A Piece of Heaven

That’s how my small house and property have been described by visitors. It is helpful to me to hear such evaluation. I tend to become so accustomed to my surroundings, to my home, that I forget how special it appears to others, and how special it is, in fact, to me.

An artist, who came to stay for several months, painted the scene at the back terrace, including the animals, and titled it “Peaceable Kingdom”. Not that it is always peaceable. We have our moments.

Sometimes, when I am not engrossed in the everyday details of living and keeping some alleged control over the “kingdom”, I take a breath and see at least some of what is here.

A creek is nearby, with all it has to offer: soothing sounds, fish, crayfish, birds, bugs, and a multitude of fishermen when fishing season opens. It is a salve to the chaos of living, usually gurgling, and roaring after a good rain.

A satellite photo shows trees, and more trees. If you look carefully, you can see the roads. The “gardens” are plush at this time of year, when there has been adequate rain. My compost pile is my vegetable garden and summer respite, after wintering inside, for the avocado trees that have volunteered there. Former owners established a nice arboreal framework. Other plantings are simply what has appealed to me, and it’s an okay-you’re-on-your-own-now situation. Either they make it, or they don’t. Every year there are new Maple trees, “scrub” trees, and wildflowers. If I didn’t prune things back, the house might be swallowed. Fortunately, for me, there is only a small “lawn” to be maintained. Lawn is a euphemism; it’s some grass and lots of “ground cover” which could be anything – violets, ajuga, dandelions, plantain, bird seed sproutings, etc. It’s only a weed if you don’t want it.

People say there is a beacon on my house, so many stray animals show up. Some find their own homes, thanks to the local police, animal control, and those who offer to house them. Some stay.

When one such visitor, a young Tabby cat, cried outside my bedroom windows for three nights in a row, he was lured into “captivity” with food. He was skin and bones, and had a broken leg. That was Smokey Joe. After a vet visit, neutering, the mandatory rabies vaccine, and an assessment that the leg was healing well on its own, he came “home” with the proviso that he could seek a new home anytime. He’s still here.

It is such a similar story to finding another Tabby that I wonder if it is coincidence. Probably not. Many years ago, I found an adult Tabby cat in my compost pile, holding down a corn cob with one paw and trying to chew on it. He was not scrawny but he was clearly hungry, and he had a broken jaw.

My partner said, “You’re not going to keep this one, are you.” It was not a question. I looked at the cat and mentally asked its name: Stirps. I thought it was a mis-spelling in my mind because the cat had stripes. But when I looked up stirps in the dictionary, it said “of the family”, a legal term commonly used as per stirpes. I told my partner that Stirps was of the family: he was staying. And he did so for about ten years before he died of old age.

The animals come, eventually they die, and they are appreciated for who they are while they are here. Who could ask for more?

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It’s a Matter of Priorities

A new wireless printer sits in its box. Only the top of the box has been opened.

And then there is the cuckoo clock.

The old cuckoo clock belonged to my mother, which makes the clock at least thirty years old. I’ve had it repaired once, requiring new hand-made parts. It was expensive but there was the tradition to be respected.

Finally, a decision had to be made. The cuckoo clock had stopped again, for good this time. It was less expensive simply to replace it, although that was impossible as the model is no longer made.

A web search revealed availability of cuckoo clocks with some character, not the off the shelf at Wal-Mart variety. A replacement cuckoo clock would need to have some redeeming features and require daily winding. I found one, and it arrived within two days of the order being placed. Talk about good service!

There it was: another box to be unpacked. The printer has been here for two weeks. What do I do? Do I unpack the printer because it was here first? Or do I open the cuckoo clock box containing a pure luxury item, not something electronically useful. Clock or printer?

Frankly, there was no question in my mind. The printer could wait.

The new clock was unpacked, the old clock was packed up (just “in case” it might be fixed at some future date), and the new clock went onto the wall. The dancers move, the birds dip to feed the chicks, and two different music box melodies play and the cuckoo darts out, every half hour.

And I am smiling. Technology can wait.

Cuckoo!

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What Does It Take For You To Feel Rich ?

The answer changes over a lifetime:

For a child – love, reward(s)

A teenager – a goal set/attained, a girl/boyfriend, money

20’s – a job, relationship, buying power, money

30’s – accomplishments, goods accumulating, money

40’s – all that has gone before, plus any improvements along the way, abilities, money

50’s – existential “why am I here” answers, acknowledging past actions/activities, money

60’s – seeing an end coming, revised goals, money

70’s – reflections, appreciation, money

Clearly, a common factor is money. Other common factors might be love, recognition, security/safety, appreciation from others, comfort, food, clothing, shelter etc. Despite a common definition, “rich” is not monetary. It’s a feeling. Rich is determined by what you value. Rich is enhanced by not taking things for granted, and gratitude.

Many factors can contribute to feeling rich. Most recently for me, it was lunch with friends at a nearby restaurant, a sumptuous meal, well served, and the company of friends. It felt like a birthday party.

Human nature is geared to dissatisfaction. It’s what drives us to new goals, new acquisitions, new partners. Without dissatisfaction, or at the least, change, we stagnate; we wallow in the status quo. Inject fear and we enter a “don’t make waves” society. For some, this may be acceptable, but many have a need to “move on”. The need can strike at any time, perhaps as a restlessness, perhaps as rebellion. It demands action. It is a striving for betterment, and what we consider being rich.

Someone who hauls water so they can have it at their abode, can feel rich in the presence of easily accessible water – what most of us take for granted in our homes. In western societies, rich is equated with accumulation of money or things, and/or perhaps financial, social or political power.

I consider myself rich: I have family, friends, clothing, food, a roof over my head, furnishings, water, electricity that is usually working, appliances, enough money to live on, opportunities, goals, a blog, apples on my trees, and a lot more.

I confess: I’ve been through the striving and accumulation phases. I think a lot less about what I don’t have, and more about what I do have. And, I feel rich.

 

A very young apple

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Reading Lesson

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“Road Closed”. Basic Grade I reading level. Licensed drivers presumably have completed the first grade of school. But the proverbial carrot of temptation is dangled, and the challenge is accepted.

People drive their vehicles around this barrier, over the crest of the visible small hill, into a 90º left turn and into the flooded road. If they are lucky, they have 100-150 feet spare road on which to stop.

There are three houses clustered near the creek and the 90º turn. So guess who gets to hear the sudden stops, the beep-beep-beep of a backing truck, the spinning wheels on the wet road? And guess who gets to help those who didn’t stop in time, or embracing the challenge, misjudged the water depth?

We have pulled people out of the creek, and watched vehicles drift downstream more than once. One evening, just as we were sitting down to dinner, a fellow knocked on our door: “My car’s in the creek and my wife is in the car…”

The arrogance of drivers who sacrifice safety and common sense in the name of convenience and their own agendas! Sadly, we may face a time when we cannot compensate for their ignorance.

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The Aftermath of February 5, 2014

Predictions were for a “hard winter”, but what did that mean?

To start: much colder temperatures than usual, freezing water pipes, three inch thick ice, three foot piles of snow, uprooted trees, fallen branches everywhere, crushed and broken bushes, potholes in the roads, evidence of vehicles that did not stay road-bound, mailboxes knocked over by snow pushed by a plow, and loss of electricity for days.

Melting snow has revealed the plethora of fallen tree branches, muddy yards, weeks of hidden dog “fertilizer”, and roadside trash. Water often disguised potholes; driving on roads was hazardous.

I am tired from the adjustments needed for the winter onslaught, and now we are faced with the Spring clean-up.  Mother Nature doesn’t bother with clean-up; her debris is allowed to decay and mulch into the landscape. But humans like to sculpt their surroundings, which includes tidy lawns and trees standing neatly. There’s a lot of work to be done to restore a controlled environment.

Serendipitously, tree trimming was done at my house the day before this storm. Relatively few branches fell here. Hauling those few to the nearby burn pile was easy. Drive two hundred yards in any direction, and you see piles of tree limbs along the sides of the roads, and an occasional entrepreneurial sign offering tree clearing and removal service. Every day, you can hear chain saws.

Now we’ve had a few warm days. Blessedly slowly, snow and ice are melting. The creek can cope with a slow melt. I am still using fallen twigs from white pines for traction. Yesterday, it was 70ºF; last night it was 20ºF, and today with the wind, it feels like 5ºF. What’s next on the hard winter agenda?

There was a time when we did not have weather predictions. We relied on instincts and observations of signals around us. In our complicated populated ever busy world today, weather predictions promote “snow brains” but allow time for preparation.

Regardless of the weather, people will still push their own agendas and get on the roads, determined to get where they want to go. Just ask the insurance industry.

Not me. When the roads are dicey, I cancel appointments and stay home.

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Compliance = Safety

Not true.

But many of us were raised in households where compliance was the best way to get along. We learned from that.

Possibly to our detriment. We learned to appease, not to make waves, to subjugate our own wishes to the desires of others.

Some people are so heavily into compliance (sometimes disguised as “service”) that they don’t even know what they think. Their focus is on what other people think, and want, and how they can fill the other person’s needs.

When compliance comes up against a question such as “what do you want?”, the compliant often turn it back to the enquirer ( “what do You want?”) or they might say, “Oh, I don’t mind…”  This condition is described as being a doormat.

A habit of compliance leads to no longer thinking for oneself.

It’s important for anyone, child or not, to know what the boundaries are. If everything one does is wrong, the boundary is amorphous. You’re left constantly searching for what is right. If the rules are clear, the boundaries are firmer: you know what’s okay and what’s not okay. When the behavior is totally disruptive to those around him/her, as a regular response, then it’s time to look at why.

When someone is trying to express him/herself in a manner that is “breaking the rules”, take another look. Notice the personality that is trying to assert itself. Breaking the rules is not, in itself, a bad thing. It allows innovation and creation. Some of the greatest rule breakers are famous, and rich.

Preparing a child for making decisions, weighing options, pros and cons, is a parental skill. Schooling should assist in developing this asset but often schoolwork is not much more than a rote memory exercise.

Thinking for oneself, having the courage to explore options, knowing that failure is inevitable at some point in life and can be a tool to growth, are concepts that help one to manifest talent and create a life course.

Compliance does not equal safety. The only safety in life is confidence in your own abilities.

Go for it!

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The Ice Storm of February 5, 2014

The adrenaline is slowing. I want to sleep unfettered by worries about heat, water, gasoline for the generator and making sure everyone is fed. Cuts, bruises and eight broken fingernails after the loss of electricity three days ago are souvenirs.

We were warned about the coming ice storm. I hauled out the generator for a test run; it wouldn’t start: dead battery. I called around for a replacement: not available. When the power failed, a neighbor’s son came, with his strength to pull the back-up cord, and he got it started. Then the generator itself recharged the battery.

A few years ago, after years of two or three power outages per year, I leapt into generator relief. It was costly but now I feel that having a generator is better than not having a generator despite the amount of work involved in maintenance and running it and the incredible noise. It meant not having to rehouse myself or the seven animals who live here.

The effect of losing electricity threw me into survival mode, hauling wood in for the fireplace, getting out twice a day to refill the five gallon gas “can” (it’s plastic), and maintaining both of those sources of sustenance. My car was my chariot to normalcy.

The bottom dropped out of the usual everyday living: no telephone, no television, no internet, no doing laundry, vacuuming, etc.  Adrenaline can be a wonderful thing.

The first night, being unsure if the generator would keep going overnight and the effect of it running out of gasoline, I shut it down at dark. I slept on the living room couch in front of the fire, rising every one or two hours to add more wood.

At six the next morning, I was at the gas station for the first refill of the gas can. The new fangled safety features defied my logic; I had to ask for help to unscrew the cap and screw it back on. People can be amazing when you ask them for help. Already, I was on the edge of tears, and we were less than twenty-four hours into this experience.

Five gallons of gasoline is heavy and I had to lift the can to above my waist level in order to pour into the generator. Twice a day at least. The 6+ gallon generator would run on minimal usage for up to eight hours but there is no gas gauge so it was a staggered top-up to keep it fed. The second night I spent on my bed, under a quilt, rising three times to top up the generator, our life line to heat, water, and recharging the cell ‘phone.

After two days, a routine started to shape itself; out early for more gasoline, feed animals, attend to minimal chores like feeding myself and practicing “basement yoga”: to access circuit breakers and the furnace room, you have to get on your knees to reach steps into a 4 foot high passageway to the basement where you can stand up. About ten times a day.

The silence without the television, demands from computer connections, or the telephone was both wonderful and mystifying. A crank-up radio kept me in touch with what was happening elsewhere: over 600,000 customers without electricity, that number gradually dwindling over three days, four days…

On the afternoon of the third day, two trucks pulled up outside. Big trucks. Hydro Québec was the signage. French accents confirmed their origin. Again, I was near tears. People from Canada were here to help us! I hugged the first fellow I talked with; I wished I could bake cookies for them.

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The promised call from the electricity company to say power was restored, never came. At about 6 p.m., lights came on in neighboring houses. I shut down the generator, switched over to the Mains supply, and started to immerse myself in catch-up: laundry, a hot bath, shower and washing hair were at the top of the list. After the bath, there was no doing anything except collapsing into bed. Everyone was warm, fed, and safe. I had read 1.75 books.

Soon, everyday life as we know it in our society will erupt. People will be scurrying about chasing their own agendas, often not paying attention to what we take for granted. Like electricity, the juice that feeds our conveniences, that provides service and comfort. Amen.

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