Saturday, January 31, 2009

Say It Loud, We're Old and Proud

What a nice surprise! I am honored to say that Havenwood has been added to the blogroll at Time Goes By, a really excellent community of elderbloggers hosted by Ronni Bennett. Thanks, Ronni, for including me!

To anyone popping in from there for the first time, Welcome. I hope you'll stay a while and come back often. Please leave a comment, so I can come by and meet you, too?

If you're not familiar with Time Goes By, you're missing something. Aside from the professional articles Ronni contributes, there are guest bloggers, storytellers, resources and a wealth of links you'll want to explore. Topics range from the intensely personal to current events and legislation, so there's something there for everyone. Click here to go to the home page.

Ronnie added twenty of us newbies this time around, so I'm off to check them out. See you there!

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Change Is Good. Right?

I try not to blog when I can't be good company. And I never blog about work. But what the hell. I'm doing some much-needed wound licking today, and I feel like writing about it, so here it is.

The good news has been that I have a job at all. In this market, at my age, and with my health issues, employers aren't exactly jumping the line to sign me up. This one has great benefits and the pay is OK. The bad news is, it's the kind of job where you often consider whether a bullet to the brain wouldn't be a better way to start the day. Now, at least, I won't have to make that choice.

A number of people familiar with the place told me to watch my back once I reached this particular year of service. Long term company benefits vest at a certain year. When you get this close, it was said, the company looks for ways to make you miserable enough to quit. Failing that, they can always find fault with your performance and fire you. They don't wait to do it in the year before vesting, because it's too obvious then. I didn't want to believe that, but it is apparently true.

I'll spare you the details, but as of today I am considering myself to be unemployed. I'll keep going in as long as I can, because we really need the paycheck and the health insurance, but it's clear my days are numbered. If I'm lucky, I figure I'll last another two months. But I'm not counting on it.

This is where all those years of frugal living and saving pay off. We'll be OK for a while, and the hubby's company offers health insurance, albeit of the sucky variety. But his industry is on the ropes, so his job isn't secure either, and we've lost most of our retirement money to the market collapse.

And we have this new place. Could our timing have been worse? It's as though we finally grabbed the brass ring, only to discover that there was a bull's nose attached to it.

Today I'll be brushing off the resume and doing some networking, though I don't hold out much hope for that. So I'll also look into potential businesses to start, products, services and so forth. There's a whole irrigated field behind the house and 40 acres for lease next door. The former owners grew hay over there. That's worth looking into, I guess. (Is there a Farming for Dummies book?)

And you know what they say. Comedy is tragedy in retrospect ... God can't give you a gift until he empties your hands ... When a door closes, a window opens ... Yadda yadda yadda.

Wish me luck, friends. I'm gonna need some.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Snow For Sale. Cheap.

No kidding. This was actually in the classifieds this morning, and it pretty much sums up the mood in all of northern Indiana right now.

And yes -- of course I called the number. An answering machine picked up, and a curmudgeonly male voice, resigned and slow, said only, "Can't come to the phone right now. Leave a message." Beep.

He must be inundated with offers. Best laugh I've had all week.

Of course, January is the best month of all for gardening, and as such is not to be rushed. In January, the garden is still only a vision, perfect and packed with healthy, beautiful plants. No weeds invade the flower beds, no bugs ever chew on the roses, no fatal fungi attack tender young seedlings. Imaginary gates and walkways spring from the ground, fully finished, leading into cool, green, mosquito-free woods. Flocks of butterflies flitter in the wildflowers that will, we are sure, surround a big, shaded hammock where we will read a fine novel and sway with the summer breeze. The sun is never too hot, the rain always falls right on time, and the raccoons never find your sweet corn. Ahhhhh, January.

In reality, I am making a very modest list of herbs and native plants to try here. The budget won't allow for a lot, and there's a very good chance that anything fancy will end up as expensive deer poop. So I figure maybe a few herb plants right up against the house, and some desirable natives the deer have probably seen before and won't notice so much.

American bittersweet for the bluebirds is number one on the list. (Oriental bittersweet is easier to find, but it's invasive.) I can picture it in the corner of the pasture fence, spilling out over the top, with bluebird houses on some of the posts.

Viburnums are next. According to the reading I've done, they're disease and deer resistant, and they attract both butterflies and birds. I always liked them anyway. They're fast growers, and they have hydrangea-like flowers in spring and red berries in the fall. I'll probably tuck some yellow flags at the pond's edge to see how that goes. And that's about it.

Hubby, on the other hand, is drawing up battle plans for The Vegetable Fortress. So far, it involves an eight foot fence, burried footers, metal whirligigs, and electricity. We may or may not get vegetables out of the deal, but it should be entertaining in any case.

Meanwhile, we have all. This. Friggin. Snow. Want some?

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Missing "The Restricted Section"

This is the library for the area where we live now. The photo doesn't do it justice. It has a lodge feel, and it's landscaped like a little woodland. The main walkway goes through a stand of young birches on the right and a pond with native grasses on the left. At least, I think there's a pond. I haven't seen it without snow yet.

I had hoped to take pictures inside today, but it was full of patrons and I didn't want to get kicked out. Who knew there would be so many people there on a Thursday afternoon.

Anyway, it is more like a bookstore than a library. There is a central cafe, with coffee and snack machines and really cool tables with famous quotations lettered around the edges. There is even a player piano, of all things, in the center.

Further back is a free-standing stone fireplace with cozy chairs and a bank of windows overlooking another garden. The kids' area has stylized wooden trees that branch out as they approach the ceiling and lots of soft floor pillows to curl up in.

It's a beautiful, enticing place to be, but ... none of the shelves are over five feet tall and all the books are new, with heavy emphasis on how-to's and best sellers. I find this disturbing. There are no quiet, secluded stacks, no old favorites, no obscure authors, no mysterious tomes in leather bindings. There's no library-book smell, either.

And get this: You check yourself out by placing your own selections on a scanner, and when you're done you get a paper receipt for the lot of them. There's no librarian to chat with about the books you've chosen or to recommend similar authors, no stamping of the little card that tells you when each book is due. All you get is robotic chimes and an onscreen thank-you.

Don't get me wrong, I do love the place. But the experience is like eating unscented, salt-free popcorn out of a plastic bag. It's fun, colorful, and efficient, but it lacks the essence of history, awe, and humanity that should dwell in the very air of a library.

Of course, I still miss the card catalogue, too. Maybe I'm just getting old.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

The Invisible Garden

There ought to be a name for it. It being the sudden, irrational flight of middle-aged city women to homes in the country.

I thought I was singularly nuts, but it seems there are a lot of us. Some of you readers, even. You know who you are. And girlfriends, do I have a book for you.

Dorothy Sucher, a psychotherapist from New York City, became one of us the day she laid eyes on an abandoned millstream by an old blue farmhouse in Vermont. The house was a wreck, way too big, and a long way from New York. The grounds were covered in weeds and trash. And yet, she fell in love with it. (Is any of this sounding familiar?)

She chronicles the transformation of her land and her heart in The Invisible Garden. In the beginning, Sucher has many of the same dreams and fantasies that beset me now: visions of lush flower beds, a water garden, forest trails, a "writer's cabin" retreat. Along the way, she meets like-minded people who become part of the fabric of her garden and her life, learns how to go on after devastating loss, and makes peace with forces of nature that will not be tamed.

I picked up my copy at a library book sale, but it's available new or used on Amazon. If you find it pick it up, because reading this is like holding a little bit of summer in your hands.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Heaven Scent

There is a famous passage in Marcel Proust's Remembrance of Things Past in which one taste of a "little madeleine" cake transports the author to another place and time, filling him with a sense well-being and joy.

This soap is my madeleine.

One breath of it, and I am back in our summer cabin, high in the Adirondacks. Care and worry fall away, just as it did then, and for a moment there is nothing but sun, water, sky, and freedom.

The cabin had a warm, citrus, honeyed scent that we all loved but were never able to identify. It wasn't pine, though the cabin was pine, or the harsh, phony lemon of a cleanser. It was more like beeswax and ... something. Something else. When we left for the last time, I spent a moment quietly breathing in that scent, trying to remember, to take it with me. I didn't expect to encounter it again.

And then this soap appeared. We had never bought this kind before. My husband picked it up somewhere and stashed it in a vanity drawer in the new house before we moved in. When I opened the drawer for the first time, there was that scent, and with it that same sense of lightness and peace.

It's just an ordinary thing, just plain old Dove soap, with a fragrance they call grapefruit and lemongrass. It sounds more like breakfast than a magic potion, but in a way it is both. With every morning shower, it nourishes my soul and promises a day filled with possibilities. It reminds me that happiness comes one moment at a time. And that's a magic worth remembering.

*Remembrance of Things Past, Volume 1: Swann's Way: Within a Budding Grove.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Just Breathe

I'm not one for resolutions. I used to make them, lots of them, but they were the same ones every year. At some point, I came to terms with the fact that many things are never going to happen--and that it really doesn't matter in the grand scheme of things either way.

But here at the start of a new year is the best possible moment to pause and get one's bearings. This year, more than most, I need to do that.

The old year brought extreme lows and extreme highs, and it knocked the little plan for the rest of my life off track and over a waterfall.

I lost my mother in 2008. She was the last of her generation. Parents, grandparents,aunts and uncles are all gone now. The holidays have been bittersweet, filled with happy memories of them, and sadness that they are no more. It was also the year my older son moved out for good, ending our time as one family under one roof.

Then again, it was the year my first grand-nephews were born, ushering in the next generation.

The future I envisioned for us involved early retirement in a paid-off home, with money and time for hobbies and travel and theater tickets; for volunteer work and classes and socializing. We were on track, too, thanks to decades of hard work and lucky choices made during the stock market boom. But old dreams have a way of working their way to the surface, and we chucked all those city notions for open sky and land of our own.

In 2008, we realized a life-long dream of moving to a house in the country. But the economy went seriously south around the same time we closed, and my husband's company had to cut salaries and eliminate bonuses to stay open. The mortgage was a stretch to begin with, and necessary expenses are running higher than expected. Now, money has become a constant worry and retirement will never be an option.

On the plus side, we still have jobs. In 2008 I gave mine my best effort and landed some plum assignments. I am hoping there will be a raise at the end of the rainbow.

So where do I want to go in 2009. Well, obviously I need to find ways to save and to make more money with the resources at hand. (I know, me and a few hundred thousand other people.)

But even more than that, I need to get out of my own way. Grief, worry, fear, regret, nostalgia, inertia ... all of it has to go. It is so easy to get bound up in thoughts of the past and apprehension about the future, and to miss the opportunities and joys of the moment.

There is a meditative discipline known as mindfulness. I've known about it for years, but I've never been very good at it. It is the habit of being in the here and now, seeing the beauty in the small things and present moments, understanding that this moment is really all there is. It sounds simple, but believe me it isn't. At least, not for me. But I have a feeling it would make all the difference if I could learn to live life this way.

And that's about it. In 2009, I will 1.Make more moolah and 2.Mind my own mind. We'll see how it goes.

Here's wishing all of you a wonderful new year.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Honey, I Bought the Swamp

When last we met, we were considering what I might do with the flooded woods that border our driveway. Hearing the note of desperation in my voice, Sally, who blogs at Sallyacious, sprang into action. She sent me some wonderful links by email, and I found them so useful I want to share them with anyone who might have the same needs. Here they are:

Wetland Communities of Indiana from Taylor University. It seems there are quite a few classifications for wetlands. Some bear positively poetic names; there are fens, and sedge meadows, and shallow marshes. We, on the other hand, appear to have a "swamp forest".

Trying for a positive spin, I looked for a lovely quote about swamps to head this post. My search was an utter failure. Shrek loves his swamp, but he's a misanthropic ogre. (I'm only like that on Mondays.)

Nevertheless, there are some wonderful native trees, shrubs and grasses that can grow in these conditions. Their beauties may be more subtle than the drifts of bluebells, azaleas and ferns I had envisioned, but they would belong there in a way the showier plants never could. The resource above names quite a few.

Landscaping With Plants Native to Indiana is nicely laid out and useful. I've printed it out to take along to nurseries in the spring. There are plants there for all the areas of the property, from the swamp to the back woods, to the fields and flower beds.

Our Land, Our Literature is a link library, a resource for conservation and preservation in Indiana. The wildflower links are are of particular interest here.

I hope my fellow Hoosiers find these and can use them as I will.

Sally, thanks a million for taking the time to find and send these! You rock, girl.