Friday, August 21, 2015

Tranquility on the Farm

Life has calmed down, and we are enjoying the in between season with summer winding down and cool days hinting of autumn almost here. Gerald is bringing in tomatoes, okra, cantaloupe, and watermelon from his garden—far more than we can eat with the company gone. So he is taking excess to friends and the soup kitchen.

At the beginning of last summer I filled the hummingbird feeders as usual, but after an unexpected several days in the hospital with blood clots, I could not keep up with preparing the sugar water and cleaning and sterilizing the feeders, so I gave it up. This spring I decided to not even start although I knew I would miss the busy little creatures. And I do.

However, that decision gave me one of my most delightful moments this summer. Sitting at the kitchen table and looking out the glass doors towards the lake, I observed a very large dragonfly sitting on the top of the wire hanger where the one of hummingbird feeders was supposed to be.

Seeing a dragonfly always carries me back in memory to the ones I loved at our small pond over the hill from our house at Mount Airy Farm, where we spent summers. This pond is where we swam and even took baths sometimes despite having muddy feet when we left the pond. The far side of the pond was edged with cattails, and the dragonflies flitted among them. I can almost be there again and smell the damp aroma of the sticky mud when I see a dragonfly.

The dragonfly visiting our deck was using the hanger as its post to catch its meal. It would sit perfectly still with its lovely wings spread out. Then it would dart off I assume to catch a gnat too small for me to see, and then return to rest again. I would pleasantly relax and rest with him as I waited for his next flight. I was mesmerized, and I am not sure how long the dragonfly and I shared this time together. I had hoped it would make it a habit to sit there, but I have not seen since.

Most of us in Southern Illinois always feel a surge of pleasure when we see deer despite the damage to crops and the danger on the road. Late at night as I come home from Katherine’s, it is not uncommon for a flock to be scared by my car lights as I come in our long driveway, and one by one they leave the lake running and cross in front of me heading into our neighbor’s field. I stop and hope the last slowpoke has crossed before I go on. My favorite sightings this summer included a single large buck running bedside the road at the edge of our son-in-law’s corn field and then the time that twin spotted fawns ran beside my car before turning into the woods there. Family members have seen triplet fawns in our fields, but I haven’t yet seen them. Nor have I seen the albino deer that our next door neighbor posted a photo of on Facebook. Two neighbors further away chimed in they had seen her, and I am keeping my eyes alert in hopes of a sighting.

Small pleasures are important mood elevators, and they are plentiful during this end-of-summer season.

Friday, August 07, 2015

Cousins Week

Cousins Week is officially over. Elijah just left Woodsong to see a friend in Madison, Wisconsin. He and Trent had gone down to Cadiz, Kentucky, last night to meet up with Lige’s sister Leslie, who drove up from Nashville. Brianna had left the day before to drive to Michigan to see a friend. Sam was up early this morning to go to work as he has been helping out with his high school’s annual band camp this week as well as being here at Woodsong enjoying Cousins Week. Despite the late night hours, Trent managed to make an A on his summer statistics exam Wednesday. Erin got in on Cousins Week by a fortunate schedule happening, and I was glad because she could give her younger cousins some good advice. And I think Sam’s friend Anna has been officially adopted by the group.

Back when I wrote about only one pair of tennis shoes in the front hall, Elijah had read that blog and hastened to tell me that I did not need to worry about their absence. The younger gang of cousins were already texting and planning on “Cousins Week” the first week of August after they finished summer activities and before they started school again. Unfortunately, Geri Ann is busy right now with a short summer term at Oregon and had already left Texas. Our youngest grandchild Cecelie was working full time this summer at the consignment store, so she could not come down join the college kids. I had to be proud of her!

Erin and Geri Ann had planned to come earlier in the summer, but the rained-out postponed softball camps foiled their plans. So Erin, at least, was finally getting to come up between workshops to prepare for next year’s teaching. For me, getting to meet Josh Simons, her new husband over in South Korea, by Skype was one stand-out moment of her visit. Next summer we get to meet him in person. Erin was kept busy seeing all of her loved ones including Candice’s toddler twins, fishing on our lake, and walking either 4 plus or 5 miles down to Gma Shirley’s house. Since her wrist watch and her car disagreed on how far it was to Shirley’s house, Erin was perturbed about that, but I was impressed either way. She was also able to see her parents because Gerry and Vickie arrived here the day before she had to get on the road to return to her new apartment and participate in the new teachers’ orientation workshops. She and her mom had time together fishing out on the lake that afternoon.

Nine of us all together were at Brian and Mary Ellen’s house for dinner in Erin’s honor last Sunday. Mary Ellen has had a busy week at work, sometimes feeding cousins, and attending Brian’s gall-bladder surgery on Tuesday. (This was same-day surgery, and he says he did good.) Nevertheless, in spare moments, Mary Ellen has been in and out trying to see her brother but has kept missing him. But as she was leaving last evening, she met up with Vickie, who is also doing a lot of walking, and they had a long visit down by the lake. I watched the debates, and I enjoyed discussing them with Sam when he came in at the end of the evening.

Gerald and Gerry took off yesterday for northern Illinois on some kind of bird dog business and are due back this afternoon. Vickie is spending another afternoon with her mother and tonight is having dinner with her brothers and families. So right now the house is empty for a little while and the quiet gives me time to reflect and enjoy recording all the comings and goings here this week. Thinking back on all the fun is one of the blessings of company. I am wondering if Cousins Week will become an annual affair.

Saturday, August 01, 2015

Trent--A Star with Star Wars

A little boy’s sweet singing woke me up Thursday morning. Soon I was at the kitchen table with Aidan, 9, and Payton, 5,—our youngest and oldest great grandsons—Tara and Bryan’s boys. (Their Maddux, 7, was still in bed as I think he inherited my sleep genes.) Since their family moved to Texas, it is a rare treat for us to get to see this family. They had come downstate the evening before after a week or so visiting Bryan’s family in northern Illinois, attending his cousin’s wedding, and taking the boys to downtown Chicago.

At the breakfast table with me, Payton would periodically say wishfully, “He said he would come back.” He was talking about our grandson Trent, 22, who had come over for the family supper the night before. I bet Payton repeated that sentence at least ten times. Because of the sparsity of visits, I am not sure he knew Trent’s name.

Following supper the night before, the three boys had immediately been treated to Trent’s complete attention all evening. Trent had engaged the boys in discussing Star Wars videos, which evidently they have three or so that they watch. Since Trent has all of them, he quickly drove back to his house to get the latest to share and he came back with his collection of masks of the characters. (Although I have walked through the family room with it playing many times, I have never sat down and watched an entire Star Wars video. So I have no idea what to call these characters, but the masks were impressive.)

Trent did a masterful job of keeping three active noisy boys entertained downstairs while the rest of us enjoyed sitting around the table visiting and laughing. Tara asked Brianna questions about her spring internship, so we were able to hear a little more about that. We asked questions and caught up on Tara’s involvement with the sports facility that Ty and Kesha Warren are building in College Station. But mostly we laughed and enjoyed being together. By the time we left the table very much later, Trent had two out of three boys asleep for the night. Mary Ellen, Brianna, and Trent left for their house. (Their Brian had to be out of town this week.) Trent’s next day agenda was to finish the week’s statistics class at John A. Logan since the college is not open on Fridays during the summer term.

But the next morning as Payton remembered all their fun, he said with a certain awe more to himself than to me, “He said he had waited seven years to show us Star Wars.” After breakfast and Payton’s final, “He said he’d come back,” their day was instantly filled. First with the usual farm activities with Gerald and then a visit down the road and onto the next one for a visit with Tara’s Gma Shirley. Tara’s cousin Jeremy—just her age and who grew up with her--could only come to see her during that part of the day because of his shift at the mine.

For the boys, it was important to see Jeremy’s daughter Kinsley, just Payton’s age. For Tara it was important to meet his new son Bentley, four-months old. Even better, she had been promised she could care for the two children after Jeremy went to work as his wife was already doing. Bryan had to make a trip back to the farm once for new sets of clothes for the boys because Kinsey and they remembered a previous time when they were allowed to play in the mud. And after that reprise, they were hosed off and left to dry in the sun while Bryan came over for clean clothes.

After lunch and more play at Gma Shirley’s , the gang came back to Woodsong to fish in the lake. (I think they had almost as much fun digging worms in the garden as they did using them to fish.) Gerald was extremely impressed with very feminine tiny Kinsley who not only caught a fish—a blue gill she explained—but she was totally comfortable with handling worms and poles and taking the fish off the hook. While Bryan and Gerald supervised that activity, Tara was delightedly and smugly engaged rocking Bentley. I came in from Katherine’s and even got to hold that smiling baby boy just a bit when he woke up. Occasionally I heard mention of Star Wars and Trent’s promise to come back.

Somehow Bryan and Tara had to get those four older ones rounded up, re-dressed, hands washed, etc, along with any necessary care for Bentley and get out of our house and over to Gma Shirley’s to meet up with Kinsley and Bentley’s parents for the roast beef supper that Shirley was cooking for them.

Belatedly the two adults and five children were finally heading out through our kitchen back door when Tara and I realized Trent had arrived and was coming in the front door! It was a crisis moment, but we literally hid Trent from the kids and Tara promised they’d be back in a couple of hours. Of course, I figured that was probably not possible since everyone over there is as eager to see these far-off loved ones as we are, and Kinsley is not likely to be satisfied with ending play time with cousins any sooner than possible.

I was concerned that Trent might be bored with just us two oldsters here at the farm. But he contentedly ate a bite of supper with Gerald and me, helped Gerald with a computer problem, and took a little nap until the boys returned. (Trent is not only our Star Wars ace, but he’s also our computer and Internet expert since he is on his college’s cyber security team.) It was late when the Archibalds arrived back at the farm, but Trent had the next video ready to go and the boys were soon once again enthralled. And very rapidly asleep after that day’s heavy play. Tara and Bryan were able to move the two youngest into a bed, but Aidan was still sleeping there on the floor with a blanket when I carefully crowded through his feet and the wall when I moved upstairs after my Facebook fix in my office. With enough dim light left on, he later put himself in a proper bed.

By Friday morning, we were all excited because we knew Erin had spent the night close enough to be arriving at the farm sometime around noon or soon after. So the Archibalds decided to dally long enough to see her before they took off for their challenging trip home to Texas. Erin has moved from College Station to an apartment in Belton since her new school is at Temple. Her family is going to miss seeing her as they were able to do this past year. Although he likes to sleep in on his day off, Trent had arrived early enough to let the boys finish the last video, and then he helped them dig more worms to go fishing again out on the lake.

We’d almost finished our bacon, lettuce, and tomato sandwiches with potato salad, corn on the cob, and chocolate cake when Erin drove up and joined us. Everyone wanted to hear about her new husband Joshua and how to pronounce her new last name. Josh is now stationed in South Korea, and they communicate daily between midnight and 2 a.m. but are able to Skype on the weekends. While we visited with Erin, Tara quietly cleared the table and filled the dish washer. Then they had to go. It was difficult to tell the Archibalds goodbye, but Erin’s presence made it less lonesome.

Erin, Trent, and I ended back sitting around the table again while we visited. We heard about the writing workshop Erin had just completed for her new position. This workshop made her miss her annual coaches’ gathering, which she regretted, but she had loved the workshop and the presenter. Erin’s enthusiasm was contagious. Trent and I thoroughly enjoyed seeing her materials and hearing all the ways she’d been shown to get sixth graders writing, editing, and sharing their work. And we read Erin’s essay in the booklet that the workshop had published. Trent, who reads widely, is interested in everything, and Erin made us both want to see kids bending over their desks happily writing about their lives. It will be fun next summer to hear her tell us how well these ideas and methods worked.

Too soon the afternoon ended, and she was off to her cousin Sarah’s house as Sarah and her husband were cooking dinner for her. I ran in to check on Katherine but did not stay long in town as the aide had things well under control.

This morning I woke up to Gerald and Erin’s excited conversation as they breakfasted together, but by the time I got up, she was already out walking—clear down to her Uncle Louie and Aunt Chris’s place! Soon Mary Ellen showed up here hoping to visit with Erin, so I benefitted from that. Mary Ellen has been working so hard all summer that she couldn’t stay long as she had finally planned a mother-daughter day with Brianna after bringing her home from Orlando near the end of June. Erin was taking Gma Shirley out to lunch, so I am hoping it worked out for Mary Ellen and Bri to lunch with them as Erin invited after she found out she’d missed Mary Ellen’s early morning visit.
After a quick lunch, Gerald went to Cape Girardeau as his brother Keith is once more back in the hospital, and later I ran into Katherine’s to give afternoon pills. While I was there, Sam and his friend Josh came in from the cruise to the Cayman Islands that Josh’s family took the boys on for their high school graduation celebration. I knew Erin was going to supper tonight with her friend Candice; and when I got back from Katherine’s, there was her note on a napkin with a drawn heart reminding me where she was. Now Gerald has returned, and we have talked over his visit with Keith. We have also talked to our son Gerry who is headed back to Texas early in the morning. He and Vickie are in the East where was he scouted a softball player. It is not easy keeping track of our family during these busy summer months.