\ Day by day – Page 3 – Re-Entry

a blog by Margaret Bendet

Category: Day by day (Page 3 of 3)

Coming Together

Photos by Kathy Rothschild: The thumbnail is the bride's mother.

Photos by Kathy Rothschild: The thumbnail is the bridal couple.

You can’t always figure out why two particular people bond. Often they don’t know themselves. Last weekend I went to the wedding of two truly beautiful young people, who married at the bride’s parents’ home in a garden the bride, a professional landscaper, had designed and her mother and father—working hard—put in with their own hands: six-foot stands of sunflowers and double tiger lilies waving in the breeze, a humungous climbing monkshood, and masses of dahlias.

Rather than having a religious functionary take them through ceremonial vows, these two young people passed out flutes of champagne and, standing in the midst of seventy-five family and friends, spoke about their love for each other. They’d both grown up on Whidbey Island and hadn’t liked each other much in high school. “He had an air about him,” the bride remembered, “an annoying way of brushing the hair out of his face…”

They went to the same college; they found common ground; she cut his hair. One summer he went on an ill-advised bicycle tour through Nevada and while he waited for the air to cool each day, they talked on the phone—for hours. She wrote in her diary about how one day she’d like to have a life partner and “wouldn’t it be funny” if it ended up being him? Later, she wrote down the date when she knew she loved him.

And the bridegroom talked about how this strong young woman keeps his compass pointed in right direction and how, if he gets off kilter—as he has before and must suspect at some point in his life he might once again—he knows he’ll fight to stay close to her steadying influence.

It was a Whidbey Island event: pot luck appetizers and salads fresh from backyard gardens and the farmers’ markets, a whole pig roasted in a European-style imu, paella prepared by the mother of the bride in a huge pan over an outdoor fire, and a table laden with wedding cakes—some bought at the last minute by one of the guests when it seemed like there might not be enough.

It was such an auspicious beginning—how better to step into marriage than by stating, clearly and in your own words, your love for this person! And it shouldn’t end there.

I had been working in the library that day; a man spent the shank of the afternoon in the leather-bound chair in the library’s back room reading The Brothers Karamazov because he couldn’t be at home with his wife. She needed the space to grieve their daughter’s death from cancer. “She needs space from me,” he admitted. He said that he was Vietnam vet, on medication, someone who never “got over” what happened in the war. “It’s not easy to kill people,” he said, and later he added, “…but it was harder on my wife. They give awards to the soldiers for being in battle. They should give awards to our wives for what they put up with. They should have a parade for the spouses.”

“Tell her that,” I told him. “Take your wife out to dinner tonight and tell her that.” A few days later, he said with a smile that he had done just that.

In our culture, we’re so ready to express our negativities, so eager to tell people what we think they’ve done wrong. Sometimes that’s important, but what we need more of, I feel, is the kind of truth-telling that expresses our love.

That’s the way to honor the bonds we form with each other, whatever the circumstance, whatever our reasons may have been for coming together.

The father of the bride is about to take a formal wedding portrait.

The father of the bride is about to take a formal wedding portrait.

Dollars and Sense

IMG_0214So many people send me opportunities to make and save money. I have to remind myself: what’s great in life has no price tag, but nothing—no thing—is ever free. Like the message I received from the credit union that holds the loan on my car. They’ll give me $150 if I refinance my loan. It sounds good. I’m sure they’d lower my monthly payments. But what would they charge me in added interest over the course of the loan? Much more than $150!

Recently I had an intriguing offer from the car company as well. They’re offering to take my 2011 model on trade for a 2014 model—with no money down and no change in the monthly payments. Of course, I would end up making those monthly payments for a lot longer. If I did this every few years, I could pay them forever.

And invitations to change my insurance come almost daily. Everyone knows about insurance companies. They’re lovely to deal with while you’re signing up or sending them money. When, however, an event in your life might require them to send you money, the honeymoon is over. That’s when you find out the true nature of your relationship—have you aligned yourself with a company you can trust or with the corporate equivalent of Bluebeard?

When I made my recent life transition and was in the market for medical insurance for the first time ever—I’d always had an employer-based plan—I did something truly foolish. A friend told me that if I joined this particular organization, the group would provide me with medical insurance, and because of the large numbers involved, the price would be half the market rate.

I called and talked with a representative, a charming woman who told me she’d signed up for this insurance herself—and weren’t we both clever for finding insurance so inexpensively! I loved that insurance—until I fell, broke my left arm, took an ambulance to the nearest hospital for an X-ray, and learned that I needed surgery.

The medical drama was over in about six weeks; my negotiations, machinations, frustrations, and, ultimately, condemnations involving the insurance company went on for years

Initially, there were issues about the medical procedure itself: the insurance would cover my surgeon and the surgical facility but not the anesthesiologist employed by that facility. (They had the anesthesiologist’s name but at another address. “They have to match perfectly what’s on our list,” a polite voice on the telephone told me: “both the name and the address.”) The insurance would pay for a pin to be put into my elbow but not the medical apparatus the surgeon recommended.

I did have the surgery I needed and, yes, I was anesthetized. Then I dealt with the insurance company.

I would have a clear, focused, friendly conversation on the phone with one of the company’s representatives, a woman named, say, Shawnee. I would take careful notes, fax Shawnee the paperwork she said she needed, and feel that everything was taken care of. Nothing would happen. Months later, I would call and be told that Shawnee no longer worked at the company, no one there had a record of my fax—and I needed to send them certain paperwork before anything could happen at their end. I went through this a couple of times, and then by chance heard the company’s personnel listed in a voicemail recording: one of the names was Shawnee. How many Shawnees could there be?

It was two years after the original accident that the company sent the final payment: $500 for the ambulance—a fee I had long since paid myself. In that time, the company had changed its name twice and, more importantly, I had changed my insurance.

Now, I sign up only with an insurance company recommended by a friend—a friend who has collected from that very company. I figure it’s common sense. And when I hear complaints about Obamacare, I remember what medical insurance was like for me before the passage of the Affordable Healthcare Act.

 

Four-Legged Friend

IMG_0175

I was once a cat person. Cats are lovely, graceful, and independent; they can be affectionate but they can also be demanding or aloof. Like many people I know, cats are provisional friends. Then I was given a cat-sized dog, and I learned that a dog is always your friend. I have never been greeted with such exuberance as I am by this dog—and it happens every time I come home.

Maybe I’ve been gone for just an hour. Chou Chou has already forgotten that when I left he was crushed he couldn’t go out with me.

Maybe I’ve been gone for six hours. Still, he isn’t despondent or distressed or reproachful; he is enraptured. As I step across the threshold, Chou Chou runs over and dances up and down, leaping into the air with a big smile, until I pick him up and hug him. To be honest, I probably wouldn’t enjoy being greeted this way by a person. From a toy poodle, it’s wonderful.

Chou Chou is a family legacy. He was my mother’s last pet; when she died, Chou Chou went to my brother; and when my brother died, the dog came to me. I offered to take him with some trepidation. I knew that having a dog would change my life in certain ways—but I could never have guessed precisely how. I see snack-packs in an entirely new light; I’m indifferent to bones under my coffee table; I have a new tolerance for barking; and more…

WALKS:I used to go for walks a few times a week. When I moved to Whidbey Island, I favored a particular beach where, at low tide, I looked for shells, which, for a while, I was painting. Once Chou Chou arrived, the walks became once or twice daily, and it was soon apparent where he prefers walking: on grass, under shade, in places where he doesn’t have to wear the despised leash. (Would you want to wear a leash?) The ideal place has turned out to be the Langley Cemetery. It would never have been my own choice, but there is plenty of room for Chou Chou to roam free, and I get to contemplate the ephemeral nature of life.

EAGLES: Whidbey has a thriving population of bald-headed eagles, and when I first moved here, I considered any sighting of this regal bird to be an auspicious omen. On my walks with a toy poodle I still look for eagles, but now they mean death from the sky! Chou Chou weighs 8½ pounds, just under the carrying weight for a full-grown eagle.

The threat is real. Circling eagles have flown away once I picked up the dog. Possibly they thought Chou Chou was going to be my lunch. One day I saw an eagle watching us from a nearby branch, and I picked up Chou Chou and looked up at the bird. As he flew off, he gave a screech that registered somewhere between annoyance and anger. A friend described an abandoned aerie he found: it was littered with tiny collars—like little trophies!

When I admired these birds of prey, I did know they hunted small mammals. But sharing my life with a small mammal has made me look at this from a personal perspective—and has given me a new relationship with birds of prey.

OTHER DOGS: I also have a new relationship with other dogs. Now that I’m acquainted with one dog—and appreciate his discerning sniff, his never-ending quest for more food, his splendid loyalty—I have a greater affection for any dog. It’s as if I were seeing dogs through Chou Chou’s eyes. As a cat person, I saw dogs as being of various sizes and weights and breeds. Now every dog is a dog—and might be a four-legged friend.

The Mint Revelations

IMG_0146When I planted my first garden and before anything else began to take hold, I had a pot of flourishing mint. Mint is easy to grow—so easy I’d been warned not to plant it in the ground. Mint can take over, I was told; with a small garden, you wouldn’t have room for anything else.

So, I had this huge pot of mint, and for years I hardly used it. Now and then I’d garnish a plate with a sprig of mint or cut a bit up in a fruit salad. Then a friend served a Thai shrimp salad in which whole mint and basil leaves were mixed with the other greens and liberally doused with a hot sauce—delicious! I started putting mint leaves (and basil, when I have it) into all of my green salads, and it’s been consistently wonderful. Even without the hot sauce.

Recently, I came across The Extraordinary Cookbook, in which gastronaut (his word) Stefan Gates suggests making tea with fresh herbs from the garden. How obvious is that! For me, it was another revelation. I’d never liked herbal tea, and why would I? Most packaged teas are dried, crushed leaves that were shrouded in paper envelopes who knows how many years ago. Fresh mint tea, I found, is something else altogether.

I cut off a huge handful—both hands, cupped—of fresh mint sprigs, packed them loosely into a teapot, filled it with boiling water, and let the brew steep for ten minutes. Unbelievable, the flavor of that tea. I love fresh mint tea.

Now we come to another dimension, so if all you’re interested in is cooking tips, read no further. A friend from Hawaii called, and I told her about my “discovery” of fresh mint tea. She suggested that the next time I cut mint, I try something: “Ask the plant if it’s okay for you to take its leaves. Then wait to hear its answer.” This woman—whom I met when we were both newspaper reporters in Honolulu—studied for a number of years with a training school for psychic healing, and she sometimes comes up with a subtle perspective I wouldn’t have thought of on my own.

But why not? The next time I wanted to make fresh mint tea, I squatted in front of the potted mint and mentally asked the plant, Would it be all right with you if I took some of your leaves to make tea?

Everything was quiet, and the answer, when it came a moment later, was wordless. I felt a whoosh of sweet energy inside. It seemed as if the mint actually wanted to offer its leaves. And, of course, feeling that made the fresh mint tea even more exquisite.

The End of a Plague

Tent Caterpillar photo by http://ramblingartists.blogspot.com/ used by permission.

Tent Caterpillar. Photo by Rambling Artists used with permission.

A plague is what it felt like, though there were no human casualties that I know of—just flowers and fruits and many, many leaves.  It’s the annual tent caterpillar invasion in the Pacific Northwest.

About a month ago, I was walking down the street to visit a friend and noticed a large, furry caterpillar near me on the pavement, walking—well, moving—in the opposite direction. A fellow traveler, I thought.

That was before I knew. That was before I noticed that thousands upon thousands of these ravenous insects had established residence in my own backyard, living in the branches of the cherry and apple trees, decimating this year’s crop. To be specific, this year my two apple trees will bear two pieces of fruit.

What do you do when faced with a plague? What is the conscious response?

First, I tried to get to know this caterpillar and learned, through research, that it has some lovely social habits. Tent caterpillars live in colonies. Each colony constructs a gauzy silk tent, large enough to hold many generations. The caterpillars situate these cocoons on the high branches of various kinds of deciduous trees, choosing, whenever possible, the side that gets morning sunlight. The idea is warmth. On chilly spring mornings the air inside these protective tents can be up to be 50F degrees warmer than outside. Once the day has warmed, the caterpillar leaves home to forage—that is, to eat… and eat… and eat.

Even knowing more about the caterpillars, still I wanted to kill them. I suppose if there had been just one tent in my yard, I would have been happy to share the leaves. But there were so many tents. I spent a few hours cutting down all I could reach and then—happily a renter—called my landlord and asked if he would come with his truck and take these (some 25) nests away. “There were thousands of caterpillars,” he said later, awe in his voice.

And that wasn’t the end of it. More arrived in the yard, built new nests, and these, when I could reach them, I cut down, burning them one by one over a candle on my front walk. It’s personal, burning something alive. I started out saying, “May you go to a better life.” But after a while, I knew I didn’t mean it; my goal was that the caterpillars leave this life.

Finally, I heard about a “biologically safe” insecticide: something that makes the caterpillars unable to eat but doesn’t affect birds that may eat the caterpillars—not many do—and doesn’t affect people who eat the leaves. It’s dicey, I know, but I was losing a battle for my own backyard.

And, of course, they weren’t in just my yard. They were all over the island.  These are forest tent caterpillars, and Whidbey is a forested island.  The local folk wisdom is that the caterpillars live in seven-year cycles. “One year it was so bad,” my landlord said, “that coming over on the ferry, I saw that the hillsides were brown—the caterpillars had eaten everything.” After a year like that, the understanding is, there will be very few caterpillars on the year following. I guess there’s nothing left to eat.

They’re on the wane now; caterpillars eat only new leaves so the season is actually over. This was a bad year, everyone acknowledges, but there are those who say that 2015 is going to be worse.

If that’s the case, I may be ready to explore another ploy I discovered in my research: tent caterpillar wine.
You know the old saying: when you’re given lemons…

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