Mice and rice

“October, baptize me with leaves! Swaddle me in corduroy and nurse me with split pea soup. October, tuck tiny candy bars in my pockets and carve my smile into a thousand pumpkins. O autumn! O teakettle! O grace!”

-Rainbow Rowell, Attachments

In October, the sunlight is different, more brilliant. Thursday, I watched a pair of ducks gliding on a sea of diamonds under a brilliant, turquoise sky. Summer is wonderful,  but it is those perfect, rare, October afternoons with temps in the 70’s and the heady scent of wet oak leaves that I love best.

The dog is nursing her pride and a sore snout because she didn’t listen when I told her to “leave it” and tripped a mousetrap. Beagles do not hear anything where peanut butter is concerned. For the rest of the day, she glared at the spot in the utility room where the indignity occurred. It’s hard to keep one’s nose where it belongs. For beagles, especially, but people, too.

The mystery of the rice piles in beds has been solved. The mice were not importing it, as I had suspected. They just found the neck warmer filled with rice that fell down between the washing machine and the water softener before I did. Lesson learned. When something goes missing, keep looking.

A red squirrel has also found his way inside the cabin. I am finding acorns in places where no acorns should be. Like the left pocket of my bathrobe and between bath towels in the linen closet. The likely suspect is a mean, sneaky little red devil with a fluffy tail who chews me out as I stand on the front steps to shake all the acorns out of my sheets and towels before packing them away.

In October, I always wish a nice, clean, little weasel would move in to take care of the place until spring.  Weasels are good mousers. Maybe they can beat up red squirrels, too, for all I know.

This morning, the temp is in the 30’s, with a strong north wind and horizontal snow. October in Minnesota. Uffda. Tomorrow, we will turn off the water, blow out the pipes,  and call it good for another season.The furry forest critters will celebrate our leave-taking with a dinner party before we make it to town.

On the menu?  White rice and acorn stew.

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Battery life

“And I rose
In rainy autumn
And walked abroad in a shower of all my days…”

-Dylan Thomas, Collected Poems

I am writing this on my lap top. Albioni’s “Adagio for Organ and Strings” is streaming on my tablet. Occasionally, my cell phone emits a sweet “ding” to let me know I have a text message. I am working on learning not to text anyone under the age of forty back in ALL CAPS or place periods at the ends of texted sentences unless I’m ACTUALLY ANGRY. Old habits die hard for old English teachers. We need a lot of reminding.

The battery on my computer is draining before my very eyes. I know this because of the tiny battery-shaped icon on the bottom of the screen. I plug the computer in, and suddenly, I can see electrical power working its magic as the icon begins to fill. I never stop being amazed by electricity. You need it, and it’s there, just waiting on the other side of the wall outlet. You just need to plug in.

In other news, I’m getting over the first virus I’ve had in years, and it was a doozy.  Everybody I know seems to be either be catching, or getting over, this bug. I’m a freak about washing my hands after I’ve been anywhere (ask my children) but even fanatics get sick occasionally. When I was a young mom, the only thing worse than having a sick kid or two was being sick at the same time they were. Now, when one of them is sick, they call me for sympathy, but make their own chicken soup and sneeze into their own tissues. And when I’m sick, my only job is to get better.

Today, I’m doing just that. First, I’m watching the golden symphony of maple leaves in the woods floating to the wet earth below. Later, I will bake a ham and some sweet potatoes to fill the house with good smells. Then, before dinner, I will take a nap in front of the fire. The dog will join me. That’s the plan.

I’m plugged in.

My battery is charging, too.

 

Indestructible

The table is ugly mid-century modern fake-wood Formica. It is not much to look at. The vinyl upholstered chairs around it make an unholy screeching sound and scratch the linoleum when a felt pad falls off a leg. How is it that we have created vaccines and the internet but can’t seem to develop a pad that will stay stuck to the bottom of a chair leg? What’s that about? The chairs are currently blue. Before that, they were green. Before that? I don’t remember.

What 1950’s furniture lacked in appearance, it more than made up for in durability. This set is proof. It is indestructible. It has been used to roll out pie crust and for cleaning buckets of blueberries. It has cooled hundreds of oatmeal cookies through the years. Back when grandmothers still sewed sundresses for their granddaughters, it was the ideal surface for pinning and cutting out patterns. More than a few sunfish have been scaled on it through the years, too. Guns have been cleaned and oiled. Grocery lists written. Hundreds of games of gin rummy, cribbage, and solitaire have been played. The New Testament has been read cover-to-cover during breakfast more than once. It has been cut on, spilled on, painted on, and eaten on. In a kitchen with about eight square feet of actual counter space, it also doubles as the perfect meal prep surface. Forget about those big, fancy kitchen islands you see on new home tours. We have a kitchen table for that.

People, thankfully, do not chain-smoke around it any more, though a generation ago they did. There are fewer black coffee drinkers around it than there used to be, too. The older faces I remember around the table in my youth are just sweet memories and stories now. The pudgy baby faces of our children have morphed overnight into adult faces with jobs, worries, and other people who matter to them. They come for visits and then go back to their lives in the city. Some are starting to bring along new baby faces. If we are lucky, there will be more. That is what makes a family indestructible, isn’t it? New faces?

Some families build palatial lake homes with cathedral ceilings and floor-to-ceiling windows and call them cabins. Their kitchens feature the finest granite counter tops and largest “islands” money can buy. They plop cute pillows embroidered with the word “Gather” on plaid upholstered benches and wait for company. In places like this, I’m never sure whether this is an invitation, a suggestion, or a command.

We have an island, too.  It’s called my grandmother’s kitchen table. It’s where her people gather. It’s where we always have. It’s where we always will.

And let me tell you, that is a thing of beauty.

Love notes

Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

1 Corinthians 13:7

For Peter and Abigale

I think they asked me to read because the Groom could count on me to use my best “project all the way to the back row” teacher voice and the Bride knows that I will make sure that the back of my dress isn’t tucked into my pantyhose before I walk up to the front of the church.

The day you get married, you think you have an inkling of what to expect from marriage. You’ve seen people you love stay together, or not. You’ve been in the weddings of a few friends. You know what “getting married” means.

And then, you get married and find out what marriage really means.

You embark on a journey that will take you to the highest highs and lowest lows of your life. Between those highs and lows there will be days, weeks, years, decades of going to work and mowing the lawn. You’ll have the same five arguments over and over about things that aren’t that important. You will wear out appliances and buy new ones. You’ll forget to pick up milk. You’ll laugh about stupid stuff. If you are very, very, lucky you’ll grow old together.

That is life. That is marriage.

You will maybe make a baby or two. You’ll potty train them and sit through what will feel like a thousand piano recitals. There will be math homework you don’t understand. They will throw parties in your house when you’re not home. You’ll blink, and those babies will be standing next to someone doing exactly what you’re doing today.

Together, you will bury your parents, or a sibling, or God forbid, a child, in the years to come. You will find out what “in sickness and in health” really means. You will find out what you’re made of on a thousand different days in a thousand different ways. You’ll break, and then you’ll mend.

That is life. That is marriage.

You will have joy. So. much. joy.  Your heart will swell to nearly bursting some days because you chose this person who is the best, kindest, most thoughtful human you know. You will have days when you look at the person you chose to spend your life with and wonder if you made a terrible mistake. Nope. You just chose a human with faults and flaws. Forgive each other for being human. Forgive, and forgive, and forgive again.

On your wedding day, look around at the guests you’ve invited. We are your cheering section. We have faith that when the road gets a little bumpy, that you’ll be patient and kind, polite and humble, brave and true to one another.  That’s the promise you’re making to each other. It’s why we’re here.

So get ready. Buckle up, and hold on tight. You’ve got this.

Love.  It’s just the greatest thing, isn’t it?

I think I read that somewhere.

Auntie

A Southern gentleman

We ate, and ate, and then ate some more.

The older I get, the more I’m struck by how much the young eat, as opposed to the not-so-young.  The variety of dining options in a city as vast and diverse as Chicago is one of the reasons my girl loves living there. We ate ravioli in a buttery wine sauce in a tiny Italian restaurant, and savory Indian dishes I couldn’t pronounce at Devon Street. We had Chicago-style pizza in Lincoln Park, and grilled cheese sandwiches sprinkled with truffles in a pretty courtyard restaurant with a fountain.

I boarded the flight home stuffed full of happy memories and good food. The burly, red-bearded, young man seated in my row noticed me struggling to jam my suitcase under the seat and offered to put it between us. I liked him immediately. During the flight, we visited. He’d grown up in Mississippi and was on his way to a conference in Grand Rapids. He’d never been farther north than Chicago. He’d majored in Communications and History in college, had recently adopted a golden retriever pup who went everywhere in his truck with him, and had a mama who worried about things like bed bugs and her boy finding his way to a place like Grand Rapids, Minnesota in the middle of the night. I told him to watch for deer and that bed bugs weren’t generally an issue as far as I knew. He told me that he’d been traveling since 5 a.m. and hadn’t had time to eat dinner during his layover. I gave him my pretzels.

The lights of the Aerial Lift Bridge in Duluth caught his eye as we began to land. Once the plane was at the gate, he helped me with my bag.  I told him that when he got home, he was to tell his Mama that she’d raised a fine young man. He smiled. Our paths will not cross again.

To travel anywhere is to learn. We visit new places to understand different cultures, and to try new foods. Travel shatters the myths we’ve created in our minds of who people are based on stereotypes and caricatures, ignorance and fear.

Sometimes that happens on the way home when you offer a boy from Mississippi your pretzels.

The runway bunny

“If you become a bird and fly away from me, I will be a tree that you come home to.”

-Margaret Wise Brown, “The Runaway Bunny”

The flight from Duluth to Chicago usually takes a little over an hour. As the plane taxied for take off, the pilot’s voice came over the loudspeaker to explain that there had been some turbulence as he’d flown in, but that “thanks to the miracle of man-made flight” he anticipated getting us to Chicago ahead of schedule.

I will stop here to say that I had seen this pilot standing in the door of the cockpit as I boarded, and as God as my witness, he didn’t look old enough to fly an airplane. Seriously.

The flight was smooth and uneventful until we approached O’Hare. I don’t despise landings like I do take offs, because landings mean I am going to be back on the ground soon where moms who are afraid of flying know they belong. The plane started its descent. It circled the airport. Then, it circled again, and again. I heard the thump and whir of the landing gear.

Suddenly, the engines roared and the plane started going back up, not down. Then, we circled again and again. Finally, Skippy the Boy Pilot’s voice came back over the loudspeaker.

“Hey, Guys! You may be wondering what’s going on (you could say that, Skippy) I guess there’s a rabbit on the runway and we have been told to circle for a bit until they get what’s left of Bugs Bunny cleaned up. I should have you on the ground in about five to ten minutes. Thanks for your patience!”

A bunny? On the runway? A runway bunny? Shut the front door, Skippy.

Is an airplane sliding off a runway because of bunny guts something I need to add to my List of Things to Worry About? So many questions. So few answers.

In other news, I am visiting my daughter who lives in the sky in an apartment that overlooks the Chicago skyline. From thirteen floors up, at night, the lights of this enormous city are a sight to behold.

Even for moms who worry way too much about things they can’t control who wish that all bunnies would just stay in the woods.

To the moms of college freshmen everywhere….

She was barefoot.  Taking baby steps down the sidewalk with her arms outstretched and the fingers on her tiny starfish hands splayed and waving. She wore a bright pink hat and polka dotted leggings and had the bluest eyes I’ve seen on a baby in a really long time.

Her name was Isabella.

I met this tiny dynamo four years ago as I paced up and down the sidewalk in front of the dormitory that my own not-blue-eyed girl was moving her shoes into.  Actually, “meet” probably isn’t the correct term.  She came running full speed down the sidewalk toward me with a very tired woman chasing behind her.  So the Tired Woman and I talked, because we were part of the same conflicted tribe of moms preparing to leave their chicks in brick buildings with strangers.  As we spoke, we agreed that moms deserve a free pass from heavy lifting on dorm move-in day. That not hauling futons up four flights of stairs should be our reward for having done most of the physical and emotional heavy lifting for the first eighteen years of our kids’ lives.

Moms all over the place are standing at the doors of dorm rooms this week, taking pictures and fighting back happy/sad tears.  I did that, too, four years ago.  They will drive off into the sunset while their kids rearrange their dorm rooms again. Moms  (okay, and Dads, too) will arrive home to too-quiet houses and stand at the doors of bedrooms that look like they’ve been ransacked and tremble with fear thinking of all the free time ahead for them. And then, they’ll get to work figuring out the rest of their lives.

We work ourselves out of our jobs if we’ve done this parenting thing correctly.  That’s what I told myself four years ago.

It didn’t take long to realize that my job description hadn’t been eliminated entirely, just altered. For one thing, they come home more than you think they will so don’t turn their bedrooms into anything just yet.  And don’t take it personally if they don’t call for the first couple of weeks. Your phone WILL ring again.  I promise.  And sometimes when it does, the young adult on the other end of the line will just be calling to talk because they actually miss you. Okay, and sometimes it will be to ask for something.  But, they’ll call.  And you’ll be happy no matter why.

That day four years ago, my nest emptied out. The other mom’s nest still included a tiny chick in polka dots running just as fast as her pudgy legs would go. I remember watching and thinking, keep running through life, Miss Izzy.  In a few years, you’ll need strong legs to go up and down all those flights of stairs, too. Just like your big brother.  Just like my girl.

Sad-happy.  Happy-sad.  Happy.  That’s how it goes.

Welcome to the tribe, Mama.  Even if it doesn’t feel like it today, you’re going to be just fine.