Sunday, December 30, 2007

Celebrating connection

Today was a gift of friendships, a celebration of connection -- but that's the way I feel about this entire holiday season this year.

Actually it began yesterday with lunch with our youngest daughter, a visit where we brought her Christmas gifts (except that we forgot one at home and didn't even realize it until much later! So we'll gift her with it again soon.) and heard about plans and her day-to-day life as a sort-of stepmother. It was pleasant and we're grateful that she seems to be doing well, and even heard what sounds suspiciously like maturity creeping into her stories.

And today was a Christmas brunch and gift exchange with the Cowgirls -- we're beginning our fourth year? Third year? Anyway, it was fun, funny, touching, and the gifts so reflected each giver. I do treasure these women for their wit, their intelligence and insight, and their diversity.

And then we had yet another gift of connection in a neighborhood gathering where we nibbled on delectables and watched an incredible sunset redden over the Yolla Bollys and coast range, and caught up on each other's holidays.

How blessed we are!

The year's end always feels a bit to me like heading down a corridor and opening a door at the other end. I know where I am, I know where I've been, but I'm not at all sure what's on the other side of that door, and it feels both a little scary and a little exciting.

I'm also aware more than ever of how quickly time passes. Blink...the leaves are popping.'s 115 degrees. Blink...another birthday approaches. Seize the day!

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Christmas greetings

To those faithful readers who have checked this site nearly daily for the past two weeks and found nothing new, thank you for your patience. I'm brimming with thoughts and promise to put at least some of them into words soon. Very soon.

We are home from our quick sojourn to Tennessee to share Christmas with my brother, sister-in-law, daughter, and .. .yes... ex-husband. It was wonderful. It was not without stress, but then few things ever are, apart from quiet weekends at home. It was good to open gifts and share meals and cooking and familiar goodies. It was good to listen to jokes I'd forgotten and personality quirks I hadn't. It was good to be with family, who love you warts and all, and who you love back despite and because of theirs.

Our flights had some delays both ways, but it was not as bad as it could have been and was for others flying United (although Tony swears that his former loyalty to that airline is so over now). The weather behaved. No luggage was either lost or -- surprise -- examined. Tony's come home with a cold, but we think he's nipped it in the bud between Airborne and Wellness Formula.

The kitty boys cuddled immediately. We missed them.

Life feels very sweet. It will change, to be sure. But for today, it is good to be where I am.

I hope your holiday was joyous as well.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Grateful days

Everything changes -- nothing stays the same.

And I'm happy to say that my brother is doing much better and in fact is shooting pool probably at this very minute with friends in Las Vegas, something he hasn't done in six weeks and which he was pretty dubious about doing for a long time because of his shoulder injuries. Oh, he doubtless has more difficult steps on that journey back to full health, but this is a welcome layover for now, and I am grateful.

Ditto with daughters 1 and 3, at least for now... while there are and probably always will be stuff to deal with, problems to face, hardships to overcome, both seem to have found a respite at this moment. For that, too, I am grateful.

When pain and difficulties seem unrelenting (even when they really aren't), finding an oasis of calm and peace and pleasure can give you the courage to step out again and continue down the harder path. It is a gift from the universe, I believe, that time.

There are always going to be people who are better off, happier, richer, healthier, more famous. There are always going to be people who are not. Being somewhere in the middle is where most of us come down most of the time. And in whatever circumstances you find yourself, there IS something to be grateful about.

Part of an e-mail I received today was about gratitude:

"Life Is a Gift

Today before you say an unkind word -Think of someone who can't speak.

Before you complain about the taste of your food - Think of someone who has nothing to eat.

Today before you complain about life -Think of someone who went too early to heaven.

Before you complain about your children -Think of someone who desires children but they're barren.

Before you argue about your dirty house someone didn't clean or sweep -Think of the people who are living in the streets.

Before whining about the distance you drive -Think of someone who walks the same distance with their feet.

And when you are tired and complain about your job - Think of the unemployed, the disabled, and those who wish they had your job.

I'd add one: at this Christmas season, remember that the cost of one dinner out can provide a hardworking local family with some Christmas blessings -- food cards, new socks, a warm blanket -- things most of us take for granted. Please consider a donation, however small or large, to an agency such as Adopt-A-Family. You can even give online with a few clicks. What you do today can change a life -- not merely a Christmas -- by helping someone find their own gratitude.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Slow it down!

December is flying by -- it's like the wind that's been around here for several days is urging the sun to scoot across the sky and night to come more quickly.

Our days are shrinking -- slightly less than two weeks and we'll be at the shortest day of the year, the Winter Solstice. And then it's a rush to the New Year. At least days will begin lengthening again as we continue with the second half of winter.

It's not that I mind winter. I rather like the cold days, the clouds, the rain and wind. It makes me want to curl up with a book, cat in my lap, and sip tea while I read something delectably trashy. (Like I've allowed myself THAT particular luxury... ha!)

And I don't miss the sunshine much. We have so much of it in the summers that I like to soak up the clouds and cool.

No, it's that the days go by so quickly, with sunrise at 7:20-something, and sunset before 5.

I've also been knee-deep in deadlines, as if merely accomplishing Christmas tasks weren't enough -- and they've taken second place to the other deadlines. There are no cookies nor breads baked, nothing is wrapped -- very little has been purchased or done, and what's going to be mailed has gotta be ready in a week. I did get a few decorations up yesterday so it looks festive, and we've been enjoying Christmas music immensely.

A word on that: the Trans-Siberian Orchestra has a couple of Christmas CDs out that are just dynamite played on a good system -- they're good regardless, but we've enjoyed them even more with new equipment.

Do you remember the Christmas lights video of a couple of years ago? That was set to one of the Trans-Siberian cuts, "Wizard in Winter." The creator of the lighting display has done several more since, actually creating a company as a result of the popularity of this display.

Anyway, the music is quite fun.

So I always have good intentions of making gifts -- sewing, or taking photos, or baked goods -- and sometimes I actually do it -- but I don't think this is the year for much. I think I'll get a little baking done, but not a lot -- and we don't need it anyway. I'll send fudge and maybe a couple of other things..

The wind has been really wild and is supposed to get more so tonight, I gather. And yet the leaves are still clinging to the trees like fleas to a dog! They're ugly and brown and tired, and yet they still hang on. I guess we need a hard rain and more wind to help them let go.

I suppose we cling to old ways like that, hanging on until they're shriveled without a speck of moisture or life left. Takes a hard rain -- or the cheese moving -- to make us let go so that the new leaves can be nourished, and eventually bud and furl out in the spring. And that will come all too soon, I know, blowing in with the wind.

Once more I'm trying to stay in the moment and not obsess over what is undone or unwrapped or unpurchasd or yet to be sorted. It's a daily effort, isn't it.

Listen to music. Savor the moment. Enjoy the friendships. Stay in touch with family. The rest of it just isn't as important as all that. Cookies can be purchased. Gifts don't have to be extravagant, nor even perfect -- everyone I know enjoys the intangible gifts of the season more than the purchased ones anyway. Oh, I've got things I must do -- but I'm going to have fun along the way too.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Eight years ago

today my daddy died. Every once in a while -- most recently at a concert Saturday night -- I'll see an older man from the back, or from the side, who has his fine, white, flyaway hair or his thin, slightly bent figure, or the crinkles in his face that come from a wide smile, and I'll have to look twice, or three times. Just to be sure, y'know?

It was unexpected: he'd gone in for an angiogram, they'd found significant blockage, and left it to him to decide whether or not to have surgery. He had just turned 83. As it turned out, the blockage and damage from years of diabetes was more extensive than expected, and his heart wasn't strong enough to rally. He came out of surgery okay, but never regained full consciousness and died the next day.

I miss him, although that horrible grief and pain has been gone for a long time. And he would have made a terrible invalid. I miss his smile and his big, hearty laugh. I miss his sentimental tears when he'd watch a tv show that touched him. I miss sharing books with him.

I miss his singing. He always had a song for every situation, even if just a snatch of melody. Rachel grew up thinking that he'd made up just for her the old folk tune "Reuben, Reuben, I've Been Thinking.." -- the second verse is "Rachel, Rachel, I've been thinking..."

I miss that a lot.

So much has happened in these past eight years, and there have been many moments when I've felt him nearby -- especially when Mother was alive, and when she was so sick, I knew he was there beside her, beside us.

He was a good, caring, involved father and came to our concerts and plays and activities. He loved us deeply, and we knew it. He told me once that his father had never seen him on stage -- had never come to his games, his plays...sad.

He was proud of us, my brother and me, and who we are and what we do, and we knew that too. We were blessed to have him -- and my mother -- as parents.

I think you truly grow up when your parents die and the torch passes to you in the great wheel of life. Assuming a good relationship, you will never again have that unconditional love that is such an incredible bond between a parent and a child. (The love of a spouse can be utterly amazing and deep, and I am the most fortunate of women to have found that, thanks in no small part to my awareness and appreciation of my parents' lifelong love affair with each other. But that is different.)

So I'll light a candle for Daddy tonight and give thanks for his life. We loved him dearly. We miss him still.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Watching the cheese move

I think I've mentioned Who Moved my Cheese? in previous posts. It was very popular in the late '90s and has become the basis for leadership training and much more.

There have been a few situations in our area lately that have made me remember the book and reflect on change and the fear of it that so many people have. The "we've always done it this way" mentality is very prevalent especially in smaller towns, I think, and especially with people who have always lived in them and have never known anything else.

Change can be frightening and confusing sometimes, and cause people who are generally fairly easy-going to dig in their heels and stubbornly resist even change that might benefit them.

Those of us who have lived other places and have chosen to move here sometimes have difficulty being accepted by the "natives." There are two camps: the old-timers and the newcomers. If the newcomers often embrace and welcome change -- such as in new businesses moving into the area, or additions to old traditions -- we're regarded warily, suspiciously, and conflict may arise. The oldtimers feel that their way of life is threatened, that nothing will be the same, and prefer to maintain traditional ways even if they no longer best serve the community and its residents.

I suppose I'm a newcomer, because the cheese is moving in the north state, and there are a bunch of mice who are very unhappy about it. I didn't bring the change; I'm not necessarily advocating it; yet change is inevitable. Nothing stays the same. Not even in a small town.

You know I'm a huge believer that we make our own destiny. We either find new cheese and survive, or we die because there is no cheese where we are. Complaing and whining and filing lawsuits and advocating protest marches will not stop the change. Telling the world how you wuz done wrong isn't going to make much difference in the long run -- or even the short run. It's annoying, it's fruitless, and you WILL starve.

Find the joy, folks. Find the joy in every situation, even when it's hard to see, and find the gratitude. There is new cheese; fresh, tasty cheese that is yours to find, even in the most difficult of situations. Find it and live.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Blogging in my head

That's what I've done all week -- written blog posts in my head -- but I haven't had enough time to let them flow through my fingers onto the screen. New articles to write, places I have to be, tasks that must be done...

But here I am right now. There's a big pot of braised shortribs in sauce simmering in the Crock Pot, filling the house with a wonderfully spicy-tomato-y scent. I should let it sit overnight and skim off the fat, but it smells too good to wait -- so I'll skim off what I can from the top of the pot. These are good, Tehama-county-grown beef shortribs, too. I cut the very last of the Swiss chard from the garden this morning, so we'll have that along side, and I'll probably cook some whole wheat wide noodles too, to soak up that wonderful sauce. Yum. (Can you tell I'm hungry?)

I pulled up the tomato vines today and tossed what was left to the deer, saving a few green tomatoes for us. It's time for the garden to be done. I thanked the earth for all the wonderful food we enjoyed this season. In the next day or so, if I can find an hour, I'll RoundUp the whole thing to get rid of all the awful weeds we had this year. Then I'll pull up the dead stuff, till the soil, and layer newspaper and the good, dried manure that's waiting in a small trailer. Next summer ought to be a really good growing season!

Another article in the Record Searchlight -- and today I got a call thanking me for the story. Seems Gottschalks called and volunteered to wrap gifts and to donate a few more; a cookie store is making cookies especially for Adopt-A-Family; and they've gotten another few volunteers. That just makes me glow. I've got two more stories done that probably will run this weekend, and am talking tomorrow to one more person about the program. This has been a fun run.

But it's kept me hopping!

Saturday evening we went to the Red Bluff Christmas parade -- Tony took some photos, and I watched. It was a mild night for November, although I was in layers and my gloved fingers still got cold. I watched two younger teens next to us, dressed in sockless tennies and capri pants, eating cotton candy and watching the lights. They spoke to us a few times -- very pleasant girls. It made me remember that age -- BEING that age (yes, I can still recall that in this aging brain) -- with all its insecurities and dreams and desires. They were young enough to be unselfconscious about how they acted as they watched -- still slightly gawky in bodies that haven't reached full maturity yet. One had carrotty-red hair that could have been real; both wore a little makeup, but not excessive.

I wondered what they want for Christmas, if they have boyfriends, how they behave around their parents. I wondered what they like about school, if they participate in clubs or activities. I wondered what they dream about being when they grow up. They're still young enough to get excited about Christmas -- and I hope they each get something they really want, and have a Christmas tree, and are with family who love them.

I guess that writing these stories and talking to volunteers and staff, and browsing through some of the families in the Adopt-A-Family program has really heightened my awareness of how hard some people struggle to make things work, and how very, VERY lucky I am and always have been.

I'm a huge believer that we make our own destiny -- and that there are angels who are there to help us along the way, mostly unrecognized by us. For many of these families, the volunteers who offer gifts and food and money may be their angels, and just may make the difference between giving up and continuing to work hard. It's touching, and inspiring. I hope my stories make a difference -- from what I've heard, they have.

I am not going to have to search for the Christmas spirit this year -- I don't even mind the carols already playing in the stores -- although I was listening to Pavarotti singing "Ave Maria" in Latin in Walmart (of all places), and overheard a woman saying, "That music is just driving me NUTS!" (okay, no accounting for taste. Maybe she prefers "Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer.") I'm looking forward to cookies and music and lights and the pungent scent of pine trees, and to watching bubble lights perking away on the tree. To hearing from old friends, and to writing them back. To remembering Christmases past, and being thankful.

I am looking forward to being with my brother and sister-in-law this year, and with my daughter -- this will be the first Christmas we've been together since Mother died, and I have so missed that family connection. Even though there's still all the shopping and wrapping and stuff to do, it's okay. I'm just grateful we'll be together, and that we have enough....of everything.

McMurphy update: he had one more (unanticipatedly is that even a word? expensive) test and seems to be fine. He is so happy to be home and with us, and seems a little quieter than he was before he got sick. We are so glad to have him back.

And that's all I have time for today. Hark, how the bells...

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Giving thanks

Thanksgiving Day 2007: our 10th together. A bright, if windy, day with temps in the upper 60s. I baked pies: pumpkin, pumpkin cheesecake, apple. Watched the Macy's parade and thought of all the Thanksgivings that I've baked pies and watched the parade.

Especially I remember the ones in St. Louis with my ex's mother -- we went to her house and I cooked for maybe 13 years? There may have been a few we missed in there...but not many. She loved stuffing and pumpkin pie especially -- we always did the ubiquitous green bean casserole, cranberry-orange relish, some sort of sweet potato concoction, mashed potatoes, gravy, bread stuffing, turkey. Relishes. Sometimes another dish. Rachel and I would watch the parade on the tiny black and white tv in the kitchen while we cooked; I almost always found some reason I needed to escape to the little store down the road -- just to get out of the house for a little while. I love cooking; Rach and I always had fun doing it together.

But inevitably my ex would say "Leave the dishes; I'll do them." (My MIL didn't have a dishwasher.) So I would. And then he would go across the street to visit with his long-time friend, leaving me and Rach watching tv or reading, while my MIL was napping. Eventually she'd find her way back to the kitchen to nibble on stuffing or pie or potatoes, and would sigh heavily at the unwashed dishes, and grumble out loud about cleaning them up, and why was he still over at Bud's. So after she went back to her room, I'd just go wash them. And dry them. And put them away. It was just easier. The last few years I finally got smart and just did them.

That was why I'd go shopping the next day, despite the traffic and crowds: to get away from endless questions, whining, complaints that my ex was spending too much time across the street at the neighbor's house... and then of course I was always gone too long, I'd learn.

She was a bitter, angry woman to her last breath. She truly loved Rachel, I believe, and her darling son, although he never quite measured up to whatever it was she wanted, and she got along with me because she liked my cooking, but I was never what she wanted for a daughter-in-law.

I don't miss those T-days. I don't miss any of that, except cooking with my daughter. I'm hoping we'll get to do some of that at Christmas when we're with her.

But today we joined our group of friends at a neighbor's home, with their grandchildren and children, dogs, enough food to feed twice as many people. A warm, welcoming feast for the body and soul.

We are so blessed, we two, to be where we are: to have the opportunities that we do, to be so enveloped in friendship and love, to live with the deer and birds and coyotes and turkeys and yes, even the raccoons and possums. To have a warm woodstove on chilly evenings, and cats who sleep contentedly beside us, to have books and papers to read, warm flannel sheets to snuggle beneath, enough of everything. Especially, oh so especially to have each other!

We are thankful for these things. Every day.


And I got a lovely surprise this morning when I opened the Redding Record Searchlight and found my byline on the front page (below the fold). I've got another three or so stories in that series that are coming -- but I really liked seeing that today. I am so grateful for the opportunity to do something I love to do and that I feel I'm pretty good at doing. Funny -- I started writing feature interview stories nearly 40 years ago when I was a summer intern reporter at the Springfield Leader-Press and Daily News. Learned a ton that summer about newspaper writing. And here I am, all these years later, writing for a newspaper again. The universe is giggling...

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

On being 60

And today we are sixty years old.

Okay, I'm sixty. Tony was 60 last week.

Sixty years ago today, my mother was in labor -- had been for hours. She'd listened to the reports of the wedding of then-Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip on Nov. 20 -- all the details, the ceremony, the music. I remember her telling me about it and how it helped her to think of something else.

And I finally appeared after some 26 hours of labor, all 6 lbs. oz. of me, at 8:30 p.m. -- right on the cusp of Scorpio and Sagittarius.

I remember calling my mother on her 60th birthday and telling her that I was much too young to have a 60-year-old mother. She retired from teaching that year, 1981. I don't think she felt old. And I don't feel old either -- although there are lines on my face and neck, and my hair is frosting naturally.

Both Tony and I feel very honored by our friends: we've had parties and cakes and cards and gifts, and many good wishes. The friendships are the best gift of all, and we are deeply grateful.

So let me tell you about my croning.

Croning honors women who are recognized for their wisdom, power, and age. It is the third phase of a woman's life; the first two are maiden and mother. While those "labels" have deep spiritual roots in religions and traditions practiced long before Christianity emerged, especially in recent years there has been interest by mainstream denominations in feminist theology, with ritual and events centered around the stages of a woman's life. While women have long been the foundation in the Christian church, the power has more traditionally been vested in men. That is changing in many mainstream churches, at least somewhat. But it is truth that women are reclaiming their power and position. (and that's probably a whole 'nother blog post for the future)

My girlfriends, the Cowgirls, planned a day away last weekend for the four of us. First we went to the labyrinth at Sacred Heart in Anderson and spent some lovely time walking those circular paths so steeped in spiritual tradition. I'd long wanted to walk one, and am thinking of putting one on our land here. It is a way to deepen any spiritual practice, a walking meditation, and I know each of us found truths in the walking, and loving friendship in the center.

And then we traveled up I-5 to Dunsmuir, a once-booming town built on the slope of Mt. Shasta, where we enjoyed a wonderful late lunch at the Cornerstone Cafe and Bakery. Fabulous carrot cake. Creamy peanut butter pie. Veggie lasagna that was rich in cheesy flavor.

The girls treated me to a delightful assortment of gifts and cards, among them a set of "Wisdom of the Crone" cards, a truly beautiful deck created by a poet, a photographer, and a scholar. The photos are of women from 50 to 100 years old; the words on each card offer guidance for the day, for the question, or just a reminder that life is good.

Today, for instance, I drew "Play."
Play is elemental to our
well being.
Run, jump and skip
across the earth.
Sing and dance around a fire.
Frolic and dive into glorious waters.
Fly through the air with
the greatest of ease.
Play often, play hard."

It's a reminder to me that life is short, life is precious and should be relished, all of it.

And then we went to a lovely little waterfall, Hedge Creek Falls, where they toted various bags down the little trail, and set up a little croning ceremony right by the trail.

So within sight of the cascading water, on an appropriately November-ish gray day, under a canopy of trees still embellished with fall color, my three friends honored me as a wise, loving, loyal woman and friend. Oh, there were hokey moments when I wanted to laugh out loud -- and we did -- and there were a few groups of folks who wandered down the trail, peering curiously at the four ladies, especially the tall one seated on the rocks who had a fake grapeleaf circlet with trailing golden ribbons perched on her graying hair.

But we continued anyway. We let go of old habits, old patterns of thinking that hold us back, and invited new things into our lives. We shed a few tears. We hugged. We smiled a lot.

And it's all about joy and gratitude, I told them. You have joy, you offer gratitude in everything, for everything, and that's all that you need. Indeed, it was a wonderful celebration -- and I was humbled and very touched by how they hold me in their hearts.

Eventually we wound up at Mt. Shasta, driving partway up that great energy center, where I -- lit by a flashlight in the foggy darkness -- promised to be who I am, to be true and honest to myself, and to cherish life with all its ups and downs.

The words were prettier than those, and very meaningful. But that was the gist.

And then, fueled by a stop at a very neat bookstore, and a warm drink for the road, we headed back to our lives in Red Bluff.

It was a magical day, a fun time with dear people, and it marked for me a transition into what I believe is going to be an incredible time in my life.

My 50s were the best decade of my life so far. I believe the best is yet to be. I hope you'll stay with me for the ride.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Still a sick boy

Mac is back in the vet clinic today with a tentative diagnosis of pancreatitis. That's what they'd thought it was last week, but then he got the fluid around his lungs, and they weren't sure about it. He began showing symptoms again late yesterday -- vomiting what little he was eating, general lethargy (I'm sorry -- sick as he is, the idea of lethargy in cats makes me chuckle. Cats sleep 20 hours a day. If that's not built-in lethargy, what is?)

So Anyway.

Bottom line: they're putting fluids in him and soothing his GI tract, and we'll see how he is tomorrow.

It's very hard to watch animals and very small children be sick because they can't tell you where it hurts or how they feel -- they just lay there and whimper. Breaks my heart. We just want Mac to be well.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

A sick kitty

We've had a very sick kitty last week == I've been referring to McMurphy as the $6 million kitty, although the final vet bill WAS less than that. Slightly.

We think it started sometime a week ago last night -- he didn't wake us at the crack of dawn to get the food dish out, which is definitely not his normal behavior. McMurphy is a slightly rotund cat who very much enjoys eating throughout the day and preferably the night. We put him on a diet of sorts some time ago when we started putting the food dish away at night, and he has slimmed down some.

But I digress.

Sunday he slept on his purr pad on a chair in our office -- his usual day business -- but Tony commented before we went to bed that he didn't seem to be feeling well. When we got up last Monday, he was definitely a sick boy: glassy eyes, shallow, rapid breathing, extreme lethargy. I got him into the vet and they determined that yes, he had a rathr high fever, and was definitely a sick boy.

He was not, however, going to be docile about any prodding and poking. The only times Mac has been in a car has been for vet trips. He didn't much like being in the carrier, but especially did not like the resident clinic cat who came over to check on him, and MOST definitely did not appreciate the woofing doggies who also were waiting to see the vet.

We attempted to draw blood: I helped hold him and talked soothingly to him: "Goooood Mackie, that's a goooood Mac. It's okay, it's going to be over soon, you're going to feel allllll better."

One vet tech held him by the scruff of his neck; the other attempted to insert a needle into a leg vein.

He growled. He hissed. He showed teeth. His ears went flat. He undulated his chunky 12 pounds enough that it was impossible to hold him steady. He was a very pissy kitty.

They got one teensy vial. Not enough. They took him "in back" to get more help: probably enlisting the aid of three or four more techs to hold him down and away from my sympathetic eyes. No go.

Finally I agreed to let them sedate him a little so they could draw blood and do some xrays, which helped. And that began the sequence of tests for our poor little boy.

We do know he doesn't have feline leukemia, pneumonia, liver or kidney problems, heartworm, diabetes, or a couple of other potentially bad viruses. He didn't eat something that made him sick. He did wind up with fluid around his lungs -- not IN them, surrounding them -- but it wasn't blood and had no bacteria in it.

Best guess: an underlying heart condition. We don't know what caused the fever or why he got so sick, nor, for that matter, why the fluid built up. His heart isn't enlarged, his lungs are clear.

But most important is that after three nights at the vet, he is home and finally seems to be back to being McMurphy. He's sitting for hours in Tony's lap where he gazes lovingly into his eyes and rubs his head on Tony's beard. He's eating well again.

What's not quite back to normal is his relationship with Cheswick, who was very unhappy that he was gone, and did not like the way he smelled or looked when he came back. The boys have never been separated. In fact, Ches greeted Mac with loud hisses and many swipes with his paw -- which continued for the last couple of days. Mac just curls up in his bed and sleeps. There have been no altercations today...

Our inside boys are especially loved: we know these kitties so well, and they know us. They live quiet lives, few visitors, little excitement (other than when a new kitty joins the outside troops, which causes disturbance both in and out). When one gets sick like this, it is upsetting to everyone -- especially my dear softhearted husband, a complete marshmellow when it comes to animals.

When I met him, he proclaimed himself to be a complete dog person, especially loving German Shepherds, and allergic to cats. "Boring" was the way he referred to cats, as I recall. Probably also used such words as "undisciplined" ... "independent" ... "unfriendly."

And then he was chosen by McMurphy and Cheswick in 2004. You can read the story here.

Suffice it to say that he adores his boys, and they return his affection -- I refer to myself as "the servant lady" who buys the food and changes the litter, but am awarded affection only when the object of their adoration -- Tony -- is not available.

That's exaggerated. Some. (Actually, McMurphy curled up beside me this morning and slept for quite a while, purring delightedly as I petted him. But he's still recovering and isn't quite himself yet. We'll see.)

Nonetheless, we're very glad that Mac is back -- and are grateful for a kind, very thorough vet.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Telling the truth

Truth: the true or actual state of a matter.

That's not so hard, is it. The actual state of a matter.

And yet we avoid it, we lie about it, we cover it up, we find ways to pretend it doesn't exist.

No, folks, this is not a political post. I'm just pondering truth these days and why it is so hard to acknowledge it.

Medical conditions, for instance. Why is it that we will avoid going to the doctor, gloss over a symptom, tell ourselves that no, that really wasn't a lump but muscle; no, that really wasn't anything but indigestion; no, the sharp pain in the leg is just because we overdid it.

Acknowledging the truth of the situation can save a life, ease pain, forestall greater harm.

Or why do we avoid friends and family, avoid telling them what is really going on with us, acknowledge to them that what they said hurt, that we really don't like them very much, that we are uncomfortable when they party too much?

Is it embarrassment for ourselves or for the other person? Co-dependence -- we don't want them to worry about us? Fear -- that actually knowing the truth is scarier than pretending nothing is wrong? That knowing then makes it real and we have to deal with the consequences?

And yet the truth eventually comes to light, doesn't it, and we deal with the issue AND the avoidance.

I hate not knowing the truth. My mind is capable of creating immensely complex, terrifying consequences when I'm not hearing anything from my daughter -- despite repeated phone messages and calls. So far, at least in similar situations in the past, the truth hasn't been nearly as stressful as the scenarios I've imagined (may that continue!) But goodgollygeewhiz, I dread the ice weasel parties that are in the planning stages, and the subsequent sleeplessness and stress.

And I don't understand why the lack of communication, the lack of truth.

I have a huge dental phobia -- I don't even like getting my teeth cleaned, and I confess I'm avoiding it right now. I don't want to offend anyone (like the hygenist), but it hurt last time. And I guess I don't want to be judged as a complete and total wimp, and far too old to behave that way at the dentist -- so I don't say anything when I finally DO get in the chair.

And yet who does my lack of truth hurt? Me.

How many of us have hesitated to go the the doctor because we're afraid something is wrong? Denied feeling depressed and worried when we really feel like hiding under the bed and never coming out? Put on a happy face to the world when we're clearly NOT okay?

Who does the truth hurt? Ourselves.

My mother insisted that we tell the truth: she hated lies, and always punished the lie far more severely than she ever did the truth, no matter how bad. I hate lying too -- tell me any truth, but never lie to me if you care about me. Once lost in a lie, trust is nearly impossible to regain.

I don't have any brilliant, insightful conclusions here. I'm just feeling sad about how we deceive ourselves, sad about the sometimes hard consequences of such denials. Worried over lack of communication of the truth, whatever it may be. Fearful of those unknowns. And always trying to balance honesty and truth with compassion and kindness ...

The truth shall set you free. Free to take care of yourself properly, to live honestly, to be who you are without apology. I think I'll make that cleaning appointment in the morning.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Where did the week go?

It's already Sunday night again, and the beginning of another week -- this one is Tony's birthday week and for six whole days he'll be a year older than me. gloat

And it's been a bit of a roller coaster as well: from my brother in the hospital on Sunday to being home and becoming just a tad cantankerous yesterday (which is fine -- I'd much rather have him that way than sick and scared, and I'm sure my sister-in-law would agree).... from weather in the 80s to our first fire in the woodstove yesterday.

We also got serious about losing the extra 15 or so pounds we've both put on since we first moved here, and we've both been doing a pretty good job of controlling portions and leaving the sugar alone. My scale yesterday morning was happier than it's been for a while.

And then.

We celebrated both our birthdays last night at a gathering of good friends, all of us around the same age -- give or take 10 years, all of us transplants from other places. And there are some terrific cooks. Our wonderful neighbors hosted, and cooked delicious food which was further seasoned with all the laughter and teasing and warm conversations filling their home. Others brought appetizers, wine, dessert -- and oh. Dessert. Birthday cake. THE. ULTIMATE. COCONUT. CAKE.

But you ain't never seen -- nor eaten -- anything like this one, folks. By a long shot it was the most decadent thing I EVER put in my mouth (and I'm no stranger to decadence). I found the recipe today, and I swear you could gain 10 pounds just reading it. (Note: there are several parts to the recipe, and the links to each part e are on the bottom of the page that this link takes you to.) The cake supposedly weighed 12 pounds, but I think it was more: the half of it that is left must weigh nearly 10. According to the cook, the recipe was featured on a Martha Stewart show by a chef from South Carolina who will ship the cake anywhere for $100 (bet that doesn't include overnight, refrigerated shipping costs, though).

So after one more small taste tonight, and saving a piece for a friend who adores coconut anything, it goes to work with Tony tomorrow to help harden the young supple arteries of the 20- and 30-somethings with whom he works. Better theirs than ours.

And yes, there were presents even! Fun, thoughtful, personalized gifts that just warmed our hearts.

What we have found since moving here is not only a whole new way of life in the country, but more good friends than either of us can remember ever having -- certainly since we were in high school, at least. We feel tremendously blessed and honored, and very grateful for the friendships and caring people. What a great way to enter our seventh decade (*yikes*)!!!

Life is not perfect, nor does it stay the same for long: we know change is inevitable, and indeed we hold in our hearts one close friend who found out about some serious health problems this week, and always hold close our daughters with their various issues, and my brother with his immobilized shoulder.

But this weekend was lovely, and we capped it by going out late this afternoon and taking photos at the Sacramento River Discovery Center just when the light went golden in late afternoon. Although we had some good rain yesterday and a cozy day spent indoors enjoying our first fire, today's cool but crystal-clear air and sunshine was a bonus finish.

This week is another chance for all of us: a chance to work hard, to enjoy each other, to communicate honestly and lovingly, to be grateful every day for something in our lives. It's easy for us tonight.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

O God of new beginnings...

and second chances

Here I am again.

I've had that saying hanging on my wall for probably some 14 years now, and I've given copies to friends and family over the years, including one to my brother. When I bought it at one of those mall craft festivals in Birmingham, it had reached out across the long mall walkways and smacked me upside the head:

You need me, Beth, to remind you. Every day, you need to be reminded that it is a fresh start, that I'm not done with you.

When Tony and I got married, we used that on our wedding invitations. It described so perfectly where we were in our lives and how grateful we are to have found each other and this new life for both of us.

When I got sick five+ years ago and recognized what an enormous part stress had played in that, we reminded ourselves about it again, and we started the ball rolling a little faster to get our house here built and ourselves moved into another new life, a new beginning in nearly every way.

My brother is filled today with the same feeling of second chances and new beginnings: he is home, he does not need surgery, there is no obvious reason for the seizure, and he has been tremendously affirmed in love and friendship by his colleagues and friends. He is ripe for change and growth, and immensely grateful to have been given another chance to do things better, and he is determined to do so.

Sometimes that's what we need: a smack upside the head from the universe. I kinda think we all get them from time to time, sort of a warning, but I don't know that we all pay attention to what they are when they happen.

I've gotten better as I've gotten older about paying attention: I know I repress stuff I don't want to think about, however, and just hope that when I finally get around to it that the consequences won't be too horrible. It would be better, yes, to deal with the fears and the insecurities and the issues when I get smacked the first time. Or even the second.

So here's another lesson in gratitude. Another reminder that it is never too late to change, to start anew, to get a better life. Another chance to love, to develop friendships, to learn to forgive yourself and others, to take care of yourself.

May you find your new beginnings and second chances today.

I finished Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. There are some lovely nuggets to remember in this book. It is about progress, not perfection, and I love that she's writing another book that picks up where this left off.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

In my dreams

I got to hug my parents last night in my dreams, and I can still feel their arms around me and mine around them.

I was going into a place -- like a movie theatre or an auditorium or somewhere -- in the midst of other people. I think I might have been with either my family or others that I knew, but I was pushing through ahead of the crowd. Around a little bend, I saw my parents coming towards me with others who were walking away from the entrance.

They were old -- Daddy's white, fine hair blew a little, and he was slightly bent. Mother was little and clearly fragile, but walking, holding to his arm, her white hair beautifully coiffed just as she liked it. They saw me and beamed; I walked up to them and wrapped my arms around both of them as they did to me, and we just stood there, holding each other, and so happy to see each other. I don't remember speaking.

The sensation of their arms around me has lingered with me all day, and I can feel Daddy's bony shoulder blades under my fingertips and almost smell his scent. Mother's thin little shoulders and arms wrapped around me with more strength than I'd have thought, and I put my cheek on her hair and just savored the feeling again.

It makes me puddle up to remember.

I woke knowing I wanted to remember this dream and to just treasure the feel of them, the look of them together again, the love on their faces on seeing me and the leap of joy in my heart when I realized it was them.

I don't know why I dreamed about them -- I don't remember a dream like that ever, and in fact, have had very few dreams about them since their deaths. Maybe it was worry over my brother, another abrupt reminder that we are mortal and we are fragile: our lives are changeable in an instant. Maybe it was knowing how much my mother would have worried about Jimmy had she known.

I would talk to them every Sunday evening for -- oh -- maybe the last 10 years before Mother died, maybe even longer. Sometimes I'd talk only to Mother; sometimes I'd talk more to Daddy; often I'd talk to both of them at the beginning and then to one later in the conversation. It didn't even matter what they'd talk about after a while: I'd close my eyes and just soak up the sound of their voices, trying to imprint their speech in my brain, knowing the time would come when I couldn't just call them and hear them talk. Their inflections...Daddy's hearty laugh, when I could almost see him squint up his eyes in mirth and see his wide grin. Mother's questions -- nearly always direct and clear and inquisitive -- how like her I am in that way!

The last time I saw Daddy, less than a week before he died although we didn't know it at that time, he held me very tightly for a long time. My arms were wrapped around him, hugging him tight, breathing into his neck and smelling him. His arms were strong and ropey, and we both got a little puddly, and said 'I love you" and 'take care of yourself' and 'call me when you get home' and 'I love you' again.

He hadn't gone in for the angiogram yet, and there was nothing to suspect his impending death, but I think we both felt loss, and love, and gratitude.

With Mother, my brother and I had visited her just three weeks before her death, and had had a lovely time, tempered by the knowledge we all felt that it would not likely be long before we were back for the last time.

The last night of that visit, I got on my knees in front of her chair, and put my head in her lap and wrapped my arms around her waist, and she petted my hair while I just sat there, hearing her frail little heart beat, feeling the ever-present tremors gently shudder through her body, and feeling her love through her fingertips. For that moment again, I was her little girl and she was my mommy. I remember know she smelled -- and feel her close everytime I catch a whiff of the scent even today -- and how she felt.

The night she died, three weeks later, I rubbed that scented lotion into her arms and hands and legs, and sang hymns to her and recited poetry from Eugene Field and Robert Frost, and tried to stroke my love into her with every caress. She knew I was there, but did not talk, although the nurses told me she spoke to them while I was out for a little while, and was glad to hear my brother also was on his way. And then she went back into that twilight state where she remained, although she squeezed our hands in recognition. She died knowing she was surrounded by love, ours, our daddy's, and the cloud of witnesses who I felt in that room all through the vigil. She just crossed over, very quietly, through the door between the worlds.

All of that love and generosity of spirit was in my dreams last night. I am grateful to have felt it again and it lingers still.

I hope they will visit my brother too, in his dreams, and share a hug with him. I think he needs them too.

We will know more about his condition after tomorrow, we hope. For now, he's stable and doing as well as he can, given that both arms are either braced or in a sling. And he is grateful for his life and for the outpouring of love and support for them both from his friends near and far.

That love, my dears, is what matters. The rest of this is merely interesting.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

One moment at a time

I've been reminded again by the great universe that life is to be lived one moment at a time, because we cannot know how the next will change our lives forever.

A small thing: last week I was fixing a salad for myself for lunch and was holding an avocado half in my left hand, a knife in my right. I brought down the knife to whack the seed and sliced into the inside of my left index finger -- a fairly deep cut. I knew instantly that I needed to go to the ER, thought briefly about calling one of my neighbors, decided I was okay enough to go alone, grabbed a clean dishtowel nearby and wrapped it tightly around the cut, holding pressure on it with my other fingers, snatched the car keys, and was off to the hospital.

Three-plus hours and no lunch later, I came back home with five stitches and a 'script for an antibiotic. Fortunately I missed nerves and tendons, and surprisingly, the finger didn't really hurt or throb at any time. Stitches are now out and while there's a lump and a dry scab, the finger is fine.

But my plans to attend a meeting of writers in Redding were squelched.

Last night while we were downtown at the annual ArtWalk, my sister-in-law called: my brother had a seizure while in the middle of a conference meeting, and had dislocated both shoulders and had a small fracture in one. He's in the hospital. Cause unknown, although it may be a side effect of a new medicine. There is no history of seizure in the family nor with him.

I've talked with him twice and he sounds fine and very grateful that it didn't happen while he was driving nor in one of the cities he often travels to for business. They're investigating; he's in the hospital for a few more days.


My dear sister-in-law sounded wound tighter than a spring, and she told me she thought she'd lost him. I heard the fear in the pitch and speed of her words, and I know that only time is going to help ease that.

His life just changed drastically; so did hers. Even if he never has another (please, please, please), the spectre will be there especially for her because she watched it happen.

And my heart was in my throat all the while I talked with him. I am grateful he seems okay and that it happened where it did. But oh, please, no more.

But life throws these curves at us -- an illness, a death, an injury, loss of a job, news from a child. The good things also change us, but somehow it's easier than the bad things that force adjustments we may not want to make in an otherwise good life.

Which brings me back to the moment. It is all we have, this moment. In that moment we must do the best we can, where we are, with what resources we have.

We take preventive measures like reducing fat or sugar in our diets to help our heart health -- and boy, do I struggle with that old sugar thing every day! "Do I really want to eat this for the good of my heart?" I ask myself -- although I'm still working on asking myself that BEFORE I eat the piece of candy instead of feeling guilty after it's sliding down my throat.

We lock our doors, wear our seatbelts, drive safely. We get flu shots, regular checkups, annual tests. We get our teeth cleaned and checked. Maybe we exercise regularly (another oughta-do I'm still working on). We are proactive.

And stuff happens anyway, at least sometimes.

So I guess what we work towards is to do all the preventive stuff but mix in a huge dose of gratitude and gentle, loving, kindness towards ourselves and others in each of those moments that we have. A big order for only one moment, hm.

But it is all we know we have, and it is a good goal for each day: to make the most of each of our moments. Don't squander them. We never know how our life may change in the next moment.

Sunday, October 28, 2007


October is nearly over. It is the season of harvest and dying in the great wheel of the year. And with it comes the second anniversary of my mother's death, on Oct. 30.

I wrote about events of 2005 in this post -- and in this -- leading to the final moments of her life. It wasn't for another five months that I could talk about her death -- and that of her beloved brother Tom.

Last year brought this remembrance.

Another year makes a lot of difference. Time has seasoned my grief and it is not so fresh, so very raw and harsh as it was.

I'm still two days from it, but I already know I'll be with my circle of girlfriends, my Cowgirls, and that always helps me, often in ways I couldn't have predicted. The collective energy and support in that small circle is a gift that sustains and supports each of us, even in our most hermit-y of moments. I'm grateful for that gift of friendship.

And friendships are uppermost in my mind this fall as last night I thanked Lady Moon again for her gifts and illumination. We spent yesterday and today with another circle of friends -- neighbors and others who have found commonalities and friendships together, all of us around the same age, all of us who have moved here from other places seeking more from life than we had where we'd lived and worked previously, and -- I believe -- each has found joy and satisfaction and pleasure in living here and finding new activities and friendships. Our circumstances are all a little different, but we all make the most of what we have right now, in this moment.

It's a seasoning of gratitude and friendship. That makes the [incredibly delicious] food we share taste better, the laughter heartier and joyous, the stories we swap more interesting and relevant. Caring for each other as we do lets each of us know that we have friends who will help and support us whenever we ask -- and often when we don't -- without expecting anything. What a marvelous gift! What a treasure to be cherished!

Fall colors are brighter than I'd expected, given the dry winter and spring we had, and the reds and yellows and oranges punctuate the hills surrounding us and line the town's streets. The green undergrowth still encroaches on the dried brown, beaten grasses -- although we need rain again -- and the colors are a welcome seasoning to that golden California summer landscape.

I'm grateful for season-ings that add so much to our lives here, happy to see another fall, to look towards another birthday (okay, so it's taking a bit to wrap our collective arms around that decade idea here, but we're working on it). Tonight, we're especially grateful for friendships and to be in this wonderful place, right here, right now.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Gone in a flash

For anyone who lives in California, the wildfires that are burning in Southern California are a frightening reminder of how quickly life can change, and how very careful one must be in our dry or drought seasons.

Apparently at least some of these fires were deliberately set: a willful act born of what -- power? Rage? Immaturity? It would be hard enough to watch your home burn as an act of nature, but soul wrenching to see it go as an act of arson. And the anger...oh, how do you get over that!

More than half a million people have been evacuated. Stardom and wealth make no difference to the flames, and expensive homes of prominent people have been destroyed right along with homes of people like you and me.

Animals and pets are being cared for in this disaster, however, unlike during Katrina. How terrible it would be to leave a loved pet to fend for themselves in an evacuation!

The most important things in life are people, not things -- and yet we all have attachments to our things, our photos, our possessions, our homes. Priorities change when we are threatened by catastrophe. What is important to us crystalizes in that moment.

So what would you take with you? What is important enough to save if your home and life are threatened?

Answer that, and you know where your priorities are.

Pray for healing for the fire's victims. Pray for safety for the firefighters as they beat back the flames. Pray for restoration of the savaged earth. And hug your loved ones close.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Celebrating life

We went to a birthday party last night for a friend who is turning 70 this year. It was a really nice event, held at a local club, decorated in cute '50s-style rock and roll, and lots of folks came in costumes reminiscent of that decade, although it was pointed out that the birthday boy was born in the '30s!

Nonetheless, a bunch of us showed up in rolled-up jeans, big white shirts and scarves around our necks, socks and sneakers or loafers or flats or saddle shoes. Guys had white shirts and jeans, jeans jackets maybe, white socks. There were a few Pink Lady jackets, a few pony tails, some big, gaudy plastic jewelry that's probably more '60s than '50s, but who cares?

It was actually quite amusing. Most of us have a considerable amount of grey in our hair, that is if we still have hair. The only unlined faces were those of the celebrant's grandchildren. And yet most of us got out on the dance floor at one time or another and jitterbugged to the music of the decade, or slow-danced like we all did in high school -- rocking back and forth, going nowwhere, just enjoying the feeling of being close together in a once-familiar pose.

We ate dinner, sipped wine, laughed a lot, listened to a few comments, watched the birthday boy blow out candles on TWO cakes -- white and chocolate -- and ate birthday cake. It was a really lovely celebration of life.

And that's what we do, I think, at this age: we celebrate where we've been and the fact that we've gotten this far. We celebrate today, because we know that today is all we have. None of us -- or few, anyway -- have a clue as to how many more years we'll get to blow out birthday candles, but we've all lost enough family and friends to realize how very precious each day is when you love people and are loved.

So we celebrate: here we are! Here's another year we've had to learn and grow wise (maybe -- maybe not), to love and contribute. To form new friendships, to cultivate the old ones, to enjoy each other. To find new experiences. To learn new skills. To take care of ourselves and of each other.

Blow out those candles, however many they may number. Give thanks for each moment you have, for each experience, for each friend. Celebrate that we're all here, right now, right here, in this moment, and savor each moment for each delicious memory it is making.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

A seasonal miracle

So it happens every year....and today was the day. The green sheen has returned, signaling the beginning of winter!

I've been watching for it because we've had some nice rainy days with enough precipitation to soak the ground. Tuesday it wasn't there. I looked out of the kitchen window this morning as I was making coffee -- about 7 or so -- and *thought* I might see something. A little later, with a little more light, there it was...under the golden, dried grasses of summer was a hint of green.

I called Tony over to the window and pointed it out, and I swear, it got greener as we watched. Strands of green grass are poking through the matted summer coat, especially where it's more worn, like the deer paths. By late afternoon there were swaths striping the land.

I love watching this. I love this season of dormancy and returning to the underworld -- you remember the myth of Persephone and the pomegranate seeds? The leaves fall, plants die back -- although their roots may busily be growing deep in preparation for spring -- the harvest comes in, another growing season is complete. And California at is green in the winter.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Three years old

Old Musings is three! I started this blog Oct. 11, 2004 -- and this is my 187th post. That's about one post every six days...not quite my ideal, but there was a big chunk of time in 2005 going into 2006 where I wrote nothing after my mother died. Ideally I'd post at least three times weekly. Let's see how I do in my fourth year.

Over this next week or so I'd like to take a look back at some of my favorite posts -- so please indulge me that.

One place I've bogged down is reporting what I'm reading. Mostly it's been magazines -- my current fav O magazine takes me a while since it is fat and full of good articles, thought-provoking and interesting ones, unlike so many magazines that you can recycle after about an hour. There's the ever-present Newsweek, which I read in spurts and therefore always have several issues folded to where I left off reading, and Cooking Light and Sunset, which I also read in bits and then go back through before I'm ready to pass them on.

I read every night in bed, and magazines are fairly awkward, alas, but I read 'em anyway. The problem with cooking magazines is that I get hungry, and it's far too late to eat.

I'm reading Elizabeth Gilbert's Eat Pray Love after seeing an interview on Oprah. Her style is very casual, almost blog-style, and very easy to read. I'm just barely into it but like what I'm reading very much.

I finished Evening by Susan Minot, who also wrote the screenplay for the movie of the same name. I was very disappointed in this book and hope I like the movie better -- it came highly recommended by my BFF Julie, and has a terrific cast. But the book was a mishmash of what I thought was very superficial thoughts by both the main character who is dying, and her children, and it was written without an abundance of punctuation and no quotation marks. I found it tedious, and it was that way to the very end -- yes, I kept reading in hopes that it would have some redemption at the end. It didn't. Reading the Amazon reviews, I see that I wasn't alone in my assessment, although there also was a great deal of praise for the stream-of-consciousness style.

A new O should hit the mailbox this week. :)

Anyway. Happy anniversary to Old Musings and to me. And thank YOU for reading these ramblings.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Shooting at the range

I did something last weekend that I've never done before. In fact, it was something I'd never wanted to do nor ever, never, EVER expected to do.

I fired a gun. Actually, I fired three different guns, three rounds of ammunition.

And I did it voluntarily.

For this liberal, that was quite a feat, just getting to the point where I would GO to a shooting range, much less pick up a gun. And it took me the better part of an hour or so to get my head there while I watched Tony and another couple shoot.

Sounds were muffled with the ear protection I was wearing -- big, thick headphone-style pads covering both ears. Nonetheless, I jumped when a couple of the guns went off -- they were that loud. And I was a little jumpy anyway -- just being there.

The smell of gunpowder is unlike anything else, and it is an acrid, pungent odor that remains in the wood even if no one is firing. The ground was littered with brass casings from the bullets, and paper and brass shells from shotguns -- they sparkled all around the range and were thick in the shelter. It felt serious....smelled energy that is very powerful, but not friendly.

Another family was also in the firing shelter with us, including a little boy about 7 or 8. They were firing rifles -- or maybe shotguns, I don't really know the difference -- and there was a tiny one that looked like a toy for the little boy -- except it fired live rounds. The parents brought him to the front and began to get him in position, but he was apparently not in a mood to obey well, and they told him he could not shoot if he could not follow directions -- which didn't sit well with him, and he began to cry loudly. They left shortly thereafter.

So anyway.

After our group -- except for me -- had fired at the target several times, switching guns and reloading, Tony asked if I wanted to try it. I'd declined earlier -- come on, folks. Just being there was a big step for me! But I said yes and headed for the front of the shelter.

The first gun was a .22 pistol. Tony showed me the proper stance and grip, and how to fire it, as he did with each gun I tried. And I pulled the trigger, aiming for the target -- although I have no idea whether or not I hit it. There was very little recoil and only a little pop -- I was surprised and slightly horrified at how easy it was. A gentle squeeze, and poof...

The other two used larger caliber bullets and there was definitely recoil -- my hand flew up after each shot, and it was much louder and harder to pull the trigger -- which still was frighteningly quick and easy.

That was enough for me for that day. I do plan to take a gun safety course this fall and learn about them -- and why, you ask? I live in the country. We have snakes. We have critters. It would be a good thing to know how to safely and correctly use a gun should I ever need to == which I hope I don't.

I was very conscious the entire time I was at the range, and especially while holding the guns, that it is a lethal weapon. It can kill, pointed in the right direction. And it was easy to shoot -- one quick squeeze and that bullet was gone, honey. Safely into dirt in this case -- but it made me wonder how many shootings are really accidental or impulsive acts just because the gun is there and in hand -- someone loses his/her temper, or is high or drunk and angry, or just generally pissed off. One quick squeeze -- and someone is dead or injured.

It was sobering. It was thought-provoking. It was a little scary. And while I will likely shoot again and take a course, I hope I never, ever, EVER have to point it at anything other than a target.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Monkey mind strikes again

I don't seem to be able to focus on just one thing at a time lately -- I'm hopping from one thing to another and task-oriented stuff is ruling my days. And my thoughts aren't very deep, although there is a lot of gratitude in them.

Thoughts -- daughters. We've heard from R and V lately: both say they are fine and happy. I'm not sure whether to ask questions or just let it be, y'know? Maybe it would be best for me to just accept what they're saying and stop trying to dig more deeply. They say they're happy; ergo, they are. Right? Uh huh. I am grateful to be hearing from them at all. I suppose that if/when things break that we'll hear soon enough. And maybe it won't this time.

You can hear the skeptic in that, can't you. Me too.

More thoughts: I'm hosting our bunco group this month, so I'm fairly obsessed with getting things ready and planning food and so on. I overthink stuff like this and I'm trying not to be quite so anal about it.

And I'm deep into office cleaning, so the room is a complete disaster. You know how things look even worse when you're sorting and cleaning and throwing? Well, that's it. I cleaned out Arts council paperwork over the weekend and handed it over to the new chair, so that was a big job that's done. But there's still so much left to go through and either pitch or save or store. And I'm busy obsessing, remember?

And I'm doing yoga twice a week. I love yoga, although when I'm working to balance or stretching tight hamstrings I wonder why -- and then we get to the final 10 minutes of relaxation and centering, and I leave with such a sense of calm. My muscles are achey tonight, and they will be tomorrow. It's a good ache though.

I'm practicing avoidance too with all this busy-ness. I'm avoiding getting my teeth cleaned -- partly because of the braces and the fact that we're in the home stretch with them, so the doc is working to straighten and align my bite, and a couple of teeth are very uncomfortable. The last thing that appeals to me is that high-speed cleaner thingy scouring already sore gums and teeth. Okay, I'm nervous. I'll get there.

I'm avoiding some work projects that need to get done too, but the desk is so awful I can't find my notes (I know they're underneath a pile) and besides, I'm not good at concentrating just now. So then I'll probably complain about the deadlines, when the crunch is really of my own making.

My brother just had his 57th birthday, and I was reminded that two years ago we celebrated that day with my mother in Springfield: a very sweet, poignant day with cake and remembrances and lots of laughing. The photo we took of the three of us is hanging in the hall along with other family and friend photos.

Yes, that anniversary is Oct. 30 -- and while it's easier than last year, I am still walking through those last weeks, remembering. There are so many times I wish I could call her and talk.

We're transitioning into winter these last couple of weeks, and especially yesterday with a soaking rain. The mountains are white already and nights are very cool. The wood stove is ready for the season and we will stack wood on the porch this weekend in preparation for the first fire, which isn't that far off. The kitties snuggle in blankets and furry pads in their houses at night, and they're porking up for the winter, coats turning thick and coarse.

It's time for wrapping things up, for cleaning the debris of the summer out, for preparation. Maybe that's what I'm doing, need to be doing. One thing at a time. One day at a time. Moment by moment, living this life, and being grateful for where I am, what I am.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Saying thank you

I'll bet that your mother, like mine, insisted that you say 'please' and 'thank you,' and made you write thank-you notes every time you received a gift.

It's good practice. While I get more pleasure out of giving gifts than receiving them (don't get me wrong, I like gifts!), it is so fun to shop for or create the "right" item for loved ones and friends. Oh, it's time-consuming sometimes, and sometimes frustrating when it's hard to find just the exact thing you know they'll love -- but that's partly what it makes it so satisfying.

And I've been known to puddle up when someone thanks me from the heart, telling me how much it meant to them, whether it's a gift or a favor or whatever. It means a lot to me to know that my friends and family really enjoy a gift I chose, or that my words meant something to them.

Some years ago I worked with a woman, a little older than me, who was head of HR -- not usually a profession known for its kindness, at least in the corporate world. She was crisp, immaculately groomed from the top of her perfectly highlighted blonde coif to the tips of her perfectly polished, stylish, high-quality pumps. She did her job exceptionally well, seemed never ruffled by office incidents, and I'm quite sure could take an employee to task or fire them in the same even tones she used to answer the phone.

But she said thank you, often, and she remembered birthdays, anniversaries, recognized promotions, celebrated life events, and more with cards and personal notes. They were perfectly chosen, of course, but they also were always accompanied by a note (her handwriting was NOT perfect) that was warm and very friendly. I actually became fairly good friends with her -- she did not lead a perfect life -- and was impressed with the person I saw underneath. I vowed then that I wanted to be more like her, remembering to send cards and personal notes to mark occasions or say thank you, or even for no apparent reason other than to say "I'm glad I know you."

And oh, I'm so not perfect about it. But I try to say thank you when someone does a favor, or is especially generous or sweet, and that goes for people in service positions too.

Today, for instance, I needed a bit of repair on phone lines, and had ZERO expectation that someone really could get here today. So I was surprised when I got a call, considerably after 5 p.m., that he was on his way. And then I was very pleasantly surprised at the amount of time he spent making sure that things were just the way I wanted them, testing the lines, chatting about cats and phone wires and deer and so on. When I called him back, about half an hour after he'd left, to say that one jack still wasn't quite right, he was quick to give me a couple of options -- and I know he'd be back if I need more help.

So I just left a message for his supervisor to say thank you and how impressed I am with the service and performance. Maybe it'll make a difference when review time comes around for him -- but maybe it'll also let him know that someone appreciated his service enough to say so.

On my bulletin board is a thank you note from a client who we helped purchase land a few years ago. It has one of her photos showing a hillside of flowering wildflowers there. It made a HUGE difference to me, that little note and photo, and can still make me feel competent and successful when I read it, no matter what kind of day I've had. Her words are still with me nearly three years later, and I still appreciate that she took the time to take the picture and write a note to me.

As I get older, saying thank you has become more important to me. Maybe it's because I know how fragile life is, and that if we don't seize the moment to tell someone we love them or appreciate them or say thank you, we may never have the chance to do so. Maybe it's because I know how appreciative words, kind words, loving words, can make ME feel. Maybe it's because I know that sometimes a simple thank you can make all the difference in someone else's day, just as it's done for me. I don't know exactly -- I just know that it is a good thing.

Sure beats getting all riled up about mean old selfish men, doesn't it!

Saturday, September 29, 2007

My 10th anniversary

I left Birmingham, Alabama -- my home for seven years--10 years ago yesterday. I arrived home -- my childhood home in Springfield, Missouri-- the same day and spent two days there with my parents and brother before I started my trek to California and a new life.

I *had* to do it. I had known for some time that I needed to be elsewhere, in a different life, because I did not want to say, at some hopefully far-distant day when I'm near the end of my life, "I wonder what would have happened if..." I did not want fear to keep me from fully living -- fear, nor complacency, nor indecision, nor codependence, nor the expectations of other people. I did not want to settle for the life I had.

I visited California on a business trip earlier that year for 10 days, and knew almost from the moment the plane touched down that I needed to be here. I'd never had any desire to live here until that time. And after that, I explored every possible avenue to find a way to come. Persistence paid off -- that, and some colleagues who believed in me--and my company created a job for me in the Bay Area where there were two offices.

It was the best move I ever made.

If I'd been told then that 10 years later I'd live in a little town in northern California with a husband I adore, living on land with a house I got to plan, and that I'd sell real estate, I'd have wondered what they were smoking. And dismissed it as pure fantasy.

What I've learned in the past 10 years:
  • I can do just about anything if I'm willing to work at it and am patient. And persistent.
  • I am a loving and very loved woman who has discovered wonderful things about this body -- and a little more about taking care of it.
  • There are soulmates. I never expected such love to come to me, and I am deeply grateful every single day for my husband.
  • If you wait to seek happiness until you have a job, a house, a car, a child, lose weight, stop smoking, whatever -- you will never have it. Life is in this moment: it is all we have, one moment at a time.
  • If you don't like where you are, who you are, or what you have, change it. You are the decider of your life's path, and of who you are.
  • It is never too late to change. Not until you are expelling your last breath.
I'm sure I'll think of others -- but the essence is here. Life is a gift, every day. We are fragile, but we also have amazing strength. It is not a dress rehearsal: we seldom get do-overs.

I am grateful and blessed. Thanks be.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Shoe tree?

Anyone know about a "shoe" tree -- a tree from which all kinds of shoes were hung -- out on Highway 36? I had a query about it the other day. Please e-mail me or post a comment if you do.

I found some some info about another shoe tree in southern California. And there are rumors of underwear trees, and also a photo, although not very good.

NOT that I'm suggesting we start one.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Shine on, harvest moon

Last night was the full harvest moon, coming on the heels of Sunday's autumnal equinox. It is a magical time, a time of change and harvest, of reaping what you have sown over the year, and it also is a preparation for the long dormant winter.

My little group -- Cowgirls, we call ourselves, after the game Cowgirls Ride the Trail of Truth -- has been meeting about twice a month for nearly three years now to share our lives, to celebrate relationship and friendships, to provide support to each other. Our ages are very diverse: I'm not really quite sure how we were drawn together initially, other than we shared a love of the arts. Certainly our life experiences are wildly different, which makes for interesting stories.

And we share a spirituality that is rooted in Christianity -- we all have church-going histories--but has evolved into an undefined, unrefined mixture of Buddhism, Neopaganism, New Thought, and probably involving elements of several other practices. I don't know that WE know, exactly.

But last night we celebrated the equinox with a harvest feast, with candles, with prayers, and then created our own harvest cornucopias with a variety of locally-grown fruits and veggies. I'd gathered a small basket of acorns from our trees, and after holding them and reflecting on the great promise that each small seed holds, we exchanged harvest wishes for each other, using the acorns as the symbol of growth and promise.

And we celebrated Lady Moon, out here where ambient light is so much fainter than in town and the full moon seems so much larger, so much brighter. It was the perfect evening to do so, too, with temperatures still at shirt-sleeve comfort, no clouds, no sounds but crickets and tree frogs or whatever variety of wild thing makes those oddly comforting humming thrumming sounds.

It was a celebration reminding us of the divine feminine, of the energy of the earth and the cycles of life. It was mostly silent, although I'd written some ceremony adapted from a variety of traditions, and altered it further as we went through it -- but it was meaningful and rich and made me feel very blessed to have these women as my heart friends, to share my home with deer and turkeys and other animals -- including a very affectionate kitten who insisted on visiting the laps of two women who are not particularly enamored of cats (how very catlike!).

I am grateful for change that allows new growth and new possibilities. I am grateful for new beginnings and for second chances. I am grateful most of all for love that surrounds and enriches everything in my life today. Thanks be.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Rain! and the Wheel turns again

It's 57 degrees and drizzling (with puddles on the ground and sidewalks), and tomorrow is the first day of fall! A wonderful way to welcome this change of seasons.

Actually, we'll be back in late summer this coming week with temps near 90 -- but for now, the long sleeves and long pants feel good, and I'm looking forward to a cozy evening of movies and hot stew and biscuits dripping with butter and honey. I like cool weather.

Neighborhood update: the *new* board members sent out minutes of last week's meeting and a dues increase ballot revised from one that passed a month ago because the wording wasn't accurate, apparently. I have questions: the measure upon which we're voting passed a month ago. While this one is being taken to correct the wording, what happens if it doesn't pass? (I suspect this one is the only binding one...) And the minutes were inaccurate: they do not report a measure that was passed (voted on at the meeting), recording it there merely as a "recommendation."

Of course I have other issues with the minutes, but mostly because they don't reflect the true nature of the meeting. I suspect I'm not alone in that. The plot thickens.

Family: My brother and sister-in-law were here for far too short a time, and we just had a wonderful visit. I took them downtown to visit a couple of shops, we ate lunch at the new Thai House that's recently changed ownership (wonderful food!), and then drove up to Lassen.

I love love love the smell of the pines in the high elevations, and the sky was bright blue. Temperatures were moderate -- we did not need the jackets we'd taken -- and while it was hazy when you looked out across the mountains, it was beautiful up there. Lassen had gotten some snow the other day, although it remained mostly in small patches, but it was clean and white, and I'll betcha they got a bunch more today.

The one disappointment is that the boardwalk at the Sulphurworks has been dismantled, so you can't see the bubbling hot springs and mud holes. The two big ones by the road were busily churning, one so audibly that it sounded like a big washing machine, but they weren't spitting yesterday, just steaming. Both of them really enjoyed seeing "things we haven't seen before," as Jimmy put it, and then we wound up at the Sundial Bridge.

They left this morning for business in the Bay Area, after we enjoyed our ritual family wild-rice-and-bacon-and-Jule-Kage breakfast, and I got a little teary. I am very grateful to have such a great relationship with my brother and sister-in-law -- it is good to have family who loves you, warts and all.

Blessed equinox to you as we enter the dark months. The wheel and night are equal briefly....and we reap what we have sown over the year during this season. It is the great harvest time, this change. May yours be bountiful to last you through the coming winter.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Behaving ethically

I was abruptly reminded today that age and experience do not necessarily render a person either wiser or kinder. And in fact, in this case, I suspect that age and experience have probably rendered at least one man even nastier and more devious -- and I seriously doubt that he ever acted kindly toward anyone, including his family.

The unpleasant encounters came at a neighborhood meeting that was dominated by one man -- not the titular president, who himself showed an ugly, very autocratic face -- who somehow had buffaloed and bullied a majority of those present into supporting him and his agenda. While I know only a few of those present very well, and some not at all, I was simply floored by the overall meek acceptance as gospel truth of the vitriol this man was spouting.

It wasn't even that his proposals had no merit -- there was at least one that was fair and rational. But the way he had ramrodded it through a vote included out-and-out lying and slandering the characters and actions of two volunteers. At one point he boldly admitted in front of the whole group, "I lied." He nominated himself for election to an office, and when confronted with the fact that he had agreed not to seek a position again, declared that he would not leave the board.

And the group sat there, eating brownies and drinking soda, in tacit acceptance of his dismissive, disrespectful, and admittedly unethical behavior. And elected him.

The other man, also on the board and who also had agreed not to seek re-election, also admitted he'd lied, and publicly declared himself to be the sole authority on any road or road-frontage issues in the entire neighborhood, challenging one respectful objector to "Sue me."

And the group sat there. And a few expressed appreciation for his dedication. And stuffed their faces. And elected him too.

Both men were publicly abrasive toward others in the group, most especially and maliciously towards the two volunteers who were not present, and to the handful who raised objections or asked questions about process or decisions made during the year.

It turned ugly. There were raised voices. There were accusations and obscenities flung by several parties, but most clearly by the two liars who had just been again elected to office.

And most of the group just sat there, eating brownies and drinking soda, and saying nothing. Baaaaaa...

I'll confess that I was one of the objectors, and that I threw out a few zingers too. Although I'm generally very slow to anger, I hate lying above nearly anything -- save abuse of animals and people -- and I knew FOR A FACT that both men were lying about far more than they'd publicly admitted. I was shocked that they had managed to so thoroughly convince a group of individuals I'd thought had some intelligence to believe falsehoods and fabrications in order to achieve their self-serving goals.

And I was -- and am -- once again disillusioned and disgusted that unethical, dishonest, mean-spirited, downright nasty actions have been accepted as reasonable and tolerable behavior. It's not the first time I've seen this in the past few years, but it hasn't hit quite as close to home as it did today.

I continue to believe in right speech, right actions, right thought, right intention, right livelihood, right effort and right mindfulness as a way of life. I believe in the Golden Rule: treat others as you would like to be treated -- as a guiding ethic of life. I don't believe any of us are exempt from those moral principles, and I believe in karma: that what goes around comes around.

I just want to be there to see it. Okay, I work on that...

It was not a fun day. It's probably not over, either, because I believe there will be repercussions from today's actions. But I'm done. I will not waste major time on minor people. I have more interesting, more important things in my life. Thanks be.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Relief: finally, communication

The ice weasels are sleeping for the time being; long, quiet sleeps under many layers of ice. And I am grateful.

I talked for some time today to our oldest daughter -- she called me, even -- and feel deep gratitude that she is, as I'd hoped and pretty much expected, all right. Working, in a larger, less expensive place. Okay. She is okay. Thanks be.

Yes, I knew the ice weasels were doing their gloom-and-doom dance even as they stomped, but it is good to hear her voice and the things she said and didn't say but that I heard anyway. I've asked her to commit to talking or e-mailing weekly. I hope it will happen.

And I'm just bone tired. I can feel the worry and fear almost physically leave, even though there always will be a little teensy kernel there. But for now, she's safe, she's talking, she's doing better.

And next week my brother and sister-in-law visit for a couple of days, so I get a good dose of family to keep my heart happy. I heard from my Indiana best friend forever, and from one of my cousins too. I am grateful for the warmth and love their words bring me, and the sense of connection that had felt all too tenuous these past few days.

So life goes on.

Sleep in peace, surrounded by warmth and love and angels. I will tonight, thanks be.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Monkey mind

I've opened the "New Post" window half a dozen times in the last week and closed them each time after sitting here staring at the ready-and-waiting blank text box.

My mind is swirling with fragmented thoughts, many of them anxious, and I don't seem to be able to put them into words that are going to say anything to me or to you. Usually writing is very therapeutic for me, but I think some of my thoughts lead to dark places that are speculative and unfounded, and home to an entire megacity of ice weasels, and I have tried to stay away from them.

So let's see where this takes me.

My uncle's death made me feel very disconnected from family, and I've touched a few of them via e-mail, but that's not tremendously satisfying. It has made me very aware that while my cousins and I share some DNA and some common childhood memories, there really isn't much else, at least in recent years. We had a big family reunion in 2001 -- a month before 9/11 -- and every sibling except my mother was there (she was too fragile to travel). Most of my cousins were there, some with their children and children's children. It was at once fun and stressful: I missed my mother and dad very much, and felt that my mother's sibs should have called her during the event, which they did not, although I talked to her daily.

In fairness, two of her sisters and their daughters visited her just weeks after to share pictures and stories, and in fact got stranded because 9/11 happened the day they were to fly back to the West Coast and nothing was flying. I very much appreciated their visit to her, and she did too, especially with the subsequent events.

I felt then that there were many twigs on that family tree that I would never know -- in fact, would be hard pressed to recognize some of them outside of a family setting. It's a big family -- six sibs, 17 cousins, and a whole big bunch of seconds and thirds and in-laws. They have lives, busy ones, with young children and careers, and few of us live near each other.

On the other side of the family there were four sibs, with only one still alive, far away from here. We never had a reunion, and there's at least one cousin I'm not sure I'd know by sight. Nine cousins there, and I stay in fairly regular touch with a couple of them. And none of us live nearby.

So I've been working on wrapping my arms around the fact that I have acquaintances who are relatives, that everyone has busy, involved lives, and that their extended family is their immediate family -- their parent(s), children, grandchildren. Oh, we still share that heritage, but the connection gets buried underground for the most part.

I think too that I've been dwelling perhaps overlong on family because mine seems to have fragmented in the past few months, and it is painful. Right now communication with any of our children is zip, and I miss them very much. The choice to communicate or not is theirs -- and to be honest, we don't understand the whys and wherefores.

One is going through painful personal growth, including a divorce, and has chosen for the time being not to stay in touch with us. This is a child neither of us raised, although she was loved, and with whom we had established an adult relationship within the past 10 years -- but it was at a disadvantaged distance of some 2000 miles, and with unspoken expectations that were not met -- by golly, it's hard to read minds at 2000 feet, much less 2000 miles! We hope -- and believe -- she will come out stronger and better, and that we will eventually be in communication with her again. We are sending her occasional cards and letters to let her know we love her.

Another has chosen not to communicate since that late-night phone call a few weeks ago where we finally were pushed against the boundaries we'd had to set -- for our sake, and for hers, although I'm sure it doesn't feel like that to her. We don't know the outcome of that crisis, and yes, it is cause for ice weasel parties. Her cell phone is not working. We've written a letter to her last address. We believe she will be okay because she is resourceful, street-smart, and has experience and credentials to find a decent job. But not knowing is hard. We love her too. We believe she knows that deep down. And we believe she will call us when she is on her feet.

The third is the one that has me completely at a loss to understand what is going on. She is a beautiful, competent, talented young woman who has owned her own business, bought and fixed up a house, gathered a following of fans for her work. And she's battling depression now, possibly more, and she's not talking to me nor her dad. I found out this weekend that she moved to a new place a few weeks ago and that she is working. But not from her lips. Not from her fingertips via e-mail, or even snail mail. Just silence.

We saw her just about six weeks ago, and while all was not well, it was a wonderful visit, and we talked openly and candidly, and she seemed to miss me as much as I do her. I've talked with her only a few times since, and received an e-mail three weeks ago -- and then nothing. She has removed herself from a very toxic work situation -- yay for her! -- but I have many, many fears -- most of which have only a tenuous foundation. For instance, I wonder if she continued health insurance, and if she's still on meds. And if not, what effect is it having? Where is she working (I know she's working in a restaurant -- but I've only found that out in the last couple of days)? How is she feeling? Does she feel secure with her roommate? Does she have enough to eat? Does she feel secure at ALL? IS SHE OKAY!!!!???

and why. Why, oh why, is she so reluctant to call me and tell me? To talk to me? Or her dad?

So last night the ice weasels had a party. I knew the invitations were out, but I wasn't sure when it would take place. jAnd they partied hearty until -- oh -- I stopped looking at the clock after 2 a.m.

And I realized that while I know how to deal with physical illness or many other life issues, I have no clue what to do with major depression issues, or similar personality disorders. I know enough to know that it varies wildly from person to person, that I mustn't take it personally and that I neither caused it nor can fix it. I don't know whether to give her space and write notes (I don't know if she checks e-mail -- I've been sending those, but also have done snail mail card -- all just supportive generalities), or to call her now that I have her phone, to let her come to me or to go to her, to just show up at her door, or what.

And the ice weasels considered all of those last night, in addition to a whole darker side that I don't want to even consider talking about. They danced around all of it. Made up new angles that I hadn't thought of. Partied hearty until I finally -- finally -- fell asleep.

And I guess that's what I needed to get out, hm.

I'm sure I'm not done with this topic. I have more questions than answers -- and I also have enough sense not to bombard any of them with questions, but to work on patience to allow them to tell me what they need to say at their own pace. So the other lesson here -- AGAIN -- is patience. My never-done, never-completedly-learned life lesson.


May your ice weasels go into hibernation for a very long time.