And so we begin a new year

A new year, a (re)newed pledge to start writing again. Not like last year, when I felt a sense of foreboding after Christmas Day 2012. That’s when I decided to start a new blog about living life to its fullest after sitting by my father’s side in the hospital, a team of nurses and doctors fighting to keep his blood pressure from plummeting as he battled the flu and then pneumonia. How he hung on through that we don’t know, but he did. He then experienced about 6 months of a health rollercoaster, getting better and then suddenly crashing down again. He somehow made it through last year.

Unfortunately my Mom did not.

Although her health had been frail for several years, things seemed pretty stable last year. It was hard for her to go up and down the stairs, and her dementia was making her evermore confused about everyday things. But she always was so happy to see her children and grandchildren, and always asked me “And how’s Fritz?” So it was quite a shock when my brother went to help her up one morning last July and found that she was having a stroke. My next three days were spent shuttling my Dad to be with her as she went first to one hospital then to another where the doctors thought there was a slight chance that she could be treated. But the damage was too extensive and she very peacefully passed away on July 9 with my Dad and me at her side.

Many of my friends lost parents this year. Mom was 2 months shy of her 92 birthday, and with her failing health I have tried to gird myself for this inevitable time. But when I arrived at her hospital room and the nurse handed me my mother’s wedding and engagement rings in a little plastic baggy, well, it was all I could do not to fall to my knees. But of course Dad was standing right behind me and I had to be there for him. So I did what you do in that moment, and tucked my emotions along with the baggy into a pocket to be dealt with later, and escorted Dad into the room.

There are moments and emotions from the past year that I want to write about, and I will in the coming months. Twelve months ago I guess I knew it was going to be a tough year, and I abandoned this trusty old blog for a new one that would focus on living life to its fullest. But maybe there is a personal marker that  makes you someone who writes about that stuff, and I don’t have it. It’s not that I don’t believe in it — I absolutely do. But there is something different about saying “I am going to live life in the moment,” compared with actually just doing it.  There are two phrases my Mom always said: “Don’t borrow trouble,” and “We’re chugging along.” These are my new mottos.


One of my Mom’s last paintings, done in Spring of 2013

2014 holds many challenges ahead for me, including sorting through the grief for my mother as well as sorting through her belongings. But of course this is a condition of life, and comes with the bargain of parents and children. She pops up now in the most unexpected places, like when I’m standing in line at the grocery store, or when I see some nice pajamas in the store and catch myself thinking “I’ll bet Mom would like those.”

I like to think that one of the things I got from Mom, besides the thick hair and the dislike for math, is an enjoyment of writing. She wrote all her life, and actively sold her work and found ways to get it published (pre blogs, mind you). Short stories, poems, news articles, and a collection of her mother’s letters from China. She found a way to do all that while raising 3 kids that, ahem, kept her busy, shall we say.  I have an idea for a story. I have started writing it. That’s my big goal for the year. My little goal is to check in here regularly.

As in the early days, everything’s fair game at Nalling Jello to the Wall: politics, movies, music, poetry, snark and more. You don’t have to agree with me or anyone else here, but you can’t call names and you can’t be a jerk. Mom’s rules.

Sometimes the picture just takes itself

I was trimming some tree branches in the back alley yesterday, when Fritz the Dog suddenly got very interested in something behind a rickety wooden shed wall just across the alley. I peeked through the slats and here’s what I saw:


My neighbor and I have given them some water and food, but for the moment they are safer behind the walls than if we try to get them out. They have a very attentive mama, and are in a shady and protected place. Meanwhile, anyone interested in a totally poseur kitten? Cue “Arms of an Angel.” Take it away Sara McLaughlin!

You like me. You really, really like me. Eh, not so much.

Spammers have  embraced the art of the suck-up.  Whereas a few years ago, spam in the comments here mostly consisted of links to Nike shoe sales and the occasional XXX link, today’s version is much more sophisticated. Another blogger has termed these “affirmation spam,” and that just about says it all.  In a twisted version of your grandmother’s advice to “catch more flies with honey than with vinegar,” spam comments now begin with the most enthusiastic opening lines. “Gosh!” I think.  “Why don’t my regular commenters ever gush like this:”

“Wow! Fantastic blog layout!”

“This piece of writing is truly remarkable.”

“Excellent content provided!”

“The overall look of your site is wonderful, as well as the content!”

Heh. Too bad these lines are followed by such phrases as “I urgently need info about retina-a dosage.” And “related with viagra price and all related info.” The commenters’ log-ins use revealing monikers: “cheap vacation packages,” “retina dosage,” “viagra price,” etc.

Crap. Spammed again.

My Dad

osage orangeLast year when my 87-year old Dad had to stay in the hospital for a while, I stayed at my parents’ house to help out. They still live in the same house where I grew up, and I visit frequently, but it is always a rather strange feeling to be in that old neighborhood again. I walk down the same street where I played as a child, a place full of so many memories, but I’m a stranger to the current residents of these homes.

There’s “the Kelly’s house,” which hasn’t had a Kelly in it for many years. “The Kaiser’s house” is next door, where I spent many a day playing with the girls who were my age. Next to that, “the Langholtz’s house,” where Ernie Langholtz had the most amazingly overstuffed garage full of … what? Hard to say, but there were boxes and yard tools, and sleds, and everything looking as if it would collapse at any moment. We always tried to catch a glimpse of his hand with the two missing fingers. Right or left, I don’t remember now. But supposedly the fingers were lost in a parachuting accident during WWII. Or was that just a Boo Radley-esque childhood story? One made up to make an otherwise dull street seem exciting?

None of the people in these houses today know me. Which is strange, because I know their backyards intimately. I know their basements. I know the best way to cut through the alley to get home before it gets dark. I know which of their (now ghostly) dogs will jump out and bark as I pedal my green Schwinn Stingray with the banana seat past their fence.

Last year when I was staying there, I also knew that the quickest way to walk to the subway station to get to work was to cut through some backstreets. On that walk, I encountered the best place to roll Osage oranges down the hill, from the top of Park Road. My Dad and I had done that once when I was a child. I don’t know why we were walking on that road, or whether anyone else was with us. But I remember my Dad picking up the orange and rolling it like a bowling ball. He’s a tall man, six foot five. He never considered himself particularly athletic, but I remember him moving gracefully, his long arm stretching out as he released the orange. The road slopes down and curves to the left – the trick is to keep it in the middle of the road so that it doesn’t get blocked by a parked car or bounce over the curb. He showed me that.

All of this I remembered last year as I reached down to pick up the bright green orb. I’m sure someone was watching me from a window somewhere – it’s that kind of neighborhood now – and I’m sure they thought “What an odd thing to do.” But I rolled the orange down the hill, and I rolled it good. I watched it make its way around the curve in the road before bouncing against the curb and up into the air. It landed with a soft thud in the patch of grass next to the sidewalk. I smiled and continued on my way to work, taking the same route my father had used for decades. I wonder if he ever paused to roll an orange in the morning. I hope so.

(In full disclosure of this photo, it is not original but was something I pulled from the Internet and manipulated in Photoshop. The original image is from, which is, interestingly enough, a creationist site. But hey, this was a great image, and I give credit where credit is due …) 

Into the woods

Fritz by tent

Last weekend we went camping. Maybe its the Scots in me that causes me to think things shouldn’t be easy all the time, that everyone should have to haul water every once in a while. More likely, it’s because I grew up camping from a young age and I don’t really think of car camping as a big deal. Honestly, if you can stand to do it a few times until you get it all down, it’s really a great way to take the family on a longer vacation for little money. The trick is in getting it all down to a system, and having the right equipment — not necessarily expensive equipment, just appropriate equipment. Unnamed partner and I haven’t camped in quite a while, so perhaps embarking into the wilderness (or at least a wooded patch of ground) on the day severe weather was predicted was not wise, but where’e the challenge in camping in perfect weather, I ask you?

It turns out that my trusty tent of many years is no longer in the “waterproof” category of shelter. And since our good friend who braved the elements with us had forgotten her tent, we were quite cozy inside. Islands in the stream: me, U.P., Fritz, and friend.

I think friend will never, ever forget her tent again.

Saturday night it was down to 3 of us, friend having another commitment. The weather was delightful and clear, and although the campground was more crowded than the night before (threats of tornadoes will do that, I suppose), it was a peaceful evening. Peaceful mostly because at almost exactly the 10pm quiet hour, we heard this:

Which tends to make everyone shut up for a moment. And they then go to bed. Even the family across the road who sat around the campfire telling ghost stories once it got dark. I can’t imagine what the kids thought of that screech owl, but what a perfect end to a night of ghost stories.

I was awake at dawn, being an early riser for most of the week. So I had to chuckle when Fritz’s head popped up at this sound:

He kind of looked over at me, as if to say “You heard that, right?”  Well, I’ve never heard a Barred Owl make that sound, and so I had to look it up to identify it for sure.

All of this only about an hour out of civilization, along the Chesapeake Bay. I’m shopping for a new tent, Unnamed Partner is looking for deals on cabins. Fritz seems ready for another trip, as long as we pack his foam bed, a fresh supply of Rimadyl, and peanut butter. There must be peanut butter.

Day 30: Self Portrait

So, last year (yes, last year) I started this 30 Day Photography Challenge. Nobody ever said they had to be 30 consecutive days, and so it has taken me a while to complete the challenge with this final post.  Yes, I am in there somewhere if you look really hard:


Now, here’s the other thing. I have found it very difficult to focus my writing here at the blog, and after much reflection I realize that the interconnected, networked, facebooked, twittered world in which we live is kinda giving me the heebie jeebies. I really want to focus my writing, and I once read advice that a writer should treat the endeavor like they would dieting: either tell everyone about it, or tell no one.  I lean toward the telling no one, myself, and this instant publishing to the world of my blog posts that are not necessarily my best and brightest work is pretty intimidating.  I know many writers who thrive on it. It seems to have the opposite effect on me.

So here’s the deal. If you’ve read this far, you are likely to have been a follower of Nailing Jello to the Wall for a while, and are likely to make the slightest of effort to click here again. I mean, you’re still reading, right? After today I will be taking my link to Facebook off of here, so that new posts will not show up in my Facebook feed. Yes, I’m getting off the Zuckerberg train, as far as this blog goes. That means if you got here via Facebook, you won’t be doing that in the future. You can, however, still get an email notification of new posts here, by clicking over there on the left where it says “Email Subscription.”

I hope you’ll follow along in this less brave new world I’m working on here. Your thoughtful comments are always welcome.

Day 29: Black & White

I used to take lots of black and white photos, back in the day of 35 mm film. It was interesting to go out on a sunny day today and do this with my new camera — I haven’t really thought too deeply about f stops and shutter speeds since I went digital point and shoot, I must admit. Getting a digital SLR gives you a lot more control, which of course means you need to know a little more. After all the photography classes I’ve taken, all the hours spent in the darkroom, I do know this stuff — it’s just a little cob webby. But because I had so much fun with this one, I thought I’d give you a few shots. Especially since you’ve been so patient as I get my blog off life-support. I’m just fiddling with these, but thanks for taking the time to look. (Click for a larger look — the current blog layout isn’t really optimal for photography.)