Language Lessons

I am a lover of language. Read continually. Write often. Throughout my life, I’ve had many excellent teachers­ ­– formal and informal – who have helped improve my skills.

I learned to love books at Fulton Elementary. Mrs. Bragg sweetly greeted us when we entered the tiny library, about the size of a modern walk-in closet. We started with those high-interest biographies: presidents, explorers, Native American leaders and famous cowboys. My grandmother, our 4th grade teacher, read aloud “The Little House on the Prairie” after recess. We listened quietly at our desks, resting our heads on our sweaty arms, and imagined being Laura’s schoolmates. We were all “country kids,” familiar with the damp of the woodlands, the sway of tall grasses, and the sounds of the different animals and insects at night Laura so richly described.  

In middle school, real academics began. We studied grammar and learned to dissect sentences. I loved sharpening my pencil and diagramming sentence after sentence in Mrs. LaFrance’s classroom. We read stories and discussed them as a class, further cementing my fondness for literature.

Informal language instruction also happened during this time.

My initiation into unsavory language started in second grade, after Mrs. Harmon sharply commanded, “Jimmy! You come up here! I’m going to paddle you!”

Our teacher’s at Fulton Elementary School in the early 1970s. They were strict and firm in their discipline. Mrs. Harmon, 3rd from left, made this very clear in our 2nd grade classroom.

Horrified by Jimmy’s situation, I looked up at Mrs. Harmon, looked back at Jimmy who was slowly getting up from his desk, and looked over to my friend Donna. I whispered, “What did he do?”

Donna shrugged her shoulders and said, “Oh, he swore.”

“What’s swearing?” I asked, completed stumped. Donna shook her head and went back to solving her math problems.

My mom clarified things for me when I got home. My parents were strict about how we spoke to one another. The harshest words allowed were things like “fiddlesticks!” or “shoot!”

This is the summer of the legendary farrowing-coop adventures and Dad’s uncharacteristic language lesson.

During the hot summer before fifth grade, my dad had farrowing coops – individual shelters for sows and their piglets – in a field around the house. We soon had an infestation of rats under the little houses, and we kids spent several Saturdays helping Dad move the coops and eliminate the rats. But the most memorable event of that summer involved trying to catch a sow who had escaped. My brothers and I did the best we could, trying to help Dad get her back in her pen, but each time Dad circled that old sow back around, and we tried to direct her to her waiting pen, she refused, squealed and pushed by us. Eventually, Dad lost his fatherly composure and chased that pig around and around, yelling those forbidden words – and a few I had never heard before!

But Mrs. Noble in 7th grade PE class delivered the best language lesson of all.

We girls were in the middle of a heated dodgeball game. Balls were slamming, girls were ducking, and the worst-of-words were flying. The sound of Mrs. Noble’s whistle rose above the noise. She motioned us over, and we circled around her. She stood, statuesque and strong, and we waited, sweaty and out-of-breath, for her sentencing.

I remembered Mrs. Noble’s language lesson because it was so different from any other adult’s message during our teenage years. She taught so much more than PE.

“Girls, Girls, Girls!” she said. “You must use those words sparingly. Save them for when you REALLY need them!”

Her advice stuck and has served me well in my professional relationships, but it is in my personal life where its practice is most helpful. Like using strong spices, if I sprinkle those words only when necessary, my message is heightened, highly efficient and effective.

Thanks, Mrs. Noble.

It’s a Fine Life.

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I am working to organize family photos and am trying this system for 4 x 6 pictures.

This year, my friend Paula gave me long gardening gloves for my birthday. I don’t know how I ever gardened without them. There are many choices online.

Here is a book of my first 20 It’s a Fine Life column found in the South County News. Self-publishing was a challenge and I learned so much during this project.

Going With the Flow

One of the things growing up on a farm taught me was to “go with the flow.” It was a hard thing to master as an impatient kid full of energy and dreams, but this life lesson has served me well in my adult life.

My parents’ verbal commitments to us regarding family activities were always a bit tentative: “I think that will work out” or “We’ll see what we can do.” They were careful to only make promises they could keep, so their responses to our questions were sometimes frustratingly vague.

Here’s how things could go:

Perhaps we planned to see a Saturday movie matinee. We rarely went to movies, so the event was extremely exciting to us. Very few theaters operated in the Kalamazoo area, it was a 40-minute drive, and the outing was expensive, especially when purchasing the required popcorn for five kids.

It was a huge effort for my mother to get us all cleaned up and corralled in the car to arrive in time to secure seven adjacent seats in the theatre’s light, instead of stumbling around in the dark during the previews. But the hardest person to corral was our dad.

We kids would be scrubbed, dressed, and fed, waiting and watching for Dad’s return from the fields or his chores in the barn. Sometimes Dad hustled in, showered, and met us in the car. He was good-natured and full of fun and energy, always ready for an adventure. But occasionally, Dad would step in the backdoor and yell, “Well, I’ve had a breakdown! Sorry, kids!”

The restored 1466. Despite the inevitable breakdowns, Dad spent many happy hours on this tractor. He had a radio attached to a fender and often planted corn into the evenings, listening to Tiger baseball games. Photo: Oswalt Family Farms.

Breakdowns meant everything had to stop ­– all plans cancelled – until the broken machinery could be repaired. If Dad and Uncle John could fix the equipment, breakdowns meant a call to the farm implement dealer for parts. But if the issue was beyond their tools and technical abilities, it meant an expensive service call.

Sometimes his shout in the backdoor was, “The tractor is stuck back on the marsh!” Sometimes it was the dreaded “The cattle are out! Get your boots on!” postponing any hope of an away-from-the-farm outing.

My brother Steve’s birthday, June 1, 1970. It is dark, but Dad made it in from planting corn to celebrate. His love of family was the only thing stronger than his love of work.

Ultimately, we learned acceptance of things beyond our control. We also learned to trust that eventually everything will work out. We did, at some point, go to the movies or visit our friends, just not on our original time frame. These periodic disappointments didn’t make me a pessimist; these small setbacks helped me learn to adjust and persevere.

Parenthood certainly demands flexibility and patience. How many times did we plan to join a holiday celebration when one of our children developed a fever or the flu? How many times did we think our savings account was growing only to need a home or car repair?

I rediscovered what I already knew: these things will pass and aren’t the end of the world.

Classroom teaching demands another layer of acceptance and patience when working with students of different backgrounds, abilities, and personalities.

And then, we’ve all been challenged by COVID-19 and the plasticity required to operate during a global pandemic.

I admit that the last year has tested my predilection for flexibility, but spring is here, some reserves remain in my tank and my resolve to persist remains.

It’s a Fine Life

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A collection of my first 20 “It’s a Fine Life” columns

Valentine’s Day Treasures

Grocery shopping, I pass the display of pink, red, and white construction paper and doilies, and I am reminded of my time at Fulton Elementary School and our Valentine’s Day celebrations during my early years.

Those little plaid dresses and jumpers were nearly a little girl’s 3rd grade uniform. The little boys wore plaid button-down shirts and jeans.

In kindergarten and first grade we made these open envelopes out of big pieces of construction paper. We glued the sides with globs of Elmer’s glue, and with our little blunt-nosed scissors we learned to cut out various-shaped hearts which we used to decorate our mail slots. We wrote our names in thick letters with chunky red Crayola crayons, and taped our envelopes carefully to the sides of our desks. During the Valentine’s Day party, we played mail carrier, delivering our carefully signed cards, merrily depositing our missives in each classmate’s pouch. During second and third grades, we advanced to cheerfully decorated cereal boxes. In fourth grade, we had finally arrived: construction-paper-covered shoe boxes!

The Valentine’s Day preparations took several evenings seriously concentrating at our kitchen table, studying the mimeographed class list and my little box of cards. I made special selections for my closest friends, Donna, Darlene, and Dawn, and even more studied decisions for the boys. NOTHING could say “I Love You” or even “Would You Be My Valentine?”  No way. I wanted no misunderstandings. It took intense scrutiny for Jimmy who regularly passed me the timeless “Do you love me? ____yes or ___no?” to which I always responded with my own addition: “I like you as a friend.” I examined the cards and class list again and again until I was satisfied.

The same 25 schoolmates traveled with me from kindergarten through all our primary grades. The same 25 children in little plaid dresses or little plaid shirts and jeans excitedly passed out our carefully addressed cards. Then we sat and opened the tiny envelopes, smiling at each other, occasionally blushing by something extra sweet.

We played our usual games: bingo, hangman, and seven-up. One year we even had a piñata. Usually, our teacher gave us a little box of conversation hearts, and we spent time sorting and eating those chalky treats. The ever-prepared “room mothers” supplied us with lots of sugar: chocolate cupcakes with white frosting dotted with red hots, red Kool-Aid punch, popcorn balls. I bet our poor teachers had to “put their feet up” when they got home.

I love to collect vintage valentines.

I kept those sweet Valentines I had received close to me for many years. When I was sick or even cleaning my room, I often sat and looked through my little box of cards.  Today, when my girlfriends and I vintage shop, I look for and often purchase a few little Valentines signed so carefully in thick pencil by a child fifty years ago; I remember and appreciate the anticipation and effort it involved.

And I wonder if there is still a faded, covered shoe box of Valentines from those dear ones of my past hidden in the closet of my childhood bedroom? When I take my mother’s Valentine to her this year, I will check. I sure hope those treasures are still there.

It’s a Fine Life.

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I enjoy reading Wendel Berry’s novels. This is a beautiful story of love and loss.

If you are looking for a book series and haven’t read Jan Karon’s Mitford series, give the first one a try. Set in a small town, the books are tender and uplifting. My mom reads the whole series over and over.

A bound collection of my first twenty columns in The South County News.

Hope for the Future

Checking my Fitbit, I circle the track near our elementary school a few more times; the Little League Fields are still, the concession stand boarded, the dugouts empty. One baseball-capped woman throws a Frisbee over and over to her golden lab, who races again and again, back and forth, back and forth. The playground is childless, swing set seats hang on idle chains, the wind rippling the soccer field.

My friend Leeanne and I walk down the center of Main Street; town is eerily quiet. In the silence we notice the paint peeling around a storefront window and a squirrel’s high wire act. We hear a woodpecker, his persistence admirable,  drilling high in an oak.

I feel this emptiness, grieve the loss of the togetherness and community we have always enjoyed in my hometown. I am off-balance, out-of-sync, persistently fragile.

Then three weeks ago, my husband spotted a bald eagle soaring above the neighborhood and lake. High in the sky, the signature white head came into view each time he circled our direction.

Photo by Frank Cone from Pexels
During the 1960s and 70s, the Bald Eagle joined the endangered species list, its numbers dropping dangerously low from loss of habitat and use of DDT.

What an inspiring, powerful symbol of resilience and survival–just what I need to think about during this time of isolation and struggle.

As we sat around our dinner table sharing lunch and dinner during the summer months of our childhood, my dad reported regularly about the wildlife he saw while planting corn, cultivating the fields, raking hay, or completing one of the many jobs he and my uncle were responsible for.

Dad loved the woods, the wildlife, the fawns he would gently move to the side of the fields he was working. He respected the barn snakes, teaching us to never hurt them, that they controlled the rodents and other pests. He cherished the rare sightings of the many birds we now regularly see: Sand Hill Cranes, Blue Herons, Canadian Geese all were unusual, and he made continual note of them. But he never spotted an eagle; how pleased and encouraged he would be by the solitary figure perched in the tree across the lake.

Photo by Frank Cone from Pexels
Through careful protection and conservation, the species is again thriving.

We too will survive this time of endangerment, and someday soon we will tell of the challenges and of our recovery.

And of our continued hope for the future.

It’s a Fine Life.

By Kathleen Oswalt-Forsythe © May 8, 2020

Some Stories of Survival and Overcoming Hardship

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The amazing story of the US Rowing Team and the 1936 Olympic Race. It is one of my son’s favorite books.

I just finished reading this fictional story of homesteading in Alaska during the 1970s. The main character’s resilience and survival of not only the wilderness but an abusive situation is inspiring.

Another amazing survival story. I respect the author’s passion for becoming educated against all kinds of odds.

Now’s the Time! Boredom Busters and Mood Boosters

Yes, this new staying home and social distancing is an adjustment for all of us. Some of us life with a houseful of people; some of us live alone. Some of us live in tiny apartments; some of us live in spacious homes.

But, however, wherever, and with whomever we live, we find ourselves at times irritated, bored, and often opening the refrigerator door or reaching for the remote.

Here are a few ideas to help maintain even emotions during this difficult time.

  1. Put on a playlist and dance. (It is so enjoyable to listen to songs of our youth, tunes we listened to over and over on the local AM stations.) There are many streaming options and it always seems to life my spirit. (plus it’s good for a cardiovascular health.)
  2. Call a friend. (make a list of people you’ve been meaning to call, especially older relatives and friends.) When you find yourself becoming restless, work your way down the to-call-list.
  3. Make a commitment to learn something new. Foster your curiosity. Think about something you’ve always wanted to learn and check out instructional videos on YouTube. It could be a card game or a language. Maybe a craft or computer program. (Most of us have a box of craft projects to finish stashed in the back of a closet. This is a great opportunity to complete them.)
  4. Get moving and get outside: Walk. Social distance properly and walk with a friend. Notice the bird songs. Smell some flowers. Look up at the clouds or the night sky.
  5. If you live with others, schedule a daily time to play games. (Many of my friends are finding this the most enjoyable part of their day.)
  6. Read a good book. (I know our libraries are closed right now, so search your shelves for something new or re-read an old favorite.)
  7. Plan a future event. Look ahead a begin planning something to do when we are free of these restrictions: a vacation, a weekend with the grandchildren, a dinner party or barbecue with neighbors, even visiting an older relative. Start a list. Be specific. Plan the menu, and so on. This helps us feel hopeful and optimistic.
  8. Conduct a 15 minute decluttering or deep cleaning of an area. (maybe the junk drawer, spice shelf, under the sink, bathroom vanity) Take a trash bag, set a timer, and GO!
  9. Set a daily schedule. (I find this especially helpful and productive.)
  10. Practice gratitude. Find three things to be thankful for each day. The research is clear on the positive benefits of establishing this mindset.

It’s a Fine Life.

By Kathleen Oswalt-Forsythe © April 16, 2020

A few Boredom Buster Ideas

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Some friends and I are currently reading this book. There are so many good books to choose from.

This is the current family favorite: all the kids and grandkids like playing this. (I am still in the novice stage, but I enjoy it.)

Well Wishes

A few weeks ago, when the late winter temperature climbed to a breezy sixty, a post appeared on my Facebook feed. Traffic had stopped for a pair of beavers who were casually crossing a major street, heading towards the mill pond, just a block from our little downtown. This makes me smile.

A few years ago, I scoffed at a news story about a kayaker being attacked by a beaver. Seriously? Couldn’t the guy just slap his paddle on the water to frighten it? We often see them on the river up north, and their industry and hard work is evidenced by the sticks and logs felled by their gnawing. But I gained some new respect for their size last summer as we watched one swim past the pontoon, glide towards the shore, and climb from the water. It was huge—like a good-sized Labrador Retriever. It glared at us and began snacking on the reeds in the sand. Suddenly, I was glad I wasn’t in a kayak near this incredible hulk!

According to the National Geographic’s website, beaver colonies are present in nearly all areas of the country, mate for life, and can weigh sixty pounds. Beaver parents produce two to four kits annually and nurture them for two years. And my favorite fun fact: the early Native Americans described them as “playful and affable.” How lovely: good natured beavers.

The Wonderful World of Disney, appearing every Sunday night of our childhood, occasionally featured engaging documentaries of animal life: black bears, racoons, and wolves entertained and educated us. We watched a fascinating hour about beavers, complete with underwater shots of the tunnels into their lodge, the sounds of their communication, and the images of their family life within the twiggy mound

I have never seen one around the village, but perhaps I’ve never really looked. Is this current couple leaving the damp and darkness of their winter lodge to begin early construction on their summer place? More likely they are newlyweds, fresh from honeymooning in their parents’ adjoining apartment, ready to setup housekeeping.  Are they eager to greet their first brood of young? Do they study chapters of their parenting books? How to sooth a fussy kit. How to encourage bark sharing. How to introduce fibrous food. And I can just imagine the young pair sending their first brood off to their neighborhood school to attend classes so important for their survival. With only two years to adulthood and independence, their coursework would be intense: alarm sounding and the proper slap of the tail; establishing life-long tooth care and sharpening; lodge and dam design and maintenance.  

I’ve been watching for the duo on my many drives around the village and lake. I suspect they have settled comfortably in the wetlands near the mill project. Perhaps they are enjoying some fresh air and early spring sun as their young splash and dive around their new home place. 

I wish them well. 

It’s a Fine Life

by Kathleen Oswalt-Forsythe ©March 20, 2020

Nesting

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,” possibly the most fitting first lines ever written for the situation we are currently living in. Certainly, in the 1800s, Charles Dickens and his community faced uncertainty and eventually realized how to appreciate life. But these are concepts I am still learning: to be thankful for the moment, to live each day, to intentionally love the people around me.

I love this peaceful image my friend Leeanne Seaver shared. I find the subject calming in its beautiful simplicity. (seavercreative.com)

As I gaze from our windows, the neighborhood is aflutter. The birds are noisily courting, searching frantically for the nesting locations and materials. That Mr. Cardinal is a smooth one, gently feeding his mate various nuts and fruits at our feeder. The house finches inspect the wreath near our front door, scattering whenever I leave the house. A bluebird pair scrutinizes a box atop our picket fence, but the old dwelling doesn’t quite meet muster.

Across the road, swans glide on Sunset Lake, their necks arched and regal. The sandhill cranes circle the sky in pairs, their distinctive calls ruffling the quiet of my morning. Soon, all these various couples will calm a bit and settle into their abodes and routines.

Caring for my youngest brother David in 1969. I did have daily responsibilities which often included helping with my youngest brothers. This was good for me and gave me a sense of purpose and importance.

During this time of sheltering in place, I also find myself in the process of nesting. And I’ve been practicing for this present period of intensity my whole life. I had years of warming up: taking care of my dollies as a little girl, helping Barbie select her outfit for a date with Ken, babysitting my brothers or neighborhood children.

I was stretching out for decades: establishing our home nearly forty years ago, raising our children to adulthood, planning for and attending to my high school students.

And now, here I am: it has taken me nearly three weeks to reach any sense of peace in this time of isolation. I hope I am moving from a mindset of “the worst of times” to something resembling, maybe not “the best of times,” but to recognizing this as a tender period of feathering my nest.

I hope you can do the same.

It’s a Fine Life

By Kathleen Oswalt-Forsythe © April 5, 2020

Below are a few product ideas that I find help during this time of separation. (If you click on the image, it will take you to the shopping information)

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Lodge Enameled Dutch Oven

I have used this Lodge Enameled Dutch Oven nearly every day since I ordered it two weeks ago. Yes, it is heavy, but I love the color, just wash it when finished, and keep it on my stove. It is oven safe to 500 degrees, and I simply don’t know how I survived without it.

Each one of her friends is represented by a different colored leaf on her gratitude tree. I love this.

Gratitude Journal

My friend Liann is utilizing this journal, and I love how intentional the activities are. I use a different gratitude journal, but have just ordered this one. When she sent our group a picture of the activity with our names listed, we all felt the power of her thoughts and prayers.

Getting Away

Everyone needs some space—a reprieve from the people or routines that fill our days. I am reminded of this as all of us are spending more and more time sheltering in place.

This was one of my escape routes I took to seek some solitude.

When I was a child, I regularly sought time apart from my four little brothers. These were simple places: the coolness of the barn, the branches of the old maple, a favorite rock at the side of a field. All free and readily available to me. Once there, it didn’t take long to regain an appropriate attitude and some degree of affection for my every-present family. But I found such time necessary and still do.

My classroom of friends at Fulton Elementary School never spoke of vacations or spring break trips. Most of these children also lived on farms—or at least lived rurally with some chickens and pigs. My family’s livelihood depended on the careful monitoring, feeding, and watering of livestock and the timely preparation of the land for spring planting. Getting away was not realistic or expected.

A view of the river and bay at the cabin. I’ve had a lifetime of perfect getaways there.

But when I was in 5th grade, my parents planned a Spring Break trip to the Smokey Mountains. It was to involve lots of riding in the station wagon AND overnight stays in motels with indoor swimming pools. We were so excited we could hardly sleep. The morning of our departure, we crawled in the old Mercury (with a rumble seat in the back), tucked our new comic books carefully beside us, and eyed my mother’s tote bag filled with snacks and other tricks to distract us.

Little Steve about the time he broke his wrist. Our dad and the stockyard representative are in the back. We always looked forward to listening in on their conversations.

My brother Steve made one last run into the house to retrieve his pillow, fell from the top bunk, and broke his wrist badly, ending our trip before it even began. (It took several months for eleven-year-me to forgive him, and even then it was grudgingly, with attitude only a big, bossy sister can bestow.)

No major setbacks (or broken bones) enabled my husband and me to take our three children to the Smokey Mountains and Mammoth Cave when our youngest was five. We visited and toured both places and enjoyed the gorgeous mountain views from a condo we had rented. This was our first official vacation besides our annual cabin trek in July. On our way home, we asked our tired travelers their favorite part of the trip. As the children were pondering the question, I recalled the beautiful wildlife in the Smokey Mountains National Park, the purple and lavender sunrises from our balcony, the stalactites and stalagmites in the depths of the cave. There were so many wonderful moments to choose from.

Our oldest daughter piped up, “The best part was riding the go-carts!” to which her two younger siblings enthusiastically and unanimously agreed, “Yeah, that was the best!”

My husband and I looked at each other in disbelief. We sure didn’t have to travel hundreds of miles to ride go-carts and play miniature golf!

My new normal: reaching out to engage my high school students with my computer. I miss seeing them and worry about their well being.

This spring break adventure reinforced what my husband and I already knew: it doesn’t have to be a big expenditure or extensive travel to satisfy the need for a break and some much-needed time away. It can be as simple as pitching a tent beneath the stars in our backyard for an evening around a fire; turning off our electronics and playing old-fashioned board games with our children or grandchildren;  or spending the afternoon in the hammock lost in books.

I need to remember the simplicity of this during our continued confinement.

It’s a Fine Life

By Kathleen Oswalt-Forsythe © February 20, 2020

Below are two product ideas for your time of isolation. If you click on the image, it will take you to the item on Amazon.

 As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.

Suspend This is a fun game, which taps into problem solving and some engineering skills. I have played this as an ice-breaker, team-building game with my students.

Where the Crawdads Sing--if you haven’t read this book, consider it. If you lived next door to me, I would loan you my copy. It’s fiction written by a biologist: this means science and beautiful literary style. I am going to re-read it. It’s that good.

Exodus

(This piece first appeared last year in the South County News.)

Our backyard several summers ago, before the mole-plague.

We had an invasion of moles. Plague-like. Of Biblical proportions. As my husband walked the yard last spring, he learned they’ve assaulted the whole neighborhood. Now I’m not talking about a few little raised tunnels. Yes, those are annoying and unsightly, but they are nothing compared to what is generated by this current population. These must be massive moles, I’m talking behemoths, who leave behind fresh six-inch mounds that emerge in clusters.

I imagine their intricate underground roadways and their complex, generational community: big grand-daddies smoke pipes in their fitted velour jackets, flexing their sturdy, pink feet in front of their fragrant moss fires; plump grandmothers squint from behind tiny gold-rimmed glasses, pinching their rose blossom noses, and adjust their tiny acorn lanterns; and children live contentedly several tunnels down, thankful for the plentiful earthworms and grubs that fill their pantries. Most certainly, the grandchildren stop on the way home from school for tea and biscuits. Such bliss and contentment exist beneath our carefully tended yard.

And so my husband began his research, his conferencing, his obsession with evicting these silent intruders. We’ve tried some things, including poison worms in the obvious mole-runs. No luck. We have looked at mole traps: some that look like miniature guillotines and several that have a center spear which pierces the unsuspecting intruder traveling home from a productive day of tunneling. While we are very irritated and frustrated by these pesky mammals, I find these methods too barbaric—and then there is a fat, furry body to deal with…

Eventually a co-worker told my husband about the Sonic Spike, claiming “It’s the best.” Then a neighbor gave testimony to this product. And so began a pilgrimage to the home-improvement store last summer.

According to a twenty-something, gum-snapping clerk, they work. “Yeah, my grandparents tried them at the cottage and they were like gone. For real.” For real? Her smooth pony tail sways as she nods her head in agreement. Her innocence and enthusiasm complete the sale as my husband studies the box.   According to the box bylines, this solar-operated mole detractor emits a sound every minute or so which is so offensive to these determined critters that they actually “pull up stakes” and leave the infested yard.

It must rattle their little mole ears. Make them clench their little mole paws. Make them pack their little suitcases full of grubs and worms they have collected and become little transient moles, seeking refuge from such mole-ear-piercing torture.

What would make me leave my home? My neighborhood where we raised our children? I can’t imagine what would be so annoying or terrifying to make me take my family, pack the old minivan and leave. Permanently. Never-to-return.

Our backyard, currently free of the mole mounds.

It appears that the Sonic Spike is working. It is now mid-April, and their exit seems complete. Led by some Moses Mole, the clan has entered the promised yard of an unsuspecting neighbor.

I pray their exodus is complete.

It’s a Fine Life.

By Kathleen Oswalt-Forsythe © March 20, 2020

An example of the many spikes found on Amazon.

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Our End of the Rainbow

March brings some green back to our lives: hints of the lawn emerge from under the snow, crocus and daffodil leaves reach through the crusty cold, and St Patrick’s Day revelers sport their emerald apparel mid-month—always a late winter pick-me-up.

As children, we loved the idea of a pot of gold hidden by some tricky Leprechauns. When we spotted rainbows, we were excited by the prospect of unexpected loot. Could we outfox a Leprechaun? And what we would do with all that gold? Put in a swimming pool? Travel to Disney World? Buy a new car? As quickly as we spotted a rainbow’s beautiful arch, we could summon those dreams.

But of course, I now know we can only see rainbows from a distance and there is really no end. If we were to keep searching for the gold, the riches are forever illusive, much like an endless search for self.

One of the pastures on the family farm.

In our insular farm world, my parents taught my brothers and me to be satisfied and happy with what we had; we always had enough, and I know now how lucky we were.  This appreciation was to include the food on our plate, the shoes on our feet, and the family and friends around our table. Yes, it was acceptable to dream, and certainly we were encouraged to set goals for ourselves, but our parents insisted that every day was a day to appreciate and enjoy.

Such gratitude was easy to achieve as a child, but as an adult, I find this is a much harder practice. It’s not what our consumer-driven society wants us to believe. To be satisfied, advertising images entice us to buy this car, wear these clothes, or live in this area of the country. These things will make us happy. But the grass is not greener elsewhere.

There isn’t a better place to live in the world, than a small southwest Michigan town. A few hours’ drive in any direction feels like we have entered a different world: the excitement and cultural experiences in Chicago; the renaissance and renewed pride of Detroit; or the gorgeous shorelines of the Great Lakes. We enjoy outstanding public and private colleges and universities, beautiful hardwood forests, and rich, productive farmland.

This rainbow appeared over our cousins’ dairy barn the morning after their precious mother died–such a beautiful sign of love and hope.

Truly, we live at the end of the rainbow.  

I remember the story of hope from the Old Testament—the rainbow’s appearance, a symbol that the storms of this life will eventually pass. And today, the message of the rainbow has also come to symbolize acceptance and inclusiveness for so many.

Yes, a rainbow’s beauty remains magical today. And even with the scientific understanding of their formation, rainbows still amaze and surprise us, sometimes at the times when we need an emotional lift the most.

The reality is that we will always face challenges in this life, but these storms also come with the reassurance of many more rainbows.

It’s a Fine Life

By Kathleen Oswalt-Forsythe © March 5, 2020