According to the calendar, spring is here, but signs of the season have been appearing in North Texas for weeks. Most trees have leafed out already and some are blooming. The daffodils in a neighbor's yard are finished for the year. The bluebells - the state flower of Texas - are about to carpet the hillsides. Temperatures have been warm most days with a few very cold nights and lots and lots of rain.
I've been in the mood to clean out and reorganize. First on my list was the kid's room at our house. I went through all the books, puzzles and toys, pulling out those that Noah has outgrown. He and his friend Theo looked at it all and agreed on what should be given away to younger children. They kept a couple of items but helped me put everything else into bags. Then we set off for The Primrose School, where they both attended Pre-K. As we traveled the few blocks to the school, they reminisced adorably about their time there and what they missed now that they were third-graders (naptime and recess were high on the list). We dropped the bags at the front office and asked if the boys could visit their old teacher, Miss Moss. She shouted with delight when they came in the door, amazed at how big they were.
I moved all the puzzles I'd accumulated during the pandemic into the closet and reorganized the games into the small armoire. Building sets went into the drawers beneath the IKEA trundle bed. Then I realized that we had a lot of stuff that I wanted to get rid of. In the garage, a 36-bottle metal wine rack was first on the list. There was an old printer (still functional) and a DVD player and a 45-inch TV replaced by a larger set. Years ago, we bought a complete set of dishes and a tea set in Philadelphia's Chinatown. While we loved using them when the kids were still at home, it was time for them to go. I had a bunch of dachshund figurines that belonged to my parents and some larger ones I used to display on top of the kitchen cabinets along with some artificial plants and baskets. I found a number of pots I had used for plants, as well. All of these will go on sale next weekend, with any remaining items sent to the thrift store.
Soon, I will tackle the outdoor spaces. Some of my patio plants were killed off during a frost, so I will replace those, having seen some good deals at a huge new grocery store near here. Next comes the task of filling all the planters around the pool with colorful annuals. First I have to get several bags of potting soil to fill up the containers. Miraculously, most of my perennials made it through the winter and are filling out beautifully. I may have to replace a couple and transplant one or two, but with so much rain, it's been kind of a swamp in the area in front of the brick wall that rings the garden. I'm hoping our lawn service can come up with a drainage solution.
I'm enjoying the relatively cool weather and looking forward to days when the kids can swim. We got out the pool deck furniture today and hosed off the big umbrella. I've laundered all the beach towels and sorted through the toys, most of which hit the trash. Soon I'll make a trip to St. Louis to visit a friend, so the blahs of winter are officially over. Stay well, my friends!
The Winter Blahs
The Christmas decorations are stowed in the garage, the last decorated cookie has been eaten and the radio stations have stopped playing Christmas music. It's 2023 and I'm suffering from my usual case of the winter blahs. It doesn't feel like winter here in North Texas, with temperatures staying in the 60s and even 70s. We had one cold snap when the temps dipped to 10 or 11, so I brought in my patio plants and my daughter Hannah and I draped a couple old sheets over my perennials. Alas, I think a few of them didn't make it, but I'll trim them back and hope for a miracle.
The trees have lost all their leaves, except for the live oaks common to this area. We haven't received much moisture recently and all the lawns are brown. All in all, a rather depressing look, but the sun is shining today, so I'll take that. One of my orchids has burst into yellow blooms, which is cheerful. I'll make my usual January trek to purchase some new plants for the entry and my office.
I got out one of my favorite 1,000-piece puzzles, a cover from The New Yorker magazine published in 1943 and have been working on that while my husband is watching what seem to be endless football games. The illustration shows a young woman on a bicycle with a Christmas tree astride the bike. She's wearing goggles and a small black dog is running ahead of her. In the background is a country market with a display of apples in front. Two people are chatting near the Christmas tree display.
I'm still searching for some freelance writing opportunities to relieve the boredom of this time of year and perhaps earn a few bucks. I've continued with the My Life, My Story project of the Veteran's Administration. I interview veterans who have volunteered for the project, learning about their time in the service and life afterward, as well as the care they have received from the VA. It's always very interesting. Then I write their story as if they are telling it themselves and submit. A coordinator from the VA goes over the story with the veteran, making any necessary changes and corrections. It's attached to their medical record so that doctors, nurses and other caregivers can get a better picture of their patient. I've very much enjoyed this project.
With the holiday school break over, I've resumed getting Noah from the athletic center he goes to after school, giving him a snack and dropping him off at the martial arts class just around the corner where he is learning Taekwondo. He recently earned his green belt, quite an accomplishment for an 8-year-old! He still loves to stay overnight with us and is often dropped at our house for breakfast and school drop-off on days when Mom is headed downtown for work.
Life is good. I appreciate everything we have, especially the closeness of our daughters and their families. Despite a few healthcare hiccups in the past year, things are now going well for both of us. Happy New Year to all!
The Gingerbread House
There's not a flake of snow on the ground here in Texas, but the holidays are upon us. Our Christmas tree has been up and decorated since before Thanksgiving so I can enjoy it for a bit longer and my Santa collection is on display in several rooms. Cut-out cookies have been baked in anticipation of a decorating party later this week. The presents have all been wrapped or sent and our family is planning a series of family activities for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. One of the traditions at our house is making and decorating a gingerbread house.
Many years ago, Andy and I spotted a gorgeous homemade gingerbread house on the cover of the Time-Life German Cookbook. We decided to give it a try. Andy cut the patterns out of cardboard and I gathered the ingredients, which include honey, spices (although no ginger), butter, sugar and lots and lots of baking powder, which helps the dough set up like cement. We baked three recipes of the dough, which gets rolled out in pans before it cools completely--the honey, sugar and butter are brought to a boil and then added to the flour mixture. When the gingerbread has been baked and cooled slightly, we cut out the pieces and transferred them to a rack. The top of a door and a round window are cut out with a knife and backed with aluminum foil. Several recipes of royal icing are made to assemble and decorate the house.
The first year we tried this, we baked a base for the house. It proved somewhat uneven and messy, so we got a piece of plywood and cut it to size instead. We attempted to attach the steep roof pieces with frosting, but they slid right off! Andy, ever the engineer, hit on the idea of using toothpicks to "nail" the pieces together, which worked like a charm.
Over the years, we have made these houses not only for ourselves, but as auction items and gifts to friends. Now that my grandchildren are older, they help me decorate. I used to use frosted Italian cookies for the roof, but they are hard to find here, so now I use frosted mini-wheats to create a "thatched" roof. The candies change from year to year, depending on what I can find, but usually include gum drops, starlight peppermints and old-fashioned "cut rock." To my mind, there is no such thing as too much candy on a gingerbread house. The best thing is that, properly stored, the houses will last for 4-5 years, even retaining its wonderful smell.
When I look at one of the gingerbread houses, it always brings Scrapple, our first dachshund, to mind. One day decades ago, I came home to an empty house and heard a scratching sound. I followed it into the dining room and found a furry criminal on the dining room table gnawing a cookie off the roof. Attracted by the smell, he had apparently jumped up onto a chair and then the table. I screamed at him and he took off. Scrapple knew he was in big trouble and hid from me for days!
I wish you and yours a very Merry Christmas and a happy New Year!
I do not remember being especially enamored with jigsaw puzzles when I was a kid, except when we were on vacation at Clear Lake. Indiana. Boredom on a rainy day would bring out an especially difficult puzzle that was a black and white replica of an old newspaper page. I don't think we ever quite finished it and there were several missing pieces.
Then the pandemic came along. Being restricted to the house most of the time, I decided to conquer the crushing boredom by ordering a couple puzzles from the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The first, a 500-piece depiction of the all the departments of the museum, wasn't that difficult. But the second one was a monster--a reproduction of Monet's Bridge with Waterlilies. Because the whole darn thing was in shades of green, it took me several months to finish it and then I couldn't locate three of the 1,000 pieces! This didn't discourage me from trying a few others. Woman in Gold by Klimt was a favorite, as was a reproduction of a New Yorker magazine cover of a young woman riding a bicycle down a snowy lane with a Christmas tree on board. My friend Claudia sent me a cute 1,000 piece puzzle with 26 breeds of dogs in alphabetical order. It featured pictures of socks, dog toys, a fire hydrant, a water dish and bones in between the pooches. I couldn't resist buying one with donuts of every flavor at our local hardware and gift store. I only met defeat with a 1,000-piece painting of Disneyworld. It was no trouble putting together the buildings and street filled with people, but the night sky was all very dark shades of navy blue. I resorted to grouping pieces with the same shape on several paper plates to make it less work, but to no avail. Couldn't even complete the frame. My grandson Noah has never let me forget that I "gave up" on this puzzle. He loves to help me and is amazingly good at it for an 8-year-old, quickly trying and eliminating pieces as he goes.
The most recent one, a gift from my daughter, was a beautiful street scene with a cafe, outdoor seating and a few shops, all in Kodachrome shades of turquoise, magenta, blue and purple. It took me only a few days to complete since it was 500 pieces. Now it's time to order a few more to keep me busy in the evenings. My husband is glued to his MLB package of every baseball game in the country, so I tune out the commentators and organ music (except when the Phillies are playing), take a seat at the kitchen table and attack the latest puzzle. After turning all the pieces over, sometimes I do the frame first--other times assembling the most prominent features. I find it very relaxing and enjoy the strategy and concentration it takes to successfully complete even the largest puzzle. Just save me from deep blue skies.
Although I have learned to expect very hot weather in August, the lingering high-pressure area looming over Texas has brought weeks of temps hovering around or exceeding one hundred degrees. Sigh. It has put me in an ongoing bad mood exacerbated by the fact that our AC has not been working well.
The compressor unit outside our home was replaced last year thanks to our homeowner's warranty, but the attic unit was twenty years old and barely functioning. A call to the warranty folks brought a technician who told us the problem was a dirty filter. OK, then. We quickly replaced the offending item to no effect. Another contractor said the filter had nothing to do with it. When the sun was beating down on the west facing side of the house indoor temps were reaching a very uncomfortable 80 degrees. Another call to HWA resulted in their unwillingness to replace the unit due to the dirty filter. Our friend the local contractor did the work on our dime yesterday, resulting in a much cooler residence and my improved state of mind.
We love having a pool, especially for our three grandkids to enjoy, but it's simply too hot to be outside in the blazing sun. Even if you could stand that, the pool water would feel like soup. I'm watching my carefully planted perennials fry in the Texas heat despite frequent watering. It's been too hot for me to get out there and trim the plants back and remove dead ones. Getting into a hot car is no picnic, either. The other day, I found myself using Covid masks to hold onto the steering wheel.
Now that I've pretty much recovered from my surgery, it's too darn hot to take Toby for a walk. The pavement is much too hot for his little footpads and I can't bear the heat, even after sundown, when it can still be around 95. It's even too hot to grill outside with the sun beating down on the patio. I worry that we will be subjected to this misery for the rest of the summer. A Canadian vacation sounds like a good idea at this point.
OK, enough bitching about the Texas weather. On the plus side, we've binged through lots of shows on Acorn (our British streaming service), Netflix, Amazon and Hulu. We've figured out ways to prepare dinner without using the oven or grill--our small toaster oven (or eating out) is great for this. Any errands take place as early as possible in the day. Ceiling fans help to keep everyone cool.
If I can get through the next eight weeks or so without melting or being in a perpetually bad mood, it will be a miracle. Meantime, I will look forward to a milder fall and the prospect of holiday fun.
I'm only fourteen days away from seeing the surgeon. My hope is that he will let me and the rolling walker go our separate ways. Physical therapy will begin the very next day. Until then, life consists of a series of routines like getting up, showered and dressed. This takes at least three times as long as it used to, but I've mastered an economy of movement that reduces the amount of effort. The rest of the day is punctuated by meals, doing the NYT crossword puzzle, reading and afterschool time with my grandson Noah.
I'm already making a mental list of all the things I look forward to when I can ambulate without the walker, although I may still face some restrictions during physical therapy.
Twenty-four Days and Counting
My recent surgery repaired a torn muscle in the hip abductor group, as well as removing a large bone spur. Now I'm counting the days to a recovery milestone--being able to ambulate without a walker. As I was waiting in the Post-Anesthesia Care Unit (PACU) after my surgery, the PT folks arrived to see if I could manage the required "touch-toe" routine to let my repaired muscle heal properly. The technique is to use my left toes for balance and bring the other foot forward while holding onto the walker. It didn't go well, as all I could manage was a little hop forward. The physical therapist felt that it was not safe to discharge me, so I was admitted for an overnight stay. Next morning, I had to demonstrate that while I was not able to do the "touch-toe" dance, I could scoot around seated on the walker Andy had gotten for me. I demonstrated getting to the potty and back to my hospital bed. This satisfied him and we headed home, just 10 minutes away.
It wasn't until I got home that I fully realized there would be very little I could do for myself. My daily routine consists of getting from bed to bathroom to lift chair in the family room. Fixing meals, doing laundry and doing any kind of household tasks were out of the question. Fortunately, our son Pete was on hand to help with all of these things and got very skilled at whisking me around the tight corner into our bedroom. Soon I was able to do it myself. Andy had to help me get in and out of the shower, where a non-wheeled walker gives me stability. I figured out the best way to get dressed and learned the most economical way to get through the morning routine and reverse it at night. It was all pretty exhausting, though.
One night we decided to get out for some Mexican food. Pete loaded up the wheelchair Andy rented and off we went. It was a little complicated getting me into the restaurant, but what struck me were the stares I got as we headed for a table. "What's wrong with her? Does she have cancer? Did she have a heart attack?" I just smiled and ordered a virgin margarita and some guacamole.
A few days before my two-week post-op visit with the surgeon's PA, I decided to try the standard walker and voila! Now in less pain, I quickly mastered the touch-toe routine. This has given me a bit more freedom. I'm able to get outside on the patio for some fresh air or take the dog out the front door so he can see the world. I switched to using the wheeled walker to get around. Still hard work, but faster. If fatigue sets in, I can always sit down for a few minutes. The surgeon had already told me that I would need six weeks on the walker, so it was no surprise when the PA confirmed it. In 24 days, I'll see the surgeon and get started with PT.
I was sometimes depressed, tearful and even angry in the early days of my recovery. Then I reminded myself that I have lots of help from family and am in generally good health despite two trips to the OR in ten months. I know this frustrating situation is temporary and within a few weeks, I'll be pretty much back to normal. I've known plenty of people who never got the chance to regain their health, so I try to keep my head on straight and stay focused on better days to come.
You may be wondering why I chose the number 21 for this post. No, it's not the name of one of Adele's albums or the age when you can drink alcohol without getting arrested. For me, it represents something entirely different. It's the number of surgeries I've had during my 76 years. I know, it's hard to believe. And it doesn't even count procedures which only required sedation, like having dental surgery. The only plastic surgery I've had was to lift my eyelids so I could see the world a little better and not have permanent wrinkles across my forehead--that did not involve anesthesia either.
The first three trips to the OR were actually happy events: C-sections which resulted in the births of my three children within a four-year span. As I got older, I needed surgery for a number of orthopedic issues, like bone spurs and knee replacements. The biggest of these was a major rebuild of my lumbar spine in 2017, a "360" procedure which meant 11 hours in the OR and three incisions.
Now, in the space of about 10 months, I will have had two more trips to the operating room. Last July, it was emergency surgery to repair two kinds of hernias on my right side. Later this week, I will check in to Baylor Lakepointe Hospital for a repair job on a tear in one of the muscles that makes my left hip work. It will be an outpatient procedure that takes 45 minutes and I'll be home by afternoon. No idea why it happened, just that it has been causing serious pain for weeks. I've been using a cane to get around, taking a bit of pressure off the offending area and sleeping on my right side, which really sucks since it's not my preferred position for watching Friends re-runs before drifting off.
Surgery doesn't scare me. It might be because my dad was a doctor and my brother David is one, too. I worked for hospitals most of my career, doing healthcare fundraising and communications. What does scare me is getting an IV started. I don't seem to have any available veins, so I'm always the victim of several "sticks" until the nurse finds one. It usually takes an ultrasound to locate the little sucker so they can start fluids and put me to sleep.
After this go-round, the fun really begins. I'll be using a classy new walker ordered from Amazon (I tell you, what can't you buy there?) to get around for the next six weeks but only using my right leg and touching the toe of the other. This is so the muscle can heal properly. Then it's six weeks of physical therapy to finish the job.
Not looking for sympathy or even a get-well card. This is not my first rodeo and I'm sure I'll come out on the other side of this lovely experience just fine. Just pray that they find a vein on the first try.
A Local History Lesson
My dad was a bit obsessed with death. Perhaps this was because he'd had a rather close call in his 40s --a tumor on his pituitary gland. It was benign, but I believe it affected his outlook on life long after. Whenever we were out in the farmlands around Clear Lake, where he and my mom had a summer cottage, Dad couldn't resist stopping at a cemetery. We'd wander through the gravestones, some of which were quite old, and note the dates and names. To me, it was kind of a history lesson. When I was in college, there was a large cemetery near the campus of Wittenberg University in Springfield, OH. My friends and I sometimes walked through it, fascinated by the occasional tombstone that had a brass "locket" containing a photo of the deceased.
Today, I was driving back from an errand and took a shortcut to the expressway on Big A road, which runs behind some commercial developments. I'd always wondered where the name originated. A quick Google search revealed there used to be a school along that road. One Halloween, the students painted a big A on the side of the building and the name stuck. Opposite the back end of the PetSmart store, there is an entrance to "Big A Cemetery." The land originally belonged to the Kirby family, one of a group of Kentucky settlers, and in 1857, William Kirby was buried in a meadow there. Most all of the earliest graves in the cemetery represented family members of the area's earliest pioneer families and their descendants.
I couldn't resist turning in on the narrow gravel road to have a look. Some of the gravestones were fairly recent, with dates in the 2000s. A few graves had been enclosed by bricks or a little fence and many had fading plastic flowers. Some were decorated with stuffed animals, most likely marking the resting place of a child. The road looped around to the left and I continued to the back of the cemetery. At the very end, I spotted an unusual grave marked with a cement "log". I parked and got out to investigate. Unfortunately, the information of the plaque had weathered to the point it was not legible. I explored a little further and found gravestones placed there in the 1800s, when the area was being settled. One heartbreakingly just said "Infant" and I suspected the tiny tombstones without inscription were for babies. There were some obelisks and fancier gravestones, but most were quite modest.
So there it is. I continued my dad's curiosity about cemeteries and got an unexpected history lesson. It left me wondering about those early settlers who bravely came West to North Texas and how they lived and died. Death comes to all of us, but its what we do with the days and years we are given that counts.
P.S. To end this post on a more humorous note, I found that there is a gravestone in the Key West Cemetery in Florida that simply states, "I Told You I Was Sick."
An Easter Treat
Nothing says spring like a visit to the Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Garden. Hannah and Reagan generously treated the entire family to a special Easter brunch there. We dined on the covered patio with a view of White Rock Lake, enjoying perfect sunny weather. First came a sumptuous buffet with tossed salad, charcuterie and cold marinated veggies, as well as traditional breakfast items like cheesy scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage and potatoes. Then came green beans, salmon, chicken Marsala and a carving board with sirloin beef. The kids had a great time sampling new foods and old favorites. The best was yet to come--a groaning outdoor table with chocolate cake, carrot cake, coconut pie, chocolate chip muffins, banana bread and petit fours. The grownups enjoyed endless cups of delicious coffee. We were all stuffed but lingered and talked.
Just as much fun was watching all the kids in their Easter finery. Little girls in pastel frocks or navy sailor dresses scampered around the lawn. I spotted three small boys in matching powder blue quarter-zip sweaters. Our grandsons (and Reagan) were decked out in colorful Psycho Bunny polo shirts and Lena in a bright blue romper.
Next came a tour of the gardens. Huge beds of pansies and violas created splashes of bright color. Many types of blooming trees lined the paths. Gigantic peacocks created from plant materials serenely surveyed the lawns, while water features made pleasant background music. The tulips were about finished, with just a few brave ones surviving, but the azaleas were still colorful--I especially like the candy-striped ones. Winding paths took you around the garden to the areas with the best lake views. We saw families picnicking on the hill, while their kids chased around. Because I have been getting around with a cane due to a painful hip, Hannah rented a wheelchair for the occasion. The kids took turns pushing it. Noah rode on my lap at times--because he had tired from doing cartwheels across the lawn. Booker amused himself by teasing me until I threatened him with the cane. Last stop was the gift shop where Alison treated each of the kids to a souvenir.
The Arboretum is a real treasure here in Dallas. No matter what time of year you visit, there are different things to see. They are famous for their annual Pumpkin House and Twelve Days of Christmas displays. The 66-acre gardens were created by joining two estates that front White Rock Lake. The houses on those estates are still very much in use for special events. Spring and early summer bring a concert series on a hillside overlooking the lake. There is also a children's adventure garden with many interactive features. When my friend Claudia visited for Thanksgiving last year, Hannah took us to a Christmas tea which was delicious and lots of fun. Afterward, we toured the historic DeGolyer House with its huge display of Christmas creches and magnificently decorated trees.
All in all, it was a glorious day to spend with our family. Thanks to Hannah and Reagan for their generosity in making such a happy Easter memory for us.
I'm Chris Barabasz, retired from a 35-year career managing communications for health care development (that's fundraising for you civilians). I'm a wife, mother, grandmother and freelance writer. My husband Andy and I moved from Delaware to Texas to be closer to our daughters and three adorable grandchildren.