The Old Yellow Brick Schoolhouse

In 1963 or ’64 there was an abandoned school house just a few yards from where I lived. Far enough away to be safe from the prying eyes of adults if we were careful, but close enough that we kids had to keep our exuberance under control. The lot was fenced along three sides, but the front was open and there were huge gaps in the fence along the back allowing easy access to small bodies. The lot was overgrown with tall grasses and weeds that were almost as tall as I was by the end of August.

The building itself was yellow brick, and had been Continue reading

Fur Carpet

My first memory of a pet was a grey cat that showed up on our back porch one spring morning. She was beautiful. She was a soft, cloudy-foggy grey with dark stripes running through her coat like a tiger. Her huge, pale green eyes were rimmed in black as if someone had put eyeliner on her. She also had stripes that looked like an ‘M’ on her forehead which made me think of a crown.  (It was many years later that I learned the ‘M’ meant she was a tabby cat. That’s not a breed, but a description of her coat.) She had the palest pink nose, shaped like a triangle, and pinkish lips that were so pale they were almost white. Her darker pink tongue was very rough feeling when she licked me. She was also my introduction into what very sharp, very white teeth looked like.

She always moved slowly and gracefully as if time didn’t matter to her at all. She was elegant in her movements and I felt certain that in some other life she surely must have been a queen. Regal. That’s how she moved…as if she were royalty. I believe ballerinas could learn a lot by watching her move. My grandmother came up with several names, but they were cute, not regal. It took a few weeks, but I finally came up with a name as regal as she was…a little drumroll please…Penelope!

Penelope answered when I called her name so I’m pretty sure either it was her name, or she liked it better than whatever her real name was. Even though she could be rather aloof at times she rapidly became my best friend. When I was sad, I could scoop her up and bury my face in her fur while I cried. She never complained. When I was happy, I could scoop her up and dance her around and around. She only threw up the first time. After that, I made fewer circles and in return she held her food down. This new understanding worked quite well for both of us.

For all the in-between times, I could just sit, and she would crawl into my lap, curl up and begin purring. Or I could lay in the grass or in the hammock and she would crawl onto my tummy and begin purring. Purring is such a cool thing. I tried for years to duplicate purring to no avail. I’ve always wished I could purr, but never found a way to do so and eventually, being a wife, mom and working took care of my purr-practice time. Now that I’m retired, I no longer have a desire to purr. I guess that’s another perk to being old. 😉

Penelope grew over the course of summer, and got quite jolly looking … until one day, she began making strange noises, not purring at all, and she left me and didn’t come when I called her. I looked everywhere for her. All around the house, in her favorite trees where she would perch and surveil her domain. I looked in the white barn where crates were stored. I even went downhill to the cold-apple-storage which was off-limits to me. I couldn’t find Penelope anywhere. I was so very sad. I cried copious tears believing she had gone away to die.

The next morning, grandpa came in and said he’d found Penelope and he took me out to visit her. She was in the white barn, but she was so well hidden I don’t know how my grandpa ever found her. She wasn’t alone. She had seven beautiful, tiny kittens with her. One was a calico and one was a reddish-orange tiger stripe. I don’t remember what colors the others were because those two had captured my heart. I was told not to handle the kittens, but since Penelope didn’t seem to mind, I handled them every chance I got. Not all of them, of course, just the two that I was claiming. The calico was mostly white, but she had reddish tiger striped patches and a few small, grey, tiger-striped patches.  Since most calico’s are female, I named her Penny Red after her mom and her red patches. The red, tiger-striped one I named Tiger Red after my favorite soda pop.

Those three females had kittens twice a year. Sometimes I could find their kitten hideouts, sometimes not and then I wouldn’t see the kittens until they brought them up to the back porch for food and a dish of milk. I named my favorites but kind of ignored the rest. I spent many hours with bloodied hands from grabbing wild kittens and hanging on no matter how they fought until they grew used to my touch and would allow me to pet them without complaint.

One morning in late spring I heard the screen door being slammed repeatedly and my grandpa cursing loudly. I jumped out of bed and flew down the stairs to see what on earth was going on. As I rounded the corner into the kitchen, I could see him looking out the screen door and banging it. When I asked what was going on, he growled that we had the only fur-covered porch in the entire state!

I immediately thought about mink fur and figured we must be rich! I know, but I was only 11 or so and raised during the Beverly Hillbilly’s era. It only took me half-a-minute to realize he meant ‘cat-fur covered’. Over the following year, cats disappeared gradually, except for my favorite three. By the time I was 16, all the cats were gone. I mourned my three who were buried on the property as they found their demise at the hands of cars on the road . in front of the house

As an adult, I developed allergies to cats and haven’t been able to have a cat for a very, very long time. I still remember those three after all these years…and two others that were special in my life – Pyewacket and Whisper. They are both deserving of their own stories.

Now, before you feel sorry for my children, let me say that while I didn’t have cats anymore, they did. The rule was that they had to rinse them in the tub once a week and keep them upstairs. My hubby and I took a bedroom downstairs, just off the stairway door so the cats wouldn’t make my allergy flare up. While I can’t remember the names of my kids cats, I think they might remember once they read this post.

Freddy


Grandpa was a different kind of person. His taciturn nature only served to amplify his stern countenance creating the appearance of a severe and somewhat mysterious man. My friends would hang-up immediately when he answered the phone rather than ask to speak to me. I think it was mostly due to his gravelly voice, but he rarely smiled, and most people never saw him laugh. His laugh was wonderful though and it’s a shame more people didn’t get to enjoy it. Grandpa also didn’t talk on the telephone much and I think he felt put-out by the interruption it created when it rang. Whatever the reason, he sounded gruff when he answered, and it scared my friends into hanging up without speaking. In retrospect, it seems like maybe those occurrences added to my grandpa’s dislike of the telephone.

Grandpa was a private person. The fingers on my left hand are enough to count the number of times I ever heard him answer a question about himself. There were even fewer times I heard him say what he was about to do or where he was about to go.

By the time I was old enough to notice, probably about age eight or nine, he began going out onto the farm again after supper. This was usual during the summer, but he began doing it very early in early spring which was highly uncharacteristic. He would always take a napkin full of bread and meat scraps with him. I thought he was going back out into the orchards to work and was taking a snack with him in case he got hungry. A few minutes after the screen door banged shut, bouncing (as it did) several times before completely coming to a silent rest.

I would hear the tractor start-up and head west down the road in front of the house.  Then the engine sound turned left just past our house, traveling south past the old, yellow brick schoolhouse, into the orchard. Soon the sound would fade into silence again.  An hour or so later though he would return. There was never any discussion about where he went. Grandma didn’t ask any questions, so I certainly didn’t…and Grandpa never offered any explanation, at least not to me.

Then one night he asked me if I’d like to see where he was going every night after supper. I quickly said, “Yes!” and he took me with him that night. We walked across the yard and down the hill to where the green John Deere tractor was parked. He picked me up and put me on the tractor base near the padded black seat. He climbed up after me, sat in the seat, then picked me up and sat me on his knee. He started the tractor and off we went. We headed south on the lane just past the old yellow brick schoolhouse, along the edge of the orchard all the way back to the woods. On the edge of the woods, just to the west of the lane, there was a huge brush heap. At least two generations of fruit farmers had been piling tree pruning scraps from the orchards yearly pruning. Grandpa pointed about three-fourths of the way down that wood pile and asked if I saw the small dark opening. I did. He told me to sit on the tractor seat, be very quiet, and watch.

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Brush heap – this one is courtesy of the Internet

He climbed down off the tractor and walked toward that pile of brush. He took the scrap packet from his shirt pocket, opened it up and placed the contents on the ground about six feet from the opening. He slowly backed away until he was beside me once again.  He told me to stay still and keep watching that dark spot in the brush pile. After a few minutes, a family of fox emerged.

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Red Fox family – this photo is courtesy of Pixabay.

The kits were darling! I desperately wanted to hold one and bury my face in its soft red fur. I wanted to hug on one, but I knew I couldn’t because they were wild animals. But oh! how sweet were those little faces and puffy tails. They were very skittish, darting eyes trying to see everywhere all at once. They continually looked to their mom to see what she was doing. She would take a bite of food very quickly then look up, look all around as she sniffed the air, then stare in our direction for a few moments to see if we were moving. Once she was sure we were staying put, she would glance at each kit in turn and then quickly take another bite of food and repeat the security scan of the whole area. She was continually on the lookout for any sign of movement or possible aggression.

One kit came out toward us, a few yards away from the rest of his family. He was very brave and curious. He sniffed the air, looked at us, and I think our eyes met. He gave a shrill whistle-like bark and trotted back to his family. He stopped and grabbed a mouthful of scraps and headed into the wood pile that was their den.

Grandpa continued to go out after supper every night. Three or four times a week Grandma and I would follow him with the car. We would sit in the car and watch as Grandpa would place the food down, farther and farther from the den (and a little closer to us) every week. Before too much time had passed, Grandpa started calling the bravest kit, Freddy. Freddy Fox was always the one who came closest, seemed the most curious, and was the most vocal. He would look us in the eye while the other kits would look away and try to not to acknowledge our existence. Had there been any holes in the ground in which to hide their heads, I have a feeling that’s exactly what they would’ve done.

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Orchard like I grew up with…with space between the trees

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Fox kit outside den opening

By the end of summer, Freddy had come within a few feet of my grandpa. One night, before school started back up at the end of summer, I rode out with him again and he helped me down off the tractor. We walked a few feet and we could see the fox family coming toward us about 10 yards away. They saw me and slowed their pace. Grandpa whispered for me to squat down and be very still and quiet. He did the same right beside me. The fox family approached slowly, sniffing the air and eyeing me the whole time. They stopped. Most of them sat down but Freddy and his mom continued toward us. Then mama fox stopped walking and stood, sniffing the air, and looking all around. Freddy, however, continued toward us, moving ever more slowly as he got closer and closer.

Grandpa began talking to Freddy in a soft voice. Freddy’s ears perked up and pointed toward my grandpa. His eyes kept darting to me, but he would look back at my grandpa and continue toward him. Grandpa took the packet of food from his pocket. He unfolded the napkin, removed a very nice scrap of pork chop and held it out in his open palm. Freddy smelled the chop and licked his lips. Freddy looked at me again and stretched his neck as far as he could and still had to take two more steps toward grandpa before he could reach that piece of meat. He took it! Right out of my grandpa’s hand! He jumped backward out of reach and ate his prize while grandpa kept talking to him calmly. Freddy approached again and took another piece of meat but this time he turned tail and trotted back toward his family.

I gasped at that point, full of awe at what I had just seen. Grandpa placed the rest of the scraps on the ground and we calmly walked back to the tractor and then we watched as the rest of the fox family ate. It was a wonderful experience and even though over 50 years have passed, I still remember that evening with amazing clarity. Perhaps the most amazing thing of all was that grandpa had managed to get an 8-or 9-year-old to sit so quietly for so long. Perhaps he was more than a Fox Whisperer.

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The whole family licked their lips in anticipation as well as after eating.

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This looks just like Freddy looking at us

All these photos are courtesy of either Pexels, Pixabay, or Unsplash.

 

 

 

 

 

Algorithms Suck

In the last few years I’ve noticed a LOT of young people on Social Media claim to be suffering from burnout. I’m not a doctor so I don’t know if they truly are or if they are merely claiming to suffer burnout because they don’t know what else to call it.  Is suffering burnout a new fad thing that I haven’t heard of? Since I don’t know the answer to that question, I’m going to approach this by taking people at their word. So….what on earth can be causing these (30- something people) to suffer burnout?

Listen, I know I’m an oldster and it’s easy to think that I’m out-of-the-loop, I don’t-understand-how-it-is-now,  I’m too old-fashioned-to-understand-the-Internet and how-Social-Media-works, or how important it is to be “an Influencer”. While that may all be true to some extent, it also means that I have lived through a time when the 30-somethings weren’t even born yet. I know, from experience, a different way of doing things. I grew up in a time when kids had to be face-to-face to play a game, people spent time outside and looked at each other. Chatting was something we did on the phone or over a table while sipping our favorite beverage; chatting was not something we had to read.

Granted, the Internet has made some things incredibly easy, and Social Media has allowed us to be closer to, and more involved with, our friends and family across the country, this digital highway is definitely fabulous —but it needs to not take over our lives. Let’s look at “burnout” with these young people. You kids are inheriting a sick world, and I apologize for that because my generation was part of the problem and not a big enough part of the solution. I know job security is a term you aren’t familiar with. I watch you kids (yes, at under 40 you are still a kid to me) putting out “content” at a rate that keeps you constantly busy.

I admit I’ve slowed down a bit, but you are cranking out “content” at a rate that I can barely fathom. The only way I can see you doing what you do is if you are giving up on “living” and putting it off until you’ve “made it”. I fear you are going without proper sleep, food, hydration or recreation. We all need to give ourselves room to breathe and to acknowledge ourselves as human beings…not human doings.

We need to look around us at this beautiful world and realize we are connected to it, to each other and to all the life forms on this planet. Please, take time to connect and reconnect and rejuvenate. Don’t let the algorithms strip you of your humanity. We have a richness of thought, feelings and human experience that algorithms cannot have. This marvelous superhighway of the Internet has also created some bad things that didn’t exist in such big numbers before. Stress for one.

The stress created by Social Media is insane. That’s right…insane. It has the potential to drive anyone who becomes enslaved to it insane also. Different social media platforms began (I think) as a means for people of like minds to share what they loved. However, now, thanks to big-business, big-government and big-money the Internet is no longer a place that affords easy, social times for people who live far apart. From what I’ve noticed, social media is becoming a bigger advertising venue than TV, magazines, or radio ever were.

Years ago, a lovely little Social Media channel began, actually two began. The first one I was introduced to was Facebook which allowed me to be in contact with my siblings on the other side of the country. We could share information and photos almost immediately which gave us the opportunity to stay in touch in a way that was not available before. We were able to work on ancestry information without having to meet in person to share info. This saved us a lot of time and some money in travel expenses.

Instagram came along very quickly after (or maybe beside and I just didn’t learn of it until after) and provided a great way for artists and photographers to share their work with one another. It was great to get feedback from others with the same passion. Fast Forward to cell phones that take pictures and access the Internet and now there are apps to do just about everything. They make it easier to access the World Wide Web than our computers do, and they are always at our fingertips.

I understand the concept of wanting and needing to make money. I don’t mind an occasional ad… but instead of an occasional ad from a legitimate advertiser we now see almost an ad every two to three images and sometimes there will be three ads in a row. This is right on target with prime-time TV.

There are several young women whose entire feed is about helping you get thousands of followers who will engage with your posts and help you create an income stream. (By letting advertisers piggyback on your posts I would assume.) Judging by the number and variety of the ads I see in my stream; advertising may be the main function of IG very soon.

Back to the IG “experts” (these young girls) talk about posting every day, mini-blogging in your IG stream, and sometimes posting multiple times a day, in multiple platforms, plus a separate blog or vlog that you are active in at least once or twice a week. You’d think that might be enough but no… you also need to add a podcast and/or YouTube video (also being posted at least weekly), and a “live stream”, etc.

Is it any wonder that a human can’t keep up with all this?  Do you begin to see how “burn-out” happens to young, healthy people? The most important thing to remember is this…these social media sites are run by algorithms (computer programs) on machines. They are not run by people.

I repeat… They are not run by people.

You really need to work to find a way to connect to a human if you have a problem. There are no phone numbers listed and it takes some dedication to find an email address or snail mail address. The algorithms are designed to push into the limelight those who are posting often enough (with high enough follower numbers) to be of value to advertisers. They are also pushing the posts of the advertisers themselves (those who’ve paid handsomely) for the privilege of being pushed into noticeable places. To push your account and posts into the top positions so that they are in many feeds and they come up to the top when anyone searches for any of the things advertised takes huge dedication.

“This” is designed by companies who can throw multiple employees at the algorithms to stay on top of the Social Media search engines and feed machines. It’s not impossible to break through that, but it becomes increasingly more impossible to find followers because everything is built to keep the small account small and to feed and funnel viewers to corporate accounts.

As tempting as it all is, and as seriously as I need to create something that will provide us with residual income to flesh out our retirement; I still hold out against the algorithm. I am not a machine. I need to eat, use the facilities, sleep, and do some things for relaxation and enjoyment. Sometimes I need to help my adult children and sometimes I need to spend time with my grandchildren. Once you leave the high-energy 30-something age, you begin to feel your mortality and realize that you ARE a Human Being, not a Human Doing. This one life that we all have will be gone far too quickly. You don’t want to be lying on your deathbed wondering what happened to your life, and if you aren’t very careful where you spend your time, you could be.

So…to you young people out there…fight the machine, or the man, or whatever it’s being called today…fight the algorithm, force these social networks to give more than they take. Refuse to play the game of the advertisers and big corporate accounts. You have the power, because if you aren’t “buying in” they’ll need to do something else. If corporations aren’t getting clicks from the social media networks, they’ll quit paying to be there. That means, don’t click on those links within your social media accounts to buy something…go out of IG, or whatever site you’re on, and type in the actual search bar to find what you want and then get info or make your purchase from there.

This protects you also by making sure you are going to an actual website instead of getting ripped off and believe me, I’ve been burned twice by this crap. So be smarter than I am. Don’t click on advertisements within social media. Whenever you can, thumb your nose at Social Media convention and don’t write the mini blog, after all…a picture is worth a thousand words, so a good image only needs a few words of introduction or explanation. Let’s stick together and help each other. The Corporate Monster needs to be sized down and we small people with talent need to be noticed and appreciated. WE have rights and together we have the power to change the world.

 

Namaste.

 

Good Intentions Come Here to Die

2020
Monday, January the 6th
from an aging laptop in SW Michigan


It appears I have a pattern of writing a (as in one, singular) blog post the first of the year with the best of intentions on writing, and posting, on something resembling a regular basis….which becomes the next years first post. Wow! this must be what failing miserably looks like. Maybe 2020 will be the year (and decade) when I finally get it together….I can only hope.

There are so many things worth exploring and so many things I think about and wonder if other people think about those same kind of things and so many stories of times past that I want to write down for posterity and for my grandchildren if they should be interested in reading them when they get older…I should never run out of topics…so let’s see if I can, once-and-for-all, beat this once-a-year blog post thing and get more regular posts on a more timely schedule.


Well….on to my first actual post of 2020…I think I may have developed, or be developing, narcolepsy. Seriously, if I sit till for 15 minutes, I fall asleep! I have to wonder if it’s narcolepsy or birthday candles. Hey! Maybe that’s partly why I can’t seem write a post…ya think? Hmmm….maybe….it might be interesting to see how this plays out over the year. I remember snickering behind my hand at my grandparents when they would “nod off” while watching TV or just sitting around. Now…I’ve become that person! Heaven forbid! How did this happen?

Far too many times I’ve snapped awake, mainly when my chin hits my chest I think, and realize I’ve fallen asleep — again. Then I look over and my husband is sleeping in his chair with his chin on his chest…and I have to giggle. I don’t remember my grandparents giggling, but then I don’t remember them waking up with a jerk either…..

So here’s a lovely little tidbit out of my life. All the social media outlets say that people want to hear/read about your real life. They want to know you, or know about you…do you think that’s true? Stream of consciousness here….watching Gilmore Girls (again) and the episode where Lorelai drags Luke outside in the night to smell the snow and he says two news reports said no snow for days or weeks and as she romanticizes about her relationship to snow and I realize that episode was the one where I fell in love with the character of Lorelai Gilmore because she was the first person who echoed my love of snow and my ability to smell it coming. It makes my heart beat faster and my insides get giddy to smell it coming.

For better or worse…there are two intimate details about the real me, my real life….are you thrilled and ready to “follow” me? Or should I be creating a fictitious character (more like Lorelei Gilmore) who would be far more interesting than I am….if anyone is reading these things let me know what you’re looking for…. the real me? or a more exciting fictitious me?

In-equity of Aging.

Retirement. We look forward to it. If we are smart, we put money away for it. But when we are working toward it, we have no idea what it’s going to look like or feel like. How can we? It’s impossible to know what you don’t know.

One thing that strikes me is that our bodies become higher maintenance as our income potential shrinks. That might be the most important thing to consider. Look around at those who’ve already retired…lots of cane and walker users. Even some wheelchair users…there aren’t cane/walker/wheelchair faeries; and quite often these devices are not covered by insurance. Yup. You guessed it! On your decreased income it is conceivable that you will have to purchase two to three of them…it’s a progressive sort of thing.

Progressive sort of thing. Wow! That was a godbreeze. It really is exactly that. You go from making noise when you get up out of bed, or up out of your chair to needing a cane to help when that knee or ankle starts to misbehave.

I’ve read moderates who say 20% of your wages need to be toward retirement, but…if you want the kind of carefree retirement we see on TV and in the movies…you really need to save half of your income for retirement and that begins at age 18. Our politicians have proven that they will allow rampant inflation which will eat up your retirement in about a heartbeat.

I know most kids who read this won’t save towards retirement, but if they’re smart, they will. Live within your means. If you are making $ 70,000 a year; live on $35,000 and put the other $35,000 into a retirement account and roll the interest right back into it. I wish you happy retirements and frugal lives.