And Just Like That…So Long, January

January 1st, 2023 – My grandson on my couch, engrossed in a film.

I can’t exactly remember when the passage of time shifted from what seemed to be gentle waves propelling me forward, to what now feels like rushing white water rapids, moving me along at a frenetic speed. Maybe that was back in my early 20’s. From that time forward, I wouldn’t have minded a couple of pauses to slow the sensation of barreling through my life. So many years gone by and yet, it feels like a minute. I can still recall everyone feeling weird about moving into the 21st century, all that Y2K madness, when some thought the world might end on December 31st, 1999. Now the third decade in that century is zipping right along. How can January already be over? And exactly what did I do in what seemed to be that relentlessly gray, dismal month? For most of my life I was pretty good at ignoring weather, figuring that something I couldn’t control wasn’t worth my attention. Maybe it’s the overall cultural feel, the mass shootings, the depressing politics, the endless Covid. I can’t say for certain, but in recent times I’ve been more negatively affected by the cold and sunless skies than ever before, a little like those people who suffer from seasonal affective disorder. I decided to have a look back at this past dreary January, to see if I actually did anything during the month. I know that on the first, I was watching a movie with my grandson, continuing the tradition we started last summer. In addition to the having the pleasure of his company, I get to introduce him to films from wide-ranging genres, including black and whites. One of my favorite activities.

View from the road trip
My son, daughter-in-law and granddaughter at Starved Rock State Park.
The Lodge still dressed up for the holidays.
Hike time
A bluff
Stairs to a trail head
All alone at the indoor pool
View of the park from the pool

My holiday present from son and daughter-in-law was a mid-week trip to Starved Rock State Park. Initially I was ambivalent about going there. For almost 25 years, our family had spent a few days in that wonderful place, usually during December. We started out as our family of four. Over time, that group expanded to include our kids’ boyfriends and girlfriends, ultimately husbands and grandchildren until eventually contracting to just me and my husband. A memory-laden location, I hadn’t been there since December, 2016, the last trip I had with Michael who died the following May. My trepidation proved unnecessary as the days away from home were a welcome break from my routine. I’m glad I can still enjoy those special shared spaces on my own.

Bright sun on January 6th.
Weekly post-swim lunch with my pal Debbie.
A candid photo of Lily with one of her favorite treats.

A good antidote to dreary weather is diving into garden catalogs. I wasn’t able to resist the plant with the great name, which also promises to bloom almost anywhere while attracting bees and butterflies. I ordered three of them which should show up in early spring. Pigsqueak. Really?

My ancient pachysandra ground cover, still green in January.
The snowy front yard.

My daughter-in-law and her mom bought me a beautiful orchid last November. I’ve never been able to keep one alive. I’ve been nursing this one along, hoping to break my jinx with this species. Blooming indoor plants are bright spots in winter.

On the rare days when the sun broke through the monotonous gloom, I hustled out to a favorite spot just outside the city limits. The plowed fields offer perfect backdrops for sunsets and clouds vistas. I’m always interested in the color permutations offered up by the sky. Except for the days when weather makes driving hazardous, I spent a bit of time shooting photos out there.

I’m now on a regular babysitting schedule with my granddaughter. The truth is, I have no way of knowing whether she will be the last baby I get to know on an intimate basis. Her presence, always interesting to me, along with the constant snuggling that’s part of caregiving, is an unexpected pleasure. Infancy flies by so quickly. My January included these special moments.

For much of my adult life, when movie award season rolled around, I’d already seen most of the films that were critically acclaimed. During the last few years, I haven’t kept up with new releases the way I once did. But this past month, I’ve made an effort to catch up with some of the ones I’ve missed this year. And, after considerable thought, I’m going back in time to revisit old favorites that I haven’t seen in a long while. January was a good month for movies.

As the death procession which accompanies average aging rolls on, January included the sudden and unexpected loss of my friend Stafford. Before we converted our three apartment house back into a single family dwelling, Stafford lived in one of the units upstairs. For a couple of decades we were in each other’s lives on a regular basis. We attended his wedding. He was around for my young kids and popped back in and out after he moved away. Each one of the deaths I’ve experienced in the past few years feels like an era ending. Lots of shared times come rolling out of my memory. My mom died with none of her peers left alive, only her children and grandchildren. I hope my trajectory doesn’t mimic hers. Too lonely.

Stafford, Brian, Larry, me and my daughter in our dining room, 1982.
Stafford with me and my kids, still in the dining room, more than 20 years later.

My youngest grandson turned nine. I attended his birthday party. My son-in-law created a birthday cake with his current spirit animal, a scorpion. Every year the cakes reflect the kid’s’ personal evolutions. I appreciate the frozen moments in time. And the incredible cake-making talent.

Turning nine.
Me with my son at the birthday dinner.

One of my sustaining hobbies is photographing the birds who visit the feeders in my yard. Unfortunately my feeders attract a significant number of what I call rats with tails, the squirrels who populate my garden along with the more desirable visitors. I have a grudging admiration for them as they are highly intelligent, athletic problem-solvers who are utterly relentless in their pursuit of free food. I also hate them. As a holiday gift, my daughter gave me a camera trap which is activated by any movement in close proximity to its lens. I have gotten some great bird photos. But the majority of pictures are of the dastardly squirrels, walking up the siding on my house, scraping the paint off the wood trim and being otherwise completely annoying as they lazily eat the readily available bird seed.

Heinous squirrel
More heinous squirrels
Resident cardinals
I love this diving cardinal and its shadow.

I’m continuing to work my way through old VHS tapes, digitizing those which are still salvageable. I feel so lucky to be experiencing the unique time travel moments, when I get to remember what was happening so long ago. I take photos of certain moments as I watch the old film scroll across my computer screen. The first four pictures below are from 1976. They were taken in my parents’ Chicago apartment and in my brother’s home. I was 25 years old. My grandmother is the white-haired woman in the pink house dress. I still have that dress, hanging in my closet upstairs. My brother, seated next to her, was not yet totally lost in his mental disorders. The next two are from Thanksgiving in 1976. Michael went to his parents’ house that year, the last time he spent Thanksgiving away from my family. I chose to experience my favorite holiday traditions with the people who made me comfortable instead of awkward. I didn’t ever regret that choice. My one Thanksgiving with Michael’s parents was a cold dismal affair. I learned fast – once was enough.

The following two pictures are from 1987. A close-up look at my sweet son, well before he could even walk. And a profile shot of my handsome husband which still arouses all kinds of emotions in me. Despite all my scientific beliefs, the mystery of this one true love situation I find myself in is undeniable. Do I believe that most people don’t necessarily mate for life? Yes. But apparently I’m not most people.

So that was January. Many small moments that make up a life. They’re not nothing, nor are they everything. I’m going to see what February brings, if I’m still alive and all goes according to plan. Meanwhile, here a few interesting cloud formations I photographed during the first month of 2023.

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