Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Some Thoughts For Today

Van Duzen River near Carlotta, California.

Monday morning. I have a folder in my external hard drive that is labeled just that, Monday Morning. I’d post a story on blogger and then save it to a file and put it away for safekeeping in this external hard drive. This way, I’d have these stories and comments around to create a legacy. So, long after I’m gone, the words can be printed out and put into a ring binder and the Grandchildren’s children can read about their Grand father and something of his life and his family.

Sometimes I go into that file and reference a title or a subject, look for a picture I posted or just grab one of the older stories and repost it as an archival item. These days, when reading and writing blogposts seems not so much interesting as it was, I entertain the thought of reposting old stories. I used to have a regular Monday morning feature called the Monday Mystery Tour where I would tell travel stories from my past.

I’m sorry. I have a bunch of blogs on my side bar, old friends, people I admire and respect. I don’t go to their blogs these days. I sit and want to write, but I don’t know what to write about. Lately, the exchange has been with just a couple of people. Seems like that’s all I can handle. I'm not looking for pity, I'm just explaining that I'm in a rut. And the rut has lasted a while. I'm trying to get a handle on it, it's just taking a while.

In trying to figure out where I’m suppose to go with my writing, I have come to one sure conclusion. That is, I am changing and my lifestyle is changing. During January and February in years past, I’d be on the road, traveling, headed West usually, making adventure, living life. I’m still living life, but the focus is completely different than in years past. Things have evolved and aren’t like they used to be. That is not a bad thing, it just is.

It was a great run, those traveling years. Working for the motion picture studios, criss-crossing the country, moving equipment, or just taking time between shows to head out to our second home on Humboldt Bay near Eureka, California. Driving cars or moving people from here to there, or just on the road, checking out the American life. I’d take a different road every time, one I hadn’t traveled before. I'd stop in a new to me diner or coffee shop, seeking them out in towns I've never stopped in before. It was great fun and great adventure.

I wrote the stories. Maybe I haven’t told every detail of them all, but I’ve told them. Now, they would be the repetitious banter of an old man, repeating what he said last time you saw him. That old man, that’d be me, would have the same exuberance and enthusiasm, but the story would be old and crusty, used up and not the least bit desirable. That has been happening to me lately by the way. I’ll be talking to a friend and he’ll tell me the same story he told me last time I talked to him. Every once in a while I’ll hear him say, “Did I already tell you this story?”

Then I’ll answer, “I don’t remember how it ends, go on.”

Seems like the more I dream about taking a trip these days, the more impossible it seems to be that it will happen. Money is one culprit, but also the idea that I am needed at home and this is the place that I want to be. Together with my family.

Yesterday, I spent one of the most glorious days I have had in a while. My Grand daughter Lilly stayed over night. Mrs. Spadoman had gone to work. My brother and his wife were here, but were picked up by her daughter and taken to Minnesota to visit relatives. That left me and Yoody, as I call her, a nickname from years ago that stuck.

We had a couple of errands to run. The bank drive-up window, the hardware store, the grocery. We took the slow roads, winding through the Northwestern Wisconsin countryside, looking at the snow laden hills and black tree limbs jutting out into the blue sun lit sky. Sure it was cold, but we were toasty with the heater blasting and the sun warming us through the windshield.

A picture I took early one morning recently, Lilly's silhouette against the backdrop of a gray morning.

We sang and laughed. We told stories. We ate at McDonald’s. I know, corporate thieves, unhealthy and all that. Some days, for a few minutes, it’s not about that. I sacrificed healthy eating and the corporate greediness for a portion of an hour with a child that I love unconditionally, and who loves me. For this day, any place else might not have been the same. She chose the table where we sat.

It was a special day for sure. Yoody went home last night. I’ll be alone today after Mrs. Spadoman goes to work. I think I’ll have an apple run to take care of for the food shelf, but other than that, no plans. I’ll be lonely without Yoody around. I’ll have to think about my Mom, as she is in her last days, down with my sister in Chicago.

It’s not that I didn’t think of Mom yesterday, I did. I just had the edge of the impending loss taken off a bit as Yoody and I were together. Later in the day, I talked with my sister. Earlier, I was with my brother. We all had our thoughts about the situation, and the situation is that we wait. And while we wait, life is going on.

Mom is comfortable and stable for the time being. Her lungs won’t get any better, and we don’t know how long they’ll breathe in the oxygen the machine makes for her from the ambient air in the room. After that, I turned to Yoody. She didn’t know it, but she was giving me solace.

And when I took off my shoes and laid down on the sofa, she came to my side and kissed my forehead and told me she loved me, just as I had done last week when I was with my Mom.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

The Week Between

As much as time seemed to move so slowly for Christmas to arrive, the time flew by and Christmas is over. The children had a great time. My oldest Grand daughter said it was the best Christmas she has ever had. That's wonderful to hear, as the family spent their Christmas Eve time at our house. They started early. They were all here by 2:00 in the afternoon. The party ended early, before 10:00 p.m. Glad it did, I was able to keep my geezer hour bedtime. Christmas Day and Saturday had them visiting other relatives. I haven't seen the little rascals since Thursday night. They're coming over today and we'll spend some time getting reacquainted.

This week is no man's land for many. Not much in the way of business goes on in the workplace. The stores started buying into this after Christmas sale to market more wares and keep people shopping. There are things to be exchanged. Some stores changed policies on exchanges, giving only company scrip, instead of handing any cash back to people. In business, things are tight, just as our pocketbooks were stretched mighty thin to get through the celebrations where we bought extra fancy food and made more cookies and sweet things than anyone needed.

So, it's over for 2009. The New Year is next. personally, I don't do anything to celebrate the calendar year. Some days off of work for the spousal unit. This year, I was notified by the Social Security Administration that there was no inflation during the third quarter of 2009, therefore, there will be no cost-of-living-adjustment, (COLA). No raise for 2010 in the amount of social security I get every month. I guess they just don't come to River Falls, Wisconsin and look at the gas pumps. By the way, they're all digital now, in LED lights, changeable from the inside with a computer like console. Back in the day, I remember taking this box of twelve inch tall plastic numbers and using a long pole, rigged with an end that could grasp the plastic numbers, I would hoist them to the top of the sign to make changes in the gas prices. These convenience store clerks don't know how lucky they are to have a job where everything is done from the inside.

In my own life, I did get to visit my Mother. I left her the day before Christmas Eve, Wednesday December 23rd. On Friday morning, Christmas morning, I received a phone call and I was told my Mother was in the hospital with pneumonia. At her age, and with her illness, pulmonary fibrosis, that didn't sound too good, and it isn't. Mom is home now, but hospice care has started, and it is just a matter of when God and nature conspire to take her. As I know death is a part of life, and everyone must go, it is still a part of life that I wish I didn't have to live through.

In the meantime, I'll wait and talk with my sister, her primary care giver, for daily word on her condition. I'll be ready to travel to be at her side when I feel I need to. My life will be one of waiting and wondering. In any event, I'm stifled somewhat, dealing with life. If you don't see me around on a regular basis, I'm just busy with family matters. And as I wish and pray for a peaceful, pain and worry free courageous stand by my Mother, I wish the same for all of humanity and you, my friends.

Take care and be well. Have a very Happy New year. And have peace in your lives.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

A Christmas Story

Basically, posting this story has become a tradition of its own. I feel it is one I need to tell every year, if for no other reason, but to remind ourselves that life is so fragile, and we have this sliver of a window in time with those we love.

Back when I was a kid growing up in the suburbs of Chicago, we spent every Christmas Eve at my aunt’s place. Grandma and Grandpa Spado lived upstairs in a flat and my aunt lived on the first floor. We also went over there every Sunday afternoon to visit the Grandparents. Funny how similar it is here in my own home with my own daughters and Grandkids. In fact, the kids were here all day yesterday while their folks were doing some Christmas shopping. They ended up eating dinner with us. Today, they are all coming back and I’m making the traditional spaghetti and meatballs dinner. A Sunday afternoon just like I spent many a Sunday afternoon.

Christmas Eve at my Aunt’s was a lot of food and laughter. The family getting together. All my cousins were there. We played and nagged the adults until Uncle Tom was drunk enough to don the Santa suit and hand out gifts. We each had a gift to open.

Funny, I knew the celebration of Christmas was about the birth of Jesus Christ. I also knew about Jesus Christ only from the teachings of the Catholic Church. These teachings are quite different than the Lutherans and Methodists and other Protestant religions. They even have a different Bible! I know this now, but I didn’t back when I was a youngster.

There was a Christmas tree and a nativity scene was set up under the tree. Joseph and Mary with the babe in swaddling clothes in the manger, whatever that is. Three wise men, a few sheep, a donkey, a shepherd or two, and of course, an angel. They used words like manger and swaddling clothes. I slept in a bed and the clothes we wore were called, well, er, clothes. Funny how you learn as kids, then find out the truth later in life

The big Christmas came after we got home and went to sleep for a few hours and woke up the morning of Christmas Day, December 25th. Sometimes, we stayed out way late and had Christmas morning when we got home. Then we slept from exhaustion.

Santa Clause had come and placed stacks of gifts under the tree we had at our house. That tree also complete with nativity scene in place. I never did understand the connection between Santa Clause, Jesus Christ, the gifts and the celebration. It all seemed so strange to me when I was a small boy.

When I got older and left home and started my own family, we wanted a tradition of our own. We started a simple one.

Usually, Christmas Eve was spent at home with Barb, the kids and me. Our third daughter, Jayne, had been born in September of 1977. This was her first Christmas. Our routine would be to go to the lot where they had been selling trees for the past couple of months. We’d go there after it got dark and the tree sales were over for the year. We’d grab a leftover tree, ala Charlie Brown Christmas, and bring it home. Practicing good sound ecological foundations even back then. Why cut down another tree? These had been cut and were not going to be used by anyone.

It didn’t cost anything to get a tree this way. We’d get it and bring it home and did the decorating on Christmas Eve. Barb would make homemade pizza from scratch. We would have a large table of snacks like cheese and crackers, pickled herring, little sandwiches made from Genoa salami and cream cheese. There were cookies and candies and pickle wraps and shrimp, if we could afford them, those little smokies wrapped in crescent rolls and olives, both black and green.

As we grazed on the food and ate hot slices of Sicilian style deep pan pizza, we put the ornaments and the lights on the tree. Tinsel, and sometimes we’d string popcorn. The plastic lighted angel sat on top. We called him Harold, as in Hark, The Herald Angels. Remember Harold? We always laughed. The children wondered if Santa would bring them presents. When we put up the tree and decorated it, there were no presents there at all.

Santa would be left a plate and a glass of milk and the children would go to bed. I always rolled up a big fatty and put it next to the plate with the cookies. I tell you, those cookies and that milk was gone by Christmas morning, every time.

After the children were all snug in their beds, or bed as financial decree would have it some years, we’d place gifts under the tree. Wrapped in comics from the Sunday paper. Foil wrapped for those that came from Grandma and Grandpa. Tons of stuff. Some years saw bicycles and guitars, some years there were just cheap toys. Like everyday life, Christmas was a feast or famine from one year to the next. I don’t think the kids knew it any different from year to year. We did when we didn’t have the shrimp.

It was 1977, around Christmastime. Barb flew to Chicago. Our youngest daughter was only a little over two months old and nursing. Barb took her with on the plane. I stayed at home with the other girls, Maggie was four and Alyssa was close to two years old.

Barb’s Dad, Ed, was in the hospital. The doctors diagnosed him with lung cancer in May of 1977. Now it was December and he was dying. The doctors said there is nothing further that they could do for him.

He got the cancer from asbestos. Ed was a pipe fitter and worked around the asbestos wrappings on heating and cooling pipes for all of his adult life. What are they calling it now? Mesothelioma? The lawyers are having a field day advertising on TV. Ed was only 54 in 1977 and dying from the poisons of the workplace. The hazard of working in his trade.

Barb was at her Father’s bedside and told him it was all right to let go. It is all right not to want to be in pain any longer. She understood and wouldn’t blame him for leaving this world as she knew he had to.

He passed, peacefully as possible given the circumstances, and Barb made arrangements to get home and be with the rest of her family for Christmas. We were waiting for her. We couldn’t afford to fly down with her, and the added burden of her husband and other children who needed her attention would have been a distraction she didn’t need as she attended to her Father’s bedside as he was leaving this world.

Her Mother didn’t want her to go home. Ed had died and now there was the wake and funeral. All the arrangements and the visits of friends and family. I guess they still do funerals the same way. A night or two “visiting” the body, then a funeral procession from the undertaker to the cemetery. We didn’t do it that way when Maggie died in that car accident. I’ll tell you about it sometime. This is a Christmas story.

Barb had to go home. Her family was waiting for her. It was Christmas Eve. The plane landed in Minneapolis and we were waiting at the gate. We all hugged and walked to the car. There were some tears. Tears shed for Ed, a dear man. We miss him so much. But we had tears of joy as we managed, under extreme circumstances, to be together when it looked like we were going to have this Christmas apart. We stopped off at an open convenience store and bought a frozen pizza on the way home. It was around 9:00 p.m., Christmas Eve.

That year, 1977, we came home and there was no tree. The decorations hadn’t even been brought up from the dusty shelves in the basement. There were no snacks. And even though we didn’t have one of Barb’s delicious thick crusted pan pizzas from scratch, we did have the frozen pizza. We had a large potted plant in the living room. It was a a schefflera, or was it the Norfolk Island Pine? Something like that, a big plant in a big pot in the living room. It was pretty good size. We got the stuff up out of the basement and decorated that house plant as we ate the pizza.

We were together. The children had lost one of their Grandpas, but they didn’t know it in their consciousness. Maybe their spirits new that something was different. But we did what we do at Christmas and decorated the tree and had some food to eat. Santa came that night and put gifts around the terra cotta planter. I’m sure I got stoned. Back in the 70’s I did a lot of that.

We sat together, a tear or two flowed now and then. The kids went to bed and we gathered up a few gifts that we had accumulated and placed them under the tree. When the girls woke up on Christmas morning, the tradition was alive and well with just a few differences. Some you could see and some you just knew about.

I know this isn’t the happiest ending to a Christmas story. And I risk getting a reputation of being an unhappy old codger as many Christmases since Maggie left this world have not been celebrated with the usual gusto we exhibited before 1991. But this was Christmas that year. And over the years, this seems to have been the theme here at Spadoville. I felt the need to tell this story.

Yes, Christmas of 1977 was painful. I read other blogsites and find out there are people who do nothing for themselves and go out and try to put cheer and joy in the lives of others. I know of a blog friend who suffers from her daughter’s illness and cancer. I know someone who had a son that was killed in Iraq, and wishes he could be home, but wishes more that he be alive. All of us have had a sad time of it somewhere along the line.

Our own daughter, lost to us in 1991, ended the tradition we started long ago when we spent our first Christmas together with our own child. It took a long time to make the decision to put up a Christmas Tree again. But I made that decision and put one up this year. I invited the family and my closest friends and plan on having things around here be like they were at Auntie Angie’s house when I was a kid. Not exactly the same, but the spirit of family together, breaking bread, showing love and kindness.

We miss you Maggie.

I guess I want my readers to know I have felt pain and I wish no pain for you this season or anytime. The joy you are to glean is that which tells you I understand and wish you the best. For thirty two years later than that sad Christmas in 1977, this one is just as much a blessing. We have six healthy happy Grandchildren. We have a warm home and a plentiful bounty of food. We have gotten through cancer and other health issues intact. And although the years since we lost Ed have taken Barb’s Mom and my Dad, and then Maggie, my Mom is still here and we can still share with her. I'll be leaving Monday the 21st for a visit to Chicago to be with my Mom, brother and sister for a few days. I'll return the day before Christmas Eve.

As usual, may Peace bless every one of you. My prayers are for the health and happiness of the people.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Tis the Season...

This picture has nothing to do with this post, but I thought it was funny and might set the mood as one of laughter and happiness. That's how things are going here at Spadoville the past few days, just wanted to share it.

No, not Pirate season. It's always Pirate season, AURRRRRRRRGGGGGGGGGGH MATEY, a keg o' rum a time 'r two. It's that late December season. Christmastime. I baked cookies yesterday for eight hours! It's baking season! Anyhoo, like my friend Batmo says, I liked this picture of the two older Grandkids and me showin' off our new stylin' Pirates for Peace T-shirts. These glow in the dark and are really distracting when I forget to put on a more pajama type garment at bedtime. Seems the glow emanating from my chest keeps me awake!

Here is a great little story about A SHIP that is used by the non profit group, Pirates For Peace. And Here is the Cafe Press website where you can buy a Pirates For Peace shirt of your own.

"Now, enough of that rapin' an pillagin', here's whats I comes here to tell yuh"

So, a few years ago, I wrote a Christmas story. I’ll be posting it as Christmas Day rolls near. In the story I mention a particular ornament that has been around my family for years. It’s that little plastic lighted angel that sat on top of our Christmas tree over the years.

I mentioned that we always called it Harold. When my young tender children would ask why his name is Harold, my wife and I would explain to them that it was from the song, “Hark, the “Harold” Angels Sing”. I believe we also might have mentioned that the angel was singing because he had this tree stuffed well, you know where.

Angelic, isn't he?

My oldest daughter, Alyssa, read the post after I wrote it. She shed a small tear for the memory. Her husband, John, took the Grand kids out to get a Christmas tree for their home the very next day. In the act of decorating it with lights and ornaments, my daughter called me and told me that “Harold” was broken.

I told her to bring it over to my house and that I’d try to fix him up. She did, and he was in terrible shape. I did the best I could do, and with the help of some Krazy Glue, put Harold back in good spirits. So far, the glue is holding fast. I told my daughter to be easy with Harold when she shoves the tree....., I mean places Harold on top of the tree. He is tender there as he is quite old and such rectal operations wear heavily on the elders.

Harold, as he looks today

The bottom line is, Harold lives another Christmas. He is lit and standing straight and tall. I thought maybe you good folks out there would like to have a look.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Only the Good Friday, December 18, 2009

Dear Reader,

Nothing much to say today. Always some "Good" to be found, but I'm not doing anything about it right now. Maybe that's "Good", maybe that's sad. I'm in a funny weird kind of mood today, so, for the time being, I'll just leave it at that. I hope there is some "Good" in your life, today and everyday.



Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Christmas Circa 1957

Winter Sunrise.

I was only seven years old, but I remember a few things. I remember riding in the back seat of the 1957 Chrysler Windsor and going over to my aunt and uncles house. They had the lower apartment and Grandma and Grandpa Spada had the upper. We’d go over there every Christmas Eve. I was sent out to the car with my older brother and sister. Mom and Dad would place wrapped presents under the tree we had at home. When we got home from Aunt Angie’s house, Santa had made his visit and we had Christmas at home. This usually in the wee hours of the morning on Christmas Day.

I found this picture of a 1957 Chrysler Windsor on line. My Dad's was black.

Funny what you remember. I can still see the neon lights of that pizza place on Chicago Avenue, the one we always passed on the way to Grandma and Grandpa's. It was big and bright and had the head of a chef, in orange neon, complete with chefs hat, and I can still see this sign from the back seat of the family sedan. I even still remember trying to pronounce the word that was spelled P.I.Z.Z.A. After all, Peetsa sure wasn't spelled with any Z's in it, was it?

Faux snow "flocking" on Christmas tree limbs. Does anyone do this anymore?

I still thought it was Santa Clause. My brother and sister knew better and ran the interference by getting me into the car while the set up was made. I played with my cousins, Donna, Linda, JoAnn and Tommy. Uncle Tom would eventually put on a Santa outfit and bring a bag of presents and hand them out to us kids. Sometimes it was uncle Willis. There was drinking going on, so Santa was usually hammered by the time Santa arrived. The home made red wine, the cloudy stuff with all the pulp. Special anisette or some kind of liqueur.

Amlings Flowerland was an icon on North Avenue. Here's what it looked like in 1972 at the front entrance.

I remember Dad going to Amlings Flowerland on North Avenue and buying a flocked tree. In earlier years, Dad would buy this can of flocking and do it himself, but things might have gotten better financially and he bought one that was already flocked. It looked like fresh snow had fallen on the Christmas tree. I think we did graduate to the silver aluminum Christmas tree sometime during the 50’s. Of course we had the four color wheel shining on the tree making it sparkle. Dad also put spotlights, white and colored, shining on the house itself.

We ate heartily at Auntie Angie’s. We went to Christmas Day mass, in the morning of Christmas day, at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Catholic Church in Melrose Park, a suburb just West of Chicago. (This site is really cool to me and my childhood). I didn’t realize it at the time, but that old church was beautiful inside. I had to go to church every Sunday with my Mom. I didn’t like attending church service at all. And the mass as celebrated on Christmas seemed longer than ever. I couldn’t wait to get back home to play with the toys I had received as gifts for Christmas.

The interior of the old Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Church, the one I went to when I was a kid growing up in Melrose Park.

Mom made a big dinner for Christmas at home. We had a complete traditional American dinner of Ham or turkey with all the trimmings, then, as good Italians, we also served, at the same table at the same time, Lasagna or Ravioli with meatballs and sausage, Southern Italian style. Salad and desserts also included. Leftovers throughout the day as we ate at noon every Sunday and Holiday.

These aluminum Christmas trees were considered cutting sdge in the 1950's/ They sell on Ebay for hundreds of dollars now as collector items

So much has changed in the world. Or has it? Maybe all that has changed is new and different communication and an awareness of some things we never thought of before. Let me explain.

In my circa 1957 world, we celebrated Christmas. We weren’t Jewish, so we didn’t know what the Jewish people did. We did what we did. The Solstice was happening, but my family didn’t teach any of us kids about it. It was Christmas. We did certain things every year, we had tradition. We used our culture as we knew it, taking from the old country and putting a new spin on it here in America. My family had been in America only 40 years or so, relatively NEW Americans. We said Merry Christmas to everyone and anyone, no matter what religion or race they were, they knew what we were trying to say to them.

Now, I get about a dozen e-mails each year bitching and complaining about how we are supposedly made to say Happy Holidays and can’t say Merry Christmas. People over reacting to political correctness. It’s all bullshit. In the right spirit, a spirit of loving, forgiving and accepting your fellow man, (as in mankind ladies, don’t get me started on the gender issues, please), when someone would wish you a greeting in their religion or culture, it is taken as a compliment that the person thought enough of you to wish you well. It doesn’t matter if I am told Happy Kwanzaa because I was brought up Catholic and celebrate Christmas. What matters is that another human reached out and touched me with their spirit.

By the way, I don’t belong to a Catholic parish or attend mass. I don’t even consider any of the rules and laws made by the Pope and Catholic hierarchy. Am I a Christian? I don’t know. I don’t know if the greatest story ever told is true or not. There will be those that will tell me that they know of my fate at death because of my skepticism. All I do know is that the sun rises every day. I know that nature is everywhere and mankind has treated it poorly in the name of progress.

Back to 1957. People strung lights on their houses. We’d drive around at least once around Christmas to see the displays and Ohhhh and Ahhhh at this or that treatment. I knew I was suppose to be on good behavior if I was to get gifts from Santa Clause. I remember Dad coming home from work and bringing a box of candy or a bottle of booze, gifts from vendors he dealt with. Neighbors would stop in and have a cup of coffee and some home made cookies, maybe the men would have a shot of that bottle of booze and wash it down with some cold spring water. The mailbox was full of cards every day. Mom displayed them all over the living room. There were stacks of cards awaiting addresses or stamps on the kitchen counter. We sent a card to everyone we knew and it seemed like everyone we knew sent one to us.

When I grew older and started a family of my own, the gal I married had the same values as I did about Christmas. Give gifts, send cards, spend time with family and friends. There was no guesswork. Just the food choices were different. The Italians trumped the Irish Germans in my mind, but that is what I was used to. When we had a child in 1973, we started our own tradition in our own home for Christmas. It broke the hearts of our parents, but we didn’t do it to hurt their feelings. We did it to survive in our own right, with our children.

This year, 2009, we revert back to 1991, the last year we celebrated Christmas together in our own tradition. We’ll put up a tree and spend Christmas together, eating, laughing, playing games, listening to bad music, (My theory, if Christmas music was good, they’d play it all year long) and just being together in a spirit of love and kindness.

More on this in the days ahead as I get my head twisted into the season. In the meantime, hope you don’t get too stressed out. I know it’s hard to do all you want to do for everyone you would want to do something for, but it is the thought that counts.

Peace to all.

Monday, December 14, 2009

New Snowblower After Last Weeks Storm

An icy sculpture at the Cabinette.

I had to get a new one. My old one wasn't working right and that storm we had last Wednesday was pretty brutal with a foot of snow. When the wind came up and started to make the drifts, there was no way I could have shoveled them out of the driveway. You know you gotta keep that driveway clear. The city won't let you park along the curb from November first to April sometime. Then there's the mailbox at the curb. Access there is a must since the US Postal Service requires a clean entry to and from the street side mailbox or mail delivery could be in jeopardy.

Some drifting snow from last weeks storm.

I bought this little paddle type snowblower that a friend of a friend had for sale. It has electric start and you don't have to mix the gas and oil. It's a four stroke engine, 3 horsepower. I paid $100.00 for it. A good deal as the new ones of this type are $439.99. I priced them at Home Depot and Menard's. Snowblowers of this type are good when the snow depth is below a foot of snow and it is light and fluffy. That snow that comes and is sometimes heavily laden with moisture, (you know, the kind that packs together nicely for snowball fights and making snowmen), is hard to move with these cheap ass paddle snowblowers and you might play hell having it be effective if the snow is only a few inches deep.

The used machine I bought kinda looks like this one, but it is a Bolens by FMC and not a Toro.

Anyway, the snowblower worked fine to get the driveway cleared off. But the next day, when it got really cold and temperatures dropped down to single digits and below zero overnight, the new-to-me machine started, but wouldn't stay running unless the choke was pulled "on" and kept in that full on position. I held the knob out, but when I let go and the machine vibrated, the choke went in slightly. Any movement at all stalled it and it wouldn't stay running no matter how long I held it open in my attempts to heat up the motor.

So now, the snowblower sits in the garage. I'll have a look at it today and see if I can fix the choke and keep it running. I'll also call the city and see what their plans are for plowing to the curb as I live on a curve and the street widens, making plowing to the curb an extra sweep by the city plow truck driver. I've been trying to hire some enterprising individual to shovel or remove snow, but no luck. I guess I've been barking up the wrong tree. There is a college in town. You'd think there would be some college student that needs to make some money. I'm paying $20.00 per hour, and if I have to, I will go out and buy a new snowblower. Maybe I just haven't hit the spot where the college kids or enterprising individuals go to read about possible job opportunities.

Now I know these sites of snow on roofs and talk of heavy snow and cold might bring the fear of God into the hearts and minds of my friends who live in warmer climates. I apologize. But remember, those of you who migrated from your home land years ago to escape the wrath of Winter in the East and Midwest, you probably have earthquakes or some other natural malady to deal with. Snow melts, eventually.

Won't be needing that air conditioner for a while.

Until then, since the new-to-me snowblower doesn't work, I'll go back to using my old one. It actually ain't that bad of a machine when you think about it. Here's a picture of it at work during a snowstorm last year. Notice the great power of the blower and how it keeps the snow all headed in one direction so it piles up neatly along the side of the driveway.

Peace to all.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Only the Good Friday, December 11, 2009

A cozy campfire to keep you toasty. Some of us need this to keep warm this week.

The news from the person on the other end of the telephone earlier this week was some of the best I’ve heard in a long time and will be the focus of this week’s “Good” on Friday. You know, posting only “Good” stuff on Friday, the brainstorm of Shelly's at This Eclectic Life blog.

You may remember in June of last Summer, when I was planning and changing motorcycle trip plans. First I was riding to Alaska with an old friend, then we were meeting and riding across the country. And when we did finally meet up, we rode back to Wisconsin only to have my friend leave his BMW R100GS in my garage for two months. He hurriedly traveled back to Northern California to be with his wife. She has been on kidney dialysis and there were some problems.

Last Summer, with my friend in the mountains.

He did get back in August, and we did continue the ride, but only for a short time as he had to get home. I didn’t mind the interruptions in our motorcycle adventures as I knew home was where he needed to be. I was glad we found some time to ride together. That was a "Good" thing for both of us. I do have a lot of footage from the handlebar mounted movie camera and can boot that up and take much of the ride again and again. Come to think of it, after the Winter storm we just experienced and the cold wave that has settled in here in the Northland, maybe watching the scenery shot on those trips would be fun and help to feel warm. It's well below zero temperature wise, and the wind chill is down to almost twenty below!

The call this week was from my friend and riding buddy Hal. He called me from a hospital in San Francisco with the news that his wife had a successful kidney transplant and is recovering nicely. It’s a long road with the anti rejection drugs and the possibility of complications from such a surgery, but we’re all optimistic that all will be okay in the long run and our dear friend Ellen can go back to a somewhat normal way of life after years of struggling with health issues related to failing kidneys.

This is all I need to say today. This "Good" news about our close and dear friend is very welcoming. I won’t go into a long researched forum about transplants and donors and recipients. I will say that Ellen waited years to get a donated kidney, and now it is her time. You’ll be hard pressed to get me to admit that prayers and positive energy sent to our friends from family and friends all over didn’t play a part in the outcome. This is a really “Good” thing.

For those of you that celebrate it, Christmas is only a couple of weeks away. Other groups have their Winter celebrations now as well. Chanukka and Kwanzaa come to mind. I know others that don’t mention Christmas and say things like Holiday Season or Gift Giving Season. Whatever you do, or don’t do, I hope it is “Good” for you and all you share it with. We'll be lighting a fire on Sunday evening, December 20th in honor of the Winter Solstice. Then December 24th, we'll gather together as one big family and have Christmas at our home. Our family will reenact a tradition we started in 1973 for the first time since we abandoned the practice in 1991.

Above all, feel “Good” about yourself. It all starts right in your own heart. Hard to help others if you aren’t in “Good” enough shape inside.

Peace to all.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Dream Catchers, Gourd Rattles and Hand Drums

This is the first drum I made. It was deer hide, and the streaking was dye from black walnut hulls.

As promised, here’s a post about my craftwork. You may have read about the snowshoes a few weeks ago. Now I’ll tell you about the other stuff I make. To be sure, don’t get the idea I have this shop or craft space and I sit down and actually work at these things everyday, because I don’t. In fact, if I was serious about it all, I’d have that Etsy shop or be trying to sell this stuff to make a few extra bucks. I have had a few chances at some art fairs, but I don’t usually have enough pieces done to hold a display.

Most of what I make gets given away quickly. I make Dream Catchers, for example, and if I mention it, people tell me a tale of a dream they have had or a story about someone that they know that needs one because their dreams have been terrible lately and I either give them one I have already made or make one especially for them. I am not psychic, but I do get an idea or a very strong thought about what someone might need in the area of dream management. I put that into the Dream Catcher as a color combination or type of wood or thread I use or type of beads and feathers and such.

Wall display.

I also make rattles out of gourds. I have made rattles out of rawhide as well, but I like the gourd rattles. I make them in a number of ways. Some, I glue a handle onto the stem of the gourd. Others, I drill right through the gourd and attach the handle with a wooden dowel and peg. Some I paint or decorate, others are made plain and natural. Coffee beans, corn or small stones are used as the rattling matrix. I made a scrapper out of an old spoon to hone out the insides of the gourd body. Different gourds make different sounds. Each has an individual sound determined by shape, size, what’s inside making it rattle and type of gourd variety

The makings of a unique Dream Catcher made from a gourd.

The completed Gourd Dream Catcher.

The Native Americans from the Fort Mojave Tribe use rattles, and not drums, to carry their beat. They often times color them and paint designs on them. Two years ago, when I was out there on The Longest Walk II, I met with some of these Tribal Elders and we talked about gourd rattles. I feel I came away with some good first hand knowledge.

A California Tribe shaking the Gourd Rattles.

The drums I make are one sided hand drums. That means there is skin on only one side of the hoop. They are made of rawhide that is moistened and stretched over a wooden hoop. When the rawhide dries, it gets very taught. I use buffalo, elk or deer hide. I recycle most of the wooden hoops from second hand stores. Wooden salad bowls from teak or beechwood seem to be the best. I buy the hides from a reputable source. Most of them are in the range of eight to sixteen inches in diameter. I also make a drum beater to go with the drum and sometimes a carrying bag made of wool or felt.

All of these items can be called a Sacred item in the vernacular of the Native American tribes that have been around this area. Dakota and/or Ojibway. What makes an object a sacred object is what kind of attitude was used to make it and how or where the items to make it came from. Some purists might argue that since I am not a Native American, I can’t make these items. But I was taught, by Native Spiritual Elders, that if my heart is good, and I got the message from the Great Spirit, then I may proceed.

Closeup of the Gourd Rattles, one plain, the other decorated in blue.

Let me explain further by telling you of a recent experience. I made a drum once, and it came out sounding great, but it had a small hole in the skin. Usually, this is not good, so I didn’t try to sell the drum for much money because of the flaw. When I got this particular hoop, it came from a guy who made hoops from cedar. The cedar he used was taken in the woods. He also gave tobacco to the spirits for the use of the wood. I got the rawhide skin in a good way as well. I also gave tobacco and gifts to receive the skin I used to make this drum.

Red Earth from Grand canyon was used as dye to decorate this small hand drum. The red soil was mixed with bear grease and painted on.

One day, a friend asked me if I had any drums. He wanted one for a gift to give to a friend of his. He wanted to give his friend a drum that he could use in the Sweat Lodge ceremony. So, I knew that the drum would be used in prayer and ceremony. I told him I had this flawed drum. He said he’d like to see it. I brought it to him. He said he’d like to buy the drum and he asked me how much I wanted for it.

I told him that since he was going to be giving it away to someone that was going to pray with it, I would give it to him. My friend gave me tobacco for the drum and I gave it away. A few weeks later, he gave me $100.00 as a gift. Then, he gave the drum as a gift to his friend.

His friend’s brother liked the drum and asked him where he got it. He told him that I made it. This guy then comes to me and gives me a canister of tobacco and asks me to make him a drum. He gave me a hoop to use for the drum he wanted. Since I accepted the tobacco, I was obliged to make him a drum. It took me over six months, but I delivered that drum to him last weekend. He may or may not give me any money, but since he was going to use this drum in ceremony, I gave it away.

If he would want the drum to use to enter contests and try to earn money, I’d sell the drum and not give it away. Same with the Gourd Rattles and Dream Catchers. For decorations or ornaments, I sell them. For spiritual use, I give them away if I am compelled to do so.

The pictures on this post are examples of Rattles, Drums and Dream Catchers I have made. Many times, you’ll see Dream Catchers in gift shops and stores. They are usually perfectly round. Mine are usually never perfectly round, but rather they are circular in the way they come back on themselves and have no beginning and no end.

Life is not perfect for anyone. It is not a perfect circle. The only things that are perfect in nature are natural, like the moon and the stars. And even though our lives come back to meet, as in birth, childhood, adulthood and eldership, the circle comes back to itself, but the journey can be twisted and elliptical. This is what the Dream Catchers I make capture. This unpure circle of real life. This was my vision.

Even if I make a Gourd Rattle or a Dream Catcher that I sell as a decoration, I smudge the materials I use with sage. Just in case the item is given as a spiritual gift, I know it was made in a good way. Whether the person who buys it needs to know that or not isn’t decided upon until I sell it.

All this information may seem strange, but this is how I do it. I use the teachings I have learned about this particular path and through my own thoughts and direction make the items.

I also make Walking Sticks, Talking Sticks and the occasional Dance Stick. Dance Sticks are used as part of an outfit or regalia that a dancer would use at a Pow Wow. The Walking Sticks are useful to elderly people who might be a little unstable, or anyone, for that matter, that needs a crutch to help them walk. The Talking Sticks are used by people at talking circles. The stick is passed along from one person to another around the circle. When you hold the stick, you speak. The words are the truth, to your own heart. The stick is passed around a circle and everyone gets a chance to speak.

Some of the wood I use for Dream Catchers is basswood root, willow or anything I find that would lend itself. I have used driftwood from the ocean and pinon pine from the desert. I’ve used ancient redwood from Northern California for the handles of the Rattles and for Drum Beaters or Walking/Talking Sticks. Once again, if I see a piece of wood that might serve the purpose, I give tobacco and take it if it comes from nature.

A large Dream catcher. Three separate sections. Dead branches were held together to make this unique frame.

In the Dream Catcher above, the bottom section had a turtle shell woven into it. An opening was made on the back of the shell and another weaving was placed there.

I use glass beads, never plastic. Glass is from sand, sand is natural. I use feathers, leather and/or yarn to decorate. There are never two that are alike as the size, the shape, the materials and the colors change with every item, be it a Hand Drum, Gourd Rattle or Dream Catcher. I do use some decorations like buttons that look like hands or butterflies and dragonflies. These are store bought. I smudge myself and the work and any items that I use before putting them into a piece.

Now you know a little about what I do as far as craftwork. Some may call it art. If you do, then I am flattered. I consider it working at making stuff, using my hands. It also gives you a glimmer into my life and what kind of path I walk as far as my perceived connection with the natural and spiritual world.

Here are some examples of my work with captions. If you have any further interest or any questions, e-mail me and I will try to answer. Click on any photo to enlarge the view to see detail.

As always, Peace to all.

A piece of bone was woven into the Dream Catcher.

A smaller Dream Catcher woven into the bone.

Driftwood Dream catcher with buffalo head nickel woven into the webbing. A small turquoise stone guards the opening in the center.

Larger pieces of Driftwood used here.

Unique shape to this one, and large glass beads.

A Dream Catcher mobile.

Front side of a small hand drum.

Back side, showing the webbing, of the drum above.

Two drums and a Gourd Rattle hanging in the old shop in Ashland.

Some smaller Dream catchers. The largest in this picture is about eight inches in diameter.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Only the Good Friday, December 4, 2009

Let's get started.

This week has had some extreme challenges to deal with. I had to dig deep to find the “Good”. With all this practice I’ve had with Shelly’s Only the Good Friday posting, you’d think it would be easy to stay positive and put a “Good” spin on things, but this one was a pressure cooker type of deal. Even Shelly has had some dealings this past week and she writes about it in her post today on her This Eclectic Life blog.

You see, I went to my primary care physician at the VA hospital this week, last Tuesday. It was a regular appointment for him to check me over, take blood and all that. Last time I saw him was in April. I was supposed to see him in July, but I kept calling and canceling appointments because I knew the blood numbers weren’t going to be good. I was trying to avoid the lecture and the inevitable changes that I knew he’d make in my medication.

I have been a diabetic for quite some time and I’ve skated through it all up until now. I’ve had plenty opportunity to arrest this beast, and at times, I have been very successful at losing just a few pounds and adding a regular form of exercise to my daily routine. These two things have given me blood glucose levels in the range that would be considered normal, especially for someone with diabetes.

After my latest disregard for my own health and by staying away from the doctor for so long, it was time to make the change I’ve dreaded for years. I start using a needle and insulin injections this week. This news, inevitable as I knew it was, still devastated me. Hard to find some “Good” in it, but I’ll try.

I also took a fall when I slipped on the frost one cold morning that was on the deck. I was just going out to fill the bird feeders when I went down. I weigh 220 pounds and the impact crushed my elbow and shoulder. The pain radiates down from my shoulder through the bicep and my back. More “Good” to look for as I writhe in pain.

Even amidst these personal setbacks, I was able to walk the kids to the bus stop every day this week. And I will this morning at 7:57 a.m., that’s when we leave the house for the 120 yard trip to the corner of Griffey and Short. Donna, a neighbor and resident of the town house apartment that sits right on that corner, is usually always there. She has a son that gets the bus and is there to supervise the 16 or so kids that get on the elementary school bus. I’m just another adult who watches over the kids.

The weather is getting colder each day. The Winter winds are blowing here in the Northland and we’ve even had a dusting of snow one morning. While I was sitting on the telephone companies big green box that sits on that corner, I watched the children playing. One girl in particular kept trying to zip up her jacket. A jacket way too slight for this cold snap. She had to be about six years old.

Now these kids see me there every morning and have since Labor Day. I asked her if she wanted me to help her zip up her jacket. It was the first time I had ever directed words to her. The only time I speak at all is when I hear the diesel rumble of the bus and in my deep manly voice direct the attention to the “Bus is coming”.

This day, the little girl looked at me, said nothing, and went to Donna and asked her to help her zip her jacket. I knew it wasn’t easy for little boys and girls to want to be around a mean old gnarly man with a deep voice. After all, I wasn’t their Grandpa. They didn’t know how kind and gentle I really am. I felt a little saddened by this, but I came away wanting to be seen as a kinder gentler old man to people, especially kids.

I thought of how I should be carrying myself. How I must attempt to stay humble, yet let people know I can be trusted. Geez, my body shape alone is intrusive. Barrel chested, large arms and legs, powerful voice. Even my walking gait is formidable.

Yesterday, I was on the corner, sitting in my usual spot. The same little girl was there, her jacket, too thin and light for the weather, unzipped and flying off her little kid shoulders needed to be zipped. Donna was no where to be seen yesterday. I was the only adult there in person. I know there are a few that watch out the window.

I asked her if she wanted me to help her zip her jacket. She looked at me and said, “No.”
Then, in a matter of seconds, came to me and held the bottom edges of her jacket up to me. Her body language asked the question better than any words. I grasped the ends of the zipper and put them together and zipped her into some warmth. I handed her the powder blue scarf that she had dropped and put it around her neck. She smiled and ran away to play. I tell you that was the best thing that has happened to me in a long time. A child gave me their trust. That is a “Good” thing. And even though I have this monster to tame in my own blood, even though my arm throbs constantly in the cold bitter wind of December here in Wisconsin, It felt “Good”.

Sure, I get hugs and kisses from my own Grandkids all the time, and believe me, I never take that for granted. I have to make sure I shave my pokies off or the little girls won’t kiss my scratchy face. I need to earn those hugs and lap sitting sessions. They are worth it and make me feel real “Good”.

Another “Good” I know of is the local jacket drive going on in the schools. Little kids, like my unzippered friend, will probably get a warmer thicker jacket, more in keeping with the weather we have here, at the coat drive. That’s a very “Good” thing. In fact, Mrs. Spadoman has been sewing Polarplus hats and mittens for weeks now, all for the drive to clothe those that need it. That’s “Good” too!

I know, kind of lame for the Good on Friday post, but that’s what it is today. I feel “Good” about finding some joy in Mudville. I feel “Good” when I visit other blogs and read “Good” things happening here and there. I feel ”Good” getting an e-mail from an old friend in Southern California. I am still looking for the “Good” in starting insulin injections, but maybe that straw is the one that will prompt me into action to finally get serious about taking better care of myself so I can be around just a little longer to zip up little kids jackets and be trusted by the innocent. So I can live until I die.

Lastly, I feel “Good” about a post at one of my friend’s blogs. susan, (non capitalized as she writes it), had a post this week that talks about kindness in everyday people. Her blog is called Phantsythat. Go take a look and read the comments. A lot of “Good” people still on the planet. One of the things that her post brought to my mind was my recent visit to the VA. I watched a lot of episodes of people getting up off their chairs to help others with simple tasks. Getting someone a glass of water, pushing a wheel chair through a crowded doorway, helping one man get his battery powered scooter out of his pickup truck, a volunteer smiling and handing out coffee to anyone that wants a cup, always with a smile and a cheerful greeting. All “Good”, all in the everyday. Someone even helped me with my jacket as I grimaced in pain twisting my painful arm and shoulder trying to get the darned thing on.

We can be “Good” and do “Good things, even when we are suffering and struggling to find the “Good” in a situation. This is the Spirit of “Good”. I see the Red Buckets are out. I’ll check that out and see if I can do some “Good” over there where the bells are ringing.

Peace to you. “Good”ness to you as well.

One of my most wonderful daughters.

Number 5

Number 2

Number 6

Youngest of my offspring

Number 3

Number 4

Number 1

The one we miss.

Saving the best for last