Almost three years ago I wrote a posting titled Musings- Life And Lemons. About a month ago, life served me a big lemon. I should be used to lemons by now, you’d think. I mean life is a big mixture of lemons and strawberries – or bananas, or mangos, or whatever other fruit is your current sweet-flavored favorite. But somehow, I guess, there’s a subconscious part of me that thinks I should be exempt from lemons, despite the fact that they keep appearing on my plate, and so they tend to side-swipe me when they happen.
So what’s the latest and greatest in the lemon orchard you’re wondering. It may or may not help to understand why I think this latest event on the road that is my life is a lemon, a big lemon. I’m sixty-eight years old. So, OK, technically I was only sixty-seven when this lemon appeared on my radar. But that’s another reason it was a big lemon – it messed up my birthday!!
On Friday 27 April, I headed down to Winter Park to participate in the last-but-one class of the second year of my Audire course. Ruth, my friend who has just completed her third and final year of Audire, drove us down in her truck/van/SUV (not sure which label fits her vehicle; suffice to say it’s big enough and strong enough to haul a good sized trailer). We always go down on the Friday night before class so we can get a good night’s sleep and avoid having to get on the road at o’dark thirty to be at San Pedro retreat center by 8.30am on Saturday morning.
As always, I met up with my dear friend Bickley to enjoy a superb dinner. The dinners with Bickley are always wonderful because we choose a different ethnic restaurant each month so that we can delight our palates. She and I are food aficionados and most of her other local friends are “plain-American-fare” eaters, so she doesn’t get to indulge her more exotic taste buds very often. We had a great Cuban meal that Friday evening and enjoyed even more wonderful friendship time as we caught up with each other since the previous month – which had actually been two months because of the strange class schedule we had this year.
After dinner, Bickley dropped me back to San Pedro and I settled in for the night. Before getting ready for bed, I called my husband, Richard, to tell him about my enjoyable evening with Bickley and to say goodnight. Everything normal so far; not even the hint of a lemon. I prepared myself for the night and got into bed and, out of nowhere, I started experiencing some serious abdominal pains. My immediate thought was “oh no, food poisoning!”. I got out of bed and made a mint tea (good for digestion) and made sure I had a large container of water beside the bed. The pains continued and I resigned myself to “waiting it out”, flushing my system with the tea and lots of water.
By midnight I was worried. The pain hadn’t eased up so I called Ruth who was in the room next to mine. I could tell that she had been deep in sleep. What I couldn’t know was this was the first night she had been able to get to sleep fairly early after two very stress-filled weeks and lots of disturbed nights. I explained what was going on and asked her if she thought I should “call someone”. Ruth sleepily agreed that it sounded like food poisoning and said that there wouldn’t be anything anyone could do and that I would just have to wait for it to “go through my system”. She did however suggest that I lie down quietly and gently massage my tummy and think happy thoughts.
At 3am I was a little mentally hysterical. It occurred to me that the pain hadn’t diminished and it had not even begun to “move through my system”. It was a steady low-burning pain in both my upper and lower abdomen and there wasn’t a single sign of a rumble, a gurgle, a grumble anywhere in my intestines. It was at this point that I made a decision to call 911 and get help. I called Ruth and let her know and she said to open my door so she and the paramedics could get in.
At this point I will make a long story short. A shot of morphine, a 4-mile ambulance drive, a three-hour ER stay, and one cat scan later, the ER doctor informed me that I had an acutely inflamed appendix. Now I ask you, isn’t appendicitis a “kid thing”? Or at very least, a “teen thing”? When was the last time you heard of a sixty-seven year old having acute appendicitis? So what was I to do? “That can’t be”, I firmly told the ER doctor. (Fortunately my husband hadn’t quite arrived at the hospital by then so was spared the embarrassment of that moment.) Hopefully the ER doctor made allowances for the fact that I was under the influence of morphine.
So at about 2pm on Saturday 28 April 2012, I was surgically separated from my appendix. As I waited for surgery, I remember feeling irritated that I was missing class, especially as it was a class that I had been particularly looking forward to. I also remember being frustrated because our next class was in just two weeks and I had to prepare an end-of-year integration paper as well as other homework and I wasn’t going to be in the best of shape for the next few weeks. I found myself thinking that it was my birthday in a few days and how was I supposed to celebrate if my head was still full of anesthetic and narcotic pain-killers, and my body was still weak from the whole surgery thing. This was a very bitter lemon indeed.
Thank God I got out of that kind of thinking pretty quickly! I cannot remember if I got there myself or if it was Richard who spoke it into reality, but I do remember at some point being grateful that the acute appendectomy was happening now and not closer to our trip to Italy at the end of June; even more grateful that it didn’t happen during that trip! I remember suddenly being grateful that I was being taken care of and receiving good medical attention (the staff at Memorial Hospital, Winter Park, FL were all wonderful!). And I remember also feeling grateful that I had decent medical insurance that covered this care. I got to making lemonade fairly quickly, especially once I got my pain meds!
I went home just a little over twenty four hours after being taken to OR, thanks to the wonders of laparoscopic surgery, and I experienced gratitude on a whole other level. I was truly grateful that Richard is retired now and is always at home (didn’t think I would be saying that so very sincerely!), and for the very intimate and personal care that he gave me as I made my recovery from this whole event. I was grateful for all the prayers and cards that friends sent my way and the telephone calls that showed how much they cared.
Another lesson in gratitude learned. Another lesson in being flexible and to expect the unexpected. I got my integration paper done in time despite having a befuddled brain for a few weeks (anesthetic can really mess you up mentally as well as take your knees out from under you physically), and I was well enough to attend my class two weeks later. My birthday celebration was low-key and a little delayed but it was still a celebration. In fact it was more of a celebration (internally at least) because I was still around to celebrate. So, even though I’m a slow learner, I am still teachable and I am learning to make lemonade out of life’s lemons.
About three weeks ago I was sitting in my lanai enjoying my God time and breakfast. I was so aware of the presence of God through His creation. Squirrels were scampering in the trees and enjoying breakfast at their feeders. Birds were calling out to their mates or calling out for prospective mates and swooping in to the feeders on the back fence of the garden. The trees and plants were budding out and everything had that lush look about it. The bare threads of winter were fast being replaced.
I was very familiar with many of the birds, those I could see and those I could hear. The sweet Titmice and many Sparrows jostled for spots on the feeders until the Cardinal appeared and claimed his place as “numero uno” in the pecking order! Some Bluebirds and Blue Jays flew across the garden creating magnificent flashes of blue. Occasionally a Blue Jay would drop onto the back fence, wait for the other birds to finish and leave, before hopping down to pick a seed or two, bang it open on the fence top, and then fly off.
Mocking Birds were aggressively buzzing the back yard and each other. I saw quite a bit of spring rivalry as one male chased another away from his prospective mate. Then he began courting the female but she was playing hard-to-get. And in between whiles, the first Humming Birds were starting to visit their feeders on a more regular basis.
High up in the trees, Crows would sit, each one claiming the pinnacle of a pine tree as his particular castle, and then would begin a cacophony of sound as they started their orchestral system of communication. Joining them from time to time could be heard the piercing shrieks of the Red Shouldered Hawk as he flew from tree to tree crying out for a mate to join him. From somewhere deep inside the small pinewood out back I could here the drilling of a Woodpecker on a tree trunk. And then a small, chunky House Wren decided to join my garden group and sang out his rich morning song; such a loud voice for such a small bird.
Then suddenly, from quite close by, I heard an unusual, never-before-heard, loud dry chatter. I looked up and around. The noise had seemed to come from my Bottle Brush tree which now stands about twelve to fifteen foot high. It was aflame with spring blooms and rich with new spring growth foliage. Then I heard the chatter again and caught a glimpse of something large and yellowish. The bird was definitely as big as a mature Cardinal but seemed slimmer, more elongated. But he was operating deep inside the tree and I could only catch occasional glimpses of flashing gold movement.
The next day, amid the same lively performance from all the usual birds, I again heard the loud dry chatter. This time I was prepared with binoculars close at hand, but my new visitor was more elusive than the day before. He seemed to bury himself even deeper into the tree and only at the last moment, as he lifted up in flight to leave, did I catch a quick sighting, a magnificent flash of rich deep gold as he flew up and away. This was way too tantalizing. I searched through my Kenn Kaufman bird book and thought perhaps it might be a female Summer Tanager.
The next day I heard the now familiar chatter and, after some minutes scrutinizing the tree, I got my first real clear sighting. He had come out on a branch on my side of the tree. This placed him in plain sight and also put him in the slightly shadowed part of the tree which meant there was no sun shining directly on him. And there he was in all his glory. From just under the beak area he was a rich golden reddish orange that went all the way down under his belly getting slightly paler in shade as it disappeared between his legs and back towards his under tail. His whole face and continuing over the crown of his head, down his back to his upper tail was black, while his wings had a touch of light gold at the shoulders but were black with distinct white markings.
He was a beauty, about 8-9 inches long. I began frantically flipping pages in the Kaufman. Triumphantly I came across a page full of Orioles, and there was my visitor. And visitor he was; a rarely-seen-in-the-south Baltimore Oriole. The picture was a perfect match and the description of his call note was exactly what I had been hearing – a dry chatter. I was so thrilled to have identified him, and so happy that he had chosen my Bottle Brush as his breakfast spot.
He came every day for about two and a half weeks and my husband was able to get some good photos of him. Then, just as suddenly as he appeared, he seems to have disappeared. Today is the fourth day that I have not heard his chatter nor seen his regal flash of gold. Even as I feel somewhat sad, I am grateful that I had the opportunity to make his acquaintance. But, in the meantime, as though in recompense, I have been treated to another new sighting. But that’s fodder for another blog.
When Rich and I left Rod and Trish, we headed east out of Missouri towards St. Louis. Rich wanted us to see the “Archway to the West” and as we rode I-64 I was able to get some decent shots of the archway and the St. Louis skyline. Then we crossed the state border into Illinois going almost halfway across to spend the night in Mount Vernon. We attended Mass in the lovely church of St. Mary’s on Saturday 27 August which left us free to have a small lie-in on the Sunday before making tracks for Louisville, KY and Richard’s family.
Like most of the days on this trip, God blessed us with perfect weather for riding as we finished crossing the state of Illinois, clipped the bottom of Indiana, and rode into the blue grass state of Kentucky. I could feel Richard’s excitement mounting as we rode closer to “home”. The plan was to head to his sister Rose’s home, unpack the bike, then head over to the Kentucky State Fair with Rose, her husband Ronnie, and their kids, Megan and Kalin, to meet up with another sister, Robin, and her daughter, Brittany, and his brother, Robert and his wife, Sylvie, and their son, Patrick. Wow, what a reunion!! I had not seen some of these folks since Thanksgiving 2004!
We spent several fun hours at the fair. I found some great HOT dip mixes and some wonderfully decadent fudge, while Richard ate a Krispy Kreme hamburger?????? (yes, that was a hamburger between two doughnuts!!), and later he could not resist trying some “fried Koolaid”. While some of the others went to a concert they had booked to see, Rich and I strolled around the rides for a while. We had fun tempting the “guess your age” guy who made my day and gave me a “prize” after guessing me to be 15 years younger than I am. Whether he was being truthful or gallant in his guessing I’m not sure, but I was happy. Then the tiredness of the ride hit in and we headed home to get a good night’s rest. We needed to get our beauty sleep because the next day we were putting on a Bar-b-q for the family and even more people were coming.
So on Monday we went shopping then got busy cooking and preparing food. By 4pm yet another sister, Rhonda, arrived with her daughter, Ginny, followed shortly afterward by Rich’s step-Mom Ruth, his step-brother Ryan and his step-sister Rachel and her husband Michael with his son in tow. The crowd was rounded out when Robin got there with her son Dustin, and finally we were able to tuck into all that good food. A little later, as we rested full tummies, Kalin took Dustin and they went to pick up Brittany and her girlfriend who had been attending a school sport meet-up. By that time we were ready for some dessert and enjoyed some wonderful concoction that Sylvie had made.
Our final day in Louisville, Rich went to get his (final?? who knows) tattoo in honor of his retirement. Of his eight tattoos, Lucky in Louisville has created 5 of them. This one he actually created around a small existing one of a dolphin that Rich had done in Washington, DC some years ago. Lucky extended the water/wave line under the dolphin , then added the letters USN over the top of everything with a sunrise and the year Rich entered the Navy at one end, and a sunset with his retirement year at the other. It’s really beautiful.
That evening we hooked up with Rose and Ronnie and the kids, Robin, and Richard’s old school friend and partner-in-crime, Fonda with his wife Sherry. We had a great meal and wonderful socializing at a very good Mexican restaurant, where we all ate a bit too much because the food was great!.
Next day, Wednesday 31 August, it was time to load up our faithful Harley, say our farewells, and hit the road again as we headed towards North Carolina. It had been a good visit with family and hopefully it won’t be so long before we see each other again.