ham and cheese on bread

I should be working on a grocery list, but instead I lay in bed staring at the low ceiling and listening to Frazier playing on the tv at my feet.  It’s not quite my bedtime, and my to-do list sprawls off the paper and onto the floor.  The sunny hours of the evening were wasted sitting at a classy bar chasing my emotions away with a fruity cocktail and a salty burger.  The afternoon visit with my grandmother left me sad; a sadness that could only be treated with food.

“She has gotten worse,” my husband said quietly as we walked to our car.  We never know what to expect when we pop in to see her.  The dementia slowly steals more and more away from her, and I have noticed she no longer perks up when she see us.  In two years I’ve watched her slip away slowly, knowing it was only a matter of time before my husband and I could no longer cheer her up.  Now when we walk into the nursing home she stares at us as if we were strangers until I announce “hi grandma!” knowing at least that will still register.

Today her memory slipped in and out – at times she got me confused with my mom, other times she would completely forget what we were talking about or lose track half way through my story.  The tired staff looked busy as they tried to keep the residents content.  And then there was me, thinking I can entertain my grandma and bring her mind some relief.  I kept my stories overly animated and short.  She smiled, as did the other residents sitting within eat shot.

Before I get up to leave I notice the dry erase board on the wall behind her.  It states the weather, the day’s in-house entertainment, and the dinner menu.  “Ham and cheese on bread, fruit salad, potato salad” it reads, and I get a lump in my throat.  My gram used to be the best cook I knew; I ate like a queen whenever I was at her house.  I don’t know if it was so much the ham and cheese that made me sad or the realization that this was it.  She doesn’t enjoy eating anymore, and I know it has nothing to do with the food served her.  I could present her a plate of all of her old favorites and she would look the other way in disgust, forgetting the things that she used to enjoy.

As I lay in bed I cannot get that dry erase board out of my head, or the way she looked at me when I walked in, or the way my husband just knew without me saying, as we drove away, that I was sad.  Life doesn’t prepare one for these things, and my pillowcase fills with tears as I drift off to sleep thinking of my grandmother’s homemade dumplings.

ham and cheese on bread

spring comfort

After five years of trying to convince my husband to be content with our little home in the woods he has finally settled.  Set back from the country highway our house is blocked by a few rows of tall pines, and if one slowly drives by and looks down our driveway they will really only see our pole barn and two solar panels.  It’s a mostly quiet neck of the woods.  Logging trucks go by in the late morning, but the bird feeders are tucked back alongside the house and aren’t bothered by traffic passing by.  In the spring the birds are noisy; the red breasted grosbeak doing his mating dance while a gang of bluebirds looks on wth what I imagine is a look that says “little idiot.”  The chicken coop sits on the opposite end of our large yard, but the hens can be heard squawking as they run around looking for small snakes and pink little worms.  With the recent addition of an Ikea windchime on our porch the area has gotten a bit more nosey as the hallow wood pieces knock together.  But apart from these spring time sounds, the place is quiet.

We don’t have neighbors, which is the main point my husband brings up when he unexpectedly states that we will not be moving anywhere else any time soon.  On either side of our 40 acres are multiple other 40’s owned by people who only make a visit to their land a couple of times a year. Some of the properites have small, rough looking cabins tucked back into the woods.  In the summer time we hear the occasional gun shot, but other than that we sit undisturbed.  The lack of peeping toms and snooping neighbors gives my husband elaborate liberty to pee off the side of our porch into the patch of dirt that lacked grass long before we ever moved in.  He does this with pride as if he were a dog marking his territory.  And it makes me happy to know he finally sees this quiet place as his own.

As the ironic fate that follows me would have it, three months after purchasing my cabin of solitude as a single, independent woman, I met my now husband.  He was more than content with his centrally located apartment in town.  Cooley riding his bike to school and work it was beyond his mental capacity how someone could enjoy living 40 minutes outside of town, away from the action. While I was in my weed filled garden tilling until the mosquitoes ate me alive he was sitting in a restaurant’s outdoor patio with friends, his bike parked casually on the sidewalk.

How we made it to this point is hazy to me.  My social husband spends only a day a week with friends, and on weekends when I get all my outdoor chores done we go out to eat in town, sitting inside the dimly lit, modern restaurants while our vehicle sits casually parked outside.  Nonetheless, despite the five years of compromise, I am still a bit shocked he has grown so comfortable in our little home so far away from the hustle and bustle.  Three weeks ago I was finding us apartments to move into in downtown Chicago (a good 5 1/2 hour drive from our current rural existence).  When I told my husband I had found us just the right one on the river I am not sure what reaction I was hoping for.  I was ready to take my turn in the compromise and move to the land of opportunity and public transportation.  It turns out somewhere between the sound of chirping spring peepers and the grouses’ non stop thumping he found the peace to settle in.  So here we’ll stay, at least for a little bit longer.

spring comfort

census or self analysis?

This morning a gentleman from the census bureau knocked on my door.  I refer to him as a gentleman because his grey hair was combed back nicely with just the right amount of gel.  He wore khakis with just enough pockets to make them questionably cargo pants, and his name badge hung over his blue, zip up fleece top.  The apparel was pretty standard “comfy-casual” for this neck of the woods.  But like I said, the hair made him a gentleman.

After he grabbed his laptop with its giant U.S. Census sticker on it I invited him in.  I didn’t offer him coffee as that seemed too friendly an invitation for someone I wasn’t quite yet positive wouldn’t be murdering me in the next 5 minutes.  He asked me the standard census questions, but as this was my first home visit I wasn’t quite yet sure what to expect.  I fumbled on my husband’s birth date, first correcting myself on the day (“seventh, not seventeen”) and then letting it slide when I realized I also gave him the wrong year (“my husband was born in 1988?!”).  I also over estimated my yearly income, choking as I secretly vowed to brush up on my mental math skills.  I imagined myself sitting before a jury some time from now being questioned as to why I gave so many wrong answers.  I also thought about how ashamed I would be the next time I read some sort of national population statistic, knowing that my answers were slightly off.  “Accurate to the best of my knowledge” hopefully applies to my poor memory for birth dates and horrid math skills.

Even more concerning was the fact that this man was possibly judging me as he sat in my two room home (“if I sleep in the attic does that count as a second room, and does it count as a bedroom?” was my answer to his 8th question).  The upside down patio chair laying next to the couch, the dirty floors, the long, white cat hairs strewn everywhere like confetti.  I watched him type in between questions wondering if he was taking observational notes.  “Fidgets as she answers questions regarding numbers,” “Says she has husband but incredible amount of cat hair appears to prove otherwise,” “Bird seed on kitchen counter – she possibly eats birdseed???”  In my mind I see these notes being sold to retailers, ad agencies, and local mayors, maybe even Russia who would use them to calculate the stupidity of their frenemy.

I am an annoyingly clean person, or at least my husband thinks so.  To have someone come into my house while even just one item is out of place causes a self evaluation of the highest scrutiny.  I don’t spend countless hours every evening after work dusting cat hair, organizing my desk, and sweeping each square inch of my small home so that someone can stop by unannounced and find my home in a mediocre state.  As I sat across from the gentleman in his barely cargo khakis I wondered what it would be like to have his job and see so many homes.  I also wondered if his office was hiring.

Oh the excitement of stopping by other people’s homes unannounced and seeing what items may be out of place or what other people did while home on a Wednesday at 9am.  Maybe my barking lap dog was a breeze to a man who probably stopped by a lot of homes filled with small children and blaring day time talk shows.  The perspective one must gain by showing up at strangers houses unannounced!

As he left, the gentleman (who never once tried to murder me by the way) called back at me from his black Buick “you have a great place here!” and I thanked him, knowing he must be referring to the sunshine and tweeting birds flying over his head.  And as he drove away I thanked myself for cleaning the dog poop from the yard this morning.

census or self analysis?

forced rest

The pile of tissues next to me blocked the framed photo of my husband and I.  From where I lay all I could see was the gold frame holding fall leaves which haloed the white mound of crumpled up tissues.  On my other side my husband slept deeply, his breathing so heavy I wondered if he was catching the same bug I had.  It took me a week and a half to feel somewhat normal again.  And by normal I mean back to my non stop cleaning and organizing.  If I am not being productive I feel like a failure, so being sick is, well, my worst nightmare.

The dishes only got half way to the ceiling,  the laundry spilled over the hamper, and the inside of the fridge became the only space that didn’t feel cluttered, its lack of contents making it appear clean and tidy.  Because of this I put off going to the grocery store knowing that at least somewhere in my house there lacked cat hair and dirty plates.

Being sick had this affect on me.  It caused a craziness that could only be tamed by realizing there was nothing I could do.  If I wanted to get better, if I wanted my nose to cease running and my throat to stop screaming in pain, I had to rest.  My to-do lists were put out of sight, and I tucked myself into bed early with a quick swallow of medicine to ease my cough and mind.

This forced rest is usually just what I need to gain perspective on my daily goals and habits.  Priorities can become painfuly detailed as my lists get longer and longer. But as I lay my head on my pillow and look over at the mound of tissues covering the photo, I remember to just let go.

forced rest