All Lit Up and Ready to Go

If you have been following me for awhile, you know I LOVE outdoor Christmas lights. Since I was a little kid, I found wonder in lighting up the blackness of winter. There was one wealthy family on the north side of Racine who started my fascination with outdoor white lights.  These pictures really don’t do the original display justice, but at least you can see what I’m talking about. Baby boomers enjoyed angels flying in the trees and a beautiful Austrian crystal waterfall captured the imagination. Often our parents had to wait in a long line of traffic to get a quick drive-by look. But we waited with patience because few families could afford ANY outside lights. After Mr. Wheary died, his family gifted these lights to the city and now they are displayed at the Racine Zoo along with other colorful lights.waterfall lights peace on earth

Another family has picked up the mantel to present the community with Christmas lights. They live in a subdivision called Jamestown, and I gotta tell you, this display is something special. It is lit from five to ten o’clock and for five hours you can sit in the car and watch lights synchronized to music which you can access on a radio station. Incredible.

A few years back I started putting lights outside myself. The first year I put them on backwards and had to go purchase a LONG extension cord to get them to work. Live and learn, right? Since then every year my display has gotten a bit more sophistication because I add a few more lights. I have no aspirations to become Mr. Wheary or Mike and Debbie at Jamestown, but the flicker of my small display warms my heart in the same way.

I know a lot of people cringe when Christmas has become so commercialized. But let’s get real. There are actually two Christmas celebrations — one at church and a secular one where we shower gifts on people we love. Some say the true meaning of Christmas is lost because people become a little nuts in December, but I will always have an inclination to tell my friends and family I love them by giving them a gift that is relevant to them.

It’s not how much you spend on a gift; it really is a reflection of your love for that person by buying or making a gift with some thoughtfulness. During the years Ken and I fell into financial dire straights, we went to a park and picked up pine cones to make homemade fire-starters for our friends with fireplaces and napkin holders for those who didn’t.

So now that I’ve rambled on about the day at hand, I wish you all a Merry Christmas and a very happy holiday. Just remember the difference between the two.

A Month of Good Stuff

If you’ve been reading my blog for awhile, you know I often talk about the trials and frustrations of care-giving. It’s been six years since I took this position for my husband Ken who suffers from the nasty disease of MS.

Today, I’d like to talk about some successes we’ve experienced during the past month.  In fact, we’re celebrating because Ken hasn’t fallen in a month! How did this happen? Well, it was three simple changes.

He usually fell during the overnight hours trying to get to the bathroom. As you might imagine, his fall was a shock to both of us. So, I brought the mountain to Muhammad and put a portable commode beside the bed. Now all he has to do it slip out of bed, go to the bathroom, and then slip back into bed.

I also brought in a physical therapist to teach him safe ways to transfer from his wheelchair into his recliner, into bed, and into the bathroom. They also gave him a few exercises he can do sitting to help his balance issues.

The final change was adding a couple of ibuprofen to his nightly meal of pills. Because his legs and arms jerk a lot, falling asleep some nights can be challenging. The over the counter drug helps him relax and get the sleep he needs. He hasn’t experienced a day of overwhelming fatigue since.

We’re so happy such minor changes have made such a big impact on his daily life. It’s nice to see him have more good days than bad ones. Hopefully this will continue for several months before MS decides to give us a different challenge.

Christmas Lights and Other Stuff

I know the global warming of our planet is a serious issue. Scientists say this change on our planet will eventually wipe out life in the oceans and then life other most other kinds. BUT, I gotta tell you in a perfectly selfish viewpoint of one living in a northern climate — I love living in temperatures more springlike than winter-like.

The warm weather took a hiatus forcing us to muddle through a few “normal” days in the 30s before they returned this week. As I mentioned in a previous post, I started my outdoor holiday lighting project last week and yesterday I finally finished it. All it took was two new strings of lights, a new ball of twine, and a very long extension cord.

But last night I went outside in my stocking feet (my mother was probably yelling at me from the heavens) to take a look at my handiwork. I enjoy the familiar joyful current that travels through my body when my eyes see holiday lights. Now it’s on to finishing my holiday paintings which have sprung up on all indoor walls.

How do you bring holiday joy (besides family gatherings and good food) celebrate the holidays?

Let There Be Light

Over the weekend I took advantage of the warm weather (50’s) and got started on my outdoor lighting display for the upcoming holidays. The garland is draped around the wheelchair ramp, the wreath is up and I got my lovely Angle perched on her pedestal. If it doesn’t rain today, I will finish my project.

I’ve learned through the years such a project is a lot of work and even a little bit of engineering, but it’s one of my favorite things about the holidays. Ken and I always take a ride through the different parts of the city where other people have done the work to put up holiday lights.

The only problem with such a project is this: Will everything work when I plug it in? Most of the time something doesn’t light after I’ve exhausted all of my electrician genes–which is a BIG problem.

As a “recovering” Catholic, I began to wonder whether there is a patron saint of outdoor lighting. Don’t laugh. There is at least one patron saint to call upon for most life situations. When I can’t find something, I talk to St. Anthony. When my girlfriend wanted to sell her house, she buried St. Joseph upside down in her backyard. So, I give this practice of praying to these saints for help some credence.

I know. I know. This practice is superstitious. But with that in mind, this morning I “Googled” a list of patron saints on catholicfaith.org. The list included abandoned infants to youth, but there was no patron saint of outdoor lighting. I guess the list was put together before electricity was invented. But that can’t be true either, because there was a patron saint of Automobilists and Aviators — in fact, two saints were assigned to aviators.

I think my only option is to say a prayer to the patron saints of writers — St. Lucy and St. Francis de Sales. Perhaps they will look over me when I take the final step to plug in the lights and make the scene come alive.

 

It’s Time to Say Thank You

Every fourth Thursday of November, families gather around tables to share a special meal which usually involves turkey. This ONE day was declared a national holiday by Abraham Lincoln so Americans could give thanks for their their blessings. But in recent years, Thanksgiving has lost its punch because the holiday now finds itself buried under “Black Friday” shopping ads. Some stores even open on Thursday afternoon with their door buster sales. Am I  nuts to think this is nuts? Are we Americans really that eager to join throngs of frantic people rushing from store to store before the leftovers are even refrigerated?

Personally, I like to give each holiday its due. Face it, we only have one Easter, one 4th of July, one Memorial Day, one Labor Day, one Veteran’s Day and one Halloween per year. Why rush it all?

It seems holidays in general have become little more than a day off for over-worked employees, except of course, the poor people who have to work on the holidays because heaven forbid the stores might lose a couple of bucks in revenue if they shut their doors. Bah Humbug!

I’m old enough to remember when stores were NOT open on Sundays. We took twenty-four hours to just relax. If we needed a gallon of milk, well, we stocked up on Saturday or waited until Monday to refill the frig. Nobody died because we didn’t have enough milk. But that was before companies studied the 40-hour week and found it was more efficient to put people on 4-day work schedules for ten hours and rotate them during the rest of the month. Luckily, I didn’t ever have to work such crazy hours, but my daughter now does. And I tell you, she looks tired all of the time.

We also waited for every holiday and enjoyed the festivities connected with each. The world was slower than, and frankly, speeding up the pace of living has turned most of us into nervous wrecks. I jumped off that merry-go-round about seven years ago with a premature retirement and to tell you the truth, I haven’t missed the helter-skelter world at all.

I just think it isn’t too much to ask to take one day out of the year and make a point of looking at your life and finding things to be thankful for. I understand sometimes when the bottom has dropped out of your world, this task can be more challenging. We’ve all been there. But I suggest if you don’t go hungry, have a roof over your head, and don’t have to fear a bomb will hit your house, bow your head and say “Thanks.”

 

 

Change is the Only Thing in Life You Can Count On

Unlike most of the country, Southeast Wisconsin has enjoyed above average temperatures for the month of November. Even the typical gray skies and rainy weather have gone on a hiatus . . . until tonight. Believe it or not, we’re expecting four to eight inches of snow.

I bring this up because when the weather is lovely, I figure it is my responsible to take advantage of it, so I’ve been bumming around instead of plunking my butt in my chair to write. As you might have noticed, I haven’t posted any “words of wisdom” in over a week.

One thing I want to share with you is Ken hasn’t fallen in almost two weeks! It’s an occurrence to celebrate because he was falling at least twice a week. What has caused the change? I’m happy to tell you all it took was a couple of changes.

Because he typically fell during the night, I made a house rule that he was not allowed in the bathroom whenever I was sleeping. To accommodate his late-night bathroom urges, I put a commode in the bedroom. He fought me tooth and nail saying he wasn’t “comfortable” to use it. I told him he’d better get comfortable because I was tired of the firemen seeing me in my jammies in the middle of the night. After a couple of weeks, he admitted the commode was a good idea.

The other change was to have a physical therapist come into the house twice a week. She has shown him better transferring methods from his wheelchair to the bed, recliner, toilet, and car. It’s Ken’s natural tendency to make every thing as difficult as possible; I tease him he chooses the most difficult way because he’s a born engineer. It’s innate.

For over a year, the doctor has insisted Ken do thirty minutes of exercise a day. I’ve worked around him with this therapist because she has given him exercises he can do while sitting. . . of course, he puts them off. Again I need to lay down the law to get him to help himself.

I don’t know whether his reluctance to face something new is due to his fear of failure or just procrastination. Perhaps it’s a little of both. Being the exact opposite of him, I find his willingness to succumb to these little challenges frustrating.

I’ve resigned myself to the fact if I wait long enough, he’ll do what is expected. I really hate having to be a task manager — when I supervised people in corporate I usually had self-starters. I had no tolerance for people I had to micro-manage.

I also realize, though, things are different with Ken. I can’t fire him. He says I can’t lay him off either.  :-)

A Surprising Train “Trip”

The weatherman said to enjoy the warm temps today because the REAL November is tired of waiting. He will make his cold, rainy appearance tomorrow. Luckily, Ken and I will venture out today and head to Milwaukee. Our destination is a doctor’s appointment. And here you thought we might be doing something fun, huh?

Well, with his declining abilities to do travel of any kind, we make fun out of the most mundane things we must do–like going to the doctor, dentist, or just out for lunch at a hamburger joint. We do miss traveling, though, so we fulfill that need by watching pieces on PBS or the Travel Channel to learn about places neither of us will probably never visit.

Last night we learned about the cities of Poland–Warsaw, Poznan, Lodz, and Krakow. We traveled by train from city to city–which in itself would have been a wonderful thing to do. At each stop we were amazed at how beautiful the buildings and city squares were.

Each city had its own charm even though the underpinnings of the many conquers the Polish have endured by Austrians, Nazis, and Russians showed in its architecture. Warsaw was razed by the Nazis during World War II, but today there is no evidence of the war. After WWII was over, ordinary citizens scavenged through the rubble to find unbroken bricks and other salvageable building materials to begin again. And did they build modern structures of the day? No. They replaced the old stylish buildings with new buildings closely matching the old ones. I suppose it was their way of washing away the humiliation of being conquered by the outside forces. Impressive.

Lodz is the second largest Polish city, and has its own unique atmosphere. It is likened to Manchester, England due to its size and the fame of the textile industry which developed there in the 19th century. Now it features fine Art Nouveau architecture and the most famous Polish film school. They even incorporated a Hollywood-type star walk. Roman Polanski was one name I recognized.

Thank goodness the documentary did not cover the ugliness of the numerous concentration camps the Nazis built. Instead we rode along on one of the last surviving steam engine trains in the world which still makes regular commuter runs.

Few people probably don’t give Poland a second thought when they think of vacationing, but after seeing the sights via the television, I know I wouldn’t turn down an opportunity to explore the country. But I certainly would go in the summer, even though the trains criss-crossing the land are heated to protect passengers from thirty degrees below zero temps.

Have you ever been surprised about a place like I was? If so, tell me about it.