Friday, May 31, 2024

Some metaphors write themselves

We have had a crow saga happening at our house.

Early last week there was a big wind storm in our area, and we think it knocked a crow's nest from one of the trees out front. Not sure. All I know is I was the only person home one afternoon, and I discovered a crow sitting on our front steps. I was concerned it was hurt or injured. It didn't look quite right. 

Turned out it was just young. Young enough that its eyes were still rather blue, and its tail and wings were mostly pin feathers.

I left a message with the local humane society. I put out a dish of water on the steps. I called a neighbor across the street who loves animals to see if she could keep an eye on it while I was at work for a bit, and she promised to help keep it safe.

I got a call back the next day from the humane society. We talked about how the wind storm had displaced many small animals. We talked about West Nile Virus, and I told them how last summer we brought a crow in that wasn't doing well near my store. My middle daughter is good with birds and scooped that crow up in a sheet and held it as we drove to the animal rescue. She said it was startling how little it weighed. That bird died of West Nile.

They told me as long as the parents overhead were making a racket, to just give the young crow some space. If the parents stopped caring, then we should bring it in.

The bird managed to hop to the side of the house, along our fence, and eventually up the back steps where it settled in near the gate. I discovered it there when I parked my car after work, and I went around the other side and propped the gate open. I figured it might be safer in our yard than in the alley.

The baby crow eventually hopped onto our deck. The parents made an angry fuss every time we leaned too close to our windows to watch it. We put out water and nuts. We watched it hop to different spots on the deck. I told the same neighbor where it was and asked if she could maybe peek inside the fence once in a while since we were leaving the next morning for our cottage in Michigan. She said of course.

But the next morning we found it dead just under the deck. There were signs of a scuffle in the overgrown grass. There were black feathers scattered about near the stairs. I told the neighbor there was no longer anything to check. The parents were no longer shouting at us when we stepped into the yard.

While walking the dog before hitting the road, I discovered a second young crow dead in the front garden. It was mostly hidden by weeds. I don't know how long it was there, but by the time we returned after our Memorial Day weekend trip, the bodies of both young crows were gone. Nature can be cruel, but efficient.

Then a couple of days ago, there was a third baby crow on the front porch. This one was simply sitting on a maple log next to our swing. We think maybe having spent the night under the porch light might have helped keep it safe.

It eventually hopped slowly down the front steps, along the side yard, and ended up by the gate just like the first crow. We propped the gate and let it in. It hung out on the chairs on the deck. It explored the table. It practiced taking small "flights" from the seat of a chair to the back of it. For a little while it looked like it was trying to fly up the garage wall and perch on the paintings of plants there. 

At one point late in the day, it made a valiant attempt to fly from the back of a chair to the deck railing about three feet away. It sort of made it, but then overshot the railing enough to land in the side garden below. It hopped about, then climbed the stairs and settled into one of the chairs again.

My oldest daughter decided to put all the backyard lights on, and sleep on the couch in the family room to keep an eye on the small crow. We didn't want anything bad to happen to this last baby.

Yesterday evening I watched it fly all the way from the deck railing across the yard about 15 feet to the fence. Before we went to bed we couldn't find it anymore, although the parents still made a lot of noise if we opened the back door.

This morning, the crows were noisy. As I walked the dog, I finally spotted the baby crow at the top of a mangled looking apple tree we have next to our fence. It was looking as wobbly and goofy as it had practicing how to move on our deck, but now it was in a tree. A second pair of crows appeared, and cawed up a storm along with the first pair seeming to encourage me and my dog to move along. 

We haven't seen any of the crows since, which I think is a good sign. I think that baby made it.

Three little birds leaving the nest. High stakes.

My three little birds are home for the summer and they are fine, but I feel sometimes like I'm hovering around them like the crow parents (although I hope less loudly). The crow parents were observant, but they never actually swooped all the way down to their babies. They watched. They made their presence known. They cared. I care.

My first high school friend to have a baby asked my dad once when the nightmares about something happening to the baby finally stop, and he said, "They don't."

I'm excited for my kids as they head into the world. I see the one at college addressing challenges and I'm proud of her. I see the one taking a different path taking steps forward and back and I know she will figure things out. The youngest is looking at colleges but with no particular major in mind. It will be fascinating to see where she ends up.

I love them all more than my heart can take sometimes. They all have wobbly and goofy moments.

And with luck our nest won't blow down and they can always find a home here. 

Watching those little crows in our yard and seeing their anxious parents circling above was hard. But that last baby making it to the top of the apple tree, and I'm assuming finally flying off into the world, has left me with great hope. For birds both near and far.

Tuesday, April 30, 2024

Eclipse 2024

The best part for me about writing this blog is having some sort of record of things our family did, and how I felt at the time. For this month's post I decided to write about the eclipse, which sent me back into my archives to read about the last one we went to see seven years ago. We missed the totality, but had a great road trip, and we discussed the possibility of getting together again to see the next solar eclipse way off in the future in the year 2024.

We could barely imagine that day when Quinn would be 17 instead of 10. We didn't have any idea where Aden or Mona might be. We hoped to stay with my Uncle John and Aunt Charlotte in Ohio, but who knew what life would be like in seven years?

Eclipse 2017
Eclipse 2024
As it turns out, life is good in 2024! And everything about this eclipse trip was better. Ian is retired from the Army, so was able to join us this time, even though he had to follow a day behind us in a second car so he could still make an event in The Dells. Aden flew in from college. John and Charlotte moved to a new house in town that was set up with visitors like us in mind. My mom was able to join us, too, along with a pair of Charlotte's friends and their adorable dog Kirby, who became fast friends with Domino. They had a good time at the dog park together.

I was able to get some scroll carving done at the kitchen counter, and a friend of mine (and his sister) were even able to drive out and meet us the day before the eclipse to pick up (for delivery in Washington DC) the violins I will have on display in the upcoming Celebrating Women Luthiers exhibit.
We were treated to wonderful food in my uncle and aunt's home. Their house has a nice little courtyard, and we had perfect viewing in their back yard. The weather was beautiful. We saw cousins and played games and had a great time. So as just a family trip the whole event was a big success.

The remarkable thing about the eclipse itself, is that it really is something you have to experience. Photos and videos are interesting, and people can try and describe it, but none of it matches what it actually felt like.

It was brighter for longer than I expected. Even when more than half of the sun was covered, there wasn't any perceivable change in the light. If you couldn't see it with the special glasses, you wouldn't know it was happening. Then in the last couple of minutes the light got very strange. It was like evening light in terms of brightness, but the shadows were all wrong. Evening light comes with long shadows, and these shadows were all short. It reminded me of old movies where they wanted it to look like nighttime, but they had to film in the day and use some sort of filter. That doesn't look like real night, and this didn't either.

We felt the temperature drop. I think the birds got quiet, but I don't remember for sure. I know they seemed noisy when it was over. We saw a planet or a star appear. The street lights came on. We could look straight up at the sun, and when we put our glasses back on we could see a small red dot peeking out past one edge of the moon.

Aden pointed out during totality that it was like sunset on every part of the horizon. That was wild. We all spun around and took in how weird that was. And when totality passed, Ian directed us toward the shadow moving along its path like a storm going through without any real clouds. That was fascinating.

We listened to the neighborhood cheer. We marveled at how fast four minutes can go. The eclipse was like nothing else I've ever witnessed. We're already planning to gather for the next one in twenty years.

I had a rehearsal the following evening, so I got up early to make it back to Milwaukee in time. Mona and I went together, with the thought being Ian and Quinn could take their time and give Domino another chance to play at the dog park. But it turned out without me there, she didn't want to be there, so they all headed home. Mona and I joked during a couple of traffic jams that maybe the other car would beat us, but then they did. By a good half hour or more! But Mona and I did stop in Lima Ohio to capture this very special sign, with probably the worst kerning we've ever seen, so it all balanced out.

So there are natural wonders, and things that just make you wonder. (And laugh.)

The eclipse reminded me of how few things we appreciate in a specific place and time nowadays. We're used to seeing most things on our own schedules, and finding ways to visit people and places remotely. Watching the moon pass in front of the sun from the vantage point of my own speck of a body in the midst of our solar system was exciting and humbling and beautiful. I hope I'm around to do it again with people I love next time it happens.

Sunday, March 31, 2024

A Family That Plays Together, Minecraft Edition

As my kids have gotten older, adjusting to being a family that doesn't all live in the same house has been interesting.

On one level, it's not that hard because we've always been a collection of introverts who like each other's company. Which means we're all very happy to each do our own thing at the same table or in adjoining rooms. So if Aden is hanging out with us over speaker phone on Discord while we're doing other stuff, it kind of feels like she's still here and not so far away at college. Mona doesn't live here anymore, but is close by and has a car, so she pops over to say hi on her way to or from Target. Sometimes she'll stay to watch part of show with us, or help with a chore or two. There are days I see her more than I see Quinn who actually lives here.

One of the things that's nice when we're all together is to occasionally play games. I've written in the past about playing Settlers of Catan, but we also love Concept, Code Names, Cribbage, and when we're at the cottage, the family card game of Spite and Malice.

Quinn and I pair up regularly to play Boggle. We've amassed quite a list of words we know are playable, but struggle to remember what they mean. The ones we do remember we try to find ways to use, but it's difficult. (Some of the words on this list are RET, LAT, UTS, ETAS, COE, HIE, WEN, VUE, EFT, and HOB.) We have a lot of discussions about pluralizing things as they are "said by people in another room." Like, AHS, as in "We heard the Oohs and Ahs from the people in the other room." We've had many a laugh-filled argument about whether we stretching the concept too far, and we wonder periodically about those people in the other room. (I picture them just out of sight behind a ballroom door at a hotel.)

The funniest part about looking up words to see if they are allowed in Scrabble is there are some sites that think nearly everything is a word, some that exclude North America from using them, and one site that usually adds a line about how "This is no one's favorite word" which seems unnecessarily rude. Sometimes the Urban Dictionary pops up in our searches, and my all time favorite description of any word was for MER, which they claimed could be used in situations that were either awkward or not (which would be all situations?) and that when used in an awkward situation would not help. So now when there is an awkward pause I'll say, "Mer!" and then we'll agree it indeed did not help.

We also really enjoy family games like Jackbox, which involves interacting online, so we can include people in different places. (Our favorite Jackbox games are Quiplash and Split The Room.) Jackbox is online, but it's not a video game. My kids do enjoy certain video games, but that's never been a family activity. It's something the siblings do together.

But for many years now, like many people's children, my kids have been playing Minecraft. So much Minecraft. And there must be parents who play it too, but if so they haven't bragged about it to me. So Minecraft has not been a family game, just a thing for the kids.

However, Aden has been trying for years to convince her dad to try it. She thought he'd enjoy playing Minecraft, and got him to help build her her own server. Ian has his own projects, and thought it seemed like a chore for him to have to learn to navigate the Minecraft world, so he would politely demure.

But it turns out when I was talking to Aden when she was home over spring break, that she wasn't trying to get her dad hooked on a new hobby for his sake. She just wanted an activity that she could do with her dad. Even after I explained this to him, he was still reluctant to take on another thing, so I signed up for an account for myself with the idea we could maybe share it.

Mona walked me through how to move, build things, break things.... My only past experience with anything Minecraft was this very old video, and a quote from Rick and Morty describing it as "You're mining stuff to craft with, and crafting stuff to mine with," which about sums it up. 

After establishing a little cobblestone island within sight of the island my three kids had built to plant a garden and store supplies, I handed my laptop off to my husband so he could wander off with Aden to find me a dog. He was much better at navigating that world than I was, and the next day Mona convinced him to simply get his own account rather than share mine. Which turns out to have been a good idea, because he wants to do different things than I do. He's got a big mine with a glass ceiling and lots of safe houses to retreat to at night, etc. I planted flowering trees and make flower pots and feed my dog.

But the lovely thing is for us it is a private virtual world where we can be with our kids. All five of us, regardless of where we actually are, can all hang out and have conversations in the Minecraft server. And the kids are so sweet! I noticed fish in the water, and asked Mona how to catch them. The next thing I knew, she arrived at my place in a boat and put a fishing rod among my supplies. If I say my dog is hungry, one of the kids shows up with meat for me to give it. Once I drowned (I'm still not sure what happened) and I reappeared back at my bed but all the stuff I'd had with me was gone. Aden had been in a nearby boat and collected all my stuff where I died and brought it back to me. The kids make sure I have armor, food, etc. It's amazing to watch them move around in that space so competently, and it's funny to have the roles switched where they have to look out for me.

I love seeing what everyone makes. Mona walked me around her pink island covered with cherry blossoms and a second level that's nothing but torches. It's both hilarious and beautiful. Ian's structures are mostly glass so he can see what's around him. Everyone puts up weird signs.

At one point all of us were on the server at the same time, with Aden talking over speaker phone, and she remarked how nice it was to hear "home sounds" in the background (dog barking, Quinn getting up to get a snack, etc.). And when she left me building my house to go on an adventure with her dad and siblings, she said, "It's the dream!"

I don't know how many parents are lucky enough to have their kids excited to join them in their activities this way, but I don't take it for granted. Every time I log onto the Minecraft server, any kid that's on there greets me happily. They visit my place when I'm not there to see what improvements I've made and restock my supplies. We get to be a little family that mines stuff to craft things, and crafts stuff to mine things. 

If you'd asked me even as recently as a few weeks ago if I would ever play Minecraft, I would have just brushed it off. But I like making things, even in a virtual world, and I love seeing what my kids are up to. I love my family, and finding ways to be together when we can't actually be together is the best game yet. 

And now I'm off to mine sand so I can make more glass, and see what Aden's up to. It's a good night.

Thursday, February 29, 2024

To Sleep, Perchance to Breathe

Bodies are weird. And living in one as it's aging is annoying, but never dull.

For anyone interested in long overdue updates about my personal health things: The mastitis issue is essentially gone with occasional flare-ups of WHY?! at inconvenient moments. My back is fine after a few years of very not fine, but I think the beginning of the pandemic cured it by making me stop doing things. Plantar fasciitis was fixed with good shoes. There was a glowing spot in my vision that went away, and has been replaced by a couple of dark dots off to my left that I try to ignore. I think I am finally in menopause? Fingers crossed that sticks because periods are the worst. Currently I'm in a game of chicken with my right leg about going to the doctor. For no reason I can pinpoint, it started hurting a couple of weeks ago, but I stuck a brace/sleeve thing on my knee the other day and it's getting better. Good times.

This post is specifically about how I am adjusting to the use of a CPAP machine. It's been a week, and wow, what a difference it makes to be able to sleep!

If you are in a demographic that is blissfully unaware of sleep apnea, it's a condition where you stop breathing in your sleep, and your body snorts you awake to keep you alive. CPAP stands for "continuous positive airway pressure" and it's a machine you essentially strap to your face to keep you breathing through the night.

I have not slept well in years. Certainly not since before I had children. I have counted myself lucky if I got three hours in a row, and in the past year or two I've been up every hour or ninety minutes. It reached a point where I was exhausted and would just sit up in bed and cry, so I finally asked my doctor for help. He referred me to a sleep specialist, who sent me home for two nights with a sleep monitoring kit.

My brother asked me the other day why I didn't do that sooner. An excellent question! The answer, besides the typical mom response of there were too many other things to do for other people first, is that I was still functioning. When I talked to the sleep clinic doctor, he seemed to think I might be able to try a special mouth guard to start, if I even had sleep apnea. He wasn't convinced based on my answers to his questions. I don't fall asleep while driving, or at work, I don't take regular naps, etc. I am not hindered in my daily activities. When things seem to be working, you can put off fixing the few things that aren't.

Now, instead of the meeting with the doctor to discuss the results, he simply put in an order for a CPAP machine. No consultation. The message in MyChart said "Severe sleep apnea, ordering CPAP immediately." It sounded like he was wondering why I wasn't dead.

And then I went to the CPAP orientation. There were four of us there to learn how to operate our machines and to choose which type of mask we wanted, etc. The instructor had us each sit at our assigned places, and told us the number written at the top of the first page in the instruction folder was the average number of times per hour we had stopped breathing during our at home sleep studies. The woman across from me had the number five. The woman next to me had six.

My paper said 46.7.

I stopped breathing an average of 46.7 times AN HOUR every night! The other people in the room looked at me as if I were making a joke.

So now a week or so into CPAP life, I can sleep! I get about four to six hours in a row before I maybe get up to pee and then go back to sleep. I don't yawn all day. I don't wish I could take a nap. I'm awake! I like it.

There's still a lot to get used to, though. The whole thing is weird, and a decidedly unsexy way to go to  bed. The giant tube coming out of my face is surprisingly unnoticeable, but the mask is leaving my skin around my nose and mouth a bit red which I dislike. The machine is much quieter than I was expecting. Honestly, it doesn't sound much different from a person breathing nearby, and I tend to wear earplugs at night and I don't hear the machine at all. Finding a comfortable sleeping position is still strange, but when I'm out I'm actually out, so I don't care. The thrill has not worn off yet that I can shut my eyes and then open them a few hours later and not remember any of the time in between. But it's creepy that the machine is monitoring everything. 

I get the convenience that the doctor can adjust it remotely if something needs to change, and it's interesting to get a report every morning about how I slept. I get an actual score. The first night I got an 86 (out of 100), so a solid B worth of sleep. Once I figured out how to get my mask to seal better and how to lie a different way so I'm less likely to dislodge anything, I started getting all A's. But it records how many times I take my mask off, how well my mask was working, etc. Apparently the number of "incidents" a night is down to an average of about two. I like having all that information, but I don't really like sharing when I'm sleeping with some unknown observer out in the world. It's like worrying about Santa watching me again, only this time the present is insurance coverage. I have to use the machine four hours a night for insurance to help pay for what would otherwise be an expensive service.

There's also lots of care and feeding for the machine that I'm not looking forward to. Emptying the distilled water every morning, washing the tube, wiping things down, changing the filter, etc. I can't keep houseplants alive because I don't like these kinds of chores, but apparently for me, that's the price of sleep.

And sleep is great! I've missed it.

My husband appreciates that I'm not flailing around. Mostly because when I can't sleep all the covers get twisted and he doesn't get to keep his blankets. Now he wakes up with the covers the way they started at the beginning of the night and he's much happier.

The dog was super confused the first night about why I had things strapped to my head, but snuggled me under the covers all the same. That's been the funniest side effect of the whole CPAP thing, is the dog has more energy. She was already Miss No Off-Switch at her doggy daycare, but when I get a full night's sleep, she gets a full night's sleep. And now she's happily running nonstop with her dog pals and the trainers have noticed.

In any case, if you can't stay asleep, and you're literally tired of writing it off as part of perimenopause or stress, couldn't hurt to figure out if it's sleep apnea. I would prefer not to need this machine to breathe at night, but I am glad to have it.

Wednesday, January 31, 2024

How We End

Someone I love has been told they only have a matter of months to live. It is unlikely they will see the year 2025. They may not even see summer.

Many of us have played the hypothetical game in our head of what we would do if we were presented with such news. I have a feeling it's one of those scenarios that is not what we imagine. I remember thinking vaguely long ago that if I ever had a miscarriage that I would probably accept it logically and move on. Two miscarriages taught me otherwise. I also remember being in a gut wrenching situation with one of my kids where I pictured myself at one point being a weepy mess over a particularly hard decision, but when the time came I was simply relieved. When my grandmother died, I was incredibly sad, but I was also surprised to discover that I was set free from holding onto the idea of her as someone crippled by dementia. Since all of her lived in memory I could remember her at her best without betraying reality, and there was joy in that. So I have no idea what it really is to be told you have little time left on this earth.

My first thought about what I would do if given only months to live, has always been something like "Stop doing dishes." But maybe not. Maybe in reality I would embrace the ability to do that while I could. 

Would I focus on myself or others?

It seems like the most appropriate time to be selfish because who would judge you negatively for it? And yet the first thing that pops into my head would be to finish projects for my kids while I could. I've made a violin for both of my older girls, but the one for the last daughter is still in pieces on my bench. I think I would feel desperate to get that done. Along with photo projects, and letters, and making sure they knew the stories behind things I want to leave them. But maybe those pursuits are selfish in their own way.

In the past, I would have said the thought of being faced with a terminal diagnosis would inspire me to travel somewhere. To see something I've put off and always wanted to see. I've never been south of the equator. I've never been to Africa. But would I want to use a small amount of time to do something new or something I already know I love? I think I might resent every minute that I'm stuck in a plane on a runway if I could just be home.

I suppose that's a good measure of how well you're living your life, if you'd be happy with an average day as your last.

I love my life. I like the house we live in, even though there are still a million projects to do in it. I'm happy crawling into bed every night between my husband and my dog. I think at this stage in my life, I would be content to spend my last days at home, or maybe at our cottage my grandparents built. I know my grandfather in his final months spent as much of it at the cottage as he could. My grandmother died in a nursing home, but the last time I spoke to her, in her mind we were having that conversation on the cottage porch. It's a peaceful place.

I've often thought that if we won the lottery (somehow without playing) that I would keep my job. I love my job. I think I might stop doing cello work or bow rehairs, though, since those things tend to provide me with more frustration than joy. (Not because I don't enjoy doing them, they just both take up all my bench surface, which I can't stand. If I had a dedicated cello workspace, and a bow bench where I didn't have to put all those supplies away each time I switched back to instrument work, then I wouldn't mind it. So maybe I should be doing that now somehow?) If I were dying, would I keep working? Possibly. Some of my happiest moments have been spent sipping a cup of hot cocoa on a cold morning while sitting alone at my bench, looking out the windows, and deciding which repairs to tackle first. But maybe I wouldn't get that anymore even if I wanted it. I'd have to help figure out how to shut it all down or pass it on.

Part of me thinks I would like to scramble to put out whatever novel I'm working on. But I also know how much that takes me away from time with other people. That would probably be too big a sacrifice, unless I could convince people I love to hang out near me while I do it. I would hate to leave my books unfinished.

I know sometimes when you're sick, it can actually be harder on the people worried about you. No one likes to feel helpless. No one enjoys survivor guilt. How much would I get to selfishly be as angry and in pain as I really feel, and how much would I choose to spend my time and energy comforting my family and friends instead?

I think about how much it would mean to me to see this person one more time, and accept that the situation is complicated enough that such a visit may be too much of an imposition. They are not obligated to accommodate anyone at this time. I just want them to have whatever brings them comfort.

I like to think it's better to be given time to say goodbye and wrap up any loose ends that need tending. An unexpected end seems crueler. I remember when I was in violin making school, and I had a long commute every day, seeing a story about another driver dying on the freeway, his car crushed between two trucks. It really shook me. I kept thinking about how he likely had food in his fridge he had planned to eat, and maybe a book on his nightstand he'd never know the end to. What if you die wearing an outfit you can't stand? Sounds stupid, but I'd rather go in my favorite cozy sweater.

Contemplating death is very different now than it once was for me. There's something alluring about flirting with ideas of death when you're a teenager that doesn't have the same appeal once you have more days behind you than ahead. The list of people I've lost at this point is getting long. There is weight to those losses somehow. There are days I feel that weight, and it's all I can do not to cry at any given moment.

I dread the losses that are still to come. I feel like they haunt me on the periphery of my daily life. 

Because I think often of the days almost nine years ago when my dad was in hospice. There was so much love and laughter and sorrow and grief all tightly woven together, and we all said we would learn from it. I knew better. I wanted it to be true that we would make more time for each other, and not let the days slip by so easily that years could pass without being able to hug the people that matter, but I knew real life wouldn't allow for that. We get distracted. We get busy.

And in some ways that's all right. That's what life is, the day to day bits and pieces. Being able to make your own breakfast and walk the dog and hang out with someone in front of the TV and wearing a favorite shirt and anticipating the comfort of the pillow you like at the end of the day. 

Hug people while you can. Love them while you can. And remember that the little things are actually the greatest things. If tears are how we know we care, at least I know I care a lot.