A Whiff of Smoke

Today I had lunch with a few cousins. It was nice to see them. I sat across from one and she and I pretty much chatted the entire time. It was good to hear about her life; her joys, her sorrows, her interests. I did not know that she loves dancing. 

She told me about a friend who was her dance partner for many years. She said they went through a period of dancing every evening, every evening! That is a lot of dancing. When she spoke of it, her eyes sparkled. She looked happy. She said it indeed made her happy. That dance partner endured a stroke about 18 months ago. The complications of it, however, ended his life a year ago.

This cousin has had some bumps in the road, as have we all. But she found something she loved and she did it. She actually did it. 

How many of us, myself included and maybe especially, do not do the extra things we want to do. Situations or attitudes or stuff become obstacles that we think are too difficult to work around, so we concede. 

I don’t want to continue to concede. I am caring for my 90 year-old mother who can now do very little about any of her missed opportunities. Perhaps she wanted to dance or sing or play the piano or skydive. 

There are not burning drives to do anything specific, but there may be small, innocent simmers. I’m not sure at the moment I can name one.

But I do want to be open to the whiff of campfire and see where the blue-orange flames and smoke may lead me. 

Baby Steps and Independence

Since last summer, my husband has been talking about getting a bike so the two of us could start riding together. I received my beautiful royal blue Trek bike about seven years ago for my birthday. 

For Father’s Day my boys and I bought him that bike. We asked him to come out to the front porch where we were standing with the shiny new bike, complete with big blue bow, and smiles all around. He was surprised. 

We went on our first ride together last Sunday. We are not 30 or 40 or 50 years old, so we are taking it slowly. Our first ride was about 30 minutes long and we were tired. 

On Monday we decided that on this Fourth of July morning we would load up our bikes and drive to a well-known, local bike path.

The Little Miami Scenic Trail, affectionately known as the “Loveland Bike Trail”, is over 70 miles long. There is free parking, picnic tables, rest rooms, coffee shops, ice-cream shops, restaurants and entertainment. 

It is truly a lovely place to bike. Much of the trail follows an old railway line of the Little Miami Steam Railroad, circa 1836. President Abraham Lincoln road the line to his inauguration in 1861.

Most of the trail runs along the banks of the Little Miami River. The trail is a dedicated, car-free zone with an adequate width that allows runners, cyclists, moms pushing double-wide strollers, and even an occasional horseback rider to feel comfortable. 

It is truly lovely with sparkles of sunshine and plenty of cool shade along the paved, flat trail. 

Today we rode a bit longer, about 55 minutes. We even integrated a bit of interval training, riding hard and consistent for three to four minutes, then slowing to a pace of that seemed to please our heart rates a bit more. 

We have the right gear. We wear safe helmets. We are set with squeezable water bottles that fit snugly into our attached holders. 

For us, it is baby steps. Baby steps that will, if we stay consistent, lead to big steps of endurance and freedom. 

Baby steps toward independence. How fitting for this day. 

Madrid, Por Favor

My Yale graduate son, Andrew, is in Spain. As part of his graduation celebration, the school footed the bill for a group of students from the Institute of Sacred Music division of the Divinity School to tour Madrid and surrounding towns for two weeks. Nice. 

He actually wasn’t totally thrilled with going. He is job searching and he and his newlywed wife are contemplating making a move across the country, from New Haven, Connecticut to Seattle, Washington. He has much on his mind and much to do. However, as it turned out, it was much more expensive to NOT go on the trip than go. So, off he went, somewhat reluctantly, but eager to make the most of the adventure.

I have been receiving photos of such beauty in Spain; churches and monasteries and cozy alleys between homes.

And the food sounds wonderful; fresh baguettes and cheeses and olives and pastries and strong coffee in small glass cups.

This afternoon around 3:00, Andrew called to say hello. His voice was clear and the connection was perfect. It was as if he were in the house next door, rather than across the Atlantic, 3,200 miles away.

As we chatted, it was nearing 9:00 p.m. Andrew was wearing a wool sweater and ready to purchase a café con leche. I was guzzling ice water in my non-air-conditioned old house in Ohio, where temps today neared 90 degrees for the third day in a row. We laughed about the differences.

As we were about to end the call, he told me that he thought I had some European tendencies in me and that I would fit in well with the culture of Madrid or Italy or Paris.

I am most certainly willing to give that a try. I may practice by wearing silk scarves wrapped suavely around my neck, 99% humidity or not. 

National Bike Month

A couple of years ago for my birthday, my family bought me a great royal blue Trek bicycle. Though I do not ride it enough, I love it. 

My house is located on a narrow two-lane road. It is not safe for bike-riding. So, unfortunately, to get in a good ride, I have to pull down the bike rack from its hook high on the garage wall and do all the strapping and pulling and tightening and fixing in order to attach my bike to the car. It is a bit of exercise in itself. Though, if I did it more often, I am sure it would become much less cumbersome. 

I then drive about two miles to a beautiful park, unhook the bike, put on the lip balm, don the helmet and hit the path. The park has three ponds, each with a lively fountain shooting crystal droplets into the air then delivering them back to the water.

There are a couple of baseball fields, four tennis courts, a great play area for kids, a nice picnic shelter and a beautiful white barn. 

What is it about riding a bike that instantly takes us back to childhood? I remember loving the feeling of sailing along on my bike with my hair streaming behind me. I also remember a feeling of freedom. 

In complete apropos timing, tonight on our way home from dinner, my husband, without prompting, mentioned that he would like to get a bike and ride with me. Awesome!

I often ask him to walk with me at the park but walking is just not his thing. However, bike-riding might be! I am excited about the two of us strapping our bikes onto the yes, double bike rack that I bought in anticipation that he would someday want to ride. 

We are going to be like Kevin Arnold and Winnie Cooper out riding our bicycles, holding hands. The Wonder Years revisited.

 “And so Winnie and I had our one slow dance after all. But things wouldn’t be the same between us. We were getting older. All we could do was close our eyes and wish that the slow song would never end.”

The (sometimes) mad Hatter

I am not a fan of the novel, Alice in Wonderland. I have to confess that I have never read it in its entirety. There has never been a draw.

Alice in Wonderland was written in 1865 by English author Charles Lutwidge Dodgson under the pseudonym Lewis Carroll. It tells of a girl named Alice falling though a rabbit hole into a fantasy world populated by peculiar creatures. It is considered to be one of the best examples of literary nonsense genre. 

The Hatter is a fictional character who appears in the first novel, as well as its sequel, Through the Looking Glass. The Hatter is often referred to as the Mad Hatter, though, this term was never used by Carroll. The phrase “mad as a hatter” pre-dates Carroll’s work. 

The Hatter has many non-sensical quotes. However, there is one that is worth the read. It is this:

When you can’t look on the bright side, I will sit with you in the dark.”

I thought of this quote when I was with my mama over the weekend. There are moments that she does not like my (usually, not always) sunny attitude. I try to be positive with her. I tell her she looks beautiful when she smiles (a REAL smile, that is). I tell her she is blessed that she sees her children every week. I tell her the Lord has been faithful to her, in spite of her life not turning out exactly the way she may have hoped. 

Even when Mama was more mentally healthy, she used to tell me I was naive. Perhaps. 

I understand that it can be annoying to feel blue and low and be around someone who is bubbly and seemingly unaware of the reality, or at least the reality of what the blue person is feeling.

When Mama, or for that matter, anyone I care about, can’t look on the bright side, I will sit with them in the dark. 

I, too, am acquainted with the dark. Thankfully, I am also acquainted with dear ones who “sit” with me in the dark. You know who you are.

The Hatter knew about the bright side and he knew about the dark. I believe Alice learned those sides, as well. 

When you fall through a rabbit hole, very few things are neutral. 

A Woman’s Woman

Speaking of women, this is the end of Women of Aviation Awareness Week.

Amelia Earhart (pictured) is kind of a hero to me. When I owned a small fitness studio for women, I had a large framed photo of Amelia hanging on my wall. It was a gift from my son.

Amelia Mary Earhart, born on July 24, 1897, was an American aviation pioneer and author. She was the first female to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean.

Amelia and her younger sister, Grace, had an unconventional upbringing. Their mother, Amy, did not believe in moldering her children into “nice little girls.” Therefore, a spirit of adventure seemed to abide in the Earhart children.

They spent their days exploring and climbing trees and hunting rats with a rifle. They kept worms and moths and katydids and tree toads.

At age seven, with the help of an uncle, she put together a home-made ramp modeled after a roller coaster she had seen on a trip to St. Louis, and secured the ramp to the roof of the family toolshed. Her first flight ended dramatically. She emerged from the broken wooden box that had served as a sled with a busted lip, torn dress and a “sensation of exhilaration.” She exclaimed to her littler sister: “Oh Pidge (Grace’s nickname), it’s just like flying!”

In Long Beach, on December 28, 1920, Earhart and her father visited an airfield where Frank Hawks (who later gained fame as an air racer), gave her a ride that would forever change her life.

By the time I got two or three hundred feet off the ground,” she said, “I knew I had to fly.” She was extremely persistent in her goal, never losing sight of that love.

During an attempt to make a circumnavigational flight of the globe in 1937 in a Purdue-funded Lockheed Electra, Earhart and navigator, Fred Noonan, disappeared over the Pacific Ocean near Howland Island. Fascination with her life, career and disappearance continues to this day.

Through a series of misunderstandings or errors, the final approach to Howland Island using radio navigation was not successful. Fred Noonan had earlier written about problems affecting the accuracy of radio direction finding in navigation.

There has been considerable speculation on what happened to Earhart and Noonan. Most historians hold to the simple “crash and sink” theory, but a number of other possibilities have been proposed.

A new forensic analysis suggests that bones found on the Pacific island of Nikumaroro in 1940, and subsequently lost, could very well have been those of Amelia Earhart. The claims are that she died as an island castaway.

There have been twelve expeditions to Nikumaroro since 1989. Evidence of campfires, as well as remains of birds, fish, turtles and clams, indicating someone ate there. Based on the way clams were opened and the fish consumed (the heads weren’t eaten), that someone was probably not a Pacific islander. Fascinating.

Several 1930s-era glass bottles were also discovered at the site. One of them may have contained freckle cream, a cosmetic Earhart was known to use. Oh my goodness. She was fearless and tough as nails but still used freckle cream.

I love the story of Amelia Earhart. I also love the little tidbits about her. She wanted to fit in and wear a leather flying jacket like the male pilots. She purchased one and then slept in it for several days or weeks to make it look “worn”. She also chopped off her long hair to look like the other (few) female pilots of the time.

In every photo I see of Amelia, she has that beautiful closed lip smile. Research has unveiled that she had a gap between her two front teeth and photographers urged her to smile “closed lips” in order to hide the dental “flaw”.

Amelia was 40 years old when she disappeared. I am 60 years old and I still have not ridden a big roller coaster.

In her honor, I vow to get on one this summer. Or better yet, perhaps I will make one in my back yard. If I come away with only a busted lip and a torn dress, I will consider myself quite lucky.

Happy Women of Aviation Week to Amelia and to all of the other women aviators inspired by her.

May we all have a passion to soar.

Mrs. Mike

When I was a little girl, I saw an old movie on TV called Mrs. Mike. It is the story of Katherine Mary Flannigan, a young woman who travels to Calgary to care for an ailing uncle. There she meets and marries Mike Flannigan, a sergeant with the Royal Northwest Mounted Police. She moves with him to isolated posts in the Canadian wilderness. The story is set in the early 1900s.

The whole movie is so, so good but one specific scene has always stayed with me. They are out in a brutal, blinding blizzard and Mrs. Mike is injured. Mr. Mike shoots a grizzly bear, then cuts it open and places Mrs. Mike inside the bear to stay warm, while he goes for help. Such a great scene!

We have had quite a winter in Ohio; some good sled-riding/snow days for the kids (and teachers), some bitter cold days ( as my $800 heat bill revealed), and some icy/hail pellets to boot. We literally (yes, I used that word correctly), burned through all of our firewood by early February.

I know that many people are chomping at the bit for spring. When it arrives, I will love it, too. For now, I will enjoy the last bit of winter and pretend that I am Mrs. Mike out on the Canadian plains. I even have a slight dream of being placed inside of a grizzly bear to stay warm. I guess we don’t see too many of those in Mason, Ohio. Darn.