Thursday, May 9, 2019

A Tale from Cruising Down Under

A longish story from our cruise to New Zealand and Australia. Too long for Facebook.

One day, as I got off the lift, I saw a little old English lady walking through the lift lobby and muttering to herself. I stood there for a while, I forget what I was doing but I think I was looking at some art work or something. Pretty soon, here comes little old dear again, and this time I could hear what she was saying.

"I just can't find my room," was her refrain.

I stopped her and said, let me see if I can help you. She knew her room number but couldn't find it because a part of the corridor looked like it dead-ended at one point, but if you walked closer to it, it turned a corner. Large cruise ships can be very confusing, and this one was a giant. It's not uncommon to see very senior citizens walking the corridors in a slightly confused state when on a cruise ship!

It turns out her room was just down the corridor from ours, so I walked with her until we found her room. I suspected that she might be in early dementia, as the inability to interpret spaces is a symptom. We talked as we walked and it turned out that she was born in Birmingham, just like me, and was evacuated during the war to Cardiff in Wales, where my family visited on our summer holiday. My parents were also evacuated to the country during the war. Her husband had died a few months earlier and her daughter persuaded her to take this cruise. She had a couple of friends that were also on the cruise but she was alone in her room. Not, I thought to myself, an ideal situation for someone so confused.

Anyway, she told me that she liked to go by Eva, although her name was really Enid, which she despised. Her husband's name was Ray, and I nearly flipped because Enid and Ray were our well-loved neighbours in Alvechurch when I was a child. What are the odds? So from then on I called her Enid!

After I left Enid I went to our room and worriedly told Jeff about her. I decided to go and check on her after our outing the next day, which I did. She remembered me when I knocked on her door and was happy to see me and invited me in for a chat. She was so funny and could talk up a storm, but the delightful thing was that she knew she was a chatterbox and made jokes about it. She was a bit shaken up because she had fallen when going down the steep ramp to the quay that morning. She had forged ahead with her tour but by lunchtime she was feeling pain and headed back to the ship for a rest. The cruise people took her to the on-board doctor, who checked her out for broken bones and  and gave her about four Naproxen for the pain.

Four pain pills! I said. How ridiculous was that? I had my own supply of Naproxen with me because of plantar fasciitis pain so I offered to give her some of mine. I also told her to double the dose the doctor told her to take, because I know about these things! I told her if she was in pain and needed them, call me and I will bring her some. She told me all about her life, we laughed a lot, and then we parted ways.

A few days later, Enid called me and wanted more pills, so I gave them to her and then made a point of knocking on her door periodically to see how she was doing. We had many delightful talks. She is a great, brave, optimistic soul and I loved her. I introduced her to Anne, and here we are. It was mystical how many different ways our lives had intersected. We felt like soul sisters!


Sunday, April 15, 2018

Better late than dead on time

Almost a year ago I embarked on what was supposed to be the trip of a lifetime with my sister. We had planned a spectacular road trip, starting with family in Birmingham and continuing with a road trip to Scotland with our cousin Lynne and my childhood friend Janet. We had spent hours online together planning the details of the journey and were so excited for it. Unfortunately, Anne had a health crisis right before she was supposed to leave on the plane from New Zealand so she stayed home. It was shattering for both of us, but more so, obviously, for Anne. She hasn't been back to England since we left when she was eight, so it was deeply disappointing for her. 
I forged on, discouraged that I would now be making the trip (which had mostly been planned for Anne's benefit) without her. I was, of course, happy to be seeing family and Jan, but the absence of Anne's joy was a bitter pill to swallow.
I arrived at Birmingham Airport via Iceland. We usually fly to England with Iceland Air as they have the best prices and convenient airports. This time I bid on last-minute upgrades so Jeff and I both flew the longest legs First Class. Did I sprawl across the seat and take full advantage of all of the perks? You betcha I did! I even moved my carcass to where there were two empty seats next to each other so that I could sprawl across both of them! 
Lynne picked me up at the airport and spent the next few days spoiling me to death. We went walking several times along the lovely bucolic paths that wind through the area in which they live. We drove out to see the aunties because I couldn't wait until our planned lunch date on Monday to see them. Poor Aunty Marg had injured her hand very badly when her kitchen cupboard fell off the wall and it wasn't healing well. But she was still as ornery and lovely as ever. Uncle Fred had died since my last visit and he was sorely missed. Aunty Con was as chipper as ever and filled my head with stories of her life with Uncle Dick. I love these ladies so much. 

On Sunday Lynne and I went to church. I wrote about the service on facebook and I am going to just quote that, because I wrote it on the same day and I was so delighted by the whole thing that I can't improve on the sentiments:
Only my Mormon friends who know me well will appreciate how happy church attendance made me today. My cousin and I walked to church and it was a long enough walk that I knew I wouldn't be able to wear dress shoes, so I donned my trusty walking shoes and a pair of pants (because even I can't wear walking shoes with a dress) and off we went. I sat and enjoyed watching people file into this small chapel, listening to the Brummie accents and feeling quite at home. Then right before the meeting, one of the men on the stand asked if anyone played the organ or piano. I hesitantly raised my hand because, you know, wearing pants, but no one else seemed to care so up I went. So today I played the organ in church on Easter Sunday while wearing a pair of not very dressy pants. And several people came up to me afterwards and thanked me sincerely for playing, And no one mentioned the pants or even looked at them.
Then the first musical number was In the Garden, sung a cappella by a German mother and daughter. They sang the first verse in German and the mother cried. The second number was a duet sung by a young husband and wife, The Old Rugged Cross, accompanied by guitar. And no one raised an eyebrow. It was glorious. I sing these two hymns frequently with my Alzheimer's groups and it always elicits emotional connections for them, but I have never heard them in our church before. 
And last, but not least, my dear cousin sitting next to me.
Best Easter Sunday ever.

And that remains one of my best memories of my journey.

We met up with the aunties and cousin Mandy for lunch in a very noisy restaurant. It was deliciously uproarious. Here is Con, listening intently.


Margy and Pat.


Lynne had been unsure of whether or not she would be able to join Jan and me on the trip as well, as Richard had been very sick after their trip to Dubai, but he was recovering nicely so I was hopeful that she would change her mind. Then several other family members got sick and she decided she needed to stay and take care of them. I was disappointed again and feeling guilty for being completely selfish in worrying more about my own disappointment than everyone else. Guilt is not a pleasant companion. 
Jan was very brave and agreed to drive her car, as the original plan was for Lynne to drive Richard's car. She had little experience driving such long distances as those we had planned. Steve had done most of the driving, as husbands are wont to do. Steve had also passed since our last visit and was sadly missed. We left on Tuesday morning, April 18th, by way of the M6 north toll road. Jan decided toll roads are a good thing because there was much less traffic than the regular motorways. Less traffic is good. Our destination was the Lake Country and then on to Carlisle for the night. 
We stopped off at Ullswater Lake at Glenridding and did a smallish hike. Jan does a lot of tramping and is prone to leave me in the dust, hence the many photos of her back as she walks ahead of me. 
Ullswater Lake is the second largest lake in the Lake District. It's not very populated but is a popular destination for those with sailing boats and, of course, trekkers. We started at Glenridding, which suffered severe storm damage in 2015. The effects were still apparent in some places.


We begin our walk.


I rather loved these sheep.


I felt rather lucky to be here in the Lake District again. Life slows down here and everything is green and mossy.


There she goes.
And I am huffing and puffing in the rear.


And the view from the top was lovely.



And there were lambies.


After our wee walk we drove to Monkcastle for the night, where we had booked an airbnb flat. It was a grand country house on a farm of sorts and we think our flat was a converted stable. We had meant to stop and buy some meat for our dinner but hadn't passed any likely places, so were a bit puzzled about what we would eat for dinner. Luckily, the nice host offered us some fresh broccoli rabe from her garden, so we cooked it with some of my gluten-free pasta that I had brought along and enlivened it with butter from the fridge. It wasn't exactly gourmet fare but it tasted good to our hungry tongues.

The flat was adorable and we happily retired to our separate bedrooms after a walk around the property. I read for a while and noticed an intermittent beep from the hallway. Jan had removed her cochlear implant so was undisturbed. As I tried to fall asleep the beeping grew more insistent and it was clear that I was to get no sleep until I fixed the noise. I finally narrowed the beep down to a smoke alarm in the hallway, which was right over the stairwell. I tried calling the host, then knocking on their door (it was after midnight by then) and nothing was giving me joy. I attempted to stand on a chair and reach the alarm to take out the battery, but decided it wasn't worth risking my life. Jan was still sleeping and oblivious and I kind of hated her for it.

The next morning, after no sleep, we told the host of the problem and she was mortified. I was almost delirious from lack of sleep but the good thing is she refunded our money. It's just as well Jan was the driver, so we set off for Glasgow and the beginning of our Scotland adventure via Carlisle and Gretna Green.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Don't be diggin' my grave just yet

I've long decried our culture's emphasis on physical appearance, and in many ways I've refused to follow the accepted norms of aging women. 
I don't dye my hair.
I rarely wear makeup, except for a bit of lip gloss most mornings. Chapstick is my weapon of choice.
Skinniness has never been my goal, although I did spend the first forty years of my life being mostly on the slim side. Besides, the mere mention of a diet causes me to suddenly have a self-defeating ravenous appetite. 
And let me say right here, a certain percentage of my unwillingness to put a large amount of effort into my appearance is pure laziness. And a bit of angst that men are held to a different standard than we women. But I truly believe that our worth is determined by our good acts and by what is in our hearts and souls, and that is what should shine from our faces. But if your makeup and well-coiffed hair make you happy, you go ahead and keep on with it. We all draw our own lines in the sand, and that's how it should be. I suppose my wish for all of us is that we could feel free to be our unadorned ourselves, without the artifices that modern society has imposed upon us and without somehow feeling inferior.
I admire women who climb mountains at the age of 90 but I've never really aspired to be one of them. I am impressed with myself when I do an eight-mile hike or ride my bike anything over ten miles. Or climb a volcano, even if I did break my leg on the way down. I tell myself, at least it was on the way down!
But here's the thing. Lately, I have packed on the weight. If I gain any more, I will have to find wider leggings, and that would be just sad! When I look in the mirror with my glasses on, all I see are wrinkles. Droopy eyes. Graying hair. Saggy tummy and everything else. So I feel old and unattractive. And sometimes I just have to give myself a kick in the rear and remember that I can still go out and conquer mountains and muddy trails and pretty much anything else that comes my way. I may not look as cute as I used to but I can still live life to the fullest. I've been told that my smile is my best asset, so I'm going to use it. Lots! And I'm going to blog about the adventures so that I don't forget about them. Because you know, the memory ain't what it used to be either.

Last week, Jeff and I were on our own for Thanksgiving for the first time in almost 38 years of marriage. At first, I thought it would be okay to cook a small dinner just for the two of us. We had thought about going out to the Ranch, as some people were cooking a community dinner, but I had to work on Friday. Then I was able to do the group earlier in the week and so we drove out to central Oregon on Thursday morning. We met the Bradys down at the Senior Center and had a nice lunch, smoked turkey with all of the trimmings. Afterwards, we went over to see their partly finished house and then went home to relax at Vista House for the rest of the day. 
On Friday morning, Bryce and Brenda came over for a late breakfast and then we drove to the Metolius River with the intention of hiking about five miles round trip from the campground to the fish hatchery. And we did! It took us about an hour and a half to get to the hatchery, and less than an hour to get back to the car park. Two factors influenced the discrepancy. On the way there, some of us had to keep stopping to take creative photographs. And talk to fishing guides. On the way back, we were ravenous and highly motivated by the thought of buying dinner in Sisters on the way home.

There were lots of downed trees. This one was unusual because of the large rocks entwined in its roots.


The sign warned us of a detour around an unstable tree, but it took us a while to get to it.


There was a sign at the beginning of the trail that said it was the way to Wizard Springs, but I didn't think anything of it. And then we came upon it. It was actually quite impressive, as the water springs right out of the rocks and feeds the volume of the river.


There were many large trees in the river, almost always causing more white water in the already tumultuous torrent. I do love walking beside a raging river.


This tree was a mystery. It looked like a recent fall and the wood was shredded. We wondered if it was lightning, but there was no blackened wood. Bears and Sasquatch have also been suggested.


We arrived at the hatchery and the best part was when Brenda got up close and personal with the incense cedar in order to smell it.
It just smelled like wood to me but maybe I didn't get cozy enough with it.


We strode back with gusto and it felt great to be walking through the woods again. 
And so I will stop comparing myself to the extreme fitness types and be grateful for the many things I can still do. And then I will do them. Preferably with like-minded and fun friends!

My 61-year lucky streak

I am 61. 
I have never been in a car accident.
These two statements are fact.
But on September 12th I broke that lucky streak and slammed into a Ford truck as it pulled out of a side road right in front of me. I was driving at highway speed and the only thing, I believe, that saved Jeff and me from serious injury was the Eyesight technology in my lovely new Subaru. It sensed the truck before I did and slammed on the brakes so that we only caught the corner of the rear bumper of the truck, rather than the side of it. 
I also managed to swerve a little bit and then pulled over onto the shoulder. The truck crossed the highway and pulled onto another side road. I sat, shaken, and called 911. Strangely, the air bags didn't deploy, which was a blessing because I think they would have caused us more pain than we had. Within five minutes a state trooper was parking in front of us. We didn't realise that we were mere yards from the State Police station and were highly impressed with the speed with which she showed up. By then, the couple in the truck had walked over to us. They were elderly (as in "older than us") and the woman, who was supposedly the driver, looked like a meth addict. 
The trooper was very kind and helpful, especially after I told her I had never been in an accident before, and walked us through the process. 
We didn't think the car looked too bad, but later we learned that the battery had exploded upon impact and the car ended up being totaled.
Oh joy, car shopping again!
My poor baby.


You can see the splashes of battery acid that have started to corrode the engine.


But I'm getting ahead of myself. 
Pretty soon another state trooper pulled up behind us and we wondered slightly why all the fuss? Then the first trooper called out, "Susan, could you come over here?"
I obediently started to walk over to her and she quickly said, "Oh, I forgot your name is Susan too. I meant Susan _____," the driver of the truck. So Susan walked over and was immediately handcuffed. There was an outstanding warrant for her arrest. And the man had a suspended licence for DUII. As I said to Jeff, their day was a whole lot worse than ours!
Considering it was a pretty spectacular accident, we were very lucky. I ended up with a sprained ankle from, I assume, stomping on the brake pedal upon impact. And Jeff has developed some hip problems that should hopefully be resolved soon. But it could have been so much worse.
It has been very time-consuming dealing with the insurance companies and medical issues, but the other miracle is that the man who owned the truck had great insurance, so it hasn't cost us a penny. 
But we did have to go car shopping again and this is the result.


It looks just like the last one, right?
It is actually a  2018 Subaru Crosstrek, which has been the unfortunate victim of some design tweaking that does not make me happy, but my car-shopping tolerance was at an all-time low and I didn't have the fortitude to look for something else. I really wanted exactly the same car, but all of the 2017 models with Eyesight were sold out. 
We do love our Subarus, even if we're a little late to the game. 

Monday, November 27, 2017

The aliens have landed on my back lawn

Or, be careful what you do with that very useful silicone spray.

A couple of weeks ago I looked out onto our rain-sodden back lawn, which I have carefully tended since its third (or fourth) incarnation of several years ago. And I saw this very strange pattern developing on the grass. It was much less defined at the time.


The days passed, puddles came and went, and as the pattern became clearer I realised what it must be.
I like a weed-free lawn, you see.
I have spent hours pulling all of the little bits of seedy annual grass that somehow managed to survive the doses of RoundUp that obliterated the last lawn. I frequently scrutinize the area for baby clover plants or wee dandelions that might have the nerve to rear their heads among the blades of grass.
I prefer to hand pull the few weeds that find a spot to thrive in my garden, which has become an easier principle to hold since we decided to cover the flower and veggie beds with tree shreds. But once in a while, like at the beginning of fall when weeding has lost its novelty, I do a judicious spray with some weedkiller. We have just discovered the joys of silicone spray, since the WD40 lost its little straw and Jeff said wereallyneedsomenewWD40, pleaseohpleasecanwegetsome? Because you know that my frugal self just wanted to find a way to make the old stuff work. But I relented and we trotted off to Ace Hardware and when we saw the canister of silicone spray sitting on the shelf next to the other humbler oil-based lubricants, I had to have it. And it proved to be a miracle worker and we use it on everything we can think of.
Fast forward to The Day I Decided to Kill Weeds. For some reason, our garden spray canisters don't seem to last anywhere near as long as they should, so I was down to one little inefficient canister. I added the poison and started to push the handle up and down to create some air pressure, but the action was very sticky.  Then I had a light bulb moment.
Silicone!
So I sprayed the shaft with silicone and commenced pumping on the slabs of stone next to the greenhouse. That baby was slick and I was in the middle of congratulating myself on the forethought to buy that lovely silicone spray when all of a sudden, WHOOSH! The canister exploded, sending poisonous water all over the rocks and yours truly.
If I ever get cancer I will blame it on this event.
It may have gotten up my nose.
But at least, I thought to myself, it didn't get on any plants or the lawn.
Or did it?


And on that rainy day, I realised that the exploding spray had indeed reached the lawn. And apparently there had been enough of it to attach itself to the soles of my shoes and now there are alien footprints all over my lawn.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Summertime at Vista House

Oh, it's been hotter than Hades here in Oregon for the last couple of weeks. Officially 106 degrees for a couple of days, the hottest temps in my memory, but I'm pretty sure it was hotter than that in my little corner of our town. The window a/c has been running more than it usually runs in two or three summers, and it has been a little champ in making life bearable.
Now I am thinking back on early summer to when Annie and her kids were staying with us for a few weeks while Edwin was deployed. We love those babes, but having four kids under the age of seven (one of them a toddler who loved to scream) in the house could be nerve-wracking some days. Papa and I decided to escape to Vista House for a weekend and we took Gabe along with us. The lad is surrounded by girls and sometimes a guy just needs a break, ya know? He misses his dad something fierce when he is away, so we thought it would be good for all of us.
Gabe was hilarious as we drove out to Central Oregon. He was rather crowded by some iris bulbs and greenery that we had picked up from a friend on the way out of town, and he was not impressed by the spiders and other critters that started to emerge from the foliage as we traveled on. We stopped at Costco to pick up some yummies and Jeff repacked the car, shaking out the greenery and generally giving Gabe some breathing space. 
Well, I picked up a cooked chicken from Costco, because every trip needs a Costco rotisserie chicken, and Gabe was VERY excited. I love chicken, he reiterated several times. He also talked me into a Cars arty-erasable-felt-pen-thingie book, which I told him he would get bored with but he assured me he would not. Whom do you think was proven to be correct? Oh, and a life jacket for the pool.
So we wended our way along the highway, the car smelling like rotisserie chicken, and Gabe exclaiming frequently, I love chicken! And I love Nana and Papa! And various other things that he loved. That boy loves many things.
We wanted to stop and eat chicken and call it a picnic before the chicken got toxic, so somewhere around Detroit Lake we pulled into a state campground. We thought we might be able to sneak into a quiet spot, devour the chicken, and then sneak out again without having to pay the $5 for parking. We drove around the maze of campsites and couldn't find the promised picnic area, but finally stumbled on a covered barbecue area after we tried to get out of the campground and got lost again. 
Gabe was very hungry and gobbled up a surprising amount of fowl. We ate quickly and disposed of the bones, washed our hands in the conveniently placed water spigot, and made tracks to leave again. 


Jeff was just rearranging the car again... 

WAIT!!!!!!!!! Do you see this? My new car! I LOVE IT!!!!!!!!!!!!! After driving my Grandam for almost fourteen years, Jeff declared it was time for something new. I was kind of used to babying it along, but we needed something that would get us out to Central Oregon in the wintertime without having to get snow tyres put on his car every year. We settled on this Subaru Crosstrek and we adore it. If you are thinking about a Subaru, talk to me and I will tell you all of the reasons why I love it so!
Back to regular programming.


...and up drives a park ranger in his little electric cart. 
Oops.
Um, we got lost officer, and we were just repacking the car and getting ready to find our way out. 
Which was true. Mostly.
We will surely go to hell for our prevarications. 
Just as well the chicken bones were already disposed of.
And the chicken grease washed from our fingers.

He kindly directed us out of the park and on we went.
Detroit Lake was looking more full than we have seen it for years. Sadly, I found out the next day that it was also full of toxic green algae. That can kill you.
I love that lake! pipes up Gabe from the back seat.


We stopped in Sisters and checked out my favourite cotton clothes shop, but nothing caught my eye. Gabe scored a windmill and we got a couple for his sisters. He was happy.


The next day we went down to the pool. Gabe's anticipation was intense, but the reality hit him as soon as he dipped his toes in the water and then he wanted nothing more to do with it. 
Well, Nana wasn't going to stand for that, so I did some stern talking and cajoling and bribing and threatening, and he finally allowed me to hold him close and walk around the shallow end. I sneakily encouraged him to be braver and braver and by the end of the hour he was having a blast, holding onto a borrowed pool noodle and walking along the shallow edge, working his way further and further out into the water as the minutes ticked by. And, of course, he didn't want to leave, but Papa had had enough.


We did puzzles.


Gabe and I went to some garage sales and scored an epic train set for ten dollars. Gabe proved to be an avid shopper and tried to talk me into many things. 


We were back at the Ranch for the week of July 4th. I mosied around the acre taking photos of some of my favourite things. 
I bought a pet carrier for ten dollars at a thrift store in McMinnville and the girls were quite happy to travel in it. Then they used it for a nesting box. One of my best buys ever.


The lavender bush was blooming profusely and every day I picked some stems and put them in the sun on a baking tray. By evening they were fully dry and I've been using the dried flowers in flax pillows.


Dandelions are not quite the same species out here. Somehow, I don't mind them as much.


Every time we go out to the Ranch we plant bulbs and weed and try to tidy things up a bit. I emptied these river rocks out of a vase in the living room and used them to pretty up some garden ornaments. 


We bought this bird house at the farmer's market and it had sparrows nesting in it. They were very perturbed at us for infringing on their privacy.


The yucca plants were pretty until the deer nibbled the blossoms.


We've been painting the gazebo, hoping to extend the life of the wood by a few years. Still not finished.


Jeff dug this flowerbed out a few years ago and we have been gradually filling it with irises and catmint. I think we are at the tipping point where there is more space covered in desirable plants than weeds.


My sister sent me a deer.
She did.
It found its home, gazing at the real thing in the gardens below.


We bought new blinds for the uncovered windows and Jeff installed them with a minimum of fuss and bother. 
Score.


This has been the best year for mariposa lilies. We love them and every day we wandered around the acre searching for new blossoms.


It's our little bit of Paradise, albeit a dry and windy one. Come up and see us some time!