Old Diary

Not in the Christmas Plan

It turns out we didn’t go to Minneapolis for Christmas.  Everyone save the two of us seemed to be down sick, three of them dealing with cold/flu symptoms and one with an appendicitis!  I have to say that getting messages into Christmas evening that a grandkid is in hospital awaiting an appendectomy wasn’t something we planned for, but then its’ probably best that Mel and Drew weren’t loaded down with a house full of company when all this happened.

We have been a fairly healthy lot.  Mike has been the one in hospital most — with foot surgeries.  Four months ago Katy fell and broke her wrist too.  I had my few day stay when they were sorting out my heart meds a couple years ago — but aside from that we’ve been staying out of medical facilities for the last 10 years.

But then Christmas eve we started off with an 8 p.m. message that Mel was going to Urgent Care because of abdominal pains.  That got changed to “off to the hospital for scans”, followed by “it’s her appendix”, and scheduled for surgery, followed by emergency came in, they pushed her surgery off by several hours, to maybe by 4 or 5 a.m. and here I am 12 hours later not entirely sure if she still has an appendix or not.

All of which reminded me of the complications of having family spread all over the country.  A few years ago life would have been very different.  There would not have been smart phones and all those messages would probably have been condensed down to one phone call at the end of the event.

I have a friend who emigrated to this country, leaving his wife and children behind.  He’s been here for 7 years and he has been sending every spare penny that he makes back to his family back home.  They hope in another year or so to be able to join him — although they have no idea what the immigration rules may be at that time.

In his case they only have contact a few times a year.  I can’t imagine what that must be like.  I’m not sure I would cope with that at all.  As much as I love my wife, when I was the age of this friend I’m not sure I could maintain the sensation of being married to someone if we were apart for years on end.  It’s a miracle of human affection and commitment that people feel as strongly as they do for each other.

Affection, care, compassion, these are parts of the human being that are hard to quantify, hard to describe, hard to explain, and yet we tend to lump them all together under the single word “love.”  There are things about us humans that defy rational explanation but are true nonetheless.

Of course what’s really important is that you don’t have to understand everything.  Sometimes what’s important is that you feel it.  In what ways are possible, when they are possible, people reach out to you and touch you — and you know you are cared for, cared about and the world looks very much different as a result.  You arise with renewed energy to fight whatever battle you have to face.

And now, I’m going to wait to hear how the surgery went.

It was a 20 hour experience for Melanie.  Going into the hospital on Christmas Eve might be the worst time ever to get a rapid response and seeing as there was no fear of her appendix bursting they put her off, and put her off, and put her off while attending to much more acute emergencies.  But… She went into surgery about 11:30 a.m. on Christmas morning and the surgery was finished by 1 p.m..  They had her drinking and eating to get over the anesthetic more quickly, and by 7 p.m. she was on her way home.

Drew’s Mom and dad are going to keep an eye on her Tues. & Wed.  Katy & Mike will drive up Wed. and be her nursemaids for Thurs. and Friday — getting in a little Christmas celebrating while they are there.

All turned out well, and coincidentally we don’t have to drive another 700 miles in a year when we made 5 trips to Texas.  I know Peggy’s disappointed at not seeing the kids but I’m ok with seeing them in a couple months when we get to feeling housebound and itching for a trip of some sort.  🙂

It all works out. 🙂

Old Diary

I’m not a big Christmas person

In our family, Peg is the Spirit of Christmas!  I sort of come along for the ride, but she’s really the “force” behind our celebrations.  Before we downsized she had boxes and boxes of decorations — most of which we no longer have.  And in our current apartment there’s not a lot of room for decorations, but she still had a good time this past month dolling the place up as much as she could.  And I loved seeing her having a good time.

The two of us have been at that point in life where we don’t need anything, so our present shopping is all about the younger members of the family and it gives us more joy to see them happy than buying more “things” for ourselves would ever do.  Besides, I have always thought it was better to get someone I loved something nice when I was thinking about it, not just because some one I didn’t know drew a circle around a date on the calendar.

Our very first Christmas at home being married I got myself into hot water by painting the kitchen on Christmas eve night — in anticipation of company coming and having to work a full shift earlier.  Since then I haven’t done anything quite so stupid, but the “family-joke” is always just behind her smile when I get sidetracked about something.

People will tell you that Jesus wasn’t born in December, and give you all manner of reason why the holiday we know as Christmas is a bunch of hooey… but personally, I think that anything that gets us to raise our eyes above this earth, and to be a little bit more kind to our fellows is a good thing.  I know that some folks abuse the holiday, others have no idea what it’s about, but the idea of wise men coming from afar to pay homage to a newly born king is the thing that dreams and ideals are made from and this world needs more dreams and ideals rather than fewer.

For some reason, this season I have been struck by the words of one Christmas carol in particular.

 Those are the words of that grand old anthem Angels We Have Heard on High. 

It seems that today there aren’t many people listening for angels. I wonder how many would hear them even if they were singing.   Their song is simple, sung to men, and to the mountains and plains, sung to those who arrive to honor the babe.  The words are clear and no-nonsense:  Glory to God in the Highest.

Nowadays it’s not all the easy to find people who believe in any god, much less to find people who are willing to proclaim him from the housetops, the hilltops, and the street corners.  There are a lot who claim to have some connection to him, who will hold you up for a donation to this cause or that cause but who’s lives are anything but an honor to Him who’s name they publicly proclaim and privately dishonor.

I know it seems simplistic to look for a babe borne in a manger who was foretold would be the savior of mankind.  And 2000 years later it’s even harder to believe in that anthem when man’s inhumanity to man is so prevalent — even in this country where politicians are willing to give to the rich and steal from the poor; where health is held hostage by greedy businesses and where equality is forgotten about in exchange for greater corporate profit.


There are those who believe in the Babe of Bethlehem.  There are those who see and adore a creator who really does have the interests of His creation in His hands — even though we humans can’t see the whole of his plan and are impatient because we find ourselves inconvenienced by sin and suffering. The day will come when He will be justified and human scoffing put to silence.

As for me, I’m enjoying the OLD hymns this year.  The new ones are nice, but somehow they don’t catch the gist of the season for me.  I’m quite content with the old ways for this holiday.  I don’t need beat-box accompaniment, or jazzed up versions…. sometimes the simple is the best.


Old Diary

’Twas the Night Before Christmas

No matter your personal take on Christmas and religion, this time of year you’re going to be surrounded by people caught up in the spirit of … something.  We all know that not everyone who celebrates Christmas does it for the Christian version of the holiday.  Whatever a person’s reason for getting in the seasonal mood — even if it’s sheer greed for presents — I happen to think that the best parts of the holiday are worth celebrating.

No one I know can change the world.  A few have:  Jesus, Ghandi, Hitler, Freud, Buddha and a few more; each in their own way.  Changing others doesn’t necessarily mean changing them for the better.  I remember a time 15 years ago that I noticed something in my daughter’s character that I couldn’t figure out where it came from…. and then I realized for the first time is that the thing I saw in her, a thing I wasn’t particularly happy about, was something I had modeled for HER, and she does it because I do it.  Grrrr…. You cannot determine what aspects of yourself (as a parent) your children will copy!

On this eve of Christmas I want to remind us all that we are all lights set on a hill — other people see what we do, and our actions affect them.  When we choose joy, we feel good and others become aware of our delight and it tends to make them share in our happiness.  When we choose aggravation or hostility, they sense that too and their mood reflects those feelings. In a very real way we make the atmosphere that surrounds us — not only on holidays, but also every other day of the year.

If you put me in a room full of people I’m going to withdraw.  That’s just who I am.  Even when they are family, too many people make me want to sit and watch and listen rather than talking and joking and being the ‘life of the party’ — life of the party I am not.  Still… if I decide I’m going to have a good time, it’s amazing how good a time I DO have.  It’s all about the power of thought.

This evening, and tomorrow, why not try it? No matter how you feel — happy, frustrated, depressed — make up your mind to have a good time, to be joyful for what you have because no matter how little you have there are always those who have even less.  I bet, if you really give it a try you’ll find that you feel better and so does everyone else!



Old Diary

The Old Spice Conundrum

No, I’m not on a rant about men’s shaving cologne!  Although, truth be told, Old Spice was never my favorite scent.  Still — it’s an aroma that lingers in my nostrils and that I can twig with the first molecules to strike my nose!

I’m more concerned — as in frustrated — by old spices. 

When I was younger it was bad enough dealing with spices that had lost their pungency because we didn’t use them fast enough.  Now that we are a.) older, and b.) our metabolism has slowed down we don’t c.) use spices as quickly!  The problem of impotency in spice is growing by the day!

I’m not like a lot of guys.  They call them “meat and potatoes” men. You know them.  They are satisfied with a hunk of animal protein (preferably grilled on an open fire of some sort) and a baked spud.  Or maybe a mashed spud. But as long as it’s a SPUD!

Most of my family has Polish roots.  Sweet and sour were big components our our meals.  So were savory, and marjoram, and oregano, and basil.  Vinegars played their role, and so did a lot of root vegetables.  Pickling was second nature it seemed.

Fast forward a few years and I was the first member of the family to subscribe to Gourmet magazine and I tried out lots of recipes.  Then I started traveling and my taste for “different” flavors grew exponentially. I still have the menu our 9 year old daughter wrote out during a meal at Mlle Jerko’s restaurant on Guadeloupe where we feasted on goat and iguana, and vegetables I’ve never seen before or since while chickens ran among the seated guests in the dining room.

The real problem is that two people can only eat so much food. And a palate what craves novelty is hard pressed to utilize all the spices that you want to have in your repertoire!  I tried buying smaller containers of spices a few years ago — but the problem — the universal problem it seemed to me — was that the smaller the container the more inferior the product.

Fortunately, we have a great natural foods coop in town.  And they have a wonderful section of bulk spices.  It’s a little fussy, having to spoon out individual spices into plastic bags with small metal scoops, but at least that way you get pretty decent spices and herbs and you only pay for what you want/need.  It’s a regular stop on our grocery route.

I don’t find myself using fewer spices as I age.  I’m not sure I’d say I use more, I think my tastes have pretty much stayed the same over the last 20 years.  It has been expensive the last year though because during our time in the RV I had chosen to cook with fewer spices just because of the space issue.  We didn’t have the room to keep all those little bottles and the ones we did keep kept rolling around when we traveled.  It was a mess.

So, since we sold the RV I have gradually been adding to my spice cupboard.  It’s a passable collection.  You’ll notice I keep the old bottles — and reuse them when I go to The Outpost to restock.

It’s a little thing, but variety is the spice of life, right? 


Old Diary

To Drive or Not to Drive

I used to drive in any kind of weather because I had a delivery deadline — or maybe because I was just stupid.  I remember one trip across Iowa on I-80 where I started counting cars in the ditch and by the time I got to the other side of the state I had counted one car in the ditch for every single mile of Interstate highway! Many of them were cars that I had seen blow by me as if I was standing still — only to see them again a few miles down the road with snow covering their windscreen after a precipitous plunge into the median strip.

I have to say that I’m not entirely looking forward to winter.  Not solely because of the cold; moreso because of the fact that neither of us has driven in real winter weather in 6 years. The thought is daunting.

We had a measurable snowfall a few days ago and as we were out in it I said to Peggy, “This is the snowfall to worry about — no one has honed their winter driving skills and it’s a great time for accidents.”  In fact, that’s often the way I think about winter driving:  how has everyone else adjusted to winter driving.  I suppose some would think of that as arrogance, but after years of driving trucks, buses, and cars in all kinds of weather I find that the most dangerous driver is the driver who thinks they know what they are doing — and when it comes to weather — you never know what Momma Nature has in store for you just up the road.  It always pays to drive with caution and respect: for the highway, for other drivers, and for the unknown.

We had a text message last night from our daughter.  She wanted to know whether we were still OK with the idea of carpooling up to Minneapolis, or whether the forecast of bad weather had changed our mind.

I’m not sure what I was supposed to say 5 days in advance of our departure?  There’s time for the forecast to change numerous times between now and then.  Whether the weather will be bad enough to make me not want to drive  in it is a question that will depend on what the weather looks like 4 or 6 hours before our departure (considering that the weather is coming from the direction we are going to).

On the day we’ll make our decision.  I’m hoping that we’ll be hitting the road for Minneapolis but I’m not foolhardy.  I’ll make the best decision I can with the information I have at hand at the time.  I won’t worry about it beforehand.  I won’t second-guess my decision after we get started.  If it’s the decision made with the best information available at the time, then it’s the best decision and factors that come into being after that time were unknown when we made our choice.

I don’t think there has ever been a time when I have started out on a trip, gotten part way there, and then returned home.  I don’t really expect that to be the case this week, but I wonder whether that’s something I will ever end up doing?  I’m pretty careful about life and limb — I don’t believe in taking chances, specially not foolish ones.  However, I’m still pretty confident in my own skills; but I know I’m not as quick to react as I once was, and like anyone at age “almost-70” my eyesight isn’t as good as it was at 20 or 30.  I wonder what I would do; or what I will do when the time comes?

Peg & I never faced the ugly moment of having to take the car keys away from any of our parents.  We had some fears that we might have to do so with Peg’s dad, Frank.  We also knew that my dad was not as good a driver as he had been and I was worrying about the date, perhaps a year or two in the future when I would have to have that conversation with him.  We have chosen an apartment near to many services so that in a few years we will have options if we aren’t such great drivers.  We can get most of our needs taken care of within 2 miles.

But driving is a skill and it takes constant practice to keep you proficiency so right now we don’t patronize just the places that are close.  It’s important to keep our skills up to par. I hope we’ll be able to do that for a decade or two. Only time will tell.  But one thing is for sure:  we are Wisconsinites and winter will always be part of the formula for life.