Isla Perros

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From Jane’s World

Years ago, on Dane and my first trip to Isla Mujeres, I fell in love with a Mexican mutt named Prince.

We had just settled in to relax on Playa Norte when a man came by walking two adorable dogs. While we petted the puppies, he told me about Isla Animal Rescue. I knew before the day was out, we’d be visiting the shelter. Dane took a deep breath and exhaled slowly.

It was love at first sight and Prince, whom I later renamed Gambo (after a character in the Isabel Allende book I was reading on the beach), came home to Wisconsin three long months later. It took determination, hard work, and many good people to get Gambo his passport and passage here.

Once home, it also took plenty of patience, medical tests and drugs to try to overcome his horrible digestion problem. At-home IV treatments became the norm, and we had three emergency trips to the vet to fix his prolapsed rectum.

His appetite was healthy and, much to my dismay, included toads and insects. But his system couldn’t handle food of any kind and later he’d suffer from bloody stools and projectile vomiting. One evening when we were giving Gambo his IV, his eyes appeared dark and empty. I called Dane at work the next day. Through tears I said, “I think it might be ...” and, before I could finish, Dane said, “Yes, I think so, too.”

I held Gambo as Dr. Bass put him to rest, and cradled his emaciated body on the way home. We buried him under a willow tree that we planted in his honor.

Each trip to Isla Mujeres thereafter has included a visit to the animal shelter, where Dane and I play with the pups and take them for walks. We keep our eyes peeled for stray pups and we’ve learned that a collar means they have a home; no collar means they are homeless. The island can be a cruel place for dogs that haven’t been lucky enough to be caught and taken to the shelter.

On our most recent trip, we petted, fed, and enjoyed the company of many stray pups. “Look at that poochie! Puppy! Oh my, there’s a little sweetie!” we’d exclaim as we lay reading on the beach, browsed the market, or enjoyed a romantic evening stroll on the square.

In the mornings, while we hunted for sea glass, a black and white mid-sized dog I named “Bella” would romp around with “Barney,” a lanky and homeless Airedale mix. The two poochies provided endless enjoyment for Dane and me as they ran in and out of the waves, scrounged for who-knows-what in the seagrass, and came to us for pets and leftover treats from our previous evening’s meal.

We could tell by her healthy coat and fancy red collar that Bella was well loved. Barney was unkempt, somewhat leery of us, and way more hungry. The two had boundless energy, but after about an hour Bella would take off and Barney would look forlorn. One afternoon Barney found a dead, bloated fish and we watched him carry it away. We only saw Barney in the evening once, sulking along the main drag. But without fail we’d see him and his Bella as the sun was rising.

At the shelter this year, we had just finished walking two dogs when a couple and their grown daughter came in. We were thrilled to discover they were there to adopt the puppy that Dane had just walked!

Visiting the shelter and playing with the pups is bittersweet for me. I always want to take at least one home with me. This year was no different and Dane convinced me it wasn’t the right time, as my girl Tete, the hound dog, may need surgery on her knee.

On our last day on the island, we left our room in the dark to be seaside when the sun rose. It was a gloriously warm and calm morning. As we watched the sun lift over the water, we started combing the beach for treasures. I kept looking up, waiting to see Bella and Barney, but sadly, they never appeared. As we headed toward our room down a sand-filled lane, Bella bounded up to us at full speed, wagging her tail so fast it became a blur. I bent down to hug her, while both Dane and I looked around, expecting Barney. He never showed up.

Leaving the beauty of Isla Mujeres and the perros that need forever homes wasn’t easy. But this year our hearts were full of loving memories of Gambo. I had donated money to have a tile made of his picture and we found it on the shelter’s memorial wall. The wall commemorates pets that were adopted from the Isla shelter and have passed on. Pointing to Gambo’s tile with one hand, the other placed over my heart, I vowed to continue supporting Isla Animal Rescue. Maybe one day we’ll see Barney again and bring him home.

Originally Published January 17th, 2019 in the Crawford County Independent & Kickapoo Scout

Feeding Frenzy

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From Jane’s World

Please tell me that you’ve been eating like a bear that just woke from a long hibernation, that it’s not just me who begins eating crappy food the first week in December and doesn’t stop until January. As soon as I start thinking “holidays,” my whole psychology changes. I go deep into a scarcity—or maybe a celebration—mode.

Worst are the cravings for foods I normally avoid: sweets, fats, and crunchy, simple, salty carbs. On recent days, I’ve polished off a pound of shrimp with cocktail sauce, an assortment of wee fudge brownie nuggets, and easily a dozen deviled eggs. I don’t even like deviled eggs!

Circling the buffet tables at friends' parties has become an event for me. I have a system. Keep moving to the right, hold a saucer in your right hand. Have a holiday-themed napkin tucked underneath to wipe away any tell-tale crumbs. Grab from the table with your left hand. Make eye contact with everyone you encounter while chit-chatting. Partygoers are bound to be focusing on your eyes, leaving your left hand free to do as it wishes. When you say, “Oh, fine. I’m fine,” casually saunter on your way around the table while slipping that delicious stuffed olive down your gullet.

The shrimp frenzy is a new one for me. It came on fast, as if I grew flippers and started clapping and barking. Maybe it’s because I’ve committed to keeping the heat down near sixty in my house. Or maybe that I just returned from a vacation by the sea. It could also be a selenium or B12 deficiency. I toss down the shrimp, throwing my head back like a seal. First, I dip them in a tiny amount of cocktail sauce (like that bit of vegetable matter justifies eating a pound at a time) and down the hatch they go. I especially like that I don't even have to mess up a plate: I take one from the bag, dip it in the bottle of sauce, and toss it into my mouth. No mess. The bonus was finding cocktail sauce in a plastic bottle. A squeeze of my left hand brings the red sauce bubbling to the top, then onto the shrimp in my right hand. Are you thinking I’d get sick from eating a whole pound of shrimp? I didn’t.

On the healthy side, I’ve become obsessed with guacamole. Everyone knows that avocados are one of nature’s most nutrient-dense foods, boasting a whopping 20 different vitamins and minerals. I picture all those good nutrients celebrating like it’s 2019 in my gut. It feels good. The downside of my guacamole craze is that I enjoy a crisp, fat-fried, salty chip to use as a shovel to scoop it up. Oh, and a third of an avocado has nearly 80 calories! Still, I prefer to regard my obsession with avocados as healthy. Whatever it takes to get through January.

I understand the evolutionary reason for starting to eat more when the weather gets colder. Calories consumed help keep us warm. In Ely, Minnesota, I once participated in a dog-sledding adventure. The highlight of the workshop was sleeping on the ice in tents. Some participants chose to sleep under the stars. It was the dead of winter and well below zero. 

Once we unhooked the dogs and took care of their needs, we scavenged the shoreline forest for dead wood and dragged it into a gigantic pile that we hoped would burn through the evening. Afterward, we had dinner. It was common to add hunks of butter to hot chocolate, and before climbing into our sleeping bags the leaders had us do jumping jacks and eat a huge chocolate bar. The idea was that the fat, exercise, and calories would help raise our bodies' thermostats.

The eating frenzy continued in the morning. Breakfast was a half pound of bacon per person with a good six eggs. Once again, a stick of butter was passed around—so we could saw off slabs as big as Arctic ice floes to melt into our coffee. Mm, mm ... not good!

Seeing as it’s now January, it’s time for me to put the brakes on this outrageous appetite of mine. I’m not living in the frozen outback of Ely. I’m not burning thousands of calories a day. And I’m not eating my meals while shivering in a tent on the ice. I’m eating in my home, which, even at my frugal 60 degrees, is far from freezing. So, next time I hear those shrimp calling me from the fridge, I’ll go for a walk instead. 

Originally Published January 10th, 2019 in the Crawford County Independent & Kickapoo Scout

A Year of Fitness

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From Jane’s World

The odds of someone continuing their New Year's exercise regimen throughout the year are as slim as the radishes my dad would slice, salt, and put on Wonder Bread.

Clubs and exercise classes are bursting with activity in January, thanks to New Year's resolutions and holiday gifts of flashy workout clothes and gadgets. By February this will change—a sad fact, but also enticing if you want to be the person who beats the odds, completes a year of fitness, and reaps the rewards.

365 days of fitness seems daunting, yet the benefits of a regularly scheduled exercise program are outrageous—as outrageous as a banana split, without calories. We know that lifting weights and engaging in cardiovascular activities will increase our strength, improve our endurance, reduce the risk of chronic illness, and keep us agile.

What we forget is how a routine exercise program can also keep our minds healthy and flexible. Working out helps our bodies handle stress more efficiently, and improves brain functions such as memory, creativity, and cognition. Becoming more physically fit enables us to feel more confident. We feel more alive!

The word “routine” implies “boring.” But exercise doesn’t need to be boring. Changing up your repetitions, the order in which you do the exercises, and even the plane in which you perform them— standing, lying, kneeling, or sitting—will yield better results, faster.

Routine is also a game changer for depression and other mental health challenges. A walk a day keeps the doctor away isn’t a far-fetched fantasy.

There are five major components of fitness:

1) Cardiovascular endurance
2) Muscular strength
3) Muscular endurance
4) Flexibility
5) Body Composition

Lifetime activities such as hiking, biking, running, dancing, cross-country skiing, skating, or swimming will address your cardiovascular needs. Plan on anywhere from three times a week to seven; it’s hard to overdo the benefits of moving. Monitor yourself for injuries, ease into your routine, and step on the gas when you’re able.

Muscular strength comes from lifting weights at least two or three times a week, on an every-other-day basis. You can do this at home or in the gym, or sign up for a class. After the age of forty our bodies start to sag like flan left out on a ninety-degree day. It’s called sarcopenia. Strength training is the answer.

The combination of aerobic activity and lifting weights will take care of improving your muscular endurance.

Flexibility can be achieved by including a ten-minute overall body stretch once your body is sufficiently warm. Stretching your muscles when warm will safeguard you from injuries.

Body composition refers to the amount of muscle you have in relation to fat. We need fat to keep us warm, to store fat-soluble vitamins, and to protect our organs. But we don’t need an excess of it.

Regular exercise is an important component of any weight-loss program. A solid exercise program will often naturally lead to wanting to eliminate simple sugars, reduce carbs, and stop overeating. Losing weight without exercising is a recipe for failure. Worse is exercising to lose weight. Keep your head in the game by focusing on the daily benefits, not weight loss.

How can you beat the odds, avoid being a New Year fitness dropout statistic, and reap the rewards of a year of fitness?

Show up! Walking out the door is often the hardest step and yet the most important. Get yourself out the door or into the gym.

Begin slow. Start with resolving to walk around your block each morning. Use less weight or no weights, perform fewer reps, or modify harder exercises. Hitting the gym or the treadmill at full force in January is as effective as the hare racing along for a while, then taking a nap. We know the tortoise wins.

Consistency is crucial. Tread gently on your fitness goal and aim for consistency, not to fit into the bridal gown you’ve been saving for your 50th wedding anniversary. Be real.

Jump back in. During those first few weeks, your boss may give you extra work, your child may come home from school sick, or your car may break down. Chances are you’ll miss a workout or two because life is messy. Sticktoitiveness is key. Get back to class, back to the gym...get yourself through the door.

Your body will start to respond near the third week. You may notice that you’re not getting as sore, that your breathing isn’t as labored when you climb the stairs, or that you can now reach your toes when you bend over. Hang on to each new discovery. Write them down, keep a list, and on those days when you’re in a slump and thinking of nixing your workout for a beer and a burger, look at that list. Remind yourself that it takes sixty-six days to create a habit. Sixty-six days to be well on your way to a year of fitness!

Showing up, focusing on consistency, starting out slow, and jumping back in if you miss a day or two, along with tracking your results, will set you up for success. Pin these words up on your bathroom mirror: “Today I will show up and do the work. Each day I feel better. I want to live well while I’m alive.”

A year of fitness is possible. Will you be the one to beat the odds and go the distance? I hope so.

Originally Published January 3rd, 2019 in the Crawford County Independent & Kickapoo Scout

Wishing for a Miracle

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From Jane’s World

Buying a swimsuit in winter for a vacation in sunny Isla Mujeres is about as easy as picking out a previously owned car that doesn’t have any quirks, or finding a wand of mascara that doesn’t smudge, or deciphering what kind of face cream to purchase among the thousands smirking at you from the store shelves. I have a lot of experience with all these nuisances, but today my focus is on the horrors of winter swimwear buying.

Options for purchasing a swimsuit in winter are limited. Most stores have hidden them away to make space for wool sweaters and down-filled jackets. Your best bet is to locate a swimsuit online, but this creates issues—lots of issues.

The first challenge in buying a swimsuit online is sizing. I thought I had this figured out by getting my measurements taken before I even started googling “women’s swimsuits.”

I stood in my bra and underwear and bravely handed the tape measure to Dane, who seemed excited to help out. With considerable care and some coaching, Dane placed the tape at the fullest part of my chest and brought it around my back, making sure the tape was horizontal to the ground. “Fifty-two inches!” he exclaimed.

“No, no, no!” I screamed. Once we got the measuring tape turned around and untwisted, Dane started measuring again. I had a sheet of paper and a pencil ready and we recorded the basics: chest, waist, hips. Now I could start googling.

I thought my choices would be a one-piece or a bikini, making the selection simple. Wrong. There are now tankinis.

Tankinis consist of a top and a bottom purchased independently of each other. The top can be an underwire, bandeau, halter, V-neck, sports top, minimizer...but hey, don’t get me started. The bottoms include a mini, pleated, full, swing, or miracle skirt, as well as thong, high waist, boy shorts, Brazilian cut, or any number of other ways designers have designed to cover our bums.

You can spend weeks (I did) searching for the perfect swimsuit before you get close to clicking on Add to Cart. But first you’ll need to click on two other little words: Size Chart.

If your hair hadn’t turned gray before, it will now.

First I skimmed the chart and found my chest size. Next, I found my waist size—but it wasn’t paired with the chest size I’d already found. Lastly, I looked for the number I’d written down for my hips. At first I couldn’t find it on the chart, but alas, there it was, three whole sizes over from my chest.

After pulling out my gray hairs, I decided to add up my measurements, divide them by three, and look for that number in the waist category. Perfect! I chose that size and hit the Add to Cart button.

Sold out!

My search continued the next day, and the next. One day, the word Miracle kept leaping off the page. I felt I could use a miracle. I settled on a tankini with a blue patterned bandeau “miracle top” and blue high-cut, high-waist bottoms. Luckily the company had my size and I soon received an email confirmation.

I slept well that night and dreamed of running and splashing through the waves, looking like Halle Berry. A true miracle.

A week later, when I checked the mailbox, I squealed when I saw the package from the swimwear company inside. I grabbed it, rushed into the house, and headed into the bathroom where I clawed and tore the plastic wrap away with my bare hands and teeth. Then I stripped off my clothes, pulled out the new bottoms, and slipped into them easily—maybe a little too easily.

Next, I yanked the top out of its package and it nearly pulled my arm to the floor. Whoa...heavy, I thought. How can a swim top be so heavy? I hauled it up and wrestled it over my head, where it got stuck over one ear and my mouth, triggering a panic attack. I wiggled and wormed it down around my chest, and pulled its lower edge down to cover the bottoms. Then I looked in the mirror.

This was no miracle.

I learned that a miracle suit is basically armor camouflaged to look like fabric. Two flanks of stiff stuff-you-in material are sewn into the underbelly of the top. If you move, let alone swim, the cute blue patterned fabric creeps up, revealing the boa constrictor material that is sucking the life out of you.

“Awkward!” my brain cried. “Unflattering!” my heart screamed. I started to hyperventilate. It was a perfect storm: a combination of panic and my lungs being crushed by a miracle.

I tried backing the suit up over my head again but it stuck to me like superglue. Yanking and tugging at it, sweat dripping down my face, trying to pull it down over my hips, I assessed my situation: I was a grown woman, in my own bathroom, trapped in a miracle suit. Did I dare call 911?

Tomorrow I leave for vacation with my boring one-piece swimsuit tucked inside my luggage. My not-a-miracle suit is on its way back to the store. I’ve made peace with never looking like Halle Berry on the beach or anywhere else. A miracle swimsuit is a myth. Hasta la vista!

Originally Published December 27th, 2018 in the Crawford County Independent & Kickapoo Scout

Trip Prepping

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From Jane’s World

We decided only a month ago we’d go to Isla Mujeres again this year. Dane had mentioned something about life being short, so we’d bought our tickets with not much time to prepare.

For me, prepping for this kind of trip means finding a new swimsuit, getting a pedicure, and making a commitment to use some kind of miracle cream on my face to make it look soft and wrinkle-free.

Only the pedicure has been easy. Finding a swimsuit in winter is about as simple as doing a Rubik’s cube blindfolded. Going to a store to pick out a useful face cream requires patience, reading glasses, and a major in chemistry, none of which I have.

Standing in front of shelves stacked with thousands of face creams winking at me, I realized I was in over my head. I had left my reading glasses at home, a face cream I used years ago and loved is no longer being sold, and I was clueless as to how to even begin. I knew I needed to protect my skin from heat and sun, but mostly I wanted to get rid of the giant crater between my eyebrows.

The creams vying for my attention boasted claims of all kinds, from being anti-ageing formulas (think Tuck Everlasting!) to wrinkle reducers and erasers, and all sorts of miraculous moisturizers.

Since I couldn't read any fine print I immediately eliminated half the products on the shelves. After some deliberation I choose a package with two tubes in it, clearly marked #1 and #2. Easy. I’d mark my first day of using my miracle cream on my calendar and count out 14 days. I’d finish my treatments two days before boarding the plane.

I called Dane and told him my plan. He wasn’t nearly as excited as I thought he’d be, but that was okay. My enthusiasm was unstoppable.

At bedtime that night, following the instructions—which were microscopic, even with my reading glasses on—I washed my face and smeared the cream in tube number one on it. Then I applied over that the thick greenish sludge in tube number two. While I slept, the miracle of new and improved wrinkle-free hydrated soft skin would begin.

In the morning I awoke looking like a wooly bear creature, my face covered with lint and fuzz. Sleeping on a flannel pillowcase with all that gunk on my face made a big mess.

Undaunted, I reviewed my plan: Every night for fourteen nights, tube number one followed by tube number two.

Every morning I’d wake up and study my face in the mirror. I wasn’t seeing changes fast enough. In fact, I wasn’t seeing changes at all. I decided the effects of this expensive cream must be cumulative, and one day...bam! I’d have Halle Berry skin. Flawless.

To my horror, the tubes were emptying quicker than I thought they should. At this rate I wasn’t going to make it to day 14 when the miracle was to take place. On the 12th night I squeezed both tubes from the bottom up and squished out all traces of the special cream that was left. With faith, I applied them according to the directions and went to bed.

At dawn I crept anxiously down the stairs and went into the bathroom, flipping the light switch on the way. I stood soldier still and looked…and looked, and fetched my reading glasses and looked some more.

I called Dane and told him I’d been robbed. The miracle face treatment was a bust. I didn't see any improvement. I still had the horrible gully of a wrinkle between my eyebrows and I certainly didn't have Halle Berry–looking skin. Not even close.

I had prepped nightly for nothing. There was no miracle. I consoled myself with the thought that my skin was well hydrated and ready for the sunshine and heat. Meanwhile, sitting creamless at the computer, I continued my other search for a miracle: finding the perfect swimsuit.

To be continued…

Originally Published December 20th, 2018 in the Crawford County Independent & Kickapoo Scout

A Sad Song

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From Jane’s World

Where is Farley? Where is Far-Far?
It’s time for your breakfast
Time for you to eat now
Ding dang dong
Ding dang dong

This little ditty to the tune of “Frere Jacques” keeps running through my head.

Grandpa Farley’s nickname is Far-Far. He’s my huge gray and black 12-year old tabby cat. I’d say he’s my favorite cat but I say that about all my cats.

Farley often lies on top of me when I’m not feeling well. He loves to be held and rocked. Sometimes I think Farley is liquid fur because when I go to pick him up he melts into my arms like he hasn’t a bone in his body. He’s one of the few cats I’ve lived with that seems to love my hugs—the tighter the better.

Farley is a gentleman cat. He’s a good sport and always waits for Finnegan and Téte to come bounding into the house first before he saunters in. He waits his turn on the counter, happy to be petted while the other cats are chowing down their food.

Like most cats he’s an accomplished leaper, stellar stalker of mice, and a fan of the cat tower. But his claim to my heart-fame has been his willingness to let me smother him with affection overnight. I lie in bed and call his name. Up the stairs he flies, jumping onto the bed. While he rubs alongside my body I scooch him closer to me with one hand and pull him in tight. We drift off together with his warm fur pressed against me until his purr turns into a gentle snore. Farley is a tolerant, cool, gentle giant of a cat.

Unfortunately, Farley has been missing since last week. I’ve called him over and over: “Farley! Far-Far! Come on, buddy, time to eat!” Usually Farley is either at the door bright and early, waiting to come in, or sleeping next to me in bed, or in the basement when I go there to feed the dogs. But not recently.

My last sighting of Farley was in my kitchen. He was sitting on the counter purring while waiting for me to scratch under his chin. Far-Far wasn’t as interested in eating as he was in being scratched, petted, and held. I remember thinking how healthy he was. His fur was thick and shiny, his eyes bright and clear.

Each morning I rise thinking Farley will be sitting at the door. Each afternoon I come home from work certain that when I go to the basement he’ll be lying on his favorite rug. Each evening I go to bed praying I’ll see Farley again.

Cats are known for getting around. By day they can go and get fed and loved in one place and by night come back home and get more of the same. I know my Far-Far cat isn’t at the Humane Society. I hope like heck he isn’t dead in a ditch. And he was neutered long ago and has never once shown interest in the neighborhood girls.

 Where is Farley? Where is Far-Far?
Being loved with someone
Making someone happy
Ding dang dong
Ding dang dong

Sometimes we just need to change the song to not feel the hurt of missing someone we love.

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Originally Published December 13th, 2018 in the Crawford County Independent & Kickapoo Scout

Fireplaces, Tradition, and Stockings!

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From Jane’s World

The stocking were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St. Nicholas would soon be there.

My family once lived in an apartment while our home was being renovated, and my mom sometimes spoke about the house’s fireplace. I only knew about fireplaces from pictures I’d seen in the books she read me.

I had visions of long red and green stockings, overflowing with candy and toys, hung on the mantel above a roaring fire. I’d heard about Santa coming down the chimney, and I worried he’d get stuck in it with his red velvet bag stuffed with goodies. Would his suit get ruined with black soot? What if my dad had a fire going? Thanks to my brother and sister, I also worried about children who would find only coal and sticks in their stockings.

Later I discovered that some families had fireplaces while others didn’t; some honored St. Nicholas Day, many had never heard of it, and others laid out their stockings on Christmas Eve. Whatever the practice is, I love traditions, including my own insistence that Christmas lights go around and around the tree and not just back and forth across the front!

When we finally moved into our new ranch-style home I saw our fireplace for the first time. It had off-white bricks extending from the top of the fireplace door to the ceiling. There wasn’t a mantel ledge for our socks to hang from but there was a low bench perfect for sitting on and warming our backsides. Around the fireplace opening was a gold-colored frame encasing a black chain-link screen that could be opened and closed by tugging its chain tassels.

The fireplace quickly became the hub of our winter family evenings. My brother and I would compete in a game we designed to see who had the toughest feet.

We’d wait while my dad built a roaring fire (after yelling to remind him to open the damper). Once we felt it was hot enough, we’d lie down on the rug with our bare feet on top of the bench, wiggling forward to make sure we were equally distant from the flames. Once we had our feet as close to the screen as we could get, we’d hold still and wait for the first one to howl and lose the game. I may have been younger but I was more determined than my brother.

The tradition of St. Nick stockings began for me at this time. So did the endless teasing and threatening from my mom and siblings about getting coal and sticks in mine, every time I whined, pouted, or misbehaved.

On St. Nick’s Eve we’d run around trying to find the biggest socks that could hold the most treats. I’d head for my dad’s sock drawer because he had the largest feet. We laid the socks carefully on the bench, full of anticipation. Throughout the evening, as we played cards in front of the fireplace, I’d glance over at my stocking, fuss with it, and hope like heck I’d not find any coal in it the next day.

Always the second one up in the morning, after my dad, I'd half stumble, half run, down the long hallway. Yawning, rubbing sleepy seeds from the corners of my eyes, I’d rush into the living room. There I’d find our stockings looking like chipmunks’ cheeks stuffed with nuts—and indeed there would be nuts in each of them.

In the toe of my stocking I’d find a tangerine, warm and squishy. Sometimes there’d be a popcorn ball too, and loads of peanuts in the shell. If we were lucky we also might find Silly Putty, Pick-Up Sticks, jacks, and even a box of Cracker Jacks!

While it’s been years since I’ve put out a stocking for St. Nicholas to fill, I did continue the tradition with my daughter, and she with her children. I’ve since learned some families use their shoes instead of stockings.

I’m glad this time-honored tradition still exists and even gladder to report that I never did find any coal in my stocking.

Originally Published December 6th, 2018 in the Crawford County Independent & Kickapoo Scout

An Unforgettable Pumpkin

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From Jane’s World

I’m not crazy about Halloween or Thanksgiving, but I love pumpkins! I’ve become obsessed with pumpkins ever since Louisa, my pet pig, came to live with me.

Halloween, Thanksgiving, and pumpkins go together like apples, caramel, and chopped peanuts. The good news is pumpkins carry over from late October through Thanksgiving weekend, both as decorations and for making pie. That’s lucky for me and even luckier for Louisa, the great pumpkin eater.

As I was leaving a class the other night, my friend David asked for a ride home. He mentioned he had walked there earlier and spotted a curb full of various pumpkins and gourds. Acting as my co-pilot, he guided me to the huge stash of frozen pumpkins. We hopped out and worked in tandem to load up the back seat of my car. David manhandled the bigger ones, while I focused on the small pie pumpkins.  Working with David made it a quick and easy pumpkin expedition—unlike the one I’d had the day before.

During our workout, Sara had told me, “I have a pumpkin for Louisa in my car.” I responded, “Thanks, we’ll get it after class.”

As we walked to Sara’s car she casually mentioned, “It’s big.” I didn’t give it much thought because I was already thinking of my upcoming commute to Richland Center. Sara added that her husband, John, had worried we wouldn't be able to lift it into my vehicle. She’d told him not to worry, though, because “Jane can do man push-ups, like, all day long.” That got my attention, and my eyes did a double-roll.

I became concerned when Sara moved her car behind mine and lifted her hatchback. The pumpkin was bigger than both of us.

“Holy crud!”

“We can lift it together,” she assured me.

“Okay, like this,” and I held my hands out toward her.

“Ready?”

“Okay!”

Nothing happened. This was one big motherlode of a pumpkin and together we could barely get our arms around its circumference.

We kept struggling, and right about the second when we finally got the monster out of the back of her car, I started to get the giggles. They got worse as we tried to maneuver our hands toward each other with the pumpkin between us.

My laughter had its usual effect: “Uh-oh, my bladder is losing it.”

“Here, take this Kleenex.” And as I did, I just about died laughing as we both squatted, lowering the huge pumpkin to the ground between us before it fell.

“Darn, now we need to pick it up off the ground. Remember to use your legs, not your back,” I reminded her. “One, two, lift!”

Miraculously we raised the pumpkin off the ground to hip height. Sara looked at me across the ocean of orange and said, “Sheez, you’re not as strong as I thought.” That sent me into a new fit of laughter. Apparently my bladder isn’t strong either. Down went the pumpkin!

Sara looked perplexed.

After more wrestling, laughing, and nonsense, the pumpkin ended up in my back seat on the driver’s side. Walking away, Sara cautioned me, “Be careful.” I climbed into my car, answering, “No kidding—if I stop fast I’ll get killed by your pumpkin.”

Hours later, driving home after my long workday, I passed through a construction zone. Braking for the crew, I thought, “Sweet geezus on a Triscuit, what the heck was that?!” as my body pitched forward, my forehead hitting the steering wheel.

Snap! Sara’s humongous bumpy pumpkin for Louisa. The construction guy holding the stop sign glared at me as I started chuckling once I realized my back wasn’t broken. The rest of my drive home was uneventful. I even managed to forget about my pumpkin passenger.

A while later, in my driveway, with my coat off and my forehead glistening, I was leaning in from the passenger-side door, trying every which way to dislodge the great pumpkin that was smushed between the back seat and the front. I tried using my foot, both hands, both feet, a shovel, and lastly a rope. The pumpkin didn’t budge. I looked like I was auditioning for a deranged back-seat ballet performance. My shirt was soaked and sticking to me.

Louisa was grunting hungrily, Téte was running around the car barking her concern, and I was cussing. I ran into the house, grabbed a banana and an apple, and brought them to Louisa, promising that when Dane got home she’d get one humongous surprise.

Then I sat on the couch to wait for Dane, and Téte and Finn joined me. I absently petted one dog, then the other, as I processed the day’s events. A laugh formed low in my belly, started climbing, and exploded in a roar that startled both dogs.

Sometimes life can be crazily perfect in a not so obvious way. Sara’s pumpkin for Louisa will be the pumpkin I never forget, long after the holidays are over.

Originally Published November 29th, 2018 in the Crawford County Independent & Kickapoo Scout

Gratitude

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From Jane’s World

Today I silently said Thank you many times:

  • When I had two eggs for breakfast.

  • When I said, “Morning!” to all my critters.

  • When my car started on the first try.

  • When I realized I had four fairly good tires on my car.

  • When I was able to fill up the tank.

It wasn’t always this easy. For many years I lived alone with my young child, worrying about not having enough money for food, rent, or heat. Just getting her to childcare and me to work or school made my shoulders climb up to my ears and stay there, my hands clenching the steering wheel. I’d whisper prayers that the car wouldn’t explode, run out of gas, or blow a tire.

Today I smiled a lot:

  • When I woke up with both pups and two kitties on my bed.

  • When I walked into my bathroom and turned a handle to get running water.

  • When I was driving to a job that I love.

  • When I saw the sun shining and an eagle soaring by.

There is a saying, “Tough times never last, but tough people do.” I’m not tough, I’m lucky. But I know tough times. So do you. I also know the feeling of kindness, the feeling of other people reaching out to help. I’ll bet you do too.

Instead of trying to forget tough times I try to remember them. I’m afraid that if I forget:

  • I’ll lose compassion for people down on their luck.

  • I’ll start to categorize people in an unfair way.

  • I’ll feel more superior, entitled, or privileged.

  • I’ll begin to lose my patience with people.

  • I’ll stop being grateful.

A few decades ago, my daughter and I were living on North Cape Road in a mother-in-law's apartment. The backyard was long and steep and emptied out onto Highway 100. In winter I’d use my daughter Jessica’s red plastic sled to slide down the hill, and walk across the highway to the bowling alley where I worked on league nights as a cocktail waitress. All night I ran around collecting orders and money, delivering drinks, emptying ashtrays, cleaning up spilled drinks, keeping the bathrooms clean, bringing back the empties, delivering pizzas, and counting my money. I wore a black apron with two pockets. One contained the $50 I was given at the beginning of my shift to make change for my customers. My tip money went in the other pocket. At the end of my shift, anything over the original $50 was mine to keep.

I’ve never been known for my math skills. A few times I ended up in the bathroom sweating because I had less than $50 dollars in my apron even with the generous tips I’d received. Twice I called my dad from the pay phone in the hallway and explained what had happened. He drove over and secretly slipped me the cash I needed as I made a teary promise to pay him back.

Dragging the sled back up the hill in the blackness of night with no tip money to show for my labor filled me with doubt, fear, and an overwhelming loneliness. I also knew I’d need to hustle in the morning to get to my day job at a photo lab. Still, after climbing the narrow steps to our apartment and sneaking in so as to not wake my daughter while the babysitter left for her home, I found myself saying Thank you and smiling. Jessica had often left me a small handwritten note saying, “I love you, Mom, good night,” and she’d laid out a hand towel, soap, and my toothbrush and toothpaste on the edge of the sink. I’d flop into bed feeling exhausted but lucky.

One Saturday afternoon Jessica and I were busy coloring pictures of pumpkins and gourds when a knock on the door startled us. Romey, a man I knew only from the bowling alley, was standing there with a box. Holding it out to me, he explained he was the head of the local Lion’s Club and that every year they made Thanksgiving Day boxes with ready-to-cook turkeys and all the fixings for people who were in need.

My face reddened as I said, “Oh, we’re fine. I work.” Romey encouraged me to accept the gift, saying, “We like to give boxes to people who help themselves. We watch you work hard every week, Jane.” I still wouldn’t take the box—and every year I remember this story with shame.

I wish I could go back and accept the generous gift from Romey and the Franklin Lion’s Club. But my oven didn’t work, I’d never cooked a turkey before or made stuffing from scratch, and I was too embarrassed to admit it.

It’s almost Thanksgiving Day again and I smile when I think of all the people after Romey who have helped me in big and little ways: the Martins, who generously shared their love, bathroom, and running water with me; my friends who lent me their car when mine broke down for the hundredth time; the gift of money from my community when I was hospitalized and out of work...The list is long. 

Instead of trying to forget the hard times this Thanksgiving, I like to remember them while smiling and saying a silent, heartfelt Thank you. Yes, I’ve been lucky, and I hope you have been too.

And if we’re doing well, maybe we can hold out our hand and help someone else up. I can think of a few hard-working families who’d be thankful for a box of goodies this holiday season. 

Originally Published November 22nd, 2018 in the Crawford County Independent & Kickapoo Scout

Razor Rapture

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From Jane’s World

Two years ago my razor fell off the rim of the tub and when I got out, instead of retrieving it I stepped on it. My decision to stop shaving was made for me: no razor, no shaving.

Life rolled on. I was surprised when months later the hair on my legs seemed to stop growing. I shared this information with Dane one afternoon with an explanation.

“It must be like deodorant! When I stopped using deodorant I stopped smelling bad. I only smell funny now if I eat something terrible like fast food. Now that I stopped shaving, my hair has stopped growing! My leg hair must be like, ‘Argh, razor coming—grow, hair, grow!’ But when no razor comes it’s not forced to grow. It just lies dormant.”

Dane merely nodded.

One less chore—I never gave shaving another thought.

But then summer came and I put on a pair of capris, baring my lower legs. Typing at my desk one day, I nonchalantly rubbed one foot over the skin of my other leg, thinking “Hmm, smooth.” But when I put on my cheap power 4.0 readers and crossed one leg over the other, I saw it: hair, lots of it!

No wonder Dane had only nodded. My legs were furry, which isn’t bad except when you not only believe they’re hairless but you’ve told many people held captive in your fitness classes that your hair has stopped growing due to not shaving.

The truth stings: I can’t see worth a darn anymore, my theories on shaving are wrong—and maybe I do stink from not wearing deodorant.

After my next class, where I confessed to many blank faces that not shaving doesn’t stop your hair from growing, I stopped at the local drugstore and found the aisle with a wide assortment of razors. I’m not keen on pink but that seems to be the overwhelming choice for women’s razors. The ones with the aerodynamic handles looked like they’d make the shaving chore go faster—unless a person hadn’t shaved in a couple of years and the drag slowed them down.

Channeling my home economics teacher, who taught us that bigger and more saves you money, I purchased the package containing three razors and dashed home. I could hardly wait to slink into the tub with a touch of lavender oil, my beloved Epsom salts, and my new razor. Dimming the lights, I grabbed a washcloth and soap and sank down as far as I could, with my head resting on the tub rim.

I soaped up my left leg first and, starting at my ankle, made one smooth stroke up a few inches past my knee cap and to the side of it. Slick!

I started low again and took another run up my leg, this time slowing down to gently go over my knee cap. Awesome!

After each pass up my hairy monster legs, I swirled the head of the shaver in the water to clean it off, then choose another route close to the previous one, continuing carefully around my calves and behind my knee. Zip, swirl, zip, swirl, each swirl releasing a tiny whirlpool of soap into the water.

I meticulously soaped up my right leg and proceeded again with some caution—no sense in cutting myself! Then I gave my new pink razor a few extra swirls, set it on the edge of the tub, and sat up to turn the hot water on again.

I slipped back down, closed my eyes, and focused on my breathing and the thought of my newly shaved legs. If I were prone to having perfect moments in my life, that would be one of them.

Hours later, sitting at my desk with my glasses on, fingers alternately flying over the keyboard and scribbling notes for a program I’m working on, I leaned down to pick up a pen I’d dropped. I snuck a peek at my newly shaved legs—and my heart plummeted.

I rushed to the bathroom, grabbed my aerodynamic shaver, and discovered there was a clear plastic shield covering the blade.

I lifted my arm and sniffed. Later when I told Dane about it, his head didn’t just nod—it dropped.

Originally Published November 15th, 2018 in the Crawford County Independent & Kickapoo Scout