It’s been a long, cold winter here. But the month of March always gives me hope for spring. And this year is no different. Even though white patches of snow still dot the ground, I know winter’s days are numbered.
Yesterday I saw squirrels running through the woods hopping from limb to limb in a kind of feverish ecstasy that enters all of our souls to one degree or another with the coming of spring.
Our first robin is back. (A quick google search will tell you that some of the robins never leave. We, however, have not seen one solitary robin at our feeders the entire winter until the past few days. You can judge for yourself.)
And a red-winged blackbird has been visiting our feeders. (Websites like the Cornell lab of Ornithology will tell you that these birds are here year-round. It also states, “In the North, their early arrival and tumbling song are happy indications of the return of spring.” Again, you can judge for yourself.)
Spring is coming. I can see it in the birds, and feel it in the air.
My husband Mark walks into the study where I sit, still in my pajamas and bathrobe, reading “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” on my Kindle. Mark is dressed. He shoves his feet into the high-top leather shoes he left there yesterday and bends over to fit his heel into the shoe.
I hear the sounds of coffee-making in the kitchen, followed by the coat closet door opening and closing. Then the outside door opens and closes, and I know Mark is making his morning trek down our driveway and up the private drive for his morning paper that the delivery person leaves at the top of the drive.
Mark has national and local news apps on his iPad and iPhone that he reads throughout the day. He follows the Reds baseball team with MLB.com on his smart devices. He reads long news articles from various sources on his laptop computer at his desk.
But in the morning, he makes his coffee, takes a little walk, sometimes in rain or through the snow, so that he can read his local print newspaper. Just like always.
But for how much longer?
A Scoot and Shoot event.
Being located on the Ohio River just across the water from Kentucky, Cincinnati in particular, and Ohio in general were heavily engaged in the Underground Railroad and former slaves’ journeys to freedom. A small town just north of Cincinnati called Springboro was founded by a Quaker named Jonathon Wright in 1815. The Quakers abhorred slavery and Springboro became actively involved in the Underground Railroad. Quaker and non-Quaker residents of Springboro risked legal consequences from their illegal activity of aiding slaves on their way to freedom. Many of the homes and businesses of these courageous individuals are still standing on or near Main Street in the small downtown strip of Springboro, Ohio.
Unfortunately, even though I had a brochure that described the various buildings, I am not able to match the exact buildings to the descriptions I have. We started the tour somewhere in the middle, later crossed the street, and ducked into the Wooly Bully Yarn Company at one point. Which, by the way, had an awesome selection of yarns. On these Scoot and Shoot events my companions are more interested in taking photographs than in writing journalistic reports. And sometimes I am too.
At 200 South Main Street the Jonah Thomas House has a documented connection to the Underground Railroad.
Jonah was a Quaker and a conductor on the Springboro leg of the Underground Railroad.
I think this is the Joseph Stanton House at 250 South Main Street. According to the Springboro Chamber of Commerce brochure, “This building was a stop on the Underground Railroad which may have been known as the ‘Quilt House.’ Quilts hung in back of the house told runaway slaves it was safe to enter. The basement hiding space extended westward under what is now the side walk.”
I’m patting myself on the back that I was able to bring you two buildings that were involved in the Underground Railroad, but instead of trying to read illegible house numbers, or match my photos to small black and white thumbnails on the brochure, I’m just going to throw in a slide show of some of the buildings and details I saw along Main Street in Springboro. Perhaps you’ll take the walking tour someday if you find yourself in the area.
I don’t know about you, but I have always been enthralled by the idea of an Underground Railroad. The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center stands on the riverfront in downtown Cincinnati and teaches about not only the path to freedom through this area, but also about current locations where freedom is still out of reach. It’s worth a visit if you are in town. Maybe I’ll visit there with my camera, and a notebook, sometime soon and share my identified pictures with you.
Do you live where an interesting part of history took place?
After a stress-fraught couple of months while our daughter Anna was applying and interviewing for a new job, Anna accepted an offer from Humana in Chicago where she will begin working the third week in March. In a few short weeks, Anna will make the move from her comfortable and relatively spacious suburban apartment in Columbus, Ohio to an urban life-style in Chicago where rents are high and spaces are small.
Much has to be accomplished in a short period of time. Anna’s first priority was to find an apartment in a safe area.
Like most cities, Chicago is made up of distinctive neighborhoods with their own personalities all nestled together from the center of downtown Chicago out to the distant suburbs. Some neighborhoods are more convenient than others for commuters. Some are safer. Some are more fun.
Even though Anna was embracing an urban, mass-transit life-style, she wanted to be able to keep her car with her in Chicago. Parking can be challenging in the neighborhoods, so one of Anna’s higher priorities when looking for an apartment was to find one with an assigned parking space, if not a garage.
Another high priority was to have her own laundry facility in her apartment preferably, but at a minimum, in the apartment building.
A reasonably close distance and safe walk to mass transit, as well as a walkable distance to shops and restaurants, were also important considerations.
Finally, the size of the apartment, and in particular, the storage space were important.
Anna was fortunate in that one of her college classmates works at Humana in Chicago and was able to give her guidance regarding neighborhoods she might want to consider. He also referred Anna to a Chicago apartment broker, Chardonnee, who proved to be invaluable.
Anna contacted Chardonnee and provided her with her apartment priorities and budgeted amount for rent. Chardonnee searched the MLS listings for apartments in neighborhoods Anna was interested in that met most or all of her criteria. Anna studied the lists Chardonnee sent her of good matches. With the help of her computer and Google maps, Anna spent hours mulling over the listings, plotting the apartment locations, identifying the locations of the closest metro stations for each one, evaluating the pros and cons of each apartment, and generating a list of seven apartments to visit.
I drove with Anna to Chicago last Wednesday to look at apartments with the hope that she could sign a lease before we returned home. We arrived in downtown Chicago and checked into our hotel then went out driving through the neighborhoods and past the apartments we would be seeing on Thursday with Chardonnee. This wasn’t a particularly productive use of our time, but I think it helped us understand where the neighborhoods were located relative to each other and how far out of the downtown area they were. The other benefit, I thought, was that we were able to see that Chicago, even though a large city, is one that is drivable. We were able to get everywhere we wanted to go without much difficulty.
Anna focused on the north neighborhoods of Chicago, where she could catch the red line metro into work in town. She was interested in the popular Lincoln Park neighborhood just north of the downtown area, but was not able to find an apartment that was affordable for a single person with her salary, without a roommate to share expenses. Parking was also either not offered, or an expensive add-on.
Lakeview, just north of Lincoln Park, is another nice area for young professionals, but we did not find anything affordable that met most of Anna’s criteria there either.
A little further out, Uptown, and Logan Square were two neighborhoods Anna looked at. We visited four apartments on Thursday (one of her top choices now had a lease application, we couldn’t open the lock-box on one to get in to see it (it didn’t have parking), and one of them had mini-kitchen appliances so we took it off the list), and Anna settled on one in Andersonville. Although it is located within a couple of blocks from a street lined with restaurants, shops and importantly a grocery, the disadvantage of her apartment is its nearly one-mile-distance from the metro. Otherwise it is a lovely condominium on the third-floor of a relatively small building. She will have an assigned parking space behind the building, and a stacked washer and dryer unit in the apartment. The room sizes are smaller than those in her current apartment, but she has a small den in addition to the single bedroom and living room spaces. She will have to continue making choices as to what she plans to bring with her to Chicago and either discard, donate, or store (most likely in our basement) those things she won’t have room for and can do without.
As for me, I am relieved that she was able to find an apartment where I believe she will feel safe and comfortable. Having never lived in a big city, I have some anxiety about Anna traveling about the city, especially at night, where she may have to walk a long distance by herself. Hopefully I will grow more comfortable with that idea with time.
Next up — on to the move.
Do you have any experience with or tips for living in Chicago?
This post is not for the faint of heart or queasy of stomach.
We decided to escape the frigid, snow-covered landscape of the Midwest and go to Florida for the first week in February to visit my sister Carol. (You might have seen the picture I posted.) We also decided that Arthur was ready for a big-time road trip. We travel to and from Columbus, Ohio with him, a two-hour drive, on a fairly regular basis. And last year Mark and I took him on a three hour trip to a cabin in Hocking Hills to try him out on the road. The Florida trip was a lot longer at almost exactly 1000 miles. We planned to do it in one long, eleven-hour day, and a second shorter five-hour or so day.
In honor of the event, I purchased a special car seat for Arthur complete with a suitcase for his supplies. The car seat sits on top of the suitcase in the car and raises Arthur’s head up high enough to see out the window. I read that this helps prevent pet car-sickness. More on that later.
I’m happy to say that Arthur made it down to Florida without any major catastrophes. Although he did spend almost the entire trip looking out the window. He did not sleep at all, which is his normal mode of operation at home.
We stayed overnight at a pet-friendly LaQuinta. Not deluxe accomodations, by anyone’s stretch of the imagination, but which were adequate, especially once the owners of the dog across the hall returned and he quit his incessant barking. All-in-all it was fine. Mark went next door to a restaurant and brought us back dinner that we ate in the room.
We arrived in Siesta Key, Florida in the middle of the afternoon the next day and checked into our apartment at the pet-friendly Gumbo Limbo. The room we had was small, but adequate as long as Mark and I weren’t both trying to work in the kitchen at the same time. The bad thing about Siesta Key, which is probably a good thing for many people, is that pets aren’t allowed on the beach. We came to realize in short order, that Arthur was fine with that.
We sneaked him onto the beach in this front-pack pet carrier that looks a mite too small for him even though it states it can accommodate up to a 20-lb animal and Arthur only weighs about 11 pounds. We were there early to see the sun rise. But it was an extremely chilly morning and the closer we got to the water, the colder it got, and the more Arthur was shaking. I think he was both cold and afraid of the ocean. Considering he is also afraid of many other things, like our refrigerator for example, this did not come as a big surprise.
Mark took him back to our room which was only a block away and returned to enjoy the sunrise.
We did take Arthur to Myakka River State Park, where pets are welcome. And he enjoyed the walking and hiking there, but we had to keep a close watch on him as small dogs are considered bait for the many alligators that roam along the waters’ edges. I’ll show you the alligators next time.
But mostly Arthur just hung around the pool with us and visited at my sister’s house, which was the primary reason for the trip anyway.
Here’s where the queasy part comes in. When our week of fun in the sun was up, we packed ours and Arthur’s bags, and headed north. Arthur was doing his usual looking-out-the-window routine and completely disregarding any efforts I made to command him to lie down. He was looking tired and miserable. So I decided to hold him on my lap for a bit so he could sleep.
Thank goodness it was raining at our first stop.
We all got out, and Arthur got wet, so I got one of the beach towels, my favorite one to be exact, and placed it across my lap for Arthur to lie on. Shortly after we started moving again, Arthur started expelling all his bodily fluids.
First he threw up. But as we had withheld food that morning, all that came out was a clear foamy liquid. The towel caught it, and no harm was done. I folded the towel over and gave Arthur one of the pills for nausea I had asked the vet for before we left.
It wasn’t until I felt warmth on my forearm and looked down to see a large brown spot forming on my sweater that I realized we were in big shit, literally. Little Arthur was having a bout of diarrhea of major proportions, and it was happening in technicolor right in my lap. Thankfully the beach towel was catching most of it. And thankfully Mark didn’t lose his stomach from the stench that was now permeating the car. And thankfully we were only a few miles from an exit where Mark threw the beach towel in the trash and where I was able to change my clothes in a BP bathroom and clean Arthur’s long white hair on his tail, bottom, and lower legs using paper towels and a bottle of water.
We put our last beach towel over Arthur’s car seat, put him back in his harness there, and hoped for the best.
I think Arthur was probably completely humiliated. I shampooed Arthur when we arrived at the Knoxville LaQuinta for the night. The next day we made it home without further ado.
Suffice it to say, if Mark has his way, it will be a looooong time before Arthur takes an extended road trip again.
But if that ever does happen, here is the list of items I will be sure to bring.
1. Plenty of plastic bags (which we had)
2. Plenty of paper towels (which we really didn’t have)
3. A couple of gallons of water in case of a necessary roadside shower (nope)
4. Plenty of old towels (which we did not have)
5. A few changes of clothes for me within easy reach (I only had two pairs of long pants with me. Another unfortunate event and I would have looked like a beach bum in the snow.)
6. Medicine to help Arthur sleep. (When I called the vet, she asked me if I wanted medicine for nausea or to make him sleep. I took the nausea meds. That’s a mistake I won’t be making twice.)
So tell me. Have you taken your pets on a road trip? Any tips? (Not that we need them. . .)
Our relationships with individuals are unique and take on their own, color, flavor, and song. My sister Carol, who is little more than one year older than me, has the unequaled ability to transport me back to a simpler time and place when days were long, responsibilities few, and laughter contagious.
Photograph compliments of my talented niece Kathryn Flowers
at Krystal Beauty in Sarasota, Florida.
I treasure the moments we’ve had, continue to have, and will have in the future. And I’d just like to say, “Thank you sister, for helping me free my joy now.”
Is there someone in your life who makes you feel the joy of childhood again?
I spotted an owl in a tree in the woods above the creek yesterday afternoon.
I watched this owl as it slowly rotated his head around from front to back. Owls can truly look behind them and can turn their heads nearly 360 degrees according to National Geographic. This is necessary because the owls’ eyes are in fixed sockets and can’t move around like ours do.
I’m pretty sure the owl I saw is one of the Great Horned Owls that we often hear at night or in the early morning hours.
I’ve seen one or two perched above the creek before. It must be good hunting ground.
Many people believe that if you see an owl in the daytime it is a bad sign. From early times, across many civilizations, owls have been viewed as harbringers of bad luck, ill health, or death and destruction. But sometimes owls are seen as divine messengers of the gods. (Radha on Yahoo answers – 2008)
For many people the owl is a symbol for wisdom.
At Symbolic Meanings by Avia she explains that although owls are associated with death in certain cultures, it is “revered (honored) as being the guardian of the after-life.”
Furthermore, Avia explains, as a creature of the night, the owl is symbolic of inner-knowing, psychic ability, and intuition. “If an owl has visited you,” she says, ” an incredible gift has been bestowed.”
Is the owl a harbringer of death or wisdom?
Unlike known and provable facts like the earth is round, beliefs can be chosen.
On this first anniversary of my father’s death, I don’t have to tell you which belief I’m going with.
Thank you universe for the gift.
I suspected January was going to be a rough month. In the first place, it usually is, with its gray skies and silent days following the holiday departures of our children going back to their own lives.
Now, I also have to navigate through the anniversaries of the deaths of both of my parents, and the first January 18th that we won’t be celebrating my dad’s birthday. I’m starting to think that in the future, January may be a fine month to pack up and head south for a few weeks. Change of scene. Distractions.
That’s the key, really, isn’t it? Distractions. It all clicked together for me this morning as I watched CNN’s “Sole Survivor” documentary. The wife of a sole surviving pilot of a Kentucky plane crash that occurred several years back said that she tries to make sure her husband has enough distractions. Things to occupy his mind. Reasons to get up in the morning.
I was better at living by distractions when the kids were all young and at home. In those days I frequently yearned for less distractions.
A year ago today we moved Mom from Hospice back to her assisted-living apartment. We wanted her to be able to go “home,” such as it was. She’d only spent four nights, total, there before she was taken to the hospital and then moved to Hospice. But her things were there to surround her. My sister Carol had hung some of Mom’s paintings, all original artwork by family members, while Mom was at Hospice. Mark and I finished the job the day before Mom moved back. The walls were covered in artwork. It was all a futile effort, just one more in a long line of many. When they rolled her back into the room on the stretcher from the transport, she might have glanced up and appreciated it. I don’t know. But after they lifted her from the stretcher to her bed she never got up in the two short days she was back—nurses coming in and out, the Hospice nurse setting up a table, the cook at the facility making her an endless stream of vanilla milkshakes delivered by the staff that we placed in her small freezer until the next one arrived. So many small details.
How long is long enough to grieve? Do I get a year? Do I get a year for each parent? Do I serve them concurrently or consecutively? I read somewhere it usually takes from 9 months to 18 months following the death of a parent. How does someone figure this out? My sister-in-law told me she missed her father a lot at the Christmas holidays and cried this year on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. He’s been gone five years.
It’s not like I’ve put my life on hold, shut myself into my bedroom with the shades drawn and light low, snuggled under a comforter, surfacing for the occasional bit of food or refill of water in the glass I keep on the beside stand. In the past year I struggled off an occasional lame post and wrote a chapter or two; I’ve been to New Orleans, South Carolina, a wedding in Buffalo, a wedding in Indianapolis, St. Louis (two or three times), Los Angeles, and had a house full of people at Christmas. I’m skimming along fine on the surface with those distractions.
But there is a level of awareness inside my heart, mind, soul, wherever it exists, where I grapple with the fact that I can’t call my mom anymore. That I’ll never be able to hear my dad’s wisdom on the things life throws my way. That the middle has dropped out of the family of my childhood and the people who share my earliest memories are scattered to the wind. No more family celebrations of Mom’s birthday and Mother’s Day. No more Father’s Day cookouts. No more sitting around a Christmas tree.
Is a year long enough to get over it?
Should I just jump back into life and distract the heck out of myself with projects and trips and in that way forget it? Or should I mull over it until I can put it at rest? This is a core question that goes back to one’s belief system about what it’s all about, Alfie. I suspect you have your own opinion about this based on your particular worldview.
My parents were practicing Catholics, although my mom converted to it when she married my dad. For many years I also followed that bright shining beam. But recently, with the corruption that’s come to light and the gender inequality that is practiced, that beam of light has dimmed behind a clouded-over lens. Maybe I’ll eventually be able to clear it off. Maybe not. I wish I could. There was comfort there.
Some people think the only thing that matters is the here and now. Help other people if you can, or if you want to. But enjoy life. Eat, drink, and be merry. Don’t dwell on things that make you unhappy.
I just can’t get over thinking that we are more multi-dimensional than that. If we don’t allow ourselves to feel our sorrow deeply, understand it, learn from it. Then how can we expect to feel our joy deeply?
How long is long enough to grieve? I really don’t know.
Let’s make a deal, though. I won’t tell you, if you don’t tell me.
We were among those in the US of A who got a nice covering of snow on Thursday. I don’t mind it yet, although as March approaches my attitude might change.
The windows beside our kitchen table make me feel like I am safe and warm in a magical place where I can watch the birds who come to visit.
Our feeders attract a lot of small birds, like this Black-capped Chickadee. (I hope you will correct me if I misidentify something. I don’t claim to be an expert, just a fan.)
The Tufted Titmouse is one of my favorites. I think it is lovely.
One of Mark’s favorites is the Yellow-shafted Flicker. It’s a larger bird with unique markings. A week or two ago, I saw another one in the exact same location, but it was dead-still. I mean, it did not wink an eye or flutter a feather. At first I wondered if it was sick, and then I realized there was probably a hawk in the area. I stepped outside and sure enough, a hawk was perched high in a sycamore stalking the feeders. This poor flicker, somehow knew it, had gotten caught behind the feeder, and was making every attempt to be invisible. He or she got away alright this time. It amazes me to see the birds respond to their predators.
Speaking of sycamores. I just love them. This is my favorite one. I made a background for this blog out of this photo by layering it over a white background in Photoshop and making it largely opaque.
I think this is a little Junco. They are a distinctive small bird with their slate-gray backs and white breasts.
I have houses for the birds, but so far not many are using them. Do you see the squirrel on the small tree leaning to the left? He or she sat there for the longest time.
Here’s a close-up of it. It might be a youngster. The other day I saw several juvenile squirrels running up and down the trees. They are fun to watch. I suspect they were driving their parents nuts with cabin fever. I didn’t realize the squirrels had babies this time of year, although truthfully, I don’t know when they were born. It’s hard for me to imagine what that clump of leaves in the top of a tree looks like when it is full of juvenile squirrels and their parents.
We’re keeping the squirrels well-fed too. They love the peanut feeder that Mark keeps on the deck. Arthur works hard chasing them off the feeder when we let him out. He takes off around the deck corner, sprinting on three legs. But if he happens to get lucky and trap one, he is the first to back off. I think he’s probably afraid of them. He makes a good show of it, though.
A little House Finch,
and White-throated Sparrow all came to call.
As did the Nuthatch,
and the Downy Woodpecker.
A Mourning Dove huddled in the cold nearby.
The male Cardinal always makes a show,
but I love the female Cardinal with her subtle coloring. Very classy.
And, the Blue-jay. We seem to have quite a few Blue-jays this year. I am becoming rather fond of them, even if they are a bit of a bully around the feeders.
I also saw a Carolina Wren and a Red-bellied Woodpecker, neither of which I managed to photograph. Next time.
Although this isn’t a bird, and visited on the 26th of December, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the possum. He is, after all, benefiting from the bird-feeders.
Finally, again not seen yesterday but worth mention, Mark heard the owls’ calls, and spotted them in the tree early one morning right before Christmas.
It pays to keep your eyes and ears open around here.
If you are somewhere bundled up from the cold and the snow, I wish you the warmth of a glowing fire and a nice hot toddy. If you are somewhere warm and sunny, I don’t want to know about it.
Happy New Year.
The snow is gone, but the lighted trees still shine, the cans are full of cookies, the refrigerator and pantry are stocked to brimming, and the party continues.
We’ll see our oldest son, his wife, and their two young children today. They’ll bring Christmas magic our way.
And tomorrow our family will be here, complete, when our Buffalo artist and his wife arrive.
I hope your holiday has been filled with sweet, though fleeting, moments to cherish.
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all.