when you wash the dishes, they also wash you

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When I was little, washing dishes was a shared activity. Washing with my Grandma Swanson in Cloquet, Minnesota, is one of the clear memories I have of her.  She said to use really hot water, dried plates and glasses with a cloth — no air-drying. She talked about things — she was the mother for all my father’s teenage friends, the one who made sure they bought corsages for the prom.

Was she a calm person, or is it the hands and arms in warm water that is soothing to everyone?   That association will always stick for me.

Note to architects:  the kitchen sink must pair with a window.

CIMG2337Our kitchen at Berkeley Springs, November 2014 (photo mine).

Going to war is not heroic

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The conflating of the terms “veteran” and “hero” is disturbing.

Today for the first time I looked at “Faces of the Fallen,” the Washington Post’s gallery of dead military members; it runs every so often, but I’ve never really looked at it before.  Of the 45 deceased soldiers pictured, 12 died in non-combat situations, or a least were not an enemy target.  The twelve included three whose cause of death was disease or heart attack, a possible suicide, a helicopter crash and a murder by another guy in uniform.  So they died while in the military, but maybe not “serving” the country.  My sample is limited to this newspaper page; I understand that may taint my analysis.

But if you read the papers you know the death while on-duty is not the only measure of service.  And people trained to kill in  war — even if they may have had some vaguely heroic acts on the record — continue dying after their discharge.  Veterans have high rates of homelessness, substance abuse, post-traumatic stress syndrome and other mental struggles, and acting out violently as they were trained.

I avoid militaristic ties in my life.  I looked the other way when a pilot said that Pearl Harbor was in view out the plane window; I ride a longer route on my bike to evade the hideously martial WWII memorial.  (I am aware of some exceptions:  I have visited The Lincoln Cottage, which is on the grounds of a military retirement home.)

Today I rode along Military Road in Washington, DC, on my way to a peaceful walk with a friend in Rock Creek Park.  I wish that could be the most warlike thing any of us would do.  The real war heroes are the ones whose words and actions oppose it.

Photo above of a dovecote in St. Fagan’s National History Museum, Wales, UK, by me, September 2014.

Well, the wait is over; healing and salvation offered here

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The town of Berkeley Springs is considered by some to be a sacred place, where good spirits converge.  There’s that magical hot water just bubbling out of the earth, right? Thus, it’s the annual gathering spot of all kinds of alternative healers at the Festival of Light.

For a five-dollar entry fee, you can find massage therapists for whatever hurts, palm readers, crystal handlers, future-tellers and past-life revealers.  You may commune, spiritually, with a lost loved one, human or another species.  You may purchase a stone or stick that was blessed under a full moon.  (I’m sorry I did not buy the special socks showing acupressure points but attractive enough for daily wear.)

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All of that harmless activity drew out this proud cross-bearing citizen, with his deep background of holy texts and protected by the First Amendment, who just needed all who enter here to know that this was contrary to the Christian Bible, and akin to devilry and witchcraft. (I heard that the local gendarmerie made a sweep of the building but found nothing technically illegal.)

I did not see his socks, but I think the burlap robe could be cited for a fashion crime.

to-do list undone

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My first disappointment today: the siding I was to paint for the Berkeley Springs house – the non-construction kind of thing I can do — had not been delivered.

My second disappointment, leaking over from yesterday, when I found out that no DC bookstore has the Edna O’Brien book needed for my book group meeting next weekend. I cross fingers that it’s at the Berkeley Springs library, but find it closed on Thursdays…

My dinner is corn and tomatoes from the farmers’ market stop, the third event of the day here and the first successful one, after the two failures mentioned above. Some tomatoes I immediately sliced to oven-dry them, in this oven here, a fancy convection one with hot air circulation, as opposed to the one at home with heat only, and that from light bulbs, applied quickly, the opposite of what you want to desiccate food. The tomatoes have been in there on very low heat and circulating air for a few hours and I think they look good. This too was on my project list for the weekend. Perhaps successful.

The fourth event was finally connecting with the Warm Springs Watershed Society, eight people who met to battle – real combat, my first time ever using herbicide – in the attempt to eradicate the beautiful but unwelcome purple loosestrife, which actually thrives without strife in wet zones here. It was fun. We split up in teams, gloved and armed with sprayers, seeking and spritzing the offender when we spotted it. And we did come upon some of it, not a lot, but individual plants here and there. Very satisfying. I liked all the people doing this. We were all about the same age, probably mostly just-retired, people who get excited about nature; one who confessed to being a birder, for example. A couple I had met before, but the others were new. I hope they will be new friends up here.

The sun is setting now as I sit on the new porch, though sunset may not be the proper astrological term for when the sun just goes out of view behind a landform, here an Appalachian ridge, not the true horizon, as in Boulder, coincidentally. I’ll try to look that up.

The near neighbors Melvin and Marion are away. I remember that they go to the beach in South Carolina each summer. Good for them, though in the short time we have known them, and even then, only on infrequent and irregular weekends, I can see them aging and physically slowing down. I’ll miss seeing them, but feel comfortable sitting on the porch with the music a bit loud, as it cannot bother them.

So a nice evening after all. We don’t have wi-fi here at the house anymore, so I have come to the lovely dinner spot, Tari’s,  for a dessert and to send some mail or post to a site. All that’s missing is a Scrabble partner. . .

there used to be more stuff here

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I think that on the way to taking out the trash and recycling, someone is removing storage containers, piece by piece, thinking that I won’t notice. I do.

the white stool — thinking down, not around

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My photo of the white stool, Berkeley Springs, 28 July 2014

Now that I’m not working at a proper day job, I’m spending more time doing manual work, time-consuming, sometimes smelly or otherwise untoward, usually in some way creative – baking bread, pulling weeds, sorting books; the mind has time to wander more deeply. I’m not looking around horizontally — not looking about to see who else is around, wondering why I’m doing the pointless thing at a desk in a cubicle, knowing that it doesn’t matter to me at all, nor much to anyone else either. Instead the thoughts go vertical.

I’m now in the wake of refinishing a piece of furniture, an old stool once owned by partner William’s grandparents, that has been somewhere for all these years, I think with his mother, Sally, who took it up to our Berkeley Springs house when she did some of the initial furnishing there.  It has been sitting in the kitchen or the bathroom there, or traveling between them. I’ve been painting other things here and in Berkeley Springs, and maybe it’s bewitching, because I tend to look around for the next project, so far two chairs on our DC porch (similarly vintage, never upgraded), a canvas ‘rug,’ the kitchen floor. There’s always a little paint left over — or I see where to get more.  I have invested in my own paint can, brushes, roller, so that I don’t have to share with William or suffer through his complaints about my improper cleaning. (I’ve improved at that.)

So I have this odd bench with a strange, u-shaped top shelf.  For sitting?  So that you can set a tall object on the second step, like the vase here?  Was it like a potty chair? It has clearly been painted a few times, so surely it needs to be painted again. First you strip the old paint layers.  For that, I bought that product I knew existed, helpfully called “paint stripper.”  The words on the can suggest that after applying the thick pasty stuff to the surface and waiting a few minutes to an hour, multiple layers of paint, applied even way back when the family had household servants, will just want to jump off the furniture and head out somewhere, job done, leaving bare wood, exposing the tree it once was.

It doesn’t happen that way.  The first application probably cleans the old paint a little, and scraping does little to remove it.  A second application and second scraping reveal that the white stool was once green.  A third application and scraping show some wood.

You see what I mean about the slowness of time and ability to think and ponder. Once you have made such a smelly mess, you cannot stop whenever you feel like it – not like just putting the book down or the knitting aside — because that would mean cleaning it all up and admitting defeat. So you start to observe and wonder, deeper, below the first layers, going vertical instead of horizontal. What is this thing now and what will it be? Who sat here? Who fell off?  Why green? Then why white? It’s not pretty, but sturdy; it wobbles not at all. Was this made by a true craftsperson? Do the screws tell its origin? Why do I care about it?

When will all this paint be gone, if ever?

And it was going so well

I check Craigslist every now and then to see if anyone suitable might like to live in our guest room.  This guy was everything we’d love/put up with until paragraph 6.

Here’s the big one: I have a pet parakeet and therefore my housemate(s) would need to be bird-friendly! Peanut is the smartest, most friendly and sweet little bird I have ever met. He can be a little shy around new people but usually accepts any room/housemates into his “flock.” He doesn’t make much noise and he’s pretty low maintenance, but ideally his cage door would always be open. He could certainly stay in my bedroom most of the time, but I’d want to allow him to “stretch his wings” periodically. He’s hand tame and there’s never any problem putting him in the cage if I need to.

Uh, no thank you.