Hello? Is anyone there?

The Onion, Feb 4, 2016, Plows Working Around Clock...

From The Onion, 2/4/2016, “Plows Working Around Clock to Keep NH Roads Clear of Campaign Signs”

The news spread quickly through our small town Facebook page – a large black SUV with New York plates and tinted windows was making its way slowly down Rollercoaster Road. Any other time, such an occurrence would be suspicious, but I live in New Hampshire. The apparent mystery was quickly dispelled – Bernie Sanders volunteers were canvassing elusive Strafford voters house by house, which in our enclave takes some searching as most homes are nearly invisible behind a dense veil of snow-laced trees.

Our little village has about 4,000 residents and not a single stop light. Statewide, NH’s approximately 800,000 voters are a mere one-half of one percent of the 150 million voters nationwide.  By the way, about 45% of NH voters are registered independents, the better to court by both parties. The nearest city boasts all of 30,000 residents, about the same as our previous town of O’Fallon, IL, a former farming community. Incidentally, Illinois has nearly ten times the number of registered voters as our current state. None of that matters when you consider that we have the first presidential primary.  With all the candidates running this year, it’s hard to avoid a campaign bus or yet another town hall. I believe if we lined all the candidates up equidistantly across the state, they would be able to see each other, mountains and valleys notwithstanding.

Just as our small lake community’s population swells in the summer, so does the population of NH in the months before the primary. With the influx of out-of-town campaign staff, volunteers, and every conceivable media outlet with all their people and equipment, it feels like our diminutive and quiet New England state has become downright corpulent, raucously swelling well beyond the propriety of its borders. Not only are campaign signs and workers everywhere, diners are doing a bustling political breakfast business, and competing campaign events are common. Some residents relish in the energy and attention; we are largely staying out of the fray and letting our endlessly ringing phone go straight to voicemail.

Finally, thankfully, the primary is this Tuesday; I will do my civic duty and vote, and, yes, I will be waiting and watching for the results. Beyond all the hype, I do care about the future of our country, but I won’t be sorry to see the busses, the breakfast events, and the candidates go elsewhere. We’re almost out of eggs.

You Say “Tomato”, I say “Tomato”

We recently had professional painters in our home to finally transform our previously wallpapered music and dining rooms (a real treat as I look at the DIY free-form version of interior wall coating that is predominant in our home). They left the rooms pristine — perfectly painted, every trim gap and misalignment now invisible, not a stray brush mark in sight. After, I rushed to put the rooms back together, the better to enjoy the results. My husband called later. “What are you doing?” “Filling holes in the painted rooms,” I replied without thinking. There was silence on the other end. “I’m hanging pictures,” I helpfully added. He sighed. I get it –the way I hang pictures makes absolutely no sense, but I persist. I wondered what my methods might look like if I wrote my steps and equipment down as a “how to”. Check out “How to Hang Pictures” under “Miscellaneous Musings”.  Can you relate?

https://gracetolaugh.com/recent-musings/how-to-hang-pictures/

hammering with a shoe

 

No Regrets

Another New Year and a new opportunity to take stock of my life as I, oh-so-reluctantly, dismantle the comfort and warmth of Christmas lights and decorations and start January with a fresh slate. Mother Nature helpfully provides the backdrop of fresh, white snow, the better to take up my pen and create my next chapter. What will the next year hold for me and my family? Will this be the year I really break out and live fearlessly?

Taking stock also means reflecting on what I’ve done, or, perhaps more accurately, not done. I’ve found myself looking more to the past to dissect every action or inaction and its result and grade myself accordingly. I’m a pretty harsh grader, I must say. Here are just a few examples from January 2015.

Goal: Lose the rest of my excess weight. Result: Did you think this year would be any different?  What’s Next? Try again for the 20th year in a row.

Goal: Find and start my next dream job. Result: Barely got out of the starting gate. What’s Next? It’s back to the drawing board to figure out what that dream job really looks like before I’m eligible for social security.

Goal: Exercise regularly and eat healthy. Result: Decidedly mixed (see first goal), but better than the last year. What’s Next? What else? Recommit yet again; giving up is not an option.

Goal: Learn to be more patient, kind, thoughtful, and generous. Result: Ms. “Get ‘er done now” and Ms. “Let me tell you what I think” are still in the house. What’s Next? Sigh….

Yet, as I look on the perfect blanket of white snow outside, I think of a new resolution this year — to look back and have no regrets. Everything I’ve done, or not done, said, or not said, is mine and mine alone. I may fail forward, but I can learn from my mistakes without shackling myself or my spirit to my perceived failures. I can strive and fall short without feeling insufficient; I can reflect without self-judgment or punishment; I can forge forward in my imperfect but wonderfully made self. May this be the year I make purposeful steps on my fresh canvas, learning to embrace just who and where I am and not waiting for an impossible ideal before I hit the “go” button. Snow_Path

 

Critters

August. Comfortably cool mornings yield to languid heavy afternoons. It’s the month of running the basement dehumidifier non-stop, the month of rampant crabgrass, and the month that marks peak critter season. Unlike our subdivision property in Illinois that served as a backdrop for the occasional, adorable, brown bunny, New Hampshire is an ever-changing landscape of abundant wildlife. We’ve learned to live with our crew-cut hostas, thoughtfully cropped by invisible deer, not to mention the elusive creatures who are eating through the tender leaves of our birch tree and carefully dropping pruned branches for their little ones. We don’t mind the birds nests that appear everywhere, including the palatial avian abode erected on the inverted seat of our stored canoe. Chipmunks, raccoons, even the occasional skunk drop by or decide we are prime real estate for a permanent residence. (Nothing like opening your windows for fresh night air and waking up to Eau d’Horrible in the morning.) We’ve even heard of bear sightings in the area. Live and let live. Then there was the July day I looked up and saw those perfectly circular holes around our attic vent. What could those be? I wondered as I made a mental note to fix the structural damage, adding it to our always robust “to do” list, then forgot about it. No matter — the answer presented itself last Wednesday. With my husband in the hospital recuperating from orthopedic surgery, I was on my own with the morning routine. Coming back into the house with our two dogs, a flash of movement caught my eye in our parlor. It was a critter, and it flew- fast. It’s hard to describe the feeling of panic that overtakes you when self-propelled wildlife is actually within the protective walls of your house. I immediately called David — hospital or not, I needed him.  On his instructions, I opened the front door, held up a broom, and watched this dark creature with a wingspan of at least a foot faultlessly perform low level maneuvers around our first floor furniture before swooping outside. I thought it was a bird who had gotten in by some fluke. Then, the next day, there was another “bird” in the kitchen, then tonight, with my husband home, a third and fourth appeared. “That is a bat,” he said matter-of-factly, on seeing the first. Bats? What? Evidently our attic is housing a bat colony. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. Maybe they’ll keep the bears out.

August. The month of calling the local wildlife control company to evict unwanted tenants. In the meantime, I’ll keep the broom handy.flying black bat silhouetted in the twilight sky

Slip Sliding Away

Oh, winter in New Hampshire!  I know now why New England has spawned so many writers — what else is there to do on long winter days when it’s below zero outside?  After subzero temperatures that yielded to rain and glazed all horizontal surfaces,  I stepped out this morning onto our glassy driveway, mincing my way like some old woman, and only because I had somewhere to be.   In Illinois, I may have owned three pairs of socks.  Now, these miraculous items of clothing must comprise at least 30% of our laundry.  Today, I wore tights covered by wool knee-highs, that were themselves covered by warm anklets, all under zip up leather boots.  The art of layering is a needed skill as frigid mornings yield to more temperate middays that are only false hope as sundown brings the deep chill back.  I used to take the Christmas decorations down by mid January; no more.  I can’t bear the thought of cold snow without the warmth of little white lights on the tree and gazebo outside.

With all that said, I don’t want to be anywhere else.  I love building fires in the woodstove, soot and all, and the beauty and stillness of the woods under a blanket of white.  There is nothing like the slow warming glow of a winter sunrise that serves as a rosy backdrop to the stark silhouette of tree limbs or the incomparable feeling of being nestled under a lofty down comforter.   I think winter must be my favorite time of year, that is,  until spring comes.

The woods are lovely…

The Pond

The Pond

I have written before on the vagaries of our country property; it is far from the manicured perfection of our suburban subdivision lot outside St. Louis. Here, green is the new grass. If it’s green it counts as an acceptable ground cover. No more will I try to dictate what or where things grow. What are dandelions except charming seasonal flowers?

What I do love are the spaces around our home that beckon. In our previous life, the lawn was to be observed and admired. In New Hampshire, we have naturescapes that seduce and lure you outside. At the front of our property, undulating below a stately band of trees, is a beautiful moss carpeted area next to a winding brook. Two of those trees have hooks just waiting for the hammock that will stretch between them and offer shaded respite from the summer heat. Just beyond, on the other side of our white picket fence is what I call our “fairy garden”, beautiful perennials and dwarf plants and a bench to sit on and take it in.

It is our pond, though, that I love the most. It is little more than a seasonal drainage receptacle, but now, when it is full and dark, it promises mystery and a watery passage to the woods beyond. The rain dances across its surface, fragmenting the reflection of the tall trees above. There is a large flat topped boulder set on the sandy shore dotted with wild flowers perfect for sitting and contemplating nature and life’s mysteries. If I were a child, it would transport me completely to other worlds and tell me stories only I could hear. Maybe if I sit and look into its depths long enough, I may yet hear them.

Our eyes met in the cereal aisle

imageI admit it; I am one of those “friendly” people who will strike up a conversation with a total stranger, much to the chagrin of my family. For me, though, the opportunity to connect with another makes an ordinary day enjoyable. One day, though, I learned the real value simple human contact could have.

I was at the grocery store, armed with my list (which I seem to treat as just a starting point) and an empty shopping cart. Parked by the bananas, I reached over a hand to snag my perfect bunch (not too ripe, no bruises, about the shade of a honeydew) and reflexively smiled at its owner. I noticed he was considerably shorter than I and wore a fraying greek fishing hat. We met again in pasta; he was staring intently at the interminable array of boxes and varieties. “Can I help you find something?” I asked. “Linguine,” he mumbled, not looking at me. I thought I detected an accent of some sort. I found the linguine in short order and pointed it out, smiling again. He picked up a box and placed it carefully in his cart, walking away without a word. I saw that his pants were quite baggy, the seat almost worn through, his legs slightly bowed. The soles of his shoes were worn at an angle.
He was there again by the meat section; I almost ran into him as I pushed my cart while reading the meat labels. I smiled apologetically. He seemed unaware.

Our eyes met in the cereal aisle. I was reaching for a box of Cheerios and glanced up to find myself gazing straight into dark brown eyes framed in a deeply creased but handsome face. For a moment, we both paused. I smiled; the corners of his mouth turned up ever so slightly.

Standing in line at the checkout I turned to find him standing behind me. “Well, I guess we just can’t avoid each other, ” I said in a light tone noting the few neatly arranged items in his cart. He smiled; a real smile this time, unguarded; then it was gone. “I lost my wife six months ago,” he said quietly. “We were married for 48 years. I miss her.” I reached out and placed my hand on his arm. “I am so sorry.” “Thank you,” he replied,  and our eyes met once more. For a moment I saw him as the young man he had been on his wedding day, standing tall and proud, beaming next to his fresh faced bride.

I watched as he slowly walked through the parking lot, a single brown bag tucked neatly under one arm; I would not forget him.