Wednesday, August 31, 2011

We Just Couldn't Do It

Today we were supposed to put down Lady, our 10 year old mutt.

Many months ago she lost the use of her hind legs. Indications of the impending loss began while we lived in the Upper Peninsula. She'd trip often, fall going up steps, and favor one rear leg over another. At first, Sweetie assumed it was the ceramic tile floors. As time went on we noticed similar behavior outside, we took her to a vet. "A little arthritis," was his diagnosis.

Eventually she started dragging one rear leg. Then both. Sweetie grew impatient with her and kept trying to get her to stand. He can be a tough old bugger at times. I'd tell him that Lady couldn't help herself, the muscle was obviously deteriorating, not the bones.

A few months ago we took her to the vet here and the prognosis was grim. Her left hip had totally deteriorated. When manipulated it sounded like stones crushing. Her backside has become boney and her paws curl under. Yet, the vet said she could live a long time "as long as you two are willing to care for her."

Lady's care has increased as time goes on. Thank God we have old stained carpet in the living room. I lift her by her hips and she'll walk wherever she wants or is directed to. Every few hours I walk her out the door to pee. Bowel movements are anther matter. Little by little she seems to have lost the realization that she's got to poop. For the last week I've laid blue pads beneath her.

Aside from her physical ailments, she's the same loving, faithful dog we've always known. She follows Sweetie everywhere pulling her back legs behind her. She has a recliner identical to his and sits there with one eye on him and an end table between them.

At night she follows us to the bedroom where her blanket is folded at the foot of the bed. After we've petted and talked to her she lays down to sleep. If Sweetie is in the bathroom too long she goes looking for him. When he goes outside he either takes her with him or he tells her to "take care of momma" while he's gone.

When we both leave we repeat the same routine. As we pull in the drive we hear her yelping for us. The sound continues until we hug her and tell her how glad we are to be home.

During supper, she eats her dog food mixed with chopped chicken liver and she and Sweetie share an oatmeal cookie.

Perhaps we were just so exhausted last week or the humidity had worn us down. Whatever it was, we to put her down when she'd finished her bag of food.

Obviously, we just couldn't do it. Today we're so relieved we can't get enough of her company.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Are You a Giver or Taker?

A friend nearby has experienced illness, family death and her husband's layoff in the past 90 days.

She and her family are great people; helpful, courageous and always helping out. The trials that come with living have hit them hard lately and now others are stepping up to help them.

They home school their four children; grow a garden and volunteer for several events. She does seamstress work to bring in extra money. His unemployment benefits were delayed over a "clerical error," and their youngest child requires lots of medications and a strict diet.

They're frugal people by nature but even they are now experiencing shortages and discovering where their prepping holes are. For the first time ever she went to the local food pantry. There was little available there due to a funding cut and low donations. We have a lot of preps so I filled boxes with food and dropped them off. The next weekend at the community wide yard sales she offered me free cinnamon rolls. I accepted, then dropped off more groceries.

I'd planned a gallery tour, dinner and fused glass class for a group of young people. She said her daughter would be unable to attend. I said, "Oh, her spot is already paid for." Of course her daughter was excited. Her mom had tears in her eyes.

"I have to tell you, out of everyone we know around here, you've been the most generous," she said. "It's strange because so many think you're so broke. Maybe you are, but you still give."

You bet we do! Contrary to the rumor mill - started by a former "friend," we're not broke. We're frugal.

Unless you are homeless; without a dime to your name; and have not ONE possession, you can give to others. I believe that with every fiber of my being. I've lived it. And there is no excuse for not giving to others. NONE.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Forgot the List & My Memory Kicked In!

Today was errand day and once again I left the homestead without my list.
Never even thought of the list until my fourth stop which was checking on my elderly friend. Left her home without making a list. Miracles of miracles, I got everything and thought of other things we needed and came home feeling like I'd had a successful brain transplant!

Proudly unpacked everything; fed the dog; cleaned the cat litter box; read the mail; folded clean clothes & put them away; picked tomatoes and started supper.

Sweetie comes in the door and says: "How much did my meds cost this time?"

"Meds? What meds?" I asked.

Then it was his turn. "Oh, oh. Guess I forgot to tell you I needed three refills."

At least he didn't insist he HAD told me and accused me of forgetting!

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Some Real Deals Out There

Says a realtor in Florida - and the rest of the country.

Thinking Sweetie wants to return to Florida & live on a boat, I started researching online. Thinking I may as well expand the search to land, I looked at real estate. He said, "well, we can dream, so look for a place on a canal with access to the Gulf."

I told him anyone can dream but let's not lose sight of the fact that we live within a budget, yadda, yadda, yadda.

"You never know what you might find," was his response.

What I found is a calamity showing nationwide.

I've learned prices are cheaper, the lots larger and conspicuous consumption is less evident the further north you go.

Despite all the financial plight, there are still people who think their piece of the Florida lifestyle is worth top dollar. Being surrounded by empty, foreclosed homes or occupied homes underwater hasn't fazed them or they're praying some sucker with deep pockets saves them.

I've learned that realtors have left the profession in droves and some, like a woman I talked to, have invested in foreclosures for rental property. No surprise there.

And then, one day I emailed a realtor with a few questions. An "associate" in the realtor's office responded. She answered my questions and asked: "When will you be here to look...?"

"Not anytime soon," I said. "Just looking now because we'd like to live on a boat but my partner suggested checking out small homes on land."

She seemed a bit deflated but responded cordially: "Anything I can help you with when you're REALLY ready to make a move here, please contact me."

Here's where the conversation gets interesting. I said within the last three years we'd moved twice: from Lower Michigan to the U.P. and back downstate to yet another location.

"Where in the U.P?" was her response.

Told her where & a short time later realized I was talking to a cousin's daughter! Guess that would be a second or third cousin. She gave me her private mail and since then the "reality" of the market is all I've heard.

Among her remarks:

"If you don't have your heart set on a specific house, you can really pick up bargains. Just closed on a place listed for $800,500 that sold for $423,600."

Told her those numbers needed to knock off a couple zeros to be realistic for us. She wrote back: "Oh, that's no problem. Another month of so and there will be huge price reductions again. My advice is find something you're interested in, better yet 4-5 places and write offers that state, 'this is my only offer'."

She claims to have seen it work time and time again.

I asked how she was weathering her profession just now & she said: "I'm still one of the fortunate ones. My husband is a retired military & we've always lived within our means. I only work to get out of the house once in awhile."

So I suggested she send listings that she knew full well we could pick up for pennies on the dollar. "Now I must be dreaming," I said. "But time will tell."

Haven't heard back yet but that's okay. I'm trying to live one day at a time anyway.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Money in My Pocket

The next three days is community wide yard sales in the nearby twin towns we live near. People have been cleaning closets and emptying attics for a few weeks, hoping to make some extra money. Many here are unemployed, some under employed, some retired but watching their investments dwindle. There are more yard sales this year than ever before according to many I talked with today. Thing is, compared to last year, this first day has seen little traffic.

No surprise there when more people are holding yard sales instead of shopping them. Our local historical society has a sale too & once again I donated a few items to it. We did NOT hold a yard sale. Sweetie hasn't bothered to haul anything out of the pole barn and the items I had collected from the house, I either donated to the historical society or placed in a friend's sale.

I volunteered a couple hours at the library sale and bought a denim dress and bed pillow for $1.00. Also stopped at the local food pantry with a donation then came home with a pie tin containing 12 cinnamon rolls made by a friend. They were a gift for bringing her daughter to an art gallery tour and fused glass class yesterday.

Instead of shopping today I did more donating and visiting. And everywhere I stopped I heard similar remarks: "It's getting tougher." "We hope to make enough this week to keep our cell phone turned on." I asked if they had a land line. "No, they're not convenient."

Guess that depends on how one's life is structured.

When I returned home I had a couple emails. One asked: "Would you explain to me how someone like you with so little money is always giving and not complaining about having bills?"

I know this person quite well and we've talked in the past about stocking a pantry; keeping an emergency kit on hand and stashing a few cases of drinking water. Maybe I'm tired today. I am in pain due to the RA which doesn't flares up in humidity. So I had little to say. After reading her question to Sweetie and staring at the computer screen awhile all I could say was, "We're willing to go without things. Social entertainment that requires purchasing a ticket is off the radar for us. We usually grow a garden but this year only managed basil, green peppers and tomatoes."

Awhile later she emailed again. "How do you afford eating steak then?"
I sighed and said: "Refer to my previous answer."

When we first moved here people felt sorry for us because we had such a small income, drove older vehicles and lived in a mobile home. Some still feel the same way but for the most part they're snobs who need to prop their egos up with shiny cars, large homes and monthly payments.

The people who've dared to get to know us marvel at our thriftiness and ingenuity. Some joke that if they "were as cheap as" us, they'd eat steak too. By the way, the New York strip was on sale for $2.49#. We bough four slabs & had it cut into 56 steaks!

Despite the continued downturn people still don't get it. Adjust your habits & expectations and do more for yourself and you'll have more on less money. Simple plan but hard to follow for many.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

An Example of How Diversity Impacts a Culture

I often reflect on my childhood because it's a clear example of how diversity impacts a community.

My father was career Coast Guard so we moved often. This exposured us to a variety of people, landscapes, perspectives and architecture - among other things.

No matter where we lived, my parents immersed themselves in the local history because as children each had lived in a large city. Mom in Flint and Dad in Detroit. Until there were adults neither had much experience with rural areas, travel or other professions. Mom always claimed that mixing with other nationalities had given them their inquisitiveness.

When they married my mother dove into her "seafaring life" by exploring U.S. Coast Guard stations, history and shorelines. Whenever an opportunity arose for Dad to transfer she was all for it.

We lived in the country most of the time where street lights didn't illuminate the "wilds?" We walked gravel roads where homes were set a half mile back from the road and traffic was a big event. We had "party line" phone service and went to town shopping at most twice a month. We were "newcomers" who didn't share the predominant ethnicity or religion. Several times my father was stationed on islands awhile we lived on the mainland. Most lighthouses are are desolate points and our neighbors were fellow enlistees who came from other states or cities we'd never heard of. No wonder the armed services encouraged enlistees to "See the world." We had it next door!

At age five, my parents settle in the Upper Peninsula where, once again we were the outsiders. My father was the only man who didn't farm, work in the mines, teach school or drive a logging truck. He was also the only one gone from home for six weeks at a time and home for two weeks.

We weren't raised as Finnish Apostolic Lutherans. We were French and Norwegian and until my teen years had never attended church. There were a couple Catholic families around & my parents got to know them because my mother's entire family was Catholic - except her. During that era the two religious camps didn't mix much. Today, it's more blended.

My mother worked while others stayed home. My mom explored back roads, collected antiques while the locals scoffed at "that old junk." My mom had the audacity to make dandelion wine! Imagine the surprise when a neighbor stopped by to ask if we'd like to buy 10 acres and discovered us playing cards. A few weeks later there was another couple playing poker with my folks. It was our first realization that some of these people had strayed from the status quo but kept quiet about it.

For nearly 20 years mom was pretty much an outcast until a few neighbors newer than us stopped to chat while she was at our mailbox. Two professors had moved into the area from outside Michigan drawn by the beauty, safety and bounty of the area. Over the years others followed suit and the former tight knit mostly Finnish enclave has been transformed. Like most of America, the generations born since we first arrived are more diverse, friendlier and interesting.

I recall being in the sixth grade and giving a speech on "What I Did on Summer Vacation." It made the other kids uncomfortable. Most had never left the county let alone the state & I had lived in Texas while my father was in some heathen island called Yap. My classmates giggled, sneered and pretty much disrupted my speech. Today I know their actions were borne of insecurity and fear of the unknown. By my teen years the hippies had discovered our area and once again the old and new mixed. With hippies reviving run down farms; wearing long skirts; having home births; cooking on wood stoves and baking bread, the locals relaxed their guard some. Orchards produced fruit, the tax roll increased, the school needed expansion and by golly, most of these newcomers could actually fix things!

Another type of newcomer was the college educated, world traveler who hosted friends form India, China and Africa and drove foreign cars. In time, they too were at least tolerated. Soon native retirees saw an opportunity to sell their places for what was then considered a "ridiculous price."

Diversity, so long feared and misunderstood, was actually good for an area. Though most of the old guard has passed on, their descendants have either remained and flourished by adapting to the needs/whims of their neighbors. Others have moved to areas where their religious/cultural influence is stronger only to discover that change is in the air there too.

The neighborhood dynamics over the past 40 years is a good example of what's occurred nearly everywhere. And how could it not with the rise of technology; population increasing and resources depleting? Today, those Apostolic families often have two parents working and plenty of their own children in college. And "God forbid," some would say, people are marrying outside their clan.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Already Missing Our Place

Our visitors from Flint are already "homesick" for our place.
After two nights of not sleeping because her hubby was restless, they both need a knock out pill and things MIGHT look better.

I suggested she spend more time in the community pool or they visit a park a couple times a week. Anyone holed up in a small city apartment has got to feel caged.

Meanwhile, after more than a week of feeling like a new man, Sweetie's oxygen level dropped & he's back on oxygen. It's cooler here this morning & he's anxious to work outside but I cautioned against it.

In the interim, Fox TV keeps him occupied. I pay little attention to it but did here Alan Simpson speak - one of the few who has wisdom and guts enough to speak truthfully. Too bad the administration and Congress didn't heed his committee's advice.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

They Don't Want To Leave

A reminder of how fortunate we are is our friends visiting from Flint. Once again, they don't want to go home.

Sweetie had some bullets that work in our friend's pistol. The friend says he feels "at least a bit safer knowing I can shoot the next person who tried coming through the window." They live in a ground floor apartment.

They have a huge dog and themselves squeezed into 500 square feet. They're in view of the expressway and they have no choice in who they're neighbors are or boundaries like a fenced yard or acreage.

They don't eat as well as we do and have no place for their dog to be let loose. This is their third trip here in less than two months & their dog now begins whining and jumping around BEFORE they ever turn down the road to our place.

Today they had to pick up a couple medical items from our local hospital because they'd run short on something for his IV pic line. She returned praising the hospital's courteous, quick service and ease of parking. We joked that they're welcome to stay here when we go to Florida...

Yup, there's always someone else who has greater challenges than we do.