathe. Yes, you can give CPR, even mouth-to-mouth, to animals. The little guys usually made it, and grew up along with the others.
One cold January, our mama sow died, and a farmer told her to just knock the piglets in the head, as they could never live. Mom bottle-fed those eleven piglets and housed them in our basement until they were old enough to stand the cold of the barn. It created for an interesting situation when I brought a date home one night. He was a little horrified with all the snuffling and snorting from the basement, until I calmly explained that it was just the pigs..needless to say, it was the last date I ever had with him! (Any man who couldn’t handle pigs in the basement isn’t for me!) And it wasn’t the first time mom raised orphans; three baby racoons also benefited from her kind heart, and dozens of cats, often strays or dumped kittens, found refuge in our garage or barn.
She was a “health nut” before it was cool, too. She walked four miles a day to keep fit and slim, and took a lot of teasing for it. Everyone wanted to know where she was going, did she want a ride? What was she doing out there, anyway, slogging through a foot of snow? She was the one smiling when the jogging craze caught everyone out of wind in the early 70s!
She was tough physically, too. In her early twenties she battled Hodgkin’s disease. In those days, it was 97% fatal, but she beat those odds. If what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, she is proof of that.
When my brother was in high school, she went back to school and finished her degree, then went to work. She eventually worked as the Assistant County Commissioner for many years, and was instrumental in the planning and grant writing to restore the Lapeer County Courthouse, the oldest continually in use in the United States.
When I graduated from college in 2000, she and I took a trip to China. Alone. Clear across the world, neither of us speaking the language. Okay, I knew about 4 words. It was an experience we will never forget! Some day maybe I will write a post about that, we had so much fun.
Then in her early 50s, my mom quit her job and decided to become a flight attendant. And she did it, too. She flew across country, and overseas several times. She even spent a summer in Paris, sweltering in a garret, so she could improve her French and be assigned an overseas line. She was flying for United Airlines on that fateful day in September, 2001. Although we had several tense, worried hours, along with the rest of the world, we were fortunate that she had been called for an earlier flight, and was able to land on the West Coast just as the second plane was flying into the towers. She lost friends and acquaintances that sad, terrible day.
She loves to travel. As a flight attendant, she took full advantage of discounts on travel, but itchy feet struck her even before then. At least every 18 months, some kind of trip was in the works. She and my dad have taken uncountable numbers of cruises, traveled Europe three times, visited Egypt, sailed around Cape Horn, hiked the Inca Trail in Peru, and hiked the Grand Canyon. She is so much braver than I am when it comes to travel!
When United had its financial problems, she quit flying and she and dad moved to the mountains in Tennessee. It was a crazy, secluded place on top of a mountain, where you could see three states if you knew where to look! It must have been a little lonely there, because eventually they moved to a larger city in Tennessee, and have a large house where they have plenty of room for the many friends who love to stop by and stay a few days during the year. I have often joked that she should open a Bed and Breakfast.
It may be a rather superficial look at my mom and what she has accomplished, but no one wants to read a whole biography. I admire my mom, even if we don’t always agree on everything. (What mother and daughter do?) I am proud of her, too, for her strength and resolve.
That strength and resolve are being severely test right now. You see, three weeks ago, my mom suffered a massive stroke. For several days, we weren’t sure she would make it, but she held on. Mom did everything right; she doesn’t smoke, drinks wine occasionally, walks daily, does Pilates, eats healthy, isn’t overweight and watches her blood pressure. If this can happen to her, it can happen to anyone. As it turns out, there is a congenital heart condition that caused the stroke; the fact that she was in such great shape before is probably why she made it, and why she is recovering. Cautionary tale? You betcha.
Two days ago she was moved to rehab, and is starting to be herself again – she wanted her hair washed and a manicure, so she is definitely getting better! Five therapists are helping her learn to walk and speak and write again, and the family is hopeful she will recover most, if not all, her abilities. We hope to have her home by spring, enjoying the hyacinths from her sunroom. It will be a long recovery, but if anyone can do it, my mom can.
Sorry for the dearth of posts, I have been busy with Grad School, so you may expect a little space between posts. This one, however, is a long one, so get comfy if you actually want to read it all. It is also pretty personal, but I hope my thoughts can help someone else, and I will try not to be too sappy. Here goes….
I need to lose weight. No, thanks for the compliments, but I really, really, need to lose weight.
I have struggled with it my entire life. I was the 95 pound 5th grader when my friends weight 65. I loved cheese, and my after-school snacks consisted of as many slices of Kraft singles I could get out the refrigerator without my mother noticing I had finished the one she gave me. Ice cream bowls in our house were as big as my head, and I loved ice cream. I love food, and never learned much restraint or portion control.
Oh sure, I learned to diet. I knew every diet and all the rules for losing weight. I have done it often enough. I have been on diets for much of the past 35 years. I do not lack will-power, as it is described in diet terms…I can starve myself to thin(ish)…it just doesn’t last long enough to keep the weight off permanently.
I like walking, Pilates, yoga, dancing. (I am ridiculously uncoordinated, but still like it!) I managed to be acceptably thin throughout high school, bouncing between 128 and 135, but 110 was my goal and I hadn’t seen that since 6th grade. I reached my lowest weight right before my wedding in 1986. (It was 123 pounds, if you really want to know. I am 5’5”), and even spent 2 weeks hovering in the low 130s after my son was born.
And that was that. I haven’t seen those numbers since Miami Vice went off the air. I have bounced all over since then, and believe you me, sometimes you could have bounced me like a beach ball! I have tried all the diets, and the non-diets, liquid supplements, appetite suppressants (that was fun, if you like heart palpitations) fasting, grapefruit, vegan, Atkins, South Beach, juicing, you name it, I probably tried it. I even tried that cleanse where you drink a quart of salty water to supposedly “flush” your system. I threw up.
I really never got it. I think, like many people, I kept looking for the magic potion, the one thing that would allow me to keep doing whatever I wanted and somehow be thin. There had to be a formula, it couldn’t be anything I was doing wrong. I wanted someone or something to blame. Yeah, I am kind of big boned. I am a little “chesty”. My husband likes curves….um, those aren’t curves. Those are lumps. Wake up, chub.
So I made new rules. I researched (as an historian, it is basically my only skill.) I read, I talked to people, – successful people, not those who have been struggling with the diet du jour for five decades. And along the way, I realized something…this isn’t easy, but it isn’t impossible. Weight loss is possible – the math works. As a friend pointed out to me, people in concentration camps got THIN, so cutting calories will, eventually, lead to weight loss. I am not making light of the horror of concentration camps, don’t read me wrong. My point is, if you eat less, you will weigh less, eventually. I needed rules. (don’t worry, I’ll get to the rules. If you are sick of my babbling, skim ahead to the rules below.)
The problem with a reducing “diet” is you don’t do it forever. Obviously, you reach your goal, or something in the neighborhood, and revert to your old ways. Ahhh, thank god that is over, pass the gravy.
So I needed to look at people who are successful at staying thin. It makes sense that, if you weigh more than you should, you are eating too much food. Maybe, I thought, it was a perception of how much food I need that was the problem. Maybe it was a fear of feeling hunger that was stalling my attempts at shedding, permanently, extra poundage.
I am fascinated with the “French Paradox” as they call it…the idea that the French eat a diet full of butter and oil and pastry and wine and, by and large, stay svelte. Americans love this idea, because it suggests you can start your day with a 3 pound croissant, end it was a gallon of red wine and enjoy every cream sauce known to man in the middle, and still lose weight! Well, you can have all those foods! You just can’t have that much of them.
And that, my friends, seems to be the answer. Portions. Our concept of what constitutes a portion of food, what an actual meal, should look like, has been warped by our own abundance. Now, I am not being critical of our country in general, it is wonderful that most of us have a problem of too much food rather than too little. Needing a diet is actually not the worst fate to befall mankind.
I will use the example of my lovely mother-in-law. She is British, although she has lived in the US since the late 1940s. She grew up during time of Depression and War. Britain, I am told, was on rations for 14 years! She remembers her mother making the children eat all the fat off their meat, when they had meat. Their problem was not too much food; it was getting enough food, specifically fats, in their diet. My MIL was slim. I mean, really, beautifully svelte, even after having 5 kids. How did she do it? It wasn’t all healthy; when everyone else was having dessert, she had a black coffee and a cigarette. She never ate a lot, especially sweets, and her portions were never huge. She claims she gained weight after she quit smoking in the 1970s, but to this day, she is a lovely woman in her mid-eighties who still keeps tabs on her figure. She made a CHOICE not to over-eat. Like the French women you can read about if you Google “French paradox,” portions are small, some meals are skipped, and they smoke A LOT.
I don’t advocate smoking, but there is definitely something to skipping a meal now and then. I think the conventional diet wisdom has done us wrong here. Feeling hunger is not something to be avoided. Being hungry is good…it means, you are hungry! Time to eat! You don’t need to panic and head for the nearest drive-thru at the first rumble of your tummy. It is a good thing for your body to use what it had at hand, and then decide it is time for more. Sometimes, if you wait a bit, that hunger goes away, your stomach will shrink a bit, and you will begin to have an easier time eating less.
Because that is the key. Being hungry won’t hurt you, unless you have a hypo-glycemic problem, in which case, you probably already have some insulin issues and really should see a doctor. Hunger is a body signal, and we should listen to our bodies.
So I made some rules for myself. You can follow them, too, if you want; I think they are working. I have lost pounds already, I am not starving (although I get hungry, when it is time to eat) and I am enjoying my food soooo much more. I made up the rules, and I will tell you what they are in a bit, but first, indulge me on why I like having rules.
I need rules, even if they are rules I made up for myself to follow. Without my own rules, I am drifting, just doing what must be done and never allowing for what I want to do, leaving no room for improvements, growth, and exploration. Within my self-imposed rules, I can expand to enjoy the full freedom of being a healthy, happy, relatively affluent adult. Rules are like imaginary boundaries that I can throw myself up against when I need support. Silly, maybe, it works! My set of rules is not written in stone; it must have some flexibility as circumstances and life-stages change. And my set of rules does not work for everyone else – quite possibly it works for no one else.
For example, for almost my whole married life, I have had the rule that the bed gets made in our room every morning, the sheets changed once a week and all the laundry relegated to the laundry baskets. The room looks clean, always, even if it actually needs a dusting, because the bed is made. That rule actually came from my mother (thanks mom!) who pointed out a room with a tidy bed looks good regardless of what else is going on in there.
Another self-imposed rule regards makeup and grooming – basically, if I am well enough to be out of bed, I am well enough to put on my “face”. Every day. No matter what. Even if I am just going to clean the garage or walk the dog…moisturize, powder, lipstick, perfume. This rule is a newer one, about 3 years old, which came about after a long fight with pneumonia, when I literally wasn’t able to get out bed for several few days. Once I was up and around again, I was still somewhat under the weather for three months, during which time, my personal grooming really took a hit. It was somewhere in that time I realized I needed to put myself together every day, “dressed and brushed” I call it, even if no one else will see me. There may come a day in the future when these things aren’t possible due to illness or some other tragedy – all the more reason to enjoy them now.
I feel a sense of anxiety when I haven’t done what I need to do. While for some, spending the day in their nightgown may signify delicious indulgence, it fills me with anxiety and a sense of having wasted something very precious – time. My self-prescribed rules give me the freedom to enjoy my free time without guilt – I have done the little things, so now I can get to the good stuff. Could just be a remnant of my quasi-Puritanical upbringing that defined daylight hours for work, with any leisure only afterwards, if then. But I must say I do enjoy reading my daily blogs better when I can hear the whir of the laundry machines in the background. I throw in a load nearly every day. I don’t want to waste a whole day doing laundry; this way, it fits naturally into my daily routine.
I add rules when needed and erase them, too. When I worked in an office, I had rules about my manicure – I did it every Sunday night, and almost never left the house without polish on. While I still love polish, it isn’t practical at the museum, especially when I am cleaning, so the rule now is never leave the house with noticeably chipped polish. See, I can be flexible. A little.
Which brings me to the eating rules. I hesitate to call this a diet, because it involves a complete change in how I look at food and portions, and my attitudes toward it.
That’s the theme of this post, and, in fact, the theme for the coming year. Welcome 2013, good riddance 2012.
The year ends tonight, and it couldn’t come soon enough for me. Yes, we were spared the promised Mayan Apocalypse, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t a difficult year. I was all prepared to write a post running down the good and bad from the year, but I realized it would just be depressing, at best, and maudlin at worst. So instead, I am going to share with you my renewed resolve from several seasons past.
It can be summed up as the attempt to celebrate every day. Every day we are alive, no matter our circumstances, we can try to find some little way to add joy to our lives, if only for a minute. Some days will be very difficult, nay, impossible. I don’t need to provide you with my examples, I am sure you have your own. But most days, just ordinary, regular, run-of-the-mill sets of 24 hours, provide at least one opportunity to stop and smile.
Make a list of things that make you pause and reflect. It can be something as simple as turning on the AC in your car on a hot day. Boy, am I thankful for that!
A clump of violets on your breakfast table…or even taking the time to sit down at the table and eat your breakfast.
A glass of wine with lunch, gourmet coffee (with cream!), or a walk in the park, or ten minutes window shopping in a new city, or flipping through a photo album.
Cooking a special meal, or using the good silver, reading by lamplight, making dinner into a picnic, stopping to watch the birds dining at the neighbor’s bird feeder.
Ok, these are all things on my list; you can make your own. The important thing is to appreciate the beauty in the mundane, and make the mundane meaningful. It gives you a moment to separate yourself from your circumstances, provides a little different perspective on things. Sometimes it is mentally stimulating; or maybe it slows things down so you can appreciate the speed of life a little more.
I found another post that gave suggestions for indulging your home in everyday luxuries, and I realized I do every single one of these things…..some for years, some are new. You can read the post here, but this is the short list: fresh flowers, music, good china (or silver), bubble bath, candles, fresh fruit, dining outside, and great coffee. Okay, I don’t do all of these every day; I don’t need to. Some days, I do none of them, but these are grey days indeed, days I feel that the hours slipped by me without meaning and without joy.
This year was a rough one; I lost a dear friend, a favorite uncle (see photo above), a fur child, and most of my savings account. But I also gained a daughter in law, a grandchild, raised 4 cute kittens, and got a new kitchen. I have nothing to complain about, but grief can overwhelm joy.
In 2013, I will be starting school again, beginning exciting new projects at work, enjoying our “empty nest,” and taking care of our remaining fur children. I will enjoy the fireside, listen to music while I drive, enjoy my coffee and my wine, use the good silver every day, love my family, and try to celebrate a little each day.
How about you?
So you may remember back in June I decided it was time to let go of dying my hair. I didn’t want to keep trying to hang onto something that was, in reality, already gone. In this case, it was my natural red hair.
It had taken me until well into my twenties to appreciate having red hair, and by then, it was already beginning to show signs of turning silver. So, like many people, I ran for the color bottle, and when that eventually failed (I am told red hair is very hard to duplicate) to the salon.
But after a decade or so of this, I tallied up the cost one day, in money and time, and decided it wasn’t worth it. I don’t really have any hangups about aging, so I stopped coloring and waited to see what would happen.
I’m not a very patient person. So two weeks later, I had my stylist strip my color and give me a blonde tint. I wrote about that here. I had a two-week period where I missed being a redhead, but the thought of returning to all that maintenance stopped me from doing anything rash.
Then, about 2 months ago, I got it cut very short, so only a little artificial blond remained on my crown. A few weeks later, now only about an inch remains on my longest hair – the rest is all me; gray, streaked with a little remaining red that hasn’t yet deserted the ship. It looks like I had it frosted.
One more haircut, and I will be entirely natural, almost completely gray-haired. The most interesting thing is the responses I get from people; friends and acquaintances who haven’t seen me in a while and love my “blonde” hair. When I tell them it is actually naturally gray, they look closer, and really don’t believe me. As my chiropractor friend told me yesterday, “women pay good money to get that color.” Maybe I am lucky. Maybe gray hair isn’t really all about what we have been told it is.
In the interest of full disclosure, there are still days I miss being a redhead. Then again, there are also days when I would love to have the body I had at 28. But this is me, now. And, I would be the last person in the world to criticize anyone for changing their hair color, whether gray or not. Hair is very tied up in how we feel about ourselves, and sometimes, we just need a change, something to perk us up and make us feel fresh again. It is a completely personal choice. I have made mine for now, and I’m happy with it, but I reserve the right to change my mind at any time in the future. It’s a woman’s prerogative, after all.
December weather has arrived, and it is really beginning to feel like late fall. All the leaves are down, and the mums and sedum are giving their last blasts of color for the season. I even have a few late roses in the garden, although their leaves have turned reddish orange and their buds are scarred with frost.
Growing up in Michigan, as I did, you may find it odd that I was raised to believe this was a sad time of year. The garden was dying, or going to sleep at the very least, and the next several months were going to be winter, the equivalent of a dirty word to most garden-lovers.
My parents were, and still are, avid gardeners. They live for the warm days when they can putter about, planting, weeding, trimming, etc, so it is not too surprising that they were not big fans of winter, since all they could do was peruse the nursery catalogs and make plans for the next spring. Winter on the farm meant work, too; chores in a freezing barn meant breaking water out of the animals’ dishes and making sure everyone was cozy. It meant plowing piles of snow that blew down across the field to clog the driveway; it meant a treacherous, dark drive on icy roads for my father to meet his carpool. So I understand their attitude, somewhat.
I, however, love winter. Yes, it means scraping ice off my car and shoveling snow. It means layers of bulky clothing and frozen fingertips. But it is not a death-knell to the garden, or to outdoor beauty. The winter garden is not dead, nor is it ugly or sad; it is just a different kind of beauty, a different kind of life.
When the leaves are off, the stark sculptural beauty of an oak tree can be appreciated. Birds and wildlife are glimpsed more frequently, too. Visit a botanical garden after a snowfall, and you will notice beauty that is hidden in high leafy summer. Evergreens, pines and even dried perennials take on a new dimension when all around them is removed. No longer eclipsed by brilliant summer flowers, they can be appreciated for their more subtle color and beauty.
Underground, plants are not sleeping; they are growing roots, and, in the case of my tulips, I think they are having “babies” so they are far from sleeping or dead under the blanket of snow.
It does get a little dreary when the sun doesn’t shine and it is too cold be be outside. I do miss the smell of earth and plants. But if you live in Michigan, you know we spend nearly half of our year this way, and that is a little too much to just hunker down under a blanket and wait for warmer weather. That is a lot of living to be forfeited. So what do we do? Aside from outdoor sports (which really aren’t my thing) we love to visit botanical gardens.
Our absolute favorite is the conservatory on Belle Isle. If you haven’t been there, or if it has been a while, you owe it to yourself to go again. During the winter, just walking in the place is a treat for your eyes and nose – last January, thousands of cyclamen adorned the atrium – I never realized how fragrant they are! The building itself is beautiful, with several different rooms filled with interesting plants and trees, and a few birds. Best of all – it is FREE!
The Belle Isle picture was taken by Mikoyan, I hope he doesn’t mind me using it. You can see his other beautiful photos here:http://michiganexposures.blogspot.com/2012/01/random-shots-around-belle-isle.html#
If you are on the other side of the state, you can visit the Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The outdoor acres are beautiful, but if the weather is frightful, you can enjoy the indoor gardens, which include a Victorian garden, and carnivorous plant garden, and others. Below are a few I took in September:
If you drive south from Detroit, you can visit the Toledo Botanical Garden. It is all outdoors, but is so beautiful with a covering of snow its worth braving the weather to enjoy the trees. Without benefit of leaves and flowers, the garden takes on an ethereal quality, and beautiful evergreens could really be appreciated. We enjoyed it so much, we went back again in the summer. They also are home to an artist community, and the Blair Museum of Lithophanes.
There are so many fun and interesting things to do in winter, even if you don’t enjoying skiing or skating; take some time to explore the beauty around us, and try to enjoy winter for itself. After all, it is going to be here a while.
PS – if you are wondering why there is a picture of kittens at the top of this post…because kittens are cute, that’s why!
Yes, it has finally happened. We have joined the ranks of the empty-nesters. Our fledglings have fledged and we have the house to ourselves.
Son and family have taken possession of their new home and are having a great time. The house turned out beautifully, I am almost jealous of the large windows and the big empty basement, and I am happy for them. They have taken the last two kittens, too, Simon and Ash, so I have my office back, too.
I hesitated to write this post because I seem to keep misplacing the photos I took of the finished house – they are on my computer at work, or somewhere else, who knows. I promise I will show them sometime.
In the meantime, we have turned our attention back to Claymire, and assessing those little projects that got lost along the way. This weekend, I finally painted the baseboards in the living and dining rooms. They have been the wall color for about 2 years, ever since we had the Great Flood of 2010 and replaced all the flooring. They looked okay, in fact, I don’t like the look of a skinny white stripe running around the room when mouldings are little skinny clamshells we have in the bedrooms.
But the ones in the main part of the house are 6 inches, and decorative. Besides that, flat paint, which I love on our less-than-smooth walls, is not easy to scrub on a baseboard.
The color is Pittsburgh Paints Manor Hall in Dogwood Blossom, paint I had left over from the old kitchen cabinets.
Next, we did some upgrades on our door mouldings. The plan is to do this through the whole main part of the house; so far, we did these two as a trial:
What do you think? I found the inspiration and DIY how-tos on Pinterest. I love creative people, especially when I can borrow their ideas!
So now mr husband is looking at our fireplace, and wondering if we shouldn’t tile around it. We have wanted to for a couple of years, and just couldn’t decide what to put there, so I just painted it black and waited. On the way to the tile shop yesterday, while waiting for paint to dry, he wondered whether everyone did as much home improving as we do. As he started to tick off the things we have done to Claymire since moving in 15 years ago, I suggested that yes, people did, at least people who bought a home in such crummy condition as ours, and weren’t content to leave it that way.
Besides, I realized that fixing up the house makes me happy. I like to see a new pillow on the loveseat, or fresh curtains, or a new plant. Even rearranging furniture gives a new perspective on a space, reveals possibilities, and maybe a fresh start.
And we do have a fresh start. For 24 of the 26 years we have been married, we have not lived alone, just the two of us. It is an odd realization, that hits at different times of the day, in strange ways. I hear a noisy muffler at night, and realize it is not our kid coming home. The city truck that picks up leaves went by, and for the first time in years, I didn’t worry that his car was parked in the way. I hear an ambulance go by at 1 am, and decide it really isn’t likely that he’s been in an accident. (I know, mother-brains work in strange ways.) It is just us, now, and that is kind of exciting, and kind of sad.
Oh, and I did get an early Christmas gift…we have officially adopted Mabel cat!
It is still a week (nearly) before Halloween, and yet I have seen 3 or 4 commercials for the jolly holidays advertised on television. While not a big TV fan, I’m watching my beloved Detroit Tigers in the World Series, so catching a few nasty commercials is pretty much unavoidable.
So…In case you are wondering what I would like in my stocking this year, here it is…
I want my son to be safely and happily ensconced in his new home, with his wife and daughter.
I want a really pretty World Series banner/award/trophy whatever it is, for Detroit. (It is so great talking to my Dad, every time Prince Fielder makes a play, he says, wow, that was a great play by Cecil. Gotta love it!)
I want Mabel cat to be my kitty, for the rest of her life, or mine, whichever is shorter.
I want at least one good party for the holidays, so I can wear a pretty dress.
I want all the kitties who need homes to find them, forever loving homes! Especially ones with special needs.
I want someone else to pay for Grad School. I’m still paying off my BA, for goodness sake!
I want a President of the USA who.. oh never mind. I want a way to import Canadian Rye to my local retailer, and I’ll deal with the political morass myself. Can you say Old Fashioned? Can you mix one?
Friends, (enemies, followers, stalkers, whoever….) I want a little JOY in life, everyday. Celebrate every day. It is really all we have.
Oh, and a few more comments. Just don’t be mean!