Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Before and After

So, the other day I told a friend that it was lambing season in our family.  She replied, "I didn't know you kept sheep."  I don't.  We've had little lambs of an entirely different kind...four little babies have been born into our family since September.  And oh, how wonderful it has been.  I thought I would share pictures of our fresh pieces of heaven with you.  So here, in order of appearance, I present Margot, Luca, Emillia and Finn.

Up first, Miss Margot who was born to my youngest son Casey and his wife Kylene in Seattle, Washington.
Casey and Kylene
July 2007

Glacier Park, July 2010
Kylene, Casey and Margot Marie
Miss M, born 3 Sep 2010
Next, we present Luca who was born to Noel's oldest daughter Lisa and her husband Gabriel in Pasadena, California.
Lisa and Gabriel

Lisa, Luca and Gabriel

Luca Larrivee De Cunto
Born 25 Feb 2011



Then we welcomed Emillia, who was born to Brian and Rachel our nephew and niece in Whitefish, Montana.
Sept 2010

Brian, Emillia and Rachel

Emillia Ann Meyer
Born 21 Mar 2011
And last, but not least, we are happy to welcome Finn, born to my oldest son Joe and his wife Katie in Berwick, Maine.

Katie, Lucy, Humphrey and Joe
July 2007


Katie, Finn and Joe

Finn Walter Taylor
Born 13 Apr 2011

And there we go!  Much travelling is in store for Noel and Shelley as we visit and re-visit our new babies and their parents. 

Thank you God, for these happy, healthy babies. 
We will do our best to protect and nurture them as they teach us the true meaning of love.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Coffee Break

I wrote this in honor of my father's birthday, April 19, 1916.  I learned so much from him.

Nothing was going right.  I was making the simplest of projects and I couldn’t seem to even sew a straight seam.  I’d ripped out the zipper twice; I ran out of thread, I lost a pattern piece and the iron overheated.  To make matters worse, I’d checked earlier, and the stock market had tanked and my internet connection had slowed to a crawl.  My head hurt, my stomach ached and I had no idea what to fix for dinner.  Crap!
I sat there fuming at my sewing machine as if somehow it was at fault.  I was just about to try the zipper a third time when the voice in my head said, “Time for a coffee break, Shell Sue.”  That voice sounded remarkably like my father, because I think it probably was him.  I didn’t listen, but instead tried putting in the zipper again.  I bungled it one more time.  As I was shaking my head in disgust the voice returned, “What about that coffee break?”  I finally gave in. 
My dad was a master of the coffee break.  He worked hard as a diesel mechanic and was on the job at eight, coffee break at ten, lunch at noon on the dot, another break at three and headed home at five.  And every evening, waiting for him was a fresh pot of coffee.  I know, because I made it every day at 5:15. It was always the same.  He would come in the back door, put his black lunch box on the counter, sit down and take off his boots and then head for the coffee pot.  He took a bit of cream and one spoonful of sugar.  One time I came home from the corner store with half and half instead of whole cream because it was a tad cheaper.  I think it ruined his week.  He was a man of habit.  He was a man who knew what he liked.  And he liked his coffee. 
As I think back over my childhood it’s funny how many times I remember the coffee.  Guests were always offered a cup as soon as they came through the door.  It was a part of every meal, we drank it while playing Dominoes and it helped us start every day.  It was carried in a silver Stanley thermos for going out and kept hot in the old Corning Ware coffee pot when staying in.  We drank it in the summer to cool down and in the winter to warm up.  Three scoops of MJB in the basket of the old percolator,  fill it up with cold tap water, plug it in; listen for it to perk.  I miss that sound…somewhere between a bubble and a hiccup. 
But, the times I remember coffee the most were on work days around the ranch.  We’d be out raking grass, digging in the garden or stacking wood.  We’d have worked for a couple of hours until we were sweaty and dirty and then Mom would call from the kitchen, “Coffee’s on!”  We’d make a beeline for the door.
I recall the time I tried to start the old lawn mower.  I pulled and pulled but it would not start.  Oh, the engine would turn over every eight or ten tries just to make me think it was going to start.  I got more disgusted and jerked harder.  Dad came over and laid his hand on my shoulder, “Time for a coffee break.”  I resisted at first.  “It’s just about to start Dad.  Let me try a bit longer.”  He didn’t answer, but just headed for the house.  And when I followed I came into the kitchen to see him pouring coffee into the Corelle tea cup he always used. 
He liked it for its size and its handle…just the right amount and the handle design worked with his stiff, arthritic fingers.  He took it around to the table, sat down and stirred for a long time, the spoon ringing softly against the side of the cup.  Just hearing that sound always relaxed me, as it probably did for Dad.  He gazed off vacantly as he stirred, quiet as usual.  Then I saw a flash cross his face.  “You know,” he said, “I don’t think the spark plug has been changed in that mower in a while.  Let’s try that when we go back out.”  And of course, that was the right fix.
We often sat and talked over coffee in the old dining room at the ranch.  Well, mostly Dad would listen while others talked.  He listened with his whole being and he looked you in the eye, cocking his head to the side so that he caught every word.  He honored others with his undivided attention.  And when he did offer an opinion it was after he’d thought about it, sipping his coffee and thoroughly considering his advice, choosing his words with care. 
I think about the wisdom of my father and his coffee breaks.  I sometimes get so wrapped up in a project that I try to push through even when it isn’t going well.  I usually end up taking longer, ruining pieces, getting upset or just plain giving up.  But, if I'd sit back or slow down every once in a while I might recognize when it’s time for a break.  Instead of pushing through I should push back from whatever I’m doing.  And I might gain a bit of clarity on the task or at least renew my energy.   If the break involves coffee in my favorite mug, then so much the better. 
And I think about how I like my routine, just like Dad.  But, sometimes I get lost in it and I forget what I’m doing or really why I’m doing it.  And the doing somehow takes over my life.  I think about how sometimes I need to take much longer breaks from the scurrying around and the routine of my life so I can see new sights, visit old friends or just change it all up a bit.  Instead of pushing through life with my head down I can give myself the permission to take a break and listen with my whole being, honoring myself with my undivided attention.  If I can be still for once and cock my head just right I might be able to listen to my soul speak.  Who knows what I will hear?

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Boys Will be Boys

Grandsons Jake and Christian were here over the weekend and now that they’re gone I’ve caught myself chuckling several times over their antics.  Frankly, I’m amazed that boys belong to the same species that I do because they go about life in a totally different way. 
Take a walk with little boys and as you’re walking calmly down the road toward the destination, they find boulders to climb alongside the road that you’ve barely noticed.  They take short-cuts and then they take long-cuts, they skip and run one minute and they drag their feet saying, “I’m too tired to walk” the next.  They throw stones and sing and talk incessantly and ask “how much further?” and then they fall down.  They run ahead and lag behind and find a bug and climb a tree and then they lose a shoe.  They say, “I can see where we’re going” even when they can’t and then they take the wrong road and they hide behind a rock and then they hitch their pants up and wipe their noses on their sleeves. 
It exhausts me.
We were on the way to take cookies to our elderly neighbors as an act of kindness and in preparation, daughter Aubrey had them do a bit of role- playing.  They practiced saying “How do you do, Mr. French?” and they practiced shaking hands while looking us in the eyes instead of at the tips of their shoes.  They rehearsed answers to questions like, “What is your favorite subject in school?” and “What do you like to do for fun?”  They each practiced handing the paper packets of chocolate chip cookies to us and also practiced holding the cookies without dropping them on the ground.  They put on their “Superhero of Kindness” capes with the bright hearts emblazoned on the back so they would be in the right frame of mind.  These capes are not for subduing the Bad Guys, but for doing good deeds. 

For more about Superheroes of Kindness click here

And off we went. 
Well, we finally made it down there and all would have been calmer if Mr. and Mrs. French had been inside the house.  But, as luck would have it, Richard had a lovely bonfire of burning pine needles he’d been raking.  And the bonfire was next to the shore…they live right on the lake.  And to his credit, Jake did shake hands and only fell down once and dropped his cookies once before racing down to the water to throw rocks.  And Christian held out his hand to Mr. French, but forgot and looked at his shoes anyway and then put his cookies on a bench before he raced after his older brother to the shore.  The lure of rocks and water is simply too great for little boys.  Aubrey and I chatted for a bit and then I noticed that the rocks being thrown into the lake were growing larger and being raised overhead to get the maximum amount of splash, which is all well and good in the dead of summer. But falling into the lake or getting drenched from backsplash isn’t so great in early April. 
So, I went down to take a few pictures before telling them twice to come back up to the grown-ups.  I reached the bonfire and looked around to see them still throwing rocks and called to them again.  They turned to follow and Aubrey, who had not heard the earlier exchange said to them, “That’s great boys!  You listened the first time!”  Jake grinned happily and nodded as he made a beeline for the bonfire with a fistful of pine needles.  And of course, Christian followed suit as Aubrey raked up more needles.  The throwing of pine needles to make the bonfire rage was a wonderful substitute for throwing rocks in the water.  And despite June French’s worries, no one fell into the fire as they threw fast and furiously. Jake said proudly, “Now you have less to rake up, Mr. French.”  Richard nodded with his bright eyes twinkling.  And then the boys raced off to the garden to explore and climb the tree and throw sticks and jump between boulders. 
And only one of them fell down on the path. 
Richard and June gazed after them as they raced up the hill with Aubrey close behind.  “My goodness,” said June, “such energy!” and she seated herself on the bumper of the car, leaning heavily on her cane.  I imagined that she was a bit envious of the boys as they rocketed around, remembering how wonderful it was to run and jump and play and go pretty much anywhere at lightning speed.  And I may be a bit fanciful, but as we chatted, it seemed to me that they grew a tad brighter and a little taller.  Their eyes took on more shine.  Their voices grew stronger.  I don’t think it was due to the chocolate chip cookies.  I do think that the boys injected some spark and life simply by being boys. 
Oh, for the love of boys!  They can torment us and try us and make us want to scream.  But, at the end of the day we hold them close to our hearts and cherish them for their unending power to remind us that life is good and the world is to be enjoyed and experienced and cherished.  And if we fall down and drop our cookies and lose a shoe….who cares? 
Life is rich anyway.

Sunday, April 3, 2011


“Joe, your stupid dogs just chewed up my sixty-five dollar Tevas!”  I had kicked them off absent-mindedly while talking on the telephone and when I went back later to retrieve them, one had been chewed beyond hope of restoration.  I furiously threw them in the garbage and then stomped around the kitchen a while for emphasis.  I’m not sure who cowered more, Joe or the two pups.  But, I do know they all retreated for a few hours until I simmered down.
Unfortunately, this wasn’t an isolated occurrence.  I try not to remember all that we lost.  I do recall something about an entire roast pulled off the counter after dinner.  Pretty much anything within three feet of the floor was at risk.  And if they weren’t chewing or burrowing in the garbage can, they were knocking tables over in their exuberance, sending flower vases and candlesticks flying.  They loved to bark at anything that moved.  Living in a residential neighborhood with many folks walking by and countless squirrels in the trees was their idea of “barking nirvana”.  It was our neighbors’ idea of “barking Hell.” 
I still remember the day Joe broached the subject about getting a dog.  We were outside in the back yard and he said, “Katie and I went to the pet store today.” 
“That’s nice,” I said absently as I pictured Joe and his girlfriend on a fun outing to the mall.  They met in college and both still had a couple of years before graduation.  Katie lived a few blocks away and Joe still lived at home…quite convenient because we lived two blocks from campus.
“We found two hound puppies.”  He got my attention with that.
“What do you mean, ‘found two puppies?’”
“They’re so cute Mom.  They’re part lab, too, so they have these long black ears.  Katie would have one and I would have the other.”  Now he really had my attention and a serious discussion ensued.  I maintained that you don’t buy puppies together when you’re just dating, that he couldn’t bring dogs into our petless household; that he was often gone for long periods with summer jobs.  “Who will take care of them when you’re gone?  And why two, Joe?”
But, Joe didn’t play fair.  All he said was, “Mom they’re two hounds….it would be just like Where the Red Fern Grows.  There’s a little girl and a little boy and Katie and I will take care of everything.”  No, he didn’t play fair because he knew that this book about two hounds was one of my favorites.  I had read it to my father as a child and read it to Joe, his brother and sister as a mother.  I loved this story of sacrifice, devotion and pure love and secretly I had always yearned for my own two hound dogs.  He wasn’t fooling me, though.  I knew that these dogs would be a whole family commitment.  And it was.  But, I still remember the first time he set them down in the back yard and they toddled over, almost tripping over their long, silky ears.  Oh my…they were wonderful and I understood how they stole my son’s heart.  We jumped into the task of caring for these new little puppies, Humphrey and Lucy.
And then, a couple of days later we all grew concerned when Humphrey grew ill.  I remember lying on the couch with this little black bundle on my chest, feeling the storm raging in his tummy.  Joe and Katie took him to the vet and called with the news.  “Humphrey has something called Puppy Parvo.  He only has a small chance of living. And Lucy will probably get it, too.”  By that time we all so loved these little dogs that losing them was unthinkable.  Several anxious days, two separate stays at the veterinary clinic, intravenous feedings and some wonderful care and we beat the odds.  Both dogs would be fine. 
And so, with that they stole our hearts forever.  Almost losing them made us more tolerant of their mischief, but I must say that they tested and tried us to the utmost.  They really never grew up.  They followed their noses everywhere, long silken ears flapping in the breeze as they raced along bounding after invisible prey and lingering odors of animals long since gone.  They rarely paid attention to our commands, shouts, whistles or threats, and would only come back when they lost the scent of whatever trail they were following.  They curled up on the couch or the chair despite continual reprimands, their brown, liquid eyes pleading for permission to stay.  After a while, we simply gave up and resigned ourselves to vacuuming short, black hairs from every surface.

 Humphrey and Lucy came into our lives thirteen years ago and since then they’ve gone just about everywhere with Joe and Katie.  They were still young when the kids got married and they’ve been their constant, devoted companions since, moving to Maine with them, travelling across the U.S. many times, becoming adept sailors and helping shape their lives.  And they’ve remained exuberant despite advancing years.  Lucy wagged her tail so much that she wore off the end (I’m serious.) Many decisions have been made in light of how the pups would be affected. 

 It has always been Joe and Katie, Humphrey and Lucy.  That is, until this week.

Katie is due to have a baby boy any day now and Joe called with the latest news from her doctor’s appointment.  We chatted for a bit, and then he said, “Mom, I have to tell you that Lucy got hit on the road yesterday and she didn’t make it.”  Well I can tell you, hearing that news took my breath away.  Somehow I always thought the pups would die of old age, just fading away together in their sleep.  He continued, “We have a really busy highway near the house, but they’ve never gone that far.  When she didn’t come home I went looking for her and found her by the side of the road.  I’m sure she didn’t suffer.”  I guess I wasn’t prepared for my tears that followed and I’m not sure what hurts me more…losing Lucy or imagining my dear son coming upon her lifeless body and then having to break the news to his wife.
So, these past few days I’ve been remembering the frisky puppy, Humphrey’s loyal sister, the graying spinster; the mischievous yet undeniably sweet Lucy.  And tears continue to fall.  Yet, one image helps me cope more than any other.  I picture Lucy out romping with Humphrey, enjoying the warmer spring day.  She catches the scent of another dog and, following that incredible nose, pursues it past the end of the field.  Gaining speed with ears flying and paws pounding, she’s really on the trail now, oblivious to any blaring horn or flashing metal. 
And suddenly without skipping a beat….her arthritic body moves with grace and ease, her tail is longer; she runs faster and lighter as she did when she was at her strongest.  The scent is incredibly sharp now, the sun brighter and the air purer.  In the distance she can hear Joe calling faintly, but she continues on because she is free and light and it just feels so darned good.  Keep on moving, girl.  Keep following your nose as you always have.  You know we will love you forever. 
See you again someday.

“People have been trying to understand dogs ever since the beginning of time. One never knows what they'll do. You can read every day where a dog saved the life of a drowning child, or lay down his life for his master. Some people call this loyalty. I don't. I may be wrong, but I call it love - the deepest kind of love.”
~Wilson Rawls
Where the Red Fern Grows