Wednesday, January 29, 2014

January Blues and Bugs

I love the changing of the seasons, and I wanted to live here so I could experience all four of them every year.  However, I do not like the flu and colds that come with the winter season, and it seems to me that friends’ illnesses has been particularly virulent this year.  My post-Thanksgiving cold lasted almost to Christmas, and I did lots of coughing. Happily Gerald did not catch it.  Then week before last he came down with what we called a cold, and we were grateful at least he was not coughing when we heard so many others say they were coughing until their ribs hurt. 

Coughing or not, Gerald sounded terrible, and when suddenly he had other symptoms, he sought medical help and found out the cold was really a very bad sinus infection.  Fortunately it was not one of those infections resistant to antibiotics.   He also had a terrible allergic rash at the same time, and a return visit to the dermatologist for new meds solved that problem. He is riding the exercise bike 30 minutes at a time, and he thinks he may have cured his crippling knee pain.  His exercise discipline has inspired me to do my leg exercises two days in a row.  (I did them four days in a row earlier in the month.  I must make this a priority because the weakness in my legs makes me walk like the old person I am.  I do not like that.)
Gerald brought me photos he had gotten off Facebook of our three great grandsons down in Georgia with the huge snowman they built today.  It is very cold here in Southern Illinois, but no snow for snowmen. Our lake is only partly frozen despite low temperatures because Sunday was warm and sunny again.  Our weather keeps bouncing from warm to very cold.  Despite all the warm days and so far no blizzards, I think I have heard more complaints about winter weather than ever before.  Maybe that is a result of being connected through Facebook; the weather is something we all have in common to talk about. We have two more months of winter, so folks better accept that cold weather will be with us at least part of the time for awhile. 

Although autumn and spring are my favorites, I have happy memories of being warm and isolated in the house during snow days when the children were allowed to stay home from school. Popping corn and making snow ice cream were special winter-time treats.  (Later when four-wheel drive vehicles broke that isolation and company showed up to destroy the family closeness, I resented it.)

I have less pleasant memories of cold coming into the house so that faucets needed to be left dripping and cabinet doors open to prevent pipes from freezing.  If we were not diligent, I can also remember poor Gerald having to go under the house and thaw pipes when he was already overburdened to keep baby pigs warm and the water flowing for all the swine down in the pig buildings. If the roads were bad, Gerald might load hogs in frigid dark early morning hours for the drive up to the East Saint Louis stockyards because the price would be better with fewer hogs coming in.  What a sweet relief when he arrived back to the farm safe and sound.  I think Gerald enjoyed the challenge back then despite the exhaustion that resulted, 

I enjoyed the challenge too although for me it was mostly a vicarious challenge since I stayed inside. My worst challenge may have been bundling children up to play in the snow and then soon unbundling them when they came in with wet gloves and chilled hands throughout the day.    Now none of those challenges exist for Gerald and me, but I feel great concern for those who are homeless and for those still struggling without proper fuel for heat this winter. I know the cold is destroying many family budgets.  I am grateful for the churches and the shelters that open their doors to those who need shelter and for all the volunteers and neighbors who help those needing help.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Over Half Gone!

January is more than half over now, and the weather here  seems to have been a preview of what’s coming.  So far we have had snowed-in days, rainy days, windy days, and balmy days going rapidly from one condition to the next. 

Just now I returned from jumping into the car to take a letter down the lane to the mailbox. Our previously frozen lake is half clear but the other half still has white patches of ice floating on it.  The outside temp was 46, and I was grateful I’d worn a warm jacket.  More days than not this month, I have gone without my coat when driving because I did not need it even outside when I went from the car into Katherine’s house or into the grocery.  I carried a coat in the car in the passenger’s seat in case it turned colder before I left and I had an accident driving home. (I used to urge my daughters to carry a blanket in their car in cold weather in case of an accident—and, of course, to call me when they made it home safely to their apartments. They would apologize when I woke them up later for forgetting to call, and I doubt they carried the blanket. Ha. ) Except for the snowed-in days when the school buses did not run and I conscientiously stayed home, I have been grateful for our spring-like weather because I knew what much of the nation was going through.
Yet just last evening when I went to town early to complete some late afternoon errands before going to Katherine’s, it was snowing hard during the brief period that I was going in and out of the post office, the bank, the gas station, and the grocery store.  The car told me the outside temperature was 21 and I believed it when the biting wind chilled me quickly. I realized I had yet to look up warm gloves and a hat from the hall closet. So I better remember to put them in the car with the coat.

Finally this week I got the downstairs tree put away for next Christmas, and those ornaments boxed up.  I think this is the latest I have ever been completely de-decorating, and I put out fewer things than in previous years.  So I guess that was a good decision, but I missed some of the lovely decorative items that I only see once a year. 

The post master smiled yesterday when I bought a roll of the Forever stamps (before the price goes up) and I told him they were for my Christmas cards. I mailed the last of the ones I plan to send this year—but I still have a short list of people I want to drop a note to. Because of a time crunch, I really did not think I’d send cards, but as they came in from friends and loved ones, I realized anew how much that yearly contact meant.  I loved reading the notes and letters and thinking about the people from the past who are now so far away from our present lives. Cards have always been one of my favorite parts of Christmas.  I wanted to respond and keep in touch, so on the afternoon of December 24, I started writing cards to my siblings and to those on the list of addresses I have for Gerald’s family.  A week or so later I began writing the Martins (my family), and finally recently began trying to complete cards on what I have labeled “Far Away Friends List.”   I did not quite finish that, and those are the names on my to-do note list.  I sent almost no local cards this year although many local friends I seldom see anymore—and they too are still dear to me, and I so appreciated the local cards we received. This week I loved it that we received two more cards—both from young folks that I desire to keep up with.  Now I have to make sure I have those new addresses recorded for next year.  Late cards allow me to savor them more since the Christmas rush is past.  I hope those receiving my late cards next week feel that way too.

I also ordered two belated Christmas gifts this week, so as I told someone, I am ready for Christmas now that January is well on its way to being over.

Monday, January 06, 2014

From After Glow to New Beginnings

When middle daughter Jeannie wrote, “For grownups, I think that Dec. 26 must be the best day of the year. Ahhhhhhh,” I had to laugh.   I have always loved that warm after glow that let me look back on memories of Christmas Day with no more gifts to wrap nor special goodies to prepare.   Not that I did not enjoy the fun, the busyness, and gatherings before Christmas, but the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day was always a relaxing and special time to enjoy the lighted tree and holiday visitors, re-read the cards, and cook less with ham and left-over food stuff availble for light meals.   This year was typical except we had only local families here on Christmas Day.  With fewer aides than we needed during the holidays, I spent more time at Katherine’s house than usual, but I was grateful she was able to be with us on the Day, and I enjoyed their trees and decorations each time I visited there.

Thanks to modern technology, we were able to enjoy Christmas photos of the Georgia families and the Freeport family. Granddaughter Leslie entertained us with Facebook comments and photos as she and Mike and their dogs Millie and Sydney traveled from Freeport onto his parents’ home in Ohio and back to Nashville.  We were thrilled when Vickie and Erin came up from Georgia after Christmas to visit the Johnson family.  Erin spent a night at the farm and was able to collect our presents for those families, and Gma Shirley invited us for a delicious Sunday dinner with them and Vickie’s brothers and families. And, of course, she sent Katherine a plate when we left there.

As they often have done, the Taylors took off the day after Christmas for a visit and vacation with Brian’s mother and other family members. This used to be in northern Illinois, where Brian grew up, and then in Florida for a few years.  His mother has now moved to Arizona to be near Brian’s sister and families, so Brian, Mary Ellen, and Brianna went to sunny Arizona but had to hurry back a couple of days early to beat the snow and ice and get the farm machinery bedded safely down.  Since grandson Trenton elected not to go this year, he was our only visitor besides Erin who came one afternoon between the holidays. 

We seldom go out on New Year’s Eve, and I did not even watch the ball come down this year.  I was home from Katherine’s getting ready for bed when I heard fireworks somewhere in our neighborhood and knew the new year had arrived. Often I take down decorations on New Year’s Day, but I deliberately made it a lazy day this year. Not really lazy as it was Senior Day at Kroger, and I had suddenly realized that the first Friday in January was in two days—when Women’s Club meets.  I don’t usually get to attend but I did make the delayed Christmas luncheon at Jaclyn Hancock’s after the scheduled one was snowed-out.  And it was announced that a friend and I were to do the refreshments in January.  Well, it was time to think about that!

So I got out my recipe books and ancient recipe collection in two big file boxes—one box dates back to when it was a debate file box in college.  Those recipes—some in my mother’s hand writing and some in Katherine’s when she could still write—have many memories. I don’t do much cooking anymore, but I enjoyed the musing and decided on Laura’s Chocolate Cake. (Mother’s neighbor Laura in Goreville had brought it probably when my father died in1983.  We had all liked it, and Laura shared the recipe, which is much like Texas Cake and fills a cookie sheet. I picked up ingredients for a cheese ball and some extra goodies at Kroger before I had a chance to contact my friend.  She brought some more dips and chips, and another club member unexpectedly decided to bring a delicious plate of Christmas cookies, mixed nuts, and no-sugar peanut brittle, so we had a table full to delay everyone’s diet plans.   I was so glad I attended because the program was excellent.   The therapist for a non-profit group dedicated to wounded veterans and often also suffering with PTSD presented along with a veteran and his dog.  I wish I had taken notes because their successful work, which brought tears to our eyes, was worthy of a separate blog.

Yesterday I was carrying the meeting stuff in from the car and realized the first Senior shopping day and club meeting are already over for this year, and the time of new beginnings is well underway.

It was raining when I left Katherine’s long after midnight last night, and the temperature was still hovering above freezing when we woke this morning. Roads were wet but fine. Although the pastor mentioned the snow was already coming down in St. Louis and headed our way, Gerald took us into town for lunch since we have gift cards at local restaurants from Gerry and Vickie. We called the Taylors to see if they could meet us, but when Mary Ellen did not answer, we figured they were resting up from the long drive home and all of yesterday’s work once they got home.  Before we arrived in town, the temperature had dropped and we knew the rain on the roads would soon freeze.  As we were finishing our meal, I looked up to see Brianna and then her parents.  They had been in another part of the dining room and had just finished a meal with their gift card.  They joined us at our table and we had a fun visit while we all nervously watched the windows seeing the heavy snow now coming down.  We drove cautiously home, and are warm and grateful to be here on the Eve of Old Christmas.  I lit the lights on the upstairs tree one more time since I haven’t begun to undress it yet.

Tomorrow will be the Epiphany (celebrated on other dates in some places) or the twelfth day of Christmas in honor of the visit by the three wise men to the infant Jesus. Jesse Stuart wrote of Old Christmas on this day, based on the Julian calendar, which the Kentucky settlers brought with them from England.  Some used this date for the holiday well into the last century.  I like thinking of these early folks’ satisfaction of cutting a cedar from their farm to fill their cabin with pleasing aroma and their thrill at receiving an apple or orange and perhaps hard candy in their stockings.  I once had an older student write how their family went into the woods each fall and gathered silk pods and other of nature’s ornaments to decorate their tree.  It is good to look back as we also look forward to what the year ahead may offer us.