Happy Spring!

Today is not only the official first day of Spring (and welcome to it!), but today is the day we are moving my dad into our home. While the upstairs renovations (Dad’s bedroom, private bath and sitting room) are not yet complete, he is going to have our bedroom on the first floor, and we will all share the first floor bathroom as well. This means that we can take the time to get the upstairs done completely and well.

We bought a wonderful sleeper sofa and actually slept on it for the first time the other night—it was heavenly! Things felt slightly off until we realized that we had swapped our usual sides of the bed; I am usually on the right-hand side of the bed, and the Crankee Yankee is on the left. So we swapped sides last night; MUCH better.

The cats are all be-flummoxed by this change, but that didn’t stop them from swarming us all night long. Once Dad gets into the bedroom, the sliding door will be closed so the cats will leave him alone. It’s not that Dad doesn’t like them, but he prefers to have them on his time, if you know what I mean.

This has been a long, hard winter for Dad. Just doing simple chores has become more than he has strength for, so by living with us, he doesn’t have to do a thing if he doesn’t want to. He also feels he doesn’t want to drive any longer. It isn’t that he has lost his edge, but he tires of the increasingly selfish and dangerous actions of others on the road. I don’t blame him a bit. It IS scary out there.

As I have said before, our house is pretty much in semi-construction mode all the time. But over time I have come to love and appreciate this house more and more. Not only that, but I am constantly in awe of how the Crankee Yankee works. He always finds the way to get things done. Also, my wonderful brother-in-law, David, helps him a lot, and boy—do we appreciate him.

Of course in living this way there are irritating things that happen from time to time; I clean about once a week, knowing that there will always be traces of mud or melting ice here and there, sawdust is definitely a frequent house guest, and then there is the cat fur from five (count ’em, FIVE) cats.

But besides all that, this is a home filled with love, kindness and an abiding spirit of joy. My hope is that Dad will fall into the arms of all this love and kindness, knowing that he is cared for and welcomed in every way. I have told him that he doesn’t have to do a thing; just be here and enjoy himself. This time of year tires him, so if he wants to snooze in bed for the better part of the day, so be it.

We have stocked the ‘fridge with everything he likes; hot dogs and beans, handmade burgers, soups, salads, fresh fruit, and of course, chocolate chip cookies. He doesn’t eat that much at a sitting, but that’s ok. I told him that he never has to do laundry again, or vacuum, or dust, or anything.

I look forward to this time with happiness. My dad adopted me when I was four years old; he and Mom were newly married, and he became from then on my real dad. I learned a long time ago that blood doesn’t make a parent; but love in action does.

I feel blessed that we have the chance to all be together as a family—as it should be. Family is everything.

 

 

Things Don’t Always Have to be Perfectly Perfect…

I am a “faux” perfectionist. That means that I wish I could be the perfectionist I’d like to be, but I seldom get close to it. To me, a real perfectionist is someone who wants things to be perfect, then goes right to work to make sure that things really are perfect. That person should be wearing a gold badge. Right now my own badge would be made of tin, really cheap tin.

I wish I had a magic wand to make things perfect. Just take our office, for example. It is the perfect example of what we call a “blivet.” A blivet is basically 10 pounds of crap in a 5 pound container. All of our paperwork, files, my bead containers, books, computer, pictures, sewing stuff, cold and warm weather outdoor clothes (stuffed into a meager closet), CDs, knick-knacks, do-dads and all sorts of miscelany live there.

If this were the only room in the house stuffed to the gills, I wouldn’t feel so guilty about not getting it straightened away. But sadly, most of our rooms are like this. It’s a case of us having stuff we need (or may not need) and just plain not having enough room for everything. The “purge early, purge often” motto has somehow eluded us over the years.

Also, we will soon be moving my dad into our house. The Crankee Yankee has been busy getting the upstairs ready for him; a comfortable bedroom, a private bathroom, and a sitting room. Right now we are concentrating on bedroom and bathroom; the sitting room will have to wait.

Fortunately that’s really all Dad wants. So we have been focusing on this to get it all done as soon as possible. In my faux perfectionist way, I really wanted everything done including much more organization downstairs, every thing in place, things pared down to absolute necessity, etc. But first things first. Right now, Dad comes first.

Just the other night I had a real “road to Damascus” epiphany: not everything in this cluttered and much beloved little house has to be perfect! It will be more than enough to have my wonderful dad under the same roof with us. It will be more than enough to enjoy our meals together each day. It will be more than enough to sit together in our cluttered living room just being together. And it will be more than enough to love and cherish each other every day.

Right now I’ll take partially perfect over perfect-perfect. Perfect is having my dad here just as soon as possible. That’s what really matters.

 

 

Staples of Love

No, that title is not an analogy; it is literally about metal staples. And why would I be writing about staples? Because we are currently using a whole lot of them. Let me explain.

The Crankee Yankee and I are renovating the upper floor of our home to make a comfortable living space for my dad. He will be moving in with us in the spring, and right now we are in the midst of putting up the rest of the insulation. I hold it in place and the Crankee Yankee staples it.

The upstairs used to consist of two bedrooms, separated by a half bath. So much needed to be done, so the Crankee Yankee gutted it to the boards when we moved in around 2007. Actually, many areas of the house had to be repaired and renovated, and slowly but surely, he has made a lot of improvements.

The upstairs had become a catch-all for boxes of books we weren’t sure we would keep, seasonal clothes, camping stuff, two old rocking chairs, some worn-out hassocks, old pictures, a couple of wooden chests, several boxes of model train stuff, and so on.

We have been able to separate things to throw away, things to take to our local Goodwill or Salvation Army, and so on. We’ve made quite a dent in it all. We are nearly done putting in the new insulation; next will come the strapping, followed by the sheetrock. I plan to paint the walls a soft lime color. The Crankee Yankee will install doors, a couple of closets, and then the new flooring can go down.

One ample side will be for Dad’s bed, bureau, night stand, lamps and a lovely old trunk he and Mom refurbished years ago. It will be “in service” again, storing the bedding and towels. The beautiful jewel-tone rug Mom bought in Maine will be right beside Dad’s bed.

Dad will have his own private half-bath with all new appliances; a walk-in shower, toilet, vanity and medicine cabinet. The other side of his living space will be a sitting room with a small desk and chair, Dad’s recliner, a table, etc. Some of the paintings and photographs from his home will grace the walls as well.

In each room, there is a big window for light and air, and the Crankee Yankee is putting in a ceiling fan. There will be a separate electric panel so that Dad can have his rooms as warm or cool as he likes. Finally, there will be a door at the top of the stairs to keep the cats out at night.

So far, Dad has no trouble with stairs, and we of course put up railings on both sides. If the stairs ever do become bothersome, we can easily install a stair lift.

To get ready for the big move, we will be moving Dad’s cat, Bailey, in with us soon. The Crankee Yankee and I have introduced new cats into the house over the years, so this isn’t our first rodeo. This way when Dad moves in, Bailey will have adjusted, and can come and go as he pleases. (But don’t cats do that anyway?)

We are all looking forward to living under the same roof, having our meals together, and taking day trips whenever we wish. This summer Dad can enjoy our garden in the front yard (eight raised beds), and we all look forward to sitting on rockers on the front porch and watching the stars come out. We can be all together or go our separate ways; it will be wonderful.

So each and every staple we use for the insulation that will provide comfort for every season means something to me. Each staple that goes in with that satisfying  “thoonk” means that we are that much closer to “Move-in” day.

I love each and every one of them.

 

Choosing a Dad

I chose my own dad. I was about four years old when Mom and Dad started dating. Mom had been divorced from my birth father for quite a while, and she and Dad met on their jobs in Bangor, ME. We had wonderful picnics and drives together as I went with them often on their dates. I especially remember picking buttercups with the man who would soon adopt me, and I remember asking him if I could call him “Daddy,” and he said yes.

I know that many adopted children boast about being “chosen” rather than simply being born to their mom and dad. I understand now that sometimes kids get to pick their parents, too. So I really did “adopt” my dad.

Biology doesn’t make a father; it is love, choice, commitment, kindness, understanding and decency that makes a father. The Hawaiians have got it right when they include and embrace non-family people into their own family; it is called “ohana,” or ‘extended and blended family, not just blood relatives.’ You don’t have to be related to love each other.

With the loss of my mom last December, Dad and I have become closer. We talk with each other every morning and afternoon, and I treasure each phone call. Twice a week, I or the Crankee Yankee and I go up to visit him and go out to lunch. Afterwards we chat for a while, and we do some little project or other that needs doing.

Dad tells me often to just take what I want from the house; I appreciate that very much. But the few things I will eventually take into our own home can wait. Right now I am happy that Dad is comfortable in his home with all that is familiar and has been for years.

He does very well each day, getting out in the morning to meet the world and see his friends and have coffee with them, go for the occasional walk, pick up some groceries and the mail; all things that make a pleasant routine. When I am not there with him, I picture him in his chair, reading and always striving to learn new things, keeping in touch with his old friends, and making a life for himself.

Of course we both miss Mom; she was our North Star, our point of light and a big presence in our lives, her friends’ lives, and in the community. Somewhere in previous posts I have mentioned what Dad told me shortly after she died: “If I had been the one to die first, she would of course have mourned and missed me. But she still would have gone out with her friends, stopped in three times a week for coffee with the gals at the local bookshop, gone out to lunch now and then; in short, she would have LIVED. And that’s what I intend to do: to LIVE.”

So, we two who used to be “we three” go on—loving and supporting each other, and

“*…talk of many things:

Of shoes–and ships–and sealing-wax–

Of cabbages–and kings–

And why the sea is boiling hot–

And whether pigs have wings.”

So, from that long ago day of picking buttercups, there is this wonderful, precious and amazing connection between my dad and me. It enriches both our lives, and makes a soft cushion between missing Mom but being present ourselves.

Even at four years old, I was smart enough to choose the best dad for me.

*From “The Walrus and the Carpenter,” by Lewis Carroll, 1832 – 1898

 

Raising Good Radishes and Adults

When you have a garden, you know that you can’t plant a row of radish seeds one day, then harvest full-grown radishes the next day. It takes time, sun, water, fertilizer and weeding to coax them into their delicious crunchy fullness.

Now, kids are not radishes, but similar rules apply. Put them in the right circumstances, with all the help they need to become healthy and responsible adults, and they are on their way to being self-sufficient and productive members of society. As wonderful and amazing as they are as babies, toddlers, school-age kids, teens and young adults, the end-game is to grow adults.

Back in the dinosaurish ’50s when I came along, these are some of the many things my parents taught me:

  • how to make a bed
  • how to keep myself clean
  • how to care for my teeth
  • how to care for my hair
  • how to fold and/or hang up my clothes
  • how to wash and dry dishes
  • how to wash woolens so that they did not shrink or stretch
  • how to cook
  • how to bake
  • how to change a tire
  • how to use a jacknife without cutting myself
  • how to set a campfire and how to put it out
  • how to vacuum
  • how to keep my skin clean and moisturized
  • how to apply makeup without overdoing it
  • how to clean up my room
  • how to ride a bike
  • how to pick up after myself
  • how to be a working part of the family
  • how to stay out of trouble

That last one was the hardest for me. It seemed to me at the time that I was in trouble at least once every week. Our family had rules of behavior, with consequences for going over the line. One of the big rules was that I was never to leave the house without letting my mom or dad know where I was going and when I’d be back. One summer evening as my mom was running a bath for me, I decided to slip out of the house. I had a vague idea I would pay for this later on, but the freedom of walking around the neighborhood alone was just too intoxicating to pass up.

My dad came looking for me, found me, took me firmly by the hand, and walked me home. On the way he asked me if I had remembered the house rule; I did, but flouted it anyway. He asked me if I knew how worried he and Mom were when they found me missing; I hadn’t thought of their feelings at all. Filled with remorse, I realized the enormity of what I had done.

I don’t even remember the punishment for my brief walk that evening, but I do remember the comfort of boundaries. I knew, as I always did, that my parents loved and cared for me, and that I had terrified them that evening. Of course, there were many times when I flounced into my room, angry about not being able to do this or that….even then there was a small and grateful relief in knowing that I was loved and cared for; at those times I even understood why there were rules in the first place.

I have never been a parent; isn’t it something how people who have never raised a child have all these ideas on how to do it? All I know is that my parents strove to be teachers and mentors to me, not necessarily my best friends. (That came later on.) Being raised the way I was, I have a deep and abiding admiration of how my parents made sure that I was able to live on my own and be responsible for all aspects of my life.

I am very glad to have grown up to be a pretty good radish.

 

Fathers

On this Fathers’ Day, I am aware of all the things that fathers are: nurturer, leader, ally, guardian, advisor, teacher, as well as a safety net and someone you can trust and love with all your heart.

A father is not just a good man, but a good example. A father’s lessons of life stay with you always. Even a child understands that a father not only keeps you safe, but is someone in whose footsteps you can follow with confidence.

When he and my mother were dating, I sort of fell in love with him right along with Mom. I can even remember some of our outings together; always picnics or walks. I remember picking buttercups with him, which have become “our” flower over the years.

I also remember the acts of kindness; Mom was newly divorced and on her own, and money must have been terribly tight. Dad showed up one day with a couple of big bags of groceries he bought for us. Even at age of four I knew that I could trust him, rely on him, and I knew that he would love and care for us both forever.

I stood with him and my mother when they were married in 1955 in my dad’s parents’ front parlor. Right afterwards, Dad adopted me, gave me his name and my grandparents.

When we became a family, there was a beautiful completeness to it—it all felt right. It was as if we were all part of a wonderful machine whose cogs had all slipped into the right positions to work perfectly.

My dad was and is a wonderful father to me. We have been through everything together, including my mom’s death last December. They had been married for 60 years. Together we remember her, talk about her, miss her, and share years and years of wonderful memories.

I am lucky to have my dad, who, at age 91 is healthy, vital, engaged in the world, is open to new ideas, and furthers his knowledge each day.

I am also lucky to be married to good man (the Crankee Yankee), who is also a good father to my amazing step-daughter and a wonderful grandfather to our two beautiful and wonderful granddaughters.

Good fathers are gifts not only to we who have them, but to the world as well. Their example, help and wisdom buoys us up as we grow up, and stays with us as we grow older. We are better people thanks to our dads.

To all the wonderful fathers, past and present, in the world, especially my dad—happy Fathers’ Day. May you also know how loved and appreciated you are.

 

Funny Family Factoids

I think that every family has a unique vocabulary; that is, words and phrases that are singularly that family’s own language. In my family we had many. Each family knows not only the meaning of the words and phrases, but also who brought it into the family language.

Sometimes we adopt other people’s language bits into our own. If we travel and hear a funny or interesting phrase, we like it so much that we adopt it.

When I lived in Texas, I heard these gems (which, by the way, I’ve embraced into my own family language):

  • “It’s fittin’ to rain/it’s fixin’ to rain.” Translation: “We’re gonna get some rain.”
  • “That dog won’t hunt.” Translation: “What you just said won’t work in this situation.”
  • “I might could.” Translation: “I may go (to the store, mall, downtown, etc.)”
  • “Do whut?” Translation: “What on earth do you mean?”
  • “Happier n’ a possum in a cow plop.” Translation: “I’m really, REALLY happy.”

A lot of our family language comes from–you guessed it; family. For example, when anyone asked my uncle how he was doing in general, he answered: “Oh, I’m rattling around like a bead in a bureau drawer.” My late mother-in-law, Hazel, when asked what was for dinner, would often say: “*hundzfurt und flagel.” Translation: “We’re having a light supper; i.e., soup and sandwiches.”

I was an only child, and my mom and dad and I had our own unique words as well:

  • “Sirk” Translation: syrup
  • “Fiddies” Translation: slippers
  • “boody cat” Translation: sweet kitty
  • “Flopicize” Translation: all-purpose word meaning to fix something
  • “Good God, Amos, get up! The** cat’s broke all the dishes!” Translation: “Good grief, what the heck was that noise?”

Then there are some regional words and phrases you just grow up with, such as:

  • “My car just sh*t the bed.” Translation: My car just died.
  • “I’m busier than a one-legged man in an ass-kicking contest.” Translation: “I’m REALLY busy.”

Then there are the words and phrases you pick up from the movies and TV. Remember the 1998 movie, “Patch Adams,” starring Robin Williams? Here are some of the famous quotes on death and dying:

“Death. To die. To expire. To pass on. To perish. To peg out. To push up daisies. To push up posies. To become extinct. Curtains, deceased, demised, departed and defunct. Dead as a doornail. Dead as a herring. Dead as a mutton. The last breath. Paying a debt to nature. The big sleep. God’s way of saying, ‘Slow down.'”

“To check out.”

“To shuffle off this mortal coil.”

“To head for the happy hunting ground.”

“To find oneself without breath.”

“To be the incredible decaying man.”

“Kick the bucket.”

“Buy the farm.”

“Cash in your chips.”

In closing, take the time to write down or at least notice your own family vocabulary. It can become a dear memory, and give you a giggle to think of all your amazing and funny family factoids.

*German for “dog farts and feathers.”

**This really was an actual phrase from my family. Our early ancestors, Amos and Margaret, were sound asleep in bed. Over their heads was a carved shelf Amos had made for his wife one Christmas. All of her treasured wedding dishes and doo-dads were on it. Evidently, their cat decided to jump up to investigate, causing a shower of broken dishes down on poor Margaret’s head!