Autumn Reprise

A repeat of a gorgeous fall day, and another first day of school…

Well, lookit you, November. Didn’t know you had it in ya. Very nicely done.

That slant of afternoon light is there, the bright blue of the sky and a blanket of gold on the lawn from leaves brought down by the weight of snow, now melted. My phone’s camera just can’t do it justice.

I got the fire started, and the S’mores made. Lit the Jack-o-Lanters for a few extra nights, until they took their place in the new compost heap that used to be the chicken run.

Mine is the only lawn on the block still covered with leaves, but I don’t care. The lawn guy suddenly seems to expect me to pay him in advance, before any work is done for the month.  Electric mowers are getting cheaper, and I had fun raking up a few bags of leaves to start the chicken-run compost. So maybe I’ll just handle it myself next year.

Angelic Daughter and I are gearing up for big changes; my going back to work full-time will mean she has to step up, step out and deal with new transportation, new people and new activities. I’ve been amazed and grateful and what a positive attitude she’s shown about it.

Anytime we have to change something that affects how she lives, what she does, where she goes and with whom she spends her time, it rattles me to the core. But I’ve got to suck it up and trust her. And trust God, who seems to keep throwing just what we need in our path just when we need it.

It’s concert week, and the choir I sing with is doing some incredibly beautiful, comforting music.  When the sound melds into one from out of the many and becomes a thing in itself, a perfect merger of text and music that swells or hushes with the promise of “lux aeterna” or the plea of “dona eis requiem,” I still get goosebumps.

I thought I’d be scrambling, but within the past two weeks everything came together to make sure Angelic Daughter has a companion while I’m at the rehearsals and performances we didn’t have covered yet, and even that she will be able to attend the concert. I can function when I know she is safe and well cared for.

Which is why this going back to work thing, as necessary and welcome as it is, still feels daunting. This has to work this time – I just can’t be interrupted with phone calls or texts constantly (while I simultaneously worry about why I’m not being interrupted with phone calls or texts constantly).

If you’re a parent you’ll never forget the first day of school, that autumn when you had to turn around and go, leaving your child in kindergarten. Maybe yours took it in stride (as did Angelic Daughter) but it didn’t stop the tears from forming, even if you were trying to hide them.

Fast forward through twenty years, and imagine having that experience over and over again, with each change of teacher, aide, school building or enrichment program. Will she be safe? Will she be happy? Will they understand her? Will she get any benefit out of this?

And now it’s happening again.

I’m counting on deep breathing, the kindness of people in our (relatively) small community, and help that keeps showing up unexpectedly, right on time.

So I’ll pack lunches the night before, (who am I kidding, I’ll do it in a mad rush in the morning) like I used to do. I’ll make laminated schedules and 3″ x 5″ card reminders and tape them to doors and put them in purses; I’ll add a few additional emergency contacts to her phone while also trying to teach her not to bother them unless it is a real emergency.

Tomorrow we find out if we’re set with the new program she tried out today, to fill her most of her day when I’m at work. I can’t imagine they won’t take her. She liked it and seemed really happy. I hope they don’t pull that rug, and leave us scrambling again.

Breathe.

I don’t want the lawn guys to come, yet. I want to savor this day, with the golden blanket of leaves, that remind me that beauty can come even when you thought the chance had passed.

I’m looking out the window through that gorgeous slant of sunlight, at the new chicken run compost heap with the Jack-o-Lanterns half buried in leaves, thinking about phases of life and how things that pass can transform into things that nourish the future.

Hoping I’ll catch the lawn guys when they do come, to ask them to empty the leaves and grass clippings into the chicken run compost, I remain,

Your happy, hopeful and still anxious as usual,

Ridiculouswoman

The October Rules: Midwest and Northeast US Edition

I’ve made it simple for you to enjoy October PROPERLY.

It’s been a while since I’ve issued some Rules. It was quite a habit when I first started this blog – The Middle Aged Woman Rules, The Thanksgiving Rules and even the Rules of Attraction. I have a very strong attachment to October, and I’ve noticed (ok, and even committed) some violations of rules I should have made known by now. So:

  1. Pumpkins, gourds, hay bales and cornstalks must be purchased at a FARM, with fields and tractors and at least one barn. Exceptions permitting grocery store purchases are only for those who have aged out of driving three hours each way to reach the constantly receding farmland that keeps getting swallowed up by sprawl, which is now getting drowned in climate change torrential rains that won’t quit, but they’ll quit long enough for Fall Excursion (upcoming this week) so back to the rule: Pumpkins, FARM.
  2. Lights are for Christmas. Halloween is about welcoming the DARK. Get rid of those cutesy strings of lit-up dancing skeletons or jack-o-lanterns, or those orange Christmas lights some marketer figured out how to sell you, which brings me to rule
  3. Concerning marketing, do not patronize any store that already has Christmas stuff packnig the aisles . If a store can’t muster a few turkeys and cornucopias before going all in on St. Nick, nuts to ’em. Christmas stuff goes up the DAY AFTER THANKSGIVING.
  4. Jack-o-lanterns are made out of REAL PUMPKINS that were purchased at a FARM (see rule 1). You cut out a cap for the top and scoop and scopo and carve. Bonus points for separating the seeds from the glop and roasting them.
  5. If you are an adult, and you have occasion to wear a costume (e.g., you actually got invited to a Halloween party hosted by other adults) your costume will be either scary or funny. NOT SEXY. Why does everything for adults turn into porn? Which leads me to ask, why are there no “sexy” Halloween costumes marketed to men, hmmmmmm?? Find me one. Can’t do it, canya? If you go to a costume store online and click “sexy,” does anything for men come up – oh wait I didn’t mean it that way — dammit, porn!
  6. You are permitted to eat leftover candy only after the last doorbell has tolled, but only if you were decent enough to buy the good stuff, meaning your Halloween bowl is filled with Reese’s cups, Snickers (I’m on the “fun sized acceptable” team, because that way you can eat more of them on the excuse that they’re small), Baby Ruth’s for those with eclectic tastes, and Hershey minis in all varieties. Don’t try to compete with the pro athlete or CEO down the block who passes out full-sized. They’re just showing off. But, whatever hasn’t been consumed in a guilt-ridden binge before midnight October 31 must be discarded. Vade retro.
  7. Leaves should be peeped at, then raked, not blown (I throw the flag on myself – lawn guy – but after he’s done for the season, these rules apply) or run over with a mower with mulching blades and left to nourish your yard for next year. Demonstrate virtue by using an electric mower, or better, an old-fashioned human-powered mower, which won’t mulch but will win the neighborhood nobility competition (environmental responsibility!)
  8. At least one peck of apples must be picked at an orchard. One or more HOMEMADE PIES (crust too, from scratch, no cheating) must result. If you have to buy a taffy apple, or one of those dolled-up apples coated in two inches of chocolate, at least do it at the ORCHARD’S store, not some cutesy in-town candy store. Eat the pie for dessert after the butternut squash soup you made from squash purchased at a FARM.
  9. Smore’s are to be made outdoors. Relive your scouting days.
  10. October air is “crisp,” not cold, even if you are freezing your fingers off. Suck it up. There may be a vortex or a Siberian jet stream coming your way in a few months.

There. Enjoy the harvest season, which lasts until THE DAY AFTER THANKSGIVING.

Packing for fall excursion, I remain,

Your pedantic, old-fashioned, fussbudgeting, October-loving

Ridiculouswoman

Resilience, or, Time to Turn Off the Water

I realized there was one faucet I hadn’t turned off…

“Do not go gentle into that good night,…
Rage, rage against the dying of the light…”

 – Dylan Thomas

It was 20 degrees (Farenheit) this morning. Some of the first snow still has not melted.

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A few weeks ago I remembered to shut off the water to the outside faucets, and to unscrew the hoses – which I left (not neatly coiled) on the ground. The hoses might freeze but HA! the pipes won’t.

I’m the last house on the block with a lawn completely blanketed in golden leaves, because my day for the lawn guys was Friday, and Friday was the day it snowed. They’ll come this week for the last round of lawn maintenance (“Fall clean-up”) this year, and they’ll do the gutters too.

Mike used to do the gutters, and insisted on going up on top of the house even when he could barely stand up for more than 5 minutes. It’s a guy thing, I guess. Like shoveling snow. He did that too, until he nearly fainted again.

I must have been thinking about that when I was puttering around in my flannel nightgown  on this cold, (but sunny and lovely, in that low-slanty-light, late autumn way) morning, when I wandered into the downstairs bathroom, off the kitchen, to ponder the state of the peeling wallpaper.

And was stopped in my tracks by that cutesy turkey towel, and the little scarecrow-in-a-jar Mike and I bought on some long-ago fall excursion, staring at me. I got them out right after Halloween, in accordance with the Thanksgiving Rules (no Christmas decorations, or Christmas music, until the day AFTER Thanksgiving. Over the River and Through the Woods, Now Thank We All Our God, We Gather Together: GOT IT?)

Oh dear. It appears there’s a faucet I haven’t quite managed to turn off.

Tears.

Not sweet, sentimental, “aww, remember? Isn’t that cute?” tears – these were real tears, coming from sudden, unexpected burst of despair.

Oh-oh.

I looked at myself in the mirror and thought, “Anne, maybe it is finally time to see someone (“see someone” being that dodgy euphemism for “get a therapist.”)”

I’m one of those people who thinks I should be able to snap out of it on my own. Figure out what’s setting me off and fix it, right? Have some backbone, clean something, paint something, get crackin’ cutting those logs in half –  you’ll need them for the fireplace soon. Feeling sick? Blue? Get your ass outdoors and go for a brisk walk.

Or, at least, head over to the fitness center and work it out.

Which I did, and I feel better. Much better.

I also figured out what hit me this morning, and why seeing that towel, and the gorgeous gold leaf-blanket all over the lawn, turned the tear-faucet on. It’s the same thing that happens every year when autumn slips away.

Not that I don’t love what’s coming next, ho, ho, hark the herald and all that, but I always feel cheated – I want more of these crisp, blue sky, golden fall days.

The best seasons are always the shortest.

That must have gotten wrapped up in my subconscious with losing Mike too soon.

He wanted to make it to October, so he could die under a bright blue October sky, but it didn’t work out that way. He died on a hot August night, almost exactly at the halfway point between the 18 and 24 months of time the oncologist had estimated he would have.

His birthday is in October, and now both he and October are gone, and the last blaze of autumn is frozen in the yard, the trees are bare and the gutters need cleaning, to keep the ice dams of winter at bay.

I pulled myself together before I came out of that bathroom, so my daughter wouldn’t see I’d been crying again, and noticed that my favorite grass in the front garden, IMG_20181113_130206.jpgwhich had been completely flattened by the wet snow, had bounced back.

It bloomed very late, the last week of October, with pretty pinkish tufts of fluff at the top.

Then, almost as quickly as it had bloomed, it dried up, but still stood there, adding structure and height where other flowering plants and shrubs had drooped or died back completely.

And there it was this morning, revived, out from under that hummock of wet, heavy snow, standing tall again. All by itself.

The lawn guys whacked it off very early last spring, when I wanted to enjoy it’s structure for longer, but it came all the way back.

Well, dammit, I thought – if the grass can do it, so can I.

I’ll enjoy that tuft of grass until it gets flattened by snow again, and then I’ll enjoy it in the spring until it gets cut back again, and I’ll delight in it when it comes back and blooms late again. World without end, amen.

That beautiful slanty-light sunshine is supposed to last through Friday, so maybe there will be a few more brisk walks before the cold and snow set in for real.

Until then, I remain,

Your spine-stiffened, spigot-stopping, about-to-embark-on-another-paint-job,

Ridiculouswoman

 

 

There’s No Place Like Home

These hometown colors still thrill me every year…

“If I ever go looking for my heart’s desire again, I won’t look any further than my own back yard…”

-L. Frank Baum, via Dorothy Gale

Fall excursion four, Trail Ride No, 3, was to have been tomorrow, based on the weather forecast reported last week.

Now, the updated forecast is for thundershowers.

Cancelled.

Epic disappointment. Have you ever spent a day with an autistic person who has suffered a disappointing change of plans? This is a profound kind of disappointment – as if it is threatening, in some way – what’ll we do now?

Get out the whiteboard. Write out the feelings. Work it through.

And she did:  my amazing, resilient daughter bounced back, changed her attitude and decided to get over it. Bravo.

Me? Not so much.

The expectation of Thanksgiving and the Christmas season is not enough to soothe my sense of loss when October ends. This year has been a skimpy one in the way of bright blue October skies. Today, it seems, is the last day this year with a shot at it – but there’s more “cloudy” than “partly” today, too.

For a few hours this morning, though, it was there.

I have lived in this town pretty much my entire life, and walked, ridden bikes and driven down these same streets for decades, yet each fall, each October, specifically, it still thrills me – sets my heart aglow, like the trees themselves, that seem to have the ability to exude light from within.

This morning was that day – when I realize that it isn’t really necessary to take a long drive to find that October joy; it is right here.

The photo at the top was taken in my own back yard. So was that gold one. IMG_20181029_134750.jpgThose below were taken within within a 2-3 mile radius of my home.

There’s a “toasted maple,” my favorite fall display, where the tree gets all purply on top but stays golden underneath.IMG_20181029_125553.jpg

There is the incredibly rosy glow of the maples uptown (that’s what we call our tiny but thriving “business district,” which until about 5 years ago had no restaurants (if you don’t count the breakfast joint that closed fifty years ago) but now has three.

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There are the lanes lined with color leading to and from the bluff with views of the lake.

Not just any lake. Lake Michigan. A great lake, which only needs to be referred to as “the lake” for anyone living within 100 miles of it.

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And a view of the park, where the huge old cottonwood finally had to come down, but was replaced with an expanded playground with that newfangled, squishy-bouncy stuff instead of the pebbles, or concrete, or asphalt, or, if we were lucky, the wood chips, of my youth. I spent more time on those tennis courts.

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But here is autumn glory, just a walk, a bike ride or a short drive away.

I finally got my fix – my dose of October’s loveliness, ephemeral.

I’ll take it, and call it enough.

Trying, often failing but still trying, to live in the moment and focus on love and laughter, I remain,

Your loyal, sentimental, nostalgic, one-day-at-a-time,

Ridiculouswoman

Fall Excursion: Trail Ride Two

The symbols weren’t coincidences. Mike was with us.

My car’s rear view mirror displays the compass direction, so I exited the perpetually-under-construction toll road and headed out to two-lane county roads. We zig-zagged our way north and west, past red barns with stone silos, cows, horses, pumpkins and sheep, and fields plowed under, sleeping until spring.  There were hay rolls, waiting to feed the livestock through the winter. Not enough color in the foliage yet, but there will be at least one more fall excursion for that.

We arrived at our destination town with a little over an hour to spare before we were due at the stables, and we needed lunch. Lunch has not been a success on fall excursions past.

The available options were:

  1. the biker bar on the corner, or
  2. the biker bar next door to the biker bar on the corner.

Hmm.

We chose the biker bar on the corner on the assumption that a full parking lot (full of cars, oddly, not motorcycles – a bit of a relief) – indicated decent food.

About half the barstools were occupied, obviously by locals, all men, each one of whom turned to look at the two women walking in.

The lady bartender, fully embellished with tattoos from wrists to elbows, presumably extending to shoulders under the sleeves, invited us to find a table.

“That doesn’t look cheap,” remarked one of the locals, referring to the tattoos. I think he intended that as a compliment. Lady bartender took it in stride.

It wasn’t as crowded as the number of cars predicted. And the food was pretty good, a welcome change for a fall excursion. And the Harley-Davidson-Green-Bay-Packer logoed patrons were non-threatening. Just people having lunch. Or a beer. Or a beer with their lunch.

On to the stables, at a cute little pretend Western town in the middle of a state forest. Utterly deserted, and a little forlorn.  But it was a Tuesday afternoon in October, not a summer Saturday. We found the guide prepping the horses and took a look around while she got them ready.

There was a mock sheriff’s office, a barber shop, and a closed-but-clearly-capable-of hosting-a-function saloon.

There was a little chapel on a hill, named after the owner’s mother and guarding a memorial to his son. The name on the chapel is my daughter’s middle name.

The hill reminded me that Mike always climbed to the top of whatever was tallest where ever we stopped on any fall excursion. He did it on the last one.

He would have marched right up the hill to that chapel. I did it for him. It was lovely, both outside and in, and the memorial to the son who died young was touching. I choked up as I came back down, and turned away to collect myself before rejoining my daughter, waiting below.

We were introduced to the horses.

The biggest one we were introduced to, though not scheduled to ride, was named “Bear.”

My pet name for Mike.

We had a lovely ride through the forest, looped around and back.  The guide took a picture.  Time to head home, down aIMG_20181017_125345.jpg few more country roads.  Along one of them, I glanced to my left and noticed stones arranged in the shape of a huge dragonfly on the side of a little hill and above a farm pond – creative drainage, I guess.

Dragonflies, along with butterflies and hummingbirds, are a symbol of Mike to me.

On our way back to a town where I planned to get our daughter a post-trail-ride treat, we drove right by a little park that I instantly recognized as one we had stopped at during a previous fall excursion, where Mike and our daughter took a break and on the swings and drank their convenience-store lemonade.

I don’t believe these things – the name of the chapel, the horse named Bear (another horse named Bear – there was one on a trail ride last year, too, along with lots of butterflies) and passing the park where we had played before – were coincidences.

I believe Mike helped me find this place, that he was with us, and that he was enjoying himself. Maybe making up for the last time, when he didn’t.

I went to bed regretting the excessive carbs from the OK biker bar lunch, and really regretting the two bites of “fresh apple cider donut” I got at the post-trail-ride-treat place, and worrying about my weight.

I dreamt that Mike came and hugged me, outside, at a place that looked like the gravel drive of the stables we had visited that day, and said that I was beautiful just the way I am, and the way I am is the way I was made, and I should accept myself and quit worrying about it. I felt his hug physically.

Just as physically as I felt him blowing in my ear a few days ago, during a mid-afternoon nap attack. Half asleep, I called his name and asked him to stick around, stick with us. I heard his voice, plain and clear, say the word, “haunting.” Not in a scary way – just jokingly, the way he would have said it, with a grin, if he had been right there on the bed with me.

The last thing Mike said to our daughter was, “Dad’s love never ends.”

I know now that his love for me hasn’t ended, either, and never will.

May you know that you are loved, exactly as you are, exactly as you were made, and stop worrying.

Enjoying deep October-blue skies, I remain,

Your reassured, trying-to-keep-things-in-perspective and trying-not-to-let-the-coffee-shop staff-see-my-eyes-tearing-up,

Ridiculouswoman

On, Wisconsin

Beer-cheese soup. Followed by apple cider. Spiked.

I thought “beer cake” took it. The cake, I mean.

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But then came “beer cheese soup,” served with a warm pretzel.

Heretic that I am, I skipped the mustard. But still.

Pumpkins, gourds, hay bale and obligatory (too sugary, but what the hell, it’s October) apple cider obtained, rustic roads driven, stables located for Fall Excursion Three: Trail Ride version, planned for tomorrow. Weather scheduled to cooperate. I’ll keep you posted.

And oh, by the way, trusted friend two has submitted a second positive review with a few minor and constructive editorial suggestions and a vote for pursuing publication (no idea how to do that, but I intend the first step to be an effort to obtain representation by a literary agent. Which I also have no idea how to do. Advice welcome.) Activate Plan A.

And bonus, here’s something I learned from getting a good review from a trusted friend right after returning from Fall Excursion Two: fresh apple cider tastes pretty good when mixed with champagne. And mild terror. Just sayin’.

Gathering courage for the next step (which also may include hearing from brothers, who are much slower than trusted friends in reading the book), I remain,

Your nervous, jumpy, over-caffeinated and energized by the crisp fall weather,

Ridiculouswoman

Frost, Flannel, Fall Excursion

October’s bright blue weather has come at last. Time for flannel shirts and Fall Excursion(s).

Fall excursions were among the first things I wrote about on this blog, which caused it dawn on me that sometime in the past two weeks, this blog had its first anniversary.

I guess I’m supposed to mark that milestone, in some way.

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What have I accomplished in that year?

What’ s this blog got to do with it?

Well, I wrote a book, and wrote about writing the book on the blog.

I “met” some wonderful new people who kindly and generously have liked and followed this blog, and offered support and commiseration.

I rediscovered my love of writing for writing’s sake, and found solace, inspiration, an outlet, and the beginnings of a new and very different kind of life without Mike. Writing has helped me try to turn that life from a life reduced, a life lived with absence,  a piece missing, to a life deepened, enriched and more appreciated, moment by moment.

I forgot to empty the bird bath despite freeze warnings – I hope the crack in it doesn’t expand – but now I know that if it does, if that symbol of my past life with Mike comes apart, I’ll survive it, revive it, somehow, with a new way of keeping a symbol of Mike in my heart with a new symbol of his love for birdwatching in the yard.

I think today is finally the day I’ll give away his fall coat, and his winter boots. I got them as far as the car a few weeks ago, when it was hot and humid. But today, someone is really going to need those.

I’m getting over the panic attacks, even though I’m giving myself a lot of reasons to panic, mainly having to do with money. The burn rate has gone off the charts and the market’s behavior this week was, erm, unhelpful, to say the least.

But something about getting through two years without Mike, and writing about it, and reading about other women’s experience of widowhood and aging, has made me, not so much stronger, as more willing to let go of worry, have faith in God and the universe, keep things in perspective and believe, truly believe, that whatever happens, everything will be ok.

We will emerge. Not submerge.

In the meantime, we will head off into the pumpkin fields, drive the rustic roads and enjoy the loveliness of the October sky, a loveliness all too brief and fleeting, like our “little life…rounded with a sleep.”

And that keeping things in perspective thing? While I wring all I can out of the few gorgeous October days granted this year, I know that it is springtime for followers down under – and through all the little losses and the major catastrophes blasting us everywhere in a daily barrage, rebirth and rebuilding happens, grief can be carried, and assimilated into a new life that is both heavier and lighter, simultaneously more profound and more ethereal, fleeting, yet eternal.

May you find your perfect pumpkin (or spring bloom, depending on your hemisphere), and find comfort that its inevitable decay portends its sure and certain return. Sic transit gloria, world without end.

Glad that my daughter is finally getting enough sleep, but anxious for her to arise so we can get on the road,

I remain,

Your humble, hopeful, dare I say? happy?

Ridiculouswoman