And then there was a Hummingbird

The house seems so empty. I still yell out “Hershey, we’re home!” when I come in from the garage. I still do a double-take when I walk through the kitchen and see her empty dish, thinking I’d let Hershey run out of water. My morning routine of yoga on the living room floor still has me watching down the hall for her to come out and sit by me. The last piece of toast always belonged to Hershey – I still look for her at my feet before reluctantly putting it in my mouth.

After Hershey was cremated I knew I would spread her ashes in places that meant something to us – under the Bucky Tree in our yard, at Lake Minnetonka along the shore where she ran, and on the path around Staring Lake where we walked together almost everyday when I started losing weight. At first I wasn’t ready to let go of her ashes – they remained on the mantel in the box and velvet bag, by the photo-book I had made at Shutterfly of her life with us, and a snip of her fur that I cut off just before the vet arrived. A shrine of sorts, I suppose. A place I could still feel the connection while trying to let her go. The weeks after Hershey left us were an emotional roller coaster for all of us as we found our own ways to grieve.

I was sitting at the small table on the front porch. Spring had turned to summer and I noticed that even the brown spot in the yard where Hershey did her business was starting to fill in with new green grass. My mind drifted back to “Rainbows and Butterflies” as I thought about how in the midst of my deepest sadness something surprising cuts through the gloom to let me know everything will be ok. I thought of Hershey and wondered what might happen. Nothing came to me.

Years ago I put a Hummingbird feeder in our yard. It became a family joke because as hard as I tried the Hummingbirds never came. Even the red plastic had faded with the passage of time. One year I didn’t even put it out. I had pretty much given up. This year we cleaned up the garden in front of our house, spread mulch, added new plants, and hung flower baskets. The bird bath is in place and I decided to try the Hummingbird feeder again. I cleaned it, filled it with properly mixed nectar, and hung it on the Shepherd’s Hook in a sunny spot in the garden. Then I watched. Nothing.

In the first days after Hershey was gone I’d sit on the front porch. At one point I remember saying “Hershey, bring me a Hummingbird. If I see a Hummingbird I’ll know you’re ok.” And then I told Veloice and the kids what I had asked Hershey to do.

For a couple of weeks I watched expectantly, cleaned and refilled the feeder regularly, but no feathered friends paid a visit to my obviously jinxed feeder. I knew it was a long shot – and Hershey never did listen to me, or let me know that she even cared. She usually turned her back to me whenever I talked to her. But I thought if a dog crossed the Rainbow Bridge, maybe they could put some serendipity into play for those who were left behind.

After spreading Hershey’s ashes under the Bucky Tree, and at Lake Minnetonka with Kayla last week, I had a small amount left to spread during my daily walk at Staring Lake today. I parked the car and walked the short distance to the pier where I sat on the bench and thanked Hershey while I sprinkled some of her ashes into the water. I walked the 2-1/4 miles around Staring in silence and sprinkled the remaining ashes at different places along the path where I remembered being with her. Then I drove home.

The box on the mantel is now empty and I guess I felt like today I let her go. I walked into the kitchen to get my keys and looked out the kitchen window – a Hummingbird was flitting around the feeder. And I’ve been watching it all afternoon while I write this.

There is nothing miraculous about a Hummingbird finding a feeder, but today? After years of hanging the feeder, trying and giving up, only to try again, unsuccessfully? Really? After I told Veloice that Hershey would send me a Hummingbird? It shows up an hour after I get home from spreading the last of her ashes at Staring Lake? Seriously? I asked Hershey to bring me a Hummingbird so I’d know she was ok. It happened. You can call it a coincidence, but I know better.

For weeks my tears fell at the very thought of Hershey being gone. I clung to her ashes. Today I let her go and my heart is full of joy. I know Hershey is free and I know she will always be close to my heart. Upon seeing the Hummingbird today, I felt reassured that one day I will cross that Rainbow Bridge and see Hershey racing toward me, yelping with glee.

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Two old dogs

Papa and Nana are watching the grandkids this weekend in Woodbury. Saturday afternoon went great – we stuck to the detailed script left by Megan. Meals, activities, baths, reading stories, singing, and watching “Cars 2” before bed – all happened without a hitch. When things finally got quiet after the kids were tucked in I looked at Veloice and said “we used to do this everyday.” Nana sighed. A few minutes later I was on my way upstairs to go to bed. It was only 8:30. 

Two dogs’ noses were in my face at 3 AM – they needed to go out. Senior bladders, like mine. Afterwards, Hershey starts bumping her empty dish around – she eats in the morning. Bailey stands by, jealous, because she eats in the evening. I pacify Bailey with a couple pieces of her food while Hershey cleans her dish. 

Both dogs are almost blind, and Hershey doesn’t like stairs anymore. I carry her up and put her on the bed next to Veloice. Where’s Bailey? I can’t leave Hershey on the bed – she may try to follow me and jump off the bed (which would probably mean a visit to the Doggy ER). I carried her back downstairs to look for Bailey. She is standing in the dark, in the middle of the living room, totally lost. Hearing me come back into the room (sorta, her hearing is going too), brings her relief and joy. Poodle Alzheimer’s. 

The whole ordeal took me half an hour. Bailey figured out that it was Papa, not dad, so it must be time to play! Now I can’t get them back upstairs to bed. 

While I wrote this, curled up in an overstuffed chair downstairs, both dogs are now snoring at my feet. The peace and quiet is nice. Looks like I’ll just be dozing down here for the rest of the night. 

Babysitting the kids is easy, the two old dogs on the other hand…  I wouldn’t trade a moment. 

Requiem for a president

I will be turning 67 in a couple of months and appreciate the perspective that experience brings to a person’s life. Thirteen presidents have lived in the White House during my life so far – that’s over 25% of all presidents who have been elected since George Washington. I lived through the Kennedy assassination, Reagan shot and wounded, and Ford shot at (twice). I watched Nixon resign in disgrace and Clinton impeached – both because they obstructed justice during scandals that enveloped their presidencies. But I’ve never seen anything like Donald Trump – the 45th president of the United States. How and when will this presidency end? Soon, and not very well.

With Republicans in control of all branches of government the checks and balances that the Founding Fathers enshrined in our constitution are stretched to the breaking point. We have been counting on the “Freedom of the Press” to hold those in power accountable for their actions. Not since Watergate, and the reporting by Woodward and Bernstein at the Washington Post, has the press been so essential to the survival of our democracy while politicians try to cover up their mistakes and misdeeds. Legacy media has found its voice once again and investigative reporters are tirelessly working their sources, following leads, and breaking new stories about the Trump administration at a furious pace. The steady drip of new disclosures is now becoming a torrent of breaking news and the sandcastle is starting to crumble. With the appointment of Robert Mueller as a Special Prosecutor the investigation just became even more ominous for the Trump White House. While Trump has only been president for four months, we are already witnessing a tragically unique moment in our nation’s history.

Trump was elected to the highest office in the land by 3 million fewer votes than his opponent. He won the electoral college by a mere 77,000 votes in the 3 states that tipped to Trump in the waning days of the election – after unprecedented announcements by the FBI, and Russian interference with social media stories and leaks about his opponent with the intent of influencing the vote in Trump’s favor. Communication between the Trump campaign staff and Russian officials now suggests possible collusion that is currently being investigated.

My money is on Trump finding a way to resign and claim victory. He will claim he WON by disrupting the “rigged system” and setting the stage for the incoming Pence presidency. His base will see him as a hero and he will fly off the White House lawn in Marine One – all smiles and waves – to start the new conservative Trump TV network to promote his version of the Trump Legacy. He cannot tolerate being seen as a LOSER so I don’t think he will stick around for an impeachment in the House of Representatives much less the removal from office when the Senate convicts him of high crimes and misdemeanors. He will protect his brand and massage his bruised ego.

The Trump presidency will be studied for years to come – how his wealth allowed him to self-fund his way through the primary winnowing process against other candidates who had to grovel and appease the donor class to stay in the race for the nomination. How his simple messaging appealed to, and captured, the support of the disenfranchised older, angry, white population in flyover country – the consumers of Fox News – those who prefer red hats, rallies, and slogans over policies, facts, and details. They still will – which is why an eventual Pence presidency, that tries to color inside the lines of the legislative process, will ultimately be a letdown for frustrated Trump supporters that were energized by bombastic threats and pompous promises. They preferred the CEO that promised to break the rules, drain the swamp, and Make America Great Again. Instead, they got a thin-skinned reality TV star that liked firing people on The Apprentice, but ran into trouble when firing experienced people of stature and reputation in his administration who dared to get in his way by holding dear to their principals and integrity.

Trump’s likeness will never replace Abe on the five dollar bill, or be sculpted next to the greats on Mt. Rushmore. He won’t have the shortest presidency – that will probably always belong to William Henry Harrison after giving the longest inaugural address, catching pneumonia, and dying 32 days later – but I believe it will be short. And his record of accomplishments even shorter. The disastrous Trump presidency will always be remembered for the asterisk after his name and there will be many footnotes in history for this unlikely president and the voters that elected him.

Hammering words into shapes

I feel that tiny creative crevice – buried somewhere deep inside my turbulent and overactive mind – laboring to reignite idle synapses, long covered in dust, and thick with cobwebs from neglect and lack of activity. It comes slowly. Fleeting thoughts are grabbed out of thin air before they are lost in the blink of an eye. Like a blacksmith pounding on the glowing tip of an almost molten iron shank, an idea is painstakingly hammered into a recognizable shape – words into a sentence, sentences into paragraphs. Written and rewritten until the ring of hammer striking steel sings with a melody that pleases the blacksmith’s ear.

Pete’s First Helmet

Look up! Pigs are flying! Pete got a helmet! Somewhere an angel got her wings, or hell has finally frozen over. For over 50 years I have ridden bikes (pedal and motor) without head gear. A product of the 50s and 60s, when my buddies and I rode all over Clarendon Hills on two wheels, nobody had helmets. We didn’t have seat belts in our cars when we started driving either. There was no foam at the bottom of the slide, or under the jungle gym on the playground, just hard packed dirt and gravel – and I have the scars to prove it. It was a different time. 

After raising 3 daughters with more elaborate strollers and car seats than we ever had as kids, covering electrical sockets, putting latches on cupboard doors, watching them participate in Safety City classes in school, wear helmets on bikes – and now THEY are raising kids of their own – with even MORE sophisticated equipment to keep their kids safer still! As I look ahead, and realize I’m bearing down on turning 70, maybe it’s time to take better care of myself. My luck may be running a little thin after all these years of living on the ragged edge. 

For the past 21 months I have tried to get in shape: by moving more (mostly walking and a little Yoga), eating less (and understanding what I eat), dropping 60 pounds (I did it), and climbing out of my alcohol addiction ditch (16 months sober through counseling and AA). It has been quite a journey and the path to sobriety has led me to places I never expected, and a willingness to surrender and accept things I never would have even considered in the past. 

Losing my license for 8 months has been a blessing in many ways (at least it is when I look at it with a positive attitude – and attitude is everything in life). If “need is the mother of invention” then losing my license has helped me get more creative in how I get around. I plan my trips carefully. I’ve used Uber. I’ve mastered using MetroTransit to explore downtown and hopped the light rail to meet the grandkids at the Science Museum in St. Paul, and for a picnic at Minnehaha Falls. After taking Uber to TRIA for a doctor’s appointment I walked 9 miles home on a beautiful spring morning. I’ve walked to Cheers almost every Saturday morning and had several meetings with Lance and Bill about new job opportunities this fall – and walked to all of them. 

The hardest part of this license revocation is seeing my covered motorcycle in the garage on these beautiful spring days and knowing I can’t ride it again until October. I live for my summer rides around the lakes and motorcycle trips to the mountains with my friends. 

Yesterday I got my bicycle down from the rafters and cleaned it up. I degreased the chain and put fresh oil on all the moving parts. I grabbed my new backpack and headed out for a ride. This could be the next step in my diet and exercise plan – and give me another mode of transportation if I can stick with it and not get discouraged. I headed down Golfview and over to the bike trail. I wanted to pick up a lemon and some cocktail sauce for the shrimp I got yesterday so a ride to Kowalski’s was my mission. While only a couple of miles, it felt like I had completed the Tour de France when I finally arrived. I walked into the store on my wobbly legs and picked up my things. Next door to Kowalski’s is Erik’s Bikes and I went in to look around. A half an hour later I walked out with my first helmet and a lot of information about seats, derailleurs, brakes, apparel, and had a knowledgeable technician check out my handlebars and seat for proper ride positioning. 

There is a Caribou Coffee close by so I stopped for a cup of coffee and sat at a table outside where I could keep an eye on my bike, fine tune the helmet strap adjustments, and snap a selfie of me wearing my new helmet to text to my wife and kids. 

Yes, pigs must be flying today. I smiled all the way home. I’ve come a long way, and not just on the bicycle. 

Bubble Ministry

I will be meeting Megan and the kids at Minnehaha Falls later today. I stuck a bottle of bubbles in my backpack. When I went to Bolivia I was on a work project high in the Andean Altiplano. We worked side by side with some of the indigenous Amyran people. Their families would come watch. One day I saw this little girl watching me. She probably was confused by this sweaty, dirty white guy working with adobe blocks. She was very shy and always looked away when I waved at her. 


During a break I ran back to my bunk and grabbed a bottle of bubbles from my duffle bag. I sat down on a pile of dirt, not too far from the little girl, and opened up the bottle. I started blowing bubbles and watched as her eyes followed them floating on the gentle breeze. It took a few minutes before our eyes connected, but then I watched a tentative smile spread across her face. Some of my teammates slowed down their work and watched. They began “catching” the floating bubbles. She giggled. 

The little girl had one land on her and laughed when it popped at her touch. I waved her over and she turned away – but not for long. I offered her the bottle and wand. Her mom whispered in her ear. She got up slowly. Unsure. But curious. One step, then another. I held them out again. A smile grew bright and her eyes twinkled as she drew close and hesitantly sat next to me on the pile of dirt. The team slowly got back to their tasks on site, but the little Amyran girl and I blew bubbles in the Andes Mountains on a crystal clear day. That is a moment I will never forget, and I’m sure I will be telling Sawyer that story later today. Bubble Ministry at its best.

Candle Crumbs

Yesterday we watched our grandkids (Sawyer and Ruby) so their mom and dad could sneak out for a brew and some time away from the chaos of parenting two toddlers. Seeing the smiling faces of Nana and Papa come through the door is usually the promise of laps, hugs, stories, and assorted antics. 

The several hours passed quickly and the kids ran to the door when a refreshed mom and dad came in from the garage. Mike lit the grill for some awesome looking pork chops and Megan busied herself in the kitchen preparing the rest of the menu. The kids were munching on some fruit to tie them over until the “later than routine” dinner could be served. Sawyer kept an eye on Mike as he got the coals going. A gust of wind whipped across the deck and glowing embers swirled around for a moment. Sawyer watched intently as the sparks danced in the air before being blown away on the breeze. 

A moment later Mike came back into the kitchen to get the pork chops and saw Sawyer watching the grill. “It’s breezy out there” Mike said. Sawyer smiled and said “I know! I saw all the candle crumbs flying in the air!”

Candle crumbs. The perfect words to describe what he saw. A 3-1/2 year old who already knows how to use his words to tell a story. 

Left and Write. The jottings of a progressive curmudgeon.