Goodbye, Tree

 

As many of you already know, I’m not exactly Nature Girl. I have an extremely limited vocabulary to describe the natural world, mostly due to  . . . let’s face it, not really caring. I divide the green stuff I see around me into the loose genres (is that the right word?) of “grassy”, “bushy”, “flowery”, “treelike”, and “snack”. Within these groups I can identify a handful of individual specimens. For instance, I know a rose when I see one. Also a dandelion.  I can correctly name a weeping willow, a maple tree (thanks to the Canadian flag) and staghorn sumac (gardenworld’s “Walking Dead”). In the “Snack” genre, I can recognize a cornstalk and several types of berries (assuming they are ripe and ready to pick). But that’s about it.

So I am at a loss to identify the tree in our garden that was destroyed in last week’s wildly raging storm. It was our biggest tree and a rare type – or so I was told by a visiting botanist about 15 years ago. I immediately forgot what he said the tree was and have been meaning to find out. It was very shapely and tall. It was very good at providing shade and privacy to my favorite spot on the screen porch. But half of its huge branches (– tree-sized themselves) were lying on the ground after the storm and the remaining half of the tree threatened to fall on our neighbor’s roof. It had to go.

Before After the Storm:                      After the Chainsaw:

               

I spent a good ten minutes today on the internet trying to identify the tree based on its leaf. The closest matches were “Norway Maple” and “Canadian Hawthorn” – both of which can’t be right. The tree has no flowers or nuts or four-inch, fatal-looking thorns. I was sort of hoping one of my many greenthumbed blog people could identify it. Thanks in advance! And while you are at your research, I will be out on the porch with my Kindle and glass of Coke, feeling ever-so-slightly more exposed.

I’ve Missed You

I should probably start by apologizing for being unsupportive and absent to my blog bff’s (whom I love dearly and truly!) I could then follow it up with my reasons for neglecting you, which would really be excuses, which would then negate the sincerity of the original apology.

One of those excuses could be that I have been busy meeting up with old high school friends – another set of people that I have been absent from, neglectful of, unsupportive to, uncommunicative with, etc. etc. – and that for more than 37 years now (“Go Raiders! Yeay, Class of 1980!!”) And yet, every two years when I come home to Milwaukee, we somehow manage to meet up.

In the first few minutes of our biannual reunions, we peer intensely at one another to assess the advancement of our own aging process. This gets confusing because the one or the other looks exactly the same despite laugh wrinkles around the eyes and graying hair. Each time, we also suddenly panic about all the details we really should know but don’t, or have forgotten. (You had six siblings?! Did I ever know that? You lived in California?! Did I know that? You were an English major too?! Did I know that?) Slowly but surely, the skeletal frames of life highlights spanning the past 37 years are reconstructed. Marriages, kids, professional moves, travels, parental concerns . . .  We all silently vow to commit these facts to memory in preparation for the next reunion, but know somewhere inside that two years from now, the same conversations and surprises will happen again.

But it doesn’t matter.

Because with old friends, like old habits, once you pick them up again, you simply take off from where you left off. You tell and retell the same old stories that somehow seem familiar and new at the same time. Meanwhile, long neglected, dusty old details of your life as a teenager resurface in your mind. Names of classmates you have not had a second thought about in decades are suddenly accessible. You start sorting these names into categories like “popular” or “cool” or “dweeb” or “wild” – all with the understanding that it is your 16 year old selves doing the sorting because you gave up on this kind of immature labeling long ago. At the same time, it becomes clear to you why exactly these people and not ones with newly re-remembered names and labels are here around the table. You realize how much you share with these people and that it goes deep.

And you laugh a lot.

And you make plans for a longer, cooler reunion in 2019. Before saying goodbye and returning to your current life, you take pictures.

And then you post one of them on your blog.

And you say, “I’ve missed you.”

 

How I Spent My Summer Vacation

 

. . . or the first day of it anyway . . .

 

 . . . but before I get to that, where can I get my hands on one of these T-shirts? It is perfect. All three of these crazes came to our school this year – much to the irritation of most of my colleagues. When it came to bottle flipping, I agreed – how is this an achievement?? However, I confess that I did the dabbing (aka “Usain Bolt”) gesture myself many a time and that fidget spinners also have a certain fascination for me. My colleagues were continually demanding that the students put them in their pockets or anywhere out of reach/sight. I never had to insist on that. When I came into the classroom, all the kids quickly disappeared their fidget spinners for fear that I would “borrow” it, start spinning myself, and not give it back. One of my students gave me one as a farewell gift and I blurted out “HOW COOL!!!” The sad thing is that I was honestly excited about it. Here it is (and notice the background!):

I got that gift on Friday morning – the last day of school filled with tearful farewells (but no tears from me, I’m not a wimp). The afternoon was spent carting daughters here and there, going last-minute-shopping for stuff they needed for their trip to the States, and finally at the Fair Trade Festival, where Mitzi’s new band had their incredibly successful premiere:

The night was long and moist for everyone except us designated drivers. I confiscated the husband’s car keys after he told the story of our kitchen renovations for the fifth time (a story, I might add, that he stole from me): “We wanted a new refrigerator. We are getting a new kitchen.”

Eventually, we made it home and fell into bed. We had made it. We had survived. Except that . . . (full disclosure) . . . the last day of school is not the last day of the school year. There was one more week of “Post-readying” to get through. And there were still “a few” things to do before our new kitchen could be installed starting Monday morning . . . i.e. 48 hours later . . .

 

Backtrack.

In the exhilarating process of planning and ordering our new kitchen months ago, we somehow found it feasible that the last week of work before summer vacation would be a good time for having the kitchen built. We didn’t really consider everything that would have to be done beforehand – the water lines, the electric cabling, the heating pipes, the subsequent plastering and mess. We didn’t consider the fact that my husband would be out of town for half of the last month of school and glued to it for the other half (mostly due to graduation exams) and that I would be feverishly working on the year-in-review slideshow for a week and then writing 28 farewell letters to my students the next. We also didn’t consider that our kids would be reeling from one year-end recital or party or performance to another while packing and preparing for their first solo flight to the States. Or that the hubby was taking part in a barbecuing competition that would keep him from home from noon Saturday to the wee hours. Or that we would have to leave for the airport in the middle of the night (2:00 am) to get them to the airport, driving for two hours there, two hours back, and then reporting for work at 9:00 am on Monday morning.

 

And because we hadn’t considered all of this, we woke up on Saturday morning in a bit of a panic. The fridge and dishwasher were still standing in the middle of the room which had to be emptied, cleaned and painted. But before that could be done, we had to go get the hubby’s car and Mitzi’s keyboard. And we had to tape up plastic everywhere to protect the windows and rest of the house. And the husband had to get everything ready for his barbecuing competition – that meant cleaning grills and finding all the equipment in our now disastrously chaotic household. We managed and he took off at noon. I walked into the kitchen and considered where to begin . . .

I decided on emptying the last load from the dishwasher and moving it. I opened it up and was greeted by some kind of new life-form. It seems we forgot to actually turn the machine on after that final loading five very warm days earlier.  I had to transport all those green and fuzzy dishes and glasses and cutlery to the bathroom and wash them by hand. It was truly one of the Top Five low points of my life.

Next task – moving the refrigerator. This required emptying it out completely and then sliding it into the living room and filling it back up again. Seems straightforward enough, but it took hours. And there was a lot of toting things to our one water source in the bathroom and back. More green fuzziness was also involved.

After that came vacuuming and mopping and daughter chauffeuring and mopping and unsuccessful attempts at online check-ins and mopping and then some more mopping. The kitchen had now gone from this:

to this:

 

And I went from this:

to this:

 

Sunday was painting day.

 

 

Monday.  We had left to take my daughters to the airport at 2:00 am and got back home around 7:00 o’clock in the morning. The workers arrived shortly thereafter and everything was hunky-dory as far as the kitchen project went. I drove off to school relieved and then had . . . the worst day of my entire six years there. (Details are unimportant here, but will probably be dealt with in some future post.) I can say I came home demoralized and ready to quit. I tracked the progress of my daughters and saw that their flight had been delayed. It was almost midnight before I got word that they had landed safely, gotten through the airport procedures, found the right bus, contacted my sister and were safely arrived. I went to bed.

On Tuesday morning, the workers arrived again and continued installing the kitchen. I drove off to school  . . . reluctantly . . . almost unwillingly.

I arrived and walked into the kitchen. My “boss” was crying and the other members of the teaching staff were in intense discussion with her. I realized that all of them had felt as deeply bad about the meeting as I had and that they were equally exhausted. We talked through all the crap from the preceding day and reaffirmed our solidarity with one another. The efforts to drive wedges between us had failed.  We even got a few things on our list done.

I went home and checked the progress of our kitchen. I recognized that it was going to be gorgeous. I checked the mail. The letters confirming my daughters’ citizenship interviews had arrived.

My husband suggested a shopping trip to pick out new dishes and pots and pans. It had been quite a few days since we had thrown money to the wind. In the store, we actually found dishes that we both really liked.

When we got home, we chatted with our daughters about their impending canoe trip and concert and civics lessons (to prepare for their interviews).

I hung up and felt that the world was a different place.  After a week, no, make that a month, no, make that a year of recurring anguish and frustration, things were just falling into line. The kitchen was taking shape. The citizenship process was becoming clear and comprehensible. The dimmed lights of my professional future had just brightened. The end of the tunnel was now . . . not quite in sight, but the lightness of the walls indicated that there was just one more curve ahead of me and then . . .

Sunshine.

And nothing.

But, sunshine.

 

PS.  A few days have gone by since I wrote the above. The school year is now officially over. The kitchen is now done. Have a look:

 

Places I Used to Inhabit

It is strange to be suddenly confronted with your own unconscious and habitual movements and behaviors. This happens when there is some major change in your accustomed physical environment. For instance, it has almost been three weeks since quitting smoking, yet when I’m writing and get temporarily stuck searching for the right formulation of words or thoughts, my body just stands up all on its own and walks out onto the screen porch.

Now when this happens, there is no ashtray out there. No matches. Nothing to light. So I stand there for a few seconds in a state of confusion wondering: why am I here?

And then there is the kitchen.

For the past two decades, my day began like this: I walked into the kitchen and took a sharp right. All in one place were the things I needed. The coffeemaker, the filters, the coffee, the water, and the compost bin (for yesterday’s grounds). The next ten movements I made were all so habitual that no conscious thought was necessary. And because I keep my thyroid medication on top of the coffee tin, I never forget to take it.

This morning I woke up, went down to the kitchen and took a right. I found myself standing back-to-back with a refrigerator, staring at a blank wall where my coffeemaker used to be, wondering: why am I here?

All that because . . . this is my kitchen now:

And this is my kitchen now:

And this, too,  is my kitchen now:

I forgot to take my thyroid medication for the first time in years this morning. This afternoon, I needed scissors. I walked into the kitchen and headed toward the empty wall where the scissors used to hang. Later I needed a plastic bag. I headed toward a drawer in front of the kitchen window. The frig was in my way. And of course that drawer is no longer there anyway – it is now in the bathroom. It is only a matter of time before I walk into the kitchen and simply drop my empty coffee cup, letting it smash on the floor right below where the sink used to be.

It is going to be like this for about three more weeks.

Once the new kitchen is here, I will have to learn a whole slew of new habitual movements. I have no idea yet where the coffeemaker is going to go in the new arrangement, but I am going to put A LOT of thought into it. Because this kitchen is probably going to be my last one. However it is arranged is going to determine where I go and what I do in the first five minutes of every day from now until . . . my institutionalization.

That is, assuming my institutionalization doesn’t happen sometime in the next three weeks.

 

 

Random Updates

 

Despite my flailing a bit in the blog business, there have been a few developments around here. So I am once again stealing (and adapting) Kate’s regular feature to get you all up to speed.

First stop – garden projects – mostly my husband’s, not mine (see Blackthumb’s Annual Garden Report”). Here’s the current state of the chicken house, the straw bale veggie garden, and my Florence Henderson rosebush:

   

 

Second stop – Gingerbread Man (see “He’s Back”). Spiffy again:

Third: We had a fifteenth birthday in the house, which means I now have two daughters who can drive away on their mopeds, much to my consternation:

Fourth stop – our kitchen remodeling (see “The World’s Costliest Ice Cubes”). It has now gone into high gear. Below you can see what the old kitchen looked like next to a computer projection of what the new one will (sort of) look like in about three weeks. (Full disclosure: the before picture was intentionally taken at a moment of Peak Clutter). Yesterday the window guys were here and you can see the results underneath.

 

And Fifth. Ever since first noticing the two moons perched in my Red Maple Tree (see “Tidings”), I have looked for them each morning while waiting for my coffee to brew. I found this comforting for some reason and was sort of afraid that they would disappear once the new windows were in. So this morning I was happy not only to find them again – but to see that they brought a friend!

 

Day 10

So.

When I go to bed tonight, I will mentally pat myself on the back for going 10 straight days without . . .  self-administered carbon monoxide, tar and approximately 6997 other chemical poisonings. I can’t yet brag about giving up nicotine yet, because in weaker moments, I am falling back on various other delivery systems for that particular drug. The plan is to make it through the first month in this way and then detox completely when my stress levels plummet precipitously on July 1st.

I did look into a few other commonly used methods to conquer addiction, but none of them seemed particularly auspicious. There are all sorts of natural and/or homeopathic products, but deep down, I believe that you have to believe that they will work for them to work and I am not much of a believer. The same problem arose when I googled “12 Step Program”. Somehow I don’t see myself taking a fearless moral inventory of my character, admitting my defects to a higher Power and then humbly asking Him to remove these shortcomings. I also don’t plan to become missionary among my many MANY smoking friends. No, I will use my own (if I may say so myself, impressive) powers of denial to get me through.

This I know:

Thinking about quitting sucks big time. It is truly awful in its futile endlessness.

Quitting, at least so far, has been easy in its awesome finality.

He’s Back

 

Gingerbread Man left home for the first time in decades. After overhearing me talk to a colleague about my cosmetic plans for him, he had high hopes of returning a new man – fully restored to his former glory. Things turned out somewhat differently.

At first he was thrilled to finally reach a pillow in a new place, but then one day passed, and then another, and nothing happened. His euphoria waned as he heard all the kids playing and laughing just outside his window. He listened to a bunch of them spending hours and hours doing stupid soapstone carving instead of needlework. He began to doubt his time would ever come.

So on Day Three, still in his sorry, tattered, one-eyed state, he cautiously ventured out into the open air. He chose an empty chair by the campfire and sat there for a while, lonely and friendless.

But then something wonderful happened. A few girls expressed interest in him – wanted to know who he was. They weren’t at all repelled by his appearance, in fact, one of them even called him “cute”! They invited him to sit with them and later he joined them in a ball game.

      

The spiffying finally began on Day Four, but there was only time for some jacket trim repair and a preliminary procedure to restore his right eye, before it was time for everyone to head down to the pier. In the meantime, he returned to his pillow to recuperate.

      

On Departure Day, he was thrilled to be asked along on a final walk to the pier. He sat with his new friends and contemplated the beautiful lake. This was quite possibly the greatest day of his life. The water was so enticing – he couldn’t resist:

    

All too soon, it was time to get back on the bus. Gingerbread Man did so in a physical condition only slightly better than the one he arrived in. Still, he spent the ride home basking in the sunlight of poignant memories and renewed hopes for a brighter future.