Saturday, June 27, 2009

Miss Deb

Reality is sinking in tonight. A family living next door in the duplex for the last 3 years has moved away. When I saw the U-Haul yesterday parked in front of the house, I had to face the fact that, yes, they were really moving. Mom is pregnant with their 4th and a two-bedroom, half-a-duplex just doesn't cut it anymore. We are best friends. All of us. The whole family with our family. They are a young couple, but so easy love and cherish.

When they bought the duplex 3 years ago, I assumed they would live elsewhere and rent it out. But that next weekend, the U-Haul pulled up and they became our neighbors, the best neighbors in a neighborhood that was already filled with wonderful friends

This family is so special. I met The Boys first, a 4 year-old and 2 year-old. They spotted the big sandbox in my yard one morning when they were hanging on the fence. I invited them over, but they had to ask Mom or Dad first. Mom came over to introduce her family. We were exchanging names and ages when Daniel looked up to ask his mom what he should call me. Mom suggested a Mrs. or Ms. would be the most respectful. I told her that was too formal; my first name would be OK. Little Caleb, who could hardly say but 10 words, blurted out, "Miss Deb!" and we all agreed that would be perfect. Now there is a 3 year-old sister, a little chatterbox, and she always calls me, "Mom, I mean, Miss Deb."
We got everything moved into their new home located in a little town south of here. It is actually faster to drive to their new home than it takes to drive up north in Ames. But the easy access is gone. Many mornings when I was on break from school, I would call over and ask if The Boys wanted to come over for pancakes and Legos. Boy, they'd come arunnin'. PJ's, slippers and robes flying out behind. Breakfast at Miss Deb's was always a treat.

When Mom told me they bought a house, I knew it was coming, but a cried. I couldn't not cry. I am not an official grandma; not yet, thank god! But I have enjoyed the "grandma-like" experience over these last few years. We take bike rides, do weenie roasts and some-mores in the backyard, and spend hours building sandcastles in the sandbox. We hang when Mom and Dad need a night out. And they always run for me when they see me come home in the car, or on the bike after class. They taught me to play Super Mario Cart on the Wii, although there have been a few times when Daniel has taken the control away from me because I could not keep the cart on the track. "That's OK, Miss Deb, you can just watch!"

I am not sure how this is going to work, not having them in my life daily. I know they are not that far away, but they are a world away tonight. Before I know it, they will be a head taller, a grade further in school, have a new sister, and all new friends that I don't know.

Reality bites!

Friday, June 26, 2009

A Woman of a Certain Age

I was kind of weirded out the other day shopping with my daughter. We were in Chico's looking for a summer dress, and when I glanced up, all the women in the store were, let's say, grandmotherly. I couldn't help thinking I needed to get out of that store. I did not belong here shopping with these "older" women. Don't get me wrong, they were well-dressed, coiffed, seemingly affluent (this is the chi-chi mall in the 'burbs), but they were of a certain age, i.e., grandmotherly. Not in looks, but in age. My age!!!

I've found myself using this phrase lately, so when I googled it, an article by William Safire, appearing in the NY Times, popped up. Here is what it had to say about a woman of a certain age..

Safire quotes a woman who offered, "...remembering it from my more youthful days in France as an insulting kind of polite elocution but one that remains rather wonderful and precise." Back in the early 1800's, the poet Byron used the phrase with regard to spinsterhood. Its long history with the French suggests the opposite. It has nothing to do with marriage, but with French, femmes d'une certaine age.

In 1979, Lillian B Rubin used the phrase in her book Women of a Certain Age: The Midlife Search for Self. Is this certain age bumping upward as we baby boomers age? Rubin offers that back in the late 70's when she wrote the book, late 30's to early 40's described these women. Now with longer lifespans, and too, the sway (and say) of baby boomers, these women have added ten years. Now we are, say, 50 or 55.

With July just around the corner, I'll be 56. So, am I post-certain age? Or just settling in.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

deja vu

'a compelling sense of familiarity'

Last Saturday when I was traveling the back roads in NE Iowa on my way to the BioBlitz, I needed to make a pit stop before arriving at basecamp. My directions included a right turn at the Sattre General Store, so I thought this might be a good place to stop.

There it was up ahead, a yellow building with a neatly hand-painted sign, "Sattre General Store". It reminded me of an outpost, a stagecoach stop, from earlier days. I pulled up in front and hopped out. Do I lock my car, or not? This was truly the middle of nowhere, so I decided not to act too much like a city-slicker. I had lived in NE Iowa 25 years ago and understood that these 'outposts' dotted the countryside throughout Winneshiek County. Little burgs, with a handful of houses, a store or body shop, popped up around many a sharp bend in the road.

It was hot and bright out front. When I pushed open the heavy front door, I was greeted with a dark, dusty coolness. I entered, then pushed the door closed with a quick bump of my hip. No one was around, but the place was packed full to the ceiling, literally, with knick-knacks, antiques, canned goods (beans, ,Spam and SpaghettiO's?), t-shirts, hunting jackets, rubber farm boots, and cases of Spring Grove soda pop. There was a deli case and a separate cooler full of all flavors/forms of cheese. I remembered the hand-written sign on the front door, "Fresh, squeaky cheese curds". I also remembered the landscape outside that door, dotted with Holstein dairy cattle grazing the green, sloping pastures and big white dairy barns perched on the hilltops. Squeaky, huh? I understood.

I called out a greeting, but no answer. I stood for a moment in the silence, listening for footsteps, but still heard no one. And then a strange feeling came over me. deja vu...I had been here before. I had stood in this very spot. It was like I was recalling a dream the morning after...the smells, the wooden floor worn by the passage of feet over the years, the fullness of the shelves, the cool darkness...It was a long time ago, but I had discovered this place while out on one of my Sunday morning drives searching for that perfect trout stream around the Decorah area,

As my brain was idling in a state of recall, a voice redirected my attention. A woman approached me from a pitchblack doorway behind the counter, all smiles and sunshine. This was Rayella Rude, proprietor of Sattre General and Antiques, closely followed by her husband Dwayne.

Rayella Rude was in her selling mode. She tried to sell me t-shirts. She tried to sell me a sandwich. She tried to sell me knick-knacks. She really pushed the cheese curds - 2 lbs. of fresh, sqeaky cheese curds! I offered that I was going to the BioBlitz, so the cheese curds might spoil in the heat before I got them back to Ames. When I mentioned the BioBlitz, she shifted gears. She started pushing antiques. The McCoy pots with "plants and animals", the china dinner platters with "floweres and birds", the old cake carrier with "old-fashioned roses". "These botanical things would be great memorabilia of the BioBlitz! Wouldn't this little frog on the lily pad be darling to have as a keepsake?"

I spotted the stack of Spring Grove soda pop, so I offered to purchase a couple 6-packs to take back home. There is a little bottling company just a few miles north, across the border in Spring Grove, Minnesota. I picked out root beer, lemon sour ("That sells the best. It flies out the door. Hard to keep it in stock"), and my favorite, strawberry (That is another story for another time). I paid for my purchase. "No credit card, but a check or cash would be fine." She never batted an eye at accepting my out-of-town check. Never asked for an I.D.or a phone number. That was great customer service!

As I was backing out the door carrying my soda pop, she followed, telling me that both her mother and mother-in-law died several years back and left their only children- Rayella and Dwayne- farmsteads packed full to the ceiling. Said they just "boxed up everything, brought it down the road and put it all in the shed out back." Most people would envision the shed as being something to store the lawnmower and some garden tools, but I saw the shed out back. She meant a machine shed! And she claimed it was packed full to the rafters!

"Every other week or so we open a couple of boxes, and find a nice surprise. I guess if we wait long enough things will come back into fashion. All Mom's things are considered collectibles now. We just put them on the shelf and antique dealers come from all over and buy up everything. It's the funniest thing to see them come in here and start hauling it out. Business has been good. Are you sure you don't want any of those cheese curds? They're fresh."

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

In the Middle of Nowhere....

Yesterday, I decided to reread Local Wonders, a book which I recently sent a copy to a friend. The author Ted Kooser is our former U.S. Poet Laureate. Mr. Kooser hails from Nebraska, but spent his childhood in Ames. His writing is filled with grace and wisdom. It reads with such ease.

My son Evan gave me a copy of this book for my birthday in July of 2006. Mr. Kooser had come to Ames, around that same time, to do a reading in celebration of "Ted Kooser Day". I, not knowing of Ev's purchase for me, wanted to present him with an autographed copy because he was the one who introduced this man's writing to me.

I had something else going on the day of Kooser's appearance. I decided that I would race to the Octagon to hear the reading, purchase a signed book, then dash back to the other engagement. However, when I arrived, all copies had sold out. I hurried over to our local bookstore to nab an unsigned copy, hoping to catch Mr. Kooser afterwords. I raced back to the reading, but by the time I parked the car, everyone had left. I was so disappointed.

As I walked back to the MINI, I noticed a group gathered on the sidewalk ahead. At center was Mr. Kooser! Completely out of breath, I introduced myself, then explained how much it would mean to Ev to have an autographed copy for his book shelf. Mr. Kooser asked where Ev was and I told him he was at Boy Scout Camp Mitigwa for the week. He had just been inducted into the Order of the Arrow and could not make the reading. Mr. Kooser's face broke into that boyish grin of his; he had been a Boy Scout and understood that July meant summer camp for the scouts. He wrote a special note to Ev, I thanked him and he shook my hand. I practically skipped away, having met such an humble and honorable man.

Back to my original searching out my copy, I re-discovered the delight I had experienced the first time I turned the pages. The book is divided into 4 sections, each carrying the title of a season. It starts with Spring, but knowing the temperature outside was shooting up to 95 degrees with 99.999% humidity, I flipped thru to Summer and dove right in.

Immediately, I was immersed into his life in the country, driving the gravel roads, living in the Bohemian Alps of Nebraska, out on the Great Plains of these United States. His farmstead is in the middle of nowhere, with its various outbuildings assigned their individual duties. My nose tingled from the sharp tang of musty air with his opening a long-closed door to his "library" shack. Memories of my life on the farm, exploring the granary, or the old chicken coop, flooded my brain.

Of late, I have been thinking about living in the country - away from the city. I live in an incredible city, a college town that carries all the advantages of academia, arts, and diversity of culture. I also live in a perfectly beautiful neighborhood, with neighbors who have become great friends over the years. My home is comfortable and out front is that white, picket fence. But this longing has surfaced and I pine for a small farmhouse with a metal roof so I can lie in bed and hear the rain. It would have a wrap-around porch so I could refresh in the breeze, or enjoy a rain shower, and watch my garden grow. I would want a small flock of chickens for their fresh eggs. I sense it is my childhood spent on the farm that is pestering me to reconsider a change to this life of country. It would be my little slice of heaven.

I am not an empty-nester yet, but it won't be long before Tess is off on her own. And then I see myself working from home as a landscape architect...a woman of a certain age, growing old in this little farmhouse, living out in the middle of nowhere, under stars pressing down from above.

Monday, June 22, 2009

I snapped this picture as I came over the rise of a goat prairie up in NE Iowa. It's nonsense, really, but as I study it, the colors and movement seem to capture my mood of late. Today, I am so antsy, yet pensive. I have sudden flashes of bright thoughts and good feelings that make me smile; then dark moments of deep realization. (And no, I am not on medication, or think I should be..;[) I find myself pacing, wanting to be somewhere else...

I was up early and before my feet hit the floor, I knew I was going to have one of these days. I've been keeping busy since I got home last nite - unpacking, sorting, sweeping my floors! and sorting laundry. This morning I got busy making bread, doing dishes and laundry (the new dryer is great!), and finally paying some bills.

I have been so busy these last few months with school, Lakeside Lab, then this last weekend, that it is difficult to just relax and do nothing. I keep feeling like there is such a limited amount of time left to accomplish what I want, so I need to keep pushing to do it all. It sounds crazy, but I push because I want to someday be able to stroll, to just hang and be. Where is this possible in today's world. If you have a suggestion for me, I am all ears...

Today I just want to get in the MINI and drive.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

5:30 a.m. this morning...

Looking east...

...then looking west

This past weekend I drove up to NE Iowa for the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation's 4th BioBlitz and its 30th anniversary celebration. The blitz was an intensive, 24-hour rapid biological assessment of Heritage Valley, a 1200-acre site located in Allamakee County. This is INHF's newest acquisition.

The specialists, along with generalists and novices in all areas of biota, explored the river, the goat prairies, and the forests, looking for and counting, as many living things as possible. There were several discoveries made over the weekend of rare, or endangered, species on this property.

Yesterday, our first group went out to explore the bird populations in a forest and on a high prairie. We did this mid-afternoon, and gad, was it hot! But how could one complain? The scenery atop the bluffs overlooking the Upper Iowa River was incredible. Bruce, a DNR Wildlife Specialist with a long, gray braid down his back, identified bird calls, one after another, while the rest of us were scrambling to hear even one. Redstarts, warblers, vireos, Indigo Buntings, bluebirds, sparrows...the list goes on and on. We worked our way across an open ag field, down thru the forest, out onto a prairie, then down to the river, where we spotted 2 bald eagles with a young bald eagle, all fishing the river.

The second group went out after dinner to explore a high goat prairie, which is a dry, upland native prairie on a slope "so steep only goats could climb it." Call me a goat because I, and a dozen others, climbed these bluffs. We found grasses, sedges, prairies plants, and shrubs/trees that thrilled not only the specialists in these areas, but also the novices (that me!).

After dark last night, we went out with Josh from the DNR, who had a contraption called an anabat, coupled with a PDA, which produced a 'sonogram' of sorts of bat radar. We identified 4 species of bats, based on the frequency of their radar. That was really cool.

Six a.m. this morning, an early group set out on a special adventure. We wanted to find a rare bird that some at base camp claim to have heard yesterday, but could not spot. This morning was so cool-we actually spotted the nest of a pair of Cerulean Warblers. These birds are very rare, and not only did we find them, but Veronica photographed the mother sitting on the nest, with the father close by. It wasn't until Bruce downloaded her fotos that several birders confirmed our sighting. Despite the rain and the early morning wake-up call after a long day yesterday, it was worth rolling out of bed to find these beautiful birds making their home in NE Iowa. Check out your Golden Press Field Guide to Birds of North America.