Thursday, June 28, 2012

I feel like a bird

The other day my friend, who posts nature photos on her Facebook wall each morn, posted a picture of a mother bird trying to get a four-inch twig into the one-inch hole in a birdhouse. 

Nesting, I thought. I can relate to that. It’s my life right now.

My husband and I recently moved to our retirement home on the Lake of the Ozarks in Missouri. Let me rephrase that. I moved to our retirement home and left him stuck in a one-bedroom apartment on an Illinois prairie until his retirement date at the end of this month. 

Settling hubby into his apartment was easy. I unpacked the dishes, groceries, bathroom items and cleaning supplies while he put his clothes away and arranged his bedroom. With his coworker’s help moving the few pieces of furniture and the two of us carrying up the boxes and putting everything away, the entire task took less than two hours. 

I’ve been here two months in our new home, and I’m still nowhere near done. 

Granted, my task is much larger. Instead of two scantily-furnished rooms, I’ve a whole house to unpack, forty years of accumulation to sort, decks and porches to power wash and refinish, walls to paint, carpet and flooring to order. 

Some days – most, actually – I feel like that mother bird, trying to wedge a four-inch twig through a one-inch hole. 

And, I stop and wonder about those birds, nesting.

Do you think they get tired?

Do you think they lament they may never be done? 

Do you think they wonder if anyone notices all they’ve accomplished so far? 

Then, I stop again and realize that the difference between me and the birds is that when I get this done, this nesting, whether it’s this month or this year, I will be done. Oh, sure, I’ll have paint to touch up from time to time, decks to restain every so often, cleaning to do when it needs it. 

Those birds, though, have to start all over again next year, nesting – and preparing for a new brood. 

My wee ones have left the nest. I don’t have to do this again every spring. With each new wall painted, each box unpacked, my birdhouse is that much closer to being home. 

I guess I’m glad I’m not a bird.

© Ann Tracy Mueller 2012  

(Image via)

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Who says you can’t make pictures with words?

One of my friends, a retired corporate executive, is in her new life a nature photographer, blogger and educator. She captures in pictures the critters large and small around her or the beauty of a lily pond here, a plant in bloom there.

Another of my friends, a former neighbor, paints with oils and watercolors, sculpts with clay. I loved it when I could walk into her studio and see a piece in transition, growing more beautiful with her nurturing nature and each passing day, blooms emerging as surely as those unfolding in the flower pots on my porch.

My sister paints on walls, furniture – turning a piece of drywall or a discarded chair into a work of art or a treasure to be cherished.

Three high school classmates, who at our fortieth reunion took the stage together, are musicians. Their art is their melodies, harmonies and the verses that go with them, their canvas the air catching their songs and carrying them across the college lounge to our ears.

I couldn’t draw a stick figure if my life depended on it. I can compose a photo, make a bad one pretty good with photo editing software, but have no patience to adjust lenses or work with lighting. And music – try as I might, it just never took with me. That was a talent I didn’t inherit, though my kids and grandkids got a double dose. 

My art, I guess, is my words, and as I savor my new life in a home upon a large Missouri lake, nesting all the while, unpacking boxes, covering drab walls with colors that tug at my heart, I take a few minutes from time to time to capture the world around me with the paint brush, the clay, the musical notes that work best for me – my words. Here are a few of my latest creations.

Before an early morning storm
A gaggle of 19 geese seems to be having a convention or coffee klatch in my cove.

Though the sun arose, the sky is overcast, the trees are rustling and the wind is picking up. The pattern of the water moving on the lake has changed, as if someone turned the kaleidoscope. The sky is dark, the wind sounds wicked. Let the much-needed rain come, but, please hold back on the damaging winds and hail!

The first wave of dark clouds has moved on, another, smaller gaggle of geese emerged from its hiding place on the back of the cove, and though the sky is brighter, the wind brings a chill. From a distance comes the first sound of thunder.

I should go up to get ready for work, but am mesmerized by nature unfolding its spectacle before me, like the bright-again sky I'd miss, were I in the shower.

First thing Friday, in the summer
Love this time of day. The water is like glass, shimmering as it moves slightly, lake and sun working together to reflect trees, docks, the neighbors’ swing. Soon the ducks will shatter its calm, the boat rumbling in the distance will zip by, its wake pounding against my seawall, and once again the lake will awaken for its weekend play date. They don't call it Fun Lake for nuttin'.

Just before dusk
Right now the lake looks as if someone is holding a sheet of shiny metal, twisting its corners to make it shimmer. Can’t you hear the tinny sound in the hillbilly band? A lone duck floats by, a squirrel scampers down the sidewalk, and I can hear a symphony of birds singing in the branches overhead.

Saturday morning blog post procrastination
The young squirrel scratches at the grass at the edge of the sidewalk, raises his head, looks about, and scampers to the margarita deck. He ascends the step in a single bound, scurries to the deck chest, and leaps atop it. Another bound and he's on the rail, tail arched, tugging at the hibiscus plant, then across the ledge to the next one, where he lingers longer, inspects more closely. Tired of that, he perches erect for a bit, looks around, slides down a spindle and makes his getaway on the seawall. A little later, in lake time, which has no clock, a chipmunk climbs the deck step. The next furry adventure begins.

© Ann Tracy Mueller 2012  

 (Image via)

Thursday, June 7, 2012

It’s all about enthusiasm

But a lot of hard work helps too – and a little talent – and some encouragement. Don’t forget the right environment, a nurturing community, a fan or two, and, oh, yeah, some family support. 

About a decade and a half ago, my husband and I moved to a small town on Route 66 in Central Illinois – a town where everyone wore purple, without the red hats.

It didn’t take us long to learn, back there in the last half of the final decade of the twentieth century, that the move we’d made was to a football town – and a pretty good one at that. Seriously, that town was so into football that it seemed 95 percent of its residents were under the Friday night lights. The rest of town looked like a ghost town during those games.

Now, I’ve never understood football – and I probably never will – but I lived for those games, partly because my daughter was in the high school band and I love being a band parent, partly because it’s really fun to see your team take off, get bunches of touchdowns and go into post-season play year after year. 

There was one thing, though, that I really loved about those games – not a thing, but a person. It was the team’s water boy, the coach’s son. 

That little kid, who must have been nine or 10 at the time, ran out on the field with that carrier of water bottles as if his life depended on it, as if the game depended on it, as if it were the most important job in the world, as if he loved being a water boy. 

And, maybe he did.

But, as I’ve watched this little guy grow into a man and followed his career in his hometown paper and mine halfway across the state, I think maybe what he loves even more is that game – football. 
And what he has, as much as talent, as much as determination, as much as the love of the game is enthusiasm.

As a quarterback at that high school with the purple uniforms and later at a college that donned red, Alex Tanney played football, the same way he carried those water bottles – as if his life depended on it, as if the game depended on it, as if it were the most important job in the world, as if he loved being a quarterback.

I think he does.
This week, the Lexington Minutemen and Monmouth Scots legend, the record-breaking player, viral video sensation signed to play professional football with the Kansas City Chiefs. 

I still don’t understand that game, and I doubt that a small-town boy making the big time will help my sports literacy. 

And, too, as much as I like that poem that says, “When I grow old, I shall wear purple with a red hat,” I’ve never donned the two together, hesitant to join a group which conforms on such a non-conformist concept. 

But come fall, you never know -- you just may see me wearing my purple Lexington sweatshirt with a red Kansas City Chiefs hat. 

If anything can make me wear purple and red together, it might be this guy. 

Don’t be surprised, though, as he’s running out onto the field in a great big stadium, and I’m watching at home on the television, when you look in my eyes, you’ll see I’m a million miles away. I have a feeling that instead of an NFL quarterback, I’ll see that big, strong man shrunk kid-size again running with water bottles out to the huddle. I’ll be remembering that cool little kid.

Congratulations, Alex. Way to go!

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

60 – It’s just a number

It seems like yesterday I was six years old, wearing a red sailor dress, feeling all grown up as my Grandmother handed me a serrated knife and told me I was old enough to cut my own angel food cake, with its powdered sugar glaze and hard candy letters. 

I’m sure she didn’t just turn me lose with the knife. I know she said, “Be careful, now. It’s sharp.”

I vaguely remember her or my mother guiding my hand, telling me not to press too hard as I cut down through the spongy delicacy. 

Today, as a reminder of that day, though my grandmother is no longer with us, the glass pedestal cake stand upon which the cake stood sits in my china cabinet, and the pan in which the cake was created is in my cupboard.

Really, though, I need no tangible reminders, so etched within me is the memory of that rite of passage.

A few years later – what seemed like eons then, but minutes now – I was eighteen. Somewhere, I’d seen a magnificent birthday cake that looked like a flower basket – multicolored pastel flowers on its top, frosting in a basket-weave pattern on its sides. I described it to my mother, told her I knew one of my older coworkers’ wives could create such a treasure, and – voila – come the eighteenth anniversary of my birth, the cake magically appeared. 

That birthday, I celebrated with a party in my parent’s home – with lots of friends from high school and the neighborhood, including one who was born the same day in the same hospital, there to join in the fun. Along with the memory of the cake is the reminiscence of trying to keep a friend, a till-then teetotaler who arrived schnockered, out in the driveway, away from my parents’ eyes, pouring coffee down him in an attempt to sober him. 

Today, pastel flowers like those that donned my coming-of-age cake adorn a bedroom in my home, the dainty multi-colored blooms still among my favorite patterns, a reminder of that special day.

There were other birthdays – and celebrations through the years – like my 21st, when I had my first legal taste of champagne, and my 40th, when my husband threw me a surprise party and gave me an original print by my favorite artist, who was then our neighbor. 

There were the birthdays I’d rather forget, too – like the day I realized, “OMG (in the days before that was a term thrown lightly in emails, texts and on Facebook pages), I’m a QUARTER OF A CENTURY OLD!” or the day I turned 55, and the double nickel reminded me that I still had many unfilled wishes and unfulfilled goals, causing me to reinvent myself.

But, then, one day I woke up and I was 60 – and I ate cake for breakfast. 

It wasn’t angel food, or a cake decorated to look like a basket of flowers. I reached into the freezer, pulled out the last of a four-pack of little chocolate cakes for those who count points. 

Old enough, but still not tall enough, to reach the top shelf of the cupboard, I used a long-handled slotted spoon to retrieve a container of candles. Finding no “0” to go with the “6,” I chose instead the question mark, pushed it down into the chocolate, struck a match, touched its wick and looked for a minute at the flame. 

Then. blowing every bit as hard as I did as a six-year-old or a new adult, I extinguished the fire, feeling this time not grown up, but six or eighteen – youthful, not old-aged – ready to live, laugh, be a child again, forever young at heart. 

Sixty – it’s just a number. And, I’m kind of thinking I’m going to like it. Bring it on!

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Flowers are like grandkids

Ever notice how flowers are like grandkids? They grow up overnight.

Or is it the other way around? Grandkids are like flowers. 

Hmmm. Maybe it’s a little of both – and I was reminded of each last weekend as I left my new home and fledgling flowers in mid-Missouri to head back to Illinois for my oldest grandson’s high school graduation. 

When I returned home from my three-day journey, I found hibiscus plants taller by nearly a foot, my “salad bowl” with a variety of lettuces sprouting new growth, the geranium with new buds, and one petunia spreading outward while another had grown so tall that it was covering the “e” in the “Welcome” oar hanging on the siding above it.

I smiled at these plants, brought together into my clan – some from a family greenhouse up on Highway C, others from the local grocery store’s outdoor shelves and one from back in Illinois. It had been fun watching their growth day to day from the time I replanted them and gave them each their own special spots and as I watered and nurtured them each evening, straightening one here, picking off a dead leaf or bloom there.  As I returned home that Monday afternoon of Memorial Day weekend, I smiled at how they’d grown when I was gone. 

It’s kind of like that with grandkids. 

Seems like only yesterday, I took a phone call in the courtesy counter of the grocery store where I then worked – and my life was changed forever. Nearly two months before his due date, my grandson was on his way – and I was on a mad dash to the hospital to be there for his arrival. As we all looked at that perfect little guy that day, all of him weighing less than five pounds, it was hard to believe he’d someday tower over not only Mom, Grandma and Great-grandma, but also Dad, Grandpa and Great-grandpa.

It was hard to imagine the day he’d walk across the stage of a high school auditorium to accept his diploma. That, I must have thought back then, won’t happen for at least a zillion years. 

I should have known better. I’d been through it before – with his mom. One day, she was an infant in arms, the next she was an adult. 

It was sort of like those flowers – turn away for a day or three, look back and they’ve matured overnight. 

The best thing about it all, though – flowers, kids or grandkids – is the joy they give as you watch them bloom and the pride you feel when you see them all grown up. 

Yet, as much as I want to imagine those colorful blooms are smiling back and saying "Thanks," there’s just nothing quite like the smile in a young man’s big brown eyes and the ear-to-ear pearly white grin that says, loud and clear, “Grandma, I did it!”

You sure did, buddy. I love you – congratulations!

© Ann Tracy Mueller 2012  

 (Image via)