Happy Birthday

Today is my husband’s birthday.

(I would like to say it’s also our niece, Betsy’s birthday.  She’s celebrating with her husband, children and mother this evening and I know they’ll have a wonderful time.  Happiest Day Betsy!!  But this is another story…)

This is not one of the “big” birthdays, ending in a zero or a five but it’s still significant.  It’s his birthday! and that, to me, means a little celebration and a little contemplation.

The celebrating comes this evening when we go out for dinner at a restaurant we’re both keen to try… a little red meat, a little seafood, a little wine, it’s going to be nice.  And it’s going to be romantic.  ’cause he’s still a very romantic man.

He’s also a very dependable man.  He does what he says he’s going to do and he does it to the best of his ability.  He’s accomplished around the house; he’s a very good musician and music teacher; he loves to ski and play golf and fish for trout; he loves The Grey Cat and me in pretty equal measure; and every day, at least once a day, he makes me laugh and that is priceless.

He’s a wonderful son and a very good brother, a fun uncle, a great friend, and the best kind of partner in crime for me.  (Almost) all the things I am not, he is.  (Almost) all the things I wish I knew or understood, he does.  Goodness knows he has his quirks and more than a few things that he does or says that drive me nuts… but I have more than my share of peculiarities which make him just as crazy so we’re probably even on that.

What makes me know that he is very special is that we married on faith.  We didn’t date, really, before we were married.  In the five years we knew each other before we married, we spent 16 days together… including the day (night) of our wedding rehearsal.  The day part, I should say, was for me a mess (although not nearly as much so as the day of our evening wedding; now that was a mess!!)  We married knowing each other through letters and stories exchanged and stolen time spent alone amongst my younger brothers and his recovery from an airplane crash.  He surprised me, surprised me very very much, when he asked me to marry him but he had faith we could make it work.  I believed him. I said yes.

So celebrating the moments and days in our lives which should be celebrated — his birthday and mine, our anniversary, Family Day, getting good news about work projects, and so on — all of those things are even sweeter because I’m celebrating with him

Tomorrow, he celebrates with friends and a couple of my brothers, his brother, with the annual poker game, pool tournament and pork fest.  Tonight, it’s just us.  Marking another milestone, grateful for our time together, growing older together, looking forward to saying, many more times:

 

chocolate_cakeLove you Bunky…

A Moment on Appreciation

You will notice I did not title this “A Moment FOR Appreciation”.  No, this is about appreciation itself. Because I believe we do not, generally speaking, appreciate enough.

We don’t appreciate the things, the experiences, the tastes and textures which all enrich our lives.  And for sure we don’t appreciate the people in our lives – certainly not as we should, on a regular, warm, expressed basis.

I bring this up because I stuck another note in my (sort of) daily appreciation jar this morning – two days late – about the platform Jeff built for me, for the front-loading washer and dryer.  He bought a couple of sheets of plywood, scrounged around the workshop for still more leftovers from his dad, put in a few hours, and ta-da… the machines are up off the floor and doing laundry is just that much easier. I mean, I giggled pulling clothes and towels in and out of the machines, that’s how much easier it was.

I appreciate the time and love that went into building the platform and how such a simple thing has made one of my chores almost fun to do.  And I have told Jeff so.

But I haven’t always told him how much appreciate the little things he does.  The big things, yes, always, but the  little things? Not so much.  For example, he always brings me coffee in the morning.  Wherever I’m standing, trying to break through the haze of the first of the day, there’s coffee in hand. And he’s the one who remembers to put the winter-time washer fluid in the car.  And he’s always there to help me put on my left boot.  (Yes, just the left boot. The right one slips right on but apparently I have a vastly different left than right foot.  Sigh.)  I appreciate all those things and more, and I’m making an effort to keep the memory of them alive in my jar.

So what else do I appreciate and need to express?

I appreciate the family I married and the family into which I was born.  They’re quite different from each other in many ways but there are essentials which are alike.  They are fierce in their love for each other, quick to point out the others’ flaws but willing to live with them, keen to spend what precious time can be carved out of busy individual lives for a few hours’ family companionship. I must tell them all, tell them each, I appreciate their love, time and support.

Just a few days ago I was reminded of why I appreciate my sister-in-law Karen who makes her own greeting cards for all occasions and skews them for the recipients.  Our Valentine’s card had symbols of Paris on it because she knows I’m stalking Paris.  I must tell her I appreciate that thoughtfulness.

I appreciate my writers’ group because they are helping me keep my nose to the grindstone, more than they might think, although perhaps not as much as it should be kept.  They’re smart, funny, good writers, and I appreciate their support, their critiques, their writing and their friendship.  I must tell them that.

I appreciate my Facebook friends.  Of course, I appreciate all my friendships, but when one is far from home, or where home used to be, and far from many of the circles of friends made over the years, having Facebook as another way – a quick, witty, silly way – to keep the friendships warm, that must be appreciated.

One of my friends – on fb but also in real life – posted something the other day that made me feel just so much… warmth.  We had worked together briefly, gotten to know each other fairly well in just a few months, and when I left our place of employment, I wasn’t sure that anything I had done there would be remembered well.  He told me at least one thing was, so now I need to tell him I appreciate that remembrance.

I appreciate the kindness of strangers.  I was leaving the library last Tuesday night and felt a back cramp start.  I bent over, holding on to a tiny tree in the tiny front plaza of the building and this kind man stopped and asked me if I was alright.  I told him I had gotten up from two hours sitting at a desk and moved too quickly out into the cold without doing any stretching and my back was reminding me it wasn’t as young as once we were, but I was fine.  He asked again, just to be sure, and then went on.  I should have told him I appreciated his stopping to ask; I will next time a stranger is kind.

On a physical level, I appreciate the smell of fresh spring flowers, especially lilacs, because they are smell of renewal; I appreciate the bittersweet taste of a really fine dark chocolate for the pure pleasure it offers; I appreciate the sparky bubbles of an ice cold champagne for delight of tickles in my nose; I appreciate the infinite soft warmth of a mohair blanket on my naked toes; I appreciate the beauty and skill in the painting hanging in my house (and try not to envy the artists’ talent) because they enrich me every time I stop to really see them; I appreciate hearing Jeff practise violin because it gives him pleasure and makes me feel “homey” inside; I appreciate the memories of past loves because they helped me become who I am at heart.

hearts

 

I think my Appreciation Jar will fill up faster now.  And I can appreciate that, too.

 

 

 

 

Six Months… What Goes Through My Mind in Six Months…

I should kick myself in the arse for being so… well, indecisive about continuing this blog.  Not because I don’t enjoy writing, because I do.  And not because I don’t appreciate the generally positive feedback I get from it, because I do.  But maybe because of two people and one idea.

The two people are ghosts from my life and while I try to ignore them or pretend they have little, if anything, to do with my present, they always seem to just pop up and annoy me with their ghostly presence.  They are likely see this post and knowing that – again –  I’m sharing something of myself with them is, well, icky.  But the reason for even establishing this blog was to bust some ghosts and mostly, I’ve done that.  Mostly, I’ve learned to step back and breathe, to take a second or third or tenth look at a problem and then either write about it OR accept the fact that some things in life, baby, you just can’t change.

The idea is different.  The idea was that maybe now I’ve busted those ghosts I can move in another direction.  What that would be, I wasn’t not sure but still….

But there’s more to writing this blog than just exorcising some bad ideas, some bad relationships. I write because I seek inner clarity.  I write as a way to express myself, and find myself, and be myself in a world where sometimes the masks are pretty heavy, stuck in place.  Of course, sometimes I write just pap and crap, and that’s okay!!  I love a good gossip or picture magazine at times.  But sometimes, I need to find words to figure out what the hell I’m feeling, and to get rid of the bad ones, and snuggle up to the good ones.

I’m keep a gratitude jar this year.  The idea is to jot down one small thing every day that’s made you feel grateful or happy or some other positive crap, put the notes in a jar, and at the end of the year, count ’em all up.  Well,  30 days does not make 30 notes but there are some in the jar, and there will be more than 185 by the end of the year (that’s more than 1 every other day, fyi for my arithmetically challenged friends!)

Maybe it’s been the jar, maybe it was getting a letter today from someone I did NOT expect to hear from, maybe it was a lot of PMing with a long-time colleague that just turned into silly fun… but I’m feeling really positive and lucky and peaceful this week.  A feeling which will last if the Seahawks win on Sunday.

Anyway, I’m back. I’ll be here a lot.  I hope to hear from you soon.  And I hope all the monsters under your bed are gone!

Here’s The Thing We’re Not Prepared For…

We’re prepared for a lot of things as we roll through middle age.

Thanks to Madison Avenue, we have our wrinkle creams, our hair dyes, our botox injections, our medicines for things that can’t get up and things that won’t go down.  We take longer vacations to Florida or Arizona in the winter and spend more time in the summer at the cottage.  We don’t camp in tents anymore, but we love to have the grandchildren or great-nephews in pup tents in the backyard.  We go to 35th high school reunions and 40th university reunions and remark on how great everyone looks!  We gather for the weddings of our best friends’ children and send christening gifts when we become honourary grandparents, kidding our friends about being “Grandma and Papa” now.

And  yes, we think about our mortality a little, just enough to do some estate planning maybe, certainly write a will, definitely think about how long those retirement dollars will last.  But what we’re really not prepared for is other people dying.

It’s the natural order of things that our parents die before we do – at least, that’s what parents want, to go before their kids.  Of course we know that that’s what’s going to happen.  But when it does, we’re still shell-shocked.  And then, slowly but surely it’s not just our parents, but our godfather and our uncle and our cousins who are dying, and suddenly that close, expansive, joyful world of family and friends-who-might-as-well-be-family is smaller, tighter, sadder because people are dying.

And it’s not just that we’re aging: our children and nieces & nephews are growing up and bringing new partners into the circle and it’s not what it was.  It’s not who we are any more… it’s who we were.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot through the winter.  My cousin Jeff died just over a year ago, my dear father-in-law died late last fall, and just a couple of months later, my cousin, my father’s much-loved cousin, Janet Stewart Prince, died from the complications of Parkinson’s.  Ross would have been the first one to mourn her, after her children, Judith & Stewart, of course.  They were buddies all their lives and I know she felt his loss deeply when he died 11 some years ago.

 

Uncle Walter & Aunt Janet with my father, Ross

Uncle Walter & Aunt Janet with my father, Ross

 

Aunt Janet, as we called her, and Uncle Walter are woven into the fabric of my life.  They dominate memories of my childhood at the cottage in Oliphant, along with Uncle Walter’s brother’s family (Uncle Jack & Aunt Elaine and their boys, including my first ‘fiancee’, Cam), Aunt Janet’s sister, another cousin, Aunt Margery & Uncle Jack and their boys, and the Bennett families (Uncle Cam & Aunt Mary and their children, Uncle Jim & Aunt Patsy and their children), and in later years, we were thrilled to also welcome to every day life at Oliphant my Uncle Bruce (Dad’s ‘baby’ brother) and Aunt Patty.  When I think of beaches and swimming and fishing and sailing and boating and water-skiing and softball and picnics in the dunes behind the cottage, I think of these people and the Dixon boys and Dougal Robertson (another cousin!).  Eating wieners on a stick and burnt marshmallows and I think of them.  Playing games of Red Rover and British Bulldog and I think of them.  Biking down to the general store for ice cream cones and I think of them.

Just as a little aside, I have story Aunt Janet used to tell on herself which I never fail to think of when baking.  She didn’t. Bake, that is, but some occasion called for her to do so, probably a tea, or maybe a funeral.  In any case, she bought a box mix for brownies, thinking that these had to be easy to do.  And they were!  She followed the instructions for pre-heating the oven and prepping the baking pan, and then adding eggs and oil to the brownie mix.  Then she got to the next part.  Which she read twice and said, “Oh well….” and went to roll up her sleeves and wash her hands thoroughly because the instructions said: MIX BY HAND.  It took her a sticky, chocolatey moment or two to realize that perhaps they meant stir, WITH A SPOON, by hand and not a mixer.

They were all of a kind, these adults who filled my childhood.  They worked hard and contributed much.  They raised pretty large and fairly happy families for the most part, they loved good martinis & Oliphant just about equally, and they asked for very little back except to enjoy a good life.  I think most of them got it, most of the time, and if things didn’t always turn out the way they might have hoped when they were children and teenagers, I hope with all my heart that they know that the one thing that did turn out was giving us the very best of childhoods.

There will be a memorial service for Aunt Janet on Saturday, the day before Stewart celebrates his birthday, the day before what would have been my father’s 82nd birthday!  My joyful heart is aching that I cannot be there — sad to miss the people I love, happy to share in heart and mind so many, many wonderful memories.

Dear Judith & Ross, Dear Stewart & Mary… I hope your hearts and those of  your children are also joyful this weekend especially, even as they ache.

in the front, Aunt Janet, Aunt Elaine, my mother Joy (being squeezed by Uncle Jack P); second row Uncle Jack C, Uncle Jim, my father Ross, Aunt Patsy; back row Aunt Margery (partially hidden), Aunt Patty, Uncle Bruce. Uncle Walter is the photographer.

in the front, Aunt Janet, Aunt Elaine, my mother Joy (being squeezed by Uncle Jack P); second row Uncle Jack C, Uncle Jim, my father Ross, Aunt Patsy; back row Aunt Margery (partially hidden), Aunt Patty, Uncle Bruce. Uncle Walter is the photographer.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’m The Reasonable One

He said before we moved in “That guy is a lunatic.  Are you sure you want to do this?”  Well, of course I was sure.  I wanted my dining room out of storage and more closet space and yet still be in the same neighbourhood.  What was one lunatic landlord, more or less???

Apparently, a lot.

Everything was an argument about how broke he was, how he couldn’t fix things properly, how stuff that happened was our fault.  And now he’s refusing to return our security deposits, yes, depositS as in two of them.  One for the apartment, based on the monthly rent of course, and one for $400 for The Grey Cat because,  I don’t know, he’s a lunatic.  And something about fleas which made no sense whatsoever but what the hell, I’m the reasonable one.

So now we’re off to Small Claims Court.  Not because we want to go (well, the Reasonable One doesn’t; her spouse is getting all Perry Mason-y. Sigh.) but because the landlord thinks that this is the way to solve problems.  Not by talking them out, coming to an agreement.  We would take an offer from him, something better than deducting the $650 he wants to deduct from the deposits, something more than the $50 we’ve offered for the two legitimate complaints he has, but he just wants to dick around with us because, I don’t know, he’s a canny lunatic.  And they’re the worst kind.

Sigh.

All I can hope is that we don’t get Judge Judy.

 

judges-gavel

It’s That Time of Year

For those of you who follow my blog (and bless you for hanging in there during my long, long winter of discombobulation) or know me personally, you will know that summer & I are not the best of friends.

I do not like being hot.  I never have.  My mother used to say that I kicked off my blankets at three weeks and, as a summer baby who doesn’t like being hot, I always believed her!  There are two good things about summer: going to the cottage and lots & lots & lots of fresh, local fruits and veg.

These are two very good things indeed, so unless sweat is actually rolling off my forehead and stinging my eyes, I try very hard not to complain too much when the temperature rises above 26/78 degrees.  Seriously.  Hotter than that and I do have a tendency to slide into Miss Cranky Pants mode.

Until I get out the canning pot.

 

canning pot

 

and I go to the market and buy berries

 

strawberries

 

which is not to say that I’m no longer hot.  In fact, standing in front of a hot stove, over a hot canning pot, stirring berries and sugar and lemon for quite a few minutes, I am quite hot.  But I’m also deep into a fantasy about a mid-December morning and looking out at a grey, cold, damp start to the day, thinking what can I do to brighten things up a little??  And then it comes to me:  Fresh popovers and homemade strawberry jam!!

Making jams and jellies, canning fruit, processing tomatoes, making chutneys and relishes… this all about capturing the fleeting goodness of our summer weeks (not even months!!) and keeping them close to us in some fashion.  I can’t do much about capturing the beach to help get us through a long, dark, cold winter (other than a trip to Indian Rocks, maybe) but this, this good food from our neighbourhood and from my hands, this I can do.

 

jam_jar

 

So this week there will be strawberry jams — at least two kinds — and blueberry jams — at least two kinds — and I’m thinking about making some raspberry-lemonade concentrate.  Found a great recipe for this stuff that you freeze and then pull out when you need a little sunshine… with or without vodka!!

And I’m seriously considering making brandied cherries when the local cherries pop up.  What do you think?

Mmmm.  Summer goodness.

 

 

 

The Root of It All…

Root vegetables.  The staple of the winter dinner table.  Those vegetables which grow late in the season and keep well in the root cellar.  Those vegetables with the best price at this time of year, as hot house or tropical vegetables command prices well above their taste.

Carrots, parsnips, potatoes, onions, turnips, beets, squash after squash variety.  And let’s add cauliflower and cabbage into the mix as well, even though strictly speaking they’re not ‘root’ vegetables.    Vegetables that roast well and enrich stews and make hearty soups.  Still, by the time you get to the end of February… aren’t you just the tiniest bit anxious for spring and summer vegetables fill up your plate?

Asparagus!  Snappy thin stalks of emerald green asparagus with their purple tips.  Barely steamed, drenched in lemon butter served hot, or dressed with a balsamic vinaigrette served cold, either way reminding us that, oh thank god, spring is fully here.

Lettuce!  Soft, tender leaves support a dash of lemon juice, a swish of olive oil, and enliven a slice of roast chicken in a most temperate way, another gift of spring.

Tomatoes!  I want tomatoes that are heavy and sweet and make juice run down my chin when I bite into them.  The best of the locally-grown tomatoes is months away but they’re not the only, local, fresh vegetables for which I long.

Sparky scallions, crunchy pea pods and tender peas, the first crop of radishes, the first burst of spinach, tender baby spinach meant for salads, not older spinach in bags perfect for creaming and serving with (again!) root vegetables.

Even potatoes taste different in spring and early summer, when they are those lovely little nubs of tiny new potatoes, potatoes that are perfect for a pot of salty boiling water, cooked to tenderness, squashed open for a pour of parsley butter, a twist of fresh ground pepper.  These are not merely spuds, they are the taste of spring!

All this ruminating about root vegetables is a sign, I think, of how long this winter has been.  How long and cold and snowy, with little sunshine and seemingly no hope that we will ever see grass, or asparagus, again.  I pull dirt encrusted potatoes and parsnips out of burlap bags.  I go through my cookbooks once again, seeking another way to make a silk purse out of sow’s ear or, in this case, a delicious gratin of carrots and parsnips.  There is borscht one more time this winter, an excellent soup the first three or four times we slurped it down this season.  Roast cauliflower is coming to the dinner table this week, perhaps dusted with cumin and turmeric again.  Or perhaps smothered in a cheese sauce because everything, even root vegetables in March, taste better in a cheese sauce.

 Roasted-Root-Vegetables

Cooking inventively is the definition of cooking well with root vegetables, and certainly in the winter months, I think it’s definition of cooking inexpensively. Perhaps our mothers, definitely our grandmothers, knew this sort of cooking, in an age when there were few hot houses, little transportation from Florida or California, and really no food coming from Chile or Israel or Australia.  So perhaps, because they were not tempted by tomatoes both over-priced and also, sadly, mealy, or thick stalks of Mexican asparagus that has woody ends and the lingering hint of illegal pesticides, or bags of baby lettuce for seven dollars and no guarantee it would not wilt before you got home, perhaps without those temptations, they would continue to cook and enjoy root vegetables.  Perhaps it all comes down to the fact that our mothers and grandmothers understood and lived better with the cycle of food that our four season climate gives us.

Whatever this malaise that might affect my taste buds by mid-March, I will rally.  I will roast beets and roast onions to go with the pork chops and sauerkraut for supper. I will make another batch of carrot-ginger soup. And I just might “borrow” Neil Perry’s idea for squash pancakes and try a version of these unctuous and savoury treats for myself.  All of these choices will be delicious and nutritious, and because they are seasonal also inexpensives.  And I will try to remember that last summer, in the middle of corn and tomato and watermelon season, I scrubbed some new beets and roasted them, along with the some potatoes, to round out a barbecue meal because, as I said, “roasted beets are so yummy!”

 

Robert W Mols

As my mother-in-law says, getting old is not for sissies.  But if you’re lucky enough to age with the support and love of family and community, it can be done with comfort and grace.

Dr Robert W Mols Musician, Conductor, Composer, Teacher Husband, Father, Grandfather, Great-Grandfather

Dr Robert W Mols
Husband, Father, Grandfather, GreatGrandfather… but also a gifted Musician, Conductor, Composer, Teacher

 

Jeff and I decided more than two years ago and seemingly on the spur of the moment (but with much talking and questioning for some months before hand) that we would move to Buffalo and be here for his parents.  At the time, they were 90 years old and mostly healthy but still… they were 90 years old!  It was time to get serious about end of life concerns. So we packed up and moved out and found ourselves here, Jeff’s hometown and my second favourite city in the U.S.

Once we caught our breath, we could see his father, in fact, was growing noticeably slower, aging quickly before us, showing signs of both physical and mental challenges. As the months went on, Jeff wound up doing more and more for them. Not leaving his sister and brother out of the picture, but they had (have!) lives that are more complicated than ours in many ways so it was simpler for Jeff to take on more of the little things that could be done.

Earlier this fall, after a difficult summer, and with his parents’ cautious agreement, Jeff moved in with them and was there 24/7 — except for Thursdays when brother Robin would stay for 24 hours.  Being there, being available to support his mother and physically help his father with day-to-day needs was not just necessary for their being able to live at home, but for Dad to be able to die well.

When I would call, to see how things were going, or stop by for a game of cribbage and maybe supper, I would ask how things were, what were they doing with their time.  Jeff’s first answer was always “We laugh!”  Over meals, they would share memories of people and places from his parents’ childhood, from Jeff’s childhood, about the suburban neighbourhood they moved into as “pioneers”.  They watched a few football games and a few hockey games, and Jeff suffered the Texas Rangers losing another run for the Series, and they listened to a lot of music.

With Jeff, with all my in-laws, it always comes back to music.  On October 20th, the Amherst Symphony Orchestra opened their season by playing, amongst other pieces, the first movement of Robert Mols’ Symphony No. 1  Fortunately, with the support of family and friends, Dad was able to attend, to hear his son play his music, to hear the heart-felt welcome and appreciation the movement received from the orchestra and the audience.  That evening created a memory we will all treasure forever.

From there, Dad’s decline speeded up a little more with every day, until there came the day when he went into hospice care.  We cannot say enough about the concern and caring shown by everyone who is part of the Hospice Buffalo team.  They made Dad as comfortable as they possibly could.  Almost more importantly though, they made the family comfortable too, as comfortable as possible with the idea of having someone deeply loved, deeply admired, dying and moving on.

Dad slipped away in the middle of the night, quietly, peacefully.  The way we should all die I think.  Another member of the Greatest Generation gone, but his gifts of family and humour, of friends and responsibility, and especially of music, will linger for as long he is remembered by those who loved him.

Senescence, or Seriously, How Did I Get Here?

I have been thinking a lot about ageing this week.

My birthday is Saturday and that always makes me think about ageing.  When I was a child, it was exciting to grow older, to be one step closer to adulthood and all the fun I saw come with being grown up.  When I was a teenager, it was still exciting to grow older, to start having some of that fun of being a grown-up but also to start shouldering some of the responsibilities that come with years.  When I was a young adult, it was still exciting to grow older, because the possibilities of my youth were coming true, so I was having that adult fun and yet also being An Adult and carrying more responsibility and obligation around with me. And now I am in well into my middle years, well into them, and I still love birthdays (most especially mine) but they’re not so much exciting now as they are nostalgic, sometimes Romantic, always emotional.

I must have an angel food cake for my birthday.  This is because my grandmother, Grandma Gert (whose name was really Hazel Isobel but we called her Gert), would bake one for me every summer.  We would troop up to their cottage, eat barbecued hot dogs, corn on the cob and angel food cake with a kind of inner ‘moat’ of mixed whipped cream, sliced bananas, mandarin oranges and tinned pineapple.  Sort of like this:

angel-food-cake-3

Having an angel food cake like this meets all my late middle years birthday needs. It is emotional and nostalgic, remember my grandparents and the fun having those birthday lunches with my family always meant. And now an angel food cake is Romantic because Jeffrey (almost always) bakes one for me, foregoing the ‘moat’ to make the cake last longer for just two people, but serving the whipped cream and tropical fruits on the side. The down side of having this angel food cake birthday was the location.

Oh, don’t get me wrong.  I loved the cottage life, and I loved spending all summer, every summer, at the cottage, but I never had a birthday party like my friends at school did because I was never around my school friends.  I was at the cottage!  And as much as I loved my family, it wasn’t the same thing, having hot dogs with them and not my friends.  So the year I turned 9, I decided to have a party for my cousins and “summer cousins” at the cottage.

Probably should have told my mother I wanted to do this BEFORE I invited everyone but… it all worked out in the end.  My grandmother came to the rescue with a cake, we had a field’s worth of corn on the cob, played silly party games, went swimming, and I got presents!

That was my last birthday party until I turned 18, which happened when I was in Australia, and then the next one after that was 30 and then 40.  That last one (a party planned by me but turned into a surprise by Jeff & my parents when they made it all happen a week earlier than I thought!) was especially lovely but also, in retrospect, sort of sad.  My mother was not feeling well and sort of held herself away from the crowd.  As it turns out, she really wasn’t well and died before my next birthday.  And that was when I started marking birthdays not just a matter of getting older but also of change.

This birthday brings more changes and more ageing, not so much for me, but for my in-law family.  My parents-in-law are just weeks away from their 92nd birthdays and 70th wedding anniversary, but both are facing the many changes and challenges of ageing, especially my father-in-law.  I watch them, I see how Mom deals with Dad, her impatience sometimes but mostly, especially, her love and devotion, and I feel so blessed to have them in my life, to have had them welcome and value me in their lives.

Wikipedia sugggests that ageing well consists of doing so with a low probability of disease or disability, enjoying high cognitive functions, and having an active engagement with life.  In other words, you’re healthy, your mind still works, and you’re out there having fun.  Okay, I’m three for three so far.  Well, maybe 2.5 for three, but let’s not quibble.  And I am grateful for ageing well, as opposed to badly, and especially as opposed to the complete alternative.  But still, this birthday reminds me I am ageing and while I have always changed with age, for the first time, I am seeing those changes, or more accurately seeing those changes more clearly, and some of them are… well, let’s just say I wish one needn’t see them quite so clearly.

I have a copy of the Musselman family tree (as of 20 years ago) and almost all of my mother’s father’s relatives on that very large and well spread out tree lived long lives.  I mean, long lives.  Even back in the 17th century, my ancestors lived long lives, and in the 20th, very long lives and apparently mostly healthy ones.  My maternal grandfather, who was born in 1899, once told me he wanted to live to be 101, because that would mean his life would touch three centuries; he missed by three years.  I think I am more Musselman than Staines; goodness knows I look like a Pennsylvania Dutch/Swiss farm peasant!  Perhaps this means I will enjoy that lifespan too.  I don’t know.

In biology, senescence is the state or process of ageing.  In life, the process of ageing is about grace.  It’s about facing what you have and who you are, it’s about enjoying those things you still can and remembering those things you cannot, it’s about family, still with us and still with us only in our hearts. Ageing is also another angel food cake, a bottle of champagne and a few birthday cards.  It’s also a little time reading old diaries, leafing through a few photo albums, and then enjoying a day with family and friends.

For Robert DeNiro, Mae West, Davy Crocket, Jim Courier, Belinda Carlisle, and especially for my dear friend, Richard Prazmowski, this wish for us all….

Birthday-Candles3

A Seriously Sad Cat

If anyone ever asks you if an animal has an emotional life, tell them about The Grey Cat.

She has one human.  He’s at music camp this week.  She misses him.  Oh, god, she misses him.

He had packed the car in a few trips, one bag or box at a time, trying to look like he wasn’t, you know, LEAVING.  Because The Grey Cat is a very smart cat.  She understands perfectly what bags and boxes mean — someone is leaving!  And if there is a soft-sided black bag with screening on two sides, she’s leaving with the human(s) which is much better than being left.  Only this time, no soft-sided black bag with screening on two sides so some surreptitiousness was called for.

By Sunday at about 10pm, she’s in the window sill, sitting there, watching, waiting.  She knows the sound of her human’s car very well.  A most distinctive diesel engine.  Oh, she knows the other car two, but her human’s car?  That one she picks up a half block away.

By 11pm, I’m in deep doo-doo.  She’s stalking me, as I close up for the night, meowing (which she hardly ever does), almost begging me to tell her where the hell he is.  Sadly as smart as she is, her human vocabulary is limited to ‘treats’ and ‘brush’ and ‘no’ — at least, when she wants to stay out of serious trouble.

Monday morning, it’s breakfast time.  I give her fresh water and food.  I offer to brush her.  She RUNS AWAY!  She loves to be brushed but apparently only by her human.  Who is not me.  Oh, I’m worth a good nudge at midnight, get the ears scratched, asked one more time “What the hell did you do to him that he’s not home with me?”, but I’m  not him.

And she misses him.

So, to make the days go faster, she’s sleeping a lot and ignoring me more.  I’m hoping that the little calendar I made for her and posted by her litter box helps.  I’ve circled Sunday in red.  ’cause I miss him too.

Grey Cat on Love Seat