Nature is steering a rocky path this year

I started this post nearly a year ago.  Volatile spring weather is a constant each year and has caused havoc from coast to coast in the past year.  After an extremely cold February and early March, we are indeed marching toward the end of April. A sunny, windy, warm Easter weekend had turned into a cool wet Earth Day.  See my blogs between May 2018 and now in 2019 to follow my decision-making process.

May 2018 remained sweatshirt-chilly for the first two weeks, then catapulted to temperatures near or exceeding 100 degrees over Memorial weekend.  The month wrapped up with a week in the nineties that ushered in wind-wrapped rain and tornado warnings.  High winds earlier this spring tore siding from my house, damaged ponderosa pines, and other trees, and downed power lines for many, although my electricity remained steady.  Trying to determine my future mirrors the weather’s ups and downs.  I think I’m all set, then have a complete change of mind every few days as I investigate options.

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Trees, bushes, and flowers experienced a similar rollercoaster.  Bare lilac branches burst from tightly-curled buds to lovely flowers, to dried flower seed-heads to full leaf in a week.  The branches were bare at the beginning of May and flowers were all gone before Memorial Day.  Many early iris did not bloom. Mid-season tall bearded iris bloomed and died in a weekend, but there were enough of them to decorate family graves.  Looking at each turn of nature teaches me that everything does not have to be perfect for one to move ahead, and many beautiful things are fleeting.

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Shete Boka National Park

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Located on the north end of the Caribbean island of Curacao, the Sheta Boka National Park is, according to their website, an “Area with more than 10 beautiful Boka’s (inlets) where three species of turtles nest. A boka is, in fact, an inlet. Shete Boka stands for ‘seven inlets’. Years ago, the environmental group Amigu di Tera arranged excursions in this area along seven bays. Hence, the name is taken, although in reality there are more than seven coves in this national park. The park begins at the beautiful Boka Tabla where large, unpredictable waves crush against an underground cave. An impressive experience!”  Learn more at https://www.curacao.com/en/directory/do/sights-and-sounds/shete-boka-national-park/

Prevailing northeast winds buffet the island.  Trees on the north end of the island are often bent like the featured image or dwarfed from the wind’s impact.

I visited the park on a tour of the island during February.  It was a restful vacation away from this frigid Nebraska Winter and did wonders for my mental health.  The crashing waves in the first photo were the highlight of the park.  The tour bus also visited a lovely park beach.  Our group had an hour to swim or sit in the sun.  I opted for sunshine, but many dived into the turquoise water.

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The tour bus also stopped at the salt ponds to see flamingos. We were able to walk near a series of protected pools where many flamingos dipped their elegant heads in search of food.  The flamingos have a peaceful existence eating in the still water.

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I noticed unusual water creatures at the edge of the pond.  I’m not sure of their biological identity, but they are quite beautiful.

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Curacao is a destination to consider to get away from northern winters.

Visit to an island

February is as cold this year as a home freezer that has gone too long without defrosting. Frost and ice cycles cover the northern plains.  Snow is stacked in piles around homes and buildings, roads ditches are full, and roadways blow shut again with every wind.  Fields, sky, trees are all shades of grey and white.  Roads are treacherous to drive. We stay at home if we can.  Everyone I talk with is ready for spring.

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In comparison, the colors of the Caribbean are brilliant blues, pinks, yellows, and lavender. I decided to vacation on an island this year for a change from this Nebraska winter.  A friend and I traveled to Curacao, an island in the Caribbean, that I learned about from former students.  It’s a beautiful island with wonderful eighty-five degree sunny days, balmy evenings and fabulous beaches. 20190208_122502

Although the Spanish explored this area early in the 1600s, Dutch warships pushed them out. The religiously tolerant Dutch welcomed Jewish refugees from Europe. Together these diverse groups developed the island’s natural deep-water port into a pivotal shipping mecca.

In the 1800s, the USA donated a floating bridge across the bay that opens to admit huge container ships, oil tankers, and other commercial ships.  The bridge connects two sections of the capital city, Willemstad.

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The photo above shows the floating bridge lit up at night to allow commercial boat traffic to enter the bay.  People could stay on the bridge when it opened and ride along.  We rode along several times.

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This photo shows one of the tug boats that came through the bridge. The tug is heading out to sea to escort a larger ship back to port.   The buildings were designed after those in Holland.  All the house are brightly colored and picturesque.  For example, the Postal Museum was located in a house constructed in 1690.

Cruise ships (as shown in the featured image), visit the island regularly.  There were two cruise ships docked nearly every day during the week we spent on the island.  These tourist visits are vital to the country’s economy.

More about island tours in future blogs.

How to be happy in January

I’ve been thinking about selecting a good topic to discuss this January, but the grey sky, wind chills, and snow are like a blizzard in my brain, obscuring creativity.  Some days, when the sun shines on new snow, however,  my mind clears and I appreciate that nature is  beautiful.

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Many other days are gloomy when the sky is grey, the fields are grey, and even the trees’ brown bark looks grey.  On those days, just a smidge of sunshine through the clouds pinpointing a building is charming. The scene visually and emotionally brightens the day.

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I don’t want to wish away a quarter of my year hiding from cold and waiting for spring.  I venture outside at least twice a day to feed horses, barn cats, and check other critters. The sound of horses snorting as they munch prairie hay improves my mood.

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Sometimes, the very act of walking in crisp January air is invigorating in unexpected ways.  It’s possible to experience beauty in a brief glimmer of the sun at a particular time of day at a specific location. For example,  indoor Christmas lights reflected on this wishing well in late afternoon to create an unusual effect.  I would have missed this moment if I stayed indoors.

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Sunrise is often inspirational in winter, just as finding the photos to create this blog inspires me to spend more time outdoors today, and in the days ahead.  These unexpectedly beautiful moments help me be less worried about cold weather.  Happy January everyone!

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Retirement Anxiety

I’ve worked part-time selling irrigation parts, in a kitchen dish room, and winding used film.  My full-time jobs include working for a grant-funded group home, a developmental disabilities office, and a state college. I’ve been employed in some capacity for nearly fifty years.  Each job provided a regular paycheck.  My anxiety is on high alert without a paycheck for the first time in my adult life.

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Photo by Skitterphoto on Pexels.com

I thought about retiring for nearly a year. When I was confident that I should retire, I considered when to retire.  I selected a date close to my birthday and turned in a letter of resignation giving three month’s notice. I sought a peaceful exit from employment.   Many events unfolded during those three months that made me question my timing. This lovely chocolate dessert was a happy departure from a series of unhappy events.

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The college hired a new vice president who was my supervisor for a few weeks before I retired.  He holds many similar views to my own regarding student services.  It will be interesting to see if he is able to change the negative culture that shaped my decision to leave employment at this time.

It was also short-sighted of me to retire before the Christmas holiday.  Another paycheck would be helpful now until retirement funds become available.

On the home front, my rural well failed.  The well company was unable to remove a dysfunctional pump from the old well.  The first attempt at a new well was a failure, beginning with clay collapsing into the new pit, installing 80 feet of steel piping to stabilize the clay, and running into rocks below 80 feet. It took two waterless weeks for the crew to drill a new 220 foot well that reliably produces potable water.  The expense nearly drained my savings.

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A colleague and I are setting up a mental health private practice in the county seat.  This process also involves start-up costs to pay for office rent, insurance, legal fees, accounting fees, etc.  It’s unclear how long it will take to generate income.

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As winter weather settles around me, I’d like to take a vacation to a warm place.  It’s 6 degrees Fahrenheit today and dropping as the day goes on.  However, I’d like to feel more financially secure before I make definite plans.

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Water

Managing Without Plumbed Water

I’ve been writing this blog to help me think about how and when to retire.  My decision is made.  I’ll be parting from my employer at the end of November, but I’d change that date if I’d have known my rural well was about to fail. I would have worked for a few more months to put some money aside for this emergency.  

I’m including random water pictures in this piece, because I crave running water.

Wyoming stream

Late one evening about ten days ago, I planned to take a hot bath to relax before bed.  I turned on the faucet in the tub, and turned to look for some bubble bath.  An absence of sound drew my attention back to the tub.  The water stopped gushing from the faucet.

Colorado River

It was the beginning of a cold snap.  My first thought was that the cold air must have frozen the pump.  A friend checked the mechanics in the well pit the next morning.  His repair did not re-start the pump.  Next I called a well repair company  from a near-by town.  They brought a huge truck, and attempted to pull the old pump from the well to replace it with a new pump. 

The  well pit was completely rusted shut.  No amount of pressure over the course of two days budged the well.  I consulted with the company owner about how to proceed.  He recommended drilling a new well.  I choked over the projected costs, then told them to proceed.  That occurred on Friday. Nothing happened over the weekend.

Monday and Tuesday of the next week hovered in the teens and twenties.  The temps finally warmed to the forties on Wednesday. Drilling commenced.

Wednesday: Clay collapsed into the well pit.  Thursday: A steel liner is added to 80 feet.  Friday: The drill reaches 220 feet and finds water.  When the crew attempts to pull the drill out of the well, it hit a rock, and is stuck.

Another weekend and nothing will happen.  I’m now ten days without water.  I invited company for an early Thanksgiving on Sunday.  We will prevail, somehow and have a meal.  Eventually, there will be plumbed water.

Seasons

There’s been a little snow here early this fall after weeks of wet cold, and now late October warm sunshine.  As the season progresses, I’m progressing toward retirement.  I selected a last workday, and turned in a letter to make the retirement official.  It is a really difficult decision to walk away from students and long-term coworkers.  I’m hopeful that it’s the right time to finish this  part of my life and move on to the next stage.

Today  was a good day to scurry around finishing fall chores.  My son built a horse feeder that will make it easy for me to feed the horses this winter.  He is also sawing and splitting enough wood for me to make it through the coldest part of winter.

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The summer garden produced potatoes, onions, carrots, beets, and turnips.  Tomato cages are cleaned and stacked in the garden shed.  I hauled dead tomato vines, pruned branches, and frosted pepper plants to a compost pile. The warm-season part of the garden is finished for the year.

However, the fall lettuce crop is doing great.  Chard keeps its brilliant color through cold nights. There are also volunteer cilantro and dill plants that survived the early snow.

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Harvesting fall veggies made all the summer work worthwhile.  I expect retirement to give me more days to play in the garden.  Gosh, maybe I’ll have time to start garden plants from seed next year. https://www.seedsavers.org/starting-seeds

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onions & potatoes

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carrots

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Barn Swallows

The barn swallows are gone for this year.  They left sometime in September. https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Barn_Swallow/id

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I watch for their return Mid-May every year in Nebraska.  I know they will leave end of summer and think I’ll say good-bye this year. I look for them in the evenings, and find they are already gone like quicksilver.  One minute it’s there, the next second it slips through my fingers.  My reflexes aren’t fast enough to see.  Their migratory pattern is fixed in their DNA.  https://journeynorth.org/tm/swallow/News.html

I like to watch the swallows dip and dive on warm summer evenings at twilight.  I imagine it’s possible to see them snapping up mosquitos and flies, cleaning my backyard for human outdoor comfort, as they feed themselves and their young nesting in my barn.

These sleek blue-black birds left about the time I ordered a new black mobile briefcase to roll to new part-time self-employment.  Buying new supplies for  a new post-retirement career is easy and fun.  Writing the letter of resignation to leave my position after 39 years with the same employer is hard.

Over the years, and through many different administers, I worked to provide more and different kinds of  help to students.  Until the last few years, those administrations supported and encouraged my program’s efforts.  They believed in the concept of helping students through many obstacles, enhancing their graduation rates.  The current one doesn’t share that view.  This leader’s focus is public relations, and self-image.

The program I’m leaving has been reduced to near nonexistence. Theoretically, that should make it easier to retire, however leaving is bittersweet.  I’m hopeful the next person in this position will be more articulate, and able to make a case to recover lost services that benefit students.

I’ll build my own mud nest, ready to hatch and fledge a new direction.

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Animal Friends

We make commitments to each other in our marriage vows, to our children when we decide to become parents, and to the animals that share our lives.   Dogs and cats sometimes live 15 years, but horses can live 25 or 30 years.  Marriages end through death or divorce, as mine did.  Commitment to my animal friends has been more enduring.

Today’s blog is about the horses that have “peopled” my life.  My husband loves horses. He was the driving force to buy our first horse.  The Appaloosa mare was pregnant.  She gave birth to a big spotted foal.  We provided a home for Jody and Cheyenne until they passed about twenty years later.

Our next horses were another mare for him named Rose, and an old gelding for me named Blue.  Blue was old when we bought him, but he was just right for me.  He was tough to catch, but very gentle to ride.  My kids and many friends enjoyed riding Blue. He lived until he was over thirty-years-old

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Rose gave birth to six babies over the years; two fillies and four colts.  One of the foals died after a few weeks, but the rest grew into big beautiful mares and geldings.  The last addition to the group was an Appaloosa gelding for my son.  My son was 13 years-old, named his new horse Apache (even though the Appaloosa breed is associated with the Nez Perce tribe in Idaho, it seemed right to name him for a brave Native American nation) and broke him to ride.  https://oregonencyclopedia.org/articles/appaloosa_horse_breed/#.W46IqPZFyUk

Apache & Rose horses 2005

When my husband and I divorced, we divided the horses.  He took four and I kept three. Apache, one of those three, belonged to my son.  Apache was the “go-to-horse” for new and inexperienced riders.  Like Blue before him, Apache taught many people to ride.  In the drought year of 2012, grass was sparse and dry.  The horses pushed their noses under trees and bushes searching for fresh greens.  Apache punctured both eyes on sharp grasses or tree branches.  We treated his wounds as much as he would allow (a month in the barn alone,  inserting lotions in both eyes is a challenge when the horse patient doesn’t cooperate). We finally turned him back to pasture with the other horses.  He adapted wonderfully, even running blind across the hills with his mates.  He came to the feed bunk when I called him, walking carefully till he first touched the bunk with his nose.  [Apache is the mostly-white Appaloosa in the center of the photo below]

Apache & Jody 2013

This summer has been a tough one for Apache.  He lost weight, became  unsteady on his feet, and as Labor Day approached, went down and couldn’t labor to right himself.  The wonderful veterinarian (the same one that treated his eyes six years ago) said his heart was barely beating.  She gave him something to peacefully end his life .  We said goodbye to this faithful friend of twenty-five years this weekend and buried him on a grassy knoll.

Hail Storm to Heat Wave

A severe thunderstorm with hail swept though eastern Nebraska  and into Iowa on Father’s Day.  I drove from a family reunion 70 miles west of my house, back toward home late afternoon.  It was sunny and 75 degrees at the family gathering.  As I drove east, the temperature dropped and a rain front became visible on the eastern horizon.  The storm was moving east.  I followed it, believing the edge of the front was far ahead, but as I neared the last turn east toward  home, I caught up with the storm.  There was heavy rain intermixed with hail, beating a tattoo on the car’s roof, hood and  trunk.  At times I could not see to drive and pulled to the side of the road until it cleared a bit.  There was no place to pull completely off the highway as there are no shoulders.  I was a bit shook up after the drive, but neither the car or me suffered any serious damage.

My dog was home alone. She hates thunder and was happy to see me return.

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A week later, another big storm swept the area, dropping five inches of rain in one day, but no hail this time. It’s a wet year here, but I am fortunate to live on a hill and don’t have to worry about floods, unlike many people who live along the swollen creeks and rivers that feed the Missouri.

The low pressure systems behind all the rain storms turned into a high pressure front that ushered in, and continues to bring, excessive heat and humidity.  I’m not a fan of this part of summer, but my plants and flowers are thriving as well as all the area crops.

As summer marches on, I’m taking steps toward the goal of retiring this fall, along with baby-steps toward beginning a part-time business.  It feels good to see the end of the road.

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