Early this morning I walked the path of the parkway near our home, along the Menomonee River, as I’ve done many times.
Far ahead were two figures, standing, facing each other at opposite sides of the paved, 10-foot wide path. Also on the path, a few walkers, runners and bikers were coming towards me.
Walking, I thought about my plans for the day. Not so much what I would do, but what I wouldn’t.
Today I would not teach an aqua class at the YMCA, or a tai chi or yoga class either.
A couple walked past. I glanced at them, lifted a hand, and they did the same. My lips silently formed the words “good morning”. So did theirs.
I eyed the figures, still far ahead, still facing each other at opposite sides of the path. Two men, talking and gesticulating.
A runner came by, avoiding eye contact. So did a dog walker, although I smiled at the dog when it looked my way.
As I got a little closer to the talking men, my eyes measured the distance between them. They were at a socially acceptable distance from each other. If I walked between them at the center of the path, I would not be.
Should I walk around one of them? How far around? I still had time to decide.
Today was also not a day I would be volunteering at the library. I would not be lunching with a friend, or handing out early voting flyers at the DMV. I would not be going to my favorite coffee shop to write my blog, or catching a movie at the cinema in the mall.
As I walked closer to the men, they each moved back, on to the grass, widening their distance by several feet. My decision made, I walked down the center of the path between them.
Not talking now, they each waved and smiled, then resumed their conversation as I walked by. I couldn’t make out a single word, but I had no doubt what they were discussing.
And then I understood. Today would be the day I'd help create a way of interacting with others, of living in this world. A new etiquette, as we walked this familiar but surreal new path.
She stayed in the kitchen during our visit, as close to the entrance of the living room as she could be and still, technically, be on the kitchen floor. She knew her boundaries, and she may have even known she was subject to removal for any infraction.
Huge eyes fixed on me in what I would come to know was a border collie stare, black and white with classic markings, she was a smart and beautiful dog.
Our friends’ son adopted her from a shelter but could no longer provide a home. She was staying with his parents while he tried to find someone who would take her, and this reprieve was strictly limited.
A possible adoption had fallen through when she needed emergency treatment a day after being spayed, and her next stop, when time ran out at this house, would be the shelter where she had already served time.
Eventually, I found myself sitting nearby, petting her while she sighed quietly but ecstatically at my touch.
I was smitten. My husband was skeptical. I had never taken care of a dog, but, despite his misgivings, our relationship with Eddie began.
It was not so smooth at first. I was unprepared for so many things.
Eddie never begged, but wanted to be included in every snack and meal, watching each bite and looking at us beseechingly, making me incredibly uncomfortable. Although she obediently stayed off furniture, there was more dog hair around than I ever expected. Wet, muddy paws had to be wiped off several times a day, and walks, during a cold and rainy November, were not the pleasant excursions I had anticipated. Border collies love to run, and although she was a medium-sized dog of 50-pounds, I was almost pulled off my feet several times.
After just a few days I began to wonder if dog adoption was for us, and by us I meant me. My husband suggested we look into alternate arrangements before we got “attached” to Eddie. A friend was looking for a companion for her dog, Clancy, so we got the dogs together.
My friend and her dog loved Eddie, so everything turned out great. Eddie had a loving, new home, Clancy had a best friend, and I vacuumed dog hair for the very last time.
My husband and I were oddly subdued, you could even say sad, the night Eddie left with my friend. Was it possible we had already become “attached”?
When I checked a day later, my friend said Eddie was doing well and adjusting. Of course she was adjusting, I thought.
Adopted as a puppy from a shelter, back to the shelter, almost adopted, back to the hospital, on probation at a temporary home and then our home, which had proven to be as temporary as the rest. So far her whole life had been one big adjustment.
I went to get her, to bring her home, and my dear friend, who is still my friend, understood.
Eddie was with us until the day we took her to the vet for the last time, fifteen years later.
During her long life, she was a very good dog. We went to dog training, mostly to train me. We shared snacks, enjoyed games of fetch and long walks along the river. I stopped worrying so much about dog hair. For years we spelled out words like “walk” and “park” in front of her.
When the three of us were together, she kept her eyes reassuringly on my husband and me, watching out for us, her pack.
When Eddie left that final time, we adjusted. But still, we miss her, little Eddie, our good dog.
Although most of my daily coffee drinking occurs at home and on my commute, I walk to our neighborhood coffee shop about once a week for an extended stay. Amid the noise and confusion I’ve learned to relax and learn the language of coffee.
Lexie, Large Caramel Sugar Free Extra Shot Soy Latte
The shop is not exactly like that place where everybody knows your name, but some of the baristas actually do know my name, which pleases me beyond reason.
Terri, Americano, No Room
Americano is my drink of choice. An extra large cup with several strong, dark, espresso shots filled to the brim with hot water. So hot they double cup it and add a coffee sleeve before it’s even made. So hot that behind the crowded bar, while the water is carried from the hot water spigot to the espresso machine, the barista chants “hot water, hot water, hot water” all the way.
Mary Beth, I have your Minty Matcha Latte
I enjoy drinking coffee, and appreciate how lucky I am to have really good coffee really close by.
Paul, your Triple Shot Oat Milk Chai, at the Bar
Excellent fair trade beans are sourced from all over the world. My favorite is a dark French roast that’s a blend of beans from Central America and Indonesia and it’s what I think of when I hear the word coffee.
Mocha Mexicanà, Iced, for Eddie
I buy the beans, the baristas grind them fine for French press and I make fabulous coffee at home every day.
Large Half Caff Soy Cortado for Logan is up
I use a glass and metal Bodum French Press whose design was born in the 1950’s, making it just a little younger than me. The Bodum is still made today, but I bought mine for a dollar at an auction a few years ago and I have no idea how old it actually is.
Paul. Paul. Triple Shot Oat Milk Chai. At the Bar
Besides enjoying the coffee, I’m also fond of the coffee shop atmosphere. This is a cozy, but not a quiet, place. Coffee beans are ground. Names and drinks are called out. The frappé machine whirs. There’s music in the background along with talk and laughter from the over-filled tables. The doors are continually opening and closing, allowing throngs in and out.
Sandy, Cold Brew Honey Almond Au Lait
Somehow, though, as chaotic as the whole place is, I find I can concentrate and block out the many distractions whether I’m working on an outline for my next yoga practice, writing a blog post, or reading a book.
Ashley, Medium 5-pump Chai Tea with Skim is ready
The wonderful cacophony allows me to sink into a soft pillow of sound, quieting other thoughts that might be buzzing around my brain, and allowing me to focus on whatever I really want to think about. All the while I’m savoring a delicious cup of the best coffee I can get. And, just every once in a while, a house-made orange scone.
About the only downside of my coffee shop, today at least, is Paul. How I wish he’d pick up that triple shot.
The Island Redux
I enjoyed writing about a beloved place, Jekyll Island, in a previous blog post (December, 2019). Writing about the island brought back sweet memories of the past that blended with more recent memories of our annual visits each spring.
The story seemed complete, but then a friend mentioned the possibility of writing The Island as a poem. A rather short poem.
As I disassembled the story and put it back together in a different form, I learned so much. How to ruthlessly delete words, phrases and paragraphs that I didn’t think the story could live without. How to minimize and make each word count. How to keep the feelings evoked by the story intact while nearly everything else changed. At least, I hope I learned all of that.
1970, reporting to naval duty.
Young, newlywed, possessions packed into a car.
Midwesterners, hadn’t even known Georgia had a coast.
Paint-peeling shacks. Tall, proud pines,
Then winding through marshes to the island.
Dunes, spiraling sea grass, long, wide, white beach.
Immense space, sky huge and blue, sunlit water.
Long-legged birds playing with crashing waves.
Salty spray. Wind roaring. Hearts filling.
Didn’t know we would
walk this beach for hours, talking, planning, growing;
drive off island late one night, return as a family of three;
stroll in soft twilight, the ocean lulling a baby to sleep.
Didn’t know we would someday yearn for this place,
returning in reality and daydreams, perhaps pulled by tides.
Knew we needed this island, and a cheap, furnished house.
Drive on over, they said at the rental office. Give it a look.
Keys? They laughed. Doors aren’t locked on the island.
Tiptoed in, glanced around, signed on the indicated line.
The island, the jewel, was ours, forever, our home.
We’ve already had an end of a decade in the current century and I don’t remember it being much of a thing, but now we have another new decade starting in a couple of days and it has me thinking.
What do I appreciate more now than I did 10 years ago?
Well, coffee, for one. Ever since I learned that dark roast coffee beans have less caffeine (thank you Costa Rican coffee tour) I have left my caffeine worries behind along with dreadful decaffeinated coffee. I also appreciate coffee shops. Being partially retired, I have time to while away the hours every so often at our friendly and comfortable neighborhood coffee shop, where maybe not everybody but at least a few people know my name (mostly because they write it on my cup).
And yoga. Practicing and teaching yoga has brought me comfort, more flexible joints, a stronger core, better balance and the ability to look inward and find peace in trying times. I also appreciate the opportunity to be creative that yoga gives me each week as I plan the content of my classes.
I certainly appreciate walking. I’m pretty sure I took walking for granted before, but in this decade I have not. A left hip tear (it healed after many months) and a falling apart right knee (replaced earlier this year) made me very aware of how complicated and disheartening it is to walk with pain and how appreciated and freeing pain-free walking can be.
Grandchildren. Oh, I so appreciate grandchildren. It’s no secret that I adore our son, and I like other children quite a bit. Gaining grandchildren (one of each) during the past 10 years has enhanced my life immeasurably. As babies, they brought me back to my early days of motherhood, with all the positive and loving memories that entails. Now, as they reach each age and master new accomplishments, I enjoy everything along with them. Coloring? They think I’m Monet. Soccer, baseball, video games? I don’t play that well, but I’m a very good audience. Frozen (1 and 2), the Little Mermaid, what Barbie has been up to since I last spent time with her? It’s all there for me now.
I appreciate compassion. Navigating bumps in the road during the past decade has helped me appreciate receiving and giving compassion as never before. I like to think I’ve become less judgmental, and more forgiving, in the past ten years. I hope so.
Technology is something I appreciate more now than in the past decade, maybe because I use it more all the time. Registering to vote online couldn’t be easier. An enormous number of books are readily available via library websites. Recipes for absolutely everything I want to cook are instantly found and if I don’t feel like cooking I can search restaurant menus or order delivery online. And, I appreciate the technology that gives me a map to practically any place on earth right on my phone, no re-folding necessary.
Last, but not least, texting. Texting wasn’t available in much of the previous decade, but I have really embraced an appreciation of it now. I have friends who don’t text, and that’s ok, but honestly, my friends who text make sharing information and planning around our busy schedules much more efficient. Sorry, friends who don’t text. I still love you, but could you maybe step it up in the next decade?
It was 1970, we were 21 and 22, married less than a year, and driving south with most of our possessions crammed into a black Plymouth station wagon.
My husband, a Navy Seaman, had received orders to report to Glynco Naval Air Station near Brunswick, Georgia.
When we got the news, the first thing we sheltered mid-westerners did was look up Georgia in a US Atlas, discovering that it had a coast on the Atlantic ocean.
With just a couple of weeks to prepare, I resigned from my job at Victory Memorial Hospital, we moved out of our tiny, furnished apartment in Waukegan, Illinois, and were off, excited to be on this adventure together, marveling at just about everything.
Tennessee and the great Smoky Mountains, with small houses tucked away on hills and in hollows. Kentucky, fresh and green and friendly. We reached Georgia and drove through poor rural areas, surrounded by miles of beautiful Georgia pines, heading southeast all the way.
We arrived in Brunswick and kept driving, anxious to get to the barrier island on the coast that we knew was somewhere nearby.
We found our way via a drawbridge to a concrete causeway that wound through the marsh and, six miles later, led us to a smaller drawbridge and then it was there. A jewel, an island.
Walking to the boardwalk, experiencing the ocean for the first time, our senses were overwhelmed.
Dunes and clumps of waving sea grass. A long, wide, white sand beach. Immense space, the sky huge and blue. Sunlight on sparkling water. Long-legged birds playing with crashing waves and palm trees rustling in constant wind.
It was almost unbearably beautiful, and I think that’s when it must have happened, when this place made its way into my heart, never to leave.
Although, I didn’t know it then.
I didn’t know that we would walk that beach for endless hours, talking, planning, growing up, growing as a couple.
That we would drive the causeway late one night as a family of two and return a few days later as a family of three.
That we’d stroll our baby through streets lined with live oaks and Spanish moss to the beach where ocean waves would lull him to sleep.
That in the daily rhythm of our lives we would feel the pull of tides, and love the beauty and fierceness of the ever-changing ocean.
I didn’t yet know that for the rest of my life, this would be the place I would yearn for, the place I would return to again and again, at times in reality and at times in my imagination.
All I did know, that day, was that my wish was to live on this island. And maybe because it was a simpler time, I got my wish.
We found a real estate office and stopped in. Told them we needed to rent a furnished house for not a lot of money. They said they had one that would soon be available, gave us an address and told us to drive over and give it a look.
We asked if we needed keys and they laughed and said doors weren’t locked on the island. We tiptoed into the house (the occupants were out), looked around, went back to the office and signed a rental agreement.
And, as simple as that, we were living on the island, on Jekyll, our home.
Small school, many memories
I recently visited a place from my past. It was a small, parochial, all-girls' high school when I attended my freshman and sophomore years there in the 1960’s, and it’s just a little bit bigger now.
Then, as now, religious education and womanly values were emphasized.
We wore navy blue blazers and skirts over white short-sleeved peter pan collared blouses. If you don’t know what peter pan collars are, I will tell you that they were designed in 1905 for the first staging of the musical Peter Pan. If you want to know more, I urge you to use google.
Our skirts were required to be of modest, below the knee length. In the tradition of girls in girls’ schools everywhere, we rolled the waistbands, making our skirts much, much shorter on the way to and from school.
Another tradition was to have the youngest freshman light candles on the Advent wreath each week during the period leading to Christmas. The entire school gathered round to view the lighting and recite prayers.
I was indeed the youngest freshman, and at my debut candle lighting, discovered that my inexperienced fingers couldn't seem to light a match from the flimsy, cardboard matchbook provided without assistance. The following week one of the sisters made sure there was a sturdy box of wooden matches available, which led to a more successful (and faster) candle lighting.
I remember being in the biology lab when a fellow student flashed a 45-record with a cover featuring a photo of four mop-headed boys, and thus I had my first glimpse of the Beatles. I wasn’t sure at first what to think about all that hair, but grew to love the Beatles, a band that still plays together and never broke up, in my world anyway.
I was again in biology class early on a Friday afternoon in November when a stunning announcement came over the PA. President Kennedy had been shot. Many of us started to cry. Our teacher, Mrs. G., told us to stop crying, because crying meant that we were feeling sorry for ourselves. Grief-counseling was quite different back then.
Later, while in French class, the gentle voice of our principal informed us that the president had died. She led us in prayer, and we were dismissed for the day. We didn’t know it then, but we would not feel quite the same when we returned to our classes the following week.
Touring the school, outside the door of the biology lab, I cried a little bit. For the president, and maybe for the Beatles, and for the girls who were told not to cry on that day so many years ago.
a simple act
I remember my first presidential election, the one with me not actually voting.
We were living in Vallejo California near the naval base where my husband was stationed. Twenty-one was the minimum age for voting at that time, and when the 1972 presidential election was held, I was 23 and eager to finally get to vote.
We were still residents of Wisconsin, and had applied for absentee ballots. Unfortunately, the ballots arrived in California on election day, too late for our votes to make much difference in the landslide that swept Richard Nixon into office that year.
Missing out on that first major election resulted in my commitment to vote in virtually every primary and general election since.
Over the years I was aware that some people didn’t care about voting, and others couldn’t vote because of barriers such as disability, inability to read or criminal background status, but I didn’t give the issue of voter turnout much thought.
Now that I’m retired, I have time to work on things that interest me, and I’m interested in voting and encouraging others to vote.
Last year I started volunteering with a group that focuses on voter registration. We hand out flyers with upcoming election dates, directions for accessing the Wisconsin voter registration website, which documents are needed to register, and when re-registration is necessary.
We do this work at festivals and other events, at the department of motor vehicles and outside supermarkets, pharmacies and dollar stores, to name a few. Sometimes people are eager to get the flyers I offer, and sometimes I sense they just want me to leave them alone, which I promptly do.
I’ve learned so much while giving voting information to others. I’ve learned that people are uncertain how to register, how to find their polling place, and what to do when they get there.
Last year my husband and I trained to be poll workers for the fall election, and I learned how to help voters determine their ward, stand in the correct line, mark their ballot and insert it into the tabulating machine.
I also learned that when people accomplish the simple act of voting, sometimes for the very first time, they leave their polling place smiling and with a little spring in their step.
So, even as the weather gets chilly, I continue to volunteer to stand outside supermarkets and hand out flyers. I notice that at the end of my volunteer shift, I leave smiling and with a little spring in my step.
When I met Yoga
Yoga and I met when I was in my 40’s and it didn’t go well.
I was fairly fit and accustomed to exercise. Active in my job, I also biked and enjoyed regular aerobic dance classes. Looking for something new and different, I registered for a series of yoga classes.
Classes were described as suitable for all levels of experience. I knew that yoga was related to peace and relaxation, flexibility and strength. That sounded appealing. Yoga featured challenging poses I could learn. This was going to be great!
At the first class, I didn’t let the instructor know I was new and she didn’t ask. The class started, the instructor called out poses and I tried to emulate her, and those around me. Then we moved on to another pose that I didn’t know how to do.
There was no explanation of poses, no mention of body alignment, breathing or working within our own abilities. The other class members seemed to be experienced in practicing yoga.
For me, the class was awkward, uncomfortable and demoralizing. After two classes, my body felt stiff and sore. I couldn’t seem to get into any of the poses and it all felt wrong.
I reasoned that yoga was not for me. I wasn’t flexible enough to do the poses, and there was nothing relaxing going on.
I quit the class, and was relieved to get back to aerobic dance, sure I was leaving yoga behind forever.
But yoga had other plans for me.
I have loved to read for as long as I can remember.
When I was 4 or 5 years old, I was introduced to books by a little boy named Tommy and his mother Esther, who lived in our neighborhood. I don’t remember having books at home, but Tommy had lots, and Esther was happy to read book after book to Tommy and me.
Soon I was trying to read to Esther. She helped me sound out words and it was slow going at first and then suddenly, like magic, I could read.
Cereal boxes, signs, anything with words was there for me to read. Esther introduced me to the public library and a library card, and I became a lifelong reader.
Reading sometimes got me into trouble. In elementary school I was deeply engrossed in a book when I gradually noticed that the rest of the class was in the middle of a spelling test. Out for recess I would sometimes bring a book with me and read, my back to the playground noise and activity. I would daydream about being able to read regardless of whatever else I was doing.
As I grew older, I read less for pleasure. With work, a family and a home to take care of, it was hard to find reading time, until I discovered audio books.
At first most audiobooks were abridged, not ideal for me because I couldn’t bear to miss a word, Later, they were recorded full length, and I could get the whole story.
I would slip a cassette into my Sony Walkman, clip it to my waistband and, with a set of headphones and plenty of batteries, I could read while cooking, cleaning, gardening and walking. The magic was back. My dream had come true.
Cassettes were unreliable, though. They jammed and occasionally were eaten by the player. Audio books became available on compact discs which had better quality, but the device that played them was large and clumsy to carry around.
Then, I received an iPod as a gift, and everything changed again.
Now I was in the world of digital audio books. Books that could be downloaded onto my computer from the library and directly to my tiny device. The sound was 1,000 times better than the snap crackle cassette tapes and digital recordings never jammed. Once again, books and reading were a dream come true.
We moved from that neighborhood when I was still quite small, and I lost touch with Esther. I feel a connection to her still, as I warmly remember the patience and generosity she extended to a little girl who just loved to read.