“Forward” is the weekly photo challenge prompt. Hmm. Directional. Nautical. Paths…I have a bunch of shots like that which I’ve already posted. Boring. Check the dictionary. Aha!
Inspiration! Allow me to (re)introduce Emily. She is turning 22 on Wednesday. Last year, I did a Birthday Post dedicated to her, but she deserves more press. Especially with this theme! Ready, brash, precocious. She is much more than these, but she is these. Ready to act, in many senses of the word. Ready with her emotions, her opinions, her dreams. Ready, often, to take on any challenge. Brash, bold, unreserved, “larger than life”. Precocious….oh, the stories I could tell! When she got 2nd runner up in the Little Miss contest, they asked her what she wanted to be when she grew up. “An artist…like Georgia O’Keeffe!” she replied in her 5 year old voice. In first grade, she was given the responsibility of trotting down the hall to the third grade classroom for reading because she was far more advanced than the rest of her class. Often, however, her teacher would find her in the nurse’s office having an extended visit, chatting, charming, helping out, telling stories. In high school, she was invited to lunch in the teacher’s lounge by a new staff member who thought she was a teacher. She is progressive. She is learning, growing, changing at an incredible rate, still. And she is someone whom I love so thoroughly and passionately that sometimes, I almost can’t bear it….the rush of oxytocin, almost losing her as an infant to meningitis, the fights we had, the pride when she performs, the fear we lived through…we are bound together and moving forward, deeper, higher all the time.
So, now, the photos:
Our first Valentine’s Day together, Steve and I attended a presentation on raptors at the Volo Bog Nature Center. We got to hear about and see up close some beautiful birds of prey and learn more about their habits and how they differ from what the presenter called “sissy birds” – birds who migrate to avoid our Northern winters. Then we went and had sushi at a nearby restaurant. The next Valentine’s Day, we went to a presentation on animal mating habits at the McHenry County Conservation District education center. They provided some great chocolate snacks, warm drinks, a slide show on various courtship behaviors, and a candlelit ski trail hike. They played a recording of coyote calls to try to entice some real responses, but there were none. Still, the eerie, cold hillside was suitably mysterious and romantic for those of us who are simply in love with nature. This morning, we took off from Milwaukee to Madison for our weekly Naturalist Enrichment course at the Arboretum of UW Madison. We heard a professor from the zoology department give a presentation entitled “Why Do Birds Sing?” One of the main purposes for bird song is, of course, to attract a mate. Thus, the Valentine’s Day connection was made again. Steve asked a question of the presenter to try to find some explanation for the early morning activity of birds in our neighborhood. “What’s the best time of day to sing a love song?” Several audible chuckles and giggles were heard in the audience, which is predominantly silver-haired and female. The presenter talked about the morning chorus and the ability for sound to be carried further in the chilly predawn air. I smiled down at my notes and pressed my knee against his leg. After the talk was over, a nice lady with short, white hair and a thickly knit sweater came over and leaned across me. To Steve, she said, “You can sing your love song ANY TIME you want!”
I love hanging out with retired professors! And I love that my daughter lives just a few blocks away from the Arboretum and invited us over for “breakfish” afterwards. Valentine’s hugs all around and more conversation about her upcoming wedding. Very satisfying way to spend the day, indeed.
Nerd love and natural love to everyone! What a wonderful world!
In a display of shameless nepotism, I am using this blog space to announce a new daily blog that I now follow: The Elsewhere Condition, written by my oldest daughter, Susan. Grad student in linguistics, lead singer in a punk performance band, bride to be, and four foot eleven inch dynamo, she is an engaging writer and earnest soul. Here’s a sample from Day 2:
My other goal for this year is to lead a healthier life, which is rather like saying that I want my novel to be about “good stuff.” What’s “healthy?” How do I know if I’m healthier? Healthier than what? Healthier than the grad student grind isn’t hard to do. I’ve fallen into a morose and processed diet, the cornerstones of which are coffee, cafeteria sandwiches, ibuprofen, and the kind of pastries that come out of vending machines. This is offset by forms of exercise which include running after buses, lifting bags of books, pacing the hallways of the English building, and vigorous hyperventilating. Clearly, I can do better than this, but I’m still working out reasonable and helpful parameters.
So now I have another reason to log on every day. Check out The Elsewhere Condition. That is all.
My grandfather’s little tax deduction for the year 1934 arrived on New Year’s Eve. Anne Louise McFarland, my mother, grew up believing that all the fireworks and shouting every year on this day was in honor of her birthday. I grew up believing something very similar. My parents didn’t dress up and go out on New Year’s Eve…they dined at home on champagne and escargot and caviar and other delectable treats while listening to “The Midnight Special” on WFMT or to “Die Fledermaus” on TV or video. When I was old enough to stay up with them, we would sometimes catch the Times Square celebration and then declare East Coast midnight and go to bed an hour early. But the reason for the season was my mother, not the march of time. In my late teens, I didn’t go to other people’s parties, I still stayed home…and my boyfriend (soon to be husband) joined us. We enjoyed the best food and champagne and music and silliness and company without ever having to contend with drunk drivers on the roads. My mom lives 2,205 miles away from me now, but I am still planning to stay home and drink champagne and eat salmon and listen to wonderful music and think of her. She is still reason enough for all the joy and love and delight you might see tonight. I’ll show you why:
This is my mom and dad at her college graduation. That’s right, she graduated from Radcliffe, the female component to Harvard, at the age of 20. The woman has brains. With her late birthday and having skipped a year in elementary school, that means she went to college at age 16, all naive and nerdy with bad teeth and a lazy eye and glasses, but with a curiosity and charm that matured and eventually proved irresistible to my father, who, with money and pedigree and a Harvard degree, was “quite a catch”.
So, by 1965, she’s a mother of 4 little girls (that’s me, the baby, blonde, aged 3), running a household, volunteering with Eastern Star and the church and a host of other things. So stylish, so Jackie! This was Massachusetts, you know.
And she’s not afraid to go camping, either. This was a picnic picture taken by her mother-in-law. That would explain the handbags and the dress. My grandmother was never seen anywhere without a handbag and make-up. My mother was…often!
Fast forward 13 years. My mother gave birth to a boy when she was 38. She had 4 willing babysitters surrounding her and a handsome husband now sporting a beard. She’d also picked up a Masters degree in Church Music. We moved from Chicago to California where she became more adventurous in cuisine and hiking and music and new volunteer opportunities. This photo was taken the last Christmas that all her children were alive. My sister Alice (far left) died the next August.
A month after she’d turned 50, my mother became a grandmother for the first time. She’d also survived breast cancer by electing to have major surgery, something her own mother had done 10 years earlier. She was housing and caring for her barely mobile mother and raising a pre-teen son at this time as well. Do you see a grey hair? No? Neither do I. My mother is amazing.
Mom turns 55. She has 4 grandchildren, a 16-yr old son, and her mother has just died. She’s volunteering as a docent at the San Jose Historical Museum, a position she will hold for more than 20 years, specializing in their music department.
Here, she’s 60. My husband and I are traveling in Europe for our 10th anniversary, and she and Dad take our kids to the beach cottage for a few weeks. My husband survived double bypass surgery on his heart two years earlier. Yeah, Mom came out then, too, to take care of the kids…and me. Who has the energy to be with 4 kids (aged 3, 5, 7, & 9) at the beach for two weeks at the age of 30, let alone twice that? My mother. Although she did let me know (graciously) that it wasn’t easy.
In 2007, Mom came out with my sister and brother to see my daughter graduate from college. We all went to the cottage together again. This was my husband’s last trip: he died the following February. My father is not with us on this vacation. He is in the advanced stages of Alzheimer’s disease, a condition he had for 7 years before his death. My mother visited him several times a week while he needed skilled care and played the piano for all the residents, jogging memories with old popular tunes and supporting the hymns during chapel services.
My father died in March of 2010. I had been widowed for 2 years. My kids and I flew back to California for his memorial service, and Dad’s ashes were buried next to my sister’s and my husband’s. My mother invited the family back to her house and we gathered around the piano again. She played and sang and laughed and cried, and I did, too, right by her side. My mother and I are alike in many ways, and I am so glad, proud and grateful to be a woman like her. I see her smile, I hear her voice, I taste her cooking and her tears, and feel her spirit flowing around and through me all the time. We’re going to party tonight, Mom. Miles be damned! Happy Birthday! I love you!
A song from “Miss Saigon” is running through my head… ‘a song, played on a solo saxophone…so hold me tight and dance like it’s the last night of the world’. Not that I seriously think the world will end tomorrow. Aside from the darkness and the rain (instead of snow) here in Milwaukee, all seems fairly normal.
But it raises a good question. What would you do on the last night of the world? What would you want to be doing any or every night of the world?
My husband sang that song from Miss Saigon on a recital one February, a snowy scene visible through the plate glass window behind him. The tune was a tad high for him; his sweet tenor voice seemed a little strained. He lived only another 7 years after that day.
I would want to dance with him and Steve and my children and my mother, to hold them tight and look into their eyes until there was nothing else to see.
Happy Thanksgiving, everybody! It’s Steve’s favorite holiday, and we’ve eaten turkey for the last 3 dinners. First, it was the 20-pounder I cooked for us and his mom, aunt, sister and brother-in-law. That occasion included a lot of cleaning up and rearranging books so that the book business didn’t take over the dining & living room. The result of that work is being able to provide a comfortable place for people to gather, relax, feast, listen to music, and converse. Holding a safe space open for life to unfold is a responsibility that I willingly accept, and I am thankful that I have figured out how to do that with the resources available to me. I am very thankful for my partner and for the home that we have made together. The day after Thanksgiving, we went down to visit my children in Illinois. With all 4 of them, plus my daughter’s boyfriend and her godfather, we made 8. She cooked another turkey and we brought our leftovers to share for this second feast. I am thankful for my children, for the unique and wonderful people they are and for the fact that I have a healthy, happy relationship with each of them. Yesterday, we drove home, past Glacial Park where we had our first date, back to our clean and tidy little duplex apartment. Steve went back to work, I took a nap, and later fixed some more leftover turkey for supper. Oh, but just before that, something else happened. I had a good cry. You see, my oldest daughter went shopping on Black Friday and bought…a wedding dress. All by myself, back at home, I put on a Louis Armstrong CD, “What A Wonderful World”. I felt happy and lonely, missing her father who died in 2008. I wrote a sentimental bit of poetry, drank some vodka & cranberry juice, and let it flow. Life moves and changes and goes on. We are the bearers of our own memories, the crucible of our own journeys, and no one else shares that responsibility with us. That can feel very lonely sometimes, but it also feels satisfying. I am filled with the weight of my life and still have room for more. For that, I am especially thankful.