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My Amazing Mom

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.

Pamela Morgan & Daisy  June 1981

Mom and Daisy the calf, 1981

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.

Sanibel island, 1972

Me and Mom and Gigi dog, Sanibel island, 1972

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.

Pam & Fred Morgan, Nov 13, 1965

Gray is the new blonde?

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.

shortly after the last dye job, June 2012

shortly after the last dye job, June 2012

I feel strange posting pictures of myself, but here is the blonde I had in July

I feel strange posting pictures of myself, but here is the blonde I had in July

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.

December, 2012

December, 2012. Sorry about the bad lighting, I should have smiled or something.

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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.

Pretty Winter Things

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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.

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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:

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gotcha!

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carnivorous pitcher plant

carnivorous pitcher plant

cute sculpture

cute sculpture

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

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all our gorgeous winter pictures of Toledo are missing at the moment - you will just have to go there for yourself!

all our gorgeous winter pictures of Toledo are missing at the moment – you will just have to go there for yourself!

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!

The Empty Nest

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.

The office/sewing room/guest room. It is small, but functional, and kitten-free!

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.

The dining room, with blue tape still in place. It looks a little too bright, to me, in this room.

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:

Before

and after

 

It is made from a 4″ piece of mdf, a piece of 1/2 round, and some crown moudling.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

The fireplace as it looks now. So many options and ideas!

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!

Welcome home, girl.

 

 

 

What I Want for Christmas

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! 🙂

 

A Rant About Home Buying

So last week I was feeling pretty proud and confident about the relative success of our little wedding reception for my son and new daughter-in-law. We didn’t spend a fortune, and everyone seemed to have a good time. At that moment, and for a few heady days afterward, I felt I could conquer anything. It seemed that everyone’s lives were going in the right direction, and I was going to be able to start the next phase of my life with mr husband – as empty-nesters!

That was a nice feeling. It didn’t last long. It lasted until I offered to help the newlyweds find a place to live. The criteria was not all that stringent; given their budget and their needs and their sensibility, they were looking for a two bedroom house, a yard or a park nearby, in a neighborhood where they weren’t risking death while going for a walk, with a half-way decent school district. The house didn’t need to be pretty (we’re rather handy with paint, etc.,) but it did need to be sturdy, liveable, and free of nuisance residents, such as rats, mice, or squatters.

That doesn’t seem like a difficult order. Back in 1988, mr husband and I were confronted with a similar situation. Our budget was WAY below what any realtor said was possible, but we managed to find a 1920s bungalow that was sturdy, dirty and cheap. I didn’t think, in this depressed economy, it would be hard to do here and now.

Boy was I wrong. Having bought 3 houses in my adult life, I thought I understood how things worked. You found a house, made an offer, counter-offered back and forth a little with concessions, repairs, etc., applied for a loan and moved in a few weeks (or months, in the case of VA financing), and that was that.

The world has changed, and anyone who has bought a house in the past 3 years knows this. How HAS anyone managed to buy a house, anyway? These foreclosed wrecks sit unnoticed for months or even a year, and the minute you put in an offer, suddenly there are 6 other people wanting the place and you are in a bidding war. I thought this was a sale, not an auction! How does this happen? Are these other “bidders” even real people, or just a ruse to get you to up your offer?

As I ranted away to mr husband and anyone else who would listen last night, I likened the situation to shopping at a grocery store. You go in, see the milk, decide $1.99 is a good price, take it to the register, hand the clerk a $1.99, and she turns to the guy in line behind you, who says he will give her $2.15 for the milk. Then three guys behind him all offer differing amounts, and you CAN’T buy the milk until the clerk decides who is offering her the best deal.

I know that is an absurd example, but isn’t this the same thing? These houses are not offered at auction. They have an asking price, and I offered that, plus a little more, no concession, and it will be a cash sale. I understand, now, that this is how it works, but it really is absurd, aggravating, and a little unfair. I still don’t really believe there are that many people lining up to buy that tiny little house that no one wanted last year when it was listed for $10k less!

And then there are the investors, who don’t even live in this country, who are out-bidding everyone and buying up everything in sight. If someone can explain to me how that is allowed, or even legal, I’ll give you a bag of donuts!

People need places to live, and not everyone makes enough money to buy an expensive home, or qualify for a $200,000 mortgage. Not everyone even wants that – they just want a nice, clean, safe place to live that is THEIRS. They just want to buy the milk.

How to Host a Wedding Reception in 5 Days Without Going Broke – and Live to Tell About It

In the business world, there is a saying: you can get it fast, cheap or good. Pick two.

I think that applies to other things in life, such as planning a big event, as well. For the most part, you can’t do fast and cheap and have it be good. Good and Cheap won’t be fast….you get the idea.

So I was recently confronted with a situation where I desperately wanted all THREE, which required a re-defining of what I consider “good,” and a little flexibility on the concept of “cheap.”

Here is the story as it unfolded to me: last Thursday, my wonderful son informed me that he and his sweetheart of several years (whom we really like!) have decided they are getting married…..on Tuesday! Yes, five days later. It seems they got the marriage license, made an appointment with the JOP, and then decided that they should tell the parents rather than just elope as originally planned.

People, I was not shocked. I suspected an event such as this was in the works; you could tell by looking at them. And I wasn’t surprised at the shortness of lead time – mr husband and I did almost exactly the same thing 26 years ago – decided on a Monday that we were going to marry on Wednesday. Granted, mr husband was active duty military at the time, and due to report to his duty station on Friday, and I had decided I was going with him, married or not. He picked married. Ah, young love!

Waiting for the judge

Needless to say, I was happy for them, worried for them, wondering where they would live (not here!) and whether they could live on what they make. I am sure my parents suffered similar worries, and I was only 19 and moving 800 miles away! They are in their mid-twenties and will likely stay in the same county.

We decided to give them a reception at our house. I planned a wedding in three days, so certainly I can plan a reception in 5, right? I read a lot on line about small receptions, quickie weddings, etc., and found a little that was helpful, but not much I didn’t already know. I didn’t want a paper-plate, cold sandwich buffet. This is my only child; if this event doesn’t warrant the good crystal, I don’t know what does!

They didn’t want a big wedding, or an elaborate party. They didn’t want us to spend a ton of money that could, frankly, be the down-payment on a house. My cousin’s daughter just married last month, and they spent about $50k on the wedding. Sigh. Even if I had it, I wouldn’t do it. No offense to those of you who do want a big wedding, it just isn’t our thing. Eloping is much more romantic (it’s a habit in our family), and if not that, then a small party is really most appropriate. You are just as married if you spend $100 than if you spend thousands. Just my opinion.

Our dining room served as the buffet area. Drinks, including a monster pot of coffee, were on the kitchen table.

The preceding part of this post was written prior to the wedding. Now, with five days of reflection after the event, here is what I learned about a small home-based reception for about 2 dozen people:

 

1. pray for good weather: Claymire is small (you know that already) so it was great to have the patio area for people to congregate.
2. take care of every little detail, then forget about it. I had an assortment of glasses for toasting champagne, drinking wine or beer or punch. Nothing matched, but it was all vintage crystal and looked beautiful and unique. I ran out of coffee cups, but no one cared – by that time, they felt comfortable enough to rummage around the kitchen for the old mis-matched mugs I had stashed in the back.
3. A party is about the people; feed them, give them a place to sit, and let them mingle. It is surprising who will discover common interests with one another.
4. Have a lieutenant so you can enjoy the party. I did most of the preparation myself, including cleaning the house; during the party, my mother completely took over so I could enjoy the guests. Platters were magically refilled as needed, ice was stocked, and things were washed up and put away before I really noticed what was happening. Thanks Mom!
5. Take a ton of pictures. Everyone had a camera, and there were still some things we missed. Thanks to friends and family, we got at least one shot of the most important things, like the cake cutting and the toast.
6. Invite the neighbors. It’s a celebration, so the more, the merrier
7. Don’t invite the pets. We had an elaborate plan for stashing away all our animals safely and comfortably for the event, which took some doing, considering our 4 orphan kittens are still with us.
8. Silk flowers look beautiful arranged in vases, and no one really thinks less of you for not using real ones. The vases were ones I had, mostly from yard sales and Salvation Army thrifting; I used all white so there was a cohesive look. My friend found coupons for Michael’s and I saved 40% on the flowers.
9. Don’t buy until you borrow: friends had tablecloths, chafing dish, ice buckets, platters, pitchers, flowers and vases. It freed up more money for food and a cake.

Yellow cake with buttercream – a classic, and very delicious!

10. You can order a custom wedding cake on short notice; our local bakery Julian Brothers, make a beautiful two-tiered wedding cake that I ordered on Saturday and picked up Tuesday. As long as it isn’t too elaborate, this reception center-piece is totally doable and not really that expensive.
11. frozen hors d’ouvres are worth it. I bought ours at Trader Joe’s – they don’t have a lot of “junk” and preservatives, they all cooked in the oven at the same temperature, and they looked very pretty on a platter. I chose vegetable bird’s nests, samosas, mini-potato skins, etc. I included a lot of vegetarian options – my daughter in law doesn’t eat meat – and also chocolate-free dessert options for those who can’t have chocolate. Also, sandwiches and pizza – guests like familiar foods, and don’t always want to wonder “what is that?” “is that something I can eat?”
12. I also suggest picking up a bottle of sparkling cider if your other drinks are alcoholic – teetotallers and designated drivers will appreciate being able to toast without feeling awkward.

Everyone got casual. Left to right – Maid of Honor, the Bride, The Groom, and the Best Man

The best parties are those where everyone is just having a good time and not staring at the clock. There were no little pockets of people who were left out – everyone mingled. Neighbors talked with family, young people talked with the grandparents, and a few people sneaked in to play with the kittens.
This didn’t cost a fortune, either. Even including the wine and the wedding cake, the whole thing was well under $500. I think we successfully walked a fine line between “good” “fast” and “cheap.” My cousin’s daughter will have much better pictures of her wedding, that is true. I am not sure what my son and daughter-in-law thought of the party or the decorations, they were having too much fun to really notice. And that, I am sure, is what will be memorable.