Tuesday, January 31, 2012

It Is Done

Last night I was washed out, fatigued, drained. I think I looked a bit like an old wet wash rag, crumpled up in the bottom of the sink. That's what it felt like.

This last trip to the home of my extended family took it all out of me! I am not an overtly social person at the best of times, though I am trying to come out of my shell a bit. I made the realization over the summer, that I was secluding myself up here on the hill, so I started forcing myself to make a few phone calls to my friends. I always enjoyed the talks, once I took that step...it was just a matter of getting my nerve up to place the call.

Sunday afternoon I found myself, once again, in the midst of 18 cousins, probably half that many spouses of cousins and twice that many children of cousins, not to mention my 12 Aunts and Uncles, my brothers, sister-in-law, nephews and parents. It was enough "social" to be completely overwhelming. I managed to pull out of myself enough pleasant banter to seem part of the family, I think.

Now add to this mix the tables and tables laden with my Grandparents things: towels, kitchen utensils, books, clothes, photos, pictures from the walls, nick-knacks. You name it, it was probably there. I found that in itself almost overwhelming, and incredibly sad. These things that were part of their life were nothing special, just a container of coffee filters that weren't needed any more. Yet here they were, like a child telling the most intimate of family secrets.

All these things brought back so many memories, from the rose lamp that was in my Grandparents' living room for as long as I can remember, and the concrete alligator that was in their flower bed, to the apron that my Grandpa wore to carve. We family brought these things into our own homes to mix them into our own lives.

I brought home the rose lamp, and also a small pitcher and basin with blue chickens on it which reminds me of my Grandma's recitation about "The Blue Hen Chicken", that always left her laughing so hard that she had tears in her eyes. I brought home a painting of my Grandpa's airplane, and memories of visiting him in Florida with several of my college friends during Spring Break, when he took us all for a flight in his Cessna, and let me man "the stick" for a bit. The girls found a doll with an enormous crocheted dress, which is now covering an extra roll of toilet paper in their bathroom. JP brought some books, and my Grandma's wheelchair...just in case.

I have all these things of theirs, which is incredibly special. Most of all, deep inside, I feel the magnitude of my Grandpa's legacy to our family, to me, to my girls. It weighs me down, not knowing if I am strong enough to pass it on. For now, I just carry it, wrap up in it, praying to have a similar legacy of life well lived to pass on to my own grandchildren one day.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

To the Tooth Fairy...

Dear Tooth Fairy,

Miss L lost one of her front teeth this morning, that she has been too busy to wiggle. She was a little bit scared, but she was very brave. Now she has a lovely tooth to give you. Please peek under her pillow tonight and take it with you!


L's Mommy

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Papa Mzee

When I was a teenager, my Grandpa taught me that "Papa Mzee" was Swahili for "Grandpa". I've Googled it this evening, to get the spelling right, but I am not finding it. Maybe it's a dialect of some sort? In any case, it was a private joke between us that I would call him "Papa Z" until I was in college.

Grandpa slipped away from this world tonight, at the age of 95. We had been expecting this for a couple of weeks, but the finality of reality is rough. My aunt sent a current picture of him several days ago, which was painful to see: my once strong grandpa looked almost skeletal.

When I was in Junior High, I had to write a paper about "My Hero". I chose to write about my Grandpa. He rose above his meager beginnings through years and years of hard work. He has been all over the world. He can fly a plane, and sail a boat. After his retirement, he learned to carve. He has made many, many gorgeous bird sculptures, realistic down to the individual carved feathers. We own 3 of them. This is a picture of Grandpa presenting one of his blue bird carvings to J.

Grandpa was such a gentle man. I used to watch his hands. They were large, calloused and tanned. He would hold Grandma's hand tenderly, or pat her knee. He would rub them slowly together as he talked.

His voice was deep and soft. Tonight I remember his whistle, and his call: "Hey all you lucky people, I'm home!"

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Country Hicks

My new washer and dryer arrived today. I thought I would have to wait until JP got home to get them stacked and installed, but to my surprise, the Sears Dudes did it for me! I've already run a load through the washer, and currently the dryer is on its maiden run.

The Sears Dudes also brought a new elliptical machine. Yep, we did just get a new one last week. The Sears Dudes last week, who were supposed to provide the "Gold Service" (which includes delivery and installation), provided something more like the "Wadded up Scrap of Tin Foil Service". The machine was put together wrong and incompletely. It was terribly loud too, so I'm guessing that all of the extra screws and bolts that they didn't use were just dumped back there in that closed compartment. Perhaps they assumed that I was a just a country hick and wouldn't know any better? That is the only conclusion that I can come to regarding their shoddy workmanship.

I was a bit nervous that the same guys would come back this week, and I would almost swear that at least one of them was the same guy. I mean, how many guys with shoulder length braids work at Sears? He asked, while they were looking over the defective elliptical machine, "How long were those last guys here anyway, like 10 minutes?" Maybe there are several guys with shoulder length braids at Sears, I dunno. I was friendly, and not accusing and it appears that they now realize that I am not a country hick that doesn't know any better...at least not completely.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Ice and Other Bothers for my (mumble-mumble) Birthday

It is almost comedic how crazy this week has been. (I can say that now that I am through it.) I put in more than twice as many hours at work this week than normally, which means that my Mom put in more than twice as many hours teaching and caring for my kids. Since I view my main job right now as teacher and nurturer to my girls, and my vocation as "a little something extra", the added time was a bit stressful.

Wednesday, on my day off, the girls and I spent 3 hours in the van on the way to and from Pittsburgh to take J's violin to be repaired. We were given an estimate of $250. I guess that withholding J's allowance for a month won't quite cover that expense! Ah well...it's a good thing she didn't drop a piano, as the damages could have been much worse!

Last night, J was invited to her friend's birthday sleepover party. The plan was for her friend's little sister to come home with us and spend the night with L (the 2 of them are BFFs.) Little E began having second thoughts about sleeping over with out her big sis, so L ended up borrowing PJ's and a sleeping bag and sleeping over there.

JP and I had the unexpected pleasure of playing a good, Mennonite game of ROOK with our friends. We returned home, childless, through the beginnings of freezing rain. This morning, the house was quiet, and the driveway was as slick as snot. (That's pretty slick, right? I've always wanted to use that expression!) JP managed to get the chains on all four truck tires by noon, and get a practice run down and back up the driveway safely. Only then did he venture to town to bring our reluctant children back home.

The ice is beautiful while it is troublesome. The chickens hopped out of the coop when I brought their food, and slid right down the icy sides of the garden bed.

Right after breakfast this morning, I stripped the girls' beds and attempted to start a load of wash. The washer, however, after 12 years of faithful service, had quietly passed away between loads of wash. Guess what I'm getting for my birthday this year?

We were anticipating a date this evening with several of our good friends, but John became feverish, and developed some sort of GI illness. He encouraged me to go without him, and it was fun, although I wish he could have been there.

Tomorrow, my Mom has invited us over for my birthday dinner. I'm looking forward to it too, and the comfort food I remember from my childhood that Mom has promised. I think I may make it through the entire weekend without having to cook. That in itself is a WONDERFUL birthday gift!

Overshadowing this whole, crazy week, is the fact that my Grandpa is wasting away in his bed at the Nursing Home. I am very sad, even though this is not unexpected. He is the undisputed patriarch of my family, and (until I met JP) the most gentle man I knew. I wonder, at the passing of each hour, if it will be his last?

Sleep well, my friends. Tomorrow I turn (undecipherable gibberish here) years old. I'm glad to start a new year and a new week on the same lazy Sunday.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

The Tale of the Dovekie

Around Thanksgiving of 1950, when my Dad was just 8 years old, there was a terrible winter storm in Chester County, Pennsylvania, with snow and gusting winds. The following day, a neighbor arrived at my Dad's home, carrying a bird he found dead by the road. My Grandpa was known for his taxidermy skills at that time, and the neighbor thought that he might enjoy mounting this interesting bird.

The small bird was like no other bird that Grandpa had ever seen in Central PA. After careful research in the Encyclopedia, the family identified the bird as a Dovekie, also known as a Little Auk (check this link after the Wikipedia Blackout), which normally lives in the Arctic, specifically Iceland and Greenland. Grandpa surmised that it was blown South in the storm. Through his research, he learned that the bird can not take flight unless it is on water, so once it landed on solid ground, it was unable to fly back North.

In fact, a similar story is told by Laura Ingalls Wilder, in her book "The Long Winter" (I found it in Chapter 5, "After the Storm".) Pa determines in much the same way, that the bird was blown in by the storm.

My Dad remembers the stuffed Dovekie being in his home for all they years he was living there. When my grandparents moved to the retirement community more than 15 years ago, they found new homes for many of their treasures. The Dovekie went to a friend who had expressed interest in having it.

Several years ago, Grandpa asked my Dad to find the Dovekie. He had given up taxidermy many years prior, but had taken up the art of carving birds. He was interested in carving the Dovekie. Dad made many phone calls, and finally located the bird at a museum in Delaware. He and Grandpa visited there, and saw the Dovekie. The curator at the museum also showed them a magazine article from 1950, about Grandpa having found this unusual bird. Apparently he had to apply for special permission to preserve it, as it is not a game bird.

In 2007, Grandpa made a carving of the Dovekie, who is sitting on a rock. The carving now sits in our home, and belongs to L. Dad gifted it to her last week, as part of the settling of Grandpa's estate.

It is very meaningful to me to have this little bird sitting on my shelf. I remember hearing stories of the Dovekie while growing up, but never saw a picture of the little bird until my Dad moved next door to us and displayed the carving. Now I too can treasure this masterpiece, made by my Grandpa, whose hands and heart are now too weak and slow for carving the delicate feathers on his birds.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

The Whole Kit & Kaboodle

It has been an action packed 24 hours!

Last night, J was doing pirouettes with her violin and dropped it on the wood floor. This is what it looks like now.

We found a place in Pittsburgh to have it repaired, but I work 4 days next week, and Sears is making a delivery on my only day "off", so I may not be able to get it there until next weekend. I can't imagine it will be cheap.

I baked and decorated a cake last night, while the rest of the family was watching "Holes", which was a pretty fun movie. This was for a belated Birthday party for these 2 little girls, whose Birthdays are buried in the midst of Christmas Vacation.

Since it was a joint party, I had help, which was wonderful! I believe all these younguns had a good time.

We had the older sisters to help keep everything under control downstairs in the playroom.

This afternoon, we journeyed to Sears to try out some elliptical exercise machines. We agreed on one, and were able to work out a pretty good deal. Sears is coming to install it on Wednesday. This is our belated 20th Anniversary gift to each other...to try to ensure at least 60 more years!

Now it's time to crash, eat popcorn, and watch Netflix. Here's hoping for less eventful next 24 hours.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Garage Reveal

My Dad has been working hard on the garage this Winter. The first thing he did was to build a wall between the two-car door and the single-car door. The last bay is evolving into his wood shop. Now he is working on finishing all the walls on both sides.

As a result of this whole renovation project, JP and I have had to rearrange things in the garage several times. Initially our stuff was spread over the entire garage, and included things like the ATV, all our bicycles, the push mower, and the rototiller, as well as "normal" garage things such as motor oil and tools.

So, we've gone from storing EVERYTHING in the garage during house construction...

...to FINALLY fitting our vehicles in...

...to this:

We still plan to do some rearranging. Once the wood shop is up and running, Dad plans to build floor to ceiling cabinets for storage. John's workbench will be revised to fit into the nook at the far right of the picture.

The corner closet on the left side hides the central vacuum and our recycling.

The girls and I put 2 coats of paint on the ceilings and walls on the left side, over Christmas Break. I still need to get up on a ladder and paint around the hoist (the unpainted part in the first photo), but I'm not in any hurry!

Doesn't it look great?

Saturday, January 7, 2012

It's Gonna be a Bright, Bright Sunshiney Day

I actually got off work on time Friday, and came home to find the snow melted, the sun shining, and the temperatures soaring into the high 50's...in January! The girls were with my Mom at a school function, so I went for a walk with the dog, fixed the deer fence around the orchard, and cleaned out the chicken coop.

I have been wondering if the bees were doing alright, crowded into their silent hive. Friday, I saw a few tentative ones buzzing around out in the sunshine, and I breathed a sigh of relief.

The weather continued to be sunny and mild throughout the weekend, and the whole family took full advantage. I hung 3 loads of laundry out on the line to dry, and cut down all the debris in my flower beds.

The girls, the dog and the cats have been playing outside.

Even the bird-brained hens, have been meandering around in the garden, pecking at the greenery and half-heartedly scratching in the beds.

JP and I have been trying to rig a way to hang our bird feeders so they are high (out of the way) and far enough away from the lawn that we play on that bird poo and sunflower seed shells are not a hygienic issue. We failed last weekend, and after attempts yesterday AND today, we failed again this weekend. Apparently we are attempting to break some laws of physics dealing with force and pulleys.

My Dad came home last night after spending half the week in Lancaster County. He was working, along with some of his brothers and sisters, to empty out my Grandfather's apartment in the retirement community where he lives. He has moved to an area of skilled nursing care, but will hopefully move into the Nursing Home when he is able and there is an opening. Dad brought back the last of my Grandmother's irises, which he dug out of the beautiful beds in front of the apartment. My Mom and I divided them up, and I planted 16 of them into my newly cleared beds.

My daffodils are coming up. I'm hoping the weather turns wintery enough to scare them back into hiding for a couple more months.

Wouldn't it be lovely to have a little Spring Break like this again in February? Just a few days in the middle of each winter month would make winter so much more tolerable!

Wednesday, January 4, 2012


It has been COLD for the past couple of days! I worry about the chickens at times like this, that I'll open up their coop in the morning and find them frozen to the perch. JP checked the outdoor thermometer before hopping into bed last night, and announced that it was 11 degrees out. I laid awake worrying about the hens for over an hour.

Notice that I did NOT get out of my warm bed, and bundle up to go outside in the dark and take them a hot water bottle and a steaming cup of tea.

Yesterday, when the temperature never rose above the low twenties, I had to change their water three times. The last time I tried to give them water, I discovered that something was frozen in the rain-water cistern where I typically get water for them. So, I had to trudge back up the hill to carry it down from the house for them!

This morning, there were tiny rodent-like tracks around the outside of the coop where the chickens have scratched some of their feed out. I tried pointing these out to the dog, who seemed more interested in the piles of frozen deer poo just outside the garden fence. Maybe the kitties will pay attention?

By noon today, it was a balmy 29 degrees out, and the cistern had somehow thawed out, but I didn't need to change the chicken's water after all.

The life of a semi-competent chicken farmer is one never ending party!