Sunday, June 29, 2014

The Art of Inspiration PART 1

Two weeks ago I took a nonfiction writing class.  I arrived at the first class without an idea.  I thought we would be brainstorming ideas, completing meandering free writes, and discussing topics.  (Lesson learned.  Next time read the syllabus.)  It soon became clear that everyone had an idea and almost everyone was in the final stages of writing their books.  GULP.

My classmates' books sounded awesome. 
  • One woman was writing a memoir.  Her mom left the family when she was 16 and never returned. 
  • One man was writing about prayer.  (I wanted to preorder his book, because he was so calm.) 
  • Someone else was writing about her daughter, who has special needs and can't speak.
  • Oh!  Another woman was writing about growing up in a Tibetan village.  She was going to weave her grandmother's recipes throughout her writing. 
I left the first class feeling frantic and desperate for an idea.  Any idea.  I hastily decided it was time to write about teaching in the Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) for ten years. 

I could start the poignant memoir with being hired to teach 8th grade science in MPS. (My only qualifications for this position was that I once took 8th grade science.)  The memoir would end with the day I finally had enough abuse. (The students had set the dumpster on fire during a staff meeting. Imps!) 

Somewhere over the rainbow, principals are sane . . .
I could sprinkle in "hilarious" vignettes about my parade of administrators.  There was the principal who wrote my final evaluation when I was showing the movie Twister at the end of the weather unit.  (I got very high scores.  Probably because I knew how to operate the remote flawlessly.)  Who could forget the principal who would plink out "Over the Rainbow" on the intercom whenever he felt like it?  He had a piano in his office and preferred to communicate in show tunes.  (Can I add that he was the highest paid administrator in MPS?)  My memoir would also showcase the amazing teachers I was privileged to work with (Mara, Keila, Janell, Jess, Dawn and on and on and on). 

Maybe if I take a nap an idea will come to me in a dream

Here is the catch.  I sat down to start my MPS memoir and found that I didn't want to write it.   Writing it felt like homework.  There was no passion behind my pencil.  My muse had taken a coffee break and I was left sitting there with 2 pages of whining. 

To be continued . . .

Friday, June 27, 2014

The Art of Saying Good-Bye

I lost a friend yesterday.  She had never been very robust in the three years I have known her.  This spring she came out of our six-month winter looking even thinner, and when I could see her bare arms at the end of May, I knew it was time.  Several severe thunderstorms convinced me if I didn't act soon, we might end up with part of her falling through our roof.

I have never been good with good-byes.  When I retired earlier this month, I made a beeline out of the school so I could avoid shedding copious tears on my colleagues.  I am always much better with a casual , "See you later," or "Let's get together for dinner soon."

And so it was with my dear ash tree.  Yesterday morning I drank a final cup of coffee under her shade and thanked her for the many lovely times spent on my deck under her canopy.  I had to leave when the arborist came with truck and chainsaw.  When I returned, she was in pieces on my back lawn.  

I couldn't stop myself from going through the debris and salvaging a couple of logs.  Here are the results--sort of a memorial to my old friend.  I know the birds will enjoy the cooling waters.
A plate from TJ Maxx and a stump.

The stump grinder will be here in a week.  I really hate good-byes.

Prairie Sherry

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

The Art of Appreciating Happiness

Day 43:  Prairie Eydie's
favorite salsa.
Several months ago I began to receive these daily Facebook posts from our own Prairie Eydie--"Day 14 of 100 Days of Happiness" and there would be this picture of a venti latte from Starbucks. Or "Day 23 of 100 Days of Happiness" and the photo was of PE's own Lulu (age 4) squeezing the begeezus out of the family cat. Secretly I thought to myself, "Lordy Eydie, clean out a sock drawer or something.  Who has time to be looking for happiness each day?"


Prairie Eydie is a very "the glass is half-full" sort of gal.  In fact, Eydie tosses in a few ice cubes and adds a squeeze of lime and a teaspoon of organic sugar to make that glass overflow.  She knows how to celebrate the little happinesses in life, and I know that this is one of the many reasons I enjoy being around her.  Oh, we have shared more than a few boxes of Kleenex. Last year's week-end collage trip at the cabin had us both mournfully blubbering about the many unfairnesses of life, but on the Universal Scale of Happiness Appreciation (1-10), Eydie is decidedly an 11.  

Knowing that my dear friend would never knowingly lead me down an angst-y path, I decided to start my own "100 Days of Happiness" photo montage.  And do you know what happens when you start looking for happiness?  You find it everywhere!  I am so backed up with happiness pictures,  I have decided to share a few with you.  Think of it as happiness overflow.

Is there anything that can make a person happier than finding something that you thought you had lost months after you thought you had lost it?

This is my favorite paring knife.  I have had it for 10 years. Annually, I send it to a distant eastern state to be hand sharpened by cloistered nuns.  It is a knife of such quality as to be worthy of being included in a legal document and passed down to the next generation.  My children will fight over this knife before I even make it into the urn.  

Last September this knife went AWOL from my knife block.  I noticed its absence immediately and went through a garbage can full of  a week's refuse three times to no avail.  I accused every member of the household (including the dog) of grand theft.  I searched through each cupboard and drawer in the kitchen with meticulous care.  I even lined said cupboards and drawers with decorative and expensive lining paper thinking that the penance might bring that knife back. No enchilada. 

Yesterday, I made the first strawberry jam of the season.  I longed for that knife as I topped those organic berries with an inferior implement.  I dragged myself out to the garage to retrieve the blue enameled canner from the top shelf. I slogged it back into the humidity-heavy kitchen and dumped it on the stove. I heaved off the lid to fill it with water. Inside that canner I found my collection of jar rings, the canning funnel, two packages of jar lids (small and large mouth), and...the knife.  Suddenly my heart lightened.  I called my at-home children together to celebrate the return of the prodigal paring knife.  Such unexpected happiness!

Looks a bit like a bagged buttocks.
Related to that jam I just mentioned is my next bit of happiness. This is a loaf of bread from the grocery that now employs me (Hy-Vee, Hy-Vee, Hy-Vee--shameless advertising, but we are employee owned).  This loaf makes me very happy for several reasons.  For one, it is a really good-tasting loaf of bread.  It is chocked full of whole grains, not too dry, and just the right density to make really good toast or to be eaten as is.  

The second reason I love this loaf is that it is like two loaves in one.  My at-home daughters are not whooping crazy about whole-grained bread.  They might eat a slice of this if it was the last thing to be found in the refrigerator and the car was totally out of gas.  I take this little two-for-one number and popped half in the frig and half in the freezer.  I never have to eat stale bread again.  Simple but pure happiness!

These are my at-home-from-college daughter's sweaters.  She loves argyle.  I love my daughter.  I love having my argyle-loving daughter home.  Nothing more needs to be said.  Extreme happiness!

"She had better be bringing home the kibble."

I am throwing this one in to drive Prairie Eydie crazy. She is a cat person.  I am a dog person.  She tells me I have far too many pictures of my pooches posted on Facebook.  This is our newest pup waiting for me to come home.  Oliver Twist Harry Houdini Puttmann (the name will be explained in a future post) is a nine-year-old rescue who has called us his own since April.  He adores me.  It makes me momentously happy to be adored!

Even having shared these, I still have enough happiness photos left to last me through next week.  Prairie Eydie was right.  There is so much happiness around us when we take the time to just look for it.  You don't even need a camera. Just enjoy! 

Prairie Sherry   

Monday, June 23, 2014

The Art of Retirement

Many apologies for my long absence. This Prairie Grl has been dang busy these past few months.  Let me give you a rundown. Bear with me. This post may be classified as TMI.

I think one of my last posts may have been during my drug-addled recovery from a broken wrist.  Prairie Readers may remember that I stepped out on my driveway on the morning of January 6th only to find myself in the ER an hour later with a rather nasty mess wrapped in a splint.  Three weeks of of ice and pain meds and one surgery later I was back in the classroom, having missed most of January.
As of June 23rd, completely healed with 95% mobility!

This is a higher caliber show than my usual fair of
Naked and Afraid on the Discovery Channel.
That time spent at home was devoid of writing, collaging, and even reading.  I found I couldn't focus long enough on a page to remember what I had read/written 30 seconds earlier. I did find myself watching a great deal of mindless television, which led me to begin rethinking my immediate future.

Poor Prairie Gus, forced to
"have fun" at Old World Wisconsin.
The former master plan had been to continue teaching for four to five more years.  Forced into a state of seclusion and virtual immobility, I began to realize that, as Prairie Pa reminded us in last week's post, I needed to start carpe-ing my own diem.  After 35 years in the classroom, I really didn't want to go back for year 36.  I wanted to regain use of my wrist and hand, and I wanted to take my life, throw it into one of of washtubs at Old World Wisconsin (that place where Prairie Eydie takes her children to experience the manual labor of old), swirl it around vigorously, scrub it on one of those old-timey washboards, hang it out in the sun, and start fresh.

With my arm still in a sling, I started applying for possible retirement jobs. Let me tell you, those applications are miserable when typing with one finger. I wanted something that would keep me engaged with people but required no papers to attack with a red pen.  I wanted to continue working with young people, but not to write referrals for "insubordination" and "excessive tardies."  I also wanted to go through at least a week without having a 14 year-old call me a "f------ b-----."

I am happy to report that businesses still want 58 year-olds.  I received a number of interviews, and I accepted a position with a large Midwest grocer, Hy-Vee, that (not "who"--a corporation is not a person) was just opening a new store two miles from my home.  After a month of training, I helped open the store as a "customer service representative"--meaning that I am the person who handles customer problems, questions, and fuels gambling addictions with lotto cards.
At times, I also relieve exhausted parents by
plying small children into semi-socially
acceptable behavior with candy.

March, April, and May were exhausting.  I worked two jobs, averaging 60-65 hours a week, but there was that golden date in my near future, June 13th, that kept me going.  At 1 pm on that day, I shut off my classroom computer, picked up my purse and the last of my personal belongings, and walked out of room 530 for the last time.

I have to invest in a new iron.
This is my second week of my new life.  I am working about 20-25 hours a week.  I look forward to putting on my crisp, white shirt and my name tag and helping my customers.  I am surrounded with teens experiencing their first jobs as cashiers and bag packers.  None of them has used the b-word to describe me.  In fact, they find me quite amusing at times.  I kid them mercilessly.  My young assistant managers are friendly and upbeat, even when working long hours and juggling a million tasks.  They know I am a hard worker and that I can be counted on. The small customer service staff are incredibly supportive and kind.  I am in a very good place.

Shut that dang door.
Company is coming.
I have enough time at home where I don't feel the need to write long "to do" lists.  This past week I spent my time in the yard and garden because that is where I wanted to be.  I didn't want to be in the house organizing closets.  Closets have doors on them for a reason. My grandchildren spent the week-end, and I had time to share a popsicle with them, go to the farmers' market, and make a batch of strawberry jam. A friend dropped by to spend a couple of nights while attending an event in town, and I didn't even pick up the kitchen before she arrived.

This has gotten rather wordy and lengthy, but now that I have explained my new circumstances, I can get back to my regular posts.  Many thanks to Prairie Eydie and Prairie Pa for getting us started once again.

Oops, need a coffee break.  The sun is just perfect on the deck.  I'm not going to even proof-read this a second time.
Rory beat me to it.

Prairie Sherry

Friday, June 20, 2014

Prairie Pa Siezes the Moment!

Welcome back, guest blogger - Prairie Pa!  Today he reminds us all to seize the moment and enjoy the people around us.  Hmmmm.  Maybe I will give Prairie Sherry a quick call!  Read the blog and then call someone you love.  Prairie Eydie

Carpe Diem

This is me as a young boy in Peshtigo, Wisconsin.  (Love the hat, Prairie Pa!  Even then he knew how to seize the day.  Prairie Eydie)
My friend Matt died a year ago. I knew Matt for 43 years. He was a man of insight and flawless character. He’s gone. My father is gone.  Uncle Roy, Aunt Hazel and Uncle Gordy are gone. My Mother-in-Law, Edith, is gone.

It is smooth sailing for me and my mother, Dorothy.

My window of opportunity to enjoy them is closed. I wish I had spent more time with them. I was busy . . .  I guess? I had an illusion that life would go on and on, forever, with plenty of time.

But as my father, Red Gremmer, once said, “That is water over the dam.” I cannot bring them back. BUT.  I still have a mother, a wife, siblings, children, and grandchildren. I have friends to enjoy, flowers to plant, and places to see. I must take advantage of this—now.

This is my resolution: I am going to seize the moment. It is so important to live in the moment and to make the most of our windows of opportunity. I am 75 years old and my window is closing. This saying is old, but not worn out: “No person on their deathbed wishes they had spent more time watching television.”

Can you identify which one I am?

I am going to seize the moment with my loved ones. I will do it proactively and be intentional in planning. I am going to block out time well in advance for these moments. I will take risks (at least risky for a guy my age).

I am going love my wife. I am going to seize the moment with my granddaughter Molly who tells me: “I love you so much grandpa.” I am going to seize the moment and play silly board games with my grandsons Lenny and Gus (up to the moment just before I go insane).  I am going to take granddaughter Lulu to the park and watch her do things on play equipment that no other four-year old in the world can do. I am going to go camping (I may actually back out on this) with my son Pete and the grandkids. I am going to invite friends to dinner.  I am going to make everyone, including The True Green Lawn Service people who come to my front door on a weekly basis, welcome.

I am going to be friendly to those who reach out to me and who seem to like me. I know who they are—those people who call me up, invite me over, and talk to me.

A proud moment at Prairie Eydie's college graduation. 
I want my grandkids to be like Jane. Several years ago, in a Sunday school class, Jane was sharing about her grandfather and she started to cry. I thought "Wow! she really loved her grandfather." If my kids, grandkids, or friends could rustle up a tear when I am gone it would be great. I can make this happen if I seize the moment.

Prairie (The Rocket) Pa

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Prairie Grl SNAPS (Part 2)

Part 1 of "Prairie Grl SNAPS" left me in an Acupuncture Health Clinic drinking beneficial tea and learning about ear acupuncture. 

I was anxious to meet my acupuncturist and had a preconceived image in my mind.  She did not disappoint and came complete with an asymmetrical haircut, cowgirl boots, orange sundress, and an earnest demeanor.  I liked her and willingly participated in an extensive health history questionnaire.

Gweneth's back after cupping.  Not too bad, right?

My acupuncturist told me that one of the first things she recommended for patients with sinus problems was "cupping."  I pretended to know all about it.  Truthfully, the only thing I knew about cupping was that Gweneth Paltrow had it done.  Photos of her bruised back, post-cupping, wallpapered tabloids for a week or so.  I readily agreed to cupping because Gweneth is very health conscience, so it must be alright.  Here is evidence why we should think independent of celebrities:

My back after cupping.   My traumatized son said it looked like I had angry, red angel wings.  

Cupping is an ancient Asian therapy where heated cups are placed onto the skin, creating suction that improves blood flow.  Can I add that the cups are heated with FIRE which is blazing above you while you are sitting there like a little lamb. But, I have to admit that my sinus pressure was gone 8 seconds into the cupping procedure.  The same pressure that had weighed me down for nine months. 

It's complicated.

Then needles were  gently tapped in all over my body.  Ears.  Nose (like I had little needle whiskers).  Legs.  Arms.  Feet.  You then lay in a darkened room listening to Peruvian music for about 40 to 50 minutes.  I really enjoyed that part.

The acupuncture treatment left me feeling heavy, yet floaty. Grounded, yet flighty. I decided the perfect thing to do  was go to Home Depot to buy mulch.   Feeling cloudy, I walked into a grass seed display before I ran into a co-worker.  The poor thing had to listen to me babble on about acupuncture and cupping.  Her comment after being subjected to looking at my back was, "How medieval of you."    

It is too soon to know if acupuncture works for me.  But, I will be heading back for more murky tea and needles.  (I am going to politely decline any more cupping procedures. Hopefully the benefits I received will be long lived.  I don't want to be known at the community pool as the-mom-with-disgusting-back.)  

If you see me lurching around the co-op, with needles in my ears, shopping for gluten-free muffin tops, make sure to say "Hi."

Prairie Eydie



Monday, June 16, 2014

Prairie Grl SNAPS (Part 1)

After nine months of countless rounds of gut stripping antibiotics,  sporadic courses of steroids (The lose-your-mind-kinda steroids.  NOTE:  texts should be ignored from people who are on a "Steroid Blast."  On second thought, don't ignore the texts, respond to them in a calm, reassuring way and then delete.), and a sinus surgery - I have put on my walking shoes and left Western medicine behind in search of relief in Eastern medicine.   

Let me back peddle for those not blessed to be in my sinus hell loop.  To celebrate the beginning of the 2013 school year I got my first sinus infection. Since that went so well, I carried on having infection after infection.  I trick-or-treated with an infection.  I carved the organic turkey with an infection.  I trimmed the Christmas tree with an infection. 

In March I decided to have sinus surgery.  I never got a second opinion or considered surgery alternatives.  I had collected many sinus surgery success stories from people who-knew-someone-who-was-related-to-someone-who-had-the-surgery.  From what I could gather, these unknown people never had another sinus infection!  (Actually, our beloved Prairie  Sherry had sinus surgery several years ago.  Sharon forgot  to mention that she lost her sense of smell for FIVE years after her surgery. Luckily a trip to the Southwest returned her sense of smell.)   

I greedily snatched the first sinus surgery opening, after viewing a horrifying MRI of my clogged sinuses.  The recovery from surgery was monstrous, though I became quite skilled in taping gauze pads under my nose to catch "run-off."  A loop in my brain kept repeating, "This is all going to be worth it.  This is all going to be worth it."  Three weeks after surgery I had another infection, followed by another, followed by yet another.  

During the onset of infection #3, something inside me snapped.  I was NOT returning to Walgreen's to pick up another round of antibiotics and steroids. This sad routine hadn't worked for months, so why would it work now?  I am sure you've heard this quote from Einstein:

5 days later, I found myself at an Acupuncture Health Center.  I poured myself mug of yucky tasting, highly beneficial herbal tea to drink while I waited for my acupuncturist.  Sitting next to me was woman whose ears were neatly lined with needles.  All of a sudden, she popped up.  She had remember she needed red quinoa at the co-op, so out she went with her needles in her ears to do some shopping.  The receptionist whispered, "People do that all the time.  Leave in the middle of a tune-up to get some shopping done." 

Tune in Wednesday for "Prairie Grl SNAPS - Part 2."  Find out why cupping doesn't mix with  strapless sundresses and why shopping at Home Depot after acupuncture isn't a good idea. 

To be continued . . . 

Sunday, June 15, 2014

7 Things I Know For Sure About Prairie Pa

Prairie Grl and Prairie Pa set aside gardening disputes for an idealic Father's Day photo.  June, 2013

My father, affectionately known to our readers as "Prairie Pa", is an avid gardener.  In honor of Father's Day I have composed a list of 7 things I know for sure about him, as a gardener. 

7. Dad sometimes has too much time on his hands and is prone to bouts of "snarkiness."  Recently he sent me an email, written from the point of a view of a Bleeding Heart plant I generously shared with with him.  Here is his obnoxious email in it entirety:

Thank you loving gardener, Timmy, for rescuing me from my Evil Step Gardener, Edith. My Evil Step Gardener viciously dug me out of the ground, cutting off many of my appendages and tossing me into a cardboard box. I was purposely left in the sun for two weeks without water even though I was selfless in producing beautiful, red bleeding hearts year after year.  

When you rescued me, I was near death, with only two leaves. I had said my final prayers and was ready to go to that great green house in the sky. But you took me to your home, planted me in just the right location, fertilized me, and stayed up all night caring for my every need. It took several years for me to recover, but thanks to you, loving gardener, I am now a record size bleeding heart, the envy of all the neighborhood.  

And to my Evil Step Gardener, all I can say is eat your (bleeding) heart out. 

6.  Dad has the best attitude about gardening.  He will give all plants a shot (except "boring" ornamental grass).  If a container of plants isn't doing well in the front of the house, he will cart it to a different location on his estate.

5.  Prairie Pa does not like Prairie Ma to clutter up his flower gardens with whimsical decor.  He WILL put up a fight to defend his territory.  

4.  Dad makes awesome vanilla lattes, but would not make a good barista at Starbucks.  It takes him 30 minutes to make three lattes and then he closed up shop so I can get back to his garden.

3.  Prairie Pa is NOT humble about his garden.  In fact I would go as far to say that he is a dreaded "Garden Gloater."

2.  Dad is very opinionated.  Here are some of his opinions:

  • Irises are a waste of space.
  • Miracle-Gro should be bought in bulk.
  • You can never buy too many impatiens.
  • Never get sentimental about trees, especially if they are blocking rays from sun loving flowers.

1.  Wave petunias or hostas.  Soil or compost.  Miracle-Gro or coffee grounds. Prairie Pa remains the absolute best dad for this Prairie Grl.  

Happy Father's Day to all the "A+" dads out there!

Lets take a moment, here at the Prairie Grlz blog, to remember one of our favorite founding fathers:  Charles "Pa" Ingalls.

NOTE:  Prairie Pa is one of our favorite guest bloggers.  If you haven't already, check out his past blogs in the Prairie Grlz archives!

  • Prairie Pa Goes Prehistoric (1-14-14)
  • Prairie Pa on Nick Names (10-21-13)
  • Prairie Pa Weighs In On Public Officials (9-25-14)
  • Prairie Grl vs. Prairie Dad (8-28-13)