Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Cool Summer Evening

Jeannie and her daughters, Leslie and Cecelie, arrived at Woodsong yesterday afternoon along with the two shit-zus, Lucky and Leah. (Elijah could not come because he had been put on a bus with his church youth group to attend the music fest Creation in the mountains of Pennsylvania, where the kids camp out in tents. Elijah's group got as far as Ohio when they learned the torrential rains had made it necessary to cancel Creation for this year. They were going to an amusement park and some other activities at a church there, and then turn around and come home. Fortunately, by the time Elijah gets back to Freeport, his dad will be home from the conference he's been attending in Florida.)

Jeannie had picked up Samuel in Marion, so he and Cec were soon at play. Gerald added to the evening's entertainment by taking the kids on a ride on the "mule" around the lake before Sam's dad came to pick him up. Lesley entertains herself with her guitar, her telephone, and communicating with friends on myspace. She is briefly between part-time jobs right now--her first in an ice cream parlor and the new one to be at a radio station. Geri Ann was tied up with Pom Pom actitivies until this afternoon when Vickie brought her down to join the fray.

Since it was such a cool pleasant evening, tonight we ate sandwiches for supper out on the deck with the hummingbirds. After Cecelie succeeded in her begging Gerald for yet another "mule ride," the kids played croquet on Geri Ann's new set she brought down. (I hid ours years ago at Pondside because the kids were younger then, and I was afraid someone was going to get hit in the head with a ball. I have no idea what happened to that set.) Geri Ann's brother-in-law had been teaching her the game, so she taught it to these cousins--and to Gerald who joined in their last game, which they finished after dark.

Parents have come and taken the two local grandkids home now. Sam has a job to do yet tonight. Samuel has been hired to feed his friend's dog and cat while the family is in Florida. He will make $20 and he takes the responsibility very seriously. Summertime and the living is easy--but the kids are learning to work hard as well as play hard.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Summer Arrives With a Vengeance

Hot. Hot. Hot. Although in the blur of busyness, it was hard for me to realize that summer solstice had passed, the heat in Southern Illinois clarified for me that spring was over. Gerald, who works outside, was more aware than I was and had opened our garage windows that help reduce the temperature in our tightly insulated garage. Even so, the heat there makes me welcome stepping back into the air-conditioned kitchen.

Our baby geese are full-size now and with the addition of some other geese who have flown in to join them on our lake, we have quite a flock enjoying the wheat and other goodies available to them.

Finally yesterday, Gerald could not stand watching the poor goose out in one of the floating nests, who had been there much too long. She was patiently waiting for the hatching of what Gerald had realized were infertile eggs. As he tested the eggs, every egg floated, and he broke up the nest hoping to free the mother from her burden of needlessly setting on useless eggs. He was feeling bad for her.

Our baby duck crop remains zilch. All the babies and some mamas have fallen prey to the predators despite Gerald's best efforts. Our flower beds also contain broken shells where coons or some hungry creature have feasted on embryos that never had the opportunity to develop. Nature can be cruel.

I had planned to get back on schedule by blogging here last night only to have a program Gerald was downloading for his photography project to take much much longer than it was supposed to download. (We cannot obtain high-speed Internet out here in the country though Gerald and our neighbor have both tried hard to obtain it.) Since I am trying to make allowances for growing older by trying to get to bed earlier, when the computer was finally available, I decided to postpone blogging until this morning.

Going to bed is not an easy thing for me to do. I never like endings, and all my life I have hated that a day must end. Theoretically, I can sleep in most days since I am retired, but the day light comes through our thin bedroom curtains and the ducks made noises and once I wake up, I can't always go back to sleep. So I am trying to grow up and get to bed earlier.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Continuing to Celebrate Our 50th Anniversary

The day after our stay at the log cabin bed and breakfast called Olde Squat Inn, we were hanging around home for Gerald to complete a doctor’s appointment that he could only get on June 16. We were alerted to trouble when we walked into the doctor’s Carbondale office and saw a room full of disgruntled folk. Two men were commiserating with each other as they claimed they’d already waited for their wives for over two hours. Come to find out, the doctor was leaving on vacation the next day, and he needed to cram all these appointments into one afternoon.

The very nice receptionist kept assuring everyone the doctor was in, but running very behind schedule. Finally she came out and announced, he was now an hour behind and anyone who wanted could reschedule. Having invested time and gas already for this appointment, we debated what to do. We were the last in the room of people to come in, and the more we thought about being at the tail end of the doctor’s schedule, the less likely we felt he would be at his sharpest self. After conferring with the receptionist, Gerald took her offer to reschedule. Having postponed our continued 50th wedding anniversary because of this appointment, we felt a little silly walking out, but Gerald and I both felt our blood pressure would profit by leaving the office to those who needed to see the doctor more than he did. Ah well.

Since we were now free, we debated leaving early on our next day’s trip to Elizabethtown and The Rose Hotel. But home sounded better to us than hurry, so we had a lovely leisurely dinner for two at Honeybakers and then ran by to see Katherine. We were amazed that she was getting ready to go to Samuel’s Vacation Bible School commencement with her husband David. Did she feel like it? Not at all. But Samuel wanted her there, and she wanted to reassure him that as sick as she had been the previous week, she was getting better and that she was still able to attend his special functions. Thus, she was using her last drop of energy to make the effort to attend. I helped her dress, and I hoped our visit did not make them late.

The next morning we could not resist going up to Gerry and Vickie’s house, where Bryan, Tara, and baby Aidan had arrived from the Chicago area at 11 p.m. the night before. We got to hold and hug Aidan and see how much he had matured in the week-and-a-half since we had seen him. This time Gerald was able to get pictures of him with his eyes wide open staring attentively at his mother, snuggling his daddy, and one photo where I swear he was smiling at Tara. (I remember that the baby books used to tell us that our babies’ early smiles weren’t real smiles, but I believe Aidan’s was. The phrase used to be that a baby was “smiling at the angels” and not really at his parents those first few weeks. I think that was another piece of misinformation we were given.}

With final hugs, we left and drove through the countryside on a road I had not traversed before to Harrisburg. We stopped along the way to see Gerry and Vickie’s former home up the old Harco road, and we were pleased to see how well the present owners were taking care of it. This was where little Erin was invited to her first boy-girl dance party at a classmate's home at the rather remarkably tender age of 9 or l0. So her two grandfathers left Tara’s birthday party that night and escorted Erin to that premature party laughingly saying those boys better be aware that they were watching out for her!

While the family lived there, Gerald almost got in trouble attending Grandparents’ Day at Erin’s school. He made some kids laugh during school before he realized that it was not a time for laughter. And, of course, we remember Tara‘s many softball games in Harrisburg and taking baby Geri Ann to see the puppies near the softball field. And Jeannie bringing little Leslie and Elijah over to watch the games and the kids playing in the pile of sand--or was it dirt piled up there? So it was appropriate that we stop at the Kentucky Fried Chicken there, where we used to eat while visiting during that era, and to reminisce a bit more. The KFC owners, whose daughter played on the same team, were so kind to Tara and family when they were newcomers in town. And the KFC buffet is one of the best buffets in Southern Illinois.

There we talked about the fact that neither of us had ever visited Fort Massac State Park at Metropolis. We decided to go and ended up misreading the map and were on the way to Brookport before we caught on what we had done. I do not remember ever going over the old bridge at Brookport to Paducah before, so Gerald offered to drive over even though it was being repaired and the traffic was one-way at a time. In Paducah, we filled up with the cheaper gas there and then took the new bridge back to Illinois and Fort Massac. All the way we were enjoying the Ohio River and the abundance of orange tiger lilies brightening the leafy green landscape,

At the site of the George Rogers Clark statue on the banks of the Ohio, we were able to review a bit of the history of Clark and the amazing feat he and his men accomplished when they camped where the former French barracks had been. They then went on to Kaskaskia on the other side of the state and surprised and defeated the British by marching through swamps and terrain without roads in a truly unbelievable escapade of human grit and determination.

After wondering through the replica of the fort and block houses built in 1794 during George Washington's presidency, we ended up at the visitors’ center museum watching and talking with two women at their spinning wheels--one was spinning flax and the other wool. We started to leave and were surprised to see our young friend Sheila Richey, who grew up in our village of Crab Orchard. I knew she was a site interpreter there, but had forgotten it. It was good to visit with her and know she is using her degree in history at this oldest state park in Illinois.

We hurried to our car because of the approaching rain, and we drove onto to Elizabethtown through a downpour. We hoped we were getting that rain at the farm. We weren’t, but we got a wonderful rain the next day at home.

With all our celebrating, I have been lax at writing on my plog, so I am going to wind down here and continue telling about our stay at The Rose Hotel tomorrow.

Olde Squat Inn

When Gerald and I first learned that Jim Grisley had started reconstructing log cabins on his farm, we were interested in his project. Jim invited Gerald to bring me up, and we had taken a drive up there a few years ago and wandered around the log cabin village being created. Ever since, I had wanted to stay in one of the log cabins.

When various events made it seem unwise to take the trip we had talked about for our 50th wedding anniversary, we decided a trip to Olde Squat Inn was a good way to celebrate. The bread and breakfast set of log cabins--seven ready to be rented out and others under construction--are located on the old Robert Worthen Trail originally just up the road from Old Squat Church for which the Inn is named.

We had gone up on Wednesday afternoon and checked in, and Katy Lockwood welcomed us with fresh brewed tea and walked us down to our cabin, where her homemade cookies were waiting for us on the table there. We loved the inviting swing on the wrap-around porch, the tin roof, the wooden floors, and all the details inside from old books and magazines to read to the arrangement of tiger lilies and Queen Anne’s lace in an ancient pitcher with a crack in it. Katy did not know how often down through the years I have picked a wild flower bouquet to recognize our anniversary, but I knew I was at a place I would love.

Gerald’s friend Jim came to visit with us as he does with all his guests, and he answered our questions about the log cabins under construction and the brick wall being finished. A previous wall was made from bricks of the old Pittsburg bank. He explained that Old Squat Church later became Union Grove Church, which only recently had been torn down. He had retrieved much of the materials of the building and will be using them in future projects. So later we had to go back to the cemetery that I had spent an afternoon walking through not much over a year ago when the Union Grove Church building was still standing. It was sad to see the new dirt where the old building had been, but the cost of roofing and repair for the building no longer used had caused the decision to safely do away with it.

In the cool of evening, we walked around the small lake and thrilled to the hoot owls calling each other back and forth from the woods on either side of us. We were accompanied by Buster, the young dog with retriever blood, constantly begging us to throw his little piece of lumber for him to run and bring back to us. We tired before he did, but he continued to keep us company, and we even had to throw the wood a few times after we got back home to our swing. We enjoyed seeing the vegetable gardens and the deer in the pasture. Rather than using the cabin kitchen, we had dinner in town, and we came back to swing some more as we looked at the stars and listened to the katydids and night sounds. Then we went in to read until bedtime.

And so we woke up on June 15th, our 50th anniversary, in the most tranquil and relaxed environment that one could imagine. We had a scrumptious breakfast that Katy had made for us with country ham prepared with new potatoes dug the night before from the patch we had observed. And there was french toast with cream cheese in the middle. A little questioning by our breakfast mate, Nancy Durbin, who was down from Springfield to promote Amtrak in our area, brought out the information that Katy had put in just a touch of strawberry flavor in the cream cheese. The eggs and toasted English muffins, jellies, homemade apple butter, juices, and fresh fruit compote were all accompanied by hot coffee served by our friendly hostess. Katy, an art teacher, explained she started cooking when she was 8 on the Missouri farm where she grew up. She knows our region well and gives information and advice to visitors of all our area attractions.

Another walk that morning took us through the herb gardens and we got to meet a young family with their toddler and large dogs down from the Chicago area. Near the plum tree orchard in the tall grass by the log barns, we stirred up a wild turkey and her baby chicks. Gerald was thrilled to get a photograph.

We were sad to leave our peaceful retreat, but it was time to go. Gerald made our entry in the guest journal, where we had seen names and read comments of people from all over the nation and from out of the nation. We found out we were not the only couple that had chosen to celebrate an anniversary in that cabin. And there were honeymooners also who had stayed there. Some journal entries were by children as plenty of beds upstairs as well as the one in the main room made the cabin family friendly. Reluctantly we closed the cabin door and headed to our own home some ten miles down the road.

Back at Woodsong, there was a beautiful bouquet of red roses from Gerald. I would fill the hummingbird feeders, and we would attend to some other things before we took off for our next adventure in Southern Illinois at The Rose Hotel on the Ohio River.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

The Pain of Multiple Sclerosis

After three days of cell phone malfunctions, misunderstood messages, and aborted communications, I spent today with my daughter Katherine at her home and learned more about her unexpected trip to St. Louis University Hospital.

Suddenly I understood more. Today For the first time I heard the work "attack" or what in multiple sclerosis circles used to be called "an exacerbation."

I felt better also that although her own MS doctor was out of the country, she was seen by several excellent doctors. She came home with a sheath of prescriptions, some suggestions/equipment, and a follow-up appointment in a couple of weeks. The problems are still there and will continue to be there unless there is a remission of the attack, a remission of the disease,or a miracle.

Living a life filled with pain is very difficult. Pain is invisible. And immeasurable. People don't understand what cannot be seen. Those without imagination or empathy are quick to accuse a pain-filled person of maligngering. One of my favorite MS stories, is about the neurologist, who many years ago was invited to speak to a group of people with the disease, and he told them MS did not cause pain. He was almost hooted out of the room, and all I could hope was that he learned how wrong he was. Needless to say, people in that group did not want him for a doctor. Nor do I.

It is easy to sympathize with a broken limb; it is much harder to understand pain. A frequent lament in MS periodicals is the common reaction that those with the disease have when they are constantly told, "But you look so good." They want to look good and they work at it. I have asked, "So why aren't people with MS happy when someone says they look good?" I think it is the locked-in loneliness of knowing that no one can understand how bone tired and exhausted they are and how much they hurt.

(When I had the sciatica problem in December and was asked to label the intensity of the pain from l to l0, I wanted to hit someone. The question struck me as ridiculous. If someone needed to know the answer to that question, I wanted them to give me a test to tell me if the pain was from l to l0--not me deciding what it should be called. However, as the month progressed, I learned I could do it: somedays it was 9 and l0 and somedays 5 and 6. When I wake in the mornings now, somedays it is 1 and somedays it is 2. Usually it goes back to 0 during the day, but sometimes continues or comes back later in the day as 2 or 3. If you want to disagree with the number I have chosen, I challenge you to prove me wrong. Ha.)

I remember when I first realized a few years ago that Katherine lived with almost constant pain. She did not tell me. I saw it on her face as it changed to secretly record what she was good at acting was not there. Interestingly, as time passed, that subtle change in her face went away. Maybe she became more skilled at smiling to prevent the facial skin from recording the pain. Maybe she just became more skilled at accepting and handling the pain--because I knew that pain was worsening all the time as spasms increased and muscles stiffened and the myelin deteriorated.

I have long prayed for medical researchers. I also pray for my daughter's recovery and I pray for her personal miracle. I know miracles happen. However, the miracle produced by medical researchers is one that will aid multitudes with a particular disease. My heroes are those who submit to the agony and hard labor of intense study and to the discipline of continuing after failures to find the treatment for and the cure of and, best of all, the prevention of diseases. So many medical advances have already been achieved, and I long for the day when the smartest among us can lessen and eliminate MS, cancer, chorea, epilepsy,lupus, autism, fibromyalgia, neurofibromatosis, diabetes, depression, Schizophrenia, bipolar, and all diseases including those called orphan diseases, which lack research dollars because so few humans have those rare diseases. Even eczema can be life changing and devastating I am learning from a friend handicapped by it. How grateful she is for finally finding a doctor who offers a diagnosis and a solution.

While we tried to catch up on laundry accumulated during the travel and other needed tasks at Katherine's house, Sam's cousins whom he had stayed with while his mother was in the hospital were brought by the house after lunch. Although nothing can take away the pain he has because of his mother's illness, we hope distraction takes his mind off of it and softens his awareness and adds happiness during sad times. Those three kids played their hearts out, and I did not hear a cross word between the three. Sometimes they were in the house and sometimes out in the heat and we would occasionally check on them, but they were too busy having fun to pay much attention to us. There were almost too busy for even a bite of supper. Then I took them all three out to the camper at Wayside Farm, where Brian was mowing the lawn but was prepared to let them make s'mores over the campfire. David had Samuel carry along some of the left-over s'more fixings from their recent vacation trek out West. What wonderful memories of camping at the farm these cousins are going to have! We are grateful to Brian.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Posting Late and With a Sad Heart

Since I had decided to try to post here on Wednesdays, I am two days overdue. But my heart has not been in posting.

I planned three good days in a row and enjoyed them all: a picnic and afternoon trip with Gerald to Golconda to the Trail of Tears Association and on to see a cousin of his on Sunday, a day in the Little Egypt Arts Association on Monday, and a visit with my friend and cousin's daughter Mickey Finch on Tuesday. Since Mickey and I had been trying to have this particular get-together at Woodsong for four years, I was especially pleased about that. Mickey and I could talk all day and night and never complete our visiting. Our blood runs thick, and our friendship more so. She brought me a book Crones Don't Whine : Concentrated Wisdom for Juicy Women by Dr. Jean Shinoda Bolen, one of Mickey's latest enthusiasms.

What would otherwise have been a perfect day contained a phone call from our daughter Katherine that they were en route to St. Louis University Hospital ER for a necessary test because of a doctor's fear of a blood clot. Knowing she and David were not seen at ER until late in the evening and she was not given a bed until 2 a.m. or so broke my heart -- just like all the other sad and horrible things that happen to anyone with multiple sclerosis and also to their spouse. Although that blood clot fear turned out to be unjustified, other problems and symptoms related to multiple sclerosis created various problems in taking MRI's.

Katherine's sister Mary Ellen immediately included Samuel in her family's plans Tuesday night and Wednesday for a mini vacation near the ball park and some fun activities the next day, and a free movie yesterday morning. I was on the alert to go pick up children at St. Clair Square if needed but that did not materialize. Gerald and I were set to go up this morning to help Mary Ellen with the three kids and for me to be at the hospital since David needs to be back at work. That all changed with the last night's phone call, and I think David is bringing Katherine and Samuel home right now. So with a broken heart I acknowledge that although I may be wrong and I hope I am, the hospital visit may have helped her very little if at all other than with some immediate problems. I don’t like telling that to friends and relatives who love her and call for information. We will wait and see what tomorrow will bring.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Our First Great Grandchild

Struck with awe at the birth of Aidan Chance Archibald, life has paused here at Woodsong the last two days. We had known for a long time that this baby was to be a boy, and his parents had his name chosen and waiting.

At the first of the week, we were told that our oldest grandchild, Tara Archibald, would be going to the hospital yesterday at 6 a.m. to induce labor before the baby became any bigger. Throughout the morning relatives were coming and going at Heartland Hospital to give Tara and her husband Bryan encouragement and company. The labor started slowly, and except for Tara, who was working, the first half of the day passed uneventfully. We all watched the monitor anxiously and an occasional nurse came and went, and then doctor made a welcome visit at mid-morning. Although security measures were firmly in place to enter the labor/nursery ward, once we were there we were made most welcome and comfortable by the staff.

Tara’s two sisters, Erin and Geri Ann, were there eagerly awaiting their first nephew. First-time grandmother Vickie was calm and smiling and dignified while we visited. First-time grandfather Gerry was in and out--nervous and excited but also smiling. Gerald had had a doctor’s appointment requiring blood tests and had fasted from the previous day. So we left at almost noon for him to eat breakfast and me lunch. We decided to go back to the farm and wait for the phone call about the baby’s birth.

When the phone call came, we went back to town to join Aidan’s first family gathering. We admired his black curly hair, his big feet and hands, and his beautiful little face. Great Grandma Shirley was there and announced Aidan was the most pleasant baby--just not crying a bit. Soon the nurse came in, and she and Tara instructed Aidan on nursing. While he was shielded by his blanket, the rest of us looked at his pictures on people‘s cameras and carried on conversations about how beautiful this special child was.

To say we were all overwhelmed by the miracle in the room is an understatement. Emotions of relief and concern for Aidan’s mother were palpable, and tears of joy and happiness and gratefulness for his safe arrival were near the surface. We passed him around letting everyone delight in him. Just seeing his little tongue moving inside that miniature mouth was an amazing sight. And that little nose. And ears. Indeed, how wonderfully humans are made.

When the nurse came to give him his first shampoo and bath, we were mesmerized by his beauty and grateful for her expertise and competent handling. Swaddled in soft cotton gown and receiving blanket, he was a contented baby, and we all took our turns holding him again. I told Aidan he did not have to ever play ball if he did not want to--that we would love him just as much. Gerry had a man-to-man conversation with him and told him that he was going to take him frog gigging and hunting and all kind of exciting things.

Somewhere in here Aunt Erin had gone for the birthday cake that Tara had ordered for Aidan and his father. Bryan was 26 yesterday. They will be celebrating birthdays together from now on. Although Tara said not to hurry off, we felt she deserved a rest, and after stopping for supper, we went back to the farm to share the good news with friends and relatives.

We went back today to see Aidan once more before his doctor dismissed the little family to return to their home in DuQuoin. Gerald had forgotten our camera yesterday, and he wanted his very own pictures of this family. Since Bryan has taken a job with an architecture firm in the Chicago area, we know our family gatherings with Aidan will be few and far between for us great grandparents. I suspect that Gerry and Vickie and Geri Ann will arrange frequent visits. And Erin knows exactly how long it is going to take her to drive over from Notre Dame to see him on the weekends.