To the Desert

To the Desert
To the Desert

Friday, December 30, 2022

12-30-2022 Remembering December

It is 3AM and the words that I need to bring this year to a close in my journal of life are tumbling around in my mind, refusing to gather into reasonable order. It seems that I haven’t written anything since we returned in October from the Cross Country 2022 journey, but of course, that isn’t really true. I wrote and wrote and finally finished the stories and blogged our mid-October return on the last day of November. Just one month ago. “The Holidays” begin at the end of October with Halloween and race along in a jumble of family gatherings, cooking, and for me, a big part of the Holiday season is decorating.

We are ready for a wedding and Mattie is a witness

Happy Mom Happy Bride

This week between Christmas and New Year feels like I am caught in a space in time. I am ready to move forward toward the new year and yet not quite ready to take down the Christmas tree. The twinkling lights greeting me in the early mornings are so cheerful, and let me forget that it is very dark and very chilly and very wet in the outside world. For me, memories are reinforced by the photos I take and store and label and review. I recently wondered, as I lay awake in bed in the early morning hours trying to compose this post in my mind, if any of my memories of people from long ago are memories of them in actuality, or simply memories of the photos I took of them. It is the photo memories that come to mind when I think of some of the truly deeply loved people in my life who have passed.

We found a cute Christmas decoration for Mo’s workshop. 

My friend Maryruth always marvels at my memory of the dates and years when things happened. I know that isn’t any great memory ability, but simply that I am putting all those photos into chronological order and storing them in so many versions online and off that I hope will never lose them. Is it a way to stave off the loss of memory of old age? If I write enough and take enough photos, the memories won’t fade and the people and places I loved will always be alive. So I write, and I photograph, and sometimes I share the photos and the thoughts on a blog, or on Facebook. But the driving force for this blog has nothing to do with sharing, it has to do with my own ability to remember, and a fear of approaching the eighth decade of my life and facing my own mortality and that of others near to me who have left the planet or are in the process of leaving.

My friend Sandy surrounded by her sisters and Lorrie and Kathy from our long ago women’s group in Northern Idaho

A sweet friend from long ago is in the process of passing with grace and dignity. She is in hospice many hundreds of miles distant, and I will not see her before she goes. Her impact on my life, beginning in 1988, was life-altering in ways I never really understood. After an intense friendship, we grew apart by years and miles and changing life priorities and values. But her approaching death is always on my mind in the early mornings when I wake and can’t sleep.  I know that I need to write about October, November, and December before those memories fade into the past with so many others.

Can I do my simple process of beginning with “now” and going backward in time? It is the only way to corral the words and the experiences of the last two and a half months. Christmas was so special this year, and shared with just a few and yet incredibly precious.

Robert and Melody on Christmas Eve

My daughter Melody has been with Robert for seven years now, and their relationship is a sweet one, they are solid and best friends. Melody wasn’t sure Robert would ever want to marry, but she had come to accept the fact that it might never happen and was OK with it. They bought a home, and they traveled to Mexico, to Italy, to the desert to camp on the ground and search for rocks. Then a surprise. She told me they were going to marry before Christmas and could they say their vows at our home. So Christmas became a surprise preparation for a wedding ceremony, attended by me and by Mo and by my eldest daughter Deborah who lives close enough to be part of Christmas with us.

After the ceremony, a Happy Couple

It was a simple ceremony, quiet and lovely, with only the two of them in front of the fireplace saying their vows as we watched. Melody’s words were elegant and thoughtful and reflective of her deep personality. Robert’s words were simple and perfect; I had no clue that he took them from a song. Robert has a crazy sense of humor, and he chose the perfect words that also happened to be from a song from the ’80s that has been used for something called “rick-rolling”. I had no clue what that was, but Melody burst into laughter and said, “Have I been Rick-Rolled at my own wedding??”

“I am never going to give you up, never going to let you down, never going to leave you and desert you.”

What could be more perfect? I can’t explain rick-rolling but if you aren’t part of that generation X you can look it up on the internet and get a deeper sense of the humor of the moment.

The wedding cake surprise with the topper stolen from my Christmas Village

When Melody first told us, Mo said,” We need a wedding cake!” How to find a bakery willing to do a small cake just five days before Christmas? With some searching and some phone calls, one baker called to say she was booked until late January but could maybe fit in a small cake if it wasn’t too complex. Done. It was fun to surprise the kids with the cake after their vows. The champagne toasts all around were sweet and they did the traditional cake cutting and feeding each other. It was a perfect wedding and my mama’s heart is so deeply happy that this youngest daughter of mine has not only found love but companionship and friendship and someone who is truly her partner in life and living.

A view of a happy bride and some of the goodies before supper

Mattie patiently waiting for popcorn

After the ceremony, it wasn’t long before we were all settled into pajamas after eating our traditional Christmas Eve clam chowder and laughing together while we watched a sweet and silly Hallmark Christmas movie.

Deborah sound asleep on Christmas morning

With Melody and Robert in the guest room, Deborah decided to skip the offer of the MoHo for her nighttime privacy and chose to sleep on the sofa with quilts and a pillow in the light of the Christmas tree. It warms a mama’s heart to see a child sleeping on Christmas at home, even when that child is going to celebrate her 60th birthday before the end of January. Memories. Where oh where does it all go? The lament of almost anyone who has lived this long.

My precious daughter Deborah on Christmas morning

This morning, as I walk the quiet halls toward the living room and wait for the timer to turn on the Christmas tree lights I know that all that decorating that I do will need to be undone. I began a bit early this week, taking down a few of the outside lights, and putting away a few of the inside treasures. I started decorating right after Thanksgiving, taking my time and enjoying the process. I have enjoyed the lights and the treasures around me for more than a month now. There is one more day left in the year.

The Christmas ham went in the oven at 6am

Still, the memories are coming as I write. Christmas Day, with fabulous snack food created by Deborah to add to the yearly ham purchase that provides delight for the day and for many months to come from the frozen leftovers.

We all get excited when something fits

A Christmas puzzle on the table pushed aside the placemats so that we could all play with it. It was a fun way to spend the day, with another Christmas movie and taking time to watch a recording of the original Avatar movie for afternoon entertainment before we went back to the puzzle. Simple things. Simple Christmas. Simple sweet memories of family.

Maryruth and Gerald joined us in the afternoon to help with eating.  Deborah made a fancy crab dip in french bread that was a hit with the crab lovers in the group.

A phone call with the middle daughter and her husband who lives far away in the deep snowy country of Northern Washington. Phone time is punctuated with more sweet memories of our recent time together in October.

Great-Grandkids Theron, Tearany, and Orion

Videos of the great-grandkids shared by their mom, opening the annual Christmas jammies from Grandma Sue. My now 15-year-old great-grandson said specifically when I saw him last fall that he still wanted his Christmas jammies. He now wears men’s sizes. Memories, as I watch those videos of the kids opening presents, come of Christmas mornings decades in the past when I watched the delight of my own kids opening their presents. More words tumble around in my mind with memories as I try to write about December.

Kristin knows all the ins and outs of shopping at Trader Joes

Early in the month, I spent a sweet day with my friend Kristin, who offered to drive us to Medford for a girl shopping and lunch day. It was simply a little extra treat that she drove her new Tesla. No way to describe that car except when she hit the gas my head hit the headrest. I have no clue that an EV could have that kind of get up and go getting out of the way of oncoming traffic when needed. She let the car drive itself for a bit on the freeway.

Fast charging at Target in Medford

The car took a complete charge while we shopped at Target and has a driving distance of 400 miles between charges. The future is here no matter how we might resist.

Kristin’s bookcase is spectacular

On December 10th, the Grants Pass Book Club repeated a Christmas party at Kristin’s, and it is now a tradition. Eight of us laughed, ate great food, and exchanged wrapped books with only hints as to what might be inside showing on the wrapping paper.

A very challenging Dowdle puzzle

Mo and I fed our puzzle addition with three different Christmas puzzles throughout the month, enjoying almost every minute. Some puzzles are very frustrating, however, and we tore our hair out trying to get the blues to match up in this one.

The fudge is a favorite but the cranberry pinwheels are a close second

I started making cookies late in the month. Simple cookies with chocolate, cranberries, nuts, and peanut butter in various combinations. Of course, Fantasy Fudge is also a tradition that I celebrate. During Covid, it was almost impossible to find the special marshmallow crème ingredient that makes this fudge so creamy smooth, but this year it was everywhere, at double the price from years past. Yes, inflation is real, and I come home from the grocery store often in shock at some minor item that has actually doubled in price. On a happier note, this week with Christmas behind us, I was surprised to see many prices dropping back to something that might be considered reasonable. Oh please. Wouldn’t it be nice if inflation slowed a bit and let my federal pension and social security COLA raises keep up with all the extra costs of fuel and utilities and food? There go the words again, wandering around in my head as I try to write about December.

Maryruth and Gerald are great hosts

On December 22nd, my friend Maryruth had an appetizer party with a fabulous prosecco Christmas punch and 11 people from the neighborhood to share. It was a fun time, made more so for us because Maryruth also invited Connie and Jim, (Connie and Jim are book club friends who met Maryruth and Gerald at my home last summer). Mo and I aren’t particularly fond of parties with people we don’t know so the addition of mutual friends made the evening truly delightful.

The view from site A23 at Harris Beach State Park

Once again, as we seem to do every year in December, Mo and I traveled to the coast for three magnificent days at Harris Beach in the MoHo.  We snagged site A23, with a view of the ocean. In addition to beach walking time, we planned the trip to be sure that we could visit the magnificent Festival of Lights at Azalea park.  This year Maryruth and Gerald joined us in the coastal city, staying at the Beachside hotel with a perfect ocean view.  Their son Terry and his girlfriend drove north from California to spend time with Maryruth and enjoyed the show as well.

The lights were wonderful as always, with an addition this year of another million lights, bringing the total to more than 3 million lights lovingly strung by hundreds of volunteers.

The light show was great, but the best part of the trip was the incredible weather.  Mornings were close to freezing every day and the temperatures never rose above the mid-forties during the day but it was sunny!  No fog marred the morning views over the ocean, and by the time we walked the beach around 11 every day the skies were brilliant and there was no wind to interfere with our leisurely time on the beach with Mattie.

Mattie loves the beach

One of her favorite things is climbing the rocks to a high point.  I think I have at least half a dozen photos of Mattie over the years on this very same rock posing for my camera. 

Mo and I have another tradition with Maryruth and Gerald viewing the Christmas lights around Grants Pass topping it off with hot chocolate from Dutch Brothers. We live in the home city of the original Dutch Brothers which used to be a local Oregon thing, but somehow now is a huge company worth billions. Everything seems to be in billions and trillions these days.

The weather has been wet, with atmospheric rivers sending wild waves of wind and water over Oregon. Our light-viewing tradition was postponed until after Christmas and sadly the big wind event must have encouraged folks to take down some lights. We decided that we would be sure to see the town lights before Christmas next year. The local newspaper prints a map of the best houses for light viewing. I was thrilled when I saw a little red light marker at our house. We made the newspaper of houses not to miss when touring the lights. I did notice cars going by slowly now and then but not enough to be intrusive. After all, we are on a slightly remote almost but not quite in the country road. Still, it was satisfying to see that we made the map. Like the blog, I do the decorating for myself, but I still enjoy sharing it with other people. I would decorate if no one but me ever saw the house and I would write if no one but me read the blog.

Sunshine and green grass in late December

Mo and I shared one magic day of brilliant sunshine and blue skies as the month came to a close. The storm brought crazy winds to Oregon that wreaked havoc on so many areas of the state. Many people in the Grants Pass area lost power but we only had one tiny blink and somehow escaped that particular bit of difficulty. We did have a lot of flying debris from our ancient trees. The Douglas-fir is especially susceptible to dropping branches in high winds.

The lower pasture stays green until June

A few were several inches in diameter and we later realized that the banging noises that we heard at 3 am during the worst of the storm were those branches hitting our roof. When we woke again the next morning, the skies cleared, and we could see debris scattered around the property. In addition, the fabric shelter succumbed to the wind and Mo had to remove the winter cover to prepare for adding a new one.

We decided that it would be smart to let the oak leaves remain in areas of the gravel driveways to kill the annual grasses that sprout every year. I have learned that I can’t mulch gardens with our oak leaves. The first year we lived here I used them in the flower beds and it was three years before I could get anything to grow well. The leaves work great under trees or shrubs, but not in soil flower beds. Once we left a pile of leaves on some grass in the pasture and discovered it only takes a few days for that pile of leaves to kill the grass. Why not let those leaves kill the grass in the driveway and skip the evil weed killer?! I’ll let you know next spring how our plan worked out.

The Doug fir on the left and the ponderosa on the right are more than 150 years old.

While Mo worked on the fabric shed, I spent a few hours raking up leaves and debris and basking in the incredible sunlight and the Technicolor green of the winter grasses that love the rains. I treasured every minute of those more than ten thousand steps outside in deep winter. The news was filled with stories of the storms throughout the country. We escaped unscathed with the extra treat of one gorgeous sunny day between storms.

Now, hopefully, this crazy word salad of memories has been expelled, and I can close out December and get back to writing about October and November.

Wednesday, November 30, 2022

11-30-2022 Home in the Fall

The colors on our maple didn't turn until mid November this year

As you no doubt are aware, if you follow the blog, I am writing backward.  Well, maybe not writing backward but definitely going backward in time to last fall.  It is much easier to do that sentimental, stream-of-consciousness kind of writing that I did this morning when writing about December.  If I am in the mood, that is the kind of writing that I enjoy the most, when it just flows.  Now I must get down to the brass tacks of documenting the weeks between our return home in mid-October and the beginning of the December blog.

Even on cold foggy days in November, the leaves were still on the trees

Why is this so hard, I wonder? Maybe because after a long journey, the return home feels a bit like the same ole same old stuff.  Looking at the calendar, what stood out the most was the medical appointments.  My regular doctor for another shot in my locking trigger thumb, my annual visit with the Neuromuscular specialist for the IBM, the skin doctor, the dentist for an overdue cleaning, and joy of joys, repeated trips to Rite-Aid for various vaccinations.  A flu shot, another pneumonia shot after one ten years ago, a Covid booster, and the dreaded shingles shot.  Not a single bad reaction to a single one, even the shingles vax only gave us a tiny bit of a sore arm for a day.  Felt pretty lucky with that after some of the horror stories I had heard.
 
The trigger thumb doctor is great at the cortisone injections but said it was time for me to see the hand specialist and schedule surgery.  Oh, Joy.  Hopefully, I can get it done in between cruises.  I have two coming up this year.  Hard life, I know. The Neuro doctor is well acquainted with IBM and wonder of wonders is right here in Grants Pass.  IBM groups throughout the world spend a lot of time complaining about how even the best specialists don't know what they are doing more than half the time.  My guy is so cool and studied IBM specifically, so he knows to NOT prescribe any kinds of creepy steroids or auto-immune drugs and simply tracks my progress from year to year.  Good news.  Progress is very slow and on the IBM Functional Rating Scale of 0 to 40 with 40 being the best and 0 being basically completely incapacitated, I am now 30 out of 40, and last year I was 31.  So that means it is going slow and once again he said I probably wouldn't need a wheelchair until I am 100 or so.
 
The zinnias didn't freeze until the middle of November

When we got home, fall seemed a long-forgotten memory from driving through the northern part of the country that we only imagined.  The temperatures here in GP in mid-October were in the low 90's.  At least it cooled to the 50s at night, and the days were shorter so it didn't feel quite as bad as it can in summer, but it was still really hot.  We settled into being home, thrilled at what great condition the property was in with help from caretaker daughter Deborah, and friend Gerald who kept the sprinklers checked and running, made sure the salt was filled in the water unit, tried valiantly to damp down the activity of the many ground critters who love our lawns and gardens, and mowed and trimmed the grass. 
 
As you might remember, the MoHo overheating problem was never actually solved during the trip, and Mo said that once again as she drove over the passes, the temperature gauge heated up every time, even though she wasn't towing the baby car on that solo trip home from Portland. (Remember in that last blog post for October when I said Mo stayed in Portland with the MoHo while I drove home alone in the Baby Car?)
 
Mo and her brother did some work on the rig, with Dan making a new harness for the hydraulic jack motherboard which had come loose back in Illinois somewhere.  We spent the last part of the trip trying to get level with blocks and really missed our jacks.
 
The first couple of weeks after we got home, Mo spent a huge amount of time on the internet searching for the right parts and then even more time installing those parts.  Wonder of wonders once again, Mo to the rescue, and she figured out the overheating problem.  She finally decided that even though we had a new thermostat installed at the beginning of the trip, maybe it was faulty in some way so, after much hunting around, she ordered a new one.  When it came and she got the old one out, they didn't match!  Seems as though it was the wrong thermostat all along.  We made some test runs over the passes, and so far so good!  The rig hasn't overheated once since Mo finished that repair.
 
Mo also figured out that she needed to replace the solenoid for the unit that operates the hydraulic jacks.  Sure enough, after she did that the jacks worked fine, and have worked perfectly ever since.  I am so grateful that Mo is a darn good fix-it kind of person and usually can figure out what needs to be done.
 
Maryruth and Gerald entertained us for a lovely dinner in October when we returned home


I usually begin decorating for Fall on September 1st, no matter how hot it might be.  The summer flags go down and the fall flags go up.  Not this year.  With it already being mid-October when we got home I had my work cut out for me getting out all the Halloween decor in time for my evening hosting the Grants Pass Book Club.  I love fall and have learned that I can put up everything for fall and Halloween and only have to take down the 100 percent Halloween stuff to keep the rest up until time to decorate for Christmas.  Yes, you may have figured out by now I might be a little bit nuts when it comes to this stuff.
 

The book club evening was fun, and I served a big mess of nacho bar fixings to accompany the hot cider, topped off with a bit of caramel vodka for those who might choose to imbibe.  It was a fun evening, and when it was over, Halloween was upon us. 
 

Since we live on a rural road, I decided to go over to my friend Maryruth's home for the trick-or-treating festivities.  Their home is in one of those nice neighborhoods with sidewalks and level walking where people from all over town bring their kids for the evening.  It was great fun answering the door with Maryruth and seeing all the little kids in their costumes.  I have missed that part of Halloween living where we live in a more rural area.
 
Check out all the hot October sunshine pouring in the windows and the green leaves on the trees
 
I may have mentioned "Fall", but with temperatures in the 80s and all the leaves on the oaks still bright green, it was hard to realize that it actually was technically fall.  Most years by November 1 the leaves have turned and the colors in Grants Pass are postcard brilliant.  Not so this year.  But the weather played a nasty trip and overnight it went from the 80s and sun to the 50s and rain, but still no frost.
 
My zinnia bed bloomed fully until the morning of November 15th when a hard frost finally put those brilliant little flowers to rest and they were relegated to the compost pile.  Finally.  Still, the leaves didn't fall from the trees until early in December, so our fall raking chores were postponed until the weather turned really cold and really wet.  So much for raking this year.  The colors this fall were somewhat subdued, with only a bit of color finally showing up in early December.  I have photos to compare so I do know that it really was a poor year for color in Grants Pass.
 
Deborah with me in the sunshine at Schmidt Family Vineyard
 
Lovely place to be on a fall afternoon
 
Mo and I spent a lovely afternoon at our favorite local winery with Daughter Deborah. 
 
We also managed to complete two fall puzzles that were fun and challenging.  It seems that as soon as we finish a puzzle and put it away, I get antsy to bring out another one.  Puzzling is the one thing I can do that will take my mind off of all the other things I am supposed to be doing.  I get a bit obsessive, I guess, but it is such a soothing activity that takes my mind away from everything else.  I need that sometimes I guess. 
 
Thanksgiving this year was hosted by Daughter Melody and Robert at their home in Brownsville. 
 
 
Mo and I drove up early on TG morning with an invite to stay in their guest room.  Daughter Deborah drove with her son Matthew and our neighbor Karen (the elderly lady who lives across the street).  Karen is a bit forgetful and gets confused sometimes, but she really loved the trip and spending the day with our family. 
 
Neighbor Karen, Daughter Deborah, and Grandson Matthew at Melody and Robert’s home
 
Axel and Py doing what young people do, hanging out in the media room with their phones
 
We also enjoyed having the grands visiting for the day with Axel and their partner Py joining the family for the festivities. Grandson Xavier had to work, but I got to see one grandkid for the day so that was great.
 
Mattie was an honored guest as well
 
Somewhere during the middle of November, Mo said she thought it would be fun to spend the night at Seven Feathers on the way home from Melody's place.  The Casino and hotel are only 45 miles from home but on the I-5 route.  We checked into making a reservation and were a bit daunted to discover that the cost with the dog would be more than 200 bucks for the night. 
 
Why stay in a hotel when we have a MoHo only 45 miles away.  We decided instead to drive home from Brownsville, rest for a day, and then on Saturday, we drove the MoHo back to Seven Feathers for a great night at the RV Park associated with the casino.  RV people traveling I-5 through Southern Oregon are often familiar with this Casino and RV Park.  It is a wonderful park with a beautiful indoor pool and lovely grounds.
 
Seven Feathers RV Park is a very  nice park
 
For less than half of the cost of the hotel, we had a perfectly level spot on cement right near the pool, with full hookups.  In Canyonville, the sweet gum trees at the park had turned gorgeous colors of red and orange and even though the weather was wet, we enjoyed every minute of our stay.  Mo and I drove over to the Casino for a bit of entertainment, where the small amount of money we chose to donate provided us with some noisy colorful entertainment for an hour and a half or so.  We didn't care to spend the big bucks for the steak house restaurant, and the buffet is only mediocre, so eating our own meal in the MoHo was perfect.
 
Mattie enjoyed the walks around the beautiful grounds. 
 
Part of the draw of Seven Feathers for us is the pool.  Early Sunday morning we put on our suits and walked through the chill to the waiting heated pool.  Locked??  It seems that the pool closed that morning for some repairs and swimming was not to be part of our Seven Feathers stay on this trip. 
 
The drive home was a perfect test for the MoHo, with 4 passes between Canyonville and our home in Grants Pass.  Not once did the temperature gauge needle budge from its normal operating zone.  What a relief after all that trouble and worry on our long trip last summer.
 
Grandson Matthew is a great roof climber for putting up the lights
 
During the last days of November, it was time to take down all that orange and gold fall stuff and get started with Christmas.  The weather was warm enough for Matthew to get the lights up before the first of December.  It was good timing because after that week the weather turned foggy and icy and I wouldn't have wanted him climbing around on a slippery, icy roof.
 
By the last days of November the leaves finally started to falll
 
With the outside lights going up I was inspired to begin the inside decorating, beginning with the Christmas Village.  I have been doing this village for about 40 years now, adding more and more in the early years and cutting it down a bit in the last few years since we moved into Sunset House.  Sometimes I think maybe I don't need to do it, but after it is up I am always glad I made the effort.
 
 
 
In the midst of all the decorating and un-decorating, visiting, making Christmas cards, and reading books for the book club, I kept on writing and writing about the cross-country trip.  It was on November 30 that I wrote that very last blog post and I haven't had the mental energy to try to keep catching up on the back posts until these last couple of days.  Finally. 
 
Now, at last, I am all caught up.  It somehow seems an important thing for me to do on this last day of the year.  I can begin 2023 with a clean slate, all caught up and ready to go for the next year.