Sleep

When I was a kid I slept like a rock. I played, or went to school and came home and played. By bedtime I was ready to go to sleep, even if I didn’t want to go to bed. And I slept, usually all night, with the exception of an occasional bad dream.

When I was growing up, I remember how my grandmother often talked about the difficulty of sleeping. She often claimed “not to have slept a wink all night”. If my Mom or anyone else questioned her, she might say that she had slept “an hour at the most.” I would never have challenged my grandmother’s veracity, but I was skeptical. How could it be difficult to sleep? Why didn’t she just close her eyes and go to sleep? That always worked for me.

After I grew up and became a mom, I learned to sleep like a cat. I was a stay-at-home mom for ten years and I didn’t want the kids to wake Todd because he was the one who had to get up and go to work. Consequently, I was the one who got up with the kids when they were young, jumped up and raced to nurse, soothe, rock, or walk their discomforts away. Things got better when the kids grew older, of course, and I slept better for a number of years, though I never again slept the way I did when I was a child. 

Nowadays, in my late 60’s, I often can’t go to or stay asleep. I toss and turn for a long time, but eventually I go to sleep. However, more and more in the past few years, I suddenly wake after a few hours, and I just cannot go back to sleep. Now I remember my grandmother’s words, and I understand what she was talking about. It is only seven in the morning, but it feels more like noon. I’ve been up since three, again. I have tried reading, writing, and channel-surfing. For a time I drank chamomile tea until I realized I was allergic to it. Then I switched to drinking warm milk with cinnamon and vanilla. I’m not allergic to warm milk, but it usually doesn’t help either.

I woke my husband often in the early days of my insomnia, but I have since become pretty practiced in the art of silence. I have figured out how to avoid the creaky, groaning spots in our floors. When I accidentally woke him he would encourage me to just clear my mind, close my eyes, and sleep. But it never quite seemed to work for me. Unfortunately, in the last few months, he too has developed insomnia. These days it often seems like if I not having trouble sleeping, he is. There has been no need to sleep like a cat for many years, but I can’t seem to shake the habit. I can’t remember the last time I slept like a rock. Oh, REM sleep, where art thou?

The quote that comes to mind is Hamlet’s: “…to sleep –to sleep, perchance to dream….” But the heck with dreaming. I just want to sleep all night. Maybe tonight….

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Another senseless shooting

It’s happened again. This time it is not here in the United States, but in far-away New Zealand. The alleged shooter posted an 87-page White Supremacist Manifesto, filled with anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim sentiments. One report I read stated that he considered Donald Trump a hero. I don’t know whether or not that is true, but sadly, it would not surprise me. 

This morning I saw no calls for “thoughts and prayers” in my Facebook feed. Many of the people I attended elementary school, junior high, and high school with almost always post such sentiments when white people are the victims. I had stopped ‘following’ many of these ‘friends’ anyway, though I occasionally checked their posts to see if they ever had anything to say of merit. The reason I stopped ‘following’ them is simply that they more and more often posted memes about being ‘Proud to be White’, ‘Proud to be Christian’, and suggesting in no uncertain terms that these memes should be shared to prove one’s Christianity or whiteness. One woman, a childhood playmate who grew up two blocks down the street from me, posted this morning that God was punishing the Muslims who were murdered yesterday because they insisted on worshipping “a false God and the wrong religion”. So I dropped her and more than a couple dozen ‘friends’. I knew they weren’t really friends at all, but I used to enjoy catching up on how their lives were going. 

 Reading the posts of these far-right conservative acquaintances on Facebook makes me think of a tribunal of the flat-earth society, getting ready to roast the uppity astronomer who had the nerve to suggest that the Earth might not actually be flat. I keep asking myself: Were the majority of the people I attended school with always this small-minded? If so, how could I not have noticed? Was it simply because I was naive and young? Or was I just too busy racing across the stage of my life, madly whirling and twirling, bowing to any and everyone, always trying to please everyone but myself, that I wasn’t really paying attention to what my friends were thinking about people whose skin wasn’t white like ours, or whose religion wasn’t the same as ours? And they all love Trump.

Sometimes I wonder if maybe life is all half-lies and half-truths, and maybe wisdom is simply the ability to recognize the difference. If so, perhaps I am finally on the way to wisdom, although I fear it might still be quite some time before I arrive. In the meantime I am fraught with confusion as to why anyone could possibly continue to support Donald J. Trump.

Moving On

I’ve always enjoyed writing stories. I guess that’s pretty obvious since I have a blog. Once upon a time I was an English major, so it helped that I liked to write. While English was the subject I most loved, my second favorite subject has always been history, particularly American History. My interest in history hasn’t waned, but the longer I live, the more fascinated I’ve become with family history and genealogy. I’ve researched both sides of my family on Ancestry and Family Search, and I have learned volumes. Of course there are dead-ends, but I’m still finding clues, which fuels my desire to keep trying. 

Before I began my research I knew that my great-grandfather on my mother’s side, Jasper Brink, served with the Union Army during the Civil War. During the course of my research I learned that Jasper was part of the regiment, which was sent by then Ohio Governor Tod to quell a rebellion over Conscription in Holmes County, Ohio, in June of 1863. It was the only battle in Holmes County during the Civil War. Family rumor, most of it via my Dad and Uncle Fred, was always that my great-great-grandfather on their side, Sam Kinsey, was one of the leaders of the rebellion that day, and the fact that he had done so was cause for family pride in his leadership and, simultaneously, shame that he fought against the Union.

Armed with newly attained knowledge and an abundance of family stories, I decided to write a novel about that rebellion and its effect on my ancestors. A year and a couple of months into it, I thought I was finished. I asked one of my best friends, a retired history teacher, to read and critique it. She gave me an abundance of thoughtful, constructive criticism. A few months later, a literary agent, though she did not wish to represent me, generously took the time to make numerous suggestions to improve my manuscript. So I tore the book apart, added, subtracted, and rewrote it… rewrote some more, and so it continued.  

While I’ve continued to rewrite this book, which is actually my third one, I tried to work on other projects. I wrote a fourth book, and am about half-finished with a fifth one, but I’ve been stuck on that one for months. When I woke up Sunday morning I decided: enough already. It was time to put thing to bed, once and for all. So, four years to the day after I originally began, I declared myself finished with my historical novel, Fizzled. It’s time to move on.

Fizzled chronicles events leading to that Holmes County battle on June 17, 1863, between local Copperheads and Union troops. My story depicts the effects that this civil insurrection, and the war itself, had on two Civil War couples. Fizzled is narrated in alternating chapters by four characters: Jane Brink, who is forced to run their farm alone while her husband is at war; her husband, Jasper, a Union soldier who serves in one of the Ohio Regiments that is sent to restore order at that fort; Anna Kinsey, Jane’s best friend, who struggles with her conflicting feelings about Conscription and the war; and Anna’s husband, Samuel, a farmer, dreamer, and pacifist, who is persuaded to help lead the Anti-Conscription fight against the Union army that June day. This fight was later dubbed the Battle of Fort Fizzle, primarily because it ‘fizzled’ out after that one brief skirmish, hence the title.

I never met any of the people in my story. But the family anecdotes I grew up with and the stories I’ve learned researching them make me feel like I knew them. I have no photos of my great-great-grandparents, Sam and Anna Kinsey, who both emigrated from Switzerland. But I know that Sam was a dreamer who longed to travel and see the world, and was never happy being a farmer. Anna came to America alone as an eighteen year-old, with little except the rocking chair her parents gave her as a farewell gift. Unfortunately, I do not have any photos of them, but Anna’s rocking chair has a permanent spot in my family room, and Sam’s corner cupboard graces my living room. I do have a couple of photos of the Brink’s, natural-born Americans whose ancestors hailed from Sweden, Denmark, and England.

As I ended this novel that’s been part and parcel of my life these past four years, I glanced at a photo of the Brink’s on the porch of their farmhouse, the snaking branches of an overgrown bush creeping around the left side of the house. Jane’s thriving kitchen garden, next to the porch, fills the right side of the photo. The Brink’s were an impassive-looking pair, probably in their late sixties in the picture, her white hair pulled back into a low ponytail, without any attempt to pretty herself for a photograph. I was always told that she was proud to be a farm wife, and was not fancy or vain. In the photo Great-grandpa Jasper sits straight on a wooden bench with a newspaper on his lap, his bifocals perched on the end of his nose. Great-grandma Jane, to his left, nestled in a wooden rocker, is knitting.  Neither of them is smiling, though they don’t look unhappy either, but as if they were ready to get back to what they were doing as soon as the photographer finished.

Jasper’s hair, sticking out from his bowler hat, is curly and uncombed. His heavily creased face is adorned with an equally wild beard. The photo is black and white, obviously, so I can’t tell if his eyes are truly as green as I’ve always been told they were. He was quiet, my Grandma Loverta always said, though sometimes funny and always kind, a farmer who loved to fiddle and dance. Grandma said that her mom, Jane, was a strong woman who could cope with anything thrown her way. One of Jane’s rocking chairs, though not the one in that picture, graces my living room next to Sam’s cupboard. 

After I decided to officially declare Fizzled a wrap, my hope was that the writer’s block I seemed to be suffering would end. And, lo and behold, the past couple of days, the muse decided to come back and visit again. The words just flowed. Perhaps my conscious decision to end one project let my unconscious open up. My newest project is a historical mystery and I even figured out who I am going to have commit the crime. Oh, happy day. Sometimes it’s just time to move on.

I have not sold any books yet, and I realize that the odds are against me ever selling any of them, but I’m going to keep trying. And I’m going to keep researching and writing… because I’m not getting any younger, and I still have so many stories to tell.

 

 

It’s the Berries!

Yesterday I baked a berry pie because I was thinking about my Mom. It would have been her 102nd birthday, and she always baked us a berry pie to celebrate her birthday, which is probably why I’ve loved berry pies since childhood.

One of the highlights of summer was going berry-picking with Mom, Grandma Loe, and Aunt Loomis. We had a secret spot out in the country on the farm of one of my mom’s friends. Her friend thought it ridiculous to spend any time sweltering in the hot sun, getting bitten by mosquitoes and pricked by briars. We were more than happy to contend with those inconveniences to pick those tart but sweet fruits we loved. When we finished, we always gave her a few quarts of berries to thank her for the opportunity.

The berries were abundant in a section of the woods that her husband had cleared for firewood some years before. Why there were so prolific there I don’t know. Perhaps it was due to the sudden influx of sunlight after the trees were gone, but that’s only my guess. Both raspberry and blackberry bushes were in luxurious abundance in that little clearing. I have always been drawn to the shiny sparkle of raspberries and blackberries. Slowly and tediously thrashing through the thorny underbrush on a hot and steamy July day probably does not sound like fun to many people. But it always was. And whenever I filled another bucket and brought it back to Mom, she always praised me. I liked the praise as much as the berries. Plus, after all the work there were plenty of berries to freeze, turn into jam, and eat by the handful. Best of all, Mom always used a couple of quarts to bake a pie. Sitting in the shade under our old apple tree, eating a pie of raspberry/blackberry pie with a scoop of vanilla ice cream to top it… umm, umm, my mouth waters just thinking of it.

I still pick wild berries in our woods. But now I also have black raspberry and blackberry bushes in my backyard. So I don’t even have to leave my property to pick them. The biggest drawbacks to growing berries are birds. Bird love berries, all kinds of berries. I use netting to help protect my strawberries, but not my berry bushes. Strawberry plants stay put under protective cover, but raspberry and blackberry bushes tend not to cooperate with netting, poking their thorny branches up and out every which way. In the years when berries are abundant, there is usually plenty to share with the birds. Some years the weather doesn’t cooperate, and then I am less forgiving of their thievery. This year was a good year for berries of all types. I froze quarts and quarts of berries.

IMG_8323Here is the photo of that raspberry/blackberry pie. I can tell you that it was just as good in February as it was last July, both with and without the scoop of ice cream. In fact, if I believed in such a thing as an aphrodisiac, I might put my money on raspberry/blackberry pie. Whether or not it’s an aphrodisiac….

Winter’s Here!

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Winter arrived here on Saturday, January 19. Before Saturday we hadn’t had much snow on Skinner Road. Only a few inches fell in December, with a couple more earlier this month. Then Harper blew in, after nearly a week of promises/warnings. And he lived up to all the hype in this area. It began snowing about 8:30 Saturday morning. By noon it was snowing in earnest, so Yogi and I ventured back to the woods for our daily meander. I thought of Robert Frost’s poem, and figured that I would add the word silent to his description of “woods were lovely, dark and deep…”

One bird greeted us as we entered the woods, though I did not recognize him from his lonely song. Yogi was in his element, running here, there, and everywhere, checking out every new smell that wasn’t there when we had tramped though our woods the day before. The only sound was the snow. It felt like Yogi and I were the only two beings on Earth. I could barely see the house. By the time we got back inside, the snow was falling faster and harder.

So Todd and I, with our buddies Yogi and Figaro, spent the afternoon inside watching and marveling at our rapidly changing environment. I made a big pot of soup, homemade bread, and a coconut cake. We made music and love, watched a couple of basketball games and an old movie. It was a fine day.

By the time we got up yesterday morning the snow was ending, after nearly twenty-four hours. Our world here on Skinner Road had been transformed. Great, pristine drifts quilted the driveway, patio, and sidewalk. The wind had swept the snow in big swirls and crowded a foot or more of that dry-sand whiteness against the garage and barn doors. We blinked back the over-bright sparkle, rebuilt the fire, and drank our coffee in the family room.

Then we headed outside. The first thing I did was measure the snow. I trudged all over the yard, both front and back, to find areas that seemed fairly flat and not drifted, so that I could plunge my yardstick into the snow. I ten very unscientific measurements, five in the front yard and five in the backyard. Of the ten measures I got 15 inches nine times, and 14 inches once. So I decided that 15 inches was a fair assessment of our total.

The rest of the world on this road was waking too. We could hear a couple of snow-blowers down the road. We don’t have one, but we do have shovels. Todd shoveled a path to the barn where our Appaloosa, Pete, was impatiently waiting for his horse feed, hay, and fresh water. I shoveled off the patio and then a path to our bird-feeders. The drifts reached past the break of my knees, but the Slate-backed Juncos, Cardinals, Blue Jays, Flickers, Downy Woodpeckers, and Sparrows were hungry too, so I made my slow progress to the feeders and filled them; two with cracked corn and two with black oil sunflower seeds. Then I got another container of homemade suet from the freezer to hang on top of one feeder for the Downy Woodpeckers. After filling the feeders I made a number of treks back and forth from the barn to bring more firewood to the house, while Todd had moved on the front sidewalk and shoveled most of it.img_8299

After our morning work yesterday we took a break for coffee and lunch. The sun came out in the afternoon and Yogi and I tried to make it back to the woods again. But I don’t happen to own snowshoes, so it was harder than I thought it would be getting to the woods. We didn’t stay for long because it was just too tough getting around. Plus it was colder than it had been on Saturday. And of course there were a couple of football games that were must watch. img_8311

I made it back to the woods again this morning, but it was not any easier than it was yesterday. And it was colder still. My lungs were screaming as loud as my legs were, so I headed back to the house before I did any exploring. I heard a meteorologist comment the other evening that this snow would be great for cross-country skiing because it’s so light. And it is. But fifteen inches of snow is still a lot of snow. We have not yet shoveled the driveway. It is a very long driveway, about fifty yards. And as I already stated, it is very cold today. As I’m writing this, at 2:30 on Monday afternoon, it is 9 degrees. Todd drove our beast of a truck, our old Dodge Ram, up and down the driveway a few times yesterday, so we can get out to the outside world if really necessary. But the car is not moving anywhere until we get the driveway shoveled out. Tomorrow the forecast is a few degrees below zero in the morning, but thirty-three by afternoon. So tomorrow we will shovel that driveway. Or maybe we’ll ask Erin to bring out her snow-blower since she doesn’t work tomorrow.

At the moment I’m sitting in my writing room, aka Erin’s old bedroom, looking out the window into the sunshine, watching the snow blow. It looks as light as the leaves I swept out of the garage just the other day, getting caught in the wind, flying skyward. It’s gorgeous. You don’t have to ski to have a great snowy day, just get outside and find some magic in it, even if it’s only in a shovelful or two. Wherever you are, enjoy your day!

I may be over 50, but God damn it, I’m not dead.

This morning I read that a French author, Yann Moix, who is apparently quite well-known in France, recently stated that he’s incapable of loving a woman over 50. He also said that older women are “invisible” to him, and made it very clear that the body of a woman over fifty has no appeal to him at all.

After taking a few deep breaths to calm myself, I would like to add to a discussion about the appeal of women over fifty.  I passed fifty awhile ago, so I figure I’m qualified. It has been my observation that today people my age act younger than people my age when I was growing up. Perhaps my hindsight isn’t twenty/twenty, but when I was a kid general knowledge indicated that people who were sixty-something and older spent most of their time in their rocking chairs waiting to have the ‘big one.’ Of course I was a kid and my observations may have been a bit skewed by my preoccupation with 1950’s and 1960’s television.

Today we often hear that a person is ‘only as old as he/she feels’, which for most people my age and older, depends on the day. But Mr. Moix, for one, doesn’t seem to think that women can age well, no matter how they feel on any particular day, if they are over the age of fifty.

He doesn’t just believe women don’t age well. He says that women over fifty are “invisible” to him. Invisible, huh? Pardon me while I take another deep breath. My good friend, Linda, and I talked about that phenomenon on more than one occasion during the last couple of years before we retired. The older we got, the more some of our colleagues seemed to dismiss us. Oh, they were polite, but they didn’t always ‘hear’ us when we expressed a thought. I used to wonder if they equated age spots and wrinkles with a withered mind.

Mr. Moix, a Generation X-er, is 50 himself. I was born in 1951, a Baby Boomer. And I can tell you, dear reader, I do not intend to go gently into any good night. My body is not what it was when I was twenty-one, but it’s still pretty damn serviceable at 67. We Boomers thought we would live fast and die young, but most of us didn’t die young. Though I have noted that some Boomers I know still live as fast as possible and pretend they won’t ever die at all. I can’t help but wondering if that is true of Moix and others like him. Does he think that if he dismisses women his own age as ‘too old’ and seeks love from only young women that he will somehow discover the secret to living forever? I have news for him. His body is also going to fall apart eventually, probably well before his mind does.

My advice to all the Yann Moix’s of the world is simple: Perhaps you should consider judging a woman by their character, and not by her body’s tightness. Until that happens, I have a parting thought for all the Yann Moix’s of the world. I didn’t take French in school, so I can’t parlay my message in French. I studied Latin. So to him, and all the men like him, I will say: “Te futueo et caballum tuum”.

Good Riddance to 2018!

I am happy to say goodbye to this year. Donald Trump and his band of merry henchmen depressed and pissed me off regularly. If you’re at all like me, you’ve been horrified and sickened daily.

I have always enjoyed speculating about a new year ahead. Like many people I usually make some sort of resolution. I like setting simple goals. I’m all for starting fresh with a new year.

Some years, my goals are pretty simple and straight-forward, things like beginning and sticking to an exercise program, or losing a few pounds. Those kinds of resolutions are pretty easy for me, and more often than not, I’ve attained at least some success. Other years my resolutions don’t work out, like the ones I used to make about finding a new job, or demanding I be paid as an actual educator, not as some sort of aide. Those resolutions never panned out.

So, looking back before looking forward, I can say that 2018 has been a year of many emotions for me, as for everyone else. First of all, maybe because I’m reading Bob Woodward’s “Fear”, 2018 was a fearful year. I fear what’s happening to this country under this dreadful leadership. But at 67, with my children grown, all three of my grandsons as tall as or already taller than I am, my granddaughter grown and engaged, I have to admit that there is also that niggling fear at the back of my mind that my life may end and what will have been the purpose and meaning of my life? In 2019 I resolve to push fear away, and try to figure out what exactly is my purpose here.

In looking back on 2018, let’s not forget good old anger. It was an angry year for me, again mostly because of what is going on in our current administration. As a girl growing up in the fifties and sixties, anger was not an emotion girls were supposed to have. Occasionally I grew angry at the things I wasn’t allowed to do, because I was a girl. Now, because of Trump and the #*%*#*# Republicans, I’m often angry. To quote the Eagles, “Every morning I wake up and worry, what’s going to happen today?” I try to refrain from directing it at the people closest to me, which often has meant that I swallow those feelings. In 2019 I resolve to  remember to channel my anger channel into energy and take action and use it as fuel to move in a new direction. That sounds terrific, doesn’t it? Check back next year and I’ll let you know how it went.

Regret and guilt are the two other emotions I have some trouble with every year, not just this one. Why didn’t I do that differently? Why did I do that at all? I tend to feel guilty when I don’t meet my own expectations. I have to keep reminding myself that it doesn’t help anyone if I hold regret and guilt. Worrying endlessly doesn’t help anyone feel better. Why can’t I stop? It certainly doesn’t improve my relationship with my family and friends. It sure as hell does not make me feel any better, and it definitely won’t make me live longer. It just makes me feel bad. So in 2019 I am resolving to let myself off the hook and stop feeling guilty about things that are out of my control.

I think it’s natural at the end of a year to reflect upon the differences between what one hoped and planned for the year and what actually happened. When one is young, it doesn’t matter that much because one assumes there are so many years ahead. But now, Todd and I have been married for over 46 years, and at 67 and 68, Todd and I can no longer look forward to a seemingly endless future.  Other than ordinary age-related ailments, like my high blood pressure and osteoporosis, fortunately we have both been healthy. But a few months ago there was a blip on the radar screen, and we had a reality check, which makes it more important than ever to let go of fear, anger, guilt, and regret.

For the past few days I’ve been reflecting on 2018. I’ve been trying to think better of the year by remembering my many joys, mourning my personal losses, and shaking my head more than a bit at the thought of it all. It really is amazing to me that another year has passed. How can this be? I can’t believe I’m 67, and in June I will celebrate?? fifty years since I graduated from high school. But here we are on the cusp of 2019, the earth is still going round and round, and we’re all about to embark on another journey around the sun.

In 2019 I resolve to keep telling the people I love in no uncertain terms how much I cherish them. I am going to try harder to live the best life I can, and use the time I have, however long or short it may be, for what’s most important to me.

The Oxford Dictionary announced it word of the year recently. The word is: toxic. How appropriate. I thought that perhaps part of my resolution this year should be selecting a ‘word of the year’ for my year ahead. I wanted a word that is forward-thinking. With my word this year I am envisioning cleaning the cobwebs out of the corners of my brain, heart, and soul, and looking ahead with a little trepidation, but also anticipation. My word for 2019 is: dogged. This year I promise to be dogged, to keep striving to live better and fearlessly, to resist getting angry at all those things that are out of my control, to leave regret and guilt out of my vocabulary… to be dogged, to never, ever, ever give up.

Farewell, 2018. Dear reader, whether you’re home alone tonight with a glass of wine, headed out somewhere solo or accompanying someone special, today is a great day for reflection. We’re all a year older. Are we any wiser? Happy New Year to all of you. Be dogged….