Saturday, August 15, 2009

Watching the hummers and the stars

We're being entertained at meals by the platoon of hummingbirds at our back porch feeder. Lately I've been filling the quart-sized container at a minimum of every other day, but this morning it was going down so rapidly (from filling it yesterday morning) that I've got a fresh batch ready.

I have another by the office sliding door, but it doesn't get quite as much traffic as the back one does.

We have more this year than ever, and more in the last few days than we've had all summer. I don't know if they're migrating, or if they've just put out the signal that fresh food is available at our house!

Makes me think of the symbols used by hobos during the 1920s and '30s! There must be some sort of language that these tiny birds use.

Cheswick and Macmurphy sit at the door watching them, poised in pounce mode, and do the chattering that is typical of cats who are stalking prey. Once in a while, another little bird -- the ubiquitous "little brown bird" -- will perch on the edge of the water dish I keep on the porch for the outside cats, and that really drives them wild.

Occasionally the outside cats will lounge under the hummingbird feeder just in case the gods decide to drop a bird into their paws, but mostly they know there is not a chance they're going to capture one. I think they lay there just to send the birds into a bit of a tizzy.

A pair of mama deer and their faws, including a set of twins, usually pass by daily just to see if there's anything I've tossed out for them, and to nibble acorns that are falling under the big oak.

Last night around 11-ish, we sat outside and watched the Perseid meteor showers, although we should have gone out earlier in the week -- we didn't see very many. But we've watched the stars from our land ever since we bought it in 2001, just enjoying the quiet, the bright stars, the Milky Way stretching across the sky, and seeing the old familiar pole constellations as they rotate around the north star.

Tony has never lived where he could see them like this, and it had been a long time since I had. I took astronomy when I was in college, and we made the weekly trek out to the observatory for night viewing in our little rural community, which is mostly where I learned about stars and constellations. I don't remember most of it and can identify only a handful, but I remember a lot of myths from reading about them as a child.

Hummers and stars -- some of the best things about living where we do!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Setting boundaries

Learning to set reasonable boundaries is one of the hardest lessons we have to learn, especially if you are a 'giver' -- someone who helps (or enables) loved ones and friends, often without regard for your own needs.

In fact, givers often give because it's easier to help another to solve the problems in his/her life rather than dealing with the issues in your own life. It's easy to slip into co-dependency -- not a healthy situation for either party.

When the other person has an illness, an addiction, or has a lot of life stuff going on, it is so tempting to make excuses for them and to bend over backwards to accommodate their behavior -- usually at your expense in time, money, and anguish.

We all do that. "He's been going through a rough time at work." "She is taking care of her mom plus her kids, and it's been hard for her lately." "He's trying to quit drinking (smoking, drugs, etc.)"

I'd heard such excuses made about an acquaintance with whom I've had limited but necessary contact because of work or volunteer responsibilities. The few exchanges we've had have been unpleasant, never face-t0-face, but rather through e-mail where the individual impugned my motives, my knowledge, my work ethic, my journalistic ability, and my character, and also insulted through a separate-but-related e-mail a person with whom I work and for whom I have great respect.

I had done nothing to 'deserve' the attack. I had simply asked for information, politely and professionally.

I didn't answer the e-mail, much as I wanted to defend and explain myself. I learned some years ago that if you get down in the mud with the pigs, you get dirty and the pig loves it.

But I decided then and there that I would have nothing more to do with the person. Ever. No matter what.

Others have talked to me over the last few years about similar exchanges they've experienced, always adding that the person is (take your choice) mentally ill, unstable, like that to everyone... I'm definitely not the only target here. The point is that people always, ALWAYS add an 'explanation' for the attacker's behavior -- as though that somehow excuses the person's abusive words.

And then I learned that a group I care very much about is planning an event that directly involves the individual and is one from which the person might well profit. The planners are good friends -- people for whom I have great respect and admiration and who have done much work to see the activity come to fruition.

I won't be participating or attending. They know why and respect my choice.

Susan J. Elliott, in her blog Getting Past Your Past, writes about taking care of yourself in these kinds of situations:

She begins:

"I have to say that lately I’ve been hearing A LOT about people taking WAY too much responsibility for not being “understanding” enough because their partner had some sort of “condition” (ADHD, depression, grief, mental illness, alcoholism, etc etc etc).

People who are suffering from any one thing have two responsibilities: 1) to get help for it and 2) to not abuse or use or mistreat anyone while they are suffering.

There are NO excuses for abusing or mistreating anyone. I don’t care who you are or what your affliction is. You have no right. Not for a day, an hour, or a second...." Read more here.

And there it is -- setting boundaries for yourself: Respecting who you are and what you bring to the table, and not allowing anyone to take that dignity away.

I have never played these kinds of games very well, either in my work or in my personal life. And as I get older, I am determined not to do them at all. So I step back or step out of situations that compromise my own values or dignity. I don't want to get sucked into drama because of another person's inability to cope with and resolve his/her own issues.

The Desiderata -- a philosophical poem that was popular in the 1960s and '70s, and which won a spoken word Grammy for radio announcer Les Crane -- hangs on my wall. Among other things, it instructs:
"...Avoid loud and aggressive persons;
they are vexatious to the spirit..."

I've taken that to heart.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

What we do comes back

A friend sent me the e-mail about the teacher who has her students write something good about each student in the class -- you've probably received it.

If you haven't seen it, the story -- the TRUE story -- is here.

The takeaway is the message that the Universe seems to be sending me a lot lately: life is short and you never know when your time may be up, so tell people you love them now, today.

And I think the sub-message is that we need to spend our time doing things that we want to have in our lives, with people we want to be with and care about.

I recently had a conversation with a friend about the nature of friendship. She was going through a stressful situation and had asked for support from a group of friends, and I offered to do whatever she needed -- be with her, speak in her support, whatever. And I did. (She did not ask for money, mind you, or shelter, or wasn't that kind of "support.")

She'd asked another 'friend' with whom she'd done many activities for some years, and the person refused, saying that was not the kind of friendship they had.

So I thought about the nature of friendship and the kind of friend that I try to be, and the people to whom I look for friendship and support.

I'd be very surprised if I asked any of my close friends to do something and they refused because "that was not the kind of friendship" we have.

And that person would not really be my friend any longer. The trust you bring into a relationship would have been shattered.

Of course we all have some friends to whom we are closer than others -- the "BBF"s, if we're lucky enough to have one or more. They are the ones who WOULD give you shelter or money or whatever you needed, as you would for them... the ones who will always be there for you, no matter what....the ones who will give you a swift kick in the butt if you need it, and then be there to give you a big hug when you wake up!

If I am your friend, I stay that way until we've both outgrown the friendship (and even then I tend to hang on to friendships probably too long) or something happens to break the trust we share, if that even happens.

That doesn't mean that everyone I meet is my best friend and that I would do anything for any of them: I have many acquaintances, many who are 'friends,' but not friends who know my secrets and share good times and bad. And I have those, too. They're the ones who I can cry with, who listen and don't judge, who offer advice sometimes, who won't let me isolate inside my deep dark holes, but come and find me and drag me out. I am grateful for that handful of people every single day, and I try to tell them often.

What we give comes back to us. Who we are shows in what kind of people we care about. What we do has a ripple effect: it may seem small and confined in the beginning, but it can reach places we never realized it might, for far longer than we could ever guess.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Living it -- all we have

I received word last night of my friend's death yesterday afternoon -- "swift and painless" is how it was described, a blessing in such illness. She's been on my mind so much, she and her family, and the hole she will leave in the world.

I also received news yesterday of another death, the handicapped son of friends, who simply died in his sleep. An accident long before I ever knew him left him in a wheelchair and with brain damage; yet he had ambitions and dreams, some of which he tried to fulfill. I know his passing will leave a huge hole in his mother's heart.

I always, ALWAYS say gratitude prayers morning and night for my wonderful husband, for the blessings of friendships, and because we have "enough" to sustain and nourish our minds, bodies, and spirits. But I also am so aware of our fragile natures, and how quickly things can change.

A recent post in "Getting Past Your Past," a blog about relationships that I read daily, reinforced that yet again.

The author, Susan J. Elliott, writes: "We must live life the best we can for as long as we can. Because you never know when it all stops.

Long story short: Your life is now. Live it."

It's a fine balance between responsibly planning for the future and living your life here and now. Tony and I were talking about that just last night, and I have no answers -- other than just doing what you see needs to be done until the Universe presents other options. The trick, then, is to be aware of what you are seeing.

I'm seizing the day -- taking advantage of unseasonably cool temps to replace the soaker hose in the garden and do some weeding, and maybe even some planting for fall (and I think the black junk that's sapped the life out of my pumpkin, watermelon and a cuke plant may be aphids....) I like digging in the dirt, feeling that earth energy, seeing life come out of earth and sun and water and seed. It rejuvenates my spirit.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Life is short. Plan accordingly.

I was reminded again last night that life is unpredictable and that it can be so fragile. Every single day is a gift for us to use.

I received a medical update on a friend who unexpectedly had a heart attack about three weeks ago, but other issues have been uncovered during the course of treatment, and she is not expected to recover. This is a woman who acknowledged to me a few months ago that her life had been all about miracles. I don't know that there is going to be one this time.

I still have a message on my voice mail from her.

We seldom know when something is going to change our lives forever, be it an illness, a death, an event. Oh, yeah, there are predictable things that will change lives, like marriage, divorce, pregnancy, but I'm talking about things largely uncontrollable that happen.

I am so grateful for what I have, for the people in my life who I love and who love me back. Once again I am trying to make the most of every day, to do what I can to move things in a good direction and to expand my horizons, to provide for 'the order' of our household. I try to actively practice gratitude and right living.

That's really all I can do. All anyone can do. Just be aware.


It's just been too hot to even think, much less write. July temps shot up to 116 on our front porch recently, and we had a streak of 100-degree-plus days where I felt like a mole with blinds drawn and the air conditioner running full tilt. Because the humidity was more than 20 percent and the temps were over 105-106, the swamp cooler just wasn't adequate to cool things down in here -- that happens most every July and into August.

But we've got a rare cool snap right now and my windows are open. It's not even supposed to make 80 tomorrow, with a good possibility of storms -- which, of course, bring with them the fear of lightning-started fires.

It is a welcome respite and a reminder that summer is on the way out. It'll be October, likely, before things cool and rain comes back, but come it will, and there are reports of an El Nino year, which would increase the likelihood of adequate rainfall this winter. I don't want floods, but rain would be great.

My poor little garden doesn't much like the heat, and has really struggled between deer-munching, water service employees not turning the water back on, and a broken soaker hose, and also some sort of black bug or disease that leaves a black, sticky residue and kills the plants. My cost per tomato may be pretty high this year! But I'm already planning to cover the garden in manure and newspaper over the winter, which should give the soil a boost for next year. The rhubarb is looking great -- but the rest of it seems stressed.

I've gotten things cleared out inside, mostly, and have been walking at least a mile most days on our new treadmill -- yes, once we realized that 6 a.m. was going to be pretty dark in the winter and during our heat wave was still pretty warm for exercise, we broke down and bought a treadmill. Actually it works well -- Tony gets on it before he goes to work, and I walk sometime during the day. I've watched a dvd and also listened to some podcasts, so it goes quickly. And it's helping. My hips, back and knees don't hurt anymore and I don't feel so creaky. It also is helping my poor balance. (and how I hate to admit that exercise DOES help...)

Now to just keep it up.


I don't feel very profound these days. I'm just focused on each day, doing something for the good of the order, tending the things I need to do, meeting the few deadlines that I still have, cooking good-for-us food, doing something to sort out the clutter most days. The girls still have their individual issues, but largely I'm uninvolved, since I know I can't really do anything to either move them ahead or solve them permanently. I've cut way back on asking questions (pat on my back!), partly because it does me no good to worry about things I can't do anything about. I'm trying to be open to new possibilities, but mostly I'm just taking care of old business. That's okay for now, I think.

I still read every day, but nothing that just grabs me by the throat -- newspapers, magazines mostly. I want a couple of books that capture me with their plots and make me want to read all day long, and I can't even find anything on Amazon that seems to meet that criteria right now.

We're watching movies and tv series most nights -- but the series are on HBO and Showtime, mostly. Mindless stuff, tv, for the most part, especially the stuff we're watching. That too is not necessarily bad.

I don't like summer very much -- never have. It's hot, it's sticky, it's something to get through until the weather turns cool again and we can be outside without feeling so uncomfortable, and the nights call for blankets to snuggle into. No, I don't want snow either....


A year ago this week R and I were driving from Alabama to California. She said yesterday that it didn't seem that long ago, but when I think about this year, it has been a long, hard haul for both of us, and some of the issues are still very present. I hope this second year will be better.