Sunday, February 7, 2016

And So This is Helen

Inspired by reality.


The doorbell rang, followed by knocking.   
Jase popped his head up. 
"Who that, Mama?"  
"Shh," I whispered.  "Lie down."
 I was leaning over the crib rail rubbing his back, trying to quiet him for his nap.  
I heard Don open the front door.  
Speaking softly, he said, "No, we can't right now, maybe later."
After another few minutes of soothing murmurs and comforting strokes, Jase finally fell asleep.
I tiptoed out of the room, softly closing the door. 
"What did Helen want?"  I asked. 
"She invited us over to see her Christmas tree."
Helen lives next door to us.   She is a tiny woman, barely five feet tall.   She wears her wiry steel gray hair in a bun on the top of her head.  When she speaks, her dark eyes dart from side to side seemingly  in concert with her flying hands. 
We've been in our house for 11 years.  We moved in on a hot muggy August day.  Helen came over that day to introduce herself and welcome us to the neighborhood.  
She told us that she had lived in her house for 40 years.  We found out that she was 73 and caring for her ill husband.  She had two sons, one was married and had two children, the other single.
"I don't think he will ever marry," she said.
When she began to reminisce about the original owners of our house, Don politely interrupted her by saying that we had to get back to our move. 
With three kids and full-time jobs, our schedules leave us little free time to be socially engaged with  our neighbors. 
Life eases up a little in the summer, though and Helen and I will occasionally chat when we are outside puttering around in our yards.  Little by little I found out the history of our neighborhood.
Helen's yards, front and back, are neatly kept.  She certainly has a green thumb.  Her hydrangeas are spectacular and her many rose bushes are beautiful. In the spring, she would always tell me to feel free to pick the lilacs that lean over into our yard.  She proudly told me, more than once, I might add, that she did all the grooming of her yard by herself.  
Three years after we first moved in, Helen's husband passed away.  I only found out about it the spring after he died.  I saw her in the yard one day and waved.  When she came over to the fence, I asked how her husband was.   That's when she told me that he died two days before Christmas.  How sad, I thought and I felt a twinge of regret over not making more of an effort to keep in touch with her. 
And that summer I only saw her once, the time she came over to tell me about her husband.  I began to notice that her son would come once a week to cut the grass.
I wondered if she was alright, but never found the time to check in on her.
The following summer, Helen began to come out again.  She seemed frailer and walked with a cane.  She told me that she had stumbled and fallen while trimming her rose bush the previous July and had broken her ankle.
"I was laid up for the next six months.  I couldn't even trim my Christmas tree or put out any of my decorations," she said.
I remember thinking that I really should make more of an effort with Helen.
But, life continued to get in the way, I guess.  We were so busy.  The years passed by.
This past summer, Helen told me about her son, "You know the one who comes to help me out," she explained.  
"Well, he got married in April and moved to the west coast,"  she said.
She looked sad and a little forlorn.  Her usual animated way of speaking was subdued.
I wondered about her other son and her grandchildren.  I've never seen them come to visit.  I didn't feel right about asking her, though.
We spoke now and again as usual and the summer passed and our lives became overwhelming, as they normally did.
It was unusual for Helen to come to our door.  Actually, I don't ever recall her doing it.  I thought it strange, really that she still had her tree up.  That day, the day she knocked on our door, was the Sunday, two weeks after Christmas.   Helen was now 85 years old.   It was the first time in eleven years that she ever invited us to come into her house.
I felt a strong urge.  The sensation was as though someone was pulling my hand, leading me next door.  I knew I had to go.
I called up to my eleven-year-old daughter and seven-year-old son.
"Come on down, guys.  Get your coats on.  We're going next door to visit Miss Helen."
They groaned and complained.
"We're watching a movie.  Can't you go without us?"
I was insistent.  "Let's go!"
We walked up the stone steps which led to her front door and I rang the bell.
I waited a few more minutes and rang the bell again.
I heard her calling, "I'll be right there."
She led us through an entrance hall and into her living room.  I was astonished at what I saw.
Her tree, an artificial one, nearly touched the ceiling.   There wasn't a bare spot.  Every branch had, at least, two or more ornaments on it.
As I looked more closely, I noticed that the decorations appeared to be hand made.
I turned to look at her.
She smiled and said, "I made each and every one myself."
I made the appropriate admiring sounds and told her how beautiful they were.  And they were!
She had baked a tray of cookies and while we sat at her kitchen table, with tea for us and hot cocoa for the kids,  I realized that she looked happier than I had seen her look in a long time.
She told me that it was the first time in her life that she spent Christmas alone.
"I wanted someone to see my tree."
She thanked me for coming.
That day, the day Helen came knocking at our door was five months ago.
A few days ago I noticed a for sale sign in Helen's front yard.
This afternoon the doorbell rang, followed by knocking.
Don had taken the kids to the movies.  I was alone in the house.
I peeked out the window to see who it was.  A man was standing on our porch trying to hold onto a large white cardboard box in one hand while he reached out to knock a second time with his other hand.  The box was tied up like a Christmas present with green ribbon and a big red bow.
He looked familiar.  I opened the door.  He said, "Mrs. Barnette?"
"Yes?" I said hesitantly.
"I'm John."  "Helen's son?"
"Oh, yes."  I said.
"Uh, well..."
"Is Helen ok?"
"Oh, you haven't heard.  My mother passed away three weeks ago."
"She left a note."  He held out the box and said. "She wanted you to have these."

Monday, February 1, 2016

UPDATE: The Cup, The Chart and The Money Jar - And The 2016 A-Z Blogging Challenge - Should I?

I completed the first of my twelve 2016 goals.   January's goal was to drink more water.  My aim was eight 8 oz glasses a day.   My incentive was a money jar.  I would reward myself  16 cents for each glass of water I drank.

Here's how it went:

Week one:
56 glasses (448 ounces) $8.96
Yay, I met my goal!

Week Two:
28 glasses (224 ounces) $4.48  
oops.  I had my reasons.

Week Three:
46 glasses  (368 ounces) $7.36 
That's better.

Week Four + one Day
48 glasses (384 ounces) $7.68
Not bad.

What I learned and gained from this.
I realized I had been drinking a very small amount of water.   Before this, I would only consume about 16 ounces of water a day. 
Even though I was not as successful on week two, I did not quit. 
Blogging about my intentions, keeping a record, and rewarding myself was a definite incentive. 

The bottom line is that I feel good about being able to continue.  I wouldn't say that it has become a habit but I have already started a new chart for February.  
Oh yeah, the negative was having to pee every hour, which is okay as long as I was at home.
I quickly learned to stop drinking after 5:00 p.m.  
February's goal is to post on my blog twice a week.  Specifically, Monday or Tuesday and Saturday or Sunday. I am trying to decide if I want to participate in the  2016 A to Z Blogging Challenge.  I figure this will be a good trial. 

I've decided that my posts will be worth $5.00 each.  

My money jar has $28.48 for drinking all of that water, plus $5.00 for this post.  
I'd say I'm on a roll!

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Life’s Distracting Choices

I'm sure you've heard this before, "Life is about choices".  That is a broad statement.  Too broad, really.  I find that I am in constant "yes" or "no" conversations with myself.
Take, for instance, this morning.  I woke up at 5:45.  Once I became fully awake, I was faced with a decision.  I'll call it the "first choice" of the day.
Should I stay in bed or get up?  
It's still dark out.  But, I can get an early start on...uh oh more choices.  
Let's see, I can try to fix the mistake I made on the scarf that I am currently knitting.  Which, by the way, I finally chose to put down in frustration last night.
I decide no to the knitting.  My eyes are still too tired from working on it for  hours last night.
I could just make my tea.  Making "my tea" doesn't require much thought because I make my tea every morning.  It's not "usually" or "perhaps", it's always, the second thing I do when I get up.
So, I could get up, make my tea, then just sit and listen to the stillness before the dog notices that I am not in bed and starts to bark... because?  Oh yeah, he's a dog.  It's what he does.  
Hmm, that will affect my decision.  If I wake the dog up, he will want to go out.  Like I mentioned, it's still dark and icy cold.  But, I don't walk the dog, Ross does.  And Ross is still sound asleep.
So if I get up, make my tea, and the dog starts barking, Ross will wake up.  I'm sure it isn't a choice Ross would make.  He wouldn't want to get up at 5:45 and walk Rico in the dark coldness.
Okay, I could get up,  make my tea, then when Rico starts to bark, I could let him out in the back for a quick pee and Ross could stay sleeping.
By now, the day is starting to lighten.  As I lie in bed, I imagine the sky is now starting to change from black to gray with hints of salmon pink on the horizon.
It would make a great photo.
I could get up, make my tea, let Rico out the back to pee. Then while my tea is brewing, perhaps I could capture a sunrise.
So many choices.  Oh, they may sound mundane and small.  And they are, really.
But this morning they were mere but necessary distractions.
For, this morning, before I was fully awake, still hazy from a restless night and with a nagging lingering headache, I fuzzily recalled that Ross was going to the movies today with his friend Sal.  Star Wars in 3D.
I wondered if Joe has seen it yet.
And then I remembered.
Should I stay in bed or get up?

Sunday, January 3, 2016

The Cup, The Chart and The Money Jar

I do want to make this year different, even if it the changes are small.  I proposed to myself that meeting 12 goals might be a challenge but doable.

Making a commitment to myself, though, might not be incentive enough for me to complete these goals.  Letting the rest of the world know about my attempts, well, that just might be the motivational kick in the pants I need.

I thought about which 12 goals I might like to accomplish.  But I immediately started to get overwhelmed thinking about twelve.  That's a lot, twelve, isn't it?  It is to me.

One.  One at a time.  That's how you eat an elephant, one bite at a time.  At least, that's what I've been told.   I will plan and document one goal a month, to be revealed at the beginning of each month.

So here is Goal Number One.

2016 - January's Goal

According to the Mayo Clinic website,  I don't drink enough water.

"So how much fluid does the average, healthy adult living in a temperate climate need? The Institute of Medicine determined that an adequate intake (AI) for men is roughly about 13 cups (3 liters) of total beverages a day. The AI for women is about 9 cups (2.2 liters) of total beverages a day."

I figure I can start my goal's dozen with drinking more water.  Easy, right?

Not so much for me.   I've tried before.  But now I have devised a plan.   To tell you the truth, spending the time to devise the plan may have been a procrastination technique.  Yeah, probably, it was.

Anyway here's my motivation plan for drinking more water.

Step 1:  The Cup
                    A personally meaningful one.

A Past Christmas Present from Anne

Step 2:  The Chart.
                       I have to be accountable

Step 2.  The Incentive - The money Jar

                  For each cup of water, I drink I will pay the Money Jar (AKA Me) 16 cents.  That means if I drink all required 8 glasses by the end of the day, I will make $1.28.  At the end of the week,  $8.96.  At the end of 4 weeks, $35.84.   I'm not sure what I will do with my windfall.  Perhaps I will add it to next month's goal.

According to the website Science How Stuff Works:

"The reality is, habits are easier to make than they are to break. If you repeat a behavior often enough, those synaptic pathways are going to get worn in. The human brain is a very adaptive piece of machinery. But does that take 21 days? Who knows? Everyone's brain is different, and habit formation also relies on aspects of experience and personality."

I'll let you know how my brain works at the end of the 28 days.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Let’s Start Over, Okay?

It's the last day of 2015.  This post will not be a detailed year-end review, but rather an impressionist view, in no particular order.

Our Tuesday group continues to be an important part of my life.  We joined together bonded by grief.  We stay together through understanding, caring and love.

I ventured out of my comfort zone and joined a group of women who meet three times a week in order to enhance our health through exercise.   Although I have been part of our community for nearly 14 years, I have been hesitant to participate in any of the activities.
At our last session, the woman who leads us had us form a circle.  And, while we squatted, and lifted we each took a turn relating expressions of  gratitude.  Most of the women were thankful, of course,  for their families.  I am too, of course.
When it was my turn, though, I  said I was happy that "After 14 years, I discovered this wonderful group of the nicest ladies."

My favorite time was our family vacation in Ocean City.   I think of the wrap around front porch and I smile.

There were too many losses.   I understand.  My heart breaks for you.

Two "young and in love" weddings.

Ross had a bit of a health scare which resulted in a trip to the emergency room.  He's okay.  He's good.

Oh my, Bella is so tall now.  Beautiful, yes she is.

That little one, Jax, he is a day brightener, yes he is.

Those four boys chasing each other from room to room.  Like stepping stones, one next to the other. Yet, each one so different.  Each one so unique.  Yes, they are.

Although I did not attend my fiftieth high school reunion, I was surprised when a few weeks after the reunion I received an invitation to a luncheon.  An opportunity to reconnect with a group of high school classmates.  True to myself, I wasn't keen on going to the luncheon.  Actually, I was quite anxious about going.  In fact, I called the night before to cancel.  But I had a strong uncanny inclination that I should  go.
It felt like a fierce tugging on my arm, a whisper over my shoulder, "Come on... come."
You were right, I did have a good time.  They are the nicest ladies, yep. You were right, sometimes it's good to step out of my comfort zone.

I happily knitted, a lot.    I made a scarf and hat for you.  Get better, okay?  

Two birthday shawls and another scarf or two along with a mermaid afghan is how I finished out the year.

My heel still hurts.  I went to the doctor.  He gave me a shot.  He said it wasn't going to hurt.  It did.  It didn't help.   I go back next week.

On Christmas Day Ross and I made sauce, meatballs and lasagna.

We celebrated Christmas on Sunday, December 27.
Everyone was here.  That would be Jen, Derek, Bella, Ryan and Jackson, Anne and Domani, Jimmy, Tara, Kenny and Ty.
Our house was suddenly wide awake filled with brilliant life lights.

I miss Joe.  He should be here too.  Yes, he should.     My heart hurts.

These past few weeks the weather has been unusually warm.   The temperatures have been above normal.  A few days in December have been in the 70's.  We have also had many days of rain.

Today is the first day in awhile that the sun has peeked out a little.

We took down our Christmas decorations today.  Strangely,  I felt uncomfortable with so much Christmas around.  I feel more like myself now that everything is back the way it was before.

Is it silly that after all these years of life, knowing what I know, having the experiences I've had I still wish for things like happiness and healthy, peaceful times for you?

I suppose that's what's known as hope.

So,  we start over, once again.

Happy Healthy Peaceful 2016.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

It’s Okay, Joe

December 5, 2015

My son Joe passed away four years ago today.
As I always do on this day, I find my way into the darkened space of my heart.  It is where my pain and anger has burrowed in.  It is deep and cleverly hidden.  Most of the time.  But not today.  Today I find it, grab hold of it and pull it out.
Yesterday was the four-year anniversary of Joe's last day here, with us.  I have flashing visual memories of the day.
I recall those of us who loved Joe wandering in and out of the room.  The room where he would find his final rest.  Or perhaps it was me.  Yes, it was me.  I was the wanderer.
My memories of that day are surreal.  I feel confused.  What is going on?  I don't understand what's happening.   I want to pick him up and carry him away from that room.  I want to take him away from death.
I close my eyes and I hear the day.  The football game is playing on the TV in the room where Joe lay, unconscious.  It's loud.   Unconsciously, I find myself putting my hands over my ears.  It should be quiet.  Joe was quiet.
The hospice nurse was sitting on the other bed in the room.  Right next to Joe.  She told me to talk to him.  "He can hear you," she said.
I was irrationally puzzled.  How can he hear me?  It's so loud in here. 
But I tell him, "It's okay Joe.  It's okay."
I'm not sure what I meant by that.   But it's what a mother says, you know.  It's what a mother says.
This one day is the day of my son' death.   There is no joy in this day.
But this day, this death day, was not the life of Joe.  Tomorrow I will remember the beautiful life that was my Joe.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Post Thanksgiving Day Review of “Give Mom a Rest. Let Us Do The Cooking”

Thanksgiving Day Dinner Review

Like a walk in the Park

This year Ross and I decided to have our Thanksgiving dinner catered by one of our local restaurants,  The Vincentown Diner.  

They claim on their website's homepage "We are not your average diner".

"The Vincentown Diner is NOT just another Diner! We strive to bring you the highest quality food and service at very reasonable prices. Our chef inspired menu incorporates premium products, the freshest ingredients and generous portions. We use Organic Eggs, all local, grass-fed beef or Certified Angus Beef, premium cheeses, and cooking oils that contain no trans fats. Our house coffee is roasted locally and ground fresh every time we brew.

Local food and products such as produce, fruits, wine, honey, bread and blueberry iced tea confirm that "Local Tastes Better". Loyalty Club rewards provide another reason to stop by and don't forget to visit Jersey Jim's country store."

We have eaten at the Vtown Diner many times.  That's why we were fairly confident about ordering a complete Thanksgiving dinner from them.
But, still, it was the first time we have ever done that.  By that I mean, having Thanksgiving dinner, which is supposed to be all about homemade cooking, done by, well not us.

Ross picked up our dinner at 9:00 a.m. on Thursday.  Everything was packed up in a large cardboard box.   Included in the box was a 20 pound fully cooked, still on the frame, turkey - all nice and perfectly browned; four large trays containing mashed potatoes, candied yams, string beans and stuffing; two large containers of gravy; a large container of homemade cranberry sauce; a large loaf of ciabatta bread and a pumpkin pie.
There was enough food to feed at least 15-20 people.

The price for all of that was $129.00

All of the food was fully cooked but cold.  There were explicit instructions on how to re-heat everything.  First the turkey went into the oven at a preheated temperature of 300 degrees for 2-1/2 hours.
The four side dishes were stored in aluminum, oven ready, trays.  When the turkey came out, we put all four trays into the oven, poured the gravy into a saucepan to simmer on the stove.

We planned on serving dinner at 3:00 p.m.  By 1:00 we had everything organized, the table was set, the bread sliced, serving utensils and platters set out.

And Ross and I?  We were relaxing.  He was watching TV and I was listening to a book and knitting.

We celebrated Thanksgiving dinner with my daughter, son-in-law and three grandchildren.   Jen brought delicious macaroni and cheese, a pumpkin cheesecake and her famous chocolate chip cookies.

Did I mention there was a lot of food?  Once it was all set out on the table, I thought, Boy am I glad I didn't have to do all of that!

And then we dug in!

So the moment of truth.  Our review of the Vincentown "We are not your average" Diner's complete "Give mom a rest. Let us do the cooking for you" Thanksgiving Day dinner.

It    Was    EXCELLENT!

Yes, everything was delicious.  We couldn't have done better ourselves.  The turkey was cooked to perfection.  Moist and tender.   The mashed potatoes were real potatoes, creamy and tasty.  The candied yams were apparently good.  I don't do yams.  But everyone else said they were good.  The stuffing was very good.  Ryan even went for seconds.  The string beans were fresh, not canned.
The whole berry cranberry sauce had just the right mixture of sweet and tang.  Derek said the pumpkin pie was the best he has ever had.

There was enough food leftover to feed us all again and again and then perhaps if we are not too tired of turkey dinner, once again.

I would highly recommend it.   And I would definitely do it again next year.

By the way, Jen, thanks for the cookies.  After you left, and everything was cleaned up and put away, I was ready for one of those cookies.  They were nowhere to be found.  I asked Ross, "Where are Jen's cookies?"
He said, "I put them in the freezer."
He put them in the freezer, tray and all, covered in plastic wrap.
"No, no," I said.
I took them out of the freezer and had one.  They are even better half frozen :).