Bob-bob-bobbin’ along

I noticed all the earthworms frozen to the pavement when I went out to scrape the half-inch of ice off my windshield in the morning. Late April in Minnesota. Yuck. Just when you pack away the boots and strap on your sandals, you get slapped upside the head by Mother Nature again.

By noon, when I headed home, the highways were fine but the county roads were covered in slush. Adding to that headache was the fact that every darn robin in a fifty mile radius had decided that it was a good day to harvest worms. Every few feet, I came upon a flock hopping in slush up to their bellies in the middle of the road.I braked every time and avoided them all. I’m no dummy. It is bad karma to splat a robin in the springtime. Or at least it should be, if it isn’t.

I’d been to a retirement dinner for colleagues the night before. As far as I’m concerned, retirement dinners are like Irish Wakes without the whiskey. Everyone says nice things and shares funny stories about the person who is leaving. Some shed a tear or two. There are bad jokes about nursing homes.There should be a better way to honor coworkers than to tell them what they DON’T have to look forward to.

This year’s newly departed have joined the ranks of the Gold Watch brigade. They’ll fish and play golf and see their grand babies more. They will volunteer or finally write that novel. Maybe they’ll find a beach somewhere warm to migrate to. Fate and good genes matter in retirement. Several years ago, a dear friend and colleague who’d been asked to sing a song for another retiree finished it by announcing his own retirement effective immediately. There were gasps from those gathered at the Legion. What? No cake? No wake? Nope. Just one last song from a sixty year old still young enough to carry his own tune right out the door. He left on his terms, not ours. I admired him for it then, and still do.

And so, I’m hatching my own retirement plan for the future. When it’s my time to go, I will do it in the springtime. No fanfare or fond farewells. No jokes about nursing homes, either. I’ll just bob down the center line of the road of the rest of my life, come rain or come shine, like a robin. In anticipation of all the juicy possibilities there for the taking just around the bend.



Frog songs and other mysteries

The small green buds on the lilac bushes in the side yard are proof that spring has finally sprung. The birds, frogs, and furry critters scampering all over the place are further proof despite the fact that it is snowing outside right now. It’s fine. It won’t stick. Isn’t that what we all say when it snows in late April?

The wind on Easter Sunday brought down the top of a small maple tree near the fire circle that had broken part of the way up last fall during a thunderstorm. I was glad to see it down when we came home from St. Paul. If you wait long enough, when it comes to trees, sometimes Mother Nature does at least half your work for you.

The spring peepers were having a big old party in the pond up the road when I walked the dog yesterday. Frogs, it seems, are easily embarrassed. They became completely silent as we approached. I imagined hundreds of nervous frogs with furrowed brows and solemn eyes watching. How did they know we were coming? Is there a sentry frog that lets the others know when to shut up? Which senses do frogs depend on most in the face of perceived danger? I want to know.

In other news, the woodpeckers and nut hatches are finishing up the last of the suet in the feeder. In a failed attempt to keep the dog busy, I put one of those squirrel spinners outside her fence. Unfortunately, for the dog, the squirrels have no interest in hanging onto corn cobs and flying wildly around in a circle when they are supposed to be building nests and starting squirrel families. They have better things to do in April, corn or not.

Time passes and the seasons goes ’round and ’round even if the squirrels won’t. The frogs sing or don’t, depending upon their need for privacy. Broken trees fall while others bud and grow tall. Our extended family will celebrate three different graduations this spring. One from college and two from high school. Three very different smart, funny, good-looking cousins perched on the edges of three different nests. They are ready to fly. We are (mostly) ready to watch them soar. There’s another sweet baby great-niece to meet and a housewarming for a nephew and his fiancee, too.  Our calendars and hearts are full.

Beginnings and endings. Endings and beginnings. In ponds. In the woods. In life.

And in families, too.




My second favorite household chore is ironing. My first being hitting my head on the top bunk bed until I faint.  —Erma Bombeck

Mabel is my front loading washing machine.  I love her.

After she has purred and clicked for the final time to let me know that the load is done, I go in and pull all the nearly already dry laundry out and stick it in the dryer that does not have a name because, well, it’s a dryer. Mabel is my favorite appliance. She is quiet and predictable and has never once let me down.

Years ago, back when life for me was busier and more complicated, I had a cleaning lady. On Sunday evenings, I hollered at everyone I lived with to pick up their junk because anyone who has ever had a cleaning lady knows that you always clean before the cleaning lady comes. Every Monday after I went to work, she showed up and even did laundry if I asked her to. She was fabulous. On Monday evenings, I’d try to get home before the rest of my family so that I could sit in a completely clean house for ten minutes all alone.

I was introduced to the concept of women’s work decades ago when my grandmother would crank up her wringer washing machine in the garage up at the lake. My sister and I could stand and watch her use it but we were never allowed to come within five feet of the squat, gurgling, hot monster that smelled like detergent and bleach. My grandmother would stand there sweating with her sleeves rolled up as she carefully guided towels through the wringer. They came out the other side stiff as boards. Once her basket was full, everything was hung on the line. When everything was dry, she ironed. Doing laundry at the lake took her two days.

This week, I am checking items off my list of all the yucky things I do once a year around here. This annual deep dive into the crevices and drains in a house where humans live isn’t pretty. It’s different from the normal, day-to-day tasks like tossing in a load of laundry or unloading the dishwasher. Yesterday I took apart the bathroom sink drain thing-y to clean all the gunk out of it. Then, since I was already grossed out, I gathered up my courage and a wire clothes hanger and fished a lot of long, black, hair out of the shower drain. Children leave you little reminders of themselves when they leave. This is so you don’t miss them too much. My kitchen floor is waiting to be scrubbed of the muddy paw prints of a particular little beagle until the backyard dries out enough to actually make getting down on my hands and knees worth the effort.

I used to have a cleaning lady. Now that cleaning lady is me. And while I may have gunk to clean out of the drains of my life and a small dog who doesn’t know how to wipe her paws, it could be a lot worse. For one thing, I’ve got Mabel and a man who knows how to use her. For another, I can’t even remember the last thing I ironed.  Which, in April or any other month of the year, is pretty darn okay with me.

The hummingbirds

…when you are convinced that all the exits are blocked, either you take to believing in miracles or you stand still like the hummingbird. The miracle is that the honey is always there, right under your nose, only you were too busy searching elsewhere to realize it. The worst is not death but being blind, blind to the fact that everything about life is in the nature of the miraculous.

-Henry Miller

One recently returned from a trip to the Dominican Republic where she went snorkeling. The other one is headed to Europe in a week. Like most young professionals, they think nothing of flying off across the ocean like hummingbirds whenever they get the chance. As their worrywart of a mother, I’d be lying if I said that all this flitting about doesn’t drive me just a little nuts. What if the plane crashes? What if they get sick and have to go to a hospital where nobody speaks English? What if they lose their passports and can never get back into the U.S.? These are the questions that torment me when one of them tells me they are going somewhere far, far, away. They sigh and tell me they’ll be fine. FINE? Really? That’s all you’ve got? Fine? You got lost in a shopping mall when you were four, I think. How are you ever going to find your way around Amsterdam?

Uffda. My poor grown kids. I’m kind of lot to deal with, obviously. Which is probably why they mostly ignore my completely irrational fears and throw all caution to the wind and go places and are just fine.

I try to put on a brave face. I do. At my core, I’m glad they love to travel because it is the best way to gain perspective. Without travel, it’s too easy to get comfortable, to only see to the edge of a property line. I’m glad they want to experience this big, colorful, messy planet full of different languages and cultures and ways of being. People are pretty much the same on the inside no matter where you go. Maybe that’s the best lesson travel teaches.

I blame their insatiable wanderlust on the fact that when they were young, about the only place we went on vacation was to the cabin. This wasn’t nearly as exciting as taking trips to Disney World as far as they were concerned. The place on the river gave them roots when all they wanted to do was flap their wings. But soon, summer will arrive and so will my two wild hummingbirds. We will see them after their father and I have chased all the mice out of the place and raked the yard. They’ll come loaded down with beer they will not take back with them and food and friends. For a little while, they will swim and laugh and grill a whole lot of burgers.

They’ll fall asleep in the house by the river their great-great grandfather built and sit at their great-grandmother’s table. Generations of gray ghosts who valued roots over wings will listen and be quite glad to see them. My big hummingbirds will tell tales of the places they’ve visited and the things they’ve seen.

Wonderful, I will say. How exciting to see that, I’ll marvel. See the world, I’ll think. While you are young and free. See it all. And then, when your wings get tired, come back to the small cabin rooted firmly to old ground and land for just a little while, please.

The ghosts and I will be right here waiting.