On Looking at Stars, Searching for Perseids

Where were you when the meteors zoomed by on August 12? I hope you got to peak at a few, or as I did, many!

Painting by Clara Neary, July, 2019

In the past couple of years, I had seen a few in the darkened sky over West Lake Okoboji and was extremely excited about those 3 or 4.

On August 8, 2019, I was into my 3rd August of hopefulness. The air was cool, the stars brilliant, the mosquitos gone.

The Perseids Meteor Shower is happening right now, and peaks on August 12. It appears in the area of the constellations “Cassiopeia” and “Perseus”, to the upper right of the Big Dipper.

I went to bed at 10:30 after a very long Danish movie on Netflix (“The Fortunate Man”, which I don’t recommend). This movie with an interesting beginning, lured me to the end and kept me from watching the first stars pop out.

So, at 10:30, I was torn. Do I go to bed or stay up? I usually stargaze in the early dawn, around 4 to 6 AM. I went to bed.

At midnight, I woke up and went outside. It was a good time! Wrapped in a sweatshirt fleece blanket, on our lakeside deck, I stared at the spot where I wanted to see shooting stars.

I imagined a couple of brief ones but nothing dramatic happened.

The next door neighbor’s yard lights were on, lighting up both sides of the house. I hope for them to leave in the next couple of days so those lights go off.

It is really annoying when so many neighbors have extreme outdoor lighting in this peaceful environment. I get enough bright lights in Omaha. Maybe I’ll go to my first neighborhood meeting to bring up the issue and gently plead for softer lights at night.

I do like our neighbors and am happy to see them and know that they’re there.

Around 1 AM, I was not tired at all. A speed boat went by with loud music close to shore. I liked it, kind of singing along to the familiar tune and seeing it all lit up.

There was a party of some kind across the lake. Sound carries really well at night. The young men and women were swimming, I imagined, from the giggles, excited yells, and splashes.

FUN.

So, as I gazed and enjoyed my night time, I began to think that maybe I’d spend more nights outside in summer, maybe all night, switching my days and nights around.

I also thought of rural residents who have a sky view every night. Do they appreciate it, or do they take it for granted?

It’s such a gift, with or without meteors.

The next few nights were rainy or cloudy, so no viewing.

On Monday night, the 12th, I could hardly sleep. It was clear! I hadn’t been this excited in ages, Ha! I forced myself to go to bed at 10, then woke up at 2 and went outside.

Oh no! Thick clouds everywhere; even the moon had disappeared.

Also, another neighbor had strung very bright party lights between their trees. These weren’t the little twinkle lights. These were like spotlights, especially in the deep night.

Neighbor’s party lights, festive and pretty in daylight.

It was too much. The clouds, the near full moon, and these lights were all going to impede my viewing. Desperation set in, and I contemplated a criminal act, like going over there and cutting the wire.

Instead, reluctantly, I went back inside and read for awhile.

Around 3 AM, I looked out and was very happy to see that the clouds had moved on, clearing to show so many stars.

I became a night person for the next 3 hours, setting up a cozy deck chair with a blanket, pillow, and binoculars, in the darkest corner I could find.

The rare and glorious night proceeded like this:

I waited about 10 minutes, imagining little slivers of light moving. Then it happened! ONE bright and fast streak coming out from the Perseus constellation. No mistaking what that was. I was hooked.

3:30 AM. The stars are less visible. A foggy mist is rolling in, even hiding the lights across the lake.

4:30 AM. Suddenly, it clears, and I count 12 more meteors, appearing all over the sky, making 13 so far.

4:47 AM. No. 14, now NW of Perseus.

Then, No. 15!!! This one seemed to go west to east, long and bright, over the house, dipping a little.

4:50 AM. Chilly, damp and foggy, but some stars are still out. I pick some mint from my garden, and go inside to make hot tea, and write some notes. I think, “What am I missing while I’m inside?”

4:54 AM. No.16, spotted North, under Cassiopeia. This one left a streak behind it, briefly.

Around 5 AM, the fog cleared completely, and No. 17 goes right over the house, west to east, leaving a trail.

Next, No. 18 appears low in the east, in a dawn sky.

The Perseus constellation is now horizontal as the earth has turned. It was vertical when I first came out. And I see my old friend, Orion, rising in the east.

My neck muscles are stretched and strained as I bend back and keep looking upward. I’m moving now, standing more than sitting.

5:25 AM. Meteor No. 19, in the east, falls top to bottom.

Then, No. 20, right over my head.

This is so thrilling it almost takes my breath away, as I gasp at each surprising appearance.

At about 5:30, I hear a fish jump in the water which makes me look to the east. A meteor drops again from the sky, top to bottom, long and brilliant.

Little miracles of enjoyment, or big miracles, that I’ll remember for a long time, and think back on with reverence.

I can’t wait till next August 12th!

Shirley

The Party’s Over

Liam, crying because he can’t have a lit sparkler (or because the party’s over).

“The pop is gone.” says the last teenager to leave.

The ice is low.

The granola is gone.

This pretty jar (from TJMaxx) stored the granola.
Our favorite granola. No raisins were added, just fresh fruit at breakfast time.

Two pans of Dan’s frozen Green Chili Chicken Enchiladas are gone.

Bryan’s extra tender dry rubbed ribs are gone.

One half cup of Ranch Beans, not to be thrown away, is stashed somewhere in the fridge behind too many leftovers to count.

The fresh strawberries, raspberries and blueberries are gone.

The decorated cookies, brownies and bars are gone.

Festive cookies from Amy.

The visiting people are gone.

Some of the fun people.

The recyclables, clean and sorted, are now gone, all picked up curbside.

Sorted, without plastic bags!

Even the pelicans are gone.

Earlier:

The pelicans are the first to arrive for their party on the lake, flying and gliding gracefully for a smooth landing as they join their group.

One of many.

Then Dan and Shirley get to the empty lakehouse and prepare for family arrivals.

5 more people come as Conor and Jess and family get settled for 10 days.

One day later, 4 more as Brandon, Jenn and family (with Molly’s hamster, Leny) get to the lake. The party heats up with games, food, and drinks, including a prosecco whose cork blasted out a light fixture, shattering glass, and shocking all!

Three days later, 5 more show up as the Omaha Nearys get here, wheeling in their gigantic cooler of food. Abundance is now!

One Omaha Neary stays back, sacrificing for business reasons, tending to her newly opened store, “Exist Green”. All have been there with similar decisions and understand, still missing her greatly!

Then, 4 more family members come on July 4th for the fish fry and fireworks.

Highlights from that day:

Clara, 17, leaves (with a carload of siblings and cousins who want a ride) to get cleaned walleye from Wes’s house to add to the dinner, which was a success!

One year old Liam plays football with the big kids, carrying the ball like a pro.

The neighbors haul out big box after big box of fireworks to their dock, which begin while it’s still light, startling all of us on the lawn, to stop what we’re doing and look over that way, staring. We observe hot (Amy checked) ashes falling on top of our boat cover. We try not to tell Dan, thinking he’ll go crazy, but surprisingly, when he learns of this, his reaction is “Whatever. We’ll deal with the consequences later.” There is no damage.

The recycle bins have ceased to be organized by category but has things thrown in willy nilly.

The cocktails and mocktails need a new flavor, so a rare and sneaky venture to a neighbor’s mint patch ensues. The surly neighbor is gone, but it is well known to all that we MUST stay off their property.

The cell phone is lost for a day as there is too much noise to find it.

The door slams often, with people going in and out (who don’t know how to use it, despite a few lessons). Ha!

Shirley says to more than one person, “We’ve lost all sense of normalcy around here.”

Riley enjoys a calm moment at sundown, July 4, 2019.

About 10 PM, Gus makes popcorn, surrounded by adoring younger relatives, and a couple of older ones, (his parents).

Not a single burnt kernel!

The mosquitos arrive chasing all but the most hardy inside, where lights are turned off so as to see the fireworks.

We forget to turn them back on, even as we’re tripping over piles of sandals and saying good-bye to the departers, until Conor says “Can we turn on a light? I’m not sure who I’m hugging.” We all laugh and turn on lights.

Some of the sandals we tripped over, at one end of the house.

Soon, the day, and days are gone.

Paintings by Riley, Molly, Jess, Clara, & Tatum. Paint and canvases, supplied by Jess.

Now, there are only 2 left at the lakehouse.

And then, there are none.

Shirley

On College Years Past

This is the year that our granddaughter is looking at colleges. She has a few favorites already. I put in a good word for Iowa State University because of its beautiful campus, good programs, and that is where I attended. Whatever she decides, this is her time for the college experience!

Oak Hall, Iowa State University Dormitory

A few years ago, on August 4, 2011, I wrote this about that topic:

Earlier today, at breakfast with Mom and Dad, Ed and Linda, and Dan, I found out that our nephew, Nathan, is going to ISU this fall, and living in Linden Hall.

Oak Hall is right by that. Oak Hall, (4th floor, King) is where I lived for the first 2 years of college.

So, it reminded me of a visit to Ames in 2002, 30 years after I lived there.

It was a rainy Saturday morning. Dan dropped me off so I could go have a peek at the inside of my old dormitory.

The first thing I noticed? The front concrete steps were worn down in the middle from years of footsteps.

Shirley and friends. King House, 4th Floor, Oak Hall, 1972

Then, inside, I smelled the mustiness, and dustiness of the old building. Or, maybe (just kidding here), it was the boys who were now living in this once all girls dorm.

I walked up to 4th floor and knocked on 3041, hoping to see the inside. No one answered. So, I left a message on the dry erase board hanging there. “Hi, I lived here 30 years ago, and had a wonderful time!” Then, I drew the ☮️ Peace sign, and signed my first name.

One of the letters I received in Oak Hall, from Dan.

When I went back outside, and saw Dan parked in front, along that familiar curb, it came to me that not only were our years of college over, but also all four of our children’s too.

I burst into tears at the thought of this swift passage of time, just as I opened the car’s passenger door, leaving Dan to wonder what he had done this time to make me cry.

Shirley

On Bikes Without Kickstands

My First Bicycle, 1961, on a farm near Breda, IA.

Why would anyone want a bicycle without a kickstand? I’m pretty sure I had one on this first bike, although it’s hard to tell from the way I’m proudly holding it up.

Young kids, in the 7 to 12 year old range, who are racing to their friend’s house, flying off the seat, and throwing the bike to the ground, in their haste to begin playtime, might. In fact, I’ve seen that happen!

When I turned 60, in 2012, I decided to get a bicycle. I had torn out a picture of one I liked from an ad and kept it in a desk drawer for years, like a wish list. We now had a cabin on Lake Okoboji, and I really wanted to be out there riding around the lake and on the trail in the country. It would be a cruiser with foot brakes only, no hand brakes, because that’s the kind I grew up with. It would also have a wicker basket attached to the front handlebars that I would fill with fun stuff.

My wished for bicycle, and some research on where to get it.

I shopped for the bike and a helmet in Omaha and practiced riding around the store parking lot, feeling a little silly, but building confidence before I actually purchsed it. This bike had a kickstand.

Here’s a short story about another 60 year old getting a bike. I wrote it on June 26, 2011:

I’m thinking back to that day when I stopped at my friends’ Liz and Tony’s house. It was Liz’s birthday, her 60th, and she was riding her new bike around the block.

When she came back, Tony and I were sitting under the front yard shade tree, sipping icy orange pop from bottles—delicious! Liz desperately needed some. She was so thirsty after her first bike ride. She hopped off and parked, using the kickstand.

The bike shop had specially installed it for her, saying that few customers want them. This got us to talking about how we (our generation) want, expect, and like kickstands, and discussing why on earth anyone would not want one.

The perfect bike for me.

Shirley

On Drying a Wet Shirt in the Fresh Air

My Favorite White Linen Shirt, hanging on our Omaha Balcony

The last two days in Omaha have been exquisitely perfect with sunshine and gentle breezes, making for a lot of outside time, which is so refreshing!

I’m thinking of Mom hanging her laundry outside while we were growing up, and my friend, Susie, who does it still, so that the clothes and sheets can capture that air.

Here’s something I wrote on March 26, 2011 about that:

Upon arriving here (Kiawah Island, S.C.) yesterday, after a historical tour of Magnolia Plantation, and the cabins and marshes with alligators and azalias, Dan went golfing, and I went to my spa appointment. It was for a 90 minute facial. Imagine! To spend that much time on a spa bed, and be steamed, masked, stroked, heated and treated was unheard of in my life. It was so wonderful!!

As I was preparing to leave the locker room, I put a glass of ice water next to my cotton shirt. When I reached for the shirt, the water fell over and soaked the shirt. So I left with a tee shirt on, and carried the long sleeved overshirt.

Back in the room, I hung it over a balcony chair, which is where I found it this morning, on a sunny breezy Saturday.

I put it on, and I immediately felt like I too had spent the night on that balcony by the sea. Unbottled freshness!

Shirley

On Praying

Entry door handles, St. Michael the Archangel Church, Munich, Germany, 2014

A few years ago, when my friend Teri asked me to pray for a special intention, I responded with, “Yes, of course, my every breath is a prayer.” She thought that was the most beautiful thing she had ever heard. This made me wonder where those words came from. Did I hear it, or read it somewhere? Or, was it original to me?

Growing up Catholic, I know the prayers to say. Some of them are the Our Father, Hail Mary, Bless us O Lord (before meals), and the Rosary for really big wishes from God.

A simple prayer we used to say often around the house was this: “St. Anthony, St. Anthony come around, something is lost and it must be found!” It usually worked.

While Dan and I were raising a family, our prayers were somewhat by the book, memorization and instruction. Going to Mass was expected and we all went together.

Later, when the kids were teenagers, I felt myself transitioning and praying with deeper meaning and more frequency. Some of it was in short bursts as they were leaving to go to school, or a job, or a game or a RAVE (scary thought). I’m sure they never witnessed me stepping out on the front porch and making the “Sign of the Cross” as they drove around the corner.

When my parents became sick in 2011, at 79 years of age, and passed away months later, it was so life changing. I transformed my praying to the uncomplicated “May God be with us” and “Thank you God for being with us.”

It was easy to say, and I said it so often, that it became an enormous comfort, and it still is. This personal, silent prayer is a way to practice my faith and get me motivated sometimes when I don’t want to do a “must do”.

I find myself saying it as we are discussing things of life (or death) at family reunions, or in the grocery store aisle with a favorite friend. I say it silently when a loved one goes away, and before I go away. Often, I ask Mom and Dad to be with me also.

My Grandma S. used to say something like, “See you next week, God willing.” At the time, I thought that was so depressing to hear her say that! Did she think she was going to die in the next few days? Now, I actually think it was her prayer showing trust in God’s plan. She was so joyful and grateful for each new day.

Proof that Dad is still with us, and the reason for Faith.

Dad’s favorite fishing place, Nelson Park, in Iowa, now has a bench to memorialize him. On the day it was installed, my brother, Marty, took this photo, because he liked the trees and the still water. It was only later that he saw Dad’s face reflected in that calm water (upper right from the bench, wearing a hat and sunglasses).

So, as I get older, I may be praying even more because there is so much to pray for. I just hope I don’t start saying “God willing”. I don’t want to scare the grandkids.

Shirley

On a Parish Spaghetti Dinner

Dine in spaghetti serving

This past Sunday, St. Frances Cabrini Parish, in Little Italy, on 10th St., in Omaha, held their twice yearly spaghetti dinner.

My friends, Amy and Cathy, told me about it, as that is their parish. They both work at the event, and promote it.

So, early Sunday afternoon, I had it in mind that this would be our dinner! Take-out was an option and that was my plan.

Dan wasn’t so sure. He said, “ I like my own recipe better.” Now, do I deprive him of the pleasure of cooking and eating his favorite spaghetti? Yes, I think, because he had just made his recipe last week. It’s time to try this small parish’s dinner with MEATBALLS. We never make Italian meatballs. Besides, I want to support a parish fundraiser.

Oh! This is going to be fun!

Dan says, “You won’t find parking. Let me drive you, and you run in and get 2 dinners.”

“I will find parking,” I say, adding, “I don’t want this to be a quick drive through experience, where I’m rushing because you’re waiting outside in a car somewhere.”

No, I’d like to spend time in that old school or church basement, in line, and be part of the crowd, experiencing the culture of the whole event.

So, off I go! The first thing I notice on 10th St. is that there are so many cars parked, all the way to the Durham. As I get closer, it appears that no parking is available. I almost turn around and go home for plan B, Dan’s spaghetti.

However, what is this? A huge open parking lot, 3 blocks south. It’s the lot for Cascio’s Steakhouse restaurant, not currently open. I park there and take off walking. As a first timer, I’m unsure of where to go. Follow the people, I think. Walkers are everywhere. Then, I see the Take Out entrance. So organized! I get behind a couple who I overhear saying, “I guess we’ll find out”. First timers also.

Cannolis for Dessert

Once inside, I see a corner group of tables, with about 8 young women making cannolis on several pieces of stainless steel equipment, and filling each one. I buy 2, a chocolate and a vanilla.

Now, I’m in line to get dinner. I can see into the hectic kitchen, packed with volunteers. Before I left home, I considered bringing my own glass covered casserole dish, (for zero waste reasons), but decided it might spill out in the car on the drive home. For efficiency’s sake, I’m glad I didn’t. They had containers already filled with salad, fresh bread (Orsi’s, I think), pasta and meatballs.

I did bring my reusable vinyl bag.

On my way out, I mention to the person next to me that my favorite part was seeing the cannoli crew in action. She says to me, with an engaging smile, “My nonna used to do that in that corner.” The tradition made me smile too.

On the walk back to my car, I meet an older woman using a walker with her dog. She asks me where the dinner is, and if she is going in the right direction, “Yes”, I say, “It’s about a block or so, straight ahead.” Another first timer.

After Dan and I enjoy this dinner (we can share only one, the portion per dinner is so generous), I ask him, “ What do you think—did you like it?”

“I like my own better,” he answers. Predictable, ha!

As for me, I like both versions. But, the St. Frances Cabrini dinner had a lot more entertainment served with it. I was so happy!

Shirley