Tag Archives: Life

A before-and-after moment at 4:15 a.m.

I’ve been reminded recently how life changes in a moment. One minute, life is one way. The next, it’s turned upside down.

We had such a moment at 4:15 this morning. This moment didn’t change my life so much as it changed someone else’s but it’s illustrative of my point.

We’re camping this week in my cousin-in-law’s yard. It’s idyllic. Nice level lot, protected from the wind, a well-manicured yard. The cousin-in-law offered to let me use her brand new washer and dryer and her husband shared the fresh produce from his garden–ah, the comforts of home one misses when one is living in an RV.

idyllic corn

The idyllic scene that greets me when I emerge from my camper in the mornings.

The cousin-in-law’s yard out is in the middle of a corn field. The front yard is a stretch of county road between Hither and Yon, but the other three sides are bordered by seven feet of corn. I swear, it grew a foot this week. The corn even muffles all sound except the birds and the bees. Literally, the chirping of the birds and the chittering of insects is the only thing you hear out here, punctuated occasionally by the engine noise of a car speeding by.

This story is about that placid corn and speeding cars.

At 4:15 a.m., my Beloved awakens me with an urgent question, “What was that?!”

“I didn’t hear anything,” I murmured.

He jumps out of bed, throwing on his clothes. I’m becoming more alert now.

“Honey, you’re dreaming,” I said. “You’re putting your underwear on backwards.”

“No, I heard a car go into the ditch,” he says. “I heard the tires squeal and a crash.”

“I left the flashlight where it belongs,” I said, rolling over.

I wasn’t interested in investigating a dream.

But a car did indeed go into the ditch and crash.

My Beloved called 911, and within minutes, 10 emergency vehicles were on the scene.

license plate

The “scene” was only 50 feet from my cousin-in-law’s house, between two light poles. Mr. E754145 left the pavement, entered the corn field and was launched airborne. This is where he went in, losing his license plate.

corn inside

And this is where he landed, roughly 30 feet further on.

crash scene

The bare patches in the foreground indicate where the car went off the road; the string of corn stalks trailing from the field to the road show where the car was towed out of the field.

I think Mr. E754145 is alive to tell the story. My Beloved heard him try the ignition as he was calling 911, so he was at least conscious after crash landing. He didn’t hit a pole. The corn softened his landing. But in any case, his car was intact and operational and so was he at 4:14 a.m. At 4:16, he had to be stretchered away, and the car was towed.

Before and after.

Life can change in a minute.

Where the women are strong and the living is easy (and never the twain shall meet)

Land of 10,000 lakes.

State of only two seasons: Winter and road construction.

Where all the children are above average.

Minnesota is home to a few hyperbolic descriptions, and most recently WalletHub named it the country’s least stressed state, making it most relaxed, I suppose.

Who is WalletHub to make such declarations? WalletHub monitors credit scores, and its analysts compared the 50 states and the District of Columbia across 33 key indicators of stress ranging from average hours worked per week to personal bankruptcy rate to share of adults getting adequate sleep.

And Minnesota ranked as No. 51 on the most stressed list.

Are Minnesotans the least stressed people I’ve met in my travels around the country?

I don’t know. If giving a friendly wave or acknowledging the presence of a sojourner with a nod as one’s paths cross is manifestation of lack of stress, then yes, Minnesotans have the corner on a relaxed demeanor. (Frequently outside of Minnesota, I will acknowledge someone with a “good morning” or a “hello”—a fellow jogger going the opposite direction, a guy walking his dog, a woman washing her hands at a neighboring sink in the restroom—and it’s as if I’ve surprised them by having a voice. Or a smile. Some residents of the coasts go out of their way to avoid making eye contact.)

The Minnesota compulsion to greet strangers, some would attribute to the phenomenon of Minnesota Nice. Perhaps. I have heard residents of the state—both natives and short-termers—describe Minnesota Nice as passive-aggressive. I’m skeptical. Minnesota Nice may be passive—”After you.” “No, after you.” “No, please be my guest, go ahead,” ad infinitum—but it’s not veiled aggression. So maybe it is the result of being trusting and assuming the best and getting a good night’s sleep.

One of the factors in WalletHub’s stress index is health and safety related stress factors. Apparently, Minnesotans have among the highest number of psychologists per capita and get the most hours of sleep a night. I come from a family with a long history of cherishing naps and believing nothing good happens after midnight. And that’s to say nothing of the 16 hours of darkness in the long, long winter months. What else you gonna do but sleep? Well, there is something else, I suppose, which might contribute to one of the lowest divorce rates in the country (another stress indicator).

Minnesota also ranks No. 50 in money-related stress factors (only Wyoming is lower), certainly due in  part to the frugal nature of born-and-bred natives. Author Garrison Keillor slyly notes this in his book Lake Wobegon Days: “So the Council changed [the town’s name] one more time, from Lake Wobegone to Lake Wobegon. Businessmen didn’t order new stationery right away, however, not even those who favored the change, but used all their New Albion stock until it ran out.”

In any case, I can take some of my good habits like eating right and maintaining a good credit score with me wherever I choose to settle someday, and the index may offer some insight on where not to settle (let’s just say Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, West Virginia and Kentucky aren’t exactly calm and soothing places to reside).

If Minnesota is true to form, it’s not taking pride in its least-stressed status.

“Seldom has a town made such a sacrifice in remaining unrecognized so long,” he said, though other speakers were quick to assure him that it had been no sacrifice, really, but a true pleasure.

~ Garrison Keillor in Lake Wobegon Days

Message in a bottle … or at least on the patio

lock message

Seen on the patrio at CRU @ The Annex in Napa, Calif. While sipping wine. Of course.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder

stump

Ashes to ashes and dust to dust.

Even ashes and dust–and beheaded trees–create the raw material for new life. Tree stumps look like the end to a life, but they are sometimes able to regenerate into new trees. Even the enormous log that must have resulted from this tree can provide the fuel for new life; as I’ve read on many a interpretive displays about trees felled by wind or varmints, wildfires are actually a creative force in the forest. What we first see as death is in reality setting the scene for life.

Mushrooms and moss were celebrating life on this stump I found at my campsite in Cascade Locks, Ore. Isn’t it beautiful? For a stump?

Flea market finds that evoke a sense of place

Overheard at the pancake breakfast: “A bear gave me a scare last night. That dog of mine thought she was going to take it on, right there in my back yard.”

Like the eavesdropping, many of the wares at the St. Regis flea market were unique to the place.

Most flea markets look pretty much the same. Vendors display the same motley assortment of canning jars and kitchenware, old Life magazines and rusty junk found behind one’s garage.

Occasionally, a forward thinking flea market organizer also invites artisans who offer handmade jewelry (sometimes made with forks and spoons) and wooden birdhouses.

The annual Memorial Day weekend flea market in St. Regis, Montana, offers special treasures one might find only in the Pacific Northwest.

Like used snowshoes, for instance.

snowshoes

And hats made of real fur.

flea market furs

It can get cold in Montana, you know.

And to acquire those furs? That takes weapons. Lots of weapons. I saw shotguns, sledgehammers, axes, knives of every length from jack to bowie, maces (yes, more than one) and anvils (perhaps only a weapon in the hands of Wile E. Coyote).

And will you be transporting said weapons? How about a purse?

flea market concealed carry

Also necessary: Hunter’s scent, offered in every piney variety: Spruce, cedar, pine, fir, and juniper. Also, for the outliers, sage and eucalyptus. And don’t forget the camouflage in a variety of sizes.

flea market camo

Lest you think it’s all serious business at the flea market, check out the pink camo in the foreground and the princess costumes on the left, in the background of the camo.

If decorative is more your style, perhaps we could interest you in light fixtures made with elk horns. No? John Deere picnic umbrella? You got that covered? Maybe bear-shaped pieces of granite, then?

flea market granite bear cutouts

Or perhaps a bird feeder in the shape of a moose.

flea market moose

I think your wildflowers could use a vase.

flea market boot vases

Exhausted with all of your options? Let me offer you a seat.

flea market furniture

These clever vendors didn’t miss a whimsical beat. I thought unicorns could fly, but maybe they need shoes anyway.

flea market unicorn shoes

Or this dose of quirky. Everything’s bigger in Texas, but I bet you’ll never see this life-size yard art there.

flea market yeti

I felt like I was at a Montana art show, walking around the St. Regis flea market and drinking in the local flare. And I guess I’m a bit of an eavesdropper. Besides the bear conversation at breakfast, I was amused by this overheard wish.

“I’d like to hit the Powerball and come here,” said one young man to his friend as they brushed past me between a rack of raccoon skins and a display of soap made with goat’s milk. “I’d buy everything.”

What I cast away in 2016

Americans, I think, tend to think about things — everything — in terms of gain. Bigger means better. More is good. The best houses are mansions. Personal income and the stock market should always go up. Value meals are valuable because they offer more calories for the buck. The Grand Canyon is worth seeing because it’s, well, grand.

I look at my accomplishments like this. A job worth doing is even better when I can multi-task. Any day is a better day when I can look back on a long list of things to do that got done. A year is always better when it was full.

But 2016 was not of year of making gains for me, it was a year of losing things. Mostly, I lost clutter, an untidy collection of people, places and things no one wants.

A big thing I lost was a court case. I wrote about this court case last January, when we were in the midst of trial. To summarize a seven-year ordeal as succinctly as I can, I was among four named plaintiffs suing on behalf of 400 fellow employees to recoup our retirement fund. I was hopeful a year ago that we would prevail, but we didn’t. The judge issued his ruling in September and I learned, much to my dismay, that losers have to pay the winners’ court fees. Yeah, first I lost my retirement, then I lost the court case and then I was on the hook to pay literally hundreds of thousands of dollars in court fees. That would explain why I never blogged about the judgment; I struggled to find a bright spot.

But after much back and forth, we were forgiven the court fees and legally put the whole drama to bed. So even though I lost the case, I gained peace of mind and the gift of putting all the stress and sorrow behind me.

My Beloved and I also observed the end of an era when my stepson (the younger of my two stepchildren) graduated from college and got a job. He’s still our child, but he’s no longer a child. He’s a self-supporting adult. What we lose in terms of a dependent, we gain in the form of a new approach to parenting. Less control, more equality.

I also helped my stepdaughter scrape a barnacle off the hull of her ship. Without getting into the details, I relished in the opportunity to live in the same house with her for a while, a chance I didn’t get when she was a teenager. Living together with anyone breeds familiarity and in this case, affection.

I effectively and definitively kicked my 40s to the curb in 2016. On Dec. 23, I officially became a member of the AARP crowd. Honestly, I hate aging and I’m not thrilled to be 50, but let’s just say, I discovered some elixirs to dull the effects. Thank you, modern pharmaceuticals.

abundance

An image of abundance, captured at an outdoor market in Barcelona, Spain. I didn’t need to buy pounds of dried fruits or nuts to appreciate their beauty.

Other losses in 2016: The Cubs ended a long drought of World Series wins. That was fun. The Dems lost the White House. No matter what you think of the result, a poli-sci major like me found the whole messy process fascinating. I gave up my post-a-day blogging habit, having written something on this blog only 81 times this year, the fewest since 2008 when I posted three times (I’m hoping to turn this bad habit around in 2017).  And I lost 17 glorious June days on a European vacation. In fact, I traveled 161 days in 2016, and the only thing I missed about home was the bills stacking up.

Most significantly and triumphantly, I lost an ugly pantry, some disgusting bathroom flooring and a literal ton of household ephemera. When we decided to list our house on the market (the house itself was the reason for the aforementioned bills), we knew we had to remodel the pantry (did you miss the before-and-after shots? Not to worry — click here) and replace the carpeting in the master bath. Yes, carpeting. Can’t believe I lived with it for nine years. My Beloved and I learned how to tile, and now I can see each individual stray strand of hair I leave behind after a shampoo. After sorting through every last closet and drawer in the house, we shredded 14 boxes of paperwork, filled the trash can innumerable times and dropped off 15 carloads (or at least trunks full) of stuff at Goodwill. I won’t miss a single one of those things, and I’ve learned how to curb my propensity to accumulate.

To fair, not all that I cast away had an upside. I also lost a few treasures.

Like my uncle, who succumbed to a brain tumor in September at age 65. I got one last visit with him in August that feels like a gift.

And my youth, which died quietly of an overdose in April in an elevator in Paisley Park. Of all the shocking celebrity deaths in 2016, Prince’s was personal for anyone who considers Minnesota home.

These sorts of losses serve as reminders that time is short and should be spent carefully, with people and in places we love. So here’s to 2017: May we all spend our time well.

The Island of Unfinished Craft Projects

One of the scenes in the 1964 “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” features Rudolph paying a visit to the Island of Misfit Toys.

Such a poignant scene, that.

Eventually in that stop-motion animated Christmas special, Rudolph redeems the unloved misfits by finding the perfect children to love the train with square wheels, the water pistol that shoots jelly and Charlie-in-the-Box.

Too bad the Island of Unfinished Craft Projects can’t have a similarly happy ending.

While combing through closets and drawers preparing my house for sale, I kept running across trends to which I no longer subscribed.

embroidery

Cross stitch, anyone? Sadly, my grasp exceeded my reach (“Kay,” by the way, is my sister’s name — apparently I was thinking emoji-esque thoughts about her decades ago). I also found this incomplete gem:

love-my-cat

I haven’t owned a cat for more than 10 years.

bead-collection

This mess represents hundreds of dollars worth of beads, wire and tools to make jewelry. Talk about misfits, though. Half of these pendants don’t have holes through which to string a chain:

pendants

They’re pretty in their imperfect way. And like the cat cross-stitch, I found these unassembled earrings, lacking only their hooks and enough finishing work to hide the weaving thread. The instructions are long gone.

earrings

More recently, I started and couldn’t finish a wine cork wreath. I even have the glue sticks but, alas, not the stick-to-itiveness.

wine-wreath

I tried in vain to unload these odd collections on a couple of Facebook marketplaces to which I belong (because they’re hardly worth the gas to drive across town let alone postage to mail across country). But either I didn’t price them correctly or other folks have dark corners in their homes filled with unfinished projects haunting them because I had only one nibble which fell into the same black hole where my creativity was lost.

Now I am faced with throwing them away, which pains my frugal Midwestern soul, or packing them up for a rainy (snowy?) day that may never come.

Head Elf: Now listen you: You’re an elf, and elves make toys. Now, get to work!

[whistle blows]

Head Elf: Ten minute break!

[Hermey smiles, but then the Head Elf confronts him]

Head Elf: Not for you! Finish the job, or you’re fired!