Eagle Eye

 

One who sees or observes keenly. That’s the dictionary definition of eagle eye. It helps explain my experience being the subject of such observation. It also provided a reminder of the power of nature.

Our house outside of Eagle River was near Rice Lake on Highway G. The houses behind us had lake access and one of our neighbors let us use their pier. They were often not there since this was a vacation home; that provided a perfect vantage point for enjoying the beautiful north woods sunsets.

That’s how we first spotted the eagle’s nest in a large tree on the south end of the lake. The pair would arrive each spring and put on a show of flying around high and low and swooping for food then returning to the nest. Binoculars gave us an almost video-cam view of their domestic activities.

One year, we noticed babies in the nest. It was a pleasure to watch these eaglets being fed, along with all the other nest maintenance that was going on. The adult pair took turns heading out for food. That was their main job and it kept them pretty busy throughout the day.

We were entertained, seeing the eaglets many attempts to launch from the nest. On their first tries, they’d take off and then swoop so low we thought they’d land in the lake. But they soon got their footing, venturing out just a short distance before returning home; as time passed, their forays out into the world grew longer and longer.

One day as we were doing our usual watch, one of the adult eagles left the nest and made his rounds of the lake. I don’t know how to determine an eagle’s gender but for this story I’ve decided it’s a him. Much to our surprise, he made sweeps near us a couple of times and then perched in a tree about twenty feet directly above us.

We’re looking up. He’s glaring down. I suddenly fully understood the term, eagle eye. His eyes were piercing. We wondered what he was thinking and if he would attack us. Maybe we were the food source he was looking for. It was kind of scary. We sat quietly, maintained eye contact and waited him out. He then began to flap his wings, getting ready to take off. Luckily, he headed out instead of down.

The last year I lived in this house, the eagles didn’t return to the nest. We worried and weighed the possibilities. The fact that eagles usually return year after year to the same nest made their absence less than hopeful. We’ll never know.  Such is life.

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Men and Women

I thought all marriages were like Mom and Dad’s. They were together for over sixty years and argued every single day.  About everything. As the oldest of their six children I gave little notice to the discord but when looking back, I see it clearly.  Around thirty-seven years in, Mom tearfully informed they were getting a divorce.

Talking individually with Dad, he said they’d been going to counseling. He really liked the guy they were seeing who, according to Dad, was on his side. He then remarked that Mom could get a divorce if she wanted to; all this was her fault anyway. She never followed through and life returned to the way it had always been.

I recall on my visits home, Dad always passed around the latest four-panel cartoon from the daily newspaper. It was called “The Bickerson’s.” He’d snicker as he recounted how the cartoon depicted the latest disagreement embroiling their daily life. Dad chuckled. Mom looked pained.

Their marriage wasn’t violent or physically abusive but there was always the undercurrent of tension and discord. A constant pick, pick, pick. I marveled that they stayed together but that was another time when divorce was shameful. Especially for my Catholic mother. By the time Dad retired they’d found ways to tolerate each other and get through the day.

You’d think I would have learned a valuable lesson from this. But no. I’d bought into the whole marriage myth. Hook, line and sinker. Pardon the cliché but that describes it perfectly. I chased that myth most of my adult life. I had to be married. I had to be part of a couple. Why didn’t I question that fallacy? I still wonder what was I thinking when insisted I was a “couples person.”

Back in my undergrad days in the 1960’s, I hung out with a boyfriend who would become my first husband. He and his friends belonged to the campus Vet’s Club. He dragged me everywhere with them. Picture me with a dozen boys making the rounds to the local townie bars in that small college town. I felt like one of the guys and really enjoyed that.

Too bad I didn’t realize how I felt; I could have stopped the runaway train, preventing me from entering into a marriage that had not been thought through very well. That also didn’t stop me from re-entering the comfortable world of couples a second time. And I wasn’t wise enough to see that the twelve years I’d spent alone between my two marriages had been the best time of my life.

Following that second marriage, I recall being at a board meeting of a non-profit I served on. After the meeting we went to dinner. There were four men and four women; all the men were married. We talked and laughed and had a great time.

Toward the end of the evening I leaned over to the woman next to me and commented how great this was. We could spend such a nice evening in the company of some really nice men and then go home alone. She commented we were possibly seeing the best side of these guys. Our snugness was palpable.

Sometime after my second divorce was finalized, the ex-husband started coming around again. I realized I didn’t want to go back. I liked my apartment decorated the way I wanted and not having to check with anyone before planning an activity.

I admit it would be nice to have a male companion. I really do like men. I just don’t want to be in an entanglement with one. And that’s what it is. An entanglement. Truthfully, I’d have liked it if that second husband and I could have lived apart and seen each other regularly for lunch, a movie or whatever. But no, he wanted a live-in housekeeper, etc.

And that’s the crux of it. Men and women are not compatible. They want and value different things. They come to diverse solutions for the same problem.  There’s always the bargaining that goes on. I’ll go with you to the hobby swap-meet if you go with me to a beach front vacation. Swerving from the bargain leads to resentment.

I wish I’d figured all that out earlier. I no longer buy the myth that happiness will be found by finding that soul mate, by teaming up with that perfect man. I’m no longer shocked when that couple who seemed to have it all together announce they’re getting divorced.

 

 

Small Town Service

First place in 2018 non-fiction category of WWA’s Jade Ring Contest

Living in a small town is often romanticized, mostly by those who haven’t tried it. At first, newcomers are mesmerized by the peace and serenity. The sense of isolation comes later. Feelings of belonging take time to build and acceptance often arrives in unexpected ways. A memorable example for me involved an old TV and a rusty, battered microwave that was used in a most unusual way.

Our television, one of those old, box models, had to be played with a lot just to get it to turn on. My frugal husband wanted a full autopsy before dumping it. I agreed, reluctantly, to take one more shot at it.

I found a TV repair shop in the phone book. The only one listed. It was at the man’s home in a wooded area on the edge of town. On the phone, he gave me directions to his shop, saying to look for the microwave.

“You can’t miss it,” he’d said. And I didn’t. Actually I’m pretty sure the microwave doubled as both a mailbox and the sign advertising his business. A piece of cardboard with the fire number hand-printed in large letters filled its glass window.

An older man, he wore faded work pants, scratched up boots with tattered laces and a wrinkled baseball cap. He carried the TV in and placed it on the floor of his shop which was really a dark and musty garage. Looking it over, he perked up when he saw it was a Zenith.

“I’ve got some parts for those,” he said. That got my hopes up too.  He wrote my phone number on a crumpled notepad and placed it on top of a saw horse. After a week, assuming his sophisticated filing system had failed, I called.

He said he’d tried everything but the TV just wouldn’t respond. As though asking for permission, he said there were a couple of other things he wanted to try. He wondered if he could keep it a few more days. Who’d say no to that.

After another week, I called and got the grim news. Then he asked if I’d dispose of it myself since the local dump no longer let him bring in TV’s. I made my way once again to the microwave mailbox. With TV back in my car and ready to leave, I asked what I owed him.

“No, nothing,” he shook his head as he fumbled with indiscriminate metal parts scattered on his workbench. I was silent a minute, thinking that through.

“That doesn’t seem right to me,” I ventured.

“I don’t charge if I can’t fix it.” He sounded both matter-of-fact and certain.

“But I should at least pay for a service call. Don’t you think?”

“No. I don’t charge if I can’t fix it.”  We went back and forth a few more times. But his mind was made up. Not wanting to push any further, I said thanks and drove off to the dump where I paid a $5.00 disposal fee.

We went on with our life and bought a new 21st century TV. But my interaction with this man was still on my mind, still in my head.  I had to do something I reasoned, so I wrote a letter to the editor of the local once-a-week newspaper.

Letter to the Editor:
Last week I had an experience that may be common in small towns but, being a transplant from a big city, it made quite an impression on me. I’d taken my TV to a local repair shop. After trying very hard to fix it, the dealer said he couldn’t. I wasn’t surprised since it was a 1983 model. But what I didn’t expect was that he refused to let me pay him. I felt I should pay at least a service charge and told him so several times. But he was adamant. “I only charge if I fix it,” he said. So, let me pay him in another way. Thank you Howard D*** TV and Appliance Service of Eagle River. Thank you for your superior customer service and your work ethic, both which seem in shorter supply these days.

The day the paper was delivered, a co-worker came to my office. She thought my letter was neat and said the TV repair guy was her husband’s cousin.  He’s known as Butch, she informed me.

Later that day, my co-worker’s husband came by and commented on my letter. We had a nice time talking about his cousin, Butch. Butch and his dad shared the same first name, so that’s why the nickname. But Butch doesn’t like to be called that anymore, he added. After our conversation, Howard/Butch was someone I felt I knew pretty well.

Then a few days later, I saw an acquaintance at the grocery store; I’d never, ever gone to the grocery store without running into someone I knew.  She couldn’t say enough about how wonderful it was that I’d taken the time to write that letter about Howie.

“Howie is my uncle,” she said. “He was always good with electrical stuff, even as a kid. Vivian, his wife, she works here at the grocery. Yah, she usually does bagging. They are such nice people. And they had those three kids. Howie had a sister who had problems and they had it tough when he was growing up. So, that’s why it’s just so great you wrote that letter. He really deserves that and maybe this will bring him more business.”  Now I felt like I really knew Howard/Butch/Howie. But her final comment was the kicker.

“We don’t usually get that from city people.”  She cocked her head and gave me one of those knowing looks women give to women. Just for a moment I felt like I really belonged in this place where newcomers were treated with reserve and hesitation.

And that’s the thing about small towns. Everybody knows everybody. Everybody is related to everybody. And I know there’s an up-side and a down-side to that. But I also know it only takes a moment for a casual conversation to meander into a lengthy, historical record. And what you hear, as I did with Howie, is a lovingly told story of the meaningful and mundane details of someone’s life.

And these stories go on and on through time. So, years from now, maybe my name will come up over a cup of coffee at the local diner; perhaps someone will remember that nice woman who, though not from here, wrote that wonderful letter. And maybe they’ll begin to believe city people aren’t so bad after all.

 

 

The Dog Who Came in From the Cold

First place winner in WWA’s 2018 Jade Ring Contest, humor category; published in 2018 Creative Wisconsin Anthology

My Siberian husky, Nikki, was leading a secret life. Clandestine meetings; trading favors that resulted in a bounty of untold riches. For her. Though she’d probably never forgive me, I just knew I had to protect her from herself.

We lived at a ski resort located in the Big Snow Country of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Being about 10 miles from Lake Superior meant we got 200 to 300 inches of snow every year. A skier’s paradise.

It was also a builder’s paradise, which was why my husband, a building contractor, and I lived there. We were the only year-round residents on the wooded cul de sac a half mile from the ski lodge.  The other homes were ski chalets, rented by the week or weekend during ski season.

Besides skiers and builders, this location was also perfect for Nikki.  The surrounding woods were her playground. Huskies are known for being runners, but Nikki was good. She always came home.  And she loved the snow.

When I let her out on snowy mornings, she’d put her snout down into the 12 to 18 inches of newly fallen, airy, fluffy lake effect snow; then she’d run at full speed, spewing a snow-plow-like spray as she buzzed the length of the driveway.

Each day after work, I’d release Nikki for her check of the neighborhood. But I had no idea what was really going on and became aware of it quite unexpectedly. These ski houses were purchased as an investment by private individuals and rented through the ski resort rental association. The owners of the house next door had called, asking me to see what utensils and glasses their house needed before the next season began.

While checking the cupboards, I noticed the bulletin board hanging in the hallway filled with pictures. Lots of pictures of Nikki. My Nikki. There she was, cuddled up near the fireplace being hugged by a couple of young children as though she were a part of their family. Another showed her on her hind legs, begging for a morsel. She was having a ball!

The guest book was filled with renters’ comments about the friendly dog who visited daily throughout their weekend or week-long vacation. One guest recommended to future renters that the friendly dog who came around really liked ice cream. So, be sure to keep it on hand.  No one had to tell me how friendly and loving Nikki was. But the ice cream comment surprised me. I always thought her favorite snack was popcorn.

But then I began to worry.  I recalled the many times I’d stood out on the porch and called for her, gave up, went in and then ten minutes later tried again. Finally, I’d hear a far-away door slam and soon Nikki would magically appear. Now it all made sense.

But there were six ski houses on this road. Did that mean she makes the rounds to each of them? Knowing Nikki, this seemed likely. I knew I had to do something.

I went to see my friend Helen, who owned a local leather and gift shop. She suggested attaching a leather tag to Nikki’s chain. Helen made an oval, flat piece of leather, approximately two by four inches where she’d pounded a message: DO NOT FEED OR TAKE INSIDE.

I felt devilish as I attached the tag to Nikki’s collar. Sometimes it’s hard to be a good parent. Almost immediately, I was pleased that she showed up promptly when I called; there also were no more mysterious slamming doors.

Then one day, Nikki returned with a little surprise for me: a piece of notebook paper rolled up in her collar. The hand-written note said it was so great that an owner cared so much for this beautiful and friendly dog. The writer thanked me and was happy to honor my wishes.

Our life went on with Nikki on permanent house arrest. She continued making her rounds of the neighborhood, showing up right away when I called. Arriving back home she always got a treat for being such a good girl. Rotating between ice cream and popcorn.

 

 

 

 

The Question

He was a typical UP local who either worked in the copper mine or in the woods. He wore the signature sorrels, a bulging, buttoned flannel shirt and red timberjack cap with ear flaps askew. I can’t imagine how we’d come to be in the same place, but there we were. His question was not delivered aggressively but wasn’t exactly friendly either.

“So, what are you anyway?” My puzzled look gave away that I had no idea what he was asking and I told him so. After he humphed and rolled his eyes he gave it another try.

“So, are you Finlander, Italian, or what?”  Still puzzled, I hesitated a minute and then gave what was to me a logical reply. I’m an American. 

“No, really, what are you?” His impatience was growing. I fumbled around with what I knew of my parent’s background, that Mother was German and French and Dad was Swedish and Norwegian but I ended the conversation still insisting I was an American.

I saw what he was trying to do. Put me in a box that would make him comfortable and would also firm up his expectations of me. He wanted me to fit into his cultural stereotypes. Finlanders are stoic. Italians are emotional. So, what was I with my German/French/Scandinavian background? A puzzle he couldn’t figure out.

I could also see what he was thinking. Here’s another one of those big city people who come up here and think they know everything and that they have a better way of doing things. They come with their money and big cars and think they’re better than everybody else.

And yes, I guess we were some of that.  We had come to the UP for an opportunity. My husband had started a construction company and built chalets at the local ski resorts. I heard it was being said around town that I shouldn’t be working because we were rich. If they only knew how our fly by the seat of your pants operation really was worked.

That was just one of the ways there was a disconnect between them and us. I learned to watch what I said and to whom since everyone was related. I made it a point to not pick up the local dialect filled with ‘you betcha’ s and ‘der you go’ s. I picked my battles regarding a woman’s place in the world.

Being an eternal interloper made me strong. I found others who were from someplace else and we banded together. Turned out I’d live in this unforgiving place for fifteen years, tolerating the social limitations as well as the overabundance of snow. It was a challenging time but one thing I learned was how to answer the question of what I was.

 

Party Games

April 14, 2018: Family and friends gathered at my place for a belated birthday/welcome spring party. My friend Betty and I, who turned 70 the same year, had made a pact that we’d have a party every year from now on since each birthday is a milestone. I’m now seventy-three! Not sure if I had what it would take to put it together, when Betty offered to help, that sealed the deal. I couldn’t have done it without her!

Two years ago, the first time I invited both family and friends, mixing was at a minimum. So, Betty decided she would remedy the situation with an activity. She passed out paper and pencil, asking everyone to write down a memory of Karin. Be specific she said and she would read them and I had to guess who wrote each one. Here are the memories followed by comments that tell the rest of/the whole story.

“I remember the cute and clever poem you wrote years ago critiquing our little breakfast restaurant. The place where we were judged by the number of muffins we ate. You shared your funny side that day.”
Pat F, a poetry friend, recalls the coffee shop we went to for Poetry Breakfast. The poem I wrote was The Ask-Away Café, telling the tale of the poor service and how we had to ask and ask for the simplest things like silverware and napkins. We kept going there only because the place was quiet with so few customers and that made it perfect for reading and critiquing our poetry. The deal breaker occurred when Pat was scolded by the owner because we didn’t purchase enough muffins which the owner said she had stocked up on just for us. Hey, aren’t we the customers here! And therefore always right. We found another place and the Ask Away Café is no longer in business.

“Karin prevented Cleo from “cold cocking” Fran Ruzika. (I think this is the story,)”
Julie Schuppie is recalling when I was working in a research project at St. Mary’s Family Practice Center. I supervised social work students (Julie was one) and the clinic was a residency program for family practice doctors. I was not supposed to provide social work services until the research project was completed. A resident, Fran Ruzika, appeared at my door looking pale and worried. He had a fourteen-year old girl in one exam room and her mother in the room next door. The mother and daughter had just found out that the girl was pregnant. A month away from delivery, actually. The mother, Cleo, was enraged and threatening to “cold cock” someone. Dr. Ruzika was unsure what to do, if he could even release the girl to her mother, should police or child protection be called, or how/if to get the mother and daughter back together so planning for the new baby could begin. I took Julie down to the clinic with me saying this was a good learning experience. She talked to the pregnant girl and I talked to the mother and Dr. Ruzika. Turns out, Cleo wanted to “cold cock” the man who got her daughter pregnant but calmed down once we talked. Mother and daughter were reunited and all went well. I had to turn away other residents who showed up at my door looking for assistance. The next semester I expanded the social work field placement and social work became part of regular care.

 
“Drinking at the Crystal Corner Bar and writing our names on the wall of the bathroom.”
After dinner out with my siblings, brother Kent and sister-in-law Tami stopped for a night cap (we had several) at the Crystal Corner Bar in the Williamson neighborhood of Madison. I felt like I’d walked back into the 1960’s. Old bar filled with aging hippies Tami went to the ladies’ room and came back with a sheepish look. She told me to go into the bathroom and look at the wall. There was the usual graffiti but someone had drawn a penis on the wall. We got a marker and put our names there too.

“Eight shots of tequila equal alcohol poisoning at the C & C in Door County.”
“I saw you drink many shots the night Bobby the Butcher was at the C & C.”
Betty and Diane are remembering different parts of the same night. We went to the C & C for taco night. Why I don’t know, but I had a shot of tequila. Then when the next round came along, I just said sure. But the end of the evening I’d had eight shots. Just for the record, I walked home unassisted (just two blocks) and I didn’t have a hangover the next day. That same night we struck up a conversation with a lone person at the bar. At first, we weren’t sure if it was a she or a he. Very large person with big boots. We played darts and talked. But at some point, he/she said something bothering and we changed our mind about being friends. When we got home, we worried that she’d show up since she knew where we lived. Someone joked that maybe she was a serial killer. Hence the name Bobby the Butcher. The Louisivilla didn’t have very strong locks so we piled up empty beer bottles against the door and the window to Bettys bedroom. Clanking beer bottles would be a warning. All was well the next day and we never saw Bobby the Butcher again.

“What could be better than Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock Holmes, a glass of wine and a good friend”
My poetry friend, Pat the Hat and I are obsessed with Benedict Cumberbatch. The scheduling of new episodes of Sherlock Holmes are spaced so far out that I have it set to tape. When a new episode finally comes on we plan the night for viewing and have glasses of wine while watching.

“Walking on Cottage Row in Door County”
Tricia commented that when we took this walk it was the first time we got to spend time with just each other. This is true since in Door County we are always in a large group and it was nice to get to know each other.

“Karin was initiated into the giant guild via a bean bag victory. Then I asked her to write about it.”
Patti P is recalling how every year in Door County had to include a trip to the A C Tap outside of Bailey’s Harbor for a bean bag tournament. We had teams, the Giants and the Munchkins (height related criteria). Loyalty was tested when there weren’t enough of one team and someone had to switch. I recall one trip to the bar for refills when Harley, the elderly bartender said: I’ve never seen people your age have so much fun. We took that as a compliment.

“Sometimes Karin verbalizes frustration…..I can’t take it anymore… she never stops talking……there must be something wrong with her.”
Jane is recalling my disappointment when I moved to Wauwatosa and the book group we’d belonged to before I moved to Eagle River, had invited me to re-join. At first, I was happy but then disappointed that this group had become a visiting, socializing, wine drinking, hardly talking about the book group. There were often three conversations going at the same time and none of them on the book. Jane had to endure my ranting and raving. Until I quit.

“Five of us had a drink and a smoke when we were where and doing what?”
Bonnie is trying hard to recall why we did this. I have a picture but have no idea what it was all about. Perhaps we were being supportive of Betty who was, I think, the only smoker among us. We were at the Bayside in Fish Creek possibly killing time until check in at the Louisivilla. It was me, Betty, Bonnie, Patti P and Diane. We all lit up and got the waitress to take our picture. Who knows when but smoking in the bar was still allowed.

“I spent a week end with Karin while she was attending UW Oshkosh. She took me to her favorite bars. I ended up sleeping on a cot in her apartment and was really feeling the beer. I had to put my foot on the floor to stop the spinning.”
My sister, Karleen recalls this. I don’t. But I’ll bet I was living at the House of SAW. I also bet I took her to the Rail, the B & B and the Loft. “Feeling the beer” and “spinning” sounds about right.

“Every time I got an operation you sent me a get-well card.”
My sister-in-law, Kimie recalls cards I sent to her when she was in the middle of a serious health crisis. This was quite a while ago and I said I don’t remember. She came through it fine.

“Eating a big sandwich in Pittsburgh”
Traveling to Pittsburgh for Jeung Hwa’s wedding in 2014, Kent and Tami wanted to check out recommended tourist spots. Following Tami’s famous folder, we visited a city market and had lunch at the Primanti Brother’s, famous for their huge sandwich, developed in the 1930’s for the miners to take along as they went to work. I had a four-inch high pastrami that comes with French fries stuffed inside. I have a picture of the sandwich.

“Explaining football jargon while watching a Packer game in an expensive bar”
Same trip. Pittsburgh in 2014. Kent had searched for someplace to watch the Packer game. We arrived to a near empty bar. After paying $12.00 for a Manhattan I knew why it was empty. We worried that we’d get kicked out when we hooted at each score. Brother-in-law Paul did his best to explain football to me. I still don’t get it.

“I always remember Karin’s essay on men and women”
Jeri, in writing group, critiqued an essay I am sending to Sun Magazine. One of my biggest goals is to be published in Sun. They have a feature called Readers Write and I’m sending it there.

“Bonfire in Eagle River. Storytelling about the olden days”
Karla recalls how our family got together at my house in Eagle River to scatter Dad’s ashes at his hunting camp outside of Rhinelander. We had the best time camping in the yard, visited by deer, laughing and talking, fire in the fire pit, having the best time my family has ever had together.

“Two ‘drowned rats’ walking, giggling, enjoying life in Peninsula State Park”
Ginny recalls how she and I set out from the Louievilla for a walk in Peninsula State Park. We were walking along and suddenly it began to pour. We quickly turned  back for home. But we both at the same time and without a word, stopped and looked at each other. It was pouring. We were already soaked. We turned back and continued our walk into the park. When we arrived back at the Louievilla we were soaked through and through I have the picture someone took.

“I remember going to Karin’s house in Cedarburg and her showing us her lovely gardens and her treasured hollyhocks. I associate hollyhocks with Karin”
Little Patti came to my house with the girls and saw my hollyhocks. How I loved them. I told how Bud thought he was doing a good thing and took a weed wacker to trim brush and weeds all around the house. Unfortunately, he cut the hollyhocks just coming up along the back wall.  I put rocks around them and he was never allowed near them again. I especially liked the old fashioned single hollyhocks.

“Donating to charities/causes under my sisters, my cousins and my name as a Christmas gift. Thanks Karin the nice lady.”
“Books from Auntie Karin the nice lady”
“Always getting the best gits from Auntie Karin the nice lady”
“The best aunt ever”
Me Jeung was the only niece or nephew in attendance but brother and sisters added a comment for some who were not present. I didn’t remember donating to charity but am assured that I did. I was very touched by these comments. Someone said I’d introduced them to philanthropy. Until they got out of high school each of my nieces and nephews got a book gift card for their birthday. I recall the nice thank you letters I received. Since I never had children, by choice, I always considered my nieces and nephews to be sort of my kids.

This event was so special. To have so many of my friends and family in the same room and I don’t think I ever had so much attention directed at me at one time. It was wonderful. And we are planning next years party. Because as I recall, I did make a pact that I’d have a party every year from now on. This one will be hard to top.

 

 

 

A Front Row Seat

Saturday, March 17, 2018: According to the newspaper, this was the 6th annual Leprechaun 7K, benefitting the MACC Fund (Midwest Athletes Against Childhood Cancer). The parade involved nearly 3,000 runners and walkers and 150 volunteers. It started right on time, a little after 9:30 just as the newspaper article had stated.

Earlier that morning, I’d noticed the orange cones placed fifty feet apart all along the road. So much for my plan to run errands since the road going past my building would be closed all morning. So, I got comfortable in my pajamas, with my cup of chai tea, and prepared to be entertained by this menagerie of mankind passing right outside my window.

First, a white pick-up truck slowly drove down the street, led closely behind by a tall, slim man dressed in a bright green, sparkly body suit, green sneakers and a shamrock shaped cap. Running at full speed, he looked as though he was taking his position as the leader very seriously.

After a smattering of single runners, the clusters grew into a cavalcade of all shapes, sizes and ages of sprinters wearing green shirts, funny socks and hats. It was easy to see that for some, a good bit of work had been put into designing just the right outfit.

Others were more generic with lots of stripped socks or a perfunctory, silly hat. It was a sea of green tee shirts scarves, tiaras and ruffled tutu’s. My personal favorite was the man skipping down the roadway with a lovely, pink tutu on his head.

As the parade progressed, the slower participants came by who were going at a leisurely pace. A combination of walking and running was common and clearly some were really just out for a walk and some social time. Even with my windows closed I could hear the laughter and chatter of the crowd.

Pretty soon there were rows of four and five going down the road in a line. One mom and her very young child stepped onto the grass so he could catch his breath and take off his jacket. The sun was out in force and it was getting warmer. Some runners stopped to rest or take a quick stretch before forging ahead.

Once the runners thinned out, the walkers came into view. Here were those with younger kids and babies in strollers. As the slower pace proceeded, the white pick-up then appeared going in the other direction. It was quickly followed by the tall, slim man in the green body suit, still the leader and going at a good clip. Both lanes of the street were full of runners, for and five deep, going in both directions.

As the crowd thinned, a yellow school bus came slowly down the street signaling the end of the parade. I noticed people were riding in the bus. How nice, I thought; the school bus was a way for anyone who couldn’t walk or run to still participate.  I kept watching until the school bus passed by on its return trip. All was done by 11:15. A police car with lights on made the final sweep and the orange cones were kicked to the curb and picked up later.

It was as though nothing had happened. No one in sight and not a scrap of litter anywhere. What a lovely community event. And all over America similar parades and community events are happening. Everyone is Irish for one day at least

I had a great time in my front row seat, watching everyone having a great time and helping a good cause. I had to wonder what these hardy and not so hardy runners and walkers would be doing for the rest of the day. For some, it’s probably nap time. Or, whether Irish or not, I’ll bet Leif’s Lucky Town or O’Donoghue’s Irish Pub was busy serving green beer!

 

 

Looking Forward

What a waste 2017 has been. The whole year was frittered away, engulfed in political garbage, obsessing about my volunteer responsibilities and being caught in the mesmerizing spell of computer solitaire. While none of these activities seems like much, put them all together and it amounts to lots of lost and wasted time.

I made myself literally sick over the political situation and spent the whole year trying to keep fully informed of every foible, misstep and unbelievable breaking news story put out by the “fake news.” Who I believe, by the way. I became bewitched, bothered and bewildered by the behavior of the many politicians who seem to have sold out their ethics in the name of career promotion and self-generated hubris.

Watching TV pundits hash and rehash the latest supposed crisis felt like I was watching a poorly made B-movie. I told friends I thought of it as a sit-com or a soap opera and putting it in this vein gave me some relief. After all, if I could laugh or roll my eyes it couldn’t be normal. Except that some issues are deadly serious. No laughing matter, indeed.

I was also mindful of my volunteer work that had become onerous. I’d taken on responsibilities that had become too much and while I value the organization that helped me improve my writing, enough is enough. This isn’t a job. They can’t fire me and actually I could quit anytime I wished. So why all this angst.

Playing solitaire on the computer was what I did to waste another chunk of time. Internet Gaming Disorder has been named as a topic worthy of more research for possible inclusion in the next edition of the DSM (the bible of mental health diagnosis). While I don’t meet the criteria, I have to admit that I do find solitaire calming. I’m kidding myself that it’s a form of meditation. How’s that for rationalization.

Bad habits creep up on us. And so, with me. So, what to do. I don’t believe in new year’s resolutions. They don’t work anyway. But I had to do something. After reading an article on intentional change and with much thought, I’ve decided to take the middle way. By that I mean I’m going to adjust my habits just a little. Nothing drastic. But at least I’ll feel like I’m pushing forward instead of being stuck in nowhere.

For politics, I’ve decided on two shows to watch. I’ve sworn off the highly dramatic and clearly one-sided reporters. I’m down to one on Fox and another on MSNBC. Nothing more. That way I’m still hearing both sides of the story. I want to remain informed so I’m ready to vote. And voting is the only way I can change anything.

For the volunteer work, my term is finished in October and I’ve made a sensible list of what I can accomplish by the end of that time. For solitaire, I’m cutting back. And what, you might ask, will I do with all this extra time? More reading. More writing. More socializing. Who knows what new interests and opportunities will come out of this. Since I don’t make new year’s resolutions, I got started weeks before.

Hours of political garbage has been replaced by reruns of Friends and other old programs; I’ve even dipped into Seinfeld which I never did appreciate when it was on the air. They’re so funny and I find myself laughing out loud sometimes. When nothing else is on I go to my 15 or so favorite episodes of the Big Bang Theory saved on my DVR. The Gift Exchange episode still makes me roar though I’ve seen it countless times.

And don’t think for a minute that I watch a lot of TV, because I don’t. My DV recorder helps me keep up on those that are worth it. For the solitaire, I do it when I’m doing my thirty-minute sore back ice pack. For the volunteer stuff, I have a check list and do no more. I can’t believe how my mood has already changed and how much better I’m feeling. This intentional change method is working. It hasn’t even started but 2018 is already a better year.

 

 

Sit-Com Life Lessons

Nearly every day for the last few weeks, I’ve been engulfed in a strange pastime that’s so unlike me. I’ve binge-watched a TV show. I get these red envelopes in the mail and sit for hours watching each disc’s six to eight episodes. I’m closing in on the seventh and final season and already feel sad to see it end.

It’s Parks and Recreation, an off the air situation comedy that takes place in the imaginary, small town of Pawnee, Indiana. It nails the foibles of small town living and the slow-moving behemoth of government offices all across the land.

The cast of characters are the most seriously flawed specimens of humanity I’ve ever encountered. But let me be clear; I care deeply about each one of them. And isn’t that a writer’s special talent, to create characters who drive us crazy with their quirks but who we love anyway.

Leslie and Ron are the foundation of the city’s Parks and Recreation Department. Ron is the boss who hides in his office thinking only about his woodworking passion. He hates government and it shows in his every action. Or mostly by his non-action. Leslie is the doer, the queen of three ring binders for whom no problem is without a solution.  She does all the work and Ron takes all the credit.

Ann and Chris struggle with their on again off again relationship; it’s mostly off because Ann can’t abide his excessively “the glass is half full” mind-set. His attitude is really more “the glass is over flowing with never ending love and kindness. ” Which makes Ann wonder if it’s too good to be true.

Andy and April appear to have no redeeming qualities whatsoever, especially in the work ethic area. April becomes Ron’s assistant and her only duty is to provide an impenetrable shield against anyone who dares try entering Ron’s office. Andy is promoted from shoe shine operator to low level security guard. Both jobs are in the court house so his ineptness is central to nearly every episode.

Tom is a pseudo-entrepreneur whose next great idea is worse than the last one. His long list of failures and his eternal optimism only endears him more. Then there’s Jerry. While by far the mist pathetic, he is the most recognizable. We all know these types who blend into the woodwork or are always the brunt of the cruel office joke. Jerry takes it all in and still smiles.

As I watched, I often laughed out loud. Then I began to think this program is both light and funny and also deep and moving. Even the finale was unusual by fast forwarding about ten years and show how everyone’s life turned out. And they all did great.

The universality of the story grabbed me. I knew real people just like them Every day, regular people struggling through each day. In the end, their strengths came shining through. Leslie’s organizational skills got her a big job. Ron retired, as he should, to his woodworking sanctum. Tom finally made a really big deal and April and Andy settled down to have kids and be happy.

Jerry turned out to be the real hero. His quiet demeaner and common sense saved the day and his ability to forgive and forget showed the quality of the man. Why was I so hooked, I wondered? Then flashbacks from the past emerged and it was clear. I’d lived these stories.

The hinterlands of Bessemer, Michigan and Eagle River, Wisconsin rushed in. These are places I’d moved to at the behest of two separate husbands. Small, isolated towns. Backward, government jobs.  The characters of Parks and Recreation had lived there too. Under different names and with slightly altered histories. But the dynamics were oh so familiar.

I could now laugh knowingly at the mechanics of surviving the years it took for locals to finally offer a hello. Not take it personal, being ignored in public places and not invited to join. Finally accepting that the worst thing to say is “in (name the big city) we did it this way.”  I learned some valuable lessons and see these times as an adventure. But mostly, I can laugh because I’m no longer there.

 

Sisters Come to Visit

Two of my sisters drove over from Madison to check on me.  They planned to spend the day and offered to help with anything I needed to get done. I had an errand to run and they seemed interested in going along. Then having lunch, of course. Our day would turn out to be a combination of a visit to a bygone era and an immersion into the rituals of retirement.

I’m the oldest of six and these sister siblings are number three and five in the birth order. Number five, considerably younger then me, is still working and had the week off. Since I live here I opted to drive and enjoyed taking the scenic route down Honey Creek Parkway and the Menomonee River Parkway.

Our first stop was to Daly’s Pen Shop. The first time I’d noticed this shop on North Avenue was when we went to George Webb’s in the same strip mall. I remember marveling out loud how in this high-tech world a shop that sold only pens could survive. The answer came on this day when I needed what they were selling.

As a commemoration for a retiring staff member, a board I’m on decided that a pen would be a lovely parting gift. Walking into the store was like stepping into the past. Two glass display cases in an L-shape contained every type of pen imaginable.  On the walls were hanging displays of more pens. Frank Sinatra singing in the background created a time warp. What year was it again?

The owner greeted us and my first comment to him involved the recent newspaper article announcing the closing of this, the oldest pen shop in the city that had operated for 94 years. This had been shortly followed by another article about the uproar that ensued and the owner’s decision to remain open.

The owner grinned and agreed there had been quite an uproar. He said this had caused him to re-think his decision. He said he realized he had a very healthy E-Bay business; he’d always thought of it as a pen shop with an E-Bay business on the side. Now he saw it as an E-Bay business with a pen shop on the side.

He talked about the hours and the days he’s open, saying he has a young man who works for him on Sunday who was really good at researching and repairing old pens. He wanted to keep this young man on so decided to stay open on Sundays. For now.

His large stock and wide variety of pens was unexpected. We learned that he features ball point, roller and fountain pens.  He also carries ink as he pointed toward the glass ink bottles on one of the shelves. He said that millennials love the ink he sells which comes in many colors. They buy a rather inexpensive pen but spend much more for the ink. And they love the old-fashioned fountain pens, the ones with a cartridge that is filled manually.

The owner was helpful as I looked for just the right pen. I picked out a silver Cross pen which is the gold standard of pens.  With engraving, it came to about $125.00 We hovered around, asked more questions and were hesitant to leave this most interesting shopping experience.

But we returned to the present day and moved on to lunch. I took another scenic route down Water Town Plank Road to Boston Market. The parking lot was completely full. In fact, we got the very last one, the only empty spot. I surmised that there was a morning meeting of the Kiwanis going on. But no. We were taken into the nearly last open table in the main dining room.

The mystery was solved when we saw the table sign that announced Free Pie Wednesday. All I had to do was look around the room and take in the sea of gray haired ladies and balding men to understand the mesmerizing power of a free piece of pie.

We’d arrived early and before we finished lunch the place began to empty. We laughed that it was only noon and it was nearly deserted.  That gave a whole new meaning to the term, early bird special.

We ended the day with a trip to my storage locker to get books I needed for next week’s board meeting. How nice of my sisters to help me carry. We had a big laugh upon discovering I was trying to open the locker with my mailbox key. Wonder what that says about me.

Finally, we sat out in the backyard at my apartment building. We took in the sun since it was a cool day and remarked that fall was either coming or was finally here. Seeing the garden plots maintained by several building residents led to a discussion of planting, freezing versus preserving and the best and worst things about going to a farmer’s market. We ended with a full analysis of the state of health care. Another sign of our advancing age.

My sisters left at 3:00 to beat the rush hour traffic and I settled in for a usual evening of TV and reading. All in all, a very nice day. I got some errands done, had a history lesson and a pleasant visit with my sisters. Ah, life is good.

 

 

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