My mother-in-law was no stereotype

Monday evening, my mother-in-law died.

Bouquet from yard in vase made by young Wildebeest, given to Alice on day before her death.

Contrary to what books and movies would have us believe, not all mothers-in-law are control freaks who believe no one is good enough for their sons. Some are kind, loving, and supportive.

It didn’t feel that way at the start. The first time I met Alice was when Zippy brought me to his parents’ home in Colorado for Christmas in 1988. At the time, he and I had a long-distance relationship between our two California cities. When it was bedtime, Alice showed me where I’d sleep, which wasn’t where Zippy was sleeping. I remember the depths of loneliness I felt lying in that room in an unfamiliar house filled with people I didn’t know. Loneliness plus resentment for the uptight mother of my boyfriend.

That’s the first and last thing she ever did to upset me. No exaggeration. And after I got to know Alice, I realized her decision to put me in that bedroom by myself wasn’t a comment on me or my relationship with her son, but because she didn’t want to make assumptions.

Alice welcomed me with open arms and later extended her endless love to Wildebeest and Zebu. If Alice was a stereotype, it was as a devoted grandmother. She genuinely loved spending time with her grandchildren. Wildebeest told me a story yesterday about the time Alice and Stu took care of Zebu and him for a weekend while Zippy and I went out-of-state for my high school reunion. He’s foggy on the details — maybe he and his brother were fighting over a toy or complaining of boredom — but he remembers it was the only time Grandma got mad at them.

I believe it. Alice was the queen of easy-going. She loved family and friends, and was always the first to laugh at herself. She’d do something — such as accidentally sitting on her camera in the church pew at her other son’s wedding — then let out her trademark “woooo,” followed by a giggle. One time, she agreed to help me make curtains for the boys’ bedroom. After many, many laughter-filled minutes trying to figure out how to thread the sewing machine needle and bobbin, we gave up and called her capable seamstress neighbor who set things right while Alice and I laughed some more.

Once, Alice agreed to accompany me to a doctor’s appointment where she stayed out in the car with the boys. Toddler Zebu was still very attached to me and didn’t handle separation well. When he began crying, Alice struggled to get him out of the car seat, growing more confused as his wailing reached epic proportions. In later years, Alice told the story of how Wildebeest leaned in at that moment to say, “Read the directions, Grandma.” She then read the instructions on the car seat and was able to release Zebu and calm him. But in her telling, all credit went to Wildebeest.

Alice was generous to a fault. She feared and disliked cats, yet cut out cat pictures for the birthday cards she’d make me. When she flew to Alaska to help out after Zebu was born, she told me to let her know if any of her behavior bothered me. She said this knowing that the recent visit from my own mother had caused more problems than it alleviated. Once, after Stu and I had a spirited conversation about our differing political views, in which he was literally hopping mad and called me a communist, Alice forced him to phone me the next day to apologize. Honestly, I thought it was pretty funny seeing my father-in-law so wound up, but Alice didn’t want to risk hurt feelings. Family mattered.

Alice was nineteen when she had Zippy (Stu was twenty-one). Alice had four children by the time she was thirty, a mind-boggling realization when I had my first child at 30 years and barely considered myself mature enough to be a parent. Over the years, Alice and Stu apologized to their kids for supposed mistakes they’d made and opportunities they hadn’t provided. But from my perspective, that young and very poor couple accomplished a miracle: they raised four well-adjusted children who not only loved their parents very much, but also love and support each other.

Over the three weeks following Alice’s heart surgery at the end of July, those four children worked together to help their ailing mother. They coordinated efforts so Alice, who was deaf and suffering dementia, would never be alone in an unfamiliar place. Under increasingly scary and difficult circumstances, those four hung together in their shared goal to ease their mother’s discomfort.

And now Alice’s smile and laughter are only memories. Our hearts are shattered, but I’m deeply grateful for the years I had with my mother-in-law. My wish for her now, wherever she is, is that there are buffets rather than menus. Because for her many fine qualities, Alice struggled to make decisions. Eating out with her was a study in patience. But maybe there are menus and waitstaff. In which case, as Alice was fond of saying, “I hope it all works out.”

My reign as Domestic Goddess

I am incredibly grateful for the domestic gifts Zippy bestows upon me. Namely, handling all the cooking and grocery shopping. Yes, you read that correctly. I don’t have to cook or shop. Except when it’s absolutely necessary, such as when Zippy has Covid. (Note: he is feeling better although still testing positive).

He first tested positive a week ago tomorrow and hasn’t had much of an appetite. Lucky for both of us. Him, because that meant he wasn’t subjected to my lack of cooking skills and me, because I wasn’t forced to exhibit my low-level kitchen intelligence. Zippy tolerated my quinoa and steamed broccoli (that I daringly “spiced up” with some snap peas and cut green beans) and the minimalist spinach “salads” garnished with halved cherry tomatoes and a splash of balsamic dressing. I skated by until last night.

It all started because I’d noticed a head of kale in the drawer.

Image by azboomer from Pixabay

I worried it was getting a bit droopy and asked what I could make with the kale before it went bad. Zippy replied, “Lots of things” in a tone that implied those many “things” were most definitely beyond my reach. “Like what?” I pressed. “Like “kale and potatoes,” he replied. “I can do that!” I proclaimed.

And Reader, I’m pleased to announce I did do just that. I successfully prepared a meal.  All it required was for Zippy to stay on speakerphone through the entire preparation. Halfway through the conversation when I apologized for being so inept that he had to talk me through the process as if I was defusing a bomb, he admitted our cooking conversation was the most exciting part of his day. Sad commentary on a week spent isolating in the basement. But for me, the excitement I derived from the experience was the fact that (with Zippy’s guidance) I didn’t botch the timing on everything as I have in the past when attempting to create something in the kitchen. I successfully timed:

  • the cooking of the kale
  • the browning of the onions, kale stems, and sprig of rosemary
  • the boiling of the potatoes
  • the adding-in of the kale
  • the final combining and cooking of all ingredients

Okay, that last step took too long and the kale still came out a bit undercooked/chewy. Other than that, I killed it!

But wait, there’s more! Today I went grocery shopping, at two different stores. Not only that, I’ve already returned home and put away the groceries . . . and it’s still daylight! So what if Zippy could have accomplished the same amount of shopping in a fraction of the time it took me? So what if I had to call him from the first store to help me locate the sliced sourdough bread? At the next store, I figured out all on my own where the salad dressing was shelved and confirmed there were no avocados. And is ketchup really necessary?

So, yeah. This past week has been a stark reminder of my very privileged life in which groceries and meals magically occur. For many, many reasons, Zippy and I are both looking forward to a full recovery and him resuming his reign.

Happy #Caturday

Marcel and Loki are indoor cats, but we allow them supervised time on the deck. The only rule is they must stay where we can see them and aren’t allowed around the corner where the bird feeder and bath sit next to the patio. Loki always immediately cruises down the deck and around the corner where he flops down and begins rolling around. Unfortunately, his outdoor time is nearly nonexistent because he still hasn’t made the connection between that behavior and getting put back inside.

Marcel, however, abides by the rules. Here he is this morning, strolling the deck railing, as Zippy and I stretched after our run.

I missed a great photo opportunity of him sniffing at the budding maple leaves, but did capture this tender moment between Marcel and Zippy.

Marcel is intensely interested in odors — ALL odors — and was fascinated by the post-run aromas coming off Zippy. Glad someone appreciates them because . . . WHEW. 🙂

Twofer Tuesday: feline edition

When the brothers began a joint grooming session this morning, their synchronized licking (back legs held high) made for a great photo, and I hurried to grab the camera. But by the time I returned, the session had come to an end.

Loki & Marcel. March 22, 2022

They’ve been napping there for hours (surprise-surprise) and the entire time, Marcel has kept watch over my project notebook. When I gently removed it from beneath his sleeping body just now, the pages were warm. I choose to interpret that as a positive review for my latest middle grade novel.

It’s a cat’s life

Marcel lives the life I crave: sitting in a southern-exposure window, basking in the sunshine as clouds float past in the blue-blue sky.

November 19, 2021

This photo’s from November, but today followed the same script: Marcel sprawled along the sill, eyes closed as he soaked up the solar rays. Hey, if it ain’t broke there’s no need to fix it.

Welcome to my worm bin

It’s Saturday which means it’s time to feed the composting worms. Translation: time to chop up food scraps. Because my wrists are sore (probably from shoveling very heavy snow this morning), Zippy kindly offered to do today’s chopping.

February 12, 2022

Zippy? Um, no. Those chunks are still much too much for my worm friends.

“I think you over-chop,” Zippy said in response to my thanks-but-no-thanks. “They can handle bigger pieces.”

For sure, the worms can handle scraps this size. But bigger pieces take longer to eat which gives mites more time to lay eggs on the scraps. And that scenario only results in one thing: more mites. Yuck yuck yuck. Mites are my least favorite aspect of vermiculture and it’s worth my time to expend way more effort prepping worm food than anything I make for my consumption.

So, off I go to chop some more. The mites won’t thank me, but the worms and I will be grateful.

O Monday where art thou?

Here it is nearly 5:30 of the p.m., sun gone for the day as temperatures drop and daylight slips away. I’ll admit, this is my least favorite time of winter days because of the increased risk of gloomy feelings that often involve beating myself up. As in, “you squandered those precious hours and what do you have to show for yourself now that it’s cold, dark, and dreary?”

Not playing those reindeer games today.

Bouquet from BB. February 2, 2022

Right now I’m basking in the glow of my accomplishments: Coffee and Wordle. Exercise.  Smoothing out trouble spots in my middle-grade novel, revising chapter 8, and falling in love with the manuscript all over again. A thoughtful phone conversation with Zebu. Laughter. Laundry. Email plus research for climate action meeting later this week. Finishing the excellent We Are All Birds of Uganda by Hafsa Zayyan. Healthy eating. Sharing snuggles with dog and cats (with special shout-out to Loki for lying down next to me while I did foam roller stretching).

It is true I respond best to blue skies and sunshine glinting off snow. But on this Monday evening, I’m content.

Twofer Tuesday: snow birds

We woke to a snowstorm this morning (hooray!) and it’s been fun watching the birds. The usual suspects have shown up — Eurasian Collared-dove parked in the feeder dish while a Mourning Dove perched on the rim of the heated bath — along with a visit from a Blue Jay. We do see them now and again, but they are a bit more rare, so it was a nice surprise when I spotted this one through the kitchen window.

January 25, 2022

Wildebeest and Zebu are coming for a visit and we’ve been spending lots of time cleaning the house that has become quite messy over the past months. “Wash windows” was on my to-do list but that hasn’t happened yet which means my bird photos suffer. This Red-breasted Nuthatch would appear more vibrant had I washed the window as planned.

Ah, well. As long as the glass doesn’t become opaque, I guess it’s okay.

Thankful Thursday

Today I am grateful for much, including:

  • My first walking boot-free day in which I walked about 1.5 miles in the neighborhood.
  • An overdue appointment with my behavioral optometrist who’s been taking care of my eyes for a looong time and who, as always, knew exactly what needed to be done to get me back on track.
  • Arriving home after my appointment to find Zippy putting lights in the yard.

Our somewhat haphazard display with bonus feature: Loki in the window.     Dec 2, 2021

  • Afterward, a nice visit with our neighbors and the beautiful and quite-large Rainbow Dash who put her paws on my shoulders to say Hello . . . without knocking me over!

Twofer Tuesday

Here are two of my favorite things: honey bees and lavender.

July 18, 2019

We still have a few late-blooming stalks of  lavender (this photo was taken a couple summers ago), but not a lot of bees around. Which is why I was surprised over the weekend while reading outside on a bench I’d pushed up against the side of the house to avoid the wind. Surrounded by concrete and brick, engrossed in the pages, I became aware of a faint buzzing that got louder and louder. A honey bee flew next to my outstretched leg before landing on my arm and then my chest. After a brief pause there, it flew to my collar. Much closer to my ear (bzzzz bzzzz ). And face.

Bees fascinate me more than freak me out, however, I admit to feeling a bit nervous about this buzzing visitor. Still, I maintained my calm, congratulating myself on the chill attitude. Until . . . the honey bee moved down to the end of my sleeve and crawled in my sleeve. Chill attitude officially over!  I shrieked and shook my arm to dislodge the bee, which seemed to take forever due to the layers I wore.

When the bee safely flew away-away, I chided myself for panicking. And then I remembered the terrifying bees-in-clothing experience I had years ago, and cut myself slack.

Fortunately, this latest bee interaction was entirely friendly and bees still rank among my very favorite things.

Thankful Thursday: new paint now peace

Today I am grateful the week-long paint exterior paint job was completed several hours before the season’s first snowfall.

Image by Wilfried Pohnke from Pixabay

I’m grateful we resolved a big mix-up. Turned out they’d matched the trim color incorrectly, which I didn’t realize until last night. I spent sleepless hours fretting about it and woke all out of sorts. When I spoke to them and didn’t get much satisfaction, I wisely went for a 38 degree run on the trails. The cold air and beautiful open space cleared my mind. Afterward, we talked more, they listened to my concerns, and agreed to return at a later date to repaint the trim the correct color.

It’s been 12 years since the exterior was painted and the southern and eastern exposures were brutalized by sun and weather. I hadn’t anticipated the incredible noise and disruption that would come with three guys sanding-drilling-pounding on various walls, often simultaneously. Not to mention occasionally being caught off-guard when I spotted strange men through the windows.

One more time: I am grateful the exterior paint job is complete! (For a while, anyway).

I’m very thankful for our home and our ability to pay for its upkeep. (And hooray that the supply chain issues only slightly affected the timeline for completing the job!)

It’s a good Thursday on the planet.

#Caturday editorial assistant

I was working on revisions in bed this morning when Marcel decided to check out the happenings. In true feline form, he chose to curl up on the very document I’d just set next to me.

As gently as possible, I removed it from beneath his vast bulk. Not to be dissuaded from his mission of chaos, Marcel began noisily licking the plastic bag containing my highlighters and post-its. I was less gentle in that removal.

A few minutes later, I relocated to the patio. Marcel is an indoor-only cat.

P.S. While they didn’t directly obscure my materials, a couple hummingbirds got into multiple dust-ups as I worked outside, distracting me with their darting aggression.

It’s pretty obvious that I deserve a medal for getting any work done today.

Marcel Monday

Marcel loves to sit in this window at night so he can watch and stalk the moths attracted by the light. Last night he generously paused long enough for me to take a few portraits.

July 11, 2021

Right after I left the room to put away the camera, there was a kerfuffle. According to Zippy, Emma became agitated when Marcel clawed his way up the screen to get at a moth and for some reason, Marcel thought that was a good time to jump down to the floor where the agitated Emma-pup waited. In a flash, Marcel went from predator to prey. Fortunately, Zippy intervened and all was well in this animal kingdom.

Wonder if Marcel would’ve posed for me with such disdain if he’d known the indignity in his very, very near future.

Thankful Thursday: in which we divest

Wildebeest and Zebu are both home for a visit. We haven’t seen Zebu since he moved to Seattle last August and it’s been five months since we last saw Wildebeest. I’m grateful to spend time with them, laugh at old jokes, and create new memories.

I’m also grateful they cooperated with my plan to get rid of some things. We carved out time yesterday to go through the enormous double closet in the basement that was filled with games, toys, LEGOS, dress-up clothes, etc., etc., etc. It was definitely a trip down memory lane to sort through everything. There was much laughter. We ended up keeping most of our board games, but it was an easy unanimous decision to say goodbye to TWISTER. Zebu commented that he’s always thought it was a really weird and uncomfortable game.

All these things will be loaded in the car and donated to ARC. More items are ready to go, but I’m going to check with the local elementary school to see if they can use them in the preschool and other classrooms. There’s also an electric guitar and bass plus an amp. Maybe the high school band would like them? Either way, we’ll find a home for those, too.

Hooray for letting go of possessions! I’m thankful for the many hours of enjoyment they brought us and wish them well in their new homes.

Mixed messages

Emma is a dog of contradictions. She’s small and lovable. Those floppy ears that bounce with each step always induce smiles as we walk the neighborhood. Her big brown eyes ooze emotion. Looking at her, you’d never guess Emma can instantaneously transform into a rage-aholic.

May 8, 2021

I took this photo yesterday moments after she’d gone bonkers when someone dared to walk two dogs past our home. Check out the raised ridge along her spine. Emma flashed me this innocent expression, trying to play it cool and pretend she hadn’t just erupted. But I’ve got photographic proof.

The hackles tell the whole story.

#Caturday at the movies

Marcel thinks that if he blocks the screen with his considerable bulk, I will focus on him instead of Netflix or Hulu. And maybe that ploy did work a couple months ago when this photo was taken, when I was feeling more tender-hearted and giving.

Marcel doing his best to make me even more visually impaired than usual.

Tonight is a different story. He has been warned.

Shadow painting

Shadow is a colour as light is, but less brilliant;
light and shadow are only the relation of two tones.
  ~ Paul Cezanne

April 3, 2021

I was bustling about the home today, tending to neglected domestic chores, when this lovely shadow painting appeared. I had the good sense to stop what I was doing and grab the camera. I’ve lived in this house for nearly 24 years and have never seen such a thing.

Maple tree branches, the window frame, and a hanging light fixture turn out to be a compelling composition. Who would’ve guessed?

Sunday Confessional: expiration dates

I add food scraps to the worm bin every weekend which has become a bit of a challenge now that it’s only Zippy and me. When a son or two lived here, there’d be more fruit and vegetable matter for me to chop up for my worm friends. Now I have to search the refrigerator to ensure they have enough to eat during the week.

That’s why when I found a bunch of cilantro past its expiration date today, I was really happy. Slightly slimy cilantro in the drawer? Excellent! Now I didn’t have to rely on feeding the worms a ton of coffee grounds (which the worms love but I sometimes worry hops them up too much).

Image by Gábor Adonyi from Pixabay

While I chopped those greens and added them to the cauliflower and zucchini pieces, I thought about how I welcome stuff past its expiration date. Not only furry fruits and rotten veggies, but also coupons. Why? Because expired coupons are a no-brainer: they go into the recycle bin. An expired coupon means one less item in my problematic piles of paper. Straight into the recycle bin.

Sometimes it’s good to let things go, you know?