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)

 As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.

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.

 As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.

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

Dish Stories

If I were following table-setting etiquette, I would place the soup bowls on top of the dinner plates, but I just couldn’t cover the beautiful floral pattern on my grandparents’ Bavarian China.

I do love to set a table—to use special pieces from my family’s history, to polish the glassware, to arrange a fresh bouquet. I love the feel of these old treasures—the gloss of my parents’ wedding china, the raised pattern on my grandmother’s pressed glass, the textures of vintage tablecloths and napkins.

My grandmother loved her stemware and dishes. She passed this affection (and dishes) forward to my cousin Sherry and me.

Our buffet is filled with random bits of my family’s generational ware, and each time I set the table with these icons of the past, or wash them gently after a special dinner with friends, or store them carefully for the next gathering, they remind me of my people and the hands that touched them. I imagine the stories these dishes could tell.

When we were growing up, teenage girls had things called “hope chests,” trunks or nice wooden boxes which held objects to be used when we set-up housekeeping someday. When I was a teen, I had an old metal trunk which held a tissue-wrapped set of my Great Aunt Ethel’s china and a few pieces of Depression Glass.  

My maternal grandmother (2nd from right) and her five sisters. She also loved entertaining and using beautiful dishware.

This custom has changed, and while some of our children do get married, many do not. But those chests did serve a purpose, as most of our children eventually leave home and need many household things.

What families today use are Rubbermaid Totes instead of cedar chests—a place for parents to toss extra dish towels, the pots and pans that work their way to the backs of crowded kitchen cupboards, that old coffee maker that still works, and maybe a waffle iron which never made its way out of the box.

My beautiful parents on their wedding day.

My husband and I selected our dishes and various housewares several months before our June wedding. I was so very excited as we entered Gilmore’s and met briefly with a salesclerk. She gave us a clipboard and off we went–me glowing in excitement and my husband-to-be checking his watch and growing more and more impatient by the moment. This is a guy whose refrigerator contained four items: eggs, cheese, bread, and milk. He used one plate at a time, washed it, and put it away. Setting the perfect table was not even on his distant horizon. He didn’t care, and he has never found it important.

Preparing for a special dinner at our house. My parents’ wedding china and my grandma’s pressed glass are so lovely.

Nearly forty years later, we still use the dishes we picked out that day: “Matchmaker” by Noritake. Most of the plates have survived three kids, two grandkids, regular family meals, and countless loads through the dishwasher. Most of the bowls didn’t make it, but the chipped ones that remain remember fondly the servings of steamy oatmeal, thick stews, and hot fudge sundaes.  

These dishes have been with us through our seasons: they were charming in the early spring of our marriage; they were reliable during the joyful summer season of child rearing, little league games, and homework around the table; and they are thankful and gracious in our autumn.

And despite the fading colors and imperfections, these dishes–and this life journey–is still the pattern I would choose today.

It’s a Fine Life

By Kathleen Oswalt-Forsythe © February 6, 2020

Sentimental Valentines

I can’t see pink, red, and white construction paper and doilies without remembering my time at Fulton Elementary School and how we (and young children everywhere) prepared for the annual Valentine’s Day celebrations during those years.

My second grade school picture. Mrs. Harmon was our teacher that year. I still remember her chuckle and occasional laugh,

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 learned to cut out various-shaped hearts which we then used to decorate our mail slots. We eventually wrote our names with a chunky red Crayola Crayon, and taped our envelope carefully to the side of our desk. During the Valentine’s Party, we played mail carrier, delivering our carefully signed cards, merrily depositing our missives in each classmate’s pouch. By second and third grades, we had moved up to cheerfully decorated cereal boxes. Fourth grade we had finally arrived: construction-paper-covered shoe boxes.

For me, the Valentines preparations took several evenings seriously concentrating at the kitchen table, studying the class list and my little box of cards. I made special selections for my closest friends: Donna, Darlene, Dawn, Theresa, Dianna. Even more studied decisions for the boys–Larry, Robby, Chip—nothing could say “I Love You” or even “Would You Be My Valentine?”  No way. I wanted nothing to be misunderstood. Even more scrutiny for Jimmy who since 1st grade regularly passed 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 went over the cards and list again and again until I was satisfied.

The same twenty-five schoolmates traveled with me from Kindergarten, to First Grade, then Second. The same twenty-five children in little plaid dresses or little plaid shirts and jeans excitedly passed out their 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, Hang Man, Seven-up. One year we even had a pinata. Usually our teachers 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-aide punch, popcorn balls. I bet our poor teachers had to “put their feet up” when they got home. (If only educators had known about red dye and its effects on behavior back then…)

Our teachers at Fulton Elementary School. My grandmother, who taught 4th grade, is second from the right. They were all fair, no-nonsense teachers. My friends and I received a solid education and strict discipline, if we needed it.

I loved all the Charlie Brown specials, but “Be My Valentine, Charlie Brown” broke my heart. I always felt so sorry for Charlie Brown: his empty mailbox, his painful crush on the little red-haired girl, his predictable disappointment. I always hoped for the best for him: suddenly the Peanuts Gang would be kind. Perhaps this year would be different. His mailbox would be full. No more “You’re a blockhead, Charlie Brown.” At their Valentine’s party, the gang would surround his desk, shouting “You’re a great guy, Charlie Brown!” Sadly, that never happened. 

I kept those sweet valentines 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, and I remember and appreciate the anticipation and effort it involved.

Part of my vintage card collection.

 And I wouldn’t be surprised if there is still a faded, covered shoe box of Valentines from these dear ones of my past tucked in the closet of my childhood bedroom. When I take my mother’s Valentine to her this year in the old farmhouse, I’ll have to remember to check: I sure hope it’s still there.

It’s a Fine Life

By Kathleen Oswalt-Forsythe © January 23, 2020

Winter

Today the house is quiet. The holiday frenzy is done, the children have gone home, and the “undecorating” is nearly finished. I have stripped the guest beds, filled the birdfeeders, and assessed the leftovers in the refrigerator. Winter is here. 

As the quiet cold creeps into our yards, our village, our lives, we begin to fully appreciate our hearth and home.  Edith Sitwell states “Winter is the time for comfort, for good food and warmth, for the touch of a friendly hand and for a talk beside the fire: it is the time for home.” So true. It is the season of comforting foods and candlelight warming the walls at night: it is a season of beauty with frosty mornings and cardinals searching for seeds in the snow. It is a season for trips to the library and mugs of hot coffee.

We watch the weather reports, the doppler radar, the thermometer drop, anticipating a storm’s approach, and, as always, I recall those beautiful days of my childhood. 

Dad was always one for adventures, and if it included a bit of risk, I think he found it even more enjoyable. Four years old, I stand on the seat of our Falcon, looking out the back window. The snow, powdery and light, joins the exhaust in plumes behind the car as my mother tows my dad on his skis. Holding the taut rope, he swoops out into the fields along the gravel roads, somehow managing to miss posts and ditches, avoiding a tremendous wipe out on the icy roads. I hold my breath as my own Jean Claude Killee disappears and reappears in the clouds of powder. I think that only happened once, as my mother’s common sense must have beat out Dad’s ever-ready adrenaline and appreciation of an adoring audience.

Many times my brothers and I listened excitedly to WKZO Radio, AM 590, so convinced school would be cancelled. We waited and waited through the long list of districts, fingers crossed, toes crossed, breath held, as the announcer neared the end of the alphabet and the V’s approached. “Union City, Vestaburg, Vicksburg…all closed today.” Oh the joy, the squeals, the ecstasy of the hours of freedom and adventures ahead.

Our farm, always a ready playground, included a sledding hill behind our grandmother’s house. It was a long, long hike through the stubble of a cornfield, so often our dad would tie the toboggan to the back of the tractor and toss our saucers and sleds in the tractor’s bucket. We would ride the toboggan or perch on a tractor fender, and my dad would join us for several hours of exhausting fun: quick slides down and long climbs back up the slope. Sometimes we even had a little fire to warm our hands or a thermos of hot chocolate to enjoy, but usually we just climbed and slid and climbed again until we were sweaty and limp at the hill’s bottom.

My town friends had other snow-day offerings: hockey and skating on the mill pond, sledding at “the hill,” and friends within walking distance to join in the fun.

Timeless snow play. Our little girls, 6 and 4, after a January snow.

These times with our own children included snow play with neighbor children, cup after cup of hot chocolate with graham crackers, and piles of wet snow gear–the damp wool mittens and hats, the incense of our home on those wonderful days.

It’s a Fine Life.

By Kathleen Oswalt-Forsythe © January 18, 2020