Thursday, May 10, 2018

A Living Room

An evening in mid-May sees me sitting in our old living room (as opposed to our new one), on the gay floral linen love seat.  It's a comfy and firm seat, with glorious peonies or hydrangeas (or both) on a pale yellow background.  Just what one wants in a small sun room.  (And in a sunny disposish: a delicate buttercream of demeanor, sprinkled with vibrant petals of repartee and textures of intelligent discourse.)

The seasons are so evident in this room.  There is a west window, not too large, which magnifies the sun's stretch across the horizon, if one is observant.  The winter window is hardly discernible, given all the potted plants over-wintering.  If we see the winter setting sun, it's too far south from this window, and this room is dark most winter days.  The potted plants stretch to gain any sun that they can.  The piano and the cello are in use now, in this little old living room.

In Spring, the very low horizon sunlight of the new-found sunrise only goes to magnify the glorious hardwood floors - and its dust in the old living room.  This hardwood is original to this ca. 1887 farmhouse.  Some Spring mornings see me grabbing a dry dust mop to attend to such while our morning coffee is brewing. 

Summertime!  It's already hot outdoors.  In the late afternoon, I eagerly come in here to enjoy the cool of the room, and the dark, which gradually and good-for-the-soul, turns into a sunny room with then, a "day is done" sunset out that west window.

And that's where I am now: sitting on the love seat, reading, watching the sunset, planning tomorrow's gardening agenda.  And, late that it is, I can still see that summer horizon out of the west window of this little old living room, with our old, old trees lining our road, with that dark summer silhouette.


Monday, March 05, 2018


I am turning 58 this week.  I am still in awe of the aging process.  Most of me feels young.  All of me wants to feel young.  I have signs of aging.  Not big ol' OMIGOODNESS, You is old! signs.  My two index fingers are a smidgeon misshapen with arthritis (I guess?, although there is not much pain to be felt. But they look like my mother's fingers.)

I am not a grandmother, but I belong to a women's group which apparently attracts that moniker; grandma.  And at our daughter's wedding last summer, a wedding guest called me Grandma not once, after which I replied that I had no grandchildren - and not twice, after which I responded that even though I was of that chapter in life, I had no little Kinder underfoot - and finally the third time I was beckoned as Grandma, I just smiled and said, "Thank you so much for coming." 

So here is 58.  Fifty-eight.  It looks pretty good.  Hearth and home are good.  Spouse is hale and hearty.  We've been challenged by daughter Gillian to attain 50 miles each month in running - in my case, walking and running.  This has been really fun for our entire family.  Some of us think nothing of running that many miles even with broken ribs from a ski-to-tree altercation.  One of us rode something like 251 miles on her bike trainer this month.  Over-achievers.

Fifty-eight.  I appreciate that I can still run a mile down the road.  I can play the cello (poorly, but who is listening?).  Twice a month I make a meal for our Emergency Shelter (read: homeless).  I take pride in my cooking, which I love to do, but even so, sometimes it is hit or miss, and for that I am always humbled.  Humbling, even at 58, is good.

Fifty-seven saw me at my father's funeral, and my mother's funeral.  Such a tsunami of grief, and yet, we, most of us, all, go though this chapter in life.  Fifty-seven also acknowledged the passing of my sweet mother-in-law and then, my sweet father-in-law, in Australia - at the same time as my own parents were passing.  How blessed was I that my inlaws were so perfectly strong, wise, and fun?

This week sees me heading to Waikiki.  The ultimate destination is Australia, to say goodbye and have closure on the passing of my wonderful inlaws.

I guess here is where I put the funny in:

I am so DONE with flying direct to Australia.  So done leaving Kansas City, going to LAX and then spending LORDHAVEMERCY too many hours on a plane with a kabillion other passengers who are hacking, coughing, and sneezing into my airspace, for 16+ hours.  That is the credo to which that Spouse o' Mine adheres to.  ("Get there soon. Period.")

I, on the other hand, have opted (as I have in the past; read this, couples.) to stop in Honolulu on the way over, and on the way back as well.  All by my lonesome.  I am very comfortable in my lonesome.  Honolulu, Iceland, Lisbon:  I cope quite well on my lonesome.  I love that Spouse o' Mine, and we are terrific travelers together.  But we both know our capacities and limitations, and his is to "get there" and mine is to "be sane and enjoy the ride".  And so, we go.

How fun is it then, to have received an email just last week from son Graham: a short question:  "What is your itinerary to Australia?"  I sent him my itinerary, thinking that our sweet son just wanted to keep tabs on ol' 58-year old Mom as she flits from one hemisphere to another.  Such a considerate son.

Well, better than all that, he then made plans to meet me in Honolulu and join me on my flight to Brisbane!  Yes!  What a great birthday gift!  No, no, he did not make these travel plans to the land Down Under as a gift to me, to be sure!  But I am taking his meeting me this birthday week of mine as a sweet gift from son to Mom, and I am thrilled.       

And so this birthday week goes.  Most years, I might ride my bike the birthday years, but not this time.  20, 25, 30 mph winds are prohibitive.  And I am really enjoying daughter Gillian's 50-miles/month challenge.  (Join us!  It's a 2018 thing.)

Here I am. 

So many changes in the past year, and lots of new in the future. 

I'll take it.

~ T.

Sunday, February 04, 2018


It's our 34th Anniversary today!

I was making a tiramisu for that Spouse o' Mine's birthday yesterday, but neglected to acquire the required Nutella.  So the birthday tiramisu evolved into a 34th Anniversary dessert.

But then life (snow) happened, and when I got back from my XC ski afternoon, and subsequent long phone conversation with a friend from an old (albeit it sweet) chapter of my life, I embarked on the Anniversary tiramisu.

Whoa.  It calls for an overnight?  What?

And so, tonight, he and I are having pasta and homemade chocolate chip cookies.  The cookies are just something I did this afternoon on a whim, thinking to myself, I want chocolate chip cookies, and when was the last time anyone in this household made chocolate chip cookies, and why has it been so ding-dong long?!  Something like that...

So that Spouse o' Mine and I have been acknowledging our anniversary throughout the day, with hugs and sweet kisses and remembrances.  And red roses.  A big ol' bouquet.  Yes.  A good day all-around.

Here is something I read about the Olympic luge team.  It does also so describe a wild ride of decades of our love and partnership together:

Luge riders hurtle down a slippery ice track at great speed, relying on reflexes for steering.  Unlike bobsleigh however,  they have no protection should they make an error.

We have made errors, we have hurtled, to be sure, but at Thirty-four, we are gold medalists.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Thanksgiving's Layers

Tonight, Thanksgiving evening, that Spouse o' Mine and I are sitting by the fire.  Our adult kids plus a girlfriend are at another household, cooking up this evening's Thanksgiving dinner.

The two of us have begun reminiscing about Thanksgiving holidays.  This started because our son was concerned this morning that the turkey had not thawed.  That Spouse o' Mine reflected tonight, "That's not nearly so bad as when the turkey burned."  I looked at him.  A blank stare.  And then I laughed out loud.  There was a Thanksgiving years ago when he and my Mom were team-working with getting the turkey ready to serve.  Somehow in their rush, the grease from the turkey spilled into the oven and a small fire alighted.  It lit up the turkey, too.  Thank goodness no one was injured!  There was a bit of concern, but more laughs that afternoon than anything else.  A singed turkey, a wafting odor of smoke, and we all laughed.  Well...maybe not Mom.

Then there was the year way back when our kids were in grade school.  We were to have Thanksgiving for the family hordes at our house that year.  I was really looking forward to it!  We had all systems go the night before: turkey ready to roast, fruits and vegetables lining the fridge.  Before dawn the next morning I awoke to a serious stomach thing that would not permit me to move three feet from the toilet.  (OK, that was as delicate as I can be.)

I called my parents, all four of my siblings, and told them in a feeble voice, "It is not happening today."  They were disappointed, our kids were sad, that Spouse o' Mine probably hated the fact that he would have to nurse me back from death's doorstep that day.

Mere minutes after my five phone calls, I got a call from my brother Bob.  "Load the kids and the turkey and have Paul meet me at the airport at 11:00."

Seriously.  This explains (in part) why I am accused of being ultra-spontaneous.  At the drop of a hat, my brother Bob flew from Pryor Creek, OK to Stillwater in a Bonanza.  In the meantime, that Spouse o' Mine was roasting the turkey n our kitchen.  I spent all those minutes you-know-where, not caring at all WHERE Bob and my family were heading.

So that Spouse o' Mine loaded up three grade school kids, a roasted turkey, and met Bob at the local airport.  That Spouse o' Mine held the hot turkey in his lap the entire flight back to Pryor.  That's where my entire, extended family celebrated Thanksgiving that year. 

I was flat out on a sofa in a semi-finished basement, watching a Martha Stewart marathon all day long, in a pitiful way.

Maybe the funniest part of THAT sad holiday was a teacher's response to our son's written report of "My Family's Thanksgiving".  She sent me a note: "Graham certainly has a vivid imagination!"

I let it go.

This year, we fast-forward to now having adult children who are no longer reliant on us, but are every bit so enjoyable to be in the company of.  They and theirs are all in different dart-throws of the American map.  (And one son-in-law is Down Under, so THAT dart was a toughie this holiday.)  We met up in Bellingham, Washington, where son Graham lives.  The four adult kids present are doing Thanksgiving dinner.  I am totally loving the passing of the baton, even if it is just for this year. 

This year has been a bit sad for that Spouse o' Mine and me.  Both his parents, and mine, passed away within the past six months.  It is sad.  Being out here in the Pacific Northwest has been a bit of a salve, surrounded by our kids.  But something happened this afternoon.

Our VRBO house is on a lake, and high on a hill.  There are a kabillion steps to climb to get to the house.  This afternoon I was climbing the stairs (after our morning Thanksgiving 5K run, mind you), my arms were full of grocery bags and wet running clothes and wet running shoes.  Halfway up the stairs, my phone began ringing.  I tried hard to run up to the top of the stairs!  Hurry, I told myself.  It's probably Mom & Dad!, I told myself.

And that's when my heart broke into a million pieces.  It wasn't going to be Mom and Dad with their holiday phone call, all cheerful and laughter.


But we move forward. 

It IS a happy Thanksgiving. 

But we look back, as well. 



Thursday, November 02, 2017

Another Sweet Chapter of Life

I was twenty-four when we met. 

I had traveled from Cairo, Egypt, with a brief stop in Oklahoma to catch my breath, and then on west, to Los Angeles, Honolulu, New Zealand, and finally: Australia.

I was a newlywed of six months when we met.

I was nervous, absolutely exhausted, possessing a vanity only a 24-year old would possess, that I should be perfectly dressed in fresh clothes, make-up on, hair perfect.  Lipstick, makeup, smile on my face, song in my heart.

In reality, I had been up and traveling way too many hours and days, (the last leg, 36 hours),  was scared and I sure didn't look as nice as I had hoped.  I might have even smelled a little ripe after all that travel.

We were collected from the airport in the dark, and driven another two hours inland from Brisbane.  We ended up at a darker-than-dark farm in Queensland, Australia, where the stars shone brighter than any I have ever seen.  They must have been mere miles from earth.

My newlywed, that Spouse o' Mine, took me in through the front door of this farmhouse, and that's where I met her: my mother-in-law.  She was beautiful, with her silver - not grey, but silver-white hair, and a welcoming, yet somewhat tentative smile.  No doubt she was sizing up the person who had convinced her son to stay in the States after his stint in college, rather than to return home to kith and kin of Australia.

I could smell beautiful food wafting from the kitchen, and we immediately were ushered in to a large family dinner - brothers, inlaws, grandkids.  (33 years later, and I still remember the roast beef dinner she served.)  I was absolutely numb.  Numb from nerves.  Numb from jetlag.  Numb from just being twenty-four and so out of my element I could not see straight.

Immediately after dessert I excused myself to go to bed.  And I slept for many, many hours.  When I awakened, I could hear all sorts of birds outside, like jungle birds.  I could hear such happy voices downstairs in the kitchen.  I smelled wonderful things from the kitchen...

I headed downstairs, and joined the throng of conversation which always moved from meal-to-meal, tea time-to-tea time, out into the fields of cotton, over to the orange trees, and then the almond trees, checking the chooks (chickens), and just enjoying each other.

From that morning on, I built a relationship with Louise, my mother-in-law. 

She grew up poor in the Depression in South Dakota.  She knew things, she learned things, and she was savvy.  When she and my father-in-law emigrated to Australia, she surely utilized all her skills and common sense, because their move from Point A to Point B was a brilliant success.

Being, as I laughingly call them, "dark Lutherans", one would never know by talking to them, what a terrific life change this move had been for them.  I did not know them in their South Dakota years, but their farm years at Brookvale were, according to them, immeasurably better.  Still, they had the good and bad years that track every farmer anywhere in this world.  But to go out, and pick an orange for breakfast?  And that Spouse o' Mine points out, "not having to break ice in -25ยบ weather" was certainly a perk.

Louise was an avid golfer.  I think this allowed her a social vent away from the farm.  Louise took me out golfing (the first day I was coherent after jet lag).  I was not so much into the game.  Looking back, I am sorry to say that I was probably downright boring and Louise must have been second-guessing her son's choice in life partners.  But, you know what?  She and I shared a love of cooking, and I pored over her cookbooks and index card recipes.  We had a good time over that.

A year later saw my being hired by TWA, as a flight attendant.  Many, many facets went into this new job (a weekly commute from Detroit to JFK was one), but an awesome perk was the travel afforded to both me, and that Spouse o' Mine.  We could fly to Australia: me, for free, and he, for for ~ $25.00!!!  Remember: this was when trips to Australia were a once-a decade, or so, thing.

The next trip we took to visit my inlaws, we had two very young daughters in tow, and I was on maternity leave from TWA with our third pregnancy.  Still at the farm, our daughters met their grandparents and experienced oranges on the trees, kangaroos in the yard, a mouse plague, and much more.  This trip was enriching to me.  Louise shared so much maternal and pregnancy wisdom and experience with me.  Plus, I had never experienced a kid puking before, but there went daughter Claire, two years old, spewing all over the place, and Gma Louise, calmly getting a bucket and mop.  And I was stage left, gagging with morning sickness, which, "down under" happened to be evening sickness".  Lovely.

So, let me fast-forward.  Three decades.  Yes.  It seems unimaginable, but yes, three decades have swept through my life with dear Louise.  We wrote letters to each other before email.  We called each other, too.  I quit TWA to become a stay-at-home Mom about the same time my inlaws retired from the farm.  They began visiting us in the States, rather than us heading down there.  They had time and money, we had no time and little money.  Win-win.

Louise and I shared a love of cooking, as I mentioned.  We also had a love of quilting and other handiworks.  After our initial golf game, which was kind of a bust, we never had a dull moment together.  Conversation with Louise was always bright, often funny, but also often political or religious.  She was on the top of her game in all things newsworthy.

This snippet of my life with my mother-in-law is a mere facet of her life.  She shared her life with two other daughters-in-law in Australia, and no doubt their relationships and experiences with Louise are different, and closer.  I love and embrace the mother-in-law I was given.  She was always encouraging, never judging, and - you know the best? 

I will always hear her little laugh.  A little laugh which will be the lace coaster to our tea time conversations.

Thank you, Louise.

Louise Eleanore Olson Armstrong.
April 15, 1930-June 25, 2017
Highfields, Queensland, Australia.

1 Corinthians, 13:4-7
Love is patient. love is kind.  Love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude.  It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth.  It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 
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