Shades of White

snowy corn field and woods

snowy corn field and woods

Winter has been long this year.  Long and cold.  The snow began before Thanksgiving and has barely let up at all.  We haven’t had as much of it as some years, but it has been steady.  And the air has been colder than normal, with many, many days that start with a temperature below zero and struggle to reach into double digits.

While all of that sounds a little unpleasant for the non-winter lovers like me, the thing that really gets to me is the constant view of white, with just a twinge of gray and brown from time to time.  The freshly fallen snow starts out white.  But as soon as a plow thrusts it up off the street the edges turn brown with the mud from the pavement kicked up to the top.  Then, after it sits for a day or so the entire scene becomes a pale shade of gray, maybe with rims of darker gray or brown.  Snow turns ugly in a hurry.

And it’s not just the ground that’s covered in white – it is the sky.  There is a perpetual cloud cover, either white or pale gray.  The neutrals go on forever, switching from bright white to off white to beige, to tan, to gray.  Even our cars, caked with a thin layer of road salt, look white all winter.  Or gray.

It’s not the elegance of a bridal white, and it doesn’t carry the warmth of a white sand beach.  It’s a cold, harsh, glaring, soulless white.  Sunglasses are required to cut the glare of the bland beige, creating an image that is just darker shades of the same gray or tan.

Winter wardrobes often reflect these neutrals – shades of brown, gray, and tan, with an occasional “winter white” thrown in.  We try to pick up the pace a little, tossing on a red coat, a bright blue sweater, or a green or pink scarf.  But even these pops of color can look drab after wearing them month after month.

Here in Western New York we are a hearty bunch.  A six inch snowfall would bring some parts of the country to a standstill for a week.  Here, we simply brush it off the car, shovel the driveway, and head to work or school.  Our streets get plowed and salted, and we move on.  Many people enjoy (yes, actually enjoy) winter sports including skiing – downhill or cross country, hockey, snowshoeing, ice fishing, and snowmobiling.

a rare blue sky day

a rare blue sky day

I have never been a winter sports enthusiast.  The idea of careening downhill at 60 miles an hour with two boards strapped to my feet never appealed to me.  We used to do a little cross country skiing, but not much.  I would consider snowshoes, but only on those rare blue sky days when the outdoors actually looks inviting.

Occasionally, we are favored with a bright, sunny winter day.  The days when the sky turns a pale or even a blessed bright blue are music for the eyes.  We cherish those few winter days when the white snow glistens under the azure sky.  They don’t come often enough.  Winter would be easier to take if we had more frequent glimpses of sunshine.  There are few things more beautiful than the contrast between the pale snow and an indigo sky.  Against the backdrop of our lakes, pine trees, and deciduous branches, the distinction of the colors is stunning.  Those are the photo worthy days.  The days when my eyes need to capture the beauty through a lens to preserve it.  Those too few days of winter sunshine must be saved to sustain us through the numerous white-gray-brown days of a five month long winter.

Otherwise, for me, the best winter activity is curling up on the sofa with a warm beverage and a good book; facing away from the window to avoid the white, and counting down the days ‘til spring.

Love Letter on Four Legs

Puppy love is real, and I am not talking about the kind between twelve year olds.

We had a dog before we had children.  Kelly was our first baby.  She was a beautiful mutt with a long coat and people used to ask all the time, “What kind of a dog is that?”  She was the cutest puppy ever and turned into a gorgeous dog that perpetually looked like an Old English sheepdog puppy.  She was our practice before we decided that we were ready to have children.  We felt that if we could handle the responsibilities of a dog, then maybe, just maybe, we could handle the responsibilities of children.  I guess we could, because we went on to have two children and they grew up okay.

Kelly never really warmed up to our daughters.  I’m pretty sure she always felt a little displaced by them.  She wanted all attention on her and no one else but her.  But when she died at the ripe old dog age of fifteen we were in serious mourning.

My husband and I were not ready for another dog.  We felt no creature could replace our beloved Kelly, and we were in the midst of a major home remodeling job.  But our kids desperately wanted the puppy experience, since our old dog had been well past puppy-hood by the time the girls were born.  Then suddenly our remodeling was done, we had moved into our new space, and the pieces fell into place.  A teacher at school had a dog that just had puppies.  So, with actual written promises from our kids that they would walk, feed, clean up after, and help take care of a puppy, we succumbed to a beautiful husky mix and our girls named her Lexi.

We were a little smarter this time around.  We determined right away that we would not have another dog on the furniture, and that we would get a crate to keep her in when we were not home.   As it turns out, both were excellent decisions.

Did you know that huskies shed for about six months every year?  Six long months.  Keeping her off the furniture was exactly the right decision because it is hard enough to get the dog hair off the carpet during this very long shedding season.  But she has never been on the couch, a chair, or a bed (except for her own.)

She was just eight weeks old when we got her and she missed her puppy siblings very much.  So the first few nights that we made her sleep in the crate she cried.  She cried a lot.  I am a soft touch and couldn’t take the whimpering.  So I slept on the floor right next to her crate for almost a week.  But she grew to love the crate, and leaving her in it when we weren’t home meant that she had very few accidents in the house as a puppy.  They could pretty much be counted on one hand.  Now her crate is where she goes when she is afraid of the thunder, or when there are fireworks in the distance, or when she thinks we are about to give her a bath.  That’s her comfort zone.

Lexi was a very rambunctious puppy.  When she started to chew on the oak baseboard molding that I had stained by hand, I yelled so loud that she never went near it again.  She nearly failed puppy kindergarten.  Actually, I’m pretty sure she was too young for obedience training when our youngest daughter and I took her, and I’m certain that if we had done more at home to train her it would have been more successful.  But we were suckers for her lovely puppy eyes and adorable face and then training was not so important anymore.

Don't let the regal look fool you.  She is puppy-problematic.

Don’t let the regal look fool you. She is puppy-problematic.

She also wanted to run.  A lot.  I’m pretty sure that’s the husky in her as well.  She used to run laps around our house, especially in the snow, and she loved to play ball in the backyard.  Now, at almost age eleven, her arthritis stops us from playing ball with her and we keep her leashed so she can’t run and injure herself.  But she still loves to walk and needs at least two walks each day.  That is usually my husband’s job.  He seems to be the preferred walking partner and the puppy playmate.  I am the preferred person to pet her, and she likes to sit close by when I am reading or sewing.

Now that our children (who promised in writing to take care of this dog) are grown and almost never at home anymore, this dog is completely ours.  Even on our worst days in the workplace or when everything else is going wrong, she will greet us at the door with tail wagging and usually with a toy in her mouth.  She is always happy to see us.  She is happy to see everyone.

It is absolutely true that if you want unconditional love you should get a dog.  We have taken that plunge a couple of times and wouldn’t change it for the world.  Our dogs have loved us every day of their all too short lives.  We hope to have this one around for a while yet.  If she wasn’t here we are pretty sure our kids would find more excuses to not come home.  Even when they are on Skype with us, the one they really want to see is the dog.  Admittedly, that does not give them the full dog experience, since it lacks the fuzzy dog feel and the distinct dog smell.

This beautiful, warm, loving dog has become our third child and our problem child.  She is an integral part of our family and I believe we love each other more because we also love this steadfast, four legged, furry, more-than-friend.

Honestly, I don’t know if we will ever get another dog.  With our kids headed to far flung places, my husband and I would like a little more flexibility in our lives to be able to pick up and go somewhere for a day or two without having to worry about who will take care of the dog.

But for now, she is the only baby we have left at home.  So she gets treated very, very well.  We have an understanding.  We will love her, rub her belly, feed her, and take care of her all the time.  In return, she will love us just as we are, with all of our flawed humanity and our challenging personality traits and our good days and bad days.  Unconditionally.

Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow

Our children grow up before our eyes, and then we wonder when it happened.  In the past week, our eldest made a leap that made me stop and think.

She cut her hair.  You may think that’s petty, or minimally interesting, or just ridiculous considering how many real accomplishments this young woman has under her belt.  But for me it was a watershed moment:  my girl has grown up.

She has always been beautiful.  Naturally, as her mother, I am appropriately biased on this score.  But really, she is beautiful.  And she has always had long hair.  I think the last time her hair could even be considered short was when she was about three, and then it was really only short because it was so fine that if we didn’t keep it trimmed it was just in her way.

So she called from her current perch 3,500 miles away and said, “I did something.”

Of course the things that race through a mothers mind are:  Are you okay?  Are you hurt?  Are you in jail?  Did you quit school?  How much will this cost us?  Yes, in all of about three seconds, all of those things and more flooded my brain.

As it turns out, her next sentence was, “I got my hair cut.”  Sigh of relief.

She emailed a photo a short time later, and I am going to share it with you because you will see the dramatic difference right away.  She suddenly looks like a grownup living in a major foreign city.  All very appropriate, since that’s who she is now.

Women already know instinctively what I am talking about.  Women change their hair when they are ready for changes in their lives.  Or when they have made changes in their lives.  Or when they are contemplating changes in their lives.  All of these things lead women to change their hair – the color, the length, the style.

As I considered all of this it hit me:  she is a woman.  She has made a dramatic change in her hair.  Petty, right?  Wrong.  It is absolutely a sign of growing up.  She is leaving her high school and college image behind, and is moving into her new grad school/professional life.  What she wears and how she looks reflect who she is now and what she is becoming.

Here are the before and after looks.

Before and After.  Yes, it is a mirror image selfie.  No, her part did not change.

Before and After. Yes, it is a mirror image selfie. No, her part did not change.

She looks sassy, don’t you think?  And professional.  And confident.  And still beautiful.

She may not keep it quite this short, but her experiment alone has been eye opening.  Not just for her, but for me as well.  She is growing into herself.  At almost age 23 she is a grownup.  This is the only shortcut she has taken.

Make It Better

What do you do when your just barely 20 year old calls from college and says she is injured?  We try not to overreact, so here’s what we did.  We counseled her as best we could on the phone.  She texted and called periodically while negotiating through her university’s health care system.  She managed just fine.  Great, in fact!

She had injured her kneecap in a minor incident, but then exacerbated the injury during a workout.  This daughter is a bit of a gym rat, which makes me wonder if she actually is my daughter.  Then I recall the six months when she was a colicky infant and did nothing but cry, and the image of her at about age 4 that actually looks just like me at that age…so much so that her cousin/my nephew actually once mistook a picture of me for her.

We offered to drive there and help her out, but she declined.  She had it all under control.  It makes a parent very proud.  Proud, and dejected.  Because on some level we still want them to need us – just a little bit.  We still want to feel like maybe just a hug from a parent can help.  We still want the “kiss it and make it better” feeling.  That’s what WE want, not what SHE needs.

So when she called the next morning and asked if we could come and help her with her laundry, of course we did.

My brain heard her say something like, “I need to do laundry, and can’t haul all my stuff to the laundry room while I’m on crutches.  Would you mind coming to help?”

What my heart heard was, “I just want and need my mommy.”

Her first broken wrist - yes, it was the same wrist both times.

Her first broken wrist – yes, it was the same wrist both times.

We tossed off all of our other very minor plans for the day, boarded the dog, threw ourselves and a few things into the car, and took off on the 2 ½ hour drive.  We helped with the laundry, took her and a friend out for dinner, and then we drove home in the lousy visibility on the rainy highway arriving as the clock struck midnight and the rain started to turn to snow.  Tired, but feeling like we can still make some small contribution to her life aside from helping with exorbitant tuition bills.

When she broke her wrist in third grade, and then again in fourth grade (but that’s a different story), we were there to get her to the emergency room.  When she had a tennis injury, we took her to sports medicine.  When she had the flu and strep throat all at the same time, we took her to the pediatrician and made sure she got her prescriptions filled.  Now she is managing all of these things on her own.

It is more joyful than painful to watch our now young adult manage her own life – the good and the bad, the healthy and the broken.  It is a blessing to see her stand on her own two feet…once she’s off the crutches.

But it did feel good when both head and heart heard her say, “Sometimes, you just want your parents.  Thanks for coming.”

It turns out that once in a while just a hug from a parent can still help.  She is awesome!