Tuesday, May 29, 2012

New thing #29: Waconda

For the last couple years, there was an old summer cottage for sale on a big lake in a little town not far from our home. We've driven by it many times and talked about how pretty the location was, but how impractical it would be to buy a place that needed so much work at this stage of our lives. We already have a beautiful home, and maintaining it is a full time job. And we all know about the soft housing market. So we did the right thing.

We bought it.

A wise woman once told Senior to imagine what his headstone would look like. She said the dates don't matter... what matters is the dash between the numbers. That dash represents what you did with your life. Now we may not leave a universal legacy, but we do want to live life to the fullest and enjoy each and every day. So with that in mind, Senior and I each wrote a list of goals we wanted to achieve in the next decade or so, and then compared notes. Our lists were surprisingly similar, which might explain why we've been happily married for so many years. And one of the things on both our lists was to live on or near the water. Even if it's impractical.

The house was built in 1916 and had been owned by only one family prior to us. They named it Waconda, which means "Great Spirit of the Waters" according to a Native American story. Helen, the previous owner, spent her summers there until her death at the age of 102.  One of the last traditional summer cottages on the lake, it sits on a shallow bay that is home to ducks and swans who are pretty annoyed that we have taken over their dock. We are still in cleaning mode so we haven't moved in for the summer. We're happy to spend a couple hours there or even to just stop by long enough watch the sunset. Neighbors drop in and say hello, like Betty, the helpful lady who told my kids that Helen died Right There on the porch, and the cheerful guy who told us that her dying wish was that the property stay in the family.

We kicked off summer with a Memorial Day picnic at Waconda. The kids alternated between relaxing in the sun and raking up the seaweed encroaching on the dock, flinging it up on shore in all its smelly glory. I got out our tippy little kayak and paddled around the bay, collecting the flotsam that washes in from the boaters on the lake. I now have 63 bottles of sunblock. Senior channeled his inner engineer and figured out how to make the floating dock actually float, then we all pitched in to launch it. I was proud of the way the kids took ownership of the place. If I'm very lucky, I'll get to see them share it with their children some day.

Our plan is to enjoy the cottage "as is" this summer. Well, after we bleach it from top to bottom. We've put our house up for sale and if the stars line up correctly, we'll eventually remodel Waconda and make it our full-time, lakefront home. I hope Helen approves.

New thing #28: Pandora's bracelet

My kids surprised me on Mother's Day by getting me a Pandora bracelet. I've been admiring them for quite a while so I was thrilled to actually own one. It's beautiful, in silver, with the unique Pandora charms and beads that clip onto the bracelet. They bought me 2 charms to start me off. One is a suitcase to remind me of all the great places I've visited, and the other says "MOM"- but they put it on upside down so it would say "WOW" instead. I love those kids! This is so much better than the charm bracelets I remember, with all those little dangles that snagged your arm hairs and pulled them out by the root.

I'm looking forward to adding to the bracelet in the years to come. I really like the birthstone charms. I'll get topaz for The Girl and peridot for The Boy, so my color palette is established.  I'll collect a forever charm for Senior and a sibling charm for my sisters and the memory of my brothers.  I know I'll share some best friend beads with those special women who enrich my life. But I don't know if I'll find a bead that can help me figure out how to heal the pain of a broken friendship. Or a charm to remind me of the mom I used to have, before dementia took her away from me.

And since humor is a necessary part of life, I'll need a bright red bead to symbolize the countless times I've sunburned my nose on our motorcycle trips. And maybe a charm shaped like a flattened bird, like the one that flew into my leg on one bike trip to Nova Scotia.  A charm shaped like a sling would remind me of the hard-earned lesson that it's never a good idea to stand on the arm of your couch. Maybe I can even find a memento of my favorite cousin's teenage alter-ego, Diaperman. Although on second thought, wearing a giant diaper on my wrist would probably give people the wrong idea. Instead I'll choose something to remind me of the way my dad would come alive for two weeks every summer at The Woods, where he could throw off the stiff attorney persona he wore the rest of the year.

This bracelet is the perfect vehicle for me. I've never been a big collector, since clutter makes me crazy. But one thing I do love to gather is memories. I might even collect fifty new ones before this is full.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

New thing #27: Warwick Castle

The first time I came to England for work, we drove past Warwick Castle. Since it was closed for the day, I vowed I'd see it on a later trip. It took me three more visits, but thanks to my Brit colleagues, I finally made it! My friend Ken is a local and was a brilliant tour guide who drove us around the whole region. Places come to life when you hear stories about the history and the people who live there.

The sun shined on and off through a sky threatening rain, but it never did more than sprinkle on us. Everything was green and lush on the winding roads through the beautiful English countryside. Colts and lambs were actually cavorting in the pastures, oblivious to us as we drove by. We passed through villages where time had slowed and the milkman still makes deliveries, and through cities with beautiful churches and 'posh' shops. After touring Shakespeare's home town and the birthplace of the sport of Rugby, we circled around back to Warwick and its famous medieval castle.

The castle tour was fantastic. We were able to wander all through the buildings and grounds at our own pace. The rooms were spectacular from the architecture to the decor. We climbed narrow winding stone steps high up into the towers and walked along the ramparts, where the views were gorgeous. A mix of actors and wax figures (done so well it was hard to tell which was which) brought history to life throughout the tour. I learned the best way to remove an arrow if it happens to be lodged in your torso, a handy tip that I hope never to put into use. We followed the path to the River Avon below the castle for a tour of the mill and engine house, then followed a screeching noise to the conservatory and formal garden to find a dozen fearless peacocks, beautiful birds who make an awful noise, enjoying the sunshine. The entire tour was interesting and fun, putting Ken and I in such a good mood that we didn't even stop and chastise some workers repairing a wall without wearing the proper safety equipment (a job habit, I'm afraid).  My children will surely not believe it.