Spring break ain’t what it used to be

The grandkids are having their spring break this week. My plans were to take them to the zoo yesterday, which were made pursuant to last week’s weather forecast of sunny and a high of 45°. A little chilly, but if we layered and ducked into the aquarium, and the Australian nocturnal house, and reptile house enough times, it just might be enjoyable. Well, that little plan got spoiled by Mother Nature. High of 30°, and three inches of snow starting in the early afternoon. They played in the snow instead—Nathan, Kaitlyn, and Joshie. Kaity came in first, because Nate pelted her face with wet snow. Then Nate asked me if I would help him get Joshie inside, because he was done, but his little brother didn’t want to quit. They had already been out for about 45 minutes, but I put on my Snowmageddon outfit, and stayed out with him for a while longer. And stayed, and stayed…he’s the Energizer Bunny when it comes to the outdoors. Finally, when it was almost dark, and he was getting wet from the heavy snow, I got his mommy, who was just returning from running an errand, to bring him in. He wasn’t too happy about it, but so far, we’re still in charge. So far.

I googled indoor water parks for something to do this week. That’s not happening. The good ones are already booked up, of course, and the two stars on TripAdvisor ones are too expensive for the quality of the accommodations. I really didn’t want to spend that kind of money anyway. I think it would be better spent on a summer membership to the municipal pool, where I can take them every day, if the weather permits.

The only movie they want to see doesn’t come out until Friday, and I don’t really consider that an activity. So, there’s bowling, if we can get a lane. I’m only counting indoor activities, because it’s supposed to be rainy and drizzly the rest of the week. Bah.

We’re members of the Ohio History Connection, so we’re heading to the Ohio History Center on Wednesday. They have a wonderful exhibit of a 1950s Lustron home, reconstructed on the site, and complete with costumed docents. Lustron homes are fascinating. They were manufactured of porcelain enamel-covered steel. They were touted to be the home of the future, fully maintenance free, and easy to clean, and made on an assembly line. Lustron was the wonder child of an Ohio businessman, Carl Strandlund. There’s one in Marysville, although I don’t think it’s in mint condition, judging from the outside.

All of the historical sites in Ohio fall under the Ohio History Connection umbrella. We started Spring break early on Saturday with a visit and a hike at one of the most interesting locations—the Cedar Bog Nature Preserve, the largest and best boreal and prairie fen in Ohio (there are only two). I don’t know why it has bog in the name, because bogs are different from fens, in that “bogs clog, and fens flush”. Many cautions are handed out about staying on the boardwalk the entire time, mainly because the sedges (grasses are round, sedges have edges) are deceptive. You think you are stepping out onto grass, but you can sink into water as deep as your waist in a matter of minutes, and it’s muck under there, kind of like quicksand. The water stays at a constant 55°F year round, even in the most bitter cold and the hottest days of summer.

If that wasn’t enough to scare the young’uns, the over-the-top warnings about the Eastern Massauga rattlesnakes sunning themselves on the boardwalk, and the honeybee tree with the swarming bees was enough to make Nate want to stay in the visitor center. But we convinced him that, more than likely, we wouldn’t encounter any snakes. I don’t really think it was warm enough for them to be out of hibernation. As I thought, there were no scary encounters on our little hike. There were lots of skunk cabbages poking their little purplish heads through the muck, though. It was fun trying to spot them. And we did see the bee tree, but the honeybees were, as usual, minding their own business and not bothering anyone. I want to go back to Cedar Bog when the spring flowers are in bloom. It’s a sight to see.

We also did a short hike at the Darby Creek Headwaters Nature Preserve. The trail and viewing platforms were built and are maintained by The Nature Conservancy. They have an Ohio headquarters in Dublin. David’s sister Anita is an attorney for the national headquarters in Arlington, Virginia. They do wonderful work preserving natural places for future generations to appreciate and enjoy.

All of that hiking worked up a big appetite. We went to the little town of West Liberty, where we ate lunch at the only fast food place in town, a Subway, which is about the only fast food that I can still stomach. We were lucky to get there ahead of a girls’ soccer team, and a boys’ baseball team. Then we headed to the local ice cream shop, Nanzinger’s, where we had delicious ice cream cones, and I found a source for free-range eggs and bought two dozen. Nate doesn’t like ice cream (he’s not related to me!!), so after we had our ice cream, we headed to Marie’s Candies, a local candy maker. They hand out free samples, and have the best chocolates I’ve ever tasted. Yum. They had all their Easter offerings on display, and I’m going back this week to buy candy for the kids’ Easter baskets. Nate perused all of the delicious offerings, and finally settled on sour gummy worms. What?? I’m beginning to think that this child really isn’t related to me!

Joshie was plumb tuckered out and slept most of the hour’s drive home. The boys said it was a really great day (Kaity had spent the night with a friend and didn’t go with us), and when can we do it again? Soon, boys, real soon.

Spring cleaning

I went missing for a couple of days into the deep, dark jungle of southern Ohio, to a place they call “Greasy Ridge.” Greasy Ridge is the longest unbroken ridge in Ohio. It’s where my in-laws live in a house they built when they retired, on the site where my father-in-law’s family home stood on fourteen acres, plus another eight acres they bought from a neighbor’s children when their parents both passed. There’s no internet or cell phone service there. They do have a satellite dish that we provide for them. They’re getting old. My mother-in-law will be 88 in May, and my father-in-law is 84. Carl is very active. He does a lot of outside work—mowing in the summer, cutting wood with his younger (by forty years) friend and neighbor, feeding the birds and deer, doing little odd jobs for friends and family. He was an electrician by trade.

My mother-in-law Phyllis isn’t as physically able as she was a few years ago. She is mentally sharp and follows politics with a passion, loves reading of all kinds. She read Anna Karenina this winter! Their small-town newspapers don’t provide much Ohio coverage, so I always save our Columbus Dispatch papers for her when I know we’ll be visiting. She pores over every single article of political news and legislative happenings, and works all of the crossword and other word puzzles. It’s getting harder for her to read because of cataracts. They aren’t bad enough yet to warrant surgery, so I guess she will have to put up with it until they are.

Phyllis isn’t able to clean as well as she used to, so I decided I needed to go down there and do some more thorough cleaning, spring cleaning, if you will. Does anyone do that anymore? Probably just us older women. I don’t do it the way I used to when I was younger. I would take two weeks and clean each room from top to bottom, including washing the walls. I don’t have time or the energy for it anymore. This winter my house has mostly gotten a lick and a promise and hitting the high spots. Just keeping up with laundry and cooking is a full-time job around here.

On day one I managed to thoroughly clean the two upstairs bedrooms and bath, except for curtain washing, which will have to wait. Their washer and dryer went kaput, and they were waiting delivery on new ones. Every time I passed Phyllis, she urged me to just visit and rest, saying that I was doing too much. I just smiled and said I was fine. I only worked in the morning, and then visited my niece Debbie who works as a barber in her son’s shop. It was a pretty quiet afternoon, until school let out and people started bringing in their boys for haircuts, so I left and went to the library and got Phyllis a few large-print books to keep her going until our next visit. After supper, I visited one of my best friends, who happens to be married to David’s first cousin. I got to meet her newest grandson, a real cutie-pie.

Day two was the most daunting. They are both pack rats, and never throw away anything. The whole house, but especially the downstairs, is filled with tchotchkes and pictures and general clutter over every inch of space. They haven’t broken over into hoarder category, but it’s kind of worrying. I did manage to rid them of about 500 wire hangers that were just cluttering up the closets, a bag of discarded clothing that Phyllis wanted to have donated, an old lamp that wasn’t in use and was just a dust magnet, plus some old telephones that no longer work, and empty boxes of long-gone small appliances.

I was only able to thoroughly clean the bathroom and the master bedroom, and hit the rest with the vacuum cleaner in the middle, and mop the kitchen floor, which Carl managed to track mud onto five minutes after it dried. He never takes his shoes off when he comes in the house. I had to get back home, so I told them I would come back in a couple of weeks to finish the rest. I think it will take me that long to recuperate. After spending four hours cleaning and another four driving, I was too tired to cook when I got home, so we went out to our favorite Mexican restaurant for dinner. I love their lime chicken street tacos, and Joshie loves the salsa. He actually picks up the little bowl and drinks it. It’s so cute.

Thank goodness my inner voice isn’t telling me that I need to do spring cleaning here. I think I would tell it to shut up.

Hey, Brother

We went home to southern Ohio for a visit Valentine’s weekend. David’s elderly parents live there still. It’s where we both grew up, and we have strong ties there, although not as many as in years past. My parents died long ago, and as we get older, both families dwindle. The only close family I have left there are my brother, his six children, and their extended families; my niece (my oldest sister’s [now deceased] oldest daughter) with whom I have a very close relationship, and her family; and assorted cousins.

My brother Everett, called Buddy by the whole family, is 81. He’s almost 20 years older than I am. My sister Judy and I have been concerned about his health. She calls him pretty regularly (I’m not as good at that as she is), and he seems to be declining, physically and mentally. We were so used to seeing him strong and healthy, and hearing his big, booming laugh, telling his corny jokes, and lovingly teasing both of his “little” sisters. His family is very close-mouthed about things they consider “family business”, and that includes health issues. Judy and I have been suspecting for some time that Buddy may be in the early stages of Alzheimer’s, but hoping that we were wrong.

This summer at our annual Hart (mom’s family) reunion, always held at Buddy’s house, because it is the Hart homeplace, Buddy was very unresponsive to what was going on around him. He just sat and listened with kind of a slack-jawed expression on his face. Still, none of his kids shared any information with us.

Finally, a few weeks ago, after a phone call where Buddy was so confused that it was impossible to carry on a conversation with him, Judy decided to contact his oldest son’s wife Brenda. Brenda confirmed what we had suspected, although she said that her mother-in-law was in denial, and forbids anyone to talk of it. She’s a very devout Christian, and I suppose she thinks that if she prays hard enough, all will be well. She is also in denial about her own health. She has been frail for the last two decades, and has what she calls “sinking spells.” (She’s also very old-fashioned.) Brenda told Judy that Gloria has epilepsy (Brenda’s husband [Buddy and Gloria’s son] also has it…since he was 18), but she refuses to call it what it is. This is one stubborn woman to be as quiet and reserved as she is.

Before visiting on Saturday morning, I called Buddy’s house to ask if it was a good time. My niece Melissa (Missy) answered the phone, and said she would ask if it was okay. I was a little taken aback, because usually I get a hearty go-ahead. I knew that on  Saturday mornings some, or all, of the “boys” come to cook breakfast for their mom and dad. Missy said that Paul (third oldest) was there. She consulted with her mother, and I was given the okay.

When we got there, husband and toddler in tow, and after our hellos, Missy took the toddler and me into the living room, ostensibly to settle Joshie with his toys. She apologized for having to ask permission for my visit, but explained that her dad has good days, bad days, and some very bad days, and her mom is very protective, and doesn’t want anyone to see Buddy at his worst. She filled me in on some of the details. How they don’t ask him questions anymore, because it tends to confuse him. For example, instead of asking him how he’s doing, they make a statement like, you’re looking good today, Daddy. She also said that when any of them call and Buddy answers the phone, they don’t make him guess who is calling, and explain right away who it is.

They’ve taken away the car keys. Buddy had an incident a few weeks ago where he drove to town and forgot where he was and how to get back home. Luckily, it’s a small town and everyone knows him, so they called one of the kids and they came to his rescue. An even scarier incident happened in the middle of the night. Gloria called their daughter, Edie, who lives a half-mile down the road from them, and said Buddy was trying to make her leave with him, and was pulling her out the door in the freezing weather. Edie and her husband were there within minutes and stayed with them the rest of the night. But, what if Gloria wasn’t able to reach the phone? It must have taken all of her strength to keep Buddy from pulling her outside, until Edie and Mike got there.

That is now the dilemma that all of them face. Missy said they didn’t know what they were going to do. The kids and grandkids all check on them several times each day, but it’s only a matter of time until they need someone to be with them full-time. Someone will either have to move in with them, or Buddy and Gloria will have to move in with one of their kids, or they will have to move into an assisted living facility. I can’t really see the latter happening. The family all worships them, and they will probably fight over who is going to take them into their home.

It’s so sad to see my vibrant, wonderful big brother’s existence fading. I don’t know what to do, other than try to be a better sister by calling more often, and visiting regularly. I hope he doesn’t forget me too soon. I want to hear him call me “young-un” for a long time.