Three Down…and None To Go…

DSC_0096 (1)

Three down and none to go. No…I’m not checking things off my to-do list. Nor my bucket list. Nor any other list for that matter. Instead, I’m coming to terms with the death of our third cat, Leo.

Pets have a way of worming into our hearts and becoming ingrained in the rhythm of our lives. And that rhythm changes when they leave us. It takes some getting used to. Leo came to us only five years ago, when he was thirteen years old, adopted from a friend who was moving out of state. In the five years since, we’ve lost our other two cats, while each of our four children has moved in and out (and in and out). Leo lived through it all. His passing leaves a hole. We’re on the brink of being empty-nesters and, for the first time in twenty-two years, we are pet-less. I have mixed emotions. Kittens are so darn cute and it’s tempting to fill the void. But we’ll forego another cat adoption for now. We need some pet-free living for a while.

When I brought Leo to the vet for the last time, I didn’t expect to feel sad. He’d been in a lot of pain and it had become a real chore to take care of (and clean up after) him everyday. After I buried him, I didn’t expect to miss him. I only expected giddy relief at not having to clean up puddles of cat urine any more. But I am sad. There’s an emptiness here. At eighteen years old, Leo suffered from dementia on top of arthritis and thyroid disease. Today, when I don’t see him sleeping in his favorite spot, my first thought is, where did he wander off to now! I still expect to hear him meowing at the bottom of the cellar stairs, asking to be carried back up. I woke up this morning with an odd feeling because I didn’t need to hurry downstairs to see how he fared overnight and to administer his morning meds. And something feels very wrong with leaving the cellar door closed all day. It’s been left open for twenty two years to allow the cats access to their food dishes and litter boxes. Change isn’t easy.

When we adopted Leo, we already had two cats, so one more didn’t seem like a big deal. At the time, Smokey was seventeen and on his last legs. Smokey

He barely survived another month after Leo joined the family.

Gir was only a few years old then. She came to us via our son who rescued her off the streets of the city he was living in. He then ended up moving back home with us for a while. My son moved out, but the cat stayed.  DSC_0608

She was a quirky little thing and we never really knew how old she was. Last August, she seemed “off”, but without running a bunch of expensive tests, the vet couldn’t find anything obviously wrong with her. We took a wait-and-see kind of approach. She went downhill in a matter of days and was gone in early September.

So now we are cat-less. Now, I can vacuum up the cat fur, rip up the cellar rug that smells of cat urine and odor-cleaner, dump the litter box for good, and close the cellar door. Now, I can go on vacation without worrying about who will take care of my cats. Now, I can slowly adjust the daily rhythm of my life and maybe miss them a little less each day.

Vermont Beer-cation . . . and a Chair!

 

IMG_0484 (1)Last year, my husband and I travelled to the Burlington, Vermont area for a week. You can read all about it in Biking, Birding, and Brews. This year, we went back to the same area again. I considered calling this entry “Second Annual Biking, Birding, and Brews”, but even though we did mount the bikes atop the Subaru again, we didn’t ride this time. And our birding adventures were carefully planned around beer delivery times. So, really, let’s call this four-night trip a thinly disguised beer run. I’m not complaining, mind you. (If I feel the need to say that, does it mean I actually am complaining? Hmm.) Anyway…I did get a chair out of the deal! Stay with me here…

We arrived in Burlington just before dinner on a Saturday and serendipitously (gotta love that word!) met our nephew and his girlfriend in our hotel parking lot. Their brewery tour van was delivering guests to our hotel before bringing them to their hotel. We made dinner plans for the Farm House Tap & Grill. Once there, I enjoyed a delicious piece of salmon while my husband savored Hill Farmstead’s “Edward” on tap.🙂 Our nephew described all the spots they’d visited on their brewery tour and recommended Zero Gravity Brewery. Of course, we dutifully checked it out the very next day…

Church Street in downtown Burlington is lined with small shops that range from chain IMG_0197stores to novelty, one-of-a-kind places. After our late dinner, most of them were closed. I remembered being disappointed by that fact last year, too. So, we peered into a few windows on Saturday night and vowed to come earlier on Sunday so that we could actually browse in the shops. Which we did.

In Ten Thousand Villages, I found a chair. I was first attracted by its colorful woven fabric which turned out to be recycled saris. But when I sat in it, I fell in love! I stand a whole five feet tall, so a chair small enough to allow my feet (not just my toes) to reach the floor is special. And the front edge of the seat curved downward rather than cutting into the back of my knees. A rare quality! The price seemed a bit high, but my husband suggested it would look great in my “meditation room”. The room he was referring to is my spare bedroom/ sewing room/ craft room that I also use for meditating. I’d painted the room “spring leaf” green several years ago — a bright green that makes me smile every time I see it. And my husband was right: the chair would be perfect in that room!

There was only one problem: the Subaru was full of beer coolers and bike tires and we needed room for our backpacks and suitcase, as well. There was no room for a chair. Could we make room? We weren’t so sure. Ten Thousand Villages has stores in other locations a lot closer to home, but even if one of those had a similar chair in stock, chances were the colors would be different. I really wanted this one. I think the clerks were as sad as I was when we left the store. But we had a few days to figure something out.

The cool, wet weather of Saturday and Sunday gave way to warmer sunshine for the beginning of the week. We scored several cases of Heady Topper

from Route 7 Liquors, the Beverage Warehouse in Winooski, City Market Onion River Co-op in Burlington, and even a local gas station. We also picked up some Lawson’s Super Session #2. The coolers were filling up. But the outlook for chair-purchasing was bleak.

We visited the Ethan Allen Homestead two days in a row for some early morning, pre-beer-delivery birdwatching. We heard more birds than we saw, but the trail was pleasant.

We did see the usual sparrows,DSC_0214 (1) red-winged blackbirds, woodpeckers, goldfinches, robins, nuthatches, and even a lone mallard floating in the swamp. DSC_0182 (1)We also spied the back end of a deer that was snacking on swamp grass and a colorful frog attempting to hide near the path. DSC_0243 (1) It was hard (for me) to leave all the wildlife behind to go stand in line for beer, but that was the deal. Meanwhile, I found myself brooding over the chair…

We spent a few hours one day hiking a 4.5 mile trail around Shelburne Farms. The trail started behind the farm’s street-front country store, and led us back over a hill to the farmhouses hidden from view, through the woods behind the farmhouses, and along a mowed path through the fields, stretching to the edge of Lake Champlain.

The views were breathtaking!

We met a few people along the way, but not many. We spied a few birds, sheep, donkeys, chickens, and goats, too. But mostly just the two of us walked through the expansive fields under the huge sky together. It almost took my mind completely off the chair.🙂

On Tuesday, we knew we’d be checking out of our hotel the next morning. It was our last chance to figure out if we could fit the chair in the car. Maybe we could squeeze the large suitcase on top of the bigger cooler, which was already full of beer. I was willing to move my passenger seat forward and upright. Heck, I’d carry stuff on my lap, too, if it meant we could maneuver a chair in behind me.

We drove into downtown Burlington one last time. I carry a small tape measure in my IMG_0486purse which comes in handy every once in a while. So, we measured the space we’d made in the car, parked a block away, fed the meter, and headed to the store. When I saw the chair again, I almost laughed. It looked so small! It had grown bigger in our minds as we tried to imagine stuffing it into our cooler-laden vehicle! A different clerk greeted us and asked if we were the ones that the whole staff had been talking about and were hoping would come back for the chair! We were. She invited us to drive up to the back door and actually try to fit it into the car. If it fit, then we could buy it! And guess what??? It fit!

On Wednesday morning, we packed up the car, carefully storing smaller bags under and around the chair. I was so thrilled to have my chair that I hardly minded spending most of the day in the car. First, we drove northeast to Hill Farmstead in Greensboro for the limited release of Damon (an imperial stout named after a dog). Then we drove several hours south to Treehouse Brewery in Monson, MA for some Alter Ego and Green. Finally, another couple of hours brought us home. And at the end of the day, my chair was home, too.🙂

DSC_0255

 

Loss

DSC_0155

In the past week, my life has been touched by two deaths. The first was a 93 year old woman who had lived a long, beautiful life, as attested to by her six children. The second was a 57 year old man whose body had been ravaged by cancer and whose children are the same ages as mine. We’ve all felt the loss of loved ones. If we’re lucky, we hold onto their smiles in photographs. If we’re blessed, we hold onto their smiles in our mind’s eye. These recent losses prompted this poem:

Your smile is a bird
perched on the porch railing
peering in my window —
our eyes meet
outside of time
and then it flies
perhaps to where
it most belongs
and I am left
standing
still.

February Fling: Part II…

DSC_0452 (1)

Did you catch February Fling: Part I? I escaped to sunny Florida to visit my Dad, leaving New England in its semi-wintery state and my home with its recently repaired furnace.

After spending a couple of days enjoying the wildlife of Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary and walking along the beach near Dad’s condo in Naples, I decided to visit the Naples Zoo. There, I took a short boat ride to their “Primate Islands”, caught the keepers feeding the alligators, and enjoyed watching others feed the giraffes. While the sun warmed me and the occasional bird sighting made it a pleasant trip, I came to the conclusion that I really don’t like zoos — too many caged, bored-looking animals. I’d say “sad animals”, too, but I don’t know if that’s true or if it’s just me projecting my own feelings on them. Anyway, here are a few shots from the zoo (click on any photo and view them as a slideshow):

After the zoo, I went back to the condo for lunch and a quick check-in with Dad. Then, I was off to Naples Botanical Garden.

A beautiful orchid display greeted me just inside the gates:

Walking the paved paths, surrounded by stunning flowers and foliage, I couldn’t help smiling to myself (and to anyone I passed).

In among their varied garden displays were awesomely intricate LEGO sculptures — an added bonus! Much better than the zoo, in my humble opinion.🙂

In addition to these outings, I managed to accompany Dad to a couple of medical appointments, go out to lunch with him, watch a movie with him, and walk down to the beach once, too. Then, it was time to fly back home.

Back  home, I dragged my suitcase in the front door and was immediately struck by how chilly I was. Must be because I just came home from Florida…I thought. But, no, the thermostat in the living room registered 59 degrees. No heat!

Luckily, the temperature outside was fairly mild, but the forecast for the next few days was for colder weather. I left my suitcase in the front hall and called the same heating company that “fixed” the furnace before I left. They were able to come by, proclaim the first thermocouple burned out, replace it with a heavy duty one, conclude that they couldn’t get the pilot to stay lit, and declare that I needed a new gas valve, if not a whole new furnace. Sigh!

The furnace is twenty six years old, after all. Maybe that would be the smarter choice. A new gas valve for my old furnace would take three to five business days to ship…so no heat for the weekend! A new furnace could be installed in a day or two. How convenient! I told them I’d discuss the options with my husband and give them a call.

As soon as they left, I got a few recommendations from a Townie Business Referral Facebook page and made a phone call. Don K., from a local heating company, showed up, rebuilt the pilot, got my furnace running again, conceded that we should replace the gas valve, offered to do it for less than the first company’s quote, and didn’t charge me for his help! Whew!

So, exhausted, but warm, I dragged my suitcase upstairs to my bedroom and left the unpacking for the next day.🙂

 

February Fling: Part I…

IMG_0321

My Dad winters in Florida. For several of the past years, my husband and I have trekked down from Boston, usually in March, to visit and enjoy the warmer weather. We planned no such trip for this year. Then, my neighbors, who recently bought a condo near my Dad’s, called. Were we planing a visit? We should get together in Naples, Florida. Well, you’d think we see enough of each other already, being neighbors here in New England. You’d be wrong. So, I booked a ticket for the end of February.

The day before I left, National Grid came to change the gas meter on our house. Evidently, this must be done every seven years. Why I said “yes” to scheduling anything the day before a trip is beyond me. To make a long story short, after it was done, the pilot on the furnace wouldn’t relight. I could’ve predicted it, since the thermocouple quits on us every few years, like clockwork. Anyway, that meant I had to get a heating guy here, in a hurry, to fix my furnace. All this while I’m trying to pack and leave instructions for what needed to be done in my absence. When I left for the airport the next morning, we had heat.

DSC_0394 (1)My Dad has been under the weather lately, to put it mildly, and has been pretty darned tired. Unlike the last time I visited, he wouldn’t be chauffeuring me around. Instead, he handed me his keys. I was on my own.

My favorite destination in Naples, Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, was my first solo outing (after a visit with my neighbors, of course). The swamp is an amazing place to birdwatch. I spied several kinds of woodpeckers and warblers, many waders, a few hawks, plus raccoons, alligators, and snakes. Most of my photos are useful for bird identification, but not necessarily for publishing. Here are some of the better shots (click on any one of the photos to view them enlarged as a slideshow):

Some of these creatures were familiar to me, like the ibis, egret, anhinga, cardinal, raccoon and alligator. I’ve even seen pileated woodpeckers before, from a distance. But it was a thrill to catch them relatively close by and watch when one suddenly trounced on top of the other! (I should mention, that while I watched the woodpecker fight, a raccoon waddled through the swamp, climbed up next to me and proceeded down the boardwalk. A bit too close for my comfort!) Black and white warblers and yellow-rumps were new to me. And I don’t think I’ve ever seen the paler version of a red-shouldered hawk before. Beautiful! I’ve definitely never seen a painted bunting before! I actually visited the swamp two days in a row, arriving at 7:30am on the second day, to catch more bird activity. And I thoroughly enjoyed myself!

Check out my trips to the Naples Zoo and Naples Botanical Garden (and the ongoing furnace saga) in Part II…

 

Thanks for visiting.🙂

 

Photo Project: Wrap-up…

At the end of January 2015, I began this Photo Project. Now, I end with a few last photos and a bit of wisdom garnered from the experiment. Check out my first Photo Project post here. Or you can click on the Kitchen Window tab at the top of this page and scroll…all…the…way…to…the…bottom.

In my previous post, snow had arrived after higher than normal temperatures for Christmas Day. December’s snow almost disappeared by the second week in January.

Pardon the general fuzziness of these first photos…I’d been experimenting with new filters that I got for Christmas and must have left the camera on Manual Focus. Oops!

Then the snow came again…

and began to fade…again.

It snowed a few days later…but that was outside the scope of this project.

What I Learned…

My goal in all of this was to grow in my understanding of photography and to learn more about my camera in particular.  And I did…(while learning a few things about myself along the way). For example, I discovered:

I could choose my subject more carefully next time.

The scene outside my window is peaceful. But that translated into boring when I was hoping for a measure of entertainment! The birds and other wildlife didn’t show up much. And facing northeast at sunrise misses a lot of light and color happening just a few degrees to the right. Oh, well!

There are a lot of settings on my camera!

I’m fairly certain that the settings I ended the project with are not the ones I started out using a year ago. I’d make setting adjustments for other photographic endeavors and then forget to adjust back. Or I’d forget what the previous setting even was! This was definitely not what you’d call a controlled experiment.🙂 I did learn a bit about the different “white balance” effects this way!

Remotely triggering the shutter is possible and easy.

The last time I “remotely” triggered a shutter, I was using a cable release. The shutter release button on my D3200 isn’t an open hole lined with threads to screw in a cable release. I didn’t know what to do. But I took the easy steps necessary to find a handy little remote device made for my camera and voila! (I should mention that when I first received the remote, I couldn’t get it to work. I complained to the seller and then poked around inside it, digging out a small piece of plastic that had slipped between the battery and the contacts, fixing the problem instantly.)

Change is not as gradual as I thought.

I expected to capture all the subtle changes of the seasons. What I found instead, were long weeks of sameness and then (Bam!) a frenzied week of change! The melting snow at the end of spring suggested a gradual change, but then I went on vacation for a week in May and came back to a fully greened landscape. The autumn colors seemed subtle at first, but then, within a week or two, they were blazing. And within a couple of rainy, windy days, all the leaves came down! The mild temperatures in the fall kept the grass fairly green…until it was all white with snow. In the past, I would’ve chalked up the sudden changes to my not really paying attention. Now, I know…all I have to do is blink!

A year is a long time…and a short time.

I found myself resenting the self-imposed mandate towards the end of the year. As a result, I got lazy. I’d “forget” to stop in the middle of getting breakfast or I’d decide that my sleep was more important and I’d stay in bed past 7:30am. But now, I can’t believe I did it for a whole year already! I won’t be starting another yearlong project anytime soon. I think shorter photographic experiments are in order this year. So, it’s a wrap!

And that about sums it up. Thanks for checking in.🙂