Picture A Day

I have been working on taking a picture everyday with my phone. I am not looking to take photos that will end up in National Geographic or get printed and hang on the wall. They are all about documenting the moments of this life I am living. I don’t know what I expected when I decided to do this in 2021. It is turned out to almost be a visual gratitude journal. It is also a memory box of little moments I have forgotten were it not for picture. When I look at the pictures I have taken I can see so many moments that are good. Some are simply photos of the food that I have made, others are of art or craft projects, some are of my family, there are weather and the landscape photos, and some are just plain nonsensical. It isn’t easy to find something to photograph each day, but with time and practice it has gotten easier. I worry less and shoot more.

Night time walk using regular mode

One of the other benefits of capturing a moment each day with my camera is that I have learned to use some of the more advanced features of my phone. I was doing an evening walk the other night and I learned how to use the night mode to capture my home and see the differences it makes.

Same shot using night mode on my phone’s camera.

It has been fun once I got over the worry about shooting good and relevant pictures. I encourage you to do the same. Let me know how it goes for you.

The snow itself is lonely, or if you prefer, self sufficient. There is no other time when the world seems composed of one thing and only one thing! Joseph Wood Krutch

Moving Forward in a New Year

Before COVID began running unchecked in 2020 some creative friends and I had asked ourselves, “if you could go to one major class who was your dream instructor?” When you live in a sparsely populated place like Montana it almost always involves travel. Any creative class is a big dollar and time commitment. The group of had identified a couple of classes that crossed over all our varied interest that might have made a group road trip possible. The front runner was in October for four days and had two instructors, one from Arizona and one from the UK. Each of us was looking at how we might make it work in our personal circumstances. Instead in 2020 we stayed home. I had no idea what 2021 would bring, but travel did not seem like something on a plannable horizon. I knew I wanted a chance to expose myself to things that would challenge my creative bent. I choose to enroll in an online year long 28 instructor, 50 week journey with a focus on mixed media and art journaling.

I signed up in November for my 2021 online class. Immediately I got a series of bonus lessons that were there to help ramp up my creativity and tide me over until the class formally started January 1st. I did manage to complete all but three of the preview bonus lessons. I also took this time to look at my personal art supplies and tried to figure out what I had, what I did not have, and what substitutions I could make. I researched and compared finally buying a new art journal for the year.

Each month there is a topic or theme for the next four weeks. This month it was “Reflections.” The first lesson was taught by a mixed media artist from the UK. Her suggested theme was reflection on the previous year. Her techniques was a combination of things I had done before and was very comfortable with and a couple of things that I had to say hold on a minute, before I tried it. In the end I worked my way through all the techniques.

In the end I chose not not look back and reflect but capture my mantra for looking forward into 2021: “This Moment. This Life.” I wanted to focus on the moments and not allow myself to get hung up on big things such that I lost a connection to the amazing moment I was in. I wanted to focus on mu life and what I could do to make it better and let go of things that I can’t impact. This image does not show or capture all the layers that went into this journal page. Mixed media and art journaling tend to have layers of creativity that contribute the the end project, but are not obvious to the viewer. I had been exposed to this in other classes I had taken and often use some of the early layers as an opportunity to get my creative juices going and build on ideas.

One of the pre-class instructions was to find a black and white image that you felt captured how you felt about 2020. I found this in a magazine and fell in love with it. It is a man who appears to be moving very deliberately forward. He is carrying a satchel that looks heavy and for me he is carrying his history, good and bad. It spoke to me and I felt it was perfect not knowing exactly what it was going to be used for when the supply list came out the week before the class. In the end it was just what I needed on my journal page.

Another of the instructions was to add journaling to your page. Usually I write it freehand in a flowing cursive. Sometimes I use asemic writing leaving it up the the reader what they see an what it means. In this case I chose to add words that I had printed. They captured works I am hoping for as we move forward. A keyword journal if you like.

I enjoyed the first class. I learn some things and was encouraged in my art. There was focus on the process but always leaving the door open for you to find your own way. There are several places and ways for the students to share their work. I really like this because it is amazing to see how so many people see and hear the same lesson and yet their work looks nothing like another’s, but you can see things that let you know that they were in the same class as you. It will never be as good as being there in person, but it is better than doing nothing at all.

I finished this before the attack on the capitol. I worried that some folks would read things into this. I debated about going ahead and publishing this post, but decided that I would. I decided that I can not control what others think, nor can I let myself be silenced by worry about things out of my control. It is one of the many times I will chant to myself my 2021 mantra, “this moment. this life.”

Connecting – New Ways, Old Ways, Always

Letters and written are my oldest form of communication that I can remember, outside of talking-. I have reflected on how my favorite way of connecting continues to be relevant today, postal mail.

My first memory of writing something that would be sent via the US mail was thank you cards. My mother was a stickler for them. We were not allowed to enjoy any gift until we wrote a thank you. It made for prompt writing of those notes. My grandparents could all expect written thank you cards for Christmas and birthday gifts. I remember it had to be at least three sentences. That meant you could not say thank you for the gift and call it quits. You had to tell them something about how you planned to use the gift, school or ask them a question. Grammatically those must have been some very strangely composed paragraphs.

When I was in primary school I had pen pals. Some of my pen pals were people I had met at Girl Scout camp. Others were strangers I picked out of the back of children’s magazines that had “pen pals wanted” (can you believe that in today’s world that was acceptable?) I may have had one pen pal as a school project. It was there I learned to love the written word. I loved to communicate with serious thought about composition and actually came to understand sentence structure and how to compose conversational prose.

I spent summers with my grandparents at the cabin. It was there I was introduced to the postcard. The cabin was a vacation destination and there were tons of picture postcards to pick from. I would pick out cards for my parents and my two sets of grandparents at home. It was on those cards every summer where I learned to tell as much about life as possible in that little spot for writing. I suspect that the recipients looked at my disjointed little notes several times before they made sense.

When I graduated from high school and moved away from home to Minneapolis, I continued to use mail as my main mode of communication. Money was tight and phone calls were expensive. I wrote letters to my grandparents on a regular basis telling them about my new life and adventures. My grandparents had been a significant influences on my life and I continued to include them as I found myself as an adult. Letters were a way that worked for both of us

Like may others I moved more to the phone as I grew older, but I never gave up the love of letter writing. The art of letter writing came back to me in full force when RangerSir started his transition into a new career. To get a job with a federal agency at the time required years of seasonal work. I continued to work my corporate job and he started to spend months away from home working at distances half way across the country. I ferreted out things to make my writing special. I found books of postcards, fancy stationary and cards to send to him. His assignments were in guard stations that had power, but no telephone. His home was a sort of bunkhouse that made use of repurposed guard stations and old trailers. To say they were minimalist is being kind. They were out in the woods. He came into town once a week to pick up mail, do laundry and shop for the week. Mail call was a big deal. We both have those letters in our stash of stuff we have moved from place to place. These letters allow us to look back and remember details of our lives long forgotten

Things sent via mail have the chance to last long past a life. One of the things I that was given to me when my Granny had passed away and her house was being cleaned out was a book of post cards. My great grandad, George Clyde, had worked for the railroad and the stories about him were few and generally not flattering. In this book there were postcards he sent home to his children. They were an amazing slice of life of man encouraging his children and providing guidance. They were sent from towns all along the Santa Fe railroad line where his job took him. I love to see his hand and read what he wrote. In spite of his flaws, he seemed to really love his kids. I never knew him, but when I read those I imagine his voice. This is a piece of history that was not lost. It was a piece of history I shared when I gave some of the postcards George Clyde sent to his daughter, to her daughter, his granddaughter. I hope that some of the letters that folks who have to leave their children as part of their job in today’s world will last and give view into people years later in ways that others can’t.

This pandemic has brought back an excuse for me to connect to folks via mail. Sending a letter via mail is a connection that can last long after the moment they open the envelope. It is a smile you can hold on to. This summer I made and sent cards reminding friends were not alone. Most recently I made cards for the eldering in nursing homes. I had worked in a nursing home when I was in high school. I knew the feelings of isolation they suffered in the best of times. I could not imagine the isolation they were suffering now. I made and sent cards to the activity director that could be used to give to a resident who needed the pick up, for a resident to send to another resident, or a resident would have a card mail to a family member that have not been able to connect with on the outside of the facility. I like to think that they made a difference for at least one person.

The holidays brought my annual holiday card making effort. I made cards, with RangerSir composed a letter and used software to create photo collage. It will be last major effort for the year. I am getting the same and am enjoying thinking about all the folks we have met and touched along our lives.

I haven’t yet thought about what 2021 will bring, but I am sure that for the near future it will be much like 2020 has been. I suspect it will include more cards and letters just to say hi and stay connected. It is really all about staying connected new ways, old way….always.

Everything Is Very Much The Same

I have been struggling with what to write about on my blog. I had great plans for what to write about as RangerSir and I explored life as full-time retirees. The places we would go. The decisions we would make. Things that turned out well and things that turned out completely wrong. Times we got more than we planned and times we got a good slap in the face from reality. Instead we got COVID and half the country “hating” those who don’t agree with them. It has made me hesitant to write about my ordinary life for a whole host of reasons. I know I am lucky compared to many other folks, so I did not want to flaunt my lot when so many others are struggling in so many ways. I did not want to say things that would start a firestorm of haters and trolls because I don’t need or want that. Days seemed the same to me and I could not imagine that my ordinary life would be something that someone else would want to read about. I could list many more reasons for why I haven’t been blogging. I have decided that is all about others and how they might negatively view what I write. I have missed writing, but have allowed myself to be talked out of writing. Today I am going to stop all that and start writing again. If I lose subscribers and my numbers go down I don’t care. All I want to do is share things that happen and maybe make you smile or feel like you can when you thought you could not. I want someone to think occasionally I could be in her shoes and that would be worse. I want to prompt someone remember something they forgot and relish the memory. So here goes a jumpstart on an old blog, by an old gal who just likes to write even if it is the ordinary.

In my last post I wrote about my half turkey that I was fixing for Thanksgiving. It is exactly what I did. Turkey dinner for two. I started the prep at the same time RangerSir’s family started the Zoom meeting. It was the first time we had spent the holidays with his side of the family in over 25 years. Family and friends were in all phases of celebrating the holiday. We had some folks who were in the late afternoon celebrating across the pond and we were the furthest west so I was just starting our half turkey. It was different, maybe even a little strange since some of the family were folks we had never met as there had been a couple of marriages that we had not gotten to be there to celebrate. The most interesting part is we were just putting our turkey in when we started and we were taking our turkey out as we finished. It was perfect timing and we really enjoyed the time spent with the family

Our zoom group for Thanksgiving of family.

We made the perfect dinner for two folks who have lived many places and not been home with family for years. We made Minnesota wild rice as a side. It is an old Minnesota family favorite that we had not had as part of Thanksgiving for a long time. I halved or quartered every recipe I made to allow us to have all the sides we thought necessary, but not so many leftovers it would create waste. I revised some recipes making them have a comfort food taste, while making it a healthier alternative. It was a grand adventure in cooking and planning to pull it off.

When RangerSir worked we ate dinner at the table most nights. Since he has retired we have gotten sloppy and started to use the dining room table for puzzles and other things. For Thanksgiving dinner we treated it like a proper meal and set the table. We used Granny’s good silverware and the bank giveaway crystal we collected when we first got married and only get out for special occasions. I dug out the table cloth that we only use when we put a leaf in the table. We spared no extravagance for the special day.

Dinner for two.

I must say we missed folks that we are usually with for Thanksgiving but we did enjoy our dinner together. We talked about many things and it was perfect in its own way. We were thankful for one another and our bounty that was both present and absent.

So I am back blogging. I will share with you thoughts I have as we plug through the adventures of life even when they are quite ordinary. I appreciate your time and support.

What Did You Do For Summer Vacation?

When I was a kid, one of the first projects school children were assigned was to write about what they did on during their vacation from school. It was always a hard assignment for me because my family did not go on summer vacation. I suspect I was not alone in the small working-class agricultural community I grew up in. There was no money or time for the local families to leave Dodge on some great adventure.

This always seemed a daunting assignment to me as a child. It somehow implied that you were supposed to report some amazing trip that would leave others in awe. As we enter the next season of COVID and I think back over my summer season in Montana for our family. It seems like writing about what I did with the season of good weather would be hard when all the plans we had were blown away with the sensibilities of limiting our exposure.

Dining out and eating new things is a form of recreation for RangerSir and I. Suddenly the idea of going out and eating just held no appeal. We regularly participated in “Take Out Tuesday.” We called ahead, don our masks, and picked up dinner from all sorts of local joints. We discovered new places. We mourned old favorites who decided to call it quits. We want local businesses to weather this storm, but take out just isn’t the same as sitting in a place and knowing when it is over you get up and the same folks who have taken care of making your dinner, will clean up after you leave. There are no cleanup fairies at our house. I miss this most of all. I don’t know what a comfortable eating out will look like to us, but I am looking forward to it.

Another of my favorite things to do this summer was to meet up for picnic lunches with friends. Some friends bought into the idea and others not so much. I ended up eating lunch out at least once a week, sometimes twice, and on one rare occasion three times. Sometimes we’d pick up carryout from a local place and other times we’d collaborate and make a picnic lunch each of us bringing food to share. The local park had a lovely pavilion where you could people watch and sit in the sun or shade depending on the day. It was relaxed because for a little while I did not worry about the virus and I caught up with friends. It was fun because my friends who liked to cook got a chance to show off their skills, and I did the same. It was nice because we did “show and tell” on our creative adventures and cheered one another on. I renewed friendships and discovered that others were feeling as alone as I was, but they were just as concerned as I was about reducing risk.

Now I wish I had take pictures of the many picnics I had gone on. I wish I had captured those simple moments of human connection. We have had our first serious snow and the temperatures dropped so lunch in the park is over. Now the ladies who I met so often at the park that allowed us to relax and stay in touch are now trying to figure out what we can do to keep up the momentum. Simple safe gatherings of friendship. We are batting around ideas. I am sure we will figure something out.

Where’d I Go?

I was planning on getting back at being a regular blogger this time reflecting on life at the pivotal time of retirement.  And then suddenly I disappeared again.   It was because I had these great plans sharing what our new life looked like.   I had planned to share the fun times, the surprises, and the challenges that came with this new phase.   We got challenges and they were nothing like we imagined. As the world was rapidly changing, when I thought about our challenges  I felt blessed that my challenges were so small to what some others were facing so I decided to sit it out for a while.

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Water

Life in the country is one where you are responsible for all your water; your freshwater and your wastewater.   When we lived in homes on public utilities we liked to think we were conscious of our consumption, but in retrospect, we did not even begin to understand water.   I think most folks on public systems are not truly aware of the impacts they have on fresh and wastewater.   This last week we were reminded of the cycle of water for the home.

We live in a cold semi-arid climate in southwest Montana.   It means we get an average of 13 inches of moisture.  That is snowmelt, rain and anything else wet that comes from the sky.  Only 13 inches of moisture occur each year to flow into streams or rivers, replenish aquifers, be used for irrigation, furnish wildlife and humans with water, support the native and non-native landscapes and everything else that needs water.    We are too cold for the cactus most people think of in a semi-arid climate.   Instead, we are covered with bunch grass, sage, and a few slow-growing trees.

When you live in an arid or semi-arid climate you are much more aware of the scarcity of freshwater.  If you live in the country with a well I think you are even more aware of your freshwater source.   I look out my kitchen and see my wellhead every time I do dishes.   I drive by it each time I leave and return home because it sits near the road.   I am lucky because my water is plentiful, soft, nearly mineral-free (based on the lack of buildup in my shower, and tastes great because it has no taste.

When we moved here we made modifications to our home to conserve water in every way we could because though we had been on a well before this was our first time on a septic system.  We swapped out all faucets for ones with aerators.   We changed shower heads for something that would restrict our use without thinking.   We got a front-load washing machine for the single reason of how much less water it uses than a top loader.  We made sure all our toilets used a minimum of water. We don’t water our lawn. When the natural moisture causes it to go dormant, it is okay with us.   We treated water like the precious commodity it is.  Not only did we want to consume less water, but we also wanted to generate less wastewater for the septic system.

Our septic system was here when we arrived. We read up and researched how to treat our septic system correctly for function and to help it last as long as possible.   We had it pumped on even years and did not send “bad” things down the drain.  We are on our same gallon of bleach that we had when we moved in here 18 years ago.  We try to use the least damaging to our septic bacteria, but effective cleaning solutions for dishes, sinks, floors, and toilets.   Grease is collected and put in the trash.   Obviously, we generate as little wastewater as possible based on the paragraph on our consumption.  In spite of all these proactive actions on our part, it failed last Sunday.   What that means is the drain field stopped draining and the tank filled up and backed up.

We had no clues or warnings this was going to happen so we ended up with a failure in the middle of the winter. We were able to get someone out here on Monday and pump the tank.   We were told the solids showed that yes we should have had one more year before it was pumped.   Unfortunately, the liquids were topped out and then some.  We are working with our contractor to look at what may have caused this failure.   Our system is 30 years old which by all standards is at the end of the lifecycle.   This year we have had inadequate snow cover and there are folks around the area who have had their leach field freeze for the first time ever. This is all complicated by the fact it is winter and it is not like we can walk out in the drain field and see what is different right now from the other 17 years we have been here.  Once we understand this a little better we can move forward on the “what next?” step.

I shared this with you all not because I wanted to gross you out, but because I am hoping that this will remind all of you that water is precious.   Freshwater to drink isn’t unlimited and there are many things that dip in the usage pool of that precious resource.   Wastewater, though most of us don’t think anything of it other than to flush the toilet is an issue out there. If you learn a little about your usage of both and change one habit to be a better water steward then I will be please and thank you for being aware, when it would have been much easier to not be.

 

By Diana @ Looking Out the Window Posted in Odds & Ends