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.