Monday, May 31, 2010

Busy Time of Year and Choices Must Be Made

Our son-in-law Brian is down farming this holiday weekend. Gerald is outside in the heat most of the time either mowing the yard, which he is always enlarging year by year, or working in his vegetable garden, which gets smaller year by year. I am glad he has cut back because trying to give away all he produced a few years ago was a very big job in itself, although I did enjoy the sharing with friends and the soup kitchen. I am also glad he has cut back on the veggies because he frets if there is a weed anywhere. I remind him that I never worried about weeds in the veggies thirty years ago when I was still gardening a lot and yet we always had many more than we could eat. I tell him he is being prideful to want to keep the garden so clean. He says keeping the weeds out is just common sense. So I shut up. He is also busy planting his wildlife seed plots with a mixture of buckwheat seed, sunflowers, soybeans. I am glad he is retired so that he has all this leisure time. Ha.

Most of our weekend has been spent with the television turned on to ESPN or ESPNU watching softball games around the country at the various Super Regionals to find out which eight teams would advance to Oklahoma City. Our main interest, of course, was the University of Georgia, who had to win two out of three games against University of California. Georgia was fortunate to be chosen to host that tournament since their women are used to that Athens heat. Not having to pack and sleep in hotel beds is also a benefit to the host team, and it was certainly less expensive time and money-wise for Vickie, Erin, and Geri Ann to just drive over to the local stadium.

Erin graduated from Texas A&M on May 13, and as soon as A&M’s softball season was over, Erin packed and headed to her new bedroom in her parents’ home in Georgia, where she will be until she leaves for Austria to play there this summer with the Sharx.

The rest of our families wanted to be at Athens, but that was not possible, so we spent Friday, Saturday, and Sunday in our own homes watching games, Facebooking, and phoning one another in our excitement. (Actually Rick and Elijah had already left on a trip to Washington. D.C., but we didn’t know that yet.) Georgia won their two games quickly and put on some pretty spectacular shows doing so.

Of course, we also wanted to be at a birthday party in the park in northern Illinois, where our grandson-in-law Bryan and four-year-old Aidan were celebrating their birthdays. As our family has enlarged year by year (like Gerald’s lawn), we find we can’t keep up with all the important activities we want to be a part of. As our energy has diminished with age, we also have to cut back (like Gerald’s garden) on what we can attend to.

The two top-seeded NCAA teams were defeated in their Super Regionals, which were also played on their home fields. Those unexpected outcomes makes for exciting softball, but it also brings disappointment.

Top-seeded Alabama was defeated by Hawaii down at Tuscaloosa. Can you imagine how difficult it was for those Rainbow Wahines to be playing so far from home? I think I read somewhere that they had been on the road for 21 days or so before this tourney. So it was thrilling to see them win, but for those in the Southeastern Conference who like Alabama, it was a hard loss.

Second-seeded Michigan lost to Tennessee also from the Southeastern Conference. Of course, we were glad to see a SEC team win. Yet we grieved for senior Maggie Viefhaus from here in Southern Illinois. Her oldest sister and twin sisters all played for Southern Illinois University Carbondale.

Third-seeded University of Washington, returning 2009 NCAA champion, is a challenging first opponent for Georgia at the ASA Hall of Fame Stadium. They will play at 8:30 Thursday night and the game will be on ESPN2. Whoever loses goes into the losers’ bracket at this double elimination tourney. That means teams in the losers’ bracket still have a chance for the championship series, but they will have to play more games and not lose again to get there.

Our granddaughter Tara’s Southern Force team is in a tournament near Atlanta this weekend, and Geri Ann will be playing. So plans were already made for Gma Vickie to enjoy her three grandsons again and for Erin to finally meet her little nephew Payton. I think Mary Ellen and Brianna are going down with Tara to this tournament and will also finally get to meet Payton. While they would all like to be in Oklahoma City, just as Gerry would like to see those grandsons, life forces us to make choices. Some people keep their gardens clean and some of us chose weedy gardens. Some choices are hard and some are easy and some are sometimes made for us.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Memorial Day Tribute to Elizabeth Martin Martin

Over two decades ago I had gone looking for the gravesite of Elizabeth Martin in Perry County, where a great uncle thought it might be. Unable o find it, I had decided that she was probably buried on a farm someplace in an unmarked grave. I did not know her maiden name, and I only knew that she was buried with one or two children, all of whom Great Uncle Sam thought had died in a typhoid epidemic.  In May 2003, I unexpectedly connected by Internet with an unknown distant distant cousin-in-law, who had just received some family records from her husband's people. From those ancient records passed down in Kansas, I learned that Elizabeth's maiden name was also Martin, and that she and her
baby and her mother were all in Pleasant Grove Cemetery "near Mt. Vernon." I hurried to the Jefferson County web site, and there were their names and information matching what I had just received from Kansas. Thank to the volunteers for walking and recording that cemetery and placing the information on the
website the previous September!

The following is a true story of my experience when I visited Pleasant Grove Cemetery.

Elizabeth (Martin) Martin

Wife of William Felix Grundy Martin

5-1-1827 to 10-6-1857

Elizabeth came from Tennessee

To marry her cousin

In Illinois country.

An only daughter

With six brothers,

Her sister Margaret had died at three.

She helped out at home down there,

Content with others' lives.

Then Felix's dreams became her own

Which they must realize.

Though sad to leave her parents,

William Felix was a prize.

A preacher like her daddy,

Felix filled her heart with love.

Baby Margaret came along,

A second blessing from above.

Glorious sunshiny summer

Must end as all things do.

A horse threw off its rider

And troubles began to brew.

Her uncle, Felix's father,

Was killed by that hard fall.

She comforted her husband

Who cried but still stood tall.

Her death not three weeks later

Brought him to the ground.

For such excess bereavement

No comfort could be found.

Baby Margaret without her mother

Could not survive here long.

A third time family gathered

And sang a sadder song.

Beloved bride. Beloved babe.

He must ride to Tennessee

To tell her parents what they'd lost

Here in Illinois country.

Time passed and much to his surprise

William Felix loved once more

And the sun began to rise.

The Civil War called him from home,

And all three brothers too.

For it seemed right that men must fight

When things were all askew.

Elizabeth had three brothers

Who'd moved up from Tennessee

And like the other cousins, they marched

Back home with Lincoln's grand army.

Nine  Martin cousins

Volunteered to join the fray.

Six came back and three died young

Their hair to never gray.

The war was finally over.

William returned to Louisa Jane.

He smiled to see son Will so big

And horse and farm again.

A three-room house they built with pride

Joys and sorrows came their way.

But he had learned when Elizabeth died,

That neither come to stay.

It was Elizabeth's father's turn to die,

Her mother Nancy was alone.

A younger son brought their mother up

To make an Illinois home.

Nancy saw the graves from long ago

Of the daughter still so dear

Of the babe she had yet to rock

And she shed another tear.

Nancy too returned to dust

A long way from Tennessee,

She was glad to join Elizabeth

Here in Illinois country.

I place blooms on these three graves

Where William Felix sobbed in grief,

Their early deaths gave me my life,

My great-grandmother was his second wife


Friday, May 28, 2010

Reading Reid’s The Healing of America

Evenings have been peaceful this week. (So peaceful, in fact, I forgot to blog last night.) After supper on Tuesday and Wednesday, I went outside and sat reading the library book that is due tomorrow—T. R. Reid’s The Healing of America. The neat green lawn Gerald keeps so perfectly goes down to the lake, and on the other side is the little island he created one summer by cutting a channel. With the coming of spring, our side of the island has large green trees, honeysuckle, and rich green vegetation. In the encircling distance are more green woods. The only sounds are the happy tweeting of the martins swooping and sailing all around me. Above is a huge blue sky filled with marshmallow white clouds, and I wonder why I don’t sit out there every night. I know why, of course. Usually I need to be doing something else.

Tonight I enjoyed the same outdoor scene from the upstairs living room glancing out the windows as I finished the book and watched the sky darken and the rain starting to fall. It rained hard for half an hour, and I found the sight and the sounds of the rain beating the windows made me feel cozy and protected.

Reid’s book is very informative about the various health systems of the world as he goes around the globe exploring them. He points out that though our nation is one of the wealthiest and we spend the highest amount of our Gross Domestic Product on health care, we are the only developed nation with families going bankrupt because of medical bills--around 700,000 a year according to a joint study by Harvard Law and Harvard Medical Schools.

He says that in 2009 there were some 45 million Americans who spent at least part of the year without health coverage and sites the Urban Institute’s estimate that more than 22,000 Americans die annually because they cannot afford health care. Our high infant mortality rate shames us. The other developed nations feel a moral imperative to give health care to all citizens regardless of their economic status. Because of this, they have developed not just universal care but also spend far less of their GDP than we do. As one of many examples of cost control he sites that an MRI scan that costs $1200 in Denver only costs $98 in Tokyo.

Reid knows that those with good insurance have good care and that citizens with low enough income have Medicaid and those of us who are older have Medicare. It is that 15% of uncovered working citizens or citizens who have lost their coverage due to illness that he cares about. The ones who have to be dying or in hard labor to be admitted to the emergency room and then diseases are too for along to be treated cheaply or effectively.

Since Reid’s book was written prior to our newly enacted health care bill, some problems may be solved when it goes into effect. The changes should mean that losing a job or being denied insurance because of bad health will no longer mean loss of health care. Reid believes the very complexity of our present system creates higher costs. Will our new system be less complex?

He greatly admires the French for their “vital card,” which a patient hands his doctor which has embedded a digital record of the patient’s medical history. There is no need for cabinets full of records nor for filling out long forms by hand each time you go to a new doctor. (That card was developed in the United States.)

He emphasizes that the countries having universal coverage do not have socialized medicine, such as our Medicare or care for veterans is. Most do have competing private insurance companies for basic health care but they are non-profit—the way most of our health insurance companies used to be. People who want more than basic care, such as private rooms, are free to take out for-profit insurance policies, but most are content enough not to do so. Most nations with universal care soon see the economic and social value of pushing preventive medicine.

All the universal health care systems are different, and Reid thinks we should thoughtfully adopt the best ideas from each system. He notes that every developed nation constantly refines and reforms their health care programs, and that no one is ever satisfied that it is perfect. I suppose that is what we will be doing in the years ahead.
I didn’t have the business mind to understand much of the debate during our recent debate in Congress, and I did not completely understand the various models that Reid explains. But I do believe good Americans want their families, friends, and fellow citizens to have care when they are sick, and I am sure I am not alone in wanting our babies to live past their first year of life.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Short Week, Bake Sale, and Softball

After returning to the farm Monday night, I was faced with a short week with several obligations, so I stayed behind through today.

Tuesday was a final eye check up, and that was good. Wednesday was a board meeting for the Illinois chapter of Trail of Tears Association. Since it was at Morris Library in Carbondale, I felt I ought to use the opportunity to visit the new quarters for the Special Collections department—which I had last visited during the remodeling when Special Collections was at a temporary quarters way down on the south end of campus. The new room was beautiful and the librarians their usual extraordinary selves. They are so friendly and so helpful. I can’t wait to plan a research session there again someday. The Carolyn Plochman art exhibit had already ended despite the misinformation in the local paper, but one painting is on permanent display.

Thursday was the monthly Southern Illinois Writers Guild meeting, and since I had missed the last two months and I wanted to hear Misti Sandeful, I choose that instead of a graduation party I also wanted to attend. Friday I was involved with a project here in my office, and the women’s college softball NCAA regionals had begun. So there were games to watch on GameTracker. Georgia was hosting their regional and won their first game in this double elimination tournament, but A&M who were down at Baton Rouge lost their first one. My intention after Gerry’s game was to go back to the kitchen and make cupcakes with the mix and can of fudge icing that I had laid out on Tuesday. I was tired and procrastinated till the next morning.
Before I left on my four-day trip north, a phone call from our Women’s Club president told me the group had decided (at the last meeting of the year which I had missed) that they needed to have a rummage and bake sale to raise some funds for sending our delegate to a state meeting. (Like many clubs associated with national organizations, most of the dues goes to headquarters, so the local club has to be creative for funds.)

That is why I needed to bake cupcakes. I had gathered up a few things for the rummage sale, but I am not good about giving up things. I did commit to bring something for the bake sale. I thought I remembered from my bake sale days that little kids accompanying their mothers liked to be able to buy an inexpensive cupcake. I have not been involved with a bake sale since Mary Ellen was a senior in high school and that was with the Class of 1981. Before that I was frequently frantically called upon to donate something to some bake sale one of my children had forgotten to tell me about.

I went to bed earlier than usual so I’d wake up Saturday morning to do the cupcakes, which don’t take long to bake. Fortunately, someone called Gerald who was not in the house and though I did not get to the phone in time to answer it, I was up to bake. After I turned the oven on still half asleep, I got out the cupcake pan and started searching the cabinet for cupcake papers. I was out! There was a box of mini cup papers, but no pan for such small cupcakes. I have no idea why I had bought those. Obviously for some unaccomplished project long forgotten. Hmmm.

Nothing is easier than using a German chocolate cake mix with a can of icing to make a fairly good-looking cake that most people like, so that was my next move. After it was in the oven baking, I realized that the cake carrier that I use to carry cakes to pot lucks would not work since I did not want to give it away. So I had to start searching for some sort of container to deliver the cake and allow the customer to use to carry the cake home. Oh, I also needed a plate to put the cake on. Hmmm again. I found a cracked plastic bottom to a former cake carrier, which fortunately I had not thrown away. That is why I am reluctant to discard my possessions. So often I need them after I think I won’t. Or else some grandchild needs something for a project.

I covered the bottom with aluminum foil and the plate problem was solved. Now all I had to do was to find the right size box. I looked in the garage, but some nice white boxes from the bakery were too small for a cake. Then I went down to the tornado shelter, which also serves as a storage room for all those weird things the grandchildren or I might need for an art project or whatever. Big boxes there, but no cake-size ones.

Finally, I located an attractive box in the guest bedroom just the right size. I had stored some papers I needed to work on in the box. I pulled the stack of papers out regretting that I still needed to go through them and left them on the dresser there. With white paper towels for a lining, I had the perfect carrier, and by then the cake was done.

I was also running late. I think I had been told to bring stuff to the president’s garage the night before, so I figured I ought to arrive early since I was actually late. I dumped the cake on to the racks to cool even though I had not waited the proper 10 minutes. Blessedly the two layers fell out okay to cool while I hurriedly bathed and dressed for the day. Then all I had to do was put on the icing between the layers and on top—no need for any beauty efforts for this cake—and drive to town.

Everywhere I looked in town people were having yard and garage sales. I had only been to this home once or twice but thought I knew how to get there. When I did, there were cars on both sides of the road and a truck coming by me that required my concentration. I did not recognize the house with cars in front of it and actually drove around a couple of blocks trying to find what I just passed. (This was one of those neighborhoods with curving drives, and I could not even remember the street name.) The second time around the traffic was clearer, and I saw the Women’s Club sign.

I joined the club last year at a friend’s invitation after I told her I was trying to get out of club activities. When I accepted her invitation to go as a guest, however, I saw that many of the members were in their late 80s and early 90s. The club wants to continue for these long-time members’ sake. That is why they do not meet at night when younger women who work might join. One of the women is blind now, but she and the others are very inspiring. So I joined, but told my friend that I would be an lazy member who would not take an office or committee membership—but I would attend when I could and enjoy these stimulating older members.

I had been told there was going to be plenty of help at the sale, so did not necessarily plan to stay long. However, one of the more elderly ones was sitting at the price tag table, and after a futile attempt at conversation with her, I did decide I might stay for an hour or so while the customers were keeping people busy. Younger members were carrying out hot fresh-baked pies that one of these older members was in the kitchen baking. (I told you the oldsters were inspiring.) The pies were beautiful. The president explained to shoppers that they were $6.50, but if the buyer brought back the pyrex pan, there would be a $l.50 refund. I wished we needed one, but I knew we shouldn’t indulge.

After one of the younger women had returned from the bank with more dollar bills for change and the traffic had slowed some, I left to do a couple of errands and run by my daughter’s. Her husband was gone, the house locked and she and Sam still asleep. Sleep is hard for her to come by, so I quietly left a couple things on the kitchen table and came back to the farm.

Gerald was helping Brian who was down to farm, but after lunch, we were also following Texas A&M playing their second game and Georgia theirs. Both our teams won. All over the nation, fifteen NCAA regionals were being held, so we were also interested in the teams playing on ESPN. It was fun to see the best hitter in the nation hit her 28th homerun—Canadian Jen Yee, who plays for Georgia Tech. (They won’t go onto the super regionals next weekend because they lost today to the Oregon Ducks in an extra inning game.) At the supper table reliving the day and thinking I had accomplished what I needed to, I remembered that I had planned to go to a another graduation party for a favorite graduate, but it was already over.

So I cleaned the kitchen  and came downstairs to the computer in my office. When I think the television will be on, I close the door for quiet. Later there was a knock and I called for Gerald to come in since he often stops by for a last minute comment before he heads to bed. It wasn’t Gerald but two of our young teen giggling grandkids—Brianna and Sam.

I knew Bri had come down with her dad Brian to go to a concert of the Barlow Girls at the civic center. Earlier in the week I heard Katherine calling for their tickets. With apologies for not telling me they were coming out, they were asking if they could spend the night. Gerald and I both asked the same question—how did these non-drivers get here. (David had brought them out and dropped them off at their request.) They were in high spirits and needed some food as well as a bed, so we went upstairs and filled that need. (Too bad I had not bought one of the pies.) They went to bed before I did, and I did not have to fret when I woke them at eight this morning for showers and breakfast before we headed to Sunday School at Center in our village.

It was my day in the preschool department during worship service, and one teen assistant was absent and the other was needed to be present in the auditorium to be honored as one of our three high school graduates. I grabbed Sam and Bri to come help me, and I could not have been more impressed as they sat on the floor and around the table interacting with the little kids. I don’t know what I would have done if they hadn’t been there.

Back at Woodsong, I opened the freezer in the garage, which fortunately I had stocked this week with unhealthy but convenient hot pockets and frozen sandwiches ready for the microwave. I had a large can of chocolate pudding, which I had stuck in the fridge before we left, and I opened it knowing our kids always like the pudding. Everyone is on their own, I explained to them and Gerald. Georgia was playing and A&M soon would be in their respective tourneys. Gerald’s got his computer ready with Game Tracker for the Texas with Louisiana-Lafayette game, and I turned on my computer for the ending of Georgia versus Radford. The television was tuned to whatever regional was showing there. A&M would have to beat the Ragin’ Cajuns twice in a row to win their tourney, but A&M lost the first time they played. Georgia won the first game, so they will be hosting the super regionals next weekend at Athens.

I had put a small roast in the oven and thawed some okra from the freezer, but Brian picked the kids up to drop Sam off at his house in Marion and take Bri back to their home in Central Illinois. So Gerald and I ate supper alone discussing the games and the announcement that Georgia’s super regional will be at Athens against California who had survived the Columbus, Ohio, regional. Next weekend the winner of two out of three games will be one of the eight in the nation to head to Oklahoma City.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Misti Sandeful Shares Expertise in Writing for Profit

Freelance writer Misti Sandefur was scheduled to come to Southern Illinois Writers Guild last year when Mary Ann Sexton was our program chair. However, Misti had to cancel believing her flu was HINI, and we were grateful for her cancellation since no one wanted her flu experience. She promised to come this year, and Thursday night we were fortunate to hear the writing experiences of this rural Harrisburg writer.

Misti began writing on a manual typewriter when she was eight years old, and she has progressed to being enormously knowledgeable about the Internet and all its benefits to freelancers. Her knowledge allows her to write at home to supplement the family income—a family of seven now that her father is having health problems and living with her blended family. She only takes assignments on subjects she feels she is confident she has the experience to write about, and she takes her responsibility to her client and reader very seriously. Thus, she has many repeat assignments and good relationships with the CEOs and organizations she writes or blogs for.

She also has a passion for helping beginning writers and sharing information to benefit them. After starting as an ezine in May 2006, “Coffee Break for Writers—Your Guide for Writing for Profit” became a niche website in July 2009 to allow her more time for her own writing career. Full of helpful content and the opinion that writers should be paid what they are worth, the website is one I wish existed when I still hoped to make a profit from writing! You can check it out at You also might want to subscribe to her blog “Life of a Writer” at

Misti published two books in 2002 under her previous name Misti Jackson, and you can find these on Amazon. She is revising both—the novel Help from Above because she said it is like your first child, you can’t leave it behind. The second book On the Net: Research Guide for Writers is being revised to an e-book, which will surely help her keep information current. She obviously longs for more time to work on her own fiction writing, but she is determined not to do so at the expense of her clients and the successful business she has established.

Misti dropped out of high school at 16, and taught herself not only to type (60 wpm) but studied both writing and the Internet on her own and has achieved the career of her dreams. Her professionalism shines through all she does. She shared that she always begins her time at the keyboard with prayer that she might be helped to help others.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The Adventure Continues

Everyone at the Eiler household slept in Saturday morning except Rick, who was up and out running with his buddies. He had the morning paper already read and on the table for the rest of us. When Elijah came down, I had to tease him about coming in at 3 a.m. (This was an incident from the play where the mother would start with 3 a.m. and end up saying her son came in at 4 or 5. Elijah was in by midnight or shortly after I think. I heard him arrive home, but I didn’t open my eyes to check the clock. It is so pleasant to be a grandmother!) Elijah was soon off in the van to some morning activity.

Jeannie borrowed the car and went for groceries, which included lunch for all of us. Her allergies were still sounding miserable but the night’s sleep had helped. After lunch we had a couple of hours free, and I joined her in her wall paper scraping project.

She had invited me to sit in the rocker and visit with her while she worked—but I was intrigued by the difficulty of removing the ancient wall covering and I could not resist trying the spray-on goop that looked like jelled blue Windex. I wasn’t very good at it, but I enjoyed the visiting. We did not finish the room, but we had a lot of bits of damp paper on the floor to prove we’d tried.

Jeannie is my daughter who always has a project going. Was it l,000 origami birds she was assembling for a school tree one year? She brought materials along on her visit to Woodsong, and I tried making a few while we visited that time. Another time it was an ongoing mural in a preschool room that was adorable when finished. I lacked the talent to help with that one. Once it was letting her children experience the birth of puppies. They sold some, gave one or two away including one destined to a short life that a loving volunteer accepted with promises to make that short life a happy one. Other times she is planning a party or has a food project going. I am not usually around to help, but I enjoy seeing the photos or hearing her stories. I always love seeing the art on the walls of her home or her latest intriguing finds from rummage sales.

After a brief rest, it was time to go across town and pick up another friend of Cecelie named Jen also. (If I understood right, there is a third Jen too.) Jeannie took us downtown to a multi-theater complex where we saw Letters to Juliet. (Or was it Letters from Juliet? I am assuming this movie was based on a real custom of putting letters to Juliet in a wall in Verona, but I did not know of it before. If there was not such a custom before, there will be now after this romantic movie.)

Our plan was to grab a bite to eat before the play, but the movie was longer than Jeannie anticipated so everyone elected to hold off on food till afterwards and go on to the last night of Enter Laughing. Rick met us there, where we had great seats to enjoy the high energy production that exists when kids throw their hearts into making the last night the best of all. I vicariously experience both the exhilaration and the underlying sadness knowing the students’ weeks of close-knit work is coming to an end.

For Tim Conners, this play was a trip down memory lane. It was the first play he directed at Freeport High School twenty years ago. Conversations with some of those long-ago students inspired him to reprise this production. The cast picture after the play captured this year’s kids in the identical pose as those earlier thespians. Maybe memories keep alive what we don’t want to end.

Jeannie and I stayed up talking awhile after the evening ended, for I had told everyone I intended to leave the next morning whenever I woke up. We said our goodbyes at bedtime. At seven I woke, dressed, packed the car, filled up at the local gas station and was leaving Freeport at eight. Jeannie had printed directions from MapQuest showing me how to go straight down from Bloomington on Route 55 to reach Mary Ellen’s home.

I had also been extremely upset that I missed Trent and Brianna’s spring play because of a conflict. I so wanted to see their first high school performance. Since Brianna was playing clarinet in the band and choir concert on Sunday afternoon, I decided to surprise her by showing up. Again the weather was beautiful and everything went smoothly for me despite the somewhat tricky frontage road. I reached the town of Waggoner (population 250) without incident where I was delighted to see two sisters on two tiny bikes riding down the main street. The older was probably five or six, and it was obvious that this was a place where it was taken for granted that it was safe for the children to ride in the street. I was smiling as they pulled without haste into their yard. Only then was I able to increase my speed to arrive at Mary Ellen’s rural home five miles down the road.

I had chosen not to pull off the road for breakfast, and I expected to find a restaurant for lunch at Raymond, where Trent and Brianna’s high school is. I knew there was a band association banquet for the kids and their families at 1:00 and I would be invited if it was a pot luck, but not if it was a catered affair requiring reservations. Brian was on his tractor doing yard work and greeted me explaining that Mary Ellen and Brianna had gone on to the high school to set up for the banquet since Mary Ellen was immediately elected president of this band parent group last fall. (Parents with time for such volunteering are always scarce and Mary Ellen was willing to pitch in and get acquainted as a newcomer to the community.)

Brian phoned Mary Ellen to tell her I was there, which prevented my plan of walking in unexpectedly, but it got me an invitation to the banquet since Mary had bought a ticket for Trent and he had chosen not to go. As soon as Brian finished up and showered, we’d drive over together to Raymond, which I would never have found probably by myself.

In the meantime, I was able to go downstairs with Trent and check out his poetry project assigned by the junior class English teacher. He had hooked up his computer to the big screen television, and I could easily read his entries and enjoy his artistic arrangement and choice of fonts for each poem. The teacher had given the kids prompts and formats for various types of poems, and Trent had done a good job. The next morning I would see his printed-out version of the project.

Telling Trent goodbye, I encouraged him to catch up on his Algebra II assignments while we were gone. Again my car came in handy since a trailer was hitched to Brian’s truck.

We traveled across the flat acres of central Illinois divided into squares by the straight rural roads. That is why all the roads there look alike to me. (Here in Southern Illinois, roads curve following the woods, bluffs, and creeks that the roads are beside.)

The delicious buffet dinner in the gym foyer featured fried chicken and yummy slaw supplemented by veggies and salads carried in by the parents. We sat at decorated tables set up in the school gym, where there was a long dessert table tempting us with the parents’ specialties. Band and choir members were presented certificates rewarding their service and accomplishments, and Mary Ellen presented the parent association’s $500 scholarship to a senior student going on to study music at Greenville College. While parents pitched in helping put away tables and foods, the high school kids hurried to get into their beautiful new band uniforms or choir robes.

The 3 p.m. concert in a beautiful auditorium began with the fifth grade band and the typical squeaking clarinet and progressed through the junior high choir and band. Finally, both the high school choir and band performed, and the splendid results of hard work and years of practice were exhibited. Not only did we receive a program that listed all performers’ names, but we also were given a several page printed collection of notes on the music played and facts about the composers. I liked this added touch, which I’d never seen done before, for I thought it educated all of us in addition to the students.

Afterwards at Mary Ellen and Brian’s house, people changed into comfy clothes. Soon we climbed into Brian’s new truck with comfy back-seats despite the high step up to enter. He was returning equipment he had borrowed for his lawn, and I would see his office at Stone Seeds for the first time. After some more sight seeing, Brian took us to a favorite Springfield restaurant and we had a delicious late night supper. Back home with ink for Trent’s printer for his poetry project, we visited awhile. Mary Ellen printed me out directions over to Mattoon where my brother and wife live, and we went to bed in hopes of a good night’s sleep to start the new work week. I slept very well, but I think Mary Ellen had sleep troubles as her mind worked on some details for her first upcoming house sale. She started her day helping two teenagers get organized and drove them to Raymond for school and returned. A nine o’clock meeting and a trip to the courthouse would follow.

A realtor from an urban area of Missouri moving over to Illinois requires a lot of adjustments. Mary Ellen had to become acquainted with this rural area and find the business cohorts to help her meet clients’ needs. After counseling me on the road to Mattoon since Gerald’s morning phone directions were different from MapQuest directions, she drew a quick map on the back of an envelope with left and right directions to help me get to Raymond. With her final help, it was easy to follow Gerald’s suggestion to reach Route 16 from Raymond instead of from Farmersville. After stopping for breakfast at Pana, I phoned my brother Jim to see if they were going to be at home. They were.

I had a great four-hour visit with Jim and Vivian and caught up with family news there. I was able to share a just-received email from my second cousin’s daughter, who is interested in family history. Sandra and I have been having long email discussions about Mount Airy Farm and the Goreville Martins, and I’ve been forwarding them to Jim and my sister Rosemary for comments since they have memories I do not have.

Our great Uncle Sam was Sandra’s great grandfather, and like most people she was very fond of him. He had a sharp wit and loved children. He worked hard running a hay baler for neighboring farmers. He came up from Sleepy Hollow, our ancestral home, after his wife Meda died, and Sam lived out his life at Daddy’s home place--Mount Airy Farm. Later Sandra’s family moved into that farm house, and she said they could still smell Sam’s tobacco in the house. The house burned down while they lived there, and she saw her daddy fighting the fire after she and her sister ran to the nearest neighbor who had a telephone. Their large family moved to Marion, and shortly after that, her father died.

We grew up knowing Sam had once been in prison for killing a man over a line dispute. We were told the story by my dad, who was nine at the time of the incident, and he said it was in self defense. We knew Sam had stayed in prison only a year or so and was entrusted with many duties, but his family suffered terribly with Sam away. Another descendant told Sandra he was released early because he was exonerated.

Right before I left on this trip, Sandra had emailed me exciting information. She had phoned a relative of Meda, whose business card was in a Christmas card I received from my cousin Helen Martin Sitter five years ago. Helen said this man had information on Meda’s family. I did not have time to follow up on it, but fortunately I had filed that card in my folder for Uncle Sam. It was one of some items I had mailed to Sandra since she asked me about Meda’s family and I knew nothing.

He was able to tell Sandra why Sam was exonerated. A man who refused to testify in Sam’s defense at the trial had a salvation experience. He worked at the hardware store where the murdered man went to purchase a lap ring, and he heard him say he was going to kill Sam Martin with it. I suppose he did not want to get involved or was afraid to testify. Now he was filled with guilt at his suppressed knowledge and he went to the authorities and told this information, and Sam was released from prison.

This all happened over a hundred years ago, and yet our finding out this wonderful story of the man’s salvation brings us joy today. Truth sets a prisoner free and brings happiness a century later to Uncle Sam’s descendants and loved ones.

Reluctantly leaving Jim and Vivian, I got back on the road and came down Interstate 57, picked up a pizza in Marion for Gerald’s and my supper. It was good to be home. I was happy to see Jeannie’s flowers for Mother’s Day were still quite lovely on the dining room table and once again it looked as if the ant poison had finally worked on the annual invasion of tiny ants in the kitchen. Honeysuckle is blooming profusely everywhere on country roads and on our deck, and the golden day lilies beside the house began their summer blooming while I was away on my Big Adventure.

I'm Back!

I’m back home at Woodsong after my Big Adventure.

A year ago, I missed grandson Elijah playing the lead in Brighton Beach Memoirs, and I felt I could not bear to miss his playing David Kolowitz in Enter Laughing, this year’s spring play. Every play or musical I have missed of Jeannie’s kids does not just disappoint me at the time—but forever after I feel deprived and disappointed.
We were up to see Cecelie’s fifth grade play and the annual Showtime at the high school just a month ago although we had missed the fall musical. Gerald has always loved to drive and travel, but he finds he tires enough on trips now that it takes longer for him to recuperate. When we returned from Showtime, he told me he wouldn’t be making the upstate trip so soon. So I began to ruminate on whether I would have the courage to make the trip by myself. I could not even remember when I last drove up by myself. It had been at least two or three years. When Jeannie and Rick first moved to Freeport, there was very confusing road construction going on in the Bloomington area, and I think that early difficulty made me dread the drive even though I made it several times by myself. Now we enjoy all that improvement made way back then, but I still was a little leery of my driving that far. (When Gerald goes, he drives usually all the way because my driving makes him nervous, and he makes me nervous if I try to drive unless he goes to sleep.)

I knew Brianna and Mary Ellen would want to go, so I checked out that possibility since I had also been wanting to drive by myself up to their new home, which is only half way up the state. Then Mary Ellen, who is an excellent driver, could drive the rest of the way. However, Lincolnwood High School end-year activities made it impossible for them to go, so I had to either go by myself or stay home.

Actually the night before a friend who had gone to our church women’s banquet with me offered to go along. But I was leaving the next morning if I had the courage; and while I wanted to prove to myself I could still make the drive, I did not really want an audience. I knew my friend drove in that area of the state, but if I let her drive, I would not regain my confidence.

Jeannie had written on Facebook how sick she was (art allergens in her classroom). At the end of school year, I knew she was stretched with Rick away at late-night track meets, social butterfly Cecelie needing friends picked up, and Elijah in and out borrowing her van or Rick’s truck making for the normal happy confusion of a too-busy family with two sweet dogs in the mix to be cared for in whatever bits of time anyone could find. (Only after arriving did I find out she also had a major room redecorating project going on.) She knew I wanted to come, but I did not tell her I was coming until I was actually on the road three hours and phoned her for a bed reservation.

The weather was beautiful for the drive up (with only a few sprinkles at noon time); and despite a great deal of road construction slowing me down to 45 sometimes, none of that work was scary or dangerous as it sometimes is. It was good to see the putting America back to work signs up and down the state, and I thoroughly enjoyed the beautiful splotches of purple wild flowers along the road in the northern part of the state. They weren’t familiar to me, and I didn’t find out what the flowers were named, but they greatly added to my travel pleasure.

Remembering that doctors felt being too long in the car may have caused the trouble I had with blood clots two years ago, I tried to stop for breaks and walk a bit. I had given myself plenty of time to arrive for Friday night’s performance, and my mantra was, “I’m just moseying along doing what I want.” I had the most relaxed trip I have ever driven and all went perfectly. I felt sort of silly I had been nervous and reluctant about the trip.

When I arrived and been greeted by Cecelie, Jeannie, and the shit-zus, it was time to think about the evening. I hated seeing how bad Jeannie’s allergies were acting up. I had taken an outfit for the play, but I decided I’d just change my blouse and otherwise wear my travel clothes. I was still in a moseying mood. Elijah had already gone to the play in the van, so my car was useful and I turned the keys over to Jeannie as she wound through far neighborhood roads to pick up Cec’s friend Jennifer and then back to the Jeannette Lloyd Theater.

There we saw the second-night performance of Joseph Stein’s farce based on Carl Reiner’s 1967 movie and his semi-autobiographical novel. I’d looked that much up on the Internet and a bit about the 1930s plot of young Kolowitz who was an unhappy messenger boy in an immigrant hat maker’s shop with his over-controlling parents wanting him to be a druggist while he was interested in girls and the movies. His admiring buddy pointed him to an ad for an actor to audition for a partial scholarship to acting school—which was really just a ploy by a ne’er-do-well drunk wanting someone to pay to be in his stage company.

The slap-stick shenanigans from shop to hat factory to the stage of the “school” to the parents’ kitchen to the phone booth to a restaurant and a cemetery date moved rapidly and kept us laughing. The young man tried to please his parents, his boss, his steady girl, his buddy, the theater owner Marlowe and his daughter the leading lady, and he didn’t mind fabricating whatever stories he needed to do so. Finally Kolowitz stood up for his own clueless ambition to be an actor despite his lack of experience or talent.

We found the source of the catchy title was Kolowitz’s audition when he was asked to read the script and he began by reading “Enter laughing” without knowing it was a stage direction. Naturally the comedy had a happy ending, although the next-to-last scene showed the theater owner falling down dying in his typically over-dramatic way and three stage-hand extras on their knees behind him. Their dead-pan puzzled looks were worth the admission price. But all 15 cast members gave us well-crafted often hilarious scenes that were worth the price. Elijah made us like this dissembling non-talented young man, and we were glad when the last line was his announcing with pomp certainty, “I am going to be an actor.”

Director Tim Conners purposefully chooses different styles of plays, and the kids learn while they have great fun. Not just acting and stage craft but this year about the Bronx, Jewish and immigrant families, and the Great Depression with its differences in attitudes, clothing, and the value of a nickel. I think the students also saw the universal quandary as young people and parents try to work out their love for each other balanced with their need for freedom.

I was glad I had driven up and still had the Saturday night performance to look forward to.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Good and Bad--And Maybe the Bad Was Good

Georgia softball team won the second game against University of Texas on Monday night. We all were elated. It started out unbelievably lopsided—almost embarrassingly so. Everyone was saying they were feeling sorry for the Longhorns, but then Texas hit a home run, and the scored ended 11-5. Georgia’s defense was spectacular, but we also had three home runs. Erin and Mel Dumezich were there from Texas A&M feeling good with their final exams over! Mary Ellen saw the camera pan their row in the stadium, but I missed it. It is not only fun watching, but the follow-up phone calls and conversations are great fun too when your team has just won an important victory.

Now we are excited planning to watch Georgia play Tennessee tomorrow at 4 on ESPNU. I think that is CST—but if I am wrong, then that game will begin here at 3 p.m. Our women’s banquet at church is tomorrow at 6, so I may not get to see the ending of the game. It will likely be a very tough game. Hope it ends well for the Dawgs.

Yesterday morning I was still lazily drinking coffee and reading the newspaper in my pajamas when the phone rang. The dentist office was calling to say that impression did not work and could I come back for another one! That was not in my plans for the day, but I changed my plans. I admit I was scared. I told the dentist that I suspected he was dreading the redo as much as I was. He assured me he was going to give me a shot in the gum this time, change whatever caused the problem before, and this time would be different. And it was.  I had a feeling he had put some thought into that previous episode.

Actually it was a good thing his office called. At noon right before I left home, I had reheated some of the corn casserole from Sunday. It was good, but evidently one kernal had gotten hard in the microwave. We were watching a replay of Monday night’s game, and I was not paying attention. I usually try to use both sides to chew but favor the side without the temp crown. I have followed the dentist’s advice not to eat popcorn or chewy taffy, etc.

My attention to the ball game wavered when I thought I heard a slight pop in my mouth, and I wondered if I had damaged that temp crown. I had. I could not tell it with my tongue, and if I had not had the unexpected appointment, I would probably assumed the crown was okay. So my dentist had to repair that also and warn me if it happened again to call him immediately since it could change my adjoining teeth or something so that the permanent crown might not align properly.

So all is well that ends well. Is that what the parents used to say in the Little House books? If not that, it was a similar sentiment and a good way to handle difficulties once they are over.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Week of Maintenance and Weekend of Fun

Medical appointments provided book ends for my week of high maintenance. On Monday I only spent a little over an hour in the dentist chair where I had been spending nearly two hours in past weeks. This appointment was to take off a temporary bridge, make a permanent impression for new bridge, and then put the temporary bridge back on.

I usually zone out in the dentist chair. My very pleasant dentist shows me X-rays and talks to me about them as if I understood what he is saying. I can see the X-rays in front of me, but I lack the imagination to figure out where the pictured ones are in my own head and I lack the vocabulary to understand his intentions. I assume they are honorable and try to be pleasant nodding in return. I close my eyes when the work begins and try to think of something far away.

All went well until I had that tub or whatever held the goop for the impression. I guess the stuff hardens. Suddenly I was aware that all the tapping and hammering in my mouth was more intense. It just did not seem to end. I gripped the seat harder the way I usually do when I feel pain in that chair. When the pain kept coming with every blow, I put one sharp finger nail into my finger on the other hand and tried to think about that self-inflicted pain and deflect thinking about my mouth.

I tried not to flinch, but I did not always succeed. Was I going to have to leave with my mouth propped open with something clued in there permanently? The dentist was offering apologies. I don’t think I ever had a dentist say sorry to me before, which was very nice but somehow did not make me feel calmer. When my mouth was finally emptied of the offending excess, I had a feeling the dentist was more relieved than I was. Something had caught on a cap or a bridge or something on the other side of my mouth. “I’ve never had that happen before,” he added.

Needing a reward, I went by my favorite lunch place and treated myself to a cup of their always good soup, which they serve with a big fluffy roll and sweet butter. Thus fortified, I went by daughter Katherine’s and found her rose bush in the front yard full of little red roses. I picked one as I went in for her and put it in a mini vase. She planted many flowers and plants in the old days when she was still able, and they are quite beautiful now.

Tuesday was spent on various tasks at our house, and we went in for Sam’s band concert that night. The concert was splendid, but the hot gymnasium brought back many memories of those May-time programs we attended for so many years when our kids were in school.

The rest of the week was mostly pleasant although Katherine had a rough time on Wednesday, which is the weekday she has no morning help right now. Lana, an afternoon aide, had fixed her a nice lunch in bed before she left just as I came by,  Then  a girl friend (from kindergarten days no less) dropped in to bring her a lovely set of wind chimes as a souvenir from a trip to the coast and, best of all, a chatty newsy visit before she left for a flight to Jordan the next day top visit her daughter.

I was enjoying the visit as much as Katherine until I looked at my watch and gasped. I had unexpectedly needed to volunteer to take Sam for an eye appointment at Walmart, and it was time. We arrived l0 minutes late, and the doctor had already gone. We went on to Sears on the off chance they might have a cancellation, but they didn’t, and neither place could take him until Friday—which wouldn’t work since the Marion Junior High band had been one of five in the entire state chosen to go to some special competition in Champaign that day.

Feeling defeated, Sam and I went back to their house, and Gerald made a trip into town to help Katherine from bed to chair. We left her and Sam ordering pizza since David was working late. I suggested Gerald get a sandwich or something at a drive-in on his way home, and I finally made it to Kroger for senior citizen day. I was grateful that unlike most months, I did not meet any old friends to converse with. I bought more than enough groceries to qualify for the fifteen cent discount from their gas station the next time we needed a fill-up, and a very young clerk helped me load all the groceries into the car. I too went through the drive-in and munched my sandwich as I drove home. I made sure the perishables were put away and relaxed the rest of the evening reading a new magazine and also on the Internet with its unlimited reading material.

Friday arrived with a long-made appointment with the ophthalmologist. Expecting in January to need new lenses or another cataract surgery, I heard the optometrist explain that my prescription was fine and the cataract had not grown, but the cataract corrected over two years ago was now clouded over as often happens in these surgeries. Their office would call the other office to set up an appointment to take care of it with a painless ten-minute procedure. Sounded simple, but when the ophthalmologist’s office called with the appointment, the woman said it would require an appointment just to examine me first—not for the procedure. That sounded a careful thing to do. So I really did not dread this appointment.

In the meantime, Gerald had shown me a flyer about a doctor giving free skin cancer screenings at a local hospital. Gerald knew I was a little concerned about a new spot on my face since I have had two skin cancers (the good kind) on my face before. So I had made an afternoon appointment the same day as the morning eye appointment.

At the eye doctor’s office, I was turned over to a woman whom I was not introduced to nor explained her function. She proceeded dilate and to test my eyes quite thoroughly, and I thought that was fine. But then she said after shining a light in both eyes that the cataract probably did need surgery. I was convinced she was right because I was unable to see anything with that light flashed in that eye. I could see with the eye with the implanted lens despite the bright light. She thought that eye was okay. Now I was thoroughly confused since this was all so opposite of what the optometrist had said. Next I was moved to another room to wait for the doctor. There I sat on an ill-fitting chair with my feel dangling making my Birks fall off.

The doctor was the one who had removed the cataract in November of 2007. He seemed in a hurry as he introduced himself, offered a handshake, and seemed to make a cursory glance at the papers I assume the previous woman had given him. Not only did he agree with the optometrist that the little lens was perhaps more like waxed paper now than shiny clear Saran wrap, I could tell he planned to do the procedure to correct that this very visit, which was not what I’d been told when the appointment was made months ago. He too examined my eyes with instruments and called out figures for his nurse to write down.

He asked if I had been shown the film about the painless procedure and I had not. (I guess because the woman examiner did not think I needed the procedure.) I told him I did not have anyone to drive me home. (I was already somewhat worried because of the dilation.) He said that would not matter because I would be able to see okay after this five-minute procedure. He said for me to view the film and decide if I wanted this done.

His nurse showed me the film, which clarified about as much as the dentist’s X-rays. I told her I was confused since I had just been told in the other room that I did not need this procedure. She said for me to listen to the doctors since both the optometrist and now the ophthalmologist said the same thing. So I never did understand that other person’s function in the other room.

I asked her if there were any advantage to wait since the doctor said I did not have to do it immediately. She said there was more chance of floaters if I waited. The doctor said the laser would click, click, click, and a tiny hole would then let light in. Five minutes, no pain, and then to be released to run around town and complete some errands before I met Gerald who was going over to Murphysboro with me that afternoon when I went for the skin cancer screening. Hmmm. Not having to come back for a later appointment certainly was appealing, so I followed the nurse’s advice and told the doctor to proceed.

I thought they all fibbed, because I did feel slight pain along with the click, click, clicking. Not bad enough to count I guess. Then the doctor said I could leave and come back in an hour or sit in the waiting room for them to check me in an hour. What happened to the five-minute procedure? I said I had some errands to run and would come back. I walked outside in the bright sunlight and was totally blinded. I got into the sun-warmed car which felt good since I’d frozen inside the office the past hour. But I knew I must not drive and I could not see to read, so I grabbed my suit jacket I’d fortunately stuck in for the late afternoon and went back to the lobby and went to sleep in my chair since I could not see.

An hour and ten minutes later, the woman technician (or whatever she was) came and checked the pressure in my eyes and said I could go now but would need to see the optometrist in a week or so. The receptionist offered to make that appointment and I was grateful since I was groggy from sleep and confusion and almost blind. I faced that bright outside sunlight again and wanted to clap my hands over my eyes.

Although I saw better than the previous hour, I drove very carefully to my daughter’s house stopping for a couple errands on the way and skipping the other errands. I thought I was much better until I got to Katherine’s and stepped out into the bright sunlight there. I was grateful to stumble into her much darker house. Her red rose bush was now complemented with small white iris blooming profusely, but I didn’t dare stop to pick any for a bouquet. She and her aide were shocked I hadn’t been given a pair of cardboard sunglasses as they’d had when their eyes were dilated.

I stayed there until time to meet Gerald at the agreed upon parking lot. I was very grateful that he had needed to go to Carbondale and, thus, was taking me to the skin screening. I think I could have made it, but I was not eager to drive. That efficient screening with the very nice young doctor at the hospital went very smoothly. I was seeing fine by now. I did not need to worry about the spot on my face but could watch a tiny reddish spot on the underside of my arm that I did not know I had and that might or might not be pre-cancerous. After stopping for Gerald’s errand, we came back to the home-town parking lot and I took the wheel when Gerald got back into his truck. I immediately noticed that road signs were brighter and so was the computer when I arrived back at Woodsong. I cooked us a nice supper and was glad the week was over.

The weekend has been great with phone calls, messages, visits, and even beautiful flowers from our village florist sent by the daughter upstate. Saturday afternoon Gerald and I listened to game tracker when Texas A&M won two games at Oklahoma State up at Stillwater. Best of all, we were able to hear the sweet voice of our granddaughter Erin helping the game commentator. Brian had come down to the their camper to farm this weekend. So by the time the games were over, Mary Ellen, Brianna, and Fifi had arrived at Woodsong to join him and had plans and foods for today’s dinner.  Before the weekend was over, Mary and I watched Julia and Julie, whcih she brought down for me to see.  We claimed our mothers' privilege and took over the television in the family room.

David and Sam had come to fish Saturday afternoon despite the windy weather, and Sam stayed on when he found out Brianna was here. They had the usual good time together both outside and on my computer with a writing project. But they also went with Mary Ellen to pick up sticks on a new piece of ground Brian and Mary had bought and which Gerald had cleared of unwanted growth this spring along the edge of the field by the road. Gerald had invested emotionally in clearing this, so he volunteered to take the tractor with the bucket and help. They came home tired, dirty, and hungry but proud of themselves at how much better the field looked.

I had the foresight to stop for lunch meat and side dishes at Small’s as I left town after my hair appointment, and so we all sat down to sandwiches, chips, and such, which was topped off with Mary Ellen’s banana bread. Brian came down from the other farm and stopped long enough for supper, and Mary Ellen went back to the field with him until after 1:00 this morning. David had picked up Sam, and Bri watched a movie till midnight and I told her to crawl into one of the beds here. As I understand it, Fifi took over as Brian’s companion when Mary came in to tumble in bed. Brian claimed at lunch that he did get some sleep up at the camper. I couldn’t figure out when.

I had not caught on that Gerry’s softball game at Austin, which was to be televised on ESPNU at 1:00 was EST. I envisioned us all sitting together at the table eating dinner before we headed to the family room to see the game on television. I had stuck a chicken into roast when we left for church services along with a pan of dressing. Mary Ellen had planned green beans with olive oil and in the other oven, pork steak and a large prepared corn casserole she was wanting to try out. (It was good but we all thought it too sweet—she makes it much better. The pork steak was delicious.) I had a package of fresh romaine to serve with a variety of bottled dressings. And from the fridge there were baby carrots, pickles, and olives.  Mary Ellen provided cantelope chunks and grapes, and I had bought a little cake once from Small’s and stuck it in the freezer, so I thawed that.

The game was starting soon after we came home, so we turned on the kitchen television as Mary Ellen and I put food out on the counter buffet style. I put out picnic-type trays and everyone filled theirs to go watch the game in the family room. Since David and Katherine weren’t able to make it this early, I ran in and picked up Sam to watch with us. He and I missed Wiggins’ homerun, but we saw Goler’s. It was over in five innings after Georgia got ahead 9-0, which was an important win for Georgia and Alison Owen. But tomorrow is another day, and we will be glued to the television at 6 (CST!) hoping Connie Clark’s Longhorns do not come back to give revenge. Best of all, I will not have a medical appointment all week.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

More Bad News from Nashville

Immediately after posting the above, I went to Facebook to see if Leslie had anymore to say about the flood.  This was what she had written in her status: 

Non-Nashvillians: please spread the word, in case folks don't grasp the severity. Temporary shelters are at capacity, missing people are unaccounted for, many homes are under water, we're in a water conservation emergency, much of Nashville's economic base is threatened by flood damage, etc, etc. In other words, we're going to need help. Text 'REDCROSS' to 90999 to donate $10 to disaster relief.

Into the Forest and Home Again

With my participation in the Forest Stewardship Week over, I had to make a decision which way to drive home. I’d checked the mileage both ways, and both were about the same. I had an errand to do either way I chose, but I was also ready for some rest time before the final softball game between Georgia and Louisiana State, which was going to be broadcast on ESPNU at 8, with a supper to fix beforehand.

I chose the Harrisburg route again knowing I wanted to stop by and see Josie Brooks at the Book Emporium. But I was thinking longingly about taking a side trip to see Bell Smith Springs, which I’ve always wanted to visit. When my car approached the highway sign with an arrow pointing to it, the car turned on its on left blinker and headed down the side road. I was glad not to have to make the decision.

Soon on both sides of the road were amazingly tall trees—skinny trees actually because they were growing so thick and close together. As I enjoyed their beauty, a sign on the left explained I was in the middle of the Bay Creek Wilderness Area of the Shawnee National Forest. Googling here at home, I found such areas in national forests were created by Congress in 1990, and seven wilderness areas make up about ten percent of Shawnee with its over 270,000 acres and 1,250 miles of trails. More signs encouraged me that I was approaching Bell Smith Springs, and then an arrow pointed south to yet another side road. Still surrounded by trees, I drove on till I came to a parking area although the road continued beyond.

I had met no one since I left Highway 145, and no one was at the parking area. I was glad to be alone since I had been with people all day. Opening the car door, I realized I was not alone in silence. Winds sweeping through the rustling trees made almost a roar—but it was a comforting pleasant roar broken only by occasional bird sounds. I read the information provided in glass-fronted display cases and learned over 700 species of plant life surrounded me. Before starting down the rain-eroded path of small rocks glued together with some sort of hardening agent, I followed instructions and wiped my shoes on the provided boot cleaner lest I unintentionally carry in any seeds of invasive plant. (I was told to do the same when I left, and I did.)

I was glad for the path since the most common of the 700 species beside the path was poison ivy, but I also enjoyed a number of varying small blossoms among the ground cover beneath the towering trees. Far down the path and still enjoying being alone, I did recall from a decade or more ago, the story of a murder somewhere along such a deserted natural area. Shaking that ugly image from my brain, I determined to relish the beauty around me as I descended towards a canyon that the information board said had rocky sides of sandstone left by sand deposited millennia ago by some long-ago ocean. Unexpectedly, I came to stopping point where the path ended at a rock-walled viewing spot and then descended to the canyon by rocky steps between two such sandstone bluffs.

Another decision time. No banisters although the walls on both sides of the narrow steps going down were close enough together to offer some balance support. Did I dare go on? Common sense prevailed as I knew I am no longer as stable on my feet as I was a few years ago, and I really did not want to create an emergency if I were to fall down there in the canyon. I settled for sitting down on a lichen covered rock beside the path and looking down on the narrow rocky steps and the water below.

The ancient-looking steps assured me that many before me had appreciated this beautiful spot, and I marveled at how the steps had been created. I wondered who had done this for the rest of the world. Maybe during the Great Depression when Shawnee National Forest was being created during 1930-38, perhaps some of the young men in the CCC camps did this back-breaking creative work. Maybe even before this, it was some long ago nature lover who struggled and built these steps on his property to encourage others to come and picnic by the springs and swim in the river flowing through the canyon.

Videos on U-Tube show strong young swimmers in this century jumping and back flipping off the bluffs into the water here. My solitude was interrupted by a middle-aged couple, who had parked above by me and come down the path. After our friendly greetings that hikers exchange, they did not hesitate to descend the rocky steps looking for the natural stone bridge they’d read about. Envying them, I pondered again the possibility of trying the steps. (Now if I broke a leg or someone tried to murder me in the canyon, they could help me.) However, I really did not want to ruin that couple’s escape to the wilderness by going where my age told me I should not go, so again I refrained.

I was quite comfortable on my stone seat although I had scooted to the middle after seeing some spindly poison ivy I hadn’t noticed touching the sleeve of my sweater. I sat quite awhile longer enjoying the wind and bird sounds and then walked back up the incline to my car.

I could go back to Route 145 where I had turned off, or signs told me I could continue west to Route 45. New territory appealed to me, and I was glad I chose that way when I saw a sign leading to parking near Burden Falls in the Burden Falls Wilderness Area. I listened to the falling water there and smelled the damp forest aromas for awhile and then started west again. While I was at Burden Falls, a truck that I assumed carried forest employees went on by me onto a private-looking narrow road; otherwise the roads I traveled belonged to me alone ever since I turned off 145.

Occasionally there was a private home or farm tucked in an opening in the forest or then more along the road as I seemed to leave the forest behind. There were a number of side roads, but I stayed on what looked like the main road. Finally I was back on a well-maintained highway following a school bus and seeing many farm homes and rural churches. I knew this was not Route 45 and could only hope all my choices had been correct. Soon Route 45 appeared, and I was in territory I’ve traveled many times.

I was refreshed but tired when I reached Woodsong, and glad to read the paper and mail waiting for me there. Gerald was watching the afternoon game on game tracker between the Georgia Dawgs and LSU, and I joined him in his office. The night before we had watched their first game in the series at Baton Rouge as we celebrated Katherine’s birthday at her house. We had a good time. Though we would have loved seeing Tara’s family, we liked knowing Tara and her family were watching the same game down at Gma Shirley’s house as they took a road break before night-time driving for Tara’s Southern Force tourney down in Woodstock, Georgia. Yet despite our good time, seeing the Dawgs lose 5-1 after 15 straight wins did put a damper on the end of the evening.

Now despite our early lead in the afternoon game, LSU rallied and we lost that game also 5-3. Georgia is the team who are supposed to be experts at coming from behind and winning. LSU stole our game plan, and I wasn’t in too happy a mood as I fixed us a bite to eat so we would be ready to watch the third game on the television in the family room.

At last Georgia prevailed when freshman Alison Owen made her first game start as a pitcher and we won 3-2. Rains came during the night, but we woke up knowing our son was a happy guy when he phoned on his way to see Geri Ann, 16, and Tara’s Southern Force at their tournament. His three grandsons awaited him at Woodstock, and he was eager to join Vickie and Bryan in taking care of them. He was even happier when he could report that the Force had won the tournament and, thus, is already qualified for the 16U gold nationals for summer teams. He was also exuberant about Aidan, Maddux, and Payton whom he pronounced on Facebook as being sooooooo sweet.

Somehow Bryan, Tara, and the boys made it through the Nashville floods safely on their 12-hour drive back to northern Illinois. Meanwhile, our granddaughter Leslie, a Resident Assistant on the Belmont campus, was struggling at Heron Hall with its flooded basement. With no electricity, the RAs were on watch throughout the weekend, which might not have been as difficult if she had not been suffering a terrible sore throat and a final ethics paper to write. The electricity is back on now and the paper is written, but she has not said if the campus is closed yet. We have all prayed for her and sympathized with her on Facebook.  We sympathize also with those whose homes and businesses were destroyed in this unbelievable disaster, which makes us realize that winning or losing softball games is not too important.

Sunday, May 02, 2010

Learning to Appreciate Our Forests

The morning drive down to the Dixon Springs Agriculture Center in the Shawnee National Forest was good preparation to fill me with an appreciation and a desire for good stewardship of our natural resources.

Going south from Harrisburg surrounded by the green of spring was a visual and spiritual treat. Neat manicured lawns and small businesses beside the silver highway were followed by golden meadows of wild mustard. There were signs indicating horse trails and bike routes and one temporary highway sign warning of the possibility of tractors on the road. I saw nary a one of any of those, but I did see a Black Angus herd vividly contrasting with the bright green grass they fed on. In some areas, the highway down steep hills was bordered by overhanging leaf-laden branches only occasionally broken by the large locust trees hung heavy with clusters of white blossoms. Then there would be more flat land with a village, farm fields and pastures, or another Social Brethren Church.  A sign pointing to a side road reminded me I had never seen Bell Smith Springs, a local attraction.

This was my first visit to the Dixon Springs Ag Center although I have heard Gerald and others speak of it often during my adult life. I pulled into the park-like facility set up for the 21st Forest Stewardship Week with tents, port-a-potties, and stations for children from sixteen counties. Jim Kirkland had secured almost l00 resource people to give the region’s school children hands-on experience in outdoor life and for each to take home a seedling at the day’s end.

Classes of children accompanied by their teachers went from station to station to hear twenty-minute presentations about topics, such as gardening, archeology, ecology, and many others. There were eight sessions for each class that could stay the entire day. Some had fewer sessions to meet their bus schedules. A huge activity tent gave kids a chance to make something between sessions. I would have liked to have wandered around the Center and attended the presentations in the other stations, but that wasn’t an option. I did sneak into the darkened faux cave tent during my noon hour and learned a bit from information in lighted display boxes in the cave’s walls.

I enjoyed lunch on Friday with “the bee lady,” dressed in her protective gear. Retired from the Chicago area, she and her husband returned here a few years ago and became interested in bees and now produce and sell honey, when the summer season cooperates for the bees to produce adequately. I was reared with bees both in Jonesboro and on the farm at Goreville since my father kept hives as his Craig ancestors had done. With bees threatened with extinction, I hope the bee lady inspires some children to carry on this tradition.

My station was typical of most—a table and three rows of benches. A very functional arrangement. With the wind blowing strongly both days, I appreciated the large block of wood Jim carried in to hold down my small stack of papers. The second day for even more anchorage, I brought some rocks I keep in our living room—one Indian relict, one piece of granite from the Crazy Horse memorial, one rock Gerald found after the Eiler grandkids made Easter nests on the lawn at Woodsong this spring, and a lovely smooth stone from the base of the Tetons.

I was impressed that this well organized event had what we needed but with little show of extravagance or waste of tax payers’ money. Someone had secured ready-made metal legs and mounted large pieces of plywood on them for the tables. The benches were three short sturdy carpenter horses topped by a long board for the children to sit on. All these could be handily stored for their next use, and the rustic simplicity certainly established the right atmosphere for the sad story of the Trail of Tears. I could easily point up to the sky and down to the grass at our feet when I explained that the treaties our government made with the Cherokee had promised their nation’s land east of the Mississippi River would be theirs as long as the sky was blue and the grass was green.
Sad but true stories of terrible mistreatment of the Indians brought pained looks of sympathy from the children. I also tried to help them see that in the midst of the greed and arrogance of those who thought they were more civilized than others, there were also white lawyers, missionaries, and ordinary citizens who fought for justice. And when they lost that battle, others along the Trail offered kindnesses that reduced the suffering that the cruel Removal caused.

Nearest to my station was one teaching the children to reduce, reuse, and recycle and another station just across the narrow road was trying to teach the children to use firewood where they found it and not contaminate other trees with the emerald green tree borer. A woman there costumed as the tree borer caused a lot of laughter, squeals, and excitement. Probably some parents will be scolded this summer if they start taking firewood out of the forest.

In our rural area, I am sure many of these children live close to nature and enjoy camping and exploring woods and creeks, and now they will be more knowledgeable as they do so. Yet many others living in towns with busy parents and sometimes with few extra funds have little opportunity for outdoor adventures. They had them this week as they trekked from station to station on beautiful warm windy days surrounded by the encircling forest in the not-so-distant horizon.