irish travellers

28 02 2009

dsc_0006I was walking down the stairs yesterday late afternoon and was struck by something quite remarkable.  When the sun shines – it casts shadows. Something we don’t see all that often at this time of year here in the Great North so I had to take a picture. And being as how we are within spitting distance of St. Patty’s day, I thought I’d tell you a little story about some Irish Travellers.

I’ve not gotten far enough into the family tree(s) to prove this yet but I have my highly Celtic intuition telling me otherwise.  Travellers are the Irish equivalence of gypsies.  When I was little, I used to tell people that my real family belonged to the circus and that I had been dropped off in Brunswick and I had been adopted by this nice family that was raising me.  Maybe it’s more truth than fiction – I don’t know.  

Since marrying nearly 31 years ago, we have moved some 22 times. I can add another couple on to that pre-marriage, as could the Dr. with three foreign countries and a minimum of  a dozen places before he turned 18.  We only bought our own place 8 years ago and this is the longest we have ever been in one space.  A little scary actually but for now, I’m good with it.  Just last summer we finally went to the trouble of buying real curtain rods for the living room and entry.  I am a little suspicious of commitments like that or of hanging art work for that matter.  The longer I put it off-the longer we stay. Once holes are put in the walls like that something is bound to happen and we’ll have to move.  I just know it!

After years and years of adapting to rental spaces, I grew pretty tolerant.  I could put up with bad layouts, stupid bathrooms, walls in the wrong places and no storage. Every situation was just temporary to me so I didn’t bother getting worked up.

One year when we were going to be back in the States for what we thought was a year (it turned out to be forever – but that is another story), we needed a place to live.  My folks had been made aware of a house in their subdivision that was for rent. The owner had just passed away and his only daughter wasn’t emotionally ready to part with the house or its contents.  Being within a few houses of my folks’ place added to its “perfect” fit.

The four of us have always referred to that particular dwelling as “The Dead Man’s House”.  I know it’s all a bit irreverent now but at the time – it was fitting.  We just got off the plane one night from Spain and walked into the space just as he’d left it. Creeps me out now but what were we going to do…beggars can’t me choosers (same goes for missionaries).  Nothing like The Riches taking over their space.

I could write a book about the adventures we had in that house that literally changed our lives.  Maybe I will some day.  Soon enough, our lease was up and the daughter was ready to move on and sell the place.  She told us we could have first dibs on any furniture or anything else we wanted.  There had been an item or two that had grown on us.  A table for the entry that my mom lovingly stripped paint off of, a big oak desk painted red that we have never found the time to strip the paint off of, and other odds and ends.  There had been one item that I really wanted that she wouldn’t part with but I didn’t really need it.  

I remember a good friend stopping by to visit and us laughing at all the quirky things that decorated our space.  I was guffawing at this “ugly” green vase when she stopped me mid-sentence and corrected me. That ugly vase was a piece of Roseville pottery from the 1940’s that could probably fetch a pretty penny or two.  So I just tucked away that little piece of info.  When the landlord was giving her final OK’s for the things I wanted to purchase, I quickly added, “…and do you want that old vase?” “That ugly thing?  You can just have it!”

So, sort of as a joke, the vase has become part of the dead man’s house in our own journey.  It fits this particular century-old place we are now living with its Arts and Crafts vibe.  Every once in a while, I’ll stop and check out ebay like I did yesterday. Maybe when the money starts to flow again, I’ll end up putting it up for auction myself…and to think someone might want to pay between $275 and $875 for it.

Irish travellers can be con artists.  I got it for free.

if tiger was a friend of billy’s…

27 02 2009

img_3812Now that the snow has been melted by the rain (even tho there is more in the forecast for the next few days – we don’t think it will be much) Michigan golfers will start to get the early itch.  Just seeing grass makes them froth at the mouth.  It will just take a few warm days and some sunshine taking the squish out of the step – and before you know it, they’ll be back on the links.

I heard the Golf Channel commentary coming out of the Dr.’s sanctuary. I poked my head in. “Tiger’s back!”,  he sighed.  The perfect back drop to working and dreaming at the same time.

And just to show that the golf ghosts are once again stirring – yesterday one of the two sets of clubs that are in hibernation on our basement stairs landing – toppled over into the kitty litter (busting the box I might add).  They are alive! Soon, oh so soon, office hours will be shortened and important “meetings” on the course will begin – especially for Best Boy and the DotCross hooligans.

Nestled behind the bags are a couple of plastic food containers filled with golf balls. Billy’s eternal gift to any and all golfers he knew. Back in the day when we was still driving, he’d disappear from the house for a few hours and go park his car on the road that runs alongside a few of holes of the country club.  Off on his hunt he’d go, collecting stray golf balls to give to his friends.  He always had that in mind when he’d squirrel away suitable recyclable containers for gift presentation.

There is still a back stash in the basement at his house and I’m thinking maybe I’ll just let you bid for them…

i know what day it is…

25 02 2009


I miss him like crazy.  I see him when I see hawks, cardinals, nuthatches and woodpeckers.  There are moments that I feel his presence so strongly that it takes my breath away…and times that the tears well up like I’m tapping into a great gusher.  We talk about him almost everyday we are together.  He was quite a guy and lucky me being his kid.

I’m not sure how you want to do the next part.  I can’t embed the video so I’ve chosen to open another browser window so as I write the music is playing in the background.  If you’re at work – you need to push your chair back, stand up and push play.  We are celebrating Billy’s promotion exactly six months ago today.  And we’re gonna dance to a song that reminds us of him.

If you missed the original post it’s here.

near miss

24 02 2009

Best Boy has warned me a million times – “go buy yourself an external hard drive and back up your computer.”  Just lazy – just don’t want to spend the cash-just pretending that it is not going to happen again so quickly.

You know that feeling you get when the little voice in your head tells you to do something and you don’t?  When you have a sneaking suspicion that something is going to happen, you know of a way to avert disaster but you ignore the warning?  That voice.

More than anything I get mad at myself.  It’s no one else’s problem – they can’t hear the voices in my head.  I am a lucky girl to live in a city with an Apple Store and in the Apple Store is a Genius Bar.  The wiz kids that work there just face every idiot like me with a smile and comforting words.

I had resigned myself to the fact that if the hard drive had gone the way of all flesh that I was going to have to live with the fact that I had NOT backed up the nearly 3000 pictures I have in my iPhoto library.  Or the random documents that I don’t think are important until I go to look for them and they are gone.  Or the iTunes library that has some of Shop Girl’s music in it.

I was saved by the boys in little bright blue t-shirts that say “not every hero wears a cape”.  Lucky lucky me.  I want to publicly acknowledge my thanks to Best Boy who has taught me that computers are finite and that they fail for no good reason we may ever know in this lifetime or the next.  They are machines that just decide not to work on some days.  You can do all the right things, you can be careful but they still will fail.

But I’m a much happier person than I was all weekend.  I had been prompted to do a routine software update, rebooted and disaster struck.  The Genius boyz said I had a kernel panic.  OMG – a kernel panic.  What does that mean?

There comes a certain attachment to a certain keyboard, the weight of a certain little silver devil parked on my lap…and I felt like I could barely function.  The Mrs. said that my right arm had been cut off.  Sorta felt like that – but I’ve been miraculously healed and I’m grateful to the gods of the interwebs for having mercy on my poor fragile soul.  I am undeserving.

So I’ve been thinking about lost and found today.  Or lost and lost.  Or I shoulda known better.  What is the worst thing you’ve lost…something that you knew you shouldn’t have put in THAT spot…or something lost and found?

img_38152Working at the hotel a few years ago I heard a whopper of a story.  A young intern from Malta had come to work at the hotel and while she was here fell in love with a guy who also works at the hotel.  When her visa expired and her internship was over she headed back to Malta and the paper chase began.

It was a few years by the time all the documents were in order and she could return to the States as a bride with a green card.  Soon after, their little family expanded by one chocolate lab puppy.  Being a puppy, (didn’t I just write about these sorts of things?), he helped himself to anything and everything he could wrap his mouth around.

She had left her new diamond ring right on the nightstand and it was no where to be found.  Assuming that puppy was the culprit, the broken hearted new bride reluctantly told her husband who began the dookey duty search as the vet had instructed.  Days and weeks went by with no luck.  They were afraid that they just might have missed it.

Years went by.  Years!  Another friend from work who had loaned the new bride a paperback book which she had read and returned, decided to re-read said book.  As she pulled it off the shelf and began handling it she realized that it had something inside.  Tucked deep into the pages was a diamond ring. Apparently new bride had forgotten that she’d been reading that night…probably laid the ring on the open book, closed the book but forgot.

So…to our patron saint of lost items…what a busy guy he must be.

St. Anthony, St. Anthony, please come around.
Something has been lost and can not be found.

Yeah, like my operating system!!!!

familial jet lag and a new kind of fiber

19 02 2009

img_30362It’s 2:30 a.m.  I went to bed as soon as “Lost” was finished with another episode of its “Lostiness” as Best Boy calls it.  The Dr. had beat me to the punch by a mere 15 minutes but he was already gone.

After three weeks in time zones on the other side of the globe, sleep is a very delicate thing.  They say it takes a day per hour of change if you spend more than a few days anywhere to re-adjust back to your normal sleep pattern.  Thus, I have a hard time sleeping when he first gets home because I’m afraid that I’ll wake him up with the slightest movement.  Even though I was good and tired having not slept well last night, I laid there awake for almost an hour before the four-legged started barking.

The winds are strong tonight and that could be reason enough for her to prefer kenneling in the basement.  That wasn’t the issue.  She had wild eyes and was almost talking to me by the time I got down the stairs.  She had to go out.

I caught her snacking on tinfoil nabbed from the garbage can a few days ago.  Out she goes into a howling storm in a desperate attempt to find enough vegetation under the snow to graze on, attempting to soothe her insides.  What goes in must come out. It looks like someone has Bedazzeled her poop.  The glints and glitters are illuminated by the flood light shining into the back yard.  Why are dogs so dumb?

Once she’s back inside after “dumping out” (I liked “John from Cincinnati“), she does find her way to the kennel cave.  But I’m wide awake and I don’t dare climb the stairs again to find my nice warm bed.  The Dr. is on the road again tomorrow for a weekend trip and he deserves any attempt at decent sleep.

So I wander the vast internets and make some amazing new discoveries (Sweet Juniper!). About the time I quit this foolishness, the Dr. will be on his way down the stairs to make his morning coffee.  Thus bringing me back to what I do when he is gone – I’ll probably be asleep on the couch for the next 48 hours.

I wonder too, if I’m not sleeping because my progeny are in very labor intensive creative pursuits this week.  It isn’t easy to sleep through the birthing process and I become very aware when they are in production mode with real live deadlines that have dollar signs attached to them.  I know we are strangely connected that way – more than “normal” families.  Something I know but can’t explain and don’t talk about much for fear of sounding like a total freak.  But there I’ve said it. Celtic blood runs deep.

I guess none of us are much different than Stupid Dog.  We just have to wait for the passage of time and things to work through our systems…jet lag, tinfoil or the creative process.  Some things just can’t be dumped out on demand.

of all the things…

18 02 2009

dsc_00013I knew I was in trouble.  I heard him coming down the stairs to fix himself something for lunch.  With a wide scraper in my hand, down on my knees, I was pulling up linoleum tiles from the kitchen floor.

“Of all the things you COULD be doing…what prompted you to do this NOW?”  There is no right answer to that question. This 100 year old house – a constant work in progress- sometimes just begs for attention.  So I answered honestly…it sounded like the most fun option.  The other options were ironing, sorting through boxes of God-knows-what that I’ve stashed in Best Boy’s room while he’s gone for 10 days, cleaning the attic, basement, garage or any and all closets and on and on.

When we first walked through this house over a decade ago, the kitchen was the one room that I really disliked.  It had gotten an update in the early 70’s that just doesn’t fit the character of the house.  There are plenty of cupboards and space but bottle green laminate countertops with hunter green country themed wallpaper hurt me.  With that make-over came the pièce de résistance of slapping adhesive tiles over a wood floor-maybe just the sub-floor, but wood plank nonetheless.

So, very little by little, I am unearthing a new old kitchen floor. The process isn’t hard…just messy and toxic.  Sounds like my life.  I pry up the tiles with a wide paint scraper.  What is left underneath is so sticky that as I step back, my shoes are cemented to the floor and I inadvertently step out of them. After I pry them loose and put them back on, I dump some gel adhesive remover over the space and spread it out.  That stinks the place up like crazy so doors and windows are cracked.   The directions say to leave it 20 minutes and I leave it for twice that time frame.  Scrape up the goop that looks like what the cat coughs up and re-gel it for another round.  While I wait, I write this, eat a ham sandwich, make a run to the post office and get high from the fumes.

What’s not to love about this project?  Seriously, I think what I like is that it stays.  When I’m done with each little section that I tackle, it’s done.  It’s not like laundry that gets dirty again every time I turn around.  Or like cooking where you make a big effort and are left with nothing to show but people licking their chops.  I can admire my progress and don’t feel like I’m moving backwards.

At this point I’m quite sure that there are plenty of you asking why I don’t just tackle the whole thing at once and be done with it.  The answer is – because I am old.  I got a blister on the heel of my hand from jamming the scraper under the tiles to pry them off. After finishing that little section, my hands and wrists hurt like crazy. By far the best reason for doing it a little at a time is that it gives me the perfect out when I don’t want to do other things and get inspired to continue the fifty tile count down.

Who knows – maybe by this summer I’ll be done and we’ll have the whole thing sanded and refinished.  That would leave us with just eight more rooms and the stairs to do. At least they aren’t covered in sticky goo. Gotta love The Money Pit!

this again?

17 02 2009


I’ll be the first to admit that I am often stuck in a rut when in comes to creative meals but seriously?  I know…one is the flavor of the day…and the other is an entrée but just seeing them together this way made me laugh.

Billy was a MickeyD’s kinda guy but she’s stepped it up to Culver’s.  Yes, you can tell me how bad it is for her and how she shouldn’t eat one a week – but at 82…if she wants a single deluxe…I get her a single deluxe basket with onion rings, by the way!

It was another daytrip for me – squeezing in my job as a pharmacist, supervisor of water softener salt, garbage man, accountant and grocery shopper- into just a few hours. Another task came my way unexpectedly which delayed my return trip north by a number of hours.

A week ago she had a call from a friend asking about the experience with hospice. Ruth Ann’s husband’s time at the hospital had come to an end and hospice had been suggested. The Mrs. felt good about being able to just share her perspectives on the subject.  

A couple of different times during the past week, she got in her car and drove over to the hospice center see her friend but missed her each time.  I was proud – the courage it must take to re-enter the space where she’d just said good-bye to her life partner of 60 years-to walk beside another facing the same situation. Ruth Ann’s time there with her husband only lasted a week and he died on Valentine’s Day.

So, when I walked into the house yesterday at around 11 a.m. the Mrs. was all dressed and ready to go to the viewing.  She’d mixed up the times and it wasn’t until late afternoon in a neighboring city about 15 miles away.  Anytime I think about her driving more than the 3 miles, in town-to church, I get nervous.  I just have to deep breathe and remember that I’ve lived through this before with young teen drivers a dozen years ago and can do it again. But if I can save myself one ounce of worry by taking the trip with her, I will.

The hours until the viewing were passed with lunch and my buzzing through my list of things to check on.  We got in the car and I was at her mercy to direct me to the funeral home.  She had no doubt how to get there. One of the good things is that Billy taught her to back road.  If there is a county road that goes in the same direction…it is always the preferred route.  That was some comfort knowing that she was going to be driving this route again in a few days for another outing on her busy social calendar.

She’s still sharp enough to know her way around and her directions were impeccable. I let her off at the front door, helped her inside then sat out in a parking lot watching couples in their 70’s and 80’s tetter in – along with lots of single elderly women.  I waited almost an hour before sneaking in to make sure she’d not passed out somewhere.  There she was – sitting with her famous “Lunch Bunch”…all high school friends that try to get together once a month for a gathering.  She was saddened to learn that since Billy’s death, two or three of her friends have also lost their husbands.  It’s a new club…they may all be widowed…or soon to be.  Ruth Ann – the latest inductee.

In the twenty minute ride back to her house, she told me about six different times that two or three of her friends had been widowed since Billy’s death.  I just listened and acknowledged each declaration as if it had been the first.  I knew her brain was on overload.  Then she launched into memories of Billy’s funeral – she doesn’t remember much save staring into the stoic yet tear-stained faces of her grandsons as they stood behind the flag draped coffin. And she remembers being “tickled pink” that her grandkids dragged her outside for a group picture that she cherishes with all her heart.

Our little adventure was over.  I got her back inside and settled for the night before my own return trip north as the sun was hanging low in the sky.  It had been great little detour.  More time to process.  More time to talk.  One less outing that I’ll fret over her taking the car out alone.

This week she’ll be taking those keys in her hand alot.  Today is the funeral, then she’ll skip the burial to head off to a luncheon for the seniors at church. On Thursday, she’ll drive the route we did over the country road another 15 miles to where she’ll meet one of her Lunch Bunch ladies.  They’ll carpool (with the other one driving) to a restaurant where they’ll meet up with the others. 

I’ll try and not stare at the clock all day…waiting for her call late in the afternoon and breathe a sigh of relief that she’s home safe and sound.  She’ll tell me that two or three of the ladies have lost their husbands since Billy died and I’ll act as if it is the first time I’m hearing the news.

grand canyon

15 02 2009
NASA image created by Jesse Allen, using data provided courtesy of NASA/GSFC/MITI/ERSDAC/JAROS, and the U.S./Japan ASTER Science Team.

Public Domain. Credit information: NASA image created by Jesse Allen, using data provided courtesy of NASA/GSFC/MITI/ERSDAC/JAROS, and the U.S./Japan ASTER Science Team.

It was one of those breakneck mornings.  I’ve done this to my children.  I am at fault.  It looks as if we’ve not a care in the world till the clock hits some invisible mark and then all hell breaks loose.  The snowy unplowed roads didn’t help us get to the airport any faster.   Screeching to a halt in the drop-off zone as if I were a stunt driver from “The Italian Job”, I popped the trunk from inside, he hopped out and the clock on the dash board told me his flight was to take off in exactly 64 minutes.

Living in a mid-sized city, 20 minutes from the airport, makes us dare devils.  When you are professional globe trotters as are some in this tribe, it is not romantic to be at the airport one second longer than absolutely necessary.  And even though it gets me everytime – thinking that one of these boys is going to be told, “Sorry the flight is closed.  You should have been here 10 minutes ago,” we have a track record to the contrary.

Only once, because of our own doing with four of us misreading an itinerary, have those fateful words been uttered.  The occasion was three 20-somethings headed to NYC for a birthday celebration weekend and plans were nonchalantly rearranged  to catch a later flight.

After years of doing this kind of thing, we have gotten pretty savvy about how airports work, why O’Hare should be avoided at all costs, how much time is really needed between flights, etc.  As soon as I laid eyes on Best Boy’s itinerary, I knew what I knew: 45 minutes to land (maybe on time) on a snowy Saturday in February , wait for that sweet little old lady that never travels struggle to get her suitcase out of the overhead compartment, stand on one foot and then the other waiting for her to finish chatting it up with each flight attendant, de-plane, high-tail it over two concourses and board another flight – was going to be a “Hail Mary” play.

I hadn’t been home long when my phone buzzed out a text requesting me to forward him the flight numbers of later departures out of ORD because it was past the scheduled departure time here in the tundra and they’d not even boarded the plane yet.  Fractions of that precious 45 seemed to be vanishing before the trip ever started.   One of the only advantages to flying through ORD is that there are flights going everywhere all the time, if they aren’t grounded or hopelessly delayed and overbooked.  So he had his choice of at least three potential flights that would land him at LAX before sundown on the west coast should he fail to make the connect.

I also sent him a graphic of the airport gates so that nano seconds wouldn’t be wasted trying to follow confusing signage.  I was able to go on to and see just when they were supposed to be leaving and the actual time that the tires were in the air. With a close eye on the clock, one on the computer screen I was even able to text him a last minute arrival gate change which would affect his “route”.  Then I waited just the right amount of time and sent the message.  “Let me know when you’re at gate…if you make it.”

Back came his answer, “Yup-barely:)” – glad to be on the intended flight and on his way to the Hollyhood for a week’s worth of shooting.  Hours later I pull up the real time tracker and watched as the magic bus crossed the Grand Canyon.  It is gorgeous from the air with the sun starting to slant…I’m jealous.

This world is their world.  Mine started with party line telephones, no internet, no computers – yikes…not even color TV!  Here we are making technology work for us.  I rather like seeing where he is right now.

I enjoyed a quiet afternoon with no TV, no radio, no frantic packing; just time spent reading essays written by a college friend about her family’s life as commercial fishermen in Alaska.  Living alone on an island for four months in the summer, her life is so vastly different than mine.  One of her pieces was about getting their first telephone and the changes it brought their way – some good, some bad.

Change.  Progress.  Technology.  Not always good.  Not always easy.  But movement in millions of directions at once.  It got me thinking about how different my life is from hers but then that is true for all of us.  Do you ever stop long enough to think about the variations on the theme of just trying to survive and make a living? We are all doing the same thing but none of us are doing it in exactly the same way.

And all these changes and movements and progress over the course of our lives, the lives of our children and our parents, and on and on.  Had we been around to watch, we may not have even noticed the impercetable changes in the landscape day after day by that trickle of water that now can’t be missed from outerspace looking like a giant crack in the earth.

For as hard as it is to see all change as good – maybe we’ll be able to look back years from now and see a different kind of beauty carved into the rock face of today’s world by technology.  Only time will tell – like a few million years.

And by the way, is it just me, or is there something Grand Canyonesque about the terminal layout at ORD?


Tu risa

14 02 2009


Quítame el pan sí quieres, quítame el aire,

pero no me quites tu risa.

Pablo Neruda

Take bread away from me, if you wish, take the air from me,

but do not take from me your laughter

The circumstances were odd. The fact that the four of us were together in the same room rarely happens any more – not for bad reasons, just good.  Our schedules are crazy – our lives are busy. But we were there and it was unforgettable and we laughed till we cried.

My Valentine’s wish is that you would share laughter today with the loves of your life. To the Dr., Best Boy and Shop Girl – ¡JA! And last but not least, we all have Billy to thank for showing us the power of a good laugh.

song of the day – on so many levels

12 02 2009