Water Torture

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I have a long-standing, deep-seated fear of water. My husband likes to joke that I’m afraid to take a bath. But my discomfort in the deep end of the pool, in lakes or oceans, has been with me since I was a child.

Like many kids, I spent most of my summer hours at the local public pool. Cavorting in the kiddie pool or splashing around in the three feet deep end once I was tall enough was fun. But I was terrified of making my way into the deep end. The feeling of not being able to touch bottom while my head was above water was unsettling.

My mom signed me up for swimming lessons for several summers, but I could never relax enough to do more than flail across the width of the pool in panic that I was going to run out of breath. In college, I took a swimming course and managed to pass. But the ease of gliding across the water never took hold.

Needless to say, natural bodies of water are even scarier. My idea of the ultimate horror movie is The Deep or The Abyss or any Jacques Cousteau special on PBS. It’s frightening enough just to worry about drowning; imagining what kinds of creatures are lurking below the surface of a lake or ocean is positively terrifying. Once while I was in a small motor boat with my family, the engine stalled not far from shore, and I had a near meltdown. Never mind that I could have walked to shore without getting my hair wet. On any boat trip, I am always the one with the bright orange life preserver around my neck while the rest of the passengers loll in their swimsuits, unafraid.

Lately my fear of water has expanded to include heavy rainfall. What I’m afraid of in particular is possible flooding and the thought of my car descending into what looks like a puddle, but is actually more of a lake. Recent trips in heavy rainstorms have been white knuckle driving affairs for me.

Deep water has even been a feature of my childhood nightmares. In one recurring dream, I am swimming underwater searching for something but never finding it. In another, I am poised on a balcony above a pool and forced to jump. That dream played into my other big fear: heights!

Water is supposed to be a source of peace, a reminder of the womb, and a symbol of life. I do enjoy the sounds of a gentle waterfall or gurgling fountain. The view of waves crashing onto a beach or the placidity of a lake are calming. Just don’t ask me to venture into any of those bodies of water. A landlubber is what I will always be.

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One Man’s Weeds

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The dandelions are popping up all over a field near my house as spring finally makes an appearance here in the Midwest. On the less tended lawns of my neighborhood, the profusion of cheerful yellow gladdens me.

Why are dandelions considered weeds, plants that need to be eradicated with toxic chemicals? They look so lovely, at least until they go to seed. Even then, the fuzzy grey tops are fun to blow on and scatter.  And you can even make wine out of dandelions!

Walking around our yard with an expert in horticulture, my husband and I will point to plants and ask, “Is that a weed?” I sometimes feel that if you have to ask, maybe you should just leave it be.

As in other areas of culture, deciding what makes a beautiful or desirable plant is sometimes in the eye of the beholder. For instance, we have a Japanese maple in our front yard that my hubby despises. But one would hardly call it a weed. I realize that some plants take over and kill grass or other plants. So I understand why you might want to get rid of such weeds. And truth be told, the foliage of the lowly dandelion is nothing to write home about.

Still, after a long hard winter, I am ready to welcome just about any growing thing around my yard and my neighborhood. Even the cheeky dandelions.

Snow Shower

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IMG_3163This past Saturday I hosted a baby shower for my godson and his wife, who are expecting their first child in February. About 30 well wishers were to descend on my home, all of them bearing gifts for the lucky couple and some of them bearing food and decorations for the party.

The forecast the day before had called for snow in the wee hours of the morning. Although I was annoyed at the early season snow, which didn’t have the good grace to wait until after Thanksgiving, I figured an inch or two falling overnight would be an easy obstacle to take care of before the festivities began.

The snow front, however, meandered a bit more slowly than meteorologists had predicted. When I awoke around 8 am Saturday morning, snow was gently falling. There wasn’t much on the ground yet, but I was worried. My main worry was for travelers coming from significant distances to make it to the shower. I had hoped they would have smooth sailing on their way. I also wondered how I would manage 30 people tramping into the house in their snowy boots. I put down some floor mats and hoped for the best.

My nephew’s aunt and cousins from their other side were the first to arrive. They seemed unfazed as they bustled around the kitchen setting up pots of delicious food. Then my nephew (brother of the dad-to-be) showed up with his girlfriend, who set about adorning the house with “baby chic” decorations. Before long, guests began to arrive and the house took on that delightful chaos only a happy occasion can bring.

Throughout the party, numerous guests commented on how lovely the snow looked from my kitchen and family room windows. I had to admit it was a pretty backdrop, much more lovely than the bare trees and brittle grass that had been in evidence the day before.

The shower was a big success. Everyone was well fed, and the “Baby Bellinis” flowed. Guests got to write words of advice for the happy parents-to-be and to print messages on paper diapers. My favorites were: “This too shall pass” and “Fill it up!” We all enjoyed coffee and buttercream cake while oohing and aahing over the adorable onesies and other tiny baby clothes. And not one person was prevented from coming by the unseasonal weather.

The vicissitudes of life will sometimes throw us for a loop. They can also shower us with unexpected blessings. That’s a great lesson for that baby on the way – and for all of us.

Summer’s Lease Up

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Labor Day is a bittersweet holiday. The day is meant to celebrate working men and women all over America and, for most, to provide a day of rest and relaxation. But it also marks the symbolic end of summer. Kids not already in school will go back tomorrow. Morning commuters will once again have to share the crowded roads with back-to-schoolers. And summer vacations are over for families.

It’s still hot outside, of course. Today on my walk, I saw people out on their front porches enjoying the relative cool of early morning. Later on, the neighborhoods will be filled with the sounds of kids playing and the smells of burgers cooking on outdoor grills. A last hurrah of summer.

Soon in my part of the world, the evening air will have a slight chill in it. Then the trees will deck themselves out in glorious colors for one last celebration before the cold winter sets in. Before we know it, we will be huddled inside by the fireplace eating leftover Halloween candy and feeling wistful about our always too brief summer.

I’m not complaining, exactly. I do love the change of seasons in the Midwest – the way nature marks the passing of time. I did miss it when I lived on the West Coast. But I will also miss the free and easy feeling of summertime: sandals on my feet, an easy summer dress, an ice cream cone, and a fun, frivolous book to read.

Farewell, summer. See you next year.

Birdland

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There are birds nesting all over my front porch. They seem to like the ledges under the porch roof for building their homes of twigs and other plant matter. And while I complain that the nests themselves are unsightly, it’s so much fun to peek out the window and see baby robins lifting their little heads up looking for mama bird.

Today my world is a bevy of bird activity. I hear bird calls of all kinds, some sweet and lilting like a song from Snow White, others like miniature drills rat-a-tatting away. And there is a group of brown birds with soft red heads flitting back and forth from the rooftop to one of the nests on the porch. It looks as though the young ones are having flying lessons.

Birds seem like nervous creatures, always jerking their heads here and there, looking out for predators, no doubt, such as the giant hawk that soared over the house earlier today. Yet they themselves are predators, hopping across lawns searching for worms and grubs to feed themselves and their hungry young.

In the quiet of the morning, it’s peaceful to hear the birdsong and think of the busy avian life going on in our trees and on our front porch. I’ve always wondered what the nightingale sounds like, trilling away in the dark while other wildlife sleeps. On the famous Beatles’ song “Blackbird,” you can hear the melodic lilt of a real blackbird  singing.

In years to come when I have more time on my hands, I plan to take up bird watching. I’ll buy binoculars and maybe even one of those jaunty hats to wear out in the forest. Perhaps I’ll join a birding club so that I can learn more about the fascinating world of birds.

All in good time. First I need to have an empty nest of my own.

Animals

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President Trump has once again revealed his true self. Speaking at a White House meeting on his attempts to rid America of undocumented immigrants, he said, “These aren’t people, these are animals.” (New York Times, May 16, 2018)

He was referring to notorious members of a gang called MS-13 who, according to Trump, are crossing the border in droves to rape and murder Americans. The problem with this reasoning is that MS-13 is a home grown gang that started in the largely Hispanic underclass neighborhoods of Los Angeles. According to PolitiFact, it is difficult to determine how many undocumented youth in MS-13 were gang members before they arrived in the U.S. and how many were recruited once here. (“Immigration, MS-13 and crime: the facts behind Donald Trump’s exaggerations,” Miriam Valverde, politifact.com, Feb. 7, 2018)

Highlighting the heinous acts of a Latino street gang is just another of the Trump Administration’s attempts to vilify non-white immigrants and build a case for his precious wall. Trump has consistently called non-whites criminals, rapists, and animals, and he has vilified their countries of origin as “shitholes.” How this transparent racism is allowed to stand is a mystery to me.

Trump’s latest remarks have concerned many people who recall that Hitler used the same term to refer to Jews before his successful campaign to exterminate millions of them. I think the rhetoric of this administration deserves universal condemnation from our leaders.

But let’s think for a moment about animals, forgetting for the sake of argument that all humans are considered animals. Animals are predominantly creatures of instinct. They spend their lives in a difficult environment just trying to survive. Some eat only plants, others just meat, and many are omnivores. Although there is some evidence that our close relatives the chimpanzees perpetrate wanton violence, most animals only kill in order to live or protect themselves and their young.

The scariness of the fictional Cujo notwithstanding, animals do not lurk in the shadows waiting to do harm. They can’t lie, cheat, or steal. They aren’t bullies or con artists. Their intentions are much more pure than that of even our own beloved children. (Just ask any pet owner.)

I really don’t think Donald Trump should be calling people animals. It’s an insult to animals.

Spring Has Sprung

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The birds are back! This morning I awoke to the merry sounds of chirping outside my bedroom window. Outside the kitchen window, robins were industriously searching for insects. In fact, I’ve been seeing robins everywhere. Those harbingers of spring have come out in full force as if to say, “It’s finally here!”

In front and back yards all over town, magnolias and daffodils are blossoming. I’m seeing the ubiquitous yard maintenance trucks on the village streets and hearing the sounds of mowers and blowers as gardens get back in shape. And that elusive star, the Sun, is making ever more frequent appearances.

It has been a long time coming. Just the other day, my brother-in-law from Minnesota was showing me a picture of his snow-covered yard and bemoaning the fact that he hasn’t been able to remove the thousands of Christmas lights from his trees. Meteorologists are saying that the widespread snow cover over portions of the Midwest may mean a cool spring and early summer.

My husband and I have spent the last two months huddled under blankets and wearing a full complement of winter gear as we’ve watched our daughter’s high school soccer team play at windy, cold stadiums across suburban Chicago. I’ve never been to a Chicago Bears game, but I feel as if I now know what it’s like to weather a late winter game at Soldier Field.

But the change in the weather and the signs of spring make me hopeful. I’ve resumed my walks outside with a spring in my step. I’m getting the sprinklers ready for spring planting and the air conditioner ready for warmer temps. With any luck, I will be able to sit out at a high school soccer game in my shirtsleeves.

Spring has truly sprung, and I plan to make the most of it.