Sunday, November 3, 2013

Making a Penny Scream
A year and a half ago, at not-quite-sixty, my husband felt compelled to relocate 1,500 miles to return to work for Lockheed Martin thus turning our marriage into what is called a “commuter marriage.”  The necessity of this decision grew from the fact that we’d made some bad financial decisions that had put us into debt.  Within months we’d recouped the $40,000 of debt; Dave turned 62 and has returned home to Gig Harbor with an eye of my retiring in June.  There was an emotional cost to Dave’s time away so it is important that we honor the sacrifice and not allow our situation to deteriorate again.  Mostly we need to not return to living like middle class Americans.  I know how to live poor.
Having been low income more than half my adult life, I pay attention to folks who claim to have ways of saving money.  Some of my favorite reads have been compilations of a newsletter from the pre-Internet days called the Tightwad Gazette so it was natural that I “liked” the Face Book page Homemade Living Frugally.  After being a wife and/or mom for 42 years I have amassed plenty of tricks for, in the words of my late mother-in-law, “making a penny scream.”  When someone on Homemade Living Frugally posted the question as to how to save money on their food bill I perked up because I have my own opinions.  There were already 354 replies and I did not read but a few, but it set me to thinking about how helpful it would have been 42 years ago to know what I know now at age 62.  By no means am I a professional spendthrift.  That is a fulltime job and I have a job, but as my husband and I retire and our incomes become fixed we will be having more time and less money so am reverting to my single-stay-at-home-mother mentality.
My mother-in-law’s was not the only sage advice that I got early on in my adult life.  My neighbor when my first child was born, who later became my step-mother, told me, “The only part of my budget I really can control is food.”  I took that to heart and to this day it upsets me to have to throw away moldy or expired food.  My first and best advice to save money on food is to shop in your cupboard and refrigerator when planning meals.  Find recipes to use what you have before you run to the store to buy a long list of ingredients for that wonderful recipe you saw on the Food Network.  Save that recipe for a truly special occasion. The result of NOT shopping in your cupboard and freezer is a lot of waste and once again you might as well throw your money in the street. 
This was brought home when our old freezer (which had been my dad and step-mom’s and probably draining money in electricity) died.  That meant salvaging what I could and tossing the rest.  I discovered things that had put in there months and YEARS earlier and was furious at the waste.  We replaced the freezer with a much smaller version and I have become a fanatic about making sure stu ff gets used. 
I loved watching “Extreme Couponing” on TLC.  I have couponed, but not that extremely.  For one thing, as I referred to above, it takes time to dumpster dive for multiple copies of coupons, organize them, and make a battle plan as to which stores have what on sale.  Maybe when I am retired and have more time I will be able to do more in that direction, but I do get online for Fred Meyer and load coupons onto my rewards card and take advantage of their 55 and over days that give a 10% discount on the health and organic items that we use.  That’s another tricky tight rope and another blog.  First Tuesday is this Tuesday so I guess I’d better get busy.

Monday, October 21, 2013

From Commuter Husband to Mr. Mom
After spending sixteen months as a commuter husband, living and working in Arizona while my middle aged Special Needs daughter and I remained in Washington, my husband Dave scarce had time to draw breath on his return than to begin his new duties as a co-Mr. Mom to our grandson Gabriel while my daughter-in-law hurried to Brazil to support her critically ill mother.  If that sentence leaves you breathless, it is intentional.  We have been on a whirlwind that begs the question of whether or not this is retirement for him.
Even though Ana didn’t leave for a day after Dave’s return, that day was filled with the internment of both of Dave’s parents while she hurriedly packed.  This was followed the next day by a memorial celebration of his father’s life (we did his mother’s in September) while Ana was attempting to get out of a socked in SeaTac.
The role of Mr. Mom will be a bit new for Dave.  Although he is one of seven sons and has four grown step children, being responsible for Gabriel during the day for at least a month will be a first.  Gabriel is homeschooled and has many activities during the day, particularly on Tuesdays.  I predict that they will collapse in a heap after play practice (Gabriel is appearing as the chubby German boy in Willy Wonka—which is a stretch for a tall skinny Brazilian-American) for three hours at the Lakewood Little Theater followed by the Gig Harbor Youth Orchestra followed by his group violin lesson.  GranDave will have to make sure to take a thermos of coffee and plenty of reading material.
Amidst his many activities Gabriel is homeschooled so GranDave will be acting as schoolmarm, too.  Because my son Frank is a school teacher himself in the Lakewood School District and beginning his National Boards certification he can only be responsible for Gabriel in the evenings and with the National Boards, sometimes not even then. I have a job as a para educator in the Peninsula School District so the daytime duties for Gabriel’s care will fall on my husband’s shoulders although we ought to be able to tag-team some things.
Today we are starting easy.  I have another day of bereavement leave and Gabriel has only his private violin lesson.  We plan to take my daughter and him to the $2 movie this morning, followed by lunch at Subway before the violin lesson.  Although I can take Gabriel to his group lesson tomorrow after work, the bulk of Tiring Tuesday will fall to GranDave.  When Ana asked Dave to step into this role he was in the process of helping bring his father’s remains home.  He didn’t hesitate a second to say, yes because he saw his own brother put his life on hold for six months to care for their ailing parents.  As my blogging friend Lorrene LeMaster has said, families are like chainlink fences and you can’t let the links break if the fence is to stay strong.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

The End of an Odyssey

“Ana’s mother needs a triple by-pass so she needs to go [to Brazil].  She wants Gabriel to stay here and keep his life as normal as possible.  She’s wondering if he can stay with you during the day while Frank and I are at work,” I said into my cell phone to my husband Dave, who is driving home from his odyssey as a commuter husband that’s lasted sixteen months. 

“Absolutely,” Dave said.  “I was just talking to Phil about how he and Eva put their lives on hold for the last six months to take care of our parents.  That’s what families do.”

“I know,” I said. “That’s what I told Ana.  She cried.”

We’ve all been crying too much of late.  When Dave made the decision to return to work in June of 2012 it was to pay off some debt and give him some closure with his job which had ended abruptly when Lockheed Martin closed Seattle Flight Service and moved their services to Prescott, AZ.  It was devastating for me personally, but despite my belief that it would not get easier, it did.

At that time I told him that our parents were aging and fragile, especially his mother, and that it was possible that one or more of them might die while he was gone.  As it turns out, both of Dave’s parents passed during his time in Arizona.  Fortunately, he was able to see them several times and was actually at home in Gig Harbor when his mother died in August.  I am glad that he was not alone.  He was not so fortunate, when a day shy of a month later, his father joined his mother.  In the words of his brother Corky, it seemed that he could not do without her.

We are comforted by the fact that Dave’s brother Phil and his sister-in-law Eva stepped in to care for the boys’ parents when their mom’s health took a nose dive in April.  I know that their loving care of Walt and Dottie eased the guilt that Dave felt about being 1,500 miles away and prolonged their mother’s life by several months.  Actually, Phil and Eva uprooted their lives to come from Temecula, California to care for the parents.  They have been the embodiment of how we ought to all treat our loved ones.  They put their lives and creditors on hold because caring for my in-laws was more important than anything as far as they were concerned.  Ultimately my mother-in-law said, “Phil, you need to go home and we’ll go with you.”  That is how it came to be that both of the boys (there are seven brothers) parents died in Temecula and how it came to be that three of the boys—Dave included—are bringing their father’s ashes back to the Puget Sound area for internment with their mother at Tahoma National Cemetery tomorrow.

The trip back to Washington has been a sentimental journey for the boys (if you can call men in their sixties boys) and a fitting end to Dave’s time in Arizona.  Phil, the romantic and most tender hearted of the bunch, decided that the best way to return the parents’ motorhome and their father’s ashes was to take Walt on one last road trip, stopping along the way to visit with family including the graves of both grandparents in Idaho and Eastern Washington.  Dave left Arizona on Sunday and in Sacramento on Monday met Phil and Eva who had picked up Steve who’d flown in from Seattle.  They stayed with cousins and then began caravanning home. Tuesday was their long day.  They drove for nineteen hours, only stopping for dinner in Salem, Oregon where they met my best friend, who grew up with all of us, and had dinner. 

Of their stop my friend Nikki wrote, “It was a privilege to spend time with all of them and hear them reminisce about their parents.  Phil got teary eyed when he talked about Walt dying--I could tell he was a feeler!  Eva is very sweet and Steve was quite thoughtful about everything.  It is really a beautiful tribute to their parents and such a touching way to honor them.  Just because the others haven't joined in will never, ever take away from what these 3 brothers have done--together.  They will always have this memory and will be helped in their grieving by doing this.”

They pressed on until midnight where they stopped in Walla Walla before going on to Lewiston/Clarkston where their mother grew up. 

Yesterday they went to Nez Perce, Idaho where their father was born and raised, visiting the graves of their grandparents.  It was on their way there that I was able to get ahold of Dave and tell him about our daughter-in-law’s mother.  He did not hesitate for a second to say that he would become the grandpa version of Mr. Mom, seeing that Gabriel gets to his lessons and activities and does his homeschool work.  The events of the past year and a half have changed all of us in many ways. 

It seems like we will have little time to catch our breaths from Dave’s Arizona odyssey and the internment and memorializing of his parents before he steps into his role as stay-at-home-grandpa.  He’s coming home none-too-soon!

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Sentimental Journey

Sentimental Journey was one of the iconic songs of WWII.  Doris Day recorded on November 20th 1944 with the Les Brown Orchestra.  It is bittersweet about going home.  They say you can never go home again, but ultimately you can.  Two of my six brothers-in-law will be making a sentimental journey with their father’s remains as they drive them in his motorhome from Temecula, CA to Tahoma National Cemetery in Kent.  They plan to stop and see relatives, living and dead, along the way and spots that their parents loved to visit in their motor home.  Said my brother-in-law Phil, the third of the seven boys who cared for both of their parents until they died within a month of one another, “We are going to bring Dad up in his RV, stopping at several locations: Judy and Diane's homes [cousins] in Sacramento, The Redwoods, The Oregon Coast and finally Grandma and Grandpa's grave site in Clarkston. From there on home to the final resting place at Tahoma National.” 
I had to wipe the tears from my eyes when I read of the planned trip.  These have been hard times for the Haeck family and hardest of all on Phil and his family who stepped up to the plate and cared for the parents as their mother’s health failed.  They had looked forward to spending some time with their father, but it seemed that, as so often happens, he could not long stand being separated from his wife.  Now Phil will perform this last act of love in bringing his father home to the Puget Sound area where the couple raised seven wonderful sons to be buried with his beloved wife at Tahoma National Cemetery.  Steve, the oldest of the boys, will be journeying with them and Dave, who will be returning from his year and a half as a commuter husband in Arizona, plans to meet them along the road as he journeys home himself.
“We are having a sign printed,” wrote Phil, “to hang on the back of the RV. ‘This RV is carrying Lt. Walter E Haeck home to rest at Tahoma National Cemetery. 1919-2013.’ Anyone who wants to come along or join the caravan at any point along the way is very welcome.”  Walter Haeck and Dorothy Haeck will be interned at Tahoma (if the shutdown ends) at 2 PM on October 18th.  A celebration of Walt’s life will be at Lake Sammamish State Park at 2 PM the following day.  Family and friends are invited to honor Walt’s love of the out-of-doors.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Changing Seasons
My husband Dave’s birthday is on or just after the first day of Fall.  Perhaps that is why his mother began baking him plum sauce cake for a birthday cake.  Certainly the cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves fill the house with an aroma that speaks Autumn’s name.
Originally Dave, who has been living and working in Arizona since June of 2012, had planned to drive to his brother’s in Temecula, CA on his birthday to see his parents while they were visiting there.  I had planned to mail the cake there.  Then Dave’s mother died on August 17th.  She’d been unwell for some time, but seemed to be coming back in inches.  Dave had gone to see her and his dad just the week before.  I am grateful that this first injury occurred while he happened to be at home surrounded by our household.
I remember when I first met Dave’s parents.  I told them that I was happy to meet the people who’d raised such a nice son and on top of that raised seven of them!  My four paled by comparison.  I went on to discover that all of the boys were not just nice, but extraordinary in their humor, sense, and hearts. I still believe that they are marvelous people because they were raised by marvelous people.  They’ve only to look at each other and see what gifts their parents gave to them—each other.  As an only child, I believe I know what that means.
Dave, the second of the seven, had joked that had he been a girl there would have only been two Haeck offspring.  Dottie laughed and said, “Noooo, that’s not true.  I just love children.”  That is the truth.  She loved children so much that besides raising her own seven she did daycare for neighborhood children.  Some of them attended her memorial and spoke with such love of this little woman.
Early in our marriage Dottie gave me the recipe for plum sauce cake neatly printed on old fashioned recipe cards—we didn’t have a computer then.  Today as I looked at those cards and measured and mixed Dave’s cake I felt her presence and although I know that this cake will be little compensation for losing a mother, much less losing both parents—for today, one month after Dottie’s passing, Dave’s dad joined her, her name on his lips. 
I am grieved that Dave is 1,500 miles from those who love him this night when he is feeling so, so, alone.  I cannot hug or comfort him—only bake a cake that I’ll put in the mail tomorrow for his birthday on Sunday.  I know from experience the cake won’t make Dave’s heart heal for nothing ever truly heals these losses. As the seasons of the Earth are changing so is the season of Dave's life and I hope that in the cake he’ll taste the memories of other birthdays when everyone he loved was still alive.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Taking Care of Business Every Day
If you are a Baby Boomer and are lucky enough to still have living parents, chances are their health and welfare is becoming more and more your responsibility. I am a 62-year-old only child of a mother who will be 91 a less than a week and I live 150 miles from her.  Hopefully within the next year my husband, daughter and I will be moving nearer, but in the meantime we are dealing with the issues that come up with having a parent age.  From this distance it’s a little like juggling cats against the backdrop of working as Special Education Para educator, having an adult child with Special , and having a husband living and working 1,500 miles away for the last year and a half.  I have what is known as a "commuter marriage."  Every day requires the planning of a general.  Fortunately I have some officers in the form of a son and daughter-in-law who live with us and another son and daughter-in-law twenty minutes away.  Many family caregivers are not so fortunate.
So far my mother has remained relatively independent, living alone in her own subsidized apartment with a minimum of help.  She does not desire to go into an assisted living arrangement and we are doing whatever we can to keep her where she is for as long as possible.  “Other people die in this building.  Why can’t I,” she has asked.  Keeping track of her deductible expenses to keep her qualified for her low rent has fallen to me as well as bill paying, although we've managed to make most of that automatic.
In 1985 my mother had a serious bout of cellulitis fueled by MRSA.  To this day we don’t know how she contracted it, but it rears its ugly head from time to time and I have to be prepared to get her seen by a doctor when it happens and monitor her recovery.  If the doctor doesn’t order home health and a visiting nurse, I ask.  My mother is not a good reporter and will sugar coat things on the phone so I want trained eyes to see her blisters and whether or not they are getting better.  That’s the fun we’ve been having right now—organizing a visiting nurse.
The health is a big issue and in addition to home health I pay for a medic alert device and it’s been worth every penny.  After doing some research on the Internet I chose Get Help Now because they didn’t require a long term contract.  With an elderly person you could sign up for three years and be stuck with a couple of years contract when they pass.  We are on a six month contract which seems far more reasonable.
When my mother began to take multiple medications at first I counted pills.  This was nerve wracking especially when she attempted to do it and I found mistakes that either of us had made.  Then I discovered that for very little extra the pharmacy will blister pack her medications.  She gets two cards each month, one for the morning and one for the evening.  That was a good sized stone lifted off of me!
Some things as small and yet as huge as garbage can be daunting.  My mother, with some effort, can get her garbage out of the kitchen can and on a good day onto her walker to take down in the apartment building elevator, but lifting the lid of the big green dumpster is a no-go.  It’s not all that easy for me!  She asked a neighbor if we could pay her to take out the garbage and so for a pittance she puts the bag in the hall and it disappears.  The neighbor needs the money and my mother definitely needs the help.  Without this arrangement Mother could not remain in her own place.
Laundry is another problem.  My mother has toppled over in the laundry room.  Through a local agency that assists the old and infirm we hire someone to spend 1.5 hrs. per week at my mom’s, mostly doing laundry.  If need by we’ve stretched her fixed income to cover 2 hrs. but it is a stretch.  This week the chore person is taking my mother to the doctor so the laundry will be waiting for me when I make my bi-weekly run to the coast to shop and do whatever else she needs.  I don’t mind.  I’m glad that my mother doesn’t have to take dial-a-ride to the doctor because sometimes she has to wait as long as an hour to get a ride home which is tiring.
With both my mother and my daughter letting them make decisions is crucial so that they maintain a sense of autonomy.  In other words I pick my battles to build political capital for times when I have to insist. “Are you going to have a shower this morning or wait until tonight?” vs. “No, is not an option.”  In my job I have seen what not letting an individual feel that they have any control over their life can do.  You end up with behaviors you don’t want and contention that makes life unpleasant for everyone concerned.  It’s all part of my juggling act.  I will be so grateful when my husband’s time away from home is done and I have him as a helpmate.  Both my mother and daughter react differently to him which makes me laugh, but whatever gets the job done.
Recently my husband’s parents became in need of 24 hour care.  Instead of seeing his parents go into an institution or adult family home, which they most definitely did not want, one of my brothers-in-law and his wife stepped up to the plate and left their lives on hold to care for my in-laws.  Their care has been nothing short of extraordinary.  They kept them first in the parents’ own apartment and then took them into their own home where they could be assisted by their own adult son.  With a dying mother and a father suffering from short term memory loss they have had their hands full, but they have cared for them with patience and love they would not receive from strangers in an institution.  I stand in awe of them and wonder if I could do the same.
Many nights I lose sleep wondering about those I love.  Tonight I will sleep well as my mother has organized her own ride to the doctor tomorrow to get wound care.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Tomorrow is the First Day of the Rest of My Life
Tomorrow is the first day of the rest of my life--trite, but true.  Tomorrow is the first day of my last school year working as a Special Education para educator.  I have mixed emotions as I like my job.  Actually, I have the best job in school district because I work with the best student in the best high school.  I have amiable workmates who are the cherries on my work sundae.  So why not keep working?  The reasons are multiple.
Unfortunately, retiring and collecting both my Social Security and my retirement will actually give me a raise.  I have always joked and said that if I kept working much longer the district would expect me to pay them.  I wasn’t far off the mark.  I will be 63 in February so am already eligible to collect SS.  When I first began working with my student when he was a freshman I told him that I wouldn’t retire on him, that we’d graduate together.  He has come to be very dear to me and makes each day a joy.  He says that between the two of us we make one good brain.  That makes me laugh.  I am his hands; he is the brains in our outfit and very forbearing to tolerate spending the better part of 6.5 hours of his days with an old lady.  In some other life he could have been my grandson.  Tomorrow he begins his senior year which means nine more months to help him prepare to make his way in the world.  He will always need and have help, but it’s time for him to spread his wings and find his path, even if it is in a wheelchair.
For over a year I have been living in a commuter marriage.  In June 2012 my husband Dave and I determined that it was necessary for him to return to work for Lockheed Martin to help pay some debts.  He had retired when Lockheed closed their Seattle Flight Service, but had offered him jobs in other facilities over the years.  Finally it seemed an offer that couldn’t be refused, especially when we discovered that he could rent a room from an old friend from his FAA Bakersfield days who happened to be working at the Prescott, AZ facility that offered Dave the job.  The year plus of having a commuter marriage, which I discovered is not all that uncommon (not a good commentary on American life), has been a year of learning for both of us.  Dave admits that in the beginning there was a certain amount of excitement with regards to living somewhere new for a while.  That wore off somewhat rapidly when he realized that life was going on at home without him where grandchildren were growing and changing and I was learning to do without him.  That has not always been easy.  He is home for a few days to attend his mother’s funeral and admitted that he doesn’t want me to get along too well without him.  Anxious to feel needed he had not even unpacked before he started doing chores around the house as if he’d never left.  We get by without him, but I am the first to admit that life is much smoother with him.  Originally Dave’s move to Prescott had an end date of his 62nd birthday (SS) this month, but a little raise has enticed him to stay into October to sell back his annual leave at the higher rate and get two more pay checks so it’s home before Halloween now with the plan for him to do some projects on our Gig Harbor house with an eye for selling it. Then we can move to our other house in Ilwaco, WA which will presumably be cheaper to live in.
The move to Ilwaco will also put me within six blocks of my nearly 92 year old mother who so far is remaining in her own apartment.  Every time I have to come away from Ilwaco I worry about her despite the fact that we pay for a chore person once a week, one of the neighbors to take out the garbage and for a medic alert system.  This week we are burying Dave’s mother whose birthday would have been Friday, just 11 days before my mother’s.  I don’t think I will ever regret spending more time with mine.
The last, but most important, reason for me to want to quit my job is my own Special Needs daughter.  Amy is 42.5 years old and has Down’s Syndrome.  The average life expectancy for people with an extra 21st chromosome is 50.  I feel the clock ticking.  She can be frustrating and stubborn and loves me more than anyone ever will.  She is a gift with whom I want to spend as much time as possible.  There have been times during Dave’s absence that she’s been alone for 7 hours a day at home, although for the most part my daughter-in-law has been at home with her.  While she’s happiest with her own company and knows she can reach me at any time by calling my cell phone and I am only ten minutes away, those have been anxiety ridden hours.  Dave is not Amy’s biological father, but she has him wrapped around her tiny pinkie and one of the things that made me fall in love with Dave was a remark he made when we were first “keeping company.”  He said, “It’s nice.  You’ll always have Amy.”  Who could not love a man that thinks it’s not only okay to have my child always with me, but desirable and then was willing to take on a ready-made family that included her three brothers and grandmother.  Perhaps I’m lucky that he didn’t run away and join the circus before 21 years had passed!
So tomorrow begins the first day of the rest of my life and my last first day of school.  How exciting is that?

Sunday, September 1, 2013

The Power of the Past
I will be wearing her cameo and remembering her smile
My husband would tell you that I am entirely too attached to “things.”  Dave is not particularly sentimental.  I think I balance his deficit.  I like old things which becomes more important daily as we become old ourselves.  I love our 132 year old house.  I like that it had a history when we bought it more than 20 years ago and I like that we’ve added to that history by marking on the kitchen door jamb the height of the children and grandchildren as they have grown.  I love old kitchen utensils.  When I use them I think about the women who may have owned them before and the families they fed.  I can see them in kitchens of the ‘40s, ‘30s and ‘20s and envision laughing, hungry families.
I attach even more importance to the things I have that have belonged to people I love.  I have many things that belonged to my father—his WWII medals, his pipe, a bracelet he crafted while in the Navy with his name and ID number.  The things that hold the most significance for me are the pieces of jewelry that have belonged to the significant women in my life.  From them I draw strength because they were, for the most part, strong women.  From my paternal grandmother I have a few pieces of costume jewelry. From my step-mother I have the engagement ring my father gave her in 1972.  From my mother-in-law I have a painted cameo she gave me several years ago.  It had been hers.  I wore it the last time I saw her as her health was failing and I saw her eyes rest on it and she smiled.  She knew I wore it for her.

Sometimes when I have an important appointment that I don’t want to keep, that scares me, I will put on several pieces of my heirloom jewelry and carry these women with me as I do battle with the world.  These things become talismans.  On September 6th and 7th our family will be memorializing my mother-in-law, Dottie Haeck.  This sweet tiny lady raised seven boys and kept her sanity.  They are each of them delightful and successful human beings!  What a wonderful legacy she leaves behind.  I will be wearing her cameo and remembering her smile during the coming weekend as we celebrate her life and bid her farewell. 

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Looking Toward the Firsts and the Lasts
Amy’s and my summer at the shore is coming to an end.  We are getting ready to head home to Gig Harbor so that I can go back to work at Gig Harbor High School.  This time of year is always filled with mixed emotions for me.  I like my job.  I assist the most amiable eighteen year old student who is forbearing with an aide who is an old lady.  This will be our fourth year together and other than a new schedule, we have our ways of getting things done and have been together long enough to finish each other’s sentences.  We have similar senses of humor.
The past few days the weather has been cool and even a bit rainy which would make my husband, was he here, sad, but it does not me.  Yesterday afternoon as I dozed on the couch before a DVD a sound reached my ears which I’d not heard for a long time.  For more than 20 years I’ve tried to discover that it is on our front porch that creaks in the wind to no avail.  It is a slow creak as I would imagine the ropes of a sailing ship creaking against a wooden mast as the ship rocks upon the water rather in keeping with the fact that our 132 year old house is two blocks from the Port of Ilwaco.  I have come to love the sound, but was surprised to hear it since the sun had been making a gallant effort to make an appearance when I’d set the sprinkler to watering the garden which I needn’t have bothered with.  Now it was raining.
Returning to a job I enjoy is some compensation for leaving the creaking house by the sea that I love as is the turning of the seasons.  I realize that Autumn does not officially begin until September 22nd (my husband’s birthday) this year, but my favorite season is whispering her name and leaves from the birch tree are littering the yard between the house and the barn.  I took the combination of Mother Nature’s behavior as signs that it was the time to shift some things inside from Summer to Autumn mode.  Out are coming my harvest table runners, table clothes and napkins along with my collection of pumpkins and turkeys and my happy Autumn crow.  Once I am back in my routine of work and coming to Ilwaco to help my almost 91 year old mother, I have little time for what I call “playing house” otherwise known as decorating.
One twist on the end of Summer this year is that our financial advisor says that I can make this my last year of working for the school district.  As a matter of fact between my retirement and Social Security, I will get a little raise.  It will mean living frugally because Dave is also leaving his job at Lockheed Martin in Prescott, AZ where he’s been since June of ’12 and returning to Gig Harbor to begin collecting his Social Security, along with his retirement from the FAA.  We will soon be embarking on a new phase of our life as we shift our lives from Gig Harbor to Ilwaco.  There will be the sadness of having the children and grandchildren farther away, but Dave is certain that we can live more cheaply in our house by the sea than in an upscale suburb. 
Mostly I want to be nearer to my elderly mother and spend more time with my Special Needs daughter.  The average life expectancy of an individual with Down’s Syndrome is 50.  Amy is 42.5 years and I bless each day with her.  She can be extra work, infuriatingly stubborn, and loves me more than anyone ever will.  I would not trade one day with her for any other day so regardless of finances or other inconveniences; I am excited about the changes to come.  It will undoubtedly be a time of firsts and lasts.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Grammy Camp 2013
What a difference a year makes!  Last year when my granddaughter Linda spent five days with my daughter Amy and me at our house in Ilwaco on the Long Beach Peninsula we had a wonderful time, but she suffered from some anxiety that manifested itself in her wanting to call her parents several times a day—which I finally had to limit—her calling me if I went to the barn and some worrisome headaches.  To a great extent she was enamored of our corded phone which we keep because it is the only sort of phone my special needs daughter understands.  Think how much fun a phone with a dial would have been!  So what I refer to as “Grammy Camp” was different this year from last.  This year she went for days without thinking to call her parents and did not all me once.

What made our time together particularly special this year was Linda’s interaction with her Aunt Amy.  For the most part when it comes to children, or much of anyone else, Amy is like W.C. Fields, “Go away kid, you bother me.”  Surprisingly enough Linda, who celebrated her ninth birthday in June, seems to have hit an age compatible to her aunt’s mental age.  It was the magical intersection of their lives and lovely to watch.  Aunt Amy allowed Linda to watch movies with her in her room—a first.  She’s reluctantly allowed nephew Gabriel into her room in Gig Harbor, but this was different.  They sat hugging on Amy’s bed and watching a Barbie DVD on her personal DVD player.  I’d already managed to get Amy to watch movies with me in the evening instead of disappearing into her bedroom directly after dinner and with Linda in our company they snuggled together on the sofa to watch American Girl and Barbie movies.  They giggled and enjoyed making fart noises with their mouths and hands and did a lot of hugging which, for all of Amy’s humbugging, is one of her favorite activities.

The day we arrived in Ilwaco with Linda we hurriedly ate our lunch and then went to Ft. Columbia where we were first in line for seating to see the Peninsula Association of Performing Artists (PAPA) production of “The Wizard of Oz.”  PAPA always does a wonderful job.  Last summer Amy begged to see “Into the Woods” twice so when I ordered tickets for Oz I figured two performances, with one to include Linda, in my plan.  The girls were enchanted.  Hope Bellinger, who played Dorothy, had been enchanting last year as Red Riding Hood, but really came into her own as Dorothy.  Everyone involved with the production was marvelous including the very well behaved dog that played Toto!  

From the time Linda could stand on a stool to reach the kitchen counter she has liked to cook so when I mentioned making some Rose Petal Jam, she was enthusiastic.  She was interested in all of the steps from the purchasing of the jars and sterilizing them, to the picking of the rose petals, to the making of the jam and pouring the wax on top.  Linda lettered the labels and was very proud to set aside two jars to take to her parents and one to take to one of her favorite adults, local author Sydney Stevens. 

First Tuesday was discount day at the Fred Meyer store in Warrenton, Oregon so we went shopping for some back-to-school clothing.  Actually, what we wanted was a jacket and some uniforms as the Tacoma School District, much to my delight, has uniforms and Linda was ready for some larger skirts and pants.  Boy did we get the wrong number.  Not only must Astoria and Warrenton apparently not have uniforms, global warming must have called off Winter.  Besides Fred Meyer we looked at Ross, J.C. Penny’s, Costco and our local shop Dennis Company.  No jackets.  Linda didn’t come home empty handed.  She got underwear with the names of the days of the week on them, a pair of Crocks for herself and a pair for her younger sister Lydia, and a four disk set of American Girl movies which entertained us over the course of two nights.

Although Linda had brought workbooks (when she completes the big one her parents have promised a video game) she hadn’t brought a book to read.  I like to read in bed at night and Linda knew I had some Nancy Drew books which I’d picked up at thrift stores so she selected one and we took turns reading it aloud and she packed it in the car to read on trips to Astoria and back home.  I’d seen a copy of the volume that was first in the Nancy Drew series at an antique store in Klipsan so when our travels took us to the north end of the Peninsula we stopped and picked up an edition of The Secret of the Old Clock that looked very much like the one I’d had.  It pleased me that it pleased Linda so much.   I explained that when Auntie Gail and I would come to my grandparents’ beach house in Seaview there was no DVD player or television and the way we entertained ourselves in the evenings was by reading Nancy Drew books and trading them.  When we’d done that we begged my father for a trip to the bookstore for another couple!

Linda also got an introduction to Bronte and Austen.  We watched Jane Eyre and when I described some of the things that the movie left out she asked if I had a copy.  Linda is headed into 4th grade and I believe that when I was a child we were introduced to Bronte and Austen more along the lines of 6th grade, but I didn’t want to miss bonding moment and as I have a Bronte collection that Dave gave me, I was happy to pass along a 1943 illustrated copy of Jane Eyre I picked up at a garage sale years ago.  She won’t be up to reading it just yet, but she told her mother she wants the movie.

Linda’s favorite destination when she comes to the beach is Oysterville.  Three years ago she accompanied GranDave and me to a house concert at the home of local author Sydney Stevens and became enamored of Sydney instantly.  It doesn’t hurt that Sydney lives in a historic house in the historic village and always Linda says, “Are we going to see Sydney?”  Sydney came to our house around the 4th of July and even wrote a blog about Linda’s lemonade stand that garnered her $50 at twenty-five cents a cup.  This time Mrs. Stevens had issued an invitation to come to tea at her house and Linda brought two dresses to choose from.  Because Mr. Stevens had just celebrated his birthday we arose the morning of the day of the tea and made him brownies to take along with the jar of Rose Petal Jam and a jar candle made from one of the little canning jars, colored popcorn and a fall scented tea light.

Since we were early we “toured” Oysterville.  I showed Linda the community hall which had been one of the one-room schools that educated Oysterville children in the past and is where GranDave and Grammy had their wedding reception.  Across the street from the Espy House where Sydney lives is the Oysterville Church where Linda has been to vespers, but which she didn’t realize is where Grammy and GranDave were married. 

Anyone who has been in company with Sydney Stevens, who is also a retired elementary teacher, can understand how enchanted a youngster could be.  Mrs. Stevens captivated Linda with stories about the history of the Peninsula as well as discussing books and school and life in general.  The tea she provided was definitely kid-friendly with jelly beans and gum drops as well as tea sandwiches.  Before arriving at the Espy House we had paid a visit at the Oysterville Store where we purchased a copy of P is for the Papa Train for Linda and Local Legendary Characters for a friend of mine which we had Sydney sign.  When we returned to our house Linda mentioned seeing some shops that are for sale.  She now has plans to purchase one and make Rose Petal Jam for a living.  What a lovely idea!

Linda has many of the American Girl books.  I like them for although they have a story line they are infused with history and societal issues.  Linda first learned about the Great Depression from Kit which led to a conversation with her great-grandmother about what life was like during that era and to us listening to some of my large collection of radio program recordings.  Watching the DVDs meant we could include Aunt Amy.  When we got done watching Samantha Linda mentioned how disturbing it was to learn that children had worked in factories in the early part of the 20th century where they could be injured and the factory owners didn’t care.  She was grateful to learn that laws now protect not only children, but workers in general.  Felicity took us all the way back to the year before the American Revolution and how complicated it was for a community to deal with issues of the loyalists vs. the patriots along with what was expected of a proper young lady.  In Molly, Molly’s growth in understanding herself and the larger world during WWII are good life lessons and the fact that people lacked email and cell phones in those days when daddies were gone for months and years with only letters, weeks old, to sustain little girls.  Linda had learned that her father would not be home for a day when she returned and that also led to a discussion of the months that my father was gone to the South Pacific testing the atomic bomb and how much I missed him with only letters to sustain me.  “You can call, Daddy,” I told her.  “I could do nothing but wait for the mailman.”

Our final full day of Grammy Camp was a trip to the Flavel House in Astoria.  It fit in well with watching the Samantha DVD since Captain Flavel’s home is of an era in keeping with the houses we’d seen in the movie.  We had planned to go last year, but Linda developed a headache (home-sickness?) and had a lay-down instead so we were making up for lost time.  We watched the little movie that is shown in the carriage house where visitors purchase “calling cards” (more history discussion and explanations) to enter the house.  I think the bathrooms (“What strange toilets!”) amazed Linda most.  After we came back outside Linda declared that Flavel House is her dream house.  Since it is unlikely to come on the market, I showed her another, not-quite-as-grand house on the hill in eastern Astoria that might do well and actually was on the market a few years ago.  A girl can dream, can’t she?

Friday was back to reality, but not without a stop in the ‘50s at Slater’s Diner in Raymond.  Slater’s has become a favorite stop for us and it was fun to see Linda bouncing to rock ‘n roll that was popular when I was her age.  Linda’s week with me was also her introduction to chocolate malts which she embraces with enthusiasm.  I fully expect Linda to spend other summer vacations with us and I know there will be adventures and fun aplenty (there are plenty of things we didn’t have time for this year), but this was truly a magical week—at least for me!



Thursday, August 1, 2013

Rose Petal Jam

It has been years since I made rose petal jam.  Last summer, with Dave’s absence, I was struggling to keep the flower beds weeded and watered and the lawn mowed.  This year I’ve done what Dave encouraged me to do last year and hired garden help.  It has freed me to accomplish other projects such as painting the porch furniture.  As I sat in my beautifully painted lavender chair I surveyed the garden and the roses, which are plentiful this year.  And I remembered rose petal jam and how the making fills the house with the scent of roses.  It is like capturing a little of summer in a jar and I decided that it would make good Christmas gifts so I was off to the store for jars, paraffin, sugar and Certo.
1 ½ C. cleaned rose petals—preferably red or dark pink petals.  Yellow or pale pink petals do not make an attractive product.  Don’t use those that are rusted or wilted.

2 C. water

3 ½ C. sugar

2 T. lemon juice

½ bottle or one envelope of Certo*

*If you don’t wish or don’t have Certo you can use 6 ¾ C. or 3 pounds of sugar

~From The Key to Greek Cooking, published by the Greek Orthodox Church of the Assumption Guild, Seattle, WA, 1960.

Wash petals gently in a large bowl and drain.  Put petals in a large saucepan with the water and bring to boil until transparent.  Remove from heat and let stand for about 10 minutes.  Place on high heat, add sugar and lemon juice and boil hard for one minute.  Remove from heat and add Certo, stirring constantly.  Fill sterile jars and seal.  This recipe makes about ten 4oz jars, leaving room for paraffin on top.  I chose small jars so that the jam can be Christmas gifts.  There was a little left over that I put in a custard cup for use right away.  I also included a T. of culinary lavender which is optional.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The Pleasure of Your Company is Requested
Technology is brilliant.  I love this magic box that connects me to the world.  It has allowed me to reestablish connections with people that otherwise might have been lost to me forever.  I love the devise I carry in my pocket.  It allows me almost instant contact with my absent husband and children.  Unfortunately, sometimes electronic technology fails.  We have discovered that text messages between my husband who is in Arizona and me in Washington can float round over Idaho or Nevada for hours before popping into our cellphones.  Email is also not fool proof, but somewhat more reliable. 
Despite my regard for technology, I still prefer postal mail—which has unfortunately been dubbed “snail mail” because of the perception that it can take forever for something mailed to arrive at its destination.  Sure, I know that there are still WWII era letters turning up in the mail, but considering the volume of mail the USPS has handled over 200+ years I think they do pretty well at rather little expense given the cost of transportation.
Remember when you were little and planning a birthday party?  Your mother got a class list from the teacher and you chose invitations at the store and filled them out.  You may have taken them to school and hand delivered them to your classmates, but they had something to carry home to their mothers with the details of the birthday celebration. 
Now there are websites where you can electronically create invitations, add your email list and voila, off they go with no stamps and at very little trouble to you.  Maybe that last ought to be the red flag—very little trouble to you.  Be warned.  My daughter-in-law has relied on this method of inviting people to her child’s party.  The result was that some important people, such as grandparents, did not receive the invitation. 
“Oh, it must have gone into your junk file,” I’ve been told.  “Your security is too high.”  In this scenario the sender has made it my fault that I did not receive the invitation.  Trust me; I get plenty of junk in my email in-box.  What is the point of a junk file if one needs to be weeding through it to make sure that something important didn’t get funneled that way?  How important can it be if the sender did not think it worthy of a stamp or a phone call? In the most recent instance the mother-of-the-groom has said that “There is a problem with the website the kids chose.”  No.  There is a problem with the method of delivery the almost-middle-aged bride and groom chose.
Those of us married in the last century probably remember the excitement of choosing our invitations, carefully selecting the typeface and wording, and then delicately addressing those invitations.  A friend of mine, who was good at calligraphy, addressed mine as a gift.  When my oldest son got married the bride, her matron-of-honor, and I had a little addressing party of which I have fond memories.  It was the coming together of two extended families and tell family stories.  Generally, somewhere in these sorts of invitations were the words “the pleasure of your company is requested” because you genuinely wanted the addressee to attend. 
Given the capriciousness of electronic invitations, I am not sure the pleasure of my company is really being requested or is cared about one way or the other.  A part of me feels that I ought not to care one way or another either.  If I am not worthy of an actual invitation, delivered in a timely manner (back in the 20th century we sent out invitations a full month in advance plus mail time which mean those across the country were mailed a week earlier than those that were local), maybe said couple is not worth the cost of a gift and postage to mail it.  As it is a family member I have chosen my fallback position of family photographs—the groom’s grandparents when they were younger than him, framed—which I will take to the post office and mail, thus expending more energy than the bride and groom did.  Let us hope that they take more care with their actual marriage than they have the organization of their wedding.
I was raised in a house that had two volumes of etiquette (which were actually referred to) that my mother managed to distill into a sentence:  Good manners means doing the nicest possible thing in the nicest possible way.  This notion seems to have fallen out of fashion.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Grandma Frieze's Pineapple Cookies
My granddaughters are to coming to visit on Monday so I’m making paternal grandmother’s pineapple cookies.  Going to visit Grandma Frieze meant pineapple cookies in the cookie jar.  I have such lovely memories of visiting her that I want to create those same sorts of memories for my own grandchildren.  Frankly, the cookies are pretty popular with the grownups so I’m making a double batch for the 4th of July week as family and friends gather to celebrate.  Grandma got the recipe out of a women’s magazine in the 1950s or ‘60s and the original is taped inside the front cover of her old Joy of Cooking which I inherited since my mother had given it to her in the ‘40s.  I’ve posted about these cookies before, but they are so delicious and perfect for these hot days that I thought I’d do it again.

Temp. 375           Time: 12 min      Yield: About 3 doz.

2 C. sifted enriched all-purpose flour                      1 egg

1 tsp. baking powder                                                      ½ tsp. vanilla extract

1 tsp. baking soda                                                            ½ C. drained canned crushed pineapple

1 tsp. salt                                                                             1 C. granulated sugar

½ C. shortening                                                                    1 T. granulated sugar

Heat oven.  Sift together first 4 ingredients.  Mix shortening and next 3 ingredients until creamy.  Mix in the pineapple, then flour mixture.  Drop by teaspoonfuls 2 inches apart onto an ungreased cookies sheet (I use no stick spray just the same).  Sprinkle cookies with sugar.  Bake until golden.
These cookies are moist and keep well in a tightly closed container, although if your family knows where they are they won’t last long!