Water in the Basement

One early morning a few weeks ago, I was sitting in my usual spot at 5:30 AM, snuggled up on the chair in the corner surrounded by my books. Just as I was settling in,  I heard the sound of running water.

I left my little sanctuary and went to the kitchen. We filter our drinking water in a Brita pitcher and I often put it under the tap but then forget about it. But I hadn’t forgotten to turn the water off. This time.

I returned to my chair and looked out the window at a wet driveway.  The weather had been a few unseasonably warm the past few days with some rain mixed in. It had undoubtedly rained again last night.

Once again, as I looked for the silence to surround me, I could hear the low murmuration of running water. Once again I left my comfy chair in search of running water. This time I went into the basement.

Of course today when I went to take a picture of the little stream in our basement, it was only a drip,

but that morning, it had been a steady stream pouring out of the pipe and into the gravel.

It bothered me.

I went upstairs to try to finish my morning reading and that laughing water was like Poe’s Tell Tale Heart. It seemed to get louder and louder until it was the only thing I could hear.

I could picture all sorts of water-related disasters. As soon as it was a reasonable time I called the contractor we use for work on the house.

When he came over, I showed him the basement stream. He shone his flashlight all around the basement, at the walls, at the stream, on the dirt floor, and back again at the corner where the water was pouring in. “This really isn’t in my wheelhouse,” he said. “I’ll send my plumber over.”

When the plumber came, he looked all around the basement too. “This is an old house,” he said, “and the water is going somewhere. You could do this, or this, or this,” and he laid out a few options that may or may not fix the problem, “but to be honest with you, I’d just leave it.”

“But I can hear it,” I insisted.

“It’s okay. The water is going somewhere. It’s not filling your basement,” he said. He mentioned again the other options, emphasizing their pros and cons, adding, “If it was my house, I wouldn’t do anything.”

I opted to do nothing.

And I sat there for the next several mornings, listening to the gurgle one floor beneath me.

Morning after morning, I murmured my prayers while the water murmured below.

It became part of the background music of early morning.

Then, it just disappeared. I can’t even tell you when.

But I’m sure it will be back, with the next thaw and/or heavy rain.

When it returns, I won’t panic. I’ll just listen.


elderly · Faith · family

What Will You Bleed?

The patterns for our personalities are set early on.

My friend, Susan, used to talk about someone she knew who, in the delirium of a high fever, mumbled out Bible verse after Bible verse. When she had been poked, she bled the Bible.

“I want to be the kind of person who does that,” Susan said to me thirty-some years ago.

Years later, when Susan was poked, she bled praise. She suffered a stroke in her 40s and I have never heard her utter a bitter word about it. After seeing Susan last June, I asked another friend, Jennifer Trafton Peterson, to make this custom artwork for her. The words are ones I have heard Susan say many times.

The other day I was wearing a new-to-me shirt and my father noticed.

“That’s a nice shirt,” he said.

“I got it at the thrift store,” I told him.

He grinned, fist-bumped the air, and said, “Hurrah!”

My father has always liked a bargain. It’s the Scotsman in him, I think. My mother had to live with it and work against it.

She was also very frugal, but, at the same time, she wished she could do some of the things that the other doctors’ wives got to do. After he retired, he yielded to her and they went on a trip to Hawaii.

It was life-changing. He still talks about it.

“I’m so glad that I listened to Mom and we made that trip to Hawaii,” he often says.

“Everyone should go to Hawaii. When are you going?” he asks me, when he’s thinking about that trip.

But my father bleeds frugality. As dementia takes hold little by little, I see a deeper austerity emerging. He sometimes wears corduroy pants that are nearly threadbare. “There’s still some wear in these,” he says when I suggest he change.

“How much is that going to cost?” he asks, when I suggest a necessary home repair or appliance replacement, in a can-we-possibly-do-without-that sort of way.

The pattern, I think, was set early on.

My sister’s mother-in-law was a fairly passive woman. In her elderly dementia, she became more and more withdrawn into a unresisting submissiveness. When she was poked, that was what she bled — utter compliance.

My mother — I had to think about her for a while to come up with what she bled — I think she bled marmalade, both sweet and sour, involving food, and serving others. She wanted to help, but she got frustrated with the muddle in her mind.

And I can’t help thinking, What are the patterns being laid in my life? When I am poked, what will I bleed?


The Fall

Bud told me that a woman at church had mentioned seeing me out for a run. “She doesn’t run,” he told her, “she just walks really fast.”

I was out for a walk the other day when I took a tumble. I do walk at a pretty fast clip, so when the toe of my sneaker caught on a bit of uneven sidewalk, I went down hard. Right onto my left knee.

I limped back to my car, about 3/4 of a mile away, stopping to rest on the stone bridge and take pictures of Tuga. On this day, no man was talking on his cell phone there so I didn’t feel self-conscious.

I kept reaching down to feel my knee through my jeans. I could barely touch it without severe pain, but I couldn’t see what the damage was. The wound was painful but, without seeing it, still abstract.

When I got home, I went into the bathroom to inspect my knee. The egg on my knee reminded me of the egg on Karl’s head the time “Fred” talked him into stepping into a spackle bucket with a rope on the handle that he had hanging over the edge of the cellar stairs.

“Let’s play Paul-in-a-basket and I’ll lower you down over the city wall,” he said.

It did not end well.

I iced my knee and put my leg up. Look up knee injury on the internet and the advice is nearly always the same — RICE: Rest – Ice – Compression – Elevation. I didn’t compress my knee though; I could barely touch it.

Mary and Laurel were a huge help, cleaning up the dinner stuff and fixing my father his nightly bowl of ice cream.

I took two ibuprofen and went to bed early. The injury knocked the wind out of me.

I really don’t have time for this, I told God as I fell asleep. He listened. In the morning, I felt completely better.

Not really — but the egg was gone from my patella. I could still see the redness and the abrasion where I had hit, but the real swelling was now in big circle around the patella.

It has now been three days since the fall. Bruising is settling in below my knee.

I find the whole thing fascinating — the way my patella absorbed a huge impact, then dispersed a cushion of fluid around the point of impact, and now even that is settling. The tenderness is minimal and only around the outskirts of my knee. Okay — I still can’t kneel, but I can do everything else.

The human body is a pretty amazing piece of self-healing machinery, don’t you think?

And that silly fall is not going to prevent me from walking today or tomorrow.

Snow may take care of that.


The Rabbit in My Pocket

Stadiums fill up with rabbits to see what’s going to happen between the lines.

But life isn’t only about visible realities.
There are invisible and unseen nuances
things that shape us into who we are.

Orel Hare-shiser

Like a rabbit in my pocket.

With apologies to Orel Hershiser.


River Wish

No rabbit ever hops into the same river twice,
For it’s not the same river
And he’s not the same rabbit.
Other waters are ever flowing on.

Hare-clitus, Ancient Greek Rabbit Philosopher

Photo Challenge: wish


More Croatian

Helen looked at my Bosnian-Croatian-Serbian textbook sitting on the table.

“Do you really think you’ll use this?” she asked when I told her it was mine. “When I went to France, even though I was taking French at the time, I was too afraid to try to say anything.”

I understood what she was saying. “I think there are some useful phrases,” I replied. “In my last set of words, I learned ‘I understand’ and ‘I don’t understand’ — it’s like, hmmm…” I tried to remember. “Rooma-zooma….?”

“Ramen noodles?” she asked.

“No, it’s roomy-something. I have time to practice though. I just learned it.” I replied.

I practiced it later on my walk. Razumijem — pronounced ra-zoo-me-yem. I guess it’s sort of like Ramen noodles.

Ne razumijem — means I don’t understand. That one will come in handy, I’m sure.

Also, Gdje je kupaonica? — Where’s the bathroom? — very important. Except that one is pretty hard for me to pronounce.

Try it, English-speaking friends, say “guh-duh-yay yeh coo-pa-on-itz-ah” really fast. It rhymes with pizza, in case I’m not writing it phonetically correctly.

Last night as I walked, I practiced my Croatian, ruminating on the rhyming words. I came up with a poem.

Cesta, ulica
Gdje je kuaponica
Sviđa me se.
Dječak, djevojčica

Road, street
Where is the bathroom?
Thank you.
Excuse me.
I like it.
Boy, girl

The more I practice, the braver I’ll be when I get there.

Hopefully I won’t say something stupid.


The Role of Timers

misc 0048 & Under swimmers swarm around the pool deck like ants on a sidewalk. Some are aimless, while others seem to know where they are going.

Clueless. That’s often the word I use to describe 8-and-unders.

Mama can’t hover on the deck. Only those who are supposed to be there can.

Guards — aka Meet Marshalls — protect the entrances. Most coaches and officials wear their credentials on a lanyard.  Swimmers enter through the locker-rooms; their suits and goggles are their credentials. The other support staff — the timers, the timing table, the meet marshals themselves, the ribbon writers and heat winner awarders — are either known to the people running the meet or wear a lanyard identifying their role.

Of these, my heart always goes out to the timers.

Timing is the first role most parents get to play to help at a meet.

“What if I do it wrong?” new parents ask.

“We’ll train you,” is the usual response.

Start – Stop – Reset. Those are the only three buttons that really matter on the stopwatch for the timers.

Start the watch — not at the sound of horn but when you see the strobe. It’s important for parent/timers to understand this for two reasons — 1) since light travels faster than sound, it may be slightly more accurate, and 2) the strobe is why no flash photography is allowed at the start of a race. Swimmers who learn to watch for the strobe may react to a flash from a camera and be charged with a false start.

Stop when you see the hand touch the pad. That means you have to stand where you can see that happen which isn’t behind the blocks.

Reset. Write the times on the clipboard as fast as you can and reset; the next race starts almost immediately.

One of the officials I work with loves to tell the story of how he decided to become an official. “I couldn’t write fast enough,” he says, laughing. “After I got yelled at one too many times, I said, ‘Hang this — I’m going to become an official!'”

Timers are the unsung heroes of swim meets. They are moms and dads who come out of the stands and work the deck. Their feet get wet. They miss their own child’s finish because they have to watch the lane assigned to them. They get yelled at and blamed for all sorts of stuff. They are expected to make sure swimmers are in the right heat and the right lane, get up on the blocks, and have their goggles on. And all of that is mostly the swimmer’s responsibility.

Which brings me to yesterday.

I was standing on the side of the pool as a stroke official. That means I walked along the side watching the strokes to make sure everything was in accordance with the rules of that stroke. No flutter kick during butterfly, stay on the back for backstroke, toes pointed out for breaststroke kick, and so on.

The referee blew the whistle for 8 & Under girls 50 backstroke. Seven girls hopped in the water and grabbed hold of the wall. One lane was empty.

I looked at my program to see who was missing. It was a little girl from a team in our league. I could see her standing behind the timers, wrapped in her towel, shivering, looking clueless. I wished with all my heart that the timers would turn around and see her, but they were talking.

The starter said, “Take your mark.”


After the horn, the timers parted and saw the little girl. I watched them look at the clipboard and start talking. I shifted my attention to the swimmers in the water.

“What just happened?” her coach asked.

“She was right there behind the blocks,” I told her. The coach bustled over to the meet referee to see if they could get her in another heat, but no dice.

The ruling was that it was the swimmer’s responsibility to get in the water. The timers didn’t prevent that. The swimmer didn’t try to get through.

She was clueless as to what was going on probably because other people are always looking out for her.

Which is part of why I love the sport of swimming.

From an early age, swimmers learn to take responsibility for themselves. They have to pay attention.

It’s small stakes when they don’t. A missed race. A possible missed ribbon.

But the world keeps spinning and another race will come.

Or you can blame the timer and teach kids that they are never responsible for the things that happen.

It’s those blasted volunteers with wet feet who sacrificed something who are at fault.




This is the pool where the meet was held in which Laurel swam:img_1316-1

This is the  bulkhead upon which I stood judging the turns of competitive swimmers who swam in the pool where the meet was held in which Laurel swam:img_1318

This the coffee that lacked flavor and oomph that I drank before I went to the pool and stood on the bulkhead judging the turns of competitive swimmers who swam in the pool where the meet was held in which Laurel swam:img_1315

This is the bed where I didn’t get much sleep so I needed the coffee that lacked flavor and oomph that I drank before I went to the pool and stood on the bulkhead judging the turns of competitive swimmers who swam in the pool where the meet was held in which Laurel swam:img_1313

I’m home, tired, and going to bed early.

Good night.





Weekend Coffee Share

If we were having coffee, I sure would like it to be a better cup of coffee than what I got at the hotel free breakfast this morning. It was hot, I’ll give it that, but it had no flavor. Lousy coffee is a small inconvenience, though, for spending the weekend with my daughter.

I guess I’ve gotten used to drinking good coffee made from freshly ground beans. I’ve turned into a coffee snob.

My mother drank instant coffee. Whenever I served her coffee from my drip coffee maker, she would wrinkle her nose and comment on how bitter it tasted. I never thought it was bitter, but maybe that’s because, in those days, I also added plenty of cream and sugar.

My mother drank her coffee black. Her Maxwell House or Folgers. Instant. Decaf. Yuck. I mean, what’s the point?

I’m still not a black coffee drinker, but I have stopped adding sugar. Freshly ground coffee bean coffee doesn’t need sugar.

I’m not sure sugar could have helped this morning’s coffee.

On my way to the pool for the swim meet this morning, I passed a Dunkin’ Donuts. That would be a step up from hotel coffee. Tomorrow, I’ll swing through there.

Today at the meet one of the other officials talked about how he had given up coffee for Lent.

“I don’t think I could do that,” said another official. “That would be too hard.”

The coffee-giver-upper said, “That’s the whole point. You’re not supposed to do something that’s easy.”

I touched my pocket where I could feel Tuga, my little plastic bunny. Had I taken the easy way out, I wondered.


Or maybe I’m not ready to tackle giving up coffee.

Besides, then I couldn’t participate in the weekend coffee share.