Monday, September 19, 2016

Summer's End

       We had a busy summer, mostly at home. We traveled in early June to North Myrtle Beach. Nine in a big van over 3000 miles total is an undertaking. We took our friend, Mary Pat's para from school, and she was great help. I believe she earned sainthood with that trip. The wife of one of Bruce's officemate's says that these types of travels are "trips." Vacations for Moms are something else. God bless you if you are able to combine both into one. I can't yet; but I have hopes. Regardless, it was my family's vacation and they had a ball.

       Mary Pat loved the ocean, as did the other children. They were either in the ocean or the great pool at the condo most of the time. I got to see my brother, Chip and family--it had been years. That really was my highlight.

I made my brother a Dobos Torte!

       In May I put in a bona fide flower garden. I have never done that. I've gardened small plots, and long ago. But since moving here and adding six more children to our family, the only garden was the proverbial cabbage patch. I'm really loving my garden. My friend Alex visited earlier in the year. She designs luxurious gardens in England. I was brave enough to send photos of my garden to her. She was sweet about it. 

       It really is a work in progress. I saw that early and  intensive watering and weeding and fertilizing were critical to the establishment of beautiful blooms and healthy growth. Next year will be fun, to see what the perennials come back like, and which annuals I'll plant. I loved a orange-red impatiens planted next to white. My hostas did well, as did my hydrangeas and coleus. The celosia did a little too well, and I'll be transplanting them. I even put in a garden over a septic tank, and spread about a ton of rock in front of the house around a dozen boxwoods that I put in. 

       Since then, school has started up in full swing and I'm doing the Mom-grad-student-part-time-jobs-six-in-school crazy shuffle. My friend is a psychotherapist and I'm lucky to have her in my life. She is a visionary. She has started conferences and boards and community-supported-agriculture groups, and more. She always has ideas and drive for the future. She personally studied under Ira Progoff, a journaling expert back in the '70s and became his first female leader of conferences. She coached a few of us recently on this type of method and I've been really enjoying it. I won't go into it here, but it really helps one to get in t ouch with oneself, and work out feelings and events. My amazing friend just turned 81-years-young. She inspires me. 

       "Renata" will continue to be worked on offline. Perhaps one day you'll see it on Amazon. We'll see. Kids and gardens take a lot of time these days! 

Monday, April 4, 2016

Spring Once Again

       I suppose I can remember the onset of forty-some Spring seasons. I marvel at how happy I am that it has come again, though--as if there were some chance it would not. This winter was not terribly cold, or snowy, but I was ready for it to end and to be warm again.

       Walks around the farm are so beautiful. Tiny frogs are jumping around the banks of the pond. Trees are flowering and leaves are appearing in that early chartreuse color that is such a contrast to grey and brown. Robins and Downy Woodpeckers and Bluebirds have returned. A great heron has been feeding at water's edge, and migratory flocks of geese are passing overhead.

       With the change of seasons comes a reminder of new life and rebirth. I can't imagine living in a place without four seasons, but that is only because it's all I've ever known. Our foreign exchange students have told me what it is like for them. Certainly Stephania, who came at the start of winter here, is happy to be able to go outside without a heavy coat.

       The dogs are seeking shade to lie in to escape the sun beating down on their still-thick fur coats. The horses are happy to be eating grass after the winter of dry hay. We need to be careful with the ponies. Spring grass has a lot of sugar in it, and they can get sick from it and founder. I have been putting them in and out of stalls, the riding ring, and even the chicken run. We gave away the last of our chickens before the winter. They were older and had pretty much stopped laying.

       Gus wanted a couple of bunnies and so we made a condition that he clean out the chicken coop as an eventual home for them. He worked over Easter break and carted loads and loads of manure as well as a load to the trash dumpster and a few loads to the barn.

       Gus got the bunnies. They are adorable. We got them from the local farm store, which also had ducklings and chicks. Another hallmark of springtime. Margaret asked why bunnies are associated with Easter. The bunny motif was certainly strong in our dining room.

       I told her that bunnies are born in the springtime, that Easter is in the Spring, and that Christians believe that Jesus rose from the grave at Easter to give us new life. We drove past a local farm and saw that the farmer had erected a huge wooden cross on his hill. New growth is everywhere. It happens again and again, every year. Frozen ground thaws and green appears.

       Frozen hearts can thaw, too. Minds stuck in a belief pattern can change. 
Life can indeed begin again.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Busy, Busy and Blessed

       The pond is still frozen and even the automatic horse-waterers have frozen on the Abbey Farm. We have two old wells but they do not have pumps on them and I'm not sure of the quality of the water. At times like this we hope that the water hydrants don't freeze, because we are using them to fill buckets which we carry to horse-troughs in which we have placed electric heating elements.

       I do love the changing seasons in this part of the world, but when water freezes I can't help but look forward to the Spring. Stephania is visiting from Columbia and she does not like the cold. I remember it took our Renata from Brazil (yes, she is the inspiration for my book, though the story is very different from reality) a long time to get used to the cold. Alberto from Mexico disliked it, but Bobby from Thailand took great delight in it. I still remember them running outside barefooted and shirtless. Alberto froze but somehow Bobby was able to weather it well.

       Alberto is now becoming a famous singer in Mexico! Bobby is now quadri-lingual, becoming fluent in Japanese, while starting a fifth language: Vietnamese. It is hard to express how these young people will always feel like family to me. Yeo Joo from Korea and Johanna from Germany also have special places in our hearts. The Abbey Farm has been graced with wonderful, multi-cultural young men and women.

       Our waterers are frozen in this cold winter, but our hearts are very warm.

I would like to ask for the favor of a comment, if you are reading Renata. I would appreciate feedback. I have been told that some have trouble posting comments here, so please contact me at:
Thank you! Stay warm!

Chapter 9
       The oak roll-top desk was immaculate. A few papers on the desktop were in a neat pile. A laptop was closed and housed deep in the recess below the upper drawers, each of which were labelled. Three framed photographs were angled slightly toward the center, so as to be viewed best by the one seated at the desk.
          Claire sat looking at them, her face unreadable. She turned her head slightly to look at the one on the left. She was about twelve, standing between her parents at the summit of Haleakela, the dormant volcano on Maui. She remembered that though it was the middle of a hot summer, dawn at the top of the mountain was so cold she could see her breath. Her father had just given her a sip of the hot cocoa they’d brought in a thermos. She shivered as it went down, giggling. Then they asked another tourist to snap their photo.
Claire’s impassive look changed to a slight smile. She looked at the center photo. Claire and her Mom on horseback. Her father was an Army officer and when they were stationed at Ft. Leavenworth she was ecstatic to learn they had a foxhunting club. Her Mom was riding the big Thoroughbred they owned. “George” and her pony “Mugsie,” a scruffy grey large pony, were boarded at the Ft. Leavenworth stables. She and her Mom rode a few times a week. Sometimes, if her Dad was visiting from one of his deployments, he would join them. He had taken this photo of them, preferring to watch that day and follow the hunt by car.
The photo on the right was the official photo taken when her Dad was promoted to full Colonel. She was eighteen and remembered being so proud. He was deployed to Afghanistan right after she graduated. He was able to come home for a week or so at Christmas that year. Their last Christmas together. Claire fought the tears that came so naturally when she thought of it.
She shook her head slightly and reached for her iPhone. She dialed a number and almost immediately an old ring-tone was heard coming from her bedroom. After a few rings it switched over to the voicemail she waited for. It was the voice of her mother; just a typical greeting, asking to leave a message. A tear rolled down her cheek skimming the side of the iPhone as she listened. She had never gotten rid of her Mom’s phone. She left it plugged in so that she could call every once in a while just to hear her voice.
Claire drew a ragged breath, set the phone down and straightened, composure returning. She reached for the laptop, pulled it forward and flipped up the top. There was work to do that she wanted to finish before the next day. If her Dad had taught her anything, it was responsibility. And integrity. She told her boss she’d have a report on his desk in the morning. And it would be.
Sun shone through the large windows of Claire’s office. Her workspace was remarkably similar to her desk at home: neat piles, labeled drawers and a few personal photos. Claire squinted.
“Time to get glasses, beautiful?” Phil popped his head around the corner. Claire looked up, annoyed at the glare, not at him. She smiled.
“We need some shades over there.” She pointed to the windows.
“Coffee?” Phil queried.
“Sure! I can take a break. Where’s Jan?”
“She’s off on some mission. Said she’d be back in a bit. Maybe she’ll bring us some cheesecake or doughnuts or something.” Phil laughed. They alternately pined for sweets at work, then moaned about the diet they were trying to motivate themselves for.
Claire jumped up and they walked to the break room. Someone had just brewed a pot and it really did smell delicious. Chris, her boss, loved coffee and knew the owner of a local roasterie.
“No church coffee for us!” Phil joked. From time to time they’d bring latte’s from the shop down the street, but most of the time, they felt spoiled with the brew at work. He poured two cups. Claire took hers black but he paused a minute to look at the flavored creamers in the refrigerator. After pouring in his pick, he walked over to join Claire at the window. This side of the building did not have the blinding light shining in.
Phil was telling Claire about the house he shared with Ed, Claire’s cousin. She’d introduced them a few years ago and they’d lived together ever since. Phil was describing the countertops they were installing in the kitchen when he noticed she hadn’t been interjecting or even nodding at the appropriate times. She was looking down out the window.
She looked up at him as he came closer to see what she was watching outside. He wanted to see what was more interesting than Carrera marble. Then he understood.
At that moment, Jan came in with a box of doughnuts. When the two didn’t respond to her announcement, she, too, walked over and looked down. Her eyebrows raised.
“You know, I think this was a soda-pop commercial a few years ago.”
Outside the window, the addition had reached just two floors below them. There was a lot of activity, but the focus of their attention was on the foreman and a couple of t-shirted men, straining to position a beam. Just enough sunlight bounced off their sweaty, huge biceps. As they thrust and pushed the heavy I-beam, dangling from the crane above, all became silent in the break room. A loud thud could be heard as it hit its resting place. Phil, Claire and Jan let out audible sighs, as though they had been lifting the beam themselves.
Jan looked at Claire. “That was a helluva sight.”
“Heavy! Those guys are strong,” Claire said with a soft, admiring laugh.
“I didn’t mean that.”
Phil laughed. “Jan, I think your heart was pitter-patting. I could hear it. Those guys are gorgeous.”
“Uh, yeah.” Jan looked down at the men again, and then back to Jan. “Think I can go with you on your next meeting with Errrrnesto.” She dramatically rolled the r.
“Sure! That Pete is a sweet guy. And single,” Claire agreed.
“Oooh” Jan searched the men, “Which one is he?”
Claire motioned, “Over there, with the red shirt. He’s even got pop.” Pete was to the right of the men, holding some papers in one hand and a soda pop in the other.
Jan saw him and smacked Claire in mock irritation. “The fat one? Thanks!”
Claire’s jaw dropped. “You snob! He is the nicest guy. Probably of them all. Your loss!”
Jan’s lip curled. “Mmhmm. While you get the Latin-lover. I see how it works.”
“I. Get? Ya shippin’ me? No. This is professional. I don’t play those games you do.” Claire smiled broadly, egging Jan on.
“You know, I’m gonna take these doughnuts downstairs. They appreciate me down there and don’t insult me.” Jan acted like she was going to pick up the box but Phil got there first. He grabbed a cruller and then put his arm around Jan and hugged her quickly.
“You are so appreciated, Jan. Stop arguing. We all liked what we saw. Claire, too. She just isn’t admitting it. Her fascination out there had nothing to do with the timeline.” He smiled handsomely, his perfect teeth chomping into the cruller. He looked at it in his hand. “Oh, my word, that’s good. Thank you, Jan.”
Jan’s eyebrow raised. She looked at Claire, who gave her a puppy-dog look. “You can have one.” Claire reached in the box.
“You can certainly come with me the next time I meet with Ernie.”
Jan’s face softened. “Well, it’ll have to be next week, because I need to bug out early today.” She blew them a little kiss as she wheeled about on her black heels.
Claire looked at Phil, sipping his coffee. “How does she work in those things?”
Phil looked wistfully after Jan and shook his head slightly. “I don’t know, but babe, she rocks ‘em.”

Chapter 10
Hours later Phil and Claire found themselves together on the elevator, headed down. A good work day for each, they discussed some plans and then shifted to the immediate.
“Meeting with Ernie now?”
“Yep. And no jokes.”
“Course not.” Phil continued, “But it’s going well?”
“I honestly can’t believe we haven’t had more glitches. Each week there’s a lot of progress.” She rubbed her cast, as if it would make a difference with the annoying itch.
Phil looked down. “You get that off soon, right? It’s really weird how Ernie has the exact cast on.” He looked at her quickly. “And no innuendo—I’m being honest. What are the chances?”
Claire chuckled. “It is weird. Hey, what do you think of him?”
The elevator had stopped at each floor and Phil spoke more quietly as each new rider entered. In a soft voice he said, “Nice guy. For real. But you wouldn’t be asking me if he wasn’t young and handsome. You’re attracted. Is this because he’s Mexican—or a construction guy?”
Claire was irritated a bit, but probably more with herself than with Phil’s bluntness.
“He is obviously attractive,” Claire admitted, “But it’s his manner, Phil. So different from the suits we work with. He has no hidden agenda, no obvious ego trip, or mold he has to fit. I find it so…appealing.”
The elevator door opened into the lobby and the people in front disembarked first. Phil was smiling at Claire.
“What?” she asked, looking up at him.
He held the elevator door with his large hand, keeping it from closing on her. “Well. I think you just answered your own question.”
They walked into the lobby and Phil turned left to exit the building where he’d be closer to his car. He winked and waved as he walked away from Claire.
She stood there for a moment after waving, then turned to head through the front doors. At that moment Ernie bustled in with some papers under his arm. Seeing Claire, he almost dropped them in the instinctual wave hello. As he did so, a man unrecognizable to Claire bumped into Ernie and jumped back, offended.
“Look where you’re going," he snorted, " ...alien!
He hurried out the door as Claire overheard Ernie say, “Hey, sorry, man.” Ernie turned back toward Claire, now walking toward him. 
“Hi Claire!” He smiled.
“Hey,” she said in greeting, then repeated in a question, “Hey, why didn’t you deck that guy?”
He looked at the papers he was carrying. “Well, for one thing…”
They walked over to a nearby sofa where he off-loaded them.
“What a jerk!” Claire declared. “I think I’ll go tell him a thing or two.” She moved around Ernie toward the door and he stopped her with a hand on her arm.
“Claire,” he laughed, “That guy’s got a hundred pounds on you, stop.”
Claire squared her shoulders and faced Ernie. “I can take him. I know karate.”
Ernie raised an eyebrow.
Claire nodded. “Orange belt!”
Ernie shook his head and they both laughed.
“Want to see the charts? I just thought we’d meet inside ‘cause it’s a little hot out there” Claire nodded, and they sat down to go over them. Claire mused that Ernie liked paper over a tablet, but she understood. Some important things felt even more-so on actual paper. He updated her on the dry-walling begun in interior rooms. The roof would be started soon.
Ernie looked pleased. He felt good about the accomplishments to date. He relaxed after he finished the update, and leaned back into the cool leather sofa.
“This is nice.” He smiled up at the decorated ceiling.
Claire had a chance to look at him more closely, here, inside, seated next to him. When he caught her gaze, she felt self-conscious and quickly asked, “Want a drink? There’s a vending machine over there.”
He looked down at the dusty denim jacket he’d thrown on before heading inside to intercept Claire. He exhaled quickly, “No wonder that guy said something. I don’t look like the typical person in here.”
“No—he was outa’ line, Ernie. Don’t you see that? Why do you take it?”
Ernie looked at Claire. He imagined she’d never experienced prejudice, never been racially profiled. “Claire, what would it do? Really. In that circumstance, would I change that man’s whole thought process by taking him on? What would it help to beat the crap out of him? --Which, by the way, I could.” He smiled broadly at her. Claire looked sideways at him, believing he could, but not yet understanding.
He continued: “I have my own dignity—and integrity.”
The last word rang out to Claire. The one her father had used so often. Integrity. She listened.
“I do not need that man’s affirmation.”
“I see.” Claire nodded. “But it just bugs me!”
“As it should. But how we react matters. If you live for someone else’s affirmation or admiration, then you crumble with criticism. You see?” He paused, looking at her. “I will not crumble.”
Claire nodded, impressed, and maybe a little ashamed.
Ernie sensed her feelings and continued, “Long ago I was taught how to fight.” He had her attention. “I was taught how to fight by my grandmother.” Claire’s eyes grew wide. “Yes, my grandmother. I still see her curling my little fist and saying, like this.” He laughed. “But she also taught me to fight only as a last resort. Find the good in everyone, she told me. One time in elementary school, this really fat kid who was ostracized by the others found me on the playground after I was beat up. He reached out his hand. I saw his chubby hand and looked up into his chubby face. I thought here was the kid made fun of by the others, but he was the one helping me. Saving me. After that, I tried to look at everyone different from me as capable of great good. No matter what they looked like. No matter if they were making a poor decision in that moment.”
Claire looked at Ernie, her emotions stirred. She felt a little shaky inside. “Well. I can’t find fault in that. I’m speechless.”
Ernie chuckled. “You should meet my grandmother! She’s something. I think everything good about my family can be attributed to her.”
Claire was intrigued and impressed. “Well, she didn’t put together those Gantt charts. I think you do pretty well, yourself.”


The next day Jan poured Claire a cup of coffee. Lamenting a lack of doughnuts they wandered over to the window seeking a good view.
Jan admitted, nodding, “He is certainly something to watch. Even with a cast, he’s graceful giving direction. He rarely looks ticked. Calm. Confident.”

Claire nodded. She watched as a co-worker walked over to Ernie and signed his cast. She saw them laugh. Ernie tipped his thermos and drank the last of it. As he did, he caught sight of her up in the window. 
Claire laughed, making a loud snort sound, embarrassed to be caught. Ernie raised his thermos in a mock toast to her. She held up her mug to him, and they smiled at each other for a long moment.

Friday, January 15, 2016

The Big Picture

       The other day, the automatic horse-waterer froze in the pony pasture. I had this terrible feeling that it might be frozen; I had not checked it for a day. Horses need great amounts of water in the winter. Ponies, too. I fought a feeling of dread.

       I was about to take the kids to school and drove over to the fence by the waterer to check it. It was frozen solid, meaning it had probably been 24 hours. I felt awful for the ponies. But then I looked over and saw that somehow, someone had left the water spigot outside of the pasture on full-blast. Though we will pay significantly more on our water bill this month--all I could do was smile! Each of the family members denied having left it on.

        Because it had been, a frozen river, with just enough liquid for the ponies to drink, coursed through the pasture.

       The kids jumped out of the van, so enchanted by the strange ice formations from the spraying and splashing of the water. Icicles and mushroom-like mounds covered the fence and ground around the spigot.

       It was beautiful. Any other time I would have been angry at whomever left the water on all through the frigid night. But this was a blessing.

       I worry too much, it is true.

       God tells us that we shouldn't worry, that we should think on good things, and that there is always hope. I'm not sure how, when martyrs were confronted with the end, they managed  not to worry, that they had good thoughts or had hope.

       This is difficult to ponder. God assures us He will be there, that He will save us, and that there is hope. Either this is absolutely true, it is only true sometimes, or it is false. If either of  the latter two are true, then, we can't really rely on God as Christianity describes Him. 

       My late husband's mother, Grammy, modeled to me that we can always have hope in God, that we can hand Him our worries, and that we really can trust Him with the future--to see the "big picture." If we are truly His instruments, here to "know and to love and to serve Him in this life and in the next," then the thing that brings fear most--death--truly has lost its sting. She remained inspirational throughout her suffering and death. "I have to focus on all the blessings God has given me," she told me.

       Recently, I was describing to a salesperson, as we were getting to know each other, how as a hospice nurse I am not depressed. There is a hallowed feeling of witnessing something so very profound. The salesperson tried to understand; she said, "Well, I guess there is some kind of thankfulness because the person is no longer suffering."

       "It's more than that, though," I explained. "As Christians we believe that this world is only temporary, but that our life with God is forever. Heaven is what we were made for. It's as if this life is like being in the womb. When we are born, it is joyful." I tried to explain another way,  "The caterpilar has to spend time in the cocoon before it can break free and emerge as the beautiful butterfly it was meant to be."

       It is fine if she did not agree or understand. I don't pretend to have it all figured out. 

       But I will try to avoid worry, to think on good things, to always hope in God, because I trust that He sees the "big picture."

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Breaking Back-- Or Making Lemonade

       What does it mean when your back hurts to the extent that you have to cancel your chiropractor appointment? 

       It means more tea, more Downton Abbey reruns, and "making lemonade from lemons." My lemonade is having the time to write. 

       I texted my practitioner that the Bible says "laughter strengthens the bones." She knows that scientific studies have supported this, but I asked her if she thought that such strength extended to ligaments and pinched discs. I got the "LOL" reply, and then she texted that she believed it certainly did.
       We've all been taught to try to look at negative things with a positive light. Sometimes it is easier than others. I am a member of a Facebook group whose sole purpose is to support each other through arthritis. If it were not for our mutual "misfortune," we would not have found each other. We would not be able to connect across oceans and countries. We have created a virtual community of support. There is something pretty miraculous about that.  Would we prefer to be cured? Sure, but life is not perfect. And so, God's grace has an opportunity to the most delicious lemonade.

Chapter 8
Ernesto stepped off the back porch, his attention drawn upward by the masses of Snow Geese flying in disjointed V patterns. Continuing the migration north, he thought, although they were actually flying west. Maybe toward some great unseen lake. His thought was interrupted by one more strain of a two-cylinder engine struggling to start.
Ernesto continued walking toward the sound, and just around the shed he saw his grandmother smacking at the steering wheel in frustration. She jumped down from the green 1955 John Deere B, much more athletic than most septuagenarians. She straightened and saw Ernesto approaching.
“Ernie!” she called, sounding more like a relieved rescue plea than an address. Sandy was indeed younger looking than her 72 years. Her long gray hair was pulled back in a hasty bun. Her plaid shirt was partially pulled out from the jeans she’d tucked it into earlier, the jeans partially tucked into weathered, turquoise and brown cowboy boots.
“Ernie” crossed the remaining distance in a couple of strides and embraced her in an energetic hug. The force of it caused Sandy to laugh. “Hey, you’ll break this old woman, careful!” Her blue eyes narrowed, her face lined as she smiled; a pleasant pattern evoking thoughts of one’s favorite quilt.
“I somehow think that would be difficult to do, Granny.”
Sandy smiled with the flattering and loving comment. “I can’t get the B started. I’ve given it rests; I don’t think I flooded it.”
“I’ll take a look, Gran, but you’re the one who taught me about tractors. You’ve probably done everything I could.” Ernie walked over to the side of the tall, antique tractor and reached into the yellow toolbox affixed to it. As he examined and tinkered with the fuel line, he continued talking. “Gorgeous day, huh?”
Sandy leaned onto a nearby riding mower (John Deere, also) and agreed. She looked about as the breeze caught the silver wisps at her collar. Off to the right a screen door slammed shut. She looked over, then smiled. Her husband was on the porch putting some dog food into bowls. Their two collies rushed over the moment they heard him. Bruce lovingly ruffed up their coats as he spoke to them. He looked up, smiled and waved at Sandy and Ernie. “Hey, Babe! Hey, Ernie! You figuring that thing out?”
Ernie looked up, his brow now sweaty, “Trying!”
Bruce smiled, a bit embarrassed; he was not mechanically inclined. “I’ll sew up your horse’s cut, or float his teeth, but I can’t help your Granny with those things.” He motioned toward the row of tractors.
Ernie called out as he was tightening a clamp, “I actually do need some help with my transport!”
“Oh, ho—not that mechanical thing with an identity crisis--?!”
Ernie laughed, knowing full well that Bruce hated El Caminos, “No—Diego! He seemed lame again when I was riding the fence yesterday. I meant to tell you.”
“Sure, I’ll take a look at him tonight,” Bruce called, as he turned to head back into the house. He stopped as Ernie called out:
“Oh, Bruce—Mom told me to tell you she made stew and you and Granny are invited!”
As the screen door shut he heard Bruce’s enthusiastic acceptance of the offer, as long as it was okay with Sandy. 
Ernie climbed up to try the engine again. His head nodded subconsciously to the familiar putt-putt, which slowly gave way to a faster, more rhythmic chugging. A loud Pop burst from the top of the smoke stack and the engine was running again.
Sandy straightened and laughed, triumphant. Once again she thought that there was nothing like the sound of a two-cylinder.
Ernie hopped down, taught just that same maneuver by the smiling woman before him. “I’d let it run a bit, Granny.”
“Thanks, Sweetie,” she smiled, “I was just going to hook up the brush hog…but there’s that stew. I’ll get cleaned up in a bit and we’ll head over.” She and Ernie walked toward the implement. Sandy grabbed a lithium grease gun and lowered herself beside the bed to reach the fittings. “I’ll just get it ready first.” She grunted just a tiny bit as she reached further back.
“Granny, I can do that for you,” Ernie lowered himself beside her.
“Nonsense.” She gave him a quick frown and returned to the task. “It’s weird, I know, but I love this smell.” She continued, the squeaky click of the gun continuing until she saw just a bit of ooze show from around the base of the next fitting. “Tell me about your building. A parking garage?”
“Yeah,” he smiled. “It's going smoothly." He paused. "Gran. I’m working with a lady you’d really like.”
Sandy straightened up a little too fast. “Really!” She smiled, then tried to recover her enthusiasm so as not to offend him. “Well, I hope you’ll bring her by.” She turned to the final fitting.
“Mmm. Well, it may take some time. She might be interested in more, mmm…the suit and tie type.” His lips pursed in possible resignation.
Finished with her task, Sandy looked Ernie straight in the eye. “Not all women are like that last one. Her loss. She didn’t seem right from the start. Fussy. Sorry. Be discerning, but don’t judge them all by her.”
Ernie chuckled. He loved his Granny like his mother. In truth, both had raised him. “Yes, Gran. Well, I know you’ll like her. She reminds me of you.”
Sandy thought mistakenly that he was flattering her. She kissed him on the head as she raised up, using his shoulders for support. He stood up then, too. “You’re right about a lot, Granny. I love you.”
Her hand rubbed at her lower back. She admitted, “Some things are good about getting old.”
“I want what you have with Bruce someday, Gran.” They began to walk to Sandy’s porch. “You knew he was a great guy and how perfect you were together. Why’d you hesitate so long?”
Sandy looked at Ernie hard, thinking. “You know, the easy answer is to say that I loved your grandfather so much that I couldn’t imagine life with anyone else. I guess it was true at first, but I’ve never been a believer in the one soulmate thing.” She drew in a deep breath, thinking. “I don’t even think a soulmate is necessarily a husband. I had a very deep connection to my father that I feel to this day. Wow. It’s been forty years and I can imagine him standing here like it was yesterday.”
Ernie saw once again how his grandmother’s blue eyes, in deep thought, were mirrors to her soul, as though one could almost see the movie of her thoughts projected onto them.
She continued, “The point is, we have the capacity for so much love. Of course, it’d be confusing if Jim were still alive. I feel as much love for him as ever. But that doesn’t lessen what I feel for Bruce. Not one bit. In fact, I think it makes my love for Bruce deeper.” She paused in thought, “No, I wanted to be sure for Bruce’s sake. I always knew he had a crush on me when we were younger. For goodness sake, I babysat him.”
Ernie laughed, “What? I never heard that part!”
“Yeah,” she continued. “No diapers, though.” They both laughed. “I was sixteen and he was six. God, he was cute. I really did love him then. Differently, of course. But he always loved me like a princess or something. He’ll tell you about it if you asked him over a Scotch.” She smiled.  “Bruce was widowed before I was, but when we saw each other at the 4H shows, and he showed interest, I just didn’t want some kind of rebound thing for either of us. And I was starting to feel older. Why would he want to be saddled with an old mare when the successful, popular vet in the county could get any young filly?”
“Nice allegory, Gran, but you two are very similar. I don’t think anyone would know the age difference now.”
“I wanted to be sure he knew what the future could hold. I’ve been lucky with my health, though.”
Ernie smiled and reached his arm around her shoulders. They’d reached the porch steps. “He adores you, Gran. Anyone could see that. And that’s what I want when I’m pushing seventy. Heck, I'd like it now. You’ve had it twice.”
Sandy smiled, and started up the steps. “Maybe it comes when you least expect it. When you’re not trying so hard. When you trust God despite the impatience of the waiting.” She pulled off her work gloves and slapped them on her thigh. “And with that bit of wisdom, I’m going in for a shower.” She stopped at the door. “You’ll do fine, Ernie. I have no doubts.”
With great love he watched as she walked into the house.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Breaking Ice

       Large animals drink a lot of water. On our place in Maryland it was not as evident, because we had a well. But here on the Abbey Farm there are two automatic horse waterers hooked up to city water, and a pond, each in different pastures. The more the horses can drink from the pond, the less the cost. We do rotate pastures though, and once or twice a winter the waterers need to be thawed, and it's a chore. So far this winter--so good; however, the pond recently froze over, the four horses were not easily moved, so I went out and broke a hole in the pond yesterday. It took throwing a very large rock down hard, repeatedly, to open a five foot by one foot trench. The horses came down and drank. I could only imagine the brain-freeze!

       They were happy and followed me back up the hill for hay. It was opening the bale that I realized I'd done something to my back. Something more, that is. It always hurts these days, but I must have pinched a disc. I hobbled to the pony barn and threw some hay out for them as well. I must have looked like the old Dowager Countess trying to throw the hay out the back of the barn, but our animals need us in the winter and I would not let them down. I think I'll invest in a chic, silver-topped cane, though.

       So now I sit with a homemade mocha (I added cardamom, a bit of cinnamon and vanilla--it's delicious!) and write. It is gorgeous outside. All of the children are back to school today and though the list of things that should be done is endless, I really can only sit and wait for my back to heal.

       Mary Pat's caseworker just called on the phone and told me that she looks on times like mine as mandates to rest. Sad as it is that we need to be sick or injured in order to take time, it reminds me that it is important to enjoy down-time when one can enjoy it the most. But I won't lament further. I'm secretly enjoying the day. And my time to write. It's been a long time since posting any of my Renata story. Here's the next chapter. Brew some coffee or heat up some chocolate to drink. And remember to try a pinch of cardamom!


Chapter 7
       It was Thursday and time to head home after a long day. Ernesto threw his things into the El Camino and climbed in. Starting the engine and radio, he turned his head just in time to see Claire drive off in a RAV4.
It fits her, he thought. Young, modern, athletic. He watched as she turned the opposite direction that he would to go home. She said she lived in Kansas City. Her eyes had sparkled as she talked about it. They’d met, just an hour before to begin their weekly dialogue about the progress of the parking addition. It was an easy conversation. Construction was on target, most everything was running smoothly.
Claire was holding a latte with both hands, the breeze in May still slightly chilly at times. Her long blond bangs purposefully tucked into a chestnut headband escaped and waved into her eyes as she squinted in the sun to look at the structure he was telling her about.
She was attentive and smart. Her questions indicated that she wasn’t just good at relating to people—important in a human relations position—but she knew more than the average person about construction. She was able to see ahead to possible traffic-flow problems and he felt energized by their conversation. 
The realization that he was attracted to her was not a surprise. She was cute, almost pretty. He was never one to put a lot into looks. Perhaps that was what it was. He realized that he was somewhat a snob to be surprised that both could co-exist so naturally. Claire was natural. He was a confident man, he knew himself and knew he had much to offer to a partner one day. But would this woman want those things?
Ernesto tuned in an oldies station, music he was quite familiar with because of his Dad’s tastes. As he pulled out of the city north onto I29, windows down, he joined Jim Kerr of Simple Minds in a loud and haunting, “Don’t_you…forget about me! Don’t, don’t, don’t, don’t...”
He smiled; the stresses of the day were picked up by the strong breeze, destroyed in the whirling about the car and carried powerless out through the windows.
Fifty miles later he pulled into the familiar gravel drive, the crunch of the tires kicking up stones completing his process of relaxation. As he walked up the path to the house he heard a familiar putt-putt of the two-cylinder tractor out back. He stopped at the front door to kick his boots and loosen them when the door swung open revealing his teenage sister, Helen.
“Hey! You’re home!” She reached down the front steps to give him a hug. "Granny needs some help with the tractor. I was going to head out, but could you now?”
Ernesto smiled, the thought crossing his mind of work never done, but he answered easily, “Sure, I’m just going to say hi to Mom and Dad and grab a drink or something. Would you tell her I’ll be out in a few minutes?”
“Ok!” Helen jumped down the steps to run around back where her grandmother lived in the old caretaker house. Her red curls bounced on her shoulders imitating her bright, energetic mood.
Ernesto took his boots off and placed them inside the front door before walking back to the kitchen. His Mom was there stirring something on the huge stove. He almost startled her with his hand on her back.
“Oh! Hey, Sweetie!” She leaned up to kiss his cheek. “How was your day?”
“Great! Thanks. What’re you making? It smells amazing.”
“Just stew--and it's not “Dinty Moore!”
Ernesto laughed. His Mom was long-irked by the fact that the younger ones loved the default meal of canned stew, bread and butter when she was unable to get a meal made some days. She usually reminded them when serving an authentic meal, just how much better it really was. The same preface was made before serving a homemade mac-and-cheese.
“I can’t wait, Mom. Is there time to help Granny? Helen said she needs me.”
“Of course. Say hi to your Dad first, he’s in the family room. Then tell Granny she and Bruce are welcome to dinner. There’s plenty.”
Ernesto headed back through the old butler’s pantry and down the hall to the family room. His father was watching a cooking show.
“Helping Mom by getting tips?”
Ben jerked around, away from a plate of cookies Linda baked earlier, and laughed. “Hi Son!” He held up the plate of cookies and Ernesto took one. “Well, yes, of course she needs all the help she can get.” He was sarcastic. Both knew Linda was an amazing cook, among so many other things. She turned down an engineering position with Black and Veech to marry her high school sweetheart and become a farmer’s wife. She’d graduated Suma Cum Laude from KU's Mechanical Engineering school, and in truth, managed the business end of the farm. Ben would forever thank the heavens for such a woman. The love of his adult life.
“Dad, the job’s going really well. It’s almost scary how well.” He looked at the cookie incredulously,  it was so delicious. He reached for a second.
“Ernesto, that’s great. You know well enough how uncommon it is not to have some glitches and setbacks. Enjoy it. I’m proud of you. Are the people working out well, then?”
“Sure. I got the typical looks at the start, whatever they were…he’s too young, or, he’s a Mexican. But I’ve gained respect.”
“I’m not surprised. About either.”
Ernesto thought to say something about Claire but decided against it.
“I’m going out back to help Granny with the tractor. Mom said to tell her about the stew, so maybe she and Bruce will be over for dinner.”
He walked out and Ben turned back to his show. He reached for a cookie but they were all gone. He stared at the plate for a few seconds, irritated, then softened. His gaze shifted up to the wall covered in framed photographs. From one to the next it was almost a history of his family. There were the toothless and toothy grade school photos, and the candid shots of family. He looked at one from when he was about twelve, the family picnicking at State Lake. Renata was facing the camera, smiling broadly. Ben noticed most of the family looking into the camera as well. His own young eyes, however, were focused on Renata. Ben smiled to himself, returning his gaze to the empty cookie plate. His thoughts were no longer about cookies, but of a time long ago.
Renata awoke to hear the clattering of pans in her kitchen. She hurriedly dressed and opened her bedroom door to the smell of somewhat overcooked eggs.
“You’re making breakfast! You found things?”
Ben laughed, “Well, if you’ll call it breakfast. I wanted to surprise you—I’m so used to getting up early. I didn’t want to wake you.”
“I’m sorry. I should have been up before you. You are my guest.”
Ben insisted, “Please don’t think of me as a guest. We’re family, Renata. Right? I’m so grateful you’re letting me stay." 
She hugged him hard. "What should we do today?” 
He slid the eggs onto a plate and topped it with a piece of some kind of bread he’d found and sliced. There was nothing in the small refrigerator to drink, so he’d heated water in a pot. “Tea?”
“Oh,” Renata smiled, “Yes!”
“Uh, no, I mean, do you have any? I couldn’t find it. Or do you have instant coffee?”
Renata laughed. “I don’t know if I have tea! I do have coffee.” She opened a small cupboard, grabbed a jar of coffee granules and handed it to him. “It’s probaby not what you expect... NesCafe!”
Ben took it happily, “It’s great.”
They had quite a morning. After Ben’s breakfast they got into Renata’s tiny old car and she drove out of town to show him a relative’s farm. The ag' major in him loved it. He’d never travelled so far, and the sights of the countryside enthralled him. At a time when the U.S. considered its farming practices the most advanced, he was amazed to see the culturally unique methods that still worked for less developed countries. 

The week flew by, each day’s activities alternately relaxing and exciting. A few nights they went out dancing and Renata taught him how to salsa. He felt more and more comfortable with her as he acclimated to relating to her as an adult. The little boy inside of him was still in love, but the young man knew it could never work. Too many years, too many miles. Still, his love grew.