Sunday, January 22, 2017

Winter White

The pond near our house is nearly frozen over.
January 21, 2017

Three storms passed through California and into Arizona this weekend. The first left us with only a few inches of snow during the night on Thursday, although our district cancelled school for Friday. I'm not sure it was enough to be worth wasting a snow day for, although they were concerned about icy roads.

The second hit us here in the White Mountains on Friday night and lasted until Saturday evening. In the end, it dropped more than eighteen inches of snow, and even more for those at higher elevations. During the storm, visibility was often severely limited due to heavy, blowing snow, and the roads were slick with slush. Everywhere I drove, there were vehicles stuck in snow banks, having either slid into them or foolishly attempted to drive into the parking lots of businesses that hadn't been plowed yet.

Not too far south of us, just past where my son-in-law Jake works at WorldMark Pinetop Resort (probably close to 1,000 feet higher elevation than my house), the highway was closed due to the heavy, slick snow, preventing skiers and snowboarders from making the drive to Sunrise Ski Resort on Fort Apache Reservation. One of Jake's guests who attempted the drive told him how she saw nearly a dozen rolled-over vehicles on the side of the road.

Icicles hang from my side view mirror at Jake's place of employment.

Obviously, yesterday was the kind of day to stay inside, warm and toasty, to enjoy some hot cocoa, a good book, and watching the snow fall on the other side of the window. My day was not quite so picturesque, though. As always, I had to drive Mark to work before 6:00 a.m. At that time, the snow plows had just started on the shopping center's parking lot, so I was able to pull in, but Mark had to hike about half a block across the parking lot to Denny's.

Two hours later, I left the house again to pick up Dylan and Jake, who couldn't get either of their cars out of the deep snow. Two hours after dropping them off at their jobs--Dylan's three miles north to Walmart and Jake's uphill about eight miles south to the resort--Mark called to tell me he was already done for the day. Apparently not very many people wanted a Grand Slam breakfast badly enough to risk the roads. 

Then, a little more than three hours after bringing Mark home, we headed back to the resort to pick up Jake, and then the three of us drove back down the mountainside to Walmart and spent an hour shopping while we waited for Dylan to get off work. After we dropped the guys off at their apartment, finally, we were able to kick off our boots and spend the rest of the day at home.

Driving back into our neighborhood.

I don't really mind driving in this weather when it's necessary, although it can be nerve-wracking and stressful. You never know what other drivers may do; there's always someone driving far too fast or following too closely for the circumstances. Thankfully, my new Traverse has proven itself more than able to handle the deep snow and ice. It gets great traction and I never had a single moment in which I was nervous about getting stuck or sliding off the road, not even on our own unplowed dirt road. The car pushed right through, without a hint of futilely spinning tires.

Looking south down our road. The green trash can on the right is ours.

No, my most harrowing moment came when I walked into my own house. After dropping the guys off at their jobs, I drove back home, kicked the snow off my boots before mounting the steps to the porch, and then scraped the packed ice off the soles before walking in the front door. My efforts proved to be fruitless. The instant my left boot hit the smooth kitchen floor, it slid out from under me, and when I tried to balance on my right boot, it slid in the opposite direction. I went down hard on my left knee and landed with my right knee twisted away from me.

I sat there and cried for a few minutes, afraid to move. It had been a year and six days since the surgery on my right knee. And my left knee has something floating around in it that was causing clicking, pain, and swelling a few months ago. It finally started to improve just a month ago, so it looked like maybe surgery wouldn't be necessary. Now I was terrified of the damage I might have done to either or both knees.

So I scooted into the living room where I could pull myself up using the couch. I was relieved to find that the pain wasn't too bad and I could walk okay. As the day wore on and I had to keep wading out to my car through the deep snow, I began to feel the effects more. The area of my pelvis ached from having been jerked in two directions, and both knees were sore. The right knee recovered quickly, which was awesome. The left began clicking again, accompanied by a sharp pain right below where I'd landed, but it was bearable. 

The good news is that neither knee ever swelled and today the pain is better. Just a light-blue bruise and a slight pain when I bend the left knee to remind me to be more careful, but hardly even a limp. So it's all good!

Looking toward my backyard and outbuildings from the driveway.

Looking toward my house from the road.

Today, it's chilly out (in the 20s) but the sun is shining.
January 22, 2017

Now there is just one more storm coming our way. It is supposed to hit us either tonight or tomorrow morning, mostly rain to start with. Rain can help melt down some of the snow, but it also turns to ice when the sun goes down, so not really a good thing. Then throughout Monday they're saying another six to ten inches of snow. Hmmm... I wonder if we'll be in school any time before Wednesday!

The sun makes the snow glitter like a greeting card.
I wish I could capture it on film somehow!

Meanwhile, the sunshine is welcome. I love the snow, but I also love the fact that we get sunshine and warmth between storms, unlike many other states who live with deep snow, slick ice, and bitter cold throughout most of the winter. We have the best of both worlds.

The critters start coming back out, like this little squirrel in our yard.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

2016 Revisited

Minutes of the School Board meeting addressing my retirement!

I'm never really sad to see the end of one year and the start of a new, because there's always so much promise in a fresh beginning. Yet it can also be fun to look back and revisit the joys and accomplishments of a year well spent.

My first act of 2016 actually set the stage for one of the greatly anticipated promises of 2017. Early in January, I submitted all the required paperwork to retire at the end of the 2016-17 school year. And now, here I stand just 22 weeks away from retirement! And that includes two weeks off for Spring Break!

January 15: Laparoscopic photos from my knee surgery.

Not long after applying for retirement, I went in for knee surgery to repair a torn meniscus in my right knee. It had been causing me pain and some serious hobbling since the first week of September 2015, so I was anxious to have it taken care of. The surgery went well and my doctor gave me the good news that my joints are actually in great shape, with no signs of arthritis or serious wear. However, the recovery was much slower than I'd hoped for. It took most of 2016 to reach a point where I could walk without much of a limp. Heading into 2017, though, it really is much better.

February 4: Mary buys a "new" 2009 Chevy Traverse.

Three weeks after the surgery, I decided it was time to buy a new car. With retirement and so much traveling in my future, I wanted something with more room and more power. My dream SUV was a Chevy Traverse and, as luck would have it, someone had traded in a 2009 model (exactly in my price range) the day before I went car shopping. I went in tough, talked the price down a couple thousand dollars, and got an amazing interest rate, so I was pretty pleased at how it all turned out. 

Of course, there was that little episode where the power steering reservoir cracked and left me stranded in Mesa on the weekend of my sister's wedding less than two weeks after I purchased the car, which was mega-stressful, but the dealership handled it and paid for everything, so it had a happy ending. And the Traverse truly has been great for traveling so far.

March 25: David Archuleta in concert.

Other than driving to Mesa for Karla and Steve's wedding, our second trip in the new car came at the end of March when we headed to the Valley again. This time it was to enjoy a concert by David Archuleta in Queen Creek on Friday night, and then spend the next day at the annual Renaissance Festival in the desert outside Apache Junction. Jake, who is not an Archuleta fan, did not join us for the concert, but we were all there for the Festival fun. Except for Jacob and Danielle, of course, who live too far away, but I'm glad to say they were able to join us for Karla's wedding in February.

March 26: Mary at the Renaissance Festival, holding her new wand,
wearing her new circlet, with her favorite Drabbit on her shoulder.

May 27: Dylan graduated from high school.

After a little lull in April, May was a very busy month. Dylan finished up four years of high school, traveled to Southern California on the senior trip, and then walked across the stage to receive his diploma from the hands of his waiting mother. It was the last of my three opportunities to enjoy that privilege.

Jacob at top, Dylan in the center, and Sarah at bottom.
Yes, Jacob and Dylan wore the same shirt for their pictures.

And now, thanks to the events of 2016, all my kids' photo walls are complete: the wall of senior photos next to my bed (above) and the wall in the living room featuring each of my children on their 4th birthdays and at their graduations (below).

Sarah, Dylan, and Jacob at age four and age eighteen.

May 29: Dylan, Mary, and Jake on the guys' wedding day.

Just two days following graduation, Dylan got married and moved out (not too far away, thankfully). I'm not sure any mother is ready to have her nest emptied quite so suddenly, but it all worked out. Dylan and Jake had a simple but lovely wedding in my front yard, filled with their closest friends. Even Jacob and Danielle were able to come join us all the way from Utah for the graduation and the wedding. In fact, they made the huge wedding cake that became a striking centerpiece for the "To the Moon and Back/Star Wars"-themed celebration.

Danielle and Jacob with the wedding cake they created for
Dylan and Jake's wedding.

June 21: Cars lined up to leave town during the Cedar Fire.

Mere weeks after all the fuss of graduation and wedding, our area was struck by the Cedar Fire, located just a few miles due west from our home. And the wind was blowing it our direction. We spent weeks under evacuation warning while ash poured down on us like a light snowfall. Many people packed up and left due to breathing issues or just to beat the crowd. The hospital three miles from my house was evacuated. Our usual summer vacationers were warned to stay away. As for myself, I was already fighting a respiratory infection when the fire started, so it made for a stressful episode during a summer I'd so much looked forward to enjoying.

July 12: Mark is ready to check out of Banner Medical Center.

In the midst of the evacuation threat, Mark and I made a two-day trip to Phoenix, where on July 11th he finally had a badly needed ablation to correct his atrial fibrillation, a dangerously irregular heartbeat caused by areas on the heart wall discharging incorrect electrical cues for the heart to contract. The operation appeared to be successful, but less than two weeks later he was back in the emergency room with a pulse of 184 beats per minute! In danger of imminent stroke, the doctors administered an electrical shock to his heart, which they allowed me to witness. Not sure I ever want to do that again, but it worked. So far, his heart is beating correctly and steadily.

July 15: Sarah, Mark, Jacob, Danielle, Jake, and Dylan in front of
Homestead Crater in Midway, Utah.

Just three days after Mark's ablation procedure, we all (except Chris, who stayed behind to work) piled into the Traverse and headed for northern Utah to spend five days with Jacob and Danielle. They came to see us in Midway, where our resort was located, and we had a belated Fathers Day and belated birthdays for Mark and Dylan, since Jacob and Danielle had missed those events with us. Then we explored the rustic little resort town of Midway in Heber Valley. On another day, we all drove over the Wasatch Mountain range (beautiful!) to explore Jacob and Danielle's turf in and around their hometown of Midvale. We saw where they live and work, met their new pets, and enjoyed the places they go to dine out and to have fun. We also spent a day together on Temple Square in Salt Lake City.

September 9: Jacob surprised us with a weekend visit.
Jacob, Mark, Mary, Jake, Dylan, Chris, and Sarah.

One very wonderful thing about 2016 was how often we got to see Jacob and Danielle. When they moved to Midvale, Utah, in late September 2015, I figured it would be like they dropped off the face of the earth. But then they were able to join us for my sister's wedding in February, and they came back in May for Dylan's graduation and wedding. Then we went to see them in Utah for five days in July, and of course we were all together again in October for our family vacation in Southern California. We even got a surprise visit from Jacob in September, when he came to attend a friend's wedding. We were so thrilled to see him, but so mad that he didn't bring Danielle with him! I know every year won't bring us together so often, but for our first year living in different states, it was awesome to see them on five different occasions.

Sarah, Chris, Mark, Danielle, Jacob, Dylan, and Jake on Seal Beach Pier.
October 3, 2016

Other than the big holiday season that winds up each year with Thanksgiving in November and Christmas in December, our last big event of 2016 was our annual family trip in October. We had such a great time visiting several beaches along the Pacific Coast, doing two days at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Universal Studios Hollywood, spending almost three hours on a whale watching cruise, dining out at various fun restaurants, and just plain relaxing together at the Anaheim resort between the good times.

2016 was a full year, a good year, and the thing that made it most wonderful was being able to spend so much of it with the people I love most in the whole far-flung galaxy. May 2017 be just as amazing, for both my family and yours!

Monday, January 2, 2017

Changing Calendars

New Years Eve 2016: Our annual tradition.

Our family's observance of the flip from 2016 to 2017 turned out to be a two-day event. It was literally, "See you next year!"

As usual, work schedules made it difficult. Mark worked until about 2:00 on the afternoon of New Years Eve, so that wasn't a problem. And Chris was off that day, being a Saturday. However, both Sarah and Dylan worked until 6:00, and poor Jake didn't get off work until 11:00. This convinced me that a family dinner on New Years Eve wouldn't be the wisest course. Instead, we put it off until New years Day.

A big pan of lasagna for New Years Day 2017.

Originally, Dylan had planned to go home from work and take a nap until Jake got off work. Then they were going to hang out with some of Dylan's cousins in Show Low to see in the new year. In fact, Dylan sent me a text asking if I'd "be salty" if they spent New Years Eve with "the cousins" instead of here with me. I assured him I was fine with that.

As it turned out, though, when Sarah drove Dylan home from work, she convinced him (bribed him, that is, with strawberries and pineapple) to come to my house with her and Chris, at least until Jake got home. He grumbled good-naturedly about what a huge nag his sister was, in her efforts to change his mind, but we all enjoyed a pleasant evening together.

In the end, it was after 11:30 before Jake arrived at my house, so they decided not to go out after all. As the ball dropped over Times Square (replayed two hours later for us, of course) we cheered and cried "Happy New Year" and toasted the new year with sparkling cider. Mark, who had to get up for work at 5:00 the next morning, missed out on the festivities. He was in bed by 10:00, which is actually rather late for him. He's usually in bed by 9:00.

The rest of us swiftly followed suit. We all laughed as we parted with the words, "See you next year," as if we were terribly clever, and then everyone headed to their homes and their beds.

And, of course, the obligatory garlic bread. Layin' on the carbs one last time!

Schedules for New Years Day weren't a huge improvement over the previous day, although they allowed a little more latitude. Sarah, Chris, and I all had the day off; Mark got off work at 10:20 because business was slow; and Dylan got off at 4:00. Sarah picked him up from work on their way to my place. When they arrived, they had a surprise guest in tow: my lovely niece Savannah (Darryl's daughter) drove up from the Valley to celebrate with us! The only sad glitch was that, again, Jake didn't get off work at the resort until 11:00. We never even saw him on New Years Day.

I woke up on Sunday with the same yucky stomach issues I'd had on Christmas Day, including a low-grade temperature that lasted a couple of hours. No doubt it's been the result of eating so badly since before Thanksgiving. Still, I managed to make a pan of lasagna while the "kids" played Uno and Phase 10, and then Dylan made us a beautifully crispy, buttery loaf of garlic bread while the lasagna cooled. After dinner, he and Savannah packed up a big square of lasagna and some garlic bread and then drove up to the resort to deliver dinner to Jake. While they were gone, Sarah made us a pan of brownies with cream cheese frosting.

After visiting with Jake for more than an hour, Dylan and Savannah returned and joined us in watching my new DVD, Saturday's Warrior. (Loved it!) Then it was dessert time. Not only brownies, but there were still leftover cheesecake and chocolate orange slices. I insisted that everyone eat as much as possible, because I didn't want any more high-carb foods in my home. I intended to start of my annual "I-will-get-healthy" resolution the next day (and so far I have)!

Sarah, Savannah, and Dylan sit down to dinner.

The night ended after 11:00, when Jake was on his way home. (For Mark, the night ended by 9:15, when he gave up and went to bed.) Savannah headed out with Dylan, since she was staying in the guys' guest room. Sarah headed home next, and then silence fell over the house once again. But it's a good silence, as the happy echoes of laughter and teasing and sharing of stories fade away, leaving behind warmth and joy.

Any year that holds more of these times with the people I love is a good year. A very good year.

Welcome, 2017! And to all, a truly Happy New Year!