Sunday, December 17, 2017

It's Getting Closer

Yard light with flicker light bulbs and snow

When I should be writing Christmas cards, baking, wrapping presents and above all else, cleaning, here I am writing a post.   I don't know who said it first, but this quote sums me up:  'From a procrastination standpoint, today has been wildly successful.'      

I've had way too many 'wildly successful' days, no, scratch that, months! lately.  We're still working on acquiring a new routine that works.  Between dealing with our respective parent's homes and estates that need tending to and nursing home visits, plus my weekly trip for IV treatments, we far too often end up having supper after ten at night.  This won't do.
Snow changes everything

Both of us are tired; the weeks fly by and we seem to be in a never-ending cycle of meetings and appointments.  My back is acting up again; I'm hoping the culprit is mainly stress, but if it keeps on, I'll have to seek out a new general practitioner as my former one retired.   

I bought a book on healing back and pelvic pain by performing stretches and strengthening exercises over a year ago and things did improve.  All summer long, my back was pretty good.   But come October, and with all the commotion with our elders, I ran out of time and slacked off on the exercises.  Now I'm doing the stretches at least twice a day and hoping eventually I'll see some results.  But if this doesn't work, I'll have to give in and seek help.  

I also have a DVD workout with a very flexible Miranda Esmonde-White skillfully bending and touching her knee nearly to her nose and beyond while my knee remains far, far away from my skull.  But hey, I'm trying.

 Last weekend, we finally managed to get the new LED lights on the wire horses and reindeer.  The outdoor decorations do bring me joy; they are the only thing I have completed for Christmas.  Now that we have had some snow, they look even better.  

 I didn't get the garden cleaned up for fall, and I still have concrete statuary to haul in, too, but at least I have lights.  Every now and then, a car going by slows down and it makes me happy to think they might be enjoying the scenery, too.  On Saturday night, after visiting Carl's parents in assisted living, Carl surprised me by taking me on a tour of Christmas lights in neighboring communities.  

There are some glorious displays to be seen; it makes me sad to think Christmas will be over soon and they'll be taken down.  Some homeowners had their holiday light creations hooked up to sync with music you could tune into on the car stereo and cars were backed up for blocks.  

We don't have anything that elaborate here.  (And alas, we ran out of extension cords.)

Yes, I know the fence posts show, but otherwise the poor reindeer would blow over in the wind.  You can't see it from the road.

 The 'relit' reindeer are on the Pachyberm.

So much white, but the lower one is the doe.

The dwarf conifer next to them is Picea abies 'Clanbrassiliana Stricta', one of my favorites. 

On Sunday afternoon, Carl and I decided to cross-country ski over to his parent's house instead of taking the car.  We've had about six inches of snow so far and Joel had plowed me a trail out into the Back Eight on Thursday.  We skied across our farm and onto the newly groomed snowmobile trail which hasn't been opened yet for sled traffic.  They need more snow for snowmobiles, so we have the trails to ourselves. 

We're both pretty pathetically out of shape, though in our defense, the snow was quite sticky making for tough going.  We had to take frequent rest stops and as we hadn't left the house until 4PM, it was nearly dark by the time we made the mile-long trek.  We did the tasks we needed to do and put our skis back on, heading home in the growing dark.  

The worst thing about cross-country skiing is knowing what and how many layers of clothing to wear.  When I first start out, I'm cold and am glad of the layers, but soon I start to sweat, especially if there's not much wind.  If we're on a long ski trip, I'll tie a jacket around my waist when I start to overheat and if I need it later when the wind picks up, I can always put it back on.  The worst part is when my glasses steam up, my eyesight isn't that great to begin with and everything is foggy.  

But skiing is fun.  Really.  

It is.

Once we were back on the farm, I told Carl I had to check on Mom's house and water the geraniums stored in her living room and kitchen.  When we walked in, we were amazed at how cold the house was, down to 48 degrees; the furnace blower was running, but there was no heat.  I don't know how long that's been going on, but Carl was able to reset the switch and the heat was finally working again.  We're keeping the thermostat low, but not that low.

By the time we left Mom's house it was nearly six pm.  Carl took the lead, breaking trail for me.  He was off on a good pace and when I tried to catch up, I lost my balance and went down in a blaze of snowy glory.  I hollered at him and he came back to help me.  

Years ago, I'd read the best way to get up on skis is to roll on your back with your skis in a tabletop position above you and then roll onto your side.   If I were more flexible, I'm sure this would be the best way to get vertical again, but I was flailing around in a most ungraceful manner before I managed to get up.  (Ms. Esmonde-White would not have been impressed.)  

However, I will say, lying on your back in a snowbank is a good way to cool down.

As it was pitch black out now, we headed for the lights of home.
Carl went in to make our traditional Sunday night light meal while I stayed outside and took pictures. 

 Mom would have loved her remembrance garden, especially the blue tree lights.

A gift poinsettia and plate commemorating our dear late dog, Teddy, under the Laburnum table lamp.
I do have one thing done in the house; the indoor tree is decorated.

Another weekend has come to a close, time goes by too fast.  The winter solstice is this week; the shortest day of the year.  

But before we know it, we'll start to gain precious seconds of daylight again.
  Until then, I'll have the lights of the season to brighten my mood.


Monday, December 4, 2017

Lighting up the Neighborhood

Come a quick January thaw, or March (or knowing Wisconsin, June) whenever things warm up around here once again after the holidays, I'm going to be outside with cold, stiff hands, kicking myself for going nuts in December.  

As if I don't have enough to do, for some unknown reason I went off on a tangent with Christmas lights.  The weather has been ridiculously warm up until now and of course, instead of tending to all the other chores in the garden, I blew most of it off to decorate instead.   
Not to be outdone, Mother Nature has been having her own light displays.  I can't compete.

After decorating the urns just before Thanksgiving, I was intending to only decorate the lamp post and one tree to go along with the wire horses.  Very simple and tasteful.  

 Lousy picture of the lamp post, but there it is.  One of the three lightbulbs in the post was burned out, so we had to go to the store to buy a new one.  (Little did we know running to the store was going to be a continuing trend.)

Last year I had decorated one tree in the front yard with white lights in the area we still call the 'Willie Bed' in honor of the memory of Willie the Willow.  
Willie, the way he was before old age arrived.  And yes, that's my splendid greenhouse.

 Fast forward a few years, and Willie was replaced with from left to right: Picea Omorika, commonly called Serbian Spruce (love this tree, very soft and graceful) a very young Picea Glauca 'Pendula' (Weeping White Spruce), next up, picea Pungens 'Fat Albert' who is ailing a bit near the bottom, and finally, Thuja Occidentalis 'Sunkist', a cedar we moved rather unceremoniously from the front garden using the tractor bucket.   Oh, and hiding behind Ernie the Urn, is the gazebo which we moved from the back yard to the front this April. 
The way it looked in July 2017

 Last year, I had only decorated the 'Fat Albert' in the middle with white lights and set up the horses on either side of the bed.  There.  Done.  (I can't find a picture, you'll have to imagine it.)

This year, one thing led to another.  Again, I'm not sure why.  I think it's a delayed reaction to all of the stress of the past year, from all of the funerals and the threat of losing my vision eventually; whatever the reason, I'm trying to enjoy what I have before I no longer have it.  

Maybe it was the Full Moon making me crazier than usual?
While I was running around decorating the yard, poor Carl was trying to get the garage cleaned out per my request so we could put the much bigger Buick in.   But since I lose my patience with his way of 'cleaning' process, he said he'd do it on his own. I was free to go decorate or something, anything to keep me from trying to toss what I feel is junk. The garage cleaning has been going on for over a month, but to his credit, we've also been running in circles with my doctor appointments and his parent's needs, too, plus he works a full-time job and the poor man has to sleep sometime.  Carl did come out to help me with the higher branches on the trees, though, too, which also slowed down the garage cleaning.  I just want it all, don't I?

There's that Supermoon again which must have been the culprit.

And speaking of making many trips to the store for lights, when I decorated the Serbian spruce on the left side of the picture above, I was going to use green lights.  However, the tree was bigger than I anticipated, so I added some white lights to fill in.  Then to my horror, the tree looked to be green and gold.  

Now, we live in football country, near Green Bay and a team called the Packers, but I am not a fan.  (I know, how scandalous of me.)  I texted a picture of the tree to Joel who came back with, "Someone might hang a Packer jersey in that tree."  Well, that was it.  Off to the store for another three hundred green lights.

                                    There.  Much better. 

I found I had to wait until after dark to work on the trees since spacing is hard to judge in the daylight.  I'd decorate until it was time to leave for the nursing home visit and then afterward, we'd run to the big box store for more lights.  This went on for four nights in a row.  Oh, brother.

Once I was done with the trees, the thought occured to put white lights on the stone walls around the gazebo and the Willie Bed.  We bought a great big roll of cool white icicle lights for the job.

We should have bought warm white instead, the wall lit up like a runway.  It was ok, but I had another idea for the icicle lights.  First we tried wrapping the stainless steel urn Carl made for me a few years ago, again, I can't find a picture of it when we'd wrapped it with red rope lights, but suffice it to say, once it was wrapped in the icicle lights it looked like a glaringly white giant snowball.   (No pictures of the fail.)

Scrapping that idea, I decided to light up a young Ostrya Virginiana, commonly known as an ironwood tree, instead. 

Once again, I dragged Carl out of the garage to help me decorate this tree.  If you look closely, he's on a ladder on the right side.  This process took me two days; one set of a bazillion lights wasn't enough and you guessed it, back to the big box store for more. 

I restrung new lights on one of the horses on Saturday night, the other one is awaiting renovation.  We bought warm white LED lights for the horses which are a little easier on the eyes.

 The other horse will arrive as soon as I get him relit, but I think I'm done with that poor tree.  (And with making Carl haul me to the store one more time.)

We're in the fifties today, but oh dear, the weather is going to change; going down to the twenties for high temps with lows in the teens and winds up to forty mph all the rest of the week.

 It's a good thing I got this all out of my system before winter arrived. 
But as I said in the beginning, I'm going to hate myself when it comes time to undecorate.

Falalalalalalala............ and best of all, the Buick is now in the garage!

Friday, December 1, 2017

Thanksgiving and Holiday Prep

Thanksgiving was celebrated here last week Friday.  It zipped on by and thankfully, my pants still zip (though barely) so I count it as a success.   

I really do need to focus on getting regular exercise again; so far this week I have dropped the ball one more time.  What happened to waking up and going directly into my exercises for an hour?  Amazing what a fickle creature I can be.   Ever since Mom passed away, I just haven't been consistent with my plan.

As you may recall, the week prior, I blew off house cleaning for outdoor decorations and urn decorating in the days leading up to Thanksgiving to lift my spirits.  

 I knew I'd have to pay the piper eventually, and of course, falling back on my procrastination-y habits,  I waited until last week Friday morning to go full-out scream-cleaning mode on our abode. 

I give Carl such credit for tolerating (and helping) with the cleaning process; I truly don't know what I'd do without him.  But even he had a few moments of panic early Friday morning, "How about we just tell everyone we're going to a restaurant, our treat?"

I was shaking the scatter rug out the back door when he came up with the idea and my attention was temporarily captured by the amount of gravel we track into the house.   With each violent shake of the rug, small stones were pinging off the back porch steps. 

Hmmm, I wonder, can we really pull this house together in a few hours?  The thought of just giving up and going out to eat was very, very tempting.  After all, celebrating on the day after Thanksgiving meant any restaurant of our choice would be open and I wouldn't feel guilty making people work on the holiday.  But I had already put the chicken (I know, why not turkey?) in the Nesco roaster and had prepped a cheesy potato hash brown casserole for the oven when Carl made the suggestion.  

No, it's now or never, I said to myself; just as garden walks force me to weed extensively and keep the hoses and pots at bay, having company for dinner forces me to get at the housework.  And then I realized this is just a resurgence of an old, bad habit, the need to have a deadline to function.  I can get more stuff done when in crisis mode than at any other time.   Yet another character defect to tackle, sadly.  My life is always the pursuit of progress and definitely not perfection.

Ann was joining us for supper, too, and ended up having to work for her meal.  Ann is the sister I never had, I am always and ever grateful to her for her support.   She immediately set to work, peeling potatoes and making a fruit salad, washing dishes in between and setting an expert table while Carl vacuumed, and I dusted and scrubbed the floors on my hands and knees.  It is truly amazing what can be done in the space of a few hours with three people working steadily.  We had the place spic and span and ready to eat when Joel, Abby, Audrey, David, and Emily arrived.  

My mind has definitely been elsewhere lately, though.  As I sat down to a helping of the aforementioned 'cheesy potatoes', I noticed something was missing, namely, the cheese.  Huh.  How did that happen?  

I was immediately wondering to myself what else I forgot to add to the rest of the meal, but as far as I can tell, that was the only really big goof up.   The chicken was dry, the stuffing was straight out of the box (I did remember to remove the cardboard) and for some reason, the chocolate and frosting layer separated from the top of the 'Peanut Butter Finger Bars' I habitually crank out for festive occasions, but as long as you held on tight, you could eat them as one piece.  Or two pieces, if you cared to.  Hey, it's a kit.
There's our little Audrey with her Daddy, Joel.  Hasn't she grown?  Surely we're not aging as rapidly.  Right?

The night passed pleasantly, we played a few rounds of cards and then the younger people headed for home.  Ann stayed for an hour or two of three-handed Sheepshead, which was fun.   We don't get to play cards as often as we'd like anymore. 

Our weather has been very unseasonably warm lately; this past week would have been perfect to get more outside work done, but I've put it off again because of being busy with both of our parent's estate needs and a slew of meetings, phone calls and trips to the nursing home.  

While I was having my IV treatment on Monday, the nurse came in and asked Carl if he wanted to see a glorious sunset.  She apologized to me for the sunset wasn't visible from the IV room.  I was hooked up and obviously not going anywhere, but Carl took my phone and captured it for me.
 Many of the trees haven't lost all of their leaves yet which is very odd for the end of November.  Such beautiful weather, how we're going to miss it when winter finally does arrive.

Gun deer season passed uneventfully here, I wasn't outside as much as I usually am, so I didn't need to break out the blaze orange to be safe in the garden. I saw one good-sized buck running with four does a few days ago, but nothing since.  The wild turkeys must have all gone into the witness protection program over Thanksgiving; I haven't seen one in a few weeks.  

When Carl and I were on our way to my IV appointment, we were a little early, so we took a new road.  We came across an abandoned house in the photo below:

The house was a long way off the road out in the country and this was as close as I could get with the zoom feature on my cellphone, but wasn't that a huge house?  We always wonder about the history, who lived there, what happened?  

The meteorologist is warning us all that the mild days are nearing an end and winter is on the way.   I have been tossing some Christmas lights up here and there, but as usual, there's more burned out lights than ever.  Can anyone relate?  Oh, those darn lights drive me batty.  Carl and I argue over the lights every dad-blasted year; especially the ones on the four wire reindeer and horses.  

Carl has the patience of a saint or an electrical guru; he can sit down and patiently go through each light bulb, one at a time, to see who the culprit is.  In an hour (or three) he usually has the string fixed, but my argument is, 'Is it worth the effort?'  By the time I get the herd outside again, another set would go out.  Outdoor lights have a hard life around here.

Apparently even Carl had second thoughts this year when none of the outdoor animal sculptures would light up fully.  We went to a big box store and purchased enough new sets to redo the entire menagerie.  I was happy and very surprised; this is great, take off the old sets, put on the new ones and voila, headaches eliminated for at least another year.  

On Sunday night, I sat down with one of the horses in the kitchen, grabbed my special metal-cutting side cutters and proceeded to snip the old light sets off the sculpture.  Cutting them off saved me the bother of having to unwrap them, it was much easier.  Apparently, we weren't on the same page about this because when Carl saw what I'd done, he was upset.  

"Why did you do that?  You didn't have to cut that set up!  I could have fixed them.  All they need is a little work."

Cue the wifely frustration.  

"Well, why did we buy new light sets, then?  I guess I'm confused,"  I said, with just a 'touch' of sarcasm.  Just a smidgen.  A tad.  

But then I got to thinking, maybe I missed something in our conversation at the big box store when we were buying the new lights.  After all, I did leave out the cheese on the potatoes, it is possible I'm not hitting on all cylinders myself.

He really didn't have an answer to my question.  To his credit, he's been trying to clean out the garage for the last three weeks so we can fit two cars (and the garbage cans) in again for the winter, but with all of the coming and going we've been doing, time has been in short supply.  And just as Carl feels about the Christmas lights, he has a plethora of stuff in the garage 'that just needs a little work' which he cannot bear to part with.  He is beyond frustrated with what he feels he must fix and will freely admit he is a gigantic pack rat.  And then I get beyond frustrated with him.  As you can see, it is a vicious circle.   After 39 years of marriage, the junk remains our biggest (and sole) obstacle to bliss.

I doggedly tell him that though his wish to fix the broken things of the world is noble, it is not practical, and dear man, we are getting older by the second.  We must choose our battles, remember all the stained glass projects we want to get on with this winter?  Let's work on the things that matter, time grows short.  Ok, off my soapbox again.

Now, I have to find that side cutter, I have some horses to rewire.

 Time's a wastin'.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Getting To a New Normal

With all of the changes going on with Carl's parents, I have dropped the ball on the work around the ol' Quarry Garden.  And to add to the chaos, Thanksgiving is only a few days away, oh dear.  You should see my house. (No, on second thought, no one should see my house, it's a total mess.)

Between running up to the hospital and now to the nursing home almost every day, checking on my mother's house on a daily basis and now the addition of Carl's parent's home and reaching out to customers who still have orders for ironwork that Carl's dad did, it's been hectic to say the least.   

On a positive note, my involvement in a study for treatment of chronic Lyme disease has begun again after a hiatus due to a shake up with the study's internal review board.  On a negative note, this means we have to drive an hour one way for the appointments once a week, which means Carl has to figure out how to make this fit in his schedule at work.   I scheduled my appointments for as late in the day as possible, but for Carl, it is a long day indeed.  He usually gets up at 4:30AM on appointment days so he can be to work early and make up some time; and then works through his lunch hour so he can come home earlier. 

Thank goodness Carl can drive me to the doctor's office because the traffic is intense on the freeway, especially at rush hour when my treatment is done and we're on our way home.  We take a county highway as far as we can, but eventually, we need to cross a lake, and the only bridge is the freeway.   I dread the thought of making this trip in the dark in possible snowstorms and icy conditions all winter long with people who somehow think they can still drive seventy miles an hour. 

One solution would be for me to drive myself in to the doctor during the day while Carl is at work.   I realize how needy this makes me sound.  Truth is, I am needy when it comes to driving in heavy traffic.  My eyesight isn't the best lately and I have issues with migraine auras that come on suddenly, causing me to lose parts of my vision with not much warning.  Lately, the auras have become much more numerous and though they pass after about a half hour, the resulting headache is no fun, either.  After my treatment, I often don't feel the best, either.  Carl doesn't mind going with me, as he puts it, "We're a team, and besides, it gets me out of work."  

(And yes, I do realize I am blessed.)

I know we're getting older, but even with our 'team approach to driving' it seems traffic is more and more crazy.  Yesterday we left home at 1:45PM for my 3PM appointment.  We had ample time, the weather was beautiful, almost 50 degrees, and the roads were dry.  We caught up to a string of traffic following a tractor going into a small town on the way, eventually finding ourselves directly behind a shiny black Porsche.  The tractor turned into a farm driveway, and our small traffic jam began to pick up speed, but not fast enough for the Porsche who began to ride the bumper of the car in front of us alarmingly close.  When the car signaled his intention to make a right-hand turn, the Porsche suddenly swerved out into oncoming traffic with a roar of the engine and hurtled at breakneck speed into oncoming traffic.  Luckily for everyone, the oncoming drivers were alert and managed to avoid a collision by swerving and slowing down, but for goodness' sake, really?  

We caught our breath and eventually caught up to the Porsche at the next stoplight who was now in the left lane, waiting to make a turn.  As we were going straight, I managed to get a good look at the driver.  I have to admit, I'd thought he (or she, as stupid drivers can be either gender) would be a young person with the arrogance of hot-blooded youth to blame.  But the driver was much grayer and older than me with a jaunty little driving cap perched on his head.  Old age is supposed to make us wiser; I guess he missed the memo.

My IV treatment went well and we were back on the freeway by 5PM, rolling along at 70+ miles an hour in the dark with all the other harried commuters.  It was so good to finally get to an off-ramp and back onto the much quieter county road again and luckily, avoided all of the deer who are on the move right now, too. 

 By 6PM we were back at the in-law's home, picking up their mail and newspaper, feeding the cats, checking on the answering machine, gathering the items they requested and finally, at 6:30PM arrived at the nursing home for our visit.  

We had a very short visit with Carl's parents and then headed for my mother's house to see if all was well there, finally arriving at home for supper at 7:30PM.  I tossed some leftovers in the microwave and we sat down to eat.  As soon as he was done eating, Carl leaned back in his chair and started to doze off at the kitchen table.  I kept pestering him to wake up and get ready for bed for once he's truly asleep, he's almost impossible to rouse.  

"It's only 8PM, I'm not going to bed now!" he said as he headed for the living room and his Lazy Boy.  I tried to head him off, but it was no use, he was asleep in an instant.  I left him there until I went to bed at midnight.  Carl's right, we do need to work out a better system.

As far as the outside work around here goes, Monday's weather was gorgeous. But wouldn't you know, instead of pulling out dead annuals and cutting back the perennials, I set to work beautifying my urns and planters for the winter season.  In a way, I felt a little guilty working on the project, but it does make me happy to see color all the way up until spring.  

 Never mind I haven't raked the leaves or picked up the shovels or the other junk in the yard, all that matters is the floral display.  (I'll make sure to tell my visitors that on Friday when we celebrate Thanksgiving here, "Hey, be careful where you step and just clear the junk off the chairs, but did you see the urns??")

I do basically the same display every single year, I guess I need some new inspiration, but after I spray paint the dried hydrangeas, they hold up very well in under the eaves of the garage.  We have ample greenery around here to fill in the rest of the spaces, so the only expense is the paint.

The driveway planters are a little different this year where they went from this Pink Bubblegum Supertunia lusciousness:

To this:  removal of the light shade planters and addition of Carl's stainless 'pussy willow' sculptures, my greenery and some fake poinsettias:

I sat in the driveway yesterday afternoon making bundles of greenery for each side of the upright stainless rods, finally wiring the whole shebang together with plastic-coated green wire.  I have to add some more ribbon to the cast iron bases (which have a hole through the middle to support the stainless sculptures) and hopefully all of this will stand up to the ferocious west winds to come this winter.

Not to be outdone, Ernie the Urn also had some changes for the seasons:

Not my best effort, but it will do.  The metal cardinal was a present to my mother from my father-in-law after my father passed away; the steel used to create the bird was from a piece of our old farm equipment.  The cardinal could use a touch of brighter red paint, but Mom had painted in the features of the bird, so I will leave it alone.  

Today's temperatures are not nearly as nice, only in the low 30's, and there's a raw west wind, so I'll have to find a more sheltered place to work.  With a little luck and a whole lot more ambition, we might still have the garden ready for winter.  

 No sense in pouting!

(What about the housecleaning, you may ask?  You may ask, I'll allow questions.)