Life, Mortality, and Family Hobbies

My father's mortality appeared to me for the first time last week. He had a cold, which by itself, isn't a concern, but it coincided with a gout flare-up. Every motion was painful for him, making it impossible for him to do even simple tasks. And because of the cold, he couldn't treat the gout right away, so he was limited to pretty much just sitting there in pain.

Battling both afflictions at the same time showed me just how frail a human life, particularly my father's, is. And for the first time, my dad looked very much frail.

I had brought him persimmons to dry; one of dad's hobbies is making hoshigaki, persimmons dried by peeling and hanging from their stems and massaged every few days. At the moment, this particular hobby isn't possible for him.

So just for my dad, last night I peeled several persimmons, tied strings around the stems, and hung them from the kitchen window. 


Old Home Day

While pruning dead material from the Meyer lemon trees in my front garden yesterday, I heard a little voice: "hello?" Thinking it was someone next door, I kept hacking away at the dead branches, and then: "excuse me, hello!"

Climbing down from the planters, I saw a man with a backpack in my driveway. My first thought was "Oh no, I've been caught outside my house by a Watch Tower pusher!" but then "nah, must be trying to sell me something."

As I prepared to let Piglette rush the fence at him, he smiled and said something between Piglette's barking that sounded like "I live next door."

"Oh, you live with Dwayne & Maria?" 

"No, before!"

"Oh, the blue house?"

"Um, no, I mean I used to live in the house before."

Finally, the light switched on. "Oh, Andre!"


Ah, that's right, Andre was one of his (Armin's) dogs. Armin's grandmother (or maybe great grandmother) lived next door to my grandparents from the beginning, and he came to live with her when he was a toddler. He and I used to talk over the fence, and I'd bring treats for his dogs. His family moved away about ten years ago, after his grandmother passed away.

Armin told me he'd tried to write a few times, but didn't know the exact address (or my full name), so his letters never got to me. He'd also stopped by the house when he'd been in the neighborhood, but this was the first time I'd been around. It's not every day that a kid tries to keep in contact with the crazy old lady who used to live next door, and I was touched that this kid (who, granted, is now an adult in his 30's) did.


How did that happen?

Clumsiness this evening as the middle aged office monkey exited the building and headed toward the stairs. As usual, she was futzing in her purse as she stepped down off the landing. Except this time, instead of her foot landing squarely on the step below, only the edge of her three inch heel made contact (darn vanity!), and her foot slipped just as she transferred her weight to it.

Suddenly, she was airborne, her legs useless as they flew up. And just as suddenly, her backside hit the stairs and she bumped down a few steps, just for good measure. Even more quickly, she whipped her head 'round to make sure no one had seen the tumble (did I mention vanity yet?) and scrambled to pick up that pesky purse and scurry off to her car.

Driving home, the front of her ankle began to throb. And she thought "how the fook does the FRONT of my ankle hurt?"



Last April, I got the great idea of restoring my grandparents' picnic table and benches. The set is over 50 years old, and has been sitting out in the elements, uncovered and unmaintained for the last 15 years.

Using two sets of pliers, I loosened the rusty bolts holding the pieces together. When pliers didn't work, I switched to a hacksaw. 50+ years of dried out, unhealthy wood had to be sanded and smoothed before treating with five coats (yes, it was THAT neglected) of penetrating oil stain and putting pieces back together with new hardware.

I finished the table and one of the benches before I lost interest in the project about a month later. Here's a before and after shot -- the bench on the left is the one that didn't get restored. A month or two after I finished the table and one bench, the boyfriend and I were sitting on the unfinished bench, when it collapsed. One of the 2x4 legs had split.

I took the bench apart, decided that everything but the seat had to be replaced, sanded the seat planks and let it sit in my workshop for a year. In the meantime, the boyfriend complained about my already overly crowded workshop, aka garage and back house, which is capable of neither storing a car nor housing people because there's too much junk stuffed into it. Okay, maybe he had a point, but hey, he knew what he was getting into before he moved in with me!

A few weeks ago the boyfriend mentioned we hadn't had a party since we'd moved in together, and lucky us, barbecue season is here! I glanced out the back door, saw the picnic table with the one lonely bench, and set off on foot to the hardware store with Piglette to pick up a couple of 2x4s for fabricating new legs and supports. No, I didn't think about how heavy 2x4s are after balancing them on your shoulders for three blocks while gripping a leash with a zigzagging dog, but I made it home without dropping lumber or losing dog. A few mis-cuts and a lot of swearing later, I finished the second bench. Here's the finished set:

The legs don't exactly match, since they're pine and the original set is redwood, but they will work. I'd love to sit and admire my work a bit longer, preferably with bloody mary in hand, but the work never ends. There's still setting of pavers, weed-whacking, pruning and raking that needs to get done before the place will be in an acceptable state.


My Niece's Mom

It's Mother's Day here in the US, and instead of my own mother (who was a great gal and fantastic parent, by the way), my thoughts turn instead to another mom with whom I share DNA.

A lot of people, including herself and her family (including myself), underestimate my sister. Looking at her today, you might see a somewhat flighty, middle-aged, Pollyana-ish, empty-nester suburban mom cushioned from the outside world with a protective layer of pets on whom she dotes, who's a bit obsessed with her looks and weight, and whose deepest thoughts rotate around the number of miles she runs on the treadmill. 

But the big sister of my childhood memories was an extremely talented violinist, the only girl on the boy's high school soccer team, a brave person who'd run off a cliff with the aid of only an oversized kite, and the only (one of the first) female in the aeronautical engineering program at her university. 

In retrospect, she was a trailblazer with regard to women's equality (the equal rights amendment was brand new), but she never thought of herself that way, she just did what she wanted to do, feet first, with extra gusto. Oddly enough, possibly because of her enthusiasm, or maybe her unassuming, non-competitive demeanor, what were almost certainly maverick moves by her were pretty much unnoticed by others while she was in the midst of it all.

Females didn't hold her up as an example for others, even though she was one of the first females to embrace pursuits so recently in the male-only domain. To the males around her, she was just one of them in some ways, so they didn't view her as a groundbreaker, which could be seen as both positive and negative. Her male counterparts may not have recognized her accomplishment, but they also didn't feel threatened by her, so they were largely welcoming and there wasn't a lot of the bitterness that can exist today. 

Even today she underplays her achievements, saying that she barely passed her undergraduate program, or claiming that she is no longer capable of those things. But that person still exists, she's just changed her focus. If there is one thing I wish for my sister on this day, it's that she knows that she is still more than capable of great things if she puts her mind to it.