Saturday, September 14, 2019

Old photos - a sometimes blurry window on our world

When I was young we kept most of our photos in a big brown striped suitcase in our linen closet. We weren't big on photo albums as family, they existed for only certain occasions. Finding a photo meant digging through the big brown suitcase until you found the one you were looking for, plus twenty others you weren't. The brown suitcase went back East when my Mom moved to Connecticut, and after she died my sister in Portland became the keeper of the brown suitcase photos.

Along the way, I'm not sure how, but I came to have quite a few of the photos that technically belonged in the suitcase. I had a plan at one point to make an album for each of my four siblings of their family history, and I only got to my oldest brother Jim's project. That left me with lots of odds and ends of old family photos, going back to my Dad's family in Sweden. Lots of really amazing pictures of people who we're are related to, we just don't know exactly how. The women all have incredibly long wavy hair, so that might throw a wrench in the belief that they're blood relations. Other family photos contain well-dressed people at holiday parties, and other occasions, some quite mundane. People have come a long way, and unfortunately they are now traveling in yoga pants.

While my fashion sense has changed over the years too, my history of keeping photos organized can be summed up in two words. Hit and Miss. While I have several epic trips documented in amazing detail, and I'd created albums for the first seven years of our marriage, the remaining 21 years plus all the family photos I had went into photo boxes.

Photo boxes are a procrastinator's best friend, or enemy, depending on what you're focusing on. If hiding things away in a pleasant and stackable manner is the goal, they are great. If what you're looking for is your photos stored in a way you can find them, the more boxes you buy, the less likely you'll ever find that precious picture you're searching for.

Our photo organization, or lack of it, came to a head this past month. It's a whole other post I'm not ready to compose, but this summer while in Romania we received the news that my brother Jim was very ill. Upon our return, we were able to spend a few intense but very meaningful days with him before he passed away. With plans for a celebration of life in the works, my sister-in-law asked us for some photos of our family, with photos of young Jim in particular.

Out came the boxes and the photo shuffling started. Of course I couldn't find the ones I was looking for, who could in all those boxes of mixed-up photos? Old Swedish relatives, school photos, letters from my Grandma, get well cards, sympathy cards, camping trip after camping trip and way too many photos of the Pudgy Years, before we became plant-based. For every third photo there was a duplicate, even the really bad blurry ones.

I did my best to go through them all, and I found some family pictures I didn't even know I had. But to really do this right, we had to get rid of our couches. Yes, the couches had to go and here's why.

While sitting down one night contemplating life, I got the sense that our big green couch and love seat were not producing one spark of joy in me. We got them used, they were now even more used, they were too big for the room, they were losing their ability to properly hold up a human form in a comfortable manner and they were emanating the smell of Golden Retriever. Our friend Dan was over for dinner and without much thought I had Dan and Ernst move the couches to the garage. That weekend they went bye-bye via Craigslist.

What does this have to do with photos? Well, we moved the futon from the guest room into the living room as a temporary solution for the missing couches, and then grabbed the IKEA chairs from the tv room to add more seating. That made the rug look like it needed cleaning so it got one. Then the table in the corner looked out of place and bulky so we moved it to the tv room. All this furniture moving gave me a nice wide open space in the guest room to really tackle the photo project. Thank you big green couches, you really did serve us well until you didn't.

On a folding table in the guest room with no bed, I set out every single thing that contained photos or memories. This was the project I never got to when we Konmaried the house a few years ago. The amount didn't seem too daunting, then I remembered my husband must have some more to add. Yes he did, and at that point we had ourselves a photo-declutter-a-rama. Boxes and boxes, framed photos that had been packed away, lots of photo albums with those awful sticky backed pages with shiny plastic film, the ones that were so easy to overload with really bad blurry photos of people with their eyes closed and someone's finger halfway across the lens.

Why did we save so many of these photos? Because those were the days you paid for film, took photos hoping you got the right shot, so you took a few just in case and then you brought them to be developed and you paid for the prints - only to see closed eyes, blurry images and someone's finger halfway across the lens. We saved them because there were no do-overs. The moment had passed and all you had left was the really bad photo. So you put them in your sticky albums. And a funny thing happened. You forgave the photos for being of poor quality and you came to adore them. You didn't see the flaws, you saw the memory. And that's why it's so hard to part with these, they are old flawed friends and you can't just toss them away without a bit of guilt.

There was no way I was going to make chronological sense of any of these. This project isn't for passing down memories to generations to come, this is for us. It's so we can find that special photo when we need to. It's so we can toss the scenery photos and concentrate on the people pictures. I know what Half Dome looks like and I don't need a shot of it from 2004, but I do want that photo of our friends from Germany standing with the amazing granite peak in the background. OK, maybe we can toss the one where all four of them have their eyes closed, but that good one is a keeper!

Instead of by year, we separated them by categories. Places we've lived, friends from each place, dogs we've owned, kids we've known and loved, weddings (even the ones which ended in divorce because it's history) and many many trips. Lots and lots of people photos, and when you're looking at ten photos of a couple or family who mean a lot to you, it's easier to find a few good ones that flatter everyone if not most. If not, then we kept the blurry closed eyes photo. It's a reminder of simpler times.

While we aren't pared down as much as I would like to be, the mountain of photo boxes is now of a reasonable size. I know where all the photos of my brother Jim are, and that's very comforting. I have little tabs separating the categories of our life. The pictures of my childhood dogs are no longer barking up against that trip to Frankfurt, and New York photos aren't bobbing for space with trips to Apple Hill. It's not picture perfect, but I'm calling it almost there. Once we get the picture table down we can get the guest room back in order and bring in a new couch. I'll be sure to post some photos.

First these had to go.

And temporary items were borrowed from other rooms.

Which opened up this spot for a photo table.

Eeks, found more!

Things got delayed with a plumbing problem.

Had to take a photo of that.

The photo I was searching for that started this whole thing.
My brother Jim with his puppy Bantu and my puppy Holly.

Things got serious.

And I found more treasures.

It got a bit better.

Using the game table in the tv room was a home run.

Categories. We have categories.

Whittled down to this, plus some boxes of memories.
And a few albums.
Was it worth it?

When you rediscover that photo of your friend standing on the Twin Towers...

...and that trip to Windows on the World where I ate sushi for the first time?
Even some of the "Why Did I Save This?" photos were worth saving after all.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

I was in stitches, but it wasn't funny

That Friday started out so well. I did some volunteer work in the morning, stopped for groceries on the way home and was now preparing a salad for some guests that night. It was our first little pool party of the summer, a summer that came late for pool parties. The house was reasonably clean, the yard was reasonably in order and our young guests were reasonably excited about being the first to take a swim at our place in 2019.

Our guests were bringing the bulk of the meal, they are just that way and I've stopped fighting it. But I wanted to add a simple salad - canned garbanzo beans, halved cherry tomatoes, black olives, chopped parsley and some seasonings. Oh yes, we can't forget the diced red onion. The onion gives it that little bit of punch, that pop of flavor that says you cared enough to dice up something extra. A bit of red onion is perfect for that.

"Almost done here, just have to dice up this onion and the salad is done, hmm, this knife probably needs sharpening again, I just had it sharpened, we sure go through a lot of produce, oh well I'm just about finished..."

And just about then the knife slipped off the onion and right into the tip of my left index finger. The finger that according to instructional videos on how to safely and quickly dice an onion should have been bent in such a way that makes slicing it with the knife next to impossible. The same finger that still bore the slight scar a bit further down from another slip of the same knife from a few weeks before.

In my defense I would like to add that I process lots and lots of fresh produce with that combination of knife and fingers. Barrels of produce both bulky and thick, and heaps of herbs - fine and delicate. I still have all my fingers. For now.

After slicing into my finger I gasped and grabbed a semi-clean, semi-dirty dish towel. It's not like it was covered in chicken juice or anything, but later I did make a mental note to reach for a completely clean dish towel in the future event I cut myself again and there is blood.

After the shivers raced up my spine and into the far reaches of my head, I ran some water under my finger to see what was up. The skin opened up in such a way as to cue up the theme for Jaws, so I knew I had to get my husband involved at this point. I called him in, but was a bit afraid to take the clean/dirty towel off my finger. I decided to try rinsing it again. Jaws 2.

A decision had to be made. Head to the ER for stitches, a visit that would cost $500 in a copay? Or pay out of pocket to visit an Urgent Care not connected to our health plan, which by now seemed like not much of plan. I called the advice nurse and found out Sacramento has an Urgent Care again, located in the south area. My dirty-from-yard-work husband cleaned up my finger and wrapped it enough for me to drive to Urgent Care. He was way too dirty to think of coming, so I drove myself, finger sticking straight up the whole way. Index finger, which is better for driving in traffic.

I arrived and took a number like I was about to order ice cream or make a return at IKEA. I sat down. My knees went weak for a second. But then I began to convince myself maybe it wasn't that bad, "I bet they can just glue this old shark flap shut."

No-go on the super glue, it needed stiches and the most painful shot I've ever had ever ever ever - straight down the center of my finger from the tip. I usually like to look when I get a shot, but the MA said not to look, so I trusted him. I'd like to say I made no noises whatsoever while receiving this shot, but I tell the truth always, so I'll say maybe I groaned a few times. To distract me, the assistant asked what I was making when I cut my finger. Garbanzo salad with tomatoes and herbs. And some red onion. He asked if I was vegan. Why yes, I am plant-based. So was he, and that might have been the first Plant-based High Five (with my other hand) while receiving a shot on the other hand in the history of that particular Urgent Care. We talked recipes while the man with the shot sewed me up with three stitches. He said it was pretty deep. Um, yes, deep is a good word.

I got home with my finger wrapped up, still blissfully numb. We decided not to disappoint our little guests and went on with our little swim party and marshmallow toasting bonfire. I sat there with my finger sticking out like a sore thumb, a position it would stay in for many weeks to come.

First, I must comment on how amazing the human body is. It took longer than I thought, but now at almost eight weeks later I just feel the slightest numbness and loss of sensation on one bit of my finger. I'm sure it will continue to go away and I'll be fine, because it's already 99.998% better.

Second, the body is very adaptable. At first I couldn't do anything right with only nine fingers, I kept bumping it on everything within bumping distance, and all tasks were clumsy and slow. Then I got used to it and when I healed up I had to remind myself that I had 10 fingers. Slowly I got back to typing and crocheting and picking stuff up without wincing. And yes, very carefully, with added skill and technique, I chop onions like a Food Network Star, with less speed. No more slipped knives, no more stiches, just lots of shark-like precision.

Here is the progression of amazingness, our bodies really are amazing.

Ick. Ouch. Stupid onion.

Still ouch.

No yard work for me!

Can't wait to get the stitches out!

Stiches out, Steri strips on.
Ah, the relief.

Go finger go!

Almost there!

I love you non-dominate-hand index finger.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Cottage Creek Iris Farm?

People are often surprised when they step into our house for the first time and see our yard. It's on a street with other modest houses built in the late 1950's. Hardwood floors, one small bathroom, no insulation in the walls. People were made of tougher stuff back then, didn't spend hours in the bathroom and wore more sweaters it seems. They wanted small houses and big yards, a bit opposite of the trend of late with McMansions on postage stamp-sized lots. I don't understand the big house trend, but on many a hot summer day when our yard needs attention, I long for a stamp-sized yard.

That's because right here in the suburbs of Sacramento we have 1/3 of an acre of property. That's a lot of maintenance, even when we've been trying for five years to make it maintenance free. I've come to appreciate that only giant slabs of concrete are maintenance free. So we keep chipping away at our yard, section by section, mostly with wood chips, sweat and blistered hands. We have made progress, but there are still areas to be tackled.

The Redwood Grove 

Yes, we have a grove of redwoods. Well, actually just three really tall ones that freak me out when they sway in a big winter storm. Under them is a super cute nursery of baby redwoods. The little guys don't scare me when they wave in the wind, they aren't tall enough to bring the house down yet. We want to plant some ferns in the redwood grove, but it's not high on the list right now. Only the swaying redwoods are high.

Dudley's Fence Area

We have a cool neighbor named Dudley, and I'm convinced that everyone should have such a neighbor. He keeps his yard nice, he has a garden, he gives us plants and I just love to see my husband way out in the back chatting with Dudley over the fence. The fence is very old, and Ernst and Dudley are determined to keep it going because they are those kinds of people. Good old fences that require cooperation to keep up make for good neighbors. On our side of the fence we have a nectarine and fig tree, a sycamore that looks like a dragon, a few iris bulbs I planted last fall and a weed farm I didn't plant. It needs some attention and lots of wood chips.

The Mound of Dirt

The big mound of dirt came from when we put in the Basketball Court/Dance Floor. The big mound of dirt used to make me upset because you can't just have a big mound of dirt in your yard and just leave it there. But now I know you can. It eventually starts shrinking and growing clover and probably would look like we planned it if we just covered it with chips.

The Garbage Area

Ugh, what can you say about a garbage area? This is the place that no matter what we do with the rest of the yard - the pool area, a covered patio, a grassy area, the little orchard, Dudley's fence, the fernless redwoods, the vegetable garden, the dance floor/basketball court, and other random places that we make pretty for a party - no, no, no, some people end up eating their food, while standing, in our garbage area. I have seen male guests standing up eating using our recycle bin as a table. I'll never get it. I just walk over to the redwood grove and scream to the ferns that aren't there yet.

The Old Dog Kennel

Way in the back corner of our yard is a sad little area that used to be a dog kennel. The first owner put it in. Dogs should not be put in kennels as far from their people as possible. Neither should vegetable gardens, so I have wisely decided to keep ours closer to the house. This has left the kennel area to be quite neglected. It still has the weed barrier down that the previous owners installed when they thought it would be a good garden spot. They too learned that gardens should be closer to the house. The weed barrier is coming up in giant hunks, the weeds ignored the barrier. We keep our compost bins there, our wood and random branches that fall from the redwood trees.

But I'm going to turn things around for the old dog kennel. I love irises. They love me. They love this soil. You can ignore them. They're drought tolerant. You can dig them up and sell the rhizomes. I love them, or did I mention that? Did I also mention they are the lazy gardener's dream plant? And that you can SELL them? So when I dig up some of our iris bulbs this Fall to sell them, I'm also going to plant a bunch back in this sad corner of the yard, hopefully making it a happy profitable spot. The redwoods are so jealous.

Yellow Submarines
Touch of Green

Purple Periscope

Ice Cream Sherbet

Prom Dress

Future home of Cottage Creek Iris Farm!

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Jessica Bear in Yosemite!

Upper Falls
Lower Falls
Jessica Bear

It had been a very very long time since I'd been to Yosemite. We used to go all the time, when we camped with friends who were dedicated enough back in the day to get camping reservations there. It used to be really hard and involved waking up early exactly 3 months beforehand and calling the parks people and promising them a kidney or some other vital organ in exchange for a camping spot. To get a spot on the valley floor you practically had to come up with two kidneys. These friends were good at playing the Yosemite camping game, and we were happy beneficiaries of their diligence. Now you just go online and there are no kidney donations required. And yet we still don't go.

There have been occasions over the years that my husband has brought visiting guests down to see Yosemite, in one big long day trip. I've always had to work, or there wasn't room in the car for all of us, and hence a huge lapse in my visiting this most amazing place. I had tried to convince myself that maybe it wasn't that great, after all Lake Tahoe is pretty cool and who can look down their nose at the California coastline? Certainly not me. So Yosemite sat there, unvisited for years and years.

And then some friends visited, raved about seeing it all in winter and something clicked and I suddenly had to get back to Yosemite. My sister was coming for a visit, she loves Tahoe and the ocean, but I put a trip to see Half Dome on the Must See, Must See, I Really Must See List. The forecast changed about a dozen times, but I was still determined and we kept our options open for a day that had no clouds. Zero clouds, not a one, that's what I was looking for on my Weather Channel app and that came two Thursdays ago. Temperature was no factor for me, it was all about the clouds ma'am.

We hit a pleasantly brisk, absolutely cloudless day with very few people. In fact, there were so few people we nodded at those we had already seen and did the "We'll take your picture if you'll take ours" routine. With so many roads and trails still closed due to snow, it was amazing how uncrowded it was. Definitely a plus to not going in summer.

The park has been through it with all the storms this winter. My sister asked a ranger at Half Dome Village (formerly Curry Village) if there had been a microburst or something that had come through, we saw so many downed trees. No, he said, just so much snow and stormy conditions, many trees were down everywhere. The entrance from Merced looked like a beaver convention, trees felled in an unbelievable amount. They had crews working to get the park in shape for its spring opening season, which is April 1st.

What is it about Yosemite that makes it so awe inspiring? Half Dome is iconic of course, and El Capitan takes your breath away. But it occurred to me while there with so few people, and a chance to walk so much of the valley because other parts were closed, is that the valley itself is the most incredible part of Yosemite. Gigantic cliffs surrounding a huge flat expanse, the flatness in complete contrast to the soaring heights.

Yosemite Valley is like an EKG of a person's wildly beating heart. Then it flatlines, Then it starts up again at full speed. The valley is the flatline, and it makes the rock faces of El Capitan, Half Dome, Glacier Point and the other sheer granite mountains that much more impressive. I'm super glad we went and I certainly hope my Yosemite drought is over.

"And the skies were not cloudy all day."

Any road trip has to begin with a stop at Trader Joes!
Yippee, Half Dome didn't go anywhere!

All those cliffs make you dizzy.

Jessica Bear wants you to know she fell off this giant mound
of snow onto the dirty street and lived to 'tell the tail".
Hiking can be dangerous in winter.

No crowds, no clouds. 

Half Dome and El Capitan in one day.
What a bear!

Standing on flat ground.
Staring up at sheer granite.
It's what makes Yosemite such a special place.

Saturday, March 2, 2019

Grey Matters

A quick update on my decision to stop coloring my hair on November 9th, and the highlights I got in January to ease the process.

I regret it! It's horrible, I hate it and I wish I never did it.

The highlights that is, I wish I never did the highlights.

The decision to go grey? I'm so happy! Why didn't I do this years ago? I'm "only" grey around the front, mostly the sideburn area. And yet I've been dying my hair a very warm color for many years, only to discover that the hair coming out of my head isn't warm at all. I'm so excited for this new color that's coming in, it's like I'm going to the salon every week to get a new look, I don't know quite where it's all headed, and it's completely free. The highlights I got in January just delayed the whole process and I wish I could undo what I did. Getting my money back would be cool too, but oh well. Now I'm just out the money and the hair breakage that resulted. Sorry wallet, sorry hair.

My advice if you want to ditch the dye? Grow it out using all the tricks in the book for covering grey, for as long as you can stand it. Use hats, scarves, grey cover spray, strategic parting, berets, headbands and anything else that gets you thru the first two months. It's super amazing to find out what color your hair is. Are you silver? Grey? White? Salt and pepper? All of the above? 

Then make the decision if you want to try some highlights or lowlights or maybe some color fading if you've been using a very dark color. Find a colorist who supports you. As much as I would not want to be a blond, if I was going from super red or black hair to grey, I think going blond first would be way easier. This takes so long, I'm only four months in and I'm growing so impatient. 

A stylist at Ulta who was working the register said her clients who go grey say it's the worst year of their life. Really? I think the worst years of my life were the years my parents died and this past summer when I had my head surgery so I could wear my Baha hearing device. Going grey the worst year of my life? Bring it on, this is so fun!

After the highlights. 
Humor during this time is super important.

I've questioned my decision, for several seconds at a time.

I've played with filters to imagine the end results.
Can I color my eyes grey too?

Realized my 28th anniversary picture is going to be very different.

Made peace with my past.

I know I'll be the only grey haired one in many photos.
Yikes, look at that red hair!
If I can go thru getting a magnet put in my skull...

...and waiting for this to grow out,
I can do this!
A young friend of mine showed me an app on her phone called Show AI. It's designed for blind people to get a verbal readout of a photo or barcode. You can take a selfie and it tells you how old you look, what color your hair is and what mood you are displaying. It didn't see all my grey hairs under the brown, and it tagged me as more than a decade younger than I really am. I'm not using the app ever again, I'm going with this! 

45 (?) year old woman with brown hair (going grey) looking happy.
That about sums it up for this year.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

While there's still pepper in my salt

Hair, it grows on you!
When it comes to my hair, I'm neither a trend setter nor a stick-in-the-mud. While there have been moments when I chopped it all off and went from long to super short, typically I'm not too daring or out there, and definitely not a person to plunk down wads of cash to get a certain look. I've always thought the same about hair as I do nails, it's this dead stuff that comes out of our bodies, do I really want it to be the center of my universe?

Well, I can now admit that my hair has become the center of my universe. It's practically all I think about, Google about, Pinterest and YouTube about. And not just hair, but grey hair. Yes, I have decided to jump off the diving board of vanity and dive head first into the latest craze, going grey.

When I was 15 years old, a friend saw and yanked a half grey, half brown hair off my head. That wasn't the beginning of my ascent into a head full of grey, it was just a weird anomaly. I can't really say when I started to really notice the silver hairs peeking through the browns, probably in my mid-to-late-thirties? I started covering the nasty intruders with Natural Instincts, because it's perfectly instinctive to color up grey hair, isn't it? While it may be instinctive, it's not natural, and I was never good at all with the coloring process. Hair color on the walls, hair color on the floor, hair color on the toilet seat, it seemed the color went everywhere it wasn't supposed to. I'd have the best intentions of just covering the roots like the instructions recommend, but once I got that pair of cheap plastic gloves on my hands and the chemicals filled the bathroom, I would just say forget this and I'd empty all the contents all over my head. And the floor, and the walls and the toilet.

This has gone on for years, except for the times my friend and sometimes stylist, who is really good with color, would convince me to get my color done by someone who knows better than to get it all over the walls. This involved lots of time sitting in the salon, piles and piles of foil pieces, time under the dryer, more sitting, and after feeling like a drowned rat, emerging from the salon with lovely color. And a depleted budget. But what cute color!

Until it grew back.

And hair never grows faster than when you love the cut or you love the color. If you love both, don't blink because hair then goes into speed growing mode, and before you can say "Oh this color? It's just kissed by the sun" those grey roots start rearing their ugliness and ruining whatever social event you've got planned that involves showing your head.

So then comes the decision, do I go back and get more professionally done color, or do I slink into the aisle of the store and try to pick out the color that comes within hopefully ten shades of what my hair color was when I was five. Buy the box, hope it looks halfway OK, undo all the work done with foils by the expert, more drips on the floor, and walls and toilet. I probably went with the at-home process 95% of the time.

I had no intension of changing the status quo. In fact, when I picked out the color of my Baha hearing device that I wear attached my head, my choices were grey, blond, black, brown and reddish brown. I went with reddish brown, because that's my hair color, right? When I exchanged one of them for a smaller model, the audiologist chose black without asking me, and commented that black goes with everything. Little did I know how much I would appreciate her choice.

A few months ago a friend we had known in Tahoe posted on Instagram that she was "ditching the dye, going grey." I was shocked! Just like I was shocked that another friend from Tahoe had done the same thing the year before. My thought was, "More power to you sisters, but no way, not for me!"
I sort of put off the decision by saying "Maybe I'll go grey when I'm sixty."

After getting my hair colored at the salon in summer, and seeing how fast the grey came back, especially at my temples, and following it up with a bad box color that seemed to just look flat and blah, I started seriously rethinking my no-way-on-the-grey. I did one more box color which according to the receipt was November 9, 2018. About a month later I decided for sure to let my roots come in and see what happens.

What is happening is not what I expected. I assumed I was completely grey all over. I'm not, and the color of my roots in back is cracking me up. Dark brown, a color of hair I associate with my Mom as a young woman. Brunette, without a hint of warmth. It's totally neutral, and if it comes in like this I may have to rethink half of my wardrobe.

I had some highlights put in to help with the dreaded "line of demarcation." I sort of wish I had bitten the bullet and just gone without this step, but the lighter color is helping me get used to the bigger changes ahead. A friend of ours who is very daring with her tresses, whose hair may or may not have been pink just a few weeks ago, saw my hair and said she loved the "Ombre Look." I'm going to close my eyes and accept that as a compliment.

As much as I didn't want my hair to grow fast after a coloring, either from a box or the salon, it's the opposite now. I want my roots to grow, I want more grey, more natural color to see what I've been covering up all these years. If I believed it would help, I'd take hair growth supplements. But this is a time for good old fashioned patience, something I am in short supply of. If only I had as much patience as I have grey hair.

Summer convention, grey is peeking out!

Plunked down some money to get it colored right.
But it grew. Stupid roots, stop growing!

So I box colored it again. Cheaper, but blah.

The day I decided to ditch the dye.
Faded and dark auburn/brown, blond highlights, grey roots, dark roots
I can't wait to find out who I am.
To Pixie or Not to Pixie, That is the Question.

Feeling pretty good about the future.