All tucked in

By Kathy Oswalt-Forsythe

We have been experiencing a beautiful stretch of fall weather. The maples glowed in golds, roses, and reds. The sunrises and sunsets were glorious. But as the trees release their leaves, and the geese and sandhill cranes begin their boisterous revivals in the stubbled rows of the corn fields, we know cold weather will soon arrive.

At our house, we are preparing for winter: Our furnace has been checked and serviced; our pantry has been reorganized and restocked; the portable generator has been started and filled. These preparations help me feel safe. Protected.

When we were children, our parents had a strict bedtime for us: 7:30 sharp. We said good night to Dad, brushed our teeth, put on our pajamas, crawled between the sheets of our little beds, and waited for our mother to “tuck us in.” Sometimes we waited awhile, but Mom always made the nightly climb to our rooms, brushing the hair from our foreheads, kissing our cheeks. She smoothed and straightened the sheets and blankets, lifted the edge of the mattress, and tucked all the bedding in tightly around each one of us.

She said things like, “Sweet Dreams!” and “Sleep Tight!” What a blessing and lovely ritual. I wish all children could feel this safe and secure.

I loved tucking in our young children. How precious it was to kiss the tops of their sweet-smelling heads, feel their little arms encircle my neck for a hug, and listen to their quiet conversations at night. Our home felt at peace — everything and everyone were at rest.

That’s how it feels to me once we are prepared for winter: it feels like being “tucked in.”

Animals in nature do their own version of this, especially those who hibernate.

There’s a sandy bank along the road to our old family farm. Here lives a prolific woodchuck family. Members of their clan have lived there as long as I can remember, chewing the grasses and wild strawberries along the gravelly edges of the pavement. I imagine through their generations, they have improved their extensive tunnels and rooms. Soon they will go underground for the winter.

The woodchucks have been feasting all summer and have grown so large that they ripple when running across the road. I wonder about their BMI? What does it take to live off those fat reserves for months? They look healthy and content, ready to crawl into their beds, tucking in for the long winter days ahead.

Early October, my husband and I took a color drive, staying in several places in northern Michigan, ending at our family’s cabin on the northern shore of Lake Superior. When we arrived, the temperature was in the sixties, but the next day the temperature dipped into the upper thirties and didn’t break forty again during our stay.

We didn’t care.

We were buttoned up tight in the old cabin. We kept a fire going in the fireplace and woodstove the entire time. We talked, played cribbage, read books, and prepared simple meals. It was cozy. It was relaxing.

We were safely tucked in.

It’s a Fine Life

Routines old and new

A shady and inviting path through the woods.

By Kathy Oswalt-Forsythe

Things have changed in my getting-ready-for-school routine. I’m not getting ready. I retired from teaching after spending most of my adult life in education.

I always wanted to be a teacher. I organized my dolls in neat rows, lecturing them on the ABCs and simple math. I occasionally corralled my little brothers, passing out pencils and lined paper, and practiced delivering directions to this lively, distracted crew.

I loved reading. History. Spelling Bees. The smell of crayons. Sharpened pencils.

I loved new sets of books. My teachers. A bumpy school bus ride.

My grandmothers were teachers. My mother was a certified teacher. I always traveled the teacher-in-training path.

From the time I was five years old, I have been going to school, getting children ready for school, or working in a school. Most of my educator friends have, too.

The whole cycle of our activities, family plans, and routines have revolved around the rhythm of the school calendar year. For the most part, it has been predictable and enjoyable. And then I loved teaching. I can’t imagine a more rewarding and challenging career.

So this retirement routine is all different. It is a frontier full of discovery for me. I know that change and adapting to it is a part of life. And it involves some recognition and acceptance of getting older. When did this happen?

My already-retired friends assure me I will love it — that I will look forward to and enjoy every day.

Many retired people I know say they don’t know how they ever had time to work. They volunteer. They join service organizations. They exercise. They create book clubs. They become more active in church. They travel more.

Some claim they don’t even keep track of the days of the week. That’s hard to imagine.

There are things I am looking forward to:

Driving north mid-week to enjoy October colors in Michigan.

Grocery shopping on Wednesdays and taking advantage of a senior discount.

Heading south to a warm, sandy beach in late January.

Attending a grandchild’s school program or chaperoning a field trip without scheduling a day off and creating sub-plans.

But there are also things I will miss:

I will miss my co-workers and our daily interactions and support for one-another.

I will miss the schedule. Each fall, greeting a classroom full of nervous teenagers. Getting to know them and planning for their instruction. Reading their writing and being a part of their lives.

I felt like my efforts were never enough. There was always more to be done. And then I often worried about them. I won’t miss that.

So I’m following a different path, writing a new chapter, and adjusting to a life without setting an alarm clock. I am having an extra cup of coffee in the morning, reading and actually finishing books, and scheduling more time with family and friends.

Yes, I think I will enjoy this new routine.

It’s a Fine Life.

Grand openings

The grand opening of a brand new day. Photo by Leeanne Seaver.

By Kathy Oswalt-Forsythe

I recently returned from a week in Ontario, a time of rest and renewal at our family retreat on the northern shore of Lake Superior.

I look forward to our days there all year long. We travel north, cross the Mackinac Bridge, skip across the Upper Peninsula, hold our breath at the border, and then wind our way along the rocky Lake Superior coastline to our cabin. It takes most of a day, and when we finally leave the confines of the car and stretch towards the pines, it’s like we’ve left our worries behind.

It is rustic, but not too rustic, as we do have indoor plumbing and electricity — but it’s rustic enough that I have no cell service, that the nearest shopping center is an hour away, that our favorite entertainment is gathering around a fire and watching the stars appear in the clear Canadian sky.

Here, we have no garbage service. Cottage owners cart their weekly refuse to an area landfill, a twenty-minute-drive from our camp. Yes, it’s a bit inconvenient, and out of a sense of duty, I take the dump trip with my mother, a woman who has never met a stranger.

She loves conversation and is actually looking forward to this journey to the dump saying, “I need to see if my buddy is still working there.”

“You have a buddy there?”

“Well, yes, I talk to him every year.”

Of course she does.

She has a “buddy” at every stop we might make — the gas station, the camp store, the lodge where she buys her fishing license. This is no surprise, especially since she has spent time up here every summer of her life.

So we roll the windows down, and my mother and I, along with her dog and two extra-large leaf bags of garbage begin our trek.

On our way we pass a tiny roadside restaurant — open but neglected. Its surrounding yard and even edges of the parking lot are decorated with several cast-off lawn mowers, a couple old grills, and numerous rusty and broken lawn chairs. The place has been on this road a long time. A decade ago, it held some promise, but no more.

I can’t imagine opening the tattered screen door and entering the establishment.

Across the faded cedar siding of the low building is a banner that reads, “Grand Opening.”

My mom says, “I heard that Grand Opening was long time ago.”

“Well, maybe they have lots of Grand Openings?” I reply.

We discuss this and conclude “Maybe every day is a Grand Opening?” And we smile.

Isn’t that how we want to greet each day? To embrace people we love? To treat those we encounter along the way?

We repeat the phrase several times as we pull into the dump. I climb out and grab the garbage as my mom talks to the attendant — her buddy — and he smiles, remembering her from the year before.

Yes, every day is a Grand Opening.

My new mantra.

It’s a Fine Life.