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.