Sunday, December 31, 2006


This is an in-between day -- we're looking back on the year that ends at midnight, and ahead to the new one that begins at 12:01 a.m. It's a good time for reflection on what was, is, and to be.

Sorta like Scrooge in A Christmas Carol where he encounters the spirits of past, present and future Christmases...

It's also a wonderful time to ponder what you want for the coming year -- resolutions, I suppose, although I think that resolutions also invites failure to accomplish said resolutions.

I'd rather think of them as intentions, as does Joanna Powell Colbert (whose observations on this 'time between' includes a number of interesting links that kept me reading until late last night). Maybe that's splitting hairs -- but it doesn't invoke the sense of guilt I always feel when I fail at keeping a resolution (like not eating the rest of the Christmas fudge in the interests of losing that 20 lbs. -- a resolution that most assuredly WILL be broken)

My intention is to return to the reality of smaller portions, fewer sweets and rich or fatty foods (that are not part of my daily diet anyway -- but in which I've indulged more often this year), and better awareness of what I'm putting into my mouth and stomach, stopping when I'm satisfied rather than continuing to eat because it tastes good.

My intention is to incorporate regular physical activity into my everyday schedule. Not a hard-and-fast I will walk two miles every single day, rain or shine or a join-the-gym-even-though-I-know-I'll-stop-going resolution. Just something more than what I've been doing, more regularly.

My intention is to clear out or organize some of the clutter in the office and the house: find a place on the bookshelves for my parents' photo albums, for instance, and in the finding, also tidy the stack of my own photos into something more identifiable.

And so on. Not specific tasks, but general intentions. I think that'll take me farther and more happily into 2007.

2007 is a milestone year for us: we will turn 60, along with thousands of other baby boomers. Like all the decade birthdays, it seems a good one to reevaluate priorities and habits, and discard those that don't work anymore. While that's an ongoing process no matter what age, it calls for some additional contemplation this year as we look for the path that will take us into this new decade.

I am glad to see 2006 end: it was a difficult year emotionally. Much of the year was focused on simple maintenance: doing what I needed to do for business, home, and family, but not anything extra or new, and sometimes pushing just to get through the job. There was a big sense of duty, but not much joy.

It was a year of loss and tears and letting go, although I think the latter is a constant challenge through all of life: to let go of the shoulda-coulda-wouldas and the regrets, and to carry the memories lovingly rather than painfully.

I want more delight next year, more pleasure, more joy. I want to cultivate the ability to find that in even the most ordinary of days. I am pretty good at finding gratitude in daily life: I want joy too.

This year has reinforced the importance of family and friends in my life. Even in our strength, our lives are fragile and everything can change in a second. I say thank you more often. I tell my family and friends that I love them, and how blessed I am to have them. I try to remember that anything else is just 'stuff' --

My mantra for 2007:
May I be filled with loving kindness.
May I be well. May I be happy. May I be free from suffering. May I be filled with joy. May I be at peace and at ease.

And my wishes to you for this year:
May you be filled with loving kindness.
May you be well. May you be happy. May you be free from suffering. May you be filled with joy. May you be at peace and at ease.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Speaking cat

There's an old legend that animals speak on Christmas Eve -- depending on the legend, it may often be about their owner's funeral or the injustices inflicted upon them by their owners. And it's usually considered very unlucky to overhear them speaking. The legend has its roots in the Nativity story about the animals in the Bethlehem stable bowing before the infant Jesus.

Our cats talk all year -- and from talking to other "staff" of adored pets, dogs and horses do too. If you are attentive, you know what your pet is telling you with that tone of 'mew' or 'rrruff' or the snuffly whicker made by a horse who knows you've come to feed him.

Cheswick, for instance, makes it quite clear when he thinks it is time for us to go to bed, especially if one of us has snugged down before the other is quite ready. He'll sit in the office doorway and 'merow,' and if that gets him nowhere, he'll hop atop the desk and sit, feet neatly together, tail wrapped around them, and stare at the tardy human, punctuating the icy blue-eyed glare with increasingly insistent 'merowp's.

If that doesn't work either, he'll go from the desk to the top of the chair, then into the lap, and back to the desk. He won't be distracted with petting, either. It is time for bed, and you might as well give up. Once the errant human is in the bed, he settles down very quickly.

McMurphy is less opinionated, but more vocal day-to-day. He watches the outdoor cats from windows and doors, and then wanders through the house yowling plaintively, as though he'd lost his last friend.

Always an indoor cat, he is sure that the outdoors would be far more interesting and lurks near doors in case he has a chance to make a dash for freedom. Of course once he's escaped, the outside cats that he so desperately wants to meet offer him nasty hisses and low growls, and he grows more and more agitated as he darts from grass to tree to sidewalk until finally Tony -- whom he adores -- can get near enough to pick him up and return him to indoor safety.

The outdoor cats talk to us too. Harry Potter is the most vocal and will yell all the way down the driveway on his way to the food dish. He wants petting, he wants more petting, he wants attention and now! "Let me tell you about the day I've had," he'll say. "Don't get into that car and leave me -- I'm not done talking!"

Each cat has a very distinct personality and voice if you pay attention -- as do all animals, I believe. We love watching their quirky preferences -- Cheswick, for instance, can hear the top of a yogurt container being removed from anywhere in the house, even if he's in a deep sleep. He'll always show up to demand his share -- which, being the suckers we are, he gets. McMurphy, on the other hand, could care less about any human food. Cat food, and plenty of it, please.

Both cats adore Tony. Maybe it's because he rescued them from a dumpster, maybe it's because he has a way with any animal. At least once during any day, first one cat and then the other will sprawl across his lap and gaze adoringly into his face while purring loudly. You can hear them: "I loooooovvveee you....pettttt mmeeeeee....I loooovvveee youuuuuuu." (It's just disgustingly sweet.) They tolerate me, but I'm definitely "staff" status, not preferred, and they'll come into my lap only if the chosen one is not available.

By the time we got home on Christmas Eve it was past midnight. I can report, however, that both cats informed us that it was past our bedtime and they were not happy. We didn't need spoken words to understand exactly what they were saying -- and their pleasure when we were all tucked in also was obvious, although not in words you'd find in any dictionary. We heard them nonetheless.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Merry Christmas

Christmas was different this year from any I've spent -- but there were some very sweet benefits.

It was relaxing. I've focused for so many years on making Christmas nice for everyone else, and even though I'd enjoy it, it was stressful. This year I paid more attention to me.

It was full of food and laughter and good conversations with friends and neighbors. One of the big goals we'd set when we moved here was to get involved, make friends, actually have a social life -- something there just was no time nor energy for in the Bay Area. We feel very blessed to have enjoyed the company of friends both last night and today. It was very special.

I feel very loved -- by my dear husband who wrote a wonderfully mushy, tender letter to me that made me puddle -- and by my daughter who sent me the first quilt she's ever made, stitched together by hand, and then she used the sewing machine to quilt it. There is love in every stitch, and I feel it. She also sent a reminder of past tradition with her own home-canned rhubarb sauce, a little box of wild rice, a deck of cards (we used to play cards for hours with Mother, laughing, nibbling on fudge and cookies and nuts). It made me puddle too, but the tears today were sweet.

Okay, there were a few moments that were flat -- but doesn't everyone have that on holidays? Most of us have a picture of the perfect, loving, Norman Rockwellian Christmas in our heads, but that is simply not reality. There are no perfect families. But family means loving your relatives, warts and all, and accepting them where they are rather than where you wish they were.

Easier said than done, hm. Another one of those things we work on day by day, even on Christmas.

I want the Christmas feeling to continue through this week, though. I'm not ready to resume routine chores, start on long-overdue tasks, or stop eating cookies. Not yet. That's what January is for -- starting over, new beginnings, second chances, diets, resolutions.

I want to do only what I absolutely have to do for the good of the order, but mostly I want to eat the calorie-laden leftovers in my fridge, watch movies, read the book Santa left me, enjoy the lights and decorations for one more week, and simply stop doing and just focus on being this week. That seems like a good way to end this year and start the next.

Merry Christmas. May you feel blessed where you are in this cycle of life.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Gifts under the tree -- and in the spirit

We have a tiny little (fake) tree I picked up when I was shopping the other day. It's pre-lit, so itty-bitty little lights twinkle on it, and I've hung just a few of our treasured ornaments. It's on a table in our dining room, right by the table in front of the big window, and I'm just amazed at how it cheers up the room. It's not the real thing, but it'll do very nicely.

And there are packages under it. Lots of not-very-big stuff for Tony, some goodies for me from Santa, and some survival packages for V. And one package that I know has something very nice in it, for me from my honey.

It's been tradition -- born of procrastination, to be sure -- most years before to wrap packages on Christmas Eve. Maybe not all of them, but certainly a good showing. Even the last few years when we'd travel to Springfield, I'd send a big package ahead with wrapped gifts in it, but I'd also always go shopping there for stocking stuffers or an outfit from Dillard's petite department for Mom (they had a better selection than most stores I frequented in the Bay Area). So we'd always end up buying wrapping paper and ribbon and tape. And we wrapped.

I think that tradition is going away this year. I've already sent gifts to Jimmy, Rachel, and Brigitte. Everything I've bought is wrapped, and I have no plans to go out again....well, except tomorrow morning to the post office to retrieve a package. But no stores, ergo no wrapping.

And this has been the most relaxed December I've had for many, many years, at least in terms of preparing for Christmas. We've watched Christmas movies on TV, listened to most of our Christmas CDs, baked cookies and bread and made candies.

One gift: I don't have to travel! Oh, I am so grateful to the universe for the almost snow-free Christmas travel weather we've had for all those years of returning to Springfield! If we didn't drive the 1800 miles through Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, and Oklahoma -- and certainly those areas of I-40 can get some serious weather -- we'd fly, usually through Denver -- and at about this date in December. We would definitely have been among those 5000 folks stranded at the airport.

Two years ago there was a nasty snowstorm south of Springfield that delayed the kids and Jimmy driving for a day (and there was considerable drama because of it that year, too), but we'd arrived just fine, and no snow in Springfield.

Maybe four or five years ago a snowstorm hit Springfield on Christmas Eve and made driving hazardous, but we stayed snug and warm and well fed. And safe. It was pretty well gone by the time everyone had to leave.

Another gift: I'm not responsible for feeding everyone all the time. We're sharing Christmas Eve and Day meals with good neighbors, and we will enjoy good food and fun conversation. I'm bringing a dish or two, but that's easy. We'll just go and have a good time.

One more: the wood stove warms the house, the angels in the alcove above it watch over us, we have plenty to eat and books not yet read. And we have time to savor it.

Yes, I miss my parents, old rituals, the kids, my brother. Sometimes it weighs heavily on my heart and leaks through my eyes. But I also realize how blessed I am to have my loving husband, our wonderful house, our kitties, and to know that our family is safe and warm where they are, and that they are where they should be for this year. And that's the biggest gift.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Message from the universe

So I whined and moped around yesterday about a myriad of stuff, a little teary, a lot snarky, with a large dollop of heavy duty nostalgia.

And lo, the Universe gives you what you need.

In my mailbox today was the Daily Om speaking precisely to my case of the holiday blues. It reminds me, gently, that this holiday needs to be about who I am now, not who I was. Another 'be in the moment' gift.

Thanks. I needed that.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

'Tis the season to be stressful

Maybe it's just me, but I'm feeling a lot of free-floating stress this week, and it's a little frustrating when you're trying to continue to conduct business!

I know it's less than a week until Christmas. I know everyone is finishing up cooking, cleaning, wrapping, shopping, preparing for guests or whatever.

But I'm starting to feel like I'm the only one left who is still trying to attend to commitments and business affairs. And it's not like I'm all done with everything, either -- I still have shopping and wrapping to do.

Maybe it was unrealistic of me to think that we could conduct routine business meetings and finalize some issues. I guess. Unfortunately the business world doesn't stop even when Christmas is approaching. Oh yeah, for a day, maybe. But deadlines loom, decisions have to be made, and nobody seems to feel the urgency that I do. So is it just my tendency toward anal-retentiveness that is causing me such heartburn over this???

I'm beginning to wish it was just over for another year.

We decided this morning to take a pass on decorating a tree this year, after an unhappy attempt at purchasing one yesterday from one of the big stores here. It was mid-afternoon on a weekday, and NO one was staffing the area where the trees were displayed -- the real ones. When we finally tracked someone down, we were told that all we had to do was to get a big flat cart -- and then the staff member left. No help on pricing, trimming, wrapping. So we left too, very frustrated, and unimpressed with customer service.

We haven't had trees every year, to be sure -- we've traveled seven years out of the last last 10 Christmases so have had only two trees, although we've had Christmas decorations up. Our kids won't be with us this year. It seems like just one more thing that needs doing, at least right at this moment, and even if we left it up until 12th night (January 6), it still isn't very long to have it up. It was my suggestion -- and that was before I started feeling so frustrated about business affairs!

I guess it's just one of those days where things don't seem so merry and bright, and I'm missing family and my mother and father, and remembering (doubtless through a somewhat rosy filter) Christmases past with great nostalgia. Fortunately I'm also aware that these emotions will change quickly, and that this, too, shall pass.

Everything changes. Nothing stays the same. Cherish the moment and give thanks for what is right and good in our lives, and remember that the only person I can change is me.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Decking the halls and shopping the malls

I finished shopping yesterday and now need to wrap and mail stuff -- I'm late, I know, and it'll be express delivery. Oh well. I was pleased at what I found and all the sales. I do love a bargain...

Santa is also bringing some stuff for ME that I bought yesterday. *grin*

And I've been baking up a storm this morning: the holiday cake which is as good as I thought it would be, rum balls that are really loaded, and the wonderful, crisp Taku Lodge ginger cookies. Still have a few things to go, but I've at least got goodies.

And tonight we see the classic "Miracle on 34th Street," which I love -- better than "It's a Wonderful Life." Of course "The Bishop's Wife" with Loretta Young and Cary Grant is just marvelous and is one of my all-time favorites ... as are "Holiday Inn" and "White Christmas" with Bing Crosby

Just for fun, I took a look at favorites from other folks, and I guess I'm really getting older, because movies like "A Christmas Story" (you'll shoot your eye out!), "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation" (the squirrel in the tree is hysterical), and "Nightmare before Christmas" are among those listed as "older" movies. To be sure, "Wonderful Life" and "Miracle..." also are included on most lists, but the others seem very contemporary to me.

We loved "Polar Express" though, and I've enjoyed the Santa Clause movies. One very un-traditional and potentially offensive movie that we laughed through was "Bad Santa," with Billy Bob Thornton (one of Tony's favorite actors). It is not for sentimental traditionalists.

I'll bet that a bunch of the favorites will be aired this coming week.

I love getting cards from friends far and near, but especially the ones I don't stay in touch with throughout the year. One such card arrived today, and my very talented friend from high school is now the dean of a university!

For a couple of years now, we've sent New Year's letters rather than Christmas ones -- okay, partly because of too much to do and so little time (aka procrastination), but also because I think they're really read more intently because they arrive after the rush. It sort of wraps up the old and looks forward to the new.

My uncle Tom also did New Year's letters and I will miss hearing his always-eloquent words this year. He could tell a story so that you felt you were right there with him, watching the aurora borealis in the dark Alaska night or warming up at a beach bonfire somewhere beyond ambient light.

The sun is shining today and it's colder. Feels more like December. No rain in the forecast for a week plus -- yeah, we need more, but it can come in January, after everyone has traveled safely. I will so not miss the airports at Christmas!

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

'Twas a dark and stormy day

It was a good day to stay in and bake cookies.

I don't think it got completely light until about 9 a.m. and it was starting to get dark by 3. We have rain and drizzle, with more of the same predicted for the rest of the week, although daytime temperatures aren't bad -- in the 50s. This weekend will see lows right around freezing. Snow could come as low as 1500 feet, but I doubt we'll see even a flurry here. Which is just fine with me.

So I baked Jule Kage and two kinds of cookies, filling the house with yeasty, cardamom-y, buttery aromas, and listened to carols from Mannheim Steamroller and John Rutter. It was a cozy sort of day, and I expect to have a couple more this week, as business is very quiet -- not at all unusual for December in any kind of market, but this one is slow anyway. And I've still got killer fudge (this is almost mine -- I use unsweetened baking chocolate instead of the semisweet) and peanut brittle to make in addition to several more kinds of cookies, more bread, and a new holiday cake/loaf that sounds really yummy.

Baking is one of my favorite things about the holidays since I seldom do it the rest of the year -- we just don't need those extra calories. And even though it'll just be us here to enjoy it, I'll give lots of it as gifts. It's very comforting to make so many of the same goodies every year, although I always have to try a few new recipes. I remember baking the same recipes, years and years ago, and where I was and what was happening in my life then.

The fudge recipe is one I found in a Zionsville, Indiana, church cookbook sometime in the '80s, and have made it ever since. It never fails, is completely rich and chocolatey, makes a full, creamy 11x15 panful, and my brother raves about it. Even my daughter eats it, and she's not a chocolate lover (amazing, I know)...

Christmas is the only time I make it, and I savor every single piece.

And then there's peanut brittle. Now my orthodontist doesn't read this blog (at least I hope) or I'd be hearing about the evils of such candies, but honestly, homemade peanut brittle made with real butter and raw peanuts, cooked to a lovely brown, and then spread in a buttered pan, pulling it as thin as possible, is one of the joys of the season. Mother had two recipes from fellow teachers, and I'll usually make both. The recipe card, in her handwriting, is stained with butter and sugar from years and years of making it.

When I was working full time back in Alabama, I'd get up very early and mix a batch of cookies and refrigerate it until I could bake them. I'd do marathon baking sessions one December weekend and freeze everything. I'd always swear I'd start in November the following year, but that's never happened. I need the carols, the wintery weather, the time pressure! to feel the baking urge. Or the Christmas shopping urge, for that matter. Nope, I'm not done. Nope, nothing's wrapped (and won't be until I need to mail packages to the kids and my brother and sister-in-law).

But I'll get there. I always do. It just takes a little December winter to get me in gear.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Shared ritual binds us

I dreamed of my mother last night and trying to feed her, nourish her. There was plenty of food,and somehow we ended up with two turkeys in the oven. She was very fragile, and didn't quite understand what I was trying to do. I'm not really sure, either, except that was going to be a lot of turkey.

I miss her.

I miss being in Springfield for Christmas, going shopping there for last minute gifts, waiting for everyone to get there, bringing my mother a Clementine and some Jule Kage that I'd brought from home.

I miss the rituals we'd established there, and those we'd carried over from another life.

We're creating new ones, I understand that, but creating anything is hard work, especially in the beginning. Last year, the first without Mother, was hard, but in some ways this one feels harder, a little sadder.

Author Robert Fulghum wrote about ritual, especially family rituals. As we acknowledge the events, the losses, the beginnings in our life through ritual, we also honor the spiritual in them and in ourselves.

When we have wild rice and bacon and Jule Kage for breakfast on Christmas morning, we are continuing a ritual from my childhood when we'd visit Duluth. Many of my cousins also fix wild rice. It connects us in honoring those traditions and our grandparents and parents.

There are cookies and candies that I always bake at Christmas, from recipes my mother printed by hand into a notebook of her favorites. She is there in the kitchen with me when I stir flour, butter, and pecans together for Daddy's (and Tony's) favorite, Pecan Shorts.

We all have rituals around family, especially at holidays -- things we always eat, stories we always tell, songs we always sing, fights we always have.... Ritual connects us, binds us together. It honors our dead and celebrates our living.

Our family won't be here this year -- but I know what my brother and my daughter will be eating for breakfast on Christmas. I know there will be certain cookies in their homes, and that they'll hang stockings knitted by my mother nearly 30 years ago. And in those shared rituals, we will be together.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Oh, the energy of youth!

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat was tonight's offering at the Redding Broadway Series, and it indeed was amazing!

I'd never seen it, although I'd heard snippets of music from it over the years. Music is by Andrew Lloyd Webber, one of the most versatile composers of our time. He wrote Cats, Jesus Christ Superstar, Evita, The Phantom of the Opera, among others, and an amazing Requiem that could not be more different from his musicals.

Joseph was so fun. It's the Biblical story of Joseph and his coat of many colors, and the stage exploded with lights and color and glitter. The musical numbers reflected country, Elvis, reggae, classical, and more. Portraying the Pharaoh as Elvis the King was absolute genius, and totally over the top. We loved it!

And the cast. Young, lithe bodies radiated talent, energy and enthusiasm, and the audience just sucked it up, hooted and hollered, and reveled in it.

Sitting there in the dark, I remembered being that young and seeing endless possibilities stretching before me. I could have done anything!

As a college senior, I'd planned to go to journalism school and into radio news -- aka the next Pauline Frederick (am I dating myself or what!) . Instead I got married and taught school.

But I could have been one of those kids. I had talent and drive, if not a whole lot of musical theatre training where I went to school. Maybe. Or not...

I soaked up the experience tonight, though, and realized --again-- that there are some opportunities that aren't going to happen, at least not in this life. My hair is silvery, my face shows the decades that have gone by, there are achy joints that wouldn't take that life very well. That particular torch has been passed.

But for a little while tonight, my heart sang and danced with those kids, and I remember all that youthful raw emotion, that constant roller coaster of feelings and decisions and relationships and plans and dreams. Nothing is impossible.

It's part of the cycle of life, that hard journey from enthusiastic potential to comfortable acceptance. There are a few parts I wish I could do a little differently, but all in all, I wouldn't change much. That's a pretty good place to be, I think.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

On the path -- by grace and faith

When I wrote about finding my path to Christmas, someone left a comment that the path may be grace and faith this year.

As a life-long United Methodist, I recall many sermons based on the scripture from Ephesians that says "For by grace are you saved through faith; and that not of yourselves. It is the gift of God..."

And I thought, "Well, okay. I don't know that I'm there anymore." I haven't been an active church goer for nearly 10 years, although I certainly have put in lots of time within church walls singing, chairing committees, attending services, cooking for potlucks, and meeting many friends. At some point the church community itself became the primary reason I participated.

And then during a rather dark, searching, questioning period, many things changed in my life, and I gradually grew away from the organized church.

But my spiritual path became even more important to me. I studied. I read. I prayed. I talked with people who were on non-traditional paths as well as those grounded in the traditional church.

I found in me a spirituality that doesn't exclude what I grew up with and participated in, but is at once all-encompassing and loving and compassionate. It is not a "church" or organized doctrine with a name; it just IS.

So I thought about the "grace and faith" comment this week, and about my values and beliefs.

Grace is defined as "...unmerited divine assistance given humans for their regeneration or sanctification..."

Regeneration means "... restored to a better, higher, or more worthy state.." and sanctification is " impart or impute sacredness, inviolability, or respect to..."

Faith has many parts to its definition, but I like this: "...firm belief in something for which there is no proof.." It is from the Latin fidere: to trust.

At a gathering tonight, I talked with friends, my beloved husband beside me. The fellowship, the sense of belonging and being exactly where I am supposed to be, was strong and positive (and such food! with enough sugary-delicious desserts to satisfy even my demanding sweet tooth).

Lighting our path home, the full moon was unencumbered by clouds on this crystal-clear verylate Indian summer night and made the landscape bright and the shadows very deep. It hid the stars we know are there...but we know they will be visible when the moon goes dark again in its unfaltering cycle. That is faith.

And I realized that this is by grace, this being here and now, being where I am, who I am.

It is through faith that I am here at all -- even in the darkest, hardest parts of life, I have always trusted in a Higher Power/God/the Universe, rocksolidsure in the belief that the path is there
for me to find and that I am rightly guided if I simply open my heart and mind.

So tonight, in an unexpected way and place, I found the path to Christmas. And indeed, it is by grace and through faith. Blessed be. Thanks be to God.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Honoring the person within

The first Christmas card I received this year is from a nurse who took care of my mother in Springfield. She sent a photo of her family and her Christmas letter full of news about her three children, their new home, herself and her husband.

Mother went through all three pregnancies with G and loved to see the her boys when G would bring them to visit, and rejoiced with her when G finally had a daughter. She'd listen to G tell about homeschooling the children, and sometimes had suggestions for G since Mother had been a teacher for many years.

G had various positions during the six years that Mother was there -- meds nurse, assistant director of nursing, charge nurse, and others I don't remember.

What I do remember was her gentle, calming influence on everyone there, and her interaction with the nursing home residents.

She listened. She clearly loved what she did, even if sometimes staff didn't show up or there were difficulties in dealing with doctors or administrative staff.

She respected the personal dignity of each person she helped, and always -- ALWAYS -- treated the residents with honor for who they were, not what they had become in their decline. She saw the person who raised a family, worked, volunteered, laughed, danced, loved, not just the person who was in Depends, needy, anxious, sick, complaining.

There were many nurses' aides who came and went during those years, and many of them found their way to Mother's room where they'd pour out their secrets and stories to her, and she'd listen patiently, occasionally offering advice. Even though some had moved to other opportunities, they still came back to visit, to show off their babies, to bring photos and tell stories.

There were others who were impatient, careless, and never stopped to consider the humanity of the residents they were assisting. They'd breeze in and out, usually talking loudly and clearly in a hurry to get things done NOW. Mom occasionally registered a complaint about one or another -- but they rarely lasted very long anyway. They didn't bother to look at the person within the one who needed help and instead just saw the infirmities.

Oh, I'm sure that not everyone in a nursing home is a *good* person -- there are some real stinkers in our everyday world, y'know, and some of them live long enough to need help. I'm not sure I could manage to be pleasant and helpful to someone who lived their life angry and abusive and selfish.

I am grateful for healthcare workers who can, though. And I am grateful that G was there for my mother and honored her as a person of grace and worth to the end of her days.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006


Flannel sheets are on the bed, the wood stove radiates warmth in the great room, and there's a hard freeze warning tonight. Brr! Winter has come regardless of the calendar.

The mountains were just glorious today. Visibility was crystal clear, and both Mt. Shasta and Mt. Lassen have their winter hats on -- white snow. The deer are munching the fresh green grass that's everywhere now, although they still try to sneak a bite of cat food occasionally. But no more handouts from the garden -- it's down for the winter too. The outdoor cats have thick, furry coats almost overnight, it seems, and they have shelter and plenty of warm pads and blankets, but I still worry about them when it's so cold.

Okay, I know that 30 degrees isn't THAT cold. But this is California! And my blood is thinner than it was in those colder climes from previous lives. Still, I love the sweaters and sweatshirts, the fuzzy socks and slippers, afghans tucked around me when we're watching TV. I'm a winter girl, not a summer one. (But not too much winter, please. I don't want snow and ice, and 30 is plenty cold enough.)

How fortunate we are to have warmth and food and "enough." That's from one of those e-mail stories that made the rounds a while back. It was fairly schmaltzy (although it made me puddle), but I loved the sentiment. Here's the poem:

"I wish you enough sun to keep your attitude bright.
I wish you enough rain to appreciate the sun more.
I wish you enough happiness to keep your spirit alive.
I wish you enough pain so that the smallest joys in life appear much bigger.
I wish you enough gain to satisfy your wanting.
I wish you enough loss to appreciate all that you possess.
I wish enough "Hello's" to get you through the final "Goodbye."
--Bob Perks

I counted blessings today as I drove home from errands and appointments in town. My head was so full of have-tos and want-tos and shoulda-dones that I was having a lot of trouble focusing on the here and now, the present moment. So I looked at beautiful mountains. I felt the warm sun on my cheek and the breezes tousling my hair. I knew there'd be a welcoming hug for me at the end of the driveway. I had enough of everything right then and there, and I gave thanks.

It helps.

Monday, November 27, 2006

The countdown to Christmas has begun

This week starts the long (but not very) slide into Christmas. The newspapers are heavy with ads and many trees have been sacrificed -- we recycle the papers and ads, but still...

I'm not ready for all that yet. We'll get a tree and do some decorating, but not just yet. Shopping will be minimal -- my brother and the girls won't be with us this year, so I'll send boxes, but mostly it'll be gift cards, I suspect. I'm not ready for carols, either. Check back with me on Friday, Dec. 1. Maybe then.

Holidays are hard when you're changing traditions, and any death necessitates an adjustment in thinking. This will be the second since Mother died, the eighth since Daddy. We were in Springfield since 1997, but before that were always with my parents, my daughter, and nearly always with my brother. It's different now that there is no reason to go to Missouri, and everyone lives so far away that it's not easy for them to come here, or too expensive at this time of year, or too busy. It just IS what it is.

I'm finding the ramp-up to Christmas a little difficult already: I'm getting tons of catalogs in the mail, and I see things Momma would have liked in many of them. When we bring out the decorations, the stockings she knitted for all of us will be in that box. Her handwritten recipes are ones I use often at Christmas.

I can't bring myself just yet to get an artificial tree -- even though the piney smell is not as strong with the trees here, it is still there, and I can close my eyes and remember how Daddy and I always put lights on while Mother watched and directed. It conjures memories from very long ago Christmases, like the one when I was six where I faked sleep when Daddy came in to check us (although I did fall asleep pretending to be asleep). Or the one when I got up at 2 a.m. to find my new bicycle under the tree, and Mother made me go back to bed.

I love tangerines. When we were kids, there always was a tangerine in the toe of our stockings, along with hard Christmas candies that would stick to the wool, and sometimes when we'd pull them out of the Christmas barrel, there would be one sticky old candy from the previous year clinging to the inside of the stocking. I can breathe in the scent of tangerine and be a little girl again, for a moment. And I love the sweet bite of the juice when I've peeled the little orbs and popped the first segment into my mouth, spitting seeds into my hand. I confess that my favorites now are Clementines, those tiny orange *seedless* globes that are so easy to peel and eat.

I'll get there. It's not December just yet, and I still have a few days left to find this year's path to Christmas, and to begin to figure out what new things to add as I say goodbye to the old ones.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Being thankful

Like many Americans tonight, we're lounging off a heavy dose of turkey with trimmings after a lovely day spent with family.

We are blessed with enough to eat, people who love us, a vehicle to take us where we needed to go, and a safe, warm home to come back to.

It is a day to count blessings, to give thanks for being where we are and to have the opportunities we do. It is a day to remember to take care of what we have and who we love.

Both of us just celebrated birthdays, the last ones of this particular decade, and are reminded again that time speeds up as we grow older, that we need to make our peace with each day as it passes and to treasure what it brings, for it is one we will never again have.

We have talked with distant family today too, to let them know we are thankful for them and that we love them. We don't wait for holidays, however, to say those words -- we tell them every time we speak or write e-mails. One never knows which words will be the last -- that was a lesson that 9/11 tragically hammered home to so many.

So to those who read these words, blessings to you. Thank you for your encouragement, your comments and e-mails. I am thankful for this opportunity to share my musings and my heart.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

You won't find me in high places

I've always been nervous around heights. I remember as a child going up in an observation towner somewhere in Michigan and while the view was spectacular, I was too scared to go near the railing.

When I was in junior high, I found out that I can't stand on the back row of choir risers without getting panicky -- and of course I always was one of the tallest people who always are the ones to stand on the back row. I negotiated my way down a step and, when I'm in a choir, have managed to stay there ever since.

The worst height panic attack I had was about 23 years ago on a trip to New York City with little seven-year-old Rachel and her father. We went up-up-up 70 stories to the top of Rockefeller Plaza and emerged from the elevator onto the roof which was surrounded by a simple wrought iron fence that was maybe four feet tall. Rach immediately made a dash for the edge, followed by her father. I was plastered against the side of the elevator structure, screaming, "Don't go near that edge! Don't go that far!"

Of course they ignored me and stood there admiring the view of Central Park while I stood there feeling my heart pounding in my throat and fighting the terrifying feeling that they were going to fall any moment. I'm not sure how many minutes I stood there braced against the wall, but I know that finally I took baby steps towards a bench that was near the elevator and in the middle of the roof, and sat down. Even now my stomach lurches, remembering the fear.

As I've gotten older, I think it's gotten worse. This summer as we drove over Trail Ridge Road in the Rocky Mountain National Park, I could not look at the road through parts of it -- it was too close. So I looked at the driver's side view, but the fear in the pit of my tummy was there, nibbling, and it was connected to the sure feeling that we were going to go off the edge and into the valley below.

And today we were exploring land near the Shasta-Trinity line and ended up on a very rough road that was -- oh -- maybe two feet wide. At least that's what it looked like from my view in Hagrid, our truck. I busied myself with the GPS, looking down, and not too far up the path, Tony decided to turn around. All I could see as he did a three-point turn (okay, it was more like four or five in that narrow space) was trees right in front of me and I was sure the wheels were on the very edge of the precipitous roadway, so I just sat back and closed my eyes and waited for it to slip off.

It didn't, obviously. I'm here, writing away on this post.

We eventually found a way to the road we were hunting, and while it was packed dirt and deeply rutted, it was fairly wide. There were almost no scary edges.

I don't do glass elevators well either. I turn my back to the view and study the control panel, or the texture of the doors.

It's fear of falling, I think, that frightens me so much. Not only for me, but for others I'm with. I can feel the fall, the terror of knowing that there is only one way out of it and it is going to be bad. It comes even on choir risers.

If there's a barrier there, something fairly sturdy and preferably opaque, I can handle it for a little sneak peak of views -- like at the Empire State Building, which has chest-high walls and wire over the openings. I'm okay in airplanes, even little ones (go figure). Very high, steep, glass-walled escalators give me pause, but I can do it if I stare straight ahead or at my feet (or find an enclosed elevator instead). But you won't find me gawking at views without something solid between me and that fall -- and I don't mean a vehicle door.

Guess I'm not a candidate for mountain climbing, hm.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Winter's coming in

It's another month until winter officially begins, and we haven't had a hard freeze yet, but winter is nearly here: with only a little rain, our California gold is turning green.

We have golden hills about six months of every year throughout California when the rainy season stops. The grasses turn crispy and dry, and every shade of golden, from pale to dark tan, lights the landscape.

Tony noticed the green creeping under our browned knolls last week not long after the first soaking rain, and this week more green blades are lining the roadways and the still-dry creek beds. Most of the past season's leaves are still clinging to the branches and trees are still bright with fall color. Green is the color of our winter in the valleys, though, and it's coming on.

Wood stove smoke flavors the air in the mornings and the Canadian geese honk loudly as they fly low in search of ponds on their way south. The outdoor kitties' coats are coming in thick and coarse, and they've porked up in preparation for cold nights -- we're going through lots of cat food, and this time it's not the deer or raccoons who are chowing down on it, it's the cats.

My sweaters and sweatshirts have replaced linen shirts and tees in my closet, and clogs with woolly socks take priority over sandals. I've put a blanket on the bed, although not the thick downy comforter yet, and we're only a few weeks away from flannel sheets. I'm pulling out soup recipes from my recipe box and even thinking about Christmas cookies.

I like this kind of winter where it's nippy but not frigid, not white with ice or inches of snow, and where I don't have to worry about snow tires or chains unless I want to venture into mountains. I'm ready for hot soup and fresh bread and fuzzy slippers, and good thick books for long winter evenings.

Bring it on.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Leftover energy affects this tongue

I've known for a long time that houses hold the energy of their inhabitants and sometimes you can *feel* it when you walk in.

There are some that feel immediately welcoming, loving, putting a visitor instantly at ease. And there are some that are just plain creepy, not evil exactly, but negative and cold and uncomfortably prickly. I've been in a lot of houses as a Realtor, and I pay attention to how the house makes me feel, because I know it will affect a buyer's perception.

I think there must be meeting rooms like that, too, in buildings where people regularly gather for business or services or workshops or organizational or public hearing meetings.

I regularly attend a meeting in one such room, and more than once words that I would almost never say have come floating out of my mouth! Snippy stuff, even mean-sounding. Stammering stuff that isn't even very accurate much less how I normally phrase my words and sentences. Stuff I later wonder what on earth possessed me to say THAT!!

Well, I'm often direct -- I don't beat around the bush much, but I'm not mean. Sometimes my words have been interpreted differently than they were intended to be, but generally I am very careful to choose my words carefully because I know how deeply words can wound. I try to be kind and warm in my words and tone and actions. And while I can certainly dish about someone or something, it's extremely rare for it to be in public -- only a few very close friends and family ever hear that side of me!

But there is something in that room that just disconnects my brain and my tongue. The mouth opens, words fall out, but the brain clearly is not engaged. As Forrest Gump would say, "Stupid is as stupid does."

Maybe that's it. Too much stupid hanging around the room? Too many confusing emotions? Too much dissent? Leftover anger and angst? It's not the other participants; it is the room itself.

I'm either going to have to shut up completely or find a way to guard myself from that energy.

We ran away today...
for a while at least, to the mountains, and followed back roads to see where they'd end up. We saw golden vineyards, a couple of flaming red trees, and snow near Lassen Park, where we watched a cloud scud over a nearby hilltop, foggy fingers reaching to cover the pines and then pull back for a moment before reaching again. It was the kind of day that puts a little smile of contentment on your face, where everything seems right. It was good to get out of the office and away from to-do lists.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Another life completed

Word of another death today: Kay's husband had a stroke yesterday and died this morning. There will be a double funeral on Thursday.

I simply cannot imagine how their children will process this, even though they've known for some time that both parents had cancer and were in treatment. And while they're all grown, the oldest can't be much more than 36-37. It's hard enough to lose a parent when you're in your 50s and you've begun to accept death as an inevitable transition. My heart just goes out to the four children as they deal with the remnants of two lives.

Harder than that, though, would be to lose your child, regardless of their age. That is just *wrong* -- parents are not supposed to outlive their children. I know -- although not well -- parents who have had that loss, and I honor the strength and dignity that I have seen emerge from such a tragedy.

I want to hug my children today, and my husband, and tell them how much I treasure them, love them, and what a blessing they are to me. So often there is not time to say those words with an unexpected death, or a reluctance to say them when a loved one is dying. I want my family to know every single day how blessed I feel to have them, to love them, and to be loved.

So world, hear this: I am a lucky, lucky woman. I love and am loved. Whatever regrets I have are in the past, and it is what I do with today that counts.

And one more thing....
I've been reading lately about "end of life" care. One pioneer in this area is Dr. Scott Eberle, who will speak about his book The Final Crossing this Friday, Nov. 17, at Mercy Medical Center in Redding. Call 246-3749 for information.

Cherish this day.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Being where you are

I've been reminded three times today about the critical importance of being where you are; that is, not trying to wish the day or the situation you're facing away, but moving through it to get to the other side, even when doing so is very painful. Putting your head in the sand and not dealing with it simply prolongs the pain and the process, and your individual growth.

The first reminder was the Daily Om, a sort of daily meditation that I have in my inbox every morning that so frequently is exactly what I need to hear.

The second was an e-mail from Julia who recounted what she'd told her children about our friend Kay's death (yes, she died Friday) -- that it was okay to feel so terribly sad and that it hurts very much to lose a close friend (or family member, or a much loved pet). She acknowledges the loss and sorrow, and is walking through it rather than around it.

And the third was a column in today's Red Bluff Daily News by columnist and blogger Scott Q. Marcus who writes about the speed with which time passes. He reminds us too that when we struggle and complain about events, time seems to slow down and last forever while the good things flash by so quickly.

Must be a lesson I need to hear again, hm?

When all we can think of is how good things are going to be when we
  • lose that 20 pounds
  • get a better job and more money
  • find the perfect mate or date
  • can afford to buy a house
  • finish school or relocate
or whatever we anticipate will change our life for the better... we miss what is going on around us. We miss today's sunsets, today's hugs, today's gift of getting out of bed and feeling good. Or even bad, and then feeling better. It's a day gone that we cannot ever get back.

When we stay in the moment, being where we are (even if it is not where we'd like to be), we can accomplish so much: we can work on one step to further a goal like the above, we can fully enjoy a bright spot in an otherwise blah day, we can notice the interesting person standing with us in the long grocery line (that could lead to something wonderful). Oh, sometimes you just have to walk through the day when it's a real chore to put one foot in front of the other, but if you can do that and just be with whatever it is you're doing, you've accomplished quite a lot.

Zen tradition says that when you wash dishes, just wash dishes (don't focus on the cup of tea that awaits you when you're through). When you focus on each moment, one at a time, that moment is perfect and complete, right where you are supposed to be. In the next moment, you respond to the next logical step, the "next right thing," and fully be in that moment. You put your fears and worries aside one moment at a time so that you can "be where you are" and fully experience what is happening, and ONLY what is happening. As the moments evolve into days and the days into weeks and months and then years, you are living fully and completely, and not wasting it.

Great theory. It even works.

I have tried to live that way for some 24 years now, but I am only a novice. My "monkey mind" so often takes over (monkey mind=where your thoughts swing from one to another to another, as a monkey swings from branch to branch). So I bring my attention back, gently, without judgment (oh yeah-- another struggle) to the moment and keep trying.

You deal with anxiety and pain and loss and sorrow just like that: one moment at a time, experiencing it fully. You deal with joy and happiness and pleasure one moment at a time, and fully experience that. You lose nothing of life and its lessons that way, and you become who you really are, one moment at a time.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Singing through difficult passages

One of the friends I saw on my journey back to Indiana is dying tonight, and there's a movie that's been playing in my head all day of those years there, and our acquaintance. Kay was not one of my close friends, but we shared music in two choirs for some 9 years, had children about the same age, went to the same church, and had some good talks and a lot of giggles.

She has breast cancer that's metastasized to her liver and spine, and has been fortunate in that she has not had terrible pain with this long, slow decline. We share a best friend, Julia, who has kept each of us informed about the other's life since I left Indiana in 1990, and the three of us had a spectacular day together just a month ago. We shared stories, photos, memories, laughter, and a tear or two, and I'm so glad I got to hug her again.

Choral music was a huge part of my life then. Our little village had a community choir led by the choir director at the church I attended. We also had a church choir which included many of the same people as the community group. And both groups were GOOD: we sang challenging music including a couple of Glorias, a marvelous Te Deum, and many cantatas, plus contemporary and traditional anthems. We did madrigal dinners at Christmas and concerts at Easter and Christmas. Both Kay and I sang alto, and we often sat next to each other, helping each other sing the more difficult passages.

Kay is one of those people who is always optimistic, always matter-of-fact, always pleasant and smiling -- at least that's how I remember her. She didn't get wrapped around the axle about much of anything, even though there were many crisis points in her life where she certainly would have been entitled to some serious whining and crying. She just lived each day as it came, always present in that moment.

So I played a CD today of some of those choral works, and said prayers for her, for her husband who is himself battling leukemia, for her children, and for Julia who whispered goodbyes and thank yous and I love yous to Kay in the critical care unit last night. And I puddled a little, remembering that life that we shared and how many years have so quickly gone by. Such gifts, these years of life. Such treasures, these friendships. And how beautiful the song, as we help each other through these difficult passages.

Traveling mercies, Kay. Be safe, notice beauty, sing your song, enjoy the journey. God is with you.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Change is the only constant

The Democrats have the Congress as a result of Tuesday's referendum (for that is, indeed, what it was). We've seen this back-and-forth tussle of power for decades. The question is, of course, what are they going to do with it, and how long will it last?

I desperately hope they will not waste time and money with investigative commissions and initation of impeachment procedures, which our new Speaker assures us that she has no intention of doing. (and by the way, we have a WOMAN in this very powerful position -- the first time -- and that all by itself is not only an enormous milestone, but also a very heavy responsibility!)

My delightful Neo-con husband has written his analysis of the election on his blog , and while we don't always see eye-to-eye, he draws some conclusions that are sobering. A few posts earlier, he'd spoken of an article about Al Qaeda following us home and the dangers of treating this war like the VietNam war. Our newly-elected and incumbent decision-makers need to remember their awesome responsibility for the safety of our country, and not get sidetracked with vengeful political games.

And that's enough politics for this writer.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Little luxuries make such a difference

I change the sheets on our bed every Sunday. And every Sunday night I slide between them and breathe a sigh of pure pleasure. I LOVE clean sheets.

I guess I could change them more often, hm? And I do, if one of us is sick and spending most of our time in bed -- you know how they get so yukky-feeling from feverish sweat and nasty energy. But generally I don't.

A couple of years ago I discovered high thread count sheets. Oh, I'd heard people raving about their 300 and 400 and 600 thread count sheets, but eh -- sheets cover the bed, what's the big deal? A sheet is a sheet.

Uh-huh. Until you've felt the touch of 400+ thread count sheets on a tired body, don't dismiss it so blithely. They're worth saving up for, or watching winter white sales to get the best deals. I got mine on a two-fer sale and have never since seen them that low.

I can't think of many things that will give you such a luxurious feeling over and over and over for the money. If you calculate cost on the per-use basis, it will come out to pennies or less in short order -- because every other sheet you own of those 180-250 thread count variety will feel like scratchy wool in comparison, and you'll find yourself washing the *good* ones so you can put them right back on the bed.

We all like to treat ourselves once in a while -- good chocolate, good wine, a cute new outfit or pair of to-die-for shoes. Stifle that instant gratification urge and put the money you'd have spent in a special "sheet" jar. Watch for a good sale. And then buy yourself a touch of how the rich-and-famous live.

Being good to yourself
Growing up, I learned to always put others first, to be a "giver." It wasn't so much that anyone SAID that, exactly, but it was a combination of example, middle class customs of the era (the '50s and '60s), and it was reinforced by most of the books and magazines I read.

For instance, my mother always chose the backs of the fried chicken we'd have for dinner -- never the breast. Women always served themselves last, never first. Sick women would drag themselves out of bed to do household chores, even though they'd insist anyone else who was that sick stay in bed. They'd make do with an old coat so that others in the family could have new ones. They'd usually defer to someone else's preferences for which restaurant or movie to choose. And so on. It was just the way it was.

***Lest I sound terribly politically incorrect, I also know men who are givers of the highest order and who also continually put themselves last. For either sex, this is not healthy behavior.***

It is difficult to UNdo all those years of mostly unconscious behavior, and to acknowledge that it is okay to put myself first sometimes. As I've grown into who I am, I've done better, and having a loving, supportive spouse who insists that I take care of myself helps, too.

Not every woman is like this, I know: in fact, some are absolutely the reverse, putting their needs and wants ahead of anything else. They are the ultimate takers; never, ever givers. Most who I know never change, either, although I'll confess that I rarely stick around them long enough to find out.

When we are good to ourselves, it is easier to like who we are, to extend loving kindness to others (even the takers), to come through difficult situations and hard times without resentment.

I guess it comes back to balance, doesn't it. You balance your needs against those of others: sometimes you get to put yourself first; sometimes it goes the other way. But those scales don't always tilt in just one direction. Finding that balance is ever, always, our challenge.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Another reprieve from the drill

About that root canal: the endodontist's office called the day before I was supposed to go in for the real deal. Seems the doc had examined a series of x-rays of that tooth, and determined there'd been no changes for three years, and thus no need for the root canal.

There was rejoicing in this household on several fronts -- first, that I didn't have to go through it. Second, that I didn't have to go through it! And third, insurance never covers the entire cost, so this reprieve saved us a bunch of money. Oh, undoubtedly I'll have another eventually, but for now, I am okay. And grateful.

The sun has set on this quiet Sunday although it's barely past 5, and the dying rays are streaking the clouds with pinks and grays. It's been a cloudy day mostly, but very mild. No rain. We have not received the big rains that were predicted last week, although they're on tap again for later in this new week.

I like November's graying skies and transitional weather. It's my birth month as well as Tony's (we're six days apart, same year -- he's older :))), my sister-in-law's and my dad's, and capped off with daughter #3's. I like Scorpio's traits of passion and intensity, and fierce loyalty (okay, so there's revenge in there too...) Scorpio is a water sign, and my soul resonates with the ocean, although I've always just loved being near any body of water. It's time to visit it again -- in just a couple more weeks.

I'm grateful today: this month is one for giving thanks. I'm grateful for home and health and dearly loved husband, for children near and far, for my brother and sister-in-law, for extended family. I'm grateful for serendipities that grace my life and our business, and for friends who allow me to just be without any other expectation.

What a lovely beginning to this week. May it continue.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Celebrating art

Our little town was a showcase for art yesterday and today -- sponsored by the arts organization in which I am involved -- and from all observations and reports, it was "fabulous." We had more than 100 artists involved in 23 venues, and a small group of resilient volunteers who worked like mules to make it happen. And *I* was one of the exhibiting artists! Our photo club's works were displayed on the walk, and it was exhilarating to see my photos up on that wall.

Creativity, in whatever form, feeds the soul and the heart. It expands the mind and keeps us sharp and *alive.* One of our older artists was demonstrating pencil drawing, a medium she has only recently learned after painting in oils for many years. And what incredible detail she'd pulled out of a simple set of colored pencils! Another long-time artist and talented photographer exhibited a photo she'd enhanced after attending a workshop on Photoshop Elements and learning about layers. It was her creative soul that saw the vision, but I loved that she had just learned the technique from one of our photo club workshops.

Creativity encourages us to find unique elements in ordinary objects or supplies. Cooking, for instance, can be such a creative art form, and yet most ingredients are readily available in most groceries. It's how you blend them, how you shape them, that makes the end result a creative work of art.

In that respect, I guess each of us is a creative work of art, with ourselves the artists. Out of ordinary humanity, we become unique individuals, shaped by circumstance and our reactions to joy, sorrow, pain, trouble, pleasure, etc. Our inherent gifts help determine the results, of course, but as with any artistic endeavor, it is the vision that drives the creation. And as the potter can throw the clay back onto the wheel to be reshaped or the artist gessoes over a canvas to begin again, so can we smooth out our lumps, wash out our false starts, and reform, re-create who we are into who we want to become.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Winter's approaching

Two cords of wood, plus what we'd had left from last year's pile, are neatly stacked and covered with a tarp tonight; leaf dams have been scooped out of gutters; the kitty houses are swept out and piled high with rugs and purr pads to keep them snuggly warm; and we have our first fire in the wood stove tonight.

Whew. Our bodies are telling us that they've been a little abused, too, and that we need to be gentle with underused muscles that are burning with overexertion.

But it's a nice feeling to be prepared for winter. We've got rain forecast for the next several days, and it spat a little on us as we worked outside, but no downpours yet. A satisfying day, actually, to work hard and to see what we've accomplished. That's what I love about any kind of physical labor -- you can see your results immediately. In our normal work, it can be months before you reap any rewards, if then.

Oct. 30 was okay, although by day's end I was ready for it to be done. Staying very busy helped to keep my mind occupied and focused on other things, but when I finally put down the busy-ness in the evening, I felt the strain of the anniversary and the effort I'd expended to make it *just* a day. I heard from only a few friends and family, and that loving reach was greatly appreciated, even if it did make me lower my guard and allow the tears to puddle.

Yesterday, on All Hallow's Eve, I gave thanks to the universe for the gifts my mother and father gave me, and smiled at marigolds still bright and profuse in the nearly-spent garden. They are considered the flower of the dead for the Dia de los Muertos celebration of Mexico, representing the sun's rays and life, and symbolizing that the dead have not lost their place in the universe. (I confess that I plant them to keep the bugs away from the veggies -- an organic approach to gardening -- but I also love their cheery colors.)

Their pictures, along with those of Tony's family, smile at us every day from the top of my grandmother's chest of drawers we use as a buffet in the dining room. It's an altar of sorts, a place to honor them and to remember them daily, and to give thanks for their lives.

Sunday church services closest to Nov. 1, All Saint's Day, always honor the past year's dead members by lighting candles and tolling the bells and saying their names. I won't hear my mother's name read in her hometown church, nor my uncle's remembered in his faraway church. But they are engraved on my heart, along with my father's. I honor them with my words, with my memories, with my gratitude for their lives. Thanks be to God.

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.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Family: Love 'em, hate 'em -- we're all connected

They can be frustrating, aggravating, irritating. They can be funny, loving, interesting. They can be different shapes and sizes. They can be devious, hypocritical, selfish. You can look just like them, remember stuff that they remember too, and share personality traits.

They're family.

I spent a day with my three aunties and three cousins this week in a spur-of-the-moment mini-reunion. We'd had a first-time, big family reunion five years ago with around 55 of us attending, including five of the six siblings (my mother wasn't able to travel), out of some 70 cousins and families. Not many of us live near each other -- we're spread mostly in the West, with a sprinkling in other parts of the country, and it was fun to see my cousins with their families, some of whom I'd not seen since they were small.

But this week was more fun. And a little sad. When I hugged my oldest aunt, she cried for my mother, and I did too. I see Mom in each of her sisters -- the nose in one, the eyes in another, the smile in a couple of them. My cousins all look different, although each of us has a few characteristics of our parents. But we share many memories.

We spent the afternoon looking through photo albums and scrapbooks from the reunion, laughing at the BIG hair of the '60s and '70s, remembering trips and holidays when we were together, seeing our parents at younger ages. It was good to connect like that, to remember.

We cousins are in the late 40s-to-early-60s age -- the up and coming matriarchs of the family. Three of us have lost a parent; I've lost both. We have children who are grown; one is still raising children at home. We've had health issues. Our mothers and grandmother have osteoporosis, and we check with each other, a little anxiously, about our bone density tests. We have or had parents whose health is failing, and we share that, silently, but it's there.

It is a connectedness that doesn't exist in any other relationship -- not with friends, siblings, parents, spouses.

We don't wholly agree with each other politically or spiritually, not that it was discussed in this reunion, but I know that from letters and previous discussions. We don't really *know* each other, not in our day-t0-day lives like our local friends and immediate family do, and I'm not sure we'd be best friends if we weren't relatives. Our personal styles are very different. Our careers have led us on separate paths. And it didn't matter, at least this day.

We each fix special breakfasts with bacon and wild rice, just like we ate at our grandparents' in Duluth, Minn. We know what lutefisk is, and remember our parents drinking Tom and Jerrys at Christmas. We remember our grandmother's beautiful flower beds, and our grandfather's way of gentling any animal.

Despite our distances and differences, we are connected. And I am grateful.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Getting's patch, patch, patch

I'm slowly un-numbing from another session with the dentist, and this temporary crown may be a little off because it's starting to hurt a bit. I'm nice and mellow, but his office is closed tomorrow, so I want to call today if it's going to give me problems.
UPDATE: Spent another hour and a half getting the temporary corrected, but it feels much better, although the gum is raw. Guess I'll just have to drink milkshakes, hm.

And I've got new contacts that let me see the street signs again. I've got the beginnings of cataracts (how can I be THAT OLD) and the doc has warned me that within the next 3-5 years I'll need surgery, and until then, we'll have prescription changes each year. I'll get new glasses ordered tomorrow. But when he tested my vision and proclaimed, "you can still pass your driver's test with that vision," I had one of those "who is he talking about?" moments. The thought of my not being able to pass a driver's vision test had NEVER occurred to me.

I'll tell ya, getting older has some disadvantages, and the user's manual doesn't tell you about these glitches -- actually, I'm still trying to find my copy, which I'm sure must be around here somewhere. I am increasingly in awe of the 80-90-somethings who keep going and doing, and I am trying to keep things running well enough that I can be one of them eventually. My great aunt Fran just celebrated her 100th birthday, and while she has some problems, she's in reasonably good shape.

The achey-breakeys also get worse as you get older, and things just aren't as flexible as they were, which is my biggest motivation for yoga. My balance is terrible, and that's certainly a state of age. Yoga may help with that too.

It's ironic that as you get wiser and better able to see things as they are, and to care a lot less about what others think -- in short, to become who you really are and be happy with that -- physical stuff starts to deteriorate. Now I know that a lot of that can be staved off with exercise, diet, attitude -- but some of it you just plain don't have any control over: it's in your genes.

And once again, it's back to doing all you can, where you are, with what you've got.

Looking good at 80

We saw Tim Conway and Harvey Korman last week, and while they may be older (Korman is nearly 80 and Conway is 73), they still have the ability to put an audience into stitches with their comedy. There is no show on tv -- for the past many years -- that compares at all with the Carol Burnett Show, Laugh In, and other shows of that era. I don't know if it's because the variety comedy show is too passe' for the demographics, or because there simply isn't a comic who has the versatility to perform week in and week out the way Carol and Harvey and Tim and Vickie Lawrence did.

Geeze. I sound like a geezer in training, don't I ... "they just don't make 'em like they usta, sonnyboy..."

But there's some new tricks left for this old dog
Just a year ago we started a photo club with a core group of nine who met in our living room. Today we number between 20 and 35 regulars at our meetings, which have outgrown most living rooms and are now held at a local agency.

And many of us submitted photos to our district fair which opened today. We had to check out the exhibit, of course, and ran into several fellow photographers in search of the prize winners. I'm thrilled to report that out of our 30 entries, we ribboned on EIGHT, including two blues -- one each. They'll be posted on our photo site.

I've taken photos over the years as part of various jobs, but never like I've been taking them since I got my own camera this past year. We're having a great time, learning new stuff (keeps the mind sharp, we're told), and wooing the creative muses.

A while back I found a bumper sticker that I liked: CRONE.
That's not necessarily considered a complimentary term, but it is the third of three stages in a woman's life -- the first two being maiden and mother. Usually associated with pagan/wiccan traditions, it also has roots in Native American, Norse, Celtic, Egyptian and Greek lore.

This bumper sticker, though, was an acronym.
C= Creative

I like it. I don't mind being a Crone in that respect. May I never stop seeking new experiences and creativity!

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

More thoughts on "The Path"

Tony's written a really good analysis of "The Path to 9/11" on his blog, and mentions Clinton's role and the fact that he was shown in the program to be too preoccupied with the impeachment proceedings to really focus on the Bin Laden situation.

My take on that whole thing, which the Clinton folks were furious about, is that BOTH parties come off extremely poorly. The Republicans were so busy being morally righteous and hypocritically outraged durng that whole embarrassing process that they are just as guilty of neglecting the country's security as the Clinton folks are. Had Clinton not been so chastised and denigrated in the stupid impeachment proceedings, he might have actually taken action in the Bin Laden case.

Neither party can throw stones here. It is a time in our country's history that does not reflect well on our priorities nor our moral fiber.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Remembering 2001

We've watched most of the ABC program "The Path to 911" and were impressed. While there are moments that are dramatized, they stuck primarily to documented and factual events and conversations. It was less emotional than we were afraid it would be, although very impactful.

Tony woke me that morning five years ago, saying "Terrorists have flown a plane into the World Trade Center." He'd been reading news on the Internet, as was his habit in the mornings, and saw a trailer across the screen. We sat, stunned along with the rest of America, and watched it happen. Over. And Over. And Over.

Although I went to work, the company let us take the day off. Tony's company did not, and it was only much later that a reasonable explanation was given: it is a huge international company and business and communications would be relying on it even in crisis.

I didn't know anyone personally who died that day, but it haunted my waking and sleeping hours for months, and I cried daily. Tony had spoken in the past with Todd Beamer, an employee colleague, who forever will be remembered by his "Let's roll." Other employees based in the WTC died that day too. It felt personal.

Two of my aunts and their daughters were stranded with my mother in Missouri. They'd come to visit her a few days earlier, and were supposed to fly out on Sept. 11.

I called the girls that morning to see if they'd heard -- and mostly just to hear their voices -- and woke them. Daughter #1 dashed to the radio station where she worked and didn't come home for days: it was nonstop news and more news.

Every time I fly I think of those United and American passengers who boarded that morning thinking of meetings to attend or already over, of reunions anticipated or enjoyed, of vacations long awaited, and the anticipation of going home to loved ones.

I never leave the house anymore without telling my husband that I love him with all my heart.

Life is uncertain. Shattering change can come upon us without notice or preparation. If we have learned nothing else, we must remember this. At the end, all that really matters is love -- love of family, love of friends, that we loved and were loved. Cherish that. Honor that. We may only have this moment to do so.