Monday, February 26, 2007

The goldfinches are back in Portland

Last year around this time, I was gazing out at the back yard and I noticed a swarm of little, gold-colored birds fighting for space at the thistle feeder that hangs from a branch of the Japanese maple. "Hey," I said to David, "there are parakeets at the thistle feeder!"

So he came over, looked out at the birds, looked at me (with a faintly pitying glance) and replied, "Uh, no. Those are goldfinches, hon."

In my own defense, City Gurl that I am, I'd never seen goldfinches outside of books. The sad truth is, even if I'd been walking through a flock of goldfinches, I probably would have ignored them, or tried to shoo them away. In Life Before the MonSter, birds didn't make a blip on my radar screen (unless one of them pooped on my car, in which case my reaction was momentary annoyance and then indifference.

Sad, huh?

Now, the comings and going of the birds in our back yard is a constant joy - and very interesting, indeed. So the I was pretty excited when I noticed that the goldfinches (or maybe, at this point, lesser goldfinches) had returned to our back yard. At times, the flurry of activity around the sunflower chip feeders is dizzying; a few days ago, one of the house finches bonked himself against the dining room window (one assumes in a frenzy of sunflower-chip lust), making a loud THUD in the process. Ack.

The bird equivalent of the jungle-drums must be in full force, 'cause every tree in the back yard is filled with birds - perching, swooping over to the feeders and jockeying for one of the perches, and swooping back to the pear tree or the Japanese maple. It's not necessarily a graceful process, but it's endlessly fascinating.

Once again, I have to stop and thank the MonSter (a term for Multiple Sclerosis coined by my friend Cindy, a fellow sufferer) for forcing me to stop and pay attention to what's going on around me. There's a lot to watch and think about when the pace is slowed and attention focused on the here-and-now.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

The crocuses are up in the yard

Can spring be far behind?

Even better, it's a little before 6:00 pm and it's still light outside! Not bright sunshine, of course, but not darkness, either. I ask you - is there anything that can lift one's spirits more than the sure knowledge that spring is on its way?

In honor of the Coming of Spring, I stopped off and bought a few flats of flowers - primroses and pansies - and planted them in pots on the front porch. There was one valiant primrose, one with deep purple blooms, that survived snow and temperatures in the 20's, and is sporting a half dozen blooms right now. I added two more to the planter - one yellow and one pink-and-white - and I've got my virtual fingers crossed that we won't have another deep frost this year. Pansies and primroses - harbingers of spring.

If it doesn't rain tomorrow, I plan to scope out the back yard, to see what kind of clean-up is needed, and to check on the shoots coming up all over the place back there. We have dozens and dozens and dozens of daffodils; not only are the stems out and growing, but the tips are showing light yellow, which means we should have bright yellow blooms scattered all over the yard within a week.

I LOVE spring. It's by far my favorite season, made oh-so-much more sweet after a cold and snowy winter.

I'll get a few photos up in a couple of days, when David returns with our digital camera!

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Signs of spring abound

I went out to retrieve the Sunday Oregonian a little while ago, and spotted what used to be the quintessential hallmark of spring when I lived in Philadelphia - a robin redbreast. Winters were a lot more severe back east, so catching a glimpse of a robin was a really exhilerating event, one that heralded the end of boots and gloves and scarves and hats and heavy, wool jackets and the possibility that summer vacation really, truly would arrive.

Things are quite a bit different these days, for lots of reasons beyond the weather, but seeing that big, plump robin pecking away at the grass on our neighbor's front yard produced that same reaction in me -- "Wow! There are green shoots coming up all over the yard, and the buds on the rhododendron bushes seem bigger and fatter, and things are getting green everywhere I look. Yes!!"

A few days ago, I saw two, tiny buds on the fuchsia plant that's been hanging in the sun room for several months - another sign o'spring, for sure.

It's amazing, isn't it, how these tiny, seemingly inconsequential changes in one's environment, can make such a difference in one's attitude?

Or at least in this one's attitude!

Thursday, February 08, 2007

The thankless life of a housekeeper

As I was making coffee this morning, and admiring my (temporarily clean) kitchen, I realized that I've been given another Life Lesson and glimpse into my mother's thinking. She and I fought bitterly from the time I was in high school until I was in my mid-20's, and we never managed to craft a decent relationship. I did a lot of work around our relationship at an intense spiritual retreat about seven years ago, and was able to see and understand some of her behavior in a much less critical, and much more adult, light. But some of my memories about her still baffle me, and make me wish we'd been able to fashion a minimally close relationship while she was still functioning so I could have gotten to know her better as an adult.

Anyway, I noticed a few smudges on the white countertop tile, and began an internal fume about how HARD I'd worked to clean the damn thing yesterday and how NO ONE appreciated that work, and how David, damn him, didn't wipe up after himself, and, and, and ... and suddenly, I understood my mom in a way I never had before.

My mom was a fierce housekeeper. We used to joke that one could have open-heart surgery on her kitchen floor without any concern about infection. She had a hard-and-fast schedule for cleaning, and the only days where she wasn’t cleaning something in the house were Friday and Saturday. And she CLEANED. She didn't muck around with sponge mops, she got down on her hands and knees and SCRUBBED the kitchen and bathroom floors (hence the open-heart surgery joke).

Our home did look wonderfully neat and sparkly - as long as none of us did anything to mess it up. Of course, we did, which meant that she was almost always pissed off at one of us - at my dad for spilling pipe tobacco on the rug, or at me for being such a complete slob (I’ve matured into a somewhat neater person than I was back then), or at my sister for doing something equally horrific and inconsiderate.

Back then, I thought she was a raving maniac. But now that I'm home so much of the time, now that this house really is the center of my corporeal universe, and now that I'm hyper-aware of cat litter trailed on the floor by the cat box, or crumbs on the countertops, or how gross the bathroom sink gets after a couple of days, I finally understand how she must have felt. Because keeping that home sparkling clean was her JOB, a job she did magnificently, and most of the time, we didn't appreciate a thing she did. If we did appreciate her efforts, we rarely acknowledged them.

When David crafts a magnificent hardwood cutting board, everyone can see and appreciate his hard work. But when I spend several of the very precious hours when I have energy scrubbing the kitchen down, not only do things get dirty almost instantaneously, no one notices my efforts. That kind of ‘work’ is pretty much taken for granted. The work of a housekeeper isn't valued all that much in our society, is it?

No wonder she was so angry all the time. At least I’ve had a 30-plus-year long working career, the last years of which were interesting and fulfilling and (at least some of the time) fun. I sure wish I'd figured out all of this stuff before she disappeared into dementia so I could have apologized for being a self-absorbed, unappreciative teenager, acknowledged her hard, fierce, loving work, and thanked her for it. It’s too late now; she passed away on New Year’s Eve, 2003. But I’ll never discount what she did for us – ever again.

Thanks, Mom. (And I'll never have a house as sparkly clean as yours was. Not ever!)

Friday, February 02, 2007

An (almost) shameless pitch for a contribution

Truthfully, I am feeling kind of weird and uncomfortable doing this, but I'm hoping the three or four people who actually read my ramblings will understand my motivation.

The National MS Society holds a bunch of fundraising events every year, including the "MS Walk". Last year, they held the Walk in Portland on our first anniversary (and Buddha's birthday), so we decided to form a team and participate (I sat in my wheelchair, of course; otherwise, I'd still be walking somewhere on the Hawthorne Bridge). We called the team "The Lib*erators" and were joined by a wonderful group of family and friends -- and somehow I managed to end up the highest individual fundraiser in the state of Oregon. This was very cool on several levels, not the least of which is my still-active sense of competition, which will probably end a few days after my body ceases to function and I leave this life - not before. But best of all, we managed to raise over $5k (appropriate, I guess, since it's a 5k Walk) as our contribution to ongoing research into the cause -- and one hopes -- a cure for this lousy, stinking, bizarre disease called Multiple Sclerosis. And I type those descriptors on a day that's started out fairly well so far.

If you have a few extra bucks, and are able to earmark a little of it for a very, very worthy cause, please visit this link at Look for the heart at the top of the page, click on "Pledge/Sponsor a Participant and make a contribution either to me (Libbi Lepow) or to The Lib*erators. Either will work, and either will make a difference. Hell, just make a contribution to the MS Society if you can!

The MS Society not only funds research, it also provides incredible support to those of us with MS - from written materials to workshops to support groups. They have a kick-ass web site, something those of us who aren't as mobile as we once were really, really appreciate. I can't count the number of times I've gone to their web site to look something up, or to try and learn more about one of my more bizarre symptoms; I'm very grateful for that resource, believe me.

So, like I said, I do feel a wee bit sheepish asking for support, but know that the only thing I'll get out of this (aside from a morning spent with a team of amazing and beloved people, several hours outside in the pouring rain, and maybe another t-shirt) is the hope that maybe a few of the dollars we collect will be part of a major breakthrough in MS Research.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

My husband, the artisan

I think I posted something about how multi-talented David is (note I am NOT implying that he's good at multi-tasking). I'm not going to list all of his skills, for a few reasons: (1) I get depressed when I see how many things he does really well, 'cause my list is miniscule next to his and (2) it will take too long, and it's almost time for dinner.

Here's a quick look at his latest endeavor; he now designs and crafts hardwood cutting boards. These are gone now, given as gifts to friends and family during the holidays, but there are more being crafted at this moment (well, at least the glue is setting up on them).

Keep in mind, please, that he never made one of these things until early last December, some time between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

The woods in those boards are rock maple, African Padauk, black walnut and something I can't remember how. Birch, perhaps?

Sophie, the Beauty Queen

Sophie is a beautiful corgi who lives across the street with our neighbors Deb and Mark. She is definitely Mark's dog - she clearly adores him (and even though he'd probably pooh-pooh this, I'm pretty sure he adores her, too).

The day of the Big Snowstorm, I was outside clearing the snow off my car, when I heard her barking. I turned to look for her, and the next thing I saw was this adorable bundle of blonde-and-white fur bounding through the snow, across the street and into our driveway. She seemed to love it, even though a few more inches of the stuff would have buried her!

Our doorbell rang yesterday afternoon - it was Mark and Sophie, just back from the groomers, so I asked David to take a few photos of her in her lovely, pristine, just-shampoo'd state. These pix don't show it, but she was wearing a brightly colored, paper bandana around her neck, a gift from the dog grooming establishment.

I wanted to share these pix with anyone who reads this blog, 'cause I think she's just gorgeous.