An Unexpected Gift

I had about 45 minutes to kill between meetings and found myself at one of my favorite stores. You know – that fashionista, get-it-all-here place where you can score your bargain of the day. It was lunchtime and crowded, so the checkout line stretched well beyond the last-chance impulse purchase aisle just before the registers. Along with other shoppers, I was trying to establish my place. As I scanned those around me, I spotted an Air Force ball cap and the pleasant seventy-something face below it. He looked slightly lost and bemused, just as my Air Force veteran dad had in his last years. I found myself drawn to him.  “Were you in the Air Force?” I asked. He nodded. I thanked him for his service and said, “I served in the Air Force, in Strategic Air Command.” He grabbed my hand and said, “God bless you.” His wife was right there, and we exchanged pleasantries, comparing our military lives. He had been in EEE (Electrical, Electronics, and Electromechanical). We both came from military families. Just as she had, I had married an Air Force guy.

As the line moved, I was aware he was right behind me. At some point, I turned back and said something to him. He smiled. His wife mouthed the words, “He has Alzheimer’s.” “I know,” I said. I was well familiar with the symptoms. I turned and looked directly at him, our eyes meeting. “You remind me of my father.” (He had been an electrical engineer.) The man reached for my hand and held it warmly. “You remind me of someone beautiful.” The same soft smile I had first noticed never left his face. Again, he said, “God bless you.” I could feel the tears start to form. Fortunately, it was my turn to check out, and I hurried to my register, but I still can’t shake the memory and rare gift of our few moments together. I’m not sure I want to.

One Hot Mama

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Just another day in paradise.

Summer in New Hampshire — beautiful land of trees, mountains, lakes, and — the beach. In fact, there is so much nature here, the human population almost seems an afterthought. Small wonder that creature comforts often fall into that same category. Our modest cape home doesn’t have air conditioning, but I, heat intolerant as I am, inexplicably like it that way. There is a certain virtue in throwing the windows open late at night, fighting with errant insects, and flipping the switch on the noisy sucking contraption that is our attic fan. The house is much stingier about releasing amassed degrees than it is about hoarding them, but I celebrate the loss of each thermal unit. It also helps that we are near a beautiful, and cool, lake under the canopy of tall trees. In fact, I love everything about New Hampshire summers except the handful of triple-digit days, and…the beach.

I know for some this is heresy, but for a state that is second only to Maine for tree cover, the wide expanse of unprotected ocean front seems oddly out of place.  Just last weekend we ventured to the shore for a birthday celebration, the lure of loved ones trumping sand. Our traffic app showed lines of red snaking to the shore; we resisted, hugging the back treed roads as long as we could. Parking was like an advanced game of Tetris. We kissed one car’s rear bumper, leaving enough room for someone to block us from behind, considering ourselves lucky as cars crept by in search of precious parking real estate. We had pulled up next to Dave, father to a one-year-old, and watched as he pulled a storage locker’s worth of paraphernalia out of his truck to maximize fun in the sun. The birthday girl greeted us. “Did you bring chairs?” Why, no; the only things we thought to bring were sunblock and a small cooler – no chairs, no towels, no umbrella, no snacks, no bug spray, no sunglasses, no hats, no thick-soled shoes. We were woefully unprepared.

Undaunted, we set off across the sand. I slipped off my flip flops, only to be rewarded by Venusian surface temperatures, the sand surrounding my feet in flesh-searing heat. I limped as fast as I could to the bone-chilling water. I could no longer feel my feet. The sun was unrelenting, complemented by the salty, sticky residue of ocean which gave my erupting sunburn a nice “bite.” As I chased shifting umbrella shade to preserve my pristine porcelain hue, others happily lounged in full sun, the better to build their burnished bronze surfaces.  Nearly 120 minutes later, we retreated to cool air-conditioned shelter for lunch.  All too soon, the sun worshippers were again lured by the siren call of steaming sand and frigid surf. I longed for cover. We went in the opposite direction, navigating the beach crowds to again seek the relative solitude of our tree canopy.  I threw open the windows to the cooling air. It was good to be home.

No one in sight.

No one in sight.

 

 

 

 

Faux Fur

This is New Hampshire country, far from the ordered world of suburban subdivision living I know. Secure in the (somewhat) familiar and predictable existence contained within the walls of our home, I never know what awaits me outside. One thing is for sure — nature comes to you. Last week it was a large snapping turtle, lured by our vernal pool and sandy backyard soil. After several test excavations, she found the perfect spot for her eggs and left us to watch her underground incubator for the next 12 weeks or so.

Some of our tenants are less welcome. A large groundhog moved in under our attached shed and proceeded to dig cavernous holes in our yard. We decided to relocate it and set a large crate trap with the lure of enticing melon. The melon disappeared, but the groundhog was large enough to defeat the trap door, no doubt amused at our feeble and transparent efforts.

Yesterday, though, I saw the door had been tripped again. This time, a soft set of eyes quietly regarded me from behind the metal bars. This creature was not a groundhog, but somehow looked familiar — the small size, the gamine face with a touch of white; the spiked and rounded appearance of its coat. Could it be?  Of course —  it must be a hedgehog! A woman of action, I sprang into motion, emailing my husband and calling a friend to share the surprising news. Oh, and I looked up “hedgehog” online. Undaunted by the inconvenient datum that hedgehogs aren’t native to North America, I also found a NH hedgehog breeder and rescue organization. Convinced I had an escaped pet, I called them and left a message. Always thorough,  I also called our local university’s extension service. My mind was racing. What did it eat? When would I have the time to drive it to the hedgehog breeder?

I received a prompt email from the hedgehog people, who gently told me the odds this was an errant hedgehog were unlikely, but possible. If so, they were standing at the ready to assist. I decided to take a picture of my little charge and took the time to take a good look. On closer inspection, the features I had been so sure pointed to a quintessential Wind in the Willows character now looked markedly different. The nose wasn’t so pointed, the fur not so spiked. Still cute and endearing, I now realized this was no hedgehog but a groundhog of the child variety. More than a little embarrassed, I emailed the hedgehog people apologizing for my hasty taxonomic classification. Afterwards, picturing a distressed groundhog mother nearby,  I relented and let the little one go so he could reunite with his doting parent. He scampered off, no doubt eager to set up permanent digs chez nous.

The next day, I received a return message from the extension service. Jay couldn’t suppress the chuckles as he replied to my message but duly gave me information for the right people to call in the case of errant (as in the wrong continent) wildlife. I called him back, and we shared a good laugh. I may live in the country, but it is clear to everyone I am no country girl.

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(Not a) Hedgehog

All that Glitters…

Last week, an old (and precious) friend treated me to an incredible trip to Las Vegas to celebrate a milestone birthday. Why Las Vegas? I’m not really sure — it was more impulse than anything added to a curious fascination with slot machines that dates back to 1988 when our young family was in the Vegas airport for half an hour between planes.  Lulled by those shiny spinning sirens, I abandoned my husband with an infant in a dirty diaper so I could make an offering of my spare change. I don’t think he’s ever forgiven me.

Even the airport has changed dramatically since that time — its sprawling concourses lined with an incredible array of enticements to lose your money, the new strip so full of opulence and attractions, it was hard to know where to look first. Where else can you see the Statue of Liberty silhouetted against the Eiffel Tower ringed by a roller coaster? Laura and I set out to explore these monuments to entertainment and excess, and I couldn’t help but try to capture the cacaphonic sights  with my camera. Laura, in contrast, insisted on taking  pictures of us telling me how she focuses on people when she travels rather than the scenery.

It wasn’t until I was traveling home that it hit me. Laura was right. I had focused on the glitter and missed what had really stood out to me — the people. We made connections almost everywhere starting that first morning with the transplanted artist and part-time tour guide from Portland, Maine who had been lulled by Las Vegas’ 24-hour wake cycle. He offered us a quick and helpful orientation, and I could hear his affection for his adopted city as he spoke to us. Looking for inexpensive jewelry in a store that was being ousted for something more upscale, I found the owner was from Jordan, and we talked about the turmoil in that area and the heartache that comes with having to leave a homeland you love. In Tiffany’s we met Peter, a passionate young man from Puerto Rico, and we learned more about the lack of opportunity and financial woes of this beleaguered U.S. territory.  We gained fascinating insight on art and the creative process with Susan in the Chihuly Store at the Bellagio. She had known Dale Chihuly for over twenty years, and her excitement in showing us the remarkable translation of his initial sketches to stunning three-dimensional  artworks was truly inspiring. We connected with Miyuki on our spa day at the Mandarin Oriental and she shared the sweet story of how she met her American husband in Japan while working at a theme park (he was a Viking). Then there was the amazing Vearn (his real name), a tour guide atop Paris’ Eiffel Tower. A celebrity in his own right, autistic,  and graced with an amazing photographic memory, he knew everything about the city (including the fact that we were in Paradise and not Las Vegas), down to detailed statistics and the notorious history of each and every hotel. His personal story, both heartbreaking and uplifting, compelled me to have our picture taken together.

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Laura, me, and Vearn

On the way home, I sat next to Isolde, a remarkably beautiful educator who was contemplating her next chapter. Her heart for encouraging youth to embrace self-worth and find their own path was inspiring and compelling.

Next time I go somewhere, I will look for the human stories beneath the landscape. These are the memories I want to capture.  There will be more photos of faces, and less of glitter.

Oh, by the way, I did scratch my itch to play the slots. Although I was up by twenty cents, I got greedy and lost it. That’s Vegas;-)

Spring(board)

There are all types of beauty in the seasons — the lushness of early summer where color and vegetation abound; the sepia hues of late fall as once-resplendent leaves finally drift to the ground; the hush of a new snow that lavishly etches dark tree branches. Right now, in our little corner of the world, it is still early spring. Daffodils are appearing along with a few wildflowers, but tree leaves are tightly furled against the still-cool nights. This is not the season of panoramic views, but one that invites you to look closely to see the beginnings of what is to come.

Our lives go through seasons, too. After the winter comes the spring. If you look closely, you’ll see the  clear promise of the beautiful flowering to come.

Now Accepting Manure

 

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The Sign

I was driving to an appointment the other day using my favorite routing system – the languid back roads that gracefully traverse our beautiful corner of New Hampshire. I rounded a corner, and a sign posted in front of a neat white farm home assaulted my senses. “Accepting Manure” it proclaimed. My nose wrinkled as I thought, “I would never want a load of excrement, let alone pay for it!”

It made me think, though. Manure is very useful if you know what to do with it. No one ever grew champion crops using sanitized soil. This farmer knew if he wanted the best results, he needed lots of smelly organic material. I thought of recent events in my own life—apparent reversals and challenges. Normally, I think of obstacles as undesirable and long for a life of absolute calm and predictability. Now, I thought of how much I had been growing in this nutrient-rich environment.

Just that quickly, my perspective shifted. Maybe I should stop wishing for  different circumstances and welcome the growth medium I was being offered. It’s good stuff if you know how to use it.

 

The Chest

The Chest

The Chest

I was sweeping the floor this morning, moving the broom around the familiar contours of our kitchen that include the two wooden stools we purchased nearly 20 years ago and the side table made in Ankara in 2003. The house was quiet, as it is every morning, punctuated only by the soft gurgle of the coffee pot. Then I looked up and saw it – the chest. A wave of unexpected emotion rushed through me. It had been a while since I had really seen her; I sat down on one of the stools, overcome by a flood of memories.

It was twenty-six years ago. David and I were living in Indiana with our two young daughters. Living in a modest ranch, we were awash in diapers, toddler clothes and baby food. I struggled to find room for everything. We heard about a guy who made pine furniture. It was our first commissioned piece – a pine two door cabinet, complete with rustic carved door panels and hearts. It had three shelves, perfect for storing anything. I thought it was beautiful. Soon after bringing it home, we discovered the simple wooden latch was placed too low, perfectly positioned for little hands to open and help themselves. We added another latch too high for them to reach, even on tiptoes.  At some point, I decided the plain pine finish was too plain and stained it barn red, adding a leaf design and painting the hearts green.

Although many possessions and pieces of furniture stayed with us through the years, the cabinet was special. It said “home”. It has been with us through multiple military and non-military moves – a pantry in Indiana, an armoire in Illinois, a game cabinet in California. When we moved to Turkey and put most of our things in storage, the cabinet was an exception. It made the trek overseas. Somehow, putting it in our Ankara apartment gave me a comfort that transcended the language and culture barriers.

Now, our children grown and far away, it sits in our New Hampshire kitchen, the doors well-worn around the upper latch, the 90s remodel looking decidedly dated and out of sync. The last time our family was together, I talked about painting it a neutral gray. I shouldn’t have been surprised when our daughters loudly protested. After all, it bears the unique fingerprints of our family’s life. Now that I see it, I love it just the way it is.