Sunday, October 29, 2006

Only a day

It's just a day. 24 hours. A date on a calendar.

What makes it meaningful is our emotions surrounding it.

So tomorrow -- October 30 --is just a day, the day before Halloween. As a child, I remember getting costumes in order on that day, carving pumpkins, rolling popcorn balls in buttered hands and wrapping them in waxed paper to hand out to trick-or-treaters.

That was a family thing: I remember especially my mother and brother and I rolling and nibbling and rolling and wrapping and nibbling -- it seemed like hundreds of popcorn balls, made sticky-sweet with molasses and sugar and butter. We had some neighborhood children who'd come twice just to get those treats. Alas, homemade treats haven't been on the Halloween menu for nearly 30 years -- maybe more -- because of a few sickos who got their jollies inserting razor blades or needles into the goodies. How much more fun it was to get those yearly homemade cookies from Mrs. Smay's, and waxed-paper-wrapped fudge from the Aldridges next door. I haven't made popcorn balls in years, although I still have the recipe.

But October 30 changed for me last year. My mother died that night, quietly, simply. She waited until both my brother and I had traveled to be with her, and then, with each of us holding one of her hands, she just stopped being, stopped breathing, stopped living.

It's just a day. But she is so present in my thoughts: those last days, hours, minutes are crystal clear for me, and I'm reliving them over and over and over in my head, as I try to sleep, when I wake, when I see her handwriting on a card or come across an unexpected photo.

It's gotten mostly easier this year as time has elapsed, and there are days that she's in my head only briefly. Just yesterday I thought, "Oh, this isn't going to be as hard as I was afraid it would be."

Uh-uh. It hit today.

364 days have gone by, one day at a time, one hour at a time. Just a date on the calendar, most of them, and as in any year, some good, some great, some so-so, some pretty hard.

So I guess I have choices about how I spend today and tomorrow. I can let my grief and nostalgia and tears dominate my emotions and actions, remembering the sadness, the hour-by-hour progression, the sad task of cleaning up the end of a life, and spend this next 24 hours letting all of that wash over and over me.

Or I can acknowledge the day, acknowledge how much I miss her and how sad I feel, and spend that 24 hours doing things she would have enjoyed doing or hearing about: reading, cooking, watching the deer, working in the yard and soaking up the last of the sunny days. Light a candle. Say a prayer. Talk with my brother about those pre-Halloween memories -- the twin clown costumes she sewed for us and that we wore for years, or those popcorn balls.

Maybe I'll pull out that old recipe and make them. She'd have liked that.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Weird energy in the air

The last couple of weeks have just felt strange: people have acted out of character, or have been unsettled -- or unsettling, tasks have taken longer to accomplish, group dynamics have felt odd...unfinished, perhaps, or jittery. I'm not the only one who's noticed it, either -- several folks have commented about it, and Tony mentioned it tonight.

Mercury goes retrograde tomorrow, and while that could be dismissed as a bunch of hooey, I certainly have experienced its effects in the past. For most of us, Mercury affects communication -- this can be anything from bungled faxes to snarled mass transit to misunderstood personal relationships. It means checking and doublechecking, especially travel reservations, proofreading and then doing it again. It means that anything with moving parts can be troublesome. Misinterpretations are common.

You can read more about Mercury retrograde here. It is a time to slow down and take careful, thoughtful steps, to consider well before making important decisions. The period before and after the planet turns retrograde are shadow days, when its effects begin to be noticed.
Apparently, when it turns retrograde in your astrological sign -- which it is for both of us (Scorpio) -- the effects can be even more dramatic.

So maybe that IS what we've been feeling. It lasts for three weeks and then a few more shadow days, and by Dec. 4 things should be back to normal.

If you want to know more, just google "Mercury retrograde" and you'll get lots of hits. That is, if your computer is still working. No kidding. While I was writing this entry, my keyboard quit working. It started again after a few minutes, but I'm typing fast....

Tuesday, October 24, 2006


I was expecting to have a root canal this morning and had prepared myself mentally and physically, showed up with CDs and fresh batteries in hand, and was informed that it was only a consultation. Yeah, we've scheduled the real thing for next week...but I'm FREEE today!

I love happenings like that, when you're not looking forward to an appointment, a conversation, an event, and then it doesn't happen at that time. Okay, you eventually have to face it, but sometimes that little reprieve is such a gift!

So I'll make some progress on another newsletter, get a few calls in, and maybe even take a tiny nap. No other appointments today.

I'm enjoying these late fall days of sunshine and warm temps that cool drastically at night. It's the spring we didn't have, and a much better fall than many we've experienced. I'm picking tomatoes, finally, and have cooked a bunch of them down into puree and sauce which I'll combine with the still-growing basil for a tomato-basil soup and base, The zucchini and cucumbers are done; so are the peppers. The sunflowers have dried into stiff brown stalks that need to be pulled up and put on a burn pile. The marigolds are riotous in their frantic oranges and yellows, and they dot the still-green garden with big mounds of color. If they didn't smell, I'd bring them inside -- but their scent can be a little overpowering.

We took several photos to be framed for our upcoming ArtWalk and think they'll turn out well with the mats and good frames. It's like accessorizing a well-cut outfit: it makes the difference between something that looks pretty good and an outfit that wows everyone who sees it. While we're hoping to sell these, I'd be happy to hang them anywhere in the house too. A couple of them are up on our photo site, but they've been tweaked even more, and printed in a larger format. That was a biggie off our "to-do" list.

It feels like a time-out today -- what I expected to happen has been postponed, I don't expect any disturbing phone calls or sticky issues at the moment, it's sunny and nice, things are mostly ready for winter. (Okay, so there's work to do outside...but that's for this weekend, when temps cool down into the 70s) And Boston Legal is on tonight.

I'll take it. And if I'm not being too greedy, I'd like another one tomorrow.

Thanks to the universe for unexpected reprieves!

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Slogging through, one step at a time

Y'know, there are just some days when it's all you can do to put one foot in front of the other and just get through. Today's one of those days.

There isn't any particularly big reason, either -- oh, there's an assortment of little naggy things to do and circumstances to fret about, but that's nothing unusual for any of us. You know...the shoulda-coulda-wouldas, followed by the what-did-I-do-wrong-this-times, and topped off with a fine array of dust and clutter in the house and office. Oh, and the cherry on top is all the painting and yard maintenance that stares at me everytime I look outside -- which is often, considering that most of the house is windows. And that is, of course, assuming that I can even SEE outside because the windows need washing so badly.

But that's not all of it either.

It's dealing with relationships, I think, that have unraveled a bit, or have a splotch that needs cleaning up, or conflicts that simply come with being involved with people -- you didn't say enough or you said too much or what you did say was misinterpreted or wasn't what you meant to say. It's cleaning up the emotional clutter, and that's never much fun.


Power in unexpected places....and observing the first year

I'm dreading Oct. 30 -- the first anniversary of my mother's death -- and already get weepy over anything sentimental or nostalgic. The first one is the biggie: after that it gets easier. I'm mentally tracing the progression of events a year ago, and it hurts to remember.

I've said before in this space that I wouldn't wish her back even for a moment because of all her suffering, and I'm so glad she doesn't have to endure any more. That doesn't mean I don't feel the loss every single day.

Last week I was in Indianapolis visiting my long-time friend Julia, and we spent one day in the then-little village where we both lived back in the '80s. Wow. While the village itself has mostly kept its charm and character, the outlying areas are full of strip malls and enormous subdivisions with big houses -- grown up far, far beyond anything I'd imagined. The church I attended and was so active in is now the town hall, and the congregation has built a new Southern-style complex on acreage in a prime location. It's beautiful and very functional, and I'm glad for them. But what a change.

Anyway, among the businesses in the village is a gallery of Nancy Noel's works which are displayed beautifully in a former church now called The Sanctuary.

On one of the walls there is a new painting titled "The Contract." It shows an angel surrounded by soft, glowing light in golds and bronzes and apricots and blue-greens, ascending, holding hands with a skeleton which is disintegrating into the brightness around it. One of the staff tried to explain that it depicted Noel's vision of how we can follow our dreams or our fears -- but to ME, it was my mother, finally freed from her uncooperative body, and going into the light with the angel who had surrounded her all these years, giving her the strength and grace to live her life as fully as she could in her circumstances: in other words, doing all she could, where she was, with what she had.

Tears flowed immediately, and it was all I could do to hold it together. My reaction was so powerful and so CERTAIN of what it showed that it shocked me -- and Julia, who handed me tissues as I tried to choke out to her what I saw in the painting.

It is not yet on the Web site nor available in any other format, so I can't link to it yet -- you'll have to imagine it! Even today I puddle when I think of it.

Much of Nancy Noel's artwork is about children at their purest, and it is nearly photographic in quality. Her African paintings are astounding in their detail. Browse through her site when you have time.

The trip was wonderful, reconnecting, enlightening.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Rainy day brings change in the air

Today was the first rain of the 2006-07 winter. It didn't really pour down, but it was a nice drizzle-to-gentle-rain that washed the dust off the car and the leaves, and freshened the air. It was cloudy and cool, and a nice change from hot-to-warm and parched.

It'll go back into the 80s this weekend, I'm told, but this respite is nice. I'm sure we'll be sick of rain in another few months, just as the constant sunshine in the summer gets to me after a while.

I woke feeling achey-breaky, though, and my stomach was still rumbly -- last night it was most unsettled and unhappy, despite some ginger ale and peppermint tea. So I just took the day off -- stayed in comfy loungy clothes and didn't put on makeup (or even shower...yet) and slept, read, putzed, and didn't do anything very constructive. After several weeks of go-go-go and do-do-do, it felt good to unwind.

Last night, though, we had a wonderful gathering here to celebrate all the photo entries in our local fair, and the many ribbons we all took home. There was food, lots of talking, photo sharing, and generally the kind of gathering we'd envisioned when we built this house. It's well laid out for such a gathering, with greatroom and kitchen and den all flowing into each other. And it was a pleasure to get things ready for the party because Tony was right there, helping and cleaning and tidying. We both worked hard to make it happen, and it was nice.

Living with our choices

We were talking again today about making choices and living with the consequences, about creating our own destiny through those choices, and about establishing boundaries for ourselves. More than ever, we understand how choices we make can affect the paths that are open to us and how the future evolves. Both of us can map our past and how we came to this point because of the choices we made then, both the good and the not-so-good.

I made choices fairly blithely when I was in my teens, 20s, and 30s, and even into my 40s a little, although I remember analyzing and agonizing over career choices, among others, in my 40s. Maybe that's when most of us start to wake up about our responsibility for the way our life turns out.

I know that in the late 30s I began to notice those forks in the road far more clearly, and to be able to project the way my life was likely to go depending on which path I chose. The decisions didn't come as easily then -- in my 20s and much of my 30s, it just "seemed right" to go a certain way, or I could assign responsibility for the not-so-great outcomes to someone else's choices. When you can blame someone else for the things that happen to you -- a lousy childhood, a poor teacher, being in the wrong place at the wrong time -- it lets you avoid acceptance of your own behavior and choices.

I don't mean to downplay the traumatic consequences of abuse or neglect -- certainly they carve life-long scars, and are extra hurdles to be overcome. But there are hundreds of examples of people who are survivors -- who have endured really awful things that were not their fault -- and who have become successful, healthy, caring individuals in spite of it.

I believe we carry unlimited potential inside of ourselves. I believe we become who we choose to become, either by accepting responsibility for our choices or blaming others for our failures.

There comes a time when each of us is alone with who we are. We can accept what we see and change what we don't like, or we can quickly turn away and continue to deny our own responsibility for who we are.

I've watched people turn their lives around and make them into what we all want life to be. Oh, there always will be new challenges and choices -- when you stop having those, you're dead....but life is exactly what you make it.

And I've also watched others trapped by denial of their ability to change their lives and refusal to take responsibility for what happens to them. It is hard to stand by and let it happen -- and yet, there is no other way. The addict does not stop using until s/he finally accepts that he can and wants to change.

I'm a point. It's so not fun. It's hard, one-day-at-a-time work. We make our own destiny. I'm still working on mine.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Meeting expectations

So I've just finished an e-mail newsletter that I'd promised to get done, even though it's after 11 p.m., the day has been busy and frustrating, and it started with yet another open-mouthed session in the dentist's chair.

I'm meeting expectations. Whose? Mine, alas. Oh, there are a few folks who'd be a little bent out of shape if I didn't do it, or if I were any later doing it, but even if they made comments to me, it's nothing compared to how I judge myself.

I've got lots of "to-do" items on my list that also involve meeting my own expectations. Some won't get done when I want them to. Some may never get done (I'm beginning to LIKE landscaping featuring red dirt and weeds). But I'll probably manage most of them, doing some of them well, some of them adequately, and probably a few that I throw together at the last minute.

Part of it is prioritizing. There simply have been issues that have arisen today -- when I'd planned to get this job done -- that took priority (nasty taxes and estate issues). Family and health issues always land at the top of the heap, even when it is extremely inconvenient. That's the most important thing in my and health and friends, and as it should be.

Business comes next, although I'll confess it sometimes takes a backseat to volunteer stuff when I'm facing deadlines. But it pays the bills, and it needs to occupy a big chunk of my mind. This last year I've given it short shrift as I've dealt with grief and estate duties and more grief, but I'm on again, and need to get back into that groove. If there were expectations to be met in that arena this year, they either were met or weren't met: I did what I could do with what I had.

That personal judge guy who lives in my head sure rules a lot of my decisions, though, and has a very loud voice. I keep trying to shut him up, like I do the ice weasels (okay, only sometimes can I shut them up), but often it doesn't work very well. I guess I'm better at it, but I hope one of these days to throw him out completely.

I'm trying to temper my expectations of myself with some reality checks and determine what reasonably can and cannot be done. Some days it works pretty well. Other days, like today, I just slog ahead until I can cross it off. One more thing I don't have to do tomorrow.

And I'm rewarding myself by going to bed.